Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 76

Harry hugged Rhea, once again ignoring the titanic strength of the former Queen of the Titans as she hugged him back.

"Happy birthday, Harry," she wished him as she released him. Gathered in the Grove of Dodona were various deities and demigods, the latter of whom were staring at the mythical environment as if unable to believe where they were.

Well – most demigods were staring. Percy, as was befitting his lack of knowledge of mythology, just found it a grove of trees and paid it no further attention.

That didn't last long, as Annabeth once more took it upon herself to relieve him of his ignorance.

Harry ignored the Daughter of Athena lecturing the Son of Poseidon on the fact that Rhea had planted this grove literally in the first days of the world and could tell the future – or drive men mad, depending on how well it was maintained.

"And, of course, a gift," Rhea said, producing a package from somewhere, apparently also ignoring the lecture among the demigods.

"Thanks, Granny Rhea!" Harry said, happily, sneaking in another hug before taking the package and slowly starting to pick open the wrapping paper.

"You know, you can just-" Hermes started, before being cut off by Apollo.

"-tear it off?" the Sun God interjected. "You know Harry's never going to do that."

"Thanks, Mister Apollo," Harry chirped, continuing his quest to pick open the incredibly well-wrapped gift.

Hermes just pouted. As a high-energy deity, this slow unwrapping of gifts made him antsy.

Finally, the wrapping paper fell away, revealing an insulated box. As Harry lifted the lid, the cold air inside caused condensation to immediately appear in the air around it.

"Since you said you were interested in cooking, I thought I would look in that direction," Rhea spoke, and pointed to the meat contained in the box. "The jewel meat was considered the best cut of a regal mammoth." She smiled. "Enjoy."

"Mother," Hestia said. "You're spoiling him."

"That's a grandmother's prerogative, dear," Rhea deflected. "Besides, Harry indicated he likes to cook, and you were the one bragging about his skills in the kitchen, so I thought I would have a look for myself."

"Thanks, Granny Rhea!" Harry said, interrupting the conversation between mother and daughter, and gave Rhea another hug after re-sealing the insulated box.

"Lucky," Artemis said, looking at the box of mammoth meat. "Those went extinct before my time, so I can't conjure new ones."

"Same," Hestia muttered.

Harry grinned and rubbed his hands. This was going to be epic! "If there's enough, how about I cook it and share?" he offered.

Rhea looked surprised, before her gentle smile widened. "There will be," she said, as if it didn't matter how many people stayed for dinner.

Harry smiled widely at her, causing her to wink back. Who knew that raising demigods could be this much fun? She should have done this sooner. Then again, Zeus' restrictions prevented her from coming to Olympus, and the Ancient Laws prevented gods from raising their own children.

Which kind of made it difficult for them to introduce her to her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.

She hadn't looked forward to a cookout this much in a long time.

"I will be there," Artemis spoke, as if it were a foregone conclusion. "Happy birthday," the Goddess of the Hunt added, extending a wrapped package to Harry.

"Thanks, Artie!" Harry said, hugging her, before starting to pick that package open as well, just to mess with Hermes. Artie, as Goddess of the Hunt, was a practical goddess so all he had to do was release the knot in the string keeping the package shut.

He pretended to study it for a few moments, just to mess with Hermes.

"Cheeky brat," the God of Messengers muttered when he caught on.

Apollo snorted and chuckled. "Remember a time where mortals feared us?" he asked conversationally. The other demigods, who had been quietly minding their own business, paled at the rather loudly asked question.

"Yes," Hermes said, sounding as if he missed those times. "Perhaps we should instill some more fear?"

"Hermes, Apollo, you're not funny," Hestia scolded. "And Harry, I know you consider it a sign of respect to not tear the paper of a gift, but please don't draw it out just to annoy people. It isn't a nice thing to do."

"Sorry, Hestia," Harry apologized.

"Sorry, Aunt Hestia," Apollo and Hermes said at the same time. All three looked like scolded schoolboys for a moment, before the demigod and two gods glanced at each other, and chuckled.

"Oh, you boys," Hestia declared, shaking her head, realizing they had been doing it to mess with her. She graced them with a small smile; it felt good to see her family get along. Even if it was at her expense.

Rhea laughed, and patted her eldest daughter on the shoulder. "They are simply boys having fun, Hestia," the Titaness consoled.

"Whoa," Harry said, having unwrapped his gift from Artie. "A guidebook. A handwritten guidebook on tracking wildlife."

"It contains knowledge and skills found nowhere outside the Hunters," Artie said, causing him to look at her with huge eyes. "Be careful with it. I will be most upset should it fall into the hands of anyone but you."

Harry nodded quickly, and stuck the book in his Hammerspace pocket. "Nobody but me can retrieve it now," he said.

"Good," Artie said, leveling another look at him and holding it just long enough to make him squirm.

"Artie," Hestia commented.

"Simply reminding Harry that I am a feared and scary goddess," Artie protested childishly, going from 'feared and scary goddess' to 'whiny teenaged girl' in moments.

Harry smiled. "I know you're scary when you want to be, Artie," he said, hugging her. "But you're still my friend."

"You're ruining my reputation," Artie grouched, even as she hugged him back. "Enjoy your gift. Zoë wanted to be here, but I have her on bedrest." The Goddess of the Hunt proceeded to sigh. "She kept overdoing it, and wasn't recovering. I had to put my foot down, even with her silent pleading and her puppy-dog-eyes."

Harry felt worried for one of his favorite teachers. "I'm glad she has you to take care of her, Artie," he said. "Hopefully she recovers soon."

"As long as she stops overdoing it," Artie said. "She is becoming too adept at hiding her fatigue from me. I had to set Bianca and Thalia on her."

"I bet they loved that," Harry snickered.

"More than my old friend did, that is for sure," Artie replied with a crafty look. She withdrew a plain package from an inner pocket that Harry wasn't sure had been there before. "She asked me to pass this on to you, some more excerpts from her journals."

Harry gratefully accepted the package. "Thanks, Artie, and please tell 'thanks' to Miss Zoë!"

"I will," the Goddess of the Hunt replied, before giving him a stern look. "I trust you are treating them with the respect they deserve?"

"Of course," Harry answered, sticking it in his Hammerspace pocket. "After the whole mess with Mister Zeus once again trying to get me off of Olympus, I made an extra-dimensional storage locker that only I can open."

"I wonder if I should take that as a challenge or not," Hermes debated out loud, rubbing his chin. "I do have this domain over thievery, after all, so that might be considered a challenge."

"Hermes," Hestia warned.

"Yes, Aunt Hestia. Sorry, Aunt Hestia," Hermes grunted, not sounding as if he meant it.

"It should be tied to my soul and my existence, so it should be hard to get into," Harry said, trying to defuse the pending argument. "If you do manage to break in, can you let me know how so I can plug the hole?"

Hermes blinked. Apollo blinked. Hestia blinked. Artie bli – you get the idea. Harry squirmed slightly when everyone stared at him.

"You created an extra-dimensional space that is tied to your very existence, thus proving the old adage 'the exception to confirm the rule' by confirming 'you can't take it with you' by, actually, taking it with you?" Hermes asked.

Harry looked floored for a moment, not having thought in that direction before. "Ehm… yes?"

Rhea looked proud. "Well, it seems like my grandson is doing well in his studies," she said, clapping her hands and redirecting the conversation. "Hermes, I heard something about you taking supplementary maths lessons. How are your studies coming along?"

Hermes looked like a deer caught in headlights. "Eh…" he managed.

Rhea looked expectant. Everyone was silent, wanting to see how Hermes managed to talk himself out of the situation he unexpectedly found himself in.

"Well, last time we were studying up on Game Theory and its practical applications regarding random datasets," Hermes said, pulling random maths terms out of thin air and hoping that it would bamboozle the ancient titanness.

"That sounds like a difficult way of saying you were playing games of chance," Rhea replied, showing, once and for all, that she wasn't born yesterday.

"Eh…" Hermes managed again.

Rhea continued to look stern for a few more moments, before laughing softly. "I was just teasing you, Hermes. You should relax."

"Is it 'pick on Hermes' day?" Hermes muttered.

"Oh! That sounds like a great holiday!" Apollo declared. Hermes shot him a filthy look.

"You shouldn't tease your cousin, Apollo. At least Hermes is trying to better himself by studying mathematics. What are you currently studying?" Rhea asked.

It was Hermes' turn to laugh and point as the tables suddenly turned on the God of the Sun. "I have like a dozen domains," Apollo muttered. "Not like I have a lot of time and all that."

Rhea managed to look disappointed as she shook her head. "Well. At least you're healthy, I suppose," she said.

Apollo pouted. Hermes and Artie laughed at him.

Harry smiled widely. It was good to see everyone getting along. Even if they were teasing each other in good humor.

Athena, meanwhile, had been keeping out of the conversation. Instead, she had been observing, with a tiny smile, how everyone kept poking fun at everyone else. "While everyone else is engaged in shenanigans," she said, stepping up to Harry. "Allow me to present you with this."

She handed him a decidedly book-shaped gift-wrapped package.

"Thanks, Miss Athena!" Harry said, accepting the gift and picking open the wrapping paper. It revealed a leather-bound book written in Ancient Greek. Harry carefully opened the cover, reveling the fact that it smelled of ancient paper and well-treated leather.

"It has come to my attention that someone," the Goddess of Wisdom said, glancing at Artie before refocusing on Harry, "has been teaching you logistics and camp tactics for small special forces companies. As your primary tutor, I felt that I needed to expand upon that knowledge and ensure you had proper grounding in the logistics, tactics, and strategies involved in leading large-scale campaigns."

"Whoa," Harry breathed as he flipped the cover page and let his eyes roam the table of contents. "This is awesome."

"Of course," Athena continued, both in her speech and as a reaction to Harry's comment. She was efficient that way. "This is a gift, and a proper young demigod wouldn't be expected to lead entire armies. Not usually, anyway. As such, this book, and its accompanying volumes, will be present in my library whenever you wish to read them, but they are not on the required reading list."

Harry nodded. "Thanks, Miss Athena. This is brilliant."

Athena dipped her head. "As Goddess of Strategy, and your primary tutor, I will, of course, be available should you have questions or require further explanation."

Harry knew how valuable her time was, and remembered that Athena didn't necessarily like him. He shyly looked up at her. "Thanks, Miss Athena."

"You are welcome," she answered. "Despite everything, you continue to work hard at your studies. I was expecting you to focus on your mortal schooling when the time came, but despite that distraction you have continued to keep up with the work I have assigned you. It… surprised… me. That does not happen often." She looked intently at him for a few moments. "I expect you to keep up your good work."

Harry's smile widened. Athena rarely handed out compliments, even ones that were as well-disguised like this one. "Thanks, Miss Athena."

Athena dipped her head again, then stepped away. She needed a coffee.

"Handing Harry more work as a birthday gift?" Hestia asked. Her tone was light, but it carried an undertone that told Athena she'd better have a good explanation.

"Harry seems to enjoy a wide variety of subjects, and as his primary tutor I felt the need to help him. It's not as much 'adding work' as it is 'giving him some books on things he enjoys'," Athena replied. "Of course, as I said, his current interest aligns with my domain. Should he have questions, I will make myself available."

Hestia nodded thoughtfully. "That is surprisingly nice of you, Athena. Thank you."

The Goddess of Wisdom looked at Hestia. "I am not that bad, Aunt Hestia. And your adopted son works hard. He lacks the genius to learn easily, yet makes up for it with hard work. I would be lacking as a teacher if I did not reward or encourage such behavior." She looked over at Harry, who was accepting a package from Apollo. "In truth, those that work hard at their skills usually appreciate them more, and know them on a deeper level, then those that gain them easily."

Hestia smiled. "It sounds like Harry won you over."

Athena looked away. "I need a coffee," she deflected.

"Of course," Hestia answered knowingly.

Harry, meanwhile, had picked open the wrapping on the gift Apollo had handed him. "Cards against Mythology?" he asked.

"It's a funny party card game, where you fill in the blanks. Lots of laughter is guaranteed," the God of the Sun, Arts, and plenty of other domains, said.

Hestia pulled the cards from Harry's hands before he could look through them. "These might be a bit too early for you, Harry. While they are indeed funny, quite a few of them are for a more grown-up audience. Maybe in a couple of years."

The Goddess of the Home was hit by twin puppy-dog-eyed looks from a god and demigod, yet stood resolute. "At least this time it wasn't blatant adult material," she told Apollo. "And I can see and accept your reasoning in gifting these to Harry. However, as his mother, I feel that he should wait another couple of years before these are appropriate."

"Sorry, Harry," Apollo said, looking at the demigod. "Your mom has spoken."

Harry nodded. "That's alright, Mister Apollo. Thanks for the gift, anyway. I'm already glad that you came to the party."

Apollo smiled widely, either ignoring, or just plain not noticing, how Hestia looked proudly at her adopted son. "It wouldn't do for me to leave a birthday boy devoid of a birthday gift," he said, rubbing his chin in thought. "Instead, how about this?" he made a complicated hand-gesture that, for a moment, made Harry's eyes and brain hurt.

He handed Harry a small device. "This player is connected to the domain of Music. It'll allow you to play any piece of music in existence."

Harry gaped; that wasn't just an ordinary birthday gift – Apollo was basically handing him a godly gift. "Whoa," he managed, accepting the little device. "That's awesome," he breathed.

"Yes," Apollo said, puffing himself up and glowing like the sun. A moment later, one of Artemis' arrows narrowly missed him. He turned down the glow, glowered at his sister for a moment, then looked back at Harry. "Yes, it is. Enjoy."

"Thanks, Mister Apollo!" Harry said. "This is going to be so awesome."

"Artemis, don't shoot your brother. Apollo, stop glowing," Rhea commanded.

Artemis and Apollo proved they were siblings once and for all by pointing at each other, and at the same time, declaring, "But he…" / "But she…"

They also stopped talking at the same time, looking sheepish, especially as Rhea gave them the Grandmother Stare. "Yes, grandmother," they said simultaneously, further cementing their sibling status.

"Now that Apollo has pretty much stolen everyone's thunder by handing you a divine gift, I suddenly feel like I'm coming empty-handed," Hermes said. A large box appeared next to him. "Even when I'm carrying mail for other people."

"More clothes from Miss Arachne!" Harry cheered happily, before giving Hermes a hug. "And don't feel bad, Hermes. I'm glad you came to the party, I know how busy you are. And you know you don't have to get me anything."

"Yes… well…" the God of Travelers said, awkwardly, before handing Harry a package. "Since I know you like traveling, I got you something to help when traveling."

Harry unpicked the wrapping paper to reveal a language guide. "1000 useful phrases in the world's most common languages," he read the title. "That sounds awesome. Thanks, Hermes!"

Hermes smiled widely and accepted another hug.

"As your grandmother, I definitely shouldn't be upstaged," Aphrodite said as she flounced in, giving Hermes a look, then attempting the same with Rhea, only to be met by a small smile and a titaness's flat look. The Goddess of Love hid her nervous gulp, and turned back to the birthday boy. With as much flair as a Goddess of Love was capable of, she handed Harry a package.

Hestia narrowed her eyes in advance. The last couple of times, Aphrodite had handed Harry cookbooks with aphrodisiacs and she was determined to get her eye-narrowing in on time.

"Thanks, Gran!" Harry said, accepting the package and snagging the goddess for a hug. He loved hugging Aphrodite; it was like being wrapped in the pure concept of love, and he could never get enough of it.

He released her, and carefully picked open the gaily wrapped package. It was a small book, yet bore no title. Aphrodite leaned in. "You're getting to an age where you may need someone to talk to about… certain things. That book's basically a shortcut to me; only you can read it, only you can write in it, and if you ever need to talk to someone about the things you're going through, you can through the book."

Harry blinked, looking stunned for a few moments, before grabbing Aphrodite for another hug. "Thanks, Gran," he whispered into her shoulder.

"You're welcome, Harry," she replied, before straightening up. "I expect you to break a lot of hearts with the knowledge in it," she stated, louder, on her usual air-headed tone.

"Aphrodite," Hestia grunted.

"You and I should have a talk, Young Lady," Rhea added.

"Oh? What about, Rhea dear?" Aphrodite asked in a ditzy fashion.

Harry snickered, his grandmother was lots of fun when she was pretended to be a California Valley Girl.

"Looks like I'm fashionably late," Melinoe, Goddess of Ghosts, declared as she made her way out of the tree-line of the Grove of Dodona. She was wearing a gothic-steampunk version of a Victorian-era mourning dress, complete with lace, while her raven hair had red and purple highlights in it. The skull stud in her left nostril was the same look-at-me purple as the highlights in her hair were.

Someone very familiar to Harry trailed behind her, looking embarrassed and wearing a huge red bow tied around his forehead.

"Cousin!" Apollo and Hermes declared simultaneously, as if they had practiced it.

"Hello, Lord Apollo, Lord Hermes," Melinoe greeted back, somewhat shyly but lots deferentially. As minor goddess, she was acutely aware of the difference in the level of power they possessed.

"Melinoe," Hestia said, levelly.

"Hello, Aunt Hestia," Mel greeted her aunt, now definitely subserviently. She ventured a hopeful smile at the Goddess of Home and Hearth.

"I heard you helped Harry and his little friends on their quest," Hestia finally said, after a rather awkward silence descended upon the Grove of Dodona. "That was very kind of you."

Mel looked awkward and shuffled slightly. "Harry helped me out, you know? I couldn't say no. Besides, he always has a room at the Overlook. And it was just a short drive. And stuff."

Hestia's smile grew as the Goddess of Ghosts tried to pass things off as no big deal. "Still, you helped him," she said. "I'm glad you came."

Mel's shoulders sagged now that she heard the magic words, glad that she hadn't made a mistake by showing up. It was, after all, the first time she had seen Hestia since she was kicked out of Helios' temple.

"Where is the birthday boy?" Mel asked, as she if she didn't know perfectly well where he was.

"Hi Mel," Harry said, seeing his chance to rescue a friend from an awkward situation and grabbing it. "I'm glad you came."

She snagged him in a hug. "Wouldn't miss it for the world, Kiddo," she told him, shedding a few years and going from her early-twenties back to the late-teens look she had used when she was living with him at the Temple of Helios. "And I brought you a gift," she added, releasing him, and pointing to the embarrassed-looking spirit that had followed her.

"Dad!" Harry shouted, racing over and hugging his father. "So good to see you again!"

James Potter smiled at his son. "I'm glad to be here," he said, hugging Harry back and giving him a hopeful look. Harry ignored the look, and turned back toward the Goddess of Ghosts.

"Thanks, Mel!"

"You're welcome, Harry," she said. "Remember the rules, he's still dead and he'll return to Father's domain at the stroke of midnight."

Harry nodded. "What timezone?" he asked, cheekily.

Mel snorted. "For that, GMT so you'll lose him 5 hours early," she snarked back.

"Aww…." Harry pouted outrageously.

"Fine, fine, put those puppy-dog eyes away," Mel replied, making a vaguely warding gesture with her hands and turning her face away so she didn't have to look at him. "Eastern timezone, of course."

"Thanks, Mel," he repeated, giving her another hug.

"Yeah, yeah, you'll ruin my reputation as a feared and scary goddess," Mel mock-complained.

Harry pointed at Apollo and Hermes. "They whined about the same thing earlier, it was really funny," he said. Both gods grinned. "Oh! And I need to introduce you to someone!" he grabbed Mel's hand and dragged her forward.

"Mel, this is Granny Rhea. Our grandmother," he said. "Granny Rhea, this is Melinoe, Goddess of Ghosts."

Melinoe blinked, paled for a moment, then dropped in an awkward curtsy. Despite the alterations made to the clothes she was wearing, the gothic monstrosity of a mourning dress leant itself really well to curtseying. "Greetings, My Lady," Mel said, realizing that she was addressing the Queen of the Titans.

"Tut-tut, none of that," Rhea said, hugging her granddaughter. "Call me Grandmother. Or Granny. I'm not picky. I'm just glad to finally meet more of the family. Let me take a good look at you."

"Ehm. Sure. Grandmother," Mel said, sounding completely bamboozled.

Harry snickered quietly to himself as he let Mel and Rhea get acquainted. As he turned toward his mortal friends – and the spirit of his father, who had drifted closer to them – he heard Rhea snicker behind him. "I'm sure you drive your father up the wall; that boy always was too straight-laced for his own good."

He was still sniggering when he reached his friends. Annabeth, Silena, and Percy basically wished him a happy birthday at the same time, before Annabeth unceremoniously thrust a package into his hands.

"Whoo! Comics!" Harry cheered when he opened the package.

"We hope you like them," Percy said with a grin.

"I'm sure I will," Harry replied, smiling widely. "But seriously, I'm just glad everyone showed up."

"Harry?" his father asked, drawing his attention.

"Hey, Dad!" Harry said. "Sorry, you know how it is."

James gave a smile. "I do indeed. Throw gifts at a child and they forget their parents even exist," he teased.

Harry gave an awkward shrug. "Before you go back to your friends, do you think you could help me with this?" James asked, making an awkward motion to indicate the rather humiliating bow that was tied around his head. "I can't remove it myself."

"I'm not sure," Harry replied, getting his own back for the teasing. He looked at his friends. "What do you think, guys? Should I unwrap my dad?"

"Ew," Silena declared. "No offense, Mister Potter, but I have no need to see that," she added, looking at James.

Harry snickered. "Pervert," he accused, before turning to his father and giving the ribbon a small yank, causing the bow to fall away. "There you go, Dad."

"Thanks. I felt ridiculous," James said, honestly. He looked at the quartet, and added, completely seriously, "Don't anger Lady Melinoe. She has a wicked sense of sadism that she disguises as humor."

"Mel's fun," Harry defended immediately, crossing his arms. "Maybe I should ask her to put the bow back."

James' eyes grew big. "Please don't."

Harry snickered. "The look on your face," he laughed.

"I know when I'm not wanted," James declared, as if mortally wounded right in the pride. "I should go and engage Lady Hestia in conversation and thank her for taking good care of you." With those words, and not even waiting for a reply, he turned and stalked off in Hestia's direction.

Harry snickered, and turned back to his friends. "Before you all ask, no, he's not really angry. He was a prankster when he was alive, and he enjoys the snark and the teasing."

"So… your dad's really dead, and that's really his ghost?" Percy asked.

Harry nodded. "Mel can bring him along for short periods of time, and it's always nice to see him and talk to him. Hestia's awesome, but sometimes a boy needs to talk to his dad, you know?"

Percy nodded, solemnly and thoughtfully. "I getcha," he answered.

Annabeth and Silena looked at each other, not getting it. Deciding on changing the subject, the Daughter of Athena looked back to Harry, and said, "You have the scariest parties, you do know that, right?"

Harry blinked. "How so?" he asked.

Annabeth made a sweeping gesture toward the various deities – major, minor, and titanic – that had gathered in the Grove of Dodona. "The amount of gods that gather is ridiculous, especially so when they start arguing!"

"Come on, they're good people," Harry defended each and every deity present. "You just don't know them. Maybe I should introduce you? Your moms are right there," he added, pointing to Athena and Aphrodite.

Silena opened her mouth, but Annabeth beat her to it. "Don't even think about it. We saw what you did to that poor goddess you dragged before Lady Rhea. She looked like she was ready to pass out."

Harry snickered. "Mel needed to know Granny Rhea," he said. "And I didn't know you liked Mel enough to come to her defense."

Annabeth looked sullen. "Well, she was nice enough to give us a room, and to get us to the Underworld. She may be scary, but she's helpful."

Harry grinned and hugged her. "See? Gods are people, too. And they're nice, once you get to know them and follow the manual."

"You're going to end up cursed, you know that, right?" Percy asked with a snicker.

Harry shrugged. "It's the truth. Just read up on the gods, so you learn what their triggers are. All you have to do is avoid those, and you're good. Gods are easier to get along with than mortals – none of us come with instruction manuals on how to act or what to avoid."

Annabeth, Silena, and Percy stared at him with flat looks. "Just saying, that's all," Harry defended, looking away.

"Yeah, I agree, Annabeth. He's nuts," Percy told the Daughter of Athena.

Silena just nodded silently. Harry sulked. "I'm not nuts."

Silena hugged him. "As your friends, and we mean that in the nicest possible way, yes, you are nuts, Harry."

Harry snorted as he hugged her back. So he was a little out there, he knew that. Nobody raised by gods could be considered completely normal. That didn't mean he was going to pass on an opportunity to hug someone; you never could get too many of those, anyway.

He spent the next couple of hours with his friends, and his father, managing to sneak away for a nice heart-to-heart chat about things that a boy really needed a father-figure for.

By the time the sun started to set, the cake and other consumables had been consumed hours earlier. As such, Harry decided that it was time to make good on his promise to cook up the mammoth meat that Rhea has given him.

He started by gathering fallen branches and collecting firewood from fallen trees in the Grove of Dodona; he was getting quite good at ignoring the whispered words coming from the fortunetelling woods.

Using Hestia's skills, he built a nice fire, then conjured up a grill. Bringing out the 'jewel meat' as Rhea had called it, he looked at it and tried to determine the best way of grilling it.

The meat was marbled in a way that even the best cuts of Wagyu beef would envy, and Harry's Hestia-given boon seemed to struggle to come up with a recipe. The best he got was some well-educated guesses based on other meats.

"You seem to be thinking deeply about something," Rhea teased as she stood next to him, staring at the fire he had built and the grill he had conjured.

Harry nodded. "I can usually think up recipes quite easily," he admitted. "But right now, all I get are educated best-guesses based around other types of meat."

Rhea laughed softly. "That is not unexpected," she told him. "After all, your skill comes from my daughter, her boon, her teachings, her gifts." She pointed to the jewel meat. "The regal mammoth was extinct long before Hestia was born. She could not possible know of its meat, or how to prepare it."

"Oh," Harry said, suddenly realizing what priceless gift he'd been given. He looked up at her. "Will you help me? I don't want to mess this up."

Rhea waved it off. "I can always conjure more," she said with wave of her hand. "Just do your best. I'm interested in seeing what you do with an ingredient you've never seen before, and one you can't cheat using Hestia's boons or skills."

Harry swallowed, not prepared for this test. "None of that," Rhea continued. "It's just an old woman's curiosity. It's not a test. Just prepare what you feel is best."

"Alright, Granny Rhea," Harry whispered, looking back at his birthday gift.

Well, if Rhea wanted him to wing it, then winging it he would. Mammoths were herbivores, and he remembered once jokingly comparing them to giant cows, so maybe he could treat it as beef.

Using Godslayer turned into a chef's knife, he carved a small corner of the slab of meat he'd been given, and tried it.

Immediately his eyes opened.

The taste was… indescribable. Suddenly, he realized that the theories of the mammoth being hunted to extinction could very well be true – it was their own fault for being this tasty.

He needed to preserve the taste of this meat. He needed to enhance it, rather than cover it with other flavors.

He carved the huge slab of mammoth-meat into smaller chunks, and seasoned them just with salt. He deliberately didn't use pepper – as pepper burnt over high heat, and the last thing he wanted was to spoil this beautiful meat with burnt-pepper flavors.

The fire spat and surged as he grilled the large mammoth-steaks, their marbled fat content rendering due to the high heat and dripping into it. He kept turning them over and over, to ensure he didn't get any burn spots while simultaneously ensuring that he got the Maillard reaction that turned grilled meat into a tasty mass of utter goodness. Once the crust had formed, he moved them away from direct fire and cooked them further using indirect heat.

He'd use one of them as a test while grilling the others, to see whether medium-rare was as good for mammoth as it was for cow.

Turns out – it was.

Removing the grilled meat from the grill, he conjured up a large plate to let the steaks rest while given them a small talking-to with the pepper grinder and sprinkling them with cracked sea-salt. He carefully carved the large steaks up into bite-sized slices once he was sure they'd rested enough.

"Come and-" Harry started, only to realize that everyone had already gathered and were staring hungrily at the meat. "- get it," he finished lamely.

"Don't mind if I do!" Hermes declared, already digging into a slice.

"Hermes," Rhea scolded at the rudeness, before taking a plate and gently taking a flew slices. "These look delicious, Harry. Thank you," she praised him, making him swell.

She took a bite, and closed her eyes. "It has been so long since I tasted these," she told him. "Of course, back then, there was no access to pepper, and salt was an expensive commodity." For a few moments, she seemed lost in ancient memories, before blinking and looking at him. "Well done, Harry. Very well done."

"Thanks, Granny Rhea," he said, shyly. Despite the fact that everyone else was groaning and moaning at the taste, and complimenting him on it, it was the simple compliment from Rhea that meant the most to him.

After all, she had first-hand experience with it, and knew how it was supposed to taste.

Suddenly, he realized that Marduk, too, would have first-hand experience, and he wished he hadn't grilled it all so he could share a piece with his magic teacher.

He looked at the serving platter – all the meat was already gone. As he started cleaning up, he blinked at the container.

There was more mammoth meat in it. Startled, he looked at Rhea, who winked at him, gave him a smile, and then returned to her conversation with Hestia as if nothing had happened.

Thanks, Granny Rhea, Harry prayed to her. His grandmother was sneaky.

He loved that about her.

And now he had some mammoth meat to share with Marduk. Win-win.


The next day, Harry was packing for a week-long stay at Sirius' place. He'd spent the rest of the evening talking with his father over many things and discussing many subjects, but in the end it all came back around to Hogwarts.

Harry sighed when he realized that his parents' life had been cut short, and that the magical school had dominated most of said short life. They had married right after it, and he'd come around soon after, before they had been forced into hiding thanks to the now-long-dead Voldemort.

He felt bad for them. Especially for his father, who was after all, only mortal. Even if he'd gotten into Elysium and was able to monitor Harry's life, James hadn't been able to live his own life to the fullest.

He sighed sadly when he thought about his mother; she was an aspect of an immortal goddess, but thanks to Zeus' curse she wasn't able to talk to him. Which was also the reason why she wasn't at his birthday parties – not being able to talk was just too cruel.

He packed his clothes and his new books into a bottomless backpack, and went through the mental checklist to ensure he had everything before leaving for Sirius'. The talk with his father had left him armed with some new ammunition to use against his godfather, should it become necessary.

Knowing Sirius' penchant for attempting to prank him, said ammunition would definitely be needed.

Remembering that he'd better bring some fresh produce with him if he wanted to eat decent food, he left Hestia's temple for the market. His godfather was many things, but a good cook he was not. And, while Britain may be his home, the foods he was served were usually quite fatty, bland, and above all, brown.

His Hestia-given boon protested at the mere thought of it. Once or twice wasn't a problem. Every meal, however…

He whistled a jaunty tune, ignoring the fact that it scared off most small and medium-sized animals that were kept either as pets or as sacred animals on Olympus.

He frowned when a particularly vocal cat yowled and hissed as it vanished into a nearby bush.

"Everyone's a critic," he muttered on his breath.

The next moment, said breath was stuck in his throat as a large and meaty hand slammed down on his shoulder, making his spine and knees protest at the sudden increase in pressure.

"There you are, Brat!" Ares declared, his meaty paw clenching shut into a vice-like grip and spinning Harry around. "I was starting to think you were avoiding me!"

Harry pasted a smile on his lips and hoped it sufficed. "Who? Me? Avoiding you? Perish the thought!"

Ares laughed in that blood-thirsty fashion of his. "That's the spirit, Brat! Don't ever let them see you scared!" The God of War leaned closer. "Even if I can smell it from half a mile away."

"Eep," Harry eep-ed.

Ares chortled. "Come on, time for your Birthday Surprise."

Hestia, Artie, help, Ares is grab-

They vanished from Olympus, only to arrive at some completely other location. -bing me, Harry managed to finish his prayer. He looked around a generic-looking underground cave, as if someone had run out of inspiration on making said cave look interesting. Honestly, there weren't even any stalagmites or stalactites.

"Since I learned my lesson, I'm also preventing your prayers from reaching anyone else. This God of War doesn't feel like being turned into a pincushion again," Ares declared proudly.

Harry offered another tremulous smile. "Do you think we could skip the 'surprise' part this year, Mister Ares? I mean, it'll also prevent me from having something to tattle about, and thus will prevent you from being turned into a pincushion later, after I get back and tattle."

Ares laughed, and Harry could feel the sound physically reverberating through his chest, and mentally reverberating through the deepest, darkest corners of his mind, stirring up hideous emotions of hatred and rage.

He clenched his fists. No. No, he shouldn't give in to those. Hestia wouldn't like it. Think of Hestia! He screwed his eyes shut and managed to beat the God of War's rage aura down.

"Hah!" Ares chortled. "Haven't laughed like this in a long time. And at least you're honest about tattling, Brat. But no, no we're not skipping the surprise. It's a delightful yearly tradition, and it keeps you on your toes." The evil, sociopathic, blood-raged grin the god suddenly sported made Harry take a half-step back. "It also makes sure you're not growing too big for your britches. You're mortal, and therefore, fragile, crunchy, and go well with tartar sauce. Don't forget that."

Harry resisted the urge to 'eep' once more. Gods, Ares was scary when he wanted to be. For a moment, the young demigod wondered where the somewhat likable fellow who had taught him to shoot firearms had gone off to.

Then again, Harry had just beaten Ares during Percy's quest, so maybe this was the god's way of getting even.

If so, then he was succeeding, in Harry's opinion.

"So… what's the surprise?" Harry asked, hoping to mask his nerves.

Ares grinned, once more stirring dark emotions from the depths of Harry's mind. "Knew you couldn't keep faking disinterest forever, Brat," he said. His lips peeled back on his grin, displaying a perfectly sparkling white set of teeth that had way too many points to be of comfort. "Today I have for you – your toughest surprise yet."

Harry looked distinctly uncomfortable, and debated the merits of simply conjuring fire and fire-traveling out of there; Gods of War and their anger at his cowardice be damned.

Ares motioned, then vanished. A moment later, a perfect copy of himself walked out of a fire that hadn't been there moments earlier. "The biggest challenge lies in beating yourself," Ares' voice boomed through the cave. "Now – fight!"

His doppelganger drew a perfect replica of GodSlayer, and charged. Reflexes took over, and Harry blocked the overhead strike. Immediately, he felt his opponent's desire for his destruction take magical form, and he set his own will and belief against it.

One wanting the other to die, the other wanting to live, magical powers diametrically opposed to each other clashed in a titanic struggle for supremacy.

The two demigods, one real, one cloned, still with swords interlocked, became the epicenter of reality cracking on its very basis, before the forces that had been pulled up released one another. The floor rumbled and cracked in intricate circular patterns beneath their feet. Meanwhile the walls and the ceiling shook and shuddered, releasing pebbles and stones that clattered noisily to the ground in the suddenly silent cave.

Harry jumped back, braced himself. Before his double could close the distance once again, Harry crossed his arms after turning a sulking GodSlayer back into a ring, and gave his double a good glare. "You stop that!" he admonished.

His double froze, a look of indecision on its perfect Harry-replica face.

"What would Hestia think? Hm?" Harry went on, drawing a tone from Hestia's Book of Parenthood. "Now, why don't you put that sword away, come over here, and shake my hand? We can go for a drink and a bit of food. Things always look better on a full stomach."

His double shuffled awkwardly, before putting the sword away and shaking Harry's hand.

"Wha-" Ares' voice boomed through the cave a moment before the God of War reappeared. "Brat! He's your evil twin! Your doppelganger! You can't just…" his voice trailed off as he made helpless motions toward the doppelganger.

"Hestia says that you should always avoid fighting," Harry replied. "And evil or not, if he's my twin, then he listens to Hestia."

Ares growled. The doppelganger vanished, worrying Harry about where he went. "I made him, I reserve the right to unmake him," the God of War snapped at Harry's look. "You didn't fight and weaseled out of it, so no reward this time, Brat. I'm very, very disappointed."

Harry shuffled, looking as awkward as his doppelganger had looked moments earlier.

"I, however, am not," Hestia's voice stated, the Goddess of Home and Heart appearing from the same fire that double-Harry had used. "Harry is my son, Ares. Of course I would know when you pulled shenanigangs like doppelgangers and evil twins. I am not happy with you."

Ares' eyes turned large, and he vanished.

"I am, however, very proud of you, Harry," Hestia said, drawing him into a hug. "When the biggest evil in your own heart can be dispelled with a stern look and a kind word, then you really are a kind boy."

Harry just hugged her back, not really wanting to touch on the fact that he feared his own darkness more than anything else in the world. And that it was only Hestia's kind words and Hestia's stern looks that would be able to dispel it.

AN: I spent hours looking for good monsters for Ares to pitch at Harry. At some point, I came across the evil-twin trope, and wondered how Harry would deal with fighting himself. I couldn't resist.

Also, I messed up the time zones, so I corrected that. :)


omake by polarbear20000

For those among my faithful readers who do not know, an omake is a fun little skit after the end credits of an anime episode, that isn't part of canon. As such, these omakes are supposed to be for fun and laughter, and shouldn't be considered to have happened in the story itself. Regretfully, that means that Harry killing Ares using the Fidelius spell is not canon. ;)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119) powered her way through the waves, her motion up-and-down much more pronounced than the steady steaming of the accompanying aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65.) The carrier proceeded in a stately manner, her bulk and greater displacement pushing aside the water easier than the smaller destroyer. It was something that the carrier sailors made jokes about.

Poseidon regarded the two ships and wondered which one that scamp was on. Of course, he could just show up wherever Harry was, but it was a little more fun (well, as much as a deity could claim) to figure it out. It took him a few more moments of evaluation, then decided that he would try the carrier first.

This proved to be correct, although he found that Harry wasn't on the bridge. His son was, however.

"He's in Pri-Fly, watching the planes launch." Percy's voice had a note of long-suffering.

"I... wouldn't have guessed that," Poseidon said, bemused.

"It's something about wanting to see a fighter jet and... volleyball?" Percy sounded confused, as if he wondered what a land-based sport had to do with naval aircraft. Poseidon couldn't figure it out, either, and decided that he was safer not to ask. He'd already heard the distinct sound of swords clanging and decided that he didn't want to know about that either.

He didn't think that was something that was on naval warships and knew that if he asked, he would probably regret it.

"So... son... you seem to be comfortable in the role of captain."

"It seems to fit."

Poseidon looked at the carrier's Plexiglass information board, which was looking out-of-place with all the computerized displays that he didn't know a thing about anyway. He wondered if it was supposed to even be there, but decided that it was best not to ask. Both naval ships were steaming at flank speed toward a point that had multiple concentric red circles around it.

"What's the scenario?" And why was it a carrier and destroyer when the carrier didn't have as much offensive weaponry as a battleship, other than fighter jets, he didn't ask.

"We're bombarding submarines. Depth charges and anti-sub missiles. Should be simple enough." Percy waved at another display that showed a flight of... Pegasi?

Poseidon decided that he didn't want to ask what exactly the Pegasi was going to drop on the sub or subs. He was still shocked at the thought of carriers willingly chasing subs when it was usually the other way around with screening elements around the carrier chasing subs.

And was there a bunch of demigods on a simulated submarine out there somewhere, too?

"er... Have fun. I'll... er... pop over to the destroyer and look around there."

"Tell Annabeth to come to new heading 018 while you're there!"

Shaking his head at the thought of the God of the Seas being used to relay helm orders, he mumbled, "Aye-aye, sir" and disappeared. He didn't want to lessen the authority of a ship's captain on his own bridge, after all.

End of Omake