A/N: Hello, welcome to Returning! The standard disclaimer applies: the only thing I own is the plot. All else is owned by the lovely JK Rowling. I hope you enjoy my story, please review!


Willow Ann


Students were scampering happily all around the hall, trying to hurry to their seats before the start of term feast. Laughing and talking could be heard from everyone, all recalling different memories and adventures from over the summer. Everyone that is, except one boy. It was always this one particular boy that seemed to be unusual from everyone else, even in the already highly unusual wizarding world. He seemed to attract attention everywhere he went, no matter how hard he tried to be normal. Any other year, Harry Potter would have been overjoyed to be back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but this year, he wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. So he sat towards the top of the Gryffindor table with his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. He had his knees pulled up to his chest, his head buried with his face hidden from view. After a completely one sided attempt at conversation, Ron and Hermione had given up trying to get Harry to talk to them less than half way through the train ride to school, opting to see if he would open up in the morning after a good nights rest. However, Hermione had concluded from the dark circles under Harry's eyes that he hardly ever slept anymore, but decided to keep that fact to herself, for Ron's sake. So other than the worried glances shared between the two friends, Ron and Hermione were unusually quiet as well, their morose moods picked up from their best friends depression. Other than that, in the excitement of everyone returning to Hogwarts, Harry thought that for once, he was being mercifully unnoticed.

However, Harry was not as unnoticed as he thought he was. Up at the staff table, the eyes of almost every professor were on him. They had all watched as Harry walked into the Great Hall, flanked on either side by Ron and Hermione. Normally, it was a grand sight, seeing the three of them marching proud and confident into the hall. They were usually laughing and smiling, the boys joking around with each other, trying, and succeeding, to make Hermione laugh, no matter how hard she tried to conceal it. So it was a common sight to see Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, broad grins on their handsome faces, with a smile tugging at Hermione's lips and her eyes sparkling with laughter from over the top of her ever present book. However, this year, there were no grins on the boys faces, and Hermione's eyes were sparkling from unshed tears instead of laughter. Ron looked pale, and kept shooting very unmanly but affectionate and endearing worried glances at Harry, and for a good reason, too.

The staff immediately noticed the changes in their young pupils. All three of the "Golden Trio", as the staff (minus Professor Snape, who called them the Trio from Hell) privately dubbed them, were now 16, and were no longer children. Hermione had grown into an exceptionally gorgeous young woman. Her hair was no longer bushy, but cascaded down to the middle of her back in little waves. Her eyes were kind and loving, and her face was pretty and unique, and would capture the heart of any boy when it wasn't hidden behind a rather large book, which it almost always was. Ron had always been tall and lanky. He still had his trademark Weasley hair, and freckles, but he was handsome and had an adoring look to him. Fred and George had passed down some of their traits to him, and he had a decidedly mischievous look about him that showed off his sense of humor. He was good natured and had an air around him that could only be described as pure fun and entirely loveable.

Harry, however, was the one that had changed the most. He had had a well overdue growth spurt over the summer and had gained several inches, and was now the same height as Ron. They were both tall for their age at a height of 6 feet, which was a surprise for Harry, because he had always been small for his age. He was no longer the frail boy he was at 11. His eyes were still the dazzling emerald green they had always been and his hair, if possible was even more unruly than ever, and stuck up in every direction, no matter how hard he tried to tame it. He had gained well toned muscles from years of Quidditch and extra training he had done over the summer when he couldn't sleep which was, coincidentally, every night. Harry had outgrown his angry phase over the summer, and it was replaced with confidence and forced calm. But Harry's most noticeable trait, was his love. Harry cared about everyone around him, no matter who they were or what they had done to him in the past. Somewhere deep in his heart, he even cared about Professor Snape. Harry's love was the best part about him, and it could be seen radiating off of him whenever he smiled. Harry's smile was the greatest smile in the world, and could easily put Lockhart's to shame. And to any of the older staff members, when Harry smiled, it was James Potter all over again, with Lily shining out through his eyes. Harry was made of love, was the very definition of love. Harry never thought about himself, and was always concerned about everyone around him.

It was this very fact, however, that had started to make Harry withdraw from people. Harry was suffering. Last June, Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, had been killed by Bellatrix Lestrange in the Department of Mysteries. Sirius was the only family that Harry had ever had. Granted, he loved Ron and Hermione like family, but Sirius was different. He had always been different. Sirius was his father, his brother, his best friend, all in one man. While Harry loved everyone around him, he had never uttered the words, "I love you" to anyone, and no one had said them to him. And Sirius Black was the only person that Harry had ever considered saying them too, and now he was gone. Harry blamed himself for his godfathers death. It had also brought back memories of Cedric Diggory, and Harry's guilt over that, which had been at bay, had come back full force. Harry had seen too much, lived too much, and if one looked closely enough into those gorgeous emerald eyes, one would see a haunted look that he was trying desperately to conceal. Dark circles that were the after effects of many terrorized and sleepless nights framed his eyes from merciless and gruesome nightmares. Harry was convinced that the people around him, the people he loved, always got hurt. So he had decided over the summer that no matter what it cost him, for the safety of the people around him, he wouldn't love anyone.

So here he was, at Hogwarts' traditional start of term feast, trying desperately to push Hermione and Ron away, and failing miserably. He loved them so much it hurt, and they loved him too. It was visible in their every action that Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley loved Harry Potter, their best friend, their third. They weren't complete without him, just like Harry wasn't complete without them. And so Harry's decision to push them away had been squashed into non existence within hours of being reunited with them. Harry was, however, still depressed. The trio sat down towards the front of the table, and Harry pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his face. Everywhere he looked, he was reminded of Sirius. A dog barking in the distance reminded him of Padfoot. Being in Hogwarts reminded him that Sirius had once roamed the halls with his father and Remus Lupin, Harry's former professor and now, close and beloved friend. Harry was no stranger to pain. He had been through every kind of pain there is, large and small, physical and emotional. But the pain that Harry was feeling now, that he had been feeling since the loss of his godfather, made everything else in the world seem childish and trivial. Between loosing Sirius and finding out about the prophecy, Harry's world that had been crumbling for so long, but that he had been trying so hard to keep standing, was finally coming crashing down around him. Harry had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Harry couldn't help but think how ironic that statement was, and remembered the first time the full force of the irony and what everything he had to do hit him. He had been lying on his bed in Privet Drive, staring blankly at the ceiling, and was thinking about the world at large. Ya no, when people are stressed, they often say "I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders." Hell, Uncle Vernon often says it about his job and Grunnings, and that's only in the drill business. But the difference between when everyone else says it, and me saying it, is that everyone else FEELS like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and I DO have it on my shoulders. The don't even think it really exists, that its just a phrase, but it does, and its lying on the shoulders of a 16 year old boy. My shoulders. If I don't kill Voldemort, I'll be dooming the wizarding and muggle worlds to darkness. This realization changed him. Whatever was left of his rushed childhood had vanished and was replaced with a resigned acceptance and determination flashed in his eyes. Confidence supported every graceful move, and he seemed like he was carrying the burden of the world's future as well as anyone could.

But on the inside, Harry was screaming. He couldn't deal with it, with everything that had had been through, and everything he knew he would go through. He felt trapped, and panicked. But he also felt, and knew, that if Sirius were here, he could deal with everything. That if Sirius would still alive, the prophecy wouldn't be so bad, and defeating Voldemort wouldn't seem as impossible as it did now. Harry sighed. He was tired. No, beyond tired, he was exhausted, both mentally and physically. He hardly slept anymore, not because of visions from Voldemort, because Harry had finally mastered Occlumency on his own in the privacy of his bedroom, without a greasy git of a professor hanging over him and yelling at him. He hardly slept because of gruesome and petrifying nightmares, right out of his own subconscious. Visions of the world burning, Voldemort wrecking havoc on Hogwarts, all his loved ones brutally murdered. These were only some of his nightmares.

His worst nightmare by far, however, was the one of the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. He would be in the cavernous room alone, looking into the Veil, when all of a sudden, his godfather would come out, and Harry would rush up to him, hug him, apologize, tell him he missed him and how much he meant to him, but he would stop talking when Sirius would shove Harry's arms away from him, and glare at him. Then Sirius would start talking to Harry, blaming him for his death. Telling him that he hated him and he never loved him, but that he only put up with him because he was James and Lily's son. Sirius would tell Harry that no one loved him, and no one ever would, because he was a murderer. Harry would always wake up from that dream, sweating, sometimes screaming, with the bedclothes twisted and stuck around him, with his godfathers sneering voice in his head, when he so longed for it to just tell him he loved him.

Through Harry's depressing thoughts, he had not looked up at the staff table once. If he had, he would have noticed the eyes of all the Order members that were professors looking at him, searching, hoping, for some sign that he was all right. None of them would get that sign. Professor Dumbledore was looking at him sadly and longingly. Not once had Albus Dumbledore looked as old as he did at this very moment, when looking at Harry. Albus loved Harry. True, Albus loved all of his students, but he loved Harry like family. Like his grandson. Or more accurately, his great grandson. But what was really hurting him, was to know that Harry no longer trusted him as much as he once had, if he trusted him at all. He had kept things from him for far too long, and as much as he hated it, he had one more thing he was keeping from him. He knew that when Harry found out, he would no longer trust him at all, and probably never would again. But Albus fully intended on telling Harry as soon as he possibly could, as soon as he was positive that Harry was a master at Occlumency. Albus had noticed immediately the haunted look in Harry's eyes as soon as he entered the Great Hall and sighed deeply. Harry was hurting more than anyone would ever know over the loss of Sirius Black, and he wondered, not for the first time, if he was doing the right thing.