Harry Potter, Squatter
This story is a development out of one of my shuttlecraft, which in itself came out of a challenge posted by Gabriel Herroll. Thanks go to Thundramon for pointing out where I had originally read the idea!
Seven-year-old Harry Potter stared at the hundred-dollar note clutched in his small hand. This had to be a trick, right?
First, Uncle Vernon allows him to come along on his business trip to the United States, of all places. And then, after an especially rotten deal fell through, he told Harry he'd buy the boy's passport off him for a full hundred dollars!
When Harry produced said booklet, his uncle actually forked over the money as promised, right before he, Aunt Petunia, and Cousin Dudley got in the car and drove to the airport to go back home.
So here he was, standing on the doorstep of the hotel they had been staying in, clutching a hundred dollars, watching the car disappear into New York traffic.
To the average seven-year-old, this situation would be a combination of terrifying and exhilarating. Terrifying because his primary caregivers had just taken off, and exhilarating because one hundred dollars is a lot of money!
The car was out of sight now, lost in the sea of New York traffic, and Harry started to realize that he had money and that he was free of the Dursleys with no idea what to do now.
Turning, he started to walk with no destination in mind. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had kept him locked in the hotel room, just as they kept him locked up in their house, and this was his first chance to explore the big city.
Eight hours later, he was tired, hungry, and cold when the sun went down and he had no place to stay. He bought a hot dog (a real hot dog!) from a street vendor, and made short work of it, taking most of the hunger off.
He started to realize that he was in deep trouble, especially now that he had no passport, and his hundred dollars wasn't going to last him very long, especially as he couldn't keep eating hot dogs every day. No matter how good they were. And they had sauerkraut on them, so they were healthy, right?
He bought another hot dog from a different vendor. He loved how every street corner had them, what a big difference to Surrey!
The sun had completely disappeared by now, and he had no idea where he was going to sleep tonight.
For a moment, he thought about asking that pair of police officers he saw walking down the street. Then he noticed the guns, and he remembered how Uncle Vernon had warned him that police officers would put little orphans like him in jail, so he decided against the idea. Better be cold than in jail.
As Harry wandered through the city, trying not to be noticed, he kept his eyes open. Apparently, he wasn't the only one without a place to sleep, as he saw quite a few other people making do with cardboard boxes or newspapers.
The luckier ones had actual blankets!
Although sleeping in the big park looked a bit iffy to him. He was more inclined to try the alleys, as some other people did.
Two weeks later, Harry had no money, but he did have a large rolled up blanket under one arm. He hadn't had a bath in a while, or a meal, but he had learned quickly how to survive, and the large skips that dotted the back alleys were an ever-abundant source of both food and useful items. Harry wasn't picky, he hadn't been in a position to be picky at the Dursleys, and that experience helped him now on the streets.
As he wandered the streets of Manhattan, he had found some of the most iconic buildings in the world; the magnificent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the iconic flatiron building that everyone knew by sight but almost none knew by name, and finally… the Empire State building.
When he set his eyes upon it, something drew him closer; a gut feeling, an instinct, that told him that this building was more than it appeared to be and that its secrets would be revealed to him if only he knew patience.
He walked up to the building and waited in as nonchalant a fashion as he could, leaning against the façade with his rolled-up blanket tucked out of sight behind him.
He waited, patiently. He had learned to listen to his instincts, especially after the second night when he had ignored them. A strange man had offered him food and a place to sleep, and he had been hungry, and tired, and cold, and so he ignored the voice of his gut telling him to make a run for it.
Harry had barely escaped when the guy suddenly drew a knife after taking him to an apartment, and giving him food.
His side, where the knife had scraped, twitched in memory. The wound had closed but hadn't fully healed just yet.
That night, Harry had promised to himself to always listen to his gut. And his gut told him to wait outside this building, so he waited.
Suddenly, he felt the urge to go inside.
He frowned in confusion. Why would he need to go inside? They were going to catch him, hand him over to the police, and throw him in jail!
But, he had promised, so he pushed off the wall and calmly walked to the front doors of the Empire State.
Once inside, he took a good look around, and that same voice told him to walk to the waiting area across from the guard's station, as if he were waiting for someone to come down.
The guard station was manned lightly, apparently, and the single guard was busy with a visitor so Harry walked to the comfy seat and sat down. He picked up a magazine and hid himself behind it.
He heard the guard step out and walk the visitor to the elevator. The ting of the arriving cart made Harry look up from his magazine.
Wait, his instincts urged him. Wait!
The guard stepped into the elevator and did something, but the next moment, a very angry man stepped out from another elevator and called the security guard over. He was obviously trying to remain diplomatic in the face of the torrent of abuse hurled at him by the newcomer, while the visitor stood a few paces away, staring awkwardly at the confrontation.
Harry's instincts urged him on. He stood up and walked to the elevator abandoned by the guard, as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself.
A keycard was in the slot of the elevator, and a big, red, shiny, button was visible way at the top of the panel, reading '600'. Harry didn't need an incentive from his mysterious 'gut' to push it. Immediately, the doors closed and the elevator started climbing.
Raindrops keep falling on my head…
Harry tapped his foot impatiently. That elevator music was horrible. The numbers climbed. Harry's foot tapped. The music kept playing.
Finally, the elevator ding-ed its arrival, and the door slid open. Harry stepped out straight away, not a fan of tight and enclosed spaces since his stay in the cupboard underneath Aunt Petunia's staircase, and immediately wished he hadn't done so.
He was standing on a narrow stone path that was somehow suspended in the middle of the air. He could see straight down, Manhattan lying deep below, nice and safely on the Earth. He jumped up and down once, just to make sure that the mysterious force keeping up the ancient stone walkway wasn't going to let up just as he was crossing it.
Apparently, it wasn't, as the stones beneath his feet felt as solid as any walkway on earth was.
Just where was he?
Dragging his eyes away from the floating walkway, and Manhattan below it, he looked to where it went.
Apparently, the stone path ended in a set of white marble steps that curled around a cloud, up further into the sky. Somehow, Harry realized that this was both real and solid – and out of this world.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had always called him a freak when he did something freaky, like turn his teacher's hair blue without touching her, or growing his hair back overnight after Aunt Petunia cut it all off. A wide smile grew on Harry's face; this was a place for freaks like him! Here, he could do all the freaky stuff he wanted, and nobody would shout at him for it!
He looked back down at the cobblestone pathway beneath his feet, floating in mid-air. Was this the sort of stuff he would learn if he hung around here? That would be awesome!
He followed the pathway and started climbing the steps up the cloud, looking up to where they led as he did so. And he stopped climbing, his mouth dropping open on its own accord.
From the top of the clouds rose a mountain with a flat peak, the top of which was covered in snow. Attached to the side of the mountain were palaces, for the lack of a better word, all of them with multiple levels, and white marble columns and gilded terraces. Light was provided by braziers that held real fires instead of lights, braziers that edged winding roads that went in a crazy fashion up the slopes of the mountain. It looked like those pictures found in history books, built by Greeks and Romans, only shiny and new.
As Harry stared at the palatial city, he drew a deep breath and collected himself. He was going to stick out like a sore thumb, with his threadbare clothes and his lack of bathing.
Just what was he to do now? He looked back. The elevator had disappeared, obviously having been recalled to the ground floor. He realized that it would soon be returning with the man the guard was going to let up originally.
He had no choice, raced up the steps, into the city, and ducked into the nearest shadowy hiding spot he could find.
It took him quite some time to calm his racing heart, but when he finally managed to do so his stomach let him know that it hadn't eaten in quite some time. Clutching the blanket that he had managed to keep hold of in the excitement, Harry tried to figure out what to do next. The people here may be freaks like him, but their houses certainly showed that they had lots of money and they would not like him strolling through their magnificent city dressed the way he was.
He slipped from shadow to shadow, trying to explore the city without drawing attention to himself. He saw wonderful things, beautiful things, and signs of freakishness that made his heart ache with longing to try them himself.
He was sure that quit a few of the city's dwellers had noticed him, the curious eyes meeting his were a dead giveaway, but for some reason, most of them only spared him a look or two and then went on their way. Perhaps they believed him to be one of them, and playing a game of sorts? They certainly hadn't yelled at him to go away, thrown things at him, or turned him into a frog with their powers.
Slipping from the shadow, Harry decided to try and see what happened. He walked into the middle of the road, and acted as if he belonged there. All the people he came across, beautiful men and even more beautiful women, dressed in bright-white togas and adorned with gold, merely glanced curiously at him, and then decided to leave him be. He wasn't stopped for conversation, he wasn't shouted at to go away.
Wondering what that was about, he ignored the curious looks and followed the road he was on; to wherever it was lead him.
He arrived at a market square, filled with multi-colored tents that held vendors selling all kinds of things. His stomach rumbled, but Harry had no more money.
He watched how one man payed a vendor with gold.
Even if Harry still had some money, something told him these vendors weren't about to accept US Dollars. A pretty girl, four or five years older than him, paid with a handful of silver and bronze coins. Now what was he supposed to do?
The girl turned away from the vendor, having stowed her purchase, and looked curiously at him. He gave her a tentative smile. She looked surprised, then gave him a hesitant smile in return, and walked away.
Even if nobody talked to him, at least they weren't shouting. That was a bonus. He wondered what they were all thinking when they look at him. They certainly looked puzzled enough, but accepted him easily after a few curious looks.
Not having any money to buy food, he left the market and went in look of a good place to spread out his blanket and go to sleep. There were vast gardens, but they were filled with olive trees and rose bushes. One meant a lot of open space where he could be seen sleeping, the other means lots of thorns, so the gardens were out.
He stayed away from the top of the mountain, where the largest mansions were. He didn't want to push his luck. He followed the small roads, trying to see where they would lead, trying to figure out a good place to sleep.
On one of those roads, he arrived in an area that appeared to have been maintained far less. There was a lot of dust on the porches of these houses, and there was nobody around at all.
Looking around, he decided on a house at random, and tried the door.
Or rather, doors. Like with all other houses he'd seen, this house held a large double door as an entrance, like you'd see in a church. He tried them, and found them unlocked.
Looking left and right and left again just to be sure, he opened the door a crack and slipped inside.
He arrived in a large entrance hall that was at least two or three stories tall, and dominated by a large statue standing in the middle of it. He didn't know why, but somehow Harry felt as if the statue were glaring at him, and he felt incredibly unwelcome – a bit like opening the door and entering Aunt Petunia's house, Harry thought.
"Sorry to bother you, Mister Statue," Harry said, politely. He looked around, and found the inside of the house to be even more dusty than the streets outside had been. "But would it be alright if I stayed here for a bit?"
The oppressive feeling intensified, and Harry started to feel rather uncomfortable. He started to wonder if this statue was magical and if it were going to start shouting at him the way Aunt Petunia always did.
"I can clean the house while I stay here," Harry offered. "Aunt Petunia makes me do the house work, and I'm pretty good at it."
The oppressive feeling wavered, as if thinking things over, and suddenly Harry felt really warm and safe, and the house felt like it was welcoming him. It was something completely new to the boy, and it surprised him.
He smiled at the statue. "Thanks, Mister Statue."
Why did Harry suddenly feel like someone patted his back in approval?
Shaking off the strange feeling, Harry examined the statue a bit better. The man looked incredibly well built, better than anything Harry had ever seen in picture books. In fact, it looked as if Michelangelo had examined this statue and made a rather poor copy of it when he sculpted his 'David'.
The statue stood in a strange pose, with legs spread shoulder-wide, his left hand, balled into a fist, on his side, and the other arm outstretched, holding up a golden ball.
Looking further, the boy found that there was writing on the base upon which Mister Statue stood. To his surprise, the letters didn't seem to dance up and down, like the letters on the pages of the books in school did, but he still couldn't read them properly. They were weird, like someone had tried to write English letters while drunk.
Shaking off the strange lettering, he looked around the large entry hall. It ran to the top of the house and the roof was made of glass or something equally transparent as Harry could see the sky above, with the large sun beaming down.
The rest of the hall was pretty empty, except for a marble table that stood in front of Mister Statue.
Turning around, Harry walked passed the statue and deeper into the house. The rest was like a normal house, three stories, connected with stairs. The layout was open-floor, with the roof supported by columns. Everywhere he was, he could see Mister Statue's imposing form.
On the ground floor, there appeared to be a fireplace, complete with a pile of dried firewood next to it, as well as metal tools needed to poke the fire and clean it out.
There also appeared to be a cooking area, a dining area, and a sitting area. The various rooms were marked off with furniture of different kinds.
At the back of the house, right out the back door, was a covered-over area that held a large pool, fed by a waterfall coming from the large mountain that dominated the city. Yet more marble columns held up the roof. Unable to help himself, Harry leaned down and felt the water. It was warm. There must be hot springs or something nearby.
Going back inside, and up the stairs to the second floor, Harry was beyond ecstatic to find a real bed! As well as various cabinets to hold clothes and other supplies. To his disappointment, the closets and cabinets were empty. He'd have to find a way to get some supplies. He may be able to use the pool and waterfall outside to wash, but without soap, he wasn't about to get clean. Washing his clothes would be a problem, as well.
The second floor was open floor as well, with a large relaxing-and-sitting area flowing into the sleeping area, with another fireplace.
He climbed the stairs to the top floor, and found another bedroom! He could have a guest! Not that he had any friends to invite over, but now he had room for one if he ever got one! The top floor was furnished less richly than the second floor, and Harry guessed this was some kind of guest bedroom, even when Mister Statue had used the house himself.
For a few moments, he leaned against the railing that separate the top floor from the large atrium, staring at Mister Statue's back. He wondered who had designed the place, as this definitely didn't fit any norms he knew of, and it definitely wasn't something he'd design himself.
The place didn't even have a bathroom! Well, other than the hot pool out back, and that was only for washing himself. He didn't see any electricity, nor any appliances to do laundry with, nor did he see a toilet. That was going to get awkward.
His stomach grumbled, and Harry pushed away from the railing. Making his way downstairs, he kept an eye out for cleaning utensils; he was determined to keep his promise to Mister Statue and having a broom or a mop would help.
He didn't find anything, unfortunately. Harry sighed; this was going to be a problem. The house held furniture – very comfortable furniture – but was lacking everything that he needed to make actual use of it. No bathroom, no utensils, no appliances, not even a bar of soap.
The cupboards in the kitchen were as bare as the cabinets in the bedrooms had been. Harry sighed, of course they were bare. Who knew how long it had been since the house had actually been used?
Looks like he'd have to go dumpster diving.
He walked to the front doors, and turned to face the statue. "Hi Mister Statue," he chirped. "I'll be right back. I just have to go and dig up some food. Maybe I can even find an old mop or a broom to get started on cleaning the house."
He didn't feel anything out of the ordinary, and just waved at the statue as he left, making sure to firmly close the large double doors behind him. Looking around, he oriented himself, wanting to make sure he could find this house again after he had found something to eat.
The sun had gone down by the time Harry returned, looking dejected. It seemed that this beautiful city had something against dumpsters, as he hadn't been able to find a single one. Nobody seemed to throw anything away, and it would make 'living off the land' difficult for him.
He felt bad about the loaf of bread that he was carrying; he'd been forced to swipe it off the table of a merchant in the market square while he was busy with another customer. He really didn't want to steal, but he was so very hungry.
He slipped back inside. With the sun down, the house was extremely dark, the only light coming from the lighted braziers that lined the road, their light streaming in through the open front door. When the door closed behind him, he was in total darkness.
Harry waited a bit, hoping that his night vision would improve and let him see. While it doubtlessly improved, he still couldn't see. It was as if the house had been sealed off from light now that the sun was down.
Silently, he edged his way inside, and stumbled into the marble table that was standing in front of Mister Statue's statue. With his free hand, he wiped it as best he could, and put the loaf down. Turning, he made his way back to the front doors, and pulled both of them open to allow the light of the braziers to filter inside.
He wondered how he was going to light the house – leaving the front doors open wasn't something that he was willing to do.
Suddenly, he had a thought. Cloaked in the half-light filtering in through the front doors, rather than being in total darkness, Harry made his way to the hearth, where he remembered firewood having been stacked.
He found the longest, thickest piece of wood in the pile, extricated it, and made his way outside. Standing on his tiptoes, he reached with the wood to the brazier and waited for it to catch.
Finally, with a makeshift torch, he went back inside and closed the front doors. The fire danced merrily as he retrieved his loaf of bread… only to find that half of it was missing. He blinked.
Then looked up at the statue. "Were you hungry, too, Mister Statue?" he asked. "I'm sorry; I didn't know statues could even get hungry. Thanks for leaving me some, though. I'll bring some more for you tomorrow."
There was a strangely comforting feeling, and Harry retrieved his half-loaf and went inside. Lighting the hearth was easy enough now that he had a burning torch, and soon he was munching his bread while watching the fire.
The bread tasted strange, better than any bread he'd ever had before. He knew he wouldn't be able to survive on bread alone, and was pondering what to do next, staring into the fire as he did so.
Suddenly, the flames of the fire leaped up, turning deeper, darker shades. As the fire seemed to jump out of the fireplace, he let out a shout that was part surprise and part fear. Before he knew it, he was halfway to the cooking area, when he heard a whoosh from behind him.
Thinking that the fire was now burning further into the sitting area, probably engulfing the couch he had been sitting on, he dropped and hid behind the nearest cabinet, before carefully looking over the top to see the damage.
Instead of damage, he saw a girl, probably a year or two older than him, with brown hair and dressed in simple robes, examining the sitting area.
She picked up the loaf he had been eating, and he suddenly realized he had dropped it in his frantic effort to get away from the fire.
He glanced at the fireplace. It was burning normally again – what had happened? Had the girl walked out of the fire? Was that why it had scared him with its strange behavior?
He ducked back down behind the cabinet when he saw the girl turn to look in his direction. He wasn't going to get caught; he needed to get away. Sure, Mister Statue had indicated he could stay, but he wasn't about to try and explain to someone else that the statue had done so. They'd think he was crazy!
"I know someone is here," the girl said. Her voice sounded gentle, and just a little bit teasing. "After all, the hearth is burning and there is a half-eaten loaf of bread sitting here."
Harry cursed to himself. She was going to find him and the lack of walls in this house meant that she would see him if he tried to run. Now what was he going to do?
He heard her sandals on the stone floor as she walked. Then he heard the leather of the couch when she sat down. "I'm not here to harm you," she said again. Her voice sounded warm. Maybe he could trust her?
"I came because this hearth hasn't been used in a very long time," the mysterious girl said.
That explained what the girl was doing here, Harry decided, but he wondered if others would be able to do the same thing. If she could do it, while being only a few years older than him, then the grown-ups would be able to do the same thing, right? He definitely didn't want the grown-ups to know. they'd yell at him and try to hit him for stealing that bread.
"My name is Hestia," the girl said while Harry was sitting behind his cabinet, trying to calm himself and trying to think his way out of trouble. "I'm not here to harm you, if that is what you are worried about."
He'd heard that before. Even if her voice was warm and gentle and didn't sound like someone who would hurt him.
"I won't tell anyone else you're here either," Hestia said.
That's great, Harry thought, but what if they find out by themselves?
Hestia stood up, judging from the sound of the couch. "You can trust me. I won't tell anyone, and nobody will be able to find you here."Her footsteps trailed off and then vanished entirely.
Her voice soothed him. Despite himself, he glanced over the side of the cabinet, curious to see what the girl – Hestia – was doing.
To his immense surprise, he stared directly into a pair of brown eyes. He yelped loudly and threw himself backwards, while the girl stifled a laugh. It was a lovely laugh, Harry realized, while sitting on his behind, trying to keep his heart from jumping out of his chest.
"That wasn't funny," he declared.
"Yes it was," Hestia said, smiling at him. "What's your name?"
"Harry," Harry said morosely, while standing up.
"Don't be mad, Harry, it's just a harmless joke," Hestia said, still smiling at him. She turned to the sitting area. "Won't you sit with me?"
He shrugged, still not sure about this strange girl that popped out of the fire and then scared him. He followed her, and sat down on the other end of the couch, not sure what to do or say. Hopefully she wouldn't turn him in.
"I'm Hestia," Hestia said again. "I'm the goddess of the Hearth and the Home."
He blinked. A goddess? Was that why she walked out of the fire? He glanced at the fireplace.
"Yes, that hearth," Hestia said with a small laugh. That same laugh that had calmed him earlier. "Among all the others. That's why I knew someone was here, despite this temple not having been used in a very long time. It's also why I could come. If I don't share my findings, nobody else will know."
He relaxed; that explained why she offered to keep him a secret. "So you won't tell?"
Hestia still had that gentle smile. "No, Harry, I won't," she told him. He let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Won't you tell me how you got here?" she asked.
Harry looked at her, feeling weary. "Promise me you won't tell any adults?" he asked, just to make sure.
Hestia looked surprised for a moment, followed by a look of realization. She smiled at him, and Harry suddenly felt warm. "I promise I won't tell anyone without your permission," she reassured him.
Harry was silent for a few moments, studying her. She looked normal, for the lack of a better word. Plain brown robes, brown eyes, brown hair. Her skin was a shade deeper than the pasty white most English people had.
He decided to trust her. If she didn't keep her promise, he would just have to run. No way was he going back to Aunt Petunia now that he'd felt freedom.
His silence must have clued Hestia in on his thoughts. "I can swear to it, if you wish," she offered.
Harry pulled himself from his thoughts. "isn't that the same thing?" he asked.
Hestia's smile grew slightly, and she edged closer to him, as if about to explain some great secret. Despite himself, he leaned in to hear her explanation. "Not to us gods," she confided. "We can swear on the River Styx. To break an oath made on the Styx is to invite calamity and misfortune on yourself."
Harry frowned. "What does that mean?" he asked, not understanding.
"It means that, if you make an oath, and don't hold to it, bad things will happen to you. A lot of bad things. Swearing an oath on the Styx is the most serious promise a god can make."
Harry nodded, understanding what she was trying to say. He also understood that she was offering to make such a promise to him.
"You don't have to swear," he said. "Just… promise you won't tell a grown-up."
She smiled at him. "I promise," she reassured him. "Can you tell me why?" she asked gently.
"Because adults yell and scream and throw stuff at me," Harry answered before he realized what he was saying. "Adults are bad. They never believe you, and trust other people so they always think you're bad when you're not."
Hestia looked sad at his explanation. "Not all adults are like that," she offered.
Harry shrugged. "Maybe you've got a good Mom and Dad, Hestia, but I just have Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, and they hate me. And all the adults talk to them first so they all hate me, too. So please don't tell an adult!"
Hestia was smiling again, but it was sad now. "I promise," she said, again. "Can you tell me more about your Aunt and Uncle? How did you come to live with them?"
Harry sighed. "My parents were drunks that died in a car crash," the young boy explained. "Aunt Petunia said so. I was dumped with her and Uncle Vernon because nobody else would have me. They didn't want me, but had to take me. I didn't like it with them, they were always yelling and screaming and threw me in my cupboard if something went wrong."
"Your… cupboard?" Hestia asked.
Harry nodded. "It's where I slept. My cupboard under the stairs."
Suddenly, the kind and sweet Hestia looked really really dangerous, with glowing eyes filled with fire and her hair turning the same red as the flames in the fireplace, but it only lasted for a moment and she looked normal again. It happened so quick that Harry just assumed it had been a trick of the light from the fireplace.
It was difficult to get through, and Harry swallowed deeply. His chest felt like it was filled with ice.
"They made me do all the cooking and gardening and car washing and stuff, and I only got a bit to eat when they were done," Harry pushed on. "And then there was this big trip for Uncle Vernon's company and they couldn't leave me behind like they normally do when they go on vacation. So we came here, to New York. Aunt Petunia kept me locked up in the hotel room, though."
Hestia's sad look remained, but she was now seated closer to him than he remembered. He ignored her closing in, and went back to his explanation. "Something must have gone wrong on this meeting Uncle Vernon was supposed to have with one of his larger customers, because he came back really furious. I hid, because Uncle Vernon always blames me if something goes wrong."
"That's sensible," Hestia said, her voice somehow soothing, and the big block of ice that sat in Harry's chest seemed to start melting.
"He didn't yell at me, though," he told her.
"That's good," Hestia answered.
Harry shook his head. "He always yells at me. It scared me that he didn't. And then, on the last day, right as we were leaving, he offered to buy my passport from me for a hundred dollars."
Hestia blinked. "He did what?" she asked, as if making sure.
"He gave me a hundred dollars, took my passport, and left with Aunt Petunia and Dudley to the airport. They left me in New York and went back to England."
There it was again – Hestia looked dangerous, but it lasted for just a moment. He blinked and stared at her, just to make sure. Hestia looked confused at his close scrutiny, but kept that same smile on her lips.
"I had a hundred dollars, so I could do things I'd never done before. Like eat a hot dog. they're great, by the way! Have you ever had a hot dog, Hestia?"
Hestia nodded. "I have, in fact, had a hot dog, yes," she confirmed, then leaned in, as if handing him another secret. "And more than one, too. Don't tell anyone, though." she put her finger to her lips.
"I promise," Harry promised. If they were keeping secrets for each other, that meant that they couldn't betray each other, right? Could this even mean that Hestia… that Hestia would be his first ever friend? He pushed the hopeful feeling down. He'd had hope for a friend before. It never worked out.
"Then what happened?" Hestia asked. "You were left in New York with a hundred dollars, and got yourself a hot dog."
"Bought a second one," Harry said, laughing. Hestia laughed as well, and the chest full of ice vanished. He just felt so comfortable around her.
"And then I had to find a place to sleep. My money didn't last long," Harry told her. "And even with sauerkraut, I couldn't live on hot dogs alone. Luckily, New York has a lost of dumpsters. And dumpsters have food that people throw away."
"You ate out of a dumpster?" Hestia asked, aghast.
Harry just shrugged. "People throw away perfectly good food. Something it tastes a little funny, but that's all. I don't like the fuzz that sometimes grows on it so I scrape those bits off."
Hestia definitely wasn't smiling now. The look on her face could only be described as 'shocked'.
"It's not that bad," he hurried to reassure her. "Aunt Petunia said it never hurt anybody. It just tastes a little funny."
Hestia stopped him. "Harry, I want you to forget everything that… that woman has ever told you. Eating moldy food is not good, and yes, it can hurt you."
Harry looked puzzled. "But then… then I'll have even more trouble finding food," he muttered, looking at the partially eaten loaf of bread on the end table.
Hestia smiled at him. It was a nice, reassuring, smile. "I am a goddess, Harry," she reminded him. "I can conjure enough food for you with no problem."
"Really?" he asked, surprised.
"Really," Hestia replied in reassurance.
"Best goddess ever," Harry declared in awe.
Hestia flushed slightly, and looked away. "I'm really not. Can you tell me the rest of the story? Or would you like to eat first?"
Harry glanced at the bread. He'd eaten quite a bit of it and wasn't that hungry anymore. "So I spent the next couple of weeks in new York," he said. "The last couple of days there were only empty dumpsters, I guess trash day had come and I couldn't find much food. But then I found this really big building in the middle of Manhattan."
"The Empire State building," Hestia said. "It's the building we're above."
Harry nodded. "I just get these feelings sometimes," he explained. "And now I got the feeling to lean against the building and wait. So I waited. Until I got the feeling to go in. There was just one guard and he was talking with someone. I sat down in the lobby and hid behind a magazine. When the guard went with the guy to the elevators, I watched them and waited."
Harry stopped, and looked at Hestia. "Do you ever get feelings like that, Hestia?"
She smiled at him. "Sometimes, yes," she answered him.
"The guard stepped in the elevator and did something, but the next moment, someone came from the other elevator, called the guard, and started arguing with him. So I slipped into the elevator and pushed the big, red, shiny, button that read '600'. And found myself here."
Hestia was laughing softly. " 'Here' is called 'Mount Olympus', the home of the gods," she explained.
"That's why everything's so pretty here," Harry said, as if it all made sense now. "Anyway, I tried to hide at first, but nobody seemed to care I was dressed the way I am."
Hestia laughed softly again. "That is because it isn't unusual for a minor god, or a nymph, to be cursed or hexed into a vagabond look. You were probably assumed to be the victim of a hex or a curse, and on your way to get yourself straightened out. Some of the major gods sometimes even take on the role, just to play a joke on people."
"That would explain the strange looks, and the fact that nobody cared," Harry said. "Anyway, I looked through the city, but I couldn't find any trash cans or dumpsters, so I was still hungry."
"Unfortunately, the people that live in this city are all supernatural, gods, nymphs, and so forth. Anything that is left over is destroyed through magic," Hestia explained. "It saves the environment."
Harry nodded. "And it leaves me hungry," he added, unable to stop himself.
Hestia just laughed softly. "I doubt that we had 'let's starve Harry' in mind when we started that policy," she said.
He crossed his arms and leaned far back into the couch. "Maybe. You never know, though."
She gave him that gentle smile of hers that warmed his insides. "Perhaps," she said, obviously humoring him.
"Anyway, I was hungry, and I didn't have a place to spend the night. I first thought about the gardens, but they're really open. And then I found this area, and the streets were empty and the houses were covered in dust. So I picked a house at random and went in."
"They're called 'temples', Harry, not houses," Hestia corrected. "They are where the gods live, as well as the attendants of the god that owns the temple."
Harry nodded, only halfway listening. "So I pushed the doors open and it feels like Aunt Petunia's house, like I'm not wanted. It's nothing new, so I have a look around and see that there's this huge statue in the front hall. Strangely enough, it feels like it's the statue that doesn't want me in his house-"
"Temple," Harry corrected. "So I offer Mister Statue to clean his house-"
"Temple, Harry," Hestia said, a bit sternly.
"I know it's a temple now, but I didn't know back then, and I said 'house' to Mister Statue," Harry defended himself.
Hestia just nodded, and the boy went on, "So I offered to clean the temple, if he'll let me stay. And suddenly, it feels really warm and it's like it's my temple, you know?"
Hestia's smile had widened. "You felt welcome," she told him.
"I've never felt it before," Harry said. "It felt really weird, but also really good, you know?"
"I know," Hestia said, kindly. "It's what people feel when they are invited into another person's home. You said 'Mister Statue' let you stay – do you know his name?"
Harry shook his head. "There's something written at the foot of Mister Statue, but it's written in strange characters, like the guy was drunk or something."
Hestia looked as if she were restraining a laugh, and stood up. Extending a hand to him, she asked, "Can you show me?"
He smiled widely as he jumped out of the couch. "Sure!" he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her through the hou- temple, to the courtyard that held Mister Statue.
Thanks to the open floor plan, the light of the hearth was enough to allow Harry to see shapes and locations, but not enough to see details; by the time he and Hestia were standing in front of Mister Statue, he could only see the outlines of it.
"Ehm…" Harry said. "I didn't think this through."
Hestia laughed softly, and waved one hand. A ring of fire sprung up and lit up the area. "Oh my," she said, one hand to her mouth.
"What? What is it?" Harry asked her. Almost immediately, he turned to the statue. "Hi Mister Statue! This is Hestia – she came through the fireplace, isn't that cool?"
Hestia laughed softly. "Harry, now I know why this temple hasn't been used in a long time. This is the temple of Helios, the first God of the Sun. He faded a long time ago."
"Faded?" Harry asked.
"It is when people stop believing in a god. Without enough people believing in a god, he will just… fade away," Hestia explained. "There must still be part of him that lingers in this temple, for you to be able to experience the feelings you've described."
"Oh," Harry said, turning to the statue. "Hi Mister Helios. I hope you don't mind that I called you Mister Statue."
Hestia laughed softly. "I think that, had he minded, you would not have been welcomed, Harry."
The boy nodded, then realized something and turned to the statue. "Mister Helios, did you take half my loaf because you're 'faded'?"
There was no response from the statue, but Hestia looked strangely at Harry. "He took half your loaf?"
Harry nodded. "Uh-huh. I just came back with it, and put it down on this table while working on getting a torch started in the fire outside to start the fireplace, and when I came back, half the bread was gone."
Hestia laughed again. "This table, Harry, is called an 'altar'. It's where people used to place offerings for the god."
Harry smiled up at the statue. "Thanks again for leaving me half the bread, Mister Helios."
The fire Hestia had thrown slowly died out. "Come, Harry. Let's get you some food," she said in the murky twilight.
Harry smiled widely at her, grabbed her hand, and pulled her back towards the seating area. Surprised, she let herself be pulled, and laughed softly.
As they walked, Harry asked her, "Do you know why there's no bathroom here? And why the temple's so dark?"
Hestia had to smile at the question. "There's no bathroom for the same reason there are no dumpsters – gods don't need them. I'll conjure one for you. As to the temple being dark, Helios was the original titan-god of the sun. After sundown, it's supposed to be completely dark. I will conjure you a few fixtures, too."
"Whoa, cool. Thanks, Hestia!" he said, smiling widely as he sat down in the couch. Hestia, meanwhile, waved her hand. Braziers appeared along the walls, throwing fiery light throughout the building. A new door appeared in the wall not far away.
"That is so awesome," Harry said, staring at the new fixtures.
"How long has it been since you've eaten, Harry?" Hestia asked, gently. "From what you said, it sounds like you haven't eaten in a while."
Harry shrugged, suddenly feeling embarrassed. "A few days or so," he muttered, hoping Hestia didn't hear him.
Unfortunately for him, she was a goddess, so she heard him perfectly fine. Holding out her hands, the young-looking goddess suddenly was holding a bowl of soup, complete with spoon. "Here you go, Harry."
Giving her a tremulous smile, he accepted the bowl. "Thanks, Hestia." He tasted the soup. "Best soup ever," he declared, eating in earnest.
"Thank you, Harry," she accepted the praise. Usually, she would defer it, but Harry wouldn't have ears for it now. "Does it taste spicy, or do you get a burning sensation in your mouth?"
Harry, who had broken off a piece of the bread and had sopped some of the soup up with it, shook his head while eating it. "No, is gud," he managed around the food in his mouth.
"Please finish chewing and swallowing before speaking," Hestia admonished.
Harry swallowed. "Sorry, Hestia. It's so good, though! Is this what gods eat?"
The young-looking goddess gave him a reassuring smile. "It's fine, Harry. Please remember for the future. Regarding the food, godly food consists of Ambrosia and Nectar. Ambrosia can be turned into any kind food, while Nectar is a drink that will taste like your favorite food. Mortals can't eat Ambrosia or drink Nectar, they will burst into flames upon doing so."
Harry, remembering her earlier warning, swallowed another mouthful of soup and bread. "That's too bad," he said. "Does Ambrosia taste good?"
Hestia looked at the soup. "Does the soup taste good? And the bread?"
The young boy blinked, looked at the soup, then the bread, then her. "But… I thought you just said mortals would die from it?"
The small goddess smiled reassuringly at him. "There is a third category, Harry. Demigods. The children of a god and a mortal. They can eat Ambrosia and drink Nectar, but in small quantities. It heals them to consume godly food, but again, only in small quantities. Since you didn't die from eating the bread, I assumed you were a demigod, but just to make sure, that soup has a very limited amount of Ambrosia in it – enough that, if you were a full mortal, it would be incredibly spicy and your mouth would feel on fire, but not enough to kill you. Since you don't feel that way, you're a demigod."
Harry nodded, finishing up with sopping the very last dregs of soup with a piece of bread. "So I can't have anything else?" he asked, sounding disappointed.
Hestia laughed softly, and motioned to the bowl. It refilled at her command, and a tall glass appeared on the end table, filled with a strangely colored drink. "The bread and soup have a very small amount of Ambrosia in them, so you can have some more, Harry. The glass is pure Nectar, though, so after that, I will conjure you mortal foods just to be on the safe side."
Harry nodded, already busy with the last of his bread and the fresh bowl of soup. Hestia smiled, she always enjoyed it when people loved her food and ate well. Already, she could see the Ambrosia starting to work on the half-starved, malnourished little boy. He wasn't looking as tired or as weary as he had when she had come out of the fire earlier, and after a good night's rest, he would be very well under way of recovering from the long-term effects of malnourishment. She would be able to give him heartier food then, too – his body would be able to handle it.
She sat quietly as Harry ate, finishing the second bowl in a more polite time. He finished with the tall glass of Nectar, and eyed it with wonder when he was done. "This tastes just like your soup!"
Hestia's smile turned a bit brittle. "It takes on the flavor of the food you like the most," she reminded him.
He just nodded, stood up, and said, "be right back!" while fleeing to the new door she had installed, towards a toilet.
She restrained herself from laughing. The Ambrosia and Nectar were reactivating his body, it seemed. Standing up, she walked to the kitchen area, and started to conjure storage containers filled with food for Harry to warm up.
While she worked, Hestia let out a deep breath. His favorite food is a simple soup? Just what had those people been feeding him?
Harry returned quickly, and found her working in the kitchen. Before he could say anything, Hestia turned to him. "I've prepared a few meals for you, Harry. You just need to warm them up."
Harry smiled widely at her. "Thanks Hestia. You're the best goddess ever," he declared, stifling a yawn.
"No, I'm really not," she deferred, her humble mindset uncomfortable with the praise. "It looks like you're tired. You may want to take a bath and get some rest."
Harry thought it over for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, that's not a bad idea." He suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Ehm… you wouldn't happen to have some soap? I can take a bath in the hot spring in the back, but I'll need something to wash my clothes with."
She looked at his clothes, seeing how they were too big for him even when new, and how threadbare they were now. "I think I have a better idea," the young-looking goddess said. "Give me a few minutes." She walked to the hearth, and vanished in the fire.
"That is so cool," Harry said. "I wonder if she can teach me how to do that?"
He sat down in the couch and stared at the fire, wondering how long it would take Hestia to come back from wherever she had gone.
It didn't take her more than five minutes before she returned with a small pile of clothes, with a pair of sandals on top. "I'm not Aphrodite, so conjuring more than the bare minimum of clothing is difficult for me, so I hopped over and got a few things. I think these will fit you," she said, handing the stack over. "And since they're from Olympus, you'll fit right in."
Harry forgot about the strange statement about someone called Aphrodite and conjuring clothing, and instead noted the quality of the cloth. "Wow, thanks, Hestia!"
She gave him that gentle smile that he had come to associate with her. "You're very welcome, Harry. I'll return tomorrow, and we can take care of the rest of your necessities. The food and the clothes should tide you over until then."
"Thanks, Hestia," Harry said, suddenly feeling abashed. She'd done so much for him already. He wondered how he was ever going to be able to pay her back.
She stepped up to him, and Harry wondered what was going to happen – then he froze when he suddenly found her arms around him. It felt nice, and very protected, as if the world could come to an end and still not touch him. The warmth seemed to seep in to his very bones, a sensation he had never felt before.
"You're very welcome," Hestia said, and released him before stepping away.
"What… was that?" he asked, in awe.
The goddess looked confused. "What was what?" she asked.
"That thing you did, with your arms," Harry explained. "It felt really nice and warm, and like nothing could ever hurt me."
Hestia visibly swallowed and her face twitched for just a moment before her usual smile was back. "That is called a hug," she said. "And the reason you felt warm and protected is because I'm the goddess of the hearth and the home. People feel at ease around me, and feel sheltered with I'm close by – like a really good home should."
"Oh," Harry said. "I never felt it before. It was nice."
Her smile widened just a bit and she hugged him again. He looked like he could use another hug; she usually wasn't very demonstrative, but if ever a boy needed a hug, Harry was the one.
Tentatively, he brought his arms up and hugged her back. "Is this right?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," Hestia confirmed, before breaking the hug. "I have some work to do – gods are always busy I'm afraid," she joked slightly. "You should get some rest. I'll see you again tomorrow."
"Ok, Hestia. Have a good night!" he said.
"You too, Harry," Hestia returned, before walking to the fire and disappearing.
She did indeed have work to do. Emerging from the fire of a brazier near a temple, she walked towards it. As always mindful of others, she knocked politely and waited for permission to enter.
"Aunt Hestia!" the god owning the temple said happily. He was handsome, dressed in a postal worker's uniform, and his hands and arms blurred with speed as they started and distributed packages. Hermes, the God of Messengers, Travelers, and Thieves, was as busy as he always was.
"Hello, Hermes," Hestia said, bestowing her usual smile on her nephew. "How are you?"
"Busy as always," Hermes replied with a roguish grin. "What can I do for you, Aunt Hestia?"
Hestia sat in one of the visitor's chairs, facing the every-busy god as he sorted and processed mail. "I have need of your services, Hermes."
The god grinned at her. "An address and postage suffice, Aunt Hestia. I appreciate you coming here in person to send a package, but it's not needed, really."
Hestia smiled back. "I'm afraid I need your other services, Hermes. Hypothetically, how would a god go about cursing a pair or mortals? Without falling foul of the Non-Interference Law, that is."
Hermes startled, dropped the three packages that were in mid-air, caught the first two before they were halfway down, juggled them up, caught the third one before it would hit the floor, and managed to get all three on to a table. "You, Aunt Hestia? Want to curse a mortal?"
"Hypothetically," Hestia said, smiling faintly.
"Hypothetically," Hermes replied. "It would depend on the reason."
Hestia stood up, and paced. Hermes frowned; Hestia was the kindest, gentlest, and sweetest among them. Whoever had angered her would face the full wrath of Olympus if it came down to it. He considered telling her to so 'just go for it', as Zeus would likely look the other way for her.
"Hypothetically, say I have met the acquaintance of a young mortal who was abused by his… caregivers," Hestia said.
"Hypothetically, it would then depend on whether this your mortal is fully mortal or a demigod," Hermes said. Aunt Hestia tends the fire at camp. Maybe one of the demigods talked to her? "If your mortal acquaintance is fully mortal, you'd have to be subtle. If he's a demigod, then the mortals taking care of him are already involved with us, and you have more leeway."
"Hypothetically," Hestia answered, looking at him. "This mortal would be a demigod."
Hermes swallowed. Definitely someone at camp, then. It must be especially bad for her to react like this. "How bad is it?" he asked.
Hestia was silent for a few moments. "Hypothetically?" she asked. Will this stay between us?
"Hypothetically," Hermes confirmed. Yes, Aunt Hestia. In full confidence.
"There may have been a mention of this seven-year-old demigod being abandoned on the streets of New York by himself," the young-looking goddess said. "And this seven-year-old was uniquely suited to survive by eating out of dumpsters as he was used to eating food that tastes funny after scraping the fuzz off."
Hermes blinked, and felt the familiar surge of rage that came whenever someone did something he found unforgivable. As God of Thieves, he could condone a lot of things, but harming a child was one of those things that crossed the line.
The God of Thieves stood up. "I would recommend that you curse their situation or their possessions, not them directly. Cursing a mortal directly may draw the attention of the Big Guy, and while I think he would more than likely look the other way for you, let's not test that theory. Cursing a situation or a possession doesn't draw attention at all. Just another use of Godly Power."
Hestia swallowed, her plan had suddenly become a lot more tangible. Before she could say anything further, Hermes approached. "Would you prefer if I did it, Aunt Hestia?"
She smiled at him, and placed her hand on his arm. "No, thank you, Hermes. This is something I feel I need to do myself. It goes directly against my domains, after all."
Hermes nodded. "A demigod's life is never easy," he said. "But some have it harder than others."
Hestia sighed. "From what he said, his mortal parents died in an accident. He was then left with his aunt and uncle, who used the situation to spread lies about the boy's parents. They kept him confined to a cupboard, and fed him… well, hardly anything from what I can gather." She swallowed. "I gave him a hug when I left. He asked what it was that I did with my arms."
Hermes felt another pang of rage surge through his body. "Damn. That hits right where it hurts," he muttered.
"Language, please," Hestia said softly. "Although I agree with the sentiment."
They fell silent for a few minutes, each lost in thought. Finally, Hermes looked up. "You may want to leave directly from here and come back here when you're done. Just in case."
Hestia dipped her head in gratitude. "Thanks, Hermes."
"No problem, Aunt Hestia. Anytime you feel like breaking the rules, I'm your guy," Hermes said, grinning, although there was little humor in it.
Hestia gave him a tolerating look, before teleporting out. She preferred traveling by fire, but in a pinch, like any god, she could teleport anywhere at will.
Arriving in a nondescript road in Surrey, England, Hestia made sure she was hidden from mortal eyes. Approaching the driveway of number 4, she looked at the house.
She lifted on hand. "I, Hestia, Curse you to never feel at home. You will be forever denied rest, searching the world in vain for peace and security that will be forever out of your grasp; forever denied that which you denied Harry Potter."
She snapped her fingers, then went on.
"I, Hestia, Curse you to never be warm. Fire and heat will never quell the chill in your bones. You will search the world in vain for warmth and comfort that will be forever out of your grasp; forever denied that which you denied Harry Potter."
She snapped her fingers a second time. She could feel her two curses already settling on the two adults in the house. By morning, they would be cold, and they would no longer feel safe or secure in their own home. Her curses would drive them to be ever restless, ever searching, but never finding. If their personalities weren't rock solid, her curses may even drive them to madness.
It wasn't as bad as some of her family had done to mortals in the past, but it was enough.
She vanished as quietly and as unseen as she had appeared. She would have to do something nice for Hermes.