Piece by Piece.
I was surprised by the short length of time Narcissa Malfoy spent with her husband. She was banging on the cell door after just ten minutes, and when I opened it, it was to a face harrowed by tears. She almost stumbled from the cell, her husband’s throaty laugh accompanying her every faltering step of the way. I put out a hand to steady her, but she pulled her limbs close and refused any aid. Closing the door afforded me a view of Lucius Malfoy, and his eyes were scalding in their frustration and loathing. I could not help comparing him to Professor Snape at that moment: here was a livid, angry man, raging against his fate and making no attempt to reconcile himself, while Professor Snape had turned in on himself and tried to find a way to adjust his mind to what had befallen him. I knew which of them would lose their sanity first, and it would not be the composed man in cell sixty-six.
I was about to usher Narcissa Malfoy from the corridor, but she hesitated and I turned my questioning face to her. Her tears had abated and she looked almost ashamed of the outpouring of emotion, dabbing at her pale cheeks with a white handkerchief that she had pulled from her robes.
“Is there a problem?” I asked sharply, knowing that if I could get rid of her, I would have ten minutes of peace before the next visitor arrived.
“Would it… Could I… Is it possible for me to see him?”
I looked at her, knowing what she was asking, but wanting to hear the words spoken. I had before me a woman who had been happy enough to be compliant with some of the greatest evil that had stalked the country, and she was in my power, just for a short space of time. I wasn’t sure what I would do with that power, but it was gratifying to have it.
“See who?” I asked, watching her mouth twitch at the possibility that she would have to be explicit.
“Severus! Is it possible for me to see Severus?” she asked, hating me for making her ask the question so completely.
“I’m afraid not,” I said, shaking my head. I know, it sounds cruel of me to deny her this, after she had willingly given me the information I had sought. But some rules are not there to be broken, and the rule of only one visitor per prisoner was one of them. Narcissa Malfoy could not see Professor Snape, not while he had another visitor waiting to see him on the same day.
“Not even if I had some news for him. Something he perhaps is not aware of?” Her blue eyes held me suspended in my thirst for knowledge.
“It is against the rules. He has another visitor this day, and more than one is not permissible. I have to concede to the visitor who has officially requested to see him.”
“And who is that?” she snapped, angry at being denied something that appeared to be such a simple demand.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, Mrs Malfoy.”
“You are being deliberately obstructive,” she said coldly. “I thought you were interested in him. Is this a petty jealousy on your part?”
I gave her a blank look, ignoring the implication of her words. “I think it is time you left. If you have a message you wish me to pass on to him, I will do my best for you.”
Her laugh chilled me more than any icy wind ever had; it was high and fragile. “Tell you! I think not,” she said, throwing her robes around her and setting off up the corridor, forcing me to jog slightly to catch up with her. “Just let me out of this place. If I am not allowed to see him, you shall not be the one to deliver the news I have for him.”
It was no good. The news would have to depart with her. Smuggling books and fruit was one thing, but if anyone caught her in his cell, I would lose my job instantly and face severe punishment, and he would be punished even more ruthlessly. Eamon fumbled with the key and unlocked the door to permit her to leave, raising an eyebrow at me as he did so. She went without saying another word, forcing Eamon into a brisk walk to keep her in his sights.
Left alone for the moment, I felt suddenly alone and lost; the dark corridor with its weak light felt more oppressive than usual. I hadn’t given the Christmas season much thought, but the woman’s warm fragrance had reminded me of something, a vague recollection that swirled just beyond my consciousness. Tall, pine-scented trees and sparkling decorations danced in my mind, and I remembered the warmth of my family Christmases. Aging aunts with papery lips planting lipsticked kisses on mine and my brother’s foreheads, the smell of spicy tobacco smoke from Great-Uncle Wiggins, the feast that my mother always had prepared, and the gifts, the most important of which — although I hadn’t realised it at the time — was their love and the presence of the people I cared for the most in the world. I would never have another Christmas like those. Last year I had spent it alone in my London flat with the cold realisation that I lived in a vacuum, my work the only thing that made one day different to the next.
I wasn’t sure when I had closed myself off from the world of real people. It was easier to be compassionate about other people, people far distanced from yourself. Easier to care for the idea of people than for people themselves. An individual was a risk to be taken, a potential grief to be endured – so why on earth was I preparing to endure it now, with this prisoner? Perhaps it was because I knew I would be leaving soon, and any bond formed could be severed by me, and no one else.
The small heave of my chest as the weight there shifted brought me back to myself, and the fact that Eamon was once again rattling the door and preparing to admit another visitor.
“Remus Lupin, for your friend in there,” Eamon announced, nodding towards sixty-six with a wry smile on his face. “Visitor for him is a turn up, eh?”
The man I was faced with now was the epitome of careworn. His face was ravaged – there was no other word for it – by life and sat uncomfortably on shoulders that had carried too much weight. He extended a heavy hand and I shook it, unprepared for such normal manners in this cold void of a place. His pale eyes held shadows and secrets that I knew I would not wish to know under any circumstances, and when he spoke his voice was low and pocked with gravel.
“I’m here to see Severus Snape, but I suppose you know that already.”
“Follow me,” I said, wanting to get away from Eamon’s eager ears.
He moved silently, padding behind me like an obedient pup, although his years of being a pup were long gone if his greying hair was anything to go by. We came to a halt by Professor Snape’s door and, once again, I hesitated before opening it.
“Is there something you wish to tell me?” he asked, looking towards the door anxiously. “I know that Severus is not the most co-operative of men. I hardly expect him to see me, but it would be to his advantage.”
“He hasn’t been told he has a visitor. He has never had one before.” I saw the look of sadness in the man’s eyes and wondered if this was another one of the exclusive group of people that Narcissa Malfoy had spoken about. “But I did want to ask you what your connection to him was.”
“Why?” He had the look of a man used to avoiding questions, and I could see him preparing to deny me answers. I could not be as honest with him as I had been with the woman, for I did not know his views on my prisoner’s innocence.
“Because I believe it would help us to better understand him. He is not an easy prisoner.”
“No,” he gave a rough laugh. “I would imagine Severus would make a very poor prisoner indeed. Especially as he knows he is innocent.”
And there was my answer, delivered neatly to my door. Here was a supporter, not a detractor. “And you agree with that assessment?”
“I do.” He nodded. “I have known Severus for a very long time, too long, some might say. I know his wife also, better than I know Severus.”
I ignored the way he had phrased this. If he had been a friend of the late Mrs Snape, then perhaps he preferred to think of her as still living. I know I had thought of my parents and brother in the present tense for many years after they had died. I still do, sometimes.
“Do you know about the Unbreakable Vow?” I asked quietly.
“The one with Narcissa Malfoy? Yes, I know about it. But it has little bearing on this. Severus was caught red-handed, so to speak. The rights and wrongs of the situation, the Unbreakable Vow, Dumbledore’s wishes – none of them matter in the face of the Ministry’s need to find a culprit. They do not wish to know the truth of the matter.”
I nodded sadly, and went to unlock the door. “Let me announce you first,” I said, realising I sounded ridiculously like a domestic servant rather than a gaoler. Closing the door on Remus Lupin, I tried to decide upon the correct wording for informing the man in the cell that he had company.
Professor Snape was waiting at his table and looked up expectantly, greedy for more material to occupy his mind with. He greeted me first — yes, greeted me — with a small ‘good morning’. I returned his salutation and hovered, uncertain, by the door.
“What is it?” he asked, sensing my discomfort somehow. “You appear distracted, more so than usual.”
Normally I would have smiled, or sent back a little barb myself, but now I merely shifted my weight. His face was almost calm today, that scrabbling grief buried deep enough for it not to be so evident. I swallowed, trying to encourage some saliva into my dry mouth, but it didn’t work and when I opened my mouth to speak, I spluttered.
“You have a visitor,” I said, between coughs.
“A what?” he asked, the concept new and unwelcome to him.
“There is someone here to see you.”
“I do not wish to see anyone. I did not ask to see anyone.” He paused and I was struck violently by the amount of anger that he could conjure in those black eyes.
“Nevertheless, there is someone here to see you.” I wondered if he would not be the slightest bit curious to see who this visitor was. Apparently he wasn’t.
“I must suffer your presence in my life. I will not suffer anyone else’s.”
I wasn’t sure if this was a backhanded compliment, but the look of antipathy on his face was enough to take the gloss off it, if it were. This sudden antagonism was an indicator of the frail nature of our acquaintance, and I knew I needed to move hurriedly to maintain the trust.
“You do not have to see anyone,” I admitted. “I can send them away. But do you not think it would be in your interests?”
“Can this phantom release me from this cell?”
“No,” I answered truthfully.
“Then send them away. Why should I allow a reminder that there is something beyond the four walls of this cell to taunt my senses? Get rid of them.”
“They may not come back,” I said, trying to make some show of persuading him.
The anger bubbled again, his eyes becoming drops of tar that steamed in the ice of the cell. I knew when to back out of an argument with him by now, and I needed to get out before Eamon had cause to come down with his wand waving. “I will come back later,” I said, “when visiting is over. I will have a book for you.”
He looked up at me, the heat gone from his gaze. “Thank you,” he whispered. And I do believe he really meant it.
Remus Lupin did not look too surprised when I stepped back into the corridor and locked the door behind me. He was the first to speak.
“He will not see me, will he?”
I looked at his sad eyes and withered a little, inwardly. Surely Professor Snape would have benefited from the counsel of this man, who, although worn, was wise-looking.
“No, he will not. He is not in a good way and wants to close himself off from anything that reminds him of what he has lost.”
We began to walk back towards the gate. I had almost expected Mr Lupin to hammer at the cell door and insist Professor Snape admit him, but he apparently wasn’t given to histrionics. He stopped just short of the gate and turned back to me.
“How is he?” he asked. “Really, how is he?”
“Hard to tell,” I replied guardedly. “Sometimes he wallows in his own despair and on other days he is almost miserable.”
“As good as that?” he said, and I allowed myself a smile. This was a man that did, indeed, know Professor Snape quite well.
“I think it is the loss of his wife” – Mr Lupin shifted uneasily at this – “that has maimed him the most. I think he could endure this if he thought she had survived.”
“They have not told him, then?” Remus Lupin cast a long look back down the corridor and seemed almost on the verge of tears.
“Told him what?”
“His wife did not die. She is here, in Azkaban.”
I swayed back on my heels a little. In a lifetime of unexpected news, this was one of the more memorable pieces of information I had even received. If she was here, where exactly was she?
“But how can that be?” I gasped. “He’s been destroying himself, piece by piece, because he thinks she is dead. Why was he not told?”
Mr Lupin caught my arm and steadied me a little, and I felt Eamon shift uncomfortably at the contact between visitor and gaoler. Eamon did like his rules.
“They probably imagined that the loss of his wife was the best punishment they could inflict upon him. And from what you have said, they succeeded.”
“How can I tell him?” I said, looking wildly to Mr Lupin. “What would it do to him? Is that why you were here today, to tell him?”
He shook his head. “I wanted to see if he was capable of hearing the news, before finding out just what condition she was in. I don’t know if we can tell him. The thought that she is within these very walls might torture him more than her death.”
“It might, but there has to be something we can do.”
Eamon must have been worried by the snatches of our conversation that he managed to catch, for he unlocked the gate and swung it open.
“Come on then,” he growled. “If he doesn’t want to see you, let’s have you out of there.”
Remus Lupin looked at me, limpid eyes worried by what I now knew.
“Don’t worry,” I said, as he walked away. “I won’t do anything that will cause any further damage.”
And, left alone, I sank back against the damp wall, my back making contact with the cold slime that covered it. I had a challenge now, a greater one than I thought I had had. I must rebuild the relationship with Professor Snape and his wife. While he had destroyed himself, I would have to try and repair the damage, piece by piece.