Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 15 of 27

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Hermione took the Floo to her parents' home, taking a few moments to make up with Crookshanks, who was clearly annoyed by the time she'd spent away. She then went to her room and began sorting through her clothes, packing an assortment of Muggle clothing as well as her favourite set of plain robes. She was halfway through this task when she realized that the suitcase she was using was the same one she had used when she went to visit Harry. She had left it sitting in the middle of her parents' living room.

No wonder Dumbledore knew where she was. Her parents must have been frantic when they discovered her suitcase but no sign of her. She sighed and felt like an idiot, already dreading the moment when Snape found out what she'd done. On top of that was the guilt she always felt when she worried her parents needlessly. She considered phoning them at the office but decided that Snape had been right: forgiveness generally was easier to come by than permission, and if she didn't phone, her parents couldn't insist that she stay home. She hoped.

Instead, she drafted an apologetic note and left it in the kitchen, promising that she would owl soon and let them know that she was all right. After that, she kissed Crookshanks goodbye, saying, "Oh stop that!" as he glared balefully at her while she picked up her suitcase. "I'll be back soon. You take care of Mum and Dad for me." Crookshanks jumped up to his favourite spot on the sofa, turning around so that she had full view of his tail, which was twitching with irritation.

"Be that way, then," she said finally, stepping into the fireplace and announcing Snape's rooms.


The invitation to Floo into his rooms had been unexpected, to say the least, and the most unexpected thing of all was that it seemed to be so freely given. She knew that Snape was a man who valued his privacy, and it had surprised her that he wasn't more protective of his personal chambers. When she stepped out of the fireplace, however, she began to understand.

A part of her had been expecting Snape's rooms to be something like his classroom – all stone walls and damp gloom, perhaps with the occasional medieval instrument of torture used to enhance the décor. She felt quite confident that every student at Hogwarts would have had the same expectation. Instead, she found a suite of rooms that resembled the ones she had left behind at the Leaky Cauldron. Plain plaster walls, polished hardwood floor, simple, serviceable furniture, and…nothing else. She exited into his small sitting room and didn't dare venture into the bedroom she could see just through the doorway, but the overall impression of the place was that it was a set of rooms maintained as guest quarters for the occasional visitor. There was nothing of Snape there – nothing at all. It was more aesthetically pleasing than she had expected, and yet it was somehow even more depressing. She couldn't imagine occupying a space for as many years as he had that one without leaving any personal imprint. She automatically spread her personal items around any space she occupied. She was always surrounded by photographs of family and friends, awards she had won, gifts she had been given, books and more books, and of course, the irascible feline she had left twitching on her parents' sofa. It was inconceivable to her that anyone would want to live as if they were in a hotel room all the time.

She was a bit inclined to snoop but stifled the urge, thinking that it would not be the proper way to repay his tenuous acceptance of her over the past few days. She made for the door and obediently turned right down the narrow hallway, finding his laboratory easily.

This room did bear his imprint, in much the same way his classroom did. The workbench, where she placed the ingredients they had taken from the house, was impeccably neat, and the shelves of potion ingredients were rigidly organized. One corner of the room, however, was given over to controlled chaos. She saw a desk littered with piles of parchment and a bookshelf overstuffed with books. Still no pictures, she noted, but she did see a few items with the Hogwarts crest and a coffee cup in Slytherin green with a serpent forming the handle. That made her smile, for some reason – she wondered where on earth he'd gotten it and if there was a Gryffindor equivalent. It would make a wonderful Christmas present for her parents.

From her look around his lab, it appeared that he was fanatically tidy only when he had to be – something they had in common. She was meticulously careful with her schoolwork – and her work in the Potions lab had always reflected that – but her personal habits were much more lax. She'd never seen the point in making the bed every day, when you were only going to climb into it again that night, and her vanity was generally littered with hair paraphernalia and the few cosmetics she used. She just couldn't be bothered to put them away. Her neatness was driven by practicality; if she couldn't discern a practical reason, she saw no point in putting forth the effort.

She scanned the bookshelf and quickly found the book he had mentioned along with about twenty others that she was dying to read. Perhaps when this was all over he would consider allowing her to borrow from his collection; she might at least find the nerve to ask after spending so much time in his presence. For the moment, however, she limited herself to the book that had been assigned. She had relaxed considerably around Snape in the last two days, but she was still nervous about doing anything to cross him. She had no doubt at all that he would send her home if she gave him the provocation. She only hoped that Dumbledore wouldn't send her home anyway.

She settled into his desk chair and began to read. The book could have been disturbing had it not been so dry; as it was, she was able to maintain an intellectual distance and to tell herself that this was just another Potions text, despite the fact that many of the ingredients were very different from those she had worked with before. She began to see, from the nature of the various potions that utilized human blood, the line of thought Snape had taken when he developed his theoretical potion. It was fascinating, really, like being given a glimpse inside his mind, and she withdrew the notes she had taken from the house on Arnold Street and began to make her own notes on a sheet of parchment she found on his desk.

Twice she got up and went to his private supply of ingredients. Each shelf contained items in the same general category of usage and was further alphabetized to make finding the correct ingredient easier. She thought of the student shelves, with ingredients carelessly stuffed away in whatever space seemed sufficient. She suspected he couldn't even bring himself to look at that area of the classroom. It was no wonder, really, that he stayed irritable all the time. She perused his private stores, finding some of the things she was looking for but not all by any means. Each time, she made a note of what he had and what he didn't, assuming that the things he didn't have were the more difficult to obtain. She could check that with him later.

She had been reading and making notes for two hours when she heard footsteps coming down the hall. She looked up and waited for Snape to enter the room. Instead, she found herself face to face with Albus Dumbledore.

"Hello, my dear," he said pleasantly. "I noticed you'd been down here alone for some time and thought I'd better check in on you."

How absurd it had been to imagine that she could hide from Albus Dumbledore in the Hogwarts castle. She suspected Snape had been perfectly aware that her attempt would be futile when he had let her try it. She managed a smile and said, "Hi Professor. I'm fine, thank you. Professor Snape asked me to wait for him here." She held up the book. "He gave me a reading assignment."

Dumbledore reached for the book and examined it. "Unless we've made some fairly radical changes to the seventh-year Potions curriculum, you must have found something in that house that I overlooked."

"Yes, sir. Though it might be better if Professor Snape explained…" She trailed off nervously.

He looked at her over the rims of his glasses. "That's fine, then. He should be here fairly shortly, I believe."

"Yes, sir. I expected him before this, actually."

Dumbledore nodded. "Perhaps his delay is for the best, Miss Granger, since you and I have something we need to discuss."

"Yes, sir." She felt miserable. Dumbledore was giving her a look that she had never seen from him before. He absolutely radiated disappointment and displeasure, and a part of her wanted to cry while another part was preparing to fight.

"I believe I told you quite clearly that I wanted you to go home, Miss Granger. I did not think I needed to add that I wanted you to staythere, and leave the search for Harry to those who are trained for such an activity. I don't think you appreciate the extent to which your disappearance worried your parents and me."

"I'm sorry, Professor," Hermione said. "Truly I am. I didn't mean to worry anyone. I just…well, I just knew I had to find Harry. I didn't think much past that."

"I know that you acted out of a concern for Harry, Miss Granger. But in your haste, you gave no thought to the danger you were placing yourself in. We care about Harry immensely, but we are not willing to sacrifice you."

"I appreciate that, sir," she answered. "But what if I'm willing to sacrifice myself? I understand why you would never ask me to help look for Harry, but I don't think it's fair for you to keep me from it if I've been advised of the dangers and choose to help anyway."

"You're wasting your time, Albus." The sarcastic voice from the doorway made her jump. Snape had approached with his customary silence - though she noticed that Dumbledore didn't seem to have been taken by surprise. "There's no convincing the girl that Potter will be found without her expert help."

Dumbledore's sober look began to give way to his customary twinkle. "You have arrived at an opportune time, Severus. I should like to hear your thoughts on this matter. I admit I was surprised to find that you had taken on a partner. It is quite unlike you in every respect."

Snape glared. "I took on an assistant, Headmaster, mostly because if I hadn't, she'd have probably just rushed right out again and risked her fool neck searching for Potter. I have no intention of spending the rest of my days looking for missing Gryffindors."

"I feel quite sure that if we send Miss Granger home again she will stay there, as requested," the Headmaster said firmly, glancing at Hermione. "However, I will leave that decision to you. If you would like to continue to have her assistance, I will allow it. If you feel the danger is too great for you to accept responsibility for her safety, or if you would simply prefer to work alone, then I will have to insist that she return home and stay there until term begins."

Snape narrowed his dark eyes and took in the sight of Hermione's hopeful face, the book in her hand, and the work she had spread over his desk before returning his gaze to the Headmaster. "With the exception of her grating cheerfulness at the breakfast table, she has been less annoying than I originally anticipated and has actually proven helpful on several occasions," he said grudgingly. "Assuming she's still willing to abide by our original agreement, I do not object to her continued assistance."

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "High praise indeed, coming from you, Severus. I confess I expected you to give a different answer. Very well, then. Miss Granger, I am not completely easy in my mind about this, but you may continue assisting with the search for Harry for as long as Professor Snape will have you."

"Thank you, sir," she murmured. She knew better than to thank Snape in front of the Headmaster.

"Having settled that, I'd like to ask you both to join me in my office for tea. I am most interested to hear what you have learned so far."


Not even the pressing nature of their discussion could cause Dumbledore overlook the rituals of hospitality, and they were settled in comfortable chairs sipping hot tea before he looked to Snape for his report.

"Well, Severus. Tell me what you have learned."

Snape began at the beginning and left nothing out from the time he'd encountered Hermione in the Leaky Cauldron to his recent trip to St. Mungo's, where he had confirmed that Pettigrew did die of the killing curse. Hermione was impressed with his concise, dispassionate recital, particularly as it related to the discovery of his own notes. Dumbledore, for his part, remained silent until Snape was finished.

"So Barter wants Fawkes to contribute a feather," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard thoughtfully.

"I'm glad it's not a rush order, as it gives us some time to figure out what I'm going to tell him," Snape said. "Unless you can convince Fawkes to just give me the feather and be done with it."

Dumbledore chuckled and looked at the phoenix. "Well, Fawkes, what do you think of that idea?"

Fawkes ruffled his magnificent feathers in obvious irritation, and turned on his perch so that he was facing the wall.

"I thought not," Dumbledore said with a smile. "Let's hope Harry will be found and it will be unnecessary to tell Barter anything at all. Now, I'd like to discuss your findings at the Arnold Street House."

"I thought you might," Snape said dryly.

"Have you any idea who might have taken that piece of parchment from you?"

"None at all. I didn't even know it had gone missing."

"Did you ever work with another student on the project?"


"Hmmm. How many Potions Masters are there in Britain at this time?"

Snape thought for a minute. "I believe five others, besides myself. Two in private breweries, two in research, and that idiot at the Ministry."

"Ah, yes. Lancet," Dumbledore said knowingly. "Yes, I had the misfortune of accepting his offer of a headache potion after a particularly tedious meeting. The next twenty-four hours were spent…" he glanced at Hermione. "Well, I won't go into details, but I think we can scratch him off our list of suspects."

"I agree," Snape said. "It bears checking, but I think we can eliminate the others as well. They are all highly thought of in the field, and there has never been any indication that they were allied with Voldemort. However, I would point out that just because someone hasn't attained Master status doesn't mean he would be incapable of educating himself on dark potions. Most of the private sector brewers aren't Masters, and yet with some little research they would be capable of producing the incendiary potion that killed Black."

"Yes, but would they be able to take your twenty-year-old notes and extrapolate enough from them to successfully produce the potion you were developing? I doubt it." Dumbledore frowned and shook his head. "Have you ever taught a student with those capabilities?"

"Only one." Snape looked vaguely uncomfortable as Dumbledore raised his eyebrows in a question.

Snape sighed and glared at Hermione. "Really, Miss Granger, if you are the guilty party, I'd consider it quite the favour if you'd just confess."

Hermione flushed at his words but had the presence of mind to respond in the same vein. "I'd love to help you out, Professor, but I ended my illicit potion brewing career in my second year here."

Dumbledore chuckled. "And a dramatic ending it was, if I remember correctly. No, Severus, I think we can eliminate Miss Granger from our list of suspects."

"You seem to be labouring under the delusion that we have a list of suspects. I can think of no one – save myself, I'm sorry to say – who is at all capable of being behind this."

"I wonder…" Dumbledore said, staring into space for a moment. "You know, I went through the house with the Aurors yesterday. I didn't go through it as thoroughly as you did, of course, but I did notice something odd about the bathroom cabinet."

"Yes, we found potions there. I believe I mentioned that already," Snape said impatiently.

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, I saw the potions too, but of course, I'd already concluded from the things in the kitchen that the home was a wizard's, so the presence of potions in the bathroom wasn't surprising. Few wizards, even those who are determined to live as Muggles, can stand a total conversion to Muggle hygiene products."

Snape shuddered slightly at the thought. "Of course not. I was surprised not to find more potions than we did, frankly."

Dumbledore smiled slightly and then went on. "No, the thing that struck my attention was not the items in the cabinet so much as the way they were organized. Did you see nothing odd about it?"

Snape shook his head slowly and then glanced at Hermione for her impressions. She tried to picture the cabinet in her mind. "It was very neat," she ventured.

"Indeed," Dumbledore said, nodding approvingly. "I would say unusually so."

"So we're looking for a neat man who gets hangovers, tends to perspire, and is fighting halitosis and the signs of aging," Snape snapped. "That certainly helps. If you have something to say, Albus, please say it. I have work waiting in my laboratory and the bloody Boy Who Lived yet to find."

"Calm down, Severus." Dumbledore gave him a disapproving look. "I was curious as to whether you had noticed the way the cabinet was organized. I would venture to say that your own bathroom cabinet is probably organized the same way – just as you organize your potions. According to use first and alphabetically second."

"That's exactly how it was!" Hermione exclaimed in surprise. "With each bottle facing forward so that you could read the packaging clearly. I didn't even notice that it was alphabetical, but looking back, I think it was. And I did notice that Professor Snape's potion ingredients are organized using that same system. Is that something all apprentices learn?"

Snape shook his head. "No. There's no single system. Each brewer just organizes his own supplies in whatever way works best for him. I'm sorry Albus, but unless you're accusing me, I fail to see your point."

"When did you begin using that system, Severus?"

"When I was here at Hogwarts, in my seventh year. I began using the private laboratory for my research. It was the system Professor Finbar had used, and as I helped myself to his private stores, I just got used to it. I've used it ever since."

"I'm wondering," said the Headmaster thoughtfully, "If perhaps he has too."


"Go through my stores and gather up these ingredients. We'll need to take them with us." Snape thrust a piece of parchment in Hermione's hand and then stalked to his workbench.

She hurried to do his bidding, going to the shelves and scanning for each item on the list, but she also watched him out of the corner of her eye. The only time she had ever enjoyed Snape in class was when he had demonstrated a technique for them. No matter how caustic his tone, his hands had moved as if to music, gracefully chopping and measuring his ingredients and then stirring the bubbling cauldron. Both the potion and the process became an extension of the dark man who gave them life, and she had always found it slightly hypnotic watching him work.

Not so today. The grace and ease which he customarily exhibited in front of a cauldron were absent as he rattled around his workbench. He unpacked the ingredients he had taken from the Arnold Street kitchen, slamming the small containers down and tossing several zippered Baggies to the side. He began opening cabinets and closing them with a bang as he removed the items he needed. She had no idea what he was doing and didn't dare ask.

He chopped the Coddleswop root with unnecessary force and then dropped the small knife with a clatter when he cut his finger. "Damn it!"

"Let me see," she said, moving towards him.

"It's fine," he growled, running the finger under cold water. "Look in the third drawer down and hand me a bandage."

"Maybe you should go see Madam Pomfrey," she suggested.

"Maybe you should do as you're told," he snapped.

"Maybe if you hadn't been throwing a temper tantrum, you wouldn't have cut yourself in the first place!" She located the bandages in the drawer and practically flung one at him and then reached for the knife and began chopping the root into fine pieces, refusing to look at him as he awkwardly bandaged his own finger. "There," she said, finishing the root. "What next?"

"I thought I told you to pack ingredients."

"I'm finished. Now I'm going to help you with what ever it was you're trying to do."

"Have you forgotten where you are, Miss Granger? This is my private laboratory, and you'll do nothing in here without my express permission."

"Professor, I refuse to sit back and watch you do yourself further injury by failing to observe the most basic safety rules – rules you taught me in my first week here. You're obviously upset right now, and you have no business handling some of these things until you're calmer."

He stared at her, momentarily speechless. No student had ever, ever dared to speak to him like that. When he found his voice, it had taken on an Arctic edge. "If it were term-time, Miss Granger, I'd have you spending so much time with Mr Filch that Mrs Norris would think you were her new mum. As it is, I'll just tell you that if you dare to speak to me like that again, I'll have you home within the hour."

She met his fierce gaze calmly, leaning against the workbench with her arms folded across her chest.

"Put on some gloves," he snapped. "Top drawer."

She turned to the drawer and hid her small smile of victory as she pulled on the gloves. "What are we doing?"

"Since we've been gifted with several of the ingredients, I'm going to begin making the antidote to the potion that killed Black. Unfortunately, it's one of the potions that keeps indefinitely, and there's no way to know how much of it was prepared. We could see another victim any day. The antidote takes a week, but I can get it started and have Madam Pomfrey monitor it while we're away."

He reached for his wand and lit a small flame under the cauldron, and she was pleased to note that his movements were smoother. Apparently threatening her was a calming experience. He reached for the root she had chopped and tossed that into the cauldron, where it gave off a foul smell as it began to heat up. Then he handed her the container of Fulcher Moss. "Shred this."

She went right to work, and he stepped in beside her, reaching for a pipette and adding liquid ingredients to a beaker, occasionally swirling the contents and holding it up to inspect the colour.

He spoke without turning to face her. "Do you have a favourite teacher, Miss Granger?"

"Well, I'm probably closest to Professor McGonagall," she said uncertainly.

"Of course," he said, giving her a quick glance. "She's your Head of House, has taken an interest in your studies, has praised your efforts in her class. Of course she'd be your favourite. Now imagine, for a moment, how you'd feel if she was killed mid-term. If suddenly you lost your Head of House and your favourite teacher."

"It would be terrible."

"Terrible. Yes. A bit inadequate, but since we don't have a thesaurus at hand, it will do. Yes, it would be terrible, but you would grieve that death and move on, as people must. Now imagine what it would be like to find out twenty years later that Professor McGonagall was not actually dead and that she was trying to destroy the world using – let's not forget this part – an idea conceived by you? And that she was likely attempting to implicate you in the crime at the same time?"

The word 'terrible' almost escaped her lips again, but she stopped it just in time. "I can't imagine," she said softly. "I'm sorry."

His eyes narrowed. "I don't want your pity, Miss Granger. That's not my point. I'm merely explaining why I missed the obvious back at that house."

She didn't entirely believe that was what he had been saying, but she let it pass. "I certainly don't think less of you for failing to suspect a man you believed was long dead, Professor. I'm finding it a bit far-fetched even now. Maybe it will turn out to be someone else entirely."

"Maybe," he said, turning his attention back to the beaker. "But assuming he is alive, Finbar is the only person who has been mentioned who fits all the evidence. He was a brilliant Potions Master, knew of my research in the early stages, and was a Death Eater, though of course Dumbledore didn't know that until he was killed – or supposedly killed."

"That's amazing." She had trouble imagining anyone hiding anything from Albus Dumbledore.

"Indeed. And the fact that he is capable of that level of deception is just another piece of evidence suggesting his guilt. If he is alive, he's managed to stay hidden for twenty years. That cannot have been easy."

"I can't imagine how he faked his own death in the first place," she said. "Was he an Animagus, like Pettigrew?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Snape turned around and faced her again. "But those were such confusing times – you've had a taste of what it was like these last few years. It was difficult to know where any single person's loyalties lay, and there were frequent skirmishes between the Aurors and the Death Eaters. If Finbar disappeared after one such battle, it would have been a fairly simple thing for the Death Eaters to broadcast his 'death.' No one here would have questioned it. It's more surprising to me that never heard of him during all my years as a Death Eater. Voldemort must have had a reason for keeping him hidden away, even from his own servants. It does explain why he never called on me for potions, however. That's my greatest strength, and yet he never showed any interest in having me brew for him."

Hermione almost asked what he had done, but decided that she might not actually want to know. Instead, she went back to the task he had assigned her. "I'm through with these," she said, gesturing towards the pile of shredded moss. "What now?"

"I add this," he said, pouring the contents of the beaker into the cauldron and murmuring an incantation over it. "Now you add the moss."

"Ugh," she said, glancing at the fetid mixture with a grimace of distaste as she added the ingredient. "I don't envy Madam Pomfrey having to keep up with this one while we're gone. Speaking of which, I'm not sure I understand exactly where we're going."


"Where, exactly?"

"It's unplottable. A forest, not unlike our Forbidden Forest here at Hogwarts. Neilus Finbar had a house there."

"In the middle of a dark forest?"

"Not exactly. More to the Western side."

"So we're going to…what? Camp? In the middle of an unplottable forest?"

"No. We're going to use Dumbledore's vacation cottage."

Because she was watching carefully, she saw his mouth slide briefly out of control and realized that he was, if not quite teasing her, at least entertaining himself by doling out one bizarre piece of information after another. "Vacation cottage," she repeated. "Dumbledore justconveniently happens to have a vacation cottage around the corner from Professor Finbar's house in the middle of a dark forest. How is it that they haven't run into one another while fleeing rampaging beasts?"

He snorted at that. "Dumbledore's vacation cottage is wherever he wants it to be. Why would he want to vacation in the same place every year?"

"I see," she said, not really seeing at all. Even in the wizarding world, most people didn't move whole houses around on a whim. "So he's putting the cottage somewhere in this forest in the hopes that we can find evidence that Finbar is still alive?"


"Not to sound like a pessimist, but what if he is still alive and isn't keen on the idea of neighbours?"

He gave her his most scathing look. "Do try to remember that Albus Dumbledore is a wizard, Miss Granger. The cottage is heavily warded. No one will know we're there, and we'll be quite safe from Finbar and anything else that might go bump in the night. We'll make that our home base and try to come up with a plan for getting into Finbar's house, which will also be heavily warded, if he has actually been living there when he was supposed to be dead. And before you even ask, I'll be conducting that particular part of the investigation."

"Then what's the point in taking me along?" she demanded. "I want to be doing something, Professor. Perhaps I should go back to London and handle the search on that end."

"Remus Lupin has undergone his transformation for this month, and he'll be taking over the London investigation as of tomorrow. He has not, however, agreed to accept responsibility for a student assistant. Dumbledore prefers that you remain with me."


Snape gave an exasperated sigh. "I believe he feels that you'll be safer with me. Lupin is upset right now. Grieving. Upset people are sometimes careless."

Hermione nodded, her glance flickering to Snape's bandaged finger.

"Don't say it," he warned.

"I wasn't going to."

"Good." He went to his bookcase and extracted several books and added them to the box of ingredients Hermione had packed. "Now," he said, "I want to see the notes you made this afternoon."


Damn but the girl was brilliant. He'd taught bright students before, but never one with such an intuitive grasp of his own craft. He was stunned as he looked over the notes she'd made, realizing that with only a single reference book she had been able to follow his logic and make accurate and impressive leaps of her own. He had been half-joking when he'd told Dumbledore that Miss Granger was the only student he had ever taught who would be capable of brewing the potion, but it turned out to be the literal truth. It was an odd feeling, sitting next to a young girl who had managed to get inside his head and fathom his reasoning using only an old piece of parchment. It made him wonder with some unease what else she might have divined after being almost continually in his presence for several days. He was accustomed to being impenetrable, to everyone except Dumbledore, of course, and he did not welcome the intrusive insights of a seventeen-year-old girl.

But restlessly coexisting with the unease was the vague thrill of finally working with a student worthy of his attentions. As they went over her notes, turned pages in various books, and discussed the properties of arcane ingredients, he was reminded of his own apprenticeship, of the pleasure that had come with being in the presence of one who shared his interests and understood his motivations. He had spent years isolated from that kind of contact, and he couldn't deny that it was…refreshing. Had there been more Miss Grangers in his classroom, he might not have hated teaching quite so much.

They took a break for dinner, which Dumbledore had sent down to the laboratory for them, complete with a small table set for two.

"This was nice of him," she said as she sat down, "but I wouldn't have minded the walk up to the staff room."

He made a slightly derisive sound as he took the seat opposite her. "You give him too much credit. I believe he would prefer that you eat down here and remain out of sight of your Head of House, who might do both the Headmaster and me a serious injury if she knew what we were allowing you to do."

She looked surprised. "Where am I to sleep tonight?"

"I've arranged for you to use one of the Slytherin dormitories."

She nodded, and he thought she seemed a little relieved. "Do you ever get lonely down here?" she asked suddenly.

"Of course not. What a ridiculous question."

She shrugged, appearing a little embarrassed. "I guess it is," she admitted. "But when you're used to being here as a student, you're used to constant noise and people. Being here between terms was strange for Harry and me. We eventually came to like it, but at first it seemed rather lonely. I just thought that being down here by yourself so much…well, you're right – it was a stupid question."

"I spend precious few hours here by myself," he said, wondering why he was bothering with an answer. "During term-time I'm in class most of the day and in the Great Hall for meals, just as you are. My duties as Head of Slytherin take up a great deal of time as well. I assure you that whatever time I spend alone down here qualifies as the best part of my day."

"It's very quiet," she observed. "I've noticed that in class before. You know that there's all this activity going on in the castle above, but you could never tell it being down here. The dungeons seem quite remote from the life of the castle. I suppose you like it like that."

He could tell from her tone and expression that she was just making conversation during another in a series of not-completely-comfortable shared meals. He had received his obvious cue to snap that of course he liked it like that, and why wouldn't any sane person prefer to keep his distance from the mass of snivelling, irritating students that swarmed the castle above? It was the answer he should have given, but it died on his tongue, and instead he said, "I've another book I'd like for you to look at tonight. It might give you some ideas about how we might go about preparing an antidote."

She looked a bit surprised by the sudden reversion to their pre-dinner topic of conversation, but she nodded. "I'll take it to the dormitory with me and look at it before I go to bed."

"You'll only need concern yourself with the third and fourth chapters."

"I'd never considered the difficulty of devising an antidote for a potion that as far as we know hasn't yet been invented," she admitted.

"Well, I'm sure I need not tell you that the odds of our being successful are remote in the extreme. When I conceived of the potion, I never intended that there would be an antidote. I'm hoping there won't be need of one now, but it pays to be prepared."

"Of course."

They talked of the potion for the rest of the meal, and he felt the brief discomfort he had experienced ebb away as they traversed the familiar and soothing territory of his craft.


Hermione rose early the next morning, as she usually did, and dressed in plain robes for her breakfast with the Headmaster and Snape before repacking her belongings and preparing for their relocation to the mysterious Irish forest. Her few trips into the Forbidden Forest had been unpleasant experiences indeed, and she thought, not for the first time, that Harry was going to have a great deal to answer for when he was found.

Snape had told her that they would be breakfasting in the Slytherin common room, and when she arrived, it was still dark and quiet, with no sign of the Headmaster and Snape. She glanced around the room with it's dark stone walls and thought how much more pleasant the Gryffindor common room was. She was grateful to have been sorted into a house that roomed in a tower rather than a dungeon. She reached for her wand, happy to be able to use it again, and lit the fire and multiple candles in an attempt to cheer the room. She curled into a chair near the fire and was soon absorbed in the book Snape had given her the night before, looking up only when she heard the door slide open and saw the elaborately robed figure of Albus Dumbledore.

"Good morning, sir," she said pleasantly.

"Good morning, my dear. You're up bright and early I see." Dumbledore smiled and joined her in front of the fire.

"Always am," she said. "I'm an early riser."

"I gathered that from Professor Snape's comment yesterday." Dumbledore chuckled. "He tends to be a night owl and has little sympathy with those of us who enjoy the first part of the day." He glanced at the book in her hand. "May I ask what you're reading?"

She handed him the book. "We spent yesterday afternoon and evening researching a possible antidote to the potion on the chance that it's actually been created. Professor Snape thought this text might give me some ideas."

"And has it?"

She frowned a bit. "Possibly. It's all so theoretical right now that it's hard to say. The potion itself wasn't designed with any antidote intended, and of course, we don't even have a sample of it for testing purposes. If done properly, this kind of research would take years."

"And if Neilus Finbar is actually the one behind it, he's had years to perfect it," Dumbledore said heavily. "It's possible that it's already been used, during Voldemort's last rise."

"We discussed that last night. Professor Snape really doesn't believe that it was. He thinks that Voldemort probably wouldn't have been defeated if he'd had such a weapon at his disposal."

The Headmaster nodded. "Voldemort never fully appreciated the subtlety of potions, a fact for which we can now be grateful."

They both glanced up as the doorway to the common room slid open again and Snape entered. Dumbledore took one look at him and clapped his hands, causing the breakfast table to appear before the fire. Hermione reached for the coffeepot and poured a cup of coffee, adding milk as she'd seen him do the previous two days, and then handing it to him. She and Dumbledore both sat in careful silence as he drained the cup and then reached for the pot to fill it again.

"Good morning, Severus," the Headmaster said cautiously, when he saw the haze begin to lift.

"Good morning Albus, Miss Granger." Snape's voice was rusty but passably civil. "I trust you found your accommodations adequate."

"They were fine, thank you."

"We'll need to discuss your accommodations in Ireland," Dumbledore said, pouring a glass of juice and offering it to Hermione. "I spent yesterday afternoon making all of the arrangements. I've set the cottage up and opened the Floo, but I plan to close it again as soon as you've arrived. Leaving it open invites questions from the Ministry that I'd rather avoid at the moment. I can Apparate there if I need you, but you'll otherwise be cut off from the rest of the world. I think the utmost secrecy needs to be maintained until we know exactly who and what we're dealing with. We can, of course, communicate by owl. I would suggest you take Hedwig with you."

Snape had continued steadily self-caffeinating as the Headmaster spoke and seemed almost normal when he responded. "I suppose it's too much to hope that you've lifted some of the enchantments on the place."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "I didn't know they bothered you," he said, "and even if I had, there wasn't time. You'll be safe there, and that's the important thing."

Snape sighed and reached for a basket of scones, taking one and then offering the basket to Hermione.

"I considered sending one of the house-elves with you," Dumbledore continued, "but it seems that they still bear something of a grudge against Miss Granger." He shot Hermione an apologetic look, and she rolled her eyes. "You can summon your meals from here, but I'm afraid you'll be on your own other than that."

"We'll be fine, Albus. It isn't a weekend house party."

Dumbledore chuckled. "No, I suppose not. Still, I hope you'll be comfortable. Remus is leaving for Diagon Alley this morning and will continue the search for Harry in London. If your investigation in Ireland proves to be a dead-end, I'm sure he'll be happy to have you join him there. It's a terrible time for him, poor fellow."

Hermione made sympathetic noises, but Snape merely reached for his coffee cup again and then took up his fork and attacked the food on his plate, allowing Hermione and Dumbledore to carry the conversation for the rest of the meal.


After breakfast, they gathered their bags and said their goodbyes to the Headmaster. Just as Snape was about to step into the fireplace, Albus reached into his pocket and said, "Forgive an old man's forgetfulness, Miss Granger. You received an owl this morning. It was sent in my care." He handed her a small pouch, and she reached inside and withdrew her wallet, her eyes automatically seeking Snape's.

Snape nodded. "Did he return the money?"

She rifled through it. "Every bit."

"That means he must have been in Diagon Alley sometime in the last couple of days," Dumbledore said. "I'll have Remus contact the post office and see if they have a record of when this package was sent."

Hermione tucked the wallet into her bag. "You'll let us know if he finds anything out?"

"Of course." Dumbledore gave her an encouraging smile.

"Let's go," Snape said, and then he stepped into the fireplace and announced "Solaris." The minute he disappeared in a swirl of flame, Hermione followed him, feeling the nauseating sense of rapid motion and then landing with a bump in a new fireplace.

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 15 of 27

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