The rest of the visit to Gretchen’s former life was spent primarily as a visit in Muggle London, taking in all the usual tourist sites by day. After Rori had been tucked in at night, however, Gretchen began packing her things, choosing which belongings to take back to the cottage and which to abandon or donate. Further, plans were made to have the Hogwarts House Elves renovate the cottage. The elves were able to do the construction without changing much of the physical house.
It took a surprising amount of time, in part because of the magic which was used when the cottage was first constructed for Rori and Severus, and also because there were so many wards and traps and safeguards to resolve. This was a major magical deconstruction.
Severus had been thorough in providing a safe place for his daughter to grow up, even if they might have spent very little time there over the years.
They had been living in the cottage while the elves worked. The project, finally, was coming to a close. A sort of astronomy tower-slash-meditation parlour-slash-study had been added to the southern corner of the house. Severus had toyed with the idea of one for a long time, but hadn’t had a good reason to add such a watchtower before now. There was an exterior staircase that swept up the north side of the cottage, arriving to new level. Inside, there was a spiral staircase that led into the hallway adjacent to Severus’s office.
Gretchen was fully immersed in the project, bringing a much needed stamp of her own on their home. She had spent countless hours meditating and making decisions, only relaxing with a book when Rori dragged her to her room.
Since mid-January, Gretchen had been taking quick naps with Rori in her bed to supplement her late nights. The ‘girls’ had a renewed fondness for each other.
Valentine's Day morning, however, found Severus and Rori in the Room of Requirement. They always spent the holiday together. They wore fine robes. They had fine food. Severus talked to his daughter about love and listened to her thoughts. He wanted to always learn from her and to always teach her.
Since the beginning of all of this, life had been increasingly off-kilter, however positive the progress might be. Thus, this year, Rori needed the special time with her father more than ever.
The Room of Requirement was lovely. Rori had walked past the door this morning, and the room had decorated itself into a library with high ceilings, that unique ‘eau de old book,’ and was painted in peach and purple tones. There were bouquets of flowers throughout the room in the same colours. Light reflected from the crystal vases.
They say at an ornate table in the centre of the room, finishing a third game of Go. The first game had gone to Severus, who had been ruthless as he covered the board in purple stones. Rori, antagonized into playing properly, had taken the second game, her peach coloured stones glimmering on the board. Severus was giving her a good challenge, and he would be victorious.
She would learn how to outplay him eventually, but this was not that year. Besides, they were having her favourite lunch: chicken and vegetable pie. As the game was magicked away and lunch was served, Rori clapped, pleasantly surprised. She tucked in happily and sighed a deep, satisfied sigh.
Severus took this as a good sign and asked if the pie was so good.
"Well, not exactly..." Rori looked up at him, and she whispered, "I’m having a really nice time, Dad. Sometimes, I miss when it was just you and me, and we travelled. …You know, just us.”
“Ah,” Severus said just before taking his first bit of pie.
“I mean, I love–” Rori froze, realising what she had just said, and the magnitude of so easily revealing a secret she had meant to keep. “That is, I mean, Gretchen is wonderful, but I miss when it was you and me.”
Severus took a deep breath and said, “I miss that, too. However, we will make new memories as the three of us. We already have, have we not?”
As he finished, he turned to look through one of the tall windows, out towards the cottage. What he saw was a very worrisome surprise: although they had dismantled many of the numerous protections around Severus's home, some remained and one was currently “going off”. He could see an indigo dome encompassing the cottage.
Someone had tried to enter his home, without permission, carrying an unauthorized item. Said person was now trapped inside that dome and likely to be quite agitated. However, Gretchen was there, and as he had learned, she was very capable of defending herself. Also, there were elves. There was no need to abbreviate lunch just yet.
“What is it, Dad?” Rori asked, turning to follow his gaze.
Severus turned to Rori and asked, “Well, it appears we are about to make ever more memories with our new urchin. Are you wearing your Portkey?”
“Of course,” she replied, her curiosity barely under control.
“Sit. Finish your lunch. It’s very good, and everything is under control out there.”
Rori turned back to the table and began to eat with gusto. “It’s only once we get back there that we lose control.”
“Very good.” Severus bowed to her before attending to his own lunch.
Once their plates were clean and they had both finished their milk, they pushed back from the table. Severus stood and adjusted his robes. “Aurora, we are expected to be out having a fancy lunch together. What can we do to look the part but also be ready for the unknown foe we face?”
Rori looked down at herself. “Well, my shoes aren’t very good for doing much more than sitting inside. I should have trainers, and then it would look like I wasn’t ready when I am.”
A pair of trainers appeared on the floor, and Rori put them on.
Severus looked up to the ceiling. “I’d like my good boots, please.” His worn-in dragon-hide boots appeared, and he put them on.
“I have my Portkey. I’m ready.” Rori waived an old handkerchief of Hermione’s before tying it around her neck like a scarf with a pretty bow.
Severus nodded and motioned for her to step close so he could Apparate to the cottage. Thankfully, the Room of Requirement let him through. Once inside, Rori crept to Severus’s office, where she could watch events unfold through the mirror. When she was safe behind the door, Severus walked from the kitchen to the living room, his boots clicking a slow rhythm, drawing attention to him as he took in the scene.
He found Gretchen, in a ruby red sweater and navy denims, with one hand on her staff and the other holding a small bubble with something inside it. Her arms were spread wide, and there was a scorch mark above her head.
Now Severus understood what Draco had said about her eyes. She had the look of someone holding too much magic. She was terrifying, but so like Hermione, it took his breath away.
The house-elf, in turn, was containing Gretchen as she was containing her target. Between them lay a dozen roses, looking as though they were thrown to the grown and crushed underfoot.
He took a deep breath. “What is the meaning of this?”
The house-elf trembled under his sneer and released her spell. “Shalby is keeping miss from doing magics.”
Severus bowed his head to the elf. “Release her, please, but remain on your guard.”
The elf nodded and dropped her bony, little hands. When she did, there was a bright blue flash, a scream, a growl, and Rita Skeeter was on her arse on the floor, once more crushing the roses.
Before he could open his mouth, there was another bright flash. This time, though, it was from a miniature camera that disappeared once the picture was taken.
“Severus Snape, how long has Hermione Granger been living in this residence?”
Then, another flash. That camera disappeared, as well. “Miss Granger, why have you allowed Wizarding Britain to believe you to be dead all these years?”
Severus, blood now boiling, opened his mouth to speak, but was again interrupted.
“Rita Skeeter, you vile, little insect!” Gretchen’s voice boomed. Around the living room, furniture trembled. Picture frames shook where they were hung on the wall.
Severus listened for the glass to start cracking, but it did not. Keeping his body still, his eyes raced around the room. Nothing was breaking. He looked to Gretchen. Unlike the event just after Christmas, she appeared to be in control. The iridescent mist was swirling throughout the room, but it seemed to twist around Skeeter where she cowered on the floor.
Brandishing his wand to gain Skeeter’s attention, Severus neared the centre of the room. “How did you get into my home?”
Having something else to focus on seemed to put some colour back in her cheeks. Skeeter preened a bit. “Every reporter has her secrets.”
Shalby, looking fearful for the first time, turned her head away. “Flowers being delivered,” she said, and the roses lifted from the floor into a poor representation of a formerly beautiful bouquet.
Severus had seen enough guilt-ridden house elves to know that Shalby was about to start castigating herself with the bouquet, that Severus immediately Banished it from the house. “She delivered the flowers?”
“No! The flowers were left by the gate,” Gretchen snarled.
“Then, how did she get in here?”
In answer to his question, Gretchen lifted her staff and struck it on the floor. There was a flash of orange light. Then, a beetle floating in a bubble.
Severus turned to Gretchen, wary of her sudden command of her magic. “How are you doing that?”
“Remember, Severus, when we discovered Wormtail?” she replied, her voice coming less from her mouth than from every corner of the room. Again, her staff hit the floor, and another bright blue flash of magic. Rita Skeeter was on her arse, speechless.
“How could I forget?” That was the first night that he’d ever felt unyoked from the loss of Lily Evans. He had betrayed her, yes, but Wormtail… Wormtail had truly put death at her door.
“Sirius and Remus showed us.” Gretchen swayed on her feet.
“Sirius Black?” Skeeter squealed, turning to face the story of the century.
“Quiet!” Gretchen’s voice boomed once more. She advanced on Skeeter. “You’re disgusting! We had a deal, Skeeter!”
That seemed to deflate the reporter some, and she settled back into the floor.
“Deal?” Severus asked, stepping closer to Gretchen, watching her sway.
“She’s an unregistered Animagus. I know her secret.”
Severus stood behind Gretchen now. “Is that so?”
Skeeter rolled her eyes. “It’s too late. Those pictures are already with my publishers. It’s likely to make the evening edition.”
“You don’t have an evening edition.”
Skeeter smiled, sharp teeth showing. “We will tonight. And if anything happens to me, a member of the press! Well, I can’t imagine what the papers would say…”
Severus could imagine, though. He looked to the house-elf and nodded. “You’ll have to, from the dungeons of Hogwarts. Shalby.”
Shalby nodded back, and left the cottage, taking the nefarious reporter with her.
With them gone from the room, Gretchen had no focus for her magic. She swooned, but Severus was there to catch her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her body against his. “Sh… sh-sh… It’s safe; she’s gone now.”
The mist, also now without a target, began to swirl around them. Severus felt it coiling against his skin, rushing between his body and his robes as it wended toward Gretchen once more.
Severus dropped his mouth to Gretchen’s ear. “You were magnificent.”
“I’d do anything to protect our family.”
The once booming voice became far away. Severus stilled. “Hermione.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day.”
He pushed his mouth into her hair over her temple. “Stay. Just stay.” Far away, he heard her staff clatter to the floor.
Her hands were in his hair. They were falling, he felt like they were endlessly tumbling together. He wanted to chase her, follow her down this rabbit hole.
“Rori’s calling,” she whispered.
Like a boat on an anchor, Severus was lurched backward. The magic that had swirled around him now buffeted his body away from hers. Rori was not ‘calling’. Rori was screaming at the top of her bloody lungs. The house was trembling now, but from the outside, as people attempted to Apparate through his wards and failed.
Severus held up his hand, and Rori silenced immediately. “Get our Go-Bags, and come to my study. We’re going to Teddy’s house.”
There were about thirty seconds of activity before they were huddled together in front of the Floo in his office. Severus had arranged Gretchen so her arms were around his neck, holding him securely. Then, Rori threw the powder in the fireplace and hopped through. Severus cast one last spell on the door to his office, then followed his daughter through the Floo.
When his feet were on solid ground, Severus raised his head, to find Remus Lupin in a frilly blue robe, and Tonks Lupin mimicking a face she never thought she’d see again.
After the initial shock and bustle of the Lupins welcoming the wayward Snapes, Gretchen found herself in a bedroom with some of Tonks’s clothes to change into. She listened to Tonks shouting at Remus about keeping Hermione a secret all these years.
Gretchen, however, was having a hard time controlling her stomach. If she kept her eyes closed for too long, she had flashes of memory to a shabby old room she felt like she had spent a lot of time in with Ginny.
The number 12.
A shouting portrait.
Something about the secret nature of this place was setting her off in a way she really didn’t like. Gretchen, much too warm in her jumper, pulled it off her body. She had taken to wearing one of Severus’s black t-shirts underneath her regular clothes when she could pinch one from his drawer. She grabbed Tonks’s shorts, exchanging them for her denims. She pulled off her woolen socks.
Feeling much cooler, smelling the lingering scent of Severus, her stomach settled. She grabbed her staff and snuck down the stairs and outside to the back garden. The fresh air made her feel better still, and she sat beneath the well-groomed branches of the strawberry tree which grew there.
She took a deep breath. One minute she had been thinking, on the one hand, about the ideal layout of her portion of the cottage’s new tower. On the other hand, she had been wondering what, exactly, Rori and Severus had got up to in the castle. The next minute, she was smelling beautiful roses someone had left at the door. Then, she was so angry, unbridled fury coursed through her. Then, Severus had come home, and everything was chaos, and now… they were in Portugal.
The Order of the Phoenix still had safe-houses. Remus and Tonks and Teddy, their son, lived in one, because Remus is a werewolf. The house was secret-kept, and so none of them could say, exactly, where they were.
Gretchen knew this was all too much to comprehend, but she just couldn’t find the confusion in herself. When she had first arrived at hospital, she didn’t know anything, and now she felt as if she knew things that no one should know because they were bizarre or nonsense or unknowable.
She lay back onto the dirt and looked up at the green leaves of the tree. The top of her staff lay on her belly, and she toyed with the tendrils with her fingers.
She missed her wand.
She missed her friends.
Gretchen closed her eyes and imagined Hermione was next to her. They were in her parents’ back garden, staring up at the trees. It was a July morning, and Hermione had just read that the marriage law was about to be passed. She had already decided she would do it if Dumbledore asked.
She knew Harry wouldn’t want her to, but Harry could be so… short-sighted sometimes. She tried to imagine who it might that she would have to marry.
Gretchen and Hermione shared a look.
Harry had such a fit when it was Severus.
“At least it’s not Malfoy.”
“At least it wasn’t some foolish child.” Hermione had thought for a long time that seventh year boys did not know what to do with themselves, all full of magic and hormones and confidence, and little of anything substantial.
“Are you out here?” Tonks shouted, startling Hermione. What could Tonks be doing at her parents’ home?
“Here!” Hermione shouted and began to sit up.
“No, no! Don’t get up,” Ollivander insisted. “Leave us.”
Hermione frowned. This was now getting beyond confusing. She heard the shuffle of the old man coming forward, but she continued to finger the tendrils of her staff and stare up at the tree.
“Miss Granger… Oof.” Ollivander finally settled, sitting cross-legged beside her. “Your secret is out. In Britain, wizards and witches are in a right state. While I dare say you’ve overcome a great deal already, your journey is beginning anew. I remember the first time you came to my shop for your wand. Dragon heartstring. I had some of that left, and some of the rosewood from your staff as well.”
Hermione blinked and looked up at the old wand-maker.
“I don’t craft as often as I used to. My supply will outlast me by generations, I hope. But for all you’ve done for us, I wanted to make this for you. I hope I’m as qualified a wand-maker as people think me to be.”
Ollivander drew a long, thin box from the sleeve of his robe. It was white, aspen wood, the paler wood from her staff. He opened it, pulling the redwood wand from its satin bed.
He lifted her left wrist from her staff, and placed the wand in her hand.
Hermione took a great gasp and the garden filled with the light of the fog. She sat up, as if waking from a deep sleep.
Ollivander, when she turned to look, was smiling. He seemed a bit smug. “Welcome.”
“This is incredible. Avis.” Hermione turned her wand and half a dozen red-rumped swallows appeared in the garden. They watched the birds for a moment, and then she looked at her new wand. “Does this mean I’m …fixed?”
“Heavens, I don’t know. My expertise is in wands, dear, not Occlusion or maladies or anything else.”
Behind them, on the other side of the tree, someone cleared his throat.
“Nor incessant meddling,” Ollivander grumbled as Dumbledore appeared over them.
“Good afternoon, miss…?” Dumbledore looked at Hermione with his eyebrows raised.
“Hermione. Better to call me Hermione, now, no matter how, or perhaps, who I feel going forward.”
“Albus. Help me up. I’m ready for tea,” Ollivander insisted. The two old men gripped hands, and both gave a show of much more strength than one might expect by looking at them.
Dumbledore turned to Hermione. “I’ll let you have a few moments to collect yourself.” He gestured around the back garden, where the tell-tale fog seemed to linger, neither moving in nor out.
When the men were through the door, Hermione took a deep breath. She imagined the doctors in the amnesia ward where she’d found herself. She imagined signing the agreement to her flat. She remembered her first job interview after she was released.
Setting her wand and her staff on the ground, she pushed her fingers through her hair: a short crop. She was still Gretchen, too.
She stood and took her staff in her right hand and her new wand in her left. She loved the now-familiar feeling of the staff in her grip, but she knew she would bumble with the wand in her left hand. She switched. Still awkward, but more manageable.
She took a deep breath. With arms extended in front of her, she tapped the staff into the soil of the back garden. A soft blue flame ignited. With her wand, she began to syphon the mist toward the flame.
However, as moisture grew around the staff, it didn’t sizzle or steam up. Instead, it seemed to transpire over her staff, spreading lower and lower, washing away all the runes clear to the hand-hold.
When she was done, she felt positively Gretchen, but with a wholeness she could not remember feeling thus far. She took a deep breath, ready to start her life as Hermione once more.