Harry Potter, Squatter
A week passed before Harry felt more or less back to his old self. Some of the memories stuck with him, the things he had experienced were not so easily forgotten. Still, he felt like himself again. The strange urge to keep listening to the magic of the world had faded into the background; still, he kept performing the turn-it-on-then-turn-it-off-again exercise as Marduk had instructed.
Currently, he was facing a trio of his teachers while standing in a nondescript field somewhere. It could be anywhere really, considering the gods in question.
Ares had a silly yet bloodthirsty grin on his face, and there was a bounce in his step that said he really wanted things to get a move on and was looking forward to it.
Athena looked as calm and composed as always, her intense gray eyes beholding him as if the secrets of his soul were laid bare. Harry still wasn't entirely sure whether the goddess actually could determine everything about him from a mere glance or not.
Finally, Hermes was grinning excitedly as well. While his grandfather wasn't a teacher in the conventional sense, not like Ares and Athena were, the God of Thieves had spent quite some time with Harry, and in that time, had imparted more than a few lessons on various topics on to him.
"Today," Athena said, taking the lead, "you are going to perform an exercise."
Harry opened his mouth to ask for details, when Ares impatiently interrupted her. Blithely ignoring the annoyed look the Goddess of Wisdom threw his way, the God of War said, "Time to see how far you've come, brat. See that warehouse?"
Harry followed the direction of the burly god's arm and extended finger. Indeed, there was a huge building in the field where there had been no building before. It was a huge warehouse, as Ares had indicated.
The warehouse itself was made of metal and stone, and its doors seemed quite strong and made from metal. There also seemed to be guards that were on a patrol schedule of some kind.
Harry looked back at his teacher and shook his head sarcastically. No, he didn't see that warehouse, its sturdy doors, or its guards.
Athena looked like she wanted to berate him, but Ares burst out laughing. "Good," the God of War said. "Now, in there's your target. It's a gold chalice. Get it back."
Harry blinked. "That's it?" he asked.
Hermes chortled quietly. Athena, as ever, looked as if he were an idiot. Ares, though, grinned wider. "Oh, it's plenty, Brat. Now, go get it."
"This is a training quest," Athena said, wanting to do things properly. "As quests usually revolve around retrieving an object of some kind, that is what we have arranged. All the people populating the warehouse are enchanted mannequins so you will not be harming anyone. Now, as Ares so eloquently said, 'go get it'."
Harry nodded softly, and then turned to the warehouse. This was the first time he'd been on a combined training exercise like this; usually he was just told to fight the dummy or fight Ares. Well, when Athena wasn't grilling him about book learning, anyway.
It looked like this was going to be some kind of endurance fight, then. He was going to be fighting dummies, lots of them, until he retrieved that gold chalice thing that was in the building.
"What equipment can I use?" he asked.
"It's your quest, you can do it naked for all I care," Ares said with a wave of his hand.
Harry nodded, used to his teacher's crude remarks, and brought out his enchanted equipment. Hestia's Lasso went on his belt, while the shield, bracers, and sword were kept at the ready.
The mental presence of the sword seemed excited at the prospect of carving up enchanted dolls, and Harry couldn't actually deny the fact that he felt anticipation himself.
He drew a breath, and charged. Behind him, he heard Ares whoop in exhilaration.
The first guard never knew what hit him, the dummy's head falling from its shoulders before it even realized it was under attack. It spewed some green-blue liquid that was supposed to simulate blood; something that Harry completely ignored.
He also ignored a shouted exultation from Ares regarding 'loving child soldiers', and continued his movement. The second guard managed to raise the start of a shout before Harry cut him down.
An alarm went off, and Harry realized that the aborted shout of the second guard had been enough to raise an alarm. Looking up, he noticed he'd done his takedown right in the sight of a camera. That likely didn't help things.
Oh, well. What's done is done. Confidently, he strode to the main door of the warehouse, right as it banged open and dozens of guards rushed out.
Harry's eyes widened comically, right before the horde was upon him.
"And what have you learned?" Athena asked him a few minutes later.
"Check for cameras," Harry pouted, bruised from the painful beating the dummies had given him. He rotated his joints, making sure he hadn't broken anything.
Ares and Hermes laughed, but the Goddess of Wisdom looked vaguely displeased. "Again," she told him.
The boy nodded, this time he wasn't going to let the guards get him.
He approached the warehouse, out of the sight of the cameras, and waited for the regular patrol.
"Hey! Who are you!?" a guard shouted, coming from around the other corner. His partner was talking into a radio, and Harry frowned.
"I'm… eh… lost?" Harry offered.
"Carrying enough hardware to fight an army?" the guard asked again. "Nice try. Now, drop the weapons."
Harry's frown deepened; this was not going to plan. Not at all.
"What have you learned?" Athena asked, five minutes later. Harry rubbed the big bruise in the center of his chest. That guard had been an excellent shot, and he was lucky that the guards were armed with training rounds that bruised and hurt, but not didn't kill.
"I thought quests dealt with monsters, not guards with rifles," Harry said, pouting.
"Be adaptable," Athena instructed. "Again."
Harry slouched towards the warehouse, all the excitement he'd felt before gone. This was going to be a long day.
Not fifteen minutes later, he was on his back again, once more in the field in front of his teachers.
"What have you learned?" Athena asked, her Look of Disappointment at around a six on a scale of one-to-ten.
"There are too many of them," Harry answered, honestly.
Hermes reached out and pulled him to his feet. "Some advice may help," the God of Travelers said.
"Hermes!" Athena snapped.
"The boy obviously needs help, Athena," Hermes answered over his shoulder.
"He needs to learn not to rely on us," the Goddess of Wisdom replied testily. "Better he learn that lesson here than on the battlefield. He needs to learn this on his own."
Hermes frowned at her, and then turned to face Harry. "Harry," he said, "Why are you charging straight at the enemy?"
Harry blinked. "Because that's what it's always been?" he asked, wondering why he felt like an idiot right now. "I mean, Mister Ares tells me to fight him. Miss Athena tells me to predict the dummy – when she's not grilling me about book learning, that is."
His grandfather sighed and looked at the Goddess of Wisdom. "He didn't make the connection at all," he told Athena. "It's hard to learn a lesson when you receive no guidance at all."
Athena's frown deepened, and Harry felt very much like an idiot, even if he didn't know why. Obviously, Athena had been trying to teach him something and he just hadn't picked up on it.
As the goddess remained quiet, Hermes turned back to Harry. "Harry, do you recall the story of Odysseus?"
Harry nodded. "That's the worst sailor in Greek History, right? He took ten years to get home from a journey that's supposed to take a few weeks, right?"
Hermes face-palmed. Ares burst out laughing. Athena looked like she couldn't believe he had just said that.
"Yes," Hermes said. "Worst sailor in Greek History, yes. Do you recall his adventures?"
Harry nodded again, happy this was still something he knew. Obviously, this wasn't the lesson he missed. "Yes, I do," he answered excitedly. "He had many, many adventures."
"And usually solved them with his wits, not his might," Hermes added.
Harry nodded. "He tricked people and cheated a lot."
"It's only cheating when the other guy does it, brat!" Ares interjected.
"Right," Harry replied, nodding softly.
"Good," Hermes said, putting them back on track. "He used cunning and guile to defeat his enemies. Sometimes, Harry, you need to think your way out of a situation, rather than charge in with fists flying."
"Oh," the young boy whispered, suddenly realizing the lesson he was supposed to learn.
"Yes, oh," his grandfather said. "Aunt Hestia let us know that you have been behaving recklessly as of late, probably inspired by a lack of fear of death. Just know this, Harry. Lord Hades does not suffer a fool gladly. If you get yourself killed due to an idiotic decision on your part, you will not like your afterlife."
Harry swallowed deeply, a shudder of cold slithering up his spine and making his break out in fearful sweat. "Now," the God of thieves went on, "I want you to do as you promised Aunt Hestia, and think before you act."
Harry nodded quickly and fearfully. For the first time since quite some time, he wasn't sure of himself, he wasn't sure of where he was going or what would happen to him. It was as if the floor had been cut out from underneath his feet and now he was forced to learn to fly.
"Now, think," Hermes said, straightening up. "I know you can do this, Harry."
Harry swallowed and nodded, suddenly realizing that he had forgotten one of the earliest lessons he learned after meeting Hestia. The lesson of non-violence. He had told himself he would always do what would make Hestia happy, to avoid violence whenever possible, and yet he had ended up reaching for his sword first.
He felt his eyes sting. He'd failed. He'd failed miserably. He wondered how it happened, when it happened, that he started to forget Hestia's lesson of avoiding violence. Maybe it was the lessons from Ares, and Athena, and Zoë – lessons that had taught him to fight, to not question it and just go for it.
So he'd just gone for it this time, too. He balled his fists. He'd been trained to fight, so he fought, and forgot the earliest lesson he had received.
Well, now that he knew, he wasn't having it. The gods had been training him to use violence. Fine, he'd learned violence. But, he promised himself that he wouldn't ever use those lessons unless he needed to. Unless he was attacked first. He would do what he could to make sure Hestia stayed happy.
With a deep breath, Harry straightened and looked at the warehouse. And started to think. The three gods had remained silent, studying him as he went through his little mental breakdown.
"What equipment can I use?" he asked again. "I mean, can I go get things?"
"Nothing you can't retrieve while on a quest," Athena said.
Harry nodded, and threw some Shen at the grass of the fields around him, gathering a nice pile of it. With a flick of his wrist, the grass ignited before immediately turning green and engulfing him.
Athena lifted an eyebrow. "The boy is getting good at employing Aunt Hestia's gift."
"I wonder if he will be back before the fire goes out," Hermes commented, crossing his arms. "I'm certainly not getting him if he's stuck on Olympus."
Ares chortled. "He's already changing the rules. He's got me curious what he's got up his sleeves."
The fire dwindled rapidly, fueled as it was by mere grass, but soon flared, and Harry stepped out, looking no different than he had while going in. He nodded to the three gods, then took a few steps towards the warehouse and sat down, studying his target.
"Finally starting to think on the lessons of strategy and tactics I have been attempting to teach you?" Athena asked, her tone adding finality to her statement.
Harry blinked, then recalled that her book-learning had featured quite a bit of Odysseus and others like him.
Oh. Now he understood the lessons he'd missed… those weren't just history, those were history he was supposed to learn from. That made sense. Lessons about not employing violence, but your mind, first.
He really felt like an idiot now.
Well, if he had a chance to make it up, then making it up was what he would do. Time to get a grip on their schedule. And wait for nightfall.
"Not going to charge in?" Ares asked, his head suddenly appearing over Harry's shoulder, the huge god leaning in.
Harry shook his head.
"How boring," the God of War simpered. "After all that training, you're not going to charge in. Child soldiers are supposed to be violent psychopaths, you know?"
Harry shook his head again. He wasn't going to let Ares drive him nuts. He could feel the tendrils of Ares' personal rage-aura seep into his emotions, but Harry forced his eyes closed and drew a deep breath.
It's for Hestia. Don't disappoint Hestia.
"Oh?" Ares asked, drawing the sound out. "Resisting the aura? Quite impressive, Brat," he said, straightening out. Harry let out a relieved breath, feeling more level-headed now that the God of War wasn't literally breathing down his neck.
He had to ignore the gods; he had a test to complete, and he couldn't allow himself to be distracted. Not now. He was going to start thinking, and he was going to make Hestia proud, and he was not going to fail again.
Harry stayed silent and watched, trying to discern the guard's patrol pattern. When the sun started to sink, he stood up.
Ares had left over an hour ago, bored out of his skull. That was fine; right now Harry could use a level head. With the sun setting, the day guards would be at the end of their shift, he reasoned, meaning they would be tired and their attention would not be sharp. It was his best chance, he thought.
Calmly, he built a mental image, an image he then threw Shen at, allowing it to wrap around him and shield him from sight. To the two gods that remained, it looked like Harry rippled into invisibility.
"He is surprisingly advanced in the use of magic," Athena commented. "Although he has made a few fundamental mistakes, he is more advanced than expected."
Hermes nodded. "I'm sure he'll figure those mistakes out quickly," he told the Goddess of Wisdom.
Ares huffed. "I wanted to see some action, this is boring," he complained, just appearing out of thin air.
"Oh?" Hermes asked, raising an eyebrow. "You came back just to tell us you're still bored?"
"Take a hike, Speedstick," Ares grumbled at the God of Messengers. "I left a feeler out and came back when the Brat started moving. Of course, that was before I knew he was just going to try and cheat his way in."
Hermes chuckled. "Weren't you the one who claimed that it wasn't cheating unless it was the other guy who did it?"
Ares huffed angrily, not liking his own words repeated back to him. "It's also cheating when it bores me," he complained.
Harry ignored the banter of the gods behind him, and kept the cloak of Shen energy wrapped tightly around him. He approached the door to the warehouse carefully, and knelt to examine the lock.
Grinning, he took out the small satchel of lockpicking tools that Hermes had given him for his ninth birthday. The small satchel he'd risked going back to Olympus for. A satchel that he promised to himself to always carry from now on, since it seemed that he would need them.
He remembered his ninth birthday; he couldn't believe that next month was his tenth. So much had happened this year. He closed his eyes and shook off the thought; this wasn't the time or the place.
Carefully, he checked the lock again, took out a tension wrench he thought would fit, and inserted it. Next, he took out a pick, found it too wide a gauge for the lock, put it back, and took out a different one that fit.
He exerted tension on the tension wrench, and then carefully started picking. The first pin was loose, so he would have to come back to it. The second one was binding and gave a tiny click as it set in place. The third pin clicked as well. The fourth one was loose, the fifth one clicked.
Having reached the end of the pins, he went back. Pin one was still loose. Two and three didn't click further and seemed to be set; the fourth one bound tightly and clicked louder than he would have liked. He froze, and looked around. Nobody seemed to have heard him; the guards were still on their patrol.
The fifth one was still in place. He tried pin one again, it bound and clicked and he could feel the lock open with the pressure of his tension wrench. Removing his lock pick, he opened the lock and slipped inside quickly, the door clicking shut behind him.
"Nice picking," Hermes said.
"It didn't seem like a difficult lock," Athena commented.
"There were a few safety pins in there, but Harry managed to work around them," Hermes answered her calmly. "It's true that it wasn't a world-class lock, but then again, how many times will he run into a world-class lock in the wild? In the end, he's been practicing, and when you're good at something it makes it seem easier than it is."
The Goddess of Wisdom nodded. "Very true."
Harry slipped inside, the door shutting behind him sounding very loud. He emerged into a large warehouse dunked in twilight. He needed time for his vision to adjust, so he immediately took two steps to one side and pushed against the wall. Within moments, a couple of guards stepped up to the door, examining it.
"Must be a faulty contact," one of the guards said, examining the door closely.
The second nodded, and spoke into a radio. "Mobile 2 to base. The door's shut, over."
"Base to Mobile 2, we're seeing the same here now. Probably a faulty contact. Come back, we'll have maintenance take a look at it. Over." the reply came through the radio. The two guards nodded to each other.
"Mobile 2 to base, on our way, over," the second guard told the device and clipped it back to his belt. The two then turned and walked back, slower than they had stepped over.
By now, his vision had cleared, adjusting to the twilight, and Harry took the time to scope his surroundings. The warehouse was huge, and most of it was wide open. The floor was gray concrete, which had been stained with various industrial liquids over the time of its existence.
The open warehouse was empty safe for some metal shelving that no longer held anything of note and Harry could see right through them. There were no guards here, and Harry let out a breath.
Off to one side of the warehouse was the office section of the building. Constructed out of cinderblocks and painted white at one time, it was now stained and in obvious need of new paint.
Harry slipped over to the door of the office part, making sure to keep quiet. Being invisible didn't mean people couldn't hear you, and despite there being no guards, he didn't want to take any chances.
Right before reaching the door, it was pushed open roughly and Harry jumped with surprise.
Those same two guards rushed out, this time accompanied by four others. The six men immediately fanned out, their automatic weapons up and sweeping in his direction.
Harry stood stock still, holding his breath, trying not to make any noise.
"Where is he?" one of the guards demanded the others.
"Dammit," the first guard, the one who had initially investigated the door, cursed. "Base, we can't see him. What's his location?"
"Should be right in front of you," the reply came pretty much straight away. "Two, maybe three meters, straight ahead."
Harry swallowed. They could see him?
Then he wanted to slip a bad word of his own; stopping only because the guards would hear him and Hestia would be disappointed in him. Slowly, soundlessly, he tried to slip away.
"He's on the move!" the call came through the radio. "Moving to your right!"
Harry bit back another curse as the guards frowned and swept closer. Harry tried to up his pace while maintaining silence.
"Moving faster to your right, mobile!" the call came. "He's moving out of range of the camera! Quickly!"
Harry grinned. Cameras. That made sense. The guards sped up, sweeping their guns, moving silently and professionally. The young boy upped his pace, moving as quickly as he could while keeping quiet, and did his best to stay out of the hands of the guards; they obviously couldn't see him and as long as they couldn't touch him, they couldn't get him.
He was pretty sure he was out of range of the camera by now, judging from the shouts coming through the radio.
"We're not seeing anything, base," the lead guard spoke. "Are you sure it wasn't equipment failure?"
"Equipment failure that would generate an infrared image that stood till, but then moved intelligently as you guys came in?" the base guard asked sarcastically.
The six guards currently in the warehouse looked at each other. "There's nothing here, base. No sounds, no sights, nothing."
Harry slowly let out his breath and wiped his forehead. That was close. Very close. And apparently because of the fact that they were using infrared cameras and he was only invisible to visible light, not shielding his heat signature.
As the guards swept the room, just to be sure, Harry casually kept a sight on them and slowly and soundlessly stepped out of the way as they approached. As they checked the building, Harry re-worked his mental image of invisibility and added something to shield him from infrared detectors and cameras.
Pushing Shen at his new image, he could feel his current cloak be replaced with the upgraded version.
The guards were halfway through checking the warehouse, so Harry had some time to kill. He worked on something to muffle sounds, so he could move quicker.
Finally, the half-dozen guards retreated into the office section, grumbling complaints under their breath as they did so.
Harry let out a relieved breath, and then a second one when he realized his new-and-improved cloaking spell canceled the sound.
He carefully made his way to the door of the office block, looking out for where the camera could be hidden. Finally spotting it in the rafters of the warehouse, Harry stopped while in sight of it.
No guards came out.
Pressing his luck, he waved at the camera to make sure. This was an exercise; worst came to worst, he would reset and try again. He had an opportunity to make sure his spell worked and he was going to take it.
No guards came out. His spell worked against infrared, he was pretty sure now.
He turned and walked to the door of the office block.
Locked. Of course it was.
It was an electronic lock too, so it wasn't something he could pick. He looked at the card reader that hung on the wall next to the door, trying to figure out what his next move could be.
This wasn't something he'd ever learned, so he was a bit stuck on the proper way forward.
He could steal a card from one of the guards, he supposed, but that left the problem of how to get one or two guards out here, lifting a card without anyone noticing, and then using it. He doubted that a third 'equipment failure' would pass as easy as the first two had done. Someone would put two and two together and come up four – they would know he was actually there and go on high alert.
He stared at the lock some more, hoping that inspiration would hit. The lock ignored him, hanging there peacefully.
Harry rubbed his chin. Maybe he could try a burst of static electricity or something that could disrupt the lock. Then again, if he were the designer of an electronic lock he would make sure that it remained locked if it were shorted out.
It would also likely trigger an alarm, he reckoned.
Then again, he was running out of options and if he didn't get a move on, he could be stuck here for hours.
The young demigod was just about to try his 'short out' idea anyway, consequences be damned, when the door opened. Harry jumped to one side, trusting his spell to muffle the sound.
It did. A squad of guards ambled past, talking about relieving the people outside. The last one actually, physically, closed the door rather than trust for it to fall shut on its own. Harry frowned, for a moment he'd hoped to be able to slip in as the door closed.
He carefully kept up with the guards as they stepped towards the entry door, and built an image in his mind. Carefully dosing out the Shen energy, he completed the magic, and the last guard, the one that had made Harry's job difficult by closing the door, had his security badge lifted from where he'd attached it to his belt.
With the security token in hand, he waited for the guards to exit the building. Now sure that he had gotten away with his impromptu bit of pickpocketing, he aimed a short and grateful prayer towards his grandfather and made his way back to the door.
The lock clicked obediently and Harry opened the door and slipped inside.
He emerged into a room that had been set up as some kind of reception office at one point. The desk and the cabinets had been pushed against the walls however, creating an open space throughout the room.
There was a door in the wall on the left, deeper into the office block, and Harry was about to make his way to it when it was pushed open.
Harry jumped, literally. Pushing himself against the reception's desk along the far wall, he hoped to stay out of the guard's way.
The guard went to examine the door. "It's closed, Base," he spoke in the radio. "Jake, that was definitely your badge that read as having opened it."
There were a few moments of silence. Then cursing came over the radio. "My fucking badge is gone!"
Within moments, the alarm was triggered. Harry cursed; within moments, the door to the office proper was pushed open and a dozen guards rushed out.
He kept absolutely quiet. They all passed him.
Except the last one, who stopped and frowned.
"Andy?" the second-to-last guard asked the one who frowned and studied the spot Harry was standing.
"Look at the dust," 'Andy' said.
Harry bit his lip. He'd pushed himself up against the desk. A desk that obviously hadn't been cleaned in some time, and was therefore encrusted with dust and grime.
Dust and grime that now showed where here was.
"In here!" the guard screamed.
Harry woke up on his back, staring up at Athena.
"What have you learned?" she asked.
"Lots, Miss Athena," Harry muttered. "It's not enough to just be invisible, and you need to make sure you're not disturbing the environment, and there's lots to be prepared for."
The Goddess of Wisdom gave him a short nod. "Good. Again."
Harry got up, hid himself, picked the lock on the outside door, waited next to the door of the office, and lifted the badge of one of the guards that came to investigate the front door opening. Using magic, he duplicated the badge, then 'reverse pickpocketed' the badge back into the guard's pocket.
As the guards determined an equipment failure, Harry waited next to the office door for them to go back inside.
After they did so, he used the duplicate badge to open the door and slip inside. He made sure to stay away from dusty desks as one of the guards came back to investigate the office door.
Since Harry left it open, the guard frowned and closed it. "It was wide open, base," the guard said. "We must not have closed it properly. Sorry about that."
Harry grinned, and let the guard return.
After waiting a few moments, he pushed the door to the rest of the office open and slipped through. He emerged into a room that had been a cubicle-infested office room at one point. The cubicle walls had been disassembled and stacked against one wall; the desks were all piled up against the opposite side. The door Harry had come through was mirrored by a door on the opposite wall.
Carefully he strolled through the open center of the former-cubicle room and hesitated for just a moment before opened the other door.
The door emerged into a hall, with doors on the left and right of it. Harry slowly and methodically snuck through the hall.
All the doors in this hallway were open, and Harry hesitated at each, sneaking a look inside.
The doors on the right were individual offices at one point. The desks had been removed and now held bunk beds where the guards were staying. That explained how they were able to get to him so fast, he reasoned. Most, if not all, of the guards were awake and watched small TVs that had been installed in the individual rooms.
There were fewer doors on the left of the hall. Those doors gave out into bigger offices, probably for some big shots, Harry reasoned. Here, too, the office furniture had been removed and bunk beds installed. The guards here, too, were watching TV.
The final room on the right of the hallway held all of the office equipment and furniture. Harry slipped past it without issue. The hallway ended on a landing. To his left was a set of stairs leading down. At the very end of the hall was another door locked with a security panel.
Harry frowned; if this was where the chalice was being kept, he was out of luck. He looked at the stairs leading down and decided that he would be going down first.
He emerged into a large basement that was completely open, much like the warehouse itself had been. More bunk beds were located here, taking the entire complement of guards up from a dozen to at least three or four dozen. All of the guards here were asleep, and Harry guessed they were having some kind of rotation. Those 'on duty' would be upstairs. The others would be down here, sleeping.
Harry frowned; the gods had pitched him against an army. That wasn't fair of them!
Then again, these guards were sleeping. Harry grinned; things was looking up for him. Sneaking a few security cards was easy now that he had done it a few times, and Harry made his way back upstairs.
He tried the first card. The lock beeped angrily in denial and the light remained stubbornly red. He tried a second. Same result. The third one didn't get any better. Harry was starting to think that he would need to sneak back down and lift more cards, when he heard angry footsteps on the other side of the door he was trying to open and jumped back just in time.
The guard who pushed the door open was the same one who had investigated the outside door and the office door, and he stared angrily down the hall, then left and right.
"This is ridiculous," the guard stated angrily, stepping out and looking down the stairs leading to the basement. Harry slipped carefully past the man and managed to get through the door before it fell shut on its own.
Letting out a relieved breath at the near miss, Harry looked around the new room he now found himself.
This room seemed to have been some kind of executive meeting room; it certainly had the feel of it. A bracket on the ceiling still held a large projector, while the far wall held the accompanying screen. Currently, the projector was displaying a layout of the entire facility, along with camera feeds, and security alerts. Another three men were seated, each at a desk of their own, monitoring the system from their own terminals.
Harry jumped quickly as the door behind him clicked open and the guard strode in. The three men looked up at him.
"Something really weird is going on," the man told his colleagues. "Maintenance needs to look at the system, asap."
One of the men nodded and picked up a phone.
Harry slipped through the room, finally finding his target. The chalice was in a display case that was in prominent sight. Harry frowned, looking from the guards to the case, and back to the guards.
It was also quite big, and probably weighed a fair deal.
Sheesh, the gods really had it in for him. How was he supposed to sneak this out? In plain sight, even?
He looked back at the display case. Then back to the guards. If he could knock these four out, he could take the chalice, replace it, and leg it before anyone would be the wiser.
But how was he to… ?
With violence, of course. Violence that he had had told himself not to use. Damnation.
He closed his eyes and built in his mind the image of a sleeping gas. Holding his breath, he threw Shen at it. A lot of Shen.
He could feel it take hold, the magic releasing into the air. The four guards frowned. One reached for a button of some kind, before his eyes rolled back, while the others were already slumped over their desks.
Harry let out a breath, and felt a smell bit of panic as he realized he couldn't breathe back in or he'd fall to his own gas!
Hurriedly, he stopped feeding energy to the image. Since there were no windows in an office block constructed inside of a warehouse, he had to work with what he had. Not taking any chances, he opened the display case, duplicated the chalice, grabbed the original, swapped them, closed the case, and made a run for it.
He was out of the security office before he realized that a floating chalice was a dead giveaway. Finally able to breathe, he wrapped the item in his hiding spell, and legged it.
He made it outside before the alarm started to sound. Obviously one of the guards had woken up and immediately triggered it. He probably shouldn't have bothered with replacing the chalice after all.
He rushed to the gods, and dropped his hiding spell and realized he was still feeding energy to the chalice duplicate. He immediately stopped doing so.
"One chalice," Harry said, putting the large and heavy item on the ground. He panted deeply, and for the first time, realized how exhausted he felt. Sweat pearled on his forehead and beaded down his cheek, and he was gasping for breath now. He'd used up a lot of energy doing that and maintaining his stealth spell.
"Hmm," Athena said. Harry wasn't sure whether that was an impressed or a disappointed sound.
Hermes rolled his eyes at his fellow deity, and then beamed a wide smile at Harry. "Good work, Harry. Very good work," he said. "Sometimes, you can't assault an entrenched position and you need to be sneaky. You did very well."
"And didn't kill anything," Ares said, disappointed. "You didn't even wound anything. Those four in the security office would have been a proper target, but you didn't even bother knocking them out the proper way!"
Harry shuffled awkwardly. "I forgot about Hestia's lesson, Mister Ares. So I'm going to do my best to make her proud of me again and not hurt anybody unless they attack me first," he explained.
The violent God of War huffed. "Disappointing."
"Ares!" Hermes shouted.
"Understandable, but disappointing," Ares went on as if Hermes hadn't spoken. "Fine, Brat. Just don't forget the violence when it does become necessary."
"I won't, Mister Ares," Harry promised.
"You completed the quest," Athena said in the ensuing silence. "And learned your lesson, I hope."
Harry nodded, looking down at the tips of his toes. "I need to think about things and not just rush in," the boy answered softly.
"Correct," Athena said with a nod. "Your lessons in magic have progressed further than expected. That was supposed to be a harder challenge."
Harry looked up, sharply. Even harder than it already was?
"Yes," Athena answered his thoughts as if she could read them. "You were supposed to pass through by eliminating the guards one by one. Knowing enough magic to sneak through..." she looked sharply at Hermes, "not to mention possessing the skills needed to sneak a security badge, allowed you to pass through virtually unchallenged."
Harry offered a tentative smile, hoping that was a compliment.
"It was good work," Athena said, about as high a praise as he'd ever gotten from her. "I will need to take your skills into consideration should a test like this ever become necessary again."
"See that it isn't necessary," the Goddess of Wisdom stated. "You are being trained well, and learn your lessons quickly, but that does not make you unbeatable nor invulnerable. Think before you act. Aunt Hestia would be most disappointed should you lose your life to some silly mistake on your part."
Harry nodded. He would take care from now on. As hard as the test had been, Hermes' words had been the ones that had hit the hardest. He would not be fine in the afterlife. If he made a stupid decision and ended up dead, his afterlife wouldn't be a good one. And it would make Hestia sad. That was the last thing he ever wanted to do.
He had a lot of thinking to do.
A week later, Harry had come to some startling conclusions, and had promised to himself that he would do his best to think before acting. The last thing he wanted was to end up in a bad afterlife.
Things mostly went back to normal, and none of his teachers seemed like they would bring the situation up again so he didn't either. The icy pit in his stomach had lessened, but not yet disappeared completely.
The last few weeks had been very emotional, Hestia being disappointed with him first and foremost, but some of his teachers seemingly thinking he needed an intervention wasn't helping things either. At least now he knew what was wrong, and had a way to fix things.
One day, after a particularly strange anatomy lesson from Apollo, Harry exited the Sun God's temple and wandered down the Olympus main road, occupied by a different problem. A small part of Harry felt glad to have something different to worry about.
The larger part of him was just plain confused, and worried for an entirely different reason.
While he had, to an extent, understood the physical differences between male and female, and had understood the mechanics behind procreation and pregnancy, it seemed that Apollo had taken great delight in describing techniques, skills, strategies, and tactics that could be employed to stimulate the body.
All of that bounced around Harry's skull right now. While he understood that anatomy and the related subjects were part of healing, and Apollo had indeed taken the time and effort to describe various diseases that could be transmitted this way, he had also taken far more time and effort in describing how to avoid said diseases, followed by what the god had called the more pleasurable parts of anatomical studies.
Harry shuddered; a hug was fine but all that other stuff Apollo had described was just… ew. He wasn't sure whether Apollo really had a problem discerning age, or whether it was him, Harry, that had something wrong. Everyone kept telling him he'd get it 'later', but maybe it wasn't so much 'later' as it was 'him'?
He stepped off to one side and took refuge in the shade of an olive tree. Leaning against its trunk, Harry suddenly felt worried that there was something fundamentally wrong with him; the way Hermes and Apollo kept joking about this, the way people kept making comments he didn't 'get', maybe there really was something wrong with him?
His first thought was to ask Hestia for advice. She wouldn't steer him wrong – but then he realized that she was a virgin goddess. She wouldn't know this stuff either, would she? The last thing he wanted to do was ask her questions about a subject that would make her uncomfortable.
His grandfather, Hermes, would probably be just as bad as Apollo, and he was uncomfortable enough with the subject. He didn't need someone else adding to his confusion or making him feel like there was something wrong with him for not 'getting' it.
While he could write to his mother, getting an answer back from Tyche would take a day or two and he really would prefer not to wait. Besides, it would be a back-and-forth using letters, rather than an actual talk, and that was something he felt like he needed right now. Who else could he ask and have a face-to-face discussion?
Artie was just plain a bad idea, and Miss Zoë would probably be even worse. Athena would probably give him a lecture focused purely on the mechanical and physical, but he had gotten all of that from books already. Besides that, Apollo had just covered that part in high definition detail.
He wondered who else he could ask. He didn't feel comfortable discussing any of this with his mortal friends. Louis was at university now, the twins were working towards graduation, and Silena or Annabeth – yeah, that would be a bad idea.
Who else could he ask? He knew Poseidon – technically – but the God of the Seas was an extremely busy being and he probably wouldn't have time for Harry's issues. Besides, it had been quite a while since he'd seen Poseidon; he still said hello whenever he was at the beach, but that probably wouldn't be enough for a major god to take time out and discuss stuff like this.
Hephaestus? No, Hephaestus was the God of the Forge, and not very keen on teaching. He hadn't even given a straight answer when Harry had come to him with questions about forging, he didn't know what the god would do if he came to him with questions like this.
Harry sighed; he didn't know anyone else, not really. As much as he appreciated Hera, he knew enough of her reputation that he didn't want to go and bother her with this.
Silently, he pushed away from the tree and dragged himself down the road. He wondered who…
He stopped when he caught sight of a gloriously bright pink temple.
Aphrodite! He could ask Aphrodite! As Goddess of Love, she would have to know stuff like this, right? Plus, she was his grandmother, and signed her cards with that title! That meant she cared for him, right?
Discarding all thoughts to the contrary, he turned and walked to the temple. Drawing a deep breath, he knocked politely and waited.
The door opened on its own. That wasn't so unusual; gods often opened the doors by remote, so Harry carefully pushed one of the double doors open. "Hello? Miss Aphrodite?" Harry asked. "Do you have a few minutes?"
"Harry!" Aphrodite said, her voice sweet like honey-syrup. Sweeping into the courtyard with a grace and poise that could only result from decades of training – or divine abilities – she floated over to him. "You came to visit your dear old grandmother!" she said, her voice light and teasing.
Harry stared at her; she still looked like Hestia and Artie, with the red hair he now knew to be from his mother's mortal form, with bits of Zoë and his other friends mixed in. "Ehm..." he managed with a stammer. "Hi?"
"Aw, he's shy!" Aphrodite squealed and drew him into a hug. "Give grandma a hug!" she told him while she did so.
He hugged her back instinctively, because hugs were good, and hugs gave him time to gather his thoughts.
And then it hit him. An overwhelming sense of peace and care, a warmth in his chest that drew a smile to his face; the kind of sensation that could block pain and make the darkest, dreariest day feel warm and sunny.
He was hugging the Goddess of Love. That meant that this was what love is, what it felt like.
"Harry?" Aphrodite asked when she felt a shudder go through his body. Slowly, she pulled back, to find tears in his eyes. "You poor dear, are you alright?" she asked, conjuring a silk handkerchief with an embroidered letter 'A' on it, and used it to wipe his eyes.
"I know what love is now," he whispered to her.
Her smile beamed. "That's a wonderful compliment to receive," she told him. "But I don't think you came to see me just for a hug," she added with a teasing smile. "Come along, we can have a seat in the lounge."
Harry nodded shyly; he hadn't wanted to say that but it had slipped out before he realized it. "Miss Aphrodite?" he asked, shyly, as they walked.
She gave him a wide smile. "You can call me grandma, dear, I don't mind. I'm secure enough in my looks that I don't need to hide it. Not like that grandfather of yours," she added with a small jibe.
Harry offered her a tiny smile, not sure how to react to the dig against Hermes.
Aphrodite just kept smiling and soon had deposited him in a couch, while she sat opposite him. "So, what can your dear old grandmother do for you?"
Harry nodded and looked down at his feet. "Is there something wrong with me?" he asked, softly.
"Wrong with you, how?" the Goddess of Love asked. Her voice was still sweet like honey, but it was honey grate rather than syrup right now. There was something intangible in it, something that promised problems for someone.
Harry softly, haltingly, explained what had happened, the jokes and digs he didn't get, the anatomy lessons that left him disgusted, his fear that it wasn't time, but just plain him, that was the problem.
Suddenly, he found himself engulfed in a hug again, the feeling of love sinking deep into his pores. "Oh, Harry," Aphrodite said from where she was hugging him. "There is nothing wrong with you. You love people; you just told me so. All the rest? That's just surplus."
"I… don't get it?" Harry asked, lifting his head from Aphrodite's shoulder and looking at her.
"Harry, I am the Goddess of Love," she told him. "As long as people love each other, then it's fine. It doesn't matter how you do so, as long as you do."
Harry blinked. "What do you mean, Gran?" he asked, before slapping his hand in front of his mouth and blushing furiously.
Aphrodite laughed, and squeezed him. "'Gran' is fine, I know you're from Britain," she told him. "And what I mean is this. People have many different ways of loving someone else. And yes, physical relationships are sometimes – definitely not always – part of those bonds. Think of the love between family members, for example."
Harry nodded. As soon as he saw her, he was going to give Hestia a great big hug. With his new understanding, he knew that he loved her, and he wanted her to know that.
"And yes, there are romantic relationships, based on romantic love. Although physical love is sometimes separate from that," Aphrodite said. "And again, even if you love someone romantically, it doesn't mean that physical love needs to be part of that relationship."
Harry blinked, she had lost him again, she could see it. "There are people who love each other romantically, but don't engage in physical love, Harry," she said. "Sometimes because of religious reasons. Sometimes because of physical reasons, sometimes for a myriad of reasons, but whatever the case is – as long as you love them, then it is fine."
"Oh," Harry said.
Aphrodite smiled at him. "There are many different kinds of romantic relationships, Harry. There are people who love people of the same gender, there are people who love people of the opposite gender, there are people who love both genders equally, and people for whom gender does not matter at all, they simply love a person regardless of their gender. As Goddess of Love, all I care about is that people love one another."
Harry nodded softly, that was a beautiful message. Love each other, it sounded like something Hestia would say.
"But what if… what if there's something wrong with me?" Harry asked, returning to his original worries. "I mean, Mister Apollo keeps making these jokes that I am supposed to 'get' when I'm older."
Aphrodite's smile turned gentler, supportive. "You are still very young, so yes, it is likely that you will 'get it' when you're older. But even if you don't, then that's still alright and it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you," the goddess said with conviction. "Some people just don't feel physical attraction. They feel love, romantic love, and are attracted to others as a person, but simply do not have the drive or desire to engage in sexual acts."
"Oh," Harry said. "Maybe I'm one of those, then?"
Aphrodite gave him a loving smile. "Maybe you are. Or maybe you're just very young and you'll change."
He was silent for a few moments, digesting the new information. "And that's okay? If I were, I mean?" he asked, needing to reassurance.
Aphrodite smiled widely and hugged him tight. "Of course it is. Everybody's different and as long as you love another, then that's perfectly alright."
Harry felt like a weight dropped off his shoulders. "So even if I never 'get' it, I'm still okay?"
"Yes, you certainly are," Aphrodite confirmed with a beaming smile and another hug. He found that he liked being hugged by Aphrodite. He liked it a lot.
He suddenly thought of something and looked at her. "Gran? Are you hiding?" he asked.
The Goddess of Love blinked and looked curiously at him. "What do you mean by that, Harry dear?" she asked, her voice taking on that syrupy-sweetly tone again.
"All the stories about you focus on the sex, but you're not like that at all," Harry answered. "So I thought you may have been hiding."
The goddess was silent for a few moments, before answering. "I wouldn't like this information spread," she said. Harry nodded seriously, understanding what she was asking him.
"In a way, yes," Aphrodite replied. "Do you remember the origins of the six Olympians, especially, their father and mother?"
Harry nodded. "Cronus and Rhea, right?"
Aphrodite gave him a smile in confirmation. "And do you remember their parents?"
Harry nodded eagerly. "Gaia and Ouranos, right?" Athena's lessons really paid off!
She nodded. "And do you remember what happened when Cronus took over?"
"Oh," Harry said, his face twisting. "He carved up Ouranos, right?"
The Goddess of Love nodded somberly. "And threw his genitals into the ocean. They turned into sea foam, from which I was born. In essence, I am a daughter of Ouranos, just as the Titans were." She looked at Harry. "While I sit in Olympus as a Goddess, my power eclipses most of the others'. In an effort to remain on equal standing, I limit myself to romantic and sexual love. However, that does not mean that I do not exert influence over all forms of love."
"Oh," Harry breathed. "Wow."
Aphrodite graced him with a smile. "Wow, indeed. Now you know why I don't want this spread."
Harry nodded obediently. "Are you really that much stronger than the others?" he asked.
Aphrodite was silent for a few moments. "Love can build societies, or break them," she answered. "Love can be the greatest emotion of all, bringing a person to perform incredible feats. It can also bring them down, bring forth the blackest and darkest of emotions; the kind of jealous, selfish love that drives people to kill rather than protect."
Aphrodite took a moment to let that sink in. "Now, imagine what would happen if I ever were to exert my domain and turn everyone against everyone else? Olympus was built on convenience, true, but deep down there are familiar bonds that bind us. With just a minor influence of my will, I can break those bonds, and nobody would ever know – especially as quarrelsome as the gods are with those bonds. Imagine how devastating they would be to each other without them."
Harry paled. His grandmother suddenly looked incredibly scary. Aphrodite, seeing that she had frightened him, drew him into a hug. "But don't worry, Harry," she said, back to her syrupy self. "I would never do that!"
He hugged her back, feeling somehow reassured. Of course, that triggered the next logical question. "Gran? Does tat mean you can also influence them the other way? To be nicer to each other?"
Aphrodite sighed softly. "I wish it were so simple, Harry. Most gods are self-centered, so getting them to change would take a phenomenal amount of power to achieve. And second, having your emotions toyed with will upset anybody. If I were to try, it would only take one god or goddess to realize what is happening and 'blow the whistle' so to speak."
Harry nodded. "That would be very bad," he said.
Aphrodite giggled. "Yes. Very bad. Every emotion would be suspect, leading to paranoia and even more violence." She reached over and hugged him again. "Sometimes, Harry, the best thing to do is to do nothing at all."
The young mortal nodded softly. He was starting to learn that lesson.
"Let's grab some hot chocolate and you can tell me about your latest adventures," Aphrodite said, releasing him. "But try and tone them down, I can't afford to get gray hair."
Harry laughed softly. "Is it even possible for you to get gray hair?" he wondered.
The Goddess of Love winked at him. "No, but let's not take any chances!" she answered with a laugh.
Harry greeted Helios as he entered the temple, dragging himself inside after his long overdue conversation with his grandmother. Aphrodite had been a very strange audience, reacting to things he absolutely didn't expect, while ignoring the ones that everybody else reacted to.
He didn't mind all that much, as the Goddess of Love had some of the best hot chocolate he'd ever had, and the longer they talked, the more of it he got to drink.
Of course, now he was hyped up on sugar, and his mind was awhirl with the upheaval he had experienced these last few weeks. He really needed some time to come to terms with everything.
After greeting his godly land-lord, Harry walked to the back yard on autopilot, and fell down in a lotus position next to the hot springs. Gods, so much had happened.
Nemmy, the Nemean House Cat, had watched his servant walk through the temple in something of a stupor. While his strange caretaker was always up to something, this time the boy looked unusually out of it.
If someone had dared harm his servant, Nemmy was going to introduce them to his sharp teeth and sharper claws. Woe betide them should they have harmed his servant permanently!
The cat jumped off the couch and quickly joined his servant outside. Seeing the boy sitting cross-legged next to the hot springs, Nemmy decided that he would do his best to cheer him up.
After all, Harry took good care of him, and Nemmy knew loyalty went both ways. He sat down next to his young servant, making sure that his body was contact with Harry. He gave the boy a nudge.
Harry looked down, to find his pet looking up at him with a vague expression of worry. He grinned down and scratched Nemmy's head, right where he liked it. Soon, the cat had nestled himself on Harry's crossed legs.
"You're such a good cat," Harry praised him.
Nemmy purred louder, knowing that the sound calmed his servant.
Harry didn't know how long he was outside, petting Nemmy while his mind tried to arrange and organize everything that he had experienced lately. He'd let his lack of fear overwhelm him. He'd taken stupid risks, nearly getting himself killed and definitely getting Hestia upset at him. Upset enough that some of his teachers had dragged him through that… that… exercise that felt like one of those 'interventions' he'd read about.
All because he'd misunderstood something. Hermes was right; just because he knew and liked Hades didn't mean he would get a good afterlife. If he did something stupid to get himself killed, things would go bad very quickly.
And then there was Apollo with his jokes and references and strange anatomy lessons that had compounded his already existing worry. He had already been fearing that one day he would go too far and lose everything; Apollo's jokes had made him worry that it was him that had something wrong with him.
He was grateful to his grandmother that she had told him that no, there wasn't anything wrong with him. Not on that front, at least.
"Harry?" A voice sounded from behind him. "I felt you missed dinner so I came to check if you are alright."
Harry startled out of his thoughts. Nemmy, half-asleep the way only a cat could be, raised his head and gave the interloper a look before closing his eyes and seemingly going back to sleep.
"Hestia?" Harry asked blankly, before realizing that Hestia was there. He grabbed Nemmy, stood up, and deposited the cat on his feet. Nemmy flicked his tail with mild irritation, and with head held high, strode into the temple.
The next moment, Harry hugged the Goddess of the Home.
A shudder went through his body.
"Harry?" Hestia asked, softly, holding him as he shook again.
"I'm sorry," he whispered with a small sob. "I'm sorry, Hestia."
The kind goddess patted his back. "Oh, dear. There, there, Harry," she comforted gently. "What are you sorry for?"
"For not knowing," he said. "For being stupid and taking stupid risks. For forgetting. I'm sorry."
Hestia hugged him tighter. "That's already forgiven, Harry. You're young, still, and you're growing up in a very strange environment for a young mortal to grow up in. Some pitfalls are to be expected."
Harry squeezed harder and let out a breath at the reassuring words. "Hestia?"
"Yes, Harry?" Hestia asked, both amused and slightly worried at how he seemed to be determined to cling to her at the moment.
Harry swallowed. It was surprisingly hard to say. Why was it so hard to say? It shouldn't be this hard to say, right?
"I love you," he whispered into her shoulder.
Hestia blinked in surprise for a moment. "Oh, Harry," she then said. "I care deeply for you, as well." She patted his shoulder reassuringly, then pulled away so she could look at his face. "What has brought this on?" she asked.
Harry glanced away. "I talked with my grandmother," he explained. "I know what love feels like now," he added.
Hestia smiled gently at him. "I think this is another story that I need to hear."