Chapter Six

Peach Jellies

Salad oil
2 pounds unsweetened sliced peaches
3 3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Oil an 8- or 9-inch square metal pan. In a 6- to 8-qrt pan, combine peaches and 1/3c. water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until fruit mashes easily, 10 to 12 mins. Whirl fruit mixture in a blender or food processor, a portion at a time, until smoothly pureed. Return to pan. In a bowl, mix 3-1/2c. sugar with the gelatin. Add to fruit mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Stir and boil 5 mins. Reduce heat to medium and stir often until mixture is thick enough to leave a trail when the spoon is drawn across the pan bottom and juices in the trail are just beginning to turn a darker gold, 25 to 35 mins. At once, remove from heat. Stir lemon peel and lemon juice into peach mixture. Scrape mixture into the oiled 8- or 9-inch square pan. Let candy dry, uncovered, for 16 to 24 hours; it should feel firm and not sticky when touched. Coat a 10-inch square area with about 1/4 cup sugar. Invert pan to release candy onto sugar; using a long, sharp knife, dipped in sugar to prevent sticking, cut candy into 49 equal pieces. Coat each piece with sugar.

Perfect if you're looking for something a little bit of a sweet surprise in your life.

§

When Remus returned, Hermione was just pulling her shirt over her mountain of bushy hair, still damp from her shower. Averting his eyes for a moment, he announced, "I couldn't find Crookshanks."

"Did you look outside?" she asked, sweeping her hair back and stretching out her tired face.

"No."

"Good."

"Your house elf is wiping down the kitchen, though."

"With cleaner, not blood?"

"I certainly hope so."

Hermione folded her arms across her front, seeming unsure of what to do with herself, contorting her body to look as though it might be pulled in all different directions. A dusty gust of wind blew through the open window, sweeping a chill throughout the room. Remus could do nothing but stand there, waiting for her to say something, or at least acknowledge that he actually existed.

"So about my question-"

"Look, Remus," she said, her mouth closing like a snap turtle's. Remus made a mental to note to never make requests when Hermione was hung over. "I'm sorry. I would enjoy your company, but this really isn't the best time. I'm trying to run a business, and I think people are just starting to get used to me. You said yourself to make sure that people weren't aware that I knew you, and with you staying here-"

"I'll make myself scarce," he promised. "No one has to see me. All I need is a place to sleep and eat, and even you can ignore me if you want to. I can sleep in the chair, read, and I'll make quite sure that I'm gone before it's even close to being a full moon. No one will know that I'm here."

Hermione's severe features softened, her shoulders sagging as she turned toward him. The sunlight caught the multitude of loose hairs that floated around her head, turning it into spun gold. She looked like she had just been tossed into a wind tunnel.

"I would never ignore-"

"I understand that you have a business to run," Remus interrupted, "and I promise I won't interfere. Though I will miss your company."

Hermione rolled her eyes and sighed. She looked away at the flapping curtains for a moment before turning back, her face reddened and the whites of her eyes not quite a shade lighter. She molded her mouth into an expression that she must have adopted from McGonagall.

"Fine," she relented at last. "Go get your things."

§

Staring across the room, Remus could see the outline of Hermione in the dark. He had set up a cot on the main room (not being able to cram it into the storage space), and was beginning to think that staying with the Potters might have allowed him a better night's sleep, after all. At least Violet would have been asleep and padlocked in her room at this time at night and wouldn't bother him. However, the knowledge and the sight of Hermione just meters away kept all strains of sleep from his mind.

A clever witch, she was, but she was also a completely irritating one. The clock struck three. Hermione would have to get up in four hours, and she would, most likely, feel the need to wake him up, too. The ticking of the second hand was intrusively loud.

It reminded him of the dinner they had had the night before: all clicks and clangs and napkin rustling with very little time to talk between picking chicken from the bones and scraping the burnt bits from pieces of toast. She excelled at her candy-making, but when it came to the basic staples of life, she left much to be desired. Her chocolate was a hobby, something worthy of her effort and attention. Cooking for herself, and even for Remus, was just a chore, and something in which she put very little care. Her failed relationship with Ron had left a bitterness for all things Weasley-ish, including any form of housekeeping. She seemed to have stocked her pantry with boxes upon boxes of cold cereal...it wouldn't be a stretch to guess that was her meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, when she didn't feel the want to cook. Which was almost all the time.

A jingle of a bell suddenly broke through the ticking, accompanied by soft, rushing footsteps. Gleaming yellow eyes appeared at the top of the stairs, glowing inexplicably in the little light provided, and Crookshanks padded into the middle of the room, all bristle and fuzz. He peered at his owner, than at Remus, then back to Hermione. He took a few steps toward Hermione's bed but changed his mind mid-stride, instead turning back and bounding toward Remus.

Hermione sighed and shifted in her bed.

The cat leaped up onto Remus's cot and butted his squashed face against the werewolf's knee.

"Where you have been, old boy?" Remus whispered, scratching the half-kneazle between the ears. "Hunting? Or are you enjoying being bathed in attention by one of the fairer sex?"

Crookshanks collapsed underneath his hand as if he was boneless and began to purr contentedly.

"Well," Remus sighed, glancing toward the dark corner where Hermione lay. "At least one of us is."

§

Hermione cringed as she heard the tell-tale crash and roar of breaking glass in the kitchen, followed be the usual string of muttered cursing. Confident that Remus had the ability to fix anything he had ruined, she continued outlining the cupboards with black paint, hoping the inconsistencies given to the wood by hand would lend it a certain charm that it would lack with magic. She was so bad at it that she was about ready to give up, and Remus's inability to keep things unbroken wasn't exactly encouraging her.

"Are you all right?" Hermione called from the floor, dropping the paintbrush and wiping her hands on her pair of old blue jeans.

An indeterminate reply came from behind the double doors, followed by a clearer, "Erm, how attached are you to a pink vase etched with little flowers?"

Something knotted in Hermione's chest. "It was my great aunt's." She carefully added, "Why?"

There was another metallic crash and a very clear curse. Hermione stood and began to head for the kitchen, muttering to herself as she attempted to push her hair out of her face and failed. She pushed through the doors to see Remus crouching on the floor, prodding bits of glass with his wand.

"Oh, Remus," she sighed. She knew that it was damaged beyond repair; not even magic would be able to restore it to its original form. Remus tried, but it only lasted (in something shaped rather like a severed foot than a vase) ten seconds before shuddering and again shattering into pieces.

"I'm so sorry," he murmured, face burning like a beacon. "I was just getting a bowl from the cupboard."

"It's all right," Hermione replied, trying to push the dark begrudging from her voice. She levitated the shards to the rubbish bin and dumped them there, watching as the broken bits of rose-colored glass gleamed in the yellowed light. "I didn't really like it much, anyway."

§

Hermione found an unusual amount of pleasure in escaping from the tiny town, if only for an afternoon. Remus had begged her to go shopping for real food and she had begrudgingly acquiesced, promising she would only be gone for an hour and that he wasn't to let anyone into the store. Knowing she wasn't going to get any service in town, and not trusting the supply of nutrients available in the poisoned community, she instead settled on a grocer in a town to the south.

She Apparated into a wooded area, jumped the ditch, and, finding she was a little farther away than she had planned, walked the kilometer to the store. Once there, she found herself taking much more enjoyment in it than she had planned on, and by the end of it, found that she had spent the equivalent of two weeks' rent.

By the time she was fishing for her keys while juggling several bags of fresh groceries, she was positively glowing and prepared to greet Remus with a smile, perhaps even a hug, if she could get the bloody door open. It wasn't a problem, however, as it soon flung open on its own and there stood...Edyth.

Hermione promptly dropped her keys on the stones.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, ignoring the flustered look of the blonde woman.

Edyth pulled at her collar and pushed a wisp of thin hair away, refusing to meet Hermione's eyes. "I just stopped by. Good bye, Miss Granger."

Hermione watched her go, bags hanging limply from her arms, and Edyth had long disappeared before Hermione realized that she was still standing outside in the cold, the door ajar in front of her, gleaming dimly in the gray daylight.

"Did you buy anything good? I have a strange craving for Mont Chevre."

"Got it." Hermione replied, staring at the tiles on the floor as she dumped the groceries on the countertop. She squinted at the pattern, furrowing her brows, and finally gathered enough courage and mustered enough anger to meet his eyes. They gazed demurely at her: wide, innocent, as if some woman hadn't just walked out the door.

"Remus," she began as he found his cheese and began to pry open the plastic wrapping, "she knows you, you know."

"I'm aware of that, Hermione," he sniffed, pausing to tear off a bit of plastic with his teeth. "Don't worry, she won't tell anyone that I'm here."

"Remus, you should have seen the pamphlet she gave me when I arrived. It was complete rubbish."

"Trust me," he replied, so resolutely that it startled her. "She won't tell. You have my word on that. She even bought an éclair."

Hermione made an annoyed sound deep in her throat, gathered the groceries and the remains of the cheese, and carried it to the kitchen, where she shoved everything, sacks and all, into the refrigerator.

Her melodramatic attempt to get away didn't work, however, as Remus only followed her.

"Some things just aren't supposed to go in there, Hermione. There is a freezer, too. And we do seem to have a few cupboards on hand."

"I'm going to cook dinner tonight," she replied, gazing determinedly at the icebox, though really not knowing where to start. "I am going to cook dinner, and it is going to be delicious."

"And--"

"And you are not going to help me."

§

Four hours later, something resembling an Italian meal had been assembled on plates and dropped onto the counter, where Hermione and Remus ate in a jarringly bar-like setting. Ale fresh from the tap would have made it complete. Perhaps someone passed out drunk on the floor, even. This wasn't quite what Hermione had had in mind.

"So the calzones exploded," Remus said, examining the remnants of the said dish as he held his fork up to the light. "I'm sure it still tastes fine."

Apparently not, as he tasted it and his mouth couldn't relax enough in order to form another word.

"You know," he continued once he had regained feeling in his tongue. "I really should have cooked tonight, seeing as you're doing me a favor by letting me stay with you."

"No...no. I wanted to do it."

"Even though being bad at something drives you crazy?"

"Oh, I know I'm a horrible cook. Okay? I know. If there's one good thing I've learned in the past few years, it's how to recognize my failures." She dropped her fork on her plate, glumly staring at the still-full surface. She'd eaten less than he had.

"I don't necessarily know if that's a good thing," he replied, braving a bite of ravioli, which she mercifully hadn't made from scratch and still tasted somewhat decent.

"At least I'm realistic now, instead of delusional." He took a sip from her wine glass, which she had already refilled and was once again almost empty. If Remus didn't start watching her more closely, she was going to quickly spiral into alcoholism. "Isn't it good, Remus, that you were able to recognize that your relationship with Tonks was a failure so you didn't keep fooling yourself?"

Remus didn't say a word, and Hermione, in her loosened state, thought this was permission to stick her foot even further in her mouth. "Even Tonks couldn't take it, couldn't get past the prejudice. You'd think, out of everyone, she would at least have some semblance of understand. But she just goes and falls for the next thing in pants and abandons you--"

"I let her go, Hermione. I knew I couldn't make her happy. Only Kingsley could."

"...abandons you, and leaves you all alone. Foolish girl. And then there's Ron..." She emptied the rest of her glass in one swallow. "And then there's Ron."

"Have you dated anyone since you broke up with him?" Remus asked with mild interest, pushing the crust of the exploded calzone around his plate.

"Not one."

"But you want to, obviously. I must believe that some truth came in that letter you wrote me...what? What are you looking at me like that for? Hermione, are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine." Hermione stared back down at the table, fiddling with the corner of her napkin. "That's kind of a silly question."

"On the contrary, I think it's well-called for. You certainly don't seem all right."

"It's just that...it's just that it's all so hopeless. He left me so embittered toward men. Toward everyone, really. I suppose it's not such a wonder why none of my friends talk to me anymore." She dropped her fork and pushed the plate aside, collapsing her heavy head in her arms and releasing a deep, rib-achingly large sigh. "I'm just an old jaded spinster."

"Perhaps," Remus replied, resting his hand on her exposed wrist, feeling the thrum of the artery there and the way it heated his palm. She made no response to his touch, hardly even any acknowledgement to his existence. Perhaps she was lost, after all. "Except for being old. And as for friends...you still have one right here, whether you like it or not. And he's still talking to you, Hermione."