Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 21

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" "Co-cock-a-doo-doodle-d-doo!" Sirius hesitantly joined in on the crowing.

There was still no reaction from the actual roosters.

The snake was so close that Harry could feel its breath. He started to back away, but it was coming at them too quickly. "Split up!" he called out, starting to run, even though he knew that it wouldn't keep them safe for long.

Hiding behind a stone column to catch his breath, Harry chanced a peek at the roosters. The stupid birds still weren't crowing. Instead, they were preening nonchalantly.

"They don't even look scared?" Harry panted, then, catching a flash of green in the corner of his eye, closed his eyes straight away. "Why don't they look scared!?" He was starting to think that maybe they should have brought Fawkes and the Sorting Hat, with them. But it was too late for that now.

"They can't see the Basilisk," croaked out Remus. His voice shook with fear.

"Can't they hear it!?" screamed Harry, just as Sirius yelled frantically, "THEN MAKE THEM SEE!"

"If I do that, the Basilisk's glare will kill them!" shouted Remus. He had tried to remain calm but now terror seized him. "We just have to wait it out. Roosters are unpredictable sometimes…"

"Remus, for Merlin's sake, do SOMETHING! If they don't crow soon we're all going to die!" roared Sirius.

"Harry! Sirius! TO ME!" shrieked Remus from far to Harry's left. "Keep this side of the roosters! The Basilisk must go through them to get at us!"

Harry had no time to respond. The great stone slabs rumbled beneath his feet as the great beast turned and slithered swiftly in the direction of Remus' voice.

There was a dreadful screech that ended abruptly. It didn't sound like it had been coming from ground level. Had the Basilisk just swallowed one of the roosters? Was it going to eat them all before any of them managed to crow? Just as Harry was about to give in to the panic, give up all hope, and conclude that the three of them were all going to die, the roosters began crowing in a deranged and panicked symphony.

They were finally crowing! "That rooster's death cry alerted the others!" shouted Remus. For the first time, Harry sensed hope in his voice.

The scraping sounds of the advancing Basilisk became frantic and irregular as the beast twisted and spasmed in pain, its hiss increasing in volume. There was a loud crash as its massive tail knocked down a nearby column, sending chunks of stone flying all over.

A boom reverberated through the chamber. And then there was quiet—except for the sounds of the roosters' continued frenzied and disordered crowing.

Remus dropped to his knees in relief, but kept his eyes closed, still fearful of the Basilisk's glare, still not convinced that it was really, truly dead…

Finally, as the last of the birds fell silent, Harry—arguably the bravest of the lot—chanced a cautious peek. He opened his eyes just a crack, ready to shut them at the slightest sign of movement. The giant green serpent was easy to spot, even through half-open eye-lids—it lay no more than five feet away. It wasn't moving.

Encouraged by the lack of movement, Harry opened his eyes completely. The snake was definitely no longer moving. Letting out the breath he'd been holding, he slowly approached the beast. No change. He gave the husk a solid kick. It didn't react. He grinned triumphantly, "I think it's dead."

Sirius, still trembling from the shock of their near-death experience, slowly opened his eyes, in response to the younger wizard's pronouncement. "Wow!" he said shakily, as he caught sight of the beast, the word escaping of its own volition. He swallowed hard and attempted a smile, "We just killed us a thousand-year-old Basilisk!"

Beside him, Remus pushed his fear own aside, and opened his eyes. Then, despite his pounding heart and wobbly knees, he pushed himself to his feet, tactfully ignoring the yellow puddle at his friend's feet. His knees buckled again as he got his first real look at the Basilisk—it was huge—but he managed to stay standing. Shuddering slightly, he forced himself to speak, "I suppose we should get to work extracting its fangs, and harvesting the residual venom from its glands." However, he hesitated because, in truth, the idea of getting any closer to the giant serpent filled him with dread.

A full two minutes passed before he managed to move. Instead, Remus stood rooted in place, staring at the serpent's enormous mouth, the mouth that had been less than a minute away from swallowing him whole, the mouth that they would soon need to open in order to get to the Basilisk's venom…

Finally, he crouched down by the snake's enormous head to unshrink and unpack the equipment he'd brought with him—and found himself face to face with one of its giant bulbous eyes…

Shivering, once more, he made a conscious effort to turn away, to focus on the task at hand. It wasn't easy, but as long as he thought of the carcass as a specimen to harvest for ingredients, and not as the beast that had almost eaten him, he could keep himself from shaking uncontrollably, and concentrate enough to do what needed doing.

Barking orders at the others to get them to do their share also helped him to control his own nerves—not that Remus could ever actually bark; he was much too soft-tempered to even raise his voice. And…with three sets of hands to do the work, the harvesting was finished much more quickly. Still, working in the shadow of the giant corpse, it felt like hours, before they finished, and could start packing up.

As Remus carefully placed the fruits of their labour into a magically reinforced wooden crate—ignoring the looming carcass behind him—Sirius worked on banishing the duplicated roosters and capturing the original—who was surprisingly agile at evading capture, slipping from his grasp and dodging his spells, despite being completely blind.

When they finally picked up the container, and headed back the way they had come, leaving the giant husk behind them, Remus felt like a huge load had been lifted from his shoulders, as if he could finally breathe easy again. He allowed Sirius and Harry to carry the crate holding the venom and fangs—reluctant to cast too much magic on it, in case of adverse reactions—and instead took charge of the rooster—it liked him better anyway.

There was no need to call for Fawkes when they reached the base of the pipe leading out of the underground cavern—he was already waiting for them. His wizard they found at the top of the pipe, waiting in the dingy second-floor lavatory, alongside a nervous Lily and a giddy Myrtle.

"It appears that you were successful at your task." The headmaster's eyes twinkled, as they fell upon the crate that Harry and Sirius carried between them. "Perhaps, now we can begin the task of collecting and destroying Voldemort's soul fragments—which you seem to keep putting off?"

Harry smiled back at him, not about to let Dumbledore's twinkle unbalance him. "Sure! We can destroy the diadem right away if you'd like." He hadn't been putting things off, just insisting on doing them in the right order. "Can you call James and Luna, while I go get it?" He'd promised Luna that she could be the one to destroy the diadem, and besides, it could serve as a concrete example for the group of how tenacious Horcruxes could be. "Have them meet us in the Room of Requirement—"

"Now!?" Lily interrupted, her voice shrill. She'd finally started to relax a little after seeing the three men emerge unscathed, and now her son wanted to run towards danger—again? "You just finished off going up against a fifty foot snake, and now you want to run off again, without even telling us where you're going."

Harry sighed, caught between being grateful that he had a mother to worry about him and being frustrated because she was worrying needlessly. "Retrieving the diadem won't be dangerous, Mum," he promised, reaching up to squeeze her shoulder in reassurance. "It's right here in the castle, in the Room of Requirement. It won't take me more than fifteen minutes to find—and it's not even booby-trapped."

Lily frowned, after what she'd seen of his memories, she wasn't convinced. "I'm not sure I trust your definition of dangerous," she said, her voice hard.

"I—" Harry started to defend himself, but Remus, recognizing the look in Lily's eyes, cut him off with a question, "That's the second time you mention the 'Room of Requirement. What is the 'Room of Requirement', exactly? Where is it?" in an effort to distract the red-head from her imminent tirade.

The question caught Harry by surprise, and he found himself looking back and forth between Sirius and Remus, in disbelief. "You mean you never found it?" Both Marauders just stared back at him blankly. "You mean to tell me that Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, purveyors of aids to magical mischief-makers, never found the Room of Requirement, despite seven years of exploring and mischief making?" Still no indication that either of them knew what he was talking about…but now Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling intensely. Harry couldn't help it—he burst out laughing.

"Sorry," he choked out when he finally got his breath back under control. "I've always wondered why the Room isn't on the Map…but… really? You never found it?"

"Umm… no," answered Sirius, "I mean, yes, we never found it. Of course, we don't know what 'it' is, so maybe we did…"

Harry smiled mischievously. "Bet it was a broom closet when you found it… The Room of Requirement is a room that can become anything you 'require'—if you know how to use it. Come, I'll show you… You can help me find the diadem while we wait for James and Luna."

Dumbledore frowned, and cleared his throat. "Is that really necessary, Mr Potter? Surely, it would be simpler if you and I were to deal with the Horcrux on our own…and everyone else just went home."

Harry shook his head. "Maybe, but I don't like the secrecy, and I think you might be underestimating how difficult it is to destroy a Horcrux; I was hoping to use the diadem as a demonstration for everyone." He smirked, "Also, I promised Luna she could have this one. She's a Ravenclaw, you know."

Dumbledore furrowed his eyebrows, none too pleased with the decision, but he didn't argue the point further, instead nodding his agreement, as he took his leave. "Very well. I will call them, and join you shortly."

Harry smiled, after him, but as he turned to follow him out, and lead the others towards the Room of Requirement, Lily grabbed his arm, stopping him. "We weren't finished our conversation, young man."

Harry wasn't about to let himself be deterred, not after winning his argument with Dumbledore, "You can come, too, if you like, Mum. I promise that it's nothing dangerous—unless you're worried about getting buried by several centuries' worth of junk."

Lily looked from Remus to Sirius, and then back again. Both were grinning like Cheshire cats. She sighed loudly, in exasperation, and then nodded reluctantly, out-voted—again. Hopefully, she wasn't being roped into anything too dangerous…

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