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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 3]

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Chapter Twenty-Five

Wet Behind The Ears

Severus arrived at Hogwarts just after dusk and was met at the main gate by Argus Filch. The caretaker bowed deferentially and wished him good evening.

Mrs Norris appeared at Severus’s feet and her yellow orb-like eyes stared at him, reflecting eerily in the lamplight. The cat had learned long ago to keep her distance, discovering that straying too close to the Potions Master would earn unwarranted contact with the leather of his booted foot.

Severus followed Filch up the path to the castle by the flickering light of the lamp, with Mrs Norris padding silently behind.

When they entered through the main door, Severus was not at all surprised to find there was no welcoming party. Filch had either neglected to tell the staff of his expected arrival time, or the teachers had simply decided not to show up. Either way, it served Severus’s purposes well enough.

At the entrance to the Headmaster’s office, Filch muttered the password ‘Magic is Might’ at the stone gargoyle. The wall slid open to reveal the moving spiral stone staircase within.

Severus stepped onto the stairway and gestured Filch to follow. Mrs Norris looked at them hopefully but Severus gave the cat a stern glance, making it clear she was not to follow. Together the two men ascended to the door of the Dumbledore’s old office.

One hand on the brass doorknob, Severus paused for a moment, slightly queasy with anticipation.

As Severus had not planned on becoming Headmaster of Hogwarts, he couldn’t help but wonder if he really had what it took to run the school. Coupled with memories of what had transpired between himself and Dumbledore in this very room, he felt nervous and apprehensive.

Filch shifted on his feet a few steps below him, bringing Severus out of his reverie. Bringing his thoughts quickly under control, Severus locked his uneasiness away. He took a deep breath as he turned the doorknob.

Inside, Dumbledore’s office looked the same as always. The previous Headmaster’s belongings still occupied the room; his assortment of silver instruments whirred and buzzed in the corner, and Fawkes’s perch stood proud at the side of the desk.

The only difference was the addition of Dumbledore’s portrait. The former Headmaster smiled back at Severus from his frame behind the desk. The other portraits smiled, bowed or nodded their welcome quietly.

Filch stood by the door with his hands behind his back, looking like a shabby old butler.

“Mr Filch, have the house-elves remove Professor Dumbledore’s possessions by the morning,” Severus said tightly.

“As you wish, Headmaster,” Filch rasped.

“I shall be changing the password forthwith, and holding a meeting tomorrow morning for the staff. Are all the teachers in residence?”

“Professors Carrow are due to arrive later this evening. Everyone else is here,” the caretaker said in a business-like manner.

“Very good. Thank you, Mr Filch, your co-operation is appreciated,” Severus said in dismissal, expecting the old man to turn and leave. “Is there anything else?” Severus asked with a hint of impatience.

“I am to show you to your new quarters, Headmaster.”

“My new quarters?” Severus said, taken off guard.

“The Headmaster’s personal quarters are adjacent to this office. I have to show you inside before you can take up residence,” Filch said, bemused.

Severus’s stomach swooped in realisation. “I think I would prefer my old quarters in the dungeon,” he said discordantly.

Filch started to look uncomfortable. “My apologies, Headmaster, but your old quarters have been allocated to Madam Marchbanks.”

“On whose authorisation?”

“The Ministry of Magic, sir. It was expected you’d use the traditional Headmaster’s rooms…” Filch’s voice drifted off into awkward silence.

Severus swallowed his initial indignation and chastised himself for showing reluctance. Whilst he might not feel he deserved the Headmastership, it was essential he gave off an air of confidence and self-belief.

“Very well,” Severus said curtly.

Filch led him up the stairs to the landing of the minstrel’s gallery, and slid a book entitled Knitting with Kneazle-fur by Harriet Harcup halfway off the shelf.

The bookcase slid to one side, revealing a solid oak door. Filch beckoned Severus to enter.

Once inside the Headmaster’s quarters, Severus was relieved to see the house-elves had prepared the rooms and removed Dumbledore’s old belongings.

The quarters were large in size and grand in decoration. The ceiling was very high indeed, and shimmering tapestries adorned the stone walls. Two large windows at the opposite end of the room were fitted with elaborate stained glass, with cosy window seats snuggling beneath.

On the wall opposite the door there was an imposing fireplace, with a gigantic mirror resting on the mantel. Its frame was golden, bejewelled with an ornamental fretwork of blue and green dragonflies.

A large rug of scarlet and gold, the colours of Fawkes’ plumage, covered the centre of the floor. Two outsized antique sofas faced each other in the middle of the room, in front of the fireplace.

An exuberant chandelier hung from the centre of the ceiling, refracting prisms around the room.

It really couldn’t have been further from Severus’s old dungeon quarters. Severus had never before lived in such a grand open space, and he felt incongruous merely standing within it.

Filch shuffled uneasily at the door to the quarters. “I’ll have your trunk brought up immediately, Professor.”

Severus nodded his thanks.

“Would you care for food, Headmaster? I can instruct the house-elves to bring supper.”

“That will not be necessary, Mr Filch,” Severus said.

“Very good, sir.” Filch bowed, closing the door as he departed.

Severus stood for a while, taking in his new surroundings.

He seriously doubted he would ever feel hungry again.




The staff meeting the following morning proved uneventful.

Despite the general atmosphere of disdain from the majority of the staff, most seemed appeased by Severus’s intention to uphold the traditional values and structure of the school.

Unsurprisingly, Filch was the most committed of all the staff. He clearly relished a new era of discipline at the school. However, if the two new teachers were given free reign, Severus suspected the caretaker would get more than he bargained for.

The introduction of the Carrows caused an expected ripple of discontent amongst the teachers. However, nobody spoke out, and it appeared the staff did in fact know what was good for them.

Severus noticed Contessa standing behind Filius Flitwick, her old Head of House. Horace Slughorn was also at her side. She threw Severus a scowl every time he made eye contact.

Severus was secretly pleased that she was entering into her role with such gusto. It was true that their shared history of animosity gave Contessa a useful veil to hide behind. No one would believe she was Severus’s spy, given her past hatred of him. Contessa was the perfect mole.

Severus selected several members of staff to speak to personally after the meeting.

He met these people in the Headmaster’s office, which had now been emptied of Dumbledore’s belongings. Severus did not replace them with any of his own possessions; he felt enough of an impostor already.

The last member of staff to arrive was Contessa. Severus stood up from behind his desk to greet her, offering her a seat across the table.

Contessa sat down, looking around the office. She made eye contact with several portraits, before smiling at Dumbledore’s frame behind Severus.

“I’d forgotten how beautiful this office was,” she said as she relaxed into her chair.

Severus bristled at her obvious comfort in a room where he felt so distinctly out of place. “Yes, well, you spent enough time in it when you were a student.”

Contessa recoiled in her seat. “That’s a little unfair, Severus.”

Severus looked at her pointedly. “You should call me Professor or Headmaster.”

Contessa blinked, clearly stunned and surprised. Her brow furrowed. “You’re serious?”

“It would be problematic if you slipped up in the presence of students or teachers,” Severus replied. The rationale seemed obvious to him.

Contessa’s eyebrows rose and she bit back a retort. “Yes, Headmaster,” she said mulishly.

There was a moment’s silence as Severus wondered why she would object to using his formal title. As far as he was concerned it would keep things neat and orderly, with less room for error.

Then, from a portrait to Severus’s left, a woman’s voice piped up. “Tess won’t let you down, Severus. She is a Marchbanks, after all,” said Magda McDougall, Hogwarts Headmistress from 1365 to 1371. The witch was short in stature, with a square jaw-line and long dark brown hair falling in ringlets around her face.

From the opposite side of the office, Phineas Nigellus Black made a scoffing sound. “Good grief woman, this is only the beginning; Severus’s spy is wet behind the ears! She’ll never cope with the demands; she lacks the necessary cunning of a Slytherin!”

Magda’s chin rose in indignation. Severus held up his hand to silence the portraits and noticed Contessa covering a smirk with her hand. He shot her an incisive look, silently demanding an explanation.

Contessa stifled a chuckle. “Magda is a distant relative, a Marchbanks by birth. Obviously I never knew her, but…”

Severus shook his head in disbelief. “You are related to a former Headmistress?”

Contessa nodded with amusement.

Severus rolled his eyes sardonically. He didn’t know why he was surprised.

After a short pause, Severus said, “I have set up a two-way Floo connection between this office and my old dungeon quarters. I take it you have settled in?” His voice held a trace of bitterness.

“You could say that,” she replied, sitting back in her seat, looking uncomfortable.

Severus was baffled by her change of composure. “I’d been hoping to retain them for my use, but the Ministry had other ideas.”

Contessa’s eyes narrowed. “It wasn’t you who allocated me those quarters?”

“No.”

“Oh,” Contessa said, taken aback.

Severus hesitated briefly. “I’m rather out of place in the Headmaster’s quarters; I shouldn’t be there.”

Contessa returned his gaze, her expression softening. “You feel you don’t deserve them.”

Severus nodded uncomfortably. “But I must keep up appearances.”

He opened the desk drawer and pulled out a roll of parchment.

“This is a list of potion ingredients to be segregated and moved into my personal stores,” said Severus, handing the parchment to Contessa.

Contessa perused the scroll, looking increasingly perplexed.

“Why?” she asked. “I’ll need at least one of these ingredients per week!”

“You must come to me for authorisation to use them.”

Contessa looked at him incredulously. “Every time?”

“Every time,” Severus replied.

“But that’s absurd; I’ll be constantly knocking on your door!”

“Indeed. You now have a reason for visiting the Headmaster’s office on a regular basis,” Severus explained. “It will also show the others that I do not trust you.”

Contessa made a noise of comprehension.

“You may wish to lead people to believe that I’m making your life very difficult,” he suggested.

“Just like the old days?” Contessa asked wryly.

“Yes,” Severus said with a smirk.

Contessa sighed. “Alright.”

“What do you have to report?”

Contessa looked at him begrudgingly. “Most of the teachers believe you killed Dumbledore to impress He Who Must Not Be Named, and to take the Headmastership. However, they also realise they need to conform a little in order to keep their jobs. Their main reason for being here is to protect the students from you and the Carrows.”

The irony in the latter sentence was not missed by Severus. “Will they play along?”

“For now. McGonagall is still fuming, but she’s keeping a lid on it at the moment.”

“Good,” Severus said, relieved. He stood and walked to the door with Contessa.

Behind them, Magda McDougall gloated loudly, “See, I told you, Phineas! Ravenclaws always rise to the occasion!”

Phineas Nigellus Black sneered in reply as Contessa left the room.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 3]

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