Harry Potter, Squatter

By Enterprise1701_d

Chapter 78

AN: it looks like Fanfiction fixed their mailing system again. You may want to go back one or two chapters and make sure you haven't missed any during the time no notifications were sent out.

Harry whistled something off-key and off-tune as he put down a large cake on the alter of Helios' temple. Immediately, three quarters of it vanished as the half-faded Titan-God jumped on it like a starving man.

The young demigod chuckled. "I'm glad to see you still enjoy my cooking," he said, before turning toward the supply cabinet and pulling out cleaning supplies. "I'll just do some nice summer cleaning," he told Helios.

The presence of the owner of the temple wrapped around him for a few moments.

"Yeah," Harry said to the unasked question. "Marduk loved the mammoth steaks, but then Mom wanted to take me somewhere. I couldn't – wouldn't – really say no, you know?" he asked as he pulled out a broom, a mop, a bucket, and cleaning detergent. "So she took me to Monte Carlo."

Helios felt inquisitive.

"Of course I won," Harry said, as if it were a foregone conclusion. "Which is probably why it wasn't as much fun as she and I imagined, I think. When I play cards or tiles with the guys it's just in good fun and we tell fun or funny stories and stuff. The people at Monte Carlo were so stuffy."

Helios' presence felt amused.

"True, I did take all their money," Harry said. "But then I gave it to charity. I don't need money, Hestia takes good care of me, and if I need spending money, I'll spend the gold I won off of Hermes. He's my grandfather, he's supposed to spoil me, after all."

Helios definitely felt amused at that one, before turning inquisitive once more.

"You're right, I AM pretty sure he won't see it that way," Harry answered the unstated question. "That is what makes it even more fun. I'm sure the rest of my maths buddies would laugh if I told them."

Helios' presence felt like it was laughing.

Harry grinned, and returning to whistling his tune. Helios' presence felt accusative, causing Harry to sigh.

"Everyone's a critic," he muttered. "Shall I put up some music instead?" he asked.

Helios definitely agreed with that one.

Taking out the music player Apollo had given him, Harry put it next to the quarter of cake that was left on Helios' altar, and looked for something to play. Unfortunately, with a music player connected to all of the domain of music, the selection was – quite literally – endless.

In the end, he hit the 'play something at random' button.

The music that started playing was a genre he didn't know yet, and it swelled slowly. Then, the singing started.

"Ooh, Mongolian Throat Singing," Harry said, bopping his head to the rhythm. "I wonder who it is."

One look at the music player told him it was a band called 'The Hu' and the song was called 'Wolf Totem'. Harry grinned. "Love it. Alright, let's clean."

Somehow, the music made his cleaning of Helios' temple feel like an epic battle against dirt and grime, and Harry was smiling widely as he worked.

"Well, I can see that you are enjoying yourself," Hestia said an hour later. The music player had kept up finding songs in the same genre, causing the work to flow by.

"Hestia!" Harry greeted happily. "I'd give you a hug, but I'm cleaning so my hands are dirty," he apologized.

Hestia laughed softly. "And I appreciate the consideration," she said. "I'm happy to see that you are still keeping up your domestic skills. In fact, you seem to be enjoying your domestic activities."

Harry chuckled. "It helps when you have good tunes," he replied. "Mister Apollo's gift is awesome."

"He does have good ideas, on occasion," Hestia confirmed. "Even if a godly gift could be considered 'spoiling'."

Harry pouted in her direction. She gave a soft laugh. "I'm sure one gift isn't going to ruin you," she said. "I came to see how you were. I believe you were out with your mother, and I was wondering how it went."

Harry nodded as he refocused on cleaning. "Mom took me to Monte Carlo," he told her. "I cleaned house, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as we both thought it would be, I think. It felt kinda like cheating, you know?"

Hestia tried to keep an impassive face, and nodded thoughtfully.

"So I won a bunch of money, but since you take good care of me, I don't need it. And if I need spending money, I'll spend the money I've won off of Hermes at the maths parties. So, I donated my winnings to charity."

Hestia didn't need to work at keeping her face impassive anymore, and smiled widely. "I'm glad to hear that you've chosen to do something good with your winnings," she told him. "And, being the Son of Tyche, a mortal casino could indeed be considered cheating."

"Still, I got to spend time with Mom, so that was good," Harry said. He always felt better when Hestia complimented him. "Next time, I think we'll do something that isn't related to her domain. Maybe I'll teach her to cook or something."

Hestia covered her mouth with her hand to hide her wide smile. The mental image of the Goddess of Fortune in a kitchen was just plain funny.

"You shouldn't laugh," Harry said, not even looking at her.

"I wasn't laughing," Hestia protested.

"You mean, you were trying not to," he replied with a grin.

Hestia just smiled at him. Harry refocused on the music and his cleaning. The music player kicked over to a new song of Mongolian Throat Singing. Just what he needed, feeling as if he were about to stride into battle while cleaning Helios' temple. It made the work fly.

0000

Harry looked at the tactical battlemap in front of him, balled his fist, and hissed, "Yes!" at the sight of his forces re-taking the city his enemy had taken from him. He'd withdrawn from it earlier, faced by an overwhelming force, having struck a deal safeguarding the inhabitants.

Unfortunately his enemy had, upon entering the city, started an unholy genocide among the helpless population, sending Harry's blood boiling.

He'd gathered his forces, and struck in the dead of night, retaking the city in an effort to save his citizens.

Spreading his hands, he expanded the battlemap, going from a tactical to a strategical view. Immediately he paled when he saw his frontlines, elsewhere in the conflict, crumbling.

Half an hour later, Harry swiped his hand, declaring his surrender from the 'wargame' Athena had set up for him.

He'd taken her up on her offer of learning how to manage large-scale forces, and the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategic Warfare had declared that nothing beat actual experience. The interactive battlemap had been born from that declaration, turning a table into what was basically the most realistic near-real-time strategy game in the world; forcing him to deal with logistics, strategy, tactics, morale, and just about every other thing that a general in charge of an army should deal with.

"What was the pivotal point?" Athena asked, seated across from him, on the other side of the table. She never said or did anything, and just watched as he played out conflicts against her battlemap.

Harry swiped left, rolling back time. "When I retook the city," he said, pointing to the city in question. "Everything fell apart after that."

Athena nodded. "Correct. Why?"

Harry drew a breath. He knew this was for his own good; he had lessons to learn and one learnt best from making errors. "I drew in extra reserve forces from the left and right wings in order to amass a force to retake it. The enemy seemed to count on this, as they had stationed extra forces on the left and right of the line, and launched an attack when I pushed towards the city."

The Goddess of Wisdom nodded again. "Correct," she said. "Your enemy goaded you by killing the citizens in the conquered city. When you withdrew from it, you gave your opponent strategic knowledge that could be exploited, namely, your insistence that your citizens should not be harmed."

Harry nodded.

"You, in turn, reacted predictably and became angry. You weakened your reserve positions to redress the situation," Athena said. "You should never give in to anger, when you command a large-scale force."

Harry tried not to think about how that statement was rather hypocritical, coming from Athena, a goddess renowned for cursing enemies.

"I can see your mind grinding from over here," Athena stated, standing up from her chair in a fluid manner that only a goddess could achieve. "You should never give in to anger," she repeated. "However, should your anger be too much to contain, you must remember three things."

Harry blinked, and looked at the Goddess of Wisdom. Athena ticket her fingers. "One. Your rage must be cold." She pointed to the battlemap in general and the city in particular. "You did not storm off with a token force, raging and spitting. That was good."

"Two. Your rage bust be reasoned." Still pointing to the map, Athena continued, "You drew forces from other lines and failed to judge their implications. You will work on this."

Harry nodded like an obedient schoolboy – which he was, now that he thought about it. "And three." Athena balled her fist, her grey eyes glowing with energy, her entire body outlined in a faint haze of divine energy. "Your rage bust be legendary. Make a statement through the ages that angering you is a mistake only to be made once!"

Harry swallowed. Athena, like most gods, could be utterly terrifying when she wanted to be. What made her all the more terrifying was the fact that, at this particular time, she was merely teaching him, not trying to scare him.

He nodded. It was a good lesson to learn, nonetheless. Don't lose your mind, don't lost sight of the bigger picture, and make an object lesson of that fact that you weren't to be angered.

"You should read the story of Saint Olga of Kiev," Athena counseled. "It is a good tale on the use of tactics, strategy, subterfuge, and above all, legendary revenge."

Suddenly, Athena turned back to being his aloof tutor. "Enough tactics and strategy for the day. You still have regular school work to do. Did you read the assigned chapters on Hatshepshut?"

Harry nodded, filing away the recommendation for when he had some time to follow up on it. "Yes, I did. She was great, a woman Pharaoh. Artie would have loved that, and her."

0000

Harry smiled widely, arms crossed behind his back, as he strolled along the river Nile. He loved Bucephalus, who allowed him to travel anywhere at anytime, without anyone being the wiser and without being limited by fire.

After the grilling he'd received at Athena's hands, his curiosity had triggered his impulsiveness and he'd decided to make a day trip to Egypt. It seemed his friends weren't interested in it, considering they talked him into visiting Paris last year, and Luna had talked him into visiting Finland this year.

So, he had taken his faithful warhorse and ridden halfway around the world. As he'd said to his friends years ago, he wasn't interested in the Egyptian pyramids – he wasn't allowed to climb them, after all – but there were plenty of ancient temples that did interest him.

Like this one, the Temple of Karnak. It was huge, and as Harry wandered through the ancient Hypostyle Hall, gazing up at the huge columns that no longer supported a roof, he couldn't help but feel that they could fit half of Olympus into this one complex.

Ancient Egyptians definitely knew how to build, that was for sure. He stopped at one column at random, and admired it. Athena's lessons on 'things a proper young demigod ought to know' had drilled some rudimentary knowledge on historical architecture through his skull, and he could start to trace the design of the columns here to the later columns used by the Greeks.

It was all connected.

Suddenly, a quote came to his mind.

If I have seen further, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.

He never actually understood it on such a visceral level as he did right there and then, seeing how Ancient Egypt taught Ancient Greece, just as Ancient Egypt in turn had been taught by those that came before them.

Of course, things weren't as linear as he imaged right now, but it made sense on such a fundamental level that he couldn't help but stop and gawk.

It triggered another thought; one on the nature of teaching and passing on knowledge. He remembered Athena teaching him about chimpanzees, and their ability to use primitive tools, and their inability to pass that knowledge on in a structured fashion – it was literally a case of 'monkey see, monkey do'.

Which explained how humans, with their ability to teach, could pass information on to the next generation in a structured fashion, allowing for the cumulation of knowledge as the next generation built on top of the previous generation's teachings.

A teacher's greatest moment is when their student surpasses them, Harry thought.

He blinked, wondering where the philosophical insights were coming from and what had triggered them.

Maybe he should visit ancient sites by himself more often, it gave him time to think and ruminate on the nature of existence.

He sniggered as he turned away from the random column that had captivated his mind. Or maybe, he was just full of hogwash.

He strode through the rest of the complex that was open to visitors, ignoring the throng of the tourists who gawked, shouted, talked, and took pictures.

A couple of hours later, Harry frowned when he saw a section of the temple was closed off; apparently somebody wanted to keep people out of that particular section.

He drummed his fingers against his leg, his inborn hatred of authority and disregard for the rules being tempered by a memory of Hestia kindly asking him to not take risks.

He tisked angrily, before sighing and turning away.

Fine, Hestia. You win, he thought as he walked away.

Suddenly, there was a warmth spreading through his body, and he flushed spectacularly. He hadn't expected Hestia to actually hear his less-than-kind thoughts.

The rush of warmth felt like it giggled before it vanished completely, leaving as suddenly as it had appeared. Harry snorted. Hestia could be very silly when she wanted to be – usually when she wasn't in corporeal form.

Or, when she was in a mood to tease him.

Mreaw? A cat vocalized, looking around some lost corner. It had deep-green eyes, a silver medium-length coat with dark spots, and an M-like marking in its fur on its forehead.

An Egyptian Mau. Harry grinned, he loved cats!

He leaned down and presented his hand, palm-up, to the cat. The feline continued to look from around the corner for a few moments, then stretched its head out, as if testing the waters.

Finding that he wasn't about to try and make a grab, the cat slowly slunk from around the corner, nose twitching as it smelled deeply. Finally, it was smelling his hand directly.

Harry carefully scratched underneath the cat's chin. It half-closed its eyes, and a slow purr emerged. Harry grinned. "Such a good cat you are," he cooed.

"Mau," the Egyptian cat vocalized. Harry resisted the urge to snicker when he realized why Ancient Egyptians called cats 'mau' – they'd literally called them after their vocalization.

A few moments of skin-scratching turned into longer moments of petting, which turned into minutes of Harry finding each and every spot his new friend loved being scratched.

"Mau," the cat finally vocalized, and started to walk off, evidently having had enough scratches and petting for the day. As it was about to round the corner, it looked at him.

Harry looked back, not about to force his presence upon a cat that felt he'd exceeded his daily allowance of worship. The cat blinked, continuing to look at him.

Finally, Harry stood up.

The cat turned around the corner, only to, a few moments later, look back around to watch him.

Harry grinned; if the cat wanted him to follow and pretend to chase it, then he'd do so. He walked to the corner, the cat vanishing around it once more.

He followed his new feline friend through a hallway, rounding another corner, and came to a stop with another roped-off area.

The cat ignored the rope entirely, and looked at him when he didn't follow.

"Fine," he said, "but if I get in trouble, I'm blaming it on you."

The cat blinked slowly, neither intimidated nor stopped by the threat. Harry glanced left and right, and seeing nobody, ducked underneath the rope.

He followed the cat deeper into the ancient temple complex, suddenly realizing that light was dropping and he had to squint. He looked up; since when did the temple have a ceiling? He was quite sure that the ceiling had collapsed a long time ago!

The cat 'mau'-ed again at a closed door, a door of Ancient Egyptian design that looked as if it had been built, painted, and installed yesterday.

Harry halted and studied the amazing artwork for just a few moments, before the cat 'mau'-ed again to catch his attention.

He smiled down at it. "Yes, yes, I get it, I'm going," he announced to the cat. Pushing the door open, he entered a room that looked just as pristine and well-preserved as the door had been.

At the far end of the rectangular room was a stone table, flanked by two stone cat-statues. The rest of the room was filled with a table and ancient-looking chairs.

Upon one of those chairs sat a woman. A clearly Egyptian woman, dressed in the kinds of clothes that he'd only seen on depictions of murals from the ancient period.

"Ehm. Hi. I followed a cat," Harry tattled, pointing to the mau.

"Mau," the cat vocalized, crossing the room as if it was its personal property, and jumped into the strange woman's lap.

The woman started petting the cat with long strokes across its back. "A visitor," she announced, sounding delighted. Harry had trouble placing her accent. She definitely had one, but it was one that he had never heard before. It sounded Middle Eastern, only… different?

"Hi," he replied with a small wave. "Sorry. I didn't mean to bother you. Like I said, I just followed the cat."

The strange woman's smile widened. "Did my little kitty drag you here against your will?" she teased. She looked down. "Bad kitty. Extra meat for you tonight."

Harry snorted; obviously the woman didn't mind his presence. Confirming his thought, she motioned to the table. "Please, have a seat. I so rarely get visitors these days."

Harry sat. "I'm Harry. Nice to meet you," he said, sitting in the offered chair. The table was too large for him to extend his arm across, so he didn't try to offer his hand.

The woman eyed him for a few moments. "Answer me one question," she finally said, ignoring his greeting entirely. "Cats?" she asked, scratching the Mau on her lap under the chin, "or dogs?"

Harry blinked, wondering at the question. "I like both," he finally said. "But I do have a cat at home."

Once again, the mysterious woman studied him. "And what a cat it is," she said. "I can smell its powers on you from across the room."

"Nemmy's a great cat," Harry said.

The woman's enigmatic smile widened, turning more genuine. "You still do not know me?" she asked, teasingly. "Can you not guess at my identity?"

"Ehm," Harry said eloquently, causing a small laugh to escape the strange woman's lips.

"Perhaps a hint," she offered, and suddenly she was no longer an ordinary strange lady – she now was an extraordinary strange lady with the head of a cat.

The young demigod blinked and felt his blood pool in his feet. "Miss Bastet, Goddess of Cats."

The strange cat-head was replaced with a human one, although the slitted, slighty glowing cat's eyes remained. "And other felines," she added. "I once was the lioness goddess that protected Lower Egypt, the Pharaos, and by extension, Lord Ra."

Harry swallowed. "I'm sorry for not recognizing you," he said. No matter whether gods were people or not, it was always impolite not to recognize someone so it was best to apologize.

Bastet laughed softly. "So polite," she teased. "You must have a great connection with my cats, or this one wouldn't have guided you to me. Plus, as I said, I can smell the fierce strength of the lion you call a 'cat' on you from here."

"Thanks," Harry said, smiling wider, happy that Bastet didn't seem angered at his failure to recognize her. "And, like I said, Nemmy's awesome."

She placed one arm on the table and leaned on it with a casual, boneless, feline grace that only a true cat could achieve. "You simply must tell me that story," she enticed him. It didn't sound like an order, more like a question without a question mark. Her voice had a soft purr to it that innately relaxed him.

So, Harry explained how he'd gone camping, came across Nemmy, recognized him from the Greek Myths, and tried to defend himself using only Hestia's Lasso, before Nemmy surrendered and the bargain they struck.

"I see," Bastet purred. "Most would have killed and not thought twice. You possess skill, and yet you still think on whether or not to use it. Once people reach a certain level of skill, they usually stop thinking whether they should."

Harry nodded. "Hestia doesn't like violence, so I try to avoid it as much as possible. That doesn't mean I won't use violence when necessary, though. I'll just try and avoid it when possible."

Bastet smiled cattily. "I could use one like you," she declared, making a motion. Suddenly, they were no longer alone in the chamber, and various human-like forms appeared, standing along the walls. Some had weapons dangling from belts, others were carrying trays laden with cups or plates of food and drink.

All of them were dressed as if they were in Ancient Egypt, which made sense to Harry now that he had figured out the identity of his host.

"Thank you?" he asked.

Bastet's smile widened further. "You are quite welcome. Now, give me your Ren, your true name, and enter my service. You will be treated well, one of my favored warriors. You will move with the speed and grace of a feline, heal with its speed, carrying its strength. You will be faster than other humans, stronger, more graceful. Enter my service, and receive my boon."

Harry blinked, and gaped. "Ehm… Hestia takes care of me," he said.

Bastet eyed him like a tasty mouse. "I will let you keep your other boons, they are a useful asset for me and my warriors."

"Ehm… can we talk about this?" he asked.

Bastet blinked. "You wish to decline?" she asked, stunned, for a moment sounding completely and utterly human. No trace of her purr remained, she just sounded completely surprised.

"I don't want to offend," he replied. "But I already have a lot of other responsibilities and stuff."

Bastet regained her composure with lightning speed. "Then, perhaps, a wager?" she offered. "Should you lose, you will enter my service."

Harry blinked again. "And what if I win?" he asked, before remembering his promise to Hestia to be careful, and before wondering whether it was a good idea or not to bet against a goddess he'd just met, from a pantheon he knew very little about. Suddenly, he wondered whether he should have followed Anubis' suggestion to seek out Thoth, the Egyptian God of Wisdom.

Bastet laughed heartily. "What if you win, indeed?" she asked, before motioning to the table. In front of both of them, a stack of silver-colored chips appeared. They were larger than the poker chips that Harry was used to playing with.

He picked one up and studied it; it felt strangely light for being silver, and bore the image of Bastet on one side and the picture of a cat on the other.

"We shall play," Bastet declared. "Should you lose all your chips, you will reveal to me your Ren, thereby allowing me to grant you my boon and to summon you to my service whenever I have need of you. Should you win all of my chips, you may keep them. They are quite valuable, I promise you."

Harry put the chip he was holding back on his stack. "I don't know," he said. "I mean, I don't have as much silver as I have gold, but I don't think my soul is worth a stack of silver."

Bastet looked like she was about to started laughing. "Yes. Silver," she said, as if it were some great joke, making him wonder what was up with the coins. "Very well," she added. "I like your bravery, and considering your worth to me, I shall… sweeten the pot, so to speak. Should you win, you may keep the silver, and to show that I am not a sore loser, I shall make a tweak to your senses. You will be able to see, hear, and smell better, as well as any un-enhanced human could ever hope use those senses. This tweak will extend into your night-vision. You will not receive the same enhancements as you will receive should you enter my service, but it will put you above 99% of normal humans out there."

Harry grinned. "Neat!" he cheered, before remembering once more that he needed to think before acting. "Ehm… and what if I just stood up and walked away?"

Bastet eyed him as if he were a tasty mouse again. "And what makes you think you can stand up and walk away?"

Harry's acute demigodly senses reported that someone was standing in front of the door. He glanced over his shoulder. That person had drawn his khopesh, his Ancient Egyptian sickle-sword.

"Just a fair warning should you think about fighting him," Bastet continued on a conversational tone, "he has been given my boon. He's faster than you, stronger than you, more agile than you, and he heals quickly."

Harry turned back and pouted at her. "That's not very nice," he chided.

Bastet grinned. "Just to show how much value I place upon someone like you, someone so in touch with my domain they have tamed a monstrous lion, and yet is able to reason and think in an effort to avoid violence whenever possible. My servants must not only be strong. They must be wise."

Harry glanced at the shadowy figure once more, and wondered if magic would be of any use.

"You know magic, too?" Bastet asked, surprising him by figuring out what he was thinking. Before he could add – or ask – she went on. "You would make such a wonderful addition to my servants. Are you sure I can't tempt you? With your skills and existing boons, and with my boon on top, you could be a modern day superhero." She grinned wider. "I'll even throw in a super-suit. Something black. With cat's ears." She rubbed her chin. "And claws. It has to have claws," she added thoughtfully, still looking as if she were thinking up additional features for her yet-to-be-determined super-suit.

Harry chuckled. "Thank you for the offer, Miss Bastet, but I still have to decline. What do you want to play? I've heard good things about the game called 'poker'," he offered, now assured he wasn't walking out of this without either fighting for his life – or gambling for it. He felt grateful for being the Son of Tyche.

Bastet laughed. "In Egypt, we do not play with silly cards," she said, momentarily reminding Harry of Bai, who preferred tiles to cards. "We play Senet," she added, a game board appearing on the table between the two of them.

"Ehm… I don't know that game," Harry said.

"I will teach you," Bastet stated. "We shall play a few practice games first, then engage in our wager when you feel comfortable."

Harry saw a way out; keep saying he wasn't comfortable until Hestia came looking for him.

"Oh, and should you think about drawing this out until you are missed," Bastet said, "you should know we are in a pocket of time and space. You will not be found." She seemed to think about something, then added, "Well, you will not be found until you die of thirst. Which would be a shame."

Harry silently cursed smart opponents. He preferred ones that made stupid mistakes. "Was I that transparent?" he finally asked.

"No, you had a perfect pokerface," Bastet confirmed. "However, this is not my first time. Plus, I have been around longer than your Greek Gods have. With age comes trickery."

"I see," Harry said. Mom, I'm not sure if you can hear me, but please help me, he prayed silently.

"And just in case you were wondering about praying to a god for help, we're in a pocket of time and space, so unless they're especially adept at dimensional or temporal magics, they probably won't hear you, either," Bastet said.

"Trickery again?" Harry asked.

The Egyptian goddess laughed. "You had your eyes closed and were looking like you were trying to stop yourself from folding your hands," she said.

"Curses," Harry muttered.

Bastet laughed delightedly. "You keep thinking and trying to find a way out or a loophole. I can not wait to add you to my service." She grinned. "I am a cat. I have pounced. You are caught. Now it is time for me to play with you."

"Are you that sure you'll win?" the Son of Tyche asked. If Tyche couldn't hear him, and if Hestia couldn't reach him, then he was simply going to abuse his own skills to the max.

Bastet laughed. "That would be trickery again," she added. "And before you ask, no, I will not cheat. I do not have to. Senet is a game of both skill and luck, and after 5000 years, you tend to be good at skill."

"You never know, I might be luckier than you are good," Harry reciprocated.

Bastet's laugh continued. "Delightful! No blubbering, no begging, no pleading, no desperate rush for the door! Oh, Harry, you will be magnificent in my service. Come, let me show you how to play."

Four hours later, Harry pocketed the silver pieces in his Hammerspace pocket. Bastet was content to stare at him. "I shall honor my promise to you, young warrior," she said after he looked uncomfortable at the sudden silence. "I have enhanced your senses, and you may leave."

"Thank you," Harry replied, sounding relieved as he stood up from his chair.

"However," Bastet stated, freezing him in place and forcing him to look at her with trepidation. "I am sure you will not blame me should I re-state my offer on occasion. You are a formidable person, and would do exceedingly well in my service; and it is always possible that you change your mind."

Harry grinned, feeling relieved once more. "Artie and Miss Zoë keep tempting me as well," he replied. "So far, I have not accepted. No, I won't blame you for asking again. Although, next time, please just accept a 'no' and don't make me gamble for it?"

Bastet laughed. "I am a cat," she repeated. "Playing with my prey is in my nature."

"I'm not prey," Harry pouted.

"You are the best kind of prey," Bastet replied. "The human kind, the thinking kind, the kind that will give me sport. And the kind that will sometimes, get away." Her smile widened. "It is so rare that my prey escapes me. It is… delightful… in its rarity." She licked her lips. "I can not wait until we meet again, and we play again."

Harry sighed, it sounded like he was going to end up gambling with Bastet on occasion. The gambling part didn't bother him, the fact that his Ren, his true name, was on the line, did.

He dipped his head in farewell to Bastet and turned to leave.

"Mau?" the cat vocalized, suddenly rubbing itself against his legs.

"Kitty will guide you back," Bastet said.

"Thank you," Harry said, part to Bastet and more to the cat. He leaned down and give it a petting.

"Mau," the mau said, enjoying the worship. Bastet remained quiet and smiled at the sight of Harry worshipping the cat. Obviously, his own cat had trained him well.

Ten minutes later, the mau left him pretty much where she'd caught him, leaving him to stare at the darkness of the Egyptian evening.

Only, he could now see better than he could before, even in the darkness. Bastet had indeed kept her word, it seemed. He drew a breath in through his nose, and immediately he was assaulted by a myriad of smells, coming from the sand, the nearby Nile, the ancient stonework.

"Well, at least it wasn't a complete bust," Harry told himself, suddenly feeling as if his entire body was vibrating. He looked at his hand, noticing the tremors that plagued it.

Now that he'd finished gambling for his life, the adrenaline was wearing off. He looked back to where he'd just come from.

Hestia had always told him that gods were people, too, and he'd always tried to treat them as such.

The only one that seemed to skirt that edge was Zeus, the grouch. While Zeus may have yelled, blustered, and threatened, the only thing he'd done that skirted the edge was curse his mom. And that had recently been undone by Granny Rhea.

He loved Granny Rhea.

No, even Zeus wasn't this bad. Bastet had lured him, and had tried to force him into subservience. He was lucky that, as a cat goddess, Bastet liked to play with her prey. And that, in turn, meant that sometimes the prey got away.

He didn't dare think of what could have happened had he fallen into the hands of a deity that didn't believe in fair play, and instead simply slapped him in bondage?

He shuddered. He needed to get out of here. Suddenly, the warnings about straying into the territory of other deities made sense. He swallowed.

He needed something to take his mind of things. He whistled for Bucephalus, and not caring who saw him, he rode his trusty warhorse home. He tried to slip in unnoticed, but unfortunately, Hestia, as Goddess of the Home, was better at noticing than he was at sneaking.

"Harry?" Hestia asked. The kindly Goddess of the Home noticed his arrival, and his somewhat agitated state. "Are you alright?"

Harry nodded. For a moment, he wanted to do nothing more than to go into his room, throw some clothes in a bag, and go and hide out. But then, he remembered the safest place in existence.

So he turned toward Hestia and hugged her. Immediately, the feeling of warmth and protection came over him, and he shuddered as the recent stress released itself from his body.

"Oh my," Hestia said, patting his back. "This hasn't happened in a while. What happened?"

He explained the recent events, continuing to bask in the safety of being in a grade-1 Hestia Hug. Nothing could harm him there.

When he finished, he pulled his head back far enough to look her in the face, but not far enough to break the hug. "I think I'm going to stay at Mel's for a few days," he said. "I think playing with The Overlook will take my mind of deities that try and leverage their power to make me do things I don't want to do."

Hestia nodded, breaking the hug herself. Harry felt oddly cold and empty as he stepped away from her.

"Enjoy your stay," Hestia said. "I wish I had influence over the Egyptian gods. I would love to give that goddess a piece of my mind."

Harry snickered, and snuck in another hug in gratitude. "Thanks, Hestia. Getting that off my chest helped. And don't worry about it, I don't think I'll be visiting Egypt ever again. Too bad, it's a nice country with lots of history."

"It is unfortunate that a random encounter with one of their gods has turned you off of the country," Hestia said. "Although, it is completely understandable from your point. I doubt that that goddess will make it so easy for you next time."

"At least she kept her word and boosted my senses," Harry said with a sigh. "I just don't like how she forced me into it. If she'd asked, that'd have been something else, but she tried to force me. And people wonder why I have trouble with authority and people who try and tell me what to do."

Hestia smiled softly. "Enjoy your stay at Mel's," she said. "I will see if I can't arrange something with that goddess."

Harry grinned. "You know, if it weren't for her heavy-handed trying to force me thing, I think Bastet would be nice to know. She seemed nice enough, when she wasn't trying to force me or anything. At least she wasn't ranting, raving, or yelling at me. She seemed friendly, if not for the whole forcing me into gambling for my freedom thing."

Hestia looked at him and pursed her lips. "And perhaps I have raised you to be a little bit too forgiving," she said. "Still, I am proud of you for trying to find good in your enemies."

"Thanks, Hestia," Harry said, giving his all-time favorite goddess one more hug, before going into his room to pack a wheelie bag.

After finishing, he turned toward the hearth and waved his hand. He emerged in the giant entry hall of the Overlook Hotel moments later.

"Hi, Overlook," Harry said. "Wanna play?"

He had the distinct impression nobody ever asked the hotel that particular question before. He grinned. His stay here was going to be epic.

"Harry?" Mel asked, appearing as if by magic from a side-room. "Why does the Overlook suddenly feel really excited?"

"Hi Mel!" Harry greeted her. "I asked just it if it wanted to play. I needed to take my mind off things, and I can't think of someone better to help me do that then the Overlook."

Mel blinked. Then, Mel snorted. Finally, Mel burst out laughing. "If you survive, the hotel is going to love you forever," she chortled. Then, she thought of something and pouted. "And you didn't think of your cousin Mel who could take you to Vegas to take your mind off things?"

"Let me tell you what happened, and you'll see why I'd prefer not to gamble for a few days," the young demigod answered.

"Hang on," Mel said. "This sounds like one of those Harry-Stories I heard about, the ones that are equally part exciting and terrifying, so I think Dad would like to hear it, too."

"Mister Hades is here?" Harry asked.

"He visits sometimes," Mel said, shyly. "He claims the mountains take his mind off things, but I think it's an excuse. Don't tell him I said that, though. I don't want him to stop."

"It'll be our secret," Harry promised.

"Too late," Hades spoke, leaning against the doorframe of the same side-room Mel had come from. "However, I shall pretend not to have heard it."

The Goddess of Ghosts couldn't look in her father's direction, instead blushing spectacularly for a pasty goddess used to being out only at night, and looking helplessly in Harry's direction.

"When you're caught, own it," Harry said with a grin, before looking at Hades. "Hi, Mister Hades! Nice to see you again!"

"Harry," Hades said. The Son of Tyche perked up, he so liked it when Hades used his name rather than calling him 'Demigod', which he had taken to doing after he freed Mel.

"While Mel recovers," Harry joked, dodging an elbow from the goddess in question and continuing as if he hadn't done so, "how's Makaria doing? I didn't see her at Granny Rhea's cookout."

Hades narrowed his eyes, going from 'amused god' to 'overprotective father' in moments. "Oh? You know Makaria?" he asked.

Harry nodded, completely missing the tone or the implied threat. "She was at Mel's Halloween party last year, and I got to meet her then. She seemed nice. Like I said, I was just wondering how she was, since she wasn't at the cookout."

Melinoe snorted. "Sis at a large family get-together? She'd melt in moments!"

Hades snorted a laugh, then pretended to cough to cover it up. "Ahem. Yes, that is likely," he added.

"Still, she's doing well," Mel said. "Sis and I are getting along better – thanks for that, too, by the way."

"You're welcome," Harry replied automatically. "Did she learn to say 'no' yet?"

"Getting there," Mel said. "She gives me this pouty-sulky look when she really would rather not do something, and I've learned to interpret it as her saying 'no'. Like I said, it's a work in progress, but she's getting there."

"Glad to hear it," Harry said with a wide grin. "Anyway, the reason I came over was to play with the Overlook, as I said." He then proceeded to recount the entire story – again – to Mel and Hades.

"So you can see why I don't necessarily want to gamble right now," he said after he finished.

Both Mel and Hades looked very godly as they nodded at his final statement.

"I should have a chat with Lord Anubis," Mel stated gravely. As Goddess of Ghosts, she did gravely really well. "This is unacceptable."

Hades nodded in agreement before realizing something and giving his daughter a look. "You know that Egyptian deity?" he asked.

Mel nodded. "He was one of my few friends during… You know." She looked away, not wanting to bring up her time in the cave again. "He can only manifest at gravesites."

"How does that work?" Harry asked. "I mean, you just said that Mister Anubis can only appear at gravesides, but Miss Bastet could simply drag me from Karnak."

"The Egyptian gods are further away," Hades explained, still looking at Mel intensely. "They do not have an active base of worship, but they are still remembered. As such, they have very little power and influence, and can only manifest in the mortal world around sites that are intimately connected to their domains. Karnak, being the main temple of worship for the entire Egyptian pantheon, is probably one of the few sites in the world where they can still manifest at will."

"I see," Harry said, thoughtfully.

Hades continued to look at Mel. "That Egyptian deity is sniffing around you?" he finally asked Mel, tone going back to 'overprotective father' mode.

"Daad!" Mel whined like a teenaged mortal girl. "He's just a friend, that's all!"

"Just a friend, is that what they call it these days?" Hades asked, voice teasing, causing Mel to grump and slug him on the arm. For a moment, she froze, realizing what she'd just done, fearful that she may have just crossed the line.

Hades just grinned, and Harry could see the tensing drain out of the Goddess of Ghosts. "I will keep an eye on this… Anubis," he declared.

"He's just a friend," Mel repeated. "But I'm going to go and have a chat with him tonight anyway."

"Please don't fight with your friends over me," Harry tried to placate her. "I mean, I did escape."

"Next time, you may not be able to," Mel declared. "Besides, I'm not going to fight with Lord Anubis – that wouldn't go over well, non-interference between pantheons and all that. No, I'm just going to ask him a few questions. That's all."

"Alright," Harry muttered, grabbing the handle of his wheelie bag again. "I'm going to go up to my room, and see what the Overlook has cooked up for me."

The presence of the Overlook hotel felt… odd. A kind of odd that Harry couldn't directly place, but one that felt like both excitement and some kind of odd protectiveness that he didn't usually associate with a hotel that was haunted to scare its guests.

He wheeled his bag to the elevator, called it, and halfway expected something to happen as he rode it to his floor. The elevator ding-ed as the doors opened on his floor, and the young demigod stepped out.

Immediately, he was confronted by a man he'd never seen before racing down the hallway without paying attention to Harry, before throwing himself at a window.

The window strenuously objected to the action by shattering and allowing the man to fall out, presumably to his death.

Harry let out what he thought was a manly sort of scream, raced over to the window, and looked down. No man was splattered on the ground. The presence of the Overlook felt like it was gloating.

Harry snorted a laugh. "Oh, you got me good," he chuckled appreciatively as he started to straighten out from where he'd been leaning out the window. Just as he did so, an arm wrapped itself around his throat, starting to choke him.

He wanted to let out a sound – any sound – but doing so required breath. Something he no longer had.

Flicking his wrist, Godslayer appeared in a reverse hold, and Harry stabbed behind him. He hit something, something that felt like gossamer threads falling apart. Immediately, the choking arm vanished.

"Well, I need to be on my toes," Harry muttered, returning to his bag and grabbing it to go to his room. "Remember, no killing patrons, it means killing your repeat business," he reminded the murderous hotel.

The Overlook felt highly amused. Harry chuckled as he entered his room and pulled the door closed. He turned on the lights.

They came on in the creepy sort of half-lit way that was only ever seen in horror movies. The shadows looked deeper than ever, and Harry could feel a chill in the air that hadn't been there before.

The lights dimmed further, the air took on an iciness that creeped in his veins, and the atmosphere felt… oppressive. Harry drew a breath and swallowed; he hadn't felt this creeped out since… well, since going with Marduk to the nameless city.

"Nice creepiness factor," Harry commented, trying not to let it show that the hotel was getting to him. His voice wavered so badly that he could hear it himself, ruining the attempted effect.

Thankfully, the lights came on and the chill vanished from the air. The Overlook, had it had hands, would have been rubbing them with glee.

Harry laughed as the ice in his veins dissolved and the post-adrenaline-high jitteriness set in.

"You know, I wonder what I could do to get you back," he wondered as he stashed his clothes, halfway expecting something to jump at him from the closet. "Maybe something involving lots of fire and some exorcisms."

The Overlook gasped with outrage.

"After all, it's no fun if you're the only one doing the scaring," Harry went on.

The Overlook's presence felt shocked, then contemplative, then congratulatory for him getting his own back.

"Glad to see you have a sense of humor as well," Harry replied. "How about a cease-fire for tonight? We can get going again after I get a good night's rest."

The Overlook's presence retreated, but not before it felt as if Harry was about to have the best night's rest a hotel of its caliber can provide.