Vernon and Petunia were obviously quite successful at suppressing Harry's magic, but what if they had been even more so?
"Hagrid," he said quietly, "I think you must have made a mistake. I don't think I can be a wizard."
To his surprise, Hagrid chuckled. "Not a wizard, eh? Never made things happen when you was scared or angry?"
Harry looked into the fire and thought hard.
"Er, no, actually," he answered.
"What? Never got angry and turned somebody's hair blue, or was running scared and ended up on top of a roof or somethin'?"
Harry shook his head. "Nope, never."
"Tricky customer, eh?" mumbled Ollivander absently. "Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere -- I wonder, now - - yes, why not -- unusual combination -- holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple."
Harry took the wand. None of the others reacted any different to a normal stick, and he was once again starting to believe this was all some elaborate prank. Any moment, he expected a television camera-bearing host to jump out at him laughing.
This one felt slightly warm in his fingers as he raised it above his head, and then brought it swishing down through the dusty air. A single, dull spark fell limply from the end, disappearing even before it reached the floor.
Hagrid whooped and clapped, but Mr. Ollivander looked almost worried, "Well, well, well... how curious... how very curious... "
Harry didn't ask what was curious; he was too busy staring in amazement at the spot where the magical spark emerged.
As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall. "Potter, did she say?"
The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people craning to get a good look at him. Next second he was looking at the black inside of the hat.
"Hmm," said a small voice faintly, as if it was very far away. Harry strained to hear what it was saying, but only caught a few words here and there. "Difficult. Very difficult. --- courage, ---- bad mind ----, my goodness, --- prove yourself, ----- where shall I put you?"
Harry gripped the edges of the stool and shouted the thought, "Not Slytherin, not Slytherin."
"--- Slytherin, eh?" said the small voice. "----- Slytherin will help you," Harry started to panic. "--- better be --"
With confused thoughts filling his head, Harry quickly took the hat from his head and got off the stool.
"Mr Potter. I can't help notice you seem to be very taken with your lessons. Are you particularly interested in the night sky?"
Harry reluctantly glanced up from his telescope to address the Astronomy Professor.
"Yes Ma'am," he answered distractedly. "I never got to see the stars, or to stay up late. I was always locked away before the sun went down."
Not waiting for the professor to reply before returning to his eyepiece, he never saw the look of shock his unthinking words provoked. It took the woman a few seconds to compose herself enough to continue in a normal voice.
"Yes, well, your class work is exemplary. I do hope you can keep it up."
"Don't worry Professor," he answered, not taking his eye away from a distant constellation. "I enjoy this too much to not put the effort in.
Somehow, the Professor knew he was telling the absolute truth.
"Oi, Potter. You want a play a game of snap?"
"Shush," said Harry, leaning forward to try to catch the quiet words of the ghostly history professor. As if barely seeing the man wasn't difficult enough, his classmates appeared not to care how much noise they made instead of concentrating on the lecture. Only Hermione Granger was even trying to pay attention, and Ron Weasley was openly snoring on his desk. "I'm trying to listen!"
"Come on. It's dead boring. How can you stand it?"
Harry sighed in exasperation. Luckily he had already read about this particular battle before, and so wasn't missing that much, but if he didn't nip this in the bud now, it might continue and end up making him miss something.
"Look," he said rather loudly, unfortunately attracting the attention of several other students. "Where I grew up, I was never allowed to hear any stories about goblins, or witches, or anything that Muggles might consider 'unnatural'. You might find all of this boring because you grew up with it all around you, but I've never even read a fantasy story about magical battles, let alone one that actually happened. It's great."
"But, it's so boring! Binns just drones on and on."
Harry shook his head in exasperation. Sometimes he wondered if the Ravenclaws were right and Gryffindors had no imagination. "Don't just listen, try to see. Imagine you are standing on the walls of the castle, and the massive Goblin horde is pouring down the valley towards you, screaming, and yelling for your blood. Think about seeing huge fireballs tearing through their ranks, gouging lines and leaving charred bodies behind, but they keep on coming until they reach the walls and start climbing up. Pretend it's a Muggle movie, if you've ever seen one of those. It's awesome."
"Is that how you do it?" asked Hermione. "Is that how you remember the names and places and sequences? You think of it as if it is a movie in a cinema?"
"Yeah, well sort of. I never actually ever got to see a movie at the cinema, but I did watch a bit of telly at Mrs Figg's every now and then, so I sort of know what they are. When I was locked in my, er, room, I'd get bored quite a bit. I used to make up my own shows, in my head. This is just like that, only much better because I have somebody else supplying the storyline and I just have to fill in the details, instead of having to come up with the whole plot from scratch."
"That's a great idea," agreed Hermione.
Several of the Muggle-born children nodded and started actually paying attention to the ghost at the front of the class. Harry was already deeply back in his imagined world, watching history unfold before him.
"Wow, Harry. Where did you learn to handle a trowel so well?" asked Neville Longbottom after seeing Harry deftly re-pot a particularly stubborn burning sunflower.
"I used to do a bit of gardening for my Aunty and Uncle," answered Harry as he cleaned off his workbench. "Although she didn't have any flowers that tried to focus the sun's rays onto you in order to eat your rotting corpse, most of this is just the same. Dragon dung, cow manure, it's all the same sh-"
"Harry!" interrupted Hermione.
Harry smiled and reached for his next plant. On the other side of the greenhouse, he noticed several students having a ridiculous amount of trouble with the simplest tasks.
"They grew up in rich pure-blood houses," explained Neville after seeing Harry's confused look. "Never had to get their hands dirty before. That's why they have so much trouble now."
"What about you, Neville? You're a pureblood, aren't you?" asked Hermione.
Neville laughed. "Yeah, but my old Gran made sure I did my share of the house work, don't worry about that. She let me do some gardening every week because I couldn't really break anything, and I really like it. I reckon you must be a bit of a natural though, Harry. You look like you have been doing that your whole life."
Harry grunted non-committedly and moved the finished pot over next to his others, all the time wondering if he could sneak some of the more deadly plants in amongst Petunia's roses as a nasty shock for her.
Even Potions wasn't that bad.
Snape's lambasting and rude comments were barely a slightly annoying mumble to a boy who had been derided for virtually every minute of his life that he could remember.
Following complex cooking instructions gave Harry extraordinary skills, compared to even the most talented of his classmates, but no matter how perfectly he sliced the ingredients, or how spot-on his timing, his potions barely ever worked, much to Snape and the Slytherin's joy.
Despite this, Harry's skill made him popular with his Gryffindor classmates, who always wanted to team with him to take advantage of his advanced preparation skills.
Teaming him up with Neville, at Professor Snape's, insistence made both of their work improve dramatically. Harry's attention to detail meant Neville rarely made a big mistake, despite his fear of Snape, and Neville's magic meant the potions worked much better.
It only took a few lessons for Professor Snape to decide all class practicals would be solo exercises from then on.
"Mr Potter, I afraid if you can't transfigure a match in to a pin, you will never move onto the larger more interesting transfigurations, like making a pincushion out of a hedgehog."
Harry sighed and prodded the stubborn matchstick with his wand. It still refused to do anything needle-like whatsoever. Not that it made much sense to change it anyway. What was the point in starting with two things so fundamentally different anyway?
By now, everybody else had moved onto bigger things, but Harry was still stuck with a plain old match.
Maybe he was trying to do too much. Maybe he could just make it bit sharp to begin with, and then move on from there, one miniscule change at a time. That seemed to be more in the range of his capabilities.
Harry's feather barely stirred on the desk. Just like in Transfiguration, he was drastically behind the rest of the class when it came to the actual casting. Even Neville was better at it, but one thing Harry learned at the Dursleys was to keep trying, no matter what, otherwise he would never get to where he wanted to be. Crying it was all unfair or too hard, and waiting for somebody else to do it for him, was Dudley's game.
Harry would never accept any similarity between him and his cousin.
"V-V-Vampires? Eep!" squeaked the bad smelling man wearing the turban. "Why do you w-w-want to know about V-V-Vampires?"
Harry sighed in exasperation. So far, Defence Against the Dark Arts was a joke. Professor Quirrell appeared terrified of his own shadow. The texts were comprehensive and quite thorough, but the Professor stumbled and mumbled his way through them at a rate that often left young minds drifting into more interesting areas, generally not school related.
The spells really interested Harry, mainly because he had more success with them than any others. He was still bottom of the class, but the gap was significantly smaller.
"I remember you saying you were going to pick up a new book when I met you in Diagon Alley, and I had some questions that are not covered in our text…" explained Harry.
He wasn't going to admit the real reason was that Harry and his friends wanted to investigate if Professor Snape really was some sort of Vampire.
"S-s-s-s-sorry, P-p-p-potter," stuttered the professor. "I n-never g-got around t-to it."
Harry thanked the professor and left the class. He could do all of the homework and get most of the few spells they were taught working, but he couldn't shake the feeling there was something going on between Snape and Quirrell.
If it wasn't the garlic, maybe it was something to do with the fact both professors seem to loath being anywhere near Harry. While he had no idea why either of them felt the way they did, it didn't bother him in the slightest, having been conditioned to that sort of behaviour by life with the Dursleys.
At least Quirrell tried to hide it.
"UP" everyone shouted.
Harry's broom didn't even twitch. By his fourth try, everybody else's was in their hand, so Harry quickly bent over and picked it up.
Before Madam Hooch could give the signal, Neville floated above their heads and then fell off, breaking his wrist.
"Give it here!" Harry yelled, but Malfoy had leapt onto his broomstick and taken off. He hadn't been lying, he could fly well. Hovering level with the topmost branches of an oak he called, "Come and get it, Potter!"
Harry grabbed his broom.
"No!" shouted Hermione Granger. "Madam Hooch told us not to move -- you'll get us all into trouble."
Harry looked ready to argue, but then nodded his head.
"Sorry, Malfoy," he shouted at the smirking blonde boy. "You're the only one stupid enough to want to get expelled for a Remembrall."
Malfoy turned red with anger, and he was about to reply when a piercing voice called out his name.
"Draco Malfoy!" shouted Professor McGonagall, from a second floor window overlooking the pitch. "You land immediately and come directly to my office right now, young man. I distinctly heard Madam Hooch warn you to stay grounded."
"Thanks, Hermione," whispered Harry, as the now very pale and shaking Draco Malfoy walked fearfully from the pitch to the jeers and laughter of the Gryffindors. "I owe you one."
"I'd take you on anytime on my own," said Malfoy. "Tonight, if you want. Wizard's duel. Wands only, no contact. What's the matter? Never heard of a wizard's duel before, I suppose?"
"Malfoy," asked Harry innocently. "Don't you think I am a squib?"
Malfoy smiled nastily. "Everybody knows it, Potter. Only reason you are here is because Dumbledore is so senile he can't see it for himself."
"So you want to fight me in a wizard's duel because you are certain I can't possibly hurt you, right? You realise that just makes you a bully, don't you? You don't think there is a hope in hell I could hurt you, so you aren't afraid to duel with me, right?"
Malfoy's smile got slightly sickly. "I'll teach you manners, Potter."
"Right," said Harry. "I know just how to handle bullies."
With that, he suddenly kicked the Malfoy heir in the robes.
As Draco bent double, Harry brought his knee up and into Draco's face, breaking the boy's nose with a horrifying crunching sound.
Harry usually preferred to run from Dudley and his gang, but getting caught often enough meant he knew a bit about how to fight, and a lot about how to fight dirty.
Crabbe and Goyle had barely started moving when Harry leapt at Goyle, sinking his elbow into the larger boy's face.
Ron, initially stunned by Harry's sudden violence, finally got into the act, just as Crabbe reached out to grab Harry who was still recovering from his flying attack on Goyle.
While Ron was significantly smaller than his target, he grew up in a house filled with older, stronger, and somewhat rough brothers. This taught him how to maximise his limited resources. The running head butt caught Crabbe in the stomach, dropping him, badly winded, to the floor next to his two companions.
Harry grabbed the whimpering Draco's hair, and lifted his head off the floor.
"I don't need magic to beat you, Malfoy, you loser."
"What's going on here?" came the voice of authority, over the excited whispers of the crowd gathered in the hallway.
Harry sighed and let Malfoy's head fall back to the ground with a thump.
Just like whenever he fought back and injured Dudley or one of his gang, Harry was still going to end up paying the price for success.
Filch watched the boy-who-lived with mixed emotions. On one hand, he was one of those despised students; one of the disgusting, filthy wretches who showed no respect and constantly made a mess wherever they went.
On the other hand, the boy never complained about serving his detention, never secretly tried to use his wand to complete the laborious cleaning tasks, and never spoke back to the caretaker, no matter what was said. He worked diligently and hard, doing as good a job as the caretaker himself could do.
And, he was practically a squib.
Filch heard what the professors said in the off hours; how they lamented the boy's lack of magical prowess as if it was the most pitiful thing they could imagine, and quite frankly it made him sick.
Half of them went to extraordinary lengths to try to coax more out of the boy, seeming to think the treatment his Muggle relatives gave him somehow suppressed a huge magical potential, and that kind words and encouragement might reverse the damage.
Except Severus Snape, of course; He practically delighted in the 'failure' of his most hated adversary's son, as if always losing out to Potter senior and his gang made the treatment of Harry justified.
Filch hated them all for it.
"It's near enough ten o'clock, lad. You can stop now," he said.
Harry looked up from his position, then back at the section of floor he was cleaning with a worn out brush. For a second, Filch thought he was going to insist on completing the small part left to do, but then resignedly put the brush back in the bucket and stood up without argument, ready to pack it all away.
"Thank you, Mr Filch," said Harry.
He was always polite too, Filch noted as they walked back to his office. He was in little doubt the boy really wanted to finish the floor, but would not argue with the caretaker about it.
Argus knew enough to see the boy had not enjoyed a happy childhood.
Whether it was just like it had been for Argus himself, because he had almost no magical ability, or if it was something more sinister, Filch could see what the other faculty appeared to either have missed, or refused to accept.
Harry Potter had been beaten almost into submission.
Watching as the boy carefully and meticulously cleaned and put away everything, exactly as he had been shown, Argus suddenly realised he too felt bad that the boy shared his fate, and wanted to do something to help, despite his loathing at the very thought that a Squib needed help.
"Potter," he said. "Come into my office, I've got something to show you."
Kwikspell A Correspondence Course in Beginners' Magic was the name on the large, glossy, purple envelopes filling up a box in Harry's trunk.
Filch showed Harry the advertisements, and then helped fill in the order form, showing him how to authorise the money for the course to be taken from his Gringotts vault.
Now, weeks later, Harry was reaping the benefits.
The simple and precise instructions brought out the best results Harry had ever achieved, despite all of the personal training and tuition his Professor's seem to heap upon him.
Little tricks and explanations, like exactly how and why wand movements were important, let Harry squeeze the most out of his meagre magical power. Perfect pronunciation taught by extensive phonetic instructions gained him another minimal increase, as did clear visualisations of the effect, and focussed intention.
To a normal strength witch or wizard, slight deviations from the perfect form still meant more than enough magical energy was available to complete the spell. To low powered individuals like Harry, it was the difference between success and failure.
There was also a multitude of spells with shorter or easier to remember incantations that required less energy to produce similar effects as the ones taught at school, making them perfect for people like Harry.
He was, however, very careful to keep his correspondence course hidden from his dorm mates.
"Hagrid," asked Harry. "Why aren't you allowed to do magic?"
"Never you mind that, young 'arry," said Hagrid, as he filled the enormous cup with tea. "Just you stick with it lad. I've no doubt you'll be a great wizard someday."
"Right, but maybe you can show me how you do a few things around here, without using magic?" he asked hopefully.
Harry didn't hesitate at the door, but walked right in. Years of getting pushed into the girl's lavatory by Dudley made Harry fairly immune to any embarrassment he may have felt following the crying Hermione.
"Hermione," he said, ignoring her stuttering protests at his presence outside the stall she had locked herself in. "You shouldn't cry. Don't let Ron upset you; he is just jealous of how good you are in every class."
It took Harry several more minutes, but eventually she unlocked her door and came out to talk to him.
"How do you do it?" she asked. "How can you stand everybody insulting you and whispering nasty things about you when they think you can't hear them? Or Professor Snape and all of the terrible things he says and does to you? How can you just stand there and take it?"
Harry shrugged. "I just don't care," he answered. "If all they are doing is talking, I don't care. I spent my whole life hearing things like that, so it doesn't bother me anymore."
He laughed ruefully.
"They think I should be upset because I can barely get a light from my wand, but I think it's the greatest miracle in the world! I can do magic!"
An hour later, as they were leaving the toilet to go join the feast, they ran into the troll.
"I don't know any spells that would defeat a troll," cried Hermione, as the troll started moving towards them.
"How's this one?" said Harry, grabbing her arm and starting to drag her down the corridor. "We disappear. Run!"
No lumbering Troll could hope to keep up with the sprinting pair.
It was a magnificent mirror, as high as the ceiling, with an ornate gold frame, standing on two clawed feet. There was an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. His panic fading now that there was no sound of Filch and Snape, Harry moved nearer to the mirror, wanting to look at himself but see no reflection again. He stepped in front of it.
Just as he expected, the mirror simply reflected the empty classroom behind him.
Slipping out of the door, Harry thought he heard a soft, disappointed murmur from somewhere inside the room.
"They're not birds!" Harry said suddenly. "They're keys! Winged keys -- look carefully. So that must mean..." he looked around the chamber while the other two squinted up at the flock of keys. "... yes -- look! Broomsticks! You've got to catch the key to the door!"
"But there are hundreds of them!" Ron examined the lock on the door. "We're looking for a big, old-fashioned one -- probably silver, like the handle."
Ron and Hermione seized a broomstick each and kicked off into the air, soaring into the midst of the cloud of keys. They grabbed and snatched, but the bewitched keys darted and dived so quickly it was almost impossible to catch one.
"This is impossible!" yelled Ron as another key avoided his grasp.
Harry examined the door more closely. Taking the third broom, he jammed the end under the door, and tried to lift it off its hinges. The door rose a few centimetres, but he didn't have the leverage to get it higher.
"Guys, come here," he called excitedly after a few minutes of trying.
With the other two brooms and the added weight of his friends, the door was soon lying on the floor inside of the next room, and it only cost them one broom that snapped under the pressure.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" said Ron. "We've got to play our way across the room."
Behind the white pieces, they could see another door.
"How?" said Hermione nervously.
"I think," said Ron, "we're going to have to be the missing chessmen."
"Like fun," said Harry.
Racing back to where the door lay on the floor, Harry grabbed the two remaining brooms and returned them to his friends.
"Hermione can fly well enough on her own, but sorry, Ron, you are going to have to carry me over the set," he said. "Just be sure to go up as high as you can."
Harry stared at the seven bottles in front of him, while Ron and Hermione argued about who should go forward and who should go back.
"There's not enough for more than one person to go on," said Harry, cutting into the argument.
"You can't on alone, Harry," said Hermione, Ron nodding in agreement.
"Nope, I got a better idea," he said, smiling broadly as he picked up the bottle Hermione said would get them through the fire and back into the Troll room. "Cup your hands, and be careful not to spill any. Hermione, hold out both of your hands please. You have to hold mine too."
Confused, his friends nevertheless complied, and soon held the precious contents of the bottle in their hands. Moving quickly but carefully, Harry filled the now empty bottle with a bit from each of the three poisonous ones.
"Right, drink up and let's go," he said.
Ron still looked confused. "You're not going in?"
Harry smiled. "Nope, I'm coming back with you two."
"What about Snape then? You are going to let him get the Stone?"
"Yep, but when he comes out, he will grab the bottle he knows is the one that'll let him through the fire…"
"And cark it on his own brew," finished Ron. "Brilliant!"
Hermione looked ready to argue, but ended up sighing loudly. "I suppose it's the best we can do," she said. "I just hope it really isn't poison, and only knocks him out for a few hours or something."
"Fat chance of the slimy git using anything that doesn't result in a painful death," whispered Ron to Harry, as they dashed from the room before the ice-cold feeling left them.
Harry nodded in silent agreement.
"Hope you have -- er -- a good holiday," said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.
"Oh, I will," said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face as he padded a pocket stuffed with Zonko's products he had bought from the twins. "They don't know I can't really do much magic. I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer...."