Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 55

Harry found out that Hogwarts didn't approach magic the same way as Marduk did. At all. Marduk gave esoteric, formless ideas on the nature of magic, then told him to experiment. Hogwarts, on the other hand, took something Marduk described as art rather than science, and tried to turn it into science.

Gone were thoughts of 'visualize what you need' – to be replaced with motions of wands, and words of mouth, as if those things were more important than power and proper visualization. They went into theories behind the required motions, words, requirements, and metaphysics and so forth, but it all boiled down to attempting to quantify that which could not be quantified.

He finally understood Marduk when he explained it as 'the difference between taking a picture of a sunset, or painting a portrait of it'.

His first lesson had been Charms, with Professor Flitwick. He was a tiny wizard, who stood on a stack of books to reach over his desk, and was as excitable as they came. That first lesson, at roll call, he gave an excited squeak when reaching Harry's name and toppled off his books, out of sight.

Harry wasn't sure what to make of that, and to be honest he was rather glad to leave the class after the period was up. His mind was swimming, and he needed a break.

Luckily, the next period was a free one and he ventured outside. He wanted to study the grounds and see that forest that was forbidden. Harry had yet to meet a forest that was actually forbidden, and he wondered what its deal was.

He walked across the ground, seeing the greenhouses in the distance, where Professor Sprout gave Herbology lessons. He saw a small house, almost like a large hut, and noticed Hagrid tending its garden. He gave the man a friendly wave, and received a cheerful wave back in answer.

Finally, he was standing at the edge of the forest. It loomed darkly above him, its trees close together and blocking all sunlight. Harry drew a breath, drawing in the smell of vegetation and luxuriating in it. He loved forests.

He was about to step into it, when he lowered his leg without actually stepping forward. His finely tuned senses alerted him, and he closed his eyes and reached out with his magic instead.

Oh.

Oh, that explained a lot.

He raised his hand. "Harry Potter requests entrance," he asked the Genius Loci of the Forbidden Forest. No wonder it was forbidden; if you trespassed against a Genius Loci, it was likely to come after you for being trouble. "I promise to-" He never got to finish his promise.

The presence of the Genius Loci grabbed him, yanking him in, urging him on. Harry found himself running through the forest blindly, missing rocks, hopping roots, sidestepping ponds, as if he knew where each and every one of those things were. He ran flat-out, as if the forest floor were perfectly smooth blacktop, his feet finding purchase automatically, always somehow landing on the perfect spot to not cost him speed.

If this was what the Genius Loci did for him, Harry didn't mind. Despite the fact he had never been here before, he knew this forest; knew it like nothing else he had ever known before.

Finally, the Genius Loci stopped him, and in a very human-like gesture, pointed at something beyond a hill. The concepts that flowed from the forest's spirit to him amounted to a desperate plea. Get them out of here! It seemed to beg, and Harry found himself feeling for the forest.

He slowly made his way to the top of the hill, dreading what he was going to find there. I knew that I was going to pay for the thing with Pettigrew and the map, he thought silently.

The moment he could see over the top, and really see what the forest was talking about, he sighed. Yeah, I'm paying for it, he thought with resignation.

The next moment, something slammed into him from behind, something huge, hairy… eight-legged. Six immense hairy legs moved the creature, two clutching him tightly, and dragged him forwards.

It was a spider.

A large one.

Scratch that – a huge one, a spider the size of which was completely and utterly unnatural, the size of a horse.

It dragged Harry down the slope, toward the misty web he had seen from the top of the hill. Strangely enough, more and more of the beasts emerged from the fog, the treetops, the undergrowth.

Harry, frozen in terror, unable to move, stared at the colony. Dear Artie, they live together, he thought to himself. Suddenly, the massive spider threw him, and said something. It took a moment for Harry to realize the noise it was making was actual speech, as it clicked its pincers with every breath it took.

"Aragog!"

From the center of the web, a new spider emerged, and Harry swallowed deeply. This new spider was easily the size of an elephant, with a fifteen-foot span of legs and hair.

The back of its body and legs had patches of grey, and all eight of its eyes were milky-white. This spider was as blind as a bat.

"What is it?" the new spider, Aragog, demanded.

"Human," the spider that captured Harry clicked.

"Hagrid?" Aragog demanded, coming closer, eight eyes tracking things that went unseen.

"No," the spider replied.

"Kill him," Aragog stated in an agitated manner, and made to turn back toward the nest.

The spider behind him clicked again and moved in for the kill. "I'm a friend of Hagrid!" Harry shouted. "And Miss Arachne!" he added, hoping that the former Queen of Spiders still carried weight.

Aragog chittered. "That greek one doesn't bother us," he stated, making Harry groan. There went that idea. "And Hagrid has never sent anyone into our hollow before."

Shit, that plan was failing, too. He had to get away, find some way to get rid of these monsters. He was pretty sure he could take a couple of them, but he'd let himself get surrounded. Athena would sigh disappointedly, and Ares would laugh and tell him he fucked up.

"Ehm," Harry said eloquently.

"He lies," Aragog stated. "Kill him again for the insult."

Harry barely managed to duck to the ground and roll away before the spider behind him could sink its teeth into his juicy flesh. His bracers, sword, and lasso emerged by instinct. He threw the lasso at Aragog, somehow capturing the eight-legged monster the same way he'd captured Arachne, and jumped at him, sword extended.

The other spiders roared, bellowing denials, but Harry placed his sword at the creature's throat. "Let me go," he demanded.

Aragog chittered again. "Kill me and my children will kill you, human."

Harry was at an indecision. He was surrounded by creatures wanting to kill him. Worse still, the forest wanted them gone. He held no card other than the fact that his sword at Aragog's throat apparently kept the others at bay. For now.

"Give me your word that you and your children will leave, and I will let you go," Harry promised.

"Hah, my instincts tell me to eat you, human," Aragog scoffed. "I do not trust any human other than Hagrid, who raised me from my egg, fed me, protected me, and in the end, released me and even found me a wife to grow my own family!"

Well, now he knew who was responsible for releasing an invasive species into the forest of a Genius Loci. No wonder it was upset.

Still, that didn't solve his current dilemma. These creatures were obviously intelligent. They were also frightfully violent, and ready to kill him the moment he showed weakness.

What was he to do now? Even if he had the inclination to kill them all, he was surrounded by them. Not a tactically advantageous position to be in. Plus, there is the whole intelligence thing, and killing all of them didn't sit right.

"Well, human? What are you going to do now?" Aragog demanded.

"I'm thinking!" Harry snapped. "I don't want to kill you!"

"We'll make it quick," Aragog promised. He was tied up in Hestia's lasso, so Harry knew the offer was genuine. Not that it was a very good offer, mind you.

Harry snorted. "I don't want you killing me, either," he replied testily. "You sure you won't move?"

Now it was Aragog's time to snort, a sound that was very weird coming from the spider-creature. "This is our home, Human."

"And you're living next to a school full of children, and you obviously have no problem killing," Harry said.

"We haven't killed any humans, out of respect for Hagrid," Aragog answered. "Of course, that changes when you come looking for us. You can't expect us to pass up a tasty bit of meat that just jumps in our web."

Well... shit. Now they hadn't even killed anyone, and were actually an innocent, if rather vicious, people.

"Thank you for that," he said, politely.

Aragog clicked his pincers, but said nothing. "The forest doesn't like you being here, though," the demigod tried again.

"So that's what's happening," Aragog muttered. "We've always struggled with food and resources. A spirit, is it?"

"Yes," Harry confirmed. "I felt it, and it dragged me here before I had a chance to ask permission to enter."

Aragog clicked his pincers again. The other spidery people were scuttling about in unsettling ways, and Harry tried his best not to look at them.

"No matter," Aragog said. "We will prevail. We always do."

The next moment, something leapt at him from the shadows, landing on him with a vicious blow that threw him off Aragog. He felt pincers close on his body, crushing his ribs yet failing to penetrate.

A spidery hiss of anger was audible and Harry's sword ignited in plasma as he chopped at his attacker; the giant spider died instantly and Harry shakily got to his legs.

His robes had been cut by the spider's pincers, but Odin's chain mail had saved his life. Glittering silver steel links sparkled in the twilight of the deep forest.

"Don't!" Harry shouted, actually managing to halt the coming onslaught. "I don't want to kill you!"

Aragog untangled himself from Hestia's Lasso, now that Harry was no longer holding on to it. He chittered his laughter once more. "There are more of us then there are of you. Goodbye, Friend of Hagrid and Friend of Arachne."

"Meep," Harry protested as two more spiders launched themselves at him. His shield materialized on his left arm, and he struck out with it even as his right hand lashed out with his plasma-sword.

Yeah! Carnage! Godslayer shouted in excitement as another giant spider died.

Artie, please guide my hand, Harry prayed silently. I have an army of giant spiders trying to kill me, I could really use a hand right about now.

Somehow, he managed his entire prayer, politeness included, in the space of a single thought, in between two strikes of his blade. Speed of thought exceeded speed of mouth by a tremendous margin.

Something blazed within him moments later, and it felt like his body was weightless all of a sudden, his movements more fluid and far quicker than he had ever managed on his own. Spiders died in droves and as Harry managed to collect his wits, he finally regained focus.

He was now free to act, rather than react.

Magic burst to life, fire and ice materializing around him and killing giant spiders out of reach of his blade.

He swallowed his revulsion at himself and the situation when he realized that he was literally starting to stand on a mountain of corpses.

And yet, more horse-sized spiders came, and it seemed that even his magic would not be enough soon; the corpses of the dead were interfering with his movements and he was starting to be driven into a corner. All it would take was one stumble, one wrong move, and it would be all over.

These spiders weren't stupid and knew his body was armored. They were clearly aiming for his unprotected head now. For a moment, Harry lamented his lack of stupid enemies.

What he feared, happened.

He stumbled over the severed leg of a now-dead spider, and went down to one knee as his sword stuck tip-down into the earth, now used as a device to keep his balance.

It prevented him from falling, but also deprived him of his weapon for those few precious seconds. Even as he focused to use magic, he knew he would be out-paced.

He was pretty sure he was about to meet Charon – or be met with a Valkyrie – when a silver arrow struck the spider and smote it dead.

Harry blinked. More silver arrows fell from the skies, and within moments he was the only living thing in the clearing. He got to his feet, surprised he was still alive.

"Less than a day," Artie said, stepping from the shadows, Zoë at her shoulder. "Less than a day you've been at school."

Harry ignored her words and her tone, and instead threw himself at her, clutching at her, crying on her shoulder.

Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, looked surprised. Before she could say anything else, Harry managed the entire story in a single breath – how the Genius Loci had pulled him to the hill, how it begged him to get rid of the spiders, how he got captured, and how he'd tried to get them to leave. He'd tried so very hard and they'd still attacked him and he'd been forced to defend himself and now they were all dead and he hadn't wanted them all dead and-

Artie patted his back awkwardly. "They struck first," she said.

"But they're still dead," Harry whimpered. "They were people. They could think and speak and reason, and now they're dead."

"They struck first," Artie repeated, slower, trying to drive the point home. "You gave them every chance, and they still chose to attack." She could see him start to build a protest and instead grabbed him firmly. "Harry, listen to me. You gave them a chance. They attacked you regardless. You are not responsible for when you are attacked."

He nodded, knowing it intellectually. But in his heart…

"The only question that remains," Artie said, sternly, "is what silly boy thing you were doing in this forest in the first place?"

"It's on the ground of my school, and I was just introducing myself to the Genius Loci when it grabs me and pulls me to the spiders," Harry protested. "I didn't even get to finish my greeting, or get a chance to say 'no'."

Artie looked up; the forest around them vibrated with a sense of joy and peace and the feeling of natural balance restored. She sighed. "Fine. I'll accept you didn't have a choice. But you will need to explain this to Aunt Hestia."

Harry nodded, and finally released her. "Sorry," he whispered. "For the trouble. And for crying on you."

Artie drew a deep breath, and released it slowly. "I had the time," she finally said. "And that never happened, understood?"

He nodded. "Good. We should go," she said.

Harry finally saw that Zoë was there, too, and had her bow out, obviously scanning for threats. "Thanks for coming, Miss Zoë," he said softly.

The Hunter nodded. "Thou didst well. Until thou lost awareness of the situation, and tripped thyself," she analyzed his performance. "Still, 't was a good demonstration of thine level of skill."

"Thanks," he whispered, shyly, not really feeling like being complimented over his role in killing these giant spiders.

"Hug?" He asked. "I could really use one right now." The moment he said it, he regretted it. No matter how true the statement may have been, emotional manipulation wasn't a good thing.

He opened his mouth to apologize, but she just looked awkward for a moment, then patted his shoulder, stopping him. "Thou didst well. As My Lady said, 't was not thy fault thine enemy did not accept thy mercy and attacked thee instead."

He nodded again, still not really believing it in his heart.

"Zoë? We should go, old friend," Artie said.

"Of course, My Lady," Zoë said, removing her hand from Harry's shoulder. With a final nod, Hunter and Goddess stepped into the shadows of the trees and were gone.

Immediately, the Genius Loci of the forest enveloped him, and for a moment Harry felt like the trees and the plants and the flowers, drawing nurturing moisture up through the soil and spreading leaves to the sun.

It was an experience he'd encountered before, but this time he took the time to luxuriate in it. It was a peaceful existence, free of decision and choice and thought that could lead to disaster. Whatever happened, happened, and there was nothing that could be done with worrying about it.

He pulled himself out of the trance, suddenly remembering that he was supposed to be in school, and depending on how much time had passed, he may be late for class. He went to pick up the Lasso, before realizing that the Genius Loci had even gone through the effort of mending his robes.

He felt strangely lighter, as if the momentary union with the Genius Loci had calmed his troubled mind. It informed him that very little time had passed, and suddenly Harry was moving again – running, leaping, planting his feet – as if he knew this forest like the back of his hand.

He found himself at the edge few minutes later, staring out at the Hogwarts grounds, with Hagrid's hut not far away. Harry turned, patted the nearest tree, and promised that he would spend more time in the forest, for as long as he welcome to.

The Genius Loci felt confused to Harry's mind, as if the very notion that he would not be welcome was a foreign one. Taking that as a good sign, Harry patted the tree in farewell one last time, and walked quickly back to the castle while munching on an Ambrosia cookie. That one spider had done a number on his ribs, and while they weren't broken, they very definitely aching now that he was no longer running on adrenaline, or being carried by a powerful spirit of the forest.

He waved at Hagrid in passing once more, only realizing that Aragog had been Hagrid's friend when he crossed into the castle itself.

He swallowed, the weight of guilt slamming back to the forefront of his mind. He'd killed. He'd killed. He swallowed again. Hestia would be so disappointed.

"What are you doing here, Kiddo?" Tonks asked, suddenly right next to him, and he realized he'd stopped walking.

"Nothing," Harry replied sullenly. "I was on my way to Transfiguration," he added.

"Nothing, eh?" she asked, studying him, seeing his drooped shoulders, and his suspiciously wet eyes. She threw an arm around him and pulled him close. "Come on, Kiddo. Let Cousin Tonks show you to old McGonagall's class."

"Thanks," he whispered, grateful that she wasn't asking what was bothering him.

"This place can be overwhelming," she said, comfortingly. "I was a mess my first week or so. Don't worry, Harry. You'll think of this place like home in no time. You won't want to leave by the end of it, trust me."

Oh, that was why. She thought he was homesick. He just nodded, not really feeling like talking. He wasn't good with talking about himself, anyway.

"This is the transfig room," Tonks said. "Will you be okay?" she asked.

He nodded. "Thanks," he said quietly.

She gave him a brief hug. "You're welcome, Kiddo. Come see me when you need to talk, right?" She winked at him. "Hufflepuffs stick together. Especially when they're family."

He grinned weakly at her as she turned and walked off. He looked around; he was the first one here and wondered where the others were. Slowly, one by one, they started to trickle in.

The other first-years could see that something was definitely bothering him, but after the first couple of 'Nothing's wrong, I'm fine' responses, they decided to leave him in peace. They stuck close, though.

Just in case.

Professor McGonagall opened the classroom and ushered them inside. The moment they sat down, she gave them a lecture. "Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts," she said, sternly. "Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned."

Harry, not well disposed to adults at the best of times, really had to restrain himself from saying something he shouldn't. He understood the need to keep order and warn students, but the threat and the condescension really bugged him.

She proceeded to change her desk into a pig, before turning it back. Harry immediately forgot about her speech, and stared in wonder. Now this was what he came to Hogwarts to learn! Screw physics, he knew magic, and he would be able to change reality on a whim!

Inside of him, that little boy part of his mind gave a James Bond Villain type of lecture on being Master of the Universe. Bow Down To Me, For I Know Magic! Mwahahahaha…

Unfortunately for Harry, the lesson proceeded with a lot of complicated note-taking, and it seemed that they wouldn't be changing the fundamental nature of reality any time soon. He obediently wrote his notes, silently longing for Marduk who simply gave him a few pointers then told him to go 'figure it out' for himself.

Finally, after the note-taking finished, they were all given a simple matchstick, and told to change it into a needle.

Ignoring everything he'd just been told, Harry wove the visualization of a safety pin before his mind's eye, and threw Shen energy at the problem. His matchstick wavered, then turned. Justin, sitting next to him, gasped. Other students, hearing the gasp, turned to Harry and saw his results.

Professor McGonagall raced over and studied his safety pin. She stared at it for a few moments, looked at Harry, looked back at the pin, then turned to Harry once more. "Five points to Hufflepuff, Mister Potter," she said, giving him a small smile.

"Thanks, Professor!" Harry said, smiling back.

"Now, I noticed you didn't use your wand," the professor said. "Where is it?"

Harry nodded. "It's in my trunk. I had to get one and bring one, so I got one and brought one. Nobody said I had to use it."

The professor looked like she was wincing. "And why not?" she asked.

Harry opened his mouth and almost – almost – said his teacher's name. "My tutor said that wands are a crutch and you shouldn't rely on them, so he taught me to do magic without one."

"I see," Professor McGonagall said. "And why a safety pin, when I specifically asked for a needle?"

Harry shrugged. "Needles are dangerous," he said with a small smile. Considering the school thought it was prudent to not let them practice magic, he felt it was justified to make fun of them.

The professor pursed her lips, and looked like she was debating whether or not he was being cheeky. "Fine," she finally said. "Next time, please stick to the instructions as given."

Harry nodded. "Alright, Professor," he answered.

"I will be keeping my eye on you, Mister Potter. It is the rare student that succeeds during the first lesson, and even rarer is the student that does not use a wand."

Harry nodded again. He was used to being under intense scrutiny from his teachers. He knew that Artie and Zoë monitored him like hawks, especially in the beginning.

The professor went back to monitoring the students, but not a lot of magic was going on. Everyone instead was staring at Harry, while some were whispering to each other.

Professor McGonagall leveled a rather intimidating glare – for a mortal woman – at the room, and students suddenly found that they needed to get back to practicing in a hurry.

"Pst, Harry," Justin whispered when he waved his wand as if it were a conductor's baton and getting nowhere. "How'd you do that?"

Harry turned in his seat, and looked at his friend. "Well," he said, "I used a rather different method."

"It seems to work better, lay it on me," Justin said with a grin.

"Alright," Harry said, feeling better now that he was able to help someone. "First of all, the way I was taught, magic depends on three things."

"Three things?" Justin asked, ignoring the fact that Susan and Hannah, seated in front of them, and Sally-Anne and Megan, sitting behind them, had stopped talking and were leaning in.

Harry nodded. "In order to do magic, you need three things," he explained. "You need power; which you have or you would not be here. The second is visualization. You need to know what you want to do, and focus on it. The better you focus on what you want, and the more detailed the picture in your mind, the less power you need."

Justin nodded. "That makes sense. What's the third?"

"You need belief," Harry said. Justin frowned; so did the four girls listening in. The rest of the class tried not to make it obvious that they were trying to listen in as well. Professor McGonagall, never one to allow such things in her class, was quiet and kept her eyes on him. She seemed content – for now – to let him continue.

"You need to believe that you'll succeed," Harry said. "I am not talking about 'let's try this and see what happens'. I am talking about 'I use magic; Reality bows to my whim' kind of belief."

Justin didn't look convinced.

"Try it," Harry said, pointing to the matchstick. "Visualize it as a needle, and believe, to the depth of your heart, that it will obey you. Then cast the spell."

Justin still didn't look convinced, but looked at his match regardless. "Build the image in your mind," Harry counseled. "Your match is yours. See the tip. See it turn to silver metal. See the eye. See the needle in its entirety. Now remember that you are Justin Finch-Fletchly and that you are a wizard."

Justin looked at his match. "Now cast," Harry stated, and Justin's wand came up and cast.

The match turned silvery-gray, and had something that could be charitably described as a point. It still had a sulfur head, instead of an eye. "Well done!" Harry complimented. "Your visualization was incomplete, but you made it change!"

Justin was breathing deeply, but looked very pleased. "Whoa," he managed. "That takes a lot of out of you."

Harry nodded. "Wands and spells make things easy, they're very refined. This method is you doing some of the heavy lifting yourself," he explained. "Now, take a few minutes, then try and refine the point and put an eye on it."

Justin nodded happily, looking pleased as punch.

"Two points to Hufflepuff for excellent progress, Mister Finch-Fletchly, and another two points to Hufflepuff for helping a fellow student, Mister Potter," Professor McGonagall said. "That is some of the most rapid progress I have ever seen. Even if it is using non-standard techniques," she added, sounding as if she didn't know what to think about it.

Susan was the next one to have success, even if her perfect needle was made of wood instead of metal. Hannah giggled at the sight of it.

Harry grinned, this was going to be a fun class, he could tell. The professor was stern, but she seemed fair, which was good enough in his book. He'd had teachers like her before; she reminded him of a mortal version of Athena.

As the lesson progressed, most students seemed to be making progress. Justin managed to put a tip on his needle, but the eye still eluded him.

Sally-Anne, on the other hand, didn't make any progress at all. Harry turned in his seat to see if he could help, but the professor 'coughed' to draw his attention.

"While I appreciate the fact that you want to help your fellow students, Mister Potter, I do need you to remain still and not interrupt the others who are working," Professor McGonagall said as she stepped over, apparently tired of him talking to everyone. "I'm sure Miss Perks can manage on her own."

Harry didn't like the edict at all, but caught poor Sally-Anne's gaze and indicated they'd talk after class. She looked grateful.

When the lesson ended, Hufflepuffs swarmed him, asking questions, demanding answers, and basically interrogating him on their way down.

Harry pulled them into an empty classroom and sealed the door, before giving them a short overview of his tutor and the things he had learned.

Sally-Anne stood near the back of the crowd, as if she didn't want to pull attention to herself. Harry, recognizing the signs as he had once tried to disappear at the back of crowds himself, told the others he was going to help Sally-Anne now, and that they were free to leave if they wanted to.

Of course, nobody wanted to, and Harry repressed a small sigh. Sally-Anne didn't look all that enthused about being at the center of attention, and Harry silently pulled her into a seat.

"Alright, Sally-Anne," he said, softly, and kindly, before conjuring a matchstick. "What I'm going to do is stand behind you and put my hands on your shoulders as you try and do the transfiguration. It'll let me take a look at what you're doing, and what's happening, and maybe we can figure out what to do."

The girl nodded shyly, and pulled out her wand. Harry, doing as he had promised, stepped behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and closed his eyes. Silently, he connected himself to her energy system, allowing its web of flowing energies to appear before his mind's eye.

It seemed that Sally-Anne had very little power, and was suffering from a lack of confidence. If this went on, he doubted she would be very good at magic and could very well abandon the school entirely.

The lack of power was something he could work on with her, but it would require exercise and wasn't something he could fix right here and now. Boosting her confidence, that was something he could help with, however.

"Alright," he finally said. "Try and cast."

He felt her nod, and saw her cast through the energies before his mind's eye. He was right; she didn't have a lot of power stored at the best of times, and applied barely even a fraction of what she had due to a lack of confidence.

His hands tightened somewhat. "Alright," he said. "Sally-Anne, you're a witch. You need to remember that. Confidence and belief is what you need. Be confident."

He felt her nod again. "Now, remember," he said. "Visualize your needle. Be confident. And cast."

He felt her cast, and gave her a nudge through their linked energy system.

The matchstick wavered, then turned.

It wasn't a perfect needle by any stretch of imagination; it was crooked, looked tarnished, and still had woodgrains in it.

But it was a success nonetheless. He felt Sally-Anne's surprise and delight at the magic, then heard the others explode in cheers and applause. He was happy to see that most of it was focused on congratulating Sally-Anne, rather than him.

When the clapping and cheering and congratulations had died down, Harry smiled at her. "Try it again," he suggested, pointing to her work in progress. "Try and get the woodgrain out of it and put a point on it."

She nodded eagerly, and waved her wand. Silently, Harry had his fingers crossed; he'd given her a leg up last time, it should boost her confidence levels enough to start believing that she just might do this, and hopefully it would be enough.

The pseudo-needle wavered again, the woodgrain vanished and the tarnished metal looked shiny and new.

Sally-Anne let out a whoop, jumped out of her seat, and hugged him. Harry eagerly hugged her back; hugs were good and you could never have too many of them!

She let him go, and immediately fell back in her seat, breathing deeply. "But I feel very tired all of a sudden," she said.

Harry nodded. "You burned a lot of energy on that, I'd advise against trying again today. I'll give you some exercises to expand your reserves, but it may take some time before you see results."

Sally-Anne nodded gratefully. Exhaustedly, but gratefully.

And of course, Harry was left answering more questions. After explaining a bit more about the training he'd received from his tutor, and promising that yes, he was going to teach all of them his exercises, he was able to get away an hour or two before dinner.

He wandered away in the direction of the Hufflepuff Common Room, but stopped in front of the large painting of the bowl of fruit. Quietly, he remembered Gabriel's explanation of the kitchens.

Artie and Zoë had helped him again. Just remembering the recent events sent a sharp pain through his heart. They'd helped him, and Artie had claimed she'd had time, but Harry still felt bad, and definitely didn't want them to think he was taking their help for granted – or worse, make them think he wasn't grateful!

He ticked the pear. It giggled, and turned into a handle.

Drawing a breath, Harry pushed it down and opened the door to the kitchens. Time to meet the people responsible for the meals cooked with love and care, and hope they were willing to share.

The kitchen was a huge room with high ceilings, and five large tables in the exact configuration as the Great hall above, standing in the exact same locations as the tables above. Around the room, pots, pans, and other cooking implements hung from the walls. Harry immediately felt at home, as if the room embodied the very essence of Hestia.

The most curious creature appeared before him.

"Young Master should not be here," it stated with a high-pitched voice.

"My apologies," Harry said. "Someone I know did me a large favor and I wanted to repay the debt."

The curious creature nodded. "What does Young Master need?" it asked. "Tilly will get."

Understanding that the strange being was called 'Tilly', Harry smiled. "Thank you, Tilly. And please call me Harry."

Tilly nodded again. "Young Master Harry list what's needed, Tilly will get," she repeated.

Realizing that having her call him 'young master Harry' was the best he would get, he listed the ingredients he needed, and made sure to include some time with a stove and an oven.

Tilly's eyes seemed to grow, understanding that he wanted to cook, and not just have something cooked.

"Young Master Harry likes cooking?" Tilly asked, suddenly stepping away. "Young Master come! This way!"

"I love cooking," Harry stated with conviction. "May I ask what you are, Tilly? I don't think I've encountered someone like you before."

"Tilly is house-elf," Tilly said. "Many house-elves at Hogwarts! Many duties, house-elves clean, house-elves wash, house-elves cook, and serve food."

Having performed all those duties by himself since he started living at Helios' Temple, Harry understood immediately just how much hard work was involved. "And you all do a marvelous job," Harry said, heartfelt. "Thank you to you and your colleagues, Tilly."

There were other house-elves in the kitchens, too, and they seemed to whisper among themselves when they heard him. He looked curious, wondering if he'd said something wrong.

"Young Masters not often appreciate work of house-elves," Tilly said. "House-elves proud of work, and proud of work well, but very rarely receive praise."

Harry felt bad for the poor things. "Well, having experienced your duties for myself, I know the work involved, and the pride in a job well done, so I definitely appreciate it."

More whispers from the other elves, and Tilly seemed to have inflated slightly at the praise. She showed him to an oven and an associated counter-top; on said counter-top were all the ingredients he had asked for.

Harry rubbed his hands, and smiled genuinely for the first time since he'd encountered the spiders in the forest.

"Pitts is wondering what Tilly is doing with Young Master," a second house-elf said as it trudged up; Like the others, he wore a sort of uniform that seemed made from a tea-towel, but had the Hogwarts Crest on it.

"Young Master Harry is cooking for friend," Tilly said. "Friend help Young Master Harry, so Young Master Harry is cooking as thank you."

The second house-elf, this one clearly male, looked at Tilly, looked at Harry, looked at the counter-top, and finally looked back at Harry. "Pitts will stay and watch. Pitts ensuring kitchen not left mess."

Harry grinned and nodded. "Thank you, Pitts," he told the second elf. "And I never leave a mess in a kitchen. That's sacrilege."

Pitts looked curiously at Harry again. "Young Master Harry understand importance of clean kitchen?"

"Definitely," Harry said with a decisive nod. "You're dealing with food. You should never waste food, and a dirty kitchen means tainting food, which means wasting food."

Pitts nodded, but kept quiet as Harry started to make his cake. Immediately, his hands started moving on autopilot, and Harry was free to think about the day's events.

He worried if Hestia would be angry with him; not only had he been forced to use violence, but an entire group of people had been wiped out because of it. Granted, they had been very violent people, who had wanted to eat him, but they were still people.

It felt like Hestia was suddenly with him; as if the goddess understood he was in public and could not be there in person. Her presence hung around him like an invisible cloud, making him feel better just by it being there.

As he made his batter, his mind drifted to Hestia's presence. Silently, he recounted the day's events, and conveyed his worry about her disappointment.

Hestia's presence returned a feeling of having been pre-warned; obviously Artie had talked to her first. Harry wasn't sure whether to thank the Goddess of the Hunt, or call her a tattle-tale.

The warm and protective feeling of the Goddess of Home and Hearth intensified, as if Hestia's presence was giving him a hug. Immediately, a tight knot in his stomach seemed to release, and he let out a relieved breath.

The presence retreated slightly, before shifting.

Suddenly, it felt as if Hestia was focused on his culinary exploits, rather than the day's events. The Goddess of the Home made a suggestion.

She made a suggestion, and Harry cooked and baked and decorated, and suddenly he knew what a religious experience felt like. If this was what mortal felt when a deity inspired them to greatness, Harry wondered how mortals would ever step away from it.

Hestia felt amused, calmly explaining without words that she both had time and the inclination, and that most religious experiences were a burst of inspiration that lasted maybe a few seconds, not the time it took to bake an entire cake.

When Harry put his utensils down, he was left with a double-layer chocolate cake with a Nutella layer separating the two layers of cake, and a Nutella-based frosting and piped thank-you message.

Harry nodded contently, and made to wash the dishes, pans, and other utensils he had used, but Pitts snapped his fingers and instantly cleaned them.

"Young Master Harry understands beauty of cooking," the elf said. "Pitts help those that understand."

Harry grinned. "Thanks, Pitts," Harry told the house-elf, who seemed surprised at being thanked. It made the demigod wonder just what kind of treatment these poor beings had received in the past, when a simple thank-you had such an impact.

He pulled out some gold, made a small pile, and brought his hands together. A small prayer to Hermes later, the cake had vanished, as had two of the gold pieces from Harry's pile.

"Safe and delivered," Harry said with a grin. "Thanks for letting me use the kitchen."

"Young Master Harry should hurry," Tilly said. "Hallway is clear, dinner is soon. Young Master Harry shouldn't be caught in kitchens."

Harry nodded, and smiled at the bustling house-elves, readying dinner, and thanked them before making his goodbyes. The hallway was indeed clear as he left the kitchen with a smile on his face. Hestia hadn't been disappointed, despite his fears.

Time to get to the Great Hall and get some dinner.

0000

After dinner, he made his way to the office of Professor Sprout; he wondered what she wanted to talk about. Unless she had a time travel device and was able to see into the future, there was no way for her to know he'd get in trouble with the giant spiders in the enchanted forest.

He knocked politely, and was immediately told to enter.

"Ah, Mister Potter," Professor Sprout said, motioning to a chair in front of her desk. "Please, have a seat."

Harry sat down. "You wanted to see me, Professor?" he asked, politely.

The professor nodded. "Yes, Mister Potter," she said, looking as if she were organizing her thoughts. "Some claim this castle to be the safest place in Britain," she started. "And in many ways, it is."

Harry nodded politely, wondering where this was going.

"Most of my colleagues are happy enough with that, and leave everything to the Hogwarts defenses. I'm not my colleagues, and I try to keep a better eye on the students in my House," she informed him. "As I trust my students, I don't track their locations. I am, however, notified when one leaves or enters the grounds, and from where."

Harry nodded again, starting to get a feeling of where this was going.

"Last night, around 2 AM, I was informed by those protections that you vanished straight out of the Hufflepuff Common Room. This happens on occasion, there is a lot of magic floating around in this school, and sometimes I get erroneous readings. I thought nothing of it. It is, after all, impossible to leave directly from the Common Room."

Harry now knew exactly what the professor was talking about, and now he was left wondering why she would be talking to him about it. It wasn't as if he'd been in danger, and it wasn't as if he didn't come back, after all.

"And then I received a similar notification this morning, saying that you had reappeared, in the Common Room, as suddenly as you had vanished," the professor said. "As such, I wanted to talk to you and see if anything out of the ordinary had gone on last night."

Harry nodded. "I went home to get some sleep," he replied honestly.

Professor Sprout stared at him. "You went…" she started to say, breaking herself off, before saying something else. "This is a boarding school, Mister Potter. Regardless of the how you went home, you're not allowed to simply leave when you feel like."

Harry blinked. Having lived on his own for years, with no real restrictions on his coming and going, this was a very nasty shock of surprise. "Isn't this a school?" he finally settled on asking.

The professor looked confused. "Of course it is."

"So it's not a prison?" he asked.

The professor looked like she was stifling a laugh. "No, it's not a prison, Harry. May I call you Harry?"

Harry nodded; he preferred names over titles anyway, and 'Mister Potter' somehow made him feel like he was in trouble. "Sure," he said. "What's your first name?"

Professor Sprout almost-laughed again. "Pomona," she said, "However, you shouldn't call me by it. I am, after all, your teacher."

Harry blinked, wondering what that had to do with anything. He'd been calling all his teachers by their names, and none of them complained about it. And they were actual, literal gods!

"Respect must be maintained, Mister Potter," the professor finally said, seeing his confusion.

He opened his mouth and was about to remind her that respect had to be earned, first, but he closed it without uttering a word. He was starting to realize that learning magic was fun, the school was fun, and the students were fun, but the teachers were being so… adult… about things. Still, it seemed the professor was nice enough to go back to calling him 'Mister Potter', as long as he couldn't reciprocate.

"Back to the topic at hand," Professor Sprout said, "you went home last night."

Harry nodded.

"May I ask how?" she asked. "After all, it should not be possible to vanish from the Common Room. Had you left via the front gate, I would have reacted immediately. However, as I only received notice that you left from the Common Room, I believed it to be a false positive, and ignored it."

"Fire-travel," Harry replied. "Hestia taught it to me. She's awesome."

Pomona Sprout looked at her student. "You floo-ed," she said. Harry shrugged, then nodded, remembering that was the wizarding world's name for fire-travel. Although, if Annabeth and Silena were to be believed, the floo wasn't anywhere near as comfortable as Hestia's fire-travel methods.

"You floo-ed," the professor repeated, "from a fireplace not connected to the network, and, I assume, without floo powder."

"I just need a fire," Harry explained. "That's why it's called fire-travel."

Professor Sprout pinched the bridge of her nose. It seemed that quite a few people did that around him, and Harry wondered why. It wasn't as if he were saying anything out of the ordinary, right?

"I must ask you not to do that anymore, Mister Potter," she told him. "As a school, we are responsible for the students in our care. We take that responsibility very seriously, and it would not do for a student to get hurt while in our care."

Harry could understand that. Still, he found it ironic that he didn't get hurt on his trip home, but did get hurt when he stayed on the grounds. He felt it better not to inform the professor of that, though.

He nodded agreeably. "I'll still need a place to sleep, though," Harry informed her.

"What is wrong with the dorm?" the professor asked, sounding slightly worried.

"The fact that it has other boys in it," he answered honestly. "I mean, they make noise, and move, and snore, and stuff. I just can't sleep with that much noise."

She almost-laughed at him again. "A lot of people have that issue, Mister Potter. Had you come to me instead of… going home… I could have set up a very nice silencing charm for you."

"A silencing charm?" Harry asked, wondering if this were similar to what he did to turn invisible.

"When set up properly, it will prevent sound from entering an area," the professor explained gently. "Meaning you can get a nice night's sleep without your dorm-mates keeping you up."

"Oh," Harry said, feeling dumb now. He could have figured that out for himself. "Ehm. Oops?" he offered, looking sheepish.

The almost-laugh really was an almost-laugh now. "No harm done, Mister Potter. You are safe and sound, and have promised me you will not do this again." She finished the statement with an intense sort of Look that reminded him a bit of when he made a promise to Hestia and she wanted him to stick to it.

He nodded agreeably.

"Excellent. Shall we go and set up the silencing charm, then?" the professor asked, sounding kind and caring once more.

As he left with her, Harry thought that maybe, just maybe, not all adults were as bad as the ones he'd encountered so far. Granted, he'd met Luna's parents, but they weren't exactly examples of normalcy.

Maybe he'd been a bit hasty in his assessment. Professor Sprout was alright. He could like her, he thought.