The station clock said twelve.
The two boys at the edge of
the platform had been annoying the Guard for quite some time now. It
was the way of teenage boys, he supposed, to be loud and irritating.
He just wished they wouldn’t do it in his station.
At one point he’d only appeared
in the nick of time, just managing to grab the black-haired boy’s
shirt before he went tumbling off the platform onto the rails. He’d
been trying, apparently, to drop a penny onto the track to see what
would happen when the train came.
Merlin only knew where they’d
even found a penny here. It had been enough to make him request
that both boys empty their pockets, and several other interesting tricks
had been confiscated.
They had ignored his hopeful
hints that the next train was due in only a few minutes, and some time
after that he had had to hurry over to stop them defacing the timetables.
They had been, they said, correcting them to the time the train actually
arrived, rather than the time it was meant to arrive.
And now… a loud yowl attracted
the Guard’s attention, and he arrived on the scene just in time to
have the station cat attempt to climb up his legs. He picked it up,
immune to any scratches it might deliver.
ALL PASSENGERS WILL REMAIN
IN THEIR NATURAL FORM WHILE IN THE STATION, PLEASE.
He said sharply, petting the upset cat. AND IF YOU BOYS CHOOSE NOT
TO DO SO, YOU WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE STATION.
Not that there was anywhere
to remove them to, of course, but he had to keep a semblance of order
It was enough of a threat to
make them transform back quickly, though the cat still didn’t calm
down once the large black dog had vanished.
“Sorry, sir.” The one who
had been a stag explained, “We were just practicing for when our friend
YOUR FRIEND CAN STAY IN
HIS OWN SHAPE TOO, WHEN HE ARRIVES. ESPECIALLY IF HIS OTHER SHAPE IS
A DOG. It took a lot to really upset the Guard, but he was glaring
at them now, still cradling the cat.
“See, well, sometimes he
doesn’t have much choice…” the boy started to explain, but his
friend interrupted, pointing past him.
“There he is – there! Hey,
There was an answering whoop
from the station entrance, and a third boy – three
of them now to cause mess, and noise, and havoc, the Guard noted –
came running up to meet them.
“You two getting in trouble
without me? Even here?”
“Well, it has been an awfully
long wait. Especially for Prongs.” The other two boys grinned at him,
then looked back at the guard.
“May we go, sir?” The one
referred to as Prongs asked hopefully, “I promise we won’t scare
your cat any more.”
The Guard sighed;
WILL YOU GET ON THE NEXT TRAIN?
“Yeah, I suppose so – hey,
we’re not waiting for Wormtail, are we?”
The question drew a scowl from
the newest boy, “Padfoot, I do hope you’re joking.”
Prongs grinned, his face alight
with mischief for a moment, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m sure we’ve
all got some things we’ve been waiting to say to him.” He glanced
at the Guard’s face, which was less than amused – at least as far
as you could tell on a face like that – and sobered up, “Yeah, yeah,
we’ll get the next train.”
The Guard turned, and would have gone, had Padfoot not caught at his
“Sir, your cat – is it
a familiar? Or an animagus? Or a kneazle?”
The Guard gazed at him blankly
for a moment or two – he was good at blank looks – before glancing
down at the cat in his arms. NO. He said carefully, in a voice
usually used for speaking to the very slow and very stupid. IT’S
A CAT. I LIKE CATS.
He left them then, taking the
cat away to his office for comfort and milk. When he looked again, the
trio were gone, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t that he didn’t
like teenage boys. It was just that they were easier to like from a
The station clock said twelve.
The young woman standing at
the station’s Meeting Point kept glancing around anxiously, her hair
light blue and spiky with worry. It was a good idea, the Meeting Point,
somewhere people could arrange to find each other without the worry
they might miss each other on what was, in the end, a rather large and
busy platform. The crowds could be mesmerising as they ebbed and flowed
whenever a train pulled in late to the station.
But the Meeting Point meant,
if you were waiting there, and someone didn’t come, it wasn’t an
accident. They hadn’t missed you, they hadn’t got lost. They had
simply chosen not to come.
Tonks suspected that some of
the people standing with her had been waiting centuries, even if
they hadn’t quite realised that yet. On first arriving she had
gotten into animated conversation with a lady named Rowena, had experienced
a moment of thrilling excitement upon realising that it was indeed
the Rowena, and had felt that excitement abruptly drain away when
she realised just how long the lady had been standing there, patiently
waiting for her daughter.
She would have had to have
been blind, or stupid, or both to have missed how quickly Lupin’s
affections had cooled off when she had announced her pregnancy, and
Tonks was neither. He had gone away, but he had come back. He had come
back, and she had used that fact to calm any worries she had had
at the time. He had had his choice, and he had made it.
Here though, it seemed suddenly
less reassuring. What if the only reason he had come back was because
of the child? What if she were already too late – what if Lupin had
stood at this very meeting point and been distracted before she arrived,
dragged away by two friends, or perhaps even just one?
She had never felt jealous
of Sirius while he was alive
but that thought sent a spurt through her that shocked her in
its intensity, and turned her hair bright red.
Rowena, still standing next
to her, eyed her in surprise, “That’s very pretty, dear.” She
offered benignly, “But are you quite all right?”
She started to nod automatically,
and then found herself shaking her head instead. “The person I’m
waiting for – my husband – I think he might have gone off with his
friends instead,” She admitted forlornly. “I mean, he didn’t while
he was alive, but they weren’t alive either then, and now they’re
all dead, well…”
Rowena looked at her calmly,
her expression saying that this was nothing that she had not heard a
hundred times before already. “Did he love you, dear?”
Tonks hesitated. “Yes. But
he might have loved his friends more, or...”
“Tch. This isn’t a place
where you have to worry about more, dear. Not once you get here.”
Rowena shook her head, “You’ll see. If he loved you, then he’ll
come to you.”
“And if he loved them?”
“Then he’ll go to them.”
The woman caught Tonks’ puzzled expression and laughed, giving a quick
shake of her head, “I told you, dear. You don’t have to worry about
more here. Time doesn’t happen the same way anymore. A circle
has no end or beginning so there is never just one destination even
if there is one ticket.”
“I still don’t see how…”
It wasn’t an easy concept to get your head around, and Tonks was starting
to protest again when she broke off with a yelp of surprise. Something
cold was nudging against her and then there was licking against her
Rowena smiled at her brightly.
“He’s been standing staring at you for some time, dear. I didn’t
like to say anything, in case he wasn’t the one you were looking for.
It is him, isn’t it?”
“He…” Tonks was dazed
for a moment, looking at her wet hand, and then down again at the wolf
by her side. Not a werewolf any more, nothing left of that compulsion
that tore him apart save the real animal looking up at her with Remus’
eyes that held a relish of controlling the form that had so long controlled
him. It was a moment before she smiled radiantly, hair lightening to
a cheery bubblegum pink. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
The wolf wagged his tail, light
and wild but choosing her, coming back to her.
“I should hurry then, dear,
or you’ll miss your train.” Rowena advised, “It’s meant to arrive
on the hour, but not to worry. It’s always late.”
Lupin seemed to agree;
running forward a few steps, then sitting down to wait for Tonks to
catch up, his tongue lolling in a wolfish equivalent of laughter.
She went to follow, and then
turned, not wanting to forget Rowena as she called back, “I hope you
find your daughter!”
The woman smiled back at her
placidly, and waved. “She’ll come eventually, dear, and I’ll be
here when she does. For as long as it takes.”
The station clock said twelve.
A small girl with pink hair
was petting the station cat. She looked up with a bright smile as the
Guard approached her, not at all intimidated. “Hullo! I like your
The Guard studied her carefully, taking in the torn dungarees, the chocolate
stained fingers and mouth, the colourful hair. I THINK PERHAPS YOU
ARE MEANT TO BE WITH SOMEONE. WHAT IS YOUR NAME, SMALL GIRL?
“Dora.” The child got to
her feet, brushing cat hair from her dungarees. The cat, realising there
was to be no more petting just now, stared reproachfully
at the Guard for a moment or two, then wandered away.
Dora stared at the Guard critically
for a moment or two. “Your face is all funny.”
There were few people in the
station with eyes that would allow them to see the Guard’s true face. Those who did usually had different words to describe
the grinning skull than “funny”. He raised a bony hand to touch
it, unusually self-conscious for a moment. DO YOU THINK SO?
“Yes.” Dora nodded firmly then stopped, seeming to remember that this behaviour
might not be quite described as polite. “It’s okay though.
I can make my face funny too. Look!”
The Guard stared at the small
skull, still with a healthy head of bright pink hair,
which appeared in front of him; for once seeming lost for
words. SO YOU CAN. He managed after a moment, WELL, WELL,
“I don’t get how you’ve
got your hands though.” Dora squinted at them critically, “Why
don’t the little bones fall off without bits to stick them together?”
The Guard looked down at his
hands as though he had never seen them before, wiggling skeletal fingers
for a moment before he found his voice again. I THINK PERHAPS WE
NEED TO GET YOU BACK TO YOUR PARENTS.
“I don’t think Mummy’s
here yet.” Dora offered, still eying the Guard, as though searching
out other ways she could try to improve him.
YOUR FATHER THEN. COME ALONG.
Firmly the Guard reached to take her small hand in his, marching Dora
along the platform.
Dora’s father turned out
to be a large blonde man, rather overweight, who seemed not at all surprised
by the idea that his only daughter had turned into a small skeleton.
He started running towards them the moment he caught sight of the girl,
and snatched her into a bear-hug, only releasing her a second later
when a small muffled voice complained, “Daddy, you’re squashing
“Sorry, lovey.” Reluctantly,
the man lowered her to the ground, then managed a slightly stern look,
“Though I’ve told you before, Dora. If the wind changes, your face
will stick like that.”
“Yes, Daddy.” The face
twisted and changed again, back into the face of a normal, impish, seven
year old, albeit one who now had purple hair.
The Guard watched the scene,
slightly bemused but accepting. You got used to seeing odd things in
this job. MAY I LEAVE HER WITH YOU, SIR? SHE’S A LITTLE SMALL TO
BE WANDERING AROUND THE PLATFORM ON HER OWN, AND THE TRAIN IS DUE SOON.
“Oh, of course, of course.”
The man glanced down at his errant daughter, and lowered his voice,
“I’m very sorry you were troubled at all. I’d have been keeping
an eye out for her, but I thought she’d be going with someone else.
The Guard glanced down at the
girl again. Dora stuck her tongue out at him, turned it lime green,
then crossed her eyes. I EXPECT SHE DID, SIR.
The man stared at him uncertainly,
“I hardly think she’d have had time to go with him, and come
The Guard sighed. This was
always the part people struggled with. NO SIR. SHE WENT WITH HIM
NOW, AND SHE IS HERE WITH YOU NOW.
“There are two of her?”
“No, Daddy.” It was the
child’s turn to correct, impatient at a parent not understanding something
she had already wrapped her own mind around. “There’s only one
me, silly. But it’s always now wherever I am. Time just
stopped working the same.” She peered up at the Guard, cocking her
head to one side, “That is right, isn’t it?”
MORE OR LESS. The Guard
Dora’s father seemed to need
a moment longer to work through it. “Like a Time Turner?” he suggested
A LITTLE LIKE THAT.
The Guard agreed, EXCEPT YOU WILL NEVER HAVE TO PAY BACK THE TIME
WHICH IS BORROWED AND YOU ARE ALWAYS THE PINCH IN THE GLASS REGARDLESS
OF HOW THE SAND FALLS. He glanced towards the line, attention diverted,
I HAVE TO GO. THE TRAIN WILL BE COMING.
Behind him, Ted Tonks’ hand
tightened around his daughter’s. “Not this one just yet for us,
Dora darling. We have to wait for Mummy.”
The station clock said twelve-fifteen.
The train arrived.