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The Winter The War Ended

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In the first winter after the War, Remus Lupin saw very little of Hermione Granger, or of anyone else, for that matter.

The only major public event he attended was Harry's funeral – without question the worst two hours of Remus' life, despite the fact that it already held no shortage of bad hours. Although the funeral took place almost a month after the great final battle, Remus' side still hurt, and there was a cut on his hand that hadn't healed. Remus paid no attention to the droning eulogies by fawning Ministry members; instead, he said a few kind words to Luna and tried very hard not to remember that James and Lily's memorial service had been on just such a day: misty and cool, with the trees autumn-gold.

Hermione stood slightly apart from the others. Remus had been in no shape to get out of bed three weeks before, much less attend Ron Weasley's service, and he wondered whether it would be kindness or cruelty to speak of Ron to her now. When he saw her eyes, dark and hollow, he knew it would be cruelty. He never came within five meters of her.

Nobody spoke to him about Nymphadora; nobody had known of their affair, and so nobody consoled him for what they thought was only one friend's death among many. He would hold a solitary memorial for her someday, when he could bear it.

He went home afterward, wondering if there would ever be reason to leave the house again. Voldemort was defeated, but where was the victory? Death was not a kinder fate – Remus had been through enough to know that – but it was a simpler one. Those consumed in the flames didn't have to live in the ashes.

In the second winter after the War, Remus Lupin did not see Hermione Granger at all. He was far too busy working.

"Binns insists no stairwell was ever there," Hooch said, dusting off her robes as she made her way through the stony rubble that had made up one wall of the Ravenclaw common room. "I don't know how he can be so certain, given how the things wandered about. At least we don't have to make them so peripatetic this time around."

"We should," Remus said absently, bending down to pick up a bronze shield of a raven that had, perhaps, once hung above the fireplace. It wasn't even dented, really. Just dusty. They could use this again. "The students were always terribly fond of the stairs jumping about, despite the complaints. I know I was."

Hooch considered that for a few moments. Then she smiled, an expression that seemed to erase the scar on her cheek. "I suppose we should re-create the nuisances, too. But I warn you now, Lupin, we'll rue the day when we have to hear our students moaning about them."

"I'm not coming back to teach," Remus said. The answer was automatic; he had not been asked, and he had not considered it. He had taken McGonagall's request to aid in the rebuilding of Hogwarts as a simple favor – no more and no less.

Hooch's raised eyebrow made him realize, all at once, that McGonagall never did miss a trick and that he was just as much a fool as ever. "We'll see," she said, making her way through the loosened stones to see which of the dormitories would be salvageable. "And, by the way, Remus –"

"Yes?"

"Be sure you get an office on the third story this time," she said. "Much warmer in wintertime."

Could he really come back here? Remus wondered. On one hand, he'd enjoyed being a professor more than any other work he'd ever had – and his role in the final battle, though far from the most important, had been publicized enough that it was unlikely he'd meet with any objections. But then –

--here he had known and taught Harry and Ron and Padma and Hannah and any number of children who had died before their time. Perhaps the memories would be too much.

He'd think about it later.

As Remus continued sifting through the Ravenclaw common room, he remembered his old bewilderment (much shared in the teachers' meetings) that Hermione Granger had not been sorted into this House. For a moment, he wondered how she was doing. Then work beckoned, and he thought of her no more.

In the third winter after the War, Remus was putting quite a bit of thought into his Christmas shopping.

It was easily the most hectic term Hogwarts had ever had. The school had been closed for two years, which meant the students' knowledge levels were all across the map. Some remembered their lessons well enough and had tried to keep up, but were rusty on technique. Others, the children of more cautious parents, had been so aggressively home-schooled that they were already past N.E.W.T. levels. And then there were a few who had been indulged so thoroughly in their time off that they didn't know their wand from – well, from anything.

So Minerva was tremendously overworked, and Remus thought the GreatGrader Goblinclaw might come in handy for her; it was useless for essay questions, but on shorter quizzes was marvelous at scratching lines through the wrong answers in no time flat. Hooch wouldn't mind a bottle of Ogden's Famous Firewhiskey, and if she decided to share, so much the better. Severus – well, that was a challenge, wasn't it? Probably he'd have to settle on something dull, a book token, perhaps –

And as he bustled down Diagon Alley, his arms full of bags and parcels, he ran straight into Hermione Granger.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" She bent down to try and collect a few of his things together. "I was in a dreadful hurry – though you ought to watch where you're going, honestly, the way people behave during holiday shopping –"

"Hermione," he said.

At last she lifted her face to his. "Oh! Professor, it's you. I – I didn't realize –"

"Obviously," Remus chuckled. "It's been too long. How are you?"

Hermione didn't seem to know quite how to answer him for a moment. He studied her, curious to see how she'd changed. Her curls were as wild as ever, unfurling from beneath the blue knitted cap she wore. But her face – that had transformed. Time had taken the baby fat from her cheeks; experience had made her once-bright eyes soft and deep.

She's become quite lovely, Remus thought, in an abstract sort of way.

"I'm as well as can be expected," Hermione finally said. "And you? I – I heard you were teaching at Hogwarts again, it's marvelous if you are, because honestly, you were by far the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we ever had."

"That's kind of you. I'm enjoying it immensely, and I hope to stay for quite a while." He gave her a quick smile. "Though perhaps not so long as Binns."

That made her laugh, though she seemed almost surprised to have done so. "That's wonderful. Really. I'm happy for you."

"And what brings you out today?" Remus saw that she had quite a few items on hand herself, though she'd sensibly put them all in a knapsack on her back. "Are you buying Christmas presents as well?"

"I – no, I'm not." Her cheeks were pink, and he didn't think it was the wet December breeze. "I'm not buying at all; I'm selling. I think the bookseller's is going to give me a good price on these, though Hogwarts: A History is dreadfully beat-up. And Ollivanders -- well, I'll go there last."

"Selling?" There was only one reason Remus could think of for this, and he thought of it because he knew it well: Poverty. These days, with his wartime bonus pay in savings and a teacher's salary flowing again, he was a little better off – enough, perhaps, to make a loan. Hermione was so dreadfully proud, though; he'd have to approach this carefully. "I hope there's no trouble. You can tell me, you know."

"There's no trouble at all." Hermione lifted her chin. "Financially, I mean. I know that's what you meant, Professor –"

"Please, call me Remus," he said. It was far too strange to be called Professor by a girl well into her twenties.

Without missing a beat, she continued, "I know that's what you meant, Remus, and it's kind of you to ask – to care – but I'm doing perfectly well. I've got a flat in Notting Hill, and I'm working at a chemist's."

"You mean an apothecary's," Remus said, automatically. Funny, he couldn't think of a wizarding neighborhood called Notting Hill --

"No, I mean a chemist's." She squared her shoulders. "I've been living as Muggle since the war. And – this past month – I've decided to make it permanent."

"What?"

"I'm giving up magic. Forever."

"But you mustn't!" Remus was genuinely shocked – and he'd thought he was past the point of being shocked by anything ever again. "Hermione – you were always the smartest witch of your year –"

"And look at all the good my cleverness was worth,"she said bitterly. "I was just talented enough to keep myself alive while Ron and Harry died."

He could not reply to that. For a long time, they remained that way – still and silent amid the holiday bustle of Diagon Alley. Far away, carolers sang "God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs," a song that had never struck Remus as sad until now.

Hermione was quieter when she said, "I grew up in the Muggle world, after all. It hasn't been such a transition, not really."

"I grew up in the Muggle world too," Remus replied. "I know the transition. Moving between the two worlds isn't so hard – but it's difficult to choose just one."

"Yes. Well. I suppose I'll see." She seemed to force a bright smile. "I must go. Good luck with your shopping. And Prof – Remus, it was good to see you, especially as you're doing so well. Really."

"Hermione –" But before he could speak, she was hurrying off, becoming just one more figure in the swirling crowd.

**

He'd taken a room for the weekend, the better to get all his shopping done with, not to mention enjoy a couple nights of sleep without being awakened by student pranks or Peeves. But his cozy plans were now completely disrupted by his worries for Hermione.

She couldn't leave the wizarding world – not a woman of her talents. It would be too tremendous a waste.

And it wasn't just that she was good at magic; he remembered her excitement in class, her genuine enthusiasm for every new fact or concept. Hermione loved magic – the way every teacher wanted every student to love their subjects, and that so few did. She would be giving up not only her best gift, but also her true destiny.

Remus remembered what it had been like for him, how very hard he had found it to start over after the war with Voldemort. There were those who had begun again much more easily; he had always understood that there were those who hadn't begun again yet even now. But he'd never thought of Hermione Granger as being among them.

Why not? Hadn't she lost as much as anyone – and far more than most?

But that didn't mean running away was the answer.

Remus smiled as he took a sip of his evening brandy. If Hermione was pushing the wizarding world away –

--why, then, the wizarding world would just have to pull her back.

**

To begin, he had to make certain assumptions, though Remus preferred to think of them as deductions.

First: Hermione had always been of a practical bent, so it was highly likely that she didn't live very far from her place of employment. Remus had spent enough time on the Tube to know that nobody would use London's public transport any more than necessary.

Second: She was clever enough to have excelled at any field of study she pursued. Therefore, she was probably working at a fairly nice establishment – some place that could afford to hire the very best.

Third: She wouldn't have been trying to finish so many errands on Friday night if she hadn't already been busy on Saturday. It was anyone's guess as to whether that meant work or not – but it was worth a try.

That much was, well, deduction. The fact that he found the correct chemist's shop on the third try – that was luck, though Remus preferred to think of it as fate.

She spotted him first; as he was making his way through a long aisle of pills and powders, he heard her gasp. Smiling, he turned to see her, wearing a long white coat and facing a handsome sort of fellow about Remus' own age. Something about the man's posture toward Hermione struck Remus as odd – before he realized that this was apparently Hermione's boyfriend. Her Muggle boyfriend.

Well, that put rather a spin on things.

"Hermione!" Remus said brightly. "What a surprise! Here I am looking for a – for a –" He glanced quickly at the nearest shelf. "For a milk of magnesia, and here I run into you."

"At my workplace," Hermione said flatly.

Remus grinned. "Will wonders never cease. And who is this?"

She tucked a few curls behind her ear, trying to gather her composure. "Remus, this is Alfred, my – good friend. Alfred, this is Remus. He was a – tutor of mine."

"Never had tutors myself. Never had the need," said Alfred proudly, thus earning Remus' instant dislike. And how could any man be with Hermione for more than a day without realizing that she wouldn't need a tutor?

"Eton man, myself."

Hermione quickly said, "Alfred is a solicitor."

"At Chansord Cliffe – perhaps you've heard of my firm?"

Remus made a "Mmmmmm" sound that could have been read as admiring or sarcastic. Alfred puffed up, and Hermione scowled; as usual, Hermione had the right take on things. "I hope you're not feeling ill, Alfred. Surely you've just popped round to see Hermione."

"Not ill at all. Healthy as a horse, myself." Alfred seemed to brighten. "But this is a good bit of luck, isn't it? Was just telling Hermione that I had to cancel our afternoon's plans. A deposition – ought to be able to send the associates to handle it, but they're lost without me. But here you are with some time on your hands, and you can keep our girl company."

"Oh, I'll probably just put in another shift," Hermione said quickly. "You know. Brownie points and all that."

"Rubbish." Alfred chucked her under the chin. "You've been looking forward to this film festival for weeks. You like old movies, Remus?"

"I do, actually." Remus cocked his head. "You as well?"

"Not a bit of use for them, myself. Can't see why they don't colorize the things, as long as they've got the technology. But Hermione here was wild to go to the Cary Grant festival, so I picked up a couple of tickets to humor her."

As Alfred held them out, Remus practically snatched them from his hand. "What a delightful idea. I'd be happy to entertain Hermione for the afternoon."

She gave him an angry glare, but Alfred remained oblivious. "Splendid! Well, that's taken care of. I’ll send a car for you Monday night, Hermione. Wear that red dress of yours; the other lads at the Firm think you're a stunner in that one."

"Good luck at the deposition," Hermione said faintly, but Alfred barely seemed to notice as he kissed her on the forehead and then strode out the door. Jingle bells on the handle sounded as he went out into the bright London morning.

Remus watched him go, then said, "What a perfect toad."

Hermione puffed up immediately. "Well, thank you very much."

"Honestly, Hermione. Aren't we past the point of politeness for its own sake? He's not at all the sort of fellow I'd picture you with."

"I didn't think you made a habit of picturing your students with romantic partners," she said, folding her arms. "Isn't that a bit – odd?"

"I didn't mean it that way, and you know it. That man – Alfred – it only took me a few seconds to see that he doesn't have the first clue what sort of woman you really are."

"That he doesn't know I'm a –" she lowered her voice. "—a witch? Bloody right he doesn't."

"That's not what I'm talking about. He doesn't talk to you like an equal, Hermione – and you're any man's equal."

Hermione, perhaps a bit flustered by his comment, stammered, "I know he's – well, bluff, but Alfred means well. Truly. And he's steady and stable –"

Dull, Remus thought but didn't say. He had to walk a fine line here before Hermione lost her patience and showed him the jingling door.

"—and I could use some steadiness in my life. I should think you'd understand that."

"I do," Remus said quietly. "I think you could also use some Cary Grant in your life."

Hermione hesitated, but then she relaxed and gave him an uneasy smile. "Who doesn't need some Cary Grant?"

"Truer words were never spoken."

**

They stopped for lunch at a Muggle restaurant, an Italian place Remus had actually visited himself, and what with one thing and another, they didn't get to the cinema in time for "His Girl Friday." But they took their seats in plenty of time for "Bringing Up
Baby."

"I wish I could get my hair to do that," Hermione whispered as she gazed up at Katharine Hepburn.

"It does do that." Perhaps it wasn't quite as controlled, granted – but Remus thought it was the same sort of thing.

"Men," Hermione said, but she smiled as she said it.

Granted, time spent at the movie theatre didn't actually go very far toward convincing Hermione to return to the wizarding world. But it would let her relax, give her a chance to talk to someone from the old days again. Remus thought if she could do that – and it if could be pleasant, not painful – that would be the first step toward a meaningful conversation.

Besides, it was lovely, seeing her like this – lost in excitement, enraptured by the images flickering on the screen. Hermione's eyes reflected the black and silver of the screen, dancing as he hadn't seen them in years.

The next show after "Bringing Up Baby" was "Arsenic and Old Lace," which had never been one of Remus' favorites. Hermione agreed that it was altogether too frantic, and that they could go out for a bit – perhaps returning for "Notorious" later on that night.

"I suppose you'll be spending Christmas with Alfred," Remus said as they strolled along, careful to keep his voice neutral.

"With his mother." Was it his imagination, or were Hermione's lips pressing into a thin line?

"She must approve of you. Nobody could disapprove."

"How kind you are. But some people are rather funny about things like family and money, and girls who have to work for a living instead of living off Daddy's generosity." Hermione's lips turned up in an awkward smile. "If Lady Chelsfield doesn't like her son seriously dating the daughter of two dentists, imagine her reaction if she found out I'm a witch."

"Rather chilly around the Yule Log, I'd imagine." Remus gathered his coat more tightly around him, glad he'd always favored a Muggle overcoat to wizard's robes in cold weather; otherwise, he'd either have had to do a lot of explaining or some hasty shopping this weekend. "But I'm sure you could win her over."

"You aren't sure that I will win her over? There's a difference."

She never did miss a slip, Remus thought. "I confess, I still can't believe you'll leave the wizarding world forever."

"It's already done," Hermione insisted. The navy-blue muffler wound around her neck didn't disguise the stubborn tilt of her chin. "As soon as I sell my wand – well, that will be the last of it."

They walked past shop windows filled with bright displays, fake presents wrapped in green and gold foil. Children pointed at toys they hoped for, to be laughed and petted by indulgent parents. Long ago, Remus had dreamed of having children of his own; he'd put those dreams away during the War, but it was hard not to remember them now, with happy little ones all around.

"Sometimes," he began, hesitantly, "we hide from our hopes. From daring to believe in them. Because it hurts so very much when they fail to come true."

"I don't need any lessons in dreams failing to come true," Hermione snapped.

"Neither do I." The anger was upon him almost before he knew it. "I thought you knew more of my history than that."

"I do." She glanced over at him. "I'm sorry. I oughtn't to have said it."

"No, it's exactly what you should have said." Remus took a deep breath. "Hermione, after the first war against Voldemort – after I thought Peter dead and Sirius a traitor, and James and Lily gone forever, their child being raised by Muggles – I had lost everything. It was years before I truly began again – but I did. After this war – after Harry and Ron and Nymphadora –"

"Tonks," Hermione corrected him. It was so like what Nymphadora would have said herself that Remus couldn't help smiling.

"I didn't think I could do it all over again. And yet I have." He studied her dark eyes. "You will too."

"Don't you see that's what I am doing?"

Remus shook his head. "Not by casting aside what you love most in the world. It doesn't work that way. It can't."

She was blinking fast now, her hands jammed in her pockets. "You talk as though the way you've survived is the only way. As though nobody else could ever manage it without going through the same dutiful motions."

"I never said that."

"You implied it."

How had he forgotten how stubborn she could be? "You're dating a man you don't love, whose family doesn't respect you, and doing work well beneath your ability. How is that starting over, Hermione? How is that better than facing up to your fears?"

"I'm not afraid!" she shouted, startling a few holiday shoppers. "What else do I have to be afraid of? Losing my best friend? Losing my lover? It's already happened, Remus! I don't have any fear left!"

"Tell yourself that if you like," Remus retorted. "But if you weren't afraid, I don't think you'd have to shout."

"And if you weren't so busy trying to save yourself by saving me," Hermione said, "maybe you could stop projecting your own problems onto everyone else!"

After that, there was really nothing more to say. Remus and Hermione stared at each other, breathing too fast, for what seemed a very long time. He kept expecting her to turn away from him at any moment, to catch a cab and vanish into the night.

Instead she said, "The movie will start soon. We'd best hurry back."

"You still want to go to the movie?"

"I'm not missing Cary Grant on any account," Hermione insisted. "Not even yours."

**

Remus hadn't seen "Notorious" in many years, and he'd forgotten what a damned sexy movie it was.

Something about the way Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman kissed – only a few seconds, each kiss, but over and over, making it quite clear that they'd either just left bed or would soon fall back into it – reminded Remus how long it had been since he'd kissed anyone.

And that reminded him of Nymphadora, the way she'd told him farewell, how even as he'd held her in his arms, he'd known it would be for the last time. He just hadn't known he would live to mourn her.

Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes, and for a moment Remus tried to push the memories away, as he had so often the past three years. But all at once he couldn’t – and he didn't want to.

He found himself remembering Nymphadora in pink hair, blue hair, black fringe and blonde curls. He remembered how fond she was of Muggle take-out Chinese food, and the way he used to feed her Moo Goo Gai Pan with chopsticks as they both sat cross-legged on the foot of the bed. She had maintained that the Weird Sisters had never topped their third album and insisted on playing it at least three times a week, often on Saturday morning before Remus was out of bed. And she had always been laughing – even on that last morning, even when she was facing death at Voldemort's hands.

She was the brave one, Remus thought. Not I.

And I'm a fine one to lecture about starting over, because I haven't.

As Grant and Bergman embraced in the wine cellar, Remus forced himself back into the moment; he loved this scene, which was in his opinion the very sexiest in the entire film. He realized that Hermione had been watching him closely. Had she seen the tears in his eyes?

I don’t suppose I'm much of an advertisement for the Fun and Enchantment of the Wizarding Life, Remus thought, settling back into the film in resignation.

After it was all over, they filed out into the night with the crowds. Hermione spoke first. "He was horrible to her, really."

"But he didn't mean any of it, you could tell." Remus felt a decided nip in the air. Was it possible it might actually snow for Christmas? "It was only because he wanted so much to be with her."

"I suppose that's as good an excuse as any." Hermione stopped and looked up into his eyes. "I'm sorry I snapped at you before. I really am."

"You were right to. I'm a hypocrite – telling you to get over the past when I haven't."

"You've come farther than I have," she said.

He smiled sadly. "You know what they say about practice making perfect."

"I won't sell the wand," she said. "Just so that – someday – if I need it –"

"That's very practical of you." What a flat sort of thing to say, Remus thought. It gave no hint at the strange hope stirring deep inside him. "Seems only – prudent."

"And Alfred –" Hermione got a rather strange look on her face. "I don't think I'll spend Christmas with him. He's all right for a drink at the pub or a show –"

"Listen to the heartbreaker," Remus said, quirking his mouth.

She swatted his arm, but her playful mood was brief. Serious again, she said, "I don’t always want to be running away. What else did Harry and Ron fight for, if not to keep us from being afraid all the time?"

And Nymphadora, too. Remus nodded. "Very true."

"Well – I'd better be getting on."

"As had I. Ought to get all the gifts wrapped before I return to Hogwarts tomorrow. Professor Flitwick's a terrible snoop."

Hermione laughed, and Remus was going to shake her hand, but that seemed awfully formal, and almost before he knew it he was giving her a hug. She wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him close.

"I'm so glad you found me," Hermione whispered into his shoulder.

"So am I," he said, and on impulse, he dropped a kiss onto her forehead.

It was that sudden – one moment she was a former student, an old friend; the next, his lips touched her skin, and she was a woman. His heart quickened as he breathed in the soft scent of her, felt her curls against his cheek. Remus' arms tightened around Hermione, and the kiss lasted just a second longer than it should have.

"So, it's late," Remus said, letting go and stepping back in a hurry. But then he could see her face – when had Hermione become so beautiful? – and that made things worse, not better. "Are you going to catch a cab?"

"I – well –" Her cheeks were flushed, and she obviously didn't know what to say. "I suppose I could. I – yes, I will. Do you – are you – want to share?"

Remus felt a strange sort of kick in his belly, one he hadn't felt in far too long. But why here? Now? With a student, for heaven's sake?

(A former student, an adult woman, you may be a blundering idiot but you're not a pervert, not yet anyway --)

"I doubt cabs go to Diagon Alley," Remus said with a laugh that sounded desperate even to him. "Right. I'm off. Do stay in touch."

"Goodbye," she said, raising one gloved hand in a wave as he turned to go.

**

Even after his evening brandy, Remus couldn't relax enough to sleep.

As he paced his hotel room in his dressing gown, he kept asking himself two questions. The first was: Why on earth had he nearly made a pass at Hermione Granger? The second was: Why on earth hadn't he followed through on making a pass at Hermione Granger?

No reason he should be more drawn to her than any other young woman. Granted, she was lovely. All right, yes, very lovely, but there were other lovely women in the world. He simply hadn't spent any time with them in far too long, which could be remedied. Somehow.

And, of course, she was intelligent. Even when she'd been a girl, they'd had interesting conversations about theory, her novice's questions sometimes stumbling into areas of real revelation and insight. But Remus could admire a woman's intellect without fancying her; Minerva McGonagall was Exhibit A.

The day spent together had been happenstance – a confused but not unworthy impulse had collided with luck, and the result was this odd moment of attraction. It had been awkward, but there was no reason for it to be anything more. Why, he hadn't seen Hermione in years; Remus had every reason to expect he would not see her for as many more.

All the denials made perfect sense. Not a one of them did any good.

He groaned as he sat in the low chair by the fireplace. His sexual appetite, dulled by grief and disuse for the past three years, had reawakened, and every pent-up impulse from that time seemed on the verge of taking over his body. Try as he might, he could not stop imagining what he'd be doing – or, at least, what he'd like to do – if Hermione were here with him now.

Remus thought, This is what Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman do to people.

A rap at the door made him wonder if the serving witch was going to take away the bottle of brandy; he wasn't drunk, but no doubt there were some magical sensitivities to the nearness of wretched romantic brooding. But when he opened the door, it was Hermione who was standing there.

"Oh, hello," he said, aware immediately that he'd tried to hard to disguise his shock that he sounded comically casual. "How did you find me?"

"Much the same way you found me." Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Though there are fewer hotels on Diagon Alley than there are chemist's shops in Notting Hill. The odds were in my favor."

"Clever of you," he said. She was still wearing her coat and hat; he wondered if she'd even gone home.

"May I come in?"

"Please do," Remus said, and as soon as he'd said it, he knew he was lost. Hermione's shoulder brushed against his as she walked into his room, which was reason enough for him to take her hand as he let the door swing shut, and once he was holding her hand, it was too easy to pull her against him and kiss her, hard.

He'd forgotten how warm a woman's mouth was.

"Thank God," Hermione whispered against his cheek as she slipped her hands inside the neck of his dressing gown. "I thought I was going to have to attack you."

"We'll have to try that sometime." Remus tugged off her cap and tangled his fingers in her curls, the better to hold her face tilted up toward his.

It was hard to remember exactly how long they kissed, Hermione's back against the wall, before Remus finally started to pull her toward the bed. It was hard to remember how anyone in the world ever had the self-control to make it to the bed, not when there was a chair right in front of the fireplace. Remus was definitely unclear on how they'd arranged things in the chair, although he was quite, quite certain they'd done so to their mutual satisfaction. Of course, there was no point in not trying out the bed too, as Hermione made very clear.

When at last they lay together, tangled up in the sheets, Remus said, "I hope this isn't a –"

"One-night stand?" Hermione looked altogether too pleased with herself, but given what she'd just done, Remus couldn't blame her.

"Well, that too. But I meant a farewell."

"Not just to you, you mean. To magic. No, it's not that." Her skin was bright with firelight as she traced along his shoulder. "I'd say it's the exact opposite."

She was your student, Remus thought. You've just jumped into bed together on an impulse that wasn't three hours old. It's not as though she's forgotten Ron Weasley, and she's two decades your junior, and –

But then, that was the thing about beginning again, the mistake he and Hermione had both made. You didn't get to choose exactly when or how. New beginnings choose you.

"You should come to Hogwarts," he said. "For Christmas."

"It's a thought," she said, smiling, curling closer to him.

And so, for Remus and Hermione, three years after the final battle, the War was over. The third winter became only the winter, with Christmas, and presents, and, perhaps, snow.