Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling does not appreciate advice regarding the apportionment of proprietary rights for the Harry Potter universe.

Harry Silvertongue

Lesson Three: Friends

"How do you know your sister would be angry with you?"

"She told me how she knew...about me, even though she'd gotten herself out by then. She said nobody worth knowing would let that happen. She told me about...well, the point is, you have to help when you can. Because people like you and me, we didn't have anybody else."


"That's right. Past tense. I'll never forget what she told me, because she was the only one who listened to me in return. For me, that help was everything. That's what real friends do. For people like us, Harry, friends are everything."

"Lost again, Longbottom? Walking through the Great Hall must be difficult for you; maybe you should carry a map!" Malfoy's ability to make his sneer audible was actually kind of a neat trick, Harry thought wryly as he looked up from preparing his baked potato during the Halloween feast. He was annoyed when he found out that the entire wizarding world celebrated his parents' death, so his ability to shrug off the usual things was already strained.

To Neville's credit, he only flinched slightly, lowered his head and kept walking, though his face flushed with embarrassment. He leaned down between Harry and Tracey and spoke low enough for only them to hear. "Hermione's been missing since Charms this morning, and I just heard Lavender and Parvati saying she's hiding in a stall in the girl's bathroom and refuses to come out."

"Why come to us?" Tracey asked, sharing a quick glance with Daphne.

Neville's blush deepened. "Well...er...I had hoped you would...I mean, it's not like I can go in there..."

"Why is she there in the first place?" Harry's voice was sharp; he had a feeling he knew why, but he really wanted to know who.

"Um...somebody may have made a comment—"

Harry had to fight down a flash of anger. "Who?"

Neville didn't meet his eyes. "Look, I'm sure he didn't mean anything—"

"Who?" The ire slipped into Harry's voice, causing the poor Gryffindor to flinch again.

Before Neville could stammer out another reply, the doors to the Great Hall burst open to reveal a terrified-looking Professor Quirrell. He sprinted up to the head table, turban askew and apparently starting to unravel. He seemingly collided with the table in front of Dumbledore; the way he slumped over it only added to the effect. "Troll," he said breathlessly, loudly sucking in air afterward before he continued, "in the dungeon...thought you ought to know."

A moment of stunned silence reigned as the Defense professor sank to the floor in a dead faint. Mayhem ensued. Tracey screamed, and Harry was fairly certain she had joined a great many other students despite the fact that he quickly covered his ears. No sooner had they began when Dumbledore lifted his wand and blasted out a series of purple fireworks to quiet everybody down.

"Prefects," he said steadily, "lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately!"

The Slytherin dormitory...in the dungeons...where the troll was spotted. What was Dumbledore thinking? Why not simply stay here? Predictably the students exploded into action, but the Slytherins just stood and milled about, shouting questions to the prefects. Harry glanced back to find a dazed Neville, leaning against the wall with a hand rubbing the back of his head.

Harry crouched down to speak to the Gryffindor so he wouldn't be overheard. "Neville, which girls' bathroom?"

"The one on the second floor," Tracey supplied.

Harry whipped his head up to her with a glare. "What? You knew?"

"We had heard, but..." She trailed off and withered under the intensified glare.

"It was none of our business," Daphne retorted, and she only raised an eyebrow at the irate gaze that swung her way. "You can't protect her all the time when you live across the castle, Harry. She's going to have to grow a thicker skin."

He knew she was right, but now wasn't the time for that discussion. His anger abated, and he let out a breath as he stood. "Regardless, we have to go tell her."

Tracey glanced up to the head table, which was quickly emptying. "Why not just tell a professor?"

"They'll just tell us to go to our dorms," Harry said, waving his hand dismissively, "which I don't know how we're supposed to do that since there's a troll in the dungeon anyway. We'll be safer going up than down." Not wanting to waste any more time arguing, Harry turned toward the exit. "Well, I will be, anyway. Do as you like."

Neville scrambled to follow before Harry turned his attention away, but he didn't check to see if Tracey or Daphne would follow. His small stature allowed him to slither through the crowd quickly and virtually unnoticed. He was able to slip out at the tail end of the last Ravenclaw group, keeping his head down and avoiding notice by prefects. Neville caught up with him on the stairs, though Daphne and Tracey hadn't appeared.

As if understanding Harry's glance as they rounded the first landing, Neville said, "they were coming, but someone called out to them."

One of the Ravenclaw students near the end did a double take at seeing a Slytherin and a Gryffindor, and then made it a triple take when she realized the Slytherin was Harry Potter. Her brown hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, which swished with each jerk of her head and also made her forehead look rather large. Her small, squished facial features certainly didn't help with the latter, but at least she looked friendly enough. Harry didn't recognize her, so he thought she must be a second or third year. "What are you two doing?"

He mentally thanked her for speaking quietly. "One of our friends went to the loo, so she doesn't know about the troll."

"Ah, the first year Gryffindor," she said with a nod of understanding. "My roommate did the same thing last year. She'll be okay."

Harry fought down another flash of anger. Did all the girls know about it and nobody thought to help? Daphne had a point, but...Harry shook the thought out of his mind as they reached the second floor. It didn't really matter now. He held up a hand to signal Neville that they should linger here so as not to draw further attention. He gave the older Ravenclaw girl a nod and waited until she had reached the next landing before dashing off toward the girls' bathroom.

Just as he was about to round the corner, a loud crash and a scream stopped his heart. The terror and desperation in Hermione's voice – and he knew somehow it was Hermione's voice – made something snap within him.

"For people like us, Harry, friends are everything."

He vaguely heard Neville cry out behind him. "Hermione!"

Harry didn't pause at the door lying in splinters at the floor. He didn't even pause at the sight of the twelve foot tall monstrosity in front of him. He quickly took in the creature's appearance: short-thick legs with flat, horned feet, holding up a lumpy boulder-like torso with a relatively small head. Most concerning, however, were the long, muscular arms, one of which was cocking back an enormous club to prepare for another strike. The snap decision was easy to make, even in Harry's frantic state. His little knife might very well feel like a bug bite on the troll's body. It might hurt its legs if he got lucky, but the club-wielding arm was the immediate danger. Luckily the ceiling wasn't high, so the troll's arm was cocked back sideways, within Harry's ability to strike.

And strike he did. No more than a second passed between his entering the room and his running leap that finished with his knife plunging into the troll's forearm. The blade sank in all the way to the hinge. With a cry of surprise, the troll dropped the club and jerked his damaged arm reflexively, sending Harry flying back toward the door. He tried to twist and roll out of it as though he was jumping from a high branch, but the angle was all wrong. His vision blackened for a moment when the back of his head impacted the floor, but the blurry daze was quickly burned away by the adrenaline pumping through his system. He reset his glasses, knocked askew by the impact, and found he had released the grip on his knife when it had lodged in the troll's arm. The exposed pins had dug into his hand as usual, but this time his bright red blood was mixed with the dark, purplish blood from the troll. When it had been wounded it roared in pain and grabbed its arm, but by the time Harry recovered, it hoisted its club in its other hand and roared in anger.

This time, Will's advice about escape routes was easy enough to follow. Harry spun his head around to the door to find Neville frozen in fear. Harry jumped up at the same time the troll started moving and shouted at the other boy. "Run!"

Neville didn't move, at least not until he was nearly bowled over by a fleeing Harry.

The troll crashed back out the doorway in pursuit, and the sight of fleeing magical portraits triggered a more rational response in Harry. What the hell had he been thinking? He pulled his wand as he turned the corner and scoured his lessons for something – anything he could use against the troll. Surely there are offensive spells, but Harry had never seen such things, let alone been taught them. He passed a suit of armor and skidded to a stop. They had discussed animation in Charms, but Flitwick had never animated something very large, and the students themselves hadn't practiced at all. Transfiguration, then, had the most potential. Idly that thought clicked in his mind as probably a nearly universally true statement.

Harry turned to find the troll lumbering around the corner after him, still roaring in anger. He pointed his wand at the torso of the the suit of armor and drew a figure eight around that and the leg of the troll nearest to the armor.

They didn't Switch. Damn it, but he was good at Switching Spells!

However, what did happen was that the suit of armor jerked forward and fell with a huge crash on top of the troll's club, which was yanked out of its left hand and caught the troll's horned feet. With its left arm jerked back and its right arm damaged from the knife, the creature's head slammed onto the stone floor, face first. It rolled over partially on its side then, nose and mouth covered in its purplish blood as it roared in pain and anger. The suit of armor had somehow remained intact, and the opening formed by the legs and the base had trapped the troll's foot.

While it tried to kick off the obstacle, Harry flicked and swished at the club. "Wingardium Leviosa." The spell caught the weapon by the handle and slowly – too slowly, it seemed for Harry – lifted itself off the floor.

In Charms they hadn't practiced maneuvering an object once it was airborne, but, recalling Gemma Farley levitating Professor Snape up to the infirmary, Harry took several quick steps backward. The club followed him back toward his target as planned. The troll still hadn't looked up, but the jerking of its head as it tried to kick off the suit of armor would make it a harder target. Once he was satisfied with his aim, he lifted his wand and brought it down in a chopping motion, hoping to give it a little extra force. The club complied. Just as it was about to strike, a flash of red from over Harry's shoulder impacted the club, disintegrating it into dust and spraying it back down the corridor on the far side and against the wall. Just as he was about to spin around to face this new threat, a second and third flash of red – this red was brighter, however – splashed against the troll's head and shoulder. The creature stopped struggling immediately.

Then Harry did spin around, holding his wand up at the ready even though he knew he had no chance against someone who could do that to a troll. Someones, he corrected, as he spotted Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Flitwick, all with their wands out in front of a terrified-looking Neville. Harry had almost forgotten about the equally small but much chubbier Gryffindor he had come to consider a friend. Oddly it took him several moments to realize he was no longer in danger.

"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall said uncertainly, noticing the hesitation.

As embarrassment overcame the rush of adrenaline, Harry realized his heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest, and he was breathing quite hard. Suddenly the energy completely deserted him, and he managed to take the two steps to the wall before he slumped against it. He looked at his hands, both somehow covered in his and the troll's blood, and tried to stop them from shaking. "Hermione," he croaked out. For some reason his voice was hoarse, and it took more effort than he imagined to lift his head. "Is Hermione okay?"

Professors Dumbledore and Flitwick were waving their wands over the troll, but McGonagall had come to check on Harry. She knelt in front of him when he had first tried speaking. "Ms. Granger? But what does she—"

Harry felt his head drooping down to his chest and didn't hear the rest of the question.

A soft hissing sound roused Harry into wakefulness. Without opening his eyes he grunted at what he surmised must be the garden snake, telling it to go outside if it was hungry. The hissing ended then, dropping his cupboard back into blissful silence.

For a moment, at least.

"Harry?" A soft female voice cut into the quiet from his right.

Harry shot up to a sitting position, suddenly horribly embarrassed that a girl with a familiar voice would find him in his cupboard. His eyes, however, did not cooperate. A harsh white light forced them closed again, and he clapped a hand over them as if to help ward off the pain of the afterimage. It didn't work; his head throbbed, and idly he realized he didn't have his glasses on anyway, so opening his eyes had been pointless to begin with. He laid back down to try and ease the throbbing, and he reached up to the shelf he kept the glasses on but found nothing but air. At the same time he also realized that his bed was abnormally comfortable...and the familiar voice was Hermione, a girl he met at Hogwarts.

The hospital wing! "Hermione?" He coughed at the tickle in his throat when he spoke. Suddenly the reason for his hoarseness hit him like a ton of bricks and he gasped at the memory of the troll. "Hermione! Are you okay?" He groped blindly in the direction of the voice and tried his eyes again to no avail. He involuntarily stiffened and jerked his hand away when delicate fingers lightly brushed his palm.

"She's fine," another familiar voice said curtly from the other side of the bed.

"Tracey?" He turned toward his Housemate and was finally able to crack open an eye and see a human-shaped blob that was slightly less blurry than the surrounding area.

"I'm here," she said, voice much softer than it was a moment before.

Harry resisted sighing at the continued animosity between the two members of rival Houses. He thought they were above this! "Are my glasses nearby?"

"They're here, Harry," Hermione said, a slight clicking sound signifying that they had been lying on the bedside table to his right. He flinched slightly at the blurred movement close to his face, but apparently Hermione had pushed through it because the sterile white environment of the infirmary resolved into clarity.

The first thing he saw was a bushy-haired Gryffindor with an unreadable expression and a bandaged cut on her face and unshed tears in her eyes. Neville was standing next to her, shifting uncomfortably but looking into Harry's eyes. The bedridden Slytherin gave the Gryffindor boy a nod then turned back to Hermione. "Are you sure you're okay?"

She smiled and nodded. "Thanks to you," she said, then her smile turned into a frown and a tear fell from one of her eyes. "Harry, I-I'm sorry—"

"Awake Mr. Potter?" Harry winced at Madam Pomfrey's firm, clinical voice. "Very good, just in time to take this," she said, holding up a clear flask of a light blue liquid that Harry realized must be some sort of potion.

"What is it?"

She raised an eyebrow at him but answered in the same tone. "You had a mild concussion, Mr. Potter, this is the second half of the cure for that."

"I feel fine," he lied.

"It will take care of any lingering headaches," she continued as if he hadn't spoken. Neville and Hermione backpedaled as the matron walked up beside him. "You haven't missed any meals, but the nutrient solution won't hurt," she added with a meaningful glance at his chest. He narrowed his eyes; he could barely count his ribs anymore! She pulled the cork and held it out, giving him a hard look that dared him to contradict her.

He couldn't see Hermione and Neville at the moment so he turned to Tracey, and he realized Daphne had been there all this time as well. The former didn't meet his eyes, and the latter gave him a look that said he was on his own. With a sigh, he reached up and took the flask from her and downed the contents as fast as possible. He fought down the reflex to spit it back up; the cool, minty taste reminded him of mouthwash.

Madam Pomfrey raised an eyebrow again, this time at his apparent lack of reaction. "The headmaster will be here in a few minutes, Mr. Potter. The rest of you should head back to your dormitories before curfew. Ms. Granger, you may go, just remove the bandage when you wake up tomorrow morning."

"Can I...stay here tonight?" Hermione asked in a small voice from behind the Healer. Harry realized the bed next to his was rumpled.

He looked up to see Pomfrey's face soften almost imperceptibly. "I suppose the headmaster will want to speak with you again," she said, still apparently examining Harry.

Suddenly he realized that he didn't have a shirt on, and she was running her hands over a large bruise on his torso where the troll's arm had first struck. As soon as she lifted her hands, he pulled the sheet up around himself. "Very good, Mr. Potter, I'll leave you to say goodbye, then." She bustled off after shooting a meaningful look at Neville and the two Slytherins.

The five friends looked amongst each other, and surprisingly Daphne was the one who broke the silence. "So, Potter," she drawled, "first Professor Snape, now a troll...can nobody look at your ugly mug and stay conscious?"

Harry barked out a laugh that quickly subsided with the pain in his chest, though the others picked it up. "Come to think of it, Greenie, you four are the only ones who've actually looked me in the eye after the thing with Snape."

"Professor Snape," Hermione chided automatically, then she pinked when the three Slytherins snorted at her.

"Harry," Neville said shakily, "thanks for coming with me...there's no way I could have done what you did."

Hermione's blush deepened, and Harry matched her. "I'm sure...I mean, I didn't really..." He trailed off, realizing no matter what he said it would sound silly.

"Attacking a troll with a knife...nobody else in this castle would have done that, not even a Gryffindor," Daphne scoffed. "And I don't mean that in a good way," she added a moment later. "We have wands for a reason, you know."

"Hey, I remembered...eventually," Harry argued.

"Oh Harry, you could have died," Tracey wailed, grabbing his hand with both of hers and hugging it to her stomach. Harry was proud to note that he didn't flinch away from her touch this time.

"Well, I couldn't let it get Hermione," he said slowly, trying to cover up his nervousness. "I would've done the same for any of you," he added when Tracey's grip tightened. That seemed to make her happier, though she muttered something under her breath.

"I'm sorry for putting you in that situation," Hermione said, studying her feet. "I can't thank you enough for saving me."

"No, you can't," Tracey said curtly.

"What Tracey means," Daphne said, elbowing her friend in the side, "is you almost certainly owe Harry a Life Debt."

Hermione's eyes widened. "A what?"

"A Life Debt," Neville said nervously. "A magical link from you to Harry, for saving your life."

She looked stricken at that. "But what does that mean?"

"They say it depends on the action and the danger involved," Daphne said slowly, "but even then it's not always clear or well understood. You won't be able to knowingly endanger Harry, for one, but beyond that..." She trailed off with a shrug.

"As accurate a statement as I could have made myself, Ms. Greengrass," Dumbledore said from the door, smiling genially and gliding into the infirmary with Professors McGonagall and Snape in tow. The headmaster's garish purple robes with yellow stars and moons fluttered behind him, a stark contrast between the jet black robes of the Head of Slytherin House and the flowing emerald green robes of the Head of Gryffindor. "Take two points for Slytherin," Dumbledore added.

His friends' varying reactions bemused Harry. Tracey jumped up and released Harry's hand at the voice, while Daphne turned slowly, all poise and grace despite her preteen years. Neville stumbled backward slightly and Hermione hopped on the bed behind her as if worried they'd tell her to leave. "But I'd never knowingly endanger Harry anyway," Hermione said quietly, once the lull caused by the entrance of the three professors dragged on.

"No indeed, Ms. Granger," Professor Dumbledore said with a broad smile. "It is remarkable to see such friendship in such young wizards and witches as yourselves, especially those of different Houses."

"Well, we should head back—" Daphne said slowly.

"Unless you need us again, Headmaster?" Tracey asked hopefully.

Dumbledore shook his head slightly. "I do not believe that will be necessary—"

"Actually I'd like to hear their sides of the story as well," Harry cut in, taking pity on her. He had to return the brilliant smile he received for that. "I missed it the first time around, after all."

Professor Snape scoffed. "Nonsense, that will—"

"—be fine, Severus," Dumbledore overruled him. "I would prefer your students have an escort anyway."

The Potions master wiped the sneer off his face and schooled his face to blank. "Of course, headmaster."

The headmaster gave a slight nod and turned back to Harry. "Now, Mr. Potter, we believe we've heard the entire story from your friends, but I would like to hear the sequence of events from your perspective."

Harry gave it, though both Hermione and Neville interjected when Harry had downplayed his actions. Professor McGonagall's lips tightened when he described levitating the club and trying to 'put the troll out for good,' but Professor Snape actually nodded in agreement. Tracey provided the story of how she and Daphne got caught by a Prefect and had almost convinced a Prefect to go after Harry when they heard several huge booms that seemed to shake the Hall over the following few minutes. After that they had completely refused despite Tracey's begging, and the Slytherins had been forced to remain in the Great Hall for another half-hour after that.

Then, much to Hermione's dismay, Neville had been browbeaten by Harry and Professor McGonagall to reveal who had caused Hermione to hide and cry. His blood boiled when Ron Weasley's name came up. Harry wished he hadn't stood up for the redhead back on the train at the beginning of the year now.

"I will handle the discipline of Mr. Weasley," Professor McGonagall said, shooting a knowing look at Harry. "It will not go unpunished," she added firmly when Hermione opened her mouth to argue. The two unlikely friends shared a look that said neither was happy about that arrangement, but they hid it from the adults in the room and remained quiet.

"But who let the troll in in the first place, headmaster?" Daphne had remained quiet until that point, allowing Tracey to handle all the storytelling responsibilities. Her voice implied she had been thinking about that question for some time.

"Who's to say it didn't wander in on its own?" Professor McGonagall had been equally silent, though Harry noted she had shot a disappointed look Hermione and a proud look at Neville during Harry's retelling. Her question sounded rather patronizing; Harry severely doubted she believed it.

"Excuse me, professor, but that seems rather unlikely," Daphne replied flatly.

"Indeed, Ms. Greengrass," Dumbledore said jovially, "but rest assured that is why we are looking into it."

Harry knew they wouldn't give them any more than that, and apparently Daphne knew it as well. She merely pressed her lips together and nodded.

"If there's nothing else, headmaster," Professor McGonagall said after a few moments, "I suggest we lead the students back to their dormitories and allow them rest after their ordeal." Her voice was surprisingly soft for her.

"Madam Pomfrey said I was staying overnight, Professor," Hermione said quickly.

"Of course, Ms. Granger," the Head of Gryffindor said, though her voice gained back a little of its sternness. "Mr. Longbottom, shall we?"

"Y-yes, Professor," Neville said, clearly intimidated. "See you Harry, Hermione," he added in a mutter as he followed his Head of House out the door. Harry just realized the poor boy had been in the spotlight between the two most frightening professors in the school this whole time.

"Davis, Greengrass," Professor Snape said curtly, then turned and swept out of the room, expecting to be obeyed immediately. Harry's eyes snapped to the man's slight limp and apparently spotless set of robes. So, Snape had been injured somehow, despite the fact that the troll had been knocked out. And apparently he had changed his robes.

"See you tomorrow, Harry," Tracey said, hovering over him as if considering giving him a hug. She settled for a pat on the arm and a bit of a glare directed toward Hermione.

"We'll talk about it tomorrow," Daphne leaned in and whispered with a meaningful look at Snape's retreating leg.

"C'mon, Daph," Tracey said, taking the other girl's arm and scurrying after their Head of House. They were whispering heatedly on the way out.

Professor Dumbledore started to say something, but Harry cut him off. "What happened to Professor Snape's leg, sir?"

The aged headmaster snapped his mouth shut and sat down lightly on the end of Hermione's bed. "I'm afraid he did not share much in the way of details with me," he said after a moment. Harry didn't miss the fact that the statement was a flowery way of saying nothing at all. "At any rate, since your respective Heads of House were reluctant to do so for some reason, I must warn you that I intend to share certain details of your encounter at breakfast tomorrow morning; Poppy has informed me you shall be released by then." He held up a hand to stave off Harry's objection. "I will not be swayed; you deserve to be commended for your actions and rewarded appropriately. And I must confess one selfish reason for waiting: I hope others join you in reaching across House boundaries. Only our upper years do so in any significant way, and that's only when they form study groups for their seventh year exams."

Hermione sucked in a breath. "NEWTs," she said with a far off look, almost reverently.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Just so, Ms. Granger. Well, I shall leave you both to rest." He started to stand, then seemed to think better of it. He turned to Hermione. "You've been through a trying ordeal, and if you'd like to talk, my door is always open to you both, as are your Heads of Houses, I'm sure. Madam Pomfrey can likely help as well. Or, if I may be so bold, speak to each other. As Ms. Greengrass said, there is a connection between the two of you. Nothing need come of it, of course, and the Life Debt will not even force you to be friends. But only the pair of you and perhaps Mr. Longbottom understand what it was like facing that troll."

"And you," Hermione blurted out.

"And Professors Flitwick, McGonagall, and myself, of course, and a couple others besides, most likely," he added with a small smile. "But be prepared for others' lack of understanding when it comes to fear; either downplaying your accomplishments or being...rather enthusiastic about them. My advice is to indulge them in their ignorance, and treasure the friendship and understanding between yourselves." He patted Hermione's hand and gave her a grandfatherly smile, which she returned with a tearful and shy one.

Harry, meanwhile, felt his eyes burn. Confusion and frustration at his lack of understanding his own feelings only made it worse. He once again found himself savagely pushing away that frustration and focusing on something familiar. What chased the discomfort away, surprisingly enough, was the memory of Will being rolled out on a covered stretcher. With his emotions in check he looked back to find Hermione and the headmaster peering curiously at him.

"You must forgive an old man, I believe I've extended this farewell quite long enough," Dumbledore said, standing and brushing some non-existent lint off his lap. "Good night to the both of you."

After the headmaster made his exit, Harry and Hermione looked at each other uncomfortably for a moment before the latter climbed into her own bed. She didn't lay down, however. "Thank you, Harry," she said, her voice quaking slightly.

He tried to shrug it off. "It's nothing—"

"It's not nothing," she argued, "not to me...especially not to me." She paused then, biting her bottom lip. "I-I've never had a friend like you. I mean, I've never had really had friends at all. But for you to do what you did..." Her voice faltered then, and she looked away.

Harry knew she had started crying again, and he didn't know what to say. The uncomfortable feeling was clawing its way back into his consciousness, so he had to picture Will again. He flashed back to a rusted swingset, a light breeze, and his shoes tracing deep crevices as a strange older teen introduced himself. That feeling, somebody caring about him, was strange enough. But here was a girl who needed him, just like he had needed Will. And if he was honest with himself, he needed her as well. Both of those facts – that interdependence – frightened him even more than the troll, when he thought about it.

"That's what real friends do. For people like us, Harry, friends are everything."

He didn't understand back when Will said that – not completely – but he did now. "I haven't had many friends either," he said shakily, looking away himself.

A shuffling of sheets caused him to look over just as a head of bushy hair pressed itself into his chest, freezing him in place when she sobbed. Tracey had been slowly getting him acclimated to physical contact with occasional light touches on his arms and shoulders, but this...the tears that had been threatening all this time started to flow, and there was nothing he could do to stop them. Almost unconsciously he gave in, melting into her embrace and ceasing to care about the tears.

As promised, Professor Dumbledore clinked his nearly empty glass of orange juice the next morning as soon as Harry and Hermione had entered the Great Hall. Harry and Hermione glanced at each other with wide eyes and darted to their respective tables. "Attention, students. I know you're all very curious about the events of yesterday evening, so I thought to dispel the rumors with the truth. As Professor Quirrell announced at the feast..." He trailed off and gestured at the perpetually nervous Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who merely nodded once and bowed his head so low that his face was nearly in his food. "A troll entered the castle some time yesterday afternoon. It was discovered on the second floor and disabled by Mr. Harry Potter of Slytherin House, in his attempt to reach his friend in Gryffindor who had missed the announcement."

Whispers exploded around the Hall, prominently featuring 'Harry Potter' and 'first year' and often accompanied by looks filled with varying degrees of awe and fear.

"To Harry Potter," Dumbledore called to reestablish order, "I award forty points, for outstanding bravery and skill in the face of grave danger." The Slytherin table burst into applause around Harry, turning his face thoroughly red. He didn't look up to see who all had joined in, and he was quite relieved when the headmaster turned the spotlight elsewhere. "Further, I award ten points to both Harry and Neville Longbottom for overcoming House rivalries out of concern for their mutual friend." This time the reaction was mainly one of surprise. The first years were almost all aware of the unexpected friendships between their classmates, but only a few outside their year knew. The Weasley Twins held back nothing in their praise, leading the applause and congratulations for their stunned Housemate. Harry spotted Ron's red face, jaw agape as he stared at Neville with the same mix of emotions that he gave Harry.

"Well done, Potter," an older boy said, giving him a nod from across the table. Harry didn't have a chance to reach his usual spot, so he was near the middle of the table. "Pucey," he said in introduction, "Adrian Pucey, third year."

"Nice to meet you, Pucey," Harry said, glancing surreptitiously at the people around the other boy. None of them met Harry's eyes. His eyes went back to the third year to find he had turned his attention elsewhere as well. Oh well, baby steps.

"Yes, well done, Mr. Potter, Mr. Longbottom, well done," Professor Dumbledore continued. "I hope their friendship serves as an example for the rest of you; we may be in different Houses, but in the end we all belong to the same school. We are all wizards and witches of Hogwarts, and eventually you will find that Houses mean little in the grand scheme of things. While it is true your Housemates likely share at least some of the same traits and interests, don't discount those from other Houses. You never know where you'll find yourself a true friend." He glanced at the Gryffindor table then, and even though Harry couldn't see her, he was certain Dumbledore was smiling at Hermione with that same grandfatherly smile. "Thank you."

The black-robed, plain-looking wizard could scarcely believe the reports coming out of Hogwarts, but at this point it seemed incontrovertible. "How many?"

"Five other sources, all corroborating the first," the finely dressed woman replied smoothly, as always unruffled by the wizard's latest disguise. It was a game he liked to play, disguising himself as any number of perfectly nondescript people in an effort to throw off his agents. Depressingly, they rarely commented more than once.

He knew she wouldn't have come to him with anything less than certainty, but he smiled slightly at her answer. He didn't need that much of it. "Isn't that a bit overkill?"

The statuesque brunette scoffed. "They all reported it independently within two days of each other, so it had nothing to do with me. But at this point I've never been so certain about something so hard to believe."

He leaned forward in his chair, knitting his fingers together. The matter was personal for her, and even though he knew she'd be fine, he had to ask. "And how do you feel about this development?"

"Don't be ridiculous. It's not affecting my work," she said evenly, crossing her arms as if he'd dare suggest otherwise. "We knew this could happen, and even then they're still young. The influence of the boy's home life is obvious, unfortunately."

The man smiled at her understatement. "I don't have much hope for him. But the other...you will keep an ear to the ground?"

"As if you need to ask," the woman scoffed, uncrossing her arms and walking away.


Mystery characters are mysterious.

Also, my main characters pass out and wake up in the hospital wing a lot.

I was tempted to have Harry go full badass and jump on the troll's back and kill it, just because. But I wanted to show the transition between his reliance on his knife to his wand, and then reflect a similar evolution in his relationships.

Leave me a note, let me know what you think! We're going to start skipping ahead soon...