Taste of Temptation
Several days and quite a few potions later, Severus and Contessa were to be found huddled up in the secret laboratory, beside a steaming cauldronful of bright orange liquid.
Contessa was sitting with her arms folded on the workbench, watching the final stages of the potion’s progress, whilst Severus carefully performed the last few clockwise and anticlockwise stirs.
Outside, the sky had darkened after a day of April showers, interspersed by brilliant sunshine and an occasional rainbow.
The first week of their holiday had been spent brewing and experimenting with potions and antidotes, but so far none of the concoctions had successfully repelled the Imperius Curse.
Severus remained unfazed. He knew the possibilities were limitless; some potion recipes had taken years to develop and perfect. It mattered not how long it took them to discover a curse-breaker; Severus was more interested in spending time with Contessa.
And she had been a delight.
Ever since the day at the Great Lake, Severus had found her happiness infectious and her company addictive. When once he had craved solitude, he now wanted nothing more than to be alone with her.
Contessa’s presence seemed to satiate something he hadn’t realised was missing. His outlook was transforming, and the fragile, vulnerable person who had feared exposure was learning to take off his cloak and be seen. The experience was nerve-wracking, liberating and... strange. There was something untried and unproven about this new way of being; it didn’t feel like him. But it was him. More of him than he’d ever been.
Severus had taken a risk in revealing his magical abilities to Contessa. With the exception of the Dark Lord, no one knew he could fly without a broomstick, and most members of the wizarding world considered the act abhorrent, as they would any use of a Dark Art.
But not Contessa. She celebrated his mastery of flight as one might applaud the casting of one’s first corporeal Patronus.
Encouraged by her serenity and wisdom, and her eagerness to learn, Severus had spent hours nurturing her capabilities.
First of all, he’d taught her to harness dark feelings of despair in order to cast the charm; her propensity of openness to emotion made her naturally adept. Next came the trickier skill – to simultaneously feel hope at the same time as despair; a recalcitrant combination by definition. But Contessa harboured an innate aptitude and had made great strides towards achieving fully-controlled flight.
As he witnessed her ability to channel magic from a Dark source, without it contaminating or consuming her, he became more accepting of his own darkness.
He now saw different choices available to him and fresh, invigorating experiences awaiting him. The world looked different, tasted different.
There was no vow, no agreement, and no expectation.
Their friendship – their relationship – simply was.
Severus now realised how much he craved for. Each snatched glance across the room caused a thumb-roll of palpitations, and each inadvertent caress of her hand produced electricity as never before.
But he knew his hopes and dreams would have to stay on hold until the Dark Lord fell.
He could not, would not, take her as a lover during such dangerous times.
Severus needed not the distraction.
Evidently, though, he needed her.
And with each passing day their mutual affection blossomed, augmented whenever their eyes met, or their skin touched.
He felt certain now: she belonged to him.
“It’s ready,” Contessa said, halting his hand with the soft caress of her fingertips.
A new charge of current surged through his arm.
Her blue-grey eyes were serious as she met his gaze.
Severus removed a small bottle from inside his robes, and scooped a ladle of potion which he poured deftly into the clear-glass flagon. Contessa padded across the room and placed the potion bottle on the mantelpiece whilst Severus extinguished the flames beneath the cauldron.
“I’m turning the radio on, Severus,” Contessa said as she fiddled with the tuning dial and extracted her wand. “Potterwatch hasn’t been on for weeks, but I want to give it another try.”
Severus nodded as he tidied away their ingredients. The radio crackled with static as he ambled over to the leather armchair by the fireplace. Languidly, he cast a charm to stoke the fire, before sitting down and resting his feet on the footstool.
His mind wandered to what they might have for dinner, assuming he could prolong his time with Contessa by persuading her to join him.
Unexpectedly the radio gasped into life, only to play a love song which caused Contessa a frustrated sigh.
“Leave it for now,” Severus said, tiredness creeping into his voice. “You’ve given the password and set the frequency. Be patient.”
Contessa slumped heavily into the other armchair.
With a lazy flick of his wand, Severus Summoned the potion flagon from the mantelpiece, directing it to hover in front of Contessa.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “You want me to test this now?”
“There’s no time like the present.”
With a grumbling murmur, she grasped the bottle and unstopped the cork. “Same drill as before?”
She swallowed the potion in one gulp.
“Mmmm... tastes a bit chocolatey.” She sat back in her seat, contemplative. “And.... ooh...marmalade.”
“How do you feel?”
Her brow furrowed. “Fine.”
“Let’s do it, then.” Severus sounded slightly jaded as he extracted his wand. “Imperio.”
The spell caught Contessa with a visible shudder. Severus watched her expression relax and with each passing second she seemed to become... vacant. Severus was suddenly keen and vigilant. Something was different this time; she wasn’t repelling the curse on her own.
After a brief moment of hesitation, he sent the usual command. Dance.
Contessa stood up, leaned towards the mantelpiece and turned up the radio. The warbling tones of Seline Sedbergh filled the room, singing a melancholy tune which spoke of the reunion of hearts gone astray. Severus wanted to hex the disc jockey into next week, right then and there.
Before he could control his impulses, Contessa was standing before him, offering her hand.
What was she doing?
But even as his rational mind fought to catch up, his hand was already in hers and he was standing up.
She guided his hands to nestle in the small of her back and then ran her fingers up his chest until they rested either side of his shirt collar. She pressed her body against his, wrapping him in her embrace.
Her body began to sway, forcing his feet to move to a slow dance.
Severus didn’t dare look at her. He couldn’t bear the blank expression he expected to see on her face, reminding him that her actions were merely the result of the Imperius Curse.
Dread filled him from his throat to his stomach.
He knew Contessa would remember the entire event after the curse lifted but, even so, it was all he could do to stop himself from taking advantage and pressing his lips against hers.
She was so close, so warm, so beautiful; this might be his only chance to make her his.
He rested his chin against the side of her head and inhaled her scent: heady, seductive jasmine. Her soft hair brushed against his cheek as she moved closer still.
Severus’s resolve crumbled as each stroke of her breath on his neck drew him in, enticing him to make use of the opportunity so willingly presenting itself.
But the taste of temptation was bittersweet. Whilst he might profit fleetingly from the deed, he would never know if Contessa had given herself freely, and he couldn’t bring himself to exploit her in this way. He wouldn’t violate her trust.
As the haunting chorus of the song repeated and faded, Severus held Contessa in his arms, not wanting the moment to end.
And then, as if on cue, the radio hissed with a swirl of static and Potterwatch blared out through the speakers.
It was the ultimate mood-breaker.
Severus let go of Contessa and swiftly commanded her to administer the antidote.
She swallowed the liquid obediently and, very quickly, her expression became alert.
They stood facing each other by the fire as the Order of the Phoenix broadcast began, and Lee Jordan introduced his two regular contributors to the audience.
Contessa’s colour began to rise.
She looked sheepishly at Severus.
“Oh my God... What happened?”
Severus cleared his throat. “It seems we’ve invented a potion which potentiates the Imperius Curse, rather than negating it. I take it you were unable to block the curse?”
Contessa rubbed her forehead. “I was completely unaware it had even been cast. It all seemed so... natural.” She slumped into her armchair, embarrassed. “I’m so sorry.”
“For forcing you to dance with me,” she said, mortified.
Severus couldn’t help but laugh. Contessa looked up at him, confused.
“I’ve just Imperio’d you, and you are apologising to me?” With an amused frown, Severus flopped into his seat.
Contessa stared at him. “Uh-hum.” She laughed nervously.
“Perhaps,” Severus said, “I should’ve given a more specific command.”
Contessa shook her head immediately. “I’d kill you if you’d made me tap-dance.”
Severus smiled. “Entirely understandable.”
“That potion we made – you realise how –?”
“Dangerous it is? Yes.”
“In the wrong hands –”
“It’s not what we were hoping for, is it?”
Silence lingered as they listened half-heartedly to Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep, measured voice, followed by Remus Lupin announcing Hagrid’s recent departure from Hogwarts.
Shortly afterwards, a new correspondent was introduced to the airwaves and Contessa shifted in her chair. She peered at Severus awkwardly.
“We should Vanish the remainder of that potion, and burn our notes,” she said. “Don’t you think?”
Severus considered his reply. Whilst Contessa’s concerns were legitimate, Severus wasn’t likely to forget the formulae in a hurry.
He nodded once. “I’ll do it.”
As he hauled himself to his feet, he listened to Contessa chuckling at the inane drivel coming from the new Potterwatch contributor, Rapier, whom Severus assumed to be one of the Weasley twins. The young man was suggesting that the ‘Chief Death Eater’ was in need of a holiday abroad.
Irritated by the flippancy of the monologue, Severus crumpled the parchment on the workbench into a ball, and threw it onto the fire. He then went over to the cauldron containing the antidote and Vanished it.
“Point is, people, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking he’s out of the country,” Weasley was saying.
It was the first sensible thing the broadcaster had said.
“Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t,” Weasley continued, “but the fact remains he can move faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo when he wants to, so don’t count on him being a long way away if you’re planning on taking any risks.”
Severus glimpsed Contessa covering her mouth and averting her eyes, cheeks glowing crimson.
Impervious to insult, Severus made the most of the moment’s distraction.
He retrieved a small flagon from inside his robes and surreptitiously filled it to the brim with the vivid orange potion.
Without a word, he tucked the bottle out of sight.
Severus Vanished the cauldron’s contents, before resuming his seat in front of the fire.