"Agility," Riker announced. Everyone groaned. "Oh, come on. It's not so bad."
"You've been threatening us with that for a month," Lane pointed out. "It can't be much fun."
Riker shrugged. "You've had a month to get the basics down. Now it's time for the fun stuff."
"Fun for who?" Harry asked.
Riker shot him a grin. "Us."
Aris stepped forward with a handful of blindfolds. He went down the row of Hogwarts students, tying the black pieces of cloth over everyone's eyes. He didn't even flinch under some of their vicious glares. After everyone's view was thoroughly obstructed, Riker clapped his hands.
"Okay, now separate."
Harry stepped forward and ran into someone. "Sorry," he muttered.
"It's okay," a female voice replied. Harry thought it sounded like Clara.
"Oh, uh maybe we should have done that part before the blindfolds," Riker commented, half to himself, as someone tripped with a thump.
Harry hoped he was safely away from everyone because he stopped moving.
"Okay, now don't get hit. Every time you get hit, it's five push ups," Riker's voice said, coming from somewhere to Harry's left. All at once, Harry heard something bounce off of the matted floor, then the stone wall.
"Ow," someone said.
Harry didn't know how he was supposed to dodge things he couldn't see. As he was trying to figure out how this was supposed to work, he was nailed in the gut by a ball.
He winced. "How are we supposed to do this?"
"Listen for the ball."
Harry was whacked again in the arm. He listened intently but heard nothing but other people getting hit. Another hit him in the leg.
"Dodge them, Harry!"
"I can't see them," Harry growled. He thought he heard something coming so he hopped to the left and got hit in the shoulder. Frustrated, Harry righted himself and kept trying.
When at last, Riker gave them the go ahead to take their blindfolds off, Harry was sore and irritated. He fumbled with the knot and finally just ripped the blindfold off the top of his head.
"That was freaking fabulous," Lane said in a darkly sarcastic voice, glaring at the two smug looking boys.
"It gets better."
"Oh?" Jeremiah asked tiredly.
"Now you've got to do those push ups."
By the time Harry returned to his dorm after dinner, he could barely feel his arms. Though defense had made him much stronger in the past month, Harry's muscles ached from so many push ups. He had gotten hit a lot of times. As Harry headed straight for the bathroom to take a shower, he caught a glimpse of himself in the full body mirror on the wall. Harry paused, suddenly realizing how much he had changed. He was a little taller and much more muscular. Perhaps there was something to be said for Defense. He suddenly didn't want to complain quite so much about his aching arms.
As Harry stepped back into his room, he rubbed his shaggy wet hair with a towel. He saw the glow of the mirror and hoped that Severus hadn't been waiting long. Harry hurried over to the mirror and picked it up. As Severus's face materialized, a small smile spread across Harry's face.
"Hey," Harry said.
"Hello," Severus replied. He raised a brow slightly. "You seem...satisfied."
Harry smiled wider. "I had a productive Defense class."
"Good," Severus said. "Are you enjoying it?"
"It's my favorite," Harry said honestly. "Even though today was a little rough.""Challenge is the best way to improve."
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "Oh, that reminds me," he said, thought springing to his head, "do you have any tips on learning a summoning charm?"
Severus considered this. "Well the incantation is 'accio'. It is fairly straightforward. You must be able to visualize what you are trying to summon vividly in your mind. Then you simply will it towards you."
"Hm," Harry said. "Thanks, I'll give that a try."
"What has spurred this notion?" Severus asked curiously.
"It's something I've been meaning to do for a while," Harry said honestly. He had not told Snape about the detention with Thornberg. Harry could not pinpoint why, exactly, except for the vague thought that it reminded him too much of something Snape would do.
"Anything new at Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
"Slytherin beat Hufflepuff in Quidditch last weekend," Severus said, mildly triumphant tone buried beneath his exterior.
"I heard," Harry said, corner of his lip pulling up. "Congratulations."
Severus inclined his head. "Beyond that, not much is new. Nothing that would interest you, that is."
"Nothing much happening here, either."
Severus paused for a moment. "Harry, you do realize that the first task is in twenty nine days?"
"You started a countdown?" Harry breathed in dismay.
"It is a continued count down," Severus said, as if that made it better. "What have you done to prepare?""Er..." Harry trailed off with a grimace.
"Harry," Severus chastised. "I would like you to come through in one piece."
"Me too," Harry insisted.
"Have you any clue of what the first task is?" Severus asked anxiously.
"No," Harry admitted. "I don't think anyone does."
"Do you know for sure?"
"I can ask..."
Severus raised a brow. "Yes, asking nicely will make your competitors simply hand out their secrets," he said snidely.
"Severus," Harry complained, "you aren't being very helpful."
"I am afraid I can do nothing to help."Harry frowned. "I'll see what I can find out and let you know."
"Please do," Severus replied. "If you will excuse me, I have a student coming for detention in a few moments."
"Anyone I know?" Harry asked casually.
Snape's lips twitched. "Perhaps. Do Fred and George Weasley ring a bell?"
Harry grinned. "What'd they do?"
"They were found in the possession of some...questionable candies. The fact that they were surrounded by vomiting and swelling first years did not bode well," Severus said dryly, but with a hint of amusement. "That and the fact that they refused to clarify who was Fred and who was George. Irritating to say the least."
"They should be branded," Severus commented offhandedly.
Harry smiled. "Maybe that's what their Christmas sweaters are for."
"I am thinking of suggesting them as part of the regular dress code," Severus said with a light sneer.
Harry's lips twitched fondly. "I'll let you go now, I guess. Tell them I said 'hi'."
"Goodbye," Severus said.
"Miss you," Harry said quietly.
"And I, you. Be safe."
"Bye," Harry said before setting down the mirror. He stood up just as Draco entered the room.
"Hey, Harry," he greeted.
"Hi," Harry replied. "Where've you been?"
"You know," he said with a shrug. "Wandering the castle."
"With Gregor and Dian?" Harry prodded suspiciously.
Draco's eyes narrowed. "So what if I was?"
Harry, in no mood for a confrontation after the more or less pleasant conversation he had just had with Severus, simply shrugged. Draco turned away.
"Snape wants me to figure out what the first task is."
"How are you going to do that?" Draco asked pessimistically.
"I don't know," Harry said honestly. "Have you heard anything?"
"Don't you think I would have told you if I had?" Draco challenged.
Harry considered that for a moment. A month ago, he would have instantly replied "yes". Now, he wasn't quite as sure. Spending so much time with the Durmstrang students was leaving Draco more surly and standoffish than before. Harry was genuinely unsure of whether or not he would volunteer information. "I would hope so," Harry finally said.
Draco grunted and rooted through his trunk for something. Harry scrutinized him, hoping to glean some hint of what he was doing all those hours he disappeared.
"Need something?" Draco asked sharply, noticing Harry's look.
"No," he said quickly. "I'm meeting Aris and Riker in the library. Riker's going to help us with that Dark Arts project. Want to come?"Draco scoffed. "I've got better things to do than schoolwork."
"Right," Harry breathed as he gathered his things and left the room, a worried furrow to his brow.
He had not been lying about meeting Aris and Riker in the library and so he headed that way. Harry walked steadily down the corridor, trying to avoid the looks from the Durmstrang students. They continued to stare at him no matter where he went. Though it was better than direct animosity, it was beginning to get on Harry's nerves. Harry made it to the library and slumped down at a table with Aris and Riker.
"Hey, Harry," Riker greeted.
"Hi," Harry returned.
"You alright?" he asked. "You look a little... flustered."
Harry shrugged. "I'm fine," he insisted, pulling out his books. "So what do we need to do for this project?"
Riker slid over a sheet of paper. "First off, find these books. Aris is working on the other part."
Aris's gaze was downcast as he drew a complicated diagram on a sheet of parchment.
"Right," Harry said, happy to have been given something that he could do to take his mind off things. He stood and moved to the nearest shelf to begin searching for A Separate and Complete Recollection of the Darkest Art. Not seeing it there, Harry moved around to the next set of shelves, scanning the spines. There was little organization here; Durmstrang students generally did not put much stock in books.
After fifteen minutes, Harry had only managed to find one of the five books he for which he was looking. He was getting frustrated until he glanced over at one of the tables and saw the book he needed. It sat next to a large stack of textbooks behind which a dark haired girl hid. Harry studied her for a moment. She looked familiar, but he could not place her. The girl swept a stray strand of hair out of her eyes and Harry noted her darkly tanned skin. Suddenly, he vaguely remembered her, thinking she might have been the one that Gregor and his friends had taunted in the Dining Hall a long while ago.
Feeling odd for staring, Harry approached her table.
"Excuse me," he said, trying to sound casual.
She raised her eyes, not seeming the slightest bit startled.
"I just wondered if I could borrow this book. If you're done with it, that is," Harry added clumsily.
"Go ahead," she said, with an accent similar to Aris's.
"Thanks," Harry muttered.
With a slight nod, she returned to her book. Harry picked up the book and continued his search for the others. Time ticked away and he had not yet found another.
"You may want to look over there," a voice said from behind him.
Harry turned and found the girl pointing to his left, eyes still on the book before her.
"I beg your pardon?"
She looked up at him. "Over there," she repeated. "You are working on the Dark Arts assignment, no?"
"Uh, yeah, I am," Harry said. "Right, thanks."
He started for the shelf to which she had pointed, then paused. "I'm Harry."
"I know," she stated.
"Right," he repeated, too embarrassed to think of anything more articulate. Just as Harry found the will to move towards the shelf once more, she spoke again.
"I am Rhea," she said, without looking up. "I am in several of your classes."
"I haven't noticed you before," Harry admitted, wincing inwardly at how that came out.
Rhea gave a half-smile. "Good."
Harry cocked his head but refrained from asking. When it appeared that she wasn't going to say anything else, he finally walked over to the shelf that he had been heading for all along. Harry found the remaining books with ease and stacked them in his arms, turning to head back to Aris and Riker. He spared the mysterious girl one more glance before moving away.
Harry seemed stressed. He ran his hand through his hair repeatedly and sighed several times, not seeming to notice that he did so.
"Are you okay?" Draco eventually asked.
"The task is in two weeks," Harry said, voice strained. "I have no idea what it is. No way to prepare."
"Oh," Draco said simply. There was nothing he could do for that. "Want me to brew you a calming draught?"
Harry gave him a look. "Unless you brew enough to last me to the tournament, it won't help. And then I'd probably fail."
"I wonder if Cedric knows..."
Harry shrugged. "There isn't any way to find out. Unless you're up to brewing some veritaserum," he added bitterly, sarcastically.
"No," Draco answered, even though he was sure Harry didn't mean it. He glanced at the time. "I'll be back in a bit."
Harry looked at him disapprovingly. It was obvious that he did not care for Gregor and Dian. Draco knew that they could be a little brash but they seemed to genuinely like him. They acted almost protective toward him and for some reason, Draco didn't mind. He liked to feel useful when helping them with Potions or Defense Against the Dark Arts and they had become friends, whether Harry approved or not. Draco figured he could be friends with both.
Hefting his pack on his shoulder, Draco headed back to the dorm where he traded his bag for a thick cloak. He had been advised to dress warmly, though he wasn't sure why.
Draco met them at the usual spot: a desolate room that held an odd variety of strange objects. No one ever came down this corridor. That was, no one but them.
"Good, you're here," Gregor said, sliding off his stool.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Dian asked darkly.
"Yeah, we can trust you, right, Draco?" Gregor asked forcefully.
Draco had no choice but to answer in the positive. "Yes."
"You won't even mind a binding promise?" Dian challenged.
Stalling, Draco said, "What for? What's going on?" He knew that binding promises were less complex forms of unbreakable vows. They simply prevented you from revealing the secret, or even hinting at it. He knew it wouldn't hurt him but didn't want to agree blindly.
"We want to show you something," Gregor explained. "But you mustn't tell anyone. No one at all." That meant not even Harry. Gregor looked at him expectantly. "Well? Are you in or not? We didn't ask any of the other Hogwarts students because... well, we figured you were the most like us. Were we wrong?" he asked almost menacingly.
That hit a nerve somewhere in Draco. "Alright," he heard himself agreeing, as if he were signing his life away.
Gregor grinned and held out his hand. "Dian?"
Dian put a small silver dagger in his hand. Draco backed up instinctively.
Gregor cocked his head at him. "It's okay. It's a blood promise. I only need a drop. Just a prick of the finger," he said slowly, as if he were relishing the idea. Draco was beginning to become seriously creeped out. Gregor, smile still on his face, touched the tip of his own index finger to the blade. A small pearl of red welled up.
"Your turn," he said, advancing towards Draco.
Heart beating fast, Draco forced himself to stand still. There was no way to back out now, as much as he wanted to. Thinking fiercely that he should have listened to Harry, he allowed his hand to be raised and pricked.
Gregor touched the tips of their fingers together so that the hot blood pulsed between and made the contact slippery. Dian stepped over and placed the tip of his wand on their fingers and incanted a spell.
"Do you swear not to reveal anything you see tonight to anyone nor hint at anything you see?" Dian asked in a monotone.
Draco hesitated and found his gaze locked with Gregor's. In the flickering torchlight, his eyes seemed red. Suppressing a shiver, Draco answered, "I do."
Sneering, Gregor pulled their fingers apart. When they separated, the scant light in the room seemed, to Draco, to dim ever so slightly. He felt suddenly faint, then, as if a switch inside him had been turned, strong. Draco stood straight and smiled. Something foreign pumped through his veins, feeding him a new sort of strength and confidence. He liked the feeling.
"Well, what was it you were going to show me? Let's see it," Draco said, eagerness as an undertone in his voice.
Gregor grinned back. "After you," he said graciously, gesturing to the door.
Draco flipped his cloak back and exited the room with purpose.