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Harry huffed a line of dust off the shelf of books beside the ladder. Odd, dust-free shelves scattered the circular library beyond the desk and a circle of his footprints ringed its wood floor.
Salazar pulled his snake away from over his eyes and yawned. ‘It’s today?’
‘I told you to come see beforehand so I could teach you things!’ Salazar exploded into parseltongue, muttering curses so fast Harry’s ears couldn’t pick them out.
‘I did. I’m right here.’
‘I can’t teach you right before the task begins. You’ll need your strength for the competition and blood magic is a demanding field.’ The snake slithered around Salazar’s neck and settled on his right shoulder.
‘You can’t even teach me about the theory?’ Harry asked
‘There’s not much point, is there? Magic is best learnt practically and actively, not listening to a painting.’
Harry shoved Secrets of the Darkest Arts to one side and sat on the edge of the desk. ‘Well, we’ve got a little bit of time.’
‘What is the task?’ Salazar asked.
‘I have no idea.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I think it’s probably meant to be a surprise.’
‘Where is your cunning?’ Salazar threw his hands in the air, dislodging his snake. It let out a disgruntled hiss and slithered up his leg back to its perch. ‘What kind of Heir of Slytherin are you? You should have gone and found out.’
‘From where?’ Harry asked. ‘The big book of future tournament tasks?’
Salazar sniggered and pointed at the desk behind him.
Harry swivelled. A new, clean piece of parchment sat right on top of a stack of books, weighed down by a crystal vial.
He sighed. ‘The big book of future tournament tasks…’
‘You left that just before you arrived, said I’d understand in a short while.’
‘I used the time-turner, didn’t I?’ Harry turned to look at the desk only to find the golden necklace gone. ‘Where am I?’
‘You said you were going to practice occlumency exercises,’ Salazar replied. ‘Read the rest aloud for me.’
‘Dragons. Distractions work best. Don’t ignore Katie.’
Bloody hell. Dragons. Harry’s heart hammered against his ribs and his breath caught in his throat. And I thought baby Norbert was bad.
‘Dragons.’ Salazar stroked his chin. ‘Could be worse.’
Harry wiped the sweat off his palms. ‘Dragons seem pretty bad.’
‘Could be worse, could be another basilisk. A dragon normally attacks by breathing fire, which they can only do in one direction. That’s fairly easy to see coming. The stare of the king of serpents is much more subtle and deadly.’
‘If I’m hit by the fire. It really won’t matter.’
‘You survived to warn yourself,’ Salazar said. ‘The plan must have worked and now you know it, because you will have done it, succeeded, and told yourself.’
Harry blinked. ‘Run that by me once more.’
Salazar sighed. ‘You left yourself a message telling you how to do the task after completing it. Just trust yourself and go with it.’ He peered over Harry and frowned. ‘What else does it say?’
‘The small one bites.’
‘I have no idea what you were trying to tell yourself. I hope it wasn’t important.’
‘I can’t imagine leaving myself an ambiguous note if it didn’t need to be ambiguous,’ Harry said. ‘Know anything about dragons?’
‘I am Salazar Slytherin.’
‘You only ever say that when you don’t know,’ Harry muttered.
‘I wasn’t stupid enough to ever pick a fight with one,’ Salazar snapped. ‘Avoid the fire, the claws, and the teeth. Their senses of smell and hearing are good, but not amazing, so once it’s blind you can remain undetected if you’re careful.’
‘Some of that actually sounded useful.’
‘I hope the dragon gets you.’
‘So do a lot of people, I reckon.’ Harry bounced his wand on his palm. ‘I’ll have a think about what to do on the way there. The rupturing curse should work on the eyes.’
‘A bit cruel,’ Salazar said. ‘But if it’s that or be turned into a small pile of ash…’
‘I know.’ Harry sighed. ‘But if it works…’
‘I suggest you try and use simple spells to find an elegant, easy solution,’ Salazar said. ‘Keeping your potential a secret is generally a good idea if you don’t want to suddenly make a lot of powerful wizards and witches feel threatened.’
‘An easy distraction and the rupturing curse, then,’ Harry said. ‘No conjuring basilisks out of dragon fire.’
‘If the simple stuff fails, don’t hold back. Better to have potential enemies and be alive, than to be eaten by a dragon.’
A new motto for House Slytherin.
‘You don’t seem very worried about your last living family member,’ Harry quipped.
‘I know you survive. You’re sitting in the pipes somewhere out there, after all.’
‘I suppose.’ Harry turned it over in his head. ‘I guess the version of me to first undertake the task must’ve made such a mess of things he’d no option but to resort to this. That version of me won’t exist if the note changes things and so long as I remember to leave the note afterward myself, then the loop will close. Right?’
Salazar smirked. ‘Probably. There’s also a chance you make an even worse mess of things and have to do it all again.’
‘Maybe it’s best to just not think about it.’
‘You should go,’ Salazar said. ‘Don’t want to be late and miss watching the other champions try and avoid being toasted. You might pick up something useful from them.’
Harry hurried out.
Awful things happen to wizards who mess with time, Harry. Hermione’s voice echoed up from only a few months ago. He crushed it down. I’m not listening to you anymore.
A large white tent surrounded by reporters and teachers squatted before a very Romanesque arena.
Best not to risk Rita Skeeter a second time. Harry slipped round the back of the group and in through the side of the tent.
Cedric’s pale face jerked up to Harry. Krum brooded at one of the tent poles and the french witch leant against another as if she was waiting for someone to bring her a drink. Harry imagined that drink would be sweet, expensive, and probably had a fancy French name his aunt would completely mangle.
Should I warn them about the dragons? He glanced at Cedric. No. They wouldn’t have warned me, would they?
‘You’re all here,’ Bagman boomed.
A stern Mr Crouch hobbled in after him, Percy Weasley on his heels.
‘Stick your hand in the bag to draw out your opponent,’ Mr Crouch ordered. ‘Your task will be to retrieve the golden egg from whichever creature you draw.’
And there I was at the World cup thinking I would never be stupid enough to try and steal an egg from a dragon. Jokes on me, I guess.
‘You first, Mr Diggory.’ Bagman clapped Cedric on the back. ‘Home team has to set an example.’
Cedric closed his eyes and dipped his hand into the bag. It came out clutching a short-faced, silvery-blue dragon that twisted and hissed in his palm.
He doesn’t look very surprised to see a dragon. Harry sensed foul play. Well, now I’m glad I didn’t warn you.
Bagman gave Cedric a thumbs up and a huge grin. ‘And you, Mr Krum.’
Krum stomped across and snatched a red, bulging-eyed creature from the bag. It prowled along the length of his palm, snorting small bursts of fire and stretching its bright crimson wings.
So that’s her name.
The Delacour girl’s face was pale as Aunt Petunia’s precious pond lilies. Her fist came out clutching a green-brown dragon. She released a long sigh and the colour returned to her cheeks. The model dragon in her hand curled up and closed its eyes.
Percy turned and thrust the bag at Harry. ‘Potter.’
Harry met his stare with Tom Riddle’s bright smile. Percy Weasley glanced away. Harry reached into the bag. His fingers met something warm and small. It wriggled. He drew it out of the bag to have a look.
The model was as black as his wand, covered in jagged scales and spines, serpentine, and furious. Harry watched it writhe along his palm, spitting small plumes of fire in every direction.
‘So Mr Diggory gets the Swedish Short-Snout, Mr Krum the Chinese Fireball, Miss Delacour the Welsh Green, and Mr Potter has the Hungarian Horntail.’ Bagman bounced on his feet. ‘How exciting!’
‘We’ll proceed in that order,’ Mr Crouch rasped. ‘At the sound of the cannon you need only go through the entrance and the task will have begun.’
A dull boom echoed through the tent.
‘I guess that means you’re out of preparation time, Cedric,’ Bagman called. ‘Go show them why Hogwarts has won this tournament the most times.’
Cedric shot the man a fiery look, then hurried out through the tent entrance. Ludo Bagman, Mr Crouch, and Percy Weasley slipped out through the side of the tent.
Harry eyed the dragon on his palm, noting the barbed tail. The tiny dragon stared back; its yellow eyes bored into Harry’s, then it twisted round and seized the tip of his finger between its jaws.
‘Bloody hell.’ Harry flicked it in the head until it let go.
The small one bites.
The crowd roared from the arena and the enraged bellow of a dragon echoed through the tent.
‘It seems a bit unfair we can’t watch as well,’ Harry muttered.
Krum chuckled. ‘It would not be fair. Whomever went first would have a disadvantage.’
The cannon boomed and Krum straightened up. He discarded his model, gave Harry and the French witch a nod, and vanished.
I hope he survives. He seems like a decent guy under all that scowling.
‘Are you not nervous?’ The French witch took a step toward him. ‘This is not a tournament for the average wizard or witch.’
Harry raised an eyebrow at her.
‘I’ve seen that dragon close up when it was caged. I didn’t want to be near it then. I certainly don’t now.’
Krum probably knew as well. Bunch of cheats. Harry frowned as a little flare of ambition rose inside his chest. Great. Now I’m starting to want to actually beat them.
‘They’re all pretty dangerous,’ he said. ‘They are dragons.’
‘You are fourteen, Harry.’ She tossed her silver hair over her shoulder. A strange little gleam appeared in her blue eyes. ‘There is no way you could’ve learnt as much magic as us. We are the best of our schools.’
‘I have no choice but to compete. Why fear something if fearing it will not help? I’ve never been all that great at being afraid, either. It just doesn’t seem to happen to me much anymore.’ He searched his mind for her first name. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know your name.’
‘Fleur Delacour.’ Her blue eyes narrowed. ‘I will let you read it off the Triwizard Cup at the end, if you’re still alive.’
Well, that seems like the end of that little chat.
The cannon thundered.
Fleur Delacour shot him a heated look and stalked out.
I feel sorry for the dragon. If it’s anything like its model, it probably just wants to sleep. Now it’s going to get more angry French witch than anyone deserves.
He let out a long sigh. ‘At least it’s nice and quiet.’
The long silence stretched on and on.
‘Maybe she got eaten.’ Harry bounced his model dragon on his palm until it hissed. ‘She’s probably already won, though, so she’ll be even more confident.’
The cannon boomed.
Harry flinched. The small dragon lashed out with its tail and stabbed him in the palm.
Infernal creature. If the real one is as bad as this one, I’m not going to enjoy this at all. He eyed the model and smirked as he strode to the exit. Yes. I think you’ll be coming with me.
The tent opened into a short, rocky passageway. Harry followed it, hiding the hand he was holding the model horntail in and slipping his wand out of his sleeve.
A golden egg nestled on top of a clutch of large, dark dragon eggs. Bare rock stretched up to where the stands of the arena rose.
Shouldn’t there be an angry, fire-breathing reptile?
Harry glanced around the arena and took aim at one of the rocks. ‘Reducto.’
It burst into sand.
A searing column of flame engulfed the innocent stone.
The dragon reared up from behind the rocks and spread its tattered wings over its nest. It scraped its tail across the rocks, producing a screech so loud it stung Harry’s ears.
Let’s hope this works. Harry hurled the model dragon to the far side of the arena and took careful aim with his wand. It’s going to take a lot of magic to make this small thing as big as the real dragon.
The model swelled up to match the original dragon and roared.
The Hungarian Horntail whirled round and echoed the plastic model’s challenge. The crowd cheered.
‘Confractio,’ Harry whispered, aiming his rupturing curse for the real dragon’s eyes.
His first two attempts sailed between the dragon’s as they squared up, his third deflected off the real dragon’s jaw, but his fourth struck true and blinded the creature on his side.
The horntail screamed and shook its head, spattering the ground with drops of steaming blood. It swung its tail round in a vicious arc, obliterating a small outcrop of rocks. Fragments of stone tore holes through the model’s plastic skin.
The model lunged, grappling with the original, and the two dragons crashed to the ground on the far side of the arena.
Harry crept toward the nest.
The model pinned the actual dragon beneath it, driving its tail through the tattered, leathery wing of its attacker. The original seemed dazed, but the model’s claws and teeth weren’t leaving so much as scratches on the hard ebony scales of its throat and belly.
The moment it breathes fire, that model and then me, are going to be in trouble. He snuck toward the eggs, watching the tail of the downed dragon scrape across the ground by the nest.
The real horntail curled its tail back on itself and impaled the model, then threw it away.
Now or never. Harry darted for the golden egg.
The horntail unleashed a wave of white flames.
The model melted to ash.
That’ll teach it to bite me. Harry felt the horntail’s yellow eyes focus on the nape of his neck. Oh, bloody hell. He grabbed the egg and ran.
The crowd gasped.
The barbed tail of the Hungarian Horntail slammed into the rocks beside him. Sharp pieces of rock sprayed past him, slicing lines of fire across his face, arm, and thigh.
Harry dived behind a large rock.
Blistering heat descended on him.
He hunched in and closed his eyes until the fire faded.
‘Okay.’ Harry stepped round the rock and met the furious glare of the sole yellow eye. ‘No more simple stuff, it’s fire basilisk time.’
Red magic streaked down from above. The horntail wobbled and thudded to the ground.
That’s lucky. Harry bounced his golden egg in the crook of his arm and followed Mr Crouch’s arm toward the other white tent. Whatever’s in this egg better be worth it.
Cedric lay on one bed. Bandages swaddled one side of his body. A thick, light blue liquid soaked them in patches; it smelt strongly of mint and steamed in the low light of the tent. A few scattered patches of pink marred Krum’s face and arms and his robes bore a few scorch marks and holes. The French witch leant against one of the poles.
Not so much as a speck of ash on her. How annoying.
Harry gave them a wave. ‘Nobody died, then!’
‘It was touch and go,’ Cedric replied.
Krum laughed. Fleur Delacour’s blue eyes cut through him, sweet and sharp as Petunia’s Japanese kitchen knives slicing through his skin.
‘They will be doing your score,’ Krum said. ‘You should go look.’
Harry gave him a nod and stepped outside.
Five judges sat in an elevated box overlooking the arena. Madam Maxime, the French headmistress, raised her wand and shot an eight into the air. A nine rose from Professor Dumbledore’s and a seven from the Durmstrang headmaster, Karkaroff.
‘Bagman gave you a ten and Crouch gave you an eight.’ Katie Bell edged round the corner of the tent.
She really wants something from me. He turned away. The note…
Harry took a deep breath and turned back around. ‘Thanks. What’re they out of?’
‘Ten, of course.’ She beamed. ‘You did really well, Harry. I’m not sure, but I think they only took points off because you stopped to watch the dragons fight and took a little longer than the Beauxbatons champion.’
‘What did she do?’
‘She sang something and then the dragon and every male in the audience fell asleep, even Professor Dumbledore yawned. The judges all gave her nines except Karkaroff. He gave her an eight.’ Katie scrunched her face up. ‘All the guys seem to go weird around her. Except you, that is.’
‘And the others?’
Fleur Delacour won this round, so I should lose graciously. He wrestled with a tight knot and the memory of those blue eyes piercing through him. But I’m going to win the next one.
‘Cedric did the worst. He transfigured a distraction and went for the egg, but the dragon got him with its wing and tail. You and Krum are equal. He blinded his dragon and collected the egg after it had flailed somewhere out the way, but lots of the eggs got smashed.’
Katie gave him a once over. ‘You didn’t get anything more than scratches, did you?’
‘That’s impressive. Angelina was really impressed too, you know.’
A shard of ice tightened in Harry’s chest. ‘I don’t care what Angelina thinks.’
Katie shuffled her feet. ‘She’ll come to apologise soon. Like I have.’ She gave him a rueful grin.
‘Fred and George told me you tried to convince her to stop holding a grudge.’
‘I did, but I still didn’t speak to you.’
‘You are now.’
‘I guess I am. I was afraid you’d just ignore me. I think I would’ve been quite angry if you’d done that. Hermione has been telling everyone how you’ve changed and won’t forgive anyone. She’s stopped a lot of people apologising.’
‘I won’t forgive them,’ Harry said. ‘But I won’t hold a grudge or anything, I just know I can’t trust them next time.’
‘And Angelina?’ Katie asked.
‘She was the worst in the beginning. Don’t think I don’t know why everyone turned against me.’
‘She was really angry,’ Katie murmured. ‘We all told her that she would get it and she got convinced, then everything happened and things got out of hand. I know you don’t owe me anything, but would you consider giving her a second chance, if not for me, for the quidditch team. Gryffindor needs its seeker.’
‘I’ll listen to her if she comes to me, but that’s all.’
‘Thanks, Harry.’ Katie stepped forward and wrapped her arms round him.
He stiffened, but she only tightened her hold.
I guess I should hug her back. He folded his arms around her.
‘That was nice.’ Katie smiled. ‘You’re taller than you used to be.’
‘I noticed.’ He looked down his nose at her and grinned.
She shot him a mock glare and a wave as she wandered back towards the arena.
How did she even find her way up here? Harry glanced round. You can’t see me here, so she must’ve waited. That was nice of her.
‘Mr Potter.’ Madam Pomfrey’s heels echoed down the gap between the tents.
Madam Pomfrey wielded her wand in one hand and a bottle full of thick, sludge-like brown potion in the other. ‘I do not remember telling you that you could leave my medical tent, Mr Potter.’
‘You didn’t say I had to stay either.’
‘In.’ Madam Pomfrey stabbed her wand at the tent. ‘Now.’
Some battles just can’t be won. Harry hustled back through into the tent. I had better odds against the dragon.
‘What did you get?’ Krum asked.
Evidently nobody else has been told they can leave, either.
‘Forty two points and a very stern lecture from Madam Pomfrey,’ Harry said.
‘You have the same score as me.’ Krum nodded, a faint gleam appearing in his eyes. ‘Well done. I did not expect it, but it is good to have competition.’
‘I did the worst.’ Cedric peeled some of his bandages off, revealing fresh, hairless, pink skin.
Fleur Delacour’s stare drilled into him. ‘Forty four.’
Cedric grimaced. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to be Hogwarts’ champion, Harry? You got eight more points than I did.’
‘It’s just the first task.’ Harry met Fleur Delacour’s stare with a flat look.
She flipped her silver hair over her shoulder and turned away.
Madam Pomfrey bustled back into the tent. ‘Drink this, Mr Potter.’
Harry eyed the brown gloop. ‘But I barely even got a scratch…’
She thrust the bottle into his hands. ‘When you’ve drunk it, you can all leave, Mr Potter.’
Harry groaned, then pinched his nose and gulped it down. Aniseed flooded his mouth and stung his nose. His eyes watered and he suppressed a gag. ‘That was awful.’
‘Go on, then.’ Madam Pomfrey plucked the bottle out of his hands. ‘You’d think you’d be more grateful after spending so much time in my care every year, Mr Potter.’
Fleur Delacour and Krum drifted away toward the carriage and the ship.
‘I want to sleep for a week,’ Cedric said as they headed toward Hogwarts.
‘We’re excused from lessons, go ahead.’ Harry grinned and tucked the egg under his arm. ‘I think I’m going to go lie down for a bit as well.’
Occlumency exercises. Harry snorted. I’m going to use the time-turner to leave that note, then find a nice, wide point in the pipes and transfigure something into a bed.
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