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Always By Your Side by morgaine_dulac
Chapter 7 : VII: Facing the Past and Preparing for the Future
 
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Chapter VII: Facing the Past and Preparing for the Future

The knife lay feather light in her hand, and the blade reflected the fire that was burning beneath the cauldron. She chopped her ingredients evenly, precisely. Now and then, her eyes flicked towards the cauldron to check the potion’s progress. This particular potion would change colour according to its temperature. Once it turned emerald green, it would be time to add the next ingredient and then stir the potion, twice clockwise, once counter clockwise, repeat the movement seven times. Then the potion would be done.

Severus’ ghost hovered in the shadows, unable to take his eyes off Morgaine. The knife seemed like an extension of her arm, she needed no spell to check the temperature of the potion, and the way she treated her ingredients showed how much she cared for the plants that were spread out on the table before her. She would prepare each of them by hand, knowing that magic might alter or even destroy the plants’ own magic. She had always worked like that. When she had come to Hogwarts, a girl of fourteen, she had already understood.

‘I know there is no point in offering you a seat, but would you mind not hiding in the corner and staring at me?’

Severus smirked. Morgaine had not even lifted her head, and still she knew that he was there. ‘You never liked being watched,’ he stated.

‘And still, you insist on doing it.’

‘Can you blame me?’ Severus drifted out of the shadows and towards Morgaine’s working station. ‘It is not often that one comes across a potion maker who shows such reverence to her ingredients.’

‘I had a good teacher.’ Morgaine added the last ingredient to the potion, started stirring and raised her head to smile at the ghost of the man who had taught her everything she knew about potions. ‘He, too, loved his subject.’

‘He loved the subject but hated teaching it,’ Severus growled. ‘I still think you are lying when you say that you are enjoying it.’

Morgaine stirred the potion for the last time and put down the ladle. ‘I am enjoying it,’ she assured Severus. ‘I’ve been teaching Potions for three months now, and so far, I have not had the urge to rip off the head of any student.’

‘Your Neville Longbottom will reveal himself one day,’ Severus warned, a smirk on his ghostly face. ‘You will pull your hair and pray every day that he will not blow up himself and your entire classroom with him. And I will sit back and say that I have told you so.’

Morgaine laughed, and Severus’ smirk turned into a smile. He loved to hear her laugh and remembered a time when her laughter had lit up the dungeons like the rays of the sun. Unfortunately, he had seldom had the time or peace of mind to joke and make her laugh when he had still been alive. And during his last years, the opportunities to laugh had been few and far between.

‘Do you miss it?’ Morgaine suddenly asked.

‘Teaching?’ Severus looked up at her, frowning. ‘I most certainly do not.’

‘I’m not talking about teaching, Severus.’ Morgaine was still smiling. ‘I am talking about potion making. I have seen the look in your eyes when you watch me brewing. You cannot deny that you miss it.’

Severus inclined his head. ‘Yes, I do miss it,’ he admitted. ‘I miss the weight of a knife in my hand, the feeling of moving my fingers through the fumes of a potion, the smell of the ingredients. I miss all of it.’

‘Have you tried?’ Morgaine enquired. ‘Have you tried making a potion as a ghost?’

‘I am unable to.’ Severus scowled slightly. It was easy enough for him pour ingredients into a cauldron or to control a potion’s temperature by willpower alone. What he could not manage was doing two things at once, like the simple task of holding an ingredient and moving a knife over it at the same time, or adding an ingredient to a simmering potion and stirring it simultaneously, or reducing the flame. It was utterly frustrating.

‘Could we do it together?’ Morgaine suggested. ‘You may borrow my hands. I’ll hold the ingredients, and you chop. I’ll add them to the potion and you stir.’

Severus raised his left eyebrow as Morgaine held out her knife towards him. As any other potioneer, she was protective of her equipment. She did not lend her knife to just anyone. Gingerly, he mentally took hold of the knife and moved it through the air, carefully at first but then bolder. He should be able to do some cutting and slicing.

‘What would we be brewing?’ he enquired.

Advanced Potion-Making, page ten.’ Morgaine’s eyes were glittering. ‘The Draught of the Living Death.’

Severus’ right eyebrow joined his left on its way upwards. ‘A rather unconventional choice, Professor duLac,’ he stated.

‘Yes,’ Morgaine conceded, spreading out the ingredients on the cutting board. ‘I thought so, too, when you asked me to brew it for the first time.’

They complemented each other perfectly. And although the process of preparing the ingredients and brewing the potion with the help of another seemed tedious at first, Severus soon relaxed. Morgaine let him try as much as he wanted. She was calm and patient and seemed to be able to anticipate where he would have difficulties. She helped him without him having to ask her, and he accepted her help without scowling. She was a good teacher. And he was a better student than he himself had expected.

They worked in silence, and they were already bottling the potion as Morgaine suddenly inhaled sharply and her whole body tensed up. And Severus froze, too, temporarily at a loss about what had made Morgaine react in such a way. Then he realised that his ghostly hand had moved onto hers. Had his hand still been made out of flesh, he would only have to bend his fingers to take hold of Morgaine’s, to feel its softness, its warmth. But as he was a ghost, he could not.

‘My apologies,’ he murmured and withdrew his hand, even moved away from Morgaine a couple of inches. ‘I did not mean to ...’

‘It’s alright,’ Morgaine said softly and gave him a little smile. But Severus could see that she was furtively rubbing her hand. And he knew that the spot where he had touched her felt icy cold.

‘I should have been more careful,’ he insisted. ‘I know that it is highly uncomfortable to be touched by a ghost.’

‘Really, it’s alright,’ Morgaine repeated. Her voice was suddenly much stronger. ‘It feels different with you. I just wasn’t prepared.’

‘Different? What do you mean, it feels different with me?’

‘Your touch is cold,’ Morgaine started to explain, ‘but it is not as chilly as the touch of other ghosts. It feels like stepping into the shadow of the castle walls after sitting in the sun by the lake. You shiver for a moment, and then you get used to it.’

She vanished the knife and the cutting board and then settled onto the three-legged stool behind the cauldron, her eyes on Severus. ‘Do you feel anything?’

Severus frowned. He had not really thought about that before. ‘I feel ... something,’ he started, growing frustrated at the fact that he did not have the words to explain exactly what he felt. ‘It is like ...’ Sunshine? Fire? A lover’s caress? He could not tell.

Morgaine raised her hand as if to stop him. ‘It’s alright,’ she mumbled almost inaudibly and got off her stool to lock away the phials in the cupboard behind her desk, secretly slipping one into the front pocket of her robes, hoping Severus would not see. She did not want to explain to him why she had chosen that particular potion for them to brew together. She was not even sure if she would ever carry out her plans. But she had the phial in her pocket now. She would treasure it until the day she might need it.

She smiled at Severus when she turned to face him again, but her heart was aching. What answer had she expected? He was a ghost. He did not feel the way she did. And even if he did, Severus Snape had never been one to put his feelings into words. Why would he start now? But still, Morgaine was disappointed. She had truly been hoping that touching her, even as a ghost, meant something to him. But there was no point in dwelling on that subject.

‘Maybe you should talk to the other ghosts, Severus,’ she suggested instead. ‘Maybe they can give you some pointers on how to move several objects at once. They have, after all, quite some decades of experience.’

Severus nodded. His mind was already feverishly going through all the possibilities of how to improve his skills. As much as he had enjoyed working with Morgaine, he longed to be able to brew potions without her help. He would most definitely talk to the Bloody Baron. And he would also try something he had not even thought of until yet, simply because he had had no use for it so far: he had been proficient in wandless magic when he had still been alive. And as wandless magic was connected to the wizard’s mind and not his body, there was no reason why that ability should have disappeared with his death.

‘Do you want me to give you some homework until I return after the holidays?’

Still, Morgaine was smiling. Severus, however, frowned once more. ‘Return? Are you leaving?’

‘Yes,’ Morgaine affirmed. ‘I promised my grandmother I would return to Iceland for Christmas. It is a busy time for her.’

She continued cleaning up, trying to avoid looking at Severus and knowing that it would be a busy time for her as well. She had finally made up her mind. It was time for Demeter to get to know everything about her father, both the good and the bad. And in January, Severus would have to be told about his daughter.

~ ~ ~

Morgaine didn’t sleep well during her first night back in Iceland. She had arrived late, and Demeter had already been fast asleep. Morgaine had stood in the door of her daughter’s bedroom for a long time, watching the little one. With her eyes closed and the dim light of the candle illuminating her pale cheeks, the girl looked exactly like her father. Apart from one little but very important difference: the girl looked peaceful in her sleep, something which Severus Snape had done far too seldom. Even in his sleep, there had too often been a scowl on his face, and too often had his face twitched from pain or bad dreams. And far too seldom had Morgaine been able to give him peace at night.

She should not been having those thoughts, Morgaine knew that. She had done everything in her power to help Severus carry his burden. But when she settled down to sleep that night, the all too familiar feeling of guilt crept back into her heart. And she felt unspeakably sorry that Severus was unable to find peace even in death, unspeakably sorry because he – most probably – was unable to move on because of her.

There was no way of telling what time it was when Morgaine awoke from an uneasy slumber and made her way outside. When she had been a child, she had been able to pinpoint exactly the time of day or night, even in the depths of winter, when the sun would not bless the village with more than a couple of hours of dim light around midday. But now Morgaine was not in touch with the place of her childhood anymore, and it was only the fact that there was no one moving about in the little village that made her conclude that it was still very early in the morning.

She pulled her shawl tighter around her and looked towards the horizon. The Aurora Borealis was dancing across the clear sky, and the silence of the frozen expanse was disturbed by nothing other than the occasional hissing of a geyser somewhere behind the dark hills. Even the wind that had rattled the shutters earlier had stopped blowing. It seemed like the whole world had ground to a halt.

‘You will catch a cold, child.’

Morgaine turned her head slightly and smiled weakly at her grandmother, who was draping yet another shawl around her shoulders.

‘One would think that you would have learnt how to cast a Warming Spell after all those years in the Wizarding world.’

‘I didn’t bring my wand outside,’ Morgaine explained. ‘It’s lying on my nightstand.’

‘I know.’ Margaret smiled. ‘Demeter is ogling it with big eyes.’

‘The little one is up then.’

‘Yes,’ the old woman affirmed and took Morgaine’s hand. ‘It is time for breakfast. Come inside and greet your daughter, child. She has missed you dearly.’

~ ~ ~

‘You have been studying hard, little one.’

Morgaine and Demeter had retreated to the child’s room after breakfast, and Morgaine was now leafing through the books she had given her daughter before leaving for Hogwarts. Magical Drafts and Potions was her own copy, lying beside One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi which looked as well-read as if it belonged to Hermione Granger. So did the copy of the revised Hogwarts – A History. Morgaine picked it up and opened it at the end, where the pages looked most worn and little bookmarks were sticking out. It was the chapter about the Final Battle, and one of the first things she saw was a picture of Severus Snape.

‘You have read up on your father, I see.’

Demeter nodded.

‘Naturally,’ Morgaine concluded and sat down on her daughter’s bed, the book still in her hands. ‘I assume you have some questions. Don’t you, little one?’

Once more, Demeter nodded and sat beside her mother. ‘Father seems to have been a brave man.’

‘Yes, he was. He risked his life to bring the Dark Lord down. I doubt we would have succeeded without him.’

Demeter shifted her weight and turned towards her mother, whose eyes seemed firmly attached to the picture of the dark wizard. Her mother had never talked about Severus Snape. All Demeter knew about her father she had learnt from books or heard from other people. And she could not help but wonder what had made her mother keep silent about him for all those years. He seemed to have been a great man, a hero, someone to be proud of.

‘There is nothing in the book about his personal life,’ Demeter started carefully. ‘I could not find a word about you.’

Morgaine sighed and swallowed to make the lump in her throat disappear. ‘Your father did not have the luxury of having a personal life, Demeter. Only a handful of people knew that he and I were involved. You have to understand that your father’s position in the war was a difficult one. There were far too many people who would have tried to get to him through me had they known that we were together. It was far too dangerous to let anyone know.’

And even that handful of people was too many, Morgaine thought. Too many of them had tried to twist or even destroy the love she and Severus had shared. From some, it could have been expected. From others, it had been the greatest betrayal Morgaine could imagine. But Demeter did not need to know that. She was too young to understand. And surely, the girl must have other questions.

‘Is that why there is no mention of me either?’

There it was, the question that Morgaine had known would come, the question that sooner or later would be followed by an even harder one. And she knew that she had no other choice than to answer both of them truthfully.

‘Your father, Demeter, never knew about you,’ Morgaine started, putting her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and pulling the child towards her chest. ‘Had he known, he would have loved you and protected you with his very life. But there was a war, and his task lay elsewhere. He had another child to protect. And I could not endanger either of you by telling him about you.’

‘Another child?’ Demeter asked. ‘Do you mean Harry Potter?’

Morgaine nodded. ‘Yes, your father promised to protect Harry Potter long before I met him. And whatever can be said about your father, he always kept his promises. He was the most loyal of us all.’

Demeter shifted in her mother’s arms, and Morgaine rested her chin on her daughter’s head, inhaling the scent of her hair that was just as thick and raven black as Severus’ had been. And the thought of never again being able to touch him made her heart ache.

‘You miss him, don’t you, Mother?’ Demeter asked quietly. ‘You always have.’

Morgaine swallowed her tears. ‘Yes, little one. I miss your father more that you can ever imagine. I promised him my heart when I was not much older than you are now. And when he died, part of me died with him.’

‘I wish I could have met him.’

Morgaine let her hand run through her daughter’s hair and placed a tender kiss on her head. ‘You will, Demeter. When you come to Hogwarts, you will meet Severus Snape.’

Demeter frowned and freed herself from her mother’s embrace to look at her. ‘You mean I will meet his portrait?’ she asked. ‘He must have one, does he not? He was Headmaster after all.’

‘Better yet, dear child,’ Morgaine replied and brushed a strand of hair from her daughter’s face. ‘Once you come to Hogwarts, you will meet your father’s ghost.’

~ ~ ~

Morgaine slept peacefully her second night in Iceland. She had spent the whole day with her daughter, talking about Hogwarts, the Wizarding world and, of course, Severus Snape. To her utmost surprise, talking about him hurt a little less with every question Demeter asked, and by nightfall, Morgaine was confident that telling Severus about his daughter would be doable after all. He would be surprised, of course, probably slightly shocked, and he would most certainly demand to know why he had not been told earlier. But he would understand, just as Demeter had understood.

It wasn’t until the early morning that Morgaine’s sleep was disturbed. Suddenly, the shadows of the past came creeping into her mind: red eyes, dark robes and silvery masks. She shot off her pillow with a cry, her heart racing and her nightshirt sticking to her back. She had not had those dreams for years. Why had they returned to haunt her now?

On shaking legs, Morgaine made her way to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Maybe, some of her grandmother’s herbal tea would chase the nightmares away and enable her to go back to sleep. She was waiting for the herbs to seep in as her eyes fell onto a stack of letters on the kitchen table. The attached note told her that Minerva had sent them, and that they were the mail that she had received since she had left Hogwarts.

Absentmindedly, Morgaine started leafing through the envelopes, certain that most of them contained Christmas greetings and best wishes for the New Year. She was just about to put them back onto the table and return to her room with some tea, when her breath caught in her throat. She saw her name written in artistic, slender letters. The ink was silver. The envelope was dark green. And pressed into the sealing wax were two snakes and a peacock, the Malfoy crest.


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