Gretchen woke up more rested than she could ever remember feeling. She stretched and turned and realised she must be late for work. Sitting up straight, she realised she wasn’t in her flat. Refusing to panic, she took a deep breath and began recalling the events of the previous day.
She fell back into the comfort of her pillows. She was a witch, a real witch, her name was Hermione Granger, and she had helped end the life of what was presumably the worst being the world would ever see.
What’s more, she was sleeping in the house of a man, a wizard, a real wizard, who claimed to be her husband, who had shown her bits of her life from inside his own mind. He said they have a daughter. And there was Ron Weasley and Harry Potter.
What of her parents? Would she meet them, too? Did she want to? What if they wanted to ask her questions? What would she tell them? What if it was all a big misunderstanding and this wasn’t real?
The bedroom door flew open, barely avoiding banging against the wall when Severus caught the knob. He was barefoot, wearing a thin black t-shirt and very faded black denims. His hair was still wet, it seemed, from the shower.
His nose was all bone and hooking cartilage, and his jawline jutted forward, as did his shoulders, and presumably his hips. Gretchen caught herself as her eyes pushed to find out if that ‘presumably’ was, in fact, fact.
Oh! She’d been checking him out! And he’d been watching her every glance.
Severus stood very straight, and said, “My apologies. I didn’t mean to leave you alone with your thoughts for even a minute. Breakfast is ready.”
He said it with such smug satisfaction Gretchen could just imagine what his mind was doing, thinking about her in that bed staring at him as if he was the last ice cube on a hot day. She could just imagine him ‘accidentally’ brushing against her, or… oh, she remembered in the book store on that very first day, helping her to reach that book. She could imagine him pressing his body against hers, backing her against the shelves.
“Are you attracted to me, Gretchen? I don’t know if that counts as an actual emotion, but we’ll count it for now.”
Severus flicked his wand at the wardrobe, and the doors swung open, revealing all her clothes.
“The bathroom is through that door. Be quick; the boys will be here at half past.”
And then he was gone. His teasing, smirking face and his damned glinting eyes were gone. Gretchen wandered to the bathroom.
Her mind went blank and she sighed, feeling the spray of the shower come on. She’d been enjoying the ideas she’d had been having before Severus interrupted. Gretchen tried to regain her line of thinking, but… nothing came. She slapped the shower wall, and swore quietly. Once again, she was so close to a ‘what would happen if…’ scenario; and she’d failed. Again.
It was one of the things they tested for when she was in hospital: her ability to imagine, to make something up. Or rather, her inability. Feeling discouraged, Gretchen brusquely cleaned herself up, realising she was hungry. That, at least, was something she could prove she felt.
She moped down the stairs, past the living room and into the kitchen, numbly following her nose to breakfast. Gretchen hardly even noticed the two places that had been set at the table, and how one had a plate full of eggs and charred potatoes while the other had some toast and kippers. Instinctively she reached for the toast as she sat.
Severus, who had been leaning on the counter and watching her, pushed away and sat in the other chair at the table.
Gretchen watched as he ate efficiently, almost mechanically, without looking at her. As she picked up her second slice of toast, she began to feel as though she’d done something wrong.
Once his plate was clean, Severus leaned back in his chair and wiped his mouth with his napkin. Then he turned his gaze upon her.
Gretchen froze, her bite of kippers on toast squishing impossibly loudly in her mouth.
Words began flowing from his lips, quiet enough that she had to strain to hear.
“I must admit, Gretchen, that I am of several minds as to how to proceed. On the one hand, my wife is sitting across from me, eating kippers on toast as she did many times in our short union, and I can’t help but believe that you are her. I want to… have intercourse with her: intellectual, emotional, and sexual alike. However, I know that you are not her, you have no idea about her, and just because you look like her and act like her, I can’t expect you to just become her overnight.”
He took a deep breath.
Gretchen swallowed. “You don’t think it will work?” She couldn’t believe her ears. This couldn’t fail, it just couldn’t. Sure, she had been moping and uncertain, but he couldn’t be uncertain. She needed his certainty.
“I think that it is highly probable that great strides can be made. However, since this is the first time in recent memory anything of this sort has happened, it’s impossible to say.”
She reached for her cup, any excuse to turn away from his penetrating stare.
“Aurora thinks that she can… fix you. She is a very clever girl, but you know children--they never see the full picture. She will be exuberant that you are here, possibly too much so. Do you think you can manage her without being patronising? She hates being patronised.”
Gretchen took a slow, deep breath and nodded, flinching painfully when the door-knocker sounded. She had little time to prepare herself for the tiny voice that called out, “Daddy?” Then she was coughing: she was choking on the last bite of her toast.
With no apparent concern for Gretchen’s state, Severus hurried into the living room. Soon enough, her coughing fit ended, and she was bent over the table trying to catch her breath.
A cold, damp cloth was pressed into her hand, and she quietly said thanks before wiping off her face. When she pulled it away, her head was already turned, angled to look Severus in the eye. She was quite surprised when he wasn’t there. She dropped her gaze and came face to face with a little girl.
She had long hair falling past her shoulders. It looked like silky soft curls that were such a dark brown, they were almost black. She had Snape’s skin, but a smattering of freckles across her nose. Gretchen noticed the shape of her nose and upper lip and became mesmerised by them.
“What’d you say?” the girl asked, confused.
“Oh, nothing. Thank you. Uhm… for the cloth.” Gretchen shook the loose fist that held the cloth in her hand gently and looked between her hand and the girl.
The girl’s face contorted in confusion, but she remembered herself. She smiled and stuck out her hand. Then she said, “Aurora Snape.”
Gretchen shook her hand, having to first transfer the wet cloth to her other hand in order to do so. She was just about to introduce herself, when another new voice came from the doorway.
Gretchen whipped her head around. She regretted it immediately, feeling a twinge in her neck. In the doorway stood an impossibly old man and Severus, who looked very put out. The old man was smiling at her.
“I know you.” Gretchen turned and stepped toward the old man. Her heart was beating in her chest. It was like chasing a dream in those last few moments before waking, but he didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
His blue eyes sparked behind half-moon glasses. “Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster these many, many long years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
"The school in the castle atop the hill behind this cottage," the man said and smiled.
The way he looked her over, soaking her in, made Gretchen feel like she was on display. His utter fascination with her was so flattering. But she was as fascinated by him and came closer and closer to him.
“And meddlesome coot.”
Severus’s voice cut in, but it didn’t pull her away from Albus. Gretchen stepped closer and closer, feeling almost as if she were being compelled to do so. Those blue eyes held something, something big, but she just didn’t know what. She needed a closer look.
The next thing she knew, Gretchen was lost in those blue eyes, diving deeper and deeper with every breath.
Determining that Gretchen was thoroughly entranced by Albus, Severus moved to check on Rori. He and Potter had agreed that she would come home at lunch, after Gretchen had viewed the Pensieve memories and talked with Potter and Weasley.
As ever, Albus had his own agenda, and now Severus was not ready.
“Dad, she said something before you came in, I swear,” Rori whispered.
“Well, I handed her the cloth, and she wiped her face. Then she looked up, but I’m not that tall, so she looked down. And then she gasped and said, ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful. You look just like your father and my father.’ And then she hugged me. See, the back of my shirt is wet from the cloth, Dad.” Rori’s voice cracked a little, but she pushed through it, hurrying to tell him everything.
Severus looked around Rori’s back, and there was in fact, a moist patch on her shirt under her left shoulder blade. “Then, it was as if nothing happened,” he prompted. Severus hated seeing the small flinches in her face. It was so close to the ideal reunion, dangled and withdrawn. Seeing Rori struggle made his heart wrench.
Rori nodded, her face smoothing into a mask like her father’s. “The Janus. There is Gretchen and there is Mum, and they are separate, and we have to weave them together. Documented examples include Nepal in three hundred and fifty-six, Morocco in eight-o-eight, and Denmark, thirteen-ten.” She nodded to herself.
Severus knew she was taking comfort in the knowledge they had been digging up all her life. “Very good,” he said and winked at her. He swept his hand over her back to dry the spot, and frowned down at her when the spot remained, in fact lightening significantly. If he looked carefully, he could almost see the outline of two arms forming.
As he watched the fabric change, he put the pieces together immediately. He had taught her a spell a while ago that kept an impression on material. They had been studying how light and shadow work, and they had done impressions of objects on paper.
Rori looked at the floor guiltily with her chin stuck out--completely impertinent. She wasn’t going to apologise for ruining her blouse, he could tell.
Could he really blame her? Who wouldn’t want a souvenir from the moment they finally met their mother?
“We’ll get you a larger memory chest when we go into Diagon Alley.”
Rori sent him a beaming smile, relieved that she wouldn’t be punished, and thrilled that she would get to pick out a new piece of furniture for her room. Severus was very particular about the items she brought into the house; anything new would activate a ward and alert him.
Severus didn’t care that Rori thought it was annoying. Constant vigilance had to be maintained.
He turned Rori to look at Gretchen and Albus, pushing his fingers slightly into Rori’s hair while her hand gripped the back of his thigh. Like Severus had been, she was tall for her age and lithe – they looked almost like two reeds bending towards each other.
Albus was standing, smiling softly as he interviewed Gretchen. Severus recognized that this was actually his first foray into her thoughts. A master Legilimens like Albus didn’t need to secure his subject and keep them from moving. Most people who were in engaging conversations – especially ones where they were asked about themselves – willingly opened their gaze directly to the other person in the conversation.
Severus whispered down to Rori, “Invite Gretchen up to your room, per our original plan.”
She nodded seriously and moved to the doorway, tugging gently on the bell of Albus’ sleeve. “Can I show Gretchen my room now, Papa Albus?”
Severus’s teeth clenched on his tongue. Oh, she was laying it on thick! His little girl had Albus Dumbledore wrapped around her finger, and if he knew it, Albus loved every minute of it.
“If that is what she wants?” Albus passed the invitation to Gretchen, who nodded her acceptance.
It looked as if Gretchen was coming out of a dream. She looked down as Rori grabbed her hand before dragging her through the sitting room and up the stairs.
Albus looked at Severus, smiling and moving toward the kitchen table, taking up Gretchen’s vacated chair. Severus brought over the teapot and poured tea for the both of them.
“Severus, I am most pleased.”
Warding the kitchen immediately, Severus worked to keep his ire down. “If you could please be so kind as to not raise Rori’s hopes, Albus! This is a very tenuous affair!”
Looking into his tea, Albus tried to look chastised, but Severus was not convinced. He sat stiffly in his chair and sighed. “What did you see?”
“If Gretchen were a boat, Hermione would have the ear of the captain and the crew. She has been working very hard for a long time to get Gretchen into your grasp.”
“You can’t be saying she is cognizant of what is happening. It is totally implausible.” Severus had done his research, and the likelihood of Hermione coming back to them completely as her former self, an eighteen year old mother and all of the other things Hermione would have been was as likely as a Norwegian Ridgeback flying out of his arse. This endeavour would require both patience and perseverance.
Albus nodded. “What I am saying is that in the way someone who wants to go to the sea might decorate their house with seashells and such, Hermione has been encouraging Gretchen at a very deep subconscious level. As time has passed, Gretchen has been orbiting closer and closer to Hermione’s life, such as her bookshop.”
Severus could believe that, at least.
“Will Potter and Weasley be joining us today?”
“Yes, I suspect after lunch. Harry said that Rori had a hard time sleeping last night, and they both ended up on the sofa in front of the telly all night.”
Severus nodded. He didn’t have a television in the house; the magic surrounding Hogwarts blocked all the signals. He wouldn’t have had one anyway, but it was a good reason to give Rori when she took up the never ending crusade to buy one. Potter had one, and Hermione’s parents had one, so it was a special treat for her to watch when she visited.
Picking up his tea, he pushed away from the table. “Shall we watch the ladies from my study?” Severus moved to the hallway off the kitchen, not bothering to see if Albus was following. In there, he had a large enchanted mirror that showed Rori’s room. He could work for hours and watch her while giving her space to feel comfortable and independent. In the event of an emergency, he could also use that mirror to travel directly between the two rooms.
Once both men were settled on the sofa, they sat back to watch the happenings upstairs.
Gretchen was sitting on the floor, at the foot of a twin bed. The footboard looked like a knotted and gnarled old tree stump, and the headboard like the tree it grew, the branches and leaves pushing up and across the ceiling. It was a ‘fairly complicated enchantment,’ or so Rori said.
The floor was covered in a soft, thick moss which was very comfortable to sit on, and Gretchen was avidly watching Rori flit about the room, showing her mementos from all of the travels she’d gone on with her father.
“–And when we were in Spain, I got to see an old bladesmith, who would enchant the hilts to do special things, like be lighter or stronger. He gave me this dagger because he was so honoured that my father would go to him for information,” Rori said, as she walked across the room.
She passed Gretchen a bundle of cloth. Unrolling it, Gretchen found a beautifully crafted, very sharp looking weapon. “Your father lets you keep this? You could really hurt yourself!” Gretchen looked at the shining blade and the inlaid handle. It was beautiful, with sirens carved into it from the tip to the pommel. There was even a brass guard, just big enough to cover a woman’s hand.
Rori shrugged. “My father has taught me how to use blades. He says fear and ignorance are dangerous, and knowledge and respect are our best weapons.”
“What do you mean, ‘taught you how to use blades’?” Gretchen asked suspiciously. Was it or was it not the year 2008?
Relieving Gretchen of the dagger and wrapping it carefully, Rori said, “I help him brew sometimes. And he said that there will always be men who will want to harm me because I’m a girl, and wizards and witches who want to harm me because I am a Snape, or because I’m the daughter of Hermione Granger. I need to know how to protect myself.”
Gretchen was dumbstruck. She had never met a child like Rori before. She was so serious, so like her father one minute, and then so carefree the next, leaving things strewn about her room when her attention found a new focus.
Rori was watching her, and it set Gretchen on edge. However, there was something so comfortable for Gretchen in this place that she watched Rori in return. Emotions passed over her face, and she thought she saw a flicker of pride.
“What are you looking at?” Gretchen whispered.
“You look like the pictures of my mum when she was holding me as a baby.”
The two stared at each other another moment, and then Rori shrugged and began picking up her room.
“Why is it so important, you being a Snape?” Gretchen asked. She didn’t want the conversation to diminish into tense silence.
“You really don’t know, do you?” Rori asked, snorting like her father.
Gretchen frowned, and Rori must have realised she sounded like a snot, because she hurried to continue. “Sorry, I forget about the Statute of Secrecy, and that all you know about magic is what you’ve seen in the last day.”
Grabbing a pillow from her bed, Rori flopped down on the floor in front of Gretchen.
“A long time ago, there was a horrible wizard, named Voldemort. Well, his name was Tom Riddle really, but he wanted to be great, so he changed his name. And he thought that only wizards and witches who had magical parents were any good, so witches like my mum – and my dad really – were rubbish to him.
“He had lots of followers, and they were going to have a war. Then, Papa Albus heard a prophecy that said that there was a baby who would be his equal, and neither could live while the other one lived. Voldemort knew that my Uncle Harry’s parents had a baby, because my dad told him so. My dad was in love with Harry’s mum, and he thought that he could save her by telling Voldemort about the prophecy.
“So Voldemort went to Uncle Harry’s house and tried to kill him, but his mum – her name was Lily – stopped him with her love as his mum, which is a special kind of magic. Oh, and there’s this curse that you can cast that kills someone right there on the spot, which Voldemort used all the time. Anyway, Voldemort cast the spell on Uncle Harry, who was just a baby then, and he didn’t die! Can you believe it?”
Gretchen, who had been entranced by the story all along, shook her head, her wide eyes never leaving Rori’s face.
“So when Uncle Harry didn’t die, something happened to Voldemort, and he went away. Lots of people thought he was gone forever, but not my dad or Papa Albus.
“Then, when Uncle Harry got to Hogwarts, Voldemort kept coming for him, because they were both getting stronger. My mum and my Uncle Ron helped Uncle Harry the whole time. They went on lots of stupid errands trying to figure everything out instead of just asking questions and thinking things through, but they were all Gryffindors, and Gryffindors are foolish.
“Anyway, the summer before their seventh year, Voldemort heard another prophecy which said that one of his loyal followers would have a baby with one of Uncle Harry’s loyal followers, and whoever had the baby on the last night before its first birthday would win the second war. Voldemort trusted and picked my dad, and since he was a spy for Papa Albus, he had to do it.
“And of course my mum was the most loyal of Uncle Harry’s followers, since she followed him all over the place getting in trouble and fighting Voldemort anyway. Well, except for maybe Uncle Ron, but two boys can’t have a baby, so it had to be my mum. So they got married.
“Then, Voldemort came to take me away because he wanted to win the war, but my mum stopped him to protect me. She knocked him down so Uncle Harry could take him out, which he did. Then, she burst into light. ”
“How?” Gretchen asked, leaning forward.
"How did she burst into light? I don't know," Rori said, rolling onto her back and staring at her ceiling. She waved her hand at the leaves hanging overhead, and they watched as they quivered as if there was a breeze in the room.
"Right," Gretchen said and sighed. Of course she didn't know; she was just a little girl. She was an astonishing, clever girl, but just a child nonetheless.
"Well, Papa Albus said she sublimated. Do you know what that means?"
"Of course I do. Who wouldn't?"
Rori giggled. "My Uncle Ron! It was so funny, the look on his face when I said it for the first time. He gaped like a fish."
"I can imagine. I met him yesterday. He seemed...," Gretchen trailed off. She couldn't say ‘unnecessarily tedious and possibly over-emotional.’ That wouldn't do.
"He's sharp as a whip, in his way. He's just not bookish like us."
Not wanting to cause an argument about Ron, Gretchen redirected the conversation. "So, sublimation means that a solid has turned to gas or a gas to a solid without being liquid at all. How does a person sublimate?" She stretched out next to Rori and looked up at the leaves on the ceiling. They were rustling softly still, and she marvelled at them.
"Well, not a Muggle person, unless they were incinerated or something. That would be gross."
"Someone who doesn't have magic, like my Nana Carol and Grandpa Jack. There's nothing wrong with not having magic, they do lots of wonderful things anyway. Like my Grandpa Jack can make, like, a hundred different kinds of paper air planes that sail through the air without magic. They do turns and things. Nana landscapes gardens for people at the weekends, and she turns their little tiny plots of grass into these amazing rooms. That's where I got the idea for the tree bed."
Gretchen nodded. Hermione's parents sounded like wonderful people. If she was Hermione, then they were her parents. What would they have been like as parents? What was she like? The frustration of not knowing boiled up in her. Above them, the leaves started to wave again.
"You're magic," Rori announced, just before pushing Gretchen's arm away from her side so she could lie against her, although now she was on her belly. "You activated the spell for my tree without even knowing it. My dad says you are going to do lots of accidental magic while you’re here."
"Is that so?" Gretchen sighed and closed her eyes. God, this was weird.
"It's okay; everyone does accidental magic for a while. I do it a lot."
A moment of silence began to draw out, and Gretchen felt like she would be more than happy to just curl up on the soft mossy floor and be transported back through the rabbit hole or whatever she'd fallen down to be trapped in this bizarre dream. She turned to rub her cheek on the floor, still not quite believing it.
"If you ladies would like to rest there are plenty of beds on which you can nap."
On the floor, Gretchen and Rori turned to find Severus standing in the doorway staring back at them. Gretchen thought he was frowning disapprovingly, but a quick look at Rori showed that she was unfazed.
Severus moved into the room and said, "However, Albus would like to chat with you more in private, Gretchen. He's waiting for you in the sitting room."
Gretchen nodded and got up muttering her excuses as she went out the door.
Once Gretchen’s footsteps hit the stairs, Severus entered Rori’s room and closed the door behind him.
"I see you've changed clothes. Did she notice?"
Rori shook her head, creeping toward Gretchen's vacated spot on the floor.
Severus joined her on the floor and pulled her next to him so she was fully in Gretchen's imprint on the moss. He stretched out on his back and flicked his wand; honeysuckle vines bloomed in the leaves and the sweet smell permeated the room. "I'm very proud of you, Rori. This is very challenging and you have handled it better than anyone could have hoped."
He felt her head slide against his chest when Rori nodded, and then the warm wetness of a few tears soaked his shirt. Severus rubbed her back and continued to speak, making his voice as deep and rhythmic as he could. "It is very difficult; she looks just like the pictures. Sitting across from her at breakfast this morning was like living a dream. I am certain, however, that in a few days' time it will be a seamless shift into having a third person in the house. We just have to be patient with her."
"Patience pays," Rori whispered, her voice cracking. Then she started crying in earnest.
Severus didn't whisper any words of comfort, but he did pull Rori so she lay on his chest. His arms wrapped around her as she clung to him, weeping, her little body shaking as she expelled all of her pent up emotions. She'd been holding them in since her birthday, knowing that this would be the year that they got her back. Her excitement and anxiety had been compounding over the last few days. He was astonished that she hadn't started breaking mirrors and windows with all of the high strung energy that radiated from her.
It took a few minutes, but eventually Rori finished. Sniffling, she finally worked up the courage to ask, "How long until Mum is back?"
"I can't answer that question, Rori."
She sighed and pushed herself up so she could look down at him. "I know."
"I think you should try to rest before lunch. Albus said you were up all night with Potter."
Rori nodded. "Rotted our brains clear away, Father." She moved around the stump and slid across the mattress.
"Not much of a challenge for Potter." Severus leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. He watched her nestle into her bed and nodded before turning and walking out the door.
In the sitting room, Gretchen was reclining with a cold compress on her forehead and holding a cup of tea on her belly. Albus sat in a nearby chair, his fingers steepled. He looked as though he was seriously contemplating the teapot.
Severus sat in the chair on the opposite side of the table from Albus and poured himself a cup of tea. They sipped in silence for a great while.
Finally, over half an hour after he'd sat down, Severus got an answer.
Albus spoke softly, still distracted by the puzzle. "I found a lead. Hermione, as we knew her, is lost behind that magic that weakened Tom Riddle. She is safe and sound, I believe, but the magic is dividing her from Gretchen as though they are on opposite sides of a wall."
"Events of high emotional value, such as Mr Weasley's nagging yesterday – I heard the report – or Rori's appearance this morning, seemed to have flattened that wall enough that Hermione could come out, but then the wall immediately solidifies. Gretchen has no recollection of the event.”
Severus looked at her, wary of how Albus spoke.
"She's asleep. I attempted to remove the tea cup from her hands but she was holding it too tightly and I didn't want to wake her.
“I was also able to detect very minute fissures in the barrier, possibly from previous attempts of Legilimency. You said that at your second meeting with Gretchen, she reported dreaming for the first time?”
“Correct,” Severus replied quietly and took the final sip of his tea. "The solution then is to teach Gretchen to control the magic. As she incorporates it into her being, Hermione will eventually be exposed."
"I agree. Has she attempted to hold her wand?"
"Yes, with violent reaction before she even got her fingers to it."
"A trip to Ollivander's, then. After lunch."
"Albus, the Pensieve." Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to keep from whining.
"It can wait. Ollivander, I believe, cannot."
So many careful plans, so many strategies developed in the preceding years, up in smoke. Severus scowled; that was the price to pay for involving Albus. The man loved to be a hair’s breadth from ruin, it seemed.
However as the idea sank in, it seemed to have merit. Better to have the base of the situation managed before adding any more. Finally Severus nodded, and stood to begin preparations for lunch.