“Well,” Regina says when she’s got her breath back. She lies back, looking up at the curved stone ceiling of her bedroom. “I don’t think that’s considered part of a traditional teaching mentorship.”
Emma laughs, crawling out from under the sheets. “No,” she says. “But I’m pretty sure I just fulfilled the dream of every boy in my seventh year – and some of the girls.”
Regina flushes. She knows she was attractive back then (and, objectively, knows she still must be). She’d used her sexuality as a way of exerting power when she was playing at being Cora Mills’ right hand woman. She’d pushed up her breasts, worn dragon hide so tight it looked lacquered on, painted her lips blood-red. Her battle dress. Now she wears a battle dress of a different sort; thick black robes, wire rimmed spectacles and a stern bun.
“So,” Emma says, sitting up on one elbow. “How does this work?”
“Well, Emma,” Regina says, back on familiar ground now, poking fun of Emma Swan. “This is a school. We teach young wizards and witches. We give out detentions if they misbehave. We grade essays.”
“Shut up,” Emma says, swatting at her bare stomach.
“We will talk about this,” Regina says, stroking Emma’s arm, feeling the coiled muscles beneath her fingers, caressing the scar where a chunk of flesh was cursed out of her arm during a fight. “But can we just bask for a moment?”
“Sure,” Emma says, snuggling her head into Regina’s arm, golden curls spreading across Regina’s chest. “I like basking.”
“So,” Professor Blanchard says, sitting down beside Regina at the breakfast table. “I hear you and my daughter are something of an … item?”
Regina pauses mid-bite of her marmalade on toast and folds her newspaper shut. “I take it Emma told you?”
“Not the details, but enough.” Blanchard places her hands in her lap, serene. Her dark, cropped hair is beginning to show strands of grey and Regina takes savage pleasure in this.
It would be so tempting to hurt Blanchard, to tell her the ‘details’ as she calls them, how Emma screamed around her fingers, how she tasted. Regina’s lost the taste for revenge though. She had hoped, in the darkest parts of herself, that in being in close proximity to Blanchard she might find an opportunity to avenge her mother but years of teaching has beaten the desire for vengeance out of her. “I see,” she says, careful.
“I hope you are very happy,” Blanchard says and she has the temerity to sound sincere. “Your happiness is important to me.”
Regina wants to snap at her because her happiness wasn’t important to her when she tricked her into killing Cora Mills by pretending the potion would make her heartless mother feel remorse and she has shown no indication that it is important to her since then. Instead, she laughs, the sound harsh and barking.
“Very well,” Blanchard says. “I’ll leave you to your breakfast.” Her big, sad eyes focus on Regina for a moment though and Regina has to turn to the article on the Hollyhead Harpies versus Puddlemere United match to avoid the unfair, nagging guilt coursing through her veins.
Blanchard’s manipulative, she reminds herself. It’s easy to forget that the headmaster was a Slytherin, one of a legacy of Blanchard Slytherins, known for her resourcefulness and leadership during the war. Many forget that the reason their side beat Cora was because they had a Slytherin at the helm but Regina doesn’t. It takes a Slytherin to outwit a Slytherin.
Emma enters the dining hall moments later and slumps into a chair beside her. Her robes are rumpled and she’s back in the hideous dragon hide boots but Regina can’t bring herself to chastise her. “Good morning, dear,” she says, ignoring the fact that Emma has just taken a drag of her coffee and stolen her last piece of toast.
“So tired,” Emma groans with her mouth full.
“Manners, Miss Swan,” Regina says, returning to her copy of The Daily Prophet. The old title slips out and she can feel Emma’s smirk.
“Oh, we’re back to Miss Swan again,” Emma says. “I can run with this, Professor.” She raises her voice to a girlish simper. “I’m so sorry I was rude, Professor. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” Regina looks over at her and Emma flutters her absurdly long eyelashes and lets her tongue slip out and dampen her lower lip, reminding Regina of exactly where that tongue was just two nights ago.
Belle French sits down on Regina’s other side. “You’re awfully flushed, Regina. Are you coming down with something?”
Emma cackles; there is no other word for the ridiculous laugh that has just emanated from her body. Regina glares at her, the glare that makes first years tremble and, on one memorable occasion, cry. But Emma simply pulls out her wand and summons the toast rack to herself. “Pass the marmalade, dear,” she says and Regina slides it across the table to her, unable to stop the corners of her mouth from quirking upwards.
She can’t be seen to be playing favourites, not as head of house, so when Henry and his multi-house, rag-tag bunch of misfits try and sneak past Granny into the Forbidden Forest she takes twenty points from each of their houses and gives them a week’s worth of detention.
“What on earth were you thinking?” she asks when they turn up that first evening. They will spend an evening with each head of house and Regina plans to have them re-filing ten years’ worth of paperwork because she’s changed her systems for maximum efficiency this year.
The Zimmer twins (who shocked everyone by being sorted into separate houses – Hufflepuff for Nick and Slytherin for Ava) shuffle their feet and refuse to answer. Henry sighs. Paige Hatter – a Ravenclaw and quite brilliant at Transfiguration – is the one that answers for them. “We heard there were centaurs in the forest. We wanted to meet them.”
“Oh, good,” Regina says. “I was hoping it would be for something important.”
“It was,” Henry insists, ignoring Regina’s sarcasm. “Paige wanted to discuss divination. She’s very interested in the movement of the stars.”
“You may discuss divination with Professor Gold,” Regina says. “He is, after all, the teacher of the subject.”
“Yeah,” Henry mutters. “But he’s creepy.”
It’s a bold assertion to make in front of a teacher – even though Regina privately agrees with him. “Mr Swan. You will not make offensive comments about members of the Hogwarts staff.”
“Sorry,” Henry says, looking up at her with big eyes and a pouty lower lip, a trick he no doubt learned from his mother.
“Your wiles will not work on me, Mister Swan,” she says, though she cannot help but smile. “Get to work, all of you,” she says because the three other students are staring at her in shock. It’s not often that they see Professor Mills smile.
On Friday, she meets Emma in the main entranceway. It’s cold out, snow falling and she shivers in her cobalt winter robes. Emma comes bounding down the stairs to meet her. “Sorry!” she cries. “Got caught by Professor Hopper.” She’s curled her hair, tendrils of gold bouncing around her shoulders, and her smile is broad.
Regina relaxes minutely at the sight of her. “Ready to go, Professor Swan?” she asks.
Emma rolls her eyes, links her arm with Regina’s and pulls her out into the snow. “We’ll have to run,” she says. “I hope you wore sensible shoes.” But when they are outside the school gates, she pulls Regina towards her and kisses her, her lips cold and chapped but irresistible. “You have snowflakes in your hair,” she murmurs when they break, and brushes her gloved hand across Regina’s dark locks.
“Someone could see us,” Regina says, her breath forming mist in the frigid air.
“We’re going on a date,” Emma says, laughing. “Plenty of people are going to see us.”
Regina has booked them a private dining room at The Three Broomsticks. She conjures a candle and lights it, setting it on the table between them because the pub has never been much of a place for ambience – though it has the best food in walking distance.
“So,” Emma says.
“So,” Regina replies.
“We’re not very good at this, are we?” Emma says, flicking her fingers in and out of the flame.
Regina grabs her hand, strokes her finger down the Emma’s palm, feeling the jump and shiver of her skin. “We could be,” she murmurs. “Emma.” Emma hisses at the sound of her name on Regina’s tongue and Regina concludes that this might not be the worst date ever after all.
They are interrupted by a waitress. Regina taught her as a seventh year last year and she swiftly pulls her hand away, noticing the curious look. “Ah, Miss Boyd,” she says. “How are you?”
“I’m well, Professor Mills.” She touches her stomach and Regina notes the curve signalling a child. “What can I get you?”
“I’ll have the burger and a Gillyweed,” Emma says. “Don’t give me that look, Mills.”
“The chicken breast,” Regina says, continuing to shoot Emma a dirty look because a burger is not a ‘date’ meal. “And a Firewhiskey on the rocks. Thank you.”
A few drinks later, Emma’s cheeks are flushed pink and Regina has loosened up. She’s in a general state of inebriation when they return to Hogwarts, which must explain why she pushes Emma up against the side wall of Zonko’s Joke Shop and kisses her, hands everywhere – in Emma’s hair, stroking around her face and neck, stealing under her cloak. She’s fierce, biting Emma’s lower lip and, judging by the sighs, Emma doesn’t mind so much.
“We should get back to the castle,” Regina says, though she’s reluctant to remove her hand from the folds of Emma’s cloak. Emma grabs her hand and drags Regina towards the path back to the castle, giggling as the snow crunches beneath their feet.
She’s on night patrol. It’s quiet, the castle cold and, not for the first time, Regina questions the logic of hosting a school in a stone castle in the north of Scotland. Wind bites through gaps in the stone, stabbing at her legs. She’s looking forward to midnight when she’s off duty and can go to Emma’s rooms. They’re been doing whatever it is they’re doing for three weeks now – Friday night dates, several nights a week spent in each other’s company, weekends spent marking together and spending time with Henry. He’s a decent chess player and, while he isn’t close to meeting Regina’s level of skill, he’s improving rapidly and she genuinely enjoys the time she spends with him. When Emma starts to get fidgety, they switch to Gobstones or roast marshmallows in the fireplace in Emma’s quarters.
It’s been fun. Regina hasn’t had fun in a long time.
There’s a light shining from under a door to a disused classroom. It used to be the Transfiguration classroom but now is mostly used for storage. She wonders if students have discovered it makes a good hideout. She pulls out her wand and enters the room.
It’s empty, the light coming from a large mirror in one corner of the room. She moves closer, wand still drawn and then realises what it is.
The Mirror of Erised.
She’s encountered it before, of course. Twice, in fact. The first time she was sixteen and she and Daniel were looking for a place in the castle to make out when they stumbled on it. They didn’t know what it was but when they stood in front of it, she saw herself and Daniel, but they were older and she was holding a baby.
The second time, she knew the purpose of the mirror and she saw herself with her mother and her mother was smiling at her proudly and Regina had fallen to the floor crying and had stayed there until Blanchard found her and pulled her to her feet and dragged her to her quarters where she held her while Regina sobbed and raged.
She doesn’t want to know her deepest desire but she’s too late. She’s standing before the mirror and the image shifts and changes. She’s smiling in the image, though in real life her face is contorted in horror, and she’s not alone. The figures blur and then come into focus. It’s Emma Swan and Henry; their arms are around her and they’re smiling as widely as she is.
She backs away, stumbling over her robes, and runs from the room, patrol forgotten.
“Are you all right?” Emma asks, piling scrambled eggs onto her plate.
“Never better, Professor Swan,” Regina says, voice dismissive. She butters toast and turns the page of The Daily Prophet.
“It’s just…” She’s hesitant. “I thought you were going to come and see me last night after patrol. I waited up.”
“Forgot,” Regina says. She hadn’t forgotten; it had been the only thing running through her mind as she sat, knees up at her chest, on the floor of her room, frozen, breathing too quickly. She’s supposed to see Emma. She’ll wonder where she is.
“Okay,” Emma says and Regina can’t look at her because she knows she’ll see hurt radiating across Emma’s features just as she can hear it in her voice. “Well, tonight?”
“Professor Swan, I am trying to read,” Regina says. “Do stop pestering me.”
She hears the squeal of the chair pulling out and the quick stomp of Emma’s boots as she runs out of the great hall.
She’ll be better off in the end. Regina’s cursed.
Her final class of the day is her first year Gryffindors. She’s tired. She’s drained. She just wants to go to her rooms, open the bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey she intended to give Ruby Lucas for Christmas and drink herself to sleep. “Right,” she says. “Turn to page 211. We are continuing with our practice of the transformation formula from yesterday. I would like you to answer the practice questions one to eleven.”
She stalks the classroom, confiscating a pack of sugar quills from Miss Smith and helping Miss Mendell, who has shown limited aptitude in Transfiguration so far, with question one. When she reaches Henry, she finds he has not started but is sitting there with a defiant expression on his face, arms crossed. “Make a start, thank you,” she says, tapping his page.
“No,” Henry says. She is aware of the entire class swivelling to look at Henry and a hushed whisper permeating the room.
“Mister Swan, I will not ask you again,” she says.
“I’m not doing anything for you,” he says and the words stab her.
“You can do as you have been asked or you can sit in the corridor for the rest of the lesson,” Regina says, coldly.
Sullenly, Henry turns his head to his book and picks up his quill. It is silent for the rest of the lesson, the class shocked by the normally affable Henry’s insubordination. “Thank you, class,” Regina says. “It is important you keep this formula in mind as we continue with our studies. You will refer back to it throughout your years studying Transfiguration. You may now pack up. Mister Swan, I wish to speak with you after class. Please wait behind.”
There is a scraping of benches and the classroom empties, except for Henry. “Come here, Mister Swan,” Regina says. She’s sitting at her desk and has pulled out her planner, inputting grades from a rest test her fourth years did. She looks up after a moment or two have passed. “Now, can you explain today’s performance to me?”
“You made Ma cry,” Henry says.
Regina is shocked into silence. She removes her glasses, wipes the lenses on her robes. “Henry, sometimes things just don’t work out.”
“But you were both happy,” he says. “I know you were. I saw you.”
Regina sighs. “Happiness is not everything, nor is it lasting.” She knows the happier she is, the further she will inevitably fall into misery and despair and she cannot take that risk. “Regardless, whatever is going on outside the classroom cannot enter it.”
“I guess,” Henry mutters, his foot scuffing against the edge of her desk. “Can I go now?”
Regina sighs heavily. “Yes, you may.”
In the week that follows, Regina avoids anywhere she might run into Emma Swan. She takes dinner in her quarters. She goes late to breakfast. She sits in Gold’s corner at staff meetings, ignoring the way he makes her skin crawl. She avoids eye contact with Emma at these meetings, though watches her from the back, notes the dark circles under her eyes, the frown etched onto her usually cheerful face.
It’s for the best, she thinks. She’ll get over me.
She’s in her quarters on Friday evening, onto her third glass of Firewhiskey when there is a knock at the door. “Come in,” she calls out, irritability lacing her voice.
Blanchard pokes her head around the door. “Professor Mills. Do you have a minute?”
She sighs. “Sit. Please.”
Blanchard sits, soft pastel robes folding across her crossed legs. “What happened?” she asks.
“I don’t feel like that’s any of your business,” Regina says. She straightens her spine, folding her hands on her lap, trying not to fidget.
“It’s my business when my daughter can’t stop crying and hasn’t slept without the help of a dreamless sleep potion for a week. It’s my business when my Defence against the Dark Arts teacher is talking about resigning mid-semester.” Blanchard’s lips form a tight line. “It’s also my business when the head of Gryffindor is not participating in the life of the school.”
Regina sighs. “I just… it was never going to work out long term so why push it?”
“Liar,” Blanchard says. “I saw the way you two looked at each other.” She twists her robes in her hands. “Regina, you deserve happiness.”
“Everything I desire burns to ash at my hands,” Regina says and perhaps it’s the alcohol but she has to clench her hands to stop herself from crying. Her fingernails dig into the soft flesh of her hands. “My future with Daniel, my mother loving me…”
“Oh, Regina. What did you do?”
“I found the Mirror,” she says. “I saw myself with Emma and Henry. I can’t, I cannot allow them to be destroyed because of my desires.”
Blanchard is silent for a moment. Regina knows she’s remembering the last time, having to drag Regina away, having to deal with her breaking down. “I think about what I made you do every day,” Blanchard says. “I did not make that decision lightly and I am sorry.” It’s the first time she has apologised for the action she tricked Regina into taking.
“I think about it a lot as well,” Regina says. She can’t yet bring herself to say more than that. There may be forgiveness in their future but she still bears the scars of Blanchard’s decision, however seriously or otherwise it was taken.
Blanchard moves from her seat and kneels in front of her, hands clasping Regina’s. Their eyes meet and it takes all the strength Regina has not to flinch. “You are the strongest person I know. You feel things with your whole soul. Don’t hold yourself back from that because of some false belief that you’re cursed.”
“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s too late for me. Emma won’t forgive me.”
“Emma’s a forgiving person. Please think about it, Regina.” Blanchard stands. “I’ll leave you in peace now.” She touches Regina’s shoulder as she leaves and the warmth stays for quite some time.
Regina sits staring at the dying embers of the fire. She thinks about Daniel, about the baby she didn’t have and never will have since her mother’s curse. She thinks about her mother, her desperate desire for love and validation, to be enough for her. And then she thinks about Emma, how she has smiled more in the past month than in the past fifteen years, how she has slept without nightmares when she is by her side, how she has made her feel less broken.
She downs her drink and stands, legs shaky. Then she’s running, slippers sliding on the stone floors of the castle until she reaches Emma’s room at the other end of the teacher’s wing. She bangs at Emma’s door. There’s a shuffling sound and the door creaks open. Emma pokes her head out. Her lips tighten when she sees Regina and she realises just how late it is. “What do you want?” Her voice is raspy and her eyes are red-rimmed.
“You,” Regina says. “I mean – to talk to you.”
“I suppose you had better come in,” Emma says, glancing along the hall, obviously worried they might disturb people.
“Thank you,” Regina says. Emma sits but doesn’t offer Regina a seat so she stands, hands twisting in front of her. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I was afraid.”
“You’re just one more person in a long line of people to abandon me,” Emma says, shrugging, and Regina’s heart just about breaks.
“The night I was supposed to come to you but didn’t, I was on patrol and I crossed paths with the Mirror of Erised.”
“It shows you your deepest desire.”
“Stupid name,” Emma says.
“Well, I didn’t name it,” Regina snaps. “Sorry. I’ve encountered it twice before last week. Both of my deepest wishes were people who died at my hand. Last week I…” She pauses, throat tightening. “I saw you and Henry in the mirror. I can’t lose another dream.”
“You saw me and Henry?” Emma stands and there is such hope in her hazel eyes. Regina nods and surges forward, clasps Emma’s face in her hands and kisses her, soft and achingly slow.
Emma’s chest heaves and Regina’s so close she can feel the beat of her heart. Her eyes are wet with tears. “Never again,” she says. “You have to talk to me, Regina. Otherwise, you will lose me.”
“I know,” she says. “I really do.”
“I’m still angry and we still need to talk a lot,” Emma says, though she still hasn’t let go of Regina. “But I’m pretty sure I’d be seeing you in that mirror thing as well.”
Regina’s heart has never felt so light.