After a pleasant lunch where Rori traded notes with Albus on all the places she'd seen in Japan, the four of them got ready to go to Diagon Alley.
Albus was already wearing his wizard's robes, so he did not have to change. Rori ran up to her room and came back down in pale blue robes. Severus came down next wearing black, the fabric moving fluidly in time with his stride. Over his arm was a set of robes in navy blue and Gretchen's trainers.
"Rori, help Gretchen with these, please."
After setting the shoes on the floor, he passed the garment to Gretchen, who just stared at him numbly. Two small hands on her bum pushed her towards the stairs, and she came out of her fog, marching up the stairs to Rori's room. When the door clicked shut behind them, Rori was almost bursting with excitement.
"Hurry! Diagon Alley is so amazing, you won't believe it!"
Spreading out the robes in front of her, Gretchen looked at them. They were basically a tent with sleeves. How... unflattering.
"There're laces in the back, that's why you need help. They can go on over your shirt, but Dad gets them in really nice material, so you don't have to. It is cold out though, so..." Rori shrugged her shoulders.
Gretchen thought about it, and then pulled off her top, passing it absently to Rori. Wadding up the skirts, she pulled the garment over her head. It definitely felt like a tent with sleeves.
"Sit on the bed so I can do your laces." Rori's little voice was strong and commanding, not unlike her father's.
Like a puppet, Gretchen complied. Rori hopped on the bed behind her and tightened the laces that started at the small part of Gretchen's waist and moved up over her shoulder blades. With the garment pulled over her bosom, Gretchen was glad that she'd removed her old jumper.
Rori stroked the fabric in front of her for a second and then said, "Mirror's over there."
Gretchen turned to look by the closet door, and then she walked over to the long mirror that stood next to it. Well, she was fit for Halloween, dressed like this. She looked as if she'd been sent back in time a couple of hundred years. She caught sight of Rori behind her in the mirror and waved her over.
"It’s as if I'm going to a fancy dress party. Is this really how people dress to go to Diagon Alley?"
Rori nodded, playing with her skirts. "Uncle Harry says it's a throw-back. He was raised Muggle. Oh, and my dad is super traditional, so there are more modern robes for sale, he just got these for you because he didn't know what you would like."
Gretchen pulled Rori to stand in front of her in the mirror. Looking at the two of them, she gasped. Their robes were comparable in style and both of them had curls flowing down their backs. It could very easily be the portrait of a mother and daughter. Rori and Gretchen stared at each other, lost in the mirror until a loud knock came from the door.
Severus asked, "Is there a problem?"
"No, Dad, we’ll be right out!" Rori replied, desperately trying to hang on to the moment. She leaned back against Gretchen and clutched at her robes.
"Let's go," Gretchen whispered, also reluctant to leave the mirror. Rori nodded, getting her shoes out of her wardrobe. Gretchen stood with the door open, shifting her weight awkwardly.
Feeling embarrassed, Rori reluctantly backed away. "What?"
Gretchen stifled a groan, but she couldn’t help herself. "Uhm, hold my hand?" She even dared to extend it just a little.
Rori rushed to take it, and the two of them walked hand in hand back to the sitting room. It meant taking the stairs a little awkwardly, but it was worth it. They sat thigh to thigh on the couch as they put on their shoes. Both were aware of the attention they were drawing, although a quick glance at Severus or Albus revealed nothing.
"Unfortunately, you'll have to separate so you can side-along," Albus announced as he offered a small travelling cloak to Rori. She nodded and reluctantly moved away, getting up to don the cloak before embracing him. With a soft pop, they Disapparated.
"Where'd they go? Where'd he take her?" Gretchen felt panic rise up inside of her.
Severus stepped forward carefully. "They've just gone ahead; we'll be right behind them." He extended his hand.
Following Rori's example, she took it and felt better instantly. He led her over to the door where a cloak for each of them hung on the wall. Severus put on his, and then helped her, moving to secure the clasp at the top when it gave her trouble. Then she wrapped her arms around him, sighing contentedly.
"Gretchen," Severus whispered, "Embracing is not strictly necessary."
Her face flamed. God, she was such a fool! She started to pull away, but he wrapped his arms around her to stop her.
"I'm not complaining; I just want you to know. And we'll add embarrassment to your list of accomplishments. Very impressive."
Without another word, Severus followed Albus and Rori.
It was a cold day, and the streets were empty as most people worked on Mondays. They had all landed in a back alley, and once he had Gretchen’s feet on the ground, Severus pulled back slightly, retrieving a vial and a small paper envelope from his pocket. He began whispering, "Now, Gretchen. We can't have you running around looking like the heroine of the Wizarding World. We won't make it five minutes in Diagon Alley before the media frenzy begins, and we do not want that."
Gretchen nodded, leaning away from his body so she could look up at him as he spoke.
"This vial contains a potion that will make you look like Ginevra Potter, Harry's wife, for an hour. It's totally harmless, and I believe it will taste like aniseed balls."
Gretchen nodded again, and Severus pulled his arm from around her to uncork the bottle, open the envelope and pull out one of Ginny's hairs. Dropping it in the vial, he put his thumb over the top to verify that it fizzed properly.
She took the vial from him, and put it to her lips. When she hesitated in tipping it back, Rori grabbed her free hand and nodded up at her. That was all she needed to move forward. The liquid in the tube made her belly feel warm. Then she felt her body change, her scalp tingling as her hair straightened and brightened. The form of her shoulders flattened out into more of a spritely shape. She grew half an inch and lost fifteen pounds from her body. It felt as if she could run a marathon. She hopped on her toes a few times and giggled.
"This is extraordinary!"
"There's a window over there if you'd like to look." Severus pointed his gaze down the alleyway, and Gretchen and Rori trotted over to it.
With her free hand she touched her face, amazed. "She's beautiful. No wonder Harry married her!"
After agreeing with her and tidied her hair and her travelling cloak, Rori said, "Well, Aunt Ginny, it only lasts an hour so we have to hurry."
The group hurried out of the alley and onto the street. Severus glared at everyone who dared to look their way, but the friendly face of Albus Dumbledore always drew a crowd. By the time they got to Fortescue's Ice Cream, they had to leave him behind; he was delaying them too greatly.
Luckily, once they were without him, they made it to Ollivander's Wands in almost no time. Severus opened the door for them, following behind them quickly. Once she crossed the threshold, though, Gretchen dropped to the floor. The shop was raucous and the clamour caused her physical pain, as if she was being struck every time the noise sounded.
Severus entered the shop and discovered the horrible noise of every wand in the shop rattling furiously in its box. He also saw Gretchen kneeling on the floor, covering her ears. From somewhere in the back, Ollivander came running out.
"Hurry, hurry! Follow me!" He kicked a rug, which flipped back to reveal a trap door. Rori ran for it, but Gretchen didn't move; she seemed frozen in pain. Severus kneeled down and picked her up before hurrying behind them. Going down the stairs beneath the trap door last, Ollivander pointed his wand at the rug so that it would right itself once he closed the trap door.
The basement room was as large as the shop above it, but there were no small boxes of wands stacked there. In their place were dozens, if not hundreds of magical staves. Severus took in the room, noticing there were couches all around. Most importantly, everything was blessedly quiet.
Severus held Gretchen sitting against him while she recovered. Rori was wrapped around her, and everyone was catching their breath.
Ollivander pointed his wand at the coffee table and a tea service appeared. "Good afternoon Mister Snape, Miss Snape, Mrs Potter." He pointedly looked at Gretchen, his brow furrowed and his face pulled down grimly. "Or should I say, 'Gretchen Jones'?" Then he turned around and muttered, "Hermione Granger, Hermione Snape," again and again as he wandered around the room.
"Father, I thought we were here to look at wands," Rori said softly.
Then a tapping on the trap door sounded, and Severus said, "I think that would be the man who has ruined every plan I made for today." He tried to be sour, but he was too intrigued to put his heart into it. Almost no one had carried a staff in the last few hundred years, not since wizards became heavily persecuted. Occasionally someone with a penchant for awkward channelling tools would walk about with one, but it was rare.
Once Albus was shaking Ollivander's hand, he said, "You've gone on an errand – I put the sign up on the door for you."
Severus loosened his arm from around Gretchen and rubbed her back. She pulled away from his body and moved to sit properly on the couch, taking in Albus and Ollivander, and finally the room.
"Very good." Ollivander went back to his search, walking along the walls and through racks of staves. He came back holding one in each hand. The first was straight as a post and longer than he was tall. It was a lighter tone than the second but not by much. The second was more natural with an intricate twist at the top. He moved to stand in front of Gretchen, and said, "Which shall you try first?"
"What do you mean, try?" Gretchen looked at him, and her eyebrows furrowed.
"Well, hold, mostly. A staff is like a wand in that each one is looking for its master; once you’ve found your staff, you’ll know. Also, a staff is much heartier. It is more of a conduit for wandless magic. In a case such as this, it is important to channel the magic intentionally before trying to put it through a wand, which is much more delicate."
Gretchen stood and shrugged. She reached for the straight, pole-like staff. Once her hand was around it, she dropped it, as if burned.
Severus leaned back to watch, intrigued by the turn of events. He wasn’t surprised that she was reluctant to try the next.
"They are of opposing craftsmanship, dear, I'm certain that you will not have the same experience." Ollivander nodded at her encouragingly.
She frowned back at him but reached for it anyway. Once it was in her hand, nothing.
Ollivander was surprised by this, but unfazed and began his search again. He wandered the basement room, occasionally changing direction suddenly as if struck with inspiration, and when he came back with a third staff, he was confident it was the right one.
Gretchen was walking toward him when he turned to bring it to her. She was immediately drawn to it, the sheen of the wood, dark brown with highlights in rose and blond woods. Her hand reached for it, even as she investigated the way it tapered from top to bottom. The bottom was rectangular with rounded corners. There was a narrower place just about at the height of her waist, and her hand fitted around it easily. Above her hand there was about a foot of solid staff before the blond, dark brown, and rose coloured woods extended in small branches that curled together into a knot at the top.
"Oh, yes!" Gretchen smiled.
The light in the room seemed to brighten, then, and Severus was awestruck. Rori hopped off the couch and walked over to Gretchen, taking her hand.
"Isn't it beautiful, sweetie?"
"Yes, Mum," Rori said.
The light in the room dimmed then. In the next moment, Rori's face froze as if she'd uttered a swear word and been caught.
Holding the staff in one hand and Rori's hand in the other, Gretchen smiled and nodded. Then, she collapsed.
When Gretchen woke up, she was in a very cosy bed. The grey light of dawn was coming through the cracks in the curtains. As she moved to rub her eyes, her head began to throb, and she winced. It wasn't like her to drink, but she supposed everyone got carried away now and again. She rolled to her side to reach for the glass of water she knew would be waiting on her bedside table. She needed to hydrate and sleep it off.
Unsure of where exactly on the table the glass was, Gretchen dared to open one eye to the room. What she saw froze her body but made her heart pound in her chest.
The man from her dreams was staring at her, his beady black eyes and hooked nose peering from behind a cascade of silky black curls. In her bleariness, she thought he looked quite like a bird, or maybe a demon. Then, he carefully withdrew one arm from around the little girl in his lap, and she realised he was, indeed, a man. Gretchen's heart began to slow to a more natural rhythm. She heaved a scratching, shuddering sigh of relief and allowed him to make the next move.
Severus put his finger to his lips. Rori stirred for a moment before her hips slid into the crevice between his thighs and the arm of the chair. With one arm totally unburdened he gestured to the water glass just beyond Gretchen's finger tips. She reached for it and drank up.
"What is your name?"
The answer was out of her lips before she even drew a breath. "Gretchen Jones." She flinched.
"Do you know who I am?"
"Are you afraid?"
"Because I don't know what fear is."
"Do you remember the events from approximately thirty-six hours ago?"
"Do you remember anything from your time spent unconscious?"
With that, Severus frowned and began to bundle Rori up in his arms. Her quiet whimper slowed him, but he finished arranging her with practiced efficiency. Finally, he stood, moving for the door.
"Wait!" Gretchen cried softly.
Severus' feet stilled but he didn't turn.
"Please, please let me have her. I-" Gretchen stopped. She was wincing with every sound she made.
As her words quieted, Severus turned. He had drugged her, lacing her water with Veritaserum. He had to know what he was dealing with for Rori's sake, as well as his own. He nodded, and Gretchen moved as quickly as she could to make room. It wasn't very quick at all, but Severus could easily see the feverish intent of her actions.
Gretchen lay on her side, forfeiting the lion's share of the narrow twin bed to the girl. Severus filled the space with Rori's body, and pulled his arms from around her carefully. He stood to watch what Gretchen would do.
Immediately she pulled the blankets from behind her over Rori's body, thoroughly verifying that the girl was covered. When she was through, she sank her shoulder and arm under the blankets as well, and moved to hold the girl against her body.
"Not too tight or she'll thrash about." Severus' command was whisper quiet but strong as steel.
"How do you know?"
"I don't kno-ow. I just do!" Gretchen's voice cracked as if she was sobbing, but her face was dry and her features neutral. She pressed her lips into Rori's hairline for a moment. Then Gretchen buried her face in Rori's hair and sighed.
"Are you feeling something, Gretchen?" Severus demanded. He needed to be patient, but he wasn't conditioned for such high-stakes emotional deconstruction any more.
Brown curls tumbled over black as Gretchen shook her head in the negative.
Severus watched them for several long minutes despite noticing that, shortly after his final question, they both had the level breathing of those in deep sleep. As much as he longed to watch over them every second, he knew his weary body wasn't up to it. Severus turned and pointed his wand at the chair, and it vanished for a moment before returning to its normal place by the fire.
Then he slithered into bed. He had numerous kinks in his body from acting as Rori's mattress since she had appeared in his doorway several hours ago. Severus couldn't turn her away when her eyes were so full of tears and worries that she had ruined it all. He had explained again to her that she hadn't done anything wrong, and she seemed, finally – after over an hour of whimpered counter-arguments – to concede. Every muscle in her body relaxed once she let go of her emotional burden, and she slept on him with the weight of someone four times her size.
Now it was his turn to rest. He would sleep with his ears ever attentive, but he would prepare his body for another impossible day.