Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
It was not until the start-of-term feast that Severus saw Septima. He walked into the Great Hall after the students started arriving and found her there, seated next to Lupin. The chair on her other side was empty, so he sat there.
The light—the glow that was for him—was in her eyes as he sat, but she otherwise looked worried. She looked nervously between Dumbledore's still unoccupied chair, Severus, and Lupin. He had wanted to heartlessly glower at her, so he did, but his conscience was pricked. She was clearly miserable, and she turned white before turning red under his glare.
He'd had a couple of weeks to think about it and realized that Dumbledore had been pulling strings again. As the anger that she could forget him and move on to Lupin receded, he played back the entire spring term and found that her behavior had been markedly different during the weeks after the Mandrake potion was made. She hadn't discussed curriculum with the Headmaster that day, at least not the students' curriculum. She'd been given orders to end her involvement with him.
“Severus?” The werewolf was looking at him. He had not wished to acknowledge his presence.
“Lupin.” He nodded and deliberately turned his attention to the Headmaster, who was just sitting down.
The Sorting ceremony began and he was spared further conversation. Then Dumbledore started talking and introduced the new Defense professor. It was torture to hear this other man introduced. Lupin, who along with his friends taunted him all through school... Lupin, who had the job he wanted... Lupin, who was leaning toward Septima to smile intimately and whisper with her.
When dinner started, he was forced to make some sort of discussion. “It's quite curious that you should be selected for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, Lupin, with your history.”
“I think you can call me Remus, Severus, and I didn't want to take it, initially. Dumbledore asked me several times, and I would have continued saying 'no' if he hadn't brought Septima the last time.”
Severus glanced at her. Her cheeks were pink. “I can't imagine what she brought to the conversation,” he murmured. “Defense is her weakest skill.” Septima's face turned bright red as her fingers crumpled and released her napkin.
Lupin merely smiled and patted her hand on the table. “I like to think she simply hasn't found the right teacher.”
“You're the man to take that position, too?”
“I think I could be.” Remus looked him directly in the eye.
Septima cleared her throat. “I'm sorry, but I'm not feeling well. If you gentlemen don't mind...”
“Of course not,” said Remus, rising to help her with her chair.
Severus watched her walk from the Great Hall. Was she sick? Was she—perish the thought—how fast would Lupin get her into bed anyway? That brought up another question.
“Does she know about your... affliction?”
“No, it's not exactly a conversation starter with the ladies. Tell me something, Severus, how is it that no wizard has taken her away from all this?”
“She loves her work, and she loves—” He wasn't sure if he could say that any more. He certainly shouldn't say it if Dumbledore was calling the shots-- “She loves being part of Hogwarts.”
“Perhaps I shall be the man to show her a different sort of love.”
The students were leaving and Severus rose from the table. “I think I shall watch as my students go to their common room.”
* * * * *
He found her in her usual place in the hallway later that night. “I hear congratulations are in order.”
She shook her head. “I'm not so sure.”
“Dumbledore sounded quite determined that you and Lupin will be a match.”
“What did he tell you?” She looked up at him nervously. He wanted to tell her that he understood, but hardened his heart. She didn't have to always go along with whatever some wizard told her to do.
“About whatever orders he's given you? Nothing.” She looked up at him and it was all in her face. Dumbledore had definitely pulled some strings. “He behaved as if some great romance had suddenly sprung up between you and Lupin.”
She shook her head. “It's not like that. I'll try for your sake, but it's hard, Severus. He's sweet, and smart, and quite gallant, but he'll never be you.”
It was a soothing balm to his ego, but it was all wrong. “Why my sake? Septima, what did Dumbledore say?” He spoke sternly, and suddenly he was holding her by her shoulders and shaking her gently until she looked up into his face.
“He said I'm a distraction... and that if you have to worry about me it will ruin everyone's life... and that if we have a child it will become a pawn of V-Voldemort... But now, Dumbledore says he thinks I might be one of his favorite staff members... me. He even gave me a hug when I came to the castle this morning.”
Severus averted his eyes as he saw her face. Something turned inside of him at the thought of her so desperate for respect and affection. He could give her both, but he had other responsibilities that would always come first. Did he have a right to stand in the way of something that could possibly give her happiness? Could he let her go, to give her that happiness with another man and that man's children? He quickly asked the next question, although he hated that he wanted to know. “Are you—have you...”
She shook her head. “I can't face sex with him yet. He's only kissed me once.”
He let her go because he couldn't help smirking. “Dumbledore expects children.”
“He'll have to wait. I'm still...” She looked at him thoughtfully... “That is, I don't want to rush into anything.”
They were both consumed by their own thoughts. He wondered if she had been about to say that she still loved him. Perhaps it was time to further a project of his own. “Septima?” he finally said.
She leaned toward him, hope oozing from every pore. “Yes?”
“What do you know about Oenology?”
She seemed deflated as she turned back toward the window and shrugged. “I know one puts grapes at the front of the process and gets wine at the end, but I don't really know anything at all about it.”
Severus smiled. For some reason, he was quite pleased to hear that.
A/N: Thank you to Owlbait for beta reading!