You all know I don't own this. Any of it. Harry Potter, Hogwarts and the whole wizarding world we all play in belong to the one and only J. K. Rowling, who is quite possibly the biggest thing to hit this planet since the internet. Even though we all wish she'd write just ONE more captivating book in the Harry Potter world, we also eternally grateful she won't. She gave us a place to start, finish, and even create worlds of our own. She's given us the greatest gift a writer can give her audience: the power to dream.

Thanks Ms. Rowling. Thanks a bunch.

The whistle blew nearby, and the short dark-haired child struggling onto Platform 9 and 3/4 heaved a sigh. He was going home. After an absolutely dismal summer, he was finally going to the one place he felt he belonged.



Shaking his fringe out of his eyes, he trudged on toward the gleaming red train. It took all his will power to take each step and not collapse into a sobbing heap in front of so many people. He prayed his glamour would hold, at least until he got up to the castle. Then he could sneak into a classroom and brew something for his bruises, though he wasn't too sure he would be able to tackle a bone mending potion just yet.

Unbidden, memories of the summer flashed through his mind. For a minute he stood, dazed, his injuries making it impossible to deal with so much pain, emotional and physical. Images flitted through his mind, of his uncles large purple face screaming at him, his aunt throwing a scornful look over her shoulder as she walked away from him, being thrown down the stairs, bullied by Dudley and his friends while his aunt and uncle pretended they couldn't hear them, sitting at the table watching the blonde family eat, wishing over and over for just a bit, just the tiniest bit from any of their plates, Vernon, standing before the now open fireplace, chucking Harry's schoolbooks in, one by one...

A large, soft warm something collided into him, complete with an ear-shattering squeal of delight, and Harry instinctively bit the inside of his cheek from crying out. A white hot blaze was tearing up his back, branching off to fill his chest, and down through his left leg. If he wasn't being held so tight he would have fallen. Finally, his brain pinpointed the mass of bushy brown hair from memory, and his heart leapt when he realized that the human freight train was actually his best friend, Hermione.

As glad as he was to see her, he couldn't find the strength to hug her back. All he could do was gasp her name. "'Mione."

Quick as a flash she pulled back, her large brown eyes raking over him in that motherly way she had sometimes. "Harry, are you alright?" She peered at him closer. "You're crying!"

Harry gave her a weak smile, hoping it didn't look too much like a grimace. "Missed you," was all he was able to mutter.

The bright witch opened her mouth to say something, but before a sound could leave her lips, the sun was blocked by a towering figure standing over them. Looking up, Harry grinned. "Hey, Ron."

"Hiya Harry." His always lanky friend had obviously taken advantage of the summer, growing a full foot, it seemed to Harry. After a minute he considered that in reality he really had only grown a few inches. Even so, Harry was acutely aware that he was still the shortest of the three, but the difference now was stark. "How were your summers?" he asked, before his mind could wander further.

"It was great Harry. My parents and I spent the summer in Australia, with my aunt Pat. You should see the flora, Harry. Most of it is magical, though only the Aborigines use them. They're the only ones that brew potions Harry, did you know? I've read all about it. Australian wizards steep various plants for healing, and drink them like tea, but for anything else, like potions to change appearance, or anything else physical, they get from the Aborigines. Its really quite interesting, considering - "

"Slow down, 'Mione," Ron grinned, putting an arm around her shoulders. "I think Harry's a bit overwhelmed."

Harry managed a small smile and shrugged. In truth, his legs were really paining him. He wasn't sure how he'd gotten the glamour to hold him up, but he wasn't interested in pushing it much further either. It had been tested enough as far as he was concerned this morning, when Vernon had come after him with a bat in the kitchen, furious to find that Harry could not only walk after his punishment the whole day before but that he didn't carry a single scar from his ministrations.

Shrugging off this train of thought, he turned to the red head. 'What about you, Ron?" he asked, pushing his trolley closer to the train.

"It was brilliant, mate. Everyone was home for the summer. Bill and Charlie came down, and Percy got an extended leave from work. It was a madhouse Harry, All nine Weasleys in one place." The taller boy babbled on about his rambunctious family, ignoring Harry's protests when he picked up his trunk effortlessly and hefted it up onto the train. "Merlin, Harry. Your trunk's as light as a feather! Are you sure you've got everything?"

It hurts so much. He felt like he couldn't breathe. No, he didn't have everything. He didn't have anything at all.

He fought to take a breath. "Yea I do."

But he didn't.

Ron was the one who had everything, he thought as he watched his best friend press a kiss to Hermione's forehead. 'You've always had everything, mate. You just don't see it.'

He hastily swiped the tears from his face. No, he didn't begrudge Ron his perfect life. He couldn't. But over the past summer, he'd spent a lot of time thinking, and wondering, and he'd come to the conclusion that how the Dursley's treated him was not his fault, and that there was nothing wrong with him. He didn't understand, though, why his uncle suddenly decided to punish him in a new way, or why it wasn't possible for him to share Ron's perfect life. Why couldn't some of Ron's good luck rub off on him? He sighed, and turned away from his friends. They were so happy they made him sad.

He had refused this job. Of that he was sure. He had firmly and in no uncertain terms told his employer that he would not do it, and there was no amount of Galleons, Dementors or maniacal dark wizards on earth that could make him.

Yet, here he was.

Standing on the damn platform, drowning in the overall far-too-pleasant atmosphere of badly restrained chaos in the form of what some fools might mistakenly call 'excited children'.

Severus growled.

He hated excited children.

Actually, he hated children in general.

Actually, it was children in general, first years in particular.

He barely suppressed a shudder. Merlin, he hated first years!

He stalked through the crowded platform, gently urging students finish up their last minute goodbyes, ("Cease that incessant rambling this instant!"), excited hellos ("Kindly continue this meaningless drivel you call a conversation aboard the train!"), adding a snarl here and a sneer there for effect.

After about an hour, he felt much better. Students all around him were shooting him nervous glances over their shoulders, and many parents were giving him the evil eye. He almost smiled. It felt so good to be appreciated.

He was thinking up ways to frighten the first years senseless well within their first potions lesson when he happened upon The Boy. He never knew what to do with the boy, really, and since the dark lord's return that previous June his emotions pertaining to the Potter brat had become more confusing than before.

After nearly giving himself a heart attack with worry during the first two tasks of the Triwizard Tournament held last year, Severus had taken an extra precaution right before the last task. The Calming Draught had made it easier, he would admit to the only person who knew he took it. But he had nearly been undone when the damn child had appeared outside the maze, bruised and bloody and clutching the clearly dead Cedric Diggory, screaming at the top of his voice about the return of the dark lord.

Severus stared down at the child before him, feeling his insides knot into twists. Who gave the infernal Potter spawn permission to cry? And look so damn vulnerable, and so much in need of a hug?

Who gave Severus' arms permission to want to hug him?

He glared at the offending appendages. A bit of Muggle verse came to mind. 'If thy limbs offend thee...'

All hugging-related tingling ceased immediately, and he moved, cloak billowing furiously, towards the boy whom he secretly didn't hate anymore, if he ever did.


He expected the child to jump a foot into the air, to turn angrily distrustful emerald eyes towards him, before snarling out the expected reply of his title with all the venom he had learned to expect from the boy. He expected to have to resist the urge to deduct House points and assign detentions.

He did not expect to come face to face with a blotchy faced, puffy eyed Potter, feel an odd clenching in his chest he would later discover was the remains of his heart, and extend one elegant, potion-stained hand clutching a pristine white handkerchief. If the Potions Master had been shocked speechless by his own actions, he was facing being permanently addled in the mind, for Harry took the proffered hanky, and wasted no time in cleaning his face.


Realizing his face had softened slightly in disbelief, he hastily schooled his features into something a bit more foreboding, and studied the face before him. To his chagrin, there was no hint of resentment on the boy's face, just the odd mixture of surprised wariness, resignation, and well masked pain.

Storing that bit of information away for later, he looked around for the other two thirds of the Golden Trio. "You shouldn't be alone Potter. Even on the platform." Hmmm, no snide remark on the boy's tears...Maybe he was slipping...Ah, there they were, standing just a little ways off, arms wrapped around each other...snogging their hearts out. Severus was gripped momentarily by another fit of disbelief.

'Well, I never…'

He dragged his eyes away from Weasley and the Granger, and turned to look at Potter.

All of a sudden he was feeling out of his depth. Was Potter standing here, tears streaming down his face, pining over the Granger? Over Weasley? Had Severus, perhaps, stumbled upon the remnants of a steamy love triangle turned devoted twosome?

'Oh please, Severus. They're children,' the little voice in his head reasoned, 'not the stars of one of your sordid little soap operas.'

Inner Severus sniffed. 'You would be surprised with what some of these children come up with.' With a final mental huff, Snape redirected his attention to the green eyes that were gazing up at him in wonder.

"Let's get you onto the train, Potter."

To his surprise, the boy actually turned around and stepped towards the train, stopping at the doors when he realized that Severus was still standing where he'd left him.

Severus felt his brow furrow. Was that hope he saw in the boy's eyes? Absolutely not. Why would the boy be hoping that Severus was coming with him? Was he that much in need of company after the relatively recent betrayal of one (or both, he thought with a shudder) of his Gryffindor lovers?

Pushing these thoughts from his head, Severus allowed himself to escort the young Gryffindor onto the train, and found himself, much to his further disbelief, searching for an empty, and secluded, compartment.

'Severus!' whispered the most Severus-sounding voice in his head, 'you are coddling the boy!'

'Maybe I am,' he thought back, ushering the boy into the abandoned teachers' compartment, at the very end of the train.

Ignoring the indignant sputtering of his inner voices, Severus settled into a seat and motioned for Harry to do the same. There were many things he wanted to ask the boy, to demand the boy tell him, but words simply would not come. He considered Legimency, but discarded that option immediately. He never used Legimency on a child, save in life or death situations. And neither he nor Harry was dying.

'Rather unfortunate, that,' one of his voices said airily.

Before he could reply, Severus heard a sharp SMACK, a whining 'Ow!', and voice number three say in a startling imitation of the Granger 'Don't say that! He likes Harry now!'

'I do not!' cried Severus mentally, the embodiment of indignance. 'I do not like Harry!'

'Really,' said the voice in an I-don't-believe-a-word-you're-saying tone. 'Then since when is he 'Harry'?

Severus had no answer to this, so he pointedly ignored the question, and continued to study the obviously less distraught teen.

He had gotten as far as the boy's feet, which still hung a few inches above the compartment floor despite the child being fifteen, without incident. The messy hair, slightly puffy eyes and buttoned up school robes were not new to him.

But the site of the child's feet disturbed him, stirred memories of his own childhood that he'd rather forget.

Forgetting for a minute that he was not supposed to care, Severus asked, in a quiet voice that carried across the chamber nonetheless, "Harry, what are those on your feet?"