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First Snow

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In a world defined by defying impossibility, of applicable imagination and omnipresent illusion, there was little in the natural realm that could strike wonder in the hearts of wizards. Hermione had learned the value of social cues her first year at Hogwarts. Somewhere between her ostentatious overcompensation on the train and her impeccable marks at end of term, she'd been caught putting away her laundry by hand and dashing about Gryffindor tower for a prefect when the loo backed up. It frustrated her endlessly that her classmates knew spells she couldn't find in any schoolbook, those helpful incantations muttered by mothers countless times that any eager eleven year-old with a new wand could finally master. It helped that Harry was as new to this as she was, though Ron seemed keener on helping him than her. She made sure hers was not the first gasp at an exciting new charm in class (though her hand would be first in the air to define it). For much of first term, she was as much a student of Disenchantment as Transfiguration, and she eventually forgot she'd ever been anything else.

It was a gradual whitewashing, a gentle erosion of sorts that left her none the wiser. By December, she had all but abandoned her most treasured memories of moments with her family (her first sunset over the ocean, birthday firecrackers of every design, the smell of Mum's gingersnaps) for the overwhelming wonder of Christmas at Hogwarts. Spending the holiday at home had become an afterthought, and the colorful, childhood souvenirs on her nightstand seemed every bit as faded as the distant stories of their purpose.

Passing through the east corridor to the library, she saw a handful of Hufflepuffs hoisting each other up to see out the large cathedral-style windows. She glanced occasionally at the huddle, pointing and gasping as they pushed forward against the glass. A hollow ache grew in her stomach, a strange pang of loneliness more than curiosity. Though Harry and Ron had stayed behind with her over break, it wasn't yet eight and she'd be lucky to see them by noon. So Hermione clutched her books tighter and hurried on, darting around the corner into the mahogany entry room and fighting the urge to linger for a moment. She had more pressing matters than ogling the landscape, however much she wanted to belong, if only for a moment, if only with a stranger.

*************

The familiarity of winter break routine brought a smile to her face that crisp, December morning. Her dormitory was empty again this year, and she was first to the Great Hall for sausage and hash. A few fifth-years trickled in for coffee as she finished the Daily Prophet, exhausted from studying all night no doubt. She wrapped some toast in her napkin and tucked it safely away in her bag. One way or another, it was going to be a long morning.

With a bounce in her step, she bounded up the stairs and past the second floor classrooms in the west corridor. It seemed darker than usual, even for a winter morning. Turning right, she headed east into the bright glow of scattered sunbeams through stained glass. The hall was empty. She instinctively raised a hand against the glare and squinted. It seemed something was moving outside, steady and calm. Adjusting her shade as she walked, she approached the nearest window. It was snowing.

Hermione dropped her bag and rubbed the fogged glass with her sleeve. Bracing the sides of her hands against the window, she leaned her forehead against them and watched. Soft tufts of powder slowly coated the grounds, deliberate and silent and beautiful. There was barely a half-inch of cover, and she knew she'd all but caught the start of it. The first snow of the year, and she alone bore witness to its wonder. She soon lost track of time, distracted only by the occasional coat on the glass from her breath. It occurred to her that she missed this last winter. Rumors of two to four inches circulated for days, but it wasn't until she emerged from a full day of Chamber of Secrets research that she saw any manifestation. She could hardly believe a girl of her aptitude only now could piece together what that crowd of awestruck students was marveling in this very hall one year ago.

"Beautiful, isn't it?"

She turned sharply, startled by the voice. It was Ginny. Her eyes returned to the window, but she rested her hands on the sill.

"Yes. Beautiful."

Ginny stepped up beside her, shoulder to shoulder, their hands almost touching. "Mum told me once that snow wasn't magic, just weather. I dunno. Looks like magic to me."

Hermione nodded slightly, still watching the gentle flakes fall inches from her face.

"Fred and George go absolutely bonkers when it snows. One year they hit Ron with a snowball so hard that his nose swelled up this big." She gestured with a grin. "Pro'ly why it's still so big."

"Probably," said Hermione distantly. She was miles from Hogwarts, miles from Ginny. Back in south London on a sled pushed by her father, making snowmen in the yard, challenging her classmates to make a better snow-angel. It was overwhelming, the rush of emotion. She didn't mean to cry; it certainly wasn't her intention to ever do so in front of anyone (even Ginny).

But Ginny simply took Hermione's cold hand and squeezed it and said, "it's okay. They miss you, too." She wiped the tear from Hermione's cheek and softly kissed the trail it left behind. Adjusting the bag on her shoulder, she quietly shuffled east to the library.

Hermione remained for a moment to compose herself. She wiped her eyes again and sniffed hard, trying desperately to focus on the task at hand. She glanced at her watch; it was nearly nine now. She took one last look out the window and drew an angel in the condensation.

Ginny saved her a seat facing the eastern windows.