September 15th, 1996
The station looked strange, empty as it was. Devoid of students or families bustling through the steamy air, Platform 9 and 3/4 was another world.
"Seems wrong, doesn't it?" Harry said in a low voice to Professor Snape. Harry looked up at Snape, who seemed odd in muggle clothing, as he too was dressed inconspicuously. He was pale, one hand in his pocket and the other gripping a small suitcase.
"Yes," Snape muttered back, staring at the scarlet steam engine waiting in the station.
The two walked down the platform, Harry pushing his trunk along on a trolley as they passed unfamiliar, empty livestock cars and made their way closer to the engine, where there was a single passenger car.
"You two my passengers, then?" said the engineer as he dropped down from the engine, which was spewing steam around them, the damp heat hitting Harry's face like a wet blanket.
"Yes," said Snape. "Albus talked to you?"
"Yeah, it's no problem," said the man. "We just have to stop a couple kilometers out of London for a pick-up. A hippogriff breeder's got a herd of about fifty that needs to get to Hogsmeade. Bit difficult to make that number fly. It will probably take us an hour to load them all up."
"That is fine," said Snape. "We are in no hurry."
"Obviously," said the driver with a chuckle. "If you did you wouldn't be going by this slow old thing. If you don't mind me asking, why not apparate?"
Snape frowned, glancing sideways at Harry slightly.
"I had a concussion not too long ago," Harry said, shrugging, not really minding. It was not as though the driver was asking how the situation arose. "Not supposed to apparate for a while after that, right?"
"Ah," said the driver understandingly. "And side-along apparition is even less ideal, so there's a surprise."
It was clear to Harry that Snape was equally relieved by the driver's reply. No questions, which was what Harry wanted.
The driver looked at them a moment, deep in thought.
"Don't worry about what they're saying in the Prophet," he said suddenly, to Harry's surprise. "My sister ... she had a bad spell some time ago too. I get it. Don't let what others say get to either of you."
The engineer made eye contact with Snape for a moment. Snape nodded.
"Come, Potter," Snape said, clearing his throat and seeming eager to change the subject. "We should find our seats."
"Thanks," Harry said to the driver as he stepped up into the car after Snape.
"You are most welcome," said the driver with a smile, but Harry's stomach still twisted at the thought of the Daily Prophet. He swallowed. His throat was dry.
Harry shut the door to the car, and followed Snape into the nearest compartment. They sat down opposite each other in silence. The train whistled, and then began to move. The stuttering jerks of it travelling out of the empty station shook the car, causing what little Snape and Harry had put in the overhead luggage rack to slide slightly. Most of Harry's things had already been sent to Hogwarts, as much of his school stuff had gone to the castle earlier in the summer. He hadn't had to do the summer homework anyway, so his old books were there too. Mrs. Weasley had gotten what few new school supplies he had needed and sent them with Ron.
"I suppose the time has finally come," said Snape, his expression unreadable.
"I guess," Harry said, swallowing. "I mean, it will be good to be back in some ways ... it's just ... I dunno, kind of strange that everyone's there already. And with the Prophet ..."
Harry's sentence dropped into nothing, the tension of what lay ahead stealing his breath.
"I know," muttered Snape in response, once he determined Harry wasn't going to say anything more. "Ready, Potter?"
"Are you?" Harry said.
"No idea," Snape said in a tone that was supposed to be light.
"Me neither," Harry replied under his breath.
They fell silent a long time, both staring out the window, watching the world go by under the bright early morning sun.
"Still though, what a summer, right?" Harry said thoughtfully, meeting Snape's eyes.
Snape exhaled, shaking his head slightly. "What a summer."