"I believe you must concentrate harder," Aris said with a frown. He glanced down at the thick book he was holding for reassurance.
"I'm concentrating as hard as I can," Harry growled, more frustrated with himself than his friend.
"I am sorry that I cannot give better advice," Aris said earnestly. "I have no experience with this spell."
Harry ran his hand through his hair. "It's alright. How 'bout we work on Summoning charms then?"
Aris nodded. "I should be able to help with that."
"The incantation is 'accio', right?" Harry asked, remembering what Severus had told him.
"It is," Aris confirmed. "You must concentrate very hard for this one."
"Great," Harry muttered, thinking of how well concentrating had worked for the Disillusionment charm.
"Visualize what you want to summon in your mind and will it towards you," Aris said. He closed the book and held it up. "Try it with this."
Aris set the book on the floor and stepped back. Harry nodded and studied the worn book for a moment. He closed his eyes, thinking it might help if he wasn't distracted by his surroundings.
"Accio," Harry said after a moment of careful concentration. He paused, wondering if it had worked. Harry cracked an eye open and found the book exactly where it had been. He sighed.
"It was only your first try," Aris said reassuringly. "Try again."
"Accio," Harry incanted. Nothing happened. "Accio," he repeated more forcefully. Leaving his eyes open this time, Harry watched as nothing moved. Frustrated, he said, "You do it."
"Accio," Aris said. The book instantly flew to his outstretched hand.
He had made it look so easy. Harry's mouth twisted and he gestured for him to put the book down once more.
"Accio," Harry said again to no effect. He groaned and closed his eyes to regain his concentration. It was going to be a long evening.
A knock sounded at the door to the Defense room an hour later. Aris moved to open it and Harry was relieved by the distraction. He was so frustrated that he had to strongly resist snapping his wand in two. It had never been this hard for him to learn a spell and Harry was not enjoying the change.
"Hey, Aris," Riker said, stepping just inside the door. "Professor Relton wants to see you."
Aris nodded solemnly and glanced back at Harry. Then, he returned his gaze to Riker. "You know a Disillusionment charm, correct?""Yep, we learned them at the end of last year," Riker replied.
"Perhaps you could help Harry while I am gone?" Aris suggested.
"Sure," Riker agreed. "I have a little time."
"Thank you," Aris said. Harry got the distinct feeling that he was a burden being shifted from one person to another. He felt a little embarrassed. Aris left and Riker came properly into the room.
"So, let's see what you've got," he told Harry brightly.
"It's not much," Harry warned. "Actually, it isn't anything."
"Well don't get my hopes up," Riker joked, "Go on."
Harry sighed and flicked his wand as the diagram had shown. Nothing happened and Harry lowered his wand.
Riker gave an unstable grin as if trying to withhold a laugh. "That was it?"
Harry shifted defensively. "Yeah," he admitted, feeling a surge of annoyance.
Riker smiled. "Well that's easy enough to fix. You're doing it wrong."
"What?" Harry asked, brows knitting.
"That's the wand movement for casting it on someone else," he explained patiently. "To cast one on yourself, you make a gesture like you're wrapping yourself in rope or something. Coiling it around you. Like this," Riker said, demonstrating with his wand.
"Oh," Harry said stupidly.
"Where'd you get the idea to do it like that anyway?" Riker asked curiously.
"That book," Harry said, pointing to the battered volume laying on the floor. "We got it out of the library."
"And, if you don't mind me asking, why do you want to learn a Disillusionment charm?" Riker inquired with genuine interest.
Harry shrugged. "I thought it might be helpful in the tournament."
Riker gave a half shrug. "Maybe. Go ahead and try it."
Harry did so and felt a trickle of something cold down his back as he finished the movement. He looked down and realized that he could not distinguish his legs from the floor. Harry glanced up and saw Riker grinning.
"See, you would've gotten it on the first try if you'd have had the movement right," Riker said. "It took me a lot longer."
Any annoyance Harry had with Riker disappeared as he canceled the spell. "Thanks for helping me."
"How do you feel about Summoning charms?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Aris!" a familiar voice called from behind him. Aris turned slowly. Rhea trotted up to him and stopped, glancing around. The corridor was empty.
"Rhea," he greeted.
"I just wanted to see if you would tell Bennet that the first task is Chimeras," she said in a tone hard to identify.
Aris cocked his head. "Is it?" he asked rhetorically. "What makes you think that he does not already know?"
"I do not know," Rhea admitted. "But will you make sure? I would hate for him to go in blind, after all..."
"Of course," Aris agreed. "How is it that you know?"
"Harry Potter mentioned it."
"You speak with Harry Potter?" Aris asked, brow's furrowing.
"Only here and there," she said. "He needed help finding a few books in the library."
"Ah," Aris said in reply. "I will pass the information along."
"Thank you," Rhea said.
"There is no need to thank me," Aris said factually. "You know that had I found out the same, I would have taken it upon myself to tell him."
"I know," she said. "I will talk to you another time. Goodbye," Rhea said.
"Goodbye," Aris returned as they turned separate directions and continued on their way.
Hermione wrung her hands and stood on the tips of her toes to look through the door that led into the Astronomy tower.
"Are you sure we shouldn't just back out?" she asked Ron nervously.
"We can't back out!" Ron said forcefully. "Nott would never let us hear the end of it. You're the one who got us into this."
"He called me a-"
"I know, I know," Ron cut her off impatiently. "I'm not saying it wasn't justified. It was just very... un-Hermione-ish."
"Un-Hermione-ish?" she repeated slowly. "Is that a technical term?"
Ron rolled her eyes.
"Well, well, I thought you wouldn't come," Nott said loudly as he strode into the room, Blaise Zabini in tow.
"Zabini?" Ron asked in surprise. "Where's Crabbe or Goyle?" he asked.
Nott shrugged. "I wanted Zabini. Problem?"
"Of course not," Hermione replied curtly. They had actually been banking on the fact that Nott's second was going to be incompetent, but no matter. "Can we get started?"
"Certainly," Nott said with false graciousness.
They took their positions and began to count off. Nott fired a spell early but Hermione was ready for this Slytherin trick. She blocked and tossed a blinding hex back in one fluid movement. Casting a charm to shield her own eyes, and hoping that Ron had done the same as they had rehearsed, Hermione waited for the bright flash to dissipate. When Nott's silhouette came back into view, doubled over and clutching his face, Hermione prepared a full body bind.
Before she could fire it, however, Nott's arm shot out and a thin band of blue that stretched most of the length of the room shot out. Though he couldn't see where he was casting, the band was wide enough to take Hermione out wherever she stood.
"Ascendio!" Hermione shouted urgently and rose above the fast moving band. She landed with a thump, feet tingling from the impact. Nott had almost recovered and shot a blasting curse at her. Hermione threw up a block and tossed back the full body bind she had prepared a few moments ago.
Luckily, it hit the corner of his leg, enough to take. Nott stiffened with a shocked and disgusted look on his face and fell straight back. Hermione straightened, looking proud.
"Well then. Your turn, Zabini," she said wickedly, remembering his involvement in the plot to get them in trouble the year before.
Blaise stepped forward hesitantly. His wide eyes made Hermione realize that he was less than confident after what he had just witnessed.
"How about we make a deal," Hermione suggested. Blaise stayed quiet and let her go on. "You take Nott back to the Slytherin common room and in turn none of us will tell about what happened here." She said, thinking quickly to avoid the Slytherins turning them in to make Gryffindor lose house points. "We won't tell anyone that Nott, here, got beaten by a muggle born."
Blaise glanced at Nott, seeming to gauge his reaction to whatever decision he would make. "Deal."
Hermione looked smug. "Great." She stepped over to where Nott lay on the floor and looked down upon him. "Well it seems as if you didn't get your wish. Instead, a mudblood knocked you on your- Ron," she said.
On cue, Ron piped up with the swear word that Hermione wouldn't say.
Hermione smiled down at Nott and she and Ron left the tower victorious. With any luck, the Slytherins wouldn't be bothering them for a while.
The first task was on a Sunday, giving Harry an empty Saturday with which to worry about the upcoming event. He was nervous already, hardly eating breakfast. So nervous, in fact, that he had very nearly forgotten that Snape was to arrive today. Staring down at his plate, Harry did not hear the arrival of someone behind him.
"Harry?" a voice said.
Harry looked up and found Professor Dumbledore, smiling kindly. "Professor."
"If you would come with me, Harry..." Dumbledore trailed off with a meaningful look.
Catching onto what he was saying, Harry jumped up. "Yes, sir."
Professor Dumbledore continued down the hall to the door as Harry said a hasty goodbye to his friends. He jogged to catch up with the surprisingly speedy old man.
"Where are we going, sir?" Harry asked eagerly, hoping his suspicions were right but not wanting to seem needy by asking if Severus had arrived.
"The guest quarters," Dumbledore replied, eyes twinkling.
Harry grinned. The walk seemed longer than usual, simply because Harry was overeager to see his guardian.
When at last they arrived, Dumbledore stood next to the door, clearly planning on staying outside. He smiled at Harry. "Go on."
Harry flashed a smile in return and turned the handle. "Thanks, Professor."
Harry walked into the room as Snape stood up from where he had been seated on the couch.
"Harry," he said, clearly relieved.
"Severus!" Harry replied happily, rushing over to hug his guardian.
He stepped back and looked down, wondering if Severus would say something about the unnecessary display of affection.
"Harry," Severus said quietly, urging him to look up. Harry did so and saw Snape smiling softly. "I am happy to see you."
Harry grinned widely. "Me too."
"Come, have a seat," Severus suggested, sitting back down on the couch. Harry sat next to him, reveling in the real presence of his guardian. "How have you been?"
Harry smiled lightly and ducked his head. "You know that. I talk to you every day."
Severus gave a jerk of the head. "That is true. It just seems as if I am required to ask."
Harry laughed, nervousness flitting near the edge of his consciousness for the time being. Neither said anything for a few moments and Harry wondered if the distance had been worse for them than it seemed. The mildly uncomfortable silence was reminiscent of the first few weeks after the adoption.
"Harry-" Severus began in a tone that indicated he was speaking of the tournament.
"I'm scared, Severus," Harry blurted, then looked away, embarrassed. As Harry stared at the floor, he felt Severus slip a comforting arm over his shoulders. Harry leaned into it.
"I would be too," Severus admitted. Harry scoffed. With long fingers, Severus drew Harry's chin up so that he was looking at him. "Harry, I have seen you face far worse situations and come out remarkably unscathed. As much as I hate to see you compete, I do honestly believe that you will come out just fine."
Harry felt partially reassured and nodded. He reminded himself that he was a Gryffindor.
"Have you managed the charms that you set out to learn?" Severus asked, trying to change the topic slightly.
"The Disillusionment charm," Harry said, "but not the Summoning charm."
"Will you show me?" Severus asked.
"Sure," Harry replied, pulling himself off the couch. He took out his wand and paused a moment to gather his thoughts. Twisting his wand in the movement that Riker had shown him, Harry cast the Disillusionment charm upon himself. When he was finished, he glanced down to ensure it had worked. It had.
"Very nice," Severus said approvingly.
Harry got the feeling that Severus was making an extra effort to compliment him as a point of reassurance. He didn't mind. Harry cancelled the spell.
"And the Summoning charm?" Severus prompted.
"Um," Harry hesitated. He admitted ashamedly, "I haven't gotten it to work yet."
"At all?" Severus said, tone inscrutable.
Harry looked down and shook his head.
After a moment, Severus said, "It is alright, Harry. We will work on it now."
"Okay," Harry said, though he did not have high hopes. He had spent a huge amount of time on it with Aris and Riker over the past two days to no avail. Riker had begun to make excuses to get out of helping him and if Aris were not so patient and calm, he would have given up in frustration long ago.
"Here," Severus said, gesturing to a throw pillow on the couch. "Summon this."
Harry took a deep breath and fixed the beaded design in his mind. "Accio."
It did not even twitch. Harry sighed dejectedly.
"Harry Potter," Severus snapped. "The Harry I know would not give up quite so soon. Do not get discouraged yet."
"Yes, sir," Harry heard himself say quietly.
"Try again," Severus commanded.
After three more tries with no better results, Severus stepped over to Harry.
"Will you allow me to attempt a different method of teaching?" Severus asked, looking at him closely.
"Sure, go ahead," Harry agreed. "I'll try anything at this point."
"I am going to use Legilimency to impart upon you the feel of the spell. Hopefully, that will act as experience and you will then be able to do it yourself."
Harry shrugged. "Alright."
"Look at me," Severus said. Harry obeyed, staring in to Severus's remarkably black eyes.
Suddenly, he was enveloped in his guardian's mind, a strangely familiar presence.
"Accio," Harry heard himself cast, but he wasn't himself. His voice was deeper, richer. He could feel himself concentrating on a book on the shelf of the tall bookcase across the room. He could visualize it perfectly, as if he knew every detail. With that image in his mind, he drew the book toward him and it flew to his hand.
The vision broke off. Harry blinked to regain his bearings.
"That was weird," he admitted.
Severus nodded solemnly. "Care to try now?"
Harry replied, "Yeah." He looked the throw pillow over critically, trying to familiarize himself with it. "Accio," he said forcefully. Not ready for the spell to actually work, Harry was caught off guard when the pillow came flying at his face. It bounced off and lay still on the ground. Severus cracked a smile.
"Congratulations," Severus said.
Harry grinned. "All thanks to you."
"No," Severus said simply. "Now let's try it with something farther away." He paused. "That it, unless you wished to spend the Saturday with your friends?" he asked uncertainly.
"Of course not," Harry said, as if the idea were absurd. "I haven't seen you in over a month! Even if we are just doing spells..." Harry trailed off with a shrug.
Severus gave him a soft look and a pat on the back. Harry smiled, feeling as if his guardian's presence was more effective than a calming draught. Maybe, just maybe, he would be okay.