Ties That Bind Us is a sequel to The Unconditional Vow and might never have seen the light of day if it weren't for the unwavering support of three amazing friends. Thank you to spikesbitch for stepping once more unto the breach, and to star_girl and nagandsev for discovering their inner Gryffindors! Thanks also to hexgirl for crucial feedback on the early chapters, and to WhiteGray for the fabulous book cover.
Readers are advised that this sequel has shifting timelines, and characterisation takes the previous story into account.
Ties That Bind Us
Streaks of sombre sunlight broke through heavy, brooding rainclouds as Tess climbed a steep, cobbled street in the seaside village of Mevagissey. The wind was brisk, the air was salty, and seagulls cried overhead, circling choppy waters which boomed like thunder as they crashed into the shore.
At the top of the hill, around the corner of the street and tucked out of sight, she found a small white-washed terrace of three houses nestled behind a row of silver birch trees. A robin warbled its flute-like song as the branches rustled and swayed in the breeze. The terrace was neatly kept and well-loved.
After the events of the last few months, Tess expected to feel nervous, but she had found Bloom's End cottage in a quiet, idyllic corner of Cornwall; she unbolted the gate of the end-terrace house and knocked on the door without a second thought.
A tabby cat curled around her legs in welcome, and after a short delay, an older lady in her early sixties opened the door. She had a kind, round face and wore a floral apron, covered in flour. Tess smiled when the aroma of baking bread drifted out of the cottage.
"Isobel Snape?" Tess enquired.
The white-haired lady wiped her hands on her apron and stepped forward to get a better look at her house-caller.
"Yes, dear," she replied, squinting in the daylight. "And who might you be?"
"Contessa Marchbanks. But please, call me 'Tess'." She held out her hand in greeting.
Isobel wiped her right hand a second time and shook Tess's. "What can I do for you, Tess?"
"I'm here to see Tobias Snape. I have news of his son, Severus."
Isobel took a step backwards and let out a surprised gasp. After she'd taken a moment to recover her composure, the older lady stepped further inside and held the door open. "You'd better come indoors."
In Darkness and in Light
Severus had spent a great deal of time contemplating how it would feel to be brought back to life, and he remained unsure that a return to full corporeal form was even possible. Could the Dark magic previously used by Voldemort be successfully adapted, so that Light might be harnessed in the same way as Dark? How much of his former life might he remember? Would his physical attributes stay the same? And if so, would he experience pain or discomfort?
Answers to all of these questions resided in a cauldron of potion, bubbling away on the ninth floor of the Ministry of Magic, and the truth was that no-one knew for certain. Even the Unspeakable involved in his case could give no assurances. The magic was untried, with an infinite number of permutations, despite the Department of Mysteries having contributed their considerable weight of knowledge on the subject. It was one gigantic experiment, and one which held Severus's soul in the balance.
The outcome of Severus's choices would soon be revealed. There were countless possibilities and no certainties, and he had doubts, even at this late stage. He had chosen not to communicate his misgivings to Tess, as he did not wish to confuse or concern her, but his refusal to allow his Muggle father to be involved in the resurrection remained a source of worry. Would the magic be affected by this particular change to the Revivification Potion?
But it was too late for such reservations now. The time had come. Tess had said her anxious goodbyes on the riverbank and disappeared from sight, beyond the reach of the willow-tree branches which had been their leafy-green enclosure for the last three months. At least, Tess told him it had been three months; to Severus, the passage of time had only amounted to a week. They had discovered that periods of time could be distorted at will whilst Severus's soul resided in the Tiger's Eye ring, and he was grateful for the reprieve. He'd had plenty of time to himself and his thoughts, as well as blissful moments with Tess whenever she could snatch a few hours away from Hogwarts.
The riverbank had been light and breezy, in perpetual late spring, and the nights had been warm and dry with moonless skies. No rain had fallen, and no frosts had carpeted the floor. His sanctuary had been invented by his subconscious, and he knew the construct was fantasy, unrealistic and unsustainable.
Yet one element of this castle-in-the-air had been real: Tess's frequent visits to the riverbank had connected Severus to the world of the living, and her presence had nourished and comforted him. It could be said that these comforts were ephemeral in nature; other than their necessary discussions about the anti-Horcrux, there had been precious few words spoken.
During Severus's last year of life, they had spent the year denying and ignoring their attraction to each other, or pretending for both their sakes that romantic feelings did not exist. The depth of their feelings had eventually been revealed on the night before Severus died. Since then, there were certain things they'd wished to make up for during the opportunities afforded by the Tiger's Eye ring. He wondered if it would be the same when they were reunited in physical form.
Preparing to depart his emerald oasis, Severus attempted to banish his fears and focus his mind on his imminent return, but he found controlling his emotions and disciplining his mind much more difficult in this dreamlike place.
The edges of the luminous leaves of the willow began to blur and swirl into a pale green mist. The intensity of light increased and returned to the bright, white fog which had greeted him upon arrival. Severus experienced a sense of weightlessness, as if he were floating in a warm pool of water, and just as he was beginning to enjoy the sensation, he began to fall, slowly at first, like a feather drifting in the breeze, and then faster into an ever-darkening mist.
For a moment the darkness panicked him. He was aware of the irony; in life he had always drawn comfort from the dark, but now the gloom cloyed its clammy fingers against his skin. He began to wonder if Tess would feel the same way when they were brought back together, and his fears tracked his descent like a whirlwind of Dementors, obscuring his vision and chilling his skin. Would she still love him when the fantasy was over and he had returned to a living, breathing body? Could she still accept him unconditionally for all that he was?
Suddenly, inexplicably, his fall slowed as if he had been caught in a silken web, mere inches above the cold stone floor. Severus sensed himself hovering in mid-air with the black mist swirling around him, and he knew he was almost there. Some of his dread dissolved when he perceived the amber torchlight from wall sconces flickering in the periphery of his sight, marking out the extent of the large cave-like room in which his body was materialising.
As the vapours continued to disperse, he could make out a shape in the form of a robed witch. Her long, wavy brunette tresses tumbled over her shoulders, and tears threatened to spill over her dark eyelashes. She was absent-mindedly playing with a ring on her finger and biting her lip fretfully. The sight of her provided focus to Severus's world; his heartbeat became strong and steady, his feet landed on the floor, and his limbs flexed with newfound strength.
He barely had time to draw his first breath when Tess was upon him, arms around his shoulders, hugging him tight and smothering him in a desperate kiss.
The cadence of her embrace soon transformed into possession and then finally elation. Her tension subsided with the caress of his fingertips in her hair, and the warmth of his lips upon hers. As she relaxed in his arms, his qualms evaporated with a rush of relief. He had returned living and whole, and Tess had not balked at his appearance. It seemed he had worried unnecessarily.
Severus sensed rather than heard a movement a few feet away. When he opened his eyes briefly, he saw a wizard with a mop of curly brown hair closing the door behind him, discreetly leaving the reunited couple to their embrace.
It soon became apparent that Tess had been prepared for the experiment's success.
With his black cloak shrouding him from prying eyes, Severus hid beneath his hood as Tess led him up the fine-looking staircase of the Leaky Cauldron, towards a large suite at the end of the long corridor. During the time taken to leave the Ministry's underground enclave, hardly any words had been spoken; expediency was the order of the hour, to secure the privacy they both craved. Tess extracted a large, ornate brass key from inside her robes, unlocked door number twenty-one, and pulled her companion by the hand into the hotel room.
The space was similar to others in the establishment: creaking and time-aged, with evidence of centuries of wear and tear on the ornate fixtures and fittings. An ancient four-poster bed with black and gold curtains dominated one side of the L-shaped room. Adjacent to the large fireplace were a Chesterfield sofa and chair, and a polished oak table stacked high with parchments and leather-bound books. This room appeared to have housed Tess during the latter stages of her research, once she had been relieved from her incumbent duties at Hogwarts when the summer holidays commenced.
Whilst Severus had been taking in his surroundings, Tess had begun to de-robe him. His cloak was already on the floor, and her fingers were busying themselves unfastening his many-buttoned frock-coat. For a moment he cast his attention to his clothes; he had returned to his body wearing the attire he had worn at the Shrieking Shack.
Could that mean...?
His fingers rose instinctively towards his neck, groping for the injury responsible for his death. Severus felt the extent of the wound: two indentations in the supple skin of his neck. He flinched at the sensation, not from pain, but from the memory of a pair of fangs piercing his jugular.
Tess's fingers paused in their task, and her blue-grey eyes traced his neckline, her fingers meeting his own, intertwining, and caressing the slightly concave skin of the healed puncture. Severus gently removed her hand and walked to the mantelpiece mirror. He studied his reflection: a five o'clock shadow darkened his jaw, and his oily black hair fell in unkempt curtains around his face, contrasting his pale skin and dark eyes. He felt a shocked wave of revulsion. This was the man whom Tess smothered with kisses? This serious and sinister hooked-nosed man? The notion baffled and disturbed him. He forced his concentration upon the neck wound. Two alabaster scars contrasted his pallid complexion, revealing that his skin was not, in fact, devoid of all colour, but merely paler than most. The white, jagged circles were about the size of silver Sickle coins and they shone slightly in the candlelight, forever etched on his skin as a reminder of his mortality, sacrifice and bravery.
Tess stood behind him, watching him in the mirror, tracking his expressions, assessing his scar.
"I can disguise that for you, if you like," she offered.
Severus stared at his reflection for a long moment.
"No," he said softly.
Tess's smile was sad as she moved to stand in front of him, leaning forward onto her tiptoes and pressing her lips against his neck. As she did so, Severus noticed the frown lines of his mirror image slacken to reveal a man previously unseen by the world at large, a man whom Tess had discovered beneath a multitude of carefully-constructed layers, hidden behind his snarling, sarcastic and cruel façade. A man whom even Severus had doubted he could be: a man capable of loving again.
As pleasant as Tess's lips were against his neck, he lifted her head away from his scar, to look into the eyes he had longed to see, feel the warmth of the arms which had held him during his dying breath, and experience the strength of her astonishing love for him.
Severus had not known such love existed. Nor had he dreamed such love to be possible. He fought hard not to shrink away from this brilliant, dazzling emotion, which cast its light on hidden, dark crevices, upon feelings he had denied existed, actions he had despised, and guilt which had burdened him for so long. Tess loved all of those dark places. Acceptance such as this was, up until recently, something he had never dared to hope for. Even now, it was hard to believe that someone could love him for everything he was, in darkness and in light.
Tess gazed into eyes which glittered like black diamonds, and she marvelled at the depth of emotion contained within. She had yearned ceaselessly for his return. It had been an eternity of agonising hope and exquisite despair, wading through tortuous emotions and difficult decisions.
But he was here now, whole and alive, at last.
Kneeling naked together on the heavy blanket, an arm branded with the Dark Mark encircled her shoulders, and the cool night air blew in through the open window, sending a feathery caress over their exposed bodies. Her fingers drifted over his torso, down his right arm, and over his fingers, nudging his Tiger's Eye ring with her own. The vessel which had once housed Severus's soul resided on his little finger once more; it was the only remnant of the magic left over from the resurrection. The cauldron and its potion had vanished, leaving the ring behind, and Severus's corporeal form had sprung from it like a genie from a bottle. The connection between the matching pair of Tiger's Eye rings was gone for good: there was no tingle when the silver bands touched, and no connection between their respective minds. Tess and Severus would now have to learn to communicate the old-fashioned way, with words, gestures and actions.
She noticed a long silvery scar scored across his right shoulder. Her fingertips traced its outline gently, and she wondered who had inflicted this wound upon his body, and what had warranted the punishment, realising how much there was still to know about the man she loved.
Tess felt grateful that they now had the rest of their lives to hear each other's stories, and she knew she must eventually find courage to reveal the chronicles of her own past, some of which had already come back to haunt her since Severus's soul had become trapped in the anti-Horcrux. Tess had come to question all that she knew of herself, but in the end she had prevailed. She had been patient. She had been tested, and she had been true.
Severus leaned in, claiming her lips with his own, and Tess slid into the silky warmth of his embrace. Lips and tongues, hearts and souls fused into one long, powerful moment of connection. When they eventually parted, she studied his waxen complexion, his striking nose, his thick, dark eyelashes, and one eyebrow rising into a familiar expression, creasing his temple and widening his eyes. The warmth in her chest threatened to explode and shower the room with sparks of light, such were the feelings this man could rouse in her. That he was here with her, naked in her embrace, contented and trusting, gentle and loving, was life's greatest reward.
His body pressed into hers, radiating heat, enticing her to lie back upon the bed. Reaching for her wand on the bedside table, Severus snuffed out the lights. Tess gazed up at her lover, his face softly lit by the amber glow of the city's streetlamps which shone like fairy-lights outside the window. He was sitting on his knees, staring at her and smiling slightly, still the same man she had known and yet somehow different. His face seemed calm but not sphinx-like. His eyes seemed contented and yet hungry. He was a living, breathing paradox, and Tess was lured by his mystery like a honeybee drawn to nectar.
As he leaned forward, her hands slipped into his hair, pulling his head towards her. Her lips brushed against the stubble surrounding his lips, and her tongue delved to reconnoitre his own. Months of tension and weeks of waiting were released in a sensual kiss which brought together their bodies and minds, melding as one, like the scarlet and gold plumage of a phoenix soaring in the sky.
His warm skin felt luxuriant as his pleasing mass pressed her body into the mattress, and his long hair fell forward, tickling her face, whilst his lips devoured her mouth with increasing ferocity. Time began to accelerate, distort and fold, as flames of passion conquered and consumed, igniting suppressed instincts and desires.
Soon, Severus was inside her, filling her to completion, uniting their bodies.
Tess sensed the moment a few seconds before it arrived, one glorious, euphoric moment which transcended their souls to a new level of existence. The tribulations of the recent past dropped away as her spirit soared and they reached their zenith together. She knew this moment would happen only once, and that their relationship would feel different from now on.
And finally, tired and spent underneath the limp weight of Severus's body, Tess allowed herself to say the words she had wanted to say since the first kiss in the Headmaster's office so many months ago.
"I love you."
When she felt his smile against her cheek, it felt like home.