The Sugar Quill
Author: Gwena Lanish  Story: The Gathering of Good Intentions  Chapter: Chapter One: Of Spies and Speculations
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Of spies and speculations

Chapter 1: Of Spies and Speculations

 

From the point of view of Severus Snape

 

<*><*><*>

 

The post owls’ entrance into the Great Hall barely caused me to pause in eating my breakfast until a square package landed in the middle of my scrambled eggs.  Considering the black paper and odd stains on the parcel, I began to suspect that I would not be finishing my early morning repast.  And the presence of Mortin’s severed head in the package only confirmed my suspicions. 

 

The minute I found out about Voldemort’s rebirth, I had known what I had to do.   I assumed the necessary, if rather inelegant, job of gathering information from our spies among the Death Eaters.  It was annoying that I was unable to perform the spying myself as I had done during the Dark Lord’s first reign, but inevitable because some of my conversations with Quirrell and hence Voldemort had betrayed my true loyalties. I rather resented having to rely on others’ ears. 

 

McGonagall’s gasp of horror brought me back to the present.  I was silently thankful that it was still summer so there were no students in the Hall.

 

“Severus, who is that?” she inquired in a slightly weak tone.

 

“That was Eleanor Mortin.” Dumbledore abruptly ended his conversation with Sprout in response to my breaking of my habitual silence during breakfast.  Upon seeing the parcel on my platter he silently inclined his head in a request for more information.

 

“Mortin was my best and only information source on the goings on in the upper levels of Voldemort’s supporters.  Considering that she is now dead and delivered to me in this unnecessarily dramatic fashion, I believe it is safe to assume that Voldemort questioned her loyalty.”

 

All the other Professors continued to look inquiringly at me after I finished this pronouncement.  Having no further knowledge I wished to impart, I glared at them.  Finally, irritated with the silence, I continued.

 

“Perhaps there are some people I could contact to obtain additional information.”  This suggestion was quickly seized upon by all present.   That is why less than an hour later, I found myself walking to Hogsmeade, with an empty stomach in the bright late August sun, so I could apparate to the darkest corner of Britain.

 

 

<*><*><*><*>

 

Upon arriving in Knockturn Alley, I was again impressed with how an innocent line of storefronts managed to look so sinister.  Perhaps the slightly grisly items displayed in the windows contributed to the effect.  As it was unwise to stand gawking in this area, I began to stride quickly down a narrow street.

 

Reaching the shop of Palson & Palson: Purveyors of Products for Potent Potions was something of a relief.  The smell of dried herbs and display of premium thick-bottom cauldrons made me feel more at home.  I practiced looking comfortably menacing as I examined the not exactly illegal products while waiting to attract the older Mr. Palson’s attention. 

 

Within seconds, my wait was ended as a hand grabbed my arm.

 

“Oh Professor, yes, Professor, welcome to my humble shop, yes, welcome. I hope you are finding everything you want – everything indeed – I am at your service, as always, Professor – do you need any help, yes, any help at all?”

 

I was instantly annoyed with the man’s rush of irrelevant words.  I only deigned to reply after taking a long moment to allow him to squirm and hastily remove his hand from my person.  I hate it when people touch me.

 

“I am looking to place an extensive order,” I lied,  “which I have no intention of discussing in public.  Perhaps we should conduct further business in your office.”

 

“My office. Wonderful.  I have a choice selection of products exclusively displayed to my more discerning customers.”  Palson chattered on as he again grabbed my arm and ushered me into a small cluttered windowless room in the back of his store. 

 

The minute the door closed the torrent of words dribbled out as he sat himself behind a rickety desk and motioned me to even more unstable-looking chair in the corner.  When he reached a complete silence I asked, “Have you had any recent information from Eleanor Mortin?”

 

He looked momentarily troubled before replying. “I saw her yesterday – yes, yesterday.  She was awfully excited … uncharacteristically excited … heard something very important.  About Azkaban … and dementors.  Or … maybe it was something else entirely.  Wouldn’t tell me what though – no, wouldn’t tell me.  Said there was no time and she had to go to an important meeting.  Yep – important.  Said our Lord would tell her more and she didn’t want to say anything until she knew enough to make sense of it … yes … make sense.  Said I was to send you an owl to tell you to meet her this evening at the Hogs Head. But I guess now I don’t have to because you are here -- yes -- here.”

 

Manfully fighting back the urge to strangle the stupid little man I inquired, “Have you heard anything more from or about her?”

 

“No, I haven’t heard.  Not anything.  I wasn’t called to the meeting last night.  I’m not important enough.  No not important.  But I think Kip went.  Aye, he went.”

 

Well at least now I had a lead for more information, which was honestly all I could logically hope for.  Palson was really only half a Death Eater.  Before his inexplicable change of heart, he had supplied the Dark Lord with dark potions and Veritiserum.   Although he bore the mark as I did, he had never participated in the more ‘hands on’ portions of Death Eater activities.  As he is regarded as something of an idiot, no Death Eater ever tells him more than strictly necessary.  While this severely limits his usefulness as a spy, it also means that no one really pays any attention to his actions.  It is a generally accepted pattern that only intelligent followers turn traitor.

 

 “If that is all of your limited knowledge, I will require from you several hairs and a bottle of Polyjuice starter.”  This communication sparked a deluge of barely comprehensible protest, warnings, and accusations, but after a rather trying twenty minutes he had agreed to provide the requested items.  He promised to lock himself in his office until my return or until four hours had elapsed.  Whichever was sooner.  This actually meant I had about two hours to find Kip and bribe him to tell me about the meeting last night.

 

<*><*><*>

 

It somehow felt more comfortable to walk around Knockturn alley in Palson’s body. It felt as if he belonged here. I remember feeling this way in my own body as a young man.  However, after an hour of wandering around searching for any sign of Kip, the novelty had long since worn off. 

 

Kip is best thought of as a part of Knockturn Alley.  As he acknowledges neither mother nor father, it is almost possible to believe him bred from the very cobbles. As a young child he begged until he learned to pick pockets, which profession he diligently practiced until he extended his skills to picking locks and petty thievery.  Although he owns a wand and occasionally practices magic when he cannot avoid it, Kip generally thinks of magic as inelegant and amateurish in his line of work.  After all, magic folk prepare for magical attacks and often forget to ward against their muggle equivalents. 

 

In all honesty, when I think of his reasons for joining Voldemort I can most completely state them as ‘why not?’.  Stealing things from the Ministry and planting misleading or incriminating evidence had been fun and exciting work.  And Voldemort paid him well for his services.  His reasons for acting as a spy were probably similarly pragmatic.   As long as he was well paid, he was more than willing to sit the fence and benefit from either victory. 

 

I had almost decided to give up and go back when, turning abruptly, I caught a glimpse behind me of rather ordinary sandy brown hair and muddy brown eyes disappearing into the crowded street.  The scamp had probably been following me the whole time.  Oh well, two can play that game.

 

I started off in the direction I had last seen Kip and, catching sight of him, began followed the rapidly fading figure.  I finally caught up with him in a dark alleyway three blocks later.

 

“Stop following me Snape.  I have nothing to say to you.”  He began looking skittishly around to catch any witnesses.  I was only slightly surprised he knew immediately that it was I.  Kip is nothing if not a keen observer.  A very admirable trait, when he is not employing it to help Voldemort.

 

“I would be interested in purchasing information on the meeting last night,” I began.

 

“Well that’s inconvenient for you, because I’m not interested in selling.”

 

“Perhaps you could tell me how and why Mortin was killed?”

 

“I could, but, you see the how and why Mortin died is exactly why I am not selling.  You see our dear Elly only made one stupid mistake.  She was listening around and heard something that was actually rather interesting.  It could have helped you quite a bit really.  However, the silly fool was either fanatically loyal to you Dumbledore or bloody terrified because she became slightly overexcited.  She attempted to slip away earlier than the earliest opportunity and that was all it took.”  Kip seemed to find it amusing to relate the hapless Mortin’s fate.  He has even less tolerance for carelessness and stupidity than I do.

 

“You and I both know, Snape, Voldemort is not one to randomly torture his own followers, but a hint of treason is all he needs.  She broke distressingly quickly.”  His expression twisted into a parody of a mournful cast, “I thought she was made of sterner stuff.  Such a terrible pity I was wrong.  Not all is lost though, because I learned something.  Having loyalty to anything beyond yourself is not conducive to long and healthy life.  I have come to the conclusion that until you can better guarantee my safety it is not in my best interest to sell you anything.”

 

I knew from bitter experience that it is pointless to argue with Kip when he decides something is not in his ‘best interests’.  Saying it is too much trouble or too dangerous are prompts for you to offer more money, but Kip does nothing that he does not consider to benefit himself.

 

“What precautions do you require in order to provide information?”

 

“I have not entirely made up my mind.  Come back when you have an offer that doesn’t oblige me to make my reports to anyone in particular or send them in writing.  In addition, I expect a substantial raise.”  

 

Wonderful, I thought, he has decided to set up unattainable conditions so he doesn’t have to point blank refuse.

 

“And how exactly do you propose we do that?”

 

An ironic smirk crossed his face as he answered.  “That is not exactly my problem, now is it.”

 

As I walked back to the potions shop, I tried to compose my report to Dumbledore in my head.  Well sir, one of my spies is an idiot, one refuses to provide any information, and the other has inconveniently lost her head.  What a spymaster I am!  A full days work and all I have to show for it is that the information Mortin died for might have something to do with Azkaban or dementors.  If it wasn’t so pathetic, it might actually be humorous.

//
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