Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 23 of 27

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"Mr. Potter, see me after class."

Harry looked up from his cauldron, startled, as the voice of his potions master and godfather sliced through the softly humming classroom. "Yes, sir." He glanced at Hermione then, but she merely gave him the barest shrug. Severus had hardly glanced her way in a week, something that was gnawing at her; she was hardly in a position to know what was on his mind.

A few minutes later, Harry waited quietly in his seat as his classmates filed out. Snape didn't glance his way as the classroom emptied, continuing to scratch his quill over a stack of parchments.

Finally, Harry cleared his throat. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

Snape looked up, sweeping the room with his dark eyes. Satisfied that they were alone, he raised his wand and locked the door with a muttered charm, and then he surprised Harry by coming to sit in the student's seat across the aisle from him.

"We need to talk."

"Yes, sir?"

"Are you still planning to leave us?"

Harry nodded slowly. "Yes. I have been considering staying here long enough to take my N.E.W.T.'s but after that…well, my plans are the same."

"I have made some preliminary arrangements, but to formalize them will require that you put a substantial amount of trust in me. I realize that I've probably done little to earn that trust. It can't be helped."

"I trust you," Harry said automatically, but he realized he said the words that they were actually true. As Hermione had pointed out, if Snape had wanted to get rid of him, or to hurt him, he could have done so easily. Instead, the man had tried to help at every opportunity. Harry saw belatedly that Snape had been doing that for years. Like a Muggle magician performing sleight-of-hand tricks, he had seen to it that Harry – and everyone else – had stayed focussed on his harsh words and apparently unfair treatment, deflecting attention from the times he had stepped in and come to Harry's rescue. Harry had been fooled; apparently Sirius had not.

Snape seemed unimpressed by the protestation of faith. "You haven't heard what I'm going to ask of you yet," he said impatiently. "I'm going to draft a parchment instructing Gringotts to transfer all of your inheritance to a Muggle bank in France. The account will be held in my stepfather's name, and he will make the funds available to you upon request, no questions asked. He will also be in a position to offer other assistance, including shelter for a brief time if need be. As he's a Muggle, he won't be able to help you with anything to do with magic, but if you're planning on living as a Muggle, that shouldn't matter."

"Your stepfather is a Muggle?" Harry asked incredulously. "You're joking."

"Of course I'm not joking," Snape snapped. "Why is that everyone's first reaction?"

"Well…you're a Slytherin."

Snape fixed him with a baleful look that would have sent most of his students running for cover. "Contrary to popular belief, 'Slytherin' is not necessarily synonymous with 'bigot.' I assure you that my stepfather, for all that he is a Muggle, is as canny as any Slytherin ever was. He will make you a powerful ally."

"OK," Harry said. "Like I said, I trust you."

Snape nodded. "Very well. I'll draft the order tonight and have it ready for you to sign tomorrow."

Harry shrugged. "That's fine, but there's no real rush. I'm not going anywhere for a while."

"You're not, but I may be," Snape said. "I gave you my word that I would help you. I would prefer not to leave any loose ends."

"The Ministry yesterday…" Harry began, realizing what Snape meant. "Do you mean…?"

Snape nodded. "It appears that Magical Law Enforcement will be coming for me soon."

"They can't do that!" Harry exclaimed. "I told them that I cursed Finbar too."

"Be that as it may," Snape said harshly, "for various reasons, MLE has decided to make an example of me. I've been branded a vigilante – which is, in all honesty, a fairly apt description in light of my activities over the summer. It appears that I will be prosecuted, and if prosecuted I certainly will be convicted."

Harry's eyes widened as he comprehended the full meaning of Snape's words. "But, that's not right!" he exclaimed. "You were trying to rescue me. He was torturing Hermione."

"We've already discussed this, Potter. I was behind him. I could have stunned him and called the Aurors. I made a different choice."

"But…" Harry looked at Snape, thinking back to the conversation they'd had before he had returned to Hogwarts. "You told me back in Ireland that you were glad you made the choice you had. Do you still feel that way?"

Snape became absorbed with a spot of stone wall just over Harry's shoulder, and for a minute Harry thought he wouldn't answer. "When I made that choice, I had…less to lose than I have now. In hindsight, I wish I'd chosen differently." His gaze shifted from the wall and focused on Harry with glittering intensity. "Remember that, Potter, if you don't remember another thing I've ever taught you. Always consider all the possible consequences of your actions. Never make a choice until you're sure you can live with the ramifications."

"I am sure." Harry looked furious. "I'll tell them that my curse is the one that killed Finbar. I'll just…say I suddenly remember or something. I'll tell them I'm sure."

"I'm touched," Snape said sarcastically, "but they have no interest in hearing that, and you have no way of proving it even if they did. This isn't about justice; it's about revenge. It's about finding any excuse to toss me in Azkaban. I happen to have provided them with a conveniently legitimate excuse. They're not going to let go of it no matter what anyone says."

"What can I do?"

"Nothing…No, that's not true." Snape gave Harry a raw look he couldn't immediately identify. "There is one thing."


"It will be…hard on her at first. Help her, if you can."

"It'll kill her," Harry whispered.

"Don't be ridiculous!" Snape's brows snapped together and he pinned Harry with his most vicious glare. "It most certainly will not do that. Give her some credit. And in the meantime, keep your mouth shut. I'll not have her worrying."

Harry nodded mutely, but privately he wished Snape asked him to take over the teaching of Potions classes – or some equally ridiculous thing - rather than giving him the impossible task of consoling Hermione. And how on earth was he supposed to keep this from her? Wouldn't it be kinder to give her some warning? However, Snape's face said that he would hear of no discussion on the matter, so Harry kept quiet.

"We need to talk about one more thing," Snape said, sounding suddenly tired and anxious to send Harry on his way..

"Yes, sir?" Privately, Harry was thinking, "There's more?" and Snape's next words came as a relief.

"Your independent study. Professor Dumbledore has asked me to oversee it. It appears that I will be unable to do that in the long term, but I have prepared a syllabus for you and spoken to the professors you will be working with. Professors Flitwick and McGonagall will instruct you in advanced techniques in their subject areas, and Professor Dumbledore will work with you on wandless magic. I have not bothered to get to know the latest in the series of geniuses that our Headmaster has hired to teach Defence, so I had planned to instruct you in that subject myself. We can begin that way, at any rate. If I am…called away, I will leave behind a request that Remus Lupin take over your instruction, perhaps in conjunction with Professor Dumbledore."

"It sounds like a lot of extra work," Harry blurted.

Snape rolled his eyes. "You have been given special permission to drop one of your classes. I would recommend Divination, but if you want to make it Potions I won't object. Hermione can tutor you in what you need to know for your N.E.W.T.'s - though it hardly matters if you're planning to run away again immediately afterwards."

"No, Divination is fine. I'll keep Potions."

"I'm flattered."

"Don't be. I just…couldn't let Hermione come down here by herself."

Snape closed his eyes briefly. "Point taken." He drew a ragged breath and returned to the subject at hand. "Well then. You'll need to speak with each of your instructors to set up a regular meeting time at mutual convenience. Do that tomorrow, if you can, and plan to begin your independent study next week."

"Yes, sir."

Snape stood up, indicating that the discussion was over, and Harry followed suit. He looked at Snape, stiff and foreboding as ever, his face appearing to have been carved out of stone. He looked utterly unapproachable, yet Harry knew he might not have another chance to say what he was feeling.

"I'm sorry, Professor," he said hoarsely, hanging his head. "I feel like this is all my fault, and I don't know how to fix it."

"It's not your fault, and I don't expect you to fix it," Snape said, his voice distant. "Don't try to be the hero on this one, Potter."

"Hero," Harry spat bitterly, his head snapping up and green eyes flashing behind the oval lenses of his glasses. "That's a laugh, isn't it?"

"That isn't what I meant," Snape said, and his voice had softened slightly. "Of course you're capable of being a hero. You've proven that. But you've also learned that heroism, like vigilantism, comes with a price. I do not wish to see you pay that price on my behalf. Get away from this place while you still can. Run away, Harry."

Harry. The word echoed, bouncing off the cold stone walls. Harry looked up in wonder, searching his strange, new godfather's face for signs of sarcasm and finding none, only a resigned sorrow lurking behind the hooded black eyes. He had no words to respond to the unexpected, unprecedented validation from Severus Snape, but one hand reached for the older man, bridging the distance between them and closing lightly over Snape's forearm. The arm went rigid beneath his fingers and the black eyes flared with surprise and something else, something Harry couldn't quite read, before hardening into the familiar glare as Snape pulled away.

"Get out of here, Potter. I'm afraid stupidity is contagious, and at the moment, I haven't the time to work on an antidote."

The words might have wounded had Harry not noticed the slight softening of the other man's features, a blurring of the sculptor's harsh lines. So instead of a retort, he just nodded and said, "Yes, sir. Thank you for your time."

Snape nodded a stiff acknowledgement, and reached for his wand to unlock the classroom. Harry gathered up his things, and though he didn't turn around, he felt intense eyes burning into his back as he walked out the door.

§ § § §

It was late that night when Severus made it to his chambers, having spent more than an hour ironing out a dispute in the Slytherin common room. The simple solution - simply bashing the students' heads together - was incompatible with Dumbledore's policies, more's the pity, so he had been forced into the role of mediator before he could decide who merited what in the way of punishment. A condemned man meting out justice. He snorted bitterly at the ludicrousness of that and then fixed a drink and crossed to his desk, taking out two pieces of parchment and his favourite quill.

The first letter was simple, really, despite its portent. He drafted an instruction to the Gringotts goblins to transfer Harry Potter's inheritance to the Banque de France and then checked his owl from his stepfather and named the specific account number and other pertinent information. Tomorrow after breakfast, he would have Potter sign it and seal it with his own unique magical seal, and having done that and arranged for the independent study, his brief stint as godfather to The Boy Who Lived would be over.

He set the message to Gringotts aside and drained his glass, re-filling it before reaching for the second sheet of parchment, dipping his quill into the ink, and cleaning the nib with care. This second letter would not be easy at all.

My Dear Hermione,

I am being forced into an appreciation of irony. I forbade you making me any promises and yet rashly allowed myself the luxury of promising that I would be waiting for you when you finished school. By the time you get this, you will have learned that I am unable to keep my word.

You never asked me directly about the sins I committed in the past. We had so little time, and I can hardly blame you for not wanting to spend precious moments so sordidly. For the same reason, I will not waste my time enumerating those sins now. You surely know, however, that I did not leave Voldemort's service blameless, nor would I have pledged myself to Dumbledore's cause if I hadn't felt that I owed the world some reparation for my previous actions. I am not, at heart, a very good and selfless man, and I will not pretend that I am, even for you.

If I am honest with myself – and with you – I must admit that I deserved my current fate long ago and escaped it only through Dumbledore's intervention. I do not regret committing the crime for which I am now being prosecuted, particularly given your treatment at Neilus Finbar's hands, but there are others I regret deeply, and for those I walked free. In the end, I will be condemned for my service to the Light, while my service to the Dark goes unpunished.


I took such care, for so many years, to make sure that if I met an end such as this one, I would leave no one behind to mourn. Had we been brought together in the cottage while Voldemort still walked the earth, I never would have considered allowing you close to me, no matter how tempting the prospect. I made the mistake - somehow - of equating Voldemort with evil itself, when in fact, he was just one particularly vile incarnation of it. I should have known better. Damn it! I should have known better! But I didn't, and after all my years of careful seclusion, I thought that with Voldemort gone it might finally be safe to accept the gift of a beautiful young mind and heart that - for reasons I still can't discern - sparked to mine. You said to me one awkward and memorable night that you thought I deserved to have friends and people who loved me. Perhaps. But do you regret counting yourself among that small number? For now I learn that it wasn't "safe" at all and that all my years of seclusion were wasted, and you will be the one left behind to pay the price.

Dare I mention irony again? I fear I become tedious with repetition.

I told Potter today that I might have made a different choice in Finbar's basement had I known what I would have to lose when the consequences came raining down. I do not regret killing Neilus Finbar, but I regret being punished for it very much. (It sounds childish, when put like that; perhaps my students are rubbing off on me.) I think that he needed to die, not only for what he had done to Potter, and to you, but because of the threat he posed to the world at large. However, if I had known that killing him meant leaving you, I would have let him live. That twisted protestation of love is all I have to offer you now, and you deserve better.

You deserve a love letter, full of flowery declarations and praises of your beauty, your intelligence, your wit. You will not get that from me, not because I don't feel those things for you but because the time for those things has passed, and I am simply not capable of them now. I have spent the last week rebuilding the walls you tore down in our few short days together, and so instead, you will get a disquisition on irony - and an apology.

For I am sorry, Hermione. I have moved between Darkness and Light for so long that they have blended into shadow and I often cannot distinguish between them. Your young heart doesn't belong in the shadows. My only consolation lies in your strength - a strength I never dreamed of until I got to know you and felt it for myself. You will survive my loss as you have survived others. You will move on. If those sound like direct orders - they are. I am in charge…remember that? Please do this final thing for me, and then you may consider our agreement null and void.

I love you,


He put down the quill with a shuddering breath and reached for his drink, draining the last of it in one long draught. He didn't bother re-reading what he had written. It was inadequate, but there was nothing that could make this better, so there was no point in labouring over it. He would leave it in his laboratory for her. His preparations would then be complete.

§ § § §

Severus growled the day's instructions to his third-year class and then settled at his desk to grade sixth-year parchments, occasionally casting an experienced eye around the room for signs of an impending disaster. He saw no smoke and smelled no telltale fumes, thank fortune, but he rolled his eyes as he noticed new silver earrings glinting in the ears of no fewer than six thirteen-year-old Harry Potter admirers. Boys all over the castle were suddenly sporting earrings. The older students were mostly ignoring the fad, either because they had settled confidently into their own style or because they had known Harry for long enough that his star power had waned for them. The younger students were susceptible, however.

The irony was not lost on Severus. Harry had gotten the earring because he didn't want to look like Harry Potter; he didn't want to be Harry Potter. Now half of Hogwarts was getting earrings because they did want to be Harry. Everyone wanted to be The Boy Who Lived except the boy who had actually done it.

And Severus couldn't blame him. He had spent years hating Harry, thinking that Harry cultivated and basked in his fame, and perhaps he had – a little – as a child. But the child was nearly a man now, and whatever lustre fame had once held for him had been tarnished by loss. If he remained in the wizarding world, he would live the rest of his life marked by the shadow of the scar that had once branded him an infant hero. He would live a distorted life, one that promised greatness at great personal cost. Severus would not force that upon him. The boy was old enough to choose, and he was choosing to walk away.

Harry had signed the order to Gringotts that morning and the owl had been dispatched. The first steps had been taken to help Harry Potter disappear from the wizarding world. Eventually, it would come out that Severus Snape, the boy's own godfather, had aided and abetted that disappearance. He spent little time worrying about what the history books would have to say about such a man. He doubted they would have had anything flattering to say about him anyway. And these children, with their foolish attempts at imitation hanging from their ears, would never know the truth of Harry Potter. They would be taught about The Boy Who Lived, but the unpleasant truth of his years locked in a cupboard would be glossed over. They would be taught about the boy who defeated Voldemort, but Ron Weasley and Sirius Black would be mere footnotes to a tale of glory.

How close Severus also had come to missing the point of Harry Potter. How close he had come to missing the similarities between them. While Harry was in a cupboard, Severus had been in a dungeon. While Harry lost his best friend and his godfather, those losses had triggered a series of bizarre events that had led Severus Snape to the very brink of happiness, only to have it snatched away.

It was now impossible, of course, since he had been bound to the castle, but when he had first learned of the threat of prosecution, he had thought of running away – of course he had. He was a wizard, after all, and he knew he could disappear if he put his mind to it. He was helping Potter do that very thing. But he lacked the energy, somehow. Freedom, in that case, would come at the cost of more years of hiding – perhaps a lifetime of it – and that wasn't freedom at all. Besides, he would only want to go if he could take her with him, and that was impossible. She held too much promise to spend a lifetime hiding out with a convicted killer. He would not waste her life, and she would be much more likely to get on with that life if she knew that he was gone and never coming back. A dementor's kiss should solve that problem neatly enough – and he was sure that Barter would see to it that his punishment was nothing less than that.

His affairs were in order. He had done what he could for Harry, made the necessary arrangements for his stepfather to serve as godfather-by-proxy and to keep the boy's financial house in order until he was ready to handle those matters himself. It was all that Severus Snape could do. Whatever was coming, he would face it without flinching. Would she think him brave or foolish for accepting his fate? He hadn't known her long enough or well enough to be sure. What they'd had together was a mere glimpse at a possible future, an ethereal dream that now would never be realized. In a way, that made his situation more painful. He had tasted the sweetness of hope only to have it turn bitter in his mouth, but he would savour even the bitterness as long as it was left to him. It wouldn't be long now.

He looked up in surprise and noted the third-years collecting their things and putting away their cauldrons and supplies. Nothing had exploded, but neither had he graded the first parchment. Even during his years as a spy, he had been able to disassociate from the tangled morass of his second life and focus on his responsibilities as a Hogwarts professor. He had never been given to lengthy contemplation in the classroom, but he thought that a man in imminent danger of losing his soul to a dementor had the right to let his mind wander a bit while it still could.

So it was in this contemplative state that he climbed the steps that led from the dungeon to the corridor above and found Harry and Hermione walking alone toward the Great Hall. He stopped short, and so did she. It was the closest they had come to being alone together since they had left the cottage, the nearest they had been to one another with the exception of their time in the potions classroom, when their act was, by necessity, in full force.

His face was impassive, locked in its harsh mask, but as their eyes met for the first time in days, the current of emotion that ran between them was so apparent that it charged the air around them and made Harry step backward, feeling suddenly intrusive.

He wasn't aware of making any decision, but in several long strides he was upon her, pulling her into his arms and crushing his lips to hers. Dimly, he heard her book bag hit the floor with a heavy thud and felt her arms come around his neck, clinging to him even after he reluctantly pulled away and took a shuddering breath. He held her in the strong circle of his arms and she smiled up at him.

"What was that for?" she asked shakily.

"Because I could," he murmured, closing his eyes against everything he saw on her face. He couldn't explain about the consuming desire to taste the sweetness one last time – couldn't explain anything, really. He just touched her hair, smoothing it away from her forehead and kissing her softly on her brow before releasing her and stepping away.

All too soon, she would realize that the gesture had been one of benediction and farewell.

§ § § §

Minerva McGonagall relied on her prefects and her Head Girl to maintain order and discipline in the Gryffindor tower and seldom put in an appearance there herself. Students met with Professor McGonagall in her office, and she left them their living quarters as a mostly staff-free zone. In fact, she had not been seen in the Gryffindor common room since the night she had come to fetch Harry and Hermione to the bedside of a dying Sirius Black, and it was with a dark sense of déjà vu that she approached the Fat Lady under orders to bring those same two students to the Headmaster's office. In previous years, she would have assumed some infraction of the rules, but as mature seventh year students, and without Ron Weasley to complete the triumvirate, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger had given her no indication that they were apt to cause trouble.

And she hadn't liked the look on the Headmaster's face at all.

Hermione and Harry were studying at their usual table in the common room, which went suddenly quiet as the Head of Gryffindor House emerged through the portrait hole. The two friends looked up and exchanged an uneasy glance as they saw McGonagall heading their way.

"Professor?" Hermione asked.

"I've been asked to escort you two to the Headmaster's office," McGonagall said briskly.

"Has something happened?" Harry felt his stomach start to churn.

"Professor Dumbledore did not tell me why he wishes to see you, Mr. Potter. He simply indicated that you should come immediately."

Harry nodded and stacked his books, and Hermione followed suit. They felt every eye in the common room upon them as they followed their Head of House out of the portrait hole. The sound of their footsteps echoing in the hollow stone corridors evoked the chilling memory of the night Sirius had died, and the two Gryffindors instinctively moved closer together, their shoulders nearly touching as they approached the Headmaster's office.

McGonagall gave the password and escorted them inside, where they found Albus Dumbledore adding wispy thoughts to his pensieve. He was grave as he looked up at them, without a trace of his usual good humour.

"Thank you for coming, children. Please sit down. Minerva, I'd like for you to stay, too. This concerns all of us."

They sat obediently, and for the first time in any of their memories, they weren't offered any type of refreshment. Instead, Dumbledore came around his desk and leaned against it, standing directly in front of Hermione.

"I have some dreadful news," he said. "And since there is no way of softening it, I won't waste my time trying. Severus has been taken to Azkaban."

Three people, three very different responses. Minerva gasped, looking at Albus Dumbledore as if this might perhaps be some sort of a bizarre joke. Harry's face hardened into lines of obvious anger and his green eyes blazed. Hermione, however, sat frozen, her hands folded carefully in her lap.

Dumbledore knelt down before her chair, his long beard sweeping the floor at her feet. "There is still hope, my dear. We mustn't give up hope. There will be a formal Ministry hearing before any final sentence is passed down. I confess that I hoped to prevent it going even this far, but I've not given up on securing his freedom."

"He was right," Harry said furiously. "He said this was about revenge rather than justice, and he was absolutely right. They're not going to let him go, Professor, no matter what we say."

"You knew." Hermione's voice was low, without inflection. "This morning…he was telling me goodbye, wasn't he? And you knew it."

"I'm sorry," Harry whispered. "He made me promise not to say anything." He reached for her hand, but she pulled it away.

She felt raw and fragile. She didn't want to be touched. She didn't even want to move, as if by staying still and perfectly quiet she might hide from the avalanche of feelings that threatened to come crashing down on her. She had cried when they had parted at the cottage, but this was a grief far beyond tears. It was beyond expression of any sort, and so she stayed still and pulled her pain over and around her like a shroud.

Minerva McGonagall was an intelligent woman, and even if she had been less intelligent she would have been able to glean from the situation that Severus Snape and Hermione Granger had a relationship that was vastly different from what she had imagined it to be. It didn't take a genius, after all, to gather that the girl had not been reduced to a state of utter devastation by the loss of her least favourite professor. However, Minerva was also intelligent enough to know that Hermione's grief was not the central point she needed to pursue just then, and there was much about the situation that she was not able to grasp from context. She, like everyone else, was accustomed to feeling a step or two behind in conversations with the Headmaster, but in this case, everyone in the room seemed to be far ahead of her. She felt as if she were trying to make sense of a parchment that had been thoroughly drenched in a rainstorm so that only every third or fourth word was actually legible. The rest was a blurry mess.

"Albus…" she began.

"I apologize, Minerva. You are understandably confused, and I will do what I can to enlighten you." He began then with Harry's disappearance, telling of all that had occurred that week, leaving out only the parts that belonged to Hermione and Severus alone. He finished with their trip to the Ministry two days before, and the Minister's refusal to accept that Harry's curse might have been the one that killed Finbar. Hermione remained still, appearing slightly dazed, but Harry sat forward and absorbed everything he could.

"There's more, I'm afraid," Dumbledore said, looking at Harry. "They are threatening to prosecute you as well, for casting the Cruciatus curse. Our Minister is a weak man, I'm sorry to say, subject to manipulation by those he perceives as powerful. Unfortunately for us, Horatio Barter is just such a man. He's convinced Fudge that to let you off scot-free will be to invite a public relations scandal – one that he would conveniently engineer, of course. Fudge knows better than to underestimate Barter's influence in the publishing business. He's threatening to tell the public that your celebrity status has placed you above the law."

"I was defending myself," Harry protested angrily.

"Of course. It's an empty threat designed to scare you so that you'll cooperate with them."

"What do they want?"

Dumbledore sighed and removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes in a weary gesture. "They want you to testify against Severus. The only way they can justify the most severe penalty is if they have a witness to the fact that he killed Neilus Finbar without first being attacked himself. Miss Granger doesn't qualify because she was under the effects of the Cruciatus curse at the time. Even if that wasn't the case, her, ah…personal relationship with Severus would disqualify her as a witness."

Hermione raised her eyes for the first time. "How do they know about that?"

"I'm not sure they do - for certain, at any rate. They've made insinuations - hoping, I suspect, that I would either confirm or deny them. It seems that a young man who works for Barter met you while you were pretending to be Severus's cousin at the King house and then later learned who you really were."

"Gregor," she said softly. "I ran into him at Gringotts when I was in Diagon Alley to get supplies."

"Yes, well, I think he just mentioned it to Barter in passing, but the fact that you were accompanying Severus at all - and in disguise - was sufficiently suspicious to raise some questions."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I saw Gregor, and then Ginny and Mrs. Weasley arrived before I had time to come up with any sort of a story for him. I didn't know what to do…"

"It doesn't matter now, my dear," Dumbledore said gently. "Severus wasn't sent to Azkaban for falling in love with a student."

"He wasn't sent to Azkaban for killing Finbar either," Harry snapped.

"No, not entirely," Dumbledore agreed. "He was sent to Azkaban for being a traitor to a cause that both Barter and Finbar held dear. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble proving it. Barter is scrupulously careful about keeping his own hands clean."

"Surely Fudge must know!" Harry exclaimed. "If Barter wasn't involved in my kidnapping, why would he be involving himself in the investigation now?"

Dumbledore sighed. "It's complicated, Harry, and there are parts that even I don't understand yet. Barter and Finbar were friends, years ago, before Finbar faked his death. Barter doesn't deny that friendship, nor does he deny that Finbar was involved in your kidnapping. He is simply claiming that for the sake of his old friendship, he wants to be sure that justice is served. He is making all sorts of accusations against Professor Snape, including saying that he was actually the mastermind behind the plot to kidnap you."

"That's rubbish!" Harry exclaimed, clenching his hands into fists.

"Yes. Yes it is. Unfortunately that's difficult to prove. Many of Professor Snape's actions can be cast in a very unflattering light, beginning twenty years ago with his conceiving the potion Finbar planned to use. I can find no evidence that Barter ever wore the Dark Mark; he may have been one of those wizards who provided Voldemort's cause with financial support rather than involving himself directly in the dirty work. I think I could prove that, given more time, but right now all we have is a powerful and influential man making accusations against a known Death Eater. Minister Fudge sees this as an opportunity to curry favour with that influential man."

"And to get back at you," Harry said.

The Headmaster bowed his head. "Unfortunately, Harry, I think that may be true."

"What if I just tell them that my curse is the one that killed Finbar?" Harry asked desperately. "What if I tell them I'm sure?"

"There's no proof that you even cast a curse. They'll say you're making it up to protect Professor Snape."

"But Hermione was there. She knows I cast a curse. I told them that."

"And who would have more interest in protecting Severus than Hermione? If her testimony were admitted at all, she would have to admit to their relationship under oath. It would only serve to make Severus look worse."

Harry began pacing the office. "What do we do?"

"You will have to make a decision, Harry. I cannot tell you what to do. You've been given a choice by the Ministry – you can testify against Professor Snape and the charges against you will be dropped, or you can face charges of casting an unforgivable curse when other options were available to you."

Harry continued to pace, glancing occasionally at Hermione. The office was silent except for the scuff of his soles against the Headmaster's thick carpet and the soft swish of his robes. Finally he stopped and looked at Dumbledore. "I'll do it. I'll testify against Professor Snape." Hermione's head snapped up and she stared at Harry, uncomprehending. "I have two conditions though."

Dumbledore kept his face neutral, showing neither approval nor disapproval at Harry's words. "Yes, Harry?"

"It has to be a public hearing, and Professor Snape has to be present while I give my testimony. If he's not there, I won't say a word, and they'll have to prosecute The Boy Who Lived and toss him in Azkaban. I don't think Fudge really wants to do that, do you?"

"No, I don't," Dumbledore agreed, and then, "Harry, what exactly do you have in mind?"

"Sir, I think you'd probably rather not know."

The two men's eyes met, and Dumbledore nodded. "Very well. I hope you'll come to me if there's anything I can do to help."

"Albus, is this wise?" McGonagall protested, little understanding what it was that she was objecting to but knowing enough of Harry's history to be unnerved by the determined look on his face.

"Wisdom alone has not sufficed, Minerva. I believe Harry thinks it's time to take some risks."

Harry nodded. "Thank you, sir."

"Harry?" Hermione looked utterly confused.

"Please trust me, Hermione."

She nodded slowly and then cast her eyes back down to the hands that were folded carefully in her lap. She understood that Harry had something in mind – something to help Severus – but she couldn't find it in her to feel hope just then. She couldn't feel anything at all. She was hollow, fragile - delicately blown glass teetering on a precipice, a breath away from shattering completely.

"Severus anticipated tonight's events," Dumbledore said. "He left several things in my care." He reached for a small box and handed it to Harry. "This is for you, Harry. Severus said that you might have need of it in the future."

Harry accepted the box, which felt empty. "What is it, sir?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "I don't know. He didn't tell me."

Harry tucked the box into his robes to be opened later, and Dumbledore reached for a sealed roll of parchment and handed it to Hermione. "This is for you, my dear. It contains the passwords for Severus's private laboratory. He indicated that the entire contents were to be at your disposal. I believe you'll find some sort of communication from him waiting for you there."

It was too much, and Hermione began to tremble, first the hands that held the parchment and then her arms, and finally she was shivering uncontrollably, her teeth chattering as if she were outside in the cold instead of in the Headmaster's comfortable office. There were still no tears; perhaps they had frozen in the chill that was overtaking her.

McGonagall glanced at Hermione and then gave Dumbledore a sharp look. "Is that all, Albus?"

"For tonight," he said, nodding. "I'll let you all know when I hear more. In the meantime, I plan to tell the students and the staff that Severus has left the school on a personal matter. Potions classes will be suspended for the time being. There is no one here qualified to teach them, and I've not made any progress in securing a replacement for next term."

McGonagall nodded and stood up. "Fine." She moved toward Hermione and put a bony hand on the girl's trembling shoulder. "Mr. Potter, I'll ask you to return to your dormitory now. Miss Granger, you will come with me."

Hermione looked up at her Head of House, confused.

"You have no business being alone right now, child. Come." She gave the shoulder a gentle squeeze, and Hermione nodded and rose from her chair, finding McGonagall's touch less repellent than Harry's had been.

Dumbledore looked as if he might say something, but he compressed his lips and shook his head slightly, silently acknowledging the fact that there were no words of comfort he could offer just then. He watched as his three guests left the office and then returned, soberly, to his pensieve.

§ § § §

Harry went obediently to Gryffindor tower, relieved that McGonagall had taken on the burden of Hermione's grief. It wasn't that he didn't want to help Hermione if he could, but he knew he was helpless to console her. The loss of Ron had been a shared loss, but this was something private that he really couldn't understand. He'd never experienced the kind of love Hermione seemed to feel for Severus Snape, and as enraged as he was by Snape's imprisonment, he knew he wasn't feeling anything like what Hermione was feeling just then.

Hermione trailed behind her Head of House, following her to a door tucked under the staircase that led up to Gryffindor Tower. In seven years, she had never known where Professor McGonagall's private rooms were, and now their location barely registered as McGonagall gave the passwords and ushered her inside. With a flick of the Professor's wand, the torches were lit and a fire was blazing in the fireplace.

"Sit," McGonagall ordered, pushing her toward a comfortable chair. "I'll be right back."

Hermione sat in the chair that had been indicated, still shivering despite her proximity to the fire. Some of the numbness seemed to be wearing off, however, because she had the presence of mind to take note of McGonagall's quarters. They were everything that Severus's hadn't been – warm and inviting, with photographs and personal items scattered around. There were pictures of Professor McGonagall with students, with her fellow staff members, and even one with a beaming Harry Potter standing in the centre of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, clutching a trophy. She stood up to look at it more closely, gravitating toward the memory of that happier, simpler day. It seemed a thousand years had passed since then.

"Look at this one," McGonagall said, reaching for another photograph on a shelf and handing it to her. The rest of the team was different, but the beaming boy holding the Quidditch trophy looked – at first glance – to be the same. He waved to them and then threw his arm around a younger Minerva McGonagall, giving her a gleeful squeeze.

"Harry's father," Hermione said softly.

"His seventh year. Oh that boy! He could charm the birds out of the trees. And he and Sirius Black together were truly a force to be reckoned with." McGonagall smiled fondly. "All that carefree youth and brilliance. It was glorious. Maddening too, at times, but glorious all the same. It's the thing that keeps Harry from being anything but superficially like James…Harry's never had a chance to be carefree."

"No." Hermione handed the picture back to McGonagall, her hands still trembling slightly.

"Drink this," McGonagall said, handing her a glass. "It'll help."

Hermione took a sip and then choked a little as the alcohol burned its way down her throat. The taste was unpleasant, but she did begin to feel the warmth spreading through her, fighting off the chill, and she took another hesitant sip and let Professor McGonagall guide her back to her chair. McGonagall settled into the chair opposite, surprising Hermione by tucking her feet under her and curling into the chair like the cat she sometimes was. Minerva McGonagall, she of the ramrod straight back and stiff upper lip, had poured herself a generous portion of the amber liquid and proceeded to toss half of it back in one go.

"Thank you," Hermione managed. "This seems to be helping a little. I'm sorry I'm so…"

"Don't apologize," McGonagall said sharply, interrupting her. "You've been dealt a blow – and clumsily, I must say, on the part of the Headmaster. What could he have been thinking to tell you that in front of other people? For all his reputed brilliance, Albus Dumbledore is still a man, and men, you will find, have absolutely no sense when it comes to matters of the heart."

Minerva McGonagall, it seemed, did have a face other than the one she showed her students, and Hermione had the sudden feeling that she had fallen into good hands. She nodded. "I've discovered that already. Harry is hopeless and Ron…well, Ron was worse, if that's possible. Even Severus…"

McGonagall raised her eyebrows. "Even Severus what?" she prompted.

"It, er, seems strange to talk about him with you," Hermione stammered.

"There's nothing new under the sun, my dear. You're not the first girl to fall in love with a professor, and you won't be the last." She uncurled herself from the chair and went to a side table, opening a drawer and pulling out a small album. She handed it to Hermione. "My wedding pictures."

Hermione opened the album and saw a much younger Minerva McGonagall, raven hair falling in soft waves over her shoulders. Her groom was a man obviously well into middle age, and in every picture, he was looking down at her adoringly. "He was your teacher?"

"At University. We married when I was twenty, and I lost him in the Blitz three years later."

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you. And just so you know, I'm not about to give you a lecture on how 'tis better to have loved and lost. It might actually be true in hindsight, but it's of no comfort whatsoever when you're in the midst of it. Plus, Severus isn't lost to us yet. There's still hope, and I don't want you to forget it."

Hermione shook her head slightly. "What do you think Harry has in mind?"

"I have no idea, and I'm sure if I did it would make my blood run cold," McGonagall said crisply. "The thing I do know is that whatever it is, he'll need you to help him. Look at how his most recent adventure turned out! I've no doubt that if he'd allowed you to help him run away, he'd have been successful. Just as Severus was successful in finding him with your help."

"Severus would tell you that I was a disaster at the spy business," she said with a sad smile.

"If you'd been a disaster, he wouldn't have had you along at all," McGonagall countered. "And he certainly wouldn't have fallen in love with you if he hadn't had respect for your abilities. You're a beautiful young girl, but that alone wouldn't be enough to turn the head of a man like Severus Snape."

"We can talk," Hermione began quietly, "about anything at all. Hours go by and it seems like minutes. We start out talking about one thing, and then that leads to another, and another. I've never talked with someone who seemed to understand me – the way my mind works – the way he does. And his mind…he knows so much, doesn't he? And about everything. I've never – well – been with anyone like that. Anyone that brilliant. That was actually the hardest thing about coming back here. I missed talking to him so much, and there was no one else I could talk to that way. I love Harry, of course, but he's…well…"

"I understand. Mr. Potter, for all his talents, is not exactly the cerebral type."

"No. And it's funny because Harry should know me better than anyone else here, but I think Severus knew me better after two days than anyone I've ever known, except maybe my parents."

"Intimacy," McGonagall said with conviction. "These days everyone seems to think that all intimacy is about is getting into one another's knickers. What a lot of rot! True intimacy happens in the mind, and it happens all too rarely in this world."

"Is that what it was like for you?" Hermione asked shyly.

"Exactly. And it was a bit of a scandal for a while, but then folks found other things to talk about. I never had a moment's regret. If I'd waited until I finished at university to be with him, I'd never have been with him at all."

"'Tis better to have loved and lost…" Hermione quoted quietly.

"Hmm. I promised I wasn't going to say that, didn't I?" McGonagall looked at the girl before her thoughtfully. "Well, it doesn't matter anyway. What's done is done, and having fallen in love, you don't strike me as the type of girl to fall out of it again with much ease. You've always reminded me of myself as a girl, and that's how I was. Still am, I suppose."

"Did you ever fall in love again after your husband died?"

McGonagall shook her head. "No, my dear, but then, I can't say that I really tried very hard. I came here not long after and made this my life. It's been a rewarding one, and I've been happy. A different kind of happiness, certainly, than what I had with Michael, but happiness nonetheless."

"We hardly had any time at all, but I do think I made him happy." Hermione stared into the leaping flames, taking sips of her drink now without even noticing. "I mean, he was still Severus, of course, and could be awfully superior about things…and I never could go near him until he'd had his coffee in the morning…"

"Who would want to?" McGonagall asked with feeling.

"Exactly." Hermione smiled slightly. "But for all that, he could also be very romantic. Terribly funny, too, when he wanted to be. And he was very protective of me and my reputation. He wouldn't even consider…well, anything happening between us once we were back here. He's barely looked at me this last week. And then this morning… I saw him in the hallway, and he kissed me, just out of the blue, and I was sohappy." Her voice broke and she took a ragged breath. "I should have known then…that something was wrong…I should have guessed…"

Her glass fell from her hand and spilled to the floor, and she clapped a hand to her mouth, attempting to hold back both incipient hysteria and the bile she felt rising in her throat. "I'm sorry…" she choked.

Minerva McGonagall was upon her in an instant, holding her hair and thrusting a hastily transfigured basin beneath her as she heaved the churning contents of her stomach. "That's it, get it out," McGonagall crooned soothingly, over and over.

Hermione retched until her stomach was empty, finally taking great choking breaths as her Head of House wiped her mouth with a damp cloth. "I'm so sorry," she said, realizing with both embarrassment and relief that the tears had finally come and were now coursing down her face. Her nose was running, slick mucous mingling with the foul bitterness in her mouth.

Minerva McGonagall calmly exchanged one damp cloth for another and continued mopping her up. "Don't apologize," she said again, but tenderly this time. "You've nothing to be sorry for, child."

The tenderness broke down her final defence, and Hermione collapsed on her Professor's shoulder and let the anguished sobs rip through her until they finally exhausted themselves, slowly shuddering to a halt.

"Why didn't he tell me?" she asked, forcing the words through her raw throat. "Why didn't he give me some warning?"

"What would you have done?" McGonagall asked, stroking her hair. "What would you have done besides worry yourself sick?"

Hermione pulled away and reached for one of the cloths, wiping her own face this time. "I don't know," she admitted. "I guess I might have begged him to run away."

"Severus is a proud man."

"I know. But damn him!"

"That's it, child. Be angry if you must. Anger can be a useful emotion. Use that anger to help Harry figure out a way to save him."

"Do you really think we can?"

"I think history has shown that there's not much you and your friends can't accomplish when you put your mind to it. Tomorrow, I want you to find out what Harry is planning, and I want you to insist that he let you help. It'll do you good to be doing something useful."

"You know it might involve…well, breaking some rules. Maybe even some laws."

"I would expect nothing less of you two," McGonagall said dryly. "And if there's anything I can do…"

"Thank you, Professor. I feel…well, not good, but better. You've helped a lot."

"You're welcome. You may come here whenever you wish and trust that anything said within these walls will go no further. And Hermione?"


"When you're here, would you call me Minerva?"

Hermione didn't answer, but she threw her arms around the older woman in an impulsive hug. Minerva McGonagall patted her back and took that as a yes.

§ § § §

Harry pulled the curtains around his bed for privacy and then opened the small box that Dumbledore had given him and stared at the contents: a single feather and a scrap of parchment that said, "You'll need this for your new wand."

He lifted the feather carefully from the box, stroking it with the grain and admiring Fawkes' glorious plumage. He hadn't even thought about the fact that he would need a new wand when he ran away. Typical. Once again, he'd have bolted off into the Muggle world without first making the proper preparations. Hermione - and Snape, apparently - were the careful planners. Harry knew he was too impulsive, that too often he acted without stopping to think through the consequences, but he also couldn't deny that those impulses had saved his life many times. Could he trust them now? Could he trust himself to actually do the insane thing he was contemplating?

He wasn't sure.

He only knew that whatever his past feelings about the man, he couldn't live with the fact that Severus Snape was being held accountable for a crime that he, Harry, might have committed. He couldn't live with the fact that for the second time in as many decades, he was losing a godfather to Azkaban. He just couldn't.

But he also knew that if he pursued this reckless course, even the celebrity of The Boy Who Lived wouldn't be enough to excuse his actions in the eyes of Cornelius Fudge and his ilk. His plan - such as it was - would likely involve turning his back on the wizarding world forever. Fortunately, he'd been emotionally prepared to do that all along. Now if he could just make the proper logistical preparations…

He stroked the feather one last time and then tucked it carefully back into the little box. He'd begin working on the wand problem first thing tomorrow.

Somehow, he would figure it all out.

§ § § §

He held her in his mind as long as he could, all the way from Dumbledore's office and across the Hogwarts grounds. He ignored the Aurors flanking him on either side, every thought focussed on their short time together in Ireland. He remembered the perfect way her head had fit just below his chin and the feel of her curls twined around his fingers. He remembered as much as he could of every conversation, of the way she dared to tease him, of the feel of her fingers when they found the ticklish spot on the tender skin in the crook of his arm and the unfamiliar sound of his own laughter mingling with hers. He clung to the memories until they made the entrance to the Hogwarts grounds, and when they crossed through the portal, he caught sight of the shrouded dementor waiting for him and felt the chill sweep over him as the sound of laughter gave way to the sound of screaming. Her screams at first, as she writhed under Finbar's wand, and then others, nameless victims of his misspent youth who howled their way back into his consciousness as the Aurors stepped away and gave him over into the dementor's decaying hands.

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 23 of 27

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