An Unexpected Lead
“Good afternoon,” Severus said smoothly as he shook Dolohov’s hand.
“Snape.” Dolohov nodded uncertainly, his eyes flickering towards Contessa and back to Severus again. “What are you doing here?”
Severus paused to consider his response and turned to get a better look at Contessa. She was tightly bound to the chair and bleeding from her temple, but she did not appear to be badly injured.
Her eyes caught his, fearfully. Severus hoped she would remain quiet whilst he dealt with the unforeseen situation.
“I’m here at the Dark Lord’s behest,” Severus answered him sleekly.
Severus’s eyes followed the contours of Contessa’s torn dress robes, taking in the cuts and bruises on her exposed skin. His outward appearance was of a man devouring the captive’s appearance and savouring the moment.
Contessa noticed this attention and shifted uneasily in her restraints.
“I was not informed,” Dolohov said suspiciously.
Severus turned to look at Dolohov, straightening himself up to give an air of superiority.
“Yes, well, this matter was on a need to know basis,” Severus said silkily. “You didn’t need to know.”
Dolohov’s eyebrows arched and he looked like he was about to argue.
“I take it the Ministry has now fallen to the Dark Lord?” said Severus.
Dolohov nodded. “Just over an hour ago.”
“Excellent news, although not before time.” Severus smirked. “Why have you brought Marchbanks back here?”
“She is working for the Order of the Phoenix. I was about to begin her interrogation and search her home,” said Dolohov testily.
“Indeed she is working for the Order,” said Severus. “However, I believe I should be the one to interrogate her.”
Dolohov took a step back and looked at Severus disapprovingly. “Why should I hand her over to you?” he asked dubiously.
Severus looked at Dolohov with unblinking eyes. “Because, this woman is my informant in the Order,” he began lazily. “She has been feeding me news on their activities ever since I left Hogwarts. You could say she has been my, ah, summer project.”
The words dripped from Severus’s tongue lasciviously, as if he had enjoyed every minute of his time with Contessa.
Severus noticed Contessa’s eyes expand and her pupils dilate but, mercifully, she stayed silent.
“Well, your source has not been very well-behaved this afternoon. It looked to me like she was on their side, not ours,” Dolohov said doubtfully.
“Really?” Severus said. “Well, we shall soon see about that.”
Severus raised his wand and pointed it directly at Contessa. She looked back at him in amazement.
Severus had taken Contessa completely off guard and gained immediate access to her thoughts.
He saw flashes of Dumbledore’s funeral, Contessa signing a piece of parchment under the watchful gaze of Professor McGonagall, and Tonks grinning as she rubbed her stomach, about to speak. Then Contessa, walking through the dappled shade of a woodland in the summer, arm in arm with a man he did not recognise. With a jolt, Severus realised it must have been her fiancé, Alex.
Quickly, Contessa seemed to regain some control and Severus felt her memories shift in another direction.
Suddenly, Severus saw a vision of himself, fifteen years younger, handing the young Marchbanks a roll of parchment with a large, spidery ‘A’ scrawled in the top right hand corner.
His younger self was smirking nastily as Contessa protested, “I spent the whole weekend on this. It’s worth more than an Acceptable!”
Severus watched himself lean towards her, his nose only a few intimidating inches from hers.
“You’ll need to do much more than that to exceed my expectations, Miss Marchbanks.” The hiss in his voice carried across the classroom, for all the students to hear.
Contessa returned his gaze with a look of purest loathing.
The scene shifted and Severus found himself in her memory of Dumbledore’s office. A fully grown Fawkes was sitting on his perch behind Dumbledore’s desk, as Contessa confronted the Headmaster.
“But, Sir! Professor Snape is monstrously unfair!” she pleaded.
Severus watched Dumbledore sitting back in his chair, listening patiently to Contessa, who was going redder in the face with each passing second.
“He’s partisan; he isn’t giving everyone the chance they deserve!” Contessa blurted out, unable to contain her frustration and dislike.
Dumbledore looked back at Contessa mildly, and was about to reply, when Contessa forced Severus out of her mind with an empowered shove.
Contessa scowled at Severus from her seat in the living room of Squirrel’s Leap with a look of defiance. Her expression reminded Severus of the frequent looks she had given him in the classroom at Hogwarts. Back then, he had admired her feistiness and tenacity, and he realised he still appreciated it now. It was good to know she hadn’t lost the fire in her belly.
“Well?” said Dolohov impatiently.
Severus did not respond. Instead, he walked over to stand in front of Contessa, raising his left hand and running his fingers through her hair, careful to avoid the bleeding area of her hairline.
He leaned in towards her and breathed a dangerous whisper into her ear. “Behave yourself.”
Severus straightened up and moved to stand at Contessa’s side, gathering her long brown hair at the nape of her neck. With a sudden yank, he pulled down on the handful of hair, causing her head to jerk backwards.
Contessa gasped in pain as she met Severus’s eyes with surprise and indignation. She was on the verge of speech when Severus shook his head almost imperceptibly. Contessa faltered.
Severus let go of her hair with a look of disdain, grasped her jaw in his hand, and callously flicked her head to one side.
He turned to Dolohov and, with a brusque hand movement, gestured him outside. Dolohov followed him reluctantly into the garden, and they closed the door to the cottage behind them.
“I shall take it from here. She appears to be hiding something; it could take a while to extract,” Severus said coolly.
“I can help you,” Dolohov offered, clearly not wanting to let the opportunity pass by. “I have a place you can use for interrogation, nice and isolated.” Dolohov grinned evilly. “I took Marchbanks’ fiancé there over a year ago.”
With a rush of anticipation, Severus realised he had finally found an unexpected lead.
“That probably won’t be necessary; I have certain ways of extracting information from her,” said Severus.
“I could show you where it is,” Dolohov suggested. “Bring her to me if she proves resistant.”
After a moment’s thought, Severus nodded his acceptance.
“That could be useful,” Severus said, calculating his next move. “Take me there now. I shall contact you again if I need your assistance.”
At last, Severus had a place to begin in his quest to help Contessa.
Dolohov grinned in anticipation and grasped hold of Severus’s arm. A loud pop sounded as the pair Disapparated from the garden.