A/N: This was inspired by the challenge The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face on WIKTT. I know it's late, and I also know it doesn't meet all the requirements (left out godparents and threats of castration/maiming/hexing). But I wanted to write it anyway. It's short. Do let me know what you think of it!
Rating: Contains non-graphic physical contact.
Grey. That's all it ever is- grey. I've lost track of the number of days, weeks, months, years- can it be decades that I've been here? I can't remember. The days run together, knit into a single long winding sheet of grey- morning, noon, night, the gruel they feed us- or am I alone here?, the blanket under which I sleep every night. Even my robe is grey. I haven't seen myself in longer than I can remember; perhaps even my hair is grey now.
It didn't used to be that way. I remember sunlight, and grass, and the sound of children playing. It never seemed like a happy sound at the time, but it was. Ungrateful bastard that I was, I never thought about it that way.
Everything is grey. Good, evil, the line between them- grey. I think that's why I'm here, although I'm not really certain any longer. I remember grey walls, grey suits, grey robes-
A man with a grey beard. No, not grey.
I remember Albus Dumbledore.
He had blue eyes, and his gold-rimmed glasses used to twinkle annoyingly. I remember now. It's a sad memory- but why? Did he die?
No, he didn't. In a way, I'm the one who died.
The door opens suddenly, and another figure in grey glides in. A wave of cold washes over me, with echoes of Voldemort's voice curling in its wake.
Dementors. I hate them; they bring such horrid feelings with them when they come, and yet for me, they bring memory as well. After all, the only thoughts they let me keep are unhappy ones- and that's just about all I have left.
All I had when I came here, really, was my innocence- and as T.S. Eliot once said, it seems that in the end, that was not enough.
I let out a bitter laugh- that's the only kind the Dementors don't suck out of me. That little bit of sad truth must be the only thing I have in common with King Arthur.
Well, that and the fact that we both spent inordinate amounts of time on a magical isle.
Which is not to say that I think as highly of Azkaban Prison as Arthur must have of the Isle of Avalon.
But where he had the faithless Guenevere, I had my Hermione.
Had. Oh, the saddest memory of all, the one the Dementors love to prod into waking fullness every night in my dreams, just to suck a little more glee from my soul. They've learned, you see- if they leave just enough happiness for me to dream on, they get so much more from me in my waking hours.
I'd give anything for a bottle of Dreamless Sleep potion. I've almost made up my mind that the Dementor's Kiss is a mercy; anything would be preferable to this living death, this unforgetting, interminable nightmare. No wonder they call it 'sweet oblivion'. I hate feeding those filthy creatures with any part of me whatsoever, but if I didn't have to know, it would be easier to bear.
Which, of course, is why they haven't given me the Kiss.
Another bitter laugh. Potter would probably be shocked to discover that anything about me could bring pleasure to anything, even a Dementor. I can still recall his reaction when Hermione finally told him about us:
"Snape? Are you mad, Mione? Not even the Dementors would want to kiss him!"
I hang my head between my knees, the sad humor of it still quirking my mouth.
He's right. They don't want to Kiss me. I wish to hell they did.
Morning on this damned island is the same as evening: misty, foggy, and- you guessed it- grey. In a fit of irritability, I decide to do something different today, just to rebel against the Dementors. When the one who feeds me arrives with breakfast, I smile at it- despite having to grit my teeth at the horrible coldness that comes over me- and wish it good morning.
To my surprise, it withdraws a bit as if in distaste.
Well. That's nice to know. Even the Dementors find such politeness odd coming from me. I inquire about its health, and it positively flees.
A cold spark is lit within me. If I've got something else I can make miserable, there's hope for me. Professor Snape lives.
Within two days, I've gone from calling that particular creature the Maitre D'ementor to calling it Neville. It's given me an incredible grip on things, just to have something seem personalized, to have a stable routine. Remarkably, Neville is always the one to come to me in the morning. Either they haven't figured out what I'm doing, or they don't have a choice in who does what on this damn rock. I'm fine with that if they are. With Neville's daily rounds to look forward to, I feel a little less bleak- still intensely bitter, still nothing to set off their alarms, but I've got something to hold onto now.
Like Sirius Black did. Oh, there's a man to imitate- if only I were an Animagus. No sense wishing for horses- or wings, as the case may be; if I were an Animagus, with my luck I'd have turned into something large and obvious and earth-bound, or small and flightless and useless. Images of myself as a lemming leap to mind, and I snort with laughter- only to feel the energy drain away in a horrible sucking stream as the Dementors sense my mirth.
I don't know how long it's been since I christened Neville, but today my waiter has brought me a dish of gruel- as usual- with a flattened spoon. Which is not usual, by any means. I've been drinking my meals since I think I got here. I study the utensil for a long moment, suddenly inspired to try to shave with the spoon. I could do some simple transformations without my wand before I landed in this hellhole; I don't suppose it would hurt to try. Anything to get this huge itchy thing off my face. Hermione would have a conniption if she saw me like this; she never minded stubble, but the few times she saw me with any facial hair, she had a difficult time controlling her derisive reactions.
And even aside from being laughed at, few men will persevere with a fashion that is likely to impede their efforts to get under their lady's skirt. I may count myself in rare company in general- but in that respect I fear I am pedestrian as can be.
Carefully, I push such thoughts aside. Go much further, and I'll be sucked under by another wave of Dementor appetite. Instead, I concentrate on the spoon.
I've been shaving regularly for a while now; it helps to mark the passage of time. I think it's been six weeks since I created my little spoon razor, crude as it is. Given the length of the hair I removed the first time, it's clear that I've been here on the order of years- if not a full decade. It was revolting, the sight of that kinky dark stuff falling away from my face. The hair on my head must be even longer. I don't even want to go there; I feel grimy and unkempt. And even that is a glory to me; for ages I wasn't even aware of my condition, of anything out of the ordinary in living in such grubby conditions.
There's no telling why I've suddenly started to regain myself. I've been here long enough that, by all rights, I ought to have gone mad. I should have lost all my powers- but I can still do a few simple spells without my wand. I've been moving dust bunnies for entertainment lately, and just to prove to myself that I can. I've decided to watch carefully to see if there's any hope of escape; screw whoever landed me here and what I might have done to deserve it. The duty of any captured officer is to escape.
In the last four months, I have determined that there is no rhyme or reason to the things Dementors do. Some mornings, Neville shrinks back from politeness; on others, he ignores it. I haven't been able to make him angry, which I suppose is good; it's a stupid thing to try, if one really thinks about it. But at this point, anything's good for a little fun.
I do know that there has been at least one visitor to the island; I heard voices and an altercation outside, but I have no idea who was here, or what their argument was about when they spoke to the Dementors. Come to think of it, I've never heard a Dementor speak. Just as well. In my imagination, they have voices like rusty hinges. The only sound I'd like to hear them make is a wail of pain, but I don't think that's something I'm likely to ever hear. Pity.
There's not much point in doing this any longer. There's been no break, no change in the routine, and nothing that I can work into a plan for escape. I'm getting tired of the hopelessness of it all, and I'm beginning to change my idea of the ideal route of escape. If I can't go out in the physical sense, then perhaps I ought to go out in the literal sense. Even if my only weapon is a spoon. How appropriate; it'll hurt more, which I suppose is only what I deserve after the things I've done in this life.
Then again, perhaps I ought to try attacking Neville with this damn spoon before I use it on myself with more force than usual. I don't actually know whether Dementors are vulnerable to physical attack; I've never tried. But I can keep hold of myself around them long enough to think about it now.
Well, it's something to try, at least. But not yet. I know that if I attack one of them, it'll retaliate in some horrible way unless I am successful in killing it. Exactly what could be more horrible than being here is beyond me, but I'm sure they've thought of something, and if it makes me sound weak to admit that I'd rather not know what it is, then so be it.
I've made up my mind. This is the morning to try it. When Neville shows up to give me my usual morning bowl of what I am now convinced is nothing but wet shredded paper, I'm going to try. I've spent the night sharpening my spoon, and I don't think there will ever be a better time to try than now.
I slide the spoon up my sleeve, the handle fitted into my palm, and settle down to wait.
There's someone coming to the door. I can hear voices, soft ones, and they don't sound like Dementors. They sound stealthy.
I raise my head with interest despite myself, but I make no move to approach the door of the cell.
Which turns out to be a good thing. There is a faint rattling noise, a few whispers, and the glow of silver light through the keyhole. I back up against the wall, not knowing what's about to come through the door, and grip the spoon tighter.
And then there's the blinding relative brightness of weak light streaming in to hit my face, and a figure darkly outlined by the light. I blink, unable to see, and suddenly the figure is beside me on its knees.
"Severus? Oh, Severus!"
She's gotten me to my feet somehow, and I can feel her shaking with what her face now tells me is a combination of joy and fury. I must look worse than I thought. She flings a cloak around my shoulders, and hastily steers me toward the door.
"Hermione" I manage, my voice harsh with disuse. "How did what"
"Later, Severus- I'll tell you later. We have to get out of here. The Dementors took over Azkaban a while ago and they haven't been letting anyone in or out, even from the Ministry."
I glance around, suddenly fearing that my joy at seeing her will attract one of them instantly, but there is no sign of the shadowy pestilences anywhere.
"Neville's late," I mutter, and she glances at me sharply.
"I named the one that brings my food Neville," I explain sheepishly, and she smiles, but bites back her laughter. She, too, is aware of the Dementors and how easily they are called.
"There's a reason for that," she says neutrally, and hustles me along. I'm glad, now, that I'm a habitual pacer; if not for the miles I've walked back and forth along the narrow length of my cell, I'd never be able to move like this. As it is, I'm hard pressed to keep up with her, despite the fact that she makes a concerted effort to slow down for me.
We are running down a path now, toward the water that I can hear in the fog below us, and I stumble over the uneven ground. She supports me with hand and voice, and within two minutes we come out onto the sandy spit of a cove. There is a small boat, no more than fifteen feet long, tethered at the shoreline, tossing gently with the waves' passage. She helps me into the boat before turning to stare up at the cliff face, where the path we took winds down to the beach, invisible in the fog. She's clearly waiting for something.
I am content to sit for now, in the close quiet of the foggy beach. It feels smaller than I know a beach should feel, distant sounds muffled by the mist, but still it feels like a palace compared to my cell. I close my eyes and savor the sensation.
The seconds stretch to minutes, and Hermione shifts nervously. She turns to me and calls my name softly, and I raise my head to acknowledge her.
"We'll have to get away fast, when the time comes," she says in a low voice. "The Dementors have denied all access to the prison, and the Ministry has been unable to gain control again. I think they realized that they could turn a few prisoners into a sort of food farm for themselves, but only if they were out from under anyone else's thumb. You were pardoned years ago, but we could never get the Dementors to let you go, and the Ministry has backed off from trying to do anything that they don't already know will work. I've tried several times to get in to free you, but I wasn't successful until now. I finally realized that I couldn't do it alone, so this time I brought an accomplice. I went to get you, and she's distracting the Dementors." A noise far above us distracts her, and she looks up sharply, and I realize that she's waiting for said accomplice to return.
I have no doubt that we are waiting for Ginny Weasley. I can remember the scrapes they got into together during Hermione's seventh year; they always did make a good team, as reluctant as I may have been at the time to admit it.
The sound of swift feet suddenly breaks the silence, coming closer and closer, their owner still invisible in the fog until nearly upon us. Hermione waves impatiently until a slight cloaked figure appears and leaps gracefully into the boat, and then Hermione shoves mightily against the bow to free it from the sand.
Ginny has run the sail up the mast, and with a whispered word, an impossible wind rises to fill the sail without clearing the fog. Hermione has leapt into the boat now as well, and with a quick duck under the boom, she has hold of the tiller and is adding her own whispers to the incantation.
For several tense moments, we are surrounded by fog, the only indication of our passage the waves rolling off our bow. Hermione is silent, as is Ginny, and I sit motionless, afraid of doing something to hinder what is obviously a well-laid-out plan. I can barely see the other end of the boat, only Hermione's dark head standing out from the lightness of the sail and the wood of the mast.
Then, with a suddenness that makes me start, we are out of the fog, floating on a bathwater sea of dark blue under a bright sky without clouds.
I have to cover my eyes with my hands- the brilliance is far too sudden after the soft muted grey of Azkaban. Gradually I am able to open my eyes again to tolerate the light, but it takes time.
When I open my eyes, Hermione is kneeling before me in the brisk wind that drives our boat before it.
"Hello, love," she says softly, leaning in bravely to kiss me. I must look and smell awful, but the light in her eyes tells me that it doesn't matter to her. I hesitate only a moment, my question clear in my own eyes, and she moves into my arms with a sudden fierce joy that does more to rip away the years of dullness than anything else ever could.
She is crying now, her face wet with tears, and I know my own matches hers. She studies me for a minute before taking her wand out, and with a soft sniff, she laughs. She takes a ginger swipe at a smudge on my face, grimaces, and flourishes her wand. "May I?"
I nod, holding my arms out, desperate to be clean. A hot shower would be preferable, but right now I'll take anything I can get. With a few swishes of her wand I am clean, shaven, and in a decent set of clothes. I glance down at these in question, and she giggles.
"I brought those," she said. "They're real, not transfigured. I didn't know what you'd need. We thought we'd bring some of everything, just in case.
"All I need is in this boat," I reply softly, and suddenly her eyes widen.
"Sit," she says to me gently, and turns to our companion, who has been holding the tiller and politely ignoring us. With a quickly muttered charm, she fixes the tiller in place and waves Ginny forward.
"Go on," she says with quiet encouragement when the girl pauses beside her, the hood turning up as its wearer looks into Hermione's face.
Looks up into Hermione's face, I realize suddenly. I've gone barmy as well as hungry in that damn prison, to think this person could be Ginny Weasley. She is far too short to be Ginny. Too small even to be a woman.
But before I can form the question that springs to mind, I'm looking into the depths of that hood, so different from the ones the Dementors wear, and the fabric falls back to reveal long black curling tresses, pale skin and dark eyes in a heart-shaped face. The face of a girl no more than seven, beautiful and strange and familiar.
She peers into my eyes, uncertainty written in her expression, and there is the ghost of something else in her face now- hope? Fear? She reaches out to brush a lock of hair from my eyes, her fingers touching my cheek as she studies me.
"Is it really you?" she asks, her tone hesitant- and in an instant, I understand. My gaze meets Hermione's over the child's head, my eyes questioning, hers answering, and in a heartbeat, my world is changed forever, dark no longer.
I can feel the smile on my face as I look back down at the serious girl before me, so like I was at her age. And in my face she must see the answer she seeks, because she is suddenly in my arms, her cheek pressed tightly to mine in the kind of adoration only a daughter can give.
"How?" I ask softly, hours later, when we're back at Hermione's little house on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. We're sitting on the couch, our daughter asleep in the next room, exhausted from the excitement of her part in the adventure. She had regaled us on the trip back with the story of how she had used simple spells to distract and alarm the Dementors, causing them to set up a thorough search of the entirely wrong end of the island. As funny as it was, to hear about those horrid creatures scrambling around in frustration, trying to catch an intruder that wasn't really there, my heart constricted with fear for this small girl at each turn of events. She seems so little, so young, and yet she is clearly as bright and as determined as her mother. She helped plan the escape, risked herself to rescue a man she's never even met. Her father. Me.
Hermione laughs at my question. "The usual way," she replies archly. "Or was it so forgettable?" She reaches over to lift the empty plate from my lap, the sandwiches it had held long since devoured.
I take that as an invitation, and draw her to lie against me. I hug her tightly, kiss the top of her head. "You know what I mean," I say softly. "I had no idea."
"Neither did I, until the trial was over and you were lost to me for so long. I was fiercely glad when I found out, and as soon as she was born I began to tell her about you. When she was old enough- about four- I told her the entire story, edited slightly of course, and explained to her why you weren't here with us. I told her we were going to get you back someday. And then, the last time I came home and cried with frustration at the Ministry's cowardice, she looked right at me and suggested we break you out ourselves." She smiles up at me fondly.
"She's so very clever, Severus, and talented. You saw the spell she cast on the sail; and she's not even old enough for a wand yet. It's like she's growing up twice as fast as I ever did. She went from reading adventure stories to planning them almost overnight, and now she's got what she most wanted in the world. Her father is home."
I swallow, moved by the words- but I'm afraid, too. "But what if I'm not the kind of father she dreamed of having? I can't help but think I'm shadowed, Hermione, by all the time I spent on that island. Seven years, it must have been." She nods in confirmation, swallowing audibly, and I hug her closer. "And I was never what one would wish for in a father." Where once those words rang with disdainful satisfaction, now they have the hollow sound of regret.
She snuggles closer, kisses the side of my neck. "I wouldn't worry about that," she says philosophically, and I wait for the explanation I can feel coming. "I'm afraid I told her everything about you- the good and the bad. And she has a photo album full of pictures of you, and most of them are scowling or crossing their arms over their chest. All but the ones of the two of us together. She knows you're irritable, knows you're brilliant and quirky and dark.
"She's your daughter, Severus, and she's a great deal like you. I think she has my face and nose, and the curls are mine- but the rest is you, from the way she cocks her head when she considers a question, to the way she stands and the way she holds her quill. I think she will find it a relief to have someone so like her around. She knows she's not getting a perfect father, Severus. She is utterly lacking in the naïveté she should have at her age. She just wants you, as you are. And she's been terrified that you won't want her, that the surprise will be too much. She's worried that while she's spent seven years hoping, you'll have no interest in her. She's picked up on the fact that you're not fond of children, you know."
That hurts for a moment, even though it's true. I was never fond of children. I certainly never thought I'd have any of my own, and never considered whether that unilateral dislike would extend to my own offspring. But I know now with unshakeable certainty that it does not. I love that girl with all my heart, even though I don't know her as a person yet. I love the idea of her, the reality of her, and that's the start we both need.
"I'm not fond of other people's children," I correct softly, and Hermione hears the unspoken message and nods, her silence a testament to the nearness of tears.
"Thank you," I whisper, and then tug her hand to pull her off the couch with me. I slip quietly into Eve's room to stand gazing down at the sleeping face with fascination, studying the angles and planes of Hermione's face and mine, blended with such beautiful effect.
"Why Eve?" I ask in a whisper, and she hugs me again.
"I wanted to name her after you," she explains. "I took the second through fourth letters of your name for hers." She pauses, and I'm suddenly aware that she's afraid I'll think her overly sentimental, but when I lightly touch her collarbone with gentle fingertips, she goes on. "And for her middle name, I used the third through fifth. Her full name is Evelyn Verity Snape."
My heart squeezes again, and I bend to kiss Hermione's lips, gently, chastely, in thanks. That there will be something of me left behind, no matter what my fate, is more comfort than I would ever have wanted to believe. That this woman missed me enough to give our child my name, so carefully chosen, and then believed in me enough to give her my surname- to announce to the world her liaison with an imprisoned Death Eater- is a gift greater even than my freedom.
I know that if we stay we might awaken the sleeping child before us. Not really wanting to go, I lean over to gently brush the hair from my daughter's face.
So many things to do with her, for her. So much life still to live.
So much for my spoon, I think quietly. And good riddance.
We tiptoe out of Eve's room and into Hermione's across the hall. She tows me to the bed, shy and excited all at once, and I feel my heart thud with sudden understanding.
She still wants me.
I undress her slowly, savoring every inch, every change since the last time we lay together- since the creation of Eve. She is lovely, and I can see the faint traces of the pregnancy that remain on her body- her breasts, her belly. I mourn quietly for the moments I missed: her discovery of the pregnancy, her labor and delivery, the quiet moments, the loud ones, the aggravation.
"I've missed you," I confess huskily as I lower her to the bed.
"I've missed you too," she replies. "More than you can imagine. So much has happened!"
I study her for a long moment, pausing to kiss her neck and her breastbone, caressing her belly and sides.
"Will you marry me?" I ask softly, and she smiles into the darkness.
"Of all the questions you've ever asked me, Severus Snape, this is the easiest one to answer. Yes."
I chuckle as we move together.
"What's so funny?" she asks, her voice hoarse.
"Just thinking. Who would ever have thought that a quick shag against the dungeon wall would lead to this?"
She snorts. "If two hours is your idea of a quick shag, Severus, we're in trouble."
I smile, but I'm too busy with other things to reply to her witticism. I know there's healing to be done, and I know Hermione and I will need to relearn one another- not that there are many events for her to catch up on in my life since last we met. But there's a deep-rooted knowledge in my soul that I belong with her, and with Eve, and if we need to work some of those issues out before we wed, that's fine with me. I'll enjoy a long engagement. I'm a patient man now, and I've learned that good things take time to build.
After all- two hours is my idea of a quick shag.