Harry Potter, Squatter
Harry blinked his eyes open, and frowned for a moment. Yesterday was chaotic in his mind, the memories jumbled and distorted. He had vague recollections of seeing Hestia, and something about alcohol and being drunk.
He sat upright, and rubbed his eyes before stretching his arms. As he got out of the bed, he realized that he was back at Helios' temple. The comforting presence of the half-faded Titan-God wrapped around him, as if buoying him.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, sensitive as he was to other people's presence.
Helios' presence gave him a pat on the back, as if saying 'you better get going'.
Shrugging, the young boy left the sleeping area and made his way toward the kitchen – from which he could smell the most delicious fragrance. Hestia was cooking!
Forgetting about the strangeness of the situation, Harry doubled his pace. The quicker he got there, the quicker he would get to eat Hestia's cooking!
When he got there, Hestia was just plating up a full English Breakfast. "Have a seat, Harry," she said gently, with her usual smile. "Something has occurred, which we need to discuss."
Harry accepted his plate of Full English, and obediently sat down. When Hestia sat down with her own plate, Harry frowned. "Has Mel already eaten?" he asked, curious as to why Hestia would be so rude as to exclude the Goddess of Ghosts.
The Goddess of Home and Hearth sighed. "Mel is the topic we need to discuss," she said.
"Oh?" Harry asked, gulping down the food in his mouth before speaking.
"I am not sure if you recall, but yesterday Melinoe tampered with your drink. She made it never-ending, then placed a geas upon it that would prevent you from realizing the fact. It caused you to drink to quite excess, without you realizing it. By the time you made it to your suite, you were quite drunk."
"Oh," Harry said, shrinking. "Sorry," he whispered, knowing how she felt about drinking.
"It was not your fault, and I should not blame you as you are the victim," Hestia stated. "Although I must admit that you were quite affectionate when you were inebriated."
The young demigod endeavored a grin. "Well, you are awesome, and I do love you," he said softly, recalling a declaration of love among other things.
"So you said," Hestia answered. "When I got you to bed, you immediately passed out. I was worried, and called Apollo to check you out. It was a good thing I did – apparently, you had enough alcohol in your system to kill grown mortals. A small blessing had been placed on you, increasing your resistance to alcohol. Thankfully. I do not know who did it, although I have suspicions."
Harry nodded. "Mister D?" he asked.
"Probably," Hestia stated, sounding as if she were halfway grateful and halfway displeased. "Anyway, Melinoe doctored your drink and could have – would have – caused your death if that blessing hadn't been placed on you. Therefore, I had no other choice but to ask her to leave immediately."
Harry gaped for a moment. "You kicked her out?" he asked, as if he couldn't quite believe it.
"She nearly caused your death," Hestia repeated. "She simply isn't used to dealing with mortals on a prolonged basis. I will not prevent you and her from meeting or communicating, but I will insist that she not stay here, where she can do further damage."
The young demigod swallowed. "But… but where will she go?"
Hestia looked patient. "Harry, Melinoe is a goddess. A minor one, but still a goddess. Now that you broke her father's edict on her, she can stay anywhere she wants to stay. She'll likely stay at Hades' palace for a bit, then strike out and find her own spot. Do not worry yourself – Melinoe will be fine."
"Oh," Harry whispered. He thought it over for a moment. "I still feel bad for her," he said. "But she did something to my drink, and that's not something you should ever do."
"Indeed," Hestia replied. "If I did not stop her, next time it may have been a stronger compound than alcohol. I don't have to tell you to be careful with your drinks around her from now on?"
Harry nodded softly. "Why, though, Hestia? Why did she do it?"
The goddess sighed. "She believed you were working too hard and wanted to help you 'relax'. Apparently, nothing else was working so she tried alcohol."
Harry flinched, remembering how Melinoe had often told him he worked too much and too hard.
"It is not your fault," Hestia repeated. "The fault lies with Melinoe. Although you should take a break every now and then," she added with a teasing tone.
"Maybe," Harry acknowledged. Still, he wondered how Mel was doing. He hoped she was alright, like Hestia said.
Harry's hands moved mechanically, swishing the water in the metal pan around in an effort to wash out useless dirt and reveal hidden treasure.
In other words, he was panning for gold.
As his hands moved, he let his thoughts drift, thinking back to the conversation he had with Hestia just a few days before. He hadn't been happy to hear Hestia had forced Mel to leave – but in the end, Hestia had just one argument that convinced him.
Melinoe had done something to his drink, and that was something you just didn't do. Not even for a joke. That was how bad people drugged women and did bad things to them.
His thoughts flashed back to that guy who had wanted to make off with Annabeth. It was something that would always stick with him.
He shook his head and forced himself back to the here and now. The pan showed nothing of import, so he washed it out, got up, and trekked a bit further along the river in search of a new panning spot.
As his feet walked mechanically, his thoughts drifted again. Melinoe had written him a very nice apology letter – even if Harry said so himself – where she had explained she had no bad intentions and just wanted to help him relax a little.
That part had made him understand Hestia's comments about Melinoe being a bad influence. Melinoe really had been trying to get him to stop working so hard, and he had been resisting those efforts quite strongly. Apparently the young Goddess of Ghosts had decided to take matters into her own hands.
Which didn't excuse her actions, in Harry's mind, but at least she had a decent explanation.
He found a bend in the river, and decided to try again. Panning for gold looked deceptively easy, but there was a certain trick to it. Harry wasn't sure if he had the knack for it just yet.
As he moved the pan back and forth, letting the water wash the lighter material away, he thought he saw something glisten.
"Ooh, maybe I've found something?" he asked out loud.
"Thou art attempting to find thine own fortune, one grain at a time?" a voice teased from right next to him.
Harry yelped, almost upending his pan, as he looked up at Zoë's amused face.
"Miss Zoë!" he shouted, dumping his pan and jumping to his feet. He managed to catch himself before giving her a big hug, remembering just in time that she was a Hunter and Hunters didn't hug.
Well, not boys, at least.
"It's good to see you!" he said excitedly. "Welcome back hug?" he offered, spreading his arms slightly.
Zoë laughed softy. "Handshake," she compromised, and shook his offered hand.
"Where-" he started to ask, before stopping himself. Last time he asked that question, she'd teased him about reproduction. "How-" he cut that question off as well, she'd just tease him about her super-secret Hunter skills.
"What brings you here?" he finally asked.
Zoë laughed. "Thou hath stopped all thine good questions," she not-answered. "How am I supposed to tease thee if thou art refusing to give me openings?"
Harry barked a short laugh. "Evil Hunter," he replied teasingly.
"Of course," Zoë said. "As a Hunter, I have a 'rep' to maintain."
"A rep?" Harry asked, the word sounding alien coming from her lips.
Zoë blinked and actually blushed faintly. "My apologies. It seems that Thalia's speech hath… infected… mine."
Harry laughed again. "How dare she?" he asked, going along with her statement.
"Indeed," the Lieutenant replied. "I shall have to admonish her. Again."
"Is she not fitting in well?" Harry asked, suddenly fearful that he may have made a mistake in helping Thalia join the Hunters.
"Perhaps too well," Zoë answered. "She seems born to command others, and following orders does not come naturally to her. Unfortunately for her, one must learn to follow before one can learn to lead."
Harry nodded, that sounded like a lot of the things that Athena had been teaching him.
"So, thou hast not replied to mine question," Zoë said, motioning for the gold pan.
"You haven't answered mine, either," Harry said, crossing his arms and looked theatrically away.
"However, I asked mine first, so thou art therefore required to answer first," Zoë said, obviously enjoying the back and forth.
To be honest, Harry had missed it, too. Zoë was an excellent opponent in a game of verbal sparring.
"I am trying to clear my head after some recent events," Harry said. "The panning for gold is just an excuse to spend time in the woods, and who knows? I might strike a mother lode."
Zoë looked at the pan. "And thou thinks that thou hast found something?" she asked.
"I saw something sparkle," Harry said, picking the pan up and carefully moving the water so it would uncover the sparkling bits.
Zoë looked at the pan, and nodded. "Congratulations, thou hast struck leaverite."
"Leaverite?" Harry asked, unfamiliar with that particular stone or ore.
Zoë nodded gravely. "As in, 'Leave 'er right there, 't is worthless'."
Harry snorted, and tipped out his pan. "Evil, evil Hunter," he said.
"Of course," Zoë confirmed. "I thank thee for acknowledging mine hard work."
Harry snorted another laugh. "So, will you now tell me what you're doing here?" he asked.
"I hath heard, through various sources, that thou hath had some issues with a goddess attempting to poison thee with excess amounts of alcohol," Zoë said. "And when My Lady reported that thou wert out in the wilds, I decided to come and take a look."
Harry felt warm at the thought of her being worried about him. "Thanks, Miss Zoë," he said, softly. "I'm alright, though. Mister Apollo managed to get most of the alcohol out of me, and it turns out someone slipped me a blessing to be resistant to alcohol."
Zoë nodded, but her face looked closed off. "I am pleased to hear that. I wonder what that goddess was thinking, however."
Harry sighed. "She thought I was working too hard and wanted to help me relax. Unfortunately, she's not used to being around mortals so she had no idea we're this fragile."
"Hm," Zoë hemmed, obviously not pleased. "Perhaps thou art, and perhaps thou art not, working too hard, but one should never alter a person's beverage. That's just not done, not even on a lark."
Harry nodded. "Hestia feels the same way so she asked Melinoe to leave immediately. Mel wrote me a long apology letter, explaining her actions. As far as I'm concerned, she made a mistake and owed up to it. If she doesn't repeat it, she's fine in my book."
Zoë was silent for a few moments. "Truth," she said. "Anyone can make a mistake. Let us see if she learns from it."
Harry just nodded and stared at the river. He wondered where he should pan next.
"If thou art simply trying to clear thy head, thou can continue to pan this river. If thou art attempting to actually find gold, thou should move to Alaska and attempt a river that actually contains gold," Zoë said.
Harry looked at her, confused.
"Thine facial expression was very open," the Hunter said with a teasing grin. He laughed and shook his head.
Harry drew in a deep breath as he breached the surface of the frozen-over lake through the hole he had chopped earlier. Asgardian saunas were great once you got used to them.
Pulling himself up on the shore, he toweled off and ignored Roshilde doing the same next to him with the ease of practice. She was right; nudity wasn't anything to be concerned about when everyone around you was undressed.
"That was nice and relaxing," the Valkyrie commented.
"After that torture you put me through, I needed it," Harry said with a grin.
Roshilde laughed, and exaggerated her voice to show she was teasing. "My apologies, M'Lord. Was the training too hard for your soft body? Perhaps I can arrange for the swords to be made of foam next time to ensure no damage is done to M'Lord's fragile constitution?"
Harry managed to laugh, look annoyed, and sulk, all at the same time. "Honestly, though, I'm just a mortal and I don't revive when I die," he said. "You're all complete lunatics about training."
"Well, our training is to the death," Roshilde said, as if by rote. It wasn't as if they hadn't had the same conversation multiple times over the week Harry had been staying at Thor's palace.
As the demigod had promised, he used the room he'd been gifted as a vacation home and stayed there a few days here and there. Considering it was nearly his birthday, and with the thing with Melinoe fresh in his mind, he'd decided that a week in Asgard was a good way to clear his thoughts.
Roshilde had agreed and 'assisted' said clearing of thoughts by forcing him through the hardest training sessions Hotel Valhalla had on offer.
Thor, too, agreed to assist his young friend and dragged him to the daily feasts. With Melinoe fresh in mind, Harry had stayed away from alcohol. It was too soon, and he didn't want to risk anything. That didn't stop the exuberant God of Thunder from trying, though.
In the end, Thor has simply settled for stuffing him full of food. Considering the food was delicious, Harry didn't mind that bit.
"Come on," Roshilde said. "Time for your birthday party."
Harry grinned at her. "Where are we going? And my birthday isn't until tomorrow."
"Yeah, but you're leaving tomorrow morning, and we can hardly have your birthday party without you present. And we're going to join 'Sunbathing to the Death'," the Valkyrie answered cheerfully. "It's modeled after a tropical island."
"Nice!" he cheered, following her through the halls of Hotel Valhalla. He had to admit, after spending a week in Thor's palace, the place had grown on him. It was lots of fun and probably the best place in the world to play hide and seek.
Like when he stole away every now and then to have a bit of a cuddle with Geri and Freki, Odin's wolves.
Or that time he'd found an out of the way room, where he'd been able to play a nice game of chess with Hugin and Munin, Odin's ravens.
They were delighted at the game; it seemed that nobody ever asked them if they played chess.
Of course, Odin's ravens being carriers of wisdom, they wiped the floor with him. He'd taken his trouncing in good sport, and instead learned a great deal about the game and its tactics.
He followed Roshilde into the elevator and missed her pressing the button.
Following her on autopilot, they entered one of the many, many doors in the Hotel Valhalla and arrived on the tropical beach that stood as model for tropical beaches all around the world. The sky was blue, the sun was high, the sea was clear, and the sand was golden. The temperature was at the point where you'd strip automatically, but wouldn't feel like you were broiling when out in the sun for the too long.
In other words, it was perfect.
As Harry shed his clothes to reveal swimming trunks, Roshilde seemed to teleport out of hers, revealing a silver bikini, and quickly joined a couple of other Valkyries who were doing things to a large pig and a fire pit. His well-honed kitchen skills reported they were going to build a sand-oven to cook the pig.
In fact, the whole setup made Harry think of what little he knew of a Hawaiian Luau. For some reason, despite being from completely different parts of the world, he could see Norse Vikings and Hawaiian Warriors get along really well.
Which was probably the point.
He didn't get a lot of time to think as Thor grabbed him – quite literally – and dragged him over to join in a vigorous game of beach volleyball. Deciding on leaving his thinking where it was, Harry joined the game and enjoyed himself.
By the time the food was ready, beach volleyball had given way to axe-throwing. Harry had laughed when Thor had put an axe in his hand and told him to throw it at a target. Considering it was an axe suited for fully-grown adult norsemen, it was almost as tall as he was.
He stopped laughing when he realized that the crazy God of Thunder was actually serious about it.
Still, he'd managed a pretty decent throw. He'd at least managed to hit the target, much to the merriment of Thor, Sif, and their Warriors Three buddies. Apparently, watching a young demigod wrestle a fully sized war axe was highly amusing.
To Harry's surprise, that was also when Odin and Frigga showed up, and then the party really got going.
Harry arrived at Helios' temple the next morning, and cautiously looked around. Hestia had gotten him with a surprise birthday party the last few years, and this year he was determined not to let people startle him.
"Hello, Harry," Hestia said, materializing from… somewhere.
"Hestia!" Harry said cheerfully and gave her a big hug. "Good to see you!"
The childlike goddess hugged him back. "Happy birthday, Harry," she told him. "Is there anything in particular you want to do today?"
Hoping to avoid being startled by a bunch of people, Harry grinned at her. "Can we just cook something?" he asked. "I learn so much from you."
The gentle Goddess of Home and hearth smiled at him. "Of course we can," she said softly – obviously touched that he would prefer to simply spend time with her over anything else. "How about I give you a list and you go to the market while I set things up here?"
The young demigod nodded agreeably. "Sure!" he said, accepting the list she materialized. Knowing how Hestia felt about produce – fresh tasted better than conjured – he set out to the market.
As he left the temple, he walked by the spot where Christine used to be parked. For a moment, he stopped.
He missed that crazy haunted car, and he wondered how Melinoe was doing. Her last letter said that she was alternatively staying at the palaces of her father Hades and her grandmother Demeter. It sounded like a good deal to Harry, who had been worried about his friend until he got that letter.
A little under half an hour later, he was on his return. He knew the market inside and out, and with Hestia's shopping list in hand, he knew exactly which stalls to visit.
He returned to the temple, shooting a sombre glance at Christine's former parking spot, and entered.
"Hi Hestia, I'm back!" he said loudly as the entrance door fell shut behind him.
"I'm in the kitchen!" Hestia said back, just as loudly. Grinning, the young demigod crossed the entry hall, where he gave Helios a nice wave, before crossing into the living areas. Just as he was entering the living room, it happened.
Harry dropped the groceries and had Athena's shield and Godslayer out before the last syllable finished.
They all laughed at him again, of course. Chuckling to himself, and shaking his head, he made the weapons disappear.
Once more, Helios' temple was filled with both the divine, the semi-divine, and various people in between. Harry laughed and smiled as they wished him a happy birthday. He was a bit disappointed to see Melinoe missing; then again, her absence wasn't unexpected after recent events. Dionysus also hadn't shown up, which was also a bit disappointing. The God of Wine was loads of fun, especially when you didn't take his snark too seriously.
Before he knew it, Harry had been shoved to a familiar table, before various gifts were handed over.
Hermes handed him a small wooden box. Inside in was a small leather pouch, which held various advanced lock-picking tools. Mortals had invented some strange new types of locks, like dimple locks and disk detainer locks and so he would need a new toolset to pick those. Also included in the box were a couple of examples of each type of lock, so he could practice.
"Thanks, Hermes!" Harry said enthusiastically, giving his grandfather a hug. Hestia looked like she couldn't decided whether or not she approved of the gift. On the one hand, it was a lock pick set. On the other hand, it trained dexterity and kept Harry out of trouble as long as he didn't actually pick locks in the wild.
Athena, looking amused at the conflicted look Hestia was giving Hermes and the God of Travelers' conflicted reaction to it, simply handed him a set of books.
He'd long since finished and re-read the Nancy Drew books he received two years ago. He'd even purchased a few books of the series himself, but his schedule usually kept him busy enough that thoughts of the series usually were pushed to the background.
So, he was more than happy to see the Goddess of Wisdom had gifted him another five volumes of the series – coincidentally volumes he hadn't yet purchased himself.
"Thanks, Miss Athena!" Harry said enthusiastically at the sight of them.
"You're quite welcome," Athena replied. "Very few enjoy reading these days. I am pleased to see that you continue to do so."
He grinned at her, and nodded as he put the books on the table. "I look forward to reading them," he said.
"I am pleased to hear it," Athena confirmed as she stepped away.
Her place was taken almost immediately by the duo of Artie and Zoë. Just like last time, they crowded him a bit. Once more, Harry pressed himself back against the table.
"You have come far," Artie finally said, taking a half-step back. "To the point where your training with my old friend is more like a pleasurable time in nature rather than a harsh struggle to remain alive."
Harry grinned. "That's because Miss Zoë's a great teacher," he said.
Artie eyed Zoë for a moment. "While she has had a few noticeable shortcomings, I do agree with you."
The Lieutenant blushed faintly, remembering how she messed things up.
"Regardless," Artie said, handing him an envelope. "I do believe that this will be a good gift for one who has become quite good at surviving."
"Thanks, Artie!" Harry said, carefully accepting the envelope and opening it. In it was a card, written in neat cursive Greek.
Harry read it. He then read it again. Looking stunned, he looked up. "Really?" he asked.
"Really," Artie confirmed with a grin.
"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!" he shouted, hugging her tightly. "This is so awesome!"
Hestia laughed in the background, as did a few of the other guests. The demigods, however, carefully kept quiet; none of them were brave enough to laugh at the Goddess of the Hunt getting glomped.
"Now I am quite curious as to what triggered that reaction," Hestia said with a wide smile as she approached.
"Artie's invited me on a hunt!" Harry cheered.
Hestia didn't look as excited as Harry did, and instead simply leveled a disappointed look Artie's way. "Inviting Harry along on your regular duties, Artie?" she asked, deceptively gently.
The Goddess of the Hunt shook her head. "I've got something special planned for him in the Białowieża forest in Poland," she explained.
"Oh?" Harry asked, even more excited now that he learned he wasn't just going to join any regular hunt. "What are we hunting?"
"Aurochs," Artie said, simply.
"Awesome! Wait, aren't those extinct?" the young demigod asked, curiously.
"I am Goddess of the Hunt," she reminded him. "I can conjure animals for hunting."
"Right," Harry replied, grinning widely at the reminder that he had some of the most awesome friends in the world. Then he thought of something. "Does that mean you can bring them back?"
Artie gave him that boys are idiots look that she was so very good at, and he felt like shrinking in on himself. "I can only conjure animals for hunting. They would not breed or impact the natural order."
Hestia smiled at him. "Just like I could conjure dodo eggs. They would be delicious, but you wouldn't be able to breed dodos from them. We have virtual omnipotence within our domain, but those abilities do not extend beyond them."
"Exactly," Artie said, having calmed herself in a desire not to upset her aunt. "You would need the God of the Wild in order to resurrect animals from extinction. Unfortunately, nobody has seen Pan in a long time."
Hermes shuffled uncomfortably in the background at the reminder of his son's almost-certain fading.
"Will you be coming too, Miss Zoë?" Harry asked, turning to Artie's Lieutenant.
Zoë gave him that teasing grin she was so very good at. "If thou wishes," she answered.
Harry returned her look with one saying she was being silly. "Of course I want you to come," he answered, tone matching his look.
"Why I am not surprised?" Artie asked, shaking her head. "Who else will you invite?"
"Oh? Are you letting him bring friends?" Hestia asked her niece.
"I'm letting him chose a couple of Hunters to accompany us," Artie replied honestly. "it should make for a nice and relaxing trip."
Harry nodded, while Hestia looked conflicted. "How about Thalia and Miss Celyn?" Harry asked.
"Thalia isn't unexpected, but I wasn't aware you had much contact with Celyn," Artie replied, staring at him with an inscrutable look.
"When I ask if I can come through, it's usually Miss Celyn who replies, and she's always been polite," Harry answered her unspoken question.
"I see," Artie said with a nod. "Very well. It's decided, then."
Aphrodite was next, surprising Harry as he hadn't seen her a lot this last year. He visited every now and then, but always reminded himself of her act and how he didn't want to be the one to ruin it for her.
"Gran!" Harry shouted excitedly and giving the Goddess of Love a hug, once more feeling as if he were wrapped up in love.
"Happy birthday, Harry," Aphrodite said her brainless, thoughtless public way of speaking and handed him a package.
He carefully unwrapped it, revealing a book. "Cooking for Love," he read the title and opened it up. "Ooh, more chocolate and strawberries. And oysters, and truffles."
Various gods realized that those were aphrodisiacs and not just regular food items, and glared at the Goddess of Love – who appeared totally oblivious.
"Thanks, Gran!" Harry said, totally missing the implications of the book or the ingredients, and simply giving Aphrodite another hug.
"Yes, thank you, Aphrodite," Hestia said, placing just a tad too much emphasis on the words to be polite, and guiding the goddess away from her favorite mortal.
"That's strange, for a moment I thought Hestia sounded impolite," Harry said, half-out-loud as he placed the book on the table.
"That's because women are inscrutable," Apollo said, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Best not delve too deeply into those secrets, that way lies madness."
Harry blinked, considered the words, then nodded. The God of the Sun, Music, Arts, Healing, and plenty of other things, simply grinned, as if having conferred great wisdom upon a mortal.
"Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday," Apollo said, handing over a package.
"Thanks, Mister Apollo!" Harry replied, managing to sneak in a hug before the god had a chance to say no, before slowly picking apart the wrapping paper.
"You know, you can just tear it off," Apollo suggested.
"If it takes effort to wrap properly, it should take effort to unwrap properly," Harry replied, shameless copying Apollo's earlier tone of conferring great wisdom.
Apollo was one of the more easy-going gods and possessed a sense of humor. So, the god laughed at having his tone turned back on him, and patted Harry's shoulder. "I should give lessons in that tone," he added with a grin. "I could have you sound like a Zen Master in no time."
Harry grinned as he finished unwrapping the comic books. Carefully, he flipped through them, looking relieved when he found no poor girls having their clothing torn off by Japanese Hydras.
"You enjoyed last year's manga, so I thought I'd branch out with some Korean manhwa," Apollo said with a grin.
"And you know I enjoyed them because you're the God of the Arts," Harry said with a nod.
"Exactly!" Apollo crowed, shining brightly for a moment. The light cut off when a silver arrow narrowly missed him.
"Turn down the light show!" Artie scolded.
"But Sis…!" Apollo whined like the teenager he appeared to be.
"No," Artie stated, causing Apollo to pout.
Harry laughed quietly at the interaction. Artie and Apollo were a hoot, in his opinion. He loved how they teased each other. He knew they loved each other; they were brother and sister after all.
As Harry was distracted by the spectacle being made by Artie and Apollo, he failed to recognize the approach of his mortal friends. "Harry!" Apollo's twins shouted, grabbing him and practically lifting him off the ground.
"Wha-" he managed.
"Harry!" Silena and Annabeth shouted, recognizing their cue and running with it. They tackled him into a hug as well before he could recover.
"You guys," Harry said with a laugh, smooshed between two Sons of Apollo, a Daughter of Aphrodite, and a Daughter of Athena.
It was great to have friends.
They released him virtually at the same time, and Jack – or was it Jim? – thrust a package in his direction. "Hah! First!" he gloated in the direction of the girls, who didn't seem all that put out.
Harry gave the Guy an amused grin and accepted the package. He carefully picked the wrapping paper open, much to the annoyance of the twins.
Which, coincidentally, made him go even slower. Silena and Annabeth giggled, and the other twin laughed at the put-out look on his brother's face.
"Ooh! The Odyssey Mythomagic expansion pack. I heard about it – I thought it wasn't released yet?" he asked.
"It goes on general sale next week," The first brother said.
"We have our ways," the second brother offered.
"Thanks, Guys!" Harry said, grabbing them in a quick hug – as well as he could with his small eleven-year-old arms against their 18-year-old bodies.
"You're welcome," they chorused.
He carefully put the cards on the table, before accepting a package from Silena and Annabeth. Knowing better than to annoy girls, because girls were scarier than guys, he opened the package on normal speed.
"Teen Titans, nice!" Harry said with a grin, grabbing the girls in a hug. He managed that better considering they were his age. "Thanks!"
"You're welcome," Silena and Annabeth chorused, then looked surprised at each other.
The twins laughed. "We're infecting them! Awesome!" The first twin told his brother.
"Save me," Annabeth groaned.
Harry patted her back. "There, there, Annabeth. There, there."
She shook him off. "Fat lot of good you are at comforting people, Harry Potter," she said with a grin.
Harry playfully pouted at her. "And after the effort I took to comfort you, too."
"There, there, Harry," Silena said, patting his shoulder, causing them all to laugh.
As the demigods laughed and joked, a ping alerted Hermes, who pulled out his PDA and checked the incoming mail.
"Mail call!" he said loudly, snapping his fingers.
"Hey, a package from Miss Arachne!" Harry said enthusiastically, seeing the large box and recognizing the markings.
"She sent all of us a box on our birthday as well," Annabeth spoke for the others. "It's nice of her to remember us."
Harry nodded. "Definitely. Plus, they're the best clothes I ever had."
"Definitely," Silena agreed.
A second, small, box materialized just as Harry had the large Arachne-box open. "That one's international," Hermes said, frowning. "And with 'international', I mean, from a different pantheon."
"Huh, I wonder who it is," Harry said as he pulled the lid off the box, causing its sides to fall open to dramatically reveal its contents.
Said contents made Silena squeak, Annabeth look queasy, and the twins to look vaguely disturbed. The gods, on the other hand, fell silent.
The box contained a human heart.
Harry blinked, but then realized something. He was basically a Disciple of Hestia, and as such, could identify foods.
And that heart?
"Huh. An anatomically correct, blood-red heart made out of chocolate. I think only Kukulkan could have sent me this," he said, starting to grin. Like most young boys, he loved creepy things.
"That's made of chocolate?" Annabeth asked, approaching slowly. "Because that looks real."
"Yup, pure Mayan chocolate." He turned to Hestia. "I think he used achiote to die the chocolate blood-red, didn't he?"
Hestia nodded. "It is artistically done, but the subject is rather out of place for a birthday. It could almost be considered an insult. Or a challenge."
Harry shook his head as he pinched a small bit of chocolate off of the aorta and tasted it. "It's Mayan chocolate, the old fashioned style. Considering how we met him, I think it's meant as a joke. Kind of like 'you wouldn't give me a heart when I asked for it, so now I give you one."
"Well, you would know him best, I suppose," Hestia said, still not sounding completely on board with the tacky gift.
"It tastes brilliant, though," the young demigod said.
"Perhaps we should cut the cake first," Hermes suggested. "Before a certain young demigod ruins his appetite with Blood Chocolate."
"Ooh, nice name," Harry said.
"Oh, Hermes," Hestia sighed. "Now you've gone and encouraged him."
"Well, that is what grandparents are for," the God of Thieves tried to defend himself, causing a snicker from Harry.
Hestia merely gave him a tolerant look. "I will go get the cake," she said instead, leaving Harry to laugh with his friends.
She returned moments later with another wonderful creation. After Harry cut the cake, and everyone had a slice, he and his mortal friends started a new game with the new Mythomagic deck.
They were interrupted when Hermes received another notice on his PDA. The Messenger God frowned. "I'm sure I put this on Do Not Disturb," he muttered as he scrolled through his messages. "What could be… oh." He looked up. "Harry, more mail for you."
"Cool," Harry said with a grin, accepting the envelope. It was made from yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald-green ink.
Mr H. Potter
Temple of Helios
Empire State Building
350 5th Avenue
"Huh, funky," Harry said as he read the address. "Someone actually addressed mail to the mortal address of the Empire State building, referencing the Temple of Helios. That takes guts."
"Come on, open it up! Don't leave us hanging!" one of the twins encouraged, some of the gods nodding while others seem to be aware of what was going on. Nothing out of the ordinary there, Harry supposed. Gods always knew more about what was going on, and always seemed amused at mortals finding stuff out they knew all along.
He opened the thick envelope and pulled out a couple of sheets of heavy parchment.
"HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY – headmaster, ALBUS DUMBLEDORE."
Harry suddenly looked excited. "Hey, that's the school my mom and dad went to!" he said.
"Yes, it is," Hestia confirmed. "Now, read on."
"Alright, alright," Harry said, squinting at the cursive English writing. Honestly, that script was playing havoc with his hard-wired Ancient-Greek-reading brain. "Apparently, this guy's important. He's got an Order of Merlin first class, whatever that is, and he's a Grand Sorcerer, whatever that is."
"Maybe they're ceremonial titles,"Annabeth suggested.
"True," Harry agreed.
Dear Mister Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
"I wonder what the difference is between Witchcraft and Wizardry," Harry muttered when he finished reading. "And hey! Today's the 31st! They couldn't send this earlier?"
"Sorry, delays between mortal and supernatural post," Hermes muttered.
Harry grinned at him. "It happens, Hermes," he said consolingly. "But what's this about expecting my owl? I don't own an owl, and why would I send one to them? That's cruel!"
"Mortal magic-users have been using owls as a postal service for over a thousand years," Athena said. "It takes very little magic to increase an owl's intelligence to allow it to carry mail. Post owls are treated incredibly well in their realm, so I have continued to support the practice through the ages."
"Oh," Harry said. "That sounds interesting. So, I need to go out, capture an owl, and perform this magic on it to have it carry back a reply? Is that how it works?"
"Post owls are bred specifically for the purpose," Athena said, slowly rubbing her chin, before looking away. "I did already give a gift, but then again, a young mortal only joins their magical world once in their lifetime so I suppose one exception is acceptable."
Harry looked at Annabeth, who seemed just as confused about her mother's arcane mutterings.
Suddenly, Athena looked up at the ceiling, where a light bloomed into existence, resolving into a recognizable shape the next moment.
Harry instinctively held up his arm as the large snowy owl made a feather-touch landing. For a moment, she flared her wings majestically, before tucking them in.
"She's gorgeous!" Harry said as he stared at the snowy owl. The owl stuck out her chest, as if confirming the statement.
"She will now be your post owl," Athena declared.
"Really? That's great! Thanks, Miss Athena!" he said enthusiastically.
Athena dipped her head and gave a pleased little smile.
Harry turned back to his new post owl. In her beak, she held a small card, kind of like a business card, but slightly larger, which she handed to Harry.
He accepted it with the kind of casual acceptance that could only come from those who lived around the gods and were therefore used to the strange and unusual.
"Hello," Harry read from the card. "My name is fill in the blank." He stopped reading and looked at the snowy owl, who stared back unblinkingly. They looked at each other for a few moments.
"How about Promethea?" Harry asked. "After Prometheus, who brought knowledge to humans. You can bring knowledge to me."
The owl seemed to debate that for a moment, then dipped her head in acceptance.
"Hey, the 'fill in the blank' has been filled," Harry said as he turned back to the card. "Neat."
"What else does it say?" Annabeth asked, sidling up to him so she could stare at – erm – study the snowy owl.
Harry continued to read. "My hobbies include Quantum Physics, Greek History, and-" he stopped reading and looked at the owl again.
"Seriously?" he asked. She flared her wings, before settling down and staring at him. Everyone knew that the owl had just replied 'yes, seriously'. Harry snickered quietly, before resuming to read. "And freaking people out by rotating my head one hundred-eighty degrees and staring at them for hours without blinking."
The assorted gods and demigods all laughed.
"My favorite food is bacon, but any fried or grilled pork product will do in a pinch," Harry finished. More chuckles and giggles came from his guests.
He looked at the beautiful owl. "Isn't bacon bad for you?" he asked.
Smartly, she indicated that he should flip the card over. Curious, he did so, and burst out laughing.
"What does it say?" Annabeth asked as Harry tried to compose himself.
"Yes, it is, but so are most of the things you eat. You don't seem to be skipping those, either," he read from the card, before looking at his new owl. "You're very right about that," he told her while everyone else laughed.
"There seems to be another paper in the envelope," Hestia suggested. "Before you write back saying you'll agree to come, you may want to read what else they've written."
Harry nodded. "Good idea, Hestia," he said, lowering his arm so the newly-named Promethea could hop to the table before fishing out the second parchment.
"It's a list of supplies," Harry said. "Uniforms, a pointy hat, gloves, winter cloak, things like that. There's also a book list, and a list of miscellaneous equipment like phials, a cauldron, telescope, stuff like that."
There was also a wand listed, but remembering how Marduk despised the things Harry told himself he'd get one to satisfy the people in charge, then simply not use it.
"We should be able to get all of that equipment in the magical shopping area," Hestia said.
"Can we ask Mom to come, too?" Harry asked, plaintively. "I mean, she's gone through all of it before and should know the area and what to get and stuff."
"Of course Tyche will come," Hestia said with a grand smile, as if it were a foregone conclusion. "I wouldn't dream of denying you a chance to see your mother. Even if you can't have verbal communications."
Harry smiled widely. "Thanks, Hestia!" He looked down at the list again, and thought of something. "I suppose I should write to Miss Arachne for the clothes. I think she'd be upset or offended if I bought the uniform from someone else."
Hestia looked amused. "You may want to check her box before that, Harry."
He looked at her suspiciously. "Do you know something I don't?" he asked.
The goddess laughed. "I know many things you don't, Harry. That's why I am the goddess and you are the mortal."
Harry snorted. "You know what I meant, Hestia," he complained playfully.
"I do indeed. And if you check the box, you may find your questions answered," she teased.
Harry shrugged and delved deep into the box of clothes. "Hey, a Hogwarts uniform, and robes and cloaks and stuff," he said, pulling out one set of outer robes. "How did she know?"
Hestia smiled mysteriously.
"You knew, didn't you?" Harry accused.
"I suspected, so I had a bit of a chat with Arachne," Hestia admitted. "I am pleased to see things worked out."
Harry nodded and turned back to his list. "Hey, it says I can only bring either an owl, a cat, or a toad. That could be a problem…"
"How so?" Hestia asked.
"Well, I can't leave Nemmy by himself for that long. He'll get bored and get into mischief. And I wouldn't even dream of leaving Promethea."
"I'll have a talk with your future headmaster, Harry. Don't worry," Hestia said, patting his shoulder. "Just promise me that you'll have Nemmy stay in his cat form. The last thing we need is for panic to break out among the mortals because a giant, almost-invulnerable lion is stalking their school."
"I promise," Harry replied, not really getting it. Nemmy was fluffy and soft and made for a really nice bed. But, if Hestia wanted him to stay in cat form, Harry would ask his pet to stay in cat form. She hadn't steered him wrong yet.
He excused himself to go play Mythomagic with his demigod friends, because it wouldn't be a birthday without a good long gaming session. He did wonder about the lack of communication from Mel, though. She hadn't even sent a card...
He forgot about the Goddess of Ghosts, immediately distracted by the new cards and the setting up of the game. Right as they were about to start playing, Annabeth turned to him.
"By the way, Harry, there was something I wanted to talk to you about," the daughter of Athena said, sounding rather stern all of a sudden.
Harry shuddered, feeling as if he'd done something wrong and was about to see the headmistress of a school.
"And what's that?" Harry asked, trying to hide his sudden bout of nervousness.
Annabeth pointed to a chest that was standing on top of one of the half-height set of drawers. "Just what is that?"
Harry looked at the chest and let out a relieved breath. "Oh, I won that off Hermes a couple of years back. It comes with two large poles that thread through the rings on the side of it, to allow people to carry it about. It's nice and secure, so I use it to store stuff I really don't want to lose."
Annabeth looked like she couldn't believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. Silena and the twins were laughing openly at her reaction.
"Why?" Harry asked, curiously. "I mean, the two angels on the lid are a bit ostentatious, but other than that, it's a very nice and secure lockbox."
The Daughter of Athena had her eyes screwed shut and was pinching the bridge of her nose. "Do you even know what it is?" she demanded.
Harry shrugged. "Not really. Hermes said he took it off some refugees quite some time ago. He said it was to help them so they could move quicker and not drag it with them, but I think he was just using that as an excuse for his thievery."
Four demigods stared at him, suddenly pale.
"God of Thieves, Harry. God of Thieves," Hermes said, suddenly standing right behind the birthday boy.
"Hey Hermes!" Harry said smilingly as he turned to his grandfather. "Annabeth asked about that nice box I won off you, so I was explaining it's nice and secure unless you know the secret to opening it."
Hermes chuckled, and nodded. "It really is a nice storage device," he said.
"You should know better, Annabeth. Don't ask about Harry's things. That way lies madness," Silena joked.
"True," the Daughter of Athena pouted.
"My life's not that bad," Harry grumbled playfully at his friends.
"Speaking as a god somewhat-heavily involved in your life," Hermes said, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder, "I can honestly say that, for a mortal, yes it is. But, that's what makes it fun, right?"
Harry grinned at his grandfather. "Definitely!"
The next day, Harry was walking back to the temple when suddenly a large hand grabbed his shoulder and catapulted him through vast distances.
With trained reflexes, he dropped his shoulder to break the grip and spun around, sword already materializing in his hand as he did so.
"Mister Ares?" Harry asked, stopping himself from eviscerating – or trying to, at least – his combat teacher. They were now located in the middle of some huge grassy plain, mountains vaguely visible in the far distance off one side.
"Birthday surprise, Brat!" Ares crowed.
Harry's eyes widened. Oh no…
Hestia, Artie, Ares grabbed me! Please hel-
Before he could finish his prayer, a huge monster beset him.
"It's the Lydian Drakon!" Ares shouted over the roar of the monster. "Have fun, Brat!"
Harry yelped instead of replying and ducked underneath the swipe of the monster's tail. It had no legs, crawling around like a snake instead. However, just like snakes, it was for more mobile than you would give a creature without legs credit for.
It was over 60 meters long, close to 200 feet, and its head was absolutely terrifying. In fact, when Harry looked into the monster's eyes, he felt his knees weaken and his teeth chatter. It was terrifying with a capital letter T.
The monster roared and charged him again. "I thought it was time to get you a dragon to fight! Every proper young hero needs to fight dragons!" Ares shouted.
Harry eep-ed and managed to combat-roll out of the way of the drakon's mouth as it came down, and slashed with his sword. The divine weapon struck sparks as it hit the scales of the beast – yet it did not damage.
"Don't get yourself killed, Brat! Aunt Hestia would kill me!"
"I will kill you even so," Hestia declared angrily, suddenly right next to the God of War.
"Indeed," Artie said, stepping on his other side. "What madness have you concocted this time?"
"Just a dragon," Ares said shiftily.
Meanwhile, Harry dodged another attack. Fire! Lightning! He told his sword, which exploded into plasma at the command. Another slash struck nothing but sparks, doing no damage.
"What the hell!? Is this thing invulnerable?"
"Good question," Artie said, narrowing her eyes at her half-brother.
"That particular drakon may… just may… have a bit of a prophecy attached to it," Ares admitted.
"It's that Lydian Drakon!?" Artie demanded. "The one that can only be killed by one of your… offspring?"
"I was just trying to teach the Brat that sometimes you can't beat things on your own!" Ares yelped, seeing the Goddess of the hunt's bow appear in her hands. "I have one of my own brats standing by, don't worry!"
Harry stabbed at the drakon, after ducking underneath a tail-swipe that no doubt would have taken his head off. The sword deflected off the scales, leaving not a mark.
The drakon roared, reared back, and spat at him.
His shield materialized, and Harry ducked behind it – the slimy substance the drakon had spat splashing on the divine protection.
It hissed upon contact and Harry spun the shield to throw the acidic poison away. Drops of it splattered on his clothes, immediately starting to smoke and dissolve them.
"Shit!" he cursed as he put some distance between himself and it, managing to throw his shirt off without having the Drakon take his head off at the same time. Underneath his shirt, he wore the chainmail that Odin had given him; the divine material resistant to acid.
The Drakon hissed, and glared at him; again Harry felt the terror-stare bore into his soul. He closed his eyes, drew a breath, and steeled himself.
Unfortunately, closing his eyes was the absolute last thing he should have done; it was exactly what the drakon had been hoping for. It struck with the speed of lightning.
Feeling his instincts call him a dumbass and telling him to roll and open his eyes, Harry did just that and rolled underneath the strike and opened his eyes in time to come to his feet.
Zoë, who had been quietly standing next to Artie, turned to the goddess. "My Lady?"
The Goddess of the Hunt nodded and raised her bow. "Nuh-uh, princess," Ares teased. "I registered this as an official quest. No interference."
Hestia turned slowly to her nephew, her eyes flat. "Ares…" she said, angrily.
The God of War swallowed deeply.
"My Lady," Zoë said, again, on a different tone.
Artie took a step, then stopped herself reluctantly. There were rules against interference in an official quest, and she just knew that her father was watching this to ensure she didn't interfere. Finally, she gave a sharp nod to Zoë. "Go," she stated, her Lieutenant already going, bow in hand and being drawn, before she finished the word.
Immediately, she loosed an arrow that somehow multiplied in mid-air, each projectile striking with the force of a bullet – yet ending up doing no damage.
The monster swiped its tail at her, forcing her to duck underneath. Simultaneously, she drew her bow, and came up with another projectile already nocked and ready. The arrow flashed through the air and struck the beast's side.
Again, it was meaningless.
At the same time, the monster's head spat acid at Harry, who ducked behind his shield in an effort to protect himself. The goop struck the divine instrument, immediately starting to hiss.
He made to fling out the shield to remove most of the corrosive slime, yet halted as his sword commented.
Use me, Boss! More acid and venom for me to use!
Realizing that he may as well get some advantage out of this fight, Harry swiped at the acid with the sword, allowing it to absorb as much as it needed.
Got it, thanks, Boss!
Harry flung the shield, removing the rest of the acid-venom, and charged the other side of the drakon, trying to draw its attention away from where the monster was continuously attacking Zoë. If he could draw its attention, perhaps Zoë could flank it from the other side!
The monster obliged Harry's distraction and swiped with its tail, faster than Harry had anticipated, and struck the shield head-on.
The demigod let himself go limp, trusting the shield to absorb the impact and allowing his body to roll with the strike.
Pain shot up his left arm, signaling the entire limb was now deeply bruised, and drawing a startled scream from his throat. An eleven-year-old Harry Potter being struck by a 60-meter snake-dragon-creature-thing wasn't a fair fight as far as physics were concerned, and he found himself sailing helplessly through the air.
Already, the monster was rearing up to strike at him with its maw, and Harry could feel his life flashing before his eyes, sure that the impact with the ground would be the last thing he ever felt before the creature tore him apart.
Fortunately, Zoë had seen the predicament he was in, and loosed another volley of arrows, managing to aim for the drakon's head – and more importantly, its sensitive eyes.
The monster shook its head, ensuring the arrows struck the impervious scales of its forehead instead of its eyes, and roared angrily as it turned on her.
Meanwhile, Harry hit the ground with a hard, wet, thump, forcing more pain to shoot through his body. He'd bruised his back and probably sprained something he shouldn't have, but the ongoing battle spurring him into rolling to his feet.
The drakon ignored him completely, and struck at Zoë's location with its head. As she dodged, it swiped at her with its tail.
Zoë, battle-hardened and incredibly experienced warrior that she was, ducked without looking and was already drawing her bow, a new projectile nocked and ready.
Unfortunately for her, the drakon had anticipated her ducking, having seen it before, and simply threw its entire body into reversing the tail-swipe and coming at her from the opposite direction in a completely unanticipated manner.
The tail struck her with the force of a freight-train, and a scream emerged from Harry's throat at the wet sound of squishing flesh and the crunshing noise of breaking bone as the Hunter was picked up and flung away.
She landed with a wet thump, totally silent and unmoving. The drakon capitalized by striking at her with its head.
"Zoë!" Harry shouted, starting to run despite being too far away from the creature – and her – to do any good. And yet, he pushed. He had to get to her, and he had to get to her now!
The world seemed to blink and move around him, and he suddenly found himself standing over her, his shield ready and angled to deflect the huge creature's head as it came bearing down to tear her apart.
Harry screamed as his legs buckled underneath the force, and he ducked completely behind the shield, putting not just his arm but his shoulder and entire body behind it.
The head struck the ground and reared up, preparing for a second strike.
Harry's bracers materialized, and the demigod put his entire body, all his strength, and as much Shen as he could muster behind striking them together.
The stored kinetic force detonated around Harry and the girl he was protecting, radiating outward with a ferocious force that simply bitchslapped the monster away as if it were an insignificant insect.
The 200-foot monster flew through the air and smashed into the ground a fair distance away; it did not immediately move.
Harry, bruised, weary, beaten, yet not defeated, straightened up from his crouching position over Zoë.
He was angry – angry in a way that he had only rarely felt before. This monster had tried to kill Zoë. His friend. One of his favorite teachers. And this monster had tried to rip her away from him and that was something he could not forgive.
For the first time, Harry felt hate. He hated this monster. Hated it with a passion that would have scared him if he hadn't been so utterly furious. And if there was one thing Harry was certain of, it was that he was going to kill this monster.
He straightened up. Deep within his mind, countless hours of lessons, drills, trainings, came together in a stew of divine knowledge instilled in him by half a dozen teachers, Goddesses of the Hunt and Wisdom, Gods of War, Gods of Magic, and their chosen mortals.
He threw open the gates of his magic, drawing in the surrounding energy; the world suddenly snapped into hyper-focus as he opened his senses; the monster groaned and picked itself up slowly. It shook its head, obviously woozy from the smack it had just received.
Harry started walking, leaning down to pick up Zoë's discarded bow. The godly instrument immediately protested – he was neither a girl, nor a Hunter!
Harry's magic twisted and churned on itself, and suddenly the bow yielded to him, utterly convinced that yes, he was a she, and yes, that meant it would help him defeat this thing.
The drakon focused on Harry, as if attempting to terror-stare him into submission. Harry calmly raised his sword in his right hand and seemed to nock it.
Boss? What are you doing?
Harry ignored it, instead replying with, broadhead hunting arrow.
Boss! The sword said, apparently stunned as it shifted into a hunting arrow, its head broad and razor sharp. The entire metal arrow had metal fletching at its base, and technically, it had a bladed head and thus counted as a bladed weapon.
Godslayer, Harry thought, Slay this beast. Plasma.
Gladly, boss! Godslayer reported as Harry drew the string on the bow back, the arrowhead exploding into plasma. The bow's draw-weight was heavy, but not exceedingly so, and he suddenly realized that it was the enchanted weapon that was doing most of the heavy lifting.
I will put aside your defenses as if meaningless, Harry's subconscious thought, suddenly materializing a tiny circle of runes around the arrowhead. I will brush aside your protection as if made from wet tissue, he added, a second circle appearing around the first.
I will destroy you, he thought as the bow reached full draw. A sigil appeared in front of the arrow's tip; a sigil that was completely inhuman, a drawing that could not have come from Human imagination or consciousness.
He released the string.
To those watching the proceedings, it was nerve-wracking. Ares, with great glee, had restrained Artie from intervening when Zoë took the hit and smacked to the ground.
When Harry simply appeared from mid-air, and deflected the strike, she let out a relived breath. Yet, when he detonated the force stored in his bracers to throw the monster away, she let out a second, deeper one – mimicking the one that came from Hestia.
The next moment, he straightened up, and an unseen wind tugged at his clothes and made his hair wave. His eyes glowed with otherworldly energy, and for the first time Artie realized just how dangerous Harry could be.
She frowned when he picked up the bow, knowing that he would never be able to use it. The next moment, she huffed when her bow reported that he was now a she. She didn't know how he pulled that off, nor did she want to know how he pulled it off.
He nocked the sword, turned it into an arrow, and drew back the bow string. The next moment, the arrowhead exploded into fire-lightning plasma, and he released the string.
Nobody watching noticed the conversation, nor did anyone watching see the runes or the special sigil.
Instead, they saw the arrow breach the sound barrier halfway between the bow and the monster. Somehow it was, impossibly as that sounded, still accelerating after being released from the string.
The arrow struck the monster's eye with pinpoint accuracy and with devastating force, disappearing completely in the brain cavity behind and taking the top of the monster's head off.
The drakon wavered, stunned, surprised, disbelieving, before slowly toppling over and starting to disappear into golden motes of light.
"He beat it," Ares whispered in shock and surprise. "He broke a prophecy. I can't believe he broke a prophecy."
"Aaresss…" Hestia said, drawing the syllables out. The God of War's eyes widened when he felt a hot wind blow in his face. "Uhm. Gottagorightnowbye!" he managed, disappearing right before Hestia chased him.
Harry, meanwhile, he turned back to Zoë, still on the ground and still not moving. "Zoë," he whispered, momentarily reaching out as if to hug her before realizing that she didn't like hugs and one should never move an injured person. Instead, he grabbed her hand. "Zoë, are you alright?" he asked, worriedly.
"Bruised, cracked, and broken ribs," she muttered painfully. "Ruptured spleen and liver. Kidney failure." As she continued to list internal injuries, Artie knelt down on the other side.
"Stay still, old friend. Let me heal you," the Goddess of the Hunt said, taking Zoë's other hand. A silver glow spread from the goddess to her Lieutenant, quickly enveloping her entire body.
Moments later, the glow faded away and Zoë drew a deep breath and sat upright. "Thank thee, My Lady."
Artie gave a sharp nod. "Glad to see you well and whole again, old friend," she said, then looked at Harry. "And you."
Harry gulped, wanting to pull away. Artie looked angry enough to be Artemis – and Artemis was dangerous.
"That was an incredible fight, and do not think I did not notice you putting yourself physically between a charging monster and my Lieutenant," she said.
Harry swallowed again, not sure whether what she was saying was a compliment or not.
"I will not forget. You probably saved her life," Artie went on.
"She saved mine first," Harry muttered, almost-afraid of mouthing off to her.
"As it should be in battle," Artie said, standing up. "Now, I must have a most sincere chat with my half-brother. Because this most certainly will not do." She took a half-turn and vanished.
Ignoring how the God of War now had two angry goddesses on his tail, Harry turned to Zoë. "Are you alright, Miss Zoë?" He asked, softly.
"My Lady hath healed me," the Hunter said, getting to her feet. Harry followed her example immediately. "I am fine, now. 'T was not an enjoyable battle, however."
"I know," Harry said, still softly, as he looked at where the monster had been. It had dissipated completely by now, and had left behind a spoil. Just as he was about to step up to see what it was, Zoë stopped him.
He looked at her. She held up a hand, looking amused. "If you will return my bow?" she asked.
Harry looked down, and realized he was still holding her bow in his left hand. He blanched immediately and tried to shove it at her in a blind panic. "Sorry!"
Zoë took the weapon back and made it vanish. "Thou used it… somehow… and I am pleased that it served thee well. However, I would suggest against repeating the action."
He nodded so quickly it looked like his head would fall off.
"Good, then let us go and examine thy spoil."
"Our spoil, you mean," Harry said. "We beat it together."
Zoë shook her head. "Nay. Neither of us did any damage to it until thou… smote… it."
"If it weren't for you, it would have killed me," Harry protested.
"If thou insist," Zoë said as they reached the spoil.
It turned out to be a long, black, leather trench coat that seemed as impervious as the drakon's skin had been – almost as impervious as Nemean Lion skin. Underneath the trench coat was a hunting knife, shaped like one of the creature's fangs.
"I shall accept the knife, if thou wilt accept the coat," Zoë declared as she picked up the weapon.
Harry just nodded and threw the coat on over the chainmail – which was about all that remained of the clothes on his upper body. His pants had holes in them now, from where acid had splashed, but his shirt had been a complete write-off.
He turned to her, about to ask her to help him back to Olympus, when something caught his eye.
In the distance, beyond the battlefield, he saw something move. It was quite far away and he couldn't make it out.
"Miss Zoë? Do you see that?" he requested, indicating the direction.
The Hunter squinted slightly in the direction Harry indicated. "'T is a horse," she said. "Tied to a post."
The young demigod frowned at her. "Why would a horse be tied up out here?" he wondered. "I don't see anyone else around."
Zoë nodded in agreement. "'T is most unusual. Come, we shall investigate," she told him, actually drawing her knives – the new one and one of the old ones, Harry noticed.
Harry, startled, brought his sword and shield out once more. With Ares, you never knew what was in store for you.
He stepped in concert with Zoë, and they emerged next to the animal within five paces. Harry refrained from commenting on her super-secret Hunter skills; he knew it would just end up with Zoë telling him to accept Artie's offer.
As Zoë examined the horse, she seemed to be stunned. It was midnight black, with a white star on its forehead. "This horse. I know this horse," she said. "I believe 't is the horse of Alexander the Great; Bucephalus."
"Whoa," Harry said, reaching out and letting the horse sniff his hand before carefully running it down the animal's flank. "And he's a good horse, apparently," he added when it accepted Harry petting him. Before Zoë could reply, he found a scroll tied lightly to the horse's neck.
He untied it carefully, and unrolled it.
It was from Melinoe, he recognized her handwriting anywhere.
Hey Kiddo – when Lord Ares told me of his delightful annual surprise for your birthday, I couldn't say 'no' when he asked me to collaborate. So – Happy Birthday!
That explained the lack of a birthday card, Harry realized.
So, here's a ghost horse as a birthday gift from me and Lord Ares. It's a War Horse, so it falls under Lord Ares' domain, and as a ghost, it falls under my domain. You don't have to feed him, or even house him – he's able to come back to the ghost lands when he's not needed. He also has a few tricks up his sleeve, you'll love him.
Also, a bit of a second gift. I've found myself a new place to live. Me and Father under the same roof was a bit of a disaster, but I was able to find this quaint hotel in the Rocky Mountains. It's called the 'Overlook Hotel'. I took it over and haunted it slightly. Mortals are already paying good money to test their bravery against it. Anyway – there's a room set aside for you. If you ever need a vacation in the mountains, it's yours; free of charge.
Happy Birthday again, and thanks for everything.
Harry was smiling widely by the time he finished the parchment. He was happy Melinoe had found herself a home, and he was happy that she hadn't forgotten his birthday. He rolled the parchment up again and looked at the horse.
"Found your surprise, did you, Brat?" Ares asked, emerging from thin air and making the horse startle. Harry grabbed hold of the reins, making it settle down with virtually no problems.
Harry blinked when he examined the God of War; he was bleeding profusely from an arrow to the shoulder.
Noticing the looks, Ares said, "Don't piss off Goddesses of the Hunt, Brat. They're good with a bow." Zoë looked pleased at that, but Harry simply nodded respectfully. He already knew that scary Artie turned into Artemis, and Artemis was a whole other level of scary.
"Anyway, I see you found your gift. Since he's the horse of a warlord, he's mine, and now you've earned him in battle."
"Mel said he's a ghost," Harry said.
"Considering he's been dead 2500 years, no kidding," Ares told him with a sarcastic grin. "He won't need food or drink because he's a ghost. And considering that he's a ghost, he can change shape, so he can carry you around mortals without drawing attention."
"That's SO cool! Mel said he had some tricks up his sleeve! That's so awesome!" Harry gushed.
Ares grinned, and was about to say something. He broke off and looked into the distance. "Gotta go!" he disappeared, right before a silver arrow flew through where he had been and stuck itself in the ground not far away.
"Good hunting, My Lady," Zoë said to the open air, with a wide smile.
Harry, still petting his new horse, said, "I wonder what shapes he can take?"
The horse whinnied, then shifted, turning into a scooter. "Cool! A vespa!" Harry said, grinning.
The scooter whinnied, briefly turning into a huge Harley Davidson, before shrinking back into a scooter.
"Thou shall break thy neck," Zoë declared. "A motorcycle is dangerous, and thou art too young, even for a scooter."
Harry pouted at her.
"Thine puppy-dog-eyes are wasted upon me," Artie's Lieutenant said with obvious amusement. "For 't is Lady Hestia thou must convince."
Harry swallowed and looked sour. That may not go very well, especially considering what had just happened.
AN: you, my readers, are incredible. I want to thank each and every one of you who left an encouraging message for me and my mother. Those messages are extremely appreciated.
This story started as a way for me to pull myself from a depression, and right now it is something of a life raft for me. A way to escape the daily world and go somewhere else.
As a final note – to those who worried about it, I told you that Hogwarts would come!