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We analyse data from Hinode spacecraft taken over two 54-minute periods during the emergence of AR 11024. We focus on small-scale portions within the observed solar active region and discover the appearance of very distinctive small-scale and short-lived dark features in Ca ii H chromospheric filtergrams and Stokes I images. The features appear in regions with close-to-zero longitudinal magnetic field, and are observed to increase in length before they eventually disappear. Energy release in the low chromospheric line is detected while the dark features are fading. Three complete series of these events are detected with remarkably similar properties, i.e. lifetime of a parts per thousand aEuro parts per thousand 12 min, maximum length and area of 2 -aEuro parts per thousand 4 Mm and 1.6 -aEuro parts per thousand 4 Mm(2), respectively, and all with associated brightenings. In time series of magnetograms a diverging bipolar configuration is observed accompanying the appearance! of the dark features and the brightenings. The observed phenomena are explained as evidencing elementary flux emergence in the solar atmosphere, i.e. small-scale arch filament systems rising up from the photosphere to the lower chromosphere with a length scale of a few solar granules. Brightenings are explained as being the signatures of chromospheric heating triggered by reconnection of the rising loops (once they have reached chromospheric heights) with pre-existing magnetic fields, as well as being due to reconnection/cancellation events in U-loop segments of emerging serpentine fields. The characteristic length scale, area and lifetime of these elementary flux emergence events agree well with those of the serpentine field observed in emerging active regions. We study the temporal evolution and dynamics of the events and compare them with the emergence of magnetic loops detected in quiet Sun regions and serpentine flux emergence signatures in active regions. The physica! l processes of the emergence of granular-scale magnetic loops ! seem to be the same in the quiet Sun and active regions. The difference is the reduced chromospheric emission in the quiet Sun attributed to the fact that loops are emerging in a region of lower ambient magnetic field density, making interactions and reconnection less likely to occur. Incorporating the novel features of granular-scale flux emergence presented in this study, we advance the scenario for serpentine flux emergence.