Harry tapped his fingers nervously against the desk. He had absolutely no idea where the time had gone, but Harry found himself staring out into the depths of Durmstrang winter through the Dark Arts window. And it was a week until the second task.
"Mr. Potter," Professor Durus said from the front of the class. Harry's head snapped up. "Something interesting?"
"Not in the least, sir. Just snow," Harry replied.
"Hm. And I suppose you have already written down the assignment?"
"No, sir," Harry replied, scribbling it out with his quill as the bell rang. Everyone else rose immediately, already packed. Harry, however, had still to close his ink well and shove his books into his bag. As he scrambled to do so, Professor Durus approached,coming to a stop in front of his desk.
"Ready for the second task?" he asked conversationally.
"I'm not sure, sir," Harry said honestly. "As ready as can be expected, I guess."
"And you've figured out the clue?"
"Yes, sir," Harry replied.
Durus nodded. "Good, good," he said, seeming satisfied. "Well, good luck then."
"Thank you sir," Harry responded, gathering the last of his things and heading for the door.
In truth, Harry's nerves were beginning to show. It was very difficult to sit by and do nothing, saving all preparation for the last minute. Doubt flooded Harry's mind periodically as to whether or not the potion would work or whether or not they would get it finished in time. Though Severus assured him that it would work out, Harry was worried. He quickened his step, going to class in a sort of methodical daze, feeling the time slide by into oblivion. February 24th was quickly approaching.
Before he knew it, Harry was hurrying through the halls on his way to meet Severus, who had just arrived. He came to a stop outside the same quarters as he had stayed in before and knocked several times. The door opened and Harry stepped in to greet his guardian.
"Hi!" Harry said happily. Though at times it seemed like he had just seen Severus, Harry sometimes felt as if had been months.
"Hello, Harry," Severus replied, waving him into the room. "How are you?""Nervous," Harry replied. "Very nervous. When should we start the potion?" he asked without preamble.
Severus didn't seem to mind his straightforwardness. "As soon as possible. It will presumably take most of the afternoon and evening and I am sure you wish to get a good night's sleep before tomorrow."
"Yeah," Harry replied simply. "Do you have everything you need?"
Snape gestured to a thick case that sat near the fireplace. "I have everything."
Harry rubbed his hands together. "Want to get started then?"
Severus fetched the heavy case and carried it to the coffee table in front of the sofa, the only table available. He unpacked a small cauldron and several packets and bottles of ingredients. He handed Harry the old book in which they had found the recipe for what Harry had dubbed the "Inner Fire" potion. Harry flipped through it to the page with the instructions as Severus set up the flame under the cauldron.
"This will take several hours," Snape warned. "We must add one ingredient per hour, culminating with a very difficult and highly time-sensitive addition of ingredients and stirring and heating changes.""Great," Harry said with a gulp. "Can we do it or is it too hard?"
Severus gave him a look. "I am not the Potions Master for nothing."
Harry grinned. "Right."
"Shall we begin, then?" Severus asked. Harry nodded. "Hand me the bottle labeled 'Base solution 52'. I took the liberty of brewing it ahead of time to speed the process."
"Good idea," Harry said, handing him the bottle.
As Severus set to work, Harry curled up on the couch, watching and helping if need be. They worked until dinner time, though not constantly. In between adding ingredients, Harry and Severus had plenty of time to talk.
"So, anything interesting happen? Any troublemakers this year?" Harry asked conversationally.
Severus rolled his eyes. "There are always trouble makers."
"Who's the worst this year?" Harry asked with a grin.
"I believe the Weasley twins still hold that title," Severus stated. "I believed that the extra duties of Quidditch captains would keep them occupied and out of trouble but alas."
Harry grinned wider. "They're experts at doing the least work possible for any given situation. Speaking of Quidditch, how's everyone doing? I haven't talked to Ginny since Christmas; she usually gives me the updates."
"Well, Slytherin is still in the lead but, I am loathe to admit, Gryffindor is close behind. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are fairly close to each other and still have the potential to catch up."
"Gryffindor will win," Harry asserted.
Severus scoffed, "You do not know the Slytherin team."
"You don't know the Weasley twins," Harry shot back.
"Fair enough.""It's time for the sprigs of finely chopped lavender, isn't it?" Harry asked, glancing at the bubbling potion.
"It is," Severus replied, allowing Harry to add the ingredients. "It is dinner time, correct?""Yeah," Harry replied. "But we don't have to go down."
"I thought that since we have an hour before we add the bubotuber pus, we might go have a chat with Gregor," Snape said with a wicked sneer.
"Well, I.""Can I bring my invisibility cloak?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Certainly," Severus replied. "Shall we go? I have been looking forward to this."
Harry smiled. "Sure! We'll go the way that leads past my dorm so I can grab the cloak."
By the time they had arrived in the dining hall, a few people had gotten their food but many were still in line. Harry had already donned his cloak and stood next to Severus, observing the line from afar.
"That's Gregor," Harry said to him. "The one who just cut in front of the girl with pigtails."
"Ah." Severus replied. He glanced up at the Head table and nodded to Karkaroff. They both knew that the greeting was insincere.
"Here he comes," Harry whispered, watching Gregor come their way with a tray of food.
Gregor meandered over to a table with Dian and a few others and set down his tray. He moved to sit as well as Severus advanced upon him from behind in the utterly silent manner that he had perfected over the years at Hogwarts.
"Are you Gregor?" Snape asked, startling him.
"Y-yes," Gregor replied.
"Hm," Severus said, causing worry to flicker over Gregor's face as Snape looked him up and down. "Come with me."
Gregor shot a worried look at his comrades but everyone was silent. Severus turned on his heel and strode away, towards the great double doors. Gregor scrambled to follow though it was obvious that he was concerned. Harry gleefully padded to catch up.
Once in the hall, Severus rounded a few corners and entered an empty corridor. He spun on Gregor, grabbing the front of his robes and pressing him against the wall. Gregor whimpered.
"W-who are you?" he asked.
Severus sneered. It was a little late to be asking that. "I am Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts." He continued in a low, menacing voice, "And I am Harry Potter's guardian."
Gregor's face obviously paled and Severus could see the flicker of fear in his eyes. Latching onto this emotion and the memory it sprang from, Severus delved into Gregor's mind and witnessed his cursing of Harry firsthand.
Severus growled and Gregor paled further. "Did you think you could get away with cursing him?" he asked in a dangerously soft voice. He leaned closer. "Do you think I will let this go?"
Gregor's eyes widened and he seemed physically incapable of responding.
"Look at me," Severus commanded sharply. Gregor couldn't take his eyes off of him even if he wanted to. "Do I look like the forgiving type?" Severus lowered his voice. "I know things that you wouldn't dream existed. If you try to hurt my son again, if you even try, you will regret it with every fiber of your being."
Severus released him and took a step back. "Stay away from him."
Grinning on the inside, Severus gave a sharp motion with his head and Gregor hurried off with a wide-eyed glance back. Harry came back into view doubled over with laughter and clutching his cloak. Severus even cracked a smile.
"Man, that was so worth waiting," Harry said, gasping.
"I get the feeling he will not be bothering you again," Severus said, satisfied. "He did do it, by the way."
Harry gave him a sidelong glance. "Legilimency?"
"Of course," Severus said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Harry shook his head and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his robe. "Come on, we best get back to our potion. I can order dinner to my quarters."
"Alright," Harry agreed, still chuckling now and again. "You know, I kind of wished you had people to threaten for me more often."
Severus gave him a look. "You wish you were cursed more often?"
"Well, no, but...this was fun," Harry replied.
Snape shook his head. "If that is your idea of fun, I believe you had a deprived childhood."
Harry laughed. "You're making up for it."
They arrived back at the room and again set to work on the potion. After a while, Harry fell asleep while waiting for the next addition to the potion. Severus sat by the fire, watching him sleep, watching the potion, watching the flames. His mind wandered once more to the next day's task, something that had obviously been heavy on his mind over the past weeks. Ice sprites. Severus dearly hoped that they were right in their guess. What if it was some totally different creature? What if the potion in that very obscure book didn't work? What if Harry froze? Severus's heart beat faster just from thinking. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm. It would all be alright. Wouldn't it?
Time was surrendered to Severus's thoughts until, at last, the complicated section was fast approaching. The timing had to be exact; the first ingredient must be added in precisely seven minutes.
"Harry?" Severus said, nudging Harry gently.
Harry opened his eyes and blinked wearily. "Wha?"
"The difficult part is only a few minutes away. Do you want to become acquainted with the instructions?"
"Oh, right. Yeah," Harry said, waking up and hunching over the book.
Several minutes passed until only two were left.
"Do you keep stirring while adding the crushed snake fangs?" Harry asked for clarification.
"No, you add one pinch, stir twice, then add the rest," Snape replied.
Harry nodded as a knock sounded on the door.
"Come in," Severus called, irritated. This was a horrible time to interrupt. "Karkaroff," Severus said as he recognized the face at the door. He immediately stood and moved to meet him, blocking view of the potion for it was technically against tournament rules. "What do you want?""You are to come with me," Karkaroff replied.
"You must. You have no choice. I am authorized to stun you. Dumbledore told me so," Karkaroff growled.
Severus faced a moment of conflict. This must be important and it truly seemed he had no choice. Karkaroff was not about to go away and Severus didn't want to expose their potion for fear of the repercussions upon Harry. "It cannot wait five minutes?"
"No. Come, now."
"Fine," Severus snapped. He jerked his head, indicating that Karkaroff should go first. The man's eyes narrowed but he stepped away from the door. Severus knew that he could still hear him, however, and didn't want to risk saying something to Harry, so he used Legilimency. Wordlessly, he instructed Harry to finish the potion.
I have confidence in you. Trust yourself. It is imperative that you finish this potion without me. I am sorry.
Harry's wide green eyes stared back at Severus as he swept from the room, hoping that all would indeed turn out well.