Anthem for the Scraps by GHL



Summary:

London 2002. They have no past, only dreams. They are students (Ginny Smith & Mione Granger) and musicians (Lee & Harry Jordan) finding their way in a gritty GenX world. When a voice rises from a dark Camden Town stage, a quest begins for what has been lost, and what may yet be found.


Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2018.04.10
Updated: 2018.06.12


Index

Chapter 1: Rain
Chapter 2: Palace
Chapter 3: Impulsive
Chapter 4: Whistling
Chapter 5: Trouble
Chapter 6: Apple
Chapter 7: Questions
Chapter 8: Frost
Chapter 9: Purple
Chapter 10: Prying


Chapter 1: Rain

Author's Notes:

Not exactly a song-fic, since I haven't scored any of the songs (that'd take ages), so you're free to needle up whatever tunes you most enjoy, and use your melodic imagination.

Needless to say, this is way out in AU-ville, although lots of familiar characters drift onto the pages, and there are actually no significant OCs (hint hint). Characterizations are not carbon-copy-canon; everyone here has adapted to a world much different than Rowling's creation (much closer to our own?). Everyone's had hard knocks, but there is some good in all hearts (well, almost all). Our favourite couple may seem a bit tentative at the outset, yet there is strength and power in there, awaiting rediscovery.

So why another story? To be honest, I've been considering a hiatus from ff-writing, but I did want to write one more tale intended for a broader audience. Of course, it still had to be *different* (I may have a pathological fear of the ordinary ;), but also not too whacked-out-esoteric. Anyway, I'm suddenly quite amped on this little tale (er, okay I've no idea yet how 'little' it'll be. 20 chapters? Dunno.). I shared a few chapters with several of our SIYE 'greats' (heart-felt acknowledgements to come at the end of the story), and they deemed it worth releasing, alors... voila!




Chapter 1. Rain


Blinds drawn to a bleak sky of a fading winter afternoon, the office was dim, grim and somber, but perfect for thinking. And listening.

Rustling, like beads across heavy linen, a hand reached over the desk, hovered for several long seconds above a plastic button, then pressed.

A small glass door opened, and two fingers (thick and strong) extracted an audio tape. The fingers pondered the cassette for a moment, tapped it thoughtfully, then lowered it into a strongbox.

The box, of course, was not empty. It contained some odd bric-a-brac, an oddly carved stick (broken), and a scroll. Encountering the latter, the fingers closed reflexively about the parchment, held it for a second, then put it aside.

A voice hummed — baritone; deep and rich, yet low; barely audible above the clattery heating duct. The fingers drummed absently on the desk for several seconds... then stopped.

Abruptly, decisively, a thumb surged forward to jab the intercom.

"Hey Mary? Any chance you could locate Tanner for me? I need an opinion on this."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Aha! That's it!

Like an athlete in the zone, Mione Granger saw it all fit into place — three books open to helpful passages, a few key photographs, and a tablet with all of her calculations — everything aligned beautifully, and her pen raced across the page.


"The pronounced flattening on one side of the slug strongly implies ricochet. Smooth deformation without scratches suggests impact with a shatter-proof, puncture-resistant surface such as mid- to high-tensile metal. Thus, further scrutiny of the crime scene should focus on examining the ceiling pipework for marks. Indentations in common piping (i.e., of regular, cylindrical shape) may shed crucial light on ballistic strike-angle, potentially enabling trajectory back-propagation to determine if the shot truly came from the cellar window (per Witness II), or whether the shooter might rather have stood at the foot of the stairs (our hypothesis)."


Lifting pen from paper, she straightened up and shook the stiffness from her wrist. She was in the process of proof-reading the passage, when... "Ack!"

Nearly leaping from her chair, grappling with the hand clamped over her eyes, Mione cursed aloud as the assailant's fingers withdrew.

A petite red-head smirked slightly as she moved into Mione's field of view. "Haven't your Crim' profs ever warned you not to sit with your back to the door?" She took an adjacent seat. "So, what goes, girl? Slay the problem set?"

"You wretch." Mione leveled a scorching mock-glare, huffed, then filed her homework into a folder. "I just finished it. And you? Done with your Psych essay?"

"Yep." Ginny Smith nodded absently as she rooted through her back pack. "Knocked off a half hour ago, and had time to go check the post. So, hey! I've a surprise for you!" She pulled out two tickets and presented them to her friend.

"Camden Palace. Tomorrow night." Mione squinted. "Mysti...? Uh...? Ginny, what the blazes are Mysti Stags?"

"Indie rock band. Their drummer is an old friend of my brother's." Ginny shrugged. "The ‘zines’ have nice reviews on them, and I've heard Susan playing their tapes. You'll like them."

"Like them?" Standing to collect her papers, Mione gave a skeptical look. "So, presumably they're nothing like Blink-182?"

"Oi?" Ginny blinked. "You didn't like Blink-182?"

"Like them?" Mione cocked a sharp eyebrow as she began to pack her bag. "The music was all loud and scronchy, and the boy standing up there with the microphone looked so... lost and angry."

"Oh?" Ginny looked away, fingering a silver chain around her neck. "I see."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to..." Mione paused, attempting to make eye contact.

"No matter." Ginny stood brusquely, avoiding her friend's gaze. "I need to return a couple of books. Meet you by the main entrance." She left the room before Mione could renew her attempts to apologise.

Mione sighed, upset with herself for being insensitive, but also somewhat flummoxed by her younger friend’s unexpected pique.

Indeed, from Mione’s perspective, it was puzzling why would Ginny even care? Didn't she realise that Mione had found their first (and only other) attempt at a concert to be a ghastly bore? Hadn't Ginny noticed that Mione knew almost nothing about modern music; that she was an introvert; a self-admitted wallflower, more at home in the library on a Friday night than a pub?

Ginny, on the other hand was lively, prettier, and in possession of some fairly hot tickets — why couldn't she just, well, ask someone else?

Mione paused for a moment, staring blindly out the doorway through which her friend had departed. A frown crept very slowly about her eyes, and, she shook her head.

Use the 'evidence' side of your brain, Mione-girl.

Indeed, Mione had to admit that Ginny was rather unlikely to ‘just ask someone else’. That was simply not the way her room-mate did things. She may have had the looks to get lots of dates, but she never went on any. She was witty and clever, and ought to be making plenty of new friends all the time... but she didn't.

It was almost as if Ginny was a self-imposed wallflower but, unlike Mione, appeared quite unhappy with that sort of life. Lots of things about the girl’s personality seemed to hint that she was rather lonely, and would do well with a broader circle of friends but, paradoxically, it seemed fair to say that Ginny kept... pushing people away.

Paradox upon paradox? Mione tapped her lip.

Not wanting to leave Ginny stewing downstairs, Mione hastened to finish physically sorting her books and papers, even as she tried to mentally sort the jigsaw scraps of this friendship issue. She puzzled over what it was about Ginny that 'pushed people away'? Was it her (perhaps overly casual) appearance? The penchant for drab denim; the sort of limp hair and pallid complexion that could be easily polished in ten minutes of primping? Could those all be signs of… self-sabotage?

Maybe.

But more likely that was beside the point. There could be plenty of unrelated reasons for Ginny's au naturel grooming, and Mione decided that the girl could probably wear a barley sack and still sparkle. Wasn’t it fair more likely the issue was really a general matter of… attitude?

Mione pursed her lips. Taking one final glance around the carrel to make sure she hadn’t left anything, she nodded to herself and stepped out into the corridor, convinced that she was finally getting somewhere with this.

Attitude.

Reticent. Sullen and evasive. Lost and…

Lost and angry??

Having reached the bottom of the steps, Mione stared blankly at the wall facing her.

Did the unintended 'lost and angry' barb strike a bit too close to home? Was Ginny some bitter, disillusioned Generation X soul, disrespected by a cold and shallow world, sick of being tossed aside by self-serving, dismissive baby-boomers?

Or, maybe she was just the product a lousy childhood?

Ginny never spoke of her past, but a difficult upbringing could well explain why this tough-minded, hard-scrabble, chippy little sparrow was having difficulty fitting in with the world.

Mione shrugged. She had no idea what the real story was but, either way, the ’lost and angry’ description seemed to fit. Furthermore, it put a simple intuitive label on the problem — the best first step toward tackling it.

Crossing into the library foyer, seeing her friend in the distance, Mione’s thoughts were finally honing in on a plan. She had learned (from unpleasant experience) that ‘Angry’ people rarely have patience for lectures or interrogation, so best forget that. More productive to focus on the ‘Lost’ angle.

Easy.

Over the years, Mione had come to understand (more satisfyingly) that ‘lost’ people often responded well to a subtle nudge; a sign; a simple validation; a way forward. So...

"Ginny, I'm sorry I sounded off." Mione touched her mate's shoulder. "Thank you so for the invitation — I'd really love to go." She smiled hopefully. "Mysti Stags, you said? The name sounds rather cute, actually."

Ginny gave a millisecond glance and pushed her way through the first set of doors. "You ought not feel obliged, Mione. I'm sure you'll have loads of homework."

Bloody psych-majors. Mione bit her tongue and hastened in the girl’s wake. Smell pity a mile off, do they?

Mione put an extra effort into assembling a big smile, then caught the girl's eye as she came level. "Yes, Ginny, it’s true I’ll have a lot of work this weekend, however you..." She jabbed her friend's shoulder with a stiff index finger. "You are my friend. You're important to me. In fact you're so bloody important to me that I'm torturing my cheeks right now trying to look like a cheery little fop, but the fact is that even if I'm only three-quarters-keen to go with you, I seem to recall you spending two hours with me a couple of Saturdays ago trudging about the Tate Gallery trying not to grouse, so now it's my turn. And besides — there's no point living in London if I don't absorb a little of the modern scene, right?"

Ginny stared at her.

Stared with deep eyes.

Deep eyes that seemed to proclaim so much. Yet declare so little.

Ever since they'd first met nearly a year ago, Mione had puzzled over what was behind those eyes. What wonders and sorrows had they beheld? Mione doubted she'd ever know the half of it, but none of that mattered because, right now, it was pretty clear that those eyes were beholding... friendship... in a pure, most obstinate, form. And pure obstinate friendship was apparently something that Ginny could relate to. It showed in her eyes.

"Good lass!" Ginny flashed a hint of one of her rare, precious smiles. "I'll pop by here after last class, yeah? If we leave early, we can stop at Sheephaven for a pint and some chips before the show."

"Brilliant!" A heady warmth rose up from Mione's chest at the little spark in the girl's voice; at the subtlest bounce in her stride as the pair made their way down the front steps.

Guardedly, gazing off into the light sleet that was just starting to settle around them, Mione allowed herself a satisfied smile. Then she grinned at what her little victory had earned.

A good friend is a treasure; a good 'friendship' even more so!

Now she had merely to deal with the apparent fact that she'd just promised to attend another... rock concert??


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


... Never knew you; yet I chose you;
'cause the true you; truly shows you.

Wish I knew you;
Knew the true you...

But you're on the wrong-right side
of the right-wrong side
of the January veil of rain.


Harry Jordan's pencil trailed away, and clattered loose to the table. He pushed aside the notebook and slid wearily down the cheap wooden chair, staring through a window that was, truly, a portrait of January. Full of London rain.

He was about to reach for his long-forgotten coffee, when-

CRASH!

Harry jolted up; his glance darting down the hall.

He exhaled, rolling his eyes, recognising the sound as merely the wonky towel rack falling off the wall again — a state of disrepair that was likely to persist for a while because the obvious perpetrator was already now swaggering heedlessly out of the steamy loo, clad only in a towel, and belting at the top of his lungs, "... So go ahead 'n' shoot me; Cause I ain't goin' down. Aim an' fire yo' best shot; And I ain't hittin' the..."

Lee Jordan's atrocious vocals died away... and he burst into laughter at the sight of his adoptive brother cringing, hands clamped over ears.

"What? Bro, you no like my little lullabye?"

No answer. Apparently Harry's hands were pretty good noise filters.

Moving fast to exploit the temporary deafness, Lee grabbed his brother from behind and wrenched one hand askew to sing (mercilessly off-key) into the vulnerable ear. "Harry Harry very fairy! I sing so merry 'n' you don' care-y. Harry fai... Hey, what's this?"

Releasing his victim, Lee reached a damp hand down to retrieve Harry's notebook. "Hey." A small frown crossed Lee's forehead as the quick skim down the open page slowed to methodical scan. "Hey bro, sing me a bit?"

"Er, yeah." Harry took a big mouthful of cold coffee and jostled it about his throat for a moment. He tried (and botched) his first tentative middle-C. After a couple of coughs, he tried again.

"A flock of birds, an open sky,
The wind picks up; I wonder why.
The clouds close in, and I can tell..."

In seconds, the voice softened from the craggy morning gravel to something... artful... smooth enough to lull the senses; a cool shroud over the raw edge; a seduction just sweet enough to slide down easy... and cut straight to the heart.

For an opening stanza and refrain, Lee stood there, head cocked. By midway into the next, he'd grabbed chop-sticks from the dish rack, swept a clear spot on the counter, and was trying a few tentative taps. Almost immediately, he'd found a rhythm (Beat-bit–rasssp; beat-rasp; beat-bit-rasssp; bit-rasp...) to empower Harry’s voice. And there, in a dingy row house kitchen off Caledonian Park, the two brothers blended, synchronised; became a single entity... Partners in song.

For, indeed, Lee and Harry Jordan were more than mere brothers. They were mind and soul of a new sensation sweeping North London. The Mysti Stags.

"... right-wrong side... of the January veil of rain."

Beat-bit–rasssp... bit-rasp... bit.

The final after-tone trailed from Harry's lips, and the scene fell silent. With eyes closed, Harry leaned back in the rickety chair. Lee adjusted his towel, quietly set aside the chop-sticks, and gazed a long moment through the grey window.

"Mother of Mo, bro!" Lee scratched his chin. "We gotta score that. I can see it all now. Better than 'Three Feather Sunset'!"

"You think?" Harry opened his eyes; a half-smile playing on his lips.

"Moody, sensitive. Aye! The chickees'll love it." Lee grinned. "The blokes too — if that's your preferred."

With a little flick of eyebrow and finger, Harry offered a subtly (suitably) snarky reply, then gathered his coat from the back of the chair and crossed the room. "Got to run, Lee. Starting a new job over at C.U.L."

"Oh? City Uni Lon-dun?" Lee waved. "When you'll be back?"

"Finish at 5, and I'll race straight here. Plenty of time for the show, yeah?" Harry picked up his umbrella at the door. "Hey, if you talk to Dean, can you remind him to bring my Schecter?"

"Aye, bro. And my sweet love to all the pretty little lady scholars!"

Harry couldn't help but smirk as he ascended into the street. Crossing beneath the bare limbs of the nearby park, heedless to the cold driving drizzle, he turned his collar and hurried on, anxious not to be late for his first day of work at the library.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Lee watched absently through the gauzy curtains as Harry faded into the mist. He frowned a bit... because he was the older brother, and it was his job to keep a watchful eye on his quiet, sensitive little mate. But this time, he also smiled slightly, though he didn't really know why.

Finally, he pushed back from the window to get on with the morning.

Passing the loo, he glanced down at the collapsed rack, and resolved not to bother with it. Not today. He retrieved a bath robe from the floor, and left the rest of the carnage lie.

Crossing back over to the mail table, he shoved aside yesterday's Times (Another car bombing — bloody IRA!), and gathered the rest of the correspondence (Night club stationery? Brill!). Fingering a small parcel delivery, he eyed the label ('Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling'), before chuckling and turning away.

A mite tempting to curl up with a new book, but no. No time for flights of fancy. Not today. No distractions, because today was... big. Big!

Today was 'first-day-in-the-rest-of-your-life' big. It was Camden Palace, BIG!

Lee was ready to believe they had the tiger by the tail. He'd followed the rise of the best North London bands over the past few years, and he knew the stakes. A successful gig at the Palace could be a ticket to real record contracts and big-quid tour bookings! They were on the verge of all that; Mysti Stags had been smouldering warm now for more than a year and were set to burst into flame.

As long as they hung together.

Making his way over to Harry's piano, Lee clattered his sticks against a framed photo of the band, pondering the odds of their of sticking it out long enough to start tasting real success on the charts.

Eh. Not bad, not bad...

The 'talent' quotient was rock solid. Dean and Shay played a pair of mean guitars. Lee preferred not to brag on himself, but he had years of experience scoring pieces for local bands, and his arrangements always seemed to juice the crowds. Besides that, his percussion had recently started to turn some heads — especially after that recent shout (Ten metro drummers who can burn down the roof!) from Shakin' Leaf Mag. And, to cap off the squad, nobody was leaving Harry off their Christmas lists. Blimey, the kid had gifts!

On the flip side, there'd been some bumps on the road, and Lee knew there would be more. Shay partied too hard, and there were times his bass suffered a bit for it. And Dean kept angling for roles he didn't quite suit, like vocals (yeh, okay, decent back-up) and lyricist (erm, no). But, for the most part, the gang was really starting to pull onside and make beautiful noise.

Yeh. Not bad, not bad.

Now all they needed was one big spark. And, thankfully, that friendly young chap from North London Talent Agency seemed quite keen to hand them tinder and flint.

Ah. On that note...

Lee donned the robe and sprawled himself over a threadbare chesterfield. Folio in one hand and phone in the other, he dialed.

"Morn' Hannah, is Mr. Langley in yet?... Yeh, sure, I'll wait..."

"Nevi-man! Como estas?... Eh, brill!... Aye, we're all practised, mate. We'll be ready to... Oh? A half hour early? I'll try, but Harry's grueling 'til five... Aye then; thanks... Okay... Right... You reckon, yeah? Hey, one more thing, mate — you get all the papers from Gyorgi? Aye, would you mind checking his numbers again? No, I trust him, but, eh, to be truthful no I don't. Don't fancy him — he's like a-a-a some sort of sodding Severus Snape. Huh? Oh forget it — fictional character. Like Harry Potter, y'know?... Heh heh, yeh... Aye!... Hey, well thanks Nev — truly obliged! Yeh, we'll be there by six."

Lee jotted down a few notes, then grabbed the stack of mail and began sorting through possible gig invitations. "UnderSolo... Secrets Euston... Oh? Now what're you doing in here?"

Mixed in with the letters was last week's postcard from... Ronnie Smith.

Lee gazed at it. He scratched his cheek absently.

For a moment, Lee thought about... reminiscing.

All alone, all quiet but for winter rain tapping on the glass — this was the perfect time for a whole cascade of fond memories to come streaming back from sunny Devon summer rambles with old childhood mates, but... well... the problem was that he didn't actually recall too much of those days. Shutting his eyes, he could vaguely place, um, Fred and George? He (equally vaguely) seemed to recall hearing that they'd come to a bad end. Like a few other kids he'd once known. But of course he really didn't know details.

He gazed at the postmark (Pembroke, Wales) and stared for a long moment at the sloppy script, not really reading it, but nonetheless musing how it was nice of the bloke to send a note. Seemed a tad ironic though; this Ronnie kid must have been a couple years younger than Fred and George, so Lee had probably never known him as much more than some runty tag-along sprog.

But, hey, old friends are best friends, right? Even if you don't much remember them?

Lee's gaze shifted, settling blankly back onto the piano, wondering how he'd lost touch with his childhood friends. Lost touch with his whole childhood, for that matter.

And what had gone down in the intervening years? What had really become of his old friends? Like the Smiths. Or...

Was that really even their name?

Daft question — who the hell else would they be, yeah?

Funny how the mind plays tricks...

Shrugging, he hauled himself back to the present.

The present. As in, today. As in ‘knees-up concert tonight’. Oi, lots to do! He needed to get dressed, scrawl Harry a note on the revised meeting time, then high-tail his way down to Camden High Street to check all their gear. Meet with sound crew at 11; lights and props at 3.

Cool, cool, so very cool.

He burst from the chesterfield, ready to swing into gear, then glanced one final time at the postcard. Pursing his lips thoughtfully, he recalled the final paragraph in the note ("Hey, did you know that my younger sister lives in North London too? Her address is..."). Lee had no recollection whatsoever about a little sister from that Smith brood, so he truly didn't know her from Eve but, on a whim, he'd posted her a couple of complimentary tickets a few days back. Just in case.

He shrugged. He bobbed his head a bit, hummed a bar from Harry's new tune. And he nodded.

Yeh. Be kinda cool if 'Little Sister Smith' drops by tonight.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Rough-hewn ceiling; random patterns in the wood; shadows dance from a single candle;
(somewhere out of line of sight).

Drifting near the edge of sleep; patterns shimmer, shift, rearrange into a menagerie of...
anything — dogs and dragons; hippogriffs and horses.

Then, there is the touch — slightly rough, yet still gentle; warm; loving.

There is a voice; a song; soft words lilting along with the flickering candle.

Another voice cuts in. Sharp! Frightened.
"Arthur! Godric's Hollow! There's been a...!!"


Ginny's eyes snapped open!

Heart pounding, a moment of bewildered terror passed before she resolved the indecipherable smear of endless grey into what it was — a harmless, crappy, dull winter sky, spitting drizzle into her face.

Cursing aloud, she wiped the sopping mess of rain from her eyes.

And yes — it was just rain, dammit. If her cheeks were puffy, that's because the wind was cold. Or maybe there were some bleeding caustic sulphates creeping down from the Midlands again. Or... or whatever.

Cursing softly now, Ginny hurried through the quad, checking her watch, hoping that her eyes weren't too swollen or pathetic, thankful at least that she never wore mascara, which would surely now be running all amok like a barking banshee.

Bounding up the steps, she pushed through the double doors and glanced toward the lift. Mione will be on third floor, so I'll... She tamped her stride down to a deliberate, respectful, library pace.

As she slowed, Ginny found herself listening. Hearing.

Ginny heard a voice. ("Certainly, Dr. Appleblum. One p.m. tomorrow.") For some reason, it seemed to captivate her. She listened closer, sensing kindness, a subtle melody ("And, is it all right if I move this caution sign?"), but perhaps she ought to have been attending less to the 'sound' of the words, and more to their 'content' ("Actually no. It's a drip coming down near the lift. I reckon it's made the floor very sl-")

"Aiii!" Feet flailing on the wet marble, arms scrabbling to catch her back pack, Ginny went down; her elbow jamming hard on the floor. On impact, she felt her tiny silver chain catch in the rough wool about her collar, and heard a sudden sharp metallic TING.

Gaping in horror, Ginny saw a small round band of gold bounding out of the chaos. It clanged again, twice and thrice on the floor... then raced like an escaped gaolbird, straight for the grate!

Panicked, Ginny's muscles tensed for an utterly futile lunge, but-

OummpfF!

A young man hit the floor, chest first, hand outstretched, sliding on the rain-slickened sheen.

And that is when Ginny's heart so nearly stopped.

For, out past the frantic insanity, Ginny saw plainly as the gold ring mounted the grating, teetered on the edge... and dropped.

Down.

Despite the young man's best effort, the ring was surely on its way now to meet whatever Roman-era hell or sewer lay below...

But, huh??

Suddenly the ring was leaping out again. Like a bunting from a bush, it flew straight into the young man's desperate grip!

And that is when Ginny distinctly heard that gentle, melodious voice utter something a tad distressed. Something slightly coarser than 'oh pluck'.

And the next few seconds were as much garbled whirlwind as the prior few, because the voice was speaking very rapidly ("Here's your ring, miss! Happy chance it popped right out, yeah? Must have, uh, met something on the way down?") while a nervous pair of hands was helping her to her feet ("You're not hurt? Oh good! Blasted sign ought to have been here to, erm, caution, but...") and then he was rushing off ("Sorry, bus to catch! Can't be late for the, uh...")

And Ginny stared as the young man burst out the double doors of the library just in time for a gust of wind to catch his mop of jet-black hair full on, tossing it into the most exquisitely wild mess.

Rubbing her not-terribly-sore elbow, Ginny gazed out into the grey for a long moment. Very carefully, she pocketed her mother's wedding ring. And, without really knowing why, she smiled.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Palace

Author's Notes:

A little question to keep in mind over the coming weeks: what exactly is the fundamental mystery here? People have already asked me things like, "What has everyone forgotten?" and "Why did they forget?" but is there something else that cuts right to the heart of the matter? Front row tickets for the Stags' Brixton concert to anyone who reads between the lines...

Moving on, I have to say that I was touched and pleased by the early reception to the story -- I'm definitely pleased now to have followed up on this odd story notion I had. Looking ahead, the writing is going well, and I'm completed jived by my preliminary draft of chapter 8 (the point at which stuff *happens*). It's been a while since I've been this excited by a chapter!

I've still a lot of pondering, though. Issues remain, like which (of several) endings to aim for, and how to get there... These, of course, are matters toward which readers' comments can have tangible influence.


Chapter 2. Palace


It was after six when Harry finished bounding up the stalled escalator at Mornington Crescent Station. Fortunately, he'd gotten Lee's note straight away, and had skipped supper, so he held out reasonable hopes that he'd not missed terribly much of whatever Mr. Langley wanted to speak to them about. Traffic on Camden High Street stalled him for another minute, before Harry sprinted across the street, still trying to make up time, still trying to reassure himself that his own presence wasn't all that important. After all, Lee handled all the business, right? They were all practised and ready? He could cope with minor program changes?

A pretty girl at the side entrance seemed to be waiting for him. She waved him in. "Backstage room 11, Mr. Jordan. They'll be expecting you." Smiling, she looked for a moment as though she wanted to say something else, but (like many females in Harry's presence) couldn't quite muster the moxy.

Approaching the designated room, Harry heard familiar voices. With instinctive politeness, he entered the antechamber quietly, not wishing to disrupt a somewhat contentious discussion that he could already hear underway.

"This is shit! We're a bloody band, not some backup gerries for a vocalist."

"Easy Dean."

Harry recognised Lee's tone of voice which, in such circumstances, tended to tread a fine line between his normally irrepressible enthusiasm and a cautious, more responsible elder statesmanly diction.

"This may be a huge break for us, so let's use our heads. Harry's a modest bloke and he'd not fancy stealing the show, a'right? But I reckon he'll go the extra mile for us if he thought it was good for the Stags, yeah? So, is it good for the Stags? Well, if there's really to be some big name promoter watching us tonight..."

"There is. Believe it, mates." Langley's conviction was unmistakable. "I saw the limo drop him off for a reconnoitre earlier today and, listen. The man's a legend among the older agents; he's hardly about to catch a gig in person for kicks. He's here on a mission to watch for things he can't get from the demo tape or some 'zine' article. My understanding is that he'll not judge you on the canned act alone. He digs spontaneous, genuine stuff, which is why I think he'd love to hear improv vocals. Improvs give him a measure of how you can roll with the crowd."

"That's the Stags, Nevi — we're rollers!" The gleam in Lee's eye was obvious as Harry edged forward, crossing unnoticed to the threshold in time to see the elder Jordan cuff Dean on the arm. "Peace, mate. I really feel we should do it. This could seal the deal, yeah? So, when Harry gets here, let's ask if he reckons he can grind out one of-"

"Ugh. I still say it's a shit slope to skid. I-"

"Whoa!" Harry stepped full into the room, waving an imaginary white flag. "If Lee and Mr. Langley want me to improv a number, then okay — I'm fine with trying my new 'Grey Veil' right after number eight. But why stop there? Wouldn't it rock if Deaner closed off the set with his 'Stairway' solo? It's so bloody not-Zeppelin, this crowd would love it."

Everyone stared.

Then, ever so slowly, Shay grinned. "Oi, Deaner! Do it, man!"

"Erm?" Dean looked shocked by the unexpected turn. Then he managed a semi-pleased shrug.

"A'right!" Lee beamed at Harry, then turned to Langley. "So, what d'you say, Nev?"

"Stairway solo...?" Langley made a show of squinting analytically at the tall (suddenly rather self-conscious) guitar lead. "Yeh, that'll pass." He grinned.

On his way out the door, Langley brushed Harry's arm and leaned in with casual discretion. "Hey Harry, mate. Any chance you could swing back here tomorrow afternoon for a little chat?"

"Crumb." Harry gave him a regretful look. "Sorry, sir. I'm working til five."

"Eh, no prob." Langley nodded and fished in his pocket for a calling card. "But say. If you find time, maybe give me a buzz at home tomorrow morning?"


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"Mione, what's the oddest thing you've seen? Lately?"

Mione met her mate's somewhat uneven gaze with a pleasantly bleary one of her own.

Mione's excuse was that she rarely drank alcohol. Ginny, meanwhile, was already closing on the dregs of her third pint, and The Sheephaven Bay was known for 'not' watering down the wares. Mione was vaguely aware that they would both suffer tomorrow for this evening's indiscretions but... well, it had been months since Mione could recall seeing Ginny relax her white-knuckled grip on the world so, hey, perhaps the occasional ladies' night was just what they both needed.

"Let me think..." Turning to the question at hand, Mione's eyes went unfocused for a moment, then sharpened again. Her lips quirked a bit, and she huddled close. "Okay, imagine this. A few weeks past, I was making for the Leicester Square tube, and out of some alley comes this giant, uhhh... this huge bear of a bloke. Must have been over seven feet tall; maybe thirty stone and, I swear Ginny, his beard was bigger than a badger! Oh, oh, then, get this..." Her lips spread wide in a grin. "He had this huge greatcoat and a little frilly pink brolly... in bright sparkling sunshine!"

Ginny stared for a few seconds, processing the image. "Bright sparkling sunshine?" Her brow knotted. "In London?? I said 'odd', not bleeding preposterous!"

The pair burst into laughter — loud and stupid enough to attract glances from a few nearby blokes of the sort that two slight, pretty, college girls ought not attract glances from, but Ginny didn't seem to notice, and Mione didn't care much.

After the sniggers died away, Ginny's face turned sober, and her eyes drifted off toward the dark street outside. "D'you believe in e.s.p. or, ummm, telekinesis?"

Mione watched her friend, waiting for a mischievous twitch or something, but Ginny's gaze remained distant, contemplative, expressionless.

Mione let her gaze wander blindly about the pub, settling randomly on a foursome playing darts, as she debated how best to answer. As innocuous as the question may have seemed, it was actually a bit awkward.

It was awkward because there were two answers.

One answer brought back vague impressions of... unpleasantness... from a childhood that Mione never much thought back to. The other answer — the stereotypical 'Mione Granger' answer — seemed far easier to express, so she ran with it.

"There are centuries of anecdotes attesting to both, Ginny. But now we've had decades of careful, controlled, observational studies that have never supported any claims. So, it's not impossible, but nothing has ever been proven to within arguable statistical significance."

"I s'pose." Ginny's face turned back toward Mione. She nodded blandly to herself and drained her last mouthful of foam. "Down it, lass." She tapped Mione's mug. "We'd best soon queue up, yeah?"

Mione found herself doing as instructed. The last two gulps seemed to quarrel a bit with her esophagus, but she prevailed and rose (a bit more wobbly than she expected) to her feet. She felt the younger girl's arm weave itself into hers — companionly but also somewhat steadying — and they made their way together into the street.

"Do all these people have tickets?" Mione frowned at the long line leading to the front entrance of the Camden Palace, suddenly quite aware of the flecks of dreary rain beginning to spatter against the brightness of the neon billboard.

"Dunno." Ginny shrugged. "Forty minutes 'til show, so we'll just have to..." She trailed off as she watched a tall chap in tie and overcoat approach. He had a simple, modestly pleasant face and was carrying a small torch with which he was unobtrusively scanning the crowd.

The light darted over Mione's and Ginny's faces once, twice, then the man honed in on Ginny. He gave a polite querying smile. "Miss Ginny Smith?"

Ginny frowned. "Er, yeah?"

"Party of two?" He glanced at Mione.

"Er, yeah." Ginny's frown did not abate.

"Pardon the intrusion, Miss Smith, but if you and your friend would kindly follow, we can take you in through the side and get you seated."

"Errm...?" Ginny blinked. "Lee Jordan? He sent...?"

"Aye." The man smiled and gestured again for them to follow. "Mr. Jordan asked me to watch for... eh, well he didn't give me much to go on, but he mentioned red hair, and uh..."

"And with all the redheads around, you got lucky, eh?" Ginny smirked. "This is brill! How very thoughtful of him. Could you be so kind as to give him our appreciations?"

"I'll be sure to tell him." He unlocked a small side door and let them in. "Straight up these stairs and the usher will lead you to-"

"Wait." It was Mione's turn to frown. "Upstairs? But our tickets say 'pit'."

"Eh? Oh right!" The man dug into his coat and handed over two fresh stubs. "Take these ones, miss. Balcony booth; compliments of North London Talent. Now, if you'll forgive me, I have some other matters to attend to."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Deep breath.

Harry closed his eyes, and set himself adrift.

Deeeep breath.

He was in a special place...
tinkle of soft chimes in his ears...
a simple melody.
Music Box Dancer...

Amidst the soft calm of light blue walls and plaster ceiling, he imagined holding himself upright...
grasping a wooden rail, gazing up toward the suspended shapes of little crepe birds...

Deep breath.

Raising his hand, he focused deep within his chest...
and from somewhere inside he felt a heat.
A tingling rose up, poured out through his hands...

and he willed the birds to move, to flutter gently in time to-


"Eh, mates — all set?"

Harry's eyelids parted at the sound of Langley's voice.

"Hey Nevi." Lee tossed aside his practice sticks. "Any sign of, uh...?"

"Aye." Langley flashed a thumbs-up. "Placed them on mezzanine. Booth 2 on the left."

"Cheers!" Lee grinned and bounded to his feet.

Shay and Dean barely registered the spoken words (as the exchange obviously didn't involve them) but they sensed it was now time to get up off the sofa; to make their way toward the darkened doorway.

Putting aside thoughts of nursery tunes and decorative mobiles, Harry got to his feet. He paused momentarily at a mirror for a final visual check. He frowned vaguely at a reflection that still looked a bit strange and unfamiliar. The young man in the mirror — Harry's stage persona — seemed kind of fake; a pretend rock-icon with a knotted silk banding in among his messy hair; a cliche black tank top; passable musculature honed from all those weight-room visits that Lee demanded...

Harry shrugged. It was for show; a costume; it had nothing to do with the music... but it looked okay... so he stepped away from the glass and moved trance-like out into the darkness, into the zone.

Within the 'zone', every thought or sense has a purpose. One hears almost nothing; one sees only what one needs to see, and all that Harry saw was a little strip of reflective tape on the backs of Dean's shoes. He followed that strip, here and there, through the dark. Then, when Dean cut sharp to the right, Harry drifted left.

By practiced instinct, Harry found his position. His hand brushed the keyboard. Counting three octaves down, his fingers took their places, ready for a simple little one-handed Ray Manzarek-esque treble riff.

He breathed...

Soft hum of the curtains; muted ripples of a thousand whispers...

His fingers tensed. Pressed. Electric notes pulsed out...

C - C - D - C......

C - C - E-D-E-C

He inhaled, waiting for Dean to echo from a high C on his Strato...

Then Harry shivered; his upper lip tensed, suddenly terribly aware that those guitar sounds would utterly ravage him, because Deaner could make notes so razor sharp... and Harry was certain that, just hearing the progression, every muscle in his damned throat would stiffen; probably shatter the first note out of his mouth, but... well, that was practically expected now.

Screw it — one botched note and you'll be fine. Doesn't matter; doesn't matter. Just go with it...

In truth, it actually did sort of matter, though not in a negative way.

In a year's worth of shows, Lee had learned that Harry did sometimes butcher the night's first line. But, Lee had also recognised that if that first note did come out all cracked and jagged, it often meant that the Mysti Stags were headed for a fine show! Lee didn't know if it meant that Harry was extra-amped, or if just played well with the audience (the Lee Jordan philosophy being, 'fuggit bro, the ladies dig a sensitive bloke, eh?'), but who cared. It was a tic, but it was a Mysti Stags tic, and one of these years, maybe someone at Billboard Magazine would write a joke about it.

So Harry just let himself get swept up in the pulsing, gathering chord. He hung on every note as Dean's fingers tore his heart to shreds for another two... three... four seconds, then he inhaled and (medium soft)...


"Runn--n-ning..."


Hundreds of ecstatic screams ripped through the darkness, completely masking Harry's cracked note. Utterly stoked, something primal inside Harry really really wanted to shout, or howl, or even outright weep, right along with everyone, but he doubled down, focused as Shay's deep rumbling bass pulsed up, louder, louder, knocking the crowd back.

Harry pulled his last full breath, counted down as Lee boomed out three beats of brutal thunder behind him, then...


"Runnnning...!
You were run run run run run run runnnninnng...
And I caught your hand!"


And, with that, a supernova of blue and red lights burst onto Camden Palace stage.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"... And we spun and spun on grassy ground...
And I knew way before we were crashing down...
That I was falling... falling... falling for you!"


"Holy heck, Ginny! I... I actually know this song!" Mione was grinning ear to ear as she tried to shout over the music. "It's... it's Three Feather Sunset; it played at Crim Society's Autumnfest!"

Ginny didn't reply. Every ounce of her perception was elsewhere; totally focused on the stage...


"... The rockets burst for us...
Orchestra chorus...
Fanning the sky; shadows and light...
Just you and I...

For our three feather sunset..."


Ginny stared at his barely tamed hair, the shape of his jaw, his eyes. When her own eyes stung from staring, she closed them and just listened. Listened to the voice.

The voice.

It's him, isn't it?

A part of her wanted it (knew it) to be the same kind, melodic voice that she sometimes dreamed of; that she imagined she'd heard today in the library.

It was, wasn't it?

Ginny shrugged.

None of that mattered. Not really. The voice of her dreams belonged to her dreams; the voice from the library belonged in a day that had come and gone like seven thousand other days in her life... but the voice down there in the center of all those lights was singing for her tonight, and she was bloody well going to listen...

And as she listened; as she swayed to undulating beat, she raised a hand from the railing, and held it out. Eyes still closed, she hovered her hand in space. Even though it was a mere eight inches in front of her, somehow she felt that she could reach all, all, the way down to center stage left.

And she imagined she could touch his face.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


The thing about stage lights is that they're like a pane of one-way glass. They let everyone out there watch you in vivid detail... while you see damn near nothing.

Harry was vaguely aware that the pit was a crawling, beastly throng of disassociated anonymous limbs in frantic motion. He could hear the occasional throbbing cheer pour down from the balconies. A part of him was curious to know a bit more of what it all truly looked like, but the music in him was happier being blind. Vague pulsing energy was fine; all else was a distraction.

Yet there seemed to be something cutting through the vagueness tonight. There was a texture; a focus to the air. It felt like a force. Electric or... magnetic.

Harry had been on stage many times, but he could not recall having felt anything like this before. It was as though his singing was a dialogue. Something out there was beckoning him, drawing his breath, shaping the music, making him pour out his soul. The power lent and borrowed; hungered and sustained.

Harry might have convinced himself that it was his imagination — a figment of the wild lighting and a huge crowd, but some details were remarkably specific. After a while, Harry had pegged several places in the audience that seemed to project forces and, by far, the strongest signal emanated from fairly close on his left; somewhere up above; on the balcony.

From time to time he had to stop himself from unconsciously slanting that way. He kept adjusting his feet, aiming to face the whole crowd; knowing, as a performer, that he should try to make each of the roughly twelve hundred guests feel like he was singing for them, and them alone.

But he wasn't.

By the end of every song, Harry found he'd invariably pulled left again as if, tonight, he was in here singing for just one person.

Though he had no idea who.

No idea.

Or did he?

In a night when so many things felt slightly odd, the strangest feeling came over him fairly late in the show, when he was in the midst of his special 'improvised' solo.

Going it alone for such a big crowd seemed like a novel, exciting opportunity. Harry had tried to visualise having Lee, Shay and Dean fall stone silent, leaving him all to himself to climb the heart-rending slopes of 'Grey Veil'. To some it might have seemed paralytically daunting, but Harry regarded it as the chance for liberation.

Unleashed from the pressures of keeping time and monitoring cues, the process of singing should all come down to the barest matter of words and pitch. If he did it right, the lyrics ought to pour out as naturally as one breath follows the next, and his only need would be to feel, and to evoke.

For that, a voice coach had once taught Harry that he must strive to be human. His voice must feel and express genuine human hopes and fears, strengths and flaws. He needed to re-create every whim and angst that had led him to write the song in the first place. That was all basic knowledge and he was prepared for it.

Yes, despite all that preparation, Harry was in for a surprise.

In the last breath before his first note of the solo, Harry put his mind back into the existential drudgery of a dinghy kitchen, staring through a fogged window, feeling dead-depressed... but that image simply evaporated. Instead, his thoughts raced, laser-sharp, to a moment he had never yet even experienced when he'd sat down (just this morning) to compose the piece. His mind was suddenly back fully immersed in... his confused dash from the library. Flooding back to him was the swirl of bewildering emotions; a terror or excitement of having risked his greatest, strangest secret to a complete stranger.

Somehow everything that this one seminal moment represented (an orphan's loneliness; the loss of a family he didn't remember; the tension of secrets others would never understand; the wild thrill of nearly betraying himself) poured into the odd verses that he'd composed. And through it all, he angled himself blatantly to the left, and raised his face upwards, wondering what he truly meant as he sang...


"... Know the true you..."


Then, one verse later, as his vocal cords stretched way way up to the song's crescendo at the very edge of his performance range...


"You know I'd stretch up to...
Unravel ev'ry thread...
To r--eac-ch to you..."


... his voice half-cracked, not from the high note, but from the fact that he was on verge of tears.

Cold rain and bitter tears.

Very nearly overwhelmed by some unknown, deep, suppressed sorrow, Harry almost lost it. He swayed once, twice... but the cheers from the audience, and the forest of arms reaching from the darkness up toward the stage-lights, toward him, steered him back. Coaxed him through the final verse...


"Teach me to...
(through the veil...)
Reach to you...
(grey is the veil...)

But you're on the wrong-right side
of the right-wrong side
of the January veil of rain."


With no idea how he'd gotten there, Harry finished on his knees. Some inspired stage engineer had quenched every light in the house but for one single blue lamp pulsing down into his drenched, anguished face.

Part of him reckoned it likely made for pretty wild optics.

The other part of him dwelt for a moment on the more pressing matter of how the hell he was supposed to get up again; to find any strength to sing two more numbers.

Fortunately, as Harry wedged a foot beneath himself and began to rise, what he found in himself was... manageable. What he felt was not so different from his own grey veil of depression that draped over him at times.

Depression, and exhaustion, were things he could deal with. After a life of knock-downs and scourging disappointments, he knew how to batten away the fearsome forces within, and carry on.

So he did.

Fortunately, if his voice had lost a bit of edge; if his motions seemed a bit lethargic, the audience barely noticed. Still a bit dazed from the surreal performance, it took them a moment to grasp that the Stags were back in full force, cranking right back into an upbeat song. Realising this, the crowd roared back to life, clapped and cheered, and carried Harry, finally, to the last number.

And at that point he sighed in audible relief. The only thing now standing between him and getting off this stage was four minutes of the morose growls that Harry knew (and actually somewhat hated) as their closing song, "Walking from Harrington Square."

'Harrington' was the sort of bitter, edgy crap that appealed to the bad girls and jaded blokes who put the 'punk' in punk pop. Dean and Shay had written it some years back, and had sold Lee on it giving the Stags a broader musical base. So, it had now become a fixture in their sets and, from the moment Dean launched into a trashy Ramones power chord, it was clear that this particular crowd was going to gobble it up.

Within seconds, the audience was making enough of a racket that Harry knew it barely mattered if he sang well or mangled the rest, so he scrunched his face, hauled in a big breath, and belted out the applause lines...


"And I'm WALKING from Harrington Square.
Yah, guess what? So sorry...
I ain't SORRY!"


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Ginny opened her eyes, and a frown spread about them.

Staring down into the wild cheers, she puzzled through the sudden shift in atmosphere — the hostile, foreign scowl on a face she had begun to imagine that she knew. Shaking her head, she shut from her mind a voice she knew she did not know. Someone on that stage had sung for her tonight, and that someone was done. Finished. All that remained down there now were... performers.


"So-so sorry. I ain't sorry.
I 'n't gettin' no kiss...
Goodbye!"


Ginny turned away. She had no interest in seeing the lead vocalist descend to the edge of the stage, clenched fist, crouching over a nightmarish mass of hundreds of swarming hands all seemingly desperate to catch droplets of his sweat.

Ginny barely heard as the lead-guitar-bloke surged forward to crank out a crowd-pleasing closing instrumental.

Whatever.

She was exhausted, emotionally drained, on the verge of some strange overload, and she had already grabbed Mione's arm and was hurrying for the exits, barely even registering the tetchy sound of her own voice as it was saying, "Enough jollies for one night, yeah? Let's hook ourselves a cabbie."

Back to index


Chapter 3: Impulsive

Author's Notes:

Ought to state, pre-emptively, that you'll get back to Ginny's side of the story in Chapter 4. Her role in this story is firmly on an equal footing with Harry's; I just have a key reason for letting her emerge gradually.

Regarding last week's teaser, there's a bit more of a hint in the last vignette of this chapter. That said, of course, I am also clearly accepting and appreciating all speculations, regardless if they differ from what your opaque and obscure authour might have originally had in mind. Great way for me to learn my audience!


Chapter 3. Impulsive


Harry was washing the previous day's dishes when he heard the noises suggesting that his brother was struggling back to life. It was a bit earlier than Harry might have expected, though sounds from the loo suggested that Lee's awakening was not of the chipper, 'rise and shine' variety.

Feeling merciful, Harry took a minute to assemble a tall glass of water, a mug of some luke-warm coffee, and a plate bearing a dry slice of ungarnished toast.

"Mother o' two month old jelly on the telly..." Lee entered, squeezing his temples.

Harry gestured at the peasant's fare on the table.

Lee grunted something vaguely thankful, and drained both vessels. His throat suddenly clenched; he suppressed a momentary urge to wretch, then groaned. He slouched down in the rickety old chair, and descended face down onto the table.

Glazed eyes stared down, for a long moment, at a dim, shaded nothing...

Then he burst upright, grinning. "Holy snack crackers, bro!"

"What?" Harry gaze his a brother bemused glance.

"Last night's show! Smokin'! Have I ever told you how much I bloody bloody love you?"

"Er yeah." Harry raised an eyebrow. "Most recently around 2:30 a.m. You bounced off my bed for half a bleeding hour last night after you got back."

"I, uh, oops?" Lee's hung-over grin did not show proper contrition. "But cor! The Nevster raved and raved, and even Gyorgy was drooling over the take. I wager we'll merit mention in Select!"

"Brilliant." Harry flashed a smile as he dried his hands and poured more coffee. "So, did you hear anything more on the mysterious 'promoter'?"

"Yeh." Lee half-nodded. "Didn't meet the chap myself, but Nev said he went away happy. Supposedly dug your 'Grey Veil', but y'know, so did bloody everyone! What came over you, man? I-I've never heard you sound quite so, er, well... It was... it was..."

Distracted by the emergence of a refilled mug, Lee lost his train of thought, and frowned. "Hey bro, why did you bugger off so early? There was a flock of birdies who'd have loved to, erm, make your acquaintance, eh?"

Harry shook his head. "I was dead-starved and knackered. My heart wasn't in it." He poured himself some tea.

"Eh right. I hear ye." Lee looked at him a moment, then stirred milk into his coffee, staring at the swirls. "The Smith girl didn't stick around either."

"Smith girl?" Harry's brow knotted slightly as he took a seat opposite his brother. "New bird on the wing, Lee? Did you and Angie split?

"Nah, nah." Lee shook his head. "Angie and I are still okay. Errr... sort of okay. Dammit bro, it right messes with my skull, her being in France and all, but... well, she'll be here next month to visit, yeah?"

"Yeah. Be strong — you can wait that long." Harry gave him a sympathetic smile. "So, who's the 'Smith girl', then?"

"Ah right." Lee nodded. "She's the little sister of a childhood mate. I'd invited her to the gig, and rumour has it she did show up with a friend. Nevi cadged some backstage passes for them and tried to flag 'em down after the show, but they'd already scarpered out of shouting range. Sweet little pair of Cinderellas, I reckon. So, I never got to rightly meet the little lady, but maybe, well... I..." He trailed off, his eyes going distant.

Harry took a quiet sip of tea, waiting for Lee to resume, or change the subject. Which, of course, he did rather frequently when he was hung over.

"Harry, mate... What d'you recall of the old days?

"Old days? Like, Oakley Square? Camden Council Home?"

"Nah, before that." Lee massaged his jaw, his eyes slightly perplexed. "My memory's rubbish. I've got only the rare odd scrap from the early years. Damn-near nothing, really. You?"

"Well, I wouldn't quite say 'nothing'..." Harry eyed his brother thoughtfully, wondering how best to respond. Indeed, there were two ways to answer... but one of those ways involved trying to get his own head around details that he hadn't fully sorted yet.

In particular, Harry had not yet explained to anyone (and barely even himself) his growing conviction that the 'Grey Veil' song was a lot more than some trite poem about having loved and lost. The lyrics that had so recently poured from his mind (just yesterday morning) were mysterious, compelling, and somehow deeply, personally important to him. There was something vital in those words -- something real; something skirting the edge of his faded memories; it felt like it had always there, but never before had it crept quite this close to conscious reach.

Harry pursed his lips, deciding that he couldn't hope to explain any of that to a pin-shaky brother at this hour of a dead-dog Saturday morning. So, he shrugged and opted for the easy road. "Yeah, not quite nothing. But no, I don't remember much."

Lee went silent for a while. His moment of soulful perplexity faded to blandness and, finally, he found the strength of will to gnaw a corner of his toast while Harry dug into a fuller breakfast. Finally, with Harry beginning to clear the dishes, Lee rose to make his way back to the loo, then stopped. "Hey bro?"

"Yeh?"

"Don't forget to call Langley before you head for work, yeah?"

Harry nodded.

Lee took a half step, then teetered back into place, his hand on the door frame. "You know something, Harry?"

"What?"

"You do realise..." Lee looked his brother over with slightly troubled eyes. "You realise that a lot of folks have, like, whole childhoods' worth of memories? They remember... 'stuff'?"


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


That Saturday morning had been unusually productive for Mione. Assignments completed, more than a week ahead on all course readings, the afterglow of all this progress had carried her through a quiet lunch at the Union. Sipping tea, munching on a salad, she had idly pondered her mostly fond recollections from a night out with Ginny. She also revisited one less-than-fond memory.

It was partly the latter that clinched Mione's decision to then do something a bit unusual. After lunch she returned to the library. For the entire afternoon.

These days, this was a distinct departure from the usual Saturday fare. Normally, Mione would be looking forward to a weekend afternoon set aside for getting out and doing different, fun or aimless things with her room mate. It had become a tradition that both girls generally enjoyed... but today was going to be an unfortunate break in the routine, and the fault actually did not lie with Mione's work ethic.

To the contrary, today was a day when Mione would have had no regrets at all about a carefree escape of some sort, considering how much she had accomplished that morning, and tired she was now. But the key motivation to go off and be frivolous and sociable was lacking, since there was nobody available to go off and be frivolous and sociable with.

Because Mione was alone.

Mione was alone because Ginny was, almost certainly, still in bed. Still in bed, even now... (Mione glanced at her watch)... at half past three in the afternoon.

Mione sighed — a combination of sympathy for her friend, a bit of personal loneliness, and a feeling of slight oppression from the library's pondersome weekend quiet.

Yes, however sacrilegious it might sound, she was actually finding the library too quiet today. Of course, she remembered well enough that, not long ago, she'd likely have declared that silence was golden, but today quietness equated to loneliness, because Mione had come to equate weekend library time with weekend library time being pestered by Ginny.

At least able to appreciate some good irony, Mione rolled her eyes at the wonderfully corrupting nature of friendship; at the fact that things had reached a point in her life when she would have willingly traded away 60% of the morning's brilliant productivity for the (dubious?) privilege of having a certain red-headed sprite pop into her carrel a couple of times every hour to chitchat.

After years of being a loner, Mione was almost prepared to admit that she was growing to enjoy not only the notion of 'company', but perhaps even the 'distraction'. She wasn't yet perfectly settled on that last bit, but one thing truly was certain — friendship had come to mean quite something different to Mione now than it ever had before. By enduring the early weekend rising discipline and subsequent library tedium, Ginny had clearly established her cred in the loyal, obstinate friendship department. In return, by tolerating the delightful little pest, Mione had embraced the value of reciprocating.

And perhaps that was far more 'golden' than silence would ever be.

Unfortunately, this morning, silence had won out over friendship. No amount of discipline nor obstinacy nor reciprocity would have coaxed Ginny out of her locked and darkened cocoon. And Ginny had not even volunteered an explanation — a fact that worried Mione.

Mione was pretty certain that the issue was not a hangover. She knew from experience that Ginny could handle those several pints she'd had, and their eventual bedtime (a bit before 11 p.m.) was hardly scandalous for a Saturday. Perhaps the girl had come down with a virus of some sort, but Mione knew just enough about another affliction to suspect a very different culprit.

Depression, perhaps?

A minor in psychology didn't give Mione especially deep grounding in a subject that Ginny herself was honouring in, but Mione's rudimentary course work had taught the differences between normal ups and downs versus the more debilitating burdens that some people could succumb to. And the deep fugues that Ginny occasionally suffered really did sound burdensome.

From what Mione had seen over the past months, Ginny's episodes did not happen often. However, in the time since the pair had become friends, the girl had abruptly and completely folded in around herself a few times, temporarily receding from virtually everything in her life — classes, the outdoors, meals, and even Mione.

The first time it had happened, over a year ago now, the abrupt retreat had pretty nearly freaked Mione... but Ginny's fairly quick recovery (in little more than a day) had kept Mione from going into a full blown panic. Subsequent subtle monitoring had further calmed the older girl (there were never any mentions of suicide; no evidence of self-harm; no particularly odd compulsions or delusions), so urgent intervention seemed uncalled for. Still, Mione had never lost the desire to find some way to help her friend.

Mione had tried to gently ask what went on during those long hours when Ginny was locked away in her room. Was it melancholic? Paralytic? Was it frightening? Painful?

Unfortunately, Ginny's vague reply ("Umm, it's more like 'Purple Fog Side' than 'Purple Haze'") had seemed spectacularly unhelpful. Not only was it diagnostically useless, but Mione didn't even have the faintest clue what the girl was talking about. Mione began to wonder if, perhaps, Ginny preferred it that way; would rather that others not understand (or pity!) the problem. So Mione had mostly backed off.

Mostly?

Well, this is to say that Mione understood the value of a strategic retreat, but was preternaturally incapable of surrender. Thus, she kept the peace with Ginny by no longer mentioning the problem, let alone openly fussing over it, but she had not stopped quietly pondering the matter.

Discretion had definitely put the brakes on any suggestion of medications or professional counseling. Mione was also not about to bring up any of the various self help remedies that had been rumoured to have helped famously depressive celebrities. That was more than Mione's discretion talking; that was Mione's core sense of what might be legitimately useful, versus what was, well, tabloidish crap.

Instead, Mione's final hope (and her refusal to give in) rested in eventually finding a bit of time to do a bit of careful research — perhaps enough to give her a better understanding of what might cause the affliction; what triggers to avoid; some possible friendly support tactics to ease the suffering.

A bit of discreet, well-intended digging like that, well, that's what friends were for, right? And mightn't that be a fine use for a lonely, unencumbered (otherwise at the risk of getting bored) Saturday afternoon?

So this is what had kept Mione browsing the stacks, hours longer than would have led a fainter heart to curl up on a couch to take a nap.

However, even Mione had her limits. With frustration setting in, she finally set herself a final break-point — she would push through to a consensus on this one final hypothesis then, regardless of success or failure, she would call it a day.

Pencil in hand, she tapped her notebook thoughtfully.

A long stretch of lively fun at the pub. Ginny's near-rapturous immersion into the music. Then... BANG. Lights out. As if the girl had simply, abruptly, pulled her own switch.

Might that fit with... Bipolar Disorder?

Pulling over the bulky "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" reference manual, Mione's finger raced through the index, paged expertly to the entry and...

Ummm... Nah.

Fooey.

Bipolar depressive phases could set in with little warning or apparent trigger, and there were other superficial similarities to the symptom patterns, but rather few of the key diagnostic correlators (in particular, the duration and sequence of episodes) lined up, so Mione was left to determine that such a diagnosis was pretty sketchy at best. Shelving the book, she threw up her hands.

Agh! No more.

Mione would never regard time spent reading, thinking and learning as 'wasted' but, well... Fooey! She returned the psychology texts to their proper places, and glanced at her watch.

Hmmm. Another twenty minutes, then head home for tea.

Twenty minutes...

Hmmm...?

Making her way to the stairwell, she referred briefly to the library map and set off to wander a section of the building that she had never before considered.

Music theory.

Mione knew next to nothing about music. Her orthodonist parents have never encouraged her to join a choir or learn an instrument, and reading always seemed more important than vacuous listening, so a gapingly large spectrum of the human condition had been left as a bit of a personal blind spot.

Music had always seemed fairly irrelevant to her life. Until last night.

Last night. The concert. It had been interesting.

Interesting...

Perhaps even inspiring?

To Mione, it was still not the passive 'listening' that intrigued her. The songs had been fun, indeed catchy, but it was the composite experience had been most fascinating. As the show had progressed, she had found herself increasingly curious about the dynamics — how the different sounds shifted and blended; how the visual experience complemented the auditory.

She was also fascinated by the apparent relationship between band and crowd — how a concert could become almost a dialogue, with musicians seeming to takes cues from the audience, to the point where the cheers and dizzying crowd motion actually seemed to become part of the perfomance.

By the time Mione entered the Fine Arts wing, the frustrations of minutes ago had faded, and a smile had returned to her face. Yesterday would she ever have guessed that, in admitting that she could stand to absorb a bit of local modern culture, she might acquire completely new curiosities? That Ginny would have been right? That Mione would enjoy the concert and emerge with wide eyes and sensitised ears?

Mione was definitely thankful to Ginny for the prompting and, of course, she was also not about to forget this Lee Jordan fellow for his generosity in having sent free tickets.

Humming to herself (her spirits finer than her pitch), Mione browsed the shelves. Her finger skimmed, eye level, across the spines and landed on one pleasant-looking brown volume. 'Mark Harrison. Contemporary Music Theory - Level One: A Complete Harmony and Theory Method for the Pop and Jazz Musician.' She took a quick glance at the preface, flipped through a few pages... then shrugged agreeably and added it to her pile.

Heading for the main desk, she detoured around a book cart where some young chap was sorting the afternoon's returned volumes. Placing her books on the counter, she queued up, and glanced at the assembled periodicals. Zeroing in on the morning paper, she skimmed its headline.


MI5 Finds Forensic Anomalies in Thursday's Bombing


Frowning, she pulled the article closer and began to scan rapidly for detail. Behind her, the chap at the cart rose from his knees and straightened up. He apparently must have glimpsed the article, as he emitted an audible groan. "Filthy tossers! I wish they'd just give peace a chance."

Equally aggravated by the topic, Mione nodded sharply, squinting at the fine print. "So-called 'Real IRA' — piffle. Real donkeys, perhaps. After they went so stone silent through the autumn, I'd truly come to hope they'd finally come to their senses."

"Me too. But I suppose they may have just pulled back long enough to learn some new tactics, eh? The recent explosives don't seem to match any..." The young man's voice trailed off, distracted. "Hey? You're reading Harrison's Contemporary? I love that book!"

Mione blinked as something in the voice registered. She lowered the paper... and gaped. "Oh my!"

"Oh." Harry took an awkward step back. "Sorry miss. How very rude of me to-"

"You're Harry Jordan!" Mione's hand popped over her mouth before it could produce unseemly squawks. "I-I was at your concert last night!"

"Oh. Heh." Harry coughed, going slightly red. He gave a worried glance over at the nearby administrator's office. "Emm, I was just about to go on break. Maybe you'd care to join me for a quick mocha across the way?" He pointed through the tall glass windows to a small shop visible across the street.

"Sure!" Mione took a sharp breath and smiled. "Let me just get my..." She gestured at her stack of books, just now being signed out by a student assistant (struggling not to smirk) behind the desk.

"Right." Harry smiled in reply. "Let me just finish my..." He pointed at a few more volumes that still needed to be arranged onto the cart.

In a couple of minutes, they walked together out of the building into a vaguely pleasant (i.e., not-raining) afternoon.

"So, Harrison's?" Harry paused to check for traffic before crossing. "A bit of a music buff then? Do you play? Or sing?"

"Oh no, nothing like that." Mione smiled sheepishly as Harry held the shop's patio gate open for her. "My room mate is a huge music fan, but I've never before really cared for modern genres. Until last night, perhaps? I loved your show; I'm so grateful your brother sent us tickets!"

"Brother? Sent...?" Harry blinked. "Wait, wait! You couldn't be...? Ginny Smith??"

"Of course I couldn't be!" Mione burst out laughing. "She's my room mate. My name is Mione Granger." She extended her hand.

"Mione Granger. Very pleased to meet you." He shook her hand. "Harry Jordan."

"Uh, yes, I'd somehow gathered that." Mione's eyes twinkled. "E.s.p., maybe?"

Harry laughed, then shook his head wonderingly. "Mione Granger; Ginny Smith's room mate. Of all the people to run into! Imagine Lee's face when he hears about th..." He trailed off, a slightly concerned look on his face. "Er, please don't take shade from this but, emmm, my brother was a bit disappointed to not have met you and Ginny last night. Our agent came looking for you right as the show was ending. He had backstage passes."

"Oh dear!" Mione wrung her hands. "I'm terribly sorry. But Ginny had a... bit of a spell just before then and, well, we felt we'd best clear out before the rush."

"Oi." Harry's brow knotted. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Is she okay?"

"Uh..." Mione bit her lip, uncertain of how much to say. "Well, I think she'll be fine yes. She's spending the day resting. She, uhh..." Mione found a perfectly simple evasion and smiled. "She truly adored the performance, you know?"

"I, errr..." Harry's expression shifted into that of a half-melted something or other. He ran a hand through his hair, gazing off toward the hazy sky for a moment, before turning again to catch Mione's eye. "Hey listen. I realise you don't know me, and I don't mean to get personal, but perhaps you might humour me on something? Can we do a little association game, where you say one or two nice things about your friend Ginny?"

"Nice things? About Ginny?"

"Right." Harry nodded. "A few simple words or a phrase to tell me what she's like."

"Er, okay..." Mione tapped her chin for a moment. "She's rather shy... But, no, you said 'nice' things, so let's go with... 'kind'. She's very kind, and... and loyal! Is that the sort of thing you had in mind?"

"Brill!" Harry swept the moisture off one of the outdoor cafe chairs, and took a seat, whipping out pencil and pad. He raised his eyes skyward for long moment... then began scribbling. After another while he began humming a bit; moody notes that (though Mione would not have recognised) were a distinct B-minor progression.

After several minutes, oblivious to Mione's watchful curious gaze, he sat back, added a sentence, then smiled and tore out the page to hand to her. It read:


Dear Miss Smith,

With the gracious assistance of your friend Mione, I am *part-way* along in composing a song that I would like to dedicate to you. It begins as follows —

~ ~ ~

beneath shabby phosphor light
at a lonely whistle stop
she was the last one, first and only one
to get him through that night

in the pain of irony
in a day of cold returns
when she had no need to give
he needed her to be

loyal
thoughtful
eternal
true

she was last one
last and first
first and only

she was the last one, first one, only one
to hold him through the night

~ ~ ~

I promise to finish writing it tomorrow. Then, perhaps next weekend, Lee and I will have a chance to work on the instrumental arrangement.

Sincerely hoping your tomorrow is lighter than today; that every next day rises to you in all the brightness you have earned.

Impulsively yours,

- HJ


Mione stared at the page, struggling to process how something like this could have materialised before her eyes in mere minutes. It took a gentle tap on her arm to realise (a bit to her regret) that the poor fellow's break was over. Having foregone his coffee (and his break) to offer a bit of cheer to a fan he had never even met, this unusual young musician needed to return to work.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Lee grabbed a towel off the wall, grinning as he made his way into a dressing room that was already far more festive than one would expect of a room intended primarily, well, for people to change clothes. Dean and Shay were sprawled out over a sofa, surrounded by excited young women. A photographer from 'Kerrang!' was making the rounds, taking a candids. And... ah yes! Over in a far corner, Langley was talking to Harry; they beckoned Lee over.

"Another fine show, Lee!" Langley was beaming.

"Cheers, mate!" Lee fist-bumped the agent. "A slight jog down from the last one, but I guess we can't go thermonuclear every night, yeah?"

"Absolutely!" Langley nodded agreeably. "Fine with me if you save the fireworks for when the big shooters are gunning." He turned back to the vocalist. "Anyway Harry, great job mate."

"Thanks." Harry gave a polite smile.

"You're welcome! So, I found your voice to be..." Langley tapped his lip. "... very technically proficient."

"Is that to say, boring?" Harry laughed.

"No no no." Langley shook his head. "It's always a trade-off, right? Sure, last night was electric — all the adrenaline; the raw, pure emotion. But tonight, all the technical details — pitch, timing, and such — that was all was bang on. Pretty close to studio vocals, in fact, which I'd say is quite impressive in a big, loud place like this. You'll get good reviews."

"Thanks." Harry nodded with the same tepid politeness. He didn't want to be an ingrate, but he had no illusions about the difference between 'technical' and 'electric'.

"So Harry, we've got Lee here with us now..." Langley bumped Harry's older brother's shoulder. "I know you didn't want to make any commitments without his opinion, so let me ask again. What are your thoughts on the Foi-Black offer?

"Oh right." Harry's voice was rather crisp. "Please tell them no."

"You sure, Harry? It's quite a spot of quid?"

"I'm sure." Harry nodded.

"Oi?" Lee took a half-step forward. "What kind of quid are you turning down, bro? And, what's a 'Foi-Black'? Sounds like bloody goose liver."

Langley laughed. "Foi-Black, Ltd, mate. They're an Advertising and PR firm. One of their blokes got ahold of a Mysti Stags demo tape over the holidays, and now they're trying to recruit Harry to, I dunno, maybe record a few jingles? Front his pretty face for a few clients?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Hardly need the distraction right now, thanks."

"Distraction?" Langley raised an eyebow. "I'd hardly call it that. I'll wager it'd actually be pretty easy. Less time and effort than this new library job of yours. And quite a bit higher pay."

"Harry..." Lee frowned. "Be sure you're thinking things through, eh? On one hand, you know damn well there's not a day goes by I don't think, 'Oi. Mysti Stags would be zero without my little bro.' But you, man, are your own man. When the right big break comes your way, you be ready to take it, yeah? That inheritance stipend of yours may not last forever, right?"

"Thanks Lee." Harry quirked a half-smile. "And thank you, Mr. Langley. But I've made my decision."

Langley studied him. "So, I tell them no?"

Harry nodded with finality.

"Good on you, then." Langley slapped Harry on the back. "Wasn't certain I'd have trusted the bastards either."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"Someone ought to box Mackay about the ears!" Mione scowled at the telly as she forced a too-large handful of popcorn into her mouth and hoisted her too-fluffy slippers back onto the tuffet.

"He'll get his." Ginny gave a vague glance and yawned. She turned away and buried herself back into a blanket in the corner of their chesterfield, ignoring the old 'Porridge' re-run. She closed her eyes for a moment. Then she re-opened them and sent her hand off on a blind mission to the end table, once again tracking down a loose sheet of note paper.

Securely ensconsed behind the note, she skimmed the words again, dwelt a while on a few phrases here and there, then smiled. She inhaled. After straightening her face back to a bland dispassion that would not invite scrutiny, she nudged her roomie. "He is rather impulsive, isn't he?"

"Huh? Oh, you mean Harry?"

Ginny nodded seriously.

"Hmmm. He's... he's..." Stretching out an arm, Mione set a hand to rest on Ginny's wrist, steering the note into shared view for a moment. "Well, Harry is a bit eccentric. He's courteous. Empathetic. I rather think you'd fancy him as a person, Ginny. He's remarkably gifted, and yet he seems quite ordinary in all of the right ways."

Ginny nodded again. Somewhere beneath the blanket, her hand unconsciously sought her neckline, finding the replacement chain about which the gold ring now hung.

Mione edged a bit closer. "You know, Ginny... You know what I appreciated most about him?"

"Mmmm?" Curious, Ginny's eyes left the page, settling on her best mate.

"I liked that he didn't ask awkward questions." Mione closed her eyes for a moment, recalling the chat. "No prying or fussing. He gathered there was a problem, but he didn't need to know anything more — he just acted. It was impulsive, sure, but what he chose to do was beautifully harmless, and really quite sweet."

"Mmm hmm..." Ginny shifted, and nestled her shoulder into Mione's side. "Lot of people ask awkward crap, don't they?"

"That's true, isn't it" Mione shrugged, then nodded absently. "But not Harry."

"Mmmm." Ginny's head nodded its way deep into a fold of the blanket. "Not Harry."

Back to index


Chapter 4: Whistling

Author's Notes:

So, patient friends, you finally get a bit of a Ginny-fix!

Right now, this is my favourite chapter... although after I edit the heck out of chapter 8, I may re-rank. Chapter 8 is an action piece; a completely different flavour of wacky :)

Writing proceeds well, although this remains a fairly unique project for me in that a fair number of loose ends still persist, even after perhaps even half of the first draft is done (chapter 10 came to me in an inspired wave Sunday & Monday). So, yes, despite much progress, there are elements of both back-story and final stopping point still unresolved. Fortunately, between my own imagination and key inspiration from reviewers and from my wonderful previewers (their contributions still to be fully acknowledged), I have recently resolved several more crucial plot points. Some of you will be amused later to see how comments (both heart-felt or off-hand) have helped steer the creative process. Anyway we're apparently in this together, and we're getting there!


Chapter 4. Whistling


Lee watched Langley fold his hands, and gaze thoughtfully toward the ceiling.

"Well..." The agent bobbed his shoulders a bit. "Let's call it the difference between an 'act' and a 'happening'. From the last few gigs in December through 'til the opening at Palace, I was really starting to hear this 'rumble' in my circles. People in the biz were saying that the Stags were a happening about to happen. Since then, the money men have shown up for you a few times, and have witnessed a pretty good club act, yeah? They go away humming, but... well, they're just not quite springing the locks on the old billfold yet."

"Eh." Lee deflated. "That includes the big-shot promoter you'd mentioned a few weeks ago? The one who caught part of our first Palace show?"

"Kingston?" Langley chewed his lip for a moment. "Good question, but aye. I haven't heard from him since. That's not necessarily a bad thing — he works in mysterious ways; comes and goes without warning. He did have fine things to say about you that night but, until he pops back into our lives with a big cheque, we'd best not count on him."

"I reckoned as much." Lee's gaze descended toward his feet.

"So, here's my view." Langley leaned foreward across the desk. "I believe in your boys, Lee, and I believe in you. I plan to stick with the Stags from here to Mars but, frankly, I'm near as tired of waiting as you are, right? Let's spark things up again, mate. Do you suppose you could gin up the old energy again? Brixton Academy had a group cancel on them, so there are a few open slots in the spring for the right act to step into. Get your magic back and maybe, just maybe, you could be that act."

Lee raised a skeptical eyebrow, but Langley had already pulled out his rolodex. "There are other hot venues where you can showcase your stuff. I think some big shooters might be persuaded to pop by a show to scope in person. In fact, I may even be able to twist some arms for this Saturday."

"You can? Brill!" Lee nodded vigourously; more upbeat than he felt. "I'll give the boys a bit of a pepper-up and you won't be disappointed. We can still rock the roof, yeah? We're the same pack of cards we were a month ago; just need to juice the amp." He grinned.

"Ace." Langley winked. "I'll make some calls. You're booked at Half-Moon this weekend?"

"Right."

"Good... good..." Langley jotted down a few notes. "Right, well that's a wrap for this morning, yeah?"

"Aye!" Lee swung up, out of his chair. "Thanks mate. I promise we'll make it worth your sweat!"

"I'm sure you will." Langley grinned. "Oh, but one more thing. Foi-Black left me another message yesterday. I think they may up the offer to Harry."

"Up the offer?" Lee's eyes narrowed slightly.

"Yeah." Langley nodded. "Could be some serious money. They asked me to see if Harry might be willing to drop by their HQ sometime at his convenience and, well, interview them? They're anxious to at least speak with him directly; make their pitch and gauge interest? Lay some options on the table for him to consider?"

"Eh." Lee's brow crooked uncertainly. "Okay, I'll mention it and get back to you."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


The low lilting melody was neither a waywird bird, nor a hidden fife. Rather, Harry was whistling as he worked.

He'd been in a pretty good mood recently, and working at the library had certainly not hurt his spirits. He hadn't quite pinned down what it was about the job it was that he so enjoyed. Some people might suggest that the aura itself — all that knowledge and culture — could be an inspiration, though he'd never really been all that bookish. Perhaps he enjoyed the chance to hang out all day around lots of bright, lively people his own age but, well, professional mores usually kept him from socialising much.

Perhaps he felt that the enforced leave from his piano and eight-stave note binders gave his mind a rest from music? Helped refresh his creativity? Perhaps, but to be honest,the library work rarely stopped his mind from revisiting lyrics or melodies he'd been working on. Hence today's whistling.

One very simple, undeniable, reason for liking the library was that it was a quiet place where he could blend into the backdrop. As opposed to all of the non-library hours that he still spent sweating in the limelight, on public display, walking the boards, with stage lamps glaring down on him.

Yes, the Mysti Stags did still keep him hopping. Though, admittedly, life was not quite so wild as it had been.

In retrospect, the intensity of their two-weekend January booking at the Camden Palace had been amazing. Their first night's performance was featured in a brilliant ASFAR review. Kerrang! had published a smart little photo profile on them. Select had (as hoped) given them a thumbs-up as one of London's up-n-comer bands to watch. But then the whirlwind had subsided; life had normalised. The kettle had gotten pretty steamed, but it had never boiled over.

Fortunately, the new normal had a good feel. The Stags were booked just about every Friday and Saturday night (and plenty of Thursdays as well) for the foreseeable future. The performances were spread pretty broadly across the London metro (out as far as Reading and Guildford) and, more than ever before, they had a pick of lively gigs, and could hone pretty exclusively on well respected venues like Barfly, Half-Moon, and so forth.

However, no more big plums like the Camden Palace had landed on their plate. No recording contract or tours had materialised yet either. Clearly the grand opportunities didn't just grow on trees.

After their early successes, Lee had cautioned them that the Stags couldn't expect to hit it big on dedication and talent alone. The band needed luck — a quantity better sought through diligence than from divine decree.

A good agent could often manufacture 'luck', and Langley was a decent one, but Lee was ambitious enough to quit his Sainsbury's job last autumn and go full time helping Langley with lots of 'value added' stuff like demo tapes, poster art, and negotiating customised set and light effects for the shows. It seemed to be paying off, and the band was grateful for Lee's effort and sacrifice.

It had been a while since Harry had really picked Lee's mind on what sort of prospects they were aiming at. Some time ago, the band as a whole had set their sights on performing at the Brixton Academy. Harry was starting to doubt if that was a realistic goal for this year, but maybe Lee could get them a second, longer stint at the Palace? Or maybe a trip up to Liverpool or Manchester to broaden their fan base?

At last practice, Lee had hinted that an announcement might be forthcoming, and that they ought to all try to keep next Thursday evening clear for a possible fete. But everything remained pretty speculative.

And that was okay with Harry. He and the others had enough income to cover the basics, plus a few vices here and there, and they were all living lives they enjoyed. Lee was probably learning a lot more about running a business than he ever would have in college. Dean and Shay worked hard on the music and on the partying. And Harry, well, he had plenty of time to compose and practise... and that's even after putting in a full week's work at the library.

The library.

Every thought seemed to begin and end with the library.

Just now, descending from Archives on the fourth floor, he had finally managed to put fingers on the various things he liked most about the place. It was quiet; it was somewhere he could escape from the public eye; it left his mind to daydream new music AND it had become a place for him to ponder the future.

His current task, the pleasant lull-time activity of wandering about to search for stray books that students may have left lying around, afforded him lots of stray neurons to ponder what his life purpose was, and where he might find himself in five years.

Returning to his mind right now was an offer that Dr. Appleblum had made last week. The library director, being a bit skeptical of careers in modern music, had suggested that Harry consider enrolling at the university. She had even volunteered to help him sift through scholarship opportunities.

Harry turned the proposition over in his head. He had performed quite well in his A-levels, but life hadn't moved in that direction. By the time he'd completed secondary school, music had grown to dominate his (and especially Lee's) life so fully that he'd never really even considered university.

That was then. But now, a few years further down the road, he had started to wonder if he mightn't be missing some calling bigger and more gratifying than music? Could there be an important opportunity out there beckoning him? Some special ability, beyond notes and lyrics?

He'd begun to suspect so, but he had no idea what. He felt this itch; an odd hunch that he ought to start watching out for this unknown 'opportunity', but he didn't have the first idea where to look; what clues to listen for.

Finally, that night a few weeks ago on the Camden Stage, he'd felt that somehow perhaps he'd caught the faintest, vaguest glimpse of something. In the midst of the performance, his senses had spiked; his eyes had opened a bit; his ears had pricked up. It had been rather as if something out there had been calling to him.

After meditating on the memory, he found himself believing that music had helped to open the channel, but music was only a part of what he was looking for — as if music contained the adjectives and adverbs of a message, but he was still missing the nouns and verbs.

A growing certainly was building within him that all the life he consciously knew was but a few scraps of some bigger image. After twenty one years, he wondered if he wasn't now, finally, discovering that some greater reality was out there? That all he had to do was to identify a few new scraps; more of the verbs and nouns, and begin assembling them into a composite picture?

Would this then show him who he truly was? What he was meant to be?

Lee, and the bonds of friendship and brotherhood, would always be the anchor piece. Their shared love of music surely extended the framework, but the frame had remained bare and undecorated for the longest time.

Finally, the morning he had written 'Grey Veil', it had been as if another small piece of a great puzzle had snapped into place. Then, the performance that evening had hinted at further connections yet to be identified.

But, what were they?

Through the intervening weeks, at odd moments that came and went without obvious pattern, Harry had experienced flickering glimpses of that same something. Vague hints of enlightenment seemed near but elusive, like a perfect word on the tip of his tongue.

More often than not, these mysterious flickers came to him while he was here, in the library.

And, right now, as he turned the corner and entered one of the quiet corridors of second floor, he became aware, once again, of a glimmer of something odd, exciting... tantalising.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"I want to play, Mummy. I want to play. Now."

"It's not time yet, sweetie. Your lesson will start soon, but we came early today because I thought you might enjoy hearing Miss Lily's other student practice."

"Do I have to?"

"No, you don't have to, but I really think y-"

"Mum, he's a... a boy?! I didn't know boys could play the piano!"

"Shhh sweetheart; he's her son, and has been playing for...
Oh my, he plays rather well.
That's Clair de Lune, Ginny. Do you like it?"

"S'okay, I s'pose...
Uhhh...
Mummy, do you think he can also play 'Twinkle-Twinkle'?"

"Errr, well I-"


Ginny's head lolled forward, vapourising her odd dream. Groaning, she blearily blinked away the fatigue. Her eyes gradually focused, and began to recognise the strange black symbols on the page in front of her.


Statistics Problem Set #5 . Due Feb. 8, 2002.


Bleh.

Ginny rubbed her temples, caught between trying to refocus on her studies and more strongly wishing she could just go back to her dream; back to the sweet music that was still half-echoing in her mind; back to a recurring fantasy she had.

It was a fantasy where she was a little girl, and still had a real Mum and Dad.

She rather liked such dreams. They made her feel a bit more whole; as though there was a place in the wold where she truly belonged.

Oddly, though, she had never before dreamed about a piano. Or music.

She wouldn't have minded hearing a bit more of that music.

Just as she wouldn't have minded hearing a bit more from a certain musician. A certain musician, who happened to be another one of those rare boys who could play the piano. And even sing.

Wow, could he sing!

And suddenly Ginny's heart was racing just a little, as it occurred to her that this boy... no, no, this real-life musician... was quite likely in this very building, at this very moment!

Yes, of course Ginny couldn't help having learned a bit about Mr. Jordan's comings and goings.

It was not as if she had been 'looking' for him, but the occasional glimpse had been practically inevitable — a natural by-product of how much time she had to spend here in the library fairly these days. True, some of her quick forays into the building were merely to pester Mione (the girl did need to be pestered, after all), but it seemed there were also many other reasons to be here now: to study, to research, to browse the stacks (in a frighteningly Mione-like way), to check the daily papers... So, yes, because of all of these important reasons Ginny now found herself in the library, on average, twice or thrice a day.

Of course it was a large building so, although she knew he worked there, she would hardly, really expect to see him. Certainly not more than once in a while.

Not more than once a week? Once every few days?

Yet, without having any intention whatsoever of running across the lead singer of the Mysti Stags, she had indeed set eyes on him a few times. More than a few? Well, perhaps it had been often enough that, had the poor fellow felt any reason for paranoia, he might perhaps have begun to fear a possible stalker.

But Ginny was not a stalker, and she had no intention of worrying the young chap. So she made certain that she didn't go out of her way to catch glimpses of him. And when she did happen to catch a glimpse of him, she ensured that it was in the most innocuous, discreet way possible. After all, she wanted to be sure that he didn't feel threatened by the occasional accidental incidental coincidence.

The first such incidental coincidence came couple of weeks ago, when she saw him across a busy foyer.

Oddly enough, she'd almost waved to him, just as she might have waved to a friend.

That was a natural near-mistake to make because, in that setting, Harry Jordan rather looked like a friend. That is to say, he looked friendly; he looked no different from the average person who was simply just 'somebody's friend'.

Most crucially, from across a library foyer, he was not a rock star; he was just a nice young fellow, quietly going about his work.

Ginny knew that many people at work enjoyed having the occasional mate pop by, semi-randomly, to exchange a quick 'hello, how are you, let's meet up later for a pint' chit-chat. That would have been a fine excuse to wave and stroll over but, sadly, she was not his mate because they had never actually been introduced. And, while it remained true that he had written a song for her (sigh!), Ginny was fairly certain that he would have had no occasion to realise that there was any connection between the 'Ginny Smith / Mione's friend / Stags fan' for whom he had composed the song, sight-unseen, versus the girl whose ring he had saved down by the lifts a few weeks ago.

So, Ginny had ultimately chosen to not wave to him across the foyer. Without really intending to, though, she did find herself detouring slightly from her normal route, and had (quite incidentally) walked fairly close by him (say, roughly, nine feet) as he sorted books. In her subsequent (very subtle, furtive, harmless) glance back, she had seen him pause for a moment... as if he'd lost count of something, or perhaps remembered another task he needed to complete. A tiny frown had crossed his face.

He had a nice face.

Nice eyes.

They were rather green.

Not terribly long after that, she had occasioned to see him sitting in a work room, poring over lists of some sort, making the occasional annotation. He had a coffee cup by him, seemingly long-ignored. She assumed it was cold or empty. She supposed that he looked weary, and she rather felt for him. She thought that someone working so diligently ought to have a friendly person come over and hand him a fresh, hot cup. But, unfortunately he was seated in a room marked 'staff-only', so she decided that she ought not to break rules, as she would hate to cause him any trouble.

She did, however, make note of the nearest coffee machine. Purely for her own reference.

She noticed that some days he appeared chipper, while other days he was quite knackered. She wondered how often he came to work after late night practices? She had heard that dedicated musicians often rehearsed long hours, late into the night. She thought of that old song 'Beth', about a musician who kept wishing practice would end so he could come home to his girlfriend. The more she thought of that song, the more she knew that Harry could do a spectacular job of singing it, and that Harry would hate to have kept a girlfriend waiting all night. If he had a girlfriend.

The 'zine' article she read last week claimed that he did not.

But she didn't really think about such things.

Rather, she thought about the long hours, and how difficult it must be. Especially for a vocalist. Guitarists can replace their strings, and drummers shed their skins, but what about a singer?? She wondered how his throat could stand up to all that practice? Especially in February when half of the students about the library were snuffling or hacking so much of the time?

Ginny felt guilty that he should be risking his wonderful voice in such a germ factory, just because half of the germy students couldn't remember where they'd found half the books they'd pulled off the shelves. It was almost enough to make her want to spontaneously go over and offer him a throat lozenge. Just in case. But hers were of a fairly sharp lemony-ginger type, and she didn't know if he would fancy them. Besides, they might swell his throat up, which would really not do.

So Ginny compensated by ensuring she put back her books in their exact right location. And, she devoted a few quiet moments to projecting supportive, happy thoughts toward him, under the general belief that happy people were healthy people.

Today, Ginny was particular cheered to note that he was both happy and healthy. He was, in fact, whistling.

Fully roused now from her dream, she sat up straight, and leaned back from her carrel, peering out into the corridor as he went past.

She listened to the tune he was making, and tried to parse the meter. This was not a purely idle exercise, because at times over the past several weeks, she had pondered the song fragment he had written for her. She had asked Mione several times whether she recalled the melody that went with the words, but Mione did not seem capable of whistling, singing or (apparently even) humming in tune. So Ginny remained deeply, unrequitedly, curious about what the song actually 'sounded' like.

Ginny sincerely hoped that Harry had been true in saying that he and Lee would arrange it. She thought it could be a very moving and redeeming song. She knew she would truly love it. And not just because it was written for her.

So, she listened intently to Harry's whistled tune, committing it to mind, at the same time as she stared at the loose sheet of lyrics which was now spread flat on the desk, since (by odd convenient chance) she had it with her. As she did most days.

After hearing a full bar of the whistling, she tried to hum along as she read the lyrics.

'... to get him through that night.'

She wondered if that line was a sexual innuendo, since rock musicians often spiced up their songs with such things. But she decided it must not be. It must rather be the act of a friend making the effort to help another friend through tragedy, or depression.

Yes, the low, haunting melody drifting in from the hallway did seem to fit with that interpretation. Just as it fit with the words before her eyes. Words that she suddenly realised she had begun to sing aloud ("... in the pain of irony; in a day of cold returns...").

Popping a hand over her mouth, she stopped.

And so had the whistling.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


so, we substitute v.v = (2mg / _AC), where 'm' is the projec_ile m_s_, 'g' is th_ acc_l___


Mione glared at the illegible sentence, and shook her pen. She turned her writing pad over and tried scribbling furiously on the hard back. She scowled and fired the villain into the bin. "Poxy ballpoints! That's the third one today. Third and... Oh dear. Third and last??"

She pried back the pocket of her binder, then dug for a moment around the bottom of her pack. Empty-handed, she growled, then pursed her lips. "Oh? Maybe Ginny can lend me one? She should have free period, right now — hopefully, she's downstairs working on her stats assignment."

Slipping her trainers back on, Mione made her way to the stairwell, then turned onto second floor, heading to the carrels. Stopping at a water fountain, she was half way through a drink, when she thought she heard something... odd.

She rose, listened, and frowned. Around the corner, in an otherwise dead quiet corridor, she heard... music? A low, slow, undulating whistle, accompanied by a soft voice — a reedy, yet pleasant, alto.

A curious look on her face, she walked to the corner... and the sound ceased.

Toward the end of the corridor, she saw a young man, stock still with a bundle of books beneath one arm; his shoulders a bit quirked as if he, too, was puzzled.

Mione squinted.

The fellow looked rather like... Harry Jordan?


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Harry paused. His ears perked up at a sound, and he honed in on final few seconds of faint vocals.


"... in a day of cold returns..."


He raised an eyebrow.

Odd.

Who on earth would know those lyrics?

Barring incredible coincidence, the only people besides himself who ought to know those words were Lee; that Mione girl, and her friend... Ginny Smith. And nobody besides Lee had ever worked with the actual melody they were arranging for it.

Very odd, indeed.

Curious, he took a careful step backwards, since he thought the singing had come back a ways up the-

"Mr. Jordan?" Mione waved.

Harry turned, blinking. "Why, hello Mione. Call me Harry, please." He smiled. "Hey, was that you singing just now? It was really rather..."

"No, not me." She shook her head. "Oh, do you suppose...? I wonder if...?" Her brow quirked, and the slightest smile began to creep onto her face. "Harry, have you ever chanced to meet...?"

Taking a quick breath, Mione held up her 'one-second-please' finger, and cut across the hall to her destination. "Hey, Ginny?"

Half a face (every so slightly rouge in embarrassment) peeked around the wooden privacy-panel of the carrel desk.

"Ginny, might you spare a moment?" Not quite parsing her friend's expression, Mione gave her an encouraging smile. "There's someone here I'd like you to meet."

Back to index


Chapter 5: Trouble

Author's Notes:

Sincere gratitude to the 6-8 wonderfully loyal readers who always make things worthwhile!

Beware of gloomy chapter. Hope you read it anyway for some back story insight and plot clues. And, as I said once before, 'there will be sunshine after rain' (Mark Knopfler), as the next three chapters are pretty chipper.

And yes... wrestled with this for a while, but after careful consideration I'm leaning toward shifting to a different site to roll out this story. Shall alert interested readers if I do.


Chapter 5. Trouble


"Rather, um, busy... but..." Looking a bit out of sorts, Ginny hastily covered the sheet of lyrics. Standing up, she pointed vaguely toward her face, mouthing the urgent query ("It's Harry, isn't it? Do I look okay? Am I half slobbery? Nothing stuck to my head? Bloody hell, Mione! How could you do this to me?!").

Mione, not being fluent in over-wrought lip reading, merely shrugged, renewed her smile, and gestured out into the corridor. "Harry?"

Slightly bewildered himself, Harry emerged in the doorway and gazed within. His eyes widened.

Ginny bit her lip. She blinked. She knew she could hardly be projecting a confident, charismatic image... but it was probably better than bursting into unexplained tears.

"You?" Harry tapped his lips in what Ginny could tell was puzzlement. "You're Ginny Smith? The, uh, young lady down by the lift, several weeks ago? The ring? Was that you??"

Ginny nodded.

She hoped that Harry hadn't noticed her flinch at the term 'young lady'.

It was true that she was still (by many measures) quite young, but the prim, antiquarian 'young lady' coming from a young rock icon seemed... funny. She definitely didn't want to laugh though, lest it be misinterpreted, so she merely nodded again, in the hopes of heading off some of the confusion caused by her confused/confusing response.

"Wow. That's, uh..." Harry was shaking his head. Ginny couldn't tell if that meant he thought she was daft, or whether he was pondering the coincidences.

Either way, he began to cross the small room, a bit uncertainly as if he was afraid of tripping over something. Ginny was glad she had not left her back pack sitting carelessly in the line of traffic; she could never have forgiven herself if he'd hurt himself stumbling over her stuff.

Fortunately, Harry did not stumble. He stopped at a polite two-foot distance from Ginny and raised his gaze again to meet hers. "Er, well I'm very pleased to meet you finally. You look... well." He smiled.

A slight frown flickered over Ginny's face as she realised that Mione's politely evasive language a few weeks ago might have unintentionally implied that she suffered from schizophrenia, grand mal seizures, macrocephaly, leprosy, and/or bubonic plague. But fortunately, none of those possible concerns seem to have prevented Harry from offering a tentative hand to her.

Carefully refreshing in her mind the mechanics of how to smile, Ginny did so, and accepted his hand. In something that felt like an out-of-body experience, she heard herself saying, "I am quite well, Mr. Jordan. Thank you, and how are you?"

Mione stood to the side, quite mesmerised by the endearing awkwardness. She smiled. "Erm? So you two actually have met before, then?"

The question seemed to loosen the taut air, and Harry chuckled. "Eh, well, I'm not sure if sliding face first across a slippery floor counts as 'meeting'. Especially not after I immediately scarpered to catch a bus... but yeah. We sort of met. But I'm much happier now to make it official."

"Me too. In fact..." Ginny was about to smile again, but worries and regret abruptly cut short her statement and gesture as it occurred to her that Harry was quite possibly telling the truth; that he had actually wanted to meet her. And, of course, she knew full well that she could have casually initiated contact weeks ago.

Indeed, she suddenly realised (why hadn't she thought of it sooner??) that a perfectly valid non-stalker excuse had existed all along for her to go chat him up, because any decent human being would have long ago thought to tell him, "Thank you so very much!"

"Er, beg pardon?" Harry quirked his neck.

Ginny almost rolled her eyes. (Brilliant non sequitur, girl. Can you possibly sound more obtuse?) Fortunately, at that moment Harry's finger touched his ear, which seemed to be a nice way of saying he hadn't heard her properly, which would be okay, as it would give Ginny another stab at actually speaking something coherent.

"Sorry, what I intended to say is that I really ought to have made an effort to find you, to thank you for everything."

"Thank me?" Harry shook his head. "Please don't mention it. I'm more than happy to have, uh..." He suddenly realised that he didn't know what she wanted to thank him for. Saving the ring, likely. Or perhaps the song, but he certainly didn't want to brashly presume that she liked it. Not wanting to sound arrogant or thick, he opted for ambiguity. "Er, please don't mention it. I'm really just happy to please."

"Oh, but you have no idea how much it meant to me." Ginny forced her eyes higher; almost to his chin. "Thank you so much again. I wish there was a way I could show proper gratitude."

"Uhhh... Proper gratitude?" Still uncertain what was being thanked, Harry felt a rising panic over how, most appropriately, to respond, then suddenly hit on a simple shift. "Er, well, if you're serious about that, then perhaps there is a way?"

"A way?" Ginny blinked. "To make it up to you? How?"

"Eh well. It's a little bold to ask, and you may be busy, so please don't feel any obligation..." He reached into a back pocket and pulled out a pair of wide paper slips. "This Saturday we're playing at the Half Moon Putney, out on Lower Richmond Road. We've never performed there before, so it might be nice to have a few friendly audience plants to, er, make a spot of noise, clap a bit." He grinned sheepishly. "But, more importantly, it would give Lee a chance to finally meet you."

"Uhh..." Ginny stared at the vouchers

"Of course we'd love to see you play again, wouldn't we Ginny?" Mione smiled broadly, accepting the tickets for her and looking them over. "An hour long set? Starting at 8:00 p.m.? I've heard Half Moon has good food; maybe we can make an evening of it."

"Wonderful!" Harry beamed at the two girls, trying to direct a bit extra shine toward Ginny, though she seemed a bit stunned by the exchange and didn't quite reciprocate.

"Oh." Harry frowned at his watch. "Please pardon me, but I have to run off again. The weekly journals have likely arrived, and I should get myself downstairs to help with sorting and labelling."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Going through the motions of his final hour at work, Harry's concentration was adequate for navigating his tasks. Adequate, but not much else.

His thoughts were jolting about, somewhere between the excitement he'd felt immediately after he'd first left the second floor study carrel, and a host of anxieties that started to seep in as soon as he tried to sort out his emotions.

One thing, at least, was clear — he had never felt quite like that before.

The more he thought it over, the more he was inclined to believe that something fundamentally unexpected had happened. By normal measures there was nothing unusual in being introduced to a fan, but this introduction had left his pulse throbbing as wildly as if he'd earned either a huge standing ovation, or a school detention.

He could think of only one logical reason for such a response. He must really have feelings for the girl.

Amorous feelings.

Harry nodded at the diagnosis.

Feelings.

He had heard Lee describe the symptoms, and he couldn't deny that it all seemed to fit. In the span of five minutes in Ginny's Smith's study carrel, he had somehow come down with his first ever case of spine tingling, brain fogging infatuation.

Just like that. First time ever.

Yes, never before had Harry Jordan — the young, fit, sultry-toned singer — had a crush.

Sure, he'd had plenty of women throw themselves at him. Even before his modest fame with the Stags, girls had dropped the occasional hints. He'd seen everything from subtly saccharine sashays and incidental skin-to-skin contact, to outright groping and not-so-accidental wardrobe malfunctions.

At times, he'd felt enough basic physical attraction to respond to the occasional girl, but, well, none of that had never felt real. In fact, it was all probably more of an act.

Of course, Harry knew a thing or two about 'acting'. He'd been on a stage pretty consistently since his tween years in the orphanage. His big thing had always been music, but there had also been a fair smattering of theatre mixed in. All of that experience had taught him how to play roles. He knew how to play to an audience on stage, but those skills sometimes cropped up off stage too.

Many of Harry's interactions were genuine. He and Lee were about as close as any two brothers could be, and Harry had sustained sincere friendships with other people in his life, but there were some types of social interactions that he understood well enough to act the part, but never enough to 'feel'.

In particular, he never really grasped the idea of dating.

Harry never figured out why one person would want to shower one singular person with lots of attention and expensive favours, at the exclusion of other good friends. And, why would a girl he barely knew start telling him all kinds of very personal things, and expect him to do the same?

It seemed strange and pointless, but most people he knew got snarled up into behaviour like that so, to fit in, he gave it a shot, and he made a passable go of it. Up to a point.

Harry generally made a good initial impression on girls. He could appear expressive and emotive. He could flirt. He could kiss. If a girl took hold of his hand and put it somewhere, well, he knew how to improvise. Yet somewhere a bit beyond that point, things invariably went bosh.

The problem for Harry is that a stage improv usually has a natural end point but, in dating, an early success typically moved things along to where he ran out of material. The more physical the affection began to get, the more hollow it felt. For Harry there seemed never to be any real emotions to back up the improvisation. There were never any 'feelings'.

That was not a good thing.

The first fundamental thing Harry learned about girlfriends was that by the time they knew they had feelings for a bloke, they seemed to have a keen sense of whether the bloke felt anything back.

And that was typically when he found himself in a world of trouble.

In Harry's defense, he at least recognised the problem, and knew that it wasn't the girls' fault. He didn't know why he was such a bleeding piker, but he was. He figured that something in his lousy orphan's childhood must have messed with his head; given him attachment issues; kept him from having real, normal relationships. When it came to love and romance, he knew that normal people valued that stuff, but it seemed he didn't give a toss.

Sadly, though, when it came to the people themselves, he really did give a toss. He was fully aware how these girls were real people with real feelings that were clearly vulnerable to being hurt. And usually, within a little while (five minutes; an hour; a day) of being a callous arse, he'd figure out his mistake. By that time, of course, there was little he could do to make things right.

He hated that. He hated all the times he'd been an insensitive prat; all the times he'd hurt people; disappointed them; made them cry.

So he stopped. He quit. He gave up. No more faking; no more hurting.

No more girlfriends.

Harry hadn't had a girl in years. No sex, no snogging; not even a hug or held hand for anything more than the occasional socially obligatory two second squeeze.

Of course, it hadn't been easy. Girls didn't let it be easy.

The second fundamental thing that Harry learned about life is that some girls were born with the 'conqueror' gene. Behind the pretty curves, lipstick and silky voice could lurk the heart of some bloody Genghiz Khan.

Needless to say, the standard 'It's not you, it's me' line got nowhere with that lot. They didn't listen to sincere confessions of how he was a pathetic plonker head-case with a trail of tears leading back to his fear of commitment. Nah, they'd only change tactics.

Some tactics were pretty brutal, but others were rather incisive.

More than one girl had accused him of lying to himself. They'd suggest, quite logically, that anyone who could stand on a stage pouring out his soul about love and devotion and longing, sounding so brilliantly sincere about it... more sincere than their other beaus ever had... really ought to have some real love, devotion and longing somewhere in there.

But music was music, and life was life, right? Harry had tried to argue that the two weren't the same, but... he did kind of see their point.

How could a singer inspire hundreds of people to explore the depths of their souls, when the singer's own soul was shallow as a squid tin? Was he some kind of modern day Faust? Would he someday inspire some new children's fable — 'The boy who sang sugar, but tasted only sand'?

The questions gnawed at him; made him wonder what value his music could possibly have, if it was all a sham. He started to worry he might be crazy. He began to think he should perhaps quit the Stags too; give up the pointless charade.

He never talked much about his disillusionment; he tried to keep it hidden, like a hair shirt. Finally, one angsty night last year, he, Lee and Angie (Lee's girlfriend) were all a bit drunk after a gig, and Harry let slip a hint of his concerns. Well, one thing led to another, and before he knew it, Angie had seized his shoulders and steered him down to sit cross-legged, facing her on the dressing room floor. She took both his hands and ordered him to look into her eyes.

What she proceeded to do, Harry found both fascinating and utterly unnerving, for it felt almost as if she was able to look deep into his soul. Even in his intoxicated state, the whole thing rather creeped him out, but he let her do it because Angie was kind of like a big sister.

She gazed. She peered. She kept staring and delving. About the time Harry's follicles were about to unscrew themselves from the back of his neck and fly away screaming, she finally released him.

Then, she had smiled.

Harry still remembered what she'd told him, in that full, rich 'saaf'-London accent of hers.

"S'all 'ealthy an' right, 'Arry sweets. You've a great big 'eart fuhll 'o luhvv. Just ahn't yet found yo' luhvvah."

Lee had laughed.

Harry had chuckled a bit too, but the words stuck. He couldn't really say what made him believe her, but he did.

The next day, alone, sweating through a hard workout, he found himself making some pretty fundamental decisions. He decided that, yes, someday he might really find his luhvvah. And, if he did, then he ought to prepare a bit to not muck it up in case he only even got one chance at it.

No point in finding your 'one and only', if she thinks you're a jerk.

So Harry went with his instincts and made some changes. He recommitted himself to his music, since he knew people enjoyed what he could give them. He started to lower some personal barriers; to be a bit friendlier. He took up meditation.

From that morning onwards, he found a measure of peace with his growing stardom. As time went on, he made friends — more friends than ever before. Many were female. Some of them might have wished for more than he could give, but he offered friendship and sincerity, and some were fine with that offer.

He liked his friends. They were fun. Yet he was quite certain that none of them could ever be the one. Until today.

Suddenly now Angie's pronouncement was ringing in his ears. He even dared wonder if...?

He was almost afraid to even articulate the question. Yet he forced himself to.

Was this his chance? For...?

An Infatuation? A Crush? A... luhvvah?

Harry's heart was pretty clear about it all. His heart declared that he definitely had 'feelings', and that if he didn't act on them, he might forever regret it.

His brain, however, thought about the perils. Harry had seen both Dean and Shay in the throes of nasty breakups; he knew the price people could pay when they opened the locks to their hearts. Wasn't life easier, safer, for a good bloke who didn't get too involved?

Harry started to put himself in the shoes of the various girls he'd rejected — the sadness, pain and disappointment of it all.

As far as Harry knew, Ginny might well reject him.

That kind of messed with his head. The only thing truly clear was just how murky it was.

Harry could distinctly recall Mione saying how Ginny had adored the performance at Camden Palace. That was promising, but the more he replayed today's brief introduction up on second floor, the more he recalled how Miss Smith had been uncomfortable, and perhaps not all that pleased, to have met him.

Was that odd, or contradictory? Of course not.

Music is music; life is life.

Harry laughed wrly to himself. At himself. The quip was all too sensible now; plenty of people liked his music, without being attracted to him. Lots of them would be pleased enough to meet him, have a pint, chat a bit about music and... that's all. Maybe Ginny would be end up that?

That didn't clarify her apparent anxiety though. Maybe Ginny was worried Harry might prove to be a stereotypical hypersexed rocker, who would put the heavy make on her? Harry briefly wondered if Mione would put in a good word for him; tell Ginny that he was decent and respectable.

Perhaps that was worth pursuing, but it slipped fairly quickly from mind. Because Harry had a suspicion what the real problem might be.

Ginny was probably a bit creeped out. By Harry's strange... powers.

Surely she had seen her ring leap out of the grating a few weeks ago. Of course she knew that it had not coincidentally 'met something on the way down'. Something metaphysical had clearly taken place, and it was natural Ginny would be unsettled.

And who can blame her, eh?

Harry had witnessed dozens of strange incidents like that through the years. He'd never quite gotten over feeling unnerved by the bizarre happenings, even after he gradually realised that he was the cause of the occurrences, and that he could actually, semi-deliberately, affect things like the ring's flight.

Over the years, Harry was starting to come around to the notion that his odd paranormal abilities might prove to be more of a blessing than a curse, as long as he could learn better how to manage them. The one thing that still unsettled him was a nagging worry over whether or not he might be inadvertently controlling more than just objects.

What if he was accidentally manipulating people?

What if his vaunted musical gift was pure fraud? What if he unintentionally made people think he had talent?

Such thoughts are not great for the self-esteem.

Fortunately, Harry at least knew that he was a passable song-writer. Otherwise it would have been yet another reason to considering giving up music. Even still, it was—

Shite... Mislabeled another one.

Harry scowled at the journal in his hands; at the angst and self-doubt in his head that were interfering with even the simplest of tasks.

Taking care to pry back the half-applied label without damaging the book's cover, Harry began to wonder about the half-applied labels and damaged cover of his own life. He pondered the inconsistency of his concerts; how Select Magazine had actually called their first show at the Palance a "magical performance", only for him to then fall flat and dull the next night. Was the difference basically... magic?

Were his on nights really just hoaxes he was pulling on the audience using his strange paranormal abilities? Was the 'real' Harry Jordan just some "technically proficient" actor/singer? Maybe his voice was actually kind of... blah?

Harry rolled his eyes practically back into his head.

Congratulations.

You've creeped out the only girl you'll ever have feelings for.

Half the time, you're letting the Stags down; the other half you're a fraud.

AND, you've actually managed to turn this into the crappiest day in ages.

And, finally... Oh? 5:02 p.m.?

Harry finished affixing the corrected label, then massaged the aches beneath his eye sockets.

He might well not be quite finished wallowing in pathetic self-doubt... but at least it was time to take his pathetic wallowing elsewhere.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


After Harry had left the carrel, Mione had seemingly wanted to stay and chat, but Ginny had not been in the mood. After a few leading comments by the older girl, trying to solicit impressions, Ginny had simply said that she really needed to get back to work. That particular argument had worked.

Sometimes it pays to know the target.

To be honest, Ginny did have deadlines to meet, but productivity over the next ninety minutes had proven a bit underwhelming. She had found plausible answers for her assigned problems, but was now struggling to absorb any of her sociology reading.

Finally, she gave up. She pushed back from the desk, closed her eyes, and let everything wash over her. She banished the 'Intermediate Statistics' and 'Radical Fringe in Society' inanities from her mind, and instead tried to process a slew of wild emotions.

Obviously, there was the thrill of getting to actually meet Harry. Mixed in with it was the nervous excitement in wondering (hopeful, but far from certain) whether she might be on the cusp of a... friendship? A friendship with an amiable, kind, and undeniably attractive young man whose talents truly set him apart?

It was normal that such questions could jangle the nerves a bit, but there was another troubleseome, complicating source of tension.

Buzzing somewhere within Ginny's psyche was an unpleasant sensation, a bit like a low electric current, that made her want to pull her hair out.

Why this? Why now? Why me??

Ginny's frustration was that, despite being a smart, kind and passably normal person, she seemed to have a head full of... problems. Worst of the worst were the ghastly fugues she had labeled 'Purple Fog Side', however there was a second trigger up there that she loathed nearly as much. She simply called it...

Forbidden.

Forbidden from what? Forbidden why, exactly? That wasn't so easy to define.

It was an experience that Ginny sometimes likened to being a moth attracted to light. The luminescence was fascinating; compelling. The heat was attractive, as it would be to a chilled, lonely creature on a cold night. But something about the light seemed... perilous. Forbidden.

But why now? Why Harry? He's not perilous!

Presumably.

No, SURELY. He's definitely not perilous!

There had been a hard part of Ginny's protective shell that had been initially skeptical of Harry Jordan. He couldn't really be as gently unassuming as Mione had made him out to be, could he? And there was no way he would prove to be as sweetly normal as Ginny's own whimsical daydreaming wanted him to be. But meeting him face to face had softened that shell, and Ginny was more than a little taken by him and his friendly overture.

So, why should he be forbidden to her?

Ginny felt like a destitute waif standing in the snow outside a Candy Shop at Christmas, knowing that if she so much as touched the door handle, she would be slapped down. That's what she felt right now — that if she let herself bask in the light and warmth of a certain charismatic young musician... ... bad things would happen.

But that made no sense! Every other time that Ginny had felt like something was 'forbidden' to her, she had been able to work out some sort of plausible reason.

That day last September when she had been sorely tempted to reach across the quad with her mind and topple a scaffold laden with paint cans onto that snotty slag Pansy — of course that had been forbidden. After all, the mess would have been a frightful pain to clear off the sidewalk.

But Harry? The mere proposition of her giving him a cheery reply to his thoughtful gesture was hardly controversial. And even if she was to become a full-fledged friend, well, what harm could come of that?

What bad could possibly happen?

It was hardly as if she was about to harm anyone. Being suitably appreciative of kindness, and responding in kind, was natural and healthy. It wasn't like stealing. She had no intention of hurting anyone. No punches; no broken bones...

No collapsed lungs.

Now, THAT, was 'forbidden'.

A wracking tremor ran through Ginny's spine as her memory raced back all those years. To the playground. The ambulance. The stretcher. The face. It was a despised, ugly face. Yet, once it had been made all the uglier by bruises, splotches of blood and an eye swollen shut, well...?

She had not set eyes on that face in nearly a decade, but it still haunted her in vivid technicolor. That face represented the day when Ginny had learned the definition of 'forbidden'.

She sort of regretted her forbidden act but, well, no. Ginny's regret was thin at best, because however ugly that face may have been when it was all pasted in blood and snot, that had been nothing to compare with the repugnant look of gloating it had oozed while mercilessly pummeling Ginny's own brother.

And so, any good sister would have done the same, right? Beaten the living crap out of the schoolyard bully?

Forget 'bully', the boy was a thug. Cripes, he was damned near twice her size. He was The Schoolyard Tyrant — a mutant overgrown, half-witted, preteen, psychopathic terrorist vermin.

Yet he had not look quite so intimidating when they'd hauled him away.

So, regardless of whether there had been any rationale for regret, Ginny couldn't help feeling a little remorse. What she'd done that day had been forbidden, and she had come to terms with the consequences.

No, Ginny had not been expelled from school. She had not even served any detention for the incident. Numerous witnesses had sworn that Ginny hadn't even touched the bastard, and this testimony had saved her from conventional sanctions.

Unfortunately, nobody's intervention had saved her from the punishment that comes from doing something 'forbidden'. There had been no escape from a week's worth of torment — a harrowing, purple purgatory, cowering in her darkened room, with barely enough sense of self-preservation to drink the watery (if sustaining) broth that old Mrs. Smith kept trying to coax on her.

The experience had been horrible. It had been ten times worse than the milder spells that still came over her from time to time. She thought she might die. She wasn't sure she didn't want to die.

Yet, she had survived it once, and she could survive it again.

Yes, Ginny could do the forbidden. And, if necessary, she would. If her brother was hurt, or Mione was threatened, or something had happened to some unknown child on a street, or to.. to Harry. She would do what she needed to, and accept the consequences.

But Ginny could not possibly grasp why the chance to get to know a sweet, good, unthreatening person like Harry should give her that same sort of foul, buzzing, burning, low current of pain that she had come to associate with the warning of the forbidden.

It made no sense.

Unless...

Unless the 'forbidden' was less about simple morality, and more about...

... the powers?

The powers? Harry, too, must have...?

Ginny opened her eyes and stared at the wall, as odd equations began to take shape in her mind.

She knew that her own ability to have mangled that bully was bizarre. Paranormal. She vaguely assumed that her purple episodes had something to do with this power; perhaps a bad reaction to using it, feeling it, or fearing it.

Yet, however often Ginny cursed the thought of her mysterious force and sought to suppress it, she'd never imagined that other people might have something similar?

That struck her as oddly clueless and, what was odder yet, she was suddenly now certain that she had actually witnessed Harry using something similar and she had not really even realised it.

With her own eyes, she had seen...

The ring emerging from the grate.

Harry.

Had she subconsciously sensed such powers in Harry? Did those sensations somehow trigger her own innate fears?

Perhaps.

Were those fears founded?

Uhh...?

Ginny could still see her mother's wedding ring gliding through the air, alighting in Harry Jordan's palm, gentle as a butterfly.

Staring into the nothingness of her carrel wall, Ginny's eyes beheld the remembered grey of a rainy window, and in her ears were echoes of a special, caring voice.

"Here's your ring, miss! Happy chance it...
... You're not hurt? Oh good! Blasted sign ought...
... Sorry, bus to catch! Can't be late for..."

Ginny blinked away the memory. Rubbing her not-the least-bit-sore elbow, she reached across to touch her mother's wedding ring, where it hung around her neck. She fingered it absently for a moment. Then her hand clenched firmly around it.

Her rigid fist did not express fear or anger. It throbbed with resolute certainty.

And this time, when Ginny finally smiled, she knew precisely why.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Nothing of the bus ride and walk home penetrated the haze of Harry's burdened mind.

He entered the quiet of their flat, and trudged his way back to the refrigerator. Normally he would fix a quick meal to sustain him through the evening practice, but tonight his appetite failed him. He found an apple and brought it with him, untouched, to the piano.

An upright Bentley of undetermined age, the piano was Harry's laboratory and sancturary. He came to it in sorrow and joy; inspiration and weariness. The old instrument wasn't pretty, especially not with all the drink stains, dust, and accumulated clutter, but it had remarkably good sound across each and every one of its 88 keys... despite the fact that neither Harry nor Lee could ever recall having hired a tuner.

Harry nudged the bench out with his foot and slumped onto it. He gazed blandly to the rack upon which were arrayed a set of keyboard arrangements to all of the current Mysti Stags repertoire.

Mechanically, he played through a few numbers in sequence... then stopped, mid-song. Expressionlessly, he grabbed the entire binder of songs and dumped it on the floor, uncovering loose drafts of newer material beneath. He began to work through the emerging pieces, then abruptly ceased.

He looked at his hands. He squinted at the hand-scratched characters in front of him, then groaned.

He might be playing notes, but he was hardly playing music. He was not feeling the melody or the emotion. He was not breathing the progressions. None of the harmonics tingled his spines. He hadn't the slightest inclination to reach over with a pencil to make any tweaks or adjustments.

Apparently, he didn't much care.

With an impulsive sweep of one hand, he dumped the whole remaining pile of music onto the floor, and found himself staring at the grainy wood, bare and barren.

He gazed into the patterns, the dinghy tints, the faded textures.

Then he closed his eyes.

Leaning in, he let his fingers go. He let them follow wherever blind inclination might lead...

G...

He inhaled.

E-minor...

He exhaled.

B-minor...

Creases of pain setting about his eyes, he leaned in further, repeating the progression with soft elaborations.

As he rocked slowly back and forth, the agonisingly beautiful, yet morbidly melancholic, strains of Coldplay's 'Trouble' poured forth — the musical equivalent to standing alone beneath a sky of darkened sleet.

Letting themselves in for practice, Dean and Shay poked their heads around the corner for the barest moment. Seeing the heaped mess of discarded music on the floor; hearing the bloody depressive sounds draining glacially from the piano, they turned and hurried on to the kitchen, to the refrigerator; to the solace of Lee's unguarded beer.

Oblivious, Harry continued to exhale the cold notes, working his way up and down the keyboard, introducing his own tonic parallels and echoes. He was far too absorbed in the dirge to hear Lee enter, and he was too numb to respond as his brother laid both hands on Harry's shoulders.

The notes continuing to pour from his hands, Harry finally straightened a bit, lifting his closed eyes toward some place far off in the unknowable darkness.

"It'll be okay, bro." Lee's hands were warm and firm. "I'm a bit shaken too, but we'll soldier on'"

Harry opened his eyes, puzzled. His playing stopped.

Lee gave a final squeeze, then let go, walking over to pull the drapes on the dark window. "I just spoke with the manager down at the Moon, and he has no plans to cancel."

"Cancel what?" Harry blinked. "Why? What happened??"

"Erm?" Lee stared at him for a moment. "You don't know? You didn't hear?"

"Hear what?"

"Sorry, mate." Lee shook his head. "Playing that song, I sort of assumed you, er... Well, I assumed you were pouring out sympathy for the poor blighters."

"What poor...? Who? What happened?" Cold pulse raced through Harry's chest and neck.

Lee exhaled. "Some IRA chavs just torched a pub in East Putney. Three dead; more than a dozen injured."

Back to index


Chapter 6: Apple

Author's Notes:

Another week, another chapter posted! Yes, this is still home for the time being.

Very little to say about this chapter, as it largely speaks for itself. Except, perhaps, to say that it does mark a bit of an inflection point in the plot, and the associated writing style. You'll see.

Big picture: real world has inflicted a beating on my writing and editing time, but I did draft chapter 11 this past weekend. I now have a rough idea of how things will end, but have not yet figured out how much ebb and flow it will take to give it a nice even feel.


Chapter 6. Apple


There was no question in Harry's mind. He knew what he must do; he'd explain the situation to Ginny, and let her off the hook.

In retrospect, it had been rather presumptuous (if not outright daft) in the first place. She hadn't asked for more Mysti Stags tickets, so why push them on her? He ought to have recognised the error sooner, but having a terrorist incident so close to their next concert cleared the head, giving some real perspective that he'd missed earlier. Harry would never call such an incident 'lucky', but at least it had helped knock off his bout of self-centred depression, and he saw it as now giving Ginny a perfectly valid, guilt-free, excuse to back out of an awkward commitment.

However reasonable that sounded, Harry still found himself sighing. He patiently explained to himself (yet again) that this was his chance to set things right, and he'd do so. Even if it hurt.

And no, he had not forgotten Angie's admonition about finding love. If anything, her words had clinched his decision — if he was going to be serious about treating this as his one chance for true love, he couldn't afford to mess it up by rushing in. With luck, if he started played things a bit smarter now, there might come some other happy day when conditions were right to move things along. But that first meant slowing down, and giving Ginny time to gradually discover (hopefully) that he was a decent, caring, semi-normal, non-creepy bloke.

So, the natural first step in all of that was to let her set a distance where she could be comfortable.

He'd do that for her.

He would.

All he needed now was to find her, so he could give her his semi-prepared speech.

Of course, since he had no idea where she lived, or her daily routine, he had to hope to run into her again at the library. He obviously now knew where her study carrel was, so hopefully he could find her there sometime between now and Friday evening.

The sooner, the better, he supposed.

To improve his odds, he decided he'd accomplish his normal library work as efficiently as possible, and use the extra time to take occasional treks through that second floor wing.

It did concern him that if he suddenly started spending too much time in this part of the building, it could arouse some suspicion. Harry paused on the second floor landing, wondering what he would say if someone (a superior, a student, etc.) asked why he kept haunting this corridor.

That was a bit of a problem.

Dr. Appleblum told staff that she would not fault anyone over the occasional spontaneous chat with a student, especially something mutually consensual that wasn't interfering with anyone's work, but he didn't want to be in the position of scrambling to explain why he was hovering around one particular block of carrels, basically waiting to ambush a student who generally came here to study.

He didn't cherish risk, but this was important; important for Ginny's sake. So, it was worth it. Though, perhaps it would be best if he had a prepared alibi.

And that would be...?

Not feeling incredibly creative, he felt around in his pockets, looking for something to 'accidentally' lose. Discovering a sheet of paper that he'd tucked in a back pocket some time ago, he unfolded it and found it to be a page from a scratched-up early draft of a song the Stags would be introducing this weekend — a fun little ditty called 'Saying Bye to You Again'.

The song had been tweaked numerous times, so this early draft was now completely outdated and the page meant nothing to him. Nonetheless, knowing the obsessions that some people had with memorabilia, Harry was certain he could convince someone that, if he accidentally lost it, he would legitimately want to find it again.

Nodding to himself, Harry refolded it and let it fall discreetly into the space between the second floor water fountain and the wall. Turning the corner, he glanced down the corridor to see that Ginny's carrel was dark, and the door was locked.

Shrugging in mild diappointment, he carried on with this work, hoping he might fare better later in the day.

As it was, the light in her carrel didn't come on until, finally, around 3:00 p.m. that afternoon. Fortunately, the timing was perfect — just about when he would normally go for his afternoon break.

Now, all he needed to do was knock on her door, politely, and tell her.

Very simple.

Simple but, oddly enough, his heart was pounding. It was thumping nearly as wildly as in the final seconds before the lights went up on a big performance.

Calm... Breathe... He inhaled. Think of the crepe paper birds...

Harry exhaled deeply and took the final three steps. With another slight breath, he was just raising his hand to knock, when- "Oh!" The door swung open.

"Uh?!" On the other side stood Ginny, her wide, expressive eyes looking nearly as surprised as Harry felt. "Sorry, I was hanging up my jumper before, uh..." She gestured up toward the hook on the back of the door.

"Ah. Well, that's a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing." Harry managed a nervous smile, though it faltered as he considered how dopey that must have sounded. Fortunately, Ginny had managed a bit of a smile too, which encouraged him. "So, I'm glad to find you, Miss Smith. I was wondering if I could speak with you for a moment."

She nodded and took a quick step back, making a hand gesture that Harry interpreted (optimistically but accurately) as welcoming him in. She closed the door behind him. "Uh, how might I help you?"

Despite a bout of nerves, something about seeing Ginny again buoyed Harry, tempting him to smile. The corners of his mouth flickered for a moment, but he suppressed the emotion because, well, the reason for his visit was not an especially happy one. He sighed and gazed down at his feet. "Er yes. You recall, yesterday, how I invited you and Mione to our gig Saturday?"

Something about his downcast expression and tone made Ginny's skin prickle. Forcing herself to nod, she took a dry swallow and tried to brace herself for disappointment.

"Well, I suppose you're still welcome to come if you wish, but..." Harry chewed his lip. "You see, there was a pub bombing only a mile or so away from the Half Moon yesterday, and I'm a bit, erm, concerned for your safety, so I thought I..." He trailed off.

"Concerned for our safety?" The words a quivery rasp, Ginny coughed and stared for a moment. Then, the degree of resolve she'd found yesterday kicked in, and she managed to find her voice, sharp and articulate. "Yes, I did hear about the incident. But, your performance is still on, right?"

Harry blinked at the suddenly clear, clipped tones. "Er, yes, we still plan to perform. According to Lee, the owner promised to hire extra security, and they asked us not to cancel."

"Well, if it's safe enough for you to perform, why on Earth would Mione and I bail?" Ginny took a step forward, her face angling up. "Unless you... Unless you want us to cancel?"

Harry stared, dumbfounded by a conversation that, less than a minute in, had already gone way off the well-rehearsed rails.

Ginny tapped her foot. "Would you prefer we not go?"

"No! I mean... Er, what I meant to say was..."

Harry froze, replayed her question, and realised how perilously close he had come to plunging headlong into a classic, nefarious and utterly sphinxian 'no-trap'.

Yes, the 'no-trap' – a deathly peril as old as the sphinxes (not, not the fat, affable, Egyptian male sphinxes; we're talking the sleek, articulate and vicious female Greek variety) invented by females to torture males, vis-a-vis terrifying trick questions like, "Wouldn't you like to meet my parents?" Of course, "Yes," clearly implies you'd rather be roasted on a kebab spit than meet the girl's parents, whereas "No," is precisely the sort of heartless male negativity that gets you hung by the toenails, Thebes-style.

Girls had subjected Harry to such trials by fire before. He usually failed.

Uncomfortably aware that his mouth had fallen open, he remembered that the only thing worse that getting caught in the 'no-trap' was getting caught waffling amidst a delicate negotiation. Vaguely recalling that viable escape sometimes came in the form of concise, heart-felt answers that managed to avoid both the words 'no' and 'yes', Harry surrendered to survival instincts and —

"Please come!"

Ginny blinked.

Harry stared, suddenly realising that he'd basically just pleaded for Ginny to do precisely the opposite of what he'd originally come here to convey.

He shifted awkwardly. "I, uh... Listen, I sincerely don't want you to put yourself in danger, but assuming there isn't much threat, which there may not be, then ummm, well I'd lo- Er, I should say 'we' would love it, because Lee would love to meet you too... so, yeah, 'we' would love for you to come, it's just that I couldn't rule out any risk and so, if it happened that you, uh, preferred to be, y'know, cautious..."

He somehow managed to look her in the eye, hoping that his incoherent prattle, although far from concise, was at least coming off as genuine. "Um, either way you choose, we would... respect your decision?"

Ginny eyed him carefully.

Harry suddenly found himself very aware of those eyes; their depth; their obvious incisiveness. He shifted slightly under the pressure.

Ginny tapped her lip thoughtfully. "You'd still like us to attend but you're concerned for our security?"

Harry nodded, amazed that she had been able to properly translate his gibberish.

"Fair enough." Ginny's eyes sparkled slightly in a blend of bemusement and something else that Harry didn't quite catch. "I'll tell Mione you thought of us, but I can't imagine we'll be changing our plans."

"Oh, you mean you're...? Really?" Harry blinked, half baffled and half amazed. "Well, that's great, then! May I give you our number, in case there are any, er, issues?"

"Er, sure." Ginny fumbled around for a pen, and handed it over with a notebook.

Harry scrawled his number and address down, and handed pen and notebook back. "Well, I'm sorry to have interrupted you for nothing. I won't tie you up any longer, but instead I'll just look forward to seeing you Saturday!" He flashed a quick smile, then made his way toward the door.

"Harry?"

"Er, yes?" He stopped and turned.

"That bombing? Do you think it's really the IRA?" Ginny had a curious look in her eyes.

"Oi. I don't know." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I'm afraid I've barely read or heard anything, but... well I do seem to recall that they hit a fair number of pubs back in the 70's. So the modus operandi fits, yeah? But, uh... have you heard differently?"

"Not exactly." Ginny shook her head. "Mione just says their tactics are odd. Blast patterns are quite different from last summer's car bombings. And I was... er well, no. I don't know anything myself."

"It is odd, yes." Harry frowned. "Well if one of us hears anything interesting, maybe we can compare notes later or, er, whenever." He gave another polite smile and again turned to leave.

"Harry, is this, umm...?" Ginny reached to her desk and picked up a now-unfolded piece of old paper that he immediately recognised. "I found this over by the water fountain. Could it be yours, by any chance?"

"Ha, yes!" He grinned, and accepted the music draft from her. "I, er, must have dropped it?"

Ginny shrugged and smiled. "It looks like a cute song."

"Cute?" Harry thought about it for a moment. "Yeah. A bit goofy; a bit fun. Dean and Shay like it, because it's not the least bit 'emo'."

"Right. It isn't, yeah?" Ginny tapped her lip, contemplatively. "You know, I'm wondering if..."

Watching as she moved closer, Harry found himself deeply intrigued to know what a fascinating, perceptive girl like this might be 'wondering'.

"So..." Ginny reached to point toward the top bars on the page, seemingly unconcerned that her shoulder was pressing firmly (warmly) against his chest. "As written, it's a fine for those two to bop about, light-hearted and a bit clownish but, well... I was wondering if you could build the effect with some contrast? A bit of a 'set up'? Like, for your keyboard opening, couldn't you try something more serious and moody like... like..."

With four well metred 'ahhs', Ginny sounded out a basic, yet evocative, 'G — e-minor — C — D' line.

Harry blinked. A frown crossing his forehead, he hummed it back carefully, tried replacing the D quarter note with D-A eighth notes, then chuckled. "You know, that's kind of cool, yeah?" He grinned. "I'll pop it on the others tonight."

Her shoulder still close enough for Harry to feel radiant heat, Ginny angled her face to look directly into his. Her mouth parted slightly.

Harry's breath caught.

He was vividly reminded, in many ways, of the tense moments he'd experienced with other girls when they expected him to... do something. But this time, just as he was trying to decide if he had it in him to do in a proper way what he had messed up with so many others; as he took in that awkward little breath in case he, er, suffocated or something... Ginny broke the spell.

"Harry, are you from West Country?"

Harry blinked. "West Country?" He blinked again. "Me?"

Ginny nodded, her eyes earnest.

Harry registered the fact that she had not planted her lips on his. She had not grabbed hold of his hand and, uh, put it somewhere. She was simply asking a question. One that seemed to imply a genuine curiosity about who he was. As a person.

"I don't rightly know." He looked away, slightly embarrassed. "You see, I'm an orphan, and I don't recall much from when I was really young, but Lee's parents raised me for a while up in Holloway before they, er, well, something happened to them about a decade ago. After that, Lee and I were schooled in a couple of Camden council houses."

"You're not Lee's birth brother?" Ginny's eyes searched him. "But you and he are so very alike."

Incredulous, Harry spent two seconds trying to reconcile the image of Lee's dark skin and dreadlocks over his own pale-faced feather cut, before finally catching the tiniest hint of tweak in the girl's expression. He chuckled. "Yeah, well, you'd best not share that opinion with Lee. He'd kill you for that."

Ginny smirked for a moment, then pulled back. She reached into her backpack. "I'm sure it's time for me to let you get back to work, but please take this with you."

"An apple?" Puzzled, Harry accepted the polished red fruit from her hand.

"Yes." Ginny nodded seriously. "You work so very hard, Harry. I'm worried that you're not keeping proper care of yourself."

"Er, perhaps not, yeah?" Harry gave her a curious glance. In that moment he found himself perfectly able to banish every memory of anything any other girl had ever given him (jewelry, books, articles of clothing) and focus on the fact that girl in this room had wished him... good health. He grinned. "Thank you Ginny. So I'll, uh, see you soon, right?"

Ginny nodded, flashed a momentary smile in reply, and turned away, leaving Harry to gaze at her — at her hair; the smooth flesh on her forearms; the subtle curves half-hidden beneath her jumper.

He shook his head, and made himself leave.

Ginny settled back down at her desk, listening as footsteps retreated down the corridor.

Before the echoes had gone out of earshot, she heard a little whistling tune spring up.

And once again, she found herself humming along.


Just you and I...
For our Three Feather Sunset.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"Hey Mione, I'd rather forgotten, but the Stones played at the Half Moon a couple years back." Ginny handed Mione a music 'zine', folded open to an article on the venue they were about to visit.

"Stones?" Mione's eyes widened. "As in, 'rolling'? Big lips and such?"

Ginny nodded. With two fingers, she was in the process of attempting to recreate the lurid icon with her own mouth but, mercifully, the train's jolting and shuddering arrival put an end to the effort.

Along their brief Thames-side walk to the Putney bridge and across the river, they enjoyed the unseasonably mild breeze. Over the water, a few strands of low cloud draped above the southwestern horizon, still rosey from sunset. The light reminded Ginny of an image that 'Three Feather Sunset' always sparked in her, of ruffled tracers framing an evening sky. And that, in turn, made her picture the song's imaginary meadow.

The image seemed to have a powerful effect on Ginny.

From somewhere in the very distant recesses of her (not-very-reliable) memory, it was almost as if she, too, had once spun about on a high grassy hill, amidst some long forgotten celebration. But that was probably self-fabricated whimsy. After all, nothing else about her early years seemed to hold any inspiration beyond what little a string of boxy, dreary flats in and around Exeter could afford.

Nonetheless, she sighed, almost as one reminiscing.

Mione glanced at her, then followed her gaze off to the southwest. "Pretty sky," she remarked.

"Pretty sky." Ginny nodded, giving a partial smile that did not make it all the way to her eyes.

The pretty sky did not last much longer. By the time they walked past the final few shops on Lower Richmond Road, the reds and violets had since given way to grey, and darkness was setting in.

Frowning, Mione made careful note of the bus schedule, not particularly relishing the thought of a return walk, in the dark, all the way to the nearest tube stop. Even on a late bus, it could prove a bit of an adventure.

This growing friendship with a musician was starting to push the boundaries for two young women who had never before made a habit of thrill-seeking. It also worried Mione that the new adventures might start to push the boundaries of 'pocket book'. Although event tickets had been fully covered by Harry and Lee, there were incidental expenses like out-of-zone transit and pub meals. Mione had a comfortable amount of leisure money, but she was vaguely aware that Ginny was on government assistance, which presumably might make for a slim, marginal existence.

Fortunately, at the door, they had a happy surprise awaiting them. The host at The Half Moon announced that their meals and refreshments were to be covered by the Jordans. Minutes later, their server (perhaps angling for a gratuity) approached them with a distinct twinkle in his eye. "Your benefactors asked that you 'please not be shy'," he said, handing them menus.

"Erm?" Mione's brow arched as her friend's gaze slid straight to the bottom of the drinks list. She pursed her lips. "Uh, do be a little bit shy, Ginny. The two of us have to find our way home tonight, and I don't plan on carrying you."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Plugging in various cables to and from the keyboards, Harry looked up to see Langley stride into the Singers Room.

"Evenin', mates!" The agent waved at the band-mates and made his way toward Lee, who was making adjustments to his drum set.

"Hey! How it be to be Nevi today, eh?" Lee grinned and stood. "Any update on Kingston?"

"Ah right." Langley pursed his lips. "Sorry, I haven't heard a word from him since before Wednesday's attack, so I'm not certain he'll still make it tonight, but..." He smiled. "It does appear, though, that you have a bit of company."

"Company? Harry's harem showed?" Lee's grin spread wide.

The grin was a bit too wide for Harry's pleasure, and the younger Jordan scowled. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that." He stood and wiped his hands. "Mione and Ginny, I assume? They're out in the pub?"

"Aye!" Langley nodded. "Go on and say hi. I'll catch up with you two later."

"Brill. Thanks!" Lee finished tightening a bolt, and joined his brother.

Emerging into the brighter-lit pub, they couldn't help squinting for a moment. Making their way past the bar, Harry spotted the girls. "Over there."

Looking past Mione at just the right time, Ginny's face burst into a momentary radiance. She nudged Mione's arm to keep her from being terribly startled as Lee swept in beside her.

"And with your Veggie Burger, might I recommend..." Lee swept open an imaginary menu. "La Colección Privada Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp citrus overtone, perfect to tame the wild fennel? And for la Mademoiselle Smith, perhaps a glass of Le Pinada Carignan to complement your order of Dorset Lamb Shoulder?"

"You can recommend whatever you wish..." Ginny's eyes twinkled dangerously. "But if you try to pry this Otter Bitters away from me, I may very well bite you."

"There'll be no prying of Bitter Otters then!" Lee shook his head, grinning. He caught the still-seated / somewhat-bewildered Mione into a spontaneous shoulder hug, then swung around to the other side of the table where he pulled the rising Ginny into a fierce squeeze. His eyes clenched shut in a moment of raw, undefined emotion, then he pulled back, his eyes studying the girl's face. "Blimey, it's been so long since I've seen any of you lot!"

Ginny's eyes reciprocated, searching him for hints of familiarity, or some long lost memory.

"Hey there, Mione. So pleased to see you!" Harry exchanged smiles with the older girl before his hand found Ginny's. It locked in, gentle but definitive; almost as if reclaiming her from his brother. His eyes smiled deeply. "Ginny, I'm thrilled you could make it!"

"Er, yes." Blinking at the sudden realisation of where her hand was, Ginny slipped from Lee's grasp to focus on the younger Jordan. "Thank you so very much for the invitations and vouchers."

"De nada." Lee grinned, taking a seat and turning his attention to Mione. "So my brother says you're both studying at C.U.L.?"

"Why yes!" Mione's eyes lit up. "Ginny's half way through her Psychology degree, and I'm in my last year of Criminology Honours with a Psych minor. I've been accepted into the Masters program next autumn at University College London."

"Brill!" Lee nodded. "C.U.L. to U.C.L. -- a big step up, yeah?"

"I suppose it is, yes." Mione smiled.

"Care for a pint, Lee?" Harry released Ginny's hand and gestured toward the bar.

"Yeh yeh, thanks." Lee gave his brother a thumbs-up. "And you Miss Smith? Where do you see your psychology studies taking you?"

"I haven't rightly decided." Ginny resumed her seat. "Perhaps a career in healthcare? Though sometimes I wonder if I'm just learning psychology to try to understand my own..."

Something caught Ginny's eye. She trailed off, her eyes fixed over Mione's shoulder at a man entering the pub. Without knowing why, she scowled, muttering, "Arse."

"Ginny?!" Mione gaped at the sudden cloud over the girl's face. "What is it?"

Lee's gaze followed Ginny's across the room, settling on a tall man with gaunt cheeks and long platinum hair. Apart from a few pieces of silver bling, he wore all black — a sharp French turtle neck and pressed trousers. Lee echoed Ginny's scowl. "Creepy-looking ponce, eh? You know him?"

"Know him...?" Ginny stared a moment longer, then laughed. "No, surely not. Pfeh, I guess there's your answer for me studying psych, yeah? Some unknown bastard walks into a bar and I instantly fall in hate with him?"

"Eh, well, reckon you're not the only one." Lee gestured to Harry, whose white knuckles were clenched around the handles of a pair of frothy mugs. "You okay, bro?"

Harry put the beer down a bit ungently, shook himself, and forced a smile. "Sorry mates. Just a bit of pre-show nerves, maybe."

"Nerves?" Mione patted his arm. "Don't fret, Harry; you'll do swimmingly!"

Mione, silently cursing her penchant for sitting with her back to the door, was distinctly curious (and a bit unsettled) over the caustic tension among her companions over the arrival of a stranger, but she was in no mind to prolong the unpleasantness with annoying questions. Rather, she projected around a very serious face, and flicked a 5p coin onto the table. "Wagers on our chances to medal next week at the Olympics?"

The icebreaker worked perfectly, leading quickly to a discussion of the British women's curling team — Ginny attempting to convince Harry that Mione's morning hair-care exploits had nearly qualified her; Lee drawing blank stares by calling it 'the only non-Quidditch sport played with brooms'. That all devolved soon into a semi-illogical series of amusing anecdotes and trivia that went a fine way toward reigniting a friendly chemistry within the foursome.

Ever the Crim student, though, Mione remained subtly vigilant. A while later, as Lee was regaling the others with the field hockey prowess of his girlfriend, Mione finally shifted about in her chair just enough to gaze curiously about the pub.

The timing proved fortuitous; she happened to finally set her own eyes on the tall platinum-tressed stranger, slipping into an unmarked door near the back of the pub... just as a broad-shouldered, jovial-looking fellow in a vibrant Dashiki shirt emerged through the main entrance.

Back to index


Chapter 7: Questions

Author's Notes:

I suspect this is not exactly the chapter many of you were expecting. It may turn out that Chapter 8 is a bit closer to what some readers may have been anticipating.

Speaking of chapter 8, you can expect that one to appear here, on schedule, next Tuesday. Beyond that, stay tuned.


Chapter 7. Questions


"Aeroplane and lipstick stain,
Saying bye to you again,
Life is such a bloody pain,
Next week we'll do it all again..."


Ginny laughed.

She laughed because Harry truly had woven her solemn little tune into the prelude. She laughed because the song was as silly as she thought it might be, and because this was the first time she'd heard Harry sing something so frivolous. She laughed because nobody in the Half Moon cared if she was silly enough to sing right along with it... and because Mione had surrendered to the urge, and was actually up there with her, singing (badly) and dancing, in a room full of strangers.

But, more than anything, Ginny laughed because she was happy.

There were a number of reasons to be happy, beginning with an afterglow that had set in from earlier this evening.

To begin with, there was a bit of residual heart-flutter. She was aware of (and not the least bit worried about) that little symptom of happiness that began when a certain vocalist had greeted her by taking her hand. And holding it for at least three seconds. Then, more tangibly, she had really enjoyed a relaxed meal with Harry, Lee and Mione. Most encouraging was a real satisfaction in having banished the awkwardness between Harry and hersel. Finally given a chance to act casually, their jitters had gone down about as fast, and easily, as those first couple of beers they had shared.

There had also been a subtle relief when that odd, long-haired stranger had departed, but for the time being Ginny had pushed that episode from her mind, replacing it with thoughts of what a fun time she was having.

Ginny couldn't recall all that many 'fun times' in her life. It's not as though she had any bias against letting loose and enjoying herself, but she'd have to admit that she rarely succeeded. Luckily, tonight it all seemed so easy. And she decided there to be a good lesson in there, somewhere. As in, perhaps, having fun was a great way to find yourself happy, which was a recipe for laughter, which turned out to be a surprising amount of fun, which...

Rather than waste 'fun'-time getting tied up in circular logic, Ginny decided she'd just laugh again. Which made her happy. Even if Mione was looking at her as if she was a certified loon.

Meanwhile, on stage, Lee revved up one last drum crescendo, and Harry wound down the mock-grousing vocals with one final, mock-weary "Saying bye to you, again."

With the lights dimming, his two guitar-playing band-mates backed off their staged harrassment and receded into the shadows. All fell dark, but for a single stool over to the side, bathed in a low, lonely spotlight.

Retrieving his guitar from the stand, Harry approached the seat and settled onto it. Absently, he picked several notes above the twelfth fret then reached over to adjust the microphone. Straightening up, he gazed diffusely beneath the stage-lights, toward the audience.

"Everyone feels a little down, sometimes," he said.

Silence fell, but for a few hasty coughs and whispers. Ginny slid an arm around Mione. Her friend reciprocated and they nestled into each other in the way that good roomies do.

The slightest smile flickered at the corners of Harry's mouth, then he raised his eyes higher, more focused. "When you're feeling down, it makes you feel alone. And chances are, when you're all alone, it makes you feel down. That's called being in a rut, yeah? But, hey, you know what?"

He paused for a moment guessing, accurately, that he had the audience too mesmerised to get any reply. His face brightened, this time into a full smile that made his eyes crinkle a bit. "Everyone... everyone... no matter how sad and downtrodden truly does have someone."

Harry waited another theatric moment, before plucking a low F.

"Yes, well this is a song for all the 'someones' out there — the ones who are waiting somewhere, waiting for you perhaps, just like you're waiting for them. This is a song about finding that someone... and letting that someone find you."

He strummed three notes.

Ginny and Mione both pulled sharp breaths.

"Isn't that...?!" Ginny's hand closed over her mouth. "That sounds like... D'you suppose...?"

Harry's smile flickered one last time, then he closed his eyes. His fingers tripped lightly over the strings for an entire measure before leaning forward to the mic.


"In the pain of irony,
in a day of cold returns,
he'd almost given up,
surrendered to the fears."


From somewhere in the darkness, Lee, Dean and Shay joined in with a lilting harmony as Harry rose to his feet, shifted to 12/8 time, and elaborated the bluesy melody.


"He.......
had nowhere left to go, but ride the rails.
Maybe his race was run.

Then......
Underneath a shabby phosphor light,
He'd learn, she was the one..."


Ginny pulled Mione close, so close, then released. As she gazed stagewards, swaying with the music, a tear tried to escape her eye. No witnesses can attest whether any moisture was, in fact, set free. But, any tear at that moment would have rolled softly down her cheek to grace an expression that was somehow both sadder, and happier, than any grin.

Ginny's lips moved. To begin with, they softly sang along with the verses that she knew, but after a time her lips reverted to words that were enshrined in her heart.

Thank you Harry.

I will never, ever, forget this song.

It's so very nearly... almost... magic.

These words did not actually rise above the volume of the music. Nobody heard them; not even the singer to whom the words were nominally addressed. But that didn't matter because the right words will always be, in their own way, magic.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Drumming can be hard work.

Beyond the sheer physicality of it, there is the taxing mental challenge of directing the whole band from the rear — guiding everyone's rhythmic pace in every number of every set; always ready to jump in with improvisations whenever anyone else goes a bit loose and creative. Lee figured it could have made for an olympic sport a fair sight more demanding than curling. Fortunately, he kept his body and mind fit (and demanded the same of his band-mates) to the point where some nights — the ones when everything purred like a well-oiled machine — he could settle in and have a cracking good time.

Tonight was definitely one of those nights!

Everything was rocking so grandly that Lee had played the last half hour with a permanent grin on his face. The crowd was jazzed and responsive in all the right ways. The sound system was great, and the Stags were working it well. Dean and Shay kicked around with lots of energy, making cool noise and having fun.

And Harry?

Well, when it came to performances, Lee rarely used the terms 'Harry' and 'fun' in the same sentence (the word always seemed too simple, whereas his bro was way-deep and complicated) but there was one thing the elder Jordan was utterly convinced of at the moment — the Mysti Stags' lead vocalist was... on his game!

it had been nearly a month since the phenomenal break-out performance at the Camden Palace. Those weeks, unfortunately, had contained an unbroken string of non-phenomenal performances, and Lee had felt a steady, low-level, concern for his brother's... Brother's what?

It surely wasn't apathy, but what was it? Just as Lee had never figured out quite what had sparked at the Palace back in January, he wasn't sure what Harry had been lacking ever since.

Without understanding the problem, Lee had no good advice to offer, so he did what he did best. This was to shut up, and wait for the problem to work itself out; hoping that somehow Harry would sort things through on his own. And so, Lee had never lost faith. He always assumed that, soon enough, his bro would find a way to recapture the passion and musical magic he'd proven himself capable of.

And, tonight was stunning proof of that! If ever an older brother needed a reason to grin, this was it. Each number, the music lit up with a flame every time Harry took the mic. His voice was like an expensive Christmas candle; the music wasn't tearing out of him like the angsty dramatic exposition in Camden, but it was rich, full and steady, and it was making connections with the audience that Lee knew only rare, gifted singers could achieve.

So, every time Lee heard a really awesome verse, he'd sneak the tiniest little peek away from the frenzy of his drumming; out past his grooving mates, curious whether he could spot a half-way sensible reason for why the world was all so right tonight with their lead vocalist.

What was different? What was sparking the spark?

Being incredibly sharp — acute enough to cut through the stage lights), Lee's eyes, would glance past Harry and trace out along the direction the singer was facing. And, time and time again, Lee couldn't help noting that this direction kept pointing toward a certain audience member.

A certain petite redhead.

And then Lee would hone his ears on his brother's voice. And he began to wonder...?

And then his grin spread just a little wider.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


The crowd at the Half Moon had clamoured loudly for an encore, and the Mysti Stags had obliged. Ginny was curious whether Harry would try out his 'Grey Veil' solo again, but she wasn't sure if she wanted him to. The song was wonderful, but it awakened... emotions... in her; powerful sentiments that she knew, in her heart, that she eventually ought to explore. But not tonight. Some nights might be meant for soul searching, but tonight was meant for, well, tonight.

As it was, the Stags trotted out a cover single from the Scottish band 'Dawn of the Replicants', then closed with a spirited reprise of 'Three Feather Sunset' that brought the house down.

As the lights came up, Mione was checking her watch to gauge how much time there was before they would need to dash for a bus, when Langley appeared. He grinned and glanced at the girls' footwear. "Glass slippers haven't fallen off yet, eh? Might there be any persuading you mademoiselles to stick around for a while?"

Ginny looked hopeful, but Mione sighed. "We'd best not, Ginny. The transit is already running thin now, and I really don't fancy walking the streets on a Saturday night."

"Tut, Miss Granger." Langley shook his head. "NLTA guests needn't walk. We have a private driver who can bring you home whenever you wish." He gestured toward a unifomed woman standing alone in a corner.

"Private driver?" Mione blinked. "I... I suppose, yeah?"

"We can stay for a little while." Ginny smiled. "Provided you're certain she won't mind?"

"Dora? Mind?" Langley laughed. "Nah, she's brill and chill, with wits to kill. Let me introduce you to her now, so she knows you for later. Then we'll all go in to see how the 'Stags' party is progressing."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"Oi mate!" Shay clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Since when d'ye learn to sing, uh?"

Harry laughed.

"Yeah, Harry." Dean gave him an odd look. "You were really hitting the notes tonight. You been taking professional lessons?"

Harry shrugged, kicking off his shoes. "Reckon I'm just figuring it out as I go, yeah?"

"Orrrrriiiiight! Forget Elvis Costello!" Lee came in, fist pumping. "U2-who? Strolling Drones? Bag 'em all, mates, 'cause Mysti Stags just owned the Moon!"

"Half of it, anyway," Dean quipped. Harry rolled his eyes, but couldn't help smirking a bit.

"Eh, what do you expect? Stags rule." Shay yawned, tossing his shirt in the hamper and pulling a fresh tee from his duffel. "So's it time tae invite our little flock o' birdies in tae meet the 'Owners' yet?"

"Soon, I reckon." Lee nodded. "I've no biz updates for you that can't wait til tomorrow's practice. But it was bloody hot out there. So shower first; then we'll party. Nuff said, yeh?"

Before making his way to the showers, Lee reached for a bottle of beer, downed half of it and roped his brother into a sweaty half-hug.

True to his word, Lee said nothing. He didn't need to. One exultant grin, and Harry's in reply; among two brothers, that pretty well said it all.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"... Lor' luv a duck! Yer know it's a rare an' fine night when Harry invites someone back. He's a sweetie, but that's jes not 'is style. Yer two mus' be verr-ry special!"

Ginny grinned, stretching up toward Mione's ear. "Something tells me, I may find myself liking this woman."

Dora laughed. Approaching the dressing room door, she paused for a moment to listen. Then she pushed through abruptly. Standing there, hands on hips, she offered a disapproving look at the clothed band members inside. "Blimey, blokes! All showered an' dressed already? 'At'll teach me not to chit 'n' chat, eh?"

"Oi, Tanner!" Shay stepped back from a circle of girls clustered around him. "There's nothing done 'at can't be undone, eh?" He tugged suggestively at his shirt.

"Keep it on, Finnegan!" Dora held up her hand. "Ye're in the presence of proper ladies for once in yer bleedin' life, so straighten up."

Dean's tall frame began to emerge from around a pillar. "Proper ladies? Now, why the hell would proper ladies...?" The snark died on Dean's lips the moment he saw Mione and Ginny. "Oh."

A half dozen groupies raised sour brows as the guitarist maneuvered away from them. Dean adjusted his tank top slightly, and extended his hand to first Mione then Ginny. "Hi! I'm Dean Thomas. I don't believe I've seen you before."

"We're friends of Harry and Lee." Ginny's smile strained when she realised her hand was not being immediately released. "Are they in here? I'd really like to-"

"Lee Jordan at your service!" Lee emerged; his hair still damp from the shower. "Well, if it isn't the enchanting Miss Smith! Did our show meet your exacting standards, milady?"

"It was brilliant!" Escaping Dean, Ginny opened her arms, unsubtly soliciting Lee's hug. "I almost got... okay, more than almost, got misty-eyed from Harry's new slow number. I was wondering if I, er..."

"Looking for Harry?" Lee pulled back; a sparkle in his eyes. "He's right around the corner." He gestured back and to the right. "Feel free to join him, but approach quietly, so's not to mess up his post-gig zen thing. Don't let it stop you, though, as I know for sure he'll be glad to see you."

Lee gave her a cheery wink, then turned to welcome Mione in with a proper embrace.

Thus liberated, Ginny drifted back in the direction Lee had indicated. With every step, she found herself feeling more and more dissociated from the exhilaration unfolding around her. Discovering a wood-paneled side corridor that seemed to lead to the showers, she turned to follow it back, and spotted a darkened alcove part way down. Barely visible therein was the slight fringe of a Persian carpet whose purpose she immediately guessed.

Perhaps it was a trick of configuration or rooms and corridor, but the place back here seemed remarkably quiet. To Ginny, the setting felt distinctly solemn; even more placidly remote from to the festivities taking place not forty feet away.

Curious and almost light-headed, an odd sense of heightened awareness tingled in Ginny as she approached. Blended with her anticipation of seeing Harry was a hint of reluctance or uncertainty — a vestigial twinge of the old 'forbidden' . Something about walking slowly back that dim corridor made her wonder if, despite having managed to topple a daunting barrier in her mind, the progress had left bits of scattered psychological rubble around which she, perhaps, was still fated to gingerly clamber around.

Rubble she could handle. She paused, took a breath, then began her cautious final approach.

She found him cross-legged on the floor, sketched in the coppery incandescence of a single, low-watt bulb. Still engrossed in travels on some far-off tranquil plane, Harry did not move. Nothing in his bearing seemed, yet, to acknowledge her presence.

A part of Ginny wanted to turn away; to give him peace in what was surely a very private experience. But Lee's admonition was fresh in her mind, so she willed herself carefully forward, stood a long moment in front of him, then folded her legs to sit face-to-face.

A long moment hung in the air. The ebbs and surges of distant background voices blended to a mist.

Then, eyes still closed, he leaned forward a fraction of an inch and parted his lips. "Ginny?"

She nodded.

He smiled slightly for a second, then words emerged, bearing an almost featureless calm.

"Have you ever gotten the feeling...?"

Ginny held her breath, waiting for him to resume.

"Do you ever get the feeling that a part of you is hidden away? That that there were many things that you may once have known or experienced, but the memories have fallen away somewhere you can't find them?"

Ginny gazed at his moist hair; at his lips; at his cheeks, still flushed from exertion and shower.

Sensing that his aim lay more in the pondering than the answering, she replayed the words in her mind. The outer meaning of the sentence was a very simple question, but she couldn't help note how the phrasing seemed almost to strain to avoid the words 'forgot' or 'forgotten'.

Either way, the answer to her was obvious. She did have many gaps in her past, and those gaps did not feel as though they were forgotten. Forgetfulness implies 'negligence', and she knew too well she had never been a 'negligent' person.

To the contrary, Ginny had always been quiet and watchful. She spent much of her time quietly noticing things; grasping details that others missed; seeing connections that most would overlook, and storing that information for future use. She saw no reason why her past memory should be so shoddy, when her present mind placed so much value on observation...

Yet, negligent or not, the clear response to his question was 'yes'. She supposed she should eventually tell him that, yet she partly also wondered if, without speaking, she had somehow already done so. She studied him again — his face the picture of equanimity; his hair still with that same post-shower glisten; cheeks ever so slightly rosey; eyes closed; his lips still peaceful.

Slowly, she nodded.

Harry sat placidly for another few seconds, before his calm, low voice issued again.

"Do you ever feel like you and I are actually meeting again? As though, once upon a time, we knew each other? Even, perhaps, were friends?"

Exhaling, she inclined her head onto her shoulder, weighing the words.

In truth, she had no clear answer. Oddly enough, at times she had already wondered the same thing, and that had to count for something. To wonder is not quite the same as 'to feel', yet, it did occur to her that even so much as acknowledging the riddle could already be an important step toward knowing the truth.

Ginny turned her thoughts back to Harry's phrase, '... the memories have fallen away somewhere you can't find them...'

She decided at that moment that the answers were surely still there, and that one day she would have the will and strength to find them. Unfortunately, she had grown very accustomed to the truths being shrouded by complex clutter that usually seemed to rise up in odd internal agitation whenever she tried to delve too deeply into deep questions...

Questions such as these. Questions about her past.

Those questions were usually off-limits, but at this moment a few doors had been left slightly ajar. She felt as though, for once, her mind was not completely repelling her, and she was curious why.

Is it just that I'm content? Happy? Is Harry's calmness infecting me?

Is there some aura of peace settled about this little alcove?

She had already wondered about the odd acoustics that screened out much of the raucous party noise, and suddenly wondered if something similar was even filtering some of the chaos within?

Is this meditation another form of 'power'? Like summoning the ring?

Since it had already dawned on her that she and Harry both had unusual 'powers', she began to wonder if they might also share similar afflictions — deep fugues and internal conflict? Was it perhaps also true, then, that Harry had progressed a fair bit further than she had in conquering the debilitating ailments?

Perhaps, right here and now, with all of the noises and stresses pushed into a faint background hum; with nothing before her eyes but the low-lit face of a placid companion, she too was meditating?

Whatever the truth in all of this, an odd moment in a dimly-lit basement corridor with a wonderfully unusual young man had, for the first time in ages, made Ginny think that she might be glimpsing a path toward finally overcoming the tyranny of not only the 'forbidden', but perhaps even of the purple fog. And that thought filled her with a great swell of semi-conscious gratitude. Of its own accord, Ginny's hand must have acted on that feeling, for she discovered that, at some point, it reached over to find one of his and, for some unknown amount of time, she and he had been sitting there in silence, holding hands.

And Harry had opened his eyes.

"So many questions, yeah?" He took a deep breath and smiled. "We'd best get up and join the rest for a while."

In a single, fluid motion, he rose to his feet and helped her up. A bit dazed, she stood there, unmoving; hand still clasping his.

Harry regarded her for a long moment, then pulled closer. For a tantalising instant Ginny thought that he was about to... give her a kiss? A hug? Something like that? But he veered a bit to the side, his lips stopping a couple of inches shy of her ear. "I, uh, wanted to ask you...?" He trailed off.

Ginny blinked. "Er, yes? Ask me?"

"This coming Thursday, Lee and I may be having a little get-together." He pulled back, a shy smile hinting on his face. "No details have been set, so please don't tell anyone yet, except obviously Mione, but... well, I thought I'd tip you off in case you thought you might be interested in coming."

"Thursday?" It seemed to Ginny an odd choice of weekday, but there was no way in hell she was saying no. "Sure." She smiled. "When you have more information, perhaps you could...?"

"Pop by your carrel, or leave you a note?" Harry's eyes sparkled.

"Right!" Grinning, Ginny looked into his sparkling eyes.

She was dearly tempted to hold them deeply and meaningfully; she very nearly initiated any of perhaps six somewhat bold gestures, several of which were things that would be considered a step or two beyond friendship. But she couldn't quite summon the nerve. Instead she pulled him into a two second hug, then let go, so that they could join the others in a spirited round of post-gig carousing.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


With Mione fallen asleep on her shoulder, Ginny's attention was divided fairly evenly. In part, she was merely gazing at the passing lights as the Rover 827 made its way through the sparse late traffic on the A501. The other half was occupied with making the occasional suitable response as Dora pointed out her favourite night clubs, pubs and restaurants along the route back to Clerkenwell. The latest, indicated roughly along the direction of Dora's pointing finger, was 'The Albany' — a venue where the Mysti Stags had apparently played last summer.

In the midst of the 'Dora Tanner audio tour of London nightlife', something abruptly occurred to Ginny.

"St. Valentines Day!"

"Eh? Wot's saying?" Dora adjusted the rear-view mirror. "Oh, yer meaning the Emo Valentine's Party at Visigoth's? Bligh! Wouldn't be caught dead with... Emmm... but that's not what yer meaning, p'raps?"

"Er sorry, no." Ginny shook her head. "It just occurred to me that this coming Thursday is Valentines day."

"Aye, GinSmith! Rightly so. An' oi! Three years ago, I recollect a wicked Valentines day knees-up at Carpenters, which is actually just up here and ter the right. Carpy's has the best bitters, but I'll advise you t' first get yer grub at Franco Manca's, which be just kitty-corner along that way..."

Ginny's heart was suddenly beating wildly enough that she completely missed a series of detailed menu recommendations.

Is the get-together at the Jordans' a Valentine's party?

She had never been invited to one before.

No, that was not true. Ginny had suffered through countless bloody tedious primary-school celebrations with pink cut-out cards and pasty-glazed biscuits in which all the boys would cluster around a few flirty four-foot-floozies with French dresses and real silk ribbons in their hair, but piff!

Not one of the flirty little primary school floozies had ever been invited to a Valentine's party... by Harry Jordan.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Frost

Author's Notes:

As Martin pointed out, I ended up generating a little build-up for this chapter. No clue how it will really be received, though, so I'll mostly now just take a step back and let you all be the judge. I will ay that it was fun to write, and there's a ton of plot motion, though the wordcraft is a lot plainer than other chapters, such as the endings of say 'Biscuits' or FoT.

Chapter 9 was a more challenging chapter to write, but has really seemed to come together well in the second edit, will be posted here on schedule, next week.


Chapter 8. Frost


"You're having me on!" Half out of his seat, Lee nearly leaped across the desk. "If you're having me on, I'll... I'll..." He sat back down and stared. "Tell me you're not bloody having me on!"

Langley burst out laughing. "Listen mate. Unless someone's pulling the most elaborate prank ever, this is real." He pushed a piece of paper across the desk toward Lee. "That's his fax number. That's his signature. I was on the phone with his secretary right before you arrived, and she confirmed."

Lee's face scrunched up as he read the fax. "Kingston Shelby... Brixton Academy... March 8-9, 2002. Brixton bleeding Academy, Nev! How did he do it? Or... why? Why did he do it?!"

"Well, the 'how' is pretty obvious." Langley shrugged. "He's Kingston Shelby, mate. He has a little pull, and he's got his finger on the pulse. He must have heard that Long Pier cancelled all their bookings due to Broch Turner's back surgery, so I'd reckon that Kingston called the right bloke, twisted an arm and got you in."

"But why?"

"Ah!" Langley grinned. "Well, you know, I may have a hint about that too."

"Yeh? Yeh? What's the dirt?"

"Well..." Langley leaned back and folded his hands. "It turns out that Kingston actually did catch your show last Saturday. He was right there with us at the Moon. And, judging from the review in ASFAR, I'd say you made a fairly universally favourable impression, eh?"

"Kingston was there?!" Lee's eyes bugged out. "I thought you said he didn't show?"

Langley shrugged again. "As far as I knew, he didn't. His office never confirmed the invitation, and I never spotted the man myself, so... who knows? As I've said, he's a busy may; works in mysterious ways."

"That he does! I'm..." Lee hesitated. A frown crept over his face. "Wait. What does this Kingston chap look like? No chance he's tall, skinny, fiftyish? Long white hair?"

"No, not him." Langley shook his head. "Kingston's maybe an inch taller than you; powerfully built; short dark hair; skin like yours."

"Heh. That's sure not the him, then. Good." Lee laughed. "Yeh, well let him know we're bloody grateful, eh? And, I can't imagine him going slumming but if you, errr... thought it appropriate, you could let him know he'd be welcome to stop by our little soiree Thursday night."

"Ah?" Langley raised an eyebrow. "The party's on then?"

"You bet! News like Brixton is plenty of reason to celebrate eh? Besides, Angie will be in town."

"Brill!" Langley flashed a thumbs-up. "I'll tell Kingston. And I'll bring a keg."

"You're a beautiful man, Nevi. Thanks for all!" Lee grinned, then rose to his feet. "Gotta run. Practice at 5:30!"


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


"It was very kind of Harry to invite us over for supper too." Ginny gazed absently as another block of Holloway Road sped past the window of the bus. "I wonder why he's so thoughtful? It's hardly as if we're particularly special or anything."

After ten seconds of no reply, she turned to check whether her friend was listening. What Ginny saw prompted a frown. "Mione, what are you smirking for?"

Mione batted her eyelids. "I'm not smirking, Ginny. I'm smiling."

"Yes, well stop it."

This time Mione truly did smirk, but she had the sense to face away and point her bemusement in a discreet direction.

A minute later, they exited the bus, and did a quick look-around to find the right cross street. "Not a beautiful neighbourhood," Mione remarked, ever mindful of the environment through which they might later be finding their way home.

"At least there's a park nearby." Ginny gestured at the thick hedge and row of threes to their left. "A nice green space ought to quieten things down a bit. Helps people feel less cramped, yeah?"

Mione didn't answer. Part of her liked parks as much as most city dwellers did, but her Criminology studies had made her uncomfortably aware of unpleasant statistics. Within large cities, there were a worrisome number of crimes that were more likely to occur in green spaces than on the street. On that note, and with an eye to the fading light, she hastened her pace.

"Should be right up ahead." Ginny pointed at a row of nondescript two story brick houses leading back from the intersection. "Third house in. It looks to be a decent enough pl-" She stopped, hearing... a familiar voice. "Huh. That sounds like Lee?"

Both girls stood on the corner, gazing curiously into the winter-scraggly brush from the corner of the park, listening to voices that came from just beyond their sight.

"... and you picked tonight of all nights to tell me? As in, wait 'til I'm finally really start getting my act together; the band's really cooking, life's looking brill, to tell me? You're finally back in London, and I bought you a whacking great pile of flowers, and you don't care about any of that?"

"Eh'm truly sorry, Lee, but, well... would y'ave preferred a telegram? Royal Mail? In fact, eh came all 'e way 'ehre because I did care — care more'n enouff to explen why-"

Mione grabbed Ginny's elbow and steered her pointedly across the street, away from what was clearly a difficult, contentious and private conversation.

Ginny didn't really need any encouragement. She, too, was ready to get away from the raw emotions but, just as importantly, she had just happened to spot someone important who was now coming into view across the street. She waved.

Rising up the steps from their below-ground entrance, Harry waved in reply. Keeping his voice down for the same obvious reason that the girls were, his expression was conflicted — happy to see his guests, but clearly disheartened by his brother's misfortune.

Seeing Harry's face, Ginny's eyes crinkled. Instinct took over, outweighing any vestiges of the old sensation of the 'forbidden'. Opening her arms wide to him, she was surprised (indeed, a bit amazed) to find them immediately filled by a young man whom, still mere days ago, she had adulated.

Now she liked him. Thoroughly.

Friendship, she had discovered, is so much more satisfying than hero worship...

Feeling his strong arms around her; the tickle in her hair as he loosed a weary sigh on her shoulder, it took Ginny several seconds to know what to do but, fortunately, the instincts were there to guide her yet again. Behind his back, she opened her hands and let them mould to the solid curves of his shoulders, pressing with firm warmth, sensing that however small the gesture might seem, he would feel the sincerity and appreciate it.

Ginny's face crinkled even further, deeply moved to discover that in a world of grand, showy gestures, it is actually that the small ones — the opening of two small hands — that open a place in the heart.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Harry's eyes — pressed tightly shut in the moment he had descended into Ginny's embrace — opened. He gazed at the wavy locks of hair that trailed down before his eyes; he registered the warmth of her hands on his shoulders; the comforting pulse of her heart.

Moments ago he'd been really quite... demoralised, yet suddenly now he felt, well, distinctly better to say the least.

He held on for a long moment, savouring the reassuring embrace. Somewhere in that reassurance it occurred to him that Ginny's simple, unspoken, unconditional gesture was a pretty good template for the support his brother was probably going to need.

That, and a bit of good cheer, perhaps.

Harry pulled back and studied Ginny's face, finding (no surprise, really) that she did, indeed, have a bit of cheer for him. It was tentative, and it was mixed with a bit of are-you-okay concern, but it was definitely there.

As one, they smiled.

Mindful of manners, Harry indulged in a final fleeting moment to beam his appreciation to Ginny, then he gave Mione a quick hug too, and gestured toward the house. "Let's head in, then? There's beer and wine; coffee or tea if you prefer. Chops are in the oven, nearly done I would think."

Leading them down past a tiny garden, they passed through the front door, making directly for the kitchen. Momentarily glimpsing the sitting room, Ginny caught sight of the piano. Intrigued, she paused to gaze at it, as if remembering something. She took a half step detour, trying to get a closer look, but Mione caught her arm again, and ushered her along with the flow.

"I'm sorry that you had to hear that." Harry unfolded a pair of chairs (more fit for human use than the ones he and Lee normally used) then pulled back the drapes to a small garden that looked dreary beneath a tall wall and darkening sky. "Lee and Angie have going at it since before I got back from work. I made the mistake of wandering over to say hi earlier, and... well, awkward, yeah?"

Sighing, Harry slid a bowl of crisps onto the table. Reaching for some wine, he shook his head. "It ought not have surprised me — they've been on shaky ground since September when Angie took an offer to study in France. Lee couldn't really see any way to uproot and follow her over, so..."

"Trying times for them both, I can imagine." Mione nodded. She squinted slightly, reading labels of the bottles Harry was holding up. "I'll have white, please."

Lost in private thoughts, Ginny jolted slightly when Harry had the temerity to press a cold bottle of Otter Bitters into her hand without asking. Her startle gave way to a grin, bemused and touched to see he'd managed to find her favourite brew. Raising it to her lips, she promptly took the bottle down a few ounces.

"Oh." Harry looked a bit sheepish. "I, er, could have asked if you'd like a glass with that."

"A bit late for that, yeah?" Ginny smirked, fighting back a spontaneous urge to plant a kiss on his cheek. Instead, she settled for a wink and another healthy drink.

Harry chuckled. Handing Mione a glass of Chablis, he grabbed a beer for himself and quickly checked the oven. "Hmmm... We three could eat in a few minutes, but..."

Mione shook her head. "We'll wait for Lee, don't you think?"

With a quick glance at Ginny who shrugged, Harry nodded. "Sure. I reckon he won't be much longer out there anyway; the sun's gone down and a winter chill is moving in."

Perfectly timed, the front door responded with rattles and clicks, affirming that Harry's brother had indeed returned from his park-side drama. Pulling off his coat, Lee entered the kitchen, wearing a smile that did not mask weary strain around his eyes. "Oi, luvs! Can't barely step out of the house without Harry getting surrounded by beautiful women."

Lee gazed around at the forced, uncomfortable half-smiles. "Er, beautiful women who likely walked right past that corner of the park, p'raps?"

Having not yet touched her wine, Mione handed it straight to Lee, and he downed it in one unceremonious gulp, as Harry went to the cupboard for a fresh glass.

Wiping his lips, Lee hung his head. "Happy bloody Valentine's mates! The good news is that she doesn't hate me. The bad news is that's she's sick and tired of waiting for my arse to pull itself out of this pit."

"Erm...??" Mione's face twisted in confused apprehension.

"Angie doesn't like England," Harry translated as he handed Mione more wine and replaced Lee's empty glass with a beer.

"Doesn't like England?" Lee scoffed wearily. "Can't figure the lass. What's not to bloody love about this place? Beautiful weather. Crystal clean air."

Mione shrugged. "Green paradise? Post-Thatcherite social utopia?"

"Efficient government services?" Harry smirked, giving his brother a half-hug. "World famous nineteenth century rail system?"

"My brother hated England." Ginny took another long pull on her beer and stared out the back window.

"Yeah." Lee gazed for a moment at the petite red-head; the remant of a Smith family he was increasingly sure he once knew. "Well, Angie said she was still fond of me, and she liked Harry, and she wished the Stags well, but she's no real life here. No family, precious few friends, and an endless roll of crappy memories from a lifetime of bitter disappointments. Supposedly that was enough to warrant learning French and getting the hell out."

"My brother's learning Welsh," Ginny said quietly.

"So..." Mione sighed. "Is the party off then?"

"Well, no. Party's still on, I guess." Harry shrugged headed for the oven. "At this point, it's too late to warn off the rabble, so I reckon people will start showing in an hour. In the meantime, the important guests are here, and I'll wager they're peckish, yeah?" He pulled out a rack of lamb, a dish of polenta and some roasted vegetables.

"You lot go ahead." Lee shook his head. "I'll pass."

"Like hell you will!"

Lee, Harry and Ginny bolted to attention, staring at Mione.

A bit shocked at the force in her own tone, Mione blinked, then shook her head. "Sorry. Like 'heck', maybe? Listen Lee, your brother made us all a fine meal, so the very least you can do as a proper host is to enjoy it with us and listen politely to our tedious prattle."

Ginny smirked. "Mione, you forgot the bit about him needing a solid meal to protect his stomach in case drinks number ten through twelve go down as fast as the first one."

"Oh dear, yes." Mione frowned and nodded. "Oh, and Harry, have you some milk to pour him before he gets much further along?"

"Blimey!" Lee threw his hands in the air, laughing. "A'right, a'right, I give! You lot keep this up, and I might even forget to slash my wrists."

"Best hide this, Harry." Ginny stole the steak knife from Lee's place setting. "We can give him a butter knife instead. Or, better yet, he could eat with his hands."

"If so, we ought to get him a spare serviette." Hermione went to the cupboards and began exploring. "Or might you have a bib?"

And thus began the Valentine's dinner. An ever so slightly eccentric one.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


The meal had been a delightful hour for Ginny. She had been most heartened to see Lee loosen up and push the afternoon's angst onto the back burner. It had also been a chance for her to see Mione act all 'mother hen' over somebody else for a change. But, most of all, Ginny had rather enjoyed sitting next to Harry, observing how quietly affable he was off the stage, on his own turf, feeling no need to perform for anyone.

Unfortunately, all good things seem to end in a party.

One moment the final supper dish was being stowed; the next moment, loads of unfamiliar people began pouring in, bringing along their bizarre conversations, inside jokes and innuendos, that excluded her. Ginny would have found it easier to navigate if she'd had as much as a single person there to connect with, but fate seemed to conspire against even that.

Yes, as far as social opportunities went, this one proved bewildering and barren.

Lee was hardly in the party spirit. Despite being the head-host, chief-inviter and normally a fun person for Ginny to banter with, he had not recovered his full swagger, and proved disinclined to leave the kitchen. And Mione seemed oddly reluctant to leave his side.

Every time Ginny popped back to the dinner table to see them, it became increasingly apparent that Mione must have decided to make a special, personal effort to help Lee work through his pain. Indeed, the effort seemed 'personal' enough that Ginny did not wish to encroach on it.

Of course, that should have left Ginny free to spend time with Harry, but for the unfortunate fact that, as the only functioning host, he was swamped. Everyone wanted a part of him. Numerous people clung to him, offering lengthy congratulations on the glowing write-up in ASFAR, or about news of an upcoming gig in Brixton-something-or-other. And a lot of other guests just seemed to want to crowd around in ways that seemed to unsettle him a bit... and perhaps unsettle Ginny even more.

So, Ginny kept moving, restlessly, skirting the many little circles of art-y, music-y, finicky people who didn't seem very interested in her.

After another expedition through the sitting room (another opportunity for Ginny to stop and gaze at the piano that fascinated her), she made her way back to the kitchen to find another drink.

Having outlasted Harry's supply of Otter Bitters, Ginny grabbed a clean glass from the cupboard and opted to sample the keg that someone had brought for the occasion. Not disturbing the broody pair of 'mourning doves' at the table, she spent a leisurely minute filling her vessel and eavesdropping as Mione commiserated with Lee, telling him about her one and only failed romance — an older student who skipped town after his A-levels with nary a farewell nor letter.

Ginny was interested to note how the account differed in Mione's account to Lee, as compared to the version that Ginny herself had wheedled from her friend a year ago. She had never considered that a girl would feel compelled to adapt details so much for a male audience. She wondered if she, too, would instinctively change her narratives when confiding in Harry. And then, she wondered what had made her wonder that?

Ginny shrugged to herself at the strange thought. Brimming glass of ale in hand, she waved in passing at the pondersome pair, and steeled herself for another foray into the edgy, bohemian jungle.

Elbowing her way around (or through) a thicket of bickering flower-children, Ginny made it back into the front room where, for the barest moment, she thought that Harry was finally nearly alone.

But then she grasped the reason why he was 'nearly' alone.

Trapped in an un-navigable nook amidst guitars and music stands, Harry had been cornered by a wide-eyed, willowy blonde in a long, flowing, tie-dyed dress whose wild, random gesticulations seemed to alarm the other partyers.

Oddly enough, the blonde was brandishing a hard cover book, accidentally nearly clubbing Harry across the jaw with it.

Ginny seethed! Her own mother-hen protective streak suddenly erupting, she bulldozed Shay and another couple of blokes out of her way (thus earning some mildly laughable protests), and ploughed a path straight for the altercation.

Harry seemed to catch a momentary glimpse of her and attempted to wave ('semi-desperately', Ginny believed), but the blonde had an utterly uncanny knack for triangulation, perfectly shunting any attempt by Harry to escape, or Ginny to rescue him.

Bewildered, and fearful of getting slammed in the teeth by the large hard-back novel, Ginny finally had to halt her advance. Glaring at the back of the girl's head, Ginny tried to shout over or around the girl's diatribe, yet even that proved futile.

"Have you no idea how very dangerous and inconsiderate it is to have this book in your possession?!" The blonde's voice rose in sopranic fervor. "It's woefully inaccurate, and trivialises our plight. It's nothing but sordid propaganda!"

The small portion of Harry's left eyebrow that Ginny briefly spotted was uncharacteristically close to losing his patience. Feinting quickly to the right, only to have the blonde cut him off, he growled in exasperation. "Can't you take this up with Lee? It's his book; I've never so much as even set hands on it. I'm too busy for stuff like that, and not particularly interested anyway. I have better things to-"

"Do not deny your complicity, Harry Jordan! You allowed the book in your home, so now you must take responsibility. Each and every one of us bears responsibility for the truth!"

"Truth?!" The ragged edge of frustration in Harry's voice tore at Ginny's heart, but the blonde was so bloody deft at blocking her that, short of picking up a music stand and swinging it, Ginny still had no viable means to intervene. Practically tearing her own hair, she was left to listen helplessly to Harry's incredulous vexation. "Listen Lucy, this book is fantasy. It's fiction. Lots of people own copies. Children read it. It's a bloody best selling novel, okay? And-"

"Fiction?!" The blonde's airy voice rose to the airy-equivalent to an edge. "Don't say 'fiction' like that makes it all harmless, Harry. You may consider it fiction, but it's a dangerous, nasty perversion of the truth. These books pretend that the great battle of '87 never happened. Haven't you read how they cleverly try to convince you that all the sweet little Patils and Boneses and Weasleys of the world went along happily, magically singing 'la la la' way into the 1990's, when we all know for a fact that..."

The words clobbered Ginny! The effect was so very nearly physical, that jagged stars flashed in her eyes, and her knees buckled.

Head reeling, she staggered back, away from the obnoxious blonde. Half-tripping over something, or someone, Ginny's glass of beer sloshed. Amidst the bizarre stupour, she felt a hand latch onto her arm. A strong hand; a male hand...

Harry? Please please please let it be H-

But it couldn't be. Ginny knew Harry hadn't possibly had time to escape Psychoblondie yet.

Ginny groaned, despising whatever weakness had just hit her; hating to that she, a person who trusted almost nobody, would have to let some stranger, someone not Harry, not even Mione, help her to safety.

Feeling the piano bench stabilise beneath her, the sickly swirling began to subside, and Ginny heard a voice.

"You okay, sweets?"

Ginny nodded. Her eyes still clamped shut, she parsed the voice. After a couple of seconds, she assembled a mental image of a tall, dark young fellow. The Stags' lead guitarist. Dean — that was his name.

Ginny inhaled. "I'm fine, thanks. Just need a moment to clear my head. Perhaps a spot of fresh air." She opened her eyes, flexed her legs and found, surprisingly, that they all seemed quite functional.

"Er, okay. But I'm coming with you."

Looking up, Ginny met Dean's serious gaze. She shook her head. "No. Please let me be. I need a moment to myself."

"Oh." Chastened; even a bit dismayed, Dean released her and stood clear as she rose from the bench. "As you wish."

Hoping to find somewhere quiet where she could re-equilibrate, Ginny had taken several steps toward the front door when... things began to go even more screwy.

Without even turning around, she knew that Dean was following her (Prat!), and she further realised that a dozen or so half-drunk strangers were learing, peering, staring in foppish fascination at the bizarre dynamic.

Already in a state of fragile disorientation, it was too much; it was as if a hundred learing eyes were pasted all over her, and the mere thought made her want to hurl.

So she ran.

Adrenaline spiking, she stampeded straight over/through Shay again (oops). Banging her way out the door, she paused for a half second to gulp a deep draught of the cold, clear night air then, without the slightest notion of where she was going, or why, she sprinted across the lamplit street.

The, racing out across the frost-crunchy grass of the neighbourhood park, something odd happened. Without any physical reason, as if everything about the last five minutes had not already been strange enough, Ginny's legs locked.

One moment, they were coursing with wild abandon; the next she was plunging face-first toward what she knew would be cold, hard ground.

At the moment she began to fall, she happened to glance sideways, just in time to see a dark-cloak... Rather, someone in a dark cloak.

That someone seemed to be running toward her, brandishing a thin baton.

Desperately twisting at the last minute, she craned her neck back sharply to avoid banging her head on the ground. Landing hard, but obliquely, she struggled (still half paralysed) to her knees. Wide-eyed, she extended her hand toward the deranged intruder, preparing to-

"Ginny?"

As Ginny turned toward the distant call, the cloaked prowler skidded wildly on the frosty grass, whipping about to face the latecomer whom Ginny's pounding heart immediately recognised as Harry — already now bashing his way through an ill-advised brambly short-cut into the park!

Wobbling on still-immobilised knees, Ginny tried to wave. "Harry, look out for-"

Too late! Cloak-bloke thrust out his stick like some crackpot rapier and, from the tip, shot out a jagged streak of lightning?!

Cringing in horror, Ginny saw the bolt of energy crackle through the frosty air, lashing straight at Harry. She yelled; Harry leaped, raising a desperate hand...

And the bolt shattered! Into a blinding burst of sparks!

Clawing fiendishly over the ground, Ginny struggled toward Harry, gaping as he and the stranger faced off.

Panting like beasts, they both lowered to springy, cagey crouches. Harry cut quickly to his left, seemingly seeking to push the stranger back, away from Ginny.

Cloaky slowed, taking a moment to appraise the situation. He seemed on the verge of retreat when, suddenly, from over on the street, boomed a deep baritone voice. "Whoa mates! What goes?"

Crack!

Ginny blinked.

The stranger was suddenly nowhere to be seen. Harry straightened up, scratching his head, glancing alternately toward the vacant place in the field, back to Ginny, and then over toward the latest shout.

Ginny's gaze followed Harry's, and her eyes settled on a pair of people approaching them. Heading for Harry was a large, friendly looking man whom she didn't recognise, while, trotting out to Ginny, identifiable by the purple punk cut glinting in the distant street lamps, was Dora Tanner.

"GinSmith, luv!" Dora grinned. "Wot yer hellions up to out 'ere? Had a bit much to drink, p'raps?"

Reaching down, she tapped Ginny's leg, then helped her to her feet.

"Er, thanks." Ginny found that she was again quite able to stand and walk, albeit shakily, on her own legs. It also seemed, though, that she was a bit confused about what on Earth she was doing out in the middle of a frosty green at night, without her coat.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


A bit dazed — that's how Harry felt.

The sequence of events leading out of their flat been rather bewildering to begin with, and he wondered if somehow he might, indeed, have had more to drink that he'd assumed. Then, the next few minutes proved to be comparably blurred. He recalled answering a few genial queries by the kind gentleman who had checked on him, but he was hazy as to the exact nature of what was discussed. The fellow had then politely excused himself, leaving Dora to see them safely back to the party.

As they stepped over the threshold, it became obvious that a latest and last phase of oddness had begun. Harry and Ginny discovered, a bit to their bafflement, that basically all of the guests seemed to have cheerily, resignedly and spontaneously decided that the night was getting on, and that they'd best find their way home.

A bit confused, and still catching their breath from outdoor exertions, the pair found themselves performing make-shift receiving line duties at the doorway, waving farewell as Langley complimented Harry on a wonderful party, as Shay recoiled in mock-terror at the very sight of Ginny, as Lucy and Dean walked straight past chatting about elevated zinc levels in the North Sea fishery, and as another score of miscellaneous people strolled past offering cheery bits of thanks or farewell.

Finally, Mione and Lee wandered out of the kitchen, wondering where the blazes everyone had gone to.

"I guess they all got tired." Ginny glanced at her watch. She raised an eyebrow to learn that it was barely past 10 o'clock, but then shrugged. She was a little knacked too, and could rather relate.

"I suppose." Mione bobbed her shoulders. "Tomorrow is a work day, after all."

Lee rolled his eyes. "Heh, whatever. Bloody saddo shindig, but at least we had a great supper." He yawned. "Tea anyone?"

"Yes, thanks." Harry nodded. "Ginny, you too?"

Ginny nodded, then watched bemusedly as Lee and Mione wandered back to the kitchen, slipping straight back into whatever deep, soulful conversation they'd been immersed in before.

Preceding Harry back into the sitting room, Ginny took a seat on the treble-most end of the piano bench and patted the centre spot invitingly.

Harry took the proffered place, and bit his lip. "Do you reckon we should, uhh, talk? About stuff?"

Ginny sat silent for a moment, then leaned her shoulder into him, softly shaking her head.

"I, uh... I'm sorry I abandoned you for quite a while tonight. When you bolted, I was deathly afraid you were upset." He turned part way toward her. "Were you? Upset?"

"No no. Claustrophobic perhaps?" Ginny settled a little more into his side, yawning. "I'm sorry if I alarmed you. Oh, and I apologise for not being able to rescue you from Bombastic Blonde."

"Lucy?" Harry chuckled and shook his head. "No bloody clue what she was on about. She's often, er... well, to be completely frank, we suspect she's a bit heavy into the weed or something, but tonight was... kind of something else." His smile faded and he looked at Ginny more closely. "Are you completely worn out, Gin'? Should I call you a cab?"

Ginny shook her head again. "Not yet, thanks. Is it okay to just sit here? Quiet? With you?"

"Sure." Harry's voice was gently welcoming. He reached a hand down to find hers, then clasped it loosely, comfortably.

Ginny laughed softly. Leaning into him, she paused to reflect on where she was, and how natural it all felt.

She mused how amazing it was that, in the span of a few short weeks, she had gone from gazing wistfully across a library foyer at this fellow, to sharing a low light and warmth with him, on a piano bench. And somehow, within that soft glow, she no longer felt any need to dwell upon any of those bizarre episodes from only a short while ago.

Harry turned to her. "Sorry this wasn't much of a Valentine's day. I was wondering if there was there anything I could do to make it worth your trip up here tonight?"

Ginny look at him; momentarily puzzled that he should even feel the need to worry or inquire, yet somehow still touched that he did.

And though she hated to ask more of one who had already given so much, Ginny found that she did have a request — something that had been burning deep inside of her all night. She reached her free hand to touch the piano keys, and took a deep breath. "Play me something?"

"Why, of course." Harry blinked and grinned. "What would you like to hear?"

Ever so slowly, Ginny shifted her hand up from the piano, to touch his cheek. She held it there for a long moment, as her thoughts drifted back to a face that lingered in a rare memory from long ago.

Ginny smiled. "Clair de Lune, please."

Back to index


Chapter 9: Purple

Author's Notes:

A sincere thank you to all readers, and especially those who have been providing feedback on the story and those who voted for it in the recent Trinkets. I do appreciate it!

The writing is still coming along passably, though the new draft chapter department is lagging a bit. That might make me have to take a brief break as summer travel season hits. I shall keep you informed.

In the meantime, chapters 10-12 ought to appear on schedule.


Chapter 9. Purple


When Lee walked into the kitchen, he did not find luke-cool coffee. Nor was there a single piece of plain toast awaiting him. Rather, what he encountered on the morning after Valentine's Day, was the makings of a fully and cheery breakfast spread.

Harry wedged a spatula into the fry-pan, and flipped a mushroom across the room, which Lee caught with deft hands and a grin. "Mornin', bro!"

"Mornin'!" Harry turned down the gas beneath the pan. "You're looking remarkably human for this time of day."

"Who'd 've thought, eh?" Lee chuckled. "Twelve hours ago, we'd all have reckoned I'd still be sprawled rat-arsed in bed."

"Pretty much." Harry shrugged. "Rat-arsed or not, I'm glad you're smiling."

"Huh. Smiling. I actually am." Lee scratched his cheek as he slid into a seat. "Even after getting thrown over by the bird I've been dating for... whoa... Four years? Four years, mate! And yet, I really do feel, er, okay anyway." He popped the mushroom into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

Harry served him a plate and squeezed his shoulder on the way past. "Well, when you think it over, the flame's been fading for a while, yeah? Ever since she decided to move away? I can't imagine you both won't still have regrets over what could have been, but maybe it's the right time for that little kick off the ledge to get you started on the next of life's flights."

"I spose." Lee nodded. "Thinking back, I wouldn't be surprised if she's been thinking of cutting it off since Christmas; maybe even back in August, but couldn't budge up the bottle... so it's likely for the best I couldn't talk her out of it. But I'm still sore she did it on fricking Valentine's day..."

"True."

"And just as the Stags are coming along so hot." Lee took a drink of coffee. "We're looking at real money, bro! At this rate, I'd likely soon have had the coin to skip down to France and see her a two-three times a month." He scowled at his plate for a moment, then took a drink of his coffee. "Eh, but at least now I'll not have to worry about trying to sort out the wacky Chunnel rail schedules."

"Nah." Harry raised an eyebrow. "Instead, you'll be learning the bus route down to Clerkenwell."

"Clerkenwell? As in, the Lady Granger of Clerkenwell?" Lee grinned, digging into his meal. "Touché, bro. How 'bout I just hang a bell around your neck and follow you down? Suspect you'll be beating a regular path to the lady's roomie, eh?"

Harry ignored him. "Listen Lee. A huge part of me is grinning ear-to-ear because you had the perfect soft landing right after Angie dumped you, and I'm glad Mione seemed to enjoy preening your wings, but I want you to promise you'll treat her well, yeah? She's a wee bit prim at times, but a clod like you is hardly bound to find a more decent and kind-hearted girl ever. She deserves more than a bloke being sweet on her just because he got ditched. You catch me?"

Lee stopped, mid-chew. He stared for a long moment at his younger brother; his face an odd brotherly blend of affection and tetchiness. "Eh, well fair enough, mate. But in return you bloody promise me to treat Little Sister Smith a'right, too. I go way back with that family, and-"

"Way back?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "You'd never have even recognised her down at Half Moon, if I'd not pointed her out."

"I said I 'go way back'." Lee rolled his eyes. "I didn't claim I bleeding remember anything. Anyway, what's important is that she comes from one of the best, kindest and most honourable families Mum and Dad ever knew, and she liable to be the same, eh? So, I've every reason to believe she's a fine, good-hearted lass who deserves all the best treatment."

"Fair enough." Harry chuckled — simultaneously amused and impressed. "But, for the record, I'd like to think I've been fairly considerate, yeah? Not pushing. Taking things slow and proper?"

"Eh." Lee equivocated. "Being slow and proper is better than being an arse, but when I say 'best treatment', I mean looking out for the stuff she needs but doesn't ask for."

"Such as?"

"I somehow reckon she's had a few bumps in her life, bro." Lee took a long pull on his coffee, gazing out the window. "She's probably tougher than the lot of us, but save a place on your shoulder for her chin. The way Mione did for me last night."


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Mione shook her head as she removed the griddle from the skillet. "I still can't figure out what could have caused the party to deflate so quickly. Did you get a sense of why everyone left?" She apportioned the omelet among her plate and Ginny's.

"No." Ginny shook her head. "Harry and I went outside for, oh, no more than ten minutes. By the time we got back, everyone had just decided to bail."

"Oh right — I'd forgotten that you went out." Mione took a seat. "Did you have a nice stroll?"

"Er..." Ginny blinked. It seemed a perfectly innocuous little question... but it was one that reduced her to staring blankly at the toaster.

Sure, there were various answers that she could have rattled off. They would have gone roughly along the lines of:

Actually, it was more running than strolling — Harry racing out to flag me down after I went all nutcakes and ran off in the cold and dark without my coat because I freaked over something in Psychoblondie's weirdo rant about some batty childrens' book. Funnily enough, I was then attacked by some creepo in the park, who froze my legs, but that was no big deal because Harry vapourised a lightning bolt with his fist, and the nice lady NLTA driver wandered over and cured my paralysis. So yeah — a jaunty bit of moonlit recreation.

Nice simple account... but it wasn't one Ginny was eager to share.

Understandably she was a bit tired, and not in the mood for interrogation, but the big issue was more that Ginny didn't want to even think about the episode right now, let alone talk about it. Her reason basically came down to another battle with the 'forbidden'.

While Ginny had made great strides in tearing down the strange barriers in her mind (Harry, and his wonderfully infectious calm had certainly helped), there were obviously still a few hedges left to hack. Late last night, lying in bed after returning home, she'd dared trying to replay the incident in her mind.

Big mistake.

Apparently there were nasty consequences to even admitting to herself that she'd seen what she'd seen. A bare few minutes thought had been enough to grind away what had been a pretty good mood, and replace it with prickling, jabbing sensations that she knew would probably drive her around the twist if left unchecked.

So, she'd wisely shelved it, and was still quite reluctant to prod the purple foggy ogre.

Perhaps she might be able to safely tackle it later. Maybe Harry would be willing to coach her in his meditation techniques? Even being around him when he was meditating had helped her tolerate, deal with, and dispose of some ugly 'forbiddens'. Unfortunately, Mr. Zen wasn't exactly sitting with her right now at the breakfast table, so her options were avoidance, or brutal pain.

Except for the niggling matter of some sort of response still being required for Mione's question...

Urk.

Ginny immersed her face half way into her glass of orange juice and mumbled, "Was okay."

Mione stared.

She hardly needed college level algebra to calculate the relative fishiness of a ten second pause followed by a three syllable mumble. However, she also knew that patience could be a virtue when dealing with opaque friends, so she decided that she would let Ginny volunteer information at her own pace.

Of course, the less Ginny elaborated, the more Mione speculated.

Mione had already decided that the exodus from the party might have had something to do with the guests feeling abandoned by their hosts. Lee, obviously had been a bit indisposed, but perhaps if Harry had been tied up doing whatever with Ginny, then that had been the last straw? Either way, Mione didn't feel particularly guilty because she hadn't much taken to the other guests anyway.

Then, when it came to guessing what Ginny and Harry had really been up to outside? Well, it was not a huge stretch of Mione's imagination to assume that whatever moonlit recreation those two might have enjoyed was quite possibly a sweet precursor to the piano performance that Mione and Lee had later witnessed.

Yes, unbeknownst to Ginny and Harry, there had been an audience for at least part of last night's musical accompaniment.

Yes, an audience. Not spies per se.

After all, from Mione's perspective, Harry and Ginny had asked for tea, and Mione and Lee had tried to deliver it. And whose fault was it if she and Lee had paused for, say, five minutes to wait for a break in the music in order to make civilised 'cream or sugar?' type inquiries?

And whose fault was it if, somehow that tea never did get delivered, let alone drunk? It was clearly not missed.

And, ultimately, those tender moments at the piano were certainly not something to be missed either.

It took the will of strong discretion for Mione to not sigh dreamily at the recollection of a young musician working his way through beautiful lilting ballads, with his dearest fan (and Mione's dearest friend) practically glued to his side. It may not have been the story book Valentine's day ending for your typical lovers, but Harry and Ginny were not typical lovers, and weren't technically quite 'lovers' yet anyway, but they had definitely touched Mione's heart.

Sipping her orange juice, Mione debated for a moment whether to reveal what she'd seen, but shook her head, and opted to change the subject. Fortunately there one burning topic at the ready. Waggling her fork, she caught Ginny's attention. "You haven't asked me about Lee."

"Ah." Ginny finished chewing a bite. "How is Lee?"

"Lee is okay. Under the circumstances, of course." Mione raised an eyebrow. "But, you haven't asked, erm, about, me and Lee?"

Ginny took a long drink of juice. "Mmm... Freshly squeezed?" She put the glass down. "So, how are you, and how is Lee?"

Mione glared at her for a moment, gradually surmising that the girl was being difficult... and had quite a poker face. "Well, Ginny, if you must know, Lee and I had a long and pleasant chat last night, and we got on rather well."

"Ah?" Ginny dabbed a bit of brown sauce onto her omelet. "Not sure I would have noticed."

"Oh? I thought it should have been..." Mione narrowed her eyes. "Listen, you twit. I'm telling you this because this is a tantalising and tricky matter for me, and I value your opinion as a friend."

"My opinion on...?" Ginny looked up from her meal. "On you risking a 'rebound relationship'?"

"I suppose, yes." Mione frowned at the characterisation. "I'm trying to be cautious because I'd hate to accidentally hit the wrong switch and torpedo the good ship Friendship, but I... I felt very pleased to have been there for him. As a friend. At a time when everything had gotten all so suddenly intense for him." She gazed off for a long moment through their window, out over the spindly tops of neighbouring rowan trees. "It all felt a bit like what Harry described in that lovely song he wrote for you."

Ginny blinked, momentarily startled.

Mione didn't notice; her thoughts still tied up elsewhere. "Of course, last night was an easy part for me to play — listen and smile; groan at the right moments; pat his hand unobtrusively now and again." She sighed. "But now everything looks so much more complex. Will Angie ring up him in a couple days and sob her way back into his arms? Does he go out partying this weekend and sleep with some wench with, you know...?" Mione's hands made the universal sign for what Ginny recognised as mutant female body proportions. "I wish it was all as simple for Lee and me, as it is for you and Harry."

Ginny's mouth fell open, but she said nothing.

Still facing toward the window, Mione didn't register the awkward pause. She tapped her lip. "I'm sure you'll pardon my saying so. I realise that nothing like this is truly ever a walk in the park, but your situation does seem easier, doesn't it? Neither you nor Harry have jilted lovers to fret about. There don't appear to be irritating competitors. No past regrets or obstacles. You both treat each other so well — so thoughtfully, respectfully. And neither of you seems in any great rush to blunder madly ahead and make a hash of things." She tapped her lip again. "I truly envy you."

Ginny gaped for a long moment. "Don't."

"Beg pardon?" Mione turned, queryingly. "Don't?"

"Don't... envy." Ginny shook her head, her voice come out as a rasp. "Not so easy."

"Is something wrong, Ginny?" Mione's eyes widened. "Is something the matter with you or Harry?"

"I..." Suddenly prickling all over with a 'forbidden' that she had neither expected nor understood, Ginny stood up, tense, restless, her hands clutching the chair back. "I..."

"Ginny, you can tell me." Mione extended a hand, but Ginny was out of reach. "It may make you feel better to talk about it."

"I can't." Ginny let go of the chair and clenched her hands, trying to will away the electricity zapping through her head.

"Ginny!" Mione blanched. Rising from the table, she caught her friend's shivering hands. "You don't have to talk about it, but can you at least tell me if you're okay? Is there anything I can do to help?"

The words didn't register. Looking pointedly away from Mione, Ginny's mind was feverish from some sort of rising storm, like a resurgence of last night's fit, except possibly worse.

Despising the thought of imploding in front of anyone else, Ginny fought back hard.

Enough is enough! You've beaten this off before; beat it now. There's nothing wrong. Nothing! There's NOTHING wrong with liking Harry!

Pulling herself straight, she forced herself to meet Mione's concerned eyes. In a sudden spasm, Ginny's fingers flinched free of Mione's grasp, and snapped back, catching Mione's hands in a tight, pneumatic grip. Her voice lashed out, nearly hissing, "Past regrets!"

"Past regrets?" Mione's eyes widened. "With Harry?? But you've only just met him!"

Ginny's lip trembled. "I... I think Harry and I knew each other when we were little."

"Really?? What do you remember?"

"Something happened." Ginny's eyes gained a lucid, intense gleam. "Something awful. I think my family knew his, and I think that they... we... helped each other, protected each other, but something went terribly, horribly... no, well I'm not sure I ever even truly knew what happened, but I suppose that... I wonder if... well, look Mione — we're both orphans, right? Harry and me both? And... and... Mione, I think something in my head has been trying to wall this off from myself, from Harry, from everyone, or maybe somehow it's all been... well... Maybe PTSD or something? I just don't have... I just can't..."

Face pale, lips purplish, eyes deep and haunted, Ginny looked at... looked straight through... Mione.

Mione nearly screamed.

But she didn't. By the time Mione was even able to breathe, Ginny was gone.

A pleasant morning chat obliterated, Mione stared aghast at the closed, locked bedroom door behind which Ginny had fled. Pulse banging in her ears like brass cymbals, Mione fought back a half dozen panicky urges, and finally just groaned.

Oh shite...

Haltingly, fearing her shaking limbs might give way beneath her, Mione stumbled to her room-mate's door. "Ginny, I-I'm so terribly sorry. I had no idea! So sorry that I, errr... Brought it up?"

She trailed off, ears straining for even the slightest rustle or sigh.

But all was deathly silent.

Her pulse finally subsiding to merely half-panic, Mione took several sustaining breaths, then pressed close to the door. "Ginny, I have to go to class. Is there anything you need? From campus? Or...whatever?"

Face descending into her hands, Mione exhaled for a long moment. Then she straightened up, and went to get her coat.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


By eight thirty in the morning, a fine morning had already gone down hill for Harry. On his commute down to the university, he started to feel queasy and agitated. By the time he disembarked at the bus stop, he was certain that it wasn't mere motion sickness, and began to wonder if he was physically ill.

The busy morning work regimen sapped rather than invigorated. At lunch, he found he couldn't eat, and almost considered visiting the WC to void his stomach, before eventually managing to ease the turmoil with deep breathing.

By his late-afternoon break, he'd still not tamed the agitation and discomfort, so he finally resolved to do what he should have tried hours ago. Throwing on a jacket, he wandered out to find a quiet spot in the chilly quad. Seeking out the peaceful spread beneath a tree, he descended cross-legged onto a large flagstone, and turned his face toward a patch of moody sky.

Breathe...

He closed his eyes.

Breathe...

After several minutes, a mobile of crepe birds had still not materialised. There was no familiar wooden rail to grasp. He was still not even remotely relaxed.

Rather, Harry felt himself bombarded by a strange, almost popcorn-like barrage of agitated twitches.

What the hell?

That, of course, was not part of the normal zen script, but apparently what he was facing was not normal anxiety. Putting aside any attempt at steering his mind, he surrendered to the twitches, letting them push and tug at him; allowing the bizarre jabs and prickles to have their way until, finally, they evened out into a numbness that began to wash over him.

Breathe...

A faint frown creased Harry's brow as odd sparks of seemingly random thoughts and images flickered. Those, too, were unexpected. Again, however, he just let them take shape; watched passively as they began to resolve into... something that he could not recall having experienced before.

Slowly assembling before his mind's eye was a pattern. It was the dark grained pattern of ancient wood.

Curious, he took another deep, slow breath.

He was looking at a door; standing before a heavy wooden door as if in a very old, historic building of some sort.

No, not standing. In fact, he was leaning; his shoulder pressed hard into the door — a burden that was neither weight nor friction. The more he struggled against the door, the more it resisted until, after a series of calmer and deeper breaths, his hands and arms steadied and strengthened, and at last he was able to push back the barrier.

Peering within, he found a cavernous, low-lit stone chamber. He took a tentative step foward-

"You should not be here."

He froze.

The vision receded.

Intensely intrigued, but not panicking, Harry took another breath and regrouped. He drifted back to the recognition of how his real body was sitting cross-legged on the cold February ground in the middle of a London afternoon, then he slowly retraced his way back into the meditative vision — the heavy door, a darkened interior, and the voice.

This time it enmeshed him in a sense of exquisite, near-reality. As the voice (a child's voice; a little girl, perhaps; frightened yet hopeful) trailed off, Harry knew that a response was required. He was not merely an observer, but in fact a participant in what seemed to be a waking dream.

But, what should be say?

Harry replayed the sentence again in his mind; pondered the tone of contradictory fear and hope. The voice had implied he'd trespassed... but surely there was a reason for his intrusion? Why else would he have pushed so valiantly against the obstinate door?

He took another deep breath and, in doing so, found unexpected clarity. Even though he was still unsure what he was clear about, his voice emerged with conviction.

"It's true I should not be here, but I had to find you."

Harry listened for a long moment, hoping again to hear a word or phrase of guidance.

None came.

In his continued, mysterious clarity, Harry began to move forward into the darkness, his stocking feet crossing tentatively over cold flagstones. Gazing about himself, a spare glow from the distant doorway revealed his body to be small and child-like. His left hand was extended out as though he feared bumping into something in the dark, while the other was clenched at his side; taut and anxious.

Slowly, carefully, he raised the clenched fist upwards. Inches from his face, he loosened his fingers, and gazed in upon the small object he was clutching with such urgency...

Harry's eyes snapped open.

Before he had any conscious notion of what he was doing, he was back on his feet, racing across the quad, up the steps into the library, then over to the main stairwell, making for the second floor carrels.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Tap, tap, tap, tap...

The compulsive finger tapping was annoying Mione. Distacting her. In fact, it was so annoying and distracting, it actually took a moment for Mione to realise that the offending finger was her own.

Agh!

She jammed the digit firmly between her leg and the chair, lest the tedious noise get her thrown out of class.

Tetchy finger snits are rarely the sign of a good day, and today could probably be classed somewhere between 'miserably useless', and 'uselessly miserable'.

She had come within a hair's breadth of skipping her two afternoon classes to run home and check on Ginny... but couldn't quite bear to break a multi-year string of perfect attendance. Unfortunately, she was now quite certain that skipping one class earlier in the day to ease her mind likely would have helped her pay far better attention to the rest of the lectures.

But it was too late for second guessing. She was now more than half way through her final afternoon class, and she'd basically have to double down on her independent readings because she'd be damned if she'd truly absorbed even a single detail of the arcane nuances of the legal ethics lecture she was supposed to be listening to.

And such fretting made the monotone drone seem even more inaccessible...

"... thus the mere fact of being aware of being aware of prospective bias often tends to produce a reverse bias that may, in fact, exceed the scope and magnitude of any original..."

Tap, tap, tap, tap...

Tap?

In disbelief, Mione stared. Glared. At her fugitive, flagrant, repeat-offending, serial-tapping, yet ever-so-slightly contrite-looking, finger.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


The carrel was dark, and the door was closed.

Pressing close to the glass, Harry could see no sign that anyone had entered the little room at all today. The chair was still pushed all the way in, and the rubbish bin protruded a few inches, just as night staff would have left everything after their cleaning rounds.

Harry had never made a habit of memorising Ginny's schedule, but he really couldn't recall a day in the last week or so when his friend had not made at least a brief appearance.

He knew, of course, that there were surely a lot of basic, mundane reasons why Ginny might not have visited the library today. Hoping for reassurance, he bolted up the steps to seek out one person he was absolutely certain would have shown up for at least part of the day — Mione.

Unfortunately, third floor proved comparably disappointing. Mione's carrel was also, for the moment, empty.

In a bit of a haze, he returned to the stairwell, and stood there, a tense hand running through his hair, trying to figure out what to do.

He needed to find Ginny — that much was clear.

Of course, that was about the only thing that was clear. Everything else (why he needed to find her; why he had imagined himself holding her ring in that dark stone chamber; why he might have had such a vision in the first place; how he was actually going to locate her if he didn't know her phone number or address) was a complete muddle.

Harry stared for a long moment, studying a featureless cinder block wall; seeing nothing.

Aghh!!

He had no idea what on Earth had him so ridiculously unsettled today, but he did know, ethically, that he was hardly earning his university salary right now. He wasn't sure what to do about this prolonged anxiety attack, but at the very least he ought not bill his employer for the mania.

And, with that, he started down the steps.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Mione was fit to be tied. She wanted out out out out out.

Out. O-U-T; she wanted it.

Vaguely aware that her professor was taking questions from the class, Mione's hand would normally have been bouncing in the air, but not today. Mione's only questions were of a form (Is Ginny okay? Has she had anything to eat or drink? Could she really have known Harry as a child? Did something dire truly happen to them? Why did she suddenly fly off the handle?) that would hardly flatter the instructor.

When the bell finally sounded, Mione burst from her seat. At the door, she had an ill-timed encounter with a tall, serious (actually quite good-looking) fellow student who for some inexplicable reason seemed to be trying to attract her attention. Veering aside just in time to avoid jabbing her textbook straight into his solar plexus, she gave a no-eye-contact brush-off. "So sorry Ernie! I'm in a bit of a rush." And rush off she did, leaving the poor fellow open-mouthed, and scratching his head.

She raced across the quad. Go straight home. Don't dally. Don't stop. Not even at the lib...

Mione skidded to a halt.

She was actually already twenty feet past the library steps. She never passed the place without practically genuflecting, but what stopped her now was not academic homage. Rather, she'd just had an idea.

Harry?

Could he help? Help Ginny?

It was worth a try.

Doubling back, she raced up to the double doors, into the foyer, making a bee-line for the check-out desks, and spied him (Yay!) standing by a pillar right over by the administrative offices. With a whisper-voice that could be heard across most of the first floor, Mione waved frantically. "Harry! Harry! I really need to-"

Mione froze.

Emerging from behind the pillar next to Harry was a woman, tall and greying, with the most severe hair bun Mione had ever seen. The woman's eyebrow arched every so slightly. "Yes, Miss Granger?"

Mione was equally prepared to cringe, squeek, run, or merely evapourate into ignominy. Yet, in fact, she was surprised to hear her own voice speaking semi-intelligibly. "I'm so very sorry to interrupt, Dr... Dr... Er, you know my name?"

"Millicent Appleblum." The woman extended her aged, thin, yet oddly powerful hand. "And yes, I make a professional point of recognising exceptional students; especially Senior Dean's Medallists such as yourself."

The woman offered what was almost a smile, then turned away. "Please pardon me a moment while I finish with Mr. Jordan." She returned her focus to Harry. "Yes, of course you may be excused for the remainder of your shift. I'd hardly fuss over twenty minutes, but if you feel truly compelled to make up the time, I can find a task or two for you to complete at your leisure. In the meantime, my sincerest wishes to you in resolving the personal matter that concerns you. Perhaps Miss Granger may be prepared to assist." She nodded cordially to Mione and returned to her office.

"Er, thank you so kindly, Dr. Appleblum." Harry stared for a moment at the door to the administrative suite. He blinked, then shook himself. "Mione, I was looking for you. Might I speak to you outside?" His attempt at a smile was a bit pathetic.

"Uhhh?" Wide-eyed, still trying to process nearly every adventitious aspect of the unexpected exchange, Mione nodded. "Uh, yeah? Please?"

Forgetting to notice whether he had a jacket (fortunately he still did), Mione latched on his wrist and had him outside in a matter of seconds. She pulled him to face her. "Listen, I need to talk about, er... So, at breakfast this morning, Ginny... uh..."

"Is she okay?" Harry tensed.

"I think s... well, I don't exactly..."

"Where is she?" Harry started down the steps. "Do you suppose I could see her?"

"Yes. Absolutely! This way." Mione's grip around his wrist tightened again, and before Harry could say anything more, they were racing out into the promenade along St. John Street, weaving a wild slalom course around Friday afternoon students who, apparently, had nothing better to do with their lives than walk at normal paces.

After sprinting up multiple flights of stairs, Harry attempted to catch his breath for a moment as Mione cursed and fumbled with her key.

Finally catching the lock right, the door opened with a whoosh, and Mione swept inwards. "Ginny are you home? Ginny?" She hurried up to the second door on the her left. "Ginny, please answer."

Harry entered the flat, his ears practically ringing in a silence disturbed only by his heart beat and Mione's ragged breath.

Mione tapped lightly on the bedroom door. "Ginny? It's me, Mione."

Still no answer.

Coming up beside Mione, Harry placed his fingers lightly on the door, studying it.

The door was thin panelling, painted white. It was not the dark hardwood he had imagined earlier in his meditations, but the difference seemed completely inconsequential, compared to the words that rose to Harry's throat.

"Ginny? I know I probably shouldn't be here..."

Silence hung for a long moment... then the door eased back a few inches, seemingly of its own volition.

A slight rustle stirred from within the darkened room. There was the sound of a breath; reticent, yet hopeful. "Perhaps not, yeah? But you had to find me?"

Back to index


Chapter 10: Prying

Author's Notes:

Not much to say up front, other than that this is a pivot chapter as the character drama begins to shift a bit toward action drama. The die is now mostly cast in terms of the remaining plot, with several key developments that that reviewers will be able to recognise in the special light of influential comments they've made.


Chapter 10. Prying


Her pulse had descended to normal. The nervous twitches had been almost completely soothed away by the slow, deep breathing that Harry had coached her through... though perhaps the best remedy had been his strong yet gentle grip on her hands.

With the crisis conquered, Ginny slumped forward, resting her forehead wearily on Harry's chest. She loosed a sigh. It was ragged; it might have sounded a bit like a sob, but it was definitely a sigh, and it was an expression of relief.

Releasing one of Ginny's hands, Harry reached around to hold her in a one armed embrace, his fingers placing a steady, comforting pressure on the softness of her upper back. Then he too sighed. "We seem to keep putting it off, but maybe we ought to talk a bit about... about you; about me? Us?"

"Talk." Ginny nodded. "Yes, a little."

"What were you experiencing?" Absently, Harry caressed the skin at the base of her neck — a gesture he'd never before even imagined himself doing with anyone. "Do you know what causes it?"

"Purple. Blue and red." Her words vague and pensive, Ginny pulled back slightly. With only a low light creeping in beneath the bottom fringe of the curtain, her eyes fixed on the brightest surface in the room — reflective opalescence from a pearly button on his shirt. She nodded to herself. "Blue is calm, thoughtful clarity; red is hostile, primal confusion."

Harry watched silently, very curious to hear what she might choose to say, rather than caring how closely it hewed to his questions.

"The colours don't coexist well; something makes them battle." Ginny reached up with her free hand to finger the button. "The conflicts mostly crop up when I'm starting to glimpse something strange; the closer I get to understanding it, the more I'm thwarted by undefined fears that get in the way.

"So, blue is like logic?"

"Yes, rather like that." She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "Blue is a weave of all that's clearly reasonable, plus intuitive connections to other things that feel like they're related. Blue is like solving a tricky riddle, except that as soon as I think I'm getting close to an answer, the red swarms across, blotting and smearing everything. It feels almost like an electrical storm in my head; a purple storm, with wind and hail and purple lightning. Then at a certain point, the whole weave just shatters. Chaos. There's no longer any blue or red; it's all a thick prickly purple fog."

"Do you...?" Harry bit his lip. "Do you see me in the blue?"

"Sometimes." Ginny nodded solemnly. "You have to understand that the colours are both knowledge and power. Blue knowledge can be familiar words, or sights or sounds. Or memories, I guess? I think they're memories, because that's what they feel like, and I take them as real memories even if I'm often not completely certain that I, er... truly remember them. Because, in my mind if they weren't real, they'd be red, like illusions, falsehoods and other distractions that mislead."

"And then there's power." Ginny pulled back, quirking her neck slightly as she looked at him. "Like knowledge, power can be either blue or red.

Suddenly very aware of his own heart beat, Harry said nothing; waiting for Ginny to continue.

"So, I think I feel you in both." Ginny pulled back far enough to look into his eyes.

"Both? Both blue and red?"

"No." Ginny squeezed his hand; her eyes tracing paths over the contours of his face. "Both power and memories."

"I'm in your memories?" Harry's eyes widened. "And you feel... power? My power?"

"I-I think so. I can't see anything clearly for long enough to be completely certain." Ginny sighed. "But, it makes sense. You do have a power, right?"

"Well yes, assuming you're referring to things like me catching the ring. And what I did last night in the park."

Ginny nodded.

"I guess my question, then, is if you can actually sense that sort of thing?" Harry pursed his lips. "I mean, you obviously saw strange things happen. We both did. But are you somehow able to... feel the power that flowed through me when I did those things?"

Ginny's eyes went diffuse for a long moment. She began with full intention of answering his basic question as asked, but something occurred to her; something deeper. "It's really true, isn't it? Sensing your power does nothing to trigger the purple in me."

"Errr...?" Harry gave her a quizzical look.

Ginny shook her head. "You see, I've always regarded power as forbidden; I've assumed that merely feeling power would trigger the purple, but that clearly need not be the case. There wasn't even the slightest discomfort when you summoned the ring. And nor did the incident in the park bother me. I think this proves that there's no problem with using power for good reasons. Kindness; protection; self preservation, perhaps? If so, then maybe the purple is only unleashed with-"

"Ginny? Harry? Is everyone okay in there?!"

Ginny and Harry both glanced at the closed door. The corners of Harry's lips turned in amusement. "You shouldn't have locked her out. She's probably going spare with curiosity."

"Always best to keep one door between me and a curious Mione." Ginny smirked, leaning forward from the bed, shifting weight onto her feet. "But we've tormented her more than enough for one day. I'm completely better now, so let's go let her off the hook. And maybe we can finish this discussion later?"

"Absolutely." Harry smiled and offered his arm as the two rose. They crossed together to open the bedroom door, edging back discreetly as Mione stumbled inwards a half step.

"Oh." Mione blinked in surprise. "You were in there quite a while and, er, well, Ginny, you look...? You look quite well, actually. Do you feel okay now?"

"Yes." Ginny nodded. "I'm fine. Quite hungry, actually."

"That's great!" Mione's eyes widened. "So what worked? What helped you recover?"

"Meditation." Ginny smiled. Releasing Harry's arm, she made her way around Mione, heading for the kitchen.

"Harry..." Mione turned to him, her expression shifting to a different sort of distress. "You realise you were in there for nearly an hour and a half? So, considering that it's a Friday evening, I figured I'd best ask whether you have-"

"A gig tonight." Harry slapped his forehead. "Shite, I'll be late!"

"Where do you need to be, and by what time?" Mione reached for her 'London A-Z' and transit schedule, both sitting handy to the telephone.

"UnderSolo. Inverness Market, just south of the locks. seven o'clock for sound check; we're on at 7:30."

Mione skimmed her references. "Northern Line. Make a mad dash from here to Old Street, and if you're lucky, you may still be able to catch-"

BONNG-G!

"What the eff!?" Mione glared at the front door. "Who is it??"

"Delivery! Any o' yer blokes order Pierogies 'n' Golabki!"

Loosing a torrent of un-Granger-like profanities, Mione whipped open the door. And gaped. "Dora?!"

"Grangey! GinSmith!" Dora stood there, nibbling a Kotlet, waving as Ginny emerged from the kitchen. "Scrummy. Yer wan' a bite?"

"Dora...?" Mione's hand tangled itself in her thick hair and began pulling. "None of us ordered delivery, and-and Harry desperately needs to clear out of here as he-"

"As he'd be late if he don't soon get his sculpted little fife and drum' out to me chariot." Dora licked her fingers clean and gestured out toward the street. "Ladies be welcome to ride along too. There's plenty of eats for all in back, if'n yer like Polish carry-out. The Kopytkas are delish."

"But, but..." Mione suddenly realised that her hand was still rooting about in her hair like a frightened, tangled rabbit. "We can't go out like this. We're... I'm..."

"Pfeh." Dora waved her off. "Ye'r beautiful, luv; I'll give yer a little makeover in the loo at the club. Now, go go GO!"

"Oh oh OH!" Mione twitched frantically as she grabbed her purse and stumbled toward the door. "But it's the Friday evening rush! How do you plan to drive through that chaos?"

"Heh." Dora grinned as she whisked Harry past, and waited for Ginny to lock up. "We'll get there right 'n' rosey. As long as you all shut yer eyes and hang on."

"Erk...?" Mione gulped, facing a fear worse than mysterious carry-out in cardboard boxes. Worse even than venturing out with unkempt hair.


*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*


Arriving intact at permit parking on Inverness Street, Ginny let herself out of the back door of Dora's Rover 827, and offered her hand to Harry as he slid from the middle seat.

Harry glanced over at Mione. Seeing her quivering, half-paralysed on the far seat, he decided to cross around to her door, gently coax her out, and perhaps also discreetly brush off the shreds of cabbage that had somehow found their way into her hair (odd, considering she hadn't eaten any of the carry-out).

While Harry did that, Ginny took the opportunity to sidle quietly up to Dora. "Okay, what's the deal?" she whispered. "Do you always magically appear out of nowhere to bail out Harry when he's in a fix?"

"Neh, don' be daft!" Dora laughed, then leaned in a bit closer. "Eh, well, ideally yes."

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "And just how much 'magic' should I assume goes into 'magically appear'?"

"Er..." Dora opened and closed her mouth twice in rapid succession. She shoved a hand in her pocket and pulled out a pair of slips, hurriedly pressing them into Ginny's hand. "Oi GinSmith! Almost forgot to give yer these complementary NLTA passes fer yerself an Grangey. They'll cover the door charge and a few drinks."

"Oh?" Ginny blinked at the vouchers, losing her train of thought. "That's nice of you. Thank you so kindly!"

"Ye're most welcome." Dora grinned, then pointed up the street. "So, you and Grangey will enter in through the main door off Inverness Market, whilst Harry 'n' meself scarper in the back way. Oh, and GinSmith? Be sure t'wish yer boy luck, eh? Give 'im a little 'hit an' miss'." She winked suggestively.

Hit and miss? Somehow Ginny's synapses were firing well enough to translate the East End rhyming slang almost immediately into the word 'kiss'. Even more surprising, she didn't think twice. Completely forgetting that she was a shy young student in the presence of a semi-famous rock musician, Ginny latched onto Harry's unsuspecting arm, and pulled him close, her lips rising to catch his full on.

Stepping back fast enough to see her victim's astonished expression, Ginny chucked his chin cheekily. "See you after the show, luv. Knock 'em senseless!"

'Knocked senseless' might well have described Harry himself at the moment, though 'gobsmacked' probably sufficed just as well. Either way, Dora needed both arms to uproot him and start him moving toward the back-lane performers' entrance.

Mione, still stunned from the inspired battle with rush hour traffic, was in a similar state. Ginny took her room mate's arm, tugging until the older girl fell into robotic step. Ginny then proceeded to guide the pair past a cluster of vendor stalls, beyond which they located the right entrance.

A young doorman examined the vouchers, nodded deferentially, and let them pass down the steep stairway from the street. Beyond the coat check, they entered into the subterranean Under Solo, just as it was beginning to get a lively Friday evening buzz.

Searching for a spot to settle, they found themselves wandering straight past the performance area. Gazing into what resembled not so much a stage as a small car port cut into one wall, they were right in time to see the band unloading cases of gear.

Harry gave a quick wave, prodding Lee who looked up and grinned, flashing a thumbs-up. Shay was busy with a mess of cables, but Dean happened to catch the flurry of action, and glanced over in time to direct a long, curious gaze in their direction.

Already smiling to the two Jordans, Ginny waved to the tall guitarist, before hurrying to catch Mione, who now had a bead on a pair of available seats.

Five minutes later, seated and holding tall and opulent-looking drinks, Mione turned to Ginny, eyes wide; stern but inquisitive. "So, girl. Spill!"

Handling her drink a bit gingerly, Ginny shook her head. "Not yet, but I'd best sample an inch or two off the top to head off the risk, yeah?" She took a fairly serious drink, and grinned at her roomie.

Mione rolled her eyes. "I'm talking about information! This morning you were half fit for Bedlam. You cowered in your room most of the day, then lo and behold! Ninety minutes with Mr. Boy Wonder, and you're all hale and perky. I believe I deserve an explanation, wouldn't you agree?"

Ginny saw fit to take a slower, more contemplative drink before replying. Finally, she nodded. "This morning was bad, Mione. If I looked like hell, I was hardly faking it."

"What set you off?"

"Remembering?" Ginny sighed. "Last night something triggered a bunch of little glimpses back to what I think are old memories. Some of them... many of them perhaps, are very unpleasant and I responded poorly. You recall, I used the term 'PTSD' for it and, while I don't think the diagnosis is quite correct, it gives you a rough idea."

"Whew." Mione took a deep breath, privately appraising the unlikelihood that the girl would tolerate professional help. "So how do you intend to cope with it? You normalised fairly quickly in there with Harry; are his meditation methods really that effective?"

"They're good; they definitely helped." Ginny fiddled with her straw. "Other things already had me on the mend, though. A quiet day to sort through things is always good. But I reckon that, meditation or not, the biggest difference was Harry himself."

"Harry himself?" Mione blinked. "How is he the difference?"

"He's proof that things are going to be okay."

Mione was far from certain what her friend meant, but she couldn't help smiling fondly.

Ginny responded with a quick smile before her gaze pensive drifted back over toward the stage area. "I told you how I believe he and I knew each other once... quite possibly as friends? Well, without really admitting it to myself, I reckon that somehow I was frightened that bad memories or... other things... would drive a wedge between the two of us getting to know each other again."

"Getting to know each other?" Mione smirked. "Ginny, ten minutes ago you practically snogged him!"

"Mione!" It was Ginny's turn to roll her eyes. "I was merely wishing him luck. It was an innocent little peck on the lips. Surely you've dished out the occasional casual pucker, yeah?"

Shaking her head, Mione's eyes narrowed. "Random acts of casual affection are hardly my style, and I don't seriously believe they're yours either."

Ginny was in the process of crafting a smart response when she became suddenly aware of a tall, hovering presence.

"Oh? Looks like you ladies already have drinks." Slightly chagrined, Dean smiled down at them. "Might I take the liberty of telling the barkeep that the next round is on me?"

"No thank you." Ginny shook her head. "Dora gave us vouchers and I dare say Mione will be dangerously potted before they run out."

"Ginny!" Mione raised her hand in (half) mocking outrage. "Thank you Dean. We are covered for the night but if you and the others are able to join us after your set, we'd love to chat some more." She smiled.

Dean renewed a polite smile. "Oh, well thank you. I'll be sure to pass that along." With a quick wave, he turned and made his way back to the stage.

Mione's shoulders bobbed. "Nice enough fellow."

"I s'pose." Ginny watched him make his way past the crowd gathering near the stage. "I'm sure he means well, alth-" She pulled a sharp breath, her eyes rivetting toward the club's main doorway, though which a stranger had just emerged.

It was a tall man, with gaunt cheeks and long platinum hair.

"Bloody hell!" Ginny's face turned bolt-stiff. "Him again."

"Him? Oh yes." Mione's gaze locked on. "He was the bloke at the Half Moon whom you didn't like. Have you figured out what it is about him that sets you off?"

"I-I..." The question threw Ginny for a moment. "I don't know. I think, er... he may remind me someone in my past and, well perhaps it was a coincidence, but Harry and Lee also took quite a strong disliking to him."

In the back of her mind, Mione had a growing list of Ginny-questions that she really hoped to begin working on at some point but, in the midst of a potentially threatening situation, that would have to wait. She focused instead on rapidly and systematically assessing the club's layout, searching for possible exits that might somehow avoid close encounters with the stranger who seemed (either deliberately or unknowingly) to be blocking the main door.

Mione's scan did not reveal an alternative escape, but she did spot a couple of other encouraging developments. On the far side of the room, Dora seemed to be making a circuitous tour of the dance floor, heading oblique toward them. Meanwhile, by way of odd coincidence, Harry and Lee had apparently both opted to take a break from their setup and were cutting straight for the girls.

As they approached, both of the Jordans seemed tense, though Lee managed a semi-natural grin and levity. "Oi bro! Been a while since we've performed for such a pair of beautiful women. I quite respect your excuse for being late."

For all the affable jest, Mione did notice Lee's eyes subtly darting about the bar; wary, like a street fighter in a closed alley.

By contrast, Harry made no pretense of comfort. With stiff shoulders and no hint of a smile, he looked them over. "You two doing okay?"

Mione shrugged, but Ginny gave a slight shake of her head. Harry followed Ginny's eyes over toward the entrance where... there now was nobody standing.

"You slugs! Get back and finish yer preps -- show's on in fifteen!" Dora wagged a stern finger at the Jordans, then found a smile for the two girls. "Oi, sweets. Yer two still want me to powder them pretty little noses in the WC?"

"Ugh." Lee grabbed Harry's arm, laughing. "Somewhere in all of that is a cue to scarper, eh?"

Harry hesitated, catching Ginny's eye, an unspoken question on his lips.

Ginny met his glance, paused to make a quick final frowning scan of the place, then shrugged and offered him a puzzled half smile.

Harry nodded in reply, forced a smile, and let himself be dragged off.

With lipstick gleaming a pleasingly lurid burgundy in the low light, Dora beckoned again to the girls. "Come hither, miladies. I promised yer beauty everlastin'."

"You what?" Mione's eyes veered from the retreating Harry over to Dora. "What's going on?"

"Dora is reminding us that she offered to fix our makeup." Ginny stood, and gave Mione a hand up. "But of course that's nothing more than a neat little diversion to disguise the fact that she just chased away that silver-headed ferret fart."

Dora's nose wrinkled, muttering something that sounded a bit like, "Bloody prying Prewetts."

The bustle of the crowd and the jolting sound-checks from the stage prevented Ginny hearing the exact phrase but, she nonetheless deigned it worth sticking her tongue out at Dora.

Scowling, the older woman turned heel and led the way around the bar toward the loo.

Following perplexedly, Mione turned to Ginny. "Okay, I ask this on behalf of a half planet's worth of really confused people — what on Earth was that all about? What diversion? And why do I think it was no accident that everyone scurried over to us the moment we saw that that tall man in the black cape? I know you don't like him, but should we regard him as a legitimate threat, then?"

"I don't know." Ginny gave a glance toward the band. "It's entirely possible Harry and Lee were merely coming to check on us, but Dora..." Ginny spoke the last word quite loudly as she and Mione entered into the brighter light and relative quiet of the loo. "... may now take this chance to share what she knows about the slimebag, and why she's protecting us from him."

Arms folded on her chest, Dora gave the girls an irritated look. One of Dora's hands twitched, or fluttered, slightly.

Ginny's ears perked.

Had things just suddenly gone rather silent? Or at least muffled?

It was rather as if a pair of fairly ordinary-looking doors suddenly now provided their conversation a good deal of shelter and privacy from the rather busy nightclub.

Intrigued, Ginny nonetheless stayed on message. "Well Dora? Mione wants to know — what are you protecting us from, and why?"

Dora's eyes narrowed. "I have no idea what you're going on about Ginny. I'm NLTA staff assigned to facilitate the Stags. I'm a driver."

"Yes, of course you're a driver." Mione nodded. "May I see your license?"

Dora slid a finger into her pocket and handed Mione a plastic card.

Mione squinted at the back. "Oh? TT and NC entitlements? Do all NLTA drivers have tactical pursuit and firearms acceditation?"

"Shit." Dora deflated. "Ruddy criminology students."

Mione handed the license back, frowning. "So, what's going on? Are we... uhh...? Are the Stags in danger?"

"All right, all right." Dora sighed. "Stags' driver is my cover. I'm not going to share my affiliation, but it's correct that I'm assigned to keep an eye on Harry. Strictly precautionary. If there was a proven threat, he would have been notified, but until then it's our policy that he needn't be burdened with paranoid crap. Let the boy have a normal life, y'know? Or, as normal as can be hoped for a beau with a voice and bod like that." She quirked a lop-sided smile.

Surprised at how non-Cockney Dora sounded off-cover, Ginny stared for a moment, then refocused. "What can you tell us about who the crooks are and what they're up to?"

"Well..." Dora's half-smile persisted. "Your 'ferret fart' friend is one of maybe three or four suspected operatives who seem to be working together. He was seen at the East Putney pub the afternoon of the blast, and a witness fingered him in the vicinity after it went off — loitering and behaving oddly. We'd actually been keeping an eye on him a while before that; possible connection with, uh, 'Real IRA'. And, of course, there's also the sneak who jumped you up in Holloway last night; we didn't get an ID on him, but his behavior sounds familiar."

Both Mione and Ginny fell dead silent.

"We do have reasons for keeping this as quiet as possible." Dora shifted slightly, distractedly tapping index finger and thumb together on her left hand. "The only reasons I'm telling you lot anything is because a) you're bloody nosy, and b) I've already vetted you both way more thoroughly than you'd probably ever have guessed. So, I think I can trust you both to secrecy, eh?"

Mione chewed her lip.

Ginny looked away. "I'm not sure I can keep it secret from Harry."

"Try. Try for a little while, yeh?" Dora gave her a sympathetic smile. "Another few weeks, and we could blow the top off this. Maybe we can do it so quiet that Harry can write and sing and never have any need to suffer strain and distraction. Then with luck, six months from now, it'll all be long forgotten."

Ginny stood silent for a long moment. She had grown rather sick of a life in which so much had been forgotten. On the other hand, there was the notion of letting Harry have a measure of peace... letting him live and be Harry...?

She sighed. "I suppose. But you damned well better tell us the moment anything gets any more... dodgy, yeah?"

"Deal." Dora grinned. "You two prove to me you can keep this secret, and I may tell you a few more details as we go along. How 'bout that?"

Her pulse pounding, Mione blinked. "Errr... does that conform to protocol?"

"Conforms to my protocol, yeh." Dora laughed. "Listen luv, I run tight and tidy little jobs. I don't get a lot of help, and I don't ask for much, but every once in a while I do see the value in some extra eyes and ears, and maybe this is one of those times, eh? 'Specially when those and eyes are attached to a pair of sharp little uni students with Criminology and Psychology training."

Mione nodded breathlessly.

"On that note." Dora's tone fell an octave. "Estimating that most of the birdies flitting about this grungy basement tonight are not exactly bright young uni students in Crim and Psych... I believe I mentioned something about makeup?"

"Oh?" Ginny was noticeably intrigued, despite the fact that she almost never wore the crap. "You're going to make us into something other than innocent little scholars?"

"Ha!" Dora's stern tone gave way to a cackle. "Yer two're walking out of this loo as the cattiest pair o' hottie sluts this side of the locks. Messrs Jordan are going to bloody pop their goggles when they see this."

Ginny's face spread into a wildly wicked grin.

Mione's face did not.

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