Harry found the train through careful and patient observation.
He found a seat in an empty compartment, and withdrew a book to read.
Only four times did someone seek to enter his compartment.
The first was a red-headed boy, exuberant and cheerful. He asked to sit, and Harry only stared at him. The boy left with an embarrassed wave, eyes narrowed in budding anger.
The second was a group of three boys, two reminding him strikingly of Dudley’s gang, muscle without brain. But the third, blond and regal, was neither. His power over the others was nothing so blatant, though Harry read its source easily enough in the first words out of the blonde’s mouth.
“I am Draco Malfoy. You are him, right? The Boy-Who-Lived?”
Harry gave him the same silent stare he had given the redhead, answered the blunt question regarding his name with no expression.
The blonde sneered
“Are you deaf? Answer me!”
Harry sighed, and looked back at his book. The little boy was demanding, as if he had power over him. It was tedious, and he was tempted to make the choice to react in kind, to answer anger with anger. But that wasn’t a better choice.
He heard the boy stomp a foot, a action reminding him again of Dudley, and then came the threat.
“How dare you ignore me?” And Harry heard the air move, the slight whistle of a thin long object being raised towards him.
A wand was not a gun, but it possessed the same potential. Harry had learned enough of spells to know this, and learned enough to know that in many ways it represented something much worse. A wand was harnessed chaos; it was pure will, and infinite potential. It was as bad and as good as its user.
And any wand in his direction was a threat, and Harry had early on made the choice to never allow any threat to go unmet.
His own wand rested in a holster on his arm. A flex of the wrist, and it was free. Harry did not wait for a reaction; did not wait for the first spell to be cast, for intentions to be clear, for fear to fall into their eyes.
He struck with quick speed, the first word he spoke filling the air with incantation, an advanced spell, far past the ones in his first year books.
But a good choice. Almost always a good choice. Which was why Harry had made it his goal to be the first spell he learned.
The blond’s wand fell from his fingers and into Harry’s. Then came the fear, and Harry watched it with relish. The two muscles behind the blond flexed and stirred, but made no move. Harry’s swift movement and attack had been unexpected, an escalation of force they had not known would come from the silent boy.
Harry looked at the wand in his fingers, then tossed it back with only one more word.
The blond did, grey eyes now calculating, pausing to look back once and speak.
“I formally apologize, Potter, for my words and actions.”
Harry glanced up from where he had resumed reading, and nodded his head once.
The third interruption was a woman, large and jovial, with a cart full of treats. That choice was easy; Harry purchased one of everything, and enjoyed discovering the eccentricities of wizarding sweets.
The fourth was a boy and a girl, one large in body, the other large in hair. Harry smiled slightly at the comparison, even as he saw them look him over with curious eyes.
The girls gaze lingered on the sweet wrappers with disapproval; the boys with longing.
The girl straightened.
“Have you seen a toad? Neville’s lost his.”
Harry raised an eyebrow at the request, glanced at the door that had previously been closed, and wondered if the amphibian was magical and could pass through walls.
He said only one word.
The boy wilted, the girl sniffed, and they departed.
Harry then made the good choice to lock the door of his compartment.
The sorting itself seemed anti-climatic. While they waited, Harry hung at the back of the group, observing these new classmates of his, disappointment in his belly.
They strutted, and bickered, and questioned just as his muggle counterparts did. He had expected more from them; he had expected someone more like himself.
He watched as the blond made the choice to bait the redhead; watched as the red-head made the choice to respond. Both bad choices.
He watched as the large-haired girl from before made the bad choice to reveal her knowledge; He saw his classmates make the bad choice to scorn her for it.
Rivalries began in those few minutes, as did friendships. Harry stood outside them both, and sighed.
The Sorting Hat would look into their minds and tell them where to go. Harry wondered at this choice of the founders; wondered if the hat could also read future minds, future choices minds would make, if it knew where the students needed to go just then, or in the future. He wondered if the Sorting Hat was also a soothsayer, if it could read choices in the lines of thought.
When it came his own turn to sit under the hat’s brim, he silently asked this question before it could speak.
“A seer? Oh no, not I! I only look through here.”
And Harry felt its magic, a thing of light and heat, riffle through memories and power, humming as it rambled.
A Hufflepuffs tenacity, the Hat murmured, a Ravenclaws intelligence, a Gryffindors bravery, a Slytherins calculation.
Again, Harry spoke a question.
“Then how do you know where I go will be best for me in the future?”
The Hat seemed to laugh at that.
“Oh no, that is not how it works! I put you where you need to go, and you handle the rest.”
Harry understood this logic. The Hat made the best choice; it was up to himself to make further good ones.
The founders had made a good choice with this Hat.
The Sorting Hat laughed again, heat and light, and yelled out one word.
It was easy for Harry to see he had gone somewhere unexpected. It had not taken a large leap of intuition to discover that Slytherin was labeled dark, and the Boy-Who-Lived labeled light. His table clapped only reluctantly as he sat; the rest of the school was silent, eyes watching him and judging him.
Harry ignored them, as he ignored those who asked him irrational question at his table.
They knew his name; why ask it again? Why ask him if he remembered events of his childhood? Why ask him things he would not tell a friend, if he even had one?
These strangers deserved no words from him yet.
However, the Hat had made a good choice. Slytherins understood silence, and respected it. When the first extensions of hands and words went unanswered, no more came.
They were content to watch and make their own decisions.
Harry smiled down at the food on his plate, and began to eat.
His Head of House did not like him for reasons Harry did not know. His teachers did not like him for reasons he could guess.
Harry seemed inattentive in class; when called on it, he always knew the answer. He turned in perfect homework, always exactly what was required, nothing more. He did not participate unless requested. He was quiet, he was Slytherin, he was nothing like his parents.
Harry Potter was not what they expected and wanted, and this made them uncomfortable and uneasy, and those two things were close friends to dislike.
Harry learned to cast spells he had read of. He learned to sneak out after curfew and explore. He learned, and learned, and learned, and never tired of it or saw its end. This was a new world, one of exploration and power and magic.
Harry thrived off it, and made the choice to waste no time on the people that inhabited his new world, for they were far less interesting.
Of course, the outcome did not always hinge on his choice alone.
The first exception was Theodore Nott. The boy was quiet, and understood silence. He was not pompous, as the Malfoy Heir was, or always smiling and laughing, as Zabini did. Harry did not trust their laughter, because it was sharp and always pointed to wound.
Nott did not question Harry. He did not speak to him. He merely walked beside him to classes, sat beside him at meals, followed him through the library.
Occasionally, he commented on a book or spell, a simple word or two of agreement or disagreement. Harry responded in kind, and was content with the situation.
The second exception happened well into term, when Harry learned that Hogwarts was not always safe, knowledge he would not forget again.
The troll was announced by Professor Quirrell, a stuttering man whose gaze was far too clear for his facade.
Harry was not interested in trolls, was not interested in being a hero for these people.
But he knew the large-haired girl was not at dinner that night, knew she was the only one among his peers who matched his intelligence, though she did not apply it as reasonably. If she had, she would not have shed tears at the hateful words of those jealous of her.
He found the girl, Granger, interesting. She was a fallacy; he suspected her memory was eidetic, knew she was talented at nearly everything she set her hand to. But she allowed herself to be hurt, allowed herself to be brought low by those weaker than herself.
Why would the strong choose to be weak? Why would the strong be hurt by the weak?
It was irrational, yet fascinating.
And so Harry walked, steady and unerring, towards the loo’s where she was said to be, Nott at his side, silent and unquestioning.
He heard her scream, and shook his head.
Another bad choice. This girl would perish if she continued to make them.
Nott paused, but Harry did not. He entered the stone room, looked up at the large creature as it stood over the girl, huge and stupid and rank.
So this was a troll.
Harry sighed, then turned to Nott, who had returned to his side, his wand in his hand, his knuckles pale as they clenched. Harry observed this minute sign of fear, then spoke.
“Take its club.”
He did not bother to waste words or time explaining. He knew Nott was aware trolls possessed partial immunity to spells; knew their hide was tough enough to blunt any blunt instrument.
But another rule Harry had learned was this: What is tough on the outside is seldom tough in the inside.
Nott took the club with a simple first year spell, and the dumb beast turned toward them. Harry watched as it opened its mouth in a snarl, and struck.
It was powerful; Harry did not waste time with weak spells, with spells expected of him. He struck with what he knew would work, one stone for one bird.
The troll’s head exploded as the light touched its black tongue, and Harry knew immediately that not casting a shield first had been a bad choice.
Well, he could not always be right.
The girl screamed again, then cried as she hid her face. Harry looked down at her with impatience.
“Quiet. Get up. Follow me.”
She looked up at him, and he saw the fear there, and for the first time it made him uncomfortable. He did not waste time exploring the feeling. He strode forward, seized her arm, and dragged her to her feet.
Harry said firmly, and she nodded with wide eyes. Harry turned and stepped from the room quickly, hearing Nott and the girl behind him. He paused at the door, listening to the coming footsteps, and went in the opposite direction from them.
When he calculated they were far enough away, he turned back to the two who followed him. He was surprised the girl had remained quiet; he had observed her before, and knew it was rare.
Then again, Harry thought, as he saw her pale face, the girl was probably in shock.
Thank Merlin for small mercies.
Harry lifted his wand, watched her flinch, and cast cleaning charms on the three of them. The gunk that covered them disappeared, though the smell lingered. Harry absently put his wand away and spoke again, realizing he had said more words this day than he had in the three prior.
“I suggest you return to your dormitory, and not speak of this. The results would be unfortunate.”
Nott snorted, a rude expulsion of air and scorn. Harry was tempted to wrinkle his nose, but resisted. No one was perfect.
The girl looked up at him with wide brown eyes, and took a breath.
Harry braced himself for questions.
“Thank you.” The girl croaked then turned and sprinted down the corridor. Harry watched her go with narrowed eyes.
She found her voice the next day, as he sat in the library with Nott.
Her questions buzzed in his ears, all starting with one word.
Why did you save me?
Why did you kill it?
Why did we run?
Harry answered none of them, in part because he did not like the answers. Finally, Nott spoke for him.
“He prefers quiet.”
The girl bit off her next question, glanced over at him with brown eyes, then with a determined tilt of her chin opened a book and began to read.
So Harry had three shadows most days, his own and Nott’s and Granger’s.
Granger tried to keep silent, and most days succeeded. That she struggled with it was obvious, and Harry found his mouth twitching into a smile. Not a good choice; it only encouraged her. But in this, his brain became confused. It was a good choice to have silence; yet, he seemed to feel it a good choice to have her happy. He could not have both, all the time, and so learned compromise with himself.
Every other day, he spoke to her, in small words at first.
He told her when it was a bad choice or a good one.
When Malfoy asked him to second a duel with the redhead, he explained why he declined to her. She seemed more upset with his prediction of the duel being a trap than his reasons on not encouraging a reputation, positive or negative, with the teachers.
When he told her it was a bad choice to be hurt by those jealous of her, she did not understand, but seemed to like his words. So he gave her more of them, explaining the nature of choice, and being the master of one's fate.
She quoted him a muggle poem, Invictus, about captaining ones fate and mastering one's soul, and he put it in the box of his mind, because it was good.
Nott accepted her, a muggleborn and Gryffindor, because Harry did not scorn her as he did the other Slytherins. Nott recognized power, and the power given to those who were accepted by the powerful.
The Slytherins did not outwardly show signs of discontent with a Gryffindor in their midst. It helped that the Gryffindor’s themselves were extremely unhappy with the development.
Both emotions seemed unnecessary to Harry, who could not fathom the point of caring about another person’s friends. He certainly did not.
Granger and Nott left during the christmas holidays. Harry ran every night through the halls of Hogwarts, enjoying the silence, the eyes of the portraits upon his back. He ran up and down the stairs, jumped across railings, slid down barristers. He stretched muscles and let his mind race along with him.
He heard the late night conversations of his Head of House and Professor Quirrell.
He heard McGonagall scold students out after curfew.
He heard students sneaking unhindered.
He heard elves, popping in and out, cleaning, wide bulbous eyes startled when he passed.
He heard ghosts talk in the halls, heard Filch practice spells without luck, heard tears and laughter and sighs.
Harry ran, and passed through them all, a good choice.
It did not surprise him, really, to be forced to find the Philosopher's Stone. It was all too simple; the clues too easily placed to hand.
He was being lead, being prodded to test himself against a foe. Too easily the groundskeeper spoke to him of dragons and traps and the forbidden corridor. Too easily he had come upon that one late night threat of his Head of House. Too easily had the Headmaster left on urgent business, and Professor Quirrell disappear with him.
Still, it was the Philosophers Stone, and Harry found himself desiring it. Perhaps it was some work of magic; perhaps he had been spelled to want it. Harry didn’t particularly want to use it; he only wanted to hold it in his hand, look down at a masterpiece, and possess something magical.
Nott and Granger followed him, Nott with silence, Granger with words.
Harry did not explain to them why, or how. He charmed the harp to play; he burned the snare with light; he summoned the key, played the chess game, stepped over the sleeping troll, sparing only a moment to makes its unconsciousness permanent.
No use leaving enemies at one’s back.
The potion was perhaps a bit more tricky; Granger and Nott wanted to go with him, and at this Nott broke his silence to argue with rational words.
Harry only spoke once.
“Only one can go. That will be me.”
The two cast glances at each other. Harry took the potion, and passed through the wall of fire, and met the frustrated eyes of Professor Quirrell.
Harry had learned another rule. When facing a foe stronger than oneself, strike first. The element of surprise is by far one one wants in ones own possession.
Unfortunately, Quirrell was not as surprised as Harry hoped. He found himself bound, at disadvantage, in front of a large mirror thats riddle was far too easy to solve.
I show not your face but your heart’s desire.
Harry sighed, looking into the silvered glass, his reflection looking solemnly back at him, and behind him nothing but empty space.
Perhaps he should think of what that meant, that his desire was only black potential. But then the Stone dropped in his pocket, and Harry had other choices to make more pressing than the Mirror and what it showed him.
When Quirrell lay on the ground, burning alive and shattering to dust, when the spirit rose from him, the desire for the stone faded from Harry’s mind.
He shook his head, disgusted to be enchanted so easily, and held the Stone.
He was angry; angry that someone had forced him to go through such trials, had forced him to play a game, a childs game at that.
He made the choice to never leave his mind unprotected again. There were ways to prevent it.
Then he looked down at the Stone, its red gleaming and bright, and made the choice not to throw it, made the choice not to give in and return it.
They, whomever they were, had sent him for it. Well, it was his now, his to choose to keep.
They would expect magic; they would expect him to return it.
He fell to his knees, exhausted, and smiled.
Harry sent a mental thanks to muggle criminal dramas, and swallowed the Stone whole.
Three days later and two tomes on magical medical techniques, and Harry finally accepted that the Stone would not be passed out but was determined to stay inside his stomach, lost somewhere he could not feel it physically, only a bright presence at the edge of his mind and magic, a thread of power and light.
Granger scolded him for his action, when he sought her help. He let the words pass over him. Nott only looked him over with dark eyes, calculating eyes, eyes that Harry knew were filing away the information that the Philosopher's Stone was now Harry Potter’s. Or at least, in his stomach.
Harry figured if he was going to sicken and die from it, it would have happened by now.
While Granger agonized over the effects of something so magical residing in his body, Harry only smiled.
Perhaps he would begin to produce gold instead of more inconvenient things.