In retrospect Hermione thought it had been one of the sillier things she had done. Certainly if she had thought it through the end would have been blindingly obvious. But it was done, and here outside Hogwarts, the red stain of humiliation on her cheeks would soon fade under the clear, cold winter sky.
It was the Christmas season and Hogwarts was virtually empty except for the faculty and some students who, like herself, were staying because there was one reason or another they could not go home for the holidays.
In her case her parents had fallen ill, and while it was not too serious, the doctor had advised that visitors would not be wise for a while to reduce the risk of infection. So for once, Hermione thought ruefully, she had to spend Christmas here. All she could do for now is send vials of healing potion by owl to her parents.
Snow crunched under her feet as Hermione walked along. Looking back at Hogwarts she wished she had her wizard camera with her as the castle looked like something from a fairy story with the snow covering the tops of the towers, golden light shining welcomingly from the diamond paned windows. It was the castle of Sleeping Beauty, Hermione thought in rare whimsy. But as it was winter, perhaps the dwelling of the Snow Queen was a more appropriate title.
No, she thought quietly, it could be called the home of the Snow Lord, whose heart was as icy as his cold black eyes. As she had reason to know. She bit her lip and turned away.
Snap out of it, Hermione told herself firmly. You came outside to cheer yourself up, remember? In her seven years at Hogwarts, ascending to the role of Head Girl, she had faced situations that would have alarmed others. Voldemort had died at the hands of herself and Harry.
Despite her Muggle heritage, she had immersed herself so thoroughly in the wizarding world that even the most conservative, anti-Muggle wizard would find little to criticise in her behaviour, although they would wonder at her current journey to the frozen lake for ice skating. Not many did so here besides her - Quidditch was so ingrained in wizards that any other kind of outside recreation or sport was seen as wasted time away from Qudditch practice.
But the lake had beckoned in her mind before after what had happened, offering a way to restore calm to her mind.
Reaching the lake at last, Hermione performed some stretching exercises then sat down on a nearby log. Quickly taking off her boots she laced on her precious ice skating boots of white leather that she had carried with her. Her breath left icy clouds in the air and though she was bundled up in warm clothing she was glad she had cast a spell to protect her from the ravages of the cold.
Finished, Hermione carefully stood up and making her way to the frozen lake ventured out onto the surface. At the moment the ice was thick enough to skate on, according to Hagrid. Keeping close to the edge for now Hermione skated along, back and forth, trying out some (wobbly) figure eights just for the fun of it. A smile hovered on her normally austere features as she felt her tension fade away.
Here on the ice she could be alone in peace, and experience a gracefulness in skating that she rarely felt on land. It was also less stressful than Quidditch, which she had never entirely felt comfortable playing after these years.
She hadn't seen him coming, or heard him approach, but suddenly Hermione saw Professor Snape standing by the lake, watching her. Though his expression was unreadable, it was clear to her that he wanted her to come off the ice.
For what, Hermione thought grimly as she halted and stared back at him. For him to repeat the things he had said before?
His black robes swirled around him in a breeze and he impatiently brushed a lock of his greasy black hair aside from his sallow face. Part of Hermione responded to his unspoken command and she found herself obediently skating closer to him, then stopped.
A dark eyebrow was raised.
"Miss Granger?" Professor Snape questioned.
Hermione shook her head wordlessly and turning away from him skated away across the lake.
It was a mistake to have given him a Christmas present.