The fresh morning frost had just set in when Anastasia arrived to begin her morning rounds. As was her daily routine, she was going to perform a thorough inspection of the complex. Though nothing appeared out of the ordinary on this particular morning, she knew that she hadn’t gotten where she was by cutting corners.
On her first stop, Anastasia walked into the guard shack, where she would customarily receive a report from whoever had been on duty the previous night. As she walked through the door, she was instantly shocked and appalled to discover Avery and Mulciber with their faces and arms sprawled out on the table, just beginning to slowly wake themselves up.
Infuriated by their complete dereliction, Anastasia cast a loud explosive charm right in front of their faces, which caused them both to jump up with a start, not entirely aware of their surroundings.
“You imbeciles!” she snapped at them, “Sleeping on watch is a serious offense, I could have both of you thrown in prison!”
Anastasia rolled her eyes, “Luckily for the two of you I’m feeling generous, so I’ll only give you two weeks of extra watches. But this is your final warning!”
She quickly turned on her heel and slammed the door behind her as she stomped outside. She finished her rounds made her way to her desk in the command center, already well behind in her mountains of paperwork after having to complete to official log books that Avery and Mulciber had neglected the night before. She was just starting to make a dent in the pile when Igor Karkaroff entered the room.
“The daily brief is ready to be transmitted out to the embassies,” he announced, standing awkwardly and stroking his beard as he waited for her to review the document he had produced.
Anastasia dropped the paper on the desk, looking up at Karkaroff with the kind of intense glare that made wither as he realized he must have done something wrong.
“This isn’t the new encryption key, this is the one from six months ago. How long have you been writing these, Karkaroff? I should not have to correct these kinds of errors, unless you are utterly incapable of doing your job,” she pronounced in a calm but stern voice.
Karkaroff recoiled a bit from the firmness of her response as he stammered, “Well…I encrypted the message like I usually do…but, somebody must have tampered with the Kwikcodes machine.”
Anastasia paused, “This is a serious allegation, and one that I do not take lightly.”
“Well it’s the only possible explanation as far as I’m concerned,” he answered defensively.
With a steadfast determination, Anastasia rose from her desk and briskly walked towards the communication building with Karkaroff struggling to keep up with her. After gaining access to the room, she walked straight towards the Kwikcodes machine and encrypted several sample messages, which, sure enough, became encrypted in an older code. She realized that somehow the machine had returned to its original settings, with every update she had enchanted into it somehow having been erased.
Wondering how this could have possibly happened, she hastily ran towards the security scanner, where an enchanted quill kept a log of everybody who had been granted access to the room. Strangely, it appeared that Avery and Mulciber, who had apparently fallen asleep on watch, had entered the room at a very late hour the previous night.
Anastasia bit her lip in frustration. At this point, it certainly wasn’t much of a stretch to assume that something was obviously amiss. With her wand at the ready, she stormed out of the room, eager to obtain some answers.
“Kozlov, Fedorov, Malkin, follow me,” she barked out to several colleagues as she made a beeline to the potions room.
“Dolohov, I need a bottle of Veristaserum,” she ordered.
Dolohov raised his eyebrows as he retrieved a bottle of the powerful truth potion from the shelf, “I’m assuming I’m not supposed to ask what this is for?”
“That is correct,” she confirmed as she grabbed the bottle and left the room as quickly as she had came.
Continuing her brisk pace, she threw open the door to the training center, where she found Avery and Mulciber using the weight room, oblivious to her sudden appearance. A quick stunning spell sent Mulciber crashing backwards into the wall, while Kozlov and Fedorov grabbed a hold of Avery, disarming him of his wand, and restraining him in a nearby chair. They held him in place while Anastasia forcefully administered the truth potion and waited a few briefs moments for it to take effect.
“Why did you access the communication center last night?” she asked calmly.
“I didn’t,” he responded, slightly groggy from the effects of the potion.
“The Kwikcodes machine was clearly tampered with, and your name appears on the security log, surely you must know something,” she pressed.
“Honestly, I have no idea what happened,” he insisted nervously.
Anastasia paused; this definitely wasn’t what she had been expecting to hear, “Alright then, what did you observe last night on watch? Was anything out of the ordinary?”
He scratched his head as he tried to recall, “We didn’t see anything suspicious or anything, me and Mulciber were just sitting down and having some coffee, and then, well I don’t really remember anything after that.”
Ordinarily this type of story would have been more than enough to convince Anastasia that he was hiding something, but given the strength of the Vertaserum, she had no reason to doubt he was telling the truth. While there were sometimes whispered stories of wizards he could successfully resist the potion, that would require powers well beyond the capabilities of somebody such as Avery. Sensing that something bigger must be at work, she ran outside to continue her investigation.
“So I was right? It was tampered with?” Karkaroff called out as he ran, struggling to catch up to her.
Ignoring him, she headed straight for the front gate of the protective fence, which after a cursory examination did not show any signs of having been forced open. She walked outside the gate and paced around the perimeter of the base, still seeing no tracks, damage to the fence, magical residue, or any other signs of intruders.
Finally, as she walked further out towards the tree line, she noticed the glint of a small piece of foil left behind in the snow. She eagerly dove to the ground to retrieve it, closely inspecting it for any kind of clue. As if to confirm her deepest fears, her eyes were immediately drawn to a small label on the foil, “Cadbury Chocolates, UK.”
She tore the foil in frustration as she kicked the ground and stirred up a cloud of snow. She never thought it was possible that her adversaries in the West would know the location of this facility, let alone be able to infiltrate it. Throughout the shadowy conflict, she had always remained several steps ahead of her British adversaries. But now, it appeared the game was changing.
The sun was beginning to set when Duncan and Moody finally arrived back at the cabin. After a long day of running, Nicholas had reached the point of exhaustion and lazily sprawled out on the floor, barely bothering to move his head when Moody tossed him some treats. Moody then cast an Incendio charm in the fireplace, adding the first semblance of warmth to the frozen room.
Duncan removed his gloves and breathed warm air on his hands as he experienced one of his rare moments of being too tired and cold to come up with a relevant joke. Remembering their instructions, he made his way to the communications equipment in the corner and dialed the secure line to the British Embassy. He waited for the encryption to take effect, and when the line was clear, he was greeted by a secretary on the other end.
“British Embassy, culture and tourism department, how may I help you?”
Duncan recited the prescribed code phrase, “This is Mr. Chaucer, I’d like to plan a trip to Canterbury.”
“One moment please…”
A few seconds later, Archie came onto the line, “Macdonald! Glad to hear you’re alive! So were you successful?”
“Everything proceeded as planned. The machine is in our possession, and we have returned to the safe house,” Duncan informed him.
“Excellent!” Archie responded. “I’m afraid I’m a bit tied up at the Embassy for the moment, but we should plan your extraction within the next week or so, but until then, stay where you are. Also, now that we have the machine, you can monitor the Russians’ communications. Please collect all the messages you can and pass them along. We’ll be in touch soon.”
“Thanks mate,” said Duncan as he hung up the phone.
He looked around and saw Nicholas curled up in front of the fireplace while Moody was silently staring out the window, looking as vigilant as ever. Duncan contemplated that he would have plenty of time over the next few days to process everything that had just happened, but now, it was time to sleep.
On the outskirts of Tirana, Albania, Tom Riddle absentmindedly thumbed through the pages of the local newspaper that completed his disguise as an ordinarily farmer. Nott and Lestrange sat across from him, eagerly awaiting his instructions. It was much to Riddle’s disgust that they were here, in the outdoor seating of a Muggle restaurant sampling the local cuisine, but it was necessary to maintain their cover.
“Well we might as well get the official mission out of the way,” he informed them as the waiter walked out of earshot.
“You mean the reconnaissance?” Lestrange asked.
“Yes, we need to make a detailed plan of the Albanian Ministry, including every possible entrance and exit. Also, we must compile dossiers on the high ranking officials and discover which ones are most likely to be amenable to our views. I want you to begin your infiltration tomorrow.”
“And what about you, Sir, what will you be doing?” Nott prodded.
Riddle answered him with a grin, “Ahh, you see there are many secrets contained in this country; secrets that are in no position to have to know about. But if you continue to follow me, you will learn the importance in due time.”
Nott and Lestrange eagerly accepted this information, continuing to be in awe of Riddle’s mysterious powers.
After finishing the meal, Riddle briefly contemplated how much easier it would be to simply kill the waiter rather than pay the check, but knowing that he had far more important reasons to be here, he left a few crumpled Muggle bills in the local currency on the table and took his leave.
He was very pleased that, at least so far, everything seemed to be proceeding as planned. Thanks to his new affiliation with the Soviets, he now had the perfect opportunity to be in Albania with some of his most loyal supporters. While his reconnaissance mission would be easy enough to complete, he was, of course, here for greater purposes. He had an extra spring in his step at the thought of how close he seemed to be to obtaining what he so dearly desired. He had been seeking it since his days at Hogwarts, and now it was nearly within his grasp.