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Behind the Curtain by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 11 : Powerful Secrets
 
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 Anastasia glanced at her watch as she reappeared at the campsite, perfectly timing her covert re-entrance into the tent to coincide with the moment when the past would merge with her present self.  At the proper moment, she quietly crawled back into her sleeping chamber, breathing a deep sigh of relief when she made it back without incident.  She tucked the timeturner deep inside her bag, noting that the longer her covert mission continued, the riskier it would become to use it.

When morning arrived, she emerged into the common area, where Duncan was busily preparing breakfast while Moody had just stepped in from inspecting the perimeter. 

“Did you sleep well, Natalia?” Moody asked as he eyed her intently.

“Yes,” Anastasia meekly replied.

 Although she knew that she likely had nothing to worry about, she couldn’t help but feel as if Moody suspected something. But of course, Moody acting like he suspected something was probably a better sign than any that all was completely normal.

Duncan set out three hastily warmed plates of canned eggs and ham as he unfolded a map across the small table in the common area.  Moody leaned in to peer over his shoulder at their position on the map.

“The next safe house is a day’s journey away. If all goes well, we should reach it by nightfall.”

Anastasia took a glance at the map for herself, “That’s over the Hungarian border.  The Soviet Ministry has indirect control over Hungary, but their grip is not as tight as it would be here.”

“Well I’ll pack extra food since we’ll probably be really hungry there,” Duncan quipped.

Moody was not amused, but Anastasia couldn’t help having a laugh, something she didn’t get to do too often.

 Once the proper route was planned, they began the work of packing away the tent and loading their gear onto the sled.  Reenergized after a night of rest, Nicholas was bursting with energy as he pulled the sled through the snow, carrying the group across the Hungarian border without incident, and arriving at the safehouse slightly ahead of schedule. 

When they were safely inside, Duncan placed a call on the secure telephone line to the British Embassy in Moscow to inform Archie of their arrival.  Meanwhile, Moody grabbed a handful of green floo powder and walked towards the fire, calculating the time zone difference in his head as he prepared to contact London.

***

The horseless carriage slowed to a halt in the face of the driving wind.  Tom Riddle surveyed the landscape, feeling a bit nostalgic as he recalled the similar carriage that had once transported him to Hogwarts, and how it wasn’t until he had killed his Muggle father that he was capable of seeing the thestrals that were actually doing the work.  After a journey through the desolate Siberian wilderness, he had finally arrived at Severnaya, the prison of choice for the Soviet Ministry.  Restrained in the secure rear section of the carriage, awaiting transport to the prison, were the Polish Minister of Magic, as well as a journalist who had been overly critical of Vladimir’s regime.  The task of transporting prisoners to Severnaya usually fell to somebody very junior in the pecking order, but in this case, due to the high profile of the captives, Riddle had been given the job. 

Behind the wrought iron gates of the compound was a dreary building of grey stone surrounded by the barren snow covered tundra where the prisoners were often forced to do labor.  In such a desolate place, the dementors who hovered above for extra security were hardly necessary. 

Riddle stepped out of the carriage, pulling his long black overcoat tightly around him.  He strode towards the wizards standing guard at the gate, who instantly noticed the shiny red star pin on his coat, identifying his status as an important Ministry official. 

”We’ll take the prisoners from here, Sir,” one of the guards spoke up.

“Thank you,” Riddle answered, “And if you’ll allow me, I have some business to attend to inside.”

“Yes, of course, Sir,” answered the guard, who opened the gate to let him in.

Riddle could feel a rush of excitement as he walked through the gates, over the grounds, and into the building, knowing that one of his principal reasons for defecting to Russia may soon be fulfilled.

According to a legend that Riddle was very familiar with, during the sixteenth century reign of the Muggle Czar Ivan the Terrible, a dark wizard by the name of Dmitri Stroganov was one his most powerful advisors.  Among his many powers, it was rumored that Dmitri had discovered a secret to prolonging his life.  While he hadn’t been heard from in hundreds of years, further rumors held that he was still alive and had been held prisoner by successive magical regimes.  Riddle had first learned of this story while at Hogwarts, and further investigations had led him to believe that Dmitri was still alive, and was being held here, at Severnaya.  The quest of avoiding a mortal death is one that many wizards had attempted but very few had achieved.  But if Riddle’s theory was correct, he would be one major step closer towards achieving what was slowly becoming his obsession.

With a confident stride, Riddle briskly walked down several flights of spiraling stairwells until he reached the lower level of the prison, where the highest security captives were kept.  He flashed his Ministry credentials at various checkpoints, where the poorly-paid guards did not see fit to question him.  Finally, he reached a long, brick corridor lined with iron-barred cells.  The position of this level deep underground ensured that it was always considerably cold, and a mildew infused dampness seemed to hang in the air. 

At the end of the corridor, Riddle finally reached a cell that seemed to be occupied.  There was a very old man inside, sitting in a slouched position against the back wall, with an expression of resigned defeat across his face.  He was extremely thin, and his long white hair and beard had not been cut in quite some time.  There was a very pale pallor to a face that hadn’t seen the sun in years, and it seemed that only one or two of his original teeth remained intact. 

“Aren’t you a little too posh for a prison guard?” the man inquired in a weak, raspy voice as he noticed Riddle’s approach.

“Actually, I’m only here to ask you a few questions,” Riddle answered.

“I have not had a visitor in decades,” he sighed.

Riddle’s ears perked up, “So, you are, in fact, Dmitri Stroganov?”

“That is the name I was known by.”

“And you have obviously discovered the secret to lasting this long, which, as you may surmise, is what brings me here, to your charming abode.”

Dmitri let out the closest thing his frail body would allow to a laugh, “So many young wizards like yourself have sought such a quest, but it involves levels of magic you could never hope to comprehend.”

“Are you referring to horcruxes?” Riddle persisted, completely unfazed.

Dmitri’s jaw dropped in shock, “How do you know about horcruxes?”

“You may find that I am full of surprises,” Riddle responded with a bit of a smug grin.

Dmitri shook his head, “Of the many young pretenders I’ve encountered, only one other went as far as to discover the existence of horcruxes.  He was one of my countrymen, and a rather infamous one at that.  It took them forever to kill him, and they tried pretty much everything.”

“You mean Rasputin?”

Dmitri nodded, “The damn fool used a Faberge egg as his horcrux, somebody destroyed it by accident, and then he was finished.”

“Well then it appears his mistake was only making one horcrux,” Riddle observed.

“Now that is a step nobody has ever taken,” Dmitri warned.

“Well anyways, you can probably guess what I’m after now.  I need to know the exact steps of how to make a horcrux,” Riddle persisted.

“This is a dangerous step that one does not take lightly, why exactly should I aid you in taking it?”

Riddle coolly explained, “Because I have several vials of Vertiaserum and I am well versed in the Unforgivable Curses.  I’m going to get the information out of you regardless, so you might as well make it easy on yourself.”

Dmitri sighed resignedly, “I traveled extensively in youth.  One year my travels carried me in to England.  I had conducted some research of the period prior to the founding of Hogwarts in the time of Merlin and King Arthur.  At that time, there was a very powerful dark witch called Morgana le Fey.  During her reign, she compiled a library, gathering together all the knowledge of dark magic that was available at the time.  I managed to locate this library, and I found a book there with detailed instructs on creating horcruxes.”

“And is this book still there?” Riddle asked excitedly.

“I didn’t move it.”

Riddle took a step back to process this new information.  Several years prior, he had accepted a sales position with Borgin and Burkes which afforded him the opportunity to collect magical artifacts.  He resigned from that position believing that he had recovered everything he was going to find in Britain, and that his search must now take him abroad.  His ultimate endgame was always to return to Britain as a powerful and immortal dark lord, but he was still quite a few years away from contemplating that next step, as there was much work that remained to be done.  But now, it appeared he was going to have to return to Britain much sooner than planned, even if it was only a brief expedition.  He wondered if perhaps his new position may afford him that opportunity.  He then turned to leave.

“Thank you, you have been most helpful.”

Dmitri strained his neck as he attempted to call out a warning, “This is a dangerous path that most cannot handle.  Take a look at me, you may avoid death, but your quest will bring you nothing but pain and suffering!”

Riddle briefly turned back and remarked, “You are not the first person to underestimate me, and I fear you will not be the last.”

 

***

Augustus leaned back in his chair, hungrily devouring the sandwich that had been in his desk for several days.  He wistfully observed that if he had a normal job, he would have been at home cooking a decent dinner by now, but of course, his job was anything but normal. 

Mrs. Norrington marched into the office carrying a fully packed suitcase in one hand and a French medallion in the other as she announced, “I hope you haven’t forgotten, but you’re leaving for the security summit at Mont Anglais in one hour.”

Augustus sighed, “Of course I haven’t forgotten.”

“I knew you would forget, which is why I packed for you,” she reprimanded him.

Mont Anglais was a very secure and delightfully scenic magical complex hidden away in the French Alps.  It had been constructed during the war as a base for French and Allied wizards that were active in the resistance to Grindelwald and the Nazis’ occupation.  In recent years, the post war alliance had continued as magical security and law enforcement professionals from France, Britain, and the United States met periodically to share information and strategies.  The agenda for this particular conference was to discuss the security procedures for the upcoming Wizarding World’s Fair, as well as sharing recent advancements in technology. 

“Thank you, Mrs. Norrington, I’d be lost without you,” Augustus conceded.

“I know,” she said smugly, as she departed the office. 

It was just then that Augustus noticed the activity in his fireplace, which indicated he was being contacted on the Floo network.

“Moody, is that you? Where are you?” he barked at the fireplace.

“We have arrived at safe house #59, just over the Hungarian border, package is in tow,” Moody informed him. 

Augustus breathed a deep sigh of relief as the wheels began to turn in his head.  Now that they were in Hungary, an extraction was much more feasible.  However, Augustus was due to spend the next few days in France, and after that he was going to be overwhelmed with securing the Wizarding World’s Fair.  Suddenly, an idea came to him.

“Stay where you are, I’ll be right there.”

Several minutes later, Augustus appeared in the safe house with a loud crack.  He looked around to scan his surroundings, and then gave Moody a hearty handshake and slap on the back.

“Excellent work, Moody, I’ll make a Slytherin of you yet, and you too MacDonald, you’re an honorary wizard in my book.”

He then turned towards Anastasia, “And you must be Natalia Kuznetsova, I hope you have had a pleasant journey.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Anastasia said politely, managing to conceal her inner gloating gleam at having so thoroughly duped her rival.

Augustus pulled the French medallion out of his bag and explained, “This is a portkey, it leads to a secure location in France, we’re going to spend the next few days there, and then return to England.

The others listened intently and each grabbed a hold of the medallion, and moments later they were in what appeared to be an adorably quaint ski village in the French Alps.  After a brief examination, Anastasia realized that she was now inside the secretive base of Mont Anglais.  Regardless of what she would find there, her mission was now already more successful than she could have possibly imagined.  


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