August 20th, 2002: Azkaban, North Sea
After his one-year sentence for conspiracy under duress, Draco Malfoy returned to the island twice a year. He climbed aboard an unmanned dingy on the English shore, escorted by two Aurors: one at his fore and one at his flank, both with wands trained to his head.
"Hands out and in your lap," recited the Auror behind him, shoving him down into his seat. Draco looked down his nose at the fist gripping the shoulder of his cloak.
"Got something to say, do ya," egged on the man in front of him. Draco wrinkled his nose in distaste before settling into the ride, looking out toward the sea. His escort paused for an excited breath, hoping for trouble. When nothing happened, one spat over the side of the boat, disgusted.
"Alright, then, get a move on," the other Auror groused. He knocked twice on the boat's side and they pushed off into the rocky shallows.
Between them, the Aurors watched Draco's every move. Conversely, he simply sat with hands folded in his lap, grey gaze cast far over the Auror's shoulder, slim cloak-wrapped body bracing against the cutting, salty wind.
He looked exactly like his father when still and pale as marble. If Draco so much as twitched in a suspicious fashion, as determined by the Aurors after the fact, then he would be Stunned and returned to his overseeing officer. He would be described as unruly—or worse, accused of attempting escape—and denied another trip off British soil.
Well, in a worst case scenario, the Ministry would allow him one more journey to Azkaban. His visit to his father would last indefinitely, and with the exception of his mother, he wouldn't be missed.
Thus it remained in the disgraced scion's best interest to spend the boat ride in cold silence. As the convoy rocked across the choppy, grey waters, he stayed looking ahead for the prison rock to appear from the fog like the last fang in a wicked smile of welcome. He lifted a hand to comb back his white-blond hair, stoking the Aurors' attentions.
"Home sweet home, yeah?," leered the squat, balding Auror in front of him. It was always the two of them—one potato-shaped and the other thin in a hungry way—who tended his visits. Both claimed to have lost someone to Snatchers, on which Draco never commented.
"Oi, are you deaf? I'm talking to you," the potato pushed on.
As per usual, Draco didn't respond. He concentrated on the storm scarred guard towers looming ahead of them, backlit by the silver disk of sun behind the clouds. His pointed features were empty of any expression except, perhaps, a frown creasing around his mouth.
The Auror ground out, "Scum," but did nothing else about being ignored.
The summer visit was always quiet and uneventful. At winter solstice, although the trip over the ocean was bollock-freezingly frigid, a barb or two usually stuck under the young ex-con's skin. He would sputter or squirm, flushing red with indignity. But in summer, Malfoy gave as much as the rock under Azkaban.
Finally, the old, enchanted boat dragged them onto the hoary beach. From there, it was a short hike up the sandy bank to the security gates. Rolling his eyes, Draco lifted his arms to have wands waved over his person.
"Nothing," declared the gatekeeper, a dark skinned woman bundled to the chin in navy guard robes. She then gestured at the Aurors. "Badges, please."
The escorting Aurors scoffed and showed their identification. She nodded slowly, eyeing him as he turned away, practically bored by the proceedings. "Visiting?"
The skinny Auror grunted back, "Malfoy."
"Go on then. You know the way."
Draco then found himself crowded in on both sides by wanded wizards. They prodded him to keep a brisk pace through the iron gates and, soon, he was entering the prison fortress. The lashing of the waves on the shore was swallowed by Azkaban's magic suppressing stone. The guards shivered, each tightening his grip on Draco's arm.
Eerie quiet fell over them, pushed at by distant metallic clangs echoing through the walls. Aside from the occasional guard, Azkaban was sepulchral. Shadows of passing seagulls flew across the long, slit windows. From outside, the clammy afternoon sliced the corridors into shapes of powerful dark and meager light.
The party, even Draco, became aggravated by the stifling quality of the air. He hunched over, curling inward as the Aurors marched him up four, five, six stories, growing more restless the higher they went. By the time they reached the seventh floor checkpoint, his jaw was tight from biting his own tongue.
Well, the Aurors were hardly whispering endearments.
"Bloody Death Eater," swore the rangy one into his ear. Draco scowled and leaned away, only to be shook. "Stop moving! They never should've let you outta here. This is where you lot belong. This fucking miserable place-"
"Hold!" Another guard half-rose from his post outside of a private door. Then, recognizing Draco, he shook his head and dropped back into his seat. "Oh, just you. Yeah, he's been askin' for ya."
Draco jerked his head into some semblance of a nod, eyes on his shoes. Both Aurors and the guard couldn't help a smirk at seeing him so timid.
"Whaaat? Aren't ya glad to see Daddy again?," laughed the potato. All the officers chuckled nastily, one pushing him forward as the guard opened the solid, metal door.
They were in the new section of Azkaban now, only added since the end of the last war. It housed informants, former Death Eaters who flipped for trial, even Knockturn Alley thieves with the misfortune of notable clients. All such criminals spent their sentences in single occupant cells, floors above those who would enjoy a bit of recreational sport with their entrails. This way those who spilled their guts, so to speak, could avoid further spilling by gangs of anxious volunteers.
The metal door slammed behind him, gone being the days of the iron bars. The illusion of total privacy was, of course, shattered by the raucous laughter of the men outside.
The two men in the cell shared a look of joint loathing.
"The Ministry continues to keep beasts in their employ," commented Lucius Malfoy. He had arranged himself in a disaffected sprawl on one of two cushionless wooden chairs.
"I do hope they weren't too much of a bother."
The ex-politician looked like a new Sickle in an old coin purse. He wore the roughly hemmed, black and white striped prisoner's uniform. A patch on his chest reading "L. MALFOY" in neat, black stitching. Despite the clothes, he appeared to form: well fed and smarmy, with his clean, pale hair and skin surrendering nothing to middle age.
If anything, prison suited him. Not as much as greasing greedy palms, but far more than fear and servitude.
Draco skulked past him and lowered himself onto the edge of the bed, "I'd be shocked if they were ever less than odious. The Ministry is quite fond of its menagerie of fools."
Lucius hummed in agreement and watched, half-appalled, as the man who wore his son began to change.
Severus unclasped and shed his cloak, revealing all black wool clothing underneath. Able to blame the chill of the seabreeze for his thick attire, he patted himself down for his contraband. He flicked a lock of darkening hair from his face as it poured from his scalp like oil. He rolled back his shoulders as his spine stretched to his natural height. As he grimaced in discomfort, he pulled letters and small packages from the pockets of his waistcoat.
He had one gray eye and one black set in a half-tan face when he handed Lucius these items. Had his friend been a lesser man, he would've shuddered.
"This is utterly grotesque, I hope you know," Lucius counseled, staring fixedly in near obvious fascination.
"Yeth," replied his companion, lisping as his tongue reformed beside his shifting teeth, "tho you thay every time you thee it." When it settled, Severus tested his letters, "Stop staring."
"I shan't," he admitted plainly. "Your stomach-turning strangeness is the only entertainment I have and I refuse to give it up."
"Please, I'm blushing."
To the casual observer, the man was at best politely interested. Severus, however, having known him for decades, knew that Lucius would have the shift photographed if he hadn't thought it gauche.
Polyjuice was his favorite potion, save for odorless poisons and liquid luck. Severus' long-lasting variation on it was unpublished, and would continue to be so as long as he needed it to sneak into maximum security prisons.
"Here," Severus piled the delivered goods on the bed, not bothering to move them to the small, round table Lucius sat at beside him. "Products for your ridiculous preening."
"It's called hygiene, old boy," Lucius manfully ignored Severus picking filth from his fingernails. "You might have heard of it."
"There is food and overpriced sweets from Draco," the potions master continued, pretending not to have heard him, "as well as a few of his 'more sensitive' letters. I've read them and you needn't bother, as he's only fawning over that Greengrass girl and complaining of his mother's disapproval."
"Anything from Narcissa?" Something about his tone seemed off, in that it was too casual. Severus looked at him over his fingers, then back down.
"No, just Draco. She only writes to me around once a month, and even then it's about inane topics like the gardens at the manor. If there was anything more pertinent she wanted you to know, it isn't through me."
There was a measured silence that had him look up again. Lucius was watching him, face oddly blank.
"What," Severus pushed.
Lucius kept on with his unabashed observation of him. Severus felt the pureblood's decision not to say something in particular when the response came, "I forget sometimes that you were raised in an unfortunate context. You never learned flower language, did you?"
"Beyond what pertains to potions, what use would I have for the meaning of daffodils?"
"Girlish whimsy. Narcissa would write secret notes using flower language, in our Hogwarts days. Can you imagine."
He could and silently kicked himself for not realizing. Severus had until then considered Narcissa's regular missives as like a canary singing in the coalmine. If they stopped, something was wrong. Now, he would have to review all of her past letters for coded messages.
It was quite sneaky, actually. She wrote him essays about leaf shine and weeds as if he were a landscaper. The manor properties were immense, hosting three botanical parks, an oasis for the peacocks, and a topiary hedge maze. And Narcissa curated an image of blissful solitude, her days spent wandering over the sprawling property.
So, why would anyone intercepting her letters question a lady hermit for discussing her blooms? One could assume she was doting. Especially with her only child publicly courting, drawing him away from home, all she seemed to have were her hobbies.
"Damn," he huffed. He expected to regret his respect for her and kept being disappointed. Recovering himself, "But Draco, yes. The little fool's twisted himself into knots over this girl."
"Astoria Greengrass, honestly," sighed Lucius, exasperated. At the mention of the young couple, he went so far as to rub his temple with two, manicured fingers. The subject of Narcissa's letters had passed. "I raised him better than to consort with families who hold with their...values."
"What, is it that they dislike war or dislike bigotry?"
"I didn't see them at Hogwarts. Do tell, how strongly can one feel dislike when it comes from half a country away? I promise you, not very. Since when did vague censure stop anything more than, than awful dress sense and a wandering hand? Never."
Severus rolled his eyes, peering up at where the walls met the ceiling. One could see where the room was grown instead of built, as there was no mortar or seam.
"Their values kept them out of prison, if memory serves," supplied Severus, now plucking at the quilt on the bed. It was the same one from last year, which was strange, since Narcissa tended to keep her husband in new things. "Meanwhile, here you are, divine with purpose, primping with off-brand Sleekeazy."
Lucius side-eyed him sourly. "I paid you for sérum de soie liquide."
Severus answered his sour look with a sneer, offended by the frivolity in these requests. "You're lucky I didn't give you dish soap."
This was shrugged off.
How very French, Severus thought, snorting. His decorum slips more every visit.
"Back to the point: the Greengrasses were worse than the 'great heroes' of the Light," he said this with an honest jeer. This surprised Severus a bit. Lucius came to life on this topic more than that of hair care which, anyone could understand, was shocking given the man's priorities.
"They didn't even fight in the war. They simply sat on the sidelines while better families fought around them."
"Yours, of course, being a better family," said with no little sarcasm. His tone did not go unnoticed.
"I liked you better when you at least feigned good sense," Lucius said, turning on him. "Now that you've gone native, your Muggle sensibilities are bleeding through, staining all your better judgments."
He made the word 'Muggle' ooze vitriol. Severus held up his hands in mock surrender. Who was he to talk, really? He hadn't even the excuse of family values to explain his damning of himself to the Dark. All he had were resentments, unanswered wishes, and friends like Lucius Malfoy, to whom he roughly owed his life.
The former spy deigned to move from the bed to the table with said friend. It was in doing this that he noticed the opened letter by the vase of conjured roses. Knowing the letter wouldn't be out if he wasn't intended to read it, Severus pinched it between his middle fingers and slid it closer. Running his eyes over the handwriting-Narcissa's-and the family crest-House of Black-he was now duly shocked by the message.
He didn't show it when he slid the letter back. He just leaned back in his seat, hands on the table, waiting for Lucius to speak.
The man turned up his nose at the missive. Severus looked into his face, reading it for anything volatile. If he had to, he'd describe what he saw as affronted, at first glance, and at second, resigned. This was a long time coming, he realized. Crossing his arms over his stomach, he let the moment happen.
"She…," Lucius blinked rapidly and cleared his throat. "Narcissa wishes...to divorce me."
Severus inclined his head, having read the letter. It was awfully formal, although he supposed these things were. It was a legal parting, after all. He had only wished that his parents had divorced all those years ago, but of course never saw it happen. And so, he didn't quite expect such a personal change to come couched in jargon.
"What will you do," Severus asked, honestly curious.
His first guess would be that Lucius would challenge the divorce. The argument would be that it isn't the "done thing." Proper, pureblood marriages like theirs didn't end so much as dissolve into disinterest and mutual loathing that ate at them until one succumbed to the toxicity of it and the other was gifted with the reprieve of mourning.
"She can have her divorce," was the reply. Lucius said this while looking at his nails, as though discussing the weather. Severus could hear the irritated tap of his foot on the floor, though, and felt grubby with pity.
This was harder to witness than the man's incarceration, and both were on some level deserved. His teachings did lead Draco into a life of rejection and ridicule. For the creature that loved him most in the world, he supposed this was unforgivable.
Severus made the effort anyway, to state the marriage's case. He was there, the issue was in front of them, and by his next visit, the topic will have had a year to harden.
"You've been married through two wars. Not to mention, you've been together, since you were teenagers-since I was a child, even. You won't fight it? Refuse the filing?"
"It would make her unhappy." Lucius was now looking at Severus' stained nails with open objection.
"Stop it," he muttered, folding his hands into his arms. "And? So what if she's unhappy. That never stopped you before."
Lucius' head tilted back, hands coming up to his face. It took Severus a moment to understand what was happening, as he had never seen it before. When Lucius dragged his hands down his face and groaned, Severus realized the man was showing remorse.
"Ah," Severus noted, bemused. "That matters now, for some reason."
"You keep a very low opinion of me, Severus," the tortured man explained to the ceiling, "and quite frankly, it is becoming hurtful."
This time he pointed with his finger to say, "And again-"
"Yes, and again, it didn't used to matter, but now it does!" Lucius stood and began pacing the room. It was a rather short walk from the slit window to the door, beyond which the guards still chatted loudly.
There was a guffaw, and a thud, and Lucius raked a hand through his sheet of platinum hair and growled, "Agh, I hate this damned place! There is nothing to do here but sit and stew in, in feelings."
"Feelings" was pronounced like "Muggles," with an extra syllable of disdain. Whenever Severus had been described for his way with insults, he privately felt he had learned from some of the best. First, from his bastard of a father, may he rot in Hell. And then, Lucius, who as of that moment had rotted in several hells and found the one of regrets to burn hottest.
"I don't know how you do it, Snape," ranted Lucius, roaming again from the door to the wall. Severus lifted an eyebrow questioningly. Lucius looked at him, seeing his confusion, and threw out, "Guilt! How can you handle feeling endless guilt without contemplating ending it all!?"
Severus brought up his shoulders and glared, feeling attacked.
"Dying didn't stick, so I try not to think on it."
There, he kept to the positive. Narcissa would be proud.
"Besides, what do you think prison is for, Lucius," he rebutted, "if not for people who've committed terrible wrongs to lose themselves to guilt?"
In truth, Severus had no advice on how to survive guilt, as he barely did so himself. He hoped banking on Gryffindorish fantasies of justice might balm Lucius' existential aches. Then they could stop carrying on about feelings.
"Oh, please, prison isn't for the guilty!" Lucius began pacing side to side, from the table to the bed, chin planted on his balled fist.
The man was a hub of restless energy. It made his skin itch.
"Then tell me, Lucius, who is prison for?"
"Don't be naive! Prison is for people without connections."
Severus laughed, having heard this take once before after escaping prison himself. Twenty years ago, the argument made sense, as without Dumbledore, Severus would've been dodging Dementors with Black and the Lestranges. Now, though, watching a once confidante of the Minister of Magic run ruts into the floor of his twelve by twelve foot cell, that take was hilarious.
"I am being sincere, Severus, don't take me for a joke. Prison has never been for people with friends in high places. It's a hole for poor people and lunatics."
Severus was deeply glad for this new block of Azkaban. It seemed the inmate population most at risk were those with more cunning than friends.
"Sorry to tell you, but you don't have anymore friends in high places," Severus grinned sadistically and pointed to himself. He might still have been stinging from the comment about ending it all. His dissatisfaction with his own life was a sore spot that needn't be poked.
Fortunately, his last statement drained Lucius of his agitation. His pacing slowed to saunter that carried the prisoner from a far corner to his bed. Carefully placing his goods on the floor, Lucius climbed onto his quilt, lied down, and turned to the wall.
Severus peeked at him over his shoulder, then turned his full body in the chair. His friend let loose a gusty sigh and deflated, sinking into the mattress.
Most people guessed correctly that Draco's theatrics came from his father. Severus' had as well, to speak on it. Lucius Malfoy had a flair for the dramatic rivaled only by Albus Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort himself. Except where one had phoenixes and the other snakes, Lucius had the empty, mournful cry of the peacock.
"You're a bad friend," floated up from the quilt.
"You knew that when you saved me," he shot back.
"Take care of her for me." This time, Severus thought before speaking. It was a courtesy he spared as the woman they spoke of did, literally, nurse him back to health.
"She can take care of herself," he said. "And then some."
After that, they were silent for a while, listening to the brutes crack each other up in the hall.
The visit trailed until the end of the hour, wherein they swung between chatter and shared silence. Lucius brooded, and for the most part, Severus ignored him. Eventually realizing he wouldn't find the attention he wanted in Severus bloody Snape, he gave up.
Conversation moved to his life after death. He shared little, not wanting to blather on about the details of himself, for fear of sounding pathetic. He had spent so long living low to the ground that he'd made a home of it.
And while Lucius had more empathy for that now more than ever in his life, he was still the highborn son of an ancient house. Severus was still Severus, and whatever that entailed, it could do without close examination.
"Have you met anyone to distract yourself with? A warm body, some pitiable woman to bear you troubled little tikes? Could you have had children without telling me, you beast? Do they dissect their pets for fun?"
Severus felt his eye twitch, sensing their visit was at an end. Lucius had recovered from despondency and thrown himself into irksome probing. This made it easy to say goodbye until next summer.
It did not help that Severus had, in fact, experimented with intimacy. There were no successful relationships—not that he wished to pursue any. However, occasionally, suffering with night terrors made him crave company. He needed a body to share his bed. He wanted to fill the quiet of his dark room with another person's breathing. Sex rarely served him, but brought with it some relief from loneliness. He was skin starved, to his mortification.
The potions master really would end it all if he had to admit to his sad weakness. At forty-two years old, he might even be in search of affection. And affection was horrifying to want when one didn't readily have it.
"Don't be crass, Lucius, it's unbecoming."
"Oh! So there is a woman!"
"Am I wrong? A man, then?" There were some of those, as well.
Severus stood up, digging through his pocket for his flask. "It is time I take my leave."
"Scared you off, have I? A pity, I do so enjoy our time together."
"Piss off," Severus spat back, locating his flask. He knocked back a swig of extra-thick Polyjuice, and also found a small, linen sachet. The brew finally hit his stomach and his skin began to bubble. The bag weighed down his hand, heavy with galleons. He dropped it onto the counterpane next to Lucius' open hand, and turned to the door, weathering the seconds of his transformation.
A hand landed on his shoulder, giving him a firm pet. Like Severus was some hissing house cat. "Don't leave in a huff. Or do, but don't insult yourself and alert the Ministry dogs."
There was a final joke told outside before the guard pounded on the door. "Times up!"
Lucius smirked. Severus could feel it raising the hairs on his neck.
"We really ought to pay the guard more for your visits," Lucius said in low, conspiratorial tones. "He does a rather passable job at distracting the Aurors. They never hear a word."
He shrugged off Lucius' hand and into his cloak. Examining his reflection in the vase of roses, he judged himself a perfect copy of Draco Malfoy and went to the door.
"Don't forget to write to your mother," Lucius called, as the officer came in. The prisoner then returned to his seat at his end table. Sitting, he ignored them all to consider the state of his cuticles.
The guard searched the room as was protocol, and did a very good job of finding nothing. He then led "Draco" outside and handed him to the Aurors.
"Yeah, that's right," muttered the skinny one upon having hands around him. Severus' elbow was in a death grip, bent at an odd angle as he was led to the stairs.
"Leave your evil father in here to fester, so’s you can pretend you're decent folk."
Severus tuned him out fairly well on the trip home. An hour of good laughs had put both guards in buoyant spirits, so they mostly left him to his thoughts.