Chapter 9 To Become S-Class
Harry had promised Gray they'd go on a job soon, but Levy insisted on starting his lessons right away. So they were limited to jobs in town, none of which were especially appealing. Eventually Gray gave up with playful exasperation and took a job on his own while Levy held Harry hostage, making him memorize the simplest rune set—which happened to be the Greek alphabet, or at least something that closely resembled it.
Around midafternoon, Harry finally started to catch on. Levy exclaimed in glee when he named the first ten letters correctly with their translations. She waved at Mira and asked for a celebratory soda. Chuckling, Mira brought it over.
"Is Levy working you hard?" she asked.
Harry shrugged. "I asked for it. And it is fascinating…though she is a little overenthusiastic," he added with a smirk at the petite girl beside him.
"It's passion," she corrected firmly. "Now come on. Time to start on the second half."
Harry groaned playfully and refocused his attention on Levy.
She was in the middle of an impassioned rant on the many uses of sigma in runic enchantments when she suddenly dozed off and started snoring lightly. Harry's own eyelids began to droop, even as adrenaline filled his veins.
Something's not right. This is unnatural. This is…an attack! Harry shook himself firmly, refusing to be caught unawares while under threat. He also registered the pressure of powerful magic—since helping Levy in the library, he'd grown more sensitive to magical auras. And this one was powerful. Not quite powerful enough to be overly alarming, but enough that it put Harry on edge. All while his eyelids still tried to shut of their own accord.
Harry shook himself again, gritting his teeth and fighting off the magic. No. I refuse to be helpless again!
It took immense willpower, but Harry hadn't been able to throw off an imperius curse cast by Lord Voldemort at 14 for nothing. With a burst of magic, the spell suddenly lost its hold. Harry looked around in alarm, seeing the rest of the guild completely passed out and snoring—except Master Makarov. He met Harry's gaze with surprise and pride.
"You'll be S-class in no time, with that kind of power," he said with a grin. He then turned to the door and nodded a greeting. "Mystogan."
Harry turned to see a fully cloaked figure with an odd assortment of staves and sticks strapped to his back. He wore a deep hood and a cloth mask over his mouth and nose. But Harry saw his dark eyes widen in surprise.
"I didn't know anyone besides Master could resist my sleep spell," came the muffled voice. It was male, and surprisingly young. The mystery mage couldn't have been more than a year or two older than Harry himself.
"This is Harry," Makarov said, gesturing to him. "One of our promising new recruits. He was rather alarmed by your arrival, it seems." Smiling, Makarov turned to Harry. "Mystogan is a member of Fairy Tail as well, but he prefers not to be seen when he comes to the guild, so he puts everyone to sleep. He's a rather peculiar individual."
Mystogan chuckled. "We're all entitled to our secrets, Master."
Makarov inclined his head. "Indeed." He gave Harry a shrewd look.
Harry scowled. "Secrets or not, I don't appreciate being snuck up on and put to sleep. I refuse to be defenseless." Not again.
Mystogan's eyes crinkled. "That's very wise of you. It speaks much of your potential."
Harry's scowl deepened. "I also don't appreciate being talked down to. You're barely older than I am, so cut the bullshit and say it straight."
Makarov and Mystogan laughed, and then Mystogan spoke. "I suppose there's no point to it now, since you've already thrown off my magic. Forgive me for not showing my face, but if it reassures you, Master has and still let me join."
"What, are you horribly disfigured? An infamous criminal?"
Mystogan laughed again. "No, nothing like that. I simply bear an unfortunate resemblance to someone most mages are not too fond of, so I prefer to keep the confusion and hatred to a minimum."
"Wish I'd thought of hiding my face back home," Harry muttered. "Not like they'd have let me get away with it."
Makarov raised an eyebrow, intrigued by Harry's statement. Harry ignored him.
Mystogan, seeing he'd worn out his welcome—judging by Harry's still-displeased look—waved a hand idly. "Well, I did only come to pick up a few jobs. So I'll take my leave."
Harry watched as Mystogan went to the job board and scanned it for a moment before selecting a few flyers and tucking them into a pocket somewhere. "I look forward to seeing your progress, Harry," Mystogan said, raising a hand in farewell. "Master is right; if you can resist my sleep spell, you'll make S-class in no time. Maybe we'll see each other at the trials this year."
Harry simply scowled until the mysterious mage disappeared. The pressure of his magic vanished and around the guild hall, people began to wake. Levy blinked drowsily and looked around, disoriented.
Harry stayed focused on Makarov. "What did he mean, see me at the trials?"
"Every year, we hold a trial to see which mages are ready to move up to S-class. Currently we have three S-class mages: Erza, Laxus, and Gildarts."
"Who?" Harry had never heard the last name.
"Gildarts Clive," Levy chimed in. "He's said to be the most powerful mage in the guild. He's even been called the ace of Fairy Tail!"
"Indeed. Currently he's away on an extended quest, which is why you haven't met him. But Mystogan is the strongest contender for S-class this year. If you continue to improve at the rate you've been going, you will likely become a contender as well." Makarov nodded at the books spread out in front of him and Levy.
"Me?" Harry shrunk down a little. "But I've only just learned how to use my magic at all. I still don't have full control of my more powerful spells. And aren't S-class mages supposed to be the best of the best?"
Makarov smiled. "You've made incredible progress in the few short months you've been here, from not knowing anything to being nearly on par with Gray and Cana. If you're serious about becoming S-class, though, you will still need to train hard. After all," he grinned, "S-class mages are, as you said, the best of the best."
Harry frowned lightly as Makarov hopped off the bar and toddled away, a little unsteady.
"Do you want to be S-class?" Levy asked.
"I don't know if I'd be good enough," Harry admitted quietly. Everything I've ever done, all the great deeds they liked to brag about back home…it was all because of luck. And then I screwed up and got Sirius killed…
"There's no rush," Levy said reassuringly. "Like Master said, they hold the trials once a year. If you don't think you'll be ready this year, you can aim for next year."
Harry sighed, trying to shake thoughts of Sirius out of his head. "Yeah, you're right."
Levy grinned. "Of course I am. And, by the way, if you do want to be S-class…" Her grin turned feral. "You'll have to study, really hard." She pushed his book back in front of him. "So back to sigma!"
Harry stifled a groan.
After another week of intense studying, Harry finally convinced Levy to give him a break. "How will I know if I've truly learned it until I try to use it?" He asked her.
Levy opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again. "You're right. Application is just as important as theory. Fine. You can go on a couple of jobs. Then it's back to the books!"
Harry groaned again and Gray snickered at his misfortune. "She's got you under her thumb for good now," Gray teased.
"She's also teaching me some pretty useful spells," Harry said flatly. "So I'd be careful what comes out of your mouth from now on."
Gray continued smirking, unintimidated. "You don't scare me. Not if you've been subdued by the bookworm, of all people."
Levy narrowed her eyes. "'Of all people?'" she said dangerously. "Solid Script: Slime!"
Green goo dumped itself all over Gray, leaving him sputtering vehemently. Harry, and the rest of the guild, burst out laughing.
"Hah! That'll teach you to underestimate a girl!" Cana called, cackling.
"How do I get it off?" Gray begged.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "I don't know. Maybe you should ask the bookworm."
Levy smirked evilly, her light pen glinting in her hand like a sword. Gray quailed.
"Pathetic. You'll never become S-class like that," Laxus mocked. He and his team walked past them on their way to the door, a job flyer in Laxus's hand.
"Never S-class!" Bixlow's totems chirped mockingly. Bixlow snickered and stuck his tongue out, showing off his guild mark.
"That's a foolish use for script magic," Freed reprimanded Levy. She scowled and crossed her arms stubbornly.
"You're all pathetic." Evergreen's face was condescending, like she was looking down her nose at them.
Harry's fists clenched at his sides. "I'll show you pathetic," he growled. "Just watch. Come December, I'll be in the S-class trials, and I'll show you just how pathetic it is to look down on others."
"Me, too," Gray declared firmly. Harry gave him a surprised look. Gray scoffed. "Like I'd let you do it alone. The big oaf needs to be taken down a peg." He stared defiantly directly at Laxus as he spoke.
Freed stepped in front of Laxus with a fierce look, his hand on the hilt of his rapier. "How dare you speak to Laxus like that. Show some respect for your betters."
Harry scoffed openly. "Hah! You guys think you're better than we are? I knew someone like that, and you know what? He got knocked down by a girl, and while he was busy sticking his nose in the air, I turned him into a slug." Well, he gave him little tentacles. With the help of Fred. But it was the same idea.
Laxus smirked. "I guess we'll see, then, pipsqueak." He waved mockingly, then led his team out the doors.
Harry growled. "I'll show him."
Gray bumped his shoulder. "And I'll help you. Gladly. He's been a prick ever since I joined, but ever since he got his team, he's gotten worse."
"You're actually going to try for S-class?" Cana asked. There was an odd note to her voice, somehow both impressed and disappointed. "Even though you've only been here for three months?"
"Yes," Harry declared. "I can't have assholes like that out representing Fairy Tail." He glared at the doors through which Laxus had departed.
Gray jumped and eeped as Erza came up behind them, a dark look on her face. Harry felt a stirring of unease. He hadn't ever directly interacted with the other S-class mage other than a few words here and there.
"H-hey, Erza," Gray greeted shakily. The redhead didn't seem to notice.
"I agree that Laxus ought to come down a peg or two. It's a great idea that you're trying for S-class, Harry." She looked at him directly and Harry felt like he was being stared down by a combination of an angry Ginny Weasley and Oliver Wood on a Quidditch rant. He quailed slightly.
"But I must warn you," Erza continued. "The road to S-class is not easy. Overconfidence is a sure way to fail."
"Y-yeah. I know." Harry clenched his hands into fists again, this time in determination. "But I think I can do it." He smirked a little. "I am a Fairy Tail mage, after all." And for perhaps the first time, Harry felt a surge of pride at speaking those words out loud.
"Then you'd best get started. The trials will come up faster than you think," Erza advised.
Gray nodded quickly. "Of course. We're going right now. Right, Harry?"
"Er…" Harry didn't have time to react as Gray grabbed his arm and dragged him over to the request board. Gray scanned it for half a second and pulled a seemingly random flyer off the board.
"Let's go. Mira!" Gray called, waving the flyer over his head. "We're taking the escort job!"
Mira waved back with a smile. "Good luck!"
"Wait! Don't I get a say in this? What the—Gray!" Gray all but dragged Harry out of the guild hall.
"Erza terrifies me," he said frankly once they were outside. He grinned sheepishly. "If we didn't pick a job ourselves, she would have picked one for us. And it would have probably been A-class."
"A-class? What's that?" Harry asked. He knew about S-class, but he had no idea about the other rankings.
"A-class is right below S-class. Then there's B-class and then C-class, and then there are the non-magic jobs." Gray looked pointedly at Harry. "We're barely B-class."
"So…we're average, then? Or slightly above average?"
"Above average, but nothing too impressive." Gray grimaced. "I've been trying to get better, but…" He trailed off and a familiar shadow crossed his face. Harry furrowed his brow but didn't ask.
"So I guess we're increasing our training after this, then?" he suggested, trying to change the subject.
Gray grinned, and Harry was sure he didn't mistake the relief on his face for the subject change. "You bet we are."
"So what is this job, anyway?"
Gray opened his mouth, then cast a worried glance back at the guild hall doors. "Let's walk and talk. I'm afraid Erza's going to come out and tell us to get a move on." He started off at a brisk walk. Harry hurried to catch up.
"Okay. I get she's intimidating, but…why are you so scared of her?"
Gray smiled sheepishly. "Let's just say she's not my biggest fan ever since I started a fight with Natsu and smashed her birthday cake." He winced. "That was five years ago."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "And this was the only time?"
Gray shook his head, still faintly embarrassed. "Well…it happens now and then."
"Whenever you and Natsu are in the same room?" Harry asked, eyebrow still raised. He'd witnessed the two of them fighting become the catalyst to a guild-wide brawl more than once in the last few months.
Harry shook his head in disbelief. "Anyway, what's this escort job?"
"Oh, it's nothing. Just escorting some rich brat to boarding school. But it's a high B-rank job and it pays well. If we're lucky, we might get to fight some bandits on the way."
"Fighting bandits is not most people's definition of lucky," Harry deadpanned.
Gray smirked. "Maybe not, but it's mine. Otherwise we'll have to listen to him whine the whole way. And it's a three-day journey."
Harry cringed, imagining spending three straight days with Malfoy. "Yeah, I see your point."
The kid they were meant to escort lived on the outskirts of Magnolia in a real mansion on a huge plot of land. Harry could just imagine Draco Malfoy strutting about the grounds, or flying on his own personal Quidditch pitch. And he cringed.
"Shouldn't we, I don't know, dress the part?" Harry asked hesitantly as they stood outside the locked gate at the end of a long drive.
Gray scoffed. "Are you kidding? I'm not sucking up to this kid or his family. I'm just here for the job. If they don't like the way we dress, tough. I'm not changing."
"Right. Because changing implies you're wearing clothes to begin with," Harry drawled, eying Gray's suddenly half-naked form.
Gray sighed and picked his shirt up off the ground. He pulled it back over his head and stuck his tongue out at Harry, who was making very little effort to hide his mirth.
"At least keep your clothes on, pervert," Harry teased lightly.
Gray narrowed his eyes. "Don't burn the mansion down, either, scarhead."
"I won't if you don't," Harry replied with a smirk. "Now come on. This was your idea. So you get to do the talking."
Gray made a face, but rang the bell. Then he took his shirt off again. Harry rolled his eyes.
"I might just have to put a sticking charm on your clothes," he muttered.
"What?" Gray looked down and saw his missing shirt. He sighed exasperatedly, then stuffed his shirt into his pack. He rolled his eyes at Harry's incredulous look. "It's not going to stay on anyway."
A moment later, a man Harry assumed was a butler of sorts reached the gates.
"How can I help you?"
"We're here from Fairy Tail to escort the young master to school," Gray said. Harry bit his cheek to hold back a chuckle at the contrast between his formal tone and his currently-shirtless state.
The butler, it seemed was of a similar opinion. He gave Gray a disapproving look, and sniffed at little at Harry's rather punk-style outfit of cargo pants, combat boots, and sleeveless shirt. But he couldn't ignore the guild mark on Gray's chest, so the butler let them in.
They were escorted into a formal office on the first floor of the mansion, where the owner of the mansion was waiting for them. "The mages from Fairy Tail, Russel-sama." The butler bowed, admitting Gray and Harry into the room.
"Thank you, Bertland."
The butler bowed, then left the room, leaving the two Fairy Tail mages face-to-face with a rather intimidating man. He rather reminded Harry of one of the other Slytherin boys in his year, Nott. The man was tall, with dark hair and angled features. He lacked the searching, menacing look that Nott had always had, but he retained the bearing that demanded respect.
"I am Russell Cambridge, master of this estate. You may address me as Cambridge-sama or sir."
Gray and Harry both bowed, almost on instinct. "It is an honor to serve you, Cabridi-Camubr—" Gray stumbled over the strange name and cringed in embarrassment. "An honor to serve you, sir. I am Gray Fullbuster of Fairy Tail."
"An honor to serve you, Cambridge-sama," Harry echoed. "I am Harry of Fairy Tail." He left out his last name. No one in Fiore had learned it, and Harry intended it to stay that way. He was starting over here; being known as Harry of Fairy Tail was far better than being Harry Potter, the boy-who-lived.
"A pleasure to meet you, Gray and Harry. You are here to escort my son Gerard to West Academy for school. But I do require certain information before I allow you to meet him."
From there, Harry and Gray endured a grueling interview about what kind of magic they used, to their knowledge of the route and proper customs of being in the retinue of nobility to what their personality was like. Harry barely stopped from cringing with each invasive question.
Finally the questions ended. Apparently, they had passed because Cambridge-sama then asked for them to wait while he summoned his son.
"Gray-kun, Harry-kun, this is my son, Gerard. He is the one you will be escorting to West Academy."
The surly-looking boy made a face that his father missed, then he bowed, very slightly, to Harry and Gray. They exchanged a look and bowed back.
"Of course, a retinue of servants and guards will accompany you as well. In case of an attack, we are well-prepared."
Harry and Gray exchanged another look. "Are you expecting an attack, sir?" Harry asked.
Cambridge-sama shrugged. "One can never be too careful. And there have been rumors of bandits along the West Road."
Harry shrugged slightly. "We'll be on the alert, then."
"Thank you. I do appreciate this. You will leave tomorrow at dawn. There are rooms set aside for your use tonight."
Harry and Gray bowed again. "Thank you, sir," Gray said.
"I should be thanking you. I wish you luck. I'll say my proper farewells tomorrow morning, son," Cambridge-sama said, looking at his son. The boy scoffed quietly. Then the butler returned and escorted Gray and Harry to their rooms for the night.