Anna Parkinson sniffed back the tears that threatened to spill from her brown eyes. She hastily swiped at her face to clear any stray tears from her cheeks and turned her attention back to the bustling common room. Her fellow first-year Slytherin peers were already giggling and playing together in small groups around the large room, and she stood alone, waiting and watching from the corner. Anna had never felt so out of place. And it had started from that very morning. The children around her had been chattering excitedly and laughing and sharing stories as they boarded the train, but all Anna had heard was the sound of her parents' choked goodbyes as she hugged them for the last time and turned away. They had stood there, all alone, as the train pulled away from the station, her father's unnaturally pale face shining with the tracks of a few tears that had trickled down his cheeks. It was an image Anna would much rather forget. She had turned away from the window then and huddled in the corner of her seat with her long legs pulled tightly to her chest. Other children had reached out to her aboard the train, but Anna found herself too internally distraught to join in the fun. And now, watching them all forming friendships without her, she wondered if she would ever belong in her own House.

As quickly as the joyous buzzing of her fellow students had begun, it dulled to an eerie silence, which was soon broken by the slow sound of footsteps entering the room. A man appeared, a tall, lanky, menacing man with raven black hair down to his shoulders. Anna recognized him as the same man who had sat so quietly during the Sorting Ceremony that evening, observing the process from his seat like a hulking, black-clad vulture. She pressed herself a little more deeply into her corner and cautiously peered around the edge at the stranger as he offered a small smile to the group. He clasped his pale hands behind his back and paced before the children, his dark gaze sweeping over the rows upon rows of first-years, and began to speak in a commanding baritone that resonated in her bones.

"Welcome, my Snakes," he said almost warmly, his chin lifting ever so slightly with pride. "I am your Head of House, Professor Severus Snape." The room had gone silent as a tomb by now, and Anna risked a glance at her peers, noting how they stood wide-eyed and unmoving. "I serve as the potions master of Hogwarts, so I expect I shall see many of you in my classroom come Monday morning." He swept another gaze over the room and smirked to himself. "You all seem quite wary. Let me be the first to assure you that while I am quite strict and there is much to be expected of you all while you are in my care, I am rather fond of my House and I am ready and willing to help whenever I can." His stare then darkened with warning. "However, that does not in any way give you the right to run wild. Slytherin House is a noble and respectable House, and I will not tolerate any attempts to tarnish its reputation." Several audience members gulped in reply. "You will behave yourselves. You will respect your peers, even those in other Houses. You will respect your professors, including myself." He stopped pacing for a moment to eye everyone once more and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His stare had darkened even more, if it were possible.

"You will do well to know that I do not tolerate bullying of any sort," he growled, "Not in my House, not in anyone else's. If you have a problem with one of your peers, you are to sort it out in a respectful, civilized manner. If you, for whatever reason, cannot accomplish this, you will serve detention with me. I will decide the duration and manner of your punishment. You may be turned loose to raise Hell by your other professors, but I assure you that when it comes to a well-deserved punishment, you will not escape me. Are we clear?" The students nodded vigorously, provoking another half-smile from the man, and he gestured to each staircase. "Very well. If you need anything or have anymore questions, my quarters are just down the hall and to the right. I expect to see you all in bed and quiet by ten o'clock. You will be awake by no later than seven-thirty tomorrow morning, and we shall spend the first half of the day reviewing schedules and finding your classes. The second half should be more fun for all of you, as we are taking the afternoon to come together as a House and get to know each of you first-years individually." The students' faced softened around Anna, but her heart still clenched within her chest. She was not away at a week-long summer camp. This was real, and there was no escaping it. She felt the tears rise again in her throat and fought desperately to hold them back.

"Goodnight, my snakes," the man smiled softly as he gave the group one last lingering stare. "Sleep well. You've a busy day ahead." With that, he stepped down onto the main floor of the common room and made his way through the students as the buzzing chatter filled the room once more. Anna scurried from her corner to the back wall, where the first-years luggage sat neatly in two rows. She clambered over suitcases and bags to find her things, determined to escape to her dormitory and fade into sleep as quickly as possible. Maybe then she would forget about Mum and Dad and be able to thoroughly enjoy her first few days of school. Anna's heart leapt in her chest when she discovered her red suitcase propped against the right side of the wall, and hurried to collect it. Her hands worked desperately to locate the handles, but they slowed when she discovered a small red envelope tucked into the mesh pocket on the side. Trepidation bloomed in her chest, and Anna glanced around for a moment before reaching to open the card with shaking fingers. She unfolded the short message slowly, but her eyes soon clouded with tears.

Dear Anna, it said, Your mum and I are so very proud of you, dear. You're going on to much bigger and better things than we could ever imagine. You are an amazing young lady and you will do well this year. Please stay in touch, and don't worry about Dad; the Lord has him in capable hands. We miss you more and more every minute. Love always, Dad and Mum. Anna tried desperately in vain to stem the flood of tears that had collected in her brown eyes, but a few rolled down her cheeks and, much to her embarrassment and horror, did not go unnoticed by the sixth-year prefect. The blonde stared at her for a quick moment before briskly approaching Professor Snape, who was currently speaking with a small group of young boys at the opposite end of the room. Anna's tears came faster when the prefect laid a hand upon his arm and gestured in her direction, eyebrows knit together in concern. Anna watched in mounting terror out of the corner of her eye as Snape's calm smile stretched downward into a frown and he started toward her with a swift stride. She turned away and hastily swiped at her wet cheeks, hoping that by some miracle, her Head of House was too dimwitted to realize she had been crying.

"Miss Parkinson," her deep baritone said from just behind her shoulder. Anna flinched and turned meekly to face him with as big a smile as she could muster.

"Yes, s-s-sir?" she stammered, her fear only increasing when she noted the way his brow furrowed as he looked at her.

"Come." It was not a request. He went to grab her wrist, but hesitated and, deciding against it, laid a hand upon her shoulder instead and nudged her forward. They walked in silence to his chambers, but inside, Anna was breaking under the fear and sadness. Was he about to scold her, tell her curtly to chin up and forget about her parents? She didn't know, but she did know that his presence was incredibly disconcerting, especially with that enormous, billowing black cape. He ushered her through the doorway and steered her to a small, somewhat threadbare couch in the tiny sitting room, and busied himself with something in the kitchen. Anna took a moment to appreciate his quarters; they were not at all as she had expected. No dead creatures suspended from the ceilings. No green slime oozing from the walls. In truth, the burgundy walls were quite warm and inviting, and the fire in the fireplace only added to that feeling. His furniture was somewhat mismatched, and his walls were nearly bare, but the space held a comforting air to it, and Anna was thankful.

"Tea?" his deep voice rang out from the kitchen. Anna leapt in her seat, eyes wide, and felt a shiver run slowly down her back.

"Yes, thank you," she managed to squeak. He returned with two steaming cups and handed one carefully to her before settling down in the chair across from her, taking a sip, and leaning forward to rest his elbows upon his knees. She avoided his gaze entirely, choosing instead to busy herself with sipping her tea and warming her hands on the cup. Her hand trembled ever-so-slightly, but his keen eyes did not miss a beat.

"Are you all right, Miss Parkinson?" he asked in a low voice. The sincerity of the question caught Anna off guard, and she found herself battling tears for the second time that night. He seemed to notice her struggle and waited patiently for an answer to his question. Finally, the young girl squinted her eyes shut and shook her head in reply. She did not look up, but she could hear him set his tea aside on the end table and then lean forward once more, elbows perched upon his knees.

"You miss your family," he observed, a statement that wrenched a sob from the girl's chest. She nodded, the tears running freely now, and cautiously risked a glance at his face. It was softer than it had been during his introduction speech, and his eyes, so dark and threatening, held a hint of sadness.

"I d-don't know if I b-belong here," she sobbed brokenly, "Some of the o-other children w-w-were-"

"What did they say?" he ground out from behind clenched teeth. His eyes flashed with anger and he leaned forward even more, face now creased with harsh lines. Anna's eyes widened and the tears continued to pour.

"They tried to i-include m-me, sir," she explained shakily, watching as his shoulders sagged slightly in relief, "But I've just been th-thinking about my p-p-parents all day and…" She trailed off and cried in earnest this time. Through the sound of her tears, she heard her Head of House rise slowly from his chair and sit down beside her on the couch. His hand rested gently on her back and she felt his thumb move discretely back and forth in a consoling manner. He said nothing, but stayed close and did not remove his hand from her back. After a few moments, she had calmed considerably, and he presented her quietly with a handkerchief that he had pulled from his back pocket.

"I'm sorry," Anna sniffed miserably as she dabbed at her eyes. His hand squeezed her shoulder gently.

"No harm done, Miss Parkinson," he said softly. "You are certainly not the first student to have this kind of reaction on their first night." She nodded, looking somewhat relieved, and offered a small smile. He offered his own in reply. "You must be very close to your parents," he observed. She nodded again with a bitter laugh and dabbed at her eyes once more.

"I am," she replied, "I just didn't think it'd be this difficult." His hand squeezed again.

"Perfectly understandable. Everyone is a bit uneasy on their first night, Miss Parkinson. It gets easier with time." His voice, having been so foreboding in the common room, was low and quiet in her ear, and she felt the hurt ease slightly in her aching heart.

"Does it?" she asked in clear uncertainty. She grasped her cup in her hands once more and he rose to grab his own tea from the nearby end table. He then carefully sat down beside her once more and leaned back slightly into the cushion, taking a slow sip from his steaming cup. He turned to face her with a reassuring smirk.

"It absolutely does," he nodded. "By this time next week, you'll be gallivanting all over this castle with your new friends like a band of drunken gypsies." He rolled his eyes and took another sip. "Amazing how quickly you little serpents can stir up trouble when you feel so inclined." She giggled softly and took a sip of her own tea.

"That's better," he smiled as he watched her with a careful gaze. She offered a shy grin in reply and took another long sip, relishing the warmth that trickled down her throat.

"What tea is this?" she asked curiously. "I don't think I've tried this before."

"Chamomile," he responded just after another long sip of his own. "It's useful for easing anxiety and helping people off to sleep, particularly homesick firstyears." He sent her a pointed glance and raised a dark eyebrow teasingly.

"Thank you very much, sir," she replied, feeling her cheeks go slightly pink under his stare. "I really do appreciate this."

"Think nothing of it, Miss Parkinson," he said quietly. "My door is always open, as well as my ears. I'm more than willing to listen if you'd like to talk." She nodded and grinned a silent 'thank-you', and they drained the last of their tea together in pleasant silence. She risked a sideways glance up at her Head of House and pondered the situation for a moment. For a pale, frightening, abrasive bat-like man, he was rather good company. She made a mental note to visit periodically during the semester. They sat together for another moment until his low baritone broke the silence once again.

"So tell me about your parents," he offered encouragingly. "What makes them special to you?" They both set their cups aside and Anna furrowed her brow slightly in thought.

"My mum is very kind," she began softly, "Her heart is the biggest I've ever seen. And my father, my father is incredibly brave." Snape's eyebrows rose distinctively at this and Anna caught sight of a mounting question on his tongue.

"How so?" he prodded gently. Anna felt a pang of dull sadness strike her heart and she clasped her hands tightly together before offering a nearly-whispered reply.

"We got the diagnosis over the summer," Anna explained with a slight tremor in her voice. Her Head of House furrowed his brow, frowned, and then turned abruptly to face her. "He's fought it off as well as he can so far. I'm quite proud of him."

"Diagnosis?" Snape's frown deepened, but his dark, piercing eyes softened ever-so-slightly.

"Cancer," Anna explained, surprised that the word passed her lips without a sniffle or a sob. "But he's doing quite well given the circumstances." Snape nodded slowly in understanding and hesitantly wrapped an arm around her shoulders to give her a reassuring squeeze. He then dropped his arm and clasped his hands together in his lap.

"I'm very sorry, Miss Parkinson," he said in a sincere tone that Anna suspected was very seldom used. "I imagine it must be very difficult to be away from him during his illness."

"It is," she nodded. Snape offered a sad smile and then lowered his gaze to his lap.

"I know that it is typically forbidden to allow students to return home once they've arrived, with the exception of holidays of course," he drawled thoughtfully, "but if you would like to pay your parents an extra visit or two, I may be able to pull a few strings and escort you myself." Anna looked at him in surprise. Words failed her for a moment, and to her embarrassment, she felt a few thankful tears prick at her brown eyes.

"A-Are you sure, Professor?" she stammered in disbelief. "I couldn't ask you to-" He raised a hand abruptly and her speech stilled.

"I am quite sure, Miss Parkinson," he nodded, a small smile etched into his pale face. "I may be a nasty, cold-hearted dungeon bat, but I am not so far gone as to keep a student from visiting a loved one who is ill." His eyes twinkled in teasingly and she giggled, but was cut short by a wide yawn. Snape smirked knowingly and rose from his seat to offer her his hand. "Come, let's see you off to bed." She was about to protest when he raised an eyebrow in warning. "Do not argue. Come." She grasped his hand and he then led her back to the common room, which was now curiously silent and empty. He took Anna up the small staircase to the right and over to a small dormitory where three other girls lay snoring softly behind emerald bed curtains. He swiftly pulled back the blanket and turned to stare at her. One dark eyebrow rose slowly as she gazed up at him blankly, but then realization dawned and she kicked off her shoes and clambered into bed. She was surprised when he pulled the covers gently up to her shoulders, but she was completely unprepared when his hand came up to stroke the hair back from her face in an affectionate gesture. A rare, small smile graced his lips and she offered one in return. He lingered for a moment, hands lightly steepled against his chest, and she gazed sleepily up at him through hazy eyes. He gave one short nod, and turned to leave, but not before tossing a soft, "Goodnight, Miss Parkinson" over his shoulder. She never heard it though. She was already fast asleep.

**I really hope you enjoyed this story :) I based it off of my first week of college, when I was feeling very much like Anna. It was difficult to be away from home with everything going on with my dad, and even though the first few days were really scary and upsetting, I'd still count them among my best 'life' moments so far because it showed me who truly cared enough to reach out to me when I needed it most :) Thanks so much for reading!***