A/N: So I'm gonna try out a SSHG fic. Well seeing as I'm staff of a C2 thing with that purpose I ought to make some contribution. I am bad though; trying to write 4 stories within 3 weeks of my first published one. Oh well, might just mean you'll have to wait a bit for the next instalment...

Beginning with Ending

A loud hiss of steam erupted from the mouth of a scarlet train engine. The Hogwarts Express puffed into Platform 9 ¾ where an expectant crowd of students emerged from the carriages, eager for the long summer holiday. But a few students didn't look so pleased to be back in the Muggle world; Harry Potter prepared himself again for the utter awfulness that was the Dursley family. But his friend Hermione Granger wasn't unhappy because of the lack of homework or exams – normally something she missed during the summer; but for something quite different, something she would never dare let her parents find out about, something she would have to wait weeks for until she regained it.

(the previous September)

Harry, Ron and Hermione boarded the train together at King's Cross Station, after finding an empty compartment they spent the journey discussing the goings on at the Order of the Phoenix that summer. Of how the Death Eaters had cornered and killed a group of 17 Ministry of Magic employees, and of the brave last battle of Alastor Moody. None of them yet knew what the next year would bring, but they weren't very optimistic.

"Who knows what'll happen now. I mean with Moody gone and the Dementors working with the Death Eaters; c'mon, this 'cease-fire' won't last much longer." Ron gazed miserably out the window, to where the faint grey peaks of the distant mountains were just visible, to where Hogwarts Castle was nestled comfortably in the misty valley.

The chilly September day was quickly turning to evening, the sun washed the blood of those innocent dead across the clouds, whilst above the sky filled with stars, like pinpricks of hope amongst the tumult of despair. The three of them changed into their uniform, pulling their cloaks tightly around themselves, for even within the warm of the train they still felt the chill of a premature winter. Huddled together they didn't speak much for most of the journey, but inside they were anything but quiet.

Hermione's head was squirming with so many conflicting emotions, she thought she was past the temperamental teenage period, but obviously not. Viktor hadn't written to her all summer, even though she'd sent him at least four owls, she was beginning to wonder whether a long-distance relationship could really work; she'd been loyal, but how could she be sure about him. Perhaps it was time to move on... yes, this year I'll find a new boyfriend... but I should really tell Viktor first... but he hasn't written to me... ugh, why do I have to have such a complicated life?

Severus Snape had spent the summer conducting low profile, highly confidential mission spying for the Order of the Phoenix, he never particularly enjoyed the actual spying of course but the thrill of finding out vital information and not getting hurt was always a thrill, even now, after nearly 18 years. Today however he was not happy (which he never really was anyway) because the students were returning to school, he liked to be able to prowl the corridors and dungeons in secrecy; without stumbling across a pupil on every corner. It was also his birthday, of course no-one had made any sign of recognising this, even Dumbledore. Why the school had to come back on the 31st August rather than the 1st September was beyond him, apparently something to do with wanting equal term lengths. But whatever anyone said it had ruined his birthday even more when he saw his first lesson – double potions with 6th years, a class full of the students he most hated: Potter (arrogant prat's son), Weasley (idiotic red-head), Granger (insufferable-know-it-all) and of course Malfoy. That bastard with his bastard father, how Dumbledore excepted him to be nice to this piece of shit for another year was not something he wanted to think about.

Candles suspended in the air around the tables provided a cheery contrast to the thunderous ceiling. The students were all stuffing their faces with warm delicious food, the first-years were nervously sneaking looks up at the staff table where Dumbledore sat bathed in robes like the night sky. He radiated with beams of light from the twinkling stars, and from his twinkling eyes as he fondly peered over his half-moon glasses at the pupils. He had already given them his usual speech after the sorting, but it had been a solemn one, perhaps now he should lighten the atmosphere a little.

"Hem, hem," every student who had been there last year turned their heads, startled at the uncanny impression of Dolores Umbridge. Dumbledore chuckled quietly to himself. "Now your stomachs have been sufficiently filled I think it is time I told you about the special occasion today."

"Sp'cial occ'sion, yeah right, "Ron gulped down the last of his rhubarb crumble, "I bet it's the anniversary of some battle or something."

"Today is the birthday of our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher; Professor Snape. So let us sing him Happy Birthday." Dumbledore's eyes sparkled mischievously, Snape's eyes widened and he hunched his shoulders up around him, pretending he hadn't noticed that every pair of eyes in the Hall were upon him. He groaned as they all began to sing, well the Slytherins, some of the teachers, and Hermione Granger at least.

"Hermione! Why are you singing?"

"Well no-one else is, anyway I bet no-one ever remembers his birthday, I'm sure somewhere... very deep down he's a nice person..."

"Hermione, you do realise we're all doing DADA and Potions for NEWTs, we're gonna have him basically every day!"

"Ron, Hermione, um... we need to kind of go now."

"Oh, yeah, right." As Harry, Ron and Hermione walked past the staff table Hermione lifted her face a little until her eyes met Snape's, she gave him a small, but kindly smile. Snape, surprised, watched her out of the hall, as she reached the doors she turned head back to where he was sitting, Snape quickly looked at the ceiling, but couldn't help but wonder what had just happened.

As he stalked back to his rooms he thought about Hermione. He hadn't noticed the maturity in her face before, of course he knew that she was very adult-like anyway but seeing her just now had been like seeing a woman his age staring back. He knew he was being stupid; he was twenty-six years older than her for goodness' sake, but that face, that face was something he couldn't forget.

Hermione was lying in bed, the curtains pulled all around her, the bed warm and cosy. But she couldn't sleep; ever since she had left the Great Hall she couldn't get Snape out of her mind, he had looked at her, hadn't he? When she looked back from the doorway, he had been watching her. She didn't really know what to think, she couldn't like him could she? Closing her eyes, she eventually fell into a restless sleep.

On the other side of the castle the Potions Master and now Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher lay in bed tossing and turning with the torment going through his mind.

A/N: well, that was interesting. S'pose I'll have to figure out what's gonna happen next. Any seasoned writer – how do you get your ideas? Do you write like a plot outline or something? Oh well. R&R!