A muffled pop sounded in the pouring rain as Contessa and Severus Apparated onto the cobbled street known as Spinner’s End.
Contessa felt shocked that Severus had used Apparition to take her to his home; it was broad daylight and they were clearly in a Muggle mill town.
Looking around the terraced street, Contessa realised that all the houses were empty, with their windows broken or boarded up. Such was the air of neglect, it seemed the place had been deserted by its residents over a decade ago.
A large chimney loomed ominously behind the row of terraces as Contessa followed Severus up the street to the last house on the left.
Severus drew his wand and demonstrated how to unlock the enchantments to allow them to enter through the front door. Contessa noticed that Severus’s home was the only house with its windows intact, although the glass was very grimy and couldn’t be letting much light through.
She stepped inside the front door and found herself in a tiny sitting room, filled floor to ceiling with wall to wall leather-bound books. The daylight seemed to be absorbed by the library walls, giving the room a gloomy feel. The air was stale with the smell of old parchment.
Contessa realised there were no visible doors in the room and a sense of claustrophobia welled up inside her.
Severus lit the candle-filled lamp hanging from the ceiling, and the flickering light warmed the room slightly.
Contessa dried her robes with a non-verbal spell. As she looked around her anxiety increased; she felt as though the padded walls were pressing in on her. Contessa walked towards the window and opened the curtains fully, wiping the window with her hand to get a better look outside.
“I didn’t think places like this existed anymore.”
“They don’t,” replied Severus, his voice clipped.
Contessa turned to face him and watched as he dried and removed his cloak. Severus opened two concealed doorways to allow the air to circulate. He nodded towards the window and Contessa attempted to open it. She had to resort to using magic to free the old, corroded window frame.
“How come it’s still standing?” she asked.
“The town planners wanted to demolish the houses at this end of town to make way for an apartment block. I Confunded all the necessary personnel and the council have conveniently forgotten about their derelict street.”
Contessa was impressed with Severus’s audacity, but couldn’t help but wonder why he would go to so much trouble for such a grubby hidey-hole.
“How long have you lived here?”
Severus looked at Contessa for a long moment, appearing to debate whether or not this was a conversation he was willing to entertain.
“All my life,” he replied reticently. “I was born here.”
Contessa felt a jolt of surprise. “This was your parents’ home?”
Dark eyes bored into hers as he contemplated his answer. “Yes,” he said in a low voice. “I…inherited it.”
The meaning seemed clear, but Contessa couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Your parents are dead?”
Severus paused, seeming reluctant to reveal more. Contessa admonished herself for being so inquisitive towards such a private man. Her first glimpse into Severus’s childhood wasn’t what she had expected.
“My mother is dead,” Severus replied with an ounce of bitterness. “My father is…missing. He won’t be coming back.”
From his tone, Contessa knew that was the end of the conversation. She turned to look out at the dismal street, finding it hard to believe that pure-bloods would choose to live in a Muggle hell-hole.
When she turned back to face Severus, he had already left the room. Contessa remained at the window, watching the downpour of rain running like a river down the cobbled street.
She couldn’t imagine the imposing Potions Master hailing from such an austere working class background, nor could she understand why he would choose to return to it.
Severus walked back into the sitting room and placed two mugs of tea on the rickety table. Contessa felt him watching her closely as she sat down, wrapping her fingers around the warm cup.
“This is not what you expected,” Severus said perceptively.
Contessa smiled uneasily. “I never thought a Slytherin pure-blood would live in Muggle suburbia.”
Severus looked down and took a sip of his tea, then placed the mug on the table and walked over to the window. Looking out at the rain he said quietly, “I’m not pure-blood.”
Severus met her gaze and shook his head slowly.
“I had always assumed, you being in Slytherin and a Death Eater,” Contessa said awkwardly.
“The obvious isn’t always the truth,” Severus said smoothly. “My mother was a witch; my father was a Muggle.”
She processed the revelation slowly. “So, you’re a half-blood.”
Severus nodded once with an air of edginess.
A nervous laugh escaped from Contessa before she could control it.
Severus assessed her suspiciously. “You find this funny?”
“Oh,” she cleared her throat apologetically. “No. It’s just that…I never would have guessed…You see, I’m a half-blood too.”
Severus’s lips curled into an anticipatory smile. “Nor would I have guessed.”
Contessa felt some confusion as she watched Severus smirking back at her. “What do you mean?”
“Well, the Marchbanks line is one of the older pure-blood families. You always had that haughty air about you as a student,” Severus said sardonically.
Contessa prickled at the suggestion. “Excuse me?”
“I always thought the Ravenclaw Revolutionary was the product of a privileged upbringing.”
Contessa scoffed audibly. “I’ll have you know, I was brought up in a Muggle market town. My mother was a muggle and insisted I earn my keep, she made me work in her bakery every summer holiday…”
Severus laughed out loud as her rationalisation ran out of steam.
Contessa stopped any further elaboration, captivated by Severus’s laughter. She had never heard the sound before, let alone seen the smile which now replaced it on his face.
She felt a grin creeping across her face as they shared a moment of revelation.
“Touché,” Contessa said with laughter.
Severus nodded in acknowledgement and came to sit down in the armchair. They finished their tea in easy silence.
It seemed strange to Contessa that they were saying goodbye, after spending over a month together. She knew she was going to miss his company, and she wondered how Severus felt.
“So, how will this work now?” Contessa asked him.
“You’ll need to let me know if Dumbledore wants to speak to me, or if you require me to tail you.”
Contessa considered this for a moment. “I could send you my Patronus,” she suggested.
Severus shook his head. “I prefer not to use Patronuses. They are too easily traced. Plus, as a Death Eater, I should not be producing a Patronus, let alone using one.”
Contessa realised he had a point. They sat quietly contemplating the solution.
“What about the rings?” she asked, suddenly remembering.
Severus looked up at her with interest.
“Do you still have the other ring?” Contessa asked him.
“Yes.” Severus removed the Tiger’s Eye ring from inside his robes. He turned it over in his hand, staring into the golden brown stone. “I don’t think I could wear it, though; it might be too obvious. I’ve never been one for jewellery.”
As Contessa watched him playing with the silver ring, an idea struck her. She removed her necklace and Transfigured it into a longer silver chain. She offered it to Severus.
“Wear the ring on the chain, underneath your robes. If I need you, it will turn cool against your skin,” Contessa suggested.
Severus took the chain from her outstretched hand, and threaded the silver rope through the ring. He fastened the clasp at the back of his neck, and tucked the chain inside his collar.
“And what if I need you?” Severus asked.
“Put the ring on like last time. I’ll make sure I’m always wearing mine.”
Severus seemed satisfied.
They looked at each other for a long moment, each hoping the other would speak.
Eventually, Contessa stood, wrapped her cloak around her and made her way to the front door. Severus followed to open the door for her. The rain was still beating down on the pavement outside.
Their eyes met briefly once more.
“I’ll see you soon, I hope,” Contessa said.
Contessa dashed out into the rain and Disapparated.