Chapter 5 : Man's Best Friend
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“How did you find this place anyway?” Duncan asked.
“It’s part of a network of outposts we’ve constructed for smuggling people in and out of the country, although we haven’t had much opportunity to use it yet,” Archie explained as he began to brew a pot of tea over the wood stove. He mused to himself that the ability to brew tea in any possible location or weather condition was a skill essential to any Englishman.
The cabin was very sparse; it consisted of just one room that contained a few cots in the corner, a small wooden table, a wood stove, and a communications station full of wires and antennas. Archie poured three cups of tea as he spread a large map out on the table and took a seat, inviting the others to join him.
Duncan made an observation as he reluctantly pulled himself away from the fire, “You know, when I was in North Africa during the war, baking in the desert sun, my fondest wish was to experience what it’s like to feel cold again. I would like to officially take that back now.”
“Well it’s too late for that I’m afraid,” Archie responded as he poured two cups of tea and offered them to his guests.
Moody politely refused to take one, preferring instead to drink out of his flask once more.
“Seriously?” Duncan incredulously mouthed to Archie, who simply shook his head and smiled.
Archie then turned their attention towards the map, “As you may or may not be aware, our current position is here,” he explained as he indicated an area of desolate wilderness with his finger, “And thanks to our informant in the KGB, we have been able to pinpoint the position of the Soviet Ministry’s base in this position, 200 kilometers east of here. Unfortunately, this is as close as I’ll be able to bring you without attracting unwanted attention.”
Duncan’s eyes widened and he fidgeted in his seat at the looming sense of adventure. Meanwhile, Moody continued to look straight ahead with his usual impassive expression, as if it were just another day at the office. Every few seconds he would look around and scan the cabin, just in case an unseen enemy had managed to trek through hundreds of miles of frozen terrain to listen in on them.
Archie spread some papers containing hand drawn diagrams out onto the table. “These are rough sketches of the layout of the compound. It’s not scientific, but it’s the best information we have. Now, as you can see, you must first penetrate this outer fence, which will almost certainly have at least one sentry posted. Once inside you will proceed to the communications center, which you can’t miss, it’s the building with all the antennas. And from there, you will proceed as we have discussed in regards to the Kwikcodes machine.”
“One question,” inquired Duncan, “this compound is 200 kilometers away, how exactly are we getting there? I’m guessing they don’t have a free bus that runs there or anything.”
“Funny you should ask, I was just about to show you something special,” said Archie with a grin, his eyes opening wide with anticipation.
Archie clapped his hands and called out, “Nicholas!” and seconds later a large Siberian husky came eagerly bounding into the room.
‘Lads, meet your new friend Nicholas; I named him after the old Czar of course, I like to stick it to those commies any way I can.”
Nicholas jumped up on his hind legs, playfully pawing Moody’s shirt with his front paws while attempting to lick his face. Moody was taken aback at first, but then allowed himself to show something vaguely resembling a smile as he rubbed Nicholas behind the ears.
“He clearly likes you,” Archie observed with a chuckle.
Duncan had a good hearty laugh at the sight of Moody finally letting down his guard a bit.
“You see, Nicholas is a special breed of magical husky that the Russians have developed, but he ran away from his training center and I happened to find him. I assume you’re familiar with dog sleds, well Nicholas can pull a sled all by himself, and much faster than normal dogs as well,” Archie explained.
Moody used his wand to conjure a small cricket ball which he tossed across the room, allowing Nicholas to eagerly fetch it. Meanwhile, Archie folded up the map and extinguished the lanterns.
“You will leave first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll give you your final instructions then, but for now, you should probably get some rest,” Archie informed them.
When the lights were out, they pushed their cots as close as they possibly could to the fire and did their best to stay warm. Nicholas curled up in a ball at the foot of Moody’s cot, and after some initial apprehension, Moody was all too happy to welcome him there. In their quiet remote corner of the frozen tundra, three young men who had already lived the lives of hardened old warriors seized the opportunity to rest, knowing that they would soon be in action again.
The shrill whistling of the boiling tea pot caused both Duncan and Moody to awake far earlier than they felt was natural for any rational human being.
“Rise and shine, time to start the day!” Archie cheerfully announced.
Duncan grumbled as his weary eyes came into focus in the pre-dawn darkness and he stumbled out of his cot. “You’re even worse than my old sergeant, and if you weren’t so bloody important I’d punch you in the face.”
“Come now, that wouldn’t be very sporting. And if you hurry up, you might have time for eggs and toast before you leave,” answered Archie with a smile.
Moody scanned the room in a rare state of grogginess, unwilling to muster the energy to speak this early in the morning. After surmising that his new best friend was already outside, he stumbled over to the table, where Archie was already setting out plates of eggs and toast. After hastily shoveling down their food, the three men bundled up and walked outside, where the sun was just starting to appear over the horizon in the distance. Their uncovered faces burned from the sting of the wind, and they could feel their breath freezing instantly.
They walked around the back of the cabin to find a large wooden sled lying next to Archie’s repainted taxi cab. It was loaded down with a large bag containing all the supplies and provisions they would need for their journey. Nicholas was strapped in to tow the sled, panting with excitement at the knowledge that he would soon get to run at full speed.
Archie then gave them some final instructions, “If Nicholas is on his top form, you should arrive at the compound by nightfall. It’s a simple mission, go in, grab the Kwikcodes machine, and get out. Afterwards, you can return back here and call me on the secure line to the embassy. Don’t send owls, it’s too risky. And remember, if things go belly up, you’re on your own. In the official word of both the Ministry and Her Majesty’s government, neither of you exist.”
Greatly assured by those words of encouragement, Duncan and Moody took their seats on the sled, holding on tightly as Nicholas bounded away into the forest, much faster than they ever imagined was possible.
Having completed her nightly rounds of the complex, Anastasia collapsed with exhaustion into her chair in the command center. She took a quill in her hand, looking with great trepidation at the massive pile of paperwork that had accumulated on her desk. As much as she loved the thrill and excitement of going abroad on missions, she always dreaded the administrative work that awaited her when she returned.
Dolohov, looking equally worn and exhausted, entered the office to give her an update. “The prisoner is secured in the detention center, and aside from that, it’s all conditions normal.”
Anastasia nodded, “Thank you for that, now I just have to write the after action report and send it off to Moscow.”
They were then interrupted as a now all too familiar face entered the room, clapping his hands in a patronizing manner. “Behold, the conquering heroes make their triumphant return.”
“Well that was a pretty impressive mission now that you mention it,” said Dolohov, puffing out his chest with pride.
Riddle ignored him, dismissively brushing past as he walked towards Anastasia’s desk. “I heard the two of you really made a debacle of things and barely made it out alive. It was apparently a lot messier than a smooth operator like yours truly would have done it.”
Anastasia let her quill drop, frustrated by the distraction. She looked up to meet his intense gaze, “What do you want, Riddle?”
“I want to run my own mission for once. As you know, my record is spotless, and I can always keep beating the record on your silly obstacle course if you need more convincing. Now, I noticed that we need to do a surveillance mission in Albania, I believe it would be in your best interest to put me in charge of it.”
Anastasia paused to think things over. She admitted to herself that Riddle was right, he had proved himself more than capable, and there was no reason to think he couldn’t handle running his own mission. With several more glamorous assignments available in place like Paris and Rome, she found it perplexing that he was insistent on going to Albania, but on the other hand, somewhere like that would probably be the perfect place for one to lead their first mission and gain experience.
Finally, she relented. “Fine, the Albania mission is all yours.”
Riddle’s intense expression quickly changed to a pleasant smile as he turned around to leave the room. “Excellent choice, you won’t regret it.”
When he was gone, Anastasia turned her attention back to the paperwork, making the grim observation that the total of all her reports would probably end up being about the same length as a Tolstoy novel.
“You know that paperwork will still be there tomorrow, you really should get some rest now,” Dolohov suggested.
Anastasia sighed, “Who’s on duty tonight?”
Dolohov glanced at the schedule posted on the wall, “Looks like Avery and Mulciber.”
“Incompetent louts,” she muttered under her breath.
Dolohov shook his head as he gave an exasperated chuckle. “I know you’re looking out for us and everything, but you really need to start looking out for yourself as well. You need to accept that you can’t do everything here, so please, just go home and get some sleep.”
She hesitated, not quite sure what to make of it.
Dolohov continued, “I know how paranoid you are, but I must remind you that nobody has ever attempted to break into this complex, even if they wanted to they wouldn’t know where to find it. I guarantee you, everything will still be here tomorrow.”
Anastasia sighed appreciating his concern. “Alright, I suppose I can afford to go home for a while, but I will have to be in extra early tomorrow.”
“I would expect nothing less,” said Dolohov with a grin.
Anastasia pulled herself up from the chair, and found herself unable to resist the urge to grab a stack of paperwork to take home with her. As she walked outside, passing through the magical protections and fenced in walls of the compound and into the surrounding wilderness where she could apparate home, she had to admit to herself that any potential foe would have to be absolutely mental to attempt to break into this place.
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