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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 3]

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Chapter Fourteen

Shadow of Doubt

Severus had left Squirrel’s Leap by the time Contessa arose on the Saturday morning. The cottage seemed strangely empty in his absence.

Fawkes, now the size of a small pheasant, was dozing on the Transfigured perch as Contessa entered the living room. She wandered over to the young phoenix and softly whispered good morning. The bird stirred and looked up sleepily at Contessa. Fawkes let out a muffled squeep as he stretched his wings, ruffled his feathers and shook himself awake.

“You’ll have to make yourself scarce when Remus arrives,” she said sadly, stroking the phoenix under its beak. Fawkes cooed appreciatively.

Dumbledore awoke in his portrait as the phoenix flew out of the window in search of breakfast.

Contessa stood awkwardly in front of the picture frame before looking at the Headmaster reluctantly. “And what am I going to do with you?” she said wryly.

“Ah, I shall make a swift exit when the Doorbell Charm rings,” Dumbledore replied agreeably. “Do not worry.”

Contessa sighed, dropping her head and swinging her arms out slightly at her sides. “I’ve made such a mess of things,” she said despondently.

“It is retrievable, however,” Dumbledore said kindly.

“Yes, but Severus might not trust me anymore,” she said heavily, staring at the floor.

Dumbledore didn’t answer immediately. Eventually Contessa looked up at him uncertainly. His gaze was sympathetic.

“You are doing well; better than I had hoped. I’m confident that Severus will return.”

Contessa smiled ruefully. “I never thought I’d see the day when I would want to see him out of choice.”

Dumbledore smiled in return. “As I said, you’re doing well.”

Contessa laughed mirthlessly. “It doesn’t feel like it at the moment.”

A mighty gong heralded the arrival of Remus Lupin, Apparating on the borders of the garden. Looking outside, Contessa saw a flash of scarlet and gold as Fawkes buried himself in the undergrowth of the herb garden.

Turning back to the living room, she noticed Dumbledore had already gone. Contessa Transfigured the phoenix perch back into a plant stand and Summoned the pot plant from the window sill.

With a brisk rap, Remus knocked on the front door. He was smiling broadly as he entered the cottage, and looked a little less shabby than usual. Married life was obviously treating him well.

“Good morning, Tess,” he said cheerfully. “You’re looking well.”

Contessa smiled in greeting and welcomed him with a warm hug. “So are you. Can I make you a drink?”

“No, no, I won’t be staying long. Three more houses to do after this one. Dora might pop along if there’s time. Thanks, anyway.”

Contessa nodded.

“Looks like you’ve made a good start, though,” Remus said gratefully.

Contessa looked at him enquiringly.

“Excellent Disillusionment Charm on the cottage – very convincing. And I’m sure I heard a Doorbell Charm too.” Remus smiled.

“Oh, that.” Contessa shrugged it away. “I got started on the charms when I arrived home last night,” she lied.

“Well, that’ll make it quicker for us this morning. Let’s start inside the cottage shall we?”

Contessa’s stomach filled with a leaden weight. “Inside?”

“We need to be thorough; I’m not taking any chances.” Remus grinned. “The Order decided that George Weasley and I will be using your safe house tonight.”

Contessa gulped and tried to appear nonchalant. “No problem, it’ll be my pleasure.”

Remus smiled warmly. “Where shall we begin?”

“I’ll do upstairs, if you like.” Contessa’s offer was more a command than a request.

“Certainly, I’ll cover downstairs and I’ll meet you outside when you’ve finished?”

Contessa nodded and let out an audible breath of relief as she climbed the stairs.

She opened the door to the guest room; it was the first time Contessa had been inside the room since Severus had arrived.

She was shocked to see the room in quite a state of disarray. The trunk retrieved from Hogwarts lay open, its contents strewn across the floor. Clothing was heaped in a pile in the corner of the room and Severus’s books were stacked in a teetering tower beside his bed. It was a sight to behold.

Unthinking, Contessa raised her wand, about to perform a charm to tidy everything away, but she caught herself just in time. It occurred to her that Severus would know immediately of her interference. Clenching her hands at her sides, she forced herself to leave things as she found them.

Dumbledore had said she was doing well with the vow. Cleaning up Severus’s mess was not the way to show him her unconditional acceptance.

Closing her eyes, she began the complicated incantations to protect the first floor of her home.

When Contessa joined Remus in the garden, he had already erected the defence against those bearing the Dark Mark. Severus could not return now, even if he wanted to.

As she approached Remus, the resounding snap of a second Apparition made her jump, and within moments she was wrapped in a bear hug with Nymphadora Tonks.

“Hiya Tess! How’s hubby here treating you?” Dora smiled widely then kissed Remus on the lips.

“Ah, he’s doing well enough,” Contessa laughed conspiratorially.

Remus smiled at the two women, before resuming his spell-casting.

“When do you leave the Ministry?” Dora asked.

“It was my last day yesterday,” Contessa replied, the sadness in her voice marking the end of an era.

“I’m going to miss you at work. The place won’t be the same without you.” Dora reached out for Contessa’s hand, and accidentally stepped on her foot.

Contessa laughed heartily. “I’ll miss you too. It’ll be strange not having my co-conspirator around. I’ll see you at Order meetings, though.”

Dora smiled. The two women got to work and soon the protective charms were completed. Remus selected an old terracotta plant pot which was broken at the base, and turned it into a Portkey.

With a fond farewell, Contessa left Remus and Dora at the garden gate as they passed into the space where they could Disapparate.

“Thanks, Tess,” Remus said gratefully, “I’ll see you tonight.”

Contessa smiled and waved. “Good luck!”

Dora beamed back as she took hold of Remus’s hand, and the pair of them Disapparated with a reverberating crack.

The night was clear and still as Contessa waited at Squirrel’s Leap. Remus and George were running behind schedule and the longer they took, the more agitated and worried she became.

She was concerned about the welfare of the two delayed Order members, as well as the rest of the rescue party. And Severus.

He was out there tonight alongside the other Death Eaters, risking his life to protect Harry Potter and trying not to blow his cover.

Contessa felt sick with nerves as she waited alone inside the cottage.

Finally Remus flew through the enchanted barrier, with George flailing helplessly on the broomstick. He was covered in blood.

Contessa ran out of the house to help them, but was met by the tip of Remus’s wand pressed into her chest. She backed away until she was forced against the stone wall of the cottage.

Remus’s face looked slightly deranged as the moonlight reflected on his features.

Confusion tore through Contessa’s mind as she stood restrained, her eyes flickering towards George lying groaning on the ground. He was losing a lot of blood from a head wound.

“Remus, what has come over you – let me help him!” she said urgently.

“Someone has betrayed us!” Remus hissed at her. “We flew straight into a trap!”

Contessa faltered for a moment, realising Remus had good reason to suspect her. After all, she was the one ultimately responsible for the leak. She quickly composed herself ready to face Remus’s inquisition.

“Answer me this: what was the gemstone on Dora’s engagement ring?” Remus barked at her.

“Remus, what are you talking about?”

“Answer me!” His eyes had a wolfish glint in them as he moved in closer, pushing his wand into her neck.

“You didn’t buy Dora an engagement ring, Remus,” Contessa answered steadily.

Remus’s wand dropped to his side and he stepped back. “Sorry. I had to be sure you weren’t an impostor.”

Contessa sighed and pushed her way past him. “What happened to George?”

“Snape,” Remus replied acrimoniously.

Contessa’s insides turned to ice. “Snape?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes, you know; the one who killed Dumbledore?” Remus answered bitterly. “His mask slipped before he could finish us off completely.”

Contessa swallowed back the nausea creeping up her throat and she knelt down next to George. His injury was bleeding heavily and he appeared to have lost his ear. There was no stemming the blood flow; the wound had been made with Dark Magic.

The caster of this particular spell had meant to cause serious damage. It could have killed George had he not been able to stay balanced on the broomstick.

Contessa felt a rush of anger and disbelief, and queasiness at the thought of Severus using the Dark Arts against the Order of the Phoenix. It seemed he was not the man she thought he was. She wondered fleetingly if his actions were something to do with his grudge against the werewolf.

Contessa realised she knew very little of Severus’s motivations, but all the things she thought she knew came crashing down around her.

Suddenly, Remus was crouched down next to her, holding the broken terracotta pot. He placed it on the ground and picked up George, heaving his bloody mass over his shoulder.

Contessa picked up the plant pot and handed it to Remus. Within moments the Portkey flashed with a blue-white light and Remus and George vanished.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 3]

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