Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 57

Harry rode the rotating staircase with a large smile on his face while happily staying still next to Professor Sprout, who didn't look nearly as enthused about the whole situation.

"Pomona! And Mister Potter!" The Headmaster declared upon their entry. "Please, have a seat," he entreated amicably, as if he was perfectly happy and had nothing else to do but to entertain them on a Friday evening, just as curfew hit. "What can I do for you?" he asked.

"Mister Potter wishes to leave for the weekend," Professor Sprout said, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. "For every weekend, in fact."

The Headmaster's bushy white eyebrows rose in surprise. "Oh? That is quite a large request," he said, turning his sharp gaze towards the demigod in question. "Maybe I ask why?"

Harry nodded, and for a moment entertained the idea of simply replying 'sure'. Realizing quickly that being pedantic would not get him anywhere, he instead answered the implied question rather than the outright stated one. "I have tutors," he explained. "And some of them think that school, while worthwhile, isn't an excuse for them to stop tutoring me. I have a responsibility to continue my outside education with them… or they would be very upset."

"I see," the venerable headmaster said, studying Harry for a few moments. "I'm sure that dear Pomona has already explained to you that this is, in fact, a boarding school. As such, we can't really let our students leave at their own leisure."

Harry nodded. "I also explained that boarding schools in the non-magical world don't imprison their students and do, in fact, allow them to go home for the weekend."

"An excellent observation, but we are in the magical world," Dumbledore replied calmly.

"Indeed," Harry answered, just as calmly. "I am therefore more than willing to call Hestia to come and talk to you."

Dumbledore looked amused. "And you are sure that your guardian would agree with you?"

"Of course," Harry said with absolute conviction. "After all, it was her that taught me fire-travel."

"And yet you only used it the once," Dumbledore mused.

"Professor Sprout asked me not to. I rather like her, so I listened," Harry explained, not feeling the need to add for now.

"Implying that you can stop listening at any moment," the headmaster stated. "I see." he was silent for a few moments. "Harry," he said, then stopped himself. "May I call you Harry?"

Professor Sprout looked strangely amused as she turned to Harry.

"Sure," Harry answered, then true to form, added, "what's your first name?"

"Albus," Dumbledore answered delightedly. "Harry, it really is a large exception that you are asking for. And while I am sure that you could ask your guardian to come here and convince the two of us, we must also take the rest of the school into consideration. Having someone openly break the rules could be very damaging to morale."

"I'm sure you've heard that I've been teaching everyone in Hufflepuff. And Hermione from Gryffindor, Albus," Harry said, brazenly using the man's name. Dumbledore seemed delighted. Professor Sprout did not. "I'm sure my friends will understand that I need to learn new things if I'm to keep teaching them new things."

"And the other students?" Albus asked.

Harry shrugged. "They haven't asked me to teach them, I'm not about to force people to learn. Also, I'm not greedy; why should I be the only one allowed to leave?"

Dumbledore gave a short laugh. "The students' parents, mostly," he answered.

Harry nodded sagely. "So you're keeping children locked up in prison because it's more convenient for their parents. I understand."

While he couldn't see her without turning his head toward her, Harry was quite aware that Professor Sprout was not looking happy. The Headmaster, on the other hand, looked like he was having a blast with this conversation.

"Unfortunately so," the old man answered casually. "It is, after all, the parents that pay for the school."

Harry simply nodded sagely. He understood, alright. Stupid adults.

"Of course, now that we have a famous student bringing the situation to light, there is nothing stopping me from bringing it up and attempting to rectify it," Dumbledore continued. "I simply am not expecting a lot of success."

"Better to have tried and lost than to never have tried at all," Harry butchered a quote.

Dumbledore looked highly amused. "Quite so," he said. "Now, if you would care to call your guardian? I am quite looking forward to seeing your unique style of travel in action, and we must still reassure ourselves that your guardian does, indeed, agree."

Harry amusedly got up, walked to the fire, waved his hand, and thought of Hestia. He could have just prayed to her, but this way he got to impress some adults. Professor Sprout was kindly, if a bit standoffish with her refusal to let him use her first name. Albus, on the other hand, seemed like fun.

The fire flared and Hestia stepped through, wrapped in the mid-thirties form she had used while escorting him to Diagon Alley.

"I was expecting you home some time ago," Hestia said, as if it was a pre-agreed plan rather than her listening in on the hearth.

"Professor Sprout and Albus wanted to talk to you about that first," Harry said.

Hestia looked up from him at the Professor and the Headmaster. "Professor. Headmaster," the disguised goddess said politely, taking the chair and pulling Harry into her lap as if he weighed nothing.

He knew, intellectually, that he should be embarrassed by it. He wasn't. He hadn't hugged her since he left for Hogwarts, and while he had communed with her, that was a big difference to an actual physical hug.

Besides, one should never pass up an opportunity to hug Hestia. Hestia's hugs were awesome. He missed them when he couldn't have them.

"Now, what exactly is it that you wanted to talk about?" Hestia asked amicably, as if she weren't simply cradling Harry.

"Thank you for coming, Miss Hestia," Albus said politely. "As you know, this is a boarding school, and as such, our students are required to be onsite during the term."

"I need to get home, or Miss Athena will frown at me," Harry said quickly, as Albus seemed intent on dragging the thing out. "They won't let me go unless you agree, first."

"Oh?" Hestia said, turning to the demigod in her lap. "Did Athena give you a hard time?"

Harry shook his head. "She gave me some homework and books to read, but she also insisted that a proper young d-" he stopped himself right as he started to form the word demigod, and instead cast around for a different word. "Gentleman," he substituted, "should know more than just magic."

Hestia nodded. "That sounds like her," she said, before focusing back on the headmaster. "Harry needs to return home every weekend. While he doesn't need it, he has my agreement for it."

Dumbledore looked floored for a moment. "I see," he finally said. "Unfortunately, none of our other students are allowed to leave over the weekend, and it would cause some problems with jealousy and morale if we were to allow Harry to leave every weekend."

"I already told Albus I'm not greedy, and that they should simply allow everyone to leave for the weekend if they want to," Harry told Hestia. "I mean, Professor Sprout said this isn't a prison, so they shouldn't just lock kids up."

The headmaster looked like he couldn't decide on being amused or being exasperated.

"That would take care of the morale problem," Hestia said with a nod.

"And we've already established that, should the answer be no, Harry could leave any time he wishes anyway," Dumbledore said, sounding curious.

Hestia nodded while gracing with a smile. "Of course," she said, before looking at Harry. "I noticed you came home only the once. Why was that?"

"I can't sleep and went home to sleep in my own bed," Harry explained. "Professor Sprout asked me not to, and I rather like her so I listened."

"Until now," Hestia said with a smile.

"Miss Athena is scary when she's disappointed," Harry answered with a nod. "Besides, I need to help Mister Helios, too, and maybe meet up with Artie and Miss Zoë, and my weekends suddenly seem like they're not long enough."

Hestia laughed softly. "The price of responsibility, Harry," she said, before looking back at the headmaster. "I'm sure things will be arranged?" she asked.

The headmaster looked like he had a massive headache, as he'd taken his glasses off and was rubbing the bridge of his nose. Professor Sprout looked like she was glad to have passed the buck.

"Very well," Dumbledore said, re-donning his glasses. "While out of the ordinary, I will allow it."

"Thank you, Headmaster," Hestia said, effortlessly lifting Harry off her lap and onto the ground.

He suddenly felt cold, no longer wrapped up in her presence.

"However, may I avail myself of a few more minutes of your time? Both of you?" the old man asked, hopefully. "There were things I wanted to tell you, Harry, but our chat last time was interrupted by the discovery of Peter."

Harry shrugged. "Sure, Albus," he agreed. Professor Sprout still twitched every time he used the man's name, a fact that Harry found very curious. Albus was an unusual name, sure, but it wasn't a hard one. Besides, Albus was using his first name, so he was only reciprocating politely.

"Thank you, Harry," Albus said with a tiny smile. "The story begins ten years ago, on the day your parents… passed on, shall we say."

Harry nodded sadly, but told himself that he could ask Mel to see his dad, and that he could write to his mom if he wanted to talk to her. "They were murdered by some psycho, right?" he asked.

"Voldemort," Dumbledore confirmed. "Yes. And that is where the story starts." It was obvious that he was dreading the coming conversation, and was subconsciously drawing things out. "It was the first in a series of mistakes on my part; mistakes that have cost you dearly, and mistakes that I have much to apologize for."

Harry blinked, not having expected that. He opened his mouth, but Dumbledore cut him off. "You may wish to listen to rest of my sorry tale before you say anything, Harry," he said to the young demigod.

Harry nodded and closed his mouth.

"After your parents' demise at the hands of Voldemort," Dumbledore started his tale, "I had you taken to Hogwarts. Rather than leave you with Sirius, who would have loved and cared for you, I had you spirited away. It left Sirius free to pursue Peter, the real traitor. Due to this, he ended up in Azkaban, another thing to lay at my feet."

"I then arranged for you to be housed with the Dursley family," Dumbledore went on. Harry felt his heart stop, his blood-pressure drop, and his knees turn wobbly. The world turned a strange shade of white.

"Harry, breathe," Hestia spoke gently, but commandingly.

Harry took a breath. It felt like his chest had frozen, and the breath hurt. Something snapped, and he felt his heart give a startled beat that was hard and furious. The world snapped back into focus.

Dumbledore looked like he had aged decades in those few moments.

"I believed you would be safe with family, defended by the protections left on you by your mother," the old headmaster said. "I knew I was condemning you to difficult years, although I did not realize the extent of those difficulties. I only knew of those later."

Harry, for a moment, wanted to strangle the man; magic was too good for him, godslayer was too good for him – he wanted to choke the very life from the old man's body with his own two-

"Harry, breathe," Hestia instructed again. He breathed; it didn't hurt this time. "I understand your anger towards the man," the goddess went on to say, "but you may want to listen to what else he has to say. We can always arrange an accident later."

Harry startled from his rage at the uncharacteristic words coming from Hestia's lips, and looked at her in surprise.

Hestia looked like she had been carved out of the finest marble; that in itself was telling. The Goddess of Home and Hearth usually had a restrained yet friendly demeanor. The fact that she looked cold as ice and hard as stone revealed a lot to Harry, who knew her intimately.

Professor Sprout looked upset yet conflicted about being upset at either the threat or Dumbledore's tale and being unable to decide which was worse.

"Thank you," Dumbledore said to Hestia. "As I said, I did not realize the extent of the difficulties I was condemning you to, Harry," he pressed on. "I only knew that Voldemort was not defeated and would eventually return, and that you were the prime target of him and his followers. You had to be kept safe."

Harry looked about ready to have a full-blown teenaged tantrum; a tantrum that was likely to end with his hands around the headmaster's neck.

"Harry, breathe," Hestia instructed once again. He drew a deep breath; the anger settled somewhat, turning from white-hot to deep cold.

"For you see," Dumbledore said, as if he had not been interrupted, "there was a prophecy; one that said only you could defeat Voldemort. So, I reasoned, if we lost you, we could not defeat Voldemort upon his inevitable return."

Harry swallowed; prophecies were heavy things, handed down by the gods. He'd been involved with breaking one before and gotten into serious trouble over it. Prophecies could not be easily dismissed.

"And then," Dumbledore said, sitting down and sighing deeply, "all traces of Voldemort's remains vanished. The Dark Mark he had used to mark his followers vanished completely. People stopped being afraid to speak his name. I was hopeful, but I could not take the chance that this was another trick, and so I continued on my path."

Harry nodded, realizing what Dumbledore was talking about. "Someone I know and respect a lot pulled a soul from my scar," he said. "That soul was split, but that person re-integrated it, pulling the pieces of shattered soul together to reform it, and then banished it to the underworld. Voldemort's dead."

Dumbledore nodded. "I realize that now, although I did not at the time," he explained. "It was a few years later, when I was… visited. I do not know if it was a vision, or a type of prophecy, or an actual visitation, but I was visited by the spirit of your mother."

Harry nodded again, recognizing the signs of when his mom had gotten in trouble and Zeus cursed her into not talking to him. The demigod's face glowered. Stupid Zeus. Harry owed him a kick to the shins for that one.

"It left me badly shaken," Dumbledore said. "And from that moment on, it was as if providence itself conspired to make itself known to me, as if it wanted to drive home the point that Voldemort was dead and I had made so many mistakes in a nebulous belief that turned out to be false."

Harry remained stony-faced and silent.

Dumbledore concluded, "It started with the destruction of my wand, a priceless artifact hundreds of years old, and it ended with every sordid detail of my wrongdoings exposed. It cost me my positions, my influence, even my financial security. In the end, I was barely able to cling to Hogwarts itself; yet truthfully it was the only position I cared enough about to put up a proper fight for. For you see, Harry, I wanted to be here for you."

"For me?" Harry asked, surprised.

Dumbledore nodded. "To atone. To properly apologize for my mistakes. To ensure that your time here is well-spent and happy. To do what I can to undo the wrongs I have done."

Harry opened his mouth, but the headmaster cut him off. "I do not expect your forgiveness, Harry. I do not believe I deserve such, either. I merely offer my sincere apology, to let you know that I do truly regret my actions."

Professor Sprout apparently knew most of the details, as she was now firmly glaring at the headmaster. It explained a lot to Harry; why the teachers looked like they did not respect the man, why the students who grew up in the magical world cared so little for him.

The demigod drew a breath and opened his mouth, firmly determined to give the man a piece of his mind.

Yet, before he did so, he realized something.

If he'd been left with Sirius. If he'd grown up in the magical world. If he hadn't been dropped with the Dursleys… then he wouldn't have been abandoned in New York. He wouldn't have lived two horrid weeks on the streets… and he wouldn't have found his way onto Olympus.

And that meant, he wouldn't have met Hestia.

And not knowing Hestia, realizing that he wasn't supposed to have met Hestia if it hadn't been for Dumbledore's meddling, it hurt. It hurt worse than realizing that Dumbledore had masterminded him being left with the Dursleys.

From that bad, from that evil, had come the best thing in Harry's life.

Hestia.

And from there, meeting Artie and Miss Zoë and the Hunters. The other gods. Thor. Asgard. Camp and his friends there. Mister D, who was hilariously grouchy.

He drew a deep breath.

And let it out.

"When they abandoned me in New York," Harry finally said, making Dumbledore flinch, "it led to the best thing to ever happen to me," he added, motioning to Hestia. "I met Hestia. She took care of me. Takes care of me. Without the Durlseys, that wouldn't have happened. I probably would have been happy with Sirius; but there are so many people I met through Hestia. Extraordinary people. People who I am proud to call 'friend'."

He drew another breath, glanced at Hestia, who looked like she was torn between being proud of him and angry at Dumbledore. "So," Harry said, "I guess it wasn't all bad what you did."

Harry looked at Dumbledore, who looked like he couldn't fathom was he was hearing. "I won't… I can't… forgive you," he said. "But, in the end, I want you to know that some good came from it, too. Maybe it'll help you sleep at night. Ease your concience."

"Thank you, Harry," Dumbledore said, sounding as relieved as a man could be, as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. "It is better than I deserve."

Harry didn't really know what to say about that, and as much as a part of him wanted to let the old man off the hook, the small, hurt, doubting, mistrustful part deep in his heart told him to let Dumbledore suffer.

"Well now, that was an enlightening conversation," Hestia said, her voice somewhat flat, but carrying enough undertone to make the headmaster realize that she wasn't as forgiving as Harry was. "But, I do think it is time we went home. Harry has a busy weekend ahead of him, after all. You can expect him back on Sunday." She looked at Dumbledore. "I truly hope that you are true to your word and are here to make amends."

"I am, Miss Hestia," Dumbledore said, plainly yet politely.

"Thank you for the explanation, Albus," Harry said, somehow able to get those words across his lips. It was good to know what events had led to his mother being cursed by Zeus. He guessed that she had done something to Dumbledore's fortune or something; it definitely sounded as if bad luck followed him around.

Harry turned away from the headmaster and looked at his Head of House. "See you on Sunday, Professor. I promise, Hestia's method of fire travel is completely safe so you don't have to worry about my safety."

Professor Sprout just nodded. "Very well, Mister Potter. See you on Sunday."

In the background, Hestia looked amused as amused could be. Yes, her method of fire-travel was completely safe. Until her silly ward decided to pull giant statues through it. Or used it to get himself into trouble.

Slightly shaking her head, she followed Harry to the hearth. Just as she reached out with her powers, Harry leaned over, to allow Nemmy to jump onto his shoulders. For a moment, the Goddess of the Home wondered where the pet monster had been hiding, but in the end she simply pulled them both to Helios' Temple.

0000

Harry's weekend had been filled to capacity, with Athena holding a lengthy quiz to determine whether or not he had been keeping up with his studies, followed by a lengthy study session to ensure he continued to keep up with said studies.

And in the midst of the studying, Hermes had managed to get the rest of the guys to agree to a Maths Party. Harry was grateful for it; the laughter and relaxed atmosphere allowed for him to de-stress after Athena's sessions.

Of course, the guys had heard of his adventure with the giant spiders – somehow – and thus demanded a telling of the story.

Still, when he stepped out the fire Sunday evening – British time – he didn't know whether to be happy or sad to be back. He hadn't had a chance to catch up with Artie and Zoë, or his friends at camp; on the other hand, he'd gotten to hang out with the guys and get his head stuffed full of knowledge by Athena.

He arrived to a Hufflepuff Common Room that had an electric undercurrent going through it; a notice had appeared on the notice board proclaiming that flying lessons would start on Thursday.

Harry, who had flown Hermes' chariot-car once and missed it terribly, was just as excited as most of the other first years at the prospect of learning to fly.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the school's broomsticks were quite old and rickety… and just as unfortunately, first years were banned from actually bringing a broom to school.

As a fully licensed demigod-in-training, Harry didn't like rules at the best of times, and stupid rules ranked especially high on his 'do not follow' list. So high, in fact, that he completely forgot about the rule entirely and took the first chance he had to slip out and call Bucephalus.

"Hi Bucephalus," Harry said affectionately to the ghost/war horse, giving the powerful spirit a friendly petting on the flank. "You can change shape, right?"

The ghost horse neighed and turned into a Vespa, before shifting into a Harley, before turning back into a horse. "Awesome," the demigod breathed, impressed as always with his horse's abilities. "Say – can you shift into other modes of transport? Like, say, one of the magical world's flying broomsticks?"

The horse neighed and seemed to give him the stink-eye, which was strange considering horses had eyes on the sides of their head rather than the front. Finally, the ghostly animal shifted and looked like a completely matte-black broomstick.

"Awesome!" Harry cheered. "I have flying lessons starting Thursday, this is going to be so awesome!"

Bucephalus turned back into horse form, and looked incredibly smug for some reason. Harry gave him another friendly petting, because his awesome horse deserved it. He resisted the urge to rub his hands with glee. Flying classes were going to be fun, he just knew it!

The next few days were interesting, to say the least. While Draco complained loudly about the ban on first year students bringing brooms and being allowed on Quidditch teams, a lot of the other boys in Hufflepuff seemed to agree with him.

Harry was a demigod and trained by various gods and goddess and their Chosen. The occasional pick-up game of capture the Flag at Camp Half-Blood notwithstanding, sports involving teams just didn't interest him that much. It wasn't something he was used to, and all of the lessons he received from Ares and Athena involved the individual, not the group.

He understood on an intellectual level that team effort was sometimes required, but it wasn't something that he really thought about all that much.

As such, the whole Quidditch thing was something that passed him by. It sounded messy; three different kind of balls, players stuck in one role, and one of them could end the game simply by catching a single golden ball.

Then again, there was the possibility of grievous bodily harm, so it almost sounded like some of the training done at Camp Half-Blood.

On the other hand, most of the girls seemed to just roll their eyes at the boys' whinging about Quidditch, and ignored the whole thing. Harry joined them with a grin, suddenly feeling like he was way too used to being surrounded by female friends. Other than Louis and the Guys, he didn't really have a lot of guy friends, now that he thought about it.

Artie would probably call that a good thing.

As the week crawled towards Thursday, Harry was getting tired of listening to the students coming from magical families droning on about flying, and Quidditch, and taking their mother's/father's/older sibling's broom out for a ride. He hoped that things calmed down after the flying lesson.

One thing he was happy about, and that was that Hufflepuff would be sharing the flying class with Ravenclaw; the House of Wit seemed less vocal than the other houses about flying and the silly ballgame.

Honestly, he couldn't see the appeal. It was like Football or American Football… why were people obsessed with people playing with a ball? Or multiple balls, in the case of Quidditch?

Harry shrugged it off. Hopefully things would calm down after Thursday. He wanted to learn how to fly so he could take Bucephalus out whenever he wanted to. Hermes hadn't let him fly the chariot after that one time, and now he would finally be able to fly whenever he wanted to.

Finally, the day came and Harry found himself outside with the other Hufflepuffs and the Ravenclaws. Those from magical families with experience flying were completely relaxed and at ease. Those coming from non-magical families, or without prior flying experience for whatever reason, were looking nervous.

Harry being the exception, of course. He wasn't nervous, he was excited.

Twenty broomsticks had been laid out in near lines, and their teacher, Madam Hooch, barked at them. She had short gray hair and yellow hawk-like eyes, and made a short jabbing motion with her arm as she snapped at the gathered students. "Well, what are you all waiting for? Hurry up, go stand by a broom!"

The student scattered, each finding a broomstick to use. Harry glanced down at the one next to him; it was old and the twigs were sticking out at decidedly wrong angles. It resembled Broomcephalus as much as a rusty VW bug resembled a sleek new Ferrari.

"Stick your right hand out over your broom and say 'up!'" their teacher instructed.

As if they had practiced it, they all shouted "UP!" at the same time.

The broom jumped into Harry's hand at once, and he could feel how his magic connected to the magical piece of equipment. It felt a bit like when he had gotten his wand, only less violent. The broom also didn't seem to have the sort-of awareness that the wands seem to have, being just an enchanted piece of equipment eager to server.

His broom had been one of the few that responded, however. Poor Sally-Anne, not being graced with a lot of power, had her broom simply ignore her command. Justin's had bucked, like an angry horse, then flatly laid down on the ground again and refused to move.

Madam Hooch tutted and spent a few moments helping students get their brooms to move. Harry leaned closer to Justin. "Remember, it's a piece of equipment without a mind of its own. If you think it's going to act like a horse, it'll act like a horse. Think of it like a bike, instead."

Justin looked enlightened, gave Harry a grateful smile, and looked at his broom. A moment later, it had lifted off the ground and into the boy's hand. Justin immediately turned to thank Harry, but found that he had slipped a bit further down the line and was giving Sally-Anne a pep talk.

Justin grinned when the saw her broom – slowly – lift off the ground and enter her hand. He, and the other Hufflepuffs, ignored her giving him a hug in thank-you.

Madam Hooch seemed devoid of such niceties and snapped at both of them to get back in line.

She went around correct grips, and more than a few 'experienced' students were told they had been doing things wrong for years. Harry tried to ignore the grumbling from those students.

"Now," she finally said, after she was happy with everyone's grip and position, "when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground. Push firmly. Keep your brooms steady, rise a meter or so, and then come back down by leaning forward slightly."

She raised her whistle. "One. Two. Three."

She blew the whistle. The assorted students from two houses pushed off; some succeeding only in looking as if they had taken a small jump while holding a broom between their legs. Those with some experience looked bored with the 'rise and fall' exercise, but Madam Hooch's disposition made them obey.

Harry didn't really have to think about it, instinctively he pushed off the ground, rose, leaned forward slightly, and felt his feet touch the ground again.

Madam Hooch went around offering suggestions and corrections, while leaving the others to repeat the exercise.

Part of Harry felt bored already, as if something were missing.

Oh, yeah. Fun. Fun was missing. He sighed deeply, part of him wanting to do nothing but aim the broom at the skies and let loose.

"Good," their teacher finally said. "Now, don't lean so you hover, and I'll show you how to fly laps."

Harry felt excitement rise – excitement that soon dwindled when it turned out that 'flying laps' had nothing to do with 'flying laps fast'. He recalled how Mel had goaded him when he had driven Christine, and how she had teased him about driving like a mortal grandmother.

He really felt like he was flying like one right now. Hadn't Madam Hooch ever heard of 'making your lessons fun'?

When the lesson ended, Harry felt like he hadn't learned anything, the broom had simply behaved as expected and he'd instinctively known how to fly it. He was so going to come back later that evening and have a proper fly on Broomcephalus.

Not that he'd ever dare call Bucephalus that where the war horse could hear it. He'd probably end up on the wrong end of 'trampled'.

That evening, just as the sun was setting, he'd managed to sneak away from his friends. Now out in the open, he whistled, only to be answered with a ghostly neigh that came from empty air; Bucephalus slowly becoming visible and tangible as the war horse emerged from the Ghost Lands.

"Hey Bucephalus," Harry greeted his trusty steed with a solid petting to the flank. "Do you want to go for a fly?"

The horse neighed again, shifting into the form of a solid black broom. Contrary to the school's broom, its bristles were all aligned perfectly and it looked brand spanking new.

"Up," Harry said with a grin, smiling wider when the broom slapped into his hand. He mounted it, kicked off, and turned the nose to the skies. Time for a fly.

By the time he reached three meters off the ground, the empty sky started to cloud over. By the time he reached six, the wind was picking up. By the time he reached a solid dozen meters off the ground, he actually had to fight the broom to not be tossed around by the gale.

A crackle of lightning nearly took his head off, and Harry finally realized what was happening just as he dodged. A second crackle-boom of lightning-thunder nearly vaporized him and he pushed the broom's nose down as hard as he could.

Falling from the skies, he was witness to the strange weather going in reverse, the gale turning to wind which vanished, the clouds pulling away to leave empty skies by the time he pulled up and hand his feet touch the ground.

Zeus.

He grunted and glared at the skies. It made no difference.

He sighed, and tried again. Maybe it was just the King of the Gods giving him a reminder.

By the time he reached half a dozen meters off the ground, the heavens had clouded over and the wind started to pick up again. Harry leveled off. "Really?" he asked.

Lightning jumped between two clouds, as if saying "Yes, really."

Harry hung in the air, keeping himself level and stable against the wind. As long as he didn't ascend, the wind wouldn't pick up, but that didn't mean that hovering was easy when there was wind out.

Harry debated on calling Thor and seeing what he had to say about this.

Just as soon as he thought it, he decided against it. For the first time he realized just how many friends he had, and just what kind of power they represented – and just how dangerous that could be.

Because if he really did call Thor, the amicable God of Thunder would be most put out about Zeus' treatment of him. And that could lead to problems between the Greek and Norse pantheons. Zeus was King of the Greek gods. Thor was Son of the King of Asgard. If Thor decided that he was going to disabuse Zeus of the notion of bullying Harry, that could lead to all-out war between the Greek and the Norse gods.

Harry sighed and pushed his broom down. Sometimes, being the responsible one sucked. He loved flying, and Zeus was apparently hell-bent on making sure he didn't get to do more than glide just above the ground.

He threw the skies, which were empty once more, a filthy look. If Zeus noticed, he didn't appear to care. For a moment, the air felt smug to Harry.

The young demigod sighed again. Maybe he should talk to Hestia instead. Then again, he didn't want to take advantage of her good nature. He knew how much she valued her relationships with her family, and the last thing he wanted was for her to be at odds with them, even Zeus, over him.

He could deal, he supposed. He could probably find some other way to get the King of the Gods off his back.

0000

Days turned to weeks, weeks he spent at school and weekends he spent at home, studying with Athena, or with Ares, or with Marduk. It was a grueling schedule, but in the end he kept up with progress.

He felt lucky that Hogwarts didn't have a heavy course load, so he had plenty of time to finish his homework for both school and for Athena, and do his reading for her. The Hufflepuffs, especially the first years, were reaping the benefits of his tutoring so they were more than happy to make allowances for him doing extra studying.

To the point where some of them were even starting to run interference for him so nobody bothered him while he did so.

Being Harry, he'd baked a large cake in the Hufflepuff colors, golden vanilla and black chocolate, as a thank you.

As a result, Hufflepuff as a whole was more determined then ever to make Harry's life easier. The demigod in question just felt happy that everyone enjoyed something he'd made, despite it not living up to the examples baked by Hestia.

One evening, after dinner, Harry was explaining something to Hermione out in the entrance hall. As usual, she had a thousand questions and Harry did his best to answer them.

"Still consorting with mudbloods, Harry?" Draco asked as he and his two larger friends passed by.

Hermione started to turn; whether it was to run away or have a go at Draco, Harry didn't know. Nor did it matter, so he simply grabbed her into a one-armed hug and held her.

May Hestia help me, Harry prayed silently as he leveled an impressive glare at the Malfoy scion. "Why do you insist on using that despicable word, cousin?" he demanded.

"Because that's what they are," Draco insisted. "My Father said-"

"Your father is an adult, and therefore you shouldn't listen to him," Harry interrupted. "You can't judge people by their parents or their background, only by their actions."

Draco froze at the slight against his father, and looked like he was about to explode into anger. "Am I wrong?" Harry asked, somewhat releasing Hermione and stepping closer. "Tell me, cousin. Have you ever tried explaining something to an adult? Have they ever listened? Or did they just go 'do as I say'? Haven't you ever thought 'you just don't get it, do you?'"

"Ehm," Draco replied, now that their noses were practically touching. "Yeah," he finally conceded. "But my father's a great man!"

Harry shrugged. "He's still an adult, and all adults are suspect."

Draco gaped at the casual dismissal. "Harry! You should listen to an adult!" Hermione interjected.

"Are you arguing on cousin Draco's behalf now, Hermione?" Harry asked with a grin, causing the girl to pale and realize just what she was doing. "Still," he went on, "no, you shouldn't. You should never trust an adult. Ever. Always think for yourself. Because adults make arbitrary rules, then break them themselves."

Hermione pouted like the young girl she was. "All adults suffer from the same problem," Harry said, turning his focus back to Draco. "They all seem to equate age with wisdom. It's not because you're old that you're also smart or wise. All age does is make you old, stupid, and inflexible."

"No it doesn't," Draco said, but there was no strength in it, no conviction.

"Oh?" Harry asked. "Remember what I asked earlier – when has an adult actually listened to you, and did as you asked? Or changed their minds based on your explanation?"

"Very rarely," Draco muttered.

"And how often did you get the 'just do as I say because I said it' response?" Harry asked.

"Too often," Draco muttered sullenly. "But that doesn't mean -"

"It means," Harry interrupted, "that you should stay quiet so you don't get in trouble, then have a think and decide for yourself whether to listen or not. Because bad rules are made for breaking."

"That means anarchy!" Hermione interjected again, before slapping her hands in front of her mouth, once more realizing that she was arguing Draco's side of things.

Harry lifted his shirt and revealed the scar he got when on the streets of New York. "It means saving your life," he intoned, deeply, carefully, and determinately. "Never ever listen to an adult when your gut says 'this is wrong'."

He looked back at Draco. "And judging people by their heritage is wrong," he said. "Either for good or for bad. Just because your parents are good at something doesn't mean you will be any good at it. Just because your parents like something doesn't mean you will like it. After all, you can't chose your parents and your parents can't chose you."

Draco nodded sullenly, not liking where the entire discussion was going. "After all," Harry concluded, "you wouldn't want to be responsible for things your parents did, would you? Imagine if your parents were criminals."

"My mother and father are great people!" Draco yelled.

"I'm not saying they're not, but I'm saying 'imagine if they weren't'," Harry said, slowly. "Would you want to inherit your parents' sins?"

"No," Draco said, sullen again.

"Then you can't hold a person's heritage against them," the young demigod stated.

"I suppose," Draco replied. "You've given me a lot to think about." The platinum-blond looked up. "Cousin Harry," he added.

Harry grinned. "Always happy to help, Cousin Draco," he told the other boy.

Draco hesitated for a moment, then dipped his head at Harry, hesitated again, looked Hermione in the eye, looked undecided for a moment, then gave her a nod as well before turning and fleeing without making it look like he was fleeing.

"Did you really talk a racist bully out of being racist?" Hermione asked.

"I tried to," Harry answered, looking after Draco. "I hope it worked." Finally, he turned back to face her. "And please be kind. He can't help how he was raised, either."

Hermione looked surprised, apparently not having considered the fact that the statement cut both ways, before nodding.

0000

Apparently, Halloween was a big thing in the magical world. While Harry had technically been living in the United States, he actually lived on Olympus – and the Greek Gods didn't celebrate that particular holiday.

Mel notwithstanding. The Goddess of Ghosts loved Halloween, judging from the latest letter she'd written Harry.

He awoke that morning to the smell of baking pumpkin treats, and animated bats flying through the corridors. The young demigod laughed at that, no wonder Mel loved this particular holiday.

During Charms class that day, they were divided up into pairs, and Harry paired with Justin. Excitable as ever, Professor Flitwick taught them how to make things float.

Harry was probably as excited as the teacher; he'd taken a long time to figure out floating and flying things, and he was looking forward to seeing the floating charm in action. Maybe he could deconstruct it and learn new bits from it!

"Now, don't forget that nice little wrist movement we've been practicing!" the professor squeaked as he surveyed the class from atop his pile of books. Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes; his wand was still in his suitcase and he didn't practice wrist or wand movements on principle.

"Swish and flick! Remember, swish and flick! And saying the magic words properly is very important as well. Never forget Baruffio who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself with a buffalo on his chest!"

Harry motioned to Justin to go ahead, he knew that he could already float the feather lying innocently between them and he wanted to see his friend succeed.

It seemed the spell wasn't easy to perform, as Justin swished and flicked and spoke the silly bastardized latin spell without success.

Justin finally grunted and motioned to Harry. "Any ideas?" his friend asked.

"I could make it float using my stuff," Harry said, while rubbing his chin, "but that won't really help you. I suppose you could brute-force it like we do in Transfiguration, but considering it's not even moving you may never 'get' it that way."

Justin grunted again. "What am I doing wrong?" he said, desperately.

"Try stressing the second instead of the third on the first word, and the third syllable instead of the second on the second word," Harry suggested. "Win-GAR-dium levi-O-sa instead of wingar-DI-um le-VI-osa."

Justin was desperate enough to try anything and flicked his wand, speaking the spell as Harry suggested. The feather budged and rolled over.

"Holy crap, it did something," Justin cussed.

"Try it again! Try it again!" Harry encouraged, eager to see the spell succeed.

"WinGARdium LeviOsa," Justin intoned ritualistically, swishing and flicking the wand as competently as he was able to. The feather float up.

"Well done!" Flitwick suddenly cheered. "Well done indeed! Can everyone see? Mister Finch-Fletchly has done it!"

The Hufflepuffs clapped politely. Harry clapped his friend on the shoulder and studied the spell. The magic used by the magical world was intricate, and it really did a lot of things with a few motions and a few spoken words. Harry could see why Marduk was so set against it; it automated an intricate piece of magic and relegated it to the difficulty of a few words and gestures while not even knowing what was being done in the background.

Cake mix magic, Harry thought. Marduk's analogy made a lot of sense now.

The rest of the class passed quickly, with Harry and Justin essentially playing tug-of-war with their feather; Justin using the floating charm and Harry basically using his precise control over his magic to 'try' and 'wrestle' the feather away from him.

It didn't take much, but it was more than Harry had initially expected to take over control over the feather.

Charms was their last lesson of the day, and so they made their way down to the Great Hall for dinner. Everyone was impressed when they found it decorated with a thousand bats fluttering along the walls and ceiling, occasionally swooping down to the tables. The floating candles had been placed in equally floating, hollowed-out carved pumpkins. The whole atmosphere was one of spooky twilight.

Harry resisted the urge to pray to Mel and tell her to get over here, because she would have loved it. Only his common sense in preventing problems by inviting the Goddess of Ghosts stayed him.

As they sat down, the feast appeared on the table and Harry eagerly started filling himself a plate.

"I wonder when Hermione will show up," Justin joked. "We should ask professor Sprout to just make it official and call her a Hufflepuff now, considering the amount of dinners she spends at our table."

"Perhaps I should," Hermione said, suddenly materializing from behind them.

"Crazy silent little cat feet in her," Justin muttered, before looking up, and saying, "Hello, Hermione!"

"Hi Hermione," Harry added, but his smile froze when he saw her eyes were rather red. "Is everything alright?"

The Hufflepuffs were already making room, but said clearing seemed to become a little more solemn.

"Hi everybody," Hermione said, slipping into the cleared space. "Thanks," she said to the Hufflepuff first years, who looked at her with concern. She sighed. "We're friends, right?" she asked Harry.

"I'd like to think so," Harry answered curiously. "And I think it's not just me."

A couple of the Hufflepuff first years nodded. "You helped us out with that nasty bit of Transfiguration homework last week," Justin said as Hannah and Susan nodded.

Hermione gave them a tremulous smile, and they all tactfully ignored the shininess of her eyes.

"I tried to help Ron in Charms today, and he was really beastly about it," the Gryffindor said. "He said nobody liked me and that I was a nightmare for correcting his pronunciation."

"Hey, Harry did that to me, too!" Justin said, and turned to Harry. "Nobody likes you and you're a nightmare, you know that?"

Harry snorted. "Thanks, Justin. That's just what I wanted to hear." As Justin chuckled, Harry turned back to Hermione. "Obviously, you're not a nightmare, and there are people who like you."

Susan and Hannah nodded, and while Hermione's bossy attitude was sometimes off-putting, most of the other first-year Hufflepuffs recognized it was because of a lack of social skills, not out of malice. Besides, she was improving rapidly as Harry gave her pointers on social behavior.

"Thanks, everyone," Hermione said, quietly.

Feeling the need to cheer her up, Harry asked, "Do you want me to break Ron's arms and legs?"

"What? No!" Hermione said, outraged.

"His arms or his legs?" Harry offered.

"No! Harry, that's awful!"

"Just some of his ribs, then?" Harry offered.

"No?" Hermione asked, wondering where he was going with this.

"Punch him in the face a couple of times? You know, break his nose, knock out some teeth," Harry wheedled, as if he were driving down the price on a new huge-screen TV entertainment center.

On Olympus, a salesnymph got cold chills.

"No! I don't want you beating Ron!" Hermione said. "Why are you saying such awful things?" she demanded, actually putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him.

"Because you needed cheering up and I definitely saw your lips twitch a couple of times," Harry said cheerfully. "So I'd say, mission accomplished."

The surrounding Hufflepuffs laughed, and Hermione released both her glare and her hands from her hips. "Oh, you," she said, fondly. She hesitated for a moment. "Thanks, Harry," she whispered quietly.

"You're welcome, Hermione," he whispered back.

AN: This chapter, in some places, was hard to write. Especially the interaction between Harry and Hestia, reminding me strongly of Mom. I want to thank everyone who left me a kind and encouraging message, they were invaluable. Words fail me to express how much strength I have been able to draw from them during the last month. While times are hard, I do feel like things are starting to fall into place.