Hermione was running, sprinting from the library. She had the answer, she just needed to check one thing. One person, well, one ghost could tell her if she was right. She just had to beat the basilisk to the Chamber of Secrets. Almost immediately, she could hear it slithering behind her, and the sound of smooth scales on stone urged her feet ever faster.
She had been in the old toilet before, had seen all the snakes on the handles and faucets, had been put off by Moaning Myrtle. She knew that’s where it was, it was the only answer. Hermione was ready, though, with Penelope’s mirror she could make it. Not like the others. Poor Colin. Poor Mrs. Norris.
Hermione raised the mirror she had as she sprinted round the corner to the moving staircase.
It was over in the next second. Swearing to herself, Hermione couldn’t believe it. The awful yellow eye of the snake flashed in the light, and she froze! She felt every stone her body hit on the way down, but she was petrified and could do nothing to help herself.
The giant head of the basilisk rose up as it doubled back, and Hermione couldn’t help but stare as its jaw lowered, ready to snatch her up.
From somewhere nearby, she heard a student, a prefect at this hour, berating a couple for being inappropriate. He was docking House points as they turned the corner. When they found her, the rebuke of the couple and the scared gasps at finding her on the floor startled the basilisk and it slithered off unseen.
The prefect was calling for Professor Flitwick. They were taking her to Madam Pomfrey.
She was safe, which was a relief, but she couldn’t tell them what she knew. She swore at herself, cursing the page she’d torn in her haste. She should have just shown it to Madam Pince! It had to be the answer! She could feel the paper balled up in her sweaty fist doing absolutely no good to anyone.
No one would see it. She wanted to scream or cry or something!
She began sobbing.
She couldn’t move a muscle, but she was sobbing from failure, from fear that Harry wouldn’t know what he needed to know. A cool cloth covered her cheeks, daubing up her tears before resting on her forehead.
Professor Snape’s voice trickled into her dream. “There’s a girl. Just a nightmare.”
He shushed her with an impossible level of comfort. Hermione was so confused. Why couldn’t she move? What was happening with the basilisk? Did they know Voldemort was there?
“Why don’t you wake up and tell me all about it?” Severus asked, his voice luring her.
She wanted to wake up. She wanted to see Severus. He had probably been watching the baby for some time now. Knowing that he was there, by her side, Hermione relaxed. Maybe if she just slept a bit more...
She had never been afraid of snakes, and even after being petrified, most common snakes were of no concern. But there was one thing that couldn’t be helped: the sound of the basilisk was etched in her mind forever. Scales on stone caused the hair on Hermione’s neck to prick up.
As she put the blanket over the baby, the door to the nursery swung open. Unconcerned except for lowering the lamps so Aurora could sleep, Hermione froze at the sound of scales on stone.
She turned her head, watching as an enormous adder morphed into a man.
“No,” she said, turning and pulling her wand from the pocket of her track bottoms.
“But I haven’t even asked yet.” Voldemort began to chuckle, staring down at the witch as she put herself between him and the baby. “Severus said you were attached to it, but I had no idea.”
“I don’t suppose you would.” Hermione glared back at him, baring her teeth. Her hands were trembling, and she hated that she couldn’t control them.
“Madam Snape, be reasonable. You are no match for Lord Voldemort, but your bravery is true to your House. If you step aside, I will offer you your life, a place amongst my Death Eaters. Severus will need a concubine, I’m sure. You have pleased him.”
Voldemort stepped closer to the cot, and Hermione felt something inside of her snap. As if stepping out on a too-cool day, every hair on her body stood on end, and then it was even as though her flesh pricked up and grew. As she glared at the wizard, she saw his eyes narrow, and soon she was towering over him.
“No.” she said, her voice booming in her ears. She hadn’t even raised her wand, and yet Voldemort was on his knees. She watched as Harry lunged from behind the door where he had been waiting, talking with her quietly as she had fed Aurora.
Remembering the baby, Hermione twisted, although it felt as though she’d left her legs behind, her body spinning on her hips.
She couldn’t see the baby!
All she could see now was a cloud of light. She clawed at it, working to dive back. There was nothing but light.
Gretchen lurched forward in her bed, sitting upright and gasping in the room. Severus, who had fallen asleep in his chair by the fire, was by her side in two long strides. “Where’s Rori?” she demanded, taking Severus’s arm and pulling him closer. Her urgency was contagious, and Severus grabbed her shoulder in return.
“She is with your parents, baking cookies. You’ve been asleep for three days. Your nightmares were terrifying her, so I sent her away.”
Gretchen looked up at the man and saw that he really meant ‘terrifying us.’
“I remember. I remember the room of flying keys, and the basilisk, and the Ministry. Severus, I remember the night Voldemort came.” Her arms wrapped around him as he leaned over to rest on the bed. She could hear his heart beating in his chest, and the rhythms soothed her even as the alarms in her head went off. “It was terrible, the last dream. Everything told me that Voldemort should have been my greatest fear, but I turned around and I had lost Rori. Severus—I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
She looked up from his chest, and he was staring down at her.
“You aren’t losing anything. This is your life.”
The thought made her want to weep. She had loved being here, being with Rori and Severus, being magical.
She shouldn’t have underestimated her daughter. She remembered, now, the story Rori had told her about her mum and Harry and the prophecy. There was once a horrible wizard. And there was a boy and his friends who grew up together, fighting him and fighting a war in increments year after year. Gretchen swallowed.
It hadn’t meant anything to her then. It had been nothing.
Magic could be beautiful. But like all things, it could be just as terrible. “I think I need the toilet,” she said, throwing the covers back. “—And my staff.”
Severus was quick to grab her staff from between the bed and the table. Without looking, she put her hand out for it, sliding it up to the handle as she always did. “What’s this? What are all these marks on my staff?”
“They have been there almost from the beginning.”
Severus stared down at her as she sat on the bed, stroking her hand over the unfamiliar marks. “What benefit is there for me to lie?”
Gretchen swallowed and avoided his eye. “What do they mean?”
“I haven’t the foggiest. I had someone working on a translation, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Feeling like a first year being told off, she pulled the staff between her legs. “They should probably get on that, then. What do you think the hold-up is, hm?”
“Extenuating circumstances, I suspect.”
Gretchen chanced a look up at Severus, who slid the back of his fingers up from her collar to under her chin, which he lifted with a turn of his wrist.
“I shouldn’t have let you over-exert, and I apologise. It will not happen again.”
“I wouldn’t change it. Honestly,” she whispered.
“You have to learn to put—”
“—Put yourself first, Hermione. I know!”
“Too many late study dates with Harry and Ron paired against a nervous husband and soon-to-be new father. I remember.”
He said nothing, but blinked at her slowly.
“I’m going to put myself first, now, and use the toilet. Then take a shower, which is a service to humanity, at this point. Then, breakfast, if you don’t mind.”
Severus took a step away from her, giving her space to get by to the bathroom.
“I will wait here.” His voice trailed away, as if he wanted to address her but didn’t know how.
Gretchen put a hand on his arm. She could feel her two lives weaving together, but they were still two. Red and blue, but not purple yet. Severus nodded his understanding and Gretchen moved into the bathroom. As she walked, she gripped the ‘new’ carvings of her staff, feeling the ridges and valleys. Every step, she was a little further and a little closer.
Severus sat in his chair by the fire, listening to the plumbing. His fingertips were pressed together, thumbs under his chin and forefingers touching his nose.
He was happy that she was up, away from the dreams. He was glad she’d had them, had been expecting them all along, obviously. It must have been reconnecting to her parents that jostled everything loose. It was progress, solid and substantial.
However, he was worried with this new, in-between person. Who, exactly, would emerge from the shower? Over the course of his life, how many dreams had he lost between waking and preparing for his day? Had the dreams been exact memories? Were memories ever exactly what happened?
He looked up when the bathroom door opened. Gretchen was wrapped in a towel, still damp from the shower.
“I... erm... forgot clothes.”
Severus watched as she moved to the wardrobe, holding her towel up with one arm. It was one of the smaller towels, which he had noticed she used and stuck in the hamper in the bathroom. He hadn't understood it; there were large, terry cloth bath sheets to use. He had assumed that it was because Gretchen didn't put any effort in her comfort, as she wasn't the type to indulge in small pleasures.
He could see most of her thighs, including the small mark of the Order that the members from Dumbledore's Army had all branded themselves with. It rested on her left hip, and he could see just the bottom of the wings when the towel shifted as she moved.
"I can feel you staring at me."
"I apologise," Severus said, but did not stop looking. He found he had very much missed seeing that mark.
She turned to look at him. From the look she gave him, it was obvious that she didn't believe him. "I don't mind. It's reassuring to know you don't find me completely undesirable when I—" She stopped herself, obviously not wanting to reveal any more.
“It is important that we not let ourselves become distracted...?”
Severus pursed his lips, rising to walk to where she was standing. “Gretchen. You are not here to be swept away, and I assure you that I am no Casanova.” He stood behind her, plucking clothes out of the wardrobe with an efficiency borne of dressing his daughter for the last ten years.
“I’m not a twit, Severus. It’s not as though I throw myself at any bloke who happens by.”
As she took her clothes in her hands, Severus said, “Nor am I one to pick up a witch on a whim.” He paused to breathe in deeply beside her ear. “I have been... intimate with two women in my entire life, and Gretchen Jones is neither of those women.”
Her breath caught in her throat, and she stood perfectly still.
“Believe me when I tell you that you’re due for a revelation that will forever change your view of me. I would have thought seeing your parents would have tipped you off, but you’re not the little know-it-all I have been waiting for.”
As he stepped away from her, against his better judgement, Severus let his fingertips graze against the phoenix on her hip. He moved to the bedroom door and turned back to say, “Kippers on toast, five minutes.”