'All stories have some basis in fact, Professor Bersten,' said Luna Lovegood placidly. She stared coolly at the bald and burly wizard. He had stood when he had asked his question, and had refused to sit down. He was obviously unhappy with her answer. In fact, he was bouncing on his toes and gesticulating wildly to emphasise the fact.
The International Symposium on Fantastic Beasts was being held in the Rådssalen chamber, an ornate and high-ceilinged room at the heart of the Trolldomsministeriet, the Swedish Ministry for magic, but despite the imposing surroundings, Luna's colleagues and peers were unwilling to take her ideas seriously. Professor Greger Bersten was proving to be particularly vociferous.
'Almost all stories, Miss Lovegood.' As he spoke, Bersten tugged angrily at his straggling goatee beard. 'However, in this case, the story is all there is. There is no provenance for this particular tale. I have been unable to discover any mention of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack prior to a twenty-year-old article in The Quibbler. How old were you twenty years ago, Miss Lovegood?'
'Six-and-a-half,' said Luna promptly. 'But…'
'Then perhaps it was simply a story your father made up to impress his little girl,' said Bersten, refusing to allow her to speak. 'Certainly, the only people telling this story are your father and yourself. There is physical evidence for the existence of this creature, none at all. No tracks, no photographs, no bones, no dung. Every Snorkack "story" has been reported by your father, in the magazine he publishes, and only by your father in his own magazine. I have read his "research" and attempted to verify the stories he has published. In an attempt to corroborate his evidence, I have even tried to track down the eye-witnesses in the reports. Unfortunately, I could find only one of the "witnesses" whose testimony he has printed, and that poor fellow is now in St Olaf's…' Bersten paused dramatically '…in the mental ward.'
Professor Bersten waited for the laughter to die down.
'But…' Luna tried again.
'Your father has printed photographs of footprints, and of shadowy beasts which, upon close scrutiny, show either nothing at all or prove to be something else entirely. Are you aware of the phenomenon the Muggles call pareidolia, Miss Lovegood? It is our ability to hear voices in random noise, to see a face on the full moon. It is our ability to see or hear things that are not actually there; things like the Snorcack.'
The laughter from the audience again echoed around the room.
'It is possible that sighting the Snorcack leads to mental instability,' said Luna.
'Can I assume that you've seen it, then?' Bersten asked.
The audience laughed again.
'No,' said Luna sadly. 'Unfortunately, I have not.' Her words were lost in the laughter.
Bersten sat; a look of triumph on his face. Luna gazeded out over her audience. They were, as usual, entirely hostile to her theories. At the side of the stage, Gunnar Hegart, the Swedish wizard who had invited her to the symposium, was indicating that she had time for only one more question. She acknowledged him with an unblinking stare.
'One final question,' said Luna.
Several hands were raised, but only one of them was waving wildly. It was a slim, long-fingered hand attached to a pale and skinny arm. The head immediately beneath the flailing digits was blond haired, blue eyed, and young. He was, Luna thought, still in his teens. His pale, long-nosed and open face was somehow vaguely familiar to Luna. In an attempt to turn the spark of a memory into the flame of a name, she rapidly flicked through her mind. She had mentally filed the face under: beasts, knowledge, Ginny, Tibet, and THE BOOK (which was the only item she had filed in capital letters). This meant that he was:
'Mr Scamander,' she pointed to him.
Her noisy audience immediately fell silent and, en masse, turned to stare at the young man she'd indicated. Mr Newton Scamander was long since retired, and there was no doubt that, although the audience recognised the name, they had no idea who this fresh faced young man was. The young man, however, was unaware of their stares; he was simply astonished that she'd correctly identified him.
'Miss Lovegood, have you considered the possibility that the Snorkack may, in fact, be one of those creatures which is native only to Yggdrasil, the world-tree?' he asked.
The boy's question caused uproar among the audience. Professor Bersten sprang back to his feet and waved an admonishing finger at the young man.
'Obviously,' said Bersten sarcastically. 'Why did no one else thing of such a thing? An imaginary creature is certain to live in an imaginary place. You are as crazy as she is! Did Miss Lovegood plant you in this audience, Mr Scamander? If that is, in fact, your name.'
'I am Rolf Orion Fido Scamander. Newton Scamander was my grandfather,' said Rolf. 'I have met Miss Lovegood only once before, in Tibet, three years ago. You are a Professor, sir, but you have overstepped yourself. This is a symposium, a formal meeting to discuss Fantastic Beasts. Miss Lovegood has made a presentation, and it appears that you disagree with her.'
Bersten gave a sarcastic bark of laughter and opened his mouth, but Rolf stood, turned to face the professor, and started him down.
'This is a debate, not an argument, sir. Demolishing Miss Lovegood's hypothesis is perfectly acceptable, implying that she is insane, and that I would for some reason choose to present myself under a false name is insulting to both of us, and completely unnecessary. If you believe that you have won the debate, then there is no need to resort to the level of personal insults. I would never consider making a comment about your beard, for example.'
Several members of the audience sniggered.
'Can you be certain that Yggdrasil does not exist, Professor? After all, you yourself said that almost all stories have a basis in fact, and in the case of Yggdrasil, the reports stretch back not twenty years, but more than two thousand. Why, even the Muggles have heard them.'
The audience applauded.
'Mr Scamander has a point, Professor,' said Luna. 'As you know, there are a number of magically hidden and unplottable places across the British Isles, and not only in Britain. Look around you. This fine palace stands in the in the Gamla Stan area or "Staden mellan broarna" as I believe you call it. This is the old town of Stockholm, the Muggles know it well, yet they are unaware of the existence of this large and beautiful building.
'Muggles can't see…' Bersten began scornfully.
'There are places which are hidden from everyone,' said Rolf. 'No one, not even witches and wizards can see through the barrier at King's Cross. We must simply trust that we truly know where the barrier is, and when we walk through for the first time, we have no idea where we will emerge. I believe that there are many such places, some so ancient that they are lost to living memory. It is my theory that Yggdrasil, the world tree, is one such place.'
'Ridiculous,' Bersten tried again, but this time he was interrupted by the Master of Ceremonies, Gunnar Hegart. The extremely tall, bespectacled wizard strode onto the stage, holding up his hands for silence.
'Witches and Wizards,' Hegart announced. 'Regretfully, we must bring this discussion to a close. Miss Lovegood's allocated time is, regrettably, now over. It appears to me, however, that the discussion about her theories will energise this symposium for some hours to come. Please show some appreciation for Miss Lovegood.'
Luna smiled at Hegart and then caught Rolf Scamander's eye. 'Stortorget, one hour,' she called. He nodded and his thin face distorted itself into a gleeful, almost manic, grin. Surprised by his enthusiastic response, Luna strode from the stage to a tumultuous mixture of cheers, jeers and laughter. On balance, her lecture had been reasonably well received. It could have been worse, she reminded herself; at least this time no one had thrown anything at her.
As she descended from the stage, Gunnar Hegart was already introducing the next guest. 'Our next speaker is Mr Bjørn Tretvoll, from Oslo, the renowned expert on Billywig egg fertilisation and gestation.'
Luna watched the commotion with interest. The hall was emptying as the majority of her audience struggled desperately to leave before Mr Tretvoll began. She considered staying to listen, realised that she couldn't and for a fraction of a second regretted her impetuous invitation to Rolf Scamander.
Fifty minutes later, Luna strolled into Stortorget, the bustling square in the centre of Stockholm old town. It was a typical northern European central square. At its centre stood an old stone fountain well; fresh water trickled from the open mouths of four carved gargoyle faces.
Three sides of the square were made up of tall narrow and gaily painted merchant houses, many with kafés on the ground floor. The fourth side of the square was a grand old building of stone columns and peach plaster. From the words above the main entrance arch, it was the seat of Svenska Akademien. Luna slowly looked around the square. She was ten minutes early, it was unlikely that he was already there. She had said "one hour", but it was best to check.
In order to better blend in with the local Muggle population, Luna had changed out of her robes. The backless silver-grey ankle length dress she was wearing had been bought for Susan Bones' wedding. Luna thought that the dress was a little impractical, but both Hermione and Ginny had assured her that it was perfect for the occasion. The matching shoes, however, had high heels, and very little substance for their price. The Muggle obsession with heels was strange, and it seemed to be restricted to the females. She'd asked Harry, but he'd been unable to explain why this was. She had always found heels uncomfortable, impractical, and rather silly, so she'd thrown the expensive shoes out immediately after the wedding. Luna had chosen to wear her favourite and most practical Muggle shoes, a pair of bright yellow canvas boots with a blue star logo on them. As the wind was rather cool she'd also put on the double-L patterned maroon and lime green cardigan which Ginny's mum had hand-knitted for her several Christmases earlier. Several of the Muggles were staring at her, no doubt impressed by her attire.
As she continued to look around the square, she again saw a wildly waving hand. Rolf Scamander was sitting at a table in one of the many kafés around the edge of the square. She strolled over the cobbles and appraised the waving and grinning young man. He had pushed back his chair and was standing, staring straight back at her.
Rolf Scamander was not particularly tall, he was smaller than Harry, and taller than Dennis; he was also thin and fair. As she approached, Luna was struck by his eyes, which were the palest and most striking blue. Rolf wore an official Holyhead Harpies t-shirt, sandals, and a pair of trousers which came only about halfway down his calves. The trousers, she noted approvingly, appeared to have a copious number of pockets. Pockets were always useful, and very few Muggle clothes had enough. The dress she wore had none at all, a serious omission.
'I was early,' he said. 'Would you care to join me for tea, Miss Lovegood, or would you rather go somewhere else? Perhaps we could go for a walk along the waterfront? Or we could…'
Luna strode into the restaurant, looked down at the teapot and cup in front of him, and realised that he had been there for quite a long time. She sat, and glanced across at the young waitress who stood watchfully at the door.
'Söder te, vänligen,' she told the waitress when she approached.
'Javisst,' the waitress nodded and scurried indoors.
'You speak Swedish?' he asked, sitting back down in his chair and staring at her.
'A little,' she said. 'I've been coming here for years, with my father. I've picked up a few useful words: please, thank you, tea, things like that. I see that you've been drinking tea, Söder te, to be precise. Do you like it?'
'Very much,' he said. 'It's rather unusual. But at least it iis/i tea. I was worried that I might be unable to find anything to drink. The Continental Europeans appear to prefer coffee, which disagrees with me rather badly, I'm afraid.'
'Tea is popular here,' said Luna. 'I was told that the Swedes are the third largest tea drinkers in Europe, after the British and the Irish.'
'Interesting,' said Rolf. 'In a way they, like us, are separated from the mainland by a sea. I wonder if that has something to do with it. I should have done more research on local customs; I have brought far too much tea with me. I've brought many more Gurdyroots than I will need, too.'
'I'm very fond of a Gurdyroot infusion myself,' said Luna, almost breathlessly. 'And I appear to be indulging in small talk, which is strange. I rarely indulge in small talk. You are having a most peculiar effect on me, Mr Scamander.'
The young waitress returned with a pot of tea and a fine china cup and saucer.
'Tack så mycket,' said Luna politely to the waitress.
'Please, call me Rolf,' said Rolf eagerly, talking over the waitress's reply.
'Thank you, Rolf. Please call me Luna,' she said. She poured herself a cup of tea and leaned forwards conspiratorially. 'Now, tell me about Yggdrasil, the world tree.'
Five hours later, they were sitting in a restaurant in Djurgården, eating smoked salmon and surdegsbröd, and they were still talking. It was nine o'clock in the evening, but the summer sun was showing no desire to set.
'Why did you decide specialise in magical geography?' Luna asked as she mopped up cucumber, red onion, apple, and sour cream with her bread. 'Your father and grandfather are acclaimed experts in magical creatures. Why not follow their example?' She hastily popped the bread into her mouth and began chewing.
'My father has taken me all over the world, Luna,' he said. 'As I travelled, I realised that it was the places, and the plants, which fascinated me, not the fauna. I specialised in both Herbology and geography. That's probably why I'm so interested in Yggdrasil. If the stories in the Wizard's Edda are true, then Yggdrasil is both geography and flora. This sauce is delicious, isn't it?'
Luna nodded, and once again found herself lost in the young man's earnest pale blue eyes. Rolf Scamander was a fascinating and insightful young man. And he was so passionate about his subject, and about his quest. True, he was almost seven years younger than she was, but that was of no consequence.
They had walked and talked for hours, compared theories and ideas, and discovered that they had an enormous amount in common. It was true that Rolf was a lot more interested in Quidditch that she was. He was, like Harry and Ginny, a fanatical supporter of the Holyhead Harpies, but otherwise he was intelligent, articulate, and polite.
'I think that you need to take more account of geography in your search for the Snorkack, Luna,' said Rolf thoughtfully. 'You need to consider environment, habitat, and the food chain. I've read all of your articles. Your enthusiasm for your subject is almost enough to set the pages on fire.'
'Thank you,' said Luna. 'Most people seem to think that I'm a little odd.'
'Odd?' Rolf shrugged in disbelief. 'Your work with Professor Longbottom on Bowtruckles was the finest research paper I've ever read. Your descriptions of the magical geography of Shivering Stone were enough to make me desperate to visit the place.'
'Neville wrote most of that,' said Luna modestly.
'That's not what he says,' Rolf told her. 'He taught me Herbology from my fourth year. He encouraged me to visit Shivering Stone. I spent last summer there. It's beautiful. I think that magical geography fascinates you, too. Luna.'
'Do you really think that if we find Yggdrasil, we may also find the Crumple-Horned Snorkack?' she asked him.
'We?' he said, startled. 'Are you prepared to come with me, on what everyone has told me is an impossible quest to find a tree which does not exist?'
She did not answer his question; instead, she asked one of her own. 'If you came to Sweden to try to find Yggdrasil, then why did you attend my lecture?'
'I wanted to see you, I've wanted to meet you again ever since our brief encounter in Tibet.' he admitted.
'See me?' she said, hoping that she did not sound too eager. 'Why?'
'As I said, your passion shines out from your work. I wondered whether you were as passionate in the flesh. Do you have a boyfriend, Luna?'
'I didn't this morning,' she said. 'Now, I'm not so sure. At the moment I'm waiting for someone to ask me out.'
'Will you go out with me?' he asked hastily.
Unable to resist any longer, Luna leaned across the table and kissed him.