In the brief time that they had been married, one of the few things that Severus was able to enjoy with his wife was their love of books. They had both spent time in the Muggle world, and they had divulged the great secrets of where their favourite book shops were.
Potter had the baby for the day, and Severus was relaxing, wandering among the stacks at one of Hermione’s shops. He had been having an unshakeable feeling of nostalgia, which was how he found himself there on a warm Saturday afternoon.
As he ran his fingers over the spines, looking for something new, a head of bushy brown hair in his peripheral vision caught his attention. Turning, he looked at the young woman who possessed it.
It was none other than his late wife.
His heart leapt, and his blood ran cold. Shelving the book he had just pulled out, Severus wound a serpentine path toward his prey. He observed her from an adjacent row of books. She was drumming her fingers on the shelf, her hip cocked to one side as she balanced some books there.
From the way she scowled at the stacks, Severus could tell something was not right.
He moved to the other side of his row, checking her book selection without giving himself away. The books were all about cognition and memory.
Severus took his browsing even closer to her, quietly excusing himself when his elbow brushed against hers. Their eyes met, and she smiled politely before moving a little bit away from him.
She hadn’t recognised him, and Severus knew a face like his was hard to forget.
Based on the books she was holding, he could assume she was working on her memory. How like Hermione to turn to books. Then he noticed the section he was in. The beginning of the row was scientific psychology, but it bled into self-help books after a few shelves.
Giving another sideways glance to the woman, he saw her scowling critically at the back of a book as she tried to discern its worth. Severus couldn’t help but curl his lip in derision. He heard her murmur something, possibly the words ‘worthless tripe’, before forcefully shelving it.
Severus let the side of his lip curl up. Of course, it was not the side of his mouth she could see. He turned his attention back to her. She was eyeing something on the top shelf, just out of her reach.
“May I?” Severus asked and lifted his hand in the general direction she was looking.
Startled out of her thoughts, she nodded and pointed to the book she wanted. She had stepped back to allow him to move into the area.
Severus knew this was his opportunity, and as he handed her the book, their eyes met. He infiltrated her mind and lingered a moment. There were memories of a cheap flat, some roommates, some university classes, and many doctors’ offices.
There was not a trace of the Wizarding world, or any world in fact, until very recently. He wasn’t surprised. There was a portion of her mind that was heavily occluded. It piqued his interest, but he knew better than to try to penetrate it in the middle of a Muggle bookshop.
Pulling away, he saw her blushing and realised that he must appear to be some sort of creep. No young woman wanted an ugly man twice her age to be gazing deeply into her eyes. He looked away dropping his chin, trying to look contrite.
“I apologise. That was inappropriate of me,” Severus offered, hoping she wasn’t about to flee from him.
The girl smiled and mumbled, “No problem,” before looking at the book.
Severus excused himself and moved away from her quickly enough to make distance without looking as if he was fleeing. When he found a safe place, he reached into his pocket for the Galleon that he and Potter used to communicate when Potter was watching his daughter.
Severus then positioned himself where he could wait for Potter’s entrance while keeping an eye on his prey in the meantime. It was just a few minutes before Potter walked through the door. In his arms was a little girl, and Severus smiled and walked to meet them.
Potter saw him immediately, and the boy couldn’t hold a back a snort at Severus’ black jeans, black boots, black T-shirt. Severus had heard it all before. He smiled instead and tickled the little girl in his arms.
His daughter, Aurora, well, Rori, was his absolute delight in life. She had his silky black hair, his complexion, and her lips were shaped like his, although fuller. The rest of her was all Hermione: curls and nose and bucked teeth already. She was stubborn and impertinent, just like her mother too.
“Good afternoon, darling. Did you miss your father?” he asked as she leaned out of Potter’s arms and into his.
She hugged Severus tightly as Potter ran through the events of the day.
Severus knew he was just acting his part. The way he’d been summoned, Potter would want to know what they were doing there.
“Potter, I think there’s something you’d like to see over in self-help,” Severus said as he walked towards the children’s books. He set Rori down and moved to where he could watch his daughter and still see what Potter would do.
Potter was a shit spy, walking directly over to where Severus had told him to go without so much as a second glance anywhere else. Upon seeing the young woman who was now squatting in front of the low shelves, Harry couldn’t help but exclaim, “Hermione?”
The girl looked up, confused, and then looked around her. Severus watched it all, rolling his eyes when Potter stuck his foot in it.
Luckily, Harry caught himself quickly and fell right into being a cute but bumbling young man, or so Severus supposed. At least he didn’t take after his arrogant arse of a father.
“Er, sorry—you look just like an old school mate of mine,” Harry said as he wiped his hand on his jeans before extending it to her. “I’m, uhm, Harry Potter.”
Severus thought it was strange to see him introduce himself to her again, but she clearly didn’t remember. This made Severus all the more sure that something was amiss. To be so blocked as to forget her best friend, Hermione must be buried deep below the surface.
“Nice to meet you.” The girl smiled again. It was the same polite, almost tight smile that Severus had received.
That too sounded alarms for Severus. It was one thing to be civil to someone like Severus. For a young woman to be merely civil in response to the attentions of a bloke her age was something entirely different.
As Potter moved away, she did not get up but moved back to her quest for books. Harry awkwardly excused himself. Again with the stealth of an elephant, he came to where Severus was watching Rori read in an oversized chair.
They shared a look, and Severus said, “Perhaps you would like to come for tea? I think I’ll be inviting Albus as well.”
Potter nodded his agreement to come to Severus’s place later that afternoon. He ruffled Rori’s hair and left the shop.
Severus held his position, now giving his daughter the lion’s share of his attention, but they stayed long enough to see the woman finish her shopping and pay for her things.
He was going to have his work cut out for him.
Over the next week, Severus spoke with Potter and Albus about what he’d seen, and they’d talked to Minerva and Lupin as well. Severus had even prodded a couple of contacts he had at St. Mungo’s, but there was nothing pertinent to be learned.
Instead, every night after Rori was asleep, Severus would sit in the living room and brood. He knew every inch of Hermione’s body, and that was certainly it. But whose brain was inside? What had happened?
Twice during the week, he’d found himself at the mantel over the fireplace stroking Hermione’s wand on its stand. She smiled down at him and waved from a photo as he did. Looking at her, at her wand only made him more curious and unsettled. That was why he’d felt so compelled to go back to the shop, and the next Saturday found Severus there. He had to see her again, as unlikely and improbable as it would be. At the very least, he had to do some reconnaissance and figure out how to strike up a conversation with her.
The first of his concerns, tracking her down again, was impossibly easy to solve; she was there when he arrived. However, that was only the beginning of his problems. Luckily, there was a little tea room in the shop behind the occult section, and Severus quickly bought a novel and moved to sit with a cup of tea, a scone, and his book. He was ready for a long stakeout.
He knew she had not left while he’d pulled himself together. After looking around the store a moment, he found she was not holding any scientific books or standing in the self-help section as she was last week. Now she was building up stacks at her feet of occult books and dream interpretation.
Severus snorted as the girl scowled at the books on dreams. Was her inner eye opening? Severus doubted it, almost as much as she probably did.
Finally the girl took the fourteen books she’d found and purchased them. As she was tucking things into a leather backpack, she noticed him.
Severus could practically feel the recognition as it swept over her face. Then she seemed to be deciding something. The next thing he knew, she was sliding into the chair across from him and studying him mercilessly.
Finally deciding for a verbal interrogation instead of a visual one, the girl asked, “Excuse me, but… Who are you?”
Severus slowly marked his page, closed the book, and set it on the table. “My name is Severus Snape; I’m a professor at a private school in Scotland. And who are you?”
His tone was somewhere between playful and acidic. He was angry at himself for not accounting for the possibility that this girl, like Hermione, might just go for what she was after.
She sat back and sighed. “I don’t know. I showed up at hospital three years ago with no memories. I don’t feel things like most people do, and I don’t dream. I mean I didn’t dream. I had never dreamed about anything until one week ago.”
Severus slowly took a sip from his mug. His face stayed neutral as he began the waiting game.
She was very patient, which pleased him a lot. “So you do not have a name then?”
“Oh, erm, I’m sorry; my name is Gretchen,” the girl said and extended her hand.
Gretchen? Severus couldn’t fathom that name on her, and yet, it soon began to seem right.
“I’d say it’s a pleasure, Gretchen, except that I don’t know what spurred you to interrupt my tea.” Severus leaned forward across the table.
“Well, you did something to me!” she insisted, “…when you were looking at me!”
“What could I have done to you by looking at you?” Severus needled gently.
“I don’t know, but it was something. It was as though I could feel things happening in my brain.”
“Do you understand how ludicrous that sounds?” Severus asked seriously.
She considered it and opened her mouth after a little while to respond, but Severus cut her off.
“I must apologise again for my behaviour last week. I can only explain myself by saying that I was struck by how much your eyes look like those of my late wife. I am afraid I forgot myself for a moment.”
This seemed to shut the girl up. She was reasonably sympathetic to his tale. Too much so, perhaps. As if she had put in a good deal of practice in determining how much response some news warranted.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” She swallowed loudly.
Gretchen toyed with an advert on the table and frowned. At first Severus thought that she was overly affected by what he’d said, but then he remembered seeing that frown on Hermione’s face when she was doing her coursework. It was a look of concentration, not emotion.
Gretchen tipped the paper flyer over and then righted it. As the flat of her hand smacked the table quietly, she said, “But, it doesn’t explain why I’ve started dreaming now and didn’t in hospital while they were measuring my R.E.M. patterns and testing me to see if I was a sociopath.”
“Why on earth would they think that you were a sociopath?” Severus was intrigued.
“Well, because I…” Gretchen looked away. “I don’t emote. However, they decided I’m not because I never showed malice in the three months I was kept there, and I know the difference between right and wrong. I just don’t emote, not on any significant scale, anyway. They say I have brain damage, but they can’t localise it, so they let me out into the populace. Wasn’t that nice of them?” Gretchen added sarcastically.
Severus stared at her for a long time, occasionally turning his chin every so often to designate that he wasn’t just glaring. It was playing his hand much sooner than he had planned to, but Hermione’s brain was probably in that occluded portion of this Gretchen person.
He wanted his wife, the mother of his beautiful daughter, to return, and he wasn’t about to sit idly by when the opportunity arose.
“Well, if you are asking me, and I’m no specialist, I would say that there was an event in your life that you could not handle emotionally and you have repressed your memories as a coping method. But, that’s only if you are asking. The question becomes, what do you intend to do about it?”
Would she take the bait?
“Well, I would want to know, wouldn’t I?” she asked, almost accusingly, as if he had personally stolen her life from her. He had, of course, just not the way she thought.
“What if it was horrible, the stuff of nightmares?” Severus wished he could list the various things that had happened to her during her time at Hogwarts: three-headed dogs, basilisks, fighting Death Eaters.
“I’m no coward,” she argued.
Severus swallowed the last dregs of his tea. She had said enough to convince him.
He pulled a chain from inside the neck of his shirt and carefully removed it. Then he held it tightly in his palm, silently casting a spell to make it into a Portkey.
Gretchen watched him avidly. He was acting strangely, but Severus knew her curiosity would win out.
When the spell was finished, Severus looked deep into her eyes and nearly whispered, “Tell me, Gretchen, do things ever happen when you are particularly frustrated or feeling out of control? Do things break mysteriously when you are around?”
She nodded at him dumbly, unable to break his gaze.
“Good. I am going to give you this necklace. Try not to lose it; I may want it back one day. Most importantly though, when you truly wish to know, just hold it in your hand and say the word ‘Portus’.”
Then, Severus placed the chain in her hand, gathered his book and left.