Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 10 of 27

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Hermione rarely napped, even after a late night of studying, so she hadn't really expected to sleep all day. She was surprised to wake and feel from the altered angle of the sun in the room that a great deal of time had passed. She stretched on the bed, and a glance at her watch told her that it was after four p.m. – nearly time to begin getting ready for dinner according to the itinerary Snape had set. She swung her feet to the floor and grabbed her bag on her way to the bathroom. She was grateful for her parents' obsessive concern with dental hygiene; their upbringing had ensured that she always kept a toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste in her bag. She hadn't given a thought to purchasing one in Diagon Alley. She also rifled through her various purchases, pulling out the bag that contained her makeup.

The bathroom was a pleasant surprise, with a large old-fashioned tub much like the one she had in her private room at Hogwarts. There were a number of jets with various foams and bubbles, and she quickly decided that a long bath, rather than the shower she had planned, would be just the thing to free her mind from the sleepy tug of the nap. It worked, and within moments of lowering herself into the bubbly depths, she began working on the problem of how to find Harry, turning over one piece of information after another, as she mechanically washed herself. She became so lost in thought that she spent longer in the tub than she had planned, and only when the water became uncomfortably cool did she realize that it was probably time she got out and began getting ready for dinner.

With Snape.

Oh this is going to be so weird, she thought, as she dried herself and slipped into the bathrobe hanging on the back of the door. The mirror was streaky with condensation, and it irritated her that she couldn't just use her wand to clear it as she did when she was at school. It made no sense to her that mirrors could be charmed to carry on conversations but couldn't be charmed to reflect despite a little bit of humidity. It was only one tiny example of the wizarding world having its priorities slightly out of kilter, in her opinion. She sighed and went back out into her room, intending to find her underclothing among the bags from Madam Malkin's. She walked straight into Severus Snape.

She gasped, severely startled – nearly hyperventilating - at the sight of his dark form looming in her room. "You scared me to death!" she snapped, the minute she could draw proper breath.

"I apologize," he said coolly. "I did knock, but there was no answer. I was concerned."

She realized suddenly what she was wearing and clutched the robe tighter around her body. "I was bathing – obviously," she said, forcing herself to sound calmer. "I lost track of the time."

"Fine," he said, for the first time looking slightly embarrassed at the intimacy of the situation. "Just knock on the door when you're ready for me to charm your hair. We'll need to leave in an hour." He turned and strode into his own room, closing the door behind him.

An hour? she thought, forgetting about her embarrassment and feeling slightly panicked instead. It was a good thing she had gotten up early. The man obviously had no idea how long it took women to get ready. She grabbed the bag she needed and went back into the bathroom to don her underwear and slip before applying her makeup with unusual care. She put lipstick on last, blotting her lips and then glancing at the mirror with some nervousness. She would do, she thought. She didn't consider herself particularly beautiful, but her mum was always on about how she could be beautiful if she'd only take more trouble with her appearance. In the general run of things, Hermione just couldn't be bothered. She typically stayed up late studying and then tried to get in extra studying in the morning as well. Time in front of a mirror was wasted, she thought, when there were books to be read. So usually she skipped over the makeup and just pulled her hair back into a neat barrette or ponytail. When she did trouble herself for special occasions and spent extra time on her appearance, she was always a bit surprised and a trifle uncomfortable by the sight of herself in the mirror. It had always seemed to unnerve Harry and Ron as well. They tended to treat her as if she'd been playing some elaborate prank on them – pretending to be one thing when in fact she was something altogether less trustworthy.

She went to put on her new dress robes, shivering a little with the luxurious feeling of the silk against her skin. She did up the fastenings and turned before the mirror. A shame, really, that she was going somewhere where no one would even know her. It would be fun to debut this outfit at a Hogwarts ball. Well, perhaps she still could sometime.

That left only the hair. Her own hair was a rats' nest of tangled, damp curls, and she was a bit relieved that she wouldn't have to bother with it, but she felt terribly silly about having to ask Snape to do something about it. She remembered his earlier comment about makeup and beauty secrets and giggled a little as she went to knock at the door. He answered immediately, fully dressed for the evening and obviously waiting on her. She looked at him in surprise. He looked, well, different from the man who had taught her for the last six years. His dress robes were actually not terribly dissimilar from his school robes; both were black, of course, but the dress robes were of a thinner, finer fabric she couldn't immediately identify and seemed to be cut less fully, as were her own. The greatest difference was that his hair was pulled back, secured in a small ponytail at the nape of his neck. Without the curtain of lank hair framing his face, he looked much less forbidding and considerably younger.

He seemed a bit surprised by her appearance as well though he betrayed himself with only the slightest flicker of a glance that travelled up and down her slim form. He said nothing, however; he merely drew out his wand and turned his attention to her hair. "I could do this better with a potion," he muttered, and her eyes widened at him.

"Professor, please tell me you know what you're doing," she said threateningly. She'd always hated her hair, but she wasn't willing to trade it for the results of a botched glamour charm.

"Of course I do," he snapped. "It's just that if I had one of Cassandra's hair samples I could brew a potion that would match her hair exactly. This will be an approximation."

"I feel sure that will be fine," she answered, slightly reassured. "Personally, I'm a bit leery of potions involving hair samples."

He snorted. "There's a reason we don't allow second years to brew Polyjuice, Miss Granger."

"I didn't know you knew about that." She gave him an embarrassed smile.

The familiar scathing look again. "Of course I knew. It was just one of many times when you and your friends underestimated the Hogwarts staff and overestimated your own abilities. You were lucky it wasn't worse."

"It wasn't entirely luck, Professor," she said defensively. "I was perfectly capable of brewing that potion as a second year. It worked fine for Harry and Ron. I would say that you underestimate my abilities far more than I do yours."

"And perhaps it just appears that way," he told her, smirking at the incredulous look on her face as she made sense of his words. "Now, entertaining though it is, I suggest we save this conversation for a time when we don't have a pressing dinner engagement. Hold still and let me get this over with." He pointed his wand at her hair. "Folliculus flagrare."

She turned and saw that her hair had become the same raven black of his own, but that it was also the same tangled mess she had started with. The colour was fine, she supposed - though it would take a little getting used to - but she had somehow imagined that the change would be greater than what she could have accomplished herself with an inexpensive box of Muggle hair colouring.

Apparently Snape agreed. "No, that won't do at all," he said, examining her critically. "No Snape ever born had hair like that." He pointed his wand at her head again and said, "Straighten," and this time she felt a difference as the curls fell out of her hair. She glanced in the mirror again and was pleased to see that her hair fell from her scalp in a smooth black curtain.

"Straighten?" she asked in disbelief.

"Not terribly poetic, I'll grant you, but effective nonetheless."

"I'm absolutely livid with myself for not looking it up before," she said, fingering the silky strands. "I'll never have to bother with curls again."

"Sorry," he said dryly. "I should have mentioned that both charms are temporary. They'll wear off in about twenty-four hours."

A thought occurred to her then, and she looked at Snape, startled, before beginning to laugh. The irritation on his face only served to make her laugh harder, until finally she wiped her eyes, noting from the smudge on her hand that her makeup would have to be repaired. "I'm sorry, Professor," she gasped. "I really am. It's just…you're about the farthest thing I can imagine from a fairy godmother."

"Miss Granger, is it possible that you've suddenly lost your mind?" he demanded.

"I begin to think I have," she said, laughing again, the absurdity of the whole situation catching up with her.

"How delightful. I shall have just enough time to drop you at St. Mungo's before dinner."

"Oh, dinner!" she exclaimed. "I need to finish getting ready."

"I thought you were finished," he said, looking her up and down.

She pointed at her hair. "Of course not. I can't go like this."

"Of course not," he said sarcastically. "Go, then, and do whatever it is you think you need to do. We should be leaving soon."

She went back into the bathroom and pulled her brush through her new hair, absolutely loving the silky feel of it. Surely there was some more permanent charm for this. She made a mental note to research it as soon as Harry was safely back at Hogwarts and then turned her attention back to the matter at hand. She had no time for anything elaborate and little talent for it even if she'd had the time. She settled for a simple chignon, a style she often wore when working in the potions lab because it kept her hair out of her cauldron. It looked different, sleek and far more elegant now that the fuzzy curls were gone, and she was satisfied that the simplicity of her hairstyle worked well with the delicate robes. She attacked it with hair spray to hold it all in place and then asked the mirror, "What do you think?"

"Certainly an improvement," the mirror replied testily. Apparently hotel mirrors didn't care to be bothered.

"Thanks loads."

If the mirror's response was tepid, it was still a great deal more than she got from Snape, who was pacing her small room impatiently and greeted her with, "Finally. Let's go."

She nodded and glanced a bit longingly toward her wand as she made for the door, feeling that she would be much more secure with it than without. He noticed, of course; she was beginning to realize that he noticed everything.

"Take it," he said. "Keep it concealed in your robes, but take it with you, just in case."

Just in case of what? she wondered, but she didn't dare ask. She removed the wand from her dresser and tucked it in the side pocket of her dress robes, and then she stepped out of the door he was holding open for her. They made their way down the stairs, and Snape nodded curtly to Tom the innkeeper as they entered the antechamber.

"Good evening, Professor," Tom responded pleasantly. "And to you too, Miss Granger. May I say that you're looking very lovely this evening?"

"Thank you," she murmured, feeling extremely self-conscious at the impression they must be giving, two rooms or no.

Snape reached for her upper arm, bringing her to a halt with his firm grip. "Let me check the pub before we walk through. If Hagrid is drinking in there tonight, or anyone else from Hogwarts, we'll have to find another Floo."

"You're right," she said. "I hadn't thought of that."

"That's why I'm in charge." With that infuriating statement, he left her, striding into the pub and checking each nook and cranny carefully before pushing his head back through the door and beckoning to her. He hurried her through to the fireplace and reached for a pinch of Floo powder. "Snape House," he told her, "Mind you speak clearly. I'll go ahead and be waiting on you."

"Yes, sir." She watched as he stepped into the fireplace and wondered why he didn't just Apparate and let her take the Floo – a much less pleasant way to travel. She waited nearly a minute and then followed him, stepping reluctantly into the fireplace, mindful of her new robes. Then came the dizzying rush, and she was stepping into a library that immediately took her breath away. She hardly noticed Snape standing, amused, off to one side as she gasped and took in the proportions of the room filled – absolutely filled – with books. She automatically started for the nearest shelf, hand outstretched, and he chuckled and said, "I'm afraid not, Miss Granger. We have an engagement."

"This is your house?" she asked, still moving toward the shelf and already searching the titles with hungry eyes.

"Yes," he said. "My family's house, rather. I rarely come here. But we're dining with neighbours tonight and since we couldn't Apparate, I thought it would look more convincing if my cousin and I walked from here."

"Your cousin," she said weakly, forgetting the books in an instant. "You never told me anything about her."

"I'm going to do that right now," he said, gesturing for her to sit down in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace and then taking the one opposite her. "We have a few minutes before we have to be there, and it might be best if we're a few minutes late, anyway. I can see who's there, and if there's anyone who might recognize you, I'll have time to change our story."

He's really quite good at this, she thought reluctantly. Aloud she said, "Tell me about your cousin."

"As I said before, her name is Cassandra Snape. She's a second cousin, actually. Her father and I are first cousins. Her parents are Damian and Olivia, and they shouldn't be well acquainted with anyone at this party. If asked about them, all you need say is that you left them well, and that Damian is enjoying his retirement. He worked for the Ministry, but it's been many years now since he's even been in England. Cassandra hasn't been here since she was an infant. You actually look very little like her, from the few pictures I've seen, but no one there should know that. She is a rising sixth year at Durmstrang and would thus be a year younger than you are. I really have no idea what her interests and aptitudes are – you should be fine making those up, but it would perhaps be a good idea to feign an interest in Potions, if only because I happen to know the name of the Potions master there…"

"Professor Blinski," she interrupted.

He raised his eyebrows at her. "Very good, Miss Granger. May I ask how you know of Pylon Blinski?"

"I do not have to feign an interest in Potions, Professor," she said, a little haughtily. "I've always had an interest, and Viktor and I talked a great deal of our studies."

"Of course," Snape said, with just a trace of his usual sarcasm. "I had forgotten that you had the advantage of actually knowing someone who attended Durmstrang."

"I think I remember enough to discuss my 'studies' with anyone who should happen to ask," she said. "He told me of the place and of his teachers, assuming none of them have changed in the last two years."

"I haven't heard of any changes, other than Karkaroff, of course. The new Headmaster's name is Devious Fink."

She chuckled at that. "Well, there's a name that inspires confidence."

Surprisingly, Snape chuckled along with her. "He seems to have risen above his nomenclature. Dumbledore speaks highly of him."

"That's good enough for me," Hermione said. "OK, Headmaster Fink. What else, Professor?"

"Well, for tonight – and tonight only, I might add – you will need to call me Severus, or Cousin Severus. I, of course, will call you Cassandra. Do make an effort to respond naturally."

"Severus," she said, trying it out. The name sounded strange on her lips, but she knew he was right – accidentally letting "Professor" slip would undo her persona entirely.

"I can't think of any other specifics about Cassandra," he said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "I plan to tell our hostess that you had an interest in seeing England and visiting Hogwarts and that I have been acting as your guardian during your stay. I trust you are capable of elaborating on that as the situation warrants it, but stick to that basic story. I've taken you to Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and shown you a few of the London sights. Be as vague as possible as to dates and times so that we won't contradict one another."

"I think I can manage that," she said. "But…what exactly is it that we're hoping to find out while we're there? I'm not sure I understand why we're going."

"I'm not entirely sure of that myself," he admitted. "Perhaps I should begin at the beginning and give you the background I promised you this morning."

"Yes, sir."

"I'm assuming Potter has told you of my rather unique…role…in the Order?"

"He has," she said quietly. "He told me you were a former Death Eater who turned spy for Dumbledore."

"Yes. I served in that capacity until the famous boy who lived drove Voldemort from power back in 1981, and I resumed that role – very carefully – when Voldemort rose again in your fourth year at Hogwarts. It took a long time to earn his trust again, and even longer to earn the trust of my fellow Death Eaters. I think the only reason Voldemort took the risk – the only reason he didn't kill me on sight – was that he was so desperate to have a Death Eater stationed at Hogwarts. Even Dark Lords make mistakes," he said wryly. "However, he was careful with me; he limited the amount of information I had access to and made sure I never knew of anything of his plans for Potter. Furthermore, he met with me alone or in very small groups. I was never summoned for the larger meetings – and indeed, he had fewer of them than he'd had when I served him before. He didn't want us knowing exactly who our fellow Death Eaters were, something that is proving to be a mixed blessing now."

"You don't know who they are, but they don't know who you are either," she said thoughtfully.

"Exactly," he agreed. "I have been able, this summer, to continue in my double role. I've been able to seek out suspects and convince them that I was in the Dark Lord's service, getting enough information out of them to lead to their conviction."

"What if someone on the Dark side finds out that's what you're doing?" she asked. "That you're the one getting the Death Eaters thrown in Azkaban?"

"Then you'll likely have another Potions teacher next year," he answered, so smoothly that it sent a shiver running through her. She couldn't imagine being so complacent about her own death. "Don't look so horrified, Miss Granger. I am frankly surprised I've made it this long. I knew the risks when I agreed to serve Dumbledore, and I've never regretted my decision. But now, before we leave tonight, I want you to understand that you're taking a risk just by being seen with me. I said that I would send you home if the danger became immediate, but danger doesn't always come with convenient warnings. Have I made you understand the seriousness of what you're involving yourself in?"

She nodded slowly. It was terrifying, but it was for Harry, and she was willing to take the risk for him. "Yes. I still want to help. Just tell me what I should do."

"Mostly just keep your ears open, remember everything you hear, and be able to repeat it to me later. Given your performance in class, you should be ideally suited for such a commission. Just tell yourself I'm going to be giving you a surprise quiz." His mouth twitched a bit, and she knew he was laughing at her. "There will be several people there tonight whom I suspect of being in Voldemort's service. Our host and hostess, I'm pleased to say, are not among that number, but virtually everyone else you should view with a degree of suspicion. You will be a stranger and a foreigner to them and they might well let something slip around you, assuming that you wouldn't understand the reference or be able to put it in its proper context. Just remember all you can, and perhaps you'll hear something that will help us."

"Something about Harry?"

"Not directly, no. I've heard rumours that someone wants to kidnap Potter, but I doubt they will be making the rounds at dinner parties."

"Why, sir? Why kidnap him? Why not just kill him if they hate him so much?"

Snape sighed. It was so difficult to explain this to Gryffindors. "You may not fully appreciate this yet, Miss Granger, but your friend Potter is the most powerful wizard in the world. He's impulsive, he's not fully trained, and he's damned annoying, but he is immensely powerful. Wizards who went over to the Dark side generally did it for one reason: they are attracted to power. They crave it for themselves and they admire it in others. Dark Magic is powerful magic. Even as it does its evil work, it preys on the mind of the witch or wizard practicing it. It can change the person irrevocably with its seductive pull. When Potter killed Voldemort, he did it using the Darkest of the Unforgivables, and he did it without a wand. I never heard of even Voldemort casting Avada Kedavra without a wand. I think it's safe to say Potter's the only wizard in the world who could do it. Now, thanks to him, we have a bunch of former Death Eaters without a Dark Lord to follow. I think some of them may have taken it into their heads to create their own Dark Lord from the only wizard in the world powerful enough to lead them."

Hermione had grown increasingly horrified as Snape's meaning became clear to her. "No, Professor. Harry would never do something like that. He couldn't."

"I didn't think he would either, but…"

"No," she said again. "No buts. I know Harry. He would die first."

"Black said the same thing," Snape said, looking down at his hands. "And I agreed with him at the time, but then, last night, when Black died…we both heard the threats Potter made." He looked up and met Hermione's eyes, and he was utterly serious, without a hint of sarcasm or a trace of his usual sneer. "He meant those threats. He has proven that given the right provocation, he has the potential for Dark Magic. It may be because of the transfer of powers that took place when he got his scar. We know that's where he got the ability to speak Parseltongue, anyway. Or it's more likely that he's always had it. I think most witches and wizards do, to one degree or another. Some of us are just more susceptible to its lure. But I think there might be circumstances under which Potter could…change from the boy you know into someone very different."

"We've got to find him," she said urgently, fighting a ridiculous urge to stand up, race out the door, and go running through the neighbourhood calling Harry's name.

"Yes, we do. But we also have to find out who it is that's after him. I normally detest affairs like the one we're going to tonight, but knowing what the guest list would likely be, I decided it might be useful to attend. Just do as I said – keep your ears open, and be careful not to give yourself away. I need not tell you how disastrous it would be for both of us if word got out that I was attempting to pass one of my students off as my cousin at dinner parties."

"Sir, your warning about their views on Muggle-borns was sufficient to put me fully on my guard. Frankly, the thought of mere social embarrassment pales in comparison."

"Whatever it takes," he said with a dismissive wave. "We should probably go now."

"OK," she said, standing up. "Professor?"

"Yes?" He stood up, too, and shook out his robes.

"When you said this morning that you would let me help you and that you would tell me all you could, I was pleased, but…well, I didn't really expect you to be quite as forthcoming as you've been tonight. I…er..thank you. I appreciate your trust in me."

His voice was low as he replied. "You're welcome, Miss Granger. Don't you dare let me down."

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 10 of 27

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