Elephant in the Room
Severus had been gone for several minutes and Contessa was starting to panic.
Left alone in the cottage, bound to the chair, dozens of scenarios ran through her mind.
She was determined not to let Severus’s actions in front of Dolohov shake her new-found trust in him, but the longer she was left to her own devices, the more concerned she became.
Since Severus had played his part so convincingly, she was starting to misinterpret his intentions. Contessa was deeply troubled by the way he had appeared to relish his dominance over her.
And, now that the Ministry of Magic had fallen, Severus was a free man. She wondered vaguely if he had decided to up sticks and leave straight away.
Chastising herself for doubting Severus, she looked around the room in the hope that Dumbledore had returned to his portrait. However, the canvas remained empty in its frame. Fawkes was also absent, no doubt staying away in case Dolohov or other Death Eaters returned to the cottage.
Contessa didn’t know how Severus would react to the memories she had shown him. She knew that his casting of Legilimens had saved her from painful questioning and she was already regretting goading him when he was trying to help her.
Outside, the pop of Apparition sounded and the wind chime rang. Severus had returned alone.
However, he didn’t come back into the cottage immediately and Contessa felt a dark sense of trepidation.
Suddenly the front door flung open and Severus marched in, still wearing his Death Eater robes. In his hands he carried two small bottles of potion, which he placed down carefully on the table at her side. He flung his hooded cloak onto the armchair and rolled up the sleeves of his black shirt.
Contessa watched him suspiciously. Severus had not instantaneously released her from her bindings and this caused her to experience an uncontrollable flare of anger and alarm.
“What in Merlin’s name were you playing at?” she shot at him, with more venom than she intended.
Severus moved towards her, twitching with irritation. “Hold still and be quiet,” he said impatiently.
He picked up the larger, amber-coloured glass bottle and opened the seal of the container.
“Let me out of these restraints first,” Contessa challenged him.
Severus’s eyes glinted at her like the deep, dark sea under moonlight.
“Not until I’m convinced you won’t do something foolish,” he said coolly.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Severus did not respond.
The censure caused Contessa some consternation, but she realised her belligerent behaviour was not instilling any confidence in Severus. She slumped subserviently in her seat.
Severus stood before her and reached out his hand, softly nudging her head upwards until Contessa was looking directly into his eyes. He focused on her bloody temple and gently dropped essence of dittany onto the wound.
As the potion made contact with her head, the skin responded with a stinging tingle and the pain ebbed slowly away.
Contessa felt her aggression fade as Severus continued to apply the dittany to her remaining cuts and bruises.
After a short time, Severus stood back to get a better look at her. His expression held a trace of tenderness and concern.
Contessa felt tears forming in her eyes and she quickly looked away.
Severus drew his wand and released the snake-like bindings with a non-verbal spell. The silvery ropes slithered loose, evaporating on contact with the floor.
Now that Contessa was free, she found herself unable to move. A sense of relief flooded through her, along with the horror of the interrogation she had narrowly escaped.
She looked up at Severus and found his dark, unblinking eyes.
“That was him, wasn’t it?” she asked him. “The one who murdered Alex?”
Severus’s head tilted fractionally, but his composure did not alter.
“Yes,” he replied in a low voice.
Contessa tried to contain a sob, failing to control the mixture of grief and relief rising through her.
Severus winced slightly, but offered his hand out to her.
Contessa accepted it, and rose tentatively to her feet, reaching out for Severus’s other arm to steady her.
She didn’t dare to meet his eyes as she finally lost control and began to weep silently. Her hand clasped his tightly, in an attempt to brace herself from the onslaught of emotions.
Severus’s body was rigid and tense, but he raised his other arm and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.
After a few moments of contact, Contessa sobered and began to regain her self-control. She pulled away from him, letting go of his hand and wiping the tears from her face. She dried her hands on her ruined dress robes, and sighed morosely.
“I can mend those for you,” Severus offered, taking out his wand.
“No,” Contessa replied. “I’d rather change.”
Severus nodded silently. He picked up his Death Eater robes and removed a second wand, which he offered to her.
Contessa took her wand from him gratefully and hurried upstairs.
She showered and changed into fresh robes, not wishing to expose any more skin than was necessary. As she looked at her reflection in the mirror she saw no outward sign of injury, but she still felt vulnerable and exposed.
Dolohov knew where she lived.
When Contessa walked slowly down the stairs into the living room, Severus was sitting on the sofa, staring at the empty Headmaster’s portrait.
Upon seeing Contessa, he made a space for her on the seat next to him and motioned her over. He held out the remaining bottle of potion.
“Drink it,” he said calmly.
Contessa obeyed without thinking and swallowed the contents of the bottle in one gulp. The potion was syrupy and tasted faintly of lemons. She felt warmth and relaxation spread downwards from her throat and into her abdomen. The tension in her body seemed to drain away.
“Thank you,” she whispered, as she leaned back into the cushions on the sofa.
They sat together in silence for a long while, and with each passing minute the inevitable conversation loomed like an elephant in the room.
Eventually, Severus acquiesced.
“I should leave now the Ministry has fallen.” His voice was scratchy and he stared dead ahead into the fireplace.
Contessa turned around in an attempt to meet his eyes, but his steadfast gaze remained unbroken.
She waited for the space of a few anxious heartbeats.
“Stay,” she said quietly.
Severus’s brow furrowed as he looked around at her, silently questioning.
“Stay,” Contessa said with more confidence. “Just for tonight, in case Dolohov returns.”
Severus was about to offer her some reassuring words, but upon seeing her expression he appeared to change his mind.
He watched her with dark, unfathomable eyes.
“I shall leave tomorrow morning.”
Contessa nodded, closing her eyes in relief.