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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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Chapter Fifty-Two

A Fiercer Sea

Professor Binns floated into the front-row seat next to Contessa as she waited for the staff meeting to convene. The arrival of the ghostly History of Magic professor sent an icy shudder down her spine.

She looked around the crowded staffroom, noticing that most of the teachers had now assembled, awaiting the presence of the Headmaster.

It was the Saturday afternoon of Saint Valentine’s Day, and the room was filled with hushed mutterings and general unrest. Despite the presence of the Carrows at the top end of the room ensuring effective crowd-control, Contessa was aware of the insistent tapping of Madam Hooch’s boots on the marble floor, and the low, growling sighs of Hagrid, who was sitting on the back row next to the centaur, Firenze.

Contessa had arrived in the nick of time, having spent the afternoon trying to track down Severus. Dumbledore’s portrait had told her the Headmaster had gone for a walk in the castle grounds but, no matter where Contessa looked, Severus was nowhere to be found.

Increasingly concerned, she had tried to contact him using her Tiger’s Eye ring, knowing the metal would turn cold against his skin. Severus had failed to respond.

Now she was sitting in the staffroom, crossing and uncrossing her legs, awaiting the Headmaster’s arrival with as much trepidation as the rest of the staff.

The black iron latch of the door ground open and everyone turned around in their seats, only to see a flustered-looking Aurora Sinistra hurrying into the room. She spotted the only remaining chair next to Contessa and rushed forward, slightly out-of-breath.

Aurora was about a decade older than Contessa. The Astronomy professor settled down in her seat, adjusted her flowing, midnight-blue robes and smoothed an errant hair back into place. The professor always wore her black hair pinned tightly away from her face, and Contessa noticed it was starting to show the first signs of grey.

“Did I miss anything?” Aurora asked her anxiously.

“No,” Contessa reassured. “No sign of him yet, either.”

“What’s it all about then?”

Contessa shrugged. “No one knows. We all received an owl this morning – no indication what he wants us for, except that it’s urgent.”

“What could be so urgent that it warrants an interruption on Valentine’s weekend?” Aurora asked with a hint of scorn. She looked towards the Carrows, standing like squat and ugly Grim Reapers. “I had plans today! I had to Apparate back here from Paris – Friedrich was not at all pleased.”

It was only as Aurora finished her sentence that Contessa noticed the room had hushed unexpectedly. Behind the Astronomy professor, the black, bat-like form of Severus Snape stood with his arms folded and one eyebrow arched.

He didn’t need to say a word.

Immediately, the two women straightened in their seats and looked forward, silently castigated.

Severus strode to the top end of the staffroom and turned swiftly on his heel, affecting a stance which reminded Contessa of her once-hated Potions Master surveying his students with disdain. His proximity caused her an unexpected ripple of unease and she knew, undeniably, they now sailed on a fiercer sea.

“You will no doubt be aware,” he began, without greeting or preamble, “that discipline at Hogwarts is failing and the pupils’ increasingly feral behaviour is preventing the delivery of an adequate education.”

Contessa’s heart chilled, filled with cubes of ice pressing into her chest. Surely he wasn’t going to announce it here… during Valentine’s weekend?

“After due consideration, I have decided to place the Professors Carrow in charge of discipline at Hogwarts.”

The sound of china shattering on the floor caused everyone to turn around. Sybill Trelawney’s teacup had slipped from her grasp and shards were ricocheting across the room. Tea-leaves scattered, staining the hem of Professor McGonagall’s robes.

The shock of the Headmaster’s announcement rendered the audience momentarily speechless. After a few moments of frantic glances, all eyes were fixed upon Severus again. Contessa could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

“You will, therefore, tell your students to attend the Carrows’ office in the dungeons at eight o’clock prompt for all detentions. The Carrows will decide on the appropriate punishment for their misdemeanours.”

Finally, someone in the room found their voice. Unsurprisingly, it was Minerva McGonagall.

“This is preposterous! Surely we, as professors of this school, should have a say in the way our pupils are disciplined!” Her voice increased in volume and pitch as she spoke.

“You’ve had your say for far too long, Minerva. The old methods are ineffective; behaviour has spiralled out of control,” Severus said, his tone non-negotiable.

“I’m sure that, with renewed effort, the staff can work together to overcome the problems,” Minerva said with forced calm. “There is no need for drastic action.”

There was a loud murmur of assent across the staffroom and Severus’s gaze followed its progress through the audience. A hard lump lodged in Contessa’s throat.

“It’s too late,” he stated. “There is no point locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. It’s time for the Headmaster to take decisive action, in the school’s best interests.”

Aurora shuffled in her seat, breathing into Contessa’s ear, “In the best interests of You Know Who, more like.”

For the first time since he had entered the room, Severus looked directly at Contessa. It was as if a lightning bolt had struck her. He glowered and looked sharply away.

“And what do the board of governors have to say about this decision?” Minerva asked.

“I met with them this morning,” Severus replied. “I have their full support.”

Aurora cast Contessa a suspicious look. It was clear they both knew how that agreement had been reached.

“No further questions?” Severus said abruptly. “Good. I shall announce the decision in the Great Hall at dinner. I expect you to demonstrate your co-operation and loyalty tonight.”

For a few seconds, the teachers’ room sat in stunned silence. Severus stared coldly at the staff, wordlessly communicating the end of the meeting.

Slowly, chairs started to scrape on the marble floor and the teachers shuffled their way out of the staffroom.

Sitting on the front row, Aurora and Contessa waited as the others filed out, watching Professor Binns drifting airborne towards the door. Contessa decided her best chance was to wait until everyone had departed, and speak to Severus alone.

Discernibly shivering, Aurora stood up. “What do you make of all that?” she asked Contessa.

“I don’t –”

“Professor Sinistra,” Severus’s harsh voice cut through the air. “A word, please.”

Aurora cringed. Contessa threw her a look of concern.

“I’ll be fine,” Aurora mouthed quietly.

Contessa nodded and then attempted to make eye contact with Severus, but he was still refusing to meet her gaze. Contessa’s stomach knotted in a slow, nauseating pulse.

“Go!” Aurora hurried her.

Reluctantly, Contessa left the room and lingered in the hallway outside the staffroom. The two stone gargoyles above the entrance peered at her inquisitively as she waited for Severus.

After less than a minute, the doors opened and the Astronomy professor stepped into the corridor. Her firmly-set jaw eased into a smile when she saw Contessa.

“Tess, it’s so kind of you to wait for me…”

“I –”

“…but I really can look after myself – that overgrown bat doesn’t scare me.”

“Is he –?”

“Gone. Took the Floo out of the staffroom. Told me he expected my presence in the Great Hall for dinner. Miserable sod. I’ll sneak out later…”

Contessa opened her mouth to speak, and quickly closed it again.

“No need to say anything – we’ll make the best of the situation, Tess. The Carrows won’t be getting their claws into any of my students.” Aurora placed her arm around Contessa’s shoulder and guided her away from the staffroom. “Besides, no need to look so glum; you’ll have a few spare evenings now. We can spend some time together on the Astronomy Tower. I’ll be glad of your company for my observations. Did you know next week there’ll be a new moon next to Saturn in the constellation Pisces?”

Contessa forced a smile and followed Aurora dolefully, listening to her plans for their telescopes.

It seemed Severus was avoiding her.

And she had no idea why.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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