The Sugar Quill
Author: shewhoguards  Story: End of the Line  Chapter: 3. The Station Clock Said Twelve
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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 somehow.

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 gets here.”

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, Moony! Moony!

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.”

GOOD. The Guard turned, and would have gone, had Padfoot not caught at his sleeve.

“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 distance.

***

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 hand.

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 cat!”

INDEED. 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, 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 me!”

“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 back…”

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 agreed.

Dora’s father seemed to need a moment longer to work through it. “Like a Time Turner?” he suggested eventually.

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.

//
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