Author notes: This is a one shot that is part
of a larger story that won't seem to finish itself. I
am starting to put the whole story (so far) up on a website, http://www.geocities.com/alchemillalady,
but I warn you that it may be a long time before it's done.
Thanks to Yolanda for her beta-goodness. Any errors are mine.
Rated PG-13. Pardon the swearing, but some adults DO swear.
Disclaimers: The usual. It's JKR's not mine.
When the Timer Pings
I had a lot to do; in a few hours my fiance's family would descend
upon the Burrow and all must be ready for tomorrow. Mum would soon
be frantic; I picked up the pace of my errands. I dropped by the
florist; I picked up the Intra-Europe Apparition Passes for the honeymoon.
My last stop was Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Fred and George would be
busy on a Friday afternoon, no doubt, but I planned to simply slip into
the back of the twin's shop and hang the hired groomsmen's robes in a clean
corner, assuming I could find one. If I actually said hello to either
of my brother-entrepreneurs, they would immediately assign me some menial
task. I quietly and slowly shouldered the back door open.
I instantly recognized the shape of his posture, the boyish hair that
stuck straight in the air -- though his glasses were different. He
was older of course, and I had forgotten how brown he'd be, after years
of living around the Aegean Sea.
Harry sat on a stool, with a long-handled wooden spoon in one hand.
Between his knees was a steaming cauldron, and he stared down into it.
"Harry," I said softly, expelling a breath. "You came."
He had come to England. For my wedding.
He looked up at me. "I have to stir this," he said, "when the
timer pings." He pointed to a silver torsion timer on a nearby work
table, then bent his head again at the cauldron.
I almost laughed. I had imagined...no, dreaded...seeing him again
face to face. I feared all the possibilities. A cold, steely
rejection would wound me. Deeply. It would also delay (or even
kill) my hopes for sisterly friendship. Bitter or jealous remarks
would renew all the aching guilt I felt when I left him -- but surely he
was too mature to play the petulant, sulky ex-boyfriend. He was twenty-five.
And yet if he reacted with complete indifference, he would disappoint
me. I would worry that our dear, darling Harry -- England's
(no: Europe's!) selfless believer in noble causes, my parents' grateful
adopted son, my passionate one-time lover -- had been replaced by
a hardened, efficient, grown-up warrior.
So, how should I read his reaction, as he sat staring into Fred and
George's steaming cauldron?
I hung the dress robes on the back of the door, put down my packages
and pulled up a stool opposite him.
"And how are you these days, Harry?" I shaped my voice into
something familiar, but checked. Friendly, but not assuming I had
his forgiveness. This particular combination wasn't easy, let me
He looked up at me. "I have to stir this," he said again, "when
the timer pings." He eyes lingered on me this time, and I realized
that he didn't recognize me. His pupils were dilated and he
swayed a bit, though he was seated with his elbows (as skinny as ever)
planted on his knees.
As I stared back into his green, green eyes and felt the steam of the
cauldron humidifying the air around us, my own head began to softly float...
"Eeah!" I whipped my hand across my mouth and nose. "What the
bloody hell are we breathing?" Fred and George Weasley.
What fantastic experiment are you brewing this time?
I stood suddenly, scraping my stool against the floor, and Harry's eyes
flared. He moved, as fast as I remembered he could move, maybe
even faster, and his wand was at my throat. He growled something,
low and unrecognizable.
"No, Harry...please...it's me." My throat tightened. Magic
was squeezing my throat.
Again, the same strange words. I looked down the length
of his wand and saw it. Didn't see it, rather. His right thumb
was gone. Hermione had told me, all about the hell that was his brief
sentence in a Turkish prison, but I had forgotten...or had tried to forget,
"English, Harry. Speak English," I squeaked.
"DON'T. MAKE. Such Sudden Moves," he said softly and ferociously.
PING. The timer went, and he sat down, picked up the wooden spoon
and stirred; I was instantly forgotten. I breathed freely again,
clutching my throat, and stepped back to lean against the wall.
I gaped at his right hand. He handled the timer and spoon without
any awkwardness, as if the thumb was there, but just invisible.
"Harry," I said. "You're as high as a kite. You need
to sit back, away from the potion vapours."
"Oh," he said, dully. "Think so?"
"Yes, I do." I moved with slow deliberate movements and cranked
open a dusty window. A silent aeration charm directed the vapours
toward the window.
"So," I began again, attempting a conversational tone, sinking onto
the stool as slowly as my trembling knees would allow.
"I see Fred and George put you to work." Harry lifted his chin, and
turned his head slowly, like he was searching for the source of the voice
he had just heard. He stared hard at me. Surely he knew who
I was. Who I am.
His eyelids closed and opened, like a blink in slow motion. "I
was once in love with a girl who looked a little like you."
"I...I know," I said, taken aback. I had hoped our first conversation
in three years would cover a lighter topic. The weather, for instance.
"She was so very very lovely." His head wobbled again. "She
broke my heart, though."
"I'm sorry," I said again, and I meant it. Did I ever say 'sorry'
that horrible day? I can't remember.
"Good God," he continued, gesturing with the spoon, "she ****ing ripped
it right in two."
Great. I really don't need this ancient guilt trip today.
I didn't respond, hoping that this line of conversation would die, hoping
that he would realize to whom he was talking before he said something he'd
"I left her in England, you see," he continued, "while I was doing all
the stuff that I like to do...and I neglected her. I assumed...."
He shook his head, and went back to staring at the cauldron. "I assumed
"Oh Harry." I sighed. "I'm sure it was not entirely your
He sat back and clucked his tongue, in a little chuckle.
"No, it wasn't. It was hers. She ran off with her prick of
"Ah, right," I said, feeling slightly rankled. I decided
not to pursue that either. "But that's all behind you now.
You've got a girlfriend, I've heard," I added brightly. "Padma."
"Oh HO, er...not a girlfriend. No."
"Oh. Hermione had told me that you and Padma were-"
"She doesn't like that term: girlfriend. Forbidden word,
"Yes, that's who I meant. Padma. She's not your girlfriend?"
"She is...my ______." He said something in another language.
Turkish, presumably, or Greek, since that is where it was rumoured that
"What does that mean? In English, Harry. Tell me in
English." I resisted the urge to speak to him as if he were a child.
"She is my...my Backup."
"That's right. My support. When I'm in trouble. Or
"Yes," I nodded. That's what a relationship is for: backup
and support. "I like that word."
The timer pinged, and he once again stirred and efficiently reset the
timer. He tapped the spoon against the cauldron, sending shiny
droplets onto my knees, and went back to staring into the depths.
"And did she come with you? To England?"
He looked up, as if he had already forgotten whom I was talking
"Padma," I prompted.
"Oh. Yeah. She's...she's getting a different dress at Madame....Madame
Muddifoot's...Madame.." He pointed, in the direction of the other
"That's it. Madame Malkin's. Padma thought it would be warm
in June. She's forgotten English weather." And then he giggled.
He was truly pissed.
"I want you to know, Harry, how much it means to me. That you've
come to the wedding," I said with great earnestness. He wouldn't
remember, probably, what I'd said, and perhaps I was only saying it for
me anyway. To me, his attendance meant his forgiveness. I could
let it go, put the guilt behind me. Perhaps there was hope
that I could be like a sister again, on equal par with my brothers!
How I craved that comfortable friendship they shared with him.
"How's it going, Harry?" Fred's head appeared in the doorway.
"Ginneee!" he called out, like I was a long lost sister. "The busy
bride has graced us with a few moments of her time. Did you stir
the potion, Harry?"
I stood up, suddenly infuriated. "Fred! What are
you brewing? Harry is totally sozzled."
"Oh s***, really?" He chuckled, came into the room and leaned
over to peer at Harry. "Did you stir it, mate?"
"What is in this?" I demanded, pointing into the vat. "Is
it...it is legal?"
"Watch it, Righteous," he tried to tweak my cheek, but I ducked.
"You're sounding a bit like your sister-in-law."
I pinched him hard.
"It's for our new party game," he went on, wincing and rubbing his arm.
"Truth or Dare. This will be the Truth part. The Dare, a binding
"Veritaserum?" I accused in disbelief. "You're using Veritaserum??
You need a special license--"
"Keep your veil on. It's dragon bile and tomato juice and some
other stuff. It just loosens your tongue. Makes you feel very
"Dragon bile contains narcotic substances, Fred," I reminded him, marvelling
at their ever-youthful disregard for the law.
"That's why we're boiling it," Fred gestured expansively, unperturbed.
"Burning off the narcotic bit."
"Yes, well, Harry has breathed it all in. He is high and
Harry looked up at the sound of his name. "I have to stir this
when the ****ing timer pings," he slurred.
Fred raised an amused eyebrow.
"See, Fred? You know Harry rarely swears." Except
when he's very angry, or very aroused, but I kept this observation to myself.
"Huh. I hadn't expected that side effect."
"And he doesn't even know who I am."
"Well, Gin, you look really different now, over a stone lighter and
straightened hair and all your businesswitch clothes. I hardly
"Fre--ed," called George from the doorway. "We've got customers
here, you know. Ciao, Ginevra, bambina," he greeted me in a terrible
fake Italian accent, something he has employed ever since I started dating
Leonzio. "Hey, Ginny, could you give us a hand out front?"
"NO." I folded my arms across my chest. "You need to deal
with Harry here. This is your fault, you get him to the Burrow and
into a bed. I have things to do."
"No no, I can't go to the Burrow," exclaimed Harry. He was back
with us, for the moment.
"Yes, Harry," I said gently. "You need to lie down. Aren't
you staying at the Burrow?"
"No. I'm staying with my friend. He's a werewolf.
You see, Ron's flat is full of new baby buggies...and nappies and s***..."
"But...Mum will be gutted if you don't. Why don't you stay with
Mum?" I coaxed.
"Because," he mumbled, "She'll be there. And...and
I'll have to talk to her."
"She...Mum?" I asked, confused.
"No. She-Ginny," he whispered.
"But...but..." You're talking to me now, you silly troll.
I turned around, looking to see if Fred was listening, but he had already
returned to the front of the shop. "Of course you'll talk to her.
At the wedding at least. You'll come by, and shake hands, won't you?
Please." It would mean a lot to me, Harry.
"Nah. I'll be in Polyjuice disguise anyway."
"Polyjuice! Whatever for?" I asked sharply.
Now he spoke with perfect clarity. "The press, the guests.
I don't want to be a distraction."
Oh. I hadn't thought of that.
"It's her day," he went on. "Their day. Ginny and
Leo the wanking Italian Lion. It sure as **** isn't mine. Anyway,
she won't know it's me. And Ron'll tell her later, probably.
That I was there."
"Then why even come?" I was fed up.
"I had to come." He pulled himself out of his inebriated posture.
"It's the only way, you know. I have to see it: the vows, the
rings, and all that bloody rot." He slumped back down into his chair.
"Then...then maybe I'll give up."
Give up? No, no...surely not. "Give up...what?" I
My breath stuck in my throat. "But it's been over for years."
"Yeah," he laughed, a small hollow laugh. "Pitiful, eh?
It's a crap thing, love." He bit his lip and stared into the cauldron,
his face going slack or sad, I couldn't tell which.
I stood there, feeling suddenly unsteady on my feet. "Oh, Harry.
Harry." My eyes filled with tears. I didn't want this; I didn't
want to know this.
He looked up at me sharply. I thought that he recognized me, for
just a moment. But no. He said: "I have to stir this.
When the timer pings."