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The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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Chapter Sixty-Seven

Despair and Hope

Inside the Headmaster’s office, leant against the oak door, Tess stood with her hands over her eyes, forcing herself to keep her eyelids tightly shut. A brilliant white light blinded her from within.

Afraid to open her eyes and lose contact with Severus forever, she squinted into the brightness, perceiving shapes forming and moving in the mist. She watched gleaming white fragments interweaving into a coherent whole, and sensed Severus’s peaceful serenity as the patterns shifted and bound together. It was as though his soul were melding and transforming inside her mind.

His moment of unity was precious, momentous and agonisingly brief.

When the light extinguished it was as if someone had cancelled a Lumos Charm in the dead of night. The emptiness was stark, and pitch-black.

Tess heard the crackle of the Floo as it roared back to life. She opened her eyes and realised the protective barrier had gone; the spells which Severus had cast had been cancelled.

Either there was an intruder on their way into the office, or...

Tess simply couldn’t face the other explanation for the undoing of Severus’s spell-casting; there must still be a chance to save him.

She immediately Floo’d to the hospital wing. The ward was a hive of activity whilst the Battle of Hogwarts raged within and without.

Not stopping to intervene or offer help, Tess Summoned a phial of snake-venom antidote, a bottle of Blood-Replenishing Potion and some essence of dittany from the Medicinal Potions cabinet. She dashed out of the hectic room and ran down the corridor towards the Entrance Hall.

Lord Voldemort’s voice rang like a bell through the corridors.

“You have fought valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery. Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste. Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat, immediately.”

At these words, the duelling armies stopped fighting and the Death Eaters began to retreat. Whilst the defenders of Hogwarts listened warily to the Dark Lord’s conditions, Tess fought her way through the commotion, unnoticed. She had to reach Severus. She had to believe there was still enough time.

“You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured. I speak now to Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour.”

Tess hurried past dazed and confused students, and sidestepped Pomona Sprout, who shouted, “Tess!” at her back.

But she didn’t stop running.

Ahead, Minerva McGonagall heard Tess’s name and turned to lock eyes with her. Tess attempted to push past, but was caught by a firm grip on her forearm.

“Where have you been?” Minerva asked, her gaze calculating. “We’ve looked everywhere for you.”

“There’s no time to explain,” Tess panted, “I have to find him whilst there’s still time!”

Minerva’s grasp tightened like a vice. “I won’t permit you to hand over Harry Potter to Voldemort, Tess.”

Tess’s eyes widened with astonishment. “Not Harry!” she snapped. “I need to get to Severus!”

Minerva’s hand slipped in shock, and Tess immediately tore herself away, running as fast as she could, half expecting to be hexed from behind.

Instead, a silver cat Patronus overtook her and sped towards the entrance hall.

Tess followed its feline form as she cut through blown-apart balustrades, dodged shattered pieces of marble, and slipped on the Slytherin emeralds scattered across the floor. The Patronus, however, raced effortlessly across the battle-strewn arena and reached the door in plenty of time to deliver its message to Aurora Sinistra. The Astronomy professor raised her wand and quickly moved to meet Tess, blocking her exit.

“Let me through!” Tess pleaded, tears falling down her cheeks in desperation.

Valuable seconds trickled inexorably away as Aurora pointed her wand at Tess’s chest.

“Severus is dying. I have to save him... I have to...” Tess faltered hopelessly.

Aurora studied Tess’s features closely, seeming to decide something.

“Do you love him, Tess?”

Tess felt her mouth gaping open, and her eyes pinching together as more tears streamed out. “Yes,” she conceded hoarsely.

Aurora nodded swiftly. “Then go to him.”

The professor stepped aside, and Tess’s heart skipped a beat. It took a moment for her feet to respond to the command. “Thank you,” she whispered.

She sprinted out into the night, through the dark, littered grounds, and past the retreating troops. At the perimeter wall the Dementors scattered, under old orders to let her pass.

Despair burned through her like a branding iron and, simultaneously, a beam of hope encircled her heart.

As she darted to avoid obstacles and debris on the ground, Tess realised she had lifted into the air. Her despair and hope had propelled her skywards, flying like a tornado in the direction of Hogsmeade.

Towards the Shrieking Shack.

Towards Severus.

Tess blasted through front door of the Shrieking Shack and raced inside to search for the room she had viewed through Severus’s eyes.

She saw the pool of blood first, and then his body, supine on the floor.

Skidding forward on her knees, she heaved his bloody mass onto her lap and rested his head, still warm, on her thighs. Severus’s eyes stared fixed and unblinking into the distance, his body completely immobile.

Tess refused to give up hope and rifled through her robes to retrieve the bottles of potion. She parted his blue lips and tipped the liquids down his throat then sprinkled the essence of dittany onto the neck-wound.

And waited.

She cradled his head, softly whispering a plea.

Seconds turned to minutes, and Severus did not stir.

Tess stroked his matted black hair away from his face, checked his jugular for signs of a pulse and listened closely for the sounds of breathing.

But there was nothing.

Nothing, except for the tears flowing down her face, and the sob clawing its way up her throat. Realisation dragged its talons inside her windpipe, freezing the air in her lungs.

She was too late.

Severus was dead.

Through the tightness in her chest, a shocked cry forced itself out, then Tess turned weak and her shoulders slumped. She drew in gulps of air with disbelieving moans.

The creaking sounds of the shack ripped through her eardrums, and tore her body and mind asunder. It was as though her heart had turned to stone, and nothing, including herself, felt real.

She knew not how long she stayed there, holding his head on her lap, her tears falling on his bloody robes. It could have been minutes, it could have been hours. It could have been an eternity.

No amount of staring at his ashen features could convince her that she should move.

Eventually she swallowed, noticing the dryness in her throat and the hollow space in her stomach. Numbness enfolded her like a shroud, rendering her insensibly removed from events.

Tess tenderly closed Severus’s eyelids, so he might appear peacefully asleep, and then noticed the Tiger’s Eye ring glinting on his little finger. She closed her eyes and clasped her hand, trying to make contact with him through the rings. But the band on her finger no longer tingled; the connection between them had severed.

Tess laid his head gently down, and pulled herself along the floor to remove the ring from his finger. Blood had congealed around the oval, golden-brown stone and, as she watched, the clots seemed to be absorbed into the silver metal. She blinked once to force her eyes to refocus, and the ring was clean again; all traces of his blood had disappeared.

Not knowing what to make of it, and feeling increasingly sick, Tess stood up and pocketed the ring. She draped her cloak over Severus’s remains, resolving to return to the Shrieking Shack after the battle.

Completely unaware of her blood-stained robes, she left the derelict building, intending to do everything possible to bring down the man who had killed the one she loved.

The Unconditional Vow by Agnus Castus [Reviews - 5]

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