Cuthalion for allowing me to borrow her conception of Severus and her OFC Ruta. Moon Waltz
J.K. Rowling, of course, is the creator of Severus Snape.
29 January, 2009
Ruta and Stephen are standing on a small hill beneath silver-streaked birch trees, gazing down towards the frozen lake. Their breaths ghost on the air. Wrapped thickly in woollen cloaks, they are virtually snuggled together, side by side.
Behind them looms the great, dark bulk of Hogwarts Castle, the narrow windows of the Great Hall gleaming in golden rectangles. Although the silence of the night is sharp and tingling, Ruta imagines she can hear the excited chatter of the students wafting across the snow, and feel the warm glow of the Hall as the children sit down to their evening meal.
She’s off duty tonight. She and her husband have non-school business to attend to.
Like this. Moon-watching.
They drink in the sight spread out before them. The lake is a perfect, polished mirror of ice, lit up by an eerie illumination spilling from the sky. There, above, is the miracle, the source of light: the crescent moon like a silver smile in the velvet night, in close proximity to the ice-white crystal of Venus.
Ruta sighs contentedly.
‘Now that's worth coming out in this freezing cold for!’
Stephen nods crisply.
‘A regular occurrence, this particular conjunction, but no less impressive for all that.’
‘It’s beautiful,’ Ruta breathes. She can feel her eyes shining, like a child’s.
Like the shine in Teddy’s eyes, his hair flaming from orange to turquoise, as he watches Uncle Harry cast the Patronus Charm. Like little Lily Potter’s eyes as her chubby fingers grasp the soft, squishy rag doll given to her by Auntie Ruta on her first birthday. Like young Phillip Stockton’s eyes when he earned ten points in Herbology this week and only two days later made his very first Draught of Peace in Potions.
They’re all Ruta’s children, in a way. She has learned to live with the old pang of not having any of her own. She has Stephen. Which is enough. No: it is more than enough.
She glances sideways at him. Although his profile is half-hidden beneath his hood, she can see that his deep-set eyes are crinkled and that his generous, sensual mouth – so different from the thin lips he used to have – is twisting in his familiar, small, faintly mocking smile. His facial features may have altered but that smile has never changed.
‘Laughing at me?’ she chides, teasingly.
He shakes his head, grey locks swinging beneath his hood.
‘Not at all, my Herb of Grace. May none of us ever lose our capacity for wonder.’
Ruta chuckles. That’s her Stephen: each word precisely measured and thoughtful, almost avuncular, as if he’s giving a lecture. Her heart fills with a warmth like wine. She loves him so much. She never wishes him to change. He’s been through enough painful changes as it is.
She slips her hand into his.
‘I’ll have to show you what Hermione sent me on that Muggle computer of hers,’ she says. ‘She’s downloaded all this information from NASA for me to look at – absolutely wonderful photographs, Stephen, we can look at them later. Incredible pictures of the Milky Way and remote galaxies and close-ups of the planets in our own solar system … Of course Muggle photos don’t move, that’s the only disadvantage. And our centaurs here at Hogwarts knew all about the conjunction – they’re just as reliable as any Muggle news! But, my goodness … what powerful telescopes the Muggles have, to be able to take photographs so far out in space …’
‘Muggle astronomy does seem to be extremely advanced, eclipsing even the ancient wisdom of the centaurs,’ Stephen remarks. (It is a mark of his newly acquired knowledge of the Muggle world that he has no need to ask Ruta what NASA is.)
‘I should say so,’ Ruta agrees. ‘We can’t exactly name any wizards who have walked on the moon, can we?’
‘That is true,’ he says levelly. ‘In many ways the Muggles’ world, particularly their scientific knowledge, is far more advanced than ours. And yet …’ His mouth quirks … ‘and yet, we possess powers forever barred to them.’
‘That seems a fair exchange to me,’ says Ruta thoughtfully. ‘They’ve developed great science and technology, we have our vast reserves of magic. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine a life without magic.’
‘No, indeed. And that leads me to enquire … what kind of magic would you like to see tonight, my Herb of Grace?’
Before she can even ponder her answer, he gathers her swiftly against him, tight and close, winding his dark winter cloak around them both, and …
In a whoosh of air, they are flying.
They’re flying. Whirling slowly upwards and forwards, Ruta shrieking and clinging onto Stephen’s shoulders, her fingers digging into the thick fabric of his cloak … they whirl through the air in a smooth circle until they land, juddering, on the surface of the lake, and Ruta feels her boots scrape on ice.
Yes, her boots scrape on the ice … her sturdy Muggle walking boots (a present from Hermione) have been Transformed into skating boots, the sharp icicle of the blade digging into the ice, holding her perfectly poised against Stephen’s tall, lean form as he maintains their position in a Holding Spell: elegantly crushed against each other, they cannot fall, sustained by the power of magic. His magic.
She pummels his chest gently with her fist.
‘How did you do that?’ she cries. ‘A Flying Spell, a Transfiguration and a Holding Spell all at the same time? Wandless and silent? You big sneak!’
He slides one finger beneath her chin, tips her face up. His normally grey eyes look almost black – as dark as they used to be.
‘Well, my dear …’ His velvet voice teases her. ‘You see, I’m a wizard.’
Ruta snorts with laughter, burying her face in the wool of his cloak.
‘Honestly. What other tricks do you have hidden up your sleeve?’
‘Ah,’ says Stephen. He slides his arm around Ruta’s waist, and expertly guides her into a swift, graceful, sweeping movement, her body bending against his, and she realises that they’re dancing, waltzing slowly and carefully over the ice.
She has no need to remember how to do the steps, if indeed she ever knew them at all: Stephen knows, and he’s guiding them both effortlessly. Her body moves smoothly against his, not as if she has no will of her own but as if she’s been invited to take part in a dance that's already happening around her … the motion of the moon and the stars in the sky, the slow waltz of the planets through space.
All around them lie sparkling ice and gleaming snow and ink-black shadows in the moonlight. They wheel slowly across the shining lake; a tall, middle-aged wizard and his younger wife, two lone silhouettes, dancing in figures of eight and wheeling in perfect grace, the blades of their boots carving intricate patterns on the ice.
All Ruta can feel, in the frigid, stinging air, is how warm and close he feels, how safe and warm she feels. She shuts her eyes and melts into the rhythm of the waltz, allows the dance to possess her, pressed tightly as she is against Stephen, drinking in the heavy, soft, affluent smell of his woollen cloak, feeling how lean and hard and solid he is against her.
All she is aware of is the movement of the dance, her body bending with it, and the heft of his cloak, swinging in the rhythm … it’s more like floating than dancing; she can hardly feel the incision of her boots on the ice at all.
At last the world stops spinning around them as they gently glide to a halt and pose again, perfectly poised, on the ice.
Ruta rests her cheek against Stephen’s. She feels his large hand stroke the gleaming strands of her hazelnut hair – the colour darkened to purple in the moonlight – which have escaped the confines of her hood.
She reaches up and strokes his cheek.
‘You’re a pretty good ice skater, Mr Seeker,’ she says softly. ‘Talk about hidden talents.’
His face is impervious but his eyes gleam darkly.
‘I had the perfect partner, my dear, for an ice-dance.’
She whispers, ‘Let’s go home.’
The gleam of his eyes intensifies.
Ruta grins wickedly.
‘We can continue … dancing there.’
The fire crackles in the grate. Ruta and Stephen lie together in a nest of pillows and crumpled blankets, naked and satiated. Two glasses of wine – the wine as red as blood – stand on the bedside table.
Ruta lets out a long sigh, staring up at the ceiling, her rich brown hair spread out over the pillow. Stephen watches her, propped up on his elbow, his long fingers caressing her arm in a gentle, soothing rhythm.
In the background, a woman’s voice yearns over the rippling notes of a sitar … one of Ruta’s favourite records, 'The Hour of the Lotus', sung and played by an Indian witch called Amita Santhanam. The yearning melodies weave a seductive spell, the music flowing sweetly like water.
Self-lighting aromatherapy candles shine like tiny gold coins around the bedroom, releasing delicious scents of jasmine and sage. Unlike their Muggle equivalents, there is no danger that they can melt and catch fire to the furniture.
‘Good job Winky isn’t here,’ Ruta murmurs. ‘She’d be a little shocked, I think, about Master and Mistress retiring to bed so early in the evening.’
Laughter rumbles in Stephen’s chest.
‘Indeed,’ he says, mouth quirking. ‘I hope she is enjoying the house-elves’ party up at the school.’
‘I’m sure we’ll hear all about it tomorrow, love. Every single last detail.’
‘Hmm,’ he says absently. He’s frowning a little.
Ruta understands. Sometimes his expression grows distant, as if he’s pondering on things long past, long gone … as if he can’t quite believe his luck in the present.
Somehow, she always understands this need of his – occasionally – to retreat, to be alone. It’s never for long. He always comes back to her.
She allows her gaze to wander admiringly down his long, lean, naked body. He would not be a handsome man to most people’s eyes, not even in his new and permanent disguise, but she has never cared tuppence about mere looks – not then, and not now. She grew to love his hooked nose and sharp, watchful face while he was still Severus Snape and she loves him now … her wise, grey-eyed, inscrutable wizard, with his terrible past, the long years of loneliness he endured, the humility in him which was so hard won … and his fierce, singular love for her.
She thanks Merlin and all the powers in heaven and earth that his new body bears no scarring, that there is no dreadful, tell-tale wound on his neck. The marks of that old, near-fatal snake bite have been erased forever, thanks to the permanent Transfiguration he has undergone.
‘Stephen,’ she murmurs softly.
His gaze switches to her immediately. Intense and focused.
‘I love you,’ says Ruta simply.
She doesn’t often say it.
The silence shimmers between them. The golden shadows of the flames dance on his face.
He draws a deep breath.
‘I love you too … my Herb of Grace.’
He doesn’t often say it either.
She reaches for him, draws him down close. He sighs deeply, laying his head on her breast, and relaxes against her, unexpectedly and oddly vulnerable. He’s such a controlled man normally. She puts her arms around him and presses her lips to his hair.
‘Thank you,’ she whispers, ‘for teaching me to moon-waltz.’
He murmurs against her breast, ‘The moon holds no terrors for you now.’
‘The moon became my salvation,’ says Ruta. ‘Just as you did.’
He makes a small, amused, scoffing sound.
‘It’s true, Severus.’ (She doesn’t often call him that either.) ‘We saved each other.’
‘Yes.’ His voice is gentle, relective … a little sad.
Ruta doesn’t need to practice Legilimency (which she has become rather good at, thanks to his patient tutelage) to guess where his thoughts might lie.
‘Do you ever still think of … her?’
A long pause.
‘Only very occasionally, Ruta.’ His voice has resumed its usual crispness. ‘She’s no more than a long-ago memory, now. A swirling silver streak in a Pensieve. A young woman who, like her husband, was brutally snuffed out before her time …’ The control in his voice wavers slightly …‘because of the catastrophic decisions of an idiotic, callow young man seduced by Death Eater delusions of glory.’
‘She lives on, of course. In her – in her excellent son and her preposterously named grandchildren.’
Ruta smiles against his hair.
‘You know, Harry visits the grave every year,’ she says softly. ‘Maybe we should do that one day.’
‘I’d like that.’ His voice is carefully dispassionate.
Ruta sighs, and tightens her grip around him.
‘Enough talk of the past,’ she whispers. ‘I’m sorry.’
He shifts around, and gazes up at her. His grey eyes are unfathomable.
‘The past is what it is, my Herb of Grace. Let’s make the most of the present.’
‘Oh yes, Stephen.’
She kisses him. He returns the kiss, deepens it.
Oh yes, her thoughts tumble dreamily as his lean body strives against hers and they melt into each other once more, we must make the most of the present, every day.
As their bodies entwine, the eternal dance of the stars continues. Above the village of Hogsmeade, the silver bow of the crescent moon, a gentle moon that holds no terror, dips towards the horizon.