Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 19 of 27

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Harry, Hermione and Snape suffered through a mostly silent luncheon together, and then Hermione escaped to her room with a book, unable to face Snape any longer and still grieving over her conversation with Harry that morning. Her emotions were in a complete tangle, and she was unaccustomed to the feeling. She had watched the other girls in her House as they had moaned and wailed about one love after another, but she had always been sensible where boys were concerned. There had been a few boys she had liked well enough to go to a dance or two with, but at seventeen, her heart had never really been touched. Now it felt like it was being ripped out. Having acknowledged the truth of her feelings for Snape, she was too innately honest to un-acknowledge them now that they were painful and inconvenient. She was stuck living with the fact that she not only had unrequited feelings for a teacher – a teacher she had formerly loathed – but that she had foolishly acted on those feelings and been summarily rejected.

She might have been able to deal with that humiliation better had it not just preceded the announcement that she was losing her remaining best friend. A part of her had wanted to argue with Harry, to insist that he either stay or promise to keep in touch - anything except disappearing from her life completely. She might do that yet, actually, but just then he seemed so fragile, so unlike the Harry she had grown to know. She was used to being able to predict Harry's every mood and response, but the Harry who had emerged from the cellar was different from the one who had fled Hogwarts in the aftermath of Sirius's terrible death, and the differences went far deeper than the blond hair and new glasses. She was unsure of herself with Harry for the first time in years, and that uncertainty paralysed her. She was afraid that any misstep would send him running headlong away from her again. And then, too, a part of her realized that maybe he was right. Didn't he have the right to choose his own life, even if his choice caused her pain? Wasn't it selfish for her to try to deny him that, even now, when she needed him more than ever?

Her seventh year at Hogwarts stretched ahead of her like an extended nightmare, and she could hardly sort out where one pain ended and the other began. She tried to focus on her book with the same tunnel vision she applied to her schoolwork, blocking everything from her mind but what she was reading. For practically the first time in her life, it didn't work. She was in dire straits indeed when even books couldn't provide solace.


Downstairs, Harry and Snape remained at the table after Hermione left, the awkwardness eased somewhat by her departure.

"You need to take this again." Snape handed Harry his potion, and Harry swallowed it obediently.

"I think that's helping some."

"It works quickly, but you'll need to keep taking it for a while. Perhaps until you leave."

"Right. Anything's better than feeling like I did."

"I've been giving some thought to what we discussed earlier," Snape said. "I have some suggestions as to how you might get started somewhere else. Of course, it involves actual forethought and planning, and that might not be reckless enough for your tastes."

"Well, my way didn't exactly work out all that well, did it? I'd be willing to try something different next time."

Snape snorted his opinion of that and reached for his glass.



"Are you sure that Pettigrew and Finbar are the ones who killed Sirius?"

"I think it very likely, but there's no way to know for sure that there wasn't someone else involved," Snape answered carefully. "I'm quite confident that Finbar prepared the potion, and I think it probable that Pettigrew administered it, but since neither one is available to testify at this point, we may never know."

"I want to be sure before I leave."

"I would strongly suggest that you not waste your time on vengeance, Mr. Potter."

"It wouldn't be a waste of time," Harry countered, his face stony. "It would be…tying up loose ends."

"Well don't," Snape snapped. "You'll only put yourself at risk, and for what? What good will it do Black or anyone else?"

"You've felt it, haven't you?" Harry asked softly. "You know."

"What are you blathering about now, Mr. Potter?"

"When I cursed Peter Pettigrew…I don't think I've ever felt better in my life. Even when I killed Voldemort. I think about Wormtail lying there on the ground screaming, and I wish I could live that moment again and again."

Snape sat in silence, and Harry went on. "The other day, down in that basement…you could have stunned Finbar, but you didn't. You cast the killing curse instead."

"As did you."

"Exactly. And I'm glad I did. I didn't even give it a thought. I hope my curse is the one that killed him."

Black eyes met unwavering green for a long moment of rare understanding. "I hope that mine was – and I did give it some thought."

Harry nodded slowly. "Does that make us…like Voldemort? I used to see how much pleasure he took in hurting people, in killing, and it made me sick. Now I…well, I guess I understand it in a way. I've always wanted to be like Professor Dumbledore, but I don't think I am, really."

Snape sighed. "You're comparing yourself to two extremes, Mr. Potter, and the truth is that most people fall somewhere in the middle. The lure of the Dark is the lure of power, and even Muggles are susceptible to it. It's a part of the human condition, not just the wizard's condition, and because of your extraordinary powers, it's something you'll probably have to fight for the rest of your life."

"What if I don't want to?"

"You do. We wouldn't be having this conversation if you didn't."

Harry thought about that for a moment. "I'm still not sorry they're dead. I'm not sorry I tortured Pettigrew."

"I'm not either."

"I know you didn't like him, but…what do you think my dad would have done?"

Snape shook his head. "I have no idea. I would recommend asking Lupin that question."

"He always just says that my dad would be proud of me no matter what. It sounds nice, but it's not much help, really."

"I would have to agree." Snape paused a moment. "I really don't know what your father would have done, but I think you are, as usual, dwelling on inconsequential matters while ignoring the salient point."

"Which is what?"

Snape made a sound of disgust. "Which is, obviously, that you're old enough now to be responsible for your own choices without regard to what James Potter would have done, or Albus Dumbledore, or anyone else."

"Still, it would be nice to know," Harry said, a bit dejectedly. "I had the feeling Professor Dumbledore was disappointed in me."

"Professor Dumbledore has an astonishing capacity for forgiveness and belief in the possibility of redemption. I doubt he's written you off just yet."

"You're talking about you."

Snape clapped his hands slowly, mockingly. "You dazzle me with your brilliant insight, Mr. Potter."

Harry glared and tensed in his seat. "Why do you make it so bloody difficult to have a conversation with you? Hermione seems to think you have all these wonderful qualities, but you sure work hard to keep them hidden."

"Miss Granger is obviously more imaginative than I've ever given her credit for," Snape said coldly. "And I believe I made it clear earlier that I wasn't interested in discussing her with you."

"I wasn't trying to discuss her," Harry argued. "I was trying to discuss you. But since you brought it up, I don't think she's being imaginativeat all. I think you just can't stand the fact that someone actually found something to like about you."

"Shut up, Potter."

"I won't," Harry said, shaking his head defiantly. "You know, I've always had people who liked me, but usually it was for all the wrong reasons. It was because I had a stupid scar on my head and got my picture in the paper. They didn't even know me. But Hermione likes you in spite of how terrible you've been to us over the years. She sees stuff in you that no one else sees at all. Do you know what I would give to have someone like me that way?"

"Not everyone is as pathetically needy as you are," Snape sneered.

"Yeah, Professor. I think everyone is. Isn't that part of the human condition too? And I think maybe you are human." Harry smirked. "Contrary to popular opinion."

Snape's eyes narrowed. Had the girl told Potter that he'd said those very words? "I'm going to tell you one more time to stay out of this, Potter. Your friend has developed an inexplicable schoolgirl crush. It will pass, and she will move on to bestow her affections on someone more appropriate. Those are my final words on the matter."

"Hermione doesn't do schoolgirl crushes, Professor," Harry said. Well, not since she was twelve anyway, he thought to himself. "Those are myfinal words on the matter." Harry scraped back his chair and rose from his place at the table. "And I will stay out of it. In fact, I'm going to go back to Hogwarts. I need to talk to Professor Dumbledore. I wasn't exactly helpful yesterday, and I think there are some things he needs to know."

"The Headmaster made it very clear that he wants us all to stay here. He will call you if he wants you."

Harry shrugged. "He's opened the Floo. If he wants to send me back here, he can. I'll leave Hedwig with you in case you need an owl for some reason. She hates travelling by Floo." With that he tapped at the window pane and disappeared up the stairs, returning quickly with his knapsack over one shoulder and his wand, which Snape had retrieved from Finbar's house, in his hand.

"Did you tell Miss Granger you're pulling another disappearing act?" Snape asked coldly.

"No. I thought I'd let you explain. It'll give you two something to talk about."

"I predict the Headmaster will send you back here within the hour, and explanations will be unnecessary."


Snape was paralysed with rare indecision. He was technically in charge here; The Headmaster had clearly left the two errant Gryffindors under his protection, and he could probably force Potter to stay. But he couldn't deny that the boy made a decent point, damn him. Dumbledore did need to talk to Potter and probably would welcome him back to Hogwarts with open arms, even if he did return him to the cottage later for safekeeping. For Snape to argue with the boy, to order him to stay, would be tantamount to admitting that he was afraid to be alone there with Hermione.

And when, exactly, had he started thinking of her as Hermione?

"Get out of my sight, Potter." He had been shooting for a snarl, but it fell somewhat short of that. Instead he sounded tired and resigned, but at least he hadn't begged the boy to stay. Perhaps he would emerge from this nightmare with a modicum of dignity intact.

Then again, probably not. Potter looked at him with a face full of something a lot like sympathy, and Snape once again felt the urge to strike the boy. All he could do was let him go and hope that Albus would return him before hunger drove Hermione out of her room. That would be the best-case scenario. Of course, Snape couldn't remember the last time the best-case scenario was the one that actually played out in his life.

Harry stepped into the fireplace, announced his destination, and disappeared in a swirl of flame. Snape rubbed his temples and tried to remember if he'd brought a curative for headaches.


Albus Dumbledore looked up from his work when he heard a noise in his fireplace. His private Floo was only open now so that he could maintain contact with the cottage in Ireland, so he wasn't surprised when one of the cottage's three inhabitants stepped out of the fireplace. He didn't expect it to be Harry, however, and he rose quickly from his desk when he saw the boy stumble awkwardly into the centre of the room.

"Hello Harry," he said warmly, crossing over to touch Harry's shoulder lightly in greeting.

"Hello, sir." Harry gave Dumbledore a smile.

"How are you Harry? Better, I hope?"

"Yes, sir. I'm feeling a lot better. I think the potion you brought helped a lot." Harry looked down at his feet. "I'm sorry for yesterday, Professor. I know I wasn't much help to you."

"Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances," Dumbledore said gently. "We do need to talk, Harry, but it can wait a while longer, if you'd prefer."

Harry shook his head. "No, sir. I'd rather get it over with." He didn't tell Dumbledore why he was anxious to discharge this final responsibility. Of course, it wouldn't have surprised him at all if Dumbledore had just known. He usually did, after all. But in this case the older man just nodded his understanding and ushered Harry over to a chair, pressing a teacup into his hand. Harry sipped obediently and waited for Dumbledore to settle into his own seat and arrange his voluminous robes. He recalled with a sense of déjà vu the last time he and Dumbledore had spoken there; once again, Harry was dishevelled from his morning flight and inappropriately dressed, while the Headmaster appeared attired for coronation. Impossible, really, that the two of them had anything in common, let alone shared a bloodline. Snape had been right, he thought – Albus Dumbledore was an unattainable ideal. On the whole, Harry felt he probably had more in common with Tom Riddle, as repugnant as he found the thought.

Harry had requested the interview, but now that he had it, it wasn't quite certain where to begin, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and took sips of his tea to busy his mouth and hands.

Dumbledore surprised him with his first question. "So how are Miss Granger and Professor Snape faring?"

Harry looked up, startled, and saw the mischievous twinkle in Dumbledore's blue eyes. "Sir, is there anything you don't know?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "There are, unfortunately, many things I don't know. I'm not omniscient, Harry – just a good judge of human nature. It comes with practice and longevity."

Harry laughed. "I don't think I'll ever be as good at it as you are, sir, no matter how long I practice. But in this case…well, I guess it wasn't that hard to figure out, was it?"

"No, but it was surprising," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "I admit I didn't anticipate this particular complication when I allowed Miss Granger to assist with the search for you."

"And when you did figure it out, you were…all right with it?"

"I am reserving judgment on that until I have more facts at my disposal," Dumbledore said, more seriously now. "I have not yet felt that I needed to interfere. Miss Granger is a remarkably mature young woman, and I have the utmost faith in Professor Snape. Unless you feel differently, based on your time with them, I will stay out of it for the time being."

"Well…" Harry was uncomfortable, not knowing how much he should tell. "Uh…it might be best if you'd let them come back here."

"And why is that?"

"Things aren't exactly…comfortable right now." He gave Dumbledore a somewhat sheepish look. "It's one reason I came here, actually. Lunch today was so miserable that I couldn't face the idea of spending any more time with the both of them. Sure wasn't doing anything to cheer me up."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I don't blame you a bit, Harry. There are some situations that simply don't lend themselves to the presence of a third party. However, if there is awkwardness between them, they need to work that out one way or another before term begins. If I bring them back to Hogwarts, it will be too easy for them to avoid one another."

"So you're just going to leave them there?"

"I'll speak to Severus about it first, but yes, that's my current inclination." He smiled at Harry again.

"You won't make me go back, will you?" Harry asked, sounding like a little kid who wanted out of a distasteful chore.

"No," Dumbledore laughed. "You may stay here at Hogwarts, a safe distance from that bit of intrigue. However," the Headmaster sobered, "I will ask for your word that you will remain here and not leave the castle grounds. There is still much that we need to sort out, and we have not established that you are safe, even now, from the threat of Finbar's friends. In fact, I think it almost certain that you are not. You killed Voldemort, Harry, but Darkness still exists."

"Yes, sir," Harry said bitterly. "I figured that out for myself the night Sirius died."

"Of course. I don't mean to patronize you, but I do want to keep you safe. I can't have you endangering your life - or the lives of others - by running off again."

Harry's jaw clenched, but he didn't argue. Instead he nodded. "I came back because I know you need me to give my testimony to the Ministry, sir. I'm ready to do that, if you want me to."

"I more than want you to. I need you to. I fear that if you don't…" he trailed off for a moment and then cleared his throat. "Well, for now, suffice it to say that your testimony in this matter is critical. But before you tell it to the Ministry, I'd like for you to tell me what happened, starting with the night you ran away. Why did you decide to leave us, Harry?"

Harry drained the last of his tea and then looked down at the cup in his hands. "Two reasons, really. When Sirius died, I realized that everyone around me was still in danger. I thought you'd all be…better off." He paused a moment, halfway expecting Dumbledore to argue with him, but the older man said nothing. "Also, I wanted to find out who did it. I wanted to make sure they were punished for what they'd done. That's why I let Pettigrew lead me to that house using Imperius. I followed his commands, thinking that whoever it was was probably involved in the whole mess somehow or another."

"A logical assumption, even if your tactics were terribly reckless." Dumbledore noted.

Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. I suppose I know that now. But I killed Voldemort, and you had told me I had all these extraordinary powers. I just figured I'd be able to handle whoever it was."

"Your powers are useless to you - dangerous even - unless you train yourself to think when using them." Dumbledore sounded uncommonly stern now, and Harry flushed under the Headmaster's disapproving look. "I thought I had made that clear when we discussed your independent study for this year. With great power comes great responsibility, Harry. You acted irresponsibly and almost paid a terrible price."

"This potion that Finbar was planning to give me…could it really have turned me into another Voldemort?" Harry practically whispered the question. He had tried not to think about the potion much, preferring to narrow his focus to his own suffering, his own feelings. He knew, however, that he didn't really have that luxury – had never had it - and that what had been planned for him could have affected the entire world. That had always been true, actually, ever since Voldemort had marked him as a baby, and maybe even before. It was so damned unfair…he wanted to be thinking about winning the next Quidditch match and what he wanted to do when he finished school. Instead, he was sitting there in his wrinkled T-shirt and grass-stained shorts appreciating his narrow escape from becoming the next Dark Lord. The thought would have been humorous had it not been so utterly horrifying.

"I don't know for certain, Harry, but I think it likely that the potion would have done exactly what it was designed to do. Severus Snape and Neilus Finbar are two of Potions' most brilliant minds, and in an odd way, they collaborated on this particular effort. I think it safe to say that Finbar wouldn't have used the potion on you unless he was very sure of it's success."

"I'm glad they found me then," Harry said quietly. "I wouldn't have minded dying down there, but the thought of…that…"

"It was a terrible plan, and one that could have had dire consequences for the entire world," Dumbledore said. "And yet, I am perhaps more disturbed to hear that you wouldn't have minded death. You are too young to feel that way, Harry. You have much happiness ahead of you."

Harry shrugged slightly. "Maybe."

"Time will prove me right on this," Dumbledore said, "but I won't press the issue just now. Let's get back to what happened on Arnold Street."

"Well, Pettigrew had been following me through the streets. I could hear his footsteps behind me the whole time. I waited until he ordered me into the house, and I pretended to start up the steps. When I turned, I shifted my bag so that I could get to my wand." Harry shrugged.

"And that's when you cast the Cruciatus curse?" Dumbledore asked quietly.

"Yes, sir." Harry thought about his conversation with Snape that morning, but he didn't feel comfortable admitting to Dumbledore how much he'd enjoyed watching Pettigrew suffer. Just as he had known, somehow, that Snape would understand, he knew with equal certainty that Dumbledore wouldn't, and he didn't want to see the look of disappointment on the Headmaster's face again.

"Did you know that it was Peter Pettigrew when you cast the curse?"

"No, sir. I just knew that whoever it was wouldn't have used Imperius to get me there unless he was up to no good." I cast Cruciatus because I could, he thought, too cowardly to say the words out loud to Dumbledore. I did it because I knew I was more powerful than whoever was behind me, and I wanted to prove it. That it had turned out to be Peter Pettigrew was simply an added bonus.

"And then what happened?"

"Finbar must have come out of the house and stunned me from behind. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in his basement."

"What happened in the basement, Harry? Did Finbar mistreat you - other than keeping you confined?"

He shook his head. "No, sir. Not really. I mean, he didn't actually hurt me, and he brought me plenty to eat and drink, if that's what you mean. I wished he would have let me out to…well, you know." Harry flushed a little, but Dumbledore remained perfectly grave. "Anyway, that was the worst part. Professor Snape said he was giving me potions to make me more depressed, and I suppose they might have worked, but it's not like I was exactly happy before."

"No." Dumbledore looked at him thoughtfully. "Harry, do you remember Hermione finding you? Do you remember anything about that day?"

"I don't remember her finding me, even though she said I woke up for a minute and said her name. I don't remember that at all. The first thing I remember is hearing her screaming. She was on the ground and…well, it was awful. It was just like with Voldemort - I cast the killing curse without really even meaning to. All I felt was the…hate." He said the last word softly, expecting a reaction from Dumbledore. He got none.

"Do you have any idea which curse hit Finbar first?"

"No, sir. None at all. It's an odd feeling casting Avada Kedavra without a wand – it leaves me kind of numb, I guess, and I was pretty much out of it anyway. I do know that I was a lot closer though. Professor Snape was still on the stairway, and Finbar, Hermione and I were all just right there together."

"Hmmm. What do you remember after that?"

"Nothing until Professor Snape flew me to your cottage. I remember being on the broom and how good the fresh air felt, and then that's it until the next morning. I remember everything from that point on."

"Hmmm," Dumbledore said again, and then sat in contemplative silence, sipping his tea occasionally. Contemplative silences always made Harry feel restless and inadequate, and he shifted in his chair and reached for his wand, tapping it against one leg and then hastily casting it aside when red sparks shot out with a small hiss.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

Dumbledore gave Harry a half-smile. "My apologies, Harry. I was just trying to decide on the best course of action, based on the facts you given me. I think…it's regrettable, but I think it's the only way," he mused. "I am going to ask you to refrain – for now - from mentioning the fact that you cursed Finbar when you discuss this with the Ministry representatives."

"You want me to lie? Won't they administer Veritaserum or something?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "You've been listening to too many stories. No, they will be fully prepared to take you at your word without the use of Veritaserum. And no, I would not ask you to lie outright. I'm simply asking you to deflect as much attention as you can from Neilus Finbar's death and instead focus heavily on his mistreatment of you. I want that to be the central issue – that you were kidnapped by Finbar and mistreated at his hands. I want them to view the use of the Avada Kedavra curse as a just measure under the circumstances, regardless of who cast it. Professor Snape has asked specifically that your curse not be mentioned. For the moment, I am prepared to honour his request. I think you can honestly tell them that you were very confused and disoriented at the time, and I doubt they'll press the matter any further."

Harry nodded. It was true enough that he had been disoriented – completely addled was more like it. "When will we go?"

"I'll contact Cornelius Fudge this afternoon. I would prefer that he be there when you are deposed, so it will likely depend upon his schedule. I'll let you know as soon as I hear something. In the meantime, you will, as I said earlier, have to stay here at Hogwarts, for your own safety. I will see to it that Professor McGonagall readies your dormitory for you again. I believe Madam Hooch is anxious to continue your extra coaching."

"I left my Firebolt in Ireland," Harry said regretfully.

"I'll get it for you," Dumbledore said, smiling. "I'm going to contact Miss Granger's parents and let them know that she is well and will be remaining in Ireland for a few more days, and then I'll Apparate there and give her and Severus the good news."

"Better you than me, sir," Harry said with feeling.

The Headmaster chuckled. "My pleasure, Harry. Now, if you have told me all that you have to tell, there is someone who is most anxious to see you."

Three minutes later, Remus Lupin came climbing through the fireplace.

Harry's first inclination was to fling himself into Remus's arms like a child, but he took one look at him and stopped short, stricken by the older man's appearance. Even at a quick glance, Remus appeared to have aged years in the last week. He reminded Harry very much of the shabby, exhausted, and friendless man he had been when Harry had first met him on the Hogwarts Express. In the time since, Remus's work for the Order – difficult and dangerous though it was - had given him purpose and self-respect, and the years had seemed to fall away. Whatever volatility there was in his nature seemed to be expended in his monthly transformations, and for the rest of each month, he was the kindest and most gentle man Harry had ever known. Although Sirius had been Harry's official godfather, he saw Remus Lupin in much the same light, and that had not changed, in spite of Sirius's unfathomable choice of successors.

Now, seeing the deep lines of worry and grief engraved in Remus's face, Harry felt for the first time the true magnitude of what he had done. He had left Remus to grieve for Sirius alone and had heaped on top of that a consuming fear for Harry's own safety. And he had done it without so much as a note or a single word of apology. Much too soon after his monthly transformation, when he should have been recuperating, Remus had been on his way to London to assist with the search, and the physical toll of the last week was apparent in his stiff carriage. If he had grown up with parents, Harry would have had more experience with the unique shame that is visited upon children who carelessly, selfishly worry their mother and father through their own recklessness. Instead, it was a relatively new feeling for him – and one he never wanted to experience again.

"I'm sorry, Remus," Harry said, forcing himself to meet Remus's sad eyes.

Remus sighed and shook his head. "I don't know whether to hug you or try to knock some sense into you."

"Um, hug?" Harry ventured, his green eyes begging for forgiveness.

"I hadn't intended to give you a vote," Remus said dryly, but he stepped forward and pulled Harry into his arms. "You scared me to death, Harry." Harry felt the tremor in Remus's voice run through his whole body, and he was horrified to pull away and see tears in the older man's eyes.

"I really am sorry," he said hoarsely, looking away, looking at anything but those tears. "It was stupid…I just was so…" What had he been? He couldn't put the feelings into words now – the mingled fury and anguish that had sent him so recklessly away from the safety of the castle.

"I understand," Remus said gently, and Harry realized that he really did – that beneath the placid surface roiled the capacity for a grief and anger that rivalled Harry's own. "But you're all I have left now, Harry. Promise me you'll never do anything like that again."

He wanted to.

Remus Lupin was the last of the Marauders and Harry's closest link to his parents. More than that, Remus loved Harry – loved him because he was the boy he was, not because he was the boy who lived, and not even because he had his father's unruly hair and his mother's green eyes. Just because he was Harry.

For that, Harry would have promised him almost anything. But as the silence stretched, he knew he couldn't promise Remus that he wouldn't run away again.

"I'm sorry," he said again, hoping it would suffice and knowing that, in the end, it wouldn't be enough.

Remus nodded, accepting that as an answer, but Harry knew he hadn't been fooled.

§ § § §

It was mid-afternoon when Snape heard the soft clearing of a throat and looked up from the book he was reading to see Dumbledore standing before him holding some sort of a crate.

"Good afternoon, Severus," the Headmaster said cheerfully.


"I've had a long talk with Harry, and I've decided that he should stay at Hogwarts. It will be necessary for him to talk to Fudge and some of the Ministry representatives to help us clear this matter up, and I'd like to do that as soon as possible."

"Fine," Snape said, snapping his book shut and standing up. "Then the Granger girl and I should come back too."

"No. I would prefer that you remain here in Ireland," Dumbledore said firmly. "My conversation with Harry convinced me that the cottage is the best place for you right now."

What the hell did that mean? "Albus, I really think…"

"Severus, I ask you to please trust me on this. I have only your best interests at heart."

"Thank you, Headmaster, but perhaps should have some input into what is best for me and my interests."

"I'm afraid I must insist. You and Miss Granger will remain here." Dumbledore had the look on his face that said the discussion was closed. "Now don't look like that, Severus. It should only be for a day or two more. Three at the most. Look at it as a vacation."

"Albus, I have classes to teach in little more than a week, or have you forgotten that? I have work to do at Hogwarts."

"I will arrange for you to have someone to assist you in whatever needs to be done next week. I'll make sure you're ready when classes begin. In the meantime, you and Miss Granger enjoy yourselves. Oh, I spoke with her parents, and they asked me to bring her this." He handed Snape the crate. "Apparently he was miserable without her and determined to make everyone around him miserable as well."

Snape glanced into the crate and received a vicious hiss from the ginger-coloured feline contained therein. "Perfect. Now I'm babysitting andpet sitting. You know, rumour has it I'm a highly qualified Potions Master. Not that you seem to care."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I have long known that your talents were many and varied, Severus. However, I feel sure Miss Granger will care for both herself and her cat, the owl can hunt and fend for itself, and you will be mostly at your leisure. I can think of no reason why your stay here should be terribly onerous…can you?"

The question was asked perfectly innocently - too innocently, in Snape's opinion - and he was reminded of why he hated conversations with Albus Dumbledore. If Potter had told the Headmaster…everything, why wasn't Albus discharging him instead of sequestering him with the girl? If he hadn't told him everything, why was Albus looking at him with that infernal twinkle in his eyes and infusing his questions with his most innocent air? He needed his headache potion again.

"Of course not," he said finally. "However, if you ever plan to incarcerate me here again, I do wish you'd put in a dungeon with a suitable laboratory."

"A dungeon," Dumbledore mused. "You know, Severus, I'll give that some thought. I rather like the idea of the challenge."

Snape rolled his eyes, and Dumbledore bade him a cheerful farewell and Apparated to Hogwarts.

A few seconds later, Snape jumped out of the way just in time as Harry's Firebolt came whistling through the room and was sucked into the Floo.

"Damn you, Albus!" he swore, and then he paused for a few seconds, tensed and ready to dodge whatever else the Headmaster might have forgotten.

Once he was sure Dumbledore wasn't going to summon any more of Potter's possessions, Snape turned his attention to the hissing, spitting animal in the crate, trying to decide what he should do about it. He knew what he would like to do with it, but things with Hermione were difficult enough at the moment. Tossing her cat into a dark forest probably wouldn't do anything to ease the relationship.

He reached for the clasp on the crate's door and heard a low growl from within, and the minute he had the door opened, the creature emerged in an orange streak, making straight for the stand of trees. He watched as the cat clawed his way up the tree next to Hedwig's perch, and settled, glaring first at Hedwig and then at Snape, his tail twitching furiously. As much as he hated to give Harry Potter credit for anything, at that moment Snape had to credit him with superior taste in pets. Hedwig was a beautiful, well behaved, and above all, usefulbird. This…thing…of Hermione's had none of those attributes to commend it.

Well, at least if it was in a tree, it was out of his way. He settled back down to his book, refusing to be unnerved by the malice in the yellow eyes that seemed to be trained on him throughout the afternoon.

It was nearly suppertime when Hermione came down the stairs, her eyes scanning the room. "Where's Harry?" she blurted. There was an unmistakable edge of nervousness to her voice, but Snape wasn't sure if it was because she was worried Harry had run away again or because she had realized that they were alone together.

He'd soon have his answer. "He has returned to Hogwarts for the time being. He spoke at some length with the Headmaster and will apparently be telling his story to several of the geniuses at the Ministry."

"Oh. Then why are we…?" She broke off when an orange blur hit her at the ankles and then clawed its way up her jeans and into her arms. "Crookshanks!" She hugged the vile creature to her, rubbing her cheek on the side of his face in greeting and then giving him long, firm strokes along his spine as he arched his back in pleasure and kneaded her with his front paws. The realization that he was envious of a cat burst into Snape's mind, followed quickly by the conviction that he had sunk as low as it was possible to sink.

"How did he get here?"

"Professor Dumbledore brought him several hours ago. Apparently we're to stay here another day or so, and your parents were eager to have that beast off their hands."

She smiled briefly at the last, gave Crookshanks another rub, and then lowered him gently to the ground, brushing the hair from her clothes. "Why do we have to stay here?"

She could have infused that question with the same degree of horror Snape had felt when he had asked the Headmaster that exact thing, but instead she sounded resigned – curious, but resigned. He was somehow grateful. "You may recall me telling you that when you are under the protection of Albus Dumbledore, you are there on his terms."


"Welcome to the club."

She thought about that and then nodded. She sat down on the sofa, across from where he was reading, and worried her bottom lip between her teeth again. He watched her, waiting for her to nerve herself to say whatever it was she was trying to say, and tried to repress the memory of what that bottom lip had felt like trapped between his own teeth…the sweet, small sounds of pleasure she had made…

"I know this is hard," she said finally, hesitantly. "And that it's my fault. I'll…I'll try to stay out of your way."

He wasn't sure if it was the expression of carefully constructed dignity on the girl's face, or if it was the absurd spasm of regret he felt at the idea of her keeping her distance, but instead of just nodding and accepting her suggestion like the sensible man he was, he stepped out of character, attempting some consolation. "I was…unnecessarily harsh last night, Miss Granger. I see no reason why we can't coexist here as we did before. There is no need for you to hide in your room."

"Yes there is," she said in a low voice, casting her eyes down. "Maybe not for you, but for me there is. Unless you'll Obliviate my memories."

Does she really want to forget? The thought attacked him and refused to let go. Did he? It was a sound suggestion, yet it didn't appeal in the slightest. "Do you want me to do that?" Even to his own ears, his voice sounded stiff, cold.

She looked at him then, and shook her head slowly. "No. It would make things easier now, but no. I want to remember."

He wanted to ask her why – why she would choose the awkwardness and embarrassment when he could take it away – but actually articulating such a thing was beyond him. The question must have shown on his face, however, or else she just wanted him to know, because she kept talking.

"I've never…ah, felt quite like that before," she said, a blush rising to her cheeks. She reached down and picked up Crookshanks, who had been winding in and out of her legs, and she seemed to gain confidence from the lapful of cat. Safety in numbers, perhaps. "How can I know if I ever will again?"

He closed his eyes briefly. "You will."

"I might," she said. "But if I'm ever to know for sure, I need to keep the memory of what happened with you as a sort of a benchmark. Does that make sense?"

He shook his head, completed confounded by the workings of the adolescent female mind. "None at all, I'm afraid."

She bit her lip again. "It doesn't seem as easy for me as it is for the other girls in my house. It's more complicated, somehow. They're satisfied just being entertained by the boys or complimented twenty times a day. They don't seem to want to be challenged at all or to be with someone they can have real conversations with. And the boys…they just don't interest me. They all blather on about Quidditch and things that just don't matter. These are supposed to be the best and brightest witches and wizards in the U.K. It doesn't exactly inspire a lot of hope, does it?"

Snape had had precisely the same thought at least three times a day ever since he'd started teaching, and he chuckled a little in spite of the awkwardness of the situation – or perhaps because of it. "Boys do grow up, Miss Granger. You probably would have found me equally dull when I was their age. You have the misfortune of being a good bit more mature than your peers at the moment, but that may not always be the case."

She shrugged. "Maybe not, but I don't know, do I? The only thing I do know is that you…" she broke off, the blush rising to her cheeks again. "Never mind. I think I've humiliated myself enough, don't you?"

"No," he assured her. "I told you already that I handled last night…badly. The situation was rather far out of my usual realm of experiences, I'm afraid, and I overreacted. I should be the one who is embarrassed."

"Are you?" she asked, looking at him curiously.

"Yes, among other things."

"What other things?" she asked, the look on her face challenging him.

"I think we've discussed this enough," he answered firmly. "I've told you that I don't think it's necessary for you to hide in your room. You may do whatever you wish with that information."

"May I ask you just one more question?"

"As long as you understand that I might not answer it."

"If you weren't my teacher…well, could you ever…?"

Snape looked away from the frank and hopeful expression on the girl's face and felt that all the Slytherin cunning in the world wasn't going to help him emerge victorious from this conversation. There was no right answer to what she was asking him. To tell the truth would be to give her false hopes, and to lie would hurt her, possibly even make her believe she was undesirable to men. How had he gotten into this mess?

"Even if I weren't your teacher," he began carefully, "that wouldn't change the fact that I'm twice your age and have a past that makes me fundamentally unsuitable for you."

"That wasn't what I was asking," she said, the edge to her voice betraying her irritation at his evasiveness. He should have known she was too bright to be diverted.

"Perhaps you should muster that Gryffindor bravery, then, and actually complete your sentence," he challenged, enjoying the feeling of baiting her again. "Then, perhaps, I could better address the topic at hand."

She muttered something that sounded like a slur on his parentage, and it was all he could do not to smile. "All right, Professor." Irritation was giving way to anger, and anger nerved her enough to call his bluff. "If you weren't my teacher and I was able to convince you that I don't care about your age or the fact that you were a Death Eater, do you think you could possibly be interested in me?" She asked the question more confidently this time, though the last bit did come out in something of a rush.

"That's a lot of if's, Miss Granger," he said sarcastically.

Her lips twitched. "You're hedging. It's a yes or no question."

"I should think that my response last night would have answered that question sufficiently," he said, irritated now.

"At the time, you led me to believe that your response was 'human' rather than 'interested.'"

"It was both."

His soft words seemed to knock them both off balance. She had won, finally, but she didn't seem quite sure of what to do with the victory. Previously faint sounds were amplified in the silence of the room, and they stared at one another, suddenly aware of Crookshanks' contented purr, Hedwig shifting on her perch, and the slight rustle of the leaves in the trees.

She stood up, causing Crookshanks to emit a mrrrp of protest as she deposited him on the sofa. "In that case," she said slowly, taking a step toward him, "I'll simply remind you that I don't care how old you are, beyond being grateful that you act nothing like the boys I know. Nor do I hold you responsible for a decision you made when you were younger than I am now and have long since made up for anyway." She reached with tentative fingers and gently stroked the back of his hand. He tensed at the contact and felt gooseflesh break out from the hand to his shoulder, but once again, he couldn't make himself pull away, and he simply stared at her, mesmerized. "Furthermore, I will only be your student for a few more months, and I'm willing to wait." She withdrew her hand and stepped back. "The rest is up to you, Professor."

The spell was broken when she moved away from him, and he shifted restlessly in his chair. He leaned forward, and his eyes narrowed slightly. "If we're to continue this conversation," he snapped, "I'm going to have to insist, for the sake of my compartmentalization, that younot call me Professor. My name is Severus. Do try to use it."

She smiled.



He had lost his mind. He was convinced of it. After years of teetering on the brink of mental instability, he had clearly cracked under the combined pressure of battling the dark forces of evil and droves of snivelling adolescents. He often had wondered which of the two pressures was the worst as he moved back and forth between them, desperately trying to maintain his tenuous grip on his sanity. The question had now been answered, and in the end, his mental health had survived Voldemort only to be destroyed by a teenaged girl.

He'd always figured it would be Potter who would get him in the end, but if not him, it made sense that it was one of his friends. The girl had been nothing but an aggravation to him since he had first met her as an eleven-year-old child.

An eleven-year-old.


And he was…well, a hell of a lot older. And her teacher. That was just…wrong, wasn't it?

Of course it was.

But she's not eleven anymore, a little voice inside his head whispered - thus proving his insanity theory beyond any reasonable doubt. He was hearing voices, and if that wasn't evidence he didn't know what was. He wasn't surprised that he had finally cracked. He'd actually been expecting it for some time now; he just hadn't anticipated that his lunacy would take quite this form.

He could still take it back. Could threaten to take points for her temerity. Calling him by his first name…what made her think she had the right?


Well, he had rather ordered her to, and there was a part of him – the part that had gone suddenly barmy, of course – that really liked the way his name sounded on her lips.

Best not to think about her lips.

"Severus, what is it?" She looked worried now, a little crinkle forming between her eyes. He hadn't noticed that before… "You're just…staringat me."

"This is…insane." There. He'd said it. Confessed his break with reality. The first step was admitting you had a problem, or that was what the Muggles always said. He didn't know what the rest of the steps were, but he figured he'd be learning them soon enough.

She smiled, and was that any way to respond to a heartfelt confession of mental illness?

"What are you laughing at?" he snapped.

"I'm not laughing, I'm smiling," she said, smiling some more.

"Fine. What are you smiling at?"

"You. You're back-pedalling already, aren't you?"

How did she do that?

"One has to pedal forward before there can be a need to pedal back, Miss Granger. Having not done the former, I can think of no reason to do the latter."

"Call me Hermione."

"I don't think…"

"Call me Hermione," she insisted, looking a bit dangerous. "You did it last night."

"I…it seemed appropriate at the time, given our relative…positions."

"It was appropriate then, and it's appropriate now."

"I wonder if the Headmaster would agree." There. That was sound reasoning.

"The Headmaster has called me by my first name before. He calls Harry by his first name all the time. I think it would be hypocritical of him to criticize you for doing it." She smiled again. That smile was really beginning to annoy him.

"Fine," he bit out. "Hermione, then. What I call you won't change the fact that this is insane."

"What this?" she asked. "All I want is the chance to get to know you better - not as my teacher but as a man…er, person."

"I am your teacher. And even if I weren't, there are those other factors that you are so blithely ignoring. My age and my past may seem romantic to you now, but the day may come when that changes and they can't be ignored quite so easily. What then?"

"I don't know," she said simply. "I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. If we come to it. But we'll never know unless we try, and I, for one, will always wonder if we don't. Won't you?"

He'd only thought she irritated him before. Now she was taking "irritating" to a whole new level. We'll never know unless we try, indeed. It sounded like a child's nursery rhyme. It probably was one. And she was suggesting that they adopt it as some sort of motto.

He really hated Gryffindors.

"What do you want from me?" A properly Slytherin response.

"High marks in Potions this year," she snapped. Apparently he was irritating her right back.

"I think we both know that you are assured of those."

"Precisely," she said. "So why is it so hard to believe that I just…like you?"

"Total lack of precedent, for one thing. I am not likeable, Hermione, and I'm well aware of that fact. I suppose you think I'm going to shed my nasty old exterior and turn into prince charming the minute you kiss me."

"I kissed you last night, and I think it's safe to say that you have not turned into prince charming."

"Nor will I. You are looking at the real me. You've spent the last week with the real me. I am irritable and sarcastic…"

"And insulting and superior," she interrupted. "You're thoroughly unpleasant in the morning and only marginally better than that the rest of the day."

"All quite true." Finally, she was talking sense. Perhaps he was getting through to her after all. "So I repeat, what do you want from me?"

She rolled her eyes and reached for his hand to pull him out of the chair. "Right now, I just want you to come eat dinner with me. I'm hungry."

It was hard to think properly with her hand tucked in his. His tragically broken mind rendered him incapable of making responsible decisions.

And besides, he was hungry too.


He was genuinely hungry. Their luncheon that day had been stressful, and he had not eaten much. The afternoon had been equally stressful. So now he was hungry, and the logical thing to do when one was hungry was to eat.

Yet she seemed to think the fact that he accompanied her to the table was some sort of sign that he had made the odyssey from "this is insane" to "we'll never know unless we try." Which was ludicrous.

Granted, he might have misled her by holding on to her hand longer than was strictly necessary after she'd pulled him from the chair. Holding it, in fact, all the way across the room, until they reached the table and holding it any longer would have been just…silly. Or sillier, since the sight of Severus Snape holding hands with anyone for any length of time would have been enough to send the entire House of Slytherin into pants-wetting hysterics.

He released her hand and reached for his wand, summoning their dinner, and they sat down together as they had at every other meal for the past week. It wasn't comfortable, exactly, but he had to admit that it was an improvement over their midday meal. Hermione smiled a lot more, for one thing, and laughed, and he laughed a bit more than usual as well. She seemed to feel that something had been settled between them. He cast his mind back and couldn't figure out when, precisely, that had taken place, but she seemed sure of herself. She had shed her previous embarrassment completely and now seemed bent on finding out more about him, an exercise he intended to avoid.

"What were you like as a child?" she asked.


A simple quirk of one eyebrow seemed sufficient to address "what's your favourite colour?" and before she could get to "if you could have three wishes…" he deflected any further questions by asking her about her plans after she finished Hogwarts. They settled comfortably into that discussion, and before he quite realized it, he was telling her of his first years out of school – talking openly about his apprenticeship and his early service to Voldemort.

Really. How did she do that?

That subject led to a discussion of Dark Magic, and he found her knowledge on the subject remarkable given his fellow staff members' reluctance to properly educate the students in that area. Of course, he knew she would have availed herself of every book in the Hogwarts library – and probably managed to lay hands on a few from other sources as well. She asked him if she could borrow some of his books when they got back, and he agreed without giving it a second thought. That, at least, was a straightforward request.

He had genuinely been hungry, but he didn't eat as much as he expected to, and he finally put down his fork and spoke the question that was foremost on his mind. "If we do this…insane thing…if we spend the next few days here…getting to know one another better," (a ridiculous euphemism but the best he could do under pressure) "are you prepared to go back to Hogwarts and face me at the front of the classroom as if nothing had happened?"

"I won't like it," she answered thoughtfully, "but yes, I would do it if you thought it necessary."

"It would be necessary – for the sake of my position there and yours. It would be absolutely necessary. What's more, it would have to be more than just the appearance of propriety. From the time we return to Hogwarts, we will be hated teacher and annoying student and nothing more."

"I never hated you," she said.

He lifted the eyebrow again. "You're a credit to your house, Miss…Hermione, but not for your skills at prevarication. And if you're waiting for me to say that you never annoyed me, you're in for a long wait."

She laughed. "No, I wasn't expecting you to say that," She paused and then went on more seriously. "I told you I was willing to wait, and I am. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize your job."

"I don't care a fig for my job. I've already told you that. But I do care what Dumbledore thinks of me, and there are certain lines I won't cross - for his sake, if not for my own. What's more, I have to consider your position as Head Girl. You've earned that honour. I'll not have you risk it now, on my account."

"That's fine," she said. "But after I've finished school…"

"Let's…wait and see," he said, interrupting. "Two days alone with me may cure you of this bizarre impulse."

She laughed and reached for his hand, tucking her fingers under his and skimming his knuckles gently with her thumb. "I doubt that, Severus."

Stubborn girl. Annoying, persistent, bossy, stubborn girl.

"Do you want to go sit outside?" she asked, sounding a little shy now.

Again, that hand touching his…

"Very well." He'd meant that to sound like long-suffering indulgence. As if he were doing her a favour. It was a clear miss, even to his own ears.

She squeezed his hand gently before scooting back her chair and rising from the table, and then she smiled as she waited for him to accompany her.

Insane…but not unpleasant.


He was glad, when he stepped through the doorway, that she had suggested going outside. Not because of the fresh air or the stars hanging brightly in the sky or any other such ridiculous thing, but because on this night, the moon was the barest sliver, and the darkness enveloped them as they moved away from the cottage. He had spent his entire adult life hiding in shadows, and he knew that there was freedom in darkness. Unguarded expressions would go unnoticed, and given his current mental state, that could only be a good thing.

Once he was out there, however, he could hardly shrink into the shadows. She was expecting…something. Something more from him. And he didn't have the first damn clue what to do. His experiences with women ran to single carnal encounters in which he was not expected to play the part of the tender suitor. "Severus Snape" and "tender suitor" didn't even belong in the same sentence, but neither did "single carnal encounter" and "Hermione Granger" – of this he was certain.

But apparently she was willing to be his guide in this journey into the unknown. She led him over to the same spot on the grass she had occupied several nights before, when he had sat on the patio, a safe distance away, and allowed himself to be drawn into conversation. Part of him craved that safe distance again, but he didn't indulge it. Instead he lowered himself to the ground and, after a moment's hesitation, he reached for her, pulling her against his chest and folding his body around hers. He felt her relax against him, tucking her head into the niche between his neck and his shoulder as together they enjoyed the synthetic peace of Dumbledore's enchanted retreat. The forest loomed in twisted shadow around them, its dangers and the threat of the larger world beyond kept at bay by a complex web of magical barriers erected by a mighty hand.

But best of all, it was dark. No one would see.

No one would ever know that the feared Hogwarts potions master was wrapped around the school's Head Girl, allowing the hard lines of his body to relax into the rare contact with soft warmth. Her hair was…incredible. So different from the limp mess with which he had been cursed. He fingered the heavy strands, twining curls around his long fingers and then releasing them again. It kept his hands busy as he adjusted to the sensory barrage caused by her proximity. How long had it been since anyone had been this close? Close enough to touch, close enough to hear the barest murmur, close enough to breathe in his scent, and he hers, until there was no difference between them. He couldn't even remember. They sat in silence, mostly. She didn't seem inclined to talk anymore; for the first time in their acquaintance she wasn't asking any questions, and for this he was grateful. He preferred to humiliate himself one way at a time, rather than all at once, and he was relishing this particular brand of humiliation very much.

No one would see.

He wasn't sure how long they stayed outside, but eventually, the air grew cooler and the ground grew harder and he began to think she must be uncomfortable. He helped her rise and they both stretched stiff legs, and this time it was he who reached for her hand, reluctant to relinquish all contact. He walked with her inside, to the window that opened onto the staircase to her room, and he paused, her hand still clasped in his.

We'll never know unless we try.

Not a bad motto, really.

As his lips found hers, he thought it was the sanest thing he'd done in a long time.


He kissed her goodnight.

It was all she could think of as she readied herself for bed. As she brushed her teeth, she noticed that her face in the mirror was positively luminous, but this time it seemed an accurate reflection rather than a charmed one. She felt beautiful – more beautiful than she'd ever felt in her life, and it was because only a few moments before, his long, elegant fingers had reached beneath her chin, had stroked her jaw lightly with his thumb and forefinger, and had tipped her face up to his. She had felt a soft puff of breath caress her face and then warm lips settled on hers, leisurely renewing their acquaintance from the night before. His tongue teased hers and then danced away, flirting rather than staking claim. She could tell that he deliberately held himself in check, and she let him set the pace, despite the fact that she wanted more – wanted everything – and knew now that he did too. His hands knit their way into her curls and he dragged his lips from her mouth, pressing them to her forehead briefly before stepping away.

"Goodnight, Hermione." His voice washed over her, every bit as sensual as his touch, and she felt it stir something deep in her middle before travelling down her legs to curl her toes.

"Goodnight, Severus." They had talked that night. They had talked for hours, but it still amazed her that his name rolled so easily off her tongue. He'd had a point about compartmentalization. Professor Snape was her teacher. Severus was her…well, she wasn't sure what to call him yet, exactly, since 'boyfriend' sounded ridiculous and they weren't lovers. But Severus was something else entirely, and the more she learned about him, the more distinct he seemed from Professor Snape.

She snuggled under the duvet and hugged the extra pillow close, much too excited to sleep. Severus. From the moment he had given her permission – well, ordered her, really – to call him by his first name, the night had taken on a dreamlike quality. She was reluctant to sleep now because there was no way that her real dreams could compete.

Of course, the first part had been rather difficult. He'd still been…well, Snape-ish was the best way she could describe it, and had tried to argue, had tried to give her every single reason why they could never work. But she kept coming back to his admission. He was interested in her. He was attracted to her; even with her relatively limited experience, she had been in no doubt of that. Yes, there were obstacles, but wasn't that true in all relationships? She had let him talk, in that superior way he had, and then had quietly refuted his arguments with one of her own. What's the harm in trying? What's the harm in getting to know one another better and seeing if anything might come of it?

It had come down to optimism versus pessimism, and for once in his life, Severus Snape had allowed optimism to triumph. She knew intuitively that they might never get another chance, so she agreed when he said that after their days of "getting to know one another" they would return to Hogwarts and be what they had been before. She would have agreed to anything he suggested.

They had eaten dinner together. There was no soft music and no candlelight, just the solarium as it had been at every other meal, but it felt romantic to Hermione. The awkwardness that had plagued their luncheon together was gone, replaced by a different kind of tension, something sweet and exciting that seemed to balance hopefulness and anticipation in equal measure. She picked at her food, too focussed on him to pay attention to what was on her plate.

They covered many of the same subjects they had covered in other conversations – his classes for the autumn term, potions, her plans after finishing at Hogwarts, and even Dark Magic - only now there was a new freedom between them. A barrier had come down, and she was able to give voice to questions that had previously gone unasked. He answered – still acerbic, sarcastic, and often downright insulting - but he answered. He challenged her with questions that were sometimes academic and sometimes philosophical, and he permitted no mental indolence in her responses. With the clarity of hindsight, she realized how much she had longed to converse with someone like him. She loved Harry and had loved Ron dearly, but discussions with them irritated more often than they stimulated. With Severus, she felt an intellectual thrill that blended seamlessly with her intense physical awareness of him, the first time she'd ever felt this unified response of mind and body.

She was humming with it now, and she buried her face in her pillow and squealed, giving in to a very Lavender-ish expression of joy. Had anyone been around to hear, she would have been mortified; Hermione Granger did not squeal. Her pillow muffled the sound without censure, and she felt better for having gotten it out of her system. She wondered if she'd ever get to sleep that night.

After dinner they had sat outside in the quiet darkness, just as they had the night before they found Harry, only this time he joined her on the grass by the pond and reached for her, pulling her close and letting her lean back against his chest for support. The time for conversation seemed to have passed, and instead they sat mostly in silence, letting their bodies become accustomed to the feel of one another. His fingers had gone to her hair – she had noticed that he seemed to have a fascination with it – gently tangling themselves in the curls, sorting through them, and returning them to her shoulders piece by piece. It should have been relaxing, but it was impossible to relax in such close proximity to him. She was hyper-aware of every single point of joining – the warm chest pressed to her back, the firm thigh beneath her hand, the mouth that nearly drove her to distraction by mussing her hair, nuzzling her neck, and occasionally drifting close to her ear to murmur something to her. She was so affected by his body and the intensely provocative timbre of his voice that she had difficulty comprehending the content. She'd had to process his words as if they were in another language, forcing herself to translate 'sexy' into 'English' and then formulate an appropriate response. She thought, on the whole, that she'd probably come off sounding like an idiot, but he hadn't seemed to mind. Looking back on it, he'd been a bit distracted too.

And then he'd walked her inside and kissed her, and she could still feel the thrill of it singing through her veins. She hugged her pillow closer, part of her wanting to stay up all night, replaying the various scenes throughout the evening in her head and revelling in the shiny newness of it all. The other part of her wanted to go to sleep, to make the night pass faster so that it wouldn't seem so long before she saw him again. She had, probably, two whole days to have him to herself, and she wanted to make the most of them, to store up their time together so that it could fortify her and fuel her dreams in the long months to come. She had two days to get to know one of the most enigmatic men she'd ever met.

She planned to make every conversation count.

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 19 of 27

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