Chapter 8

Second term started at Hogwarts with the collecting of homework. Of course, this seemed to coincide with a great number of students being exceedingly tired for the first day of classes. Professor McGonagall was not impressed. "I don't understand why it is that students insist on leaving their term work to the last day," she groused as she picked up the aforementioned essays. "It would save everyone a great deal of trouble if you all would just act responsibly and do your homework...on time."

"Maybe you could not assign essays over the breaks, Professor, ma'am," Dean Thomas, still a little shell-shocked, suggested. This earned a rare smile, albeit slightly unimpressed, from McGonagall. The class quieted down and moved on to the day's lesson: turning rocks into gerbils. Soon, Harry had to duck as Ron had accidentally Banished his rock towards the front of the class (he was assigned lines - "I will learn to control my wand with my brain, not my brawn"), but not before Hermione had successfully transfigured her rock into a cute gerbil, which was even now being watched by Crookshanks. The cat, to no one's great surprise, had taken a liking to Professor McGonagall right at the off, and now spent time in her room on a regular basis. McGonagall seemed almost as fond of the cat as Hermione was, but was still not willing to let the bowlegged kneazle ruin her lesson; she shooed him into her office.

By the end of the lesson, Harry had managed to turn his rock into a passable gerbil, although its slate-gray colour remained. How he had kept Hermione out of his head during this time was beyond him, as every time she moved, he felt tempted to look and see what she was up to. He found this to be a very distracting urge, and did his best to quell it. All things considered, Harry was quite proud of himself.

Harry was considerably less thrilled about his day by the time dinner rolled around. Snape, in his infinite wisdom, had seen fit to assign the class with an essay of biblical proportions due just before the second task. Harry had been the recipient of his glare all class, but did not know exactly why. He supposed that it had something to do with surviving the dance without making a fool of himself, which proved that his fight with Hermione had yet to make an appearance in the Hogwarts gossip network. Then again, he thought, it had been in a rather isolated environment. Still, one never knew who was hiding under a bush or behind a tree.

Harry had to say that, despite what he had told Hermione earlier in the holidays about having lots of time to figure out his clue, February did seem to be much closer on this side of Christmas. An ever-present knot had started to form in the pit of Harry's stomach, one that he was sure would not go away until after the second task. To that end he made the most of his spare time, trying to figure out what the clue in the egg was (aside from indecipherable and ear-wrenching wailing). At every turn, Harry's impatience with the Egg grew, as did his nervousness. A week into classes, and with only six weeks left before the task came to a head, he finally broke and asked Hermione.

Thankfully, she was only too glad to help. "So, Harry," she questioned, "what does the egg do, exactly?"

Harry rolled his eyes in frustration. "It does two things: opens, and wails - kind of like the Fat Lady singing, to be honest." He started as Hermione glared at him. "What? That's exactly what it sounds like!"

"Well, that doesn't mean you have to go taking the mickey out of her, you know." Hermione was on a roll. "Some people don't like being treated poorly by people who are supposed to be their friends!" With that, she took off out the portrait hole.

Harry watched her leave bemusedly, and slowly started to follow her, grateful that he always carried the Marauder's Map with him nowadays. As he slowly made his way to the library (he chuckled at this - he didn't need the Map to know where to go to find his Hermione), he was pulled aside by a rather strong arm until he was facing Cedric Diggory behind a large statue of some ferocious-looking creature, which resembled Mrs. Norris and Fluffy rolled into one. Cedric grinned sheepishly. "Hi there, Harry."

"Why hello, Cedric. Fancy meeting you here." Harry was a bit on edge - after all, it's not every day you get pulled behind a statue by a nervous-looking older boy.

"Listen, Harry, I can't stay long...d'you know what the clue is?" Cedric looked around, clearly keeping an eye out for anyone who might stroll by. Harry shook his head no. "Alright, you need to...urgh...just take a bath with it, ok? Mull it over in the water…" Here Cedric gave Harry a little nudge. "It'll help you think, I swear."

Harry's eyes widened. Then he smiled. "Payback for the dragons, is it?" He retorted swiftly. "Thanks for the tip, Cedric." He walked out from behind the statue, and headed toward the library. He found Hermione at her table in the back of the library, right beside the Restricted Section. Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. Victor Krum, in all of his Bulgarian glory, was sitting with her, and they both seemed to be enjoying themselves. Harry turned around and walked out of the library before they noticed his presence.

Sorry all, I know it's a short chapter. I'm working on it, but it's not coming to me as fast as it was before. Thanks to the_scribbler for setting me straight a while back, and giving some good plot tips. I really appreciate each and every review, so please, drop me a line if you feel like it.

~ Ptrevanei