Platform Nine and Three Quarters
The next few weeks were pretty much heaven for Harry. The Dursleys let him move into Dudley's second bedroom (yeah, Harry had been stuck with a cupboard while his lumbering cousin got two rooms for himself), eat whatever he wanted, and didn't make him do any chores. Not that they didn't try, but whenever they got uppity he could just walk towards them and back them into a corner. When they had nowhere to go, the invisible wall made them – not flat, but it was clearly painful for them.
Harry didn't care. They had inflicted too much on him for their discomfort to matter. Harry was perfectly happy to force them to bend to his will. He just wished the invisible shield affected more than the Dursleys; Piers Polkiss and Dudley's other friends still were able to get close to him, as he discovered while taking a walk in the park instead of cooking for the Dursleys. He had to dodge Polkiss' swipe and flee through the thick trees, and resolved to restore his normal habits when he was near Dudley's gang; to keep an eye out for them, pay attention to the noises around him, and be ready to sprint at a moment's notice.
Harry's school books were fascinating, though, and he spent most of the month in his new room (with a real bed for once, rather than an old blanket on the floor), reading through them. The books he had grabbed on magical history were pretty interesting, as were the spell books. But what really excited him was the books on potions. Modern Magical History had mentioned a ban on using magic out of school for minors, but potions didn't need magic to brew or to drink, so he could see the use for them already. One of the potions that they would be learning later on in the year, the Sensun Potion, basically swapped your senses with those of another animal whose hair you put in the mix as the last step. And one of the ingredients in the basic potions kit happened to be hair of cat.
But Harry wasn't a fool; he would wait to brew it until he had actually had some practice. Besides, the potion took a week to brew, and he couldn't remain close to the potion for the whole time; Vernon would come in and pour it out the window. Oaf.
So when September 1st rolled around and Harry packed his bags, he was happier than he'd ever been. He was finally leaving Privet Drive, for most of the year, and he wouldn't have to deal with the Dursleys! He wouldn't have to listen to Vernon's thunderous snoring, or Dudley's complaining about the terrible food that Petunia was now forced to cook. That's what happens when you force someone else to cook for five years.
At ten o'clock, Harry began dragging his (very heavy) luggage downstairs. Dudley stood at the bottom, watching and taking the occasional step back to not get hit by the wall.
"Is there a reason you're staring at me, Dudley?" Harry finally snapped, when he was about halfway down.
Dudley glanced around, making sure that Vernon and Petunia were out of hearing, before whispering "Why aren’t you using… you know?"
Harry furrowed his brow for a moment before he figured it out. "I haven't learned how yet. That's why I’m going to Hogw–"
"Shh!" Dudley looked almost panicked. "You don't want them to hear!"
Harry nearly burst out laughing. "I don't have to worry about that anymore, remember?"
"You don't," Dudley whimpered, "but I do!"
Harry stopped and stared at him. "Dudley, what do you really think about this?" he finally asked. "Don't just parrot Vernon's 'it's unnatural' or Petunia's 'you're a freak like your mother!' What do you think?"
Dudley inched closer, pressing his nose against the invisible wall, and whispered, so quietly that Harry could barely hear him, "It's weird, but I think it's cool."
Harry nearly fell down the stairs. It was a sentiment that he had never thought he would hear Dudley express: something that he couldn't do and Harry could wasn't stupid, it was actually cool. Maybe, he thought, Dudley wasn't so bad after all.
"Dudley…" Harry said quietly.
"…will you help me with this trunk? I can't get it down the stairs, it keeps getting stuck on the handrail." Harry retreated to allow Dudley access to his trunk. The elder boy crept up the stairs and tugged on the trunk for a moment. It remained stuck, but he gave a great heave and freed it. He smiled at Harry, who smiled back; and then Dudley tossed the trunk over the side of the stairs, allowing it to fall to the ground and spring open, sending Harry's school supplies all over.
"Dudley, you maniac!" Harry cried, rushing forward and causing Dudley to fall down the stairs. Ignoring the boy's cry of pain as he hit the ground, Harry stepped over him (the Dursley child made some very strangled noises as the bottom of the invisible wall crushed him for a moment) and snatched the now empty trunk. He examined it for a moment, rage still boiling within him, and saw that it had been bent out of shape; the edge came in and kept the top from shutting properly.
Harry's self-control snapped. He strode towards Dudley and stood over him, straddling his body. Dudley gurgled silently as his body was flattened against the floor; he was unable to breathe, and Harry didn't care. He deserved it. The fat oaf deserved to–
The door swung open and a rather severe looking woman with a tight bun of black hair and a set of long blue robes was revealed. She seemed to take in the situation with a single glance; broken luggage, Harry standing over Dudley; and her eyes flashed with anger. She brought out her wand and flicked it sharply five times. Harry was sent flying away from Dudley, the invisible wall collapsing as he did, and slammed into the real wall just after it was transformed into a large mattress, cushioning him, and Dudley began gasping for air. At the same time, the trunk rose into the air for a moment as the edge snapped out and the tears in the fabric repaired themselves, and all of Harry's school supplies flew back into it.
"What in Merlin's name happened here?" she demanded as she stepped into Number Four. Vernon, meanwhile, came barreling down the stairs, only avoiding crashing into the wall when the stern woman flapped her hand absently, and he bounced off of another mattress.
"Dudley broke my trunk–" Harry began.
"Harry attacked me for no reason–" Dudley said at the same time.
"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" Vernon roared over them both.
"Silence!" the woman snapped, flicking her wand once again, and all noise stopped, though their mouths continued to move uselessly for a moment. "Potter, you begin first."
"I was trying to take my trunk downstairs, and Dudley tossed it over the railing!" Harry said quickly, before she renewed the silencing spell on him.
"Dursley, what's your side of the story?"
Both Vernon and Dudley tried to speak again, but Vernon was still silent. "I was helping Harry get his trunk downstairs, and accidently dropped it!" Dudley claimed. "And then he jumped on me!"
She twisted her wand in a complex pattern, murmuring under her breath as she did so, and ended by pointing it towards the stairs and slowly turning it counterclockwise in her fingers. While she did this, Vernon was silently ranting again, but she ignored him.
A soundless, colorless image appeared over the actual stairs; it showed Harry standing over Dudley just as he had been. It moved in reverse, showing Harry rushed backwards to his broken trunk, then up the stairs. Dudley flew up the stairs behind (in front of?) Harry, then grabbed the trunk as it repaired itself and floated up to his hands. Dudley grinned spitefully at Harry, then stuck the trunk into the handrail before backing down the stairs as Harry came down and tried to bring the luggage up the stairs.
The stern woman raised an eyebrow as the scene faded away. "Dursley, you will refrain from touching any of Potter's belongings if you wish to remain a human instead of an animal. Is that understood?" Dudley swallowed and nodded. "Potter, you will restrain your temper under the same condition. Understand?" Nod. "Good. Now, what is it, Mr. Dursley?" she turned to Vernon and gestured for him to speak.
Vernon took a deep breath; it seemed he had worn himself out shouting while he had been forcible silenced. "Get out of my house! And don't do any of that unnatural–"
"I do not intend to stay here for longer than necessary," she informed him sternly. "You will not see your nephew again for more than nine months, after which he will not be permitted to perform magic. You will be prepared to receive him civilly and graciously when he returns, and I will be coming with him to ensure that you do. And," she added as an afterthought, "I advise you to encourage your son to lose weight, and lose some yourself as well. Come, Potter." And with that, she turned, blue robes sweeping behind her, and left the house.
Harry stared, and only managed to get moving again when Vernon lunged at him with murder in his eyes. He dove to the ground and scrambled out of the house, dragging his trunk with him, snatched up the severe-looking witch's hand, and…
Harry stumbled away from the woman, nearly falling over as he leaned over and retched. She merely raised an eyebrow and waited for him to finish.
After a minute or so he stood straight again and turned to face her, a little red-faced. "Are you quite finished?" she inquired politely? Harry nodded, and she continued. "As we did not have time for proper introductions earlier, I am Professor McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress. I do, of course, know who you are."
Harry nodded, then looked around. "Where are we?" he asked.
"We are in a small apparation point near King's Cross," the professor said, stepping out of the little box they had arrived in. Harry followed her, and found with surprise that they were in an alley, having stepped out of what appeared to be a brick wall. King's Cross was visible right across the street from them. "Follow me, please."
Harry followed her across the street, rolling his heavy trunk with some difficulty, then to a barrier in between platforms nine and ten. "Look at your ticket," she ordered him.
Harry pulled out his ticket from his pocket and looked at it. "Looks perfectly normal to me," he said. "Hogwarts Express… one ticket… eleven o'clock… Platform 9¾. Wait, Platform what?"
"9¾," Professor McGonagall confirmed. "Of course, there is no platform by that number in the Muggle section of King's Cross. The entrance is through the barrier here." And she stepped up to the barrier and walked right through the brick wall.
Harry stepped up the barrier in wonder and rapped on it with his fist. It seemed perfectly solid, albeit surprisingly warm, but McGonagall had clearly just walked right through it. He squinted, and the wall seemed to glow a little. He pushed against it, and his hand went through it. Harry gaped as he stepped all the way through.
A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people, and a sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock. Harry looked behind him and saw an iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it. Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every color wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and the scraping of heavy trunks.
"You had best get on the train and find a compartment, Potter," Professor McGonagall told him sternly. "It will be leaving in a few minutes." Harry glanced up at a large clock hanging in midair; it was ten minutes to eleven. He rolled his trunk over to the train and climbed on.
The first few carriages were already packed with students, some hanging out of the window to talk to their families, some fighting over seats. Harry pushed his cart off down the platform in search of an empty seat. A boy with dreadlocks was surrounded by a small crowd. "Give us a look, Lee, go on," someone shouted. The boy lifted the lid of a box in his arms, and the people around him shrieked and yelled as something inside poked out a long, hairy leg.
Harry pressed on through the crowd until he found an almost empty compartment near the end of the train, with just one rather round-faced boy inside, staring out the opposite window. He started to shove and heave his trunk toward the train door. He tried to lift it up the steps, but could hardly raise one end, and twice he dropped it painfully on his foot. Harry sighed. More trunk troubles.
"Want a hand?" It was a thin boy with bright red hair and freckles splattered across his face.
"Yes, please," Harry panted.
"Oi, Fred! C'mere and help!"
Harry blinked for a moment, thinking that he was seeing double, before he realized that they were twins. After a minute or so, the round-faced boy in the compartment stopped staring out the window, noticing them, and came over to help. With their help, Harry's trunk was at last tucked away in a corner of the compartment.
"Thanks," said Harry. His hair fell in his eyes, but he ignored it. He didn't want to be mobbed when they found out he was Harry Potter.
"No problem," one of the twins said. "I'm Fred, and this is George."
"No, I'm Fred, you're George…"
"Anyway," said the first twin with a playful glare at his brother, "what're your names?"
"Neville Longbottom," said the round-faced boy.
Harry opened his mouth, trying desperately to think of what to do, when to his relief, a voice came floating in through the train's open door.
"Fred? George? Are you there?"
"Coming, Mum." With a last glance at Harry, the twins hopped off the train.
Harry sat down next to the window where, half hidden, he could watch the red-haired twins on the platform and hear what they were saying. It seemed that the twins had multiple siblings; he spotted an older brother with horn-rimmed glasses, though he disappeared into a bathroom, and both a younger brother and sister, who looked like they might be twins as well. Their mother had just taken out her handkerchief.
"Ron, you've got something on your nose."
The youngest boy tried to jerk out of the way, but she grabbed him and began rubbing the end of his nose.
"Mom - geroff" He wriggled free.
"Aaah, has ickle Ronnie got somefink on his nosie?" said one of the twins in a disgustingly cutesy voice.
"Shut up," said Ron, turning red.
"Where's Percy?" said their mother.
"He's coming now."
The oldest boy came striding back into sight. He had changed into his billowing black Hogwarts robes, and Harry noticed a shiny silver badge on his chest with the letter P on it, right next to the red crest with a lion. "Can't stay long, Mother," he said. "I'm up front, the prefects have got two compartments to themselves -"
"Oh, are you a prefect, Percy?" said one of the twins, with an air of great surprise. "You should have said something, we had no idea."
"Hang on, I think I remember him saying something about it," said the other. "Once–"
"Oh, shut up," said Percy the prefect.
"How come Percy gets new robes, anyway?" asked one of the twins.
"Because he's a prefect," said their mother fondly. "All right, dear, have a good term - send me an owl when you get there." She kissed Percy on the cheek and he left. Then she turned to the twins. "Now, you two; this year, you behave yourselves. If I get one more owl telling me you've… you've blown up a toilet or–"
"Blown up a toilet? We've never blown up a toilet."
"Great idea though, thanks Mum."
"It's not funny. And look after Ron and Ginny."
"Shut up," said Ron again. He was almost as tall as the twins already and his nose was still pink where his mother had rubbed it.
"And we'll slaughter anyone who touches Gin," said one of the twins; was it George? The girl turned as red as her own twin, and a whistle sounded.
"Hurry up!" their mother said, and they all clambered onto the train. They leaned out of the window for her to kiss them good-bye as the train began to move. Harry saw the boys' mother waving. Harry watched red-haired mother disappear as the train rounded the corner. Houses flashed past the window. Harry felt a great leap of excitement. He didn't know what he was going, but it had to be better than what he was leaving behind.