The Sugar Quill
Author: Alchemilla (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: When the Timer Pings  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

WhentheTimerPings 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
Ginny
Bride
Age 24

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.

Oh.

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 tell you.

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 WeasleyWhat 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, anyway.

"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.  "I'm sorry."

"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 regret.

"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 too much."

"Oh Harry."  I sighed.  "I'm sure it was not entirely your fault."

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 a boss."

"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, that."

"She...Hermione?"

"No.  She-Padma."

"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 he lived.

"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."

"Your backup."

"That's right.  My support.  When I'm in trouble.  Or vice versa."

"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 about.

"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 shops.

"Malkin's."

"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 magical con--

"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 confessional."

"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 confessional."

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 recognize you."

"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."

Tuh!

"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 said weakly.

"Hope."

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."
 

//
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