The Sugar Quill
Author: Melissa O.  Story: Soul of Fire  Chapter: Default
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Soul of Fire
Soul of Fire

by Melissa O.

Severus' letter was endless, as his letters always are, the black ink engraved almost with violence on the parchment. When I read his letters I can almost see him, dark eyes and clenched fists, alone in the Slytherin dungeon. I already knew the facts, I had kept in contact with Dumbledore during those months, and from far away our community was firm in supporting the activities of the Order. Reading the latest news I had felt powerless, and cold. Hogwarts was safe, but Voldemort was still in our nightmares, and most of the work done during those months had been plainly useless. Dumbledore's words were hard, yet full of hope. Those of  Severus were only bitter. If he hadn't closed his letter promising he would come soon, with the new moon, if he hadn't done it, I would have left immediately for Hogwarts.

His house hasn't changed. The wind still consumes the sand and the cliffs, it blows on the sea and into every room, as if it knows we absolutely need it. The stone of the floors is still cold and smooth, the wood of the ceilings creaks with the salted damp. If I am silent long enough, I can still hear his mother's voice, far far away, singing a song in Cornish, and the voice of his father, low and vibrating, murmuring spells in an ancient language I barely understand. I can feel the penetrating smoke of the cauldrons, the crack of the vials falling onto the floor and breaking. The blood pulsing in my veins, as If I were a terrified young girl once again.

Yet it's been many years since someone has lived here. The doors sealed by ancient spells, only wind and magic still inhabit these rooms.

Loving this place is not always easy. The land of our fathers, the heritage of ancient magic, the heather, the sea. Severus' mother died here; she killed herself on the cliffs I see far away, beyond the misty outline of Tintagel. His father, snakes tattooed on both wrists, devoted his life to an ancient knowledge he could not understand —that betrayed him, turning him into a slave to Voldemort, and then eventually into his victim. Severus has struggled all his life not to be like him. But this place has shaped our destiny, and we have not been able, nor willing, to deny its power.

Hogwarts was different from how we had imagined it. We came from a savage land, where the magical knowledge was sacred and vibrating in the air. Hogwarts was full of Mudbloods unaware of their power, kids who considered magic just a fun game, a way to open a door without a key, or to fetch a book without rising from the chair. They feared our magic and called it Dark  art. They didn't know. They really had no idea. They had forgotten their history, the source of their power, and how mysterious the past was that had created them. They just knew the present, the school, Quiddich points, maybe a future working at the Ministry, and what brand of broom to buy. If only they could have imagined. Voldermort had won their souls already.

Yet even us, the heirs of the ancient arts, weren’t able to fight. We were victims and executioners at the same time, the worst fate. When I was a young girl my mother used to tell me the story of Morgaine, how she hadn't been able to find Avalon in the mist, and of Merlin, cold and motionless, still a prisoner of Nimue and of his own power. And I used to look at the sea and think, how can we find our path, know who we are, be again what we used to be once?

We can't. I know that now, now that I've lived my life in the way I wanted to. Our history is too corrupted, our past too distant, the present cruel and blank. Yet we've learned many things, along the way. Kevin has taught me that it doesn't really matter where you are or where you choose to live because what you are you have with you every day. While a very wise man has taught Severus that there are no choices that cannot be undone—only trust can truly mark the depth of your soul.. And I hope someone, if not me, could teach him that however far we hide ourselves in a dark and dreary labyrinth, our soul is always there, visible through our eyes.

It took Black’s death to convince Severus to come back. Living is not easy, when someone you hate dies.

As a child I used to think that there was no such land as beautiful as this. I used to breathe the sea and the stories of our past, to draw what I saw and what I only imagined, to give life to the drawings on the paper with just a touch of my fingers. I did not understand Severus' need to run away, his urge to know, to devour the entire world. To me, time was slow and perfect, and you had to be silent to hear. I did not understand why he would look for me and climb the cliffs with me; we always ended up with fighting and screaming that we hated each other. I did not understand why he was always so sad, even when in the depth of his eyes I could clearly see a smile. Severus was six years old, and he already knew how to hide everything. The day his mother died he came to me, in the evening when the sky was still clear. He closed the door of my bedroom and sat silently on my bed, without looking at me. I was not able to talk to him; I just sat with him and drew with chalks until I fell asleep. When my mother woke me up it was dark outside. Severus was sleeping curled at the end of my bed, and his eyes were dry. She covered him with my blue woolly blanket and brought me to sleep with her in the other bedroom. That night I stayed awake and thought of Severus sleeping alone in my bed and then of his mother, white and cold, as the fisherman had brought her up to the top of the cliffs in their arms.

Unlike him, I have accepted everything about this place, and I have remained here. After Hogwarts I came back, took up my colours and did exactly what I wanted to do. I painted everyday until someone bought my first painting and hanged it in his house because it made him happy. I looked Kevin straight in his eyes and told him that yes, I was going to marry him, and that he had better find a druid immediately before I changed my mind. We had a baby with blue eyes and fair hair like ours, and I told him the legends of Glastonsbury and of the lady of the lake.

Not many wizards know and remember the ancient rituals. Yet in the dark of the night, when the fires are raised, nobody wears the mask of the present. Then the dawn comes and everything vanishes, as if those people could not live outside the forest. Until a young witch trying on a fancy dress in a shop in Diagon Alley or a wizard absorbed in a book at Flourish and Blotts recognises a face they have seen blackened by smoke, flushed by the heat of the fire, and shaken by the sound of the drums. Like me, they have come to understand their ancient soul and they live in the present. Maybe they're Death Eaters, maybe they work at the Ministry, it does not matter. Like us, they just want to know who they are, souls of fire, characters of an ancient rite that cannot bear to vanish.

Last night it was dark already when the fires were lit, high  in the middle of the clearing. The wind was blowing on the tents, bringing the sound of the drums. Wizards and witches sat around the  circles and their voices were high and low together, following words nearly forgotten. Their eyes were burning—on fire behind the masks. Then it started, the sound of the drums became harder, the voices higher, the chants urgent. I followed a dark shadow landing at the edge of the forest with my eyes, and I walked toward him, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to loosen the lump in my throat.. In the darkness I could just distinguish his outline, and the gleaming of the silvery snake that closed his cloak.

“I hope you're not going to question my flying style,” he said as soon as I stopped in front of him. I was so happy to hear a hint of amusement in his low and dark voice, and I answered without breathing.

“Oh you're so touchy. It’s been over thirty years since I mocked your flying style, and-”, and I could not finish my sentence because he stepped towards me and surrounded me with his arms, holding me so tight that I could barely breathe. I lowered my head and leaned my forehead on his shoulder, I felt his heart under the skin, the rhythm of the drums, and I held him as hard as I could.

Apart from a strange crush that lasted not more than three weeks during our fifth year in Hogwarts, and that culminated in a tender and highly embarrassing kiss, I've never been in love with Severus. But I've always been fond of him, ever since he was a pale and scary boy horrible and nasty things to me, ever since he would take my hand and bring me away  when we were at his house and his father was screaming. And I've never been his type; he has always preferred witches with restless eyes and dark passions. I used to like one of them many years ago, even if she was damn cold and unfriendly, but he did not understand he loved her, and let her run away. I was not able to convince him that women run away because the want to be followed. Anyway, our friendship is one of the most important things I have in my life, and I am proud to be the one he calls when he needs someone. If only his life wouldn't be so hard.

In the kitchen I watched Severus drinking the cup of tea I had prepared for him in silence, while my son Andrew played on the floor with magic dice. The faces were changing every time he tossed them.

“Can I ask you how you are?”

I knew I could, maybe I was one of the very few people he allowed to ask such a  question. He raised his head and smiled faintly, under untidy hair. His eyes were tired and far away. Looking into them was painful, and yet so reassuring. It was still him, far into his dark eyes, he was there, and his soul was burning with life.

-“ I need to keep away from Hogwarts, at least for a short while,” he answered slowly. He was holding the cup with both hands.

I wanted to tell him that he should have come earlier, that his future at Hogwarts was not written in stone, but his eyes told me he knew already. “Are you planning to go to your house?” I said instead.

“Yes, yes of course.”

“Of course you know you can stay here, if you want to, there's the cottage,” I said, pouring more tea into his cup.

“Aren’t you painting in there?”

“Yes, but two years ago I renovated the old rooms, so now there's my atelier and a place to stay as well. When Brian O’Keefe and his daughter, Aileen, visited last year, they slept in the cottage.”

“Right, Brian told me.”

Severus lowered his eyes. I knew what it meant to him going back to his house, and I knew we weren't going to talk about it, not that night. It was his past, not mine, and he needed to deal with it alone. I have learnt to respect our distance many years ago, and this has been the very key of our friendship.

“Are you sure you don't want to stay?”, I asked again, and I meant it. It was not politeness. I wanted him to know he was not alone, he had never been alone, even if I had chosen to live another life away from him. But he knew already, of course.

“Yes, I am. I have to go.”

I watched him rising from the chair, closing his cloak and lowering a silent look on my son.

“See you tomorrow, uncle,” said Andrew without turning, feeling his goodbye.

“Good night, Andrew,” he answered.

“See you tomorrow then. I want to show you the paintings I made this year, in fact, there’s one I want you to take,” I said, looking up at him.

His eyes lit up a little. I saw his lips softening in a smile.

“My dungeon resembles an art gallery already. I’ll have to start asking for an entry ticket.”

“But you come to my exhibitions and you stare at some canvas with a look that in his wildest dreams, every painter dreams of seeing—as if the colors were so beautiful that you could not do without them. You see, I had to give those paintings to you!”

“When I saw the last one in that art gallery in London I thought indeed I couldn't do without it, but now I've radically changed my mind. The sea is always stormy—sometimes I wake up at night because of the sound of the wind, and I’m not sure you realize that in the morning I often find water on the floor. I’ll end up finding a fish there sooner or later!”

“I know you love that paining...”

Severus lowered his eyes, and sunk his hands down into the pockets of his cloak.

“It's the most beautiful thing I own,” he said looking up at me again.

“Goodnight, Sev.”

“Goodnight, Vivian.”

He closed the door behind him, and from the window I could only see his shadow rising in the darkness beyond the top of the trees, and flying towards the old house of the Snapes.

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