Chapter 5. Manoeuvres in Moscow
Severus was not too tired yet since it was only nine p.m. by his internal clock, so he suggested they start to implement their plan the same evening. “The nights are short in this season, and the sun shines every day. It’d be a better use for your inability to sleep”—grimaces of regret showed up briefly on some of the vampires’ faces—“to go and try to glean information.”
The others did not object. It was then decided that Edward, for his mind reading ability, and Carlisle, for his negotiation skills, would go to meet the local vampire community—though that last word was not quite exact since vampires usually lived alone. Alice, Jasper and Emmett would be close, ready to intervene if Alice saw things go awry. Esme and Rosalie would wait in the dacha with Severus. There was just one last detail to take care of.
“Your smell will betray you to our likes, though,” Jasper remarked to Carlisle.
“We can take a shower and spray ourselves with perfume,” Edward offered.
“That won’t prevent you from looking like yourself,” Rosalie argued. “And let’s not forget that our eye colour is telltale.”
Carlisle turned to Severus. “Can your magic help us?”
The wizard considered them one by one, deep in thought. They all had an expectant look on their faces. “I’m not sure. Your skin is spell-proof. I can try, though. If it doesn’t work, you’ll have to use costumes.”
“We have contact lenses, but none are red.”
“I can change their colours. May I?” he asked Carlisle, who was sitting next to him, pointing to the vampire’s blond hair.
“Er, yes,” the patriarch answered. “May I know what for, though?”
“I think I can spell your hair.” He rubbed a lock of Carlisle’s hair between his fingers. “Yes, it should work.” Severus raised his wand. “Do you trust me?”
Carlisle nodded. A flick of Severus’s wand, and he was sporting a black punk hairstyle. Esme put her hands on her mouth out of surprise whereas the rest of the Cullens guffawed. Severus smiled. “I only need to attach a distorting spell on your face, and your traits will appear slightly different from what they are.”
Flabbergasted, Carlisle acquiesced. When it was done, Emmett reacted first. He cracked the heavy wooden table by pounding his fist on it. “Wow, Carlisle. It’s impossible to recognise you, even with vampire eyes.”
Carlisle attempted to keep a straight face, even if the corners of his lips betrayed him. “Can you do anything to mask our scent?”
“I can spell perfumed clothes to modify and overpower their scent. That spell should hold for a couple of hours.”
“It should be enough.”
Another series of wand movements transformed Carlisle and Edward into foul-smelling punks. Severus’s sensitive – for a human – nose wrinkled in displeasure, as well as the Cullens’. When Edward tried to get near Bella, she stepped back.
“Could we make an experiment before we leave?” Carlisle, who had observed his children’s little game, suggested.
“Bella, would you come here, please?”
Bella complied, but was as disgusted by her father’s smell as by Edward’s. Carlisle put a hand on her shoulder. Severus was amused to note that she was holding her breath.
“My daughter, Bella, has an interesting power: she possesses a mental shield, which prevents others from intruding into her mind. She can spread that protection to those around her. I wondered if her shield would work against magic.”
Those vampires did not need to wield a wand with such abilities, Severus thought.
“I suspect,” Severus started, “that she’ll be immune to Legilimency. To simplify, it’s the ability to read others’ minds, but not the way Edward does. She’ll probably be immune to confusing spells, too, but your skin repels spells as a rule, so it’ll be difficult to discern what’s due to vampire characteristics from your particular characteristic, Mrs Cullen. On the other hand, that protection may be very useful for humans who happened to be in your company.” In other words, Bella’s power could protect Severus from certain attacks.
“I don’t think it necessary that Bella come with us,” Edward intervened.
Bella cast him a dark look. Rosalie and Alice rolled their eyes. Severus wondered if himself appeared so overprotective of his family to the world’s eyes. Well, he had no time for introspection.
“Maybe not tonight, since Mr Snape stays here. But when he comes with us, I’ll come too,” she retorted in a tone fitted to petrify first years. Perhaps someone should suggest to Hogwarts headmaster hiring a diurnal vampire to replace the current incompetent caretaker.
“We’ve lost enough time. Let’s go.”
Carlisle went out. Edward followed him after he had shared a last look with his wife. They were worse than newlyweds. The two vampires had planned to go down into the underground, where most of Moscow vampires were said to live, by Pobedy Park station, which happened to be the deepest station too. Actually, Muggles did not know that most fatal attacks in the underground corridors were vampire attacks and wasted their time looking for terrorists and racist groups.
Five minutes later, Alice, Jasper and Emmett went out, ready to help their father and brother if need be. Esme took cards out of a contemporary-looking – in spite of its heavy wooden structure – dresser. Those creatures undeniably had an affinity with natural materials.
“Will you join us, Mister Snape?”
“No, thanks. May I ask you if there is a place where I can sleep?”
“Oh, of course. Follow me. You can use my and Carlisle’s bedroom. Don’t worry,” she added when she noticed Severus was ready to refuse, “we don’t need it.” If she said so...
Esme’s and Carlisle’s bedroom was a total contrast with the room lent to him in the Romanian vampires’ castle. It was not littered with furniture and draperies, not at all, but it exuded a pleasant welcoming impression thanks to the warm colours of the bedding and walls, and to the homely shapes of the furniture. Besides, it connected with a private bathroom and loo. He thanked Esme for her hospitality, put his pyjamas on and fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. He was far beyond the age when he could stay up a whole night after Portkey-travelling and stressing about organising a raid into a cruel and crafty Mafioso’s dwelling.
Severus woke in the early hours, aka much too early. Whispers reached him through the closed door. He inferred from them that the Cullen men had come back from their nightly expedition, so he got up, stopped by the bathroom, and joined the vampire coven in the living-room. Of course, each one of them had heard him long before he reached them.
“Good morning, Mister Snape,” Esme greeted him. “Did you sleep well?”
Severus answered by the affirmative, conscious that the question aimed at making him feel at ease since the vampires could hear him breathe and his heart beat through three closed doors. Esme served him a breakfast she had prepared for him (she cooked well for someone who ate only blood). He quickly finished his meal so that he could listen to the report of Edward’s and Carlisle’s outing. He guessed the others probably had already heard it.
Edward spoke. “As soon as we were in the undergrounds tunnels, we found a trail. It led us to a vampire called Nestor. At first he was suspicious because he was face to face with two unknown vampires. I saw in his thoughts that he was three hundred years old and knew every vampire in Moscow, even though he prefers solitude. Between what he told us and what I got from his mind, we know that a vampire couple freshly arrived in town is housed by humans. This has been a subject for intense gossip, you see, all the more since those two vampires had red eyes.”
Ah yes, the eye colour of human blood drinking vampires, whereas those who only drank animal blood, like the Cullens, had ochre eyes.
“The couple has not been seen since they went in the human’s house. It’d be a big property in Kuntsevo quarter. Nestor didn’t know if it belonged to a wizard or not.”
Kuntsevo was not in the wizarding area of Moscow, but it did not mean anything. However, only very rich people could own a big property in a major city, like, for example, a Mafia godfather.
“I propose that we go on reconnaissance during the day. As a human, I should be able to remain unnoticed.” With the help of a disguise, he added to himself; it would not do to be recognised as he had been last week in Bucharest.
Alice … jumped … up ... down ... again ... on her chair. It was indecent for a centenarian to jump like that, a dazzling smile (brrr) on her face. “There’s no need for that. My Jazz found the names of all the property owners in Kuntsevo when he hacked the computer files of the town.”
Impressive. Moscow was part of the five more secure towns in the world, computer-wise. Severus turned his eyes to the blond vampire, who shrugged as if he did that every day. Come to think of it, it might be the case.
Jasper held out a list to Severus. A name called Severus’s attention like a lighthouse for the survivor of a shipwreck. “Joseph Bouranov appears in this list. It tallies with every clue we have.” Severus raised his eyes. “I’ll still have to reconnoitre the property surroundings. Bouranov probably has put up magical alarms everywhere in the area to alert him about non-Muggle comings and goings. I’d rather have an idea of the lay-out of the place before we devise a plan to take back my process.”
Jasper nodded. Given how all deferred to him about the operation, Severus guessed he was the family strategist. “It’s completely reasonable. I suggest that you go on that mission with Edward. You’ll be able to take care of those magical alarms and traps to prepare their dismantling, and Edward will be able to warn you if anyone approaches or to collect useful information.”
Severus frowned. “Since the sun’s shining, we’ll have to wait for this evening, won’t we?” What to do during the day?
“I’d like to discuss your process with you,” Carlisle said. “As a doctor for humans as well as for vampires, I’m interested in knowing more about your creation and its effects on the non-human creatures.”
The seats around the table were suddenly empty of all their occupants but for Carlisle and Severus. Nobody seemed to be very interested by an academic discussion when they could warm their icy bodies in the sun.
“You see, Mister Snape, I have a theory I’d like to submit to you.”
Severus was always ready for an academic discussion.
“You remember that I explained to you that vampires are creatures who change slowly, be it physically as well as emotionally? Actually, we barely change at all, and when it happens, the result is often permanent. Our bodies are frozen in the state they were in when we were changed. If,” Carlisle leaned slightly forward and Severus slid imperceptibly back in his seat, “a vampire was to drink a potion that would oblige him to change something in his body or his behaviour, wouldn’t that change become permanent as well?”
That question was really interesting. The proof was in the fact that all chairs were once again occupied.
“It’s a very likely possibility.” Severus rubbed his chin, lost in thought.
The ensuing discussion showed Severus to what extent each Cullen had a deep knowledge in all kinds of subjects. Immortality had its perks.
Esme excused herself some time before noon to cook a light meal for Severus. The latter took a vial with a brownish potion in it and swallowed a spoonful of it.
“I have diabetes,” he explained to his hosts, who were watching the vial with worry. “I must take it before each meal.”
“It looks like syrup,” Rosalie exclaimed while Carlisle cast her a disapproving look.
“It isn’t syrup. It’s a potion,” Severus retorted in an acerbic tone.
“I’m sorry,” Rosalie replied, a bit ashamed. “It reminds me of the atrocious medicines my parents made me drink when I was a child.”
“I understand,” Severus answered with a very, very small smile. He too had to swallow atrocious medicines in the past.
Esme put a plate with sandwiches, a glass of water and a couple of pastries in front of Severus.
“Thank you, Mrs Cullen.”
“Please, call me Esme.”
It was impossible to resist the unadulterated benevolence emanating from the mother of the family.
“If you call me Severus.”
She beamed at him. Someone (Edward? Emmett?) cleared their throat. Severus got back to his plate. They all invited him to call them by their name.
His meal finished, the conversation resumed about the potential offered by Severus’s process.
“Would your process allow some potions to be lethal to vampires?” Bella asked. Edward tenderly stroked the lines that had appeared between his wife’s eyebrows. “For example,” she continued, “if a potion could transform a vampire into a human being, the vampire should logically be mortal like the humans are.”
“That potion exists. It’s called ‘Polyjuice’. You add a part of the person you want to impersonate, usually a hair, and you become that person for an hour.”
The locust’s strident song filled the living-room. A fly’s buzzing invaded the ears of the present company. The sun’s warmth rushed through the closed doors and windows into the room. Carlisle’s voice made nearly all of them start. “That process must never fall in the Volturi’s hands. Or of any vampire’s hands.”
Severus agreed. “Not even just any wizard. As soon as I get back my research, I’ll entrust it to the Department of Mysteries of the Ministry of Magic. Once something’s in there, it’s very difficult to get it out. I’m persuaded the Ministry will want to legislate to control its use too. But it’ll be impossible to completely prevent it from being spread. Too many people already had had access to it.”
“It’s the best we can hope, indeed,” Carlisle sighed.
Then the small group around the table organised the reconnaissance mission of Bouranov’s property.
Severus excused himself before the sun set. He needed to rest before the evening expedition, and also an exchange of Patronuses with Hermione.
A long wall capped with broken glass (the good old methods are sometimes the best ones) and of electronic gadgets to detect intruders ran alongside the empty street; empty until two figures appeared on the pavement. Both wore dark clothes, and one of them waved a stick in front of him.
“No trace of magic here,” Severus murmured. Yet he kept his wand in his hand. It was like a dark protuberance on a pale background.
His companion, whose skin was as pale, nearly dazzling in the headlights of a passing vehicle, pointed a direction. “That way.”
Edward let Severus pass in front of him. The two men moved slowly. With each step, the wizard used his free hand and his wand to detect the presence of magic. One kilometre before their destination, he felt something.
“Detection spells. If we go through them, they’ll be alerted that at least a wizard has just entered in a restricted perimeter around Bouranov’s house.”
The nearer they got to their target, the more complex the spells grew, but none were destined to kill or harm. Severus knew all of them, except for the last one, a variant of one of Durmstrang’s wards if he was not mistaken. More than ten minutes were necessary to dismantle that spell.
Edward wrinkled his nose while Severus was working. “Vampires have passed here. Their smell has faded, but thanks to the absence of rain, it’s still there. I estimate that they came here some days ago, probably less than a week.”
They had almost reached the gates when Edward caught another scent. “Another vampire has gone around here more recently. I haven’t smelled him or her before because they came from the opposite direction.”
There were a little too many vampires involved for Severus’s taste.
Edward and Severus stayed away from the gates, for they were guarded by two wizards armed with wands and guns, the latter to fool the Muggles. The vampire listened to the guards’ minds for a while to collect everything they knew about the lay-out of the place while the wizard catalogued as best as he could the spells warding the gates. They were clearly protected with Dark magic. Then the two allies returned to the Cullens’ dacha. For the second time that night, Edward experienced side-along Apparition. He preferred running.
The Cullens were all seated around the table before Edward and Severus had put a foot into the dacha, so anxious they were to hear their scouts’ report.
“To get near the property won’t be a problem as far as the magical wards are concerned,” Severus said without preamble. “To get into the park will be another thing altogether. I suspect the wards on the gates and the surrounding wall are designed to prevent intrusions, whatever the intruder’s species.”
The displeasure that news brought was plain on the vampires’ faces.
“I think I can overcome them, but it may take time. Even up to an hour. Except if Mrs, sorry, Bella’s shield,” he corrected as he looked at the youngest Cullen, “can subjugate them.”
Bella nodded. “Of course.”
Edward refrained from commenting. Anyway, his tensed attitude, from the tightening of his skin around his eyes to his clenched jaw and fisted hands, proclaimed his opinion about his wife’s involvement in their mission. Yet he managed to relax his jaw and to share the news gleaned in the guards’ minds.
“To get through the gates and to enter the property in complete safety, it’s necessary to wear a medallion with a distinctive mark. If we overcome the guards without raising the alarm, we could use their medallions for two of us.”
“Which won’t be enough,” Carlisle noted.
“Indeed,” Edward admitted. “Once in the park, there’s only one sure path to cross it, but it’s invisible. It’s like treading through a minefield; you have to put your feet on exact places or you’re literally swallowed by a fire formed of monsters.”
Fiendfyre, great! One millimetre on the side, and you are a mere memory.
“A small building, protected by Bouranov’s elite guards, is at the far end of the park, out of sight of the main house. The guard who knew about its existence didn’t know more about it, but I think what we’re looking for is there.”
“How are we going to do this?” Emmett asked. He cracked his joints in anticipation.
“It’s preferable if some of us stay behind,” Severus suggested. “Let me finish, please,” he said as Emmett was about to protest. “It’ll be easier to remain unnoticed if there are less of us. And if we fail, someone will be able to take over. So to start, let’s have in mind our main goal: to take my parchments back and any practical research Bouranov may have had done.”
Severus was so accustomed to teaching dunderheads who listened to only half of what he was telling them that he felt somewhat disconcerted by the intense attention the Cullens were paying to him.
“In all likelihood, we’ll meet some resistance on our way. A smaller group is easier to protect with magic. We’ll have less risk to lose someone.”
“Who’s going to come with you?”
Severus blinked. Had he just seen the immense vampire pout like a four-year-old?
“Edward, Bella, Jasper and you,” Alice answered. “And you’ll all come back alive.”
“Thank you, little sister.”
“What about the others? I’m not decorative, you know,” Rosalie protested.
Diplomacy, my friend. “I don’t doubt it,” Severus said. “I think that you and Alice should follow us at a certain distance. Alice so that she can pass her visions to Edward, and you to protect her. Carlisle and Esme should stay here. You can prepare a second expedition if we fail.”
“When do we act?” Jasper inquired. His cold quiet demeanour would never cease to impress Severus.
“If I rest during the day, we can act tonight.”
The blond vampire inclined his head.
Carlisle stood up, his hands propped on the table. “This is it. That way, we’ll be able to be seen in public where we’re supposed to be, you in Great Britain, and us in Alaska, as soon as tomorrow. Good day to all. We’ll meet in this room at nine thirty p.m. to complete our preparations.”