Not by a twitch of a finger or a tremor of an eyelid did Stephen Lang betray a hint of awareness that someone had spoken. Even though he knew the voice was addressing him... even though he had been expecting to be approached at any point in the three years, six months, and twenty-seven days since his “death”, he would not grant the speaker (or more properly, the whisperer) the barest of responses.
It must be an Auror, he mused. Death Eaters or Order members would have hexed first, despite this being a Muggle cafe.
He slowly turned the page of his newspaper, taking the opportunity to raise his eyes over the top edge and scan the room. No one appeared to be paying him any attention.
Cloaked, then. Or Disillusioned.
“Snape!” The whisper came urgently; the wizard must be standing right next to him.
He sipped his tea, rather enjoying himself. No Auror would make his move in the middle of Muggle London. He was as safe here as he could be. He wouldn’t resist arrest, he decided, but he would make the Auror await his convenience.
Ignoring the increasingly frantic pleas, he finished his tea and folded his newspaper neatly before rising. Pulling several coins from his pocket, he laid them carefully by his cup before leaving the cafe.
As he walked towards his flat, his puzzlement grew. He couldn’t hear the rustle of a cape or even muffled footfalls. Yet the voice continued to whisper into his ear, demanding that he stop to speak to whoever it was who had found him.
Finally, he reached his flat, unlocking the door and slipping inside, closing it, he believed, in his pursuer’s face. Not that a mere door would hold a determined wizard, he thought, however strong his wards might be. Sighing, he followed Moggy into the narrow kitchen to address the animal’s seemingly unending need for food.
”Snape!” He jumped as the voice shouted in his ear. How had the Auror penetrated his wards so silently?
He turned. There was no one there. Moggy crunched ferociously on the contents of his food bowl, unperturbed.
“Show yourself,” he sneered. “Or are you such a coward that you fear an unarmed man?”
“I... I can’t.” Yes, the Auror’s voice was familiar. As was the whine that underlay it.
“Yes.” Oh, hell. Could Wonderboy be far behind?
“Why can you not show yourself?”
“She only gave me the power of speech. She said that should be enough. And even then, she said that only you would be able to hear me.”
“Who is ‘she’? And if only I can hear you, why were you whispering?” He was beginning to get a very bad feeling about this... far worse a feeling than he’d had when he imagined he was facing Azkaban.
“Shivvy,” was the response, and he froze.
“So, you managed to get yourself killed, and it bollixed up Fate. How is this supposed to be my problem again?”
“Hermione and I were supposed to be married. Tonic and Slog say she has some sort of role to play in the future of the wizarding world, but she’s left it altogether and is pining away. So Shivvy sent me to ask you to find her and send her back.”
“Right. Well, you can just tell Shivvy that Severus Snape is no more, just as she instructed. Also per her orders, I’m living outside the wizarding world, so its future is completely irrelevant to me. Miss Granger, although undoubtedly a competent witch and certainly a better than average student, is also none of my concern. Run on back to Shivvy—excuse me, waft on back to Shivvy—and tell her that I’m making my life in Muggle London and refraining from interfering with wizardom.”
“But Hermione...” The whine was back.
“What about her?”
“She’s in a bad way. And... well... you owe her.” Weasley’s voice was triumphant.
“I owe Granger? For what?” Clearly, death had addled the boy’s few wits.
“She and Harry brought your case to the Wizengamot. Because of them, your name has been cleared and you’ve been granted an Order of Merlin, First Class. Posthumously, of course, but still... I know you always wanted one.”
“Tell me, Weasley, what good does an Order of Merlin do me here?”
“Exactly. And, since Miss Granger and Potter assumed me dead at the time, what benefit might they have expected me to receive from such an honour?”
“Justice, Snape. They did it because it was the right—”
“Exactly,” Severus interrupted. “They did it to satisfy their own sense of justice. Not to benefit me in any way. So, once again, for what can I possible owe Granger?”
The boy? ghost? mumbled incoherently as Severus settled back in his chair, stroking the cat, who had leapt up to perch on the upholstered arm. Really, Weasley was just too easy.
“She always defended you.” The voice was truculent.
“Really? So after I murdered Albus, she insisted to the Order that there must be some explanation? Some mitigating factor?”
“So, once more, we have Miss Granger and Mr Potter assuaging their consciences. I haven’t forgotten that they left me for dead. These are not individuals I feel compelled to bestir myself for, to be honest.”
Weasley sputtered feebly. Severus smirked.
As the afternoon progressed, Weasley’s pleas became more and more urgent (and less coherent). Severus enjoyed himself greatly at his former student’s expense. However, the tables were turned when he decided to end the game and send him on his way.
“What do you mean, you can’t? Get out now.”
“Shivvy said I had to stay.”
“Nonsense. No wizard has to tolerate an unwanted ghost. Begone!”
“Why are you still here? The Moaning Myrtle Statute guarantees that unwelcome ghosts will return to their bases when a wizard tells them to leave. This was never your home. Begone!”
“I’m not exactly a ghost, you see. So I’m not covered by the Myrtle law.”
“What do you mean, you’re not a ghost? You’re dead, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m dead. I’ve been dead for more than six months. But they’re holding me back. I’m not a ghost, but I’m not allowed to move on until I’ve fixed what got broken when I died.”
“How sad for you. Go back to them, then.”
“Are you joking? Have you met them? Shivvy has this eye...” Severus could swear he could feel Weasley shudder and found himself doing the same. “Anyway, they told me that I couldn’t come back until you’d fixed Hermione. She needs to go back to the wizarding world. She needs to get married. She needs to fulfil her destiny, whatever it is, and they’re holding me here—here, with you—until that happens.”
“Well, then, prepare yourself. In this life, I am a librarian. You caught me on my day off, but if you are going to spend the rest of eternity with me, that will mean that you will spend many, many hours in my library. I know how much you love such places.”
“It doesn’t matter.” From the sound of it, Weasley was almost weeping. “You’ve got to help Hermione, You’ve got to. And if that means I have to stay with you and go to your library every day until you help her, then I’ll do that. Because they say you’re the only hope for her, and she’s grieving herself to death. So you’re stuck with me until you help her.”
“Fine, then. Make yourself at home out here. I’m going to bed.”
So saying, Severus rose and stomped to his small bedroom, Moggy at his heels. He took great satisfaction at the solid slam of the door, even though he knew that Weasley could pass through it at will. He trusted that his commanding tone would still have an effect on—
“Not so fast.” Wonderful. Weasley was now impervious to his former professor’s authority.
“Weasley, it’s late. I’m tired, and I have to go to work tomorrow.”
“Tough. Hermione’s in despair, and you’re refusing to help her. Why should I care that you’re tired?” Too late, Severus recalled the boy’s sheer obstinacy.
It was going to be a long night.
Six days later, Severus threw in the towel. Ghosts—or whatever Weasley was—didn’t sleep. Neither did Severus, as long as Weasley was around.
The boy babbled. He told stories about Granger... about how wonderful she was and about her current pitiful state. He told the story of Wonderboy’s final confrontation with the Dark Lord at least six dozen times. He sang... badly. He confessed to having deserted Potter and Granger mid-quest and to having resisted their decision to redeem Severus’s name. He recited the Tales of Beedle the Bard as if they were Gospel.
Severus couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work. And Weasley showed no sign of relenting... on the contrary, he promised to continue until Severus cooperated.
Finally, the exhausted wizard capitulated.
“All right. If I go to see her, will you let me sleep tonight?”
“If you go to see her, speak with her, and make a plan to see her again, you may sleep tonight.”
“You’re as bad as Dumbledore. And you know what happened to him,” Severus snarled towards the chair where Weasley liked to sit. (Or so he imagined; the voice seemed to come from there more often than not.)
“You can’t kill me. I’m already dead.”
“I’ll find a way.”
Weasley sighed. “Just talk to her. Be kind to her. That’s all I ask for today. You may sleep tonight, if you do that.”
Severus was uncomfortably aware of his invisible companion as he entered the Starbucks near Trafalgar Square. He hadn’t believed it when Weasley had told him that Granger was working as a barista, but now the evidence was before him.
Or rather, the evidence was that she had been working as a barista; now she was being sacked.
“I’m sorry, Hermione. I gave you this job because I was fond of your parents. But customers want someone cheerful waiting on them, not a girl who looks like she’s going to burst into tears at any moment. Maybe if you get some therapy... perhaps antidepressants... well, maybe when you’re better, we can give it another try. But for now, you’re in no shape to work here.”
The woman’s voice was kind. Pitying, even. Severus’ teeth clenched at the tone. He braced himself for Granger’s inevitable explosion, but it never came. Instead, the painfully thin young woman with the long, bushy ponytail and tear-filled brown eyes untied her apron with reedlike, nervous fingers and handed it to her now-former employer.
“What will you do?” the woman asked. Granger just looked at her before turning away. The woman caught her arm. “Hermione...”
Behind him, Weasley hissed. Granger froze, not turning. Severus decided it was time to intervene.
“Ah, Miss Granger. I’m so glad to see you today,” he drawled, injecting as much pleasure into his tone as he possibly could.
He was pleased to see the woman’s hand fall away from Granger’s arm as she spun to face him, eyes wide with shock. He gave a miniscule shake of his head, and she closed her mouth tightly, no doubt in an effort to control the flood of questions rising to her lips.
He extended his hand to the manager. “Stephen Lang, ma’am. I’m a former professor of Miss Granger’s, and I’ve been hoping to speak with her.” After the briefest of handshakes, he continued, “If you’ll excuse us?” He took Granger’s hand, tucked it into the crook of his arm, and led her towards the door.
“Did you have a handbag? A jacket?” He smiled as kindly as he could when she shook her head slightly. If possible, she looked even more alarmed. “Excellent, then. Let’s find a place where we can talk.”
He strode into the late summer sunlight, Granger half a step behind. He knew Weasley was there somewhere and hoped he’d have the sense to remain silent.
Severus had a problem to solve.