Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 74

For a moment, Zeus stared at Harry. "Granny R-" he started to say, launching himself from his throne, pulling himself fully upright, his eyes sparking like a thunderstorm and the lightning bolt crackling and popping with static electricity. "You arrogant, disrespectful little -"

He was cut off when Hestia grew to her full godly size; her hair waved on invisible currents of massive heat, her eyes glowing with bluish-white fire. Despite the massive size of the throne room, the temperature inside of it rose sharply. "ZEUS!" she barked. "Sit! Down!"

Zeus startled, sat, and only then realized he had done so. Hestia shrunk back, and coughed. "Ahem. Mother Rhea invited us over to remind me of the fact that she always predicted I would give her a grandson. Apparently, to Mother, adoption counts. So, Mother has met Harry and has given him permission to call her such. Now, please explain to us, Zeus, using your words, not your insults, and using your indoor voice why poor Harry was arrogant or disrespectful?"

Harry was fighting his urge to grin. Seeing Hestia being awesome never got old. He glanced at Percy, Annabeth, and Grover. All three had half-hidden themselves, putting Poseidon's legs between them and the Goddess of the Home who had just shouted down an enraged King of the Gods. Successfully.

"He-!" Zeus started, pointing at Harry.

"Indoor voice, please, Zeus," Hestia reminded him.

The King of the Gods gave her a baleful look. "Fine, for some reason he is yet another exception and is allowed to call Mother Rhea by a disrespectful moniker."

"She has claimed him as grandson, and therefore she is his grandmother," Hestia said. She looked at Poseidon and at the image of Hades in the fire-circle. "How do you feel about Harry's suggestion?"

"It has been some time since I shared one of Mother Rhea's meals," Hades said, contemplatively.

"Agreed," Poseidon said. "We will need to be on our best behavior, however, if we are to share said meal together."

"Agreed," Hades replied, looking about as happy about that as Poseidon was. "Still…" the God of the Underworld added, falling short on words to add.

The God of the Sea nodded. "Still," he agreed. "Mother Rhea will remind us should we forget," he finally added.

"At length," Hades agreed. "Shall we?"

Poseidon gave a nod of agreement.

"Outstanding!" Hestia said, clapping her hands joyfully. She looked expectantly at Zeus.

"Fine," the King of the Gods muttered uncharitably. "I suppose."

Hestia ignored how Zeus sounded like a sulking eight year old being told to go to bed. "I will go and ask Mother Rhea if she feels up to this." She looked at the two physically present deities. "I trust nothing untoward will happen to any of these brave young people while I am away?"

The undertone was completely directed at Zeus, however. And it prominently featured one Harry Potter.

The King huffed and sat upright on his throne.

Poseidon interjected. "I will guard them as if they were my own. Which one of them actually is."

"Thank you, Poseidon, that is very kind of you," Hestia replied, before vanishing in a burst of flame. The temperature in the humongous room finally started to go back down to comfortable levels.

An uncomfortable, awkward silence descended over the throne room, as four mortals and three deities stared at each other.

Hades let out a snarky chuckle. "The discomfort is hilarious," he said with another chuckle. "I believe I shall act as 'unbiased witness' for when you two start fighting again and the young heroes fall foul of your 'collateral damage'."

"In other words, brother," Poseidon said, "you will tattle to Hestia."

"Of course not," Hades said, pretending to be offended. "I will bear witness. There's a difference."

Poseidon snorted, then pretended he hadn't done so. Zeus simply huffed. "If all I find here is disrespect, I should go and purify -" he started to say, getting up from his throne, when he was interrupted.

"You will not wait for Hestia to return?" Poseidon asked innocently.

"Is there any doubt as to Mother Rhea's response?" Zeus snarked back.

"Date and time, perhaps?" Hades offered, looking as amused as possible in the safety of his own throne room.

Zeus gave him a glare.

Hestia chose that moment to return to the throne room. "Harry, I am to give you a hug from Mother Rhea for the idea," she said moments after appearing, before stepping over to him and following through on Rhea's suggestion. "Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Mother suggests next Sunday for a nice and above all quiet lunch."

The implication that Rhea would be upset if they started arguing wasn't lost on any of the three deities.

"I will be there," Poseidon said, happy to be first and hopefully scoring brownie points.

"Kiss-ass," Zeus muttered at him from the corner of his mouth.

"I too, will be there," Hades confirmed before Zeus could, hoping to snag at least a couple of brownie points for himself now that Poseidon had taken most of them.

"Shouldn't you have waited for your king?" Zeus asked, sounding like a whiny teenager. He turned to Hestia. "We will be there, Sister."

"I am glad to hear it, Zeus," Hestia said, kindly, completely ignoring the attempts at scoring of points that had taken place.

"Right now, you're our brother rather than our King," Poseidon said, in response to Zeus' whine.

Zeus looked unhappy about that response. He drew himself up, stuck his nose in the air, and pretended none of this had happened. "Now, I must go and purify my-" he tried again to save face, when he was yet again, interrupted.

"Ahem," Hestia coughed.

Zeus blinked at her. "Hestia?"

"Aren't you forgetting something, Zeus?" Hestia asked, kindly, on a tone that seemed to come out of the 'Tones used by Mothers' handbook.

"I… don't think so?" the King of the Gods replied, sounding as if he hated admitting to ignorance but seeing no other solution.

"These brave young mortals performed a service for you," Hestia hinted. When Zeus continued his silence, the Goddess of Home and Hearth sighed and added, "Perhaps a 'thank you'?"

Zeus looked like he hated that even more than admitting to ignorance.

He sighed and pushed it down, but not before everyone there had seen it written all over his face. The King of the Gods looked at Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, who had come out from behind Poseidon's legs now that Hestia was no longer raising the temperature in the throne room, all the while studiously ignoring Harry.

Harry raised his hand.

Poseidon and Hades tried, and failed, to hide their amusement. Hestia let out a small sigh at her adopted son yet again antagonizing her youngest brother. She wondered how she would ever get them to get along with each other.

Zeus continued to ignore Harry. "You have done me a service, mortals," he said, looking at the three mortals and still ignoring Harry. "Few heroes could have accomplished as much."

Harry waved his hand cheerfully.

The King of the Gods muttered something unkind under his breath, something that made Hestia hum in disappointment.

"Fine. What it is it?" Zeus demanded of Harry.

"Can I ask for a bit of a boon for helping to recover your Bolt?" he asked, bold as brass and refusing to be intimidated by an angry and unstable deity that looked ready to vaporize him. Zeus turned red and looked ready to blast Harry – with words, rather than bolts.

Harry instead cut the King of the Gods off, just as he opened his mouth. "I would like to build Hestia a cabin at Camp," he said.

That took all the wind out of Zeus' sails, and it looked like the King did not like that one bit.

"While kind of you, I do believe I have told you that I do not need a cabin," Hestia said. "And perhaps we should listen to what Zeus has to say."

Harry ignored the part about Zeus; if the King was to be impolite, he was going to do the same. "Why don't you need a cabin?" he asked Hestia.

"Because I don-" she stopped herself. She did have a son now, didn't she?

"Exactly," Harry said with a grin. "You've got a son, so you need a cabin."

Zeus grunted. "And you think yourself capable of constructing a cabin worthy of Hestia?"

Harry pointed to Annabeth, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere else at the moment. "I know someone who's good with architecture, and I've studied a lot in Miss Athena's library. Under her tutelage, even. And, I know magic."

"I support the idea," Poseidon interjected with a grin. Harry had defended him and his good name, that deserved a helping hand. Plus, it was ultimately for Hestia, and he was all for helping her get recognition for all the work she did in quelling arguments.

"Agreed," Hades said, sounding as if he couldn't believe he and Poseidon saw eye to eye on so many subjects. For pretty much the same reasons as Poseidon, the Lord of the Underworld decided to throw the young demigod a helping hand.

Zeus grunted again. "Very well. However, should your construction not meet Hestia's approval…" he let the threat die out, especially as he realized that Hestia, kind as she was, would love anything that was built with care and attention.

Harry nodded cheerfully anyway. He had loads of ideas on how to build Hestia an awesome cabin.

"Now that that is over," Zeus declared, sparing Harry a thunderous look from his lightning-filled eyes, before looking at Percy, Annabeth, and Grover. "As I said, you have done me a service, mortals. Something few can claim."

"Thank you, sir," Percy managed, intimidated by the full force of the King's attention, before Zeus continued.

"To show my gratitude, I shall spare your lives. Especially you, Perseus Jackson. I do not trust you. I do not like what your arrival means for the future of Olympus. But, for the sake of peace in the family, I shall let you live."

Percy looked stunned, as if he were unable to process what he was hearing. Harry couldn't very well believe it himself, and felt his blood-pressure rise.

"ZEUS!" Hestia shouted.

Zeus ignored her, and continued to glare at Percy. "Do not let me find you here when I return, otherwise you shall taste this bolt. And it shall be your last sensation."

Thunder shook the throne room, and with a flash of lightning, he was gone.

"That boy," Hestia muttered, on a tone only an older sibling could use.

"Your uncle has always had a flair for dramatic exits," Poseidon confided to Percy. "He would have done well as the God of Drama and Theater." There was a curious hiccup from the connection with Hades, but when everyone looked, he was as stone-faced as ever.

"Poseidon," Hestia chided gently, but the twitch of her lips showed her amusement.

Another uncomfortable silence descended. Hades' grin showed he was enjoying it immensely.

"Perseus Jackson," the God of the Underworld said, before anyone else could break the discomfort. "Know that your mother has returned."

Percy looked at Hades as if he suddenly grew a second head. "My mother?" he asked.

Hades gave a nod. "After you returned my Helm, I sent her back. Contrary to certain Gods of Thunder, I pay my debts."

"Thank you, sir," Percy managed.

Hades waved it off. "Your party returned my Helm to me, that is thanks enough." He stared at Percy for a few moments, then added, "I was wrong about you, Son of Poseidon. That does not happen often."

The Lord of the Dead then looked at Harry, gave him a subtle nod, then swiped his hand through the fire-circle. It broke, and Hades' face ghosted away as the magic ended.

"I still like him," Harry said to Hestia. "When he's not shouting or jumping to conclusions, that is."

Hestia gave a soft laugh. "Such is the curse of our family," she replied, before looking at Annabeth and Grover, who looked about as comfortable as Percy and Poseidon looked. In other words – not very.

She beckoned them over. "Come along now," she said, kindly. "Let's give Percy and Poseidon a chance to talk."

"Thank you, Sister," Poseidon said, sounding as if this was one favor he could do without.

"Talk to your son, Poseidon," Hestia jokingly told him as the Daughter of Athena and the Satyr joined her and Harry. She guided them all some distance away, to allowed father and son some privacy.

"Are the two of you alright?" the motherly goddess asked Annabeth and Grover, looking the two of them over. "I imagine the last half hour was quite a shock for you."

"We're fine, thank you, ma'am," Grover half-bleated.

Hestia graced him with a smile and patted his arm. Harry ignored the by-play, and kept an eye on Percy and Poseidon, who were talking quietly. And, to his annoyance, out of earshot.

"You really should allow them their privacy," Hestia gently rebuked him when she noticed what he was doing.

"Percy's not looking happy," Harry deflected.

Hestia sighed sadly. "Poseidon isn't the best when it comes to heart-to-heart talks," she informed them. "He probably feels bad about Percy's birth and is trying, badly, to explain that he's regretting how Percy's life, like any hero's life, will be tragic and filled with pain."

Harry looked stunned. "Mister Poseidon regrets having Percy?"

"In a way," Hestia prevaricated. "It isn't for me to divulge secrets. Like I said, more than anything, he regrets the pain that the circumstances of his birth will cause Percy."

Annabeth and Grover looked even more awkward at the turn the conversation had taken. "Still, as I said," Hestia continued, "it isn't for us to comment on. It is between them. We can only be there for them and offer support as needed."

Both Annabeth and Grover felt that, dispute the plurals, Hestia's comment was more for Harry alone than for all of them together.

Suddenly, Harry seemed to think of something. "Sh-" he started to say, then his eyes fell on Hestia, who was raising her eyebrows, "-oot?" he finished, hopefully.

"Nice save, Harry," the Goddess of the Home said, looking amused. "Now, what has you aborting a cuss?"

"I just realized I should have asked Mister Zeus to uncurse Mom," the young demigod said, looking glum.

Hestia hemmed. "Hmm. Considering how uncharitable he has been when it comes to your friends, and the fact that it took both Poseidon and Hades to get him to accept your idea of a cabin for me, I doubt he would have accepted," she answered, looking dissatisfied about that. "However, it it is not a bad idea. I will bring it up with him later." She eyed him. "In private. Not unlike how I wished to bring up the notion of Father in private."

Harry looked embarrassed. "Oops?" he offered. "In my defense, Percy was the one who started talking about it. I just put a name to it."

"Which is why I am not lecturing you about it right now," Hestia confirmed. "Although I should visit my nephew in a couple of days to discuss it."

Annabeth and Grover looked at each other and shuddered at the same time.

The conversation between Poseidon and his demigod son seemed to have come to its conclusion, and Percy started to walk away. He looked like the very picture of dejection, but his shoulders were set in a stubborn poise as if he didn't want to show it.

"Perseus," Poseidon said, raising his voice after his son, thereby making himself audible to his peanut gallery as well.

Percy stopped and turned.

"You did well, Perseus. Do not misunderstand me. Whatever else you do, know that you are mine. You are a true son of the Sea God."

The poor demigod managed a nod before Poseidon vanished.

"Oh, Poseidon," Hestia sighed. "He always was so bad with heart-to-heart talks," she whispered, before resolutely approaching Percy.

The poor demigod looked like he'd been pulled through the wringer. "He… I…" he managed, before shaking his head.

"Poseidon is many things, but he is not good with his emotions," Hestia confided. "I will not break any secrets, but know that he does, indeed, care. His last statement to you proves as much."

Percy nodded dully.

"How about I give you a lift home?" Harry offered, putting a hand on Percy's shoulder.

"Unfortunately, Harry," Hestia teased, "modern apartments lack something fundamental for you to give young Percy a lift."

Harry looked confused. In the background, Annabeth got it and started giggling.

He gave her a betrayed look.

She giggled harder. With the entire thing over, and in the company of a goddess she knew reasonably well after having spent a weekend in Paris with her, the relief was making her giddy. "Hearths!" she chortled. "Modern apartments don't have a hearth anymore!"

"Indeed," Hestia confirmed, sounding as if she regretted that.

Harry hugged her. Of course she regretted it, it was her domain.

"Thanks," Percy muttered. "I'll… just… take a taxi or something."

Harry shared a look with Hestia. The kindly Goddess of the Home patted his cheek. "I will see that your friends are returned safely to camp," she told him.

"Thanks, Hestia," he said. He hugged Annabeth, then debated it for only a fraction of time and hugged Grover. They'd been on a quest together, that forged bonds. "See you at camp," he told them. "I'm going to keep Percy company."

Annabeth nodded, looking both sad and determined. "Thanks, Harry," she said.

He winked at her, then joined Percy. "Come on, man. Let's get you home."

"I can take a taxi or something," Percy muttered, but Harry noted he didn't complain.

"I know where you're at, and nobody should be alone at a time like that," Harry replied, putting his hand on Percy's shoulder again. "I'll be here if you want to talk. Or not."

Poseidon wasn't the only one who was bad with emotions. Harry wanted to help Percy, but he honestly had no idea what to say. Sticking close to him and giving him to space to talk should he want to felt like the best bet at the moment.

As they walked out of the massive building that housed the throne room, the citizens of Olympus all stopped what they were doing and looked at the duo as they passed by.

It made Harry uncomfortable, and he couldn't imagine how Percy must be feeling right now. Still, he didn't know what to tell his friend, so all Harry could do was squeeze his shoulder.

"What happened with you?" Percy asked, as Harry guided them toward the elevator down towards mortal New York.

So Harry told his abbreviated life's story, about growing up with an aunt and uncle that locked him in a cupboard, finding out that his mother didn't bother finding out where he was, and when she finally met him, tried to get him to chose her over Hestia, who had, by that time, saved him from a life of cold and misery on the streets.

Percy looked aghast.

"At least I had a home and a mom," the Son of Poseidon said. "Sheesh. Compared to you, I had it easy."

"It's not a competition," Harry said, trying not to dwell on his past. "Mine's in the past. Yours just happened. Do you want to talk about it?"

Percy shrugged. "He regretted having me," Percy whispered.

Harry didn't care where they were. He stopped them, turned to his friend, and hugged him. "You're a kickass demigod," he told Percy. "Always remember that."

Percy squeezed back. It wasn't something he usually went for, but right now?

Yeah, a hug and some comforting words were something he could use.

He broke the hug and looked at Harry. "You tell anyone we hugged, and I'm going to slug you," he threatened.

Harry grinned. "Message received," he answered casually.

They took the elevator down, and exited the Empire State building. Percy drew a deep breath once they were outside, as if happy to be in the mortal world once more.

Percy flagged down a taxi, and the two demigods trooped in the back. The ride was silent, Harry just providing a comforting presence as best he could, and Percy lost in thought, weary of the quest and everything surrounding it.

They arrived at the apartment without problems and Percy rang the doorbell. For a moment, Harry wondered about the action – didn't Percy have a key? That seemed strange, for some reason.

Before he could ask, however, the door was pulled open by Percy's mother, hale and hearty. For some reason, Harry only now realized that the woman smelled of peppermint, licorice, and other candies.

The realization left him immediately when he saw Percy. The weight of the world vanished from his friend's shoulders, and he threw himself in his mother's arms. "Percy!" Mrs. Jackson exclaimed. "Thank goodness! Oh, my baby!"

She wept as she seemed to crush Percy with the tightness of her hug. Percy was shaking as he clung back, obviously relieved.

Harry could relate. He'd had a few moments like that with Hestia, as well.

The entire story rolled out of her; apparently she hadn't experienced a single moment since she got kidnapped by that one Empousa, and had simply appeared back at the apartment earlier that morning.

It had startled Gabe, Percy's stepfather, half to death. From the look on Percy's face, the demigod didn't care. Harry remembered the interview the man had given about Percy, and how he'd tried to portray Percy as some idiot thug.

It immediately made him finger the ring that housed Godslayer.

Apparently, Gabe had even tried to make Mrs. Jackson go into work, claiming her missed pay. Harry fingered the ring harder, carefully not activating it just yet.

Percy obviously swallowed back his own anger, and instead launched into his side of the story. Every now and then, Harry added some detail, but he tried to keep out of the reunion. It wasn't his place.

Sally Jackson still graced him with a smile and a well-meant 'thank you' for helping Percy, though.

Then, a voice that was obviously Gabe's shouted from the living room. "Hey, Sally! That meat loaf done yet or what!?"

She closed her eyes, then looked at Percy. "Try not to make him angry?" she asked. She looked at Harry, as if trying to say something, but not knowing what.

Harry got the message. He looked at Percy. Percy looked back. "I'll be fine," the Son of Poseidon said.

"Are you sure?" Harry asked. "Just say the word, he'll be gone."

Percy looked tempted, then glanced at his mother. "This is something we have to do ourselves," he said.

Harry nodded. "Alright, no worries. Let me know if you need anything, alright?"

"Will do," Percy answered. For a moment, he looked awkward, then steeled himself. "And Harry? Thanks. For everything. I mean. I don't think things would have gone as quickly as they did without you."

Harry grinned. "You're welcome, mate. That's just what friends do. Help each other," he said, squeezing Percy's shoulder. He looked at Sally and dipped his head in greeting. "See you around, Mrs. Jackson. Percy, see you later."

He waved, turned, and walked off. Somehow, he felt like this wasn't over just yet. Something else was coming, some decisions had to be made, and he wasn't sure which way things would go.

He'd have to talk to Percy later. Somehow, he had a feeling that his friend was going to end up at Camp Half-Blood anyway.

0000

Harry laughed and cheered along with the other campers. He'd been right; Percy had returned to Camp Half-Blood that very day. By tradition, campers returning from a quest received full honors – the wearing of laurel wreaths included.

There was also a procession down to Hestia's fire, where the burial shrouds made by the quester's cabin mates were to be burnt. Harry felt conflicted about that part; apparently questers returned so rarely that their cabin mates prepared burial shrouds for them in advance.

Annabeth's was beautiful, as was befitting a burial shroud made by the children of Athena. It was made from gray silk, and had small owls – Athena's sacred animal – embroidered around the circumference.

Of course, Percy had to make a joke about it.

"Sheesh, Annabeth. It's so beautiful it's a shame we can't bury you in it," the Son of Poseidon teased.

Annabeth laughed. "Shut up," she told him, and punched him on the arm.

Poor Percy was alone in his cabin, so Clarisse and her cabin-mates from the Ares cabin had volunteered to make one for him. They'd taken a bedsheet, dyed it ocean-blue-green, and drawn crossed-out eyes and a frowning mouth on it. They'd made sure everyone knew who it was for by writing 'Prissy' in large lettering along the bottom.

Truthfully, it still looked nice enough that, had Percy actually died, it would have seemed fitting to be buried in it. At the same time, the Ares cabin's lack of respect showed through, as was befitting children of the God of War.

Percy had taken one look at it, snorted, and slugged Clarisse on the arm, the same way Annabeth had punched him.

She took it in good humor. After wrestling him into a submission hold and giving him a noogie.

Harry was happy to vanish into the background of the other campers, although he wondered for a moment who, if anyone, would have made one for him had he been on the quest from the beginning.

Then again, nobody seemed to care about poor Grover, either, so maybe the tradition was only for demigod questers that stayed at camp.

That evening, Harry managed to drag Percy off to one side.

"Are you alright?" the Son of Tyche asked. "After… you know…"

"Smelly Gabe being Smelly Gabe?" Percy asked. He drew a breath. "You know… I think we will be. Remember that package we sent to Mount Olympus, the one with Medusa's head in it?"

Harry grinned. "Too bad it didn't catch Zeus. Or maybe it did and just doesn't work on him."

Percy snorted. "Seriously, what's his problem?" he asked. Without waiting for a reply, he continued, "But yeah, that one. Apparently, it got 'returned to sender' – straight to my bed at home."

Harry's grin widened, guessing where this was going.

"Mom did the same thing to me we did to you," Percy continued, looking at the floor, his voice softer now. "I can't fix her problems for her. She said she was working up the courage to tell Gabe off. I left her the box. I came here. For the summer. To make sure I wasn't making things harder for her, you know."

Harry nodded, and once again squeezed Percy's shoulder. That was probably why Percy was a better hero than he was, Harry thought. If someone treated Hestia the way this Gabe character – who reminded Harry a lot of Uncle Vernon – did, then he wouldn't hesitate.

Harry fingered Godslayer's ring again. He'd keep an eye and ear out for Percy; if things went south, his sword wouldn't be far away. That was for sure.

"When I left," Percy said, ignorant of Harry's inner monologue, "He was demanding his meat loaf. And Mom, Mom was looking as if she were sizing him up to see how he'd look as a garden statue."

Harry chuckled. It sounded like Sally had things in hand. Still, he'd keep an ear out. You never know, after all.

Harry stayed at the feast long enough to hear Dionysus' welcome-back speech, which was just as hilarious as Harry imagined it would be, full of sarcasm and over-the-top spite. He managed to slip away just afterward.

He'd need to come back in a couple of days, and get together with Annabeth to work on the design for Hestia's cabin. He had ideas.

So many ideas.

0000

"So, how have things been?" Harry asked Percy as they strolled through the camp.

"Things have been great," Percy replied. "Got a letter from my Mom. Gabe left 'mysteriously', and she reported him missing. On an unrelated note, she sold her first life-sized concrete sculpture, which she called 'The Poker Player', to a collector through some art gallery in Soho. They called it 'a huge step forward in super-ugly neorealism'."

Harry burst out laughing, both in relief and genuine happiness at his friend's good fortune.

"She got so much money for it that she was able to put in a deposit for a new apartment, and make a payment for her first semester's tuition at NYU."

"She's going back to school?" Harry asked. "I thought everyone would be glad to be rid of school."

"I guess she wants to get her degree," Percy replied with a shrug. "And you sound like that one Daughter of Aphrodite."

"Silena's a blast," Harry said with a grin. "She's our fearless leader in the Youth Uprising."

Percy snorted. "That sounds like the speech she held," he agreed.

"HARRY!" a voice squealed, and soon he found himself grabbed into a hug by the Daughter of Aphrodite in question.

"Silena!" Harry greeted back happily, hugging her back. "We were just talking about you and our uprising against the slavery institution that is the public school system."

"Do I have a new recruit?" Selene asked with a giggle, looking Percy over. "He completed a quest, so that's a good mark."

Percy snorted again.

"Anyway, do you know where Annabeth is?" Harry asked. "I have need of her architectural skills so I can start building Hestia's cabin."

"She was at the Athena Cabin earlier," Silena replied.

0000

"So, what exactly do you have in mind?" Annabeth asked, taking on a professional air that, somehow, didn't seem out of place on a twelve-year-old girl. The others were nearby, eager to hear what Harry had planned.

Harry conjured a stick and drew in the dirt. "I was thinking, log cabin," he explained, "and open-plan." He sketched out a square. "This would be the main cabin, with the front door in the center of the wall here. Then a large kitchen, because Hestia loves cooking and maybe someone wants to cook for themselves or something. Then a large living area, with comfortable couches, tables for board games, some cabinets for books and the previously mentioned board games, and a large fireplace with masonry chimney on this wall here. Then, in the back wall," he continued to sketch, "two openings that would lead to a 'male' and a 'female' room, with a second large fireplace in the shared wall between them."

Annabeth blinked. "That's a pretty comprehensive layout," she said. "but why the two rooms? Are you expecting Lady Hestia to start adopting demigods left, right, and center?"

Harry snorted a laugh. "No, I don't expect Hestia to start collecting demigods," he said. "But, Hestia is kind, welcoming, and generous with her home and temple. So, I was thinking that other demigods, who have friends in other cabins, may want to experience the 'sleepover' thing, kind of like how we did a couple of years ago."

"Oh," Annabeth said, blinking slowly and looking as if this was a paradigm shift that did not compute properly.

"I can see people with friends in other cabins having a nice evening, having fun with board games or whatever. Of course, this is still Hestia's cabin, so boys would sleep in one room, girls would sleep in another. And, considering that it might be a group of friends, I was thinking 'bunk beds', because those are always fun."

Annabeth snorted. "At least you have a coherent idea," she said. "I was afraid you'd come up with 'it's a cabin for Lady Hestia' and leave all the difficult work to me."

Harry grinned. "I've been designing Hestia's cabin in my mind ever since I realized she didn't have one. This was my first chance to get her one, and I took it."

Percy laughed. "Took it? You verbally twisted Zeus' arm behind his back until he agreed!"

"Mister Poseidon and Mister Hades helped," Harry protested.

"They helped hold him down while you twisted Zeus' arm," Percy added.

"I wasn't that bad," Harry pouted.

"I was there," Percy reminded him. Annabeth and Silena, quietly listening in, grinned wider.

"Shut up," the Son of Tyche grunted, but there was no heat in it.

"Truth hurts," the Son of Poseidon said, sanctimoniously.

"Why you little… !" Harry pretend-growled, making vague grabbing motions toward Percy's neck.

Percy replied by gurgling, as if being choked. Immediately, both boys broke out laughing.

"Boys," Silena sighed at Annabeth, who could only agree.

0000

Hestia's cabin was coming along nicely, and Harry was more than happy to lend his magical abilities to constructing it. While stacking trees wasn't difficult in his mind, it turned out to be a whole lot more complex than he had imagined it would be.

By the end, Annabeth had politely, yet firmly, asked him to come back in a couple of days. Apparently she needed to come up with a different construction plan when Harry had started stacking the trees as she had indicated, only to come to the conclusion that he was doing it in the wrong order.

He honestly still didn't know what he did wrong, but her arcane mutterings about load-bearing, tensile strength, compression rates, and moisture levels drove home that he really didn't know a lot about building log cabins and he'd better leave the planning to the professionals.

Even if the Daughter of Athena wasn't really a professional.

He really should find a way to introduce Annabeth to Hermione. They'd either get along like a house on fire, or they'd be eternal worst enemies.

In either case, it'd be a load of fun to introduce them and then make a break for it, Harry thought as he stepped out of the fire at the Hunters' Camp. It had been so very long since he'd gotten a nice lesson from Miss Zoë. He'd missed spending time in the woods with her.

"Hello, Harry. Long time no see," Celyn said with a smile as he stepped through.

"Hi, Miss Celyn," Harry greeted back, returning her smile. "Thanks for letting me through."

"You know where Our Lady is," Celyn said, motioning to the rest of the camp.

Harry nodded as she waved and walked off. He walked toward Artie's tent, and scratched at the flap to request entrance.

"Enter."

Harry pulled the flap of the tent back, and stepped inside. Artie was sitting behind her desk, doing the Bane that was Paperwork. One of magnificent golden deer was lying down next to her desk, within easy reach should she need some deer-petting therapy. Zoë was standing up, holding some papers, obviously helping her goddess.

"Harry," Artie said, standing up from her desk and making her way over to him. He took the invite, and grapple-hugged her the moment she was within grapple-hugging range.

She laughed. "I am glad that the whole thing with Father's toy has been resolved," she said as she hugged him back.

Harry snickered, glad to hear his name for Zeus' Master Bolt not only stuck, but was spreading. "And yes," the Goddess of the Hunt continued, "I know that it was you who started that name."

Harry snickered some more as she released him and he stepped back. "And someone else missed you, too," Artie teased, motioning to Zoë.

Artie's Lieutenant gave her Lady as filthy a look as she was capable of while remaining proper and deferential. "'T has been far too long," Zoë stated, as if Artie hadn't said anything. "'T will most likely take me some time to re-train thee and get thy bad habits out of thee."

Harry grinned. "Woe is me," he answered. He was about to offer a welcome-back hug, when he took a really good look at Zoë; a look that made him startle.

His friend, one of his favorite teachers, looked absolutely exhausted. Rather than offer a hug, he immediately switched tacks and simply offered his hand.

Zoë looked surprised for a moment, hesitated, then shook it.

Harry knew that she had been tempted to tease him about skipping the hug. He also knew that she knew that teasing him about the lack of an offered hug would mean that he'd won. He knew that was the reason she, in the end, had decided against teasing him.

"You look tired, Miss Zoë," Harry said, instead. No need to tease her when she was this tired.

"My dear old friend has been running the camp while I was out looking for Father's toy," Artie replied, instead. "I think that a few hours in the woods with nothing to occupy her but to keep you from killing yourself, will do her well."

Zoë looked like she wanted to argue with Artie.

Harry nodded softly.

Instead, they left the tent. "So, where are we going?" he asked her as she employed those super-secret Hunter skills of hers to leave the camp far behind.

"I was thinking, mountains," Zoë stated. Her voice sounded tired; Harry took another good look at her. She looked shattered still, but trying to hide it.

"Miss Zoë," he asked, stopping, forcing her to stop as well to turn and look at him.

"Is there a problem?" she asked. Her question didn't have her usual confidence in it; instead, it sounded as if 'problems' were something she could really, honestly, do without right now.

It strengthened his resolve. "Maybe we should reschedule," he offered. "We can go to the mountains any time, but you sound really tired. Maybe you should rest instead."

Zoë crossed her arms and looked at him, still trying to hide the fatigue. She remained silent and took a breath. "And renege on My Lady's request?" she demanded.

That stung. Harry tried to ignore just how badly that stung. "You're only teaching me because Artie demanded it?" he asked. "I had hoped you enjoyed teaching me."

Zoë looked apologetic. "Mine words did not come out right," she apologized. She sighed. "Perhaps I am tired," she admitted, finally. "Still, 't is My Lady's request, and as a Hunter, 't is not acceptable to ignore My Lady's requests."

Harry stepped closer to her. "Miss Zoë," he said. "We really should reschedule. I mean, I don't want to be a burden or anything, and if you're tired, you should rest."

Zoë looked rebellious. Before she could say anything, he held up his right hand, and pulled a box of chocolate chip cookies from mid-air using Hestia's boon.

"If Artie asks, tell her I bribed you," he offered, holding the box out.

Despite herself, Zoë took the box, opened it, and fished out a cookie. "Very well," she admitted. "I really should rest. But thou should be the one to face My Lady – and her wrath – for defying her request."

Harry grinned. "Deal," he said.

The Lieutenant of Artie's Hunters nodded, and retraced her steps, Harry behind her. They reappeared at camp within moments. "I shall go to my tent," she told him by way of farewell. "Unless thou art willing to join me to ensure I hold up my end of the bargain?" she said.

It sounded as if she was going for teasing, but her exhaustion put a stop to that. Immediately, she realized what she had said – and offered – and looked embarassed.

Harry decided there and then that her slip never happened. Tired people did silly things, just as drunk people did, and so he wasn't going to comment on it. "Good night, Miss Zoë," he said instead.

She looked grateful for his willingness to overlook her slip of the tongue, nodded, and turned to walk to her tent.

Harry looked after her for a few moments, then turned to walk back to Artie's tent. He scratched for permission to enter.

"Enter," Artie's voice sounded.

He stepped inside, causing her to look up and her eyes to grow slightly.

"Harry?" she asked. "I thought you were with Zoë?"

"She was so tired, Artie," Harry said, sinking onto a chair placed in front of Artie's desk. "So I asked her if she wanted to get some rest, instead. We can reschedule for when she's not so tired."

Artie eyes him like a predator eyed prey. "And my old friend simply accepted that?" she asked.

Harry grinned. "Of course not. It was a request from you, and Zoë would sell her soul before going against your wishes."

Artie looked both gratified at the loyalty and a bit shame-faced at how brainwashed her friend was.

"So I bribed her," Harry continued. "With chocolate-chip cookies."

Artie's eyebrows rose. "I was unaware you were carrying cookies," she said. "And you had none to spare for me?"

Harry grinned; he knew of Artie's unofficial chocoholic tendencies. He conjured another box, once more pulling on Hestia's domain, and handed it over to her.

She wasted no time in opening the box and taking out a cookie. She bit into it with a delighted face; a face that scrunched slightly as she chewed thoughtfully.

"It's a good cookie," she finally said, after swallowing. "And yet, it doesn't taste as good as the ones you normally make."

"Of course it doesn't," Harry agreed. "I conjured those by pulling on Hestia's domain. Those cookies are made with magic, not with love."

Artie froze and eyed him. This time, it was no more predator eyeing prey. No, this gaze was dangerous, as if it was Artemis, rather than Artie, that was eying him.

"You better explain that statement, demigod," she demanded.

Harry swallowed. He'd rather face an angry tiger than an angry Artemis. "Hestia said that people who are very good at things put a piece of themselves into everything they make. Painters, sculptors, writers, artists of any kind, when they love what they're doing, they put a piece of themselves into their art. It gives their art a certain something beyond the mere creation of a thing."

He pointed to the box. "It's the same with cooking. I love cooking. And I love when people enjoy what I cook. Those cookies are conjured. They're absolutely perfect. The exact right balance of ingredients, cooked for the exact right amount of time at the exact right temperature. And yet, when I cook, there are always imperfections. Balances that need to be maintained. And, again, they're made with love. Those are made with magic. The difference matters. You can taste it."

Artie seemed to relax, and took another cookie.

"And yet, they were sufficient to allow my old friend to defy my request and go and rest," she said.

Harry offered a small smile, not sure what to say. In the end, he settled on, "She was so tired, Artie. I felt worried. Please don't be mad at her."

The Goddess of the Hunt and the Moon remained silent and ate another cookie. "You should never apologize for worrying about the health or well-being of my Hunters," she finally stated. "I was hoping that an afternoon in the woods with you would help her relax, but perhaps she was hiding her fatigue from me better than I am aware of."

"She probably didn't want to worry you," Harry offered. "Or make you feel guilty about having to go and find Mister Zeus' toy or something."

"That would be very much like her," Artie admitted, looking at Harry.

For a few moments, they were silent, both seemingly lost in thought. Although Artie looked lost in thought in a way that indicated she was thinking something up.

"Still," she finally said, "you have cost me the assistance of my old friend for the afternoon. That means that I will now have you assist me. Despite everything my old friend did to keep everything running in my absence, there are things that need to be done. I will have you assist me in administering the camp."

Harry blinked. "How so, Artie?" he asked, ignoring the fact that Zoë wouldn't have been around for the entire afternoon anyway. It seemed like Artie was going to teach him to run the Hunters' Camp instead.

Remembering the one lesson she had once given him about logistics, he was sure it was going to be an interesting afternoon's lesson.

By the time Harry returned to Hestia's temple, four hours later, his head was spinning. He had learned more about running a medium-sized strike force in one afternoon than he had managed to learn from years of Athena's lessons.

There was the need of acquiring, storing, distributing, and maintaining of material and equipment, but – if required – also the evacuation and disposition of it.

There was the need to transport not only the Hunters, but also the Guardian Wolves. Most of that was taken care of with the Hunters' super-secret Hunter skills, but fact remaining that sometimes those skills could not be used.

There was the need to actually build the camp itself, and while the auto-fold tents Artie had given the Hunters sped up the process, there was still the need to dig latrines, and set up the pens for the Guardian Wolves.

And lastly, despite everything, sometimes there was the requirement for medical aid in case of injury or illness – and while Artie could take care of a lot of those for her Hunters when the need arose, the fact remained that sometimes, she simply wasn't there.

Case in point, these last six months.

Harry slogged to his favorite couch in Hestia's temple, and slumped into it in the boneless fashion of the extremely weary teenager.

Hestia looked amused at him. "Did Artie's Lieutenant give you a hard time?" she asked.

Harry grunted, then proceeded to tell Hestia what had happened during the afternoon.

AN: Happy New Year to all my faithful readers. I wanted to make this a double-upload, but disaster struck me just at Christmas, meaning that I wasn't able to make it with the second chapter in time. I'm really sorry about that.