Sword of Gryffindor
Contessa’s first two weeks in her new job passed by fairly uneventfully.
The teachers at Hogwarts were playing largely by the rules, with occasional mutterings whilst the Carrows were not around.
Although she hadn’t spent much time with the students so far, she had bumped into Augusta Longbottom’s grandson, who seemed pleased to see her again. Contessa had also nodded a hello to Ginny Weasley across the Great Hall a couple of times, but she didn’t know Arthur’s younger children particularly well.
Severus remained distant. She had only seen him briefly on a handful of occasions. As she had little to report, and he was busy establishing himself as Headmaster, Contessa had looked to others for company and friendship.
Horace Slughorn had been helpful in introducing her to the teachers she did not know already, and Aurora Sinistra had joined her atop the Astronomy Tower for stargazing on cloudless evenings.
Contessa had the distinct impression that Horace would not be reforming the Slug Club. She didn’t understand exactly why, but had ascertained it was something to do with a problem in the previous academic year.
The word in the corridors was that the Carrows had vastly altered the curriculum for Muggle Studies and Defence Against the Dark Arts. It seemed some students had already started to rebel. Contessa suspected the ringleaders would be members of Dumbledore’s Army and she fervently hoped that Neville would keep his nose clean.
At the beginning of the third week of term, Contessa was in the Potions Office in the dungeons, marking homework for Slughorn’s fourth years. It was early evening and beginning to get dark outside.
A brisk knock on the door caused Contessa to jump.
“Come in,” she called loudly.
The office door opened to reveal Neville Longbottom, looking rather awkward and nervous. His eyes searched the room for other inhabitants. Upon seeing they were alone, he made eye contact again.
“Good evening, Neville. How nice to see you.”
Neville gave a shaky smile but continued to stand at the doorway uncertainly.
“Please, do come in,” Contessa said warmly.
A flash of red hair appeared at the door, and an arm extended to push Neville firmly into the room, closing the door behind him.
“How are you?” Contessa asked, pretending not to notice and offering him a seat.
“Fine, thanks,” Neville said tightly. “Can’t stop, though.”
“What can I do for you?”
Neville shifted on the spot. “I’m in trouble, Madam Marchbanks. I got detention from the Carrows. I’m supposed to be at the Headmaster’s office, but I, err…forgot the password.”
“Oh, I see,” Contessa said understandingly. Neville’s memory had never been particularly good.
“Can you tell me what it is? Only, I’ll be in worse trouble from Snape.”
“Professor Snape, Neville.”
“Yeah, right, sorry…Professor Snape,” Neville said begrudgingly.
“The password is Hellebore.”
“Right, thanks,” Neville said hastily. He bolted for the door.
Contessa watched as Neville left the room and saw the same flash of red hair. Her curiosity was piqued.
Walking to the door and peering out into the corridor, she saw Ginny Weasley hurrying towards the stairs, with Neville in pursuit. They ran up the steps out of the dungeon together.
Perplexed by what had transpired, Contessa wondered if Ginny also had reason to see the Headmaster. It was strange that both of them had forgotten the password.
As she watched them climb the stairs she saw Alecto Carrow coming down the stairs, looking suspiciously at Neville and Ginny. The squat and stocky witch saw Contessa at her doorway and shot her an almost identical wary look.
Contessa waited until Alecto had disappeared out of sight, before casting a Disillusionment Charm and heading up the stairs out of the dungeons.
Panting a little at the top of the stairs, she caught a glimpse of Ginny’s red hair as the girl rounded the corner leading to the Headmaster’s office.
Contessa ran to follow them, narrowly avoiding stepping on Mrs Norris, who spat at her as she passed. Cats were very good at picking up concealed witches and wizards and the caretaker’s pet was no exception.
Luckily the cat did not follow and she soon closed the distance on her quarry. Shrouded invisibly, Contessa watched Ginny and Neville reach their destination, meeting Luna Lovegood outside Severus’s office. The blonde girl appeared to be keeping watch.
Lurking in the shadows, Contessa crept silently towards them, hearing their discussion of the fact that Snape was still inside his office.
The three students decided to position themselves behind the suits of armour outside the entrance.
Within a few minutes, Severus appeared at the sliding stone door and walked briskly away, the door snapping shut behind him.
Contessa stifled a groan. The trio were poised to perform mutiny.
Feeling torn about whether or not to intervene, she watched as the three members of Dumbledore’s Army extricated themselves from their hiding places and uttered the password to the Headmaster’s Office.
The stone gargoyle dipped its head in acceptance and the door slid open once more.
Contessa watched Neville, Ginny and Luna ascend the stairs, with their wands at the ready.
Her decision made, Contessa ran back down the corridor, tearing past the occasional member of staff and student, trying to catch up with Severus.
Eventually, she found him on his way to the staff room and tugged forcefully on his arm.
Severus jerked, pulled out his wand and looked around cautiously. Contessa realised with a jolt that she was still under the Disillusionment Charm.
“Severus, it’s me!” she whispered.
Severus’s eyebrows rose in surprise, then he looked guardedly around the corridor.
“In here,” he said quietly, nodding towards the door on the left.
Inside the classroom, Contessa lifted the Disillusionment Charm. She was surprised to see Severus glaring at her.
“You should call me Headmaster,” Severus said waspishly.
“For goodness sake, Severus, there’s no time for that nonsense!” Contessa exclaimed breathlessly. “It’s Neville, Ginny and Luna! They’ve broken into your office…”
Severus looked at her sharply, opened the door and disappeared down the hallway, leaving her alone in the classroom.
Contessa returned to the Potions Office, not knowing what else to do. She was concerned about the three students in the Headmaster’s Office and annoyed with Severus for chastising her. She was only trying to help him, but the urgency of the situation had caused his first name to slip from her tongue. Contessa couldn’t see the point of semantics when it got in the way of doing her job.
A quarter of an hour later the door to the office was forced open by Amycus Carrow.
He walked lazily into the room, followed by his sister Alecto, and the door closed quietly behind them. Amycus stood over Contessa’s desk and his lopsided leer sent a chill down Contessa’s spine.
“Professors Carrow, how may I help you?” Contessa said, with as much politeness as she could muster.
“Yeh can start by answerin’ some questions,” Amycus said nastily.
Contessa’s danger sense prickled on the back of her neck; the Carrows didn’t know she was the Headmaster’s spy.
“Go ahead, I have nothing to hide,” Contessa said, instantly regretting the implication that she might entertain hiding something. She was going to have to get better at her double agent role, and quickly.
“Did yeh give Neville Longbottom the password to Snape’s office?” Amycus drawled. His piggy eyes watched her closely.
Contessa’s stomach swooped to the floor. “What is this about?”
“Ha! As if you don’t know!” Alecto pushed in front of her brother, her voice a hiss of delight.
Contessa shook her head to convey her confusion.
Amycus leaned towards Contessa for emphasis. “Let me spell it out to yeh then, Madam Marchbanks.” The inflection on the title of Madam was said with the utmost disdain. “Longbottom, Weasley and Lovegood have just bin caught breakin’ in to the Headmaster’s office, attemptin’ to steal the sword of Gryffindor.”
Contessa’s breath caught in her throat. “You’re kidding,” she said, with a genuine hint of incredulity.
“Why would we make a joke about this?” Alecto sneered. “Answer the question. Did you give Longbottom the password?”
Contessa paused. Her answer would have to be truthful. “I did.”
“See!” spat Alecto. “I told yeh she was in on it!”
“Now wait just a minute, I had nothing to do with the attempted robbery! Neville told me you had sent him to Professor Snape and he had forgotten the password,” Contessa said with impatience.
“A likely story,” Alecto leered.
“It’s the truth,” Contessa said stoically.
“We’ll see about that,” Alecto said with relish, raising her wand at Contessa.
“Don’t even think about hurting me; you have no authority over me,” Contessa said calmly, rising to her feet. Inwardly she cringed, fearing what was about to come.
“Oh, I wasn’t plannin’ on using Crucio on you just yet,” Alecto said dangerously. The stocky witch gestured towards Amycus.
In an instant, Amycus was at Contessa’s back, gripping her arms forcefully behind her. Contessa’s heart leapt to her throat. Panicking, she grasped her hand and closed her eyes, praying that Severus still wore the Tiger’s Eye ring around his neck. The ring went cold on her little finger.
After a few moments, his sister spat, “Look at me, Marchbanks!”
Contessa opened her eyes, hoping against hope that Severus had felt the ring go cool and would know what to do.
Contessa’s gaze met the bulging eyes of the Death Eater in front of her with as much resilience as she could summon. The squat witch raised her wand, pointing it directly at Contessa.
Contessa felt the insidious presence of Alecto Carrow ripping through her memories.
The witch was obviously unskilled in Legilimency; her aim was untrained. Contessa pushed the memory of the conversation with Neville to the front of her mind, repeating the scene over and over until she was sure the Death Eater had seen it.
With the force of a whip, Alecto withdrew from her mind, leaving Contessa reeling. The inquisition of an inadequate Legilimens left her head pounding ferociously.
“Well?” asked Amycus impatiently.
“I saw her conversation with Longbottom. She seems to be tellin’ the truth,” Alecto said resentfully.
Amycus loosened his grip. As he did so, Contessa felt the ring on her little finger turn cool once more. Severus had found her.
“Wait, there’s somethin’ else that don’t make sense,” Alecto said slowly.
The grip on Contessa’s arms tightened. She started to panic again, not knowing how quickly Severus would arrive in the dungeons.
“She’s hidin’ somethin’, I’m sure of it,” Alecto said with conviction.
“What do yeh mean?” Amycus asked his sister.
“There’s somethin’ suspicious about this woman. Why’s she here? How come she’s been allowed to take up her post, with her history in the Order? It don’t make sense.”
Contessa felt a block of ice land heavily in her stomach. She only had a moment to decide what to do. Alecto raised her wand again.
The Death Eater tore into Contessa’s mind once again, with the presence of a bull in a china shop. Pain crackled through her head as the clumsy Legilimens rifled through her memories, searching for a clue.
Contessa forced herself to calm down and relive a memory; the one given to her months ago, in anticipation of the Dark Lord’s inquisition. In order for Alecto to see the memory properly, Contessa would have to submit to the false memory completely and experience it in slow motion, in the hope that the inept Death Eater would comprehend it…
Standing in the living room at Squirrel’s Leap, Severus’s pincer-like grip wrapped itself around her arm, forcing her to face him. Her body collided with his, but he did not release her.
“Let go of me!” she demanded, struggling in his arms.
“It will be better for you if you do not fight,” Severus said softly, his voice almost a purr. Contessa felt herself shiver inside her own memory.
As her body relaxed into its fate, Contessa felt the air around them take on a prickle of electricity.
Severus inclined his head, very slowly, towards hers. Contessa could feel his warm breath on her lips as she looked into his deep, dark eyes. She noticed the tenderness held within, and a sense of longing, for the very first time. She held her breath, just as before, but this time with a flurry of butterflies in her stomach.
His nose almost touched hers as he turned, his long hair brushing against her cheek sensuously. Contessa felt a quiver descend her spine.
“Close your eyes,” Severus said in a sultry voice.
Contessa responded, not because it was an instruction, but because she was succumbing to the seduction, seeing and feeling it in a totally different way.
Severus’s breath was warm on her neck for a few moments, and then gone. With a shudder, Contessa realised the memory needed to end, and she reluctantly released herself from its thrall.
The Potions office came into view again as the Death Eater withdrew from her mind. Contessa’s head felt as though it had been tightened in a vice, and throbbed sickeningly.
The short, dumpy figure of Alecto Carrow laughed salaciously.
“Well, I never would’ve guessed,” she drawled.
“Guessed what?” said Amycus gruffly, still holding Contessa’s arms tightly behind her.
At that moment, the door to the office flung open. Contessa looked past Alecto, to see Severus striding into the room purposefully. Locking eyes with Contessa, he quickly assessed the situation and Contessa’s insides swam with relief.
Alecto turned to face him with a grin on her face. “Snape, you old dog!”
Severus looked back at the woman with an air of intolerance. “I beg your pardon?”
Alecto laughed, but stopped when she saw the look on Severus’s face. “Good on yeh, Snape, that’s what I say,” she said with a wheezy giggle. “Headmaster’s privilege and all.”
Contessa watched his expression change and he looked back at Contessa for verification. She nodded slightly in return. Severus blinked.
“Release her, Amycus,” Severus instructed.
Contessa felt him let go of her arms and she walked away, as calmly as possible, towards the door.
“What’s goin’ on?” Amycus asked Alecto.
“Snape’s got himself a concubine, Amycus,” she said, looking Contessa up and down with enjoyment.
Contessa felt nausea in response to the woman’s supposition, mixed with unfamiliar warmth towards Severus.
When Severus looked back at Contessa to see her reaction, she felt a desire that had not been there before. Blushing in bewilderment, she looked away from him, fervently wishing she could leave.
“Marchbanks is more than that, Alecto. She is also a spy,” Severus said coldly.
As she heard Severus explain, Contessa felt a ripple of consternation. She hadn’t felt like a concubine when she relived that memory. Contessa had felt something altogether different: unmistakeable attraction.
Now, looking at the imposing bat-like profile of the Headmaster, Contessa was overcome with confusion and alarm. What in Merlin’s name was happening to her?
Severus must have picked up on her discomfort. He turned to her and said succinctly, “Go to my office and await my return.”
Contessa bowed to him, fighting back conflicting instincts. Leaving the office, she sprinted up the stairs, her heart pounding in her chest.
She did not go to the Headmaster’s office. Instead Contessa continued to run up several flights of stairs until she reached the highest point in the castle. Queasy with exertion, she flung herself through the door to the Astronomy Tower.
Bracing herself against the chill, she stepped out into the night, hoping the fresh air would give her some clarity and perspective.
Contessa could still sense Severus’s warm breath on her neck.
She was haunted by his bottomless eyes moving in close, his lips close enough to kiss.
The memory refused to be ignored.
Its persistence took Contessa completely by surprise.
She found herself wanting the memory to be extended. She yearned to see it end differently, and to have the chance to be in that situation once more.
But, at the same time, Contessa knew she could not risk a romantic relationship with this man; there was too much at stake.
As she moved towards the edge of the ramparts, the cold wind whipped around her, freezing her hands and face.
Lost in memory, she contemplated the dark and murky depths of the drop beneath her.