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Behind the Curtain by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 2 : New Discoveries
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 19


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An icy chill spread from the frozen river as the sun began to rise over the busy city of Moscow, causing an intense glare as it reflected off the ice and snow.  Amidst the deep morning chill that cut to the bone, Archibald Wellington stepped outside the protective gates of the British Embassy and into the forbidding and unfriendly city.  He walked briskly, carefully avoiding the slippery patches of ice on the ground that had often caught him by surprise when he first arrived in the country. 

He quickly rounded the corner, pausing to take a glance at his reflection in the dark glass window of a nearby shop as he pulled his fedora hat tightly overtop his closely cropped brown hair, and adjusted his tweed overcoat and  the regimental tie that seemed to match his bluish-grey eyes.  While he was ostensibly looking at his reflection, the true purpose of his interlude was to ascertain whether or not he was being followed.  It was standard procedure for the Soviet KGB to keep close tabs on any Western diplomats in the country, and Archibald expected nothing less.  Sure enough, a very overweight man in a gray suit and trench coat did seem to be casually following him at a safe distance.  Judging by his stature and casual demeanor, he was clearly not one of the best agents, but instead, he was the type that would be assigned to follow a lowly and insignificant junior clerk from the British Foreign Office, which is exactly what Archibald was. 

However, unbeknownst to his tail and to most of co-workers as well, Archibald’s official position was merely a cover for his true role as an undercover officer for MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.  It was the type of job so covert that only with the greatest caution and discretion could one’s own family be informed about it.  Not that those things mattered to Archibald, who hadn’t had much contact with his family in many years.  His pureblood wizard relatives had been gravely disappointed when he was born a squib, and had disinherited him in favor of his younger brother Augustus, who had excelled at Hogwarts after being sorted into Slytherin House, as per family tradition.

While Archibald may have been lacking in magical abilities, he still possessed plenty of the traditional Slytherin cunning and ambition, which had served him very well in his career to date.  While the majority of squibs seemed content to work dead end jobs in the magical world, Archibald defiantly and seamlessly integrated himself into Muggle society, earning top marks at school, and gaining admission to Oxford.  While attending the prestigious university, he excelled at the study of Russian language and literature, and his knack for linguistics earned him a job interview with a mysterious man from the Foreign Office, who, as it turned out, didn’t actually work for the Foreign Office at all.   

Archibald took a look back at the Moscow skyline, noticing that almost every building was flying the red flag of the Soviet Union, with its hammer and sickle which, to him, were the clearest possible symbols of oppression through power.  His eyes beamed with pride at the sight of the lone British Union Jack above the Embassy, fluttering through the wind in proud defiance of its environs.

He continued his walk at a leisurely pace, randomly turning down side streets, doing a very effective job at convincing the fat man following him that he was nothing more than a lowly government bureaucrat enjoying his morning stroll.  Finally, he felt a sudden jolt of excitement as he passed by a nondescript lamppost which had been marked by a small and seemingly innocuous streak of chalk; the prearranged signal that a message from his newly recruited agent was awaiting him.     

A major part of Archibald’s job description with MI6 was cultivating human intelligence assets in his assigned country, that is, convincing Soviet citizens to knowingly or unknowingly spy on their own country.  Despite the vaunted security apparatus the Soviet Union was known for, he had found that mostly everybody in this country had their price, and there was very little information that he could not obtain with the right amount of cold, hard cash.

His most recently recruited agent, the one who had just left him a message, was the top clerk to Sergei Markov, the head of the KGB’s shadowy paranormal division.  Now, unbeknownst to Markov, any paperwork that crossed his desk would be in Archibald’s hands within a few days.  The activities of this new organization would certainly startle one who was not already familiar with the magical world.  In fact, Augustus Wellington, an up and coming Auror, who was also the only member of Archibald’s family he remained on speaking terms with, had asked his older brother to keep him informed of that unit’s activities.  Although the close relationship that had existed between MI6 and the Ministry of Magic during the war years had gone by the wayside in peacetime, the Wellington brothers did their best to keep the alliance operational, even if they were the only two that knew about it.  The tensions between the Soviet Union and the West existed in both the magical and Muggle worlds, and they were determined not to allow any magical or non-magical incidents spark an all out war. 

 Archibald casually walked towards a small shop and purchased a local newspaper while speaking fluent Russian before immersing himself in the throes of a large crowd, ensuring that the fat man could no longer keep track of him.  Finally, he reached a well traveled public park where he sat down on a bench and began to nonchalantly read his newspaper.  Without taking his eyes of the page, he reached underneath the bench, and was thrilled to feel a small magnetic canister attached to the bottom of the bench, which was the dropping point he and his agent had previously agreed upon. 

He casually slipped the container into his coat and read a while more before getting up and walking back into the crowd, taking an indirect and roundabout route to finally return to the Embassy.  Once inside the Embassy gates, he rushed to his office, slamming and locking the door behind him.  He then carefully removed a portrait of the newly crowned Queen from the wall, revealing a safe which he opened to retrieve his cipher key.  The message inside the container was encrypted with a code that could only be broken by one possessing that key, and it also appeared to contain several rolls of microfilm. 

Archibald’s heart raced as he decoded the message; no matter how many times he did this, it was always the same adrenaline rush.  When the task was completed, he double and triple checked his work, not believing what he had just read.  Ordinarily, a discovery of this magnitude would require an immediate call on his secure telephone to MI6 headquarters in London.  However, this discovery had clear magical implications.  He rifled through his drawer and grabbed a handful of green powder, which he then proceeded to throw into the small fireplace in the corner of his office.  He stuck his face in the pale green flames that connected to the Auror Office at the Ministry in London, urgently hoping that his brother Augustus would be there to answer. 

****

The sun had begun to set over Moscow, the cold day giving way to the even colder night, as Anastasia made her way back to her flat.  Though it was small and sparsely decorated, it was high end luxury by the standards of what a twenty-four year old in the Soviet Union could hope to obtain, magical or not.  As she walked through the door, she passed what she referred to as her “Wall of achievement”, which was adorned from top to bottom with photographs, trophies and plaques that she had accumulated during her time as a student at Durmstrang Academy, a place that was near and dear to her heart.

She didn’t remember much of her life before reaching school age, not that there was much worth remembering about growing up in an impoverished Moscow orphanage during the Great Depression and the war that followed.  It was never fun, but she had managed to keep her head down and survive in the rough environment, until the momentous day at eleven years old when she had received the letter from a magical school informing her that she was, in fact, a witch. 

For Anastasia, Durmstrang became the home she never had, and the more comfortable she became there, the more she sharpened her magical abilities.  Coming from her humble background, she knew never to take an opportunity for granted, and always went the extra mile when it came to anything school related.  When the other girls in her class were enjoying things like parties and boys, Anastasia was usually either studying in the library or practicing charms and spells outside.  She still managed to receive her fair share of notice from the boys in school, but she had neither the time nor the inclination to reciprocate. 

Anastasia’s hard work had certainly paid off; she had excelled in all subjects of her academic career, particularly charms and transfiguration, and she even found that see seemed to have a natural propensity for the dark arts that were part of the Durmstrang curriculum.  She also made time for athletic pursuits, and was a very successful chaser on her house’s quidditch team.  Her prodigious skills did not go unnoticed in high places; immediately after graduating she was heavily recruited by the Soviet Ministry, who wanted to put her skills to work.  She approached her new job with the same dedication as her schoolwork, and she had already greatly distinguished herself in the field. 

The last small flicker of sunlight poked its way through the thick curtain covering her living room window as she lit a lamp for additional lighting.  She then took a seat at her finely carved French piano, the type of luxury item that was forbidden to normal Soviet citizens, but was a privilege allowed to someone of her rank and stature.  Since learning her scales on an old and rotting instrument at the orphanage, music had always been her release, the one place she could turn when the stress was too much.  She began to play a concerto by Rachmaninoff, her favorite composer.  Many thought s raced through her mind as her fingers gracefully danced over the ivory keys.  She was in the midst of planning her next mission, and a very challenging one at that, abducting the Polish Minister of Magic. 

In the slightly chaotic years after the Second World War and the fall of Grindelwald, much of Eastern Europe had fallen under Soviet control.  While this was also the case in Muggle Poland, it was a different story on the magical side.  Pyotr Podolski, the current Minister of Magic, was steadfastly defying Vladimir Komissarov’s regime.  He had been a leader in the resistance against Grindelwald, and was now making bold proclamations about a new future for his country, one in which Muggles and the Muggle born would be treated as equals, views that Vladimir found completely unacceptable.  Perhaps even more unacceptably, he was known to be a personal friend of Albus Dumbledore. 

Anastasia’s fingers pounded on the keys as she neared the dramatic crescendo of the piece.  The thought briefly crept into her mind that there was something of a sense of injustice about being sent to abduct somebody who seemed to be doing nothing more than seeking a better future for his country, but she quickly stamped out all such doubts.  In her line of work, one could ill afford to ask such questions.  Her overarching goal, as it had been all along, was simply to survive in a complex and dangerous world. 

Finally, she the notes of the finale reverberated through the piano strings as she reached the conclusion of the piece.  She closed the piano and slowly walked to her window to pull the curtains shut, watching the last glimmer of sunlight disappear in the west.  Soon a new day would bring a whole new set of challenges. 

*****

As the darkest hours of night fell over London, a serene sense of calm covered many corners of the usually bustling metropolis.  However, in one particular neighborhood, bright gaudy lights and a large, blue Scottish flag bearing the iconic cross of St. Andrew beckoned visitors into the friendly and welcoming surroundings of the Rotten Haggis Pub.  Inside, the lively sounds of fellowship and merriment echoed within the wood paneled walls, which were adorned in highland tartan colors and all manner of Scottish sporting memorabilia.  

On this particular night, a very rambunctious group of men, many of them veterans of various Highland regiments who had settled in London after the war, had gathered in their home away from home to listen to a radio broadcast of Scotland’s rugby match against the New Zealand All Blacks, which was being played at such a late hour due to the excessive time difference.  The exiled Scots were bedecked in the colors of their homeland, and one particularly large man called Hamish had squeezed himself into a kilt that may or may not have fit him at one time in the past, much to the chagrin of those around him. 

Behind the bar stood the pub’s owner, Duncan MacDonald, a man of average height with short but fiery red hair who seemed to have a mischievious grin permanently affixed to his face.  He was well aware that if he was but a few inches shorter, the comparisons to a leprechaun would be all too obvious.  Unlike men such as Hamish who had made significant weight gains after leaving the service, Duncan remained as fit and trim as ever, which he attributed to playing on the pub –sponsored football and rugby clubs that participated in a local league.  Although he greatly missed his native Glasgow, where his parents and siblings still resided, he felt very much at home in his new community.   

In addition to the various flags and sporting shirts, there were many photographs hanging along the walls.  Most of them depicted various athletes, but Duncan was particularly proud of the one that hung directly over the bar; a black and white photo of himself as a fresh faced eighteen year old, surrounded by his Army mates in the North African desert.  Although ten years had passed since then, he was still every bit as energetic and exuberant as he had once been, fighting to prolong the remaining years of his youth after losing several of them to the war. 

The beer flowed freely and the men mingled happily, enjoying each other’s company, despite the layer of tension caused by the closely contested game.  Finally, after several back and forth possessions, the Scottish players scored to take the lead.  A joyous celebration erupted in the room as the men cheered raucously, singing various cheers, slapping each other on the backs and spilling most of their drinks in the process. 

“Duncan has to dance now!” the slightly inebriated Hamish called out to cheers of approval. 

“Really? You honestly want to see me dance?” Duncan called out, in a mostly fake display of reluctance.

Aggressively egged on by the boisterous crowd, he climbed on top of the bar and began to perform the famous Scottish sword dance that he had learned as a boy.  He somehow managed to maintain his balance as his feet nimbly performed a series of leaps, and his gathered friends cheered wildly.  Finally, he jumped down from the bar and bowed with an embellished flourish as they applauded.

“The next round is on the house!” he gladly announced to a chorus of cheers, as Hamish embraced him in a bear hug. 

Suddenly, the door swung open, and the merriment was interrupted by its loud crash and the sudden gust of chilling wind that accompanied it.  A momentary hush fell over the room as a serious looking man in a finely tailored black suit, freshly starched white shirt and a plain tie stepped inside.  He had short brown hair, was physically fit, and seemed to have a determination in his stride.  By the looks of things, he was clearly some sort of government agent. 

Duncan silently wondered what type of city ordinance he may have possibly violated to warrant this manner of visit as the man calmly took a seat by the bar. 

“Can I help you?” Duncan asked a bit awkwardly.

The man briefly glanced around before answering, “Well since you asked, I’ll have a scotch, but I really came here to talk to you, Mr. MacDonald.”

Duncan was somewhat surprised and concerned that the man knew his name, but he dismissively answered, “Well we’re listening to the match now, and the bar is closing after that, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to come back another time then.”

“I believe you misunderstood me,” the man said quietly yet firmly as he opened his jacket slightly to reveal a wand, “I would really like to talk to you, Mr. MacDonald.”

Duncan nearly dropped the glass he had been absentmindedly washing as the smile disappeared from his face.  Reluctantly, he turned off the radio and announced that the bar was closing, which was predictably met with a chorus of boos and jeers.

“Don’t be a wanker, Duncan!” Hamish called out.

“You heard me, sod off, the lot of you!” Duncan insisted as the crowd made their way to the exit.

When they had finally cleared out, Duncan leaned his elbows on the bar and turned to face the wizard. 

“So you come into my pub in the middle of the night demanding to talk to me, you made me throw out all my mates, you flash your magic wand at me, and you still haven’t even told me who you are.”

“How rude of me, I almost forgot,” said the wizard as he extended his hand, “Augustus Wellington, Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

Duncan shook his hand but looked at him skeptically, “So, what exactly do you want from me, Mr. Wellington?”

“I want to talk to you about a mission you might be interested in.  You have a lot of experience from the war that may be of use to us.” Augustus answered, his serious expression not changing at all.

Duncan shrugged dismissively, “There are thousands of veterans in London, why come for me specifically?”

“Please don’t patronize me, Mr. MacDonald,” Augustus answered in a polite but slightly condescending tone, “I’ve read your files.  I know that you were part of an elite military unit that helped Albus Dumbledore defeat Grindelwald.”

Duncan paused, remembering just how much of the world had been opened up to him since that fateful day ten years ago that his Army squad was given secretive orders to accompany an agent on a special mission, and was subsequently introduced to Albus Dumbledore.  He had no idea why the Ministry would be seeking to re-unite his old unit at this time, but whatever was going on in the world, it could not be good. 

“And what exactly would you be needing my experience for?”

Augustus took one more sweeping glance around the room, and then turned back to face Duncan once more.  “We’re planning a mission that has a high impact on national security, but I’d rather not discuss it here.  We really should adjourn to my office at the Ministry.”

Duncan shrugged, accepting the possibility of an adventure intruding into his usually carefree life.  Augustus politely paid his tab for the Scotch and led the way outside into the cold, dark night.  Duncan shut off the lights, and displayed the “Closed” sign on the front door, wondering when he would be back again, and what exactly he was getting himself into. 

 
 
 


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