It was too loud.
Trains rushed past, one after the other, each louder than the next. Each bursting wind was going straight to his increasing headache. It sounded too much like home. People were bustling around every corner, the morning rush hour causing everyone to push past each other aimlessly. His father was escorting him through the waves of bodies.
Jack clung to his father’s shirt, desperately trying not to get whisked away. Another train passed, and he closed his eyes.
All Jack knew was that he had to get to platform 9 ¾ and keep hold of his almost golden ticket, his only way out of the constant rumbling household he was forced to call home. His father’s iron grip on his right shoulder reminded him of what he could return home to, and the thought of hearing his parents arguing caused him to scrunch his eyes shut as he was guided through the crowds.
Clutching his ticket, he remembered the fear of his father asking him to come to the living room as someone wanted to talk to him. He didn’t recognise the frail looking woman in the lounge, but his mother beamed at her as if she was an angel. The gaze had helped him relax as the old lady told him of magic, wizards and witches. Of course, at first he hadn’t believed a word, but with a silvery image of a cat bouncing around the room, he soon became enthralled by the concept.
Unfortunately, just like everything Jack tried to do, his father had shut it down instantly. That argument had been one of the worst, with Jack hearing shattering glass from his room early in the morning. It took hours of reassurances from his siblings before he’d left his sheets that day.
In the end, his mother won out.
Though Jack was pretty sure his father only agreed because it would be one less mouth to feed.
“I should have let your mother take you,” his father grumbled, quiet enough that nobody but him would hear. Jack trembled, crumpling the piece of paper buried in his hands.
Jack’s biggest fear was that none of this was real or it was just some kind of scam. Jack had never been so excited for something before and the fact that maybe there was no such thing as Hogwarts or… or magic…
It was too much. It had to be real; it had to be. His mum had told him so.
“That lying, useless, cunt that you call your mother has no idea what she’s talking about!”
A train rushed past.
His father shoved.
His ticket slipped.
“What the fuck has gotten into you, boy?” His father hissed between clenched teeth, glancing around to make sure no one had spotted his impulsively hard shove on the small boy.
Jack stared at his father uselessly, like a deer caught in the headlights, his hand grasping around something that was no longer there.
His father obviously hadn’t seemed to notice the boy’s fumbling fingers and his panicked expression, looking at him before continuing to push him forwards.
“I-I’m s-sorry…” Jack hiccuped, glancing around hopelessly for a flash of gold stuck under someone’s shoe, or something.
“Hmph,” his father grunted, replacing the hand on Jack’s shoulder.
Jack was sure he was going to have a bruise, but that was the least of his worries right now.
“What platform was it, again?” his father asked, his tone neutral. It would have fooled any onlookers.
“It was, uhm, p-platform 9 ¾,” Jack muttered.
He couldn’t tell his father he’d lost the ticket.
Jack’s father snorted, a hard expression on his face.
His face fell.
It felt like forever before they eventually made it to the large gap between platform 9 and 10.
The platform he needed nowhere in sight. With deep breaths he tried not to panic, sliding his eyes to his father nervously.
A hand clapped down on his back, and Jack flinched, but he didn’t feel any pain. It was gentle, almost reassuring.
“Let’s go home, son,” his father said.
Jack nodded, not daring to argue. Maybe his father was right; maybe magic wasn’t real.
And if it was, why would it choose him, of all people?
The sound of his name made him turn around instantly, an involuntary movement away from his father’s grip.
It was an accent that was most certainly not Irish, though Jack couldn’t pinpoint where it was from.
“Is anyone here named Seán McLoughlin? You’ve lost your ticket,” the voice called, this time loud enough for his father to hear.
“Seán? You lost your card?” his father growled, his voice dangerously low.
Jack bit his lip; it was a warning. A choice to go home, or a decision to defy his father.
“Seán McLoughlin? Hello sir, do you know a Seán McLoughlin? This is an important trip!” the voice was getting closer, and louder.
“Seán....”, his father warned, gripping his arm.
Jack closed his eyes, ripping himself away. He couldn’t live like this.
“Seán-”, his father’s voice was drowned out by the crowd he was darting through.
“Seán McLoughlin! Seán- Woah! Are you okay?”
Slightly shocked, Jack looked up to see that he had crashed into a boy round about his age. With a head of jet black hair and warm brown eyes, Jack sighed at the thought of his scruffy jacket and puffy eyes in comparison.
“Um, yeah I'm okay, sorry for bumping into you,” he mumbled in reply, making sure not to be too loud with his father prowling nearby.
“Do you know Seán McLoughlin? He’s lost his ticket,” the boy asked, a genuinely worried look on his face.
“Uhm… that would be me. Do you know where the platform is?” Jack asked timidly, turning his gaze away from the boy in favour of looking worriedly for his father.
“Oh! That’s great! Hi, Seán I’m Mark, here’s your ticket. I’ll take you to the platform if you don’t know where it is, it’s kind of hard to find the first time isn’t it? I’m just lucky my brother’s in the third year so we’ve been through this whole ordeal already,” Mark said, keeping the conversation rolling after spotting Jack’s red eyes and shaky hands.
Grabbing the ticket, this time Seán made sure to hold it with two hands, gripping tightly. He couldn’t bare to lose it again.
Jack’s heart dropped to his stomach. He knew that voice. He also knew what came after it.
“Seán what do you think you’re doing talking to strangers? I swear to God kid, when we get back-”
“Hi dad, this is Mark, he found my ticket,” Jack replied, surprisingly calm for how pale he’d become.
Jack’s father sucked in a breath, his cheeks tinted an odd shade of purple. He was holding onto his temper by a thread.
“We’re leaving. Now.” his father growled, snatching Jack’s arm into his grip before he could even flinch.
“Excuse me! Sir, stop dragging him!! He really needs to catch this train!”
“And why would I listen to a child about what’s right for my son?” His father hissed viciously.
Jack’s dad was getting louder, seemingly safe from the prying eyes of others who rushed around without a care.
“This ‘child’ can call authorities if that grip of yours has left a hint of a mark on his arm,” Mark stated simply, motioning to where Jack was almost hoisted off the ground by just his forearm, his warm eyes dissolved into cold and threatening ones.
In an instant, Jack’s arm was free, and he was left rubbing the spot of contact completely appalled. This stranger had just said what he’d wanted to say to his father for the past three years. He couldn’t help but slide a small smile in thanks, making sure his father hadn’t seen it.
His father was left speechless as well, staring at this 11-12-year-old kid like he had ten heads. “Fine, then,” he muttered, shoving Jack in Mark’s general direction, which elicits a small squeal from the smaller boy, clinging to Mark to regain his balance.
Taking it a step further, Mark dared to call him back, “Excuse me, Sir! Isn’t there something you’d like to say to your son?”
If looks could kill, Mark would’ve been dead a hundred times over, but…
Jack’s father slid his icy-cold stare towards his trembling son and took a deep breath.
“Have a good trip,” He spat, heaving the trunk towards Jack.
Brushing off the shivers down his spine, Jack just about managed to catch the flying chest. Stumbling slightly, a stable hand on his shoulder shocked him until he turned to see Mark’s apologetic expression.
“Sorry, I just-”
“No, it’s okay,” Jack finished for him, fiddling with the trunk’s clasps as an excuse for the lack of eye contact.
Mark flushed, slowly removing his hand, “Still. C’mon, the platform’s this way,”
Jack released a breath he didn’t know he was holding at the loss of contact and excitement flooded through his veins.
He was finally going to be free.
Mark skillfully weaved through the crowd, like he’s done this hundreds of times before, and Jack followed behind.
Not as gracefully, of course, but the path Mark created offered some assistance and more comfort than his father had built.
“Oh, Mark! You’re back! Did you find that boy who lost his ticket?” A woman asked, turning towards Mark.
“Yeah, I did. Mom, this is Seán. Seán, this is… well, my mom,” he giggled, gesturing to the woman in front of him.
“Oh, look at you! Aren’t you just precious?” Mark’s mother exclaimed, walking towards him.
Jack couldn’t help but step back instinctively from the oncoming gesture, but realised his actions before standing straight and taking a deep breath.
“Thanks,” he sighed, unsure of how to respond. In seeing his timidity, Mark’s mother slowed and stopped thoughtfully.
She turned back to Mark, her eyebrows raised.
Mark shook his head, signalling that this was the wrong time.
“So ah… Thomas is already on the platform, and I suggest you boys hurry if you want to make it on time. The Hogwarts Express doesn’t take well to tardy wizards, you know,” Mark’s mother said, turning towards Jack, “Are your parents here?”
Jack winced, and Mark cut in, “Nah, his father was in a hurry. You know muggle homes, mom, always having to do things without magic,” he emphasised ‘magic’ with finger quotes, and Jack suppressed a giggle.
His mother nodded, “True. You’d really best be off, though. The train leaves in 15 minutes.”
“Ah, darn. C’mon Seán, the platform’s this way,” Mark said, motioning for Jack to follow him.
“Language, Mark!” his mother scolded half-heartedly.
“Sorry, mom!” Mark shouted back, guiding Jack through the hoards of bodies.
It didn’t take long before Mark stopped abruptly, looking around and announcing aloud, “We’re here!”
Jack glanced around, wondering where, exactly, ‘here’ was. Then he saw it, the platform signs.
Jack’s heart dropped to his stomach, eyeing between them fearfully.
Presented before him were platforms 9 and 10, and nothing in between.
It couldn’t be true.
“M-Mark? Wh-Where’s the platform?” Jack asked, his voice low.
“The platform? It’s right here- oh,” Mark looked around, hosting a feigned look of confusion.
Jack could have thrown up right then and there, but then Mark started laughing.
“I’m sorry, this is a little hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been here before. Ah, well, this probably seems really weird, but we have to run into the wall right there, and it takes us to a separate section of the station away from the muggles,”
Jack blinked twice, his stomach still in knots.
Then he walked away.
“Seán, wait! Where are you going?” Mark ran after him,
“You’re fuckin’ with me,” Jack stated quietly, marching ahead a few feet. His trunk rattled beside him loudly.
Mark caught up with him again, now out of breath. “First of all, language,” he stopped for a few seconds to take a few deep inhales, “second of all, what would I gain from fu-screwing with you?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“Seán McLoughlin I swear on my life that I will never, ever, mislead you in any way shape or form for as long as you may know me.”
Jack stopped, looking at the brown-eyed boy whom he met not fifteen minutes ago, and knew.
Very few could hold so much sincerity in their eyes and still conjure up a lie.
Jack sighed, shuffling his feet, “I… which wall was it again?” he mumbled sheepishly, biting his lip.
Mark lit up again, redirecting Jack back to the two platforms.
Jack saw his hand twitch, then back off. It was obvious Mark was a very touchy-feely person, something Jack hadn’t been for a few years now.
“I’m… not going to bite you, you know. Just give me a warning, please,” Jack hadn’t expected the last part to come out as such a plea, and he winced.
Mark nodded, “Okay,”
The walk back to the platforms was a little longer, the angry marching now disregarded.
Mark stopped, looking at the wall that was now in front of them. “This is it, Seán,” he chirped.
Jack eyed the wall up and down suspiciously, and poked it.
Mark panicked, quickly providing an explanation, “Well, we don’t want muggles accidentally falling into the platform, y’know? So… You have to run into it deliberately,”
Jack stared at the wall again, and the wall stared right back at him. “I… guess that makes sense?” he questioned, breaking the staring contest he was having with the wall.
Mark relaxed, relieved that Jack wasn’t walking off again, “So, who’s going first?”
“Well, I mean, we’re not both going to fit unless we hold hands or something.”
“Well, then I’ll go-”
“What do you mean?”
Jack puffed out his cheeks, “Maybe we should go together? I mean, I don’t really want to witness you disappearing into a wall, and I can’t close my eyes without someone to guide me so- If you didn’t mind, we could… go together,” he offered, ignoring every worst-case-scenario his brain was conjuring.
Please don’t leave me here on my own.
Mark shrugged, “Alright then, if that’s what you want,” he said, reaching out to grab Jack’s hand but paused to let Jack initiate himself.
Jack hesitantly accepted, moderately aware of how sweaty his palms were.
“Are you ready?”
“I’m going to pull if you don’t move, okay?”
What if there’s no exit?ITALICS
“Okay, I’m going,”
Jack shut his eyes tight, allowing himself to drag.
For a split second, he expected an impact, but there was none.
Just a bright light he could see even from beyond his eyelids.
And if he screamed, well, that was his business.
All of a sudden, it was over. The light was gone, and he found his voice.
“I-I’m alive?” Jack muttered, his voice hoarse from the screaming, and his body shaking enough to cause an earthquake.
“Of course you’re alive, Seán, woah- are you okay?” Mark asked when he turned towards Jack, who had gone pale.
Paler than usual, anyway.
“Y-Yeah, I’m fine, or I will be in a minute, anyway,” Jack said, steadying himself.
“Seán, I’m going to touch your arm, okay?” Mark stated, unlatching his hand from Jack’s and gripping his elbow to help him regain balance.
“I’m- I’m alright now, thanks,” Jack managed, and finally looked around the platform.
It was just as busy as the other platforms, if not busier, and it looked… almost cheerful.
Jack hesitantly took a glance upwards, and his heart soared in delight. There on the sign read “Platform 9 ¾” in big, bold letters. He’d finally made it.
“Oh shoot, the train’s leaving soon. C’mon,” Mark said, motioning for Jack to follow.
Jack followed absentmindedly, still taking in the sights all around him. Without thinking, he spoke, “Does everyone dress up like it’s Halloween or is it just this platform?”
Mark stopped suddenly, and then he started laughing. A full-bodied laughter that left him shaking and Jack wondering what the hell he just asked.
“Oh my G-God, Seán, you can’t just… say that, holy…” Mark took a few deep breaths to calm himself down and began walking again, shaking his head in disbelief.
“S-Sorry?” he whispered, tightening his jaw.
“No, it’s alright, it’s just… have you seen your uniform yet?” Mark asked, turning his head questioningly.
“No, Mum bought it-”
Mark was laughing again, clutching his stomach for support, “Ohmygod, Seán-”
Realisation dawned on him, “Mark, no-”
Mark doubled over, tears running down his face, and by now Jack was cackling too.
“Is it long and flowy like-”
“Holy shit, you’re serious-”
“C’mon, we’ve gotta go, oh my God,” Mark said suddenly, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
They walked the rest of the way in silence, every once in a while giggling when they walked past someone who was dressed way over-the-top.
Finally, they made it to the main entrance, and they walked in together.
As the pair huddled onto the train, they battled through the crowds in the hope to get a free compartment, and Jack couldn’t help but wish that they might be able to have a room to themselves. He wasn’t sure if he could put much trust into another stranger so soon.
Luckily, the train did seem large enough, and as Jack shut the door behind him, he let his head fall against it and let out a massive sigh of pure relief.
He had made it. He wouldn’t have to be home tonight, or tomorrow, or until the summer.
At Hogwarts, he could start afresh.
A quiet giggle brought him back from his thoughts, and he looked towards Mark who was smiling at him as if he were the sun.
“Excited to be here then?” he asked, as Jack moved to the seat opposite him, his trunk neatly stored overhead.
“That’s one way you could say it,” Jack replied, leaning against his seat. Staring out the window, the platform outside was stocked full of parents waving emotionally to their children. The reminder that his father had left him even before he’d gotten to the platform wiped the smile off his face.
A sigh from Mark drew his attention away from the window, and he gave him a questioning look, silently asking if he was alright.
“Look Seán, I don’t have any business asking you about your father or your family or anything, but I want you to know that if you ever need anyone to talk to, I’m always here. We can stick together if you want, since I don’t think I know anyone else in our year,” Mark said thoughtfully.
“I didn’t know magic existed until a month ago,” Jack replied, “so I don’t know anyone either. I’d be cool if we stuck together I suppose,”
“Thanks, Seán,” Mark smiled, and Jack couldn’t help but wonder at why he was thanking him. Without Mark, he wouldn’t even have made it to the Express, never mind got on the platform. Grinning back at him and shaking his head slightly in disbelief he heard the train’s loud whistle and the grinding wheels as they started to move.
Chuckling to himself, he looked up to Mark admirably.
“Call me Jack,”