Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 11

"Finally!" Harry exclaimed after hanging up the Muggle payphone for the fifth time that day.

Harry had spent the better part of the three days since his visit to Hogwarts trying to get an appointment to see one of the scientists on the list of British Antarctica experts. Unfortunately, the list had been both out of date and a little scarce on useful contact details. It had taken about three dozen phone calls, but he finally had an appointment to meet with Deputy Director Dr John Dudeney at the Cambridge headquarters of the British Antarctic Survey, in one week’s time.

Harry and Luna spent most—though not all—of the week at the British Library trying to familiarize themselves with enough Muggle science to muddle through the upcoming interview. They were somewhat hampered in their efforts by Luna's inability to comprehend computers, and Harry's inefficiency at research who had always relied heavily on Hermione to help him navigate the Hogwarts library.

When the date of the interview finally arrived, Harry Apparated them both to Cambridge and having secured Luna's promise to allow him to do all the talking, he approached the receptionist, a petite brunette, at the front entrance. "Good afternoon, Miss, my name is Harry Potter." Harry took a moment to savour the novelty of someone not glancing up at his fringe after hearing that introduction before continuing, "and this is my associate Luna Lovegood. We represent a small newspaper called the Quibbler. We have an appointment with Deputy Director Dr John Dudeney."

"ID please," said the receptionist in the monotonous tone of voice associated with the boredom of a routine job.

Harry handed over a set of forged press passes.

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked—having obviously not been paying attention to a word Harry had said.

"Yes," he repeated with a patience he was not feeling, "we have a two o'clock appointment with Deputy Director Dr John Dudeney."

"Oh," she grumbled, sitting up a little straighter, "Just a moment then, while I contact the administration office."

She picked up the phone by her side, then proceeded to ignore them completely as she addressed the device in her hand, "It's Ida at the front desk, I've got a couple of reporters here... Oh? They do have an appointment? Okay, I'll send them up."

She looked back up at Harry and Luna, "Deputy Director Dr John Dudeney, will see you now. His office is on the fifth floor. The lift is around the corner on the left."

Harry tried to thank her, but her attention was already back on her workstation.

The receptionist in the administration offices was much more inviting. She greeted them with a smile and a 'Good Afternoon' and clear directions to the Deputy Director's Office.

"Good afternoon, Dr Dudeney," Harry greeted the Deputy Director of the BAS, as the scientist beckoned them into his office, "Thank you for seeing us. My name is Harry Potter, and this is my associate Luna Lovegood.

"As I told your receptionist, when I called for an appointment, we represent a small newspaper called the Quibbler and we're hoping to write a piece on research in Antarctica. Your name came up as someone who might have a few answers."

"Pleased to meet you both. Please, take a seat," said the scientist, gesturing to two seats, piled with loose papers. Noticing their hesitation he added, "Oh, you can just put those on the floor. My apologies for the mess; I usually try to clean up when I'm expecting visitors, but I just haven't had the time."

"Don't worry about it. Our office is in a similar state," said Harry, as he set the papers on the ground and sat down, pulling a clipboard out of the book bag he'd brought. "How about you start by telling us a little about yourself?" he asked, in attempt to draw attention away from Luna—who seemed to be rifling through the stack of papers on the chair she’d been offered, instead of moving them aside.

"Certainly," answered the scientist, "When I first joined the BAS I worked the Upper Atmospheric Services Division. I became their head of department in 1990, until I was named Deputy Director of the BAS, this year."

"What would you like to share with our readers about the work the BAS is doing in Antarctica?" Harry asked next, and sat back pretending to take notes.

As the scientist took off at lightning speed in his description of the BAS's most prominent projects, Harry tried to gesture discreetly at Luna to sit down, instead of wandering around and poking around the office as she was doing. After ignoring him for a good ten minutes, she finally plopped into the seat, just as Dr Dudeney, paused for breath.

Harry immediately asked another question, cutting the scientist off before he could comment on Luna’s invasion of his privacy—though, considering how passionate he’d been in his response to Harry’s first question, he might not have even noticed.

As Dr Dudeney started talking once more, Luna caught Harry's eyes and whispered, “Why didn’t you ask him about the location?”' Harry frowned back at her, and shook his head to indicate not yet.

Every once in a while, Harry asked a question about what the Deputy Director had been saying, when he appeared to be running out of wind, but for the most part, Dr Dudeney's presentation was self-sufficient, as he discussed his passion with an apparently captive audience.

While Harry seemed content to let the man talk about whatever he wanted, Luna was less patient, and kept tugging at Harry’s sleeve each time he asked a question she didn’t approve of. After a half-hour of keeping her promise to let Harry do most of the talking, she interrupted at the next pause in the monologue, "What can you tell us about the Belgica?"

Harry kicked her, and whispered, "Luna!” —a moment too late.

But he need not have worried, Dr Dudeney had begun answering the question, oblivious to the exchange between his two guests, "While biology is not my area of expertise, I have learned a little about the subject, by virtue of my new position. As I understand it, belgica antarctica is the largest purely terrestrial animal and only true insect that we have discovered in Antarctica. They are members of the suborder midge family which seem to have evolved a lack of wings as a defence mechanism against strong Antarctican winds. They are generally a few millimetres long, deep purplish black in coloration and have a lifecycle of about two years. They can survive a large variety of environmental changes as well as the freezing of their body fluids and severe dehydration..."

"Told you they were real!" whispered Luna, just as the scientist finished describing the insect. Then, emboldened by her initial success, she asked another question, "And what can you tell us about Crumple-Horned Seals?

The scientist responded with a blank look, "Can't say I've heard of them, and I do know most the vertebrate species living in and around Antarctica."

Harry gave Luna an exasperated look, then addressed the scientist, "My apologies for my colleague. She's a big fan of mythology and sometimes forgets the difference between real and made-up creatures." Then changing the subject, suggested, "Perhaps you could tell us a little about the living conditions in your Antarctica base camps?"

Luna grumbled at Harry's description of her, but allowed him to take back control of the interview, instead sitting back and taking notes.

Finally, as the interview was winding down, and discussion turned to advances in satellite reconnaissance, Harry, found the opening he'd been waiting for to ask the question they'd come to have answered, "We've heard rumours about anomalies noted on recent aerial and satellite reconnaissance imaging of Antarctica, particularly in the area of Marie Byrd land. Can you confirm anything about these rumours?"

Dr Dudeney, paused before answering, choosing his words carefully, "Why do you ask? Such rumours are hardly newsworthy for any paper short of a tabloid."

The serious nature of the challenge seemed to go straight over Luna's head but Harry understood it—he'd been expecting it, and had planned accordingly. "Just a wager I have with one of the guys back at the office. He claimed that you would try to cover it up, that scientists are always trying to hide data they can't explain. I bet him twenty quid that you were an honest man, and would confirm the rumours if they were true. We certainly have no intention of printing such information…"

"I see," answered the scientist, "Marie Byrd Land is not our area of study, but I do recall hearing something of the sort. They were, most likely, simply filed away to preserve the integrity of the whole data, since there was no way to interpret them. If you give me a moment, I'll see if I can pull up the images." Turning his back on his guests, he faced his computer screen and typed a few commands.

Five minutes later, a printer buried under a pile of books started spitting out papers. Dr Dudeney retrieved them and handed them over to his guests, "As you can see here, the anomalies seem to be isolated to 76°31′S 145°43′W between Mount Iphigene and Marujupu Peak in the Ford Ranges in western Marie Byrd Land.

“The Americans filed a report claiming that they have tried to explore the area in question but have been unable to get a clear visual due to frequent and intense whiteouts and equipment breakdowns whenever they get anywhere nearer than five miles from the calculated location of the anomaly..."

Harry smiled, "Thank you, Doctor. This will definitely take the wind out of Seamus's sail. And, thank you, once again for the interview." He stood to shake the older man's hand. "We'll see ourselves out."

As he and Luna stepped outside, Harry let out the breath he hadn't realised that he'd been holding. It seemed the gamble had paid off, and they had the information that they'd been after. Now if only he could figure out what to do with it...

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