Chapter 8 - The Committee Decides
Some members of the Committee wanted to talk about the Hogwarts students and others who might come with us on the Vanaheimer leg of our Quest. McGonagall worried that the students' parents would object and blame Hogwarts for allowing their daughters to participate in such dangerous activities. I explained that I intended to do my best to make our return to Vanaheimer far safer than the prior two visits. I also stressed that both Mona and Bronwyn had discussed the matter with their parents and had received parental permission to join us. Mona's parents were aware of the injury their daughter sustained and felt that their daughter would learn enough to justify the risk. I told McGonagall "the parents clearly don't view Hogwarts as all that safe or welcoming. Their daughters felt much better treated and appreciated on Quest. Here are the notes they sent."
"I admit Hogwarts must do far better in stopping the hazing of the Muggle-born and non-English students. I have tried. Dumbledore tried. I know that Neville has tried very hard. Some things are just very difficult to change. I feel that we have moved past the days when students were a risk of lethal attack at Hogwarts. Hogwarts gets few students from Wales. I can't remember a Lebanese student. At least they are in Gryffindor. I shall make a point of visiting the Gryffindor common room and reminding the Gryffindors that they are each stronger when they stand together and defend their fellows."
"I've already had that talk," Neville told her. "The students' response was very positive. I also expelled a Slytherin who assaulted Mona and sent the other Slytherin who set Bronwyn afire to my mother. Mother says she will prosecute. I believe that sent a most needed message. I've spoken to both girls. They each enjoy Questing. They also think it will lead to greater opportunities after they graduate. I agree with them. Ginny should take them with her."
Hermione lost control of the meeting for a minute, as McGonagall harrumphed, declaring that a recommendation likely to harm Hogwarts. Meanwhile Tony asked to see the letters. I handed them too him. He stared at them intently, declaring: "I don't think the girls wrote the letters themselves, so I think you should respect the parents' decision to allow their daughters to Quest."
That opinion carried the day. Adding Bill was next up. Some, especially King Gobbledygook, felt that adding a male was not in strict accord with how a Quest should be run. Odin answered that this hadn't been quite a normal Quest and he would permit Bill. The King volunteered his wife and two other Goblin females in their mid-twenties, whom he described as graduates of Torva's physical training class. "(That's her equivalent of Harry's Dumbledore's Army training, but with a greater emphasis on sword fighting)," the King whispered so softly in my ear that I had to Stone-speak the words for Hermione, who was seated right next to me. The King's offer was accepted. As I was still thinking about this, I noticed Cotto had led Odin away from the meeting table for a whispered exchange. As the discussion ended, Cotto saw me staring at him and gave me a two-handed thumbs up sign. I took this to mean that he was sending additional Elves with us, but that Frijjo wasn't to know about this. What could possibly go wrong?
What could go wrong was apparently the spiders. Frijjo apparently was strongly opposed to spiders in Government House and wanted to re-litigate our prior decision. She directed her concerns at Tony. "Both my people and the Aesir are in mortal fear of the Acromantula. We fought bloody battles to remove them from our land. They once excluded the Vanir from seid-space. I fear they will do so again. I can stand the Aagog-sized spiders, but the adults chill me to the bone. I couldn't work with them hovering around me. My hands would be unsteady, and accidents would be unavoidable. I am trying to win the hearts of my people. If I bring an adult Acromantula to Government House, I am finished. I will be pariah, traitor, friend of the monsters. So will Ginny. I accept the presence of the spiders to help guard the pyramid. Few Vanir go there, and the Servers don't seem to mind their presence. Can't we just leave it at that - just Aagog and perhaps one equally small spider at Government House?"
I could tell from the front four limbs beating a staccato rhythm on the stone floor that Aagog's father, Agog, leader of the Aragog clan, was upset by what he was hearing. I kept waiting for him to speak, but he did not. His wife, Aragag, placed one leg on his back. This seemed to calm him. At least the drumbeat ceased and everyone at the table visibly calmed. Aragag told us "that will be acceptable. We will pick a younger sister to send with Aagog."
This was acceptable and an obviously relieved Frijjo apologised to Agog "I'm sorry, I know it's silly, but my political position is so precarious - I can't risk offending any... of my people. Clearly Frijjo did not fear the Aagog-sized spiders. Agog just nodded in response.
Firenze was talking about using Centaurs trancing in the Sacred Cavern and linked through him to his whale pod to create what he called a predictive engine to give an advance warning of hazards, which my Quest team might encounter on Vanaheimer. Just an hour's advance warning, communicated to me through our Stone, could allow us to convert an opponent's intended trap of us into our trap of them. This sounded promising, but Firenze quickly switched into a mathematical analysis of how this could work. It was way beyond me. I took the opportunity to wonder over to the refreshment table for some tea and scones. All the controversy had left me in need of... something other than Firenze's math. As I approached the table, the smell of coffee changed selection to coffee and shortbread. As I was single-mindedly loading my plate, I felt a hand upon my left shoulder. It was Tony.
"Please accept what I am about to propose to the Committee. I want to add two more soldiers to the team. Also, since we are back to including males, I'd like to reinstate Professor Sturluson to your team. I know he was initially added as an Odin expert, but his training really prepares him to study any society and to glean hints about future actions from their myths and recorded history. This idea came to me as I listened to your Professor Firenze. You do need another library researcher and general interviewer to assist Callista." The hand left my shoulder and Tony moved on to getting his own coffee. I returned to my seat in time to approve Firenze's project. I trusted Firenze and recognised that he had a very strong need to help. I had no idea whether his plan could possibly work - prophesy at such a great distance was... it was something I had never even a hint about.
I supported Tony's proposal. That was the last suggested tweak to my team. We finally turned to the question of voting whether to approve the return to Vanaheimer. I was pleased that Harry insisted upon an explicit amendment that I was authorised by all to end the Quest at any time, either if it appeared pointless or if security could not be maintained. This was both leverage over Frijjo and cover with the Goblins and Centaurs should I feed a need to abandon either this Quest stop or the entire Quest. The amendment and the approval to Quest were approved by all, but I sensed a lot of reluctance from King Gobbledygook and Firenze on Harry's amendment.
I told Odin that we would join him and the rest of my team on Asgard late tomorrow. Harry corrected me: "It will have to be late day after tomorrow. We have a couple of serious government problems for which I require Hermione's and my wife's truth-telling skills and judgment. I hope you can understand. This involves two of the greatest threats our community has faced since the death of Voldemort. I suppose it is also going to take an extra day to round up and organize the expanded group of Questers."
Odin understood. Frijjo did not want to understand, but what could she do? I didn't understand and that worried me. I was especially worried that nobody had said a word to us about what was happening here in Britain.