A short chapter, I know, but better than nothing.
Standing on the platform just several feet above the lake, Xander shivered uncontrollably. Dressed only in a yellow singlet and very short shorts in preparation for his swim on the Scottish morn this wasn’t exactly unexpected to the Californian. That didn’t stop him from complaining, of course.
“Can’t one of you do a fire spell, or something?” Xander asked, shivering heavily, arms circling his torso in an attempt to contain any heat that might escape, “I’m freezing my nose off. More important bits might be next!”
Viktor looked unsympathetic, as did Fleur, the Scottish summer was hardly cool by their standards. Harry wasn’t much help either, given his preoccupation with the lump in his pocket.
“Ingrates,” Xander muttered viciously around his chattering teeth, hugging himself tighter as he waited for Dumbledore’s speech to be over.
So preoccupied with maintaining his core body temperature, he barely heard the signal to begin the challenge, resulting in Fleur and Viktor diving in before he left the platform, leaving Harry alone to implement whatever plan he had concocted.
Xander sliced gracefully through the surface of the water, diving several meters down in seconds as his body began to convulse in a manner that he had never quite grown accustomed.
Skin grew between his fingers and toes, forming a thin membrane to serve as webbing, as fins sprouted from his forelimbs. The uncomfortable slits of gills opened along the path of his neck, allowing water to flow into his lungs, now adapting themselves to extract oxygen from the liquid rather than the air it was accustomed.
A third eyelid formed over his cornea, allowing him to see unobstructed in the murky water, as new rows of shark-like teeth formed in his jaw and new strength filled his muscles. Even the cold seemed to dim in his new form.
Xander barely acknowledged the changes, side effects of Coach Marin’s plan to create the ultimate swim team, simply setting off at speed, following the indistinct form of what he believed to be Viktor Krum. He was used to the differences of this alteration, an automatic shift when he entered a body of water.
The Scoobies were also aware, though he truly wished that they weren’t. He had spent two years entertaining the notion that he was Batman or Green Arrow, only to gain an ability that literally put him into Aquaman territory, and he did not want to only ever be called in when the scuba gear was on the fritz!
Oh he didn’t mind, necessarily, to help out when the merpeople wanted to wage war against the surface dwellers, or when there was a Kraken sighting that needed to be checked out, he just didn’t want it to be the only thing he was good for.
Xander propelled himself powerfully through the water, twitching his fins ever so slightly to alter his direction as his webbed limbs pushed against the liquid, wondering how the others were doing without his gift of the gab. Scouring the lake’s floor searching for the merpeople’s village most likely. He, however, had merely asked the giant squid, likely the only creature in the lake who did not fear him, but did not also particularly want to eat him either, for directions.
Squidward, as Xander had named him, hadn’t been particularly talkative, but had begrudgingly given him a heading.
As a result, only thirty minutes into the hour long challenge, he could already see the dim glow of his target in the distance.
He sped up, despite the apprehension in his heart, as he saw several forms detach themselves from the distant village, moving swiftly towards him. He still had scars from the last time he dealt with mermen.
These two, both mermaids, seemed somewhat peaceful, darting around him in a manner that, though likely considered threatening by humans, was about as playful as merpeople got with newcomers.
They guided him to the village, giggling and hissing seemingly at random, but not speaking to him. There was no point. They didn’t need or want anything from him and they were well aware of why he was entering their midst.
He glided uncomfortably through the village of rocky outcrops that formed the merpeople’s homes, coming to what amounted to the village square and the four poles that stood proudly on display.
Anchored to the poles, drifting limply above them, where four sleeping forms, three of whom Xander recognized.
Ron Weasley, one of his hosts for Christmas and best friend of Harry Potter.
Hermione Granger, fellow library dweller and the Yule Ball date of Viktor Krum.
Cedric Diggory, likely Xander’s only actual friend at Hogwarts.
The last was a blonde girl, no older than twelve, who held a startling resemblance to Fleur in a way that Xander supposed only siblings could possess.
Xander was puzzled by their presence. Ron and the girl he guessed he could understand, Ron was Harry’s closest friend and Fleur’s sister would certainly be dear to her, but, to his knowledge, Viktor and Hermione had only had a single date, and Cedric, though a good friend, was hardly Xander’s ‘greatest treasure’.
Regardless, he shrugged and drifted over to Cedric’s tether, figuring that the Hufflepuff could be the only one meant for him to rescue, grabbing ahold of the seaweed restraint and biting cleanly through it with his shark-like teeth.
Holding onto the torn rope, maintaining Cedric’s place as a result, he glanced towards the other three prisoners, before casting his gaze into the darkness of the water, searching for any approaching forms.
Not seeing any, he peered out for the nearest mermaid, asking, his lips easily forming the appropriate sounds to communicate with the underwater species, “What happens to the treasures if the other Champions don’t come?”
The mermaid, darting closer to him, answered with a hiss, “We have no use for them. They will be released to the surface, to Headmaster Dumbledore.”
Xander nodded, merpeople would eat a lot but, like sharks, they didn’t particularly enjoy the taste of human flesh, they much preferred seal, dolphin, fish, or squid, and they were not senseless killers either.
The mermaid was not lying and, unless Xander missed his guess, he could see another Champion in the distance anyway.
Keeping ahold of Cedric, Xander kicked, propelling himself upwards, towards the surface, leaving the merpeople’s village and the other ‘treasures’ to Harry Potter.
Breaking the surface of the lake, Xander pulled the suddenly conscious and confused Cedric towards the spectator’s platform, passing the disoriented Hufflepuff off to the assorted Tournament workers before hefting himself out of the water, shuddering as his webs, fins and teeth receded and his gills closed over. It was an indescribable sensation that was, in no way, pleasant.
“Congratulations Mr. Harris,” Dumbledore greeted him, as he and several other judges appeared from the crowd, “You are the first to complete the challenge, now please, tell us how you mastered the Task?”
Xander, shivering frightfully under the thoughtfully provided blanket, with an equally incredulous Cedric standing next to him, grinned at the elder witches and wizards.
“I jumped in,” he announced, “Started swimming, and asked the giant squid for directions.”
With that, he shifted into his animagus form, before shaking like the dog he resembled, coating the judges with enough fur flung droplets of water to fill the lake.
He shifted back an instant later. The Savannah accustomed body of the hyena was even worse suited for the cold than his California soul.
Xander was amazed, half an hour later, when he found himself ranked second in the Tournament, being beaten only by Harry ‘Show-boater’ Potter.
As it turned out, the lightning scarred boy had not quite understood the rules of the Task, and had refused to leave a single ‘treasure’ behind for fear of what may happen to them if Fleur had not come to retrieve her sister.
As a result, the four-eyed brat had won himself extra points, enough to beat out Xander for the top slot even though Xander had beaten him out of the water by a clear twenty minutes, not that he was jealous or anything. He didn’t care about the stupid contest that couldn’t even seem to follow its own stupid rules.
Viktor was coming in third, having retrieved Hermione from the depths of the lake, but Fleur had failed to even find the merpeople’s village, and was now in last place.
Now, however, Xander was dealing with a different problem. Namely, someone who refused to let a joke die out...
“I’m flattered, Xander,” Cedric drawled out with a smug grin, “I’m honored to be your ‘greatest treasure’, but I’m dating Cho and I’m a monogamous kind of guy.
Granted, Xander likely would’ve done the exact same thing in his position, but still.
“I mean,” he continued, “I could talk to her, if you’d like, but she’s kind of possessive of me.”
“You realize that I’m about three seconds from turning into a hyena and biting you in the ass, right?”
“Kinky,” Cedric grinned, “My safe word is apples.”