Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
“Headmaster, I can't.”
Septima was sitting in a comfy chair, being dosed by hot cocoa. What she thought was going to be an end-of-the-year discussion about updating the curriculum was turning into a conversation about her banishment. Dumbledore wanted her to go back to the university for a year.
“My dear, it has to be you or Severus, and we can't do without our Potions Master.”
“There are dozens—well, maybe not dozens—but half a dozen anyway who would be just as good.”
“No, it must be you. You're the only one trained in all of the Arithmancy involved, and I've been told your brewing skills where these potions are concerned are quite superior to anyone except Severus. Oiler and Flammel will be delighted to have you back, and Erwin sounded giddy.”
“Erwin?” A wave of panic went through her. “I cannot go.”
“I've already told them you will. I made arrangements for a temporary replacement for you, and everything will work splendidly.”
They went round and round for several more minutes. She tried to think of reasons she shouldn't do it, and he parried every one with a bright smile and twinkling eyes. The room seemed to shift, and she pressed her hand to the side of her face in an effort to clear her head. Almost as though someone else was saying it, she heard her voice come from far away. “When do they expect me?”
She made her way down the stairs and into the dungeons. Severus looked up at her in surprise. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“I need something. My head is all woozy.”
“Sit down. What happened?”
“I was up with Dumbledore, and then all of a sudden I didn't feel very good.”
His eyes narrowed. “What did he give you?”
She saw him wince. “He must have really wanted something from you.” He walked over to a cabinet. “I have just the thing.”
Septima could watch his fingers work forever. For some reason, she didn't feel the hurt and anger she usually did around him. The back of her mind said it was dangerous to be close to him, but she ignored it this once. “He's sending me away.”
“I had heard that might happen.”
“I don't want to go.”
“We need the potions in question.”
“If you had let me work on it before, it would be done by now.”
“Are you going to blame me for everything?” He was smirking at her, humoring her mood. She couldn't seem to care.
“I can't go,” she said in a very small voice. “I can't face what happened there, what he did to me.”
He looked at her questioningly as he brought her a steaming mug. “You're mixing your pronouns. I'm very sorry for what I've done to you. All of it, Septima. I was a foolish young man.”
She looked up into his eyes and wondered if she could finally let go of the thing that hurt her most. “I've watched the boys here, and now I understand how you could sleep with me without any attachment. I can even understand the way you acted about the baby. It's the other part.”
She took the mug he handed her and sipped it. It was warm, and bracing, and started to feel more like herself. She looked up at him, and while her usual rage didn't come back, neither could she say what she had been about to say. She took another sip.
“There's another part?” he prodded.
She shook her head. “It's silly really. Never mind.” She sipped the drink some more and pondered her situation. It was a chance to take her work into the area she wanted, and perhaps to even precede the Durmstrang group on a few things. “If I really have to go, I'd like to finish as quickly as possible. I've been playing with some equations... It will be good to test them out at the university with Flammel and Oiler. Do you have any notes or suggestions about what should be done?”
Severus was not easily distracted and looked at her for a few minutes. She kept a refusal on her face and finally looked away. He sighed and went over to his desk. He unlocked a drawer and slid it almost all the way out. Pulling out a notebook, he said, “I've tried over the years to assemble my thoughts and notes in here. I do have a few other things scattered around, so if any questions come up, feel free to owl me.”
She made sure their hands didn't touch as she took it. “Thank you, Severus. I appreciate this, and I'll try to return it as soon as possible.”
He held it for a beat longer than necessary. “What did I do, Septima? What can be done to make it up to you?”
She shook her head. “It can't be undone. Maybe—maybe if I do go back and face it all...” She looked him in the eye, determined for once to fight her battles and win. Erwin couldn't prevent her from getting a degree this time, at least. “I'm sure I'll be in touch.”
A/N: Thank you, as always, to Trickie Woo for beta reading