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Behind the Curtain by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 14 : The Confrontation
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 1


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 A festive mood filled the air as wizards from around the world arrived in London.  A large spinning globe projected in the air, surrounded by a banner reading, “1952 Wizarding World’s Fair.”  A sprawling complex of tents housed the colorful exhibitions that had been put together by each attending nation, surrounding a central pavilion, where the Minister of Magic was about to take the stage as part of the official opening ceremonies. 


With the assistance of Polyjuice potion, Boris Stoichov had taken the place of the unfortunate Auror he had visited the previous night, and was now entering the pavilion as part of the Minister’s security detail.  The Minister stood in a small backstage room, looking over his prepared remarks.  Stoichov took note of how easy it would be to finish his job right then and there, but his Russian clients had specifically instructed him to do his task during the speech in order to inflict the maximum chaos.  Stoichov didn’t mind, because they had paid him handsomely, and that chaos might just increase his chances of escaping unharmed. 

After a few minutes of waiting, a voice could be heard from the stage announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Minister of Magic.”

Applause filled the pavilion as the Minister walked out to the podium at the center of the stage.  Stoichov walked out as well, assuming his position at the corner of the stage.  He looked out to scan the crowd, noting that there were Aurors posted on the other side of the stage, as well as at the rear of the seating area, and patrolling the aisles. 

Unbeknownst to Stoichov, Algernon Avery was sitting in the crowd, leading a team that included his fellow English defectors as well as around a dozen Soviet agents, who were spread out and interspersed throughout the crowd.  Avery had been given a specific task; to eliminate Stoichov once he had killed the Minister, ensuring that he would not survive to answer questions.  The rest of Avery’s team had been instructed to take advantage of the ensuing situation to create as much chaos as possible, and several of them had taken seats near where the French, German and Spanish Ministers of Magic were seated, hoping to exploit targets of opportunity.   He gripped his wand and waited tensely at the edge of his seat, knowing the situation was about to escalate.

Stoichov controlled his breath, careful not to make any movements that might betray his intentions, as he waited for the opportune moment to strike. 

The Minister began his remarks, “On behalf of the people of Britain, I would like to cordially welcome you all to the Wizarding World’s Fair.  We have come together here to celebrate each other’s cultures as we work together towards a new era of peace and prosperity.”

The crowd interrupted with applause, leading Stoichov to conclude that this was likely going to be his best chance.  With a methodical coldness, he turned to face the Minister, preparing to cast the Avada Kedarva charm.  

Before he could finish the incantation, Stoichov felt his wand fly from his hand.  Much to his surprise, the disarming charm seemed to have come from the Minister himself.   Before he could process what just happened, the Minister was in a dueling stance, quickly casting “Petrificus Totalus!” and “Incarcerous!” leaving Stoichov petrified and restrained with ropes. 

Dramatic gasps filled the crowd, and Avery stood up in alarm, eagerly awaiting what would happen next. 

Thinking quickly, the Minister returned to his podium and proclaimed, “My apologies for any alarm, but what you just witnessed was a demonstration to prove that despite our new age of peace, there will always be danger lurking in the shadows, but if we stick together, we can avoid it.”  The Minister then seemed to wink as he added, “The key, of course, is constant vigilance.”

With that, the crowd settled back down, anxious to hear the rest of the speech.  Avery the resignedly raised his wand and fired red sparks in the air, the signal to his team to abort the mission and return to the rendezvous point at Malfoy Manor.  

 

*****

At the other end of the Fairgrounds, a private room had been ornately decorated to be a much smaller but completely to scale replica of the Hogwarts Great Hall.  Candles hovered above the table, the enchanted ceiling displayed a starry night, and the four walls were adorned with banners of Hogwarts’ four houses. 

Professors and school administrators from the magical academies of attending nations had been invited to a private banquet in this room, in which the keynote speaker, Albus Dumbledore, was to deliver a speech on “Multi-cultural education in a shrinking world.” 

Due to his day job as a professor at Durmstrang Academy, Igor Karkaroff was invited to intend the banquet, and as far as the Soviets were concerned, that could not have worked out more perfectly.  As Karkaroff took a seat among his fellow educators, he kept a close eye on the small deadly vial in his bag.  Years of research and experimentation had gone into creating the “Dumbledore special,” and now that chance had finally arisen to use it. 

At the head of the room, Duncan MacDonald resisted the urge to scratch his uncomfortable new beard.  While this wasn’t his first experience with Polyjuice, becoming Albus Dumbledore just felt a little too strange.  He had been given a text of the remarks he was supposed to say, but he strongly worried about being coerced into a question and answer session. 

As a group of house elves walked out to serve the initial round of drinks and appetizers, Karkaroff seized his opportunity.  He excused himself from his seat, ostensibly to find the nearest men’s room, and walked on a course that led to a direct collision with the elf that was about to serve the head table. 

“Watch where you’re going!” Karkaroff snarled as he collided with the apologetic elf.  He then turned around to storm back to his seat, having successfully emptied the vial into what he was reasonably certain was the correct goblet. 

Duncan looked over the speech, making sure he knew how to pronounce any unfamiliar terms, as he reached for a drink.  He eyed the goblet of pumpkin juice suspiciously; it did not look appetizing, but he knew that to play his part successfully, he would have to eat everything that was served.  He hesitantly took a sip of the juice, and then, surprised at its smooth sweetness, took a much larger gulp.  He returned to looking at his speech, until he felt a rumbling in his stomach, bringing on a very intense feeling of nausea.  He stumbled out of his chair, searching for relief.  Poppy Pomfrey, the Hogwarts nurse who was also in attendance, ran to put her arm around him and guide him out the rear entrance to the room.  Karkaroff then quietly slipped away, confident that his mission had been achieved. 

*****

Deep inside the Forest of Dean, Tom Riddle arrived at the spot that Dmitri Stroganov had indicated on the hand-drawn map that he held.   A light breeze moving through the leaves was the only sound he could hear, and there was not a soul around for miles.  Riddle scanned his surroundings, and sure enough, he soon spotted some inconspicuous stone ruins. 

He walked over to the crumbling wall and found a large stone that was inscribed with ancient runes.  He read the Druidic inscription aloud, and when he was finished, a trapped door opened up in front of him.  He dropped a few stones through the opening to test the depth before plunging in himself.

“Lumos,” he cast, causing a light from his wand to illuminate the very dark room.  There were rows musty and rotting shelves containing ancient dust-covered books, and the air was oppressively stiff and damp.  It was fairly obvious that this room had not been visited in centuries. 

Riddle systematically made his way through the rows of shelves, carefully reading each book title, until he finally came across a black book whose title simply read, “Horcruxes.”

He tucked the book away and turned to leave, feeling an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.  Whatever happened elsewhere this day, his personal goal had been accomplished. 

 

*****

Working together as they had so many times before, Anastasia and Dolohov led their team to a little-used side entrance of the Ministry of Magic, where Abraxas Malfoy was awaiting from inside to let them in. 

The group walked briskly and determinedly through the corridors and into a lift, where he could use his clearance level to grant them access to the restricted level underneath the Department of Mysteries.  Malfoy led them down a corridor and towards the entrance to what appeared to be a large, open warehouse.  He then proceeded to inform them that this was the Aurors’ research and development lab, and wished them all luck as he turned to leave. 

Taking over from there, Anastasia ordered Markov and Fedorov to guard the entrance as she and Dolohov proceeded ahead.  She had studied the layout of this room many times, and as they walked through the shelves containing various types of gadgets, everything seemed to be exactly where they expected it.  Sure enough, when they reached the open floor space at the center of the warehouse, the Albatross aircraft was sitting in the middle.  However, they had not expected to see three wizards standing around it, seemingly performing a maintenance check.  This added a complication to the plan, but as they quickly surmised that these wizards were Ministry researchers rather than Aurors, they did not seem to pose much of a challenge.

Anastasia and Dolohov dove behind a storage bin for brooms, and looked from behind their cover to assess the situation.  They were about 20 yards away from the aircraft, where it appeared that Quincy Queensbury, who they recognized as the author of the classified report that Malfoy had turned over to them, was directing two other wizards in performing a routine maintenance check.  The wizards were engrossed in their work and did not seem to notice the presence of the intruders. 

Anastasia gave Dolohov a nod, and at the count of three, they sprung from their hiding spot, firing off a barrage of spells.  Two of the British wizards were quickly felled by stunning spells, but Queensbury reacted surprisingly quickly, firing back some spells of his own which sent them diving back behind the bin.  Queensbury then took advantage of the momentary lull by starting the engine of the plane and casting a spell to open the hangar door at the far end of the room.  He ran along with the plane as it began to taxi, attempting to climb into the cockpit

“Cover me!” Anastasia yelled, as she sprang into action and sprinted after him. Just as Queensbury was about to slide into the cockpit, Anastasia hit him with a flying tackle, bringing him crashing to the ground.  She pinned him to the floor as Dolohov walked up behind with his wand at the ready. 

“You’re too late,” Queensbury informed them, “I activated the autopilot charm.  In the event of an intrusion, it’s enchanted to launch an attack on Moscow.”

Upon hearing this news, she slapped him viciously across the face, and then motioned to Dolohov to retrieve brooms from the bin.   Leaving Queensbury on the ground, they lifted off on their brooms, and began to chase after the now pilotless aircraft as it exited the warehouse and went airborne.

As it lifted over London, the aircraft quickly gained speed.  Anastasia and Dolohov accelerated on their brooms, narrowly avoided a collision with the Tower Bridge.  Strong winds whipped across their faces, and the extreme forces of gravity made them grit with discomfort as they leaned forward as far as they could, trying to make themselves as aerodynamic as possible.

Despite its antique appearance, the Albatross was proving to be quite a capable aircraft.  With Dolohov close behind her, Anastasia struggled to stay on her broom as she fought through its tailwind, maneuvering to get as close as possible.  With one final push, she managed to lunge far enough to grab hold of the inside of the cockpit, watching her broom disappear beneath her as her legs dangled in the air.  It took all the strength she had to pull herself up and finally take her place in the pilot’s seat.  Dolohov made the lunge next, and as there was no seat for him, he held tightly to the edge of the cockpit and managed to wedge himself against the side of the plane with his feet on the wings.  Visibly hanging from the wings a few feet away from him were the processed and enchanted Erumpent Horns they had read about; the “magic missiles” with the potential to cause untold destruction. 

By the time they had gotten themselves situated, the plane was now somewhere over Norfolk, heading towards the North Sea.  Anastasia had tried to work the controls, but they seemed to have been jammed by the Autopilot charm.  The only direction that seemed to work was to go down for an emergency landing. 

Since turning the plane around was going to be impossible, Anastasia moved on to her next idea, “We’ll jettison the bombs over the water!”

Moments later, they were “feet wet” over the North Sea, and Anastasia frantically pressed every button she could find hoping to release the bombs, but none of them seemed to work.  She then tried various charms, all of which were equally ineffective. 

“What’s happening?” Dolohov yelled.

“There’s some sort of powerful charm on these bombs, they won’t release!”

Anastasia then faced forward with a grim determination in her eyes as she began to steer the plane downward, “I know what I have to do.”

“No! I can’t let you do this!” Dolohov called out in alarm.

“Sorry Antonin, it’s the only way,” she replied as she gave her old friend a square kick to the chest which dislodged him from his position, knowing that this would force to disapparate. 

Dolohov took a moment to process everything that just happened as he free fell towards the sea.  He managed to pull himself together and disapparate just in the nick of time, and the last thing he saw before he disappeared with a pop was a massive splash as the plane hit the waves.  


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