The handsome manor house had not changed: white ivy-covered marble, elaborate gardens, perfectly trimmed hedges, roving white peacocks and intimidating, yet artfully crafted sculptures. Even the full moon that was hanging in the velvety black sky seemed to be part of the sophisticated scenario, as if Lucius Malfoy had ordered it to shine at its brightest to welcome the guests to his famous New Year’s ball.
Morgaine shuddered as she passed the wrought-iron gates, and it had nothing to do with her dress that was far too thin for a cold December night. She simply hated Malfoy Manor. Too many bad memories were attached to this place, memories of torture, betrayal and lies. And when the New Year dawned, the memories of this night would come to fit perfectly with her old ones, Morgaine was sure of that. This night was most certainly going to be filled with betrayal and lies once more. She was, after all, not wearing that silly little dress for fun, nor was she carrying a potion phial in her pocket because that was something to be expected of a Potions mistress. Everything was part of yet another cunning scheme.
Her first reaction to Malfoy’s invitation had been to throw it into the fire. She had had no desire to meet the man who had haunted her dreams for so many years. The last time she had followed one of his invitations, he had almost cast an Unforgivable curse at her, and she had stopped him with a Dark curse she had not been supposed to know. And then the Dark Lord had punished Lucius, for her sake.
No, Lucius Malfoy and Morgaine duLac certainly had no good memories of each other. And still, he had invited her to his New Year’s ball. When she had not replied by December twenty-seventh, he had sent another owl to Hogwarts, and yet another one the next day. He had even contacted Minerva and demanded to know if Morgaine had received his invitations. Minerva had truthfully informed him that she had indeed forwarded his letters to Morgaine, but she had – certainly to Lucius’ utter disappointment – not told him where he could find her. After that, Minerva had immediately contacted Morgaine.
‘Lucius seems very eager to have you at the Manor on New Year’s,’ Minerva had said. ‘Dumbledore suggested you go there to see what he wants.’
Dumbledore. Morgaine had almost laughed. This was the second time the old man was trying to make her attend Malfoy’s New Year’s ball. He was still the same meddlesome old fool, even out of the frame of his portrait in the Headmistress’ office. His interference alone had almost been enough reason for Morgaine to defy both him and Lucius Malfoy. But then the wheels in her Slytherin mind had started to turn, and she had to agree with her great-grandfather. She just had to find out what Lucius wanted from her.
But now, as she made her way towards the heavy oak door of Malfoy Manor, Morgaine started to doubt her decision. And when she knocked, she was ready to Disapparate the moment the door was opened.
To her surprise, it was not an elf that appeared in the doorway but the lord of the manor himself. Standing tall and proud, Lucius Malfoy smiled at her, his gray eyes glittering.
‘Welcome to my humble home. It is an honour to welcome you back, Morgaine of the Lake.’
He bowed to kiss her hand, and Morgaine had to fight her instincts not to pull her hand away as his lips touched her knuckles. She hated Lucius Malfoy with every fibre of her body and would have given her last breath to wish him to hell.
‘It is an honour to have been invited, Lucius,’ she replied with a smile that was so fake that it made her jaw ache. Lucius Malfoy never did anything for honour. He had invited her for a very special reason. But she would have to keep smiling if she wanted to find out.
‘I have meant to invite you before, my dear,’ Lucius purred, still holding on to her hand. ‘But alas, even my best owls seemed unable to find you.’
‘Maybe I did not want to be found, Lucius.’
For a split second, Lucius seemed confused, but then he chuckled. ‘Why would you not have, my dear? The Wizarding world has missed you.’
His hand lingered on her bare shoulders just a moment longer than appropriate as he took her cloak, and Morgaine did her best not to flinch away. Lucius’ touch made her skin crawl just as much as the sound of his voice and his flattering.
‘But then again, you have my sympathies for keeping away, Morgaine’ Lucius continued softly, offering her his arm to lead her to the dining hall. ‘The last couple of years have been difficult for all of us. The old order has changed, and we all had to find our place in the new one. Some of us have succeeded, others have not.’
‘I assume you count yourself to the first group, Lucius?’ Morgaine asked innocently, and Lucius just smiled. Not that he needed to answer. His sumptuously decorated home with its ornate furniture, the gilded mirrors and magnificent carpets told any visitor that the Malfoys had not lost any of their wealth after the war and that they still held their high place in society.
When they entered the dining hall, Morgaine realised that Lucius had not lost any of his influence either. The people gathered around the banquet table were not just any wizards and witches. They were governors and members of pure-blood families, people in high positions at the Ministry and members of the Wizengamot. The good old gang, Morgaine thought wearily as Lucius pulled up a chair for her. He had obviously not forgotten the importance of rubbing elbows with the right people. All that was missing were a couple of Death Eaters. But those were either dead, in Azkaban or keeping a very low profile. Surely, Lucius was too smart to invite any of his old friends to his party. Or had he truly realised how wrong his choices had been? Somehow, Morgaine did not dare believe it. But then again, he might just have. Who could know? Had anyone ever known the true allegiance of Lucius Malfoy? And had he ever been true to anyone but himself?
Doubtlessly, the dinner served at Malfoy Manor that night was the most costly and most delicious in all Britain that New Year’s night, and the goblets re-filled themselves with elf-made wine before they even were entirely emptied. Morgaine drank enough not to insult her host, but she was careful not to get too intoxicated. She would need her wits later that night.
‘Tell me, Morgaine,’ one of the guests started as pudding was served. ‘How is my little pixie doing at school?’
Morgaine took her time to carefully put down her goblet and wipe her mouth with the delicate napkin. Lucius had not deemed it necessary to introduce her to all his guests, but the high cheekbones and the beautiful, slanting eyes made it clear that the woman addressing her was no other that the mother of the Zabini children.
‘Your daughter is doing her House proud,’ she replied, placing the napkin on her lap. ‘She will, however, have to start studying harder if she wants to achieve an acceptable grade in Potions.’
‘Potions?’ The woman giggled. ‘Why is it that the Heads of Slytherin House are obsessed with that subject? Snape threatened to fail my Blaise as well.’
‘Then I suggest getting a tutor for your daughter,’ Lucius advised, smiling knowingly. ‘Morgaine here has studied under Severus Snape for many years. She might have picked up a trait or two from our dear friend.’
‘That would certainly explain her little outburst at the start of term.’
Everyone turned to the dark-haired man sitting at the far end of the table who had interrupted the host.
‘Outburst, Makdoumi?’ Lucius enquired.
‘Yes, outburst. Or should I call it a defence speech, Miss duLac?’ The man’s eyes were glittering menacingly. ‘My son is not accustomed to being scolded.’
‘I do not recall having scolded your son, Mr Makdoumi,’ Morgaine replied calmly, glad that the napkin on her lap gave her something to occupy her hands with. ‘I simply made it clear that I will not have anyone’s memory being sullied by vicious rumours, especially not the memory of Severus Snape.’
‘Rumours? Ha! So you still maintain that Snape was Dumbledore’s man through and through, Miss duLac?’
Morgaine had already opened her mouth to give Makdoumi and anyone else who would listen an explanation that would make the Dark Lord himself turn in his grave, but Lucius beat her to it.
‘There, there, dear friends. I think we should let the past rest. Severus Snape has been cleared by the famous Harry Potter. Why should we doubt the Boy Who Lived? The Boy Who Lived Twice, I might add.’
Polite laughter erupted around the table, and Makdoumi did not say anything more. But the look in his eyes made it very clear that he did not consider the discussion finished. Morgaine on her side made a mental note to keep an eye on Makdoumi junior. At the start of term, she had given the boy the benefit of the doubt and hoped that he had been influenced by older students when he had addressed the matter of Severus’ loyalties. Now, she started to wonder if he had been taught his prejudices at home. And if he had, then how many more of the students in Slytherin House had been raised with the same standards?
‘Thank you for saving me at the dinner table, Lucius,’ Morgaine said. ‘I might just have given Makdoumi a piece of my mind and regretted it later.’
‘Forgive the man, Morgaine.’ Lucius handed her a fine crystal glass filled with dark red wine. ‘I am sure it was the wine talking. It is more powerful than any Veritaserum.’
‘And still you insist on making me drink more?’ Morgaine smiled and toasted towards her host. ‘One could think you’re up to something.’
Lucius laughed. ‘Merlin forbid. I just thought you might need another glass. Or maybe you would prefer something stronger? Brandy, perhaps? Or Firewhisky?’ He pointed to one of the bottles standing on the elegant mahogany table. ‘This one is twenty-five years old. ’
Once more, Morgaine smiled but shook her head. As much as alcohol seemed tempting, she had already drunk too much that night. One of her reasons for abandoning the ballroom and seeking refuge in the drawing room had been to keep herself from drinking more champagne. It would certainly have soothed her nerves, but she knew that she could not hold her liquor. Another reason had been to find a quiet place to gather her thoughts. Her suspicions had been confirmed at dinner. There were still some parents out there who taught their children lies about the war. What if the same parents were also handing down their old-fashioned beliefs about the superiority of Wizard kind? What if the children believed it?
That Lucius had followed her to the drawing room had not been planned. But Morgaine saw that development as not entirely undesirable. Maybe Lucius had drunk enough wine to loosen his tongue as well? Maybe she would learn now why he had been so eager to have her at the Manor?
‘How is Narcissa?’ she asked in a soft voice. The subject of Narcissa once again spending the holidays at a retreat had come up once or twice over dinner, and Lucius had seemed truly concerned about his wife’s welfare. So Morgaine thought it to be the perfect topic to make him open up to her.
Lucius shrugged and poured himself another glass of wine before positioning himself on the chaise longue by the window. ‘The war has been hard on Cissy,’ he explained. ‘Me being imprisoned, Draco being more or less held hostage for a year, then Bella’s death ... Narcissa is a tender soul, she is fragile. She needs time to process everything. If it helps her to live by the sea for a couple of months, away from me, then I am more than happy to grant her wishes.’
What a noble gesture. Morgaine had seen Lucius and Narcissa run around on the battlefield at Hogwarts in order to find their son. She had also seen them huddled together in the Great Hall the day after, happy to be alive, happy to be together. Was she doing Lucius a wrong? Had he truly changed?
She was just about to offer him her sympathies when Lucius changed directions.
‘How is your daughter, Morgaine?’
The hand which Morgaine had extended towards her wine glass froze for one treacherous moment. So did her smile. How the hell did Lucius know about Demeter? The girl had never once left the village in Iceland. The place was Unplottable. How had he found out?
Lucius lent back in his chair with a satisfied smile, casually swirling his wine. Any trace of concern for his wife’s condition had been wiped off his face. ‘You forget that I am a school governor, Morgaine,’ he drawled. ‘It is my duty to know whose children are about to attend Hogwarts. Demeter, is it not? A lovely name.’
Morgaine finally picked up her glass and pretended to take a sip of the elf-made wine, but she could not have swallowed it even if she had wanted to. Her throat was too tight. How daft could one get? Of course Lucius had access to the school files. Of course he knew about Demeter coming to Hogwarts in November. The question was, had he stumbled across Demeter’s name by accident or had he deliberately been looking for it?
‘The girl turned eleven in October, did she not?’ Lucius continued and narrowed his eyes. He seemed to be calculating. ‘That means you were pregnant when you were teaching at Durmstrang. No wonder you left somewhat ... hastily.’
‘You have a child on your own who you seem to love very much, Lucius,’ Morgaine replied, surprised how steady her voice sounded and endlessly relieved that is was not shaking like the hand she was now hiding in the folds of her robe. ‘You have to concur that the North is a rather unfriendly place and not suited for either pregnant women or newborn babies.’
‘You should have let me know, Morgaine,’ Lucius said, once again sounding as compassionate as he had done when he had talked about his ill wife. ‘I could have spoken to the Minister of Education. They would not have transferred you had they known you were with child.’
Morgaine resisted the urge to laugh. Who was Lucius trying to fool? She knew all too well that it had been him who had requested her transfer, just because she had refused to play by his rules on that fateful New Year’s night twelve years ago.
‘Demeter duLac,’ Lucius mused. ‘I was surprised to see that the child carries your last name and not her father’s. She is Severus’ daughter, is she not?’
‘That is none of your concern, Lucius.’
He shot off from his chair as if stung by a blast-ended Skrewt, his cold gray eyes glittering menacingly. ‘This concerns me very much, Morgaine duLac,’ he spat.
Then his features softened, and he waved his hand in an apologetic gesture. ‘Forgive me, Morgaine,’ he begged, once more smiling indulgently at her. ‘Too much wine. I told you it was dangerous stuff.’
Morgaine inclined her head as if to accept Lucius’ apology, but her mind was working feverishly. Did Lucius know that Demeter had been conceived the very night she had turned him down in order to go after Severus? Had he known, then, that it had been the right time of the month? Was that why he had tried to make her share his bed that night?
‘I am surprised Severus never mentioned the child,’ Lucius began, letting Morgaine pour him another glass of the wine that made him talk too much. ‘A child of a linage such as yours would certainly have made him rise in the ranks of the Dark Lord. But then again, Severus did not really need any help.’
‘What are you implying, Lucius?’
Still, Lucius was smiling. ‘I am merely stating a fact, dearest Morgaine. Severus has always been the Dark Lord’s most loyal servant.’
‘Then you do not believe in Harry Potter’s testimony either?’ Morgaine enquired, blatantly ignoring everything Lucius has said about Demeter. Her mission was now to find out whether Lucius had abandoned his old ways, whether he had a hand in the rumour that circulated about the true loyalties of Severus Snape. The three drops of Veritaserum in Lucius’ wine would make sure he gave her all the answers she wanted. And as he was already under the influence of the alcohol, he would never suspect anything.
‘Morgaine, you are underestimating our dear Severus.’ Lucius went on, taking yet another gulp of his wine. ‘For almost two decades he tried to make the Wizarding world believe that he had abandoned the Dark Lord and turned to Dumbledore. All that for the love of a Mudblood, who had bred with his worst nemesis? Really, Morgaine, does that sound like the Severus we knew? Of course not. He was true to our cause Morgaine, until the very end, but smart enough to make sure to stand in a good light after his death. A clever man, the father of your child. A very clever man. Let’s drink to him.’
Morgaine raised her glass with Lucius, but did not drink. Lucius would not notice anyway, he was too intoxicated.
‘A truly clever man,’ Lucius pointed out once more. ‘Makes me wonder even more why he never mentioned that he had fathered a child. Just imagine how he would have been rewarded had he presented your child to the Dark Lord. It would have been made a true prince. But then again, handing your child to the Dark Lord would have lost him Dumbledore’s favour.’
Then Lucius paused and suddenly laughed loudly. ‘The cunning snake! Why did I not think of it before? Of course, keeping silent about your child made Dumbledore trust him even more. The old fool must have believed that Severus was protecting the child from the Dark. Oh, my dearest Morgaine, I take back everything I said. It seems that we all have underestimated Severus Snape. And I am sure once his daughter comes to join the Wizarding world, she will make him nothing but proud.’
I own nothing of this. Hence I make no money from it either. My only reward is your reviews.
Write a Review Always By Your Side: VIII: You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide