All too soon, it was Harry's last day home before being forced to Floo back to Durmstrang the following morning. A little depressed, Harry moped around for most of the morning before sitting down in the kitchen for a conversation with Severus.
"You seem cheery today," he said in a flat voice.
"Yeah," Harry replied. He sighed. "I don't want to go back."
"Nor do I want you to," Severus admitted. "Nevertheless, it is apparently beyond our control."
"Yeah," Harry said again.
"Harry, perhaps it is time we talked about the second task."
Harry didn't reply.
"I know you have been avoiding the topic," Severus said, "but this might be my last chance to help you in person. I won't see you until the day before the task."Harry bit his lip. "How can you help?"
"Hm." Severus thought for a moment. "Ice sprites, correct? You will presumably need something to keep you warm; to keep you from getting frostbite and hypothermia whilst encountering them."
"So... a thick coat and gloves?" Harry asked glumly.
"Harry," Severus chided. "Be serious."
That admonishment caused Harry to straighten and attempt to shake himself from his funk. He brushed back his hair with a hand and said, "Right, so, maybe a charm?"
"Perhaps," Severus allowed. "Why don't we go to the library and do a little research?""This library or Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
"Mine, while obviously inferior, should be sufficient," Severus said, standing and heading for the door.
"Great, the last day of break and I'm doing research," Harry muttered, mostly to himself.
"Did you say something?" Severus asked, looking over his shoulder.
"Nothing," Harry replied curtly.
They proceeded to the library where Severus opened a thick compendium, leaving Harry to choose whatever book he wanted. In the end, he decided upon a stylish volume of rare potions, charms and curses. He never had been attracted to the mundane.
Severus sat at his desk so Harry curled up in the leather armchair in front of it. After a few minutes of flipping pages, Severus asked, "Would you like me to light a fire? Your feet are bare."
Harry shrugged. "I'm fine."
"Are you certain?" Severus asked skeptically.
"Yeah. It's warmer than Durmstrang in here," he joked. "I'm used to the arctic now."
"Wonderful. You do not need warming devices then?" Severus asked snidely.
"Okay, not that used to it," Harry admitted, returning his attention to the chapter on environmental spells.
They read for a long time before Severus broke the silence.
"I suppose you do not want a charm to clothe you in fire?" Snape asked casually.
Harry grimaced. "Not if I can avoid it. It wouldn't burn me?"
"There's a protective charm for your skin," Severus replied, looking down at the book. "But it doesn't last as long as the fire so you must be diligent in its renewal."
Harry gulped. "Uh, let's keep looking."
After perhaps another half hour, Harry found something of interest.
"How about a potion?" he asked Severus.
Severus frowned. "As ironic as it is, I had not thought of that."
"Is it legal to bring one into the competition?"
"Does it matter?" Severus shot back.
Harry shrugged. Oftentimes he forgot about Severus's Slytherin tendencies. "I found one here to give you a sort of... uh, it calls it "inner fire" that lasts an hour, I think."
"That seems remarkably vague," Severus said, brows furrowing. "It is a better choice than Pepper-up, though. Few potions are heat giving, save the ones that cause spontaneous combustion from the inside. May I see this?" he asked, saying all of that with a straight face.
Harry looked at him with worry but walked the book over to where Severus was seated and handed it to him. He scanned the page and studied the brewing instructions.
"It could quite possibly be our best shot. Many of the things I am finding have lives that are directly proportional to the temperature."
Harry looked at him blankly.
"That is the way with such charms," Severus stated. He then clarified, "The colder it is, the shorter they last."
"Oh," Harry said. "It's going to be pretty cold."
"I am aware of that. That is why I think we should give this a shot," Severus said. He looked over the page once again. "What's this?"
Harry squinted at the dark line at which he was pointing. "Words, maybe? Really tiny though."
Pulling out his wand, Severus cast a magnifying charm and looked through the glassy insubstantial disc that formed. The letters could be read easily now.
"Do not brew more than twenty two hours, fifty three minutes and ten seconds before use lest the resulting explosion render the need for a heat potion moot," Severus read aloud.
"Brilliant," Harry said with a gulp. "There goes my idea of brewing it now to take back to Durmstrang with me."
"Yes, that seems...most inadvisable, considering," Severus said dryly. "Do you want to keep looking or simply brew that before the second task?"
"We've been looking for hours," Harry said. "I don't think we're going to find anything better that doesn't wear off too soon."
"I hope there is nothing to hinder our plan, then," Severus said. "If I come across anything between now and then, I will alert you."
"Great," Harry said. "Can we get some dinner now?"
Harry stood in front of the fireplace, bags in hand and thick cloak wrapped around him.
"I hate saying goodbyes," he complained.
"It won't be so long until the second task," Severus assured him.
Harry grimaced, "Was that meant to be encouraging?"Severus frowned. "Yes. I suppose it might have come out wrong."
Harry laughed weakly. "The year's almost half way over, isn't it?"
"Almost," Severus stated. He grasped Harry's forearms tightly. "Be careful," he stressed.
"I will," Harry assured him. "Should I let Gregor know that we think he cursed me?"Severus stood thoughtful for a moment. "That is up to you. Rest assured that I will be saying something when I arrive."
Harry grinned, "I don't doubt it." He bit his lip and stopped. "Bye, Severus."
"Goodbye, Harry," Severus said, pulling him into a hug. "Come, I will Floo with you to the Headmistress's office to meet Draco."
"Ok," Harry said in a small voice.
They both Flooed to McGonagall's office where she and Draco were waiting for them. Professor McGonagall gave him a warm smile as he stepped out.
"Harry, it is good to see you," she said, patting his arm. "I wish you luck on the second task."
"Thanks," Harry said. "I think I'll be needing it."
"We should go, Harry," Draco said. "We're going to be late for class as it is."
"Right," Harry said, not stepping far from the Floo. "What about everyone else?"
"They came earlier," McGonagall provided.
Harry blushed lightly for it had been his lengthy goodbye and stalling that made them late. "Sorry," he said, gathering his things to go. "Uh, goodbye Professor."
"Goodbye, Harry," she said.
Glad that he had already said goodbye to Severus in private, Harry simply met his gaze and knew that he was understood. Draco went first, disappearing in a flash of green. At Harry's turn, he stepped into the fireplace but hesitated before throwing the Floo powder.
After a moment, he did so and called out, "Durmstrang, Dumbledore's quarters."
"It'll be okay, Harry," Severus said as Harry disappeared. Reassured by the fact that Severus was always right, Harry stepped out of the Floo and into the cold castle that he was destined to reside in for several more long months.
Harry slumped in his seat as they came late to Potions. They didn't have time to begin the potion on which everyone else was working so Harry set to familiarizing himself with the Inner Fire potion that he would need for the second task. It was unfortunately far too early for him to feel the gravity of the situation and therefore, Harry couldn't focus on it.
"It's going to be such a long rest of the year," Harry reiterated to Draco.
"Yeah," Draco replied seeming far away.
"I mean, why can't we just Floo over for the tasks?" Harry asked.
Draco shrugged, head on his fist. "I think part of the point is inter-school bonding."
"I know but...ugh," Harry groaned. He tapped his fingers on his desk. "Speaking of bonding, what do you think Rhea wants from me?"
At this, Draco cracked a half smile. "What'd she get you for Christmas?"
"Then nothing much," he stated.
"It was a really cool candle," Harry stressed.
"That changes things," Draco said sarcastically with a roll of the eyes. "Why don't you ask her then?""Can you do that?"
Draco shrugged. "I've never tried. Not that I've never thought about it..." he trailed off with a slight blush.
Harry nudged him. "Is there something you're not telling me?""Yes."
"Oh," Harry said, caught off guard by his honesty. "Wanna tell me?""No.""Er, okay then," Harry said. He'd get it out of him later, he supposed. Draco didn't seem in the mood to be pushed. Apparently returning to Durmstrang had taken something out of him as well. "So can you really just ask a girl that? Aren't there like... rules or something?""If there are, I don't know them," Draco stated, quill scratching as he doodled in his potions book. "You could ask her what the rules are."
"How's that any better?"Draco shrugged. "If you do though, tell me what she says."
"Only if you tell me why you want to know," Harry shot back.
Draco scowled and didn't reply.
Within a few minutes the class was dismissed and everyone gathered their books to leave. Harry wandered over to Rhea's table which was unfortunately settled next to Gregor's. Without having given it much forethought, Harry decided to play dumb about the curse and act as if it had never happened and Gregor had failed. In fact, he actually went a little farther.
"Hello Gregor," he chirped brightly. "Nice holiday?"
Gregor looked at him with a deep scowl, obviously disturbed. "Was yours?" he asked searchingly rather than out of genuine interest.
"Perfect," Harry replied. He savored the look on Gregor's face for a moment before turning to Rhea. "Can I talk to you for a second?" With a dramatic look over his shoulder, Harry added, "In private?"
"Sure," she replied, gathering her things and moving to the corner. "What is it?"
"Well, first I'd like to thank you for the candle. It's brilliant," Harry said earnestly.
"You liked it then?" she asked happily. "You can teach it animals, I'll show you how sometime."
"Really?" Harry asked with interest.
"Yes," Rhea replied with mild amusement. "The box was beautiful. I love it, thank you."
"Hermione helped me pick it; she's the one we made the paperweight for," Harry told her.
"I remember," Rhea said. After a pause, she continued, "Was there something else?"
Harry hesitated and bit his lip. "Uh... I'm not really sure of the right way to go about this... Er, what do you want from me? Or for us? Or...what?" he stammered.
Rhea laughed. Her lip twitched with amusement. "Let's start with friends and then... we will see. Okay?"
"Okay," Harry said with relief. After a beat, he said, "Was that an okay question to ask, in general?"
Rhea gave him a look. "I do not mind. Some might but I daresay you shouldn't bother with the ones who cannot be open with you."
Harry nodded, agreeing with that advice. "Thanks. Draco and I were wondering."
"Hm," she replied with a small smile. "Shall we go?"
Harry looked around and realized that they were in an empty room. "Oh, yeah."
They parted in the hallway where Harry had to break off in order to take a shortcut to reach Charms in time.
"So, I'll see you later then?" Harry asked.
"Sure," Rhea replied. "Uh, I was thinking, would you meet me at ten o'clock tomorrow night? If all goes as planned, there is something that I think you would enjoy seeing."
Harry tilted his head with interest. "I'll be there. See you."
Harry rushed to Charms, wondering what it was that she wanted to show him. He was very excited to find out.
AN: Unfortunately, I will have to break my pattern of posting every other day for a few days :/ I just wanted to give you guys a heads up that you might not be hearing from me until Sunday or possibly Monday for I will be on a class trip with no computer or internet. Sorry!