Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 12 of 27

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"Would you rather talk in my room or yours?" he asked as they made their way up the stairs of the Leaky Cauldron.

"Er…it doesn't matter," she said. "I'd like to change first though."

"Fine. Just come to my room when you're finished."

Hermione knew he wanted to talk while everything was fresh on their minds, but her mind felt far from fresh at that moment. Despite the fact that she'd slept most of the day, she was tired and a bit disoriented after a whole night of pretending to be someone else. It required a certain mental stamina to consistently answer to a new name and to filter every response, weeding out anything that might give her away. And having her most demanding professor overseeing her effort hadn't made it any easier. While she changed she ran through her performance, searching for mistakes, just as she had after every test she'd ever taken. She didn't think she'd made any glaring errors, but it would be just like Snape to find something to criticize anyway.

She hung up her dress robes and decided to keep her slip on; she would have to wear it to sleep in since she hadn't brought her pyjamas with her. She threw a set of everyday robes on over it and pulled the pins from her hair, celebrating its freedom by massaging her head with both hands.

"If anyone had ever told me I'd be jealous of Snape's hair," she muttered to herself, enjoying the silky feel of it again.

She rapped softly at his door and heard him call "come." When she entered, he was seated at the small table, scribbling something with a quill. He had exchanged his dress robes for dark trousers and a dark shirt that somehow managed to convey the exact same effect.

He put down the quill as she entered the room and indicated the chair across from him. "Sit."

She sat. And waited for him to say something.

Contrary as ever, he didn't oblige, merely looked at her with unreadable eyes until she started to fidget under his gaze. That seemed to satisfy him, and he finally spoke. "You did well."

She released an obvious sigh of relief and saw him smirk a little. "You should have consulted me about the accent, however. It was too ambitious for a beginner. It would have been safer not to try it."

"Did I make a mistake?"

He cleared his throat slightly. "Not that I heard, but of course I wasn't with you every minute."

In other words, no, she thought, allowing herself a small smile.

Snape seemed not to notice. "Now let's see what you remember of the evening. Tell me what you heard, no matter how unimportant it might seem."

She began with her impressions of her host and hostess and fellow guests, and when she had used the word "nice" for the fourth time, he cut her off.

"Miss Granger, you would do well to remember that it is impossible to tell the heroes from the villains based on their behaviour at a dinner party. Did you think they'd all be wearing Death Eater masks?"

She shrugged, embarrassed. "I guess I just didn't know what to expect," she said. "They were all so…" she caught herself just in time and substituted "normal."

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, even if it had been a gathering of Gryffindors, those paragons of virtue and honesty, I assure you that everyone would not have been exactly what they seemed. For proof of that you need look no further than our illustrious Headmaster. With a gathering of Slytherins, that is doubly true, and to be effective in this line of work, you need to view everyone with a degree of suspicion."

This line of work. The words rang in her head. This was not her line of work, thank you very much, and she felt depressed even considering a life's work that entailed being suspicious of everyone she met. She was in this to find Harry and bring him home, and once that had been accomplished, Snape could keep the spy business.

"OK, Professor. They seemed nice and normal to me, but I'm willing to concede that my view of them was a superficial one. I really didn't hear much of anything that was very helpful, I'm afraid – particularly as I spent the last part of the evening outside." She shot him an accusing look. "I notice you didn't make an effort to do anything about that."

"Why should I have?" he asked, betraying his amusement with a slight quirk of the mouth. "You and Mr King seemed to be getting along so well. For all I knew you would have resented the intrusion."

"I did not go to that party to 'meet a nice boy,' Professor, as you know perfectly well. Instead of being inside, where I might have heard something useful, I was outside listening to Gregor go on and on about how brave he is. 'Last week I caught a six Grindylows single-handedly,'" she said, doing a fair imitation of Gregor's voice. "'The week before that I captured three dragons and gathered Ashwinder eggs with my bare hands'. I mean, honestly."

Snape leaned forward suddenly, with a sharp creak of his chair. "What did you say?"

She looked at him, confused. "I'm exaggerating, Professor. He wasn't quite that bad, but he did strike me as a bit…"

Snape cut her off. "Did he really tell you he'd been gathering Ashwinder eggs?" he demanded.

"Um…I think so," she said. "But he mentioned so many things…"

"This is important, Miss Granger. Did he tell you he'd procured Ashwinder eggs for one of Barter's clients?"

She cast her mind back. It just hadn't seemed that important at the time. "Yes," she said slowly. "I think he said he'd done that several weeks ago."

"Damn! And of course, you didn't think to get the name of the client."

"Not knowing that the information had any significance whatsoever, there was no reason for me to," she said, irritated by the implied criticism. "Aside from which, it would have been an awfully strange question coming from a sixth year at Durmstrang just visiting for a few weeks."

"There are ways to elicit information other than a direct question, Miss Granger," he snapped. "Now, tell me what you know of the uses of Ashwinder eggs."

"I know that they're valued as a catalyst in potions," she said. "You mentioned a reducing potion last term that calls for the addition of a single Ashwinder egg before the final incantation."

"Correct. Usually, the Ashwinder egg is used as a catalyst rather than an integral ingredient in the potion itself. It's valued for its intense heat rather than for its own properties. There are two potions, however, that are exceptions to this rule. Both call for an infusion of the egg's contents, and for that infusion to be effective, it has to be prepared within twenty-four hours of the time the eggs are laid. Thus, eggs procured from an apothecary would be useless. Most of them have been frozen for days or even weeks before they are purchased."

"Which is why someone who wanted to make the infusion would have to have the eggs gathered fresh," Hermione said, beginning to understand.

"Exactly. Now, can you deduce the nature of at least one of these two potions?"

She could, actually, but she was beginning to resent his apparent need to turn this experience into a practical Potions class. She had quite enough of that from him during the school year. "Yes, Professor. I would suppose that one of the two potions is the one that killed Sirius. Though how you could have expected me to know that in the garden tonight is quite beyond me."

His eyes narrowed, and she shifted again in the uncomfortable silence. "Point taken," he bit out, finally."And it's quite possible that Gregor King had no idea who his client was anyway. But it's a virtual certainty that Horatio Barter knows, and that is a valuable piece of information. While you and young Gregor were outside becoming better acquainted, Horatio asked me to pay him a visit at his office tomorrow. He said he has a 'favour' to ask of me."

"Do you have any idea what he wants?"

"No. And I'm not particularly looking forward to finding out. Horatio Barter is a dangerous man to cross and an impossible one to get information from if he doesn't want to divulge it. He spent virtually the entire evening talking about a Herbology book, of all things, and that isn't like him at all. It makes me wonder what he might be hiding." Snape furrowed his brow for a moment and she remained silent, letting him think. "Well," he said finally. "Let's move on for now. What else did you hear?"

"Well, before dinner Gregor and I mainly talked about Hogwarts and Durmstrang. I let him do most of the talking, but of course he didn't tell me much of anything I didn't already know." Hermione remembered Gregor's comments about Snape's teaching style and considered mentioning them but decided against it. He would probably take them as a compliment anyway. "The conversation about Harry at the dinner table was disturbing, obviously, but I didn't really hear anything that I thought might help us figure out who's after him. It did seem as though Mr Barter was quite hopeful that something had happened that would keep Harry from coming back to Hogwarts."

"Yes. I thought the same thing, but that's not necessarily significant. There were no Harry Potter fans at that table tonight."

"There was one," she said quietly.

"Of course," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "You know what I meant. And incidentally, you handled the mention of Mr Weasley's death quite well. It can't have been easy for you."

"It wasn't. And thank you. I admit it was hard for me to like Gregor quite so well after that, though I really don't think he meant it maliciously."

"No. I doubt he did. Gregor has always been more thoughtless than malicious. I would not have placed you in his hands if I thought otherwise."

"What do you mean, placed me in his hands?"

"I mean that I would not have allowed you to be alone with him if I hadn't trusted him," Snape said smoothly.

"You set me up!" she accused.

"Miss Granger, I have far better things to do than act as your dating service, however much you might have need of one."

Hermione looked at her professor, for a moment speechless in her rage. You lying, sneaking, insulting, infuriating man! she thought, but the words wouldn't come. She was sorely tempted to walk out the door right then, but they still hadn't found Harry, and if nothing else, the evening had convinced her that she would be in far over her head if she tried to pursue this alone. She took a deep breath and fought to gain control of her fury, but her voice was icy when she spoke. "Professor, I agreed to the terms that you set, and you agreed to let me help you. I do not appreciate being manipulated. If you wanted me to spend the evening with Gregor King rather than sitting at the grown-up table, all you needed to do was ask."

"As it happens, Miss Granger, your time away from the 'grown-up table' – as you so colourfully put it – led to a fairly significant piece of information, even if you didn't recognize it at the time. I fail to see what difference it makes whether I orchestrated it or not."

"The end justifies the means, in other words."


They glared at one another, and this time Hermione refused to fidget under his black gaze. Finally, he just moved on. "What else?"

She shrugged. "After I came back inside, you and I were together until the time we left. The only thing I heard that seemed interesting was the bit from Mr Sharp at the end. Do you really not have any idea what he meant?"

"I have ideas, but nothing conclusive," he said. "Obviously Kenan thinks I sent him an anonymous owl requesting a specific potion ingredient. I don't know if he thinks it was me because of the way it was worded or if he just assumed that I would be the only person who would want such a thing."

"Can you guess what the ingredient might have been?"

"There are several possibilities," he answered. "And none of them are nice."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, I gathered that."

"Well, there's little point in speculating. I may take Kenan up on his offer to stop by the apothecary in the next day or so, and perhaps I can find out more then."

She nodded. "So what do we do next?"

"I'll have my meeting with Barter tomorrow afternoon. You won't be able to accompany me; he made it clear that he wants to see me alone. I won't insist that you stay in your room during that time, but I will ask that you not leave Diagon Alley. Perhaps you can sit outside somewhere and keep an eye out for Potter."

"That's fine."

"Tomorrow morning, I'll check in with my contacts in Knockturn Alley, and then I thought we'd pay a visit to Potter's Muggle relatives to see if he's turned up there."

"The Dursleys?" Hermione looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Professor, Harry would not have gone back to the Dursleys."

"Probably not, but it's still worth checking. If he knows how to get in the house, he might have gone to steal from them if nothing else."

"He would not go back to the Dursleys," she insisted. "Not for anything. You have no idea how horrible they were to him. Even with everything that happened last spring, Harry was ecstatic that he was through with them forever."

"And now he's wandering around London alone, and maybe they don't look so bad to him. It can't hurt to check," Snape insisted.


"I'm in charge, Miss Granger. Do you remember that part of our agreement?"

"Fine," Hermione snapped. It infuriated her that Snape was wasting precious time checking out something that she knew was going to lead nowhere, but she didn't dare argue any further.

"We're finished for now, I think. Go get some sleep if you can." He waved his arm in the direction of her room, dismissing her. She left, grateful for the chance to escape. She'd had plenty of Snape for one evening.


Hermione slept well that night, a fact that surprised her given the amount that she had slept the previous day. She woke up feeling refreshed and eager to begin the search for Harry again. She remembered what Snape had said about going to the Dursleys and dressed in the clothes she had arrived in, since those were the only Muggle clothes she had, before heading downstairs for breakfast. She had just ordered pumpkin juice and toast when Snape came into the dining room and made his way toward her with a glazed look.

"Good morning, Professor," she said brightly.


"Is something the matter? What is it?"

He ignored her, his eyes sweeping over the small dining area as he sank down in the chair opposite her. "Coffee," he rasped to the first waitress he saw.

Hermione looked at him in obvious amusement. "I take it you're not a morning person, Professor?"

"I loathe morning people," he answered, his normally smooth voice still at basement level.

"I'm a morning person," she said cheerfully. "Always have been. I do some of my best studying first thing after I wake up. I drove Harry and Ron crazy, trying to get them to study at the breakfast table."

He stared at her.


"Quiet, Miss Granger."


The waitress arrived with his coffee, and Snape took the proffered cup and growled, "Leave the pot." He added milk to cool it quickly so that he could drink it down practically in one gulp, and then he poured a second cup, this time sipping carefully.

"I'm adding another condition to our agreement," he said finally, his voice approaching its normal pitch. "Until I've had at least one cup of coffee in the morning, you are forbidden to speak to me. I don't know why Potter and Weasley didn't hex you out of existence years ago if this is what you're always like at the breakfast table."

"What? Pleasant? I suppose you'd prefer surliness."

"I'd prefer silence," he snapped.

"You didn't mind talking yesterday morning."

"I hadn't slept yesterday morning."

"Fine, Professor. I hardly consider it a punishment to be deprived of your conversation when you're like this." To prove her point, she picked up a copy of the Prophet that had been left on the table behind her and opened it up so that her view of him was completely blocked. He ordered his breakfast and sipped at his coffee while he waited for his sluggish mind to catch up to his body.

Finally, it did. "Have you met Potter's relatives before?"

Hermione lowered her paper. "Am I allowed to talk now?"

"Don't pout, Miss Granger. It doesn't become you."

She made a slight noise of irritation and then answered him, setting the paper to one side. "I've seen them before at King's Cross, but I've never been introduced. They're the most unpleasant people you can possibly imagine."

Snape raised an eyebrow at her. "I doubt that very much."

"Well, perhaps they would compare favourably to some of the company you've been forced to keep," she acknowledged, "but as Muggles go, they're pretty horrible."

"So I've heard."

Hermione nerved herself to ask a question she had long wanted answered. "Does Professor Dumbledore know how awful the Dursleys were to Harry?"

"I think he has some idea. Certainly he knew enough of Lily's family to know that Potter's abilities would never be encouraged in that household."

"But did he know that they beat him and locked him up? That he was treated worse than a servant?"

Snape shrugged. "I'm not entirely sure. I doubt he knew that would be the case when he first left Potter there, or he probably would have made other arrangements. The one thing I do know for certain is that when you are under the protection of Albus Dumbledore, you are there on his terms."


"Potter is alive, Miss Granger," Snape said harshly. "If he found the conditions that kept him alive less than amenable, he should probably be informed that he is not the only person in the world to suffer such a fate." He saw that she was about to say something else and quickly changed the subject. "Is that all you're going to eat?"

Hermione looked down at her remaining piece of toast. "I'm not much of a breakfast eater."

"Fine. We'll leave as soon as I'm finished. I don't suppose you could get your hands on an Apparition license in the next few minutes and save us the nightmare of Muggle transportation?"

Hermione reached for her paper again and opened it with a resounding snap.


The Muggle transportation had Snape in a mood that was foul even by his usual standards, and Hermione didn't attempt to make conversation on the way to the Dursleys. When they finally arrived on Privet Drive, she eyed the place curiously. She had never been there but had pictured it as being somewhat dark and forbidding, as befitted the scene of Harry's abuse. Instead it was ordinary, even pleasant, and they found number four easily. They approached the door together, and despite their Muggle clothing, Hermione knew that the Dursleys would know them immediately for what they were - she because they had seen her before, and Snape because he managed somehow to look like a wizard no matter what he wore. This was not going to be pleasant, she thought, nor would it be fruitful, since she was still convinced that Harry would beg in the streets before he would consider going back to Privet Drive.

"You do the talking," Snape said, surprising her. "Act as though you think Potter still lives here."

And I was in the neighbourhood with my Potions professor and thought I'd stop by, she thought, rolling her eyes as she reached for the bell.

An obese young man with blonde hair whom Hermione recognized as Harry's cousin opened the door. He gave Hermione a brief look of appreciation before his glance slid nervously to the oppressive figure at her side.

"Hi," Hermione said, forcing a smile. "I'm…"

"We don't want any," Dudley said quickly, attempting to shut the door. Snape reached out calmly and stopped the movement before the door closed in their faces.

"I'm looking for Harry Potter," Hermione said quickly.

"Mum!" Dudley shouted, wide-eyed, chins jiggling. "There are some people at the door for Harry!"

Petunia Dursley hurried out of the kitchen, pinched and scowling. Hermione forced herself to smile again, her facial muscles protesting the traitorous act. "Mrs Dursley, my name is Hermione Granger. I'm a friend of Harry's. Is he here?"

Petunia's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "If you're a friend of his, you should know that he doesn't live here anymore. He went to live with his psychopathic godfather, and good riddance, incidentally."

"Have you seen any sign that he's been by here?" Snape asked. "Any sign that anyone has tried to enter your house?"

Petunia looked horrified. "What's this all about?" she snapped. "I haven't seen him and don't want to see him. Isn't it enough that I took him in and fed him and clothed him for all those years? Am I to be thanked by having him break into my house?"

"Thanked?" Hermione spat. "Thanked for what, exactly? For locking him in the cupboard? For never giving him a proper birthday present or any clothes of his own? Your own sister's child, and you treated him like rubbish. You'll be lucky if all he ever does to you is break into your house. If I were Harry, I'd hex you straight into next week. And you!" She turned on Dudley, who cringed away from her. "Don't think I don't know about all the things you did to Harry over the years. I know how you treated him, and if he doesn't do anything about it, I can promise you I will. The minute I finish school, I'm coming back to this place to show you all a few of the things I've learned." She brandished her wand menacingly and was gratified to see Petunia and Dudley Dursley quaking with fear.

"Are you quite finished, Miss Granger?" Snape asked, his amusement obvious.

"For now," she snapped.

"Fine then. We'll go and let these people get back to their day." He extended his wand toward mother and son. "Obliviate."

As the door shut behind them, Hermione said, "Thank you. I enjoyed that immensely."

"It was entertaining from the spectator's point of view as well. You are most impressive in your fury."

She nodded her head, acknowledging the strange compliment. "Are you now convinced that Harry won't come back here?"

"It was a necessary avenue of investigation," he said, giving her a glare of rebuke at the implied I-told-you-so. "I'd rather know where he is than where he's not, but this was a start." He stopped at the kerb near the waiting cab and looked at his watch. "I don't have time to take you all the way back to Diagon Alley the way we came if I'm to make my meeting with Horatio Barter. Can you manage to get back on your own?"

"Of course."

"What will you do this afternoon?"

"I'm going to stop and buy some more Muggle clothing, and then I'll probably sit outside at Fortescues and watch for Harry."

He nodded. "Fine then. I'll come and find you there when I finish with Barter." He glanced up and down the street, and seeing no one, gave her a quick nod of farewell and Apparated.


Snape had not been looking forward to his meeting with Barter. Being called into Horatio Barter's private office always required that he walk the finest of lines. Barter was an old friend of his father's and, thus, conditioned to look upon Snape with a certain amount of favour, but Snape was not fool enough to think that that favour was without limits. If Barter knew the role Severus Snape was playing, his life would be measured in seconds. It was not a comforting thought. There was no question in his mind that Barter had served Voldemort during his most recent rise; he simply hadn't gathered enough proof to hand him over to the Aurors. He suspected that Barter viewed him with the same degree of suspicion. Barter was smart, and smart people were the most dangerous.

He had said he had a "favour" to ask. No, Snape wasn't looking forward to this at all.

He waited impatiently just outside Barter's office, which was located in the highest tower of the Presto building. He had arrived precisely on time, only to be told that Barter was still in a meeting. Waiting always made him furious. Only Voldemort and Dumbledore had ever been able to keep him waiting without suffering the consequences of his wrath, but he knew he would have to add Barter to the list if he were to get through the meeting successfully. That knowledge only added to his black mood.

"Severus." Barter had Apparated directly into his office, and he now stood in the doorway, giving Snape a smile that was probably supposed to be apologetic but instead looked condescending. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting." Snape knew then that he'd been kept waiting on purpose. He hated these damned games.

"Not at all, Horatio." And the lies continued.

"Come in, Severus, come in." Barter gestured Snape into his luxurious office and indicated a comfortable chair beside the fire before settling into the one opposite. "It was wonderful to see you last night – and your cousin, of course. Lovely girl. Can't quite decide who she favours…but then, it's been a while since I've seen Damian or Olivia."

There was nothing of suspicion in Barter's tone, but Snape felt a slight tightening in his stomach. "I haven't seen them since you have," he said lightly. "They've preferred to keep to themselves, as you know."

"Quite so. That's why I was a bit surprised to see Cassandra in England," he smiled at Snape. "A pleasant surprise though, of course. Seems a bit trying for you – being saddled with a teenaged girl when you're supposed to be enjoying your summer holiday."

"It's actually been less tedious than I expected," Snape said dryly. "She's a bright girl and less inclined to adolescent foolishness than most of the students I'm forced to teach."

"She struck me the same way," Barter said, nodding his agreement. "I'm pleased you've enjoyed her visit. All the same, I'm glad you didn't bring her along today. I have a matter to discuss with you that requires considerable discretion."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "I understood that you needed a favour."

"Not a favour, precisely. You'll be well compensated for your cooperation."

Snape nodded. "I'm listening."

"I've had a request for a wand - a request I am unable to fill without a certain item I think you might be able to procure for me."

"And that is…?" Snape drawled.

"I need a tail feather from Dumbledore's phoenix."

Snape nearly choked on the absurdity of the request. It took every ounce of self-control not to throw back his head and laugh in the man's face as he got a mental image of himself trying to steal into Dumbledore's office and pluck his beloved bird – a bird Snape was convinced was more intelligent than most of the Hogwarts staff. "Surely you realize that such a thing is impossible," he managed.

"I've been told that I can name my price," Barter replied evenly, "which means that you can name yours. Nothing is impossible, Severus."

"To function properly in a wand, the bird must give the feather freely," Snape argued.

"You're a bright man, Severus. You'll think of a way."

"I take it I'm not allowed to ask who has made this extraordinary request. Or why."

Barter gave him a smile that was wholly insincere. "I wish I could tell you, Severus. It does seem only fair. But to do so would be breaking a confidence."

"Naturally," Snape said dryly. "Well, Horatio, I'll see what I can do. I hope this isn't a rush request, however, because it's going to take some planning if it can be managed at all."

"No, take your time - within reason, of course. From what I understand, my customer will be satisfied to have the wand sometime this autumn."

The meeting wound down quickly then, with Barter seeming as anxious to get rid of Snape as Snape was to be gone.

Snape Apparated directly to his room in the Leaky Cauldron, where he immediately sat down on the bed and had the laugh he'd been denying himself. He'd been asked to do some stupid things over the years, but this took first prize. Of course, underlying the humour of the ludicrous request was the knowledge that someone did, indeed, have dark plans for Harry Potter. There could be no one else in the wizarding world that would require an unregistered wand with a core of phoenix tail feather specifically taken from Fawkes. It wasn't particularly helpful information, since it only confirmed what he already knew, but it would be something to report to Dumbledore. Perhaps the Headmaster would have some idea of what to do with Barter's request. Snape's uncharacteristic laughter passed quickly, and he rose and went in search of Hermione.


Harry donned badly wrinkled robes over his Muggle clothing and made his way through Diagon Alley. He had arrived at mid-morning, wanting there to be enough people about that he could blend into the crowds. He tried to look confident, but his eyes automatically darted around, on the lookout for anyone he knew. A small part of him – the stupid part, he realized – actually wanted to see someone he knew so that he would have an idea of how effective his disguise was. The rest of him was relieved when he made it to the Gringotts counter without anyone giving him a second glance.

He presented his key, grateful for the discretion of the Gringott's Goblins, who never asked bothersome questions as long as the proper key was produced. After the dizzying ride down to his vault, he took out more money than he had ever withdrawn before – considerably more than he could comfortably carry – and lugged it all back to the cart. Back upstairs, he stood in a short queue at the exchange counter where he changed most of the Galleons for Pounds but kept a few of the gold coins for future forays into Diagon Alley. He debated what to do about Hermione's money, and finally settled on returning it in Muggle currency. He knew she'd change it back later, of course, but it seemed more honest somehow to return it in the same form he'd taken it. He tucked it back into her wallet and then put the whole thing into one of the pouches he'd gotten from the bank.

Having completed his first errand so successfully, he left Gringotts feeling more confident in his disguise and headed straight for the local post office. It was busy, however, and he had to wait in a much longer queue there than he had at the bank. His confidence waned with the close proximity to so many other witches and wizards, and he spent most of his time with his head down, examining his feet and wishing for the millionth time that his face hadn't graced the pages of the Daily Prophet quite so often. 
The progress was slow, and the witch and wizard behind the counter were getting complaints and cross looks from the waiting customers.

"I'm sorry, but at the moment we don't have an owl large enough to carry your package," the postal worker said to an annoyed wizard. "If you'd like to commission two, we can send it right away, or you can wait a day until Firefly gets back. He's the biggest we have."

"If I hire two owls, will I be charged twice?" the customer demanded.

"Well, yes, sir. I'm sorry, but we can't ask one small owl to carry such a large package."

"Ridiculous!" the wizard snapped. "You're the bloody post office. You should have all the owls you need."

The witch behind the counter was looking quite put-upon, and Harry was giving serious thought to paying for the second owl himself, just so things would begin moving again.

"Sir, I'm sorry," she said again. "We have an unusual number of owls out right now. If it could just wait another day…"

"It can't wait. Here…" he threw down some money. "I'll just pay for the second owl. But I'm being robbed, I can tell you that."

Harry was glad then that he'd decided to go with Muggle notes instead of Galleons. Even a smallish owl should be able to handle those.

Finally, it was his turn. "May I help you sir?"

"Yes, please," he said, putting the pouch with Hermione's wallet down on the counter. "I'd like to send this to a friend of mine."

"I'll need the name and address, please."

Hmmm. He didn't know Hermione's home address. It had been years since he'd needed to since Hedwig could find her way there in her sleep. "Er, I'm not sure of the address," he admitted.

The witch looked aggrieved. "We have to have an address, sir."

"I know," he said, thinking. "I suppose since I don't have her address, I'll just send it to her care of Professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts School. He'll make sure she receives it."

The witch reached for a tattered quill and jotted down the information. "That will be fine, sir. But I'll still need the name of the recipient."

"Hermione Granger."

He didn't notice a man in the queue next to him look up, startled, as he said Hermione's name.

The witch jotted down the information. "That will be three Sickles, sir, unless you want same-day service. That'll cost you a few Knuts more."

"Er, no. It doesn't matter." Harry handed over the coins.

"I'll need you to sign this, please."

Harry reached for the quill and came very close to signing his own name. The "stupid" part of his brain was asserting itself again, he thought, catching himself just in time. Instead, he wrote "C. Creevey."

The clerk glanced at it. "Thank you, Mr Creevey. We'll get this off today. It should be at Hogwarts by noon tomorrow."

"Thank you." Harry left quickly with his head still down. He didn't see the man leave the second queue and follow him out the door.


He had just stepped in to check his mail.

The potion was the critical first step in the plan, and they had owled a different list to every apothecary shop in England, wanting to get a few ingredients from each. Had they just walked into one and handed them a list, it might have aroused suspicion. The owl to the Sharps had been the most dangerous, of course, but they had taken care to word it so that Kenan would think that bastard Snape was behind it and had even managed a fair approximation of Snape's handwriting. Later, once they were successful, they expected that Kenan would join them, but it was too soon to be recruiting. Right now, they needed the potion, and then they needed Potter, and if all went as planned, they would be able to create their own Dark Order, learning from the mistakes Voldemort had made.

They had discussed those mistakes at length. Voldemort had been too arrogant and had allowed his obsession with Harry Potter to interfere with his judgment. He had insisted on facing Potter himself, on defeating him in a duel rather than using simpler methods. There were any number of potions, the man had learned, which could have done the thing just as effectively and a lot more subtly, but Voldemort had wanted his public triumph over the boy who'd had the temerity to live. His quest for supremacy had clouded his judgment, and he had paid for it with his life. It was not a mistake they would repeat.

They weren't quite ready for Potter yet, but having him fall into their hands this way was too good an opportunity to pass up. He had paid no attention to the slightly odd-looking blond boy until he had heard the name "Hermione Granger." Then he had placed the voice immediately and had given the boy a second look, just to confirm what his ears had already told him. He had no idea why the boy was so changed or why he was using an assumed name, but he knew for certain that it was Potter.

He followed the shining blond head through the crowded street, his shorter legs making it a struggle to keep up. Fortunately, the boy wasn't moving as if he was in a hurry, and the man was able to scurry out of sight if Potter happened to glance his way. They made their way out of Diagon Alley and into the streets of London.


Harry gave his order to the waitress behind the bar in the crowded pub, wishing that they served butterbeer. There was nothing in the Muggle world that even came close, he thought sadly, settling for a soft drink. He sipped at it and gazed around the pub with disinterest. He had hated being famous in the wizarding world, but he certainly hadn't minded having friends. He missed being able to walk into a place like the Three Broomsticks and actually run into people he knew, people who called hello to him or stopped to talk a bit of Quidditch. Muggle London was a great place if you happened to want to disappear, but disappearing was a lonely business, and just then Harry wished he had someone to talk to.

//Leave the pub.//

The words shot into his mind with steely insistence and absolute clarity as every other thought deserted him. He obeyed, picking up his knapsack and walking out the front door of the pub, never considering the meal he had ordered or the drink he had partially consumed.

//Turn right. Begin walking down the street.//

Woodenly, Harry made a right turn outside the pub, nearly walking into an approaching couple. He didn't bother with apologies. He heard footsteps behind him, but he didn't turn around. The orders kept coming, directing him through streets and alleys he'd never seen before until he had walked perhaps two miles, his own footsteps echoed by the ones behind him.

//The white house on the right. Go inside.//

He stopped and turned, preparing to climb the steps, and shifted his heavy knapsack from his tired left shoulder to his right. His eyes were glazed as he put the first foot on the stairs, but suddenly he pivoted, wand out, and faced the owner of the second set of footsteps.


The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 12 of 27

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