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Behind the Curtain by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 1: Snakes in the Snow
Soviet Union: 1952
The cold biting wind howled as it blew down from the massive towering mountains, stirring up clouds of flurries among the thick sheets of freshly fallen snow. A loud cracking noise echoed through the air, disturbing the natural tranquility, as Vladimir Komissarov apparated. His body was instantly jolted by the extreme freezing temperature, a harsh contrast to the heated Moscow office in which he had been spending most of his time. He felt icicles beginning to form in his beard as the chilling wind stung his face. In moments like this, he sometimes questioned his career decisions, wondering why he couldn’t have become the Minister of Magic in a country like Spain or Italy rather than his home country. He quickly chided himself for having such thoughts, remembering that if his strategy progressed as planned, those countries may be added to his ever growing empire in the near future.
The vacuum of power in the post war years following the defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald had provided the perfect opportunity for a patient and ambitious wizard to fill the void, and Vladimir was doing exactly that. As Minister of the largest country in Europe, he was in the perfect position to expand his holdings. So far the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, and most of Central Asia had fallen under his grasp, and his power was only growing stronger.
Vladimir had learned valuable lessons from the mistakes of Grindelwald, having witnessed the German wizard conquer a massive, yet very short lived empire. Grindelwald had made his conquests through open warfare, and with his Muggle Nazi allies he had engulfed the continent in a catastrophic conflict. Vladimir, on the other hand, was building his empire through a complicated web of espionage and deceit. It was a deadly game of shadows, and so far he was winning. As he gradually became ever more powerful, the one major obstacle looming on the horizon was the potential presence of the one wizard powerful enough to stop him, the one who had claimed all the glory in defeating Grindelwald, Albus Dumbledore.
Vladimir shivered as he pulled his brown bearskin cloak tightly around him, making sure it was securely fastened with its metallic brooch in the shape of a shiny red star. With his long dark hair and thick beard, he seemed to personify the Russian bear itself in a way, although his gaunt frame would make for a very sickly looking bear. His beady brown eyes always seemed to be intensely staring at something, and his face had a greenish pallor to it. It was often whispered, but never to his face, that he bore a striking resemblance to the infamous Russian wizard Rasputin.
A second loud crack heralded the arrival of Sergei Markov, the director of the recently formed Paranormal Directorate of the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secretive intelligence service. Unbeknownst to his Muggle colleagues, he was a wizard who was constantly searching for ways to use magic to aid on the world of espionage. His goals of Soviet domination closely aligned with Komissarov’s, and they were beginning to explore new opportunities for cooperation.
The two men walked past the dense groves of majestic Siberian pine trees whose evergreen branches were encrusted in a thick layer of frost as they approached their destination. The primary reason for the success of Komissarov’s maneuverings thus far was the outstanding performance of the Soviet Ministry’s Intelligence Department, a group of highly skilled wizards who were perfecting the art of spreading their regime while leaving a minimal footprint. And now, Vladimir, along with his colleague Markov, was paying a visit to their newly constructed base, to see firsthand the brilliant work they were doing. Their boots sank into the ground as they trudged through the snow, walking past the glittering expanse of a frozen lake until they finally arrived at a nondescript group of buildings encircled by a high chain linked fence topped with barbed wire.
As they reached the gated entrance to the facility, they were greeted by the woman who had established herself as the most skilled and reliable of the Soviet Ministry’s operatives, Anastasia Molotova. Through her daring exploits, she had made quite a name for herself in the magical intelligence community, and now, at just twenty-four years old, she reported directly to Komissarov as the Director of Magical Intelligence. She stood patiently waiting as she dug her high heeled boots into the snow, wearing a white mink fur coat that fit snugly over her slim feminine figure, and was fastened with a red star brooch identical to the one Vladimir was wearing. Her long blonde hair flowed freely over her shoulders, and her crimson lips added a pleasant touch of color against her pale complexion and the snowy white backdrop. Though she possessed an incomparable beauty, the expression in her light blue eyes was colder then the Russian winter itself.
“Your Excellency, it is a pleasure as always.” Anastasia greeted them, her stoic demeanor showing no signs of being affected by the cold or wind.
“I have been anxiously anticipating this visit for quite some time.” responded Vladimir, as he and Markov followed Anastasia through the gate.
They walked through the door to one of the plain looking concrete buildings and found themselves in a very long room, every wall of which was covered by large shelves with row upon row of different herbs, plants and other potion ingredients, contained in small glass bottles and arranged in neat little rows. There was a long table in the middle of the room containing several black cauldrons and a variety of mixing tools. A young wizard by the name of Antonin Dolohov stood watch over the room. He had unkempt dark hair, and a thick layer of stubble covered his pale, twisted face.
“Your Excellency, welcome to the Potions Center,” Dolohov announced, grinning proudly as he showed off his work. “Now, as you can see, we use a wide variety of potions, there’s polyjuice, which is ideal for undercover missions, veritaserum, which come in handy when we have prisoners. And we have any type of healing potion imaginable to deal with whatever we might encounter out in the field.”
Vladimir looked deeply impressed as he and Markov looked around the room and inspected several bottles. When they had seen their fill, they nodded to Anastasia, who led them outside and towards the next building in the complex.
They approached a small building with several large antennas protruding from the roof and fled in through the door. They entered a dark room filled with all types of radio equipment, in addition to many large boxes containing rolls of parchment, and rows of cages containing owls.
Anastasia informed them, “As you can see, this is the Communications Center. And here is our Communications Director, Igor Karkaroff.”
A young wizard stepped forward with shoulder length brown hair, constantly shifting eyes, and a pointed beard that some said resembled the tail of a weasel.
“You Excellency, welcome to my domain, the nerve center of our Empire,” Karkaroff announced, puffing his chest out as he demonstrated an inflated sense of his importance. He led them towards the center of the room and indicated a rectangular object that somewhat resembled a Muggle typewriter. “This is our Kwikcodes machine, they are in the possession of our agents throughout the world, and it allows us to send coded messages that can only be decrypted through the use of another machine. It really is a foolproof means of communication if you ask me.”
Vladimir stroked his beard as he inspected the machine, greatly impressed with its design. When he was satisfied, he gave Karkaroff a brief nod of acknowledgement before following Anastasia out the door with Markov in tow.
As they walked out into the cold wind once more, Vladimir remarked, “I am very pleased with your progress, Anastasia, you have done well here. But now, I should love to meet this Englishman I have heard so much about.”
The recent arrival of a small group of wizards defecting from Britain had provided a large advantage for the Soviets in their power struggle with the west. The majority of them proved to be mediocre and un-noteworthy; however, there was one wizard who seemed to be the leader of the group that possessed powers that were being whispered about in all corners. Nobody knew what exactly his allegiances and ideology were, but Vladimir at least knew that the mysterious young man was strongly opposed to both the Muggle born and Albus Dumbledore, which was good enough for him.
“Well it happens that he is scheduled to run our new obstacle course this morning, so you will be able to observe him in action.” Anastasia informed him. She was not yet sure how she felt about the new arrival, she certainly had her doubts and suspicions about him, but he was probably the best she had ever seen when it came to work in the field.
The lesser skilled of the British exiles, Mulciber, Avery, Nott, and Lestrange, as well as several other Russian operatives, gathered around the obstacle course to witness the prowess of the man they knew simply as, “The Englishman.”
With a confident stride, The Englishman stepped up to the starting line, looking very poised as the gathering crowd murmured with excitement.
“I designed this course myself, it’s very challenging, and there are a few touches you might really enjoy.” Anastasia informed Vladimir.
The loud pop of the starting gun reverberated through the air as the Englishman took off in a run, moving quickly across an open, snow covered field. He cast a charm on his shoes so that he could skim across the surface and not sink into the snow, and his skillful execution of it put the native Russians to shame. He continued running, completely unfazed, when dozens of bludgers were launched into the air, each seeming to be seeking him out. He dove and rolled over once as the heavy, black balls whizzed by his head, then rose to a knee and shouted “Arresto momentum!” bringing the bludgers to a halt.
Without pausing, he quickly rose to his feet and ran towards the next challenge, a thirty foot wall that must be scaled. He ran faster and faster to gather momentum before launching himself into a leap as he incanted, “Verticalis Maximus!” The gathered wizards gasped as the Englishman vaulted into the air, effortlessly gliding as he soared higher and higher, clearing the top of the wall by a few inches.
A large devil’s snare plant awaited on the other side of the wall, and its long, twisting vines ensnared the wizard as he plummeted back towards the ground. The devil’s snare plant is designed to wrap ever more tightly the more its victims struggled to escape, and many lesser skilled wizards would have easily fallen into that trap. The Englishman, however, remained cool and composed as he cast, “Incendio!” shooting burst of flame from his wand that engulfed the plant, causing it to release its grip on him as the branches withered away.
He dropped to a soft landing in the thick snow as he stood up and began to run some more when he was confronted by the sudden appearance of a lion like creature with a scorpion’s tale; a manticore. The beast growled hungrily and bared its massive fangs as it prepared to charge him. The hide of a manticore is impervious to magical charms, a fact that many wizards have ignored to their great peril. However, the Englishman calmly faced the charging beast as he pointed his wand towards the edge of the nearby woods. “Accio tree!”
The crowd looked on in awe as a massive pine tree was uprooted and came flying in their direction, landing on top of the manticore and pinning it underneath the weight of its branches. Without looking back, the Englishman then continued to run, adapted his snow shoe charm into a water walking one as he skimmed across the surface of the pond that now stood in his way, which was enchanted so that it would not freeze and would always have choppy waves.
After reaching the end, he was confronted with the final obstacle, an enchanted mannequin clad in flowing blue robes, designed to look exactly like Albus Dumbledore. The Soviet Ministry had been experimenting with enchanted mannequins for quite some time, they were not convincing enough to be used in the field, but there were of great use in training.
The likeness of Dumbledore raised its wand, preparing to fire one of the several curses it had been programmed to use, but the Englishman was too quick, firing an explosive charm that reduced Dumbledore’s double to a pile of smoldering rubbish. He then stopped and gave a brief flourish as the wizards applauded his efforts. Anastasia glanced at a nearby time keeper and realized that he had completely shattered the course record.
Vladimir seemed very impressed as the Englishman walked over to approach him. He had an arrogant, yet charming expression, and remarkably he looked as if he had barely broken a sweat, and his short brown hair remained perfectly in place. He had a very high level of fitness, and it was easy to see how he could win so many people over.
“Oh hello, Anastasia, I see you brought some dignitaries and didn’t see fit to introduce me yet.” he proclaimed with an air of condescension that somehow managed to sound a bit charming.
Anastasia grimaced slightly, not fully at ease with his rapid rise through the organization, yet glad to have him on her side all the same. She turned towards Vladimir, motioning for the two men to shake hands. “Your Excellency, I’d like you to meet Tom Riddle.”
A/N: I'm a huge fan of Cold War spy stories, so this is my attempt at setting one in the HP universe. Historically this takes place seven years after the conclusion of my story "Their Finest Hour." You don't have to read that one first to understand this one, but I do reuse a couple OC's. Thanks to TenthWeasleyWriter for coming up with the name for the Kwikcodes machine, and thanks to academica, WitnessToitAll, and Daliha for suggesting the obstacles for the training course. Please leave a review and let me know if you liked it!