Chapter 12 continued

He forced his eyes open again.

The first thing he saw was Professor McGregor, still standing on the same spot as before, her arm, now wandless, still pointing into his direction. The beautiful blue eyes were widened in wonder, creating the falsely sweet impression of a doll face, before a barely perceptible smile appeared on her full lips all of a sudden. "Severus", she greeted the black-dressed man in the doorframe who had just disarmed her, her voice gentle as though she was merely inviting him to a tea party, as though they were still children and the world unstained and good. "How foolish of me not to guess that you would come up here on a night like this. It seems that my mind hasn't been on its best form lately."

The Potions Master, to whom Harry's gaze jerked now, was chalk white. His eyes wandered to the crying boy on the edge of the platform and then back to her, a horror too unspeakable for words darkening his eyes into endless black orbits. "Morrigan", he whispered into the chilling coldness, his voice was shaking as though on the verge to break. "Oh God, Morrigan, why?"

Something akin to sad amusement slowly crept over her face. "I would think that you of all people would understand", she returned softly, her whole manner nothing but tenderness. "You and me, Severus, we have both wrapped our arms around Death's neck and we have danced with Him. We have slept and kissed and fucked on that goddamn bed of bones and dead flesh, sharing what becomes the ultimate intimacy. So, my old friend, do you really want to say that there isn't the slightest hint of comprehension flickering in this black hole you call your heart?"

A small flicker of hurt flared briefly in Snape's black eyes, and hid again. Breathing ragingly, he finally regained some of his posture. "Understanding how you could cold-heartedly attempt murder on an innocent child?" he retorted, his voice shaking under the strain to keep it casual. "Never. No matter how black my heart may be." Almost pleading he reached out his hand, the gesture implying helplessness as well as hopelessness. "Morrigan, please, you don't know what you are doing."

Again she smiled, but the softness of her lips was evanescent. She did not answer.

Harry, however, slowly began to understand.

The look of sublime panic in Snape's eyes when he had told him about the blonde's breakdown after their conversation about Voldemort, the way he sometimes stared at her when he thought nobody noticed, this strange mixture of affection, mistrust and pain.

*If you want my advice for once, don't try to understand Morrigan. You would not be the first to fail miserably.*

"You knew", he whispered into the silence, causing both of them to look at him in surprise. A feeling of utmost betrayal was beginning to tingle down his spine. "You knew...and you simply let it be."

Snape almost flinched at the unhidden accusation in these words. "Boy, I swear I didn't know that she would..."

But Harry didn't hear him anymore. His vision began to blurry before his eyes, leading him to the darkness that he had been successfully avoided so many weeks now, that he had almost forgotten.

Betrayed. By both of them. Professor McGregor, who had held him in her arms like a mother, Snape, whose company he had sought so often in the last time, actually beginning to feel comfortable with the sarcastic man, both of them had lied to him, both of them had betrayed his trust.

He shook his head, and kept shaking it. Betrayed. But right before the dark would swallow him completely, he suddenly heard the blonde's clear, melodic voice, soft and loving like he remembered it. "It's not his fault, Harry", she told him gently.

Startled he looked up, but the Professor was not facing him, but the Potions Master, whose expression was revealing total despair by now. "Severus might have chosen the safety of blindness, but regarding all the things the light has already forced him to see in his life, all the tragedy and loss, that's hardly something you can blame him for."

Snape stared blankly back at her, searching something in her eyes and obviously failing to find it. "Morrigan." His voice sounded almost pleading. "Morrigan..."

But she wouldn't listen.

"Do you remember?" she whispered. Her brilliant blue eyes were clouded with the film of her memory, shimmering glassy and almost silvery against the bright light of the stars. "The day we got the Dark Mark? The youngest Death Eaters ever." She laughed shortly, but it was a sound without any pleasure in it. Still her eyes were fixated on Snape. "They told us to be proud of it and I'm sure I at least was, but deep down we both of us knew that it would end in despair, didn't we? Everything we began always did."

The Potions Master's shoulders suddenly lowered in defeat, burdened with a load far too heavy for him to bear. "That's because we always made the wrong choices", he replied simply.

She nodded in tired agreement. "True", she acknowledged, still in the same strangely calm tone. "But at least they were freely made."

For one moment she seemed lost in her memories again, unmarked in her freshness, her beauty, yet deep within some dangerous prison of her own thoughts. "And what choices we made", she eventually mused softly. "Honest, good old-fashioned evil. The ability to crush your enemies. Ambition and kink and everything you promised yourself that you could never have, because mommy and daddy said so. In the end, the Sorting Head had been right when he made us Slytherins."

Snape eyed her intently. "Even Slytherins can choose the light."

Her brilliant blue eyes glittered strangely. "Perhaps", she returned after a while, her voice so soft it was scarcely heard. "You and me, however, couldn't. From the moment on we were sorted into Salazar's House, our fate was sealed."

The Potions Master shook his head, wearily, resigned, stubbornly refusing the truth of these words. "No. *We* sealed it.

That caused her face to soften momentarily, before she sighed once more in soft resignation. "You were always blind when it came to things you didn't want to see", she accused him in a tired voice. "Dammit, Severus, can't you see? You spent your days here in this godforsaken castle, year for year, always hoping that you can change the way things are, that you can prevent your precious children from the fall, the dark, the fallout and blindly you chose to ignore the fact that, in the end, they'll make their choices just like we did."

There was no malice in her eyes, just truth in her word. "Look at you... trying to do what's right. Just like Lily. And where did it leave you two? One is dead and the other one is dying slowly, his soul torn between his long-lost love and his desire to atone."



Nearly analytically, Harry noted the significant change taking over Snape as she mentioned his mother. His black eyes flickered, undeniable pain hiding itself in their depths, pain and an almost unbearable mixture of sadness and regret, before they suddenly flashed in bright, all-consuming fury. "What did you ever understand about Lily?" He all but hissed the words. "You call *me* pathetic, but just you look at yourself, ignoring everything that doesn't suit you and taking the world with you when you fall! Lily was the better of you, always, and that's what you couldn't bear!"

"I was already wondering when this would come up." Harry couldn't help a mental shiver as she saw the corner of the blonde's mouth curling upward in a faint, blood-chilling smile. "Everything you did in the past, everything you do in the present always centred around our dear red-headed lioness, but let's face the truth for once; no matter how much you loved her, no matter how much this love destroyed you, you couldn't save her. You let her marry another in a futile attempt to prevent her from the fallout, but she died nevertheless. In the end, your sacrifice was for nothing!"

"You heartless bitch!" Snape's voice was nothing but a faint whisper, but Harry shuddered at the venomous undertone in it. The dark eyes were burning in utmost hatred now, the violent rage consuming all of his face. "Lily loved you. Merlin knows that you didn't deserve it, but she would have given her life for you if you had just asked her for it."

The blonde made a little negative gesture, lifting one of her soft little hands in the process. "That's of no importance now", she returned wearily. "Sev, I..."

"Of no importance?!"

Snape's voice did not rise in volume, but it had enough force behind it to stop her in midsentence. "What the hell did you ever understand, Morrigan? It's the only fucking thing that is of any importance!" His hands balled into fists at his side; it seemed as if he had to fight for every breath, as if he felt the heat of his pain burning every single cell in his body. "She's dead, Morrigan, don't you understand this? She is dead because of the damned thing you call Lord and nothing will bring her back! You think you have suffered? You think you have lived in hell for the last fifteen years? Let me tell you something, my dear, you were not the only one who lost his sense of life this fateful night at Godric´s Hollow!" Now his voice rose with every word, until he was actually shouting. "Lily was everything to me, everything, do you hear that! She was the only bloody thing in this godforsaken world that ever mattered something to me and I lost her! I *lost* her!"

"I know." Her voice sounded even more tired before.

"You..."

"And I loved her, too." There was a look of utter supplication on her face that shut Snape up. For one moment she seemed lost, her eyes closed, her face smooth as though all passion were drained away from her. "I've always loved her, never doubt that. She was my best friend. It was just...I simply loved you more."

When she forced her eyes open again and saw the open display on shock on Snape's face, a weary smile shortly strived her features. "Didn't you guess?" she asked softly. "You, who always saw everything so clearly, so separated from all emotion and just through the cold glass of logic, didn't you guess that from the first moment when we two quarrelled in this stupid tutor lesson on, I wanted only you?" She laughed bitterly. "No, of course you haven't. You have been blinded by your own love."

He still stared blankly at her, his fingernail digging so hard into his palms that Harry could see them drawing blood, as though he were blindly and mysteriously trying to calm a pain that he himself did not even begin to understand. "I had no idea", he finally whispered, his voice at the edge of despair. "Morrigan, I had no idea."

She smiled almost reverently. "No, of course not", she replied gently. Eying him gently, her face seemed still all of a sudden, beyond influence, tenderness or concern. "There was a time when I had had hoped, however, when I thought that maybe, just maybe I might be able to give you what you needed. Lily had just married James and you have come to me, to my bed, searching for any form of comfort I could offer and I have thought...", she stared into the vastness of the black sky, sadness mixed with painful resignation creeping over the beautiful features. "But you were never again the same men after you let Lily go. She had been an essential part of yourself and nobody after her was able to take that place. You didn't want anybody to. You preferred the pain."

"Morrigan..."

But mercilessly she continued. "And so did I. I couldn't have you, so I choose to follow a man who saw past the golden locks and the saccharine sweetness, who saw how far into the abyss of dark decadence I had fallen and how much blood and filth I had decorated myself in and who wanted me nevertheless. Wanted me like you never did. I gave him what I had meant to give you because it was the only fucking way left for me."

Snape still stared at her, understanding finally beginning to swim in the depths of his black eyes. "I'm sorry", he said simply.

Her eyes widened shortly at this, and for one moment Harry could see her heart wavering; he could see it, see the lovely youthful lips opening to answer. Her hand already reached for him but then stopped just as their fingers were about to brush.

Hope had died long ago. For both of them.

"You should never have let her go", she finally said, surprising them both with her words. "You were destined to be together in life and to be placed in the same coffin in the end, holding hands. Demented as it sounds, you two belonged that way." Her eyes never turned from his, as a sad smile appeared on her lips. "That boy should have been your son, not James's. I should have been his godmother and perhaps one day I would have accepted, I would have loved him and spoiled him and no darkness would have ever touched us and perhaps there would have been a little bit of happiness for all of us." She stopped shortly, listening to the faint echo of her words, before lowering her head. "But it's too late now. I have seen to much pain, too much suffering for this one lifetime. I'm tired. I'm so tired, and I'm sick and I won't take it anymore."

He stared intently at her. Then he nodded.

A sad little smile graced her lovely, youthful lips for an instant. "Bear me no ill will, Severus", she told him quietly. "We're even now."

Turning to Harry finally, her expression made his heart ache in a painful mixture of desperation and pity. There was no accusation in her eyes, but no regret either. Staying at the edge of the platform in perfect stillness, the tears staining her cheeks, as if all this that had risen to the surface had left her weak and desperate for oblivion, as if the room around her, the persons in it, were not there, she suddenly resembled the loving, fairylike woman he had thought to know again. "I won't ask for forgiveness", she said after a long time of silence, her voice very calm, very in control. "But I advise you to remember my warnings. Not my curses, only the warnings. You are so much like the Serpent's Children, don't make the same mistakes so many of us did."

And suddenly Harry didn't care what she was, or what crimes she had committed in the past, he didn't care her lies or even her attempt to kill him. He only wanted her to remain. "No", he whispered. "Please, Professor, don't..." Violently he shook his head, refusing to believe what he knew would happen. "You cannot...please!"

Gently she shook her head, her eyes soft as though afraid to hurt him with her words. "There are boundaries in life that once crossed cannot be re-gone, Harry", she told him gently. "Just as there are scars that never heal."

And that he understood.

For one very long moment, the three of them stood in perfect stillness on the platform, every one standing on his own but nevertheless building one entity, bounded with ties made of pain, betrayal and, strange as it was, love.

And when she finally turned away from them, when she finally tore her eyes

away and looked at the night sky once again, an air of irrevocably around her, Harry knew exactly what she would do.

And so he closed his eyes and embraced the dark that was suddenly surrounding him, the dark that he had feared so much and that was so comforting to him now, that offered him peace and spared him to see what happened before him.

The last thing he heard before he lost his conscience was the soft cry of pain eluding from Snape's mouth, when he, for once refusing the safety of blindness, saw the fragile body of the woman, who had been his best friend once, his lover after that, and his friend this night again, springing from the platform like a bird somebody had cruelly stolen the wings from.

No, Harry didn't want to see.

Death was so much easier in the dark.

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Have you risen from the black maw or descended from the stars?

Charmed destiny trails your petticoat like a Dalmatian;

You randomly seed both joy and disaster

And you govern all but respond to none.

You step on the dead as you mock them, Beauty;

Horror is but one of your charming fripperies

And Murder, among your most beloved jewellery

Dances on your proud breast amorous and slippery.

The ephemeral May fly crosses your candle,

Crackles, ignites and thinks: "Bless this blaze!"

The lover bent over his magical belle

Has the air of one dying, caressing his grave.

That you come from heaven or hell, who cares?

O Beauty! For you, artless and frightful monster, I send!

If your eye, your smile, your feet, open the door

To an Infinity I love but can never comprehend.

Of Satan or God, Angel or Fiend,

Who cares? As long as you transcend...

From Baudelaire´s "Hymn to Beauty"

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EPILOGUE (Shades of Grey)

Life went on.

Somehow it seemed unnatural, unfair against all law, but neither did sun cease to shine the day after her death, nor did the stars hide their faces to mourn her. The world just kept on turning.

*I seduced them, draw them close to me, with an insatiable hunger, a constant never-ending search for something... something, I don't know what it was, but none of them meant anything to me*

The holidays went over and the students came back to Hogwarts where they were told about a tragic accident that had caused their all-time favourite teacher their life. A short amount of time, the whole castle seemed to wrap itself in grief, mourning the death of a carefree and lovable young woman that had never truly existed, but soon the tears dried on the cheeks, soon she became a mere memory.

For Hogwarts, after all, she was just one more Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts on a very long list.

When the arrival of her replacement was announced three weeks after the incident, Harry had found himself heading to the her old quarters, driven by an urge he himself couldn't quite explain. It hadn't surprised him when he had found Snape there, systematically and quite calmly going through her personal items. Without a word he had joined him, helping him to destroy everything that had belonged to her, the fragile beauty of the porcelain dolls on the shelves, the withered flowers in their elegant vases, the carefully arranged decorations on the walls. Nothing of it was meant for a stranger to touch or possess. Nothing of it was meant to remain when she had gone.

Only when they had come to a photography in a silver frame she had had hidden in her wardrobe, they hesitated in their silent vendetta. A very long time, both of them had just stared at the smiling faces of the three teenagers, two girls and a boy, that waved at them with radiant smiles on their faces, stared at the way the black-haired boy's arm laid on the pretty redhead's shoulder, who in return hugged the blonde in front of her, at the heart-wrenching innocence of the scenery, and suddenly Harry had dissolved into tears without regard for shame or appearance, not caring what the cold, contemptuous man before him would think. But in spite of taunting him, Snape had just drawn him close and wrapped him in his arms to let him weep on his shoulder. Weep until he had no tears left.

But even this moment passed.

And life claimed its rights.

Snape returned to his familiar bitter self, taking points from every student, even from the ranges of his own house as though seeing the trades of the dead in the children before him were more than he could bear. These days, the school was full of rambling against the Potions Master and only Harry did not join the angry chorus. Instead he bore his behaviour like he bore the love blossoming between his two best friends that made him feel like an outsider in their midst. He didn't complain just like Morrigan had never complained, but smiled and laughed in spite the jealousy he felt for their closeness. He played Quidditch and won the Housecup for Gryffindor once again. He began to date Glory, bluntly ignoring the incomprehension of this Housemates and the abyss it created between him and his friends. Sometimes he even came back to the dungeons, never to get himself a Dreamless Potion, but to chat with the snake on the emblem and to listen to the dark secrets she told him. He found that he didn't fear the dark anymore.

Taking all into account, he just went on living.

Late nights, however, when he couldn't sleep, when he felt a peculiar pain in his chest that had nothing to do with dreams or loneliness, he would rise from his bed and walk up to the Astronomy Tower. The stars out there always glittered coldly, but at least they were the same.

Sometimes he met Snape there, a lone figure standing at the parapets and staring at the night sky as though he was accusing it for the misery of a lifetime, but none of them ever said a word on these occasions.

What was there to say, anyway?

Everything was grey and the whole world was soiled by itself.

Love and hatred.

Good and evil.

It was all some blurry shade of grey.

FINIS

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So, that was it. The ultimate end. Definitely no sequel to this one here. I hope you liked it, although it didn't have a happy ending - a great sorry to Enahma here; I had the last few lines already in my mind when I began to write the story (therefore the title ^^) and I just didn't want to alter them. And I very firmly believe that -once more- Morrigan has taken the only way possible for her; I mean she wasn't just temporarily distressed, she was sick with life itself and there was simply no way how she could live on with that. So don't flame me. PLEASE!

Well, I'll stop babbling now and wait anxiously for your respond!