Over the next few weeks, Harry found it nearly impossible to keep his mind (or hands) on Hermione at all, what with exams, interview requests from Rita Skeeter (or, more accurately, dodging said requests), and the increasingly worrisome prospect of solving the egg puzzle all bearing down on him. He had, per Cedric's advice, managed to open the thing during his time in the Prefects' bathroom, but still had little idea how he'd ever survive underwater long enough to do…whatever it was he'd have to do. Save something or someone, apparently, an act he wasn't entirely unfamiliar with.
He now spent more and more time burning candle wicks down to nubs in the library, cursing in his head so Madam Pince wouldn't have reason to throw him out. "There's gotta be something," he muttered, rubbing his eyes.
"Let's take a break," Ron (who had grown much more tolerant of the idea of Harry and Hermione being together-possibly as a result of his spending more time in Luna's oddly mellow presence) suggested, his own eyes red as the binding on the tome "Wizards and Water."
"Might not be a bad idea," Hermione conceded. "It would be so much easier if you had someidea what you needed, Harry, something concrete, a specific thing…"
"Well, I don't," he retorted. "We've already gone over what the egg said. There's not anything more to draw from that."
She opened her mouth and shut it quickly. "Sorry," she hissed, her tone chilly, devoid of remorse. "Just trying to help."
"I know…" he sighed. "It's just…Ron's right, I think we need a break, take another crack at it tomorrow."
"Right. Goodnight." Hermione turned her back on the pair, cloak swishing, as she ascended the staircase to the girls' dormitory.
"Hey, y'know how Fred and George were planning to feed those Stink Pellets to Mrs. Norris?" Ron asked, trying to diffuse the tense situation.
"Well, turns out they managed to slip her a Dungbomb instead," he laughed. "They only just got away from Filch, said they found a broom closet to hide in on the seventh floor."
Harry frowned. "A broom closet?" One of the first times going to Divination last year, he'd gotten lost on that floor, and it didn't seem to be anything but a long hallway with a few empty classrooms.
"Yeah," Ron nodded. "Lucky it was there, wasn't it? Needed a hiding spot, and they found one."
"Yeah…" Harry's mind jumped back to a conversation he'd had with Dumbledore at the Yule Ball, about how, when he'd urgently required a bathroom, he'd unwittingly stumbled upon a room full of chamber pots on the seventh floor. "It's like it's there when you need something specific," he realized. He made his way back down the staircase.
Ron's eyebrows knitted together. "Where you going?"
"Gotta ask Dumbledore about something," Harry called. He dashed down the hall when an icy chill overwhelmed his body. "Oh, sorry, Nick!" He shivered-Walking through a ghost was none too pleasant.
"No problem, Mr. Potter. Occupational hazard of being a ghost." He frowned. "Where are you off to at such a late hour?"
"I'm looking for Professor Dumbledore."
"Well, he retires rather early. Perhaps you could try tomorrow, unless it's a truly urgent matter," Nick advised.
"Yeah, s'pose so," Harry muttered. A sudden hope lit his green eyes up. "Say, Nick, ever heard of a room in Hogwarts that sort of…shows up when you need it?"
"Yes, I have, actually," he nodded. "Just came across it again the other night. I was floating around the seventh floor when the Bloody Baron came by…" he shuddered and his head dropped to his collar. He reattached it. "Sorry. Anyway, I didn't want to see him, so I stepped through a door Normally, he goes out of his way to make life miserable for every other ghost. Strangely, he couldn't get in, which was precisely what I wanted," Nick beamed.
"D'you know what it's called?"
"I believe it's named The Room of Requirement." The ghost stroked his chin. "Hogwarts, A History, could tell you more about it, I'm sure."
"Right, sure," Harry smiled. "Thanks loads, Nick."
"Glad to be of service, Harry," the ghost replied, drifting down the hallway as Harry made his way back to the portrait hole.
The next day, over breakfast, Harry asked Hermione something he never thought he would.
"Could I borrow your copy of Hogwarts, A History?"
Her spoon clattered to the floor. Ron looked like someone had cast a Confundus Charm on him. "You want to borrow that?" they chorused.
"I need to figure out how to get into a room." He explained his conversation with Nick and outlined his suspicions that, should he prove to truly need a book about how to breathe underwater, he would…
"Find one there, for sure," he finished.
"Not a bad idea, mate. Could be faster than digging through the library," Ron commented.
"That's…that's quite logical, Harry." Hermione flashed him a full smile. "I'll get it to you after breakfast, then."
He gathered up his books in his dormitory and started down the stairs. Until Hermione met him halfway, that is.
"Anyone up there?" she asked, craning her neck, eyes peering over his shoulder.
"Well, then," she whispered, pushing the book into Harry's chest, urging him to backpedal, "I can give you a rather special delivery, can't I?"
At last, after three and a half too many weeks, they kissed again. Harry basked in the closeness, in having Hermione wrapped up in his arms, loving it when his tongue elicited a low, throaty moan from the witch. They paused, pulling away from each other, just a bit.
"I've missed this," she murmured, trying fruitlessly to make his shock of black hair sit flat.
"Me too. "But it has been…"
"Easier, yes," she admitted. "In some ways. In others…" Hermione pressed her forehead to his before starting another kiss… "Not so much."
"I know," he sighed, dragging his feet away.
"I've got to go to Ancient Runes." Her lips burned his cheek. "Get that book back to me later?"
"Special delivery all right?" he asked, grinning like an idiot.
"It would be preferable." She left, and Harry, too, made his way down to the portrait hole. He had a fair bit of spare time before Herbology, and hustled up a couple trick staircases to the seventh floor. He consulted the text.
"The Room of Requirement is only available to students who are in great need," he muttered. Well, surely, finding a way to not drown in the lake qualified as a great need…He read on.
"To gain access to the room, students must have a specific need in mind, and must cross in front of the wall three times."
He mulled over a few options, then thought, "I need to find a way to complete the Second Task…I need to find a way to complete the Second Task…I need to find a way to complete the Second Task…"
Nothing. He chose new words, trying to narrow his focus. "I need a room with information that can tell me how to breathe underwater. I need a room with information that can tell me how to breathe underwater. I need a room with information that can tell me how to breathe underwater."
A wooden door appeared. He lunged for the handle and yanked it open.
In the room, he found a large bookshelf on the opposite wall, along with a small pool in the middle of the floor.
He glanced over the table of the contents in one of the books. "This is brilliant!" Chapters included: "How to Breathe Underwater: Spells for Beginners," "Useful Potions for Water Travel," and "Magical Herbs, Fungi, and More."
He'd definitely have to come back and have a go in that pool, but for now, Harry sprinted down the steps: He was going to be late for Herbology.