The Great Lake
“Severus?” Contessa called, after she’d let herself into the Headmaster’s quarters.
Morning sunshine streamed through the stained glass windows, lighting up the grandiose, high-ceilinged room.
Severus’s living space looked completely different in the daylight. Tapestries adorning the walls shimmered and sparkled, and the blue-green dragonflies surrounding the ornate mirror on the mantelpiece glistened, appearing to dance around the frame.
Contessa placed her satchel and broomstick on the coffee table and wandered over to a window seat, peaking through the leaded glass at the stunning scenery outside.
Within moments, Severus stepped through the bedroom door, dabbing his freshly-shaven face with a towel. He was fully dressed and wearing a dark shirt, which seemed an almost black shade of blue. He rubbed the towel through his hair, which was wet and clinging to his head in ribboned strips of ebony.
Contessa experienced a thrill arch through her abdomen as old feelings re-ignited, to the extent that she actually blushed.
He flung the towel over the back of the sofa and ran his fingers through his newly-washed hair, assessing her inquisitively.
Contessa moved back to the middle of the room, feeling awkward. “It’s a beautiful day outside,” she stuttered.
Severus eyed the broomstick on the table and raised his eyebrows.
“I thought... I wondered if... you’d like to go flying today?” Contessa asked, unexpectedly shy.
He stared at the satchel for a long moment, a smirk curling his lips.
“I packed a picnic,” she explained. “Or, rather, Binky did.”
Contessa could’ve sworn she heard Severus hold back a snort.
He strode to the window and knelt on the cushioned seat to look outside.
“It’s a gorgeous spring day.” Contessa heard her voice as if from afar.
“So you’ve said,” Severus replied sardonically.
Contessa flushed a deeper shade of red. She shook herself to regain her composure.
Severus turned away and went back into his bedroom, emerging a minute later wearing a waistcoat which accentuated his narrow frame. He had obviously dried his hair with the assistance of magic and it still appeared unkempt, albeit clean. He flicked his wand and his boots laced themselves.
Impulsively Contessa looked down at her own attire – a high polo-necked jumper and a pair of faded jeans. She sighed. At least her pullover was cashmere.
Severus folded a cloak over his arm and beckoned to the doorway.
“After you,” he said. His voice was like silk sliding over stone.
Contessa shivered as she walked through the door.
“Don’t you need your broomstick?” she asked belatedly, when she reached the bottom of the stairs.
Severus appeared briefly stumped. “I’ll instruct Binky to meet me at the edge of the Great Lake with a school broom.”
They left the Headmaster’s office and made their way out of the castle, into the bright sunlight of the clear spring day.
“You don’t fly very often, then?” Contessa asked conversationally as they walked towards the lake.
The expanse of water rippled in the gentle breeze, sparkling like millions of diamonds under the azure sky. Birds sang in the trees, strident and joyous in the fresh, chilly air.
Contessa shrugged her cloak more securely around her shoulders.
“No, not often,” Severus replied with a glimmer of amusement.
Contessa assessed him shrewdly. “When was the last time you left the castle?”
Severus pondered his answer. “Is there a need to leave the castle?”
Contessa chuckled. She knew he was happiest when he was closeted up in the dungeon, erudite with Dark Arts and Potions.
They reached the pebbled shore of the Great Lake, where Binky was awaiting their arrival with a Nimbus 2000 for his master.
The house-elf presented Severus with the broomstick and promptly vanished.
Severus mounted the broom and rose a metre into the air, pausing as he looked down at Contessa.
She quickly realised she was gawking at him. Contessa swallowed a lump in her throat and tore her eyes away, resolving to concentrate on her own flight and not let the magnificent sight of the Headmaster distract her.
Nevertheless, palpitations strummed in her chest as feelings hidden below the surface revealed themselves with greater intensity.
With her satchel fixed firmly on her shoulder, and her cloak wrapped tightly, Contessa kicked off the ground and glided into the air.
“The Dementors know to leave us alone,” Severus said when she reached his side. He glanced around the landscape. “Where do you want to go?”
“Follow me,” she instructed, sweeping away into the blue, on a circular tour of the lake.
Severus kept pace beside her, the wind whipping his hair into his face, and Contessa’s own becoming a tangled mess in the wind.
After three quarters of an hour’s flight, steering clear of passing ducks and geese, and drifting over the sapphire waters beneath, they identified a secluded landing spot, unreachable by foot, on the shore of the lake, directly opposite Hogsmeade.
Contessa’s ears burned with the cold. As they hopped off their brooms, she laughed at the sight of their windswept hair.
With a quick charm, Contessa reversed the bird’s nest on her head. She eyed Severus’s tousled black hair and giggled.
“Remember when it was fashionable to have messed-up hair – so you looked like you’d just stepped off a broom?” she said nostalgically.
“Yes,” Severus said darkly. “All too well.” He ran his fingers roughly through the mop on his head and winced, hair-sore.
“Allow me,” Contessa offered.
To her complete surprise, Severus allowed her intervention, and his hair returned to its former state – scruffy, but clean. It didn’t look that much different to normal, now that Contessa thought about it, and she wilfully resisted the urge to run her fingers through –
“You brought food?” Severus asked.
She jumped. “I did.”
“Good. I didn’t eat breakfast.”
Contessa lifted the satchel and opened the clasp, revealing its cavernous interior. With a non-verbal spell, a picnic blanket flew out and unrolled on the pebbly shore, soon followed by a veritable feast of cheese, wine, bread and fruit.
“Bloody hell, Tess. Who’s going to eat all that?” Severus asked.
“We are, apparently,” she replied, casting a Cushioning Charm on the blanket. “We might be here until midnight, however,” she said with a grin.
Severus sat down and opened a bottle of wine. They had chosen a sheltered spot, and the sun beat down on them, warming their faces.
They ate brunch in silence, and watched a pair of golden eagles soaring high above the lake. Every so often, an enormous tentacle of the Giant Squid poked through the water’s surface.
The peace and quiet felt relaxing after the tumultuous final weeks of school term. With the stunning scenery of the Highlands surrounding them, the problems at Hogwarts seemed a lifetime ago.
“Wilhelmina accepted the Care of Magical Creatures position this morning,” Severus said as he watched a flock of geese landing in the water with a dignified splash.
“Oh, I’m glad,” Contessa said.
“There was never any doubt. The Dark Lord’s people would’ve pressurised or Imperio’d her if she’d refused.”
“I’m just pleased we won’t have another Death Eater to contend with.” Contessa turned to Severus and flashed him a smile. “I’m also glad I don’t need to take a crash course in Magical Creatures over Easter.”
“No chance of that,” Severus said. His eyes glittered in the sunlight. “I’ve been considering our attempts to create an Imperius Curse-breaker, though.”
Contessa watched him take off his cloak and fold it into a pillow. Severus unfastened the buttons on his waistcoat and leaned back on his elbows. The sight was very distracting.
Not seeming to expect a reply, Severus continued, “I’d like to try a combination of Truth Potion with Glumbumble treacle.”
Contessa shifted a little and wrapped her arms around her bent knees. Her head rested on the apex and she watched a strand of Severus’s dark mane tickling his forehead in the breeze. Spellbound, she suddenly realised the earnestness of his words. It was the last thing she’d expected to hear.
“I thought, after all that happened, you’d given up on finding a potion to repel the Imperius Curse,” she said.
Severus shrugged. “I still enjoy the mental challenge.”
“But what about the testing?”
“We’ll just have to resolve to use the antidotes properly this time.”
Contessa bit her lip. Severus’s eyes traced the path of her teeth, his obsidian orbs transfixed by her mouth. She thought, for one insane moment, that he was going to reach out and –
“That is, if you’re still up to the challenge?” Severus’s voice was slightly husky.
“Of course I am,” Contessa replied shakily.
The clamorous cries of geese taking off from the water’s surface caused them both to look away. The birds ascended to the sky in a perfect V-formation.
“I’ve always wanted to fly,” Contessa said wistfully. “You know, unaided, like a bird. No broomstick to cling precariously to. Just me and the wind.”
Severus remained silent as the flock of geese flew into the blue beyond. Contessa stared out at the lake as long minutes yawned by.
Then, with a crunch of pebble and shale underfoot, Severus was standing before her, offering out his hand.
Contessa cast him a puzzled look, but he continued to gesture for her to place her hand in his. She grasped his proffered hand warily and pulled herself up, searching his pale features for his intentions, his expression unreadable.
Severus nodded towards his feet. “Stand on my boots, one foot on each,” he commanded her.
He held out both arms, inviting her into his embrace. Contessa felt a wave of giddiness take over, and butterflies clambered up her throat as she stepped carefully onto his feet. Severus guided her arms upward until her hands rested against the back of his neck.
Contessa couldn’t look up, knowing his nose and his mouth were so close to her own. Severus’s warm breath caressed her scalp.
“Hold tight, and close your eyes,” Severus said quietly.
Now Contessa did look up, perplexed, and two opalescent pools of black took her breath away. She barely stopped herself from falling backwards into his arms.
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
“I do,” she replied. After a moment’s pause she added, “Always.”
Severus smiled, satisfied. “Then close your eyes.”
Contessa complied. She rested her head against his chest and felt his arms wrapping around her, holding her firmly in place.
His wand pressed into her back, then lightness filled her body and a swoosh of air whipped across her face.
When she opened her eyes again, she and Severus were airborne. The grassy Highlands were dozens of metres below as she hovered with Severus’s warm, lean body holding her securely in place.
Gasping, she looked up into his face and saw the same broad smile she’d seen once before in the Great Hall last Christmas.
“Severus, you’re amazing,” she said, stunned. “You simply have to teach me how to do this!”
His smile faded a little. “The magic is a Dark Art. I’m not sure you’d wish to learn it.”
Contessa’s brow furrowed. “That doesn’t matter.”
Severus didn’t seem convinced. “It matters to me,” he said.
“You might become...” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
“It’s OK, Severus,” she reassured him. “I believe the magic itself isn’t dark. Magic simply is. We make it light or dark by our choices and our actions.”
One of his long fingers brushed a stray hair from her face, whilst his other hand held her tight in his grasp. He studied her features intently.
“Please teach me,” she asked again.
His eyes glinted. “Only if you agree to help me with a curse-breaker.”
Contessa laughed. “Of course I will!”
Severus smiled again and pulled her head close against his chest.
For one gleaming, pristine moment, floating in the cool, spring air, Contessa dared to map out her future post-Voldemort. And for the first time in years, that future included hope.
And unconditional love.