Morgaine was sitting with her knees drawn up to her chin and the blanket tightly wrapped around her shoulders. Her face was pale, and she seemed to be staring at something in the darkness that only she could see. And for the second time that day, Severus was reminded of the young girl she had once been.
He had been sitting by her bedside before. That night, he had learned that Morgaine’s father had been a Death Eater and that the Dark Lord had made her point a wand at her own mother when she had still been a child. That night, he had tried to chase her shadows away. That night, he had promised to protect her.
‘I am sorry, Severus.’
He saw Morgaine chew her lip and frowned. ‘What do you have to be sorry for, Morgaine?’
She rubbed her neck as if it were aching and sighed. ‘It’s not fair that you’re stuck here. If anyone deserves peace, then it’s you.’
‘I must ask again, Morgaine: why are you sorry for this?’
‘You said that you had never left my side, that you followed me from the Shrieking Shack back to the castle. And I cannot help but wonder if it is me who is keeping you here.’
She sounded so unspeakably sad. And for a moment, Severus forgot that he had no body, that he was a ghost, and reached out for her. His ghostly hand brushed her pale face, and Morgaine shivered. Severus withdrew, fully aware how uncomfortable it was to be touched by a ghost. The feeling chilled one’s very bones, and the cold could stay for hours.
‘I told you that I do not know what is keeping me here, Morgaine,’ Severus said, trying to comfort her with his voice in the way his touch could not. ‘I might indeed still be here in order to look out for you, just as you have looked out for me for all those years. And if that is my task, I will fulfil it gladly.’
‘Nothing has changed then.’
Morgaine abruptly got up and walked towards the empty fireplace. And as she stepped out of the candlelight and merged into the darkness, Severus wondered if she was trying to hide the tears he could so clearly hear in her voice.
‘Like your life, your death is filled with the responsibility for another. When will you be allowed to be free, Severus?’
‘There is a significant difference here, Morgaine,’ Severus started, his voice calm. He could not have her believe that him still being there was in any way her fault.
‘I protected Potter because I had no choice. I believed that protecting him would enable me to make amends. I did it because I believed that I could redeem myself and save my soul. I hated my task at times, but I carried it out because I had promised that I would. My new task, however, looking out for you, Morgaine, is no burden to me even if it means not being able to pass on. I do not know what the so called afterlife looks like. Paradise might be an awfully dull place to spend eternity in. And I would rather spend it with you.’
‘I cannot ask this of you, Severus.’ Morgaine was still not looking at him, and Severus saw that she was holding on to the mantelpiece so hard that her knuckles had turned white.
‘You are not asking anything of me, Morgaine,’ he tried to convince her. ‘If I had been given a choice between passing on to an unknown place and staying here with you, that would have been the easiest choice I have ever made.’
He floated towards her and came to hover mere inches beside her, close enough that he could have sensed the warmth of her body had that still been possible for him.
‘I have missed you.’
It was impossible to decide who had spoken the words first, but once they had been said everything seemed easier somehow, as if a big weight had been lifted from both of them. And for a tiny moment, Severus thought that he had seen a smile in Morgaine’s eyes.
‘I guess that there is no point in offering you a cup of tea,’ she stated once she had lit the fire in the grate, and Severus shook his head.
‘Will you keep me company?’
Of course he would. If it were up to him, he would never leave her side again.
~ ~ ~
The air filled with the comforting scent of violets and elderflower, and as Morgaine settled on the armchair in front of the fireplace with a steaming cup in her hand. The situation felt familiar, but then again not. She and Severus had spent many hours in front of the fire, drinking tea and talking about everything and nothing. They had stolen those moments and hidden away in the darkness, in the dungeons, always in Severus’ quarters, never in hers. Everything had always been on his terms.
Suddenly, without her being able to stop it, an uninvited bitterness crept into Morgaine’s heart. She had always been there for him, had waited in the shadows and reached out her hand, but it had always been Severus who had decided when she was allowed to help.
She had offered him her friendship when she had still been his student. He had been reluctant at first, but in the end, he had accepted it. And when he had taken the hand she had offered, she had also gifted him with her heart. And already back then she had understood that she would never love another man.
Loving Severus had never been easy. To love a man who hated himself as much as Severus Snape had hated himself was a task that demanded more courage than any Gryffindor could ever muster and more loyalty than any Hufflepuff could ever feel. He had pushed her away so many times, and so many people had told her to walk away. But she had always stayed put, because she had promised him, because she had loved him.
Morgaine swallowed and put her tea cup down on her knees. She had mourned Severus and their love for five long years. There had been days when the pain of not having been able to take farewell had almost been unbearable. And now, he was sitting right across from her, and she finally had the opportunity to ask the questions that had been gnawing at her heart for so many years.
‘How did you die, Severus?’
She saw the ghost cock an eyebrow at her. ‘I assumed that Potter had spread that tale.’
Morgaine bit her lip. She had asked the wrong question. She knew perfectly well what had caused the death of Severus Snape’s body. She had heard seen his wounds and heard Harry’s tale. What she wanted to learn was how Severus’ soul had fared in the moment of death. But now her courage was leaving her, and she knew that she had to act fast if she ever wanted an answer.
‘Harry told us about Voldemort and Nagini. He told us about the memories ...’
She broke off as she felt a lump form in her throat. Would it be wiser not to ask? What if Severus gave her an answer she did not want to hear? But if she did not ask, how would she ever find peace?
‘Harry said you wanted him to look at you. He said you wanted to see his eyes ...’
She did not want to anymore, but she had to ask. If she ever wanted to know, then she had to ask now.
His voice was soft, and so was the look in his eyes. But to Morgaine it felt as he were driving a knife through her heart. Her worst fear had been true then. Until the moment of his death, Severus’ heart had belonged to Lily.
The tea cup slipped from her trembling hands and shattered into pieces as it hit the floor, and Morgaine did not even try to stop the tears from streaming down her face. She could not have stopped them if she had wanted to.
She had never cried in front of Severus before. She had always been strong for him, but now she did not care anymore. Her pain was too much to bear.
‘Were you ever happy with me, Severus?’ she brought forth between sobs. ‘Was I ever able to give you any happiness at all?’
Severus stood as petrified. He had no idea what just had happened. Mere minutes ago, he had thought that he had seen Morgaine smiling, and now she was breaking apart.
‘Why would you ask such a thing, Morgaine?’ He truly did not understand. He had spent his happiest and most peaceful moments in Morgaine’s arms. How could she think that ...
‘Your Patronus, Severus,’ Morgaine interrupted his thoughts. ‘Your happiest memory has always been Lily.’
He knew that it was physically impossible, but in this very moment, the ghost of Severus Snape felt as if someone had reached into his chest and was now crushing his heart. He had had no idea how much Morgaine had been hurting.
The night she had seen his Patronus for the first time, he had asked her if she was disappointed. She had said no. And he had believed her. She had never said anything. She had accepted that Lily was still in his heart and had suffered in silence. And he had not noticed.
How could he have been so dumb?
‘Morgaine ...’ For the second time that night, he reached out for her, but this time Morgaine shrank away from him.
‘You did it for Lily. All of it. You protected Harry Potter to make amends to his mother. You lived for her. And you died for her.’ The words came tumbling over her lips, and she could stop them just as little as she could stop her tears from running down her cheeks.
Her words might have sounded like an accusation, but Severus knew that they were anything but. Oh, how must it have hurt Morgaine to know that he had never been able to let go of Lily? She had suffered for him, with him, sometimes even because of him. She had given him her love, her heart and her soul, and part of his heart had always belonged to a women he had never possessed.
‘I beg you, Morgaine, listen to me,’ he pleaded. He needed to make her understand, He needed to sooth her pain. ‘Lily died because I had carried the prophecy to the Dark Lord. And I tried to make amends by protecting her son. Many times I feared that I could not do it. Many times I wished to be struck down by a stray Killing Curse. Many times I wished I were brave enough to put an end to everything. But then you came into my life, Morgaine, and you gave me something Lily never did. You gave me acceptance, and you gave me your love. And while protecting Lily’s son was my reason to go on living, your love gave me a reason to survive.’
He came to hover in front of her, and he wished for nothing more than to be able to wipe away the tears that hung on her lashes.
‘You gave me a reason to survive,’ he repeated, ‘and the strength to go on. And in the end, you helped me let go.’
He opened his mind and showed Morgaine the last moments of his life: He had seen green eyes fade and blue ones appear. And as he had looked into those heavenly blue eyes, he had heard Morgaine’s voice as clearly as if she had been standing right behind him. She had told him to let go. She had told him that she loved him. And it had been her love that had set him free. And she had not known.
‘I should have told you,’ Severus whispered. ‘I should have told you many years ago how much you mean to me. Forgive me, Morgaine.’
She was still crying. And every tear on her cheek was like a drop of acid on Severus’ very soul.
‘Is it too late, Morgaine?’ he asked quietly, an ominous feeling growing inside him. Would he lose her now? Would he lose his best friend, his soul mate and the love of his life because he had not had the guts to tell her the truth?
Once more, Morgaine was not looking at him. She had buried her face in her hands, and for some agonisingly long minutes, her sobs and the crackling of the fire were the only sounds to be heard.
‘If you want me to leave, I will,’ Severus offered.
The words of a coward, he thought. But what good would it do if he stayed? He could not embrace her, and everything he had said over the last half an hour had seemed to upset her even more. And when Morgaine did not answer, he started to drift away.
‘Please, don’t go!’
He heard Morgaine’s thoughts long before she spoke the words, and he had his answer ready.
‘I will stay by your side as long as you want me to, Morgaine. It is the only place I want to be.
Once more he floated towards her and looked into her eyes. Despite the tears, they seemed bluer than ever.
‘I should have told you,’ Morgaine whispered after she had dried off her tears. ‘When I saw your Patronus for the first time, I should have told you what it meant to me. I had never felt so alone in my life, Severus. I was jealous, I was hurt, and everything seemed so unfair. I had stood by your side for years, always, even when everybody else told me to run away. You never needed to go looking for me. But still Lily was there, right in that heart which I had hoped belonged to me.’
Severus opened his mouth to explain, but Morgaine resolutely shook her head. She had to tell him now.
‘I wanted to cry that night, Severus, scratch your eyes out and tell you how much it hurt. But what right did I have? Lily had been in your heart since the day you met her, although she turned from you, although I thought that she did not deserve that place in your heart. But how could you not hold her there? You had always been the most loyal. I had never expected any less of you.’
Severus was stunned. And once more, he asked himself the question he had never found an answer to: how had he deserved Morgaine? How had he deserved her love and loyalty? And how would he ever repay her?
‘She came to me the night you brought Harry the sword of Godric Gryffindor,’ Morgaine continued. There were still tears running down her cheeks, but her voice was steady. ‘At first I thought that something had happened to you, that you had sent your Patronus to call for help. But then I realised that you would never send that Patronus to me. The doe had come of its own free will. And I understood that it had left you because it could not protect you anymore.’
‘That was the last time I cast a Patronus,’ Severus explained. ‘I never saw the doe again. I doubt it will ever come back.’
What shape would his Patronus have now, Severus wondered. He had taken farewell of Lily in the Shrieking Shack. It had been Morgaine who had helped him to let go. Would his Patronus remind him of her now? Would it have her heavenly blue eyes?
‘Why did you carry this alone for all those years, Morgaine?’ he asked. ‘Why did you not tell me?’
‘I was afraid. I was afraid that you would tell me that Lily was the one you wanted to be with. That she was your reason to go on.’
Severus sighed. ‘She was for many years. And when I found another reason to live, when I found you, Morgaine, then it was too late. I had promised to protect the boy ...’
‘And I would never have expected anything less of you, Severus Snape.’
~ ~ ~
Severus watched closely over Morgaine that night. They had talked for hours, begged for each other’s forgiveness and granted it willingly. And by the time Morgaine drifted off to sleep, the fire in the grate had long since burnt down. But Severus did not need any light to see her face. She looked peaceful as she slept, and as the hours ticked by, the puffiness under her eyes disappeared. And now and then, Severus thought that he saw her lips twitch into a smile.
Ghosts do not need to sleep, but towards the morning, Severus drifted off into a meditative state in which ghosts collect new energy and process the things they have experienced. It was as close to sleeping as ghosts could get, and he did not notice Morgaine wake and slip out of the bed. It was the warm golden glow of the morning sun that first made him revive.
‘Have you been here all night?’ Morgaine asked in the very same moment, as if she had sensed him come round.
She was looking out of the window, a green shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her feet were bare, and her hair had that golden red glow Severus had always found so enchanting. And he could have sworn that he was able to smell sandalwood and honey.
‘I promised I would not leave your side,’ he replied as he drifted towards the window.
‘I am glad you stayed.’
Morgaine turned around to face him, and Severus could not help but gasp. He had not expected to see a smile on her lips. But that was not what surprised him the most.
‘What is it?’ Morgaine asked, obviously unaware of what Severus saw. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘No, beloved,’ Severus brought forth, almost too happy to speak. ‘I have seen the sunlight. It is in your eyes.’
Write a Review Always By Your Side: IV: Drying Off the Tears