The Sugar Quill
Author: Anya (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Speak with the Dead  Chapter: 2: Weak Tea and Other Sins
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Authors Notes: Many thanks to my Beta ShelleBelle, and to my "alpha" reader Crossbow who assisted me in straightening out the huge problems before I even got up the nerve to submit this. And an extra special thanks to Sisuitl, who has given me my first (and at the time I wrote this, my only) review! I hope it doesn't disappoint you from this point out

Chapter Two: Weak Tea and Other Sins

In her Hogwarts days, Lourdes had passed a thousand hours with a novel hidden between the pages of her spell books. Those books were honest companions, passports away from the miserable day in and day out of classes in which all her papers were returned with O's but all her practical applications ended in D's. And within the damp confines of the Black mansion, books were the only friends she had left.

A fresh new supply of dusty (and potentialy valuable) friends sat on shelves in the Black library in great peril, as the house cleaning crew was bound to get to them sooner or later. Lourdes made it a habit to slip up to the library every night while everyone else was asleep to comb through the shelves, dodging spiders and doxies by weak candlelight. Anything she could save from the rubbish bins was stowed in her petticoats and spirited away to the basement.

She was rescuing them from Sirius, who busied himself during the days by exacting systematic vengeance on his childhood home. Lourdes didn't blame him though, there was nothing beautiful about this house, it was the sort of sinister place that took on a life of it's own at night. With the prospect of meeting a miserable, angry man in the halls Lourdes found it a great deal easier to spend all day tucked away in her little corner of Grimmauld Place's windowless basement. While her life was largely reduced to doing other people's paperwork there were a few bright spots; her correspondence with Aberforth who sent her picture postcards of sunny places, and a pocket sized wireless unit so the likes of Muddy Waters and Willie Brown could keep her company while she worked.

Dumbledore informed her early on that the Weasley family was moving in for the duration of the summer to assist with rehabilitating of the headquarters. When they arrived, she was to leave her room only for very specific Order meetings, and was to be seen by no one. Unless it was absolutely essential, no one was to know she even existed. Sirius knew of course as he owned the dump, and the very red-headed Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were very briefly introduced to her on the 'where your children shouldn't be' tour of the headquarters.

Despite the fact that she was right in the hub of the Order's activities, Lourdes was completely isolated from what was happening above ground, and had not been allowed to directly attend any meetings (though she heard well enough through the vent). Equally frustrating was the fact that she had been cooped up obediently for two weeks without hearing a single word about who she would be working with. If she had been tricked into assembling packets on ley lines and patterns in Death Eater activity, then she was going to demand a move to the library. At least that room had windows.

Earlier that evening as Lourdes busily clipped relevant articles (or rather, every slanderous bit of yellow journalism any paper could see fit to print about the madness of Albus Dumbledore) out of the thirty seven magical newspapers dumped onto her bed via the dungeon's air grate, she'd felt Grimmauld Place shake down to the foundation.

Risking a tongue-lashing for sneaking out, she eavesdropped outside the basement stairwell to discover that Dumbledore had nearly exploded with anger, and there had been quite a lot of fuss about Dementors and Harry Potter. Thankfully it was Arthur Weasley who caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye and rushed her back down to the dungeon.

According to Arthur, Lourdes was going to be meeting her contact that evening, in light of the emergency with the Potter boy. Thank heavens for that, the sooner she was out of Grimmauld Place the better. Just a few hours later another bundle of books came thundering down her air grate with a note attached.

"Front Parlor. Immediately."

With the note crushed in her pocket she scuttled quietly through the hallways to the dustiest of the front parlors. Dumbledore could not have picked a more dismal location. Flickering light from the cockeyed chandelier revealed mold-spotted wall paper, ratty peat-colored carpet, and splintering velvet covered furniture. Sinking onto a mossy settee, Lourdes helped herself to a cup of the dreadfully weak tea set out on the side table and listened closely for any clues she could catch.

Out in the hall there was a rush of whispers and footfalls, followed by the sound of many locks sliding shut. Then the parlor creaked open again. She hardly heard the tinkling sound of Mrs. Black's teacup meeting the floor; she hardly noticed that she'd dropped it. For a few seconds Lourdes noticed nothing except the hot rush of shock flushing her body.

Severus Snape, in the flesh, was standing stock still in the doorway, with a look of frozen horror twisting up his features.

-***-

At the moment there were a number of explanations for the presence of Lourdes Mezarci on the settee, and none of them seemed particularly likely. If it wasn't really her, it was a damn fine recreation; this woman had the same eyes. Murky poison green in color, a shade he remembered especially because it's presence in a potion meant certain death.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

Whoever, whatever, it was stumbled away from the couch and the broken teacup looking ferocious and flustered, as her fingers worked the buttons on her high-necked robes. And when the left side was jerked away from her chest, Severus had to bite his tongue to keep from gasping. There between her collarbone and the rise of her breast was a familiar starburst wound, half healed and held together by a web of miniscule gold filaments.

"I think that is sufficient proof. Why don't you have a seat?" She replied in a tone thick with forced calm, never letting her eyes break contact with his.

"Ms Mezarci, you are dead," he spat. "So we have nothing to discuss." There was nothing more to it really, Lourdes was dead. He'd seen her being carried out of the Hogs Head gushing blood from her mouth and chest. Aberforth had told him personally that she was gone. This made no sense at all, and Severus felt an oppressive panicky feeling starting to cloud his brain. He had to get out.

As coolly as he could, Severus turned on his heel to make an exit. He was almost to the door when he heard the fluttering of skirts, and her mass collided with his as they went crashing to the carpet. He'd seen Hit Wizards tackle people like that, but he'd never actually been tackled. Arms bound tightly at his sides by surprisingly strong, wiry arms, with his wand still tucked in his cloak, he could only grind his teeth when her weight slithered up his back and cold breath that reeked of stale smoke crossed the folds of his ear.

"I suggest you get a handle on your temper Mr. Snape. Unless you have come here by mistake, I suspect we are to be coworkers." Rolling off and onto the floor, Lourdes stood up cautiously and locked eyes with him as she rubbed her carpet-burned knuckles.

Severus managed to get up on his feet very slowly, baring his teeth as he shuffled backward towards the chair. There was no way in hell he was going to turn his back on her again.

"Tea?" Lourdes asked, cocking an eyebrow and offering him one of the lacy little cups and saucers.

It didn't take him long to locate his wand (and to mutter a quick Tasters Charm to check for any obvious poisons) as she produced a case of cigarettes from her skirts and lit one off the wall sconce. There they sat, for what seemed like an eternity, stealing small glances at one another while she exhaled clouds of suspiciously sweet blue smoke and he drank cups of dreadfully common tea.

Severus felt strangely numb about the whole thing, and wondered briefly if he was having a hallucination. He was sitting in the decaying parlor of an old enemy's house, taking tea with a woman who had apparently not been dead for eighteen years (though coming back from the dead seemed to be all the rage these days), with not a thing to say to her. It seemed more likely that he'd been overcome by potion fumes.

But then again, hallucinations rarely involved having his nose buried in a dusty carpet. And, he reasoned, when a person hallucinated they probably did not feel a bizarre alien pain somewhere in the region of their chest. Whatever it was, he was quick to shut it down.

She lounged on the little couch like a housecat, leisurely smoking her cigarettes and sipping her tea as if she knew something he didn't. This woman had obviously been through the wringer once or twice-she was jaundiced and looked exhausted. If scars were any evidence of relation she and Moody might have been cousins. Though it looked as if she had all her original limbs and eyes, half of one of her ears was missing. That, and someone or something had carved a deep series of trenches that looked like a spider web down her left cheek and she was doing a very poor job of covering it with hair.

Suddenly, the woman who looked like Lourdes sighed. "After what happened I'm not surprised that people think I'm dead. But perhaps you might question Dumbledore about whose decision it was to keep you in the dark."

-***-

"Speak of the devil and he shall appear," Albus said, locking the door behind him. "Excellent, perhaps you can explain to Mister Snape whose idea it was to ship me off and away without a word?" Lourdes said briskly, the streams of smoke pouring out her nostrils giving her the look of a particularly malevolent dragon.

Meanwhile Severus was doing a very good job of maintaining a cool, aloof façade, but the occasional twitch of a muscle in his cheek gave him away, as usual.

"In time. Lourdes, would you please humor me with a spot of tea? I take a bit of lemon as well," Albus replied as he eased into a side chair. She scowled and turned her glare to the teapot, sloshing cold tea into a cup and chucking in a lemon wedge before handing the abomination over.

"What worries me most about our Slytherin students," he began slowly, "is that the cleverest aren't prone to showing off; they keep things under wraps. To discover that one of my poorest students conspired with one of my most poorly-behaved to teach one another a restricted magical art, and that they were largely successful, came as quite a shock. Most especially because the two of you left no trail, no connection at all, not even Horace suspected that the two of you knew each other beyond passing in the hall."

"I don't know how it served you later in life Lourdes, but as for Severus I am well aware of how Occluemency helped him change his path. Severus, it is not my place to tell Lourdes what your decision was, would you please indulge me?"

"I became a Death Eater," Severus said, staring down hard at the filthy carpet. Lourdes' eyes narrowed critically, and she opened her mouth to speak but Albus cut her off. "The why or how is not important now. What you must know is that in the structure of their organization, Severus has a chance to get a leg up, if you will, if he brings something of value to Voldemort's attention."

"Now, that's the part I'm afraid I don't entirely understand." Lourdes frowned as she exhaled another cloud of smoke.

"Voldemort has always been interested in attracting those with unusual abilities, and as an Evocator you certainly fall within that scope. The only other that we knew of was the witch in Bulgaria, Everdika, who died not long ago. Now the insertion of a second operative, preferably as high up as we can manage, is not an easy task. Most of our other Order members would not be able to infiltrate these ranks quickly enough, and they certainly would not be able to do so without arousing suspicion." Albus paused, and took a deep breath before continuing.

"That brings us to you, Lourdes. Taking into consideration that you've received combat training, and of course the Occluemency skills you've obviously kept up on, it seems you are quite qualified to fill this position."

"Listen, I'm not agreeing to anything from here until you stop edging around what happened. I've had eighteen years to figure out why you'd just dump me down there, and positioning me as a sleeper cell was last on the list." Lourdes was up on her feet, crushing porcelain shards under her spindly boot heels and apparently ignorant to the fact that Severus had just sprung out of his chair with his wand trained on her.

"I was young enough, and I suspect you feared that I was stupid enough, to fall in with anyone who promised me a bit of acceptance. I mean we all know Evocators are born dark, so it wouldn't be very hard for this Voldemort to persuade me would it? And when Aberforth turned up on your doorstep with me bleeding out of a curse wound I guess it was your lucky day. Ship me back where I came from so the Dark Lord wouldn't have a chance to work his magic on me?" Lourdes hissed, taking a step or two towards him with a very predatory expression. As she crossed her arms over her chest, the action disturbed the open flaps of her robe and exposed the gaping wound on her chest.

Albus then looked over at Severus again to find him looking distinctly calculating, wand arm at his side again, eyes moving between his face and Lourdes'. "Sit down please. I'm afraid you are only half-right, Lourdes. It did cross my mind that your unusual skill would attract undue attention, but I did not limit myself to merely worrying that you would be lured, but also that you might have been coerced, tortured, or placed under the Imperius curse. It was simply too much to risk then."

"I know now that often the protection I believed to be in the best interest of some of my students has often hurt them more than it helped. Both of you were damaged in some way by my decision, but not nearly as badly as you might have been," he continued heavily, gesturing towards her chest, "it seems that particular wound never healed."

"Stop. Albus, stop." Lourdes looked deeply uncomfortable, and suddenly aware of the exposed wound. "I'm not dead, he's not dead." She jerked her head in Severus' direction. "We can, ah, deal with it later."

-***-

Severus surveyed her through narrowed eyes, still fingering the wand at his side when Lourdes looked at him. It was the same unsettlingly intense gaze he'd received many years before in the library, when she was a fourth year and he in third. It made his stomach lurch uncomfortably, and his knees shook just enough that it was better to sit down and let it all sink in slowly. So this was the token Dumbledore intended to drop in the Dark Lord's lap. Mad Eye Moody and Black must have gotten their wish for a more…trustworthy operative.

He felt an acid burst of anger in his stomach, and gripped the arms of his chair hard enough to turn his knuckles white as he glared over at Dumbledore. Lourdes had nothing to do with this, she'd been missing, gone. She hadn't even written, she'd gotten to go on with her life while he stayed here in stasis waiting to relive the same hell he'd run from.

"If we could get back to the matter at hand," Dumbledore said seriously, leaning back into his chair and folding his hands neatly in his lap. "This task will require a great deal of time and stealth. Lourdes, and I will not force you into this, I daresay I would not want you to agree to it if it was not something you felt you could handle. However, you are in possession of too much knowledge for me to allow you to leave freely at this time, so if you would like to refuse, it is certainly your right. I will be happy to provide accommodations for you until it is safe,"

"So I would be doing, deep cover work?" Lourdes' brows contracted and she leaned in, teacup in one hand and chin balanced on her other fist.

"Yes, Severus would be your introductor, and you would continue working with him. You will report directly to Severus and myself, and no one else. Of course I would like to keep your presence as quiet as possible, because unfortunately it is likely an Order member may be discovered and tortured for information and we would not want you to be linked with anyone other than Severus, which is why I have asked you not to leave your quarters here of course. The ideal goal in this situation is that you remain, or at least appear to remain, dependent on Severus in light of your lack of regular magic," he said cautiously. "Hopefully this will dissuade Voldemort from splitting the two of you up, at least until you have enough first hand experience to begin branching out."

"And you, you're all right with this?" she interrupted, raising an eyebrow and pointing at Severus.

"At this point, Ms Mezarci, it seems I have no choice," Severus replied, doing his best to avoid scowling out right. "If you are the only suitable token that can be found I will have to manage." He placed a delicate stress on that one word and flicked his hand at her dismissively.

"Lourdes is trustworthy of course, she has worked for us before. I wonder if you recall the disappearances of Wednesday Aldridge and Urbain Sweeny?" Dumbledore said. "She is responsible for their…current circumstances." Lourdes flashed him a ghastly smile and drew a finger across her throat, quick to disguise her nasty expression the minute Dumbledore turned to look at her. "She will also be dividing certain research tasks with Mr. Lupin to lighten the load for the other Order members so they may continue with their day jobs."

"Tell him Albus," Lourdes began, but they were interrupted suddenly by frantic pounding on the door- another emergency no doubt. Upon hearing it, Dumbledore's expression became even more exhausted.

"Ms Mezarci and I will manage this sir," Severus said, standing up quickly.

"I trust the two of you can continue to be civil to one another." Dumbledore gave them both stern glances. "If you'll excuse me, there are some things I need to straighten out with Alastor."

He was out the door in a flash just as she leapt to her feet and hissed, "Wait! You haven't told him about…" And with that, Severus was left alone with Lourdes.

"So. You're…taller," she said inconsequentially, smoothing the hair over her face as she perched on the edge of the settee.

Severus remained silent.

"I thought we were managing this?" Lourdes asked primly, straightening up and sitting in a very rigid military fashion.

Manage; what a ridiculous thing for him to be expected to do. He should not have to manage much more than plucking useful information from whispers and sighs in back alleys, or scraping on bended knee before the Dark Lord. She was just another responsibility.

"I will be able to brief you at a later date." Severus felt a dizzy note of panic rising in his chest as his brain went through an involuntary inventory of all of the things he was going to have to deal with. "We will assemble a plan at that point. Right now, I have other matters to attend to."

"In that case let me ask you something," she said quietly, glancing up from her buttons. "Did those pure bloods really treat you like you were one of them?"

The question stuck between his ribs like a knife, bringing years of feelings kept under careful lock and key, back to the surface. It was an odd feeling, like a little lump stuck painfully under his Adam's apple before he swallowed hard to force it down where it belonged.

"I'm afraid I will have to take my leave of you now, Ms Mezarci," he said stiffly, as he sidled towards the door. "I've had my fill of ghosts for one evening."

-***-

Tidbit: While trawling the Internet I decided to see if I could find some meanings for the name Severus. Whaddayaknow? There were quite a few actual saints named Severus. Saint Severus of Avranches is one of several patron of weavers and wool manufacturers. Perhaps that large mill above Spinners End happens to turn sheep fluff into something useful. Maybe the Snapes named their child for the saint of the town's biggest industry. I mean, considering his parents had nice normal names like Eileen and Tobias. Lourdes is much easier to explain. (Someone whose real name is Lourdes wanted to know where I'd come up with it) I have a lovely Catholic Malaysian friend whose name is also Lourdes, and she pronounces it "Lourd-es" (instead of Loor-dz, which I think is the French way for the pilgrimage site). I thought it sounded very pretty, and very wizardish to me when combined with Mezarci (Turkish for sexton/gravedigger). Unfortunately there is no other justification for it than that...especially since it is not a particularly Turkish/Circassian name.

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