by Silver Phoenix

It all starts, really, with an exploding diorama.

She is eight years old and she has the best project in the class. She secretly knew it was best, of course. But she is still proud when Miss Hynes says so in front of everyone, even though they all make faces at Hermione when the teacher looks away. Miss Hynes asked them to create a model of an ecosystem, and Hermione worked for days to create a miniature jungle in a cardboard box: tropical trees made out of toilet rolls, colourful birds soaring around the box on bits of string, and a panther painstakingly crafted out of plasticine. When the final bell goes, all the other children leave their projects in the classroom, but Hermione is too proud of her diorama to leave it at school overnight. Once the corridors are clear of her unruly classmates, Hermione carefully walks out of the classroom with the diorama in her arms, bringing the best project in the class home.

As she turns a corner, though, the unthinkable happens - Curtis McNiven suddenly comes barrelling out of the boys' toilet and slams right into her. The diorama is knocked out of her arms and falls to the floor with a horrible crash. Hermione stares at it in horror while Curtis runs past her down the corridor, laughing hysterically. She kneels down beside her diorama and tries not to cry when she sees that it is ruined; all the trees crushed and the birds smashed to bits and the panther's head falling off and rolling out of the box.

Hermione picks up the panther's head and feels hot tears coming, but she will not cry. She focuses on hating Curtis McNiven instead. She kneels on the cold floor and seethes over the crime committed against her miniature jungle. She thinks about exacting revenge on stupid Curtis McNiven, imagines tearing his stupid diorama to shreds. She doesn't, of course, but she feels an odd sort of satisfaction from just imagining it, and she walks home cradling the broken pieces of the plasticine panther in her hands.

The next day, a bewildered Miss Hynes finds Curtis' diorama in tiny bits and pieces, as if it was blown up by a very small bomb. Curtis blames Hermione, but she is just as mystified as everyone else. She knows that she hasn't touched his work, she only thought about it...

She is ten years old and sits alone in the schoolyard with her back to a tree, contentedly reading a book. A shadow falls over the page she is reading and she looks up to see the meanest girl in school, Emma Lucas, standing there with a group of her friends. Emma starts teasing Hermione about her hair – she says her hair looks like a bush, and she calls her a Chia pet and all sorts of other horrible things. Hermione fiercely wills herself not to cry, and desperately wishes that her hair was like Emma's, all blonde and straight and shiny. While Emma and her group continue their barrage of insults, Hermione can't help but self-consciously run a hand through her own bushy, tangled, impossible brown hair. But then she pulls her hand away and is horrified to find that a chunk of hair has come with it. Emma and her friends are suddenly silent.

"Did you – did you just pull out your hair?" Emma says, disgusted. "You are so strange, Hermione Granger."

All the commotion has caused several of the boys to wander over too. "Yeah, no one's stranger than Granger," Curtis McNiven quips. Several of the other children laugh.

"Stranger than Granger, stranger than Granger!" chant her classmates. It is at this point that Hermione notices something funny happening to the clump of brown hair in her fist. It is slowly turning yellow...and shiny...and straight.

She leaps up and runs for the girls' toilet, locks of hair falling out as she runs. Once she gets there, she stares in shock at her reflection in the mirror; she's lost quite a bit of hair so it is much less thick, but the hair that does remain on her head has begun to turn blonde, too. Confused and frightened, Hermione pulls her winter hat out of her knapsack and shoves it onto her head, then goes to the school nurse and begs her to call her mother. Her hair does not turn back to normal until much later that night...

It is the summer before she turns twelve. One day, a stern-looking woman arrives at the Granger's door. She hands them a sealed letter and tells them that she is from a very selective private school which is interested in having Hermione as a student. The Grangers are surprised but very pleased and invite the woman in for tea. She introduces herself as Professor McGonagall and explains that she is the Deputy Headmistress of a unique school in Scotland, which only accepts very special students who show certain talents. Then without changing tone or expression, she explains that it is a school of witchcraft and wizardry. There is an uncomfortably long silence.

"I'm...sorry?" Hermione's mother finally says. She puts her cup of tea down on the table. "You said it's a school of...?"

"A school of witchcraft and wizardry," Professor McGonagall repeats patiently. She is sitting very straight in her chair and has the air of someone who has done this many times before and has gotten the exact same reaction. "She's been on our list since she was eight years old. As you may have noticed, on several occasions your daughter has shown magical capabilities."

Her father exchanges a look with her mother. "Sorry, didn't quite – that is, I thought you said – er, what sort of capabilities?"

"Magical," Professor McGonagall says firmly.

Hermione's parents are confused because this sort of talk is quite clearly insane, and since Professor McGonagall does not seem mad, they think that she is joking. Her parents both sort of chuckle weakly, but Hermione does not laugh because she immediately knows that Professor McGonagall is neither joking nor mad. The incidents with the diorama and the hair and a hundred other strange happenings suddenly make sense. Hermione feels as if there is a particularly difficult riddle that she has been trying to solve for years and she has just figured out the answer. It is a wonderful feeling of relief; Hermione would jump up and hug Professor McGonagall if it wasn't quite clear that Professor McGonagall is not the hugging type. Hermione's parents begin to get uncomfortable when Professor McGonagall continues going on about magic, and it is only after she turns herself into a cat that they are shocked into listening...

She is twelve years old and she is busy discovering a world of witches and wizards and magic. Hermione is reading every book about it that she can possibly find. She reads with an insatiable appetite, some nights until four o'clock in the morning, about the Ministry of Magic and the history of Hogwarts; Gringotts and Galleons and Diagon Alley; the Silencing Charm and Pepperup Potion; great wizards and witches and the one that no one wants to name. She can't get enough and when she finally gets to school and gets to do magic it's like someone has taken a weight off her chest and she can finally breathe properly.

She's not completely happy, though. Hermione is devastated to find that, even here, no one likes her just because she's best in the class. Then on Halloween she nearly gets killed by a troll, and it's the best thing that ever happens to her. Because after that she has Ron and Harry and magic and she feels complete...

She is fifteen years old and her best friend disappears in the middle of a tournament. He comes back with a dead boy in his arms and everything changes...

She is eighteen years old and on the worst day of her life, she finally kisses the boy she's going to marry. Then they're thrown into chaos and throughout the fight all Hermione can think about is how tired she is. She's tired of fighting and running and worrying constantly about losing everything she holds dear. It's impossible but somehow Fred is gone, and so is Colin Creevey and Lupin and Tonks, and then Hagrid is coming out of the forest with Harry, too - Harry dead in his arms. For once Hermione doesn't try to hold back tears, and they carry on the fight with a mad fervour. Suddenly Harry is there again, alive and well. Shock, confusion, and then it's all over. But the magical world is broken and bruised, and she's not sure if things will ever be the same...

She is twenty-one years old. Though it seems like the past few years have been nothing but an endless parade of funerals and meetings and ceremonies, they have slowly started putting her precious magical world back together again. She has her friends, and her family, and she loves someone who loves her back. They're all safe, for now, and every time she picks up her wand she still feels the same sense of delight that she felt the first time she did magic. She can't imagine her life without this world and everything in it, and she is extremely grateful that at the age of eight, she blew up Curtis McNiven's diorama.

Author's Notes: I'M BACK. Long story, see my profile for an explanation.

This started out as a small flashback scene in Interlude (unfinished, I know, I'll get to it, I swear) and I decided to develop it into its own little one-shot. PLEASE review, even if it's just to say you enjoyed it or didn't. I had a hard time decided which little flashbacks to include/not include, especially the bits from canon. Constructive criticism is always appreciated.

Any similarities to real persons or events (ie. when a boy in my class knocked over my own jungle diorama in the second grade...) are purely coincidental.