The ghost of Severus Snape floated listlessly around in the Potions master’s old study with absolutely nothing to do. Being a ghost could be extremely dull some days. This was one of those days.
Severus had practised his telekinetic skills all morning. He was becoming really efficient at moving objects by willpower alone. No surprise there, he thought with a smirk. His mental powers had always been superior. Of course he would have no trouble moving things around.
Oh, he was bored, so endlessly bored. And for the thousandth time, he contemplated the question of why had he become a ghost. And once more he had to give up. He had no answer to that question.
At first, he had not even understood that he had not passed on. He had been dead, but somehow he had still been there, invisible, untouchable, a whisper. He remembered looking down at his blood-covered body at the Shrieking Shack in the early hours of morning, fascinated by his corpse. His death had been painful. Slowly bleeding to death had not been a pleasant experience. But the expression on his pale face had shown nothing of the struggle. He had actually looked rather peaceful. And he had hovered by his dead body and waited for something to happen. But the air had been still, and nothing had happened.
And then Morgaine had come. She must have known that he had fallen. She must have known that she would find his remains in the Shrieking Shack, otherwise she would have reacted differently. But she had not even flinched when she had caught sight of his mangled body. She had just looked down at his corpse, her back straight and her face calm. And Severus had been proud of her.
It was not until she had knelt down to close his eyes that the tears had started streaming down her face, and Severus had heard her heart break. He had never seen her cry like that. There had seemed to be no ends to her tears, and her sobs had been the sound of sheer despair. She had buried her face at his blood-covered chest and cried, her body shaking and her hands tearing at his robes. And Severus had felt so helpless. He had wanted to embrace her, hold her close and tell her that he was not gone, that she was not alone. But he had not been able to. Back then he had not yet known how to materialise or make himself heard. And so he had been forced to let Morgaine kneel beside his cold body, unable to comfort her, unable to ease her pain. And he had been so unspeakably sorry.
Eventually, Morgaine had dried off her tears, wrapped his body into a black shroud and put him to rest at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. And again, Severus had tried to talk to her, to tell her how grateful he was, but she had not heard him. Just once, he thought that he had seen her look into his direction as if she had sensed his presence. But she couldn’t have. She must have heard the wind whisper in the trees.
He had never left her side. He had followed her to the castle, had seen the crumbling walls and the blood on the flagstones. He had stood behind her as she took farewell of the fallen. And at night, he had tried to comfort her by whispering words of comfort into her ears, desperately hoping that she would hear him, that he would be able to soothe her the way she had soothed him for so many years. He had heard her sigh a few times and call out his name in her sleep. But she had not known that he had been right by her side the entire time.
After a few weeks Morgaine had left the castle, and Severus had expected that he would fade away. But he had been left behind, stuck somewhere between the shadows. And he had not known what to do.
It had taken him about a year to learn how to focus his energy and materialise. At first, he had been nothing but a faint shimmer, invisible to human eyes. But the other ghosts had seen him. They had taken care of him, taught him. And eventually he had become visible.
‘Why am I a ghost?’ he had asked the Bloody Baron one day. ‘Why did I not move on?’
‘You have some unfinished business here, Severus,’ the Baron had replied, and Severus had frowned.
Hadn’t he done enough? Hadn’t he paid dearly for all his mistakes? Hadn’t he made amends? The Dark Lord was defeated. The Boy Who Lived had triumphed once more and so had the Light. And Morgaine had gone. There was nothing left for him to do. Why was he stuck here?
Four years had passed since that day, and still Severus had not found any answers. He spent his days in the dungeons, in his old study. Nobody had claimed the room. Horace Slughorn, who until a few weeks ago had been teaching Potions and acted as Head of Slytherin House, preferred lighter quarters, and nobody else had any reason to enter Severus Snape’s old study. Hence, the rooms had not seen any human being in years except for the Headmistress.
Minerva came down a couple of evenings every week. She had done so since the day she had realised that Severus was still there. At first, Severus had not understood the reasons for her visits. He had preferred to be left alone and had been rather snappish towards her. But Minerva hadn’t given up, and eventually Severus had understood that she was not coming down to pity him but to talk to an old friend. She, too, was making amends and had on countless occasions apologised for the things she had said and done during Severus’ year as Headmaster. And he had accepted her apologies. He had, after all, made it hard for people to trust him.
‘Severus, are you there?’
The knock on the door and Minerva’s voice ripped Severus out of his thoughts. It was almost amusing how she insisted on knocking. It was not like he would be prancing around naked or something.
He floated towards the Headmistress, a sneer on his face. ‘You called, madam?’
He saw her eyes flash at his tone. ‘There are days when I wonder why I insist on coming down here to talk to you,’ she retorted, her voice dripping with irony.
Severus raised a mocking eyebrow. They had been through this before. Actually, their banter was one of the few things he considered worthwhile nowadays.
Then he saw the look on Minerva’s face. She looked even sterner than usual, and her lips were tight. She had definitely not come down to the dungeons to make small talk.
‘I have just returned from Iceland,’ she declared
If Severus still had had a heart, it would have skipped a beat. If he still had had breath, it would have caught in his chest. If Minerva had been to Iceland, that meant that she had met Morgaine. His beloved Morgaine. The one person he hoped to see every time the dungeon door opened.
‘How is she?’ he asked, trying to sound indifferent and failing miserably. ‘How is Morgaine?’
Minerva sank onto a dusty chair.
‘I almost did not recognise her, Severus,’ she started, her voice thick with tears. ‘She is a mere shadow of her former self. Gone is her laughter, her smile. And so is the light in her eyes.’
Morgaine’s smile. Severus remembered it very well. Already when she had just come to Hogwarts, a mere girl of fourteen, her smile had warmed his heart. And on the darkest of nights, her smile had been all it had taken to light up even the darkest of corners in the dungeon.
‘I should have gone to see her earlier,’ Minerva went on. ‘If I had only known how alone she felt ...’
‘Do not blame yourself, Minerva.’ Severus floated to his friend’s side and brought a bottle of Firewhisky with him. ‘Both you and I know that Morgaine has never been one to carry her emotions on her sleeve. If she did not want to tell you how she felt, then you had no chance to ever find out.’
Minerva took hold of the bottle that came floating towards her and poured herself a healthy measure. ‘I have known that girl since her sixth birthday, Severus. A quarter of a century. I should not need her to tell me. I should know how she feels. And I should be able to help her.’
Severus almost smirked. Minerva had no idea just how good an Occlumens Morgaine was. He had taught her himself. He knew that she was good. Too good, maybe.
‘I should have understood the day she left,’ Minerva went on. ‘No prior notice, no goodbye. It was not like her.’
No, it wasn’t. After the final battle, Morgaine had worked relentlessly. She had organised and attended funerals and memorial services. She had, together with Minerva, overseen the start of the reconstruction of Hogwarts and tried to find other facilities to teach and host students until the castle was inhabitable again. She had been busy as a bee, and not once had anyone seen her lose her composure. Not once until the afternoon when she had returned from the memorial service at the Weasleys’. Her eyes had been all red and puffy, and her hands had been shaking. And she had gone straight to her quarters to pack her bags. Within an hour, she had left the castle, without a single backward glance. She had not even gone down to the dungeons.
Severus had seen her leave, and as much as he had wanted to, he had not been able to hold her back or even say goodbye. And it had pained him that she had not even known that he had been there.
‘Does she know, Minerva?’ he asked. ‘Does Morgaine know that I am still here?’
Minerva nodded slowly. ‘I almost did not dare tell her. I had seen the way she flinched every time someone mentioned your name. And I wasn’t sure if her knowing that you are still here would do her any good. But yes, I did tell her.’
‘How did she react?’
‘She didn’t.’ Minerva held on to her glass harder than ever before. ‘I was prepared for many reactions: surprise, joy, shock, even tears. But there was nothing, Severus, nothing at all. I could just as well have told her that I had decided to re-carpet my office.’
Severus crossed his arms in front of his chest and frowned. Maybe, Morgaine was indeed too good an Occlumens.
~ ~ ~
‘Is this why I am still here?’
The Bloody Baron shrugged. ‘I cannot tell you your destiny, Severus. No one can. You have to figure it out on your own.’
‘But is it possible?’ Severus pressed on. ‘Is it possible that I am still here because of Morgaine? Am I still here so she can take farewell?’
Again, the Bloody Baron shrugged. ‘It is indeed possible, Severus. I saw Morgaine, too, after you had died. I saw her smile disappear and her heart break into two. I heard her soul cry out for you at night. And I know that you were there, right by her side, trying to comfort her.’
‘I seem to have failed,’ Severus stated, a bitter tone in his voice. ‘According to Minerva, Morgaine seems to have been grieving for the last five years.’
‘Sometimes, it takes more than time to heal a broken heart, Severus,’ the Baron explained. ‘You should know.’
Yes, he knew. After Lily had died, Severus, too, had thought that his heart would break, that he would never be happy again. And he had mentally hidden away for many years and built a wall around himself that had kept anyone from reaching him. He had pushed away any form of kindness anyone had offered. He had lashed out and bitten, just so no one would be able to touch his heart again.
But then Morgaine had come. In her innocent way, she had offered him a hand in the dark, and he had taken it – reluctantly at first – and she had held on to it and promised that she would never let go. And she had not. During so many years, she had stood by his side and given him strength. And when he had pushed her away on those days when he had not even been able to stand himself, she had waited in the shadows until he had been ready to take her hand again.
Yes, Morgaine had always been there for him, and she had always been so strong. And now, when she didn’t need to comfort him anymore, but take care of her own well-being, she seemed to have lost that strength. For a moment, Severus wondered if she cried at night, but then he shook his head. Of course she did not. That was one thing they had in common, him and her. He had not cried either. And now it seemed stupid. Why not shed the tears that burn in your eyes and poison your heart? Why not release them and all the pain with it?
‘How can I help Morgaine mend her soul?’ Severus asked. ‘How can I make her find the piece which she seems to have lost? Where is it?’
‘I do not know, Severus,’ the Baron confessed. ‘I expect that it is here with you. But I do not know. You will have to find out. Together.’
And then he drifted away, leaving Severus behind in the dungeon.
Together? Severus frowned. Morgaine wasn’t even here. She had left, run away from her pain and her tears. And he could not blame her. He, too, had run for many, many years. But he had learnt that one could never run fast or far enough.
~ ~ ~
Morgaine parted the grass and wild flowers that covered the small slab of granite that marked the place where she had laid Severus Snape to rest five years ago. No one seemed to care about his grave, but Morgaine was not saddened by that. In fact, that had been one of the reasons why she had chosen just a small slab of granite instead of an ornate headstone. She had wanted Severus to truly rest in peace, undisturbed. He had never had any peace in life. The least she could have done for him was to give him peace in death.
The inscription was still clearly visible: Never Forgotten. It had seemed the right thing to write five years ago, but now those two words seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy and cut into Morgaine’s heart like a knife. She for one had certainly not forgotten Severus Snape, and she doubted that she ever would. Not that she wanted to forget him, not really. She just wished that, one day, the memory of him would hurt just a little less.
She had meant to go straight down to the dungeons upon her arrival at Hogwarts, to the Potions master’s old study. Minerva had told her that this would be the place where she would find Severus’ ghost. But she had frozen at the top of the stairs and just stared down into the darkness of the dungeons, unable to take one more step, almost unable to breathe. And then she had fled. She had turned on her heel and run out of the castle as fast as her feet could carry her. And she had not stopped running until she had reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest, the place where she had laid Severus to rest five years ago. There she was kneeling now with her eyes squeezed shut tight and her fingers caressing the black granite.
She did not need to open her eyes to know how her surroundings looked like. She imagined the sun casting a blood red veil over the hills. She imagined the tree-tops swaying in the wind. And she could hear the whisper in the leaves, silently comforting.
How many evenings had she spent kneeling here five years ago, when the earth on Severus’ grave had still been loose and the wound in her heart still bleeding?
It had hurt less then, much less. And back then, she had still had hope.
~ ~ ~
Why had she not come yet?
Severus was floating through his study, every now and then casting a glace towards the door or listening for the sound of footsteps in the corridor. But nobody came.
Peculiar. Minerva had said that Morgaine would arrive at the castle in the morning. And it was almost lunchtime now. Had she changed her mind? Was she not coming?
‘Shame to be hiding down here on a sunny day like this, Professor.’
Severus spun around and found himself confronted with a memory that he had treasured for many years: he saw a young girl who had just returned from St. Mungo’s leaning against the doorframe, her chestnut hair messy and her cheeks pale. And he remembered a smile that had filled the whole dungeon with sunshine. He had wanted to wrap his arms around her then and tell her how much he had missed her. But he had been her teacher, and she had been his student. Hence he had kept his distance. He had wasted time.
Morgaine’s hair was still messy and her cheeks once more pale. And she was again smiling at him. But her smile seemed forced, and it did not reach her eyes. And once more, Severus was unable to embrace her. Instead, he floated closer towards her, and ghostly pale eyes met heavenly blue ones, and as they locked so did their minds.
‘Welcome back, Morgaine of the Lake,’ Severus whispered. ‘You have been missed.’