On the day of the funeral, Severus arose in the late morning when boredom finally propelled him from the dark guest room. He picked up the torn photograph of Lily from beside his bed and tucked it safely inside the front pocket of his black shirt.
Severus wandered downstairs into the living room, squinting at the daylight streaming through the window. It was another beautiful summer’s day. He half drew the curtains to accustom himself to the light.
The house was empty, save for the frail-looking phoenix perched in the corner of the room. Fawkes rasped a greeting at him, looking more old and forlorn than ever. As Severus studied the bird cooped up in the cottage with him, he felt a sense of hopelessness engulf him.
With no appetite for breakfast, Severus slumped on the sofa picking up the new edition of the Daily Prophet. Once again, a photograph of Albus Dumbledore graced the front page.
He leafed through the pages and read a small article confirming that the Ministry still wanted to question him over the ‘mysterious’ death of the Headmaster. The Potter boy’s evidence against him was no doubt being misrepresented by the Daily Prophet, which meant the Dark Lord’s influence over the media was increasing.
Severus knew that Potter’s hatred of him was likely to be monumental in proportion, and the rest of the Order would respond the same way to his apparent betrayal. Contessa was the only one who believed in him now. Or at least, she was trying to.
He turned to the middle pages and saw a picture of his colleague, Charity Burbage, next to the emblazoned headline ‘Muggles Need Your Protection’. Severus shook his head. The woman was making herself a target in these dangerous times. She had obviously felt the need to take up the mantle left behind by Dumbledore, championing Muggle rights. Severus admired her tenacity but was concerned about her tactics. Professor Burbage would be no help to the Muggles if she got herself killed.
Dumbledore’s soft cough brought Severus out of his reverie.
Standing up, Severus addressed the portrait with a good morning.
“Tess?” enquired Dumbledore.
“Not here,” Severus replied.
“She is still at Hector’s, I take it?”
Severus shrugged nonchalantly. “I haven’t seen her.”
“Avoiding her?” Dumbledore asked shrewdly.
Severus felt irritated by Dumbledore’s sharp perception, but had to concede the truth in it. His eyes narrowed and his lips thinned as he stopped himself from responding.
Dumbledore smiled patiently. “She’ll be back. Tess is a resourceful witch who can be relied upon. She won’t let you down.”
As usual, Dumbledore saw right through the façade, getting to the nub of the matter quickly. Severus felt some unease that he had become so transparent.
He replied to Dumbledore’s assertion with a stiff nod and went into the kitchen to escape further conversation. Upon realising he was still not hungry, he made himself a mug of black coffee.
Severus felt strangely unsettled as he awaited Contessa’s return. He was not accustomed to placing trust in someone; vulnerability was not to be encouraged, he had learned. To depend upon another person meant exposing himself to the risk of ridicule, loss and pain.
The crack of Apparition sounded outside and the Doorbell Charm rang in the tone of a wind chime: Contessa had arrived home.
The front door opened. “Severus?” she called out.
He stepped out of the kitchen, noticing how tense he suddenly felt.
“Good morning,” he greeted her. The cold formality in his voice covered up the apprehension he was experiencing.
“I’m glad you’re here.” Contessa smiled hesitantly. “I’ve got them.” She held out her hand, in which two silver rings glinted in the sunlight. “Hector kept me talking; I’m sorry I’m so late. He was asking a lot of questions.”
She obviously felt the need to explain her long absence and Severus did not want to appear as though he cared. He threw her a supercilious look.
Hiding a cringe, Contessa looked away. “I convinced him they were for a dear friend who was too sick to attend the funeral.”
Severus moved forwards to get a better look at the items in her hand. The rings were set with an oval yellow and brown stone, with a lustrous golden sheen. The rings were quite small in size. Contessa held one out for him to examine.
“Tiger’s Eye,” she said. “The stone, I mean.”
“Ah yes, I see,” he replied. Severus studied the ring closely and noted several tiny Arithmantic inscriptions on the inside of the band.
“Try it on,” said Contessa. “It’s for your little finger.”
Severus doubted it would fit, but he attempted anyway. Pushing the ring down his finger, he was thwarted at the finger joint.
“Oh!” said Contessa, clearly surprised. “Not to worry, that’s easily remedied.”
Without looking at him, she took hold of his right hand and raised her wand.
“Engorgio!” Contessa gently tapped the ring with the tip of her wand and the metal expanded instantly. She gently pressed the silver band further down his little finger, until it set with a perfect fit.
Severus became increasingly aware of her soft touch against his skin. The sensation was not unpleasant.
“There,” she said, satisfied. Contessa held his hand upwards, examining the fit of the ring with a gentle caress of her fingers. “You have beautiful hands…I have never noticed before.”
Meeting his gaze, she flushed slightly and Severus felt her hand withdraw from his in a swift, embarrassed movement.
Severus was not accustomed to physical contact; his hard demeanour usually afforded him ample personal space. No doubt the icy cold exterior of the former Potions Master had caused her sudden change of heart.
Realising that their endeavour would not be successful if she was a gibbering wreck, Severus held the ring up closer to his face and studied it further.
“It is a handsome cut,” he remarked.
Contessa seemed to relax a little.
“So, how does this work?” he asked.
“After the Colligomens Charm is cast, our minds will be linked. You only need to clasp your hand, as if holding mine, and shut your eyes,” she explained. “You shall see, in your mind’s eye, what I am seeing.”
Contessa slipped the other ring onto her little finger. “Let’s give it a try,” she said nervously. She held out her hand to him.
Unthinking, Severus placed his hand lightly in hers. Her fingers were trembling a little.
“The rings need to touch,” she said, avoiding his eyes.
Severus grasped her hand more tightly and felt a cold tingle as the rings came into contact.
“Alright,” said Contessa, more confident now, “we must look into each other’s eyes whilst I cast the charm.”
Severus complied. He met her gaze and was momentarily taken aback by the brilliance of the greyish-blue eyes looking back at him. Her pupils widened in response. Concentrate, he told himself.
“OK, ready?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
With one small movement her wand tapped their clasped hands.
“Colligomens,” she whispered.
The rings grew warm in their grasp. Out of the corner of his eye, Severus caught sight of the silver bands shining on their fingers. He did not, however, look away from Contessa. Her steadfast blue gaze had anchored him in place.
Moments passed in silence.
“Did it work?” Severus asked as he pulled himself back, letting go of her hand abruptly.
“I think so,” she answered. “We’ll have to test it.”
Contessa walked out of the room through the front door and disappeared out of sight. Severus let out a breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding.
He gave himself a little time before cautiously reaching out to grip an imaginary hand, and was aware of a cool tingle on his little finger. He closed his eyes and was met by a flash of daylight. Mentally, he squinted, before realising that the vision was not his.
Severus watched two squirrels performing daring feats of acrobatics from the roof of the cottage onto a nearby oak tree. Impressive. He let out a small laugh.
He opened his eyes again and hurried out of the cottage, shielding his eyes from the midday sun. Contessa was stood, smiling, watching a squirrel descend a tree trunk in pursuit of its mate.
“It worked!” Severus proclaimed, reverence in his voice.
Contessa turned to face him, a grin spreading across her face. He felt the corners of his mouth curl into the beginnings of a smile. The muscles felt like they hadn’t been used in a long time.
“Excellent!” Contessa beamed back at him.
Severus was about to respond, but at that moment the Dark Mark burned into his arm. His spirits sank instantly.
Taking out his wand, he changed into the robes of a Death Eater and mentally prepared himself for what was to come.
Contessa’s smiling face faltered before him, but this time he noticed that she didn’t flinch. Instead, her expression was one of panic.
“No! Not now!” Her voice pleaded with him in desperation.
Severus placed the mask on his face and stored his emotions safely away in a locked box. There was no place for disappointment or sorrow at the feet of the Dark Lord.
Contessa reached out and grabbed his hand, holding him momentarily so that he couldn’t Disapparate.
“I must go,” he said sharply.
“But you’ll miss…”
“I must leave now.” Severus cut her off with snarling impatience. “If I stay, the Dark Lord will send his Death Eaters to find me.”
Contessa seemed to process this briefly. “I understand,” she said dejectedly, her own sadness and regret evident in her features.
Severus felt the pang of her feelings as they were reflected back at him. He attempted to shake them off.
“If you see Charity Burbage, tell her to watch her back,” he instructed her sternly.
Contessa nodded and reluctantly let go of his hand. As she did so, the rings came into contact and Severus was flooded with emotions which were not his own. He felt a wave of fear and concern, which must have emanated from the woman before him.
Without knowing if such transference was supposed to happen, Severus Disapparated leaving Contessa looking shaken and bewildered.