Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 11 of 27

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Encumbering himself with the Granger girl was one of the most irrational decisions Severus Snape had made in some time. It annoyed him that he couldn't defend it properly to himself; he refused to even consider what he was going to say in the inevitable conversation with Albus Dumbledore. He had reached his decision via a network of vague impressions and gut feelings, and since he attributed his continued existence to similar impulses, he had learned to trust them even when they made absolutely no intellectual sense.

But that didn't mean he had to like it.

It had long infuriated him that the most brilliant and hardworking student he had taught in - well, the most brilliant and hardworking student he had ever taught - was wrapped in such an aggravating package. Why did she have to be a Gryffindor? Why did she have to be friends with Harry Potter of all people? She had been positively insufferable as a child – always with her hand waving in the air, intimidating the other students with her knowledge. He had dealt with that over time, however, and now – at least in his classes – she was subtler. She rarely raised her hand at all anymore, generally only offering up the correct information when her fellow students had thoroughly demonstrated their ignorance.

And somehow, that irritated him too. Just once, he would have liked for her to be dead wrong about something. He'd have gladly paid to replace her cauldron himself if she'd humoured him by melting it through some egregious error of her own. His job provided him with so few pleasures; humiliating Hermione Granger for a lapse in class would be like receiving a rare bonus. He had never yet been given the chance, but occasionally, when he was most annoyed with her, he amused himself by thinking of her disastrous Polyjuice potion in her second year. He had hurried to the infirmary when Poppy Pomfrey had told him of her symptoms and had looked in on her while she was sleeping, just so he could see the effects for himself. It was the hardest he'd laughed in quite some time. While he was charming her hair before the dinner at the King's, she had given him the perfect opening to mention the failed Polyjuice effort, and he had been disappointed to learn that Potter and Weasley had used the potion successfully. He had grown rather fond of remembering the incident as Granger's biggest failure, and now it had to be mentally re-classified as only a mitigated failure.

Had she been a Slytherin, she would have been the only student who had ever made his teaching career tolerable. Slytherins never waved their hands in the air, no matter how well they knew the answer. Slytherins never helped mental-deficients like Longbottom, realizing that the Longbottoms of the world were best left to natural selection. Most of all, Slytherins were not friends with Harry Potter. Unfortunately, he couldn't argue with the Sorting Hat. Hermione Granger was a Gryffindor through and through, and it was no wonder that she was the darling of every other teacher on the staff. They all just adored bright girls who were willing to engage in class discussions – or to carry them single-handedly if need be - and help the less-able students.

His opinion of his fellow staff members being what it was, their adoration of the Granger girl only served to make her less appealing to him, rather than more. He respected Dumbledore immensely and McGonagall moderately but had no use for the rest of them at all and deliberately kept himself separate from the staff. He cultivated distance and privacy with every tool in his arsenal – his personal appearance, his vicious tongue, and his absence from virtually every activity not strictly required by his teaching contract. He was the only teacher whose classroom and private quarters were in the dungeon, so he was cut off from his colleagues by the geography of the castle as well. He liked it that way. After a day of unrelieved irritation – which described every day he'd ever spent teaching – he wanted nothing more than to be alone, and he enjoyed the seclusion of the castle's depths.

He wished he were there right now.

Instead, he was standing in the library of his father's home, waiting for one of his least favourite students to join him via the Floo. He intended to give her a proper scare before they left for the King's, but he didn't really think the warnings were necessary – at least for tonight. It would be quite awkward if she betrayed her true identity, but it really shouldn't be dangerous, unless the guest list was other than he expected it to be. They would not like having a Muggle-born in their midst, but they also wouldn't harm her if she were there under his protection. In his owl to their hostess, he had expressed his hope that her son Gregor would be there and suggested that his 'cousin' would enjoy the presence of another young person. If he knew Delia King, she would take the hint, and if he knew Gregor King, Hermione would be occupied for the evening. That would leave him free to find out what he could from Horatio Barter, and Barter was the man he was really hoping to see.

When Hermione stepped through the fireplace, dusting off her pale robes, he couldn't resist a chuckle when she headed straight for the books. The girl was so predictable. Still a bookworm, even in princess raiment.

As they sat down and he went over the details of her persona for the evening, he was reluctantly impressed by her grasp of the essentials and by the fact that she didn't waste his time by asking stupid questions. It was a bonus that she'd had some contact with Krum; it would add verisimilitude to her act. The discussion about Potter was difficult, as he had known it would be. Potter had been canonized for something that had happened when he was too young even to remember it, and belief in Harry Potter as an incorruptible force of good was widespread in the wizarding world. His friends should have known better, of course. They knew him, knew his failings, and had seen first-hand that he was a decidedly normal boy, albeit one with unusual magical powers. But power alone – even victory over Voldemort – didn't guarantee that he would always make the right choices. Potter had done great good without actually choosing good, and unless the Granger girl could understand that, she would never be able to appreciate the danger that faced her friend now.

He thought, perhaps, that he'd gotten through to her. He saw the moment the panic entered her eyes, the moment she said, "We've got to find him!" He saw then that she had caught a glimpse of the Darkness that could claim Harry Potter if he fell into the wrong hands. He doubted that she appreciated the potential ramifications. She was a teenager, Potter was someone she loved, and she couldn't see much past the danger he faced personally.

Snape could. He knew first-hand the lure of the Dark and the widespread damage that could be inflicted by a single powerful wizard bent on doing evil. He had bowed down and kissed that wizard's robes, had done his bidding for a time, had allowed his own talents to be exploited for the sake of that wizard's despicable cause. It had been difficult – nearly impossible – for him to turn away, and even after he had, he had been tempted many times to abandon Dumbledore and embrace the darkness again. In agreeing to serve as a spy, he had placed himself in an addict's purgatory, forcing himself to make the same difficult choice again and again.

It was possible that he was wrong about Potter and the rest of the wizarding world was right. It was possible, but it wasn't a chance he was willing to take. Potter was still too young and there were too many things he didn't understand. He had to be found, and if there were even the slightest chance that the Granger girl could help find him, Snape would find some way to tolerate her. If nothing else, he would be able to keep an eye on her, keep her out of trouble. He'd be damned if he'd go looking for another Gryffindor this summer.

They rose to go, and she thanked him for being so forthright. He laughed inwardly; he'd barely scratched the surface, but she seemed to feel they had become deepest confidantes. Foolish girl.

Another threat, and they were off.


Looking back on it, Hermione would realize how many cherished preconceptions had begun to crumble with that quiet, disturbing conversation in the library of Snape's family home. With the benefit of hindsight, the evening became one of the pivotal moments in her life, one that altered the course she had set for herself and forced her to question truths she had believed incontrovertible. She'd had other such moments of import; the day she got her letter from Hogwarts was an obvious one. Everything she'd ever believed she was or wanted to be changed when she held the letter in her hand that told her she was a witch. That moment had constructed a brilliant, colourful mural of possibilities within her mind, and she had begun exploring them with characteristic enthusiasm. In contrast, the conversation with Snape presented her with shadowy possibilities, faint outlines waiting for the firmer touch of the artist's hand, so vague in form as to be unrecognisable until much later.

She had never presumed to "know" Severus Snape. She'd long since given up on winning his approbation in the classroom and for years had given little thought to him at all beyond her fervent desire to be someplace he wasn't. A part of her still clung to the childish belief that teachers existed only in the classroom and that the face they showed to their students was the only one they actually possessed. She had a slightly more personal acquaintance with her Head of House, but even so, she knew nothing of Minerva McGonagall's life, nothing of whatever laughs, loves, and fears she might have had. Intellectually, she knew there must have been some – no one could have achieved McGonagall's age without having something happen beyond teaching Transfiguration and disciplining Gryffindors, but she had no real desire to know what those things were. She took comfort in the single, simplistic face her teachers presented to their students. Ergo, Severus Snape was horrible. He hated Gryffindors. He hated Harry Potter. He refused to acknowledge her superior grasp of his subject. He sadistically terrorized defenceless students like Neville Longbottom just because he could. He might be brilliant – she always had conceded that – but he abused his power as a teacher and was unworthy of her respect, no matter how often she gave lip service to it by calling him 'sir' or 'Professor.'

After six years in his classroom, she would not have believed that her position on Snape could change with a simple conversation. And it didn't change that instant, or even that day, but those shadowy outlines were there, taking form in her mind and suggesting that perhaps there was more to Severus Snape than she had believed possible. He had unflinchingly told her of his history as a spy and a Death Eater – had told her as if she actually had some right to the information. He had forced her to open her eyes about Harry and about the forces of good and evil, and in doing so, he had ripped her out of her comfort zone defined by Gryffindor absolutes, and he had done it with a gentleness and concern that she would have thought impossible for him. He was risking his life, not just for Harry but also for the sake of the entire world, and he was trusting her to help him. Had the enormity of that particular realization dawned on her in the library, she might well have stepped back into the fireplace, convinced that she couldn't possibly succeed. It didn't, however, and she followed him out of the library and through the darkened halls of the house with a confidence she had no right to feel.

The house was closed up, shrouded in heavy draperies, and it was a surprise to emerge from the gloom and find that it was still daylight outside. They crossed a porch and stepped down into a small garden, which she noticed featured some plants she had only seen in the Hogwarts greenhouses – another subtle reminder that this was a wizard's home. He opened a gate and indicated a pathway that led a short distance to the house next door. This was no huge estate – just a comfortably proportioned English house with attractive if somewhat overgrown lawns and gardens. He had referred to it as his family's home. She wondered vaguely what family he had and where they were since they apparently weren't at home. Her musings were interrupted when he paused and offered her his arm, and she slipped her hand through the crook of his elbow, taking a degree of comfort from his strength and the warmth of human contact as she walked into the unknown.

He led the way silently up the front steps of the neighbours' home and rapped at the door with a sure hand. The door was opened not by a house-elf, as she'd imagined, but instead by a pleasant-looking, slightly matronly witch – their hostess, she assumed. The older woman greeted Snape with a degree of affection and enthusiasm she had never seen anyone display towards him before. He didn't exactly reciprocate the warmth of her greeting, but he seemed less forbidding than usual as he kissed the cheek she offered and then turned to introduce Hermione. "Delia, may I present my cousin Cassandra. Cassandra, this is our hostess, Delia King."

"My dear!" Delia exclaimed, ushering them into the bright foyer. "I was so pleased when Severus owled that you would be joining us this evening. How are your parents? It's been an age since I've heard anything of them."

"I left them quite well, thank you, Mrs King," Hermione answered pleasantly, and she felt Snape's sharp glance as he apparently picked up the faint trace of a foreign accent to her English. "I appreciate your including me tonight. I hope it wasn't an inconvenience."

"Not at all, dear, not at all." The older woman beamed at her. "Please, Cassandra, call me Delia. Severus is like family to us, for all that he rarely comes around anymore." She shot Snape an accusatory look and softened it with a laugh. "His family is ours."

Since Delia had answered the door herself, they hadn't been able to see the other guests before committing to their farce, and Hermione knew that the role of Cassandra Snape was now hers to play. The accent had been a last-minute decision. She thought, on the whole, that regardless of the fact that her parents were British, Cassandra Snape's accent would probably be less than pure since she had been raised outside of Great Britain. She added a faint trace of Viktor's accent to her own, and hoped that it would do. She murmured her thanks to her hostess and then took Snape's arm again as they followed Delia King into the drawing room where the other guests were already gathered. There were only five other people in the room, but to her it seemed a crowd, each one someone she had to convince. The next few moments were given over to a blur of introductions to the collection of elegantly-dressed witches and wizards. She was certain she wouldn't be able to remember everyone's name, but she made every effort to imprint what she could on her brain, remembering Snape's promise of a pop quiz later.

Their host, Sartus King, was the antithesis of his wife. He was tall and thin to her short and stout, bland and phlegmatic where she was effusive and verbose. Still, he greeted her politely and Snape with a slightly greater degree of enthusiasm before introducing her to the couple he had been talking with when they came in.

Mr and Mrs Horatio Barter were of approximately the same age as the Kings and also seemed to have known Snape his entire life. Mrs Barter, in particular, managed to convey through her tone and manner that she still saw Severus Snape as a child. Hermione found this terribly funny and decided that Cassandra Snape found it funny as well. When Mrs Barter commented on how thin Snape looked and asked him if they were feeding him enough at Hogwarts, Hermione flashed him a grin, which he of course did not return.

"Oh Sylvia, let the boy alone," Mr Barter growled. He had hair which was greying but had obviously been very dark at one time and his black eyes and the swarthy colour of his skin suggested that his family had hailed from somewhere other than Britain. He was heavy-set and was the only person there who Hermione felt might be viewing her with a degree of suspicion. Her tendency to view him with suspicion was somewhat mitigated when she found that he was the owner of a wizarding publishing company. The man published books for a living. Her eyes lit up as she heard the name of his company, Presto Press, and realized that they had published Hogwarts: A History along with countless other books she had read. She was on the verge of asking him more when she felt the pressure of Snape's hand at the small of her back and heard his dry chuckle.

"I believe you've piqued Cassandra's interest, Horatio. She has a reputation at her school as quite a bookworm."

She pursed her mouth with obvious displeasure at that, and the older couple laughed. "Well, publishing isn't really all that interesting," Barter said. "A pretty young girl like you would probably be bored within five minutes if I started talking shop."

Hermione objected to that statement on so many levels that it would have been difficult for her to know where to begin to formulate a response, but the hand on her back was telling her that she needed to let the subject drop, and so she did. Reluctantly.

"If you'll excuse us," Snape said with a small nod, "I should introduce Cassandra to the Sharps."

The Sharps were the couple she liked best of all on first meeting. They reminded her, in fact, very much of the Weasleys. Lydia Sharp greeted her warmly and then immediately began talking about the recent birth of her first grandchild and dragging out pictures of the child. Hermione was amused to note that they resembled Muggle pictures because the baby wasn't doing anything in them except sleeping. Hermione made polite noises about the baby while Snape barely gave it a glance and changed the subject as quickly as possible. Kenan Sharp owned a small apothecary's shop in Hogsmeade, one that she had patronized many times, and she had a moment of panic wondering if he might recognize her, though she couldn't remember ever having seen him in there before. Mr Sharp asked if she'd had a chance to visit Hogsmeade yet, and she told him that yes, she had, but that she didn't remember his business specifically.

On the whole, she felt that things were going better than she had expected. Everyone seemed very pleasant and genuinely pleased to see "Cassandra" back in England, and she marvelled at the fact that any one of them might be a Death Eater. The very name conjured up horrific images that seemed incompatible with the terribly normal group of people gathered in the room. Except for the robes, they could have been a group of her parents' friends.

Delia King suddenly seized Hermione's arm as she spotted a young man with an unruly mop of brown curls coming through the door. "Gregor!" she exclaimed. "There you are. You've been an age, dear." She practically dragged Hermione away from the Sharps and across the room. "Cassandra, I'd like you to meet my son Gregor. Gregor, this is Cassandra Snape, Severus's young cousin. Isn't that wonderful?"

Gregor grinned down at her, and she found herself automatically returning the smile. "I'd wager it's more wonderful being his cousin than it was being his student," he said in a low voice, automatically glancing across the room at Snape to make sure he hadn't been overheard. "It's nice to meet you, Cassandra."

"It's nice to meet you, too," she answered. "I take it you went to Hogwarts, then." It was all she could do not to laugh at the comment about being Snape's student. She had a feeling that she could easily top whatever Gregor King had experienced at Snape's hands.

"Yep. Finished seven years ago. Are you in school?"

"Yes, I'll be a sixth year at Durmstrang."

Delia beamed on them. "I'll just leave you two young people to get better acquainted," she said, practically pushing Hermione towards her son.

When she had left them alone, Gregor smiled at her again and shook his head ruefully. "Sorry about that," he said. "Apparently, you've passed the mother test."

"I don't mind," she said, realizing it was true. Gregor seemed nice, and she hadn't anticipated finding anyone remotely close to her own age at this party. "My mum's the same way, always on about when I'll meet a nice boy."

"I shouldn't think that would be a problem," he answered, and then he looked a bit embarrassed.

"You'd be surprised," she said. "I'm a bit bookish. The boys don't seem to like that."

"Ah, so you're the girl who always knows the answer then, always has her hand in the air?"

The description was so apt that she started in surprise. "I guess I am, at that," she said, a bit apologetically.

"Well, I'll forgive you, if you'll forgive me for being the kind of bloke who always tries to copy your homework."

She burst out laughing. "Deal."

"Here," he said, stopping a passing house elf and handing her a glass of wine. "Take this and let's find someplace to sit down away from all these old people. I hate these things, but mum insisted I had to come tonight. Now I'm glad she did."

She blushed at that but followed him to a corner and sat chatting with him until dinner was announced. She felt Snape's dark eyes on her occasionally as she and Gregor talked, and she tried to read any message he might be attempting to send her, but he looked more amused than anything else, so she relaxed and enjoyed the company. They talked of their respective schools, and she thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Hogwarts from his point of view, asking him questions about his experiences there. She was glad she didn't have to attempt total ignorance of Hogwarts – that might have proven too difficult – but she had told him that Snape had given her a tour of the castle and grounds and introduced her to some of the staff, so she was able to refer to places and people specifically without having it look suspicious.

"I take it from your earlier comment that you didn't enjoy my cousin's classes," she said with a smile.

"Nobody did much," Gregor said, a little apologetically, as if he didn't want to hurt her feelings by insulting Snape, which she found hysterically funny. "He's not exactly…er, friendly in class. Granted, he was pretty decent to me. I was in his House and an old family friend and all that, but it didn't guarantee my grades. I was crap at Potions and passed my N.E.W.T. by the skin of my teeth."

She hadn't thought of that. She was sitting here laughing and talking – and maybe flirting just a little – with a Slytherin. Harry would be appalled if he heard of it, but really, who knew they could be so nice? Of course, in the back of her mind was the knowledge that, as nice as Delia King had seemed, she probably would hex Hermione straight out the door if she were to find out that her son was consorting with a Mudblood. Somehow, that fact struck her as pretty amusing too.

It did not surprise her when she and Gregor were seated next to one another at dinner. Snape was directly across from them and addressed himself to Gregor as dinner was served. "Mr King," he said in his classroom voice. "I notice that you've been monopolizing my young cousin's attentions this evening." Hermione detected the slightest emphasis on the word young and risked a glare across the table.

Gregor looked a bit discomfited but replied readily enough. "I suppose I have, Professor. I've enjoyed her company."

"He told me a bit about what it's like having you as a teacher, Severus," she dared.

"All complimentary, I'm sure," he drawled.

"Oh, of course," she assured him, without a trace of sincerity.

"Do you share Severus's interest in Potions?" asked Kenan Sharp, who was seated next to Snape.

"I do," she said. "I enjoy Potions very much, but of course, I don't claim the same level of expertise as my cousin."

"Well, I'm sure it pleases him to see you taking an interest," Sharp said heartily.

"Actually, Mr Sharp, I've found him quite difficult to please when it comes to Potions," she said. "His standards are very high."

Completely oblivious to the subtext of the conversation, Gregor said, "Well, if you think he's tough on you, you should see how he treats the Gryffindors."

For the first time that evening, Hermione faltered in her role, reaching quickly for her napkin and wiping her mouth to cover her smile. She looked down at her plate to avoid meeting her 'cousin's' eyes, sure that his face would be arranged in a familiar black glare, and was astonished to hear him chuckle along with the rest of the table. "I find that Gryffindors require extra training in areas other than just Potions," he said to Gregor. "My classroom methods reflect that view." He then smoothly changed the subject. "Mr King, if I recall correctly, you were quite a Quidditch fan. Did Cassandra tell you that she is acquainted with Viktor Krum?"

"I hadn't thought of that!" Gregor said, obviously pleased. "I guess you would be. How well do you know him?"

Hermione thought that she must be destined to be forever surrounded by males who were obsessive on the topic of Quidditch. Ironically, Viktor had been one of the few boys she had ever known who didn't talk Quidditch incessantly. They had found other areas of common interest, and he had rarely talked about Quidditch at all. But apparently, Gregor was more like Harry and Ron, and he was clearly awed by the fact that she knew Viktor Krum, who by now was playing professional Quidditch full time and was an international star. "We're friends," she said truthfully, "still in touch occasionally by owl. He travels a great deal, of course."

Even the older men at the table seemed impressed by this, and when it came out that she and Viktor had once attended a ball together, they all looked at her with increased respect. Honestly, she thought. What a silly thing to be impressed by. Snape looked pleased at the change of subject, however, so she allowed it to continue until it was exhausted, and then the men began talking about recent changes in Ministry policy. Voldemort was never mentioned by name, but it was implied that the recent changes were the direct result of his defeat the previous year.

"What about Hogwarts, Severus? Any changes there?"

"I won't know for sure until the term begins," Snape answered. "I've travelled a great deal this summer and haven't spoken to the old man very regularly. There's no telling what he'll come up with though, if previous years are anything to go by."

The old man? Hermione thought, shocked. And that derisive tone. Surely he couldn't mean Dumbledore?

Barter snorted. "You're right. The man hires giants and werewolves – to teach children – and lets in so many Mudbloods you can hardly call it a wizarding school anymore. How you stand it there I'll never know, Severus."

Snape gave Barter a tight smile. "I have my reasons for staying on at Hogwarts, Horatio."

"Of course, of course," Barter said, waving his hand. "I'm just saying that someone ought to give you a medal for sticking it out."

Hermione was furious, of course, but she kept her face arranged in a mask of polite disinterest, as if the goings-on at Hogwarts were nothing to do with her.

"What about Potter?" Barter asked.

"What about Potter?" Snape repeated coldly. "The old man will probably re-name one of the Houses after him."

"Bloody well better not be Slytherin," Sharp said, and Hermione saw the others at the table nod heads in agreement.

"I just wondered if he'd suffered any effects that weren't mentioned in the paper," Barter persisted. "Thought maybe he wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts this term after what happened last spring."

"Horatio," Snape drawled, "I don't have that kind of luck."

Even Hermione joined in the laughter at that, and she felt a surge of admiration for the way Snape was managing the conversation, giving so little away and using humour to deflect attention from that fact. That the humour was at Harry's expense didn't trouble her at all; she was so used to Snape abusing Harry that it simply didn't faze her anymore.

"Gregor," she asked, "Do you know Harry Potter?"

Gregor shook his head. "No," he said. "He started at Hogwarts just after I finished up. I know a couple of the Weasley brothers, though. Their kid brother is the one who was killed last spring." He said it carelessly, as if Ron's death was utterly meaningless, and Hermione froze for a moment, unsure of how to respond. She felt Snape's eyes on her and drew a deep breath.

"That's a shame," she said quietly.

Gregor shrugged. "They took it pretty hard, I think. Bill Weasley's not a bad guy, actually, for all that his father is completely barmy."

This was just getting worse. She realized now why Snape had said she didn't have the experience for this. Her emotions were roiling just beneath the surface, and she wasn't sure she had what it took to keep them in check. She wanted to scream, to throw her plate against the wall, to tell these people that the 'kid brother's' name was Ron Weasley and that he had been one of her two best friends in all the world, and her other best friend just might not be returning to Hogwarts because someone wanted to kidnap him and brainwash him into something as horrible as they were. She wanted to do all of that and more, and Snape must have known it because he laughed and said casually, "Now let's don't get started on Arthur Weasley stories or we'll be here all night. Lydia, tell us some more about that new baby."

Hermione shot him a grateful look and hoped that no one else noticed. She knew full well that he'd rather sample one of Neville's potions than listen to Lydia Sharp natter on about a baby, but she was immensely thankful for the change of subject.

The rest of the dinner passed uneventfully – for her, anyway. She didn't hear anything she could remotely connect with Harry but did her best to keep her ears open as Snape had told her to. Mostly the older couples talked about mutual friends and business matters. It all struck her as deadly dull, but at least it made it easy to stick to her role.

After dinner was over, Gregor managed to manoeuvre her outside to the garden, away from his parents and their friends. He assumed he was doing her a favour, and even though she'd have rather stayed inside where she might have heard something useful, she let him believe that she was much happier outside. She hadn't forgiven him for his indifferent comments about Ron's death, despite telling herself that he didn'tknow Ron and there was no reason it should be personal to him the way it was to her. She couldn't view him in the same way she had before dinner, but he was pleasant enough company and willing enough to talk about himself that she didn't feel too pressured about keeping up her persona. As they talked, Gregor moved closer to her on the bench until his arm was resting just above her shoulders, and she was beginning to think she might be called upon to do more than just keep her ears open. She had not imagined that kissing Slytherins would be a part of her job description and did not particularly relish the thought, no matter how pleasant she had found Gregor initially.

"So, er, what do you do, Gregor?" she asked, trying to scoot a bit farther down the bench.

"I work for Mr Barter. Started just out of Hogwarts."

"Oh! You're in publishing too, then. How exciting!"

He chuckled. "Publishing? Exciting? Not to me. I'd die of boredom in a week. No, I work for one of the subsidiaries of the publishing company. It's not exactly advertised, if you know what I mean, but it's not a deep secret either."

"Sounds interesting," she said lightly. "So what do you do?"

"I work with magical creatures – capturing them, that is, and caring for them until they're purchased. It was my best subject at Hogwarts, so I was really glad when Mr Barter offered me the position. We have certain breeds we keep in stock pretty much all the time and others we find only on special request. Those are the best jobs of all – lots of travel, you know, usually to the most interesting places."

"That's fascinating," Hermione said truthfully. She wondered if Norbert had passed through Gregor's hands.

"It's the best job in the world," he said enthusiastically. "My partner and I were diving for Grindylows last week, and a couple of weeks before that, we had an order to gather Ashwinder eggs. Never done that before."

"It sounds terribly dangerous."

"Can be, if you don't know what you're doing. My partner and I managed it without a single burn," he bragged.

"Have you ever been injured?"

"Oh sure – lots of times. Not seriously though. Mr Barter keeps a mediwitch on staff, and I've never had anything happen that she couldn't fix. It's funny – you tend to get hurt by the least dangerous beasts. You might get careless when you're dealing with a Hinkypunk or a Kappa. But when you're up against a quintaped or a dragon, you don't relax for a minute."

Hermione shuddered. "I should think not."

Gregor chuckled. "Girls always think my job is terrifying. But really, once you've had the proper training, it's not so bad. Exciting, but not that dangerous."

Hermione doubted that very much and thought it hypocritical in the extreme for someone with such an obvious death wish to call sweet Arthur Weasley "barmy." A fascination with Muggles seemed quite sane to her compared with what Gregor was describing. It was a shame Slytherins were so prejudiced against Giants; had it not been for that, Gregor and Hagrid would have gotten along famously. She allowed him to continue talking about his work, bragging about various exploits until she was thoroughly sick of hearing about magical creatures and began trying to come up with a way to get back in the house where she might hear something interesting.

Gregor seemed to sense the fact that her interest was waning and changed the subject, moving still closer on the garden bench. "How much longer will you be in England, Cassandra?" Gregor's voice was soft, very near her ear.

Snape hadn't told her how long "Cassandra's" visit would be, so she improvised. "Probably another week or so," she answered, trying to scoot still further down the bench. "School starts soon, so I'll have to be getting back."

"Can I see you again before you go?"

No, I'll be busy trying to help my Potions professor find Harry Potter before some mysterious kidnapper catches up with him and turns him into the next Dark Lord. Hmmm. On second thought, that wouldn't do at all."I'm…not sure what plans my cousin has made for us." True enough, that, if you didn't count the 'cousin' part.

"I know he's your cousin and all, but I promise I'm more fun than Snape." That was definitely a soft kiss near her ear. Oh no…

She giggled, more from sheer nervousness than anything else. "I have no doubt of that," she said, wishing that Snape would get his gloomy arse out there and rescue her before things went any further.

He turned her face and kissed her softly, his lips brushing over hers. She was going to kill Snape for this, she truly was, and when she caught up with Harry she was going to kill him too. Slowly. With pain.

OK, so Gregor wasn't actually a bad kisser – at least according to her limited experience. He wasn't attacking her or anything. She could stick this another minute, as long as it didn't go any further…

She felt a finger trail softly along the neckline of her robes. That was it, she decided, pulling away from him. Not even for Harry was this Slytherin going to be allowed to do that. "Er, I should probably go find Severus," she said, a little breathlessly.

"I understand," he said, backing off immediately, to her very great relief. He smiled at her. "But I still would like to see you again before you leave England."

"Perhaps we can work that out." She wanted to be encouraging enough to leave him thinking highly of Cassandra Snape, but vague enough that she wouldn't be breaking any promises if she never saw him again. Really, this thinking like a Slytherin was exhausting.


Snape watched with amusement as Gregor manoeuvred Hermione outside to the garden. The boy was so predictable; he'd always lost what little sense he had in the presence of a pretty girl. He didn't worry about Hermione at all. In fact, he rather liked the chances of Gregor getting his face slapped before the evening was out. He even looked forward to hearing about it during her debriefing. He'd always been amused by the righteous indignation of Gryffindors.

With Hermione out of the way, Snape accepted a drink from his host and stuck close to Horatio Barter. He had been intrigued by Barter's question about Potter returning to Hogwarts. It seemed likely that he had at least heard the same rumours that Snape had heard. It remained to be seen whether his involvement in the scheme went any further than that. Instead of cooperatively giving him an opening, Barter and Sharp began discussing the publication of a new Herbology book. Snape nearly swore in frustration. Why did Barter have to choose tonight of all nights to remember that he was a publisher? It had been years since he'd taken an active interest in his publishing business.

What with the large meal, the brandy, and the paralysing conversation, Snape felt his attention begin to wander. He noted the women off to one side looking at photographs – probably talking about that bloody baby again. He had taught both of the baby's parents and felt strongly that its chances of being anything other than spectacularly average were remote indeed, for all that Lydia Sharp seemed to feel it was the most glorious little wizard to ever don a nappy. He'd probably be forced to teach the little nitwit one day, he thought with a mental sigh of disgust.

Sartus King was listening to the discussion about the Herbology book, but he didn't seem any more interested than Snape. Instead, he stood quietly by, refilling his glass rather more frequently than his neighbours. Snape knew from experience that his host would be practically unconscious by the time the guests left.

"Sartus, I believe I'll have another one, too," he heard Sharp say, and then Kenan and Sartus wandered off together toward the bar, leaving him alone with Barter.

"Severus, I admit I'm surprised to see you here tonight," Barter said heartily. "You've gotten quite a reputation for declining invitations these last few years."

"My work at Hogwarts keeps me busy," Snape said smoothly. "It's nothing more than that, I assure you."

"Well, your timing tonight is fortuitous. I was going to owl you to request a meeting. I have a favour I'd like to discuss with you."


"I'd prefer to discuss it privately, at my office if you don't mind."

And even if I do, Snape thought. Aloud he said, "Certainly, Horatio. When would you like to meet?"

"Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon. Say noon, at my office?"

"I'll look forward to it." Snape gave the older man a brief nod.

"There's something else I wanted to ask you about," Barter said, giving Snape an appraising look. "Lucius."

Snape felt the dread settling heavily in the pit of his stomach, but years of a double life helped him keep his countenance. "Terrible, wasn't it?" he asked, infusing his voice with bewildered regret.

Sharp and King rejoined them then. "We were just discussing Lucius," Barter told them. "I was wondering if Severus had heard the rumours."

Snape shrugged. "I understood he was killed by the Aurors. Is there more to it than that?"

"The story is a bit dodgy," Barter said. "I haven't been able to figure out how the Aurors even could have found Lucius. He went into hiding when the Dark Lord was defeated, and we all know that when a Malfoy hides, finding him is no simple task. Hell, I didn't even know where the slippery bastard was, and next thing I'm hearing that he wound up on the wrong side of an Auror's wand. Now it looks like Dumbledore has been mucking around in it, trying to cover something up, only no one seems to know what."

Thank you, Albus.

"No, Horatio. I haven't heard a thing. I'll put my ear to the ground when I get back to Hogwarts. If I come up with anything, I'll let you know."

"Does the old man still trust you?" Sharp asked.

"Entirely," Snape said confidently. "But you know what he's like. No one's gotten a straight answer from him in the last hundred years. Still, if he knows something about Lucius, I might be able to find something out."

Barter sighed. "I'll say it again, Severus. How you stand working for that man is beyond me."

"It is no secret that I have found my position with Dumbledore to be trying in the extreme," Snape agreed lightly. "But it has had its own special compensations."

Like staying alive.

"Well, it's good to know that someone at Hogwarts has their loyalties in the right place," Sharp said. "At least we can rest assured that our House is in good hands. We'll be sending the new little one on to you in a few years, you know. His name is down already."

Another word about the baby was liable to put Snape over the edge. There was a reason he declined these invitations. He managed to mutter something that he hoped sounded enthusiastic about the wretched brat and was grateful when Kenan didn't continue extolling its virtues, though he found the subsequent small talk almost as annoying. They revisited some of the topics covered at the dinner table – Quidditch, of course, and the Ministry, and then back to Quidditch again. He'd never been to one of these affairs where the guests managed to avoid running those particular topics into the ground. One of his duties was to attend Hogwarts Quidditch matches, and he generally enjoyed them – especially if Slytherin was playing - but he was mystified by the urge to discuss the sport at such length. He was sipping his drink and letting the Quidditch minutia wash over him when Hermione came through the door and made straight for him.


Hermione was too flustered from the scene in the garden to appreciate the irony of the fact that her reviled Potions Master had, in one evening, become a source of security. She merely attached herself to his side, determined not to leave it until it was time to go.

"Have you young people been enjoying yourselves?" Snape asked as he stepped slightly away from the Quidditch discussion, which Barter and King were rapidly allowing to escalate into an argument.

"Oh, er…yes," she managed. "I just didn't want to appear rude by staying outside all evening."

"Very thoughtful of you," he said dryly. "We should probably be leaving soon anyway. We have another big day of sight-seeing ahead of us tomorrow."

"Making the most of every moment, I'm sure," Sharp said with a smile, also turning his back on the Quidditch. "If you're back in Hogsmeade, Severus, be sure to bring Cassandra by the shop. I just got in some of the nicest truffula fruits you've ever seen. You'll want to pick some up for your private stores - they're nearly impossible to get these days. As I said in my owl, I doubt I'll have the special item you ordered, but there's always the chance. If I can get it, I'll let you know."

Hermione was close enough to Snape to feel him stiffen at Sharp's words. "I don't believe I received your owl, Kenan. I've been travelling, you know. Showing Cassandra around."

"No matter," Sharp said with a dismissive wave. "I can just as easily tell you now. With things so quiet these days, your request is a difficult one. But you know I'll keep searching. If a source becomes available, I'll let you know immediately."

"I can't ask for more than that," Snape said carelessly. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Sharp said. "And incidentally, you should know by now that you can trust us. Lydia and I were really a bit offended by the anonymous owl. I mean really, who else could it have been but you?"

"I'm just cautious by nature, Kenan. You of all people should know better than to take that personally."

Sharp chuckled and shook his head. "You're right. I should. I doubt you'll change at this late date."

Hermione was mystified by the entire exchange, but she of course said nothing, staying quietly by Snape's side as he began the round of good-byes. They concluded, of course, by thanking their host and hostess.

Delia King kissed Hermione. "Cassandra, my dear, it has been an absolute delight having you here, and of course, I could tell Gregor felt the same," she said with a wink. "You've done this cousin of yours a world of good, too. It's about time something got him out of that draughty castle and back amongst his friends."

Snape was kissed then too, and after shaking hands with their swaying host, he made their exit and once again offered Hermione his arm to guide her down the darkened path.

"Lumos," he muttered, extending his wand.


"Yes, Miss Granger."

"What did Mr Sharp mean about the potion ingredient you were supposed to have ordered?"

"I don't know," he answered, his voice grim, "but I intend to find out."

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 11 of 27

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