It seemed as though Contessa’s body was on fire as she stalked down the stairs and hastened towards the fireplace. Severus’s disregard for her had rendered her unable to speak and she almost couldn’t stop herself from punching the walls.
Just at this moment, Contessa couldn’t bear to be around Severus for fear of what she might say. He didn’t listen when she tried to explain her feelings about addressing him formally, and now she was livid about his rash implementation of the decrees. His decision had pressed buttons from their shared past, and it incensed her that Severus could not make the connection.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Contessa was battling with uncontrollable passion for a man who didn’t return her romantic feelings. She was frustrated by his lack of response and furious with herself for being so spectacularly tripped up by her emotions.
Desperately searching for a flicker of feelings in the man, she had found none. Severus obviously wanted to keep their relationship completely professional, down to the very last detail, and Contessa was insulted by his assertion that she had to call him ‘Headmaster’ after all they had endured.
The Headteacher portraits watched Contessa crossing the office, as she tried unsuccessfully to control the torrent of emotions writhing like snakes inside her. As more of the portraits awoke from their slumbers, their eyes tracked her progress towards the fireplace.
Contessa grabbed a large handful of Floo powder and hurled it into the hearth. Ferocious green flames jumped up with a roar. Ducking her head underneath the mantelpiece, Contessa lifted up her robes and stepped onto the hearth.
She was about to utter the words which would transport her to her quarters, when Severus’s hand grabbed hold of her arm and wrenched her back into the Headmaster’s office.
Contessa’s lungs burned with ash as she stumbled on the floor, Severus’s bruising grip holding her upright.
“There is no need to walk out on me, Madam Marchbanks,” Severus said testily.
Contessa’s hands rolled into fists and her chest heaved sickeningly as anger rose in her throat. Biting down, she clenched her teeth to stop herself from responding. She needed to stay calm.
Severus didn’t let go of her arm and he led her across the office, flinging her unceremoniously against the desk. He stood before her, a dark and imposing figure silhouetted against the green firelight. He crossed his arms, effectively blocking her escape route to the Floo.
Contessa felt a new flare of rage as she realised Severus was playing cat-and-mouse with her. His arrogant display eroded her self-control and she clenched her jaw to prevent herself lashing out. She needed to get out of the room before she succumbed to her anger.
Reaching out behind her, she grasped the desk to steady herself, and then ran towards the solid oak door, prepared to risk being seen leaving the Headmaster’s office late at night.
In the blink of an eye, Severus raised his wand and locked the door with a non-verbal spell. Contessa ran into the door and tried desperately to turn the brass doorknob. She knew the attempt was futile.
She pounded the oak panels, venting some of her frustration, before turning to face Severus, her back against the bolted door.
A hundred different scenarios ran through her mind as she calculated her next move. Severus, however, was quicker. With a mocking smile, he flicked his wand, Summoning Contessa’s wand from inside her robes. He caught her only chance at magical defence mid-air, and tucked her wand inside his waistcoat. His eyes glinted dangerously.
“How dare you!” Contessa growled, as her heart raced and blood pumped furiously through her ears.
“I’m merely protecting us from your irrational behaviour,” Severus said silkily. “You seem agitated. I don’t fully understand why.”
Every single portrait in the room was now awake and watching them with great interest. Contessa sobered a little and tried to calm her conflicting emotions. Running her fingertips over the wooden grain of the door, she did not reply.
Severus must have noticed her eyeing the portraits uncertainly, as his next words were more cordial. “Perhaps we can continue our…discussion…in my quarters?”
Contessa saw Magda McDougall cast an encouraging look towards her, and she was able to stand straighter as a result. She removed her hands from the oak panel at her back and walked calmly towards Severus.
“Anything I have to say can be witnessed by these portraits,” she said as she strode past him towards the centre of the room, forcing him to turn around.
Meeting his gaze once more she noticed his eyebrows arching. Severus moved towards her until they were both standing in front of the Headmaster’s desk, eyeballing each other.
Severus spoke first.
“I believe you require my assistance in learning to manage your role as double agent,” he began.
Contessa scoffed. “This isn’t about me and my failings, Headmaster,” she said waspishly.
Severus’s eyes narrowed into slits. He closed the distance between them until they stood only a couple of feet apart.
“I can’t wait to hear this, Miss Marchbanks,” he sneered.
Contessa knew he had lit the blue touchpaper. She felt her anger ignite once again as the past came flooding back to her.
“So, it’s back to Miss Marchbanks now, is it, Professor?” she spat. “Back to the power games of the classroom…You didn’t stop me last time!”
Contessa walked away from him and circled the office. Severus moved instinctively towards the fireplace, but Contessa didn’t notice. She was only just getting started.
“Even though you bullied everyone in my Potions class, forcing some of them to give up the subject, you didn’t win completely. I came to see Professor Dumbledore and asked him for permission to set up a Potions study group. He said I had to ask you to authorise the use of the Potions classroom for us to practise in…”
“I refused you,” Severus said in a bored voice.
“Too right you did,” she bit back, “deliberately unfair and partisan, like always.”
Contessa rounded on him, but Severus merely smirked at her with amusement.
“It didn’t do you any harm though, did it, Contessa?” he said mockingly.
Contessa’s eyes turned to slits and she threw him a look of pure malice. “Don’t you dare try and tell me that you did it to bring out the best in me!” she snarled.
Severus laughed out loud at her defence. “You know nothing of my motivations. Not now, and not then,” he said with contempt.
“I don’t care about your motivations, Professor,” she replied, in an attempt at restraint. “I care about the students.”
Severus’s dark eyes studied her intently as he waited to hear her new angle.
“It’s the students who suffer when you make snap decisions, without weighing up the consequences. If you bar unofficial student societies again you are repeating the mistakes of the past!” she said with annoyance.
Severus glowered in front of her. Feeling slightly unnerved by his composure, she took a step backwards. He crossed his arms against his waistcoat and gritted his teeth. Contessa’s stomach swooped in queasy anticipation.
When Severus spoke, his voice was tightly controlled. His fury, however, was still perceptible on his pale features. “You make the mistake of thinking this is about you, when it is, in fact, nothing to do with you.”
Contessa swallowed hard, unable to believe they had reached this point. Despite the apparent danger, she couldn’t stop herself from retorting.
“No, Severus. This is about us.”
They stood facing each other for a long moment and Contessa sensed they had reached an impasse. She noticed Severus’s jaw set tightly as he clenched his hands into fists. She knew she had made him angry and part of her really didn’t care; her need for vengeance had got the better of her.
Severus unfolded his arms and swept away from the fireplace, turning his back on her.
Contessa didn’t need any further invitation. She walked briskly towards the fireplace, which still blazed with green flames due to the generous amount of Floo powder she had tossed onto the hearth.
Stepping into the fire, she pronounced her destination and was whisked away in a hiss of ash.