Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 25 of 27

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In hindsight, all Harry could remember was the rush of adrenaline that accompanied their panicked exit of the Ministry. There was no calculated escape this time; there was only Harry's driving impulse to get away from whatever it was that had just occurred. He had been prepared to accept the blame for Snape's escape, but he wasn't eager to take the blame for someone else. Hermione, who had always before been his mainstay of common sense and clear thinking, was barely coherent after catching a glimpse of Snape only to have him snatched away. It was up to Harry to get them both out of there.

The Ministry, which had been ponderously silent only moments before, immediately came to life. They heard the first stirrings as they gained the Hearing Room; the stirrings then became a rumble of activity - a blend of pounding footsteps, shouts of mystification and outrage, and muffled curses. Aurors who had been called away from their dinners seemed unhappy creatures indeed, and they vented their unhappiness on one another since no more suitable target presented itself.

Determined not to become that target, Harry urged Hermione out of the Hearing Room and down the hall, both of them hugging the walls and hardly daring to breathe beneath the invisibility cloak as the Aurors stampeded past.

He was too frantic to remember Remus's directions in reverse, so he just moved away from MLE, wanting to put as much distance as possible between them and the centre of the investigation. He turned down corridor after corridor until he was thoroughly lost, but he was encouraged by the fact that they could no longer hear the Aurors.

"All right, then?" he whispered to Hermione, giving her arm a squeeze and slowing their pace slightly in an effort to get his bearings.

"Of course I'm not all right!" she hissed. "What happened back there?"

"I have no idea. Maybe Dumbledore…?"

"You really think so?"

"I hope so," Harry said. "Who else would it be?"

"Oh please let it have been Dumbledore," she chanted. "Please, please, please…"

"We've got to get out of here to find out," Harry said grimly, "and I'm betting they've sealed the place off."

"What are we going to do?"

"Hide out for the rest of the night, I suppose, and pray they don't find us."

They fell silent then and kept walking, looking for somewhere to hide but passing one locked door after another.

"Harry, look!" Hermione pointed through the haze of the cloak at a door. It looked just like every other door they'd seen except for the small placard outside: Misuse of Muggle Artifacts: A. Weasley.

Harry looked at the door then back at Hermione before nodding. "We've a better chance there than anywhere else," he agreed, "but can we get in?"

"Give me your wand." Harry handed the wand over, and Hermione circled it three times counter-clockwise. "Espasé Meno." She was terrified - completely terrified - of attempting a Dark spell for only the second time using someone else's wand, and she held her breath until the door opened with a quiet snick.

"Good one to know," Harry said, taking his wand out of her shaking hand.

"If you're interested in spending time in Azkaban," she agreed bitterly.

Harry ignored her and led the way into Arthur Weasley's office. "Lumos." He closed the door behind them and shed the invisibility cloak as he cast his wand around. It was a simple office, nowhere near as luxurious as Auror Davenport's had been. There was a serviceable desk, Mr. Weasley's worn chair behind it, and two chairs in front of the desk for visitors. The shelves behind the desk held such a bizarre assortment of Muggle items that had they not known Arthur Weasley personally, they would have been certain that the office was inhabited by a lunatic. A motley collection of plugs held pride of place, which was to be expected; other shelves held an ancient telephone, three staplers, at least two toasters, and, of all things, an outdated video game system. Many of the items were serving as bookends.

On a small table beside the desk stood several family photos, and Harry glanced at these and then looked away. He saw Hermione do the same but didn't comment. Later, perhaps, they could afford to indulge the wave of grief that came from the sight of the nine red heads together in one frame and the reminder that their number had been reduced by one. Later. Just then, it was one thing too many.

"Should we hide, d'you think?" Harry asked.

"Let's sit on the floor behind the desk. If we hear anyone coming, we can cover up with the invisibility cloak."


They moved Mr. Weasley's desk chair slightly to make room, and then sat cross-legged with their backs against his bookshelf. Once they had settled, Hermione put her face in her hands. "Harry, what do you think happened?" She spoke through her fingers.

"I don't know." It was the only answer he could give.

"Surely it was Professor Dumbledore…he could have…well, I don't know how he could have done it, exactly, but surely…"

"I don't know," Harry repeated. "It could have been Dumbledore, I suppose, but he knew we were planning something. Wouldn't he have told us if he was going to do something like this?"

"But if it wasn't Dumbledore, then who? There was no way Severus could have done it. He was…" she pressed a hand to her mouth and paused a moment to collect herself. "Oh Harry! Did you see how he looked?"

"He was stunned, Hermione. I'm sure it looked worse than it was."

"You know," she said, staring at one of the drawer-pulls on Mr. Weasley's desk. "I don't think I really knew how much I loved him until I saw him like that and couldn't do anything to help. He was almost close enough to touch, and I just sat there."

"You had to," he said. "It wouldn't have helped him if we'd given ourselves away."

"We should have cast Ennervate," she said. "We should have awakened him. Maybe the three of us would have had a chance."

"Against two Aurors and at least one Dementor? And with Snape in the shape he was in? I doubt it. We'd have all just gotten in more trouble. At least this way there's a chance. You know, I bet Dumbledore has Snape right now," he said in a more cheerful voice. "They're probably sitting around drinking tea, wondering where we are. Snape'll probably deduct points the minute he sees us."

Hermione made a choked sound and hugged her knees to her chest. "You don't really believe that."

"Sure I do."

She turned to face him then and slowly shook her head. "No. You don't."

Harry gave in. "Wherever he is, we'll find him."

"But what if he's…"

"Don't," Harry insisted.

Hermione nodded and fell silent. The same scene played itself out in an endless loop for the rest of the night: Speculation, frustration, and finally silent resignation, until the need to speculate built up again, only to be released in a new spate of conversation.

Occasionally they heard the sound of footsteps going down the hall, but as the hours passed and no one entered Mr. Weasley's office, they stretched out a bit and made themselves more comfortable on his floor.

Neither of them slept; their eyes were bleary with fatigue by the time they heard footsteps directly outside Arthur Weasley's door. They hurried to pull the invisibility cloak over their heads and held their breath as the door opened and Mr. Weasley came in. He left the door open behind him as he made his way toward his desk, setting down the sack lunch Mrs. Weasley had packed and then moving around to his chair. Harry popped his head out of the cloak, and Mr. Weasley gave a yelp of surprise.

"Could you close the door please, sir? We need your help."

Years as the parent of six boys had conditioned Mr. Weasley to react with rather less surprise than another man might in a similar situation. He gathered control of himself quickly and closed the door. "All right, Harry. What's this all about?"

Harry and Hermione emerged from the cloak, and he gave them a fond - if somewhat wistful - look and shook his head. "It's a good thing Molly isn't here. She'd skin you both alive. What have you gotten up to now?"

"Sir, have you seen the Aurors searching the building?"

He shook his head. "I didn't notice anything unusual in this wing. Why?"

"Professor Snape was transferred here last night from Azkaban," Harry said. "We were going to try to rescue him, but he disappeared the moment they put him on the bed in the holding area. We figure someone must have turned it into a Portkey."

"Professor Snape is being held for murder, Harry. From what I hear, it's an open and shut case. Why on earth were you trying to rescue him?"

"There's nothing open and shut about it," Harry snapped. "The public doesn't know the half of it; they only know what Fudge and Horatio Barter want them to know. Snape killed Neilus Finbar to save my life and Hermione's. They ought to be giving him an Order of Merlin."

Mr. Weasley frowned. "I believe you, Harry, but not many other people will."

"I know, sir. That's why we were trying to just get him out of here. But someone else got to him first. It might even have been Professor Dumbledore. We don't know and can't know until we get out of here. Can you help us?"

"Hmm. Well, if the Aurors have been searching the building, they'll probably be monitoring the main apparition chamber. But there is another one down this way. Very few people even know about it." He smiled. "It was put in as a convenience to those of us who are stuck in the back offices. But there's no Floo - just the chamber."

"We can Apparate," Hermione told him. It wasn't that they didn't trust Arthur Weasley, but it was best not to mention Remus, even to him.

"Good. That's immensely helpful. Crawl under that cloak and follow me."

They did as they were told and then waited as Mr. Weasley rummaged through a pile in one corner of his office. He finally produced a large roll of some sort of glossy paper. "All set," he said, giving the roll a satisfied shake. "This should do the trick."

He led the way down the hall and through an unmarked door. The Apparition chamber was a smaller version of the one they had used before, and once again there was a witch on duty.

"Stella!" Mr. Weasley exclaimed. "I have something here to show you. Really a find, I'll tell you." He unrolled the paper and held it in front of her, completely blocking her view of the room. "It's a Muggle movie poster! Isn't it wonderful? Look at those pictures - how they just sit there on the page! You know, I was just saying to Molly the other day…"

Harry and Hermione were gone before they could hear what it was that he and Molly had been discussing.

§ § § §

They Apparated to the passage to Hogsmeade and after briefly considering going to see Remus, they decided instead to make their way back to the Hogwarts castle. "If we head straight to the Great Hall, we might get there in time for breakfast," Harry said. "We can see Dumbledore afterwards."

But as soon as they emerged from the opening behind the One-Eyed Witch, they came face to face with their Head of House, who looked desperately relieved by their appearance and at the same time as panicked as they'd ever seen her.

"Thank goodness you're back!" she exclaimed. "I'll not ask for details now. Just come with me." She grabbed them each by an arm and whisked them toward the stairway to Dumbledore's tower, talking all the way. "I found you in the library," she said breathlessly. "You fell asleep studying last night, and I awakened you just now."

"Wha…?" Harry said.

"Pay attention, Mr. Potter!" McGonagall hissed fiercely. "You stick to that story. No one must know that you were off the grounds last night. You were in the library, do you understand?"

"Yes, Professor," Harry said. He and Hermione exchanged a bewildered glance and then made an effort to compose their expressions as they took the staircase to Dumbledore's office. McGonagall pushed the door open and then gestured them inside.

"I've found them, Headmaster."

Dumbledore rose from his desk and smiled benevolently at his two errant students. "I had a feeling they would turn up," he said, and it was then that they noticed Cornelius Fudge also rising and glowering at them. "And where were they, Professor McGonagall?"

"Asleep in the library, Albus. Apparently they were studying too late last night."

"I don't believe it for a minute," Fudge snapped. "They both fell asleep? The night before Mr. Potter was supposed to give his testimony?"

"I was helping Harry with his independent study, sir," Hermione offered, furrowing her brow in earnest confusion. "He has a great deal of new material to cover, and Professor McGonagall has given us permission to stay out past curfew to work on it. I don't quite see how Harry's testimony has anything to do with it…I mean, it's not like we meant to fall asleep."

"Yes, well perhaps in future you should attempt to work in the Gryffindor Common Room," McGonagall said reprovingly. "I certainly did not intend that you two should go falling asleep all over the castle. We've been quite worried about you, and I'm afraid I shall have to deduct ten points apiece for your carelessness."

"Yes, Professor," Harry muttered, hanging his head in an attempt to look suitably chagrined. "Er, is that all? I should probably get changed before I have to testify."

"There won't be any hearing!" Fudge snapped, beginning to pace restlessly. "As I suspect you already know. Albus, do you have any proof that these students were actually in the library?"

"You mean, aside from the word of our Deputy Headmistress?" Dumbledore said lightly.

Fudge got very red in the face then, and Harry ventured a question, making his eyes wide and innocent behind his glasses. "Minister Fudge, why isn't there going to be a hearing?"

"Severus Snape was taken from the Ministry last night," he snapped. "He was being moved from Azkaban for the hearing this morning, and someone turned his bed into a Portkey. We have no idea where he is now."

"And you think we had something to do with that?" Hermione asked incredulously.

"I think that the only people in the world who give a fig about whether Snape lives or dies are in this room. So yes, Miss Granger, I think one or more of you had something to do with it, and when I find out who, I can assure you that charges will be pressed." He let his gaze travel over each of them in turn, finally settling on Dumbledore, and finished in a voice that was barely above a whisper. "Regardless of how…exalted that person might be."

"Thank you, Cornelius," Dumbledore said firmly. "I think you've cast enough aspersions here for one day. We have nothing further to tell you, other than to wish you great luck in your search for Severus. It was really quite irresponsible of you to have misplaced him, and I shall be sorely vexed if he doesn't turn up. The man deserves a fair trial, after all."

Fudge gave Dumbledore a look that positively radiated hatred, and then he turned on his heel and tossed Floo powder into the fireplace without bothering to say goodbye.

The room was still for a moment after Fudge left, and then the tension dissipated and everyone relaxed into smiles at once. Hermione grinned at Harry, and he squeezed her arm. Everything was going to be all right now.

Dumbledore chuckled out loud as Minerva McGonagall sank into a chair and dabbed at her brow with a handkerchief, and then he and Harry both spoke at once.

"So, where is he?"

The smiles faded as quickly as they had come.

"Sir?" Hermione asked shakily.

"I thought…" Dumbledore took in their terrified expressions and his own face crumpled with grief. "I'm sorry. I assumed you children had him."

"No sir," Harry said, shaking his head slowly. "We tried, but someone else got there first. We…we thought it was you."

Hermione began to cry, a choking sound that brought McGonagall immediately to her side. Dumbledore removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily and then looked at Harry.

"Perhaps you should tell me what happened last night," he said quietly.

Harry did, telling the Headmaster everything, even Remus's part in the scheme. When Dumbledore had heard it all, he sighed. "I don't know for certain who has Severus now, but there was some truth to what Fudge said here earlier. The only people who want to help him are here in this room. For anyone else to have taken him…"

The Headmaster didn't finish his sentence. He didn't have to.

§ § § §



Snape's eyes flew open but focused slowly, the swirl of grey gradually gaining form and taking on a craggy solidity. He reached out instinctively, touched the wall in front of him with a brush of fingertips, and then pulled his hand away from the cool, damp stone. It had been some time since he had been to the Ministry, but every sense was telling him this wasn't it. He smelled earth and damp and heard the sound of water dripping somewhere in the distance, but his first feeling was one of profound relief that wherever he was, there apparently was no dementor nearby. His mind felt clear for the first time since his arrest, but weary and abused, thrumming in the sudden silence. He was comfortable, actually, and thought he might as well go to sleep and hope that he would wake up with more energy. His eyes drifted shut.

"I must say, Severus, you've seen better days. Apparently Azkaban didn't agree with you."

A familiar voice. Mocking. He couldn't place it immediately; he knew from experience that it would be a while before he was able to control his memories and his thought processes. The effects of the dementors should wear off soon, particularly since he had only spent a few days in Azkaban, but in the meantime he felt as if he were thinking in slow motion.

He needed to find out where he was and who was with him. That was clear enough. He blinked again at the stone wall and then leveraged his hands against the mattress beneath him to push himself upright. Mattress…bed…no wonder he was comfortable. He raised himself to a sitting position, wincing as his head throbbed with the sudden movement. The dementors left him feeling hung-over, with none of the enjoyment that should come with getting thoroughly pissed. When the pain subsided and he was able to open his eyes again, the stocky figure before him swam for a moment before coming into focus.

Horatio Barter stood with his hands thrust into the side pockets of his robes. They appeared to be in a cave of some sort, the only illumination coming from a single candle spluttering on a set of ramshackle shelves. Snape's brow creased with concentration but he couldn't come up with a single explanation for where he was or why Barter was there.

"Horatio," he managed, his voice rusty from disuse.

"I should think your first words would be 'Thank you.' After all, I was good enough to free you from the dementors, and at some personal risk."

Snape raised an eyebrow at that. "You don't do anything at 'personal risk' unless there's something in it for you."

Barter chuckled. "Quite," he said. "And this is no exception. Frankly, I'd prefer to see you rot in Azkaban. That's certainly where you belong."

"Something you and I have in common, then."

"Touché," Barter said pleasantly. "However, the difference between us is that you already have a room reserved."

"On the whole, I think I'd rather be there than here," Snape said wearily. "What do you want, Horatio? You went to a lot of trouble to get me thrown in Azkaban."

"Yes, I did. And I'd have left you there if any of the men in my employ had been able to make sense of the few notes Neilus left in my care."

Snape sighed and put his face in his hands. "The bloody potion. That's what this is about."

"Indeed it is." Barter's voice took on a hard edge. "I went to a great deal of trouble and expense to help Neilus develop that potion, Severus, and you and your little Mudblood undid years of hard work when you broke into that cottage. Now you're going to make it up to me."

"No, I'm not," Snape said quietly, raising his eyes to Barter. "Kill me or send me back to Azkaban, as you please, but I will not make that potion for you."

"You will, actually. Do you really think you're in any condition to resist Imperio? And once the potion is made, I plan on letting you be the first to sample it. You killed my potions master, so you can step up and take his place."

"I may not be able to resist Imperio now, but neither am I in any condition to do the research and make the calculations necessary to make the potion. By the time I am, I can promise you that every bit of energy I possess will be directed toward resisting that curse. I will not make the potion, Horatio."

Barter's eyes narrowed, and he pulled out his wand. It took all of his self-control, but Snape held himself steady.

"As it happens," Barter said, "I anticipated your stubbornness on this point. If you won't do it for me - one of your father's oldest friends - perhaps you will do it for your dear cousin. What do you say, Severus? You make the potion, and I'll let the Mudblood live."

"She's at Hogwarts. You can't touch her there."

"She's at Hogwarts now," Barter said. "But next weekend is a Hogsmeade weekend, and there she'll be mine for the taking."

"She's nothing to do with this." Snape said in a low voice. "She's just a girl - a student."

"Oh, I think she's a great deal more than that – to you, anyway. I always wondered how you could stand working for that barmy old coot. I should have known the job had other…compensations."

"She was with me because I was searching for Potter," Snape said coldly, willing the other man to believe him. "She is my student, nothing more, and taking her will accomplish nothing."

"Well, perhaps not," Barter said lightly, "but once I have her, there's no reason I shouldn't enjoy her."

Snape's stomach lurched violently; had he eaten anything in the past twenty-four hours, it certainly would have ended up on the floor of the cave. He fought to keep his expression neutral but was unable to speak.

"Perhaps you'd like to watch?" Barter offered.

Snape bit through the side of one cheek and tasted warm blood, but he met Barter's dark eyes without flinching and managed to remain silent.

Barter pointed his wand at a spot just to one side of Snape's bed, and with a murmured incantation a small table and a tray of food appeared. "Eat, Severus. You'll need your strength. One way or another, you'll be going back to work very soon. In the meantime, I wouldn't try to leave this room if I were you. It's guarded by some fairly unpleasant creatures. Frankly, even I don't dare go near them."

With that, Barter turned and ducked into a low passage, disappearing from sight. Snape heard Barter's footsteps and then, distantly, the sound of him calling out to someone.

When the sounds faded, Snape spat out the blood from his mangled cheek and felt his stomach flop at the sight of the food. He took a deep breath and reached for the plate, examining it carefully before taking the first bite. He didn't really think Barter would bother poisoning him – after all, he was already at the older man's mercy – but if he was being dosed with something, he preferred to have some inkling of it ahead of time. He could detect nothing, however, and finally he began to eat, realizing that he needed sustenance if he was to have any hope of thinking clearly again and resisting Barter.

When he had finished, he sat with his back against the wall, examining his small prison. Without his wand, he was virtually helpless. He might attempt to make his way down the passageway but he knew better than to think Barter had been joking about the animals guarding it, and it was certain to be warded anyway. He would investigate that avenue when he had a bit more strength, but he held little hope of it yielding results.

He remembered his earlier impulse to sleep and wished he could indulge it now, but the thought of Hermione walking into Barter's hands was enough to deny him that comfortable oblivion. Instead he sank back onto the bed and pillowed his arms behind his head, wishing with all his might that he was still in Azkaban.

§ § § §

"You have to eat something."

"I'm not hungry."


"Leave me alone, Harry. I don't want to eat!"

"Shhh." Harry glanced around at their housemates, who were beginning to fill the seats around them, and dropped his voice to a whisper. "I know you're worried, but starving yourself to death isn't going to do Snape any good."

"Fine!" She fixed Harry with a glare and shoved a bite of eggs into her mouth. "Are you happy?"

Harry sighed and returned to his own breakfast. He made a mental note to speak to Professor McGonagall. It had been twenty-four hours since their return from the Ministry, and there had been no word of Snape. Dumbledore's sources knew nothing, and Fudge hadn't returned with any new information from the Aurors. Hermione had eaten hardly a bite in that time; Harry was frankly worried. Obviously, he wasn't going to be able to make her take care of herself.

Owl post arrived while he was eating and Hermione was shoving the food around her plate, and he – like everyone else - automatically looked up in expectation. No, nothing for him, but a large barn owl swooped down and settled at Hermione's plate, offering his leg.

She glanced at Harry and then quickly removed the small roll of parchment. Her brow creased as she began to read it through once, and then again, with increasing excitement.

Dear Hermione,

I need to speak with you – privately, if possible. There's a storage room in the dungeons, two doors down from the entrance to the Slytherin Common room. I'll be in there at noon on Wednesday. Please try to meet me there. It's to do with your cousin.

Gregor King


"Harry!" Her voice quavered, and she held out the parchment with shaking hands. "Read this."

Harry took the parchment, read it quickly, and then looked at her with eyes that were huge behind his glasses. "That's today."

"I know! Harry, he knows something about Severus! This is wonderful."

"Wait a minute," Harry said. "You're not going down there alone. He works for Barter. How do you know you can trust him?"

"Well, I don't," she admitted. "Not completely, anyway, but I think…I really think he must want to help."

"Fine. Then he won't mind talking to me, too."

Hermione bit her lip for a moment and then nodded. "You're right. Come with me."

The storage room was apparently a place for the Slytherins to store extra baggage and supplies. Outdated racing brooms were propped against a jumble of owl cages and trunks, and a battered old sofa sat in one corner. The two friends were waiting, both pacing impatiently in the small space, when Gregor King slipped in, quickly shutting the door and casting a locking charm.

"'Lo Hermione," Gregor said, looking relieved to see her. "Potter. Figured you'd be here too."

Harry nodded but couldn't respond before Hermione rushed up and said, "Gregor, please! Do you know where Severus is?"

Gregor nodded. "Mr. Barter has him. I saw him yesterday."

"I knew it!" Hermione said viciously. "Where? Where is he?"

"He's on an island off the coast of Wales," Gregor said quietly. "It's owned by Mr. Barter now, and he uses it as a sanctuary for some of our magical creatures. He sent my partner and me there yesterday to deliver a Chimaera we found in Greece last month. He specifically wanted it roaming the palace."

"The palace?" Harry asked.

"It's abandoned now. The island used to belong to the giants, back when there were giants in the U.K. There's an old palace still there, but it's in pretty bad shape now. Anyway, I did what he asked, but before we released the Chimaera I told James I wanted to check around to make sure that there weren't any places she could wander where she might hurt herself. I found an open tunnel and was going to block it to make sure she wouldn't get stuck in there somewhere, but I decided to check it out first. It led to a cavern – a place where the giants apparently used to store wine. Professor Snape was in there, lying on a bed. He was either stunned or sleeping - I couldn't really tell."

"Why didn't you help him?" Hermione asked, clenching her hands into tight fists and barely controlling her voice.

Gregor hung his head. "I wanted to, Hermione. I swear. But James started calling for me, and I knew I couldn't just then. James is Mr. Barter's nephew…he's a decent enough guy to work with, but his loyalty to Mr. Barter is absolute. I decided it was best to just pretend I hadn't found anything and to get here to you as soon as I could. I mean, I'd seen all that stuff in The Prophet about how Snape somehow managed to escape…it never occurred to me that Mr. Barter had anything to do with it."

"He didn't escape," Harry snapped. "He was kidnapped, and Barter had everything to do with it. Can you help us get him out? We'll go to the island right away."

Gregor nodded. "I'll go with you. It'll probably cost me my job, but I don't care. I knew some of Mr. Barter's businesses were a bit dodgy, but I never thought he'd be involved in something like this."

"Gregor, are you sure he was just stunned?" Hermione asked. "He wasn't…?"

"He was breathing," Gregor promised. "And I did block the tunnel. The Chimaera can't get in there."

Hermione nodded, and her face told everything she wasn't saying. "Let's go," she urged.

"Wait a minute," Gregor said. "You two can't Apparate, and there's no way to Floo in."

"We can Apparate," they said in unison.

Gregor nodded and appeared relieved. "Good, but can you do it with a broomstick in hand? We may need them when we get to the island. Some of it's rough going."

Hermione nodded. "Harry, you get us all brooms and meet Gregor and me just inside the passageway to Hogsmeade. We can Apparate from the steps like we did last time."

"Hermione…" Harry looked from Hermione to Gregor, wondering for a moment how to tactfully say what he was thinking. To hell with tact, he decided. "How do we know we can trust him? What if this is all another of Barter's tricks to get his hands on me?"

"It could be," Gregor said quietly. "And you don't know that you can trust me. I have no way of proving it. All I can give you is my word. Professor Snape is an old friend of my family's. He was my Head of House." Gregor shrugged. "Like I said, I can't prove anything; I'm just telling you that I want to help."

Harry and Hermione looked at one another. Hermione was the first to speak. "It's all we have, Harry."

Harry nodded. "I'll get the brooms," he said, and then he hurried from the room and up the many stairs to his dormitory, thankful that for once they were behaving. The rest of the students were at lunch, so he was free to grab his Firebolt as well as Seamus's new Flyclops 3000. He took Neville's hand-me-down Nimbus for Hermione and then grabbed the invisibility cloak for the trip to the One-Eyed Witch. It wouldn't do for him to be caught roaming the halls with three brooms, particularly when two of them didn't belong to him. He told himself that his housemates would want to help if they knew the whole story, though given Neville's feelings for Snape, that might not actually have been true.

He was invisible but hardly silent as he raced through the halls and down the stairs, at one point making a terrifying leap as the staircase suddenly shifted on him. They had been so cautious when they broke into the Ministry. They had planned carefully and had executed their plan with precision. Now they were racing headlong into a rescue attempt with absolutely no plan - nothing beyond the conviction that they must get to the island immediately; there was no time to lose.

He opened the passageway and tossed the brooms through before wedging himself in. Hermione and Gregor were waiting for him, already holding the brooms.

"Finally," Hermione exploded.

"I went as fast as I could," Harry panted. "Light your wands and let's go." The three tore through the passageway, each of them falling once on the unsteady ground only to be yanked back up and dragged along by another member of the group. By the time they reached the stairway, they were all panting, and they paused to catch their breath before Disapparating.

"Where are we going?" Hermione asked, pressing a hand to her side.

"The Isle of Pillars," Gregor answered. "Apparate onto the South beach. It's the safest spot."

Harry and Hermione exchanged a glance but didn't request elaboration. Maintaining a white-knuckled grip on their wands and brooms, the Apparated to the island of the Giants. Harry's first impression of the island was that it was wet. He looked over to see that Hermione and Gregor were standing several feet away on the pebbly beach while he was knee deep in churning water. Under other circumstances, Hermione would have laughed at his inaccuracy, but on this day she simply cast a drying charm on his robes and trousers as he waded out to join them.

The beach area was small, which accounted in part for Harry's mistake. Waves swirled against the rocky shoreline, and a clinging mist swept in from the sea and surrounded them with cool and damp. The island beyond appeared densely forested with no sign of a path. It was not an island that appeared to invite guests.

"We'll fly over this first bit," Gregor confirmed, gesturing toward the trees. "You can get through on foot, but it's not worth the trouble, and Apparating is dangerous because with the stuff Mr. Barter has roaming around here, it's best to see where you're landing."

Gregor and Harry mounted their brooms with confidence, but Hermione eyed hers nervously. "I'm not terribly good at this," she said.

"You don't need to be," Gregor answered. "Up and over the trees and then we'll land again. You can land, can't you?"

Hermione didn't mention the two sprained ankles she'd had from failed landings. If that happened again today, she'd simply have to teach Harry to do a proper healing charm. She straddled her broom and rose unsteadily into the air. "All right," she said. "Lead the way."

They flew slowly for her sake - even Harry, it seemed, could resist showing off under these circumstances - and once she was above the trees she simply kept her eyes on Harry's back and stayed a broom's length behind. She didn't look down until Harry began to descend, and then common sense dictated that she examine the spot where they were landing. It was a small clearing, and she thought she saw something scurry into the trees and out of sight, but it moved too quickly for her to figure out what it was. She considered asking Gregor and then decided that it might be best not to know.

She managed to land without injury, though she certainly wouldn't have won any awards for form.

"Good job," Harry said. He then looked to Gregor. "Which way?"

"This path here leads to the ruin." Gregor set off, letting them follow. "When we get in there, I'll show you two where to look for Snape, and I'll deal with the Chimaera."

"Can you handle it by yourself?" Harry asked.

"I think so. James helped me get her here, but I think I can manage on my own. The snake's head is the worst," Gregor explained. "The bite will kill you, and it moves so fast you have to be dead accurate with your stunning spell. You can't stun the whole beast - just one head at a time - but if you stun the snake's head the goat and lion are pretty easy."

"I can help if you need me to," Harry offered. "I'm usually good with snakes."

"I've heard," Gregor said, "but I don't think I'd chat this one up if I were you. She's a nasty thing, and for me to say that…well."

Hermione shuddered slightly. She was happy to let Harry and Gregor deal with the beasts while she found Severus.

They walked for perhaps ten minutes, Gregor leading the way with his wand extended, until finally they emerged from the trees and she gasped as she caught sight of the Giants' palace.

It was completely unlike Hogwarts - in fact, it was unlike anything they'd ever seen before, and they immediately craned their necks skyward to take it all in. It was less a dwelling place than an amphitheatre, with enormous columns leading up to a terraced throne area that towered above them. They could tell that it had once been lovely, with formal gardens that had gone wild in the years since the Giants had been driven away. Massive benches were still scattered around, looming high above their heads, and the trio was no more than knee-high to the discoloured statues that stood in scummy pools where fountains used to flow. It was to be expected, of course, but also slightly disorienting to see everything on such an enormous scale.

"I feel like Alice in Wonderland," Hermione murmured. Something about the ruin seemed to inspire whispers.

"Then that must be the Jabberwock," Harry said, pointing.

It was the Chimaera, approaching from across the palace garden. It was one of the strangest beasts they'd ever seen – a magical accident of nature with a serpent for a tail and twin heads, a goat and a lion. It moved slowly at first, deliberately, the lion's head appearing to be in charge of navigation while the snake's head writhed above and the goat glared balefully. They all kept their wands trained on the approaching beast. "I'll handle it," Gregor said. "You two go ahead."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked.

"Positive. Snape's around back. Go!" Gregor had straddled his broom and was hovering a few feet above ground, and he used himself as a decoy for the Chimaera so that they could pass.

They obeyed, darting around one of the enormous benches and hurrying through the garden toward the back of the ruined palace. Behind them, they heard Gregor firing off curses.

"Gregor's a lunatic," Hermione panted as they skirted the massive throne area. "Anyone who would deal with that for a living is completely crazy."


"Is bonkers," she insisted. "Now come on. Let's get Severus and get out of here."

Behind the throne area, a set of marble steps descended into a tangled wilderness. "We're going to have to fly," Harry said. The steps were impossibly deep, created for beings more than three times their height. Hermione nodded and straddled her broom. Given the choice between a sprained ankle and a broken neck, she'd take the sprained ankle any day. They soared down the incline, and for once she didn't even consider closing her eyes; she was searching for the tunnel Gregor had described, and when she saw it, it was all she could do not to shout with joy.

"Harry!" she hissed. "There it is!"

"Be careful," Harry admonished, as her broom dipped precipitously. "Almost there."

They landed just in front of the tunnel and Hermione dropped her broom and ran to the entrance. A boulder had been placed there, with enough space around the cracks that air could get in, but as Gregor had promised, it had been sufficiently blocked to keep the Chimaera at bay.

Hermione fired off a displacement charm and then gave Harry a panicked look when the boulder didn't move. "It's been warded," she said desperately.

"Gregor didn't say anything about that. Barter must have been here again," Harry said grimly. "Why don't you try that thing you used at the Ministry?"

Her hand shook as she performed the spell, but again the boulder didn't budge. "I think that must just work on doors," she wailed. "This is something different."

"We'll come up with something," Harry promised, raising his wand.

"Wait!" she said. "I just remembered. You work on the stone. I'm going in. In my Animagus form, I can fit through the cracks."

Harry looked as though he wanted to object, but one glance at her face seemed to convince him otherwise. He nodded. "Go ahead then."

She transformed in an instant and wriggled through the space around the boulder. She could make out a dim light at the end of the tunnel, and she ran toward it without even bothering to transform.

And so it was that Severus Snape was startled awake by a tiny ball of wriggling fur which transformed, on top of him, into a laughing, crying Hermione. She flung her arms around the astonished man and pressed kisses to his gaunt face, wetting his whiskered cheeks with her tears.

"Hermione…" he whispered, encircling her with his arms. "What are you doing here, foolish girl?"

"I'm rescuing you, of course," she answered, wiping her tears and beaming at him. "But first I'm going to kiss you until Harry figures out a way to get us out of here." She made good on her promise, pressing her lips to his. She heard faint sounds coming from the entrance to the cave. It must be Harry, she thought, but now she wished he would take his time. She was finally in Severus's arms, and she was quite content to stay there without interruption.

"Wait," he said into her mouth. "Wait." He shifted her slightly, struggling to sit up. She accommodated him by moving back but kept her arms around his neck and her legs across his lap. "You're not safe here."

"Neither are you," she countered. "That's the point, isn't it?"

"Where are we? How did you find me?"

"Gregor. We're on the Isle of Pillars, off the coast of Wales. He saw you here when he was delivering a Chimaera for Barter."

"A Chimaera! Did you…?"

"He's taking care of it," she assured him. "It's the most hideous thing I've ever seen. Hagrid would be in raptures over it." She burst out laughing again and pressed more kisses to his face.


"I know," she said, pulling away and shaking her head. "I'm behaving like a schoolgirl, aren't I? Well, I am one, after all, and I've just…everything has been so awful ever since they took you away. And then to have you disappear from the Ministry like that…I can't believe we're both here - that I'm actually touching you."

"I'm finding it rather hard to believe myself," he said dryly. "Even with my abused head throbbing from your rather enthusiastic attentions."

"Well pardon me, Professor. Perhaps you'd rather I just left you here in your cosy little cave."

She attempted to pull away from him but his arms tightened around her, holding her in place. "Don't be ridiculous. And trust you and Potter to get yourselves off this island? The Headmaster would never forgive me if I allowed anything to happen to his golden Gryffindors."

"He's been awfully worried about his Slytherin spy," she told him seriously, brushing a lank piece of hair from his face.

"I know," he answered. "He feels responsible and shouldn't. Perhaps I can make him see that one day. But now," he pressed his lips to her brow, "we need to get out of here."

"There's a boulder blocking the entrance, and we weren't able to move it magically. Harry's working on it."

He snorted. "Not the most reassuring thing you could tell me. We'll be here forever in that case." He rose and offered her his hand. "You have your wand, I presume?"

"Of course." She slipped it out of her skirt pocket and held it up for his inspection.

"If you'll allow me to borrow that, I think I can set us free."

"Expelliarmus." They barely heard the whispered charm from the darkened tunnel before Hermione's wand was whisked from her grasp and soared across the cavern.

"Thank you, my dear," Barter said, emerging from the shadows and tucking the wand away.

Hermione gasped and tightened her grip on Severus's hand.

"I'm sorry I missed your touching reunion with your student, Severus," Barter said mockingly. "So the Mudblood means nothing to you, eh?" He looked at Hermione. "You've saved me some trouble, girl. I was going to borrow you this weekend to help me convince Severus to brew a certain potion."

"I would never help you do anything!" she spat. "And certainly not that."

"Quiet," Severus hissed, attempting to push her behind him.

"I'd listen to him, if I were you, Miss Granger." Barter came further into the room, making a slow, predatory circle around them. "You're hardly in a position to tell me what you're going to do. Your friend Potter is lying stunned outside, and if I didn't have other uses for him, he'd be a tasty snack for the Chimaera. I have no further use for the traitorous Mr. King, and he will be dealt with appropriately. So you and yourProfessor are going to accompany me back to a laboratory I've arranged, and there the Potions Master will finally see his project through to completion."

"No, Horatio," Severus said quietly. "I'd sooner see her die now than have her live in a world where you possess that potion."

Barter stopped prowling the cavern and narrowed his eyes as he drew his wand and pointed it directly at Hermione. "I would advise you not to attempt to bluff me, Severus. It's obvious that the girl means a great deal to you. She means nothing to me. I believe that gives me the upper hand."

"To the contrary," Severus said calmly. "I'm fairly certain that I have the upper hand."

Barter's mouth curved into a sinister smile. "Let's test that theory, shall we?"

Hermione tensed, and then the cave seemed to explode with light and sound and movement. Snape once again tried to shield her from the impending threat of Barter's wand, while she fought to keep him from doing so. At the same time, a powerful flash of green light roared from the passageway and struck Barter in the back. As Barter fell, an aged wizard materialized at the cavern's entrance, an avenging angel in white and gold robes.

"Children," he said softly, greeting them.

Hermione and Severus wore similarly stunned expressions; at that moment, neither was capable of making a response. Dumbledore made his way to the fallen man at the centre of the cave and stooped down, his long white beard dragging on the dirt floor. With one gnarled hand, he gently closed the dead man's eyes, and then his fingers hovered over Barter's swarthy face as if searching for another act of contrition to perform.

Severus found his voice first. "There was no other way, Albus."

"There is always another way, Severus," Dumbledore replied, rising and shaking his head slowly. "I simply wasn't able to find it."

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 25 of 27

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