“...Jack…?” Someone called, although their voice was distant, like it was in another realm altogether. He shrugged it off, opting to stay in his floaty state. Where everything was okay, where everything was perfect.
“JACK! For fuck’s sake...” The same voice shouted, ripping him from his sweet dreamland as his covers were stripped from him and a cold draft hit him like a brick.
“Nooo... m’tired…” He whined, vaguely aware of how scratchy his voice was. He groped around the bed, searching desperately for his lost warmth.
“Jack, we have to get to Umbridge’s office. She’s gonna flip if we don’t,” The voice was quiet, deep.
That woke him up.
“Aw crap!” he yelled, springing up in the bed in an instant.
Suddenly, the room seemed to flood with silence. Jack had sat bolt upright, not realising that Mark had been hovering just above him, probably about to drag him out of bed manually. He had just managed to stop inches before colliding with his face.
...Oh God, he’s so close to me. What do I do?
Jack stared at him, trying not to blink. He wanted to look into Mark’s dark brown eyes forever. They were beautiful. He was beautiful.
What if I just… kissed him? What would he do?
Jack found his temperature start to rise, small beads of sweat rolling down the back of his neck. He was also pretty sure his face was red, he just hoped Mark didn’t notice. He swallowed some of the excess saliva that had accumulated under his tongue.
I want to… I want to kiss him so badly, but… I-I can’t…
I can’t put him in that witch’s path.
“...Jesus Christ Jack,” Mark chuckled, pulling back slightly after a second of hesitation… as to not be so close. “Note to self: if you wanna wake Jackaboy up, threaten him with Umbridge,” he finished, and Jack swore that his cheeks were a little pinker than they were five seconds ago.
As if. Wishful thinking.
“C’mon, we have to go,” Mark mumbled, holding out his arm to haul Jack out of bed.
Jack hesitated, but eventually accepted, reminding himself that the feeling of Mark’s soft palm was not something he could get too attached to, but oh did he savour it.
The hallways were dark. If they weren’t going out to see Umbridge, she herself would have probably already swept the both of them up for breaking curfew, landing them at least two weeks detention each.
But without Umbridge breathing down their necks, the quietness of the castle was almost peaceful. It had an aura of magic to it. Not the kind of bullshit magic Trelawney taught, but the kind of magic that convinced Jack to believe this whole wizarding thing was real in the first place. It was astonishing.
Jack glanced over at Mark, and saw that he was smiling, his eyes locked on the Irishman. When he saw that he was caught, he quickly turned away, opting instead to scan the castle portraits.
He couldn’t help the goofy smile that slowly bloomed across his face at the sight, matching what used to be Mark’s.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Mark asked in a hushed tone, trying not to disturb the air around them.
“Yeah, it is,” Jack breathed, studying the way Mark moved when he walked. His arms swung slightly with each step, making his robes sway back and forth. His footsteps echoed softly against the tile, stepping in sync with Jack’s rapid heartbeat. He wasn’t talking about the castle anymore. He gulped, his cheeks rosy.
They walked for a few moments in silence, the only sound being the gentle breeze rustling the bushes outside. Suddenly, Mark stopped.
Jack stopped too, turning around to check on him, “Is somethin’ wrong?” he asked, taking a few steps toward his friend.
Mark eyed the floor, seeming to be searching for the right words. “It's just… I was thinking about earlier,” he mentioned, shuffling his feet sheepishly.
Jack’s heart dropped when he remembered his promise. “Right. Shit…” he whispered, running a hand through his hair nervously.
“I’m sorry, I just want to help,” Mark cried, turning towards him. “I wish that you’d let me,” he mumbled, his hand moving to Jack’s shoulder. “Please?”
Jack didn’t know what to do. It went against every moral he had to be lying to Mark like this. Mark was his friend, and Jack had always told him everything, but this wasn’t like that time he cried in the bathroom for an entire day when he found out his parents were getting divorced, this was him sharing a heartfelt confession to the person that comforted him that day when he was bawling his eyes out, whilst simultaneously shooing away anyone who came in.
“I-I’m just worried about what Umbridge is going to get out of me,” Jack spat, the half truth almost itching at his skin.
It’s not lying…
“She always manages to find something… I can go in that room feelin’ innocent and convinced she won’t find anything, but there’s always something I know that I’ve forgotten or - I don’t know. I just hate the guilt I always feel afterwards. And... I-I... have a feeling today is going to be wors’ than usual…Oh no…” Jack’s voice faded out into a breathy whisper, the realisation hitting him like a pound of bricks.
She’s… She’s going to find out..!
“Jack?” Mark asked, nudging his side. Jack seemed to have frozen in place.
“Hm? Oh, sorry, I just remembered somethin’. I still have a couple of puking pastilles in my room,” he said, the breathiness still in his voice. If he was completely honest with himself, he felt like he was going to faint. Jack took a few shaky steps, feeling as if he were being walked to his own execution.
“Haha, nice,” Mark said, a low rumble resonating in his throat. Jack felt a little relieved, glad to have fooled Mark. It still made him feel bad, though, because he’d just lied again.
Fuck, this has to be a new record for “how many times one person can lie to their best friend in one day and them not flip their shit”
“Well, come on then. Don’t want dreary Umbridge to whip our asses for being late do we?” Mark chuckled. Jack couldn’t help but smile, as he always did when Mark laughed, it was like some kind of spell.
At long last, the two were standing in front of Umbridge’s office. It was decorated a sickly shade of magenta, like a fuzzy pink kitten puked and its hurl was used to paint the door. It hurt Jack’s eyes, actually.
With a deep breath in, Jack raised his arm to knock on the door. He surprised himself with how much his hand was shaking.
You can do this. Maybe she won’t even ask about that.
Mark placed a reassuring hand on the low of Jack’s back, patting gently. If only he knew how much that little gesture had actually helped. Jack visibly relaxed under him.
The knock echoed throughout the room, causing all of the paintings to cover their ears in annoyance. One even yelled at them to ‘keep it down!’, to which Mark had whispered a hushed apology.
After what felt like an eternity, a bubbly voice could be heard from the inside, “Come in, my dear children!”
The sugary sweet voice sickened both of them.
Entering the room, the boys saw as Umbridge put her precious china tea cup down and walked towards the two chairs she had set to the side of the room. Standing by them, she seemed almost proud of them as if they had allowed her to rat out every last rule-breaker in the whole school.
Jack just hoped that he wouldn’t be found among them.
“Right boys, who’s first?” she asked, looking for them to push the punishment on to each other, no one willing to sacrifice their pride first.
That’s why she was surprised when Mark stepped up first, sitting in the chair with only a slight glance at Jack, “I’ll go first, get it out of the way,” Mark muttered sullenly, shifting in his seat.
“Mark, no. You don’t have to do this,” Jack put his hand on Mark's shoulder, adding some pressure as if to ease him off the chair. Mark shook his head.
“No,” he choked out, “no it’s okay. We both have to do it, I might as well get it over with,” he smiled reassuringly, sitting up straight. He locked eyes with Umbridge and nodded stiffly, “I’m ready.”
Umbridge clearly wasn’t expecting the two to fight over being first, and she looked between them suspiciously, almost uneasily. “Alright, Mr Fischbach… “ she said, the irritating singsong leaving her voice. Jack shivered, knowing when that happened, it was never good.
“Now, where is the damn thing,” she muttered, peering at her desk and moving to look through her drawers. She seemed to leave just enough time for Jack to give Mark a good luck look and a reassuring nod before she returned.
Jack instantly recognised the clear potion in her hand to be Veritaserum: “Verita” meaning truth in Latin. They were taught that 3 drops was enough for any crazed villain to spill their most secretive desires (an idea which seemed to please Professor Snape greatly). Umbridge was clearly feeling arrogant holding it, her crazed smile intent on making Jack feel vulnerable.
It'll be okay. This'll be over soon.
“Would you like it in a cup of tea?” She asked kindly, her manipulative mask returning. Jack could see Mark gulp, not falling for her act. He quickly shook his head.
“N-No thanks… I don’t really like tea,” he whispered, losing eye contact.
Umbridge pouted, her pink lips pursing together, “What a shame… Oh well, no harm done!” she finished, pouring a few drops of the Veritaserum into a teaspoon. It had a kitten on the end of it, because of course it did. “Drink up!”.
Mark took the spoon with trembling hands, slowly inching it towards his opened mouth. He hesitated when the metal touched his lips. Jack could feel his heart shatter when he saw tears form around Mark’s dark brown eyes.
“Now, now, dear, don’t test me. Drink it.” Umbridge said, warning him. Jack glared at her from the other side of the small pink office. He was sure Umbridge noticed, but she didn’t say anything.
Mark quickly squeezed his eyes shut and stuck the spoon in his mouth, emptying it of its contents. He gagged, as if it tasted horrible, but Jack knew that it had no taste.
That didn’t stop him from almost getting sick the first seven times he took it, though.
Mark choked a few times, his hand covering his mouth to keep it all in. Jack winced with each sound he made, the pit of guilt in his stomach deepening. He didn't know what to do anymore.
At long last, Mark gave a full bodied shiver, a signal that he had successfully ingested the potion. The tears ran down his face freely, and Jack wasn’t sure if it was from the choking or if he was actually crying. He opted to go with the former, finally taking a seat. Jack couldn’t stand up anymore, his knees were shaking too badly to support his weight.
“Good, you managed to keep it down. Unlike your first time, Mr Fischbach,” she said, annoyance lacing her voice. Mark shuddered, his head hanging in defeat. Umbridge grinned wickedly, rising from her chair to circle him.
“Now just to make sure we’re on the right track, what’s your name?” she took slow, threatening steps around the dark-haired man, her smile almost widening at his shallow breaths.
“..M-Mark Edward Fischbach, Professor…” he said in a low voice. Jack’s jaw hung open, his whole body trembling now. Mark didn't even sound like himself.
Jack wanted to cry. He wanted to cry, he wanted to curse, he wanted to run over and kiss Mark all over and tell him it would be okay, but his body wouldn't move. All he could do was watch.
“Good. Now tell me, Mr Fischbach, how old will you be as of this year?” Umbridge asked, resting her weight on Mark’s chair.
“I’ll be eighteen in June, Professor.” he mumbled again, a glaze over his eyes. Jack could feel his heart rate increase, fear starting to cloud his mind.
“Good, good. Are you comfortable, Mr Fischbach?” She asked, sneaking a glance at Jack, who by now had a look of pure terror on his face.
Mark’s eyes squeezed together painfully, this was the first question he had any urge to lie with. His shoulders tensed up for a second, before he relaxed again. “No, Professor.”
Umbridge clicked her tongue, “Pity, I tried so hard to make sure you were comfortable. Are you ungrateful, child?” she asked gingerly, running a finger down Mark’s cheekbone, leaving a small red mark.
Jack found himself unable to sit still, his mind and heart urging him to get Umbridge away from Mark. He started to shiver uncontrollably and his feet wouldn’t stop tapping.
Umbridge turned her head, glaring daggers. “Is there a problem, Mr McLoughlin?” Umbridge said, her voice a menacing whisper.
You’re hurting him.
Jack shook his head fast though, “N-No, c-continue,” he cursed himself for stuttering, but his lip wouldn’t stop quivering long enough for him to form a coherent sentence. Biting it, he managed to regain some sense of reality, reminding himself that he wouldn’t be able to tell even a simple lie like that in ten minutes.
Slowly, Umbridge shifted her gaze back to Mark, tracing her finger down the scratch on Mark’s cheek lovingly. “My dear boy, I’ll ask again, are you ungrateful?”
“No, Professor, I am not ungrateful,” Mark breathed, monotoned.
Umbridge blinked a few times, obviously wondering if the Veritaserum was still working. She shrugged it off, “Right. Then, have you recently lied to anyone in a position of authority?”
She said, opting to sit back down in her chair. It seemed like she was bored of Mark already.
Jack grit his teeth.
Mark sucked in a rushed breath, his muscles tensing once again, trying to resist the serum. It looked like he was in agony, his hands twitching from the effort. “Yes!” he blurt out, almost desperately. Instantly, he relaxed, beads of sweat soaking the front of his hair, his lungs greedily inhaling oxygen.
Umbridge nodded, satisfied. “Who? And when?” she asked, leaning forward slightly.
“I-I don't usually, I-I try not to, I mean-” Mark stammered, scratching at his neck.
“Just answer me, you foolish boy,” Umbridge spat, losing her composure for a split second. However with a small cough, her practised smile returned.
Mark and Jack both flinched when she raised her voice, “I-It was Professor McGonagall, today, I-I lied and said Jack was ill… and I lied to Professor Trelawney today, I said I had to use the bathroom and I skipped class,” he gasped, hunching over slightly. The power of the serum was exhausting, especially when the participant was unwilling.
Tutting to herself, Umbridge continued to write notes on a piece of nearby parchment. “Alright. Now, do you know anyone who has broken any of the rules?”
Mark whipped a hand over his mouth, his entire body shaking. An ear-splitting cry was stripped from his throat as Jack watched on in horror. Of course, it had to be that day when Jack had skipped class and walked out, accidentally dragging Mark in on everything. He was the one who did this, and he knew Mark didn't want to rat him out.
“I-It’s okay, Mark! You can tell her! I won't be upset!” Jack cried out, attempting to stand up. It didn’t work, and he collapsed back on the chair almost instantly. The room had become dark and depressing, it’s atmosphere choking him into submission.
With Jack’s permission, Mark could breathe again, “J-Jack ran out of Divination today, he told me he was just stressed out. A-And on the way here he told me he still has some puking pastilles in his room,” he finished, fighting for air and grasping at his chest for dear life, “A-And Fred and George are the ones who put the fireworks in your kettle…” he added, almost absentmindedly.
Umbridge glared at Jack, who buried his head in his robes to avoid her gaze, and she scribbled a few more notes down, mouthing the Weasley twins names as she did so. “Yes, okay. How about you, Mr Fischbach? Have you broken any rules?”
Mark went silent for a moment, but it didn't look like he was hurting, he just looked confused. Like he’d forgotten something. “I.... skipped class once at the beginning of the year to go down to Hogsmeade. I wanted to go with Jack, but he didn't come.” Mark looked sullen, emotionless. His eyes were tired, lacking the cheerfulness they had - Christ, had they only been here ten minutes? It felt like an eternity,
Jack sunk down in his seat, his heartbeat sounding in his ears. Knowing that his own interrogation was right after this next question, he found himself holding his breath.
“Right then, that should be all for today, Mr Fischbach. Is there anything else you would like to say?”
“N-No, Professor,” Mark sighed, picking himself off the chair. He wobbled in place for a second, struggling to regain his balance, but eventually planted both of his feet on the ground.
“Alright, then. You may take a seat.” Umbridge said, gesturing to the seat Jack was sitting in.
“Woah woah, hold on, H-He’s staying?” Jack stuttered, looking between Umbridge and Mark with wide eyes. He tried to ignore Mark’s piercing gaze directed towards him, and the frown that was so firmly settled upon his face.
“Why shouldn’t he?” Umbridge asked, a suspicious look on her tilted face.
“Yeah Jack, why shouldn’t I?” Mark muttered, the Veritaserum obviously still in effect. He had little control over what came out of his mouth.
“I-I… uhm… you…” Jack blinked a few times, trying to keep his voice steady. By now, he was on his feet taking a few hesitant steps towards the interrogation chair.
Mark’s face contorted, and he sighed, “Save it, Jack. You’ve been like this all day. I don’t want to hear it anymore...” He sat down in Jack’s empty seat, head in his hands.
Panicking, Jack saw Umbridge’s face light up at the thought of another question to ask Mark and hurriedly threw himself into Mark’s chair before she had the chance. Mark didn't take notice to Jack’s actions, he was furiously rubbing the tears off his face with the end of his sleeve.
Umbridge eyed Jack, coughing “Alright then, Mr. McLoughlin, are you ready to begin?” she asked, although it wasn’t a question. Jack knew that much. His shoulders relaxed some, relieved that Mark wasn’t in the picture anymore. He’d already put Mark through enough as it is.
“No,” Jack grumbled, wiping at his eyes. He was crying again for fucks sake. Slowly, he felt his body curl in on itself. Shaking, he accepted his fate. Almost.
Mark was going to find out, and he couldn’t do anything about it.
Jack felt so many emotions at once, he thought he would pass out. He bit his lip harshly, almost breaking the skin, hoping the pain would bring him back to reality. It didn’t.
“So let’s begin, then. I expect you’ll have it in a teaspoon, as per usual?” Umbridge asked, ignorant, or rather, seeming ignorant to Jack’s state. She was already preparing the bright pink metal.
“Well, seeing you have it ready,” Jack muttered, taking the spoon from her. It already had the odorless, clear substance it. He gulped.
Before he could think about it too much, Jack stuck the spoon in his mouth, swallowing the contents. It settled, heavy in his abdomen. His throat tightened, making it difficult to breathe. Jack coughed, choking on the air that had followed the potion. After a few seconds though, he shivered, a queasy feeling blooming in his stomach. At least he didn’t gag this time.
They sat in silence for a few seconds, Jack catching his breath, before Umbridge spoke up. “Well boy, surely you know the routine by now. What’s your name?”
Jack opened and closed his eyes slowly, his mind already cloudy from the potion. It didn’t dull the panic set into his chest, though.
“Jack McLoughlin,” he said, his voice strained. His knee bounced with anxiety.
“That’s not your name. I need your real name, dear,” Umbridge stated, waiting. She impatiently tapped her foot on the carpeted floor
“Seán McLoughlin,” Jack replied, wincing at the sound of his name. He fidgeted with the bands on his arms.
“Very good, Mr McLoughlin. Thank you for your cooperation. Now, how old will you be as of this year?”
“I turned 17 this past February,” Jack said, the Veritaserum ripping words from his vocal cords that would have been otherwise impossible to emit from the state of pure terror he was in.
“Right right, you and Mr Fischbach are in your final year,” Umbridge mentioned absentmindedly, and Mark looked up when he heard his name, his eyes settling on the tearful green-haired boy. Jack held back a sob, he’d rather be shot than have anyone see him like this. Let alone Mark.
“Are you comfortable, Mr McLoughlin?” Umbridge asked softly, leaning forwards slightly to stare daggers into Jack.
Jack felt his chest clench, his knee bouncing faster. At this point, he found that he had some kind of resistance over the serum, like he was used to the effects. Jack knew what he wanted to say, he wanted to fling a string of curses in her direction, but he found that he stopped himself before he could. Not without a head splitting ache going through his left temple, though.
“It feels like I’ve been kicked in the arse with a steel-toed boot,” Jack said through his gritted teeth. It was… more or less the truth, minus some of the foul things the Veritaserum wanted to add that would have surely landed him with a full month’s detention, easily. He learned that the hard way the first time he was interrogated, earning him two weeks in the madhouse he called ‘Umbridge’s office’.
Okay, so maybe “It feels like I’ve been fucked up the ass five hours too long,” was a bit of a stretch, even under the Veritaserum.
Alright, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely the Veritaserum.
Let’s just say Jack never made that mistake again.
It did make Mark cry with laughter, though. So it was worth it, in some sense.
With a hurried glance to his left, Jack saw that Mark was slowly coming back to his senses, his face turned solemn and plain.
God, I’m so sorry.
Umbridge sighed, “Good enough. Now boy, have you recently lied to someone of high authority?” the Professor asked expectantly.
Well there was that time last week when you told Professor Sprout you-
“I… I don’t remember,” he said, biting the inside of his cheek and testing the waters on how much he could actually manipulate the Veritaserum. Jack’s hands shook with vigor, his body punishing him for lying.
I can do this. I-I don’t have to tell her anything...
“Really?” she said, her voice monotone and laced with sarcasm. It quickly became apparent that she didn’t believe him. Jack knew that a test question would come next, having obviously lied.
“What is your opinion of me as a teacher?”
Shit... That’s a new one.
Jack knew that he had to let go for this question, but also that it was a double edged sword. Too honest a reply and she would punish him for his rudeness, too kind of an answer and she would know of his newfound resistance.
“I think that you should definitely improve on your teaching methods,” Jack stated simply, the Veritaserum keeping the tremble out of his voice. It still offered him discipline for the half truth though, and he nearly doubled over from the pressure suddenly filling his lungs.
It became too much too quickly, and his voice came out rushed and hoarse, “like perhaps allowing your students to actually use magic?” he finished, coughing into an arm. His eyes widened at the outburst.
Shit, shit shit! Why isn’t it working now?
Umbridge seemed satisfied with that answer, and she grinned maliciously, “Well, the Ministry and I have our reasons…” she paced around the small room, suddenly deep in thought.
Jack could feel the panic start to stir in his abdomen again, if he couldn’t lie when… that question came around… Mark was going to hate him, at least for telling him like this.
He could feel Mark’s eyes locked on the side of his head, watching, waiting. For what, only Mark would ever know.
Jack could feel bile burn the back of his throat.
Umbridge snapped out of her trance quickly, clearing her throat, “Ahem, well, we must continue then... Do you know anyone who has broken any rules?”
Jack felt a pang in his chest, several candidates forming in his mind. He shook his head forcefully, willing his body not to shout out names.
Seamus, Cho, Lavender, Katie…
All of them pushed painfully to the back of his head, all except one.
Me. I broke the rules.
Jack tried to hold back, he tried until he was wheezing, grasping onto his chest in desperation. It hurt like hell, it felt like his entire body was burning from the inside out. He had to hold back, he had to. He couldn’t lose Mark.
But as black patches started to cloud his vision, it looked like he was fighting a losing battle.
“...I broke the rules.” Jack gasped quietly, the pain deteriorating to a dull ache, but the pure dread that resided in every fiber of his body left his head spinning.
Umbridge pursed her lips together after witnessing Jack’s obvious struggle, “...Perhaps you need a little more, hm? Maybe that will get the truth out of you,” Umbridge said, already refilling the spoon.
Jack shook his head weakly, “No, no please…” he muttered incoherently, having lost any shred of dignity he had left.
“Oh come on now, don’t be like that,” Umbridge replied carelessly, muttering an incantation. The spoon slowly levitated towards Jack.
“Please… Professor… Please don’t, I’m begging you, please don’t... “ Jack whimpered, burying his face in his hands.
“Mr McLoughlin, this will be much easier if you would just cooperate,” Umbridge said, her teeth clenched. Jack felt the pull of magic attempt to raise his head.
“He said enough,” Mark growled suddenly, his voice low and dangerous. Jack winced, having only heard this a few times in his life. He braced himself, Mark was angry.
“You’re not in a position to be threatening me, Mr Fischbach, so I will kindly give you this chance to apologise and allow us to continue,” Umbridge replied, a certain bite in her voice that made Mark grimace.
“Fuck you,” Mark spat, standing up to tower over her. He wasn’t very tall, but even his 176 cm (5’10) figure was taller than Umbridge’s plump form. She glared at him viciously.
“M-Mark please don't,” Jack whispered, his tear-filled blue eyes looking up to meet Mark’s rage.
“Don't what, Jack? You don't have to take this bullshit! It's illegal, for fuck’s sake! This is abuse!” Mark shouted, gesturing to Umbridge, who by now was shaking with fury.
“I’ll have you know Mr Fischbach, I am a member of the Ministry-” Umbridge stated calmly. Well, as calm as she could given the matter.
“You didn’t have to put up with it then and I’m not letting you put up with it now!” Mark cried out, pleading with Jack to just fight back for once in his life.
“And as for you, I don’t give a shit!” Mark roared, getting in Umbridge’s face, “I'd bet if the Ministry knew what bullshit you were up to, you’d be fired faster than you could say ‘my methods are validated’!” he finished, breathing heavily.
“This is your last chance Mr Fischbach, sit back down and apologise and no action will be taken against you. If you fail to do this, you will be as good as expelled. Shame, too. I’d hate for purebloods like you to not receive a full education,” Umbridge warned, pointing firmly to the seat beside him.
“Mark…” Jack whispered, shaking.
“What, Jack? What now?” Mark asked, almost in a whimper. It was clear that he was hurt by Jack’s actions throughout the day and it was starting to really show.
Jack inhaled a breath, “You put up with this,” he said carefully, breaking eye contact.
“I… what?” Mark mumbled, looking at Jack as if he had ten heads.
“You… never get upset when it's just you involved... W-Why are you always defending me? I-I’m not a child, Mark… I-I’m not that weak little boy you met at the station,” Jack finished, his breathing suddenly faster. It was one of the many things he’d admired about Mark, how adamant he always was when it came to Jack getting treated fairly, but if he got expelled defending Jack…Jack would never forgive himself.
Especially after the confession Jack was sure he was about to make. Mark would come to regret his decision, too.
“I…” Mark seemed taken aback, and if possible, looked more hurt than he did when Jack wanted him out of the room.
Jack wanted to laugh bitterly. His stupid crush had ruined his friendship and Mark didn't even know yet.
Mark sat back down, muttering a quick apology and looking sullenly at the floor.
Jack’s heart absolutely shattered in his chest, but deep down he knew it was for the best.
“I accept your apology, just make sure that it never happens again Mr Fischbach,” Umbridge warned, ecstatic that she’d won.
“Right,” Mark mumbled, his stoic expression still locked on his feet.
“Now that we got that in order… your Veritaserum Mr McLoughlin. Two more spoonfuls,” she said, and Jack didn’t argue anymore. There was no point. Umbridge stalked forward gracefully, manually shoving the spoon down Jack’s throat.
Jack gagged that time, and he was still recovering when the second spoon was forcefully administered.
The second dose of Veritaserum did not want to stay down, his entire body was fighting for it to come back up.
Jack gagged, and coughed, and sputtered, anything to get it out of his system.
Until he felt pressure in his throat, and then he was choking. Choking on nothing, choking on air.
Choking on whatever Umbridge was doing to him.
“Don’t you dare throw up, boy!” She barked, her wand pointed at Jack.
Jack gasped for the air he couldn’t get, drool stringing from his lips. He vaguely heard Mark shouting something at Umbridge, but the ringing in his ears blocked his words.
He gave a shiver, his stomach finally accepting the foul serum.
All at once, it was over. Jack could breathe again, and he greedily sucked in as much air as his body would allow. He blinked away stars from his vision, his eyes finally focusing.
Mark was stuck to the chair with a binding charm, thrashing violently, shouting strings of curses in every direction.
“There. Now that wasn’t so difficult, was it?” Umbridge asked sweetly, lowering her wand.
Jack continued to breathe heavily, but the Veritaserum pulled words from him anyway, “Yeah, it kind of was,” he said airily, hands coming up to wipe the sweat drenching his hairline.
Umbridge absolutely beamed, glad to have finally tired Jack out. “Now, I will only ask you this once, Mr Mcloughlin. What rule have you broken that you are so intent on hiding from not just the Ministry, but also from Mr Fischbach here?” she questioned, a shit-eating grin plastered on her plump pink cheeks.
Mark looked up, his eyes tired and still worried, his anger disapparating. Jack found himself longingly glancing towards him.
Please don’t hate me for what I’m about to do.
“It’s okay, Jack,” Mark said, reading his look perfectly. “I don’t care what you’ve done or anything like that. The Veritaserum must be hurting you, I can see it is. Just say it. Don’t hide anything for my sake,” he said sincerely.
I’m not hiding it for your sake, I’m hiding it for mine.
Attempting to blink away tears, Jack sucked in a shallow breath. Opening his eyes, he let the Veritaserum pull him into a trance, allowing all fight to drain out of him.
“I’m… I’m in love with Mark,” Jack said, almost robotically. It was void of any emotion he would have given under literally any other circumstance.
It was an amazing feeling, though. Relief clouding his mind and making him so high on giddiness, he felt like fainting. It didn’t last long when he saw Mark’s gobsmacked face, forcefully hurling him back into reality.
He’d just confessed. In front of Umbridge. In front of Mark.
It was over.
“B-But you… you’re s-straight…?” Mark asked, his voice fearful and quiet. He’d stopped thrashing a while ago, but he never went completely still. Not until now.
Jack could have died, his entire world disintegrating. Night after night of imagining how he might confess, he never would have guessed Mark would say that.
The Veritaserum still did the talking, Jack having lost all energy a while ago. “No, Mark. I’m gay. Did you really think I broke up with Cho because ‘she was too clingy’? We’d barely hung out,” he finished weakly, astonished at his own words. That was not what he wanted to say.
But if he said it, then surely it had to be the truth?
Mark opened his mouth, but nothing came out, the tense atmosphere acting like a void. He continued to look desperately at Jack, as if waiting for him to come out with a joke like he always did.
Not this time.
“Ah, yes. Young love. Between best friends too. How sickening,”
Jack truly did feel sick. What was going to happen to him now?
“And I assume it's one sided, since Mr Fischbach made no such...confession,” she said with her head held high, twisting the knife in Jack’s heart. Jack raised his left hand to his chest, almost to make sure it was purely metaphorical.
“Well Mr McLoughlin, I'm sure you’ll be pleased to know that it unfortunately isn't exactly illegal to be homosexual in itself, so you can carry on with whatever activities you like to think about. However, just know that they must stay in your imagination and go no place else. The ban is on acts, I unfortunately cannot control who you choose to be attracted to, or what disgusting images you conjure up in that head of yours,” Umbridge spat.
Jack blinked slowly, unsure whether to feel relieved, attacked, or still hurt by Mark’s actions.
Can one body feel all those emotions at once?
“So Mr McLoughlin. What are you going to do, and what are you not going to do?”
“...I’m going to keep my ‘fantasies inside my head’…” Jack whispered, the thought of Mark being completely out of reach indefinitely.
But what did it matter? Mark didn’t love him back.
He never will.
“And?” Umbridge pushed, gesturing in a ‘continue’ motion.
“And I won’t court Mark,” Jack finished, wiping at his eyes. There were no tears, he’d cried himself out.
“Right you won’t,” Umbridge stated, releasing Mark’s binding charm. He stayed in his chair, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
“I’m feeling generous this evening, Mr McLoughlin,” Umbridge beamed, “you don’t have to stay for your detention. Have a nice night,” she said, clearly proud of the uncomfortable mess that she had made.
Jack didn't want to move. He hated this room, hated the walls, the decor, the woman who owned it, but leaving this room meant dealing with the consequences.
Leaving this room meant that this was all real.
Feeling a hand on his arm, he jerked away from it, his trance broken. Looking up he saw it was Mark, trying to help him up, now hurt at receiving the impulsive action.
Jack didn’t reach for him again, he didn’t bother trying to recover. Slowly, he stood and dragged himself out the room, feeling the self pity and loathing pour into him as if from a tap.
This morning had felt euphoric, a chance with someone he trusted and loved. Now he felt dead, like everything he loved or could love had been taken away from him. Everything felt spoiled, ruined like wine on a silk white dress.
Jack walked out ahead, not bothering to look back for the man he knew was following him. All he wanted was to bury himself in his bed and never come out again.
“Jack?” He heard. He couldn't decide whether Mark’s voice was the only thing he wanted to hear right now, or the one thing he never wanted to hear again.
“Jack, please,” Mark pleaded, chasing after him as Jack willed himself to walk faster and faster. Eventually Mark managed to place a hand on his shoulder, turning him around and stopping him in his tracks.
“What do you want Mark? After all that, what could you possibly want? You've clearly made it obvious how you feel,” Jack spat, his desire for solitude taking over.
“Look, I know that that was real hard on you. I understand, okay? But do you want to just, forget about this? I mean we can just pretend that this never happened and go back to normal, she doesn't have to mess everything up. This can be easy on the both of us-”
“Easy?! Really Mark? Do you know how long I’ve felt this way about you? I can’t just ‘drop it’ in a day, because believe me, I’ve tried!” Jack shouted, his voice turning from angry to upset. With the outburst, everything seemed to overwhelm him and looking up, he felt tears swimming in his eyes. Wiping them away, his face crumpled and he felt himself slowly fall apart.
“Boys? What are you doing out at this time of night?”
Surprised, the boys turned to their left to find Professor McGonagall approaching them with a stern look on her face. However, it only took one glance at Jack’s tear stained cheeks for it to fade, her advance softening.
“Seán? Whatever is the matter, dear boy?”
Jack’s chest squeezed, the Professor’s tone reminding him of his mother who has been long since forgotten in the household he currently belonged to.
“Another Veritaserum appointment,” Mark said cryptically, shuffling his feet.
“Another one?” McGonagall breathed, shocked at how often the poor boy had been taken in.
At that, Jack had had enough. Despite being able to trust Professor McGonagall with his life, he couldn't face her, not after that. Ignoring Mark’s and the Professor’s concerned calls, he found himself running away to the Gryffindor's bed chambers.
Full of shame and tears still rolling down his cheeks, the boy buried himself in his bed, not bothering with his crumpled uniform.
After today, it should have been impossible to fall asleep, but Jack never slept more soundly, the remains of the Veritaserum lulling him away.
The next morning, he had about three seconds of peace, before he remembered who he was. At that point, he found himself wishing that he had never woken up.