AN: Thanks so much for all the reviews, putting this on alert, favoriting, and reading. Sadly, this may be the last chapter posted for awhile. I'm swamped with schoolwork and need to focus on other things right now. Hopefully I'll be able to post again soon.
I don't own anything you'd recognize.
Snape scowled, determined to finish the sentence he was writing in spite of the persistent knocking on his office door. "Severus!"
"In a moment, Minerva," he answered, crossing the final "t" with a flourish. With a long-suffering sigh, he leant back in his chair and intoned, "Enter."
Minerva stepped through the door, scrutinising the stack of papers littering the headmaster's desk. "Have you made any progress on finding a new Muggle Studies professor?"
"I was just now writing to the prospective candidates."
"I apologise for interrupting, then." Minerva absently smoothed her fingers along the top of one of the office chairs. "I will not be long. I just came to inquire about Hermione's Dark Arts training."
Snape glared at her. "Why should that concern you? Do you not think I'm capable of fostering her skill in the Dark Arts without allowing them to consume her?"
"Of course I think you're capable!" Minerva argued. "But there are certain recent developments that concern me. They should also concern you."
"Spit it out, Minerva."
Minerva exhaled. "Harry came by today, looking for Hermione."
"He wanted to see how she was handling her breakup with Mr. Weasley."
Snape's eyes flickered. "She and Weasley are no longer a couple?"
"Apparently they broke up after dinner a few nights ago."
"She did not appear distressed when we worked together yesterday," Snape commented.
"She seemed in fine spirits to me as well, but then again she may be suppressing her feelings."
"As long as she remains professional and performs her duties, I see no issue here."
"Do you honestly think it's a good idea for a woman who has just lost her first love to experiment with Dark Magic?"
Snape grimaced and straightened in his chair. "Ms. Granger is a remarkably focussed student. I sincerely doubt that her study of the Dark Arts has anything to do with Mr. Weasley. "
"She is vulnerable right now, susceptible to the allure of an easier life. Her parents are still missing, her boyfriend is gone, and she's transitioning into the beginning of a new career…"
"With all due respect, Minerva," Snape interrupted in a low voice. "Hermione is not a child. She is an adult woman capable of making her own choices, including whether or not to succumb to the allure of the Dark. Ms. Granger will make the correct decision." His voice quieted to a whisper. "I trust her. If I did not trust her, I would never have offered to teach her the Dark Arts."
"I am afraid for her soul."
"Souls can be repaired," Snape countered.
"Not without difficulty, Severus. You, of all people, should understand that. I'd hate to see Hermione start down a path she would later regret."
"What you are trying so hard not to say is that you do not want her to go down my path," Snape retorted. Minerva's gaze dropped to her shoes, confirming his suspicion. "I've already told you that I trust Hermione. Furthermore, we both know that if I do not teach her the Dark Arts, she will find a way to learn on her own. She thinks it will help her with her research."
"And just what exactly is it that she is researching?" Minerva blurted.
"I don't know yet, but I will find out."
"Well, do find out and steer her clear of the Dark path, Severus. Surely there is a better way to accomplish her goals."
"I will take your concerns into consideration."
Snape lowered his head and pulled out a piece of clean parchment from his desk. Minerva cleared her throat, but Snape did not look up. Finally she concluded, "Let us hope you are every bit the competent mentor you fancy yourself to be."
"I assure you that I do not overestimate my abilities," Snape answered as his quill scratched a new salutation on the parchment.
Minerva sighed and stalked out the door.
Harry crept past the rows of bookshelves, peering in between for his bushy-haired friend. He finally found her at a secluded table hunched over a thick volume, oblivious to the rest of the world. He smiled at the sight, pulled up a chair beside her, and whispered, "I should have expected to find you in the library."
Hermione glanced up and grinned. "Harry, I didn't even hear you."
Harry cast a muffliato and continued, "I tried to find you over your lunch break, but Minerva said that you had the day off."
"I do," Hermione replied. "So I decided to do some research."
"On what?" Harry asked, leaning in for a glimpse. Hermione slid the book to her lap, earning a quizzical glance from her friend.
"This research is private."
"Private?" Harry asked. "I'm your friend, Hermione."
"I know, but…" Hermione considered her words, then constructed a careful half-truth. "Headmaster Snape and I are conducting some new research."
"What?" Harry asked.
"I'm helping Headmaster Snape with some research but he wants me to keep it a secret."
"Well, you know he's sort of used to keeping secrets… plus I'm sure he doesn't want anyone to steal his research."
"I see," Harry replied sceptically.
"Anyway, you never told me why you were looking for me."
Harry exhaled. "I talked to Ron last night."
Hermione frowned. "So he told you about our breakup."
"Yes," Harry answered.
Hermione shook her head. "How is he doing?"
"As well as can be, all things considered. He's confused, somewhat sad, and I think he misses you."
"I'm sorry,' Hermione sighed. "I never intended to hurt him."
"I think this whole breakup just came out of the blue for him."
"It honestly was unexpected for me, as well."
Hermione nodded. "I thought Ron and I would be together forever, but while we were eating dinner I just kept thinking how little we had in common… how neither of us enjoyed the things that were most important to the other. Suddenly, I don't know, I just couldn't see us together anymore."
"Ron said as much."
"I hope he's all right…"
"He's planning on attending a Quidditch training camp in Ireland."
Hermione gave Harry a small smile. "I'm happy for him. He's finally chasing his dream. Maybe now he'll find someone more suited for him than I am."
"We'll see." Harry tried to imagine Ron and Hermione with new partners, but it was going to take some getting used to.
"We promise not to make things awkward for you," Hermione continued as if she had read his mind.
Harry's thoughts returned to the present. "Don't worry about me. It's not like I'm your child or anything. I'm honestly more worried about you. How are you taking this?"
Hermione slumped a little in her chair. "I honestly feel remarkably numb."
"I don't know if the breakup hasn't sunken in, or if I truly feel nothing. I expected to wake up crying, or feeling like the world had just ended. Instead, I woke up feeling… nothing. The world seemed different, but I can't say that I was sad. I went to work, helped the Headmaster with his research, and felt nothing. When I went home I expected to burst into a crying jag, but instead I just went to bed. Even today I expected to cry, but I really haven't. It's almost," Hermione choked, "I hate to say this, but it's as if I've cried so much for Ron over the years that I don't have any tears left for him." She buried her head in her hands, "That sounds perfectly awful."
Harry put a hand on Hermione's shoulder as she groaned. "It's fine, Hermione. No one can tell you how to feel about your breakup."
"I know. Maybe after fighting Voldemort for so long I just feel drained."
"You…you called him…"
"Voldemort," Hermione answered as she looked up. "Yes, I know. It just seems pointless to call him the Dark Lord anymore. The war is over. He can't control us or summon his Death Eaters from the grave, can he? Why not use his name?"
"I suppose you have a point," Harry answered with a wry grin. "So are you going to be fine without Ron?"
"Eventually. I miss Ron, don't get me wrong. It won't be fun eating dinner alone, and I'll miss discussing my research with someone who is listening because he cares. Still, I do believe that this is the right decision."
"If you think that breaking up is the right thing to do, then all I can do is support you two. Whatever happens, we'll still be friends."
Hermione leaned over and embraced him. "Thank you, Harry."
Harry clung to his friend, pondering how quickly their lives had changed.
Finally, the figure thought as he lifted his head. Finally, someone has mentioned my name. If…if I'd only known that in the otherworld you could only keep track of the living if they said your name, I never would have made it a taboo curse. What a stupid idea.
He blinked and winced in the blinding light. Every movement was an exertion of his will, but if he could just strain long enough to listen, he might learn something useful. The longer he listened, the wider his toothy smile grew. It had been a long time since he had had cause to smile.
If I can just call out, he thought. Just one call…
He opened his mouth and rasped, "Ploutus."