Disclaimer: All publicly recognisable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. Original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended. Not beta read; don't jinx.
Chapter One: Snow
Memories are like snowflakes.
Hermione had read that in a book once and it had never made much sense to her. How exactly was a memory supposed to be like a snowflake? In which way? If you touched a snowflake it dissolved into a circle of dampness against your skin. Did that mean that the harder you clung to a memory, the quicker it evaporated? Was that how the metaphor worked? Hermione didn't know but, despite the fact that not knowing something was usually abhorrent to her, at that moment she didn't much care.
"Kitty!" she shouted and her raised voice sounded unspeakably loud out here in the empty grounds. Her daughter turned and gazed at her with wide-eyed surprise from behind a mass of pitch-black hair and then held out the shiny purple stone that she'd picked up from the snow with her gloved fingers, eager for her mother's inspection of it.
Hermione could hear her heart pounding but she smiled gently, squatting down towards the snow – she could feel the icy chill of it rise up against her through her jeans, despite the heavy woollen leggings she had on beneath – and said calmly, "Oh, that's pretty isn't it sweetheart?"
The little girl nodded, then dropped the pebble into the depths of one of her pockets and continued to walk happily along the shoreline of the frozen lake. Hermione stood slowly and then followed at her daughter's heels. She was furious at herself for having reacted like that. It was just a pebble, just a chunk of harmless rock. Kitty wasn't a blathering idiot – she wasn't going to shove it down her throat like a moron. And nobody had been out here in advance jinxing pretty pebbles in the hope that her little girl was going to pick them up. Hermione sighed and realised she was getting as paranoid as Severus. It was too much time in his company that was to blame. He was so damn convinced that half the Wizarding world was out to kill them – a conviction which wasn't entirely ungrounded, she had to admit, what with the intermittent troublemaking of former Death Eaters and the various personal enemies that they'd both managed to make themselves. But still... Merlin's beard, he wouldn't even eat food made by a house elf except his own! Hermione had never noticed it before they'd married, but even his meals in the Great Hall arrived just a fraction different from everyone else's. Oh, and how she'd loathed his precautions in the beginning. It had been just another way to emphasise her segregation from the life she'd known before their marriage.
And now here she was, barking at Kitty in a perfect imitation of the girl's father. Hermione wasn't sure if the realisation made her want to laugh or smack herself in the head. In the end, of course, she did neither, but sighed again softly and gazed out across the gleaming surface of the frozen lake. It had stared snowing since they'd come outside for a spot of fresh air. The dungeons probably weren't the best place for a child to grow up, but after four and a half years it didn't even occur to Hermione anymore to ask that they relocate – the dungeons were a part of Severus and so, by extension, had become a part of her. Nevertheless, she couldn't deny that the crisp fresh air was pleasant, even if it did bite at her lips with its cold. And Kitty looked so happy that it seemed silly to let a bit of white wetness blowing down softly on their faces and melting in their hair defeat them. Still, the young witch leant slightly and pulled the hood of Kitty's cloak up over the girl's head, tucking the busy dark mane in beneath it. Kitty stood patiently under her mother's administrations, then Hermione patted her a last time on the head and released her to continue scampering in the snow.
Hogwarts was, rather ironically given the percentage of children its walls housed, a decidedly strange place to have a family in Hermione's opinion. Sure, she knew it wasn't unheard of for teachers to have their families there (she'd read it in Hogwarts: A History), but it was still large and cold and populated with ghosts and moving statues and – and none of that bothered Kitty in the least. Why would it? The inside of Hogwarts, and daytrips into Hogsmeade, were all she really knew. One time, almost lost in the memories of her busy little life, there had been a visit to her grandparents' house. They had been friendly and had fed her ice cream, but the paintings had been rude and not moved even once. The pictures hanging amongst the bookshelves in the rooms that Kitty called home, on the other hand, smiled and winked and chattered, and sometimes they even told her bedtime stories if her father was too busy. Mm, all except the old man in green, with the snakes. He just said meany stuff, but Kitty always poked her tongue out at him like her mother had taught her and then he'd get in a huff and stomp off out of sight. Her Dad found it amusing and said it would be an irony if the girl ended up in Salazar's House like he hoped she would.
So, if Hermione thought it was an odd place to bring up a child, then her daughter didn't seem to have noticed.
Abruptly Kitty stopped. She seemed suddenly to decide that she'd had enough of their walk, gave her mother an intent look, and raised her arms expectantly. Hermione smiled as if she didn't know what the girl was about, and asked, "What would you like, pumpkin?"
The girl looked mildly irritated. "Pick Kitty up?"
Hermione hated it when her daughter spoke about herself in second person, but it was a habit Severus continuously indulged her in. Still, at the very least she could practise her manners. "Pick you up…?"
"Pick Kitty up please?" corrected the tiny witch with a quirk of a dimpled smile.
Hermione smiled back. "Of course I'll pick you up," she confirmed warmly and then scooped the girl up into her arms and swung her around on the spot for good measure, Kitty shrieking in delight and her bright green snow boots gleaming as she span. Then Hermione settled her daughter comfortably against her right hip and shot a critical eye upon the weather. The trees at the edge of the Forbidden Forest had started to shake ominously in the steadily rising wind and the snow was falling denser. She wiped specks of white from her lashes and frowned. "Back home for us, I think." Then she glanced at her watch, "Besides, your Dad'll be in by now."
"Dad," agreed Kitty with contentment, and she nodded like a little empress as her mother turned around and started crunching back towards the shape of Hogwarts Castle rising dark from a world of steadily increasing whiteness…
A/N: as always, I really love comments of all varieties! And if you want to thrash it out about the Hermione/Severus pairing, why don't you head over to my "Twitch The Mind" forum where I've got a thread on them! Yes, this whiny little fan fic author wants to know why you love or loathe it... though presumably you must at least tolerate it or you wouldn't have read to the bottom of the chapter, hmm? Huggles, Jen.