Letter To an Old Friend
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize belongs to me. Just borrowed. Will be returned.
This was written in response to the 'Anywhere but here' challenge on the Livejournal community 'Omniocular'. A big Thank You goes to my beta, Snarkyroxy, who patiently puts up with me and is always encouraging.
The Dragon's Lair
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
London, November 3rd, 1993
My dear Albus,
First of all, let me extend to you my heartfelt thanks for agreeing to write a new foreword to the 53rd edition of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them'. It is my pleasure and my pride to now publish a completely revised edition of my book. Your foreword will give it its finishing touch.
In your last letter, you were asking me if there are any major changes in the book. I can honestly answer you that the changes will be considerable. Not only will we include geographical and magi-ecological maps, we will also include a complete new set of state-of-the art illustrations. You know my stance on wizard-photography as opposed to sketches in scientific publications. Fortunately for me, and the readers, I was successful in convincing my publisher that sketches serve the purpose of a reference book much better than those ever-moving photographs. How are the readers supposed to recognize a Billywig when all they can see is a blur, I ask you? But I digress...
The contents of 'Fantastic Beasts' will, more or less, stay the same, with the 75 species presented, although each entry has been thoroughly reviewed and revised. Species number 76 will have to wait until the 54th edition. You know how conservative the International Magizoological Society is. Despite my rock-solid proof that the Nargle isn't just a tiny variety of the Glumbumble, they are still hesitant to acknowledge it as a separate species. But they will have to give in, eventually. What more evidence do they need than a distinct difference in wing venation and the absence of spines on the femur? The Glumbumble has an abundance of spines on its legs; besides, its antennae are feathered whereas those of the Nargle are pouch-like with a lateral bristle. The difference in habitat alone should give them a clue. A mistletoe clearly isn't a hollow tree. What other proof do they need, I ask you?
Let them dawdle; I have done my work and I know that it is solid. I have suggested the name Visconopheles scamanderii and published my findings in 'Proceedings of Magizoology'. They are usually a lot more progressive at PoM than at the MZS.
Speaking of PoM, please give my kindest regards to Pomona. Our field trip for her research on 'The Microfauna in Dragon Dung, with Special Consideration of the Chinese Fireball' will always remain one of my fondest memories of those days. She would have made a fine Magizoologist, had she not chosen Herbology. I don't blame her though; a witch has to eat, and you can't gather many riches as a scholar. But I digress again...
Let me get back to the point. The most substantial change in the new edition will be the entry about the Kappa. While the Kappa will always be known as the Japanese Water Demon, I am saddened to inform you that it is no longer true the creature is most commonly found in Japan. How did that happen, you ask?
Well, despite the tireless work of the Japanese Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Clause 73 of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy has been violated again and again. The Japanese wizarding community hasn't succeeded in permanently hiding the Kappa from Muggles. Kappa have, by now, become a part of Japanese Muggle Pop-Culture; they are depicted and described in stories, in animated films, and the Kappa's peculiar behaviour is even used to teach polite manners to small children.
It is futile to lay the blame on that unfortunate wizard who initially taught his Muggle neighbours how to carve their names on a cucumber to appease the little demons and how to drain them of their strength. The little demons' curiosity would have gotten them into trouble anyway. The fact that these creatures are deeply honourable and very polite once befriended is making things worse. They are attracted to Muggles instead of shying from them. Just imagine one of the little buggers surrounded by smiling and bowing Japanese Muggles. And what does the Kappa do? It bows back and loses the water in the cup on its head, thusly being drained of most of its strength and left helpless and weak. Kappa were caught, killed or forced into servitude. With their strong sense of honour, there is no way for those who are bound to free themselves. Almost like the house-elves... but I digress again...
All this led to a considerable decrease in the Japanese Kappa population over time, so much so that the International Confederation of Wizards has finally been forced into action and decided to create a Safe Habitat for the little demons. However, Japan's high Muggle population density makes it a very unsuitable place for such a Safe Habitat. Luckily, Kappa are not endemic to Japan; some small Kappa populations were known to exist in northern China, Siberia, and Mongolia, which makes those locations suitable without having to worry about problems that usually arise with introduced species.
We chose western Mongolia as the location for the Safe Habitat, since its population density is very low and the area is rich in lakes and rivers. The existing Mongolian colony of Kappa lives in Hovsgol Lake, in the northern part of the country. The lake we chose for the first introduced Kappa colonies is Uvs Lake, in the west, far enough away from the native colony to prevent trouble. Uvs Lake is a saline lake, rather shallow, but with a large surface area. The extreme climate may appear a deterrent, but the lakes are deep enough to not freeze through completely, and most of the larger rivers don't freeze completely either.
I am certain that you remember how complicated it was in the past to perform any significant acts of magical collaboration in those countries due to their difficult political situation. Fortunately, the situation has relaxed considerably in the last few years and the collaboration of the local Ministries of Magic with the Muggle governments is now such that the creation for a Safe Habitat and the species-appropriate relocation of the Japanese Kappa could be endeavoured.
So I was hired as an advisor to set up the habitat and to control the transfer, while the International Task Force that is usually stationed in Tibet was temporarily assigned to the actual relocation of the beasts.
And that is how Porpentina and I, close to 100 years of age, found ourselves on another field trip and were once again granted the privilege to travel to remote and exotic locations and seek excitement and adventure.
After we placed our three Kneazles with Arabella Figg for the duration of our trip, we Apparated to Tokyo where we met with the representatives of the Japanese Ministry of Magic. Our Japanese colleagues informed us that the majority of surviving Kappa had agreed to move, but some of the more human-friendly groups had chosen to stay behind. Some of them wished to stay because of their friendships with Muggles or wizards; others had no choice because they were honour-bound into servitude.
Transport of the Kappa had been arranged by Sea Serpent. I trust that you know about the Japanese specimen? All those Muggle tales and myths surrounding it are yet another breach of Clause 73. However, in this case, the deception tactics of the Ministry worked perfectly. The beast that Muggles call 'Godzilla' has little resemblance to a Sea Serpent, but rather gives the impression of a crossbreed between a dragon and a dinosaur.
Anyway, the tanks with the Kappa and their belongings were shrunk to the smallest size safe for living creatures, which is about the size of normal travelling trunks. Naturally, all these large trunks made travelling by Portkey unsuitable. So we set off with seven of these trunks attached to 'Godzilla', cast our Bubble Head Charms on ourselves and were gone.
The underwater journey through the Yellow Sea was beautiful, but uneventful; I will not bore you with details here. Let me just say that the Giant Squid in the Hogwarts Lake is tiny compared to its brethren in these waters.
We arrived in China close to the city Tianjin, yet another densely populated area. Keeping our activities hidden was not an easy task. The Chinese Ministry of Magic had kindly agreed to let us use their Abraxan-drawn carriages, but only for the shortest route to the Mongolian border. With the Kappa tanks safely stored in the carriages, we had a breathtaking flight over part of Central-north China, right to Erenhot at the Mongolian border, which is, as you know, in the Gobi desert.
My dear Albus, travelling via Apparition or Portkey may be fast and convenient, but let me tell you, nothing - absolutely nothing - beats flying. With our fast and immediate ways of travelling, we lose the feel for a country, for the distance travelled. Only when you ride a beast or when you fly do you get that feeling back. Our flight brought us over the Great Wall of China, a sight that can only be truly appreciated from the air.
Back on solid ground, transport now became a bit more of a problem. The Mongolian Ministry of Magic is small and in tight financial straits; they could not provide us with air transport. However, the Mongolian wizards do own a good-sized herd of Re'em, and four of those proud beasts transported the Kappa tanks and our equipment through the desert. We could have, and in fact did, at a later stage of the journey, use brooms, but believe me, flying on a broom isn't a lot of fun at 40oC. Travelling in spring and fall is out of the question because of the severe sand- and snow-storms, and the winters are too cold to help the Kappa settle, so summer it had to be.
Mongolia is a wild, rough land, full of natural beauty. You would absolutely love it, Albus. The separation between wizarding and Muggle society is not as strict as it is in the Western world. While the communist Muggle regime of the past suppressed the local religious groups, Shamanism now is on the rise again. Many of the Shamans, as you know, are Muggles, but quite a few are wizards and their mythology and magic reach back as far as the last ice age.
There is some old, old magic still lingering in Mongolia. It's the magic of Mother Earth and Eternal Heaven. Just listening to the Geseriad, the Shamans' mythical heroic epic, tells you how old that magic really is. Their myths show similarities to the stories of Shamans in Alaska and Canada -- a connection that ceased to exist with the end of the last ice age when the land bridge through the Bering Strait was flooded. Albus, I know how fascinated you are with ancient magic, and parts of Mongolia are a living example of it.
With a people like this, we know our Kappa are in good hands. In fact, the Urianhai of the West have agreed to watch over the introduced populations and keep them hidden from nosy Muggle tourists.
Now, back to the journey. I don't want to bore you with lengthy descriptions of the beauty of the land; you can read those descriptions in my travel journals, if you wish. They have all been published last summer, together with a description of our relocation efforts. Let me just give you the gist of our journey.
Travelling with the Re'em was interesting but exhausting. The hot and dry days and cold nights in the desert sap one's energies. For easier travelling, we were following the Muggle roads, which aren't really paved roads in most places. You need not be concerned about encountering many Muggle travellers in the Gobi. There is the occasional lorry or bus, but our disguised caravan looked just like a group of normal nomads, with horses and camels, and attracted little attention.
The desert has its own unique beauty. There are vast stretches of 'pebble seas', which can be black, purple, grey or brown. There are badlands crisscrossed with canyons, and there are dry lakes and sand dunes. The Gobi is desolate, hot and beautiful.
After many days of travel, we reached the grasslands. The Mongolian Great Steppe is a never-ending ocean of grass, dominated by the very pretty, soft, and silvery feather grasses. The area isn't as dry any more and travelling became more pleasant. We were planning to go north, up to the ancient city of Karakorum, a small but thriving wizarding community which looks like ruins to Muggle eyes. Others have described ancient Karakorum better than I ever could. Here, again, you can feel the greatness of that once-dominating empire, the connectedness of the two people, of the high esteem and respect witches and wizards are given by their Muggle sisters and brothers.
If you travelled further north, you could find even more evidence of old magic. There are ancient stone steles, sculptures, burial mounds, even old flint mines once used by the stone-age people. This country is so rich in magi-historical artefacts and unspoilt natural beauty -- all of it should become a Safe Habitat, for magical and non-magical beings alike.
We took a short break in Karakorum and then travelled by broomstick, a Kappa tank tied to each broom of our companions from the Task Force. The rough, mountainous regions west of Karakorum made brooms the most sensible choice for travel. The days were warm enough, and the nights we spent in our comfortable tents that were charmed to look like Gers, or Yurtas, the large tents of the nomads. Here the character of the land changed once again. There were still vast steppes with roaming herds of horses and their herders, but also rugged mountains, and amidst them the mystical, snow-capped holy mountain of the Mongols, with magical plants and fungi growing on its slopes and beautiful magical crystals growing in its caves.
Don't laugh about me, Albus. You know that I get carried away when a place fascinates me. Mongolia is such a place, I could go on and on about it forever.
But be that as it may, we finally reached the Uvs Lake basin, a plateau between the Khangai Mountains in the East, the Altai in the South and West and the Sayan Mountains in the North. Again, the scenery was breathtaking. The basin is surrounded by a beautiful mountain panorama with steep snowy peaks, big glaciers and dramatic waterfalls. It is reassuring to know that Muggles understand the uniqueness of the area as well; they made it a UNESCO (one of their global organizations) World Heritage Site.
So finally we set up base camp, helped the Kappa form colonies in the Uvs Lake and showed them the other lakes and rivers where they can migrate to once their population goes up again.
And that was the end of what will certainly not be my last big adventure. Porpentina and I feel years younger. One should think that the hardships of such a journey are too much for old folks like us, but let me tell you, there's nothing better than a few weeks spent broom-flying to build up your muscles and get the kinks out of your frame. I think we'll be good for another 50 years, for certain. Try it, Albus. Let us know when you plan on travelling; we may just get adventurous again and join you. And Mongolia is always worth another visit.
Let me end this letter with a warning, because I have a feeling that your involvement will be asked for in the future. My publisher (young Archibald Worme, who has taken over business from old Augustus) has been in frequent contact with a Muggle publishing house. They are planning on a fund raiser for poor Muggles, which, of course, is a commendable effort. However, young Archibald, for whatever ambitious reasons of his own, has suggested I donate 'Fantastic Beasts' to the cause and publish a Muggle edition. You can imagine that I wasn't exactly excited about that. All our love for Muggles aside, Albus, a publication of 'Fantastic Beasts' would render our efforts at disguising and hiding our magical beasts completely useless. I'm not too worried right now; the Ministry will take years before they approve (and approve they will -- Archibald has a heavy purse), so there is still some time. You will be surprised to learn that I gave my basic consent, though. I will allow them to reprint the presently used 52nd edition for the Muggle version. The Ministry certainly will insist on several edits to help with the disguise, and that 52nd edition is rather outdated by now, anyway. That way we can afford to be altruistic and still maintain our secrecy.
I now remain, as always, your old and faithful friend,