Snape's unwittingly insensitive comments had been the straw that had finally broken the camel's back and Hermione had pestered him no more that night. After bursting out the front door in a frenzy and spending more than an hour trudging deserted streets, she finally returned and collapsed into bed, exhausted.
The next morning she didn't even bother checking on him, just grabbed a bit of toast off of her parent's breakfast table – much to their surprise - packed her wand and walked out the door. Hermione didn't want to hang about; it wasn't because was afraid of telling her parents that someone had upset her - no indeed. It was the fact they weren't even aware they had a house guest in the first place that was the bigger problem.
The paranoid part of her felt she was probably being extremely naive in leaving her parents alone with such a man, but just because he had upset her didn't mean she didn't trust him anymore.
He had, after all, upset her many a time with his hurtful comments. Harry too. Yet Snape had helped them both in the final battle, and bought Harry vital time, even if it had nearly proved to be the death of him.
If anything that had proved to her which side he was on.
Once outside she apparated, and reappeared down a narrow, deserted village lane somewhere in the rolling hills of the Herefordshire countryside. It had indeed snowed in the night, and there was a thin dusting of white over the fields and stone walls. In the near distance she could make out the chunky roof of a small, thatched cottage. This apparation was much more accurate than her last, and feeling distinctly pleased with herself Hermione walked along the lane toward the building. As she neared she spotted a dark shape swooping down from the crisp, blue morning sky. She recognised it at once.
"Hi Harry!" she yelled, giving him a wave.
The shape in the sky turned on his broom, slowed and returned the wave.
As she neared the cottage the latch to the garden gate clicked open to reveal a smiling Remus Lupin, wrapped up warmly in an old coat and scarf.
"So good to see you, Hermione," he welcomed.
The teenager peered round her old Defence professor to see the grinning face of Nymphadora Tonks at the back door.
"Hi Tonks!" she smiled back.
There was a crunch of snow as Harry flew down and did a two-footed dismount from his broom. His green eyes sparkled as he neared his friend, his breath misting in the cold air.
"I think I might be a bit unfit for aerobatics at the moment!" he panted, grinning.
Hermione smiled and pulled him into a hug. She stepped back, her expression more serious. "Now, are you still set on going to see the crowd?"
Harry's grin wavered slightly, yet he still kept hold of Hermione's arm. "Yeah, don't worry. But can we go later this afternoon, as I think Remus and Tonks want us to stay for lunch?"
Hermione nodded smilingly, and together all four of them filtered back into the cottage to shut out the cold.
Remus had inherited the quaint little cottage from an elderly aunt, and being in the remote countryside, and having the bonus of a strong cellar it was perfect for a werewolf. Tonks had finally persuaded him that there were positive sides to having a relationship, and he had finally allowed her to move in with him just two months ago. As the four of them all sat around the small dining table in front of a crackling log fire, Hermione had to admit she had never seen Remus Lupin with such a healthy twinkle in his eye before. She was glad for him, yet deep inside she couldn't help feeling distinctly lonely and envious.
"Harry's been impressing us with a few aerial displays," remarked Tonks, her currently hazel brown eyes shining with mischief. "Perhaps we should try to get him a sponsor and get him to play for England sometime?"
"I'm not that good!" exclaimed Harry self-consciously.
"I must admit you're better than your father ever was," remarked Remus. "Sorry James, but it's true," he added, looking up at the ceiling with an apologetic smile.
"You could at least give it a try though, Harry," commented Hermione thoughtfully. "I should think if anyone deserves a bit of good luck now it's you."
Harry didn't reply and began to look quite sad.
"I don't think I'll be able to play a game of Quidditch again. Not without Ron there," he said quietly.
There were a few moments of silence.
"But Harry," ventured Remus gently. "Would Ron have wanted you to never play Quidditch again?"
Hermione put down her knife and fork. Her eyes were beginning to mist with tears, but she was trying her best to blink them back.
Harry let out a great sigh and also put his fork down on the plate. "I don't know whether I care at the moment," he muttered. "I just don't know. I kind of want to be an Auror still, but without finishing off my NEWTS, I can't be..."
"C'mon Harry, we'll get the troupe together to support you, we'll be your personal cheerleading team!" said Tonks encouragingly, giving him a nudge. "Give us a H...give us an A...give us an R, R, Y!"
Harry gave a slight smile. "Well...I could think about it. But, it's...it's...I don't think I'm ready for that, just yet."
Most of those at the table managed to finish their lunch, all but Hermione, who had not lifted her cutlery since putting it down.
After lunch Harry helped Tonks with tidying in the kitchen, while Hermione and Remus sat in chairs by the fire, both staring distantly into the flames.
Suddenly Remus cleared his throat and spoke.
"You know if you ever need to talk about anything, or chat to someone who understands what it's like to lose close friends, you know you can always come to me..."
Hermione stared mournfully at the fire. "Thank you, Sir. I mean...Remus," she whispered back.
The man smiled. "But, still addressing me as a professor, Hermione? My, that was how many years ago now?"
"It's a hard habit to break, you know," she replied softly, frowning at the fire and unwillingly thinking of Snape and the fiasco he kicked up the night before about it.
"Quite. I still have a hard time remembering to call Slughorn, Horace, you know. It just seems wrong, doesn't it?"
Hermione's mouth twisted into an awkward grimace. "Well…Yes."
They sat in silence for a little while longer, Remus seeming a little more content than Hermione, who just couldn't prevent her mind from thinking about Snape now it was on the subject – yet again.
Why did she have to fancy such a heartless bastard?
She couldn't even remember the moment when she had begun to feel anything for him, though she suspected it must have all started years, rather than months ago. When the news of Dumbledore's death reached her ears she had been struck dumb. She had cried herself bitterly to sleep without fully understanding the full reasons why. She didn't fully recognise then that part of her had felt torn by Snape's betrayal. Believing the pain she felt was solely due to the shock of Dumbledore's death she had gone into the final battle believing she hated Severus Snape, until of course she saw her friend turn and chase after him with vengeful murder in his eyes.
All was turned upside down in a single moment. But then they say a shocking experience can bond survivors together in a strong, inexplicable way. As if the extremes of emotion alone were enough to forge and meld a powerful relationship, without a single word being uttered.
Perhaps this was what had happened to her?
Hermione let out a weary sigh. If she had to fall for one of her professors, and survivors of the final battle, why couldn't it have been mild-mannered, gentle Remus Lupin?
Love just couldn't be simple, could it?
The floorboards creaked behind them as Harry and Tonks walked back in to the room.
"You ready to set off, Hermione? I'll be waiting outside."
Hermione looked round at her friend and gave a smile. "Give me a moment to get my coat on and I'll be with you."
A few minutes later, after Hermione had voiced her farewells and wrapped up well in coat and scarf, the two young magical teenagers decided to take to the skies on their brooms and fly in the direction of Ottery St Catchpole. Hermione would have preferred to apparate there and test her skills again, of course, but Harry insisted that despite the cold, he wanted to see the countryside all covered in snow.
For once Hermione gave in to her friend's whim, no matter how impractical she thought it.