Music played, offsetting the tense atmosphere within the circle of Champions. The snow had been melted all around the stands and, oddly enough, it was warm. Too warm, almost. Harry rubbed his sweaty hands against his robe and scanned the stands for Severus. When he caught his eye, Severus gave Harry a brief, reassuring nod.
"Welcome to the third and final task of the Triwizard Tournament," Karkaroff said roughly, without much preamble. "Due to the standings of the previous two tasks, Mr. Potter and Mr. Diggory will enter the maze first, being tied for first place. Mr. Mubarak will follow, then Ms. Delacour."
The crowd cheered and Harry's stomach twisted. Karkaroff moved to the entrance of the maze, seeming ready to start. Before Cedric and Harry could step forward, Dumbledore stopped them.
"Just a word of warning, to all of you. People change in this maze. Be careful not to lose who you are along the way," he said in a voice that spoke of ages of experience.
Harry managed a nod before he and Cedric stepped to the entrance of the maze. Harry looked over at the Hufflepuff and offered his hand. Cedric took it, seeming as nervous as Harry felt.
"Good luck," Harry said.
"May the best man win," Cedric replied in a sportsmanlike tone.
Harry pulled out his wand and waited for the signal.
"If something should go wrong, fire off red sparks and one of the professors patrolling the maze will come and rescue you," Karkaroff sneered. Harry hoped he wouldn't have to give him the satisfaction. "Whoever is first to the cup in the center of the made wins. Go!"
Harry and Cedric rushed into the maze at the sound of the cannon fire. At the first wall of hedges, they split ways, Harry going left and Cedric right. Inside the maze, the sunlight seemed to be filtered down through a sheet of thick, black cloth. The light was dim, ominous and an unsettling breeze rustled through the hedges, stirring up the dead leaves on the bottom. Harry's wand grew slippery with sweat.
Harry advanced slowly through the maze, wondering what it was that was meant to challenge him. He shivered as a chill ran up his spine. Harry looked back over his shoulder, feeling as if someone was watching him. There was nothing, or no one, there. Berating himself for letting his nerves run wild, Harry kept moving. At the time, that seemed like the best course of action.
Something rustled around the next corner and Harry's wand arm stiffened, instinctively shooting a stunning spell at the Graphorn charging at him. The spell bounced off of its grayish purple hide much like it would off dragon hide. Its two horns were lowered to the the ground, aiming straight for Harry's legs. Panicking, Harry shouted, "Ascendio!"
Wand pointed at the ground, Harry shot ten feet into the air, falling less than gently after the Graphorn had gone charging by. Carried by momentum, it continued straight through the bushes and into another part of the maze. The hedges knitted together at the spot it had broken and Harry let out a breath of relief.
That was, until the ground began to tremble. The hole wasn't the only spot being knitted together, but rather the whole corridor in which Harry was standing. The walls loomed closer, coming together with surprising speed. Harry spun on his heel and sprinted for the corner from which the Graphorn had come. As he went to turn that way, he realized the same thing was happening in that direction. No time to think, Harry kept running to the next intersection. Luckily, these hedges seemed a bit more stable and he was able to duck in a side passageway as the wave of rolling hedges swept by him.
Harry paused for a moment, hands on his knees and panting. Gathering himself, Harry continued down the path he was on. For several minutes, all seemed quiet. A little too quiet, really. Suddenly, moving more out of instinct than sense, Harry ducked, rolling into a smooth somersault. The branch that had just whipped out of the hedges retreated slowly. It would have caught Harry in the throat. He made a mental note to thank Aris and Riker for all of that agility training.
Postponing other mental notes for later, Harry hopped lithely to his feet in order to dodge the branch that snaked out to grab his waist. Taking off down the pathway, Harry was forced to leap, duck and dodge his way around the branches as they came faster, closer together.
When at last he broke into the clear, Harry let out a brief breath of relief. As he rounded the next corner, he almost ran into Bennet.
"Harry," Bennet said with an urgency not usually present in his generally calm voice. "Someone just tried to-"
"Stop!" a voice cut through.
"-me," Bennet finished, looking over his shoulder just as a Stupefy caught him in the back.
Alarmed, Harry raised his wand and pointed it at-
"Cedric?" Harry asked, wand still raised.
"Harry," Cedric replied, breath filled with relief. "He was insane. Ran into something or other and was trying to convince me that he was cursed. Then attacked me."
"Oh," Harry said, lowering his wand. Had it been lighter, he might have noticed the change in Cedric's eyes. The hedges around them shifted again and then stilled. "Wha-"
Cedric had stepped up close to Harry and touched him on the arm with his wand, muttering a string of words. A buzzing filled Harry's ears and he couldn't focus. Trying to move his wand hand, all he could do was run it into his own leg. The sweat making it slippery, the wand fell from his fingers and into his pocket. Harry tried to move, tried to run, but couldn't. He couldn't move at all. Through a haze, Harry felt himself being lifted, transported. Then, a blackness slid over his vision like a window being closed and everything was black.
"Just a bit of Dark magic to trigger it," Cedric muttered, laughing almost maniacally. "Knew that'd do the trick." He licked his lips impulsively.
Somehow knowing exactly where to go, Cedric maneuvered Harry's stiff body through the maze. Thoughts flitted through Cedric's mind and he had long given up trying to fight them. He couldn't regain control of his own faculties no matter how much he tried. The Dark Lord will be so proud. The Tiered curse had gone just as planned and now this weak vessel would deliver the Potter boy just as he had asked. It was all so perfect.
No, the real Cedric managed to think. No. He jerked his wand, trying to turn the other way. Retaliating with double the force, the Imperius curse regained control, pushing Cedric's mind away.
"Stupid boy," Cedric muttered aloud.
At last, the clearing in which the trophy sat opened up. The cup was beautiful, just as it had been when Cedr- No. Again, Cedric managed to jerk Harry away from the cup. He knew somehow that it was something bad, something evil. The presence in his mind had given him that impression already.
Forcibly subdued, Cedric laid Harry on the ground, releasing the Dark Magic curse that held him paralyzed. Caring not for the vessel that was Cedric Diggory, Cedric was forced to grab Harry's hand, touching it to the cup. The moment it made contact, Harry, still disoriented and groggy, spun away, pulled through space. Still touching his wrist, Cedric was pulled along with him.
Harry struggled to regain his wits as he was thrown sprawled out on the ground in a dark, gloomy graveyard,deposited roughly by what he figured was a portkey. The cup lay a few yards away, next to Cedric. Harry staggered to his feet, just as Cedric raised his wand.
"Don't-" Cedric began.
"Kill the spare," a chillingly familiar voice commanded. In a brief flash of light, Cedric fell lifeless to the ground.
"No!" Harry cried, lunging forward before he realized it was too late. He spun towards the voice, pulling his wand from his pocket as he did so. No sooner had he raised it than it was ripped from his grasp by the person he was least expecting.
"Kind of you to join us, Harry Potter. I knew I'd be seeing you again," Lockhart said in the voice that had been tormenting Harry since that first dream. He was dressed not in his usual purple, but in tattered black robes.
"You," Harry breathed.
"Yes, me. The magical me," Lockhart replied with a hint of disgust. "When everyone turned me away, shunned me, called me a fraud, a liar, I found my true master. And now it's time to restore him to what he was so that I will be rewarded."
"What's he promised you?" Harry asked, stalling for time as he edged toward the cup.
"I would be famous in a way that none before me have. I would be-"
"Stop talking and get him tied up!" the rasp came from somewhere else in the graveyard in which they stood. Harry glanced around but couldn't find who it was coming from. But he knew who it was.
"Incarcerous," Lockhart said, aiming at Harry.
Harry tried to dodge but the ropes were too fast. They caught him by the ankle, snaking their way up his body as Harry struggled. Bitterly, he wished that Lockhart was really as incompetent as he had seemed as a teacher. Using the ropes like a leash, Lockhart dragged Harry over to a nearby tombstone and tied him tightly to it. Harry fought his bindings but to no avail.
"One wronged by the light will turn to the dark," Harry breathed quietly. "The prophecy."
"What's that?" Lockhart asked almost curiously.
"I won't let y-"
"Yes you will," the creepy voice rasped. "Quiet him, Lockhart, and begin the potion. I am impatient."
"Yes, master," Lockhart said submissively, gagging Harry with a spell. With a flick of his wand, a fire sprung to life, illuminating a huge cauldron in the center of the graveyard. Lockhart gathered up a small bundle from beside it and placed it gently inside.
"Blood of enemy, bone of line," Lockhart began to chant as the potion bubbled. "Return to thee what was once thine."
At the point of his wand, the dirt at the foot of the gravestone next to Harry broke open and a human leg bone floated out, dropping into the cauldron with a splash. Riddle, Harry read from the inscription in the stone. Voldemort's mother, father, or relative of some sort. Lockhart then drew a silver dagger from his pocket and advanced towards Harry. Harry struggled, making muffled sounds of distress. The cool slice of the knife through the skin of Harry's arm was not as painful as the knowledge of what it would help bring about.
With a look of resignation on his face, Lockhart dripped Harry's blood into the cauldron and then turned the dagger to his left wrist. As he viciously cut off his own hand, he chanted, with a gasp of pain, "A servant's sacrifice I give to thee, rise again, one from three. A body new will now be yours, rise and find your life restored."
Harry watched in horror, unable to move, to cry out, to do anything. But he could think; he could realize the gravity of what was happening. As Lockhart wrapped his bleeding arm in a torn off piece of robe, the cauldron bubbled with increasing ferocity. just as it looked as if it would run over, fire exploded towards the sky in a column that shed heat even to Harry, a good ways away. When the fire died down and Harry's eyes readjusted to the light, a figure stood in the cauldron, promptly handed robes and a wand by Lockhart.
When it turned, Harry's blood froze. Looking at him through snake-like eyes, nose nothing but slits, translucent gray skin showing stretched thin over his bald head, was Lord Voldemort.