Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
Septima's mind couldn't get a grasp of what he had just told her. It wasn't what she had thought at all. He hadn't given her to Erwin, at least he hadn't intended to do so. He had given a professional review of her work. She didn't know whether to be relieved or sick. At least Severus had not sold her, but she had still—
“If there's no one in you life, why do you need a contraceptive potion?”
She felt her cheeks burning, but having started this conversation, she needed to finish it. Besides, she needed the potion. “It's Professor Erwin, again. He's blackmailing me. I've avoided him since the summer, but now he says he'll tell the provost I deliberately traded my body for my degree unless...” Her voice broke; she was unable to say it aloud.
“You must have enjoyed it if you're going to do it again.” Why did he have to say something so hurtful? Didn't he know how she hated it?
“I'd rather dice flobberworms. I was just there beneath him... and I stared at that picture of Descartes. You know it.” He nodded. “I think that picture is all that saved my sanity,” she said.
He cleared his throat. “So you're going to sell your body in exchange for his silence?”
“I know I shouldn't,” she said sadly, “but I'll lose everything. Surely you can imagine what it's like, to want something so badly?”
She watched him think. Did he understand what she had gone through, what she had given up so that she could come to Hogwarts to be near him? He was staring at her, and suddenly she remembered the spring after they had broken up. She recalled her breakdown the week after finishing her contribution to his work. There was a hazy blur and then the day she left the hospital. Why would that come up now?
He was looking at her as at one who was unfortunate. “I don't know if I care for your pity...” she said.
He shook his head. “On the contrary. I've been thinking about our past a great deal this school year, myself. Today you've given me a great deal to think about.”
She couldn't blame him for that. She now had much to think about herself. She looked into his eyes and wanted to climb onto his lap, as she had done the night he gave her the picture of Descartes.
Severus sighed and came to his decision. “All right, I'll make it for you. Would you like to come to my laboratory?”
He stepped around his desk. She looked up at him, desperately wanting him to touch her. He reached a hand to cup her face, but stopped before he touched her short hair. Was he giving her a chance to make a move, or was he signaling that she could only depend upon him for so much? She stepped away skittishly. “No, I'll go upstairs for a while. I have some notebooks in my room that I wanted to glance through. When should I come back?”
“In about an hour.”
She went upstairs, wishing that she had stayed. They had always brewed that potion together, and his eyes had always burned into hers as it cooled. As soon as they bottled it, they always ran to one of their apartments, where Severus couldn't seem to wait to undress her. The first time they had made the potion they had kissed, but after that, they had always made love.
Hadn't she hoped that her visit would trigger a response from him? She had thought that perhaps after the potion was mixed he would tell her she couldn't be with Erwin. She had hoped that he would carry her to his bedroom. She knew that he was cunning enough to figure out how to get her away from the situation she found herself within. She had hoped he would be willing to do it.
Instead, the whole sordid mess had come out, about how Erwin had twisted Severus's words and used them in a way Severus had not intended. Septima caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror and realized that she couldn't blame Severus for making her that sort of woman. Whatever she might have been or not been to him, she was not that.
Yet she had become that, and he was not to be blamed if he didn't want her any more. Septima had read the papers over the last decade. She knew as everyone did that he often accompanied one young witch or another to many Ministry functions that Septima could never go to. She knew the young witches were protégés of Narcissa Malfoy. Severus had been rumored to be considering marriage to one or another of them at least half a dozen times. There was no reason to think he'd been celibate this whole time.
Yet she nursed a hope that preparing the potion would awaken memories in him. He'd once claimed she was the best he'd ever had. Was that still true? The mirror told her there were a few lines in places that had once been fresh. Gravity had required the use of certain garments she never worried about when he had known her before. And her hair—her hair was gone, sacrificed to an ideal that something Severus had worked over with such pleasure to them both should never be enjoyed by another man. She might have made the potion herself, but she was here because she hoped that he would be waiting for her when she returned to the dungeon. He would take her into his arms and the nightmare that started the night she lost the baby would be forgotten.
Instead, the bottle sat in his empty office, mocking her. Underneath it was a terse note stating that he had to be elsewhere. It was a chastisement; she had taken up his time, and he had none to spare. She took the bottle and left.
* * * * *
She arranged foods she knew Richard Erwin would like, hoping to distract him. He ate with gusto, and she watched, unable to even touch it. With luck this was all he had meant when he had said, “We will spend some time together.” She knew in her heart that it wasn't all he wanted. That was why she had gone to Severus.
Now she sat at her own table in her own apartment, dreading the moment that was sure to come. At length the man stood up and smiled. “That was delicious, Septima, but I admit I came for something else.” He took her hand and tugged at her to follow him. He took her to the lounge and whispered into her neck. “Undress for me.”
“No.” She looked at the floor and willed him to leave.
Instead he chuckled. “Ah, you want me to see you as the innocent. I'm to attack you. Is this how you like it, now?”
“Please, just go away.”
“Not until I've had what I came for.”
He grabbed at the front of her robe and tugged. “You will.”
There was a pounding on the door and it flew open. Septima looked over Erwin's shoulder and saw her worst nightmare come to life. It was a wraith, or Death himself.
“Leave us, witch,” said the apparition.
Thank you for reading. Thank you especially to Trickie Woo for beta reading.