It had been almost ten years of having his mind to himself, so Severus did not relish having someone, especially an inexperienced, untrained witch, in his mind again. However, he felt this was necessary, and Severus was very familiar with doing what was necessary.
He played his memories for Gretchen as though they were a film. Many nights he'd lain awake thinking of what to show her, how she would react, and if Hermione would react as well. What would Hermione say to a film of their life as seen through his perspective?
Was he getting soft in his old age to think that his wife would look back fondly with him at where they had started?
Dumbledore's office: the walls covered with portraits and the shelves covered in bizarre instruments. They were... discussing the marriage law and how it would play out. His view of Hermione was obstructed by a high-backed chair. At the time, Severus had ignored her presence as much as he could, wanting to sort it out with the Headmaster on his own.
He remembered being furious. Suddenly, he wanted to watch it with Gretchen, see her seeing him, as if they were in a Pensieve.
He'd opted for the direct connection because he wanted to be able to direct her, something he couldn't do in a Pensieve. However, Severus did have one trick up his sleeve, something he'd practiced a bit with Albus many years ago. Since Gretchen was so open, so naïve, he cast the spell on her in return.
Suddenly, he was standing beside her. The connection fluttered a moment when Gretchen noticed him, she was so focused on what was happening around her. What she did next surprised him but pleased him immensely.
Gretchen turned to him as if it were normal to chat with the man whose mind you were looking into. "You look furious, and she - I -she looks… not too put out."
Severus nodded and motioned for her to watch.
Memory-Severus began to shout, “I will not, absolutely not, in the name of Merlin, Circe, Jesus, Apollo, or anyone-bloody-else marry her!”
Gretchen and the girl in the chair both flinched.
Severus smirked. He remembered being frightening, and their fear filled him with a pride.
Dumbledore sat and withstood the abuse. He was in fluorescent purple robes that seemed to flash as he sat there, looking back as if he were watching an amusing play.
Memory-Severus stormed on. “She is my student; she is a child! She has already done too much! I have too much else to do! Get Malfoy! Get Nott! I draw the line, thin as it may be, at being lent out like a stud horse, especially to someone who has barely started bleeding!” Memory-Severus stopped to pant and formulate his next invectives.
The older man cleared his throat, letting his steepled fingers drop down onto the table top. “This is what you told Tom?”
“Would I be here if I had, Albus?” Memory-Severus let his head drop into his hands and raked his fingers harshly through his hair.
Gretchen frowned and stared, waiting for the volley to come back. Beside her, Severus braced himself for the words that he'd heard too many times.
“The prophecy, my dear boy, the prophecy,” Albus said as if the answer were written out clearly.
“Which prophecy, you old coot? The one with which I killed her twenty bloody years ago, or would you like to make Miss Granger another sacrificial fucking lamb?”
Gretchen narrowed her eyes now.
Before the scene could continue, Severus moved on to a later point that night. For theatrical effect, he directed Gretchen's body to turn with his hand on her back. As if it mattered what their bodies did inside their imaginations.
Severus watched Gretchen as she got her first good look at Hermione. Gretchen had gone as pale as a ghost but was enthralled by the scene. She was staring at herself, ten years younger, standing in front of a door looking absolutely petrified.
He continued to watch Gretchen as memory-Severus's growl pierced the air. “I did not intend to wound your vanity, Miss Granger. Please do not take personal insult at my refusal of this farce.”
She was shaking like a leaf; her face was white. “I’ve uhm… come to appeal your decision, Professor Snape, Sir. I, uh… well, I think that it’s possi-.”
“Do shut up. I haven’t the time to rebut your stuttering argument. Let me put your mind at ease. Do you really want to shag me, Miss Granger, when one of the more appropriate boys your age will do?”
Gretchen turned to look between the man she’d known for all of a few minutes and this earlier, uglier version of himself. While Severus knew he'd never be a handsome man, there was something very ugly about his old life and his old self. He was hunched over his desk, his head dropped, which forced his nose even further to the fore. His hair was unwashed, stringy and greasy around his face, and his eyes like slits, all of their beauty masked.
Severus could tell by the look on her face that Gretchen didn’t want to shag that man. She looked between the two of them again, as if to compare. She started to say something, but Severus jerked his head to the scene. She had to watch now; there would be time for questions later.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Hermione managed to squeak.
“Excuse me?" Memory-Severus chuckled cruelly. "I do not believe I just heard what you said. You wouldn’t mind?” His voice was low and malicious and when he pushed away from the desk and stalked towards the girl, Gretchen couldn’t help but follow. By the time she'd stopped, she was standing an arm's length away. Severus moved to stand behind her.
Memory-Severus immediately boxed in the young girl, who trembled like a scared mouse looking at the dripping jaws of a cat. He leaned further into her, impossibly close for someone who wasn’t touching her, and when his calloused finger did meet her jaw, she exhaled deeply, managing not to flinch too much. Her eyes, however, did stay closed.
“Tell me, are you a virgin? Did you let that puling Weasley into your knickers? Or Krum? Is that what makes you think you wouldn’t mind?” He kicked her feet apart and moved his feet to stand inside hers, and her knees trembled against his calves. “Or do you fancy me a misunderstood hero? A filthy puppy that just needs paper training and a good scrub?” His finger continued to stroke her jaw, even as she swallowed and brought her trembling hands up to the latch on her cloak.
Without speaking, she worked the clasp. Once it clicked open, she opened her eyes and looked at him, leaning into his body so that her cloak would fall smoothly to the floor. As it did, it revealed her body, bare but for knickers and boots.
They both stood, breathless, and stared at each other for what felt like an eternity.
Finally, Hermione grabbed the wrist by her chin and moved his teasing fingers. She stroked his hand down her neck, pulling it past her breast and onto the swell of her hips. “I’m no child, and I’ll do anything to defeat him.”
Seeing that moment again, living it again, Severus felt his heart swell for Hermione Granger. Her courage and determination were indomitable.
But they didn't have time to linger. He shifted the scene again, catching Gretchen as she moved to chase the pair as they faded away.
Gretchen scowled back at him until there was a new room. It was very similar to the living room their bodies sat in, but the walls were formed of great stones and there was an eerie green glow about the place. It was his sitting room at Hogwarts, and he was at the small dining table, eating toast.
Hermione walked into a doorway and hovered, a bundle of plastic clenched tight in her fist. She was silent except for the exaggerated breathing of someone who was deathly nervous about something.
Memory-Severus looked up from his tea and glared. “What the bloody fuck has been taking you so long in the toilet this morning? I have the staff meeting in twenty minutes.”
Hermione flinched at the dressing-down and opened her mouth to speak. She didn’t manage more than a squeak, though, because memory-Severus began to pay attention to her.
“Why are you still in your nightclothes? And what are you holding? Toothbrushes? What is this about?”
“S-S-Severus, uhm, I… I well… that is to say….” Hermione looked at the sticks in her hands to avoid having to look at him.
“Spit it out, or I’ll give you Veritaserum!” Memory-Severus pounded his fist on the table, flinching when Hermione jumped. Severus flinched as he watched, too. He was usually so careful with his temper; she hadn’t truly seen it since a few days after their marriage.
Memory-Severus barely heard her. “What? Hurry up, woman, I haven’t got all day!”
Finally exasperated with the situation, she threw the three Muggle pregnancy tests at him, all hitting his chest and one bouncing off into his half eaten eggs as the others fell into his lap. “I’m pregnant!”
Having got the words out - and at an undeniable volume - Hermione pressed herself against the door. They hadn’t talked about the possibility of pregnancy, even though that was what the marriage law was supposed to promote. They had barely managed to have sex a handful of times, what with having to acquaint themselves with each other and everything else that came with a forced and unwanted marriage.
Memory-Severus leaned back in his chair.
She was pregnant.
He was going to be a father.
She was pregnant.
With a baby.
She could never divorce him if they had a baby.
They were tied together for life under Wizarding law.
Severus remembered thinking that maybe he would do the gentlemanly thing and die in the war. He shoved that thought aside; it wasn't serviceable.
Hermione cleared her throat and they all looked back at her.
Severus remembered it was like seeing her for the first time. She was so young, but so perfect. She would be an excellent mother; she’d been mothering her friends and the house-elves and anything that came within arm's reach of her. Even him, he’d realised.
She looked as if she was staring down the face of a dragon.
Memory-Severus looked down at the plastic wand sticking out of his breakfast. There were two pink lines on it.
“What are your thoughts about this?”
She swallowed audibly. “Excited... but terrified.” Her body peeled itself away from the doorway, and she looked less defensive and more curious. She swallowed again. “And you?”
Around him and Gretchen, Severus's remembered thoughts sounded:
That was the million Galleon question, wasn’t it?
He was going to be a father.
He would not be the last Snape.
It was as though the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders. And then reality sank in again. They were at war, a war that had to be won. He had to win it for his child now and not because of the loss of a woman who’d never really been his. It changed everything. It made it so much better, and so much worse.
Gretchen and Hermione watched memory-Severus staring at his plate. It took a long time for him to answer.
Finally, Hermione lost patience. “Severus?”
Pulled once again to the fore, he tossed his linen napkin onto the table, mindless of the two pregnancy tests falling to the floor as he rose.
He walked to her, his gaze now burning with more than a reluctant lust. She was the mother of his child. She had given him the greatest gift. Severus approached her like a supplicant, sliding his hands under her jaw and bringing his nose close to hers. “You’ve changed everything. I vow to keep you and our baby safe, no matter the cost.”
Their lips met, and he kissed her. He saw her, now, as an oasis, and he’d been trapped in the desert.
Gretchen watched with rapt attention.
Severus flinched. He hadn't meant to show her the kiss, but he'd gotten wrapped up in the moment. When the scene began to fade away, Gretchen tried to run into it again, but Severus pushed her out of his mind as if she was nothing.
Coming to himself, he found her panting with her fingers still pressing into his temples as they sat on his sofa.
She didn’t move. She just stared at the eyes that had shown her something beyond her wildest imagination. Severus moved Gretchen’s hands gently away from his face, resting them in her lap.
"That was...?" Gretchen asked although she was unsure, exactly, what it was.
"That was the beginning. It is the tip of the iceberg." Severus turned away from her, rolling his head around his shoulders. He summoned tea, sandwiches and iced water, which all appeared on the table in front of the sofa.
"What are you doing?" Severus asked, watching her skin flush and fade. She even became a little green around the gills.
"Things... happen... when I--"
"Accidental magic. You shouldn't stifle it. Let it out." His tone was encouraging, but dry.
"It'll go away," she whispered.
"Well... the impertinence remains," Severus said, mostly to himself. He then conjured a pillow and floated it over her head. "I would prefer it if you intentionally destroyed something rather than obliterating items at random, if you please."
Gretchen looked up at the pillow hovering over her.
Severus could see the signs of anger and irritation on her face.
The pillow exploded into a shower of feathers and silk, raining down over them. Gretchen covered her eyes again.
"Sit up. Eat. Drink. You'll feel better," Severus instructed before taking a hearty bite from one of the sandwiches.
"Language. There is a child in this house."
"Right now?" Gretchen sat up, looking around for a child that might just be hers.
"No," Severus ground out, his patience waning. It hadn't been unpleasant having her in his mind, but he'd rather that he never had to do it again. "Since you are still something of an unknown variable, I won't let you meet my daughter until I know it is safe."
"I like children well enough." Gretchen shrugged and reached for a cup of tea.
Severus was sure that 'well enough' for Gretchen meant the same absolute neutrality she had for adults. She would be non-committal, polite, pleasant even.
Rori would tear her apart. He smiled at the thought. A torn-apart Gretchen, if dissected correctly, should yield a whole, reinvigorated Hermione.
"Tomorrow, then. But I must warn you," Severus paused to turn Gretchen's face towards his by pinching her chin between his fingers. "If you do any permanent damage to my daughter, I will torture you in ways you could never imagine. I was once a very bad man, Gretchen."
She was looking at him, not breathing.
Then he smiled at her, and the moment evaporated. "Look at that. Fear as well. Aren't you the over-achiever? Two new emotions in one day." Severus picked up a sandwich and chewed efficiently.
It took a moment for Gretchen to pick up what was happening, and then she too smiled. She reached for a sandwich, lost in her thoughts. It was a good sandwich too, just the right proportion of meat and cheese, with a little tomato and a delightful mustard.
"If you'd like to join us now, I think we're ready."
Gretchen looked at Severus completely unaware what was going on. Then, a clamouring came from the stairs, and two men appeared on the other side of the coffee table.
She knew one and she smiled, whispering, "Harry Potter?"
Severus tried not to roll his eyes.
Potter nodded excitedly, as though it was his birthday and he was expecting a big surprise. Both he and Weasley were practically bouncing out from their shoes. Gretchen stood and turned towards Weasley. "And you are?"
"Ronald Weasley." He smiled.
Severus thought he was just barely keeping himself from knocking over the table and taking her up into his arms.
"Ronald Weasley." Gretchen was nodding, but nothing was registering
Severus watched Weasley pull a face and say, "Oi, don't say it like that. Pretend I've done something ridiculous, like... put a book back in the wrong spot."
"Come on, just do it for us?"
"For me, please? I've gone a million years without hearing it."
"Really, Weasley, this is the first conversation you want to have with her? She has no idea what you're talking about," Severus added.
"Sod off, Snape. I've waited longer than all of you have to talk to her, and I want to hear it."
"No." Gretchen scowled at him.
"Yes." Ron replied, a handsome smile forming under his nose.
"No." Gretchen gritted her teeth.
Severus forced himself to stay still.
"No." She was starting to lose her patience.
"Just really quickly."
"It won't take a minute."
"I said, 'no'."
"Ronald Weasley, I will not do your homework for you, just because you and Harry spent the whole weekend on your brooms!"
Severus stood and stared. He must have been practicing nagging all week to get this sort of a response.
Before Severus could think on it, Ron had knocked over the table to sweep her into his arms. Tears were streaming down his face as he clung to her.
"Well, that was enlightening," Severus said as he righted the room with a wave of his wand.
"What was?" Gretchen asked, awkwardly returning Weasley's hug.
He sniffled and pulled back. "What you just said."
"I said... 'I said "no".'?"
"Then you said something after that." Weasley swiped the tears from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. Then he had his hands on her shoulders, and he searched over her face.
Severus shook his head. "Weasley, if you'd been this insightful at school, you might have got a few more NEWTs." He moved towards the door.
Gretchen looked at them, her eyes finally landing on a very disappointed-looking Harry Potter. "Tell me. What did I say?"
Before Potter could answer, Severus raised his hand and said. "You've done quite enough for one day, Gretchen. I'll tell you tomorrow. For now, I think, perhaps some rest."
Harry spoke up, saying, "But the Pensieve?"
"Tomorrow. We can't do too much too soon, or it will all be for naught." Severus opened the door.
The two men moved towards it, waving shyly at Gretchen. She waved back and watched as Severus closed the door behind them. She was, indeed, looking very tired.
"Come, I'll show you to your bed."
They passed a closed door on either side of the hallway, and then Severus led her into a room that was clearly the master bedroom. The furnishings were all in rich, deep-coloured woods, with the stark white linens highlighting dark drapes. There was a sitting area with several shelves full of books. The only thing out of place in the room was that instead of one large bed, there were two beds, slightly larger than twin-sized.
Gretchen opened her mouth, but Severus seemed already to know her question.
He spoke quietly, saying, "The second time we met, you said you'd started dreaming. I believe this is because the first time we met, I used Legilimency on you to look inside your mind. I believe it... shook things up. We've done a lot more shaking today, Gretchen, and I need to be available to help you when you dream. At that same second meeting, I asked you if you would still want to know, even if your old life had been the stuff of nightmares. Let me assure you, some of it very much was. I don't want you to be alone should you remember something... unpleasant. Furthermore, this is the room Rori expects me to be in late at night. If she were to have a nightmare of her own, and I were in a different room, she might not remember and not finding me here would cause her further distress. This is the best solution."
By the end of his speech, Severus was standing directly in front of her, looking at her earnestly. His expression seemed to halt any further questions, and Gretchen toed off her shoes and looked between the beds. Severus gestured to the one closer to the reading area and she moved to it, pulling back the sheets and climbing in fully dressed.
"Sweet dreams, Gretchen." Severus nodded and moved to his sitting area, knowing that the potion-infused pillowcase would put her to sleep almost immediately. By the time he'd opened his book, the delicate snore he'd been dreaming of for many years was issuing from the bed a few feet away.
Gretchen was moaning and writhing in her bed.
Ever the light sleeper, especially when he was guarding something or someone, Severus woke immediately and wrapped his hand around his wand in its place under his pillow. He was prepared for anything.
Or so he thought. He was quite surprised when she giggled.
It made him remember the first time he’d heard her giggle. It was right after she’d told him about the pregnancy. He had spent the whole day concocting ways to congratulate and thank her spry little body for accepting his seed. Severus remembered how he’d mercilessly tickled her feet, making her giggle until she couldn’t take anymore. From there his intent had turned… lascivious.
She had squirmed and wiggled, naked on their bed. He had licked and sucked and kissed her until she cried out, “Severus!”
He barely resisted the urge to jump out of bed, but Severus remembered that that was then, and this was now. Besides, it looked as though Gretchen was still dreaming, her body calming back into the blankets after her body tossed and turned a few more times.
How many times had he heard that voice calling to him in his dreams? He had told no one, but he had dreamt of Hermione long before he met Gretchen at the book shop. The day after she’d disappeared, the dreams had begun, and always she called for him. Sometimes her voice was terrified, sometimes it was seductive, sometimes it was just the voice that called for him as she set her things by the door and took off her outer robes.
Now he could say that she did the same in her dreams as well. Were they dreams, though? Was Gretchen’s consciousness level low enough that Hermione could come out? Was Hermione trapped in Gretchen, desperate for his aid?
Severus’s thoughts were stopped by her gentle snores once again. He rolled over, and turned away from the woman who was and was not his wife. He’d had many terrible heartbroken nights as well, most notably when Rori did something so like her mother, the indomitable spirit she’d never had the opportunity to know.
He sighed in a way that didn’t seem like a sigh at all; to anyone besides his wife, it would simply be a breath. Severus focused on the plan because the plan was what was going to make this work. Tomorrow, Rori would come home for lunch, and then they’d see each other. He would minimize the child in front of Gretchen and make her appear to be less of a threat, but he would prompt Rori to draw Gretchen in, and then they would go in for the kill. Well, for the resurrection, actually.
Rori would be attending Hogwarts in a few months, and Severus hoped that by then, Hermione would be back, and Rori would have a whole family. Tomorrow would come faster if he slept, though, so Severus forced his eyes to still beneath his eyelids. He began drawing deep breaths, and soon enough, he was back to the stable doze that had fuelled his work for many years.