It was Rori’s tenth birthday, and Severus had every Weasley, Potter, and member of the Order in his house for the event. He and Rori had just got back from Japan, where Severus had been studying parental magic.
Since the last time he’d seen Hermione, or Gretchen rather, he decided that she hadn’t died and come back, but merely been transported. He theorised that the magic and motherly love that had thrust her out of existence as they knew it was the same as what Lily had done for Harry, only she hadn’t had the magic to survive.
He had spoken only to Potter and Albus about his thoughts. He spoke to Potter because he had stuck to the bereaved Snapes when they’d lost Hermione. He may have married Ginevra Weasley and started his own family, but Potter had never given up on Hermione – either on the idea of her when they thought she was dead or on hope for her when she’d been found in Muggle London. Severus spoke to Albus because he was his friend and mentor, but also because the man was a vault of information like few others. Both believed his theory, and they were more than happy to aid him in returning Hermione back to where she belonged.
Severus surveyed the room. Everyone was enjoying the party. Then Harry sidled up next to him where he leaned against the wall.
“You are going tomorrow?” Harry asked with his mouth in his cup.
Severus confirmed with a drop of his chin.
“And what if Gretchen doesn’t want to come?”
“She won’t be Gretchen when I am finished with her.” Severus curled his lip in irritation.
“She’s got a life, Snape.”
“She works two jobs and lives in a flat by herself. It’s no life. She needs her daughter."
With no further explanation, Severus approached Rori, his calm but pleasant mood fuelling her exuberance as he led her over to a mountain of presents.
The next day was Sunday, and Severus Apparated to an alley by Gretchen's flat. He had two ideas about how he could carry out Gretchen's abduction. One was to talk it through, using his honeyed words to draw her out. The other was to stupefy her and Apparate away.
Getting into her apartment building was easy enough. Severus knocked on Gretchen's door and looked it over, still deciding what he’d do once she opened the door. He still was not completely sure when he heard the lock shift and turn.
“Mr Snape?” Gretchen asked as the shock forced the air out of her lungs.
“What on earth are you doing here? How did you find me?” she asked. Her disbelief was plain on her face.
Then he could tell that she had registered his size in comparison to hers, and she closed the door slightly.
Gretchen's voice took on a steel edge as she asked, “What do you want?”
Severus was comforted to know that she didn’t just swing the door open to unfamiliar men. She was at least aware of her surroundings.
“I’ve come for my necklace. I did say I might want it back one day.”
Gretchen’s hand immediately went to the chain around her neck, but she stared at him with her jaw flapping as if she had something to say.
“Look how you cling to possibility but never took the chance,” Severus sneered, pushing the door open and walking through. “Look at your life, Gretchen.” His eyes travelled around her flat. He had been there before, Apparating in when he knew her to be working. “How is your relationship with the telly going? Fulfilled, are we? Maybe if you wouldn’t work so much. You could probably afford all this,” he stopped his acidic speech to flick his wrist around the room, “without working at the bookshop, don’t you think?”
Severus looked down his nose at her, and she trembled like a first year.
“I like working at the bookshop.” Gretchen stuck out her chin.
It was a pale imitation of the indignant gesture Hermione would have made, but it was hers, nonetheless.
Severus pushed on.
“I’m sure you find it quite the opportunity for people watching.” Severus sniffed, holding her gaze for a long moment before chuckling darkly. “Or is it because you like to be watched?” he asked, advancing on her.
“I am quite sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Gretchen leaned forward, not totally willing to let him invade her personal space.
Good, he thought, fight for it. There’s my girl.
Severus continued to stare at Gretchen's flat in disgust. It was a fine place, really, for a single Muggle who made a fair amount of money. It wasn't good enough for his wife, though, and Severus was on a mission to make sure she never saw it again.
He snapped his head back to her and said, “On the contrary, I am quite certain that you do.”
Gretchen scowled at him.
“Does the name Harry Potter ring a bell?” He could tell by her face that it did.
A clever girl like Gretchen wouldn't forget precious details like that. It was, indeed, very precious since Potter and Ronald Weasley had been the least inclined to go. It was too bittersweet for them.
“What does he has to do with my necklace?” Gretchen’s sharp mind got back to the point.
Severus smiled. She kept forcing the conversation back to the points that Severus benefited from the most.
“Your necklace? Dear girl, I assure you that he has everything to do my necklace.” Severus made sure to enunciate the word ‘everything’.
She was obviously still the curious girl she’d always been, books lining every open surface, various newspapers strewn about, and piles of magazines tied up by the door.
He watched as her face flushed hot with impatience and humiliation.
“I am not a little girl, Mr Snape, and I wo—!”
“Not a little girl? Not a little girl? How old are you then? Twenty-five? Thirty? When, may I inquire, is your birthday? Perhaps I’ll send a card.”
“May the fifteenth!” she shouted at him.
Severus smiled. He had poked through her records. That happened to be the date that she had been released from hospital. Moreover, she was starting to lose her cool, her frustration and anger over the whole situation getting the better of her as she fought to hold her ground against him. Tears were beginning to stream down her cheeks.
“My, Gretchen, feeling angry?” Severus asked with malicious delight.
Severus watched as she froze and took stock of herself. Then Gretchen looked at him, her face going wide with shock.
Ever quick to capitalise on a situation, Severus whipped out his handkerchief and firmly grabbed hold of her chin. As he gently dabbed the tears away from her face, he asked, “And if I told you that your birthday was the nineteenth of September 1979, how would you feel?”
Gretchen was panting, and Severus could feel her hot breaths puff onto his wrist. She tried to reply but he was holding her mouth shut.
When she scowled at him, Severus whispered in his most soothing voice, “And if I told you that you were an only child of two dentists?”
Severus looked into her eyes and could see the fear and hope. Fear that he was a horrible man, as evil as he was ugly, one who would feed her lies and lead her astray. Hope that these things were true, that her parents lived, and that they had been wishing her happy birthday all these years.
He loosened his hold of her chin and slid his hand down her neck to hold her shoulder gently. “There is so much more I could tell you; you’ve waited far too long to know. I cannot, however, tell you everything, and you will believe nothing if we stay here. That necklace is returning with me today, and if you are brave and wise, you will whisper that word that you’ve been thinking of for so long.”
Severus slowly pulled his hand away, his face blank as he pushed his handkerchief into her fist.
Gretchen nodded. They looked at each other for a long minute.
Finally, she began to whisper, but he stopped her. “I might be a moment behind you. Do not fear, the door is unlocked.” And then he smiled.
Gretchen closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she whispered, “P-portus?”
Severus watched as she got sucked through with the Portkey. Wasting no time, he turned to begin warding the apartment. He Vanished all of the food from the refrigerator. He unplugged all of the appliances. Then he sat down at her computer and secured it as well. This was a little trickier, trying to hack into her accounts, reset passwords, and set automated responses. Gretchen was about to be on permanent vacation.
Finishing up, he had to go to the bookshop as well. He had to get to her manager, Confund her, tell her that Gretchen had an important emergency to take care of, and make sure that her job remained intact.
Her day job would have to wait for tomorrow. And then, hopefully, for forever.
Gretchen landed in front of a quaint stone cottage in the shadow of a castle. She was trying her best not to wonder at how she’d got there, where ‘there’ was, and what was going on. What had happened to her? No, mustn’t think, because nothing made sense.
With her hands clasped behind her head, Gretchen tried to get her brain to catch up with what was happening.
She had been surprised to hear a knock on her door on a Sunday. It was her day; she would spend it at home by herself doing whatever chores around the house had to be done. No one ever came by.
She had been busy cleaning the floors when she had heard the loud rapping at her door. Gretchen remembered appraising her flat as she walked through it, completely unaware that her life was about to change drastically once the door had been opened.
Her hand had gone to the chain around her neck, her heart beating in her chest.
Oh, he knew how to push her buttons. She remembered how her blood had pounded as his voice drilled into her.
Yes! Yes, she had been angry!
Then, with her head spinning from this new thing, this new state of mind, Gretchen had said the word.
And here she was.
"Just go inside," he’d said, "the door will be unlocked."
Gretchen tried the handle.
It was open.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward. Inside, the home was beautiful but masculine. Things were clearly well kept, though it was obvious a young girl lived here. Along with the dark green leather chair and couch, there lay a small lavender sweater as well as a paddle brush and hair bands.
“Hello? Is someone home?”
There was a ticking of what sounded like several clocks, and as she looked around, she saw two by the door, almost identical. One read the time while the one next to it... well, it didn’t act like a clock at all. There were no numbers, but two arms. One read ‘Rori’, and one read ‘Daddy’. The longer one, Daddy’s, designated he was ‘on business’. Rori’s was set to ‘The Potters’. The face also read, ‘at school’, ‘at home’, ‘up to mischief’.
Turning away from the clocks, Gretchen called out again, but no one answered. She assumed she was alone and decided to sit down and wait on the couch. She was just about to make contact with it when she saw the pictures spread across the mantel. All but one were in silver frames, and there was something on a stand. Gretchen lurched forward to investigate and nearly toppled over the coffee table.
She began with the odd picture. It showed two boys and a girl; the girl looked just like her!
Everyone was laughing and waving. She’d seen digital picture frames like that before. They could hold a little bit of a movie if you wanted them to. That must be what this was. But the children were all so young, maybe twelve or thirteen.
If this was her, and that man said that she has been born in '79, that would mean this was taken in 1992 or '91. They didn’t have this kind of technology then.
Something was definitely going on around here.
She continued to look at the other pictures. An older version of that girl standing in a white dress with Mr Snape, clearly on their wedding day. They didn’t look overjoyed, but there was a satisfied pride to the image. Then there was another picture of her with a rounded belly, shying away from the camera. Then another and another until the last had her marooned on the green couch like a whale.
The last picture on the mantel was of an exhausted woman and a little baby. She would pull down the blanket and tilt its little face to the camera.
Was this her life? Is this what she had forgotten all about? Why would she ever want to leave this?
Gretchen turned to the centre of the mantel and looked at the plaque that rested by the stand.
“Hermione Granger, Order of Merlin, First Class, for Outstanding Magic and Assisting the Banishment of Tom Riddle, the Dark Lord Voldemort.”
It looked as though no speck of dust had ever landed on it. That couldn’t be true, though; nothing was impervious to dust.
Gretchen jumped when Snape cleared his throat by the door. “I see you’ve located the most obvious evidence, Gretchen.”
She turned to the now relatively familiar man. “The first day we met, you said I looked just like your wife. You were right.” She hedged. She was fairly overwhelmed and maybe not feeling ready for any more 'truths'.
“I have come to believe you are my wife and that she’s locked inside your mind.”
“And how do you plan to get her out? Magic?” she snorted.
Their eyes met, and he looked perfectly serious.
“I am surprised you haven’t touched it yet,” Severus noted, inclining his head to the stand where her wand was.
“What? That beautiful baton? Was this Hermione person some sort of conductor?"
He smirked. “Touch it, wrap your hand around it; I guarantee you that you won’t break it.”
Gretchen turned to face the wand and reached out her hand. She did not think this was a good idea, though she couldn’t pinpoint why, and she felt pretty stupid being afraid of a little carved stick. However, it was special enough to be displayed on a stand, so she couldn’t be too batty.
Her fingers drew closer and closer, and the thing began to shake. The frames on the mantel also began to shake, and in the next moment, the glass began to crack on each one. Finally, when she was nearly there, the stick started to sizzle and smoke.
Gretchen watched. Nothing good could be coming from this. However, her fingers were drawing closer of their own volition. Although the stick continued to shake, and she was terrified, she couldn’t stop herself.
Then she felt the cool, smooth grip of Snape’s fingers around her wrist, pulling her away. Her skin quickly began to warm where he was touching her, though. He was standing close behind her.
“I may have to retract that guarantee,” he whispered as he spun her to face him.
“You happened. You are a very powerful being.”
Gretchen was about to ask what that meant when Snape brandished a baton from his sleeve. The tip was a short distance away from her nose, but she couldn't look away.
“You are a witch. Your name is Hermione Snape. You are my wife. I am a wizard. Lumos.”
Gretchen felt her eyes strain to adjust to the new light. They followed the point of brilliance, which he moved to shine between them.
“You fought the most horrible wizard of our time, defeating him with this… unimaginable power, to save our daughter and the world. That is what your mind is hiding from you.”
Gretchen felt as if her blood was rushing from her head to her feet and back again, colliding with all of this new information. The way her stomach roiled, she wondered if she was going to be sick, and a part of her brain tried to remember what she ate last.
“And you can, what? Cast a spell to get inside my mind? Pull out these memories? Forgive me if I’m a little sceptical.”
Her words were harsh, but she couldn't keep from staring at the tip of his wand. It seemed that it was the only thing keeping her rooted in reality, if that's what this even was.
“You don't believe me."
From what he'd said, Gretchen would think that he'd feel offended, at least. However, she finally seemed free to look at him again.
His crooked teeth showed from a predator's smile.
Gretchen's heart pounded faster as her blood ran cold. Warily, she shook her head just a bit.
His expression changed. Immediately it was a mask of gentle encouragement. "Perhaps you would like to try for yourself? Nox.”
Gretchen was trying to figure out what 'nox' meant as her eyes dilated with the fading of the light. Her brain was so turned around that she didn't resist when he took her hand and led her to the couch.
Snape waited until she met his eyes again. He nodded once and said, “Now, you need to put your fingers on my temples, look into my eyes, and say 'Legilimens'."
It was her turn to nod, although hers was much more enthusiastic. Gretchen thought she must look daft, agreeing so enthusiastically to something she had no idea about. However, the day was only getting weirder. Ever the good student that she was at uni, she repeated back to him, “Touch your temples. Look into your eyes. Legitimize.”
Snape’s lip curled. Gretchen thought she was about to get cast off of the face the planet.
The tone of his voice was clearly restrained when he said, “Do pay attention! This is my mind you are moving into here. Not ‘legitimize’, Le-gil-i-mens! 'Legilimens'!”
Gretchen wondered what he was holding back but was thankful that he was anyway. She closed her eyes, trying to calm herself. After a moment, she turned back to him.
“'Legilimens' is not a word!” she huffed and scowled.
“Neither is 'Portus', but look where it got you!” He ground his teeth, barely reining in his temper. “Do you wish to be the watcher or the watched on your first go?”
She blanched. As broken as her brain was, Gretchen was quite fond of it and wasn’t quite sure she wanted him messing about with it.
“Point taken. 'Legilimens'.” She nodded, conceding the point.
He exhaled and leaned forward so she could touch him.
“You have beautiful eyes, by the way,” she said quietly, nearing the end of her tether.
He muttered his thanks, blinking slowly before opening his eyes and nodding a little to let her know he was ready.