Time Or Manner

Chapter One

-Time Or Manner-

Chapter One

It was like a dream; smoky, dance-like, and full of colours merely reminiscent of reality. A long hallway stood before Tom and he felt cold from lack of reason. Ropes pulled at him and he could not decide his route. Wires twisted into his mind and the cold lack of sense throttled his thoughts to jelly. Within this tempest, Tom could hold only one crumb of knowledge and that was merely the fact that he was Tom…just Tom..

6AM. Time for the world.

All the children knew better than to sleep even a little past the alarm, and Tom, along with all the others, did not remain in bed. Groggy and confused, he slipped out from under the covers; his heels struck the cold wood and he recoiled for only a moment before he shut his eyes again.

The floor would heat for him.

It was only as he began to button his starched white shirt that he remembered. His heart racing, he moved quickly to his wardrobe and flung open the doors. There they were. The envelope and the little pouch of money.

"It wasn't a dream…" he muttered to himself. Only yesterday, a woman had visited the foster home where he lived. Tom had stood just at the entrance near the stairs, listening as hushed voices said things and exchanged information he couldn't quite hear. He knew they were talking about him because the woman had asked for him when she first arrived.

He knew the day would come when that stupid woman would try and have him transferred. It made him angry that it had come upon him so unexpectedly. He should have been prepared.

The Foster Mother found him outside the living room door. She was a tall, brown-haired woman in her forties, eyes watery with broken promises and wavering dreams. She was the type of woman who told people to call her "Bonny" instead of "Beatrice" (which was, in fact, her name) because it made her sound half more hearty than she really was.

Tom gave her a measured glance as she paused and considered him. "Tom," she said evenly. "Professor McGonagall would like a word with you."

He didn't reply. He felt tempted to let Professor McGonagall sit there. However, he was curious. His initial thought had been that the woman was a social worker, but her title did, indeed, suggest otherwise.

She was a cross-looking woman who stared down at him with a very strange look of calculation. Her clothes were strange and old-fashioned. She dressed like someone out of a book, and the pleats in her skirt were as stern as her mouth when she pursed her lips before she said, "Tom, I have come here to inform your guardian that you are expected to attend a school come September."

He narrowed his eyes. Yes, he knew Bonny would try and be rid of him. Send him off somewhere else. He felt he would gain more satisfaction in leaving by his own means rather than being sent out.

"I won't go anywhere," he informed them. He wanted to turn on his heel, but Tom knew that that made people think you felt ashamed of what you were saying. You had to look them in the eye when you let them know what you thought. He distinguished his statement with a little frown.

McGonagall's lips were now pale as she pressed them together primly. "I don't believe you understand, Tom; your name has been down since birth. Well, your given name, that is. However, you seem to be lacking a surname in our record."

Bonny jumped in. "As I explained, Madam, his mother died in a hospital in Brixton just after giving birth. She only had enough time to let the doctor know she wanted him to be called 'Tom'. That's it. No surname; nothing. If perhaps he had one, we might've found his legal guardian before now. He's pretty much as is."

McGonagall stared at Tom. Tom left his hands at his sides. He worried that folding them or moving them would make him seem nervous. He was not. He just wanted the woman to go away. The woman finally looked away from him and faced Bonny. "I would like to have a quick word with Tom alone, if you do not mind," she stated bluntly.

Bonny gave a half-laugh, half-gasp and stood quickly. "Oh, of course I don't mind. You talk to him…erm…Tom, be polite…."

Once she had departed, McGonagall surveyed Tom quietly. "Have a seat," she said, indicating the chair opposite her own.

Tom's expression had not changed since her last attempt at dialogue. "No," he replied.

McGonagall seemed to be the type of person who understood when someone was challenging her authority and when and where to put a stop to it for just as he said that, she gave a thin smile and replied, "I think you should sit down."

It may have been her tone, or perhaps the fact that she had now pulled from her pocket a thick wooden stick with a pointed end, but Tom found himself suddenly seated and unmoving. His heart jumped in his throat for a quick moment.

"Now, the school in which you are enrolled is a school for people such as you and I-people with special abilities and powers."

A jolt entered Tom's abdomen and his mouth slipped open involuntarily. He rearranged his face quickly. Perhaps this was a trick of Bonny's.

"However, before I begin to explain further," she continued, "your guardian has described to me your penchant for questionable behaviour. There are school reports of behaviour unexpected of a normal young boy. Broken blackboards, teachers taking ill after reprimanding you, classmates refusing to attend school from fear, and your evident lack of friends here in the home. She seems to feel something is quite the matter with you."

Tom jumped up in outrage. All those things were never properly connected with him. How could she prove it? How dare she say that those things were true? "You can ask anyone," he replied evenly. "They will tell you its all rumours. And I will not be sent to some asylum for mad people because of someone lying about me! You're from a hospital, aren't you? Tell the truth!" He used this with everyone he knew. When he wanted them to be honest, he would look at them and pretend that he was pulling the truth from their head. It seemed to work most of the time.

McGonagall seemed appalled for a long moment. "I was going to explain that there is not much reason to fear for your abilities. I am here to inform you, Tom, that you are a wizard."

Words like fuzz drifted on and on, but Tom heard no more than that. The word 'wizard' hung limply before him and he dropped into the sofa again, his knees now weak. Of course. Of course. He remembered the garden snake in the backyard informing him that Davey Michaels had hidden his birthday money behind the playhouse in the ground. He remembered watching Gracie Turner's Cabbage Patch doll float higher and higher over the playground as she cried and cried. He remembered how Mr. Mendoza wouldn't stop bleeding when he tripped on an unexpected bump in the ground. Tom felt his mouth twitch and he felt like smiling. There was a moment before he realised he was muttering and staring at his hands.

McGonagall was talking about the school again. Tom looked at her with new interest now. "We do not allow misuse of magic in our world and we are always careful not to let non-magical people know about our world. Do you understand that, Tom?"

He nodded. His fingers felt numb.

"And as you will be attending Hogwarts, you will address me and other teachers as 'Professor', is that clear?"

Something occurred to Tom as he looked back at her. He jerked his head at the wooden thing in her hand. "That thing helps you do magic, right?"

She seemed slightly nettled by him, but she replied, "It does, and you will be required to have one before school begins on September first." She handed him an envelope. "That contains your list of school supplies and all the necessary equipment. If you require help in finding your way around, I would be available-"

"No, I don't need anyone," he told her quickly. "Tell me how to get there, and I'll find it."

McGonagall seemed to waver a bit before replying. "If you insist. I'll only explain how to find the way, if you would kindly pay attention."

Tom listened intently as she told him of Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron. Soon after, she explained about the funding for Hogwarts students unable to afford books or clothes of their own. That was where she handed him the small sack of strange money and bid her good-bye. Tom did not see her to the door, but rather sat in place thinking on all that he had heard. It was like a wave of relief to know that all this could be explained. That he was not just the anonymous orphan.

The excitement of this new realisation seemed to coat all his insides with immunity to all other things. His smile remained throughout the remainder of the day and even Bonny would look at him with a frozen expression as he passed, his insides warm with delight.

So then, as he stood there in his room, gazing silently at the pouch of strange money beside the envelope, the feeling of exultation and delight crowded his mind once more. His power had a name now and he was soon to be taught how to use that power. And if, with each spell and each success, he would feel this same ecstasy, he would gladly use it.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Diagon Alley was noisy. The bantering of other kids swirled around him and he looked around carefully, feeling strange as men and women in long robes and strange clothing passed by as if there was nothing at all odd about their manner. As he wandered past shops and stalls of peculiar objects and foreign scents, he watched the people…he watched their eyes. He tried to see in any of them the hunger which he felt in that moment so that if he could at least feel kinship with someone here then at least he would know he belonged.

Tom purchased his books first and then he sat outside a small café that served ice creams and he began to read. A history of magic was his first pick and he browsed avidly the words that told him terms he could only just begin to fathom. It wasn't before long that he realised it was getting into the afternoon and he hadn't finished his shopping.

The list was tucked in his pocket when he entered Madam Malkin's and he dropped his books by the door. The room's lamps were lit, and quite a few stools stood high near racks of long bright fabric. A fat woman from the back came bustling over and Tom said quickly, "I need two sets of school robes."

"Hogwarts, dear?" she said, smiling at him. Tom was watching her eyes, but he saw nothing magical about them. In her gaze, like many others, there was so much normalcy; there was almost an idiocy to this world that insulted the magic they had.

Tom nodded and she led him to the back. Another boy was there. He had white hair, which was ridiculously odd and the expression on his face as he observed Tom's entrance was bored and disinterested. Tom decided he didn't like the way the boy looked at him. He returned the look with heavy interest. The boy seemed surprised at such audacity from another boy wearing clothes that didn't carry the same expensive sheen as did his. Tom stepped onto the pedestal as the woman began to take his measurements; he chose to ignore the boy next to him. It wasn't as if he was in the best of moods either way. He had looked around for the hint of mystery he felt within him, the mystery behind his nature and what he was capable of doing. There was nothing.

Then that boy wandered into the shop.

Tom would later recall how his mind raced at the sight of that boy. He recalled strange memories and the things he would sometimes think of alone in his room. After all his wanderings that day, what he saw in that boy's eyes was not at all what he had been looking for. It was not a mystery, nor was it hunger; it could not even be identified as magical. It was an interesting pair of eyes, however, and there was no denying that. The look was plain and factual. He could read everything on that boy's face and he felt and felt as one might feel to be standing in a room only to see one's own replica casually arrive. Tom felt a moment's apprehension as he realised how he could feel his own thoughts, feelings, and spirit coming off this human. There was no describing it except for the familiarity he caught as the boy looked at him.

Green eyes of an entirely overt display of colour harboured behind broken spectacles came into Tom's line of observation and the familiarity of the boy's look was cast from his mind as he surveyed how scruffy this thing appeared to be. His clothes could have capacitated another one of him and his hair was not even worth the effort of a second glance. Tom felt disorganised just looking at him.

Apparently, the other boy seemed to think along the same lines as he watched the hoodlum step onto the third pedestal near him. He was then standing face to face with the white-haired boy, and in Tom's direct line of vision. At that moment, one of the women was measuring his neck so he had to turn his head away as the white-haired boy gave a little smile.

The little snob spoke exactly as Tom had expected him to speak: bored, drawling, and completely bratty. As the final pin was applied to the hem of his robes, Tom looked back over at them. He caught the hoodlum's eye as the other boy drawled on and on, and noticed that the bragging tones and annoying prattle about some senseless Wizarding sport seemed to give the hoodlum something to frown about. Tom did not think badly of him for doing so. He didn't listen to what they were saying, instead he turned his head to look out the front window, now completely annoyed.

The world seemed as pedestrian as the world he knew: still the same boring, senseless people, and the same stupid, mad world. He may have found that he didn't belong in the non-magical world, but he found that same out-of-place feeling bordered his thinking when he looked at these people. There was something missing, he felt as if he had quite forgotten something, a little piece of the routine that should have occurred without his mind telling him.

Tom realised he had drifted off when he realised the woman pinning up the hem of his robes was speaking to him. He looked at her in askance only to hear the white-haired boy mutter, "Mindless idiot, can't you hear when someone's talking to you?"

In a cold fury, he whirled on the boy. "Bit rich coming from you. You talk so much, the rest of the world goes numb just listening to your horrible voice."

And with that, he hopped off the pedestal on which he stood and followed the lady to the front counter. As he pulled out his pouch of money to pay, the hoodlum brushed past him. Tom gave him a glance as he passed and he heard the boy murmur. "Nice one," before he grinned and continued on.

Apart from being appalled at the size of the man with which the hoodlum walked, Tom felt a prickly feeling rise up in his chest. He frowned, cleared his throat a little, but found that he couldn't rid himself of the little smile which kept creeping up on him as he recalled the red-faced look of the pale-haired boy when he said what he said.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Part 1: Wands and Wand Usage

A wand serves as a focusing tool that enhances a wizard's capabilities to perform magic. While performing magic without wands is possible, wands are required in most spells. Wands come in many varieties, being made of different woods (such as holly, vine, oak), and having different magical cores (phoenix feather, unicorn hair, dragon heartstring, etc.) The popular wand shop in Diagon Alley, Ollivander's, is the most frequented.

Tom paused in his reading.

The wand would be a tool for concentration of the energy inside his hands. If it was a channelling tool, then it probably behaved like a transformer on big electrical machines. If he wanted a wand that would concentrate all that energy, he would need one of a precise make. If Tom knew any tree that had enough endurance to handle the work he intended to put to use, it would come from a balsa tree.

In grade school, he had heard mention of the tree and in his queries, he had learned that the balsa tree was famous for its mandible texture, but enduring hardness. Upon that conclusion, he closed his book and headed down the street to Ollivander's.

Tom could not help the unease that crept up upon him at the sight of the wand maker. Ollivander's eyes were like moons and when he shifted carefully toward Tom, Tom found he had to use his last effort to keep eye contact with the man. Finally, he set himself with firm resolve and he said, "I request a wand made from a balsa tree."

The strange, withered man peered ominously at Tom before stepping back. He made a sweeping gesture at the shelves about the room. "What do you see here, young man?"

Tom glanced at the shelves for only a moment. "Boxes," he replied.

Ollivander still had not blinked by the time he smiled slightly. "Precisely; and within each box is a wand of a particular ilk. Now…among these wands is the one set aside for you since before you were even thought of. That wand knows you are powerful, and that you will be great. That wand knows how you operate and what your magic is willing to do. You do not choose which wand is yours, the wand chooses you."

Tom felt a moment's rush of anger at the man. He knew exactly what he wanted, but…supposing that wand was, indeed, what he wanted. Tom breathed in quietly and spoke just as quietly. "How do I know that a wand has chosen me?"

Ollivander's colourless lips stretched into a malformed grin. "In just a moment, young man; you will see."

Once more that day, Tom was measured from his arms to his feet. He watched Ollivander roam about the shop, pulling out boxes, peeking inside them, shaking his head, and putting them away. Before he knew it, the strange little man had shoved a thin, smooth wand in his hand. He gazed down at it.

"Blue spruce timber, eight inches; a shielding wand. Try it out," Ollivander whispered.

Tom raised his right hand with the wand in it and brought it down. He felt a burning in his hands, but nothing happened. Ollivander took it back. After the eighth try, Tom was beginning to get frustrated as he swept the wand down in a half circle only to feel or see nothing. That was when Ollivander paused.

"How very strange. You're the second hard find I've had today. Of course the other one was young Mr. Potter, and he-no, there must be something here for you."

As Ollivander clambered up a rickety step ladder to reach another few boxes, Tom looked around a bit helplessly. He had to have a wand; he had not, so far as he had been in this world, seen anyone make do thoroughly without one. He was just contemplating what he might do should there be a lack of success when he felt a stripe of electricity drop into his palm. He looked down at the wand Ollivander had now handed him. It was an inch or two longer than his forearm, but the strength he felt as he touched it was jolting. He felt as if his very name spoken in that moment could have brought all of Diagon Alley down. "This is the one," he breathed, touching the polished wood.

"Seven and a half inches, a purple petal plucked from a Peruvian Lily on the first day of Spring. This is a wand of new beginnings; yours is to create with it, to make things like new, to repair, to heal, and to make your very own brand of magic."

Tom really liked how that sounded. He gripped the cool end and brought the object close to look at the texture of the wood. He already felt it had been his for a long time. "And the tree?" he demanded, whirling on Ollivander. "What was it?"

Ollivander's smile did not indicate amusement, nor did it indicate anything apart from that. "This wand was made in Brazil, the bark taken from a Balsa tree."

Tom tilted his head to the side to survey the man who now stood eye to eye with him. "Muggles use balsa hardwood to build their biggest contraptions."

Ollivander's voice held no inflection on his next words. He only said, "You are not the first man to decide which wand is his, and I have no doubt that you shall do many incredible things with it. What comes to mind, however, is whether these actions will be any different from those who precede you."

Tom didn't want to look at the man with his lunar-eyes anymore. He turned away. He wanted to tell the man, though, that he wanted to do differently. It was just that he did not know whether he had already done what they had.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"I'm going to school," he stated firmly that September first morning, and Bonnie looked at him blankly. He watched as she opened her mouth as if she were trying to retrieve a lost word, a lost duty, and he felt a little bit of disgust curling his lip. That was what made him leave the room.

She came after him, and she was smiling. "I'll call a cab for you, Tom," she said, phone in hand.

"I've already called a cab," he replied, and found that he didn't quite understand why she wanted to do anything for him. He never understood why anyone would, at least not without his offering a favour in return. Tom thought of this as he dragged his trunk into the main hall. Twice, she reached out to grab a handle, and both times she merely bent as if to make a sign of obeisance then stood up straight again and Tom was convinced she must want something.

As the car pulled up near the pavement, Tom thought of exchange and what it meant to reciprocate. That was why he turned back to Bonnie and smiled. Bonnie, however, would later think back to that moment and she would feel that this was why she was a foster mother. Tom would never look back on that moment; he was only making a payment.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Tom's trolley had a broken wheel. It kept turning in the wrong direction, and Tom was severely vexed by the time he arrived at the ticket stations. Nine and three quarters was an extremely silly number and he didn't understand why the Wizarding World insisted on all this outright ridiculousness. He pushed his trolley towards the platforms; the wheel swerved again and he nearly crashed into platform nine. He stared for a long moment at the small space between nine and ten. On an instinct, he reached out and touched the wall there. It was like pushing one's fingers through dough. His eyes widened, but he made no sound as people passed him. Tom turned to see if anyone was watching. The crowds pushed by in greater numbers as he stepped carefully into the barrier and in a flash, the scent of steam was evident.

Pulling his trunk into the train was perhaps the biggest chore of all. Other kids rushed by with their noises and their fun, and Tom ignored them. He turned his head away from those heads that clustered together, murmuring words at one another. He grunted in determination with his hand clenched to the handle of his trunk as a group of them cried out at the sight of some box an older kid was holding.

Tom hadn't wanted to pause; he was only shifting his weight so that he could approach the train entrance from a better angle. However, it was in this pause that he spotted a bit of green by the tracks. He dropped the handle of his trunk and reached down; his fingers brushed against a set of what felt like scales, but softer. He felt it slipping away, and his hold tightened marginally as he straightened up.

Tom didn't know what to think as he looked the fat toad in the eye.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Since he had come early, finding an empty compartment hadn't been difficult. Keeping people out was another matter. He had told about three groups looking for seats that his friends were already sitting with him and they would be right back He really didn't want a bunch of snotty magical kids in his compartment. He had read in A History of Magic that there were many children born into families with ancient Wizarding blood; he also learned that this kind was dwindling. Tom found himself wondering if there was a difference in the power concentration between the non-magical born children and the ones with the ancient blood.

As he thought on this for all of ten minutes, and as the train began to move, he watched the toad sitting on the window sill as if asleep. Tom was too pensive to sleep just then and he wanted to pull out his Standard Book of Spells again because he had only mastered the first chapter and he didn't care to look stupid against these children who had been raised doing it all their lives..

The compartment door swept open.

The girl was rather ugly; she had massive over-bite and her hair was all over the place. She stepped inside and blinked at him. He thought he should snap at her for being so ugly and for carting around with her a boy who wasn't trying hard enough not to cry.

Her moment of registering Tom in her thoughts passed and she set her hands on her hips. "We're looking for a toad; Neville here can't find his."

Tom glanced at the window sill where the fat amphibian gazed blearily at the scene before it. The chubby, tearful boy gasped and cried, "Trevor!"

The horrible girl had the audacity to smile at him. Tom thought she might leave faster if he smiled back, but she seemed to take it as a cue to sit down. "Thanks ever so much; See, Neville; I told you we'd find him."

Neville only sniffed as he hugged Trevor. Tom would have run away as well had he been the toad. There was a moment before he realised that the girl was talking to him again.

"Aren't you excited? I'm incredibly excited; I've always kind of known I was something special. There had to be a reason why I picked up things so quickly and why those strange things kept happening!"

It occurred to Tom right then that if he chose to be incautious, he could find himself acquiring some unwanted clingers-on and that meant this one. He knew he was making her comfortable by nodding his head and offering a small smile occasionally, but her talking bothered him, her presence alone made him want to kick something.

"So what's your name?" she asked.

Tom found himself looking at Neville, who was talking to his toad. He needed someone he could have by him so that others wouldn't assume he needed someone.

"My name is Tom." He was irritated to find that he was bracing himself for her next question.

"Tom. I have a second cousin named Tom," she laughed. "But of course, he's a Tom Granger. What's your surname?"

Tom felt he should be honest in case she chose to remain with him for the rest of the train ride. "I haven't one. My mum's dead, and no one ever knew my dad. I'm just Tom."

He knew the way they were gazing at him was to be expected, but he suddenly wanted to be alone. He looked back out the window.

"Oh, Tom; I'm really sorry. If I'd known…"

He sighed. What a ridiculous thing for her to say. Of course she wouldn't have known. She had a tactful way of changing the subject, however.

"Oh, Neville, we were in such a hurry to find your toad that I hadn't the opportunity to ask you. What did you think of Harry Potter?"

Neville started and glanced at Tom, then looked back at the girl. "I didn't really see his scar; he might have been lying. My Gran says that Potter was supposed to be in our year, but maybe he got bumped up to third year straight away since he's so powerful."

The girl's eyes widened. "Wow! Imagine being bumped up just like that. Well, he did defeat You-Know-Who right?"

Tom spoke. "Who is Harry Potter?"

They both whirled on him. "He's the hero of the Wizarding World," Neville exclaimed. "He defeated You-Know-Who when he was just a baby!"

"He's in our textbooks as The Boy Who Lived!" the girl cried.

"The-Boy-Who-Lived?" Tom repeated sceptically. "Why is that so special?"

Neville laughed, but stopped when Tom looked at him. Tom didn't like to give people the feeling that it was a nice thing to laugh at him.

"You don't understand," the girl broke in. "No one knows why Harry Potter didn't die when You Know Who tried to kill him…"

Tom felt a tingle of something like electricity shoot through his bones and he nearly coughed as he asked softly, "And You-Know-Who is?"

The girl was looking at him incredulously. "Didn't you read the textbooks?"

"I did," Tom replied shortly.

"Then how could you have missed that part?"

"I skimmed them. I only truly read what interested me. I liked Defense Against the Dark Arts…."

"Oh," she said, her eyebrows drawing together at his tone. "Well, You Know Who was the worst dark wizard since Grindelwald, who was defeated by the man who is going to be our headmaster! You-Know-Who was really powerful and everything, and lots of people tried to resist him, but the people following him were too many. I read in History of Magic that he had a hundred giants on his side."

Tom shook his head and leaned forward. "I still don't get it. Didn't he have a name? Who was he?"

Neville jumped in, his round face shining with excitement. "You can't say the name. No one can and no one does because my Gran says it's not polite."

"But why? Was he so awful? Tell me his name."

The girl was looking at him with a mixture of confusion and sympathy. "I-I think it's in the book. You can read it there."

Tom looked at Neville, and then he looked at the girl. He smiled suddenly because he remembered how she had warmed to his smile. This time, Neville smiled back as Tom laughed a little. "Sorry. I was just a little curious. The whole story sounds so fascinating. Is the hero of the Wizarding World really on this train?"

The girl gave a half-shrug and smiled. "That's all right, Tom."

Tom stood up. "Well, I want to go have a look at him," he sighed.

Both Neville and the girl started. "What?" they echoed one another.

Tom turned to the door, a smirk changing his features. "You two saw him; I'd like to see him too. Which compartment is it?"

"But you have to change into your robes. We're nearly there!" the girl cried as if to stall for time.

Neville seemed torn between not getting Tom angry, and taking the girl's side. "He's two compartments away from the end of the train."

Tom turned and with a fleeting grin, addressed Neville. "Thanks, Neville. Perhaps we may be good friends."

Neville appeared completely terrified at the thought, but Tom stepped out into the hallway.

It was only when he was jostled by a group of older students as he stepped up to the compartment he knew the alleged hero must be in, he realised that Neville was at his elbow with the girl trailing a little behind. He turned and looked at them in consternation.

Neville was still clutching his toad, and his upper lip was sweaty. Tom didn't like him. "Why are you following me?" he demanded, before he could catch himself. Neville started and his words tumbled over one another.

"I-I reckoned you-I mean-that it would be less awkward if-well-if someone was with you."

Tom opened his mouth to give a scathing reply before he could stop himself once more, but poor Neville was saved the withering reply as the compartment door crashed open and two horribly large boys came lumbering out and following them, just in time to crash into Tom was that god-awful boy white-haired boy from the robe shop. Tom fell backwards and hit the compartment behind him as the little idiot's elbow hit his solar plexus. In the tangle of arms and legs, Tom found that he was extremely vexed and he wanted that foul boy off him.

When Tom opened his eyes, the boy was sliding at top speed down the corridor, shrieking at the top of his lungs and there was a group of people now staring at him. That group included one particularly familiar hoodlum with green eyes and black hair.

Tom got up, burning with irritation and a little bit of humiliation. How dare that boy lumber about the place, crashing into people? The girl was bouncing about, asking in high tones, "Are you all right, Tom?"

"Of course I'm all right," he snapped, still feeling a wave of heated rage up his back.

"It's you," said a voice.

Tom, with some resignation, turned to face the hoodlum. Why were all the people on this train completely idiotic? It was only now that Tom realised that he was a little bit taller than the boy, and Tom still felt irritated. It was ridiculous because he still felt that feeling of complete familiarity and his blood simmered in his skin to the point he felt he needed to hurt something, anything to make this pain, or whatever uncomfortable feeling in his skin was, go away. Tom, however, did what appeared wisest in the present situation. He turned to Neville.

"I've seen enough; let's go," he muttered as he turned, and Neville, as Tom surmised, shuffled after him.

They had almost reached their compartment when Neville finally took the deep breath he was working up to since they stepped about a foot away from the hoodlum and asked, "Well, what did you think?"

"About what?" he asked, slipping his compartment door open and sitting in his seat by the window. He watched Neville enter and set his toad on the seat near him.

"About Harry Potter. You seemed like you wanted to see him so badly…."

Tom shrugged. "I never saw him."

Neville sat down slowly, eyeing Tom with bemusement and Tom was tempted to give him a filthy look for staring at him like that. "You never saw him? B-but you were staring right at him."

Tom looked at Neville. Perhaps the other boy was more perceptive than he let on and he was playing a nasty joke on Tom. Tom hated to think what he would have to do if that was true. He glared at Neville until Neville dropped his gaze. Tom realised that Neville might end up disliking him. He took a moment to consider whether that may be of any consequence. Then he thought of how frequently he had made a fool of himself today just from not knowing something. He had all year to learn what he needed, but he wanted information within the moment. Neville seemed quite the willing follower, but Tom realised that there was no need to mistreat him.

Tom smiled again and laughed in that way that made Neville look relieved. "Hey, Neville," Tom began.

"What is it?" Neville replied.

"That girl you were with; is she your friend?"

Neville looked puzzled. "What? Hermione Granger? No, she was just being nice. I don't have any friends," he replied, then after a moment realised his words and reddened. "I mean…"

Tom knew the trick was to fill himself with the need to improve the life before him. That would increase his interest in the person, and aid him in his effort to be friendly at all times. Tom laughed, and felt a little grotesque just doing so, but it seemed to ease the atmosphere a little. He said quietly as if relating a secret. "That's OK; I have trouble making friends too."

Neville gave him a look of empathy right before Trevor jumped from his perch and made for the door. Tom reached down and caught the toad right before its desperate exit came to be. Neville accepted Trevor back with a look of great gratitude. "Thanks. He keeps trying to get away! It's a good thing you're quick. Look, if there's anything you need so I can pay you back for saving him, just…" he trailed off, and Tom decided the words would be trite anyway if he finished and that he didn't mind because Neville had led the way.

"Well…" Tom sighed, "you could be my friend."

Neville grinned for a moment as he looked down at his toad.

Tom was satisfied.

"So, Neville, I hear the school is separated into houses. Which one is the best?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Slytherin!"

He watched the blonde boy who turned out to be called Draco Malfoy moving on to the table at the end. Neville had already departed to the Gryffindor table and it seemed like a good idea….

When Harry Potter was called, Tom watched him. He really was a sad-looking fellow in Tom's opinion. There was nothing heroic about this one. He seemed too thin and awkward as his eyes scanned the room. His huge green eyes were magnified by those stupid glasses and he shuffled his feet as he made his way toward the stool.

The room was quiet as Potter sat there silently while the hat deliberated. Tom thought it was possible that it may be quite hard to decide how a hero, who must be good in all areas, could be categorised. When the hat shouted "Gryffindor," Tom was a bit disappointed. He thought that maybe, after what Neville said about the Slytherins, that Potter deserved to turn out badly.

He was called last of all, what with the absence of a surname on his part. As Tom took his seat on the stool and the whole hall watched him, he decided that if the Hero of the Wizarding World was sorted into Gryffindor, then Tom would probably do well to assimilate whatever he had. He watched the room disappear from under the brim.

He felt a wheezing voice begin to mutter in what he wasn't sure was his brain or his right ear. "Now this is a stranger one. You have a jumble of things here in your head. You want to go far; you want to break chains, and you want to regain all you've lost. Each House has its way of taking you there, but the question is in what manner you want to get there."

Tom pursed his lips and thought at the Hat. "I just don't want to be mediocre. I don't want to make mistakes that have been made by others already!" "Is that so, Tom the Nameless? I think you've cleared up your priorities well enough to make the call right here."

"You mean I could choose?"

"It is the choices that govern who we are, isn't it?"

" They say Ravenclaw is for the studious, Slytherin for cunning, Gryffindor for bravery, and Hufflepuff for loyalty. I don't need loyalty, but…I want to be great so I never have to worry about anything…"

Tom had not even finished the thought when he heard the Sorting Hat shout. He started as the hat was removed from his head and he wondered if he had really chosen. He was about to, but did the Hat read into his deepest of thoughts and find the answer? He could still hear the applause as he sat down at the table, his second thoughts seeping in as he half-glared, half-studied the red and gold colours of the House he now belonged to.

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