Professor Snape was aware that we had a visitor, but seemed uninterested in the nature of the visit. I dropped in on him halfway through my shift and found him still studying the book I had loaned him. He looked up briefly and nodded, immediately returning to his perusal of the dry pages. I attended to my meagre duties before approaching him, never sure of his mood or how familiar he would choose to be with me.
I gave a little cough to announce my intentions. “Have you discovered anything of use?” I asked, breaking the silence.
“Everything is of use,” he remarked. “It is simply a question of finding the right way to apply something. Azkaban is not impregnable; like everything, it will have its weakness. Once I locate that weakness, we will be able to exploit it.”
“And what if we don’t find it? I have extensive knowledge of the fortress, and I have yet to see anything that would make it vulnerable to either escape or attack.”
“Then you have not been looking hard enough!” There was a snarl to his voice that made me take a step back. I had become unused to such vehemence and it wrong-footed me for a moment. “Forgive me.” His words were low and became lost in the pages of the book he was looking at. “That was not called for.”
“That’s all right,” I said, with what I hoped was a soothing tone to my voice. “This is not easy for any of us. I honestly don’t know of any weakness within the prison, and there are protections surrounding the island itself.”
“And what form do these protections take?” His eyes looked at me keenly. I noticed the new lines that tugged at his skin, fresh evidence of the extra strain that being so close to his wife was putting on him.
“Just the usual repelling charms, nothing fancy. They have an Extended Blocking Charm, to prevent Apparation and Portkeys from working for up to ten miles around. Silly, really, for such a high security gaol. I believe they think that if a prisoner can get off the island then the sea will get him or her before they can get clear of the Blocking Charm.”
“And how did the Minister arrive?”
“He arrived via Portkey,” I said. “They suspended the Charm for a few minutes to allow him the opportunity to get in.”
Professor Snape stood up abruptly, snapping the book closed. “This has been a waste of time,” he said. “A complete and utter waste of energy. You had the solution all along. When does this fool of a Minister leave?”
“Tonight, as far as I know. He’s having dinner with the governor and then returning to London.” I had a vague notion of what he was planning, but didn’t see how it would be possible. There would be no way I could get down to his wife’s corridor tonight, and for his plan to work, it would have to be tonight.
“Then you need to make the switch with Maeve before he leaves, and give her enough time to get to me and for us to create a Portkey.”
“It’s not possible,” I spluttered. “The overtime lists have been settled and there is no other way for me to get down there. Besides, if you use a Portkey they will be able to trace you. You would be caught before you got very far.”
“Not if we used it to get to a remote place and then used Apparation,” he insisted.
I sighed and flattened my robes down with anxious hands. “I’m not convinced.”
“You don’t have to be convinced,” he barked, “you just have to do as you’re told.”
I stood a little taller, refusing to be bullied by him. “We are not in your classroom now, Professor, and I am not one of your pupils. You would do well to remember who still has a wand and who does not.” I knew he was under extreme pressure, but I did not want that pressure making him do something rash that he – or I – would later regret.
“If we were in my class, you would have been given several detentions and lost house…” He stopped abruptly and I couldn’t fathom why. “But these are fanciful notions. Believe me, this is our best chance of achieving our aim. We must act swiftly and with certainty. There must be a way of getting yourself to my wife’s cell tonight.”
“And I’m telling you, there is not.” I folded stubborn arms across my chest and we locked eyes and wills for a little time. His unwavering gaze made me feel hot and uncomfortable and it was I who broke the contact first. “Very well,” I snapped. “I will see what I can do. What do you intend to use for a Portkey?”
“I think that peach pit will serve our purposes in this instance, don’t you, Miss Carr?” He raised his hand and pointed to the small, corrugated sphere that sat by the leg of his table. “I will wait for my wife to return, in your guise.”
“But this seems such an inadequate way to leave it. You won’t know if I have succeeded or not, not until the person who comes to see you tonight opens her mouth. Oh!” I had just thought of another spanner in our plan’s fragile works. If I found a way to be on corridor O, then what would I be doing back on my own corridor during that shift.
“What is it?” he asked, concern leaping to his face.
“Nothing,” I replied firmly. “I shall take care of things. Let us hope we succeed.” I really had no idea how I was going to achieve anything, but I resolved to prove my worth in the professor’s eyes.
I had spent a long time thinking about this man, a man I had seen enter this establishment with just one thing on his mind: letting go of a life that had become unbearable. Now he was alive again, and I thanked whatever power had given me the will to help him. With a mixture of emotion, I realised that this could be the last time we met. If he succeeded in escaping, I had no doubt he would leave the country, and even if he didn’t, what cause would we have to meet again? I looked into those unnaturally dark eyes and wondered if he would survive our little escapade, wondered if either of them would. When he wasn’t consciously guarding his thoughts and feelings from people, his eyes could be considered warm and inviting, as they were now. It was to be a considerable regret of mine that I never saw him outside the prison walls, never saw him as he was with his wife, unfettered and perhaps even a little careless with his emotions.
Was I a little in love with him? I think I must have been. But it wasn’t the usual sort of lust and longing, it was born of a profound respect for the man. I would miss him very much.
“Miss Carr, have you been petrified?” I twitched back to reality and realised he was looking at me with a curious expression. “You seem to have lost the ability to move.”
“I was just reflecting a little on our relationship.” He flinched slightly at the use of the word “relationship,” but held on to the flippant comment that was no doubt attempting to escape his mouth. I shifted position slightly, knowing that I should be making a move, and yet I found myself reluctant to turn away.
“Was there something else?” he asked, frowning down his nose in that familiar fashion.
“No, nothing.” I snapped back to attention, resisting the urge to snarl at him that a little honesty and a show of feelings wouldn’t go amiss. Surely our interaction over the previous weeks had meant something. Surely he wasn’t really this cold. Was he like this with his wife? “Goodbye then, Professor Snape.”
“Goodbye, Miss Carr.” His black-topped head, which Azkaban had begun to streak with grey, inclined in my direction. It was a gesture of sorts, but not the sort I was looking for. His eyes followed me to the door; I could feel them etching a hard pattern on the back of my head. As I inserted the key, I felt a sad little knot of emotion crawl up my throat and I had to bite hard on my lip to keep it down. This might not, after all, be the last time we saw each other; our plan could fail.
The door opened and I stepped right into the puddle of water, the dampness seeping into my shoes.
“Oh, and Miss Carr.” He spoke quietly and I turned to look at him, my earlier emotion dampened by the sogginess of my feet. “Please, call me Severus.”
And I knew then he had given me all he could without fracturing his unbending desire to maintain a wall around him
“Goodbye, Severus,” I smiled, feeling the strange form of address roll off my tongue and into the air. “And good luck. I hope your life is all you would have it be.”
He nodded and I closed the door on his clear face and sharp eyes. I kept control all the way down the corridor and managed to prevent any incidence of tears throughout my shift, which lasted for four more tedious hours. I concealed any hint of my weakened resolve from Eamon when he came to relieve me, and I made it all the way to my rooms before allowing a few splashes of water to hit my cheeks. But fortunately, I knew that there were more pressing things than silly tears and emotions. I had to get down to corridor O of D wing somehow, without arousing suspicion. This would be no mean feat. Tucking a hurriedly drawn map into my robes, I left my rooms in search of something to inspire me.
Trying my best to be inconspicuous, I made my way to what served as a staff room and found only a few of my colleagues whiling away the minutes, alternately chatting and lounging. I could feel an ache beginning to throb at my temples caused by taxing my brain too much. Everything I came up with had a disadvantage; any sort of wand work would be traceable, trying to get the guard to leave their spot long enough for me to make the switch would make it obvious that I was in on the plan and simply trying to bluff my way in would immediately make the guard check on my story. This was all too soon and hadn’t given me enough time to prepare.
I took a cup of hot pumpkin juice from the counter and paid the young witch – who hovered belligerently behind the serving area – with a Sickle. At least the food was subsidised at Azkaban, unless you had it in your room; they charged you extra for that.
“You all right, Carr?” Luke Pepper was sitting beneath a large Ministry recruiting poster, his feet propped up on the grubby table in front of him. “You look a bit pre-occupied.”
“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, looking at him briefly. It was difficult not to look at Pepper; his face was probably the most appealing thing in this drear place. “Bit tired, that’s all.” I didn’t really want to be drawn into conversation; not when my mind was firmly on other things.
“You should get some sleep, before they make you work a double shift.” He grinned at me and I involuntarily smiled back, wondering why he was suddenly so interested in my welfare. His blonde hair created an appealing halo for what was otherwise a rather devilish face.
“I’m okay. I wouldn’t mind the extra work,” I added, sowing a few seeds of a plant that may or may not flourish.
“Get yourself down to Corridor Y, then,” he said, a smirk creasing his face. “I’ll bet the governor needs some help buttering up to that creep of a Minister.”
Corridor Y was the euphemism we used for the governor’s office. When orders spewed out of it, they were usually greeted with a disdainful “Why?” from the staff.
“I don’t do buttering, unless it’s bread,” I snapped.
“Steady on,” he said, good-naturedly. “I was only being sarcastic. No need for the head-biting-off routine.”
“’S all right for you lazy buggers.” Laurence Cronin struggled up from his prone position on one of the uncomfortable sofas to glower at us. “I’ve got to do a ruddy extra shift tonight. Didn’t even ask me; my name just appeared on the list. I reckon it’s that new Automatic Shift Generating spell they’re using. Ruddy puts people in that it's got no right putting in. I did five extra shifts last week!”
“You could always get someone to swap a shift with you,” Luke suggested.
“Nope.” His light eyes laughed at the burly man.
Laurence turned to me with a hopeful expression on his battle-scarred face. “What about you then?”
Luke interrupted me before I could finish my answer. “As if she’s going to volunteer for a shift on the nightmare that is D wing. Would you volunteer for it?”
“I suppose not,” Laurence admitted, with a gloomy grimace. “Still, no harm in asking, is there?” He began to move off towards the door, resignation pressing on his weary shoulders.
“I don’t mind,” I said, trying to keep my voice as normal as possible, but convinced my words must have erupted from my mouth in a nervous squeal. “I haven’t done too many extras this week.”
Luke gave a low whistle and regarded me with new-found admiration. “You have a generous heart, Carr,” he said in an admiring voice. “Sure as Merlin wouldn’t catch me volunteering for that mess. Especially not with the Minister for Magic in the building.”
“I don’t mind,” I said in a bland voice. “I’ve got some pretty mad people on my ward that should probably be down there anyway.” Stop babbling, I told myself, just let Laurence figure this out for you. He wanted the night off so, whatever happened, I would be the innocent just doing a favour for a colleague.
“Really?” Laurence’s face brightened and the scar at the corner of his mouth stretched with the smile he gave. “You’re going to take my shift?”
“You figure out how to get your name off the list and mine on it without anyone finding out, and I’ll do it. As long as you take the blame if they find out.”
“Not a problem.” His mouth widened even further and revealed uneven, grey teeth. “Done it a few times. That’s the other thing with automated shifts… they have no idea who’s supposed to be where. I’ll get it sorted out and when you give the guard your number, the shift sheet will be just waiting for you.”
“Well, if you’re sure we won’t get into trouble? I’ve never done this before.” I looked to Luke for a bit of reassurance and he nodded sagely.
“Done it myself once or twice,” he said with a sly look. “Laurence will see that you’re safe from the prying eyes of the powers that be.”
I gave him my best grateful look and looked back to Laurence.
“You have the eight o’clock shift?”
“That’s right. I’ll sort out the schedule now and you have half an hour before you’re due down there.” He looked doubtful again. “You sure this is all right?”
“Really sure,” I insisted. “I’ll grab another juice and be down in time to cover you.”
Luke looked rather pleased and shuffled up on the sofa. “Take the weight off your feet,” he offered, and I found myself unable to refuse.
The walls pressed in on me as I finally made my way down to try and put this plan into action while there was still time. Of course, it could still fail. I might not be put on the right corridor, but if I was at least on the wing, I would be in a better position to work something out. The Minister was due to leave at nine-thirty precisely so I had to have her out of there by then. I approached the guard on duty, another one I didn’t know, and gave him my number, coughing to clear my dry throat.
“Don’t you be getting sick on my watch,” he said, his manner gruff. The door swung open to allow me in. “Because you won’t be leaving this wing for the next eight hours, ill or not. Corridor O, you know where it is?”
My blood froze on my veins as I nodded, the triumph of being on the right corridor engulfed by a sudden dread. How could I not have thought of that? I could get in, but how was I supposed to get out again before my shift ended? This was a disaster – a complete disaster – and it was all my fault. As I made my way blindly to her cell, I had no idea how I was going to break this news to her.
She was much as I had left her the last time: huddled in the corner, her face turned away from the door. She shifted slightly as I closed the door firmly behind me, and I hesitated before alerting her to my presence. I had received the impression, from her husband, that she was an intelligent woman, so what would she make of my ineptitude?
“Mrs Snape,” I whispered into the gloom.
She was immediately on her feet, dulled hair falling free from the trappings of her tatty robes. Her eyes lit the room, and I found myself feeling even more shame-faced over my abject failure.
“Is it time?” she asked, stepping towards me. “Katherine? What is it?”
The woman was in possession of a fine sense of intuition, I’ll grant her that. I swallowed hard and tried to weigh up how she would take the news, but she was impatient and insisted I spit it out. I related what her husband and I had planned, including all the details about the visitor and the dropping of the barriers. Her face was alive with promise until I informed her there were two very large buts.
“I – or rather you – will not be able to leave the corridor until the end of my shift, by which time it will be too late and the Minister will have gone.” I looked towards the stone floor, feeling as grey as the rough material at my feet. “And it would be difficult for you – or me – to get back onto my own corridor because my shift finished a few hours ago. So we almost made it, but I forgot about a few things. I’m so sorry.”
“So,” she began, her voice sweeter than I would have imagined given the news I had just imparted, “you are telling me the only impediment to this plan is our inability to move through the prison because we are not supposed to be anywhere else but here?”
There was a smile on her face as she said this, a smile that made my heart warmer, despite our terrible predicament. “Yes,” I admitted, pulling the map from my pocket. “I even made this, useless now, of course.”
She took the folded parchment and smiled, her face subtly changing. I opened my mouth in surprise as the bedraggled woman slowly disappeared, to be replaced with what I at first thought was a mirror, until the woman in it laughed and shattered the illusion. “You must have seen a Metamorphmagus at work before,” she said.
“I have,” I replied, “but never one that was me.”
“Katherine Carr, thank you for everything you have done. May I have your wand?”
I handed it to her without question.
“Now, perhaps we should change robes?” She did not seem remotely perturbed by my admissions of failure and so we exchanged clothes. I stepped into her dirt-encrusted ones and it felt like stepping into the soul of a prisoner. I was instantly at a disadvantage and it was not pleasant.
“Well now, it is time to part. Without you this could not have been achieved, so you have my gratitude.”
“But it’s not…” I tried to protest but she placed a finger to my lips.
“It is not for nothing I come from ancient Irish stock. My father has bestowed upon me a rather useful gift that my kind shares. You have done more than enough in delivering your wand to me, and giving me the location of my husband.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will, Katherine. But for now, good bye.”
And with that the air around her shifted slightly. At first I thought it was a trick of the dim light, but then her edges began to blur against the very border of what was real. It appeared that parts of her were slipping away, slipping into the atmosphere that surrounded us. Just a few seconds after it had begun, she was gone, leaving me to stare at the place she had been in disbelief. What sort of magic was this?
I shuddered into the corner, vulnerable and cold, but strangely hopeful. She could have got out all this time and yet she stayed. She stayed where her husband was. Perhaps I would never really know why, but it was enough to know she was on her way to him now.
Secure in the knowledge that I could do nothing else, I allowed my eyes to close and drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep. What tale I would tell would come to me when I was faced with the questions.