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March 1, 2000

A bright sun shone over the frosty first day of spring. The winter had been frigid in London, and people in the streets were still dressed in their winter things seeing as the merciless sky showed no signs of dropping its icy mask.

Hermione had a warm hat on her head and a woolly scarf wrapped two, three, times around her neck to keep her from catching a cold like everyone else at work. She was the last healthy person left, which meant that she worked from eight until six every day at the dusty old bookshop three blocks down from her flat.

She was lucky to have a job; it’s not easy to get a job if you’re a young, uneducated woman, barely out of her teens, with no experience to talk about except for a colorful, though comatose, life since the age of eleven.

Luckily Mr. Newman had recognized her passion for reading and offered her a job, which she had accepted in a heartbeat.

Mr. Newman was the squattish owner of Newman's Books; an eccentric man with a silvery gray mustache which covered most his face like an indelicate imitation of a bride's veil. If forced to place a bet, Hermione would guess he was well into his fifties, though he could be anything from a prematurely decayed man of forty to an energetic seventy-year old.

The proximity of the bookshop was partly why Hermione had decided to rent the little third-story flat she referred to as 'home', though when she moved in she had no idea what the store would mean to her only a few months later. After only a few weeks of prowling the dusty bookshelves in Newman's Books Mr. Newman himself had sat down next to the girl with the honey-locks and offered her a bearded smile and a job behind the counter of his bookish emporium.

And so it was, two months, a week and three days later, Hermione found herself living for the hours she could spend in the warm and cozy store, either getting lost in new arrivals on the literature front or chatting with customers, recommending them her favorite reads and keeping them company while they waited for the unstable weather to calm.

Who would have guessed that just half a year ago the bucktoothed girl with the curly pony-tail and the vacant eyes had been released from the hospital in which she had lived since she was eleven. Naturally Hermione had never told Mr. Newman or any of her co-workers of her past; all she needed was a fresh start, which her parents seemed compliant to allow her after Dr. Holsted and Dr. Silver had assured them that it was for the best. They had lent her money to rent the flat in London, and they came once a week to see how she was doing, each time relieved and happy to see that she was coping so well with reality.

Hermione reached the front of the shop, unlocked the door and entered, greeted by the merry tinkling of the doorbell. She turned the close sign to open, grabbed a book and sat down behind the counter to read. Reading had always been one of her passions and nothing had changed; if anything she was even keener on the fictional world now that she had a boring reality to escape from.

In books there were no boundaries, magic could be real, and so could every other imaginable and unimaginable thing, all as long as the writer was capable to think it up. Hermione found herself drowning in written words, time after time, usually not surfacing until the familiar tinkling of the doorbell would signalize the arrival of a customer.

Speaking of the devil; the chirping of the bells, a howl of the wind and the sound of a door swinging shut a moment later, nearly drowning out soggy footfalls, as a customer escaped the flurry of snow and rain outside.

Hermione hurried to scan the rest of a page, but realized that she had lost the thread and needed to mark the page and pay the customer some interest if she wished not to appear as rude as your average European shopkeeper.

Sighing, she flipped the corner of the page down and closed the book. She had to look around for a second and finally ended up tracing the wet footprints on the floor to spot the source, who had disappeared so quickly into the occult section that she almost thought he had Apparated.

Almost, except, of course, the fact that she knew Apparition was not real, and that in any case it would have made a loud 'crack'.

His back, the customer's back, was facing her. He was wearing a long frock which tiny snow crystals stuck to like glitter to a child’s artsy creation with the glue tube. The back of his blond head was also snowy, and realizing so he lifted a hand and dusted it off with his fingertips.

It seemed he wanted to be alone, so Hermione decided against asking him if he needed assistance, which was customary in every store nowadays. She, herself, found it rather annoying and disrupting, and she got the strange feeling that the blonde would find it bothersome as well.

Smiling she resisted the temptation to pull up her book again and waited instead for the customer to pick out a book and make his way towards her to pay, or else walk over to her empty-handed so she could direct him to his books of interest.

He seemed, however, reluctant to ask for her assistance. Instead he took his time, looking through the books, every now and then pulling out one and flipping through the pages before sliding it back into its correct spot. Hermione thought he might be waiting for the snow to stop falling, but it seemed she was mistaken. The snowfall stopped and the stranger remained, his head bent as he continued skimming through the shelf’s content.

Hermione sighed inaudibly and looked out the window glass. The snow was melting; a bright sun peeked over the clouds, melting away the winter dust. She glanced up at the calendar on the wall and saw that it was the first day of Spring; for a moment her heart stopped, though she couldn’t remember what the day meant for her.

And then she recalled it. Red hair, a freckly face; a bright smile and open arms.

It was Ron Weasley’s birthday, or would have been, if he had ever been born.

A book slammed down upon the counter woke her up from her thoughts. The blond customer standing right in front of her, judging by the belt buckle that was all she could see from the height at which she was sitting.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” she said, flustered, clumsily finding the bar-code of the book and scanning it. She looked down at the cover and saw that it was one she had looked at before herself and contemplated on reading. It revolved around Witchcraft through the times and was the kind of book Dr. Silver had assured her could bring back a relapse if she ever as much as looked at it.

“Your total is sixteen pounds,” she told the blond and held out a hand, still not looking up at him, still embarrassed that she hadn’t noticed him at first when he had approached her. Ever since she woke up from her coma Hermione had become shy; having been used to being the brightest in every crowd, the center of intelligence, she suddenly found herself less than average in terms of education and brains, or so everyone else seemed to think.

Cold coins were dropped into her palm and she pulled in her hand to count them. Usually a second was enough to tell her how much money the customer had given her; there was a ten-pound bill, curled up and wrinkled, and three coins. Three two-pound coins, although before she dropped them into the cash-register Hermione needed to take a second glance. One of the two-pound coins were slightly bigger than the remaining two, heavier, with a vibrant tone of gold.

She picked the coin up from her palm, flipped it over and looked down at a familiar face which made her heart skip a beat. “Wait a minute...” she started, examining the piece of metal she had worked on for so many relentless nights during her fifth year at Hogwarts when she had finally succeeded in making it into a mean of communication with the rest of the DA.

There was no mistake about it.

“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s foreign-” the stranger started in an tone of strangled alarm and he fumbled in his pockets with one hand, making money rattle within their depths as he stuck out the other for Hermione to put his galleon in.

“This isn’t foreign...” Hermione said slowly, holding the coin up against the light, scrutinizing the familiar shape and size of a golden galleon.

The customer looked down at the precise moment as she looked up, their eyes met and Hermione’s mouth fell open.

There was no mistaking that face, either.

He looked every bit as snobby and crude as he always had, though age had made his cheek-bones more prominent and his eyes even colder. His hair was no longer sleek and oily; perhaps it was due to the wintry weather, but nevertheless it was rueful, wild and blond, and sparkling with droplets of melted snow.

“Draco Malfoy,” Hermione spoke, once the shock of recognition had faded away into confusion, into thrill. Before he could turn on his heel and escape she grabbed him by his wrists and gaped up at his face, so real it could not be a dream.

He was really there.

She was touching him, feeling the warmth of his blood pumping underneath the pale skin of his arm as she pinned him to the counter.

“God,” Malfoy responded, staring back down. Hermione saw her own reflection in the silver orbs; her eyes were bigger than galleons, bulging at the ecstasy over finding another string to pull her back into the Wizarding world.

She would not let him escape a second time.

“Don’t tell me,” Malfoy growled, once he had given up trying to pry Hermione’s hands from his arms. “You’re Hermione Granger, aren’t you?”

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