Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 8 of 27

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Hermione had always loved Diagon Alley. Every time she set foot on the bustling cobbled street, she was reminded of her first visit there with her parents, just before she started at Hogwarts. She had clutched her list of required school supplies in her hand and stared wide-eyed at the jumble of stores filled with the trappings of her new life. She had gloried in the purchase of her wand and had to be forcibly dragged out of Flourish and Blotts, so laden with books that she could barely stand. She had purchased the required texts, of course, but then had begged her parents to buy others that caught her eye, including her now dog-eared copy of Hogwarts: A History. In subsequent years, she had generally purchased her school supplies with her two best friends, meeting up with them after spending the summer months apart or, more recently, all going together after some time spent at The Burrow. They had been a foursome last year, with Ginny joining them for shopping and ice creams at Fortescues.

This morning was different. In the first place, Diagon Alley was far from bustling. In fact, it was barely awake and had something of the same feel as the empty Hogwarts castle. She felt as if she should tiptoe around and speak in whispers, only there was no one there to speak to. She had so hoped that Harry had taken the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron. It was where Sirius had been when his symptoms had hit, and since Hermione knew beyond a doubt that Harry's object in disappearing was to avenge Sirius's death, it made sense that his search would begin there. Additionally, neither of them was terribly familiar with the wizarding world outside of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and Diagon Alley, and she didn't think Harry would have risked staying in Hogsmeade due to its proximity to Dumbledore. No, every instinct told her that Harry would come here, and she was determined to find him when he did.

She went and checked the sign at the entrance to Gringotts Bank– they didn't open until 9 a.m., and it was still only 7:30. She needed to stop in there and change her Pounds for Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts. She had only a few Sickles to her name – barely enough to buy breakfast in the Leaky Cauldron. Still, it should be enough, she thought, and having been up all night, she felt that a cup of coffee would be welcome. She would get breakfast and devote her time to formulating a plan. Snape might be a master spy, but she had the advantage of knowing Harry – of knowing how his mind worked. She'd spent six years spotting flaws in his reasoning; she had no doubt she could do it again.

Back in the Leaky Cauldron she found Tom, the innkeeper, just coming on duty, and he showed her to a small table and handed her a menu. There were several other diners there, and they confused her with their odd glances until she finally realized that her Muggle clothing was out-of-place. Even after six years in the wizarding world, she shook her head at the strangeness of the fact that in a place that served hags, dwarves, elves, and witches and wizards of every description, she stood out in a tank top and shorts. She placed her order with an agreeable young witch and sipped at her coffee when it came. She didn't much care for coffee, actually, but in this case she took it like medicine, knowing that she needed to keep her wits about her. She ate her breakfast with an enthusiasm that caught her off-guard; she hadn't realized she was hungry until the steaming plate was placed in front of her. It wasn't as good as the food as Hogwarts, but it was good enough, and she felt substantially revived when the plate was empty.

As she ate, she formulated her plan. She couldn't shake the feeling that Harry would turn up in Diagon Alley. She didn't know how much money he had on him, but she suspected that he would try to access his vault at Gringotts and to ask around about who had been at the Leaky Cauldron with Sirius the previous night. There really was no other starting point since Remus and Sirius had been careful not to divulge any details of their own investigation. She decided that she would ask those questions first and then spend the day around Diagon Alley, watching for Harry.

The young witch presented her with her bill, and Hermione reached into her knapsack. When her fingers didn't immediately encounter her wallet, she peeled open the flap and began frantically scrabbling around among her things.

"Oh, no!" she moaned. "My wallet's gone!"

The waitress looked a bit less friendly at that, and Hermione said, "I just can't imagine…I swear it was here earlier – but how could anyone have taken it?" She was thinking out loud now. "I haven't really seen anyone, haven't been in any crowds…"

"So you're saying you can't pay?"

"Well, obviously not right this second," Hermione snapped. "But I will pay, just as soon as I can get some money."

"That's not how it works. You pay before you leave." The witch crossed her arms over her chest and glared.

"Oh honestly, how am I supposed to pay with no money? It's a few Sickles, for goodness sake. Let me take the Floo home and I'll get some money and pay you back."

"Perhaps I could be of assistance?" interrupted a smooth voice. Hermione looked up and saw her Potions professor standing behind her. She knew that overall it was a Very Bad Thing that he'd found her there, but she was in a tight spot just then, and whatever else he thought of her, surely he knew he could trust her with the loan of a few Sickles.

"Oh Professor," she said gratefully. "Thank you."

"I wasn't offering to help you, Miss Granger. I was offering to report your crime to the proper authorities. I'm sure you are aware that the commission of a crime will strip you of the title of Head Girl."

"A crime! My wallet was stolen, Professor. I'm the victim of a crime, not the perpetrator. You know perfectly well that I didn't set out this morning to defraud the Leaky Cauldron out of a breakfast."

"What did you set out to do this morning, Miss Granger?" Snape asked coldly. "Because I seem to remember the Headmaster telling you quite clearly to go home to your parents and stay out of this."

"I did go home," she said defiantly. "I didn't promise I'd stay there."

"Don't split hairs with me," he hissed, looming over her menacingly. "I have enough to do with finding your fool friend. I've no time to trouble about you. Now I'm going to settle your bill, and then you will step into that fireplace. I don't want to see your face again until the Sorting, is that understood?"

Hermione had rarely in all her years at Hogwarts been disrespectful to a teacher, but she had also rarely been as angry as she was at that moment. She rose from her chair, needing the advantage of what height she had. "How dare you!" she said, her voice just barely controlled. "You have no authority over me here, Professor. I do not need your permission or the Headmaster's to sit and have breakfast in Diagon Alley. How do you know I'm not here to purchase my supplies for this year?"

He raised a sarcastic eyebrow. "You mean, aside from the fact that you have no money?"

"You can't send me home," she said, stopping just short of stamping her foot at him. "If you're going to report my heinous crime, please go ahead and do so. If not, leave me alone and I'll work this out for myself."

His eyes narrowed and he reached into a pocket of his robes and thrust some coins out at the waitress, who was openly gaping at the drama unfolding before her. "Leave us," he snapped, and she quickly complied, giving Hermione a slightly sympathetic backwards glance.

"Sit," he said, indicating the chair Hermione had vacated. She considered defying him on principle and then decided to save her energy for more significant battles. She sat, and he joined her at the table.

"Miss Granger, I assure you that had I known how much trouble you and your friends would cause me, I would have resigned my position at Hogwarts the day you were sorted."

"Professor, had we known how much trouble you would cause us, we would have been delighted to help you pack," she answered icily.

They glared at one another over the table for a long moment, and then he surprised her by throwing back his head and laughing. She cast her mind back and realized she'd never seen him laugh before and had only rarely seen him smile. The sight of him laughing was really quite unnerving.

"Thank you, Miss Granger," he said finally. "I am pleased to have our terms so neatly defined. Fortunately, we need endure one another for only one more year. And having made it this far, I would prefer to suffer your presence in my classroom for a few more months rather than explain to Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore that I allowed you to get yourself killed by meddling in something that doesn't concern you."

"Harry doesn't concern me?" Hermione's voice was deadly.

"Perhaps I misspoke myself," Snape said, and his tone was, for him, remarkably conciliatory. "Of course Potter concerns you, but involving yourself in this will only place you in the same danger that faces him right now. Have you learned nothing from Mr Weasley's death? Would you ask Potter to go through that again?"

She blanched at the mention of Ron. She had to admit, Snape made a decent argument – damn him. But she wasn't quite prepared to give up yet. "Professor, I know that you are better trained for this kind of thing than I am, but I also think I have some advantages that you don't. In the first place, I know Harry – I know how he thinks. I've been helping him plan things for years now, and I think I'm in the best position to anticipate him."

"You've been doing his thinking for him for years. That's not the same thing."

"I know his weaknesses," she insisted. "I can help find him. And my second point was that in the event that we do find him, Harry would be more likely to come to me than to you, or Dumbledore, or anyone else."

"'In the event that we find him'?" Snape repeated, incredulous. "Surely you don't think that I'm going to allow you to assist me in this."

"I was envisioning myself as more of a partner than an assistant," she said with asperity. "But call it what you will, I can help you, Professor. Your chances of finding Harry are better working with me."

"Let's just take a moment to examine the liabilities you bring to this proposed 'partnership'," he sneered. "You're an under-aged witch, which means that you can't use your wand. You're not licensed to Apparate, which means that if I agreed to let you accompany me, we'd be stuck looking for fireplaces all over Britain. You are one of my students – a female student – and the very idea of us travelling together is wildly inappropriate and could damage both our reputations. Finally, you're Muggle born, and given the men I'm forced to associate with, that makes you automatically vulnerable."

"I refused to be frightened by a bunch of bigots," she said, tossing back her hair.

"You foolish girl! You should be frightened. The fact that they're ignorant doesn't make them less frightening – it makes them more so, and if you had an iota of common sense you'd realize that. You have no idea what I've seen these men do to girls like you, but I can assure you that death would have been merciful by comparison."

She flushed at that but her voice was steady. "I consider myself warned, Professor. Unless they prick my finger and do a blood test upon meeting me, I see no reason why my shameful heritage should even come up."

He narrowed his eyes. "Then you think you're capable of playing a role? Of lying outright if need be? You Gryffindors are not known for being gifted at dissimulation, but if I agree to this, it will almost certainly be required of you."

She took heart at the "if" and saw for the first time that he was actually considering allowing her to help. She was being interviewed, she realized with a surge of hope. "I prefer honesty, Professor, but if you recall, I've managed to be successfully dishonest on several occasions and feel sure I could do so again, particularly if it was to help Harry."

He nodded at that and looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. The jury was considering its verdict, and she held her breath waiting to hear what it would decide. "It is possible that you might actually be of some use to me," he said finally. "With any luck at all, Potter will be stupid enough to show his famous face here in Diagon Alley today and we will find him before anyone else does. He will be only slightly better off in my hands than in theirs, but I will return him to Hogwarts in one piece, and I doubt he'll get a similar offer from the kidnappers. If we do not find him today, I will let you help me look for him, assuming you agree to several ground rules."

"And they are?"

"First, I am in charge. You are to do what I say, when I say, without asking the endless and annoying questions for which you are so famous. In return, I shall make a genuine attempt to keep you apprised of what we are doing, and why. In short, I will trust you, Miss Granger. I will trust you to act intelligently and to respect the fact that I have more experience at subterfuge than you have."

She looked at him thoughtfully, considering what he had said. On the one hand, she didn't like the part where he was irrevocably 'in charge' - though it was no less than she had expected from him. On the other hand, his offer to keep her informed came as a pleasant surprise. "I agree, Professor."

"Good. Secondly, I will reserve the right to send you back home if the situation becomes too dangerous. I will not have you getting yourself killed on my watch. If I determine that your life is in danger, you are to return home without cavil. Do you agree?"

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, sensing a loophole. "Does this mean that you reserve the right to cry 'danger' at the least provocation and send me home two hours from now?"

A gleam of approval came to his eye. She felt quite sure it was the first such look she had ever earned from him despite six years of excellence in the classroom. "You're thinking like a Slytherin," he said with admiration.

"It seems the logical thing to do when dealing with one."

"Quite so. However, to answer your question - no. I give you my word, poor thing that it is, that I will only send you home if the danger is real and immediate. If you agree to the condition, I will not use it to get rid of you the first time I find your company tiresome. If that were the case, I doubt we'd make it even the two hours you mentioned."

"You make your point, Professor," she said acidly. "Fine. I agree to the condition. Is there anything else?"

"No other conditions. It probably goes without saying that I'll not go out of my way to accommodate you or to make myself an agreeable companion. I had hoped to get some research done this summer, and instead I've spent the entire break chasing Death Eaters and trying to save Potter's ungrateful skin. I'm not pleased to be on this excursion, and I'll not make any attempt to pretend otherwise or to feign good humour for the sake of your feelings."

She laughed at that. "Professor, I don't believe I've ever seen you in 'good humour.' I certainly wouldn't expect you to feign it for the first time on my behalf."

His eyes narrowed a bit at her cheek, but he let it pass. "Fine, then." He beckoned to the waitress. "I'm going to have breakfast now, too, and as I eat we can discuss the plan for the day. I take it you think Potter might show up here?"

"I do. I think he'll want to find out who was here the night Sirius was poisoned. I also suspect he'll need to access his vault at Gringotts."

He nodded his agreement and then gave his order to the waitress, who was noticeably timid around him. "Do you care for anything else?" he asked Hermione.

"No, thank you," she answered, surprised that he had bothered.

The waitress scurried off, and Hermione took advantage of the moment to ask him something that had just occurred to her. "What will you tell Professor Dumbledore? About me, I mean."

His mouth quirked upwards. "As I've already said, it is my great hope that Potter will be found today and it will not be necessary to tell the Headmaster anything at all. However, if that is not the case, I believe I will subscribe to the adage that you and your friends have virtually adopted as your motto over the years."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "And that is?"

"Sometimes, Miss Granger, it is easier to get forgiveness than permission."

She laughed again, feeling a vague sense of wonder that Snape had provoked her to laughter twice in five minutes, especially under the current circumstances. "That probably is for the best," she agreed. "Though I would point out that the boys have always had a greater tendency to live by that motto than I have."

"True," Snape said softly. "And last spring, one of them died by it."

Hard black eyes met soft brown for a long moment, and finally Hermione nodded briefly, acknowledging the truth of his words. "Perhaps we should discuss our strategy, Professor."

"At the moment, I agree with your assessment of Potter's probable actions. In fact, I'm surprised he's not here already. I take it you've asked around."

She nodded. "The night clerk saw nothing of him, and the Alley was virtually deserted when I got here. I thought I would watch Gringotts when it opened."

"Fine. I'll go there with you initially, just long enough to make a withdrawal, and then I'll leave you to keep watch there while I employ myself elsewhere. Have you an account at Gringotts?"

"No. My parents give me Muggle money and I exchange it there, but I've never opened an account."

"I'll withdraw sufficient funds for the both of us, then," he said as the waitress brought him his breakfast.

"Thank you," she said stiffly. "I will pay you back, of course."

He reached for his coffee with one hand and waved her comment away with the other. "It is of no importance, Miss Granger. I have sufficient means to cover our expenses, and since you've agreed to my terms, you're technically working for me."

"I wish I knew what had happened to my wallet," she said, frowning both at the loss and at the thought of accepting money from Snape.

"Are you sure you brought it with you?"

"Perfectly. It's the last thing I put into my bag before leaving Hogwarts." She lifted the bag and showed it to him. "I never even put the bag down when I got to my house, and then this place was completely empty when I arrived. I talked to the desk clerk for a few minutes and then walked up and down Diagon Alley."

"Did you talk to anyone on the street?"

"No. There was no one about."

"So you never put your bag down and never saw anyone?" He raised the infuriating eyebrow again. "I'm sorry Miss Granger, but you must have failed to pack it."

"I did not fail to pack it," she said firmly. "And I didn't say I never put it down. I did set my bag down once, out there when I was talking to the clerk."

"But there was no one else in the room?"

"No," she snapped. "Not unless he was…" She stared at Snape and gasped as the sarcastic comment she had been about to make suddenly struck home. "That rat!" she exclaimed. "How could he?"

Snape's face darkened. "The invisibility cloak."

"He was sitting right behind me the whole time I was talking to the clerk! He sat there listening to me, and not only did he not say a word, he picked my pocket. I'm going to wring his neck!"

"You're going to have to stand in line," Snape said, grim. "Miss Granger, please tell me that you weren't carrying much money."

Hermione looked miserable and shook her head. "I had all my money for next term," she said. "My parents gave it to me before I ever left to visit Harry. We were going to get our supplies together."

Snape looked like he wanted to throw something, and when he spoke, his voice achieved new levels of sarcasm. "So our hero is wandering around Muggle London with a wallet stuffed with money. How delightful for him. If he manages to avoid being kidnapped, he should have a grand time. It was so considerate of you to provide him with the means."

He glared at Hermione, and she glared right back at him. "I didn't know he was there," she snapped. "It's not like I meant to help him run away."

"No, but had you been at home, where you were so clearly told to go, he never would have had access to your bag."

"We've covered that, Professor, and if you could just move past it for a minute, you might see that we're at least a little better off than we were before. We know our first instinct was correct. Harry did come here and he just might come back, once he thinks we've stopped looking for him here. In the meantime, we can assume that he's in London somewhere."

"Have you ever been in London, Miss Granger? If you have you will realize that is small consolation indeed. Potter could stay hidden there for months if he wanted to."

"But he won't," Hermione answered confidently. "Not yet, anyway. Not until he finds out who killed Sirius."

"And in doing that, he'll probably get himself killed – or worse," Snape said tiredly, thinking at that moment that he had never hated anyone as much as he hated Harry Potter.

"What do you mean by that?" she asked. "And what do you know about this whole kidnapping plot? Why does anyone want to kidnap Harry?"

"I will explain all that I know, but not right now," he answered. "Right now, I think we need to revise our plan. We will still go to Gringotts, but there's no use in either of us sitting around waiting on Potter to show up. We now know that he's avoiding you, and I think it's safe to say that he's avoiding me as well."

"Very safe," she said dryly, earning a glare.

"I might remind you, Miss Granger, that one of your arguments for assisting me was that Potter would be more likely to make contact with you. Had I known that contact would consist of stealing you blind, I might well have elected to work alone." She nodded, chastened, and he went on. "I now think it very unlikely that Potter will be found today. He knows you're here and will assume that Dumbledore sent someone as well. If he is the one who took your wallet, he has the means to keep himself in London for a while and will probably do so. He is, regrettably, not quite as stupid as he used to be, and I doubt he'll show his face in Diagon Alley today. Just in case, however, I will put some people on the alert, have them keeping an eye out for him. If he's spotted, they'll let us know."

"What will we be doing?"

"Sleeping, primarily. Neither of us has slept at all, and we'll need to be fresh for tonight. We're attending a dinner party."

"We are?" she asked weakly.

"We are," he repeated. "You'll need dress robes, of course, and whatever other accoutrement women trouble themselves with for such affairs. I'll leave you to handle all of that on your own after we finish at Gringotts."

"Fine," she said, sounding more confident than she felt.

"I have a young cousin," he said thoughtfully. "She's a rising sixth year at Durmstrang. Her family left Britain after Voldemort fell 16 years ago, and they've lived very quietly since then and had little contact with the British magical community."

"You want me to pretend to be your cousin?" Hermione guessed.

"Very good, Miss Granger," he said, again with that gleam of approval. "I will give you what background you need to know about her, and I think you'll be able to manage any questions that might come your way. It will be necessary to darken your hair, however. Cassandra's colouring is similar to mine."

"That will be fine," she agreed with a nod. "You'll have to do it, however, since I can't use my wand."

"What fun," he drawled. "Perhaps afterwards we can discuss makeup and exchange beauty secrets."

She giggled and then clapped a hand to her mouth when she saw his scornful expression. "I'm sorry, Professor," she said. "It's just that I don't expect you to have a sense of humour."

He gave her a look that could have stripped the plaster from the walls. "I have no tolerance for schoolgirl giggles, Miss Granger."

"Then perhaps you shouldn't make jokes," she answered evenly. "For a brief moment, I actually found you funny. I doubt very much that it will be a regular occurrence."

He glared at her but seemed for the moment to be without a comeback, and she felt a little smug. She was surprised by the overall tone of their impromptu breakfast meeting. She'd had few one-on-one conversations with Severus Snape over the years, and she had expected him to be a more concentrated version of his classroom persona. He certainly wasn't pleasant – that would be too great of a stretch – but he had been more civil than she had expected, considering how little he wanted to be burdened with her assistance in his search. He had also seemed to take her seriously, once he'd agreed to let her help, and she had the impression that he would stick to the bargain they had made, no matter how tempted he was to send her home. And send her he could; neither of them were under any illusions about that. A conversation with Dumbledore – or her parents – would be sufficient to ensure that she would be home within the hour. She was there by his grace, and she intended to give him no cause to regret the decision. But with his barely controlled civility - and her own initial anger at him - had come a freedom of speech she hadn't anticipated. Several times, she had spoken to him in a way she wouldn't have believed possible only weeks before. She had spoken to him as an equal rather than a professor, and – miracle of miracles – he had tolerated it, if barely. It gave the conversation a slightly surreal feeling, but she found that she liked it and was somewhat less terrified at the prospect of working closely with him than she might have been otherwise. Apparently Snape the spy was marginally more approachable than Snape the Potions Master.

He paid the bill for the second time that morning, and the two of them set off for Gringotts where he made a withdrawal and spoke with one of the Goblins, asking to be alerted if Harry Potter attempted to access his vault.

"We do not disclose the personal business of our customers," the Goblin said nastily.

"I assure you, this is a matter of life and death," Snape replied. "Failure to notify me might well result in you having one less customer."

"We're willing to take that chance."

Snape glared and turned away. "Bloody Goblins," he muttered.

"Aren't you going to try again?" she demanded.

"There's no point," he answered with a dismissive wave. "I knew it was a long shot. I have some…acquaintances in Knockturn Alley who are a good bit less scrupulous about handing over needed information, assuming they're well compensated. They can keep an eye on Gringotts and the Leaky Cauldron for us. It will probably be more effective than if we tried to do it ourselves, since Potter will be avoiding us."

He held the door for her and she squinted in the bright morning light as she stood on the steps of the bank. "Here," he said, handing her a small pouch. "Do try not to give it all to Potter this time."

"I'll do my best," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Get whatever you need for tonight's dinner and for several days' travel," he said. "You'll need a combination of Muggle clothing and witch's robes, but I suppose the Muggle clothing will have to wait until we venture into London. For now, you should be able to find what you need at Malkin's. I'm going to step down Knockturn Alley and then I'll arrange for rooms at the Leaky Cauldron. Just get the key from Tom and try to get some sleep. I'll wake you by five."

"Yes, sir." She tucked the bag of Galleons into her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. The surreal feeling was creeping over her again as she stood in the middle of Diagon Alley receiving a shopping list of such a personal nature from her Potions master. It was one thing for him to tell her she needed a pewter cauldron or a large supply of lacewings and quite another for him to be discussing her clothing and offering wake-up calls.

He seemed not to notice, however, and simply walked away from her once his message had been delivered. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs – really, some sleep would be a good thing – and headed for Madam Malkin's to begin shopping.

Diagon Alley was bustling again, and her eyes darted everywhere, searching for Harry, on her way to buy her robes. She didn't really expect to see him, but she couldn't quite give up the hope that he would turn up and she could give him a richly deserved lecture and drag him back to Hogwarts. She saw nothing of Harry, of course, and soon was pushing her way through the door of Madam Malkin's store.

"Well hello, dear," Madam Malkin greeted her pleasantly. "You're bright and early this morning. Here to get some new school robes, I suppose?"

"Er, no, not exactly," Hermione said. "I mean, I will need to come back for some school robes, but today I need some new dress robes and some plain robes for every day. Perhaps two sets of those."

Madam Malkin looked mildly surprised but didn't pry. "Certainly. Let's start with the dress robes, shall we? Where are you going?"

"A dinner party. I've never been to a dinner party before – not with witches and wizards, I mean – and I'm not exactly sure what I should wear," she confided. "Or much of anything else, for that matter."

"Never fear, Miss Granger," Madam Malkin said comfortingly, beginning to flip through her racks. "No one expects you Muggle-borns to know all our ways at once."

Hermione, of course, had reasons for not wanting anyone at this particular dinner party to know that she was Muggle born, but she didn't say this out loud to Madam Malkin, who was continuing to talk as she searched. "Now let's see…we'll need summer weight – maybe something in a bright red – that would look nice with your colouring.

Good grief. Her colouring was going to change too, and that was another thing she didn't really want to explain. And red…well, she wasn't sure she wanted to stand out quite that much. "Red might be a little…bright," she said.

Madam Malkin frowned at her thoughtfully. "Well, perhaps you're right." She thought for another minute and then snapped her fingers. "I've got just the thing." She whirled out of sight into the back room and then emerged with her arms full of a beautiful shimmering lavender fabric. She shook out the robes, which were of the lightest silk and looked to be more fitted than any robes Hermione had worn before. The neckline was scalloped and seemed a bit too low, she thought, eyeing it nervously.

Madam Malkin read her mind. "Trust me dear – you have the figure to pull it off, and it will look lovely with your nice summer tan. Here, go try it on."

Hermione accepted the robes and went into the dressing area, where she slipped out of her shorts and tank top and dropped the beautiful silk over her head. The robes were a bit long, but other than that they fit as if they'd been made for her. She still thought the neckline was a little too revealing, but the silk felt delicious against her skin and she felt a bit like a princess as she smoothed the fabric over her hips and closed the hidden fastenings. It was the prettiest thing she'd ever worn, and she had a feeling it would put a sizable dent in the money Snape had given her, but she had promised to pay him back, after all. She stepped out of the dressing room and stood gazing at herself in front of the triple mirror just outside.

"Lovely, dearie, just lovely," the first mirror said with a sigh.

"You should see the back," the second one chimed in. "Just the thing, really."

"You're going to knock him off his feet," the third one assured her, causing her to blush so profoundly that Madam Malkin laughed.

"So that's it, is it? Young wizard taking you home to meet the family tonight? Well, dear, in those robes you're bound to make a grand impression. You look absolutely lovely."

Hermione didn't correct her, grateful that the witch had given her an excuse not to lie outright. "They're a bit long," she ventured.

"I can take care of that in two shakes," Madam Malkin promised.

"Are you sure the front isn't too low?" Hermione's fingers went to the neckline, which revealed just a hint of pale cleavage.

Madam Malkin shook her head. "You're only young once dear. You have a lovely figure and should be proud to show it off. Those robes are in perfect taste, I promise you." Her eyes twinkled. "My mirrors are never wrong. Whoever he is, he'll probably drop to one knee and propose the minute he sees you."

The very idea of Snape proposing to her was so preposterous that Hermione burst out laughing. Madam Malkin took it as teenaged high-spirits and chuckled along with her.

Another half-hour was sufficient for Hermione to pick out everyday robes and the accessories she needed to go with her dress robes. Madam Malkin clearly found it a bit strange that Hermione was buying everything she would need for that night, right down to her underclothing, but she didn't comment and Hermione didn't offer to explain why the Head Girl at Hogwarts apparently didn't own a slip.

She was laden with packages as she made her way back to the Leaky Cauldron, and she was pleased to learn from Tom that Snape had already gotten back and arranged for their rooms. The exhaustion was overcoming every other feeling, and she wanted nothing more than to crawl into a comfortable bed and forget about Harry, Sirius, and the terrifying prospect of being the only Mudblood at a dinner party full of Death Eaters. Tom reached behind the desk and handed her an old fashioned key, which she knew would have been charmed to resistAlohomora.

"Professor Snape is in the adjoining room," he said. "He asked that you knock and let him know when you get in." If he found anything strange in their arrangements, he was careful not to show it, and glancing around at the wide variety of patrons in the now-crowded pub, she suspected there wasn't much Tom hadn't seen over the years.

"Thank you," she said simply, gathering up her packages and climbing the wooden stairs to the floor above.

She found her room and first hung out her dress robes so they would be fresh for that night. She then knocked softly at the door between the two rooms. She was on the verge of knocking a second time when the door opened. Snape was wearing trousers and a white shirt, and she realized it was the first time she'd ever seen him in anything but his customary teaching robes. He looked smaller and less formidable, an impression which was enhanced by the lines of fatigue on his face.

"I'm glad you're back, Miss Granger. I wanted to see you safely in before going to sleep."

She looked at him in surprise. "I'm sorry, Professor," she said. "I didn't realize you'd be waiting on me or I'd have hurried. Surely I'm not in danger here in Diagon Alley?"

He stepped back into his room and reached for his wand. "I hope not, but I've learnt never to take such things for granted." He began casting additional wards on her door and the windows, leaving her with the impression that Azkaban would be the only place on earth where she'd be more thoroughly locked in. He gave her a wry smile, reading her mind. "Yes, Miss Granger, some do find me paranoid, but precautions such as this have saved my life before. I'm assuming, by the way, that you're not planning to venture out again for some time. I'm going to sleep, and you'll have to wake me if you want to leave."

She understood his implied threat perfectly and assured him that she, too, was planning to get some sleep and had no intention of venturing out.

"Good," he said, returning to the doorway. "I'll see you this afternoon then, and we can discuss what you'll need to know for tonight. I will also make good on my promise to tell you what I know of this kidnapping plot."

"Yes, sir." She found that she wanted him to leave. His presence in the small room was disturbing, somehow, in a way that dining together downstairs hadn't been. Even without his billowing robes and fierce glare, he was a strong force that seemed to alter the energy of the room, leaving her feeling just enough off-balance that it made her uncomfortable – vulnerable, she realized, particularly as he'd just locked them in so thoroughly.

She felt foolish for her apprehension when he said simply, "Sleep well, Miss Granger," and closed the door between their rooms.

Sleep, she thought. It'll all make more sense when I've had some sleep. And with that, she kicked off her shoes and climbed into the comfortable bed, slipping quickly and gratefully into unconsciousness.

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 8 of 27

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