November 24, 1942
The late autumn climate suffused the grounds on the day of the First Task.
The students, teachers, and even the ghosts gathered in the newly built amphitheater-like structure that had been assembled on the school grounds. The spectators held signs, and excited chatter and chants sprung up from the crowd as they waited. When the Champions were introduced there was a surge of sound as the students began waving, cheering, applauding, and screaming. Even wizards craved the promised action because the joy of watching a challenging fight was steeped in ancient traditions and rooted in their very bones.
Harry sat in the elevated judges' booth overlooking the rocky arena the Champions would be traversing. He'd never gotten to experience the tournament from this perspective. He felt the cool wind push down the back of his neck and pulled his coat closer to his slim, but strong, body.
Harry's determined dueling had started shaping his body over the last three months. He fought with anyone he could; sixth or seventh-year students, Alphonse, Joan, Professor Flitwick, and even Dumbledore had been willing to join him on occasion. He won, he lost, and there were days where he couldn't continue because his legs became too cramped, but he didn't dare slow down and stagnate. Better to fight through the pain.
He felt like he was caught between two large gears trying to grind him down. On one, his present, and the other, his future, and here he stood trying to endure them pressing down on him. He was desperately trying to maintain a balance as he tried to stop both without breaking either of them.
The problem was that his time was running out. Tom was already fifteen years old. By his calculations, he only had five years left to fix everything. That was only two weeks' time in the future.
"Harry, it's about to begin!" Alphonse said excitedly, nudging Harry's shoulder and pulling his attention back to the Tournament.
At the back of the arena, the tournament staff levitated in a huge cage, draped with a cloth and secured with chains so that its reveal would not be spoiled by the curious or any cheating Champions. The staff quickly retreated, with one waving his wand, as he fled. The chain that had been holding it the cage closed fell with a rattling sound and the cloth began its own slow descent.
The noon sun, burst through the clouds to shine brightly down on the creature in the cage. The beast inside reacted to the light by twisting agitatedly as everyone looked on in shock.
To the crowd's horror, the cage, bereft of chains, slowly opened and with a hiss and the basilisk was released.
Even the Slytherin students sucked in a breath of fear at the sight of their symbol, in monstrous form, crawling out into the open.
Wider than even the largest person in the crowd was tall; the winding body occupied more than half of the rocky field. With its spell-resistant scales, deadly fangs, and belly reflecting the sun, the great creature sent fear throughout the seated onlookers.
Even Harry had to swallow past a cold lump in his throat when meeting the magic-protected eyes of the beast. The sight of the snake provoked one of his darkest memories. There it was before him: the Chamber of Secrets, Slytherin's legacy, and young Tom Riddle. His breath stuttered to a stop as his lungs locked up. Harry forced himself to slowly inhale and exhale in an effort to suppress his out of control emotions. At least this one couldn't kill him with its eyes, he consoled himself.
The basilisk's gaze swept across the amphitheater, powerful tail flicking with displeasure. It barely avoided hitting the champions perched up on the rocks on the side of the arena. There they waited for the signal to go through.
The basilisk opened its mouth, offering the nervous crowd the terrifying sight of its scarlet palate, tongue, and throat causing the spectators to shudder in fear. Gooey green discharge dripped from its fangs and dissolved the ground slowly like it was lava.
A few drops of the liquid splashed close to the audience and people screamed and yelled as they watched the corrosion up close.
The task was fairly straightforward – get from one side of the arena to the next. But with an enraged basilisk both occupying half of the space and in the process of liquefying the rest, it would not be easy, especially as the champions were not allowed to use brooms to get by. So how would they do it?
The first to go was the Hogwarts champion. Like all Gryffindors, he was brave to a fault, so he headed straight toward the basilisk.
Tom had no interest in how the boy progressed, just fixed his gaze on the irate basilisk's body, dark eyes taking in the way the sunlight refracted off the scales of the beast, his mind as calm as the surface of a lake.
"Merlin… I don't think I want to own a snake anymore." One Slytherin girl sitting in the front mumbled to no one in particular as she trembled in her seat.
What would it be like to raise a basilisk? A flash of thought went through Tom's mind, disturbing the calm as it pulled at hidden depths.
He considered the snake and was inadvertently reminded of Nagini, his thoughts turning from her to a memory.
"Lots and lots of pipes, here, inside the walls of Hogwarts. Lots and lots and lots! Thick and wide and long pipes everywhere!"
Nagini had laid out before him a flaw in Hogwarts' security after she had climbed in. That was all he had believed of the matter.
His thoughts raced as he pondered the implications of the large pipes. The basilisk and Nagini, pipes easily traversed, and Hogwarts with Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets hidden somewhere inside its walls.
Tom narrowed his dark eyes, the color gradually mixing with a red hue, before fading back to black.
Fate would prevent any attempt at change; the course of history would be maintained. Harry didn't have to stumble or fail at a particular time or occasion. All that was needed was the inspiration that turns one young man's mind onto the right track.
Just one thought to ruin all of Harry's previous efforts. This was how Fate moved everything into its correct place: subtly, easily.
The Hogwarts Champion narrowly passed through the arena. His hair had half dissolved and his clothes were corroded up to his ankles, skin showing through and pink with burns. The audience found his appearance disturbing but he had suffered no true harm. He acknowledged that he might have a partiality toward Hogwarts and Gryffindor, because Harry didn't hesitate to give the student the full ten points. To be fair, Harry doubted he could have gotten through the arena himself half as well without the use of a broom.
Alphonse ended up giving him eight points, Joan and the Hogwarts headmaster gave him nine, Durmstrang's headmaster gave him eight points with great reluctance, and Beauxbaton's headmistress, a mean-looking middle-aged woman, gave him a truly insulting number – four points.
That quickly set the Hogwarts students off. Everyone from the Gryffindors to the Slytherins began to yell foul language, abuse, and ridicule at the woman.
"I suppose if you're using her breasts as a scale, that score isn't so small." Harry heard a Slytherin girl say with a deliberately raised voice near his spot at the judges' booth. He turned to see her give the woman a look of pure disdain as people around her snickered.
Harry cleared his throat a few times to get her attention, sending an admonishing look to the Slytherin when she looked at him. She faced him stoically, undaunted.
Harry couldn't help but let a smile cross his face, even though he knew he shouldn't.
Although selfish and cunning, they were also just children and even they couldn't hide that behind their carefully crafted personalities. Even if their anger was for an offense given to a Gryffindor, a person they normally held in contempt, that provocation was an insult given by an outside force, and they banded together with shaking fists to fight back at that common enemy. Maybe they fell into that rage because they still had that youthful passion, but there seemed to be a common defensiveness for Hogwarts among the students.
Their cries and resentment didn't matter, however, because the score had been set and there would be no changing it.
The second onto the field was the Durmstrang Champion, Dieter Charlov. He seemed particularly fortunate because, unlike the first Champion's thrilling and dangerous adventure, the basilisk didn't bother him. He crept along the edge, narrowly escaping the dangerous swish of the basilisk's tail, but faced no other real difficulty. In the audience there was a general sense of confusion that twisted into suspicion as they watched. Had he done something to the basilisk beforehand?
It didn't take Charlov ten minutes to complete the challenge.
A flurry of disappointed noises came from the onlookers along with a growing contempt as the scores were given. Although he'd had little challenge, especially compared to the previous performance, he had completed the task in a better time and with less energy and his score reflected that.
Karkaroff was sitting with the other Durmstrang students, listening to the growing discontent in the audience. From his position, he could see Riddle absorbing the moment with a wicked sort of enjoyment. He saw it in the boy's otherwise flawless facade because he knew that Riddle was more than what he shallowly showed.
They were alike, the same monster dressed in human skin.
In that moment, Tom's gaze swept to his section, with a subtle smirk lifting one corner of his mouth.
Third to go was Mylene Lance. Although her headmaster clearly had great expectations of the Champions, it did not mean that she could meet them.
There was no use blaming it on the snake. It was in its design: the beautiful strong tail, the dripping sharp teeth, and the ferocious temper.
To everyone's surprise the snake abruptly snapped out of the almost listlessness it had just been in. As it took in the sight of the girl, malice gleamed in the creature's eyes and a rage burned through it with an intensity to rival the sun.
It should have been expected, two humans had already passed by it, encroaching on its territory, marking it with their scent. It would tolerate no more and faced the challenger that dared approach.
The basilisk raised its head, rearing back and showing its underbelly. A strange roar issued from its throat to the bewilderment of all the spectators. A noxious fume issued from the great snake's mouth and started filling the air. The audience members quickly covered their noses and mouths but the dizziness and fatigue caught hold of them as it seeped through the cracks between their fingers and the fibers of their clothes.
Compared with Dieter, Mylene's luck was beyond abysmal.
After spewing more gas, the snake arranged itself defensively in the rocks, lying in wait for the girl.
A green film covered much of the arena now and the air was misty as the fumes stubbornly refused to disperse. With its long tail ready to swipe, jaws ready to bite, and corrosive liquid everywhere, Mylene had no way to progress.
"Look, she's levitating the rocks!"
The clever girl had summoned rocks that she could safely stand on and was floating them in the air and using them as stepping stones. But how long could she last while avoiding the long tail and holding her breath?
The basilisk locked its gaze on her, opened its mouth, liquid dripping, and reared back.
Everyone watched, transfixed. Nobody paid attention to the other members in the audience, too caught up in the alarming sight. Unbeknownst to them, a dark haired boy bared his white teeth in a lovely smile.
This was a warning, a punishment for attempting to get close to what was his.
Professor Binns had once said, "Because of the high mortality rate, the Triwizard Tournament was indefinitely suspended."
Therefore, losing someone to one of the challenges wasn't very surprising and, better yet, not at all suspicious.
There was a hush as the injured Champion was swiftly carried off of the field and away to the Hospital Wing. Worried and disappointed, the students were slow to leave. The basilisk was put back into the cage by its handlers, where it lay eerily silent.
Under the cover of the night, a small figure approached and hissed, dark and dangerous, the words, "Good boy."