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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 6]

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Chapter Thirty-Five

Dreams and Fables

Over the next few weeks, things seemed to quieten down at Hogwarts.

Relieved there had been no further attempts to break into the Headmaster’s office, Severus was now facing a lower level of mutiny, and had caught the Weasley girl red-handed, daubing another message for Dumbledore’s Army across the floor of the entrance hall. She had been awarded with a ban from Hogsmeade for her troubles.

Severus was fast running out of options for punishment, realising the old favourites and staples of the past were becoming increasingly ineffective. He hoped he could maintain control of the school without resorting to more drastic measures; it was hard enough to keep the Carrows’ methods in line as it was.

Ever since the failed theft of Godric Gryffindor’s sword, it seemed Contessa’s ability to feed Severus information on Dumbledore’s Army had greatly diminished. Longbottom was either too embarrassed about the incident to confide in her, or didn’t trust her anymore.

Meanwhile, Contessa seemed to have become wrapped up in another student. She had taken the child of a Death Eater under her wing and was providing the boy with Potions tutorials on an ad-hoc basis. Severus noticed Contessa spent a fair amount of time and energy lavishing the boy with praise and attention, and he bitterly wished she would apply herself equally to more pressing matters. He thought she should focus her efforts on the trouble-causing students of the DA – not on some kid who ought to be able to stand up for himself. Severus didn’t know how Contessa would be able to collect intelligence on the DA, given the current difficulties, but that didn’t stop him from wanting more from her.

October marched on and Severus had been lucky enough to witness the Whomping Willow shedding its entire load of leaves one afternoon whilst out patrolling the castle grounds. As the nights closed in he felt more comfortable in the Headmaster’s quarters. He often spent evenings alone, reading by firelight. Severus preferred to hide the room’s boundaries with darkness; it helped them appear smaller and more like his old quarters in the dungeon.

Of course, when Contessa arrived for supper twice a week, he had to light more candles. She seemed uneasy with his choice of low-level illumination and had made several pointed remarks about the romantic lighting.

One Friday evening, Severus was awaiting Contessa’s arrival and brooding as he watched the crackling flames of the fire. The book he had been reading lay forgotten on his lap.

She was late.

Severus expected punctuality; in the past, people had always been reliable and kept their appointments. Admittedly, the majority of those individuals had been students, and therefore knew what the consequences of their tardiness would be. Severus thought everyone should conform to his standards of prompt timekeeping, and he felt disrespected when they did not.

His agitation continued to intensify proportionally with the lateness of the hour.

Half an hour after the pre-arranged meeting had been due to commence, Contessa knocked hastily on the door and tripped unceremoniously into the room.

“Oh, Severus, I’m sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly. “I got caught up in something and didn’t realise the time.”

Severus stood up and walked to the door to greet her, taking in her dishevelled appearance and noting she’d probably run all the way to the Headmaster’s office.

“It was something of importance, I assume.”

“Yes,” Contessa replied, her eyes sparkling happily. Her expression faltered, however, when she noticed the look on his face. “Well, no, now that you mention it. It was something important to me, that’s all”

Severus shot her a pointed look.

Contessa walked into the room, removed her cloak and flung it over the back of the nearest sofa. She sat down, glancing sidelong into the fire which crackled lazily at the other end of the settee. Severus followed, sitting down on the opposite sofa.

“I’ve been teaching Robert Selwyn the Barrier Charm,” she said, “to help him protect the contents of his cauldron from saboteurs.”

Severus felt his eyebrows creeping up his forehead. “A pressing matter indeed,” he said sarcastically.

“I…” Contessa paused, frowning a little as she returned his gaze. “It’s a complicated spell for a third year; it took longer to teach than I’d anticipated.” Her eye contact faltered and she started to fiddle nervously with her robes.

Severus noticed her differing priorities bothered him more than they necessarily should. However, he felt he had made his point, and he rose from his seat, clicking his fingers to Summon his house-elf.

Binky popped into existence bearing a silver tray stacked high with biscuits, and two large glasses of milk. Contessa chuckled as the elf placed the plate down on the coffee table between the two sofas, and offered out the accompanying drinks.

“Milk and cookies, Severus?” she asked with amusement. “I never had you down for comfort food.”

Severus bristled, sitting down once again on the sofa opposite. “Due to the lateness of the hour, this selection seemed more appropriate,” he replied with a satirical tone.

Contessa’s eyes narrowed and then, unexpectedly, she smiled broadly at him. “OK, I take the hint.”

They sat comfortably in front of the fire, exchanging stories and updating each other about the goings-on at the school, whilst demolishing the teetering pile of biscuits on the coffee table.

Severus felt his indignation ease as Contessa gave him her full attention. He realised he had started to enjoy her company, look forward to it even, noticing this was the first time in a great many years he didn’t feel lonely at Hogwarts. As they were the only ones who knew of each other’s true affiliation, suppers together were their only opportunity to speak freely and be themselves.

Severus was beginning to appreciate that Contessa seemed to accept him in a way in which Dumbledore never had, and the evenings they shared were becoming something of an oasis. Because of this, Severus coveted the time and was resentful when it was interrupted or delayed.

“I’ve eaten far too many of those peanut-butter cookies,” Contessa said as she lay back onto the sofa, rubbing her stomach with a slight grimace.

Severus smirked and helped himself to another biscuit. “You seem more relaxed tonight. Perhaps the later hour is better for you.”

“Yeah, maybe. But I don’t think it would be better for my waistline,” she replied, frowning again. “How is it that you can eat a plate of those and not put on any weight? You always have such a svelte profile – I assumed it was because you never ate.”

Severus finished his glass of milk then reclined on the sofa, putting his feet up in front of the fire. “I often forget to eat, especially when I’m on my own. I’ve been alone a lot over the years.”

“Well, there’ll be a nice feast to tuck in to at Halloween,” Contessa said enthusiastically. “I’m looking forward to that.”

Severus didn’t respond. It hadn’t occurred to him that he would be expected to retain the Halloween feast.

The last thing he felt like doing was celebrating on the 31st October. If he had his way he would spend it alone in his quarters, licking his wounds and thinking about all he had lost. It didn’t seem at all appropriate to have a party on the anniversary of the death of the woman he loved.

In addition, he loathed parties and social gatherings of any kind. He couldn’t think of one good reason why the celebration should go ahead and he certainly wasn’t going to burden himself with the arrangement of the annual feast.

Contessa mirrored his movements and lifted her feet onto the sofa, leaning back into the cushions and closing her eyes. They were both tired at the end of the working week and Severus was glad there was no need to talk.

He allowed his mind to wander as he listened to the crackles of the fire in the hearth. The sound of Lily’s tinkling laughter resurfaced in his memory, her almond-shaped green eyes sparkling back at him as Severus chased her around the park in their home town one summer holiday, long ago.

Severus had loved the summers away from Hogwarts. Even though he had to return to Spinner’s End, he felt more than recompensed by having Lily all to himself, uninterrupted by Potter or any of the other Gryffindors.

She belonged to him on those long summer days, when they would walk and talk, play on the swings in the park, or sit by the riverbank discussing the magic they had learned and what they hoped to become when they grew up.

Those days were a pocketful of bliss which Severus could tap into whenever he needed them. They were the memories he used to create his Patronus and help him survive the long weeks, months and years of his life without her.

A warm sensation wrapped itself like a blanket around him as he lay into the cushions of the sofa. With his eyes closed, Lily’s presence felt tangible in the room, comforting and reassuring, encouraging him to carry on.

She was the rod he held himself up against, his anchor in a storm. His one reason for living.

Hours later, Severus awoke with a start. It took him a few moments to overcome the hazy disorientation of an unfinished dream. With a yawn, he stretched himself experimentally and realised he had been covered with a warm, fleecy blanket.

Looking around the dimly-lit room, he realised Contessa had departed without fanfare after he had fallen asleep by the fire.

Heaving himself up from the sofa, Severus ambled drowsily into the Headmaster’s sleeping chambers, taking his dreams of Lily with him.

Author's note:
I will continue to update as often as possible - I am experiencing some health problems which mean my writing must slow down for a while. Your reviews spur me on, so please leave some feedback and rest assured the story will be completed.

Thank you for your patience.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 6]

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