Title: Lake Effect Snow
Author: cathedral carver
Rating: PG
Characters: Snape/Hermione
Prompt(s): None
Warnings: EWE
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.

Summary: Wait for me. Just a few more years.

Written for the 2010 Mini Fest.

x

We're a couple of misfits
We're a couple of misfits
What's the matter with misfits
That's where we fit in!

We're not daffy and dilly
Don't go 'round willy nilly
Seems to us kinda silly
That we don't fit in.

x

The year after the Battle is a strange one, in so many ways. Life goes on, as life does, and the people in it try to adapt, best they can. They work and live and love, and some try to learn. Hogwarts is in various stages of disrepair, full of holes and dust and stairs that lead nowhere, but it's open for business, nonetheless, and attendance flourishes.

Hermione, of course, is one of the first Newt students to enrol. She takes every class she can squeeze into her schedule and then some. She longs for a Time-Turner but those days are long gone. She is determined to finish her seventh year at the top of the class.

She makes no friends, but she doesn't try, so it doesn't hurt so much when girls snub her, when boys' glances drift past her face and land on someone else. This year she is completely alone and for once, that suits her fine. The days turn to weeks, and then months and people learn to leave her alone. Some, she realizes, don't even learn her name.

It's the coldest winter she can remember.

x

Some of the professors return, too: McGonagall and Slughorn, Binns and Flitwick. Hagrid is there, but Hermione avoids him mostly, claiming she's overloaded with work when he repeatedly invites her to tea. She simply can't go. His eyes are too sad, his hands too clumsy. He reminds her too much of the past, of times before the Battle, when her future seemed as clear-cut and defined as a diamond.

And Snape. Snape, of all people, has returned. From the dead, some say, but she knows better. After all, she's the one who went back to the Shack with Madam Pomfrey and helped administer the potions that saved his life. She's the one who held his bleeding head in her hands and murmured soft words of comfort, stared into his glazed eyes and told him everything would be all right, even when she felt his very soul slipping through her fingers.

He's different, she thinks. Quieter. The fight's gone out of him. He, too, avoids people, even more than before, if that's possible. She catches glimpses of him, peripherally, darting around a corner, slipping down the stairs, cloak fluttering in his wake. In Potions he is almost a spectre: His voice is quiet, barely audible, and students inch close to his desk just in order to hear him. Sometimes he stops speaking altogether in the middle of a lecture and just stares over their heads, at nothing.

But, not nothing, she knows.

Then he shuts his textbook and simply walks out of the room, heels echoing on the dark stones. A few students snicker and roll their eyes, some clap. Hermione blinks back tears and wishes she could follow, could wrap her arms around him and tell him she knows, she knows. That everything will be all right. Even though it probably won't.

He's alone, she thinks, more than once.

Then she thinks: Just like me.

x

She likes to spend time outside this year, away from the noise and the bustle, away from everyone. She conjures up flames in bottles and sits huddled on a snow-swept bench, textbook in hand, wand at her side. She sees him heading out or returning from long walks, muffler wrapped about his neck, strides long and purposeful, cheeks red. He nods at her as he passes and she smiles. She would very much like to talk to him about anything, everything, but somehow words become lodged painfully in her throat when she tries to speak to him.

She wonders, more than once, if he's lonely.

And if his throat pains him, too.

x

Christmas sneaks up on her and she realizes with a start that she has nowhere to go. Well, this is not entirely true: Molly has invited her to The Burrow, but Hermione has politely declined. Seeing Harry with Ginny and Ron with…whoever he's with, would just about break her heart. And she's been working so hard to keep her heart intact.

The castle empties as the holiday approaches and soon there are only a handful of students and professors left. It's quiet, and she likes that. But everything is freezing and she takes to wearing bulky jumpers and mufflers, mittens with the fingers cut off, as she writes and studies and studies some more.

One bleak afternoon in the library she looks up to find Snape standing two feet away, staring at her.

"Why are you still here?" he asks in that odd, hushed tone.

"NEWTs," she says, shrugs. She wonders why he cares.

He taps his long fingers against the book he's holding.

"Don't your parents want you home for Christmas?"

"My parents…aren't at home." She can barely speak these words, but when she does, she sees instant understanding in his eyes.

"Obliviate," he murmurs. He clears his throat, moves to leave her, then pauses. "There's more to life than work, Miss Granger."

"If you say so," she says, and almost smiles. Almost.

"You should…take a break from all this. At least…go for a walk once in awhile."

"I don't have time." She can hear the note of desperation in her voice, is sure he can, too. She wishes she could at least sleep.

He pauses. "Spend more time with friends."

She smiles up at him, tight, wan. "Those, too, are in short supply these days."

x

The storm comes on the second day of the holidays, Christmas Eve day. It howls like a beast, shakes the very foundations of the castle, bellows to be let in. Snow falls for hours until they are, literally, snowed in. The nine students and four professors gather in the Great Hall and try to make merry.

"I can't recall the last time I ever saw this much snow," Professor Slughorn muses over his fourth mug of mulled mead.

"Years and years," says Minerva. Her cheeks are very red.

"Years and years," agrees Slughorn.

"It's not common, but it does happen from time to time," says Snape. Hermione, who is seated next to him, stops chewing, eyes wide in surprise. He appears to be speaking directly to her, and she wonders how many glasses of Firewhisky he's consumed. He seems relaxed; almost, but not quite, festive.

"Really?" she says. No one is paying them any mind, of course, and she wonders, not for the first time, if they are simply invisible. She doesn't think she'd mind if they were.

"Yes. When icy air moves over large expanses of warmer open waters, such as the Black Lake, convective clouds develop which cause heavy snow showers due to the large amount of moisture. Whiteout conditions affect narrow corridors from shores to inland areas aligned along the prevailing wind direction.. This is enhanced when the moving air mass is uplifted by higher elevations. The areas affected are called snowbelts and many centimetres of snowfall per hour are common." He pauses. "I could show you, if you like, tomorrow."

Hermione is positively mesmerized. All sound and movement around her ceases to exist, though she knows Slughorn has just toppled from his chair, Minerva has squealed in despair, and two first-years have drained half a bottle of mead and are now looking slightly queasy. She can't take her eyes off Snape.

"In order for this phenomena to form, the temperature difference between the water and air must be at least 13 degrees Celsius, surface temperature be around the freezing mark, the lake unfrozen, the path over the lake at least 100 kilometres, and the directional wind shear with height should be less than 30 degrees from the surface to 850 millibars."

When he realizes she is still paying attention, he leans in close, his mouth near her ear:

"In fact, extremely cold air over still warm water in early winter can even produce thundersnow, snow showers accompanied by lightning and thunder."

"I…I had no idea," Hermione says, finally swallowing her mouthful of green beans. She inhales and starts coughing quite violently. She reaches for her goblet of water, and finds her fingers wrapped around his hand: he has already grabbed it for her. Snape immediately pulls back, lets her drink. She coughs and sputters and he puts his hand on her back, pats it firmly. His hand is warm through her jumper. No one notices.

"Are you quite all right?" he says when her coughs have subsided enough that she's fairly certain she won't choke to death.

"I am, thank you."

He pauses.

"It's called lake effect snow, if you're interested."

Hermione nods, smiles, blinks back tears of pain. "I'm very interested."

x

Because there are so few students, and most of the teachers have fallen into bed, slightly inebriated, Hermione wanders the shadowed hallways alone on Christmas Eve. She finds Snape standing before a tall window on the main floor, watching the snow fly by.

"Lake effect snow," she says. He turns and smiles — smiles — at her.

"Indeed."

The window pane rattles. They stand and watch for awhile. Hermione's feet are getting cold.

"Happy Christmas," she says.

He turns to look down at her.

"And you," he says. "And better times ahead."

She leans up, puts her lips on his cheek.

Wait for me, she thinks. Just a few more years.

She pulls back. He looks down at her and for a moment she thinks he may have heard her. But, that's impossible.

Then, he nods.

x

She thinks a long walk in the snow would be the perfect way to celebrate Christmas.

x

-30-

*Crestopher Dumapias, "We're a Couple of Misfits"