Stepping back for a moment, Gretchen surveyed the progress. A big Sunday dinner was spread across the kitchen table. The food had arrived out of thin air, it seemed, the moment she had turned away to ask Severus a question. The table was set for four, and Rori had helped her get ready, prattling away the whole time.
For some reason Gretchen had found that settled her. This was odd, because she generally hated prattle. Rori was special, it seemed.
A knock came from the front door, and Severus asked Gretchen to answer it. He was sitting on the couch in the living room. Why he couldn't answer the door, she didn't know, but Gretchen moved from the kitchen anyway.
She was starting to get used to having her staff on her back in the harness and found the weight of it very... secure. It was interesting how simple it had been to get comfortable with the staff ... with all of this.
As she turned the knob and let the door swing open, Gretchen stepped around it. Looking up at the visitor, she said, “Draco Malfoy!"
Severus had said they were having a special guest to celebrate her first full week back in the Wizarding world, but she never would have thought it would be 'Draco Malfoy'. She gaped at him for a moment and then snapped her jaw shut.
He seemed to take that as his cue to move, because he flattened his hand on his chest and bowed a bit toward her. "And you are?"
"Gretchen Jones." She extended her hand. Gretchen didn't want to give Draco Malfoy any sort of satisfaction by being discourteous, although she wasn't sure why. Then she watched as his lips pursed, making his chin look even pointier.
He was the most sour-looking man she'd ever met.
Draco took her hand, but instead of shaking it, he twisted it and kissed the back of her knuckles. "I was hoping you'd say 'Hermione Granger' so I could lord it over Potty."
Gretchen removed her hand from his as soon as was polite, moving into the open doorway and pulling the door closer to her body. She did not want to let Draco Malfoy into the house. After a moment, Severus slid his hand over her shoulder, squeezing her gently.
His palm was warm, and Gretchen felt her muscles relax. Severus was easing her out of the doorway, though. She had to assume that Draco Malfoy was the expected guest for dinner.
Severus inclined his head toward the man at the door and said, "You're the first person she's known on sight; that should be more than enough."
"It will have to do, I suppose." Draco came in and shrugged off his cloak. It was a casual gesture, but it made Gretchen narrow her eyes. Then, he tossed it toward the hooks on the wall, and it floated away from him, arranging itself nicely upon landing.
The three of them stood near the closed door, each waiting to see what the others were about to do. Only when Rori called from the kitchen did they break apart.
"Draco?" Rori asked, poking her head out. Then she hurried into the room, arms already outstretched.
"No, sweetie." Gretchen darted forward, pulling Rori behind her body. She needed to be between the girl and Draco Malfoy. "Stay away from him."
Rori started to protest, but Draco Malfoy leaned so he could look around Gretchen's body and signalled for her to quiet. His move irritated Gretchen, but she didn't want to do anything too bold... yet.
An evil smile spread across his face. "Oh, it's too late, Jones. I've been helping Severus with Rori since Granger disappeared. Nine years, I've been here for her." Draco Malfoy took a step back and adjusted his posture so that he was standing very rigidly on his feet. His nose rose into the air.
Severus moved toward the girl, and Gretchen frowned. How could he let Draco Malfoy near his precious daughter?
Draco chimed in again, saying, “It's fine, Rori. Gretchen knows all about me. She remembers."
"Go back to the kitchen, Rori." Gretchen turned and pointed toward the doorway.
Rori glanced at her father and then did as she was told.
When Rori was gone, Gretchen turned back and scowled. "Severus, why do I remember him?"
"Anger and fear are very powerful emotions, Gretchen, and much easier to tap into than happiness. Hermione and Draco have a sordid history. Do you remember why?"
Gretchen put her hands on her hips and let herself take in Draco Malfoy. His mouth, his horrid, pointy mouth stuck out in her mind. "A word."
Severus stepped closer to them, and Gretchen looked up at his face. He was nodding, and she thought that was a good sign, encouraging. However, she was less at ease than she had been in the last eight days, and for the first time, having Severus beside her did not seem to be helping.
He pulled out his wand and said, "Muffliato."
Draco Malfoy approached her again and loomed over her. He was using his greater height and weight to his advantage. Gretchen wanted to step back, if only to keep from craning her neck, but she stood her ground.
"What word, Gretchen?" He sneered down at her.
The next thing she knew, Severus was pushing her arm toward her staff, and she pulled it out of the harness with her left hand. The smooth wood slid across her palm until she found the grip, and then she had it loose, a third point of contact for her and the floor. Gretchen immediately felt better, but Draco Malfoy was still invading her space.
Something was happening inside her, but she couldn't name it. It was as if something was coming, something thrilling, but she could not imagine what it might be.
In front of her, Draco Malfoy let his head drop down. "I should have known she wouldn't know. They never do."
"What's that supposed to mean, Malfoy?"
"I wouldn't expect the likes of you to get it, stupid Mudblood."
The next thing Gretchen knew, her hand was stinging from the hard slap she had delivered across Draco Malfoy's face. It felt so good, so, so good! It was just like that time in third year.
She hadn't realised she was speaking her thoughts until Draco Malfoy exclaimed, "Yes! Third year!" He smiled at her despite the hand print growing pink on his cheek.
The sight of his happiness at being struck jarred Gretchen. She didn't think that it was normal to celebrate getting hit in the face. Her brow furrowed.
Then Draco Malfoy seemed to pick up on the change in her mood. "You self-important cow!" he bellowed, throwing his hands out to either side. "How dare you lay a hand on me!"
Another wave of... something came over her. "He was innocent! And you were going to..." Gretchen turned away from the two men, wracking her brain for what had happened. She licked her lips and turned her hand over again and again. Something bad was going to happen to someone, and Draco Malfoy had done something...
Fuck! She'd lost it! She turned back to them and saw them watching her, waiting. She threw her free hand into the air, eyes darting between the two of them. "Don't you dare say a bloody thing! I'll remember it myself, thank you!" She turned toward the kitchen, sliding her staff back in the harness as she went.
Just as she passed the green couch, Draco Malfoy cleared his throat. "You know, erm, Gretchen, we sort of became friends while Hermione was pregnant. Not best mates like Potty and the Weasel, of course, but she and I buried the hatchet."
Spinning on her heel, Gretchen turned to look at him, with her hands on her hips. "If you're really my friend, Draco Malfoy, you'll let me hate you for as long as I want. This is the closest I've ever got to remembering something, and you're not going to take that away from me!"
Then she turned back to the kitchen. Inside, Rori was sitting in her chair looking sullen and fiddling with her napkin.
Gretchen touched her shoulder. The security she had lost in the other room swept back over her, and Gretchen just had to get closer to Rori. Then her hands were cradling the girl’s chin, and she had no idea what she was doing, invading this girl's personal space and bringing her closer still.
Rori just accepted it, although her eyes closed for a long moment. When she opened them again, Gretchen thought she could see something in them, devotion perhaps.
Not wanting to hurt Rori by denying her, Gretchen asked, "Has he ever done anything mean to you? Said one single thing, Rori?"
She shook her head as hard and fast as she could. Maybe Draco Malfoy was Rori's friend. Gretchen thought it was possible that he had been hers, too, although everything about him set her on edge now. It was as plausible as any of this, at least. Taking a deep breath, Gretchen said, "Okay, go and say hello."
Gretchen nodded. "Of course."
Rori was off like a shot, leaving Gretchen to fiddle with the napkin as she waited for the others to come into the kitchen.
Severus watched as Draco squatted down to take Rori into his arms. Hugs were something that Draco only did for children, and they had started with Rori.
Draco and his peers hadn't started having their own children until Rori was almost five, but she had thoroughly schooled him on what small children liked and wanted. This included a lot of spinning around and a lot of being held securely. If Draco's father had done those things with him at all, it had ended at a very early age, so Draco had had quite a lot to learn.
"I apologise for scaring you, Aurora," Draco said into her ear.
She just squeezed him tighter. Severus knew that Rori liked Draco just as much as any of Hermione's other contemporaries, save Potter and Weasley. However, Draco had not cared to try to make peace with them, and thus was not often present at gatherings such as Rori's birthday party last Saturday.
"Thank you for the prezzies, Draco. I started writing in the journal you gave me, and the blanket from Oslo is on my bed now."
"You are most welcome," he replied and stood up. "Now, Aurora, we have to talk about me and Gretchen."
"I heard what you said about you and my mum, and I heard what Gretchen said."
Severus opened his mouth, but Draco carried on, saying, "Yes, and Gretchen is perfectly right. I would rather never be friends with her again if it meant I was helping her remember things. She certainly has plenty of reasons not to be my friend."
"Because you were bad when you were a boy."
"Very bad. Especially to Hermione Granger."
Rori moved closer to Severus, and he watched as she worked out the best way to express her next thoughts. Her lips smacked together a few times, although it was nearly silent. "What if she won't let me see you anymore?"
"Well, we would have to respect that. But I don't think that's what will happen."
She must have been very nervous, because Rori, who was normally a very calm child, began to fidget with the hem of her shirt, avoiding Draco's eyes. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, she certainly doesn't like me now, but she still let you come and see me. She didn't throw me out, did she?"
Rori shook her head and took a deep breath.
"Dinner is on the table," Severus said, hoping to divert Rori from her grim line of thought.
Draco flourished his arm, inviting Rori to precede him out of the sitting room. Severus followed, finding Gretchen leaning on the counter with her arms crossed. Her staff was hooked over what had come to be her chair. "Severus, I need your help."
"Of course; would you like to come and sit, first?"
Her chin jutted forward, and she stared at the ceiling. "In a moment. I would like to discuss something. You said this was a special dinner, and you invited Draco Malfoy. You have misrepresented this event."
"I have to disagree. Recognising someone from your past is significant for you. Today is a special day precisely because Draco Malfoy is here."
She didn't answer right away, mulling it over and leaning her head from side to side a couple times. Then, she said, "Fine, I can accept that. However, I am... experiencing something. Two things actually."
"Frustration," Draco said as Severus replied, "Betrayal."
Severus watched as Gretchen took these words and weighed them. She must have known the dictionary definition of them, because after a moment she began to nod her head.
"Why betrayal, Dad?" Rori slid into her chair and waved Gretchen over.
Severus watched as Gretchen did Rori's bidding, stroking her staff, almost as if she were petting a cat, before she sat. "Betrayal because she wasn't expecting me to prod her memory in uncomfortable places. Frustration because she can't remember the name of something –"
Everyone at the table turned to look at Gretchen, who had just announced the name she couldn't find just minutes before. Careful to ensure that she remembered that she had remembered, Severus asked, "I'm sorry?"
Gretchen unfolded her napkin and laid it in her lap. "Buckbeak. He's not a person, but some sort of animal with some sort of bird’s head."
"He's a bloody menace." Draco flicked his wand at the water pitcher, setting it to fill everyone's glasses.
Severus set the dishes to serving themselves as well before sitting back. Gretchen hadn't seen much magic in action, and he wanted to watch her as she saw the simple spell go to work.
Her face was pink, and she was grinding her teeth. It was clear that Draco was irritating her with his manner. Good. Then Rori started to tell the story of Buckbeak, but Severus cut in. "No stories at the table, please. Gretchen will probably remember on her own, so we shouldn't spoil it."
"Good." Draco began cutting his meat.
"No matter what a whiny ickle boy Draco is in the story."
That comment earned Severus a glare from across the table. Rori giggled, and Draco gave her one of his haughtiest looks, but that just made Rori giggle harder. Soon, tears were streaming down her cheeks, and everyone, Gretchen included, was smiling as they began dinner.
Severus watched as Rori took control of the table, first by being polite and asking for this or that. Then she told Gretchen a story about when she and Severus had gone to Moscow. This was followed by asking after Draco's father, to which he replied, "He is doing better than the Ministry had hoped."
Rori leaned toward Gretchen and said, "Draco's father has been banished to Muggle London in an attempt to rehabilitate him."
"Information I do not believe I gave my daughter," Severus replied. The hard look he sent Rori's way did little to faze her. "Where did you hear about this?"
With a shrug, she said, "It was in the Prophet, Dad."
"Worthless rag," Gretchen muttered. Draco looked at her, but she didn't seem to realise what she'd said.
"Very well, I would like a report on the happenings of Lucien Malphred."
This got Gretchen's attention. "Lucien Malphred is your father?"
Pushing his plate away, Draco frowned. "He is."
"So, he's a wizard? Or are your parents Muggle, too?"
This caused Draco to cough on his drink of water. As he sputtered and slapped his hand on the table, Severus tapped Gretchen on the shoulder. "You don't understand what he called you in the other room?"
"You mean 'stu-"
Severus cut her off with a shake of his finger. "Neither that word nor the other word are acceptable language in this house." He tilted his head toward Rori, who was now looking very put out about being excluded. With her head on her hand, she stabbed at her dinner. "Head up, Aurora."
She scowled but obeyed. She was just about to speak when Draco, with the grace of someone trained in diversion asked, "My father is a wizard; however, he has moved to Muggle London as something of a social experiment. I'm terribly interested in what you know about him."
"Not much, really. People have been raving about his restaurant for years, but I never saw the point in going." Gretchen paused to chew, and then frowned at the centre of the table. "Eight or nine years ago, he went bankrupt, but was able to buy a little restaurant. He built it up and up, and now he's got one of the premier spots in Knightsbridge. All of the society people go there and politicians."
"Nine years ago you say?" Severus asked as he loaded his fork.
Gretchen turned her frown on him, and it turned to a scowl. "Are you intending to imply that Lucien Malphred has something to do with me?"
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Severus took a bite of food. He locked eyes with Gretchen and gave her a blank look as he chewed.
She looked back at him, taking a few slow breaths before she said, "Every door I open leads to ten more." Then she looked around the table. With a sigh, Gretchen excused herself, grabbing her staff from behind her chair as she went.
"Can I go, too, Dad?"
A look at Rori's plate showed she had eaten a fair amount. He nodded and said, "Do not seek her out, Rori. She'll come to you when she's ready."
Lifting his eyebrow, Severus quelled his daughter's protest. She took a deep breath and spun around, her posture curved as if her life were tragic and unfair. She didn't stomp her feet, but only because she knew her father wouldn't allow it.
When he was finally alone with Draco, Severus cracked his neck. "Lucius Malfoy, a Muggle."
Both men gave a rueful chuckle. Draco pulled a metal tube from his shirt pocket, shaking out a thin cigar and offering it to Severus.
After considering, Severus accepted, moving to Rori's chair so the two men could smoke together. He cast a spell over the table and one on the kitchen window to help ventilate the room.
"Do you think she's got the patience, the perseverance, Severus?"
"Hermione certainly does."
"She's not Hermione, Severus," Draco said. He had been one of the few people involved who was not optimistic about reconciling Gretchen and Hermione. He had wished Severus the best fortune and used Malfoy contacts to get him into exclusive libraries, all the time saying it couldn't be done.
Severus took a long, smooth drag from the cigar. He held his breath a moment, feeling the delicious burn in his lungs, and said, "I don't know any other witch who would lay a hand to that pretty-boy face of yours." Curls of smoke came from his nose as he chuckled.
Draco rolled his eyes and rubbed his jaw. "Luckily for me."
"I'm sure your wife will be able to tend to your wounds."
"Perhaps I should let Gretchen practice fisticuffs on me. My wife certainly makes an excellent nurse." Draco conjured a flat glass ash tray, and rolled the ash off the end of his cigar. When he was finished, he said, "It's been a long time since I said that word."
Another drag, and Severus replied, "I know. You are not the wretched little prig you once were."
"I'll say it a thousand more times if it helps."
"I don't think that will be necessary."
The silence stretched out as the cigars burnt down. Then, Severus felt Draco's toe nudge his own under the table. "You know, Rori is always welcome to stay with us if she needs a change. Scorpius is devoted to her. You’re welcome, too."
Severus nodded and raised his chin in understanding. "We should find Gretchen and Rori."
"I'll check on your daughter. I should leave soon anyway."
Extinguishing their cigars, Severus and Draco peered into the living room. The clock on the wall designated that Rori was 'cuddling'. That particular designation had not been on the clock earlier that day, but Severus was glad of its sudden appearance. Severus stood, and Draco followed him out of the kitchen.
Severus was quite pleased to find Rori and Gretchen curled together on the couch. Gretchen was fast asleep with her arm wrapped tight around Rori's belly. Circling the couch, he found Gretchen's staff on the floor.
Rori opened her eyes and whispered, "She invited me - I swear, Dad."
Draco leaned forward and kissed Rori's head. He smoothed her hair back from her forehead. Then he shook Severus's hand, summoning his cloak from the rack. With one final wave, he was out the door.
Taking up his chair, Severus turned back to Rori. "You might be trapped there all night." He let his smile take on an edge until Rori stuck her tongue out at him.
"You know, this would be the perfect time to watch telly, Dad."
Severus, shark-like smile still in place, shook his head. A flick of his wand sent a book to Rori on the couch. She caught it and rolled her eyes. Still, within moments her nose was buried between the pages. Severus then Summoned a book for himself, ready for a quiet night at home.