THE SECOND TASK
"You said you'd already worked out that egg clue!" said Hermione indignantly.
"Keep your voice down!" said Harry crossly. "I just need to — sort of fine-tune it, all right?"
He, Ron, and Hermione were sitting at the very back of the Charms class with a table to themselves. They were supposed to be practicing the opposite of the Summoning Charm today — the Banishing Charm. Owing to the potential for nasty accidents when objects kept flying across the room. Professor Flitwick had given each student a stack of cushions on which to practice, the theory being that these wouldn't hurt anyone if they went off target. It was a good theory, but it wasn't working very well. Neville's aim was so poor that he kept accidentally sending much heavier things flying across the room — Professor Flitwick, for instance.
"Just forget the egg for a minute, all right?" Harry hissed as Professor Flitwick went whizzing resignedly past them, landing on top of a large cabinet. "I'm trying to tell you about Snape and Moody.…"
This class was an ideal cover for a private conversation, as everyone was having far too much fun to pay them any attention. Harry had been recounting his adventures of the previous night in whispered installments for the last half hour.
"Snape said Moody's searched his office as well?" Ron whispered, his eyes alight with interest as he Banished a cushion with a sweep of his wand (it soared into the air and knocked Parvati's hat off). "What…d'you reckon Moody's here to keep an eye on Snape as well as Karkaroff?"
"Well, I dunno if that's what Dumbledore asked him to do, but he's definitely doing it," said Harry, waving his wand without paying much attention, so that his cushion did an odd sort of belly flop off the desk. "Moody said Dumbledore only lets Snape stay here because he's giving him a second chance or something.…"
"What?" said Ron, his eyes widening, his next cushion spinning high into the air, ricocheting off the chandelier, and dropping heavily onto Flitwick's desk. "Harry…maybe Moody thinks Snape put your name in the Goblet of Fire!"
"Oh Ron," said Hermione, shaking her head sceptically, "we thought Snape was trying to kill Harry before, and it turned out he was saving Harry's life, remember?"
She Banished a cushion and it flew across the room and landed in the box they were all supposed to be aiming at. Harry looked at Hermione, thinking…it was true that Snape had saved his life once, but the odd thing was, Snape definitely loathed him, just as he'd loathed Harry's father when they had been at school together. Snape loved taking points from Harry, and had certainly never missed an opportunity to give him punishments, or even to suggest that he should be suspended from the school.
"I don't care what Moody says," Hermione went on. "Dumbledore's not stupid. He was right to trust Hagrid and Professor Lupin, even though loads of people wouldn't have given them jobs, so why shouldn't he be right about Snape, even if Snape is a bit -"
"— evil," said Ron promptly. "Come on, Hermione, why are all these Dark wizard catchers searching his office, then?"
"Why has Mr. Crouch been pretending to be ill?" said Hermione, ignoring Ron. "Its a bit funny, isn't it, that he cant manage to come to the Yule Ball, but he can get up here in the middle of the night when he wants to?"
"You just don't like Crouch because of that elf, Winky," said Ron, sending a cushion soaring into the window.
"You just want to think Snape's up to something," said Hermione, sending her cushion zooming neatly into the box.
"I just want to know what Snape did with his first chance, if he's on his second one," said Harry grimly, and his cushion, to his very great surprise, flew straight across the room and landed neatly on top of Hermione's.
Obedient to Sirius's wish of hearing about anything odd at Hogwarts, Harry sent him a letter by brown owl that night, explaining all about Mr. Crouch breaking into Snape's office, and Moody and Snape's conversation. Then Harry turned his attention in earnest to the most urgent problem facing him: how to survive underwater for an hour on the twenty-fourth of February.
Ron quite liked the idea of using the Summoning Charm again — Harry had explained about Aqua-Lungs, and Ron couldn't see why Harry shouldn't Summon one from the nearest Muggle town. Hermione squashed this plan by pointing out that, in the unlikely event that Harry managed to learn how to operate an Aqua-Lung within the set limit of an hour, he was sure to be disqualified for breaking the International Code of Wizarding Secrecy — it was too much to hope that no Muggles would spot an Aqua-Lung zooming across the countryside to Hogwarts.
"Of course, the ideal solution would be for you to Transfigure yourself into a submarine or something," Hermione said. "If only we'd done human Transfiguration already! But I don't think we start that until sixth year, and it can go badly wrong if you don't know what you're doing.…"
"Yeah, I don't fancy walking around with a periscope sticking out of my head," said Harry. "I s'pose I could always attack someone in front of Moody; he might do it for me.…"
"I don't think he'd let you choose what you wanted to be turned into, though," said Hermione seriously. "No, I think your best chance is some sort of charm."
So Harry, thinking that he would soon have had enough of the library to last him a lifetime, buried himself once more among the dusty volumes, looking for any spell that might enable a human to survive without oxygen. However, though he, Ron, and Hermione searched through their lunchtimes, evenings, and whole weekends — though Harry asked Professor McGonagall for a note of permission to use the Restricted Section, and even asked the irritable, vulture-like librarian. Madam Pince, for help — they found nothing whatsoever that would enable Harry to spend an hour underwater and live to tell the tale.
Familiar flutterings of panic were starting to disturb Harry now, and he was finding it difficult to concentrate in class again. The lake, which Harry had always taken for granted as just another feature of the grounds, drew his eyes whenever he was near a classroom window, a great, iron-gray mass of chilly water, whose dark and icy depths were starting to seem as distant as the moon.
Just as it had before he faced the Horntail, time was slipping away as though somebody had bewitched the clocks to go extra-fast. There was a week to go before February the twenty-fourth (there was still time)…there were five days to go (he was bound to find something soon)…three days to go (please let me find something …please )…
With two days left. Harry started to go off food again. The only good thing about breakfast on Monday was the return of the brown owl he had sent to Sirius. He pulled off the parchment, unrolled it, and saw the shortest letter Sirius had ever written to him.
Send date of next Hogsmeade weekend by return owl.
Harry turned the parchment over and looked at the back, hoping to see something else, but it was blank.
"Weekend after next," whispered Hermione, who had read the note over Harry's shoulder. "Here — take my quill and send this owl back straight away."
Harry scribbled the dates down on the back of Sirius's letter, tied it onto the brown owl's leg, and watched it take flight again. What had he expected? Advice on how to survive underwater? He had been so intent on telling Sirius all about Snape and Moody he had completely forgotten to mention the egg's clue.
"What's he want to know about the next Hogsmeade weekend for?" said Ron.
"Dunno," said Harry dully. The momentary happiness that had flared inside him at the sight of the owl had died. "Come on…Care of Magical Creatures."
Whether Hagrid was trying to make up for the Blast-Ended Skrewts, or because there were now only two skrewts left, or because he was trying to prove he could do anything that Professor Grubbly-Plank could. Harry didnt know, but Hagrid had been continuing her lessons on unicorns ever since he'd returned to work. It turned out that Hagrid knew quite as much about unicorns as he did about monsters, though it was clear that he found their lack of poisonous fangs disappointing.
Today he had managed to capture two unicorn foals. Unlike full-grown unicorns, they were pure gold. Parvati and Lavender went into transports of delight at the sight of them, and even Pansy Parkinson had to work hard to conceal how much she liked them.
"Easier ter spot than the adults," Hagrid told the class. "They turn silver when they're abou' two years old, an' they grow horns at aroun four. Don' go pure white till they're full grown, 'round about seven. They're a bit more trustin' when they're babies…don' mind boys so much.…C'mon, move in a bit, yeh can pat 'em if yeh want…give 'em a few o' these sugar lumps.…
"You okay. Harry?" Hagrid muttered, moving aside slightly, while most of the others swarmed around the baby unicorns.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Jus' nervous, eh?" said Hagrid.
"Bit," said Harry.
"Harry," said Hagrid, clapping a massive hand on his shoulder, so that Harry's knees buckled under its weight, "I'd've bin worried before I saw yeh take on tha Horntail, but I know now yeh can do anythin' yeh set yer mind ter. I'm not worried at all. Yeh're goin ter be fine. Got yer clue worked out, haven' yeh?"
Harry nodded, but even as he did so, an insane urge to confess that he didn't have any idea how to survive at the bottom of the lake for an hour came over him. He looked up at Hagrid — perhaps he had to go into the lake sometimes, to deal with the creatures in it? He looked after everything else on the grounds, after all -
"Yeh're goin' ter win," Hagrid growled, patting Harry's shoulder again, so that Harry actually felt himself sink a couple of inches into the soft ground. "I know it. I can feel it. Yeh're goin' ter win, Harry ."
Harry just couldn't bring himself to wipe the happy, confident smile off Hagrid's face. Pretending he was interested in the young unicorns, he forced a smile in return, and moved forward to pat them with the others.
By the evening before the second task. Harry felt as though he were trapped in a nightmare. He was fully aware that even if, by some miracle, he managed to find a suitable spell, he'd have a real job mastering it overnight. How could he have let this happen? Why hadn't he got to work on the egg's clue sooner? Why had he ever let his mind wander in class — what if a teacher had once mentioned how to breathe underwater?