Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 51

Harry stepped out of the fire at Camp Half-Blood, carrying a covered plate. He grinned at Hestia, who was tending the fire as usual. The Goddess of the Home gave him a smile in return, and followed it up with a small wave to let him go on.

The young demigod made his way to the Big House, and knocked politely on the door. It took a few moments, but then the door was yanked open.

"What?" Dionysus demanded. "Oh, it's you, Harris. What do you want?"

"Hi, Mister D," Harry said politely, grinning widely at the new name the god had christened him with. "Something happened to me that I think you might find interesting."

"Doubt it," the god grouched. "You're already boring me, Hartley."

"Someone altered my drink," Harry said, confidently pressing on with the story. The God of Wine suddenly seemed a lot more focused, and his eyes narrowed. "They made it never-ending, then put a geas on it so I never realized how much I was drinking. Long story short, Mister Apollo had to come and take a look at me."

Dionysus' eyes narrowed further, and his usual red cheeks seemed to darken. "Anyway," Harry said, "Mister Apollo determined I had enough alcohol in my system to kill most adults, and it seems that someone slipped me a bit of a blessing at some point to make me more resistant to alcohol, which is the only reason I'm not dead."

"I wonder who that was," Dionysus ground out, his voice gravelly in a way that was completely new to Harry.

"It's a mystery," the demigod said with a nod. "It's probably the same person who made me able to recognize every type of alcohol from a single sip."

"That seems likely," Dionysus agreed, still in that strange tone.

"Anyway, I was hoping that you, being the God of Wine, would be able to figure out who slipped me that blessing," Harry said, offering up the covered plate and removing the cover. It revealed a triple-layer chocolate cake, the frosting of which had been made with genuine crème de cacao. "And if you do, I have a thank you for them."

The god stared at the cake, started licking his lips, caught himself, put a disgruntled look on his face instead, and took the plate. "Fine. I get no rest around here anyway."

"Thanks, Mister D!" Harry said cheerfully as the god turned and started closing the door.

"Yeah, yeah, run along," the God of Wine grouched right before the door closed.

Harry grinned. Dionysus was loads of fun if you didn't take his grouching seriously. Besides, it had been another opportunity to spite Zeus and his stupid edict. Dionysus had slipped him a blessing that saved his life, so Harry was determined to slip the god some alcohol-infused dishes whenever he could get away with it.

He turned and walked back into the camp proper, looking for his friends. It was August, and school would start up in a month. For the first time, he was looking forward to the end of his vacation as well.

He'd been thinking about where to go for the annual end-of-vacation holiday, but hadn't gotten much further than India. Maybe he'd get to see Lakshmi again; despite her terrifying power she'd been cool.

"Harry!" Silena shouted, suddenly right next to him and grabbing his arm and squeezing it against her.

"Hi Silena," Harry said, nervous for some reason. He knew Silena well enough that she was acting out of character.

"Good morning, Harry," Annabeth greeted politely, while shaking her head in amusement at her female friend.

"Hi Annabeth!" Harry cheerily said, happy to see at least one of his friends was acting normal.

"Haaarrryyyy," Silena wheedled.

"Yes?" Harry asked, feeling his nervousness dial increasing two levels.

"Are you still planning on a trip for the end of August?" the Daughter of Aphrodite asked.

He nodded silently, eyes never leaving hers.

"We were thinking Paris," she said, blinking her eyes at him – eyes that suddenly seemed larger than usual.

"Paris, huh?" he asked, looking at Annabeth in an effort to get away from Silena's strange and distracting presence.

The Daughter of Athena nodded. "It has plenty of history, and Silena wanted to go shopping, so we thought a day in Paris could work."

"What do the Guys think?" Harry asked, studiously ignoring Silena. It was getting easier.

"They're away, getting settled in at university," Annabeth replied, pouting. "I wish I could go to university."

"After graduating High School," Silena said, as if it were a familiar discussion between them.

Harry nodded in agreement with Silena, then grumbled slightly. "So, despite the Guys saying they wouldn't be like Louis, they are, in fact, like Louis and dumping us the first chance they get?"

"To be fair to the Guys, they do need to settle in at university," Annabeth said. "I suggest we wait and see what happens in the future. They may surprise us."

Harry nodded, always willing to give a friend the benefit of the doubt when given a chance. "How about the 'replacement' they introduced us to?" he asked.

"Will Solace?" Silena asked. "He's a nice enough guy, but he's a bit skittish. I don't think he'd be interested in joining us on a city trip."

"My city trips aren't that bad," Harry muttered.

"The first one had us questing through Rome, and nearly got us killed," Annabeth said sternly, crossing her arms and giving him a five-out-of-ten Athena glare, showing that she was more amused than actually angry.

Silena took over. "The second one had us meet up with an Aztec-"

"Mayan," Harry corrected.

"Sorry?"

"Kukulkan is Mayan, not Aztec," Harry said.

"Fine. Your second trip had us meet a Mayan deity, who demanded we offer our hearts. So yes, your trips take some getting used to," Silena said, finishing Annabeth's mini-rant.

Harry sulked. "So you girls would rather I didn't organize a city trip?"

"NO!" Silena squeaked. "I wanna go to Paris. And I don't even care if it means we have to fight Napoleon's ghost or something."

"Mel wouldn't let that happen anyway," Harry said. "Or she'd point and laugh, I suppose."

"I know I'm going to regret this, but… who's Mel?" Annabeth asked. Silena, too, was quiet and stared at Harry.

"Melinoe. She's the Goddess of Ghosts. And lots of fun. Sometimes. But she's not used to mortals, so she doesn't always know how fragile we are, so her 'fun' can sometimes be a bit much."

"A bit much," Annabeth said, giving a shudder. "Right. That's Harry-speak for absolutely terrifying, isn't it?"

"Mel's not that bad," Harry protested.

"And she lets him call her with an affectionate diminutive," Annabeth said to Silena.

Silena was giggling. "So… Paris?" she asked.

"Marduk said he had a student there," Harry said, rubbing his chin with his free hand. "Nicky something. I have a session with him next week, I'll ask him for the address. If you girls don't mind me popping in to say 'hi', I don't mind taking you to Paris. I'll have a look around, maybe I can finagle a hotel stay and we can make a weekend of it. I hear the Louvre has a two-day queue outside of it, so we might need more than one day."

Silena squealed happily, released his arm, and hugged the rest of his body instead. Annabeth looked happy, and thanked him nicely – and verbally.

"I doubt the waiting line for the Louvre is that bad, though," Annabeth said.

"Maybe not," Harry said. "But I bet it's still a long time." He suddenly realized that Hermes had taught him to pick locks, so maybe a late-night excursion to the Louvre could be fun.

"No," Annabeth said.

Harry blinked, and looked at her. He opened his mouth. Annabeth beat him. "No, I can't read your mind, but I know you well enough, Harry. You were thinking about breaking in at night, weren't you?"

Harry sulked. "It could be fun, though."

"No," Annabeth repeated. "No breaking and entering. No zany adventures. No strange quests that killed dozens. No half-faded gods. Just a city trip."

"Fiiine," Harry said in a pretend-sulk. Silena giggled.

"Maybe Luna will want to come, too," Harry said, blatantly changing the subject.

"That girl is strange," Annabeth said. When Harry started to frown, because teasing him was well and good but you didn't disparage his friends, and opened his mouth to protest, she added, "Fun and friendly, but strange."

Harry's face cleared. "We're all strange, in a way, Annabeth."

"True, I suppose. We do hang out with you, so there has to be something wrong with us," the Daughter of Athena said thoughtfully.

"Silena?" Harry asked.

"Yes, Harry?" the Daughter of Aphrodite asked.

"Let's get her," he suggested.

"Right there with you, Harry," she replied with a wide grin, causing Annabeth to give a startled yelp and start running, being chased by two of her friends.

0000

"Walk me through it step by step, Harry," Marduk said as they leaned against the trunk of a giant Baobab tree, somewhere in Africa. In the distance, a herd of elephants lazily stepped along the horizon. Once again, Harry was struck by how right it felt to be here.

"The Drakon was pretty much immune to anything we did to it," Harry said. "Even Miss Zoë's super secret Hunter skills did next to no damage, despite her turning one arrow into ten."

Marduk nodded thoughtfully, and made a hand motion for Harry to carry on.

"And then it hit her, and she made this strange sort of wet thumping sound," the young demigod muttered, wrapping his arms around himself. "Human beings shouldn't make that sound."

His teacher nodded again. "I take it your friend was injured badly?"

"She didn't move," Harry said, replying despite sounding as if he hadn't heard the question. "And I was so far away. And then it reared up to strike at her, and I pushed because I had to get to her, and then I suddenly was, you know?"

Marduk smiled proudly. "It sounds like you figured out either teleportation or super-speed, both of which are impressive talents to develop at your age."

Harry was silent. "It didn't seem like I crossed the distance, it was more like I was here one moment and there another, so it's probably teleportation."

His ancient teacher nodded thoughtfully. "Indeed. You may want to practice with it; yet be careful. Teleportation can be tricky. If you're not careful you may appear halfway in solid matter, like a wall."

It was Harry's turn to nod. "I'll be careful, thanks, Marduk."

"Now, what happened then?"

"I deflected its strike," the young student said, lost in thought once more as the movie of the events played before his mind's eye. It was easy; that movie had been playing dozens of times over the last week or two. "And I got just so… angry," he said. "I hated it, for attacking us, for hurting Miss Zoë, for trying to kill the both of us. I don't think I've ever been so angry, or hated something as much, not since the Dursleys."

Marduk placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Anger and hate are normal, Harry. Don't dwell on them, don't fear feeling them. Be careful not to surrender yourself to them, but when something hurts those you love, it is quite normal to feel them."

Harry sighed, and gave nod. "Thanks, Marduk."

The dark-skinned mage grinned, and squeezed his shoulder. "Then what happened?"

"I wanted to kill it," Harry said. "I smashed my bracers together, and pushed as much magic at them as I could to boost the discharge. It was flung away, and I got up from crouching over Miss Zoë." He swallowed. "It seemed groggy, so I started walking toward it, and grabbed Miss Zoë's bow off the ground from where she dropped it."

"I imagine that a bow enchanted by Artemis wouldn't appreciate that," Marduk commented.

"And it didn't," Harry agreed. "But my magic did something. It was like… the bow was looking for certain parts of me to check I was female, and my magic simulated those so it fooled the bow."

Marduk nodded thoughtfully. "Your magic cloaked yourself and gave false readings to the bow," he said. "You are making very nice progress, Harry."

"Thanks," the young demigod said, still lost in his thoughts. "I turned Godslayer in a broadhead arrow so I could fire it from the bow."

Marduk said nothing, but raised an impressed eyebrow. "And then I enhanced the arrow," Harry said, closing his eyes. He could feel that scene again, that moment where he drew back the string. "I will put aside your defenses as if meaningless," he said. "I will brush aside your protection as if made from wet tissue."

Two strings of runes appeared before him, and he opened his eyes.

Marduk studied the runes for a moment. "It seems someone has been studying the Norse school of Magic," he said. "At least it is broader in scope than the wand-wavers, allowing you to develop your own magical effects. I still would have preferred you doing magic without these crutches, as you're now limited to things you can write down, but at least you're not limited to 'spells' and 'wand-waving'." As Harry looked down, the mage continued, "Still, it is a nice piece of magic to do at your age."

Harry gave him a small, thankful smile. "But then," he said. "Then something else happened."

"Oh?" Marduk asked, sounding intrigued.

"I just felt… I think I thought the word 'destroy', but more of an emotion than the actual word, you know?"

"The concept," Marduk said. "It sounds like you imagined the concept of destruction, rather than the English word 'destroy'."

Harry nodded. "That sounds right. Then this symbol appeared in front of the arrow's head," he said, starting to draw a symbol into the dirt; the symbol that was seared into his memory.

Marduk's hand suddenly gripped his wrist. "Stop," the mage ordained, and it was neither a command nor an order; it was a statement of fact. Even if Harry had wanted to to, he would not have been able to continue.

"Harry, who else has been teaching you?" the teacher asked, his voice grave while his eyes remained locked on the half-drawn symbol.

"Miss Frigga taught me some runes and gave me some books," Harry said. "And one day, while I was meditating, this giant alien hand gave me a lesson by drawing on a screen."

"A 'giant alien hand'?" Marduk inquired. "Did this 'giant alien hand' have four fingers with an extra joint compared to ours?"

Harry nodded.

Marduk pinched the bridge of his nose. "A Rayellian," the old man said. "They're an alien race. Quite advanced, quite a bit further along than we humans are," he added. "I suppose it's not hard to imagine one teaching you, Rayellians see teaching and educating as the highest honor one can achieve. If you want to get on a Rayellian's good side, ask them to teach you something."

"I suppose that is why I got the impression it told me that all knowledge should be shared freely when I thanked it," Harry muttered.

Marduk gave a mirthful chuckle. "Yes, it would." He turned back to the half-drawn symbol. "Remember how I explained that the Akashic Records hold concepts and secrets that can destroy you in an instant?"

Harry nodded. "This would be one of the less dangerous ones," Marduk said, pointing to the symbol. "It is tied intimately to the concept of 'destruction' in a sense that we humans don't quite grasp. It's not mere 'destruction' as we understand it – rather, it is the annihilation of something, from start to finish. To a Rayellian, this symbol would signify not merely the destruction of the physical entity, but also the memories pertaining to it, the records, and so forth."

Marduk was silent for a few moments. "It is their harshest punishment," he said. "Reserved for their most depraved criminals. At the time of execution, it is not merely the death of the criminal, it is also the destruction of all records related to that criminal. Almost as if the criminal never existed. Their name is no longer used, struck from all records, and the living no longer speak of them, as if the very memories of that criminal are struck from the minds of the living. It is a curious quirk of their psychology, that they are able to force themselves to forget about a person in such a manner."

Harry swallowed. "But I still remember the drakon, and I can still talk of it."

"Because you, Harry, are human, and not Rayellian. Your grasp of the concept is flawed, and therefore the execution of that concept is flawed as well." Marduk pointed to the symbol. "And yet, tens of billions of Rayellians across half a dozen colonies believe deeply enough in this symbol that it granted you power – even across the vast emptiness of space. Flawed in its execution it may have been, there was enough belief behind it to literally break the flows of fate and prophecy. And that is also the reason I stopped you – you are still in training, and it is quite possible that you could, unknowingly and subconsciously, start drawing upon that belief and invoke it."

"Oh," Harry said.

"Yes, 'oh'," Marduk teased, then grew serious once more. "Be very careful, Harry. While that Rayellian no doubt taught you with honest intentions, you are not Rayellian, and your mind works differently from theirs. The knowledge it gave you could be quite dangerous if misused."

Harry swallowed.

"Now," Marduk said, standing up. "I heard an interesting rumor about you going to an actual school. A boarding school, no less."

The young demigod tried to forget the heavy conversation he just had with his teacher and attempted to smile. "Yeah," he agreed. "It's called 'Hogwarts' – weird name, I know – and it's where my parents went to school, so I'm curious about it. Mom's been sending me letters about it, and it sounds incredible."

"And it teaches wand-waving and other silly subjects," Marduk said, sounding gravely disappointed. "So, let's see it."

Harry's attempted smile immediately vanished once more. "See what, Marduk?" he asked.

"That wand you're no doubt carrying," the ancient man said.

"Oh, that's back at the temple," Harry answered blithely.

Marduk blinked, and stared at his student for a few moments. "You left it?" he asked.

Harry nodded. "It's in my suitcase. The magicals say I need one, so I bought one, but I'm not planning on using it. I mean, they can make me get one, but they can't make me use it, right?"

Marduk stared for a few more moments, then burst out laughing; his deep bass voice carried across the plains and caused the elephants in the far distance to turn away and vanish over the horizon.

"Harry, you have made me so proud right now," he finally said when he calmed down. "Indeed, they can make you get one but they can't make you use it. Rightly said. Well done."

"Thanks, Marduk," Harry said, shyly. He thought for a moment, then said, "I can see why they use wands, though. There was a reaction, just from me touching it. It rang two church bells and cleaned the wandmaker's shop."

Marduk snorted a laugh. "The church bells always toll. Those things are drama queens, they love ringing and tolling whenever something even halfway interesting happens. And I suppose you're very adept at household magic, as the first thing your magic did was clean the store. I bet the wandmaker looked surprised."

"It was hilarious," Harry said with a chuckle. "I managed to keep a poker-face, though."

"Well done," Marduk complimented. "Keep them confused and never let them figure you out."

"I will, and I won't," the young demigod promised, before thinking of something else. "Marduk? Do you remember how I take my friends on a vacation each year?"

"Before school starts," the ancient mage said with a nod. "You run into the most interesting problems on those trips," he added teasingly. "Where are you going this time? The Amazon? Indonesia? Australia?"

"Paris," Harry replied, causing Marduk to blink.

"That's less exotic than I expected, but then again, it's in line with that trip to Rome you took," his teacher answered with a nod.

"I recall you saying you had a student there," Harry said. "Nicky something."

"Ah, yes. Nicky Flamel," Marduk said with a wide smile. "Decent student, and a good sense of humor. He's the one that achieved immortality and passed it off as having discovered the 'Philosopher's Stone'. It's the best and longest-running prank on the magicals I've ever known." He chuckled deeply, apparently lost in some very fond memories.

"Where can I find him?" he asked his teacher. "I mean, I'd love to talk to him."

"Rue de Montmorency number 51," Marduk replied immediately. "In Paris, obviously. Nicky has a bookshop there, selling 'rare' and 'mystical' tomes that he 'discovers'."

"Do you think he'd mind?" Harry asked.

"Of course not," Marduk said. "Nicky's got a kindly disposition. He definitely won't mind, especially not after you tell him you're my student." The ancient mage leaned in closer. "Don't pay any attention to his stories about me, he exaggerates."

Harry laughed, already looking forward to his visit. It sounded like Nicky had lots of good stories about Marduk if his teacher was warning him in advance.

"If we are done talking," Marduk said, sternly but not unkindly, "I think it's time for me to give you a few pointers on accessing the Akashic Records."

Harry developed a wide grin. "I thought you said I wasn't ready?"

"You aren't," Marduk answered definitively. "However, if you're going to get lessons from Rayellians, I need to make sure that you know how to properly learn from Rayellians. Like that destruction symbol. I did warn you that there are things in the Akashic Records that could drive you insane."

The young demigod nodded obediently. He did remember that lesson.

"Now imagine what would have happened if you hadn't been taught by a Rayellian, and instead accessed that knowledge directly. Imagine that destruction symbol's actual concept forcing itself into your brain. And trust me, there are far, far more dangerous things than a mere destruction glyph in the Records. As your teacher, it is my duty to ensure you're safe, but since you insist on running before you can properly take a long hike, I have to ensure you know how to run without running headfirst into a wall."

Harry grinned. He loved his teacher's analogies. They were lots of fun.

"This is no laughing matter," Marduk said, now definitely stern. "You can wipe your own mind, or drive yourself insane, if you're not careful. Now, I want you to shift your mental perception, as if you're going to ask a Rayellian to teach you some more runic spellcraft."

Harry closed his eyes and started meditating. He had the impression it was going to be an interesting lesson.

0000

"Full House," Harry announced, before his quick fingers gathered his loot and stacked it in front of himself. The four gods at the table grumbled good-naturedly.

"Tyche's own luck," Hermes muttered with a grin as he started shuffling the deck.

"Yeah, yeah," Thor told Hermes, waving the God of Travelers off. "I want to hear what happened next!"

"Indeed," added Triton. The Messenger of the Seas leaned slightly forward. "A drakon is no small monster to defeat, especially for one so young."

Bai just chuckled. "You guys are living way too vicariously through our young friend."

"Does that mean you don't want to know what happened next?" Harry asked, innocently. The Chinese god made a face, causing the others to laugh at him.

The young demigod looked at his cards and threw some chips into the pot. "Anyway, I got off a quick prayer to Hestia and Artie, and then started fighting for my life."

He tried to make the story about more than just him, fearing for his life, running around trying desperately not to get skewered, or eaten, and failing to do any damage whatsoever.

He also made sure to remind everyone how awesome Zoë was, jumping in without hesitation. Even if she, too, failed to do damage. At least, with the two of them, they were able to keep the thing busy enough so it wouldn't focus on just one fo them.

Then, the familiar scene replayed before his mind's eye. The scene he had relived countless times in the last weeks. The scene that played very differently in his early nightmares.

He wasn't consciously aware of the words he used or how he told the tale, but when he finished, he found four gods, silent, leaning forward, listening to him.

Thor whistled. "You broke a prophecy to save your lady friend."

"The Fates are going to hate you," Hermes said. "If you're breaking prophecies when you're ten. Imagine what you'll do when you're twenty!"

"I'm eleven," Harry protested, looking down. He didn't feel very heroic. Heroes would have killed the thing before it hurt Zoë. Then, something reared up from forgotten memories, and he shuddered. "And the Fates are scary. I don't know why I know that, but they are."

Hermes and Triton exchanged a look. Thor and Bai looked inquisitively at him, as if trying to figure out where that had come from.

"They may have already gotten to you, then," Hermes said. "They probably scared you with their 'we can cut your life's thread' speech, then erased the memory to prevent you from blabbing. They've done it before."

Harry frowned; that sounded bad. He hated the thought of someone messing with his mind or his memories.

"Just accept it," Triton counseled. "None of us can face the Fates. Not even Zeus is free from them."

Harry just frowned deeper. He wasn't a big fan of Zeus, so he didn't mind much if the King of the Greek Gods wasn't able to face something.

"I don't like the idea of someone messing with our young friend," Thor announced gravely, looking unusually serious.

"Unfortunately, the Fates determine our fate, literally, so there's not much we can do," Hermes said. "He did break a prophecy."

Harry crossed his arms. "If the Fates didn't want prophecies broken, they should keep them locked up where they're safe," he muttered.

Hermes burst out laughing. "You should tell that to Apollo, he's the God of Prophecies. His face will be hilarious."

"Mister Apollo has too many domains," Harry grouched, still not feeling all that charitable after the revelation that someone messed about with his memories. "Maybe he should drop that one. It's annoying, and it gets me in trouble with the Fates, apparently."

All four gods laughed. "You're so much fun when you're pouting," Hermes said, patting his grandson's shoulder.

"Still, I feel our young friend has a point," Thor said. "I am not a fan of major forces scrambling a young hero's memories."

"You're just saying that because he came to save you," Triton replied, needling Thor a little.

Thor rubbed his chin. "Father did declare him Friend of Asgard," the bulky Norse god muttered, half to himself and half to the others. Then, he developed a smile.

"I think someone is about to scream," Hermes said. "That smile tells me you have an idea that's either going to turn out very bad or very good, or both."

"Harry is a Friend of Asgard," Thor repeated, louder, completely ignoring the God of Thieves' comments. "I should take him to see the Norns."

Three gods were silent, while Thor looked proud. Harry just looked confused.

"You're going to turn your Norns loose on our Fates?" Hermes asked.

"Not in the slightest!" Thor exclaimed, mock-outraged. "That would lead to war! No, I merely want to bring the young Friend of Asgard before the Norns in order to ascertain his fate. That's all. And if, in the process, they were to happen to withdraw our young Friend of Asgard from your Fates' complete control… well, that's just a happy coincidence."

"Is that even possible?" Hermes asked, looking at Triton.

The unflappable Messenger of the Seas rubbed his chin in thought. "I am not sure," he admitted. "A person's fate should be set, regardless of who enforces it, but then again… different pantheons have different views on fate." He sighed deeply. "This is why the Accords were made, where pantheons don't interfere with each other."

"Your Fates shouldn't have meddled with a Friend of Asgard," Thor said, crossing his arms and looking defiant.

"True enough, that part offends me, as well," Triton said. "The Fates overstepped, I feel. It was just a minor prophecy. It wasn't as if he broke a Great Prophecy or changed the fate of the world."

"It was just one drakon," Hermes agreed with a nod.

Bai was chuckling – because Chinese gods didn't giggle. "This is gold!" he laughed. "Tell me how this turns out, this is better than watching 'Days of Our Lives'."

Three gods and one demigod stared at him.

The Western Wind of the Chinese Pantheon didn't even have the grace to look shame-faced. Instead, he shrugged. "The wives love it, so I watch it to keep up."

Three gods nodded, one demigod looked confused.

"For the sake of matrimonial happiness, there is a lot a man will do to keep his wife happy," Hermes told Harry. "Remember that for when you're married."

Harry just nodded, but inwardly thought that he would do a better job picking a wife, so he wouldn't have to watch stuff like that to keep her happy. Maybe someone like Miss Zoë, who loved spending time outdoors, rather than watching TV.

"Shall we keep daydreaming about getting rid of prophecies, or shall we play?" Bai asked, theatrically shuffling the deck. "I feel just lucky that the Jade Emperor doesn't issue prophecies."

Thor's grin remained wide. "I think I should take our young friend to the Norns, and see what happens. I'm curious."

"You just want to poke the bear and stir up trouble," Triton accused. "This may lead to trouble between our pantheons!"

Thor looked stone-faced. "So Asgard should ignore your Fates meddling with the memories of one of our heroes? One declared 'Friend of Asgard' by my father, King Odin the Wise, himself?"

Triton grunted. "This is why we separated the pantheons in the first place. Young Harry did a major service to Asgard, got lauded for it, and now his own pantheon has done something Asgard doesn't agree with."

"Your Fates should have known better," Thor said.

"He broke a prophecy, though," Hermes reminded the God of Thunder. "That is in their purview."

"Just a small one," Harry muttered. "Please don't fight, guys. I'm sure I deserved whatever it was that the Fates did."

"We're not fighting, we're merely having a discussion," Triton said, waving it off. "And I, at least, know you deserved a lecture. What I disagree with is the meddling with your memories."

Hermes nodded. Thor looked resolute. And Bai? Bai grinned and took another drink, obviously loving the entire discussion.

"I agree that the lecture was warranted," Thor agreed. "But the meddling in his memories was over the top and should not be allowed. Besides, I still want to know what the Norns have to say about this. They have a more lenient policy when it comes to prophecies."

"Fine," Triton said with a grunt. "But this entire discussion did not take place, and I had no knowledge of your plans. When it blows up in your face, I am going to point and laugh."

Thor laughed. "That's the spirit!"

Triton grinned bemusedly and shook his head.

"How about you, Hermes?" Thor asked.

"Hey, you know me. When there's rule breaking to be done, I'm all for it. But, in full ass-cover-mode, I'll reserve the right to join Triton in pointing and laughing afterwards."

Bai laughed loudly. "I said it before, this is better than the wives' soaps!"

"One knows the quality of a man by the quality of friends he keeps," Thor pretended to grouch. "I'm not sure what having friends willing to stand by and laugh afterwards means, however."

Harry reached out and patted Thor's hand. "They're good friends, who won't tattle on you when you do something against the rules."

"True enough," Thor said with a grin while the three other gods nodded seriously. Yes, they were very good friends, thank you very much.

"Come on, Harry. Let's see what the Norns have to say. We can play that silly Chinese game after we get back," the God of Thunder said as he stood up.

"Mahjong is not some silly game!" Bai protested playfully, shaking his fist in mock-anger. "For that outrage, I am heavily insulted and demand satisfaction!"

"Yeah, yeah," Thor said with a wave. "You are far harder to insult than you let on, so I am shaking in my boots."

Bai grinned. "True, but I have a reputation to maintain!" he stated boastfully. "I'll have your lunch money at the first opportunity!"

Thor, who was about to call the Bifrost on him and Harry, grinned back at the Western Wind. "You mean, when Harry isn't playing?" he asked, before calling the Bifrost and letting it whisk them away.

Bai grouched. "It would be worse if he wasn't right," the god muttered. Triton and Hermes nodded.

"Harry is getting way too good at these games," Triton said thoughtfully. "I know he used to win much more often, so now I have the suspicion that he is letting us win, which rankles."

"If he's cheating, I can't see it," Hermes said. Bai and Triton nodded.

"He's going to boarding school," Bai said. "Knowing what I know of boarding schools, and the amount of gambling that takes place after hours, the kid is going to come home with several fortunes."

"And various ladies' undergarments, if he plays his cards right, no pun intended," Hermes added with a lecherous look.

Triton snorted. "Given who his teachers are, the poor boy would end up on the wrong end of a godly smite."

"True," Hermes said. "Poor grandson."

"Considering how he talks about said teachers, I doubt he'd agree," Bai interjected. "Did you hear him brag about that one girl he has a crush on? You'd think she was a goddess in her own right."

Triton and Hermes shared a laugh. "He's going to crash and burn so badly on that one," Hermes added. "Zoë's been with Artemis for 2000 years. I doubt she even remembers what a heart is for, let alone know how to use one."

Bai grinned. "Getting your heart broken is part of the deal," he said.

Hermes shrugged and nodded. "I just hope he crashes and burns without ending up skewered on her hunting knife."

"Or cursed into a furry woodland creature of some description or other," Triton added.

Bai grimaced.

0000

Harry had not traveled by Bifrost before, but considering his other travel methods, he felt like had had a good basis of comparison. It was comfortable enough, but it seemed to take quite a long time to get to where they were going.

So, he reasoned, either the Bifrost was a slow method of travel – or they were going someplace far away.

They arrived in a pleasant-looking meadow, one side of which was completely blocked off by the root system of a humongous tree – a tree so tall Harry could not even make out its lowest branches, and so thick around that he would have to involve a land surveyor.

"Welcome," Thor said solemnly, "to the roots of Yggdrasil, the world tree that holds up the Nine Realms."

Harry blinked, his mind shifting gears. That explained the gargantuan proportions of the tree, he supposed.

"Whoa."

"Whoa indeed," Thor said with some amusement. He pointed down. There, among the tree's thickest roots, sat a well of some kind. "Those roots go to the distant lower realms," the God of Thunder explained. "The well is called Urðarbrunnr – the Well of Urð."

Harry just nodded. "We are going to the hall built next to the well. That is where the three Norns live," Thor said further. "There is Urð, who sees the past and whose name has become synonymous with 'fate' itself. There is Verðandi, who sees the present, and Skuld, she who can see the future."

Harry nodded again, and kept quiet. For some reason, he knew the three Greek Fates had different roles, something to do with spinning thread and one of them snipping the life-line of people.

"Good, let's go see if they will meet with us," Thor said, before drawing a breath.

"Thor?" Harry asked, confused about Thor's sudden and unusual hesitation.

"The Norns can both be thought-provoking, and downright terrifying," the god admitted.

"Oh," the young demigod added, suddenly not feeling this was such a good idea after all. Maybe the others were right in trying to discourage Thor.

The bulky God of Thunder was already walking, though, so Harry felt he had no choice but to follow.

They arrived soon-ish at the Norse hall where the Norns made their home, and Thor knocked on the door. While it was loud to Harry's ears, there also seemed to be an unusual politeness to the action that seemed out of place. To Harry, it further reinforced the notion that these beings were not to be trifled with.

The door opened immediately, almost as if the occupant had been expecting them and was waiting just inside.

"Thor Odinson and Harry Potter, Son of James," the tall being stated. She was as tall as the godly forms of the Greek Gods, about three meters, but on this woman it seemed natural, as if three meters was her natural height. She was dressed in shrouding white clothing, with a hood thrown up over her head.

Beneath the hood, an unnaturally beautiful face was revealed, with the strangest snow-white complexion that Harry had ever seen. Even her eyes were white, and the being's skin was like a snow sculpture. Behind her trailed a sheet of fog, settled on the floor as if it were a bridal train.

"Lady Skuld," Thor said with a small bow. "Forgive the intrusion on your time."

Skuld looked at him for a few moments, then spoke. "It is of no matter, I knew of your coming days ago," she said. She looked at Harry for a few moments. "You come seeking answers. Come."

She stepped back in obvious invitation, and Harry followed Thor into the hall. Inside, around a large fire, sat the two other Norns, and Harry immediately felt at home at the sight of the hearth. He knew intellectually that he was far beyond Hestia's reach, but somehow the sight of it made him feel her presence.

The two seated Norns stood.

"Be welcome in our Hall," one of them spoke.

Thor's shoulder seemed to relax slightly. "Thank you, Lady Urð," he said. Harry nodded and added his own thanks. Apparently, the welcome seemed to indicate no ill will on behalf of the Norns.

"You come seeking answers," Verðandi re-stated. "But we have few answers to give." Harry felt a bit disappointed on hearing that.

"That which was broken can not be repaired," Urð added. Harry swallowed; the Norns obviously didn't care for him breaking prophecies any more than the Fates did.

"Care must be taken to break no more," Skuld stated. Yup, Harry thought, they didn't like him breaking prophecies

"And yet, to yourself you must be true," Verðandi said. Harry blinked; that sounded like permission?

"Loose are the hands of fate upon you," Urð declared. Harry felt confused on that one. Maybe it was the reason he was able to break prophecies, when it was said that was impossible?

"Choices must be made, and consequences must be accepted," Skuld affirmed. Harry looked at her; that definitely sounded like permission to him! So, as long as he accepted the consequences, he could… ?

"A choice made from the heart, a choice made from the head, either can be wrong and either can be correct," Verðandi asserted. That sounded to Harry as if he had to be careful because either his heart or his mind could be right, and he had to make sure to pick the right one.

When the Norns fell silent, Harry looked up at Thor, wondering if the God of Thunder had an idea on what had been said. While Harry had a pretty good idea on what the Norns had tried to tell him, it would be nice to get confirmation.

"The Norns often speak in cryptic riddles, Harry," Thor said. "Much of it will become clear in the future."

"Like a prophecy?" Harry asked, suddenly feeling uneasy. "For some reason, I think the Fates got to me on that one, too."

"Colleagues of ours," Skuld said with a nod. "Sometimes overzealous, but understandable considering their roles."

"They focus more on the fate of individuals," Urð spoke. "Including when to end lives. Not an easy role to play."

"We focus more on the whole, less on the one," Verðandi said. "While the one is part of the whole, the whole is more than the collection of ones."

"It is resilient, the whole," Skuld stated. "It does not break as easily as thought by others."

That was reassuring, Harry felt. "Irrational is the fear you have of fate," Urð said, her white eyes staring straight at him. "Do not fear."

And Harry was no longer afraid.

0000

At the appointed hour, Harry hefted the backpack onto his shoulders, and waved at the fire burning merrily in the hearth of Helios' Temple.

"Bye Mister Helios! See you when I get back!" Harry said, giving a cheerful wave at the ceiling. Helios' presence wrapped itself around him in a hug goodbye, and the young demigod strode easily through the green flames.

He emerged at the Hunters' Camp, where Celyn was waiting for him with a wide grin on her face.

"Hi Harry!" she greeted him. "This way, My Lady is ready and waiting with the others."

"Hi, Miss Celyn," Harry replied, cheerfully yet politely.

As they walked, the Hunter turned to him. "Have I thanked you yet for inviting me along? Because honestly, this is awesome! I get to spend time alone with the Lady on a private trip!"

Harry smiled widely, happy that she was happy. "You've always been nice to me, so when Artie said I could invite some of the Hunters, I thought of you."

Celyn grinned and ruffled his hair, making him sulk. Why was it always his hair girls went after? "That will show some to always be polite to guests of the Lady," the Hunter said. "You never know when they're in a position to give your standing a boost by inviting you along on a private trip."

Harry grinned, forgiving her for the hair-ruffling as they reached Artie, who was watching with amusement as Zoë seemed to be lecturing Thalia.

"While Harry has invited thee along, know that it is by that grace alone, and not by my choice," Zoë was saying. The Daughter of Zeus was looking more than slightly cowed. "I would have thee clean up after the wolves for weeks, if 't were my choice. When I was a trainee, I would not even have conceived of the notion of-"

"Hello, Harry," Artie said, her supernatural godly hunting senses having detected him before he announced himself.

At the same time, it drew attention to him, and caused Zoë to abort her lecture. Thalia looked suitably grateful.

"Hi Artie!" Harry said, making sure to give his second-favorite goddess a big hug and a whispered thank you. After releasing her, he looked at the Hunters.

"Hi Miss Zoë," Harry said, slightly spreading his arms, and asking, "Hug?"

Zoë looked amused and resigned, and stuck her hand out. "Handshake," she said, making him laugh and shake her hand. It was a habit by now, he never actually expected her to say yes.

"Hey, Thalia," he then said, sticking his hand out.

"What? No hug for me?" she asked, grabbing him and squeezing him rather hard. "Thanks for the invite, Squirt. You got me out of trouble with the Lieutenant," she told him softly before releasing him.

"It shall keep," Zoë said, somehow having overheard her whispered declaration. "For when we return."

Thalia pouted in a way Harry was sure she would never have done before joining the Hunters. "It was just a small prank," she whispered.

"If thou hath time for silliness, thou hath too much spare time and could use some extra duties," Zoë stated calmly, before turning to Artie. "My Lady, we are ready at your leave."

The Goddess of the Hunt seemed bemused at the by-play between her Lieutenant and Thalia, but gave a nod. "Let's go, then," she said and started walking out of the camp. The Hunters followed with ease of practice, and Harry quickly caught on and caught up. The scenery changed. Huge trees suddenly appeared.

"We are now in Białowieża forest," Artie said. "Our targets are in a clearing that way," she added, pointing. "We will get there tomorrow."

The Hunters nodded, but Harry looked surprised. As they pulled deeper into the forest, Harry stepped next to Artie.

"Artie?" he asked.

"Harry," the Goddess of the Hunt replied. "Something the matter?"

"I'm just surprised," he said, carefully, because he hated upsetting her – especially when she was doing him a big favor. "I mean, why the day-long trek? I brought my pack, just like you said, but I thought it was more for training. I mean, I bring it along when Miss Zoë is teaching me stuff but I hardly ever use it, other than practice setting up the tent."

Artie looked amused. "I could bring us next to the clearing, of course, but then the Hunt would be quite short. I thought you'd enjoy some extra time in the woods."

Harry was surprised to the core; he hadn't expected the busy Goddess of the Hunt to actually pull out two days to trek around the woods with him!

He gave her another hug in reply. "Thanks, Artie," he whispered gratefully, hoping somehow to convey just how much he appreciated this.

She laughed softly and patted his back. "You're welcome," she repeated. "Now, keep your eyes open. We'll need to cook tonight, and fresh ingredients are always welcome."

"Of course!" he said.

The journey through the forest was a lot of fun for Harry, even if he had to scramble to keep up sometimes. The Hunters, using their super-secret Hunter skills, knew just where to place their feet, and just where to duck and weave, to make it look like they were taking a stroll in the local park.

And Artie, as Goddess of the Hunt, looked like this ancient forest was a flat piece of tarmac.

Harry, possessing neither godly abilities or divine boons, had to scramble through the woods the old-fashioned way.

In other words, he loved every second of it.

They stopped after a few hours for a bit of rest and a small meal. Harry would have said it was 'lunch', but he hadn't seen the sun since arriving at the forest; the thick canopy of branches and leaves obscured even the most minute trace of sky.

After resting for a bit, the group trekked on.

Harry managed to catch up to Zoë and get her relatively by herself. He wanted to ask something that had been weighing on him.

"Miss Zoë?" he asked.

The Lieutenant glanced at him with a bit of a smile. "Harry," she said, both in greeting and in answer.

"Are you alright?" he asked, softly and kind of shyly.

She looked confused for a few moments. "Why would I not be?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "After the Drakon and all that," he explained.

"Ah, that," Artie's Lieutenant replied with a casual shrug. "My Lady hath healed me, and she does good work. I felt a bit sore for about a day afterwards."

Harry nodded, then looked away. "I dream, sometimes," he said. "That I wasn't fast enough."

She was silent for a few moments, suddenly understanding what he was asking. Stepping around a bush and ducking under a branch without looking, she put a comforting hand on his shoulder as he ducked and weaved the regular way.

"I have been around for a long time," she said. "Being near-death has become… familiar. However, I remember dreaming. Thou should remember, thou wert in time, and thou didst get to me in time."

Harry just nodded silently, not knowing what to say next. She squeezed his shoulder.

"Harry, I am fine," she repeated, emphasizing the words. "Thy mind is dealing with the situation and conjuring up images, but thou should remember that I am well, and that thou art fine, and that Lady Artemis and Lady Hestia had a long and painful conversation with Lord Ares regarding acceptable surprises for thy birthday."

Harry let out a snort at the thought of what kind of conversation the two goddesses would have had with Ares. "Thanks, Miss Zoë," he said, softly.

She squeezed his shoulder again and let go. "Thou art welcome," she replied. "Come, let us catch up before My Lady leaves us behind."

Harry looked surprised for a moment, then realized he was with Zoë and that they were in a huge forest. It would be like getting lost in the local convenience store. Fun, yes, but hardly dangerous.

She seemed to realize what he was thinking, gave him a look, and gave a small motion of her head that told him to move.

He moved.

They trekked through the forest for the rest of the day. After the conversation they had shared, Zoë seemed determined to take his mind off things by testing his knowledge and skills. Time was passed quickly as he recited plant and animal species, recounted survival strategies, and listed potential uses for some of the inedible flora that grew in the forest.

By the time Artie decided it was time to make camp, Zoë had, begrudgingly yet playfully, determined his skills and knowledge to be 'adequate'. Celyn, who had dropped back a little to be within listening range, giggled at the determination.

Thalia, on the other hand, seemed to be rather disbelieving of the less-than-stellar review Zoë had given Harry. She seemed ready to interject, but stopped when Harry laughed.

"I guess I will need more lessons, then," the young demigod told his teacher on an extremely over-the-top tone. "Too bad. Oh well, I guess there is more travel in the woods in my future."

Zoë grinned. "'T would appear so," she said with a serious nod of her head. "Now, as My Lady hath commanded, 't is time to make camp. Set up thy tent."

"I have such a strict teacher," Harry mock-complained as he started unpacking his backpack.

"'T is for thy own good," Zoë teased back as she threw her chewing-gum-sized tent at a clear spot and had it unfold automatically.

"And she cheats," he added with a wide grin.

Zoë laughed loudly. "Allow My Lady to change thy gender and thou could join the Hunters and receive one of thine own," she said, not for the first time. She glanced at Thalia, before turning back to him, and saying, "Thou already hath many of the skills, thou could practically skip the trainee stage."

Harry laughed. "No, thank you, Miss Zoë," he said, giving his standard answer to her standard offer. Although he had to admit, the skipping the trainee stage bit was new. "Only if I can change back if I don't like it. I like being male so far."

The Lieutenant shrugged, then came over to inspect the tent he had erected. Giving him a sharp nod, she said, "Good. Thou remembered how to properly pitch a tent."

"You made me do it often enough," Harry said.

Half an hour later, Harry had set a large pot of water to boil over the camp fire, and was busy chopping vegetables. Granted, he cheated slightly by pulling on Hestia's domain to conjure the greens he was missing, but overall he tried to stay in the spirit of things.

Godslayer, transformed into a chef's knife for the occasion, was having a blast commenting on the situation.

Oh! Carrots! Take that, carrot! Bleed your life's blood all over the cutting board as I slice and dice you into submission!

Harry had to work at not laughing out loud. His weapon's commentary sounded like a bloodbath of epic proportions.

Celery! Die Celery! Godslayer stated. Dark Wind of the Green-Murdering knife technique! It followed up the anime-style declaration by a sort of ki-yah exclamation.

Harry snorted at the imagery brought up by his sword's announcement, as if the celery he was cutting was some kind of end-game boss that needed overboard cutting techniques.

Zoë, freshly returned from having prepared and inspected the rest of the campsite, watched him cut up vegetables and throw them in the pot.

"Didst thou actually bring a chef's knife?" she asked, sitting down to watch him.

"This is Godslayer," Harry said. "It's going to sulk that you didn't recognize it," he added with a grin.

"Thou art using a weapon called Godslayer, one that allowed thee to break a prophecy, as a chef's knife?" It was half question and half statement, so Harry just gave a nod in response as he cut up some leeks. Godslayer had gone from anime-style declarations to RPG mechanics.

Chopping increased one level. Chopping increased two levels. Chopping increased three levels, unlocked title 'chopper' and added ability 'chop those veggies!'

Harry ignored his silly weapon and kept working. "I gathered a herb bundle, but I wish I had some meat to add to the stew," he told her. "After a long trek in the woods, some meat would definitely be welcome, I think."

Zoë nodded thoughtfully, then stood up. "I shall return shortly."

Harry looked confused at the departing back of the Hunter. Zoë could be downright strange sometimes.

She was back not 20 minutes later, holding a quartet of hares by the ears. "I believe this should be plenty," she said, depositing the fresh kills next to him.

He eyed the hares, looked at her, looked back at the hares, then finally looked back up at her. "You killed 4 hares in 20 minutes?" he asked, stunned.

She shrugged. "They were hardly a challenge," she answered. "There are plenty of them in the forest."

"Thanks, Miss Zoë! These are awesome!" Harry said. Having chopped up his vegetables and dropped the herb bundle into the stew, he immediately grabbed the first animal and started field-dressing it, removing the pelt with hardly any damage before butchering it and dropping it into the pot.

Yes! Sensually part your flesh to the sharp thrusts of my firm blade, hare!

Harry felt rather uncomfortable with the unusual commentary from the sword.

Zoë just sat and watched. "'T is rather relaxing to watch thee work," she said.

The demigod grinned at his teacher and finished butchering the first hare. Holding the Godslayer up, he silently commanded it, plasma.

The blade ignited, burning away all organic materials, before Harry commanded it to stop. Godslayer was the cleanest blade ever, Harry was sure of it.

By the time he finished cooking, night had fallen over the Białowieża forest, and one demigod, one Goddess, and three Hunters were calmly sitting around the campfire.

Harry, having cooked, divvied up the food between them. For a moment, worry struck him. He'd only had the campfire to cook with, and he knew the results would be far from his usual standards. He hoped everyone liked the hare stew anyway.

The Hunters and their goddess all seemed to dive in simultaneously.

Zoë seemed to stop and stare at her tin bowl. "My Lady, perhaps he could stay at the camp and cook?" she asked.

Harry looked confused for a moment, wondering what she was on about. "We could keep him at camp, as a sort of camp husband. We could eat like this every day."

Celyn was grinning widely, and Thalia seemed to stifling laughter behind her own bowl. Artie gave her Lieutenant a tolerant look. "I said no, old friend," she replied with amusement.

Harry smiled, taking this as meaning that Zoë liked the food enough that she wanted to keep him around. He blinked, then got a mischievous look. However, knowing how the Goddess of the Hunt tended to be, he had to make sure, first. Hi Artie, I'm just going to play a joke on Miss Zoë. I'm not serious.

He made eye contact with the Goddess of the Hunt. She winked at him.

Taking that as permission, he turned to Zoë. "If I am the camp husband, would that mean you'd be my camp wife?" he asked.

Celyn coughed. Thalia choked on something. Artie, being forewarned, looked highly amused. Zoë, on the other hand, looked floored.

"What?" she managed. "Nay, that wasn't what I meant at all!"

He hadn't had the intention of taking it beyond that, but her emphatic denial made it too good an opportunity to pass up. "Too late. I suppose we're married now," he teased.

Zoë's eyes grew to the size of saucers. Celyn coughed again, and Thalia looked like she was desperately trying not to burst out laughing. Before the senior Hunter could reply, however, Artie interjected. "I suppose there is nothing more for me to do but to congratulate you on your nuptials, Lieutenant." She turned to Harry. "Please take care of my old friend, Harry. She has a few shortcomings, but she has a good heart."

Harry nodded seriously. "Of course I will, Artie! And I know she has a good heart, I wouldn't have married her otherwise."

Zoë grunted as they both laughed, finally realizing she was the target of an elaborate setup, and muttered at being the butt of their joke. To Harry, her mutterings sounded German, but weren't.

"Modern English please, old friend. I doubt anyone other than me understands Old English," Artie said amicably.

"I dislike English," the Lieutenant grouched instead of translating her mutterings, her pride still stinging. "'T changes far too often. Besides, English is not as much a language as it is a vocabulary thief that goeth around robbing other languages, rifling through their pockets for shiny new words."

Harry laughed at the description. Considering the amount of loanwords it had, the description seemed very fitting.

With an unspoken agreement, the joke was deemed expired, and the meal progressed with laughter and easy-going conversation. It was, without a doubt, one of the best evenings Harry had experienced.