“I do beg your pardon,” said Harry. He leant forward to rest his elbows on the table, steepled his fingers, and tried unsuccessfully to keep the incredulity from seeping into his voice. “But, do you possibly think you could run that by me again?”
Minerva McGonagall didn’t look impressed. But then, he found she very rarely ever did. Her office in which they were sat was overwhelmingly iron grey – even the oil painting of her beloved cat looming above them was bloody grey. The clock ticked oppressively on the wall in the pause that followed.
Even without the years of familiarity insulating him from the room’s intimidation tactics, Harry Potter was not the sort of man to quake under an authoritative glare. He was, however, not accustomed to the level of ridiculousness with which his ears had just been assaulted.
“H.O.G.W.A.R.T.S.,” she repeated in her clipped, Scottish tones. She sat with her hands crossed loosely on the desk in front of her, her back straight as a rod, and her gaze unflinching. “Home Office Governed,” she elaborated. “Word Agency Regulations Team and Support Services.”
“H.O.G.W.A.R.T.S.,” Harry repeated faintly. “And this was the best acronym the chaps down in Operations could come up with?” He waved his hand around airily. “Why not P.O.P.P.Y.C.O.C.K., or N.I.N.C.O.M.P.O.O.P.? I’m sure there’s a delightful string of words you could fit to make that work. Let’s see – National Institute for Naughty Children…Otherwise Mothered Preposterously…Over Ordinary Protocol.” He flashed a grin at her, rather pleased with himself.
His superior was, once again, unmoved. “Are you quite finished Agent Potter?”
“Well,” he said, sitting upright again and frowning in consideration. “I could try one for P.O.P.P.Y.C.O.C.K?”
“I think we’ll leave the creative decisions to Operations from now on, hmm?” She plucked a beige file from the metal tray to her right, and placed it in the empty desk space between them. It was stamped with a bright red ‘Top Secret’. “This is a matter of international importance, and a new agency was required to deal with the threat swiftly and discretely. You will be reassigned immediately.”
Harry schooled his reactions carefully, an easy task after so many years of training. He had only just returned from an extended assignment in the South Americas, and had been looking forward to at least a week’s respite before being hurtled back into the field. However, it would not do to whine like a child, so instead he slid the file towards him, and flicked the first page open.
Even with his high level of clearance, there were still a number of words redacted. He was still able to make out the gist of the document quick enough though. “So,” he surmised, turning to the next page. “This fellow intends on starting World War Three?”
“It certainly seems that way,” McGonagall agreed.
Harry tutted, assimilating the information rapidly as he sifted through the next several sheets of paper. “Voldemort,” he scoffed. He restrained himself from rolling his eyes, but he certainly twitched an eyebrow. “Flight of death. Will the ingenuity never cease?”
McGonagall leant forwards and flipped several pages ahead, and Harry found himself faced with a number of grizzly photographs. “The name may be twee, but I assure you his intentions are not. All our sources indicate he is determined to ignite the tensions between West and East Germany, and set the rest of the world at each other’s throats again.”
Harry readjusted his glasses and nodded. “Well, we can’t have that now, can we?”
“Not on my watch,” she agreed. A hint of a smile threatened the corner of her lips, but Harry would swear if questioned that it had never been there at all.
“So many abductions,” he commented. There were at least a dozen missing person reports. “Is there any way to know who might be next?”
“That is what we are trying to establish,” McGonagall told him. “They certainly are a mixed bag; their only common denominator is that they are experts in their field, so we have a watch list, but it is vast. Although we doubt it is Voldemort himself carrying out the abductions. Whatever the case; high profile scientists, code-breakers, engineers – you name it – are being targeted. There has been no trace of the abductees since.”
Harry lifted the file to rest on his lap, crossing one leg over the other to prop the documents up as he hastily flicked back and forth to piece the different components together. “The first abduction was eleven weeks ago?”
“We believe the victims to still be alive,” McGonagall said, and Harry had to agree.
“They are being recruited. Against their will,” he added. “But their combined skill set and intelligence would no doubt aid any megalomaniac in launching the next global catastrophe. If properly motivated.”
“I have no doubt Voldemort has ways of being…persuasive,” she said dryly.
There was no photo available of the man in question, although the intelligence seemed sound. “How has a man such as this not been on our radar before?” Harry asked. There seemed to be no mention of him prior to 1964, and it would take more than three years to establish the needed reputation to run an operation as large as the one he now appeared to be commanding.
McGonagall inclined her head. “We believe him to have undergone a drastic physical transformation, as well as changing his name, and are still attempting to discern his previous identity. That, however, is not your mission.”
“You intend for me to locate the whereabouts of the abductees?” he guessed.
McGonagall arched an eyebrow. “Not ‘me’. ‘Us.’ This threatens the stability of the entire world, and – ah-” A knock at the door interrupted her. “Perfect timing. It requires representation from more than just the British government. Come in,” she added, raising her voice.
Harry turned as the door swung inwards. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but by the time his mind fully registered who was entering the room, he had already leapt to his feet with his pistol snapped in the direction of the intruder’s face.
The other man’s reaction was just as swift. Harry also found himself staring down the barrel of a gun, and was not impressed.
“Minnie,” Harry said lightly, despite the twitch in his jaw. “It appears you have a Rusky in your office.”
He heard her sigh behind him. “Yes, Potter. Because I invited him here. Would you please both stop embarrassing yourselves, and put the guns down.”
Harry’s eyes bore into his opponent’s grey ones. “Draco Malfoy,” he said in a cheery tone, ignoring the command to lower his weapon. “It’s been a while. Belgrade, wasn’t it? ’66?”
“June,” the Russian agreed in his low timbre. “You shot me.”
“Well,” said Harry sombrely. “You were being an awfully bad boy.”
Draco Malfoy – or The Dragon to use yet another absurd pseudonym – was taller than Harry by a number of inches, with white blond hair, pale skin and a permanent scowl. As a prolific K.G.B. spy, Harry had danced with him several times. And although he had to admit he’d had rather a lot of fun on those occasions, he was still nonetheless more than a little put out to see him waltz into London’s M.I.6 headquarters in the middle of the day as if he owned the place. Honestly, did no one have manners anymore?
“Agents,” McGonagall snapped. “Guns down. Now.”
There was a pause, then both men lowered their arms to their sides.
“Excellent. Now, may I suggest something outrageous?” McGonagall asked. “Like taking a seat?”
Harry had received numerous raised eyebrows when it had become widely know he was going to be working for a woman. He himself had been rather dubious as to how that might pan out. But after a mere few weeks he had learnt just how uncomplicated it was; orders were given, and they were followed. That was all. He pitied anyone who assumed it could be otherwise.
So, he took his seat once again on the left, and Malfoy moved cautiously around him to occupy the chair on the right. Neither man took their eyes off each other, and placed their firearms on the desk simultaneously.
“You were invited?” Harry challenged.
“By Director McGonagall,” Malfoy confirmed. “With offer of truce. I am finding this a little hard to believe in this moment.”
His accent was strong but the words clearly enunciated and delivered without hesitation. Harry didn’t blink as he held his gaze.
McGonagall rapped her knuckles on the table. “If you can’t behave yourselves, I am more than willing to spray both of you with a water bottle,” she said tartly. “Honestly, you are supposed to be international agents.”
Harry smiled, and leant back in his seat. He crossed one leg over the other and placed both hands on the top knee. “My apologies Director,” he said sincerely, finally turning to face her. “At least you know my reflexes are not rusty.”
“Quite.” She didn’t sound convinced.
Malfoy also turned towards her. “My director told me this was of great importance,” he said coldly. “That I had no choice but to take mission. Am I merely to be shot instead?”
“Of course not,” McGonagall assured him.
“It depends on how you behave,” Harry said.
Before Malfoy could reply, McGonagall interceded. “Agent Malfoy, am I to assume you have read the briefing?”
“Yes, Director.” He was sat as stiffly as she was; like they both had iron curtain poles inserted in a most intimate fashion. Harry made sure to lean back in his chair and affect an air of calm disinterest. “And I bring news of potential lead.”
He fished an envelope from the breast pocket of his tan jacket and handed it to her. He wore a turtle neck jumper underneath; his signature look when he was not undercover, as Harry knew all too well. However, Harry was of the opinion that an agent not wearing a three-piece suit at any time during active duty was practically committing treason against his country, therefore deplored the ensemble.
It had nothing to do with the fact he doubted he could ever convincingly pull off such a look. Nothing at all.
His attention was soon drawn back to the matter at hand as McGonagall slid her letter opener along the top of the envelope and extracted its contents. A lead on the whereabouts of the abductees would be most welcome. But Harry wasn’t entirely convinced they could trust anything from the U.S.S.R., so waited to see the information first before getting his hopes up.
“Rodolphus Lestrange?” she asked, reading through the couple of sheets of paper speedily.
Malfoy nodded. “And his wife, Bellatrix. Two of Voldemort’s most loyal followers. They were spotted in Vienna, headed to West Berlin.”
McGonagall scanned a few more lines, then handed the documents over to Harry. “I’m sure individuals like that would have little difficulty slipping through Checkpoint Charlie, and once they are in East Germany they will be much harder to track. Your sources believe them to be worth following though?”
Malfoy nodded. He had cheekbones like cut glass Harry noted as he kept half an eye on him whilst he absorbed the facts he held in his hands. “They have list apparently – if it is intended targets it could save many lives. But it could also hold list of locations for those already abducted.”
“You don’t believe them to all be in one place?” Harry asked. He refolded the papers and slipped them back into the envelope, then dropped it on top of the file on the desk.
Malfoy shook his head. “At least four bases of operation are suspected. If we get list, chances are we find out how many in total.”
“Either finding those already taken, or stopping any more from being abducted would be a decided victory.” McGonagall pulled the file and envelope back towards her. “Ideally, we do both. It seems from this information we only have a short window. You gentlemen are to travel directly to West Berlin. A car will be ready to take you to the airport within the hour. Once there you are to intercept the Lestranges, and acquire this list. Any questions?”
The petulant side of Harry wanted to double check she was quite sure that Malfoy was the best partner he could really be matched with, given the likelihood that they would kill one another before the plane even touched down in Germany. However, the other agent was already nodding and rising to his feet, and Harry did not wish to be upstaged by lodging a protest. “We’ll handle it from here,” he said. He too got to his feet, fastened the single button on his jacket, and walked swiftly from the room without giving Malfoy another glance.