Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 58

After the Halloween feast, Harry was making his way back down to the Hufflepuff Common Room with the rest of the Hufflepuffs. Just as they were about to tap on the correct barrel to open the entrance, they were stopped by the Friar, the Hufflepuff House Ghost.

"Excuse me, Mister Potter," the Friar said, suddenly a lot less jolly than usual, and a lot more polite than usual, too.

"Friar?" Harry asked. "What's wrong? You're not sounding like your usual self."

The other Hufflepuffs went silent as well, everyone focusing on their House Ghost. If something was wrong with him, they wanted to help.

"No, it's… it's just that I was told to deliver a message," the Friar said, sounding as if he very much wished he could wipe sweat off his forehead. Unfortunately for him, as a ghost, he did not sweat.

"Oh?" Harry asked, deceptively friendly. If this mystery someone had done something to their House Ghost, Harry would be extremely upset.

"You… ah… have been invited to a gathering," the Friar said, unaware of Harry's inner resolve to defend him. "By a certain person of power and influence," he added, as if that made things clear.

Harry blinked, wondering who that could be. Seeing the confusion on the demigod's face, the Friar sighed. "Lady Melinoe requested your presence at a gathering," he finally said.

"Is that the princess you rescued?" Justin asked with a grin.

"Ehm… yes," Harry said, suddenly realizing why the Friar wanted to have the ability to sweat. As Goddess of Ghosts, Mel was probably as terrifying as they come to a ghost. And, he realized, having Mel at Hogwarts could be either funny or a headache. Or both.

The Hufflepuffs started chatting excitedly, Harry's story suddenly gained a lot of credence. Not that they didn't believe him before, but it was one thing to hear a tale, and another to have that tale come knocking on your front door.

"Where is Mel?" Harry asked the Friar, who looked like he suddenly wished for the ability to grow pale as well.

"If you want, I can show you to Lady Melinoe's location," the Friar offered. "She has currently taken over the Shrieking Shack."

More muttering from the Hufflepuffs growing up in the magical world. From their muttering, Harry could make out that this 'Shrieking Shack' was apparently some haunted hut on the edge of Hogsmeade, the village that housed the train station for Hogwarts.

Of course Mel would be drawn to that place.

Before Harry could say anything, Susan butted into the conversation. "Why are you so scared of Harry's friend, Friar?" she asked.

"Lady Melinoe is…" the Friar started to say, before stopping himself from saying too much. As a ghost, one did not wish to offend the Goddess of Ghosts by revealing secrets that weren't his to reveal.

"She's an experience," Harry helped the poor spirit out. "She's lots of fun, but she can be… scary. Plus, she was locked in a cave so she's really sheltered in a way; she doesn't always realize that people aren't invulnerable, so sometimes she takes things too far. I can't blame the poor Friar for being nervous."

The Friar shot him a grateful look. "Let's go, Friar," Harry said. "Before she comes looking for me."

"Yes, we wouldn't want that," the Friar said hurriedly, suddenly sounding a whole different kind of anxious.

"Why? I'd love to meet her," Susan said with a grin, a sentiment that was echoed by the other Hufflepuffs.

"Mel's not really that much of a people person," Harry deflected. "Growing up in a cave will do that to a person," he added, causing the Hufflepuffs to nod in agreement while simultaneously looking as if they were going to go looking for Hades and give him a stern talking-to.

If only they knew the people in involved, Harry thought with a grin before turning back to the Friar, and giving him a nod. "Let's go, Friar."

"Yes, of course. This way, please," the Friar said, motioning in the direction of the staircase leading up to the ground floor.

The Friar led Harry outside, to the grounds, until they approached the Whomping Willow. The enchanted tree swished one branch in their direction, as if in warning.

"You need to the touch the knot at the base of the tree to get it to stop," the Friar explained. Harry gave him a dirty look; everyone at Hogwarts knew how ferocious the Whomping Willow was.

It swished another limb through the air.

Harry sighed, and was about to start dodging, when he remembered the lesson Athena, Hermes, and Ares had drilled into his head.

Think before you act!

"I just need to touch the knot, right?" Harry asked. The Friar nodded silently, wondering what his young charge was up to.

Harry built an imagine in his head, threw Shen energy at it, and basically gave a magical push on the knot.

The tree's limbs fell silent, almost poutingly. Harry cheerfully walked over, the Friar pointing out a large gap between the tree's system of roots. "In here, Harry," the ghost said, softly, as if afraid the tree would wake up if he spoke too loudly.

Harry nodded and slipped into the secret passage, going down an earthy slope before arriving in a narrow and low tunnel. Despite the fact that was eleven, he had to bend down a bit in order to fit through the tunnel.

The Friar didn't seem to have any issues, the bottom half of his body simply floating in the ground so he could keep his head out of the ceiling.

Suddenly, the tunnel rose and twisted.

"This is as far as I go, lad," the ghost said with a shiver. "No Hogwarts House Ghost will enter the shack, and that goes double for when Lady Melinoe is in it."

"I can't blame you for that," Harry said with a grin. "Thank you for showing me this far, Friar. I hope Mel didn't scare you too badly?"

It was the Friar's turn to give a dirty look. "She was quite courteous, actually. It was more her stature and position than her speech, if you know what I mean."

Harry nodded. "I understand completely. Thanks again for showing me here. Time to see what Mel has in mind."

"Good luck," the Friar said, before turning and floating back down the tunnel. Harry watched him go for a few moments, before resuming his trek. The tunnel spiraled for a moment, and light shone ahead.

Harry casually made his way out of a hole in the floor of a room, and found himself in a room that looked like it had walked out of a 1950's movie set. The walls were papered with old-timey flowered wall-paper, a large crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, there was heavy solid-wooden furniture, with a large dining room table laden with finger food.

In the background, there was music that sounded as if it were recorded in that era, too.

"Harry!" Mel said enthusiastically, before grabbing him in a hug. "There you are! I was about to come looking for you!"

Harry hugged the Goddess of Ghosts back. "Getting here was a bit of a chore," Harry mock-complained. "I even had to fight a tree!"

Mel snorted.

"It's good to see you, Mel," Harry said as he pulled back, actually feeling genuinely happy at seeing the goddess.

"Good to see you, too, Kiddo," Mel said as she released him, finally allowing him a good look at her. She was wearing a parody of a 1950's housewife's Sunday dress, colored black and burgundy to match the ruby eyes of the skull stud in her left nostril.

He grinned; Mel's sense of clothing was definitely unique, but it also definitely suited her. He found the goddess' arm around his shoulders within moments.

"Come on, Kiddo. There's someone I want you to meet," Mel enthused as she turned him around and pulled him along.

Now that he had a few more moments to take in the surroundings, he finally saw that they weren't alone in the living area of the Shrieking Shack.

One of the other people present was Hel, the Norse Goddess of the Dishonorable Dead. Recognizing her, Harry smiled widely and waved. "Hello Miss Hel! Nice to see you again!"

Hel simply stared at him for a few moments, then dipped her head once. "Harry," she simply said.

"You've got to forgive Hel, she grew up worse than me," Mel said.

"It's alright, Mel," Harry told the goddess that was still pushing him around, before looking back at Hel. "Remember, you're awesome."

Hel just looked confused and conflicted, as if she wasn't sure whether he was making fun of her, or what to do with what he was telling her.

"And this is my little sister," Mel said, turning Harry toward the last person in the room. "Who I wouldn't have gotten to know that well, if it weren't for you," she added.

The 'little sister' in question had a mortal form that had at least a decade on Mel's, had blonde hair, and looked like she was regretting coming here. Not out of any kind of maliciousness, but rather because the environment made her uncomfortable.

Mel released Harry, grabbed the blonde instead, and pulled her into a one-armed hug. "Harry, this is Makaria, Goddess of Blessed Death, my kid sister." Makaria looked highly uncomfortable at the rough handling, but seemed to undergo it in silence.

"Hello, Miss Makaria," Harry said politely.

"H-hi," Makaria said, uncomfortably.

"She's a bit of a shut-in, and rather shy," Melinoe said, no longer suffering from the first and never suffering the second. "So, as a big sister, I thought it my responsibility to ensure she came out of her shell."

"I like my shell," Makaria protested softly and poutingly.

Harry didn't know why, but he adored Makaria immediately; she looked and acted like a shy little kitten and he felt himself drawn to protect her.

"Nonsense," Mel overrode her immediately and tightened her hug. Makaria looked pained.

"I don't think she likes the rough handling, Mel," Harry said, protective instincts acting up.

"I'm not rough," Mel said immediately, before looking doubtful, glancing at Makaria, coming to a realization, and releasing her sister. "Sorry," she muttered.

"Tha-that's alright," Makaria muttered, rubbing her arms.

"I'm sure Mel will take care now," Harry said with a disarming smile, wondering when he had become a counselor. First he was helping socialize Hermione, now he was doing the same to a couple of goddesses.

"Yes," Mel said immediately and gratefully.

"And it's alright to tell Mel 'no'," Harry added to Makaria, causing Mel to pout. "Although, speaking from experience, she doesn't always listen."

Makaria nodded. "I know," she said, softly, but with a small smile.

Mel just pouted deeper. "Not fair, you're not supposed to gang up on me," she complained, although there was no heat to it.

"We can so gang up on you," Harry replied, crossing his arms. "Because if your friends and your family can't tease you, who can?"

Mel grumbled. "Stop making so much sense!" she said playfully, shaking her head.

Harry grinned. "No," he simply said and looked at Makaria. "See? I told Mel 'no', and she didn't smite me. She may look scary, but she's not all that bad."

Makaria giggled, flushed adorably, and hid her mouth behind her hand, looking embarrassed at her slip.

Mel beamed at her, not even caring that the giggle came because of a dig at her. "There we go! I knew we could get you out of your shell," the Goddess of Ghosts told the Goddess of Blessed Death.

There was a crunch coming from the other side of the room, and they all looked in that direction.

Hel, feared Norse Goddess of the Dishonorable Dead, was eating crunchy pieces of pork crackling while watching them intently. "Don't mind me," she said. "You three make my teeth ache with all the sugary sweetness. It's adorkable, like watching Days of Our Lives. I can't look away, like an addiction."

Harry snorted, remembering how Bai once claimed to watch that same show. He wondered if there was something about it that made gods watch it, or if there were something about being a god that resulted in a proclivity to watch it.

Makaria flushed and looked away, clearly embarrassed. Mel just laughed, not in the least embarrassed.

Harry grinned; Hel was a lot like Melinoe and just needed some friendly contact with people, he thought.

0000

"This is a lot better," Justin said to the group as night fell. By day, the barren wastelands of the endless desert was extremely hot and they had nearly dehydrated by the time night fell.

Susan nodded. "Definitely. We were lucky to find that oasis to be able to replenish our water and to rest."

Hannah, Sally-Anne, Ernie, and Cedric all nodded in agreement, but kept their guards up as they walked across the tall, sandy dunes.

As a wind picked up, its shrieks turned into cries of anguish, as if coming from tortured souls.

The group shuddered, it felt like a bad omen.

"I hope that's just the wind," Sally-Anne muttered softly. The group nodded, pretending that the eerie wind wasn't getting to them.

As they crested a particularly large dune, they stopped and gawked. In front of them were three cyclopes. Fortunately for the group, the monsters were bickering loudly about food; apparently they had some nomads tied up in their lair but were arguing over whether to eat them now or eat them later.

"Fireball!" Sally-Anne screamed, raising her hand. Her eyes burned with draconic energy and fire seemed to leap from her fingers towards the three monsters.

"Well, all three failed their dex save so you hit all three with the blast radius," Harry said, looking up from behind his dungeon master's screen. "You've now lost the advantage of surprise, roll damage."

"Yes!" Sally-Anne squeaked. "This is so much easier than actual magic! That's six eight-sided dice, right?"

"Eight six-sided dice," Harry said. "And can you imagine if regular magic was as easy as this?"

"We'd have burnt the world to a crisp by now," Justin said with a laugh as Sally-Anne rolled dice.

"4, 2, 1, 5, 6, 3, 6, and 5 for a total of 32 damage!" Sally-Anne said with a big smile.

"First blood to our glass canon," Cedric joked.

"They're looking singed, and they're definitely angry now," Harry said with a chuckle. "Cedric, you're up next, mate," he said.

Cedric the Druid rubbed his chin and thought deeply.

"Well, while he's deciding, how about a drink?" Harry asked. "I whipped something up in my copious amounts of spare time that I think everyone might like."

"Oh! Oh! Me! Me!" Hannah said jokingly, holding her hand up high and waving it about as if trying to catch a teacher's attention.

"First drink goes to the blonde with the good attitude," Harry joked back as he stood up. "I'll be right back."

After Harry left for their dorm, the questers looked at each other. "Wanna sneak a peak at his notes?" Justin asked the group.

"Last time we tried that, he wiped us out and we had to make all new characters," Cedric deferred. "It's called 'learning from your mistakes'."

The first-years laughed. "Shouldn't you be deciding your next move?" Susan asked, focusing Cedric back on task.

"But there are so many skills to chose from!" Cedric protested with a snicker.

"So, who snuck a peak at my notes?" Harry asked as he returned with a large flask that revealed nothing of its contents.

"Justin offered," Hannah tattled immediately. "But Cedric, being older and wiser, reminded us of what happened last time we tried that."

Harry laughed, and patted Cedric on the shoulder. "Well done, mate," he told the old boy, before unscrewing the cap of his mysterious flask and pouring Hannah a drink. "Now, everyone else who wants to try, hold out your cups."

Nobody moved, until Sally-Anne held out her cup. "You're all scaredy-cats," she accused. "Well, except for Hannah."

"Meow," Susan replied.

"Seriously, you all have to try this. This is brilliant," Hannah informed them, not having waited and immediately trying her beverage. "What is it, Harry?"

"Applejack," Harry replied. "It's about 25% alcohol, so you might want to stick to one glass, though." He felt a bit hypocritical after all the times he'd broken Hestia's one-drink rule, but then told himself that he was only making a suggestion, rather than setting a rule.

"Holy Helga Hufflepuff," Sally-Anne muttered. "This stuff is brilliant. And tingly."

"You're feeding us alcohol?" Cedric asked, sounding as if he weren't sure whether to be outraged or impressed and thus sounded like he'd settled for both.

"Yup," Harry answered casually. "I don't have a still, but freeze-distilling isn't that hard. I just needed to make sure I was able to cook off the methanol, Harry Potter only serves quality booze and making your customers sick is a no-no."

"It also makes you speak in the third person," Justin said. "I'd like both to try some of your booze, and to have an explanation on those complicated words you just used."

The group laughed and Harry's beverage suddenly gained popularity. "Normally, you'd distill your alcohol to get something stronger than wine, basically," Harry explained. "That means you heat your brew until the alcohol evaporates, but the water doesn't, thus concentrating your alcohol content. Now, I don't have a still, plus, if you don't know what you're doing, those things can blow up on you."

"Please don't blow up the dorm," Justin joked as he took a swig and swirled the liquid around in his mouth. "And this tastes great."

"Thank you," Harry graciously accepted the compliment. "Freeze-distilling is the exact opposite. You take your brew and freeze it. Water freezes first, alcohol freezes at a lower temperature. So, you chip away the water ice and you're left with concentrated alcohol. The upside is that it's safe, no risk of explosions. The downside is that you don't concentrate the alcohol all that much that way – so 25% alcohol is a pretty decent result with freeze distillation."

"Makes sense," Hannah said, looking just a tad looser than normal after finishing her drink.

"Of course, with normal distillation, the methanol and other impurities come out first, so you throw the first liquid that comes out of your still away. It's called 'tossing the heads'. Now, with freeze distillation, that stuff stays in your brew – and that's the stuff that makes you sick and gives you really bad hangovers and stuff, so after freeze distillation you take your concentrated alcohol and heat it up so the methanol evaporates but your drinkable alcohol doesn't."

"You know way too much about brewing alcohol," Cedric accused. "Plus, isn't it really hard to get alcohol in the first place?"

Harry grinned. "Thanks," he answered. "And nah – alcohol's dead easy. It even happens out in the wild. More than one intoxicated bear has been seen wandering the woods after eating from a fermented beehive. You just need something with lots of sugar, and a yeast to turn said sugar into alcohol, then let it sit. Of course, if you want anything more than two or three percent, you need to try your best a little to pick good yeast and have good temperature and stuff."

"I repeat, you know way too much about alcohol at your age," Cedric said.

"Thanks," Harry repeated. "Who wants some more?"

"Didn't you say to stick to one glass?" Hannah asked, holding her cup out.

"I suggested it," Harry answered as he refilled her cup. "I'm not your father, so don't listen to me if you don't want to. You'll find out tomorrow why I made the suggestion if you didn't."

Hannah, about to take a drink from her second cup, stopped. "And why's that?"

"You'll have a hangover if you drink too much," Harry answered. "It won't be the kind from nasty impurities, but it'll be the kind where your body tells you that it's used up it's reserves of water to break down the alcohol."

"Oh," Hannah said, putting her full cup down and staring at it.

"Again, it's your own choice," Harry answered. "I'm not your dad."

"I'm pretty sure my dad would kill you for even giving me that first glass," Justin interjected.

Harry grinned, not concerned. "And will you tell him?"

"Heck no!" the boy answered loudly and laughingly. "He'd kill me too!"

"Oh? Are the munchkins talking murder?" Tonks asked, leaning between Justin and Cedric, throwing an arm around each. "Who's killing whom?"

"My dad is going to kill me and Harry," Justin said. "Harry for giving me alcohol and me for accepting it."

"Are we peddling moonshine?" Tonks teased Harry, who very maturely responded by sticking his tongue out. "You do know that's against the rules, right?" she proceeded to ask.

"There are many things against the rules," Harry answered with a grin. "Are you going to tattle?"

"Heck no, I'm way too cool a cousin for that," Tonks said. "But I will stand back and laugh when you all suffer hangovers."

Harry laughed. "I don't peddle crap moonshine, and I recommended everyone stick to one glass so they won't get dehydrated enough to get hangovers. But, if they decide for themselves not to listen, I will join you with the laughing and the pointing and the 'I told you so'."

Tonks released Cedric and Justin and walked over to ruffle Harry's hair. "Aw, there's the cousin I love," she teased. "Still, though, you really shouldn't be drinking at your ages."

"One drink doesn't harm anybody," Harry said. "Besides, it's barely more than fortified wine at this point since I don't have a decent still."

Tonks stared at him.

Harry stared back, not intimidated at all.

"Fine," Tonks sighed. "But remember, get a hangover and I'll just point and laugh."

Harry grinned. "It's called 'responsibility' – most adults don't seem to give kids any. I, on the other hand, trust my friends to either listen to advice or else suffer the consequences. All up to them." And that was why he wasn't a hypocrite, he decided. No rules, suggestions only.

The friends in question were more determined than ever to keep it to one drink. Hannah's second cup sat untouched on the table and would remain so.

"U-huh," Tonks said, eyeing them all. "I'm no snitch, but I will be keeping an eye on you all."

"Instead of eyeing us, how about a drink?" Harry offered, pouring her a cup.

Tonks sniffed it. Then waved her wand over it. Then sniffed it again. "Well, it doesn't read as poisoned or potioned, so why not?" she asked, taking a sip. Her eyebrows raised. "Nice." She seemed to think about something for a moment, then decided against it.

Harry looked inquisitive.

"Thought about sharing with a few dorm-mates for a moment, but I decided to hoard it for myself," Tonks answered his unasked question. "Now, what were you Munchkins doing before my deviant cousin plied you all with booze?"

"With good booze," Harry corrected, mock-offended. "As if I'd ply my friends with crap booze."

Tonks laughed and ruffled his hair again. "So, what were you doing?"

"It's called 'Dungeons and Dragons'," Harry said. "Want to join in? It's another one of those conspiracy things to make you learn maths, but it's loads of fun so we don't mind."

0000

"And that's the story of the giant spiders," Harry said.

"You have the most exciting life!" Thor said loudly as he slapped Harry on the shoulder.

"Definitely," Bai agreed. "Keep up the good work, Kid!"

"Stop trying to get our young friend in trouble," Triton admonished, before turning to Harry. "I am pleased you got out of it intact. Being close to a Genius Loci that owes you a favor can be quite the boon."

Harry nodded. "It healed a lot of my injuries," he answered. "Plus, when I go for a walk, I don't even have to ask permission anymore. The moment I step up to the forest, it feels like it's welcoming me."

The four gods nodded thoughtfully. "Quite a perk, that," Hermes said. "You could probably go live in that forest and you'll never go hungry, thirsty, or cold."

Harry nodded. "I don't want to take advantage of it, though. It's a beautiful forest and I wouldn't want anything happening to it because of me being there and using up its resources."

"That's a commendable attitude," Triton said with a nod. "Aunt Hestia has raised you well, I see."

Harry grinned. "Thanks, Mister Triton. But I think that one was more Artie and Miss Zoë's lessons rather than Hestia's."

The four gods grinned at each other when they heard him mentioning the subject of his crush.

Harry, noticing this, grouched playfully. "You guys aren't funny."

"I disagree," Bai and Hermes said, practically at the same time. They all erupted in well-earned laughter.

"To get back at you," Harry said, as he put his cards down. "Two pairs of fours."

Hermes, Thor, Bai, and Triton grumbled playfully. "It's a four of a kind, stop trying to soften the blow," Hermes sulked as the pot added to the stack of gold in front of Harry.

"Your sulking is hilarious," Thor told the God of Thieves, laughing loudly.

"You're not funny," Hermes replied, theatrically crossing his arms and looking away as if highly insulted. The other card players laughed at the theatrics.

Deciding on changing the subject, Hermes turned to Harry. "I heard that Aunt Hestia got called to the school, in your first week, too. Was that about the spiders?"

Harry shook his head, and launched the tale of how they had tried to imprison him, and how he had to take it all the way to the Headmaster… and even then, Hestia had to get involved.

"Well, good luck trying to keep a demigod locked up," Hermes said. "Escape and evasion is practically a standard skill for demigods."

Harry nodded. "Especially since I can use fire to travel, thanks to Hestia's boon."

The four gods nodded seriously.

"So, in less than a week, you eradicated a colony of giant man-eating spiders, and reformed your school to allow more freedom to the students wanting to go home?" Bai asked. When Harry nodded, the Chinese God grinned. "Sounds like an average week for you, Kid."

"Just wait, there's more," Harry said, not really looking forward to telling this part of the story, but feeling it necessary anyway. "Turns out that the Headmaster had a secret."

"Ooh, juicy story time!" Hermes said excitedly. Thor had the widest grin, Bai was shaking his head in amusement, and Triton sighed and pinched his nose.

"Hermes, take a good look at our young friend. I don't think that 'juicy' is the description of what he is about to tell us," the Messenger of the Seas scolded his terrestrial counterpart. "Go ahead, Harry."

Harry drew a deep breath, and launched his retelling of the Headmaster's confession.

"So this jackass is responsible for your relatives?" Bai asked, eyes narrowed. Hermes and Thor looked like they were carved from stone; obviously they were planning something and weren't about to share with the rest of them.

"At least now you know," Triton said, looking very godly all of a sudden.

Harry nodded, and continued telling them all how the man had apologized and was trying to make up for his mistakes.

The four deities didn't look very forgiving.

"At least he apologized," Harry said, eyeing them all.

"And didn't ask for forgiveness for an unforgivable act," Triton added, still looking far too godly; the kind of godly that usually preceded someone doing something harsh and vengeful.

"Before you all go out and make his life miserable," Harry said, no longer the socially-deprived eight-year-old that first met them and thus able to read a room. "You're too late. Someone already got to him."

"Oh?" Hermes asked, voice velvety smooth and kindly – a tone of voice that didn't fool Harry for a moment.

The young demigod nodded. "I suspect Mom, but I would never dream of pointing a finger in her direction, of course," he said. "She made that appearance to Albus, that's why she got punished by Mister Zeus, the grouch. Ever since then, Albus' life has been miserable. He fell and broke his wand, all his dealings came to light, he lost his influence, his positions, even his money. He has to wear drab black robes now because he can't afford anything else, and he was barely able to remain Headmaster of the school – and he fought really hard to even be able to keep that. He said he fought for it just so he could ensure I had a decent education and enjoy my time at Hogwarts."

"Sounds like my girl's best friend got involved," Hermes answered thoughtfully. "Tyche's good with luck, but it's her friend that goes for the hurt and the pain."

"Don't leave us hanging, who's her friend?" Thor asked.

"Nemesis," the God of Thieves replied with a nasty grin – a nasty grin that spread to the other deities. "Goddess of Balance. You have too much of one thing? She'll make sure things don't stay that way."

"Hence Albus losing his power, influence, and money, but being able to stay at Hogwarts," Harry said, rubbing his chin. "That makes sense. He didn't just have bad luck, he was actually losing things he didn't deserve."

Hermes nodded. "In a way, he's lucky."

"Lucky?" Harry asked, wonderingly. It didn't sound like Albus was lucky.

Hermes nodded. "Nemesis goes for the hurt and the pain, but in the end, you'll end up in balance. In a way, Tyche cursing him may have taken longer and in a way, hurt less, but imagine never having a single stroke of luck in your entire life – worse, every time luck is involved, you'd end up rolling snake eyes."

"A never-ending tribute to the Law of Murphy?" Triton asked. "Sounds like an interesting punishment for such a mortal."

"At least Albus is trying to make up for it," Harry said, softly. "And I figure… if he hadn't meddled, I wouldn't have ended up on the streets of New York, and I wouldn't have snuck onto Olympus and met Hestia, you know? So, in a roundabout way, it's thanks to Albus that I met Hestia, and through her, all of you guys."

"I think you may be too charitable and too forgiving," Hermes said, seriously. "Although I'm sure Hestia is proud of you for doing so."

Harry nodded; he certainly wanted Hestia to be proud of him!

"I still find it funny that you call your headmaster by his first name," Bai snickered.

"He asked if he could call me Harry, so I reciprocated," Harry replied. "I mean, I call you guys by your names, and you're gods. He may be my headmaster, but he's still just a mortal."

"True," Hermes said with a grin. "Aren't we all lovable, kindly deities?"

He was met by three deities' worth of dirty eyeballs, and one demigod who looked like he couldn't decide whether Hermes was being serious or not.

"I do have to adjust, though," Harry said, as if nothing had happened. "I mean, mortals are touchy. My teachers insist on being called 'professor' – they're insulted if I call them 'Miss' or 'Mister'! I mean, I even call Miss Athena 'miss', and she doesn't even like me that much!"

"Ah, yes, the infamous mortal ego," Hermes said with a sage nod, as if playing the ancient wise man.

"Mortals are temporary creatures," Triton said, ignoring the God of Thieves, who gave him a dirty look in return. "Meaning that they have very little time before they die. So, when a mortal dedicates a substantial amount of time in some area, and achieves a high level of proficiency and skill in that area, they'll want it known to others," he explained to Harry.

The young demigod nodded. "Thanks, Mister Triton." He thought for a moment, then added, "So, basically, Hermes is right? It's about ego?"

"But with an explanation," Triton said. "After all, if you put in a lot of effort, you want to get recognized for that effort."

Harry thought that over. "I've done a lot of things and I don't go around telling people to call me anything but Harry," he said. "Hestia said said that helping people is its own reward, so being really good at something should be its own reward, too."

Hermes snorted. "Ah, the idealism of a young mortal," he said, playfully dreamily. "Harry, take it from us. When you grow up, things will change."

The young demigod nodded seriously. "So everyone keeps telling me. I hope not," he replied. "Some of the things that will 'change' sounds horrible."

"Ooh?" Bai said, drawing the sound out. "That sounds like another story."

"Mostly it has to do with the perversions of adults," Harry said honestly, causing all four deities to burst out laughing. Harry simply grumped at his friends' laughter.

He hoped he never became an 'adult' in the bad sense. He wanted to stay right as he was now. He liked who and what he was now.

"Speaking of perversions," Bai said.

"Bai, please, there are innocent children present," Hermes playfully scolded.

"Children, yes, but innocent?" Bai shot back. "The kid has a kill count that would make some serial killers green with envy!"

Harry felt hurt by that statement, his expression clearly saying so.

"Kid, right or wrong, do you have a kill count?" Bai asked.

Harry's hurt turned into a sulk. "They didn't give me a choice."

Bai chuckled and ruffled the sulking demigod's hair. "And that, Harry, makes you a warrior and not a monster. So, as I was saying, speaking of perversions – Xuan Wu has fallen in love!"

"That's your boss, right?" Harry asked. "The one who wrote that Big Book of Martial Arts?"

"The very same!" Bai crowed. "The Northern Wind, Xuan Tian Shang Di, God of the Martial Arts, has fallen in love with a mortal woman!"

"Big deal, you do that all the time. What's your marriage count at now?" Hermes asked.

Bai ignored the dig at himself, and said, "Xuan Wu doesn't fall in love very often. Oh, he's had women and concubines over the centuries, but actually falling in love? Rarely. And certainly not with some mortal woman. Hence the perversion."

Three gods shook their heads. Harry, on the other hand, had a different opinion. "So he fell in love. I think that's nice. Good for him."

"Kid, you're a hopeless romantic. Watch my words, this is going to end badly," Bai said with a sniff.

"Whatever," Thor told the grouchy Chinese God. "Let's play some more cards!"

It was Bai's turn to grump at being ignored, but it lasted exactly as long as it took Harry to start dealing cards.

Harry smiled. It was nice having good friends.

0000

"Are you going home, too?" Harry asked Hermione as they met up in the Great Hall after lunch. Christmas break was fast approaching, and Harry was curious if any of his friends would be staying over at Hogwarts for the break.

The Gryffindor nodded. "I am!" she affirmed. "I'm looking forward to Christmas Morning and opening presents. How about you?" she asked.

"We don't really celebrate Christmas as such," the young demigod explained. "But the Winter Solstice is usually a pretty big deal where the entire family gathers together."

His statement had the benefit of being true, in a way; the Winter Solstice was one of the few times where Hades was officially allowed onto Olympus. Not that Harry would get to see him, officially he could only attend the Solstice meeting.

"That sounds nice," Hermione said, wondering at the strangeness of his tone.

"A lot of them don't really get along that well, and the Solstice is one of the few days where they pretty much have to interact, so it's usually… well, you know," Harry said helplessly. "Which is too bad, because I like most of the people involved when I meet them on an individual basis."

Except for Zeus, the grouch. Harry's opinion of the King of Greek Gods had sunk even lower after that storm trick he pulled whenever Harry wanted to fly on Broomcephalus.

"Well…" the girl said, trailing off as helplessly as he sounded. "Good luck?" she offered.

Harry smiled at her. "Thanks, Hermione."

He noticed Draco loitering around, not far away, obviously wanting to talk to Harry but equally obviously not wanting to talk to Hermione.

"Cousin Draco!" Harry said with a grin. "And Vin, Greg! Are you all going home for Christmas as well?"

"Cousin Harry," Draco said as he walked up with his two large friends, now completely without an excuse not to come over. He looked at Hermione. Hermione looked back, equally unwilling to be the first to move or say anything.

May Hestia give me strength, Harry thought silently. He didn't feel any different, but when he gave both Hermione and Draco a look, they both startled.

Draco gave a small nod in Hermione's direction. Equally startled, Hermione nodded back at Draco. It wasn't much, but it was progress, Harry reasoned.

Vin Crabbe and Greg Goyle, oblivious to what had happened, just nodded to both Harry and Hermione, while the muggleborn Gryffindor and the Slytherin prince now looked awkwardly at each other.

"Come on, you two," Harry said, a part of him finding the awkwardness hilarious. "I'm sure you can find some common ground and get along."

"Don't count on it," / "I doubt it," Hermione and Draco said at the same time, before looking surprised at one another. Harry just laughed.

"See? You're already agreeing," he teased. "Before we know it, we'll have a genuine Romeo and Juliet on our hands."

Hermione shuddered while Draco looked confused. Before she could say anything, Draco turned to Harry. "Who are Romeo and Juliet?"

Hermione beat Harry to the punch. "They're the main characters from a play," she explained. "Romeo is the heir to one family, Juliet the heir to a second, and they fall in love while their families are involved in a feud that's been going on since forever."

There was a time where Hermione would have recited half the play and followed it up with the entry from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and Harry felt proud that he had been able to teach her how to properly summarize something.

Draco nodded thoughtfully. "Muggles have those problems too?" he then asked, surprised. "We have plays and stories like that as well, the choice between the heart of the individual and the loyalty to the family is something that comes up a lot."

"Really?" Hermione asked, surprised, and sounding intrigued despite herself. "How do those stories usually end?"

Draco shrugged. "It depends on the story. There are ones where the couple break away, or where their union reconciles the families, but those aren't really realistic and are more considered romance or children's stories. Usually, it ends up with someone being disowned or banished or a large fight or something, depending on the story. How does the Muggle one end?"

"Badly," Hermione summarized brutally. "The families refuse to accept things, and in the end, they both commit suicide."

Draco rubbed his chin. "A suicide pact," he said, thoughtfully. "What happens afterward?"

"It's not really a suicide pact," Hermione said. "Juliet drinks a potion to get out of an arranged marriage with someone else, and is put in a tomb. Romeo finds her, believes her to be dead, and drinks poison to be reunited with her; she wakes up and sees him there, dead. She refuses to leave, and kisses him – there's enough poison on his lips to kill her, too. Before she can die from it, a watchman comes across her, and she grabs Romeo's dagger and stabs herself. It's pretty gruesome."

She draws a breath. "And in the end, the prince of the city blames the families for their children's death, and the heads reach out to each other, but immediately start to try and one-up each other in showing how much more they'll do than the other to reconcile things."

Draco was silent for a few moments, obviously digesting things. "A Draught of Living Death and a strong, fast-acting poison," he finally said. "I'm guessing it was something that couldn't be cured with a bezoar. And that ending… that sounds like something our darker playwrights could think up. The families give the impression of changing but nothing really changes."

"Really?" Hermione asked, ignoring how Draco was applying magical world things to a nonmagical play. Harry had explained to her how different cultures could look at the same thing in different ways, and that different didn't necessarily mean 'better' or 'worse'.

Draco nodded. "Loyalty to the family is very important in the magical world, so of course there will be lots of plays and stories about it," he said. "That play definitely is someone that I could see happen in the magical world."

"That's really interesting," Hermione said, rather surprised at the statement.

Draco seemed undecided for a moment. He obviously thought deeply for a bit. "I have a book of plays in my room," he said, hesitatingly. "Mother insists I read it to learn… culture." The way he said the word made them all grin. "If you want, I can loan it to you. If you're interested."

Hermione looked surprised at the offer. For a moment, she hesitated, then her urge to learn kicked in. "Sure," she said. "That sounds interesting."

As Draco gave a nod, he turned and started walking. Vin and Greg, silent as usual, just nodded amicably in Harry's and Hermione's direction before following him.

"See? Common ground," Harry teased her. Hermione reacted maturely, by sticking her tongue out.

"Still, it's nice of him to loan me that book," she said, thoughtfully.

"I had to give him a couple of glares over the last few months, but he's slowly starting to get better," Harry replied with a grin. "And so are you. You didn't jump at him once about the difference between the magical and the nonmagical world."

Hermione gave him a dirty look and stuck her tongue out again. "If you're only going to bully me, I'm going to wait at the stairs down to the dungeons," she said with a huff and her nose in the air.

It lasted for just a moment, before they both laughed.

A few minutes later, Hermione had the book on plays and was happily on her way up to the Gryffindor tower. Harry simply chose for a walk around the grounds; despite the cold and the snow, it was a clear and crisp day. Perfect for a walk while bundled in warm clothes.

He stopped short of the Whomping Willow; the giant moving tree stood stock-still in the freezing temperatures of Scotland in December. For a moment, he was debating whether or not to approach and 'warm up his blood' by dodging the Willow's attempts to swat him like a fly.

"Harry," a wizened old voice spoke, derailing that particular plan.

"Albus," Harry replied, nodding at the Headmaster. Not really someone he wanted to talk to right now.

"I wanted to wish you good holidays," the man said as he came to a halt next to the young demigod. "However, I also noticed a rather peculiar conversation in the Great Hall."

Harry looked confused, wondering what conversation the Headmaster may be alluding to.

"Between Mister Malfoy and Miss Granger," Albus elaborated, causing an a-ha moment within Harry. "I am overjoyed to see prejudices fall away, and you are a great cause of that. I am sure that you have made your guardian very proud."

Harry smiled, he certain hoped so. "I certainly hope so," he told the Headmaster. "Cousin Draco can't help how he was raised, and I'm very proud of Hermione, she's come a long way. She hasn't had a lot of interaction with other people her own age, so she needed some help with socializing and stuff."

Albus nodded thoughtfully. "Mister Malfoy definitely can't help how he was raised, that much is true, although it makes me wonder how that relates to his… shall we say, change of heart?"

"Oh, Cousin Draco definitely hasn't changed his heart; not completely, anyway. He's getting there, though. Slowly, but surely. And like I said, Hermione needed help, too, so it goes both ways. And regarding his upbringing, I refuse to let him suffer for the sins of his parents. They're the idiots fostering this belief on him, I just had to make him see that parents don't hold the world's wisdom and he should think for himself."

"Thinking for one's self is definitely a good start," Albus commented. "But in mister Malfoy's case, I'm sure that took some doing."

"Not really," Harry said with a shrug. "Adults make it easy on me, they never listen to us anyway. All I had to do was ask Draco whether he was ever hit with 'do as I say' or 'because I said so'."

"I see," Albus said thoughtfully, rubbing his beard.

"Every kid has thought, at least once a week, 'you just don't get it' about his or her parents," Harry added. "That makes it easy for me to come in and go 'they just don't get it, think for yourself'."

"I see," Albus repeated. "Definitely a unique point of view." They were silent for a bit, staring at the Whomping Willow, each lost in thought.

"Still," the venerable Headmaster said eventually. "I can see the logical conclusion of your thinking, and I can see where your unique views regarding rule-breaking and authority figures are coming from. I would caution against breaking certain rules; they are simply there for your protection."

Harry nodded. "And that could be, but the problem is nobody explains the dangers. We are simply told to do as told because you said so. Personally, I would prefer the rules be removed, and being informed of the dangers, then told to be responsible."

"Not everyone is responsible, especially not at your age," Albus answered, honestly. "The parents would be up in arms if children started getting hurt. Or killed. After all, it is our responsibility to take care of all of you."

Harry looked conflicted at that. "Maybe because kids have never had responsibility, they don't know how to handle it," he finally said. Still, he didn't sound convinced. His friends, both at camp and here at school, seemed responsible enough; when he explained the danger of something they listened to his advice. But then again, he'd seen people that weren't in his circle of friends that he wouldn't trust to look after a goldfish.

Albus was kind enough to see Harry was still thinking, and gave him time to do so. "So we are all the victims of some irresponsible kids," Harry finally said. "That sucks."

Albus let out a delighted laugh. "You will find, young Harry, that in the adult world there are many more such rules, holding back the mass due to the few. It is how it is."

"Perhaps we should remove those rules and let the problem solve itself," Harry muttered darkly.

The Headmaster looked amused, yet stern, at the same time. "Those are still people's lives, Harry."

"And yet it looks like you thought the same thing," Harry riposted with a grin.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," the Headmaster said. Harry snickered. The old man looked amused. They watched the Willow in silence for a few more moments.

"I have to thank you for a stimulating conversation, but I am afraid I have further duties calling me," Albus said, turning to Harry. "I hope, rules notwithstanding, you are having a good time here at Hogwarts."

Harry nodded. "The magic's interesting enough, and some of the teachers are brilliant."

"I am pleased to hear that," Albus said, looking happy and relieved. "Have a merry Christmas, Harry, and I will see you in the New Year."

"Merry Christmas, Albus," Harry reciprocated before the old man gave a nod and started walking back to the castle. While Harry couldn't say he had forgiven the man, nor had he forgotten what the man had done, he could say that he didn't feel as antagonistic towards him as he once did.

Albus had been right; it had been an interesting conversation. And despite him being an old man, he had listened to what Harry had to say. That was rare among mortal adults. He hadn't encountered a lot of those.

Maybe Hestia was right, and he should give them a chance.

It was something to think about, anyway. Now it was time to pack his bags and return home. He was looking forward to spending time in Helios' temple, and meeting up with his friends.