Author's Note: This was supposed to fulfill a requirement for a Dusk to Dawn FuqFest but it failed for two reason. 1) No fuqing. 2) It was one of those exact number challenges and I am terrible with those. I write as many words as the story requires. So I never entered it in the fest but it was several "waves" ago so I think I'm safe posting it now. And, obviously, it was written long before the Half-Blood Prince.
Challenge #158. Snape is killed by Lord Voldemort, but his ghost returns to Hogwarts to haunt a certain Boy-Who-Lived. (Maddie Eerie)
The title is explained at the end.
Obligation is a Pain
Professor Harry Potter, Defense Against the Dark Arts Master at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, flopped gracelessly into his favorite arm chair in the staff lounge, snapped open his fresh copy of "Quidditch Quarterly," and started to read. He had gotten through about half of an interesting article on Bludger development when a cold shiver ran down his spine. Harry sighed and lowered his paper to face the translucent silver figure in front of him.
"Good afternoon, Professor Snape," Harry said, sounding as if he thought the afternoon were not good at all.
"Professor Potter," the ghost sneered.
Amazing, thought Harry, ten years dead and he hasn't changed a bit. Same sneer, same attitude. Death had not improved Snape's personality at all. The other resident Hogwarts ghosts hadn't minded adding the Professor to their number, in spite of Snape's disposition, because Snape only haunted Harry Potter.
"What can I do for you, Professor?"
Harry had tried being sarcastic and insulting to the ghost, had tried ignoring the ghost, had begged the Headmaster and the Bloody Baron to evict the ghost before finally giving up. Snape would wake him up in the middle of the night, swooping through Harry while Harry tried to sleep or pop up in the middle of Harry's meal or, worse, appear suddenly when Harry had company in his rooms. Harry quickly learned to just answer Snape's questions or follow Snape's suggestions and Snape would then leave Harry alone.
"The students will be arriving tomorrow," said Snape, flicking a piece of ghostly lint off his sleeve. "Have you got your lesson plans finished and turned into the Headmaster?"
Harry groaned. "Yes." He glared at Snape. "I finished them yesterday, before lunch, and turned them in. And I checked with the other teachers to make sure there would be no conflicts when I did my practical classes and I made sure I had all my supplies for the first term."
Snape sniffed. "Are you using the Silversleeves text I recommended for the first years?"
How could a ghost keep up on the latest publications? Harry wondered about that but didn't bother to ask. He knew Snape wouldn't answer. Snape kept up on all the developments in the field. Kept up on Potions, too, although he only sent Hermione weird ghostly letters on the subject, delivered by ghost owls. Harry knew he sent notes to some of the other teachers, too, but Harry was the only one on staff who received personal attention, as it were. In fact, Harry was the only person, aside from the other ghosts, who could see Snape. He didn't know if that was because Snape had died protecting Harry from the late and unlamented Dark Lord Voldemort or if it was just because Snape really enjoyed tormenting Harry. Another question he had asked and gotten only a sarcastic sniff in response.
Reluctantly, Harry admitted that yes, he was using the book Snape recommended. In fact, as much as he hated to admit it, Harry followed all of Snape's recommendations, not just to reduce the hauntings but because Snape was, annoyingly, right.
"Good." Snape continued to stare at Harry. Harry's response was to snap up his paper and start reading about Bludgers again.
"Are you planning to help Madam Hooch coach the Gryffindor team?"
Harry looked up, surprised. Normally, Snape would turn up, tell Harry something he thought Harry needed know and then dissipate into mist. Snape's ghost wasn't in the habit of standing around making small talk.
"Um, yes. We're training a new Seeker and a new Keeper this year and they'll both need some work."
"Ah." Snape gestured towards a chair, which slid over, and sat in it. Harry resisted the urge to laugh. Why did a ghost need furniture? "Is the youngest D'Arcy boy the new Seeker?"
Harry nodded, still puzzled by the turn the conversation had taken.
"His father was a Chaser but had some trouble with his inner ear. Made him dizzy sometimes. If Mr. D'Arcy gives an indication of dizziness, don't let the boy hide it. His father tried that and fell off his broom during a match." Snape's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Tossed up first. Very nasty."
"Right. I'll tell Madam Hooch."
"It shouldn't be a major problem. Madam Pomfrey will be able to clear it up immediately but she'll have to know about it first. "
"I'll talk to Edmund about it myself first practice."
"Excellent." Snape stood up, gave Harry a last, piercing stare, and faded away.
Harry didn't see his personal ghost for several weeks, which wasn't unusual. Once, Snape hadn't appeared for most of the winter term. Harry would have thought Snape had gone or faded away or done whatever ghosts do when they're done being ghosts, if Hermione hadn't received a couple of those creepy letters of Snape's. Then, two days before end of turn, Snape drifted into Harry's classroom and started nagging Harry about not preparing his upper level students properly for their exams. It was after the first Quidditch match of the season, Ravenclaw versus Slytherin, which had lasted almost four hours, most of it in the rain, that Snape suddenly made an appearance. Harry was sitting in his room, sniffling, when Snape floated through the wall.
"I've ordered some soup from the kitchens," said Snape's ghost, frowning as he looked around Harry's untidy bedroom. "You should have taken a hot bath as soon as you got back and dried off properly."
Harry stared at the ghost, who was making a particularly disgusted face at the pile of Harry's laundry.
"Don't you let the house-elves in to clean up?"
"Um, no. Dobby volunteers and he tends to get rather. . .emotional."
Before Snape could comment, the elf in question popped in, a tray full of steaming soup in hand. Dobby fussed over Harry for several minutes, insisting that Harry change into warm, dry clothes. Harry finally gave in, ducking into the bathroom, embarrassed that he was embarrassed to be seen naked by an elf and a ghost. When he came out, his room was much tidier and Snape was still hovering by the fireplace, apparently looking at the photos on the mantel.
"I can clean up my own rooms," snapped Harry as he sat down to eat the soup.
"I'm sure you can," replied Snape with equal snap, "you just don't. Is that Lovegood with Longbottom?"
"Yeah. They're engaged."
Snape shook his head. "Another reason to be glad I'm dead. I don't have to teach their children."
"You're glad you're dead?"
Harry expected Snape to ignore him but instead, the ghost turned slowly and looked down at Harry, the ghost's expression almost sad.
"I had a dreadful life, Mr. Potter. Unhappy childhood, hellish adolescence, miserable adulthood. I was lonely, bitter and had nothing to look forward to but another century or so teaching dunderheaded students who hated me as much as I hated them. Why shouldn't I be glad to leave that behind?"
Harry set down his spoon and said, carefully, afraid of Snape's temper even in ghostly form, "Then why are you here? Sir Nicholas told me a wizard had to want to be a ghost to become a ghost. Why not just. . .go on. . ."
"Sir Nicholas is not all knowing. There are other reasons."
"Oh." Harry watched as Snape walked back to the mantel. His robes still billowed dramatically behind him, blown by a wind only a spirit could feel. "What unfinished business?"
"That's the crux of the matter, Potter."
Snape turned round, gave Harry one, last piercing stare, and vanished.
Right. Unfinished business and the only person who could actually see or hear Snape was one Harry Potter. Harry wanted to laugh. It didn't take a genius to see that there was some unfinished business between them. But what? Harry had managed to scrape a passing grade in his Potions' N.E.W.T. Harry had killed Voldemort and made sure that all the surviving Death Eaters were punished. Harry had gone so far as to pay for a fancy stone for Snape's grave, even before the ghost had turned up for the first time, scaring the daylights out of Harry as Harry had been quietly brushing his teeth at the time. Harry had spat toothpaste all over his mirror when he caught a glimpse of Severus Snape hovering over his toilet.
"Um, Professor Snape?" Harry wasn't sure if Snape could be summoned, since he had never tried. In fact, he'd always done the opposite and tried to chase the ghost away. "Sir?"
Nothing. Hardly surprising. A dead Snape wasn't any more cooperative than a live one had been.
Harry did what he always did when faced with a difficult problem. He went down to the pub, had a few pints, then came back to Hogwarts to find Hermione. She specialized in potions these days but still knew lots of other things that Harry couldn't begin to understand. So, he found her and told her his tale.
"Unfinished business," she had repeated, then dragged Harry off to the hauntings section of the library. Harry tried to catch a nap but between Hermione's muttering and the moans and rattling chains that some of the books produced, he found he couldn't quite drift off.
"Have you ever noticed if he is held by any unearthly bindings?"
"Hmm?" Harry opened his eyes and found Hermione glaring at him. Based on that look alone, she was the perfect replacement for Snape.
"Harry, pay attention." Her voice sounded a bit like Snape's, too, not in pitch but intonation. She pointed to a illustration in the book that reminded Harry of something from a Christmas special he had glimpsed on telly at Dursley's. A ghost was floating around some place, ropes wrapped around him. The note under the picture read 'Bothwell the Buoyant, ghost cursed by the ropes he didn't offer to a drowning victims in the Great Flood of 1251.'
"Um, no. He looks exactly like he always did. Dresses the same, acts the same. If I couldn't see through him, I'd be hard pressed to tell he was dead."
Hermione frowned, tapping her finger on the illustration of Bothwell the Buoyant, who glared up at her and drifted off the page. "Has he asked you to perform a service?"
Harry sighed, running his hands through his hair. "No. And that is rather the point. If he could just tell me what he needed me to do, I'd do it and be done with it. I really don't need a personal pooka."
Hermione patted his hand and went back to her reading. Harry had a nice nap, his head down on a book that seemed to be in the same state, snoring quietly under his head in a sound that reminded Harry of a cat's purring. He was dreaming about cats when one of them, a large ginger one, poked him and said his name.
"I've checked every source I could think of and the problem is, haunting is a very complex issue. There isn't a one size fits all answer." She gestured at the stacks of books surrounding them. "It could be any number of things, from a debt owed to unrequited love to vengeance.
"I don't owe him money, everyone he could possibly want revenge on is dead or in Azkaban and let's not even touch the other one."
Hermione looked at Harry very carefully. "You did say he turned up once when you were with that girlfriend of yours."
Hermione had not approved of that relationship, probably because the woman in question was not very bright but very pretty. It hadn't lasted but the sex had been pretty good, up until Severus Snape melted through the canopy to mention that proper contraceptive potions had not been used. The poor woman had been very confused by Harry leaping up and shrieking, "Go away, you miserable bastard." He had apologized profusely and explained but the witch had left in a bit of a huff and hadn't returned his owls.
"I don't suppose I could just ask him. Hey, Snape, what's the problem?"
Hermione's lips got very thin. "Don't be ridiculous. If it were that simple, I'm sure Professor Snape would have told you right off." She touched the dusty old book in front of her, which sneezed and she murmured, "Bless you," to it before continuing to lecture Harry. "Haunts that bind a ghost to a living person can be quite difficult to solve. Usually the ghost can't say what has caused the binding or, in some cases, even the ghost doesn't know."
"Check page 433," said the book helpfully.
"Right," said Hermione, not opening the book, "Athelred the Astonished was haunted for close to 200 years by the ghost of his post man. Athelred was a very clever wizard and he worked for ages on the problem. He couldn't use owl post because every time he tried, the ghost of his post man would pop up and chase the owl off. He tried dozens of spells to try to learn why the post man was haunting him."
"How did he solve it?" Harry asked, not fancying the idea of being haunted by Severus Snape for another century or two, even if Snape's haunting was generally helpful.
"Oh," said the book.
"Oh," said Hermione. "Athelred died and then he and the post man haunted the local owl post office. The office had to close and relocate because of it."
Harry's voice was sarcastic enough that both Hermione and the book were put off.
Harry asked around, as usual, and got the same answer from all the wizards and ghosts he consulted. Snape was obviously bound to him but Harry had to figure out why for himself.
"Professor Snape, I've been meaning to ask you. Did you leave any bills you need paid?"
"You know, a few knuts owing at the Apothecary, maybe Madam Malkin for all those stylish robes of yours."
"I can assure you, Mr. Potter, that I never left a bill unpaid in life or in death."
"Oh. So what can I do for you?"
"You left your textbook in the Great Hall. You'll be needing it for the next class."
"Argh! Do you mind?"
"Nothing I haven't seen before."
"I'd rather not think about that. All right, what is it?"
"Professor Granger's birthday is day after tomorrow."
"Oh, right. Better get her a gift so I don't have to put up that heavy sighing all day again this year. I don't suppose she'd fancy a subscription to 'Quidditch Quarterly'?"
"Oh, while I've got you here, Professor, anyone left alive you want dead?"
"Aside from Albus Dumbledore--and I wouldn't really want that because he'd just find some way to offer me sweets in the afterlife--no. Why do you ask? Bored now that the world has been saved?"
"No, just checking. Now if you don't mind. . ."
"Professor. Say, I don't suppose you loved me, did you?"
"Did you take a Bludger to the head in your last practice?"
"No, I was just. . .curious. So, what can I do for you?"
"Your fly is unzipped."
"Damn. I was just in the teacher's lounge and spent ten minutes talking to Minerva."
"You had better get those forms filled out or the Ministry will be after you."
"Say, did you leave any forms behind that needed to be filled out when you, um, you know. . ."
"When I died, I was prepared for the occasion. I had filled out all the required paperwork, put my affairs in order, paid my bills, left my will where it could be easily found, packed up those items I wish to leave to people and generally took care that everything was taken care of."
"Everything that I could take care of."
It was a Tuesday, midway through spring term. Harry had taken his fifth years outside for some practice. The class was mixed Slytherin and Ravenclaw and they had been competitive all year, casting jinxes against each other whenever Harry's back was turned. Harry felt rather like Snape as he deducted House points in every class. He paired them, putting students from the same House together, hoping that would reduce the damage. He walked slowly around the pairs, stopping to correct posture or pronunciation when necessary. He noticed Snape was hovering around by the Slytherins but didn't think the middle of the class was a good time for Harry to start talking to a ghost the students couldn't see.
"Stop." Harry interrupted a pair of Ravenclaws. "You've got to keep your wand hand up. Like this. Try again. Much better. Now. . ."
It was Snape. Harry spun, wand out. Someone's Incendius had gotten out of control. A wall of flame was rolling towards Harry and the other students. Harry cast a deflection followed by an extinguishing as fast as he could, then checked to make sure all the students were safe. One shaky Ravenclaw had a singed sleeve and was very upset over his mistake with the spell but no one was injured. Harry calmed them down, explained to the student what had gone wrong, then sent them back to the castle.
Snape was still watching off to one side. Harry walked over to the ghost as the students hurried ahead.
"I know Albus thought the position was cursed," Harry chuckled as he repaired the scorch marks on the lawn, "but I think it's just that a regular person can't stand more than a year or so of miscast jinxes and still retain their sanity."
"Ah, so that's why you were hired."
"Oh, ha, ha." Harry looked at the grass and decided it was good enough. "Thanks, by the way."
Snape went rigid and turned to stare at Harry. "What did you say?"
Harry could feel it, the tension building in the air and he grinned. "Thanks. For warning me about the spell. And for everything else. For the lesson plans and reminding me to take my potions and dry my socks and everything you did for me. . .before you died."
Lightning cracked in the clear blue sky, making Harry jump. Snape's ghost grew solid, so instead of being silver and translucent, Snape looked almost the way he had in life.
"Mr. Potter," intoned Severus Snape solemnly, "you are welcome."
There was a second bolt of lightning, the air sang as if a choir of angels had passed by and Severus Snape's face suddenly looked as it never had in life, calm and happy. Then, even as Albus Dumbledore came running across the lawn from the castle, Snape faded away.
Harry turned to the Headmaster. "He could have just TOLD me all I had to do was thank him."
Albus patted him on the arm consolingly, sighing, "I'm going to miss him. He had the time to read that I never did and was always sending me the most interesting clippings."
"Yeah." Harry squinted at the spot he had last seen Snape. "Hermione found his letters very helpful. "
Dumbledore waited, twinkling. Harry shrugged.
"And I found his advice very useful, too." Harry thought about it. "Damn. I bet I forget to file those forms permitting practice curse casting next term."
"I imagine you will, too."
There was another long pause. Finally, scuffing his toe on the freshly repaired grass, Harry mumbled into the collar of his robe, "And I'll miss him."
There was Severus Snape's ghost, standing behind Dumbledore, arms crossed, in full glare.
"Wait a minute!" shouted Harry. "You're supposed to be gone!"
Snape sneered. "Wrong again, Potter. I needed to be released from haunting you specifically. Now I can haunt everyone properly."
Dumbledore wiped his eyes. "Oh, Severus, it's so good to see you again! I know Minerva will be delighted as well. We can finally get a decent game of whist again."
Harry wasn't sure, as he followed Dumbledore and Snape back to the castle, barely noticing the reaction of students and teachers as Snape swept through the halls, being congratulated by the other ghosts, if he was happy or not. Then again, Snape did give good advice. It could be worse. He could be haunted by the Malfoys the way poor Ron was. With that cheerful thought, Harry lifted his head and followed the ghostly celebration into Hogwarts.
"There are minds so impatient of inferiority that their gratitude is a species of revenge, and they return benefits, not because recompense is a pleasure, but because obligation is a pain."
Samuel Johnson, Jan. 15, 1751