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Behind the Curtain by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 8 : Plots and Counter Plots
 
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Slipping unnoticed through the crowds of Muggles, Anastasia made her way through the familiar grounds of Moscow’s Red Square.  She walked past the colorful onion shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral and up to the large stone edifice of the Kremlin.  Although she had routinely been here many times, she continued to be impressed by the sheer power that it seemed to represent.  She deliberately made her way inside the iconic clock tower, and after one last sweep to make sure no one was watching, she charged and ran headlong into the brick wall. 

When she reappeared on the other side, having long ago perfected the art of landing perfectly upright and balanced even while wearing heels, she was standing in the grand foyer of the Soviet Ministry’s headquarters.  The large open room with its marble floors and grand chandeliers dated back to the days of the czars.  However, the more recent decorations included the powerful and stoic looking statues of Vladimir Komissarov and his recent predecessors crushing their opposition beneath their feet, and the large red star that adorned the largest wall. 

Anastasia’s heels echoed loudly as she briskly walked through the room, earning nothing more than deferential nods from the security wizards, who knew better than to challenge her.  After walking through a long corridor with many doors leading to the offices of various departments, she reached the end, which was marked by statues of two medieval Russian knights, facing each other with their lances crossed.  She recited the lines from an obscure Russian poem that served as a password, and the knights raised their lances to allow her to pass, revealing a hidden spiral stairwell, with a sign informing any visitors that it was the Minister’s personal stairwell, and was only to be used by authorized personnel on official business. 

At the top of the stairs, Anastasia finally entered an impressively large office.  Its walls were covered with art work, and there were many shelves decorated with traditional Russian dolls, Faberge eggs, and other priceless gems.  The prominent open window offered a commanding view of Red Square and the Kremlin below.  At the head of the room, directly behind the desk, was an ornate fireplace, flanked by two Soviet flags, and topped with a portrait of the Minister.

As Anastasia approached, Vladimir swiveled his chair around to face her, stroking his beard with a sinister grin.  He was wearing his trademark bearskin overcoat, and the collar was flipped up over his neck. 

 “I’ve been expecting you, and I must commend you for your successful Warsaw mission; that was very bold, even by your standards.”

“Just another routine mission, Your Excellency,” she answered modestly as she took a seat.

Vladimir pointed to a large map of Europe on the wall on which Poland, like most of Eastern Europe, was now colored Soviet red.

 “One more piece removed from the board as we slowly move ever closer to our final checkmate.”

 Anastasia nodded in acknowledgement as she removed a thickly stuffed file folder from her bag.

“Your Excellency, I am afraid I must also inform you of a slight setback we have suffered.  It appears that there was a break in at our new facility, and I suspect the British Ministry is responsible.”

Vladimir sank low in his chair, gritting his teeth in frustration, unable to process this information having believed that the facility’s location was completely unknown. 

“Was there any damage? Is anything missing?”

Anastasia briefly paused before informing him, “Your Excellency, I have reason to believe that the Kwikcodes machine has been compromised.”

Vladimir pounded his fist on the desk rattling its contents and mixing up his piles of papers.  But then he paused and took a deep breath to regain his composure. 

“I’m sure you’re aware that if you were anybody else, you would have been dead before you finished that sentence.  But knowing you, I trust that you would not be here to inform me of this development if you did not already have a plan for how to exploit this to our advantage.”

Anastasia allowed herself a slight grin, “Anything can be turned to our advantage with the right plan.  As always, I’d like to think of this as an opportunity.”

She opened up the file folder and slid it across the desk, “With your approval of course, I believe our prey is ready to be trapped, and we only need the bait.”

Vladimir grinned as he pages through the folder, perusing her plans.  “Oh Anastasia, it appears you have outdone yourself once again.”

*****

Duncan reclined and propped his feet up on the cot as he tried to soak up the warmth of the fireplace.  After several days in the cabin, he was trying desperately to stave off the inevitable onset of boredom and complacency.  It was not yet a problem for Moody, who spent much of his time vigilantly keeping watch by the window, and checking and rechecking his protective charms.  But after several days of this routine, even Moody was beginning to show signs of wear, and resorted to tossing a tennis ball around the room for Nicholas to fetch as his sole form of entertainment. 

Mission wise, there had been a steady stream of messages arriving daily through the Kwikcodes machine.  At first, it had been a painstaking process as Duncan would struggle mightily to recite the unfamiliar Cyrillic writing letter by letter over the phone so that Archie could translate the documents from Russian to English.  Eventually, Archie decided it was worth the risk to use the unregistered Floo station in the cabin’s fireplace so that they could show him the documents.  Like the small station in his office at the Embassy, it was not strong enough to transport people, so as not to attract the attention of the Soviet Ministry, but it was perfectly sufficient for purposes of communication.

Moody had also passed along his concern to the Wellington brothers about the familiar faces he had recognized inside the Soviet compound.  Augustus had recognized the names of his former fellow Slytherins, a few years younger than himself, but like Moody he was not sure what to make of this development, and they both agreed that given the level of competence the defectors had displayed thus far, they were unlikely to do much damage. 

The cabin’s food supply, which consisted mostly of dried salted meats, canned beans, slightly stale biscuits, and leaves of tea, had been enough to sustain them, but was far from appetizing.  The lack of variety quickly grew tiresome, and Duncan remarked many times that it compared very unfavorably even to Army food.  They had long since exhausted every piece of reading material in the cabin, and they were growing ever more anxious to leave the place behind for good. 

Duncan got up from the cot with a groan as he heard the now familiar rapid typing and mechanical whirring which indicated that a new message was incoming from the Kwikcodes machine.  He walked over to retrieve the message while Moody threw a handful of green powder on the fireplace, beginning their newly perfected routine of transmitting the messages to the British Embassy.

 “Here’s another one for you, and this one looks a little bit longer than usual,” Duncan announced as he brought the freshly printed message towards the fireplace, where Archie’s face was beginning to appear. 

“The Russians may be horrid at governing, but I must say they do have a beautiful language,” Archie observed as he put on his reading glasses and strained to make out the letters as Duncan held the message up toward the flames. 

Duncan and Moody looked on anxiously as Archie hastily scribbled down his translation on a notepad, looking more and more perplexed and agitated the further he got in the document.  When he finished his translation, he looked the message over one more time to check for errors, and then looked up and announced, “Well lads, this might be the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for.”

Duncan and Moody crowded towards the fireplace, yearning for more information while Archie expanded the Floo link, allowing Augustus, who never seemed to care about the time difference, to join the conversation from his office in London. 

When all the men were finally ready, Archie began to read aloud, “Well it begins as a normal message from Ministry headquarters in Moscow to the intelligence center, which the two of you recently visited.  There are a few paragraphs of routine administrative matters, but then things start to get interesting.  They report that Natalia Kuznetsova, the chief librarian at the Soviet Ministry’s Archives in Moscow has not shown up for work and has been reported missing.  They have reason to believe she is traveling west on the Black Sea Express in the hopes of defecting to the West.  It then instructs them to send agents to intercept her at the station in St. Boris.”

“St. Boris is a magical village, think of it as the Russian equivalent to Hogsmeade,” Augustus clarified.    

“Well, what do we make of that?” Archie asked as he set the papers down. 

“I think it’s a trap, it just seems too obvious.  They must have figured out we have the machine and they’re hoping we take the bait,” Moody opined. 

“Was there any chance you were spotted? Did you leave anything behind? Any clues or footprints maybe?” Augustus inquired. 

“We were extra careful about that, but I really didn’t expect the duplicate machine to fool them this long,” Moody answered.

Archie took off his glasses and speculated out loud, “The Russians do love their trickery, and this seems pretty typical of them, so must consider that.  However, what if this is true? What if the chief librarian of their archives really is trying to defect to the West? Can you imagine how valuable an intelligence coup that would be? The information she would be able to provide?”

“It does seem like an obvious trap, and I struggle in good conscious to send you two into it, but on the other hand the potential reward if it isn’t a trap seems almost too good to pass up,” Augustus opined.

“Well maybe it is a trap, but did you really pull me out of my nice London pub and send me all the way to Russia just to sit around in this cabin and fetch messages for you? There very well may be a woman out there that is trying to help our side, and we can’t just leave her to the mercy of those agents.  I don’t know what you were planning, but I came here to accomplish a mission and I’d like to able to do it,” Duncan proclaimed.

Moody concurred, “This mission has been far too easy so far, I was expecting some action, and if this turns into a major scrap, then so be it.”

Augustus looked them over with concern, “You both have already performed above and beyond the call of duty, so I can’t make you do this, but if you really want to go through with this I can have a mission packet ready for you tomorrow.  But please, whatever you do, take care of yourselves.  I know I called you expendable, but the absolute last thing I want is for either of you to be killed or captured.”

Duncan and Moody looked at each other and solemnly nodded before Moody spoke up, “That’s a risk we’re willing to take, and if you’re worried about us getting killed or captured, well I believe you underestimate us.”

“Well then, let’s get to work.  I’ll have a briefing ready for you tomorrow and then you can go on your merry way.  But once more I feel obligated to remind you that it might be a trap, and even if it isn’t and everything goes as planned;  then all you will be doing is covertly traveling several hundred miles of hostile territory to extract a highly sought after foreign national of questionable loyalties.  I must remind you of the enormity of the challenge,” Augustus calmly stated.

Duncan simply looked back at him with a slightly mischievous grin, “Challenge accepted.”

 
 


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