Gretchen watched the strange man, Snape, leave, and then she slumped further into her chair.
Why had she been so compelled to sit with this strange man with the strange name and discuss her strange life?
At the table, Gretchen let the chain dangle from her fingers. The charm that dropped to the bottom took her breath away. She had one identifying mark, a small pink scar on her left hip in the shape of a bird; she thought it was a phoenix. Whatever it was, it was the same as the burnished silver charm that hung from the man’s necklace.
She gathered her things to leave, unaware that she pulled the middle of her lower lip between her teeth, she was so lost in concentration.
Gretchen did not say the word that Snape had told her later that day, or the day after, or the day after that. She thought about using it, but she couldn’t muster the faith in this word, this “Portus”.
As the weeks bled away and she went about her life, she quickly forgot about the necklace in her jewellery box too. She would get up, go to her job, order takeaway when she hadn’t made it to the shops. Life went back to normal.
Her nights were peaceful and dreamless. Gretchen decided that what dreams she’d had were anomalies, and she shrugged them off.
She thought nothing of all that for a few weeks until she thought she saw that Harry Potter person in the bookshop. She had been walking in as he had been walking out, and she had been fighting her umbrella so she hadn’t really been paying attention. Once it dawned on her, she turned to look for him, but there was a great bolt of lightning and a loud crack, and she couldn’t see him anywhere.
That’s when the dreams started up again. She dreamt that night and every night after. Wisps of dreams lingered in the morning if she was lucky enough to grab a strand of them in her mind before she found her way to her morning shower, but she had to be very, very lucky.
A blond boy being mean to her.
A large castle.
Camping with her friends, and that Harry Potter was there.
They seemed so, so real as she tossed and turned, and she hated to lose that, even when they weren’t pleasant.
It was weeks after the non-sighting of Harry Potter that Gretchen overturned her jewellery box and Snape’s phoenix necklace fell far away from the others. She picked it up and looked at it for a good long while.
That dark brooding man who had given her the necklace had never come back.
Or had he? Gretchen had been frequenting other bookshops more often. She preferred shops with smaller crowds. Too many people made her... uncomfortable.
It had to be her imagination, but she always felt like a bull in a china shop when too much was happening, and she couldn’t control it. The doctors had told her it was ‘anxiousness’. Gretchen didn’t think it was that, really. More like a foreign buzzing in her skull that she could not adequately describe.
When she was ‘anxious’ things would break. Gretchen was clever enough to know that it was her fault. It always happened where she was, so obviously she was doing it. People would look around for the cause, but Gretchen could not find it in herself to feel what the doctors had called ‘embarrassment’.
Bugger the lot of them, she thought. It wasn’t her fault that their windows would shatter or their carpets would split in two, right down the middle. It’s not as if she’d thrown a stone or slashed the floors intentionally. How does one even explain that? What would that serve, except to make her a menace? She simply mirrored the odd looks that the others had and regurgitated the idle prattle that always came up. ‘How curious!’ ‘What on Earth?’ ‘How did that happen?’
Now that she was holding Snape’s necklace, though, she remembered that he’d asked about it, out of the blue. They’d barely spoken and yet, he knew.
Did it happen to him, too? Had he been returning to that bookshop, looking for her, for his necklace, all this time? What had she missed by just falling back into her normal routine?
Gretchen went to the shop that day after work. She went the next day and then the next. She would wait as long as she thought was reasonable. Eventually, she began working for them, cataloguing books just so she could be there as much as possible. She didn’t need the money—she’d gotten a good job out of uni, but she couldn’t douse the need to be there in case he came back.
One day, when the Christmas rush was on, two girls came into the shop—one blonde and one with auburn hair. The girl with the auburn hair stopped in her tracks the moment she laid eyes on Gretchen, then ran to the loos. Gretchen had heard her sobs just as she went to the door. The blonde girl followed her friend in and came out alone after a while.
Gretchen had been shelving books that had just arrived when the blonde came up to her and asked the most bizarre question.
“Can you tell me where to find a book on applications for Thestral mane?”
What on Earth was a Thestral? Flabbergasted, Gretchen watched the other girl play with the stick that held her bun in its knot. Then she just walked away. It was as if she'd totally forgotten she'd asked that ridiculous question.
The two girls left immediately after, making no show of browsing the books.
The Christmas crowds were thick when two young men came, one with dark hair and a round face, the other tall and slender with red hair. That second chap made a really poor showing of browsing for books. He would pull one off the shelf, flip it open to a random page, stare for a moment, and finally, re-shelve the book in entirely the wrong place.
Gretchen fumed as she cleaned up after him. Then the buzzing began to sound in the back of her head, and she had to beg off early before she broke something in the shop she’d begun to think of as her own.
On Christmas morning, she lay in bed wondering what was going on. Were they people who recognized her? Did they think they were lost friends like that Harry had? Why didn’t they ever speak to her, apart from that one bizarre time?
Where was Severus Snape? She had taken to wearing the necklace all the time. That was months—years—ago now. Would this be the rest of her life?
Rolling out of bed, Gretchen wrote it off as a bad job. Apart from the occasional bit of odd behaviour, nothing had changed.
She had not changed, neither improving nor declining. The doctors had said that maybe, if she was patient and open to change, maybe she would get her memories back, get some emotion in her life. They seemed to think there were no resources left for her. They had done what they could and sent her on her way.
Gretchen often felt like a stranger in a strange land. She couldn’t laugh, rarely cried unless she was hurt, and couldn’t find any reason to be invested in another person.
Her dabbles into sex had been… unimpressive. She’d felt certain that sex should be a passionate affair, and she was steadfast that she would not settle for less. She would be damned if she’d put up with bad sex just for the sake of having it, and since she had so little interest in men to begin with, she’d given up on that as well.
Instead, Gretchen went about her life. She worked her two jobs and kept up her flat and tucked her money away for retirement.
When she was over-tired sometimes, she would reminisce over the days that she’d met Snape and Potter, and she looked forward to the moments when she thought that people from her past were brushing against her life.
However, Gretchen was certain that whatever door Severus Snape had opened for her had long since closed. It was the only thing she could bring herself to feel about, wistful and disappointed in herself. She had told the man that she was no coward, and yet, she’d never even tried.