AN: Erm... hello? Is there anyone still there? Anyway, here's a chapter of Reinforced. This was incredibly hard to write, and only came about because of a bet I made in a game of Among Us... Wait! That sounds bad! Let me explain! First off, I think I got halfway into this chapter... a few years ago, and then got incredibly annoyed by people constantly poking me about it (more on discord than here) and ended up deleting what I wrote. Then, when I couldn't remember what I'd typed, but knew what I was replacing it with was dead wrong, I got frustrated. Then my muse decided to wander off to other topics for... a long while. Short answer is, yes, this story will eventually be finished. No, I don't have a clue when it will happen. No, I don't really have a plan or schedule for when these things come out. You'd have to ask my muse what it's focusing on and why, because right now I have a lot of ideas for other stories of mine, and I will write those while I still have those ideas.
I had intended to hold off on writing anything right now while we move house, which is taking the absolute mick, believe me. Bit of advice, choose your solicitor well, because a bad one can be an absolute ass to deal with. We really should have been moved out more than nine weeks ago now, but we finally have a move date of this Friday... about time if you ask me, dammit! Also also, if you want to blame anyone for the low quality of this chapter, blame Kasbat, who got me to agree to the wager... Kas, next time I'm the Imposter, you die first, got it?
Beta'd by: The trolling SnarkLord
Chapter 23 – Pre-Detention
Sitting before the headmaster, Harry was grateful that Telepathy didn't include any visible indications of its use – nothing like the glowing eyes, tattoos, or levitating hair as popularized by various forms of fiction – as his and Fate's minds were racing through a shared internal dialogue to figure out an explanation for the state they were in. Thankfully, Harry had been able to relatively subtly heal himself and Fate up to a more reasonable level than when Filch had first accosted them. Fate had some degree of skill with minor healing as well and managed to clear up her more superficial injuries. She'd also closed the skin over the rest of her deeper wounds and soothed bruises, further reducing the intensity of their colour.
After a long pause, Dumbledore spoke.
"I am not blind, Harry." He said. "Nor am I stupid. It's fairly obvious to me that you, somehow, know our new students. The fact that they are all from the same Japanese City, a language I know you speak, and the rapid friendship that has developed between you – particularly between yourself and the young lady here with you – as well as numerous other inconsistencies all point towards that fact."
He frowned a moment before continuing. "And while I have no actual proof of it, I strongly believe you are primarily responsible for the Potters returning to Britain, even if it was Amelia Bones who first identified them. I would like to think that I am a reasonable man, so please, can you explain why you have been brought to me in this state? Especially as Argus described you being in a much worse state than you are now."
"We're not truly that badly injured, as you seem to believe." Harry started. "You know that I've been trained by Madam Pomfrey, and I can say with confidence that neither Fate nor myself are so injured that we won't be fine for lessons by morning." He shrugged.
"It was just a spar, headmaster." Fate added, her soft voice sounding apologetic. "We got too into it and failed to keep track of the time as well as we usually do. We make sure not to go too far in our bouts, and it's only because of bad time-keeping on our part that this happened."
Dumbledore looked to the blonde girl and nodded his head. "I can understand that, Miss Harlaown, and I can even respect it to a degree. However, regardless of that, two students ended up, at the very least, moderately injured on school grounds. I am the headmaster here, and as difficult as students make it for me, I am still responsible for each and every one of you, doubly so as Hogwarts is a boarding school and with me acting in a form of loco parentis."
"We understand, headmaster." Harry said. "We'll not let it happen again."
"I have been quite accommodating with you already." Dumbledore sighed. "I should have put a stop to these 'spars' when I first learned about them, but I'm going to have to put my foot down now. I cannot have students harming each other like this intentionally. It is one thing when an accident occurs in class, you have supervision then and can immediately get assistance. Now, I will have to insist that you stop these matches of yours, or at least ensure you have a teacher with the required skills supervise you, for your own safety at the very least."
"Required skills, sir?" Fate asked cautiously.
"Professors Lupin, McGonagall, Flitwick, and Snape are all appropriate choices if you need someone to ask." Dumbledore told them. "They all have relevant qualifications and experience to ensure you two do no permanent harm to each other or yourselves. Of course, I am also capable of such myself, if you would accept having this old man as an observer."
Even with their telepathy active, Fate and Harry couldn't help but glance at each other.
Having a Hogwarts professor observe them when they sparred was simply… not an option, not when they didn't restrict themselves to Terran magic. If one of the mentioned teachers saw them using Belkan or Mid-Childan magic, well, there would be questions asked at least, and not ones they had ready answers to or were willing to give.
On the other hand… telling the headmaster 'no' wasn't really the best idea either. If he started applying pressure, asking what reason they'd have for denying proper supervision, that would make things difficult for them. Even if this time, the injuries weren't the result of a sparring session, but his and Fate's journey to a lower realm.
"I have heard that… there used to be a dueling club at one point." Harry started. "Not that farce from last year, but something more serious."
Dumbledore nodded slowly. "Unfortunately, however, along with a number of other clubs and extracurricular activities, that was discontinued years ago. Not due to lack of interest alone, but… well, once upon a time, this school boasted a population of several thousand, now it has barely three hundred. Wars and other things have left us lesser than we once were."
The headmaster did truly look sorrowful for the loss. Given his age, he had lived through both world wars, and both of the wizarding wars as well… he'd seen a lot of death in his life.
"Given how many turned up last year, would it not be possible to reinstate the club?" Harry asked.
"And which professor would preside over it?" The headmaster asked. "We have one teacher per subject, our staff are already working at their limit to handle their classes alone."
"Do your duties as headmaster keep you as busy as a teacher?" Harry queried.
"As a headmaster alone, no. As the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards on top of that? Yes, I am kept very busy." Dumbledore stated.
"Is there a lot you have to with them?" Fate asked, actually curious about both institutions.
"A lot more than people seem to think." Dumbledore admitted. "There's a lot more to it than attending regular meetings, and as the administrator of both groups, I have to ensure I am fully aware both of what is scheduled to be brought up, as well as all the particulars of said topics. There's nothing, or more truthfully there shouldn't be, anything spontaneous about the meetings."
He sighed and sat back in his chair. "There is an entire process for bringing something to the attention of either body, and even if you don't state exactly what it is you wish to discuss, you must still provide an overview and a request for approval at the very least. There are some topics which are automatically accepted, particularly in times of war and unrest, while there are others which must go through an extensive process before anyone in power ever sees it."
He looked over his spectacles at the two of them. "Suffice to say, a great portion of my day is spent dealing with excessive amounts of paperwork. There's a reason that, previously, no one person has held all three positions that I have, and I have enough on my plate as it is with something that is in the works for… well, I'll just say that if this goes through, there's a surprise in store for the next academic year."
"Now, we've diverted enough." Dumbledore gave them a stern look. "If I find you have had any more of your little sessions without an appropriate being present, then I will have to hand out punishments to you. As for this instance of rule-breaking… I do believe that Hagrid could use some assistance in wrangling some of the more unruly creatures he intends to use for lessons, so I will speak with him about this. Expect a note within the next few days regarding your punishment."
He stood up before shooing them out the door.
"Now go, off to bed with you." He chivied them out of his office.
"Feeling alright, Fate?" Harry asked once they were away from the office.
"I'm okay." Fate responded, flexing her muscles to see if anything was sore, but found nothing to be worried about. "So..."
"We'll have to be more careful about sparring in the future, make sure we have time to properly heal up afterwards before coming back to Hogwarts." Harry nodded.
"Not what I was going to say." Fate huffed, a small smile on her lips regardless. "Any… regrets about binding yourself to demons?" She looked down at her own arm, where under her sleeve was hidden the mark that was proof of her own contract with a pack of hell hounds.
"Not yet." Harry grinned at her. "I've come too far now to look back, so I'll just keep going and see where I end up. You?"
"Not yet." She echoed his own words, before switching topics. "What do you think our detention will entail?"
"Well, Hagrid does have a reputation for being… fond of some of the more dangerous creatures around, and now that he's officially a professor – and therefore has more legal options for creatures he can handle – we're probably looking at some pretty troublesome critters, I think." Harry mused.
"Like dragons?" Fate wondered.
Harry shook his head. "No, dragon breeding is a very restricted thing for a reason. Hagrid might not be the smartest guy around, but he wouldn't expose the class to a dragon any more than he would a basilisk. No, I'm thinking more along the lines of class 3 or 4 beasts, a hippogriff is a class 3 itself after all."
"How many classes of beast are there?" The blonde asked, having not delved deeply into Care of Magical Creatures herself.
"Five." Harry answered immediately. "Boring, Harmless, Competent wizard should cope, Dangerous, and Known wizard killer… and yes, those are the official designations. You should be able to tell by the wizarding qualification names and ranks that some things here are just… odd."
Fate laughed. "Nanoha's face when she got an EE on an assignment and was told that was good…" She shook her head. "Why can't they just use a standard A to E ranking or something."
"Because they wouldn't be wizards if they made sense." Harry's eyes twinkled. "I mean, can you imagine a muggleborn's parent asking about their kids' grades and being told they got a Troll on one of them, but Exceeds Expectations on another? That second one seems weird, as what does Exceeds Expectations even mean? They did better than people thought they would?"
Fate joined in. "And then the student says they only got an A for Herbology, and that wasn't good enough to take it at a higher level next year."
"Because A is 'only' Acceptable." Harry finished.
The two shared a small laugh before falling into companionable silence for the rest of the trip to the Ravenclaw common room, and from their they would split up. Fate to her dormitory, and Harry to the Head Boy's Suite, where he still pretended to sleep, before heading back to Japan with a Dimensional Transfer spell.
The next morning, when Fate and Harry went down for breakfast, they found rumours of their impending detention had already spread around the student body. Exactly how this had managed to happen, they were uncertain. They doubted that Dumbledore was such a tattletale, and as far as they were aware, he was the only one who should have known about it.
Harry froze for a moment, before telepathically contacting Fate.
~ The portraits! I can't believe I forgot about the portraits in the headmaster's office. Most of the paintings in the school are chatty gossips, why wouldn't the former headmasters be the same? ~
~ The more I hear about things like this, the more I wonder if Wizards and Witches actually have a concept of privacy. I still can't get over what you told me about enchanted mirrors. ~
Harry grimaced at that.
Places like the Leaky Cauldron had enchanted mirrors that complimented people who looked into them, and even advised them on things like fashion and style – which the Uminari group already found off-putting – but the concept of scrying glass that you could see through from another reflective surface made them even more uncomfortable, and he couldn't find it in himself to disagree with that point of view.
~ Just ignore it, reacting in any significant way will only encourage them, and all the talk will fade away soon enough in favour of something else. ~ Harry sighed internally, before taking a seat at his house table.
He let the conversations going on around him flow over and around him, and just settled down to eat his breakfast. His eyes did flick up to the head table, where once again James Potter seemed to have that permanent frown etched onto his brow, at least ever since Harry had buggered up his plans. The frown became a scowl when he caught Harry's eyes on him, but he did little more than glare before deliberately turning to talk to another one of the staff members.
Harry sighed out loud, really not feeling up to dealing with this right now. Rubbing at his face, he also made a note to actually get some proper sleep as well, he was staying up way too late and doing far too much right now. Isis was already on his case about burning out, and even his reapers had commented on him being… somewhat sluggish.
~ They are right, you DO need to cut back a bit. ~
~ Reinforce? ~ He asked.
~ Yes, and you must be exhausted if you forgot I was here. ~ She dryly commented. ~ Let's just get through to the weekend and we'll have a look at what you're piling on yourself to see what can be cut out… and we WILL be cutting back until you can go a day without looking like a half-alive zombie. ~
~ I AM a zombie though. ~ Harry huffed in return.
~ Harry, we are NOT testing how long you can go without sleep. ~ Reinforce sternly cautioned him. ~ Just try and live your life, you don't HAVE to rush everything. In fact, things are going quite smoothly for you. We have the Unspeakables and the DMLE investigating Voldemort's Horcruxes in secret, so forget about him for a moment. We DO have the Potters issue right in front of us, but nothing has happened so far, and Loki is keeping an eye on things for you there. Just… be a school kid for a while, Harry. Please? For me? ~
~ How could I say no if you ask me like that? ~ Harry rolled his eyes as he munched on toast.
Reinforce didn't respond, but he was sure he felt her amusement through their link. She left him to gather his thoughts for the day and remember what lessons he actually had. A quick look at his schedule and his notes told him he'd need to grab homework for potions and transfiguration after breakfast, but since he did it as soon as it was issued, the homework was all done already.
Throughout the day, all the teachers had noticed that Harry Ritter was rather distracted by something. Oh, he completed all of his work to his usual standard, but it was obvious that his mind was elsewhere right then. Some chalked it up to the detention he'd been given, Harry having previously had a lack of such things, but most doubted it was something as mundane as that.
Snape didn't bother calling on him in lesson, perfectly content to let his glares keep the class quier and attentive. As long as Pot- Ritter kept producing quality potions then he may find it within himself to treat him as any other student that wasn't an abject failure.
He would forever deny that he felt any sort of kinship or sympathy for the scarred boy, one who had also suffered at the hands of the beloved James Potter. Severus' own suffering was in the past, or so he thought – though James' glares were both irritating and amusing – but the childish man seemed to have gone whole hog against his firstborn.
He marked the homework he had assigned the class during the lesson, keeping one eye on all of them to ensure no cauldrons exploded… or worse. He had little enough patience for those imbeciles who could not grasp even the most basic of principles in the grand art of potion making, there was no way he was wasting his own time reading their inaccurate and sometimes outright false beliefs and statements, their inadequate research, and their poor handwriting and grammar if he could avoid it.
He rather enjoyed his classes pallid expressions as he used far more red ink than he did blue when marking what they'd handed in at the start of the lesson. A few, such as Ritter, weren't looking at him and instead were focused on their potions – as they should be, this was a subject that required someone's full attention to ensure they didn't muck it up – but the majority seemed to become that little bit paler every time he dipped his self-cleaning quill in the red ink pot.
By the time the lesson was over and the assignments returned, Snape had only had to intervene twice to prevent a potions mishap, a rather low amount for a lesson where he marked their homework, but every student left the classroom looking like they'd left half their souls behind.
McGonagall, in transfiguration, handled things differently. When she noticed that Harry was having trouble focusing on the lesson at hand, and his performance was actually suffering due to it – more due to his difficulties with the subject than anything else – she gave him a variety of different, small transfigurations to occupy his attention.
That seemed to bring him back to now for a while, and his current sole familiar, the catgirl Bast, helped to keep him on task, even when his focus again wandered later into the lesson. Minerva did keep James on the other side of the classroom to Harry, well aware that those two mixing in even a supposedly neutral environment wasn't likely to result in anything good.
It wasn't like Harry really needed the help anyway. When his attention was actually on the lesson, his transfiguration was amongst the best in class. He might not be the most naturally gifted at the subject, definitely not, but he put in a lot of work to push himself to where he was with it, and that earned him some measure of respect from the woman.
Minerva McGonagall just wished for this nonsense to be over with already. As much as she was fond of James, one of the absolute best students she'd ever seen, she believed him to be completely delusional to believe that Harry was possessed by You-Know-Who.
That man did not have the compassion Harry possessed in his little toes. Also unlike the dead dark lord, Harry's was far more genuine. Unlike Tom Riddle had been at school, presenting a perfect facade of a pleasant and earnest student, Harry did get irritable, annoyed, tired, and fed up.
Everyone had loved Tom Riddle back when both he and she had been students, but looking back in hindsight, she wondered how any of them had been taken in by that fake smile and attitude, He'd been too good, too helpful, too nice, and too cheerful.
She could not once recall him even frowning at anything. No matter how hard she tried, she struggled to even remember a time when he didn't at least have a small smile on his face, only falling into a relaxed neutral expression at worst. On top of that, he'd always been immaculately done up, at least once he'd had chance to learn the hygiene and grooming spells most people learned at one time or another. Harry, on the other hand, looked exhausted at times, and there was several strands of hair that tended to fall in front of his face that he'd huff at to blow out of the way.
No, Minerva could not reconcile the two different people as being one and the same. They were simply too different, their attitudes, mannerisms, even the way they dealt with people. Goodness, transfiguration had never been so hard for Tom Riddle that he'd had to push himself in it, he'd had a natural aptitude for all of the subjects as she recalled, to a degree that was both amazing and humbling.
Now she couldn't help but wonder how much of that talent was 'natural' and how much was enhanced by rituals or something… rituals were something that McGonagall knew basically nothing about, but magical and muggle alike had all sorts of stories about what grand magic could be cast with the right preparations, a castle like Hogwarts took more than a few spells to make it work as one after all.
Seeing James get distracted from helping the students and glaring at Harry, with Bast matching his glare with one of her own, Minerva sighed as she went to intercept and calm things down.
When she'd accepted James' help with her class this year, she thought it would take some of the pressure off her, not put more on!
Of course, Harry wasn't the only one who people were paying attention to. While the fact they had detention was a known fact, the reason for it wasn't, and Fate was a truly beautiful girl, so some rumours were perhaps more expected than not. Granted, they weren't as.. steamy... as they might have been had the two been older, but there were still those who wondered about the relationship between Fate Harlaown and Harry Ritter, especially in the face of the bold and lewd Isis.
Of course, there were other people that were curious about what the two had done to earn their detention, and they were more difficult to answer for Fate. Nanoha and Hayate both knew that Harry had looked into some… if not forbidden, then definitely somewhat taboo magics and studies, they were aware of his necromancy after all, but demons were another thing entirely.
Thankfully, being from Japan and having a Shinto and Buddhist culture, as opposed to a Christian one, they didn't immediately jump to the absolute worst conclusion. Granted, they were wary of the topic, but when Fate relayed what Harry had told her of 'higher' and 'lower' realms, they relaxed a bit, and even became a bit curious themselves.
As Harry had described it, a 'lower' realm was one where the rules of existence were looser, and will and desire were more important. Physics, for example, were not a constant in lower realms, being able to be affected by someone who wanted it enough. This was unlike magic affecting something as, one, magic tended far more to be temporary – even if temporary in these circumstances meant lasting millennia – and two, there were limits to what magic could do.
'Higher' planes, or realms – the terminology wasn't exact, were places were there were stricter rules that governed how things work. Harry had said that their world rested in a sort of sweet spot where magic was able to function as fluidly as it did, interacting with both willpower and the facets of reality as they knew it.
On a lower realm, force of will was more important than knowledge of how things worked, whereas the higher realms were ruled by those who knew how the rules worked and could use them to their own advantage, exploiting loopholes and exceptions that riddled such things.
It was why demonic invasions were both more common and more successful than angelic ones. Demons tended to have the raw power to back themselves up, even when in a world that limited and restricted them in some ways, brute force allowed them to bash through problems and foes with relative ease. Angels, and other higher planar beings, didn't tend to have the raw power demons did, and descending into a lower realm left them trying to make use of loopholes and exploits that were both unnecessary, and that didn't exist in the lower realms, which were as mentioned more fluid and changeable.
Unfortunately, Fate didn't know much more than that, and all three of the girls had seen how out of it Harry had looked that day. Thankfully, Reinforce had been available to answer questions when queried, and she'd proven to be a font of knowledge on the subject, having read and researched absolutely everything she could about everything that Harry was getting himself into.
Granted, that was a significant amount of information to crunch, and she'd let herself slip a little regarding some subjects -Necromancy due to the availability of the shade and reapers, amongst a few other subjects for various reasons – but other planes was something she was admittedly curious about herself, and was one of the subjects she might actually know more than Harry did about it.
She was happy to share the knowledge with the three girls, and even started considering a report to submit to Lindy, and through her the TSAB, on the subject.
It was actually only two days later that Harry and Fate received a note regarding their detention. Like they'd been told by Dumbledore, they were to help Hagrid wrangle and organize some creatures for his lessons, and even a note to prepare information packets on the various creatures including the level of danger each one presented, how to pacify them, and even ways to minimize harm to yourself.
Harry couldn't help but laugh at that. Despite the headmaster's fondness for the large man, it seemed even he wasn't going to blind himself to the man's most problematic fault, that being how he viewed dangerous creatures as a far lesser threat than they actually were.
Granted, for him, who was massive and tough, they probably were a lot less dangerous than they were for… well, a regular thirteen year old witch or wizard, one that doesn't even come up to his waist. He was, after all, about eleven feet tall…
Anyway, one detention down this Friday, and then they could relax all weekend.
Well… try to at least.