Please read the AN at the end of the chapter, it's quite important!
Chapter Three: Opening Pandora's Box
"Curiosity is not a sin.... But we should exercise caution with our curiosity... yes, indeed." -Albus Dumbledore.
Ayame looked up from her filing as Harry entered, her face as passive as ever and only the slight warmth in her eyes breaking the façade of indifference. "Hello Potter-san, to what do I owe this pleasure?" She asked in her customarily dry manner.
Harry pulled a face that came naturally after working for Koenma "I would like to say I came to see you... but I need to pick up the files on the Slicer Brothers, their reincarnation probationary period has run out and we need to look over their records before we decide what to do with them." The deceased wizard tried to look as put out as possible but knew Ayame was immune to his 'puppy eyes' from past experience.
There was a short pause as the reaper considered, no doubt remembering off the top of her head the exact case in question; thankfully Harry had picked a file that was actually relevant to his next working week. "Very well, I'll be just a moment, Potter-san." Ayame bowed shallowly before going in the direction of the catalogue cards for the exact reference point. Harry tried to keep his face as relaxed and impassive as possible even as the reaper turned to leave. A few moments later he felt the now familiar emotion trail of Kurama dart off in the direction of the small office.'Hmm, I wonder why this doesn't work with the reapers as well... maybe demon's energy is more distinct or something? "youki" I think it's called...'
Unfortunately, Harry was too caught up in his pondering to notice Ayame come back until he heard the clack of zori sandals. 'Crap, too soon!' Harry scrambled for a reason to detain her attention longer as he jogged to meet her half way. "Thanks Ayame-san" he bowed before taking the file, something that had become a habit in Reikai. "Um, I don't suppose you have a minute do you?"
Ayame blinked impassively. "I do have 'a minute' though I will have to return to work soon. What is troubling you?"
Harry rubbed the back of his head, a nervous gesture that was just another habit to add to the list. "Um, you see it's-" his brain scrambled for a topic "Botan-chan."
The reaper raised one brow "what about Botan?"
"Well, she's been acting a little....weird." Now that Harry thought about it, Botan had been a little off recently. She was constantly forgetting things he told her just a moment earlier and staring at his face like there was something stuck on it. Harry went thorough the list for Ayame's benefit, finishing on : "-and she keeps getting hot flushes and dizzy spells, I'm really worried she might be sick, I mean, can reapers get sick?"
Ayame coughed. "It is possible if a reaper has a living body, though the vessels we use are hardier than normal human forms."
"That's what I thought but Botan-chan seems to be getting worse every time I see her-" he broke off as Ayame started a coughing fit into her armful of files. "Um, are you alright, Ayame-san?"
"Ahemm, yes, I perfectly fine it's just... a bug that's been going around the dorms lately, it's not harmful I'm sure."
Harry looked relieved "do you think that's what Botan-chan has? This bug I mean?"
"Yes, though I believe she has a different... strain of it." If Ayame had been another reaper she would have cracked by now and burst out laughing or at least bitten her cheek to keep quiet. As it stood she was already pushing her restraint to its limits.
"I'm so glad that's all it is. I was worried Yuusuke was giving her a hard time; I would have had to go down to Ningenkai and give him boils or something and I've only just started respecting the kid." Harry grinned as he thought of the spunky street fighter 'you may be tough but everyone cracks when they haveboils!'
Ayame smiled slightly before bowing once more. "I must return to work, Potter-san but please come by again sometime. You move between the departments more freely that most and it is good to hear the news before it is mangled by the grapevine."
"Ah" Harry nodded in deep understanding "the photocopier waiting lines and the secretarial personnel in the East wing."
Ayame smirked "you learn fast."
"Thanks." Harry grinned. Then, realising the conversation had drawn to a close, put the files he'd procured under one arm and made for the exit, hoping that that had been enough time for Kurama to make his call 'about seven minutes, maybe a little more? It wasn't long but I did well keeping Ayame-san occupied for even that, she's not exactly much of a conversationalist.'
Once the door had clicked shut and a sufficient amount of time had passed Ayame allowed herself an unladylike snort. "Idiot." She made a point to mention the encounter to Ume if she ever needed to seek revenge against Potter-san in the future, the purple haired reaper would have it all around Reikai in less than an hour. "Completely clueless..." Ayame went back to her filing too occupied with death's little dramas to think the naive spirit could have had any ulterior motives. 'Naive indeed... about some things at least.'
Kurama was already waiting for him when Harry rounded the corner and the spirit tried not to think too hard about how the avatar had escaped the office when the only door was shut. 'Well, he is a legendary bandit after all. All things considering that's probably not very impressive.'
"Hello, Kurama-san. Was that any help?" He queried politely as he drew up alongside the avatar.
The red haired paused a moment before following Harry, keeping a sedate pace beside him. "That was... extremely helpful, thank you."
"You don't seem very convinced." Harry muttered, a little peeved at the avatar's lack of gratitude.
"I don't mean to insult you." Kurama held his hands up in a placating manner. "I just cannot help but think this is a test, that you were assigned to be an observer by Koenma-sama or his father to see how I would respond to this opportunity." Green eyes, piercing for their living vibrancy, locked with those of a similar hue that had lost their lustre in death. "I still think your appearance was too convenient and the knowledge you had of me -who I would call when I found a phone- is suspicious."
Harry sighed "Kurama, I'm not going to lie to you, I'm not trying to deceive you." He stopped in the middle of the corridor and lifted his chin to look directly at the kitsune avatar unflinchingly. "I sought you out of my own volition, no one sent me except the frantic staff that were scared shitless of losing their jobs. I only knew about your mother because I'm friends with Yuusuke's assistant and the only reason I found you in the building was sheer blind luck."
Kurama contemplated a moment, scrutinising every facet of Harry's expression before nodding. "Not completely true on the last count but thank you for being as honest as you can with me." Kurama smiled cheekily "I suppose I should tiptoe back into my cell now?"
The deceased wizard nodded resolutely "don't make me drag you back in there mister!"
The avatar blinked before throwing his head back and laughing until his sides ached.
Harry huffed. "It's not that funny!"
The green eyed spirit was an enigma.
Kurama had known Harry was such almost as soon as he saw him for the second time during his less than productive escape. Even during the first meeting it had struck him that the secretary had been especially attentive to their sentencing and the way those eyes took in everything about him and Hiei... he had passed it off as an office worker's nosiness but now the gaze could not be interpreted as anything but analysing. Kurama was used to being the one who analysed, who calculated. He did not appreciate being short on information about somebody who held his own life and freedom in their hands. 'I could pass him off as a good Samaritan, someone who just wanted to help but I cannot believe that was the only motive here. People do not do anything without wanting something in return, so either he is deliberately leaving me in his debt or he really does just want to help me... unless it is as I first feared, a set up by Enma or his son to test how dangerous I am.'
The red head sighed, somehow believing it unlikely that he was being tested, that would indicate his actions were being controlled and although his actions over the past day had been irrational he knew all too well the effects of mind control. No, Kurama was not being physically or mentally manipulated.
'So that leaves the possibility that Harry is a genuinely good person... or he himself is being controlled.' Kurama scoffed at the idea, the only person in this place that would want to help Kurama was Hiei and only if he had gotten over the betrayal ordeal. It was only a possibility if Hiei had access to the Jagan but as it stood the petite swordsman was too heavily warded to extend any influence beyond his cell.
'Blind faith it is, I really have been uncharacteristically believing recently. At least Yuusuke was easier to read, even if he threw me off a couple of times.' Kurama sighed inwardly as he walked without protest into his tiny cell, sending a mental greeting that was little more than a wave of emotion in Hiei's direction. He chuckled to himself as the returning wave rang with grouchiness and curiosity, perhaps Hiei had missed him after all?
Harry murmured a soft 'bye' and the cell door closed with a clang.
"So, you took over an hour to check out a disturbance down the hall because you, I quote, 'got lost'?" The Godling asked in a complete deadpan, for a split second seriously wondering if he had perhaps made a mistake appointing the spirit in front of him as a potential Tantei. 'Typical' he thought, 'kid saves the world but still can't find his way out of a paper bag, do all heroes have a devastating personal quirk?'
Harry did his best to look both indignant and contrite, a difficult combination that made his expression a little strained. "There was a lot going on, Koenma-sama, the disturbance itself was nothing important but then I got roped into delivering messages between departments, I stopped by Ayame-san's office to grab some files but got lost on my way back from the kitchens." He held up his tray of green tea and octopus balls he couldn't remember the name of but knew Koenma's addiction coveted.
The toddler brightened, his infantile nose quivering to pick up the scent of takoyaki, having some dignity as the Overseer of Souls he stopped himself lunging for the tray and instead nodded regally. "Put it down there Potter-san, thank you for your consideration" he shot a pointed look at Jorge, his secretary had refused to go for more snacks since the complete darkness round had begun.
Harry deposited the tray on the desk and dislodged the file held under one arm, slotting it into the pile designated for 'look at next week' on his own tiny desk in the corner: Koenma liked to keep his own desk free when possible and it was now Harry's job to sort the most urgent documents and bring them to the deity's attention. 'Again, how did I get roped into this?' The wizard sighed 'at least no one's suspicious, I'm glad I went by the kitchens or I'd be in deep shi-'
"Koenma-sama!" An orange ogre that Harry remembered from the security department had practically hurled himself into the office and was already on his hands and knees in apology.
Harry's mind went haywire, his thoughts almost too fast to be intelligible 'snacks: check, file: check, Kurama in cell: check, tell the security department Kurama's in his cell: fuck.'
"I'm sorry we didn't report it before" the ogre continued, cringing "but I have to tell you that-"
"Nargles!" Harry barked, making everyone in the room turn and stare at him, including the hysterical security ogre. The wizard felt his face grow steadily silver in embarrassment as he stumbled on "um, there was a nargle loose in the East Wing but someone caught it so there's nothing to worry about?" He rambled in one breath, hoping that his blatant lie didn't sound too much like a question, trying to be surreptitious as he told the ogre with his eyes --IT'S FINE, GO--.
The Legimancy blast made the ogre reel, rocking him back onto his ankles as he fought to maintain seiza; Harry had never been subtle or particularly gentle with the mind arts but he put that down to having only malevolent forces trying to get into his head from day one and being taught by a man who hated his guts.
A moment of perplexed silence passed between the four of them and then the ogre pulled himself together, chuckling weakly as he rubbed the back of his bald head sheepishly. "Heh, that's um, really good news, I'll just, um, go then..." He got to his feet and slipped out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
"Do I even want to know?" Koenma piped sardonically around his pacifier.
"Henry was never that high strung" Jorge muttered "I wonder if he needs a holiday..." He broke off, eyeing his boss speculatively before sighing dejectedly.
Harry tried to grin without looking like he had just had a mental panic attack. "Well, I hear he's getting married soon, maybe it's the stress of the wedding preparations?" He ploughed on, not waiting to see if they had bought the story. "so, can anyone get me up to speed on the tournament?"
As Harry made his way to the library, clutching a newly recorded video tape in one hand he contemplated the days events with a touch of incredulity. Not only had he assisted a criminal in escaping his cell but he had lied to and misled his co-workers and boss (who also happened to hold his life in his pudgy hands), jepordising his job (which, to be fair, he didn't care that much for), his future career (which he actually gave a damn about) and his chance at rebirth (which was infinitely better than working for Koenma at close quarters forever).
'So why did I do it?' Harry pondered as he entered the library and went straight to the audio visual room at the back, usually used for nothing more than various movie nights and short films during lunch breaks by the ogres and reapers both. After a few minutes of trial and error he managed to turn on the telly and put the video in the player the right way round. A few few more minutes of searching unearthed the remote from underneath a mountain of crisp packets and empty plastic bottles on the table and then he tentatively sat down on the crumby sofa. He paused over the remote for a few minutes, trying to remember from his brief muggle experience which was the 'play' button. Finally finding it, and thus ending his wizarding confusion, Harry began watching the events recorded from that day at Genkai's shrine, a good deal of which he had missed due to his escapades or being late that morning.
'Maybe I was just bored' he mused, 'that's certainly a big part of why Yuusuke does what he does, even the life debt, death debt, or whatever wouldn't stop him if he really wanted to quit being a Spirit Detective.' The spirit smiled almost fondly as the disembodied camera followed Yuusuke's movements up Genkai's stone steps and into the courtyard where the 'super cool eye blasting technique' took place, or so Jorge had told him. 'Maybe it's just my hero complex again, maybe that's why Yuusuke fights too, he just wants to be able to change what's going on around him and make it better...'
'I still need to find out how I found Kurama and why it seems to be getting stronger, I can't remember if it's happened before but that's not surprising... so much was going on- oooh, eye blasting technique! Where's the rewind button...?!'
Harry was on the edge of his seat throughout and not just because the sofa had questionable substances on it, the most mundane of which Harry was able to identify as peanut butter. "Merlin's bollocks" he swore, eye wide as Yuusuke exhaustedly wrapped up his fight with Rando, falling on the miniaturised technique thief with his elbow and knocking him unconscious. "Is this what I put Ron and 'Mione through all those years?" for once uttering the names of his dead friends didn't depress him, he was too focused on the events that played out before him and the fluttering in the bottom of his stomach that reminded him of pre-exam stress coupled with the sensation of touching down after a long Quidditch match: Elation and nervousness.
"Yuusuke Urameshi" the spirit tested the name on his tongue, rolling it over in his mind as he reviewed everything he already knew about the teen. "You are without a doubt an extraordinary human being... and I wonder if you even want someone to take over from you any more."
The spirit eventually cleared out of the AV room, after watching a few choice moments over again, and although Yuusuke's victory was heartening, uplifting even, it also made Harry question if there was any space for him in the living world any more.
Yuusuke waved Botan's glowing hands away as she tried to heal him. "I'm fine, Kuwabara got more shit kicked out of him anyway." He hadn't managed to move from his position, limbs splayed out like a snow angel on the charred grass and concentrated on catching his breath rather than retorting to Kuwabara's garbled 'Shut it Urameshi!'. Botan huffed predictably but went to help the ginger haired teen rather than argue, ha, he was finally wearing her down, she was way too protective of him anyway.
The breeze felt nice on Yuusuke's sweaty face and he shut his eyes, ready for a nap since there was no way Rando was going anywhere, he wondered briefly is the miniaturised convict could breathe under his elbow but found he didn't really give a damn. 'That's what you get for being a bastard and not knowing when to stop a match...' His light doze was interrupted as he felt warmth spreading across his chest and easing the pain in his cracked ribs.
"Botan, I told you to-!" His eyes snapped open but instead of a fearsomely chirpy shinigami there was a haggard midget in warrior garb holding her hands palm down over his worst injuries. "Oh, sorry Baa-san, I forgot about you."
"And I see your spiritual awareness is still worth as much as a chocolate tea pot, dimwit." The martial artist snarled back, not pausing in her healing which produced realigning yellow rays and pain-killing blue ripples. Yuusuke had thought that reiki took the form of the person it came from and it seemed unreal that this snarky old dwarf was able to produce such a soothing healing ability, especially since she had acted like he wasn't worth the steam off her midgety shit. Maybe she wasn't going to be such a bitch at this boot camp after all.
"I expect you to be up at the crack of dawn for training tomorrow and I don't want to hear any complaints about your boo-boos or I'll give you those fractures back. Welcome to Hell, brat."
Yuusuke took it back: she was evil, absolutely evil.
Botan hid her smile as the teen and his soon to be teacher bickered back and forth, filing away a few of the more clever retorts away for a particularly bad day. She knew that Yuusuke had ever had much guidance in his life and believed the discipline would do him good, maybe Genkai with her no crap attitude and pit-bull tenacity would be able to make something of Yuusuke's hard headed stubbornness and lack of drive. Maybe they would be a good team, each playing off one another's strengths, maybe-
"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME YOU OLD BITCH!?"
Maybe they would both kill each other.
Botan got back to Reikai late and exhausted. Although the mortal concepts of time rarely held sway over the realm of the dead there was still an eerily stillness throughout the Palace and the lavender sky had darkened slightly to a dusky violet, signalling the world's down time for those that had to sleep. Reikai operated on a stretched out time zone which allowed life in the living world to be paused for awhile if necessary, this meant 'night' always seemed a long awaited occasion, brief as it was. As Reikai's time was out of conjunction with Ningenkai's there was a pocket in time and space where the people and deities of Reikai could rest unperturbed or (more often than not) delay some unspeakable disaster about to bring immanent destruction to the living world.
She discarded her shoes by the door, lining the trainers up neatly beside the line of polished zori and lone school flats, before flopping down on her bed still clad in the modern jeans and jacket. The western bed looked as out of place as she had amongst the other shinigami clocking out of their shifts and she had gotten a few odd looks from her co-workers along with a good dose of curiosity. It wasn't often that the shinigami got to go down to Earth in a solid body, never mind traipse around with one in the Palace; the ferry girls were possibly the most traditional unit in Reikai, their kimono, oars and even the theme of their names hadn't changed in hundreds of years and as the other departments altered their uniforms (the SDF for instance were very up to date with a design from the eighties), the reapers rarely wore more casual clothing than cotton yukata. 'Well we all have our quirks' Botan thought 'and Ume's getting into it too, besides trousers really are better for flying anyway... better not tell Azami-san, she's a real stickler for rules and doesn't keep it to herself like Ayame-san!' The prim and proper reaper was one of the oldest still on the job and had given Botan no small grief during her intern years.
Curling onto her side, Botan buried her cheek into her pillow as she sorted though the huge rush of information she had absorbed recently. All in all the day had been productive, a fugitive had been collected and imprisoned (after a good deal of healing to ensure he didn't die during the trip), Yuusuke was getting the training and discipline he so desperately needed, even Kuwabara had escaped relatively unscaved and even unlocked a new power to help him ward off the permanent spirits that plagued him.
'But the real reason I'm so crabby is because Harry-kun wasn't there to welcome me back.' The blue haired reaper thought rebelliously before stubbornly stomping down on that evil inner voice. 'Don't be so silly, Harry-kun has a million and one better things to do than baby-sit you.... even if he's been there to greet me everyday after a big assignment so far.' When there was an earthquake or a flood, when the reapers were short handed for ferrying souls and she had to put in ridiculous amounts of overtime: every time Harry-kun had been there to welcome her back with a soft smile and some distracting conversation.
'I've become too dependant on him, I'm such an idiot...' Botan rolled off the bed and went to her desk; work was always a good distraction and she would be dammed for eternity doing the dreaded Stamp Duty before she let herself fall apart over something so silly.
The papers had built up over time and her desk was practically overflowing with non-critical reports of spirits still clinging to Earth in her sector, either those no one had been able to see yet (as they were marked as harmless to the living population), or 'permanent' spirits that had over stayed their visa. 'I wish I could get the over-clocked ghosts in Harry-kun's school but those wards are just plain nasty... not thinking about him!' She leafed through the lists and memos frantically, angry with herself and her wandering mind until she came across a familiar file, one she had done her best to forget about after she failed to pluck up the courage to read it through before.
"Why hasn't Ayame-san been pounding on my door for this? She must be positively livid I've not returned it yet... even if Koenma-sama did tell me to have a look at it." Botan bit her lip as her fingers traced the curling label marked 'Harry James Potter' with his case number and filing code. 'I've had this for ages now, ever since Harry-kun accepted the position as substitute Spirit Detective.' Resolutely she took the file over to her bed, the place she preferred to read long reports, and sat cross-legged on the duvet.
'Maybe I should make a cup of tea, it is very long... no! No putting it off any more!' She shed her jacket, finding the room suddenly uncomfortably warm, and turned to the first page, scanning the contents. The basic death records were there first, the short section she had already read before going to collect Harry-kun's soul was only slightly altered from the first draft she had read but she couldn't help but look at it again.
Harry James Potter.
31 .7. 1980 – 31 .12. 1997
Cause of death: Exhaustion of life energy caused by overexertion of reiki (magical) core. Physical body non-retrievable: see page 14 under 'spontaneous molecular shredding'.
Prophecy candidate no: 00547288360
Prophecy validated: 31. 10. 1981
Prophecy fulfilled: 31 .12. 1997
Botan blinked back the building pressure in her eyes as water welled there, stubbornly turning the page as she tried to tell herself that this was no different from any other report and she should have the same detachment from its contents that she had exhibited the same day. 'Even if it wasn't any where near as painful then, Harry-kun was just another case but now...I don't know what he is.'
The history was first, a condensed series of events dating back from infancy and, even though it was incredibly concise and non-emotive, it spilled over the first eight pages. She skipped most of these, knowing the story of Voldemort and the infant Harry Potter as well as anyone in her division did, that evil man had been evading the afterlife for a very long time and every death deity had made keeping an eye on him their concern. The first two years of Harry-kun's schooling had already been discussed by him in detail during the reaper tea sessions but the bit before that, his life with the 'Dursleys'... Botan's white-knuckled grip on the report left indents and she barely registered that her entire body was shaking with rage until her hands began to ache in protest. It was a well known fact that Harry had not had a happy childhood, he had told her himself that he had never felt at home until going to Hogwarts but the inhumanity of those dreadful people, spelled out in plain black and white before her, shocked her to the core. "Two concussions, multiple sprains and broken bones, severe physical trauma, malnutrition, stunted growth..." Harry-kun was indeed short for his age, at seventeen and barely five foot four, but Reikai's supply of souls were mostly of Japanese descent, those that followed or interacted with the Shinto teachings. It had been pure coincide that Reikai had been drafted to pick up the victims of the latest Wizarding war, as Godless people were always spread out amongst the gateway realms and sent to the accumulative afterlife that suited them best, be it eternal paradise, reincarnation or otherwise. Botan remembered Koenma's tantrum that day very well, his rant about how he had enough to deal with concerning the regular workload and keeping an eye on the demon realm- Reikai had really drawn the short straw with that one.
'But I didn't notice the really important things because I'm so used to dealing with Japanese spirits! Stupid height difference, why do humans have to be so confusing!?' Botan rubbed away her tears and continued reading, wishing with every page she turned that she had the cowardice to stop.
Phew, this was a long haul! Thank you for everyone that stuck with me and kept prodding and poking me long after this chapter was overdue, my sordid writer's block and I are very appreciative.
One of the reasons this took so long was because of the content of the chapter, such as the details that I still feel are kind of tacked on the end in Botan's segment. I'm seriously thinking about writing a short essay about the ins an outs of Reikai, such as Permanent and Temporary spirits which is one attempt to make the HP and YYH realms mesh. There's also the topic of other 'Gate Worlds' that lead to the afterlife because, let's face it, everyone who goes through Reikai in canon is either Japanese or a demon: that's either rather racist or for a reason, such as there being lots of other deities in charge of the other races of mankind. No, I don't think there are other worlds with demons, there is only one Makai and Koenma deals with all the dead and miscreant demons. Why? Because he drew the short straw, no wonder his father has no sense of humour.
Anyway, if anything in this chapter is confusing, underdeveloped or otherwise lacking then give me a shout and I'll do my best to re-establish ideas in later chapters or put a more detailed summary somewhere.
Oh, and the first person who picks out the Fullmetal Alchemist reference in this chapter gets to decide the Omake for chapter 4, either: Botan's visit to Diagon Alley, Harry invited to Henry's wedding or Harry's first lesson in spirit energy manipulation- choose wisely!
NEXT CHAPTER: Secrets are uncovered, alliances are made, old enemies appear and Hiei and Kurama get lots of screen time (squishes).
Thank you for reading!
Published the 13th of April, 2009