Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
Septima returned to Hogwarts late in the afternoon and went straight to the dungeons. She wanted to speak with Severus about the Owls they had exchanged. When she arrived, he was nowhere to be found. His office and work rooms were sealed shut, and knocking the doors echoed as though the rooms were empty of people.
She decided the best thing to do would be to report to Dumbledore. She had a packet of the papers being sent to various periodicals and flasks filled with sample potions. She paused foolishly when she reached the gargoyle at the staircase. She didn't know the password.
Her question was answered when the Headmaster himself came down the stairs. “Ah, Septima! I was headed down to have an early dinner, but I see you have come to report.”
They went up to his office and Septima, mindful of the dinner hour, quickly presented the general breakthroughs and progress made. Dumbledore tested the potions and glanced at the abstracts of the articles. Then his blue eyes twinkled brightly.
“I've heard great things about you from Nick and Leon. They made it sound as though they would like to keep you, but I told them that we need you here.” He looked over his glasses at her. “Make sure my faith in you is not misplaced.”
“Of course not.”
Dumbledore sat back reflectively. “One of my other professors spoke to me about marriage a month and a half ago. I was forced to tell him that it was quite out of the question. I don't know what you've heard, but Voldemort is regaining strength, and I need that professor unfettered if we're going to beat him once and for all.”
Parts of Severus's owl clicked into place in her mind. “Oh. I see.”
“Yes, I told him, and now I'm telling you, that should I discover that any of my unmarried female professors is pregnant, she will be sacked.”
“H—Headmaster?” That sounded barbaric.
“The governors will demand it as a protection for the students.”
“I-I see.” Now she understood everything Severus's note had told her. Her mind spun as Dumbledore escorted her downstairs and to dinner. She made non-committal comments and noises whenever a colleague spoke to her. After dinner, she took up her old practice of looking through a window at the moon.
Peeves came and practically sat on her shoulder, but she didn't look at him. Instead she looked out the window and wondered. Was there a future for her containing the things a woman desires? Could she maintain a professional relationship with Severus or would her longings cause her to say or do the wrong things, like she had so many times in the past? She never knew when Peeves left.
“I used to wonder why you stood here so much. Now I know.”
She had to breathe deeply for a minute or two in order to quiet the look of delight she was certain was on her face. She turned around when what she hoped was simply a pleasant smile lingered there. He looked at her and smiled back. “You were always so angry. Were you angry at me for letting you fall into Erwin's clutches?”
Her head dipped as she said, “Yes.” She was ashamed that it was the case. What if she had ever once told him the truth?
“Are you still angry?”
“Not about that. Tonight I'm pondering the situation between us.”
“Dumbledore told me some things. Did you really tell him you wanted to get married?”
She closed her eyes and willed the joy in her face to fade. “But he says you can't.”
“I bound myself to him in ways I should never have done. I'm not a free man.”
They started walking toward her rooms in a general sort of way.
“He says he'll fire me if I get pregnant.”
“I believe he will. Septima, we can't be... together... under the circumstances. I couldn't bear for you to lose your job because of me.”
There was nothing more to say. Yet when they reached her door she asked him in. “I wanted to show you what we worked on.”
He followed her in and sat down. That was when she saw the smear of lipstick on his face. She couldn't look at it and instead gazed at his dress robes, complete with bow tie. He'd been out with one of those socialites again.
“I should have realized.” She took a deep breath and met his eye evenly. This was to be the way of it from now on. She would have to get used to it.
“Septima, she was like all the others. She couldn't stop talking about her father's money or her mother's influential friends, and when she'd had a little too much wine she got sloppy.” Severus was unfastening his cloak as he spoke and quickly revealed that his coat was fully buttoned over a waistcoat that was likewise fully buttoned.
She felt herself turning red even as she smiled. “Here are the papers,” she said to cover her happy embarrassment.
He sat down, and the real conversation started. They discussed the work that had been done, and Septima found that she needed to grab a notebook and pencil to capture the runes dancing in her mind. She summoned a house-elf and asked for coffee and snacks. The two spoke for hours as if they'd never stopped discussing their work together. Somehow she knew they were setting a pattern that would continue through the following school term.
At length they decided it was too late to continue and Septima walked Severus to her door. Because it was late she spoke imprudently. “Severus, I wish—”
He leaned toward her but didn't touch her. “I wish it too, Septima, but it's simply impossible. I will tell you a wish of mine.” His fingers came up to touch her hair. “I wish you would let it grow again. It was so beautiful...”
Right then and there, Septima promised herself that scissors would never again touch her hair unless Severus held them.
A/N: Thank you to Trickie Woo for beta reading!