I had managed to stoke up a lazy fire in the tiny grate and, coupled with the warm robe I had wrapped around myself, I was able to keep myself warm as I sat on the worn sofa with the newspapers piled beside me. There must have been twenty at least, and the earliest one dated from June of this year. The headlines, as they always were in The Daily Prophet, were of a sensational nature and not to be taken at face value. But then, could anything be taken at face value? I supposed not. The first one I came across stated hysterically that ‘Monster Apprehended in Violent Showdown at Diagon Alley’ and I sighed with annoyance.
I skimmed over the headlines — they were most definitely unimportant and misleading — and tried to pick from the vast sea of words what was most noteworthy. It would appear that Professor Snape had spent a good six months on the run before finally being apprehended because of an act of betrayal from within the ranks of the Death Eaters. I gathered from the editorial that this was considered good fortune for the Ministry, as, up until then, he had successfully evaded any attempts to capture him. They had held him at the Ministry for a month before convening the Wizengamot to deal with him. I do not know why there was such a delay, for the newspaper seemed fairly convinced they had enough evidence, but delay there was.
They eventually passed a unanimous verdict of guilty and sentenced him to life in Azkaban. There had been some talk of execution, but the taste for such things had long gone since the Dementors had left and it was decided against reviving this form of punishment, even for a case that seemed so appalling. It had even been said at the trial, by none other than Harry Potter himself, that Albus Dumbledore would not have wished for this punishment. And so Severus Snape came to us, after waiting for another month before arriving here. He was kept, during this time, at a smaller prison on the outskirts of Leicester, again, for no apparent reason. Perhaps they wanted to wear him down a little before he arrived in the hope that Azkaban would kill him sooner.
There were a few photographs that the Prophet had managed to obtain prior to his crime, and one in particular interested me. It was a wedding photograph in which Professor Snape stood beside a smiling woman in front of a doorway that was decorated with flowers. The caption indicated that this was his wife, Maeve Snape, nee O’Malley, and that they had eventually gone on the run together after she had left her teaching position at Hogwarts. So far there had been no indication in any of the newspapers to explain what had happened to her. From the picture I could see why he found my red hair so offensive; his wife had hair of pure fire. I must have been a constant, washed-out reminder of what he had lost. She was very beautiful and even Professor Snape looked quite distinguished in the photograph, as he forced a smile for the camera. Her smile was wide and genuine, but I wondered if she knew about the spider that had alighted on her shoulder.
There was a lot of back story in the newspapers, much deliberation on his motives for killing Professor Dumbledore and the repercussions. Some mention was made of an Unbreakable Vow, but the woman who had tried to bring this to the attention of the Wizengamot seemed to have been hushed by the Ministry. Narcissa Malfoy was the wife of the prisoner I so disliked and I wondered what the connection between her and Professor Snape had been. But even so, he should not have made the Unbreakable Vow had he not intended on fulfilling it. Had the evidence been submitted, it would have been discounted on that basis.
I moved on to the reports of his arrival here and the cheery headlines of the day. The general opinion was that such a dangerous and cruel criminal had finally been sent to the best place for him, a place where he could no longer threaten anyone. But nowhere in the many pages of newsprint was there a convincing explanation as to why he had killed a man who had believed in him when no one else would. It just didn’t make sense.
The second to last paper seemed to contain nothing of relevance to my quest for information and I made my way to the middle pages without finding anything of merit. As I was about to turn another fruitless page a small and familiar face caught my eye. Buried below a story about inferior wand smuggling was a picture of his wife. The small article mentioned that a body had been found and it was believed to be that of Maeve Snape, the wife of notorious murderer Severus Snape. It had been sent to St Mungo’s for identification purposes and the body would be released for burial as soon as a brief investigation had been conducted.
I folded the paper back up and placed it on top of the others. So that was the reason for his despair. His wife was dead. No doubt someone would have taken great delight in informing him of this fact. I was interrupted by a knock at the door and quickly swept up the newspapers and hid them beneath a cushion. Jane, one of the young prisoners who had been trusted with tasks, stood there with a very apologetic look on her face.
“Sorry to disturb you, mam, but Mr Thorp has taken sick on his watch and corridor C is unguarded. They are trying to get someone else to cover it but it looks like they mayn’t. Could you come, Miss?” Her face was grimy in the dull light and there were several large scratches on her face that indicated she had been fighting with one of the other girls.
“Give me a moment, Jane. Who has the keys?” I stepped back inside to pull down my work robes.
“Malcolm does, mam. He’s a bit fidgety, though. Dursen’t like all them men being under his control.” She looked a little fidgety herself as she moved nervously from one foot to the other.
“Well, I knew we were short-staffed, but putting the caretaker in charge of a corridor seems a desperate thing to do,” I said, as I pulled my door closed behind me.
“There’s a sickness going through all the corridors, mam. Something like the ‘fluenza but worse. There’s a lot come down with it. You’d best watch yourself too. Seems it might have been brought in by a prisoner.”
I allowed myself a few moments of smug satisfaction at the prospect that the poor health-monitoring at the fortress had finally caused a widespread sickness. It was not a good position to be in, but it might make them more aware of the disadvantages of allowing prisoners’ illnesses to rage unchecked. Following her back to my familiar workstation I found Malcolm looking extremely worried indeed.
“Thank you, Mr Postlethwaite, I’ll take those now.” I relieved him of his key-shaped burden and he touched a work-bitten hand to his flat cap.
“Thank you, Miss. Sure, it’s a bad state of affairs when a poor old man ‘as to take care of them uns.” He twitched his head back down the locked corridor and I nodded.
“I’m sorry,” I said, apologising on behalf of the people who had allowed this state of affairs to flourish. “You can go back to your own duties now. I’ll stay as long as need be.”
My words were fine but my body complained loudly at being asked to stay up well past my bedtime. Slipping the keys into the lock, I entered the corridor and walked swiftly up and down, checking the prisoners. There were rumblings of discontent and I knew they had sensed a shortage of manpower. Why else would I be back so soon after my shift had finished?
Malfoy laughed openly as he heard the peephole slide back. I closed it sharply and moved on, thoughts of his wife and her connection to Professor Snape still in my mind. He was almost due his monthly visit and I wondered if it would be possible for me to intercept her for a short while before she went to see her husband. But then why should she tell me about the Unbreakable Vow? Why didn’t I just ask Professor Snape?
He was sitting at his table, suffering the last half-hour of candlelight before they would be put out. As I slipped into his cell he looked up at me and I was rewarded with a look of surprise.
“Have you not inflicted yourself upon your prisoners once already today?” he asked, running his slender fingers along the grain of the wood in an irritated fashion.
“Thorp has taken ill,” I informed him.
“Thorp? The thug that knows how to use his wand a little too readily?”
“And his fists,” I muttered, more to myself than to him.
“Bickering in the ranks,” he said quietly. “How charming.”
“I don’t have to agree with all my colleagues do and think,” I said calmly, relieved to find the book not in evidence. “Most of them don’t have an original thought in their heads, and when they do it usually involves something unpalatable.
“If they were capable of original thought they would not be doing this job,” he remarked, casting me a sly sideways look to see if I would rise to the insult.
I had barely registered that we were having a conversation of sorts when he decided it was time to bring it to an end.
“Well, this is all very pleasant, but you can leave me now. As you can see, I am healthy and have no need of your attention. I have other things to occupy my mind.”
“Arithmancy. Although I have to say, these are not the hardest puzzles I have encountered.” He patted his pocket derisively.
“Really?” I asked. “I couldn’t do them at all.”
“That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Good night.” He reverted to studying the desk, waiting for me to depart his cell before resuming his puzzling.
“I have a question,” I said slowly, wondering if asking him would provoke some sort of rage from his normally subdued soul.
“Do you?” he smirked. “Then kindly ask it of someone else.”
“It relates to your trial.”
He was silent and apart from a slight whitening of his knuckles you would not think I had said anything. I could see the line of his jaw set firm and I knew that I really shouldn’t pursue this.
“And to Narcissa Malfoy,” I finished.
“Get out,” he hissed. “Before I do something regrettable.”
“You aren’t in a position to do anything regrettable.”
He scowled at me at this reminder of his impotence and I pressed him further.
“And the Unbreakable Vow.”
He stood up, his height putting me at an instant disadvantage. I think he possibly expected me to dash from the cell quivering, but I held my ground and waited for the wave of anger to wash away.
“I said get out. Do not come in here asking questions that you could find the answer to elsewhere.” His face was the colour of the snow that caked the fortress and his black eyes contrasted bleakly with it.
“I cannot find the answer to this anywhere. It would seem that you and Narcissa Malfoy are the only people that know the truth of the matter. And no one seems to be listening to Mrs Malfoy.”
“You are wrong.” His voice was gruff but I could feel his ire was not quite so raw as it had been a few seconds ago. “There is someone else who knows about the Unbreakable Vow. The person that sealed it.”
“And who might that be?”
“You think I shall tell you that?” he said, with a bitter laugh. “Don’t try and rescue me from a fate I richly deserve. I killed a man.” His head was up and defiant, a face that was looking for castigation. “Your meddling cannot change that.”
“Throughout all the newspaper reports there was never a real reason given for you killing Dumbledore.” He winced as I named the reason for his incarceration. “And I believe there must be one. I think the Unbreakable Vow is the key.”
“How very clever of you.”
“And I don’t believe you did it in cold blood.”
“Well, aren’t you the little saint? I thank you for your book, but if it means I have to suffer this level of kindness then I would rather you take it back.” He moved to remove it from his robes but I shook my head.
“Keep it,” I said. “I will make my investigations on my own. And I am sorry about your wife. I did not know.”
“GET OUT!” His voice reached a hysterical note I did not think he could have possessed. “NEVER MENTION HER TO ME AGAIN!” He came at me, eyes wild with grief and I backed towards the wall involuntarily, not thinking to lay a hand on my wand.
The door rattled and was flung open by Eamon, who had his wand drawn. He pointed it calmly at Professor Snape and began to speak a curse.
“No, Eamon!” I reached for his wand arm and brought it down. He threw me off and raised his wand once more. “Crucio!” he cried, and instantly Professor Snape dropped like a stone, writhing around in twists of agony.
“I said no, Eamon! This was not his fault. I provoked him.”
Eamon gave me a puzzled look. “He was about to attack you. What would you have me do?”
“He would not have attacked me,” I sighed, wanting to drop to the suffering wizard’s side and bring him some comfort from the sting of the curse that I had inadvertently brought down on him. I could not do it while Eamon still occupied the cell; it was bad enough I was defending a prisoner.
“Well, it looked to me like he was already doing so,” Eamon snapped. “You want to watch yourself, standing up for one of them. It’ll get you in to trouble. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the clean blankets and the odd fruit pit.”
“Please, Eamon,” I said. “This is between me and him.” I needed to make something up and quickly. “He… He did something for my family before they were… Well… You know.”
Eamon’s eyes softened a little. He was not a bad man, not as bad as some of them anyway and he knew all about the tragedy that had befallen my parents and brother.
“He saved them from other Death Eaters once, deflected an attack. I know he’s done something terrible but I felt I needed to repay him for that in some small way. You do understand, don’t you?”
He faltered now, looking down at the balled pain that Professor Snape had become. “It’s still not right and if they catch you you’ll be packed off the island… And he’ll be in worse trouble.”
“But you won’t tell anyone, will you?” I touched his shoulder lightly, a small gesture that I hoped would make him feel as if I had taken him in as a much needed confidante.
“It’s not for me to say anything, not if he did help out your parents. Just watch it, especially with Simeon. He won’t have noticed that blanket, but anything bigger and he might.”
“Thank you,” I said earnestly. “It means an awful lot to me.”
“Come on then,” he said. “Out you go. I’ve come to relieve you so you can get some kip. And don’t even think about it,” he added, as I turned back to Professor Snape. “You want to play at being a ministering angel, you do it when I’m not around.”
I cast the stricken professor one last regretful look before slipping from the cell and allowing Eamon to slam it shut. I bade him goodnight and stopped by the Keeper of the Keys’ office on my way back to my room to drop the set of keys I held in. If the evening had taught me one thing it was to not mention Professor Snape’s wife in front of him. The wound was obviously still too deep to be inspected in any way. I felt sorry for the man and for his beautiful, dead wife, their lives broken at their feet by something I didn’t feel he had had the power to control. As I left the key room, I noticed that the new round of visitors had been posted. Narcissa Malfoy was due in in two days’ time and I intended to be there when she arrived. What really made my eyebrows lift, however, was the presence of Professor Snape’s name up there and next to it a visitor’s name. The name Remus Lupin was familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure why. But if he were due to visit Professor Snape then I would make it my business to know why.
I returned to my room and set the newspapers in the fire. It would not do for them to be found on one of the rare, but possible, searches that were made of staff quarters. Feeling there was more progress to made with the arrival of visitors I did not dwell too much on my failure with him that night. Before I had brought up things he found hurtful he had been almost convivial, and that was promising. I settled between my sheets with an overwhelming feeling of tiredness on me. It had been a very long day, and if the sickness were to spread the days would only get longer. I needed every minute of sleep I could get.