Finn Blishwick didn't know where his son's fear of trains came from.
When Harley was four, he inherited one of Regan's old toy trains. Though the toy was still powered by magic to move on its own, it no longer made any sound. Regan would push it around Harley with an enthusiastic, "Choo choo!" while Harley cried until Brindley picked him up.
When Harley was seven, the Blishwicks took one last holiday before Regan started Hogwarts, traveling by Muggle train from London to Scotland so the children could watch the countryside flash past and satisfy the obsession with sheep they had at the time. Harley started crying on the platform, and it only got worse from there. Despite Courtney's efforts to read to him from her favourite story, he thrashed and screamed on Brindley's lap before they were forced to get off at the next stop, and take a Portkey instead.
So, when Harley turned eleven, Finn and Brindley were anxious about how he would handle travelling on the Hogwarts Express without them. He'd never even been on Platform 9 ¾ before; he refused every year, preferring to stay home while Finn and Brindley alternated taking Regan and Courtney.
Half the time, Finn didn't know what to do with his youngest son. Harley was scared easily by loud noises and crowds as well as trains; another reason Finn was worried about sending him to Hogwarts. It meant Finn couldn't take him to Quidditch matches, or zoos, or any activity that overstimulated his senses. Regan and Courtney were easily pleased; the more overstimulating, the better, in their opinion, and Finn was more than happy to oblige.
Harley preferred quieter activities; and knitting was one of his favourites. He said he liked the repetitiveness, the rhythmic clicking of the needles. Finn once asked Brindley if she thought this was normal for a ten year old boy, to which she firmly replied, "There's no such thing as normal."
Finn loved his son unconditionally - loved all three of his children - but it was unsettling to suddenly find he didn't understand Harley at all. Sometimes, Finn felt as though his connection to Harley was like writing with a quill almost devoid of ink. The message was read eventually, but it was a long and difficult process.
So, on September first, as Finn stared up at the idling Hogwarts Express and felt a twinge of nostalgia, he wondered what could possibly be so frightening about something so magical.
Regan and Courtney had already disappeared into the swarm of students on the platform, but Harley remained holding onto Finn's hand in a vice-like grip, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and breathing fast through his nose.
"There's Fleamont," Brindley said, standing on her tiptoes to peer over the heads of the crowd. "Will you be alright?" she said to Finn with a pointed look at Harley.
At Finn's nod, Brindley took Harley's trunk and went to greet her half-brother. Finn half-dragged, half-carried Harley away from the train into a quieter corner. He crouched down to Harley's level, who was still refusing to open his eyes. Harley resembled his mother; he had her unruly dark red hair that he kept short, a little round nose, and freckles that dotted his cheeks.
Finn grasped his shoulders. "What house are you hoping for, champ?"
Harley opened one of his brown eyes to peer at Finn. "Don't you want me to be in Slytherin?"
"I want you to be in the house that's right for you."
Harley looked thoughtful, still keeping one eye closed. Finn guessed it obscured Harley's view of the train. "Were you sad when Regan and Courtney weren't sorted into Slytherin?"
"Oh, of course," Finn said solemnly. "Didn't you wonder why I disowned them?"
Harley opened his other eye. "You what?!"
Finn squeezed his shoulders. "I'm joking. And since they're not in Hufflepuff either, it means your mother and I are saved from playing favourites."
Once again, Finn remembered too late Harley's inability to understand jokes straight away. Harley bowed his head and said quietly, "I'm not your favourite, though, am I, Dad?"
Finn gripped him tighter. "Harley, why would you say that?"
"I'm different," he mumbled. "I don't want to be, but I can't help it. I want to be smart like Regan, and brave like Courtney, but I can't." He sniffed, chin tucked into his chest.
"Come here." Finn enveloped Harley in his arms, and the young boy clung to him tightly. "First of all," Finn whispered into his hair, "you aredifferent, because you're you. And if you weren't Harley Blishwick, then who would you be?"
"Regan studies a lot," Finn continued. "Like, a lot. I didn't study quite that hard, and look how I turned out." He felt Harley's smile against his shoulder. "And you have to remember that Regan's been at Hogwarts far longer than you. Everything he's learned, you'll learn. As for being brave..." Finn pulled back so he could see Harley's face. "Look at you! You hate trains, but you're about to board one."
As if he had forgotten all about the Hogwarts Express, Harley's face drained of colour. He shook his head. "I can't. There's so many people, Dad, what if they all stare at me? It's too loud, it hurts my ears. What if something goes wrong? What if the train crashes? What if -"
"Harley." Finn stood up, but kept hold of his son's hand. "That train has been running for hundreds of years, and nothing has ever gone wrong. It's magic, remember?"
Harley looked up at him, his eyes wide with hope. "Really?"
"Would it make you feel better if you sat with your brother and sister?"
Harley nodded. "Maybe."
"Come on, we'll find them." And if either Regan or Courtney complained that sitting with their little brother was uncool, Finn was ready and willing to show them what being uncool really looked like.
Finn and Harley kept close to the wall of the platform, since Harley couldn't walk through crowds with his eyes open, and he was too big and dignified to be carried.
Courtney wasn't hard to find; her laugh was as loud as Brindley's, and her dark red hair was piled high on the top of her head. She was standing by a pillar with her cousin - well, half cousin, since Brindley and Fleamont only shared a father - James Potter, and his friend, Sirius Black. Finn didn't mind the young Black. When James came around for dinner he sometimes invited Sirius, and the two of them often reminded Finn of a younger version of himself and his friends. Courtney was close with the pair of them, and though she was only thirteen, Finn was keeping his wand close, already preparing to exact fatherly duties should Courtney grow too close to Sirius.
"Hey, Uncle Finn," James greeted as they reached them.
Finn reached out to ruffle his hair - something James hated, despite constantly doing it to himself - but James stepped nimbly out of reach.
As expected, Courtney wasn't pleased with the request to share a compartment with her little brother. She stomped her foot as she said, "But Daaad, I can't be expected to look after him all the time, especially at Hogwarts. What if he doesn't end up being in Gryffindor? He has to make his own friends."
"Oh, that reminds me! Stay right there!" Sirius cried, and disappeared into the crowd of students beginning to board the train.
Finn and Courtney exchanged bewildered looks, while James grinned knowingly, but it wasn't long before Sirius returned with a young boy in tow. His hair was as dark as Sirius' and their faces were so similar in their striking, regal appearance that they could only be brothers.
"This is my little brother, Regulus," Sirius confirmed. "Reg is starting Hogwarts for the first time, too."
"Hello," Regulus said pleasantly.
Sirius leaned down to whisper into Regulus' ear. Regulus nodded, and pulled something small and round from the pocket from his trousers. He handed it to Harley, who cautiously took it, remaining close to Finn's side.
"It's a chromatical," Regulus said. "They change colour and patterns. That one's my spare. You can have it."
The chromatical was a sphere that fit perfectly in Harley's hand. It was smooth with an appearance like frosted glass, but tiny beams of colour danced inside like a kaleidoscope.
Finn gently nudged Harley. "Say ‘thank you,'" he whispered.
"Thank you," Harley said, gazing at it in awe.
"I explained Harley to Sirius," Courtney murmured to Finn. "He said sometimes Regulus is the same, and focusing on the chromatical helps when he's uncomfortable."
Finn blinked in surprise. "That's... wow. Thanks, Sirius."
Courtney nudged Sirius with her elbow. "Well, aren't you the hero."
Sirius grinned. "Hero is my middle name."
"No, it's mine!" Courtney laughed.
Finn smiled to himself, because it was true.
The train gave a final whistle. Harley was so engrossed in staring at the chromatical and talking to Regulus that he hardly noticed, and started walking with his new friend toward the train, almost forgetting to say goodbye. Finn was filled with a wave of emotion to see his youngest child begin his magical schooling journey, and wished Harley knew how proud Finn was of him, even though he had difficulty showing it sometimes. Nothing could have prepared him for being Harley's father.
"Remember what I told you," Finn said quietly, pressing a kiss to the top of Harley's head. "You are Harley Blishwick, and that makes you more special than you know. And you," he said, louder, to Courtney. "If I receive any owls this year about yours and your cousin's behaviour, I'll send another Howler reading from your diary."
Courtney turned a bright shade of red at the memory, but she adopted a smug expression. "I got rid of all my diaries, so there."
"I'll make it up, then. And you know how creative I can be."
After a final round of hugs, the children finally began boarding the train. Finn took the opportunity to gaze around the platform at the adults waving their children goodbye. His eyes fell on a familiar face, and his stomach flipped at the initial jolt of recognition. Radbourne Lestrange stood alone further down. He was watching Finn, and raised a hand in an awkward half-wave, looking uncertain. Finn didn't return it. He'd had no contact with his former friend since they left school, after Radbourne chose Tom Riddle over his true friends, despite knowing all the terrible things Tom had done, including murder. The scar on Finn's arm, once a vivid red and black mark, tingled at the memory. He turned away; today was a happy and proud day, and he wasn't about to let anything ruin it.
Brindley reappeared beside him with Fleamont, and the two men shook hands before gazing back up at the train. Courtney, James, and Sirius were in one compartment, the three of them already roaring with laughter at something. Regan was with his own friends, but his black hair was all that was visible over the book he was reading. And Harley sat with Regulus Black and two other first years, managing to lift his head to flash a quick, nervous smile out the window before he was back to looking at the chromatical in his hands.
Finn wrapped his arms around Brindley as the train let out a final whistle, and they watched as it left the station, rounded a corner, and disappeared.
"So, what now?" Brindley asked.
Finn kissed the tip of her nose and whispered, "I have a few ideas..."