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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 9]

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Chapter Sixty

Heir of Slytherin

“Tess... Wake up!”

The sound of Severus’s voice snaked into Contessa’s consciousness. She felt an insistent nudging against her arm and a heavy weight sitting on the bed. She opened her eyes slowly to the flickering light of the candle on her bedside table. The illumination hurt her eyes and she rolled over to escape.

Severus’s firm grip on her arm stopped her. She wondered if she were dreaming.

“Tess,” he hissed again.

This time Contessa recognised the urgency in his voice and she fought past the bilious trickle of melatonin lulling her back to sleep. As the dark room came into focus she saw Severus leaning over her, haematite eyes glinting in the candlelight.

“Is that you, Sev–?” she murmured.

“Wake up! The Dark Lord is here.”

Adrenaline crashed through her body. She rose onto her elbows and sat up in bed. Severus muttered a Lumos Charm and her bedchamber illuminated, dazzling her eyes.

Blinking away the searing pain of flooded retinas, Contessa squinted at Severus, taking in his concerned face. She ran her fingers through her hair and rubbed sleep from her eyes.

“Here? At Hogwarts?”

“I’ve just left him alone in the castle grounds. He’ll be meeting me inside shortly.”

Contessa gulped, her mouth dry. “What do you need me to do?”

Severus frowned and looked towards the curtained window. “Dawn is almost breaking. The Dark Lord will expect to find you in my bed.” His bottom lip quivered.

Contessa noticed his unease mirrored her own, and knew they had no time for fear. “Right, well, we better get this show on the road.”

She threw back the bed sheets and climbed out of bed, leaving Severus sitting on its edge. He was looking at the floor, swallowing hard. “You’ll need to be dressed accordingly...” He stopped when he noticed her full length, deep blue negligee.

From the look on his face, her appearance sufficed. She turned to retrieve her silk robe, exposing the long stretch of bare skin down her back, covered only by the nightdress’s crossover straps. Severus’s gaze lingered at the top of her pelvis. He blinked and stood up slowly.

They walked into her living room and tossed some Floo Powder into the fire. Emerald flames transported them forthwith to Severus’s quarters.

They stood, befuddled, for a few long moments.

Eventually, Contessa ventured, “What do you want me to do?”

Severus opened his mouth and closed it again. Wide-eyed, he glanced away from her. “I don’t know.”

“Is he expecting you to wait up for him?”

“Yes.”

“Then, if I was your Imperiused lover, I would stay up with you, would I not?”

Severus clenched and unclenched his hands. “Yes. You probably would.”

“What’s the matter, Severus?”

He looked at her nervously. “Are you sure you can do it?”

“What do you mean?”

“The Dark Lord could be here for some time. It would require a degree of acting, of which, I fear, neither of us is capable.”

“You mean I’m not up to it?”

Severus bit his lip. “What if he interrogates you? Manipulates you? Uses you to provoke me? You wouldn’t last two seconds.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Contessa snapped, although she didn’t feel the bravado her tone attempted to convey.

“But I will worry. I don’t need the distraction.”

Contessa shifted her feet in awkward silence.

Imperio me, then,” she said. “Do it now.”

Severus shook his head. “I’ve already spent five long minutes at your bedside considering Imperioing you in your sleep.” His eyes darted to meet hers. “But even if you’re willing, you’ll break past it eventually. The curse won’t last very long on a mind as strong-willed as yours.”

Contessa’s frustration coiled through her body. She knew the truth of his words and the enormity of the situation; they were ill-prepared for this moment.

“If only we hadn’t Vanished yesterday’s potion...” she said regretfully.

Severus grimaced.

“What?” Contessa asked.

He seemed to take in a deep breath. Then, with movement so subtle that it might not otherwise be noticed, Severus dipped his hand into his frock-coat pocket and retrieved a small potion flagon filled to the brim with bright orange potion.

Contessa’s heart skipped a beat as she recognised the contents of the bottle.

“You kept some?” she asked disbelievingly.

Severus winced. “I...” His attempt at explanation died on his lips. “I’m sorry –”

“No,” Contessa countered abruptly. “Don’t be sorry. It’s just what we need to get us out of this mess.”

Severus appeared visibly relieved. “I don’t have the antidote; I don’t know how long it will last.”

Contessa shrugged. “It’s better than nothing.”

She took the bottle from his hands and swallowed the potion in one large gulp.

Sweet marmalade slid down her throat, warming her once more from the inside. All her worries and all her thoughts escaped out with a long breath.

Relaxed, she turned to Severus, floating into his bottomless dark eyes as he raised his wand and cast the Imperius Curse.

His voice, velvet and hypnotic, spoke its command in her mind.

You are mine.

Contessa closed her eyes and inhaled.

She was his.

Somehow she’d known this to be true for longer than these few seconds.

Severus didn’t have to tell her to lie down on the sofa, to rest the side of her head on his lap and allow her hair to be stroked; all of that came naturally.

For half an hour, Contessa lay docile, her scalp tingling from Severus’s ministrations, peaceful and contented.

When Lord Voldemort entered the room, she noticed her earlobe was aching against Severus’s thigh.

“My Lord,” she heard Severus saying as she moved to let him rise.

Contessa watched him kneel before the Dark Lord and kiss his hand.

“And this,” Voldemort said in his high, cold voice, “must be Griselda’s great-granddaughter.”

Fearless, Contessa rose to standing, watched Severus step away, and sank to her knees to kiss the feet of the heir of Slytherin. His boots were wet and muddy.

“My Lord,” she heard herself saying with calm serenity, “It is an honour to serve you.”

Voldemort’s white lips twisted into a serpentine smile. He offered his hand, which Contessa gratefully kissed, before dipping her head once again.

“What a fine choice you’ve made, Severus. I see now why you wished her to remain at Hogwarts.”

With her eyes fixed on the scarlet and gold rug, Contessa sensed the Dark Lord raising his wand. She felt the solid presence of Severus standing behind her.

“Look at me, Marchbanks,” Voldemort commanded.

Without hesitation, Contessa looked into his red slit-like eyes. The Dark Lord cocked his head and his piercing gaze sent her falling into a black, echoing well.

She instinctively knew which memories to call forth, as if someone were guiding her.

Contessa recalled the night before, dancing to The Magic We Made by Selina Sedbergh, Severus’s chin resting against the side of her head. Then, sitting by the Great Lake, resting her head on her knees as she watched Severus’s hair being teased by the breeze. And then – more? – held tight in his arms as they floated above the lake...

The gong of the Doorbell Charm sounded, and the foray into her memories ceased.

“Interesting,” Voldemort mused. He lowered his wand and ran his fingers contemplatively along its length. “She serves you willingly, Severus. Her emotions suggest something deeper...”

“My Lord?” There was a hint of hoarseness in Severus’s voice.

Contessa remained at the Dark Lord’s feet, silent and obedient.

“Her devotion lies beyond the realms of the Imperius Curse. She has the blinding loyalty of someone who loves –”

Voldemort was cut short by the sound of the door opening, and the clattering arrival of the Carrows.

Contessa followed the Dark Lord’s gaze and looked at Severus, whose countenance appeared troubled. Moving away from the Dark Lord, she curled her arm around Severus’s elbow and rested her head against his arm.

Soon the new arrivals were seated on the antique sofas, with Contessa at Severus’s side.

Voldemort continued to scrutinise Severus. “The Imperius Curse is a marvellous thing,” he said idly.

Contessa watched the Dark Lord’s pale fingers caressing his wand, knowing his comment was no throwaway remark. Severus’s body seemed tense as he wrapped his hand around hers.

Voldemort pointed his wand at Contessa again. “Imperio.

The sensation of sweet, warm nectar filled Contessa’s mind.

She didn’t intentionally move a muscle, but found herself standing and removing her silk robe. Cool air grazed her exposed back and shoulders as she settled down on the sofa beside the Dark Lord and gently placed her hand against the side of his head.

Leaning in, she pressed her forehead against his glistening white skin, her lips almost touching the edge of his ear. She ran her hand down his neck and rested it in the V of his robes, and felt his bony chest rise and fall under her touch.

She held herself there for a few seconds awaiting further command, before feeling compelled to look across the room at Severus and smile seductively.

Severus was thin lipped, but otherwise expressionless.

With a loud pop, Binky the house-elf appeared suddenly in the room with a selection of spirits and four glasses. The elf bowed and promptly vanished.

Voldemort shrugged Contessa to one side and leaned forward, helping himself to a large measure of brandy.

The nectar in Contessa’s head trickled away, leaving her feeling shaken. But then a new wave encompassed her, inducing her to stand, walk away from the Dark Lord, and sit on the floor by Severus’s feet.

She stroked his knee tenderly, and looked up to see a flicker passing through his eyes: concern and, possibly, a question.

Severus’s head jerked when the Carrows addressed him.

Contessa listened to the conversation for a while – something about a new wand had appeased Voldemort, after Harry Potter had slipped through his fingers at Malfoy Manor. Someone called Wormtail paid the ultimate price for betrayal.

The words hypnotised Contessa into a drowsy haze. She rested her head against Severus’s knee, dozing.

Eventually she awoke as the room was being vacated, and Severus scooped her up in his arms and carried her to his bed.

Inside the bedchamber, he turned down the sheets with magic and placed Contessa carefully on the mattress.

He covered up her cold arms with the heavy brown blanket then leaned against the wooden post at the foot of the bed.

Sleep now.

At his command, she closed her eyes and drifted away.

Contessa awakened once in the night and felt the weight of Severus’s hand resting on her upper arm. She turned to find him asleep, fully clothed, on top of the quilt.

It did not seem odd that she should feel so at ease.

She smiled sleepily and slipped back into her dream.

When Contessa awoke later that morning, Severus was gone.

She reached out and touched the indentation in the blanket. It was cold.

Feeling increasingly nauseous, Contessa heaved herself out of bed, swaying with disorientation.

She staggered towards the door to the bathroom and pushed it open. She barely made it to the toilet before she threw up.

Flushing the toilet clumsily, she watched the vomit swirl away.

On her knees, she wrenched herself towards the washing basin and ran the cold water, swilling out her mouth and dousing her brow. She hoped the water would quell the vertiginous rush of memories; the feel of the Dark Lord’s white, glistening skin at her fingertips and the recollection of her declaration of servitude at his feet.

Contessa stared at the plughole, fronds of long hair soaking up the water, dragging her down into the abyss.

Then there were firm hands around her shoulders, wrapping her in a warm cloak and pulling her away from the sink. She fell back into Severus’s arms, wet and shivering.

He sat with her on the bathroom floor with his arm around her. His other hand stroked her long, brown hair and cradled her head against his shoulder.

The sounds of the running tap and the draining water broke the silence.

Contessa trembled in his arms. She knew Severus had done all he could to protect her, and eventually a sob clawed its way out of her chest.

He took her hand in his, and held her close.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 9]

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