Chapter 5 – How Are Things On The Home Front
Hermione took Mona to her house. We were all going to have quick baths and a change of clothes before Harry and Ron arrived. I gave Bronwyn first shot at the bath, fearing that Harry wouldn't wait the full hour to return home. It was no big deal if he caught me in the tub, but Bronwyn likely wouldn't be at all pleased. I took the time to make a giant pack of tea and to explore whether Harry had anything in the house which would go with the tea. Happily, there was a large box of shortbreads. I filled a plate and placed it upon our kitchen table. When Bronwyn returned from her bath, I told her that if Harry arrived before I returned that she should tell him her tale about the difficulties of Welsh Witches at Hogwarts and the Ministry. The Wizarding world was changing, but all too slowly. Harry favoured change and wasn't as afraid of offending the stick-in-the-mud old farts of the opposition ranks in the Wizengamot, but he got as easily distracted as I did, and Bronwyn's push would be a good thing.
As I used my wand to heat my bath to steaming temperature, I felt an extra sense of ease to be tapping into the power of our own magical circles. The strange magical force of Vanaheimer had set my teeth on edge. The screaming of the mis-tuned railway circle as it finally failed hadn't hurt my head as much as it injured the attackers, but it had created a pervasive, psychic disease, which was tough to cope with in the middle of a battle. When the fight was over and the pyramid circle restored to function, the tuning had been more for Vanaheimer minds than to my preference. Now, I could luxuriate immersed in both my hot bath and my friendly magical force. My muscles were sore from the battle. Sword fighting is difficult and I, fortunately, had no prior experience cutting flesh with my sword. I was just approaching the feeling relaxed point, when I heard Harry talking to Bronwyn. I gave myself another minute of soothing and then towelled and dressed in my Ministry formal robes, the only truly clean robes I owned. A big snog with Harry and I was ready for business. There was a knock at the door and Hermione and Ron joined us. Introductions of Mona and Bronwyn were made. We sat around the table and I poured everyone a large cup of orange tea.
I told Harry that all of us would take turns telling him the story. We weren't all present for the entirety of events. Harry agreed, but said he needed to go first.
"No pressure at all from Ron or me, but your father asked to join us. He says to tell you that although he behaved shamefully toward your Quest team and is very sorry, that he thinks his experience as Minister can help and he very much wants to be helpful. Molly will come with him to guarantee that... I guess to guarantee that Arthur will be on his best, most helpful behavior."
I could tell that Bronwyn felt the conversation had taken a seriously strange turn. I agreed that Dad could meet with us, he might very well be present when we met with Hermione's committee, which I was certain we would do within a day. I reached Dad and Mum through the Stone and told them that they were welcome to join us. They arrived almost immediately. Mum and I had a big hug, held for a while as we whispered to each other.
"Your father really is extremely sorry that he and Prudence did so much to mess up your Quest. I'm not sure he can help you, but he is determined to try. I told him that this is yours and Harry's meeting and he is lucky to be allowed to attend. It is good to see you. I worried. I know that the turmoil with your father knocked you off your game and that can lead to dangerous errors."
"It could have. Hermione steadied me, she is a great friend and muse."
We told our tale. Telling it again made it seem even more dangerous and disastrous than it had seemed when we lived it. A dead Server, two dead guards, a wounded student, and a seriously wounded Captain Davies. I had killed again - more than once. I had tried to avoid doing so, but in the end, I had killed. This was the natural consequence of involving myself in battles and civil wars. Harry viewed the situation as even more serious than I did. A swordsman coming at your wife too quickly for her to use her sword in defence was frightening. Had this happened a minute or two later, after I had expended the stored magical energy in my last wand, I would be dead. It was that close a thing. Harry had fought enough to recognise that. Ron also knew how close to death Hermione had come.
"You're not Questing. You're fighting a war. If you're fighting a war, then it makes no sense to limit your numbers. I'm not at all convinced it makes sense for our community to be fighting in a civil war on Vanaheimer, but I know your Quest makes no sense. I think you've all Quested quite enough on Vanaheimer," Harry was adamant. "Determining who will rule Vanaheimer is not your job. It was important to help rid that world of those, like Miomor, and Freyr, and the dark Gods, who were a threat to our world as well as Vanaheimer. If the Vanir don't want Frijjo, I think it none of your or our world's business to impose her upon them. That is just very wrong. You've fought so much. You invaded Hel for Odin. That arguably was also to the benefit of our world and it did free the spirits of many of our friends. As both your Minister and your husband, I say you've fought enough. It's not consistent with your intention to be a proper Light Guardian Priestess and you are severely pressing your luck. Keep this up and you will be killed."
Wow! Ron and Dad both agreed with him. Mum said "they're right dear. Odin and Frijjo are taking advantage of you."
That was a very strong statement from Mum. I was taken a little aback, just because it was more directive than her normal tone, but I couldn't deny the logic of what she said. I also agreed with all of them. It was hard to imagine how the Quest would continue past tomorrow's meeting of Hermione's committee. I wasn't sure that I wanted it to. I'd missed my chance for a serious talk with Odin prior to the meeting of Hermione's committee. I could do it by Stone, but that wasn't quite the same. That reminded me that I had to contact Cho with a preliminary update for my team.
Others were speaking. "...trust Frijjo, and yet here you and Hermione are risking your lives so that she can view Vanaheimer. How would you feel if a Wizard from very long ago, not even the thousands of years Frijjo has been away, let's say someone like Salazar Slytherin returned and thought he had a right to rule us, because he thinks he was unfairly shunted aside many generations before you were born? Now, how would you feel if Slytherin showed up with an army of Questers from Venera as his enforcers, giving us no choice to decide who should run our government? That's exactly what you've been tricked into doing. Frijjo wasn't even going to rule back in her day. She was just to be the wife of the ruler. Was that even a position of real power?"
"I don't know Ron. I don't want to die and neither does Hermione. We don't want to pick the leader of the Vanir. That's up to them. We just agreed to help a formerly magical people to regain their magic. I am not at all happy about the situation we found ourselves in. I hoped to talk to Odin before we returned home, but the opportunity never came up."
"I did talk briefly with Odin and made my complaint to him, telling him that we went to Vanaheimer to restore magic, not to be Frijjo's army. I told Odin that I would wait and think it over and talk to Ginny and my inter-government committee, but that I would stop Questing if it required fighting. I am not a fighter. I owe it to Ron to stay alive. I see no benefit to our world from fighting to help Frijjo rule. I told Odin that if he felt guilty and that he carried a debt to Frijjo, then he must pay it - I would not. Odin told me 'later'. No offence to Mona, but it probably would have been best not to have to say what I said in front of her."
"It's good for more of us to know how things really are," Mona complained. "I want to be your friend. I am willing to keep your secrets."
"I know. You just shouldn't have to carry that responsibility. Now, unless any of you have helpful suggestions, prior to the meeting of my committee tomorrow, I have to pay a visit to Uncle Reg and his scientist friend."
"Wait a moment. Before you go, I want to hear what help Dad thinks he has to improve our safety or shorten our Quest."
"I don't actually have a lot beyond my best wishes and willingness to do what I can. Ellie and I are searching the Department of Mysteries for artifacts which might give you the surprise weapon you need. We haven't found it yet. At least, if we have found it, we haven't figured out how to make it work. George and Lee are also working on some new Weasley Wonders for you to take back with you. I've been helping them. We are improving the blackout powder and the ability to magically see through the blackout. I've spoken to Cotto. He has volunteered a half dozen Elves to watch your back in their invisible mode. You've not made use of the invisibility cloaks. You should do that. Mainly, and don't take this as criticism - I know that those battles were forced upon you from the moment you arrived on Vanaheimer, but I think you have neglected diplomacy. You began this Quest with the knowledge that you would face so many Gods and Goddesses that trying to fight your way through would inevitably lead to defeat and death. If you go back to Vanaheimer, and I'm not convinced that you should, then you need to understand and talk to the various factions as much as Frijjo does. You've been going based upon the guarded information Frijjo decides to give you and it seems her understanding of her world is very slim. My final suggestion is that you need to explore the past decade or century of events on Vanaheimer in seid space. My final promise is that I will continue to search for ways to help you."
"Thank you, that was useful, and I do appreciate your help." I gave Dad a hug. "Now I need to go talk to Neville. Don't think I missed the lack of an update on events here at home. However bad they are, I want to know about them. We can talk over dinner."
Before heading to Hogwarts, I reached Cho through the Stone. I told her of my schedule for the next day and a half and asked how things were on Vanaheimer.
"No more fighting, not a lot of help from the Vanir, apart from the Servers. Supplies haven't arrived at the pyramid. We and the Servers are consuming our supplies. Frijjo hasn't returned. We've finished fine tuning the circle. Nothing else to do here, apart from serving as the pyramid guards. In addition to the Servers, two of Frijjo's guards are present. That's it."
I told her to pack up and prepare to return home. I would contact Odin and get back to her.
Odin wasn't surprised to hear from me. He was surprised that I was about to order my team home and cancel the Quest. I explained that this decision wouldn't be made until after the meeting of Hermione's committee tomorrow. I wasn't on Vanaheimer and my team was uncomfortable serving as the military guard for the pyramid. I couldn't in good conscience ask them to stay. Frijjo's government was providing all of two guards to defend the pyramid and protect the Servers, circle, and Great Black Stone. That wasn't fair. My team weren't mercenary soldiers. Our task was to repair the circle. That was fully complete. My team was doing nothing except waiting for another battle and another chance to be killed in another peoples' civil war. That wasn't the purpose of my Quest.
Odin promised to speak to Frijjo. I must give him an hour. Frijjo was fully healed, but Odin had felt she needed some pampering before returning home. Perhaps that wasn't fair to the peoples of Britain. I agreed to give him the hour. In less than half that time, both Odin and Frijjo were simultaneously talking to me through Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil also was not silent. Of course, Frijjo and Odin needed to travel to Earth to see me in person. At once! I told them the key meeting was tomorrow. They'd stay until then. I needed to keep my team on Vanaheimer until after that meeting.
"Cho doesn't feel safe," I complained. "I can't ask her to stay and defend the pyramid, when Frijjo only supplies two of her guards to defend it. We are being treated as her army, not a Quest team. I'm beginning to doubt she has any significant level of support. Everywhere she is understaffed, and her guard force is very small, even in the capital. If she doesn't have enough supporters to even adequately guard Government House and the pyramid, then we are fighters not repairers of magic. With the deaths during the last attack on the pyramid and with Frijjo, Hermione, me, and the two students gone, there are eight less pyramid defenders than when we barely fended off the last attack. Several of the remaining defenders were injured in the last battle. Cho is right. It's not safe for my team to remain in the pyramid. They want to come home."
"I'll send more guards to the pyramid," Frijjo promised. "Give me an hour and then decide."
I relayed that message to Cho. She agreed to wait an hour. I would spend that hour with Neville.
I had one big question for Neville, one that it didn't seem fair to ask Margaret: "How did he cope with the emotional aftermath of killing by sword?" Neville was a good person to ask. He was gentle than me, could helpfully get along with more people than I do. He also was more the scholar and less the adventure-seeking explorer and fighter that I am.
"Since you're asking me that question, clearly you haven't found an answer that satisfies you or justifies your actions in your own mind. I have a few questions for you. "Did you travel to Vanaheimer to fight and kill Vanir?"
"No, of course not. We went to fix their magic for them."
"In the fight, did you kill as many attackers as you could, or did you kill only as a last resort, or somewhere in between."
"Until I was down to my last wand and magic had died, I didn't use the sword. When I used my wands, I limited myself to 'Off', even though I feared Frijjo would just execute the prisoners, as she did in the battle at the circle beside the railway tracks. So perhaps I half thought that, in the end, an 'Off!' would have the same result as the A-K. I killed two of them with my sword. It's a very personal sort of killing. Not at all the same as with a wand. I felt my sword slicing or pushing its way through their flesh and bone. I had their blood on me. I had to yank my sword out of the one guy and I almost separated the other guy's head from his body. It wasn't the same as when we fought demons. There I got a shot of pain from each killing and the demons just vanished in red sparks. They didn't seem truly alive. This was sooo different."
"I understand. I also felt that difference. I can tell you what consoles me: I know I made the right, tough choice, knowing if I didn't kill the attacker, that either I or a friend would die. It was either true self-defence or the defence of an innocent. Killing is always jarring, but I can live with it if it was right and I know that I didn't have the choice of a less destructive action. Was your killing justified?"
"I believe so. The guy whose head I cut almost off would have done the same to Hermione, if I had waited even a second. The other was trying to kill me. I had ducked his first swing, right before I stabbed him. I agree that I didn't have a choice. I still feel badly about it. That's not the sort of Mother I want to be, but I've been forced to be that sort of Mother. I don't feel right about fighting Frijjo's battles. I hate that she kills the prisoners whom I deliberately don't use a killing curse to stop. I really don't care that much if she uses a killing curse to fight her part of the battle. It just feels that I am dirty if the attackers I leave in a totally defenceless position are slaughtered by Frijjo. I think I should have stopped her, but I didn't. I was afraid that would lead to another fight and more killing between my Questers and her guards. I felt so helpless and just dirty. I'm supposed to be a Light Guardian priestess. I shouldn't be a part of that. I shouldn't be killing Vanir to force them to accept Frijjo as their ruler. I'd rather they made their own choice. I'd be happier trying to help Percy and Callista come up with a diplomatic solution. I just know that it's going to take a huge amount of killing to force Frijjo as ruler - way more killing than I can stand to be part of. She says she doesn't have the forces to guard prisoners, but she seems blood thirsty as she makes her way among the stunned and dead, deliberately killing the merely dead. I did convince her that she needed to question the prisoners. The first one wound up killing himself. It was worse than Lucius Malfoy, because I was sure Lucius was rotten and that he had tried to kill me. These Vanir, even those in the act of killing me, just wanted to capture the pyramid. They fought me only because I was in their way."
"You had a perfect right to be where you were. They weren't justified in killing you. It is going to take time for you to settle your feelings. It took me weeks. I know that Margaret went through weeks of nightmares and came out the other side… I think, I hope, whole again, or very nearly so. I won't deny that even after weeks, killing leaves you a changed person in subtle ways you can hide from yourself most of the time. You can be called a hero; you can even believe that you acted heroically - there is still a change and the inescapable darker periods of reflection that perhaps the killing wasn't entirely necessary, that perhaps you wanted too much to be a hero, that perhaps the other guy wasn't as awful as you told yourself he was. You've been here before. You'll survive. Your regret is a good sign. Talk to Hermione's mother, when you have time. My mother also might help. Your own mother is a very good person, who has killed. Would it help if I shared some of my sherry with you?"
"I think I need to be very sober. I talk to Odin and Frijjo in less than a half hour and I need to decide whether to ask Cho to stay in the pyramid, until I get back, or come home right away. Oh! That's Cho, do you mind if I lie down on the floor of your office to speak with her?"
I was motioned to the floor and found a nice section of rug. Cho told me that eight of Frijjo's guards had just arrived. They seemed fit and eager to defend the pyramid. Cissy said they told the truth, when they told Cho that they were friends who were willing to die to defend the pyramid, Servers, and Questers. Cho was willing to stay at least until I returned. The guards had brought fresh supplies. There was plenty of food and water, but it was still poop in a bucket time, since it was unsafe to leave the pyramid. One of the guards suggested Apparating to Government House and back. Cho had declined, not hinting at any thought that it might be risky for a single, or even pair of, Questers to Apparate to Government House to use a bathroom. The bucket seemed the preferable alternative.