Darkness and Light 3: If We Survive
by R. J. Anderson (Revised 10/2003)
Epilogue: As That Comes Home
The storm has passed, leaving her wet and windblown, but unharmed. Beneath the silver moon the smooth, dark waves roll in, surging against the beach, then receding with a sigh. Until this moment she has been distracted by memories, unaware of any presence but her own; now she cries out in surprise as a pair of strong arms fold about her from behind, pulling her into an unexpectedly crushing embrace...
"Maud?" said a tremulous voice from the other side of the door, and then, in a tone of near-hysteria, "Maud!"
The door burst open, hitting the wall behind it with a bang. Startled, Maud looked up from her nearly-packed suitcase to see Lucinda - clad in a faded bathrobe, her hair still tangled from sleep - come flying into the room. Maud dropped the pile of clothes she'd been holding and turned to catch her flat-mate by the elbows. "I'm here," she said, in her most reassuring tone. "It's all right."
Lucinda gulped, and the words came tumbling out of her: "You didn't come home from work last night, and I was so worried, Maud, you can't imagine - I had to take a potion to get myself to sleep, and I must have taken too much because I didn't even hear you come in - and what is that man doing on our sofa?"
"Sleeping, I hope," said Maud, wincing at the shrill note in Lucinda's voice.
"But who is he?"
Maud was startled. "You really don't know?"
"Well, I didn't look at him very closely, I was too surprised..." Lucinda paused, blinking. "You mean I ought to know?"
It was hard not to smile. "Yes, you should."
Lucinda gave her a puzzled look, then turned and padded out the door. Maud followed her. Quietly they approached the sofa where their guest lay with eyes closed, and Maud watched Lucinda's expression change from bewilderment to incredulity as she whispered, "Is that... Professor Snape?"
It was easy to see, now, why Lucinda had not recognised him at once. While Maud had been deciding what to pack - a laborious process, thanks to her exhausted state - Severus had disappeared into the bathroom with shaving kit in hand, and emerged a man transformed.
Not only had he given himself a thorough wash, removing all trace of grease from his hair and yellow stain from his teeth in the process, but he had trimmed two inches of ragged ends from his hair and exchanged his habitual black robes for deep indigo. If Maud had not already known what Severus Snape looked like - and indeed was like - despite the unpleasant guise he had worn so long, she would have had difficulty recognising him herself.
"Yes," she said, no longer holding back her smile. "Yes, it is."
Lucinda frowned at Snape, then her eyes flicked to the pot of night-lilies on the table, and Maud could practically hear the puzzle pieces clicking together in her mind. In haste Maud steered Lucinda away from the sofa and back into the bedroom, shutting the door and clapping a hand over her friend's mouth just in time to muffle her scream.
"You mean it's true?" Lucinda gasped out as soon as Maud let her go. "You and Snape - it wasn't just a mad joke of Muriel's that got out of hand?"
"I couldn't tell you," said Maud in a whisper, making keep it down gestures. "We couldn't tell anyone, until it was safe."
"Those boxers!" burst out Lucinda, almost beside herself.
"What? Oh." Maud looked guiltily at the square of black silk tucked into a corner of the suitcase. "Yes, Imogen knew, but I wasn't the one who told her. George figured it out on his own, too -"
"Not that," Lucinda wailed, wringing her hands. "Maud, it's just - this is Snape we're talking about. It's so -" She stopped, eyes widening in dawning horror. "You're packing a suitcase. He had a suitcase."
Maud took a deep, bracing breath. "Yes. We're just about to go on our honeymoon."
"What?" said Lucinda, only it came out more like "Wha-ha-ha-ha-t?"
"Look," said Maud, giving up. "Lucinda. I don't mean to be difficult, but I've been up all night, and I can barely think, let alone answer a lot of questions. All I want right now is to finish what I'm doing, have a nice hot bath, and go to sleep for a few hours. So please, if you want to know what's been going on, just read the Daily Prophet. Or listen to the wireless - quietly."
"Your wedding made the news?" said Lucinda dubiously, then relented. "Oh, all right. But you owe me the whole story when you get back. Or at least -" she gave a little shudder - "the parts I can stand to hear."
Maud nodded wearily, then reached past her and opened the door. Lucinda, taking the hint, gave her a nervous flash of a smile and slipped out. Maud was just about to close the door again when she heard her flatmate whisper from the living room, "Well, I will admit, he doesn't look quite as horrible as he used to."
"Thank you," said a sleepily sardonic voice from the sofa.
Lucinda jumped, gave a little squeak of alarm, and vanished into the kitchen. And to Maud's relief, she did not interrupt either one of them again.
"Do you trust me?" said Severus softly in Maud's ear. His hands were on her shoulders; she could feel the warmth of his body against her back.
"All my life," she replied, her voice not quite steady.
A length of soft cloth came down in front of her face, wrapped gently about her eyes. She could feel him tie the knot behind her head, pulling the blindfold tight; then he turned her around to face him and said, "If this brings back any unfortunate memories, tell me."
"Memories, yes, but none unfortunate," she said, smiling at him through the darkness. For a moment she felt his breath warm her lips, knew that he was about to kiss her; then he seemed to reconsider, and pulled back. Probably for the best, she thought wryly. They had already scandalised poor Lucinda enough.
It was mid-afternoon, and they stood before the fireplace in the living room of Maud's flat, with their suitcases at their feet. Snape had awakened first, and spent some time making arrangements for their accommodation at a place he would not name; between that and the blindfold, he was clearly looking forward to her reaction when they arrived. Maud resolved not to disappoint him.
"You can pick up your suitcase now," he said, and Maud did so. She had just straightened up again when she felt Severus's arm slide about her waist, drawing her close against him.
"Goodbye," said Lucinda's voice timidly, from somewhere on the other side of the room. "Have... er, have a nice time."
Maud raised a hand to wave farewell - and felt herself pulled into the floating blankness of Disapparation. She counted seconds in the emptiness: one, two -
"That was short," she said in surprise.
Although her eyes were still blindfolded, she could feel sunlight on her face, smell roses and honeysuckle, hear a distant droning of bees and a liquid rill of birdsong. The stillness of the air, however, and the floorboards beneath her feet, told her that they were indoors.
"Do you want me to guess where we are?" she asked uncertainly.
She could hear the smile in her husband's voice. "No. You could not, even if you tried." He turned her gently around and steered her across the room; then his fingers worked at the knot behind her head, loosening the blindfold. "I only wanted you to see - this."
The cloth fell away from her eyes, and Maud found herself looking out an open bay window at a magnificent view of rambling gardens and rolling downland, with the sea lying tranquil in the distance. She drew in a sharp breath of astonished pleasure. "It's... beautiful. Severus, how -"
"This cottage," said Snape from behind her, "belongs, or rather belonged, to a distant relative, an old man of eccentric habits and some notoriety in the Muggle world. When I was very young, I paid a brief visit here, and the memory never quite left me. So when I learned several years ago that it was for sale, I made arrangements to purchase it."
He hesitated slightly on the word arrangements, and Maud wondered what it had cost him; he was not, she guessed, a wealthy man. On the other hand, he lived at Hogwarts for most of the year, with all expenses paid and a salary on top of it - so perhaps he was not so badly off.
She turned slowly from the window, gazing about the room in which they stood. It was a wide rectangle that looked as though it had once been two separate rooms, airy and well-lit, with flint walls and oaken floorboards, and an enormous stone fireplace at one end. Like Snape's bedchamber at Hogwarts it was rather Spartan in its decor, but the sofa and armchairs looked to be of excellent quality, as did the Oriental carpet spread out beneath them.
From the south wall, a set of French doors opened onto to a flagstone terrace that faced the sea; from the north, a narrow doorway led into a well-appointed, though conspicuously Muggle, kitchen. And in the far corner stood an oak-panelled staircase, inviting them to the upper floor.
"May I?" she asked almost shyly, gesturing toward the stair.
Snape looked amused. "By all means." He reached over and took the suitcase from her hand, setting it down beside his own. "My house is yours. Literally."
Her heartbeat quickening, Maud put her foot on the first step, acutely conscious of Severus's presence close behind her. "I have Muggle neighbours," he said as they ascended the stair together, "including a woman who looks after the house in my absence, and sometimes lets it to visitors when I have no need of it - which is most of the time. So there are few wizarding conveniences here, and those that do exist are well hidden." He stopped, looking up at her with brows raised. "I hope that doesn't disappoint you too much."
"Disappoint me-" She gave a breathless laugh. "No, not at all."
"Good." He walked up the final few stairs to stand beside her. "Let me show you the rest of the house, then. The bathroom is here -" He opened a door off the landing to reveal a small tiled space with a deep, claw-footed bath and pedestal sink - "and the laboratory is -"
"Laboratory?" said Maud blankly.
"At the back of the cottage, yes. It was one of the features I found most memorable about this place when I first came here. The original owner - who was, as I said, an Eccentric - had a passion for chemical experiments. Would you like to see it?"
She turned to him then, and looked him in the eyes: a long, steady gaze, betraying none of the fluttering excitement that had been building in her since the moment she set foot upon the stair. "No," she said.
Something shifted in his face then, leaving it unguarded. "I have been trying," he said with a touch of huskiness, "to be self-restrained. And I was doing well, I think... until now."
Still, he did not move, and in the end it was Maud who took his face between her hands, as she had done once before, and drew his mouth down to hers. They shared a long, achingly slow kiss, while he held her as though she were a soap bubble, or an illusion that he feared would dissipate at any moment. She tightened her arms about him, murmuring against his lips, "You don't have to hold back, Severus. Not any more."
He did not answer in words: he simply picked her up off the floor with an ease that took her by surprise, and carried her down the corridor into the bedroom. When he put her down, she turned to find herself confronted with an enormous four-poster bed, heaped with pillows and spread with a white duvet.
"Will it be comfortable enough, do you think?" said Severus from behind her. The question was meant to sound casual, and it very nearly succeeded, but his breathing gave him away. As did hers, when she replied:
"I think so - yes."
His arms slid about her waist, pulling her back against him and holding her tightly. He murmured into her hair, "You do realize, this is a dream."
"Mine, or yours?"
"Oh, mine, without a doubt." There was a note of wry self-mockery in his voice. "After all, it would strain anyone's credulity to believe that this is what you want."
She turned in his embrace, pushed him gently backward, freeing herself. "Believe it," she whispered, and her fingers went to the clasp of her robes.
Eighteen months they had spent apart from each other, and their last private moment had been haunted by grief and constraint; now they were together at last, with nothing and no one between them. As they tumbled on to the bed in a tangle of bare limbs, her arms encircling him fiercely and her fingers gripping the back of his neck, the last of his self-control gave way, and his mouth came down hard on hers. She felt then, for the first time, the full and overwhelming force of the passion they had both fought so long to restrain, and she laughed aloud with the exhilaration of offering, at last, a complete and unconditional surrender.
Later, as they lay together in the delicious weariness of consummation, Maud reached over and touched her lover's face. Her fingers searched the lines and angles of his features, defining them by touch, as she would have done if she were still blind; but she could see as well as feel the man who shared the comfort of this cool white bed with her, and her hands did not stop there. She watched his eyes closely for signs of self-betrayal as she explored his shoulders and the lean muscles of his arms, tracing his fingers one by one and at last, on an impulse, lifting them to her lips. He made an incoherent sound, and she laughed in delight, revelling in a power she had never before known herself to possess.
"Now do you believe it?" she asked breathlessly, raising herself to see him better, her hands braced on his shoulders.
He looked up at her, his black eyes unfathomable. "I never thought that I would have this," he said in an unfamiliar voice, low and earnest, without a trace of sarcasm or bitterness. "Least of all with someone who loved me, and whom... I... would love." His mouth bent slowly into a faint, wondering smile, and he reached up through the curtain of her hair to touch her cheek. "Maud. My wife. I may not be able to shout it from the top of the Astronomy Tower as promised, but I can and will say it to you, now: I love you."
"Thank you," she whispered, and kissed him. "But, you know, you did shout it from the top of the Astronomy Tower." She lay back down, folding her arms across his chest and resting her chin on them. "Though perhaps not in so many words. Still, I think everyone got the message, don't you?"
The languid movement of his hands through her hair stilled, and his smile faded. "It will be a long time, Maud, before I can speak lightly about anything that happened last night. When Voldemort put the Cruciatus Curse on you..." His voice trailed off into silence. Maud waited, watching his face, until he spoke again: "Coming down off that tower was, perhaps, the one completely uncalculated thing I can remember doing in my entire life."
"You didn't know, then, that you were protected from Avada Kedavra? Because of Dumbledore...?"
He shook his head. "He never told me what was in his mind when he went to meet Voldemort that day. We had talked before about the possibility of his death at Voldemort's hands, and how best to protect Hogwarts should the worst happen. In that much, at least, I knew my part. But I never knew that when he died... he would die for me."
He did not weep, speaking of Dumbledore: those tears had been shed long ago. But he closed his eyes, and Maud felt his chest rise with the long intake of his breath. She pressed her face against the hollow of his throat, kissed the pulse beating there, until she heard his breathing grow ragged: then she rolled over, pulling him down to her, silently urging him to forget what had almost been - and even what had been - and think only of this moment, now.
It was a long time before either one of them could speak, or wished to. But at last Snape raised himself up on one elbow, arched a black eyebrow at her and said, in the low silky voice that had always sent a thrill through her even before she knew what the feeling meant: "Now would you like to see the laboratory?"
Maud smiled. "No," she said, stretching her arms above her head with a sigh of contentment. The little red book of marital charms, which she had reviewed in some depth last night, had proved exceedingly helpful; despite the ardency with which she and Severus had consummated their love, her newly wakened body felt nothing but pleasant languor. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life right here."
"Somehow I doubt that," said her husband, "as much as I agree with the sentiment that inspired it." He picked up his wand from the bedside table. "Accio suitcases!"
"Oh, that reminds me," said Maud, sitting up and retrieving her own wand as the suitcases came floating through the open door. "Accio boxers," she said, and presented the neatly folded square of silk to Snape.
He gave her a dubious sidelong glance, then shook them out and held them up to the light. As he saw the cauldrons, his expression shifted from incomprehension to horror, and Maud hugged her knees and laughed until she could hardly breathe.
"Bloody Imogen Crump again," he said acidly, wadding the boxers up and throwing them into the corner. "As usual, her sense of humour leaves something to be desired."
"Are you so sure it was Imogen?" said Maud, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"Absolutely. I refuse to believe that you would perpetrate such an atrocity."
She smiled up at him. "You're right. But oh, the look on your face -" She began to laugh again, helplessly, as his lip curled into a self-parodying sneer. Then a dangerous gleam came into his eyes, and Maud's laughter ended abruptly as he pulled her over on top of him and silenced her mouth with his.
Eventually he fell asleep, his face relaxed as a child's, and she lay watching him for a long time before easing herself out of the bed and beginning to dress. Quietly she walked to the window, and looked out across the downs toward the sea.
Storm-clouds had begun to gather along the horizon, but they looked to be some distance away; and though the light was beginning to fade, it would surely last for some time yet. In any case, she did not mean to go very far, or stay too long. But she felt the need to walk, and think, alone, and try to absorb this momentous thing that had just happened. Not merely the amazing intimacy she had just shared with Severus, but what it represented, and how their union had come about in spite of the myriad obstacles that seemed destined to prevent it.
She let the curtain drop and turned to put on her boots. Stumbling a little as she did so, she grabbed the bedpost for support, rocking the bed a little and provoking from Severus a drowsy interrogative "Mmmm?"
"It's all right," she whispered. "I'm just going out for a walk."
There was no response; he had already gone back to sleep. Maud reached over, and gently drew a strand of black hair away from his closed eyes; then she slipped out the door, and closed it behind her.
"What," says Snape's voice in her ear, rough with emotion, "in the name of reason and common sense do you think you're doing out here?"
She turns to face him, burying her face against his chest. "I'm so sorry," she gasps, relieved and grateful and embarrassed all at once. "I got caught up in my thoughts, and the weather didn't seem very threatening at first..."
He draws back a little, looking down at her, eyes stern and mouth unsmiling. "I would not have taken it well," he says, "if you had contrived to get yourself killed by hanging about like a complete dunderhead on a cliff's edge in the middle of a thunderstorm. In fact, I would have taken it very badly indeed."
"I'm sorry," she says again, lamely.
"Of course, if you have decided that the company of the elements is more congenial than mine, I can hardly blame you; but it might be courteous to give me just one more chance..."
She starts to laugh, but is arrested by the sudden seriousness in his eyes. "Maud," he says. "Truly. If you have any regrets, any misgivings, I need to hear them. I have lived with lies far too long to want to live with another."
"Regrets!" The word is shocked out of her, and her hands tighten on his arms. "About you? Never."
"Not about me, perhaps. But about the life we will lead together, what the future holds..." He pauses. "We never really talked about those things, you and I. No doubt you felt, as I did, that if we ever lived to see our wedding day it would be a miracle, and that to imagine anything beyond that would be presumption. But it occurs to me now that I may have been... short-sighted."
Oddly touched by his concern, she reaches up, laying her hand against his cheek. "In all honesty," she says, "I never thought of those things. No doubt we can make our decisions about the future together, when the time comes. But whether you choose to go back to Hogwarts, or patent our nerve-regenerating potion and live off the profits, or retire to the Muggle world in a last attempt to avoid Harry Potter - I will stand by you, I will still be your wife, and I will go on loving you. Always."
He lets out his breath. "Then what," he says with an obvious effort at patience, "are you doing out here?"
"Musing back over the past, instead of living in the present. Thinking about how much I love you and how very much I have missed you, when I ought to have been with you." She gives him an embarrassed smile. "In short, being a dunderhead."
"Ah," he says gravely. "Well, I am not sure the root of the problem can be dealt with on short notice, but the effects certainly can. May I suggest, Miss Moody, that you come home with me? I think a bath and some potions are called for."
He is right, of course. Her hair is a wet tangle, and her clothes are sodden, disheveled, and streaked with mud; she must look far more unattractive just now, she thinks ruefully, than he has ever done. Not to mention the folly she has just confessed, which is hardly flattering either - yet no sooner has she framed the thought than she feels herself pulled back into his arms, and there in the moonlit darkness by the cliff's edge, his lips find hers.
When at last he lets her go, he does not speak again. He simply holds out his hand, and she takes it.
"Yes," she says, softly, her eyes holding his dark ironical ones, her fingers twining with his. "Let's go home."