Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
Severus anticipated Septima's arrival more than he had expected to. When Dumbledore had announced that Septima would be joining the faculty, he couldn't account for the sudden leap in his chest. Her dissertation was complete. She would be allowed to come to Hogwarts to begin working on her curriculum for a few weeks before she did her final oral defense, which was postponed for reasons arising from the leave of absence she had taken the previous year.
He wanted to be on hand when she actually arrived, but instead saw her at the table when Dumbledore and Hagrid both jumped up to seat her, and Filius was chatting with her, no doubt about house matters. She was different. There was a sadness in her face he wanted to try to erase. He thought she was far too young to be so unhappy. She looked up and happened to see him staring at her. The look in her eyes was heartbreaking. He tried to see more, but she shook her head and turned to answer a question Minerva asked her.
He looked at her again. Something was materially different. Then he realized what it was, and for some reason he was unaccountably sad and angry. He would have to ask her about it, but just now his arm was starting to tingle. He caught Dumbledore's eye and nodded before leaving the Great Hall.
When he returned, he had to go speak with the Headmaster about what he had learned. There was a great deal of activity going on these days among the Death Eaters. They were hot on the trail of the Potters, and every night they were sure they had found the right house. Every night resulted in the deaths of other people. Witches, wizards, Muggles... it didn't matter. If the Potters didn't die, then someone would.
He found her the next day in the Arithmancy classroom, where she was sorting through some books. “You cut your hair.”
She hadn't heard him come in and dropped her books in surprise. “I—this way is easier to manage.” She fingered her shorter hair self-consciously.
“I would have thought you would find someone else to manage it for you.”
She sounded like she was choking when she said, “I couldn't stand for anyone else to touch it.”
His hand reached out to grab her wrist but then stopped. He felt angry at the thought that anyone other than him would touch her hair. Based upon the way she wouldn't look at him, it seemed likely that she had become close with another wizard. Rage surged through him at the thought of another man touching what was his.
Then it completely dissipated. He had essentially left her, after all. He couldn't expect her to still love him when he had given her so little hope of anything in return. Women were faithless creatures even when offered undying devotion. He'd learned that long ago. His hand fell to his side. He would never reach for her like that again.
He regained his composure. It would be between them as though she was not the same creature he had known before. “I wanted to welcome you to Hogwarts, and to reassure you that it is my intention that things between us remain professional.”
He watched as she turned her face away and nodded. Did he imagine the way her shoulders seemed to set in place? “I appreciate that, Severus. I look forward to maintaining th-that professionalism.” Her voice drifted down to a whisper.
Whenever his schedule allowed, Severus watched Septima. He realized that when she arrived, she was completely on edge and skittish. As the month before the students arrived continued, she seemed to relax a little. He saw her smile and laugh with Minerva and Pomona. She had what appeared to be long, engrossing talks with Filius. The only person she was still nervous around was him.
He didn't know how to break the ice with her, and he wasn't sure he wanted to break that ice. She might not appreciate it. He couldn't get the idea of another man out of his mind. When he went to bed at night, the pictures of some man, far handsomer, tortured him.
On the morning she had to go back to the university for her last oral defense, Severus watched her push her breakfast around her plate as Filius spoke with her. She nodded seriously and smiled. The older professor was no doubt giving her advice. Then she looked at Severus. He was able to slip in for once, and he saw anguish and distress. There was no worry about her oral defense, but there was something about Erwin. She turned her head and it was gone.
Septima was given high honors. Dumbledore received a note from Nick Flammel and spread the word among the faculty. When the week-long ordeal was over and she returned, Septima was elated. Of course, Severus had received such honors himself. Since both his and her work had been rooted in the same principles, he felt gratified by the reflected glory of it. He smiled and nodded when their eyes met, and she smiled shyly back. For an instant she was the sweet girl he had known when they were partners.
When the conversation died down and everyone went back to their usual conversations, he watched her. She looked miserable and as though her dinner sickened her. Severus looked for her later, and he found her leaning against a window frame. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her body, and she was staring out at the grounds. Peeves was doing his best to upset her, but she ignored him completely, causing the poltergeist to finally blow raspberries and leave.
Suddenly she turned and saw him. He saw pleasure in her face, but then uncertainty. Finally it was covered by pure rage. Then she closed her eyes and shook her head. When she opened them, she looked at him, but not as she always had before. She nodded coolly and said, “Professor,” before walking past him toward her rooms.
He had to admire this new poise. Septima had matured. Gone was the coltish girl he had worked with. Gone, also, was the special look in her eye whenever she saw him. He realized he'd never been just a person to her before. Severus wasn't sure how to interpret it any more than he was sure he liked it. His arm started to tingle, so there wasn't time to think about it.
A/N: Thank you again for reading and reviewing! Thank you especially to Trickie Woo for beta reading.