Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 22 of 27

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Harry, Dumbledore, and Remus Lupin took the Floo from Dumbledore's office and emerged from a fireplace in a barren, echoing chamber far beneath the streets of London. There was simply nothing to the room except a fireplace and a small desk in one corner behind which a middle-aged witch was seated. Other than that, it was all putty-coloured walls and hard tile floor.

"This is the Ministry?" Harry asked dubiously, glancing about.

"It's the apparition chamber," Dumbledore explained.

"Rather like a Muggle parking garage," Remus added. "The rest of the Ministry is shielded for security reasons. This is the only place you can enter or exit. Hello, Madam Stickler." He nodded in the direction of the desk.

"Mr. Lupin, Professor Dumbledore." The witch returned the greeting, eyeing Harry with obvious curiosity. "And you must be…"

"Harry Potter," Dumbledore finished for her, saying the words with a sort of finality that forbade further comment. "We've an appointment with Minister Fudge and Auror Davenport."

She glanced down at a sheet of parchment on the desk and made a checkmark with her quill. "Of course, Professor. Go right ahead." She waved her wand and caused an archway to open up in the blank wall, and Remus, Dumbledore, and Harry crossed the threshold into a long hallway that was only slightly less utilitarian than the apparition chamber had been. It reminded Harry of a Muggle hospital and even had something of the same smell. There was nothing more than a series of doors, each with a small plaque affixed to the outside indicating what went on within. There were other witches and wizards in the hall, some hurrying along and others stopping to chat with friends while juggling coffee cups and rolls of parchment. Almost everyone gave the newcomers a curious glance. Dumbledore was known to all, and in Dumbledore's company, Harry was instantly recognized, even without his scar.

Dumbledore nodded politely to everyone he saw, but he didn't stop to talk, instead leading the way through labyrinthine hallways to one marked "Magical Law Enforcement."

"'S a good thing Professor Dumbledore is here," Harry muttered to Remus. "I'd need a four-point spell to get out of this place."

Remus chuckled. "I know what you mean. It is rather confusing."

"This is it," Dumbledore said, pushing open a door with Herculio Davenport, Senior Auror written on the outside.

As Harry crossed the threshold, his was startled by the dramatic change from the drab hallway to the luxurious outer office of MLE's Senior Auror. It was sumptuous yet tasteful, decorated in deep maroons and greens, the kind of place that always made him realize belatedly that he had forgotten to wipe his feet. He swiped his hands against his robes, beginning to feel nervous for the first time since their arrival. He saw several comfortable chairs and wished he could sit down since he felt it would be easier to figure out what to do with his hands from a sitting position, and there would be less chance of him knocking over something expensive in the process. Dumbledore and Remus were still standing, however, so he continued to stand as well, finally tucking his hands into the pockets of his robes. He had expected MLE to resemble police stations he had seen on Muggle television. He wondered how long he would have to live in the wizarding world before he figured out once and for all that they did things on an entirely different scale. Of course, he supposed it was a moot point, as he was planning on leaving it soon anyway.

"Professor Dumbledore." A young witch stepped through a doorway and greeted the Headmaster with a smile. "How nice to see you again."

"And you, Miss Floss. Are you enjoying your work here at the Ministry?"

"Oh yes sir! Thank you." She maintained the smile – it made Harry's face ache to watch her – and gestured for them to follow her. "Auror Davenport is expecting you."

She ushered them through a second doorway and into the office of the Senior Auror. Harry dimly remembered seeing him at Hogwarts in the hours just after Voldemort's defeat, but he hadn't been officially introduced, and his memories of that time were so jumbled that he doubted it would have made an impression even if he had. Auror Davenport did look like a character from television, Harry noted, burly and weathered with warm brown eyes that seemed incongruent under his shock of grey hair.

He rose and extended his hand to Dumbledore. "Good to see you, Albus."

"You, too, Herc. I appreciate your handling this matter yourself." The Auror made a dismissive gesture, and Dumbledore went on. "You remember Remus Lupin, don't you? Remus is here at Harry's request." Remus and Davenport shook hands. "And this, of course, is Harry."

"It's nice to meet you, Harry," Davenport said, and Harry was surprised and grateful that there was no undue amount of interest or admiration as the Auror shook his hand. He had also noted the man's willingness to shake hands with Remus - not everyone would - and decided that he liked Davenport very much. He had the air of a man who had seen it all and would be difficult to shock or awe, and he exuded a quiet sense of power that was reminiscent of Dumbledore's own. Harry wondered if he would ever attain that. The only time he thought he exuded anything at all impressive was when his life was being threatened. He was glad that he was able to summon the necessary courage and intelligence at those times, but he didn't particularly want to live every moment of his life that way.

"I would ask you to sit down, but they're all ready for us in the Hearing room, and I understand the Minister is on a tight schedule. We should probably get over there."

"That's fine," Dumbledore said. "I think we're all anxious to get this behind us."

Davenport nodded and turned to Harry. "Harry, we're going to be in the large hearing room - it's much like a Muggle courtroom - and you'll be in the witness seat and will be asked to swear a wizard's oath that your testimony is the truth. This is a private hearing, so the only other people there will be Professor Dumbledore and Mr. Lupin, Minister Fudge, our Magistrate, and me. I will ask you questions, but occasionally, Minister Fudge or the Magistrate may ask you to clarify a point. Just answer all of us as honestly as you can."

Harry swallowed hard. "Yes, sir."

Davenport gave him a wink. "Don't worry, Harry. We're pretty sure you're one of the good guys. We just need to know what happened."

Harry nodded again and wished he dared a look at Dumbledore. The Headmaster had decided that Harry should admit to casting a wandless curse but maintained that he wanted the focus of Harry's testimony to be on his mistreatment and Finbar's obviously nefarious plans. He and Harry had spent several hours going over the story, but Harry still wasn't sure he had the verbal ability necessary to pull it off. In fact, rather than building his confidence, all the preparation had the opposite effect of making him feel unusually tongue-tied and confused. Dumbledore was asking Harry to administer the truth in precisely measured doses, when what he was accustomed to doing was spilling his guts and letting someone else mop up the mess. In his nervousness, he'd hardly slept the night before, and what little sleep he had gotten had been plagued with nightmares of saying and doing the wrong thing. He had been awakened before dawn by a dream in which he gave his testimony and was then immediately handed over to the dementors.

Davenport led the way out of the office and down the hall to a set of double doors. He opened one of them and then waited as Harry, Dumbledore and Remus walked through.

The dim bench-lined room was familiar to Harry, and it took a moment of glancing around for him to remember why: Dumbledore's pensieve. He had sat in this room and watched young Barty Crouch be convicted and sent to Azkaban. The memory was linked in his mind to the other memories of the Triwizard Tournament and what he had come to view in hindsight as the end of his innocence about the seriousness of the dangers he faced. The room unsettled him, for that reason, and he wished he could have told his story back in the comfort of Davenport's office.

He'd barely had time to look around when Fudge came bearing down on them, ignoring Remus and Dumbledore in favour of putting a proprietary arm around Harry's shoulders.

"Harry my boy!" he exclaimed heartily. "Wonderful to see you again! Wish the circumstances could be different, of course, but I've no doubt we'll clear this matter right up. Terrible situation, isn't it? Terrible. No fault of yours, of course, none at all, but we want to make sure the ones who are guilty get what's coming to them. I'm sure we're all in agreement about that."

Harry felt the skin on the back of his neck prickle at the Minister's unctuous tone, and he recognized that behind the flattery he was being told what was expected of him that day. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Fudge that as far as he was concerned, the guilty parties had already gotten what was coming to them, but he clamped his mouth shut and just nodded. He edged closer to Remus, attempting to move out from under the weight of the Minister's arm. It worked, mostly because the Minister had no intention of coming into close contact with Remus Lupin. Fudge shifted away and nodded at Dumbledore.


"Cornelius. Thank you for being here today."

"And you, Albus," Fudge smiled at Dumbledore in a way that Harry didn't like at all. "In fact, we may have a few questions for you when we've finished with Harry."

"Of course, Cornelius. If you think I can help clear up this matter, I am most happy to do so."

"Are you ready to get started, Minister?" Davenport asked.

"Yes." He smiled at Harry again. "My schedule is rather tight, as you might imagine."

Davenport touched Harry's arm lightly and led him to the centre of the chamber and introduced him to the Magistrate, a surprisingly youthful looking wizard named Markus Glass, while Dumbledore, Remus, and Fudge settled on a nearby bench. Harry swore a wizard's oath to tell the truth, and as he sat down, he glanced in the direction of a quill that had been charmed to transcribe the session and was scratching away at a piece of parchment.

Instead of walking around in front of Harry, Davenport pulled up a chair and sat down just across from him, propping his elbows on his knees as if they were just having a casual conversation. Harry appreciated the attempt, but given his memories of the room, it was impossible not to feel as though he were about to be sentenced to Azkaban for a single misstep.

"Tell me about the night Sirius Black was murdered," Davenport began.

Harry told the tale again, beginning with McGonagall's summons and ending with his departure from Hogwarts in the early hours of the morning. Except for the soft scratching of the quill, the room was utterly silent as he spoke.

"Harry, what were you doing at Hogwarts to begin with?" Fudge asked. "I understood that you were to be spending the summer at your godfather's home in Hogsmeade."

"I was, but Professor Snape showed up one day and said that he'd heard of a plan to kidnap me. He and Sirius decided to move me to Hogwarts so that they could try to find whoever it was and stop them."

"Professor Snape."

"Yes, sir."

"And I understand that Professor Snape was also on hand the night Black died. Was alone in the room with him, in fact."

"Er, yes, sir."

"And why was that?"

"Professor Snape was the only one among us who had experience of the particular potion that killed Sirius Black," Dumbledore interjected. "He was able to make Sirius's last hours less painful than they might have been otherwise."

"Thank you, Albus," Fudge said, in a tone that said he was anything but thankful for the interruption. "But perhaps we should let Harry answer for himself."

"Professor Dumbledore is right, sir," Harry said with a small shrug. "The rest of us…well, it was hard being in there with him. We were glad that Professor Snape did what he did."

Fudge nodded. "I understand that before his death, Sirius Black made Professor Snape your godfather. Is that true?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you have any idea why?"

Harry shook his head. "None at all, sir. Sirius and Snape…" He flushed slightly and shot Dumbledore an apologetic look. "Er, Sirius andProfessor Snape never got along all that well. It was a surprise."

"Are you and Professor Snape particularly close?"

"No," Harry said slowly, "but he's always looked out for me, I think, in his own way, and I…er, I guess I like him better now than I used to."

"Because he's your godfather?"

"No." Harry didn't say any more than that, and for a moment, Fudge looked like he wanted to press, but then he decided against it.

"Go ahead, Herc. I'm sorry to have interrupted."

Auror Davenport nodded at the Minister and resumed his questioning, getting Harry to describe his flight from Hogwarts and his attempts to hide in London. When they came to the part where Pettigrew had cast the Imperious Curse and led Harry to the house, Davenport leaned forward in his chair, increasing the feeling of intimacy between them.

"I understand that you've been able to resist the Imperious Curse for quite some time," he said softly.

"Yes, sir. I was faking it with Pettigrew."


"At first I wasn't sure who had cast the curse. The pub was crowded, and it could have been anyone in there. So I let him lead me out of there and into the street. I wanted to see where he was going to take me. I wanted to find out who he was and what he was up to, but I wasn't going to let him lead me into that house, not knowing who or what was in there. I thought I could defend myself better out on the street, so I did."

"You defended yourself."

"Yes, sir."

"By casting the Cruciatus Curse."

"Yes, sir." Harry said the words clearly, making eye contact the entire time.

"You are aware, of course, that the Cruciatus Curse is an Unforgivable Curse under Wizard's Law."

"Yes, sir. But so is Imperious."

"Quite true," Davenport said. "So you felt that Cruciatus was your best means of defending yourself?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair and glanced at Dumbledore, whose face remained impassive. "I'm not sure I thought it through all that well," he admitted.

"I think we can all appreciate the fact that your emotions might have gotten the better of you just then," Fudge said heartily. "You'd been through quite a bit, my boy, and if your judgment was a little off, well, I think an exception can probably be made."

Harry looked at Fudge in surprise, feeling a rush of embarrassment and anger as he realized that an exception was being made for him, once again, because of his celebrity. He wanted to hand that right back to Fudge, and had the consequences been anything less than time in Azkaban, he probably would have. He was repulsed by his own hypocrisy. He insisted to everyone who would listen that he wanted to be treated like a normal person, but when faced with consequences a normal person would be expected to face, he wore his fame like a suit of armour.

"Herc, if I may?" Dumbledore said politely.

"Certainly, Albus." Auror Davenport nodded at the Headmaster.

"We made Harry a member of the Order in his sixth year at Hogwarts. In doing that, we made him a warrior in the battle against the Dark and gave him tacit permission to do whatever he needed to do to fight that battle. The rules are different in times of war. I think we can all acknowledge that. Harry cast an Unforgivable when he killed Voldemort, and in doing so, he became a hero. Why is what he did on Arnold Street any different? Peter Pettigrew and Neilus Finbar were fighting on the opposite side of the war."

"Now see here, Albus," Fudge said. "I can go along with what you're saying about Pettigrew - we've been after him for some time now, but I don't know that he and Neilus Finbar are in the same league. Pettigrew was a known Death Eater."

"As was Finbar," Dumbledore said reasonably.

Fudge cleared his throat. "Well, now, as to that…obviously Finbar was guilty in this matter. No one is disputing that. But there's no evidence that he was working with Voldemort in the last years. There's not a shred of evidence that Finbar was a player in the recent war."

"I think there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Neilus was a Death Eater," Dumbledore argued. "Beginning, of course, with the fact that he faked his own death during Voldemort's first reign. I can think of no legitimate reason for him to have done such a thing, can you?"

"I would have liked to have had the opportunity to ask him that very question," Fudge said nastily. "As it is, he is unable to testify, and the only concrete charge we can make against him is that he kidnapped Harry."

"And killed Pettigrew," Dumbledore added.

"And killed Pettigrew," Fudge agreed. "But I thought we had just agreed that killing Peter Pettigrew was an heroic act."

"It might have been heroic had the intent been to rid the world of a weak and dangerous man. Instead, the intent was to complete a potion that would have damaged Harry in the most dreadful way possible. I cannot call that an act of heroism, Cornelius." Dumbledore was looking thunderous, and Harry shrank back into his seat, wishing to be anywhere but where he was. The rest of his year was in History of Magic just about then, and for the first time in his life he longed to hear Professor Binns' droning voice. Anything was better than being trapped in the centre of the storm brewing between the Minister of Magic and the Headmaster of Hogwarts School.

"Minister," Davenport's reasonable voice inserted itself into the fray. "Perhaps we should let Harry finish telling his side of the story."

"Of course," Fudge said, giving the Headmaster a glance that said clearly that their conversation wasn't over.

"Harry, what happened after you cast the Cruciatus curse?" Davenport asked.

Harry gave Dumbledore another look and felt the panic rising again in light of Fudge's defence of Neilus Finbar. He could practically feel the dementors closing in on him.

Carefully measured truth…

He resumed his narrative, telling of being stunned and taken to Finbar's basement prison. He dwelt heavily on his discomforts there, though at the time they hadn't bothered him overmuch, and tried to paint Finbar with the darkest possible strokes, a man who had deserved to die.

Days were indistinguishable from nights in his underground prison, so his time in captivity had been measured in terms of his captor's brief visits with blocks of dreary solitude in between. It was a story of hunger and damp and drug-induced sleep but not one of fear, particularly, and he found that he couldn't manufacture that emotion, even to help further Dumbledore's cause, whatever it might be.

The room was utterly still and quiet as Harry told his tale, and Davenport rarely interrupted to clarify a point, preferring to let Harry tell his story in his own way. It was somewhat halting, and though Fudge and Davenport probably assumed it was because Harry was uncomfortable reliving the events, it was actually because he was trying to speak and self-edit at the same time. He resisted the urge to glance the Headmaster's way to see if his performance was satisfactory. He paused as he reached the point of the tale in which Hermione found her way into his prison.

"Some of this I don't actually remember," he admitted, keeping his eyes on Davenport. "I was kind of out of it by that time."

"We can get your friend in to testify if necessary, Harry," Davenport said gently. "Right now, just tell us what you actually remember."

"Well, Hermione says I woke up for a minute after I fell down the stairs. Apparently I knew she was there because I said her name, but I don't actually remember doing that. The first thing I remember was hearing her screaming. I woke up for real, then, and saw her lying on the ground just next to me. Finbar had his wand on her…torturing her with Cruciatus."

"Did you hear him cast the curse?" Davenport asked.

"No, sir. But it was obvious, wasn't it? She was screaming, and he had this look on his face…you could tell he was enjoying it." Harry felt a wave of revulsion at the memory of the look on Finbar's face and at the sudden realization that his face must have looked much the same way as he held his wand on Peter Pettigrew. The union of the two memories somehow mingled his love for Hermione and his hatred of Pettigrew, the latter tainting the former with its putrescence.

"And then what happened?" Davenport's soft voice jolted him back on track.

"And then…" Harry took a deep breath and spoke clearly into the echoing chamber. "And then I cast the killing curse."

"What?" Fudge's voice rang out as he sprang to his feet, his dark robes swirling around him. "What did you say?"

Harry swallowed hard and looked at Dumbledore, receiving a faint but reassuring nod. "I cast the killing curse, sir. Without my wand. Just like I did with Voldemort. I, uh, didn't really mean to. It just happened."

Fudge's eyes narrowed and he turned to Dumbledore. "Why am I just now hearing this, Albus?"

"Professor Snape preferred that that information be kept quiet. He wished to protect Harry. I was able to convince him that the truth must be told and assured him that I had all faith that the Ministry would recognize that Harry's act was one of self-defence."

The Minister's next words were low, spoken for Dumbledore's ears, and Harry could just barely make them out. "It seems to me that Harry's 'act' is less a defence of self than a defence of Snape. The boy admits he was confused and drugged. He's not capable of knowing whether he cast a wandless curse. Just exactly what are you on about here, Albus?"

Harry spoke up. "I remember it, sir. I was confused about a lot that day, but not about that. I remember cursing Finbar. Hermione saw it too. You can ask her."

"Yes, Hermione," Fudge said. "There are some things I would ask her, starting with what she was doing there in the first place."

"She was there with my permission, assisting Professor Snape in his search for Harry," Dumbledore said, and though he kept his voice low, Harry could hear fearsome undercurrents that would have sent him running for cover had they been directed his way.

"Do you often allow seventh-year schoolgirls to travel alone with their male professors?" Fudge asked snidely. "House them in your own vacation cottage? If so, we may need to have a discussion about the way you run your school."

"I will be happy to have that discussion anytime you wish, Cornelius. However, the answer is, of course, no. These circumstances were entirely unusual. Miss Granger is our brightest student and an exceptionally mature young woman. She accompanied Professor Snape because she was desperate to be of some use in the search for Harry. He accepted her help very reluctantly at first and would not have had her along at all had he not been concerned that she would endanger herself by striking out on her own."

"Quite the paragon of virtue your Professor Snape," Fudge said. "I shall be most interested to see how virtuous he appears when he gives his own testimony."

"Professor Snape will be happy to give you a truthful account of his own actions in this matter," Dumbledore said shortly, "but since he's not here at the moment, and Harry is, perhaps we should let Harry finish his deposition."

Fudge gave Dumbledore a rather nasty smile. "Of course, Albus. Herc, go on."

Davenport looked unsettled for the first time that day, clearly surprised by Harry's admission and by the fireworks that had followed it. He cleared his throat and turned back to Harry. "Harry, you say that you remember casting the killing curse. Do you remember seeing Professor Snape cast a curse?"

Harry shook his head. "No, sir. Casting Avada Kedavra without a wand leaves me feeling pretty strange. I don't remember much else about that day - just that I woke up and cast the curse, and then Hermione stopped screaming, and that's pretty much the last thing I remember."

"So you didn't see Professor Snape cast a curse at all?"

Harry looked surprised and his eyes flickered to Dumbledore before he answered. "Well, no," he said slowly, "but he said he did, and I don't know why he'd lie. And Hermione saw two flashes of green light at the same time, but she didn't know which curse landed first. It all just happened so fast…"

"I'm sure it was terribly confusing," Davenport said soothingly.

"Yes, indeed," Fudge said. "After an ordeal like that, I'm sure you were terribly impressionable."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean, sir," Harry said, thinking that he knew only too well. "Are you saying I'm making this up?"

"No, not at all," Fudge said. "Just that maybe your memories aren't quite as reliable as you'd like to think they are. Understandable, of course, given all you'd been through. A terrible ordeal. Tell me, Harry, what happened after Professor Snape and Miss Granger rescued you from the basement?"

"They took me back to Professor Dumbledore's cottage for a day or so. I was…well, depressed, I guess, and Professor Dumbledore brought a potion that helped with that. When I felt up to talking, I returned to Hogwarts to tell Professor Dumbledore my story."

"So you were alone with Professor Snape for more than a day before you returned to Hogwarts."

"Not alone, no. Hermione was still there. I spent most of my time with her."

"Did you talk about what had happened in the basement during that time?"

"Just when Professor Dumbledore came for lunch that next day. Other than that, they talked of other things, and I mostly didn't talk at all."

"What other things did they talk about?" Fudge asked.

"Really, Cornelius," Dumbledore protested, his irritation obvious. "Does that matter?"

"It certainly does," Fudge snapped, turning on Dumbledore with all pretence of civility gone. "It matters because it involves a man who was conducting an unauthorized missing persons investigation, a man who wore the Dark Mark up until a few months ago and who removed key evidence from both the Arnold Street house and from Finbar's house in Ireland. His wand was examined and was found to have cast the killing curse. I think his actions and conversations in the days just after that occurred have everything to do with this investigation. You've always had a blind spot for Snape, Albus. You've allowed him far too much latitude. If, indeed, he is working on the side of the Light, he's overstepped his bounds by far in this case."

"There can be no question that Severus Snape has been working on the side of the Light for many years now, and everything he did in this case was done with my full knowledge and support. I sent him out to find Harry, and he found him, rescuing him from an evil man. He deserves an Order of Merlin and the profound thanks of the entire wizarding world."

"You sent him out," Fudge repeated, his eyes glittering in a way that Harry thought made him look less than completely sane. "You seem to have a fairly broad interpretation of your duties as headmaster, Albus."

Dumbledore adjusted his half-moon spectacles and looked at Fudge calmly. "Cornelius, perhaps we should continue this conversation alone. Are you quite finished with Harry?"

"Gladly, Albus," Fudge said, still seeming to shimmer with anger. "Harry, you may be excused. Herc, would you show Harry and Lupin here to the back room? Markus," he looked at the Magistrate, who had remained silent and impassive throughout the entire proceeding, "Thank you. I'd like to meet with you and Herc later to discuss how we plan to proceed with this investigation."

Remus stood up and made his way toward Harry, who rose unsteadily from his seat. He had the feeling that he had failed, that he had said everything all wrong and somehow caused the battle for supremacy that was currently brewing between Dumbledore and Fudge, arguably the two most powerful men in the wizarding world. Harry had walked in fearing the dementors, but now it appeared that those fears were naïve. He was Harry Potter, a hero, and heroes didn't go to Azkaban. He should have been pleased, but instead he was terrified as he realized that he was in the midst of something much more complicated than he had originally understood it to be. In a sudden flash of insight, he realized that Dumbledore, too, had been surprised by Fudge's resentment of the Headmaster's authority, and the knowledge that Albus Dumbledore had been caught unawares did absolutely nothing to soothe Harry's frazzled nerves.

He cast a final look back at Dumbledore and Fudge and then followed Remus and Davenport through a door in the back corner of the hearing room. With sickening clarity, he remembered watching young Barty Crouch disappear through that same door, screaming out his false claims of innocence and begging his father for mercy he didn't deserve.

The door led to a small antechamber with several chairs and a simple table. Davenport gestured toward the chairs. "Make yourselves comfortable while you wait," he said hospitably. "I need to return to my office now, but I thank you, Harry, for coming here today. I know that much of what you had to tell us must have been unpleasant to relive."

Harry nodded. "Yes, sir, but, er…" He gave the Auror a pleading look. "You did believe me, didn't you?"

Davenport nodded once, quickly. "Of course."

"You can administer Veritaserum if you want to," Harry persisted. "I'm telling the truth."

The Auror gave Harry a small smile. "I doubt that will be necessary, Harry. I'll be in touch if I have any more questions." He gave Remus a farewell glance and then disappeared through one of the several doors in the room.

As the door closed behind him, Harry and Remus looked at each other, for a moment neither of them having any idea what to say.

"That was…interesting," Remus said finally.

"Tell me the truth," Harry said, putting his face in his hands. "How badly did I mess up?"

Remus shook his head. "I don't think you did, Harry. I think…well, it looks to me like Albus misjudged Fudge on this." He sounded slightly bewildered, and Harry understood because he felt the same way. Neither of them were used to a world in which Albus Dumbledore made mistakes. It felt like blasphemy to even suggest such a thing.

"But what is Fudge after?" Harry asked. "Do you think he's a Death Eater too?"

Remus's eyes narrowed as he considered Harry's question. "No," he said slowly. "I don't really think he is. I could be wrong, of course, but I think this is more about him resenting the fact that Albus took the leadership role in the war."

"He had his chance," Harry said hotly, "back when Voldemort first got his body back. Fudge wouldn't even believe that it had happened until people were already dying."

"I know. And he's still trying to live that down. I think much of what we just saw was about him challenging Dumbledore's authority."

"If Dumbledore hadn't sent Snape after me, I'd still be in the bloody basement," Harry snapped. "Why can't Fudge see that?"

Remus sighed. "He probably can, Harry. But he's not about to admit it."

"What do you think is going to happen?"

"I don't know," Remus said, shaking his head. "Let's hope that Albus is able to smooth some of this over."

Harry stared at the door to the hearing room. "I know an eavesdropping charm," he said.

Remus chuckled. "So do I. I also know that if we use it, Albus will be sure to know. We'll wait."

Harry scraped back his chair. "Well, if I can't eavesdrop, I need to find a loo. Any ideas?"

Remus shrugged. "Never been back here before."

There were four doors leading into the room. One led back out to the hearing room, and one was the one that Herc Davenport had gone through. Harry chose one of the other two. "I'll try this one." He opened the door and gasped as the chill swept over him and he was confronted by the ghastly spectre of a dementor, which immediately began to glide toward him, scabby grey hands outstretched. Harry felt the familiar clammy sensation come upon him and heard the cacophony of torturous sounds in his head. He heard Ron's voice shout "Harry!" just as he had in the moment before he met his death in a roaring flash of green light. He heard Sirius's weakened deathbed whispers and Hermione's screams echoing through the dank basement of Finbar's house…and then his mother's cries as she begged for his own life to be spared. In his utter shock, he waited too long to reach for his wand, and by the time the thought occurred to him, he was too weak, already sinking to the ground, sensible thoughts of self defence driven out of his head by the sound of his mother's voice harmonizing with Hermione's, pleas for mercy blending with shrieks of pain.

He was on his knees when he saw a flash of silver and the cries began to subside. The door slammed shut and strong hands clutched at his shoulders, helping him up and smoothing the sweat from his brow. "Didn't expect…" he gasped.

"How could you?" Remus asked, and his reasonable voice was an anchor, something solid in the swirl of grey. Harry clung to it as he waited for his vision to clear, allowing Remus to lead him back to the table. "Sit. I don't have any chocolate, I'm afraid."

"What the hell?" Harry asked, when the table swam into view and he felt he could speak coherently again. "What was that thing doing here?"

"Guarding a prisoner, I expect," Remus said. "Sirius told me that they often bring dementors from Azkaban when they transport prisoners for trial."

"There was a man in there," Harry said, as the image he had seen as he'd opened the door suddenly locked into place in his mind. "He was asleep on a cot or something."

"Stunned," Remus said.

"They keep prisoners stunned?"

"Until they go to trial, and then they're either released or taken back to Azkaban, depending on the outcome of the trial."

"Seems like Davenport could have warned us," Harry complained. "A dementor in the next room..."

"He obviously didn't expect us to go poking around," Remus said. "But I would think they'd at least lock the door."

Harry looked at his hands. They had stopped shaking, but he still had that clammy feeling down the back of his neck. He wished he had some chocolate to speed the recovery process.

"Do you still need to go to the loo?" Remus asked.

Harry gave him a sickly smile. "I didn't wet myself, if that's what you're asking."

Remus chuckled. "No. I was just going to offer to be the one to see what's behind door number four."

"S'okay," Harry said. "I think I'll just wait."

They sat quietly, letting Harry gather his strength, until the door opened and Dumbledore appeared. The Headmaster was alone, Fudge having returned to his office, and he spoke pleasantly to Harry and Remus. "Thank you for waiting. I believe we're done here. Shall we return to Hogwarts?"

Harry and Remus exchanged a glance. "Albus," Remus said, "Is everything all right?"

"I'm afraid I can't say at the moment, Remus," the Headmaster replied, and Harry wondered if that meant that Dumbledore didn't know or whether he just wasn't willing to discuss it, but he knew from experience that it was better not to ask. Apparently Remus did too, for he just nodded at Dumbledore, and reached for Harry's arm to help him out of his chair, a gesture that wasn't lost on the Headmaster. "Harry? Are you all right?"

"Yes, sir," Harry said. "I'm fine."

"Harry had a run-in with a dementor," Remus said, nodding at the opposite door. "There's a prisoner in there awaiting trial."

Dumbledore's mouth compressed into a thin line of displeasure. "Did it come out here?"

"Er, no, sir," Harry said, embarrassed. "I was looking for the loo."

The mouth twitched a bit then. "I see. Suppose we find one on the way out," he suggested.

"That sounds good, sir," Harry said with relief. His bladder had survived nervousness and a dementor, but he had his doubts, at this point, as to whether it would withstand the Floo network.

Dumbledore squeezed Harry's shoulder. "You did well today, Harry," he said softly. "I couldn't have asked for more."

"Minister Fudge…I wasn't sure…"

Harry looked at the Headmaster for reassurance, but the old man simply said, "Let's go."

They went.

§ § § §

The next day, Severus received a summons to Dumbledore's office. It came when he was in the middle of a class, and his emotions ranged from irritation at the inconvenience of the request to a thrill of fear at what lay behind it. By the time he made it to the Headmaster's door, he was merely resigned.

Dumbledore ushered Severus into his office, making an effort to exude his usual air of geniality. Severus was familiar enough with the man and his moods that he wasn't fooled. The words were right, but the Headmaster's light blue eyes were bleary and the lines around them seemed to have become more deeply engraved. He had worn much the same look at the height of the war. Severus allowed himself to be ushered into his usual chair, plied with tea and sweets, and beguiled into small talk about the progress of his classes that term, knowing that the Headmaster would eventually come to the real purpose of his summons.

Dumbledore sat in the chair opposite, cradling the teacup, the delicate china contrasting with his gnarled hands. They should have looked out of place together, the hands and the cup, but they didn't. There had been so many teas in the Headmaster's office over the years; the hands and the china had become wedded in Severus's imagination, mismatched lovers that had been together for so long that they no longer were mismatched at all but instead simply belonged. Dumbledore took a sip of his tea and gave Severus a small smile. "I do love a cup of tea around mid-morning,"

"And at every other hour of the day," Severus said dryly, tiring of the farce. "If you don't mind, Albus, could we get on with this? I left a class full of second years unattended. It'll be a miracle if the dungeons survive it."

"I've taken the liberty of releasing your class. I didn't much like the dungeon's chances myself, and I don't wish to hurry through this conversation."

"Must be important, then." Severus kept his tone light, but he shifted restlessly and set his unwanted tea to one side.

"It is." Dumbledore looked, for a moment, to be at a loss for words. He stared into his teacup as if it might suddenly reveal a desperately sought truth.

Severus's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "Is this the conversation where you tell me to pack for an all-expenses paid vacation at scenic Azkaban?"

Dumbledore looked up at him sharply. "If you don't mind, I'm not in the mood for gallows humour."

"I can't imagine why. It seems perfectly appropriate under the circumstances."

Dumbledore sighed. "I have failed you, Severus. I can see no humour in that."

"They're coming for me then."

Dumbledore nodded slowly. "They're coming. I'm not sure when, but I can see no way of stopping it. Every string I've pulled has broken. Every avenue of investigation into Barter's affairs has yielded naught. Harry gave his testimony yesterday, and it was simply discounted. There is no proof, of course, that he cast a curse, and Fudge claims that he was too confused in the basement to know what he was doing. Before we left, he told me that they have magically confined you to the castle and put a trace on your wand. There will be a trial…perhaps then…"

"The trial will be a mere formality, Albus. We both know that." He was trying to keep the bitterness at bay, but it was creeping into his voice. For the past week, he had gone about his business, taught his classes, and avoided Hermione's eyes at meals and in the classroom lest she see something there he didn't want her to see. He had tried to ignore the threat that was hanging over him. He had thought he was as prepared as he could be, that worrying would do no good, but now he was being confronted with the reality, and he realized that true preparation wasn't possible.

"The Muggles' justice system is imperfect at best, but I have always believed it more fair than what passes for justice in the wizarding world," Dumbledore said heavily. "This is a mockery."

"Or, perhaps not," Severus said, and the bitterness was spilling out now. "Perhaps it is simply justice long overdue."

"Nonsense!" Dumbledore snapped, rising from his chair and beginning to pace. "You have paid whatever debt you incurred as a young man many times over. And all whilst I…" He paused at the window and made a visible effort to get control of himself. The hands that had cradled the teacup so securely just moments before were trembling as he pressed them against the glass. Severus watched in a kind of bleak fascination – even with the darkness closing in on him, the sight of Albus Dumbledore in a state of such obvious distress was enough to command his rapt attention.

"The view is lovely from here, isn't it?" Dumbledore asked softly, and Severus knew that he wasn't changing the subject.


"Have you figured it out yet, Severus? Do you now understand why Sirius chose you to be Harry's godfather, rather than Remus or me?" Dumbledore turned from the window, his tired blue eyes seeking Snape's dark ones from across the room.

"Not…entirely," Severus said. "I do begin to think that it was more than just a deathbed attempt at ruining my life."

Dumbledore smiled slightly at that. "No, it wasn't that at all. Sirius knew that Harry was destined to do great things, but he also realized that Harry wouldn't do his great things from the safety of an Ivory Tower. I planned, plotted, and schemed, Severus, in this war against Voldemort and his filthy followers, and then I sat a safe distance away, keeping my hands carefully clean, whilst allowing my children to risk their lives winning a war I should have been fighting myself. I told myself that I was helping in other ways. I told myself that I was more valuable as a general than a foot soldier."

"You are," Severus insisted, feeling something twisting in his gut. He suddenly remembered sitting at the breakfast table, a scrawny nine-year-old thinking of playing Quidditch that day, when an owl arrived telling them that his father had died. On that day, a deep crack had run through the foundation of his existence, not because he had lost his father but because he had seen his mother cry for the first time. Watching Dumbledore humble himself gave him the same feeling of emotional vertigo. For many years, the only sure thing in his life had been Dumbledore's steady presence in that tower.

"No. No, I'm not," Dumbledore said wearily. "Not if I can't find a way to defeat a man like Horatio Barter. Not if, when it matters the most, I can't find a way to save you – to see justice done for poor Sirius. What good am I if I can't do that?"

"You're forgetting that I'm absolutely guilty of the charges being made against me," Severus said. "I killed Finbar in cold blood – assuming my curse landed first – and even if Potter's curse was the killing curse, I certainly meant to kill him, which is just as bad…You know, Potter asked me, back in Ireland, if I had 'felt it.' He was speaking of the lure of the Dark, Albus, talking about the pleasure he took in cursing Pettigrew. I avoided giving him a direct answer, but you and I both know that there was no member of the Order more susceptible to the Dark than I. I killed Neilus Finbar because at that moment, I hated him and I wanted him dead. I didn't want there to be the slightest risk that our 'justice' system – which I agree is a mockery – would set him free. I killed him, and I…took pleasure in it. He was my teacher, my Head of House, and I stepped over his dead body without the slightest feeling of remorse. If I am now finding the consequences of that act less than pleasant, I certainly do not blame you for failing to protect me from my own base impulses."

Dumbledore crossed the room again and approached Severus's chair. "He was torturing the woman you love, Severus, for all that the love was unacknowledged at the time. Few men could look on that and behave other than as you did."

"You could," Severus said quietly.

"Perhaps," Dumbledore agreed, his head bowed. "But to see evil in action and to fail to stop it in its tracks hardly seems something to be proud of. What does that make me?"

"It makes you a general and me a foot soldier."

"I am sorry, Severus." Dumbledore placed his aged hand gently on the younger man's shoulder, and very briefly, Severus covered it with his own smooth one.

"So am I."

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 22 of 27

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