Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 77

Harry finished shopping for his second year supplies, and was now determined to enjoy the rest of the afternoon with ice cream and friends. Skillfully, he ignored the parents, aunts, godfather, and other parental or authority figures that had clustered around Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour on Diagon Ally, leaving his friends with a table to themselves.

"Everyone!" Harry cheered.

"Harry!" the young wizards and witches cheered back as if they'd practiced it, only to look at each other and burst out laughing, telling Harry that they hadn't practiced it.

He ended up hugging Hannah, Susan, Hermione, Sally-Anne, and Tonks – who was playing the 'token adult supervision' role, but seemed determined to do so as little as possible. He clapped Justin, Micheal, Anthony, and Cedric on the shoulder. Being boyish boys, they didn't go for the hugs.

"Seriously, Harry, thanks for all your help last year," Sally-Anne said, the moment she got a word in edge-wise. "I wouldn't have made it without you."

Harry smiled easily at her. "You're a kick-ass witch, Sally-Anne. Don't sell yourself short. I'm sure you'd have been fine."

The young witch shook her head. "No, I wouldn't have, and you know it. I couldn't get a single spell to work until you did that thing you did." She looked around the table. "And I want to say thank you to everyone else, too. Especially you, Hermione. You helped me study. I'm not that smart, and I'm sure I'd have failed if it weren't for your help."

Hermione opened her mouth, before closing it, and smiling. "You're welcome, Sally-Anne. I'm glad I could help."

Harry shot her a proud smile. She'd come far in her socialization lessons.

"Seriously, I should have joined your study-group," Anthony complained. "Ravenclaw's a nest of vipers, everyone's jockeying for position, and nobody helps each other."

Michael nodded agreeably. "Next year, I'm joining. It'll be cool to have some friendly faces to study with."

"Everyone's welcome," Harry said. "In Hufflepuff, we don't discriminate."

His Hufflepuff housemates nodded seriously – even the unofficial one who normally wore Gryffindor colors.

"Hello, Harry," a voice spoke from behind his left shoulder. Looking up, the demigod looked straight at Luna Lovegood.

"Luna!" he said, happy to see her again. Immediately, he got up and hugged her. "You made it!" Turning, with one arm over her shoulders, he introduced her. "Everyone, this is Luna Lovegood. Luna, this is everyone."

"Sheesh, Harry, it looks like you're the one that needs lessons in socialization," Hermione teased. He gave her a sulky look, before chuckling, and doing proper introductions.

"Luna's one of my best friends," Harry finally said, after everyone had been introduced and they all sat down again. "She's the one that was with me when I got that nifty sword that came in handy during our trip to the extra-dimensional mansion."

Sally-Anne lifted her hand. "Can I get the full story on that mansion? Some of us heard about it, but weren't there for the adventure."

Luna's hand rose as well. "And some of us never even knew of that adventure. You really should share, Harry," she teased.

Harry grinned. "Well, it all started when Ced, Justin, Susan, Hermione, and I were studying in the library, and I found out that knowledge in the magical world is apparently restricted…"

"… and we got back without issues," Harry finished to his group of friends, added to by Florean Fortescue himself. The proprietor had come over to take their orders but had found himself in the middle of a daring adventure and had stopped to listen, instead.

"Well now, what a thrilling adventure," he said. "But, don't let this vendor take up you young people's time. What will everyone be having?"

"It's on me," Harry immediately said. "So everyone get what they want."

"I can pay," Justin said.

"I'm the one with a steady income," Harry said with a grin, thinking that his maths party buddies would get a kick out of being described as 'steady income'. "There's no need for everyone to spend their pocket money." Not when I can spend the money of my maths buddies, he added silently.

"Some of us are going to the Auror Academy next month, and will have a steady income," Tonks interjected, obviously feeling discomfort for taking his money.

"Then you can get the check next time," Harry said with a grin. "This time's on me. No arguments." He crossed his arms and tried to look stern.

Apparently, he failed in the effect as everyone laughed at him. Still, they dove into the offered menus and started making selections. Most stayed within the realms of the conventional, and Babana Splits, Dame Blanches, or just pain 'two scoops of flavor x' were noted down by Florean Fortescue.

"Just a question," Tonks said, still not having made her selection. "What's a 'Buddhist Nirvana' and why is it the most expensive item on the menu?"

Harry grinned; it looked like Tonks was going to try and make him regret picking up the tab.

Florean gave a soft laugh. "It's a bit of a joke," he explained. "A buddhist walks into the ice cream parlor and asks…" he trailed off, obviously hoping someone would get the joke and pick it up.

When it appeared that they were all just staring at him, he sighed. "The buddhist walks into the ice cream parlor and asks, 'make me one with everything'."

Harry laughed softly. "I get it, because buddhists want to be one with the universe."

"Exactly," Florean said. "Although the joke isn't funny when you have to explain it." He looked at Tonks, and added, "The Buddhist Nirvana is therefore a large bowl, with one scoop of my 153 different flavors, topped with whipped crème, chocolate sauce, and one measure of each of my different toppings."

Tonks licked her lips. "Sounds like Nirvana to me!" she decided. "I'll have one of those!"

"Can you even eat that much?" Cedric asked, stunned.

"No, but it'll be fun trying, plus, I need to get back at Harry for picking up the tab before I could," Tonks answered.

Florean, meanwhile, was giving Harry a surreptitious look. The young demigod grinned at the proprietor, and nodded. "If that's what she wants," he answered. "You may want to bring extra spoons, because I think the remainder is going to be shared – and I think most of us will be skipping dinner."

"My parents are going to be so put out," Hermione moaned.

"Does that mean you don't want to take part?" Harry asked.

Hermione looked stricken. "Of course not! It just means I will need to partake enough to make it worth the hassle, that's all!"

They all laughed. "That's our Hermione," Susan said with a giggle, throwing an arm around the Gryffindor's shoulders.

The regular orders were out quickly, but Tonks' 'Nirvana' took a few minutes longer. When Fortescue did finally make it, everyone stopped eating.

"You know, we should have just ordered one of those for all of us to share," Cedric commented when the transparent crystal bucket made it to the table.

"Mine!" Tonks crowed, laughing like a stereotypical 1930's-era movie villain. All she missed was a mustache to twirl.

They all laughed at her, and dug into their treats.

As they ate, Hermione turned toward Harry. "Say, Harry, considering how your life goes, do you know anything about those couple hundred missing people they found over in New York? The papers said something about missing people being found after they were taken by cultists or somesuch."

Harry blinked, and immediately made the connection. "Let me tell you a little story about a warehouse and a monster called Medusa…"

When he finished his tale, the entire group was staring at him. Finally, Cedric broke the silence first. "I was there for the mansion thing, so I have historic evidence. Otherwise, I'd call him full of shite," he said to the table at large.

"Plus, he had the audacity to bring proof, in the form of a princess rescued from a cave," Hermione added. "Or, should I say, the proof had the audacity to bring itself?"

"I wasn't there for a mansion, or the rescued princess," Tonks picked in. "So I'll call him full of shite for you."

"Thank you," Cedric said seriously, nodding gratefully.

"Seriously, why am I friends with you guys again?" Harry mock-complained, before the entire group burst into laughter, taking him with them.

0000

An hour or two later, the party had broken up and the various witches and wizards had gone their separate ways, taking their parents, aunts, and other assorted authority figures with them.

Harry, always happy to help out a friend, was walking with Luna toward Flourish and Blotts, the main bookshop on Diagon Alley.

"Thank you for helping me, Harry," she said. "You've been through this before, so you have experience."

Harry grinned. "It's just the books on the booklist, Luna," he commented with a shrug. "I doubt that there's much for me to advise you on."

Luna's smile turned mischievous. "Probably not, but this way you're around for when I ask you to carry those heavy books for me."

Harry snorted, not having seen that one coming. "You can use magic to lighten them, Luna."

"You can," she returned, her smile widening. "I am an eleven-year-old who hasn't had a single lesson. Plus, there's the whole 'restriction on underaged sorcery' law, so even if I could, I still shouldn't."

Harry shrugged, then nodded agreeably. "Very well, I will play porter. Wouldn't be the first time, either," he added the latter, remembering how he'd 'ported' his friends' luggage on the Hogwarts express last year.

"Thank you," Luna said, grabbing his arm. "See? Isn't it easier when you just agree with me?"

Harry snorted. "I have a teacher who's teaching me in the style of the ancient Greek philosophers. They elevated the debate to an art form, and she would be most disappointed in me if I just rolled over when told something."

Luna nodded thoughtfully. "That does seem likely," she admitted with a giggle.

For a few moments, they walked in silence, before Luna looked at him. "You're not going to complain about me holding your arm?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "It's like a half-hug. Why would I ever turn those down?" he asked in return.

The blonde witch nodded thoughtfully, before switching subjects. "Are you planning an end-of-vacation trip this year?" she asked.

The young demigod nodded in reply. "Planning to, yes. I'm not sure of a destination yet. I still have thoughts about Egypt or India, but nothing concrete."

"Can we go to Finland?" Luna asked.

"Finland?" Harry asked. "I don't think I've thought of Finland." He thought for a few moments on everything he knew of the country. "It's a beautiful country, from what I know of it. Why Finland?"

"There should be Crumple-Horned Snorkacks there," Luna said. "So I thought that a day spent trekking through the vast forests of Finland, looking for them, could be fun."

Immediately, Harry's brain made various connections. Spending a day in the woods was always good by him, and if they were going to be looking for cryptids, then he knew just who he could ask, too. "Could be lots of fun," he said. "Let's do it!"

"Yay!" Luna cheered, squeezing his arm before releasing it.

They were not far from the bookshop when they were halted by a couple of other people shopping on that particular day and at that particular time.

"Hello, Harry," Draco greeted. He nodded at Luna, and not knowing her, said, "Miss. Please, allow me to introduce my father, Lucius Malfoy."

"Mister Malfoy, a pleasure to meet you," Harry said, politely, while Luna merely nodded. "This is my friend, Luna Lovegood." He tried not to think about the fact that this was the man that had filled Draco's mind with garbage, and instead tried to focus on the fact that this man was Draco's father. Upsetting the man could spell trouble for his friend, and Harry was nothing if not devoted to protecting his friends.

"A pleasure to meet you too, Mister Potter, Miss Lovegood," Malfoy Senior replied amicably, before looking at Luna."Lovely day for shopping, isn't it?"

Harry nodded agreeably. "Definitely," he agreed. "I'm helping Luna with her supplies and books and such."

"One should always strive to help one's friends," Malfoy Senior agreed thoughtfully. For a few moments, he was silent, studying Harry. "I have also heard that, while we agree on this point, we disagree on others."

Draco flinched, looked at his feet for a moment, then resolutely looked away. Harry caught a flash of his friend's shame-faced expression.

Harry didn't blame him. Adults. He sighed silently, then nodded confidently at Draco's father. "I was raised to believe that one shouldn't judge a people by the individual, nor the individual by their people. I simply tried to explain this to Draco."

"I see," Malfoy Senior said, rubbing his chin. No doubt the intense look the man sported was meant to be intimidating, but Harry was used to dealing with crabby, upset, or otherwise angry gods. Those were intimidating.

"Father, please," Draco whispered.

Lucius blinked, his posture changing. "Draco is correct, this isn't the place nor time to have a debate like this. Perhaps you would consent to joining us for dinner one evening? We may continue our… discussion… then."

Harry blinked, not having expected the man to simply invite him around for dinner. Unfortunately, as adopted son of the Goddess of Home and Hearth, he couldn't simply ignore or dismiss such an invitation, and so he nodded. "It would be my pleasure," Harry accepted gracefully. "And perhaps I may be able to return the favor one day."

Lucius, obviously having expected Harry to decline, looked surprised for a moment at both the acceptance and the tentative invite. "And it would be our pleasure to accept your invitation as well, Mister Potter," the man said. "Unfortunately, time is moving away from us, so we should be getting home."

"Of course, Mister Malfoy," Harry said. "It was nice to meet you." He looked at his friend. "It was nice to see you again, Draco."

"Harry," Draco said, looking relieved at something. Whether it was because Harry and his father hadn't made a scene, or because Harry had agreed to come to dinner, or something else, Harry didn't know.

"Well, that was interesting," Luna said after both Malfoys had left.

"It's not Draco's fault who his dad is," Harry answered. "And if I need to go to dinner with them to keep Draco out of trouble, then that's what I'll do."

Luna looked at him. "Why would Draco be in trouble?" she asked.

"Because I talked him out of the racist bullshit his dad was shoveling down his throat," Harry answered. "And, from what I've just seen, I don't think his dad liked that."

Luna nodded thoughtfully. "Quite likely," she replied. "However, having dinner with them, at their house, may be…" she leveled off, obviously thinking of a word. "Dangerous," she finally stated flat-out, abandoning propriety and political correctness.

"I can take care of myself," Harry answered. "Like I said, it's to help Draco out. I don't want him getting in trouble because his dad is a racist ass."

Luna snorted, and grabbed his arm again. "Come on, let's go to the bookstore. You have some books to carry."

Harry chuckled, and hooked his arm so she could get a better grip. If Luna wanted to play, then who was he to deny her?

As they approached Flourish and Blotts, they found they weren't the only ones who wanted to visit the bookshop. A large crowd was jostling for position outside the doors, trying to make their way inside.

"That wasn't there this morning," Harry declared at the crowd, as well as at a large banner that had mysteriously appeared, stretched across the upper-floor windows.

He blinked at it, for a moment angry at the inanimate object for being written in the Queen's own English rather than Greek characters.

"GILDEROY LOCKHART will be signing copies of his autobiography MAGICAL ME, today from 12:30pm to 4:30pm," Luna read helpfully. "Well, it seems I will need to return on a different day to get my books. That crowd spells nothing good."

Harry nodded; he didn't feel comfortable with crowds at the best of times, and getting pushed and shoved while trying to make their way through a bookshop sounded like a nightmare. "Unless you really want to get your books today," he offered. Everything for a friend, after all.

Even if this was cutting it close.

Luna giggled. "If I were a mean sort of girl, I would actually make you go in just for my own amusement. Thankfully, I'm not, so I'll come back tomorrow."

Harry grinned and threw an arm around her shoulders. This was why he liked Luna Lovegood. She was awesome.

"That's precisely why I like you," he told her his exact thoughts. "You're awesome. And you're not at all mean enough to make me go inside that crowd."

"Come, let's see if we can do something else," Luna decided and turned to walk away. Harry nodded, and followed her. Spending some more time shopping was preferable to dealing with that crowd. "After all, I still need to have you carry something. You promised."

Harry replied by bursting out laughing.

0000

Harry emerged from the floo with the casual skill of someone who fire-traveled multiple times per day for years on end.

"Hope you had fun," Sirius greeted him with a lecherous kind of grin. "I heard you and your harem had some fun at Fortescue's."

Harry ignored his godfather's perverted sense of humor with the ease of practice. "We couldn't get in the bookstore, someone was sighing autographs and the place was packed. Luna's going to go back tomorrow, so she had to find something else for me to carry. After all, I promised to carry her books so it was only fair."

Sirius laughed again. "And that's why you have a harem at age 12."

"I don't have a harem," Harry replied before he could stop himself. He sighed internally, he'd engaged his godfather, it would only encourage the man. "Besides, I think Justin, Cedric, Michael, and Anthony would be very upset – the only way men were allowed in a harem was through extensive modification."

Sirius started laughing, then realized what Harry was saying, crossed his legs, and winced. "Let's change the subject," his godfather announced as if he were the adult in the conversation. "There's someone I'd like you to meet."

"Oh?" Harry asked, following Sirius to the drawing room. "Have you been stashing away some mythical girlfriend and are now finally ready to reveal her to the closest thing you have to a son?"

Two could play that game, after all, and Harry knew that his godfather enjoyed teasing banter like nobody else. Besides… it was fun, he had to admit.

Quietly.

To himself.

Before Hestia caught wind and looked disappointedly at him for the subject matter.

Sirius laughed. "No, nothing of the sort," he said, throwing a casual arm over Harry's shoulders. Sirius wasn't the type to have in-depth conversations about his emotions, and the shoulder-hug was probably the closest he would ever come to admitting that Harry was, indeed, the closest thing he had to a son.

"No, it's an old childhood friend. He's a bit shy. And for being so smart, he's also rather stupid, and he's been avoiding you."

"Avoiding me?" Harry asked, curiously. "Why? Is he secretly evil and convinced I'll smite him on sight?"

Sirius snorted. "No, he has some… personal issues. Issues that, as a good friend, I shouldn't talk about without his permission."

"I… don't see," Harry answered honestly.

"You'll see," Sirius teased back as he pulled the door to the drawing room open. A scruffy, harried-looking man was seated in one of the comfy chairs, appearing nervous. "Remus, finally, this is Harry. Harry, finally, this is Remus Lupin. Old childhood friend of myself and your parents."

Harry smiled at the nervous-looking man, and held out his hand. "It's nice to finally meet you, Mister Lupin," he said, politely, playing along with Sirius.

Remus shot an annoyed look at Sirius that immediately put him in Harry's good graces, before reaching out and shaking Harry's hand. "it's nice to meet you too, Harry. Please, call me Remus."

As they shook hands, Harry's probability senses pinged. Immediately, Harry clamped down on the hand. "Are you alright, Remus?" he asked. "You look… ill." And the man really did look ill; now that he was up close and personal, Harry could see the sunken state of Remus' eyes, the sallowness of his skin, and he could feel the heat coming from the man's hand.

"Told you the kid was perceptive," Sirius said. "You may as well tell him, he'll figure it out for himself."

Remus shot Sirius another annoyed look. "The kid doesn't have a mean bone in his body. You can trust him," Sirius pressed.

Remus sighed, retrieved his hand from Harry's grip, and retreated two paces to deliberately put himself outside of hand-to-hand reach. For all intents and purposed, the man looked as if he expected Harry to either scream and run, or to physically attack him.

Harry raised an eyebrow at that; he didn't scare easily, and he only attacked when he had no other option. What could be so devastating that Remus would expect him to react in such a way?

"I'm a werewolf," Remus finally admitted.

Harry blinked; of all the things he expected, Lycanthropy wasn't one of them. "Really?" he asked, suddenly excited. Remus looked floored, not having expected excitement. In the background, Sirius started chuckling.

"Ehm… yes?" Remus confirmed, sounding as confused as he looked.

"That's awesome!" Harry exclaimed excitedly. In the background, Sirius was belly-laughing and sounding as if he were ready to fall out of his chair doing so. "Do you have enhanced senses? Can you see in the dark? Are you really a lot stronger than most people? Are you really invulnerable except to silver?"

Remus blinked. "Ehm… I can smell a bit better than most people, I can't see in the dark worth a damn, I'm strong for my size but not unreasonably so, and I can get injured just fine, but I heal quickly. I do have a deathly allergy to silver."

"Awesome," Harry replied.

"No, not really," Remus grunted. While being met with excitement was better than being yelled at or discriminated against, it grated on his nerves nonetheless. "Three days per month I am forced to transform at night. It is incredibly painful, and until recently I lost my mind doing so. I almost ate someone at one point."

Sirius suddenly stopped laughing, and Harry could almost feel the guilt coming from that corner of the room. "Thankfully, there's the Wolfsbane potion now so I don't lose my mind anymore, but the entire process is still incredibly painful. Plus, I have to be careful not to bite or scratch someone because it will transfer the curse. And it is a curse."

Harry blanched, then swallowed. "Mister Lupin, I'm sorry," he said, guiltily. "I only know of Lycanthropy through fiction. I'm sorry if I offended you."

Remus sighed. "It's alright, Harry. At least you didn't yell at me to go away, or call me 'beast', like most people seem to do."

Harry looked sorrowful. "Still, my reaction was inappropriate." He really did feel guilty, and promised himself that he would look into werewolves. Who knew, maybe he could find something that would help.

Remus' lips twitched into a smile. "I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me for avoiding you," he bargained.

"Deal!" Harry said, sticking his hand out. Remus Lupin finally laughed, and shook it. "Nice to meet you, Harry."

"Nice to meet you too, Remus."

From the corner, Sirius let out a drawn-out 'awww'.

Harry and Remus gave him an almost identical look of annoyance. It only caused Sirius to laugh harder.

0000

"You know where My Lady is," Celyn said as she waved Harry into the Hunters' camp.

"Thanks, Miss Celyn!" Harry answered her, before turning and walking toward Artie's tent. He had a question to pose, one that he had spent most of the night re-writing over and over in his mind.

After all, he wanted it to be an invitation without coming across as something else, and he knew that Artie could be… prickly… about such things.

He wavered and prevaricated in front of Artie's tent for a good few moments, then scratched at the flap to request entrance.

"Enter, finally," Artie declared, a note of humor in her tone. "I was wondering when you'd scratch."

Harry grinned in a self-deprecating manner as he entered. Before he could say something, a second occupant caught his eye. "Miss Zoë! You're better!"

Zoë laughed. "Milady put me on bedrest and demanded two trainees watch over me. 'T was not the most enjoyable experience," she replied. "Thankfully, it did work and proved to Milady that I was ready to resume my duties."

"Which will probably bring us to the reason you've chosen to visit, I think," Artie said, leaning back in her comfy chair, away from the desk at which she had been doing paperwork.

Zoë being back completely took out the reason for Harry's question, and left him floored. "Ehm… well… I wanted to ask something," he finally said.

"Such is usually the case," Artie teased. "Unless you come to deliver baked goods."

He grinned and put a self-shrinking box on Artie's desk. It was something that seemed in regular use in the magical world, considering how cheap they were. He spoke the command-word, allowed it to expand itself, and opened it.

Artie didn't even bother saying anything as she dug into a slice of chocolate cake that mysteriously appeared in front of her.

Harry grinned at her, then cut off a piece for Zoë. "Anyway, my question comes with a bit of background," he said. Artie waved him on, enjoying her cake too much to speak. "Usually, before the vacation ends and we all have to go back to school, I organize a small trip for some of my friends. A city-trip to Rome or Paris, or a visit to Mayan ruins, something like that."

Artie took another slice. "Keep going," she said. "You have until the end of the cake."

"My lady," Zoë said, disappointedly.

Artie remained silent as she ate, so Harry continued. "This year, a friend of mine, Luna, has asked to go to Finland. She wanted to spend the day looking for cryptids."

Artie looked up from the cake. "So, I thought of someone who needed some time off, and who would probably enjoy spending the day blundering through the forests of Finland looking for cryptids."

Artie looked at Zoë rather pointedly. "Exactly," Harry confirmed. "I mean, we're more than likely not to find anything and Miss Zoë would probably enjoy watching my friends blundering through the forests. And just in case there is something, she's the second-greatest hunter I know. If anyone can find a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, it's her."

Zoë looked offended. Artie looked offended. "Who could be a better hunter than my old friend?" Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, demanded. "I trained her myself!"

"You, of course," Harry replied blithely, causing Huntress and Goddess to share a look that promised each other they were never to speak of this ever again. "Of course, that was before I knew that Miss Zoë was better. She probably doesn't need a vacation now. I just wanted to ask if I could invite her along, but since she's better, that's likely to be 'no'."

"I am right here," Zoë reminded him.

"I know, but I'm talking with Artie about you, not with you," Harry replied with a grin. Zoë leveled a look. His next training session with her was bound to be a doozy. He grinned wider. She smirked.

"I see my old friend's lack of time and enforced downtime hasn't damaged your camaraderie," Artie declared at the non-verbal communication. Her fingers drummed on the desktop as she thought for a moment. "So, you basically wanted to ask my permission to invite my Lieutenant along on a daytrip to Finland to look for bigfoot."

"Crumple-Horned Snorkacks," Harry helpfully corrected.

Artie gave him a look. "Cryptids," she stated, compromising. "I can see where my old friend would be both resting and useful. Your friends are untrained and therefore unlikely to set any kind of pace that would be a challenge or exhausting to my old friend, and as you say, in the off chance there is something to find, she can find it."

The Goddess of the Hunt looked at Zoë, who looked impassive. "Very well," she finally said. "You may ask her along."

"Thanks, Artie!" Harry said, sneaking around the desk and stealing himself a hug from the Goddess of the Hunt. With the desk still between them, convenient that, he looked at Zoë. "Miss Zoë? Would you like to come along on a relaxing trip to the forest of Finland on the last Saturday of August? We'll be looking for cryptids, and I think you'll enjoy making fun of the rest of us blundering through the woods like tourists."

Zoë tried to look impassive, but a snort escaped her lips at the request, posed as if she hadn't been there in the room all along, and if she hadn't already known everything.

The Huntress crossed her arms and gave Harry another look. "I suppose I should, as thy teacher. 'T would be most unbecoming if thou wert to learn bad habits should I not be there to correct thee."

"Thanks, Miss Zoë!" Harry cheered.

0000

Harry arrived at the Grove of Dodona; it was empty save for Rhea, who apparently had set up a large-scale industrial open-air kitchen, including a propane-powered deep-frier.

"Hi Granny Rhea!" Harry greeted her, giving her a hug when she pulled herself away from her prep-work. Again, he was wrapped in that titanic strength of the former Queen of the Titans when she hugged him back.

"Harry!" she greeted after she released him. "The cook-out doesn't start for another couple of hours. You're very early."

"I told you I wanted to help," Harry answered cheekily, pulling his jacket off and hanging it from a nearby oak-limb as if it were a conveniently placed coatrack. "So, I'm helping."

Rhea smiled indulgently. "Very well," she said, motioning toward a barrel filled with all sorts of assorted vegetables. "You can start peeling vegetables."

"Alright!" Harry cheerfully agreed, pulling Godslayer into being and turning it into a razor-sharp chef's knife.

Oooh! Time to level my vegetable chopping skills! Godslayer announced as Harry started peeling.

Half an hour later, he was still peeling and chopping and Godslayer had descended into full-on madness. Die tomatoes! Bleed your last life's blood all over the chopping board as I bisect you! Harry struggled to keep from laughing as his deadly weapon swore eternal vengeance against each and every vegetable that crossed the cutting board.

Rhea, meanwhile, smiled. She had expected him to give up within minutes of being assigned low-level grunt work, but Harry had persevered and, from the look of things, he was enjoying himself immensely.

She nodded to herself, it seemed that her grandson truly did enjoy cooking in all its facets.

Harry wiped down his cutting board after having bisected and dissected a barrel full of bell peppers, celery, onions, tomatoes, and various other vegetables. Before he could turn to Rhea and ask for his next job, she called him over.

For the next hour, Rhea poured knowledge into his ear, teaching by example as she cooked. Harry quietly absorbed each and every word – as he realized immediately that Rhea and Hestia had very different styles of cooking.

Both had a gift, a knack for cooking that he wasn't sure he quite understood himself, but their methods, their recipes, were different on a fundamental level.

When Hestia taught him a recipe, it came with precise measurements, and precise times. It was a recipe that was easy to follow, no matter how complex, and it took most, if not all, of the thinking out of it.

When Rhea taught him, she spoke in mythical measurements of 'pinches', 'smidges', and 'smidgeons' – whatever the difference may be between a 'smigde' and a 'smidgeon'. Other than a 'smidgeon' obviously being smaller than a 'smidge'.

Hestia cooked with her heart and her mind.

Rhea cooked with her soul. Harry had always understood and accepted Hestia's declaration of an artist putting their heart in their creation, and had, in fact, explained it to Artie at one time.

This was the first time he came across someone who put their soul into something. Suddenly, he realized what Rhea was doing. She was adjusting the recipe right there and then, fine-tuning it for the circumstances of the day, the freshness and potency of the ingredients, and so forth.

He fell in love with cooking all over again.

"Now, you try," Rhea told him. Harry blinked at her. "You've been listening to me. Now it's your turn," the former Queen of the Titans said, pointing to a pot that hadn't been there five seconds before. "You know where everything is, you just saw me do it. Let's see how much attention you've been paying."

Harry nodded, grabbed the pot, and started cooking.

At first, he was used to Hestia's style of recipes and he tried to replicate Rhea's example exactly.

Only to realize, five minutes later, that it wasn't going to work. His pot was smaller, and even if he divided the amounts, the balance would be off. Plus, something was wrong. The taste felt… different. The ingredients felt different.

He drew a breath, and tried to let go.

He tasted, tried, experimented, and went to find his own balance of flavors, using Rhea's example as inspiration. In the end, he had a result that tasted absolutely divine – only a different kind of divine to Rhea's example. Feeling as if he had failed, Harry's shoulders slumped at the mere thought of not having succeeded in recreating Rhea's recipe.

The titaness tasted. Her features softened and a smile appeared on her lips. "Perfect," she said.

Harry looked confused. "But… it's different."

"Exactly," Rhea said. "It's different, but you cooked it with your heart and your soul, and it tastes of you, because you are the one that cooked it. Your ingredients differed. Your pot differed. Even the temperature of your fire differed. Every time you cook, Harry, things change. Cooking isn't about just following a recipe. It's about adjusting – right there and then." She looked proudly at him.

"It's perfect. You understood exactly what I was trying to teach you." She touched his chest, where his heart was. "In here, you understood. You'll go far, Harry."

"Thanks, Granny Rhea," he whispered, feeling himself overcome.

"Come, let me show you how I make my Jambalaya," she told him while ruffling his hair. He scowled; why did every woman he knew go after his hair like that?

Hours later, the time of the cookout was approaching. As Harry turned to Rhea, she shushed him. "You just enjoy the cookout, I have everything in hand," she told him.

"Alright," Harry accepted. "I'll just go home and change. I know Hestia probably wants me in something fancy."

Rhea laughed softly. "She should learn to relax every now and then," she said, teasingly. "Just a jeans and a t-shirt is fine. It's a cookout, not a formal dinner."

Harry grinned. "Thanks, Granny Rhea!" he said. "See you in a bit!" He walked toward the fire and traveled.

Half an hour later, dressed in comfortable jeans and a new t-shirt, Harry was talking and laughing and enjoying his time with his friends from Camp, including Silena, Annabeth, Percy, and Clarisse.

Considering that lions were Rhea's sacred animal, he'd even brought Nemmy along. The Nemean Lion had, immediately upon meeting Rhea, declared itself her guard-cat and was now shadowing her. Rhea had laughed, given him a firm petting, and accepted the fact that she now had a guardian lion.

"I'm still nervous," Silena admitted finally. "Way too many gods too close together."

"As long as they don't turn on us, it'll be hilarious to see them fighting each other!" Clarisse declared with a big smile.

"Let's hope we don't get turned into collateral damage," Annabeth muttered.

"Granny Rhea won't let them," Harry said, confidently. Said confidence coming from having just witnessed Granny Rhea diffuse a impending argument between Artie and Aphrodite. He waved at Poseidon, who had just arrived along with his wife, Amphitrite. "Hey Percy, your dad's here, if you want to go say 'hi'."

Percy looked interested, before realizing that his father with there with his wife, and for once the clueless demigod had a clue. "Maybe later, when I can catch him by himself."

"Good plan, Kelphead," Annabeth teased.

"Thanks, Wise Girl," Percy retorted, not even sounding sarcastic about it. Which, in Harry's opinion, made it even more funny.

Suddenly, the small group became aware of the fact that older demigods had started arriving – demigods that had graduated from Camp years, sometimes decades, before.

Including a set of Sons of Apollo that they hadn't seen in quite some time.

"Hiya kids!" Jack – or Jim – greeted as he and his twin brother approached the group. "How's tricks?"

Harry stared at the twins for a few moments, then looked at Annabeth and Silena. "Do you know these gentlemen? They look expectant, as if we're supposed to know them."

The two Guys looked floored for a moment.

"Now that you mention it, they do look familiar," Annabeth replied, quick on the uptake as always. "From the hair and the eyes, I think they're related to Lord Apollo."

Silena nodded. "They bear a striking resemblance to some friends we used to have, but that was years ago and they faded from memory."

"Ha-ha," Jim – or Jack – replied. "Very funny."

Before anyone could reply, another Son of Apollo joined them. "Hey Guys, kids," Louis greeted. "I couldn't resist bringing the band back together." He looked at Percy. "Even if it has extra members. Hiya, I'm Louis."

Percy shook hands with the older Son of Apollo. "Percy," he replied. "Do you know why the others are pretending not to know you?"

"Because these jerks graduated, went off to college, and completely forgot about us," Silena said with a jerk of her thumb in the direction of the Guys and Louis. "So, we've forgotten all about them in retaliation."

Harry chuckled. "Let's not drive the joke too far," he suggested. "Percy, meet Jack and/or Jim, twins of Apollo. Call them 'Guys' as it messes with their fun when they try to switch positions. And Louis you know by now. Guys, this is Percy, Son of Poseidon."

Hands were shaken, and introductions were made. Moments later, Annabeth was grilling the three older Sons of Apollo on college.

Harry shared a look with Silena, Clarisse, and Percy, and decided to keep quiet. Let Annabeth's interrogation be their punishment for not keeping in touch.

Half an hour later, the clearing in the Grove of Dodona had expanded massively with the hundreds of major and minor deities that had trooped in, along with all their living demigods.

Harry, never a fan of crowds at the best of times, had stubbornly decided he was there with his friends and only his friends, and stuck with them through thick and thin. Just the throng of people around him, the white noise of hundreds of voices all speaking through each other, the sheer pressure of existence pressing down on him made his head hurt.

Thankfully, Rhea soon ensured that the meal portion of the cookout started, by conjuring a couple of tables.

One large, tall 'parents' table for the gods in their godly forms, and one normal-sized 'kids' table for the demigods.

Harry was fine by hiding among his friends, none of whom looked any better at the sheer mass of people than he did.

The food had been set up in a buffet-style, where everybody got to grab what they wanted. Somehow, food ran low but dishes never seemed to run out. Harry suspected Rhea had something to do with that particular low-key piece of magic.

He grinned; Rhea was great.

They ate, joked, talked, shared stories, and accepted the apologies of the Guys and Louis, after Annabeth was done grilling them about going to university.

Meanwhile, Rhea was sitting at the head of the 'parents' table, enjoying the time spent with her extended family. She knew she had a large one, but it wasn't until they had all gathered that she realize just how extended it was.

She loved every moment of it, and counted it as the best thing to happen to her in the last several thousand years.

Of course Zeus, as King of the Gods, had acquired the seat on her right, a place of honor at her side. On her left side sat Hestia, as the eldest she, too, should hold a place of honor.

Besides, having Hestia close at hand made it so easy to tease her straitlaced eldest daughter.

Zeus, meanwhile, was spewing vitriol regarding the grandson that had given her the idea for the cookout in the first place. She had heard her youngest son disliked Harry, but she couldn't fathom why.

"He is a sweet boy," Hestia defended. "He exemplifies my domain like no other before him."

"So you say," Zeus growled. "I have seen no evidence of this."

Rhea recognized when her eldest daughter was about to lose patience, and instead attempted to diffuse the situation. "You seem quite partial to the stew, Zeus," she broke in on the conversation. "How many plates of it have you had? Four? Five?"

Zeus looked confused at her. "Five," he said. "And of course I like it. You cooked it."

Rhea's smile turned rather shark-like. "No, I didn't," she said.

Zeus blinked. "You mean…"

"I gave Harry an example. He cooked it, yes," Rhea confirmed, a part of her enjoying the squirming Zeus was doing.

"You are truly passing on your recipes to Harry?" Hestia asked in the sudden silence that was descended upon their side of the table.

"Harry truly gets it," Rhea said. "He demonstrated that this morning. As such, it's not as much me passing on my recipes, as it is me showing him how I do things, and then letting him try his hand. Like with the stew."

Hestia looked proud. "I'm glad to hear Harry is continuing to learn new things," she said.

Zeus remained sullenly quiet, his arms crossed, looking at his plate as if it had personally betrayed him. "So there you have it, Zeus," Hestia said. "Harry truly embodies my domain. I don't understand why you insist on keeping this feud going. Harry extended his hand to you on several occasions, even after you cursed his mother."

Rhea swallowed, and suddenly silence descended upon the 'parents' table; each and every deity present, major and minor, felt the thrum of energy coming from the head of the table. "Pardon?" Rhea asked, her voice flat.

"Zeus cursed Tyche to never speak to Harry, nor answer his prayers," Hestia tattled, sounding as if she thought Rhea knew this already.

Food and beverages near the Queen of the Titans froze solid. "Zeus?" Rhea demanded, and it was an edict.

"It was justice, Mother," Zeus defended, as if that closed the matter. By now, the 'kids' table, too, had silenced, everyone aware that something was brewing over at the head of the 'parents' table.

Rhea's hand snapped out, quicker than a striking cobra, and latched on to Zeus' ear.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! My ear! My ear!" the King of the Gods started rising from his chair as Rhea pulled on the appendage. And yet, no matter how the King of the Gods came to his feet, then pushed up to his toes, he couldn't relieve the pressure.

Rhea was a Titan. She loomed over him, despite his godly size, and her eyes burned as they beheld him. "I am the Titan of Motherhood," she declared. "And you would maintain such a curse on a mother in my presence?"

"But she – !" Zeus said, sounding more 'whining little boy' than 'King of Olympus'.

"I don't care," Rhea interrupted him. "You will lift this curse from the poor girl, right now."

Tyche sunk lower in her chair, feeling oddly smaller at being called a 'poor girl' by the Mother of the Gods.

"But –!" Zeus protested again.

"I asked you to do something," Rhea stated. "And I note you have not done as I asked. Am I to assume you did not hear me, or am I to assume that I must punish you more severely!?"

Zeus opened his mouth. Rhea cut him off. "It does not matter. I broke it myself." She looked at Tyche, and the thunderous, titanically angry visage of the Queen of the Titans turned back into the kindly face of a sweet grandmother. "Go talk to your son, Sweetheart. It's alright, now."

Tyche's eyes grew big. She jumped out of her chair, managed to make a perfect curtsy, and said, "Thank you, Lady Rhea."

"Granny Rhea is fine, dear," Rhea said grandmotherly, giving Tyche a smile to match. She turned her look back to Zeus.

The King of the Gods blanched. "Zeus," Rhea stated, still holding on to Zeus' ear. "You and I are going for a walk in the Grove, where you will explain your actions to me. If they're not as bad as I think they are, I may be convinced to let you chose your own switch."

Zeus blanched further. "But Mother, I'm King of the Gods!"

"I will not touch your kingship," Rhea stated, turned and yanking Zeus along by the ear. "You will still be King after I'm done with you." She started walking toward the treeline, dragging a yelping King of the Gods with her.

Poseidon and Hades, seated directly across from each other, shared a silent look. Like brothers the world over, when a brother got in trouble with the parents, they knew better than to comment lest they join in the trouble.

The entire clearing was silent for a few moments.

Tyche, meanwhile, had shifted into her 'Lily Potter' aspect, and approached Harry. For a few moments, son and mother looked uncomfortably at one another. Then, Lily tentatively opened her mouth.

"Hello Harry," she said, expecting to be struck mute. She wasn't.

Harry blinked, a wide smile appearing on his lips without him even thinking about it. "Hi, Mom," he replied, getting up from his chair.

The next moment, Lily was hugging him. He hugged her back. "HI Harry," she whispered in his hair as she held him.

If there were tears in the eyes of various females, they would never admit to it. If there were tears in the eyes of some males, they would deny it even more vehemently. Over at the 'parents' table, Hestia smiled at the reunion of mother and son.

"Come, let's go talk over there," Lily suggested, pointing to a side of the Grove that was unoccupied and far enough so that casual conversation wouldn't be overheard. Harry nodded, and followed. The last time he'd spoken, actually spoken, with his mother, things hadn't gone well. He had a second chance, and he was going to take it.

Poseidon and Hades grinned, and shared another look. "That was…" Poseidon started, trailing off, not really knowing what it was.

"Unexpected?" Hades offered. He found that he and Poseidon were getting along quite well, lately, a fact that confused them both.

"Unexpected," Poseidon agreed. "I don't think I've ever seen Mother that angry."

Hades nodded agreeably. "One forgets, after thousands of years, that Mother was Queen of the Titans."

Poseidon nodded and looked at their other siblings; Hera, Demeter, and Hestia each nodded thoughtfully.

"Zeus' behavior was bound to come back and haunt him at some point," Hera finally said. "Although I wasn't expecting Mother to be the one to do the haunting."

"His curse did go against Mother's domain," Hestia added, thoughtfully. "It was bound to upset her, although I definitely was surprised by the size of her upset."

"Which is precisely why you informed Mother," Demeter said with a grin. "Sneaky you. I didn't think you had it in you, Hestia. Well done. Very well done."

Hestia pursed her lips. "I honestly thought Mother already knew," she replied.

"Of course you did, Sister. Of course you did," Poseidon said with a grin.

Hades, Demeter, and Hera, shared a laugh. A moment later, a small giggle escaped the lips of Amphitrite and Persephone, who, as Poseidon's and Hades' wives, were seated next to their husbands.

Hestia pursed her lips further at the thought her family didn't believe her, but then she let it go and smiled. If it meant that her family was getting along, then it was fine with her that they didn't believe her.

Fifteen minutes later, the awkwardness had removed itself from the conversations going on at both tables, while Harry and Tyche-in-Lily-Potter-form were still talking in a quiet corner of the Grove of Dodona.

However, just as quickly as the first time, all conversations ground to a halt as Rhea emerged from the treeline, Zeus awkwardly shuffling along next to her. Returning to their positions at the table, Rhea looked at Zeus.

"I believe you have something to say, Zeus?" she asked as she sat down. Zeus shuffled even more awkwardly, and tried giving his mother a pleading look. The Queen of the Titans was as unmoving as the world.

"I… apologize… for interrupting everyone's meal," the King of the Gods ground out. "My behavior was… unacceptable. I promise… that it won't happen again."

"There you go, isn't that better?" Rhea asked as nobody dared say anything about Zeus' stilted and obviously half-hearted apology. "Now, I think you also have something else to say, correct?"

Zeus looked mutinous, and for a moment it appeared as if he would refuse. Then, Rhea lifted her eyebrows expectantly, and moved as if she were going to come out of her chair.

The implication was that she was going to drag him back to the treeline. Zeus swallowed, and looked at Tyche and Harry, who had drifted closer when Rhea and Zeus had reappeared out of the treeline.

The King of the Gods drew a breath, and fortified himself. "I apologize for my behavior," he ground out. "And I hope you can forgive me." It actually sounded painful to Zeus as he somehow managed to get the words across his lips.

Harry ignored the tone and chose to focus on the words, instead. He reminded himself that Hestia wanted everyone to get along, and now that the curse on his mother was undone, he wanted to get the whole thing over and done with. "I forgive you, Mister Zeus," he stated, bold as brass in the silence of the clearing. "Hestia wants everyone to get along and I now have my Mom back, and I know we all make mistakes. You apologized, so I'm accepting it."

Tyche looked flat-footed at her son, unable to believe the sheer balsiness of him as he spoke.

Rhea and Hestia smiled warmly at him, before Rhea clapped her hands. "Let's get back to our meal. I'm sure there won't be any further interruptions." Implied in the statement was that she would be very upset if there were any further interruptions.

"Zeus, sit down," she said to the King of the Gods, who was still standing awkwardly next to his seat.

"I… prefer to stand," Zeus muttered.

Rhea sighed. "Zeus, you're causing a scene. Sit down."

Zeus swallowed. "Yes, Mother," he said, deferentially, and slowly started to lower himself in his seat. The moment his buttocks made contact with the seat, he winced, and gingerly lowered himself until he sat completely. He shifted uncomfortably.

"There, that's better," Rhea said, completely ignoring his discomfort. She looked over the table. "More sweet tea, anyone?" she offered.

AN: my apologies for the delay in the release of this chapter. I fell down the rabbit-hole of Dragon's Dogma 2, and by the time I managed to drag myself out of it, we were May.

On the other hand, if anyone is looking for a pawn, Lexy is a well-trained, straightforward level 80 fighter, equipped with endgame equipment, and she speaks Elvish. I'm on Playstation, and my userid is enterprise1701_d. If you're lower level, shoot me a friend request so you can hire her without paying any Rift Crystals.