Harry would be the first to admit he had a tepid interest in magical creatures. While he took The Care of Magical Creatures and got a respectable ‘Exceeds Expectations’ O.W.L. on the subject, he didn’t expand his knowledge since leaving Hogwarts.
That said, Harry had something related to magical creatures that he had wondered about. A bugging question that refused to go away.
“Why would anyone want to breed a basilisk?” Harry asked.
“That’s what I want you to find out,” Kingsley Shacklebolt, acting Minister for Magic, intoned. “Before you ask, we’re pretty sure it involves a basilisk. Normal de-enchantments were ineffective, and only the most potent Mandrake Restorative worked on the petrified victims. All who remember seeing ‘two glowing yellow eyes’ before losing consciousness. But we don’t know who did it, let alone why.”
“You don’t want me to find out who?”
“I would love for you to find out who, but you’re still technically a trainee.”
“Sounds like I shouldn’t get involved at all,” Harry said.
“There’s nothing wrong with a trainee looking into the potential motive.” Kingsley clasped his large hands. “I also thought this could serve as a good showcase for the forensic crime lab you’ve been lobbying for. It would certainly give me an idea on what we need to build one.”
Harry did his best not to jump prematurely. The last time Harry sat in a meeting that discussed his request for a crime lab, he got the impression the current head of the Department of Law Enforcement didn’t grasp the need, let alone the concept, of forensics. Instead, she had a lot of questions on why it was taking Harry so long to pass the Auror Exams.
Speaking of his failures: “It’s a pity Dawlish won’t waive the physical. We’ve done it before, and Lestrade was of the opinion you can pass the Muggle-equivalent with flying colors,” Kingsley remarked.
Harry was of the opinion Dawlish didn’t want the problems and pitfalls of having Harry Potter in the Auror Office for the remainder of his career.
“I’m thinking of dropping out and going to medical school.”
“Don’t be hasty.”
Harry sat back and crossed his arms. “I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a kid. I got accepted to the University of London and University of Liverpool. Dr. Dame Sue Black promised to mentor me. Besides, Scotland Yard is more than happy to support my future career as a medical examiner.” Take that, Harry thought.
In the end, Harry accepted the case, but only after Kingsley promised to have a serious talk with Dawlish about the possibility of Harry going Muggle. (Something no one wanted.)
“I’m going to medical school even if I qualify,” Harry said as he rose from his seat.
“Consider me warned,” Kingsley replied, and wished Harry good luck.
The first thing Harry did after leaving Kingsley’s office was texting Ron, his handy gauge for the ‘average wizard’. He expected Ron’s response to proclaim: Harry, your spectacular ignorance in wizard culture is showing!
Ron called an hour later and gave Harry the squint. This meant he was questioning the question itself.
“There are nutters who breed snakes that can kill you with just a look?”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them mentions dark wizards who do, despite the dangers,” Harry reminded him. “Doesn’t say why they breed them in the first place.”
Ron scratched his head. “Bragging rights? Stupidity?”
Those were good, standard reasons for most crime. In Harry’s (thus far short) experience in investigating Muggle crime, he’d seen criminals do stupider things out of macho pride.
Still, breed a monster snake you can’t control and can kill you with eye contact for the flex? There had to be a better reason.
Harry asked his other wizard-raised friends and got various answers that ranged from exotic pet ownership, to prestige (again), to poison collection (Harry forgot about its venomous fangs). After wondering if he could compare the toxicity of basilisk venom against, say, a box jellyfish or an Inland Taipan, Harry sat down and imagined how he’d control one without the benefit of congenital parseltongue.
One could learn parseltongue. Like other human languages, one could train to recognize and interpret snake speech, Dumbledore confirmed as much. But unlike, say, Mermish and Troll, training material weren’t readily available. When Harry asked Kingsley, he was told while learning parseltongue wasn’t illegal, per se, the distribution and access of related literature was highly regulated.
“We keep the limited volumes in circulation with a strong tracing spell. That way we can keep a list of potential black market Runespoor egg brokers.”
Harry’s blank look elicited a smile from Kingsley.
“Runespoor eggs are a key ingredient for mental agility potions.”
Harry looked up Runespoors later. They were snakes that had three heads and laid eggs via their mouths. More relevant to the case, Runespoor eggs had been a prized potion ingredient since the middle ages.
Anyway, if he traced those who checked out parseltongue material, he could track those who were interested in basilisk breeding. After he sifted out those who were into the safer and more profitable business of selling Runespoor eggs.
Seriously, though. Basilisk breeding. Who does that?
“Perhaps this is my inner Sherlock talking,” Harry muttered whilst spooning pureed butternut squash into Beatrice’s mouth, “but maybe there’s a serial poisoner going about murdering people with basilisk venom. I doubt it, though. That stuff destroys like universal acid. I should know.”
Benedict, who was feeding himself, nodded sagely. “Like the Hi-Fi murders.”
Harry cycled through the familiar: What in God’s name was Sherlock thinking?! Why would Sherlock tell Benedict, age five, about the 1970s case where several men raided a Hi-Fi shop in Utah and attempted to kill their hostages with industrial drain cleaner (i.e. hydrochloric acid)? Unlike the Dirty Harry movie they got the idea from, the drain cleaner didn’t kill their victims instantly, but made them choke and gag as their mouths blistered. A painful 22 hour death would have ensued, had the murderers not gunned their hostages down out of impatience.
Then Harry remembered his own upbringing and wondered why he was at all surprised. Perhaps he should’ve feigned greater trauma over his childhood criminology lessons. Clearly, Sherlock decided since Harry turned out okay, he could freely discuss gruesome crimes with his younger children.
Harry went on to speculate what prompted the lecture to begin with. He fancied Benedict did what a lot of other toddlers did: get into dangerous cleaning supplies out of curiosity. He guessed Sherlock felt the need to elaborate when Benedict inevitably retorted: “why?”
“Your lives are going to be so absurd,” Harry told his siblings as he wrapped lunch.
Harry deposited Benedict and Beatrice in Mrs. Hudson’s care and spent the next few hours ruminating over reasons a person would want a basilisk for.
He went exactly nowhere. Not even the powers of sleep, walks, and long showers brought additional insight.
He needed someone to bounce ideas with. This used to be easy; he’d rally all of his closest friends to the Music Room and they’d discuss. Now he needed to work around everyone’s schedule and set up meetings. (Alas, adulthood!) Harry quickly learned to limit the number of friends to invite because juggling over three people was asking for failure. That brought the question of whom to ask.
He decided against Ron and Hermione, the former because he was Harry’s barometer for the ordinary law-abiding wizard, and the latter because she was by nature Lawful Good, therefore lacking in devious imagination. Devious Imagination brought up George and Fred, but something made Harry hesitate. The lack of criminal knowledge and law enforcement background, perhaps? He certainly couldn’t see them helping Harry with the tedium of evidence gathering and processing. Neville would be happy to help with evidence gathering, but he was a master of plants, not potions. Harry always imagined having an army of potioneers in his (so far mythical) crime lab and consulting Neville on a need-to basis.
He needed someone who had Hermione’s prodigious intellect and attention to detail, Fred and George’s imagination for rule breaking, and who had a specific set of skills. At least, someone had the potential to gain them.
He could think of only one such friend.
“Hey, Julia, can we have lunch tomorrow?”
It took a day and half of text exchanges to settle on a date, time and place. While coordinating, it hit Harry all over how much he missed seeing Julia daily.
The year Harry had been preparing to take the GCSEs, and a trainee Auror at the same time, Julia was still in Hogwarts, finishing her final year. He had been busy, often to the point of forgetting to eat or sleep, but he always wished he could still go to the music room and know he would find her there.
Now it took a monumental work of coordination to meet. How did their lives become so divergent?
They met up at a Starbucks, because it was easier for Harry to have private conversations in the Muggle world. Even now, Harry attracted a gaggle of eavesdroppers and rubberneckers whenever he ventured into, say, Diagon Alley. (He could don a disguise, of course, but why bother?)
“Are you still working at Cixin’s laboratory?” Harry asked while they waited for their drinks. The moment the words left his mouth, he knew she wasn’t. She didn’t have the unique perfume of someone who spent the majority of her time inside a potions lab, full of the preservatives and dried herbs that composed the many potions proliferating today.
Julia swiveled her right hand. “Still working for Cixin, but not in the potions lab.”
“I’m working on magical tattoos.”
Harry felt himself leaning towards her as whatever agendas he’d had dissolved into the pit of Irrelevant. “What?”
Julia explained the history of tattoos among wizards with relish. How they were yet another alternative to wands, and that when it came to spell-casting reliability, it was the conduit that trumped all others.
“But, of course, with permanence comes rigidity,” Julia said. “If your tattooist cocks up, you’re screwed.”
Harry’s mouth twitched. “Gotta make sure your tattooist isn’t out to sabotage you.”
The barista called out their names. Harry and Julia picked up their lattes and commandeered seats at the bar. Harry urged Julia to continue after he cast a wordless muffliato.
“I wondered if there was a way to get the benefits of tattoos, but not its static nature,” Julia said. “I mean, you can categorize spells according to a set of… themes. Purposes. Like, we have an entire family of charms that are basically about moving an object, and another family of charms that’s about changing colour, and so on.”
“Therefore, if you ink the root of a spell, all derivatives could branch from there,” Harry finished. “It would be great if it worked out. I can see it benefiting people who have a magic equivalent of learning disability, say.”
“My thoughts, too.” Julia beamed. “So are you an Auror yet?”
Julia frowned at him.
Harry stared out the shop window and watched the cars and people pass by.
“Failed the physical. Twice.” He clutched his cup. “There’s this exam called Hell Week. You run around in the bush without food, sleep or rest for ten days, trying to capture your designated dark wizard before they can kill you.”
“Ten days is not a week.”
“They wanted to call it the Fortnight in Hell, but the death toll got too high.”
“Death toll, not the failure rate.”
“Well, basically everyone failed, so.”
Harry took a fortifying sip of milky espresso before facing Julia again.
She was still frowning, but at something else.
“I don’t see how anyone can last that long without sleep. Don’t you go psychotic after 48 hours without it?”
“That’s why there are so few Aurors.” Harry opted to not voice his opinion that pure luck determined which trainee qualified after Hell Week. “If it ended the moment you capture the dark wizard, I would’ve been fine. But you have to stay in the bush for ten days. No exceptions. That’s where I don’t make it.” Harry’s stamina lasted him two days; more than enough to capture his dark wizard, and all that of others, but not enough to last in the bush.
Julia’s frown transformed into a full-blown scowl. Like she was about to hunt down the Auror Qualification Board and rain Shin Family vengeance on their heads. It was warming to imagine, even if inadvisable.
“Doesn’t sound fair. Or applicable to real life.”
“Kingsley agrees with you.”
Julia took a small sip of her green tea latte (oat milk, dark brown sugar). Harry watched the way her face smoothed back to neutral.
“So what are your plans now?”
“Medical school. Doctor was always my first career choice. Not sure what I want to specialise in, but Dr. Dame Sue Black promised to mentor me in human anatomy. Dr. Dick Shepherd is another person I might study under.”
“Two forensic medicine heavy weights you name-dropped there.”
“Got your dad to thank for that.”
Julia smiled behind her cup. “But then?”
“Kingsley brought me this interesting proposal: can you build a forensics lab for the Auror Department?”
Now it was Julia’s turn to freeze, lower her drink, and lean in with bright eyes.
“He wants you to build a magical forensics lab?”
Harry told Julia about his endless bemoaning over the lack of forensics education in the Auror curriculum, the appalling lack of formal forensics in the wizard legal system, and Kingsley’s idea of using Harry to demonstrate the need of a forensics lab through the curious case of the phantom basilisk.
“I don’t know what’s more disturbing,” Julia said after a beat. “That the Auror Office functions without forensics or that there are people who might breed basilisks.”
“It’s not that Aurors don’t do forensics,” Harry said. “They collect evidence. They interview witnesses and take down their testimonies. But there’s nothing formal about the processing and the storage, let alone presenting the evidence in court. As for basilisk breeders, I don’t the foggiest clue why anyone would want one. Well, one that doesn’t involve terrorism or dark wizard peacocking at any rate.”
Julia nodded as she regarded Harry with a frown.
“Have you seen the bodies?”
“I heard about the case only after the victims were de-petrified via mandrake restorative.”
“Are you sure it’s a basilisk?” Julia probed.
Harry opened his mouth to say yes, but something stopped him.
“Kingsley said ‘all the victims recalled seeing a pair of glowing yellow eyes before losing consciousness’.”
“A lot of things can have a pair of glowing yellow eye-like things,” Julia pointed out.
This was why Harry needed teammates to bounce ideas with. It hadn’t occurred to him to question the description. “And the eyes may not belong to the culprit.”
Julia nodded. “What I find interesting,” she said, “is that the Ministry was able to de-petrify the victims so quickly. I mean, back in our day, didn’t it take six or seven months before Madam Pomfrey got her hands on a mandrake restorative?”
“Not a lot of people cultivate mandrakes,” Harry said. “They’re a hazard with limited practical usage.”
“True,” Julia said. “But that makes the Ministry’s ability to restore the victims in less than six months even more unusual.”
“Definitely something to look into. I actually don’t know when the incident took place, or how long it took the Auror-in-charge to de-petrify the victims.”
“Well, then,” Julia said. “Your first order of business is to talk to the Auror-in-charge. Then you’ve got to find out all the monsters that can petrify a person so severely only a mandrake restorative can undo the curse. I can think of two creatures besides Basilisks off the top of my head: Gorgons and catoblepas.”
“What’s a catoblepas?”
Julia showed him a picture of what looked like a wildebeest with a bowed, absurdly top-heavy head.
“Things you don’t learn at school,” Harry muttered. “Okay, it could have been a different gaze-turns-you-to-stone creature. Jury’s still out why anyone would want that in their secret lair. I also need to ask the Auror-in-charge how they procured the mandrakes and find out who brewed and administered the restorative. The supplier could have been the breeder who had them in case things went tits up.”
“Sounds like a lot of work,” Julia said. “This is all unofficial, right? You’re doing this on your own time.”
“I have the Minister for Magic’s endorsement, but no, I’m not working in an official capacity.”
“Do you realize you’re in the same situation as Clarice Starling?”
Harry didn’t until now. “No way. I’m not pretty enough, and I have no serial-killing cannibals to interview.”
Julia glared. “Why stick your neck out like this? Why is it so important to you to establish a real, functioning forensics lab that you’re willing to put your life in jeopardy? Because if it really is a basilisk you’re hunting, you know damn well that you could get killed while looking for it. Why?”
Harry had to take a moment to parse his words. He never really thought about what made him harp over forensics and medical examiners throughout his Auror training. Why it bothered him so much that the supposedly elite group of dark magic investigators had such a blase attitude towards forensics.
“Sirius broke up with Dr. Hooper,” Harry began, words pouring out in a jumble. “She stabbed his hand with a fork. A plastic fork, but still. It left scars.”
Julia nodded without comment.
“She stabbed him when he refused to tell her why he’d vanished for three months without a word or warning,” Harry said. “I can sympathize; if he just went on and on about how he was going to make up for it without a plausible excuse, I might have stabbed him, too, just to shut him up.”
Julia continued to say nothing. Just waited.
“It wasn’t the first time he pulled a vanishing act on her,” Harry continued. “There were several. He usually spends them as a dog. Other times, even Sherlock doesn’t know where he faffed off to. He doesn’t know why he does it. But I can guess: Azkaban flashback induced episode.” He loosened his grip around his disposable coffee cup, which was leaking because he was squeezing it too hard. “He needs therapy. So much therapy. But he can’t see a Muggle therapist because there’s a real danger of him transforming into a dog in the middle of a session. He can’t see a wizard therapist because mental health professionals aren’t a thing.”
Harry clenched his fists.
“Whenever I see him in these moments, I can’t help but think… if they just f***ing looked at the f***ing evidence, this never would’ve happened. If they just held a f***ing trial, maybe he wouldn’t have rotted in prison for ten years.” He slowed his breathing. “Not bloody likely, I know. Not when everyone knew he was a murderer. But if there had been someone whose job it was to look at the evidence objectively, maybe…”
Harry trailed off. Julia reached over and covered his hand. Rubbed her thumb over his knuckles in soothing circles until they stopped being so white.
They sat like that for an extended beat.
“When will you examine the crime scene?” Julia asked at last. “I need to give Cixin at least a day’s notice.”
There was nothing Harry wanted more in the world than having Julia at his side. However, “You know you don’t have to, right? Listening to me babble on and giving me ideas is already going above and beyond.”
Julia gave him the ‘Harry, you stupid f***wit’ look. She had given it to him several times in the past, most notably before he tried to confront Voldemort alone. Whenever Harry persisted in his stupidity, (and, God, he could be so f***ing stupid), he usually ended up stunned and waking up only after it was too late to prevent Julia from getting involved in his mess.
“I’ll ask Kingsley now.”
Nafissatou Thiam was the name Kingsley gave Harry as the Auror-in-charge of the basilisk case. When he showed up at the Auror’s Office for the meeting, Harry recognized the tall, statuesque woman who had her long hair braided to cornrows.
“Hey, Potter,” Nafi returned with a small smile.
“Didn’t know you were on the Auror track! Congratulations!” Harry said.
Nafi’s smile grew warmer. “Thank you. So you’re joining the basilisk case?”
“Just want to figure out why anyone in their right mind would want to breed a basilisk.”
Nafi snorted. “Maybe the perps weren’t in their right mind.”
Perps. Plural. Interesting.
Nafi took Harry to a closet that served as an interrogation room.
Harry felt no worry. Nafi had been one of the upperclassmen who had joined Harry and his friends in stopping the Ministry of Magic from arresting all the Muggle-born students three years ago. Since then, she became, if not a close friend, a wonderful ally. Plus, Nafi had always struck Harry as reasonable and decisive.
“Can you walk me through how you figured out it was a basilisk that petrified the victims?” Harry asked, once they took a seat.
“Sure.” Nafi clasped her hands and tucked them under her chin. “I followed a trail of subtle yet salient clues. One: only a mandrake restorative could de-petrify the victims, which means really foul dark magic. Two: The village had been battling a curious predator that targeted only the roosters, not the far more plentiful hens. Three: I found a huge toad incubating chicken eggs in the victims’ house.”
Harry couldn’t hold back his laughter. “No chance it’s a Gorgon or a Catoblepas, sounds like.”
“No,” Nafi said with smiling eyes. “I’m not sure if I would’ve figured it out if I didn’t go through that year with Lockhart, or if someone had removed the eggs from under the toad.”
“Everyone in the household got petrified?”
“Who discovered the victims?”
“A neighbor. Grandma Fontana had a morning routine of visiting Grandma Bianchi for a piece of bread starter. She didn’t show up at her usual time.”
“This never happened before?”
“She hadn’t missed a single visit in the last twenty-five years.”
Harry hummed. “How did you de-petrify everyone so quickly?”
“I found Mandrakes in the Fontanas’ greenhouse.” Nafi nailed Harry with an unblinking look. “The Fontanas are potion ingredient wholesalers. They always cultivated a small batch.”
Interesting. “How long has it been since you rescued the victims?”
That was more than enough time for most physical evidence to deteriorate, if Magical Law Enforcement presence and god-knows what else hadn’t destroyed them already.
Harry considered his next steps. Should he interview the victims or examine the crime scene?
His inner Detective Lestrade shouted: SOCOs and MEs don’t conduct interviews!
“Mind if I examined the crime scene?”
“Can I bring help?”
“Just tell me who, so I can clear it with Rowan.” Nafi looked at him curiously. “You don’t want to know who the suspects are?”
Harry shook his head.
“Not before I examine all the evidence myself.”
Nafi got the go-ahead in an hour.
“Way too fast for government work,” Julia remarked when Harry told her over the phone.
“I agree. Perhaps something is afoot. Meet us at the Leaky Cauldron?”
“Yes. Five minutes.”
Julia met them at the Leaky Cauldron precisely five minutes later. Nafi and Julia already knew each other—both had been Hufflepuffs—so there was no need for introductions. Nafi asked Julia if she was interested in joining Magical Law Enforcement on a more permanent basis (Julia’s answer: “If I did, my dad will have a heart attack and die”) before Apparating them to a cottage.
Harry took a moment to take everything in. He noted the garden in the front and the greenhouse attached to the right. He also noted the multitude of footprints that marred the earth around the cottage and sighed.
“Like a herd of water buffalo,” Harry grumbled as he took photos—of the garden (to identify the plants), the greenhouse (same), and the grounds (to ID distinct footprints). He considered fingerprints, but decided not to collect them. He had neither the equipment nor training to do it properly (yet). Besides, the really important ones would’ve degraded by now.
Harry put on gloves and opened the front door with a wordless spell. A plume of copper and iron scented dust wafted out.
“Stinks like a vampire’s kitchen,” Harry said.
“Reminded me of a butcher’s shop,” Nafi agreed.
They entered the cottage. It had a single room on the ground floor, which contained a kitchen area and an entire wall of shelves lined with bottles and opaque vials. The fireplace was enormous and empty except for a pile of sparkly ash.
Harry took photos of the shelves, the kitchen, and all the windows and their angles. He also took notes on the number of mirrors, of which there were at least fifteen. After some consideration, he cast the 3D mapping spell and embedded the image on the yellow notepad he carried everywhere. All the while, he heard Julia and Nafi whisper to each other. There was a lot of “did he just…?” “Why is he…?” bouncing between them.
“How many floors in this house?” Harry asked after he finished photo-documenting the ground floor.
“Three,” Nafi replied. “Bedrooms upstairs. Basement downstairs. We checked both and found nothing unusual. Just the usual canned food and Christmas ornaments and things.”
“I’d like to see all the same.”
Harry walked through the first floor, 3D mapping bedrooms and photographing the contents of all the drawers, closets and armoires. He mostly found clothes, costume jewelry, quills, and books scattered about there.
He then went down to the basement. The smell of iron and copper was stronger there.
“Is it normal to have so much blood?” Harry asked.
“A lot more than I would keep around, but not unusual for a potion ingredient seller,” Julia said. “Really depends on what they specialize in.”
“Which could be blood.”
Harry searched for papers. Anything that vaguely looked like mail or documentation.
He didn’t have to look for long. Next to the shelves bowing under the weight of massive glass bottles, he found boxes and boxes containing rolls of parchment. Harry unfurled one and discovered it was an order form for fifty pounds of heliotrope.
“We need to look through these.”
“All of them? There’s like a thousand!” Julia said, horrified.
“Welcome to the real joy of criminal investigation: the tedious shifting through Sahara dry paperwork that so often proves vital in solving cases,” Harry intoned.
“Do you really think you’ll find an order form for, what, Basilisk?” Nafi asked skeptically.
“Criminals are known to do stupider things.”
Harry cast an ‘Accio basilisk order form’ to prove the point. Nothing came. Undaunted, he summoned for a container of basilisk-anything.
A small vial flew into his outstretched gloved hand.
“Wow,” Nafi breathed out.
Harry unstoppered the vial and took a sniff. He smelled fresh blood.
“Who the hell orders basilisk blood?” he wondered aloud.
They brought the boxes of paperwork and the vial of basilisk blood back to the Auror’s Office. Nafi commandeered a conference room for Harry and left him to it.
“I have a dream… of a day wizards will use computers for their daily work… When wizards aren’t f**king faraday cages.” Harry grumbled under his breath as he dumped rolls of parchment on the conference table. He wasn’t sure if he was up to reading thousands of order forms.
He realized he didn’t have to. Harry first conjured two puppet hands with articulated fingers. He then took out his mechanical keyboard and laptop (both blessed with John’s anti-magic powers) from his bag. He put a Muggle blood ward around the puppet’s hands to ensure no magic interference, and stretched out the strings that controlled the puppet fingers so the ends would be two meters away from his laptop, using a tape measure to ensure the distance. Then he enchanted the puppet strings to type out the letters on the handwritten orders.
Harry watched the puppet type away. From the results shown on the screen, it was about as accurate as OCR and voice-to-text. That is: good for common words, garbage for uncommon ones. At least it was fast; 500-600 words per minute.
“Spreadsheets and Quickbooks and Databases… these are some of my favorite things…” Harry sang while waving his arms over his head, Twelfth Doctor style.
Then Harry turned and found Nafi and Julia at the door. Staring at him. All the blood rushed to this face.
“Did you… Did you see me just now?” Harry asked, dreading the answer.
“Did I see you create a charm that digitizes handwritten notes on the fly? Yes, I did,” Julia replied.
Harry frowned. “Pretty straightforward spell, no? Anyone can do it.”
Julia shook her head at Harry like he was ridiculous and missing the point. In Harry’s opinion, she was the one who had the wrong idea about what should bother Harry more.
Harry realized his arms were still up. He lowered them. In the meantime, Julia came over and studied Harry’s laptop screen.
“Oh, you’re creating one file per order form. Good. I can create a word cloud for you once it’s done.”
Harry’s eyes went wide. “You know how?”
“There are Python libraries that do all the heavy lifting. It’s not hard.”
“Not hard she says,” Harry muttered an hour later. Once the puppets had finished typing, Julia had taken out her own laptop, transferred the files over, and typed for ten minutes. Then she pressed enter, waited a bit, and Voila, a word cloud that showed which terms appeared most frequently in the order forms via their font size popped on the screen.
“Blood,” Julia said.
Harry chewed on his left thumbnail. “Can you find out what words show up before and after ‘blood’?”
Julia performed some more arcane programming magic and generated a list:
Dragon, Chimera, Kraken, Siren, Serpent…
“Most of these aren’t potion ingredients,” Harry remarked.
“Except for dragon blood, none of them are,” Julia said.
Harry turned to Nafi, who had been watching him and Julia like she was witnessing something strange (or like they were crazy people).
“Did you arrest the whole family?”
“They’ve been detained.”
“You haven’t charged them? Why?”
“What if I’m wrong?”
The way Nafi said ‘What if I’m wrong?’ made Harry pause.
“What would happen if you’re wrong?”
“I’d receive the sentence the accused would’ve received,” Nafi answered.
Harry had no words to describe the wrongness of this. It was one thing to hold Aurors accountable for their arrests, but it was another thing entirely to punish them so hard they would be afraid to make any errors.
They left the conference room shortly after. Harry surveyed the Auror’s Office and noted the unusual emptiness of it. Unoccupied cubicles everywhere, no one wandering the halls, no talking.
Roberta Peel, the new head of Magical Law Enforcement, marched over. Her scowl was visible and heavy under her black top hat. Harry was certain if it weren’t for the large briefcase she carried, she would’ve pointed.
“Thiam, why haven’t you charged anyone for the basilisk case?” Madam Peel demanded.
“I’m still processing all the evidence, Ma’am,” Nafi replied.
“What evidence? You literally found the Fontanas breeding basilisks in their greenhouse. That’s a Class A felony. What more evidence do you need?”
“Just because she found chicken eggs under a toad in the Fontanas greenhouse, doesn’t mean the Fontanas were breeding basilisks,” Harry answered. “The real perp could’ve staged it so it looks like the Fontanas were breeding them. It’s not as if chicken eggs and toads are hard to come by. Would you risk not checking to make sure, Ma’am?”
Madam Peel’s mouth went flat, but she didn’t dismiss the argument.
“Madam Peel, why haven’t you appointed Harry an Auror yet?” Julia asked.
Madam Peel and Harry all turned to stare at her.
“What do you mean, Ms Lestrange?”
“He graduated at the top of his class,” Julia said. “He passed all the required tests with perfect scores. He set a record for Hell Week by catching every single dark wizard in two days.”
Madam Peel dropped her briefcase, and her jaw.
“All five in two days,” Julia repeated with emphasis. “The last record was set in 1954, when Reginald Bannister caught his target and ONLY his target in thirty-eight hours. Why wasn’t Harry given an automatic pass and recognition?”
Harry fought the urge to look away when Madam Peel sent an inquiring eyebrow.
“Uh, I was told I had to stay in the bush for ten days, even after fulfilling objectives.”
“Who told you that?”
“Umm,” Harry didn’t want to throw Dawlish under the bus. Not when Aurors were under so much pressure. “The, uh, test proctor.”
Madam Peel turned to Nafi. “Get me the name.”
“What the f**k?” Harry muttered after Madam Peel stormed out, briefcase forgotten.
“Looks like I exposed the stinky foot.”
“One day,” Harry told Beatrix. “One day I won’t trigger drama just by existing. One day the people around me won’t stir shit on my behalf.”
Beatrix blew bubbles, like she knew the futility of Harry’s words.
Harry glared. “Hey, a girl can dream.”
Following Julia’s encounter with Madam Peel, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in general and the Auror’s office in particular underwent a mad upheaval. When confronted about Harry’s Hell Week results, Dawlish promptly resigned in protest. This triggered a stampede of more resignations. The common outcry was that everyone had to go through Hell Week, not just Harry Potter, so no discrimination was involved. When pressed why they changed Hell Week’s requirements, the test proctors said since it was going to be harder to be an Auror, they wanted to admit only the toughest. As for why they made the test impossible to pass, the proctors insisted they didn’t know it would be impossible. Others have stayed out in the bush for ten days without lasting ill effects, though they granted none of them passed, but that was par for the course.
Now the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had a retention AND a recruitment problem. Incumbent Aurors leaving in droves because they would be punished if they were wrong even once, and the recruits, particularly the promising ones (i.e. Harry), leaving the Auror program because it was a lose-lose situation.
Harry expelled a sigh.
“I just wanted to find out why anyone would breed a basilisk.”
“Lestrade tells me the Auror Office resembles an overturned beehive,” Sherlock said over dinner.
“Bombed public toilet, more like,” Harry muttered.
Sherlock smirked. “It would be a shame to let this crisis go to waste.”
Harry stared at him.
“The controversy started because the DMLE has no formal evidence-based process to verify charges,” Sherlock said. “What can give Aurors the confidence they have the right guy and fulfill your dream of modernizing magical forensics and revolutionize the magical court system?”
Harry’s jaw dropped.
“Nafi, Julia, I have a plan.”
“Whatever it is, the answer is yes.”
“You might not be so agreeable after I tell you what it is.”
It took two weeks to get the boulder rolling. After a few false starts, Harry enlisted Ron’s help to make the presentation over-the-top. At last, Harry got himself a meeting with Madam Peel, Head Auror Rowan and Kingsley Shacklebolt.
“Thank you for your time,” Harry said. “I know it’s invaluable.”
“You said you have a solution to our retention and recruitment problem,” Rowan said.
Harry suppressed a smile. No mincing words, eh?
“The Department of Magical Law Enforcement wants to reduce false convictions as much as they can. As someone who has a godfather who got wrongfully incarcerated ten years in Azkaban for crimes he didn’t commit, I appreciate the Ministry’s effort to hold the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to a higher standard.”
“But this brings up a challenge: What can we do to help Law Enforcement officials feel confident they arrested the right person? Merely punishing mistakes is not enough, as we all discovered. How can we find out so-and-so committed such-and-such crime beyond all reasonable doubt?”
“To that end, I want to propose a ‘review of evidence’ process. Rather than boring you to death with words, allow me to demonstrate what it may look like.”
Harry placed his Magical Mobile Network phone on the desk. A holographic video projected out from the screen. The setting: a potion lab modeled after the TV series CSI, with holographic Harry and Julia dressed in white lab coats and poring over slides and/or cauldrons.
Though Peel, Rowan and Kingsley showed no sign of amusement, Harry wanted to find a nice grave to bury himself in. Film!Julia was glaring at her cauldron like it murdered her father. Film!Harry was so very obviously staring at an empty slide, for f*** sake.
Film!Nafi entered the scene and announced the Fontana family had been petrified. Their neighbour, Giuseppe Bianchi, did a wellness check when Nonna Fontana didn’t make her daily morning visit to Nonna Bianchi, and reported the finding.
“Based on the fact I couldn’t de-petrify the victims with Finite Incantatum, and the fact there was a toad incubating chicken eggs in the Fontana’s greenhouse, I suspect basilisk breeding,” Film!Nafi said. “I want you two to take a look.”
There was a whole movie montage of Harry and Julia gathering equipment, Apparating to the Fontana residence, and cordoning off the area with yellow tape. Once the scene was secured, Film!Julia and Film!Harry suited up and collected evidence: taking photographs of the house, finding the order forms, and discovering the vial of basilisk blood. It followed the sequence of events as it happened, no deviations whatsoever, no sir.
(NOT. Besides the two-week delay between the case occurrence and Harry learning about it, Harry, Julia and Nafi took a second trip to film and interview the neighbours, and another when Harry realized he missed several things.)
At last, Film!Harry and Film!Julia reviewed the evidence they collected. Film!Harry pointed out how the Fontana household had been arranged to minimise the chances of someone dying instantly from a basilisk’s gaze. The multitude of mirrors were all angled such that no one had to look at anything directly. But this also increased the chances of someone seeing a basilisk indirectly. Which was probably what happened to the Fontanas.
“Objection,” Film!Julia said. “The mirrors could have been placed in the house after the family members were petrified. How can we know the mirrors had always been there?”
“You raise a good point,” Film!Harry said. “Let’s check what the walls behind the mirrors look like.”
Film!Harry lifted every mirror on the ground floor. Behind each mirror was a patch of clean wall, lighter than the uncovered portions, that was exactly the same size and shape as the corresponding mirror.
“The mirror would have blocked dust and grime from staining the wall it was covering. I think it’s safe to say the mirrors have been hanging on the wall for a considerable amount of time,” Film!Harry said.
“Another point to consider,” Film!Harry said. “There were six order forms for ‘serpent blood’. Beside the vial containing basilisk blood, there were no other types of snake blood inside the Fontana household.”
“How do we know it’s basilisk blood?” Film!Julia asked.
Film!Harry lifted the vial he got from the Fontanas.
“This is basilisk blood. I confirmed it was basilisk blood via the summoning charm. The charm doesn’t work for non-basilisk serpent blood.”
Film!Harry produced three syringes. Then he conjured three types of snake: a python, a garden snake and a rattlesnake. He drew blood from all three using one syringe each, removed the needle and plunger, and labelled the barrels accordingly. Then he placed the syringe barrels and vial on top of a table.
“Accio snake blood.”
All four containers flew into his hand.
The containers returned to the table.
“Accio basilisk blood.”
Only the vial flew into Film!Harry’s hand. Film!Harry turned to the camera.
“This proves,” he stated, “that the Fontanas had in their residence basilisk blood. It further proves there was a living basilisk from which a person or persons drew the blood from, and put into this vial. This does not, however, prove the Fontanas were the ones that bred a basilisk. Nor does it prove they were the ones that drew blood from it. For that, we need additional evidence.”
“I don’t think we can find it here,” Film!Julia said.
Film!Harry nodded. “Time to expand the search.”
Film!Harry did one last thing before they left.
“Accio bread starter, limitus Fontanas.”
A jar flew into his hand.
Film!Harry frowned at it. So did Rowan and Peel.
“Why would Grandma Fontana get a bread starter from Grandma Bianchi if she had her own?” Film!Harry wondered aloud.
Film!Harry and Julia walked over to the Bianchis and asked Grandma Bianchi if she could share her dough starter.
Grandma Bianchi said she didn’t have one. She always used Nonna Fontana’s.
“You go to her to get your dough starter?” Film!Harry asked.
“No, no, she comes over to me, since I have trouble walking.”
Film!Harry left the Bianchis, looking comically perplexed. (Why hadn’t anyone mentioned Harry was a wretched actor? Case in point.) Film!Harry did several variations of ‘revelio bread starter’ outside the Bianchis’ residence, but no spell variant caused the house to glow with light.
Film!Harry made a call.
“I need to make sure. One of the Bianchis found the Fontanas, correct?”
“Giuseppe Bianchi was the first at the scene and the person who reported it, yes,” Nafi’s voice answered.
“And he’s the one who told you Nonna Fontana never missed a trip to Nonna Bianchi for a bread starter?”
“Who gave the starter to whom?”
“Bianchi gives, Fontana receives. Why?”
“I just learned it was the other way around.”
“That’s not all. I found a jar of sourdough starter in the Fontanas. Nothing of the sort at the Bianchis.”
A beat of silence prevailed over the line before Nafi asked:
“What does this mean?”
Film!Harry licked his lips.
“Someone is hiding something.”
The film transitioned to a second montage of Nafi interviewing neighbours. Then it cut to the lab, where Film!Harry was making a call.
“Got a question for you: What business will pay well for the blood of powerful magical creatures? I’m talking dragons, phoenixes and manticores.”
“Spell ink,” Ron’s voice said promptly.
Harry had been surprised to learn about the roaring blood ink trade, so Film!Harry’s reaction was quite genuine.
“Say that again.”
“Spell ink, mate. Paper charms are all the rage these days. Designing and selling paper charms is good business. So, naturally, you need the ink that goes with it. This means magic blood. Not everyone is keen on pricking their own finger, though, so they use the blood of magical beasts.”
A meaningful beat later, Film!Julia walked in and read a note from Nafi: Nonna Fontana’s bread starter was renowned among the villagers for its quality, and everyone opted to use hers instead of tinkering with their own. Another interesting fact: the villagers usually got their piece of starter from Nonna Fontana in the evening—to let the bread rise overnight, apparently—so Nafi could establish the Fontanas were mobile the evening before Giuseppe Bianchi had reported them petrified.
Nafi had another interesting finding: all the households she’d interviewed had their walls covered with mirrors. They had done so ever since the village had lost all of their roosters, but not hens, and their previously abundant spider population vanished.
“Spiders flee from the basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy,” Film!Harry said.
Film!Julia nodded. “The Fontanas had a daughter who was a fourth year in Hogwarts when Lockhart was Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher. You know, back when a real basilisk terrorised Hogwarts.”
“She would’ve recognised what the death of roosters and spiders meant.”
Film!Julia read through the rest of Nafi’s note: “She’s the one who suggested using mirrors. She also wanted to play rooster call recordings on repeat, but the Bianchis objected, saying it was obnoxious.”
Film!Harry sat back in his chair. “Not exactly the actions of a household trying to hide their secret basilisk-breeding activity, is it?”
“Could be a blind,” Film!Julia said. “The Fontanas were cultivating Mandrakes, the only thing that can de-petrify someone exposed to an indirect basilisk stare. That takes effort and planning. The daughter also may not have been privy to what her parents were doing.”
Film!Harry put on a thinking face.
“Someone is breeding a basilisk in that village. Nafi is right about that. The Fontanas were selling basilisk blood under the label ‘serpent blood.’ To profit from the roaring spell ink trade, probably. Whether they knew the blood was from a basilisk remains to be seen. Giuseppe Bianchi lied about Nonna Fontana’s bread starter, which is suspicious, but doesn’t necessarily indicate involvement.”
Film!Julia acting like she had a dawning realisation was a lot more exaggerated than the real thing.
“Maybe they became suspicious after they lost all their roosters and confronted their supplier,” she said.
“Maybe their supplier decided to frame them before they could tell Magical Law Enforcement,” Film!Harry said.
“Maybe the Bianchis are the ones breeding a basilisk,” Film!Julia whispered.
“But how to find the evidence?” Film!Harry mused. “Like I said before, just because Giuseppe Bianchi lied about the bread starter, doesn’t mean he is the real culprit.”
“How about bringing in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures? They’ll have the authority to confiscate all the chicken eggs in the village if we mention we suspect a loose basilisk.”
“Good idea. Advise Nafi to lead the thing. She can make sure we label every egg and the entire process video-documented.”
“Why label every egg and why not do it yourself?”
“First, to prove egg number fourteen came from household number five. I would hate for the suspect to argue someone could’ve switched the egg during transport. Second, to ensure I won’t know which egg came from which household when I examine the eggs. I don’t want our current suspicions to bias our conclusions.”
Harry paused the film here.
“I call this establishing a chain of custody. It ensures no one tampered evidence.”
“Seems like a lot of unnecessary work,” Rowan grumbled.
“It’s a way to hold Aurors to a higher standard. Rather than punishing them for mistakes, why not have a process that prevents mistakes from happening in the first place?”
“Potter makes a good point,” Kingsley said.
Rowan crossed his arms. “I’ve convicted people with less.”
Harry almost shouted: Maybe that’s the problem! It’s too easy to convict innocent people without evidence!
“Well, you won’t anymore,” Madam Peel retorted. She turned to Harry. “Keep playing. I want to see how this ends.”
Harry resumed the film.
There was a brief scene of Film!Harry instructing Film!Nafi how to collect and label each egg, how to document which egg came from which household, and how to video the process. Film!Harry stressed the importance of NOT touching the eggs and the need for him to NOT know where the egg originated. Film!Nafi nodded and went off, presumably to carry out the deed.
The next scene was at the lab again, with Film!Harry sitting before a box of eggs.
“Now the moment of truth,” Film!Harry declared. “Start recording.”
Film!Julia put up her camera.
Film!Harry waved his wand: “Accio basilisk egg.”
The egg labelled 14 flew into his outstretched, gloved hand.
Film!Harry levitated the egg.
“Here’s a neat trick,” Film!Harry said, then he whispered a spell he created just for the show: “revelare imaginem intus ovum.”
An image of an embryonic snake projected out from the floating egg.
“So whose egg is it?” Film!Harry asked.
“Bianchi,” Film!Julia answered.
“Gotcha,” Film!Harry whispered.
“Looks like we’re done,” Peel said.
“No, Ma’am, not quite,” Harry said. “You’ll see why it was important to have a chain of custody in a minute.”
Thank God Julia talked Harry into filming a court sequence. Harry almost didn’t due to time constraints.
Jeremy Shin did a magnificent job playing the solicitor for the Bianchis (not shown, since they weren’t formally charged). When Film!Harry took the stand as the ‘Expert Witness’, Film!Jeremy questioned everything: how can we be sure the egg came from the Bianchis? How can you be sure the egg is incubating a basilisk? If you found a chicken egg under a toad in the Fontana residence, isn’t it logical to conclude the Fontanas were breeding a basilisk? Film!Harry answered each and every question by presenting a video clip of Nafi, Julia or himself handling the physical evidence, showing how they’d secured it and how they touched nothing directly. He also demonstrated how the summoning charm could differentiate a regular snake egg from a basilisk egg and vice versa.
After grilling Film!Harry over the evidence in a hundred different ways, Film!Jeremy went for the jugular, as well as for the BAFTA, by questioning Harry’s expertise and his character.
The latter was the worst; Jeremy didn’t hold back at all.
“Were you hoping to recapture the fame that has been waning since the defeat of You-Know-Who through this case?”
“How can we be sure you haven’t fabricated the evidence for your own gain?”
“Have you not failed the Auror exams twice? How can we trust someone who repeatedly failed the most basic of Law Enforcement requirements?”
Film!Harry’s barely suppressed rage and frustration was real. Harry had felt attacked when they were filming the court scene, despite knowing full well everything was theatre. He went off script, blew up on Jeremy, and walked off so often, it took twenty takes to get it right.
When they finished, Harry made up his mind about his future.
“That was brutal,” Rowan muttered after the court scene adjourned.
“If you were the one being accused of a heinous crime, wouldn’t you want someone like that to defend you?” Harry asked.
Rowan grunted but said nothing more.
The Film ended before the judge could make a verdict. Peel looked very disappointed.
“This is the example of the process I want to propose,” Harry said. “We have the prosecution, which includes Aurors and specialists whose job it is to process evidence and present charges to court. Then there’s the opposing counsel, otherwise known as the defence team. He or she should provide legal advice to their clients, which in this case is the accused, review the evidence against them and speak on their client’s behalf in court. If necessary, they can bring in their own panel of experts to interpret the evidence.”
“In short, the defence team should raise questions against the prosecution. It will ensure the accused has the chance to defend themselves and ensure Law Enforcement has the weight of evidence to back up their charges. The weightier the crime, the greater the weight of evidence against the accused should be.”
“What would the jury’s role be?” Kingsley asked.
“They would take in the case presented by the prosecution and the arguments presented by the defence, and draw their conclusions,” Harry replied.
“Sounds reasonable,” Kingsley said. “Thank you, Potter. You gave us a lot to think about.”
“He’s proposing an overhaul of our legal system!” Rowan protested.
“Maybe that’s what we need,” Madam Peel said. “I certainly like the idea of a crime lab. I can see how they would be an invaluable addition to the Auror’s Office.”
THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU FOR TWO F***ING YEARS! “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Would you be interested in building it?” Kingsley said with twinkling eyes.
“I’m not an Auror, sir.”
“We’re re-evaluating everyone’s test scores. Even if that comes to nothing, I’m confident you’ll pass in the next try.”
“I don’t plan to try again, sir. I plan to study medicine at the University of Liverpool.”
Harry relished the look of dismay on Madam Peel and Kingsley’s face.
“Too late, sir. I already replied ‘yes’.”
Even if the Ministry accepted his proposal today, the gears of government were slow. It would take decades to overhaul the legal system and Harry’s strengths lay in forensics and detective work, not government reform. As much as he wanted to change how things were with magical law enforcement, he didn’t want to spend a minimum of ten years of his life as a bureaucratic pencil-pusher to make it happen. Not when he could more profitably use those ten years training to be a doctor. More importantly, a small taste of the adversarial criminal justice system was enough to make him lose his will to live. He couldn’t imagine doing it day-in, day-out.
“Consider this my formal resignation from the Auror program. Thank you. Good day.”
Then Harry left, relieved that the ‘Tried to be an Auror’ chapter of his life finally ended.
He was wrong.
Apparently, the Ministry of Magic could make changes within days if sufficiently motivated.
The Auror Office sent a formal letter of acceptance the next day. Madam Peel approved the new crime lab and appointed Harry as the lead. Harry could set his schedule as he saw fit, and the DMLE offered to sign a magical-binding contract that would ensure they would, under no circumstances, interfere with his schooling. He got carte blanche on who to hire for the lab, too, and was approved to use up to half of the Auror’s Office annual budget to equip it.
“It would be a crime to reject such a proposal out of spite,” Sherlock remarked.
Harry was tempted to be that spiteful.
In the end, Harry accepted, but only because the conditions allowed him to study full time at Liverpool. He made sure to mention that when he met with Madam Peel.
Nafi cornered Harry after he signed the agreement.
“Congratulations,” Nafi said. “I heard you’re officially one of us.”
“Thank you,” Harry replied. “I look forward to working with you.”
Harry grinned. “How did the basilisk case go, by the way?”
“I use the first half of the film to prove Giuseppe Bianchi raised basilisks and sold their blood to the spell ink market. He used the Fontanas because they had the right contacts.”
“Were the Fontanas in the know?”
“They claimed to have not known, but only the daughter could provide an alibi. She lives in London and only came over when Nonna Fontana told her about the roosters. We charged the parents with selling basilisk blood.”
“What about Giuseppe?”
“Charged for breeding basilisks.”
Harry supposed that was good enough for the current government. “Good work.”
“All thanks to you.” Nafi smirked. “Did you know Rowan wants us to consult you for all the hard cases?”
“Damn it, Nafi, I’m a fellow Auror, not a consulting detective!”
“Too late. Everyone knows you’re freaky good,” Nafi said. Then she wished Harry luck and sashayed away.
Harry put his face in his hands. He should have known people would find a way to f*** with him.