(A/N: What, you say? An update? Impossible! ...Yes, I'm not dead. Beyond that, I don't really have an excuse for myself, so let's just get right to the story.)
HARRY POTTER and the ART of WING CHUN
The first days at Hogwarts were alright enough. If not for Hermione's draft map of 26 different combinations of getting to their respective classes—after witnessing the moving staircases, she resolved to work her way up to the roughly 1,483 possible permutations—Harry and Ron would've certainly been late. As it was, the three managed to come into class with plenty of time to spare.
Hermione and Ron had made pax, of sorts. They simply ignored each other, refraining from insulting, but also never speaking to each other unless it was through Harry. It was rather tiresome, but whenever Harry suggested that they try starting over and becoming friends—well, they merely pretended that the other person didn't exist.
"Ron? I don't know a 'Ron.' Are you feeling alright, Harry?"
"Hermione? Odd name. Don't believe I've ever heard it before."
After a few days of trying to play peacemaker, Harry gave up and decided to wait it out. They were able to walk around together, study together, and to some extent, have fun together—and that was the most he could ask from them.
In the mornings, Harry kept his ritual of waking at sunrise to regularly condition in some part of Hogwarts where he was quite certain nobody would be looking. He also made sure to set aside some time each day to meditate for Occlumency and learn different techniques from the books that Wu Sifu had gotten him. All in all, life at Hogwarts was great.
But when Potions class came around, Harry met his first problem.
Professor Severus Snape seemed to hold some kind of personal vendetta against him. There was no other way of explaining it—the subtle (and not-so-subtle) mocking, the accusing, the asking of questions that he wasn't supposed to know, the outright ignoring of every other student in the class… Harry was more bewildered than anything else how one man could possibly be so horrid and yet remain a schoolteacher.
"He's like that with all the Gryffindors," Ron had said in disgust. "Fred and George talk about him lots. A coward and a bully, that one!"
Even Hermione, who was usually so polite with anything concerning teachers, expressed sharp disproval. "I don't believe that it is within a teacher's right to harass a student on personal matters," she had said, rather huffily. "You didn't even do anything wrong!"
Which was interesting, because Harry remembered losing his heat and talking back to Snape multiple times throughout the lesson.
"Potter!" Snape had snapped. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Sadly, of all the books Harry had studied over the summer, he had found Potions to be the driest and hadn't looked much into it. "I don't know, Professor," Harry had said, feeling quite baffled.
One side of Snape's mouth had curled into a particularly nasty sneer. "One point from Gryffindor for your idiocy, Potter," he had said, and before Harry could've protested, he had blazed on. "Where would I find a bezoar?"
Harry had clamped his mouth shut, wondering if he'd somehow offended Snape with his words.
"Another point!" Snape had said. The classroom had interrupted into disbelieving murmurs. "What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"
Harry had snapped.
"I was under the impression that I came here to learn," he'd said, barely reigning in the blatant disrespect in his tone. "If I already knew everything there was to know, I wouldn't be here. Professor."
The shock that had flickered across Snape's face had been completely worth the evening detention.
The weekend came sooner than Harry had expected. Although his back was sore from scrubbing every inch of the Potions classroom, he woke up early and headed immediately to the Quidditch pitch. He'd had to skip his nightly meditation for his detention, so he was looking forward to getting a nice, long training session.
The sun was just peeking over the horizon by the time he reached the pitch. After a cursory once-over to make sure that no one was around, he jogged a couple laps around the perimeter and went straight into standard warm-up procedure.
He stood. Tall and straight, like a mountain. Then dropped into horse stance, quick and sure as a stone. A long breath through the nose, out the mouth. Again. Then again. Shift left, jab. Shift right, jab. Balance. Raise the leg... punch, punch, shift, kick, leap into ninjutsu butterfly kick, judo roll, taekwondo high kick—
Harry whipped around, palms raised, only to come face-to-face with none other than Ronald Weasley.
"Oh," he said. Why was Ron here? No, why was Ron even up? Ron always slept in on the weekends, as late as he could without missing breakfast…
Ron stared at him for a long, long moment before he exploded in excitement.
"That was brilliant! How'd you learn to do that? What was it, all the punching and the kicking"—Ron attempted to emulate Harry's practice session and only likened himself to a flailing giraffe—"and blimey, no wonder Malfoy was drubbed! That was amazing!"
Harry clasped his hands behind his back. "Was it?" he said shyly.
"Wasn't it ever!" Ron beamed. "I—I don't s'pose you'd mind teaching me a couple tricks...?"
Harry grinned from ear to ear. "I'd love to!" he said. "Think, we could train together!"
"Fantastic!" Ron said, and he listened obediently—more obediently than Harry had ever seen—as Harry began to teach him.
Although Harry was far more experienced, Ron's eagerness to learn helped him pick up the basics fairly quickly. Even as the morning passed and they headed to the mess hall for breakfast, he continuously bombarded Harry with questions.
"Do all Muggles fight this way?"
"Er, I don't think so. But we don't have wands, so most people know some sort of unarmed combat or another."
"Do they have a school to teach it, like Hogwarts teaches us?"
"Well, sort of? I mean, I learned by going to a kwoon and taking lessons. But there's no actual school, I think..."
"Wow, cool. How good can you get?"
Harry thought of Wu Sifu. As kind and fatherly as the man was, Harry would never want to face him in a fight. "Very," he said.
Ron's face lit up. "Say," he said, "why don't you teach me? Then we can beat people up even without wands."
Harry chuckled. "Um, it's not very good to pick a fight, but it is a very valuable tool for self defense."
Ron opened his mouth—no doubt to ask another question—but Hermione rushed to them, interrupting him with a frenzy of words.
"Oh, Harry, where were you? I've been looking ever so much, you see, the post just came in, and I happened to see the most interesting article—let me show you—"
She seized him by the elbow and dragged him to the nearest seat, shoving a newspaper—already heavily crinkled—into his arms. (And completely ignoring Ron in the process.)
Harry pried through the heavy pages, scanning quickly through the paragraphs of text. Apparently, someone had broken into Gringotts—the most secure bank in all the Wizarding World.
"But that's not all," Hermione said. "According to the article, the vault that was searched had been emptied the exact same day."
"Weird," Ron said.
Hermione scowled. "It isn't weird," she said. "Weird makes it sound like a coincidence. No, someone knew that something was about to be stolen."
"Right. What does that have to do with us?" Ron said, casually stuffing his face with several scones.
Hermione turned her nose up. "I suppose it has nothing to do with you," she said, "but Harry would find these sorts of things interesting, wouldn't you, Harry?"
Although the question seemed very innocent, Harry could not help but feel like he had just been caught in a trap.
"Er, I suppose," he said, then added, "but what do you think was stolen?"
Hermione frowned. "Obviously, it's something very important, if someone went through all the trouble to try and take it from Gringotts," she said matter-of-factly. "Now, the goblins won't give us any details, but I think that it is vital that we figure out what it is!"
"Why? It doesn't even matter," Ron said through a mouthful of eggs.
Hermione only rolled her eyes at him and chattered about how this might signify the beginning of a revolution, how the safe could've been hiding the plans of the hidden Resistance, or perhaps top-secret communications between corrupt government officials. It was all very confusing, but Harry tried to nod along and give the occasional grunt of assent to show that he was listening—because he was, sort of. Although if Hermione ever asked him about any details later, it would be highly unlikely that he could tell her anything at all.
Apparently, Malfoy had not been satisfied with his first beating and was looking for another one—for as he waved Neville's Remembrall tauntingly over his head, Harry only saw a large sign that screamed, 'Hit me! I'm an immature git!'
He had already swung a leg over his broom when Hermione stopped him.
"Harry," Hermione said, "just stay on the ground. We can get him in trouble for this."
It made sense. But Harry didn't feel like making sense right now. He felt like punching Malfoy in the face.
"Sorry, 'Mione," he said, swinging a leg over his broom. "I'm not letting him get away with saying that."
"He won't get away with it," Hermione said agitatedly. "The teachers will know what to do. But if you start flying, you'll also get in trouble!"
Harry gritted his teeth. Hermione was right. He knew Hermione was right. But he also knew that he wanted nothing more than to wipe that dirty smirk off of Malfoy's face—right now.
"What is it?" afore mentioned Malfoy taunted, his angled face twisting into a sneer. "Scared, Potter?"
Harry made up his mind. "Well, if Malfoy isn't worried about it, clearly the punishment isn't very serious," he said, and took off to the skies.
Harry sighed in exasperation, pulling his broom to a stop. "Not you too, Ron," he groaned, looking over his shoulder at his red-faced friend.
"Blimey, not that! I'm coming with you!"
And Ron promptly swung over his own broom, lunged from the ground, and swung to Harry's side.
"Ronald Weasley!" Hermione shrieked.
Harry grinned at Ron, who grinned back, flinging his robes dramatically over his shoulder.
"Say," Ron said, "you ever read any Quidditch books before, Harry?"
"No," Harry said.
Ron frowned. "Too bad," he said. "I've been dying for a chance to test out the Belwin Manoeuvre."
"The what now?" Harry said.
"Never mind," Ron said. "Just follow me!"
He rocketed off, screaming towards Malfoy at full speed. Harry took after him, but felt the broom begin to jerk under his hands. He certainly hadn't expect his first time on a broom to be this intense...
Harry looked up, and saw that Malfoy was soaring right at them, pale eyebrows scrunched against his forehead in concentration.
"We're going to collide!" Harry said.
Ron grinned, almost devilishly. "Good. Ready?"
Harry had never seen Ron look so determined before. "Ready," he said.
In one fluid motion, Ron lurched forward on his broom and spiraled over Malfoy, snagging the Remembrall from his hand. Malfoy latched onto Ron's arm, causing him to fumble; the Remembrall slipped from his fingers and dropped like a stone.
"Harry!" Ron said.
"On it!" Harry said, and bulleted towards the Remembrall, hand outstretched to the rapidly descending globe. The world seemed to slow as he streaked through the air, eyes fixed only on his objective.
"H-he's going to crash!"
"I can't watch…"
Hermione's voice pulled Harry back to reality. He swiped at the air, snatched the Remembrall, and yanked the handle of his broom upward. He managed to avoid a face-first collision into the ground, but the force of the pull threw him off of his broom, sending him tumbling through the soft grass.
Quick as a flash, Harry whipped to his feet, dropping loosely into a fighting stance. Seeing it was only Professor McGonagall, he relaxed —although not before Hermione gave him a knowing look.
"Yes, Professor," he mumbled.
"Never—in all my time at Hogwarts—"
If it was Snape, if it was Petunia or Vernon, he would have fought back. But this was Professor McGonagall. Fair McGonagall. Possibly the first adult, besides Wu Sifu, whom he actually respected.
"—how dare you—could have broken your neck—"
Harry caught Malfoy snickering from the corner of his eye, but he didn't feel angry. He could tell McGonagall was worried about him. Not Ron, not Malfoy, him.
Ron apparently did not receive the same message. "But Professor, Malfoy—"
"That's enough, Mr. Weasley. Potter, follow me."
She turned and swept off, the end of her coat fluttering about her ankles. Harry followed, unfazed.
Harry returned to the Gryffindor common room that night sweaty and sore. Oliver Wood had certainly pushed him to his limits; his knees were cramping from holding the broom too long, his arms were aching from reaching for snitches, and his back was taut from going between sitting straight and bending forward too fast. And yet... through it all, Harry felt invigorated. He had never really gotten into sports when he was a child, since martial arts kept him busy enough, but the small taste that he had gotten today was exciting. And flying... Flying was brilliant all by itself.
And apparently his stomach was telling him that he needed to eat dinner. Which was unfortunate, because the Great Hall would definitely be closed by this point...
Harry almost jumped. He'd thought that the Common Room was empty, but there was Hermione, lounging on a couch in the back corner with a large book settled on her knees.
"Evening, 'Mione," he said, dumping his sack in an ungracious heap on the nearest table.
Hermione immediately raced to him. "Are you alright? What did McGonagall say? Do you have detention? House points off? Extra work?"
Harry flopped onto the couch. "Of course not, 'Mione. She put me on the Quidditch team."
Hermione gaped. "The Quidditch team?"
"Yeah," Harry said. I'm the new Seeker, apparently."
Hermione clapped her hands together in delight. "Harry, that's fantastic!" she said—fantastic? Hermione never said 'fantastic'—"As a first year, too! I read in Electives at Hogwarts that there were only three other first years who ever made the Quidditch teams!" She slid next to Harry, eyes bright with interest. "So, you've been practicing all this time?"
Harry nodded. "I met the captain. He has... a lot of energy."
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "He must, if he's been going since the afternoon."
Harry laced his hands behind his head, staring blankly at the ceiling.
"You must be hungry," she said.
"Famished," Harry said.
With a slight smile playing about her lips, Hermione reached into her bag and pulled out a large covered plate of chicken, mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables with an ostentatious flourish. Harry's face lit up.
"Hermione, you're a saint," he said.
"I know," she said, tossing her head rather proudly. "And, I tried a little spell that would keep it warm."
She set the plate and fork in his hands with an expectant smile. Harry enthusiastically spooned a large clump of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
"Brilliant," he said. "It's like it's fresh out of the pot!"
Hermione beamed. "Oh, good. I'm so pleased that 100 Charms for Everyday Life turned out every bit as useful as I thought it would!"
Harry nodded distractedly, too focused on the sustenance before him to pay much attention. Hermione fell silent. Presently, Harry noticed that she was studying his face with such intensity that he felt it would fall right off.
"Is something wrong, 'Mione?" he asked.
"Wrong? No, not wrong..."
Harry shrugged and returned to his food. Hermione kept staring.
"Harry?" she said at last.
Harry looked up from his food. Hermione was nervously linking her fingers together.
"I found some records of your father," she said. "He was a Seeker. A good one, too, there was a medal and everything in the corridor."
"Oh," Harry said.
"I'll show you tomorrow if you'd like," Hermione said.
"I would," Harry said. "And... Mum?"
"I thought I saw her on the honour wall," Hermione said. "You know, the one student with the highest academic achievements who is selected annually—"
"So you reckon she was smart?"
They fell into silence for a long moment as Harry slowly scooped the rest of the food into his mouth. When he tossed the plate, it hit against the garbage chute with a hollow thud. He slumped against the couch, fixing his eyes on the ceiling and trying not to think.
"Do you think you miss them?" Hermione said.
"I don't know," Harry said. He wished he had met them, certainly. But was it possible to miss someone you had never met?
For a moment it was quiet—comfortable silence, untainted by worry or tension of any kind, warmed by the faint crackling of the fireplace. Then, just as Harry began to feel himself drifting off to sleep, he heard Hermione's voice break meekly through the Common Room.
"I wish it could be more like this, Harry," she said.
"Why can't it?" Harry said.
"Well—with Ron, it's a bit—"
"We can talk like this with Ron around," Harry said.
Silence from the other side of the Common Room. Harry vaguely felt as if he said something he shouldn't have.
"'Mione?" he said.
"Good night, Harry," Hermione said.
Harry almost spoke, but there was something about the air that told him to be quiet before he made things worse.