“Harry!” Rhea called, waving him over in the hall after Defense.
“Yeah?” Harry asked, joining her.
“I think I know what the task is,” she said breathlessly. “Well, sort of.”
Impulsively, Harry grabbed her hands. “Really? What is it?”
Rhea’s hand tightened around his as she pulled him down another hallway to a tall, broad window looking out over the grounds. “Look,” she said. “They’ve melted the snow on that patch.”
“And that’s the third trial?” Harry asked slowly, skeptically.
Rhea shrugged. “Maybe. It is unusual for sure. You want to go see?”
“Sure,” Harry replied. “Come on.”
Together, they wandered out of the castle and over the frozen grounds. The snow was not as thick as it had been months ago but it was still laying on the ground, despite the fact that it was the middle of May.
“There,” Harry said, pointing at the shock of green that rose over the small snow covered hill. They headed that way, breath still fogging in the cold air.
“What is it?” Rhea asked when they got there.
Harry shrugged, “I don’t know.” He looked out over the sea of knee high hedges, wondering what it could possibly be. “They’re just hedges. Maybe it’s not the third task, maybe it’s a garden.”
“Durmstrag is not exactly the best place for a garden,” Rhea said dismissively. “Let’s go back in, I am cold.”
“Okay,” Harry agreed. “There doesn’t seem like much more to see here,” he said, disappointed. He had hoped for a little more to report to Snape than a bunch of nicely trimmed hedges. In truth, it was making them both nervous that there had been no mention of the third task as of yet. Even with this development, it seemed like they were still in the dark.
“Nice one, Harry!”
Harry could hear the grin in Riker’s voice. “Thanks!” he replied, then promptly got hit in the gut with a ball.
“Don’t let your guard down,” Riker commanded.
“That was low,” Harry grumbled.
“How else will you learn?”
Harry heard, or perhaps sensed something to his left and ducked, lunging forward. There was no impact. Harry grinned.
“Alright, you guys are done, I think,” Riker said.
Gratefully, Harry pulled off his blindfold and grinned. “Only one set of push ups for me.”
“Great, then you can help us clean up these balls,” Riker said slyly.
Harry shot him a dark look but in truth was happy to oblige after finishing his push ups. Maybe he was finally getting the hang of this agility thing. “Are we done for the day?” Harry risked asking.
“Only hand to hand left,” Aris replied. He looked around at the others doing push ups. “Since you are finished, you can partner with me.”
Harry gulped. “Okay.”
He and Aris took up their wide, low stances. After circling each other for a moment, Aris lunged, tapping Harry lightly on the knee. “Hit,” he said.
Harry backed away a bit, raising his arms higher in front of his face. Aris’s foot shot out and Harry barely managed to twist out of the way in time. As Aris’s foot shot past him, Harry took advantage of it, trying to throw him off balance by grabbing his leg. Rather than falling, Aris spun into Harry, knocking him down. Harry let go and sprung up quickly.
They circled each other once again, each waiting for an opening to attack. Aris, as usual, made the first move, aiming another kick at Harry. Harry was forced to turn his back on Aris to avoid being hit. As he did so, he sensed something heading for the back of his head and somersaulted out of the way, hopping up lithely.
Aris dropped his hands to his sides and stood up straight. “I believe you have finally gotten it.”
“What? You beat me, you knocked me down,” Harry protested.
“It is not the fact that you were knocked down, it is the fact that you got up and did not fall again,” Aris stated philosophically.
“Woah,” Harry breathed. “That was deep. Are we done then?”
Aris nodded. “You learn quickly. It has only been a year since you started.”
Harry shrugged. “Thanks.” He glanced over at Draco who had also just finished, brow covered with a sheen of sweat. He considered waiting for him, then dismissed the thought. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
Aris nodded again as Harry headed out. Hefting his pack on his shoulder, Harry left the room, pausing in the corridor outside. He wandered down a different way than he usually came, to the spot that Rhea had led him to a few days ago. Looking out of the window now, the hedges were more distinct against the grass. Harry squinted at the rows for a moment, clarity dawning.
“A maze,” he breathed. “It’s a maze.”
Excitement pumping through his veins, Harry rushed back to his dorm room, digging around for the mirror that was somewhere in his trunk. He tossed the clothes and other trinkets from the top haphazardly onto his bed. In the bottom of the large box lay a variety of things: Sirius’s pocketknife, a pair of socks, a pocket watch... but no mirror. Frowning, Harry sorted through the pile on his bed. He didn’t remember seeing it as he tossed the things there and didn’t see it now. Becoming alarmed, Harry searched his pack, half panicked.
Harry rummaged through, looking for the familiar worn silver frame. It wasn’t there. He dumped his pack out on his bed, adding to the messy pile already there. He sifted through it but came up, again with nothing. As a last ditch effort, Harry pulled open the drawer of his nightstand. As he had expected, it was empty.
Harry sank onto his bed, right on top of the pile of clothes. What was he going to do without that mirror? That was his only source of communication with Severus and Sirius. There were letters, sure, but they took several days to get from Durmstrang to Hogwarts. Harry ran his hand through his hair. He had just figured out what the third task was and now had no way of getting advice. No, he corrected himself. Owls may not be the quickest but they were at least something. Harry wished that the messaging spell that Severus had taught him in third year worked over long distances.
Pulling out some parchment, Harry scribbled out a letter to Severus.
My mirror is gone. I didn’t lose it, I know I didn’t, but it’s disappeared from my room. I’ve figured out what the third task is, sort of. Something to do with a maze of hedges. I’m really concerned about the mirror though; keep trying to call it and hopefully whoever has it will pick up. Write back quickly, I don’t know what to do.
After folding up the letter and sealing it, Harry stuffed it in his pocket. He grabbed his cloak and headed for the Owlery. It was a relatively long hike which gave Harry plenty of time to think. Their common room was password protected so it had to be someone from Hogwarts. Harry shook his head, fighting with himself mentally. That was not necessarily it, he thought. Somehow Gregor and his friends had gotten in right before Christmas to curse Harry. That made Harry feel a little better, somehow. He really didn’t want it to be Draco even though, at the moment, he was the most likely suspect.
Reaching the Owlery, Harry stepped in, calling Carmax down. As he was tying the letter to his owl’s foot, Harry heard or sensed someone behind him. He finished, released the bird, then spun, ready for a confrontation for a reason that he couldn’t pin down.
“Hi,” Rhea said simply, stepping over to tie a bundle of letters to one of the school owls.
“My mirror’s gone,” Harry said, trying not to sound accusatory.
Rhea looked mildly alarmed. “Gone? Have you lost it?”
“No. It’s been stolen.”
She frowned. “I’m sorry. I know how much that contact meant to you.”
“Especially since I figured out what the hedges are for,” Harry stated in frustration.
“What is it?” she asked eagerly.
“A maze,” Harry replied. “There’s got to be more but I’m not sure yet.”
Harry shrugged. “A normal maze is too simple. Nothing’s normal anymore, nothing’s what it seems,” Harry said bitterly.
Rhea paused for a moment. “Do you mind if I tell Bennet?”
Harry waved a hand. “Go ahead,” he replied. “It doesn’t much matter to me.”
She stepped closer. “Harry-”
Harry pulled away before she could touch his arm. “Sorry, I’m not great company today. I’m going back to my dorm.”
“Not to dinner?” Rhea asked as Harry hesitated in the doorway.
“I’m not hungry,” Harry said flatly, glancing back once before he left the room, headed for brooding solitude.
It was a few days later when Harry finally got a reply from Severus. He had wondered how Severus would react to his not answering calls; in the beginning of the year, he had said that if they went two days without talking, he would be alarmed. It had been five, though surely Carmax had reached Hogwarts on the second or third day, then took the rest of the time for a return trip.
Harry ripped open the letter, relief flooding his chest. It was not what he was used to, but it was enough.
That is most alarming news indeed. Have you any idea who it could be? Perhaps the person which you have been concerned about over the past few weeks? You must watch your back. As for the third task, a maze could prove most challenging in certain circumstances. I recommend finding a partner with which to drill defensive and offensive spells, they might be needed. You have no idea what waits in that maze. As for the mirror, I will ask Sirius to charm another and send it to you as soon as he returns. At present, he is ill and on temporary leave. His condition is improving and he should be back soon. Even if that fails, it is just a little over three weeks before I will be arriving and, hopefully, brining you back with me. Just hold on a little longer.
Harry gave a half smile having just read that letter in Severus’s voice. He read it over again, the familiar slanted hand giving a strange sort of comfort. If another mirror could be expected soon, perhaps things weren’t so bad after all. Harry wouldn’t give up hope just yet. Folding up the letter, he tucked it into his pocket.
Harry headed for the library, intent upon taking out a few books on both defensive and offensive spells. For a little while, Harry contemplated who he should ask to drill with him. At first his mind leapt to Draco but he may or may not have been... compromised. In any case, inviting him to let his aggression loose in the form of an offensive spell was probably not the best idea. There was no way that Harry could shoot any kind of attack at Rhea and he hoped that she had no desire to shoot him either. In the end, it came down to Riker and Aris.
Aris seemed like Harry’s best bet at having someone serious who would help him improve. Also, Harry felt like he would be needing someone with a vast amount of patience, something that Riker lacked. His mind made up, Harry slid a few books from the shelf and sat down, resolved to propose the idea to Aris the next day. For now, he would see what he could learn on his own.