Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 21 of 27

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Their time was up.

Their time was up, their bags were packed, and they were minutes away from their return to the real world. Snape was returning to Hogwarts, to his duties there, and Hermione was going home to her parents for a few days before the start of term.

They hadn't slept at all the previous night. Sleep had seemed a waste of precious time, and so they had stayed up together, sometimes talking quietly, sometimes simply sitting together in the flame-lit room, absorbing the taste and scent and feel of one another so that looking back the night would seem a collage of sensory impressions. Legs tangled together with comfortable familiarity, his long, encased in black denim, hers smooth and bare beneath her shorts. Heads bent to one another, fitting into recently discovered niches. She spent an hour just holding his hand, examining it in minute detail, memorising the map of lines on his palm and the small scars and stains accumulated over the years of lab work, and then touching each of the fingertips to her lips.

He had held her in his lap and rocked her like a child, just as he had the evening after they had rescued Harry, but this time, instead of relaxing into sleep, she had pulled his face down to hers and they had kissed until the need for more threatened to overtake them. He had pulled away then, caught his breath, and murmured, "Not yet."

She growled her frustration. "Your self control begins to be a trifle insulting."

He laughed.

"Don't laugh at me," she pouted.

"Oh, I will laugh, my dear. I'm condemning myself to months of sexual frustration, all for the sake of your sterling reputation. The least you can do is let me laugh about it."

"You're welcome to alleviate your frustration in a much more rewarding way," she said, batting her eyes at him teasingly.


This time, they both laughed.

It was as if their love were a potion that could be put into a phial and stoppered for safekeeping. They spent the night trying to collect every drop, fighting the sense that it was running through their fingers and spilling onto the floor.

Too precious to waste.

It was nearly dawn when she finally said the words, feeling as though she simply couldn't step into the fireplace leaving them unsaid.

"I love you."


"You don't have to say you love me too. I just wanted you to know…before we go back."

"Foolish girl," he said, pulling her close and burying his face in her hair. "Of course I love you." He paused, unsure of how to proceed, quite sure that a single misplaced word would lead to disaster. "But you're so young. It's too soon for you to be professing love to me or anyone else."

"I am certainly old enough to know how I feel."

"Perhaps, but you said yourself that you have few experiences to compare this with." He tilted her face toward him. "Don't make me any promises, Hermione. It's too soon yet for you to be sure about me. This could be a schoolgirl crush on the mean old Potions Master, and I don't want you to feel bound by that."

She drew back as if she'd been slapped. "How can you even suggest such a thing? You know that's not what this is."

"I know that it's nothing like that for me," he argued. "But I have nearly forty years of experiences to compare it with. Our perspectives are different."

"You've spent most of your adult years in a dungeon, Severus, doing penance for a mistake you made when you were younger than I am."

"And because of that, I know that it's possible for adolescents to make bad decisions that affect the rest of their lives. I would not want to be your bad decision."

"How can you possibly equate being in love with you with serving Voldemort? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

"It was not intended as a direct comparison," he said, sighing. "I knew I wouldn't get this right."

"Get what right?" she demanded, glaring at him. "I love you, Severus; you say you love me. Why does that have to be so hard?"

"Because it is. You know that. It's hard because we're in different places in life right now, and you have a final year at Hogwarts to enjoy, and responsibilities as Head Girl, and N.E.W.T.'s to prepare for. I want you to enjoy this time in your life."

"I will," she promised, calming some and subsiding back into his arms. "But one of the things I'll enjoy most is knowing that you'll be waiting for me at the other end. I need to know that, Severus, to make this year bearable."

"I will be, but I'll not let you make me the same promise. You're free to change your mind about me, Hermione. Tomorrow, or the next day or the day after that. If you look up from your cauldron one day and wonder what on earth you were thinking, I'll understand."

She giggled. "That won't happen. It's far more likely that I'll give myself away completely by mooning over you for all the world to see."

"You won't. You're too smart for that." He pressed his lips gently to her forehead, and they seemed to keep going of their own volition, brushing against her temples, her cheeks, the tip of her nose, and finally finding their destination in the softness of her lips. "Will you think me weak," he murmured between kisses, "if I confess that I sincerely hope you don't change your mind?"

"Mmmmm. Not at all. I was beginning to be a little hurt by all the openings you were giving me. It sounded as though you were hoping I'd desert you the first moment I had the chance."

"No. Never that." He pulled away then and smiled, a simple gesture the more precious for its rarity, which never failed to transform and soften his angular face and leave her slightly breathless in her appreciation. He ran the pad of his thumb gently over her lips.

"You can be annoyingly honourable," she teased, giving the thumb a playful bite. "For a mean old Potions Master."

"Well, one of us has to be. Who knew Hogwarts' Head Girl would prove to be a young woman of such loose moral fibre that she would involve herself with one of her teachers? It's fortunate that your grades are what they are, or I might question your motives."

"I don't have any motives," she promised.

"I know that," he said, serious now, "but no one else will, so it's important that we appear as we ever were. I'll not have anyone saying anything against you."

"I promise. You've taught me a great deal over the last week, not the least of which was how to play a role convincingly. I will appear to detest the very sight of you."

He sighed and pulled her close. "I confess, my love, that I am not looking forward to that."

"It's your own fault for being so horrible over the years." She fit her head into its nook beneath his chin, inhaling the clean, masculine scent of him. "Severus?"


"Call me that again, please."

She touched two fingertips to his Adam's apple and felt the slight vibration as he said the words.

"My love."


An hour later, the sun was up, and it was time to go. They had the feeling that there was nothing left to be said, or at least nothing that could be said in the span of a few minutes. There was a lifetime together to be lived, but that would have to wait, and so they contented themselves with a final kiss. Hermione clung to him as tears fell. He set her away from him, finally, and wiped the tears with gentle fingers. "Stop that," he chided. "Your parents will wonder."

"Sorry." She gained control with an unladylike sniff and forced a small smile. She reached for her bag and he handed her Crookshanks' crate.

"Don't you dare leave this beast on my hands."

She laughed then, and her smile was the last thing he saw as she stepped into the fireplace and announced her destination.

She was gone in a whirl of flame, and he gave into his feelings for a moment, sagging into the nearest chair. A moment later, he was picking himself up off the floor, violently cursing the chair and its master. With Hermione gone, the place was an enchanted nightmare again, and he couldn't wait to leave. He released Hedwig with instructions to return to the Hogwarts owlery, gathered his own things, and took the Floo to his chambers at Hogwarts.

Back to the dungeon.


After all that had gone before, it seemed so normal. Another year, another trip to Diagon Alley to purchase supplies for school. Harry would be starting the term, at least, biding his time until he was sure the situation over Neilus Finbar's death had been put to rest, and he and Hermione arranged to meet in Diagon Alley, as they had so many times before. The Headmaster had given his permission, as long as Harry went straight there and remained with Hermione the entire time, so the two friends had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron and then made their way together to Gringotts, as they usually did before doing their shopping. Harry left to go make a withdrawal from his vault while Hermione stood in line at the counter to exchange Muggle money for wizard's money. In light of the drastic changes they had gone through, there was something a bit comforting about the normalcy of the back-to-school routine.

"Cassandra…Cassandra, is that you?" The words barely touched the edges of Hermione's consciousness, and she didn't look up until the voice got so close it couldn't be ignored. "Cassandra?" She glanced up then and saw Gregor King approaching.

Oh hell, she thought. It was fine to swear in one's thoughts, she decided, especially if someone she didn't want to see was calling her by a name that wasn't her own.

"Hi Gregor," she said.

"You're still here! I figured you'd be back at school by now."

"No. I'm still here," she said faintly, wondering what on earth she should say.

"Your hair is different," he noticed. "I like it."

She ran a hand absently through the tangle of brown curls. Definitely different. "Er, thanks." She was simply scintillating today. Perhaps he would just get bored and leave.

"Hermione!" She looked up instantly at that and saw Ginny Weasley waving at her from the doorway with Mrs Weasley close behind. Oh, this was just getting better and better. She arranged her face in a smile for her friend. Gregor was giving her a strange look, and she knew it was likely to get a whole lot stranger. Her cover was blown, as they said in the movies, and there was nothing to do but face it head-on.

She stepped out of line and embraced Ginny, noticing that she seemed thinner than she had the year before, nearly frail under her robes. Mrs Weasley was smiling, but there were dark circles under her eyes, and Hermione felt terrible that she hadn't done a better job of keeping in touch over the summer.

"Hi Gin," she said. "It's great to see you."

"You too. I've missed you. It didn't seem right not having you and Harry at The Burrow this summer." Ginny's eyes were pools of grief and she made no effort to hide the pain in her voice.

"For us either," Hermione said, nodding and feeling tears prick her eyes.

"Hermione, you and Harry are always welcome at The Burrow. I hope you know that," Molly Weasley told her sincerely. "You're like family to us, and we're so proud of both of you." Her voice broke for a second, but she steadied it. "I'm already working on your Christmas sweater. It has both of your initials on it this year. H.G. – Head Girl."

Hermione didn't know whether to laugh or cry at that, so she did a little of both, giving Mrs Weasley a hug at the same time.

"Is Harry here with you?" Ginny asked.

"Yes. He just went to make a withdrawal. He should be back soon."

"Well let's get our supplies together, shall we?"

"That'd be great, Gin. Why don't we meet up at Fortescue's for ice cream next and go from there?"

"OK, see you then." Ginny gave Gregor a curious glance, seeming to realize for the first time that a stranger had been standing and listening to the conversation, but she didn't appear to want an introduction, just moved off with her mother to go make a withdrawal from the Weasley vault.

Hermione turned to Gregor with an apologetic look. "So," he said coolly. "Hermione."

"Yes. Hermione Granger."

"Head Girl at Hogwarts."


"I've heard of you. You're the Mu-Muggle-born girl who was tight with Potter and the Weasley kid."

"You can say 'Mudblood' if you like," Hermione said caustically. "It's not like I haven't heard it before. And his name was Ron."

"I'm sorry." He really looked as if he were sorry, though she wasn't sure if he was apologizing for almost calling her a Mudblood or for his insensitivity about Ron. She decided it didn't much matter.

"So, am I not supposed to ask why you're attending dinner parties with your Potions professor, pretending to be his cousin?"

"I'd really much rather you didn't." She gave him a hopeful look.

He nodded, and she was surprised and terribly grateful that he was giving up so easily. "Well, Hermione Granger, it was nice to meet you – properly this time. Good luck at Hogwarts this year."

"Thanks, Gregor." She looked up and saw Harry approaching them and gave him a small wave. Harry's hair was dark again, and though he'd kept the new glasses and the earring, he looked more like himself.

"Is that Potter?" Gregor asked curiously.

She nodded.

"Will you introduce me? I hear he's a hell of a seeker."

She looked at him carefully to see if he was joking, but he appeared utterly serious. She laughed. "Of course. Just don't ask me to listen to you two babble about Quidditch."

Harry walked up, and she made the introductions and then resumed her place in line as the two men talked Quidditch while Harry waited on her to finish up. She thought that she might well have fallen in love with Severus simply because he didn't talk about Quidditch every hour of the day. She made her exchange and went back to where Harry and Gregor were talking, Harry gesturing wildly and making swooping motions with his hands, just as he always did when he was discussing his favourite sport.

"I saw Ginny and Mrs Weasley," she said, interrupting without apology. She'd learned it was the only way to bring Quidditch discussions to any kind of a timely halt. "We're supposed to meet them at Fortescue's."

"Better get going then," Harry said, taking the hint. "Gregor, it was nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too, Harry." Gregor shook Harry's hand and then gave Hermione a parting smile. "Take care, Hermione."

"You, too."

§ § § §

Two days later found her sitting quietly next to Harry at the Gryffindor table during the Sorting. None of the other students were aware of what had happened that summer, but Harry was still rather withdrawn, and she hoped that her presence would protect him from too many questions. Fortunately, most of the Gryffindors seemed to attribute Harry's change in demeanour to Ron's death the previous spring – and indeed it was attributable to that, indirectly at least – and left both Hermione and him alone, for the most part. They clapped when the hat shouted "Gryffindor!" and attempted smiles at the timid first-years who came to join them at their table, many of them casting curious looks in Harry's direction. Hermione glanced at the Head Table several times and saw Severus glaring down at the proceedings like a malevolent force, beginning his act of intimidation from the first day of term, as he always did. He did not glance her way, and she hadn't expected that he would.

The next morning at breakfast, one of the school owls dropped a rolled parchment onto her plate. She recognized his handwriting on the outside, and glanced quickly at him before tucking it into her robes for later reading. He was looking at her this time, and she saw the hint of a smile around his dark eyes.

It was enough.

She returned the look with a small nod and let her lips turn up with pleasure. She couldn't leave the Great Hall fast enough that morning, and she ate quickly and then hurried to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom to read her note in private.

My dear Hermione,

I cannot stress to you how difficult it was to be in the same room with you last night, yet to be denied the pleasures of speaking to you, touching you, acknowledging you in any way. It was torture for me, and I want you to remember that throughout the course of this term, which I'm quite sure will be the longest I have ever been forced to endure. I think it will actually be easier to be parted completely than to be forced into living such a lie. Odd, that, since my whole life has been a lie for many years now; one would think I'd be accustomed to it. This is more painful, however. Before, only my life was at stake; now, your reputation, your happiness, and your hard-earned position of honour here at Hogwarts depend on my ability to treat you as I ever have. And I will.

I regret, however, that in doing what I must, I might well cause you pain. Today, you will face me from your customary seat in my own classroom, and I fully expect that you will raise your hand and offer up the answers that your classmates should know, but don't. I will snap at you and insult you and call you 'Miss Granger,' and Potter will stiffen and bluster and attempt to defend you. I will then threaten you with detention. When I do this, you will know that I am actually telling you how much I miss you, how much I wish I could give you detention and we could work quietly together in my laboratory or talk of our respective days. I won't actually give you detention, of course. I am quite sure that if I did it once, I would quickly become dependent on that time with you, and you would soon have so many detentions that the reputation of the Head Girl would be called into serious question. Furthermore, it would be impossible for me to be alone with you and adhere to the resolutions we made together. I believe that those resolutions were right and necessary, given our current situation, but that doesn't make them easy. I count on you, of course, to do your part and play your role as you know you must. I count on you also to make the most of this final year at Hogwarts, to enjoy your time with your studies, your professors, and your friends. Waste no time pining for me; I shall be waiting for you at the end, assuming you still want me, and we shall have the rest of our lives together.

I consider myself the luckiest of men,


She waved her wand over the parchment, causing the ink to become invisible, and then she tucked it into the pocket of her robes. She took a deep and stabilizing breath. "I can do this," she said to herself. "I must do this." She had six years' experience in dreading Potions class, but she had never dreaded it as much as she did this day. She gathered up her books and headed to Transfiguration, where Professor McGonagall chastised her gently for her inattention, and she remembered Severus's words and forced herself to focus on her studies. "Only one more year," she told herself.

Double Potions was next, and Harry gave her a supportive look as they headed down to the dungeons. "Are you all right with this?" he asked.

"Not really, but I suppose I have to be. He's promised to treat us the same as always."

"Great," Harry said. "You'd think godsons and girlfriends would get a little bit of a break."

She giggled at that and then shushed him.

"No one's listening. Was that owl you got at breakfast from him?"

"Yes." She didn't elaborate, and he knew better than to ask. He pushed open the door and held it for her to go ahead. Severus was at the front of the room, writing something on the board, and she took the opportunity to cast an admiring glance his way. She had become accustomed to seeing him in trousers and jeans, which accentuated his slim hips and long legs. He looked larger in his robes, more intimidating, and she felt him sliding back into the "teacher" compartment in her mind. It made their time together at the cottage seem slightly surreal. Before he could catch her looking at him, she lowered her eyes and began to set up her cauldron. Harry and the other chattering students did the same, and their Professor called the class to order in typical form.

"I know from prior experience that you've all spent the summer emptying your heads of every bit of useful information, and your other teachers will probably spend the next two weeks reviewing material you should have learned as a third-year. I refuse to waste my time in that way, so we will begin this morning with the Skele-gro potion on page 32 of your text. Who can tell me the proper medium for a Skele-gro potion?"

He cast dark eyes around the classroom but found no volunteers. "Well?" he sneered. "Did none of you bother to open your books this summer?"

Hermione tentatively raised her hand.

"Of course, Miss Granger. Our resident know-it-all and recently crowned Head Girl." His voice was like ice and she felt it freezing her heart, making it difficult to breathe. She couldn't do this – she just couldn't. The pain must have shown on her face because she saw the briefest flash of answering pain in his own dark eyes, and that split second was all she needed to recover and step into her role.

"You asked a question, sir. I know the answer," she said, somehow managing to sound calm. "Why shouldn't I raise my hand?"

His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Watch yourself, Miss Granger. Every other teacher in this school may be fawning over you, but I can assure you that I am not."

Harry suffered a particularly violent fit of coughing just then, and Snape glared at him viciously before turning back to Hermione and speaking to her in the delicious voice that left her weak in the knees, no matter how unpleasant the content. "It wouldn't look good for the Head Girl to get detention on her first day back at school, Miss Granger, but I'm sorely tempted to make that your fate. You will avoid it only if you do, in fact, know the answer to my question."

Of course she did know it, but it would be so easy to give him the wrong answer and force him to give her detention after all. She considered that idea and then reluctantly discarded it, knowing that wasn't what he wanted her to do. "The proper medium for a Skele-gro potion is a simple saline solution, sir. You begin with that and then add…"

"That's enough!" he snapped. "When will you learn to simply answer the question that is asked rather than trying to teach the class?

Harry glared at Snape and looked like he was going to say something, but Hermione placed a restraining hand on his arm, and Snape left them alone after that. Soon they were working as they always had, except that now Hermione partnered with Harry and whispered suggestions to Neville across the aisle.

"Miss Granger." Snape's voice lashed out from the front of the room and she looked up, startled.

"Are you planning to take Mr Longbottom's Potions N.E.W.T?"

She flushed and cast her eyes down to her cauldron. "No, sir."

He said nothing else, and she looked up at him, waiting on the insults to herself and Neville that would normally come raining down. He met her eyes and said quietly, "Get back to work, Miss Granger."

"Yes, sir." She cast an apologetic look at Neville and did as her Professor had suggested, though she could tell that Harry was seething. "It's fine," she whispered under her breath. "I promise. I'll explain later."

"Slimy git," he hissed back.

When the double period was finally over, she and Harry left together without looking back at their teacher. As soon as they were out of earshot of the other students, Harry exploded. "How can he treat you like that? How can you stand it? How can you stand him?"

"Would you calm down?" she asked, giggling at his reaction. Suddenly the whole experience seemed quite funny to her though she couldn't possibly have said why.

"No!" he said. "I won't. Listen, I'm stuck with him in a way because Sirius was crazy enough to make him my godfather – and I still don't pretend to understand that – but you have a choice, Hermione, and I think you should stay the hell away from him."

"I'm going to," she said, "until the very second I leave here, and then I'm going to run straight into his arms. I love him, Harry, and he loves me."

"Has he actually told you that?" Harry demanded.

"Of course. And even if he hadn't there would be no question in my mind," she said. "What happened in the classroom wasn't as bad as it seemed. He…planned it, in a way."

"What d'you mean?"

She blushed. "I'm not sure I can tell you this," she said. "It's a bit personal, you know?"

"Try me."

"It's easier to show you than to tell you," she said, pulling the parchment out of her pocket and spelling it to make the ink visible again. "Don't you dare tell him I showed you this."

Harry took the parchment from her hand and unrolled it carefully, sitting down on a nearby bench to read it. "Wow," he said weakly, when he had come to the end. "That's just…wow."

"I thought so too," she said, smiling and putting it back in her pocket. "You see why I wasn't upset over the threat of detention."

"What about the thing with Neville?"

"He really doesn't want me helping Neville so much," she admitted. "He says I'm not doing him a favour in the long run. I told him that Neville couldn't function properly around someone who terrorized him, and he promised to be less horrible if I would step back a bit and let Neville do his own work."

"So he's going to be nicer to Neville, but as awful as ever to you," Harry said, shaking his head. "This whole thing is very weird. You know that, don't you?"

"Oh, yes," she agreed with a laugh. "And I have the feeling it's going to get worse before it gets better."

Despite the fact that she had always shunned Divination, Hermione was not without her moments of prophesy.


Severus had been surprised, upon returning to Hogwarts, to find that Dumbledore was not in residence. His colleagues seemed to know nothing beyond the fact that the Headmaster had business at the Ministry, so Severus had gone about preparing for start-of-term. It wasn't until the first day of classes were over that he managed to gain an audience with the Headmaster. He handed Dumbledore a roll of parchment and then settled into his customary chair in front of the desk.

"And what is this?" Dumbledore asked with a smile.

"You mean you don't know?" Severus asked sarcastically. "Whatever has happened to the famed Albus Dumbledore omniscience?"

"Actually, I could hazard a guess," the old man replied, eyes twinkling. "But I think I'd rather discuss this with you than read about it."

"It is my resignation, effective the end of this term. That should give both of us plenty of time to make other arrangements."

"Severus…" Dumbledore took a rare moment to pause and gather his thoughts. He'd had so few opportunities to discuss personal matters with Severus Snape that he thought it would pay to take special care lest the man take it in his head to flee and avoid the discussion entirely. "You know that I cannot condone a romantic relationship between a pupil and a staff member. The Board of Governors simply forbids it, and in principle I agree, though privately I will confess myself delighted for the both of you. But Miss Granger is in seventh-year, after all, and we're only asking you to wait a few months. Do you not think you could see your way clear to…?"

Severus shook his head. "No, Albus, you don't understand. I'm not leaving because of the Board, or you, or any school rules. I'm not even leaving because of Hermione - though you are correct in your assumptions about the – ah – nature of my feelings for her."

"It would be difficult to miss, Severus, to anyone who knows you."

"That would be a very short list, wouldn't it, Albus?"

"I suppose it would, at that," the headmaster agreed with a wry smile. "Well then, Severus, I suppose I shall have to relinquish my reputation for omniscience and ask you outright what has prompted this decision. It goes without saying, I hope, that I will do anything I can to change your mind."

"I don't think you'll succeed, Albus," Severus answered, and this time it was his turn to smile. "The truth, which I suspect you've known all along, is that I loathe teaching. We both know why I've stayed here for so long, and it's had nothing whatever to do with my love of building young minds and shaping the future generations."

Dumbledore looked on his Potions Master and started to laugh. The laugh built until he was removing his glasses and wiping his eyes. "You do present me with a challenge, Severus," he said finally. "I was prepared to offer you practically anything to get you to stay, up to and including the Dark Arts assignment, but I would be somewhat hard-pressed to offer you a teaching position that didn't involve teaching." He chuckled again.

"I don't expect it," Severus answered sincerely. "You have done enough for me over the years. It's thanks to you that I have any chance of a life at all. But Hermione – and Potter, blast the boy – made me realize that I'm not actually living that life. I've stayed buried in the dungeons for years now, doing a job I hate, surrounded by students who irritate me endlessly and colleagues whose temperament is generally unsuited to my own. There was a reason for such behaviour at one time, but that reason is gone now. It's time for me to go."

He noticed that Dumbledore looked vaguely troubled but chose to ignore it, and the expression passed. The Headmaster's voice seemed perfectly normal when he asked, "What do you plan to do?"

"Research," he answered with a small sigh of satisfaction. "Now that the Dark Mark has disappeared, I should have no trouble getting hired by one of the large potion-developing companies. I will, of course, continue to be available to take on…assignments, if you have need of me."

Dumbledore shook his head. "I think perhaps it's time you left that life behind as well, Severus, particularly in light of recent events. You have served the Order bravely for many years now. Make a clean break if you can, my friend. Let the Aurors do their jobs without you."

Severus shook his head. "You forget," he said sarcastically, withdrawing the coin from his pocket and holding it up. "I've been saddled with Harry Potter, and he requires his own private Auror. I will probably spend the rest of my life rescuing him from one act of stupidity after another."

"Everyone grows up, Severus." Dumbledore laughed. "I doubt that Harry will be a drain on your time and energies forever, but I'm glad that you've decided to maintain a relationship with the boy. I think you're good for him, and he for you."

"Unless I can convince you to take this damned coin off my hands, I suppose I'm stuck with him," Severus groused, but Dumbledore only smiled and changed the subject.

"Tell me about Miss Granger."

Severus resisted the urge to squirm in his seat under Dumbledore's probing eyes. "I thought I already had."

"Are you in love with her?"

"Yes." No equivocation.

"Is she in love with you?"

"She…believes that she is, but she is young yet, and I want her to be sure. We will wait until she leaves here to pursue any sort of relationship. I'll be a teacher at this school for a few more months, and even without the Board's disapproval, I wouldn't want do anything to bring disgrace on her. Besides which," his face twisted in a sarcastic smile, "Minerva would probably turn me into a newt if I laid a finger on her beloved Head Girl."

"You're probably right." Dumbledore chuckled. "She's a lovely young woman, Severus, and brilliant, of course, which I suspect is the main attraction for you. The difference in you is…remarkable. I wouldn't have believed it possible."

Severus did squirm then – he couldn't help it. "Albus, please."

Dumbledore smiled but changed the subject, and a minute later, Severus wished he was squirming again. "I'm delighted for you, Severus, and I have every hope that you will be able to pursue your plans with no difficulties, but there are some things you should know."

Severus felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck at the Headmaster's deceptively mild tone. He had known the man too many years to be fooled and had a strong sense that his life was about to be snatched out from under his feet. Again. "Yes?"

"I was able to cover up Lucius Malfoy's death. There were no witnesses, in that case, and nothing to connect you with the scene. We've not been so lucky this time. I knew when I asked you to stay at the cottage that you and Miss Granger had some things you needed to work out, but that's not the only reason I asked you to remain in Ireland. Magical Law Enforcement wants to question you."

"Fine. I have nothing to hide."

"Take care, Severus," Dumbledore cautioned. "Horatio Barter was involved in this from practically the moment Finbar died, which suggests to me that he was actually involved well before that. He seems determined to see that you pay for your part in this matter, and I believe that he also suspects you in Malfoy's death. If they administer Veritaserum, you could confess to a great deal more than you intend to. Barter has friends over in Magical Law Enforcement, and he's been talking to them. They're suggesting that you've become a dangerous vigilante."

"I suppose they have a point," he said coldly.

Dumbledore sighed. "Severus, no man could have served the Order more selflessly or more bravely than you have over the years, and I regret that your contribution has required, by its very nature, that it largely go unrecognised. I hope you know, however, that my failure to laud you publicly stems from my desire to protect you, not from any shame or disappointment I have in the decisions you have made. I have always trusted you to make the right choices and have supported you in every way I could. I do not think of you as a dangerous vigilante, and I will defend you from that charge at the top of my lungs. You say that you had no choice with Lucius Malfoy but to kill or be killed. I, for one, am glad you chose the former."

"I would make that choice again," Severus said dryly. "However, in hindsight, I might choose to have a witness present."

Dumbledore smiled. "I'm glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humour over this. With any luck, we won't have to deal with Malfoy at all."

"Which still leaves us with Neilus Finbar."

"Yes." Dumbledore reached for a piece of candy and popped it in his mouth. "There is one other possibility…"

Severus raised his eyebrows. "Am I to guess?"

Dumbledore responded with one word, formed somewhat ridiculously around a mouthful of lemon drop. "Harry."

"No, Albus. Leave the boy out of it."

"Severus," Dumbledore paused to munch and swallow the candy, "Harry can't be left out of it. He's wanted for questioning too. I said that I don't want him interviewed until Fudge can be present, which means that we've had to postpone the meeting until next week. He will have to give his testimony about cursing Peter Pettigrew, the kidnapping, and his incarceration in Ireland. If he testifies that he cast a killing curse…"


"Hear me out, Severus." Dumbledore held up a hand. "When I talked to Harry last week, we discussed the fact that you didn't want him to admit to the curse. At the time, I supported you in that decision and thought that he could just gloss over that part of his testimony, focussing instead on his mistreatment and his confusion at the time, which was apparently quite profound. Harry told me that he regained consciousness when he heard Miss Granger screaming and cast the curse unintentionally, just as he did with Voldemort. We really must discuss his independent study, by the way, and see that he gets that particular ability under control."

"I would have to agree, especially since I'm the person around here most likely to make him angry."

Dumbledore gave him a slight smile. "If he hasn't cursed you by now, I suspect you're safe. You're certainly no threat to harm Miss Granger. But Neilus was, and you and I both know that there's a very good chance that Harry is the one who killed him. He was closer, and his powers…well, they're exceptional, as the events of last spring taught us." Dumbledore leaned forward, his gaze intent. "Harry is a hero, Severus, and there's ample evidence that he was kidnapped and mistreated by Neilus Finbar. If he testifies that his curse was the killing curse, I doubt very much that he'll be prosecuted."

"You doubt? And that's enough for you?"

"At the moment, I like my chances of keeping him out of Azkaban far better than my chances of keeping you out."

Severus clenched his jaw, feeling his pulse throbbing at his temples and a tense knot of panic writhing in his gut. He had lived under the protection of Albus Dumbledore for so long that he had come to assume that Albus would always make everything right. He had gone about his business, ordered his supplies, and prepared for the new term, never dreaming that there would be repercussions from his actions in Ireland. He had allowed himself to imagine a life of freedom and happiness, and now it seemed that the situation that had brought Hermione and him together might well be the same one that would tear them apart.

He hated irony.

"I'm doing my best, Severus," Dumbledore said soothingly. "At the moment, I don't want you to be concerned. The delay in Harry's meeting with Fudge has bought us some time. I'm hoping to find some concrete evidence that ties Barter to Harry's kidnapping. I have friends at MLE too, and they're working on it right now. We might never convict him, but if we can scare him into backing off, I think we can make this all go away without having to put you or Harry at risk."

"Barter is a cunning man and a formidable enemy," Severus said slowly. "If he's covered his tracks, I doubt you'll be able to find them."

Dumbledore looked at Severus over the rims of his glasses. "I'm a smart man, too. I'll tell you when it's time to worry."

Easy for you to say, Severus thought, but he merely nodded, wiped his palms on his robes, and tried to remember how happy he'd felt when he'd placed his resignation in Albus's hand.

No. That feeling was gone.

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 21 of 27

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