The Sugar Quill
Author: Mysterious Muggle (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Absence of Light  Chapter: Chapter One
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Chapter 1

A/N: Can you believe that I forgot to put this stuff in the prologue? Oh well. First and foremost, this whole thing belongs not to me, but to J.K. Rowling, to whom I feel substantial gratitude. I’d also like to thank a few people. Leigh, for her kind words and enthusiastic encouragement, and the ever-fantastic Moey, Beta-Reader extraordinaire.

 

Chapter 1

 

 

            Anna was speechless. Moody glanced back at Severus, not bothering to hide his contempt, and walked over to Anna’s desk.

            “I know it’s a shock,” he said to her quietly, “but you’ll be working with him on a new operation we’re conducting. If it makes you feel any better, he had his reservations about meeting you as well. He seemed to think that you’d hold certain things against him.” Moody turned back towards the guards and motioned for them to go. Without a word they spun and left the room. “Have a seat,” Moody growled at Snape. Severus’ eyes narrowed as he met Moody’s glare, but he remained silent and sat down. Moody himself did not take a seat, but leaned against the wall of the office, affecting an air of casualness, or at least as casual as he ever was.

            Silence hung in the air, the kind of silence that no one can stand, but no one will dare to break. Anna was staring at the man she hadn’t seen for three years. Severus was avoiding her gaze. Moody was standing with his arms crossed, waiting. Finally, Anna spoke, barely louder than a whisper.

            “Where did you go? What happened?”

            Severus looked up, meeting her eye for the first time since he’d entered the room. “Do you really need me to tell you?” he asked softly. She realised she didn’t. He was a Death Eater turned spy. That fact told her all she needed to know. But not all that she wanted to know.

            “Why…?”

            Severus didn’t answer. After a few seconds Moody spoke up. “I’m sure you two would love to catch up, and reminisce about old times,” he said sarcastically, “but we have more important things to talk about. Tell me, are either of you familiar with the organization known as Army of the Crimson Star?”

Anna shook her head, but Severus spoke up. “Yes. They’ve been causing trouble for the Death Eaters for some time now. They’re a paramilitary organization of dark wizards, committed to toppling the Dark Lord.”

“Why would they want to do that?” Anna asked.

“Just because they’re dark wizards doesn’t mean they support him.” Severus was still avoiding eye contact with her. “We don’t know exactly why they’re fighting him, but they’ve been making a lot of trouble for us. For them…I mean. For You-Know-Who.”

Moody snorted. “Better get your loyalties sorted out, Snape. You’re one of us now. Don’t forget that.”

Snape’s icy glare met Moody’s. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

Anna could practically feel the temperature in the room dropping. Moody’s real problem was that he believed that people couldn’t change. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater. She herself wasn’t sure. She didn’t know why Severus had left her, left his old life behind. And she didn’t know why he’d come back now.

She shook those thoughts out of her head. Now was not the time. “Can we get back to the subject at hand please?” she asked, returning to her normal, business-like manner. Moody turned and looked at her.

“Of course. The Army of the Crimson Star has been causing a lot of problems for us as well,” he continued. “To put it simply, they get in the way. We’ve already had several important operations fail because they got to our targets before we did. It isn’t very easy to interrogate someone when all that’s left of them is a blackened corpse that can only be identified through dental records. These people are totally ruthless. Our resources are already stretched to the limit fighting this lot,” he said, jerking his head at Severus. “The last thing we need is some gang of madmen taking matters into their own hands and making things twice as hard for us. So the powers that be have decided that it’s time to put an end to it. We’re going after the Army, and we’re going to stop them. You’ll be in charge of this one, Stewart. You’ll be working with Snape here to get as much information as you can on them. Once you’ve done that, I want you to go after the leader.”

“What do we know about the leader?” Anna asked.

“Not enough, I’m afraid. But all indications are that he’s the brains of the operation. We think that if he’s out of the picture, the rest will disband, or just fight amongst themselves. Once that’s happened, we bring in the survivors, and continue with business as usual.”

“All right then. What resources do I have at my disposal?”

“Whatever you need. This is one of our top priorities. You need more agents, you’ve got them. Files, equipment, whatever. I’ve been authorised to give you anything you need.”

“Well for now, all I need is the files on these people, and some time to go over them.” She glanced at Severus, who had kept quiet throughout the exchange. “And I’ll want to speak to the spy, to get the other side’s perspective on this.” Severus’ head snapped up, and he looked over at her. His expression was unreadable.

Moody glanced at the two of them. “Fine, I’ll have the files sent over to you. When you’re finished with the spy, some people are waiting outside to escort him out. Good luck.”

            Moody turned and walked out the door, shooting Severus one last cold glare. As the door closed, Severus growled in the back of his throat. “How can you stand to work for that man?”

            “He judges you because of what you did,” Anna said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

            Severus turned back to face her. “And you? What judgement do you pass on me?”

            Anna felt her throat constricting slightly. His dark eyes seemed to burn into her own. She remembered when they had been softer, and recalled clearly the many times she had let herself get lost in them, but now they seemed harder than diamond. What had he seen in the years they’d been apart? What had he done? “I don’t pass judgement,” she said quietly. “I don’t even know what happened.”

            He sat down, looking as though an incredible weight rested on his shoulders. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

            “Tell me the truth. Tell me what happened. Why you left me. One day you were there, the next you were gone. I looked for you, but you’d just disappeared. I thought the enemy had taken you.” She looked away. “I was right, but not in the way I thought.”

            “I can’t justify what I did. But I can try and redeem myself. That’s why I’m here, doing what I’m doing.”

            “But why did you turn in the first place?” Anna knew the anguish in her voice was evident. She felt close to tears.

            “I can’t answer that question. I don’t know why I did it. I could blame all manner of things, but I think it was simply that I wanted a way out, a release. It seemed to me that there was nothing worthwhile left in my old life.”

            “Nothing left?” Anna exclaimed. “You had a job, you had your friends, you had…you had me. Didn’t that mean anything to you?”

            “No, it didn’t,” he said bluntly, but with genuine sorrow in his voice. “That was why I left. I don’t try to make excuses. I’m not even going to bother asking for your forgiveness, because there’s no reason you should give it to me. But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

            Anna struggled to find something to say, then gave up. This wasn’t the time. As Moody had said, there were more important things to worry about. She cleared her throat. “Tell me more about this Army of the Crimson Star. What does the name mean?”

            Severus paused for a second, perhaps thrown slightly by the rapid change of subject, but he swallowed and let it go. “I don’t know what it means. I suppose it’s some kind of mythical reference, but you can never tell. Maybe they just thought it sounded good at the time.”

            “What else do you know about the leader?”

            “Very little. I’ve seen him once, but I couldn’t get a particularly good look at him. The scene was somewhat…chaotic.”

“An attack?”

“Yes.”

“And he was there?”

“He was.”

“Did he issue orders during the attack?”

“Once or twice.”

“Did he take part, or stand off and let his men do the work?”

“He took part, but while the others were running around firing off curses everywhere, he just stood there, watching. Keeping the whole thing under control.”

“So he’s the hands on type. Likes to make an impression. Calm and in control…He gives orders, but generally lets his people go about their business.” Anna seemed to forget that Severus was even there. Her discomfort disappeared as she immersed herself in her work, just as it always did. She stood up, and started ruffling through a filing cabinet, though whether looking for anything specific, or just giving her hands something to do while she thought, even she couldn’t say. Severus sat back, looking at her. His face was as closed off and unreadable as ever. “What do you know about the command structure?” she asked, still leafing through bits of parchment. “Is this leader some kind of supreme commander, or does he have lieutenants, seconds-in-command?”

“I don’t know. We haven’t been able to gather very much information on them at all.” Anna paused in her rummaging. She had the indeterminate feeling that there was something Severus wasn’t telling her. She bowed her head. Of course there were things Severus wasn’t telling her. He’d vanished for three whole years, and re-surfaced as a Death Eater turned spy, for crying out loud. She had managed to momentarily distract herself with work, and with questioning him about the case at hand, but she couldn’t keep this back anymore. She turned around and was about to say something to him, to ask him to damn well tell her the truth, when the door opened, and Moody leaned in, a folder containing a few pieces of parchment in his hand.

“Here are the files, Stewart. I told you there wasn’t much.” Anna thanked him and Summoned the folder over onto her desk. Moody shot a glare at Severus, then moved to close the door.

“Wait,” Severus said, standing up. Moody looked back in. Severus turned back to Anna. “I’ll leave you to read those. If you have any more questions, you can ask me when I get back.”

“You know I have questions to ask you, Severus,” Anna said quietly. Severus looked at her, a strange expression on his face. Pity? Sorrow? Fear? She couldn’t tell. No matter how well she’d thought she’d come to know him, he’d always been a closed book. And that hadn’t changed.

“They will have to wait,” he said. She nodded. “Goodbye. It was…good to see you again.” She nodded again, not quite trusting herself to speak. He turned around and walked over to Moody. Moody held out the shroud, which Severus took and placed over his head. The two guards stepped back into the room to accompany him out. He turned back momentarily, his covered features facing Anna, as though he could see through the cloth. Then he turned, bowed his head and walked out.

 

 

Then.

 

Anna heard footsteps through the house, and turned fearfully, her wand out. The back door burst open, and Severus Snape rushed out. He came to a halt, taking in the scene before him. “Who screamed? What happened?” he asked frantically, panting slightly. Anna just pointed, still shaking. She turned and watched as Severus stepped slowly towards the two figures on the ground. One lying motionless, spreadeagled in the grass, the other crouched over it, almost protectively. That figure was shaking as well, though more violently, as though crying. He just knelt there, his back to the two onlookers, shielding the motionless body. Not body, Anna forcibly corrected herself, corpse. There was no point in trying to convince herself otherwise. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen dead bodies. But seeing them like this, without a single mark on them, as though the life in them had just switched off, made her feel ill. And she’d never seen the curse performed before. As she watched the figure, he reached out and closed the corpse’s eyes, then stood up. He hadn’t been crying at all. He wasn’t shaking anymore either.

“What happened?” Severus asked tentatively.

Nick looked over at him. “I killed him,” he said simply. His voice was cold, wracked with some emotion Anna couldn’t make out. Nick turned and looked her in the eye. He lifted his wand and seemed to be making to Disapperate, but then thought better of it. He half-ran past her, through the door and out the front of the house. She heard him break into a sprint as he ran back down the road he had come up only a few hours before.

Her body tensed at the sound of a harshly indrawn breath. She turned back. Severus was standing next to the body, looking down at it. She had never seen him looking quite like this before. His face was paler than normal, and shock registered in his eyes. She moved over beside him, and forced herself to look down at the body’s face.

It was all she could do to not break down in tears right there.

//
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