Dear Dan,

Hope you are well. Sorry for the late reply but school just started and I've been busy settling down. Things have been smooth so far. Teachers are still the same regardless, some strict, some boring (and others incompetent). There's some serious inter-house rivalry going on which I think is stupid because people just pick on each other for being in rival houses. Don't you think this just encourages more fights and trouble? Apparently it has a long history that goes back a thousand years. Rather silly if you asked me. But don't worry, I'll make friends.

How's school and work? Tell me if the old man is mean again. I'll think of something. Don't overwork yourself. We'll meet up again during winter holidays okay? Give my regards to Aunt Tia and Uncle Richard. Take care.

Love, Harry

--Oo--

He walked through the halls, nodding absently to the Ravenclaw ghost and a few older Slytherins he recognised. There were no students in the owlery, perhaps because it was so near to curfew. Harry looked around and a brown barn owl flew down to perch on the stand near him. He petted her and tied the letter to her feet.

"Bring this to Dan and stay for a reply. He'll have a treat for you."

The owl hooted and took off.

Harry headed back to his dorms, wrapping his scarf more securely around his neck.

"Would you like to explore?"

"I don't like the cold," Sandy hissed from his arm.

It was a windy night, he thought absently.

"Another day then. You can warm up by the fire when we get back."

"Yesssss."

"Someone seems to be following us," Sandy hissed.

He noticed the faint footsteps now that Sandy mentioned it. Harry walked on, but turned at the next corner and hid in one of the alcoves. Someone walked past and he heard the puzzled question 'where did he go?'.

"Looking for me?" he asked, coming out just as the other person walked past, almost knocking into him.

"Oh! Potter. You startled me."

Harry blinked. "Longbottom?"

Of all people to be following him, he didn't expect it to be Longbottom.

"Err… yes," he tugged at his collar. "I err… wanted to thank you for saving my Remembrall."

Harry looked at him. Longbottom fidgeted.

"You're welcomed," he said finally, trying to keep the amusement out of his reply.

Was it so terrifying to talk to him or was it a Slytherin- Gryffindor thing?

"I hope your wrist is better."

"Oh." Longbottom beamed. "It is. Madam Pomfrey healed it in about a minute but only let me out of the Hospital Wing after dinner."

The wonders of magic, he mused. Healed in a minute instead of a few weeks, without the prolonged discomfort and inconvenience of injury.

"That's nice. Well I have to go back. It's almost curfew. Wouldn't do to be caught by Filch so soon."

Harry gave a half-smile.

Longbottom looked around cautiously, as if searching for the caretaker who might be lurking in the hallway waiting to catch them.

"Yes. I'd better get going too. Bye!"

"Bye." He watched for a while as Longbottom disappeared round the corner then continued his way to the dormitories. He wouldn't have expected Longbottom to specially look for him to thank him. Some people had better upbringing, he supposed.

Harry frowned. Was he letting house prejudices affect his opinion of people? No, just expectations. Opinion of people is affected by their actions. Upbringing had nothing to do with house. At least until one was sorted and became influenced by the masses.

Unless one was brought up with those prejudices, then it starts earlier. So upbringing had to do with house?

He shook his head mentally. The hour was too late for introspection; he's getting all confused, going round and round the mental track.

Harry slipped into the common room. It was much quieter than when he left, only a few of his housemates were still lounging by the fireplace and common area, chatting, doing work. He went to bed, planning to go flying early tomorrow morning, and fell asleep with a smile on his face, Sandy curled up beside his head on his pillow.

--Oo--

"Hey," he greeted cheerfully, settling in beside Blaise.

"Harry," he said, looking up from his breakfast. "We didn't see you this morning when we got up. Where did you go?"

"Oh nowhere. I just woke early and went out for a morning walk."

Harry started helping himself to the food, egg, bacon, bread and fruits filling his plate. Blaise watched him oddly.

"Of course," he said, rolling his eyes, "a morning walk got you in such high spirits."

Harry grinned and kept quiet, eating his breakfast. The adrenaline and thrill of flying was still making him high. Although the old school broom wasn't as good as the one he had at home, it was still better than none and not being able to fly at all.

"Fine, keep your secrets. We're going to the Quidditch Pitch later to watch the team practise. You coming along?"

"I have to finish-"

"Oh no you don't. No doing homework on Saturdays." Blaise mock-glared at him.

He considered. It'll be fun to watch the Quidditch team in action even though it's not a match. He had not actually seen a Quidditch game or a full team playing before. And he should spend more time with his year-mates and cultivate friendships. After all, they would be spending seven years together.

"Since you're so persistent, I suppose that half transfiguration essay can wait," he drawled.

"Prat. If you're done with your breakfast…"

"I will be if you let me eat in peace."

Blaise huffed and crossed his arms. Draco came over.

"We're going to the Pitch now," he said.

"I'm still waiting for His Highness to finish eating," Blaise said, nodding to Harry.

"All right, all right, I'm done." Harry put down his utensils, wiped his lips with a napkin and stood up.

They walked out together, talking about the Slytherin team – 'they should be pretty good. They did win for the past few consecutive years.'- until a sudden question from Vincent about a recent Charms essay assignment sparked a discussion on Charms theory like how wand movement is similar for same-type Charms and why the wrong movement may affect the strength or nature of the spell.

When they reached the Pitch, the players had already warmed up and were doing drills. The Chasers were trying to pass the Quaffle in a formation while the Beaters practised disrupting their attempts by hitting Bludgers towards the thrower or the targeted receiver. The Keeper and Captain, Marcus Flint he recalled, occasionally shouted at a Beater for lousy aim or a Chaser for not dodging fast enough and failing to execute fast and accurate passes. He managed to block most of the attempts to score but maybe because after having trained together for so long, he can roughly predict which hoop a particular Chaser was aiming at.

They sat down at a bench, watching the practice avidly. The Beaters and Bludgers were brutal. Those Chasers really have a lot on their plate to look out for. It may get better or worse during an actual match as there'll be more players running interference but there'll also less focused attention on any team's member.

Harry looked around for the Seeker and spotted Terence flying at a higher altitude, cruising for the Snitch, he supposed. That's almost relaxing, Harry thought, until a stray bludger hurtled towards said Seeker. Terence rolled upside down just in time to avoid the Bludger hitting him.

"Watch your aim!" Terence scowled.

"Marcus asked me to wake you up," a sandy-haired boy replied, grinning.

All the players landed, most of them looking winded and flushed, especially the Chasers.

"I can't wait for an actual match," said Draco.

Harry agreed that it'll be interesting but privately thought that he'd rather be flying than watching. Maybe he should try out next year. Or…

"How about having a mock Quidditch game one of these weekends?"

"On what? The old school brooms?" Draco asked, wrinkling his nose at the idea.

Harry shrugged. "It'll be more fun than not doing anything."

"We don't have enough people," Gregory said.

"We can ask the upper-years or just make do with any number we have."

"I doubt the upper-years would bother with us," Theodore said, while his finger stopped tracing something on the bench absently.

"No harm trying. There's not much to do anyway. We can't even go to Hogsmeade."

"I'm not using the old school brooms," Draco said, folding his arms.

Harry sighed, a little disappointed. "Never mind. Since no one's interested." He stood up. "I'm going back to the dorms to finish up my homework. See you guys later."

"I need to go too." Theodore stood up and they walked back together.

It was hard finding something to say to fill the silence. Theodore doesn't talk much, although he was mostly polite and would answer when spoken to. Harry didn't know much about the quiet boy except that his father was a Death Eater and he was good in Transfiguration. He occasionally got letters from home but wouldn't share its contents freely, unlike Draco. He's more of a loner and Harry realised that he doesn't hang out much with anyone outside of classes. It's a pleasant surprise that he actually came along with them today.

"Are you going to try out for Quidditch next year?" Harry asked.

Theodore gave no indication of having heard his question. "I might," he said after a while, not looking at Harry.

Sensing that he's unwilling to carry on meaningless chatter, Harry left it at that and the silence held all the way until they reached their dorm and each went about their own business.

--Oo--

"Are you really going to meet Weasley for the midnight duel?"

"Of course not," Draco smirked. "Filch will be glad to take care of them."

Blaise frowned at him. "That's not very nice…"

Draco raised an eyebrow. Blaise mimicked him. And both burst out laughing.

--Oo—

"There's something weird about Weasley today," Harry remarked, helping himself to some pancakes. Weasley was alternating between glaring at them and looking smug while whispering with another boy, ignoring Hermione's occasional glares and dirty looks.

"Looks like they didn't get caught by Filch," Blaise said, noting there was no change in Gryffindor's house points.

"What did you do?"

"Not me. Draco challenged Weasley to a midnight duel and informed Filch some first years would be in the trophy room."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Draco should stop antagonising the Gryffindors."

"Where would I get my fun then?" Draco drawled.

--Oo--

Someone rushed past him with a stifled sob, knocking into his left shoulder. He rubbed his shoulder and turned, catching a glimpse of bushy brown hair before it disappeared round the corner.

Hermione?

"Come on Harry, we're going to be late for Charms."

"Coming," he said, catching up with his classmates.

--Oo—

At the Halloween Feast, Harry scanned the Gryffindor table for Hermione but didn't see her anywhere. The uneasy feeling that has been hanging over him the whole day deepened, though he wasn't sure if it was because of the occasion or because of his missing friend.

Friend? Were they friends?

He frowned, moving his food around absently on the plate.

"You ok?" Blaise asked.

"Yar, just not very hungry." Harry stood up. "I'm going for a walk."

He left before Blaise could say anything.

"Sandy?"

The snake poked her head out from under his robe's long sleeves. "Yesss?"

"Can you help me find Hermione?"

"Don't sense any humans nearby."

"Ok. Tell me when you sense something."

He continued walking, thinking it'll be rather impossible to find her when he had no idea where she was. Perhaps he should just talk to Hermione tomorrow.

"Don't go there," Sandy hissed suddenly. "There's something nasty."

"What-"

A frightened scream further down cut him off, followed by a loud crashing sound.

"Harry!" Sandy hissed as he ran towards the source of trouble, wand in hand.

"Herminone!" cried Harry as he saw the scene.

She screamed as the troll brought its club down and across the cubicles, broken pieces of plaster flying everywhere. The troll was blocking the door and she couldn't risk being hit by running across where there's nothing to cover her.

"Stupefy!"

The stunner that hit the troll's back only made it turn around slowly, having no effect whatsoever as its thick skin protects it against basic spells. The troll took a step towards him.

"Diffindo!"

The spell slashed across the troll's belly but was not enough to cut it open. Still, it hurt the troll as blood started to seep from the wound. It let out a roar of rage and swung the club at him. Harry rolled out of the way but his arm caught a glancing blow.

"Harry!" Hermione screamed as the troll advanced in his direction. She threw some of the broken debris at the troll, hoping to distract it.

"Hey, you stupid troll!"

"Bloody hell," he cursed, as pain shot through his arm. "Avis!"

A flock of birds flew towards the troll and it batted at them clumsily.

"Incarcerous!"

Ropes bound themselves around the troll's legs and arms, causing it to lose balance and fall.

"Come on! The ropes won't hold for long," Harry said.

Hremione ran to him and both of them quickly got out.

"Mr Potter! Miss Granger! Why aren't you in your dormitory with the other students? Do you know there's a troll on the loose?" Professor McGonagall said, hurrying towards them with Professor Snape not far behind.

"We just met the troll. It's in the girls' bathroom," he said calmly, avoiding Severus's furious glare.

Hermione stared at him incredulously at his choice of words. "Harry got hit by the troll's club, Professor."

"To the Hospital Wing, Mr Potter," snapped Professor Snape.

"Yes, sir."

"You too, Miss Granger," Professor McGonagall said. "And five points each for not obeying instructions."

"We didn't know about the troll or any instructions, Professor. We left the feast early."

Hermione looked at him in surprise.

"Why did you leave earlier?"

Harry looked away and muttered, "I couldn't stand the cheerful atmosphere on Halloween, Professor. Hermione offered to accompany me."

Professor's McGonagall expression softened and she gave him a sympathetic look. Severus just narrowed his eyes slightly.

"Very well. Please inform someone next time," she said. "Let Mdm Pomfrey check for injuries and return to your dormitory."

"See me tomorrow morning, Mr Potter."

"Yes, sir," Harry murmured.

"Severus…"

"I don't interfere when you manage your Gryffindors, Minerva."

Harry and Hermione made their way to the Hospital Wing. He could feel her anxious glances and was beginning to get annoyed.

"I'm fine," he said, "the injury is nothing life- threatening."

"You could have died! And all you said was 'we just met the troll' like it was some tea party?"

"So could you," he reminded. "But we didn't, and that's all that matters."

She opened her mouth, then closed it wordlessly.

"Why weren't you at the feast?" he asked after a stretch of silence.

"I was- upset."

"For the whole afternoon?"

"Mood swing," she said shortly.

"Liar."

She glared at him, then sighed. "Ron said I was an insufferable know-it-all, and that's why I don't have any friends."

Harry tilted his head. "Are we friends?"

Hermione looked at him uncertainly. "Yes?"

"There you go," he said. "Weasley doesn't know anything about you."

She gave him a small grateful smile. "Thanks. For everything."

"You're welcome."

Madam Pomfrey took a look at them and started fussing. Hermione had some superficial cuts from the debris, which were easily healed with a spell. The nurse gave her a Dreamless Sleep potion and sent her back to the dormitory.

"Hermione?"

She turned around. "Yes?"

"You're smart. Don't let them get you down."

She smiled. "Thanks. Good night, Harry."

"Night."

His arm was fractured and there were a few shallow cuts. The cuts were healed quickly but his arm needed to be set overnight with an accelerated healing spell and Madam Pomfrey wanted him to stay the night so she could check the result tomorrow. She gave him a pain relief potion and Dreamless Sleep which took effect immediately as darkness claimed him.