The black night fell over the forests of Albania as Tom Riddle slowly and deliberately made his way down the trail, scouring every inch of the ground. The wind rustled the leaves and branches of the trees, and the sounds of all manner of creatures of the night reverberated though the air. The faint of heart would have turned back a long time ago, but Riddle was in his element. He welcomed the darkness; he was the master of the night. The moon provided just enough light for him to follow the main trail as he moved further and further into the forest, hoping he was getting closer and closer to what he was looking for.
He turned around with a sudden jolt when he heard a rustling in the leaves behind him, instinctively firing a green killing curse. With his wand still at the ready, he cautiously walked towards the underbrush to inspect what he had heard. He breathed a great sigh of relief when he discovered it had only been a small squirrel, and he couldn’t help but grin to himself knowing what power he possessed, and how easy it was to alter so many lives with a simple flick of his wand.
Over the years at Hogwarts, many students had heard whispers of the seemingly mythical diadem of Ravenclaw, but it was usually assumed that its intellect enhancing powers were never more than legend. Showing his ambition and resourcefulness from a young age, he learned to cultivate and exploit sources that other students carelessly overlooked, and it hadn’t taken him long to discover the true identity of the mysterious Ravenclaw ghost. Like most who had encountered Tom’s charm and guile, the women once known as Helena Ravenclaw soon caved, revealing Albania to be the diadem’s true location.
Not only did Riddle now possess the information he needed, but he know had a perfect excuse to be in Albania on official business, and the ability to keep a low profile while in the country. If they did their job properly, Nott and Lestrange would soon be finished with their reconnaissance mission, and Riddle would be expected back in Russia with a report. While he would have loved to remain in Albania until he located the diadem, at this stage in the game, maintaining his Russian alliances was still vitally important, and he was sure he would have ample opportunities to return in the near future.
He peered down at his map, carefully marking off the areas of the forest he had already searched. He could not help but feel a small bit of frustration that he had not yet located the diadem, but he had to acknowledge that thus far his larger plans seemed to be coming together perfectly. It was going to take some time, but he knew that time was on his side.
Despite its quaint charm, the remote and constantly snow covered wizarding village of St. Boris was rarely visited, aside from the weary travelers who would pass by here in the midst of a longer journey to more consequential places. There was a small central street with a few shops, taverns, and inns, but the central feature of the small town was the train station. The recently completed Black Sea Express was constructed to easily connect magical Russia to its ever growing empire in Eastern Europe, and the station at St. Boris had been selected as a natural breaking point where inbound passengers from Moscow or Leningrad would change trains before continuing their journey to destinations abroad.
On this particularly chilly evening, Igor Karkaroff huddled inside his overcoat, icicles seeming to form on his beard as he shivered, standing as close as he comfortably could to Antonin Dolohov in an attempt to keep warm.
“What are we even doing here? I want to know exactly what Anastasia told you,” he grumbled.
“She was very short on the details,” Dolohov explained, “All she told me was what I told you before; some archivist woman from Moscow who had access to a lot of information is suspected of defecting and is traveling by train. Our instructions are simply to apprehend her and bring her in for questioning.”
Karkaroff shook his head, beginning one of his typical rants that Dolohov had long ago learned to tune out. It was always the same story with Karkaroff; he was overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and it was just too damn cold. While Karkaroff continued to drone on in the background, Dolohov strained to catch a glimpse of the clock. Thankfully, the train in question was due to arrive in ten minutes. Their long miserable wait was nearly over.
Inside the impeccably clean and freshly decorated women’s wash room of the Black Sea Express, Anastasia took a long glance in the mirror, greatly satisfied that she herself could barely recognize the person she saw. She had begun by casting a darkening charm on her blonde hair so that it was now a mousy shade of brown, and pulled it up in a tight bun. She wore a pair of very thick reading glasses, and a set of very plain and drab brown robes and overcoat. She had also gone to great lengths to alter her demeanor, adopting a very demure expression to replace her usual icy glare. All in all, she looked every bit like the quiet, bookish and slightly fearful librarian she was planning to portray. She returned to her compartment of the train, frequently glancing back and forth between the window and her watch. It was nearly time.
Moody and Duncan carefully crawled their way through the woods, leaving Nicholas and their supplies safely hidden behind the tree line as they reached a ridge overlooking the train station. Using the navigational skills he had first learned with the army in the deserts of North Africa, Duncan unrolled his map and confirmed their position with his compass as Moody cast a charm over the map so that it would display the magical villages as well. Duncan concluded that they had correctly reached the village of St. Boris, and he never ceased to b pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was to navigate when there were discernible landmarks around.
“Something still doesn’t add up about this situation,” Moody mused aloud.
Duncan shrugged, “Eight years ago, Albus Dumbledore sent me to Norway to fight a Nazi sea monster. Ever since then I just stopped asking questions.”
Moody shook his head as he pulled his omnoculors out of the bag and scanned the horizon, carefully noting all the details of the station’s layout. He then withdrew his foe glass, which he had enchanted to reveal the presence of enemies. He scoped along the platform until the glass lit up at the discovery of two men in overcoats, who appeared to nonchalantly waiting for the train.
“Well there are our Russian friends,” he observed.
A few minutes later, a loud whistle pierced the quiet air as a train appeared and ground to a halt at the station. Moody and Duncan scrambled to maintain eyes on each person that disembarked, which became increasingly difficult as they dispersed throughout the station. Finally, once the crowd began to dissipate, they caught sight of a young brown haired woman traveling alone, moving very tentatively along the platform. The two men in overcoats seemed to take note of her presence, and moved surreptitiously in her direction.
Moody brandished his wand and nodded silently to Duncan, whose hand was gripping the revolver that he had in a shoulder holster underneath his overcoat. They sprung into action, climbing down from opposite sides of the ridge and made a wide sweep of the approach to the station, coming together in a pincer movement as they converged on the platform. The crowd of passengers had mostly dissipated, and those that remained around the platform seemed to pay no heed to the two men moving towards the train.
After making a quick visual sweep to ensure he had not been followed, Moody knelt behind a garbage bin, taking careful aim at the two wizards whose backs remained turned towards him as they walked in the opposite direction.
“Stupefy!” Moody cast in a harsh whisper as red sparks flew from his wand and hit Antonin Dolohov squarely in the back. Dolohov’s body went instantly numb as he collapsed to the ground, stiff as a board. Though he was greatly confused by what was going on, Karkaroff was alerted by the sudden fall of his colleague, and he instinctively dove to the ground, narrowly evading Moody’s follow up curse.
Reacting without thinking and relying on his training, Karkaroff fired off an explosive charm, destroying the garbage bin and driving Moody backwards. He moved forward and pressed the attack, casting a barrage of curses which failed to achieve their desired effect as Moody rolled hard to his right and effectively deployed a series of protective spells.
Karkaroff paused for a moment, having expended much of his energy, allowing Moody to sense a window of opportunity to attack. Moody rose to his feet, charging forward in a full speed run as he prepared his next spell. However, just as he was about to incant the words, his feet stepped on a sleek patch of ice, which had the effect of a jelly legs jinx as his legs went out from under him.
Moody slammed down hard on the concrete, and fumbled to recover his wand, which had landed several feet away from his when he fell. He grimaced as he saw Karkaroff approach him, brimming with confidence at his apparent victory. However, just when his defeat seemed imminent, Moody watched with enormous relief as Karkaroff suddenly collapsed in a heap not far from Dolohov. It was only then that he noticed Duncan, casually strolling from behind and wielding a large wooden plank. Duncan casually shrugged while Moody shook his head in disbelief, beginning to see the benefits of this unconventional partnership.
Moody and Duncan assessed the situation. The remainder of the crowd had cleared out by now, and the only people remaining in the station were their two unconscious foes, and the mysterious brown haired woman who was meekly taking cover in the stairwell. Moody nodded to Duncan, acknowledging that they would cautiously approach her and attempt to make contact. All the while he kept his hand tightly gripped around his wand, fearing that the arrangement may yet be a trap.
“Natalia Kuznetsova?” Duncan carefully enunciated as they walked up towards her.
Anastasia nodded in acknowledgment and then hesitantly asked them in an overemphasized Russian accent, “You are…English?”
“No one’s ever accused me of that before,” answered the proud Scot, “I’m Duncan MacDonald and this is Alastor Moody.”
Moody bit his lip in frustration, cringing at how readily Duncan volunteered that information.
Anastasia cast a concealment charm and an anti-listening charm around their position as she spoke in a hushed tone just in case.
“As you might surmise, I have valuable information.”
She reached into her pocket and withdrew a small, diary sized book, which, on second glance, was revealed to be an enchanted book whose deceptive size actually contained a whole library’s worth of information.
“This book contains the entire classified portion of the Soviet Ministry’s Archives. I am sure this is of great interest to you. I am prepared to sell it, if you are willing to provide me safe passage and asylum in the West. “
“And why would you betray your country so readily?” asked the unconvinced Moody.
“I am, what you call, a Muggle Born,” she explained, “My family has been oppressed by the regime; this is my chance for revenge.”
“And how do we know this information is authentic?” he persisted.
Anastasia tore a portion of a page out of the book and handed it to Moody.
“This contains a list of several employees of the French Ministry of Magic who are on the Soviet payroll. Once you investigate these names, I am sure you will have no doubts as to the accuracy of the rest of the information.”
Moody folded the paper and placed it in his pocket, betraying no reactions with his face as he made a mental note to pass the information on to Augustus.
“We don’t have much time, the station will be crawling with security soon after all that commotion. You can interrogate me all you want later, but right now, we need to leave.”
Moody looked at her skeptically, but Duncan shrugged and nodded, helping convince Moody that she had a legitimate point.
The three of them walked briskly towards the exit, with Moody and Duncan walking on either side of Anastasia and keeping an alert watch. As they walked outside, Anastasia couldn’t help but be pleased at how smoothly things had gone so far. In her years of experience, there were many things in her job that she found difficult, but manipulating men was certainly not one of them.