Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 13

"Where did you get that scar on your forehead Mr Potter?"

Harry stared blankly at the stern-looking Muggle, who'd introduced herself as Nurse Stern; what a way to start off his mandatory health screening! It seemed his and Luna's first week at Raytheon Polar Services Company's Los Angeles Briefing Centre was doomed to begin rather inauspiciously—for himself at least…

Taking a calming breath, he answered, "Car accident when I was fifteen months old," falling back easily on the lie the Dursleys had fed him for almost a decade.

"I see," she said, writing down his response, "and was that the only injury you suffered in the accident?"

Harry nodded, "Yes, my mother shielded me with her own body."

"I see," the nurse repeated, "and the scar on your hand?" She pointed to where the words 'I must not tell lies' were carved into his right hand, "Do you make a habit of lying?"

Harry rubbed the words unconsciously before doing just that, "When I was fifteen, we had a crazy teacher at my boarding school, who used a branding iron on students as punishment, before threatening us, and swearing us to secrecy, to keep the Headmaster from finding out."

The nurse gasped, both appalled and incredulous. However, despite how disturbing and unbelievable Harry's rendition of events was, she'd heard worse over the course of her thirty-year career in health-care, and her mind failed to come up with a better explanation. Finally, she found her voice, "A teacher did that?"

Harry nodded, but did not repeat himself.

"I hope she didn't get away with it," she continued.

An uneasy silence followed, as Harry let her draw her own—probably erroneous—conclusions.

"I see," she said—again.

Harry was beginning to find her fondness for those two words annoying, but he didn't comment, particularly since she followed them up with a change of subject. The interview seemed to proceed smoothly for a while, after that. It probably helped that Harry had remembered to forge documents attesting that his and Luna's mandatory shots were all up to date, avoiding some difficult questions about missing vaccinations.

Unfortunately, the reprieve from awkward questions was only temporary. After completing her interview, the nurse handed him a hospital gown and asked him to strip down to his pants, while she informed the doctor that he was ready for her. When she returned, she caught sight of the rest of his scars—those that had been hidden by his clothing, and started in on him again. "Where did you get that nasty scar, Mr Potter?" she pointed to the scar in the crook of his right arm, where Wormtail had taken his blood to resurrect Voldemort.

"Knife wound, from a mugging when I was fourteen."

"And this one?" she pointed to the scar left behind by Harry's encounter with a Basilisk.

"Large venomous snake when I was twelve."

"That's quite a big scar; I didn't realise that snakes could grow so big."

"Neither did I, until I met the snake who bit me..."

"And what were you doing in the vicinity of a large venomous snake, at age twelve?"

Harry laughed nervously. How to explain? Finally he settled on, "I was twelve, and an idiot." He was spared having to answer any more questions by the timely arrival of the doctor, a no-nonsense woman who apparently had no time or interest in questions—unless you count, "does it hurt when I press here?" as a question…

The rest of the week, after both Harry and Luna managed to escape the clutches of the medical team with a clean bill of health, passed in a blur of conferences ranging from the history of US involvement in the Antarctic, to modern-day ship and aircraft operations. Harry tried to pay attention, in case some minute detail might be important later, but a lot of the information went over his head and, after a full year without formal lessons, he found concentrating on theory sessions difficult. All the same, he probably retained more than Luna, with regards to Muggle technology, at least.

The first aid training lessons, served as an excellent distraction from the constant lectures—even though Harry found himself intervening on several occasions, to prevent Luna from attempting to use magic instead of Muggle methods. Not that he could really blame her; most of the time he was sorely tempted to do so himself.

In fact, by the second week, after they'd been issued their cold weather gear from the RPSC's stores and had entered into the field training portion of their orientation, he found himself subtly resorting to magic during some of the trials they were exposed to. He might have been slightly more equipped for the challenge than Luna—courtesy of the difficult camping trip, during his yearlong search for Voldemort's Horcruxes—but he'd had easy access to a wand during most of that time. Thus, by the time they'd been finally cleared for the voyage, Harry had been good and ready to move on for what seemed like forever, fed up with the constant challenges thrown their way by the training instructors…

The journey began with a rather anti-climactic commercial flight to Christchurch, New Zealand, in the company of his fellow Raytheon summer season employees, which was only slightly longer than the trip from Britain had been. The only difference seemed to be the need to deflect friendly and well-meaning overtures from future colleagues, without appearing to be rude.

The uneventful flight to Christchurch was followed be a flight on a military aircraft to McMurdo Station, the USA's main base in Antarctica. That flight wasn't quite as smooth… The noise and near constant turbulence, made conversation difficult, and reminded him—inexplicably—of the broom ride that Mad-Eye Moody had lead from Privet Drive to Grimmauld Place the summer before his fifth year.

Finally, at McMurdo Station Harry and Luna said their farewells to most of their group, more than half of which were remaining behind. The rest were continuing on, but not all to the same destination. Some were going to the South Pole Station, others to various temporary summer stations including a handful who were also bound for the Ford Range base in Marie Byrd Land, where Luna and Harry were heading.

At their camp in Marie Byrd land, Harry and Luna soon found themselves melding with the team, despite their reluctance to do so. In such close quarters it was hard to avoid making friends, with everyone from the kitchen staff to the scientists heading the camp: Bruce Luyendyk, Andrea Donnellan, Carol Raymond, and Erik Ivins. The scientists, with the exception of Erik, were surprisingly down-to-earth, and treated everyone with respect, even Harry and Luna, who found themselves at the absolute bottom of the chain of command, in their role as general menial labour.

The pair did, however, have to put up with a bit of teasing for the fact that, between the two of them, they had packed a dozen miniature Siberian husky soft toys. Luna had affectionately named hers Rusty, Beauty, Handsome, Frankie, Thumper, and Sherby and had insisted that Harry's needed names as well. After some cajoling, he agreed to pick some names. That he chose to call his dogs: Lily, James, Sirius, Remus, Ron, and Hermione, was fairly indicative of his state of mind.

When one of the cooks had asked why they'd packed so many stuffed toys, Harry had refused to answer. Luna, on the other hand, had answered without hesitation, "We had to bring them because real cold-weather dogs are not allowed, in Antarctica! Which I suppose makes sense, since we don't want them attacking the Crumple-horned seals—they're an endangered species, you know—but it is still rather frustrating."

The cook had given her a puzzled look after that and decided against asking any other questions, seeing as the first answer had just left him more confused.

Harry and Luna ended up spending two weeks at the Ford Range Base, getting a feel for the lay of the land, and the operation of the over-snow vehicles, before one morning mid-November they abandoned camp, while the rest of the team slept off the effects of a sleeping draught slipped into their evening hot cocoa. They took with them a stolen snowmobile, sled, pyramid tent and a month's worth of food and supplies and left behind a very large wad of cash, converted to American dollars—the unspent balance of the Potter, Black, and Lovegood fortunes, after having left behind a sizable portion for both Teddy Lupin and Molly Weasley—along with a brief note:

Our apologies for leaving you short-staffed and for the theft of equipment and supplies. We hope this more than adequately compensates you for the inconvenience.

Sincerely,

Harry Potter & Luna Lovegood

While they felt guilty about the theft, particularly after the period of getting to know their colleagues, they could think of no other way to safely reach their destination—even with magic on their side. Even with the combination of the stolen supplies and magic, there was no guarantee that they would succeed…

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