Harry wasn't a happy camper. He had been forced into a deadly tournament against his will, and now Ron refused to talk to him out of jealously. Hermione stood by him, but she was only making thing worse by trying to get the boys to talk.
While she was a brilliant friend, she simply didn't understand people as well as she believed.
So he managed to get some peace and quiet by lying about talking to Ron alone. Instead he ditched everyone who was stalking him and went down by the lake shore. It was peaceful, serene.
As he walked along the shore (ignoring the creaking ship about five hundred meters away), he felt calmer than he had in weeks.
He found a medium sized rock, not covered in algae, surprisingly, and sat down. The lake lapped at the shore, uncaring of his troubles. While he relaxed, he took in what was around him.
There were several students nearby, but it appeared that they couldn't see him at all.
As he leaned back into the rock, enjoying on of the rare days that the sun was under a cloudless sky, he felt his hand touch something.
His hand closed on the object.
It felt smooth, and round. It was also small, roughly the size of a large gumball from a vending machine. Harry brought it to view.
It looked like a pearl of some sort. It was a smooth pearly ball the color of a star in the night sky. It seemed to have an inner shine to it.
He put the ball like thing in his pocket.
Hermione found Harry two hours later, and she was furious.
"Harry, why did you lie to me?"
Harry glared at her.
"Because I wanted a few hours to myself. Between you, the Hufflepuffs, and the teachers, I never have a moment to myself! Is it too much to ask for some peace?"
Hermione looked slightly ashamed of herself.
"You could have told me you wanted some space. There is no reason you had to lie," she said.
"You would have followed me," Harry defended.
She didn't deny it. For the next week Harry escaped to that rock as often as he could, often bringing his homework with him or a book to read. Hermione attempted several times to find this mysterious rock, but to Harry's amazement (and secret relief) even when she followed him, practically dogging his footsteps, she never saw it. Every time she got close to it, her eyes would be averted to the forest.
It was like there was a charm that repelled everyone but him.
Harry was on his rock, trying to find a way to get past a dragon when he spotted a small water moccasin. Though why a snake of that breed was in England, he had no idea. He thought it was restricted to the colonies.
The snake slithered onto the rock and ignored Harry completely. So Harry paid it the same courtesy. After all, it wasn't like he had an unfounded grudge against snakes. (RON)
As he read in peace, he never noticed that the snake ended up slithering into his lap, following the warmth.
When he did look down, he hissed it at it.
"I don't mind you borrowing my body heat, just don't try to strangle or bite me and we'll get along fine."
"Sensible, for a human. I agree to your terms Speaker. Just warn me if you're about to move."
And so the two spent the afternoon in relative peace. Aside from hearing at least three people yelling for Harry. He knew that they worried about him because of his fame, but couldn't they give him a few day's peace?
It did not help that Harry heard the distinct voice of McGonagall.
When the light began to draw to a close, Harry hissed an apology before he gently moved the small snake onto the spot where he had been sitting for the past three hours. His back hurt until he popped it back into place.
"If you don't want your bones to creak, try sitting in a different way," suggested the snake.
"I believe the humans call it the Indian style? The cross their legs and place their hands on their knees."
"Oh, you mean meditate. I suppose I could give it a try."
The next time he managed to escape, he was reading a book on dragons. Or their physiology at least. He hoped that it would give him some insight as to how he was supposed to get pass one.
The water moccasin was there again. Harry did as it suggested, and noted with interest that his back wasn't hurting like last time after an hour had passed. It had apparently come to the decision that his lap was it's bed.
Not that Harry particularly minded. He liked snakes...provided you weren't talking about Malfoy or some of the Upper years in Slytherin.
Finally the snake grew bored.
"What are you reading, hatchling?"
"A book on dragons. Specifically what their make up is like."
The snake seemed highly amused by that answer.
"And what drove you to read that?"
"The first task of this blasted tournament is to defeat a dragon, or to get past one at any rate."
"Why don't you just ask if it would let you through? Dragons understand Speakers just as easily as serpents."
The snake hissed, and Harry didn't understand him...then he realized it was laughing at him.
"You honestly have no idea, do you. Serpents and Dragons share a common ancestry. In fact the word you humans use for Speaker was originally called Dracotongue."
"All you have to do is be respectful about it, and I'm fairly certain that the dragon would help you...unless the humans were stupid enough to remove a mother from her nest, in which case you're doomed."
"Damn. I overheard Charlie mentioning 'nesting mothers'."
The snake hissed in sympathy. The poor boy was doomed unless he could distract the mother long enough to do what he needed.
"I've been meaning to ask this...but aren't water moccasins usually restricted to the Americas?"
"I'm a special case. I came here to find something before a human did."
"A special jewel. The only problem is that if a human finds it before I do, there's a good chance that they would be cursed to Hell."
"Long story short, humans are too greedy to possess it. They would use it, and be cursed."
"Wish I could help. But if it's around here, chances are that a student has already found it...especially since a good portion of them have been out around the lake recently looking for me. And I would need my invisibility cloak to avoid them all."
"Drat. If you hear about a student suddenly gaining wealth or fame, let me know and point them out. That is a sure sign that they have the jewel."
"I'll keep an ear out. With this school, any news like that would be heard by even the first years. And I happen to have a gossip-monger in my year."
Harry stood in the tent. He was terrified, but he knew there was no choice. He had to go through with this. Though there was a nagging thought in his mind about whether it was worth all the trouble he was going through.
Is magic really worth all this crap?
To be honest with himself, he was having doubts as to why he was going through all this. Sure, he loved magic, but that didn't mean he couldn't live without it. Muggles had come a long way to replacing the need for most of it.
Though he would never tell Ron that.
As he drew his dragon, he knew without a doubt he was doomed. Even the odd pearl he found by the shore didn't soothe his nerves. He had discreetly borrowed some of Hermione's knitting thread and strung the pearl from the small hole he discovered. It now hung around his neck.
His turn came all too soon for his liking.
He walked out, and the roar of the crowd nearly deafened him. Then another roar came from the left.
Harry ducked, and barely missed getting roasted.
The horntail was in a very foul mood. He didn't know if he would have a chance to try what the snake suggested. As he ducked and weaved, he realized that there was no way he would be able to get close at this rate.
So he did something reckless.
He dove between the dragon's front legs, narrowly avoiding it's teeth. His right hand brushed against the jewel as he wished to himself...
'If only the dragon couldn't see me!'
Suddenly he noted a change in the crowd's roar.
From excited to very confused.
"Where did he go?" seemed to be the general cry.
It seemed the dragon couldn't find him either. So he took his change and grabbed the fake egg. By the time the dragon figured out what had happened, he had dashed into the tent. That was when the crowd heard the distinct yelp of Madam Pomphrey. And everyone definitely heard her yell at Harry for sneaking in like that.
Harry decided to end the confusion by popping his head out of the tent and holding the egg out for everyone to see. That settled the matter.
For his little disappearing trick, he earned a total of 35 points. It would have been an even forty, except the Durmstrang headmaster was being an idiot.
Harry was not surprised to discover that Ron switched sides again. This time he came slinking back to be his friend. But Harry had quite enough of traitors.
"Ron, tell me this. Is how you were acting before the first task ANY different than the way Pettigrew acted when he became my parent's secret keeper? I thought I could trust you to believe me, and instead you decide that I was a glory hound! How am I supposed to trust you now?" asked Harry, glaring at him.
Hermione was about to debate that, until she really thought about what he said. He had a point. Ron should have known after all these years that Harry had no need for fame or money. He barely knew what to do with the money his parents left him!
The next morning saw a change in the former Golden Trio. Ron had officially been removed from the equation. Harry wanted nothing to do with him until the year was over.
In his place, Neville had stepped up to the plate. Though his position looked tenuous at best.
Until Harry realized that not only was Neville not yelling for him every time he escaped to his secret place, but he knew his friend was fine and in need of some space. When he asked the boy why he never bothered to look for him, his response cemented his place as part of the group.
"I don't see the point of looking for you when you disappear. You're always been watched between classes, and I didn't really see any reason why you don't deserve some time to yourself."
That was the nicest thing he had ever heard someone say at the school. He knew he had picked the wrong friend that day on the train. Somehow, he knew that someone had set that little scenario up as well.
"Neville, do you know if the train has ever run out of compartments?"
"Not to my knowledge. Gran once mentioned that it was spelled to add compartments when needed. Sometimes it does it when someone wants to be alone, and a new car is added just to fulfill that."
"So there has never been an instance of all the cars being full," Harry clarified.
That settled things. Harry knew someone had deliberately made sure Ron would enter his car. And armed with that knowledge, Harry laid down the terms to the twins so they could pass it on to Ron. If he didn't want to follow them, that was his problem.
(Secretly the twins agreed the terms were quite reasonable, considering Ron had been spreading some malicious lies to the foreign students about Harry.)
Harry sat on the rock as usual, with the snake in his lap. This time he had brought his owl, and told her firmly she was not allowed to eat the snake.
That had brought about a rather interesting conversation with the snake in question, who apparently understood human tongue better than Harry had guessed.
"I doubt she would have been able to eat me anyway."
"I'm not really a snake. I only look like one out of the water. Besides, snakes aren't allowed in this area."
"What do you mean?"
"Aster didn't like his smaller cousins that much because they could go about as they pleased. So he left an order that is still carried out for the next ten years until they realize he's gone."
That had the 'snake' looking at him oddly.
"Surely you've meet him before. Only his blood would allow you to be at this spot."
Harry thought about that, and then it came to him who the 'snake' was referring to.
"The basilisk that lived in the Chamber under the lake?"
"That's Aster. He wasn't too happy that he was stuck down there because of Salazar's spell."
"I feel sorry for him. Because he was being controlled I had to stick a sword through him. I don't mind snakes unless they are trying to kill me."
"What a sensible way of looking at things. Most people don't normally mind beings unless they believe they are about to die. You must be the first human in a long time who at least gives creatures a chance to explain."
"So the only reason I'm able to sit here and have the most intelligent conversation in years is because Aster managed to bite me?"
"He bit you? How extraordinary! You must have had a phoenix nearby to survive that."
"Fawkes had come in at least ten minutes earlier," Harry admitted.
"Well at least his bloodline won't run out."
"What do you mean?"
"Anyone who survives a basilisk's bite carries their bloodline forever. I believe the humans who restrict magic call it Creature Inheritance. The only reason people don't know about it is because it's quite difficult for anyone outside a dragon to know who has it."
"What does it do?"
"Essentially you are forever immune to another Basilisk's venom and gaze...also spiders will never like you again."
"I don't like spiders much. I can tolerate them being around, but I don't like them."
"Spiders don't like anybody who isn't a spider. And even then they sometimes eat their own."
From that point on Harry mostly asked intelligent questions about Creature inheritance, and what types there were. Before he forgot, he finally asked the snake's name.
"My name is Ceres. Rather bland for my kind, but I suppose it couldn't be helped. Mother never was very original."
"I suppose I shall see you tomorrow, Ceres."
"Good day to you, little Speaker."
For the next week Harry unsuccessfully attempted to figure out the clue to the next phase. Finally, a full week before the next task, he took the egg with him to the rock. Ceres eyed it with mistrust.
"What is THAT supposed to be?"
"A clue to the next task. But all I can get out of it is this horrible racket."
"Let me hear it. I happen to be very good at languages."
Harry took out his wand and tapped it twice on both of his ears. The sound immediately became muffled, and he carefully opened the egg.
Ceres tapped him once on the leg, and he closed it. The charm promptly went off.
"That...was most unpleasant. I had forgotten how bad Merpeople sounded above ground. And that sounded quite like one of the Mermaids from the Lake."
"There are mermaids in the lake?"
"An entire colony, at the very least. I could go ask if they know anything about this task you're supposed to do."
"You're very welcome hatchling. Most speakers usually order a snake about, but you're the first I have met who was polite when he asks for something."
Ceres slithered into the lake, and Harry waited patiently. While he waited he took out a book he had thought to bring with him. It was a detailed explanation of dragons. (After the first task he was seriously considering becoming a dragon tamer like Charlie Weasly.)
Ceres returned rather smug two hours later.
"It was a bit difficult to find the colony. Apparently someone told them not to mention it to anyone unless asked by someone appropriate. It took a bit of convincing to remind them that I was an appropriate creature to talk to, since I usually spend time here to visit the squid."
Harry gave him an odd look.
"You visit the squid?"
"Children fascinate me. And the squid watches your kind more than you realize. According to the chief of the Mermaid colony, the task involves you rescuing someone from the bottom of the lake in under an hour. Quiet ridiculous really, since it would take a human at least forty five minutes to reach the bottom."
"What does the squid have to say about this test?"
"He wasn't too happy about it. Dumbledore is a tad forgetful about certain things, and he likes children too much. Except for the ones who test out nasty spells by casting them in his direction."
"He is a bit disappointed that no one throws tangerines in the lake anymore. He loves those."
That was when Harry had an idea.
"Do you think the giant squid would mind helping me if I asked? I could easily get a hold of some tangerines for him."
"He might help you get to the bottom and back up, but rescuing the person that was taken would be up to you. The mermaids don't particularly like the squid. Something about him being too friendly to the humans."
Ceres vanished into the lake again and came back fifteen minutes later.
"He said he'd help, in exchange for ten tangerines. I recommend you find a spell that allows you to breathe underwater for half an hour. Gillyweed wears off in an hour, but the taste is horrible from what I've heard."
"Thank you Ceres. I know just the person to ask for help in finding that spell."