Harry just stared at Ron after the latter had glibly suggested punching Malfoy in the nose as a possible alternate strategy to avoid a humiliating loss in the wizard’s duel they’d somehow just agreed to. He knew his new friend had a strong sense of humor, but he couldn’t quite tell whether the redhead had been kidding. Was Ron just trying to set him at ease, or did he really think he was that big of an idiot?
Harry had been so thrilled by the opportunity to leave the Dursleys and start over in the new world to which he apparently belonged that he had taken every opportunity to learn as much as he could about the magical world in hopes of fitting in. After Hagrid showed him around Diagon Alley, the good-natured giant had helped him onto the train back towards Surrey, and, in so doing, had firmly cemented Harry’s opinion of him as kind but clueless. Apparently Hagrid had really thought that even after the way he’d barged in and taken Harry away over the muggles’ protests they’d simply welcome their unwanted nephew back with, if not open arms, at least some semblance of tolerance and safety. Harry, on the other hand, had strongly doubted that. He’d gotten off the train at the next station and doubled back, returning towards Diagon Alley in search of both more information and, ideally, a better place to spend the next month. His hope that being introduced to the magical world would start to turn his life’s previously dismal luck around was confirmed when he managed both objectives. On his second trip to Flourish and Blotts, he’d been able to get many more books than just the required list that Hagrid had efficiently helped him acquire. Harry was no bookworm, but after ten years living with the Dursley family, he had definitely learned the value of preparation and knowing what he was getting into. He didn’t want any nasty surprises, and he definitely didn’t want to make any stupid mistakes or get himself into trouble due to ignorance of how this new world worked. Somehow, he had even managed to discreetly ask the right questions to find his way to a dingy little inn on a dark street not far from Diagon Alley where the proprietor hadn’t seemed to find it odd that an unaccompanied 11 year old was seeking a room for a month. Surprised it had worked but not wanting to question his good luck, Harry settled in for the most pleasant time he’d recalled in his entire life -- even if much of that time had been spent reading not only his required school texts but also several books about the wizarding world in general.
He still felt totally out of his depth and he knew he had so much more to learn about life as a wizard, but Harry did remember learning a few things about the traditions surrounding wizard’s duels and there was no way that a physical attack like that would be allowed. If he did that, he’d definitely lose, and although he hadn’t understood all of the context, it also sounded like it would mean some sort of serious dishonor for him and his family. Since he was the last Potter alive, he wasn’t sure what that meant in practical terms, but he knew he didn’t want to act like some dishonorable coward, and he hated the thought of his actions dishonoring the Potter family name after his parents had literally sacrificed themselves to keep him alive. Ron was raised in a large wizarding family, so surely he understood this stuff and how important it was. He’d definitely just been joking to help Harry be less nervous. After years of isolation enforced by Dudley, it was nice to have such a good friend.
Hermione Granger’s voice was the next thing to break Harry out of his thoughts. Frowning in distaste at Ron’s rudeness -- sure, the girl was kind of annoying, but Harry remembered being the one people would make snide comments about every time he tried to talk, and he didn’t want to be the kind of person who did that to someone else -- he turned away from his friend to focus on what their classmate was saying. He fairly quickly wished he hadn’t, focusing on Granger’s words just in time to hear her accuse him of exactly what he was motivated to avoid.
“...you mustn't go wandering around the school at night, think of the points you'll lose Gryffindor if you're caught, and you're bound to be. It's really very selfish of you” (Philosopher’s Stone, Ch. 9).
Selfish? Really? Was Granger totally clueless? She seemed the type of person likely to read everything she could find and try to know everything about everything. Maybe she also hadn’t had a chance to get books about magical culture when one of the Professors had escorted her to do her shopping. It was probably smarter to avoid getting angry with his classmates if he could try being friendly instead, he thought, so he tried not to sound more than a little bit annoyed as he interrupted her building tirade.
“I’m not trying to be selfish, Granger, but of course I have to go. Everything I’ve read -- which I know isn’t as much as you, but still, I at least wanted to learn about magical culture and stuff before going to school in a totally new world -- says wizard’s duels are important and it’s dishonorable to you and your family if you ignore a challenge. I don’t have proper family left alive, but I still want to try to make my parents proud of me and stuff...” Then, Harry seemed to realize he’d said quite a lot and very publicly too, because he suddenly felt very shy.
A few of the other students sitting close enough to hear the ongoing discussion were trying to hide how impressed they were with the way Potter had shut down Granger’s complaints before the goody-two-shoes could really get going. At first they’d been openly amused, but that seemed a bit tacky after Potter brought up his parents. He had a point about the worth of honor, after all, even if wizard’s duels were actually pretty much just a way to blow off steam now that they had been made illegal and the barbaric traditions behind them were on their way to being snuffed out along with what was left of the Dark.
Hermione seemed both sheepish and curious. She hadn’t meant to call someone selfish when it turned out they were thinking about their family, and especially not Harry Potter, the orphan thinking of his dead parents. She just hadn’t wanted a silly boy to get the whole house in trouble by impulsively breaking rules and adding fuel to pointless rivalries. But if he’d really read about this, he wasn’t as foolish as she’d feared, and that would mean there were things -- apparently relevant things -- about the wizarding world that she hadn’t managed to learn yet, even with all of her reading. That wouldn’t do at all; it was really terribly frustrating. After all, how were muggleborn students meant to fit in if nobody told them what they needed to know or even how and where to figure it all out for themselves.
“I’m sorry, Harry!” She said emotionally, “I didn’t mean it that way… I just…” her voice and eyes both lowered in a bit of embarrassment “well, I didn’t actually know a duel was that important. Where did you read that? Sounds like I’ll need another owl order form for the bookstore…” The prospect of new information was enough to overcome her earlier contrition and shyness as she looked over at her suddenly much more interesting classmate with shining, curious eyes, hoping the two of them could share resources, pool knowledge, and maybe even become friends. After all, even though she’d unfairly told him off, he seemed friendly enough, and he was clearly smart despite his less than impressive showing so far in classes.
Although Ron grumbled half-heartedly about leaving the Great Hall early, his complaints about ‘bloody bookworms’ sounded more teasing than biting, now that the category included his best mate. If Harry Potter endorsed it, and used it to further proper Gryffindor qualities like bravery, guts, and honor, maybe reading more than just what was assigned at school wouldn’t be a terrible idea. A very thoughtful young Weasley left the Gryffindor table on Hermione’s other arm, leaning in slightly to listen to the chatter between Potter and the house’s resident bookworm, much to the pleased surprise of his elder brother Percy. Not that the prefect approved of rule-breaking, mind you, but the Potter boy had a reasonable point, and at least Ronald was now voluntarily discussing a book that wasn’t directly for a course assignment. With that thought, he leaned over to have a word with one of the other students in his year.
It wasn’t long before most of the upper year Gryffindor students were gathered in their common room, quietly plotting to both help one of their own and stick it to Slytherin House, their unquestioned rival. Officially, they couldn’t approve of two -- possibly three, if Granger had suddenly made friends -- firsties wandering around after curfew, and they probably shouldn’t approve of students that young duelling. They were Gryffindors, though, and Harry Potter had just gotten himself involved in an escapade combining breaking rules, upholding honor, and beating a slimy snake. Surely nobody could object if a few older students took the initiative to model good academic habits by helping some of their younger housemates practice some practical spellcasting, or even learn a few spells early. Most of the lions had high hopes for a very interesting year, with the icon of the Light clearly starting up a rivalry with the scion of a famous, hated servant of the Dark. Nobody would say anything about the duel, and if the kids were caught that’d be on them, but Gryffindor House would unofficially stand behind their most famous (and interesting) new little lion cub.