Rating: Mild R, for profanity and adult themes.

Pairing: Hermione Granger/Severus Snape

Disclaimer: (Applies to all chapters) All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series of books belong to J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers and are being used without permission. No money is being made from their use in this story, and no infringement on the rightful owners is intended. I do claim the words written as my own. Please do not archive without permission.

Beta Thanks: I'd like to express my huge debt of gratitude to my friend and beta reader extraordinaire for her advice and encouragement on this story, as on others. "The Buried Life" would be a very different thing indeed were it not for her counsel and red pen.

Feedback: can be sent to kalinalea@yahoo.com. Reviews are lovely, too!

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The Buried Life: Prologue


Harry Potter was tired.

His life, which at one time had seemed a grand adventure, particularly when compared to being cooped up inside a cupboard, now made him feel continuously queasy with the sheer excesses of excitement. What had once been intoxicating, invigorating, thrilling, was now simply exhausting. In his first years at Hogwarts, he had been like the clichéd kid-in-a-candy-store. He had pursued the excitement at first, turned it into a game, dragged his friends along for his wild ride – gorged himself – until suddenly, at the end of his fourth year, it quit being a game.

"Kill the spare."

That's what his friends had become in Voldemort's single-minded pursuit of Harry Potter: completely expendable, their worth in Voldemort's estimation reduced to Harry's reactions. Harry had tried to get them to abandon him - had tried, for a time, to isolate himself in the hopes of keeping them safe, but Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were made of sterner stuff than that and refused to leave his side. In his fifth year, they had followed him into the Forbidden Forest and gazed on Voldemort's reptilian face and vicious red eyes for the first time. Ron missed finals that year; he had been in the hospital wing recovering from the after-effects of the thrice-repeated Cruciatus curse Voldemort had laughingly cast. Harry knew with a certainty borne of far-too-intimate acquaintance that the only reason Voldemort had cast Cruciatus instead of Avada Kedavra at Ron was that he took such pleasure in tormenting Harry with his friend's pain. Hermione had remained concealed beneath the invisibility cloak and had managed to cast several well-timed diversion charms. She had probably saved all their lives that night though, of course, Harry was the one who received the ovation at the Leaving Feast. Harry was the one who was made, in his sixth year at Hogwarts, a full member of Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix.

And so it came to pass that in late May of that year, he stood in an obscure field outside of Hogsmeade alongside other members of the Order - including his Godfather and several of his professors – and defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort.

Finally.

Once and for all.

Dead, gone, and never coming back.

Voldemort had claimed that he couldn't be killed. Virtually everyone believed that Voldemort would never be killed. Even the members of the Order had hoped for, at best, a return to the days after Harry had received his scar, when Voldemort was so weakened that he lost his following and his ability to wreak havoc on the world. No one hoped for a miracle – just a respite from the fear and suspicion that poisoned the wizarding world every minute that Voldemort wielded his power.

One man, and one man only, had known the truth, and, inscrutable as ever, he had kept it to himself.

Harry looked up at the all-too-familiar ceiling, acknowledging its cracks as old friends and wondering, with some detached part of his brain, if perhaps Professor Trelawney might be able to read something in their pattern. She professed an ability to read something in virtually everything else, so it wouldn't surprise him at all if the ancient plaster led to a burst of prophesy. Let's see…that long line there probably means that someone wants me dead. That'd make her happy. Though the list of people who want me dead is a bit shorter today than it was yesterday. The short one probably means that a bunch of people I hardly know sent candy I don't feel like eating. He glanced at the table next to him and noted dispassionately that it was probably his biggest haul ever. His eyes flickered over the pile of Chocolate Frogs, still in their wrappers. Ron usually had those eaten before Harry even woke up from whatever Voldemort-induced state of unconsciousness had landed him in the infirmary.

Back to the lines, then.

Hmmm. That middle one probably means that Snape is going to give me a detention for not turning in my Potions assignment this morning. I can hear it now: "And I suppose you think saving the world excuses you from your responsibilities as a student at this school, don't you Mr. Potter? Well, the rest of the wizarding population may be impressed with you, but I can assure you that I do not share in their adoration. Twenty points from Gryffindor, and you'll be spending tonight with Mr. Filch."

Harry laughed out loud, a harsh, bitter sound in the echoing room.

"Care to let an old man in on the joke?" Albus Dumbledore, resplendent as always in robes of white and gold, looked at him from the doorway of the infirmary. "I find that I could use one right now."

Harry blushed and straightened up in his bed. "Er…just wondering if Professor Trelawney would be able to read anything from these cracks in the ceiling." He felt like an idiot the minute the words came out of his mouth, but Dumbledore smiled at him kindly and moved to his bedside.

"She probably could, at that," he answered, settling his elaborately-robed form comfortably in a chair "I'm not sure anyone in the history of Hogwarts has become as familiar with those cracks as you have, Harry. Let's hope this is your last official visit here."

"Well it should be, shouldn't it? Unless I fall off my broom or something."

"Yes." Dumbledore sat in silence then, staring just over Harry's head, and Harry shifted uncomfortably in the bed.

"Sir?"

"Yes, Harry."

"I have some questions – about last night, I mean."

"I imagined you would," Dumbledore said simply, peering at Harry over the half-moon glasses. "You may ask me anything, Harry."

Harry noted that Dumbledore didn't qualify the offer as he usually did, but he didn't for a moment expect the straight truth from the Headmaster. The old man never prevaricated, but he had a verbal agility that allowed him to sidestep the truth, tap dance around it, and then land lightly with a half twist some distance away. Conversations with Dumbledore were often dizzying experiences, and Harry really wasn't in the mood for fancy footwork.

Dumbledore was looking at him expectantly. Harry marshalled his thoughts. "Mr. and Mrs. Weasley…are they…?"

"They were here this morning to claim…to take Ron home," Dumbledore answered heavily. "Miss Weasley went with them. She has been excused from her final examinations this year."

"I wanted to talk to them," Harry said quietly.

"And they will want to talk to you, too, I'm sure. They do not blame you, Harry. Arthur was quite clear on that point."

"Stupid git," Harry said bitterly. "Why did he have to follow me? Voldemort cursed him before I ever even knew he was there. Voldemort thought that was quite funny."

Harry wondered at his own calm words, at the strength of his voice, but it seemed that his grief for Ron was buried deep beneath too many other feelings, and first among them was this consuming exhaustion that left him sufficient energy to consider cracks on the ceiling but none whatever to express his anguish at the loss of his best friend.

"Ron Weasley gave his life to the cause last night, Harry. If it hadn't been for him, we wouldn't have known where to find you. Professor McGonagall saw him sneaking out, you see. He followed you, and we followed him. I know it's difficult, Harry, but Ron had to die for you to do what you did."

"I don't understand," Harry said, feeling dull and at least one step behind, as he usually did during conversations with Dumbledore. "It just doesn't make sense. If I have the power to kill Voldemort, why didn't I do it last year? Or the year before that? Last night, he got hold of my wand, and yet somehow, I managed to defeat the most powerful wizard in the world. And you're saying Ron had something to do with that?"

"He had everything to do with it." Dumbledore's voice was gentle, and the wizened eyes that looked on Harry were sad. "May I ask you something, Harry?"

"Sure, Professor."

"Yesterday you killed Lord Voldemort – the first time you've killed anyone, I believe. How do you feel about that today?"

Harry looked at the Headmaster, confused. "How do I feel? I feel…" He thought for another moment. How strange not to be able to answer such a simple question. And then he got a mental image of the flash of green light…the answering pain bursting from inside his head out through his scar…and then Ron….falling to the ground… freckles standing out on a pale face…the shock of red hair over blank, unseeing eyes.

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Wonderful," he said, and he felt a belated surge of exultation press through the barrier of the exhaustion and course through him. "I feel absolutely wonderful about killing him. I wish I could do it two or three more times, only slowly and painfully. He killed my parents. He killed my best friend. He deserves what he got and then some."

Dumbledore nodded. "As I thought."

"Sir?"

"You've always had the power to kill Lord Voldemort, Harry. What you've lacked is the desire to kill. You've lacked the hatred that was required. Last night, without meaning to, Voldemort gave you the final thing you needed to call forth the powers you've always possessed – some of them powers that he gave to you when you were just a baby. I doubt he would appreciate the irony of that, even if he were around to realize it."

"So you're saying I was wrong to kill him?" Harry asked slowly.

"No, my dear boy. I'm not saying that at all." There was no twinkle in Dumbledore's eye now and he looked every one of his extraordinary years. "I confess that I'm very glad that you killed Voldemort last night. You have, indeed, made the entire world a better place. I simply want you to understand that you might find that your perspective on the world has changed based on the choice that you made last night. To kill Voldemort, you had to meet him on equal ground. You had to search within yourself and find some of the evil that possessed him, magnify it for a few moments, and project a hatred strong enough to destroy the vilest wizard who has ever lived. That kind of hatred can poison the best of men. I should not wish to see it poison you."

"You knew, didn't you?" Harry asked in a sudden flash of insight. "You knew I had the power to kill Voldemort."

Dumbledore nodded. "Do you remember your first year here, when you asked me why Voldemort wanted to kill you when you were just a baby?"

"You told me I couldn't know yet."

"No. You were too young then. You may be too young yet, but I will tell you all I know." Dumbledore stroked his long beard for a moment, and then went on. "Most young witches and wizards begin to show signs of their powers around the age of three or so, but in their infancy, they tend to be indistinguishable from Muggle children. You, however, showed signs of your powers practically from the day of your birth." He chuckled a bit. "You know, you nearly drove your poor mother to distraction. You could summon things that you wanted from across the room by the time you were three months old. She could hardly take her eyes off of you for fear you'd summon something small enough to choke on. You had a mobile over your crib that you particularly liked, and the minute it wound down, you would start it up again. James got so sick of the song it played that he threatened to throw it away. He tried charming it to play other tunes, and you changed it back."

A smile played about Harry's lips and he sat up a bit straighter in his bed. He wondered if he would ever get enough of hearing about his parents. Dumbledore went on. "They asked me to come see you when you were about six months old. They weren't sure what to make of you, frankly, and asked me if I had any idea why you were so precocious magically when they had each been, to all accounts, perfectly normal in their development. I confess that I wasn't sure how to answer their question, but I was sufficiently impressed by the demonstration of your abilities that I began to do a little research into your parents' respective lineages. I knew a great many members of the Potter family personally, and while they all tended to be quite bright – and extraordinary fliers, I might add – none had shown the kind of giftedness I was seeing in you. So, I turned to Lily's family tree, and that turned up something interesting. Most of them were Muggles, plain and simple. Some were better than others, some were brighter than others, but I saw no sign that any of them had been witches or wizards until I went back more generations than I care to say and found the name of Anna Hallow."

"I've never heard of her," Harry said. "Is she someone I'm supposed to remember from Professor Binns' class?"

Dumbledore smiled at that. "No, though I suppose in light of recent events, Anna Hallow may well make the syllabus one day – assuming Professor Binns ever gets around to updating it. No, Harry, Anna Hallow is a part of my own history. She was, in fact, my father's mistress. I was aware of the relationship but unaware that she had borne his child."

"So you're saying that you and I…we're related somehow?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Indeed we are, Harry. When I first saw what you were capable of as a baby, it occurred to me that the only other child I'd ever heard of with similar abilities was myself. My own mother had stories about my infancy that were strikingly similar to Lily's. Neither of my brothers had similar gifts. They were boys of average intelligence and average to below average wizarding abilities. My brother Aberforth was something of a black sheep, and my brother Allenson was little better than a squib. I can only think that they inherited their magical abilities from my mother while I inherited from my father, and whatever it was that he passed on to me also passed down through your Muggle relatives. Your mother may, actually, have possessed some of the same abilities as an infant. Her parents wouldn't have been conditioned to look for magical powers and, thus, would have tried to ascribe logical explanations to whatever magic she was capable of performing. You know how dreadfully obtuse Muggles can be about magic."

Harry nodded, still trying to take it all in, and Dumbledore went on. "Voldemort was aware that my powers approached or equalled his own, but he was also aware of my reluctance to use Dark Magic – my reluctance to meet him on his own ground. It put me at a disadvantage. He knew it and exploited it. And then you were born, and you began to display signs of significant, extraordinary powers; I believe he knew even then that you might be someone who would pose a threat to him one day."

"Wormtail," Harry said softly. "He was the one who told Voldemort about me."

"I feel sure that was the case. Of course, for years we thought it was Sirius, but it was obvious from Voldemort's sudden interest in your family that someone in their inner circle of friends was betraying them to Voldemort. It is why James and Lily went into hiding."

"How did you know that Voldemort was taking an interest in my mum and dad? How did they know to go into hiding?"

"Professor Snape." Dumbledore got a faraway look in his eyes for a moment, and then pulled himself back to the present and focused on the boy in front of him. "Professor Snape was a Death Eater, Harry – of course, you know that already. He heard of Voldemort's plans for James and Lily – and you – and I think it was the final straw, as the Muggles say. He detested your father, but I believe he had a bit of a soft spot for Lily, and the thought of murdering the infant child of his schoolmates was repulsive to him. He came to me, allowed me to administer Veritaserum, and offered to turn spy against Voldemort. We sent your parents into hiding on his suggestion."

Harry sank back against the bed and closed his eyes against the onslaught of feelings that Dumbledore's recitation had called forth. At that moment, he hated the entire wizarding world. He hated his parents for trusting Wormtail, and Snape for saving his life again and again only to treat him like refuse every chance he got. He hated Ron for being stupid enough to follow him and step in front of Voldemort's lethal wand, and he hated Dumbledore, whose fault it all somehow was.

Dumbledore had been right! It was as if hatred and filth had been unleashed in him in a flash of green light, and now he was powerless to stop it. He opened his eyes suddenly, startled, and saw a look of sympathy pass across the Headmaster's face.

"It will take time to absorb all of this," Dumbledore said gently. "And you have a deep loss to grieve. Give yourself time, Harry. Sirius would like for you to spend the summer with him. There is now no reason why you can't do just that. I am prepared to exempt you from your final examinations. You may leave Hogwarts immediately if you wish."

Harry thought for a moment. "I think…I think I'd like to take my exams, sir. I can't promise I'll do all that well, but I need to be…normal…if that makes sense. And I don't want to leave Hermione just yet. It's always been the three of us, you know, and now…"

Dumbledore nodded. "I understand perfectly, Harry. Would you like me to send Miss Granger to see you?"

"Couldn't I just go back to my dormitory?" Harry countered. "I feel fine. I actually felt fine last night except for a little headache and Madam Pomfrey cured that in about five seconds. I don't really need to be here, sir."

"Very well, then," Dumbledore said after a moment's thought. "But Harry, I should prepare you…there is much celebration in the wizarding world right now, and some of that has spilled over to our student population. It may be a bit difficult for you. Just remind yourself that Ron gave his life for something that mattered very much and try to forgive anyone who seems insensitive to the price that was paid last night. I know that for you, the price has been terribly high."

Harry hadn't even considered that people would be celebrating. They might be brothers under the skin - or distant cousins, or whatever - but there was still a reason why Albus Dumbledore was the Headmaster and Harry Potter the lowly student. Celebration? When Ron Weasley had died? Full comprehension of Ron's death had yet to hit, and Harry knew that it would land on him like an Unforgivable when it did, but it was still inconceivable to him that anyone could possibly be celebrating on this day. He had never felt less like celebrating in his life.

"Yes, sir," he managed.

"You have an open invitation to come to me, Harry, if I can ever be of help to you." Dumbledore rose from the chair by Harry's bed and made his customary slow, almost regal, exit.