Hello, minna! This is a trial chapter in answer to the WIKTT Christmas Challenge. It will be continued depending on the reaction I get. So, *bows* please R & R! Thank you! And now, just a reminder, Harry Potter, etc. belongs to J.K. Rowling and her Corporate Court. Also, the Anne of Green Gables series was written by L.M. Montgomery. The title is a quote from Anne of Windy Poplars. Have fun!
Ladymage Samiko ^_~

"The First Faint Glimmer"
by Ladymage Samiko

It was, Hermione reflected, taking a bite from her apple, a rare afternoon. Ron and Harry were out at Quidditch practice--which she (thankfully) was not asked to attend. She had completed all of her schoolwork and, at this point in her seventh year, had made her way through all of the resources she could find. At least, all of the resources she could tackle on her own. Everything else required professorial supervision at the very least. And many of her professors had put their feet down at teaching her that sort of magic. So Hermione had been left at loose ends for one afternoon and was spending it--how else?--reading. But this time, she was finally getting around to the pile of books her mother had bought for her over the years, in the hope that she would take at least some time for pleasure reading. And, to her surprise, she found she was quite enjoying them.

Today, she had followed Anne Shirley on her many--well, adventures was a little too strong a word, given what Hermione was used to. Experiences, then. The young woman had sped her way through Anne of the Island, and ended up about halfway through Anne of Windy Poplars. She had just finished the delightful description of the Christmas holidays with the prickly Katherine Brooke, whom Anne had convinced to join her for the holidays, since the woman was otherwise alone. The books were simple and, Hermione supposed, childish, but they did bring back memories of her own Christmas holidays and made her look forward to the ones coming up in less than a month.

Crookshanks leaped onto the bed and butted his head against her arm. Glancing at her alarm clock next to her bed, she realized it was time for dinner. "Thanks, Crooks," she said casually, giving him a pat. "I'll see you after dinner, all right?" Sufficiently answered by a meow, Hermione made her way out the door and downstairs. On her way down, she wondered what she would think if her own life was as--unexciting--as that of the novels. It wouldn't be a bad thing, she reflected. Though she would miss all of the scrapes Harry and Ron had dragged her into.

Deep in thought, she collided with something. Actually, someone. "Oh, I'm so sorry..." she began, then looked up to see that the person she had run into was Professor Snape. Her voice trailed off.

"Somehow, I doubt your sincerity with that remark, Miss Granger," he commented. "I believe ten points from Gryffindor would be a sufficient apology."

"Then I sha'n't inconvenience you with any further expressions of regret, sir," Hermione replied, answering him with a voice as dry as his own. After seven years, she had found that it was the only way to really deal with him. It didn't make him any less caustic, certainly, but it did seem to give him at least a modicum of respect for her. Streams of insults became bouts of verbal sparring.

"Then I shall thank the gods for small favors, Miss Granger," he said. "I imagine I shall regret this exercise of curiosity, but what subject did you find so intriguing that you forgot the use of your eyes?"

"Um" Hermione's voice trailed off as she turned slightly pink. It was rather embarrassing to admit to Snape--of all people!--that she had been reading children's books. "Well, I was thinking about the Muggle literature I was reading this afternoon." There, that sounded sufficiently mature. "I was, um, trying to formulate the central theme of the series." Definitely a scholastic approach.

"I see." Damn, it sounded like he believed her about as much as she believed herself. "And have you come to any conclusions on the matter? Does this 'Muggle literature' have a deep meaning that has somehow eluded wizarding comprehension?"

He would have to put it like that, wouldn't he? "Well--" Hermione gave the question some thought and surprised herself by coming up with a sort of an answer. "I think," she continued slowly, "that the message of the books is that the two most important things in this life are hope and love. No matter what else you may or may not have, these are key to truly living."

She watched him blink for a moment after she stopped speaking, then heard him say, "In that case, Miss Granger, it would appear that these books of yours would negate my entire existence. Now, if you would excuse me, I have a potion that requires my attention."

For the first time, Hermione stared down the hall at her retreating professor and thought, How sad!

Over the following week, Snape's comment continued to bother her more than she was willing to admit. And certainly much more than she would admit to either Harry or Ron. Both of them would scoff at any sort of concern she might express. But to say such a thing struck her as one of the worst statements anyone could make about their life. And the fact that it had apparently slipped out--in front of her, one of his most annoying students, no less--was certainly cause for notice, if not concern.

After a great deal of thought (which she would never have admitted to), Hermione decided to mention the incident to Professor Dumbledore during their weekly meeting (a requirement of her position as Head Girl). After they had discussed sundry school matters, she began tentatively, "Sir? I wanted to ask you about something. Something Professor Snape said to me last week."

"Ah, yes, Severus," Dumbledore mused, his eyes cheery. "I don't suppose he threatened to turn you into a three-legged toad or something of the sort, hmm?"

"Er, no, sir. Something like that wouldn't have bothered me nearly as much."

"So you have figured out that Severus is more bark than bite. Excellent. And most perspicacious of you, my dear. Now, what does seem to be the problem?"

Hermione briefly outlined the incident and repeated what Snape had said, almost word for word. "Sir, what did he mean?" she asked finally.

"I rather think you have a very good idea of what he meant," the ancient wizard replied, leaning back in his chair. "And I also think--which is a most extraordinary thing at my age, may I say--that to say anything else on that particular matter would be more than indiscreet of me. Severus' life is something I am priveleged to know of, not to discuss."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

"However," and Dumbledore leaned forward once again, "I think it would be quite another matter to mention to you that Hogwarts will be closed, to both staff and students, over the Christmas holidays. And I believe that Severus will be spending the time at his family's manor, alone. A very dark, rather unpleasant place, I am given to understand."

Hermione blinked at this; it was the first time that Dumbledore had mentioned the total closing of the school. "But, sir, why--"

"--am I closing the school?" Dumbledore smiled at her. "There are certain--enchantments--that must be renewed every so often. One doesn't want the castle to come tumbling down at our feet, after all, does one? And it is most effective that I perform them without having to concern myself that I may turn some poor, unfortunate inhabitant invisible. For, as I am sure you are aware," and Hermione squirmed under his gaze, "invisibilty has its uses, but is most inconvenient on a permanent basis.

"And, as I must remain to perform the house-work," he continued, twinkling, " I cannot invite Severus to come with me for the holidays--not that he would accept, in any case. The rest of the staff have their own families to consider and Grimmauld Place, while inevitably interesting, would, if Severus stayed, be the scene of some rather nasty hexes after a day or so. I believe the last time a combination of Spineless and Infinite Limb Hexes were the result. Most childish and very difficult to reverse, but everyone did need to relieve the stress. That is a very important thing, you know."

"Yes, sir." Hermione said little, having garnered from this lengthy and not-very-subtle hint what it was Dumbledore wanted her to do. After all, she couldn't yell at the Headmaster, demanding to know if he was now completely insane.

"Well, then," he beamed, "I believe that is all of the important matters for the week, don't you? And remember, Miss Granger, sometimes the most important advice comes from the simplest of sources." He continued reminiscently, "Lucy was a remarkable woman, after all."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I'll let myself out." Hermione beat a hasty retreat, stopping only when she reached a corridor far distant from the Headmaster's office.

"Oh, lord," she moaned, burying her face in her hands. "Please smash face against castle wall to continue."