Severus watched as Gretchen nodded, fiddling with the twisting tendrils at the top of her staff. She had just pushed the last bit of breakfast into her mouth, and she was listening to Rori tell her about the Potter brood.
He was impatient. Severus fought to keep his temper, holding up a finger at Rori. “Aren’t you curious how it works?”
Without looking up at him, Gretchen said, “Powder, poof, ‘Harry Potter’s house, Godric’s Hollow’.”
Severus had no idea how she knew that, and he was infuriated with the banal, matter-of-fact delivery she gave. She had done a bit of her practise by herself before breakfast, and she had progressed far enough to get them all in trouble.
Luckily, Potter’s Floo connection was secure. As far as Severus knew, only the fireplaces in Albus’s office, Ronald Weasley’s den, and the Snape Cottage’s sitting room were connected to the Potters’. That would keep certain arrogant someones from landing at the Ministry or the Leaky Cauldron or some other catastrophic event.
Also, Rori was going with her, to do surveillance and report back. At least, that was the plan, but both of Potter’s children adored Rori and looked up to her. She would be hard-pressed to be rid of them, which Severus was glad for, too. She needed reminding that she was a ten-year old, and to enjoy her childhood before adulthood set in permanently.
Not to mention that Ginevra had taken after her mother in more than simply breeding and was now quite an accomplished baker. Severus knew that she liked to send Rori home with sweets, many of which Severus had to confiscate, for Rori’s general health and well-being, of course. The Grangers would flay him alive if their precious granddaughter had even a single cavity.
Severus reached out and wrapped his thumb and forefinger around Gretchen’s wrist, pulling her attention away from her staff. He felt a bit of a shock when he did, but no worse than touching a door knob after shuffling about in wool socks.
With his other hand he snapped his fingers, waving his hand to get Rori out of the kitchen. She huffed but did as she was directed. Severus, tugging on Gretchen’s wrist, pulled her to stand.
“How do you know about that?”
“Everyone knows how to use a Floo, Severus,” she replied impatiently.
“Does ‘everyone’ include amnesiac Muggle-borns who have only had magic for a matter of weeks?” He looked down his nose at her, watching her like a hawk.
“Are you looking to fault me for simply knowing simple, everyday facts? I thought having confidence in what comes after practise was the point of doing all that bloody chanting.”
“Language,” Severus growled. Gretchen was unmoved, which infuriated him further. She was correct, after all, but that was beside the point. Hermione would want to know how she knew, and Gretchen was just willing to run with it. In fact, if he remembered correctly, Hermione had done a project on exactly how the Floo system worked, once, trying to compare it to the Tube.
As if she had needed to be in Muggle Studies in the first place.
“How is your translation coming?” Severus asked. The look of being caught out flickered across her face, and it reminded him not only of his daughter but of a girl and her two new friends who had just incapacitated a troll, as well. He pulled away, bringing himself to his full height, and waved Rori back into the kitchen. “You hold the answers in the palm of your hand.” Then he turned, setting the breakfast dishes to wash up on their own before marching into his study.
Harry Potter met Rori and Gretchen in his back den. It was an empty room, black stone floors and no windows or doors that Gretchen could see. It wasn’t a large space; it was more of a holding cell.
Harry hugged Rori, and she scampered through a wall that otherwise looked solid.
Gretchen flinched, catching her breath at what she thought would be an imminent crash, but Rori had just disappeared behind the wall. Then, Harry hugged Gretchen, catching her a bit off guard, but she turned towards him and wrapped her arm around him. It was a surprise... a pleasant surprise... to see Harry, to be wrapped in his welcoming.
“Morning,” he said as he pulled back. “I guess we all forgot that you’re not keyed to the house yet.”
Harry looked embarrassed and sighed. “People sometimes figure out how to Apparate to my Floo, or something. Boy-who-lived, and all that.”
“Right.” Gretchen nodded, trying to remember what “boy-who-lived” meant.
Meanwhile, Harry pulled out a small, silver sickle knife. “I’ll need just a touch of your blood on that wall Rori just passed through.”
Gretchen paled, drawing back from the expectant man beside her. “Blood? Really, Harry?”
“Just once, to key you to my house. I have to protect my family.”
She didn’t like it, didn’t know what she should do. Gretchen had never paid much attention to tabloids or anything, and she certainly hadn’t spent time fantasising about the evils of wizards, but she couldn’t see why anyone would want to hurt Harry’s family.
He was starting to look at her strangely. This strange man in this strange black cell wanted her blood.
“It’s a spell Hermione found, if that’s any consolation.” He pushed his fingers into his hair, pulling at it, mussing it out of a careful style. “She looked into every contingency, every possibility. No one who is not keyed in can come in, full stop. That’s it.”
“What do you mean Herm— I found it?”
“Well, it’s a variation on our phoenixes. You know, the scar on your...” Harry said, but trailed off, blushing as he pointed at her hip.
“It’s just my hip, Potter. You can see it in a bathing costume.”
He pulled a face at her and said, “Listen, Snape—”
That made her laugh, and Harry smiled at her. His eyes were shining, and he pulled off his jumper to reveal a t-shirt. A large phoenix like the one on her hip and on Neville’s arm rested on a well-shaped bicep. “I know you remember. Hours in the library, and then you found this, and without it you couldn’t get into...”
“Headquarters,” Gretchen said softly.
“Grimmauld Place, Harry,” she whispered, staring at the mark. Again, the black cell began to swim around her.
Harry lifted the sickle knife again. “Just a smudge on that stone wall. Ready?” Like a father cajoling a child, he picked up her hand and cut the pad of her thumb. He was gentle but firm, and he pressed the blood against the wall. Within moments it shimmered apart, like beads in a doorway.
“All done. What do we say to a little hurt?”
“Episkey.” Gretchen watched as her little cut faded away as if it was nothing. She looked up at Harry, who laced their fingers together and pulled her through the door.
“Oi, Ginny! Guess who the kneazle dragged in!”
Harry pulled her through the house, back into a kitchen attached to a large living room. It looked as though it was holding its breath, waiting to exhale hastily hidden toys from every corner.
“It’s about bloody time!” Ginny said as she pulled a baking sheet from the oven. Once it was settled, she tossed the oven mitts aside, turning to face them.
She was gorgeous. Gretchen remembered back to when Severus and Albus had taken her to Ollivander’s, and she’d had the cinnamon potion. However, instead of a spritely body and long copper hair, the woman facing her now was hugely pregnant with a short-cropped pixie cut. She was still stunning. “Ginny.”
Then, Gretchen was swept back to another day, five years earlier, at the book shop. The girl in the toilet. And the blonde one with the curious question. Her stomach was in her throat, and Gretchen felt like she would be sick.
“Easy now. Have a seat. Drink this.” The woman had a glass from the shelf and tapped it with her wand.
Gretchen took the glass and drank deeply. She could not believe what was happening, what she was seeing, what she was remembering.
Harry and Ginny were standing over her, and again she was struck by the impression of parents worrying over a child. In his hand, Harry had her staff. She reached for it, taking it tightly in her left hand. It wasn’t enough.
“What is it? What do you need?” Harry asked, looking for all the world as though he was ready to dash out and get it.
“A pillow. Severus gives me pillows.”
Ginny conjured three pillows from out of nowhere, and Gretchen sliced her fingers through the air, shredding each in turn. Then, with a last roiling gurgle, her stomach settled. A shiver ran down her spine, and she finished drinking her water.
“All right?” Ginny asked.
Gretchen nodded, and began to take in the house again. It was so homey, and it was obvious that the young family spent most of their time in these rooms. Despite being tidy, the room was packed with toys and books and games, two large brooms with stirrups and two smaller brooms sat in racks by the French doors to the back garden.
Clearing her throat, Ginny asserted her presence. “Hi!” She threw her arms wide and bent down for an awkward hug. “I’m not always this large. I promise.”
Harry wrapped his arm around Ginny’s shoulder, pride and protection emanating from him.
“You look good. Really good. When are you due?” Gretchen asked. These were the things that she had found pregnant women always wanted to hear, but for the first time, she actually meant it.
“Any bloody day now. She was due last Friday!”
“Luna...” That name rang in Gretchen’s mind like a wind chime.
Ginny Summoned a photo album and sat in the chair next to Gretchen. “The children’s godmother.” She flinched, as if worried that Gretchen would be upset with her. “She was the next closest witch to Harry and me.” Ginny opened the book, and there she was, the blond woman from the bookstore.
“Thestral mane...” Gretchen said, and then shook her head softly so she could focus on the pictures. They moved. She was used to it; Severus had numerous photos around the cottage, but it was still jarring at first.
“James Sirius is our oldest, almost five. Then, Albus Severus: Snape loves that.”
On her other side, Harry snorted. Gretchen suspected that Severus did not love it one bit, but from what she understood about the relationship with Harry and Severus, there was little Severus could do.
“Al just turned two, but he chases after his brother so much I wonder if he’s not growing twice as fast,” Harry said.
“Can I meet them?” Gretchen turned around looking for the kids, seeing some stairs and running her eyes up to the second floor, hoping for a peek.
Ginny smiled. “Soon. Trust me: you want Rori to settle them down first. They love her, and they are excited to meet you too. They’ve heard a lot about... you.”
Ruffling his hair a little bit, Harry looked at Gretchen with an apology on his face. “Both of you, I guess. I’m sorry. It’s impossible to not talk about Hermione as we remember her, or about you, Gretchen.”
“They don’t think I’m two people, though?” Gretchen went back to the album, slowly turning the pages. She felt as if she were two people sometimes.
“No, we’ve talked to them, well James, really. Al just scuttles around and gets into things. And Rori has been very good with explaining it.”
“She should be,” Ginny muttered.
Harry shot her a warning look. Gretchen looked at them, wondering what they were communicating between the two of them. As the moments stretched out, Gretchen was sure they were keeping something from her. “Harry Potter, I insist you tell me.”
With a smug snort, Ginny also turned her gaze on Harry. She folded her arms, clearly indicating she’d told him so.
As Gretchen waited, she was reminded of much younger versions of Harry Potter, one who was using a book he’d told her he’d got rid of or one who wanted her help on an assignment, but didn’t want to admit to having skived off.
“Tell me, Harry!”
“Snape is going to have my head,” he said, mostly to himself. Then, he cleared his throat. “Well, you see, Ginny and I, and sometimes Severus and Ginny and I have... erm... discussed... well, you.”
“Well, you know... he ran into you, and we knew it was you. Well, I thought—Ginny and I and a lot of people thought we should just, you know, get you.”
“But not Snape!” Ginny interrupted. “He said if you were going to come, you’d come. And then he goes haring off all over the world researching! All the while, he dragged Rori along. All we had of you, and she was gone for months at a time!” Her jaw clenched, and her lips wobbled. “Bloody pregnancy hormones. Come out, already, Lily!” Ginny held her belly in her hands and scowled down at it.
“He was right, though. Bloody bastard usually is. He’s done all the research, knows all the known possibilities. And you’re here now, and that’s what counts, right?”
Gretchen listened to Harry and nodded. However, something in her brain was snagging. As Ginny called the kids down and Gretchen smiled and took Al from Rori’s arms and walked over to read the book the James had picked out, something was unravelling. It made her feel hot under her skin and scratchy, and as always, she could only think of one person—Severus—¬to turn to.