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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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Chapter Sixteen

An Unexpected Guest

In the days following the death of Alastor Moody, Contessa spent time at Squirrel’s Leap with Severus. She had signed her new contract of employment and was enjoying having some free time in between jobs.

Severus appeared to have finally settled in her home, although he still spent a large portion of his time alone, brewing potions in the out-house or reading in his room.

Contessa felt their relationship had a firmer basis, and the trust they shared seemed genuine; it was no longer reliant upon the recommendation of Albus Dumbledore.

Although the Dark Lord’s plan to infiltrate the Ministry was gathering in pace, Severus had not been overly involved in the strategy. He was still a wanted man and therefore of little use to the Dark Lord at present.

On the afternoon of the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour, Contessa dressed in her pale blue dress-robes and bade Severus and Fawkes farewell.

She arrived at the ceremony early, sitting behind Remus and Dora in the marquee. Dora was chatting excitedly and showing off her wedding ring. However, Remus looked miserable and subdued; Contessa couldn’t work out what was troubling him.

After the wedding ceremony had taken place, Contessa spent the afternoon mingling with guests, feeling strangely detached from the surroundings. She thought about Severus from time to time, and started to wish she had brought the Tiger’s Eye ring with her.

She sat down at an empty table with a sigh, and wondered if she might leave early and slip out unnoticed.

Almost on cue, Dora appeared at her side, holding two glasses of pink champagne. She giggled a little as she sat down next to Contessa, with newly blonde curls bouncing around her face.

Contessa accepted the proffered drink. Together they raised their glasses in a toast then settled back in their chairs to watch the throng on the dance floor.

“What’s the matter with Remus today?” asked Contessa. “It can’t be that time of the month.” Her eyebrows rose mischievously.

Dora blinked then covered her composure with an amused smile. “Oh, it’s nothing. He’ll get over it.”

Contessa realised she had hit a nerve, but Dora appeared not to want to talk about it. Contessa said nothing in response.

Dora gave a little hiccup and looked at Contessa guiltily.

“I must be careful; I’m not allowed too many of these,” Dora said, looking down at the glass of champagne in her hand.

When her eyes met Contessa’s they were twinkling. Contessa searched Dora’s features for confirmation.

“You’re kidding me! Already?” she asked excitedly.

Dora’s hand subconsciously massaged her stomach. “I found out yesterday,” she said happily.

Contessa let out a small squeal of delight. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Dora replied.

Contessa reached out for Dora’s hand and squeezed it tight. “Congratulations!”

Dora beamed. “Thanks.”

“I’m sure you’ll make wonderful parents,” Contessa said warmly.

Dora’s face faltered for a moment and she looked back towards the dance floor, to see Remus talking gravely with Arthur Weasley. Her face held a trace of sadness for a moment, until she turned to face Contessa again, a smile returning to her face. “I hope so.”

There was a slight pause in the conversation.

“I believe you’ve signed the contract of employment?” Dora asked, changing the subject.

Contessa smiled conspiratorially. “Yes, but it’s not common knowledge just yet.”

“Slughorn’s going to be really pleased,” Dora said knowingly.

Contessa let out a breath. “So they keep telling me,” she said. “It’ll be strange to go back after all this time…”

At that moment a large silvery lynx landed in the centre of the dance floor. Dora and Contessa sprang to their feet, wands at the ready.

Kingsley Shacklebolt’s Patronus opened its large gleaming mouth and began to speak in his deep, booming voice.

“The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.”

Dora ran towards Remus. Black cloaked and hooded figures Apparated into the screaming crowd.

Contessa, along with several other members of the Order of the Phoenix, cried, “Protego!” Their shields combined to protect the frightened witches and wizards who were running from the marquee and Disapparating to safety.

Within seconds the entire wedding party had escaped, except the Weasley family and various Order members. Death Eaters swarmed around them and Contessa was thrown back by a Stunning Spell.

She hit the ground hard and knocked her head.

Contessa felt the sensation of blood dripping down her forehead, before her vision clouded and everything went black.

When Contessa regained consciousness, she found herself lying on a cold stone floor. She could feel dried blood cracking on her temple as she opened her eyes. Tentatively, Contessa reached up and felt for the head wound and found it in the hairline above her left eye.

Looking around, she appeared to be in the living room of The Burrow. The room was empty but she could hear muffled conversation coming from the adjoining rooms and from the bedrooms upstairs.

Rising to a sitting position, she became aware of a multitude of aches and pains. Contessa looked down at herself and saw numerous cuts and grazes underneath her badly torn dress-robes. It seemed she had been dragged unceremoniously from the marquee, across the ground, and dumped on the floor.

Contessa fumbled inside her tattered robes, futilely searching for her wand. She did not expect to find it.

One of the doors upstairs snapped open and within moments she was sitting in the shadow of a tall, dark haired Death Eater with a pale, twisted face.

“Looking for this?” sneered Dolohov.

Contessa watched him produce her wand from inside his robes. She groaned slightly and her head dropped.

Dolohov’s booted foot nudged her chin. He flicked her head back casually.

“Show a little respect, Marchbanks,” he snarled, enjoying his power over her. “Get up on your feet.”

Contessa obeyed shakily.

Behind Dolohov, Dora tripped through the open door with Selwyn at her back. She caught Contessa’s eye and flashed a look confirming she was alright.

Contessa swallowed in anticipation.

Dolohov gripped Contessa’s forearm and dragged her around in front of him, facing Selwyn. She felt Dolohov’s wand pressed into her neck. Contessa dared not breathe.

“Selwyn, I’ll take Marchbanks and search her home. I know where she lives,” Dolohov said. The foreboding keenness in his voice sent a chill down Contessa’s spine.

Selwyn nodded his assent. “I’ll hold the fort here; the others should be finished soon. All the homes of the Order will be searched by sunset.”

Dolohov ran his wand down the curve of Contessa’s neck. “Let’s see how much fun we can have together, shall we?”

With an ear-splitting crack, Contessa felt her body compress as she squeezed through space and time in a forced side-along Apparition.

A rush of air filled her lungs as she opened her eyes to see the artificially derelict Squirrel’s Leap in front of her. She heard the wind chime drowned out by the boom of the gong, heralding the arrival of the unexpected guest.

As Dolohov hauled her roughly through the gate and down the path to her front door, Contessa fretfully hoped that Severus was still in the cottage.

Contessa was pushed into her living room and she glanced anxiously around; the phoenix perch was vacant, and the Headmaster’s portrait was empty. There was no sign of Severus. Contessa felt a wave of panic hit her hard in the stomach.

Dolohov flung her into a seat next to the small dining table, and she found herself bound tightly to the back of the chair with a silvery serpentine rope.

The Death Eater licked his thin lips in anticipation. “Always good to have the pair.” He grinned sadistically.

The air around Dolohov seemed to crackle maliciously as he surveyed his hostage.

A calloused hand nudged Contessa’s head upwards, but she refused to meet his eyes. Despite the surge of adrenaline pumping through her body, Contessa was determined not to let him get the better of her.

Without warning, Dolohov hit her hard in the face with the back of his hand. The noise of the impact echoed around the room and Contessa saw stars forming in her vision.

She felt blood dripping once again from the re-opened wound on her temple. It ran down her face, and splashed on her torn blue robes. Fear gripped her as she realised that this was not going to be a clean interrogation.

Then she heard footsteps coming slowly down the stairs.

Contessa’s heart leapt as she realised that Severus was still at home. She turned to see him walking nonchalantly across the room, wearing his Death Eater robes, without the mask.

Severus’s boots clicked ominously on the floor as he approached. He regarded her as if she were merely an interesting diversion on an otherwise dull and ordinary day, showing no concern for her predicament or her injuries.

Severus walked past her constrained body with a smirk, and shook hands cordially with Dolohov.

Contessa’s mouth turned instantly dry.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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