Author/Artist: cathedral carver
Title: Where We Search for Snow
Summary: Making it up as they go along.
Original Prompt: Written for the 2012 SSHG Exchange. EWE - Though Voldemort is defeated and good has won out, evil still exists in both the magical and Muggle worlds. Hermione happens across Snape as he is being harassed by some people (magical or Muggle) and in a desperate attempt to rescue him she pretends to be his wife. This news quickly spreads through the magical world. Their lie and a new law force them into a marriage neither had any intention of actually being in.
The man with no voice awakes in a cold sweat in the blackest hour of night. He's had the same dream again, the one he always has, but it's raining outside, not snowing; he can hear the sharp report of the drops on the roof above him like falling marbles, he thinks. No, like nails. Like the ones his father used to hammer in the basement, so long ago, and it sounds like this, in his head, in his ears. He pushes up on his elbows and tries to make sense of his surroundings. It's always likes this, but it still catches him by surprise, each and every time, like his dreams about falling: Arms pinwheeling, no purchase, wind buffeting his hurtling body and then just before slamming into the ground: awake. He's not really going to die, but Merlin, sometimes he wished he would. His entire body shakes violently and his legs twist up hopelessly in the thin sheets. He leans over the side and vomits onto the floor; not a lot, as he hasn't eaten much in the past day. His eyes tear and his throat burns with it, but the only sound he makes is a low, guttural moan. After a moment it passes, his breathing steadies and he wipes his eyes roughly with the sleeve of his dressing gown. He rolls over and pushes his face into the pillow, wills his heart to stop racing. And it's always like this. It starts with the dream, the dream about the faceless girl in the snow, and it ends like this.
These are the things he doesn't know: His past. His future. The sound of his own voice.
These are the things he does know: His name. His age. And that he's completely alone.
He lays there in the narrow, dank room on his narrow, dank bed, waiting for daylight, waiting for the pain to subside, and waiting for the sun to rise so he can get on with italready. Ah, there. The first light peeks in through the shuttered window, slants across the sheets, touches his face. He sits, swings his feet over the side of the bed, touches cold, rough wood flooring. He rubs his hands over his face, rubs away the wetness on his cheeks. He fumbles on his bedside table for the small vial he consumes with an alarming regularity. Amissa Solus. He shudders as it goes down, like he always does. After a moment the shaking stops and he takes a deep breath.
And so the day begins.
The girl with no name awakes in the doorway of an empty storefront in a place she doesn't recognize in a part of town far away from where she started. It is still dark, but dawn is coming. It is very cold and she can see stars for the first time in a year. She sits and stares at them, arms wrapped around her knees, forgetting for a moment how cold it is, how cold she is, how scared she might be, if she allows herself to be.
This was what she knows: Her identity. Her age. Her past.
This was what she doesn't know: She's alive, she's free, and she's completely alone.
She also knows that while she is, indeed, out, finally out, she knows they are coming after her. They won't let her go that easily. They never do.
She has nothing but the clothes she is wearing — not the telltale pale blues of the place she left behind, thank Merlin — but some Muggle articles she nicked off a clothesline: a flannel shirt, jeans, jumper. The shoes are not much more than slippers, but they'd have to do for now. Money, she thinks. I need money. Stealing is an option, but getting caught is not, because if she is caught—
If she's caught. Again.
She rummages through bins in the backs of stores and finds enough to eat to keep the gnawing hunger away.
She keeps her head down eyes, averted, hands on the defensive, ready to fight, always, but on her third night on the outside she's confronted by a group of ruffians who push and paw at her. She tells them she has no money, but they don't stop.
"Get your bloody hands off me!" She gets in a few solid kicks, but it only makes them angrier.
(Ah, my kingdom for a wand)
She finally breaks free after a solid kick to someone's groin and takes off running. She has no idea where she's going and she doesn't know when she's going to stop.
He eats alone, always, tea and porridge and sometimes, if he's feeling particularly hopeful, a sugar bun. But, that doesn't happen often. He opens his shop, as he does every day. That has never changed. The apothecary is the only thing he knows about for sure and it's like a living thing in his hands. His is not the only one in Diagon Alley, but it is the best; he's made sure of that. The most complete, the most diverse, the best-stocked. He has put several others out of business over the years simply because of his superior knowledge. Surely, it's not because of his welcoming manner.
He doesn't need the money, but he needs something to do, something to occupy himself every day, else he'd go mad, wouldn't he? He's not sure, but he won't take any chances. Not anymore.
There's a ritual to it all and he follows it because something horrible will happen if he doesn't, he's sure of that. Rise, bathe, dress, breakfast, sweep, inventory, deep breath, open. Yes, it's the same every day and it's reassuring, familiar.
Today, however, when he opens the door, something different happens: He trips and almost falls over the pile of rags in the doorway. His foot connects with something soft and solid and it makes a loud noise. Apparently there's a person under there somewhere.
The girl, when she sits up, is scrawny and dirty and looks like she hasn't eaten in days. But underneath all that is something else. Something that itches at him beneath his skin. Something oddly familiar in the slant of her forehead, the tilt of her nose. And by the way her eyebrows raise at the sight of him, he wonders for a moment if she feels the same. Have they met before? Surely not. He scowls at her. She scowls back, but makes no attempt to move.
"I…I thought this place was empty."
He shakes his head, points at the sign above the door: Impii Plantis. He makes deliberate shooing motions at her: Go. Away.
"Sorry," she mutters. She stands, tucks her hands into her armpits. "What's the matter with you? You don't talk?"
He shakes his head again, moves to close the door.
"How can you run a business if you can't talk to your customers?"
He makes an angry scribbling motion with one finger on his opposite palm: Pen on parchment. It's not a difficult concept to grasp.
"Look. Can I…can I come in for a bit? It's freezing. I just need to warm up."
He hesitates. He has just lit a small fire in the hearth and he can feel the heat licking at his back. Surely it wouldn't hurt to let her warm up before he sends her on her way. He opens the door and bit wider and she scurries in.
She stands in front of the fire, turning this way and that while he finishes his final preparations. She studies the contents of his store supplies intently.
"Germander and Nux Myristica? Those are pretty rare. Where did you get them?"
He doesn't answer her.
"And Witchblood? I haven't seen that in a long time. I thought it was banned by the Ministry years ago."
It was, he thinks, without turning around. But no one has complained yet. Plus, they fetch three galleons each.
"Well just because they don't complain doesn't mean it's right," she mutters. "And that's an exorbitant price."
His head whips around in her direction.
How did you hear me?
The girl frowns. "What do you mean? You just spoke." She's confused. "Didn't you?"
He shakes his head again. I can't speak. I haven't spoken since— He closes his eyes briefly. A long time.
The girl crosses her arms in front of her, tilts her head. "Well I can hear you just fine. What's going on? Is it some kind of trick?"
If it is, I'm not the one doing it. He moves closer. What's your name?
The girls grips her elbows in her palms, bites her lower lip hard.
"I don't know." It's little more than a whisper, but the man hears her.
She shakes her head, steps away and moves towards the door. "I'm warmer now, thank you. I'll be going. You really should move the Germander away from the Nux. They're going to taint one another. Then you'll really have some angry customers."
Her hand is on the doorknob when she speaks again. "What happened to you, anyway?"
The man grimaces, one hand moving to his throat involuntarily, protectively.
The girl nods: this she understands. After all, she has scars of her own. She seems reluctant to leave. He wonders where she's going; he wonders if he should offer her a place here. No. Inappropriate. After all, he barely knows her.
"You live here all alone, do you?"
He nods, once.
"Ever get lonely?"
The man lifts his chin and narrows his eyes. Then he shakes his head once, quickly.
"Me either." She nods and then she's gone.
The man expels a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. She could hear him. She could hear his thoughts. How was that possible? He quickly separates offensive ingredients, all the while berating his stupidity, when he notices three of the Witchblood bulbs are missing.
She'd stolen from him. Of course she had. The little brat had nicked some of his most valuable ingredients with nary a backwards glance. And after he'd been so kind to her. Well. He'd tolerated her. He locks the door, wards it, drinks a vial of ? and staggers off to bed. Maybe tonight he'll dream of the faceless girl again. Maybe.
He closes his eyes and presses his face into the pillow. His stomach churns and his nerves settled as the drug courses through his veins.
And so the day ends.
She comes upon him a few days later as he is being beaten bloody and near senseless in Knockturn Alley. Her first thought is to turn and run, as it always is, self-preservation and all that, but for some reason her feet won't move. It could be the same group of men who attacked her days before, can't be sure, but the sight of three beating up on one fuels her anger and innate sense of injustice and before she knows it she has charged at them, screaming and kicking for all she's worth. If nothing else she startles them enough for them to lose their concentration, and the man gets in several kicks before he manages to pull a wand and wave it in their general direction. It's enough to make them pause.
"Get off him!" the girl yells, moving to stand beside the man. He has blood on his face. The men back up slightly, more unnerved by the sight of the wand than her angry face.
"Who the hell are you?" one asks.
The girl pauses. Who is she, after all? What is she doing defending this person she barely knows? Finally she speaks, before she knows exactly what she's going to say.
"I'm his wife. And he's late. Now bugger off. All of you."
He leans on her heavily as they walk back to his store, her arm around his middle. He is surprisingly thin beneath his dark clothes, but there's a hard muscle there, too. She wonders why he wasn't able to defend himself better. She helps him over the threshold, seats him on a small stool by the fire that is dying. She arranges a few sticks of wood in the embers, holds her chilled hands over the flame. Would it ever stop raining?
Thank you, he thinks.
She shrugs. "It's all right." She pauses. "Why didn't you just use your wand in the first place?"
He's quiet for so long she's not sure he's heard her.
I haven't used magic since— well. In a long time.
This time he doesn't answer at all.
She sits on the floor in front of the fire, stretches out her hands. He watches her.
Those marks…on your wrists. He stops because he doesn't know what else to say.
She pulls her raggedy sleeves down with a start, shoves her hands into her lap. "What of them?"
The man shrugs. They are, unless I miss my guess, restraint scars.
He stares at her. She finally meets his gaze directly.
"A war of a different kind."
They sit in silence for awhile. The girl glances over at him when she thinks he's not looking.
"May I?" She indicates his face and he nods. She finds a flannel, wets it, gently cleans the blood from his nose and cheek. "It's not too bad. Just a small cut."
He relaxes under her touch and it surprises him. She pulls away when she senses him relaxing, bites her bottom lip.
"I…should go now."
He is startled, more upset than he would have thought.
She doesn't know, and they both know it.
The man's guts churn.
If you get caught stealing from someone else, they may not be as forgiving as I have been.
You could…stay here. After all, we are married now.
She can't help but smile at that.
What did you do with the Witchblood you stole from me?
She raises her chin. "Sold it." She shrugs, one-shoulder. "A girl has to eat."
And this girl also needs to pay me back.
"I don't have it all."
Pay me back what you owe, then.
Well, you seem fairly knowledgeable about the ingredients in my store. You could help out here until I see fit.
She looks around. "Yes. I guess I could do that."
Better than selling drugs on the street.
She reaches out and strokes the top of his head, feeling his silky hair beneath her fingers. He leans into it without realizing, then pulls away as if shocked.
"What? Is something wrong?"
How did you know I…like that?
She doesn't answer because she doesn't know. She just…knew he would like it. She shakes her head slowly.
Do…do you know me?
She did not. Did she? She both did and did not, at the same time. He was both familiar and utterly foreign to him.
Who are you? he asks at last, and this, at least, she can answer. This one is easy. This one she knows in her sleep.
"I don't know."
"What are you working on?"
Why don't you tell me?
She stands and watches him for a moment, his agile movements, his quick fingers. "Ah. Scintillation Solution. You need more rose thorn," she says suddenly. Merlin. She's right.
How did you know? he asks half-grudgingly, half in admiration.
"I don't know. I just…know."
You may stay…here, if you wish. I have room. You will be safe.
"I'm not taking charity."
Of course not. In turn, you will assist me. I have more work than I can handle, most days, and I'm…not an easy person to work with, I've been told.
Her lips quirk. "Really."
"Well. I suppose. If you need me."
If you need me.
I do. He pauses. But, you have to listen. Follow instructions.
He pauses. And no stealing.
She considers for longer than he likes. Finally, she nods and something like relief floods his stomach.
He dreams about snow. Always. And the faceless girl. And falling. This time when he falls, though, she catches him.
You're very good at this.
They are working in the back room, brewing a complicated concoction using moonseed and olibanum for a special client.
She shrugs, pours some a thick, violet liquid into the beaker.
She laughs. "Where?" She pulls a few stray curls back from her forehead; impatient. She's not as young as he first thought he realizes as he studies her; more woman than girl, a few fine lines around her eyes and she looks so very tired. She pushes her hair back again. He'd like to hold it there for her, out of her eyes, but balls his hands into fists instead.
I don't know, obviously. But what is obvious is that you have extensive knowledge in this area. One does not just pick that knowledge up here and there. You've been taught and taught well.
She shrugs again but won't look at him. She shakes the beaker more brusquely than necessary. "If I knew, don't you think I'd tell you? Don't you think I'd do something if I knew?"
They work in silence for long moments, not uncomfortably.
"What am I supposed to call you, anyway?"
Again a long pause before he finally replies:
Snape. You may call me Snape.
With his back turned he downs a vial of Amissa Solus, his third that day.
"Why are you drinking that? Don't you know how addictive it is?" Her voice is casual, too casual, he thinks.
It doesn't concern you. His tone is sharp and she flinches, just a bit.
"No. I guess it doesn't." She makes her voice hard. "Still. Need to be careful."
He nods. He knows this.
Her debt is paid off in a week. He tells her as much, indicates that she is free to go. She looks at him a long time.
"Would you like me to go?"
I'd like you to do what you want.
"That doesn't answer my question."
No. I guess it doesn't.
She rarely leaves the store, and when she does, only at night. He worries for her, and he worries for himself. He's deathly afraid she'll leave one night and never return. He doesn't tell her this. He's just happy she's here.
During the third week they find her. Or, they almost do. He looks up one afternoon to see a Ministry official standing in his store. He immediately thinks of the girl, who was busy sorting mushrooms a moment ago, but when he turns his head she's nowhere to be seen.
"It's believed you are harbouring someone here unlawfully."
Snape smiles, shrugs slightly, as if to say, News to me.
"A young woman? Recently escaped from a locked ward in St. Mungo's. She's…unstable. It's best that she is returned as quickly as possible."
Again Snape smiles and shrugs, moves his arms expansively as if to say, Have a look. There's no one here.
The man nods and sighs. "She could be dangerous to you, as well. As I said, she's unstable."
Then he's gone and the girl is back.
Where did you go?
"I cast a Disillusionment Charm."
How would you know to do that? And without a wand?
"I just did. I can't go back there. I need…I need more time."
To do what?
"To find out who I am."
That night he takes a double dose of Amissa and she finds him shaking and shivering on his bedroom floor.
"You're sick," she says.
He shakes his head, as if to say It's nothing.
"It's not nothing," she says.
And it's not, because soon after he falls into convulsions, his body saturated with more potion than it can handle.
She holds him and strokes his hair while he convulses. She will still be holding him in the morning.
He finds her standing by the fire when he finally rouses himself from his sweat-soaked bed. Her face is still.
"You almost died last night," she says quietly. His hands are shaking. She closes her eyes. All the air is sucked from the room.
But I didn't.
"No, not this time, but." She shrugs.
That night she goes out and doesn't come back.
On a bitterly cold afternoon Snape finds another visitor in his store, one he hasn't laid eyes on in many years.
"Hello, Severus," says Minerva.
He nods. His heart is pounding behind his ribs. He waits.
"Where is she?" Minerva's voice is gentle, but behind it lies something made of thin steel. She's not angry, not yet, but she wants to know.
Who? Snape scribbles on a bit of parchment, the same way he communicates with any other customer who asks any other kind of question.
"Hermione, Severus. I know she's here. They're looking for her and it's dangerous for her. She's…fragile."
Hermione. The girl's name. Snape closes his eyes as a flare erupts in his head.
I know her, he scribbles. Sweat beads on his forehead. And she knows me, doesn't she? How? It's as if we've met before.
Minerva shakes her head, distressed.
She knows me.
"She can't, Severus. She was…Obliviated, many years ago."
Snape shakes his head violently. She knows me. And I know her. She can read my thoughts. She knows me. I know her.
"You can't, Severus. You were Obliviated, too."
Minerva moves closer, holds her hands very tightly in front of her. She looks at Snape intently.
Who…did this to me?
"Oh, Severus." Minerva bends her graying hair and begins to weep. Snape stares at her.
"I…we had no choice, Severus. You don't understand."
And the girl.
"Hermione," Minerva prompts.
Hearing her name spoken aloud stirs something in his chest, something he'd thought long ago dead and buried. Hermione.
"She…she went mad, Severus, after the war."
We…we were in love.
Minerva raises her head at last and looks right at him. He sees the answer before she speaks. "Very much."
"She found you in the Shrieking Shack. She helped heal you for months after. She trained with you and you taught her all you knew. You fell in love and were together for several years."
Snape waits. He tries to breathe.
"She was…she was a prisoner of war, I suppose. She was…taken by a band of rogue Death Eaters. Oh, Severus."
What did they do to her?
"We never found out. She…never spoke again, you see. We tried, Poppy and I…we tried everything. Her parents were never located…we had to take responsibility for her. At St. Mungo's they…"
"They tried everything, Severus, you have to believe this. I'd never seen Healers work so hard to bring someone back. But she was too…she was too damaged, I'm afraid. In the end they resorted to Obliviation. Within months she started to speak once more, but…"
She remembered nothing.
Minerva shakes her head. She has at last stopped crying, but her face looks older than Severus could recall, lined and worn, her eyes lost and empty. "It all but killed you. She was too ill to leave the ward, she was frightened of everything and everyone. She wouldn't let you near her. She didn't want to leave, I swear. I couldn't bear…couldn't stand…" She sighs. "It was my decision, in the end. Hermione would never have remembered you. Not the relationship you'd had. It seemed…kinder, to remove your memories of her, too."
Snape's breaths sound very loud in his ears.
"When I heard she had escaped I became frantic, you have to understand. I never believed she would end up…here."
It's not an accident that she found me again.
Snape stands. The room is too small for everything he is feeling.
She knows me.
Reluctantly, Minerva pulls a small photo from her cloak pocket and hands it to him. It's well worn, as if it's been held many times in the past. It's them, the two of them, standing together in the snow. His arm is around her and her face turns up towards him, clean and young and filled with joy. Snow falls around them.
"It's your wedding day," Minerva says. "It's the only photo taken of the two of you. The last photo taken of the two of you. I've kept it, all this time. I couldn't bear to…"
She knows my voice.
Minerva pauses. "If you need to find her, Severus, use your voice. Nagini didn't take it, you see. You survived unharmed. You simply stopped talking after you lost Hermione."
The girl is huddled in yet another doorway, looking once again like the pile of rags he first encountered several weeks earlier. He kneels down in front of her, places a gentle hand on the top of her head. She doesn't move and for a moment he's terrified that she's dead. Finally she rouses.
"Snape." Her voice is dull.
"I thought I'd never find you again," he says.
It takes her a moment to realize he has spoken out loud. She stares at him.
"Your voice," she says.
"Yes, my voice. I found that again, too, it seems."
"What do you want?" she says.
"You," he says simply. "That's all, and that's everything I know. You are a black spot, empty, but still there. I feel not you, but the absence of you."
He hands her their photo.
"This is…this is a photo of…me." She peers at the moving images, the almost unrecognizable girl with the long, wavy hair, smiling and waving, hugging the tall, black-haired man next to her. "This is us."
She holds it up for him to see. Her hands are shaking.
"It's us." He holds out his hand for her to take. "We found one another again and it's time for you to come home."
They lie in bed together many nights now, trying to remember, and when they can't, they create new memories. Maybe they are true, maybe not, but they are their own.
"Here," she says. It's cold in their room tonight. She can almost see their breath.
"What is it?" He holds the bottle up to the dim light. It's viscous, green, swirling.
"An anti-addictive…to Amissa Solus."
He stares at it, then at her.
"But…there is no known…"
"I've been doing research of my own.
"You did this…for me?"
He kisses her, the softness of her lips, the silk of her hair, the roundness of her breasts.
"Talk to me," she says.
"Anything. Anything at all. I love to hear your voice."
He puts his arms around her. "A poem I remember, then, from many years ago. My mother may have told it to me."
See the pretty snowflakes
Falling from the sky;
On the wall and housetops
Soft and thick they lie.
On the window ledges,
On the branches bare;
Now how fast they gather,
Filling all the air.
Look into the garden,
Where the grass was green;
Covered by the snowflakes,
Not a blade is seen.
Now the bare black bushes
All look soft and white,
Every twig is laden,
What a pretty sight!
When he's finished he looks down at her. She's crying.
"I remember," she says. "I remember that. You've told me that one before."
She places a hand to each side of his face and closes her eyes as if concentrating very hard.
"What are you doing?"
"I don't know. Memorizing you. I will never forget you again."
"Hermione." His voice is rough, long unused, but it's his voice, still.
"That's…my name. My name," she says.
She stares at their photo, their mirror images, impossibly young and impossibly in love, alternately smiling at the camera and then smiling at one another, Hermione's face tilted up towards Severus's. He looks as if he's smothering a joyful laugh.
She rolls over and wraps her arms around him, holds him tight.
And so their life begins, again.