Title: Unfinished BusinessDisclaimer: Harry Potter and his world are the property of J.K. Rowling and her assorted publishers. No infringement is intended and no profit made from their use.
Hopeless Romantic rating: Four broken hearts
"Hermione," hissed Neville Longbottom, "do these flowers look all right to you?"
"They're fine," she whispered back, carefully stirring their cauldron and keeping a weather eye out for the ever-lurking Professor Snape. "They're exactly like the picture in the book, aren't they?"
"Well, yes," Neville admitted, "but they just don't seem right."
"Do you really want to ask Professor Snape if you can have some different ones? You heard him tell us how hard it was to get these Knightcap blossoms."
With a shrug, Neville dropped the dried flower heads into the potion. Within seconds, the bland mess turned a translucent blue. He prodded the thick goo with the ladle, watching the iridescent surface wiggle and hoping that, just once, Severus Snape would find someone else to torture this afternoon. Alas, that was not to be today.
"Well," sneered a deep baritone voice, making both students jump. "Finished already, are we, Miss Granger? Simply had to show off once again?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir," stammered Hermione. Even now, with their final year half over, Snape continued to make their lives miserable at every opportunity.
"If you are finished, and you've done everything properly, which I doubt, then the potion should put you to sleep within a few moments. Which of you will be testing this concoction?"
"I will," Hermione said firmly, before Snape could terrify Neville any further. She scooped up a bit of the blue mixture, took a deep breath, and at the last moment dragged the lab stool under her before taking a sip of the potion. The last thing she saw was Snape's black eyes before a dark wave of unconsciousness swept over her.
"Yes, fine, it works," Snape snapped as Hermione slumped onto the worktable, the ladle clattering to the floor. He peered into the cauldron. "I'm deducting five points, however, as the color is off. It should be a midnight blue, and this is most definitely a navy blue. Now wake your partner and clean up."
"Yes, sir," Neville breathed. He reached out one hand and shook Hermione's shoulder. When she failed to rouse, he shook her again, a bit harder. "Hermione. Wake up."
"Can you not even wake your classmate competently, Mr. Longbottom?" Professor Snape demanded acidly. His long fingers wrapped around Hermione's upper arm and shook her roughly. "Wake up, Miss Granger!"
Instead of waking, Hermione Granger lurched backwards, Snape's grip on her arm the only thing stopping her from pitching head-first to the floor.
Not that it would have mattered, in the long run.
"What do you mean, I'm dead? How can I be dead?" Hermione placed her hands on her hips and tapped one foot in irritation. It wasn't the same, though, since her incorporeal foot made no noise on impact.
The Gray Lady sighed in gentle exasperation. "We've told you several times now. Neville Longbottom's last potion poisoned you."
"Neville's last potion? Did he die, too?"
"No," answered the Ravenclaw ghost. "Professor Snape ordered all your classmates to leave their stations and sealed the classroom when he could not revive you."
"So it wasn't Neville's last potion, was it?" Hermione pounced on the inconsistency. "He'll be making more potions." The Gray Lady sighed once more.
"It's always like this, in the beginning," volunteered Sir Nicholas to the Lady. "The newly deceased have a bit of difficulty adjusting at first, but they soon get accustomed to things."
"Deceased?" Hermione fumed. "I haven't even sat the NEWTS yet! How can I be dead?"
"As we keep telling you, Hermione - may I call you Hermione? - you were poisoned. Accidentally, of course, but still, you can no longer be counted among the living."
"You're one of us, now," Sir Nicholas announced cheerfully. "It will be so nice, having a new ghost in the castle. We haven't had anyone new since Moaning Myrtle joined our little family."
"I don't WANT to be a ghost," Hermione told them. "I have things to do! I haven't graduated yet - not to mention Voldemort's still racketing about."
"You'll find those things no longer as important to you as they once were," the Gray Lady attempted to sooth her. "After all, those are the concerns of the living."
"But I'm still a virgin!" shouted Hermione. That was when she learned that ghosts could blush; although the Gray Lady looked approving, Sir Nicholas' cheeks turned an odd shade of silvery gray.
Rolling her eyes, Hermione turned her back on the friendly pair of ghosts and began walking through the deserted halls. It was awfully late, she realized, taking in the moonlight shining through the tall, narrow windows. She wasn't entirely sure where she was in the castle, but she was definitely at Hogwarts. A vague memory of drifting up and down these corridors came to her, but was not in the least helpful.
Wandering one corridor after another, she eventually found a flight of stairs leading down, then another. Soon she found herself in familiar territory, in the wide corridor before the Great Hall.
"You can walk through the walls now, you know," chirped a friendly voice.
Hermione jumped and let out a shriek.
Sir Nicholas looked slightly hurt. "Really, Miss Granger. I was only trying to be of service."
"Sorry, Sir Nicholas. You startled me." She frowned at the floor when she realized her sensible oxford shoes were several inches from the flagstones and she was in fact floating in mid-air, but with a bit of concentration managed to float down to stand on the solid surface once more.
"Well, you're one of us ghosts now, dear lady. You get to startle others. One of the perks of being life-impaired."
"Wonderful," she muttered thinly. "What I'd really like, though, are some answers. The last thing I remember is Potions class. I'm going to start there, and see what I can find out."
"An excellent idea, Miss Granger. After all, the sooner you adjust to your new condition, the better you'll feel. Do call on me if I can be of any help!" Sir Nicholas fiddled with his lop-sided ruff and beamed at her.
Hermione managed a tight smile and walked away, thinking unkind thoughts about what the gentleman ghost behind her might adjust.
The stairs leading down to the dungeons were pitch black due the lateness of the hour, but Hermione had no trouble seeing. As a matter of fact, now that she thought about it, she wasn't worried about tripping, or hungry, or tired, or anything else. Irritated, perhaps, but certainly not worried.
Outside the potions classroom, Hermione paused to knock, only to catch sight of her pale, translucent fist. She inspected both hands, spread out her fingers, but they looked much the same as always other than the fact that she could see through them. The sleeve of her black robe had a stain on it, from where Ron had spilled gravy on it at lunch. The little pin proclaiming her Head Girl was still slightly crooked, as she'd been in a bit of a rush when she'd dressed on her last morning. Her uniform, when she gave it a once-over, was passable though one sock was trying to fall down. How could a ghost sock lose its elastic? Shrugging mentally, Hermione raised her fist once more to knock.
Her fist went through the wood. "Oh. Right," she told herself, and taking an insubstantial breath, closed her eyes and plunged through the door.
Gingerly opening them again on the other side, she let out a sigh of relief. The classroom was of course empty, but a light shone through the door to one side which led to the Potions Professor's office. As she approached, she could see Severus Snape sitting at his desk, marking papers. His black hair hung in strings against his face, and his craggy, angular face looked even more forbidding than usual in the candlelight.
Since she could not knock, Hermione cleared her throat. "Professor Snape?"
"It is late, Miss Granger, and well past curfew. I trust you have an excellent reason--" he broke off suddenly. "Miss Granger?" he questioned, his baritone voice suddenly rising into the tenor range. In his surprise, he knocked over the inkwell.
With a muffled oath he righted the small silver vessel and held it down, as though it might get up and run across his desk. "Miss Granger," he said again, his voice once more under control. "This is something of an unexpected development." He lifted his fingers and regarded the ink dripping off them with some distaste.
"No kidding," she replied, somewhat exasperated. "Imagine my surprise."
A heavy-lidded expression from Snape failed to quell her. "I was hoping, sir, that you might tell me what happened to me. How long have I been dead? What happened?"
"Ah," he said unhelpfully, then indicated the wooden chair opposite his desk with a wave of his ink-stained hand. "Please. Have a seat."
Hermione approached the wooden chair with some trepidation, but managed to sit on the chair rather than pass through it. She smiled in relief and turned her attention to the Potions Master, who was wiping his fingers with a white handkerchief.
"To answer you first question, Miss Granger, you died just over a week ago. On Friday. You and Neville Longbottom were working on a potion."
"The Nighttime Knockout Drops," Hermione supplied, her brow furrowed as the memory returned. "But we did that right!" she protested.
"Yes, you did," Snape admitted reluctantly. "However. Instead of falling asleep, you died. Almost instantly, in fact. Following a suggestion from Mr. Longbottom, I had Professor Sprout examine the Knightcap blossoms distributed to the class. As it turns out, the plants were infected with a parasite of some sort."
He paused, and swallowed heavily. "In fact, Miss Granger, your classmates probably owe their lives to the fact that you finished and tested your potion first. Had you all tested the potions at the same time, the entire class might have died within minutes."
"Oh," Hermione answered, pleased that her class hadn't been wiped out en masse, but understandably less than thrilled at her own demise. "Well. I hope you gave your supplier what for," she finished with some asperity.
"You might say that," he replied with deceptive mildness. "I believe he has plans to endow a scholarship in your name."
"Oh, Lord!" she exploded, as she remembered. "What about my parents? And Harry, and Ron? They must be frantic!"
"Your parents were quite distressed," Snape told her. "They retrieved your body after the memorial service on Monday, and your funeral was yesterday afternoon. Your friends attended, as did many of the staff."
"You went to my funeral?" she asked, surprised.
He looked slightly embarrassed. "You died in my classroom, Miss Granger. It was only proper I appear at your burial."
"How are Harry and Ron?" she questioned, not entirely sure the man opposite her would care enough to have an answer. "I can't imagine how upset they must be."
"They are - coping, I believe."
"I ought to go see them," Hermione mused.
"It is very late, Miss Granger," Snape pointed out. "Perhaps you should wait until morning."
"Oh. I suppose so." Hermione tilted her head to one side, considering. "Why are you being so nice?" she questioned. "You're usually much nastier." The moment the words came out, she wished she could retract them, at least until she found out if Gryffindor could lose points for the actions of their ghosts.
"You are dead, Miss Granger, and it is due only to your actions, not mine, that your entire class is not dead as well. Surely you can understand my forbearance under such circumstances?" Belying his mild words, Snape's testy demeanor began to reassert itself.
"I suppose," she allowed.
"Good. Now. Be off with you. I've things to do, and they don't include letting you waste any more of my time."
Hermione wasn't surprised by Snape's sudden reversion to type; she was somewhat astonished that he'd bothered to answer her questions at all. She rose off the chair and paid no attention to the fact that her feet were several inches off the floor.
"Thank you, sir. I hope I haven't disturbed you too much."
He did not dignify that comment with a response, and Hermione left his office, plunging through the outer door with only a minor hesitation. And then paused, outside, wondering what to do with herself.
She occupied the remaining hours of the night and early morning exploring the dungeons, sticking her hand and then her head through the walls at random intervals, occasionally finding a storeroom or another corridor. The irony of having unobstructed access to Snape's potions stores occurred to Hermione, now that she could do nothing with them. By the time she had worked up the nerve to plunge blindly through the walls, rays of sunshine began filtering through the small windows in what was presumably a Slytherin dorm, judging by the green and silver hangings around the narrow beds.
Several teachers and students were already roaming the halls, and Hermione wove her way between them as she raced to the Gryffindor tower. It was considered rude for a human to walk through a ghost, and so she supposed it must also be the other way as well. She couldn't remember a ghost going through her when she was alive, but she hadn't ever paid attention to them. Now, she wished she had.
The Fat Lady had only time to draw a surprised breath as Hermione plunged through the painting and the entrance hole. Several Gryffindors were in the common room, but the students were used to ghosts wandering the castle. No one looked up as she streaked by, and therefore did not realize their former Head Girl was now one.
The seventh-year boys' dorm was at the top of the stairs. Hermione didn't bother attempting to knock, but simply popped through, whereupon Seamus Finnegan gave out a rather girly shriek at the sight of her and clutched his robes over his y-fronts.
"Harry and Ron aren't here?" she asked, looking around the empty dorm.
"Practice," Seamus gasped after a moment, pointing out toward the Quidditch pitch, then making another convulsive grab towards the sliding robe.
"Don't worry, Seamus," Hermione told him. "I wasn't interested last year, and I'm certainly not interested now." She faded back through the wooden door before the astonished Seamus could formulate an answer.
The Quidditch pitch was on the west side of the school, and the castle's massive structure all but blotted out the light of the rising sun. Hermione hesitated on the threshold, wondering if she was even able to leave the castle, but she encountered no resistance as she stepped out onto the grass. Although the dew felt cool under her feet, she left no footprints behind.
She found the two young men plodding morosely along toward the pitch, their broomsticks over their shoulders. Everything about them, from their slumped shoulders to the heavy silence between them, spoke of their current mental state, and for a moment Hermione was reluctant to intrude until she called to mind the likely reason for their depression.
"Harry? Ron?" she called softly.
The two boys stopped. Nervously, they looked at each other, then visibly screwing up their courage, turned to look behind them. Their screams were remarkable similar.
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Hermione scolded. "What is the matter with you two? We've seen ghosts every day since we first got to Hogwarts!"
"Her-Her-Her," stuttered Ron.
"Hermione!" managed Harry.
"You're a ghost!" the said in unison.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "The promise of the wizarding world. Honestly."
"You're a ghost!" repeated Ron. "A real, honest to goodness ghost!"
As one, the boys tried to envelop her in a hug, only to end up hugging each other as their arms went right through her.
"Urg," commented Ron, extricating himself from Harry's embrace.
Harry pushed up his glasses. "Well, I'm glad to see you, even if I can't hug you. We've missed you so much, Hermione."
"Yeah," added Ron, swallowing heavily. "We really did. It's been awful. All this time we've been worried about Harry getting snuffed by You-Know-Who, and here you go and get done in by some stupid flowers."
"Well, I'm sorry about all that. I'm not thrilled about it, either."
"How did that happen?" Ron asked. "You died!"
"According to the Gray Lady I had unfinished business, so I'm a ghost instead."
"What kind of unfinished business?" Harry asked.
"Well, I have been rather obsessed with my NEWTS these last few weeks."
"Months," Ron muttered.
"So -- here I am." Hermione held out her arms, as if presenting her transparent self. "I wish I could give you a hug," she confessed.
"Me, too," Harry told her. "But having you here, like this... it doesn't hurt quite so bad any more."
"Yeah. It still stinks, but I'm glad you're here," Ron said, a trace of a smile lightening his sad features. Harry, too, looked inordinately pleased.
Hermione smiled back, just as delighted to be reunited with her friends. Another thought occurred as she pushed her hair back. "Do you think you could write to my parents for me? I'm having a bit of trouble holding a quill right now, but I'd like to send them a note."
"Sure," Harry agreed. "I'm not sure it will make things any better for them, though. It's not like you can go and visit them, you know."
"Can't I?" Hermione wondered aloud. "Are ghosts not allowed to travel? Or are we not able?"
"Good grief. She'd dead, and she's still asking questions," groaned Ron, a relieved, happy expression spreading across his face. "I suppose you'll want to look it up in the library, won't you?"
"Of course," Hermione said with a grin. "I've got loads of things to find out."
A voice from the direction of the pitch called to Harry and Ron, and they waved back.
"In a minute," Ron hollered.
"We've got to go," Harry said hurriedly. "We've already missed two practices, and if I miss a third I have to resign as captain of the team."
"We'll meet you in the library after lunch," Ron told her. "It's really good to see you, Hermione. I'm glad you're still going to be around."
Hermione waved as the boys ran off to the pitch, her heart lifting to see the spring in their steps now that they knew she was, if not precisely the same, still their friend and confidante. Smiling to herself, she went back up to the castle, noting how just being inside the massive stone edifice made her feel cozy and protected.
Once she'd reached the Gryffindor tower again, she remembered to say "Excuse me," to the Fat Lady as she plunged through the portrait hole. She had no idea what the password was, and frankly didn't care. The common room was deserted, leading Hermione to guess that it was Saturday. The other Gryffindors were either at breakfast or sleeping in.
Upstairs, she was a bit shocked to see only two beds in the room she'd occupied with Parvati Patel and Lavender Brown for the last six years. In the space her bed had once occupied there remained only a few boxes, one of which contained her textbooks. No trace of her trunk or clothing remained, and even Crookshanks' food and water bowl had disappeared. She spared a thought for the cat that had been her companion for the last five years, but could only assume her parents had taken him home with them.
Her former roommates' voices drifted through the door and Hermione straightened, happily anticipating an effusive greeting from her friends. Instead, the two girls entered the room, still chattering, and as they caught sight of Hermione's ghostly form, immediately dropped their bath things and began screaming.
"Oh, shut up, you two!" she demanded.
Unlike Ron and Harry, the two girls merely shifted keys and screeched even louder, clutching at each other before abruptly remembering they had feet and scrambling backwards through the door. The noise, however, had attracted the attention of the other Gryffindors returning from breakfast. A wide-eyed crowd began forming in the hallway.
"See? I'm not insane!" declared Seamus, fully dressed now. He pointed at Hermione. "I told you I saw her!" At his side, Neville and Dean nodded dumbly.
"What is the meaning of this hullabaloo?" demanded a stern voice, and the students reluctantly made way for their Head of House. Professor McGonagall prodded a sixth-year out of her way and stopped at the threshold of the room. "Good heavens," she exclaimed as she saw Hermione standing beside her boxed possessions.
"Good morning, Professor," she said politely.
McGonagall's mouth opened and closed three times before something came out. "Good morning. Are you the ghost of Hermione Granger?"
Amused at the phrasing, Hermione nodded.
"I see," said the older witch. "And what are your intentions?"
"I have no intentions," Hermione responded, puzzled. "I've only just woken up, or materialized, or whatever. I wanted to see what I'd missed." She indicated the boxes that incorporated her entire academic career. "Apparently I'm too late to make much of a difference."
"You're worried about your books?" Professor McGonagall asked sharply. "Do you wish something done with them?"
Becoming exasperated, Hermione crossed her arms. "Not really. Though Ginny Weasley is welcome to them, if she wants them."
"Miss Weasley!" McGonagall called over her shoulder. "Will you come here, please?"
The pretty red-haired girl appeared at the door and waved gingerly. "Hello, Hermione. How are you?"
"Dead, apparently," Hermione answered, smiling. Ginny's answering smile was a bit stiff, and Hermione sighed. "Would you like my books? You won't need them until next year, but I'd rather give them to you. Apparently my parents – " Hermione's voice caught suddenly, but she forced herself to continue, "my parents didn't want to take them."
Ginny nodded and levitated the box of books with a flick of her wand, and the students crowding behind McGonagall drew back enough to let the box pass.
When she'd gone, McGonagall fixed a firm eye on Hermione once again. "And the rest of your things?"
"I don't care," Hermoine told her. "Although – what happened to my wand?" She checked her robes, but the slender little pocket of her uniform was empty.
"Your wand was incinerated as part of your memorial service," McGonagall told her. "Is there anything else you need to know?"
I'd like to know why you're acting so very odd, Hermione thought, but did not say so. Instead, she shook her head.
"In that case, Miss Granger, I must remind you that the ghosts of Hogwarts are not allowed within the living or sleeping quarters of the students. You are free to haunt the rest of the castle, but Gryffindor tower is off limits."
Hermione felt as though she'd been slapped. Worse, she felt as though she'd been disowned. Searching McGonagall's stern, uncompromising face and the uneasy, diffident shifting of her classmates, she found no one willing to look at her.
"I understand," she whispered. Not even sure how she did it, Hermione disappeared from sight.
I hadn't really intended to repost this story after Fan Fiction booted this story off, allegedly for violating my PG rating, but I've received numerous requests to do so. Thank you all for your concern, and your lovely notes of support.