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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Asphodelus Albus

“I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own”

‘Chasing Cars’, Snow Patrol

Over the next two weeks the cause of Alex’s death was not revealed by post-mortem. An inquest was opened and adjourned, allowing the family to bury his body.

Severus had been prepared to perform Memory and Confundus Charms on the Muggle police and coroner, to expedite the burial of Contessa’s fiancé, but in the end it had not proved necessary.

Contessa kept herself busy with funeral arrangements and Severus called in to the cottage every couple of days or so, on the premise of conferring with Dumbledore’s portrait. The real reason for his visits was denied even to himself, but he continued to check that she was alright; subconsciously repaying the kindness she had shown him.

The day before the funeral, Severus was at Squirrel’s Leap discussing strategy with the portrait. Term time was only a week away and he and Contessa would soon be packing their trunks for Hogwarts.

“I know from my Hogwarts portrait that the teachers have been informed of your appointment as Headmaster,” Dumbledore told Severus. “The Ministry have used the Tongue-Tying Curse to keep the news under wraps until the first of September.”

“I can imagine Minerva’s response,” Severus said acerbically.

“Probably quite correctly,” Dumbledore replied. “I tried to calm her down, but she was furious.”

“I hope she doesn’t booby-trap the Headteacher’s office,” said Severus.

“No; she was removed from the room and the password has been changed. The office awaits your arrival in a few days.”

Severus nodded in acknowledgment.

“There is the other matter, of Fawkes,” Dumbledore said lightly.

The phoenix looked up from its perch and warbled a few low notes.

Severus and Contessa looked around at the bird with dawning realisation.

“Once you are both at Hogwarts, he will have to find a new home,” Dumbledore said.

Contessa moaned quietly and went over to the phoenix, stroking its plumage gently. Fawkes rubbed his head dolefully against her hand.

Severus felt a flurry of sadness, which he quickly brought under control. There was no way they could take Fawkes with them to Hogwarts; that much was certain.

“Where will he go?” Contessa asked forlornly.

“Now he’s fully grown he’ll choose a new home. I expect he’ll head off for Egypt, after spending all those years in the Highlands,” Dumbledore said, watching Contessa stroke the bird.

Contessa turned to face the former Headmaster with a confused expression. “Egypt?”

Severus was unable to restrain himself and laughed with incredulity.

Contessa shot him a piercing look in return.

“Phoenixes originate from Egypt, Contessa,” he said with as much patience as he could muster. “You really didn’t pay attention in Care of Magical Creatures, did you?”

The hurt in her eyes stirred an unexpected feeling of regret in Severus. He hadn’t intended to offend her, in view of her current fragility, but his sarcasm was as inexorable as ever. He bit down on the inside of his mouth in response.

“Apparently not,” Contessa answered sullenly.

After a few moments of silence, Severus felt it was time to leave. He approached the perch and Contessa moved away to stand by the door. Severus stroked the phoenix gently on the side of the head; his feathers felt strangely hot to the touch. Fawkes crowed his goodbye.

Contessa smiled sadly and went outside. Dumbledore looked pointedly at Severus as he left the cottage.

On his way out Severus met Contessa on the garden path; she seemed to be waiting to speak to him in private. Severus prepared himself for an admonition.

“Severus,” she said softly. “The funeral is tomorrow afternoon.” The tone of her voice did not suggest a reprimand.

“I know,” he said, feeling reprieved.

Contessa made eye contact for the first time and Severus felt the pull of her sadness somewhere in his chest.

“Come with me to the funeral,” she said. “Please.”

Severus was taken aback and took a moment to respond. “I thought it was a Muggle funeral?”

“It is,” she replied. “But, I…Could you come?”

Severus gave the matter some consideration. The feeling of relief was now replaced by discomfort, but nevertheless he felt compelled to assist her.

“It would have to be under a Disillusionment Charm,” he answered pragmatically.

Contessa nodded her head in agreement. “You could be my official Death Eater tail – there are bound to be others there. Remus and Dora are coming along with several other witches and wizards, all in Muggle clothing of course.”

Phrased that way, Severus noted the request seemed reasonable. “I’ll be at the cottage tomorrow afternoon. We can leave together.”

“Thank you,” she said gratefully, turning back towards the house.

The funeral took place in a Muggle town a few miles east of Contessa’s home. It was a burial in the large grounds of a church.

Severus watched from afar, under the shade of an old sycamore tree, concealed by a Disillusionment Charm.

The funeral party was large and he saw a number of familiar faces, each closely monitored by several Ministry officials. Severus wondered how many more Death Eaters were hidden, watching their charges for signs of sedition.

As Severus observed the group of people huddled around the grave, he was reminded of the last funeral he had attended, sixteen years ago. He had skulked in the shadows on that occasion too, not wanting it known that he was in love with Lily Potter.

Severus had spent most of his life hiding it ever since.

Indeed, he had become so proficient at concealment, he had sometimes thought his guilt, hurt and loss had disappeared. But they had not. The emotions resurfaced every time he looked at Harry Potter, and he was reminded of Lily’s union with the man he despised.

So long had he hidden his feelings from the world, he doubted he would ever open up. Such was his deep sense of shame. Who could possibly understand or forgive him for his actions, when he couldn’t even forgive himself?

Severus waited patiently as the funeral party dispersed. Eventually, Contessa stood by the graveside alone, save for the company of an older man and woman, whom Severus assumed to be Alex’s parents.

He watched them comfort and hug Contessa as they prepared to depart. They seemed to be suggesting that she come with them, but Contessa remained alone beside the mound of earth. The couple left reluctantly.

Dark clouds were rolling in as Severus watched Contessa’s stoic outline. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her.

With the first spots of rain, Severus looked around cautiously and lifted the Disillusionment Charm. He approached Contessa quietly and stood close by her side, his arm touching hers.

No words were spoken.

Contessa continued to stare down at the grave, transfixed. The raindrops became increasingly persistent, but she appeared not to notice.

Severus withdrew his wand, careful to obscure it from the view of passing Muggles.

With a flick of his wand he conjured a single white asphodel lily.

Bending over the mound of earth, he laid the flower gently down upon it.

When he looked back, Contessa seemed to be aware of his presence for the first time. Her eyes were red and brimming with tears.

Severus offered his arm to her.

The rain was falling heavily as Contessa curled her hand around his elbow. Together, they walked slowly away from the grave.

Author's note: Asphodelus albus is the Latin name for the white asphodel lily.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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