Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 47

Harry got up at his usual hour, got dressed in some comfortable workout clothes, and made his way outside.

Quietly.

In the couple of weeks since Melinoe had started living with him, he'd gotten used to the fact that the goddess would appear at the slightest sound on his part – followed by her insistence that he 'entertain her'.

He had barely managed to do his homework and his training had consisted of a spare half an hour here and there before he started being quiet – real quiet – in the mornings.

Letting out a breath once he reached the back yard, Harry waved at the rising sun. Once again, it did the whole did-it-wink-or-didn't-it trick that never failed to make him smile.

Time for some training.

He relaxed, feet together, and sunk back on his heels. His legs slightly bent, he closed his eyes and sunk into the formless trance of the quiet standing exercise. His mind started to pull away from his body, oblivious to any form of physical sensation.

Still, he did not pull away entirely and maintained enough control to move his body around. Letting his body do what it did naturally – stand upright – he pulled his right leg off the ground.

Without conscious thought trying to maintain balance, his subconscious and his body took over the duty and did so flawlessly.

He pulled his right leg up further, and crossed his ankle over his left knee, before sinking slightly lower through his left leg to better anchor the ankle.

His body maintained quiet standing on one leg. He put his hands together over his chest, and let his awareness drift away, detaching completely from his physical body and carried away by the ether of reality.

For a few moments that could have been mere moments or mere eons, he shifted his awareness.

In the studies he undertook with Athena, he had heard of the famed Indian mathematician Ramanujan; a genius of mathematics who had no higher education in the subject, yet was able to intuit complex mathematical formulas.

In those studies, Harry had come across the statement from the mathematician that said he saw the formulas in his dreams, taught to him by the goddess Namakal – usually in the form of a giant hand writing on a screen.

He already had more than a few gods teaching him, and he struggled enough with conventional maths that he didn't want to risk it asking Athena for more maths.

Instead, he grasped on the very idea of being taught while dreaming, an altered state of consciousness, and decided to try it himself.

Usually, he would focus his mind inward, towards his energy centers; now he decided to let it focus out, away from his physical self.

Marduk had told him of the Akashic Records, magic's memory of everything that ever happened, was happening, and would ever happen.

He'd also been warned of the dangers of accessing said Records, for memories were dangerous things that didn't contain safeguards. It was something he had experienced himself in a small measure when communing with a genius loci, one that had him convinced for a moment he had roots and branches and leaves.

So, he wasn't attempting to access the Records; without knowledge or guidance he could access the memory of a being that could drive him insane at the mere glimpse of it.

Instead, he focused on his knowledge of runes – or what little there was of it – and requested help.

Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, something responded. Harry had expected a hand to write on a screen, like Ramanujan had experienced. That was the image he had prepared for, after all.

The screen was there; only it wasn't the blackboard he had expected. Instead, it seemed to be comprised of ethereal blue smoke that hung like a flat sheen in mid-air.

And there was a hand; only it had four fingers, and seemed to have an extra joint in there. It extended one finger, longer and more agile than his own, and started drawing on the smoke-like screen, writing dark green sigils on the light-blue smoky background.

Harry's mind stared in fascination, somehow absorbing the knowledge in ways he knew he shouldn't be capable of; the ideas and thoughts somehow sinking directly into his memory.

The writing was methodical and continuous, the board resetting itself once 'full', with the alien hand continuing to write.

Finally, the hand stopped, and the board vanished. The hand itself started to disappear as well.

"Wait!" Harry communicated through his mind. It wasn't the word itself, rather it was the very concept of 'please wait a moment' that seemed to be brought across to his unusual teacher.

The hand held at a semi-blurred state.

"Thank you very much for the lesson, and for your time," Harry said politely, not wanting to come across as either selfish or ungrateful. Again, it wasn't the words themselves, but the concept of gratitude, teaching, and time, that were communicated across.

Harry was suddenly struck with the concepts of time being meaningless, and that all knowledge should be shared freely.

The hand then vanished.

Apparently, his strange tutor either had all the time in the world, or time as a concept really had no meaning in this strange plane of existence.

He was pondering the strange correlation between his alien tutor and Marduk, who both seemed to subscribe to the adage of knowledge needing to be free, when he felt something filter through from his physical body.

There was a chill, and the sensation of being wet.

Since his mind was more than a few steps removed from his body, there was no actual reaction from his consciousness regarding the sudden cold wet sensation, but it did make him curious.

Returning to his body, he slowly opened his eyes, only to see Melinoe, Goddess of Ghosts, ready to lob another water balloon at him.

"Mel?" he asked, unfolding his one leg and putting both feet on the ground once more. He took a long look at her; today she was dressed in jet-black velvet and lace, the stud in her nose was pure silver, and her lips were as black as her outfit.

Next to her, the Nemean House-Cat was sitting in a sphinx-like manner, giving a cattily amused look at the both of them.

"Aww," the Goddess of Ghosts pouted childishly. "I was hoping to hit you again."

Harry gave her an amused grin. "I was meditating," he explained.

"So I saw," Mel replied. "That looked uncomfortable."

"I rule my body, my body doesn't rule me," Harry told her, attempting to sound wise.

Judging from the way she laughed at him, he failed miserably. She composed herself quickly, and looked serious all of a sudden. "I think you work too hard, Harry," she said. It was something that came up often with her, Harry had found. If he listened to her, he would be spending his days doing nothing, intertwined with bouts of goofing off.

"So you've told me before," Harry answered with a casual wave, and turned to go inside. "I take it you'd like some breakfast?" he asked, hoping to distract her.

"Not so fast," the goddess stopped him, one hand on his arm. "You're always working. Or training. Or studying. So today, I think I'm going to take you out for breakfast."

He shrugged. "Okay," he agreed. "I'll grab a shower first, though."

He laughed at the look of surprise on her face. "What? You think I'm going to say 'no' to someone else cooking?"

"Well… honestly… yes," Melinoe replied. "But I'm not going to complain about you giving in. We leave as soon as you're done."

"Can I drive?" he asked as he walked inside, ready for a shower and change.

"No!" she yelled after him.

"You're no fun!" he yelled back, almost out of hearing range.

"Not true, I'm loads of fun," Melinoe pouted to herself, her arms crossed. She looked down at Nemmy. "I'm fun, right?"

The Nemean House-Cat gave her a catty sort of look, one that proclaimed 'one of us is insane and it is not me', before standing up and making his way inside as well.

There was a time she would have cursed either one for their cheeky attitude, but that was before Harry freed her from her imprisonment. She honestly liked the boy and his cat, and a part of her found it refreshing that he was able to be himself around her.

He trusted her not to harm him, and she wanted to live up to that trust. Due to her heritage and her looks, not to mention her parents' edict, very few were willing to treat her as a regular person.

It was new, sometimes annoying, but very liberating at the same time.

Half an hour later, Nemmy was feasting on a big bowl of meat of some kind, and Harry and the Goddess of Ghosts were walking over to Christine, who was parked next to the temple.

As they approached, Harry waved to the car. "Hi Christine!" he greeted the bright red Plymouth Fury.

The car flashed its high beams at him in greeting. The young demigod gave the Goddess of Ghosts a strange grin, and obviously still not having fully forgiven her for the prank with the water balloons, he turned back to face the car. "Christine, Mel is being stingy and won't let me drive!" he tattled.

Melinoe burst out laughing as she pulled the driver's side door open. "Trying to turn my car against me?" she asked, still laughing.

Harry pulled the door closed behind him. "Well, after you threw the water balloon at me, I thought I'd try."

Still laughing, the goddess said, "Too bad that won't… work…" she trailed off when she turned the key and the engine spluttered, as if it were flooded with fuel, starved of fuel, and had a low battery, somehow all at the same time.

Harry burst out laughing and amicably patted the dashboard. "Thank you, Christine," he said, still snickering.

"I can't believe Christine takes your side," the goddess grumped.

The engine turned over. "I think she was just trolling you a bit," Harry said.

"Cheeky steel box," Melinoe grumped in good nature.

The engine sounded pleased with itself.

Both goddess and demigod laughed as they pulled away from the temple.

"So, where are we going?" he asked.

"A small diner in Washington DC," Melinoe said. "Hel told me about it, some time back, and I've been going there on and off for the last couple of years. Always at night, though. Stupid parents," she added maliciously. "Have I told you how grateful I am that I can go out during the day now?" she asked, perking up.

"Once or twice," Harry said with a wide smile. "And you're still welcome."

She laughed and patted his knee. "For a demigod sidekick, you're not so bad," she teased.

"Sidekick? I'm obviously the hero, rescuing damsels in distress and all that," he answered arrogantly, sticking his nose in the air. "You're the sidekick."

"I am not!" Melinoe answered with mock outrage.

"You're the mechanic with the cool car, driving me to my hero gigs, that makes you the sidekick," Harry answered teasingly, snickering.

"Hah, I can barely change a tire!" she retorted. "I'm lucky that Christine maintains herself or I'd be in a load of trouble."

Christine's engine purred in agreement.

Still teasing each other, Melinoe pulled over in a conveniently located parking spot not far from a corner restaurant called the 'Royal Diner'.

They were shown to their seats by a nice waitress, and handed menus before being offered something to drink. While Melinoe stuck with strong, black, and highly caffeinated coffee, Harry asked for a chocolate and strawberry milkshake.

Soon after, their drinks arrived.

Harry asked for a helping of French Toast. With raspberry sauce.

Melinoe, on the other hand, went for a apple-smoked bacon cheeseburger and fries. The waitress made no comment and simply took their orders.

"You know, that's not usually breakfast," Harry told Melinoe after the waitress had vanished.

"I haven't slept yet, so consider it a late dinner," the Goddess of Ghosts replied teasingly.

"Oh, yeah, you're mostly nocturnal," he said, half to himself and half to her.

"Not that us gods really need much sleep anyway," Melinoe commented. "Except when you're really lazy, of course."

Harry just nodded, accepting that statement. He knew that some gods, like Apollo, liked sleeping. Which put a different spin on things.

"So," he said, deciding on a change of subject, "why this place? I mean, it looks nice, and they serve good food, but why this place in particular?"

Melinoe lifted an eyebrow. "The food's not out yet. How do you know they serve good food?"

Harry shrugged. "I just do. I think it's part of Hestia's boon, cooking and hospitality and all that."

The Goddess of Ghosts nodded thoughtfully. "Right," she said, eyeing him for a bit. "And like I said, Hel showed me this diner. It's the favorite hangout of some mortals that are… shall we say… interesting?"

"Interesting how?" Harry wondered, before taking a big slurp of his milkshake. If the food was as good as the milkshake was, he was going to enjoy this place.

"Well…" Melinoe trailed off and looked at the bar area. "See that guy?"

Harry looked where she was pointing. "Yeah?" he asked.

"He used to be in the mortal military as a sniper. Oh, the ghosts of that man are just brilliant," Melinoe said with a sigh.

Harry gave her a disappointed look.

"Don't look like that," Melinoe pouted. "The ghosts he's carrying are to die for. Besides, he used to be a sniper. Those guys have not just stamina, but dedication. If things were different, I'd let him mount me like a mule. I bet he could go through the night."

Harry shuddered at the imagery. "Yuck. Pervert."

Melinoe laughed delightedly. "You're so much fun to tease, Harry," she said, reaching over and ruffling his hair, making him pout.

Deciding on ignoring the attack on his habitually messy hair, he asked, "And what do you mean by 'if things were different'?"

"Oh, well," Melinoe said, pointing again. "See the woman next to him?"

Harry looked again, and nodded. She was pretty, he supposed.

"She has almost as many ghosts as him," Melinoe confided. "She's a forensic anthro-something-or-other. Works with the bones of dead mortals, trying to figure out who or what killed them."

"Okay…" Harry said, dragging out the final syllable to question what her point was.

"They're either involved with each other, or about to be involved with each other", the goddess continued. "And Melinoe, Goddess of Ghosts, may not like mortals, but she's not a homewrecker."

Harry laughed. "I'm sure they appreciate you not interfering in their relationship," he said.

"So they should," Melinoe said, imperiously. A few moments later, she looked impish. "I'd suggest a threesome, but I don't think she'll go for it," she added.

Harry snorted at the idea. "What makes you sure he would even go for it?" he asked.

"Please, he's a guy. No red-blooded heterosexual male would ever turn down a threesome with two hot chicks."

Harry sighed, he should have seen that one coming. Perverts. He was surrounded by them. Melinoe just laughed and ruffled his hair again, just as the waitress appeared with their food.

She smiled as she put the food down, and asked if they wanted some more drinks. Melinoe had another coffee, and Harry switched to herbal tea.

Their conversation over breakfast flowed easily, but it broke off when the door to the Royal Diner opened, admitting someone they both knew.

"O-oh," Harry muttered at the sight of Lord Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Melinoe paled impressively and seemed to shrink in on herself while her father casually scanned the interior of the restaurant, before his eyes settled on them.

He strolled casually over, looking as if he were carved from granite; his eyes were deep and dark. His very gait and stance simply screamed his displeasure.

The major god stopped at their table, and eyed both of them, dark gaze flowing from one, to the other, and back again. "Move over," he told his daughter.

Melinoe swallowed and reflexively threw herself down the bench seat, grabbing her food and utensils as she moved.

Hades' gaze flowed to Harry. "Move," he told the demigod, pointing to the spot Melinoe had just vacated. It seemed that the god wanted to face both of them, rather than sit next to one of them.

Harry swallowed, nodded, and moved his plate and cup over, before taking seat next to Melinoe.

Hades nodded briefly, then sat down on the freed-up bench seat, facing the two of them.

"Can I bring you something to drink?" the waitress asked, approaching their table after seeing the strange entrance.

"Coffee. Black," Hades said with a small wave to dismiss her.

"Please," Harry added. Hades speared him with a dark look, which Harry tried to ignore.

The waitress eyed Hades, graced Harry with a tiny smile, and went to fulfill the order.

"Hi, mister Hades," Harry said politely, hoping to put the god in a better mood.

"H-hello, Father," Melinoe said, sounding and looking like she wanted to vanish right there and then.

Hades stared at them both for a moment, then dipped his head. Marginally. "Demigod. Daughter," he said in way of greeting. He focused on Melinoe. "I see you're taking advantage of your freedom."

Melinoe gave a brittle smile. "You only let me out at night, so of course I am."

"You were haunting the mortals. I had to do something," Hades said, sternly.

"Goddess of Ghosts, it's kind of what I do," the young goddess muttered.

"Regardless, I had to protect the secret of our existence." The Lord of the Underworld sounded even sterner, if that were even possible. "It isn't why I am here, in any fashion."

"How can we help, Mister Hades?" Harry asked, politely, hoping to put the god in a better mood and to get him to stop scaring Melinoe.

Hades' eyes narrowed as he focused on Harry, yet he said nothing.

The young demigod's smile broke slightly. "Because I'm really hoping that you'll forgive me, because you're still one of my favorite gods and all that," he added in a rush.

Hades scoffed under his breath, and focused back on Melinoe. "You promise to return home, and yet you have not," he stated.

"I promised I'd think about it!" Melinoe replied testily. "And I spoke to Mother and Grandmother and everything, but I'm not sure I won't end back up in my cave if I do return."

"You will not," Hades said. "Although your cave is a way in and out of the underworld so now I have to get a number of ghouls and spirits defend it against interlopers."

Melinoe shuddered.

"Please stop scaring Mel, Mister Hades," Harry politely asked.

Hades' eyes narrowed at him again. "Melinoe is a goddess," he told the young boy.

"A minor one," Melinoe said. "Who is well aware that you can brush her away like a speck of dirt."

Hades blinked, as if he had not expected that. "You are my daughter," he stated, just as the waitress returned with a cup, and poured him his coffee. The conversation, stilted and uncomfortable as it was, dropped entirely while the beverage was being poured.

After the waitress left, Hades looked at Melinoe again. "You are my daughter," he repeated. "I would not harm you."

"No, you'd just lock me up in a cave," Melinoe said, looking away, and sounding as if she regretted saying it.

Hades sighed. "It was necessary," he finally said.

"It wasn't," the goddess of ghosts said in that sulky-teenager tone that matched completely with her current appearance.

Hades' fists balled and he got up to lean threateningly over the table. "You would have revealed our existence if I hadn't limited you!" he snapped at her; his presence felt stifling and Harry wondered where the sunlight was going all of a sudden.

The already pale goddess paled further and seemed to want to shrink into a corner and vanish. Harry swallowed as well; Hades was scary when he wanted to be.

Just like most gods, he reasoned.

"Please, Mister Hades," Harry said, slowly getting up and drawing the ire and attention of the Lord of the Underworld. With the god's focus on him, the young boy regretted the action immediately.

"Is there a problem?" someone asked, drawing the eye of all three of them.

It was the mortal Melinoe had been… ogling. He was standing straight, and didn't seem at all intimidated by Hades' furious gaze. Harry respected him for that, because Hades was scary.

The scary part bore repeating.

"Nothing that concerns you," Hades snapped. "Begone."

"It does concern me when it looks like you're about to hurt these kids," the mortal said, standing his ground.

"Perhaps I should-" Hades started, turning to the mortal and focusing on him.

The mortal suddenly seemed to draw a wallet from his pocket and snapped it open. "Special Agent Seeley Booth, FBI," the mortal said. "You really don't want to finish that statement. Trust me."

Seeing Hades' frayed temper decay even further, Harry reached out and took his life in his own hands by taking hold of one of Hades' hands. "Please, Sir, sit down," Harry said, softly. He didn't want to use the god's name in front of a mortal, so decided on a more anonymous term of respect. "You're drawing attention to yourself."

Hades glared at Harry, then glared at the diner, seemingly looking every mortal in the eye, before huffing and sitting down as if they were all beneath him.

Which they were, considering he was a god and they were all mortals, but it was still an arrogant thing to do, in Harry's opinion.

Special Agent Booth stared at Hades for a few moments, then nodded to himself and turned to Harry. "Nice work, kid," he said, before glancing at Melinoe, who still seemed to want to crawl into a corner. "I saw you draw his attention away from your sister. Good work."

Harry looked confused for a moment, then realized that, due to Melinoe choosing to keep her hair straight black today, they could pass for siblings. "Someone has to," he muttered, not really sure what to say. For a moment, he wondered what having a sibling would be like.

The FBI agent grinned and patted his shoulder. "Spoken like a true hero," he said. "Listen, I'll be at the bar over there. If he tries anything – anything at all – you give a shout, and I'll come running."

Harry just nodded, unsure of what to say or how to reply. For once, there was an adult that didn't seem to treat him like a kid, and he found he rather liked it.

He sat down again, the uncomfortable silence continuing. He wondered what to so, or whether waiting was the better option. He really didn't want to upset Hades any further.

He wished things went back to normal, where Hades liked him and showed him around the underworld.

"Anyway," Hades finally said. "Past actions belong in the past. Considering your recent actions, limiting you is no longer necessary."

Melinoe still sat quietly, but developed a frown. She wasn't about to forget things that easily.

"I said I would think about it, Father," she finally said. "I didn't say when I would make a decision."

"Your mother wishes for you to return," Hades replied, obviously trying a different way of convincing her.

"I see Mother and Grandmother on Olympus," the goddess of ghosts said.

Hades frowned. "Unless I sneak in, I won't get to see you," he replied. "Besides, Demeter is-"

"My grandmother," Melinoe interrupted without thinking, before realizing she had just interrupted one of the major gods. "I-I m-mean," she stammered.

"I know what you meant," Hades ground out.

Harry felt awful. He still liked Hades – sort of, if he calmed down – and he definitely liked Melinoe, and he hated the fact that the two were arguing.

"How about a visit?" he offered.

Hades glared at him. Melinoe turned to him, looking betrayed.

The young demigod swallowed deeply, feeling both awful and nervous now. "I mean, what if, instead of staying, Mel came for a visit? A day or two? Mister Thor gave me a room in his castle, and I stay there a day or two a month, and I'm planning on a vacation there next month, before my birthday. Maybe Mel could do something similar. That way, she can keep living on her own, but she could still visit."

Hades' eyes narrowed. "As much as I hate to agree with you right now," he said, voice gravely, "that would be a good compromise."

"I could stay at the castle?" Melinoe asked, timidly.

"I already said a room was prepared for you," the Lord of the Underworld said.

"We could try, I suppose," the goddess said to herself.

"Good. I will expect you shortly," Hades said, standing up.

"Father?" Melinoe asked.

"Daughter," Hades replied, either not catching, or missing the implication of, her question.

"Please forgive Harry, Father," the goddess said softly.

Harry looked hopeful. Hades grunted under his breath, and sat down again.

"Please remember your grudge, Father," she tried, still softly and deferentially.

"You were insulting, and the way you acted broke the hospitality I showed you," Hades told Harry.

The boy looked down, not sure what to say to defend himself. Melinoe had to be freed, and he couldn't apologize for that. Not really.

"However, you also corrected a wrong," Hades continued when the silence dragged on. Harry looked up, hopefully. "You also showed respect to us in the underworld beforehand."

"That's because you're awesome," Harry muttered. Hades' lips twitched.

"It was… refreshing… to be treated with respect rather than derision," the Lord of the Underworld spoke. "Which is why your turn was unexpected and surprising."

Harry fell silent again.

"No excuses?" Hades asked. "No apologies? No explanations?"

"I'm not sure what to say to make things better, Mister Hades," Harry replied, honestly. "I just want things to go back to how they were."

"And yet, how can I trust you, considering you turned on me once before?" the Lord of the Underworld demanded.

"I didn't turn on you," Harry said. "I just freed Mel, that's all."

Hades narrowed his eyes. "And yet you repeatedly proclaimed your disappointment."

"That wasn't turning on you, Mister Hades," Harry said. "I just couldn't believe that you would do to Mel what the Dursleys did to me, that's all. I was hurt and disappointed, I never turned on you."

The Lord of the Underworld huffed. "A likely story," he said, gravely. He then sighed. "Plus, I have Hestia nagging me."

"Is it even possible for Hestia to nag?" Harry wondered.

Hades huffed again, but this time in amusement. "You will see, the first time she wants you to do something."

"I try and do what she asks," Harry replied, innocently. Melinoe turned away, trying to hide the shaking of her shoulders. Hades grimaced.

"I suppose," the god finally replied. "Very well. We shall see." He looked at Melinoe. "I will expect you shortly for a… visit." He turned his gaze back to Harry, and eyed him for a few long moments.

Moments that were rather uncomfortable for the demigod. He tried bravely not to squirm.

Too much, anyway.

"Harry," the god finally said with a nod, standing up once more. "We shall see," he repeated, then glanced at Melinoe, and stepped away from the table, before leaving the diner.

"Well that spoiled the mood," Melinoe muttered.

"Will you be alright?" Harry asked.

"I can survive a day or two," the goddess answered. "How about you?"

Harry shrugged. "Things seemed to improve. At least I have a chance to get back on Mister Hades' good side now."

The FBI agent, having obviously watched carefully, approached the table. "Everything alright?" he asked, looking them both over.

Harry managed a smile. "We are. Thanks, Mister Booth."

The man grinned. "It comes with the job," he said. "Listen, if he gives you any trouble at all, either of you, give me a call, alright?" he added, handing over a business card to Harry, who was still seated next to the isle, and therefore closest to him.

"I will. Thanks," Harry said, both grateful for the man showing he cared, and amused at the idea of a mortal FBI agent trying to handcuff the Lord of the Underworld.

Booth gave them both a nod, and turned back.

"I think you could have worse mortals to have a crush on," Harry told Melinoe. "He's nice."

The goddess of ghosts spluttered and gave Harry a dirty look. "I don't have a crush, and Father ruined the mood. Let me out, I'll go pay and let's get out of here. Having a drive will calm us both down."

"Christine's great," Harry agreed as he slid out of the seat to let Melinoe pass.

"Still not going to let you drive," Melinoe retorted without looking at him as she slipped by.

0000

Harry was prone on the ground, aiming down the scope of a rifle that was as long as he was. He was wearing a set of headphones that had been modified by the man standing next to him; the headphones saved his ears while allowing perfect conversation nonetheless.

"Don't close your other eye, brat," Ares admonished, sitting next to him, not even bothering to use the high-powered scope normally used by spotters. "It'll limit your peripheral vision."

Harry pulled his closed eye open again. Having one eye on the 'normal' world, and one eye seeing through a scope to a target that was too-far-away-for-comfort was… well… uncomfortable.

"You'll get the hang of it, brat. Now shoot the target," the God of War instructed casually.

The reticule bopped up and down with each breath Harry took, so he drew a deep breath and held it.

"Don't hold your breath," Ares chided. "Holding your breath both deprives you of oxygen and induces stress. You'll miss if you hold your breath. Breathe normally, and shoot between breaths."

Harry started breathing again, and did indeed feel his body relax slightly as he did so. The reticule bopped. And settled. And bopped. And settled.

He aimed carefully. Bop. Settle. Bop. Set-

The massive weapon threw the .338 round down the range; the recoil practically lifted him off the ground.

Ares chortled, heartily amused at seeing a ten-year-old boy shooting a sniper rifle. He glanced down range. "Not bad, Brat. Ten o'clock, 10 centimeters off." Again, he didn't even bother with a scope.

"Got it," Harry grunted through the pain in his shoulder. He was too young and small for this, he was pretty sure, but when the God of War wanted to teach you long-distance shooting, you simply didn't turn him down. He pulled the bolt back, ejecting the spent cartridge, then cycled it back, grabbing a new projectile. There was something innately powerful about the action, he thought.

He adjusted the scope as Ares had shown him, and took aim. Bop. Settle. Bop. Settle. Bop. Settl-

Bang.

This time, Harry was sure the rifle had picked him up and tried to fling him away.

"Six o'click, 2 centimeters," Ares said, snickering to himself when he saw the small boy wrestle with the big rifle.

Harry took another breath to steady his nerves, and took aim again.

Bang.

"Third time's the charm," Ares said. "Well, that's 400 meters. Let's do something challenging for a change."

Harry looked up from the rifle, while rubbing his shoulder. "Like what, Mister Ares?"

"I'll conjure up something about a kilometer that way, and let you shoot its head off," Ares said, pointing vaguely in some direction. "You'll only get one chance, though. People tend to run when you shoot at them, rather than sit there and let you adjust like that target."

"At least the scope is dialed in," Harry muttered.

Ares chortled. "For 400 meters, yes. But a bullet drops further over longer distance."

The young demigod gave the God of War a foul look. "You're not going to try and make me do maths, are you?"

The god laughed heartily. "These are the fun sort of maths, Brat! The kind that will let you blow a guy's head off a mile away. Now, do the ballistics."

Harry muttered foul epithets under his breath. Ares just laughed louder. "The only conspiracy I'm part off is to have decent child soldiers shoot people at long distances," the God of War said. "Ah, the miracles of modern warfare. If only the others weren't so old-fashioned. We could take over the world with a few hundred demigods trained in modern warfare."

Harry looked up from the page. "Ehm… Mister Ares?" he asked.

"Any demigod could walk through special forces training without issue," Ares told him. "Imagine what would happen if we started training you from an early age, get that pesky conscience out of you. Turn you into proper young psychopaths baying only for the blood of our enemies."

Harry gaped at him.

"Fun, right?" Ares asked, a disturbingly wide grin on his face.

"Ehm… not really?" Harry offered. "I kinda like my conscience, and Hestia would be really upset if I turned into a psychopath."

"You're a young boy. You're supposed to be be on my side, Brat! I let you play with guns! Big ones!"

"And the guns are fun. And deadly. And sometimes scary," Harry replied. "And you taught me to be careful with them."

Ares almost pouted, but visibly restrained himself. Gods of war didn't pout, it was beneath him and would ruin his reputation. "Fine, fine, I get it. Did you finish your ballistics yet?"

Harry grouched as he turned back to the paper, still convinced it was a conspiracy by his various teachers to get him to do more maths.

He restrained the urge to grouch; Ares may be a decent guy – sometimes – but there was no telling how he'd react to Harry's grouching.

It wasn't as if it was hilariously complicated, either, but it was still maths.

"I don't suppose I could get some help?" he asked.

The God of War eyed him with one eyebrow raised.

"I mean… like a laser rangefinder?" Harry offered.

"And what would you do on a battlefield without one?" Ares asked.

"Ehm… ask someone else to borrow theirs?" the demigod offered.

The god let out a laugh. "Nice try, Brat. Now shoot the damn zombie."

Harry went back to his task. Fine, then. He looked through the scope, and found the zombie pacing back and forth. "Where did you get a zombie from, anyway?" he asked.

"God of War, Brat. Anyone dead in a war is mine," Ares replied. "And stop stalling."

Harry pouted silently behind his scope. Fine, then… so the zombie was in his scope. From the looks of it, it was about 1.8 meters tall… and took up two mildots in his scope. That would mean… 1.8 times 1000, divided by two mildots… 900 meters away.

"So he's 900 meters away," Harry muttered to himself, and grabbed the paperwork of the rifle and ammunition, checking the bullet drop-off table to see how much the bullet would drop over that distance. He just counted himself lucky he wasn't shooting up- or down-hill, that would complicate matters even more.

"Ehm… can I get a help with the wind indications?" Harry asked.

Ares narrowed his eyes.

"Fine, fine, alone on the battlefield," Harry said, going back to his rifle and looking through the scope for any indication to windspeed and direction. Oh, some trees.

Hey, there was barely any wind, the leaves weren't rustling much.

Lucky him.

So he took his wind drift data table, and adjusted for the lowest amount of wind – which still was a substantial amount of compensation when your target was 900 meters away.

In the end, even with the maths and the tables, he still had to 'wing' it quite a bit, as the zombie wasn't nice enough to stand still and was pacing.

Ares grinned when his young charge went still looking down the scope.

"Both eyes open," Ares distracted him with a chuckle. Harry startled for a moment, let out a grunt, and obviously had to start over. Ah, the joys of being a teacher.

Harry grunted when Ares distracted him. Fine, so he'd close one eye. He drew a breath and started zeroing in on the pacing zombie. He just wanted it over with… this wasn't the fun kind of shooting they'd do at a shooting range.

He didn't think sniping would be his preferred kind of target practice. Too much math- hang on.

He was the son of the Goddess of Fortune.

Opening his senses to probability, he felt for the right spot to aim, pushed a bit to make sure he definitely had the right spot, and pulled the trigger.

Over a distance of 900 meters, there was a delay between him firing and the bullet reaching the target, and Harry held his breath as he gazed through the scope.

The top of the zombie's head basically disintegrated as the bullet struck home.

"Yes! Direct hit!" Harry crowed. On second thought, sniping could be fun if he cheated a bit!

Ares gaped, before realizing what had happened, then he burst out laughing. "Brat, there are grown mortals who spend a long time training for long-distance shooting who will be green with envy! Nobody makes their first ever shot over that distance!"

"Ehm… just lucky, I guess?" Harry replied, offering the truth in disguise.

"As son of the Goddess of Luck, you'd better be, Brat!" Ares chortled again. "You just lucked your way into one hell of a shot." The God of War turned to face him entirely. "Brat, wanna be a sniper? With that kind of luck, you'd be a beast on the battlefield. I can practically guarantee they'd hang your chest full of medals."

Harry shook his head. He wanted to state that Hestia wouldn't like it. He also wanted to state that he didn't want to hurt people who hadn't hurt him, first. In the end, he decided on an explanation that Ares would accept and understand.

"No thank you, Mister Ares. Shooting targets, or zombies, is one thing. But I don't think I could shoot actual people like that. Not very sportsmanlike, you know?"

Ares laughed again and slapped Harry's shoulder. "Very true, brat. Very true." he looked away again. "Wanna shoot another?"

Harry shrugged. "Why not?" he asked, looking through his scope again.

"This one's a runner," Ares said, making a hand-motion.

Harry was silent and gazed through the scope. Forget maths. He was going to do this his way. Thanks, Mom, he said silently to himself. Best ability ever.

0000

The Nemean Lion was in full Lion form, stretched out in front of the crackling fire of the hearth in the temple of Helios.

Harry was stretched out against him, using the big cat as a combination body pillow and sofa, halfway dozing while holding up a book on the ecology of northern pine forests. It was one of the books from Athena's library, and Harry was supposed to be studying it.

With Melinoe out to visit the Underworld, he was taking advantage of catching up on his studies. Unfortunately for him, after a day of study, his focus wasn't what it was supposed to be. His tiredness combined with the warmth of the hearth and the purring of the Lion was an excellent recipe to doze off.

Especially as the Lion seemed to make it a sport to breath in really deeply and rhythmically, rocking him up and down in a deeply relaxing and peaceful manner.

He loved the Nemean Lion.

Despite having the book open, Harry's eyes were not and he half-dreamed about floating in a boat on the middle of the ocean.

That peace and tranquility shattered when someone pushed the front doors open. "I'm home!"

"Huwah?" the young demigod said eloquently, pulled his eyes open and his mind from the ocean. The Nemean Lion seemed to scoff.

"Hello, Harry!" Melinoe said cheerfully, flouncing in dressed in a black and ruby monstrosity that seemed to have run away from some steampunk's idea of the Victorian Era.

"Melinoe," Harry greeted the young goddess, slowly managed to pull his scattered wits together and rolling off the Nemean Body Pillow.

Said goddess put her hands on her hips. "Have you been working too hard again?" she asked, eying his state.

"I was just resting my eyes a bit," he muttered, marking the book and closing it.

"Northern Pine Forests? Really?" the Goddess of Ghosts teased.

"Miss Athena wanted me to study it," Harry replied with a nod.

"Uh-huh," she replied, moving from her hands on her hips to crossing her arms. "I was gone for two days, tell me you didn't spend all of it working."

"I didn't spend all of it working," Harry said dutifully.

Melinoe raised an eye. "I did some morning exercises, and Mister Ares wanted to teach me how to shoot sniper rifles over long distance, and I had an appointment with Miss Athena, and then she gave me homework, so I did that too, and I went to see Artie and Miss Zoë to see if they had some time for some survival practice – but they didn't, which is too bad because I miss survival practice – so I spent some time in the simulator instead, doing some of the exercises Mister Poseidon showed me last time on how to sail a ship."

Melinoe looked less than impressed. "And you say you didn't spend all of two days working?"

"Not all of it is working," Harry muttered, looking down and scoffing one foot on the floor. "Most of it's fun, too."

"Uh-huh," she said, again, still not sounding impressed. "You work too hard, Harry."

"But sailing ships is fun! And other than the maths, shooting sniper rifles is fun, too. Especially after I found the cheat code and no longer need the maths."

She nodded again, still not looking convinced. "You know what, I'm taking you out for the night. And maybe the morning, too. Bah, who knows when we'll be back?"

Harry blinked. "Miss Athena expects me back on Friday, and I have an appointment with Marduk next Monday, so we'll definitely need to be back before then." He then cocked his head. "Where are we going?"

"Best place on earth!" Melinoe cheered. "Las Vegas!"

Harry gaped. "Vegas? My Mom's city? Where she can see everything I do, all of the time?"

Melinoe grinned. "Tyche's the Goddess of Fortune. She definitely can't complain when her son gathers one for himself," she replied. "Now, go put on your fancy suit. I'm going to call for the Celestial Suite at the Fortuna Casino."

"Ehm…" Harry muttered.

"What's wrong?" Melinoe asked, seeing how he suddenly because nervous.

"Ehm… well… I grew quite a bit in the last year, you see," he said. "I don't think the fancy suit Arachne sent me for my birthday still fits."

It was Melinoe's turn to gape. "Arachne? You have a suit made by Arachne?"

Harry nodded quickly. "After I helped turn her back into a human, she sent me a big box with lots of clothes for my birthday."

The Goddess of Ghosts giggled. "I heard rumors about that," she laughed. "Do you know that she has a three-month waiting list, and that she only works by commission? There are fashionista's who would kill for 'a big box with lots of clothes' from her."

"They're great clothes, genuine spider silk," Harry defended. "I just grew over the last year."

Melinoe laughed again. "That's what young boys do," she told him, before laughing again. "Harry, you have a very strange life. Exciting, but strange."

"Hermes and the other guys at the Maths Parties say the same thing," he replied with a nod.

"Math pa-" Melinoe started to ask, before eying him. "You don't like maths that much, and I don't see Lord Hermes joining anything with the word 'maths' in it. So what really goes on at these maths parties?"

"Non-deterministic probability, mostly," Harry answered with a straight face.

Melinoe gave him a queer look, obviously not understanding what he was trying to say.

"We play poker," Harry added, taking pity, and having mercy, on her.

The goddess laughed. "Good one," she said. "Before we go, have you even tried that suit? Because I wouldn't put it past Arachne to put some tricks in there to make it fit when you grow."

Harry shrugged. "Not really," he answered, exactly as you'd expect a young boy to answer when faced with fancy clothes.

"Come on, give them a try," Melinoe encouraged. "It's either that, or clothes shopping."

Faced with a prospect worse than simply trying on a suit, Harry scampered.

Unfortunately, while it seemed that Arachne had indeed done her best to account for growing boys, his growth spurt had defeated even her skill.

Melinoe snickered at the look on his face when it became clear that they would still have to go clothes shopping.

"Now, come on, let's hop in Christine and go to Vegas. We'll stop on the way to get you a suit," she said with a wide grin.

"Isn't it kind of late?" Harry asked, trying to get out of shopping for a suit. "I mean, I think most places will be closed. Unless we're going to Australia or something?"

"Late? In Vegas?" Melinoe asked with a scoff. "When you throw money around, nothing is closed and everything is possible in Vegas," she said. "Come on, pack a bag. I'll go call for the Celestial Suite at the Fortuna."

"Sounds like a place my mom would own," Harry muttered as he turned to go and do as she asked-slash-told him to do.

"It probably is," the young goddess said with a laugh as she pulled out a cell phone.