I was thinking, one day, about the strange parade of witches and wizards who make their way through King's Cross Station every September first. They say that muggles try very hard NOT to notice things that are out of the ordinary... especially magic. But what if one did? What if a muggle did notice what was going on? What if she was able to penetrate the barrier to Platform 9 3/4? I began writing what I thought would be a short story to answer that question. But as it went along it stopped being a short story as I asked myself the same questions the character of Dumbledore and others ask: Why? Why would this muggle be able penetrate the barrier? Why now? Read and find out.
(Of course, to answer the first questions I wound up creating a "Mary Sue" character. I'd like to get one question out of the way: Isabel is not me. I wouldn't mind if she was, because I admire her courage but, alas, she and I are not the same.)
Isabel was early, far earlier than she had intended to be. Strangely, nothing took as long this morning as it usually did. This was odd because most times when she had to be somewhere (like, say, an airport or train station) at a particular time everything took longer. Yet, here she was at King's Cross Station, checked in, checked out, fed, watered, and not even in need of the loo. She had a good half-hour to 45 minutes until her train to Edinburgh even started boarding, let alone departed.
There seemed to be a regrettable shortage of available benches on Platform 9 so Isabel dropped her duffle bag down beside a column and sat on it. It let out a "oofh" of air and was a bit lumpy, but was not too bad. Isabel settled herself and dug around in her rucksack for the paperback she had packed and settled down to read while she waited for the 11:30 to Edinburgh to at least pull into the platform so she could get on.
She had chosen this particular book because it was a favorite. She never failed to enjoy it no matter how many times she read it. It was ironic, therefore, that the very familiarity of the book left her feeling restless and bored. But still, she didn't really feel like getting up and doing anything else.
Perhaps she was just overtired, she thought to herself. She had spent the summer working what amounted to two and a half jobs in order to save enough money to take this term from University off and travel around Britain and Europe. She enjoyed learning but had become increasingly dissatisfied with the direction in which her education was taking her. Still, she wasn't having much luck choosing a more satisfactory direction. Thus, she had decided to skip a term to do some thinking. University would still be there when she came back... if, by then, she still cared.
Isabel was just considering getting up and going to find something to drink when she noticed that traffic around her platform had picked up. If this many people were going to Edinburgh, finding a decent seat on the train might be a problem. Perhaps she should just stay put and try to be among the first to board.
Resigned, she tried to pay attention to her book but found herself continually looking up from the book then having to re-read whole paragraphs and pages because she hadn't really noticed what she was reading and had lost her place. With a sigh she put the book down and let her gaze travel toward the rest of the station. In doing so she noticed something odd. Although crowds of people continued to approach her platform, it didn't seem to be growing any more crowded.
Sitting on the floor beside the column left her partially hidden, so she felt free to turn her attention to the people and traffic around her, thinking no one was likely to notice her staring. She need not have worried. Most of the persons hurrying to and fro about her were too absorbed in their tasks or destinations to notice anything. It's almost like being invisible Isabel thought.
Two parents and a boy of 15 or 16 caught Isabel's eye. They were pushing a trolley with a large wooden trunk on it. The boy seemed quite average but the parents seemed a bit - off. They had made some "interesting" fashion choices. The man wore over-large pin-striped trousers, a green rugby shirt, and boating shoes. The woman wore one of those unfortunate hats that Isabel tended to associate with Queen Elizabeth. She also sported a pink turtleneck sweater over a yellow tartan kilt-skirt along with boating shoes similar to those of her husband.
As Isabel watched their progress they seemed rather absorbed in conversation with one another. So much so, in fact, that they hadn't noticed that they were headed toward the barrier between platforms instead of alongside it. Isabel couldn't stop watching them, eager to see if they would just smash into the barrier. It certainly seemed that they were going to. But then they were just - gone. Isabel gave her head a slight shake and squinted to where she had last seen them. She even looked carefully up and down the platform, but they seemed to have disappeared. I really must be tired to lose track of that lot! she thought to herself.
She continued to watch people rushing past with packages, lugging suitcases, and trying to calm petulant children. Even the teenagers seemed to be a bit out of control. She noticed two break away from their parents at a dead run. They, too, seemed headed straight for the barrier. Then they, too, just seemed to disappear. Now this is odd, Isabel thought.
As more and more people crowded around the end of the platform, she began to try and keep close track of some of them. No matter how she tried not to lose them, however, each and every one seemed to disappear into thin air.
She watched a pair of older teens walk, chatting, up to the barrier leaning against the wall as they talked. As Isabel watched, the shoulders against the barrier disappeared - in to it. Then a portion of the torso, the head, and the rest of their bodies just seemed to melt sideways in to the wall! How could this be? Still, it made a kind of weird sense. If people were somehow walking through the barrier to some other part of the station it would explain why so many of them seemed to disappear. Hullo! People can't walk through walls!
Isabel stood up swinging her duffle and rucksack over her shoulders. She had to see. Casually, she made her way to the barrier between her platform and the next. When she was at about the middle of the area where everyone had seemed to disappear she looked out toward the rest of the station. No one was paying any more attention to her than they had earlier. She stood with her shoulder just an inch away from the barrier and took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then, very gingerly, she stepped sideways.
Nothing happened. Nothing at all. This included what should have happened: her shoulder hitting the wall. Slowly she opened her eyes and was immediately taken by surprise. She was on an entirely different train platform that hardly looked as if it were a part of The King's Cross. Sitting on the tracks was a gleaming scarlet steam engine. All around were chattering students and the adults seeing them off on the train. Several of the students were wearing long robes... as were some of the parents.
The air was filled with the sound not only of chattering children and parents but also the hooting of owls in cages and the hissing and plaintive "mewing" of cats in carriers. A few feet from Isabel a child complained to her mother,
"He's broken my glasses again!"
Isabel turned a bit to see a girl of about 12 or 13 glaring at a boy who was probably her brother. In her hands she held a pair of glasses snapped in halves at the bridge.
"Really, Gregory! I think we've had just about enough of this!" the mother exclaimed irritably. She then pulled a wooden wand out of her robes and tapped the broken spectacles with it saying "Reparo!" Instantly, the glasses were whole and the girl put them on with a look of disgust at her brother.
Isabel wasn't entirely sure she had seen what she thought she had. Still, as she looked around it was clear that something strange was going on. She watched a woman give an older student a hug and kiss and then disappear into thin air with a faint "pop." Further down the platform parents were saying goodbye to a scared looking boy of about eleven at the same time they tried to placate his much younger sister. With a sigh, the Father took out a wooden wand like the one the mother of the girl with the broken glasses had. He directed it at the little girls rag doll which began to float in the air and dance to the movements of the wand. Upon seeing this, Isabel shook her head sharply. That didn't change her surroundings so she shook it again. She then tried deep breathing and rubbing her eyes. All to no avail.
The whistle on the train blew and there was a scramble of students getting on the train and compartment doors being shut. Parents and children were waving at one another as the train pulled away from the platform. As the train began to pick up speed several of the parents turned and walked back through the wall. Others simply disappeared into thin air with that popping noise; one right after the other with a sort of reverse-popcorn effect.
Isabel didn't realize that she had said "Oh my God" aloud until a man near her turned and looked at her rather closely. Her luggage, in particular, seemed to trouble him. Finally, with the air of a man who has committed himself to action, he pulled out a wand and strode toward her.
As he raised the wand Isabel instinctively ducked -just as the man cried "Obliviate!" A split second later there was a loud crack above Isabel. She glanced up at the man and noticed his wand was pointed exactly where her head had been. As she watched, the man advanced another step and made to raise his wand again. The time had come for bolder action, so Isabel straightened up and stepped toward him, raising her hand.
"Hey! Watch where you're pointing that thing Mister!"
The man was obviously taken aback and the moments delay this caused was enough for the several men and women whose attention had been attracted by the noise to gather.
"What's going on, Nigel?" asked a tall, balding man with very red hair.
"'It's a muggle. Don't know how she got through the barrier but she's a muggle right enough. I was just going to wipe her memory." Nigel explained pointing his wand at Isabel for emphasis.
"Now hold on just a bloody minute!" Isabel snapped, "I don't know who you people are or what this place is, but I do know that I'm not about to sit still for you to mess with my memory - or anything else!"
"You don't have much of a choice," the man called Nigel said again making as if to raise his wand.
"Whoa, hold on there, Nigel," the red-headed man said, "I think we need to think about what we're doing. At the very least we need to question this woman about how she got through the barrier." With that, he turned to the other men and women and raised his voice,
"It's all right. The Ministry is taking this in hand. Please go about your business."
There was grumbling among the group but they began to leave just the same. A few walked casually through the barrier. Many others, including Nigel, disappeared with the popping sound that was becoming uncomfortably familiar. The red-haired man guided Isabel to a bench and sat down with her.
"My name is Arthur Weasley and I work for the Ministry of Magic," He said, "And you are?"
Isabel just looked at him. He said what he did so sensibly as if it were perfectly normal.
"I'm sorry," she said, "The Ministry of Magic?"
"Yes. I am a wizard. All the people you saw here today are witches and wizards."
Oh, she thought to herself sarcastically, Well that explains it perfectly!
"I think," Arthur Weasley continued, "it is a fairly safe assumption that you are not."
"No, I'm not. At least not since Halloween 1989."
Arthur Weasley looked confused.
"My Halloween costume that year was a witch." Isabel explained flatly.
"Oh! I see!" Weasley said with a funny little smile, "But you have no magical abilities, then?"
"Er, no. It seems all of you have the advantage over me there."
"Well, I suppose," Weasley said uncertainly, "It's just that this - Platform 9 3/4 - is supposed to be impenetrable to Muggles."
"Ah, sorry. 'Muggle' is a word we use for non-magical persons like yourself."
"I see. Well, it's not exactly flattering is it?"
"I don't suppose I've ever thought about it," Mr. Weasley said faintly, then continued in a more confident tone, " In any case we have laws about revealing our existence to Muggles. This is why Nigel tried to modify your memory. That's what we usually do when Muggles happen upon us."
"So you want to 'modify' my memory because I know you exist?"
"Not me personally, but someone from The Ministry will want to do it."
"No. I'm sorry that my knowing about you is a problem for you; but I will not let you play with my memory."
"Ah, er, well, I'm not sure-"
"See here, just because you can aim one of those things at my brain and muck around doesn't mean that you have a right to. I won't sit still for it."
Mr. Weasley seemed at a loss so Isabel pressed her advantage, "I don't know much about wizard laws, but I do know that British law doesn't look too kindly on persons being held and subjected to 'modifications' against their will."
Mr Weasley had no reply to this. Good, Isabel thought, That probably means we're still in Britain, wherever else we might be.
There was a double "pop" and the wizard Nigel and another man appeared. The second man stepped forward toward Isabel and Mr. Weasley.
"Arthur, good to see you. I trust the children got off to Hogwarts all right?"
"Good to see you, too Carl. And, yes, the children got off fine." Mr. Weasley turned toward Isabel and said, "This is Carl Parrish he works for the Accidental Magic Reversal Department at the Ministry of Magic. Carl this is- I'm sorry, you never told me your name."
Isabel looked Parrish in the eye with as much bravado as she could muster and said,
"My name is Isabel Clay."
"A pleasure to meet you Ms. Clay," Parrish said extending a hand. Isabel paused and then took it gingerly. When nothing happened she seemed relieved and tried to shake it firmly.
"So, have you explained to Arthur how you got through the barrier?" Parrish asked cheerfully.
Mr. Weasley answered before Isabel could, "No, we haven't gotten to that. There are some, ah, issues."
Parrish frowned slightly then said, "Well, first things first. Ms. Clay, would you please tell us how you wound up here?"
Isabel considered her reply for a moment. But, as she could see no real harm in it, she explained,
"I was early for my train, it wasn't at the platform yet. I noticed a lot of people coming onto the platform but also noticed the crowd never grew any larger. When I noticed that people seemed to just evaporate on the spot, I watched more closely. I notice that people were actually walking through the wall so I decided to give it a try. Your friend over there seems to think that warrants putting a hole in my mind but I disagree."
"That is the issue," Mr. Weasley supplied helpfully, "She objects to having her memory modified. She says we don't have the right to do it against her will. I'm not sure we do, quite frankly."
Parrish was shaking his head and looking at Isabel as if he'd never seen the like of her before.
"You know, Arthur, I don't think we've ever had a case before where a Muggle objected."
"Well, of course, they don't usually have the chance to. When Nigel tried to do the memory charm on Ms. Clay she ducked and he missed. When I came over it looked as if she was ready to grab his wand and whack him over the head with it." Mr. Weasley explained.
Isabel was impressed. She had been thinking of grabbing the wand. She hadn't planned on beating him about the head with it, however. She was just planning to snap it in two.
"Well, there's nothing else we can do," Parrish sighed, "We'll just have to take her into the Ministry."
"I'm not going anywhere with you people. Do you think I'm nuts?"
Mr. Weasley smiled, "Quite the contrary."
Parrish wasn't smiling as he said, "Arthur, a word?" Mr. Weasley got up and walked a with Parrish a few feet away. Isabel strained to hear what they were saying.
"Even I can understand her point but-"
"... really think there is no choice?"
"...at least an inquiry."
"... don't suppose explaining to her again?"
"Fudge is going to have a fit..."
Isabel sat on the bench thinking how very absurd the whole situation was. What did they think she was going to do, anyway? Did they think she was going to go to the Sunday Times? Yeah right, that would get me free room and board in the mental ward for the rest of my vacation she thought bitterly. She looked at her watch and realized that her train was leaving in just a few moments. Okay, that's it. I don't have to stay here, she thought. With that she rose, shouldered her duffle and rucksack, and headed resolutely toward the magic barrier. She was just about to step through it when she heard a voice yell "Stupefy!". In the spit second before she lost consciousness, Isabel thought, Dammit, I knew I should have snapped that idiots wand!