"The patronus is a very advanced skill. After watching all of you train, though, I feel that many of you will be able to produce at least a non-corporeal one. It's a defense spell created to protect a witch or wizard from dementors. It has many other uses as well. For example, it can be used as a light source or as a distraction. A patronus is the magical manifestation of a person's happiness, their dreams and desires, which take the form of an animal. Which animal, however, is unique to each individual and can change over a lifetime," Ichigo explained. The dozens of students watched excitedly as he drew his wand.
A large burst of pale blue light erupted from Ichigo's wand. The light particles floated in the air for a moment before congregating in front of the shinigami, shaping itself. A large dire wolf formed, its tail whipping back and forth. The students stared in awe. Some of them eyed the animal warily. It watched them, its keen eyes almost predatory in nature.
"There is a common misconception that only werewolves have wolf patronuses. This is simply not the case." As Ichigo said this, he laid his hand on the wolf's head. "A wolf can mean many different things, it can take many different roles. They are keen and relentless hunters." Ichigo's patronus stepped away from him as he said this, instead circling around the students. Some of them backed away, but some (namely Luna) stepped towards it.
"In my case," Ichigo continued, "a wolf stands for leadership and, more importantly, protection." The animal returned to his side. "A patronus can take on two forms. This a corporeal one, where the patronus takes a physical form. This is a very difficult ability to master and it often takes several years to do so. Today we will be working on non-corporeal patronuses, or ones that don't take on a physical form. Everyone spread out. We'll need plenty of space for this."
Ichigo watched as the students spread out, most of them still eyeing his patronus warily. Other than Harry, none of them made much progress. That was to be expected, though. An hour or so into practice, Harry looked at him and Ichigo nodded. Harry stopped channeling his own patronus and moved to the nearest group of students in order to help them instead. As Ichigo watched, his eyes strayed from their wands and spellwork to Harry's scar. Dumbledore's voice filled his mind.
"I have had a suspicion for some time that the reason Voldemort keeps Nagini so close is because she is a horcrux. Why do you ask?"
Their conversation had cut short at the time, but now there was nothing holding it back. Ichigo made his way from the front towards Harry. He noticed his approach and stepped away from a female student named Billie. Ichigo had only met her in passing, but she seemed sweet.
"What's up Ichigo?"
"I need to go speak with Dumbledore about something… er, school related. Since you already know what you're doing, do you mind staying with them for the remainder of class?"
Harry frowned, but he nodded regardless. "Yeah, I don't mind, but I…"
"But what?" Ichigo asked, searching Harry's face for any indication.
"It's fine, I just-" Harry shook his head. "Nevermind. Go on, I've got this."
Ichigo tried to say more, but Harry had already left to rejoin the other students. Ichigo huffed to himself and stepped towards the door, pausing for a moment to sense any nearby reiatsus before he slipped through. The majority of the hallways were empty on this wing of the school, so when Ichigo ran into Filch only a couple of halls down from the room, his guard was up. Well, more so than usual.
"Ah, Mr. Filch. Always a pleasure."
Filch's scowl deepened. The only scowl Ichigo daresay bested his own. "Kurosaki. Not many people in this part o' the castle. What brings you here?"
Ichigo smiled. "Well, Filch, just as you care for the school, I care for its students. Always gotta keep at least one eye on them, if you know what I mean. Never know what kind of shenanigans they'll get up to."
In a rare instance, Filch dropped his sour expression in favor of a mischievous glint. "Couldn't say it better myself. That's why I like Miss Umbridge. She'll keep these good-for-nothings in line, I reckon. I've heard rumors goin' round that some students are meeting up somewhere here. That's against decree number twenty four. So… if you hear anything, you let me know?"
Ichigo tried to keep himself from laughing, but it was quite difficult. He leaned down towards Filch, as if they were keeping some great secret, and nodded. "Oh absolutely I will."
"Good. Ya know, I wasn't sure about you Kurosaki, but you seem to me like you've got a good head on your shoulders."
"Thank you, Filch. Now, if you don't mind, I've got some things I must attend to."
With that said, Ichigo made his way towards Dumbledore's office. It wasn't until he was standing in front of the statue that he realized he still didn't know what the headmaster's new password was. He gave the few regulars a try, chocolate frogs, lemon drops, pig farts, sniggle warts, and to his dismay, none worked. He expected Shiro to laugh at him, but his hollow's spirit had been quieter as of late. Ever since Arthur's attack, both pieces of his soul were brooding. About what, Ichigo couldn't say, although he had a couple ideas.
With Dumbledore nowhere to be found, Ichigo thought about any other readily available sources of information. If Dumbledore refused to speak about it in public, it was unlikely to be found in the library, although there was a chance it was in the restricted section. Ichigo didn't quite feel like searching hundreds of tomes, however.
His first choice would be the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, but since he and the pink toad didn't get along very well, that left him with only option number two, the only other professor qualified to teach Defense. And so, Ichigo found his way to the potions classroom. Even though it was after typical class hours, he wasn't surprised to find Snape leaning over a cauldron, vial in hand.
"This better be good, Kurosaki, for you to be lurking in my doorway both uninvited and unannounced."
Ichigo smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck as he stepped inside the room. He felt a wave of dizziness as he passed the threshold, but it quickly left him. "Hello Snape, I was hoping to pick your brain a bit, if you don't mind."
Snape continued to observe the potion in front of him. "And whatever it is can't be found in the school's extensive and considerably underused library?"
"It's… a sensitive subject."
At that, he got Snape's attention. He looked up at Ichigo and sighed as he sat the vial down. "Well, go on then."
"Tell me, professor, what you know about horcruxes?"
Snape's eyes narrowed instantly. "Such a dark topic for such an ordinary day."
"As you know, Arthur Weasley was attacked recently and the Order believes Nagini is involved. Dumbledore mentioned Horcruxes, but he wasn't able to go into much detail. That's why I came here. I was hoping you could tell me."
Snape stared at him for several moments before he relented. "Very well. A horcrux is… in simple terms, a way to cheat death."
Ichigo's brows furrowed. "Cheat death? Like the sorcerer's stone?"
"Much darker than that, Kurosaki. You're familiar with the soul, aren't you, Grim Reaper?"
Ichigo nodded, almost offended. "Of course."
"A horcrux is the result of someone splitting their soul and inhabiting a piece of it in something earthbound. That way, when they die, their soul can live on through that piece."
"But… how could a mortal, even a wizard, split their own soul? That sounds -"
"Horcruxes are dark magic, very dark, and it requires dark energy to perform. In the end, it's just another cycle, if you think about it. To give life, you must take it."
"But, heaven help me, murder is something that can be done more than once… does that mean..?"
Snape nodded. "In theory, yes, more than one horcrux could be made from one soul. Although, there's not much information about them available, as you could imagine."
"Severing one's soul… chopping it up into pieces…" Images flash in Ichigo's mind of hollows, of hunger and decay, of decimation. "Surely that has effects."
"It does. Many claim that horcruxes widdle away their creator's humanity. Its effects are visible not only on their soul, but their physical body as well."
"Thank you professor, that- um, that helps a lot… If you'll excuse me." Ichigo stepped out of the room, his breath rapid and forceful. Gathering his wits, he left for his chambers.
He needed to think.