As the days until the first task fell away, Harry found himself becoming increasingly withdrawn. He was reluctant to speak with Sirius, keeping their conversations short. Somehow, his godfather didn't seem to grasp or convey his understanding of the gravity of the situation. He was almost too flippant and too eager to see Harry compete. Unfortunately, Severus was too far in the other direction. Talking with him generally left Harry with a feeling of deep trepidation of what was to come. Though he knew that Severus tried to cover up his unrest when talking to him, Harry could see right through it. He knew his guardian was worried. When Severus lost confidence, it was difficult to find it within himself.
Oddly enough, Harry was drawn to Aris. His calm presence gave Harry the reassurance that he needed so dearly. Draco didn't seem to mind that Harry spent more time with the Greek boy being that Draco was hardly ever around to notice. Though Harry recognized that he was avoiding contact with many people, he got the impression that Draco was the one avoiding him.
One day at dinner, less than a week until the first task, Harry idly worried about what it was.
"What do you think it could be?" he asked for the thousandth time. He glanced at Draco, mildly surprised buy his guarded and uncomfortable expression. He nudged him with an elbow. "Draco? Alright there?"
"Fine," he replied stiffly.
With a shrug, Harry turned to Aris. "Any ideas?"
"Not a one," Aris replied. "It could be anything."
"Merlin, what am I going to do?" Harry moaned, picking at his food.
"You will survive," Aris stated with certainty.
Harry's brow furrowed. "How do you know?" he asked. Aris pointed to Harry's forehead. "My scar?"
"Are you familiar with the story of Zeus?" Aris asked, dark brows lifting slightly.
"No," Harry admitted. "Was he a wizard?"
"Not exactly," Aris said, pushing his plate away. "He is a Greek god. In the mythology, Zeus is the most powerful god. He wields a lightning bolt. You carry his brand. You will survive."
"That is, if you believe in deities," Aris added casually.
Harry honestly had never given it much thought. He did feel strangely better, though, thinking of his fate as in the hands of someone more powerful than himself. At the same time, it only reinforced the feeling that his life was not his own. Harry decided he wouldn't believe one way or another.
They finished the meal in mediative silence, then Harry returned to his dorm alone. When he entered, he found Roger and Cedric chatting in front of the fireplace. Cedric glanced up and saw Harry standing there. He broke off his conversation.
"Hey, Roger, can I borrow your Transfiguration book?" he asked abruptly.
"Yeah, I'll get it," he said, standing and disappearing into the other room. Cedric gestured hurriedly for Harry to come over. With a curious expression, Harry did so.
"Harry- the first task, it's chimeras," Cedric said urgently.
"How do you know?" Harry asked, the relief spreading through him tempered only by his suspicion of sabotage.
"Lane showed me," he said, talking fast. "She's dating one of the Durmstrang boys. I saw them, Harry. Trust me."
Harry did trust him. He blinked rapidly. "Thank you, Cedric."
Cedric nodded as Roger returned, holding a textbook and looking at Harry critically. Harry gave Cedric one last grateful glance before heading to the other room to call Severus right away.
"Mr. Finnigan, the addition of those quills you are holding will most likely result in a very unpleasant concoction," Snape warned, startling the thin boy behind which he stood.
"Sorry, sir," Seamus said, quickly dropping the quills on the table. He hurriedly looked over the instructions once more to figure out what it was that he was actually supposed to do next. Severus hovered a moment more before moving to stand behind Blaise Zabini.
"Mr. Zabini, I am more than certain that Manegro Potion is not black, nor does it have lumps of...something floating in it," Severus said, tone less than pleasant. He banished the contents of the cauldron. "Zero for the day."
Zabini's eyes flashed up and he looked ready to protest. Severus's eyes narrowed challengingly. He had not forgotten what this boy had done the year before. Thinking better of questioning Snape, he averted his gaze.
"Yes, sir," he muttered.
Feeling smug but not letting it show, Severus stalked away. As he passed his desk at the front of the room, he noticed a familiar light shining. Stepping closer, he confirmed that it was indeed the mirror. Severus's brows knitted. He wondered why Harry was calling this early; they always spoke at five thirty. Perhaps he was simply bored.
Though Severus did not quite believe his own explanation to himself, he turned away. He could not have a conversation with him in the middle of teaching. Forcing himself to concentrate on the students in front of him, Severus strode down one of the aisles. When Severus didn't pick up the mirror, he assumed Harry would try again later.
Several minutes passed and Severus could not shake the thought that perhaps Harry was in danger. Making an excuse to pass in front of his desk once more, Severus wandered to the front of the room. The mirror's stone still glowed.
"Ms. Granger," Severus said sharply.
She looked up as if fearing she was in trouble. "Yes, sir?"
"Keep an eye on the class for me. Report any misconduct. I will return in a moment," he said brusquely.
Hermione nodded and sat up straighter, filled with purpose.
Severus plucked the mirror from his desk and stepped out into the corridor. He looked down into and saw Harry's face materialize.
Unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice, Severus asked, "What's wrong?"
"I know what the first task is!" Harry exclaimed. "Chimeras!"
Severus was stunned silent. After a moment, he replied slowly. "Chimeras?"
"Yes," Harry confirmed.
"Do you have to fight them?" Severus asked, stomach dropping. "Certainly not kill them, there is no way they can expect you to do that...""I should hope not," Harry said, worry in his face. "So how should I prepare?"
"How should you prepare..." Severus repeated, still trying to comprehend the meaning of this new information. "Let me think about it. I will answer that when we talk tonight. I must get back to my class now."
Harry blushed with embarrassment. "Sorry. I was so eager to tell you...I forgot."
"It is no matter," Severus insisted, a far cry from what he might have said had Harry not come with such important news. "Goodbye."
"Bye," Harry said.
Severus stayed in the hall for a moment, composing himself. When he had returned to his general state of unaffected appearance, he reentered the room.
"Teacher's pet much, Granger?" Nott taunted from across the room a few minutes after Snape stepped into the hallway.
"Shut it, Nott," Hermione replied, short tempered after arguing with Ron earlier that morning.
"Or what?" he asked snidely. "You'll report me to Snape?"
"Nott..." Ron said loudly in a warning tone.
"Standing up for your girlfriend, Weasley?"
Hermione ducked her head to cover her fierce blush. Ron stammered as he tried for a reply. Perhaps luckily, he did not have time to come up with a comeback as Snape stepped back in.
"Any problems, Ms. Granger?" he asked. Something in his tone made Hermione think he was expecting trouble.
She briefly considered saying something about Nott but thought better of it. "No, sir."
Snape nodded and resumed his hovering. Nott shot her a critical look, eyes scrutinizing hers. Hermione met them for a moment before turning back to her potion in a businesslike fashion.
At the end of class, Snape announced, "A foot and a half on volatile components in herbal mixtures. Dismissed."
Already thinking of a few books she would need from the library, Hermione packed up her books and she and Ron walked out of the class and into the corridor.
"I'm going to the library, want to come?" she asked Ron.
"Quidditch practice," he said with an apologetic shrug.
"Right," Hermione said with a twinge of sarcasm at his helpless look. "You're only reserve, you said yourself that you were allowed to skip practice."
Ron looked indignant. "Hey, reserve is hard! You've got to be able to do everything. Not to mention do it all on Charlie's crappy old broom."
"Alright, go on, then. I'll see you in the common room tonight. But don't think I'm writing your paper for you," Hermione warned.
"Why would I think that?" Ron said innocently, though seemed a little disappointed.
Hermione rolled her eyes as he went down one corridor and she another. She decided to take a shortcut through a few dungeon corridors. There was a staircase that led to right outside the library. Hermione only managed perhaps three yards before a figure stepped out from the shadows, catching her by surprise. Before she could draw her wand, he had pinned her to the wall.
"Nott?" she asked, for his face was obscured by the shadows.
"Granger," he greeted casually.
"Why do you want?" Hermione asked in a hard voice, heart pounding.
He stepped back, releasing her. Hermione didn't move. Nott gave a casual shrug. "I've been doing some thinking-"
"Good for you, I can't imagine that was easy," Hermione said in a sharply factual voice.
His lip twitched. "And I've heard people say you're the brightest witch in the class. I don't agree."
"So I thought that I'd prove them wrong," Nott said.
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "How do you plan on doing that?" she asked. In any test of logic, competency, or simple intelligence, Hermione was sure that she could best Nott. It wouldn't be too difficult, even though he was a Slytherin.
"A duel?" Hermione scoffed. "What is with you and duels?"
"You're just bitter that I beat Potter," Nott accused.
"It was a draw," Hermione said defensively. "Besides, even if I lose, which I won't, how would that prove I'm not the brightest witch?" She looked him over dramatically. "Unless I am mistaken in believing you are a wizard...?"Nott's face reddened and he stepped forward. "Fine," he snapped. "You got me. I really just want to see you knocked on your mudblood-"
Hermione's laugh cut off his swear word. Her laugh was forced, and she hoped it didn't show. Inside, hate surged at the name he had just called her. Despite her fierce adherence to the rules, Hermione found some defiant streak that allowed her to agree, if only to save her pride. "You're on."
Nott looked mildly surprised. He straightened. "Two in the morning on the Astronomy tower, Thursday."
Hermione shook her head in a mockingly fond way. "So predictable." Without further ado, she stepped past him and went on her way, forcing her footsteps to remain level. After turning the next corner, out of sight of the Slytherin, Hermione let out a deep breath. She had played right into his game. What had she just agreed to?
Harry could hardly contain himself. He paced the room a few times, then wondered what he should do. He could just wait to talk to Severus again but he was full of too much nervous energy for that. Grabbing his pack, Harry headed for the library. He thought about what he knew of chimeras but it wasn't much. From what he remembered from Care of Magical Creatures, they had a goat's body, a lion's head and a dragon's tail. To Harry, they sounded freaking fabulous; containing parts of two of the most frightening creatures he could think of. Then there was the goat body which he found rather random. Figuring he should know more, Harry began perusing the shelves of the library, looking for something helpful. Once more, he could not make sense of the system.
Spying Rhea at a nearby table, Harry thought that perhaps she could help him. It seemed as if she spent a lot of time in the library.
"Rhea?" Harry asked approaching from the side.
She looked up instantly. "Harry Potter," she returned stiffly.
"Please, just 'Harry'," Harry insisted. "Um, I was wondering, if you have a minute, if you could help me find a book on chimeras. I can't seem to figure out how things are sorted here."
She rose in one fluid motion. "Of course," Rhea replied, looking him over as she came out from behind the table. Unlike many of the other students, she did not seem to have the vaguely worshipful or even unduly intrigued quality in her gaze. Harry was grateful for that; he had gotten tired of it.
As Rhea led him over to a shelf halfway across the room, she asked, "May I ask why you are so keen on chimeras?"
Harry chewed on the inside of his lip. He had only known her for a week or so, but Harry felt, for some odd reason, that she was different from the others.
"I can only tell you if you swear not to tell anyone," Harry stipulated.
Rhea turned to him, interested now.
Taking that as a sign that she agreed, Harry continued. "I think that is what the first Triwizard Tournament task is."
"Ah," she breathed, turning back to the shelf of books. "I wish you luck. I would not like to meet a chimera, let alone fight one."
"You're telling me," Harry muttered. The corner of her lip drew up slightly.
Rhea raised a slim hand and pulled out a thin maroon book. She dropped it in his hands and began searching for another. When Harry had amassed a decent size stack, she stopped.
"Many of these are mythology books, though some are encyclopedias of rare or dangerous creatures," she explained, heading back towards her table. Not knowing what to do, Harry followed. "It is doubtful that you will find many accounts of people fighting them. They are quite rare."
"Well they've apparently found four of them," Harry commented.
"So it seems," Rhea said, sitting down. She looked at him curiously. "Well? Are you going to stand?"
"Er, do you mind?" he asked.
She gestured welcomingly to the empty seat across from her. Harry pulled out the chair and sat down, opening the first dusty book. She returned to whatever it was that she was doing and Harry stared at pictures of chimeras mauling animals, people, and other worrisomely unidentifiable creatures. They continued in this fashion until late into the evening.
Harry, taking notes on a sheet of parchment, went to re-dip his quill and found the inkwell empty. He opened his bag to retrieve his wand to cast a replenishing charm. As the flap on his bag fell open, a soft glow illuminated the inside. Harry pulled out the mirror that he had roughly shoved inside before leaving the dorm and found it to be the source.
"Uh, I have to go," Harry said quickly, wondering how long Severus had been waiting. Harry had lost track of time.
Rhea glanced up and watched him shove the mirror back into the bag with a curious expression.
"Do I need to check these out or something?" Harry asked, holding up the library books.
She gave a very light laugh. "With who? There is no librarian here."
"Right," Harry said, putting them in his bag as well. "Well, it was nice seeing you again."
"I agree," Rhea said, looking up at him as he stood.
"See you," Harry said a little awkwardly.
Rhea did not reply other than to give a small smile at his discomfort. With an odd, flap of his arms against his side, Harry turned and headed from the library, eager to talk to his guardian upon his return to the dorm.
"To be honest, nothing comes to mind that might give you a distinct advantage," Severus admitted. "Chimeras are rather powerful; you will not be able to bring one down with a spell by yourself."
"I did a little research..."
"Did you find anything helpful?" Severus prompted.
"Not particularly but I saw a lot of rather nasty pictures," Harry said with a grimace. "I'm wishing I skipped dinner."
Severus's lip twitched. "Well, that is less than helpful to your predicament," he noted. "All I can say is to play to your strengths. That has been, and will presumably always be, the first rule in survival."
"What are my strengths?" Harry asked dubiously.
Severus appeared thoughtful. "You are very good on a broom. However, in this situation, I do not believe that will be helpful. Chimeras cannot fly."
"No, they can't," Harry agreed weakly.
"What else are you good at?" Severus asked.
Harry scratched his head in thought. "Potions?"
"I would say," Severus replied, a hint of pride in his voice. "Though, again, I cannot think of a feasible use for one here."
Harry had run out of ideas. He thought back over the times he had survived close encounters with Voldemort over the past few years and considered what he had done to survive. Mostly, it seemed like luck and fortunate help. Neither would help him here.
"How are you at charms?" Severus asked.
"Pretty decent, why?" Harry replied, cocking his head.
"Well, you have fair practice at being invisible, no?" Severus asked with a raised brow.
"Yes..." Harry said, not seeing where this was going. He didn't know any charms to make you invisible.
"A disillusionment charm allows you to blend in with your surroundings," Severus explained. "Assuming that your task does not involve directly fighting the creature, or perhaps even if it does, being invisible would be a distinct advantage."
Harry began to nod slowly. "Yes, it would," he agreed. He grinned. "Can you teach me?"
Snape considered that. "It would be a little more... challenging doing so in this way, but you generally require little instruction in order to achieve the desired result."
Harry smiled at the veiled and seemingly unintentional compliment from his guardian. "Great. It's getting late tonight though, how about tomorrow?"
"Of course," Severus replied. "Perhaps in the meantime you can familiarize yourself with the theory. Speaking of spells, have you managed a summoning charm?"
"Almost," Harry lied. "Maybe in a day or two."
"I recommend you master that before the task as well. If you are extremely lucky and are tasked with retrieving something that could be summoned, you would remove much of the danger."
"That's a good point," Harry said. "I'll work on it. When are you coming?"
"The day before the tournament," Severus replied. In a softer voice, he added, "It is not so very far away."
"I know," Harry said a little pained. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Goodbye, Harry," Severus replied. He added his now signature, "Be safe."
"Always," Harry said with a small smile.