One by one, the first-years were sorted into their Houses. One by one, they went to sit at their House tables. One by one, they forgot their nervousness and started eating and chatting with their House mates.
Morgaine, too, started to relax. She had entered the Great Hall with a knot in her stomach, remembering the last start of term feast she had attended. It had been a few months after Dumbledore’s death, and Severus Snape, his alleged murderer, had taken over as Headmaster. The hatred and distrust in the hall had been tangible then. And it had taken Morgaine all her strength to stand by Severus’ side. But she had not faltered. His side had been the place she had chosen to be at many years ago.
Today, the mood was cheerier, of course, and Morgaine let her gaze wander over the Slytherin table, her House table. She recognised some of the seventh-year students, as some of them had made quite an impression already during their first year, when Morgaine had still been at Hogwarts, both good and bad. But even some of the younger students seemed familiar. They were younger siblings of students Morgaine remembered from when she had been teaching, and some were children of people she herself had gone to school with.
She looked around the Great Hall to find out where Severus was standing. He was not a House ghost, and it had taken Morgaine quite some time to persuade him to attend the Sorting in the first place. He had entered the Hall at her side, but now she could not see him anywhere.
‘Are you looking for me?’
Morgaine did not even flinch but raised an eyebrow as she turned around to face the ghost that had materialised right behind her. ‘Sneaking up on people like that is going to give you a bad reputation, Severus,’ she stated drily. ‘Or are you just sneaking up on me?’
‘I was unaware of the fact that sneaking up on you was even a possibility, Morgaine duLac.’
Morgaine smiled. Severus was right, of course. She had sensed him even before he had decided to materialise right behind her. It had been like that ever since that night when they had both gathered the courage to open up and reach out for each other. Since that night, the link between their minds had grown stronger with every day. And there were moments, when it seemed as if the link had never been broken. As if there were no secrets ...
At that thought, Morgaine broke eye-contact and let her gaze wander back towards the Slytherin table.
‘Is Slytherin House safe now, Severus?’ she asked in a quiet tone so no of the other teachers would overhear her. ‘Or do we still have to worry about some of those children descending into the dark?’
Severus sighed inaudibly. Protecting his students had always been one of his top priorities. It had pained him immensely to see some of them being taken in by the Dark Lord’s propaganda, and every single student who had taken the Dark Mark had felt like a personal defeat. And he was aware that even now, five years after the downfall of Voldemort, there were still Wizarding children who were taught similar beliefs by their parents, parents who still secretly hoped that the Dark Lord would one day return.
‘They are your children now, Morgaine,’ he pointed out. ‘You can influence them. Teach them true, uncorrupted Slytherin values. Teach them to think for themselves.’
Morgaine nodded pensively and then directed her attention to the plate of food in front of her. The students of Slytherin House had been in danger for so long. Far too many had been taken in by the promises of power and wealth and had fallen victim to the Dark Side. She herself had experienced how it felt to be tempted. But she had been able to resist because she had had someone to hold on to. And for now, she could only hope that she would not come to lose anyone who was dear to her.
The first-years left the Hall in the wake of their prefects and were soon followed by the rest of the student body. Within minutes, the noise of their voices had died away.
‘Are you joining us for tea in the staff room, dearest?’ Minerva enquired, pointing at the other Heads of Houses who were already leaving the Hall.
Morgaine shook her head. ‘Thank you, Minerva. But I am thinking about retiring early tonight,’ she excused herself. ‘Tomorrow will be a busy day.’
The older woman smiled kindly. ‘As you wish. Are you nervous about meeting your House tomorrow?’
Once more, Morgaine shook her head.
‘Slytherin House is a challenge,’ Minerva continued. ‘There is still a long way to go until it is rid of its dark reputation. But I have hope.’
‘So have I, Headmistress.’
Morgaine excused herself and made her way towards the dungeons. She was indeed going to retire early, but she wanted to cast a last look into her classroom to make sure everything was in order for her first class the next day. And on her way back, she might just peek inside the Slytherin common room to assure everything was in order there, too.
Her nostrils filled with the familiar scent of Potions ingredients as she entered her classroom, and lingering on the threshold, Morgaine let herself remember an afternoon many, many years ago when she for the first time had had the opportunity to impress Severus Snape. It had not been easy, but she liked to believe that she had succeeded. And suddenly, she wondered if Demeter had inherited her parents’ knack for Potion making.
‘Professor duLac.’ The sound of Severus’ voice made Morgaine look over her shoulder, and the way he inclined his head towards her made her smile.
‘Welcome to your domain,’ Severus exclaimed, making a sweeping gestures towards the empty dungeon corridors.
‘I had a feeling you would show up here sooner or later,’ Morgaine stated and started walking down one of the corridors with Severus’ ghost by her side. ‘Controlling the corridors as you did in life.’
Severus smirked. ‘Someone had to make sure the little dunderheads keep in line, especially on their first night. Let them do as they please tonight, and hell will be unleashed.’
‘And you think that I am incapable of keeping them in line?’
‘I never said that.’ Severus glanced sidewise at Morgaine. She had sounded dead serious, as if she were truly insulted. But the little twitch at the corner of her mouth told him that she had been trying to confuse him.
‘Peeves has been spotted down the corridor earlier,’ he continued, cunningly changing topics. ‘He needs to be kept in line as well.’
Morgaine nodded knowingly. She had had her fair share of encounters with the chaotic spirit already when she had been a student at Hogwarts. Funnily enough, he had never directed any of his malice at her specifically. She had been genuinely happy about that for many years. But now she wondered if the poltergeist had a reason for sparing her.
Her musings were disrupted, however, when she and Severus arrived at the corridor that eventually led to the Slytherin common room. The torches had been extinguished, and it was therefore too dark to make out anything. But the darkness did not hinder a distinct sobbing reaching their ears.
‘Lumos.’ Wand raised in front of her, Morgaine squinted down the corridor. ‘That’s a student,’ she whispered and swiftly approached the cowering figure right outside the common room door.
Severus stayed behind. By the looks of it, the student in question was a first-year and with that probably not used to ghosts. Being confronted with one would probably distress the boy even further. And besides, Severus still did not like teenagers, especially not crying ones.
‘There, there,’ Morgaine said softly, crouching down beside the blond boy. ‘What are you doing out here in the corridor?’
‘I ... I ... my cat slunk out the door as the seventh-years came in,’ the boy started, sobbing so hard that it was almost impossible to distinguish his words. ‘I ... I ... I ran after it and then P... Peeves started throwing chalk at me and locked the door.’
‘Peeves is responsible for extinguishing the torches as well, I assume,’ Morgaine stated, her hand now resting on the boy’s shoulder to give him some comfort.
As the boy nodded, she gingerly cupped his chin and made him look at her. His big blue eyes were all puffy, and there was a huge bump on his forehead that was already starting to get a bluish-green colouring.
‘Melvin, isn’t it?’ Morgaine asked, mentally going through the first-years that had been sorted into Slytherin earlier that night.
The boy’s eyes widened. He was either surprised that the woman in front of him knew his name or had just realised that this woman was his Head of House. ‘Y... yes, madam,’ he stammered. ‘Am ... am I in trouble now, madam?’
Once more, Morgaine smiled, both at being called madam and at the terrified look on the boy’s face. ‘Of course not, Melvin. If anyone’s in trouble, then it’s Peeves. Now, let me tend to that bump on your forehead.’
The boy looked up at her in awe as Morgaine waved her wand over his injury, muttering a sing-song incantation that made the swelling as well as the bruising disappear. And when she asked if he was still hurting, he just shook his head, his mouth wide open.
‘Good,’ Morgaine stated. ‘Then I suggest you join your House mates in the common room now, Melvin.’
‘But, madam, I can’t!’ Again, there were tears glittering in the boy’s eyes. ‘My cat ...’
‘The animal is hiding in the third suit of armour on the left side of the corridor,’ came a low baritone out of the darkness, and the boy gasped as the ghost materialised right in front of him.
‘You ... you’re Severus Snape!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve seen your portrait in the common room. You ... you’re the Hero of Slytherin.’
Severus scowled characteristically, but before he could make a biting comment to wipe the admiring look of the boy’s face, Morgaine had risen to coax forth the terrified cat.
‘Here you go, Melvin,’ she said as she handed over the slightly ruffled animal. ‘Off to bed with you now, and make sure your cat stays in the common room from now on. And most of all, try to avoid Peeves.’
‘Yes, madam.’ The boy walked towards the door Morgaine had unlocked for him but once more turned.
‘Thank you, madam. And goodnight,’ he said politely and then cast a careful glance towards the ghost. ‘Goodnight, Professor Snape.’
‘Hero of Slytherin,’ Severus huffed indignantly as the common room door had fallen shut behind the boy. ‘Is that was it says on the plaque under my portrait? That is ridiculous.’
‘You are a hero, Severus,’ Morgaine stated in a soft tone. ‘You sacrificed everything for the Light. You even gave your life.’
She extinguished her wand and started walking up the corridor, suddenly feeling the urge to get away from Severus. The admiring look in the boy’s blue eyes had made her think about how her daughter would react when she met Severus Snape for the first time. Would she admire him as well? And how would Severus react?
‘You have a good hand with children, Morgaine,’ Severus stated, drifting up behind her. And Morgaine quickened her steps. ‘You would make a wonderful mother.’
Thank you, Peeves, for having extinguished the torches, Morgaine thought. She would not have been ready to explain to Severus why his comment had brought tears to her eyes.
Hours later, Severus was still patrolling the corridors of the castle like he had done when he had still been alive. But tonight, his initial purpose had not been to catch students that were out of bounds. He had meant to have a serious talk with Peeves. But even that intention was far from his mind by now. All he could think of was Morgaine.
She had bid him goodnight rather hastily after their encounter with that Slytherin first-year. And if he hadn’t known better, Severus would have maintained that she had wanted to get away from him. But then again, that might indeed have been her intention. He had, after all, made an utterly obtuse comment. Why, by Merlin’s beard, had he felt it necessary to make a comment about her being a good mother?
He and Morgaine had been together since the summer he and Dumbledore had visited her on Iceland. That summer he had lost his heart. He had kissed Morgaine then, despite him being her teacher, despite his better judgement. And when she had left a year later, he had longed for her return every single day. But he had been too proud and too scared to ever tell her.
They had never been an official couple. He had never courted her, never taken her out on a date. It had taken him years to confess his love for her. And they had never talked about marriage. Morgaine had just always been there, right by his side, as if it had been the most natural thing in the world.
Severus frowned. Why was he suddenly thinking about all this? Why did he suddenly find himself wondering if Morgaine would have said yes had he asked for her hand? And why had he never thought about it before?
There had been a war, he told himself. Officially announcing that he and Morgaine were a couple would have endangered her. He could not have asked her to marry him because it would have endangered her. Yes, that had been the reason. Or had that just been a convenient excuse? Would he have asked her if there had not been a war? Would he have asked her after the war, had he survived? Would Morgaine have said yes? Would she have wanted to build a family with him, with Severus Snape?
She had been so sweet with the boy earlier. She had wiped away his tears and healed his injury as if caring for children in such a way were a thing she did daily. And Severus had stood some meters behind her, watching her, and had suddenly – unexpectedly – found himself imagining how Morgaine would take care of their child, his and hers.
Shaking his head, Severus tried to free himself of the thoughts that had occupied his head. What was the point in pondering? There was no such child, no family. He had had his chance to start one and had not taken it. And now he was dead, a ghost, and it was too late. For him, at least. For Morgaine, there was still hope.
‘How are you doing, little one?’ Morgaine was kneeling in front of the fireplace in her bedroom, smiling fondly at her daughter, who was kneeling in front of another fireplace many miles away in a little white cottage in Iceland.
‘I’m fine. Granny taught me how to repot mandrakes today. But I miss you, Mummy.’
‘I miss you, too, Demeter,’ Morgaine sighed. That night, she missed her daughter more than ever. ‘But the year will pass soon.’
Demeter frowned, and Morgaine inhaled sharply. The girl’s scowl was so similar to her father’s.
‘You are coming home for Yule, aren’t you, Mummy? You promised.’
‘I always keep my promises, little one. I will be there for Yule. Now, off to bed with you, it’s late. And I need to speak to Granny.’
Mother and daughter bid each other goodnight, and before long, the kind face of her grandmother appeared in Morgaine’s fire.
‘You look well, Morgaine,’ the old woman stated immediately.
Morgaine nodded. ‘I am feeling much better,’ she told her grandmother. ‘I am able to sleep a whole night without waking up once now.’
‘I knew that returning to Hogwarts was a good choice, dear child. I assume you have spoken to Severus by now.’
‘Yes, we have spoken.’ Morgaine heard the tremble in her voice, and suddenly she regretted having contacted her grandmother. She knew very well what questions the old woman would ask sooner or later. And she knew that she was not ready to answer them. And so she decided to lie. ‘Everything’s alright.’
Morgaine saw the doubting look on her grandmother’s face and closed her eyes with a sigh. She had never been able to lie to her grandmother. Why had she even tried?
She rubbed the muscles in her neck that were all of a sudden aching and took a deep breath. ‘He thinks I would make a good mother,’ she whispered. ‘He has no idea.’
Then the tears came. She had fought them so bravely in the dark corridor outside the Slytherin common room. Bravely and stupidly. ‘I still have not told him about Demeter,’ she sobbed. ‘Severus still doesn’t know about the child. Our child. I cannot tell him.’
‘What are you afraid of, Morgaine?’ her grandmother asked in a soft tone. ‘Are you afraid that Severus will want to know why you have not told him earlier?’
Morgaine nodded. She was afraid that Severus would be angry with her, that he would accuse her of omitting the truth, of lying to him for so many years. But now, as someone had said it out loud, it seemed stupid. She had had a legitimate reason. She had decided not to tell him in order to protect their daughter. Their daughter, herself and him.
‘Is it too late now?’ Morgaine asked, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand.
And her grandmother smiled kindly, her blue eyes glittering. ‘You will tell him when you’re ready, my child. And Severus will understand.’
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