On New Year’s day, Severus sat in his study and, through the magic mirror, supervised Gretchen and Rori as they sat on Rori’s bed, reading.
Rori’s back was toward him, but her head was bent over her book. Her legs were stretched in front of her, feet pressing sole to sole with Gretchen’s. Gretchen was sitting the same way, and dark curls fell into her eyes which, of course, had been made up by Rori, who was practicing daily on Gretchen. Meanwhile, Rori and Gretchen weren’t speaking much. Patience was growing thin between them, and innocent statements were almost immediately returned with snipes. Still, they couldn’t bear to be apart for very long.
Gretchen was wearing a dark green cotton shirt. It had long sleeves and a high collar, and yet it seemed to reveal so much to Severus, and tease him with the rest. Rori had given the shirt to her for Christmas, unbeknownst to Severus. Ginevra had taken Rori out shopping without his knowledge. He should have known. Rori had chosen only two books, a journal, and a quill set with inks for Gretchen. He had been preoccupied with his own shopping at the time and had not taken enough notice of his daughter.
He would not be making the same mistake again.
Severus watched the two through the mirror, his hands gripping the arm rests of his chair gently. He had left his wand on his desktop, having only just resisted the urge to listen in with a simple enough charm on the mirror.
Supervision was one thing. Spying was another. He would not spy on his daughter, in her own room, at least.
The two sat still, except for a deep sigh from Rori, her chest rising and falling as she relaxed into her book.
Severus sunk lower into his chair, feeling his back stretch as it curled. Part of him could not believe he was using his time in such a fashion. Certainly, there were better uses for his attention.
None of those could still his thoughts, though. Hermione. Gretchen. Bloody Lucius Malfoy!
They were not young men any more, although last night was in some ways similar to an event Lucius had orchestrated for Severus when Lucius had just left Hogwarts. An exclusive party had been held at Malfoy Manor, and Severus had been a curious guest.
…A beautiful Spanish Pureblood…
That had been more than thirty years ago. Oh, how the night had turned after dessert had been set out, chocolate truffles for every taste.
Pushing his fingers through his hair, Severus clenched the fine strands and tugged just a bit. Then, he rolled his head a bit on his shoulders, looking up just in time to see Gretchen’s eyes flick up at Rori, a small nod, and small but satisfied smile.
Severus snarled. Whatever patience he might once have had for this scenario had expended itself.
He opened his hand, and his wand flew to it. The mirror darkened in a flash. The room was Silenced. A glass vase was conjured, and quickly met its demise against the wall behind his desk. Then a second vase came and went the same way.
As the shards dropped to the floor, Severus stood in the centre of the room, panting. He had lost control, however contained the moment might have been. He swallowed, his breath coming back to him.
This would not do. However free he was to act candidly in the privacy of his office, Severus knew he could not erupt in front of Aurora or Gretchen. Further, he would need time to regain control of the situation.
He felt the world slipping from his fingers. It was not the first time. The sinking sensation in his stomach was like an old enemy, come back from the dead.
In his doings, Severus’s hair had fallen into his eyes. Now, looking in the mirror, his reflection looked as if no time had passed since his darkest days: he was tall but lurching, like a vulture. He drew a deep breath, and then another as he drew himself up into a proper posture. A third exhale and he was standing again, firm but relaxed.
Of all that he had been in this world, he was happiest in this role.
For half a moment, he wished that he’d never met Gretchen in that bookshop. How his joyful little world had turned that day, however long it had been put off by his research. Shaking his head, Severus pushed the thought away. He did not wish for that. He would not trade away even these months, would never wish to steal them from Aurora.
His reasoning then turned to his own strategy. Clearly, Aurora had certain ideas in her head, as did Gretchen, it seemed.
Severus was not unaccustomed to women who thought they desired him: he'd put off a handful of witches in the years since Hermione had left. Honestly, he hadn’t had more than a passing interest in any of them, and it had seemed beyond comprehension to have anyone act as Rori’s step-mother.
Hermione, who she had been and what she had done, could not be substituted.
Perhaps this was the crux of the problem. Gretchen and Hermione were the same person. She was there, in that body, and trying to get out. Hermione was Gretchen. Gretchen was Hermione.
Still, Severus didn't know what Gretchen was playing at with that kiss last night, although he also suspected that she did not know, either. She had told him of her very few failed attempts at a love life, almost in passing.
If she had had the ability to fantasise at all, Severus would suspect her of trying to live out said fantasies in the safe place he had made. However, they had talked at length about her inability to imagine anything at all for herself.
Of course, Severus did not need to imagine. He remembered his short marriage quite well, and his intimate knowledge of Hermione was some of his most prized intelligence. It would not be a great intellectual leap to think that Hermione might feel the same way.
Perhaps he was not entirely correct about Gretchen’s actions. Severus had provided a haven for her to explore her… self. It would be short-sighted to think that that self was not also a… romantic creature.
He should have known. The thought made that the corner of his lip curl up in satisfaction, and perhaps a little something else.
It was decided. It was not a new strategy that he needed, but an evolved one. Severus had been at his most placid these last few months, which had been quite successful in the beginning. Of that, he was confident. However, if he wanted to… inspire Gretchen’s progress, he would have to do more.
Severus, who had been pacing around the room now for some time, heard glass crunch under his boot. He frowned, Vanishing the mess, and then, returned to his chair. Once settled, he activated the mirror again. They were curled together now, Gretchen’s mouth forming words Severus could not hear, and Rori twirling her finger through a chestnut curl.
Looking carefully, Severus could see how Rori had carefully turned Gretchen’s hair into careful ringlets. Some twisted with purpose, making Gretchen’s eyes look even more doe-ish.
With a snort, Severus felt a bloom of pride in his little Slytherin. Without his clear intent, he had taught Rori much more than he had meant to teach. Then, as a mountain lion stalking its lunch, he turned his attention to Gretchen and found he had a touch pity for what more was in store for her, for how could she know with whom she was toying?
After dinner, Severus called Rori into his office for a serious conversation. Gretchen acted as if she resented being excluded, as if she resented losing even another minute with Rori, but a stern look from Severus quelled her protest.
Rori, as if she knew what this ‘serious conversation’ was to be about, sat on the sofa and let her feet kick as if she were a typical ten year old.
They sat and looked at each other for a long time before Severus bestowed a pleased grin upon his daughter. “I see what you have done while my attention has been elsewhere, Aurora.”
She smiled and shrugged. Then, because she was still a child, no matter how mature, she shrunk a bit in her seat. She was shy and perhaps, chagrined.
“Neither Gretchen nor your mother is obligated to re-enter a marriage with me if she does not wish to be in one. You have to be prepared for that.”
“I am, father.”
A too quick reply. “You are not. You will be heart-broken. You do not understand what that means because you are a girl who is well-loved and well-cared for.” She opened her mouth to retort, but he silenced her with a wave of his fingers.
“Marriage is more than pretty make-up and snogging, Aurora.”
“You snogged?” Aurora exclaimed, leaping out of her chair.
Severus felt his cheeks get hot but merely glared at his daughter. “I thought Gretchen had told you as much.”
Rori froze, looking around the room as though she had lost something important and was trying to remember where she’d left it. She took a deep breath, the sort of breath Hermione might take before reciting too much verbatim data from a book too quickly, but Severus quietly commanded Rori to sit, and she did.
“Was it like when Uncle Harry kisses Aunt Ginny?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “You will refrain from analogizing me or your mother or Gretchen to Harry and Ginny Potter for the rest of your life or I will cut out your tongue and nail it to your bedroom door.”
Then, it was Rori’s turn to roll her eyes. She waited while Severus shook his head, trying to remember why he had brought her in here.
“My point, if you’ll allow me to make it, fair daughter, is that I am neither angry nor am I going to prohibit further action. However, be advised that I will be paying closer attention to both your actions and your intentions in the future.”
Rori was nodding along with him before he was even halfway through the first sentence. She had heard this chastisement before, countless times.
Severus was about to continue when there was a knock on the door. From the other side, Gretchen announced, “The weird not-clock says you two are plotting. It had better not be against me.”
Rising from his chair, Severus opened the door and waved Gretchen through. “We wouldn’t dream of it. You’re much too clever for us.”
Shifting her staff to her other hand, Gretchen squeezed onto the sofa with Rori, who had hopped up into the centre after her exclamation. “Two lies in the same breath, Severus. Very impressive.” She was looking at Rori, and tucked her hair behind her ear.
“If you are so sure, than why don’t you elucidate your theory?” Severus crossed his arms and waited, his face turning down as though he was impatient for a student to produce his assignment.
Gretchen opened her mouth to reply but frowned when nothing came out. Narrowing her eyes, she said, “I’ll work it out.”
Rori and Severus shared a look, and Severus mouthed ‘Gryffindor’ as Rori whispered it. Thus provoked, Gretchen reached out and tickled Rori’s ribs, concluding the night’s more serious affairs.