"I don't believe it!" Harry Potter muttered under his breath, his scowl only hinting at his annoyance.
He and Luna were well into their second week of sorting through old newspapers and had had to banish Kreacher from the library, shortly after setting up shop there. Left unchecked, the poor elf simply couldn't resist tidying up—every single time he entered the room. Unfortunately, though there was a certain order to the jumble of newspapers and newspaper clippings that filled all corners of the room, it was one that only they could understand, and the elf's well-meaning efforts kept setting them back.
Thus, when Kreacher popped in on them one morning, about two weeks after being ordered to stay out, they were understandably startled, and more than a little annoyed.
Just as Harry opened his mouth to reprimand the elderly elf, he noticed the official-looking letter—stamped with the letters 'ICW'. Reprimand forgotten, he eagerly snatched the envelope from Kreacher's outstretched hand, instead, smiling wildly as he thanked him.
"What is it?" asked Luna, as the house-elf popped out of the room, curious as to what might have gotten Harry into such a state of excitement.
"A reply from the International Confederation of Wizards; do you think they said yes?" he said, as he broke open the seal.
"No," Luna’s response was blunt.
Harry looked up, startled, "Pardon?"
"I think they said no," she repeated.
Harry shook his head in bewilderment, "When did you become such a pessimist?"
"When did you become such an optimist?"
Harry sighed, but decided that there was no point in arguing about it. "Never mind, only one way to find out…"
Within seconds of pulling out the letter, and beginning to read, his smile had disappeared, replaced by a frown that grew deeper with each passing minute, before transforming into a snarl of rage by the time he reached the end of the letter.
Luna watched in silence; though she'd strongly suspected that Harry wouldn't be happy with the letter's contents—she'd tried to warn him—it still hurt to see him so disappointed, so angry. Finally, when it looked like he he'd finished, she asked gently, "Are you okay, Harry?"
Harry took a few deep calming breaths, before responding, "Here, read for yourself," and handing her the letter.
Dear Mr Potter,
We have received your request to study and attempt to use Merlin's Ring. After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that we will not be granting your request.
The problem which you propose to address by travelling through the Ring has, in fact, already been resolved. While the death toll in both Wizarding and Muggle Great Britain is certainly regrettable, it does not justify meddling in matters that have already been settled, particularly given the complexity of situation you describe. It is our belief that the risks involved in attempting to change the outcome of your conflict with the wizard styling himself Lord Voldemort, far outweigh any potential benefits.
It also bears mentioning that given the state in which the Wizarding community of Great Britain currently finds itself, and given your status as a war hero and as a public figure, your nation and its people currently require your services. Thus, we cannot in good conscience assist you in your attempt to abandon them.
We would, however, like to take this opportunity to extend you an invitation to fill the currently vacant Confederation seat, previously occupied by your mentor, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
Harry gave Luna enough time to finish reading the letter before speaking, "If those stuffed up politicians think I'd even consider joining them after that disgusting excuse for a rejection letter, they have another think coming for them… You still feeling up to breaking into the high-security, top-secret ICW Antarctica Base, Luna?"
Luna nodded, smiling brightly, with barely contained excitement, "Of course, Harry! I'm definitely up for it!"
Harry gave her a wry smile, "Thanks for not saying, 'I told you so'."
"I told you so," she teased.
Harry's brief scowl at her pronouncement, faded when he noted the twinkle in her eyes. He quickly changed the subject, "So, any ideas how we can get all the way to Antarctica, without the International Confederation of Wizards catching on?"
"We'll go with the Muggles," Luna responded, as though stating the obvious, "they have all kinds of expeditions during the Antarctic summer…"
"And how exactly are we supposed to convince them to take us along—without resorting to Imperious?” Harry asked. “Those expeditions are for Muggle scientists."
"We could always pretend to be Muggle scientists—" Luna suggested.
Harry cut her off, "We would never be able to keep up the charade long enough for it to be of any use.” Clearly, like most purebloods, Luna's understanding of the complexity of Muggle science was somewhat lacking…
"So then we'll just have to apply for positions as GAs," Luna responded, with a touch of finality, as though that was what she'd had in mind all along.
"And what are GAs?" asked Harry hesitantly, unsure whether he should really be encouraging this particular line of discussion, given her tendency to believe in things that didn't exist.
"Operations general assistants, they do all the menial tasks for the Muggle scientists—most of the bases have at least a couple, some as many as ten," she clarified.
"How exactly do you know this?" Harry asked, still suspicious.
"I looked it up after you told me we were going to Antarctica. Daddy kept reference material on all sorts of places. I used to plan all kinds of adventures in my head, when I was little. There was even this amazing article on Crumple-Horned Seals—they're distant relative of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, except they prefer colder climates and they hunt under the ice. Do you think we'll see any while we're in Antarctica?
"I really don't think we'll have time to hunt down Crumple-Horned Seals, Luna," Harry pointed out.
"That's okay," she responded, "It'll still be an adventure."
Harry didn't bother objecting to her use of the word 'adventure.' "As long as we're clear on our goals… We're going to Antarctica to find and use Merlin's Ring, not to chase after Crumple-Horned Seals, or any other creatures…"
Luna nodded sagely, "No zoological expeditions, I promise."
Harry let the subject drop. "So, do you know about any Muggle expeditions in Marie Byrd Land? That's where Merlin's Ring is supposed to be hidden…" he asked.
Luna frowned. "Not specifically—" Her expression lightened "—but there are a few every year – Daddy says so! I'm sure we can find out somehow. Of course, Marie Byrd Land covers hundreds of millions of acres, so we're really going to need a way to narrow our search…"
Harry sighed, "What we need is a magic detector…Unless…wait… Muggles have all kinds of pictures of the Earth from space. I'm willing to bet big magical hotspots show up on some of those images, and they just haven't been able to figure out what it all means because of all the Muggle-repelling wards preventing them from exploring."
Luna looked pensive, "Can you read these Muggle pictures, Harry?"
"No, but maybe I don't have to," he responded, "We can probably get the Muggles to tell us themselves. We can pretend to be journalists, and tell a Muggle scientist that we're doing a report on the exploration of Marie Byrd Land. Then once we get them talking, which shouldn't be hard—Uncle Vernon was always complaining that academics never shut up about their work once you show an interest—we slide in a question about anomalies that they can't explain… It should work, if we ask the right questions, and find the right expert…"
"And if we don't, we can always try again," reassured Luna, "It sounds like it might be worth attempting."
She stood up abruptly, "You stay here; I'll go get Daddy's papers about Antarctica from my room… I'm sure he's got a list of Muggle scientists in there somewhere…"
Luna skipped out of the room before her companion could respond.
Harry had just finished tidying up the mess of newspapers scattered across the library table, to a semblance of order, when she returned juggling a pile of scrolls, in one arm, while reading an unrolled one that she held in the other.
The young witch stopped just short of running into Harry, "Here we are. Found it!"
She handed him the scroll she'd been reading, "According to Daddy's notes, most of the Muggle scientists in Great Britain that know anything about Antarctica work at a place called the British Antarctic Survey, in Cambridge. So if we try your idea that's the nearest we can properly find out anything, don't you think?"
"However, according to this—" she pulled another scroll from the pile and thrusting it excitedly at Harry, pointed to an article halfway down "—if we're going to Marie Byrd Land then I suppose our best hope is the American Muggles. A group of Muggle scientists called jeealegists are installing something called GSP there this year. They'll be camping in the Ford Ranges this year and I'm sure it will be lovely there!"
Harry stared, flabbergasted at her researching efficiency—she couldn't have been gone more than a couple of minutes—and finally understood why she'd been sorted into Ravenclaw.
He nodded, "That sounds good. Though, it occurred to me while you were gone that we should probably try just asking Headmaster Dumbledore's portrait, first. Maybe we'll get lucky, and he already knows the Ring's location… We can go to Hogwarts tomorrow, if you like; I have a few other questions that I need to ask him anyway… If he can't help us, then we can come up with a plan to get the Muggle scientists to tell us…"
They looked at each other and grinned. Tomorrow’s conversation promised to be interesting, if nothing else. Hopefully it would be productive, as well.