An icy wind was howling around the castle as Morgaine returned to Hogwarts. But it was not the wind that made her shiver this time either, nor the sheerness of her dress. It was the memories of her conversation with Lucius Malfoy, the understanding of the horrifying truth.
She had listened carefully and refilled Lucius’ glass until she had heard everything she had needed to hear. When he had started to slur, she had switched the elf-made wine for absinthe, which had made Lucius compliment her taste in the most colourful words. The Green Fairy for a Slytherin, what a fabulous choice. He had drunk with gusto and had been out like a light shortly before midnight, and Morgaine had made a quick exit through the back door without anyone noticing but the elf that showed her the way. Hopefully, Lucius would not question the poor thing the next day.
‘Witches and wizards like you and I, Morgaine, heads of pureblood families, carry a great responsibility. It is our responsibility to teach our children the right values and to help them to greatness. They deserve to grow up in a kind of world that was denied to our generation.’
Thus had been some of the last coherent statements Lucius had made. His eyes had been glittering, not just with fairy lights but with the same kind of megalomaniac madness Morgaine had seen in his eyes many years before. And the look had chilled the very marrow in her bones. Right now, she doubted if she would ever get warm again.
The windows of the castle were still illuminated despite the late hour, and music could be heard all the way out onto the grounds. The students who had remained at the school for the holidays had been given permission to arrange a New Year’s party in the Great Hall and were now happily dancing the night away. Morgaine directed her steps directly towards the Great Hall. She was certain that she would find Minerva there, chaperoning.
‘Morgaine!’ the older woman exclaimed as she caught sight of her Potions mistress, who had not even bothered to take off her snow-covered cloak. ‘What are you doing here? We did not expect you back before the start of term.’
‘Something came up,’ Morgaine answered curtly, the look on her face so dark that it would have rivalled Severus Snape’s any day. ‘I need to use your office, Minerva.’
‘My office? Why would you need to use my office on New Year’s Eve?’ The Headmistress sounded concerned.
‘I need to speak to Dumbledore. It’s urgent.’
Now Minerva did not only sound worried but looked worried as well. The expression didn’t fit her otherwise so stern face at all. ‘By all means, Morgaine. You know the password. But please, tell me, what is the matter? Has something happened? Morgaine!’
Morgaine heard Minerva call for her, and as much as it went against her nature, she turned her back on the older woman. She would explain herself later, when she had calmed down enough to trust herself not to snap at the Headmistress or worse. A nervous breakdown didn’t seem too farfetched at the moment.
The clock stroke midnight when Morgaine entered the Headmistress’ office and slammed the door shut behind her. The inhabitants of most portraits were out celebrating the New Year, and Morgaine immediately put a blocking charm on their empty frames. The less witnesses the better. The other portraits were gifted with a Muffliato, much to the dislike of their inhabitants. Ignoring the indignant look of Phineas Black, Morgaine drew herself up to her full height and called for her great-grandfather.
‘Don’t pretend to be asleep, Dumbledore,’ she snarled as the old Headmaster did not move.
Albus Dumbledore opened his eyes and blinked. ‘Dear child!’ he exclaimed. ‘A Happy New Year to you.’
Morgaine glared up at him. ‘This is not a social call.’
‘You have been taught better than to turn down a blessing, child,’ Dumbledore pointed out. There was the kindest of smiles on his wrinkled face, and his eyes were twinkling just like they always had when he had still been alive. The painter had done a marvellous job.
But Morgaine’s heart was not open to kindness that night, and her eyes, just as blue as her great-grandfather’s, were cold. ‘Whether this year is going to be a happy one or not will not depend on blessings, Dumbledore,’ she hissed. ‘You know that just as well as I do.’
‘Very well.’ Dumbledore sat up straight in his chair, with his elbows on the armrests and his hands folded in front of him. Only his index fingers stuck up and came to rest against his chin. ‘I assume there is something you want from me then, child.’
Morgaine’s jaw tightened and her nails dug into her palms as her hands turned into fists. If he called her child in that patronising tone once more, she would rip his canvas to pieces with her bare hands. ‘The truth, Dumbledore,’ she started. ‘That is all I want from you tonight. Just this once. I’m begging you.’
‘Begging?’ Dumbledore looked surprised. ‘I was not aware that Slytherins knew how to beg.’
‘Then maybe the Sorting Hat made the wrong decision.’ Morgaine tilted her head to the side and fixed her great-grandfather with a look that could have burnt a hole into his skull. But it was also a calculating look, more worthy of a Ravenclaw than a Slytherin if one judged by House mottos. ‘If it was the Hat’s decision,’ she added.
Dumbledore looked at his great-granddaughter as if he had no idea what she was talking about, and Morgaine closed her eyes. Suddenly her head was aching, and all she wanted to do was crawl into a corner, wrap her arms around herself and close her eyes, pretending that she did not know any of this. She felt alone, betrayed. And if Dumbledore did not tell her the truth tonight, if he played innocent as he had done so often before, if he refused to help, then she would not know what to do.
She took a deep breath and looked up. Two pairs of sapphire blue eyes locked. ‘Why was I sorted into Slytherin House, Dumbledore?’
‘You have asked this before, Morgaine. And nothing has changed,’ Dumbledore started. ‘You were sorted into Slytherin for your cleverness and your determination. When you were sorted, you had fought for three weeks to impress your teachers. It was very clear that you were determined to do whatever it took to be admitted to Hogwarts and a little bit more if necessary. Your resourcefulness even impressed your dour Potions master.’
Dumbledore’s mentioning of Severus made Morgaine flinch. ‘My Potions master.’ She gave a dry, short laugh. ‘You planned this, didn’t you, Dumbledore? You made him my mentor, you made him teach me Occlumency. You made sure we spent more time together than was appropriate for any other professor and student. You made sure that we were linked from the very start.’
‘For once, I cannot be blamed of meddling,’ Dumbledore responded calmly. ‘You and Severus, Morgaine, were – are – two of a kind. You both possess Gryffindor bravery, Ravenclaw brains and Hufflepuff dedication and loyalty. But yes, the Slytherin traits are very eminent in both of you. Once you set yourselves a goal, not even the hounds of hell themselves could deter you. Hence, you were both sorted into Slytherin House.’
‘This sounds like a very well-rehearsed speech to me, Dumbledore.’
‘Are you accusing me of lying, Morgaine?’
‘I accuse you of omitting things. Maybe you had no hand in my Sorting. For that I give you the benefit of a doubt. But you cannot deny that you did everything to make sure that Severus and I grew close.’
‘You would have found each other even without me, Morgaine. You both balanced on the tightrope between the Dark and the Light. That rope is thin, and you were bound to meet sooner or later. Thankfully, and – maybe – due to my interference as you will call it, you met when you were still young. You held each other’s hands and gave each other the strength to continue your balancing act. You both refused to let the other one lose equilibrium and fall into the Dark.’
‘You used us, Dumbledore.’ Morgaine’s voice had lost any sound of accusation. As always, Dumbledore’s motives sounded so noble, so pure. He made it sound as if he had wanted to protect them from the Dark, both Severus and her. She had heard it all before, and her heart told her to believe her great-grandfather. But all the other things she knew, all the things she had heard and seen, made it impossible for her to see Dumbledore as anything other than a puppet master. And the battle her heart was fighting with her mind was draining her of her strength.
She stepped closer towards Dumbledore’s portrait and rested her forehead against the golden frame for a moment. She was aware that she was a pitiful sight, but she needed the support.
‘What would you have preferred had you been given the choice, Morgaine?’ Dumbledore asked, his voice as soft as if he were talking to a child. ‘To be used by me in order to escape the darkness into which you were born, or to be used by them in order for you to take the place in the linage you were born into?’
‘I did not want to be used at all.’ Morgaine fought bravely not to cry. Trust Dumbledore to make himself look like a saviour and make her feel guilty at the same time. ‘Why was I not given a choice, Dumbledore? Could I not be trusted to choose the Light? Did you have to involve Severus? Merlin knows he had enough on his plate already.’
‘I understood early that your excursion to Knockturn Alley and your experiments with the Dark Arts were for scientific purposes only, Morgaine. You I trusted. But you were young. You could have been influenced by anyone. So I chose to give you into the care of someone who had seen the Dark. Seen it, experienced it and turned from it. I knew Severus would help you not only to choose the right path but to stay on it as well. In time, he grew to need you as much as you needed him. I had not expected that, but I welcomed it. You were a powerful union. And you created light in the darkness.’
‘Dark is raising again, Dumbledore. If we are not careful, the light will be extinguished.’ Morgaine lifted her eyes, knowing very well that they were filled with tears. ‘Who will protect Demeter when she comes to our world? Once she leaves Iceland, I will not be able to shield her anymore.’
Dumbledore did not answer. He didn’t need to either. The moment Morgaine had asked the question, she had known the answer. Maybe she had known it even before: once more Severus had been given the task to protect a child from the Darkness. At least this time, the child was his.
Now he only needed to be told.
~ ~ ~
The ghost of Severus Snape was listlessly drifting through the castle, as yet unaware of Morgaine’s return as well as her conversation with her great-grandfather. He had attended the students’ New Year’s party for about an hour, mostly in order to make Minerva and the House ghosts stop accusing him of being anti-social. But he had soon discovered that student parties were even duller for ghosts than they were for teachers. So he had dematerialised and made a quiet exit. Once he had left the Great Hall, he had passed some snogging couples in the alcoves but done nothing else than tip off Peeves about them. He had done enough punishing and docking House points when he had still been alive. Now he figured that it was none of his business anymore. He had, however, been unable to stop a smirk from curling his lips when he had heard Peeves blow a raspberry and one of the girls shriek in sheer panic.
But the distraction, as sweet as it had been, had been a short one, and Severus found himself wondering how he had coped over the last years. Being a ghost was monotonous enough. Being a lonely ghost made one wish that one were dead for real. Dead, extinguished, gone for good, not a pathetic imprint of the person one had once been.
On top of the Astronomy Tower, Severus let his eyes wander over the snow-covered grounds. He wished he could smell the clean air and feel the icy winds bite his flesh. But he couldn’t. All he could feel was a deadly chill, and that was not even a real feeling. It was a state of being. He had tried to explain this to Morgaine, had even invited her to join his thoughts, but she had not understood. How could she have? She was still flesh and blood, and thus she was spared the sensation of nothingness.
‘Morgaine.’ Severus found himself whispering her name in the darkness, his heart filling with the irrational hope that she would hear him. He missed her. He had missed her for five long years after his death, and when she had returned in September, he had been too grateful to express himself. And now she had left again, even if it was only for two weeks, and Severus could actually feel his heart ache.
Yes, Morgaine held the power to make him feel. That was yet another thing Severus did not understand. Being with Morgaine, even just thinking about her, created this ... feeling. Ungraspable, fleeting, but still it was there somehow, a tingling sensation in his ghostly body. When he had mentioned it to the other ghosts, the Bloody Baron had expressed his condolences and given him a pity-filled look. The Grey Lady had called it love, and then she had drifted off after the Bloody Baron, smiling serenely and leaving Severus in a state of uttermost confusion.
It was after midnight when he decided to return to his old quarters. They had been his haven once, and still the thick walls, the darkness and the silence of the dungeons provided some kind of comfort. To his surprise, Severus found the door to his old study on the edge, and the golden shine that fell through the gap told him that someone had lit a fire in the grate. Someone. Severus smiled. Only two people came to visit him in the dungeon, and Minerva was certainly busy keeping the students from raising hell in the Great Hall. The fire must mean that Morgaine had returned to the castle.
She was sitting in her armchair with her feet drawn up and a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her cloak was lying in front of the fire, still damp from the snow.
‘You have returned early,’ Severus stated as he drifted towards her.
‘Something has come up.’
Morgaine was chewing her lower lip so furiously that Severus was convinced she would draw blood soon. He also detected an uncharacteristically deep crease between her eyes. ‘Tea?’ he suggested, knowing perfectly well that there was no point in pressuring her. When Morgaine was ready, she would tell him what worried her.
‘Tea?’ She sounded incredulous. ‘Are you going to make tea?’
‘I have been practicing while you were away,’ Severus pointed out, slightly insulted. ‘I am very much capable of such a simple task as putting a kettle on.’ He saw a fleeting smile brush Morgaine’s lips and forgave her. ‘If you prefer something stronger, there is a bottle of Odgen’s standing on the shelf behind you.’
Morgaine shook her head. ‘I am well aware of that bottle, thank you. But I’ve been drinking enough today. Well, yesterday. Last year. Technically, that doesn’t count anymore.’
Severus smirked. ‘Tea it is then.’
The torrent of words told him that Morgaine most probably had drunk enough indeed. She had never had a liking for alcohol and had even turned down champagne at the most festive occasions. If she had drunk tonight, there must have been good reasons for it.
‘I assume Lucius has been plying you with the best champagne Galleons can buy,’ he mentioned in passing as he lit the fire under the kettle.
‘Elf-made wine,’ Morgaine clarified. ‘And I was the one doing most of the plying.’ She brought both her hands to her face and rubbed her eyes. Severus didn’t need to know about the Veritaserum. He would not approve. ‘Did you know that we have children at this school who are fed the old lies?’ she burst out.
Severus abandoned the kettle and turned to face Morgaine. The crease between her eyes had, if possible, become even deeper. ‘I thought we had established that particular fact already at the start of term,’ he stated calmly.
‘It’s not just the older students who are telling their younger peers how glorious it was to be in Slytherin House during the last years of the war,’ Morgaine started to explain. ‘It seems they have been taught those things at home. And I am not just talking about the rumours of you having been loyal to Voldemort until the very end.’
‘I knew that nothing good could come out of Lucius Malfoy holding a ball,’ Severus remarked sourly and took to hover on the chair opposite Morgaine. Obviously, she was ready to talk now.
‘That ball could easily have been mistaken for a Death Eater recruiting rally.’ The tone in Morgaine’s voice was bitter as bile. ‘All purebloods, all Slytherins ...’
‘You if anyone should know that being a pureblood Slytherin does not automatically make you a Death Eater, Morgaine,’ Severus interrupted. He did not like the sound of her voice.
Morgaine snorted. ‘Trust me, Severus, most of the people present at Malfoy Manor belong either in Azkaban or should at least be under Ministry surveillance. Did you know, for example, that Travers managed to stay out of Azkaban somehow? His granddaughter will come to Hogwarts next year. I do not even want to know how many fairytales the girl has heard about Voldemort. The same goes for the Makdoumi children.’
‘Travers or anyone else for that matter would be foolish to voice their opinions in public,’ Severus pointed out. ‘What they say in their home is, regrettably, out of our hands.’
‘This matter must be addressed, Severus. We cannot allow this generation to be corrupted by their elders. That propaganda must be stopped. And if Slytherin House is the first place to statute an example, so be it.’
‘What do you suggest has to be done?’
Once more, Morgaine brought her hands to her face. But this time, she did not lower them but kept her face covered. Her voice was muffled when she spoke. ‘In the worst case, we have a bunch of future Death Eaters running about the castle. The faculty needs to be informed, of course. I would like you to attend the staff meeting at the start of term, Severus. You know Lucius Malfoy better than anyone.’
‘Lucius?’ Severus frowned. ‘Lucius has been officially reformed ...’
Morgaine snapped back her head, her blue eyes glittering dangerously. ‘Lucius Malfoy is up to something. He has cunningly kept a low profile since the end of the war, but he has not abandoned and will never abandon the old ways. He is biding his time.’
‘To do what?’
‘To reclaim the position he believes is rightfully his at the top of society, a pureblood society, Severus. All he is waiting for is for someone to follow.’
Severus fixed Morgaine with a penetrating stare. ‘I doubt there will ever be a new Dark Lord. Not in our – in your – lifetime anyway.’
‘Let’s hope there won’t be.’ Morgaine sighed heavily and then gave Severus a tired smile. ‘Does the offer for that glass of Odgen’s still stand? There is nothing that can be done tonight, and I would very much like to be fast asleep soon.’
‘Alcohol may help you sleep, but it will not be of any help when you wake up. On the contrary.’ Severus sneered. He had been down that road more times than he cared to admit. ‘If sleeping peacefully is your goal, than I suggest a Dreamless Sleep potion. Or even better ...’
He broke off, and Morgaine tilted her head to look at him. ‘Even better what, Severus?’
‘Company,’ he murmured. He had meant to suggest this for some time now but had decided against it. He was just a ghost. What did he have to offer? But he would regret it dearly if he didn’t take his chance tonight.
‘The elves still change the sheets in my old bed every week, Merlin knows why,’ he continued. ‘Would you ... Would you like to stay here tonight, Morgaine? With me?’
She looked beautiful in her sleep. The flickering light of the candle on the nightstand made her chestnut hair look like dancing flames. She had insisted on a glass of Firewhisky, and the colour of her slightly flushed cheeks contrasted beautifully with the pale skin of her naked shoulders.
For a long while, Severus just hovered beside the bed, watching Morgaine and wondering how many nights he had stayed awake out of fear that she would be gone in the morning. There was no risk now, he knew that. She would stay. A genuine smile had lit up both her face and her eyes as he had invited her to stay the night, and now she seemed to be sleeping peacefully. So peacefully that Severus froze in his movement. Yes, they had touched before, and Morgaine had said that it was not all that uncomfortable. But what if his touch woke her?
It was worth the risk, he concluded, and carefully, tentatively, he inched closer, stretching out his long pale fingers towards Morgaine’s cheek. He could have sworn that he could feel the warmth of her skin.
When he finally touched her, her lips twitched slightly, and Severus withdrew quickly, afraid that he had disturbed her sleep. But when a smile formed on her lips, all his fears disappeared.
He moved his ghostly hand towards hers that was lying on the pillow beside her head, bending his fingers to encircle hers. Once more, he thought that he could feel her warmth and smiled. He would hold onto her hand until the morning. And if it were up to him, he would not let go then either.
Write a Review Always By Your Side: IX: Who Will Protect the Innocent?