Simply making it into the station was a major accomplishment as far as Harry was concerned. He was acutely aware of just how much he was sweating and he forced himself to smile even wider than he had before.
The inside of the station was even more crowded. With this many people, it would be easy for someone to stick a knife in him or do something with a wand. Even after studying his school books, he didn't have a real idea just what a wizard could do.
He couldn't see anyone who looked like aurors. If they were competent, they would look more like muggles than muggles. Their whole job was blending in, after all, and making sure everyone else blended in.
Hermione stopped talking about magic; the last thing they wanted was to force someone to be obliviated.
While Hermione's father got them both carts for their luggage, she stopped and turned toward him.
“So do you have everything you need for school?” she asked.
“Not as much as I'd like,” Harry admitted. “But I've got all the basics. I would have liked to have gotten an owl, though.”
Glancing around, he could see at least a dozen families carrying owls in cages as well as other animals. He couldn't understand how the normal people around them didn't notice. Didn't it seem odd?
“I read that they create a low level confundus field here just for school days,” Hermione said. “It keeps people slightly confused. They don't do it the other days because it would cause all kinds of problems...people getting on the wrong trains, getting lost, that kind of thing.”
Harry nodded. It had to be something like that, because it didn't look like some of the families were even trying to be discreet.
He could see families running straight into a wall up ahead and disappearing. Even given the normally accepting nature of Londoners, that normally would have drawn a lot of attention.
“That's it then?” he asked in a low voice.
Hermione nodded. “I went through when nobody was looking; we went late just in case when we came last week. There wasn't a train then, of course. I'm excited to see what it looks like.”
“I would have thought they'd do something like flying carpets,” Harry said. “Or broomsticks.”
“Flying carpets are illegal in Britain,” Hermione said. “And besides...do you really want to try carrying a lot of luggage on one? Can you imagine hundreds of flying carpets all heading for Scotland? It'd be a nightmare from a secrecy perspective.”
“Nobody thinks anything about a train,” Harry said, considering. “And it's a lot more convenient than trying to balance a trunk on a broom, I guess.”
“It's been in operation since 1830,” Hermione said. “but with magic, they've been able to keep it running like new.”
From what Harry had read, wizards had stolen the train from muggles using massive amounts of memory charms and other magics.
He flinched despite himself as an older man rushed past him. The sheer numbers of people inside the station was a nightmare from the perspective of watching for attackers.
“Maybe we should get going,” Harry murmured.
Hermione nodded. She turned to her parents and said, “I wish I could take you through, but...”
“It'd be too inconvenient for everyone, trying to go back when everyone else is going in,” Hermione's father said. “We know...you've told us.”
Hermione lowered her voice. “Most wizards just disappararate once the train leaves. I can't wait to learn how to do that...I've wanted to teleport since I watched the Tomorrow People reruns when I was a child.”
At Harry's quizzical look, she said, “I'll tell you about it on the train.”
She turned to her parents and began hugging them. She had tears in her eyes and they clearly felt the same.
Hermione's father clapped Harry on the back. “Take good care of our little girl.”
“It seems more likely that she's going to take care of me,” Harry said awkwardly. He had to force himself not to flinch as the older man's arm went over his shoulder.
He wasn't really sure how to react to the obvious love and affection the Grangers were showing out in public. He'd never been hugged before, much less kissed.
His only human contact had been Dudley's fists, or being punished.
Still, he could see others around him doing the same thing, and so it only helped make his ruse more convincing. After a moment, he relaxed.
The man withdrew just as Harry was getting used to the sensation.
“Well, you two had better get going. You don't want to be late. From what that professor told us, we'd never be able to find the school on our own.”
Hermione didn't seem to want to let go of her mother.
Someone jostled into Harry, and he felt a chill down his spine. They needed to get moving, or he'd be dead for sure. The last thing he wanted was to be murdered again.
For all he knew he was like a cat, except that maybe two extra lives was all he had. Maybe he had three or seven or ten. Maybe he could permanently die by some method that hadn't been used on him yet. Whatever happened, he couldn't afford to take chances.
As they approached the platform, Hermione said, “You have to take a bit of a run at it. If you move slow and just touch it, it seems solid, but with a little speed you'll go right through.”
She'd tried it the week before, so she'd know. Presumably she and her family had been told the trick by whoever had been sent to tell them about magic.
Harry wondered if his aunt knew, and why she hadn't told him. Of course it had been fifteen years or more since she would have been told, so she might not remember.
A moment later, Hermione was pushing her way through the wall, and Harry took a deep breath and followed her through.
As he stumbled through to the other side, Harry had a sense that he was walking into another world. Whereas on the other side the wizards had made at least a token effort to fit in with the muggles around them, on this side they'd changed into clothes they were more comfortable.
It was like Diagon Alley all over again, except this time there were children everywhere. They were moving around and talking in high pitched, shrill voices.
Adults moved more sedately. This was making Harry anxious; the fast moving younger children were coming in from all directions, and the sensation of quick movement out of the side of his vision made him jerk.
It was only two red haired twins throwing something through the air at each other.
Harry reached up and wiped the sweat from his forehead. His hand felt sticky, and a moment later he realized that he'd wiped the makeup from his forehead.
Hermione was staring at his forehead.
“I'd wondered if you'd gotten cosmetic surgery to have it repaired,” she said quietly, staring at the scar on his forehead. “I just didn't want to say anything.”
As if the Dursleys would shell out for cosmetic surgery. He was lucky they'd even bothered to get him glasses.
The train was bigger than he would have thought; it had to be to carry hundreds of students. Harry found himself being impressed in spite of himself. It wasn't like a modern tram at all, and despite its age it looked brand new.
The sign said Hogwarts express, eleven o'clock.
“Maybe we should get on the train before the good seats are taken,” he said. The first two compartments were already filled with students, some hanging out of the windows calling to their families.
He could see an entire family of redheads staring at the scar on his head. He winced, and grabbed Hermione.
“I've had too many people gawk at it; that's why I cover it up with makeup.”
It was a lie, of course. He'd never even given people a chance to gawk at it, although he could see several people in the crowd gawking at it now.
They pushed forward, and he and Hermione managed to pull their suitcases onto the train. They dragged them to the first empty compartment they could find, and together they managed to wrestle the luggage into the overhead bins.
Harry felt exhausted as they finally sat down; less from the exertion with the luggage and more from the emotional stress of having had to walk through the gauntlet. He'd felt like he was creeping through a minefield, but for whatever reason, no one had tried to kill him.
“I read about the prophecy, you know,” Hermione said. “And we got a subscription to the wizarding newspaper...there was an article about your attending this year.”
She pulled out a paper, and Harry saw a picture of him as a baby. His scar was starkly visible.
“The last thing I want is to get famous,” Harry said. “Or think about the prophecy. I think prophecies are rubbish anyway.”
“Well, they do always seem to be written in a way that they can be met in multiple ways.”
“You never hear about a prophecy saying that someone is going to be defeated on June 22nd,” Harry said, smirking.
“Well,” Hermione said. “If I heard I was going to be defeated that day, I'd just call in sick.”
“I think it's nonsense anyway. Do they really think I defeated the Dark Lord as a baby?”
“You call him the Dark Lord?” Hermione asked. “I thought only Death Eaters did that.”
Harry flushed. “I couldn't find out what his name actually is; I'm not going to run around calling him 'you know who' like they do in the books.”
Hermione smirked and leaned closer to him. “You want to know his name? I know what it is. It's-”
A round faced boy stuck his head in the door and said, “Have either of you seen my toad?”
Harry stared at the boy for a long moment. He couldn't for the life of him understand why anyone would want a toad. Owls were useful, and cats were good for petting, at least when they weren't clawing and biting like Ms. Figg's many cats when they were in a mood.
A toad didn't seem useful at all, and they didn't seem like they'd be good companions.
“Haven't seen it,” Harry said.
“Let's go help him,” Hermione said. “It'll give us a chance to see the rest of the train and we might even make a new friend.”
Harry hesitated. The other students would see his scar soon enough, and he could feel the train beginning to move. There wasn't much chance that the adults had allowed death eaters on the train.
“All right,” he said.
It was a relief to finally not have to worry about his life every second. According to what he'd read, Hogwarts was the safest place in all of wizarding Britain. He should be safe enough until it was time to come home.
The thought of finally being able to relax made him smile. He said, “Sure...let's go.”
Finding the toad wasn't easy. Most of the students seemed absorbed in their own conversations, and few of them seemed interested until they glanced up at the scar on his head.
Harry made sure to let Hermione and the new boy to do all the talking even as he kept well back. The last thing he wanted was to have a lot of questions.
One redhead was in a compartment with his brothers. “I want to go meet Harry Potter...” he was saying as Hermione opened the door to the compartment.
Harry quickly stepped back out of sight before the trio could see him.
Some of the looks the older students gave them weren't friendly, especially the ones wearing green. Harry felt a little uncomfortable around them and he was starting to feel like this was a mistake.
A white haired boy and two goons brushed by him, barely giving him a look as they headed toward the back of the train.
“Out of the way, mudblood!” he snarled at Hermione, who seemed confused.
Harry stepped aside quickly, letting the three of them pass.
“What's a mudblood?” he asked.
Hermione shrugged uncomfortably. “It didn't sound very nice.”
Eventually they found the toad in the boy's loo.
“Thanks, mate. I don't think I'd have found Trevor on my own,” the boy, who'd finally introduced himself as Neville Longbotton said.
With a name like Longbottom, Harry suspected that he had to have been bullied, unless other wizard names were just as outlandish.
“It's not a problem,” Harry said. “Why don't you and Hermione head back and I'll catch up with you in a bit.”
He wanted a chance to see if he could recover his scar with the makeup, even though almost everyone had seen it by now.
“It's all right if I sit with you?” Neville asked.
The boy seemed harmless enough. A toad didn't seem like the kind of pet a Death Eater would have anyway. Maybe a snake or a hawk to peck out people's eyes.
Harry wondered if he would be allowed to keep a hawk as a pet, but decided that it probably wasn't worth the effort. With his luck it'd peck his eyes out and he'd end up back in his cupboard...or worse, he wouldn't die and would have to go around with a distinct lack of eyes.
After Hermione and Neville left, Harry checked the makeup on his forehead, hoping to get it back into a semblance of concealing his scar. He finally had to give it up as a lost cause.
He washed it away as well as he could and he finally began heading back toward his compartment.
Stepping from one train compartment to the other made him a little nervous; the ground was flying by quickly and it looked like all it would take would be a strong wind to throw someone off the train.
He was almost back to his compartment, opening the door to the outside when he heard someone rushing him from behind.
Harry felt himself being shoved outside, and he struggled to grab the rail, but whoever it was that was pushing him was a lot bigger and stronger.
There wasn't even a chance to see who it was; Harry was grabbing for the rail and holding on for dear life. Someone grabbed his hands and wrenched them open.
Before he could even scream, he was pushed over the edge. He was pulled under the wheels of the train, and there was a moment of horrific pain before everything went black.