Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 20

"Nope...Not me...No way!" Sirius shook his head emphatically, and banged his fist down on the table, as the images he’d just seen in Dumbledore’s Pensieve flashed through his mind: venomous fangs long and thin as sabres, huge bulbous yellow eyes, a mouth wide enough to swallow a wizard whole…

No, there was absolutely no way he was volunteering to help Harry slay the thousand-year-old Basilisk currently hidden in the Chamber of Secrets. Unfortunately, though quite understandably, neither was anyone else. Even Luna, despite her earlier talk of adventure, had murmured, “I’m sorry, Harry. I’m not as brave as you are,” when he’d looked her way.

The group, which comprised of both time-travellers, the Potters, Sirius and Remus—Dumbledore had been called away yet again for Ministry business—had been sitting around the dining room table of the Potters' home for over an hour, huddled around the Pensieve they'd borrowed from Dumbledore, and trying to make plans for destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes. So far, other than viewing some of Harry's memories, they hadn't made much progress.

"Is there truly no other way?" whispered Lily, still shaking several minutes after emerging from the Pensieve. She'd been paralysed with fear just watching the memory of Harry's visit to the Chamber of Secrets in his second year, watching her baby boy fight for his life. She wasn't letting him go back down there—not if she could help it.

Harry shook his head morosely, "According to Hermione's research, the Horcrux shell has to be 'beyond magical repair'. The only other thing I've seen work is Fiendfyre, which is even more dangerous. The Basilisk venom is our best shot for destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes.”

Remus, who sat across from her, fiddled nervously with the tablecloth. "Maybe we could just buy some Basilisk venom then?" he suggested.

Beside him, Sirius snorted, "Not likely! Aside from being a controlled substance, Basilisk venom is incredibly rare and prohibitively expensive—even my dear Mum has never been able to get her hands on some, with all the Black fortune at her disposal."

"What does your Mum want with Basilisk venom?" asked James, grateful for the temporary change of subject.

"Darned if I know," answered Sirius, shrugging. "Maybe she wants to poison someone—seems like overkill though… Whatever it is, isn't good, that's for sure..." he trailed off, shuddering at some of the possibilities that crossed his mind.

For a while no one else spoke; an awkward silence fell over the group. Several times, Harry opened his mouth to ask, once more, for volunteers, but each time he closed it again, without saying a word.

In the end, it was Luna that finally broke the silence, setting aside the quill she’d been fiddling with absently. "I don’t know why you’re all making such a big fuss about who has to slay the Basilisk. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just use a rooster?"

"A rooster!?" James laughed, half nervously, half mockingly "What's a rooster going to do against a Basilisk? Peck it to death?"

"Actually, she's right," Harry cut him off before his comments could degenerate further, "I can't believe I didn't think of it! A rooster's crow can kill a Basilisk; that's why Riddle kept killing off Hagrid's roosters my second year. If we bring a rooster along with us into the chamber, we won't even have to fight the Basilisk …"

"No, we just have to somehow convince a rooster to crow underground!" responded James, his tone pessimistic.

"Roosters don't have to see the sun to crow," Remus spoke up, "They crow at sunrise, even if they don't see the sun, or if they see a bright light at night…" As the former—or rather future—professor continued to lecture, Harry found himself smiling at memories of the year that Remus had taught at Hogwarts. "Or if they hear another rooster, or if they see…" The werewolf trailed off as he noticed everyone staring at him in surprise. "What? I grew up on a farm!"

"Well that settles that then," said Sirius decisively, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms across his chest.

"Settles what?" Remus asked the question, though he suspected he already knew—and wouldn't like—the answer.

"You know how to get a rooster to crow; therefore you're the best choice to go down into the Chamber with Harry."

Remus glared at his friend, but didn't contradict him. "Fine," he answered, then, noting Sirius' smug smirk, he added, "But only if you come too…"

Sirius' eyes widened like a deer caught in headlights, and he shook his head vigorously. "Harry doesn't need both of us."

"I don't know, Sirius," the aforementioned wizard came to Remus' defence, "I think it's only fair that if you're willing to volunteer someone else, you come along as well and…" Harry smirked, unable to resist adding, "if all else fails, we can always use you as bait."

Only James laughed—earning himself a glare from his wife, to match the one she directed at their son.

Harry and Lily met up with Remus and Sirius shortly before dawn the next morning, just outside the girl's lavatory on the second floor of Hogwarts. James and Luna had stayed behind to watch the baby, since there was really no need for them to all be there.

“This is a girls’ bathroom!” Moaning Myrtle objected loudly to their presence the moment the group stepped into the room. “What are you doing in here? Come to tease me?” She pointed a silver finger— and glared accusingly—at Sirius and Remus, “Come to prank me?” Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes.

“We’re terribly sorry to bother you,” Harry cut her off before she could start full-out wailing, “but, we’ve actually come to slay the creature that had killed you.”

Myrtle’s expression transformed abruptly. The tears, that moments ago had threatened to fall, disappeared. “Really?” she asked, timidly.

“Really,” Harry assured her, “Will you let us work?”

The teenaged ghost smiled—one of the few times Harry had ever seen her do so—and nodded, floating off to sit in her usual cubicle, and leaving the group to finish their preparations in peace.

Lily watched as Remus cast a hex to render the rooster he'd brought with him temporarily blind, as protection against the Basilisk's deadly gaze, before casting a dozen duplications charms on it. "Are you sure the duplicated roosters are going to work as well as the original?" she asked, nervously.

"They should," he answered, "and really we're only taking the extra dozen as back-up, one rooster can do the job well enough on its own."

"And you're sure you can get them to crow at the right moment?" she asked, biting her lower lip anxiously, still reluctant to let them go, despite the precautions they were taking; she'd been out-voted.

Remus leaned against the nearest cubical, his posture deliberately relaxed, and smiled reassuringly, though in truth, he was just as nervous about the whole affair as she was, "They should crow naturally at sunrise, but if not, I know a spell that should do the trick." Actually, he was probably more nervous, since it was his neck on the line, if things didn't work out as planned.

Still unconvinced, Lily turned to Harry, and asked, "You're absolutely positive that you have to do this?"

Harry smiled, in an attempt to put her at ease. "We'll be fine, Mum," he promised, pulling her into a hug when it became clear that the words wouldn't be enough.

Lily clung to him tightly, and a long moment passed before she finally managed to swallow her fear enough to release him. Wiping a tear from her eyes, with one hand, she reached into one of her robe pockets, with the other, and pulled out a charmed toy microphone. She'd enchanted the device to translate the two phrases they'd need from English into Parseltongue, using Harry’s Pensieve memory, since he could no longer speak the language: 'Open' and 'Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.'

"Be careful," she implored, as she handed it to Harry, barely managing a half-smile.

"We will," he promised, smiling back at her once more, before stepping towards the entrance to the chamber and activating the device.

The four of them—and Myrtle—watched as the tap hiding the entrance to the Chamber began to glow and spin, and then—just as Harry remembered—the sink sank out of sight leaving a gaping hole in the floor.

Startled, Sirius gasped and jumped back from the neighbouring sink he'd been leaning on.

"You want to go first?" Harry couldn't resist teasing.

"If a couple of twelve-year-olds and a fraudulent coward could slide down that thing, I reckon I can too," Sirius rose to the bait, not about to admit how unsettled he was feeling.

Suppressing a shudder, he approached the gaping hole, but did not jump in straight away. First, he took control of half of the roosters with Mobilicorpus, and sent them hurtling down the pipe as guinea pigs. Only when he heard the muted echo of the birds reaching their destination did he lower himself to the ground, and placing with his feet in the pipe, follow them down.

Sirius had already scrambled to his feet by the time Harry joined his godfather at the base of the stone slide, less than minute later. The older wizard was covered in slime but grinning like a madman, "That was the best ride ever!" he exclaimed, all fear forgotten.

"Trust you to get an adrenaline high from sliding down a tunnel of slime, on your way to confront a thousand-year-old Basilisk..." Harry scrambled out of the way at the sound of Remus' voice coming down the slide—with the final seven roosters in tow—right behind him.

Harry responded with a half-smile, as he stood up, "A rather smart witch once pointed out to me that nothing's worth doing, if you don't try to have fun in the process."

Remus sighed, "Shall we move on, gentlemen—and I use the term loosely?"

Harry lit his wand. Now that they stopped talking, the cavern was eerily silent, except for the sound of their breath, and that of the roosters restlessly fluffing their feathers.

No one spoke, as he led the way down a dark, seemingly never-ending tunnel. The sound of their footsteps— and the occasional crunch when one of them accidentally stepped on a discarded animal bone—echoed through the passage.

Forewarned, he managed not to react to the sight of the huge Basilisk skins they came across in the tunnel. The others, though they'd both seen his Pensieve memories, didn't manage quite the same restraint. Remus jumped back at in shock, at the first one he saw, and Sirius both jumped back and yelped like a girl. All the same, the skins still managed to raise Harry's hackles, bringing back memories of the last time that he had come this way.

When they finally reached the carving of two emerald-eyed serpents at the end of the passage, Harry paused to brace himself before activating Lily's charmed device once more.

However, no amount of preparation could truly ready him for the flood of memories that consumed him when he laid eyes on the chamber that awaited them on the other side. He shivered, despite himself. The memories evoked by the walk down the tunnel paled in comparison.

Still, he forced himself to put one foot in front of the other, and walk the length of the chamber towards the statue of Salazar Slytherin at the far end, the sounds of Remus and Sirius' footsteps echoing beside his.

Only when he reached it did he allow himself to stop, to stand silent in the spot where—years ago and a universe away— he had found an eleven-year-old Ginny near death. He shivered again as the haunting memory was replaced by another, by that of a sixteen-year-old Ginny, truly dead.

Harry sobbed; the grief he’d been burying since the funeral pushed its way through his carefully constructed barriers. One sob was all it took, to unleash the torrent of tears he’d been holding back. He’d been lying to himself for months, thinking that things were getting better—they weren’t. He still felt the loss—the raw gnawing pain of it—as if she’d died just yesterday.

The footsteps at his side stopped, and Harry felt a comforting hand land on his shoulder, grounding him. He took a few deep breaths to try to calm his nerves. It didn’t work. It wasn’t fair! Why did she have to die!? Why did any of them have to die!?

Harry summoned every ounce of strength within himself. Ginny isn't dead, he reminded himself. She’s less than a year old, but she’s very much alive! The pain eased a little, Ginny was alive, and he was going to keep her that way.

It felt like an eternity to Harry before he managed to completely stem the tears and recover his ability to speak. "The Basilisk is in a chamber behind this wall," he croaked hoarsely. Harry cleared his throat self-consciously and pointed.

Sirius, whose hand it had been on his shoulder, nodded. "So do we open it?" he asked, "Or wait until after the roosters have crowed?"

Beside him, Remus shook his head. "If that stone wall is as thick as it looks, I doubt we'll be able to actually kill the monster without opening it."

Both wizards turned towards Harry, for direction, waiting for him to make the call. "We'll open it right before sunrise," he decided, then looked down at his watch to check the time.

A minute later, he nodded, close enough. "Okay, everyone, close your eyes," he warned, activating Lily's device a final time with the phrase, 'Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.'

The sound of shifting stone, as Salazar Slytherin's mouth opened wide to permit access to the room beyond, filled the chamber. It was followed by the sound of the Basilisk beginning to stir and slither towards the entrance.

The fifty-foot snake hit the stone floor of the chamber with a giant thud. The roosters still hadn't crowed.

"They're not crowing!" exclaimed Sirius nervously, "Why are they not crowing?"

Remus didn't waste time answering. Instead, pointing his wand in the general direction of the roosters, he cast a spell he'd perfected as a teenager, one that never failed to cause the family rooster to crow, much to his parents' annoyance.

It didn't work. The Basilisk was still moving forward, hissing incomprehensibly.

Of course! The roosters couldn't see the flashing bright lights his wand was emitting... The thought occurred to Remus—too late.

"They're supposed to be crowing!" Sirius' voice was high-pitched and panicky, "Make them crow!"

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" Remus called out; maybe he could get the roosters to imitate him instead. Catching on to his strategy, Harry joined in, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Still no response from the roosters…

The Basilisk kept moving slowly forward. It was almost upon them…

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