Harry, Ron, Ginny, Fawkes, and “Professor” Lockhart stumbled into Professor McGonagall’s office, covered in muck, slime, and blood on their return from the Chamber of Secrets. There was silence for a moment before Ginny threw herself into her parents arms.
Harry looked on and was immensely relieved to see Professor Dumbledore had returned. He leaned against the mantel and called Fawkes over to him. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were beside themselves thanking Harry, and Professor McGonagall was very interested in just what had happened, but no one said much coherently before Professor Dumbledore spoke up.
“I think, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, that you have quite a tale to tell,” he said with a smile. “And I think that you should tell it presently.”
Harry and Ron looked at each other. Then, Harry took a deep breath to collect his thoughts and began, “Well, sir, Professor McGonagall let us go to the Hospital Wing earlier to visit Hermione, and we found a note in her hand. She figured out what the monster was before she was petrified. It was a basilisk—”
Harry froze, suddenly fearful. The atmosphere had turned from joyful to deadly serious so fast it made his head spin. No one dared speak, not even the hysterical Mrs. Weasley, nor the oblivious Lockhart, as every adult in the room, even Dumbledore himself, grew as pale as death.
Dumbledore stepped forward, staring at Harry with the most intense look he had ever seen. It was as if the Headmaster was boring into his mind and riffling through his memories with his eyes. “Harry,” he said with a voice that was like holding back thunder, “did you say a basilisk?”
Harry gulped. He felt like he had broken some really serious law that he didn’t know about. “Y-y-yes, sir,” he said.
“Are you certain it was a basilisk?”
“Y-yes, sir. I saw it, but it’s dead now.”
“B-b-but how is it that no one was k-killed?” McGonagall asked with a look of terror Harry had not thought her capable of.
“No one looked it in the eye directly, ma’am. It was all reflections and stuff.”
The intense pressure on Harry’s mind vanished, and he saw Dumbledore and McGonagall exchanging a very worried look.
“You know what we must do, Albus,” McGonagall said.
“Yes, I know. I am loathe to do it, but it would be no good if I went to Azkaban for not reporting it.”
“You, Professor?” Harry said in confusion. “But what—?”
“Please be silent, Harry,” Dumbledore ordered in a voice that brokered no argument. Harry was stunned. Dumbledore was always so kindly. And the battle was already won. What on earth was making him so…threatening?
“Expecto Patronum!” Dumbledore said. Harry watched as the Headmaster conjured a shimmering, silver phoenix and spoke to it: “Locate any students who are not in the dorms, the Hospital Wing, or this room.” The Phoenix shook its head, apparently indicating there weren’t any. A moment later, it vanished. Then, the old wizard spoke two eldritch incantations that made Harry’s hair stand on end. The first had no noticeable effect inside the room, but the second filled the air with the densest fog he had ever seen. He could barely see the other people in the room. He had no doubt that it permeated the entire castle. Through a veil, he saw Dumbledore point his wand at his own throat and speak, “Sonorus!” Then, he had to clap his hands over his ears as Dumbledore’s voice thundered through the castle, amplified a hundredfold:
“Attention Hogwarts! This is Headmaster Dumbledore speaking. I have been reinstated by the Board of Governors. Everyone remain where you are. My instructions are to be followed to the letter on penalty of censure for insubordination.”
Harry gasped. He knew that, at least in muggle schools, insubordination was dealt with harshly—not always enforced, but held in reserve in case it was needed. Dudley had nailed him with that a couple of times.
“In a few minutes, Hogwarts will be evacuated to the Ministry of Magic,” the Headmaster continued. “Aurors will open the common room fire grates from the other side for Floo transport. Prefects, perform a head count, and inform the Aurors of any missing students upon your arrival. House Guardians: common rooms are hereby sealed to all entry except on the Headmaster’s word. House Ghosts: guard the entrances to the common rooms from the inside. All students: if anything should happen to the House Ghosts, close the fire grate at once and retreat to your individual dorm rooms. Do not look back. Quietus.”
“Mum, what’s happening?” Ginny wailed.
“I didn’t want any trouble,” Harry said. “The monster’s dead. You don’t need to—”
“We must be sure there are no others, Harry,” Dumbledore interrupted. “This is a Ministry matter. You must wait. I will explain later. Director of Magical Law Enforcement’s Office!” Harry saw a green light appear in the fog. The Headmaster must have used Floo powder. He couldn’t see what was happening, but he heard an unknown woman speaking.
“Albus, what is it?” she said. “Did something else happen? Did you find the girl?”
“All students are safe and accounted for at the moment, Amelia,” he said, speaking quickly, “but we have a greater emergency: I have discovered that the monster was a basilisk.”
“Basilisk? Are you certain Albus?”
Harry’s (and everyone else’s) level of alarm jumped still higher when the woman on the other side of the Floo started shouting, “CODE RED! CODE RED! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! CODE RED AT HOGWARTS! Call back all Aurors and Hitwizards! ALL of them except minimum patrol at Azkaban. We have a confirmed basilisk sighting. Repeat: CONFIRMED BASILISK SIGHTING!” Then, there was a lot of indistinct shouting in the background from the fireplace, but Amelia’s voice cut through the noise: “Albus what steps have you taken?”
“I have sealed off the grounds and conjured fog throughout the castle to protect the students. They are confined to their dorms and awaiting evacuation. All are accounted for.”
“What about the basilisk? Where is it? How many?”
“In the Chamber of Secrets, and I hope only one. I have confirmed only that Harry Potter located the Chamber and killed one basilisk inside it.”
“He killed one?” Amelia gasped. “But you said—he’s alive, then?”
“Yes. He is with me now. Be advised that his Parseltongue ability is needed to enter the Chamber. I suspect it was only the one basilisk, but—”
“But we’ll have to search the whole place from top to bottom and question everyone involved, yes. Okay, first priority is to make sure the students are safe. Who was involved in the attacks?”
Fortunately, Dumbledore’s look into Harry’s mind had told him the whole story. “I have three students and one teacher with me whom I believe are the only ones who had contact with the basilisk. I also believe it was released against their will.”
“Good. Here’s the plan. I’ll evacuate the Atrium and conjure a fog screen there, and then reconnect to you. Send through everyone who was involved first, then evacuate the common rooms one at a time, followed by all staff and any stragglers. I’ll contact St. Mungo’s to retrieve the ones in your Infirmary.”
“I understand, Amelia. I await your call.”
The grate closed, and Dumbledore stepped back to rejoin the group, close enough for them to see his face through the fog. Harry was about to ask what was going on again, but the Headmaster spoke first: “That will take them a few minutes. You will all need to be questioned by the DMLE, of course. I want you to cooperate with them fully.”
“Professor, what is going on?” Harry shouted.
“A basilisk is an extremely dangerous creature, Harry,” Dumbledore said.
“Yeah, I know.” Harry held up the sword he was still holding.
“My apologies. And I will need to take that sword before you go. A basilisk is so dangerous—and illegal—that any time one is sighted, the Ministry is required to investigate where it came from and how it was released, and search the entire area thoroughly to make sure there aren’t any others.
Ginny burst into tears again. “I-I-I d-didn’t mean to!” she gasped. “T-T-Tom made me do it!” Mrs. Weasley held her closer, and she buried her face in her robes, sobbing incoherently.
“Please, Dumbledore,” said a tearful Mrs. Weasley, “what’s going to happen to Ginny?”
“She will be questioned under Veritaserum—truth serum—” he added, shooting a glance at Harry, “—to determine her exact involvement in this affair, and charges will be filed as appropriate.”
“Professor, it wasn’t Ginny’s fault!” Harry said. “She was possessed. She didn’t mean to—”
“Enough.” Dumbledore held up his hand. “Even I cannot stop the investigation at this point. You and Ronald will also be questioned, as will Professor Lockhart…if the Healers can extract anything useful from his mind.”
“Ron, too?” Mrs. Weasley gasped. “But did he do anything? Don’t we have a right to refuse?”
“Not in this case. This falls under the ‘clear and present danger’ doctrine, not an ordinary criminal investigation. But if Ginevra was truly acting against her will and did not know what she was doing, she will not be blamed.” He didn’t mention his real worry. He saw in Harry’s mind that Ginny knew she was being possessed. If she knew or suspected that it was a basilisk she was unleashing and didn’t do anything to stop it, she would still be sent to Azkaban for long enough to come out emotionally crippled at best, underage or no.
In fact, Harry and Ron might not be out of the woods either. They had known there was a basilisk for a whole day and not reported it. Technically, there was no duty to report for an ordinary, uninvolved citizen, and technically, had they followed instructions strictly, they would not have even had the opportunity to report it, but the Ministry would be quick to prosecute any actual crime they found to the fullest extent of the law. If that happened, Dumbledore could only hoped he could get them off on the grounds that Harry had actually killed the thrice-damned thing.
The Floo whooshed to life again, and Madam Bones called out, “Alright, Albus, we’re set up on this end. Send through the POIs.”
“Certainly. Molly, please take Ginny through first.”
Mrs. Weasley got up, trembling, and nudged Ginny through the fireplace. A few moments later, a voice said, “Okay, next one.”
“Harry, please step through next,” Dumbledore said.
Harry handed over the sword, stepped through the Floo and came spinning out onto the floor of what he presumed was the Ministry of Magic. This room was filled with thick fog as well. He had just enough time to look up and see both Ginny and Mrs. Weasley being carried away, seemingly unconscious, before someone called out “Stupefy!” and everything went black.
Harry awoke and found he was chained to a chair. He started to panic and struggle, but he heard a woman’s voice say, “Please remain calm, Mr. Potter.” It was the same voice he had heard talking to Dumbledore through the Floo. He looked up and saw a stern, square-jawed, older woman with a monocle dressed in plain, black robes standing over him. “I apologise for the restraints,” she said. “They’re standard procedure. If Dumbledore’s story is true, I don’t believe you are a threat. However, I must question you, the same as the others.”
“Wh-what happened?” Harry asked.
“You were stunned by an Auror upon your arrival and brought here for questioning. Again, standard procedure.”
“A magical police officer—our highest-trained officers, to be exact. My name is Amelia Bones, Mr. Potter. I am the Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.”
Harry’s eyes widened. He didn’t realise this was going all the way to the top. “So they’re searching for the basilisk, ma’am?” he asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” she said. “Because of the danger of a basilisk nest, we will be searching every inch of the castle and grounds to make sure there are no more of them around.”
Every inch of the castle? Harry thought. But Hogwarts was huge, and it changed all around when you weren’t looking. How could anyone search all of it? “How long will that take?” he asked.
“No idea. Headmaster Dumbledore is already talking about cancelling final exams. Hogwarts is a nightmare with secret chambers and such.”
“Yeah, I know. Er…Madam Bones, I still don’t get why a basilisk is such a big deal. I mean, sure, it nearly killed me, but I killed it instead.”
Bones sighed and sat down in a chair across from Harry. “Mr. Potter, you were raised in the muggle world. Correct?” she asked.
“Then I suppose you might not understand how serious this is. You know about nuclear weapons, don’t you?”
“Good. Now, keeping that in mind, imagine what would have happened, God forbid, if that basilisk had come into the Great Hall during dinner.”
Harry’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Everyone would have died,” he whispered.
“Yes. Nearly the entire school would have died. Some petrified first by reflections. Perhaps a lucky very few managing to escape. There are fewer than ten thousand witches and wizards in Britain. Hogwarts is the only school. Upwards of ninety percent of all children ages eleven to eighteen killed—a third of a demographic generation already weakened by low birthrates during the war. In all likelihood, there would be a mass exodus of surviving families from Britain, the Ministry would collapse, and once the basilisk was found and killed by the ICW, the island would be resettled as a colony of magical France. It’s happened before in the Indian princely states.”
Harry felt faint. He knew the basilisk was really, really bad news, but he hadn’t thought it out anywhere near that far.
“In proportional terms, Mr. Potter,” Madam Bones continued, “a loose basilisk would be worse than dropping an H-bomb on London, so I hope you can understand why we treat it this severely.”
Harry could only nod. His voice had left him.
“I sincerely hope that the basilisk you killed was the only one,” she added, “but we must be absolutely certain, just as the muggle government must keep careful track of all nuclear weapons. In order to understand what we’re up against, I need to question you under Veritaserum about everything you know about the incident. The serum will force you to answer all questions truthfully and thoroughly. Do you understand?
Harry was pretty sure he didn’t have any deep, dark secrets, unless you counted all those times he sneaked out of the dorms with his invisibility cloak: “Um, I guess, but…”
“Is Ginny is trouble, ma’am?”
Madam Bones sat, grim-faced and seemed to wrestle with herself. After a minute’s thought she said, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, Mr. Potter, but I questioned Miss Weasley directly before you. She reported that she was unwittingly possessed by a cursed diary, had no memory of her actions, and had no idea that a basilisk was involved. In short, she did nothing that warrants pressing charges. As for school punishment, that’s up to the Headmaster.”
“Oh, that’s okay, then.”
Bones nodded, not mentioning the alternative possibility: anyone who knowingly and willingly released a basilisk into the school would likely be executed for use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted genocide. “Rufus?” she called, and a man with a mane of tawny hair that made him look like an old lion stepped forward. “This is Rufus Scrimgeour, the Head Auror,” she told Harry. “He will administer the Veritaserum.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter,” Scrimgeour said. “I have a few of questions to ensure that the potion will work correctly on you.” Harry nodded. “Have you ever practised any form of Occlumency, meditation, or self-hypnosis.”
“Um, no, I don’t think so.”
“Have you ever been placed under the Imperius Curse?”
“The what curse?”
“Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness or learning disability?”
“Good. Open your mouth, please.”
Harry wasn’t sure what all of that was about—well, maybe the self-hypnosis part—but he opened his mouth, and Scrimgeour dripped three drops of a clear, tasteless potion onto his tongue. He felt a slight haze around his mind—not so much an aura of truth as the sensation of all thoughts and concerns about what he was going to say vanishing from his mind. He knew he would know exactly what to say.
Madam Bones set up a parchment with a Dictaquill to record the conversation, and she began the questioning. “What is your name, for the record?” she asked.
“Harry James Potter,” Harry answered. He had never used his middle name before, but it seemed perfectly natural now.
“Do you live in Little Whinging, Surrey?”
“Are you currently a second-year student at Hogwarts?”
“Answer the next question “no,” please. Are you the Seeker on the Gryffindor Quidditch Team?”
“N-Yes.” Harry was surprised at how subtly the potion worked. The lie had felt so unnatural on his tongue that the word had changed in his mouth before he even realised it.
“Let the record show that the Veritaserum is working as expected,” Bones said. “Now, Mr. Potter, please explain from the beginning, and in your own words: how did a basilisk come to be released in Hogwarts, and what happened to it?”
Harry opened his mouth to begin explaining about the attack on Mrs. Norris on Halloween, but as he began to speak, he found completely different words coming to him unbidden, and he realised that the “beginning” of the story really happened long before that. “The first trouble happened on my birthday last summer,” he began. “Dobby warned me that someone was planning to do terrible things at Hogwarts this year.”
“And who is Dobby?” Bones interrupted.
“A house elf. He showed up in my room—”
“Bugger!” Madam Bones said. She jumped up and ran out of the room. Harry was left staring after her in confusion.
It was a couple of minutes before she came back. “Sorry about that, Mr. Potter,” she said. “I completely forgot to tell Dumbledore to get the house elves out of Hogwarts. Ugh, embarrassing.”
“There are house elves working at Hogwarts?” Harry said in surprise.
“Of course there are. How did you think the food got made? Don’t answer that,” she added, remembering he was still under Veritaserum. “Now, again, how did a basilisk come to be released in Hogwarts?”
Harry began talking, but it was slow going. So many things need extra explanation. He started by explaining about Dobby’s visit last summer in which the elf had tried to force him not to go back at Hogwarts, and which ended with Dobby getting him in trouble for underage magic.
“So the elf performed the Hover Charm, but you received a warning letter?” Madam Bones clarified.
“Yes,” Harry answered.
“I’ll look into that. I should be able to strike the warning from your record.”
“What happened next, Mr. Potter?”
“Uncle Vernon locked me in my room and hired a man to put bars on the windows.”
“No, I meant about the basil—wait, he locked you in your room?”
Auror Scrimgeour raised his eyebrow. “For how long?”
“Four days, until the Weasleys came and got me.”
“The didn’t let you out at all?”
“Twice a day to use the bathroom. The door was locked all the time, otherwise.”
“How did they feed you, then?”
“Through a cat flap in the door.”
Bones and Scrimgeour leaned back and nodded to each other. Bones shifted her Dictaquill to a new piece of parchment and said, “Harry Potter, testifying to allegations against his legal guardians, Vernon and Petunia Dursley. Witnessed: Amelia Bones and Rufus Scrimgeour. Veritaserum administered and verified. What is your name for the record, Mr. Potter?”
“Harry James Potter.”
“Described your Aunt and Uncle’s treatment of you from the time they took you in.”
“They made me sleep in the cupboard under the stairs from when they took me in until I got my first Hogwarts letter,” Harry said. He was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. He never wanted to make a big deal about his relatives’ treatment of him, but he couldn’t resist the Veritaserum. “They took care of me only as much as they were legally required to. They taught me to do chores starting before I can remember and made me do as many as I was able. I don’t remember them ever buying anything just for me besides my glasses—”
“Stop, Mr. Potter.” Madam Bones sighed, looking horrified. This was going to be a long day. “We’ll deal with your relatives later.” She handed the second parchment off and said, “Rufus, add this to the stack of active cases. Bring Mr. Potter’s guardians in as soon as there’s someone free to do it.” He nodded and left the room.
“You’re going to arrest the Dursley’s?” Harry said with wide eyes.
“Yes. You’re still under Veritaserum, Mr. Potter. You’ve given me enough to give them five years for neglect already. You don’t want to go back there, do you?”
“No!” Harry said. He couldn’t believe what was happening. A day ago, he was afraid Hogwarts would close, and he’d be stuck with the Dursleys forever. Now, he might not have to go back there at all.
“Good. Now, tell me more about the basilisk.”
Harry again started to talk about the attack on Mrs. Norris, but he once again found the words changing as he said them and remembered that there was another piece of the story to tell: “I first saw Tom Riddle’s Diary when I was shopping for school supplies with the Weasleys in Diagon Alley.”
“The diary that possessed Ginny Weasley?” Madam Bones said.
“Where did you see it?”
“In Ginny’s cauldron.”
That fit, she thought. The Weasley girl had testified that she found it in her cauldron after that shopping trip, but didn’t know how it had got there. She had a speculation, but for better or worse, it was not certain enough to act upon. “How did it get there?” she asked.
Harry was about to say he didn’t know, but the Veritaserum did strange things to his memory. Things that he was sure he couldn’t have remembered on his own suddenly became clear: “I think Lucius Malfoy did it.”
Madam Bones’s heart sank. She’d often fantasised about locking up Lucius Malfoy, but to actually do it…This was going to get ugly. “Why do you think that?”
Harry explained about how Lucius Malfoy had accosted Mr. Weasley in Flourish and Blotts and thumbed through Ginny’s transfiguration book. He was pretty sure he had slipped the diary inside the course book, and he couldn’t think of anyone else who could have and would have done it.
Madam Bones, however, was not satisfied. She needed a lot more than a speculation. “Who was shopping in your group that day?” she asked.
“Me, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Percy, Fred, George, Ron, Ginny, Hermione, and her parents.”
“Did you see anyone else touch Ginny’s cauldron besides Lucius Malfoy?”
“Um…Hagrid might have when he broke up the fight.”
She noted the Grangers’ and Hagrid’s names for reference. “Did you actually see Lucius Malfoy place the diary in Ginny’s cauldron?”
“But you believe he could have done it by sleight of hand without you seeing?”
“Could a passerby in the street have slipped the diary in at some other time that day without you seeing it?”
“Uh, I guess so.”
“Hmm…” This was tricky. She would need something more definite. A Pensieve memory of Malfoy slipping the diary in would be ideal. That would dredge up every detail of the incident from the boy’s subconscious mind, but even that would only show things in his direct line of sight. And Malfoy knew it; he wasn’t an idiot. Although…she had seen the diary itself. It was thick enough that it might be visible inside the course book when it sat in the cauldron, and she could probably follow the course book through the memory and compare it before and after.
Of course, one Pensieve memory wouldn’t be enough to nail Lucius Malfoy, but there were plenty of witnesses. Even if only some of them saw it clearly, a reconstruction from several memories might just about do it, and she was mandated by law to investigate as thoroughly as possible.
Amelia Bones smiled for the first time all day: “Do you know what a Penseive is, Mr. Potter?”