As the sun disappeared over the horizon and the cold day gave way to the even colder night, Moody stood on the edge of the sled, directing Nicholas onwards as they traveled westward at high speed. Duncan sat comfortably on the sled with their bags, while their new female guest held on dearly. By their best calculations, there were still several hundred miles to go before they were safely outside Soviet territory. Nicholas was more than capable of covering the distance in a few short days, but now, as the blackness of night began to set in, it was clearly time to stop and set up camp for the night.
The sled slid to a halt near a small clearing in the forest as Moody dismounted and began a thorough inspection of the area, casting protective charms as he went.
Duncan stood up and stretched his back, making slightly awkward eye contact with Anastasia, who shyly smiled. Without speaking, the two began to unpack the bags and set up the two tents that Moody had brought along, a skill Duncan had become quite adept at in his army days. When the task was complete, Moody returned from his reconnaissance.
“I’ve secured the perimeter; it appears perfectly safe to remain here overnight as long as we don’t let our guard down too much, and I’m fairly certain we haven’t forgotten anything,” he announced.
“You forgot something major, mate,” Duncan reminded him, “The fact that we haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
Acknowledging his all too frequent tendency to neglect to take care of his own needs, Moody cast an Incendio charm to start a small camp fire.
Duncan rummaged through his bag, trying to determine what he could cook with the sparse ingredients they had brought along.
“So Natalia, what do you like to eat?” he enquired, attempting to initiate some small talk.
“I am very hungry, I will eat anything,” Anastasia replied curtly. Though she spoke flawless English as a result of her training, she made an effort to retain as much of a Russian accent and a non-native speaker’s hesitancy as she could to remain in character.
Duncan placed a pot of chicken broth on the fire, and added into it several tins of canned meat and vegetables, resulting in something that was close enough to resemble an acceptable stew. The three travelers proceeded to sit around the fire and eat, quickly devouring the stew as they hoped to absorb some of its warmth. Throughout the meal, Duncan made various attempts at witty banter which mostly fell flat as Moody ate his meal in silence, suspiciously glaring at Anastasia, who mostly just looked down at the ground.
Finally, Moody finished his soup and started to stand, before Duncan excitedly reminded him that it was now time for dessert. Duncan produced a tin of biscuits, which he passed first to Moody, who took one reluctantly, and then to Anastasia, who reached for it cautiously.
“They’re delicious,” he assured her, “It’s real Scottish shortbread. My mum used to send it to me during the war, there’s really nothing like it.”
As she slowly chewed on the biscuit, she allowed her mind to imagine what it would have been like to have grown up with parents like that. She quickly snapped out of it when she became aware of Moody’s gaze, watching her every move like a sentinel. It affirmed her mental evaluation that while one of her new companions seemed quite amateurish, the other was very clearly a trained professional and a worthy foe.
As the darkness began to set in, Duncan retrieved a tent from the tightly packed sled and pitched it with Moody’s assistance. It was a skill he had grown quite adept during the North African campaign ten long years ago. He thought of those days in the oppressive desert heat and how he would have given pretty much anything to feel cold. Now it was as if karma had come back to bite him.
Duncan then stepped inside the tent and looked around. He had seen wizard tents before, but they never ceased to amaze him. Though it appeared to be a normal sized tent from the outside, it magically concealed a much larger interior which had three separate sleeping chambers surrounding a comfortably large common area. Anastasia followed him inside, with Moody immediately behind her. Nicholas darted inside as well, before finding a comfortable spot in the common area to curl up and fall asleep. Anastasia quietly excused herself, retreating into her chamber. Moody and Duncan seized the opportunity to confer in the common area.
“You don’t trust her, do you?” Duncan whispered with a slight grin.
“A mysterious Russian woman with access to their entire Ministry Archives just falling into our laps like this? It seems a little too easy,” Moody responded.
Duncan gave a casual shrug, “She’s not bad looking.”
Moody rolled his eyes as he leaned back in his seat and stroked Nicholas’ ears.
“Tomorrow we should reach the next safe house on the smuggling route. From there we should be able to contact the Ministry…and be mindful of distractions. Remember, I don’t trust her.”
Too tired to say anything more, they both drifted off to sleep where they sat.
Several hours later, Anastasia sat up in her chamber, relieved that they still seemed to be sleeping, and knowing she had to act swiftly and silently. She reached into her robes and withdrew a small hourglass, one turn of which would send her one hour backwards in time. She carefully performed some mental calculations, and then spun the Time turner three times, hoping that this would be enough.
Several time zones away, Augustus Wellington sat hunched over his desk at the Ministry, poring over documents and anxiously hoping to receive reports from agents in the field. Very few employees remained at this late hour, but he had long since been accustomed to being one of the last to leave. Outside the window, he could hear the bustle of a magical construction crew, hard at work setting up for the 1952 Wizarding World’s Fair, which London would soon be hosting. Magical dignitaries from all over the world would be descending on the city. For many, it would be a powerful expression of peace and cooperation. But for Augustus, it was just one more security nightmare to add to his plate.
His penmanship errors became ever more frequent the longer he worked, and rather than use an erasing spell, he would simply roll the offending piece of parchment up and throw it on the floor, where Duke, his English bulldog, was all too happy to play with it. Augustus didn’t bother looking up when he heard footsteps entering the office, knowing that they had to belong to the Department’s secretary, Mrs. Guinevere Norrington. Mrs. Norrington, who had recently celebrated her seventieth birthday, had worked in magical law enforcement since leaving Hogwarts many years ago, and it was acknowledged by all that she basically singlehandedly kept the department running. With the authority of a seasoned professor, she had no qualms about directing those who may have nominally outranked her.
“Augustus Wellington, you are going to come down with Dragon Pox if you don’t start taking better care of yourself,” she warned him in a very maternal tone.
“Thank you Mrs. Norrington,” he responded playfully.
She proceeded to drop some more scrolls of parchment on his already crowded desk. “Well if you’re going to stay this late anyway, you might as well come inspect the Albatross Project, because you were supposed to do it earlier today.”
Augustus stood up, realizing once again that he would have no hope of maintaining his schedule without her. Plus although he had put it off, he actually was rather anxious to finally see the highly secretive project for himself. They walked out of the office and entered their access codes to use the restricted lift that led to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s Research and Development Division.
The doors of the lift opened to reveal a large warehouse underneath the Ministry, holding all manner of experimental magical objects. Most of research and development’s work revolved around useful gadgets and protective equipment to assist Aurors in the field. However, the Albatross was something far more deadly, of much greater strategic importance.
“Ah Mr. Wellington, right this way please,” announced Quentin Queensbury, a young researcher with large glasses and unruly hair who had drawn the night watch this evening.
Augustus followed as Quentin led him to a hanger bay at the end of the warehouse, where he finally laid his eyes on the magical aircraft known as the Albatross. It had the outward appearance of a Muggle biplane from the World War I era, but it was magically enhanced in many enchantments, and it was claimed that when its full speed was reached, it could travel from London to Moscow in thirty minutes.
Quincy went on to explain its armaments, “It’s equipped with an invention I came up with myself, which I like to call the ‘magic seeking missile.’ Basically, I was able to isolate the explosive properties of erumpent horns and confine them to aerodynamic capsules that are enchanted to hone in on magical activity.”
Augustus nodded, being familiar with the early uses of weaponized erumpent horns during the war, and how much the magic and technology had advanced in the few short years since then.
“So in other words…”
“It could destroy the entire magical community of a major city in minutes and the local Muggles would never the wiser,” Quincy concluded.
Augustus breathed deeply and took it all in. Nobody in the Auror Department ever wanted to see this weapon used, but there was hope among all involved that the threat of destruction may be a powerful deterrent to help preserve a tenuous peace.
Anastasia apparated back at her base, taking off her fake glasses but not bothering to change her hair color back as she briskly walked inside. It was now several hours in the past, which she hoped would be sufficient time to catch up on her work and return to the tent in the woods before her new traveling companions would expect her to be awake. She walked past a very confused Dolohov and Karkaroff, who were still stumbling from the effects of being knocked out.
“Wait, so the lady from Moscow archives we were looking for was you in disguise? Then who was it that attacked us? Can you tell us what’s going on?” Dolohov pleaded.
“I’m sorry, it’s a need-to-know basis as usual,” Anastasia brushed them off as she briskly walked past.
“I hate when she says that,” Karkaroff grumbled.
Anastasia proceeded to walk into the records center, where she had a few short hours to learn as much as she could about her new mission. She sat down at a desk and lit a cigarette, needing something to keep her awake and alert. She wondered if her body would somehow give her credit for the fact that her past self was actually getting some sleep, but she hadn’t quite figured out how all that worked yet.
She set to work sending off a quick encrypted message to Vladimir informing him that the operation had been successful and she had successfully planted herself as a double agent. She then began to sort through the books of records, attempting to learn the identities of her two mysterious companions. She began by reading through the book they had compiled with short profiles of all known Aurors in the Western nations. She flipped the pages to the British section, which was by far the longest, and came to a stop at the photograph of her usual counterpart: Augustus Wellington, Director of Magical Intelligence, Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Though they had never met in person, they had battled through proxies many times as their competing schemes came into conflict.
“You slippery bastard, what are you planning this time?” she muttered out loud.
“A good Slytherin like him, obviously something devious,” answered Tom Riddle, who startled her with his sudden presence in the room.
“I actually knew Augustus Wellington fairly well. He was a Slytherin prefect when I entered Hogwarts; he showed me to our dorm in the dungeons my first day there. A very worthy adversary if I may say so, from good pureblood stock.”
Before Anastasia could ask Riddle to explain what he was doing there, he dropped a medium sized notebook on her desk.
“The full reconnaissance report on Albania, as you requested.”
She nodded in appreciation as she continued.
“I don’t know what you’re planning, Anastasia, but be careful out there,” he said as he turned to walk out the door.
Anastasia was more confused by Riddle than ever, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it as she returned to her work. She finished going through the list of known Aurors, finding no signs of any “Moody” or “McDonald.” That was assuming that those were their real names of course, but she could tell from Moody’s look of disapproval at the time that his partner had given away information he was not supposed to.
Next, she turned to an older, fatter book which had been compiled from public records and contained the entry and graduation lists for every year of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A few minutes later, she was able to locate an “Alastor Moody,” Gryffindor House, class of 1946. She proceeded to search every year in the likely age range, but was unable to find any record of a “Duncan MacDonald.” She recounted their interactions thus far in her mind, and quickly realized that she had never actually seen Duncan perform magic. She vaguely remembered Vladimir sharing tales of collaborating with special forces units from the Muggle Red Army during the war, and it was a logical assumption that similar operations may have occurred in the West. But why a Muggle would be pressed into service for this type of mission, she really had no answer for.
She checked the time and realized that she would have to get moving soon to be in the proper place when her altered time merged with the present. She inspected her disguise as she prepared to disapparate, noting that the more she learned, the questions she seemed to have.
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