The morning of the first task found Newt in a large white tent with the other champions. They were once again waiting on the arrival of others who would provide them with information about what they were about to face. Outside, hundreds of students were walking to the stands where they would watch the proceedings. The noise gradually began to fade as the last stragglers took their seats.
There had been a chill in the air that morning, so Newt had decided to wear his familiar blue coat for warmth. No one had said anything to him, so he assumed there were no objections to it. The Beauxbatons boy was also dressed against the cold while the girl from Durmstrang seemed rather more at ease in a light jumper. Newt suddenly realised that he really ought to have asked their names by now, but before he had a chance to approach them the tent flaps flew open and the two gentlemen from the Ministry walked in.
The lead ministry official addressed them as he did on Halloween. “Good morning.”
The three champions each gave a quiet good morning in response, eager for him to continue.
“I hope you’re all feeling ready for anything; this first task is certainly going to take some steady nerves.” He looked at each of them, scrutinizing their preparedness for what lay ahead. “You will each enter the arena one at a time and, using whatever means you see fit, retrieve a golden egg.”
This statement was met by confusion from all three of the champions. There was obviously more to the task, but they were yet to gain any insight as to what it might be.
The man continued, pulling out a white drawstring bag as he did, “Before I say any more, you will each need to draw one item from this bag. It will tell us in what order you shall enter the arena, as well as informing you of what you shall be facing. Ladies first?”
He offered the bag around and they each dipped their hand in and drew out a tiny figure with a small label attached. Newt looked at his as he held it gently in his hand and couldn’t believe his luck. Standing there on his open palm, moving its head around to look up at Newt was a dragon. And not just any dragon, it was a Hungarian Horntail.
“Oh,” he let out an awestruck sigh, “you are wonderful.” Newt took note of the number 3 written on the label, before lifting the dragon up to get a closer look.
He was broken out of his astonishment as the other champions began asking questions. They also each held tiny dragons; a Common Welsh Green and a Chinese Fireball from what Newt could identify. Holding up his hand for silence, the Ministry official began to explain further.
“You will face the real version of your dragon in the arena. Each is a female guarding their recently laid eggs, but amongst them will be a golden egg which you must retrieve. Points will be awarded for how quickly you can get the egg and how well you’re chosen method works. Are there any further questions?”
There was silence as the information sunk in. They were to be facing dragons. Dragons that would be protective of their eggs, while they had to try to steal one from under their noses. The expressions on the other champions’ faces made it clear they were finding the idea more than a bit daunting. But all things considered, Newt didn’t look any more nervous than he usually did. This should have sparked suspicion to anyone watching because really, a dragon! And it was just Newt’s luck that he had chosen by far the most dangerous of the three.
As it was, no-one was paying attention to Newt. The two men left to take their places at the judges’ table, while the two other occupants of the tent drew very much into themselves as they tried to come up with some kind of strategy.
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When the whistle sounded, calling the first champion to the arena, the Durmstrang student stood. Failing to hide her anxiousness, she nevertheless walked out with her head held high. The crowd cheered and the unmistakable roar of a dragon could be heard. There was a commentary, but the words were unclear to those still in the tent.
Twenty minutes later, the whistle sounded to call for the next contestant and Newt was left alone with his little dragon figure. It really was a marvellous replica and he got so caught up with watching it that in what seemed like no time at all, it was his turn to retrieve an egg. Far from being apprehensive at what he was about to do, Newt was more disappointed to have to leave the tiny dragon behind, and he hoped he would be able to return for it later.
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The Hungarian Horntail was led out into the arena ahead of the final champion. The commentator was describing every terrifying feature; from its flame that could reach fifty feet to the tail with spikes the size of a small child. It was fast, ferocious and ready to defend the eggs that it had been temporarily separated from. Moments later Newt emerged. At the sight of the shy and awkward boy stood before the dragon, everyone fell silent.
Poor sod, he was going to die out there.
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“You are beautiful aren’t you.”
Newt took in the sight of the most powerful and stunning creature that he had ever seen. Her large black body was crouched low over her eggs, wings half unfurled in warning as her intelligent yellow eyes watched every move of this new threat before her. Newt kept his hands clearly visible and ducked his head, making himself appear as non-threatening as possible. The Horntail let out an ear-ringing roar followed by a short burst of flame that didn’t quite reach Newt. He was fully aware that if she had meant to, the fire would have completely consumed him. She had given him a single chance to run and had made it clear that she would not allow any menace near her or her nest. He was scared, he wasn’t stupid, but he was the danger here. She was a mother protecting her young and was well within her rights to defend them from him. Newt lowered his head further and began to slowly move towards the Horntail, his low crooning the only sound to echo faintly off the walls and rocks around them.
He made his way across the arena carefully, somehow managing not to trip on the loose rubble lying haphazardly around. As Newt reached the Horntail, she lowered her body to better protect her eggs, bringing her head down to meet him with a growl. At this point Newt stopped, raising one open hand towards her while his eyes remained firmly lowered and to the side.
The Horntail moved her head closer. Her yellow eyes had yet to leave this strange blue creature that looked and smelled like those that had been causing her grief. It had approached her despite her warning, but it had yet to act in any way like those who thought to tame her.
Newt remained motionless with his hand in the air, waiting for the Horntail to make her decision. His whole world had shrunk down to the sensation of hot, acrid air hitting his hand and the growl that was filling his head and rumbling in his chest.
The crowd, entirely forgotten by both boy and dragon, held their collective breath as they waited for him to be eaten or engulfed in flames. But as his hand made contact with the dragon Newt finally allowed himself to move, sliding his hand up and stroking her snout. When this was allowed without sign of compliant, he moved his hand up further to gently stroke between her eyes, causing a complete change to the dragon’s demeanour.
Whereas before, her spiked tail had been gouging huge marks from the ground, it now swung lazily side to side through the air in the relaxed manner of a purring housecat. Newt began again to talk to the Horntail in soothing tones, now stroking her snout and horns with both hands. He had changed his posture so that he was stood straighter, taller, reaching higher to scratch a soft spot on the side of her head just below the jawline. The dragon became more and more docile, a low rumbling beginning to emit from deep within her chest that was a far cry from the terrifying sound she had produced before.
The judges and audience were struck dumb at the sight of quiet little Newt Scamander, shy and awkward and so unassuming, cooing and stroking the dragon like it was nothing more dangerous than a kitten. Nobody could quite believe it.
A few minutes passed before Newt finally looked her in the eye, and gently said, “Now, one of your eggs is fake. I would like to remove it, if you’ll let me. I daresay it simply isn’t as beautiful as your gorgeous clutch, hm?”
The Horntail crooned, moving away from Newt as she looked over her eggs. The fake stood out from the rest, a gaudy golden flash amongst the other cement-coloured eggs. She gave a snort and began nosing the fake away from the nest. Newt remained where he was, patiently waiting as she brought the egg to him. Once within reach Newt smiled up at her and gave her another scratch on her snout, cooing at her again as he did.
“You really are amazing, aren’t you girl. And a lot cleverer than everyone here. Such an amazing mummy, looking after your babies. I bet you can’t wait to meet them. I’m sure they’ll be as strong as you when they’re grown. You’ll teach them everything they need.”
The Horntail gave him a nudge, reminding him that he had a task to complete. So, finally and reluctantly, he disengaged and took a step back, picking up the egg as he did.
“Thank you, Daphne. I’ll come see you again, hey?” Newt grinned as he received another gentle reminder that he really should be going. He nodded decisively and, carefully holding the egg, he turned to leave the arena.
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It was only after the last glimpses of his signature blue coat disappeared that the crowd exploded into cheers.
The judges on the other hand, all slumped slightly in relief. Really, that boy was not good for one’s blood pressure.