Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 24 of 27

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After leaving Minerva McGonagall's chambers, Hermione made her way up into Gryffindor Tower. It was after midnight, and the Fat Lady huffed at her, annoyed at being awakened.

"And what are we doing out this late, hmmm?" she asked testily.

Hermione repeated the password as if she hadn't heard the question.

"Hmph!" the Fat Lady said, as she swung open. "Some people get awfully high and mighty when they're made Head Girl."

"Meeting with Professor McGonagall," Hermione muttered as she stepped into the common room.

"Oh, well, that's all right then," she heard the Fat Lady say, just before closing behind her.

Hermione made straight for her dormitory, peeling her clothing off in the darkened room and sliding into bed. Not to sleep, of course. At that moment, she wasn't sure she'd ever sleep again.

Professor McGonagall – Minerva – had eased her passage from the first horrific moments of shock, through intense grief, and then to anger, and now she was in an indefinable place where she seemed to skip from one emotion to another so quickly that it was impossible to say what she was feeling at any given moment. She was still angry with Severus – and Harry – for not giving her some warning, but then she would imagine Severus in Azkaban, destitute of all happiness under the influence of the dementors, and the grief and horror would leave her nauseous again. Stealing happy thoughts from Severus Snape was indeed robbing the poor. Her mind would veer defensively from that image and go in search of something else, only to be reminded again, like a tongue returning to a sore tooth. She tried to do as Dumbledore and Minerva had urged her and to remain hopeful, but hope required something concrete to cling to, and her exhausted brain couldn't manufacture such a thing. Harry had something in mind, she knew, but that wasn't exactly reassuring given the outcome of Harry's last excursion.

She hadn't been near a dementor, but it seemed they were working vicariously on her as well.

She felt relief when the blackness of her room began to ease into grey and she had an excuse to leave her bed and begin to prepare for the coming day. She looked dreadful, and she reached for makeup, attempting to repair the marks left by her grief the previous night. It was hopeless, of course, but she did the best she could, wanting to avoid questions from nosy classmates. More than anything, she wanted to find Harry, to find out what he was planning and then to insist that he let her help. But first, she was going to give him a piece of her mind.

She was one of the first to the Great Hall for breakfast, but Harry came down soon after, settling into the seat next to hers and giving her a quick glance. To her it seemed the wary look of one who expects his neighbour to suddenly erupt into hysterics, though she supposed it was meant to be a look of concern.

"Are you ok?" he asked hesitantly, confirming her assessment.

She couldn't tolerate his pity but rather took pleasure in putting paid to it. "What do you think?"

"Er, I guess you're probably not."

"Brilliant deduction," she snapped.

Half of his mouth quirked upwards – relief probably, since her anger was more familiar to him than her tears – and he turned his attention to his plate.

"Professor McGonagall has given us permission to miss her class this morning," Hermione said, speaking quickly now that students were flooding into the Great Hall. "We need to go down to Severus's lab and talk about whatever it is you're planning. Eat fast and then let's go."

He paused, his fork halfway to his mouth, and looked at her. She met his look with exhausted, red-rimmed eyes and a determined set to her jaw. "You do realize that if I actually succeed in getting him free, he'll kill me for allowing you to help."

"That's a risk I'm quite willing to take."

"Thanks," he snapped. "You know, this isn't entirely my fault."

"You knew!" she hissed. "You knew and you didn't tell me. That most certainly is your fault."

"He told me not to!"

"Well if he were anywhere but in Azkaban, you can bet I'd be having this conversation with him, but as he's currently unavailable, I'm taking it up with you. And you'd better get it through your thick head right this minute that the time for protecting little Miss Granger is all over."

"Fine!" The two friends were glaring at one another when Lavender and Parvati dropped into the chairs across from them.

"What's the matter you two?" Lavender asked teasingly. "Trouble in paradise?"

The intrusion of the two girls served to re-establish their solidarity for the moment. "Everything's fine," Harry said, trying to deflect their question. "We were just talking about my independent study. Hermione's going to help me with it."

"Yes," Hermione added. "We've been excused from Transfiguration this morning. Could we borrow your notes later?"

Lavender shrugged, instantly bored. "All right," she said. "Whenever you want."

"Let's go, Harry," Hermione said, standing up.

"I haven't eaten yet."

"Bring it with you." Hermione seemed too dangerous to be ignored, so Harry nodded and grabbed a scone and a hard-cooked egg before following her out the door.

§ § § §

"It's this way," she said, leading him through the labyrinthine corridors of the dungeon, stopping at the door to Severus's lab. She withdrew the small roll of parchment Dumbledore had given her, broke the seal, and glanced at it. She made a choked sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. She rotated her wand clockwise and murmured the password…indentured servant. The door swung open, and she hesitated only a second before stepping across the threshold.

Here, more than anywhere else, she could feel his presence; she stood still for a moment just inside the door and let it wash over her, unsure if what she was feeling was pleasure or pain. He had left the work areas characteristically neat while his desk was the same hodgepodge it had been before. She made her way over there and spotted the roll of parchment with her name on it. She glanced at Harry. "Would you give me just a minute?"

"Of course," he said, feeling suddenly petty about his earlier annoyance with her. He stepped back into the corridor and stood with his back pressed against the rough stone wall.

Severus hadn't bothered sealing the parchment, having made it clear to Dumbledore that no one but Hermione should have access to his laboratory, so she simply unrolled it with shaking hands, her gaze roving hungrily over his heavy script. She finished his parting note to her with dry eyes, having cried all she intended to, though she felt stung by the bitterness she found on every line. It increased her determination to get him out of there – whatever it took. And that meant…

"Harry? You can come back in."

Harry appeared in the doorway instantly. "All right then?" he asked.

"Fine." She leaned against the desk, tucking the parchment into her robes. "Start talking."

Harry entered, shut the door, and sat in one of the black armchairs. "This isn't going to be easy."

"I wasn't expecting it to be. Just tell me what you have in mind, and I'll tell you what's wrong with your plan."

He gave her a half-smile. "Well, that's certainly worked before." He took a deep breath. "Okay, what I'm thinking is this – it's too hard to get him out of Azkaban. He's not an Animagus, like Sirius, and we haven't the time to make a Polyjuice potion, like Crouch did. As far as I know, no one else has ever managed to escape."

"No," she agreed. "At least not since the dementors began guarding it." 

"Which is why I told Dumbledore that I wanted Snape to be there when I gave my testimony. They'll have to bring him from Azkaban to the Ministry building, and I might have a shot at getting him out of there."

"That's your big plan?" she asked doubtfully.

"Well, I admit there are a few loose ends," Harry said. "But I got a look at the Ministry building when I was there with Dumbledore a few days ago. Magical Law Enforcement takes up one long corridor. They have the Hearing Room, which is like a Muggle courtroom, and just inside there's the entrance to a small antechamber where they keep prisoners who are waiting to testify. I accidentally walked into the room where they keep the prisoners while Remus and I waited back there for Dumbledore. There aren't any bars or anything, like you'd see in a Muggle prison – just a long line of cots right there in the open. Remus said they bring them from Azkaban stunned, wake them up to give their testimony, and then either set them free or return them to Azkaban when its all over."

"So all we'd have to do is get in there and wake him up? That sounds too easy."

Harry raised his eyebrows and got a cool look from Hermione in return. "We," she repeated with a level stare. After a moment he nodded and went on.

"Well…there is a guard. Er, a dementor."

"We'd have to get by a dementor?" Hermione started to pace.

"It surprised me the other day, but it won't the next time. I'll cast a Patronus and drive it away," Harry said confidently.

"How did you plan to get in there in the first place?"

"Well, I was thinking about that last night. I think I need to learn to apparate. Dumbledore, Remus and I took the Floo, of course, but it'll be closed at night. I'm thinking the night before the hearing is the time to do this."

"What if they don't bring him until the next morning?"

Harry shook his head. "I don't know. I'll speak to Dumbledore after I leave here and ask that the hearing be scheduled for first thing in the morning. Surely, in that case, they'll bring Snape to the Ministry sometime the day before. The one thing we've got on our side is that Fudge really wants to make this all go away and still have his hero at the end of it. I think he'll do what he can to accommodate me."

Hermione nodded. "I think you're right about that." She dropped into Severus's chair and bit her lip thoughtfully.

"Harry, why don't you just tell the truth? Fudge is willing to grant you a public hearing. Just go in there and tell the world about Pettigrew and Finbar and Barter and all the rest of it. You know they're bluffing about prosecuting you."

"Sure they are, but they're not bluffing about Snape, and I don't think the fact that this is a public hearing means I'm going to be telling 'the world' anything. Barter owns a publishing company, remember? You heard what Dumbledore said - if anyone's going to win a public relations war, it'll be him, not us."

"Yes, but with your celebrity…"

"It's too risky, Hermione. According to the law, Snape and I are both guilty. There are just too many ways that Barter can make us look bad, and Dumbledore hasn't yet been able to prove that he's involved. If I go into that hearing and say anything other than what they're expecting me to say…well, I don't think it'll do Snape or me any good."

 Hermione sighed. "I suppose you're right. But breaking into the Ministry…"

"I'm telling you, I saw the place, and it just doesn't seem that hard. Getting in and out will be the tough part, but once we're in, it's just a boring office building. It's not like some of the spots we've been in before. There's no Devil's Snare, no basilisk on the loose…"

"Only a dementor or two," she said sarcastically. "No problem at all. So we get him out…then what? He can't just come back here and start teaching again, can he?" 

"No," said Harry. "He can't. He'll have to disappear for a while. Dumbledore said he thought he could get the evidence he needs against Barter - he just needs more time. So Snape will have to go away for a while, and hopefully Dumbledore will be able to incriminate Barter. With Barter out of the way, I think the case against Snape will fall apart."

"You think."

Harry shrugged. "I hope. I don't know what else to try, Hermione. At least this way, he'll have a chance."

She sighed and then nodded. "Okay. We'll try it."

"Good." Harry smiled at her, but she couldn't reciprocate. There was just too much about his plan that was uncertain, and even if they met with success, the outcome would be the lesser of two evils. Snape would be spared Azkaban, but he would be exiled from the wizarding world while Dumbledore pulled at invisible strings for who knows how long. She, like everyone else, had been accustomed to thinking that Dumbledore could do anything, but there was no escaping the fact that the day before he had stood by, impotent, as his potions master had been led away to Azkaban. She was still sorting out the maelstrom of emotions that had been unleashed during her brief time in Dumbledore's office, but there was no question that her faith in Albus Dumbledore had been deeply shaken. Her faith in Harry wasn't exactly at an all-time high, but at least she knew that he would let her help him. By putting her trust in Harry, she would be retaining some measure of control, and just then she desperately needed to feel that she was being useful. So, they would break into the Ministry of Magic. They would find Severus, and even if it meant turning their backs on the wizarding world, she and Severus would at least be together. That possibility, more than any other, drove her decision.

She turned her attention back to the details Harry so frequently overlooked. That would be her contribution to the plan. "All right then, but if we're going to be popping back and forth to London, we need to learn to apparate. We can probably manage that in a few days. I don't think it's all that hard, actually, as long as you concentrate on what you're doing. It would be nice, though, if we had someone who was experienced at it to give us some pointers. Professor McGonagall offered to help, but I'm not sure…"

"Remus," Harry interrupted. "He's the only one I'd trust with this, and I think when he hears what happened, he'll want to help."   

"Okay." Hermione took a deep breath. "What else?"

Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the small box Dumbledore had given him the night before. "I need you to help me figure out what to do with this." He opened the box and showed her the crimson feather. "There was a note. He said it was for my wand."

"Of course," she said, biting her lip. "You'll need an unregistered wand if you're planning to run away, and to make one, you'll have to have a tail feather from Fawkes. That's why Barter asked Severus to get one…he and Finbar were planning on making you a new wand. But I wonder how he managed to get it without Dumbledore knowing. I have trouble picturing Severus having a heart-to-heart talk with Fawkes."

Harry snorted at that. "No kidding. But he must have, I guess. I just don't know what to do with it now. If I take the feather to Ollivander, he'll register the wand."   

"No. You can't do that. Of course, there are wizards out there who make unregistered wands – Horatio Barter is one of them – but we certainly can't go to him, and I doubt we could find anyone else in the amount of time that we have before the hearing."

"What do you think Snape had in mind?"

"I don't know.  But he wouldn't have expected you to need it so soon, would he? He probably thought you'd have the rest of the school year to figure it out. At the same time, you'd be learning loads of wandless magic from Professor Dumbledore, so you wouldn't have as much need of your wand when it came time for you to  leave."

"He had me transfer my inheritance to his stepfather," Harry told her, "but he said that since his stepfather was a Muggle, he'd be of no help to me with anything to do with magic. I think we're on our own with this one."

Hermione continued to chew her lip, and Harry remained respectfully silent, giving her time to think. "Okay," she said, with the air of someone who has made up her mind. "I'll take the wand problem. I'll start in the library and see what I can find out about the process of wand making. You owl Mr. Lupin and see if we can arrange to meet with him. I guess he'll have to come here…we don't have another Hogsmeade weekend for several weeks."   

Harry shook his head. "I don't think so, Hermione. Dumbledore and McGonagall know we're up to something, and they both offered to help, but do you really think they'd let us get away with breaking into the Ministry of Magic? I think we need to meet with Remus off the grounds – for his sake, if nothing else. If this blows up in our faces, I don't want anyone to know he's in the middle of it." 

"You want to sneak out."

"Just to the Shrieking Shack. I'll ask Remus to meet us there tonight."

She nodded. It presented a few logistical problems, but they paled in comparison to breaking into the Ministry. They would manage. "Harry?"


"Why are you doing this? Is it for me? I mean, I know Severus is technically your godfather, but you've never really liked him…"

Harry shook his head. "No, I've never really liked him, but it's not just for you. It is because he's my godfather, in a way. I know that sounds strange. But Sirius must have thought Snape had something I needed, you know? I mean, he didn't like Snape either – he wouldn't have just done that on a whim. I'm not exactly sure what it was, but I trust Sirius enough to want to find out. And besides," he added, his face hardening, "there's a good chance that Snape is in Azkaban for a crime that committed. No matter how I felt about him, I couldn't live with that."

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"For what?"

"Last night…when you told Dumbledore you would agree to testify against Severus. I thought…at first…" She shook her head. "I should have known better."

Harry shrugged, smiling wryly. "S'alright really, what with all the stuff I've said about him over the years. He didn't like me much either, but he managed to save my arse a few times. I owe him for that. And I owe you for even more."

She picked up the green coffee cup and ran her index finger down the serpent that formed the handle. Her voice was hoarse when she answered him. "Save him, Harry, and you can call us even."

§ § § §

Hermione went straight to the library and began examining books on the making of wands while Harry went to the owlery and sent a note to Remus, requesting that he meet them in the Shrieking Shack that night. He thought he could count on Remus to help, but he wasn't entirely sure. Remus had been a Marauder, and he and Sirius had entertained Harry with their reminiscences of their nocturnal adventures. But wandering the Forbidden Forest as Padfoot, Prongs, Moony, and Wormtail, however thrilling and dangerous it might have been, was still a far cry from breaking into the Ministry of Magic and battling a Dementor to free a prisoner. Lurking in Harry's mind was the fear that Remus would try to stop him; had there been anyone else to turn to, he would have. But Remus had taught him to cast a Patronus in his third year, long before any of his classmates, and that thought gave Harry hope that Remus would now agree to teach him to apparate.

He attached the scroll to Hedwig's foot and gave her an affectionate pat before sending her off into the grey sky. Since Remus was still living in the house in Hogsmeade, Hedwig's journey would only take a matter of minutes, and assuming she found Remus at home, Harry would have his answer very quickly. He decided to wait in the owlery for Hedwig's return and sat with his back to the wall, listening to the soft hoots and ruffled feathers as the owls stirred and settled themselves again. The Owlery was at the top of one of the castle's many towers; from his vantage point, Harry could see the sweep of lawn leading down to the lake. So much had happened to him since the night he had first crossed the lake in the enchanted rowboat and seen Hogwarts Castle loom into view. The castle had been the first place that had ever felt like home to him, the first place he could ever remember being happy. At eleven he couldn't have known that the happiness would come with such a terribly high price, and he wondered now if he had known, whether he would have agreed to pay it.

A fine rain began to fall, blurring the horizon. The wind blew just enough that his left side was soon damp, and the stones upon which he sat became dark and slick. He didn't bother to move. His time in Finbar's basement had rendered him indifferent to minor discomforts, and a part of him wished he could sit for days in that very spot and watch Hogwarts change with each passing cloud and shift of the light – to sit, unmoving and unnoticed, and experience the cycle of seasons and the spectrum of emotions of the castle herself, one final time.

A speck of white appeared over the lake. Harry watched as Hedwig made straight back toward the owlery. She settled on the wall next to him and ruffled her feathers in obvious irritation, shaking off the water before extending her leg to him. He unrolled the short bit of parchment.

Harry -

Will be at the shack at 10 p.m., as you requested. I noticed you didn't tell me what this was all about; I suppose I'll find out soon enough. Forgive me for saying so, but I doubt I'll like it.

I'll see you and Hermione tonight. Don't get caught!


Harry stuffed the parchment in his pocket and offered Hedwig an owl treat before arising and dusting off his robes. He cast one last look at the vista spread out before him. The rain was coming harder now, greying the landscape and marring the surface of the lake. It was still the most beautiful place he'd ever seen.

He would miss it.

§ § § §


He and Hermione sat together at lunch and ate as quickly as possible. Actually, he ate.  Hermione picked at her food, taking a few bites and then thrusting the plate away from her and fidgeting impatiently.

"Are you nearly finished?" she asked.

Harry shoved in a giant forkful. "Almost," he mumbled.

"Hurry up. We can't miss Herbology, and I want a chance to talk before we go."

"Done." Harry grabbed a roll and scraped his chair back. "We can go now."

The two friends made excuses to their classmates before hurrying out of the Great Hall. Hermione pulled him down a deserted hallway.

"Is everything set with Remus?"

Harry nodded and swallowed a bite of the roll. "Yes. He's going to meet us at the Shack at ten tonight."

"Fine. I have good news as well. I couldn't find anything in the library that would help with your wand. Unregistered wands are terribly illegal, and it's not the sort of thing they're going to show students how to do. I did, however, find a book in Severus's lab that was helpful. You know the history behind all of this is really quite interesting."

"Hermione," Harry groaned.

"Well it is!" she defended primly. "And since it involves you, in a way, I should think you'd take an interest. You know, they didn't even begin all this business of registering wands until after Voldemort's first rise. Once you reflected his curse back at him and folks thought he was gone, the Ministry had a terrible time sorting out who had actually done what. A number of laws changed around that time, and one of them was the law about every witch or wizard registering his or her wand with the Ministry. They don't track every wand all the time, but if someone is under suspicion, they can monitor that person's spells."

"So the only people who have registered wands are the people who were honest enough in the first place to go and register," Harry commented sarcastically.

"Well, yes," she admitted. "I didn't say it was a perfect law. Just that it was interesting. Anyway, the book I found in Severus's lab says that we don't have to make a whole new wand. The core is the unique thing about a wand, and that's the part that's registered. We just have to extract the current core and replace it with the one Severus gave you."

"How do you do that?" Harry examined his wand and didn't see even the slightest hint of a crack.

"We'll have to do it in Severus's lab. The wand has to be heated to a precise temperature, bathed in a special potion, and then spelled to open. It's advanced magic, but it actually shouldn't take very long; maybe we can make the switch tomorrow after classes are over. Tonight we'll be busy with Remus."

Harry nodded. "I'm going to try to see Dumbledore this afternoon to find out when Snape's hearing is going to be. He'll have been in touch with Fudge today to tell him that I agreed to his deal."

"I hope it's soon," Hermione said. Her voice quivered with suppressed emotion, but Harry couldn't tell if it was rage or grief or some mixture of both. She wouldn't  meet his eyes and instead stared at one of the portraits just beyond him. "Every time I think of him in that horrible place…"   

"I know." Harry reached out a tentative hand and brushed her shoulder. "I'm going to get him out, Hermione."

She looked at him then, and her eyes shone with a determination he recognized from long years of watching as she attacked a problem, relentlessly persisting until she got the results she sought. "No," she said firmly. "We're going to get him out."

§ § § §

One of the advantages of being Head Girl was that Hermione wasn't bound by the same curfew as the other students. Thus, it was she who opened the portrait hole that evening and stepped through, leaving it open long enough for Harry, shrouded in the invisibility cloak, to follow behind her. Once they were both through the hole and she was out of Fat Lady's view, Hermione joined him under the cloak and they moved silently together through the draughty corridors of the castle. They were nearly to the entrance hall when Harry felt Hermione's shoulders begin to shake with repressed laughter, and at his sharp, reproving glance, she clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle any possible sound. The shaking continued as they eased their way down a side corridor and out of a little-used door.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" he hissed, once they were outside and somewhat removed from the threat of Filch and Mrs. Norris.

She stopped in her tracks and laughed, still almost silently, until tears came to her eyes.  


"I'm sorry," she whispered, finally. "While we were walking I was thinking of all the other times we've done that, and it suddenly occurred to me that we now have only half the threat of discovery."

Harry's brow furrowed and he stared down at her. "What?"

"Severus," she said, wiping her eyes. "All those times he nearly caught us sneaking around the castle…and now we're doing it to help him. Don't you see the irony?"

"I…suppose," Harry said, looking at her as if she'd gone mad. "Can't say as I find it all that funny though."

She took a deep shuddering breath. "It's not really," she assured him. "It's just…ironic."

"All right, then?"

She nodded, gathering control of her rampaging emotions. "I'm fine. Let's go."

They took off together once again, years of practice enabling them to stay together and covered by the cloak, despite the fact that there was now a considerable difference in their heights. They crossed the soggy lawn, taking care to stay out of reach of the Whomping Willow, which twitched irritably as it sensed their approach.

"Accio branch," Harry whispered, his eyes lighting on one that had fallen onto the lawn in the rain that day. The branch sped toward him and he caught it in his outstretched hand, extending it toward the knothole in the trunk of the willow tree. The branches stilled, and they ran toward the gap in the roots. Hermione crawled in first, then Harry, wadding up the invisibility cloak and stuffing it under one arm. As they landed in the tunnel below, they lit their wands and moved as fast as they could through the low space in the direction of the Shrieking Shack.

They saw the light ahead and followed it, emerging into the dingy room where Remus Lupin awaited them. He was pacing restlessly but paused as he heard their approach and smiled as they came into the room.

"I'd have been happy to come to Hogwarts," he said, by way of greeting.

"I know." Harry tossed down the invisibility cloak. "We need your help, but I didn't want anyone to know that you were involved."

"I knew I wasn't going to like this," Remus said with a sigh. "What's up?"

"They've taken Severus to Azkaban," Hermione said quietly.

Remus's face darkened. "So that's what all that was about," he said. "At the Ministry the other day."

"Yes," Harry answered, beginning to pace the small room. "Fudge has it in for Snape, and so does Horatio Barter. We all know that he's a rich and powerful wizard who is well-respected in the wizarding community." His voice was dripping with bitterness. "The fact that he was probably the one behind my kidnapping doesn't matter to anyone, so long as he continues to toss Galleons to the pet projects of our Minister."

Remus nodded. "And Fudge also has it in for Severus because he knows that by prosecuting Severus, he's getting back at Dumbledore. Severus doesn't stand a chance." The words were out of his mouth before he quite realized what he'd said, and he shot Hermione an apologetic look.

"It's OK," she said quietly. "There's no point in not being realistic. There's no way Severus can get a fair trial. We all know that."

"I'm sorry, Hermione," Remus said gently.

"Sorry enough to help us?" she challenged.

"Help you do what?"

"Help us free him."  

"You want to break him out of Azkaban?" Remus asked incredulously. "It can't be done."

"Not out of Azkaban," Harry said. "Out of the Ministry." Briefly, he explained about the deal he'd been offered and about the plans they had already made. "I spoke with Professor Dumbledore today," he said finally. "The hearing is set for this coming Tuesday at 8 a.m., which means they should transfer Snape to the Ministry building on Monday night. We have four days to prepare."

"What do you want me to do?" Remus asked, and the two friends glanced at one another, taking the question as an encouraging sign.

"We want you to teach us to Apparate," Hermione said. "Harry thinks that will be the best way to get into the Ministry building."

"It's probably the only way. I think they close the Floo at night."

"That's what I thought," Harry agreed. "But if we could Apparate in…"

"I can teach you to Apparate," Remus said. "But what then? What if you're actually successful? Have you thought of that? Severus can't come back here." Golden eyes fell on Hermione then and forced her to meet their gaze. "He'll have to run, to hide, to live as Sirius did for so long. There's a good chance you'd never see him again."

"I'll go with him," Hermione said, thrusting her chin out defiantly.  

"Hermione…" Remus began, and then he paused to collect his thoughts. "I don't pretend to know Severus. In fact, you might be the only person on earth who could make that claim. But I doubt that he would want you living your life on the run."

"I will not let him go to Azkaban!" she exclaimed fiercely. "I won't. He cursed Finbar because of me - because I went down into that basement against his express instructions. If I had listened to him, none of this would have happened."

"Hermione, no," Harry said quietly. "That's not true."

"It is true!" she snapped, whirling on him. "And now I'm going to get him out of there if it's the last thing I do." Her voice broke and she looked at the two men pleadingly. "Please…please help me get him out."

Remus looked at the distraught girl and nodded slowly. "I understand," he said softly. "I'll do whatever I can to help."

Hermione blinked back the tears. "Thank you," she whispered.   

"So let's get started," Harry said, keeping his voice brisk in an effort to help Hermione regain her composure. "We need to get into the Ministry Monday night." He looked at Remus. "Are you sure we can apparate in at night? Is there someone on duty in the apparition chamber?"

"I don't know," Remus answered. "I've never had occasion to go to the Ministry after hours. If no one is on duty, you won't be able to enter the building. The spell to open the passageway is changed every day and there's no way to circumvent it that I can think of. You'll need to be sure."

"But if someone is on duty…?" Hermione said.

"I'm sure we'll find whoever it is very cooperative." Harry's voice was grim and Hermione's eyes narrowed.

"Imperio," she said flatly. "Harry…"

"Hermione, if we do this, we're going to be breaking about a hundred laws. One more isn't going to matter."

"Maybe I can find out if someone is on duty at night," Remus suggested. "Ask a few questions."

"No." Harry shook his head. "Too risky. I told you - I don't want there to be the slightest chance that someone could tie you to this, and besides, those kinds of questions might make someone suspicious."

"What if…" Hermione bit her lip thoughtfully, and the two men waited while she finished thinking. "What if we apparated in during the day, when the Ministry is open, and then found someplace to hide? We could just wait until the place was closed and everyone had gone home, and then we could go after Severus."

"That's not bad," Harry said, sounding pleased. "We could just cast a memory charm as we went through the portal."

Remus shook his head. "Madam Stickler won't even open the portal without making a note of it in her log, and that notation goes straight to security. They'd know you were there before you had a chance to cast a memory charm."

"Bugger all!" Harry began pacing.

"There is a way, Harry, but you'll have to let me help," Remus said.

"No! I don't want you involved in this."

"Damn it, Harry! I am involved. I've been involved in this for longer than you've been alive. Do you think I didn't take risks during the war? And what about Severus? Don't you think I owe him something too? He made Sirius's last hours as comfortable as he could, and then he went and found you when no one else could have. If I want to put myself at risk to help him, I bloody well can." It was unusual for Remus Lupin to raise his voice, much less to turn a look of anger on a friend.

Harry drew back a little in surprise. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "It's just…if anything happened to you…"

"I understand," Remus said, more calmly now. "I feel the same way about you. I'm not happy about letting you do this, but I'm willing to let you try because I know how much it means…to both of you. Let me help."

"What is it you want to do, Mr. Lupin?" Hermione asked.

"Remus," he corrected gently. "What I think we should do is travel to the Ministry together that day, the three of us. I'll come up with some business I have to do there. That shouldn't be terribly difficult. The minute we get there, you two hide under Harry's cloak. Madam Stickler will have seen you, of course, so we'll cast a quick memory charm and she'll forget you were ever there. Then, when she opens the portal, we can all three go through. I'll go about my business, and you two can go hide until the building is closed."

Harry and Hermione looked at one another. Hermione shrugged slightly and Harry sighed. "It's the best idea we've had so far," he said, a bit grudgingly. "I wish there were another way, but at least there will be a record of you leaving the building long before we go looking for Snape."

"Now about that," Remus said. "You know he'll be guarded by at least one dementor."

Harry nodded. "I'll be prepared this time. I'll hold off the dementor while Hermione wakes up Snape."

"And then what?"

Harry glanced at Hermione again and then looked back at Remus. "And then Snape will have to leave for a while, at least until Dumbledore sorts this mess out. I'm not sure where. Maybe he'll have some ideas."

"You're planning to go with him, aren't you?"

"Yes." Harry and Hermione spoke simultaneously, and Hermione looked at Harry in surprise.


Harry looked at Remus and nodded. "I'm planning to go with him," he confirmed. "And regardless of what Dumbledore is able to accomplish, I'm not planning to come back."

Remus bowed his head for a moment, and then he nodded. "Your mother didn't save you for the life you've had so far," he said quietly.

Harry felt his throat constrict. He knew what that admission had cost Remus Lupin. Knew that when he was gone, Remus would have lost his last tie to the Marauders. He'd expected a battle - not this quiet acceptance - and his love for the man before him increased tenfold.

"Thank you."

§ § § §

The next day was Friday. Harry and Hermione dragged themselves through their classes, giving each professor only a tiny fraction of their attention. For Hermione in particular this was unusual behaviour, and several of her teachers asked if she was feeling well. Their last class of the day was History of Magic, and while Harry fidgeted, impatient to be doing something more productive, Hermione surreptitiously reviewed the notes she had made from the book about wands. It was fortunate that the entire wand didn't have to be replaced - the proper wood had to be found, treated, and spelled to resist breakage and wear and tear, and that process took months, not days. Replacing the core was theoretically possible but not something that was often done, simply because there was rarely any legitimate reason for it. The book she had found had told how wands were made and included a single example of a core which had been changed when a young wizard wanted to use his grandfather's wand for sentimental reasons, but was unable to get satisfactory results from the core of dragon's heartstring. Unicorn hair had been substituted using the process Hermione was going to attempt that afternoon. If all went well, Harry Potter's wand would be completely untraceable by the Ministry. If all failed, Harry likely would be left with no wand at all.

She had memorized the steps she planned to take by the time Professor Binns was halfway through his soporific lecture. She had been unable to concentrate on her class work that day, but she was making every attempt to focus all of her attention on Harry's wand and the initial tips Remus had given them on apparition. She had spent years conditioning her mind, disciplining herself to concentrate under almost any circumstances, but that preparation proved insufficient to keep her thoughts away from Severus. She'd never been to Azkaban, of course, but she knew that only a few months there could render a prisoner insane. She was horrified by the thought of Severus in physical pain, but knowing that his brilliant mind was in jeopardy was even worse. She had only just begun to discover that mind, to be captivated by its hidden beauty and complexity, to peek with delight into corners no one else had explored. And now, it was being pillaged – ruthlessly – by gluttonous creatures with no appreciation for the treasure they were destroying. Just thinking of it left her nauseous and shaking.

She dragged her mind away from Severus and forced herself to run through the steps Remus had given them for apparition. It was much like any other magic - it required concentration and focus on the objective, which in this case was moving one's body from one place to another. Since the witch or wizard's body was the object being moved, lack of concentration could result in the body being splinched into separate pieces. There were plenty of jokes about witches and wizards who had splinched themselves, but should it happen to Harry or Hermione, it would be no laughing matter. Remus told them that he had no idea how to de-splinch someone; if it happened, the Ministry would have to be called, and the entire plan would be ruined. They had to get it right the first time, and then every time after that. Had the two students been anyone but Hermione Granger and Harry Potter, Remus probably wouldn't have agreed to teach them. They were to have their first lesson in the Shrieking Shack that night.

Finally, finally, Professor Binns drew his lecture to a close, and as he faded from view Hermione hastily threw her books into her bag, watching out of the corner of her eye as Harry did the same.


She looked up and Parvati and Lavender were standing next to her desk.

"Yes?" She knew she sounded impatient and tried to temper her tones. "What's up?"

The two girls glanced at one another, and Hermione recognized it as their way of deciding which of them would speak. Apparently, Parvati received the cue. "Er…we just wanted to make sure you were all right," she said, giving Lavender another glance. "You've seemed a bit off lately."

"Oh." She couldn't quite hide her surprise at the question. Generally, Lavender and Parvati paid her little mind, but since the lack of interest was decidedly mutual, it had never bothered her. They were civil enough, and polite about asking her for help with homework. Occasionally they borrowed from one another, and there had never been any unpleasantness about it. They had even been particularly kind to her when Ron had died and had let her know that they were grieving for their housemate too, albeit in a very different way. Never once, however, had they inquired about one of her moods or even seemed to notice that she had them. Her first thought was that it was a fine time for them to decide to take an interest, but then she forced herself to be fair…she'd certainly never exhibited such obvious symptoms of distress or, for that matter, extreme emotion of any other sort. "I'm fine," she lied. "Just a bit tired. I haven't been sleeping very well." That part, at least, was true.

"We're going to get together with Padma and some of the other Ravenclaws for a girls' night tonight," Parvati said. "Would you like to join us?"

The unexpected kindness brought the sting of tears to Hermione's eyes – ridiculously, since she hadn't even been able to cry about Severus since that first night in McGonagall's arms. She clamped her mouth together, willing her emotions back under control, suddenly feeling as if she might fall apart right there in Professor Binns' classroom.

"Hermione was going to help me with my independent study tonight," Harry said, earning a look of gratitude from Hermione and one of accusation from Parvati.

Hermione cleared her throat and willed her voice to be steady. "Thanks," she said to the girls. "I appreciate the invitation, but I did tell Harry I'd help him tonight."

"And here I thought 'independent' meant by yourself." Lavender tried to sound as if she was teasing, but the look she gave Harry suggested otherwise. "Can't you go it alone for one night?"

Harry looked uncomfortable, and Hermione came to his rescue. "I promised," she told Lavender quietly. "But maybe we can do it another time."

"Sure," Lavender said, giving up. "Some other time."

The two girls left then, and Hermione sighed as she watched them go. She had never felt entirely comfortable with the other girls in her House, but now she felt more distant than ever. Their offer, she knew, was kindly meant, but after her long conversations with Severus she couldn't imagine enjoying an evening with "the girls" spent giggling over boys who held no interest for her and discussing clothes and makeup, as if she cared a fig what she looked like. Such an evening would have held no interest for her even if she hadn't been preoccupied with far more serious matters. She remembered the conversation with Severus in which she had confessed her inability to fit in with her peers. He had understood - and had been, perhaps, the first person who ever had. She and Severus were both just what they were and seemed unable to be anything else, whereas Harry had the enviable ability to be both Hero and Everyman simultaneously. He could return from an interview with the Daily Prophet and immerse himself – eagerly – in a Quidditch discussion or a childish prank. He had few deep friendships but a talent for getting on with almost anyone. Hermione had often admired his ease with people but knew that it had been denied her by some combination of nature and nurture, and there was very little to be done about it. Just as her friendships with Harry and Ron had been the salvation of her schooldays, finding a kindred spirit in Severus had seemed like the miracle that would transform the rest of her life. As Parvati and Lavender walked away, she realized she'd never felt so alone. 


"Sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to make you out to look like a prat."

He smiled in understanding. "No problem. Are you ready to go?"

"Yes." She gathered her books and led the way out of the classroom and down to Severus's lab in the depths of the dungeon. She gave the password and slipped into the room with relief; they had made it downstairs without being seen and here, at least, no one would bother them. It was easy, in this room, to hide from the world above – and as she lit the torches with a muttered charm, another memory assaulted her…

"Do you ever get lonely down here?" she'd asked suddenly.

"Of course not. What a ridiculous question."

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

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

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

He hadn't answered her directly, she recalled, and now that she knew him better she wondered if the dungeon had been a hiding place for him – a place where he, too, could escape the fact that no matter how much time he spent with his fellow inhabitants of the castle, he didn't really belong.

She shook off the memories; there was no time for that sort of reflection now, and no point to it even had there been time. She turned to Harry. "Let's get to work."

§ § § §

She couldn't move about the lab with total confidence since she'd only been there once before, but she was familiar with the general layout, and that helped her to set up her experiment fairly quickly. She gathered the ingredients for the potion first, and Harry nearly choked as he watched her measure them out. Snape had actually managed to pound some Potions information into his head, and he recognized that some of these things would cost a small fortune, if they could be obtained at all. Hermione said as much, glancing over to where he was perched on a nearby stool, sensibly keeping out of the way until he was needed. He watched as she got the potion under way and then lit a fire under a second cauldrons and carefully adjusted the temperature.

"Are you sure my wand isn't going to catch fire?" he asked.


Harry sighed and stroked the length of holly that had become an extension of himself over the past six years, causing a shower of golden sparks to issue forth. The wand was worn satiny smooth where his hand gripped it and the wood had grown slightly darker in that spot.

"When you're quite through fondling it…" Hermione said, rolling her eyes and holding out her hand.

His reluctance obvious, Harry handed it over and watched as she spoke a charm to protect the wood from the heat and then placed the wand in the empty cauldron, which was covered so that the heat would be contained.  

"Like an oven," he noted.

"Exactly. Mr. Ollivander and the other wand makers have special ovens built just for this purpose. I have to improvise. The trick is to make sure the temperature is exactly right. It would be easier in my mother's kitchen, actually." She gave the flames a critical look and used her wand to turn them down a notch.

"Now what?"

"We wait. Shouldn't take more than about ten minutes. In the meantime, I'm going to go over these spells one more time." She turned her attention to the parchment with her notes, and Harry subsided back into silence, glancing back and forth from the cauldron to Hermione, whose lips were moving as she subconsciously practiced the proper wand motions with her empty hand. At some point she had pulled her hair into a messy twist on top of her head, and he could see a bead of sweat rolling down her neck despite the cool of the room. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat of the fire, and there were purple smudges under her eyes from lack of sleep. Yet she was…

Beautiful, he realized, as he formed a sudden mental image of her and Snape, working side by side in a laboratory. It was an epiphany, as what little he knew of Snape and all that he knew of Hermione finally converged as he watched his friend concentrate in the dungeon laboratory of the man she loved. Severus Snape had seen what a castle full of boys her age had somehow missed, and Harry's opinion of the potions master, already much altered, increased that much more.

He started slightly as she set her parchment aside and then watched as she took a temperature reading and turned the flames down again. "Now I'm going to submerge the wand in the potion." She told him. "Just for a minute, and then I'll need your help."

Harry recognized his cue and moved to her side. She had gone through Snape's supplies and set out everything she would need, so she was able to reach quickly for long forceps, which she used to lift the wand from the heated cauldron and move it to the other one with the potion. With her other hand, she flipped over a small hourglass, and they both watched as the sand dropped from one chamber to another, counting down the minute. When only a few grains were left, she handed the forceps to Harry. "I need you to lift the wand out of the potion and hold it steady while I cast the spell." Her voice was tight, tense; Harry once would have called it 'bossy' - would have teased her or perhaps even been foolish enough to ignore her, but now he obeyed without question. She maintained total focus as she reached for her wand and, without consulting her notes again, spoke a complicated incantation that meant nothing to him.

He felt the spell's work before they saw it - felt the slight heat and vibration run through the forceps as the wand began to crack. "It's working," he said with obvious relief.

"Don't sound so surprised," she said haughtily. She took the forceps from him and set the wand down on the workbench. Two distinct cracks ran the length of the wand, opposite one another, so that all she had to do was insert a fingernail to split the wand in two. At the very bottom, in a hollowed-out area, a crimson feather nestled. Hermione removed it with the forceps and placed it in a nearby vial so that it wouldn't be confused with the one Harry had brought with him. "Where's the new core?" she asked.

Harry produced it, and then stepped back and watched from his stool as she replaced it and began a new round of incantations. The heating process had to be repeated, and it was thirty minutes before the wand was out of the cauldron and cool enough to touch with bare hands.

"Go ahead," Hermione said, wiping her brow and pulling the clip from her hair now that her job had been completed. She made a swish and flick motion.

Harry reached for the wand eagerly, fitting it to the proper place in his hand and smiling at the familiar feel of it.

Hermione rolled her eyes again. "Honestly, Harry! Does it work?"

He pointed the wand at an empty jar on Snape's workbench and said, "Mobilarbus." He smiled as the jar rose into the air, and then he lowered his wand and let the jar smash to the floor at their feet.

"What did you do that for?" Hermione tried to sound exasperated, but she was obviously feeling pleased with her success.

"Because I can fix it," Harry said, pointing his wand at the mess. "Reparo." The jar reassembled itself in an instant, and Harry reached down and picked it up, handing it to Hermione.

"I'd say it works," she said with quiet satisfaction, turning and beginning to straighten up the bench.

"Never doubted you for a minute," Harry assured her, and then, "Snape will be proud."

Hermione paused in her clean-up efforts, and then nodded slightly without turning around. "Thanks, Harry."

"Dinner's in about a half an hour," Harry said, changing the subject. "I'll help you clean up."

"No…thank you," she said, glancing at him then. "I'd actually like to be down here by myself for a while. Do you mind?"

He shook his head. "No. I understand. Will you be in the Great Hall for dinner?"

"Probably. But if not, I'll meet you in the Common Room in plenty of time to meet Remus."

"Okay." Harry tucked his wand into his robes and gathered up his books. "Don't stay down here alone too long."

"I'll be fine."

§ § § §

It was a relief to Hermione when the door shut behind Harry and she was left alone in the laboratory. As she moved around, cleaning up after the project, she was able to find solace in the tangible connections to the room's rightful owner. Severus was in every nook and cranny of this place, in every book, phial, and cauldron, and his presence there was a comfort to her. It was as if the room were expecting him back, and therefore, it must be so. Ridiculous, of course, but she clung to the notion nonetheless.

She didn't bother with dinner, instead choosing to remain in Severus's lab, looking through his books. She didn't try to concentrate much on the texts, contenting herself with skimming through to capture their flavour and feeling her heart leap every time she encountered his handwriting in a margin. She barely made it to the Common Room in time to meet Harry, and he looked at her with concern.

"Did you get anything to eat?"

She shook her head. "I'm not hungry."

"Starving yourself to death isn't going to help Snape," he said, taking care to keep his voice low.

"I'm not starving," she said firmly, daring him to continue along that conversational path. "Let's go."

Harry sighed and followed her through the portrait hole, resolving to speak to Professor McGonagall the next time he had the chance. Hermione hadn't told him everything she had discussed with their Head of House, but she had indicated that she had found some comfort in their late-night session. Perhaps McGonagall could get her to eat something…could make sure she was okay.

They made their way out of Gryffindor Tower and through the castle, not bothering with the invisibility cloak until they were outside, since it was well before curfew. Remus was waiting for them in the Shrieking Shack again, and he greeted them with his gentle smile. "How did it go with the wand?"

"It was brilliant," Harry enthused, holding it up for Remus's inspection. "You should have seen her. It was like she'd done it a hundred times."

"I'm not at all surprised," Remus said, causing Hermione to flush slightly.

"It was all in the book," she said dismissively. "I'll probably splinch myself tonight and we'll see just how useless book smarts really are."

"I doubt that," Remus said, shaking his head. "I hope not, anyway. If we have to call the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, a fine will be the least of our problems."

"I suppose you're right. When you're planning to break into the Ministry of Magic, a little thing like apparating without a license doesn't seem so bad."

"It does rather put things in perspective," Remus agreed dryly. "OK, are you two ready?"

"I think so." Hermione nodded. "I've studied the notes we made last night every chance I got."

"Me, too," Harry said. Remus gave him a dubious look and he grinned. "I did. I swear."

"The trick is to keep your concentration," Remus said. "No matter where you're going, you have to focus on your whole body, head to toe, leaving nothing out."

"You told us last night," Harry said impatiently. "Let's do it. Where are we going?"

"Home," Remus answered. "My home. I thought it would help if you started out by going someplace you were familiar with. I want you to apparate to the kitchen of the house in Hogsmeade."

"Okay." Harry and Hermione exchanged a glance, and each took a deep breath as they reached for their wands. They closed their eyes and concentrated as hard as they could. Seconds later, Harry was standing outside the kitchen window of the house he had shared with Sirius and Remus for a brief time. He glanced inside and saw Hermione and Remus standing in the middle of the kitchen. Remus was grinning at him, and even Hermione's face had the hint of a smile. Remus crossed the room and opened the door.

"Hi, Harry. Care to join us?" Remus asked mildly.

"Oh sod off," Harry grumbled. "At least I'm still in one piece."

"And I'm delighted." Remus chuckled. "Really. Well done for a first effort. We'll need to keep practicing though until you can consistently land in the right spot. It didn't matter tonight, but obviously, when you're apparating into the Muggle world, it matters a great deal. Once you've mastered that, I'll have you practice going places you're less familiar with and apparating with small objects in your hands."

"I didn't find it difficult at all," Hermione said, with a familiar hint of superiority. Harry rolled his eyes. 

"All right," Remus said. "Now, back to the Shrieking Shack."

They spent the next two hours popping back and forth between the Shack and various rooms of the house. Harry remained slightly less accurate than Hermione, but he improved as the night wore on, and Remus lost all fear that his students would splinch themselves. For their final attempt, he had them apparate to the kitchen again, and he bade them sit down while he put on a pot of tea. The three sat at the table together, and Harry was gratified to see Hermione actually nibbling at a biscuit from the plate Remus set before them. They talked quietly for a few minutes, and then Remus said that it was time they got back to the castle.   

"I'll clean up," he said, when he saw Hermione begin to clear the cups away. "You two go on. Why don't you each try carrying something with you when you go? Something small, of course. I think you're ready."  

Hermione glanced around. "I'll take this cup, I suppose," she said. "I'll bring it back tomorrow when we practice again."

"That's fine. What about you, Harry?"

"Just a second…" Harry disappeared into the sitting room, and Hermione and Remus heard some rummaging around before he returned with a small picture in a simple wooden frame. "May I…?"

Remus reached for the picture, and his brows drew together as he studied it. It had been taken for the Daily Prophet on the day Sirius was exonerated and finally declared a free man. He stood between Harry and Remus, all three wearing the insignia of the Order, refusing to smile for the camera. Sirius looked more relieved than overjoyed, and very, very tired. Occasionally, he passed a hand over Harry's unruly hair, and the three of them glanced at one another, clearly wondering when they could get away. Later that day, they had laughed and celebrated, but just then, being able to stand in public next to a human Sirius Black had held a touch of the surreal for all of them.

"I think…it's the only one," Harry said with a slight shrug.

"I understand," Remus answered, handing him the picture. "There are some other things of his…"

Harry shook his head. "This is enough."

"Thank you for the lessons, Remus," Hermione said, tactfully changing the subject. "We'll see you at the same time tomorrow."

"Apparate directly here from the Shack tomorrow," Remus suggested. "We're going to venture a bit farther, and we can just as easily start here as there."

"All right. See you then." Harry and Hermione looked at one another, gripped their respective items, and then disapparated, leaving Remus Lupin alone in the small cottage.

§ § § §

With the exception of the evening apparition lessons with Remus, Harry and Hermione had very little to do to occupy their time as they waited for Monday to arrive. When they were alone together, they were compelled to review their plan, but so much of it depended on the actual circumstances that there was really very little more they could do to prepare. Instead, they travelled the same tired conversational path, which seemed to increase their anxiety instead of lessening it. They were both on edge, and by Sunday they had reached the unspoken mutual decision to avoid one another for a while. Acting independently, they each made quiet preparations for leaving Hogwarts: returning library books and small items borrowed from housemates and making sure that their personal items were stored in their trunks. Hermione took refuge in Severus's laboratory, trying to lose herself in his books. Harry took to the Quidditch pitch, spending most of Sunday afternoon on his broom. They were both glad when night came, and Hermione took a sleeping potion out of Severus's lab; it was the only way she could be sure to be well-rested the next day.

If classes had seemed to pass slowly on Friday, it was nothing to the way they crawled on Monday. The last class of the day was Herbology, and Harry and Hermione fled the greenhouse the instant Professor Sprout dismissed them, shaking off their classmates as quickly as possible with muttered excuses about Harry's independent study and hurrying back to Gryffindor Tower to make their final preparations. Crossing the lawn to get to the Whomping Willow was too risky in daylight, so they were going to use the passage to Honeydukes instead. 

A muttered "Dissendium" and a tap of Harry's modified wand opened the passageway, and Harry stood back to let Hermione slip through. He looked nervously at the small opening in the witch's hump; he was thin, certainly, but he had grown since he'd last used the passageway, and he had visions of being discovered wedged half-in, half-out of the one-eyed witch. He sucked in his breath and turned sideways, easing his shoulders through the hole and exhaling in relief as he felt his chest clear the narrow opening. He slid through easily, then, and down the stone slide, landing next to Hermione, who extended her lit wand while he gained his feet. He was tall enough now that he was unable to stand upright in the low passageway, so he stooped next to his friend as he lit his own wand.

"Ready?" she asked.

"Let's go." He led the way, proceeding carefully down the narrow, twisting tunnel. Twice Hermione grabbed at his robes to keep from falling, and once she nearly brought them both down in the process, but they finally felt the ground begin to rise and even out. "This is the last bit," Harry whispered.

"I remember." Hermione kept her voice low as well, despite the fact that there was little actual need. Something about sneaking off the grounds through a dark passageway encouraged whispers, regardless of how little chance there was of them being overheard.

"Here're the steps," he said, illuminating them with his wand. "I'm sure that means we're off the grounds. Let's disapparate from here and save ourselves the climb."   

"OK," Hermione agreed.

A few seconds later, they were both standing in the living room of Remus's house. "Remus?" Harry called.

"Coming." Remus's voice was accompanied by the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and then he was joining them, fastening his cloak about his shoulders. "You two got here quickly."

"Are you ready?" Harry asked.

Remus nodded. "I arranged a meeting with Perry Falco in Control of Magical Creatures. We're meant to be talking about additional research for a Lycanthropy cure…as if the Ministry would actually fund such a thing." He sighed. "I'm supposed to be there in ten minutes, so that should give us plenty of time to get you through the door."  

"What if there are other people in the apparition chamber?" Hermione asked nervously.

"I can cast two memory charms as easily as one," Remus answered, "or even three, but let's hope it won't be necessary."

"It's going to be fine, Hermione," Harry said. 

"Right." Hermione's knuckles were white where she gripped her wand, and her bottom lip was red and swollen from her teeth digging into it. This was more terrifying, even, than breaking into Finbar's cottage – perhaps because that the memory of that experience was still traumatic for her. She had learned her limitations that day and was now consumed with a writhing, twisting fear of failure. For once, that fear wasn't based on the fact that she might be caught breaking rules. She didn't care about being Head Girl. She didn't even care about being expelled.

Saving Severus was all that mattered.

"Let's go." Harry's voice held an unmistakable note of excitement, one she recognized from previous campaigns. He might hate being The Boy Who Lived, but there was, she knew, a part of Harry Potter that would always be drawn to adventure. What was terrifying for her, he found thrilling. The familiar light was in his eyes as he drew his wand and prepared to disapparate.

She nodded once before closing her eyes, and when she opened them again she was standing in the drab apparition chamber of the Ministry of Magic, Harry and Remus by her side.

"It worked," she murmured thankfully, stepping closer to Harry as he pulled the invisibility cloak from his knapsack.

The witch on duty looked up at them with a perfunctory smile that became slightly more genuine as she recognized Harry. "Why, hello Mr. Potter, Mr. Lupin," she said. "How are you today?"

"We're fine, thank you, Madam Stickler," Remus said pleasantly, extending his wand.

Harry and Hermione disappeared under the invisibility cloak just as Remus wiped all memory of their arrival from Madam Stickler's mind.

In the aftermath of the charm, she looked slightly confused. "Er, I'm sorry, Mr. Lupin…did you say you had an appointment?"

"Yes. In Control of Magical Creatures."

That information seemed to fluster the matronly witch even more, and she avoided looking at Remus as she made her usual notation and opened the portal. "There you are, then, Mr. Lupin."

Remus thanked her politely and made a show of wiping his feet before crossing into the corridor, clearing his throat slightly at the same time to mask any sound Hermione and Harry might make as they moved past.

He cast his eyes up and down the hallway and saw no one. "We're in luck so far," he said, his voice barely audible. "I'm going to go left to make my meeting. You two will want to head right. Do you remember the directions I gave you to get to MLE?"

"Yes. We'll take it from here," Harry whispered.

"Good luck," Remus said, and then he cleared his throat again – genuinely this time. "You two…take care."

It was not the goodbye that any of them would have chosen, but it was all they were allowed. Before Harry could respond, a young wizard came around the corner and headed in their direction, and Remus moved away down the corridor and then out of sight. Harry and Hermione flattened against the wall until the wizard stepped through the portal that led to the apparition chamber.

They both exhaled at the same time. "Hufflepuff," Hermione murmured. "Finished three years ago."

"Beater." Harry said, by way of agreement.

"Let's go."

Harry had memorized the complicated directions to MLE, so he led the way, inasmuch as he could lead at all with both of them covered by the cloak. They stopped completely each time they saw someone in the hall, and once, they stood against the wall for at least ten minutes while two witches chatted nearby about their dates the previous weekend.

Finally they were moving again, and despite the fact that there was no real hurry, they were both relieved when they reached the corridor marked "Magical Law Enforcement." They hadn't planned a specific hiding place, but when Harry saw two wizards entering the Hearing Room, he decided, on impulse, to follow them. There was a dangerous moment when the door stood open a bit longer than it should have, but no one seemed to notice. 

The Hearing room was by no means as crowded as it had been the first time Harry had seen it, when he had fallen into Dumbledore's pensieve. Instead, there were perhaps twenty witches and wizards scattered throughout the room. A few were following the activity at the front of the chamber, while others read the Daily Prophet or skimmed various parchments. An older wizard was testifying, accusing a neighbour of allowing his pet Crup to wander at will, damaging the gardens of those unfortunate enough to live around him.

"Over there," Harry whispered into Hermione's hair. He led the way to the emptiest section of the room, well away from the door, and they settled together on a bench. The old man was followed by an even older man – the neighbour apparently – who issued a vehement defence of his pet. Harry would have taken a nap, but he was afraid he'd give them away by snoring.

The rest of the afternoon passed slowly, with two more dull cases brought before the Magistrate, but finally the last witness had been called and the room began to empty out. Harry and Hermione sat frozen in their seats for a half an hour after everyone had gone and the lights had been extinguished.   

"What time is it?" he whispered finally.

She glanced at her watch. "Five forty-five."

"Most everyone should be gone by now. Do you want to stretch your legs?"

She shook her head. "Not yet. Let's give it a little while longer."

"Can you believe how easy this was?" Harry exulted. "Everything's going just as we planned."

"You're allowed to say that once we have Severus," she said. "Not before."

"We'll get him. We'll wait a little longer, and then we'll go right through that door." He pointed through the filmy covering of the invisibility cloak to the door that led to the small room he and Remus had occupied the day he'd given his testimony.

"Do you think he's back there already?" Hermione asked.

"Likely. Let's wait another hour, and then we'll go."

The minutes passed slowly, with the two friends making occasional stilted attempts at conversation. Harry noticed that Hermione's eyes remained trained on the door, as if she thought Snape might walk through at any minute.

Finally, Harry decided they'd waited long enough. "Let's do it," he said, drawing his wand.

Hermione stood up immediately, retrieving her own wand from her pocket with a shaking hand. Harry noticed the slight tremor and the spots of colour on her cheeks. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"I'm fine," she insisted. "Let's go."

They pulled off the invisibility cloak, and Harry tucked it back into his bag before following her to the door. She eased it open, careful not to make any sound, and the two friends stepped into the small room where Harry and Remus had waited the previous week.

"It's that door," Harry said, pointing.

She nodded and approached the door, reaching for the knob as Harry drew his wand, preparing to cast a Patronus.

"Locked," she said, when the knob wouldn't turn.

"Damn. It was open before."

"What do you think? Should we try to open it magically?"

"Don't have much choice, do we?" Harry asked.

"It's probably a password of some sort," Hermione said slowly. "And in that case, there's no chance we'll figure it out. What if…?"

"What if what?"

"What if I use the spell Severus taught me in Ireland? The one I used to get you out."

If she was looking for arguments against using Dark Magic, she'd come to the wrong place. "Brilliant!" Harry exclaimed. "Do you remember how to do it?"

"I think so." She drew her wand and focused on the door.

"Wait," Harry hissed, grabbing her arm, and the minute the word left his mouth she heard what he had…voices coming from behind one of the other doors.

Harry scrabbled frantically through his bag, snatching out the invisibility cloak and throwing it over them as they moved backward, away from the door. Hermione smashed one hip into the side of the table and smothered a cry of pain.

"Sorry," Harry whispered, wincing at the sharp crack of bone meeting wood. "Let's get behind the table, away from all the doors." He pulled her down with him just as the door opened and two Aurors entered, a stunned Severus Snape hanging in mid-air between them. He heard her sibilant intake of breath and clamped his hand hard around her upper arm, silently imploring her not to make another sound.

Snape looked dreadful. Every unattractive feature seemed to have been accentuated during his brief stay at Azkaban, and greasy hair fell in a sweep against a hollow cheek shadowed by uneven stubble. Harry could feel Hermione quivering with the effort it took to suppress the instinct to go to him, and he maintained his grip on her arm as if to hold her in place by force.

"…get him in there and get home," one of the Aurors was saying. "Wife'll have my head for being this late."

"Bloody paperwork at Azkaban seems to get worse every day," the second Auror agreed. "What's the password today?"

"Mmmm, think it's 'carousel.'"

"Bet Sheila came up with that. OK, carousel." He pointed his wand at the door and it swung open. The Auror's voice took on a harsh tone then as he moved into the doorway. "Stay back, then, until we get him delivered. After that he's all yours."

He was talking to the dementor, they realized. Hermione whimpered slightly, and Harry shook his head at her. Things were going perfectly - they knew the password now, and there was no reason why they couldn't go get Snape the minute the Aurors left. One Auror moved through the door while the other guided Snape through with his wand.

"Put him down there – the first bed," they heard, the voice slightly muffled now. Harry had relaxed his grip on Hermione's arm, but grabbed her again when they heard a shout of surprise come from the next room.

"Where did he go?"

"…whole effing bed is gone!"

Both Aurors began talking and swearing at once. There was a confusing jumble of sound as they decided what the proper course of action was in the unprecedented event of a prisoner disappearing into thin air. Having apparently decided…something, they stormed out of the room with their wands out, giving the small chamber a cursory check and then dashing through opposite doors.

Harry could feel Hermione shaking beside him. "Harry?" she whispered.

"We have to get out of here, Hermione. Right now."

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 24 of 27

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