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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 2]

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Chapter Ten

Part of the Plan

Contessa and Severus spent the following week giving each other a wide berth. Work at the Ministry kept Contessa busy by day and she attended regular Order meetings to keep abreast of developments. Along with Kingsley Shacklebolt and a few others, Contessa continued to act as the Order’s eyes and ears at the Ministry, passing on intelligence which would help to decide the date and method of transportation for Harry Potter’s move from Privet Drive.

She had been delighted to hear the news of the recent marriage of Remus Lupin to the Auror, Nymphadora Tonks. It was high time the pair got together and nice to have some good news in the weeks following Dumbledore’s death. However, Severus greeted the news with disparagement and Contessa had the distinct impression that Severus held some sort of grudge against the werewolf.

Usefully, Severus had been able to feed titbits of information back to Voldemort which would not prejudice the Order’s plans to protect Harry. In turn, Severus had proved a valuable resource for the Order, providing reports on Voldemort’s attempts to infiltrate the Ministry.

Contessa noticed that Severus was spending more and more time away from Squirrel’s Leap and she suspected it was not all on the Dark Lord’s bidding. When she questioned him he remained evasive. Contessa had wondered if Severus was simply avoiding her, but in the end decided she should respect his privacy, whatever his reasons might be.

They settled into an unspoken pattern, taking turns to feed the baby Fawkes, who was growing at a fast rate under their care and was now the size of a woodpigeon. Conversations centred on the care of the phoenix, and discussions about the books which Severus was devouring from her bookshelf. Contessa was learning to appreciate the sharp intellect of the man lodging in her home.

At the beginning of the second week, Severus had read the entire contents of her library and was growing restless and tetchy, cooped up in the cottage with nothing to do. Together they had set up a cauldron in the cottage’s out-house and he spent some time brewing potions and experimenting, to pass the long hours alone. Contessa had procured some Polyjuice Potion to allow him to leave the confines of Squirrel’s Leap, but he had shown little interest in doing so. It seemed he preferred to be alone, as long as he had something to occupy his mind.

On one evening the Order of the Phoenix met in the Headteacher’s Office at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall looked a decade older, the strain of the past two weeks apparent on her lined face. Snape was referred to once or twice; Alastor Moody had searched Severus’s quarters at Hogwarts three times over, looking for clues to his location. He had found nothing. Contessa offered to dispose of Professor Snape’s belongings and it was agreed that this was now appropriate.

She had been surprised upon entering Severus’s personal chambers to find them sparsely furnished and bleak in decoration. Moody had searched the quarters roughly, with little regard for the contents and the room appeared quite messy. Contessa packed as many belongings as possible into a trunk, upon which she had performed an Undetectable Extension Charm.

When Contessa arrived home that evening she met Severus at the door and levitated the trunk across the threshold. She slumped, exhausted, onto the sofa and the trunk dropped with a resounding thud on the floor.

Severus raised his eyebrows enquiringly.

“Your belongings,” she explained.

“From Hogwarts?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I was expected to burn them, I think, but I thought you’d appreciate a few more books and a change of clothes.”

Severus lifted the lid of the trunk to find his personal library stacked neatly inside, the rolls of parchment he had been working on the night the Death Eaters arrived in the castle, and his entire wardrobe of teaching robes, neatly pressed and folded, along with his grey nightshirt and a pair of boots.

“Thank you,” he said quietly, lifting out a freshly laundered, high-collared, white shirt.

“I took the liberty of pressing your shirts for you,” said Contessa, aware of the bemused expression on Severus’s face. “I think Alastor was a little heavy-handed; your room was very untidy.”

Severus regarded her in surprise for a moment. “No doubt,” he replied, a curious smile curling his lips.

“I’m afraid there’s not much choice, though. It’s mostly all teaching robes.” Contessa paused to consider that she had never actually seen him wearing anything else during her time at Hogwarts.

“These are sufficient for my needs,” he replied, levitating the trunk and sending it towards the open door of the bedroom.

Contessa heard a fluttering of wings and felt the soft warmth of Fawkes land on her shoulder. She looked around at the bird and was met by a mouthful of warm feathers, as the young phoenix rubbed his head against her face. He looked back at her and gave a soft chirrup into her ear.

Severus sat down in the armchair, looking down at his hands.

“You have news?” Contessa asked.

“There will be a meeting at Malfoy Manor tomorrow evening. I shall be expected to provide the Dark Lord with information.”

Contessa took a deep breath, as she paused to consider her response. “The Order has set the date for Harry’s departure from Little Whinging.” She hesitated as Severus watched her expectantly.

His eyebrows arched. “When is it?” Severus asked, his dark eyes glittering dangerously.

“I don’t know if…” She faltered and looked away from Severus in embarrassment.

“It’s alright, Tess,” said Dumbledore, stepping into his portrait and regarding them both seriously. “Severus needs to know and it’s best it comes from you.”

Contessa swallowed. “The twenty-seventh of July at nightfall,” she said reluctantly.

“Ahead of Potter’s birthday?” Severus asked.

“Yes. The Order plans to set a false trail through the Ministry, however. They’re convinced the Ministry has been infiltrated by He Who Must Not Be Named, and won’t seek their help in moving Harry.”

An uncomfortable silence stretched out across the room. Fawkes hopped down her arm and landed on the small coffee table, proceeding to tear strips from the Daily Prophet. Contessa sighed and arose from her seat, padding wearily into the kitchen to make a hot drink. Pausing at the sink, she reached out for a second mug for her guest and listened to Dumbledore’s voice drifting through the open doorway.

“You will have to give Voldemort the correct date of Harry’s departure from his aunt and uncle’s,” said Dumbledore. “Not to do so will raise suspicion, when Voldemort believes you to be so well informed. However you must plant the idea of decoys. That I think ought to ensure Harry’s safety. Try Confunding Mundungus Fletcher. And Severus, if you are forced to take part in the chase, be sure to act your part convincingly…I am counting upon you to remain in Lord Voldemort’s good books as long as possible, or Hogwarts will be left to the mercy of the Carrows.”

Contessa walked back into the living room and handed Severus a mug of steaming hot chocolate. He accepted it with a curt nod, before turning again to face Dumbledore’s portrait.

“Why Fletcher?” he asked.

Dumbledore considered him for a moment.

“Contessa could plant the idea,” Severus suggested.

Dumbledore shook his head. “No, Contessa is best kept out of it as much as possible. We do not want the Order turning up at Squirrel’s Leap, as will happen if she becomes too involved in the planning. No, Mundungus is the one, easier to Confund and capable of thinking up such a piece of skulduggery.”

Severus nodded his acceptance.

“Tess.” Dumbledore turned to face her. “You will need to set up a meeting with Mundungus, and take Severus along with you.”

“I shall find him and arrange it,” she replied.

“Do you have any news on the contents of my Will?” Dumbledore asked Contessa.

“It’s still impounded and I expect they’ll keep it for the full thirty-one days before releasing it,” she said, weariness creeping into her voice.

“Godric Gryffindor’s sword?” asked Dumbledore.

“As you know, it’s still at Hogwarts. From what I can gather, Scrimgeour has overridden Professor McGonagall’s authority and decided it won’t be released.”

Dumbledore sighed. “Ah well, I was half expecting it. Tess, I think the time is coming for you to resign your post at the Ministry.”

Severus’s head turned sharply in surprise.

“I think so too,” Contessa replied, ignoring Severus.

“But first, I have one more request,” said Dumbledore.

“Of course.”

“The Ludicrous Patents Office should have a copy of the patent for Gryffindor’s sword. Find it and take a copy.”

Contessa nodded. “That should be easy enough.”

“Try as well to find out what you can from the Goblin Liaison Office – who made the sword, and their descendants. Ask Griselda too; she might have some useful contacts.”

“Goblins are notoriously secretive,” Contessa commented. “It will be difficult.”

“I know, but we must try,” said Dumbledore.

Severus peered enquiringly at Contessa, but she felt too tired to give him a full explanation. He was going to find out soon enough, anyway.

“The Ministry is becoming more dangerous every day,” Contessa said wearily. “I need to get out of the Ministry before it falls to the Dark Lord. I have another position to take up in the coming weeks which will be of more use to the Order in the long run.”

Contessa saw some understanding in Severus’s face and decided she had told him as much as necessary at this point in time.

She turned to leave. “I’m off to bed; there’s a lot to do tomorrow.”

Contessa shuffled upstairs, leaving Severus alone with the phoenix and the shredded copy of the Daily Prophet.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 2]

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