Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 72

"Alright, Kiddos," Melinoe said as they approached Christine. "Everybody in the car."

"Nice," Percy commented at the first sight of the 1958 Plymouth Fury, unknowingly scoring brownie points with both Christine and the Goddess of Ghosts that owned her.

Ares' backpack was slung negligently over the Son of Poseidon's one shoulder, and vanished easily into the car's trunk.

Annabeth and Grover slipped silently into the backseat, both of them ill at ease with their intended driver.

Harry, meanwhile, played up his age. "Can I drive?" he whined in a particularly obnoxious fashion.

Mel snorted. "No. Mine," she replied with a snap.

"Awww," Harry added an outrageously overplayed sulk to his repertoire, causing the Goddess of Ghosts to laugh.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd kick you to the curb," the goddess said with a laugh. "Nice job, Kiddo."

"Thanks, Mel," the Son of Tyche answered easily as he slipped into the front seat while Percy took the last remaining seat on the back bench. Cars from the 1950 had many advantages of modern cars – case in point, bench seats with lots of room.

"Everyone in and seatbelts on?" Mel asked as she sat down behind the steering wheel, Christine starting the engine before the Goddess of Ghosts had a chance to.

"Ehm… where are the seatbelts?" Percy asked.

Harry hid his grin behind a hand as he pretended to lean on the door to gaze out the window.

Melinoe laughed loudly. "Gotcha," she laughed. "Christine's a real car from back when people built real cars – if you killed yourself in a car, it was your own damn fault."

Percy looked like he didn't know what face to make or what to respond with, so instead gave a small half-laugh. "I can see that," he tried to bluff his way out of the conversation.

Mel snickered. "Alright, Kiddos. Let's go."

Christine's tires didn't squeal, but the force of acceleration pushed them hard enough that they definitely should have. Within moments, they were going way above the speed limit and still accelerating.

The environment outside started to blur, whether because of their speed or because Mel was doing something godly Harry didn't know or care. Instead, he leaned against his door and looked out the window.

There was a suspicious lack of conversation in the car.

Suddenly, reality seemed to blur back into visibility. "Wanna stop at your mom's place?" Mel offered as Christine rolled down the Las Vegas Strip, with The Fortuna Casino featured prominently. "Have a drink, maybe?"

Harry shot her a filthy look. Mel winced. "Too soon?"

He grunted, momentarily forgetting about the peanut gallery perching on the backseat. "You apologized, so I've forgiven you for that mistake," Harry answered, ignoring how the Goddess of Ghosts' shoulders seemed to relax a fraction. "But I haven't forgotten."

Mel winced again. "That's fair," she finally admitted. Softer, she glanced at him. "I'm really sorry about that."

"I know, Mel. I know," he replied, softer as well. "And, like I said, I've forgiven you. Just try not to let it happen again, alright?"

Mel grinned. "I doubt you'll fall for the same trick again, anyway."

Harry barked a laugh. "You have no idea. For months, I had the irresistible urge to check my drinks for a geas!"

Mel grinned now that he was laughing, and really didn't seem like he was still upset with her. She sighed a moment later. "If only Aunt Hestia would forgive me that quickly. She made me leave, which was bad, but I disappointed her, and that's worse."

"That look makes you feel like an inch tall, and really bad about yourself, doesn't it?" Harry asked sympathetically. "I've been there."

Mel just nodded.

"I doubt Hestia is still angry with you, anyway," Harry said. "She leveled the Look of Disappointment at you, then made you leave. You apologized, and haven't repeated the mistake, so I think she's just keeping an eye out for now. You know, forgiven but not forgotten just yet."

Mel nodded softly. "Kind of like you?"

Harry grinned. "Maybe," he confirmed, then thought of something. "You know, with Hestia adopting me last Christmas, you and I are cousins now."

For a moment, Mel looked shy, and in that moment he saw his own insecurities reflected back at him; the loneliness, the sensation that you're not good enough, the very realization that everything can and will be taken from you at a moment's notice and nothing good ever lasted.

Then, the moment passed and Melinoe was the goddess again. "You mean that, Kiddo?" she asked. She sounded as if she didn't care, and she probably managed to bluff the trio in the backseat with it, but she failed to convince Harry.

"Course I do," Harry said, completely and utterly serious. "I take family seriously."

Mel gave him a smile; not one of her usual self-assured devil-may-care ones, but a soft and grateful one. It was the kind of smile she displayed only rarely.

He smiled back.

Mel grinned, and her injured past was shoved back where it belonged. A moment later, Christine shot forward as she floored the accelerator. "So, since you're not interested in reliving the past, let's just get you to Dad's place," she said, obviously as an attempt at deflection.

Harry decided to allow it, and instead focused on her statement. "Dad, not Father?" He enquired softly, not sure whether he was opening a can of worms or not.

Mel was silent for a few moments, then nodded. "Yeah. Dad. We've been good." She looked at him from the corner of her eye. "Thanks for that, Kiddo."

"You're welcome," Harry replied, heartfelt and beyond happy that she and Hades seemed to have patched things up and were getting along really well.

"Which is also kind of the reason why I'm only taking you so far as the front door," Mel said. "Rather than to the throne room itself."

Harry nodded. "Of course. Completely understandable. Mister Hades didn't answer the fires I sent, so he doesn't want to see people and it would be rude for you to simply bring us inside when he doesn't."

"Knew I could count on you, Kiddo," Mel replied with a wide smile as Christine's speedometer stuck itself to the 'fast' end despite the car obviously still accelerating. The Goddess of Ghosts, with only half an eye and part of her attention on the road, weaved across traffic with no apparent issues.

A whimper came from the backseat, finally reminding Harry that there was an audience present in the car. Looking over his shoulder, he found Percy looking pale but trying to hide it with an air of casual indifference, Annabeth, looking like she was biting her fingernails not to say anything that could potentially anger their driver, and Grover, the source of the whimpering.

"Everything alright?" Harry asked, as if Mel wasn't making like a Formula 1 driver on the Las Vegas Strip.

Another whimper came from Grover. "C-can we slow down?" the Satyr asked.

"We're only going four times the speed limit," Mel said, sounding as if she had no idea whatsoever what the problem was. The twitch of her lips showed Harry that she knew exactly what the problem was, however.

Another whimper from Grover. Annabeth's fingers were white as chalk as she gripped her knees. Percy twitched, but continued to look out the side-window as if he didn't care at all.

"Just make sure you don't scratch poor Christine's paint job," Harry teased.

"Pff. With the amount of haunting done to her?" Mel scoffed. "She heals, from just about anything."

"Nice," Harry said, patting Christine's dash appreciatively. "You really are the most awesome car," he added.

"Still mine," Mel teased.

Harry snickered. Conversation died down and he looked outside; they had already left Las Vegas far behind with the speeds Mel was racing at.

He grinned and made a very underwhelmed sort of 'woohoo' noise. Mel got it and shot him a grin; simultaneously there was a squeak from the backseat.

Harry looked over his shoulder, to a pale Annabeth. "How can you do that?" the Daughter of Athena asked. "We're going four times the speed limit! What if we hit something? Or someone?"

Mel's grin widened at finally getting a fearful reaction from them; once a scary goddess, always a scary goddess. "Don't worry, Kiddo. I'm a goddess, and Christine knows what she's doing."

Annabeth paled further now that realized she had inadvertently insulted a goddess.

Harry, knowing Mel really wasn't as bad as she liked to pretend she was, still made an effort to shield his friend. "If you ding Christine's beautiful paint job, I'm staging an intervention," he said, semi-jokingly.

Mel shot him a look. "Mine," she snapped possessively. "Besides, Christine heals, so it's no problem."

Harry shot her look, unable to believe she had just said that. "I heal, too, but that doesn't mean you can beat me up," he retorted. "Besides, is that any way to talk about your beautiful, faithful, trusty, always-there-for-you companion?"

The Goddess of Ghosts was about to open her mouth when Christine's engine coughed, as if it were in the preliminary stages of running out of fuel. Mel closed her mouth. "Fine, fine, you guys win. Stop ganging up on me. It's not fair."

Harry patted her leg. "There, there, Mel. There, there."

Mel snorted. "Fine, I get the point," she said. "I was hoping for a nice road trip, but you're still a stick in the mud, it seems."

"I am not a stick in the mud!" Harry protested semi-jokingly.

"You wouldn't even stop in Vegas, say hi to your mom, and play a few rounds of some betting game or other," Mel returned on the same half-joking tone. "You're the stickiest stick in the mud that ever stuck. In mud."

Harry ignored the twinge in his chest when Mel brought up his mother. Instead, he focused on the rest of her speech and snorted at the over-the-top description of his character. "We're on a bit of a deadline," he answered, completely ignoring the reference to Tyche and desperately wanting the feelings to disappear. She couldn't talk to him because of Zeus. The same Zeus who now had him traipsing around the country with Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, simply because he couldn't be careful with his toys.

Harry really wanted Zeus to grow up.

"Pff. Solstice isn't for ages," Melinoe waved his comment off, drawing his attention back to the here and now. "We had time for you to rack up another million or two."

"What would I need another million – or two – for?" Harry asked. "I have friends, family, a home, clothes, and food. I don't need money."

Mel smiled at him. "Straight-laced stick in the mud," she said fondly. "But fine, I'll get you to Dad's place. Another shortcut through the Ghost Lands, coming up." Outside, reality blurred once more as the Goddess of Ghosts' influence manipulated the world around them.

They came to a halt in front of a hole in the ground.

A literal hole in the ground. "Well, there you go, Kiddos," Mel said, cheerfully. "The back entrance to the Underworld – once known as my place."

Percy, Annabeth, and Grover couldn't wait to be out of the car, and were scrambling for open air. Harry, meanwhile, turned to look at the Goddess of Ghosts. "Didn't Mister Hades say he protected it?"

Two demigods and one Satyr refrained from closing the back doors and instead leaned in to hear the response.

Melinoe laughed. "Of course Dad protected it. A company of ghouls and other undead. You'd never make it – but fortunately, your friendly neighborhood Goddess of Ghosts still has some influence, so I'll hold the passage open for you. I'd hurry, though – you never know when I'll get bored."

The eyes of Harry's friends went wide-open, and startled sounds came over their lips. Harry snorted. "You're evil," he accused. Before Mel could answer, he added, "I knew I liked you for a reason."

Mel laughed. "Go on, scram," she said, playfully. "I won't keep it open forever. Say hi to Dad for me."

"Will do!" Harry said cheerfully as he finally opened his door and stepped out. He patted the dash on his way. "Thanks for the ride, Christine."

Mel barked a laugh. "Oh, and thanks to you, too, Mel, I suppose," Harry teased before slamming the door shut.

"Ungrateful whelp!" Melinoe shouted through the closed door. He could hear her laughing, though, so he knew she was just playing.

Sticking his hands in his pockets, he turned to his three friends. "Well, I said I'd get us a ride to the Underworld." He motioned to the hole in the ground. The really rather scary hole in the ground, from which the sounds of the dead and dying were audible. "Shall we?"

Grover bleated and looked like he really rather be somewhere else. Annabeth and Percy looked pale, but the Son of Poseidon once again showed his mettle by nodding anyway. "Let's," he said.

"After you," Harry said, chivalrously. "Your quest, after all."

Percy snorted. "With the way things have been so far, it should have been yours. It definitely would have made my life easier," the Son of Poseidon complained as he started walking. Annabeth and Grover followed automatically and Harry chuckled, before coming last.

"Sometimes, the gods work in mysterious ways," Harry said, pretending to be sage-like.

Annabeth gave him a look that said he wasn't funny.

Harry grinned at her, silently telling her he disagreed.

They entered Melinoe's former residence; each of them silent for a different reason. For Harry, this cave brought back the memories of when he had saved Mel. For everyone else, this place was dark, dangerous, and filled with creatures that wanted to kill them.

Luckily for everyone involved, the Goddess of Ghosts was good on her word and the small army of ghouls posted to safeguard the place were being held back by some kind of invisible force.

"Creepy," Percy muttered.

"Not as creepy as it was when Mel lived here," Harry joked half-heartedly as he guided his friends to the Underworld entrance of Mel's former cave.

Harry guided them out of the cave, down the creepy pathway lined with skulls, to the bridge over the river Lethe. "Keep your hands inside the boat at all times," the Son of Tyche joked. "The River Lethe is used to wipe the memories of spirits that want to reincarnate."

"Alright, no touching," Percy agreed, eyeing the black waters of the river. Annabeth and Grover nodded agreeably as they followed Harry across the raging river.

They trekked on in silence, Harry remembering his first and only visit to this place, his three friends in fearful curiosity.

It took them half an hour or so before they made it to where Cerberus would usually be guarding the entrance. Harry frowned when he saw the three lines of spirits waiting in front of the judgment pavilion, but no Cerberus.

"You look disappointed," Percy noted.

"I was hoping to see Cerberus again," Harry admitted, drawing shivers from his three companions. "He's such a good boy."

"I'm glad we don't," Percy admitted.

Annabeth, despite herself, looked curious. "Isn't he a bloodthirsty monster?"

"Nah," Harry said. "He's a giant three-headed dog, sure, but as long as you treat him like any other dog, he's a good boy. Don't show fear, don't be intimidated, and he's like a puppy."

"Aww," Annabeth cooed, drawing another startled look from Percy and Grover. At their looks, she added, "We used to have a dog," she said, softly, as if lost in thoughts and memories that she had kept buried for a long time.

Harry put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

In silence, they walked, and Harry made an effort to distract her by playing tour guide. Using the same path that Alecto had taken when she had shown him around, he bypassed the judgment pavilion and pointed out where the Fields of Punishment, the Elysium Fields, and the Fields of Asphodel were.

As they walked, Grover suddenly yelped and his shoes sprouted wings. They pulled him off his feet, causing him to fall flat on his back.

"Grover, stop messing about," Annabeth chided the Satyr.

"What's with the shoes, anyway?" Harry asked, suddenly remembering that he was going to ask his friends about them.

"Luke gave them to us, they're a gift from his dad," Percy explained. "They sprout wings when you say-" he was cut off when the shoes pulled Grover again.

"Maia!" the Satyr shouted. "Maia!"

Harry nodded, Maia was Hermes' mother, it made sense that he would use her name as a passkey.

Grover yelped again. "Help! Nine-one-one! Maia already!"

The shoes did not obey; instead their wings flapped harder and pulled the Satyr off the ground. Both Annabeth and Percy made a grab for his hand, but it was too late. The shoes picked up speed, and Harry's heart stilled when he realized in which direction they were pulling.

"Shit," he cussed, hoping suddenly that Hestia wasn't paying attention. He knew which direction they were going.

They had been pulling towards Hades' palace, but had veered off sharply – in the direction Hades had deliberately not taken him. The entrance of Tartarus.

"Guys! We have to get him!" Harry shouted at Annabeth and Percy.

They both had enough energy, despite barreling full-tilt after a pair of winged shoes dragging a Satyr, to give him a dirty look. "What do you think we've been trying to do!?" Percy snapped.

The walls closed in, and Harry realized that they were now in a cavern. "We're going towards Tartarus!" he shouted.

Percy and Annabeth paled. The narrow cavern suddenly widened in a huge underground cave; in the middle of the floor was a chasm the size of a New York city block.

"Alright, enough's enough," Harry muttered, closed his eyes, and threw magic at the problem. Grover froze in mid-air and screamed in pain when something latched on to him. Harry grimaced, shifted his focus, and built a more comfortable image of something to hold the Satyr.

The screaming vanished, leaving only the panting of two demigods and the relieved sighs of a Satyr.

Of course, that was when Harry's luck ran out. The moment he felt something from that chasm lock on and attempt to drag Grover down was a moment he would never forget.

Forget the downright evil of the chasm itself; whatever had latched on to Grover was evil in a sense Harry had not felt before. Even the nameless city was merely an evil place, where dark things had been done in eons past. Whatever had just grabbed Grover was alive – alive and dark and twisted.

Harry grunted as the massive power overcame his meager magic. "Screw this," he muttered. If Mister Evil down in Tartarus thought that Harry Potter would just give up on his companions, then he had another thing coming.

Harry focused and deep inside his mental image of himself, he threw himself open to the world's magic. The darkness and evilness of the cave bombarded his senses and gave a slimy feel to the magic he was drawing in.

Harry pushed the sensation to the side.

The slimy magic filled his energy network to capacity, emerging from his Shen Dan Tian and spreading throughout his entire energy network before rebounding off of its extremities and meeting itself coming the other way.

Magic forced itself out through his pores, so much of it he was pulling in, making him glow, making his hair wave, and ruffling at his clothes. At the same time, an oppressive feeling of power filled the cave that the entrance of Tartarus was in and causing Annabeth and Percy to step away from Harry, their eyes wide.

Harry pushed that to the side as well. He hadn't channeled this much magic since the day he begged Marduk to open him up to the magic of the world.

He forgot how good the pain felt. He was now shrouded in a magnificent nimbus of self-annihilating anti-realities under the influence of his lack of control, a kaleidoscope of wavering power that felt like the very foundations of reality were coming apart at the seams.

He ignored how Percy and Annabeth had pushed their backs against the solid bedrock of the cave. Instead, he focused on Grover. Mister Evil's sudden appearance had yanked the Satyr a few meters further toward the entrance, but now Harry, through gritted teeth and employing all the magic at his disposal, had caught him once more.

"Oof," Grover breathed when he felt Harry pull him to a stop once more.

A deep growl came from the cave below, and Harry could feel the presence yank harder on the shoes – shoes that were, now that Harry's had opened himself up to magic – definitely cursed. It was also the reason why the shoes hadn't slipped away from Grover's fake feet covering his goat's legs. The shoes were cursed to drag whoever wore them into Tartarus, and if that meant sticking to a pair of fake feet, then they would stick to a pair of fake feet.

Grover started slipped further toward Tartarus.

Alright, if that was how Mister Evil wanted to play it, then Harry would oblige him. His right hand vanished as he accessed his Hammerspace pocket, only to emerge with his wand.

The instrument sulked and refused to work at first, as if pouting over the fact that Harry hadn't used it at all since he bought it.

That lasted for about a fraction of a second before Harry's power reminded it of who was boss.

Focusing his power through the wand was a novel experience for Harry. Immediately, the excess magic, which had been forcing itself out through his pores, was sucked into, and through, the wand. In that moment, he knew what it meant to have perfect control over his magic. The nimbus that had been tearing away at the fabric of reality imploded into his body, and suddenly the cave was filled with nothing but the stink of ozone and the wind of reality reestablishing itself.

For a moment, the collapsing nimbus of colliding anti-realities sounded like the screech of a thunderbird, and the stench of ozone became as sweet as elderberries – but only for a moment.

No wonder that the magic-users all used wands or other foci. Merely holding a wand, and forcing a non-determined free-flow magical construct through it, as he was doing, meant perfect control over magic and spellform.

Grover ground to a halt once more. The wind in the chamber died down now that Harry no longer bled magic into the surrounding air and reality had firmly reasserted itself.

And yet, Harry could feel that even this wasn't enough; Mister Evil had more power in reserve than Harry had ever felt before, and there was no way he could win this.

"Grover," Harry said, ignoring the fact that his voice filled the cave, as well as the fact that it was out-of-synch with his lips.

Grover took a long, hard, look at Harry, his glowing skin and glowing eyes, and yelped. "Yes, sir?"

Harry grit his teeth, feeling Mister Evil yank harder. "Lose the damn shoes!"

Grover yelped again. "Losing the damn shoes, sir!" he shouted, somehow able to reach the shoes and yanking the strings. They shot lose as the curse on them broke, disappearing into Tartarus and breaking the sound barrier as they did so under the power of Mister Evil.

At the same time, Grover yelped again when the force of Harry's magic yanked him in the other direction, making him barrel into the demigod.

A voice rose from the pit. Three demigods and one terrified Satyr sat there, at the edge of the entrance, and listened to it.

They couldn't make out what it was saying, but whatever it was, it didn't sound good.

"Guys," Harry said, getting to his feet and pulling Grover along. "Run."

Not a moment too soon, either; as the quartet breached the outside of the cave, a cold and furious blast of wind hit them, as if trying to pull all of them back inside and down into Tartarus. A howl of fury followed them; Mister Evil definitely wasn't happy they had escaped.

"Well," Harry said. "That happened."

"No kidding," Percy muttered. He shared a long look with Annabeth; whatever had happened had spooked them all, but it seemed Percy and Annabeth shared some idea of what had happened.

Harry guided them toward Hades' palace; everyone was quiet now, lost in their own thoughts. The encounter with whatever had been hiding in Tartarus had shaken them to their cores.

Even Harry, who was used to threats on his life, felt unnerved by the encounter. He'd pitched himself against the evil, had given it everything he had, and in the end he'd only managed to save Grover by having him remove the cursed objects.

What if, Harry reasoned, the cursed item hadn't been something like a pair of a shoes? What if it had been something that couldn't be removed that easily? What if, whoever had placed the curse, had been smart enough to curse the shoes to be unremovable?

No, Harry knew that they'd only saved Grover due to their opponent's incompetence. And the incompetence of others wasn't something Harry wanted to rely on.

As they approached the palace, with the three Furies circling the highest tower, Harry took a deep breath. Fine, it had been a close call and they had all been shaken, now it was time to get over it and move on. There was more questing to do.

Percy visible halted at the sight of the Furies, and even more so at the sight of those impressive doors marking the entrance to the palace – the doors that held scenes of death from antiquity to the modern times. An atomic bomb explosion. Famine. Trench warfare.

Harry had seen them before, but that was quite some time ago so he took the opportunity to study them again. "Awesome doors, aren't they?" he asked Percy.

The Son of Poseidon gave him an absolutely filthy look, remained quiet, and turned toward the garden instead.

Harry chuckled. "Guess not everyone is into history," he said, half to himself and half to the doors.

He followed his friends through the gardens of Persephone. He ignored the piles of precious gems used as decorative elements, the glowing mushrooms that gave off a pallid twilight, and the poisoned shrubs. Instead, he looked at the statues, the victims of Medusa, who Persephone had been using to decorate her garden.

Apparently Asclepius hadn't made it down here yet to cure these victims. He patted the statue of a petrified child. "Don't worry, we'll cure you," he told it, drawing attention to himself from his three companions.

Two demigods and one Satyr froze at the statement, realizing that these victims, too, could be cured. Smiles appeared on their weary and frightened lips. At least some good would come of this, they all realized.

"Come on," Harry said. "I said I'd take you to see Mister Hades. After that, it's up to you guys. It's your quest, I'm just a quest-crasher."

He was the recipient of three filthy looks. "I told you, you weren't there," Annabeth protested.

"Still could have asked Hestia," Harry answered with a teasing grin, causing her to sulk. "Percy, ignore those pomegranate trees – if you eat from them, you'll be stuck here."

Percy jerked, as if waking from a deep sleep, and jumped away from where he had been about to grab a piece of fruit. "Thanks," he muttered.

"You're welcome," Harry chirped. "Come on, it's this way." The latter was superfluous; Hades' palace was huge and couldn't be missed.

Harry guided them up the steps, passed the skeletons guarding the place and were following them with empty eye-sockets.

"Creepy," Percy muttered.

"I know. Isn't it cool?" Harry asked.

Percy snorted. "I guess," he said, now that Harry's reassuring presence was right next to him, refusing to be intimidated and instead treating it like a fun haunted mansion.

They walked in silence.

Percy sighed and moved the backpack to his other shoulder. Harry gave him an inquisitive look.

"It suddenly weighs a ton," the Son of Poseidon admitted. "Not sure why."

Harry frowned. "We're almost there," he said. "We can check in a bit, we don't want to keep Mister Hades waiting."

"Wait, you mean he knows we're here?" Percy asked.

"Of course he does, it's his palace," Harry said, as if it were self-evident. They stopped in front of the door leading to the throne room. "This is the door to the throne room," he explained, raising his hand to knock.

At that precise moment, a gust of wind blew down the hallway, making the door swing open. "No knocking necessary," Harry chuckled. "Come on, guys. We're there."

He lead them into the throne room, where Hades was seated upon his magnificent throne. Of course, said Lord of the Underworld was in his full, godly, three-meter-tall form and was lounging on his equally large throne in a way that was poorly copied by most James Bond villains.

"Hi, Mister Hades!" Harry said cheerfully, waving at one of his favorite gods.

"Harry," the Lord of the Underworld answered, curtly but not unkindly.

Harry looked around the room and found Mel sitting at a side-table, still in her twenty-something mortal form, playing with a shrunken, puppy-like Cerberus.

That explained the lack of Cerberus at the entrance lines, Harry figured. "Hi Mel, long time no see."

The Goddess of Ghosts cheerfully waved back. "Hey Kiddo. Don't bother pretending, Dad knows all about it."

"I didn't want to get anyone in trouble," The Son of Tyche answered just as cheerfully. "Anyway," he added, looking back at Hades, "I promised I'd help Percy get here to talk with you, Mister Hades. So, Mister Hades, please meet Percy Jackson, Son of Poseidon, Annabeth Chase, Daughter of Athena, and Grover Underwood, Satyr and Demigod Protector. Guys, please meet Mister Hades, Lord of the Underworld, God of Wealth, God of the Dead."

Hades' eyes narrowed, while his three friends stared at him.

"What?" Harry asked. "I'm just a quest crasher, remember? I promised to help you get here, now it's up to you. It's your quest, after all."

Percy nodded thoughtfully, while Annabeth had a sulky kind of face that indicated she'd been banking on him doing the heavy lifting with Hades.

"So, good luck," Harry said, cheerfully, and turned to make his way over to Mel and puppy-Cerberus. He needed some puppy therapy and the three-headed one looked like a lot of fun.

"Sheesh, Harry, childish and petty much?" Mel teased.

"I'm eleven, I'm allowed to be childish," Harry said. "I'll cop to being petty, though. Besides, Mister Ares was right – I can't fight everyone's battles for them."

Mel grinned. "Hey, I'm not judging," she said. "I play the 'imprisoned in a cave' card with Mom and Dad every time I need something."

Harry snorted at the image of Melinoe, the feared Goddess of Ghosts, using emotional blackmail like the average teenaged girl on the equally feared Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

Ignoring the byplay from what had become the peanut gallery, Hades looked at Percy and friends and narrowed his eyes. "You were brave to come here, Son of Poseidon," the god stated.

Harry fought down a grin, Hades seemed to be going for the 'intimidation factor', and he found it hilarious.

"After what you have done to me, very brave indeed. Or perhaps, you are simply foolish," Hades continued, making Harry frown. That wasn't very nice of Hades. Besides, what was Percy supposed to have done, anyway?

Percy looked as confused as Harry felt. "Lord and Uncle," the Son of Poseidon said, causing Harry to grin. It was a nice touch to remind Hades that they were family. "I come with two requests."

Harry shook his head, that wasn't going to go over well, and turned back to play with puppy-Cerberus. Oh well, Hades wasn't going to kill him over it, Harry was sure of that.

Hades' voice took on an intangible feeling of coldness as he answered, "Only two requests?" The Lord of the Underworld asked. "Arrogant boy. As if you have not already taken enough. Speak, then. It amuses me not to strike you dead yet."

Harry pursed his lips. "That's not very nice, Mister Hades," he chided.

"After what he di-" Hades started to protest in Harry's direction, before realizing that he was a god and he therefore didn't answer to demigods. Harry and Hades stared at each other for a few moments, both equally surprised.

Melinoe, on the other hand, was laughing her ass off.

"You take too much after Hestia," Hades told Harry.

"Thanks, Mister Hades!" Harry said, cheerfully.

"That wasn't a compliment," the Lord of the Dead retorted.

"I'm still taking it as one," Harry replied with a large smile.

Hades grunted and focused back on Percy. "Well? Your requests, demigod?" he asked, as if the whole episode hadn't happened.

Luckily, it had given Percy some time to calm down and he no longer looked as if he were about to die of a heart attack right there and then. "Lord Hades," he said, respectfully. "Sir. Please. There can't be a war among the gods. It'd be…" for a moment, he seemed to struggle to find a word to fit the situation, and finally settled on, "it would be bad, sir."

"Really bad," Grover added helpfully.

Harry resisted the urge to snort, and instead conjured a trio of rubber balls for the Cerberus-puppy.

"Return Zeus' Master Bold to me. Please, sir. Let me return it to Olympus," Percy asked, borderline begged. Harry frowned, there was no way Hades had taken it. Was the silly demigod still on the whole 'Hades did it' track?

"I told you, Mister Hades isn't a thief," Harry said.

Hades, who looked about ready to snap at Percy, looked at Harry instead. "At least someone has confidence in me," he said, begrudgingly, before looking back at Percy. "And you," he snapped. "You dare keep up this pretense? After everything you did?"

Harry frowned, wondering once more what Percy had supposedly done. Before he could ask, however, the Son of Poseidon beat him to it.

"Um… Uncle," Percy said. "You keep saying I've done something. What exactly have I done?"

The room rumbled and trembled, as if being hit by an earthquake. Harry gave Hades a glance, both unimpressed by the theatrics and silently asking him to turn it down. Hades, meanwhile, pretended not to see Harry and focused entirely on Percy and his two friends instead. Debris fell from the ceiling of the Underworld. Harry sighed; when gods wanted to be theatrical, there was very little to do but to ride it out, he supposed.

"Do you think I want war!?" Hades demanded of Percy.

Percy looked extremely uncomfortable at the show of force, but still bravely pushed on. "You are the Lord of the Dead," he said, carefully. "I mean, war would expand your kingdom, right?"

Hades' face twisted. "A typical thing for my brothers to say," the Lord of the Underworld snarled. "Do you think I need more subjects? Did you not see the sprawl of the Asphodel Fields?"

Percy looked confused. Harry raised his hand, instead. "I… kind of… bypassed all that, Mister Hades," he admitted. Hades gave him a grumpy look in return.

Now slightly calmer, the Lord of the Underworld turned back to Percy. "This past century my kingdom has swollen exponentially. I've had to open an incredible amount of subdivisions. That, in turn, means more security ghouls. Traffic problems at the judgment pavilion. Double overtime for the staff. I'm the God of Wealth, Percy Jackson. I control all the precious metals underneath the Earth. And yet, my expenses are starting to rise above even those!"

Now firmly back on track with his rant, Hades continued, getting off his throne and looming over his visitors. "Problems are everywhere, and I have to handle them all personally! The commute time from the palace to the gates is enough to drive a man insane, and yet the dead… keep… arriving!"

Percy swallowed. "But… you took the master Bolt," he whimpered, as if unable to process that he might have been told the wrong information.

"Lies!" Hades raged, causing the entire Underworld to tremble again. Harry pinched the bridge of his nose; Percy really knew how to piss of a major god, it seemed. "Your father may have fooled Zeus, boy, but I am not so stupid! I see his plan!"

"His plan?" Percy asked, too surprised to be properly intimidated.

"Yes!" Hades shouted. "You were the thief on the Winter Solstice! Your father may have tried to keep you his little secret, but he does not fool me! He directed you into the throne room on Olympus. You took the Master Bolt and my Helm. Had I not sent Alecto to discover you at Yancy Academy, Poseidon might have succeeded in hiding his scheme to start a war. But! Now, you have been forced into the open. You will be exposed as Poseidon's thief, and I will have my Helm back!"

Harry frowned, the knowledge that Zeus' bolt wasn't the only thing stolen was new to him, and the fact that Hades blamed Percy was as wrong as Percy was to blame Hades.

"But…" Annabeth said. "Lord Hades, your Helm of Darkness is missing, too?"

"Don't play innocent with me, girl," Hades declared. "You and the Satyr have been tasked with helping this one, no doubt under orders of Poseidon, to bring me an ultimatum. Does he think that I can be blackmailed into supporting him?"

Harry coughed, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. "Mister Hades, Mister Poseidon has nothing to do with this. Thievery isn't his thing. He might catch someone in a net, but outright theft? No, that's not Mister Poseidon's thing – just as much as it isn't your thing, as I tried to explain to my friends here."

Hades looked absolutely furious, but before he could say anything, Harry had pulled out Hestia's Lasso. "Last December, I used this to prove the innocence of the people at camp in front of Zeus and a bunch of other gods," he said. "And now I'll use it to prove Percy's innocence, if you'll let me."

The Lord of the Underworld fell down on his throne in a fit of anger and made a rude hand-gesture that would have made Hestia chide him. "Thank you, Mister Hades," Harry said, completely and utterly ignoring the god's fury. He turned to Percy, and said, "Percy, please hold out your hand. I'm going to drape a hoop of the Lasso over your wrist."

"Okay?" Percy asked, raising his right hand and wondering what was going on.

Harry hung a loop of the Lasso over it, and asked, "Percy, did you have anything to do with stealing mister Hades' Helm?"

"No, I didn't," Percy replied. "Whoa, that's weird. I feel like I can't lie. And it's making me really nervous. And I really should stop talking before I say something about the things I don't want people to know about."

Harry grinned. "Nifty Lasso, isn't it? Are you under orders from Mister Poseidon to threaten, blackmail, or otherwise coerce or convince Mister Hades into supporting him?"

"No, I'm not," Percy said. "I didn't even know the Helm was missing until now."

Harry looked at Hades, who looked grumpy in the extreme. "Why didn't you say anything about your Helm?" He asked the Lord of the Underworld.

"I said nothing," Hades grunted, "because I had no illusions that anyone on Olympus would offer even the slightest justice or the slightest help. I can ill afford for word to get out that my most powerful weapon is missing."

Harry coughed and looked pointedly at Hades. For a moment, the god looked surprised before sighing. "And perhaps, in my anger, I made a rash overgeneralization."

"So, your Helm's missing," Harry said. "At the same time as Zeus' toy, even. It definitely sounds like the same thief."

Hades snorted at the disrespectful way Harry spoke of Zeus' Master Bolt, before pointing at Percy. "Ask him about the Bolt."

Harry looked at Percy, to the loop of the Lasso still draped around Percy's wrist, then back at Percy. "Do you have anything to do with the theft of the Bolt?" Harry asked.

"I have to find it and return it to Olympus," Percy answered.

"Lies!" Hades barked. "You have outed yourselves, demigods! Both of you! Of you, Son of Poseidon, I saw this coming, but of you, you, Harry, I did not!"

Harry gaped at the sudden outburst of fury from the Lord of the Underworld. In the corner, Mel was cuddling puppy-Cerberus, both her and him cowering from the god's wrath.

"But-" Harry started.

"Open the pack!" Hades snarled.

Percy let the backpack drop from his shoulder. It made a heavy clanking noise as it hit the ground, causing everyone to stare at it. "You don't think…" Harry trailed off.

"We've been duped," Percy said as he opened the backpack. "That arrogant ass Ares was the one that gave me the pack." He pulled the flap back to reveal a metal cylinder, spiked on both ends, humming with energy.

"Percy," Annabeth whispered.

"I can't believe Mister Ares did this," Harry said, his eyes narrow and an intangible undercurrent of power to his voice.

"You heroes are all the same," Hades growled. "Your pride comes before your fall, foolishly thinking you could bring such a weapon before me and think it would go undiscovered. I didn't ask for the Bolt, but since it's here, you will yield it to me. I'm sure it will make an excellent bargaining tool. And now, my helm. Where is it?"

"Ares," Harry growled. "Ares gave that backpack to Percy. Ares has it."

Hades narrowed his eyes at Harry. "And to think I twice trusted you," he snarled.

Harry yanked the Lasso from Percy's wrist and wrapped it around his own. "My name is Harry James Potter, Son of Lilly Potter, the Aspect of Tyche, and James Potter. Adopted Son of the Goddess Hestia. I swear, right here and now, before the River Styx and under the influence of Hestia's Lasso of Truth, and I have nothing to do with this, other than to provide ferry service to Percy and his companions!"

Harry's oath reverberated through Hades' throne room, knocking dust from the ceiling of the cavern above and making the walls rattle despite them being of supernatural construction.

"Whoa," Melinoe whispered from where she was hiding in a corner, using puppy-Cerberus as an emotional support animal.

Hades' eyes opened wide.

"To make such a vow, before the Styx, before your mother and before Hestia, and to not be struck dead," the Lord of the Dead said. He drew a breath. "You have courage, demigod. And, it seems, you are not involved. This I must accept, for nobody would dare to invoke Hestia's name and then provide a lie."

Harry shuddered at the very thought. "She would never forgive me," he whispered.

"She might forgive, but she would definitely never forget," Hades replied, before focusing on Percy with a glare so heated that the Son of Poseidon looked ready to dive into the nearest body of water to cool off.

"As for you," the Lord of the Underworld said.

"This is all a mistake," Percy pleaded.

"Oh, it is no mistake," Hades retorted. "You may not have taken my helm, as you stated under the influence of Hestia's Lasso of Truth, but you most certainly did bring the Master Bolt before me. And, I know why." He motioned, and a bolt of golden fire emerged from his palm.

It exploded in front of the mortals, coalescing into the form of a mortal woman. "You have come to bargain for her," Hades declared, crossing his arms and basically daring anyone there to deny it. His lips twisted into an ugly grin. "I took her, Percy Jackson, because I knew you would come to bargain with me eventually. You may not have my helm, but you have the Bolt. And with it, I can bargain for my helm. Now – hand it over and I might just let her go."

Harry grit his teeth and bit his tongue to stop himself from saying anything that he might regret – something that might just tick Hades off even more than he already was. In the end, he was forced to settle for a look of incredible disappointment.

"Percy," Grover said, seeing the long of incredible conflict on Percy's face. "You can't give him the bolt!"

Harry glanced at Percy himself. This was up to the Son of Poseidon. Harry would back him to the hilt, no matter what the other young demigod decided.

Because if there is one thing that Harry knew, it was that he would burn reality to the ground if it meant saving either his mother or Hestia. He wouldn't blame Percy in the least for handing over that bolt, and let reality descend into chaos, if only to save his mother.

"I know that," Percy grunted, rising in Harry's estimation. "I have to return the Bolt to Olympus. She would never forgive me if I saved her instead of prevented the war."

But she would be alive to not forgive you, Harry thought, before banishing the thought. If this was the route Percy wanted to take, then it would be the route that Harry would support him in.

"I'm sorry," Percy told his mother. "I'll be back. I'll find a way."

Harry grinned. "Good man," he whispered. "Everybody hang on!"

Hades looked smug. "I sealed the fires," he declared.

Percy grabbed a shoulder, Annabeth grabbed him around the waist, and Grover basically hung from the back. Harry raised his right hand. "Not this one, Mister Hades," he said, conjuring fire. Fire-gazing through it, he found a large bonfire on the beach and connected to it.

The fire in his palm turned green. Hades' smug look vanished. "No!" the god yelled, desperately.

"I will find your helm, uncle!" Percy shouted as they vanished, dragged through the fire Harry conjured – basically a one-one Fire Travel connection that pulled itself closed behind them.

It wasn't as comfortable a ride as it usually was, hampered by the fact that, from the moment they left, it only had a destination and no longer an origin.

AN: My apologies for the delay in this chapter. Things have been… not easy… for me lately. My day job (as I am an unpaid fanfic writer rather than a professional) is having me pull double duty at the moment. It's all I can do to drag myself home, make dinner, and fall into the couch when I'm done…