The Second Task
Chapter 26 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Second Task
In Charms class, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are learning Banishing charms, the opposite of Summoning. Fortunately, the class noise and confusion muffles their private conversation. Harry reveals that for the second task, he must find a way to breathe underwater for one hour and recover whatever the Merpeople have taken from him. He also says Mr. Crouch was in Snape's office the previous night. Hermione is curious as to why Mr. Crouch would be there. Harry remembers Moody saying that Professor Dumbledore believes in second chances, and he wonders just what Snape did to warrant one.
As requested, Harry sends an owl letter to Sirius recapping everything that happened. Over the next several weeks, he, Hermione, and Ron scour the library searching for ways to breathe underwater, but to no avail. An owl letter from Sirius that arrives the day before the second task briefly cheers Harry, but it turns out that Sirius only wants to know when the Hogsmeade weekend is. Harry responds, and glumly goes to Care of Magical Creatures class.
Hagrid appears to have given up on the Blast-Ended Skrewts, as only two are left. In an apparent attempt to prove he can teach as well as Professor Grubbly-Plank, he continues the lesson about unicorns, and actually seems to know a great deal about them. Today, he has captured a pair of foals, and Parvati and Lavender are absolutely delighted. Taking Harry aside, Hagrid says he is sure Harry can beat the second challenge. Harry is too nervous to answer.
Later, Harry, Hermione, and Ron race through spell-books looking for ways to breathe underwater. Fred and George appear, telling Ron and Hermione to report to Professor McGonagall. When the library closes, Harry carries as many books as he can back to the Gryffindor common room. After Harry frantically searches all the books without finding anything, Ron and Hermione have still not returned. Putting on his Invisibility Cloak, Harry returns to the library where he finally falls asleep reading spell-books by wand light.
Dobby wakes him mere minutes before the second task. Harry thinks it is too late to compete, but Dobby says Harry must retrieve his "Wheezy". Harry finally understands that "Wheezy" is Ron. Dobby says he knows that Harry did not find the right spell, so he did: Gillyweed. Harry arrives at the lake just in time for the second task. Percy Weasley is upset when Ludo Bagman insists Harry be given a moment to catch his breath. Ludo privately asks Harry if he is okay and has a plan. Replying more confidently than he actually feels, Harry responds that he does.
At the off, Harry chews the Gillyweed. Suddenly, gills sprout on his neck and webs appear between his toes. Unable to breathe, he dives into the water and sets off. Grindylows attack and he jinxes them off. Moaning Myrtle appears and indicates which way Harry should travel. In the deepest part of the lake, Harry finds a sizable, if crude, Mermish village. Tied to a large statue in the "village square" are four figures: Ron, Hermione, Cho Chang, and a young girl who Harry guesses is Fleur's sister.
The Mermish guards do nothing to interfere, but they refuse Harry's attempt to borrow a spear to cut Ron free. Harry finds a sharp stone and uses it to free Ron. Worried that the other Champions have not appeared, he also tries to free Hermione, but is stopped by the Mermish guards. Harry is still arguing with them when Cedric arrives with a large air bubble around his head. He urges Harry to get going, Fleur and Krum are almost there. Cutting Cho free, he heads for the surface with her. Krum appears with his head transformed into a shark's head; he is unable to bite through Hermione's ropes, so Harry hands him his sharp rock, which Krum uses to cut her free. With Hermione, Krum then heads to the surface.
When Fleur does not appear, Harry attempts to free the last hostage but the mermen again stop him. Harry finally threatens them with his wand, and they retreat. Harry frees the girl, and with her and Ron in tow, he nervously heads to the surface, accompanied by the mermen. Harry's watch has stopped, and he worries that they might be pulled back down when the hour is up. As the surface appears, the Gillyweed wears off. Harry barely makes it to the top. Wild, green-haired faces surround him, but they are all smiling. Ron and the girl wake up and are looking around. A great cheer erupts from the stands, and Harry gets Ron to help with the girl. On the shore, Madam Pomfrey is treating Cedric, Cho, Krum, and Hermione. Fleur is restrained by Madame Maxime from throwing herself into the lake to get to her sister. Ludo Bagman and Dumbledore are beaming, and Percy, looking somehow younger, runs into the lake to help Ron.
Once everyone is ashore, Fleur runs to hug her sister, Gabrielle, saying she was stopped by the Grindylows. Madam Pomfrey wraps Harry tightly in a blanket and administers a pepper-up potion. Hermione compliments Harry on figuring out the task on his own, but seeing that Krum is listening, Harry decides to tell her later that Dobby helped him. Krum, possibly to regain Hermione's attention, points out that she has a water beetle in her hair which Hermione brushes away. Harry is now feeling rather silly and embarrassed. First Ron, and then Hermione pointed out that Dumbledore would never have allowed them to die, so his staying to make sure all the hostages were rescued was pointless.
Fleur approaches Harry, saying that he saved her sister when he did not have to, and kisses him twice on each cheek. Fleur swoops to kiss Ron as well, saying he also helped. Hermione, behind his back, looks furious.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore has been talking with the chieftainess of the mermen, and has conferred with the other judges. Now, Ludo announces the standings. Fleur, although using the Bubble-Head Charm, failed to rescue her hostage and only gets 25 points; Cedric Diggory, also using the Bubble-Head Charm, brought his hostage to the surface one minute outside the allotted hour, getting 47 points; Viktor Krum, using a partial Transfiguration, returned second with his hostage for 40 points. Harry Potter returned last, but according to the Merchieftainess' report, arrived at the hostages first, and was delayed by his determination to free all the hostages, not only his own. Most of the judges feel this shows moral fiber and deserves high marks despite finishing last. Harry is awarded 45 points, tying him for first place overall with Cedric.
The next task is scheduled for the 24th of June; the Champions will be briefed about its nature exactly one month prior. Harry is immensely relieved that the second task is over, and there is nothing to worry about until 24 June. He resolves that next Hogsmeade trip, he will buy Dobby a year's supply of socks.
This chapter is particularly revealing regarding Harry's personality, and his performance during the second task reflects how he behaves in most difficult situations. As the first Champion to reach the tethered hostages (with help from Moaning Myrtle), Harry then feels obligated to ensure that the other three "victims" are rescued. Though Harry behaved admirably during the first task by tipping off Cedric about the Dragons, here his reasoning is actually flawed. It never occurs to him that every possible precaution has been implemented to ensure the volunteers' safety. Harry also becomes so carried away that he believes the Merpeople are a threat, when they are merely acting as referees. And rather than heading for the surface with Ron, guaranteeing a win, Harry instead waits for the other Champions to arrive and retrieve their hostages, then insists on "rescuing" Gabrielle when Fleur fails to show. Only later does Harry realize how foolishly he behaved when Ron and Hermione insist they were always safe and that Dumbledore would never jeopardize any student's life. It actually would have been more logical for Harry to search for the missing Fleur, as the Triwizard Champions lack the same protection as the volunteers.
As Harry has been destined since birth as the "Chosen One," his ongoing conflict with Voldemort has skewed his overall thinking somewhat, and, in his mind, the battle has become his burden alone to carry, his mission to accomplish by himself. As a result, Harry feels compelled to rush in and be the hero whenever he feels others are threatened, even those able to fight their own battles. While Harry feels he must face most obstacles alone, he is only able to compete in the Tournament because others such as Hermione, Moody, Dobby, Cedric, and Hagrid have guided him, and we expect will continue to do so. While Harry is gradually learning to rely on others, he is still generally reluctant to accept outside help, especially when it is offered by suspicious characters like Ludo Bagman, who Harry now suspects is using him for some ulterior motive.
Harry's misguided heroism is still rewarded after Dumbledore persuades the judges to assign Harry extra points for "moral fiber." And though Harry foolishly protected the hostages from a nonexistent danger, this act shines an important light on Harry's character, suggesting strongly that under real dangerous circumstances, he would never abandon others in peril, even to save himself.
Harry is also learning that things are sometimes other than what they initially appear to be. The Merpeople are first introduced to readers as beautiful ethereal creatures, as represented by the stylized painting in the Prefects' bathroom and Muggle mythology. As he was with the Veela, Harry is rather shocked to discover that the Merpeople's true appearance is far different. Once again, the author shows that beauty, or the lack of it, rarely accurately reflect any person's inner character, although our initial assumptions about someone or something are often based on superficial physical traits. And echoing Dumbledore's statement to Harry in the second book, while appearance may legitimately represent someone's character to a limited degree, it is mostly one's actions that determine who and what an individual or group truly are. While Merpeople have a rather hideous and scary appearance, they are benign beings loyal to Dumbledore and Hogwarts. Harry, forgetting this was only a competition, gets a little carried away with his "rescue mission" and rushes to judgment when faced with something unknown; he adopts a defensive and threatening posture against the Mermen, based more on appearances than actions, even though the more detached reader can see they are only acting as Tournament officials.
It is interesting to note the selection of hostages, who is seen as the most valuable hostage for each Champion. It is also interesting to note that no champion is at all confused about which hostage he is meant to rescue. Harry in particular could have defended rescuing either Hermione or Cho, the former because she is his friend as Ron is, the latter out of hopes for a "hero's reward". The author may have included Dobby's telling Harry that he had to "save his Wheezy" specifically to reinforce that it was Ron that Harry was to reclaim; otherwise, Harry might have had trouble deciding which of the captives he should concentrate on.
Curiously, Harry seems to pay little attention to Cho Chang immediately after the event. He notices Madame Pomfrey tending to her injuries, but following that, he focuses on Hermione, Ron, and the judges. This may indicate that his infatuation, if that is what it is, with Cho may be waning, or is less than he thought it was.
It is interesting that Hermione is apparently angry when Fleur kisses Ron, even though it is quite innocent and Viktor Krum is also attempting to attract Hermione's attention. Although Harry is in no state to notice Hermione's furious expression when she witnesses this, we are presumably meant to see it, as it hints that Hermione may have serious feelings for Ron.
The Grindylows are seen again, the first time being in Professor Lupin's office in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. At that time, it was noted that the Grindylow's fingers are extraordinarily long and relatively easy to break, but Harry does not use this information when he is attacked.
One must wonder why Fleur is portrayed as having so much trouble getting past the Grindylows. She must be among the best that Beauxbatons has to offer, or Madame Maxime would not have brought her to the Tournament, and yet her magic seems, comparatively, rather weak. We are not presented with any reason for this portrayal.
The "water-beetle" in Hermione's hair should be noted.
- Why does Harry stay and help the other Champions with the task, allowing them to reach the surface before he does?
- Was Gabrielle in any danger? What prompted Harry to rescue her?
- What do Ron and Hermione tell Harry after the second task, and why does that embarrass him?
- Were the judges justified in awarding Harry extra points for "moral fiber"? Just what did Harry do to earn that?
- The other Champions were prepared for the second task. Why were Harry, Ron, and Hermione unable to find a spell for breathing underwater?
- Why does Hermione look so furious just after the task? Why did Krum try to distract her?
- Why might Sirius want to know when the next Hogsmeade weekend is?
The "water-beetle" is Rita Skeeter, who is an unregistered Animagus. Overhearing the private conversation between Hermione and Viktor, she will use that as the basis of a scurrilous story that appears in Witch Weekly in the next chapter. That story creates a rift between Hermione and Mrs. Weasley that will remain unresolved until near the book's end.
Harry's need to be the "hero" will play a crucial, and ultimately tragic, role in book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Hermione later admonishes Harry for always wanting to rush to the rescue, even when there is no real danger, and cites the underwater "hostages" as an example. Despite her warning, when Harry receives a vision that Voldemort is torturing Sirius, his impulse is to immediately rush to save him without verifying first that it is a genuine vision or considering whether or not his predictable behavior is being manipulated to lure him into a trap.
It remains uncertain why the Trio were unable to find a charm that would allow Harry to remain underwater for an hour, when two of the competitors apparently knew of, and used, the bubble-head charm. We can only speculate that in his frantic rush to find anything that would help Harry, the Trio were scanning, and dismissing, spells and methods based only on their names. The name "Bubble-Head Charm" could, in the heat of the moment, be dismissed as being a prank charm that makes one's head blow up like a bubble, or that makes bubbles come out of one's head.
The groundwork for an alliance between Hogwarts (in the person of Hermione) and Durmstrang (represented by Krum) is seemingly being laid here. By the time this is actually useful, Krum will have graduated – as he did not grow a beard when crossing the Age Line, he must have been at least 17-years-old, making him either a sixth or seventh year student – but he may well have some influence in that part of the world. In fact, while Krum will reappear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, his contribution will be more personal: the alliance will be with Hermione rather than with Hogwarts, and will simply allow Harry to remember a specific fact that will be useful in his quest.
- Grindylows were first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where Professor Lupin was teaching them to his Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Curiously, Harry does not make use of what Professor Lupin taught him about their weak points.
- This is the first time we see the Bubble-Head Charm. While the method of casting this spell is never mentioned, it is noted that, after the departure of the Twins in book 5, other students vying for the position of school troublemaker litter the halls with dungbombs. The Bubble-Head Charm is used to lessen the effect of the bombardment on individual students.
- The hostage that Viktor Krum is to recover is Hermione. Earlier, Hermione was Krum's date at the Yule Ball. Later in this book, Krum will ask Harry if Harry is Hermione's boyfriend. Clearly, Krum is developing a romantic interest in Hermione, an interest that will not be reciprocated, though it will irritate Ron, keep Krum writing to Hermione, and ensure his attendance at Bill and Fleur's wedding. As noted, Krum's attendance at that wedding will provide Harry with a vital piece of information, one much less likely to occur to him if Krum were not physically present.