Author's Note: This was an entry into the Wordsmiths and Betas Facebook group's Rare Pairs One-Shot contest. It won the prize for Best Grammar (which is shocking to me, but hey, I love it!).
I want to thank Kreeblim Sabs for being my cheerleader and beta reader for this entry. Her insight was invaluable and her encouragement was much needed.
A Single Act of Kindness
Tucked away in the corner of a rarely used corridor on the fourth floor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry there had always been a disturbing statue of a frightening sixteenth century warlock. More than one First Year student had been reduced to tears after stumbling upon the statue unawares. Septima Vector found the hideous sculpture fascinating. In her second year as a student in the castle one of those horrid Gryffindor boys in her year, the short one with the tiny, watering eyes, took quite a fancy to the Ravenclaw. He would follow her around the castle making her ill at ease, but never actually speaking to her directly. One day she took a chance and pulled the ancient tapestry hanging on the wall behind the statue. A small, hidden alcove presented the perfect place to hide.
Septima continued using the secret alcove long after the horrid boy turned his sights to a poor Hufflepuff. There was a large window overlooking the Black Lake that provided plenty of natural light. A single bench nestled inside was the perfect place to sit and read without any disturbances. Sound was muffled by the thick tapestry though it was not usually necessary. The fourth floor, especially that particular corridor, was customarily very quiet.
In the first week of her Seventh and final year as a student, Septima hid inside her alcove with her History of Magic book before dinner. Because classes had hardly even begun for the year, she did not want to seem too eager. Even as a Ravenclaw she still received snide comments about reading too much. She felt safe within her books, almost as if nothing in the outside world could harm her as she read. With her Housemates always teasing her for her studious nature, was it any wonder that she preferred to hide in her alcove?
She was startled to hear muffled voices on the other side of the tapestry. Only one hand would be required to count all of the instances she had been disturbed in that hidden corner of the castle over the years. All of the sounds were soft but it was easy enough to tell the discussion was serious. Septima tried to ignore the argument and return to her study of the International Warlock Conference of 1237. When the voices grew louder, she could no longer concentrate. She stood at the tapestry and very carefully pushed it open an inch to peek out.
The Carrow siblings were quarrelling just steps from her private sanctuary. Septima rolled her eyes. Alecto was in Sixth year and Amycus was in Fifth. They were something of a school joke. Most of the other students poked fun at them behind their backs. Their fellow Slytherins were not above teasing them to their faces. She decided to step back into her alcove not really caring what the argument was about, but stopped before she made it too far.
"You can't go around and just talk to anybody, Amy. That boy is a Mudblood."
"But Allie, I was just looking at his toad. There's some boys who race their toads. His always wins."
"He is filth. Do not speak to him again."
Alecto slapped her younger brother hard across the face. Septima gasped quietly and immediately covered her mouth with her hand hoping no one heard. Based on Alecto's continued berating of her brother, it appeared her secret was still safe. Amycus acted as if he was used to that kind of treatment. He did not even flinch when he was struck. Just hung his head and stared at his scuffed shoes.
"Stay away from those boys," Alecto ordered. "If they're willing to speak to filth, they're nothing but blood traitors."
"The winner always gets a galleon. I thought maybe I could train Eggy. It'd be nice to have pocket money like everyone else."
The sound of Alecto's palm cracking into her brother's cheek for the second time reverberated down the empty corridor. Amycus did not say a word. Only the silent tears streaming out of the boy's eyes proved he was upset.
"We don't need pocket money. We are Carrows. We are Sacred Twenty-Eight. Our name and our blood is more valuable than money. Is that understood?"
He seemed reluctant to agree to his sister's remark. Alecto pointed her wand at her brother. Yet again he did not even flinch. Threats of hexes and jinxes must have been another common occurrence.
Septima was shocked. No, shocked was not even a strong enough word to describe what she felt watching the girl use an Unforgivable Curse on her own brother. Exactly what kind of family were they? She heard rumors that the Carrows were strange. More than once she had personally witnessed Alecto's cruelty. Amycus seemed to do whatever his sister told him to do.
"You will stay away from those boys. You won't talk to any filth or blood traitors."
Amycus nodded his head in silent agreement. The smile on Alecto's plain features proved she was satisfied in the outcome.
"Come, brother. Dinner will be served soon."
Still hidden behind the tapestry, Septima watched the odd siblings walk away towards the main staircase. She was conflicted as to what she should do. It was not in her nature to go about recklessly saving people and turning the bad guys in, but she felt immense guilt thinking about how she simply stood by doing nothing while she witnessed the boy who just wanted to look at a toad and maybe win some money be brutalized by his elder sister.
Septima could not sleep that night. All through dinner her eyes kept landing on the Slytherin table. The boy did not say a single word to anyone through the entire meal. He simply stared at his plate and ate as if that meal was his last. She knew his family was overly proud of their heritage but very, very poor. It actually made her stomach physically hurt thinking that maybe Hogwarts was the only place he could guarantee he would always be fed. The Vectors lived comfortably. They weren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. She never once had to worry whether or not she would eat or if she had any pocket money.
The next morning she got out of bed earlier than any of her roommates. Sleep had been almost impossible. An idea came to her while she was trying to fall asleep that seemed absolutely mad. She dressed quickly and before she could talk herself out of it, she hurried off through the quiet castle to the Owlery. Every step up the stairs leading to the residence of the school owls made her feel even sillier. What was she thinking?
Once inside the top of the Owlery, Septima pulled a blank sheet of parchment out of her pocket. She folded it into a small pouch and slipped two shiny galleons inside. A few more folds and a sticking charm were required before she felt confident that the coins would not fall out during delivery. In a clear hand she wrote out the boy's name and nothing else. She called the owl her father gave her when she came of age from her perch.
"Bridget, make certain you give this to the boy over breakfast. Not his sister."
Her owl, named for the famous Arithmancer Bridget Wenlock, hooted in reply. Septima smoothed down her feathers tenderly and gave her a treat. The sun was already rising. She had to run back to the Great Hall for breakfast. After slipping into her regular seat, she waited impatiently for the post to arrive.
The owls arrived all at once just as they usually did each morning. She tried not to make it noticeable that she was staring. Ignoring all of the birds flying overhead, the boy was shoveling eggs into his mouth like they were going to disappear. Her heartrate sped up when she saw Bridget hover over his plate. Septima looked quickly for his sister to make sure she wasn't watching. Alecto's full focus was at the end of the table where Evan Rosier was telling a loud story.
Bridget dropped the folded parchment on the boy's plate. He seemed perplexed by the unexpected delivery. Amycus turned it over to make certain it was meant for him before opening it. After reading his name, he tore open the magical seal. His eyes widened. Instantly his terrified eyes sought out his sister. The moment he realized she was not paying any attention to him, he slipped the whole parchment, galleons included, in his pocket. A hesitant smile crossed his face before he returned to eating. Septima felt good about what she'd done when she saw the usually solemn boy smile. She returned her focus to her own meal with a smile and warm feeling in her chest.
Hogsmeade visits lost most of their appeal sometime around Septima's fifth year. She continued to go to avoid the taunts and complaints from her fellow Ravenclaws, but she did not enjoy them as she once did. Boys weren't exactly lining up to ask "Swotty Septy" out. Most likely they were afraid she would force them to spend all their time away from the castle in the dusty bookstore Tomes and Scrolls or that she would bore them to tears with lectures on Arithmancy or what she found interesting about Xylomancy. Only the horrid Black boy from Gryffindor ever asked her out and she was almost certain he only did so on a dare or because of a bet she was determined he was going to lose.
It was embarrassing being the only girl in her House and year without a date. She might not have actually wanted to go to Madam Puddifoot's but it would have been nice to at least be asked. Pretending to be thrilled by her friends' exciting afternoons by the lake and heated nights in the broom cupboards was a bit wearing. Her father always told her to ignore the vapid girls with nothing in their heads but boys and makeup charms. She looked just like her mother and her mother was the type of woman that grew more beautiful as she aged. He assured his insecure daughter that the day would come when the other girls would lose their looks and she would outshine them all. She loved her daddy even if he was a terrible liar.
Bored on her own and not wishing to be a third wheel, Septima headed back towards the castle. If she hurried she would have plenty of time to enjoy some reading in her private alcove before dinner. She passed Honeydukes just as the Carrow boy was exiting with a bright smile on his face. It made her feel good that something so simple could bring so much joy to a boy who was sorely lacking any kind of happiness in his life.
After classes were over on the Monday following the first Hogwarts visit of the year, Septima retreated to her hiding place with her Ancient Runes homework. The assignment was fascinating enough that she lost all track of time. Her gurgling stomach was the reminder she needed that dinner was likely about to be served downstairs. As she was shoving her books into her bag she heard muffled arguing again. She looked out behind the tapestry to find the Carrow siblings engaged in another debate just steps away. Why weren't they in the dungeons with the other snakes? Why were they always interrupting her peace and quiet?
"Where did you get this?" demanded Alecto.
She held up what looked like a chocolate frog box. Amycus' eyes were downcast and he would not answer.
"Did you steal this?"
"Then where did you get it?"
Amycus still would not answer his insistent sister's questions. Alecto reached into his pocket and pulled out a sickle. His eyes grew wide with fear and she was clearly furious.
"Where do you get this, Amy? Tell me!"
Alecto pulled her wand out. Septima was worried. She had already witnessed him be placed under an Unforgivable Curse. What was his sister planning next? She was terrified that the boy would be hurt and it would be all of her fault. She was the one who gave him the money. She was the reason he had a chocolate frog and a sickle.
"Maybe I'll loosen your tongue like Father. Crucio!"
Amycus immediately fell to the hard stone floor. He was trying very hard not to scream. It sickened Septima to realize that it was not the first time he'd been held under the torture curse. She could not bear to think what he had had to endure in his fifteen years. Without really even thinking the consequences of her actions through, Septima had her wand in her hand. A quick stunner to Alecto stopped the curse. She reached out of the tapestry to pull the injured boy inside her sanctuary. Once inside she knelt to check on him.
"Are you all right?"
He just lay on the ground without saying a word. His entire body trembled from the aftershocks of the horrible curse. Septima carefully brushed his hair out of his eyes, noticing for the first time how blue his tear-filled eyes were.
"Thank you." His voice was hardly loud enough to be classified as a whisper.
"Are you hurt? Do you need Madam Pomfrey?"
"No, I'll be all right."
With her assistance, he was able to sit up with his back leaned against the stone bench. Septima sat next to him in silence for a long time. Neither one of them knew what to say. Amycus was clearly embarrassed. Finally after they sat together not speaking, he was able to stand back up on his own. He could not look Septima in the eye.
"Please don't tell anyone what happened," he begged.
"Does she do that a lot?"
"Not as much when we're at school."
Septima could feel her eyes fill up with tears. Just what kind of horrible home life did he have? Clearly mortified by the attention, Amycus rushed out from behind the tapestry. He rennervated his sister. Alecto yelled at him again. Before she could even think about cursing him again, Septima stepped out from behind the tapestry. She made certain that she made enough noise with her shoes that her sudden appearance was not missed. Though still furious with her brother, Alecto dropped her wand. Both siblings scurried off towards the Great Hall for dinner with the Ravenclaw only steps behind the entire way.
The next day Septima returned to the alcove after classes. Placed on the windowsill was an intricately folded piece of parchment. Intrigued by the item, she examined it closely before even thinking about touching it. One could never be too careful in a world full of magic. Someone had taken the time to fold the parchment into the shape of a detailed bumblebee. Charmed by the obvious gift, she picked it up. The paper bumblebee buzzed around the room to her immense amusement. It was a fun bit of magic that impressed her enough to slip it into her pocket with a great deal of care.
She never saw the Carrow siblings argue again during her Seventh year. Many times she caught Amycus looking in her direction, but each time when she caught him he would hastily look away.
Returning to Hogwarts after the Headmaster's murder was a daunting prospect. Both her father and her older brother begged Septima to stop teaching. They both offered their homes to her and even promised to support her financially if necessary. The thought of being wholly dependent on another person again gave Septima such anxiety that she knew hiding with her loved ones was not a viable option. Besides, she felt a responsibility to her students to return. With no husband or children of her own, she loved her students and was worried about them. Their world had become a very frightening place in a short time.
She was nervous about the news that Severus Snape was to be the new Headmaster. They were in the same year at school and had always been friendly to each other since they were teaching together. Septima had trouble believing that he was responsible for Albus' death no matter how often she heard Minerva or Rubeus whisper about it. She knew there would be changes but tried to remain positive.
A week before the first term began in September there was a full staff meeting. Whispers all around the table of horrific acts going on outside the relative safety of their castle spread anxiety and fear through the assembled staff. Septima tried to ignore what was happening outside. It felt safer that way.
Severus swooped into the room with his customary black robes swirling behind him to effectively silence all conversations. The harsh glares he was receiving from some of the others made Septima shift uncomfortably in her chair. She almost felt sorry for him.
"We will be making some changes to the administrative structure this year," Severus announced.
Minerva scoffed loudly from the end of the table and rolled her eyes.
"Instead of a single Deputy Headmistress, we will instead have a Deputy Headmistress and a Deputy Headmaster."
Concerned staff members around the table made silent eye contact with each other. No one had ever heard of two deputies before. Minerva was very angry. Her arms were crossed and she looked as if she could shoot fire out of her eyes. Septima was very curious to know who would share the role with Minerva.
The door opened only moments later. Septima was startled to see Amycus and Alecto Carrow enter together with smug looks on their faces. Cries of outrage sounding throughout the room were quickly silenced by Severus. The Headmaster made the official introductions of their new Muggle Studies and Dark Arts professors. Apparently there would be no defense against anything under the new regime. Amycus' eyes widened slightly when they fell on her face. For the rest of the meeting she could feel eyes on her almost the entire time. It made focusing on what Severus was saying almost impossible.
Septima rushed from the room the moment the meeting was adjourned to run and hide in her private quarters. Somehow she managed to avoid Amycus until the first day of term. The Sorting Feast was without a doubt the most awkward and uncomfortable feast she had ever been to. There were lots of empty places at the tables for missing students despite Hogwarts being mandatory for all young British witches and wizards. Amycus sat two chairs down from hers next to Severus. Just as she used to for most of her seventh year, she could feel him turn his gaze in her direction many times. She wished he would stop.
The first day of classes had been tense. Everyone in the castle seemed to be on edge. Determined that her students would receive a proper education on Arithmancy even with a war raging all around them, Septima did her best to make it seem like a normal day. After another uncomfortable dinner, she decided to go for a walk through the almost deserted corridors. Most of the students went straight to their common rooms after the meal.
She did not even intend to end up back on the fourth floor. Though her private alcove still held a special part of her heart, she rarely used it anymore. There were few opportunities. No one teased her about disappearing inside a book anymore and she had a lovely suite of comfortable rooms just a few levels above on the seventh floor connected to her classroom and private office. Septima pulled back the tapestry and stepped into the familiar space.
Almost immediately she regretted her action. Amycus was standing at the window with both hands on the sill. He turned his head around just as she entered. There was no way to slip away unnoticed. He spun his entire body away from the glass to face hers.
"Excuse me. I didn't know anyone was in here. I'll leave you to your privacy."
She tried to scramble back out the way she came in.
His quiet plea stopped her feet. Septima sighed. Her plan to avoid the Death Eaters running the school was not going very well.
"I used to spend a lot of time in here the last two years I was in school," he declared.
"It's peaceful in here," Septima added. "No one ever comes around to bother you."
"Except two rowing berks who always avoided the dungeons when they needed to talk?"
His cheeks flushed at the words that just tumbled out of his mouth. For the first time since he returned to Hogwarts, she was reminded of the shy boy he once was. His status as Deputy Headmaster and as a trusted Death Eater gave him enough confidence to patrol through the corridors with a menacing grin designed to terrorize, but alone in the alcove he was much altered.
"I never apologized for bothering you."
Septima sighed again and sat down on the bench. Amycus remained standing, his deep blue eyes flickering between his heavy boots and his companion.
"There was never anything to apologize for," she replied. "We were all children. You certainly didn't ask your sister to curse you."
"It's embarrassing. Having a sister like Allie sometimes."
She did not know how to respond to such a statement. Amycus turned back around to stare at the dark grounds.
"I forgot you taught here until I saw you the other day."
"I've been here a long time. Hogwarts is my home."
Amycus rotated his body back around to look her in the eye again. A small quirk of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"No husband or children?"
An almost bitter laugh escaped from Septima's mouth at the innocent question she'd heard thousands of times over the years. It was something she was tired of answering.
"Who would ever fancy 'Swotty Septy'?"
She tried to pretend for years that that name did not bother her, but even as an adult in her late thirties, it still stung. Even when she was the one saying it. Amycus cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable with her response. She was used to it. Very few people ever knew what to say around her.
"I remember a boy who fancied you quite a bit actually."
Septima's brow furrowed as she stared back at the man following his soft announcement. Surely he was just teasing her? Her father's words of advice as a child had come at least partially true. As she grew older and began to leave that horrid stage of awkwardness behind, eventually she became a handsome woman. She would certainly never outshine all of the prettier girls, but she was no longer 'Spotty Swotty Septy'. There had even been a few men in her past. None of them lasted for very long. A slightly older wizard from Beauxbatons who sat for his Arithmancy Mastery at the same time she did. Remus Lupin only for a few heated nights in the cold winter of his single year as a professor. Igor Karkaroff for most of the year that he was stuck in Scotland for the Triwizard Tournament. A bookseller from Hogsmeade on and off for a few years. She'd even shared a snog or two with Severus under enchanted mistletoe during one drunken staff Christmas party early on in her career. Never had she been the kind of girl or woman who was fancied by anyone. She was simply the person others were with until something better came along. The realization of that fact did not sting as much as it used to. Too many years of harsh reality.
"If you're referring to Sirius Black, he never fancied me. He simply saw me as a conquest, a joke. Someone to tease and laugh about later with his idiot mates."
"I wasn't talking about Sirius Black."
Amycus' voice was little above a whisper and he could not meet her eyes. Even in the dim light of the alcove she could see a patch of pink start at the base of his neck and creep up to his sallow cheeks. She was certainly not unintelligent, but social cues were something she had very little practical experience with. His words completely missed their mark. With her brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed, she continued to stare at the wizard waiting for something he said to make sense.
"Salazar's slimy slag, woman! I'm talking about me."
Initially tempted to snort out a laugh at his unusual swear, Septima stopped herself when she finally grasped what he was saying. It was her turn for her cheeks to flare a bright red. No one had ever just come right out and admitted that to her before. Igor was the closest to tell her over a bottle of wine how much he desired her and then he began using his silver tongue to speak what she was certain were inappropriate words in Russian. He could've been calling her a two-headed goat with gingivitis for all she cared at the time. But even then she knew well enough not to take his words to heart. He'd probably said the exact same words to Aurora before she asked him to leave her alone shortly after the First Task. Men like him had a certain reputation. Best not to get too carried away. Thankfully his fear of his former master made breaking off their relationship very easy. She was saddened to hear about his murder over the summer though not a single tear was shed.
"Oh," was all she could reply.
"Don't tell me you didn't know," he replied, laughing softly. "I made a fool out of myself Fifth year. Used to stare at you. Followed you to the library more times than I want to admit to. Tried to work up the courage the rest of that year to talk to you, but I was too embarrassed."
She still did not know what to say. It was all so many years ago. Part of her did find it sad and a little disappointing that Amycus did not speak to her again after that day she stopped his sister from cursing him. She worried about him. Constantly checked to make sure she did not see any visible injuries when he would walk into the Great Hall for meals. Not a single person had probably ever been nice to him in his life up until that point. Septima took a deep breath in an effort to keep her tears at bay.
"I left you all of those ridiculous folded animals."
"I loved those!" she declared with a vehemence that startled them both.
A hesitant smile crossed his lips that she felt compelled to mirror. The bumblebee had only been the first animal. Every week or so she would return to the alcove to find a different animal perched on the windowsill. He had a talent for what the Muggles called origami. Each animal was charmed to move. Her favorite, after the bumblebee, was the miniature elephant that made quiet trumpeting sounds when it moved its trunk.
"I still have the bumblebee," she admitted softly.
Amycus' eyebrows almost disappeared into his hairline. He was clearly shocked to discover she was still holding on to a memento from almost twenty years earlier. Septima wasn't sure what inspired her to keep it tucked between the pages of one of her favorite books. She honestly rarely thought about it until the piece of parchment fell from the pages. The spell had long ago worn off and it was so flattened it was almost impossible to tell what it once was, but still she kept it.
"I tried to make a dragon recently," he explained, moving across the space to sit next to her on the bench. "It looked perfect. Had a long tail that moved on its own. Even breathed fire. I worked on it for hours. Forgot something important."
"Fire burns parchment?"
His abrupt laughter echoed through the small alcove. It was an unexpected sound, something that Septima had certainly never heard before. Somehow she got the feeling that even in the years since they left school his life had not improved to the point where laughter was a common occurrence. She thought it a pleasant sound, one that she hoped he would have more opportunities to employ in the future.
"It lasted about ten seconds before it was nothing but ashes," he laughed. "Wish I had thought that spell through more before I tried it."
Their amused chuckles quickly died down to an awkward silence once more. Neither seemed to know what to say to the other. Septima had a number of questions to ask him. None of them seemed appropriate. She wanted to know what had happened to him after she left Hogwarts. Had his life improved at all? How did he become a Death Eater? Did he want to be one or did his sister force him? She got the impression just watching them together even as adults that Amycus did very little without permission from Alecto.
"You may be the only person who has ever been kind to me without an ulterior motive," he admitted.
"That's very sad."
Amycus sighed. She wished she did not say anything. Obviously it was a subject he was uncomfortable with. Why was she always saying the wrong thing? It was no wonder no one ever sought her out at parties for a conversation or asked her to join them down in the village at the pub. Entirely without meaning to she could almost guarantee to make everyone wish they had never spoken to her.
"Why did you do that?" Amycus asked. "No one has ever stopped Allie before. Usually they're afraid of her."
"I could not bear to watch her hurt you," she answered. "And I felt it was all my fault that she was hurting you."
"Why would it be your fault?"
He turned his body towards hers to examine her reaction. Septima could always tell when he was staring at her. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she had been table to tell when they were in school together after that day and then during the staff meeting. For the past two days when they were in the same room, she could feel his gaze on her again. Embarrassed by her blurting out part of the secret she never wanted to reveal, Septima kept her eyes focused on her hands in her lap.
"I was the one who sent you the galleons."
When he did not immediately respond to her confession, Septima gathered enough courage to hazard a look in his direction. Amycus stared at her without blinking, almost as if he was trying to solve the answer to a difficult riddle. She did not want him to ask her why she sent them. It was be too mortifying for both of them. She would have to admit that she overheard the first row he had with Alecto where she put him under the Imperius Curse. She did not want him to feel like she sent him the galleons because she felt sorry for him or that he was some kind of charity.
Amycus cleared his throat and released a deep sigh.
"That was very kind of you. Thank you."
Septima felt relieved that he did not seem to want a further explanation than what she provided. They sat in the quiet of the alcove for a long time without speaking. She did not know why she continued to stay there or why Amycus had not stormed out already.
"There are going to be a lot of changes in the school this year," he declared, his voice still soft and quiet. "Some will be good, but others…"
She forgot her reluctance to meet his eyes. The smug and menacing façade she had seen plastered across his features while in the presence of other staff members and students was missing. He almost looked like he did when he was fifteen and begging her not to tell anyone he'd just been crucioed.
"We are under strict orders. The Dark Lord has plans for this school. Plans for all education of magical children in the future. Discipline will be harsh for any that do not conform."
"Harsh? How harsh?"
Septima held up a hand to stop him from talking. He complied.
"I've seen how your sister disciplines children."
"Yes, it will be very unpopular, but we have no choice. I will understand if you don't want to be seen to be friendly with me. The other staff members already don't trust us."
She did not need his permission to ignore him outside the confines of their secret hiding place. It was already going to be difficult enough with some of the most staunchly pro-Dumbledore staff who never appreciated in the past when she took Severus' side. Even before the murder of the previous Headmaster her friendship with the former Potions Master was viewed with a hint of suspicion from several of the older women on staff. Minerva had already made it perfectly clear to Septima that she would not trust her colleague any longer if she continued to agree with Severus. All she needed was for them to get a whiff of some kind of personal connection with the new Deputy Headmaster and they would never let the issue drop.
Septima rose from the bench. After using her hands to smooth down some of the wrinkles that developed while she was seated, she turned to face the wizard.
"I did not stop your sister from using an Unforgiveable curse on you just so you could torture children."
"At some point this war will end, Amycus. It will end and if you don't start making your own decisions, I'm certain you will live to regret it."
Amycus stood from his seat on the bench. Though she wanted to run away from him, Septima remained still. He had grown taller in the years that passed since they were last alone. They used to be about the same height. To meet his eyes, Septima had to tilt her head up.
"I will do everything in my power to keep you protected," he promised. His tone was soft, so similar to how he used to speak as a boy. "Even if you don't want to speak to me again."
"I appreciate the offer, but I don't need your protection. Nor do I want it."
Amycus' hand reached out to grasp her elbow. The gentle gesture made the Arithmancy professor inhale sharply. Somehow, instinctively she knew she had nothing to fear from him, but the simple act of his touch made her traitorous body react in a manner she knew it shouldn't. When his second hand reached for her other elbow and he began tenderly rubbing his hands up and down her arms in a slow, hypnotic manner, she almost forgot why she had been in such a hurry to rush out.
"You once protected me. It's only fair that I repay you."
"You don't owe me anything, Amycus."
"Then I will keep you protected simply because I want to."
Anything she might have said in response was cut off by the hesitant pressing of his lips against hers. Septima was too startled by the affectionate act to move. Her mind went to war against her body. As the timid man grew more confident in his actions, Septima found it easier to ignore the warnings her brain was shouting. She knew she should not allow him to kiss her and she certainly shouldn't kiss him back.
He tasted of red wine and unfulfilled promises of a future that could not be. Too much had happened since they were last alone in the alcove. He'd made his choices. She'd made hers. Maybe once upon a time they could have been something. Made a home together and had a family. It tore at her heart that the one person she could not save him from was himself.
The saltiness of her tears changed the flavor of their ardent moment. Her warnings returned to the forefront of her mind. With her hands placed on his chest, she gently pushed him away. His cheeks were dry, but his deep blue eyes threatened to overflow. She was not the only one who felt it. He knew they could never exist outside of their sanctuary.
He did not try to stop her again as she stormed out of the alcove. Part of her hated to walk away without resolving whatever it was that was going on between them, though she meant what she said. She might not be interested in actively engaging in the war as some kind of soldier or fighter, but she refused to passively offer her approval of his actions by saying nothing.
It would be a long and difficult year for everyone within the castle.