The Sugar Quill
Author: Mysterious Muggle (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Absence of Light  Chapter: Chapter Two
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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

 

 

Now.

 

The guards led Severus down a short corridor, and into a small room, his head still covered with the shroud. One of them touched his wand to Severus’ shoulder and muttered a few words. Severus felt the tingling sensation of a forced Disapparition. The feeling subsided and he felt a cold wind bite into him. One of the guards removed the shroud from his head, shot him a look of contempt, and both of them Disapparated. Severus looked around. The arrivals and departures always took place from different locations, scattered all over the country. They still didn’t trust him, even after all the information he had passed to them. Dumbledore was the only one who trusted him. The only one. He’d half hoped that Anna would trust him as well, but it was plain to see that she didn’t know what to think. He didn’t blame her.

He was in a dark alleyway, lit by a single lamp at the opposite end. Judging by the sounds and smells coming from the street outside, it was somewhere in Muggle London. Severus checked his clothes, transfigured a few quick adjustments and, satisfied that he could blend in, stepped out into the street and began to walk. He put his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the icy wind that was blowing down the street. Standard procedure was to travel some distance from the Apparition point before returning home. Apparition was difficult to track, but it was still possible, even with the security measures the Ministry had in place. And tried not to think about what would happen if he was discovered.

He shivered, but not from the wind. He scowled to himself, banishing the intruding thoughts from his mind. Thoughts of pain, torture, and eventual death. This was what his life had become. Severus tried to think of the last time he’d smiled. Really, genuinely smiled. The query was greeted by the image of Anna Stewart.

Severus stopped, and closed his eyes. He leant back against the wall beside him, and allowed himself to slide to the ground. When Moody had told him he’d be working with Anna on this operation, his throat had gone dry. He’d hoped never to see her again. Not for his sake, but for hers. He had known how hard she must have taken his sudden departure. He knew that it would be much easier for her to never see his face again. When Moody had told him why Anna was being used in this op, he had refused to have any part of it. ‘Don’t put her through that!’  he had said. ‘You’re just using her to get at him! I won’t do it. I won’t have a part of it.’ But his outright refusal had been met with warnings and threats. ‘I don’t like it any more than you do, Snape.’ Moody had snapped at him. ‘But do you think I have a choice? My superiors want this dealt with, and everything we know about the Army’s leader says that putting her into the firing line is the quickest and easiest way to get it done.’  Severus had slammed his fists down on the desk. ‘You want me to lie to her? Tell her I don’t know who he is? Drag her in to it all, with no knowledge of what she’s facing?’  he had yelled. ‘Do you have any idea how it will affect her, when she finds out?’ he had asked more quietly. Moody had scowled at him. ‘Give her all the information she wants, except for the name. If she knows who he really is, she’ll back out, or worse, run off on some crusade. We can’t risk that. She won’t be going in blind, she just won’t have all the information.’  This had enraged Severus. ‘And what about me?’ he’d asked angrily. ‘Surely your files tell you about my personal history with this…individual.’ Moody had nodded. ‘They do. But I think we can trust you to do the right thing here.’ Severus had shaken his head. ‘I won’t do it. I won’t do this to her.’ But Moody had disagreed. ‘You will do it Snape. It’s not a request, it’s an order. Even Dumbledore agrees it’s the only thing to do. We can’t afford to have these people getting in the way.’

Severus hadn’t been able to fight it. One of the conditions of his surrender to Ministry forces was that in his duties as a spy, he was to obey all orders, no matter what, or would again be branded an enemy of the state. He couldn’t take that any more.

He opened his eyes and leaned back, as if searching the sky for an answer. None was forthcoming. Dark clouds hung over the city, and the distant rumble of thunder could occasionally be heard over the sounds of traffic. He reached a decision, and stood up again. They could make him part of this game if they wanted, but he didn’t have to play by their rules.

As the rain started to come down, he glanced furtively about, and Disapparated.

 

 

*     *     *

 

Nick slid his wand into the small, thin pocket sewn for it inside his robes. It was there for easy concealment, and to ensure a quick draw. A quick draw was essential in the life he had come to lead. The difference between life and death was often a measure of time so small as to be less than the blink of an eye. Life was lived on a razor’s edge, and Nick was determined not to slip off. Not until he had completed what he had set out to do, so long ago. He paced slowly across the one room flat he lived in, on the second floor of a run-down, abandoned building. No one knew he was there, not even those who answered to him. The wooden floor did not creak, as it bore charms to prevent it. The windows were also enchanted, made to show an empty room from the outside, regardless of what was truly through them. Spells lined the hall outside, hexes and curses designed to send an unwary intruder to an early grave. He stopped in front of a small bookshelf, which held a few books and one metal box. He reached for the box, wondering absently when was the last time he had been able to live without surrounding himself with such booby traps.

A knock at the door snapped him out of his musing. His wand slid back out with frightening speed, propelled by reflexes honed by four years of only surviving by shooting first. It came to rest pointing at the door from which the knock had come, its end unwavering. No one should have been in the building. That meant that something was not right. No one should have known that anyone was in this room to hear a knock, not even the people who worked for him. That meant that his secret was not as safe as it should have been.

No one should have been able to get past the traps, at least not without some challenge, and certain…skills. That meant he was dealing with a Dark Wizard.

None of the spells had gone off. There had been no warning of anyone coming down the hall. That meant he was dealing with a very good Dark Wizard. But Death Eaters usually didn’t knock before entering a room. He didn’t have any idea what that meant.

 “Come in,” he said warily.

The door responded to his command, the knob turning, and the door swinging inward under its own power. Standing in the hallway outside was a tall, thin man with a pale face, a long, hooked nose, and long, greasy, black hair. He held his wand out before him, and dropped it on the floor, before raising his hands above his head. Nick strove to hide the disbelief he felt at seeing this man, here, now.

Severus Snape held Nick’s gaze for some time, neither of them blinking. Finally, Nick pointed his own wand at Snape’s, which lay on the floor between them. “Accio,” he muttered, and the wand flew into his outstretched hand. He placed it in one of his pockets, and pointed his own wand back at the intruder.

“Do you want to know how I got past your protective spells?” Snape asked.

“No. I know exactly how you got past them. You obviously learnt some very useful skills from The Dark Lord, Severus.” Nick’s voice was calm and level and he was satisfied that it radiated no hint of the concern he felt at Snape’s unexpected presence.

“I’m not here for him,” Severus said.

“Really. So you’re here for whom? The Ministry? Dumbledore? Yes, Severus,” Nick said conversationally, “don’t look so surprised. I know that you work for them now. They aren’t the only ones with spies.”

“You’re better equipped and informed than we thought.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Nick reminded him quietly.

“I’m not here for the Dark Lord, and I’m not here for Dumbledore. I’m here for myself.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

“I remembered your old hideout,” Severus told him. “You used to come here when we were younger. When you wanted to be on your own. It didn’t have spells like this on it when I was last here, though.”

“I have also learned some new skills in the intervening years.”

“So I see.”

They looked at each other in silence, each seeming as though he was sizing the other up. Nick spoke up again. “So if you are here for yourself, Severus, what is it that you want?” he said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“The Ministry’s after you. They won’t stand for your brand of vigilante justice any more.”

“The Army of the Crimson Star is more than just a bunch of vigilantes, Severus.”

“Are they? I’ve read the Ministry’s files, and I’ve seen you in action for myself. You’ve only got, what, a dozen men? And quite frankly, most of them are psychopaths.”

“Yes, I suppose that is a fair appraisal,” Nick agreed.

“Then why do you fight with them?”

They fight with me, Severus. For a variety of reasons. One or two fancy themselves as the next Dark Lord. Others are simply in it for the large sums of money I am paying them. Most just like the feeling of power, or are practically addicted to that little shiver the Killing Curse sends down your arm. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but they generally do as they’re told. If they don’t, the consequences usually ensure that no further transgressions will take place. I would have liked loyal troops, but when you’re fighting the way we are, you can’t be picky, can you?”

“Then why are you fighting him this way?”

“Because it’s the only way,” Nick said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “In this case, fire can only be fought with fire. Even your own Head of Magical Law Enforcement agrees. The Aurors have been given powers to kill rather than capture. To use Unforgivable Curses in the apprehension and questioning of suspects. For all their good intentions, Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix will never be able to stop him. Only his own brand of magic will ever be able to destroy him.”

“You’ve obviously been practicing that speech.”

“Can you seriously tell me you don’t agree with me? You’ve seen what he’s capable of, Severus. Can you see Dumbledore being able to stop him?”

“Look,” Snape said, scowling, “I’m not here to discuss this. As I said, I’m here to warn you. The Ministry is mobilising forces against you, and won’t stop until your ‘army’ is destroyed.”

“And why are you warning me of this?”

“Let’s just say that I owe it to you.”

“Perhaps. Is that all?”

“No. The Auror in charge of the case…it’s…dammit, Nick, it’s Anna.”

Nick knew instinctively that his face had gone pale. Anna Stewart…he hadn’t seen her in four years…not since-NO! He closed his eyes against a sudden memory of a flash of green light, and an unmasked face…

He turned around slowly and placed his hands against the back wall, leaning onto them. He knew what had happened after he had left. He knew about Anna and Severus, not that it mattered anymore. Snape had vanished on her too. “It’s not a coincidence, is it?” he asked quietly.

“No. They’re using her. You’re a dangerous man when cornered, Nick. They know that. They think that if she’s there, in the firing line, she’ll affect you, make you hold back long enough for them to get you. From what I’m seeing now, they seem to be right.”

“What do you mean?” Nick asked, though he knew damn well what Snape meant.

“Your profile says that it is very likely that due to your personal history with her, you won’t be able to cut her down. You’ll hesitate, and they’ll have you. There are already plans in motion to bring this about.”

“And why are you telling me this?” Nick asked, straitening and turning around. “Isn’t it enough to warn me they’re after me? You have to tell me that she’ll be the one holding the wand?”

“I’m not doing this for you,” Snape said, stepping closer. “I’m doing it for her, all right? If she finds out that you’ve become…this, then I don’t know how it will affect her. She always worried about you, and tried to protect you from yourself, you know that as well as I do. She’ll think she’s failed. And after everything else, I don’t know what that failure will do to her.”

“Do you still love her?” Nick asked, the faintest hint of anger reaching his voice.

“Do you?”

They stood there, each trying to outstare the other. Neither man answered. They both already knew.

Nick turned around and picked the box up from the shelf. “If she was trying to protect me from myself, she was wasting her time,” he said matter-of-factly. He tucked the box into a pocket, and turned back to face Severus. “Given the way things were going even back then, I’d say the outcome was a foregone conclusion. I was always going to get myself in the end.” He let out a dark chuckle as he walked past Severus and out the still open door. “I’m sure you can show yourself out Severus. You didn’t have any trouble getting in.” He pulled Severus’ wand out of his pocket, handed it to him and started off down the corridor.

“Why did I even bother coming here to warn you?”

“Because you wanted to try and help, Severus,” Nick replied, looking back over his shoulder. “But you’ve missed the point. If you’d come to me four years ago, when I began this, I might have listened to you when you told me that this was the wrong path. But it’s too late for that. Right or wrong, this is the path I’m on, and I’m going to see it out to the end, whatever that is.” He turned his back and continued walking, trying to ignore the voices awaking in his mind. Anna…he hadn’t seen her in four years. But no. He wouldn’t let her stop him. What he was doing was too important to let personal desires enter into it. Thankfully, it would be over before too long, one way or another.

 

 

 

5 years earlier

 

Jeff Kennedy was a tall, well-built boy, providing an odd contrast to Nick Donovan, who was head and shoulders shorter and rather thin. But they stood next to each other, there in the familiar surrounds of the Great Hall, listening as the names were read out. They went up in turn to receive their certificates with the rest of the seventh years. And that was it, Nick thought as he came back down. The end. It didn’t feel like seven years had past. A hectic, difficult, sometimes very painful seven years that he still wouldn’t have missed for the world. To be honest, he would have turned back time and done them again if he could have. Not just to do some things differently, but so that other things wouldn’t have to change now. He caught sight of Anna, standing with the other Ravenclaws, and she smiled at him. He blew a kiss back in her direction, which she pretended to catch and pocket. He laughed, and went to sit down. The Great Hall was filled with parents and relatives, who had come to see the newest generation of qualified witches and wizards. He sat down, and watched as the rest of his house was handed their certificates and had their turns of shaking hands with the Headmaster. His house, he mused. It had never felt like home. Right from the start, he had failed spectacularly to fit in. It just wasn’t him. He wondered how it would have been if he’d been sorted somewhere else. Not that it mattered. It wasn’t like he could go back and do it again. He’d made it through more or less intact, so that was something. He watched Jeff go up to the stage set up where the head table had been, get his piece of parchment and shake hands with Professor Dumbledore. He came back down looking buoyant, and walked over to the empty seat next to Nick.

“Well, I’ve got to say,” he said cheerfully, “I was expecting something more elaborate.”

“Yes, it’s not much to show for seven years of back-breaking toil, is it?”

“Well, McGonagall’d tell us that it’s not the parchment that counts. It’s the learning that it signifies.”

“Yes, that does sound like something she’d say.”

“Well I still want something fancy to put up on my wall.”

“Then get out your crayons and fancy it up, if it means that much to you.”

“I might well do that, Nick.”

They sat through the other houses’ presentations, another set of speeches, almost indistinguishable from the ones at the start, and then that was it. They stood up, and walked with the rest of the year out through the doors into the entrance hall. “I don’t know about you, my friend,” Jeff said, “but I could use some sun. I’m going outside. Coming?”

“Shouldn’t we put these away first?” Nick asked, waving the certificate.

“Nah, how are we going to show them off if we don’t have them with us? And your grades are even better than mine. Go impress some girls. Oh, not that you need to,” he remarked, following Nick’s gaze to a crowd of Ravenclaw girls at the other side of the hall. Anna’s long black hair shone in the sunlight coming in from outside.

“I’ve said it before, Nick, she’s a good catch. I’m still impressed.”

Nick nodded silently. Even after almost a year, it still seemed too good to be true. He’d never know what she saw in him. Nick followed Jeff down the stairs and out into the grounds, carefully folding the parchment and slipping it inside his robes.

“Come on, there’s something I want to show you,” Nick said, and he started walking down towards the lake. Jeff followed him. They walked in silence for a while, until Nick spoke up again.

“I want to thank you.”

“You already have.”

“I want to do it again. I wouldn’t have made it here without you. For seven years, you’ve been there for me, listening to my troubles, sticking up for me and helping me out. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, and honestly, after the way things have been lately, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Nick, what are friends for?”

“I’ve always had problems with depression and stuff, but after Mum died, well, it all got so much worse. This year has been so hard for me, what with everything that’s happened. I’m willing to bet that I wouldn’t be alive now if you weren’t there.”

“Nick, don’t talk about that stuff. We’re supposed to be enjoying our last day here.”

“I’m almost finished. I want to give you something.” He reached into his pocket, and drew out a gold ring, the outside of which was adorned with shimmering runic letters.

“Nick, you don’t have to give me anything.”

“Yes, I do Jeff. You’ve done so much more for me than I’ve ever done for you. I want you to have this.”

“What is it?” Jeff asked, taking the ring.

“It stores spells. Cast a spell on it and you can then release it later at any time, no wand required.”

“Really? Wow. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.”

“There were only about fifty of them ever made. They’re worth a lot of money these days. That one belonged to my mother.”

“Nick…”

“I know what you’re going to say. I’m not going to take it back. You’ve earned it, and I know you’ll like it. You always get a kick out of stuff like this.”

“If you say so, Nick. How does it work?”

“Put it on and cast a spell on it.”

“Any spell?”

“There are limits to what it can handle, but yes, just about any spell from a wand should work.”

Jeff examined the ring for a second, and then slipped it onto his finger. He pulled his wand out of his robes and held his hand out in front of him. He pointed the wand at the finger with the ring on it, and said “Reducto.” A flash of red light emanated from the tip of the wand and hit the ring. It glowed brightly for a second, and then the light seemed to be sucked down into the metal.

“Cool.” said Jeff. “What do I do now?”

“You should be able to sort of…feel the spell in there.”

“Yeah, it tingles.”

“Right, well you should be able to release it at will. You should know instinctively how to do so.”

“Yeah…yeah, I do.” Jeff curled his hand into a fist, and pointed the ring at the dark water of the lake beside them. A second later, a flash of red light shot out of the ring and hit the surface, spraying a huge jet of water and steam into the air. “Wow, that’s brilliant! Thanks Nick!”

“Hey, no problem. I knew you’d like it. It’s thanks for everything.”

“You don’t need to give me this to thank me, you know.”

“I know. But I want to.”

They stood quietly for a minute, until Jeff spoke up. “Well, even though you don’t need to show off to the ladies, I have a pressing desire to do so. Come on.”

Nick stood for a second longer, lost in thought, as the past seven years, and the past one in particular flashed through his mind. Then he turned and followed his friend back up towards the school.

 

//
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