Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 54


Harry heard the shout resonate throughout the Great Hall, and he grinned as he thanked the hat, took it off, and placed it carefully upon the stool before walking over to the cheering Hufflepuff table.

His new friends in Gryffindor and Ravenclaw clapped along with the Hufflepuffs, but it seemed that most of the three tables stared at him in shock.

As he approached the table – not even fully there yet – one of the upperclass girls grabbed him into a hug, welcoming him to Hufflepuff.

"Oi, Tonks! Share!" a second girl said. The first girl released him, and her friend immediately grappled him into a hug; not that there was much grappling involved as Harry very much enjoyed hugging.

He barely had enough time to notice a prefect badge on the robes of the first girl. It seemed everyone at the table wanted to hug him, shake his hand, or pat his back.

If this was the kind of reception he got at Hufflepuff, he was glad for the hat's decision. One could never receive too many hugs after all, and everyone was really nice about welcoming him.

He managed to extract himself and grab a seat next to Justin, who clapped him on the shoulder and winked at him, before calling him a 'lucky devil' for getting hugs from the upperclass girls. Harry had to admit Justin had a point, some of them were quite pretty.

Now seated, he could get a proper look at the High Table, where the teachers sat. He at once recognized Hagrid, their guide, and Harry smiled at him and gave him a wave when he noticed the man looking at him. Hagrid seemed to appreciate it, and gave him a thumb's up.

He also recognized Professor Quirrell, from the Leaky Cauldron. The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher seemed highly amused at something, and Harry soon found out why – a dour, sallow-faced man was handing over some money. It seemed the good Professor had just won a bet.

At the center of the table sat someone, who Harry suspected, was the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. His chair was fancier than the other teachers' chairs. It was still made of wood, but it seemed vaguely throne-like rather than chair-like.

Dumbledore's hair was as grey as the ghosts in the hall, and dressed in conservative black robes that somehow seemed out of place on him.

There were only four more students to sort now, and Dean went to Gryffindor. Harry and Justin applauded for him. "Turpin, Lisa," went to Ravenclaw, and the second-to-last student was the redheaded boy who didn't appreciate Hermione's explanation about the ceiling. He definitely wasn't going into Ravenclaw, Harry guessed.

He guessed right and "Weasley, Ron," went into Gryffindor.

"Zabini, Blaise," was the last student and was sorted into Slytherin.

With all students sorted, Harry looked at his place-setting. He'd only eaten sweets on the train, and while the sugar-high had been nice, it had completely worn off by now and he was feeling famished.

Still, it seemed like he was going to have to starve for some time longer, as the Headmaster had gotten to his feet. It seemed the other teachers felt like Harry, as there was rolling of eyes and sighs and other signs of impatience from the teachers.

Dumbledore didn't seem to pay any attention to his students' hunger or his teachers' impatience, and instead spread his arms as if in grand welcome.

"Welcome!" he said. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! Before we feast, I would like to say a few words, and here they are. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!"

Harry stared in stunned disbelief. So did most of the students, apparently.

"Thank you!" Dumbledore said grandly, as if he had just given the speech of a lifetime, and sat down.

The teachers seemed resigned, and the students muttered among themselves.

Harry looked at Justin, who looked just as stunned as Harry.

"Is he mad?" Harry asked.

A girl sitting across from them at table, who Harry suddenly recognized as Susan Bones from the Sorting, leaned closer. "He used to be considered the best wizard in the world, but in recent years a lot of bad things he did came to light. He's lost all his influence, and most of the positions he held. Somehow he's managed to hang on to Hogwarts, but nobody's really happy with it."

Hannah, her friend, nodded. "He's also been trying to convince everyone that you're dead, Harry. But by then, nobody believed him."

Harry laughed. "Well, I'm very much alive, happily so," he said, glad that he was able to laugh off the close calls he had over the last couple of years. "I'm Harry, this is Justin," Harry introduced.

"Susan, and this is Hannah," Susan said, pointing to her friend. "Potatoes?" she asked, as the table was suddenly filled with food.

Not just filled. Piled high. There was roast beef and chicken, pork and lamb chomps, sausages, bacon, steak, potatoes – both boiled and roast – fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, and a whole range of other vegetables.

"Whoa!" Justin said, impressed.

"Neat, isn't it?" Susan said with a grin as she started filling her plate.

Harry, remembering Athena's meal plans and using Hestia's boon, grabbed himself a balanced meal and started to eat.

At the first bite, he halted. The food was delicious, but it was something else that made him smile.

Whoever cooked this food did so with love and care. Harry wanted to meet this chef, as it was no doubt someone – or someones – he could learn a lot from.

Just as he was about to take his second bite, something jumped on the table, interrupting him.

"Nemmy?" Harry asked, as the little monster huffed angrily. "I thought you would be taken inside by the people bringing in the bags?"

The small monster huffed again, as if being carted inside by strangers was beneath him. Instead, the Nemean House Cat let its gaze roam the food on the table.

"Oh, he's gorgeous!" Susan squealed at the sight of the golden-furred cat. "Can I pet him?" she asked.

"Sure," Harry replied casually. "If he'll let you, he has a mind of his own."

Nemmy gave another disdainful look at Harry, one of those looks cats the world over were so very good at, and flounced over to Susan. As a monster, Nemmy was self-aware and intelligent enough to know how to appeal to humans, and he was more than capable of exploiting that knowledge for his benefit.

"He's so pretty!" Susan squealed again, as Hannah joined in petting the Nemean Cat. Nemmy, always appreciating proper worship, turned and purred and acted as if he were the goodest, bestest, kindest kitty in the world. From Susan's other side, Sally-Anne Perks got in on it. Nemmy was in heaven with three girls cooing over him.

Suck-up, Harry thought with a chuckle as he watched the girls coo over the miniature monster, before they starting to feed him bits of chicken and pork and beef.

"It seems your cat has stolen your thunder," Justin announced teasingly, just as he reached over the table and gave the cat a scratch behind the ears. He laughed when he felt Nemmy push back, as if saying 'scratch harder, human!'.

"He's a lot of laughs," Harry said, still grinning. "Although right now, I think he's annoyed with me for leaving him with the luggage."

"Well, who wouldn't be?" Susan asked. "Such a gorgeous cat shouldn't be left with the luggage."

Harry took the ribbing in good nature, and laughed. "My bad."

"New Hufflepuffs! Welcome!" a recognizable voice said, and Harry looked up to see the ghost of the friar dangle above them, laughing merrily. "I told you I'd see you in Hufflepuff!" he added.

"Thank you," Harry said politely, but with a huge grin. "Everyone's great and really welcoming!"

"Especially when you're Harry Potter and all the girls hug you," Justin said, sounding just a tiny bit jealous.

The Friar laughed. "They do that sometimes," he confided. "Still, you should tell them to stop if you're uncomfortable with it," he said, suddenly sounding serious, as he looked at Harry.

He grinned in answer. "I know, Sir. I have a friend who doesn't like hugs at all, and she says 'no' all the time. But I happen to like hugs, you can never get too many of them."

"Just 'Friar' will do, my boy, and that goes for all of you," the ghost said, merrily, before focusing back on Harry. "And I agree with you, my boy. Never turn down a good hug, I say. Still, sorry to cut this short, but there are other first years to see and greet!" he pointed further down the table, where Ernie Macmillan, Wayne Hopkins, and Megan Jones were engaged in a small food-fight using peas.

Harry waved at him as he went. "He's fun," the young demigod declared.

"Creepy, though," Justin said. "I have to get used to ghosts, seeing as there are so many of them around here."

The three girls nodded. "Still, he gave us a nice welcome," Susan said. "Better him than that creepy fellow over at Slytherin."

They all obediently looked over to the Slytherin table, turning around as necessary. Indeed, their House Ghost seemed quite horrific, with blank, staring eyes, a sallow face and robes stained with silver blood. He was hanging right next to Draco at the moment, who didn't seem to appreciate the arrangement.

Harry felt sorry for him, and wondered if there were anything he could do to help the other boy out. Even if Draco was a bit of a fanboy, he was the only one nice enough to actually come and introduce himself. He failed spectacularly at coming up with anything that didn't boil down to getting up and telling the ghost off; not something that was likely to go over very well.

Either that, or pray to Mel for some help, but that was likely to go over even worse. Mel was a hoot but she was likely to pop over the moment he asked, and that probably wouldn't end well either.

He gave Draco an encouraging nod nonetheless when their eyes crossed. The platinum-blond boy looked surprised, but gratified.

Turning back to his food, Harry went back to his dinner and his conversation with his new housemates.

Eventually, Nemmy even seemed to forgive him and allowed Harry to feed him lots of tasty bits from various animals.

By the time they had stuffed themselves, Nemmy had ended up draped over Harry's shoulders, back feet dangling down the right and head comfortably perched on Harry's left shoulder. The Nemean Cat was a warm, if rather short, stole.

"He's so well-behaved," Justin said admiringly as he scratched the cat's head, now that it was basically right at his own shoulder.

"Nemmy's awesome," Harry said. Completely seriously, he added, "We have an agreement. I feed him, and he doesn't turn into a ravenous monster and eat everybody."

Not just his first-year friends, but also some of the students seated a bit further away, started laughing.

"We're all entitled to an off-day," Susan said forgivingly. More laughter followed.

Harry laughed as well. If they thought he was joking, all the better.

He looked over his shoulder at Nemmy, who took that moment to look back at him. The cat winked. He winked back.

The food vanished now that they had all eaten as much as they could, leaving sparking clean yet empty plates behind, only for the table to fill itself with desserts a few seconds later.

Blocks of ice cream in every flavor imaginable, apple pies, treacle tarts, jam donuts, and so much more. Harry immediately went for a piece of apple pie, and scooped himself some pecan ice cream to turn it into apple pie a la mode.

The other first-years, seeing this, decided this was a marvelous idea and copied him. As they savored dessert, talk turned to families. Harry already knew Justin came from a non-magical family, but listened when the boy repeated his background to the others.

Harry explained briefly how his relatives had treated him badly, then abandoned him, and that's how Hestia started taking care of him.

Half the table had descended into silence by the time he finished, and it looked like some of the upper-year Hufflepuffs were about ready to go out and find his relatives. Feeling bad for ruining the mood, he then told some funny stories of his adventures, and explained that yes, Mel is technically a princess, but it was a cave, not a castle.

They all laughed again, good mood restored.

Susan and Hannah each had one magical parent and one non-magical parent, but both had strong ties to the magical government. Susan's aunt was Head of the Department for Magical Law Enforcement, after all.

Sally-Anne Perks was, like Justin, from a non-magical family. A bit like Michael, Sally-Anne seemed shy and insecure, and Harry promised himself he'd do his best to look out for her. He'd been in her position, after all.

The three Food Warriors had shifted seats when Harry had been telling his story, and now explained their own background. Ernie Macmillan had two magical parents, but Megan Jones and Wayne Hopkins both had mixed heritages.

Susan was the only one with a dark background, her own parents had been murdered by Voldemort, just as Harry's had been, and she had been raised by her Aunt. Luckily, that was where the comparison ended as Susan's Aunt sounded like she was both very nice and a total badass.

Harry let his gaze travel across the room. Slytherin's creepy ghost seemed to have abandoned Draco for now. At the Ravenclaw table, their house ghost, the Grey Lady, was hanging softly at the head of the table, not speaking. At the Gryffindor table, their house ghost seemed to be entertaining students by almost removing his head. Obviously he'd been almost beheaded in his first life.

He looked at the High Table, and found Hagrid drinking deeply from his goblet, Professor McGonagall engaging the Headmaster in conversation – it seemed that the old Headmaster was in supreme spirits. Professor Quirrell was still talking to the sallow-faced man with the greasy black hair.

For a moment, his eyes met the eyes of the hook-nosed teacher, who immediately glared. Harry had the feeling this man didn't like him at all for some reason.

Not that it mattered, Harry didn't much care for adults anyway, so he had no problems narrowing his eyes and glaring back.

"Declaring a feud with Professor Snape?" a third-year student asked, seeing Harry's gaze locked steadily upon the sallow-faced teacher's.

"He glared at me, I'm just returning the favor," Harry said with a grin, breaking the impromptu staring contest and focusing instead on the third year.

"He glares at everybody except the Slytherins, don't take it personally," the third-year said amicably, extending his hand. "Cedric Diggory, nice to meet you," the boy said.

Harry shook the hand. "I'm Harry Potter, nice to meet you, too," he replied honestly. "So why is Professor Snape glaring at everyone?"

Cedric shrugged. "He's always been that way, I suppose. He teaches Potions, but apparently he wants Professor Quirrell's job and teach Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"I'd glare too if someone took the job I wanted," Harry offered with a grin.

The older boy grinned. "True, but from what the upperclassmen have said, he's always been this way. Plus, he favors the Slytherins something fierce, and he really has it in for the Gryffindors."

"Well that's not very fair," Harry commented, getting nods from the first-years listening in.

"That's how the entire House feels about it," Cedric said. "Luckily, we have Professor Sprout as our Head of House. If Professor Snape gives you any trouble, go tell her. She's a true badger."

Harry nodded. "Don't anger one, especially a Honey Badger?"

"Exactly," Cedric confirmed with a grin.

Harry went back to his people-watching, and eventually the desserts vanished just like the food had earlier.

The headmaster came to his feet again. "Ahem," he coughed in an obviously fake way. "Just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you."

Harry sighed, and braced himself. This is where the adults went with the 'or else' or the 'because I said so, that's why' statements.

"First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils, and a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." The headmaster's twinkling eyes tracked to the Gryffindor table, to a couple of redheaded twins.

More twins. Harry wondered if something about the magical world compelled twins. Having two sets of twins in one school, and Hogwarts wasn't a large school by any stretch of the meaning, was kind of ridiculous.

"I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind everyone that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors."

Harry blinked; a magical school that didn't allow them to practice magic? What was going on in this place!? That rule offended him on a deeply personal level, and he could feel a familiar heat rise out of his stomach.

He beat it down just in time, or he would have missed the next statement. "Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch."

Harry looked at the matronly woman holding up her hand, obviously the 'Madam Hooch' in question, and wondering why she was called 'madam' rather than 'professor'. Or what 'Quidditch' was.

"And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" the old man cried excitedly. The teachers looked like they'd rather be somewhere else; which suited Harry just fine. He had been told multiple times that his singing could raise the dead – and return them to their graves soon after, if only to escape the racket.

Dumbledore's wand flickered out, and a long golden ribbon flew out of it. It rose high about the tables and twisted itself into words.

"Everyone pick their favorite tune, and off we go!"

Harry sighed, stuck his fingers in his ears, closed his eyes, and tried to tune out the noise. On his shoulder, poor Nemmy had no fingers to plug his sensitive ears with, and instead yowled like only a cat could.

Strangely enough, it almost sounded as if the cat were trying to match the song.

But that could just be Harry's imagination.

With everyone singing a different tune, they all finished at different times. In the end, only the redheaded twins at the Gryffindor table were left singing; they had apparently chosen a very slow and torturous funeral march.

The headmaster cheerfully conducted their last few lines with his wand, not at all put out.

"Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you go!"

Harry and the other first years trudged after a fifth year student called Gabriel Truman, who had them all laughing by the time they had halfway crossed the entrance hall.

"I got into big trouble during my third year for dueling a Ravenclaw prefect who insisted that Bridget Wenlock had come from his house, rather than Hufflepuff. I should have got a week of detentions, but Professor Sprout let me off with a warning and a box of coconut icecream," the cheerful prefect recounted as they descended the stairs on level, emerging into a broad and brightly lit corridor.

As they passed various paintings with fruit themes, Gabriel pointed to a painting depicting a bowl of fruit. "Tickle that pair," he said, "and it'll giggle and turn into a handle. That's where the kitchens are. Take care you're not found out, though. We're not supposed to go in there."

He stopped, turned to the first-years, winked, and put a finger to his lips. "I probably wasn't supposed to tell you either, so let's keep that to ourselves, shall we?"

The first years giggled, and nodded. Harry found that he liked Gabriel; if this was what the authority figures at this school were like, he was going to love coming to Hogwarts.

He turned around and with a vast sweep of his arm, the prefect said, "Come along, this way."

Suddenly, he stopped next to a stone recess on the right-hand side of the wall. The recess was cast in shadow, making it hard to see what was down it.

They all squinted, only to reveal a stack of barrels. Large barrels, like the ones you found in comic books and wineries, big enough in circumference for the first-years to walk upright through one.

"Remember this, kids," Gabriel said. "Two rows from the bottom, tap the middle barrel in the rhythm of 'Helga Hufflepuff'." he demonstrated, and the barrel swung open.

"Don't miss the rhythm, or tap the wrong barrel. Otherwise, the other barrels will open." He shuddered.

"Why? What's wrong with the other barrels?" Justin asked.

"They're filled with vinegar," Gabriel confided. "You'll get drenched in it." He waved again. "Come on in, kids. Welcome to the Common Room of Hufflepuff House."

They followed the prefect up a sloping, earthy passage, only to suddenly enter into a cosy room that was round and had a relatively low ceiling. It was decorated in yellow and black, with honey-colored wood used for the furniture.

As well as for the doors.

That were round.

Harry loved it immediately.

From the ceiling hung copper-bottomed plant holders that held tendrils of ferns, ivy, and other plants; many of those were long enough and hung low enough to brush students' hair as they walked underneath them.

Around the round room were shelves, curved to match the walls, which held many colorful cacti; many of them seemed to wave at passers-by.

On one wall was a hearth, and Harry smiled at the sight. He always felt better with a hearth nearby; it was like having Hestia in the room with him. Above the hearth was a massive wooden mantelpiece, carved full of decorative dancing badgers; on the wall above the mantelpiece was a portrait of who Harry assumed was the founder of Hufflepuff House, Helga Hufflepuff herself.

She seemed to be toasting the students with a tiny, two-handed, golden cup.

Near the top of the circular room were small round windows, set to be level with the ground of Hogwarts castle itself; the windows gave out to rippling grass and dandelions and other plants. Harry assumed one would be able to see passing feet as well.

"Now," Gabriel said, gathering the first-year student together with just a sweep of his arms. "Congratulations!" he said. "As you know by now, I'm prefect Gabriel Truman, and I'm delighted to welcome you to Hufflepuff House."

Harry laughed, as did most of the other first-years. Those few students present in the Common Room cheered and clapped. "Now, let me just give you a bit of background on our traditions, symbols, and famous students of times past," Gabriel went on with a big grin.

"Hey, it's the munchkins!" a voice said, interrupting what was probably a finally crafted and well-rehearsed speech.

Emerging from a circular door set on one side of the circular common room was the upperclass girl that had first hugged him in welcome. A second circular door was not too far away, and Harry assumed those doors gave way to the sleeping areas.

Cheerfully, the girl made her way to the gaggle of first-years, and smiled as she looked them over. "I'm sure Gabriel's doing a bang-up job, but let me just welcome you all to Hufflepuff. We're all family here." She looked at Harry. "Especially you, little cousin."

"Cousin?" Harry asked, surprised, and wondering why the girl was singling him out.

"Well, somewhat," the girl said. "My great-great-aunt Dorea Black married Charlus Potter, and they were your great-aunt and great-uncle. Since we love tracking family trees, that's close enough for us to be cousins. Kinda sorta."

Harry didn't mind one bit that they were distantly related. "I have family?" he asked, suddenly feeling something stick in his throat. He'd always assumed that the closest things he had to family were the gods – and despite the fact that some humored him, he knew gods didn't track family relationships the way mortals did.

"Yes, you do," the girl said, drawing him into a hug.

"I have family," he whispered, burying himself against her and trying not to cry.

Or, better said, trying to hide the fact he was crying. Stupid eyes. Stupid dust in the air. Stupid allergies.

She just held him."We're all family in Hufflepuff," she said, "but a bit of blood always changes things, doesn't it?"

He nodded silently.

"I'm Tonks, by the way," the girl said with a laugh. "Since you didn't ask."

He looked up at her, despite the puffiness of his eyes. "And that's the only name you'll get," she added with a grin.

"Her first name is-" a girl spoke from behind them.

"I know where you sleep, Haywood," Tonks threatened over her shoulder before looking down at Harry again. "I'm glad you went into Hufflepuff, Cousin."

"I'm glad, too, Cousin," Harry said, trying not let it show how much it meant to him to be able to call someone that.

"I am glad to see everyone is getting along so well," a new voice said, drawing their attention. The woman was squat, had grey hair, but a friendly smile.

"Professor Sprout!" Tonks said, obviously happy to see her. "I was just welcoming the munchkins."

"So I see," the professor said, her smile widening at the displeased look most of the first years were sending Tonks. "While I always encourage bonding, I'm afraid that I'll have to ask Mister Potter to accompany me. The Headmaster has asked to see him."

Those present in the Common Room looked at Harry. "I didn't do anything!" he protested. "Justin can vouch for me!"

"We did spend most of the day together, we traveled up from London on the Express together with Dean, Seamus, Anthony, and Michael," Justin said, immediately pulling up extra witnesses and obviously preparing a defense for his new friend.

The Hufflepuffs, hearing this, started to look upset at the perceived injustice of an authority figure picking on one of their own.

Professor Sprout laughed, and held up a hand. "While I love the fact everyone is rallying around one of our new students, I do need to point out that Mister Potter isn't in trouble. I believe it has to do with the vicious rumor that the Headmaster has been trying to spread, about his untimely death."

Tonks suddenly laughed. "Go, Cousin. Break the poor man's hold on reality," she said, her hair suddenly turning from brunette to red.

"Whoa," Harry breathed at the sighed, causing Tonks to giggle at his reaction.

"Go, go," she ushered, waving him off to go with the professor.

They left the Common Room, and Harry trudged alongside her in silence for a few moments. "I have to learn how Cousin Tonks did that," he said, half to himself and half to the teacher.

Professor Sprout laughed softly. "Miss Tonks is a Metamorphmagus, meaning she can change her body shape at will. It is a very rare talent, unfortunately."

Harry nodded. That sounded like a challenge to him, and he did like those on occasion. He'd have to write Marduk about the skill, and see what the ancient mage had to say about it.

"It's unfortunately, also a talent that has made her life somewhat difficult on occasion," Sprout continued. "So I would recommend you don't ask her to turn into other people."

Harry frowned slightly and looked at the teacher. "What do you mean, Professor?"

"She can look like anyone, so a lot of boys were interested in her only for her skills," she explained.

Harry puzzled it out, narrowed his eyes, and squashed the anger bubbling up. "People have been bothering my cousin?" he asked.

The teacher burst out laughing. "If ever I doubted you belonged in Hufflepuff, I don't anymore," she said. "On your first day, before a single magic lesson, you're ready to take on the world for a family member you met half an hour ago. You'll fit right in with the others."

Harry nodded slowly, still upset at the idea that people had been bothering his cousin.

"Miss Tonks can more than take care of herself," she explained, seeing his look. "Don't let yourself worry, Mister Potter."

Harry nodded slowly, relaxing now that he had been reassured. He'd spent enough time with Artie and her Hunters to know girls could be vicious, vicious fighters.

They went on in silence, Professor Sprout amused by something and Harry pondering the day's events. They rounded a corner and stopped in front of a gargoyle; its looks were such that Harry started to reach for Godslayer before he realized it was just a stone gargoyle and not some mythical monster from ancient Greek History.

"Licorice Wands," the professor told the gargoyle. Apparently, it was some kind of key phrase, as the stone monstrosity jumped aside with such speed that Harry's demigodly reactions made him reach for his weapons again.

The wall behind the gargoyle split in two, revealing some kind of spiral staircase, which actually spiraled, like an escalator only spirally instead of straight. Professor Sprout didn't wait for his amazement at this spiral-staircase version of an escalator to abate and stepped right onto it.

He automatically stepped next to her, and together they rode the spiraling staircase; behind them the wall closed up again. The trip took a fair amount of time, but eventually they reached what must be the top, revealing a gleaming oaken door and a brass doorknocker made to look like a griffin.

Professor Sprout used the knocker, and the door slid open by itself. Harry would have said 'as if by magic', but it probably really was magic. Already, he was glad he came to the school; Marduk really hadn't given him any examples of what was possible. Even if he used Marduk's methods, which should keep the ancient mage happy, he already had loads of ideas of new things to try.

Together with Professor Sprout, he stepped into the office.

Immediately, someone grabbed him into a tight bear hug. While Harry loved hugs, the surprise of this one made him tense up before a smell hit him. He knew that smell. The sense of smell, tied directly into the right side of the brain, bypassed all logic and thought and went instead for the long-term memory.

And that smell? It made Harry feel warm, safe, and laugh.

"I KNEW you weren't dead!" the man blabbed. "Merlin, Harry, it's so good to see you again. I've been looking all over for you!"

"Far be it for me to comment, Mister Black, but perhaps you may wish to introduce yourself to the lad," a wizened voice spoke from further in the room.

"Oops," the man said, releasing Harry and looking at him. "Sorry about that. Sirius' the name, even if I'm rarely so."

Harry blinked. "Your name is Sirius, but you're rarely so?" he asked.

The man nodded proudly.

Harry looked confused, then looked away. Professor Sprout looked like she was pinching the bridge of her nose. Behind his desk, headmaster Dumbledore looked like he had never been happier.

"Mister Potter," Professor Sprout said, "he's punning about his name. Sirius and serious."

"But the two are completely different," Harry protested. "Sirius is with an I, but 'serious' is with an e!"

Sirius laughed with a curious barking sound that sounded familiar to Harry, but he couldn't place wherefrom. "You should have been in Ravenclaw!" the strange man said, before actually taking a good look at Harry's robes, which now sported the Hufflepuff colors.

"Hufflepuff?" he asked, sounding surprised. "My godson's in Hufflepuff?"

Harry crossed his arms, and before Professor Sprout could say anything, he asked, "And what's wrong with Hufflepuff?"

"Nothing!" the man backpedaled at an impressive speed. "Some of the best people I knew were from Hufflepuff. I'm just surprised, that's all."

"Hm," Harry huffed, not impressed.

"Regardless," the headmaster said, having come out from behind his desk. "Mister Black here is your godfather, and ever since he gained his freedom, he has been looking for you."

"My godfather?" Harry asked, wondering what a godfather was. He knew plenty of gods that were fathers, but they didn't seem to be very good at it. Other than that, there were those three movies about a godfather in the mafia, but that didn't seem to fit the situation either.

Sirius nodded. "A godfather is someone who helps your parents raise you, and who takes care of you should something happen to them."

Harry wasn't impressed in the least – where was this man when he was at the Dursleys? "Hestia takes care of me," he said, instead. "And why didn't I know you before?"

The man's shoulders sank, and he was about to reply when the Headmaster spoke up. "Unfortunately, a grave miscarriage of justice has seen Mister Black illegally imprisoned. A few years ago, I was able to secure his release."

Sirius nodded. "Everyone thought I betrayed your parents, but it was a man named Pettigrew instead."

"I see," Harry said, feeling sorry for the man. Being locked up was worse than getting killed, in his opinion.

"So this Hestia, she is taking good care of you?" Sirius asked.

Harry nodded, not sure whether to feel offended. "She's the best," he replied. "She's taught me a lot, and she found me the best teachers in the world."

"Harry has shown proficiency in wandless magic," Professor Sprout said.

"Really?" Sirius asked.

"I heard stories about conjured light on the trip over to the castle," the professor said with a smile.

Harry raised his hand and conjured one of the float-lights he'd conjured for the short trip. "Conjuring light was one of the first things Ma… my magic tutor taught me," he said, making the light vanish again.

Sirius was grinning widely. "That's my godson!" he said, and made to reach for Harry again. Now that he had been forewarned, Harry stepped into it and hugged the man back.

"I've been looking all over for you," the man said, softly. "Even tracked you to Saint Mungo's once."

Harry nodded against his godfather's chest. "Luna's mom was hurt and I kept her alive until the Healers could get there," he summarized poorly.

Sirius laughed. "I read the article Xeno wrote, it was a bit more than that, but I'll forgive you," he said magnanimously. "Really, Harry – where have you been?"

"Olympus," Harry replied honestly.

"Greece?" Sirius asked, pulled back so he could look at Harry. "I guess that would explain why nobody heard anything about you until you resurfaced."

Harry grinned. "Like I said, Hestia takes good care of me."

"I will definitely need to meet her and thank her," Sirius said with a nod.

"I think she'd like that," Harry answered, knowing that Hestia very rarely got recognition for her contributions.

"While I am glad to witness your reunion," Dumbledore said, "I'm afraid that young Harry should go to bed soon, and there are still more than a few things I'm afraid I must tell him."

"Of course, Headmaster," Sirius said, before turning back to Harry. "We'll write. Do you have an owl?"

Harry nodded. "Promethea's awesome, she's the smartest owl I've ever seen."

Sirius laughed again. "Great! We'll definitely write." He suddenly thought of something, and reached into a pocket. "Oh, and as a godfather, it's my solemn duty to help you get out of trouble, so this may come in handy," he said, while handing over a piece of parchment.

"A blank piece of parchment?" Harry asked, while hearing Dumbledore groan. It just made him more curious.

Sirius leaned in. "Say, 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good'."

Harry looked confusedly at his godfather, but raised the parchment to his lips and whispered the words as quietly as he could. Immediately, as if drawn by an invisible pen, a map was being drawn of Hogwarts – including little feet where people were, and name tags.

"Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers, are proud to present, THE MARAUDER'S MAP," Harry read obediently from the top.

"Padfoot, at your service," Sirius said with a courtly flourish. "Moony's still around, I'm sure he'll come running when I say I've found you. Prongs was your dad. Good man. Wormtail's the betrayer, we don't speak about him."

Harry nodded, his probability senses going nuts all of a sudden. At once, he knew what he had to do, and started flipping through the map, through the different levels, before reaching the Gryffindor dorm rooms.

"Pettigrew, right?" Harry asked, eyes suddenly locked on something.

"Right," Sirius said, darkly. "Never caught the little bugger. He's the one that framed me. Pretended to blow himself up while claiming I was the betrayed. Of course everyone believed him."

"Father of Peter Pettigrew?" Harry asked innocently, despite knowing very well that no 'Peter Pettigrew' had been sorted that evening.

Sirius frowned, and looked at Harry. "Because there's one of those in the dorm room of the Gryffindor first years," Harry said, pointing to the map. This is going to cost me, he thought silently. He knew how his luck worked, and if it kept to form he was going to end up fighting something within the next day or two.

Sirius looked at the map, at Harry, back at the map, and rolled up his sleeves. "Excuse me, headmaster. I have someone to kill."

"Mister Black!" the Headmaster roared. Despite his looks, the old man excuded power of a magnitude Harry didn't believe possible for a mortal.

Sirius looked like a boy caught sneaking cookies. "Cripple?" he asked. The Headmaster's frown didn't abate. "Severely injure?" Sirius tried again. "Give a beating to?" he finally proposed.

"I shall alert Minerva, and contact the authorities," Dumbledore stated.

"But-" Sirius whined.

"No, Mister Black," Dumbledore said again, tiredly.

Harry sniggered at his godfather's defeated look. Sirius looked at him. "You look like you were caught sneaking cookies," the young demigod informed his godfather.

"I've wanted to get my hands on the little bastard for so long," Sirius said.

Harry nodded. "He betrayed my parents, I feel the same way. But the headmaster said he was going to call the police, so that's the best we can do, I suppose. Unless he attacks us. Then we can defend ourselves."

"Feel like taking a walk?" Sirius suggested.

"Mister Black, I will not have you corrupt one of my innocent first years," Professor Sprout said sternly.

"But he was the one-" Sirius protested, right as he saw Harry's innocent little face be as innocent as possible. "Well played, Harry. Well played," the man told his godson.

"Now," Dumbledore said. "While there are plenty of things I have to discuss with young Harry, I'm afraid that we will need to postpone in light of recent events. Pomona, will you see to the safe return of your newest Badger?"

"Of course, headmaster," Professor Sprout said. "Come along, Harry."

"It was nice meeting you, Sirius," Harry told his godfather, who took the opportunity to give the boy another hug, followed by a promise to write. Soon, he was traveling the halls of Hogwarts.

When he arrived back at the Hufflepuff Common Room, he was grateful to see most of the House still up, waiting for him.

He didn't even see Professor Sprout leave as they immediately beset him, as if trying to make sure he hadn't been secretly injured or something, and he launched into the tale of what happened.

Not one to keep details to himself, he explained about the map and how it allowed him to find Peter Pettigrew, the betrayer of his parents.

The fact that he found a notorious criminal took second-seat to the wonders of the marauders' map. Tonks, as senior prefect, felt it her duty to point out that now he had no reason to ever get caught, and that she would levy additional punishment to ensure he wouldn't get caught in the future.

He loved his cousin. She was sneaky in her own way.

But soon, the prefects ushered them all to bed. It was rather late, after all. Harry had been right earlier, the two circular doors went to the boys' wing and the girls' wing, respectively, and Harry found himself into a room filled with comfortable wooden bedsteads covered with patchwork quilts.

It had such a homey feel that Harry thought that, should Hestia ever come to Hogwarts, she'd definitely be a Hufflepuff. Or rather, considering their relative ages, Helga Hufflepuff would have been in Hestia's house.

Still snickering to himself over that thought, he crawled into bed and tried to sleep. He was sharing a room with Justin, Ernie, and Wayne.

Unfortunately, years of living by himself, coupled with multiple attacks on his life and demigodly senses that never really went to sleep, made that rather difficult. Every time one of the boys turned, every time one of them let out a sniffle or a snore, every time they made the slightest sound, Harry was wide-awake.

He reckoned it must be around two in the morning when he finally gave up, got out of bed, and walked to the Common Room. He needed rest, and he wasn't going to get it when sharing a room with others, he knew that now. His senses were just too sharp, too acute, for him to be able to sleep with others so close by.

He walked to the hearth, now down to embers, and waved his hand. The fire rekindled immediately, and Harry waved his hand again. Harry Potter lives in Helios' Temple, he thought, turning the fire green and walking through it.

There really wasn't a place like home to get some rest, he thought as he walked through. Helios' presence wrapped around him, wondering, probing, inquisitive.

Harry explained the problem of sleeping in a dorm, and said he was going to get some rest in his own bed. Helios' presence withdrew, but not before radiating a sense of amusement and foreboding trouble.

Harry set his alarm, fell in bed, and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

He got up after too few hours of sleep, but managed to wake himself up with a scalding hot shower before getting dressed and fire-traveling back to the Hufflepuff Common Room.

He was the first one up in his dorm, which was exactly how he had planned it, and pretended that he had slept the entire night there. Nemmy raised his head from where he had curled up on Harry's bed, saw Harry was back, and put his head down again.

One by one, people started to wake up, and soon Gabriel was showing them back to the Great Hall. As they walked, he gave further explanations regarding the castle.

Apparently, the fact that this was a magical castle also reflected in its layout. There were, according to their prefect, 142 staircases at Hogwarts, from wide and sweeping ones to narrow rickety ones, and some even went somewhere else depending on a specific day of the week. Apparently, some stairs also had trick steps that vanished when you stepped on them so you had to remember to jump over them.

Harry frowned, that didn't sound very safe at all. Fun, yes, but not very safe.

And then came the doors. Apparently, some doors didn't unlock unless you asked politely, or tickled them appropriately, and some were tricks doors that weren't doors at all but only looked like it.

And to top it all off, rooms moved about, as did staircases, doors, and everything else.

He had never been so happy with the Marauders' Map. Somehow, it kept up with staircases, moving rooms, moving doors, and moving what-nots, to always display everything in the correct location.

"The ghosts," Gabriel finished as they reached the Great Hall, "aren't too bad, mostly. Nick, the Gryffindor Ghost, will generally help you if you ask politely enough. The Friar, too, will help anyone who asks. Don't bother asking the Grey Lady or the Bloody Baron, they'll both pretend you don't exist. And stay away from Peeves, the Poltergeist. He'll throw stuff at you and do anything in his power to make you late for class."

Harry made sure to thank him for the advice, before the first-years raced off for some breakfast.

As they joined the Hufflepuff table, Harry looked around. As usual, he scanned the room he was in, the motion so ingrained in him that he didn't even register he was doing it. His eye fell upon the Gryffindor table, where Ron Weasley, the redhead not appreciating Hermione's explanation about the ceiling, was missing. So were the two redheaded twins that had sung the funeral-Hogwarts-song-thing, as well as the redheaded prefect. Before he could wonder what was wrong, the headmaster stood up and requested their attention.

"In order to alleviate the rumor-mill," the elderly man spoke, "I would like to state that yesterday evening, we did indeed capture the missing criminal known as Peter Pettigrew."

The Hufflepuffs, either hearing this first-hand from Harry yesterday, or otherwise informed by Housemates who heard it first-hand from Harry, all looked at him. Harry grinned back, yet felt a bit embarrassed at being put on the spot.

"Yes, our very own Mister Potter allowed us to find his parents' betrayer, although I shan't reveal here how he did so."

Students from three uninformed houses started whispering. Hufflepuffs closed ranks instead.

"The criminal," Dumbledore went on as if he hadn't just poked the hornet's nest, "was found in the guise of a common rat. As an Animagus, Peter Pettigrew spent years impersonating a family's pet. Unfortunately, this is also the reason why we are missing a couple of students from Gryffindor House – we must make sure no harm came to them while the criminal was stowing away with them."

That explained the missing Weasley boys, Harry realized.

"Now, I would like to reiterate that the family in question was unaware of this, and are victims in this case," Dumbledore stated, his gaze suddenly intense and sweeping the room. The muttering died down. "Now, let us break our fast. Tuck in!"

Food appeared, and Harry was glad to leave the uncomfortable subject of Peter Pettigrew behind. He'd told the story to his Housemates yesterday evening, and so they let him be.

Harry's thoughts went elsewhere, meanwhile. Cousin Tonks was a Metamorph-magus, able to change her appearance at will, which was, simply put, one of the most awesome abilities he'd ever heard of. Silena would kill for the skill, no doubt.

Dumbledore, meanwhile, had said Pettigrew was an animagus. If he extrapolated, that meant someone able to turn into animals, which was probably just as cool as being a metamorph was.

He wondered if it were possible to be both. Like a metamagus. Or an animorph-magus. Oh, Animorph-magus, that sounded cool. Yeah, he should totally try and see if he could do that. Turn into other people and turn into animals.

He was drawn from his thoughts by the conversation around him, and stored the idea for being an animorph in the back of his head.

As Harry and his new friends ate, they heard a upperclassman complain about Filch, the caretaker. Wondering what that was about, Harry politely asked the upperclassman about it.

"Oh, he's quite bad," Diego Caplan said. "He's a squib – meaning he doesn't have magic himself – and he takes his frustrations out on the student body. He longs for the time when teachers could use corporal punishments on students. He also has a cat, Mrs. Norris. Put one toe out of line, and she'll go and get Filch. He knows the secret passages of the castle better than anyone so he'll pop up within moments and give you the worst punishments he can get away with."

Harry and the other first years were aghast. "And they let someone who hates students work at a school?" Harry finally asked.

Diego shrugged. "He's been here for longer than most, so who knows why? Still, better keep away from him; we Hufflepuffs tend to get along with everybody, but Filch hates everybody on principle."

"How awful," Susan said. "Maybe he doesn't even want to be here, but he's being forced to or something."

Diego nodded. "We all have our pet theories regarding him, but none of us have dared ask him. Considering how he reacts to everything else, asking him is a recipe for disaster."

"None of our business, too," Justin said.

"That too," Diego replied with good humor. Just then, a good hundred owls streamed into the Great Hall, circling until they noticed owners and dropping letters and packages.

Promethea landed imperiously in front of him and stuck her leg out. He gratefully untied the letter, praised her for being such a smart owl, and fed her fried and grilled pork products, just as she had requested.

His owl took the offerings with good nature, and enjoyed them.

"I'm not much for botany," Justin said, "But isn't it a bad idea to feed an owl bacon?"

"Zoology," Susan corrected. "Botany is plants. And yes, it is," she added, looking at Harry.

"Most of the food here is unhealthy for us but we eat it anyway," Harry said. "If she wants bacon, I'm giving it to her."

"You're supposed to look out for her," Susan protested.

Prometha rotated her head 180 degrees and stared unblinkingly at the girl. And kept staring.

"Ehm…" Susan muttered.

"Whoa, scary," Justin said, seeing how the owl stared creepily at Susan.

"Sorry?" Susan offered.

The owl blinked and looked back at Harry, as if saying 'that's better'.

"Now you see why I agree with her," Harry said with a laugh as he opened the letter. It was from Sirius; he'd have to write his godfather back later as he could see Professor Sprout hand out their class schedules. As she reached Harry, and handed him his, she stared at him for a few moments. "Mister Potter," she said. "Why don't you drop by for a chat after classes today?"

"Okay, Professor," Harry said obediently, wondering what this was about, and why it felt like it wasn't going to be a normal chat.