Morgaine’s eyes were lingering on the birch tree by the river. And as so many times before, she found herself unable to turn away or to even blink. The tree had her under its spell and made her mind and heart open up to memories that she normally kept carefully hidden away in the most secret corner of her heart: memories of a the world she had left behind, memories of the war that had taken almost everything from her, memories of the man she had loved with all her soul and who was now forever lost.
Morgaine hated that birch tree. She had considered pointing her wand at it and blasting it to smithereens countless times. She wanted it to burst into flames and burn to ashes, taking with it all the memories it held. But as much as she hated that tree, she was unable to destroy it. It was a link to her past, and one of the few things she had left. And as much as the memories hurt, she was grateful that she had them.
That birch tree had seen so many things: a tentative hand reaching out to embrace a dear friend, a first shy kiss, tears of joy and tears of endless despair. It had heard two lovers beg for forgiveness and heard them vow that they would never leave each other’s side. But the vows had been broken. Severus was gone. He had lain down his life for the greater good and had left Morgaine behind. And the day she had buried him, her heart had broken into a thousand pieces, and her soul had been split in two.
She had returned to the home of her childhood with tears in her eyes and her hands shaking from exhaustion. And although she was surrounded by people who loved her and cared deeply for her, Morgaine had never felt so alone in all her life. She felt like half a person. Half a person with half a soul, a shadow of her former self. And there were days when she wished that she could put an end to it all. But she could not. There were still things she had to do. Once more, she had to be strong. Just like she had been strong for Severus.
A discreet cough from the woman sitting on the other side of the table made Morgaine avert her eyes from the birch tree and lock away her memories, and she returned to the present, remembering her role as a hostess.
‘More tea, Minerva?’ she asked, willing her voice to be steady and her hands not to shake.
The older woman nodded. ‘Yes, thank you, dearest.’
Morgaine filled up Minerva’s cup and then settled onto her chair again, once more casting a furtive glance towards the birch tree. It seemed to be calling for her, but she closed her mind and pretended not to hear, knowing that it was in vain, knowing the power the tree held over her. She would soon look at it again, unable to break the spell, unable to forget.
She wrapped her shawl tighter around herself as a chill went down her spine. She felt cold. She always did nowadays. The coldness seemed to inhabit her very bones, her heart and her soul. And not even the Midsummer sun could warm her.
‘I always imagined Iceland to be covered in snow.’ Minerva smiled and shook her head. ‘How silly of me.’
‘Not silly at all, Minerva,’ Morgaine replied, her voice soft and her gaze wandering over the moss-clad hills. ‘It is quite common for people to underestimate the powers of the Gulf Stream. It is much warmer here in Iceland than people expect. But I have to disappoint you: you will find no polar bears roaming the geyser fields.’
‘That I knew, dear child.’ Minerva smiled again and let her eyes follow Morgaine’s. ‘But it certainly is a lovely piece of earth you have chosen to live on.’
Morgaine nodded silently, although chosen was not the word she would have picked. She had never had a choice. She had not had anywhere else to go. And she had a task to fulfil.
‘I understand why your great-grandmother came to live here,’ Minerva went on. ‘It is very peaceful here.’
Morgaine shifted in her chair and turned to look at Minerva. ‘If you should ever feel like retiring, you are always welcome here.’
A short laugh escaped Minerva’s throat. ‘Retiring? Dear child, I have a school to run, children to teach and parents and governors to please. I do not have time for retirement.’
Morgaine nodded. ‘Hogwarts it taking up all of your time then?’ she enquired.
‘Yes, yes it is. The Wizarding world has settled down, things are back to normal, and parents have started to send their children to us again. There is no need to keep them at home anymore.’ Minerva sighed and sipped at her tea. ‘Horace has handed in his resignation, and I fear that nothing will keep him at Hogwarts this time. And finding a decent Potions master, or mistress for that matter, is proving to be harder than I thought.’
Morgaine felt the muscles in her neck tense up and clutched her tea cup as if it were a Portkey that could help her escape. So that was why Minerva had come. She should have known that this was not just a social call. But before Morgaine had a chance to even change subjects, the older woman had taken her hand and squeezed it tightly.
‘Isn’t it time for you to return to the Wizarding world, child?’ she asked. ‘It has been five years.’
Five years, one month and six days to be precise. Morgaine was well aware how many days had passed. Each and every one of those days had been filled with loneliness and despair. She felt so forlorn since the day ... since Severus ... She couldn’t make herself finish the thought. Not now. At night, perhaps, when she was alone, she would allow herself to remember. But not now.
She bit her lip and swallowed to make the lump in her throat disappear. Five years, one month and six days. She knew exactly how long it had been. But it could just as well have been yesterday. It still hurt so much.
‘I cannot, Minerva,’ she replied, her voice not much more that a whisper. ‘I cannot return to Hogwarts.’
‘Your little one turns eleven in October,’ Minerva pressed on. ‘She will come to Hogwarts next year. Don’t you want to be there with her, Morgaine? Don’t you want to see Demeter turn into a young woman, a witch?’
Morgaine turned her head towards the garden where her daughter was working with the other girls. She would love to be with her child, she would love to have more time with her. But if that meant returning to Hogwarts ...
Minerva, too, was looking towards the garden now. ‘The girl looks so much like her father when he was her age,’ she pointed out. ‘The pale complexion, the dark hair. Even her posture reminds me of him. But she has inherited your eyes.’
Thank heavens for that. The girl was indeed the spitting image of her father: pale skin, tall and slender, already a full head taller than her mother, hair straight and black as the feathers of a raven. She looked so much like him that Morgaine at times felt that if she looked at her daughter one second longer, her heart would break into a thousand pieces. But she had grown to love that girl more than anything else in the world. Demeter was her reason to go on. If it wasn’t for her daughter, Morgaine would have given up the fight years ago.
As if Demeter had sensed that they were talking about her, she looked up from her work and waved at her mother and her guest. And even from the distance one could see her radiant smile.
‘Your eyes and your smile,’ Minerva went on as she waved back. ‘You both have such a lovely smile.’
Had, Morgaine thought. I had a lovely smile. For as much as she tried nowadays, she could not make herself smile. The muscles around her lips still worked, of course, and the corners of her mouth would still turn up and create the impression of a happy face when necessary, but it did not feel like a smile anymore, not deep down in her heart.
She did not want to smile either. She had loved to smile once and had been proud when her smile had made others smile as well. But now she seemed to lack the strength, and all she really wanted was to cry. But she found herself unable to do that, too.
She had held back her tears and had been strong for so many years, for his sake. And first when she had closed Severus’ eyes in the Shrieking Shack, when she had realised that he had gone forever, she had allowed herself to cry. There, kneeling on the dusty floor by Severus’ side, she had cried for him and herself, for their friendship and their love. But most of all, she had cried for all the time that they had wasted.
After that she had cried only once more, at the memorial service at the Weasleys’. When Harry Potter had raised his glass to the skies and toasted to the man who had protected him all those years, she had broken down. That day she had realised that she wasn’t strong enough to stay. She had returned to Hogwarts, packed her bags and ran away. And she had never cried again.
Now she wondered if she had forgotten how to shed tears. She did want to cry and sometimes, at night, when she allowed herself to remember, she would feel her throat become tight and tears burn in her eyes. But then she would close her eyes and the tears would dry, and by the morning they were gone.
Once more Morgaine felt Minerva take her hand, and she looked up to meet the older woman’s gaze.
‘Why did you not tell him, Morgaine?’ Minerva’s voice was just as soft as the touch of her hand. ‘Why did you not tell Severus about his daughter?’
Morgaine felt her heart stop beating for a moment and found it hard to breathe. She had asked herself that question so many times and had always given herself the same answer, an answer that she despised and which became more stupid every time she gave it.
‘When I found out that I was pregnant, I was already at Durmstrang, Minerva,’ she started. ‘I did not even know if I would ever be allowed to return to Hogwarts.’
She had been more or less banned from Britain shortly after Demeter had been conceived. Lucius Malfoy had seen to that. He had made her leave Hogwarts, Britain, Severus. He had wanted to make sure that she was far away from the Light, far away from the meddling hands of Albus Dumbledore and the protective hands of Severus Snape. Back then, Morgaine had believed that Lucius had been jealous, that he had been angry with her for turning him down and that he had banned her out of spite. But he had had a completely different agenda. One that was much more selfish. One that was much more cruel.
‘But you did return, child,’ Minerva pressed on. ‘Why did you not tell him then?’
‘Severus and I weren’t really on speaking terms that year, Minerva. Having Remus at the castle, one of his childhood enemies, did not exactly make Severus an approachable person. It took us quite some time to find back to each other. And then the war started, and Severus had to return to Voldemort. I could not have told him then, could I?’
‘You protected your child,’ Minerva concluded.
And Morgaine nodded. But the lie tasted bitter in her mouth. Not telling Severus had not been her choice. Dumbledore had made that choice for her. He had told her that Severus had another child to protect and that telling him about his daughter would endanger both him and the child. And so Morgaine had kept silent for their sake, for Severus and Demeter, and because she had trusted Albus Dumbledore.
‘I believed that I had made the right decision when I sent Demeter to Iceland. If anyone had found out that Severus Snape had a child, they could have used this against him. They could have threatened him with hurting her, and I could not endanger my child in such a way. Nor could I endanger Severus.’
‘Do you regret it?’ Minerva asked. ‘Do you regret not having told Severus about his child?’
Morgaine freed her hand from Minerva’s grip and brought it to her face to rub her eyes. She could feel the tears. They were burning in her eyes like acid, but she blinked them away. If she started crying now, she would never be able to stop again.
There were so many things she regretted. She regretted not having told Severus about their daughter. She regretted not having given the girl the chance to know her father. And she regretted not having confessed her love for Severus the very second the feeling had blossomed in her heart. She had wasted so much time.
But most of all, she regretted not having said goodbye.
She felt Minerva’s hand on her shoulder and heard the old woman speak once more: ‘Morgaine, child, you need to come back to Hogwarts with me. You need to take farewell.’
‘Every stone of the walls of Hogwarts will remind me of him,’ Morgaine replied, willing her voice to be steady. ‘Tell me, Minerva, how will I ever be able to take farewell?
‘By looking him straight in the eyes and telling him all the things you never got the chance to tell him when he was still alive.’
Morgaine blinked and looked incredulous at the older woman. She did not understand. What was Minerva talking about? How could she look into Severus’ eyes? How could she talk to him? He was dead. Dead and buried at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. She had laid him to rest herself.
Then Minerva took a deep breath and started to explain: ‘Severus has not passed on, child. His ghost is still at Hogwarts.’
Morgaine did not even react to the screams the wind carried from the river bank. Neither did she care about the smell of burnt wood that hung in the air. She knew what was going on. She knew that the birch tree was ablaze. She was responsible for it.
‘Lammas isn’t for another week. You have lit the bonfire too early, my child.’
Morgaine turned to look at her grandmother, and the old woman met her gaze with kind blue eyes.
‘This fire is not to give thanks for the harvest,’ Morgaine explained, for the first time looking out the window. There were people trying to extinguish the flames, but they would not succeed. The fire was magic. ‘This fire is to take farewell.’
‘You have made your decision then? You are leaving?’
Morgaine nodded. ‘I don’t know if it is the right choice. I don’t even know if it is wise. But I will return to Hogwarts by the beginning of August.’
She did not flinch away when her grandmother reached out for her. And she did not know what was more soothing, the old woman’s tender touch or the sound of her voice.
‘I was hoping you would go, child. I think you need to. I have watched you carefully over the last five years. I know that you have been hurting beyond anything I can imagine. And there were times when I was afraid you would break.’
I have broken a long time ago, Morgaine thought.
She caught sight of Demeter standing by the burning birch tree. And once more, Morgaine felt her heart ache as she looked at her daughter. The girl had been her reason to survive, and at the same time a painful reminder of what once had been, of what could have been.
‘Is it right of me leave my daughter behind once again?’ Morgaine asked. ‘Is it right to once more abandon her?’
‘You have never abandoned her,’ her grandmother chided her. ‘You had a war to fight, and by leaving her here you protected her, just as your mother protected you during the first war. And now your first priority must be to heal your heart, my child.’
As so often over the last weeks, Morgaine felt treacherous tears burn in her eyes, and she blinked fiercely. She would not cry. Not now.
How does one heal a broken heart? she wondered.
Was it even possible? What would she say to Severus once she stood opposite him? And how would she ever be able to take farewell?
A/N: Demeter: Means "earth mother", derived from Greek δε (de) "earth" and μητηρ (meter) "mother". In Greek mythology Demeter was the goddess of grain and fertility, the pure. Nourisher of the youth and the green earth, the health-giving cycle of life and death, and preserver of marriage and the sacred law.
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