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: 2018.10.20


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 11: Dark
Chapter 12: Magic
Chapter 13: Smiles
Chapter 14: Whole
Chapter 15: Disappointment
Chapter 16: Books
Chapter 17: Wall
Chapter 18: Awakenings
Chapter 19: Motion
Chapter 20: Flames
Chapter 21: Wolf


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 Paradise Park in Lower Holloway, 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, George and Fred? 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 George and Fred, 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.

Back to index


Chapter 11: Dark

Author's Notes:

When I set out to write this story, I planned for the target chapter size to be roughly 3000-4000 words, then went a bit long on all of them. Expect me now to begin hitting that lesser target though. What's the diff? Actually, it's all in the difference between an action chapter like this one (I often tend to edit it down, to keep the scenes crisp) versus the cerebral stuff that's tended to dominate previous chapters (editing expands the text as I make sure there's proper context and elaboration for complex stuff the characters are thinking and feeling).

Anyway, for the next while it'll be more action, less thinking... and probably shorter chapters.

Finished a first draft of chapter 14 a week ago (fun!), but have had an intense 6 days since, with no time but edit new stuff. We're definitely headed for a lag period sometime this summer when I'll need to spend more time drafting and less time editing/posting. Still plan to get Chapter 12 out this time next week, though.


Chapter 11. Dark


Harry's late arrival, followed by a bit of curious distraction involving concern for a pair of their guests, did ultimately push the Mysti Stags start time back by nearly fifteen minutes, but once the band got it in gear, they definitely made up for the delay, by way of a splendid, if unconventional, performance.

Of course, Under Solo is a bit of an unconventional place for any band to play. The unusual performance nook (recessed into the wall near a corner of the dance floor) made the Stags turn down their amps a bit, to the point where the atmosphere was almost like jamming at a private party. But as 'parties' go, this one was pretty adrenalised!

Even Ginny and Mione were found themselves getting well wound into the lively spirit. Despite a harrowing day; still weary from the night before, and not having planned to be out on the town again tonight, the drinks and the music coursed through them, lifting them up from their seats and over into the grooving masses. Perhaps there was also something about the impromptu makeup and hair coiffes that Dora had worked for them (semi miraculously, in less than ten minutes) that felt like a license to cut loose.

Of course, their energy and the new 'look' did come with a consequence they should have anticipated — rather more male scrutiny than they were normally accustomed to. However, Ginny's gritty schoolyard days had taught her plenty of non-fatal ways of dissuading unwanted advances, and Mione's deep-toned eye shadow could transform her, nearly instantly, from 'sultry-siren' to 'scary-bitch-from-hell'.

Of course, it turned out that Mione was going to get noticed regardless of whether she was looking sexy or deadly. Fortunately, the attention she was getting was not the least bit unwanted — she was more than a tiny bit pleased by the magnetic effect she seemed to have on a certain drummer.

Indeed, Lee seemed just a little more distractible than usual, and his eyes kept flitting out into the audience at odd moments. Ever the observant one, Ginny spotted it first, smirking every time she noticed the wayward glances. After a while, her sharp ears caught him missing the occasional beat — something she pointed out to Mione, prompting a response that could almost have been considered giggling.

It remained their private joke, however. If any of the rest of the audience noticed any of the barely-detectable percussion glitches, it didn't seem to hurt, and when the Mysti Stags wound down the last number of the set, a surge of raucous cheers drowned out the final measure.

Wiping perspiration from his brow, Harry cradled the mic. "Thank you, Under Solo, you've been great!" His eyes beamed around the crowd. "Belated Happy Valentines Day to you all. Thank you for coming out, and we hope to see you again here tomorrow night!"

As Harry turned away, the crowd noise sputtered. Then, after a bare second of puzzled grumbling, a few scattered boos sprang up.

"What? What did I say?" Harry scratched his head, trying not to look bemused. "You don't think you were 'great'? Uh, I-"

Dean came over and said something in Harry's ear.

"Oh?" Harry shrugged. "Deaner says you lot might want an encore?"

The audience cheered.

Harry equivocated. "Seriously? I'd hardly want to bore you, especially how it's getting late, and I'm sure that you've got far better-"

A deafening roar filled the place — a mixture of hoots, whistles and indecipherable shouts. Harry waved vigorously, multiple times, until things finally settled again. "Okay, okay. One more special little number." He hauled a mic-stand over to the keyboards, then lifted his gaze back toward the audience.

"This will be a song you may be familiar with. I first heard it on the radio last year, and it still seems to crop up now and again. My one regret with us trying to perform it is that Dean and I could use some quality vocal support, y'know? I reckon you'd all stampede the exits if we let Lee or Shay sing, so it may be that our only decent option for backing vocals are you lot." He swept his hand outward.

The crowd went wild.

"See, I told you you were great." Harry grinned. "Guess you just needed a little confidence boost, yeah?"

Laughs.

"Right, then." Harry adjusted the mic. "Your part comes sort of toward the end, so be sure to watch for my signal, kind of like this." He did a fancy wave.

Cheers and whistles.

"Now comes the hard part — remembering the lyrics. Please listen closely and I'll tell you your part. What you'll need to memorise is the word... 'Na'."

Silence.

"Er, that's right, isn't it? Na?" Harry turned back to Lee.

Lee shook his head. "You might explain that they'll need to repeat it a few times."

"A few times?" Harry ran a hand through his hair. "How many?"

"Eighteen." Lee grinned. "Varying the meter."

"Eighteen?" Harry scrunched up his nose. "Isn't it kind of like, na-naaa-na-naa-na-naa-n..." He closed his eyes for a moment, then shook his head. "Eh, too sodding complicated. Just make noise and have fun!"

He descended on the keyboard with a powerful C-major — a C-G-F piano riff.

This was not just any old C-G-F piano riff.

The cholds that pulsed out of his keyboard were an indie-rock phenomenon that had throbbed across the airwaves for ten weeks at the top of the UK charts through summer and autumn 2001. They were practically etched in the brains of half of the sentient beings on the planet, and nearly every person in the hot and crowded basement bar in Camden Town was prepared to belt out the words that came next...


Now that she's back in the atmosphere
With drops of Jupiter in her hair,
hey, hey-y-y.

She acts like summer and walks like rain
Reminds me that there's time to change,
hey, hey-y-y...


Singing and or grinning, Ginny and Mione and every else completely ate it up because, for the next four minutes, it was almost as if Pat Monahan himself was standing right down there with them all on the grungy, sticky floor in Under Solo.


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


As the post-show lights came back up, Mione and Ginny glanced at each other, their grins fading to pensive as they both happened to consider pretty much the same thing. What now?

Neither had given much thought about how long they would stay out, primarily because, a few hours ago, they'd had no idea they actually would be going out.

"Well..." Ginny glanced at the 'stage' area, from which Under Solo staff were busily removing sound equipment. "I suppose we'd better-"

"Wotcher, ladies!" Dora approached. "Humbly off'ring yer a drive, but is it now, or later? If'n you stick around 'til 10:30 when I drive Harry ye'd have a chance to chill out 'n' grab a bite with the boys."

"Food?" Mione's eyes widened. The tummy-curdling ride from Clerkenwell was now a distant memory, and she was painfuly reminded that she'd eaten nothing solid since lunch. The two sweet frothy drinks she'd had earlier were hardly going to sustain her much longer.

"Mione needs food." Ginny winked at Dora. "We stay."

With that, Dora signalled for another round of drinks, and the three women hovered near the roped-off performance area as it was rapidly refitted as a small semi-private lounge. Minutes later, they were admitted in, and took seats. A server barely had time to whisk a large spread of foccacia and antipasto onto the coffee table in front of them before Mione had snatched a plate and was beginning to attack it.

"Wot?" Dora raised a sharp eyebrow. "Yer didn't fancy the Pierogies, but you'll et this schmancy Italian nosh?"

"Forry." Looking very chipmunk-cheeked, Mione shook her head. "Eh don'd eap well om de roab."

"Mione!" Ginny took a sharp breath. "If I said that, you'd slap me!"

"No violence please, ladies." Lee entered with a grin, then raised an eyebrow at the sight of Mione's face. Reaching hastily into the ice basin for a beer, he popped the cap and handing Mione the bottle. "Have a drink, luv. Can't risk letting the woman I'm in love with choking on, er..."

Mione's eyes went way wider than her cheeks.

A bit concerned that her roomie might truly choke, Ginny quickly intercepted the proffered drink, place it in Mione's hand and began to guide it upwards toward its intended destination.

Lee was quite aware that his penchant for casual flirtation had suddenly utterly slayed him. Whatever his personal feelings, there were pretty standard rules to follow. A semi-respectable bloke barely 24 hours removed from the breakup of a long-time steady girl did not blurt out a declaration of love for another woman. He swallowed. "Erm, what I meant to say is, love the new 'do' — the hair and makeup and whatnot? It's quite stunning, by the way." He managed a passable grin. "Nobody can say blokes never notice when a friend tries out a new look, eh?."

As Mione (still wide-eyed) successfully took a drink to clear her throat, Ginny mercifully changed the subject. "Speaking of noticing stuff, Lee, did you get an idea how much longer Harry would be?"

"Good question." Lee nodded, taking a moment to process the younger girl's equally wild coiffure and war paint. "When I left, he was still working through the post-performance zen routine. Give him another five minutes." Lee smirked bemusedly. "With you looking like that, I p'raps think some calming meditation is wise preparation, eh?"

Taking a drink, Ginny sputtered into the glass, waving off the ridiculous notion. Looking to replenish her refreshment, she was turning toward the bar, when... "Oh, sorry!"

Dean Thomas took a quick side-step to avoid a collision. Having entered quietly, he did a quick double take at Ginny's hair and makeup, but nonetheless managed an easy smile. "Hi Ginny. I was hoping I would run into you, but maybe not quite so literally."

She laughed.

"Might I have a minute with you out there?" Dean gestured past the curtain that had been drawn to separate them from the rest of the club. "It's rather important."

"Okay." Ginny's smile vanished, surmising that Dean had just now come straight from the dressing room. "Is it about Harry? Is he all right?"

Dean didn't answer, but instead led her over to an unoccupied space along the wall about ten feet out, still looking her over curiously.

"What did you need to tell me?" Ginny studied his face anxiously.

Dean's silence hung about them for a moment longer, then he sighed. "Ginny, it's obvious to all of us that you're a fine girl — smart, kind, funny, but..."

"What is it?" Ginny frowned, trying to parse Dean's taciturn compliments. Suddenly her heart clenched with that irrational, uniquely orphan-like, abandonment anxiety. Did Harry decide he doesn't want...? Has he sent Dean out here so that...?

Ginny didn't really even know how to complete those sentences. After all, Harry couldn't be breaking up with her, because they'd never even dated, but... Her skin prickled, though she wasn't sure whether it was from gnawing uncertainty, or dread, or...? "What is it?? Tell me!"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to alarm you." Dean gave her a half smile that didn't really reassure. "It's just that I felt the need to warn you about... about Harry."

"Yes, yes. What else would it be about?" Ginny stiffened. "What about him??"

"Well, it's like this..." Dean shifted awkwardly. "A lot of women are attracted to him. He always seems to come across as such a nice bloke when they first meet him — modest, friendly, sympathetic, and all that. But the truth is, Ginny, he rather treats them like rubbish. He's a mate and all, but he's piled this big heap of broken hearts about him, and..."

Dean turned away, trailing off for a long moment. Finally, he angled back to her; one arm extended a bit to the side, as if ready to offer comfort. "Well, I'd so hate to see you get tossed on the heap, that's all."

Ginny stared at him. An odd buzzing had started in her ears; it was swelling into an anger that seemed corrosive; disproportionate. She tried to bite back the bile, but something of a rage was mounting. Her simple insecurities of a moment ago were swept aside by surging indignation.

Is he trying to...?

She stared at the half smile that had still not quite left Dean's face; at the subtle crook in his arm. The buzzing boiled up to the angry grind of a cicada storm. Still trying to suppress the irrational pique, she looked up to his face, hoping to glimpse innocent misunderstanding... but for some reason, his eyes couldn't quite stay fixed on hers; they kept flitting off just a little too far south, down toward the neck-line of that same loose-fitting tee that she'd dashed out of her flat wearing earlier this evening...

How dare he...??

Ruddy slime! Comfort my arse, he's only here to...!!

Ginny's whole field of vision splintered into a blizzard of lurid purple, cut through with violent slashes raging crimson. Deep inside her voice of reason did try to call out, but it could hardly outrace the cobra-like whip of her wrist-

WHAPP!!

"Sh-aiiiee!" Dean recoiled, his wayward eyes stinging from the scourge of the two ounces of vokda, bitter lemon and crushed ice voided from Ginny's drink.

Quivering with fury; letting her glass clang off the floor, Ginny's hand shot outward, practically sparking... But then she stopped. She stared at the Stags' guitarist as he writhed, whimpered, cursed and clawed at his face. Recoiling, appalled at her rage, Ginny clamped both hands over her ears, trying to staunch the horrid buzz as it pulsed to a deafening purple roar.

And that is when she knew that something here, in this club, on this dance floor, was terribly, awfully wrong. She didn't know what was wrong. She didn't think it was her fault; she didn't even think it was Dean's fault; she just knew that she couldn't stay here. This place, right now, was agony, and she couldn't stand it for a second longer.

So she ran.

Heedless to a voice in her head pleading for her to be sensible (Go find Mione! Ask Dora for a lift. Go apologise to Lee. Apologise to HARRY!). she stormed straight past the coat check without pausing to collect her wool jumper. Bounding up the steps, she ignored a full-on blast of February night chill, and skittered out into the pedestrian walkway.

Barely even lifting her head to plot a course through the busy revelry, she just ran.

She bloody hated when she did that.


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


"What the f**k?!!" Harry burst from his mat.

Somehow thinking to jam his trainers on, he exploded out the dressing room door, tore out across the dance floor and slammed Dean into the wall. "You gobshite! What the hell did you do to her?!"

"I-I-...!" A kerchief still dabbing his swollen eyes, Dean stared wildly. "I didn't touch her! I-I...!"

"WHERE IS SHE?!"

Dean jabbed his kerchief vaguely in the direction of the exit. "She... I... I'm sorry I..." Yet his words died beneath the hissed trail of foul expletives lingering in Harry's wake as he raced from the building.

"What's going?" Dora burst through the curtain, setting a pair of burning eyes on Dean. "What's cookin' with Harry?"

"He's... he's..." Dean shivered confusedly, but Dora seized on the nervous flick of his eyes toward the exit.

Dora did an odd sweep of the room with her hand. "Where's Ginny?!"

"She's, uh... uh..."

Dora tore from the room, scorching everyone's ears with foul language that made Harry's rage sound kind of innocently quaint.

Emerging through the curtain looking shaken and bewildered, Mione and Lee glanced first at the half-shattered Dean, then at a jagged furrow of bewildered partiers that Dora had scattered in her wake.

Lee ran a hand slowly down his face and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Well, crap."


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


Morally, two wrongs rarely make a right.

At the moment, however, Ginny didn't really give two conkers for moralising. Far more aggravating to her was the fact that, in the dark backstreets of Camden Town, three rights rarely made a left.

As her instincts for logic and reason had gradually returned, she had reached the unhappy conclusion that, by stupidly storming out of Under Solo without any clue as to direction or destination, she had gotten herself badly turned askew. Now that she had resolved, quite sensibly, that she ought to either head for the nearest tube station, or stop being an arse and go back to the club, she had to work around the dilemma of lacking even the vaguest of landmarks to orient herself.

Cursing the inexplicable, panicked stupidity that had brought her here, she slowed to a breathy walk. Looking one way up the dark lane, she saw a hazy glow of street lamps, and heard distant sounds of revellers. Stopping to look the other way, she saw and heard... basically the same.

Now, what was it that Mione would say?

Fooey?

Debating whether to try to retrace her steps or go look for the least intoxicated pub crawler she could find and hope for plausible directions, Ginny bit her lip, shivering from the winter chill.

Glancing about herself again, framed by the low light of a distant intersection, she thought she glimpsed a slight flurry of motion. Someone running; perhaps a quick pivot? She stopped, cupped a hand over her eyes, squinting up the street, wondering if-

"Aickk!"

Rough hands sprang from the shadow, grabbing her arm. Caught off balance, she was whirled about, and stumbled down several hard stone steps, skidding into a recessed doorway, banging her head on a stone wall.

Blinking her eyes clear, she saw hulking dark shadow looming over her. Yelling, she lashed out, kicking and flailing. Glittering flares of jagged electricity leaped from her hands and feet, one bolt catching the assailant in what ought to be a shoulder; another almost certainly in his groin.

Slammed back, the dark figure stumbled to his knees, cursed violently, then rose again, tall and menacing; this time fronting a slightly luminous, transparent shell of some sort; something Ginny feared might be some supernatural form of... shield?

Crab-scrambling on three limbs over the rough stone, Ginny raised one fist, and pulsed out a blast of static... but it deflected off the shield and shot away to wreak unintended havoc across the street, as marked by noises like glass shattering and an alarm sounding.

Ginny hoped for a moment the ruckus might scare off the thug but, after glancing about wildly for a moment, he snarled something, flicked a stick in his hand, and... Silence.

Shit.

Breathless, Ginny stared at the black menacing shape, horribly aware that she was trapped and nearly defenceless.

The foul bastard pointed his stick at her, and Ginny knew that could hardly be a good thing. She cursed again, this time out loud.

The thug laughed, and began descending the steps toward her.


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


"Excuse me! Excuse me please!" Near the end of the Inverness Market, Harry cut straight through a sprawling tangle of young women waiting for admission to one of the late night clubs.

"That's Harry Jordan!" A ripple of chatter and exclamations raced though the crowd. "Mr. Jordan, may I have your autog-?"

"Maybe later! Sorry!" Harry was already fifty feet past, hurtling toward the darkness of an unlit sidestreet, propelled by nothing more than blind hope or instinct. He was just making his turn, when he could swear he heard something deep in the darkness. The distant sound, or sounds, issued in a confused sequence — a cry? A scream? Something shattering? The briefest pulse of a... burglar alarm?

"Bloody hell." He slammed on the brakes and squinted into nearly featureless gloaming.

Whatever those few seconds of ruckus had been about, he now found everything up ahead to be... eerily, unnaturally silent? He listened for another second, then a chill crept over him — discomfort that had nothing to do with the fact that he, too, had fled, ill-clothed, out of a hot basement, and into a brisk winter night.

Way too quiet. Something is bloody creepy about that.

Harry shook his head. In his years in North London, he'd spent enough ill-advised time on the streets at night to know that one ruckus always begets others. Where were the inevitable shouts? Why were no windows lighting up?

Frowning, he made a final strained attempt to visually peel away the mystery that his hearing had left him. However, even a hard stare into the near-featureless gloom failed to reveal anything distinct beyond the nearest half block — too close for those noises to have come from.

Not left with any alternative, he took a quick breath, then raced headlong up the lane. His nerves spiking, far more from a feeling of diffuse fear than from exertion, Harry finally glimpsed something odd. Adjusting to the dark, he caught sight of a shimmering sparkle — light from a far-off lamp just happening to angle in the right direction to shine off... what?

Glass! Sprayed shards of glass!

In fact, he was already upon the mess. Skidding on the loose scree, he lunged sideways and caught the side of postal box, somehow managing to slide to a stop without stumbling or cutting himself to shreds.

Glancing frantically about, something — who knows what — attracted his eyes toward a darkened, recessed doorway, immediately across the street. Planting both feet, he leaped clear of the mess of glass and dashed over the pavement, just in time to see...

A flash??


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


"Go ahead and screech some more, me sweet li'l screechy bird." The dark-cloaked thug closed in on Ginny, waggling that strange baton of his. "I always like to hear the screechy-birds sing."

"Sod off!" Ginny edged sideways a bit, daring to wonder if she might be able to spring open the locked basement door down there. Although that hope itself was probably futile, the act of checking proved to be beautifully lucky. The slight change of vantage gave her just the right angle to glance around the assailant's hulking cloak and catch a faint glimpse of something stirring over on the other side of the street.

Ginny had no idea who, or what, might be about to join the fun, but on a hunch she punched blindly.

BANG!

Her fist drove a hard bolt of static straight into the thug's face. The blast sprayed wildly off his shield, but the brilliant flash blinded him. Staggering back, his voice was just erupting into a despicably foul torrent, when something slammed him hard from behind. As he teetered on the ledge, Ginny thought for a moment that the bastard was going to tumble down right on top of her, but then...

CRACKK!

The cloaked villain vanished.

"What the...?! Who the hell was that?!" Harry rubbed his jaw which (along with chest and one forearm) had slammed into a villain he had barely even seen. Taking a moment to steady his feet again, he peered down into the darkness, then began to descend into the hollow. "Ginny are you down there?"

"Harry?" The voice was a bit shivery, but wonderfully welcome and welcoming.

"Ginny!" His pitch rising an octave, Harry wasn't sure he wouldn't burst into tears of relief, or concern, or something, but that was the last thing on his mind. "Ginny?" He scrambled and groped his way through the dark until his hand found hers. He pulled her desperately into his arms, practically sobbing. "Ginny are you okay? Are you hurt? Who... what... uhh??"

Her fingers digging deep into the muscles of his back, she buried her face in his shirt, his chest, trying to work her mouth and throat to try to give him the answers that she didn't have. Yet, despite that, there was so so much to say, yet she hadn't the faintest clue what to-

"Ahem?"

Harry and Ginny both froze at the unexpected voice.

"You kidders drink too much 'gain, eh? Tsk, tsk."

Ginny decoupled just enough to stare up into street where she could vaguely discern a figure who was shaped like (and certainly sounded like) Dora Tanner.

Seeing Dora raise a hand in a way that seemed vaguely familiar, Ginny flashed out one of her own; stray sparks crackling from her fingers. "Bloody hell, Tanner!" Ginny's voice was very nearly a hiss. "You fog our heads again, and I swear I'll vapourise those pink eyebrows!"

Back to index


Chapter 12: Magic

Author's Notes:

So, having mumbled uncertainly about this off and again for weeks, it is now clear to me that I'm going to need to be quite erratic in my posting for the next month or more. So our little Tuesday tradition is going to suffer.

There are three things kind of perturbing the schedule -- the fact that I'll be on the road a lot from now through late July, the fact that life has taken a bunch of interesting twists on other fronts, and finally the most crucial matter of far more exacting standards on the edits than used to be the case with my more pulpy earlier stories. At the outset I'd hoped, every week, that I could draft one new chapter; do 2+ rounds of polishing on the chapter to be released on the next Tuesday, and to do a serious first edit on the chapter to be released a week from that Tuesday. Ambitious. Worked okay for Fires of Time. But not working for this one, as I'm spending way too much time editing and not enough on first drafts.

Anyway, I'm currently much of the way through chapter 15 first draft, and think I may devote more of time time during travels to trying to get ahead again on those, before going back into production/publication mode in late July.

So there you have it. In the meantime, here is the somewhat anticipated chapter 12!


Chapter 12. Magic


Dora looked almost at a loss for a moment, then shoved her hands in her pockets as though keeping them there would help avert any rash actions. She took a quick breath, and shrugged. "Eh, okay. As yer wish. Meant no harm; I jus' supposed that-"

"Well, suppose something else." Ginny shook her head. "I'm sure you thought you did us a favour back at the park last night by fogging our memories. Probably reckoned it would keep us from getting too stressed, yeah? Help us feel safer, happier or more innocent? Well, forget it. It's not bloody working!"

"It's not?" Dora blinked.

"No, it's not!" Ginny scowled. "Yes, you did mollify me a bit at the time, and that did help me enjoy the rest of the evening, but it never completely erased the fear. Since then, bits of the recollection have been creeping back to the point where I'm fit to be tied. No longer just vaguely scared about something, I've now got this vile mess of fright, confusion, self-doubt and an obsessive need to know what happened.

"You do?"

"Damned right I do!" Ginny growled under her breath as she and Harry rose together to their feet. "As far as I know, rubbish like this is making my panic attacks worse, and is getting in the way of being able to cope, adapt and start acting sensibly. So, I'm sorry to say, but you can forget my promise earlier to keep a lid on things. If sodding black-caped plonkers are going to keep popping out of the shadows at us every night, I want to remember all of the bleeding details, because otherwise there's no way I'm going to bloody figure out which shadows to avoid. Harry, are you with me on this? Full disclosure? No more coddling?"

"Yes, absolutely!" Harry nodded, his eyes wide and impressed. "Dora, I seem to be way hazier on the specifics than Ginny is, but it'd take a complete dolt to brush off the fact that we keep getting attacked. Something's really rum about all this. Ginny and I aren't drunks and we aren't divs. We've both spent way too many years living in the filthy fringe to keep stupidly bumping into muggers like a pair of lens-snapping tourists. If she's right that you've been doing something to sedate us and blur memories, then it really is time to stop."

"Yeh, yeh, okay." Dora hung her head. "I get the message."

"Thanks." Harry exhaled. "So back to the here and now — whatever mess Ginny and I just got into... well, it was beyond creepy, and it's something else that has to stop happening. Any recommendations on what we can do to get smart and sort things out before someone winds up dead?"

"Well, we can all start working together." Dora straightened up and gazed down into the darkness at them for a long moment. "What can you tell me about what took place just now? Did you see who attacked you?" She stepped down into the recessed entranceway, and projected an odd light (not exactly a torch; it seemed to be floating a couple inches above her hand) down into the various nooks and corners.

"Did I see anything?" Harry shook his head, squinting in the light. "Sorry, I'm afraid it was too dark for that. I did bowl straight into someone, but it was sight-unseen. I think I heard a grunt, but whoever it was... whatever it was, managed to get the hell out of there before it... he... even hit the ground."

"He was human. Thuggish." Ginny stared into the darkness. "I saw very little either; I caught only a bare outline of a cloak where he blocked out a bit of light from up the street."

"Thuggish, you say?" Dora pulled out her notepad and scratched a few entries. After a final quick pass of the doorway, around which she seemingly found very little, she let the space go dark again, and extended her hands to Harry and Ginny, helping them back up to street level.

Taking a final glance around the street, Dora tapped her chin. "Did he talk to you, GinSmith? What did he sound like?"

"Like a despicable sodding lout?" Ginny shrugged. "Ill-educated, ill-mannered and ill-tempered?"

"Hardly narrows it down much." Dora smirked. In the low light from distant street lamps she eyed the pair, looking for injuries, then turned back to her notes. "Do you have an estimate, say, on just how dim the clod was? On a scale of 'can't fasten velcro trainers', up to, say, lowest rung flame out in those old 'Jungle Run' game shows?"

"Erm." Ginny tapped her chin. "Not completely brainless, but foul low-grade poxy slime. I'd not fancy he try to sum up my bar tab."

"Ahh. Hmmm." Dora paused to scribble a few more notes, then pointed toward the next corner where she'd left her Rover, just barely visible off the berm. "Well, let's move on. Grangey's waiting in the chariot. I reckon ye'll all be ready to call it an early night now?"

"Straight home, then?" Ginny's tone was vaguely hopeful, as she was far from thrilled with the prospect of facing Dean again back at the club. For that matter, she wasn't overly excited about facing anyone right now.

"Er..." Harry scratched his head. "Ought we feel some obligation to head up to Holmes Road and give a statement to Metro Police?"

"Hrm?" Dor smirked. "Ye'r going to tell the bobbies that some dark-cloaked pillock jumped your lady, then vanished into thin air the instant you rushed 'im?"

"Ah. True. Might sound a bit batty." Harry's shoulders bobbed in acquiescence, and he began moving in the direction of Dora's vehicle.

"Wait. This doesn't add up." Ginny's feet remained firmly planted. "If you don't think the police would take this seriously, then who do you work for, Dora? And who's going to get to the bottom of these... odd happenings?"

Dora sighed. "I don't have clearance to tell you yet who I'm working for, but maybe I'll get the go-ahead to fill yer in a bit after I talk it over with King- er, the chap I work for."

"Kingston?" Harry gasped. "You work for Kingston Shelby?"

"Now I didn't say that, did I?" Dora crossed her arms. "From what you lot know, maybe I work for King Harald of Norway, importing pickled herring fillets."

Ginny crossed her own arms. "Who is this 'Kingston', and what's his interest in us?"

Breath leaked from Dora like a dying bagpipe. "I swear, you lot will be the death of me."

"Eh, believe it or not, that's not our main goal, yeah?" Harry shook his head; a sympathetic expression taking shape on his face. "Listen, regardless of who you work for, please tell him that we'd both really really like to know anything you can tell us. It's bloody crucial we clear up this bedlam before it's the death of all of us."

"Right." Ginny gave a sharp nod, fixing Dora with a firm look.

"Yeh, yeh, I give." Dora threw her hands up. "I'll chat it over with the boss tonight, and I'll make the case for you to learn as much as possible, a'right? How 'bout we plan to hook up tomorrow and chat? I'll pick yer up in Clerkenwell, round eleven in the morn'. You can buy me brunch, and I'll tell what I can."


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


"That settles it, I'm coming!" Mione began pulling on her coat and searching, a bit fretfully, for her hand-bag.

"Settles it? Er, okay." Ginny blinked as she tried to level that conclusion with the 'It would take a barking loon to get intentionally snarled up in this queer mess' argument that she'd just offered.

Perhaps someone was not listening very well? It was either that or, perhaps, Mione Granger had just made a surprisingly candid admission about own mental health? For future blackmail purposes, Ginny decided on the latter.

Either way, the debate was clearly over, and Ginny had clearly lost, so she gave a resigned shrug. "Right. Well then, I'm going to wait outside for Harry."

Exiting the flat, Ginny scurried down the steps. As soon as she emerged at street level, she saw Harry approaching in the distance, and waved.

Walking up from the bus stop, Harry's eyes looked weary, but he smiled and waved back. Moments later, they fell together into a wordless embrace that lasted quite a while. At least twelve seconds by Ginny's estimation. She counted.

Twelve seconds was way longer than the obligatory, two-second, politely-friendly squeeze. Assessing this development, she decided (semi-arbitrarily) that the next time he hugged her for at least ten seconds, she would kiss him. No questions asked.

Yet speaking of questions, Harry was giving her a slightly curious look.

Ginny wondered if she had forgotten to disguise that devious glint that sometimes took up in her eye when she imagined herself doing something sweetly evil?

If so, it's entirely possible that she had managed to unsettle the poor fellow. She slightly pitied him, since he (being male) quite likely would not have guessed that her mind was occupied with determining the precise circumstances under which she and he might lock lips — a matter that, while undeniably important, did not quite measure up to concerns about whether the two of them had perhaps gotten perilously entangled in some dastardly Illuminati plot to subvert the Vatican.

Hypothetically speaking, that is.

Ginny did not know for a fact that they were being targeted by Illuminati or other enemies of the Vatican or whatnot. Rather, the notion had mostly just flitted unbidden into her mind, perhaps because the terms were freshly lodged there, courtesy of an upper level Sociology course (entitled 'Conspiracies and the Radical Fringe in Modern Society') that had a big test coming on Monday which, technically, she really ought to spend a fair chunk of today studying for. Which, considering strange recent events, begged the question...

Did the Illuminati want her to fail Sociology?

Ginny shook her head, with the triple purpose of deciding that the Illuminati probably didn't care very much about her Sociology grade, that the Illuminati (if they indeed existed) likely weren't truly behind the recent attacks (they would surely effect more competence than last night's dark disappearing dork) and, finally, that she wasn't at great risk of failing Sociology, even if she did short-change the revision a bit.

In fact, it was difficult to be truly fretful over the Illuminati, or even Sociology, right now. Along her wide, cheery stretch of St. John Street, this fresh sparkly morning seemed half a universe removed from last night's dead dark alley in Camden Town. Under this golden light, the only things that really seemed to concern Ginny right now were the lines of concern setting into Harry's face.

Lines of concern... Is Harry worried I'm losing my marbles?

Hmm.

Impulsively, not fully certain whether it would alleviate or exacerbate that problem, Ginny got up on her tip-toes and kissed his cheek.

Harry blinked, and smiled as his worried expression transitioned into more of a concerned-but-hopeful look. "So, uh... you doing okay today, Gin'?"

Nice smile! I'm doing quite perfectly now, thanks! Ginny grinned. "I'm fine, Harry." She looked him over carefully for a moment, pleased to see that the lines of strain around his eyes had already softened, although they had not fully disappeared. She pursed her lips. "How about you? I suspect you lost some sleep?"

"A bit yeah." He nodded. "It was past midnight before the adrenaline died down. And really, to be honest, the thought of you-"

HONNNK!!

Harry and Ginny whipped around to see a single vehicle heading their way. Having turned onto their block, Dora's Rover approached, complete with waving driver. She pulled up beside them and rolled down a window. "Hop in! Reckon you could treat me to some nosh at the Barbi Café!"

"Reckon we could." Ginny nodded. "But please wait another minute or two, 'cause Mione wants to join us."

"Er, okay." Dora frowned. "Are you certain that's a good idea?"

Ginny laughed. "I've no idea, but you'll be responsible for all the hand-to-hand combat that takes place when someone tells her she can't come."

"Eh, well, the things we're going to talk about today may sound a bit queer to normal folk..." Dora craned her neck. "Erm, but where is she? I said 11, and it's already five after. Hadn't pegged her as the type to be late."

"Not technically her fault." Ginny shook her head. "I misplaced her purse for her. I figured it would give us a few minutes to chat in peace before she finds it."

"Good thinking." Dora chuckled. "Okay, well here's the bids. I'm cleared to divulge a few crackers about the 'situation' you two are in. Harry, are you comfortable with little Miss Chief Inspector Granger sitting by, asking awkward questions?"

"It's either awkward now or awkward later, yeah?" Harry quirked his lip. "I like Mione enough. If Ginny's fine with her coming, then I have no objection."

Ginny shrugged. "Well, as I was saying-"

"Sorry! So sorry!" Mione came running over. "My hand bag somehow fell down between the chesterfield and end table, and I... uh, what's everyone looking at?"

"Nothing." Dora smirked, her mauve lipstick glistening. "Let's go luvs — I'm starved!"


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


"Oi." Ginny pushed away her crumpled serviette. "I think I'd have preferred the Illuminati."

Mione stared at her room mate, ignoring a very pretty salad that was getting... pretty wilted. Mione's bread stick had barely a bite out of it. It didn't really occur to her to wonder whether or not she was still hungry.

She was too stunned.

It had not occurred to her that her friends expected her to ask tons of (probably rather skeptical) questions during this meeting and, thus, she had never once considered trying to prove them wrong.

But she had. Through the almost-two-hour lunch at the Barbican Café, she had remained very nearly silent — mouth shut, and eyes and ears wide open, processing every detail she could glean from this patently shocking session. To Mione, 'every detail' meant each word, intonation and facial expression, so she certainly didn't overlook the half-suppressed anguish on Harry's face right now.

"Ugh." He massaged his temple, exhaled slowly, and shook his head. "Quite the violent band of hoods."

"Pretty much." Dora bobbed her head. "There's far fewer of them these days. The battle was as hard on them as it was on us, and a lot of survivors on both sides just melted into non-Magical society. But the toughs still in circulation remain active, and they've gotten a lot bolder this past year. That's why I'm giving each of you one of those coins — next time you feel threatened, just trigger it — squeeze the inner disk between two fingers — and someone will know you've got a problem.

"Ruddy tossers are seriously still trying to settle scores, even after nearly fifteen years?" Ginny scowled, examining the shiny Marconi £2 coin. She, put it in her pocket and chewed her lip for a moment. "The obvious conclusion is that these ruffians are a wee bit obsessed? But I reckon that was probably clear already, if they stalked Harry's family for, what... six years?"

Dora counted on her fingers. "Summer, '81 through spring '87... ehh, yep. Nearly six."

"He and his family had to spend nearly six years in hiding..." Ginny bit down on her little finger. "All that time in near complete isolation? How awful."

"Hiding is awful, GinSmith." Dora nodded. "But, that's what kept them alive for such a long time despite the huge huge price tag on their heads. And the time spent hiding did give Harry some precious years with his parents. Truth be told, considering the Wizarding War was already into its seventeenth year at that point, they survived longer than a lot of their friends. Longer than a lot of my friends."

"What a sodding mess." Harry's face descended deeper into his hand. "But you haven't really explained why the enemy wanted my family dead?"

"Superstition? Prophesy? I'm not rightly sure." Dora looked away pensively. "From pure deeds, your Mum and Dad were brave, and stood strong for the rest of us, but I knew others comparably dedicated who didn't attract near as much attention. There's likely part of the story we're all missing, but we'd also best factor in that Riddle wasn't the crunchiest nut in the cake."

Harry's face emerged for long enough to chuckle.

"I have to ask one more question..." Ginny's voice was barely more than a whisper, as though she dreaded the answer. "Do you know how the enemy finally broke through the protection?"

"I've only half-formed assumptions on that." Dora turned back toward the table. "Someone — I don't know who because none of us were told — was a trusted go-between who brought supplies to Harry's family, carried messages back and forth, and so on. Our only guess was that one of Riddle's gang finally managed to identify the messenger, and trailed them long enough to figure out a chink in the wards."

Ginny closed her eyes.

"The break-in was what sparked the big final battle. Dora sighed. "I'm afraid I know very little about that too — being only in my mid-teens at the time, I wasn't permitted on site. I mostly heard the rumours and misinformation, so I'd best stick to those bits of second-hand stuff I feel I can trust."

Harry lowered his hand. "Go on."

"Riddle seemed to have taken it on himself to be the first one past the wards, which was odd because we never pegged courage as one of his strong suits. Anyway, I reckon he was excited and hasty, and charged in without bringing down the alarms. So, when he breached, lots of folks — good and bad — knew something had gone down, and were finally able to peg the location of the safe house, but nobody else could get in for quite a while, as the magic was too strong. So lots of people did what many people do when they don't know what's happening. They crowded around, panicked and lashed out violently."

"A riot?" Ginny met Dora's eyes. "Open warfare?"

"Yeh. Bloody dreadful." Dora nodded. "Discipline pretty well collapsed on both sides. Our leader, Professor D, saw how bad everything was shaping up and triggered what he supposedly called 'the last resort'. He had this plan to get all the kidders from prominent Light families away from the danger: safe so that they couldn't be tracked down, even by those skilled in tracking magical signatures. And that's what led to people like Ginny and Lee being the way they are today — alive, basically fine, but a bit messed up."

"He took our memories?" Ginny frowned.

"Took away memories and magic. Supposedly. Although you two..." Dora glanced at Harry and Ginny. "You're pretty clear evidence that the spells weren't perfect. It was all intended to be fully reversible, but I'd understood that reversion was only supposed to happen when someone cast the counter-spell."

"Shite." Harry bit his lip.

"Yup, it was a kind of shite-y thing to do." Dora finished her coffee and sat back. "Apparently all the sprogs were ready to be despatched if necessary, so when the order came in, it was all pretty snappy. They were modified, and parceled off in pairs to live with pre-arranged families who had no connection to the conflict. I'm sure that Professor D had a plan to bring everyone back again once things were safe, but sadly he was the only person who knew which kids got sent where, and how to restore them, and..."

"And he was killed?" Ginny surmised. "Died? Or disappeared?"

"One of those." Dora shrugged.

The table fell deathly silent. From somewhere in the distance, the sounds filtered in from a string ensemble practising what, fittingly, seemed to be a dirge of some sort.

Finally Harry coughed. "A while ago, you talked about how Ginny and Lee ended up how they are, but you didn't include me in that sentence. Oversight, or intentional?"

"Sort of intentional." Dora looked him over for a long moment. "You, frankly, are a bit of a mystery to Kingston and me. You weren't with the group of sprogs ready to be sent off, presumably because you ought to still have been holed up in your family home. But when the wards there finally came down, there was no sign of you. Some people reckoned you'd been knocked off and disposed of, though Kingston had this hunch you'd been spirited away." She folded her napkin, then unfolded it again, putting it aside. "All these years he's been kind of keeping an eye out, y'know? Watching and waiting for when you might resurface?"

"Wild." Harry shook his head, partly at how unimaginable this story was, and party at the fact that he believed it. "So, he thinks he's found me, yeah?"

"Yeh." Dora gave a wry smirk.

"But he's not been the only one who's been watching?" Harry turned to her. "The thugs who've been jumping us — they really are Riddle's heavies? Left-overs from when I was a kid?"

Dora nodded seriously.

"And they're after Harry?" Ginny surged forward, intense. "Or are they after me?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure they started out hunting for Harry." Dora's eyes slid from Ginny to Harry and back again. "But now, at this point, I'd have to say they're eyeing you both. And don't take this wrong, GinSmith, but I reckon they're not above targeting you to get at Harry."

Harry tensed. For a long moment, he glared straight through, and past, Dora, then he threw his head back; eyes clenched tight, hissing a single, brutal epithet.

Mione glanced at him. Her eyes were every bit as wide as they had been all conversation, but she neither winced or flinched at the coarse language. Rather, she only bit her lip in concentration as her mind raced to process all of these scraps of an utterly outlandish tale.


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


Oblivious to a few curious ducks clustered at the edge of the pond in Kings Square Gardens, Ginny held up the coin Dora had given her. Her index finger hovered over silvery centre disk, like a sea eagle on the hunt. "I really, really want to press it," she said.

In spite of his bleak mood, Harry chuckled. "Please don't."

"Ginny!" Mione rolled her eyes. "Mind your Psychology classes! Haven't you heard about the 'Red Button Effect'? Put the coin away before you press it by accident, and Dora throws a wobbly."

"You presume I'd regret that?" Ginny raised an eyebrow.

"No, but we might." Harry put one arm around her in a half hug, while his other hand reached up to clasp hers. His fingers entwined gently through hers, maneuvering the coin safely into her palm, diffusing the threat of a false alarm.

"Magic..." Mione pulled out her own coin and looked at it for a moment, before carefully putting it back in the pocket of her denims.

Ginny settled into Harry's arms, obviously not struggling against the impromptu embrace. Glancing over at Mione who was staring out across the grey pond, Ginny frowned analytically. "You've been very quiet Mione. Dora's tale ought to have seemed completely preposterous to a logical mind like yours. I mean, really — if I'd not already had suspicions about some of this, I ought to have thought it all some crazy cockup, but you, being completely outside of 'magic'? I'd have thought you'd have been wildly skeptical."

"How long have you two known?" Mione continued to gaze over the water. "About your... you know...?"

"About our powers?" Harry glanced at her.

Mione nodded.

Subconsciously pulling Ginny closer, Harry hummed for a moment. "I've had a vague idea for as long as I can remember. What about you, Gin'?"

"Same." Ginny nodded. "Ironically, I knew it best as something I must deny; must never admit to. As far back as I can remember, I knew intuitively that I had abilities other people didn't have, and that they would probably hate someone with those powers. Before Harry came along, I'd always thought I was alone."

Harry sighed. "Given how Dora believes there are so few of us left, it seems a blessing that we found each other. Truth be told, though, it actually seems a very improbable blessing."

"Improbable?" Mione stared into the distance.

"Statistically, for sure." Ginny shrugged. "Millions of people live in London, so even if there are as many as a few hundred people with our abilities, the chance of a pair of us hooking up like this is miniscule."

Buffetted by the blustery grey of a February afternoon, Ginny and Harry drew closer still. Anxieties of the previous night and morning were slowly dissolving into a gentle comfort of a togetherness that neither of them had known before; a sense that whatever disquieting mysteries they were to face, they would at least face together.

Yet, at roughly the same moment, they both remembered that the two of them were not alone in this plight. They could not be so callous as to overlook the fact that there was another person right here in this park who was endangered. For although Mione ought not have been on anyone's magical kill list, she was guilty by association; she'd surely been seen in Harry's and Ginny's presence too many times to escape notice. By giving Mione a coin, Dora had made it clear that she considered Mione's dogged friendship to Ginny and Harry as the basis for a comparably dicey situation.

This concern in mind, Harry and Ginny both turned to their friend, about to offer a word of encouragement or friendship...

But instead they just stared.

Still facing the water, Mione had stretched one hand out in front of her in what seemed almost a random act of physical contemplation, yet it was a gesture that Harry and Ginny both innately recognised.

They held their breath, wondering if she was truly about to do what they guessed she might?

With expressions half-way between astonishment and realisation, they followed her gaze, down, to a pebble along the pond's edge.

The pebble stirred, rippling the water. With no visible means of impetus, the stone raised up slowly, smoothly, glistening in the afternoon light... then splashed down again, scattering the raft of flustered ducks.

Back to index


Chapter 13: Smiles

Author's Notes:

Pardon the roughness -- could probably do with another few hours of editing, but I did semi-promise to get this one out before my next round of traveling.

The lag does now officially hit - might be August before I'm comfortably back in the saddle again.


Chapter 13. Smiles


Gazing from the doorway of her flat, Mione smiled at her two friends.

She smiled first to the girl had spent the past year becoming the closest, dearest confidante she'd ever had. Wordlessly, she then turned a beam of affection upon the second — a fellow whose earnest, considerate manner had earned Mione's affinity remarkably quickly.

The smile was a gesture like sun breaking through the cold grey. In the midst of strained circumstances that Mione and her friends found themselves, the sincerity of her expression held fast and strengthened, for trying times can be powerful opportunities to recognise and realise the strength and value in genuine friendships. Mione knew this, and believed it now to be especially true.

Mixed in with these wholesome and appreciative feelings was a hint of bemused smirk — one that both Ginny and Harry registered, but neither knew quite how to interpret. Then Mione winked, and closed the door, placing her on the inside of the flat, and Harry and Ginny on the outs.

After sharing puzzled glances with Harry, Ginny grinned. "You know, I'll wager she's giving us a little privacy."

"Privacy? Errr..." Harry blushed ever so slightly. "Do we have something to discuss in private?"

"Much much much to discuss." Ginny closed in, the toes of her small feet treading on Harry's trainers. "That's what we're both known for, isn't it? Our endless discussions?"

Harry chuckled. The impish humour in her eyes was obvious yet, after a moment, he also detected a searchlight quality. Even Harry, rarely the sharpest read on female psyche, could guess what she was trying to assess.

"Gin'?" Still holding her gaze, Harry took her hands and guided her even closer than she already was. "Please bear with me. I'm kind of in unfamiliar territory with this."

"Unfamiliar? You?" She blinked. "How so?"

"Everything about this feels... important to me. In fact, it's even a little scary. This is the first time I've truly cared what happens next. I'm not standing here holding hands with just some girl; I'm holding hands with you. And I care deeply what happens with us."

Ginny's eyes went very wide.

"So, yeah." Harry scuffed his feet awkwardly. "Feelings like this — they're all very new to me; I'm thrilled and nervous and... well, it's hard to describe." He groaned. "I just really don't want to mess it up."

Ginny stared for a long moment. Then, to Harry's surprise, she laughed.

Fortunately, before Harry's confusion could make him hesitate and pull back, Ginny acted, heading off any note of protest as she reeled him back in tight, very close, and pressed warm and soft against him. "Mess it up?" Her face was practically glowing now. "Points for best intentions, Mr. Jordan, but I'm inclined to give you a bit of latitude. If you're a sloppy snogger, I might bite you, but otherwise I think we'll both just have to trust each other to always try to look out what's best for us both."

"Uh...? That's good of course... Apart from the biting part, but maybe if I..." Harry's lame prattle dissolved into a foolish grin. And even that lasted no more than a second. Beyond that, he knew from the look in her eyes that any grinning or words or awkwardness would be a waste of precious time.

Indeed, the time to waste time had passed. The future was an ephemeral, fragile thing. Today's heavy deliberations had delivered the heavy laden perspective that the young were no more immortal than the aged. Consequently, the will to embrace life had swelled, strong enough to crowd out the dampening torpor of an orphan's survivor guilt.

Gazing one final moment into the beautiful face before him whose eyes were closing in anticipation, Harry knew that a failure to embrace life would be a disservice, not just to himself, but to this other orphan before him. Now was not the time to deny her the closeness and sense of belonging she sought and deserved.

They both sought; both deserved.

Both needed.

So, for a young man who had never felt the love for a woman, there would be no more doubt; there could be no barrier — none whatsoever — to reaching and closing that final inch between himself and the person that he now was certain he cherished...

And thus, finally, he reached.

They touched.

In the moment when a friend becomes more than a friend, the first touch is a moment indelible. Even something so slight as the tickle of eyelashes upon cheek is a grace to time immemorial. And so then is the caress of breath upon skin, the firmness of hands drawing together the softness of bodies as the contact of flesh becomes a union of spirit.

If Ginny feared that this contact might be 'forbidden'; if Harry had fretted that it would lapse into the sterile pulse of his various barren flings, those misgivings were swept away by a bliss like the first fresh breeze of spring, practically scented of March pear blossoms despite the mid-February afternoon.

All stood still as two young people attained a mythical place known as 'us', somewhere beyond distant horizons, where earth, water and sky all blend in will and dream. Upon the high landing, they remained in each other's arms, their mouths and hands discovering beautiful confidences, for all of a time indeterminate during which wavery rays of the real celestial sun emerged gleaming through the clouds to colour their cheeks, before finally climbing low as shadows spread long peaceful wings over St. John Street below.


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


Somewhere within the electric mix of joy, passion, shock, hope and fear, there had to be a song. Hell, a few songs. Good ones!

Harry was amazed. For years now, he had written and sang about love, and been able to melt lots of hearts in the process, but suddenly now he was actually beginning to glimpse what the fuss was all about. Wow!

He felt a bit conflicted though. He treasured what Ginny seemed willing to give to him and he couldn't help a certain reticence about sullying those feelings with commercial success. However, Harry also knew that when lyricists fell in love, they wrote about it. That was just the way things worked in his profession. In fact, writing songs about highly personal emotions was not a cynical squandering of soul, but was rather a chance to give back to the world when the world blessed one with a beautiful gift.

So, as he sat on the bus trundling toward Holloway, Harry knew he would almost certainly write something. His only hope was that he could somehow find the music and the words to even remotely convey what had touched his heart...

But weighing on his heart was darker material too. Far darker. For, without the sprinkles of star dust that had brought Ginny into his arms, Harry might have been overwhelmed by the strange, bleak images that Dora's words that had confronted him with.

While Ginny had given him a clarity of purpose and hope for a future, Dora's woeful tales were of murk and mystery within a dank past still mostly beyond Harry's recollection. From every question Dora had half-answered, a host of new ones crept in, haunting him in eerie plaintive voices.

I was part of a secret society?

An entire society, completely formed of people with strange powers like mine?

People set upon each other like opposing packs of starved, rabid wolves?

What could possibly drive people to unbridled madness? What happened to human decency?

Appalled at violence that seemed inconceivable within the general tolerance and moderation of Generation X Britain, Harry glowered out the bus window as the Islington Assembly Hall crept past outside. His stomach clenched suddenly as if the very building itself (in fact a harmless, stately music venue) ought to answer for his acrid, morose descent.

He groaned to himself, upset that even an afternoon with Ginny could not block the sketchy uncertainties and ill-defined perils from gnawing his psyche. The more he tried to dismiss these questions into some plausible context, the more they outraged him.

How can a society rot and fester to the point where a leader sees no better hope for survival than to tear apart the remaining families and send the children away?

If wanton, senseless murder seemed too unfathomable, this at least was a tragedy tangible enough to agonise about. He did, in fact, partly grasp how someone like the semi-mythical Professor D. might have reached such a decision. Harry had digested Dora's basic history lesson — how medieval persecutions were never forgotten within the paranoid magical fringe; how old grievances were bred anew in a dubious doctrine of blood purity; how even a rumour of intermingling of magical and non-magical people had become a flashpoint for bitter animus.

But, children?! Families??

Yes, children and families. Deliberately targeted. Needful of protection.

As little as Harry wanted to believe it possible, he recognised that Professor D. had made a logical decision. The clearest, most powerful justification might even be Harry's own family -- pursued and hunted for years during the war and even now, fifteen years later, still targeted with brutal obsession.

An obsession that now endangered not only himself, but Mione and Ginny.

Harry forced air hard from his lungs, held his rib cage in a tight knot for several seconds, then released. Sitting on a public bus with less than ten minutes left to ride would not afford him the chance to meditate away the flood of unresolved anxieties, so he turned to the last tool in his line of emotional defences. Diversion.

Harry began to ask himself other odd, yet compelling questions.

How did I know Ginny if I was quarantined through nearly all my 'magical' childhood?

Why did none of us know Mione, if she has powers too?

How did I escape?

How did I end up with Lee's parents? What really happened to them?

Did they really die in an auto accident...??

Thus, by the time Harry disembarked on Holloway Road, the spring-fresh breeze was long gone from his mind, but at least the existential horror had subsided. In place of these extremes were grim shadows about his eyes, sombre and steely as the tenement rows he hastened past on his final walk home.


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


Lee paced and paced, checking his watch agitatedly, practically every 45 seconds.

Dora had assured him last night that Harry and Ginny were fine, and Lee was mostly prepared to believe that was true... but Harry had left the house this morning before Lee had awoken, and hadn't set foot back home all day. Given some erratic behaviour over the past week or two, Lee couldn't help but grow a bit edgy.

But that, now, was hardly his only problem.

Today had been a hell of a day, and Lee desperately needed his little brother's support and help. So...

Surely the little bastard should be home by now! He glowered at the clock. Bloody hell — it's almost-!

Click!

Harry's foot was barely over the threshold before Lee was on him. "Harry! You a'right, bro? Where have you been? You okay? Did I already ask that? Shite — I've been stressing, mate!"

"Er, sorry." Harry blinked. "Hey, I've got some really heavy news for you, but perhaps now's not the time as we ought to grab our gear and make straight for Under Solo, ri-?"

"Under Solo?" Lee shook his head. "No no no, bro'. We aren't goin'."

"We aren't?" Harry stared. "We're booked to perform again tonight, and again nex-"

"I cancelled." Lee cringed. "I had to! I gotta talk to you. Cripes, bro — Deaner quit!"

"Dean quit?" Harry gaped. "He quit the Stags??"

"He came by this afternoon to tell me." Lee loosed a ragged breath. "Shay's quitting too, 'cause... y'know. Those two are bleeding stitched at the hip."

Harry's face descended slowly into one hand for a moment, then he grimmaced. "Why? Was he narked off about last night?"

Lee bit the inside of his cheek, then shrugged. "Eh, well, I dunno. What he told me was that he was sick of the constant tension but, more than anything he's always just wanted to start up his own group with his own lyrics and vocals and crap like that. So yeh, I'm sure he was a bit Tetchy over Miss Smith, though I reckon it was more him being red-faced over having made such an arse of himself."

"Well that's naff." Harry shoved his hands in his pockets. "True, I'd decided I was going to have a word with him if he didn't stop torquing Ginny, but shite — I didn't want him to quit!"

"I know." Lee groaned. "Bloody tosser."

Harry cuffed his brother on the arm — hard enough to show mild disapproval, but soft enough to let Lee know he had his back. "Tell you what. I'll run over to Tufnell Park tomorrow and see if I can reason with him."

"You will?" Lee raised an eyebrow. "You think you can bring him 'round?"

Harry shrugged.

Lee nodded glumly. "Well, I certainly tried. I offered him bigger writing and singing roles, but he kind of saw through that. I can't really play those games, bro. I've got a reputation to keep; I've been arranging music for too long to produce crap."

Harry pursed his lips for a long moment, saying nothing.

"Well, best of luck to you." Lee sighed. "Tore my heart to cancel tonight, but maybe we can be rolling again by next Friday."

"Yeah." Harry nodded, taking off his coat. "Seems like a badge of pride to not cancel; a measure of success to have shows lined up week after week."

"And bands break up all the time." Lee eyed his brother. "Hey, you know we could even revive our old acoustic duo. 'Dreads & Ruffles — Live at the Locks'. Damn, those were fun days, yeh?"

"They were cool, yeah." Harry began walking toward the kitchen, with Lee following. "Definitely something to consider."

"We could even play tonight, man!" Lee grinned. "Must be a dozen places down by the Market with open mics tonight."

"Sorry, not tonight." Harry stopped and placed his hands firmly on his brother's shoulders. "Right now, bro, you and I are going to sit at the kitchen table with some half-stale pizza, we're going to crack open a case of beer, and then.. we're going to talk."


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


"Her Mione Granger?" Raising her eyebrow, Ginny adjusted the phone while shaking her head. "Whose Mione Granger? Lee, you're not making any sense!"

"What in the blazes is going on?" Mione emerged from the loo, her hair bound up in a complex mass of curler rollers.

Ginny held up her hand, listening to the electronic chatter in her ear. She frowned. "Hermione?? As in, like, The Odyssey? Menelaus's daughter?" She listened for a moment longer, then covered the mouth piece, turning to Mione. "It's Lee; he's been drinking and seems a bit rattled. Apparently Harry brought him up to snuff on what Dora told us."

"Oh dear!" Mione's internal debate (over whether to confess to a birth certificate that actually did bear the cringeworthy title 'Hermione Jean Granger') vanished in a flash of concern. "Is Lee okay??"

"Mostly." Ginny shrugged. "Apart from gabbling incoherently about some daft children's book, he sounds much like your average sentimental drunk. Would you like to talk to him?"

"Yes no oh uhhh?" Gingerly, Mione touched her hair, which was quite gunked up with straightening tonic. She chewed her lip, glanced at the phone which was not currently slathered in hair lotion, then groaned. "I can't. Please tell him I'll be happy to talk to him tomorrow if he'd like... and please also tell him to take care of himself. Oh, and milk! Make him drink a tall glass of milk before going to bed. And maybe pop a couple aspirins."

"Did you get all that, Lee?" Ginny grinned into the phone. She listened for a while longer than burst into laughter. "You're complete crackers; you must know that, don't you?" She stifled a sputter. "That's sweet, but Mione will think you've lost your marbles... Tell her anyway? Well, don't say I didn't warn y-"

"Tell me what?" Mione hopped up and down. "What did he say??"

"Lee, go to bed!" Ginny rolled her eyes. "But first please put Harry on...? Yes, I can wait."

Ginny covered the mouthpiece yet again, smirking. "Mione, Lee wishes me to tell you that you're every bit as smart as 'Hermione Granger', whoever the hell that is. And he wants you to know that you're much sweeter, kinder, less neurotic and more thoughtful, and you're the prettiest girl he's ever met."

"Urk?" Mione went stiff and wide-eyed. "He thinks I'm pretty??"

"Obviously he hasn't seen you with alien slime antlers on your head, but... yeah." Ginny shrugged. "Oh, hello Harry!" Ginny returned her attention to the phone, waving Mione away, in the hopes that her roomie would return to her grooming efforts.

Somewhat stunned, Mione obliged, stumbling back to the WC.

"Harry, are you okay?" Ginny lowered her voice. "Lee said something about tonight's performance being canceled, but I didn't ask... Dean?? Oh shite- I mean, 'Oh my'."

Pressed against the wall, Ginny slid slowly down to the floor, cradling her forehead. "Harry, I-I... Well, the way I treated him, I... Er, you don't think so? Seriously? Blimey, I suppose, yeah. I do recall hearing Lee criticise his vocals a couple of times, but I didn't know Dean was an aspiring songwriter too... Oh. I see... Well, I feel badly for him, because you're obviously far superior... No Harry, that's objective fact. And I still feel sorry for..."

Ginny took a long, deep breath, then refocused. "Okay, then if you're planning to speak with Dean tomorrow, do you suppose I could come along too? I promise I could try being a little more... I dunno, tactful with him? Apologetic. Maybe even flattering?"

"I can SO be tactful." Ginny laughed. "AND flattering. I promise you, Harry Jordan — next time you're sitting somewhere where you won't fall over in shock, I will tactfully flatter you to within an inch of your ruddy self respect!"

Nearly a minute of incoherent half-sentences followed, interspersed with enough laughter that Mione peered in for a moment, before retreating again, shaking her head.

Finally, Ginny caught her breath and sighed. "Okay, well you get some rest, and put your silly brother to bed, yeah?" She smiled. "Great, 10 a.m. will be fine. No, no, I'll meet you up on Holloway Road — you're a lot closer to Tufnell Park than I am... Oh, of course you're welcome... Sure, yes... Oh, that's very sweet of you to say, thank you! Okay, bye for now... Of course, I miss you too. I do. Believe it! Good night, Harry."

Phone dangling carelessly from her fingers, Ginny stared blankly across the flat for a long moment. Then she sighed.


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


How will he greet me?

There were a lot of things on Ginny's mind as the bus wound down the last several blocks toward Hollow Road Station — vague notions of steps that she and Harry might take to help ensure their safety amidst the strange threats Dora had alluded to; ideas for how to try coaxing Dean back into the Mysti Stags fold; untold whimsical fancies on how to be the girlfriend to someone like Harry Jordan.

However, she quickly put all of those unhatched chickens straight back into their little virtual shells, because no plan could begin to unfold until she had some idea of where things truly stood with Harry.

Superficially, Ginny the 'Psychology Student' was fairly confident she could learn a lot just by the way he met her at the bus. There were inferences to be made from whether he offered a quick wave, a polite hand shake, a kiss on the cheek, or a full-on embrace.

Secretly, Ginny hoped for the latter. A kiss on the cheek might be more suave and romantic but, in tense times, suave romance would seem vacuous, irresponsible, and possibly fake, whereas the Harry she hoped for would surely project a more earthy sense of unguarded closeness and trust.

Of course, supposing she did get a hug, the next question would be the expression on Harry's face. Would she again see the raw anxiety of their Valentine's day greeting by the park? Or would he pull her tight, then step back and smile?

He had a nice smile. Especially when it belonged to her.

Yet, as much as Ginny would love to see Harry smile at her, it was more fundamentally important that he just be able to smile. Period.

Harry's spirit had seemed lively enough last night on the phone, but she knew that pressure and tragedy could take their toll well after the worst events, striking without warning just when one thought the worst was over. For a moment, Ginny fought off a ghastly image of Harry struggling from bed today, flogged by all the recent turmoil, shorn of optimism, struggling to Holloway Road, where he might weakly welcome even the faintest support.

That would be disheartening. For both.

Of course, Ginny was prepared to bolster him regardless of circumstances; she had shouldered heavy burdens during her brother's years of depression, but she knew it would be far easier for her to be strong for both of them if Harry could also be strong for her.

So, finally, among all the ways that Harry might greet her at the station amidst a drizzly North London morning, the only thing she chose to pray for, in the final minute of lurching bus ride, was... a smile.

Fortunately, she didn't have long to wait.

Seeing the station looming in the window, she rose and made her way gingerly to the door. Moments later, she was stepping from the bus, accepting a courteous hand down from a young gentleman with moist black hair, brilliant green eyes... and a smile of beautiful warmth!

And then came the embrace.

"Glad you're here." Spoken with cheek warm against her temple, his voice sounded rich and full.

She held him quiveringly tight for a moment, then released, studying his face. "You still okay?" Her eyes had a note of concern. "I know you sounded fine last night, but I wasn't sure if that was just the beer talking."

"Eh." Harry bobbed his shoulders. "I'm anxious for Lee, certainly. It would be a hard knock for him if the Stags go down right now, just as everything's about to hit big. But he's tough, and talented, and he has other paths to success."

"And you?" Ginny touched his chin. "You're talented and have other paths to success... but are you tough?"

"By now, I reckon I'd better be." Harry chuckled good naturedly. "But speaking of tough, are you up for a mile's walk in this sparkly London drizzle, or should we wait for the next bus?"

Ginny's response was simply to tug his hand, and the pair strolled off along the quiet grey of a February morning. Tossing off all the weighty things they could be dwelling on, the pair chatted lightly about music, and London, and Harry found at least a dozen questions to ask about Ginny's life as a student.

After a long stretch of pleasant but dull row houses along Tufnell Park Road, they turned onto a somewhat grimier stretch of Dalmeny Road. Some girls might have been wary of such neighbourhoods, but for Ginny it seemed far too familiar — very reminiscent of the grit she's grown up in.

Finally they climbed some steps up from the street and Harry pressed the buzzer labeled 'Finnegan & Thomas'. A minute later, they were met by Shay's bedraggled and stubbly face. For nearly a second, he stared; his eyes bloodshot, wide and incredulous. Then he laughed, extending a cordial fist bump. "Bloimey! What the 'ell are yeh lot doing 'ere?"

The fist-bump was, in present company, the standard cordial greeting, and Harry met it as such. Turning to Ginny, Shay opened his arms invitingly, then recoiled in mock-terror, earning a round of laughs.

"We came to see Dean, actually." Harry gazed into the paint-cracked interior. "Is he home?"

"Don' reckon so." Shay shook his head. "He started some sorta new employment a couple weeks ago. They meet fer Sunday brunches out past yer whereabouts. Islington? Upper Street, maybe?"

"Upper Street?" Harry stiffened slightly.

Ginny glanced at him, but then turned to Shay. "Is Dean angry with me? Might that have had something to do with his, er, decision to leave the Stags?"

"Is Deaner angry wit' ye?" Shay scrunched his face a deliberating moment. "Well Ginner, I canna' deny he's a bit miffed, but this all had the makings well before yeh came onto the scene. No offense to Messrs Jordan, but Dean was chafin'. I'll say it blunt coz it'll come as nae surprise to Harry, but Deaner was lookin' to prove his lyrics and vocals, 'n' that ain't easy when ye'r playing everything second to the chief's talented younger bro. So don' yer fret, eh?" He caught her shoulder, giving it a friendly squeeze. "Yer ain't no Yoko Ohno."

"Well, I don't howl, at least." Ginny gave a half-smile to match the jest.

For a moment, Harry chuckled along with Shay's laugh, but something had struck him as odd, and he flagged Shay's attention. "Upper Street, you said? Any chance Dean was headed close to Islington Assembly Hall?"

Shay cocked an eyebrow. "One min, Harr." He wandered inside, dug around on a messy table in the hallway, and retreived a scrap of paper. Re-emerging, he handed the slip to Harry.

Harry glanced at it, reading 'House of Wolf, 181 Upper St.'

"Thanks, Shay." His brow furrowing, Harry took Ginny's hand and began descending the steps.

"Oi mate!" Shay looked concerned. "I really didna' mean no offence, eh? An', I wouldna' left the Stags but fer, well, Deaner and I've been mates for ages, ye ken?"

Harry stopped. Disguising a sigh, he turned and gave Shay a smile. "I know, man. I hope we can get you both back, but it's no hard feelings if we can't."

"Sorry we have to run, Shay!" Ginny smiled and waved. "Thank you for your help!"

"S'no prob, Ginner, Harry." Shay returned the wave. "Yer two drop by again, eh?'

After a silent two minutes brisk walk briskly back the way they'd come, Ginny pulled Harry close, gripping his hand. "What is it, Harry? You went ever so tense back there."

Harry stopped. He looked up and down the street carefully, then reached into an inner pocket of his jacket. Discreetly, he handed her a calling card.

Ginny examined it, puzzled at the strange coincidence. The card read

Foi-Black, Ltd.
181 Upper St.
Borough of Islington
London N1 1RQ

Back to index


Chapter 14: Whole

Author's Notes:

Another chapter! Note that I only got back and settled a couple of days ago, and found little time for writing while I was away, so I'm not quite at the point of promising weekly updates yet, but I do plan to release chapter 15 'two' weeks from today and, with luck, may be ready to resume weekly Tuesday postings thereafter. Work permitting.

As I've mentioned in a couple of review responses, my selection of several non-original songs to decorate the story is based in part on poignant lyrics that seem to go with the plot, but even more on historical/cultural accuracy. So when I cite other artists' work, I do tend to pick things that would have been heavily featured on the airwaves at the time. And this brings me to 'Whole Again', by the BritPop band 'Atomic Kitten'...

Several of you are wincing painfully. Right. Yes, well from the melodic perspective it's, erm, kind of lame. And Jenny Frost has the vocal range of Professor Binns... but the bloody album went double platinum and #1 on the UK charts. *And* the lyrics are eerily dead-on with the plot. So yeah. Atomic kitten. Seriously.

I need a drink.


Chapter 14. Whole


"181 Upper Street. Foi-Black. Dean." Harry swept moisture from the bench, enough space for two, as he mused thoughtfully. "All the little details are like iron filings. It's all just black dust — nothing more than random specks, until a magnet comes close enough. Then, bit by bit, the dust begins to line up."

"Right." Ginny took a seat beside Harry and glanced at a sky that, like their mystery, was showing faint glimmers of clear blue. "I think there's a real chance these may be connections rather than coincidences."

"Exactly." Harry stroked his chin. "To me, it's the timing that's most telling. For years nobody knew that you and I were survivors of a magical battle that apparently claimed both of our families. As long as we had that anonymity, we may have lived fairly shoddy lives, but nothing too dramatic happened. But then my face starts popping up in magazines; my voice on the radio, and things start to get strange.

"Family resemblance!" Ginny's finger thrust up. "Something familiar in your face or voice, perhaps? Someone began to suspect you meant more to them than just a pop musician?"

"Quite possible." Harry bit his lip. "So, let's get more batty in our conjectures. Do you suppose any of this has any relation to the anomalous Real IRA terror campaign that started up in North London around the same time the Stags were hitting it big?"

"Oh, of course." Ginny nodded vigorously. "Dora suspected that. I guess she never shared her hypothesis with you?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "Damn. Their hits kept growing closer and closer to us all the time. Yet for some reason, they never tried to bomb us directly. I wonder why not?"

Ginny shrugged. "Practising tactics? Testing you? Trying to figure out if you were the right person? Trying to figure out how much you knew? Whether you had a network?"

Only half-hearing the speculations, Harry's face stiffened. "So this month, people started to see you and me together, and the daft, incompetent muggings started. We've never been attacked individually — only on nights we've been together. Twice in rather short order."

"And, of couse, both attacks came right after creepy clashes with Dean." Ginny found herself tensing too. "And he recently began meeting with those advertisers you had a nervous feeling about."

"Meeting with them in a place I had a creepy feeling about." Harry leaned forward into a Rodin pose. "It's bloody suspicious, but I can't bring myself to believe that Dean's a villain, or even a spy."

"I don't know him well enough to guess." Ginny rested sideways beneath Harry's accommodating arm. "However, even if he's neither villain or spy, might he still be a dupe?"

Frowning deeply, Harry nodded. "That's a very good question, isn't it?"

"The second question..." Ginny took one of his hands and threaded her fingers through his. "... is what do we do about it? Talk to Dora?"

"I'd rather not." Harry bit his lip. "Not yet, anyway. Dean's been a bit of a twit recently, but I've known him for a few years and we've been through a fair bit together. I, uhhh... I still consider him a friend, and I'd rather not level a serious accusation without being a bit more certain."

"I understand." Ginny pursed her lips for a long moment. "Besides, for all my taking the mickey out of Mione, I'd rather we not look stupid squawking to Dora with unfounded conjecture. I'm a university student and you're a musician; neither of us know much about crime or law enforcement.

"Should we talk to Mione?"

"Probably, but not today." Ginny shook her head. "She's buried deep in the library to make up for all the recent, er, distractions."

"Poor girl." Harry frowned.

"Oh no, don't pity her." Ginny laughed. "Her hitting the books is like you sitting in front of the piano. It's catharsis. Release. And it's not to be interrupted without exceptional cause."

"Good on her, then." Harry chuckled wryly. "So, we'll let her be for now, and we won't pester Dora yet. You reckon we should just put this aside, bag it until later, and go find ourselves some lunch?"

"Lunch yes; bag no."

"You don't think we should drop it?" Harry stared at his companion. "If we don't shrug and shelve, then you think we should... look into it, just the two of us?"

"Well..." Ginny equivocated. "I'm not suggesting that we deliberately poke around in Dean's affairs or anything, but Upper street is half way between your place and mine and that House of Wolf address is right on the bus route. There are some decent restaurants along that stretch and, if I recall correctly, House of Wolf may actually be one of them."

"Mademoiselle Smith..." Harry raised an eyebrow. "You wouldn't happen to be thinking with your stomach, would you?"

"Always." Ginny grinned. "Why else would they call it a gut instinct?"

"Wow." Harry scratched his head. "That was really rather... lame.

Ginny briefly considered coming back with something far less 'lame', but instead opted for a one-tongue salute, and led the way off the bench and onward to adventure.


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


"I'm sorry, but this is private property." The stuffily clad man turned his attention back to a clip board on which he was making dismissive annotations of some sort. "If you require public lavatories, you'll find a petrol station a block south."

"Actually, we would like a table for two." Ginny forced a smile onto her face, even through she was fiercely tempted to shove the man's burgundy bow tie down his throat.

"I'm sorry, but I do not believe we have any..."

The host's vaguely unapologetic declaration trailed off as Harry slid a crisp £50 note across the polished marble. The man's glance darted across the counter and, this time, the beady eyes found their way past Ginny's old coat and Harry's faded leather jacket. Consulting his clipboard, he reached for an ornate pen and crossed out a reservation. "If you'll kindly follow me, please."

He led them in brusque silence away from the main dining room, through a narrow corridor and to a low-lit, den-like area, from which steps led upwards to what a stylish script sign indicated were the 'Library', 'Drawing Room' and 'Ladies Lavatory'. Without consulting their preferences, he steered them to a small niche with a table set for two, presumably well out of sight lines from more desirable clientele.

As his footsteps receded, Ginny glanced around. "Rather quirky place."

"True." Harry's voice was barely more than a whisper. "So do you feel unusually ill-at-ease here?"

"Very." Ginny's nose wrinkled as she examined the sliders menu. "Pity, as the menu seems interesting."

"Would you like to go some place else?"

"Uh?" Ginny bit her lip at the thought of the significant monetary investment Harry had already made in securing a table. "No, let's stay and see if we can figure out what makes this place feel so creepy. I think I can manage to eat, but if you find you're too queasy, I know a barbecue place a couple minutes walk from here on Canonbury. That can be my treat." She smiled; a tinge of guilt in her eyes.

Reaching across to take her hand, Harry smiled reassuringly. Saying nothing, he picked up a menu and began browsing.

After a minute, Ginny decoupled her hand. "Sorry, but I have to use the loo. Power of suggestion." She pointed at the sign leading upstairs to the women's facilities. "If someone comes by to take a drinks order, could you please ask for a glass of wine for me? Let’s say, the..." Her eyes skimmed the menu. "Maybe, the Vasse Felix Cabernet?"

"Sure." Harry, still smiling, reached out to graze her hand in passing as she rose.

She smiled, slightly curious at the gesture. Under other circumstances, she would likely have regarded it as a random expression of affection but, here and now, she wondered if it was a little infusion of support or strength?

Why, precisely, she might need that little extra bit of fortitude for a quick trip to the restroom was a question she would rather not dwell upon. But the perversity of fate, of course, would surely decree that trying to ignore a question is probably the best way to have it answered.

As Ginny made her way quietly along the soft-carpeted upper-floor corridor toward the ladies room, the lilting hum of hardwood-muffled voices filtered through a mostly-closed door a bit past her destination. Ginny's ever-honed attentiveness caught several voices — one masculine and vaguely annoyed, perhaps in the act of leaving the conversation; another male, submissive and apologetic; a female, caustic and businesslike.

Minutes later, as she dried her hands beside the WC basin, Ginny heard the library door open, and the two remaining voices suddenly swelled into relative clarity.

"... Er, okay, but I actually hoped you would approve. The extra time is great for vocal [inaudible] gives more time to [inaudible] every day."

Dean?? Ginny's eyes widened at the familiar intonations.

"The matter is non-negotiable, Mr. Thomas." The second character, a hauty middle female of middling age, prompted a deep scowl in Ginny, and an instinctive loathing that grew with every words of the ensuing decree. "You will return to Mr. Jordan and request reinstatement in his band, or else we are done with you."

"But..."

"No buts! Mr. Bonnefoi has made everything perfectly clear. Your association with the Mysti Stags is worth far more to us than your voice. If you are not back on stage with them by next weekend, our arrangement will be terminated. Is that understood?"

"But... but..."

"Good day, Mr. Thomas."

Huh? Louder? A jet of adrenaline shot through Ginny as she heard the woman's final declaration sound suddenly closer! In a flash, Ginny raced back into one of the stalls, pulled the door close, and clambered up above the seat.

The woman entered the WC, emiting a powerful cloud of expensive fragrance. She leaned in over the wash basin, her breath coming in airy, twittery, half-mumbles. "... shiftless, pathetic... But closer? Get's sharp a reaction..."

Ever so cautiously, Ginny edged forward to catch a fuzzy glimpse through the space at the stall's edge, spying the tall-ish woman in green silk scarf and smart back suit, primping her long straight, grey-streaked blonde hair.

As the woman straightened back to full height, her utterances momentarily took on clarity enough for Ginny to parse. "... all that accidental magic — both of them. That makes sense. Does indeed. The boy's foul mop is pure James, and the girl's red tresses are a drop dead give-away for a Weasley, are they not? Has to be. With that certainty there must be no more follies. Best wait until Wolf is back. Believe that would be the twent-"

The woman hissed, interrupting her musings. In stiff agitation, her eyes darted about the mirror, scanning every visible inch of reflected lavatory.

For an agonisingly endless breathless moment, Ginny's thudding heart tried to remember whether she had locked the stall or not; tried to guess whether an engaged lock would be apparent from the outside; what the hell she would do if the bitch barged in on her; whether she would pass out from lack of breath...

Finally, just in time, the woman shrugged, shook her head and turned to the mirror for one final primp, before hastening out through the door.

As footsteps receded briskly up the corridor, Ginny counted twenty pounding heart-beats then lowered herself from her crouched perch above the toilet. After one final peek through the crack at the edge of the stall, she emerged, quickly re-washed her hands, then made her way toward the top of the stairs...

Whereupon she heard yet another voice that was unexpectedly familiar.


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


"I don't recall having seen you here before." The tall, dark-haired young waitress surveyed Harry unpleasantly, as if trying to assess whether he could afford anything anything on the menu.

"Ah?" Harry looked up in surprise and offered his stage smile. "No, this is my first time here. Might I have a pint of Smithwicks please, and my friend..." He gestured at the empty chair. "... requested a glass of the Vasse Felix. Oh, and might you bring out the tray of artisanal cheeses for us to nibble before our entrees?"

He projected a pleasant look as his eyes did a half-second sweep of his server, noting the disagreeably angular face and uhealthy pallor. The young woman reminded him of girls he'd seen in some of the goth bars the Stags had played... but he resolved not to hold any of that against her.

The woman's thick eyebrows knotted. "You are aware that the cheese tray costs £12.00, are you not?"

"Yes, it's written right here in neat little print." Harry fingered the menu; his smile beginning to wear thin.

"Very well. I'll return shortly with your drinks, and to see if your friend has any queries about the menu."

"Thank you." Harry watched her walk away, puzzled at the oddly ambiguous vibes he was getting — a sense that the woman had a low-level innate hostility to him but not really stark malice. It seemed more the essence of a maladjusted xenophobe.

As he pondered, Harry sensed a slight flicker of movement from above, and saw Ginny creeping down the stairs. Darting across ten feet of open space, she slipped back into her seat in their sheltered niche and exhaled. Her eyes narrowed as she hissed, "Pansy pinched-face perky-pants."

"Er, you know her?" Harry gestured to the hallway down which the server had departed. "School mate of yours?"

"Aye." Ginny nodded. "She's a year ahead of me at CUL but we have a couple of classes together since I'm in honours. Right snarly bitch."

"Bitch?" Harry smirked. "Doesn't particularly surprise me to hear that."

"Utterly fake little snotter." Ginny threw back a couple ounces of her ice water as though it was a substitute for something much stronger. "Everything in her attitude seems tailored to telling all the rest of us that we're woefully far below her station in life, but if she's so much grander than the rest of us, then why is she right there with us, slumming about a working class uni?"

Harry's cheeks quirked sympatically as he reached for her hand.

Calming a bit, Ginny forced a deep breath and rolled her eyes. "Just what this little adventure needs is yet another catty, condescending, shifty strumpet."

"Yet another strumpet?" Harry blinked. "You met someone upstairs?"

"Met? Hell no." Ginny leaned in close. "I did, however, stumble on the end of Dean's meeting and overhear some dragon lady reading him the riot act. Seems that some Mr. Bonnefoi is a wee bit torqued that Dean quit the Stags."

"Whoa! Dean? They're torqued that he quit?"

Ginny nodded.

"Definitely didn't expect that." Harry's brow furrowed. "Do we need to rethink things? Making the natural guess that Bonnefoi is affiliated with Foi-Black, Ltd, perhaps we need to consider things at face value? Maybe this truly is just an advertising gig. If that's the case, I suppose Dean's market value is probably maximised if he's part of an active band."

"True." Ginny nodded. "But when Mrs. 'Snarkles' was in the loo powdering her snotter, she muttered something about 'accidental magic'. That sounds like a great name for an indie rock band, but I suspect it is not, yeah?"

"Shite." Harry exhaled. "No, it's not."

"Harry?" Ginny met his eyes. "Do you know what your family name was? Before Jordan?"

Harry scrunched his face in thought, then his eyes drifted into the distance.

Ginny squeezed his hand. "Does the name 'James' ring a bell?"

"Uhh..." He stared for a long moment, then slowly shook his head. "I'm sure Dora knows, and I ought to ask her, but I've truly and totally forgotten my birth name. I suppose for security reasons, obvious identifying details would be among the first things to get expunged by that odd spell of Professor Al's that nobody seems to understand."

"But the name 'James', though? Any association?"

"The vaguest flicker, maybe?" Harry pursed his lips. "For a moment it seemed to echo about in my mind but, well... who knows? There are thousands of Jameses in London, so it may have triggered any one of lots of memories. For all I know, I might have been thinking back to the pop-punk singer Wendy James. Lee and I used to do a pretty good cover for her song 'Nameless One' back in our acoustic duo days.

"Nameless one?" Ginny raised an eyebrow. "That's ever so slightly ironic, yeah?"

"Heh, yes, now that you mention it." Harry laughed. "But in any case, there's nothing in my head to suggest that James was ever my last name."

"You'd know best... but I can't help thinking there's something just a little Harry-James-ish about you." Ginny chewed her lip thoughtfully, then shrugged. "Well, another name the witch-bitch mumbled was 'Weasley'. Not only does that sound familiar, but I'm certain that I've heard it spoken somewhere or other. Recently. In the last few days, even."

"Ah." Harry frowned. "Unlike James, that name is pretty unique, and I'm also pretty sure I've heard it mentioned. But when and by whom?"

Ginny nodded. "Damned good question, yeah? Let's-"

"Vasse Felix cabernet, and a Smithwicks." Pansy swept in, depositing the drinks. "Are you ready to..." She gawked, apparently recognising her fellow student. "To, uh...? Would you like more? Time? Decide your orders?"

"Time?" A slight glint in her eye, Ginny raised a jaded gaze to the server. "Yes I'll need another three and a half minutes to decide on my order, thank you. In the mean time, there are spots on this wine glass, so take it back. And, to be honest, I would have hoped your trainer would have instructed you how a fine wine should be poured in the guest's presence?" She smiled sweetly. "Finally, please inform the proprietor that the upstairs lavatory reeks of fetid perfume."


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


Lunch tarried into a leisurely afternoon and it was near evening before Harry and Ginny passed the park en route to the Jordans' house. The rains had gone, leaving the air fresh and milder. There was a vibrant, springlike tint to the sky; precisely the sort of gleam that sparks an extra bounce in one's step; that might stir a young man's heart and whisper an urge to clasp the hand of his favourite young lady.

So he did...

And then he began to whistle.

Harry whistled the first tune that came to mind. It was another song that had spent an inordinate amount of time on the UK charts in the last year; a refrain that too many Londoners of the era could recite by heart.

And Ginny was one of them.

As soon as she parsed the tune Harry was whistling, her voice rose up in time with the melody. She was, a bit tentative at first. After all, breaking out in song in front of one of Britain's better young vocalists seemed a bit brash... but there was also the confidence that comes from having had a few glasses of wine.

And thus came the words:


Looking back on when we first met,
I can not escape and I can not forget,
Baby, you are the one
You still turn me on,
but you can make me whole again


By the time they verged the northwest corner, the song had come to the final verse, and Harry joined his voice with Ginny's.

And that is when something somehow struck them.

They could not escape the irony that a bubble pop trio with the unlikely name of 'Atomic Kitten' could somehow have anticipated that Harry Jordan and Ginny Smith, meeting again this year, having been robbed of so many memories of their youngest years, would be standing at the end of a north London green late one February afternoon, singing about long long years spent apart, while somehow rediscovering how, together, they could feel whole again.

Deeply moved, they flowed through the rest of the song with a bronze glimmer of low sun illuminating their faces. Their hearts poured into an impromptu performance, even though they had no audience other than an old lady (mildly amused) out walking her small dog (fascinated by Ginny's shoes, but otherwise impartial) on an unusually beautiful February evening.

The song complete; the passerby and dog now ambling heedlessly into the distance, Harry and Ginny fell into each others arms, inhaling the pleasures and hunger of each others lips and breath, savouring the passion of hot-pressed limbs. Tears of appreciation, and of loneliness-requited, traced down their faces to mingle within a deep kiss that subsided only gradually, eventually giving way as an abiding comfort settled over them and guided their cheeks to rest in places of welcoming warmth.

"You're beautiful." Harry pulled her tight. "And you can sing!"

"No I can't."

Harry didn't bother to protest. He knew full well that those words did not mask the telltale rustle against his jacket as (somewhere out of sight) his girlfriend's hidden smile morphed into a grin.

Finally releasing each other, Ginny hummed and Harry smiled as they crossed the street, descended the two steps down to the front door, and let themselves in the flat...

Whereupon they were met by Lee. Bearing a stack of four books.

"Read and exchange!" Lee handed one small hardback to Harry, and another to Ginny, while retaining for himself the two larger books.

"What are th...?" Harry read the title, then groaned, attempting unsuccessfully to give the book back. "Lee, last night you were drunk, and so we politely excused you for being way out of your fruit tree, but right now I'm the one who's happily buzzed. Can't I just sit at the piano with Ginny and sing duets without being weighed down by dopey reading assignments?"

"Sit and read!" Lee pushed the book back firmly into Harry's chest. "You just wont believe what-"

"Eeww!" Ginny wrinkled her nose as she flipped through the proffered 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'. "Lee, how could you??"

"How could I what?" Lee scratched his head.

"Why me? Why this book?" She closed it and held it out awkwardly, pinched between two fingers, as if it had been dipped in something sticky. "There's a 'Ginny' in here and... and she sounds like a cringey muppet."

"No no no!" Lee shook his head vigourously. "Give her a chance — she's actually very brave, if a bit naive, perhaps, but... uh, well..."

"Lee!" Harry clasped his brother's shoulder firmly. "We'll read the books. Eventually. Maybe. But first, you've got to know that we checked in on Dean."

"Oh." Lee went wide-eyed. "What did he say? Is he...? Did you...?"

"He has a new job." Ginny tried to discreetly deposit the book onto the mail table, though Lee immediately picked it up and thrust it back into her helpless hands.

Harry nodded. "He's working for Foi-Black."

"Foi-Black?" Lee's eyes went wide. "The mad ad cads?"

"Er, yes." Ginny buried the book somewhere in the depths of her hand bag. "I overheard some engorged bovine dressing him down. Dean will be sacked if he doesn't come crawling back to you begging to be let back in the Stags."

"Hey, that's great!" Lee lit up for a moment, before reappraising his friends' expressions. "Or perhaps not?"

"It's complicated." Harry scrunched his face. "We don't have proof, but we suspect Dean is being used by Foi-Black to dig for information on us. Quite possibly information to target me."

"Why would they do that?" Lee frowned. "I know that Foi-Black made you an offer and such, but..."

"Lee, remember last night when I shared with you what Dora told us?" Harry chewed his lip. "Well, Ginny and I suspect..."

"Oi!" Lee's eyes bugged out. "You think Foi-Black is in with those Death Eater bastards??"

"Death Eaters...?!" Harry and Ginny both blinked bewilderedly.

"Bad asses who practise black magic. Read the bloody books, will you!" Lee rolled his eyes. "So you reckon Foi-Black is in with the lot that Dora is tailing, and that they've turned Deaner?"

"Maybe." Harry shrugged, while Ginny nodded more confidently.

"Bollocks." Lee exhaled wearily. "If that's true, I'll have to send him away, yeh?"

The room fell into a glum silence. Then, Ginny shook her head.

"No?" Lee cocked an eyebrow. "I should let him rejoin?"

"Well, I could be wrong about this..." Ginny pursed her lips. "... and I'm sure we ought to confer with Dora before we do anything wild. But I somehow reckon, knowing what we know, that we might all be safer and better off if Dean does not get the sack."

Back to index


Chapter 15: Disappointment

Author's Notes:

So, there will be another *two* week lag before I post chapter 16. Hope that doesn't run too close to this latest chapter's title :| Basically, I'd hoped to now be two chapter-drafts ahead of posting, but some peripheral family drama and important work left me about 2/3 or a chapter short of that.

Three quarters of the length I'd originally guessed for the story, I'm still pondering how long it will actually run. Seems that many of my longer stories coast along for while, caught up in life and character development, before hitting that slippery slope toward crisis and climax. I think that skid is getting close, but I'm not yet positive 'when'.

Ah well, a mystery 'til the end :)


Chapter 15. Disappointment


"Aggh!" Mione scowled at Ginny. "How could you and Harry put yourselves in a potentially life-threatening peril without anyone knowing where you were? I'm thoroughly disappointed in you. How could you be so irresponsible?!"

"Dunno, Mione. Sorry." Shrugging, Ginny popped a salt and vinegar crisp in her mouth. She was not trying to be flippant. The truth was that she did not know.

Ginny did understand, fundamentally, that visiting House of Wolf had been a dodgy little undertaking, but a whirlwind (and mildly intoxicated) afternoon hadn't left her much chance to ponder the circumstances behind the decision to throw caution to the wind and waltz into the place so casually. The improvised investigation had proven highly successful, but Mione was right — it could easily have come to a bad end.

Sensing that Mione would not give up without securing either a convincing apology, or at least a half-arsed explanation, Ginny turned away toward the window and immersed in a bit of overdue reflection.

Her first thoughts went to her partner in crime. Regardless of whether the outing had been foolish or clever, she was not alone in credit or blame. Although Harry seemed the more reliable, mature and responsible of the two, he had definitely played a willing, adept role this time; an equal instigator and executor.

So, did that mean they were equally crafty? Or equally messed up?

Ginny's brow furrowed as she grappled for an instinctive response. She emerged a moment later having reached an explanation that she was pretty satisfied with.

She and Harry were sick of getting jumped by foul villains in the dark.

They'd finally now acted, boldly, to change the rules of engagement.

Perhaps they had not yet processed all the rules for this wild new game they'd enjoined, but at least they were players, not pawns.

"I think I know how to explain it, Mione." Ginny turned back to her friend. "You have to recall that Harry and I are both orphans. As such, I think we have a different world view than you might. If there's something wrong in our lives, we look to ourselves to fix it. Orphans may go with the flow and submit to authourity when that suits the situation, but we're independent spirits. We're really only accountable to others when we choose to be, and only on our own terms."

"Oh?" Mione blinked. "You, er, don't even feel at all accountable to me? Your best friend?"

"Hmm..." Ginny munched another crisp, slowly, objectively. "In the fullest of respect, no, not really. You're one of the dearest people I've ever known, obviously, but we've never actually worked out the ground rules. What would be my motivation for being accountable to you? Would you be accountable to me? These are all details that we've never negotiated." She shrugged. "But never say never, yeah?"

Ever-so-slightly pleased with having knocked the wind out of Mione's pique, Ginny smiled, and held out the barely-touched pack of crisps. "Have the rest, Mione. I've had plenty."

"Er, thanks." Mione accepted the peace offering and collapsed into the arm chair. After nibbling a few, she returned her focus to Ginny. "Okay, well I understand how you would value your independence and self-determination, but may I make a request? Next time something like that comes up, do you suppose you could bring me along? You might find me useful, you know. I am a graduating Criminology student, after all. Honours, first class."

Ginny opened her mouth, tempted to question whether someone with Mione's sheltered, academic background would really want to muck about in fraught, unpredictable situations. Fortunately, Ginny's brain engaged before her mouth as she acknowledged a key fact. Indeed, Mione was a criminology student.

Criminology.

Mione may not have had a reputation for risk-taking, but her chosen field was clearly not just some sheltered, academic pursuit. It was gritty; it was hardly some idle fancy for poofs fond of those snappy, black and white MI5 uniforms. Criminology was a rigorous license to poke about in the foulest crevasses of society. Furthermore, the program had whole courses devoted to risk assessment, so Ginny had to believe that Mione would not have made her request without being braced for real dangers.

And that could be useful.

After all, the dangers involved were real. The notion of murderous sorcerers and hags lurking in dark alleys and moonlit bushes might seem farcical, but there were such odd perils out there, and Ginny knew that she, Harry, and perhaps Mione, would have to confront them.

Ginny had no idea if or when the next confrontation might occur, or whether she and Harry might again chance another crazy caper like 'House of Wolf', but she did know that any addition to their co-conspiratorial cohort would have to be able cope with the unexpected.

Would Mione fit that bill?

Well, the willingness to even volunteer was encouraging, and all those upper year Crim case studies that Mione talked about ought to be of some use, so...

Ginny committed. "Okay, sure, Mione. I'll need to talk it over with Harry, but he's quite fond of you so I assume he'll appreciate your offer. As do I."

"Good. Thank you." Mione's short, absent nod implied that, for all Ginny's intense private deliberations, the older female had known the outcome all along, and had already made her way, not only through another mouthful of crisps, but also some cogitation of her own. "Ginny, I'm curious what led you to suspect that Dean had been beguiled? As opposed to him merely getting pushed around by those advertising executives?"

"Beguiled? I'm not sure what you mean?"

"That wasn't well phrased." Mione took a moment to reformulate her thoughts. "True, or false: you believe that what's affecting Dean's conduct is more than just normal persuasion? As in, you believe that Dean could be under the influence of paranormal persuasion?"

"Er, yes. Some sort of mind control." Ginny nodded. "I've suspected for some time that in magic — I guess that's what we're calling it now — it's possible to paranormally influence people. Harry and I figured out that Dora had very likely been using mild, as your say, 'beguilement' , to try to keep us docile and suggestible. The more I think about it, the more I believe that Dean is being subjected to something like that, except stronger and more sinister."

"What's tipping you off? Something that he said, or is it more subtle? Tone of voice? Nonverbal cues?"

"No." Ginny shook her head. "To be honest, I think it's the spell itself that unsettles me."

"The spell?" Mione stared. "You believe you can actually feel the magic that's acting on him?"

"Right." Ginny rose and walked over to the kitchen. "Since meeting Harry, I've made tremendous progress learning about myself; figuring out why I'd often fly off the handle at odd times for no obvious reason. Finally, now, I've concluded that I'm simply rather sensitive to magic. Some people hate bright lights; others are triggered by undetectably faint smells; get headaches from barometric pressure changes, et cetera, but me — I get antsy when I sense magic."

"Remarkable." Mione rubbed her temples reflexively. "Could you tell me what it feels like?"

"Uhhh..." Ginny poured herself some water and gazed through the refracted glass. "Well, let's take Dean. One moment, he's plain old Deaner — pretentious, a bit smarmy, but basically harmless. The next moment, I want to pound his face to a bleeding pulp."

Mione stared.

"I don't hate him." Ginny drank her water and put the glass down. "I don't truly have any reason to. He hasn't done anything worse to me than any of a dozen other creeps that I've shrugged off over the years. Hell, I think we might even become friends at some point... But there are times when I just totally lose it around him. Something about him bloody, irrationally, utterly appalls me. Then, as soon as I try to get away before I do something criminal, it's like boom! I run straight into the hands of some dark-cloaked ponce."

"Oh! Do you think those are deliberate setups?"

"Not exactly." Ginny bit her lip. "I don't think anyone intends for me to run away from Dean. I think it's more that they're trying to get me away from Harry, and they're using Dean as a wedge."

"Ah." Mione's frown of concentration was nearly a scowl. "So, this bad feeling from Dean — it is similar to your hostility to that silver-haired man who may be stalking us?"

"Why yes!" Ginny's eyes widened. "Fascinating thought. Dora implied that rat-man has magical powers, so I wonder if there's a direct link? Perhaps, the anger I have toward Dean is because I sense rat-man's magic on him? It kind of goes without saying that everything about rat-man enrages me for some reason, and maybe that's what I'm taking out on Dean."

"Interesting hypothesis." Mione quirked her head and reached into her pocket for the Marconi coin. "Maybe we should ask Dora what she thinks?"

Ginny's glance darted from Mione's coin to the phone. "Let's leave that to Harry — he'll see Dora next weekend. I'll call him in a while and tell him what we discussed."

"Okay. Please let me know what he finds out." Mione continued to fiddle with the magical coin. She exhaled slowly. "Ginny, there's one more thing that's been nagging at me. How much danger do you suppose we're in? How imminent?"

"Well..." Ginny chewed her lip. "If I'm seeing things a'right, you and I are probably pretty safe for the moment, because Dean doesn't know anything about where we live, what we do, and so forth. That, I think, is critical. Cloaky-blokes only seem to pop up when Dean's been around to peg down a location and target for them.

"Oh dear." Mione sat upright. "What about Lee and Harry, then? If Lee accepts Dean back into the Mysti Stags, he'll be at their house two or three times a week for practice."

Ginny stiffened for a moment... then settled. "Yes, well the dark dorks already know where Harry and Lee live. It was obvious on Valentine's Day that they'd already marked the place, but I don't know if they ever dare set foot on the premises. If they'd come any closer than the neighbourhood park, I think I'd have sensed it."

"Ah. Perhaps Dora and that Kingston fellow are keeping an eye on the place?" Mione settled back into the chair. She held up a single crisp and contemplated it. "Still, I wish there was more we could do to help keep them safe."

"We?" Ginny eyed her friend. "You and me?"

"Why not?" Mione nodded. "I realise that Lee and Harry are fit young men, but muscles likely don't count much against magic, right? Personally, I'd be tempted to think your magical instincts and my Crim knowledge would be a perfect complement to their strength and bravery. If only there was some way to all band together more closely."

"Band together?" Ginny raised a sharp eyebrow. "Well, I'm hardly going to move up to Holloway — the bus from there to campus is far too long. So, unless you're planning on them moving in with us..."

"Our place is too small." Mione chewed her lip, gazing around. "And they'd have no place to practice, and-"

Ginny burst out laughing. "I was joking, Mione! Are you seriously considering asking Lee to move in with you? Even before your first date? I thought only lesbians did that!"

"Ginny! How could you think...?! That wasn't what I...! I meant it solely for... I mean, seriously! Ginny, you're so utterly-"

With bemused eyebrow, Ginny watched as several choice adjectives, and Mione's deep blush, all vented harmlessly into a plush cushion.


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


"Oi mate." Lee picked up a small bottle of grape juice and tossed it to Dean, gesturing toward an arm chair — the only piece of furniture not currently cluttered with sheet music, appointment books, and other miscellaneous items of his trade. "What's goin' down in the life of Dean?"

"Er well..." Dean looked more than a bit uncomfortable, but he did pop the top off the bottle and take a drink. "I wanted to apologise for Saturday; for letting you down and for, uh, bailing on you."

"Yeh?" Lee glanced up from the musical arrangements he was working on. "Apology accepted."

Dean stared for a long moment, wondering, perhaps, if Lee was going to add anything? Anything that might help ease the awkwardness?

Lee merely offered a curt nod, before turning back to his sheet music. "Give me a minute, mate. I was in the middle of a chord progression and I don't want to lose it. Harry's new song, eh? 'Fifteen years'?"

Dean shrugged, not really paying attention.

"On the hills, the leaves, the sand, Is it never too late...?" Lee hummed to himself, and scribbled as his foot tapped out the meter.

Finally Lee's pencil paused and Dean coughed. "Hey, well... Lee, I also came here to ask if Shay and I could get back with the Stags?"

"One sec." Lee scratched down two more notes, then put the work aside. "Yeh, yeh okay. You're back in on two conditions. First of all, the next time you get a real thicko notion to quit, you do it on a Sunday or a Monday, not on a bloody Saturday afternoon, eh? We had to scotch our last gig and Under Solo already axed us for next weekend on account of your awkward timing." He leveled a look that, while not angry, made it clear who was the adult in the room.

"Sorry." Dean hung his head.

"Second condition. You apologise to Miss Smith, a'right? She may be Harry's girl, but she's a mate to all of us, and her family's very dear to me."

"Urk?" Dean stiffened. "I, uh... I'll try, I guess, but you, er, going to be prepared to call the medics for me?"

"Hah!" Lee burst out laughing. "Well, right, I don't seem to recall that family of hers being known for saintly patience, so I rather suggest you be a bit less of a ponce to her in the future. But you're lucky this time, mate — not only has she mostly forgiven you; she was actually the one who said we should take you back."

"Seriously?" Dean stared. "Wow, that's..."

Brrrrinnng!!

"Gotta get that." Lee pushed aside his notes and grabbed the phone. "G'morning! Lee Jordan at yer service... Oi! One sec, Nevi!" Lee grinned, covering the phone. "Hold tight, Deaner — let me tell Langley you're back and swinging."

Dean smiled his assent, but mostly tuned out Lee's conversation with their agent.

After fidgeting for a little while in the chair, Dean rose from the seat and wandered around the sitting room, eventually arriving at the wall shelf on the far side of the piano. Curiously, he set his hands on a large-ish book that was spread face-down. Making brief note of title ('Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'), he picked it up and let his eyes slide down the open page, landing, and fixing, upon a random paragraph.


The surface of the silvery stuff inside the basin began to swirl very fast. Harry bent closer, his head right inside the cabinet. The silvery substance had become transparent, it looked like glass. He looked down into it, expecting to see the stone bottom of the basin — and saw instead...


Wide-eyed, Dean put the book back, nearly slamming it in his haste. Heart thumping, he stared out the window; wide-eyed, biting his cheek.

Slowly, fearfully, almost as if expecting to find a gaping wound, Dean raised one hand toward the side of his head. Encountering only hair and skin, he pressed his fingers to his temple for a moment, then exhaled. He lowered his hand, and turned slowly back to Lee, very relieved to see his friend still deeply engrossed in a business negotiation.


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


Crossing the library foyer on his way toward the staff offices, Harry happened to look over just in time to see a very familiar shimmer of red hair. "Psst." He waved.

Ginny startled, glanced across, then smiled brightly. She altered course and found herself stepping straight into a hug and quick kiss.

As they pulled apart, Harry touched her cheek. "How's your Monday going? How did the Sociology test go?"

Ginny's hand bobbed in the air. "Meh. Test was okay. Rest of the day was better." She glanced down at what he was carrying. "Looks like you got some mail?"

"Mail? Oh these." He held up two small letters, and one large well-taped manila envelope. "They're actually for Dr. Appleblum. I was over by the post boxes just as the delivery arrived. Remembering how I wanted to check in with her on something, I figured I'd run them over to her office, which is why I'm here now... but, hey." Harry consulted his watch. "Gin', I'm just about to go on break. Could you hang out here just a minute while I drop them off? Maybe then we can dash across the street together for a quick coffee?"

"I suppose I could agree to that." She gave him a coy smile. "As a special favour to you, of course."

"Of course." Harry laughed. Turning to the office, he about to knock when the door swung inward, revealing library director who had seemingly just risen from her desk in greeting.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Jordan. Miss Smith." Dr. Appleblum nodded politely. "And what might I... Oh!" Her eyes caught sight of the package. "Has that come already??"

Despite struggling not to smirk as the normally dour director practically hopped in place, Ginny still somehow noted the return address (19 Hazelbank Terrace, Edinburgh EH11-1SN) as Harry handed over the large envelope.

"What a charming coinc-, er, surprise." Appleblum's eyes shone, first at Harry and then at Ginny. "Thank you so kindly for running this by, but I presume you're not moonlighting as postal delivery. Was there something in particular I might help you with?"

"Why yes." Harry nodded. "I had promised to take on an extra task to make up for the time I missed last Friday, and I was wondering if you had thought of anything?"

"I have indeed." Appleblum went to her desk and retrieved a key. "Some time ago I received a donation of some valuable rare books that I would like catalogued at your leisure. Over the next week or two, perhaps? They are currently housed in crates inside the closet marked 414a, up in Special Collections." She handed Harry the small brass key.

"Sounds interesting. I'd be happy to." Harry smiled.

"Thank you." The elderly woman pursed her lips. "It has occurred to me, however, that I'm likely asking you for more work than would truly make you 'happy'. It will almost certainly take substantially more time the forty minutes or so that you missed last week. I'm willing to pay you extra for your efforts, of course, but I'm also prepared to authourise a student assistant to help you, at standard RA salary. Might that be acceptable to you, Mr. Jordan?"

"Certainly, if you feel that's best." Harry looked somewhat surprised and puzzled.

"Excellent." Appleblum turned to Ginny. "Miss Smith, might you, by any chance, be interested in a short term Research Assistantship appointment, assisting Mr. Jordan with his rare book project?"

"...?!" Ginny gaped. "I, uh... Yeah? Please?"

"Perfect." Appleblum went to her cabinet to retrieve the RA appointment form. "I believe someone with your background may find some of these volumes quite interesting."


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


"She offered you an RA position?" Mione blinked as she watched Ginny slide a deep dish with Yorkshire pudding into the over beside the roast. "You didn't even have to enquire and apply?"

"Oddly enough, no." Ginny put aside the oven mitts. "Never been introduced to the woman, yet somehow she knew my name and seemed confident enough about my background to assume that I'd enjoy the work." She shrugged. "I suppose Harry must have told her about me? She and Harry do seem to get on quite well. In an odd, stiff, but nice sort of way."

"She is a bit unusual, isn't she?" Mione frowned pensively. "So straight-laced, but yes — I've also noticed her taking an abiding, almost motherly, interest in Harry. I assume that's why she also pays attention to us."

"Oh, I suppose so, yeah? Makes sense." Ginny reached up to the shelf and came down with a couple of plates. "Well, I think it's nice that Harry has someone looking out for him. But I personally can't help feeling a bit of extra pressure around her, though? I feel almost as though she's evaluating me? As if she's trying to decide whether I'm a proper young lady, worthy of her proper young gentleman?"

"Perhaps, but I doubt it." Mione bobbed her shoulders. "Someone of her character likely adheres to rigourous professional standards; I'm sure she would never meddle in an employee's personal life. However, your performance in this new little employment opportunity may be judged quite stringently. What does the project involve?"

"Cataloguing rare books."

"Oh??" Mione's face fell.

"Mione!" Ginny's eyes widened. "Are you...? Jealous?"

Mione looked away.

Ginny shook her head. "You are, aren't you?"

"You think I'm jealous just because you're getting paid to sort and examine a shipment of rare books?" Mione raised an acerbic eyebrow. "Of course I am, you saucy tart! I happen to like books, you know."

"Oh really?" Ginny smirked. "And do you like books enough to have read that one that Lee foisted on me?"

"Errr..." Mione bit her lip, glancing over at the shelf, where 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' lay buried somewhere beneath a mess of junk mail. "Sorry, I do recall you mentioning it, but I've been too busy to pick it up. Can't you just read it yourself?"

"Ugh. No chance." Ginny shook her head. "I skimmed just enough to learn that there's a 'Ginny' in there, and she's a cringeworthy little piker who's ignored by all the clods around her. What a drudge. Give me a choice between vicariously living someone else's dreary, downtrodden misery, versus sitting in front of my stats problem set and daydreaming about Harry, and I think I'll take the statistics, yeah?"

"Er, yes, I suppose." Mione gazed at the Criminal Law text sitting on the table for a long moment before glancing back to the pile of advertising fliers obscuring Lee's book. She sighed. "Well, one of us should probably read it, if only to find out what Lee is so eager for us to see."

"Absolutely." Ginny grinned. "Such a trooper you are to volunteer. I'll expect a full report by Thursday."


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


"Yeh, well that's kinda interesting." Lee looked up from polishing his cymbals. "Reckon your boss must already have known Ginny, then?"

"Apparently?" Harry shrugged, pausing his open D tuning. "I've heard Appleblum imply that she keeps tabs on successful students, and Ginny is in the Honours program, so that might explain it. But regardless, it was kind of her to make the offer. And I'm delighted Ginny accepted, as the project gives us a fine excuse to get together, mid-week."

"Any extra minute with yer lady is dench, bro." Lee flashed a momentarily bright smile, but he also turned away, his eyes drifting distant and a bit wistful.

Harry caught the subtle mood shift, and wondered if this was the down side to his own happiness. Could it be that every step he and Ginny took toward a happy, supportive relationship might be a painful little reminder to Lee of missed opportunities with Angie? After all, Lee and Angie had gone through years of frustration; neither party ever really being able to find much time for each other.

But Lee was not quite prepared to admit any melancholy. After a moment, he shook away the fugue, and resumed his polishing. A few seconds later, he shifted in his chair, asking, "So, you settled on when you intend to work your overtime?"

"I think Wednesday evening?" Harry regarded his brother. "I'm assuming we'll be back to normal practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays?"

"We will." Lee tapped the cymbal lightly and nodded his satisfaction. "Deaner's ready. He didn't kick up a fuss or make things difficult. Of course, I expect he's a little disappointed to be crawling back to the Stags, but he's back, he's ready, and Nevi was able to convince Under Solo to put us back on the docket this coming weekend. So we're cooking again. For the time being."

"For the time being." Harry nodded, a neutral expression knotting his upper lip.

"I wonder what's going on in that boy's head? Odd to quit one day then come drooping back the next. But, whatever." Lee bobbed his head, puzzled, then gazed off distantly. "Hey, did you know there's a Dean Thomas in those Harry Potter books too? Have you and Ginny started reading those first two that I lent you?"

"Oh. The books." Harry looked up from his Schecter. "Sorry, I haven't had time. Ginny may have started on the one you lent her, but we've not compared notes." He put the guitar down and turned his attention fully to his brother. "Listen Lee, I understand there are quite a few odd coincidences. The books are about a magical community in Britain, a bit like there was here in the 1980's? And a few names ring very similar to ones we know? But it's my impression there are loads of differences too. For example, nobody ever sent a stork to haul us away to school-"

"Not a stork — an owl. And they didn't haul; that's what the train was for. Owls deliver mail. They bring acceptance letters to kids of school age."

"Brought, maybe. Distant past perhaps, but not the present." Harry shook his head. "There weren't any birds delivering school letters to us when we came of age. So, no, I haven't read anything beyond skimming a few pages, but I sincerely doubt I'll find much of a useful account of struggles from the mid 1980's, or anything to explain what took away our memories."

"Eh, okay. Perhaps not." Lee gave him a long, contemplative look. "But do you suppose the books were written by someone who knows a bit about the life we could have been living? Maybe this 'J.K. Rowling' is a pseudonym for someone in the magical world? Could it be she's sending coded messages? Details you might be able to use against the Death Eaters?"

"Or details to mislead?" Harry gave a skeptical glance toward his backpack which he knew contained Lee's book. "Lucy's read some of the books and she seems to quite dislike and mistrust them."

Lee rolled his eyes. "Yeh, well Lucy thinks Margaret Thatcher engineered the World Trade Center bombing to benefit her oil investments. And she keeps saying that Captain Beany is the rightful Minister of Magic for Magical Britain."

"Uh, okay. Good point." Harry scratched his chin, sighed, then picked up the guitar again. "Okay, you win. I'll read the book, chat with Ginny, and then we'll discuss it with you. Maybe we'll ask Mione's opinions, too."

"You will? Brill!" Standing up, Lee grabbed his date book, and reached for the phone. "If you hop to it, we could hook up this weekend, and-"

"This weekend?" Harry raised an eyebrow as be began to pick a chord. "Slow down, mate. The girls are busy with coursework tests; Ginny and I have Appleblum's special project, and you and I have a band to amp back up, remember?"

Lee stared at him, then sighed.

Tossing his date book aside, Lee slumped into his drummer's chair, picked up his sticks, and looked vacantly at the drums for a long moment. Finally, he began a series of taps that eventually wove their way into a coherent beat.

Judging the conversation over, Harry turned his thoughts to the complex melody Lee had proposed for the new song. He lost himself in the music for a while but then, midway through the closing guitar riff, Harry looked up from his strings, and tuned half an ear to his brother's muted, slow-tempo rhythm.

Brow knotting in distraction; Harry squeezed down a little to the side of one fret, accidentally producing a strange off-note.

Strangely off.

Key, situation, mood — a bit sour; kind of flat.

Strange.

For Harry, this regular ritual of sitting around, working through music with his brother was supposed to be fun, free, and relaxing. Yet, right now, everything felt strangely off. Strangest of all, when Harry glanced over again at his brother he saw, not the usual rapturous immersion into melody and rhythm, but rather a look of... ennui.

Disappointment.

Disappointed to be stuck here with nothing to do but work on music.

Back to index


Chapter 16: Books

Author's Notes:

Okay! So that magical moment took hold of my fingers a few days ago in drafting chapter 18, and tipped the balance downward from 'friendly' to frenetic. There is one more plot twist still to be massaged and we will plunge into that wild state that always seems to seize my stories at some point. Stay tuned.

That said, the crazier the plot, the trickier the writing. Consequently, I think I remain trapped in a two week cycle for the foreseeable future. The good news, I guess, is that I see no reason to go any slower than that.


Chapter 16. Books


"Harry, you're torturing me!" Ginny's eyes mirrored all the longing from her voice. "Won't you at least hum it for me?"

"Not yet, sorry." Harry smiled apologetically. "If last night was any measure, we have a fair bit of reworking to do with the harmony before it's ready to listen to. I want to get it right before I subject you to it."

"Artists and their bloody secrets." Growling, Ginny reached for the final few polenta fries scattered about Harry's plate while he drained the last of his Hobgoblin pint.

"Yes well, to be fair, Lee and I had hoped to be further along, but that's life." Harry put the glass down and pushed it away. "The practice began rather awkwardly but, all told, we ended up doing well with the rest of the music. In most ways I'm glad to have Dean and Shay back, considering the way they... No, wait, that reminds me of something I wanted to tell you. On his way out the door, Dean asked me if he could apologise to you."

Ginny stopped, mid-chew. She swallowed. "He what? Wants to apologise?"

Harry shrugged.

"Ugh." Ginny reached for her purse to cover the cheque. Harry tried a dissuasive hand gesture, but she was too quick in throwing down a few notes. Standing up, she shook her head. "Well, that sounds like a perfectly awkward little proposition. Did he seem sincere, or do you suppose he's being manipulated?"

"Eh, well he hardly looked enthused." Harry held out Ginny's coat for her. "But, I didn't get any sense there was any trickery."

"Well, okay." Ginny sighed as they threaded arms and stepped out of The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker to head back to campus. "I'll grant him his moment of penance, though I'm not sure when that might be? For security reasons, I think it's best that I not be seen in public with the Mysti Stags for a while, yeah?"

"Er, true." Harry stiffened slightly, suddenly remembering the sensitivity of their situation. "You do realise you're out in public with one of those Stags right now?"

"No, I'm not." Ginny shook her head. "I'm just a sweet little student RA engaged in marginally unethical closeness with her cute, but otherwise not particularly noteworthy, staff supervisor. Might have been considered scandalous in another era, but these days it happens all the time."

"Uhhh?" Harry glanced at her quizzically, trying to find a tell-tale spark of mischief. "Okay, so you're saying that I'm not-"

Harry stopped short, cut off by a flock of chattering female students. For a moment he thought they were going to swarm but, in fact, their primary goal was to walk around (or through) him, on the way to wherever else it was they were heading. One of the students made the briefest of eye-contact, but only enough to note the potential collision and steer her mates a bit to the side.

"Oh." Harry chewed his lip. "You're not joking, are you? Not one of those students noticed me!"

"Is there any reason they should notice some entry level university librarian?" Ginny finally surrendered to a smirk.

"So, even if they were all Mysti Stags fans, they wouldn't bat an eye? This is a bit of your magic, then?"

"I believe so." Ginny nodded. "It's a little skill I've had for quite a while, but never understood until recently. I'm pretty sure, given a bit of concentration, that I can exert some of influence over what people 'think' they see when they look at us. I suspect I can project a sort of 'nothing of interest here, folks' impression."

"Sounds useful."

"Absolutely." Ginny smiled. "An essential skill for celebrities. Or troublemakers."

Seeing Harry's arched eyebrow, Ginny laughed. "Trust me, luv, in my day I've gotten away with some pretty naughty stuff by simply avoiding notice. Now, based on this little experiment, I'd wager that in my presence you, too, can likely get away with a bit of public naughtiness... if you ever felt so inclined." Her smile flashed wickedly for a moment before fading. "Unfortunately, I doubt I can protect you much in the middle of a club if you're up there prancing with your band."

"Right." Harry chuckled. "Mild mannered librarian is likely not the stage persona Lee has in mind for me anyway. But, more seriously, if you were at a concert, do you think you could disguise yourself?"

"Excellent question." Ginny frowned. "If I set my mind to it, I think I could walk straight past a class-mate and not attract the slightest glance, but there might be a bit of a risk if anyone was looking specifically for me. And then there's this nagging question about what might happen if the person seeking me had some magical way to see straight through my little ruse."

"Understood." Harry nodded seriously. And then he cast surreptitious glances around at the various pedestrians, autos and windows in their vicinity.

Fortunately, two minutes later they seemed to have attracted no obvious attention and, were safely within the library. Exiting the lifts into a low-lit fourth floor corridor, they proceeded toward the sign that read, 'Special Collections, Archives and Storage'. Entering suite 414, Harry unlocked closet 414a, flipped a light switch and looked down to find only two fairly modest sized crates.

Harry scratched his head. "Is that all there is? I thought from Professor Appleblum's description that we'd be facing a fair bit more."

Ginny shrugged.

Harry reached for the first crate, and found it even lighter than he would have expected — as if it was merely an empty cedar shell. He lifted it easily, and carried it out to set on the examination table, while Ginny brought over the second box.

When they lifted the wooden lids to peer inside, they were surprised to find both crates brimming with old volumes.

"Wow!" Harry scratched his head. "How could so much weigh so little?"

Ginny, however, barely registered his question. Instead, she had already carefully raised a pair of books to the light and was squinting at the faded yet ornate embossing. "'Achievements in Charming'? 'Advanced Potion Making'? What on Earth are these all about?"

"That's really what we're tasked with determining." Harry frowned, as he also retrieved a book. "'Magical Theory', by Adalbert Waffling? 'Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean'? Bloody hell!"

"Bloody hell, indeed." Ginny's brow furrowed as she recited from the table of contents of the first book. "The distinction between magical objects, and magically imbued objects. Ten rudimentary illustrations of charms. Tailoring charm to substance. Surface or depth situation of charms. Oi Harry, these are the real deal!"

"Real deal?" Harry lowered the book in his hands. "In what sense?"

"In the sense that these books are magic."

"Yes, they obviously claim to be about magic, but...?" Harry scratched his head.

"No, it's more than that." Ginny held up 'Achievements in Charming'. "Some of them truly are magic. I can feel the power coming off this one. It feels as if the book itself was, errr, charmed?"

Harry's jaw slowly dropped. After several ineffectual attempts to make a sound, he finally managed, "Why?"

Ginny stared, not guessing which of many possible why-type questions he might be veering toward.

Fortunately, Harry found his tongue. "How is this possible? Why are we looking at magical books? Why now? Why do we run across something like this, barely four days after we're told, for the first time in our lives, that we can do magic?"

"Why are we looking at these books?" Very slowly, Ginny lowered the old tome. "I suppose, it's mostly because your boss asked us to?"


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


In spite of the many variations and case outcomes that we have recounted, we assert that criminal diversion and decarceration are socially desirable and achievable. We must then critically evaluate the effectiveness of alternate, community-based sentencing programs in the context of these stated goals.

In 500 words or less, contrast two currently implemented diversion programs within the context of the above policy declaration.


"Aghh! Hang them all!"

Mione sent her criminal law text skidding across the dinner table... then immediately looked contrite. "Sorry," she said, to nobody in particular.

In truth, Mione was not soured on judicial flexibility. Rather, she seemed to be suffering from a rare bout of scholastic burnout.

Although it was a Wednesday evening, and there was nothing around to distract her from intense productivity, she was uncharacteristically sick of being productive. She longed to do something fun! Most specifically, right now she wanted to be having fun sorting old books with Ginny and Harry.

Mione had no idea what might be in any of the old books to be sorted, but for some reason, she could not get them off her mind. And this odd obsession was doing little to help either mood or productivity.

Growling to herself, she was just in the process of rising to get herself another mug of hot chocolate, when-

BONNG-G!

"Aiiee!" Leaping about, she peered warily down the hall toward a door at which visitors almost never arrived. On tip-toes, she edged closer. "Who is it?"

"Eh? Oh, it's Lee."

"Lee?!" Pulse pounding in her ears, Mione raced for the entrance, desperately hoping that whatever reason the elder Jordan might have for visiting their flat was a happy sociable one which did not involve any kind of frightful dark magic awfulness, danger, injury or library-related disaster!

Whipping open the door, she practically tied herself in knots restraining herself from anxious impulses to throw her arms around the poor fellow, imploring him to have good (not bad!) news...

But then she saw the flowers.

"Oh my." She covered her mouth, not quite successfully disguising her astonishment.

"Uh, er, hey Mio-... uh, Miss Granger." Lee extended a dozen champagne roses. "I, ehm, wanted to apologise for my daft phone call from the other night."

"Come in. Come in! Do call me Mione, and please. You have need at all to apologise." Sweeping her arm inward, she nonetheless did accept the flowers as she stepped out of the way to admit him. "How are you? Is everything okay?"

"Yeh, things are fine, thanks." Lee's eyes did a quick unconscious sweep of a flat that seemed basic, utilitarian, and neither untidy nor painfully sterile. "I was hoping perhaps I could ask your opinion on a few things. Do you suppose you could spare me a half hour chat?"

"By all means!" Mione smiled, as she rinsed an old milk bottle to serve as a vase. "What sort of things? Oh, and would you care for some hot chocolate?"

"Yes please." Lee took a chair at the dinner table, across from Mione's swotting. "So, I gather that you heard a fair bit from Dora about these 'magic' capers that, er, have so captured Harry's and Ginny's attention?"

"Right." Mione nodded. "I don't assume to know as much as Ginny and Harry, considering they seem to have some first-hand experience. But I've certainly listened closely enough to what's been said."

"Cool." Lee flashed a thumbs-up. "Well, I'm sure I know less than you, but the scraps that Harry's told me sound oddly similar to some of the particulars in a series of books that I've read. It's called 'Harry Potter' and, uhh..."

"Oh yes. You spoke about the books in your phone call." Mione swept in, delivering two hot mugs, then turned to retrieve the novel from near the telephone. "Ginny asked me to look at this one. 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.'"

"Yeh, yeh. That's the second one." Lee smiled uncertainly. "You haven't, uh, had time to look at it, I s'pose?"

"Oh, well I actually did read a little over lunch. I got through the first four chapters — far enough along to meet my namesake." She smiled comfortingly to her guest and blew on her drink before tasting it.

"Oh, brill then!" Lee regarded her closely for a couple seconds, scanning the girl's pleasant smile, and not finding any obvious condescension. "So what, em, do you think?"

"In terms of whether it had bearing on what Dora described?" Mione adopted an expression that was carefully serious and judicious. "Well, it seems the dates are all wrong, but I agree that the names are eerily close."

Mione began enumerating on her fingers. "We obviously do have a Harry and a Ginny. And our real world Ginny actually does have a brother named Ronnie. And 'Hermione Granger'? A frankly amazing coincidence to that point! But the book makes it sound as though Ginny should have a whole raft of other brothers which she does not... unless something, well, happened to them?"

"Uh, about that." Lee turned somber. "Mione, I have a few distant, hazy childhood memories of, uhhh, well, I'm pretty sure I do remember being mates with a pair of her older brothers." He bit his cheek. "And I seriously do believe their names were George and Fred, while the books have..."

"Have a Fred and George." Mione pursed her lips. She knew that even thoughtful people could be prone to self-suggestion, and her 'Investigation Theory' coursework explained at length how supposedly vivid memories could actually devolve into bias and reinterpretation. She could have offered those cautions but, given her own little biases toward the earnest, caring (at times humourous; usually very handsome) fellow seated across her, she thought the better of it.

"Well, Lee, that does add up to a fascinating set of coincidences." Mione nodded. "And perhaps it suggests that if we keep digging, we'll come to a truly undeniable connection. As we speak, it's occurred to me that these books might actually have been written by someone who was familiar with the events of the 80's, and wanted to 'escape' from the tragedy? Perhaps those books were her attempt to work past the pain and imagine a happier, more fulfilling ending?"

"You think so?" Lee's eyes narrowed analytically as he took a drink of hot chocolate. "Could be; could be. The fourth book does end on a bit of a down note, but maybe it's just a bit of drama to set up the next one and make a final resolution more, uh, satisfying."

"Quite possibly." Mione smiled inwardly at the thoughtful response. "But there's one inconsistency that we should perhaps consider. "

"Yeh? Yeh? What's that." Excited to be having this conversation, Lee clearly seemed far more interested in a frank exchange of ideas than in being assumed correct.

"That inconsistency is 'me'." Mione's eyes sparkled at her friend's enthusiasm. "How would an authour writing about an unusual fringe society from fifteen years ago have any reason to associate me with it? Unlike you, Harry and Ginny, I still know where I was and what I was doing in the mid-80's.

Lee nodded matter-of-factly, as Mione continued. "My memories of the time are mostly just standard little girl's upbringing in Northampton; no real semblance to anything you might call gripping literature. You know — mundane things like reading books and attending nursery school parties."

"No real magic to it." Mione shrugged. "A few winter trips to the Aegean. Some minor squabbles with neighbours and play mates, but no horrific battles with evil sorcerors; no pointless slaughter; no mass resettling of amnesiac chil-"

Mione froze, suddenly aware that Lee had laid his hand over hers.

Lee stared, intensely, seriously. "Good." He exhaled. "I'm, uh, just really happy to know you had a nice childhood." He managed a smile.

Mione remained locked in position for another awkward second; awkwardly trying to interpret her friend's gesture. Her awkwardness was obvious enough, in fact, that Lee self-consciously withdrew his hand, bringing Mione back to the here and now.

Glancing wistfully at the strong hand that had retreated rather too efficiently and was now wrapped around a mug, Mione inhaled, then restored a shaky smile to her face. "Er, thank you Lee."

"Huh? Oh yeh, no problem." He nodded, staring into his drink. "A bit daft, wishing you the upbringing that you actually did have, but that's me — a bit daft." He laughed.

Mione grinned. She almost summoned the nerve to grab back that hand, but couldn't quite pull the trigger, so instead she cycled back to the last point of deliberation. "Okay, so we have a hypothesis that seems compelling but has a flaw in it. Where does that lead us? We either abandon the conjecture, or find some minor adjustment to explain the flaw."

"Right."

"Hmmm." Mione thought for a moment. "Is there some way a person could have been aware of people who were not in the magical community in the 1980's but would later be brought into it? After all, the books imply that Hermione Granger received a Hogwarts letter in 1991, even though her family were, uh, muddles?"

"Muggles. Er, yeah." Lee nodded again. "It's not really clear in the books just how Hogwarts would have known which Muggle-born sprogs would be invited to school, and how far back they would have been identified. You can suppose that Dumbledore would have been in on the decision. I suppose it could have been years in advance that y-, I mean 'Hermione Granger', was on his radar."

"But assuming Dumbledore is the same person as the 'Professor Al' that Dora mentioned, he's been dead or missing since 1987." Mione reached for pen and paper. "According to publication dates, the books were written years after that. How would his knowledge have reached the books' author?" Mione tapped the table lighly with a spoon. "It's certainly possible that Professor Al left records and lists, and those perhaps would have included notes about a little girl who wasn't yet even part of their dysfunctional world, but Al seemed a very cautious man. After all, he later went to frustratingly great lengths in hiding and obfuscating whatever was known about people who already were part of that world, so I doubt he would ever had wanted to risk the safety of other possibly magical children like me by allowing their identities to be released."

"True." Lee rubbed his temples. "So, instead, maybe the author is a seer?"

"A seer?" Mione's eyes widened. "Magical people prognosticate?"

"Eh, well..." Lee shrugged. "In the third book there's a bit of talk of divination, and about how some people believe in second sight. Enough that Hogwarts has... had courses on the subject. A lot of the students and some of the faculty felt it was all hokum, but towards the end of the book you're led to believe that the Harry character may have had a real vision. So maybe somehow somebody actually divined your, uh..."

"My...?" Mione's hand crept half way across the table toward his.

"Nah." Lee shook his head without finishing the thought. "I'll wager the visions are way too vague to give anything as obvious as a name. I mean, first and last? Pfff."

"I agree." Mione's hand retreated to more businesslike activities, like tapping her mug. "But here's another thought. Suppose there's someone other than Dumbledore who would know about children who ought to have been invited to Hogwarts. Perhaps this someone didn't necessarily agree with the way Dumbledore, or Professor Al, dispersed all the children and buried their identity."

"Yeh yeh yeh!" Lee surged forward. "Someone sending coded messages through the books. Trying to call us back!"

"Call us back?" Mione clapped a hand to her mouth. "What a novel thought."

Lee grinned, too thrilled by the advocacy to point out the accidental pun.

"But who's calling?" Mione's brow creased. "Obviously someone who survived the hostilities. Someone who knew lots of names. Someone who, perhaps, was privy to student recruitment lists. Do you have any idea who might fit those specifications?"

"Ah..." Lee scratched his head. "Well, if I recally correctly, the Hogwarts letters were supposedly signed 'Professor McGonagall; Deputy Headmistress'. Wonder if she's still around somewhere?"


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


"The dam's set to burst, K." Dora gazed through a sprawl of fingers as she rubbed her forehead. "Every incident since January has been an escalation of one sort or another. They're getting bolder every day. I reckon, next time they smell a chance to nab Harry, they may try out a full frontal."

"They would't." Kingston shook his head. "Appearing in force could triggering Task Force 13. They wouldn't risk that any more than we would."

"Think about it, K." Dora stared blankly through her fingers. "All that arsing about with 'Real IRA'. Why would they risk crap like that, unless..."

"You don't think...?" Kingston raised an eyebrow. "Those were tests? Setting up some bigger, wilder action?"

Dora shrugged.

"Well, aylesbury duck." The man's normally jovial face tensed into a hard scowl. "If they're fixing to be belligerent buggers, then so will we."

"You mean, we'll fight?" Dora's hand fell away. "We don't have the numbers."

"Sod that." Kingston's eyes smouldered. "Back in the old days, you and I could take down five Eaters."

"Eh, well." Dora's mouth scrunched. "Problem is, I've counted seven of them. And they've all started carrying wands again."

"So you say." Kingston drummed his fingers on the desk. "But carrying, or using? Would they dare wield something so detectable?"

"Maybe." Dora chewed her lip. "Little glimpses I've gotten don't look like old Ollivander wands. Maybe these are special; maybe they look, and act, differently."

"Differently." Kingston kneeded his face with his palms. "As in, a different signature? Harder to detect?"

"Maybe." Dora bobbed her shoulders.

"Bollocks." Kingston stared at his hands. "Must say, operationally, that concerns me far more than their numbers. Wands are more precise. After 14 years of trying to sharpen my wandless spells, I still can't tell if I'll hit my target or some rusty old bicycle half way down the street."

"At least you still scare the crap out of people." Dora's eyes flickered a bit.

"Yeah, to be honest I'm happy to brawl with my bare hands... until the moment the bastards take hostages. I know I'll be wary of hitting something I'd regret. Every split-second hesitation gives them more of a tactical advantage."

"Bloody weakness." Kingston got up from the desk and paced the dim back fringe of the office. "Albus, Minerva and Severus had pinpoint wandless control, and I've never come close to figuring out their secret. Almost makes you think Hogwarts faculty purposefully witheld some rather useful little gems of knowledge."

"Bully for them if they did; they're all gone."

"Eh." Kingston shrugged. "Severus, certainly — I picked up his body myself. Albus... well, I can't imagine anyone escaping that Fiendfyre."

"Nobody's seen Minerva since that day." Dora bit at her thumb.

"Well, Hagrid claimed he might have seen..." Kingston trailed off unenthusiastically.

"There's a lot that Hagrid claims he might have seen." Dora stood up, and began pacing. "He's never got his head together right again. Never seen a giant so broken."

"Oi Tanner." Kingston gave her a sour glance. "Since when did you get to be such a downer?"

"Since I got to know the kidders." Dora turned away. "It's one thing to protect a sprog you don't know; one who doesn't know you. But the closer you get to the tykes; the more you get to know what sharp, dedicated and wholesome young adults they've become, it... well, everything seems to matter a lot more than it used to, just as the noose is closing about us all."

"The kids." Kingston's eyes settled on her with a low, penetrating intensity; strong enough that she could feel it. Dora turned half way back to him, as he shook his head in a manner that was far from negative. "Didn't you tell me that Harry and Ginny had shown signs of magical awakening?"

"I know what you're thinking." Dora turned away again. "But they're too old, K. Every magical theory book will tell you that eleven is the best age to start learning, and they're twice that now. It'd take years to teach them anything useful now. And I reckon we barely have weeks, let alone years."

"Yes, yes, but there's a huge difference between Hogwarts classes and 'desperation learning'. Garrick always thought those Latinesque mumbles and frilly stick waving were pure foppery. He believed in a pure, natural expression of magical will. He used to say that the right wand in the right hand was magic the way magic was meant to be."

"Hello? Earth to Kingston?" Dora slapped her head. "We don't dare use any wands, let alone some mythical right wand! And you, yourself, just got done complaining about wandless, so forget it."

"We don't dare use any Ollivander wands, Dora." Kingston pursed his lips. Slowly, he reached up to the shelf beside him. With one strong hand, he lowered a heavy strongbox. "Which reminds me. There's something I've never shown you before."


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


"Well this is bloody frustrating." Harry scratched his head. "Almost every spell, charm or exercise talks about this or that 'wand' motion. Where the hell would we get a wand?"

"Dunno." Ginny scowled at Zygmunt Budge's 'Book of Potions'. "And where would anyone get ahold of any of these ludicrous ingredients? Acromantula venom? Erumpent horn? I'm beginning to think this is a daft waste of time."

Harry groaned. "Well, technically we'd be getting paid for this if we focused on making some more book classification labels." He reached vaguely in the direction of the Consolidated Edition of the International Standard Bibliographic Description... but his arm wasn't quite long enough to grasp it without shifting in his seat, and he couldn't quite summon the energy. He slumped back in his chair.

"Harry, it's nearly eleven." Ginny rubbed her eyes. "We're going to have to pack it in for the night and come back Saturday morning.

Harry nodded, stretching a bit to clasp her tired hand. He sighed. "I wish there was a way to do some of this magic though. The possibilities sound so tantalising; it's killing me to know if these spells are actually real."

"I think they must be." Ginny's eyes latched onto his. "We've both proven, just by accident, that we can make supernatural things happen. I zap things, and knock them over. You block spells. I make plonkers leave us alone; you reach out to people you love."

"But that's all just improvisation." Harry studied her. "And sure, I would assume that the old Magical community must have known much more sophisticated stuff than we've ever attempted. But I guess it never occurred to me that they would have written everything down in textbook form."

"Dora said they had a school." Ginny squeezed his hand, "Schools have texts, yeah?"

"Heh, of course." Harry grinned blearily. "Sorry, I'm sleepy and not thinking straight. Anyway, texts or no texts, they're not much good to us without a wand. About the only thing we can do is what we've always done, which is to just wing it, and-"

"Wing it, you say?" Despite her fatigue, a spark lit in Ginny's eye. She reached across, and fingered a line in Miranda Goshawk's 'Book of Spells'. After reading it carefully to herself, she waved across the room at a chair. "Wingardium Leviosa."

The chair bobbled a bit, then settled.

Harry pursed his lips. "I'm not sure if your pronunciation was quite right."

Ginny squinted at the page for a long moment, her lips silently trying to work out the bizarre phonetics. "Agh! Sod that." She whipped her hand toward the chair. "Fly, dammit!"

CRASSH!!

THUMP thudd clatter .

"Shite!" Harry stared at the plaster-dusted chair which, having bashed straight into the ceiling, now lay toppled on the floor with the remains of several shattered tiles. "Well, that was bloody brilliant! I'll gladly cover the damages, though I'm not quite certain how to explain it to Professor Appleblum."

"Oh my, yes." Ginny surveyed the mess. "But wait! While we're experimenting, I think there's a spell for fixing things. 'Reparo', or something like that?" She was about to raise her hand, but Harry shook his head.

"Let me try this one." Harry concentrated, applying the same effort characteristic of a mind finely trained to parsing complex music into an overlay of tones and voices. He compared the shards and dust of the collapsed tiles with several intact ones still on the ceiling. After about fifteen seconds, he lifted his hand and imagined the fragments raising up, and fitting back together.

And, in fact, they did.

And Harry and Ginny grinned at each other. Then, as one, their smiles sagged.

The sudden sobriety was not because they were any less pleased with themselves. Rather, it was dawning on them just how utterly exhausted they were.

Back to index


Chapter 17: Wall

Author's Notes:

Well, perhaps one of my better chapters.

Still in a two-week cycle.

Oh, and don't fret. You know your sentimental authour well enough to know that Harry will be okay.


Chapter 17. Wall


Hours after Harry and Ginny had wearily dragged themselves away from the CUL Library Archives, the lock turned on the door to suite 414.

In walked Professor Appleblum.

She surveyed a scene where about two thirds of the rare books had been removed from their crates, and stacked in piles. Three of them had been left lying open on the table.

At most, maybe ten of the several dozen volumes had been labeled.

Venturing to the far end of the room, she noted a patch of chalky substance dusted about the floor. The upper ridge of one of the heavy wooden study chairs had a white scuff mark along its upper frame.

Curious, she ran her hand slowly about the contours of chair for a moment. Her intent gaze crept slowly upward, and settled on a pair of ceiling tiles that were almost, but not quite, perfectly the same as the others. Reaching up, she waved her fingers beneath the tile.

She frowned in deep thought.

And then her eyes brightened.

Enlivened, she wandered over to the storage closets but, instead of reopening 414a, she went several feet further and unlocked 414b to peer in at an unusual assortment of items, including several oddly shaped brooms, an ornate stone basin, and a box.

Lifting the box lid, she was met with a soft whirring sound. Indeed, within the box, were various odd instruments. Several of them seemed to have gyroscope-like functions that had somehow, despite storage of unknown duration, remained active, almost as if they were small perpetual motion machines.

With a frown, both curious and a bit uncertain, she lifted one of the odd little devices and held it before her eyes for a long moment, before placing it back into the crate. Tucking the box under her arm, she relocked both 414b and the outer door, and made her way back down to her office.


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


Alarm clock ringing, Mione groaned, rubbed her eyes, thumped the offending little machine... then grinned.

She grinned because her sleep-fogged eyes had just fluttered onto a small paperback novel that was lying just beside the alarm clock.

This was the same novel she had so very recently spent a fascinating couple of hours talking about.

Talking with Lee Jordan. Rock musician. All-round nice fellow.

Charming and Funny.

Fit.

Very fit.

But, unfortunately, Lee seemed also to be a gentleman. As last evening had wended toward its close, Mione had begun to secretly wish his conduct might have gotten a tiny bit less... gentlemanly. Especially at the door, when the night's final farewells had grown nigh, and Mione's inviting smile had sought to, well, invite something ungentlemanly. Something bold? As in, perhaps, some lip-blistering snogging?

Regrettably, Lee had smiled in some sort of shy courtesy, kissed her hand, and gone out into the night.

Since when does a notable rock musician smile, kiss a girl's hand, and walk away?

A drummer, at that? There was much Mione did not understand about popular culture, but she had heard enough to know that drummers were supposed to be the wild ones.

Struggling up from bed, Mione wondered if she might have to rethink a few attitudes about celebrities, and revise her strategies accordingly?

Hmmm...

On one hand, logic told her that Lee might well be an anomaly — a genial, charismatic, but basically respectful sort who would (unfortunately) have been careful not to offend her. Or else, perhaps it reflected lingering uncertainties about his recent breakup.

By this point, Mione's grin had faded to an ambiguous heart flutter. She had begun to wonder if, by semi-consciously trying to land the affections of her room mate's boyfriend's older brother, she was interfering in some natural order? But what order? What could possibly be wrong with seeking a fun, healthy relationship that would foster (along with Ginny and Harry) a fun and fulfilling four-way friendship?

Agh! Men!

Why can't they at least obey general stereotypes?

Little crinkles of frustration settled about Mione's eyes. Despite more than two decades of studying the world around her, virtually half of the human race seemed to have nothing better to do than to completely baffle her. Especially cool young blokes like Lee.

What's worse,these were questions that even the library would be hard pressed to answer... though, perhaps, she might do better taking a furtive trip down to the off-license to find one of those trashy women's tabloids with splashy headlines proclaiming stuff like, 'Five Signs that Say You're in Love', 'Sex: How to Know You're Doing it Wrong', and, 'Is your Mid-Day Celery Habit Slowly Killing You?'

Amidst a few more vaguely disgruntled mutterings about men, she threw a robe around herself and stumbled out toward the kitchen, in search of a spot of tea and...

Gakkk!! A Foot?!

There was a foot extending out past the end of their chesterfield!

Eyes boggling, Mione plunged to a Karate crouch, creeping closer, warily, as her mind raced trying to recall whatever martial arts or self defence training she might ever have once been exposed to. Pressed against the wall, edging toward the corner, she crouched lower and-

"G'mornin', Mione." Ginny tapped her on the shoulder.

"Aighh!" Mione spun around.

"Huh?" Harry's leg kicked out in alarm, interspersed with a confused thump from just out of sight around the living room corner. "Ouch! Oi! Where?! Oh."

"Sorry sweets," Ginny called. "Mione seemed set to pounce on you, so I reckoned I'd best detonate her before things got... regrettable. Otherwise, I'd have hoped to let you sleep a bit more."

Ginny smiled at her room mate. "Didn't mean to alarm you Mione, but Harry and I didn't break from the library until nearly midnight last night, so I persuaded him to come crash in our living room. I presumed you mightn't object, given how you'd so recently proposed that he and Lee-"

"Ginny!" Mione hissed, then hurriedly stuck her neck around the corner to wave at a disheveled, still quite confused guest. "Good morning, Harry. Could I make you some tea?"

"Errr?" Harry ran a hand through his wild hair and squinted at this watch. "Uh, yes please, and thank you very much."

The ensuing hour proved to be mildly awkward, as Harry mostly kept to himself while the girls got ready for their day. With a bit of time left alone in the living room, he tried improvising a bit of magic that he had read about the previous night up in the Archives.

Harry's interest was fully practical, given that he had no personal effects with him, nor a change of clothes. Luckily, he managed one spell that passably approximated a fabric dry-cleaning, and another that seemed, bracingly, to give him something like a good scrub down. He attempted to straighten his hair but, for some reason, that completely failed.

Regardless, the net effect was adequate. In fact, it was good enough that Ginny, fresh from her own shower, gave him a knowing and approving wink, just before the official 'good morning' embrace.

Over a genial but hurried breakfast, he learned from Mione that Lee had visited the previous evening to chat about the Harry Potter books. Neither Ginny nor Harry pried for details, though Harry did reciprocate by offering Mione a brief update on the situation with Dean.

Through breakfast, Mione had an itching desire to ask about the previous night's session in the library... but time had already run short, and anything to do with old books seemed like a conversation best savoured leisurely.

A bit later, on campus after Mione had continued on heading south to her Law class, Ginny lingered at the foot of the library steps to grasp Harry's hands, pulling him in for a slow, luxuriant kiss. Reluctantly releasing him, she smiled. "Saturday morning then? Same place?"

"Saturday morning; same place." He grinned and touched her cheek. "But also feel free to wave and stop by if you see me stalking the halls here." He gestured toward the library.

"Surely." She winked. "But that reminds me, could you possibly give room 414 a quick light-of-the-day glance through to make certain we didn't leave things in too awful a state?"

"Good thinking — I'll head straight up and do that now, before things get busy." He gave a final wave, and hurried up the steps.

For a couple of seconds Ginny smiled, watching him go... Then the smile faded. She felt an unpleasant, uneasy tug on her mood. Shivering slightly, she pulled up the collar of her coat, and glanced across the frosty quad... just in time to see a young woman turn sharply away.

Ginny recognised the dark hair and tallish slouch.

It was Pansy Parkinson.


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


After having given the Rare Book Viewing Room a quick once-over (whisking away a bit of plaster dust; carefully stacking the volumes they'd left open) Harry was on his way back down to the ground floor to officially begin his daily duties when he happened upon a familiar face heading up the stairs. He smiled. "Good morning, Professor."

"Good morning, Harry." Professor Appleblum looked up. "Did you make much progress last night?"

"Er, a bit..." Harry pursed his lips. "Some of these classifications are tricky, though, and we seem to take quite a bit of time debating specific books and subjects."

"Of course, Harry. That's precisely the sort of consideration I'd hoped for when I asked Miss Smith to assist you. I value a job well done, so please take all the time you wish." The woman's eyes lit up for the fraction of a second before her staid exterior reasserted. "Were there any specific issues on which you might like a third opinion?"

"Ah." Harry nodded. "Yes actually. There were quite a few books that dealt with paranormal perception and mind control, but the traditional 134 classification for mesmerism and clairvoyance is no longer considered a valid index."

"Oh, have those concepts already gone out of fashion?" A flicker of amusement crossed Appleblum's face. "Well, if the volume is focused on technical instructions, you could file it under 131 for paranormal methods, while those that are merely theoretical concepts are covered by 130.1."

Harry nodded, committing the instruction to memory.

"But do go ahead and create a duplicate computer entry in category 134 anyway." The hint of a wry look crossed the woman's face. "For those old experts in the field who might still wish to find such references."

"Of course. I will." Harry nodded again, and smiled as the pair resumed their paths past each other on the steps.

It was nearly a half hour later, as Harry wheeled away a cart laden with some recently returned books, that another odd question popped into his head.

It was one he did not plan to ask his boss. But, given a series of half-impressions, odd exchanges, coincidences, and the fact that this woman actually expected people to find practical use for those rather exotic books, he was certainly curious.

Professor Appleblum, are you a witch?


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


Forever can begin,
Finally now, after
Fifteen years.


Harry locked into the F# above middle C, rising up in time with Shay's undulating rhythm, the final few plucked notes of Dean's pseudoclassical melody, and Lee's pitched drumming... then all instrumental parts subsided, leaving Harry to issue his final, atonal breath.


Fifteen years.


He sagged forward over the keyboard, hung for a moment on a memory of the note, then lifted his head and inhaled. "Brill, mates."

"A'right!" Lee rattled his snare, thoroughly pumped.

"Eh." Shay nodded, still grooving to the now-faded finale. "I'da feared it'd be tae mellow, but the power chords suit."

"Not bad." Dean frowned. "Not bad."

"It's comin' awesome, mates!" Lee grinned as he burst up from his chair. "Another few runs, and it'll be ready for the stage. But, we'll not worry about that no more tonight. Let's knock off. All grab another pint, then get yourselves home to rest for tomorrow."

The adrenaline fading, Harry backed slowly away from the keyboard and picked his way over to the chesterfield, careful not to trip over any of the cables. Closing his eyes, he slumped limply over the old piece of furniture.

Barely a minute later, it was only when Lee pressed a cold bottle against his arm that Harry realised he'd already drifted off, and his brother had already returned with a beer for him. He accepted the refreshment and downed nearly half of it, far more from thirst than any real appetite for alcohol.

"You're pretty knackered, mate?" Dean had taken a seat beside Harry.

"Quite knackered, yeah." Harry chuckled softly and re-opened his drooping eyelids. "Sorry, I was up late last night working some overtime at the library. Been going today pretty well non-stop, and tomorrow's another busy day. Shite, I hope I sleep well tonight."

"Yeah, me too." Dean yawned sympathetically, listening off-handedly as laughs drifted back from Lee and Shay in the kitchen. He took a drink of his beer and shrugged. "Well, the concert should be pretty energising, anyway. Is, uh, Ginny coming?"

"Likely not." Harry shook his head. "She's too busy."

"Oh?" Dean looked a bit surprised. "Oh, well I was hoping I might, er, be able to apologise. Lee asked me to, and I admit I really ought to."

"Ah." Harry took a long pull on his bitters. "Well, I'm not certain when next she'll be able to make it to a Stags concert, but I could just pass along your good intentions. She'll appreciate the sentiment."

"Well..." Dean blinked. "I, er, well. Okay. I guess. Thanks."

"No prob, mate."

"Right." Dean fidgeted a moment, then stood up. "Hey, there's something that I just remembered that I'd, uh, forgotten, and need to... do." He crossed the room and picked up his coat from a chair.

"You're taking off without Shay?" Harry frowned.

"Yeah." Dean shrugged. "You mind telling him I'll see him later, back at home?"

"Er, okay." Harry gave a puzzled glance toward the corridor; at the end of which (no more than twenty feet away) Shay and Lee were still chatting.

"See you tomorrow evening." Dean was already at the exit.

"Right." Harry waved. "See you tomorrow"

The outer door clicked, and Dean was gone.


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


"Ugh!" Ginny pushed her textbook away in disgust. "Swotting on a Friday night didn't always seem like such a bloody pitiful, tedious thing to do!"

Mione gave her a sympathetic look. "After you've gotten a taste of spicy nightlife, it's not easy to go back to old bangers and mash, Ginny. But we're both frightfully behind after all the recent excitement."

Ginny glared at her.

"Okay, okay." Mione smirked. "Another forty minutes, and let's cut for the night. I'll make popcorn, and we can watch some telly. Sky TV is running Melrose Place reruns."

"Melrose who?" Ginny tapped her chin. "Is that an American soap?"

"It is." Mione nodded. "It's supposed to be entertaining. A mix of drama, humour and romance. A little bit..." She coughed. "... er, sexy."

"What? Porridge isn't racy enough for you, Mione?"

Mione snorted.

Ginny's brow knotted in confusion. Since when was her roomie ever interested in 'sexy' entertainment? She shrugged. "Okay, another 38 minutes and we'll watch your smut."

"It's not smut." Mione pushed Ginny's textbook back into the younger girl's space. "Now get back to work."

Ginny stared blearily at the dense blocks of inane words in front of her. She tried to force them to align into coherent sentences, but they refused... so she groaned.

She knew, more than anything, that her struggles sprang from the simple fact that reading about the origins of Psychoanalysis was the last bloody thing in the world she wanted to be doing right now.

Why couldn't she be out dancing? Singing a bit, too. Not to mention the two or three pints that would brilliantly complement such activities.

But instead she was stuck here, agonising over Carl Jung, who likely couldn't distinguish between lager and ale, let alone dance or sing to save his repressed little id. And lord knows what manner of hyperventillation might overcome the poor wee prude during an hour's worth of watching slutty American actresses act out stereotypical Southern Californicating neuroses.

Neuroses...?

Ginny tapped her lip.

Staring back down at a random chunk of fine print in front of her, words began to resolve themselves into a form of nonsense that was finally at least somewhat intelligible:


... almost invariably leads to an unconscious incestuous relationship with the father. The intensified Eros places an abnormal emphasis on the personality of others. Jealousy of the mother and the desire to outdo her become the leitmotifs of...


She sniggered.

Okay, then.

Perhaps Mione was going to regret the choice of television programs.


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


Dora ran a hand through her hair, which glistened amidst the drizzle and throbbing lights. She stared at (but no longer truly saw) the two badly pranged vehicles being strung onto the trailer of a police lorry. Turning away, she cursed.

She knew she was quite capable of magicking her way out of this mess but, having been first on the scene, she was aware of her legal commitment to assisting the inspector. And this responsibility was accentuated by the fact there had been fatalities.

Beyond that, she knew the sorts of concerns Kingston had about any conspicuous displays of magic. In particular, his government contract had led him to learn just enough about Task Force 13 (a top-secret Muggle service that had been formed after the 1987 uproar to deal with suspicious paranormal 'activities and conduct') to be very conservative about attempting spells or charms without good reason, and exceptional caution.

To hear Kingston tell it, Task Force 13 might have done nearly as much to drive the remnant Magical community underground as even the Godric's Hollow battle itself. He could list easily a dozen witches and wizards who had definitely survived the battle, only to later disappear; Kingston never claimed to have proof that those people had been taken by Tf13... but something about the mystery had made him, and Dora, very cautious around authourities.

And this was why Dora mustered her best 'harriedly helpful' look and followed the inspector out toward the twisted metal median.

"Not t' disbelieve you, miss, but I don' reckon it adds up." The inspector sounded as harried as Dora felt. "How coulda he ha' leaped the rail if traffic flow wasn't going an' more than 50 kph?"

"I honestly haven't a clue." Dora's voice quivered slightly with a tension normal for someone who had just barely evaded a freak accident. "One moment everything was moving on all peachy; the next I see the lorry's headlamps flying up over, straight into our lane. I barely managed to squeeze out onto the walkway, but poor bloke in the Citroën hadn't even a quarter second to react."

The man stared for a long moment at the mess of glass and rain-slicked petrol... then breath leaked out of him. "A'right, well thank'ee Miss. Sorry for yer inconvenience. Give us another fifteen minutes, and I'll clear a lane so ye can get yerself back on yer way."

"Fifteen minutes?" Dora fixed him with a look that was half-discouraged, half-hopeful.

"Best I can do, aye?"

Nodding, Dora retreated to her Rover, wondering whether there was any chance the Stags' show up at Under Solo might run a bit late? Or whether Harry might feel sociable tonight, and kick back for a decent while after the show — time enough to sip a couple drinks, and wait for a tardy driver to show up?

Those were questions she wasn't equipt to answer yet. All she knew was that, amidst all the havoc of bobbies and parameds blundering about, she didn't quite dare send a Patronus to Kingston to warn him that nobody was minding Under Solo. On one hand, it was possible that nobody had detected the little bit of space-bending she'd done to escape the accident, but the very accident itself had just the slightest bit of an odd whiff, and it was equally likely that someone deep below Thames House, Milbank, was now on high alert...


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


"... then it's obvious that the loft keys are phallic symbols." Ginny gestured at the television. "Sam tossing them at Craig is a blatant thrust at his Oedipal insecurities, and..."

"Stop it!"

"Stop it?" Ginny blinked innocently. "Surely, you don't think that Sam-"

"No!" Mione threw a cushion, which Ginny deflected. "They've broken for commercials and I need more popcorn."

As Mione headed for the kitchen, Ginny glanced at the clock. "9:27. Show's almost over."

"Huh?" Mione glanced back toward the television. "No, it's just about half-... Oh, you're referring to the Stags' concert?"

"I am." Ginny stared out the window toward distant street lamps. "I wonder how they did tonight?"

"I'm sure they did brilliantly." Mione again turned for the kitchen

"Hope so." Ginny leaned back on the chesterfield. Ignoring the lame prattle on the telly, she let her eyes close. Then they flashed open. "Shite."

"What is it?" Mione studied Ginny's face. "Whatever is the matter?"

"Bloody hell." Ginny's eyes looked haunted.

"What is it?! Tell me!"

"I don't have a sodding clue." Ginny burst from the couch, making straight for the coat rack. "All I know is I'm going to Camden Town, Mione, and you're coming with me."


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


"... To the place with golden streets."


The Mysti Stag's cover for Creed's hit song 'Higher' always hit deep. Harry did not have anything of Scott Stapp's mesmerising vocal gravel, but he could drop low and smooth enough to lure a darkened sea of cigarette lighters into dream-like sway.

Shay's deep bass faded into nothingness, and silence fell about the basement.

Then a whistle burst. And cheers, and thundering stomps and claps.

And a light came up to gleam over the band's perspiring faces. Harry clinched an exultant, shivering fist. Then, after several frozen euphoric seconds, he turned away from the crowd, stumbled toward the nearest familiar face he could recognise (Shay) and gasped. "Oi. I'm bloody wiped."

"Looks like ye need help, mate." Shay grinned, reaching for Harry's arm. "Show me your best vein, an' I'll start a beer line drippin'."

"Ugh." Harry recoiled, looking something between amused and appalled; not certain whether his friend was serious.

Shay laughed. He did still latch onto Harry, but it was only to help him off stage.

Harry took a bit longer than usual to shower and, by the time he had toweled off, the dressing room had gone quiet. For a moment, he considered attempting his meditation, but he really wasn't certain he could muster enough focus to even do that properly.

Once dressed, he made his way to the door, hoping to find Dora available to drive him home... but no such luck.

Frowning, he checked his watch, did a few quick transit calculations, and nodded. If he roused himself to action, he ought to be able to catch the N29 bus up Camden Road to Hillmarton, and from there he'd be within a five minute stroll of home.

Instead of following left and back through the club, he hurried up the corridor and was making a right turn toward the performers' lift when, out of the corner of his eye, something flickered.

Glancing about, Harry's eyes settled about thirty feet back down the hall upon a silvery something... a shiny pendant perhaps... hanging around Dean Thomas's neck.

"Oi, Harry mate!" Dean waved. He was smiling, though there was slight tension about his eyes. "Where you skiving off to? You not leaving us already?"

"Hey Dean." Harry turned. "I'm, er, just going for a breath of air; clear my head. I'll join you all in a few minutes."

It was a lie, of course. He wasn't particularly good at it, but then again he did it so rarely that most people wouldn't know one way or another. Dean regarded him carefully, looking oddly conflicted about something, but then he shrugged. "Very well, then. I'll tell the rest to save you a pint."

"Thanks!" Harry waved as the lift door opened. A minute later, he exited the building, carefully closing the balky street-side door as he stepped out into the dusky fluorescent lighting of Arlington Road.

He hadn't gone two hundred feet down the street, when he felt an odd, non-distinct shiver.

Pausing, he turned and gazed back up the street.

Nobody was there. All seemed quiet... but one small detail caught his eye.

The performer's door leading back down into Under Solo was three inches ajar.


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


"Can't you even offer the vaguest clue what this is all about?!" Bracing herself through the bus's shudders, Mione pulled herself out of the seat to follow Ginny.

"No." Ginny vibrated on the bottom step, ready to pop if the door didn't soon op-

Clatter!

"Run!" Ginny leapt to the kerb, reaching back to grab Mione's hand. "This way!"

Nearly catching her foot on the rough pave, Mione let out a semi-profane squawk. Looking left as Ginny pulled right, Mione called out, "Ginny, isn't the fastest way into Inverness Market off Camden High? Why are we...?"

"Because Harry would make for the nearest N29 bus stop." Ginny vaulted up the dark lane, jolting her confused room mate's vice-gripped arm.

"Bus? But shouldn't Dora be...?"

"I don't know where Dora is, Mione." Ginny skidded to a stop on Arlington Road; Mione nearly piling into her. Ginny squinted down toward the quiet N29 bus stop. "It's possible she picked up Harry and everything's perfectly fine, but something's got me all bothered about..."

Ginny's sentence hung in for air for a moment as she caught her breath. Then, glancing the other direction, up the street toward the club, she gasped. "Shite. Over there!"


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


The instant Harry took a wary step back toward Under Solo, three dark shapes materialised, triangulating toward him with nearly wolf-like precision.

Apparently sensing they'd been spotted, their leader, a tall figure approaching from across the street, shot out with something sharp and scintillating, like a magnesium flare.

Flailing upwards with his fist, Harry deflected the spark away skyward, even as he was turning to knock back some percussive blast coming from his foe on the right. Skidding on a piece of wayward rubbish, he stumbled against the side of a building and shuddered to a halt. Pressed back into the bricks to cut down the angles, he managed, just barely in time, to scatter a stunner.

By lucky chance, random bits of knowledge from Wednesday's book sorting were still flitting through his head, and... something occurred to him about spell blocking? Something about... a general shielding spell?

Half-desperate, knowing that he couldn't keep flailing about with his hands trying to stop three attackers, he thrust his energy into imagining...

A thin shimmering hemisphere; a barrier; pulsing outward!

For several wild seconds, the surprisingly robust shield easily blocked a tripartite flurry of spells. Then everything fell silent as the hoods all paused to appraise the unexpected development.

Chest heaving, Harry assessed the predicament. He seemed momentarily safe from the incoming hexes, but he was nonetheless trapped. He couldn't attempt offensive spells without dropping the shield, and any attempt at escape would expose his back.

His back...?

A sickening pulse of worry flashed through Harry's veins, as he pondered the stout, solid stone wall behind him. The shield he'd erected was doing a reasonable job of protecting his body from magical projectiles, but what would happen is the enemies decided to strike the-?

BOOM!

Stones shivering against him, Harry felt, rather than saw, the blast. From his adversary's wand angle, Harry knew that the thug across the street had just pounded an upper story of heavy bricks above him.

Then came the sickening grind of crumbling rubble.

Rousted from cover, acting on pure instinct, Harry leapt outwards, dropping his shield to unleash a hard pulse of blistering force straight at his attacker.

Caught a split second short of his triumph, the tall man howled as Harry's blast slammed into his shoulder, rending half his cloak to ribbons, and knocking him to the pavement.

Yet Harry's instinct, while brilliant, was short of the mark. It had not occurred to him to check whether he had jumped far enough clear of the wall.

A cry rang out from down the street, startling Harry into a belated forward dive...

... but he did not dive quite far enough. The effort spared Harry's head and torso, but a fused block of bricks tumbling out from the wall caught him flat in the back. Lurid sparks of pain flashing in his eyes, Harry half-glimpsed a second villain taking deadly aim... but the crook keeled face-forward as Ginny sprinted headlong into the fray, exchanging wild shots with the last enemy fighter still standing.

Tumbling sideways onto a pile of rubble, Harry leaped up to help his girlfriend.

But it was only his mind that leaped. Unfortunately his body could not.

Harry couldn't feel anything from the waist down. Caught between desperate need to assist, and blinding of wave nausea, he slumped back to the gritty tarmac, barely able to move or even vomit.

For a moment he still wracked his mind, trying to find his way toward regaining his feet... but then even that effort staggered and began spinning away toward deep, cloying, putrescent sensations of sleep. Clinging to a final shred of consciousness, he vaguely registered one last noise.

It was the voice of Dora Tanner cursing like a sailor.

Back to index


Chapter 18: Awakenings

Author's Notes:

Compared to what comes after, this is an incremental installment, though it got pretty fun with the editing. Chapter 19 and 20 are nutso -- a hoot to write!

We're close to the end, plotwise, but I actually have to laugh because I still don't know many chapters are left. My best guess is we'll end at 23, but who the hell knows :)

Anyway, we're still rolling for a while.


Chapter 18. Awakenings


Grasping for any tendril of reality, Harry tried to key on Dora's voice, but words slipped quickly away, stretching into an atonal, deadening drone.

Cold, soporific fumes swept in around Harry, pulling him away, down, sinking deeper toward...

No. The descent suddenly halted.

Still chilled and numb, Harry found his feet on a solid floor, both mysterious and strangely familiar.

He was standing in the dark stone chamber of his dreams; the ponderous oaken door stood behind him, still ajar from his efforts. He held out his hand, clutching the golden wedding band. A voice issued. His voice. His voice as a child; clear and distinct, although a bit quivery.

"I had to find you." Trembling, Harry forced open his fingers.

"Is that...?" A little girl's voice ensued; timid; puzzled; curious. "How did...?"

"This is y-..." Harry's leaden heart seemed to wilt; he tried to suppress a sob. "It's your Mum's ring. She wanted you to have it c-cuz she... she couldn't..."

Shuddering, Harry struggled for the breath to continue. "She saved me, we escaped, but a beam fell on her, and she was just lying there as the flames spread, and I tried to pull her, honestly I tried, and she moved a few inches, but... but... but then she put the ring in my hand and she made me promise to run ahead through the tunnel and leave her, cuz otherwise I'd never... I had to..."

"You had to find me." Still a bit shaken, Ginny's voice had suddenly acquired her full 2002 resonance. "All those years ago, you found me. They had us locked away separately, but you somehow broke out, to find me? To give me my Mum's ring?"

"Yes." Harry opened his eyes, failing to make much sense of a blurred stretch of darkened Arlington Road residences, yet also buoyed by a shimmer of hair that was deepest russet in the low light.

"And then we were caught and separated." Ginny's wide eyes met his. "We were sent away. Fifteen years ago. Lost to each other for fifteen years."

"I guess so. I'm confused." Indeed, Harry's head was suddenly confronted with disorienting flashbacks to this evening's pitched battle with dark-cloaked criminals, all swirling against the fading backdrop of a childhood nightmare that had never been fully removed from his mind, but also lilting along with the lyrics of his most recent song...

Lest confusion overwhelm him again, he concentrated on his anchoring grace — the face above him, beautiful yet gravely concerned. Weakly, he tried to reach a hand to her.

"It's okay, Harry." Mopping his brow, Ginny caught his hand and set it to rest back on his chest. "You found me then, and I found you now. We always find each other, love. Now listen, I think Dora mended your spine. Can you move your legs?"

Obediently, Harry twisted one foot, slightly, feeling the rough contours of a chunk of masonry near his ankle. "Yeah." He nodded.

"Pain?" She reached and wedged her thumb firmly in between the major muscles of his right calf. "On a scale of one to ten?"

"Ergh..." Harry bit his lip. The thumb pressure produced a twitchy, jumpy sensation rather like landing a bad jump. But, beyond that, he felt okay. His back was scraped and bruised, but there were no other obvious injuries. "I'd say, uh, four?"

"Oh, thank god." Ginny released his leg and squeezed his hand. "Okay, Dora told me to get you out of here before the authourities arr- No, no, Harry! Don't try to get up, I can manage."

"Huh?" Harry ceased his attempt to struggle to his feet. "How are we to get out unless..."

Before Harry could struggle any further, Ginny pushed a scuffed old ascot into his hand. Wrapping her arms around him, she pulled him into a close, protective embrace. "Sorry Harry. I was told this may feel a bit... unpleasant."

Everything jolted. Harry's tenuous return to normalcy was spun back into a sickening swirl almost as horrid as his near brush with coma and paralysis. Fortunately, the sensation was brief and, no more than two seconds later, he felt his shoulders, back and legs (and Ginny) land somewhere soft.

Groaning, he reopened his eyes and, through a partial curtain of Ginny's hair, he glimpsed his very own checkered quilt, and a familiar wall of old concert posters.

"Ah." Harry closed his eyes again and let his limbs fall limp. "Home."


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


"Ginny!" Mione burst from her fretful pacing over near the Harry's bedroom window. "Is he all right? Are you okay?"

Ginny carefully pulled herself off her now-sleeping boyfriend and got to her feet, blinking as she processed where she was. Turning to her room mate who looked pale and strained, Ginny held her arm out and pulled the older girl into a hug. "I'm fine, Mione. And Harry's okay. Dora said he had two cracked vertebrae, but she fixed them well enough that — damned fool — he nearly made it to his feet."

"Cracked vertebrae? Fixed?" Mione pulled back, gaping first at Harry, then Ginny.

"Magic." Ginny shrugged. "Harry himself proved he could fix a couple of ceiling tiles. That's hardly the same as human surgery, but Dora's been practising this stuff a lot longer than we have."

Wide-eyed, Mione nodded. After staring at Harry resting on his bed, she then slumped forward again to resume the embrace with Ginny.

Mione loose a ragged breath. "Ginny, this has to stop! It's just been attack after attack after attack, and now Harry's been hurt; nearly killed. We... we simply can't go on like this."

"I know." Ginny inhaled. "We've got to break the cycle. When Dora gets back, we need to-"

POP!

The girls jumped as Dora stumbled into the room, arms out, bracing as she thudded into the wall. Dusting herself off, she scowled. "I got nothing. Dark dorks all Portkeyed out before I could nab anybody, or even ID them. Didn't get much reconn either — bloody Scotland Yard started swarming, practically the instant you and Harry got out."

"That's frustrating." Ginny separated from Mione. "Sorry to hear that."

"Eh, well, whatever." Dora turned to the two girls, a semi-disapproving look on her face. "So that was quite the touch-and-go, eh? Kudos to Granger for squeezing the coin, but what took you so bloody long? If you'd buzzed me even 30 seconds earlier things might have gone quite a bit smoother."

"We'd truly only just arrived," Mione protested. "We'd barely even laid eyes on the, uhhh..."

"And what were you doing in Camden in the first place?" Dora raised a sharp eyebrow. "I though you two were laying low this weekend, on account of, school and stuff?"

It did occur to Mione to wonder just how Dora had reached that (fairly accurate) assumption, but the question was valid. "Uh, right. Why were we there, Ginny? You never properly explained."

"Premonition." Ginny shuffled awkwardly. "I just had this sense that Harry could be in imminent danger. And I didn't have any details, Dora. I had no 'who', 'what' or 'where', so it seemed pointless to pester you. For all I knew, it was no more than some flighty hunch."

Dora rubbed her jaw reflectively. "Eh, well from now on, you pester me with your hunches. Both of you."

The girls nodded.

After surveying the pair for a moment, Dora pointed a finger at Ginny. "Magic."

"Er, magic?" Ginny didn't quite parse Dora's comment.

"Magic. You did rather a lot of it." Dora's eyes narrowed analytically. "In the brief time it took me to run up and get close enough to fire my own spells, I saw some... exploits. I believe I watched Harry switch pretty effortlessly from a pretty tough shield to a sharp little percussive? Pretty good punch, whatever it was. And you, GinSmith — you face-planted one stinker, then shot off... what? Six or eight nasty little lightning bolts before Plonker to the north ducked behind the lorrie to Portkey."

Ginny shrugged.

"Well, the bad news..." Dora began pacing, "... is that you lot lit up the street like drunken Guy Fawkes brigands, and that's bound to attract unwanted attention."

Ginny nodded, chastened.

"Heh." Dora smirked to herself for a moment. "Well, I assume we'll all be reading tomorrow about a 'Real IRA' truck bomb on Arlington Road, but I strongly suspect there will be a few blokes in Her Majesty's service who will have much sharper guesses about what really happened."

Ginny swallowed; Mione went pale.

"But the good news is that I did a sweep of the scene before making the final plunge. One CCTV camera on the street was dead, and the other was directed at a harmless angle. I think the only ones who saw you were the Eaters themselves, and they're too frightened of the government to risk ratting on you."

The girls exhaled.

"Furthermore." Dora chewed her lip, nodding thoughtfully. "You and Harry faced a trio of hardened thugs and, if not for a few bricks, you would have had 'em. K will be totally amped, but damn..." She shook her head at the sight of Harry resting peacefully on the bed. "Things are moving way too bloody fast."


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


That evening, Professor Appleblum retrieved from her desk the box of odd instruments, and opened it to reexamine the contents. Tucked well to one side, amidst thick old cotton wadding, was one object that seemed almost to resemble an archaic Walkman music player with somewhat clumsy ear pieces, attached by filaments to a boxy little ceramic cask.

Appleblum carefully avoided that one.

Instead, she retrieved one of the spinning, gyroscope-like tools, confirming that it was likely the source of the noise she had heard earlier.

A while ago, when she had been down at the end of the hall making coffee, she had heard the whirring sound rise up and briefly escalate to a near feverish pitch — loud enough to be heard from within the box inside her drawer, nearly one hundred feet away. However, by the time the coffee had finished percolating, she had returned to her office to find the noise dwindled again to a normal background hum.

Throughout the next while, the instrument continued along in a low steady state, but she couldn't get the surge out of her mind. The implications consumed her thoughts. Pages of work were strewn across her desk, largely unread; passages on her computer remained untyped. Her every moment seemed to be divided between glancing at the spinner on her desk, and searchingly peering out the window to the deep Clerkenwell night.

A few minutes before 11 p.m., she absently reached for her coffee. Finding it down to a single long-cold swallow, she briefly considered brewing another cup, but decided not. Instead, she seemed, finally, to reach a resolution.

This anxious night had worn on long enough. The time for debate was over. She would attempt the one thing that her conscience been nagging her to try.

From the chest, she removed a second gyroscope-like object, and placed it on her desk next to its ever-spinning twin. Unlike the first device, this one was silent and stationary. Carefully positioning it, she stared at the apparatus for a long moment, as if preparing for a task that demanded exertion and focus.

Several times in the past, by way of experiment, she had activated this second device. Those early experiments had produced interesting results. This time, her motivation was no longer a matter of interest, but rather seemed fated; imperative.

She could not afford to get this wrong.

Taking one final breath, she placed two stabilizing fingers on the central spindle, then tapped the spinner, sending it into whirl.

Clenching her eyelids shut in concentration, she heard the spinner's soft mechanical whir accelerate. Listening with silent, cat-like intensity, she stretched her senses, searching for an ultrasonic sensation that normal human ears would never detect.

Yet Appleblum did indeed feel it; she recognised its plaintive call pulsing out into the night, and she silently added her voice; her plea.

After several minutes, as the device gradually slowed to silence, she opened her eyes, exhaled and finished her last mouthful of coffee.

Wearily, she struggled into her coat, and made her way out of the library, convinced now with near certainty that tomorrow would be a very busy day.


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


Thanks to distant street lamps penetrating her thin curtains, Angie Johnson could make out the hands of her clock.

She wished she couldn't.

Growling in frustration, she shoved aside her pillow, slid a pair of slippers onto her feet, and shuffled over to the window. She parted the curtains and gazed down to a quiet night time view of Boulevard de Verdun. For moments that dragged into minutes, she gazed into the darkness of the northern sky, wondering what she was searching for; why she felt so drawn to the window.

A part of her wished she was more drawn to sleep.

Ever since she had returned to campus after the harrowing Valentine's Day trip, her nights had been fitful. She had hoped that establishing final closure with Lee would have eased her mind, and afforded her full attention to her graduate research and l'hockey sur gazon... which brought to mind an all-squad practice scheduled for 7 a.m. tomorrow.

Bleh.

Groaning, she stepped quietly over to her study desk, switched on the elbow lamp, and angled it up against the wall to keep the light low. Opening the bottom drawer, her hand felt down below a pile of binders, and located a leather-bound book. Retrieving it, she began wistfully browsing its pages of old photos.

... Herself, with several childhood friends at Coopers School in Bromley...

... Backstage with Lee and Harry at Boardmasters '99...

... Lee, asleep on the chesterfield...

... Day out at Stonehenge, with Lee and Harry...

Angie sighed, trying to parse a flood of emotions that did not quite mesh with the lovelorn. She was not even the homesick. It was almost like she was...

She was needed?

Angie froze, studying her hands — alarmed by the rigid, clenched way they gripped the picture book. She stared at the raised tendons; at a tremble that was well beyond what a late night and poor sleep should warrant.

Laying the album down on her desk, she angled back in her chair. After taking a series of deep, calming breaths, she stood and pulled from her shelf a much smaller book.

It was the Eurostar Rennes to Paris to London rail schedule.


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


By the time Lee came racing up the steps to the bedroom, his younger brother had awakened.

With legs angled over the side of the bed, Harry stretched and (with Ginny's firm steadying hand) placed both feet on the floor. Solidly.

Puzzled, but still sensing the enormity of the moment, Lee stood frozen in the doorway as, with a bit of a shudder, Harry leaned forward and rose to a standing position.

Everyone in the room loosed a deep sigh. Handy to the door, Mione put her arm around Lee and pulled him tight, beaming joyfully. "He did it! He truly will be fine."

Reflexively reciprocating Mione's hug, Lee scanned the taut relieved faces, then gasped. "He was hurt in the explosion? Arlington Road? The bobbies were saying it might have been Real IRA, and I was worried, but..."

The others blinked at Lee, not quite certain where to begin.

"It's all sorted, mate." Dora extended an arm to pry the elder Jordan away from Mione.

Dora led Lee to a seat on the bed just vacated by Harry, then gestured toward Mione. "If Granger would kindly raid Lee's medicine chest for a bottle of whiskey, then I reckon it's time we all sat for a bit of a heart-to-heart."


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


From somewhere within a dank, sickening fugue, Ronnie Smith smelled whiskey.

The smell, in fact, came from a sticky, half-dried spill mere inches from his nose.

Hauling himself back through a dizzying swirl of nausea, Ronnie's eyelids drooped open, then he spent a minute trying to make sense of the gem-like glimmers refracted from the spilt tumbler lying on the study table.

That was when he realised that the burnished golden glisten was... a sugary alcoholic residue gluing his face to the desk.

Bloody hell...

Moaning, he began the deplorable task of loosening his skin and hair from the sticky mess.

Finally bobbing to a sitting position, he hung his head in shame, wondering what depravity could have possibly have dragged him so low; to have wasted a Saturday afternoon and evening, alone in his dorm room, accompanied only by a too-large bottle of spirits.

Teetering the rest of the way to his feet, he stumbled out into the corridor of the Cardiff Met University residence. In the WC, he splashed waves of cold water over his face, then finally straightened up, and stared into the mirror.

Oi.

He looked appalling — an utter wastrel; sunken eyes and rusty stubble atop sallow skin. Never before, no matter the poverty, dejection, isolation or hardship, had he ever cratered like this.

He had never sunk to such filth, because Ginny had never let him.

And there it was.

Ronnie Smith may have grown to despise England, and he may have sincerely believed he could escape the drudgery, rise up elsewhere, and make a name in his own right... but his hopes and dreams had taken him far from his only remaining family and, at this moment, he couldn't deny how he desperately missed her.

After all, no matter much of a bossy arse Ginny could be at times, Ronnie knew damned well that she loved him, that she understood him, and that she would always be his friend.

And friends seemed in short supply these days.

Sighing, he made his way back to his room. Grabbing a note pad and pen from his shelf, he steered clear of the sodden desk and sat on his bed. In the low light from his lamp, he began to write.


Dear Ginny,

I apologise for having not written in a while, but I've really appreciated your letters. I'm delighted to hear how life has gone so well for you recently, and I'm pleased that your boyfriend seems like a good bloke.

Unfortunately I can't say things are quite so cheery here. I think I'm battling depression, and maybe need a bit of a break. Actually, I'd very much like to come see you; to get away from university for a few days, and hopefully get my head on straight again.

I'm considering catching a train to London soon. With luck, this letter will reach you before I do, and hopefully you'll not mind setting aside a spot on your floor for me.

See you soon!

Your brother,

Ronnie.


With somewhat shaky hand, he inked Ginny's address on an envelope, discovered that he actually did still have postage stamps, and rose in the darkness to post the letter. Yet, by the time he'd gone down two flights of stairs to locate the mail box, he'd suddenly realised there was no point in sending anything.

Instead, Ronnie found himself heading straight back up the steps to pack his duffel.

He couldn't recall exactly when the morning train to London was scheduled, but he knew he was going to be on it, and he could only hope that his sister would not mind an unannounced visitor.


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


She called it 'The Awakening Game'.

Many years ago, Ginny had begun the habit of gradually rousing herself in advance of the alarm. Even as the dawn was slowly breaking, she would lie there perfectly still with her eyes shut. And she would imagine.

As a girl, she would imagine that the world was a better, more interesting place. She need not resign herself to another morning rising to a cold house with scuffled walls and rattling pipes. She could banish from her mind dreary thoughts of her morning chores, attending to old Mrs. Smith, counting out the pills, freshening the woman's water glass... emptying and cleaning the bed pan.

Instead, within those precious minutes before the alarm, the possibilities were endless, and glorious.

Some mornings she would go flying — woods and fields rolling beneath her; wind whipping through her hair. Other times, she was a princess in the high tower of some magical castle, preparing for a day laden with pageantry and heady matters of state. Other mornings, she was a mountaineer, steeling herself to surrender the warmth of her sleeping bag, rise to the nip of thin frosty air and ready her gear for that final brave trek from base camp up to the top of the world.

There were numerous other scenes that Ginny could choose to awaken to, but this morning seemed to offer something she had never before experienced.

Everything was somehow different.

The bed beneath her seemed unfamiliar to the touch. Her think woolen covers felt...

Nonexistent?

And that is when she understood that she had fallen asleep, fully clothed, lying atop someone else's bed — enough of a shock-realisation for Ginny to break the old rule and open her eyes.

And her eyes remained wide, for what Ginny beheld, at very close quarters, was a tufted head of dark hair, that almost certainly belonged to...

She grinned, closed her eyes, and settled back, basking in the knowledge that, breathing softly beneath her outstretched arm, was the tranquil form of a young man she was pretty certain she would spend the rest of her life with.

Floating in contentment, she let her wandering mind fill in the hazy back story. Recollections of the late night filtered across — memories of whiskey, of an endless series of Dora Tanner questions, of more whiskey to coax the answers. Eventually things devolved to loose speculations, yawns, increasingly ridiculous jests, and deeper yawns.

Mione had drifted off first. Sitting in Harry's armchair, Mione's head had drooped and startled least five times before Lee finally noticed. That is when Lee had made his courteous offer — suggesting that he sleep downstairs so that the two girls could take his (reputedly quite spacious) bed across the hall.

Mione may have accepted the proposed arrangement but Ginny, obviously, had not.

Ginny vaguely recalled considering the offer but somehow, when everything else had sorted out, she had never budged from her preferred location. And that was the tale of how she had come to spend the night draped protectively over a treasure that, in the heat of last night's gripping misadventure, she had come far too close to losing.

Lying here, now, no longer feeling the slightest interest in old games of pretend, she knew it had been neither whiskey, nor sleepiness, nor even lust that had kept her on Harry's bed. And now, she had no idea what could possibly ever make her leave such a perfect-

THUMPP!

"Bugger off, Dora." Not bothering to open her eyes, Ginny flicked her hand tetchily at the approaching footsteps. "Go. Get out. If you're not gone in three seconds, I swear I'll-"

"Carry-out from Camino Kings Cross!" Dora raised a large sack in offering. "Now, hup hup! You two promised to take me to the library today."

"What?" Harry groaned, rubbing his eyes. "What blithering idiot decided that?"

Dora merely grinned as she cleared off Harry's work table, and began pulling aromatic cartons of breakfast from the sack.

Conquered finally by the smell of food, the weary pair struggled off the bed, stretched their various limbs and yawned.


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


When the rustling and clatter began downstairs, Shay followed his usual strategy of trying to bury his head deeper into a feather pillow.

Shay was never an early riser, but motivation was especially lacking today. Utilities damage from last night's terrorist blast on Arlington Road had scotched tonight's Under Solo gig, so he could sleep pretty well all day if he wanted to. That in mind, he settled in, expecting to snooze off straight away...

But he failed.

A quick peek toward his ragged curtain told him it was mid-morning, and sunny.

He honestly couldn't recall the last time he'd ever been awake to see a sunny Saturday mid-morning. But, then again, last night had not been normal. Street-wide power outages often had the potential to throw the usual post-concert party plans into disarray, and the adrenaline of an emergency scramble back up to street level amidst Under Solo's spare low-watt backup lighting had been an effective way to shed one's happy buzz in a hurry.

Of course, Shay had still tried to salvage the situation. Not lacking for energy, he'd suggested his best mate accompany him on a crawl about the pubs down by the locks. Unfortunately, Dean had seemed oddly withdrawn, almost sullen, and dragged his heels at every step. So finally, the pair had simply shared Lee's cab back northwards and let it be.

As a result, it had been a bloody early bedtime, which likely explained why Shay was so bloody wide awake now.

Yawning, he rolled out of bed, found his robe, shuffled out of his room, and started down the steps. Hearing more restless clattering in the kitchen, he shouted, "Oi Deaner, wot a ruckus! Since when'd ye become a herd of bulls, eh?"

"Sorry." Dean's face appeared, glancing up the stairs for a moment before plunging into a heavy wool jumper.

Shay blinked. "Ye're heading out already? This is Saturday, i'n't it?"

"Yes." Dean's head re-emerged. "Spending the day over at Wolf."

"Huh. Thought that was only Sundays?"

"Not today, it's not." Scowling, Dean strode for the door.

"Oi! No need t'get shirty, mate!" Shay frowned. "What time ye'll be home?"

"I don't know! Would you leave me the fu...!" Dean's face tensed, twisted, then sagged. "Sorry. I don't know. I don't know what this is all about, but I'm wanted there today, and... and... I don't know..."

Shay stared. "Deaner, no 'ffence mate, but ye're lookin' kinda shattered. You outta sorts from last night's emergency?"

"Shite." Dean's arms fell to his sides. "I don't know. I... I don't really want to go to Wolf. I-I don't like that outfit much anymore."

"Well quit, then." Shay shrugged. "Foi-Black sound like miserable arses, an' it's not as if y'need 'em anyway. We've lots of gigs rollin'. Stags'll pay the bills an' bottles quite well, I reckon."

"Quit? Foi-Black?" Dean swallowed. "Well, er, I guess I could consider..."

"Do it!" Shay grinned. "'Sides, it's a right pretty morn, mate. Been f'rever since we got out ta kick some footie down on the green. Call yer ponces and tell 'em ye'll not be making it in today."

"I, uh..." Dean smiled uneasily. "Yeah sure. Why not. Let me go find the ball; I think I left it in the back closet."

"O'rright!" Shay flashed a thumbs-up and turned back up the stairs to get dressed. A minute later, he was back downstairs, heading toward the kitchen. "Yo, Deaner. Find the leather?"

Not hearing an answer, he stopped by the sink to pour himself a glass of water. That's when he noticed that the closet was closed and seemingly untouched.

Shrugging, Shay wandered over, opened the squeeky door, and gingerly peered inside. Their ball was still there, half buried in a loose stack of empty bottles. Carefully extracting it, Shay tucked the ball under his arm and made his way up toward the front room. "Oi! All set, Dean?"

Still no answer, though Shay saw that the front door was unlocked.

"Wait up, mate!" Exiting to the front step, Shay expected to find his mate waiting on the street...

But no. There was no Dean.

Everything was oddly quiet, all up and down their entire block of Dalmeny Road.

Back to index


Chapter 19: Motion

Author's Notes:

And so, the fun begins!

Some quick notes include the fact that I am including a phrase somewhere in the chapter that is perfectly AurorOfTheLight-inspired, and (quite separately) I'll also mention that one reviewer (Aragorn) very nearly predicted the name of this chapter, though I suspect he didn't realise it at the time.

For reasons that will become apparent, I am including a map that may prove helpful for this chapter:

If the image doesn't show for you, you can try this URL: https://i.postimg.cc/CxXjnq6J/chapter19.png


Chapter 19. Motion


Each time the train lurched, Ronnie Smith braced himself.

Every muscle from waist clenched, but slow, deep breaths helped him not heave the residues of last night's ill-advised whiskey binge.

Fortunately, as the track began to wend it's way into London's western suburbs, the velocity declined, letting the motion sickness settle enough for him to think and plan a bit.

Chief on his mind was wondering what he was going to tell his sister. In particular, he was faced with the unpleasant prospect of admitting, once again, that he'd been a bumbling clot.

Ronnie hated being an incompetent arse, ever in the shadow of a precociously mature and responsible younger sister. They had both been raised in disadvantage — dirt poor, lowly orphans — but Ginny had sailed through school, getting scholarships and advancing into the honours program of a respectable university, whereas he was... a bumbling clot. Dumb as a post.

Yet Ronnie did not, and indeed could not, resent his sister. She was the only family he had, and she was mighty fine family at that. From tween years onwards, she had packed his school lunches,coached him through his studies, and managed what little pocket money government assistance had left them, making sure he always had a few coins for sweets or the occasional movie. She had even, through means that nobody really questioned, beaten the snot out of several bullies who had tormented him.

Nonetheless, over the last five years, as Ronnie shot over six feet in height, he'd begun to chafe at a status quo where his sister was always more responsible, more driven and more successful. He began looking for ways to escape the unfavourable comparisons.

In summer 2000, as Ginny was preparing to leave for uni, she had offered Ronnie a share of the London flat she was leasing, but that was when he'd finally resolved to put his foot down. Within several days, he had proudly proclaimed that he'd found employment at the tile factory down in Newton Abbot, and declared himself far happier remaining in West Country, where he would capably fend for himself.

That was nice in theory but, sadly, it didn't overcome how much he deep-down loathed the Exeter area. Then, when the collapsing World Trade Center brought global financial crisis last autumn, he'd found himself on the dole; lonely, listless, soured on everything in his life, and stuck in a mire.

Admitting failure at the time, Ronnie had mustered the humility to seek his sister's advice and, over the course of several long telephone calls, set some career goals that required him furthering his education.

Despite the distance, Ginny had pitched in to help her brother assemble university applications and file for grants and loans. The efforts were rewarded with his successful acceptance into the Cardiff Metropolitan University business program.

It seemed a good match and, by winter time, he was settled in Wales, plunging enthusiastically into self-betterment. Unfortunately, whether through loneliness or other weakness, he also began plunging into a few too many whiskey bottles... which had now landed him on academic probation.

Academic probation sucked. There were no excuses. He was once again on the verge of shiftless, pathetic failure.

And now, as the train shivered into its final approach to Paddington Station, he felt pangs of illness once again, though this time the affliction was neither shuddering motion nor vestigial hangover.

He tired of never accomplishing anything respectable or admirable; weary of never being the one with the solution to a tough problem; always unfit to make a difference.

Ronnie Smith was sick of failure.

And, to worsen his mood, a quick glance down at the platform onto which he was now stepping reminded him that he as hardly a big fan of London either. Ronnie knew that Ginny loved this city, but he found everything too loud, too busy, too crowded, too queer and too damned cultured. Everywhere in London there were energetic, happy-looking people who, he knew from experience, would never ever take a bleeding half-second out of their happy, energetic little lives to even acknowl-

"Good morning, Mr Smith."

Ronnie jumped.

He stared.

He was face to face with a stern-looking middle-aged woman.

"I trust you had a pleasant journey." Despite a plain, dour demeanour, the woman was somehow projecting a degree of friendliness that was highly un-Londonly welcoming.

Ronnie shuffled awkwardly. "Uh, do I know you?"

"Perhaps not." The woman extended a courteous hand and, with astonishing ease, shouldered his heavy duffel. "However, I do know your sister Ginny who, at this very moment, is at work in my employ. If she hadn't been so busy, I might have invited her along to come meet you but, as it is, I'll happily bring you to find her. First, however, I was hoping to ask your assistance."


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


Dora held the book in clenched hand for a moment that felt like eternity.

Finally, she put it down, and rose from the table. Biting her lip, she crossed the room and framed herself within the tall window overlooking the C.U.L. campus.

Glancing at Harry, Ginny also rose from the table, placing a pair of uncertain fingers on the older woman's wrist. "Are you okay, Dora?"

"I..." Dora's taut shoulders sagged somewhat, and she turned to face Ginny and Harry. "Eh, well, yes. I'm okay. Got a bit misty-eyed for a moment, but I'm fine."

"Misty-eyed?" Ginny coaxed her back toward their seats at the table.

"These are school texts," Dora explained. "Quite possibly came from my alma mater — ol' Wartsy. Which is gone now."

It took Harry a moment to place the allusion, then he blinked. "Hogwarts? The castle from the Harry Potter books? It's gone?"

"Seemingly, yes." Dora shrugged. "Used to be in Scotland, up in the Grampian Mountains. We always knew that Muggles could never find the place, but now us Magicals can't locate it either. Kingston and I both tried, but we can't even find Hogsmeade anymore. No Black Lake, no Forbidden Forest; it's all just boulders, bracken and fen."

"Uhhh..." Harry scratched his head, trying to recall details from his half-forgotten ten minutes of skimming. "Dia...? Diagon Alley? With the shops and such?"

"Gone." Dora shook her head. "We've all tapped on the bricks a time or two, but there's nothing there. Ministry complex — vanished. All the purely magical places are. Godric's Hollow still exists supposedly, but who the hell would want to visit there?"

That proved to be a bit of a conversation killer.

Silence hung limp for nearly a minute, until Dora again reached for one of the books, and skimmed the contents. "Brilliant to have these, though. I've not seen a magical text in ages. You say your Super received them as a shipment? Wonder where from?"

"Dr. Appleblum didn't say." Harry pursed his lips. "We could ask her. Should we go see if she's in her office?"

For a long moment, Dora looked at, or possibly through, Harry. Finally she nodded. "Okay. Yes, let's check. If you don't mind?"

"Not at all." Harry stood, and began leading the way out of the Archives suite.

On her way, Dora walked past the storage closets. For some reason, she stepped up to 414b, touched the door handle absently... then hastened to follow.

Downstairs, crossing the near-empty foyer, they entered the administration block, but found all of the offices dark and deserted. Tarrying outside Appleblum's door, Harry frowned. "She's quite often here much of the day on Saturdays, but... well, she must have had other things to attend to."

Dora edged close to peer through the narrow pane of glass beside the door. Ginny approached too, gazing over the older woman's shoulder, seeing Dora's eyes fix upon a decoration on the far wall of the office — an ornate scarlet and gold tapestry of a heraldic lion.

They both stared for several seconds, then Dora emerged; an odd look on her face. "Well, I've seen enough, kidders. I ought to go find Kingston."

"Ah." Harry nodded. "I guess Ginny and I will head back upstairs then, to see if we can make some progress on sorting."

"Oh, right." Dora pursed her lips. "Do me a favour, eh? Sort, label and read all you want, but please steer clear of actual magical practice for the time being."

The look of surprised disappointment was palpable on both Harry's and Ginny's faces, but Dora shook her head. "I know you want to learn, but stick to reading for now. Especially read up on defensive magic spells and tactics, but it's not safe to try magic here, or most anywhere right now.

Harry and Ginny nodded glumly.

"But wait." Dora quirked her neck. "There is one place, I suppose, though it's not easy to get cleared to enter. Maybe K can arrange access? Meet me tonight at 4:30 p.m. at the Windmill Pub on Lambeth High Street, and we'll talk."

"Roger." Ginny noted the specific down in her date book.

"Now you lot do me one last bleedin' favour." Dora placed hands on hips sternly. "You trigger your coins at any whiff of danger, eh?"

Hands in pockets to confirm that they had their coins, Harry and Ginny both assented.

To emphasise full severity, Dora glared at them for several seconds... then the stern facade broke. She swept the pair into a fierce momentary hug, then turned and hurried from the library.


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


Mione Granger felt ever so slightly... smutty.

And 'smutty', she decided, felt good.

To be sprawled amidst tangled sheets wearing a threadbare, over-sized 'Are You Experienced?' Jimi Hendrix t-shirt seemed more validating than any test score. Thoughts of how little she wore beneath sent sparks skittering about her spine and scalp. And then there was the luxuriant warmth of those masculine shoulders she had awakened to find herself pressed against.

The faintly cologned dreadlock ringlets tickling her nose were a sweetly smutty little touch too.

On a late Saturday morning, this was all more scintillating than Science, more humanising than the Humanities. Yet the haven of comforting liberation had not been easy to reach.

How many times in the last ten hours had Mione paused to question where wisdom ended and whiskey began? Whether it was ethical to make suggestive advances on a young man still shaken by the violent attack on his own brother? How irresponsible was it to pursue romantic fantasies at a time when perils seemed to be closing in on all of them?

In the end, the more Mione used the 'danger' argument to try to dissuade herself, the more it only heightened the urgency, and fueled the passion.

'Harry is fine,' she assured herself. 'We survived. The attack is past; tomorrow's danger is tomorrow.'

'Tonight is for me.'

'And tonight is for Lee.'

And, with that, she had renewed the... recreation.

For his part, after eventually giving up trying to protect Mione's honour, Lee had loosened his collar, grinned, and chosen to accept a bit of affection that he soon decided was the sort of indulgence he might want to surrender to more often.

So now, with rather a lot of the night having been devoted to not-sleeping, Lee was quite definitely comatose, and Mione now found herself dozing, happily draped part-way over him. She was vaguely aware that the sun was well above the horizon, which meant she was probably missing out on her prime library time but, well... fooey on that.

Pressing her lips to Lee's neck, she had just slid back into sweet, sleepy decadence, when...

BING-BONNG!

Mione startled; Lee tensed.

BING-BONNG!

"What the Fff-?" Seeing the pretty hand wrapped around his forearm, Lee quenched the profanity, sliding seamlessly to, "What the Fuscus vocem?!"

"Uhh...?" Mione blinked.

Lee grinned. "Fuscus vocem. That's how Harry annotates all my vocal parts. I'm guessing it means, 'crappy singing'." He unleashed a croaky baritone, renewed his grin, then leaned over to peck Mione on the forehead. "Now, who the hell rang that bleeding-?"

BING-BONNG! B-BONNG! B-BONNNNG!

Drowned under the cacophony were a few coarse utterances (in fuscus vocem) as Lee pulled himself from bed. Throwing a couple items of clothing around himself, he thudded down stairs, whipping the door open.

"Finnegan!" Lee stared at his band-mate. "What's got you here so early? You burn your flat down or something?"

"Early, mate??" Shay smirked. "Crack o' half-eleven?"

"Is it now?" Lee yawned. "Well, come on in then, and I'll make some coffee."

Wrapped in Lee's bathrobe, seemingly freed from old inhibitions, Mione was starting down the steps just as the two musicians passed on the way to the kitchen. She waved from above. "Good morning, Shay. Did someone promise coffee?"

Shay gawked for a split second, then shifted quickly back to his smirk. "Coffee and a smile, and a fine morn' to ye, Miss Granger. Very fine morn' indeed."

"Git." Lee raised a faintly irritated eyebrow at his friend's tone but, seeing Mione taking no offence, he shrugged it off. "Yeah, so you still never said why you're here? And why no Dean?"

"Eh, well he's kinda why I dropped by." Shay took a seat at the table. "I wanted tae know what you... er I spose the both of ye... may know about Dean an' all this 'House of Wolf' rubbish?"


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


Ronnie had never been on many lunch dates, and he rather hoped that this was not one of them.

To begin with, the the woman across the table from him was perhaps three times his age. Then came the fact that his grades for standard date etiquette were even worse than for Introductory Economics.

Ronnie had heard somewhere that a proper lunch date involved three jiggers of 'good conversation' for every one bite of 'good food' but... he knew enough not to talk with his mouth full. And, over the past hour, the only times his mouth had not been full were when he was ordering more food.

Eating was something Ronnie had not done a great deal of recently, as liquor had rather dented his limited food budget. But he was certainly making up for that now, as Professor Appleblum tacitly assented to a second... and third... entrée order, with no obvious concern for the cost.

Ronnie would have felt guilty for his slovenly behaviour, but his companion seemed content to tolerate, and perhaps even condone, the consumption. Indeed, Appleblum didn't even distract him with conversation; rather she sat facing obliquely away, studying an old journal, making the occasional underscore and annotation. Every now and again, she turned to consult train schedules and glance at her watch.

This quiet interlude, occupied with delicious food and unhurried gazing about the tastefully airy Betjeman Arms pub, gave Ronnie an opportunity to ponder a few questions that he vaguely knew he ought to be pondering.

How did she know to meet me?

Why did we leave one rail station (Paddington), only to loiter about another (St. Pancras)?

She did promise to take me to find Ginny, didn't she?

As Ronnie finished his final plate of fish and chips, he supposed he now ought to offer sincere thanks and start up a real chat of some sort, but Professor Appleblum pre-empted him with an expression of brusque sudden efficiency.

"Well timed, Mr. Smith." She rose from the table and scattered a few banknotes. "The Eurostar is due in a six minutes. Would you mind accompanying me to meet our second arrival?"

"Second arrival?" Ronnie stood and made to follow. "Er, sure. Who are we meeting?"

"Ms. Angie Johnson." Appleblum led briskly out toward the main concourse. "Charming young lady. She, too, is pursuing business administration but is enrolled in a post-graduate program at Université de Rennes in France. She is an old acquaintance of your brothers."

"Brothers?" Wide-eyed, Ronnie hurried to catch up. "You knew my brothers?"

"Yes." Appleblum glanced at the Arrivals board. "Some better than others but, I did indeed know them. This way, please." She hastened toward the main bank of escalators.

"I, uh, barely knew them myself." Ronnie's head was spinning. "Had almost forgotten them entirely but, when I was unpacking in Wales, a polaroid fell from from an old book. I think the pic was labeled, 'May, 1985; George, Fred and Ronnie; fishing on the Ottery with Lee Jordan. .

Too caught in his own recollection to notice the flicker of pain on Appleblum's face, Ronnie nodded to himself. "Yeah, well I reckoned the two older red-heads must be my brothers but, funnily enough, it was the little dark fellow who most caught my attention, because I'd just read the ASFAR profile on the rock drummer Lee Jordan and, even after all those years, the face was still a dead ringer."

Ronnie's meander fell away as he realised that Appleblum had paused short of the escalator and was facing him with an expression of full sympathy.

I am sorry, Mr. Smith." Appleblum reached for his hand. "We have all lost a great deal. All people must tread bravely to meet the future but you, I fear, must also now find courage to meet your past.

Ronnie blinked, failing to parse the heavy phrases.

"The future..." Still holding his hand, Appleblum turned to set a more solemn pace to the escalators. "The future is like the brusque overseer at work — loud and forceful, and you can do naught but obey the dictates. The past, by contrast, may be your quiet colleague down the hall. You pass him each day; sometimes you nod; sometimes he nods back. Yet were you to collide in a blind alley in the dead of night, what can you expect of him? A warm hand? Or a cold knife?"

Ronnie stared blindly out across the anonymous mass of fellow escalator riders.

Appleblum released her grip. "Ms. Johnson, Ms. Lovelace, and Mr. Langley are alll warm hands, I assure you. They are our past and our future, and we may place the fullest of trust in them. Yet trust we must for, together, we may all face some dark knives."


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


"That one ought to be useful and easy." Harry fingered the 'Expelliarmus' spell in the index of the Defensive Magic text.

"I think so too." Ginny nodded, her eyes running down the instructions. "Concentrate on the weapon, and wilfully summon it." She sighed. "But it too wouldn't have made the difference last night — we both did fine in the heat of the battle, but it was plain old bricks that nearly did you in.

"Yeah." Harry huffed. "Bricks and stones will break my bones..."

"Think, think, think. How can we defend against something like that." She sipped her coffee. "Protego diverts magical threats, not physical. Levitation spells are intended for one object, not hundreds."

Harry ran a hand through his hair. "'Molliare' protects casters if they're falling, but I don't think you can cast it on other objects. And Disapparating away might be risky in such an urgent-"

"Try 'Despulso'."

Harry's and Ginny's eyes flashed wide as saucers. Leaping to their feet, they stared through suite 414's open door out into the fourth floor corridor. "Who said that?!"

"I did." Into the room walked... Pansy Parkinson, her hands extended, palm-first and empty.

"What the hell??" Harry held a cautioning hand out to dissuade Ginny from hexing the dark-haired girl into the next borough. "Ginny, your coin."

"Coin? Oi!" Pansy eyed them suspiciously. "Unless you're planning to tip me a lot better than you did a couple weeks ago at the restaurant, you'd better not mess with any coins. Especially not ones with Protean charms on them."

"Proteo-what?" Ginny blinked.

"Look here, Smith." Pansy rolled up the sleeve of her black turtle neck to reveal a left biceps desecrated with a ghastly skull and snake tattoo. "If you or your lover boy pull any magic on me, then I squeeze little dead-head here. You know what happens then?"

Harry frowned. "Er, you start doing Jerry Garcia riffs?"

Pansy smirked coldly at the gall, shaking her head. "Listen, you thickos. The instead you summon your dork-faced friends, I'll call in a half dozen of my grease-bags, and we'll finish this chat cowering on the floor while the whole sodding library goes up in flames... Or, instead, the three of us can close the door, cast a few privacy charms and discuss some of our common interests."

"Common interests?" Ginny's eyes narrowed. "What on Earth do we have in common?"

"Well..." Pansy's face sobered. "Let's start with concern for a certain mate of yours who's likely spent much of today... experiencing hellish pain."


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


The morning sun had long since chilled to dreary haze, and the latest London meteorological treat was cold drizzle.

Having wearied of pacing the sterile stretch of Millbank Street, Dora finally retreated to the bus enclosure where she now sat, edgily pretending to read some old rubbish tabloid while waiting for a non-existent bus.

Of course, waiting for a bus was merely her 'cover', in case anyone should enquire why she was loitering within sight of the rather sinister-looking archivalt entrance to the Thames House MI5 Headquarters.

Indeed, there were people whose very job entailed watching for people who happened to be watching that entrance. Dora knew she had unconventional tricks for dealing with such nosy people but, given Kingston's heightened anxiety about anyone using magic right now, she was doing her best to employ more 'conventional' tactics.

One such tactic involved periodically hauling out a crumpled brown paper sack and taking a pull from the bottle that she had indiscreetly wrapped therein. With each drink, she'd wince and sputter... effectively disguising the fact that the bottle contained nothing stronger than water.

The ruse did encourage people to give her a wide berth, but it was now apparent she'd made a miscalculation. After two hours of drinking water, she now rather had to use the loo.

For the dozenth time, she glanced southward toward a pizza joint a short way down the street but, for the dozenth time, she concluded that as soon as she skipped off down there to relieve herself, Kingston would probably step out of the monstrous stone edifice and not find her.

Under normal circumstances, Kingston could bloody well afford to wait five minutes considering she'd cooled her heels two hours for him, but these were not normal circumstances. A street wench hanging out in sight of Thames House might not attract much notice, but a mid-level MI5 operative being seen waiting for a street wench in front of Thames House could... raise eyebrows.

Dora was on the verge of cursing out loud when finally, finally, she finally heard the telltale rustle against the outside the enclosure. Binning her bottle, she counted silently to twenty, turned and began to mock-teeter her way north toward Lambeth Bridge which, incidentally, was also the destination of a broad-shouldered man in a trench coat, who had strode on about sixty feet ahead.

Several minutes later, out on the bridge, the man stopped and leaned over the railing, as if savouring the cold rain.

Dora pulled up beside him, speaking off toward the river. "This mysterious Appleblum may be McGonagall. Her office is full of Gryffindor crap."

"Brill." Kingston's eyes narrowed analytically. "Given how she's letting Harry and Ginny read books on magic, she can hardly be a Tf13 collaborator."

"Right." Dora nodded. A moment of silence passed with no noise more than the spatter of rain and the hiss of wet tyres on the bridge. The Dora jabbed him in the ribs. "A mite tardy, eh K?"

If Kingston felt the jab, he didn't show it. "Sorry D — I couldn't budge. Cattermole managed to place a bug in the P-Branch conference room yesterday, and there was a very interesting surveillance session going on."

"Surveillance?" Dora tugged Kingston's arm and the pair resumed their walk across the Thames. "Don't tell me you actually tuned in to a real live Tf13 meeting?"

"Yes." Kingston nodded. "They were analysing live detector signals, and had keyed on a wild racket of magic. I'd not been privy to their monitoring technology, so I stuck it out as long as I could, trying to figure out what sort of spells they can detect."

"A racket, you say??" Dora's face collapsed into her hands. "Sweet mother of Monty Python. Please please please tell me it wasn't coming from Clerkenwell."

"It wasn't coming from Clerkenwell." Kingston' face hardened. "It was from Islington. I reckon our carcass-chewing chums were quite busy today."

"Oh shite." Dora's face re-emerged, wide-eyed. "Doing what?? Did you get a handle on it?"

Kingston shrugged. "Loud angry static. Penetrating. Non-percussive."

Dora stared. "No ordinary spells, I'll wager?"

"Likely not." Kingston extended an arm to Dora as they crossed Lambeth Palace Road. "The spooks couldn't place them, but I believe I could."

Dora went pale. "Cruciatus?"

Kingston nodded.

"Dammit." Dora glanced back across the river, blinking in the cold, biting drizzle. "Let's scarper for straight for C.U.L. and see if the kids are all right."

"No." Kingston glanced at his watch. "It's ten past four — if they plan to meet us in Lambeth at 4:30, they're quite possibly en route by now. Let's get seated at the Windmill, and give them time to show."

"Uh, yeh. Let's." Shivering from accumulated chill and a full bladder, Dora grabbed Kingston's arm, and they hastened across the bridge.


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 4 MILES DUE NORTH


Holloway Road Station was not on Neville Langley's Saturday evening itinerary... yet here he was, eyes-wide-open, finally beginning to understand why this day had gone so strangely.

At last Langley understood why he'd been so anxious since morning; why he'd felt it necessary to forego a prestigious dinner party in Cockfosters, and instead hop a train down into the city to check up on the Jordan's.

He also now knew that the bizarre encounter with Lucy Lovelace on the train had not been pure chance, and that there might even be a bit of logic behind her detailed lecture to him on the powers of the three elven rings, and how they could be used to guide actions at a distance.

Langley doubted it was truly an elven ring that had beckoned them here, and chose to ignore Lucy's speculation that this was all some hobbit-led plot to sway tomorrow's British Film Awards in favour of the latest Peter Jackson film. However, the truth seemed almost as peculiar, and Langley's worldview had shifted markedly in the ten minutes since he and Lucy had ascended to street level to be met by a tall, stern woman with a very remarkable tale to tell.

"... yet I assure you that nobody will be asked to achieve the impossible." Professor Appleblum took a fortifying breath. "Others may have fearsome abilities that you do not, yet in each of you there is courage and strength to call upon at a time when few others avail."

Appleblum's eyes went up and down the line of faces that, while anxious, were unwavering. She had already appraised Neville Langley as earnest, polished and highly intelligent. Beside him, and now restored to a semblance of good health, stood Ronnie Smith, within whom she sensed untapped courage and unquestioning loyalty. Next was Angie Johnson — a bright, athletic woman of great heart and resourcefulness. And leftmost was Lucy Lovelace who seemed... ummm... oddly unafraid as she strained her neck to analyse cloud patterns.

"In closing... ahem." Appleblum tried to attract Lucy's gaze, but didn't quite succeed. "It is my belief and hope that the roles you may each find will accentuate your best attributes and prove imminently survivable, however there is no guarantee of safe return. Every generation of Britons since long ere Caesar has faced peril and, sadly, you are no exception."

Angie clenched her jaw. "Ahh'd wrestle a dragon fo' Harry."

"Me too." Ronnie coughed. "Er, well, for Ginny, at least."

"Aye. For them both." Langley bit his lip, quivering from something nobler than fear.

"Well, we're all sorted then." Appleblum straightened up, and pointed the way south from the tube station. "You all now know roughly as much as I do which, admittedly, is not much. We must now descend upon Lee Jordan, to share with him what I've told you, and compare notes. Are there any final que-... er, yes, Ms. Lovelace?"

"Rain changing to sleet south of Thames; winds due west at 14 kph." Lucy lowered herself from tip-toes, then waved. "Hi, Professor McGaladriel?"

Langley glanced worriedly at the blonde, but Appleblum seemed to draw upon a career educator's reserve of immense inner fortitude. "Yes, Ms. Lovelace?"

Lucy held up a plastic container holding what looked like mouldering coffee grounds. "Seeing how we are truly the last alliance and thus must not fail, I'd like to share my ground willow bark with everyone. It's infused with all-organic herbal additives to sharpen concentration."

Everyone shifted awkwardly except Appleblum who shook her head. "Not yet, Ms. Lovelace. Please safeguard your bark for us until such time as it's needed."


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 0.25 MILES DUE SOUTH


The moment Shay came back into view of the Jordan's flat, he waved to Lee and Mione who were waiting on the corner by the park. Stopping to catch his breath, he called out, "Nae, Deaner's still na back."

"That settles it." Mione led Lee up the block to meet Shay. "Something is wrong. I'm certain of it."

Lee hastened to keep pace. "Yeh, I agree. So what do we do?"

Mione bit her lip and nodded to herself. "We'd best not dive in blind, but Ginny and Harry are the only ones among us who've actually visited House of Wolf. Let's catch them before they leave the library, together we'll devise a plan. We'll need to hurry, though, as Ginny mentioned planning to break by 5 p.m."

"Erm..." Lee glanced at his watch. "Fastest route south is number 43 bus, which will stop in front of Magdalene Church in ten minutes. That's a half mile from here; reckon we can all run over to catch it?"

"Reckon we can try." Mione grinned.

Agape and still panting, Shay hadn't even time to protest before he was off yet again, capering madly through the park to catch Mione and Lee."


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 2 MILES DUE SOUTH
C.U.L. LIBRARY


"... and the instant I get you into the basement, I'm gone and you're on your own. Understood?" Pansy glared at Harry.

Harry nodded, not flinching from her piercing look.

"Idiot!" Pansy broke away. "Never EVER let a Death Eater stare you straight in the eye!"

Harry blinked. "Why not?"

"Shite." Ginny's hand rose to her mouth. "They... you... can read minds?"

"Bingo, Ginger!" Pansy turned back to Harry, still furious. "You let them steal your thoughts, even a two second glimpse, and they'll know that I ratted them out. Dammit, you're too sodding green, Potter. I'm calling this off. There's no way I-"

"NO!" Harry leapt to his feet. "We've absolutely got to break Dean out of there. And there's no bleeding way I'd let those plonking crooks into my head. Nor would Ginny. You've got to trust us!"

Pansy leered at him dismissively, but this time he turned away, shaking his head. "We're doing this, Parkinson. Now either help us or get out of the way."

"Agreed." Ginny nodded. "The only problem, Harry, is that we're actually supposed to be in Lambeth in ten minutes."

"Crap, I forgot." Harry stared at his watch, stewing. "Pansy, we really do need to signal a couple friends. I promise that this won't-"

"No!" Pansy shook her head emphatically. "No signals, not while I'm around. You might think you're contacting your friends, but you can't be sure other people won't detect it!"

Harry looked as though he was going to argue, but Ginny leaned forward, nodding. "Fine then. Pansy, you said you were going to bolt the instant you had us in the cellars, right? So, we'll wait until you're gone, then we'll signal."

"Er..." Pansy examined her. "Okay. Two minutes. Once I have you in through the window, give me two minutes to get the hell out, then you can go ahead and signal St. Nick, John Major and Hari Krishna for all I care."

Ginny tapped her lip. "Harry? What do you say?"

"Deal." Harry made for the door. "Now, let's go find Dean."

Back to index


Chapter 20: Flames

Author's Notes:

With this chapter, the stage is sent for the big confrontation(s)! I'm re-including last chapter's map, since things may be a bit dizzying as characters maneuver into place.

From the writing perspective, good news in that this last two week interval gave me the time and motivation to draft both chapters 21 and 22. That means I'm finally getting a handle on this crazy story :) At this point I think it will wrap up after chapter 24, though the cynically wise gamblers amongst you will automatically translate that to 25. We'll see.

I'm going to continue to aim for every second Tuesday, as the writing is crazily detail-oriented and everything seems to work much so better after 5-6 edits than it does after 2-3.

Anyway, hope you enjoy. And here is the map!


Image URL: https://i.postimg.cc/CxXjnq6J/chapter19.png


Chapter 20. FLAMES

4:45 P.M., SATURDAY, FEB. 23, 2002
ST. JOHN ST. & RAWSTORNE ST.
CLERKENWELL


"No, no. Forget taking a bus." Pansy forcibly steered Harry away from his usual St. John Street stop. "People are keeping an eye on your regular routes right now. If you were to hop off a bus on Upper Street right now, you'd attract far more attention than you'd like."

"Whoa!" Harry ground to a halt. "They're watching for us? They know we're coming for Dean? Does that mean they're holding him as bait?"

"Pretty much, yes."

"Oh ho?" Ginny's hands planted on her hips. "Are you leading us into a trap, then?

"Of course not!" Pansy huffed. "I mean, yes, they're planning a trap, but I'm helping you avoid it. Thanks to me, you've a decent chance to get in and out well before the scheme's even half-cocked."

"Ah?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "And just when were they expecting us?"

"Well, given tonight's cancellation at Under Solo, and other details they've gleaned on your schedules, they were assuming you'd likely not even begin to suspect your friend was in trouble until tomorrow morning at the earliest. The lackeys eyeing your transit routes are mostly still just updating their notes so they can pinpoint the moment you start acting unusually. But that means if you took a bus to House of Wolf right now, they would decide you were already acting odd, and they'd act. You'd likely not be hit with a smart, coherent plan, but the cabal over there doesn't need smarts or coherence to kill people.

"Crumb." Harry scowled. "Well, a partial element of surprise is better than nothing, but pardon me if I'm still a bit spooked. Would you reckon Dean is under pretty close watch?"

Pansy's sour visage brightened slightly. "Ah, well that's the tradeoff. As they're dedicating eyes to the bus route, your friend is only getting checked once an hour right now. I know their schedule, so I've been hoping to get you into the cellar a bit before 5:30, just after the guard should have left. That would give you roughly 45 minutes to grab and go."

"Arg! Details, details, details." Ginny began pacing. " I hate charging into this so slap dash. We've no knowledge of the cellar layouts, and no contingency plans... yet the longer we dither, the less chance we have to catch them at unawares."

"Right." Harry glanced up and down St. John Street to ensure nobody was within earshot. "Perhaps the best compromise between 'no plan' versus 'no time' is a bit more of a plan and still enough time to carry it out. Assuming we won't need a full 45 minutes, let's take a five or ten to work out a few details."

"Agreed." Ginny turned to Pansy. "Just getting into the cellars isn't enough — we'll need a backup escape route at the very least, and a distraction would be nice too. Pansy, do you have any recommendations?"

"Er, not really." Pansy raised an eyebrow. "You two seem to improvise horseshoes out your arses, so plan it yourselves. I do hope you can rescue your friend, but planning rescues isn't my specialty. I told you where he is, and I'll get you in to help him, but beyond that, but you're on your own. This isn't my battle."

"You keep saying that." Harry out-eyebrowed her. "But why did you come find us in the first place? Why help us at all?"

"I may have reasons, but I don't feel inclined to share them."

"Fine." Ginny rolled her eyes. "If you won't tell us your motive, then we're free to speculate, say, that Bonnefoi is holding one over on you? Got you trapped in some sort of miserable servitude, and you're looking to bust the status quo; maybe trigger a government raid?"

Pansy shifted uncomfortably.

"I'd certainly also speculate that you may even feel a little sympathy for Dean?" Ginny folded her arms. "Either way, every little bit of information you can offer could help you get what you want."

"Okay." Pansy scowled. "I really don't have much more to offer, but I do know a secret exit you might find useful, especially if circumstances make it difficult to get back out the way you entered."

"Ah?" Harry eyed her seriously. "Go on."

"On the way through the basement, you'll see a wine cellar. To exit through there, head straight to the back and locate cask 27. Press the barrel's front panel, and you'll find that it opens into a tunnel. I've never followed it myself but Dra-..., er, someone I know, told me it runs below street level a few hundred yards north, and connects as an air duct into a service corridor at Highbury & Islington Station."

"Got it." Harry nodded and turned to Ginny. "As far as a diversion is concerned, let's maybe plan to signal D and K once we're down there. Even if they're not certain what we're up to, they'll figure out where to find us and I reckon their arrival may turn a few heads, yeah?"

"Quite possibly." Ginny smirked. "So, the last snap decision is how best to get to House of Wolf? If discretion is the goal, we ought not follow the same route the bus takes. So what do you reckon, Harry? Liverpool Road?"

"Perfect." Harry tapped his chin. "It parallels Upper Street fairly closely and, somewhere up there, we ought to be able to find a back street that will take us right up into Wolf's rear lot. Barnsbury, I think."

"Brill." Ginny turned her collar against a mist that was beginning to take on a sleety bite. "Well then, let's get on with it."


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 2 MILES SOUTH
THE WINDMILL PUB, LAMBETH


"Poxy foxies." Dora finished her beer and pushed it away. "It's ten til five, K. They're not going to show."

Kingston's mouth brooded behind folded hands. "What do you reckon happened to them? Irresponsibility? Defiance? Peril?"

Dora squinted for a moment. "Not irresponsible, as such. I can't discount defiance, but I did feel I'd made myself clear on the seriousness of the situation."

"Peril, then?" Kingston's face remained expressionless.

"Not yet." Dora shook her head. "They'd have squeezed the coins for anything obviously dire. Hopefully they'd even have signaled at even a slight hint of danger. Nay, I'm guessing something unexpected. Maybe Harry's Super showed up to quiz them about work?"

"Ah, McGonagall?" Kingston's eyes narrowed. "Yes, if she showed up with a slew of questions, I can imagine they might find it awkward to just walk out."

"Right." Dora nodded slowly.

"Damn." Kingston frowned. "Wish I could be 100% certain she's not in with Tf13. I know the task force has used Magical collaborators in the past, and they might even still have a couple bonafide wizards or witches on staff. After all, it takes magic to catch magic."

"Shite, you're always so full of bloody cheer." Dora collected her coat. "Let's get ourselves up to campus then, in case the kids are in trouble."

"Right." Kingston tossed a few pound coins on the table. "Your Rover parked nearby?"

"No." Dora grinned. "Ol' Betsy was starting to be a bit too recognisable. I've got a surprise for you, K."


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 2.3 MILES NORTH
UPPER ST. & LIVERPOOL RD., ISLINGTON


Turning away from the bus window, just in time to not notice three drenched pedestrians turning north onto Liverpool Road, Mione reached for Lee's hand. "Our stop is coming up shortly. St. John and Wyclif."

Lee and Shay nodded, and the trio all stood.

A minute later, they exited, and made their way hurriedly up Wyclif Street and across campus.

Shoulders hunched against the weather, Shay shivered. "Blimey! Since when does a bright cheery morn turn ta such crap?"

"Since February in London?" Lee gave a sardonic laugh. "Mione, will the library still be open?"

Mione nodded. "Likely until 8 p.m. Er, unless the forecast calls for ice, in which case they may close early. Fortunately, I have a key. Honours privilege."

"Brill!" Lee grinned, once again favourably appraising a very bright young woman who seemed on the verge of becoming his girlfriend.

The library was indeed still open, and Mione led the way through a very quiet foyer, to the lifts. "They ought to be in Archives on fourth floor," she said, tapping the button.

Unfortunately, suite 414 (and indeed all of the rooms along that wing) proved to be dark and locked. Mione gazed into the gloom for a long moment, and checked her watch. "4:58 p.m." She growled under her breath. "I really thought they'd have worked until five at least. Let's ask at the circulation desk, in case someone has seen them elsewhere in the building."

Unfortunately, the response was not one they'd hoped for. The grey-haired circulation supervisor tapped his forehead. "Harry Jordan...? Ah yes. Left p'raps 15 minutes ago, with his Research Assistant friend."

Lee gave Mione's hand a fortifying squeeze, while nodding resignedly to the librarian. "Thank you, sir."

"Think nothing of it." The man waved cheerily, then turned back to his work.

Lee frowned. "Well, then. They likely finished all their tasks and knocked off early. Suppose they might have gone for a pint and a bite? Does Ginny have a favourite spot close by?"

"Ah." Mione pursed her lips. "That would be Blacksmith and Toffeemaker. Let's go check."

Shay patted his stomach. He too would hardly mind a pint and a bite... but there were a whole bunch of twitchy little nerve endings down there reminding him how much he really wanted to find Dean. And find him safe.


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 2 MILES NORTH
JORDANS' RESIDENCE, HOLLOWAY


Dr. Appleblum's handkerchief wiped away the sheen of moisture that the settling fog had left on her forehead. Though too subtle for the others to notice in the faltering light, the cloth Appleblum used was actually charmed to renew a waterproof barrier about her face. It did away with a distraction and thus aided her focus — minor comforts in the face of an increasingly uncomfortable situation.

"Loath as I am to admit it..." She glanced once more about the various darkened windows of the Jordans' flat, eyed the unhelpful door bell, then cleared her throat. "I must conclude that nobody is home, and neither Lee nor Harry are in any hurry to return. I apologise for bringing you here to stand about for so long in foul weather."

"Better weather here than in Reading." Lucy twirled a lock of her hair pleasantly. "Ice crossed over from the North Wessex Downs about five minutes ago. The storm should be east of Heathrow by 5:30, and we'll all be skating merrily within the hour."

Her face stoic, Appleblum counted to five.

Periodic unrequested weather forecasts were annoying to begin with, but when they made a complete hash of contingency plans, they were downright distressing. With premonitions that Harry and Ginny might be in for a wild night, Appleblum had hoped to go from here down to Clerkenwell, but if Lucy's projections were accurate, they'd be heading straight into the teeth of the storm.

However, despite irritation over her deteriorating plans, Appleblum remained grateful for foreknowledge that could help them to avoid disaster later, so she nodded to the young woman. "Thank you, Lucy."

Sensing things had reached an impasse, Langley stepped forward. "I just thought of something. It's not much to go on, but I received an odd message earlier this afternoon that may shed light on Lee's whereabouts."

"Oh?" Appleblum turned to him. "Tell me."

"The band members generally file their schedules with my office, in case I need to find them for press or promo purposes," Langley explained. "Thus, I was aware that Harry had planned to work much of the day on C.U.L. campus, and I had reason to believe that Lee, Shay Finnegan and Dean Thomas had no obligations for the day. Of course, none of that is very enlightening, but the key bit is that, before hopping the train down here, I checked my messages and found one from Shay, asking whether Dean had called with an update on his Foi-Black schedule."

"Foi-Black schedule?" Appleblum's forehead creased. "What does Foi-Black refer to?"

"Foi-Black, Ltd., is Dean's employer." Langley frowned, picking up on the trepidation. "Advertising and public relations firm. Shay said they'd called Dean in to work today on very short notice, which is odd since most PR firms are rather more courteous in handling their celebrity spokespersons."

"The name reminds me of... Hmm..." Appleblum stiffened. "Are you personally familiar with this firm, Mr. Langley? Have you met the proprietor?"

"Yes." Langley nodded. "Mr. Bonnefoi visited my office several times in January, seeking to interview Harry."

Appleblum stared. "Bonnefoi?"

"Yes."

Pivotting from the Jordans' front step, Appleblum hastened up the steps up to street level, asking, "Where is this firm headquartered?"

"Upper Street, Islington." Langley fell in behind her. "It's not that far to walk, but in this weather we might want to catch a bus. Would you like me to take you there?"

"Lead the way, please." Appleblum swept out her arm, and fell in with Lucy, Ronnie and Angie as they all followed Langley across the street, toward an increasingly marshy Paradise Park.


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

SEVERAL MINUTES LATER, 0.5 MILES SOUTHEAST
HOUSE OF WOLF, ISLINGTON


"No, don't!" Ginny's hand lashed out, seizing Pansy's wrist.

"Calm yourself, chickadee." Pansy glared at her, wrenching her hand free. "I was only going to conjure a ladder to scale the wall."

Ginny shook her head vigorously. "Don't you understand? Everything's still tense after last night's uproar. Any unnecessary spells could be detected by some special government force that targets Magicals. You'll trigger that raid too soon and we'll all get swept up."

"The MI5 duffers?" Pansy stared. "You reckon they're on that fine a trigger?"

"Our friends believe so." Harry's voice was deathly serious as he examined the barrier. "A seven foot barrier doesn't require magic. I can help you two over, then I think I can get enough of a jump to scale it."

"Harry?" Ginny eyed him in askance. "What about your injured back?"

"My back is perfectly fine." Harry reached for her hand, and she reluctantly ceded it. "I'm fairly certain it's fully mended, but I promise to be careful. When it comes to taking chances, I'd prefer a bit of 'lift and leap', as opposed to 'lock and clink'."

"I suppose." Ginny glanced at Pansy for her opinion.

Pansy shrugged. "If we can't use magic, then whatever. It's his back, if he wants to break it."

"That's a great help, thanks." Ginny scowled. "Okay, time's pressing so we'll do it but, Harry — if you hurt yourself, I'll..." She growled menacingly. "Just don't hurt yourself."

Chuckling, Harry bent toward the wall and cupped his hand to boost first Ginny, then Pansy, over the barrier. Thankfully, it all went without incident or injury, including a running leap that brought Harry scrambling over to land lightly on a cobbled drive in the rear of the House of Wolf.

A quick glance revealed that the drive led around a corner into a small yard, housing a black auto and some rubbish bins containing the grotty sort of sweetly sulphurous decay typical of restaurant waste.

Unfazed, Pansy did a quick scan of the windows, which we all either dark or heavily curtained. She chewed her lip. "I know you're tetchy about magic, but I'm not turning that corner without Disillusioning us."

"Disillusion?" Harry frowned. "As in, 'vanishing'?"

Ginny and Pansy both nodded.

Harry pursed his lips. "Yes, okay. That qualifies as a necessary precaution."

Pansy drew her wand. She was about to cast the spell, when Ginny shook her head.

"I think I can do it for Harry and me." Ginny raised her hand. "I'd prefer it that way, as you're unlikely to be around when we need to refresh the spell."

"As you wish." Pansy cast the spell on herself, fading to a hazy near-nothingness as she turned to wait for Ginny to attempt the same.

Focusing on herself and Harry, Ginny recalled the sense of inconspicuousness that she frequently sought in public places. She thought of human apathy — the common disregard that self-absorbed people have for others, and she sought to mirror that indifference; amplify it; distill it around Harry and herself.

"Not bad." Pansy scratched her head, unable to even detect even the slightest glimpse of her companions. "We're good to go, then."

Pansy edged to the corner. "I'm going past the bins and to the right, where I'll unlock the second basement transom against the west wall. Listen for a pebble scattering — that will be your signal I have it open. I don't intend to go down there myself, as I've conveniently arranged to be spending tonight out of town and things would get awkward if I'm seen anywhere back here."

"Makes sense," Ginny agreed.

"Good. I'll hold the window open until you're inside, and I'll wait until you're safely on your way before I close up and leave."

Harry nodded. Remembering he was invisible, he thought to add an audible whisper. "Understood. Thanks."

"Well, wish me luck." Guessing their locations, Pansy reached out and tapped their arms. The gesture may have been purely practical, a final token verification and synchronization among the invisible trio, but it also seemed ever so slightly friendly; collegial.

With that, she was off in a slight scuffing sound of trainers over stone. Through the deepening dusk, Harry and Ginny saw a faint glow pulse up from around the corner, suggesting that Pansy must have needed magic to open the window.

Moments later came the slight clattering sound they'd been listening for. Holding hands, they hurried around the corner, and spied the inward-slanting window about ten feet beyond the rubbish bins.

Still clasping Ginny's hands, Harry got to his knees. "You first? I'll give you a hand down, then I'll follow?"

Ginny squeezed his hand in affirmation. She scrambled in backwards, extending her feet, legs, then torso into the narrow opening. Pausing, she twisted first one way, then the other. Harry felt her grip clench as she worked herself free of the ledge and began to shimmy down. Seconds later, she let go, and a scuffing patter signaled that she'd landed. "I'm down. But it was rather tight, Harry."

Pansy frowned. "Perhaps I should try expanding the opening a bit?"

Harry shook his head. "Let me try first without magic."

Indeed, in the various council homes of his youth, Harry had acquired a reputation among the other orphans for being able to squeeze through unusually narrow confines. The knack had bailed him out of potential curfew violations, mischief, or bullying situations, yet now the stakes seemed far higher than any he'd previously faced.

And the opening seemed just a bit tighter.

After scraping his thighs past the sill, Harry was afforded momentary respite as his midsection passed easily, but the instant his first ribs came into line with the ledge, he knew this was going to push his limits. Forcibly exhaling, he descended a few inches further, made it to mid-chest... and stuck.

"Damn."

Pansy groaned. "This was quite easy when I was a little girl."

"What I'd give to be a little girl right now." Harry's chuckle choked as a pair of ribs threatened to snap.

Pansy reached to tap Harry' forearm. "So, shall I expand it?"

"Er..." Harry shook his head, wheezing. "Let me try... one... more..."

Pansy may have muttered something about him being a 'stubborn knob', but Harry wasn't listening. He cleared from his mind the urgency and physical discomfort. He banished all mundane details of the House of Wolf, the transom, the cellar, Dean.

Harry wasn't quite certain how he was going to squeeze through the narrow gap, but he was oddly confident that he could, if only he was able to get in the right mindset. So he let his thoughts diffuse and, when the last distraction faded, he found his mind gazing into... flames?


Ravaging inferno swept across his field of vision.
Looming amidst the destruction was the Fiend:
black cap billowing like the cloying, acrid smoke;
deformed visage expelling caustic fumes of hatred.


Yet, into this vision of suffocating chaos, a purity of order began to emerge, transforming the tenor:


Cleansing flames poured in, pushing back pestilence.
From the nursery ceiling, dove the crepe paper birds.
As scintillating starbursts, they bombarded the Fiend,
forcing him down into his own devouring flames.


The vision vanished in a blaze of red-gold light, and Harry found himself landing softly, bird-like, onto the cellar floor.

In blinking confusion, the Disillusionment spells failed and, by the time their bewildered eyes reconstructed the dusky gloom, Pansy, Ginny and Harry were all visible to each other.

"What the bloody bob did you just do??" Pansy's rasp was nearly breathless.

"Something, erm, unexpected?" Harry patted about his arms, half expecting to feel sleek feathers. "Whatever it was, I hope it didn't spark up too brightly on some government radar. Now, oughtn't we get ourselves Disillusioned again?"

"Huh? Oh right." Both girls shook off their daze and restored the invisibility spells.

"Okay, here are some final instructions," Pansy whispered from above. "Don't take the door to your right, as that will lead you up to the restaurant. Instead, check beneath the workshop bench for a protruding brick on the wall. Tap it four times in quick succession to open the trap door down into the sub-basement. From there, it should be fairly obvious where to go."

"Got it." Ginny smiled (albeit invisibly) upwards. "Thank you Pansy, and good luck."

"Er..." Pansy paused a long moment, as if stopping to wonder who was most in need of 'good luck' right now. "Er yes. Best wishes to you too."

Pansy tarried up by the transom for long enough to listen and verify that the two conspirators had found the triggering brick and were able to raise the hatch. Finally setting to depart, she began lowering the transom back into place, then froze. At a sound.

What in the name of hell was that?!

From the way it stuck her hairs on end, Pansy knew it was either some ghastly subterranean howl, or else...?

Nervously, she jiggled the half-closed transom, eliciting a slight squawk that was not completely different from the noise she'd just heard.

Whew. Just a rusting hinge. She exhaled. Of course it was. The moon isn't full until Wednesday.

Relieved though still tense, she closed the window, checked to ensure it wasn't locked, then hurried back toward the walled drive leading out to Upper Street. Reaching the barred gate, she tapped her wand expertly on two rails, and it slid quietly open.

Glancing about carefully, lest there be anyone monitoring the street, Pansy mapped out a route in her mind. Dash across to Richmond Grove, then cut along south of the Islington Assembly Hall, and come up by the bus stop on Canonbury Road. Should all be quiet through there.

Nodding to herself, she pivoted, and-

"Homenum revelio." A wirey arm about her waist jerked her into a fold of silken cloak and cloying cologne. "Evenin', luv."

Pansy's gasp was cut short by a hand over her mouth. The grip tightened and her assailant's wine-tainted voice oozed into her ears. "Don't go all screechy bird on me, Pansy. Wouldn't want to make a public spectacle of yourself, would you?"

Pansy bit the hand, straining her mouth free. "Sod off Drake." She stamped down, aiming for his mid-foot, but he side-stepped and wrenched her about with brutish force.

"Thought you were off to Cornwall this evening?" Drake Bonnefoi smirked. "But seeing as you're not, I trust you'll join me inside for a cocktail with Mum and Dad."

It was not a question.


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

THAT VERY MOMENT, 200 FEET NORTH
UPPER ST. & CANONBURY LN., ISLINGTON


"Ice pellets freezing on elevated surfaces and bridges in Camden Town and Somers Town." Lucy's face was pressed up against the bus window. "There's really no great mystery to it. It's all apparent in the way the tropospheric swirls are... Oh?" She tapped the glass. "That lady is being mugged."

"What??" Everyone leaned in close; especially Dr. Appleblum who was seated directly behind Lucy.

"Isn't that...?" Appleblum squinted then cursed under her breath at the site of a tall caped man forcing a young woman through the side entrance to a nearby establishment. "Pansy Parkinson?"

Indeed, although Pansy was hardly an exemplary student, the library academic had marked her several years ago as one of a (now very rare) cadre of young people with refined magical abilities. And now, despite dim light and poor angle, Appleblum's sharp vision instantly recognised her.

Tugging the stop cable, Appleblum surged to her feet. "Let's go, group. I believe we're about to enquire about a reservation at House of Wolf."


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

AT THAT MOMENT, 2.0 MILES SOUTH
CLERKENWELL


Dora's rather impressive sports car slowed to a robust hum, then turned from St. John Street onto Wyclif, easing to a stop a couple hundred feet short of campus.

"I can't believe you picked out a Vanquish." Kingston shook his head, closing the door with careful respect as he exited.

"Tis the perks of being pushy." Dora grinned. "Nah, you're the one who's making me drive Bono around town next week. You'd hardly expect him to be picking shredded cabbage off his trousers in the back seat of the Rover, eh?"

"Well true." Kingston laughed. "I just thought you might choose something a bit less conspicuous, especially as we're trying to keep a low profile... but whatever. Do you know your way around campus?"

"Aye. Follow me." Dora gestured onwards. "We'll check the main library."

City University of London proved to be rather quiet and dark, given the onset of a Saturday evening, and an increasingly sleety one at that. Ascending the steps, Dora and Kingston were about to go through the double doors when a middle-aged man came up to them, waving apologetically. "Sorry mates. We're closing early due to the inclement forecast."

"Crap." Dora bit her lip. "We were looking for one of your staffers. Harry Jordan? Any chance you could flag him down for me?"

"Harry Jordan?" The man chuckled. "Popular bugger tonight, neh? He left over half an hour ago with his friend."

Dora stiffened.

Kingston frowned. "Might you have any idea where they went?"

"Perhaps. One moment please..." The man did the final lock and rattled the door. "I can't guarantee the accuracy, but a young lady and two gents stopped by a while ago, enquiring after him. The lady supposed Mr. Potter may have gone over to Blacksmith & Toffeemaker for a bite. It's fairly close by; corner of St. John and Wynyatt."

"Brill, thank you!" Dora gave a relieved smile. "Let's go, K. Hurry."

Trotting back to the Aston Martin Vanquish, Dora was pivoting to the driver's side when her foot shot across a slick spot and she found herself suddenly dangling from an arm clenched in Kingston's powerful grip.

"Ice." Kingston cursed under his breath as he glared up at a street lamp and its delicate cone of twinkling sleet. "Perfect night for chasing kids around London, getting chased by thugs. Keep a light touch on the wheel, will you D?"

Dora merely smirked and, moments later, their ride was purring like a 4000 pound kitten. Pulling away from the kerb, she used an artfully illegal maneuver to veer quickly back onto St. John Street, heading north.

Just past Spenser Street, Kingston pointed. "There."

Three people outside the pub were engaged in what seemed to be a dreary demoralised debate.

Noting the rain-glistened dreadlocks, Dora laughed. "Not precisely who we're looking for, but those sodden sods may help. K, can you expand the rear seats for roughly the dimensions of, say, Lee Jordan plus two?"

Pulling up street-side on Wynyatt, Dora wailed on her horn, nearly jolting the trio out of their gourds. Grinning at the startled faces, Dora rolled down her window. "Well, if it isn't Grangey, Lee, 'n' Finnegan! Yer nanny ne'er teach you tots to come in out o' the rain?"

Back to index


Chapter 21: Wolf

Author's Notes:

Well, I'd originally stated that I'd post this chapter next Tuesday, but two factors came into play: the chapter needed less editing than I'd assumed, and things got unusually quiet on the site. Only three story submissions in 10 days? Relatively few reviews for those stories submitted? I suppose it could be mid-autumn blahs...

Anyway, for my small but loyal cadre of readers, here is the fourth-last chapter. And a new map for you! I actually had to pull together the diagram for my own benefit for chapters 21-23 as, otherwise, keeping track of the collisions and near-collisions would have driven me near batty. Crazy story!

Anyway, here is the map:


https://i.postimg.cc/T39wGHyJ/chapter21.png


Chapter 21. Wolf


Wrapped so tightly around each other, it would have been a challenge to sort out whose limbs were whose, but that was immaterial to Harry and Ginny. Rather, their breathless thoughts were riveted on...

What the hell was that noise?!

The funereal howl had braced them for two, three, four seconds... then final shattered into ghastly laughter; deep and dripping with inhuman malice.

"Pathetic dung." The first legible words echoed through the cellars as a gruff, rasping slur. "Stick around four more days, and I could remake ye. Make ye powerful, strong an' handsome like me."

Out of a low incandescent glow grew a hulking shadow. Harry and Ginny watched it spread over the opposite wall as some person, or creature, verged on a single light shining inside a chamber about forty feet down the passageway. From within the chamber emerged a noise — a weak, quivering voice that was quickly overwhelmed again by the rasping growl.

"That hardly sounded flattering, imp. Well, instead p'r'aps I'll jus' kill ye. Ye're no use to us. Never were, by my account."

Straining their ears, Harry and Ginny could just make out a weak exhalation; neither a cry nor a whimper, but merely a resigned expression of surrender.

For a half-heartbeat, Harry and Ginny froze, uncertain whether they might already be too late? Whether they should just race right back the way they came in?

But of course not. Before they'd even had time to conscious debate the best course, they were already creeping quietly up the tunnel, toward villain and victim, hoping-

"ARRR!" The shadow lunged.

For one blood-curdling moment, they thought they'd been seen; caught; as good as dead. However, the mocking laughter was still distant and not directed at them. Instead, the sniggering shadow pulled back from his victim, and Harry steered Ginny sideways, prudently, into a darkened corner.

They tried to block out the atrocious derision, but the gloating voice filled the cellars. "That look on yer face! So bloody brilliant!" Hacking chortles ensued for several seconds. "Don' be so fraidy. I'll not kill'y yet wee blighter. Nay. But soon, p'r'aps. Soon. Unless ye'd pr'fer to stay alive 'til the full moon?"

All fell silent. Ginny spent a moment renewing and strengthening their Disillusionent charm, while Harry listened, acutely, to the victim's short quick gasps, hoping to get an estimate of how badly the poor fellow might be hurt.

"Urrghh. Appears, I'm quite late, eh? Must get back upstairs, but I'll be down to play again later. Whut? Look more cheery, matey."

After one final cackle, footsteps boomed and within the doorway loomed a huge form — wild hair and bushy whiskers glinting in the low light, framing a boney, cragged face. The monstrous man peered disinterestedly about the tunnel, his bulging eyes skimming the shadow where Harry and Ginny crouched frozen and invisible. Finally, he lumbered off in the opposite direction, and receded up the distant staircase.

Ginny tugged Harry's hand. "We'd best check on, uh, the prisoner?"

"One sec." Harry dug in his pocket. With a slight tremble, he squeezed the Marconi coin, then exhaled. "Dora said something about 'slightest whiff of danger'? Well, this place bloody reeks."


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


Shay scratched his head as he stared around the passenger compartment, peered outside, then scratched his head again, unable to fathom how the sleek sports car had acquired almost limo-like space in back.

As they buckled in, Mione was comparably wide-eyed, although a look of recognition was already beginning to sink in, even before Lee whispered, "Magically extendable space."

"Yer lot all sorted?" Dora swiveled around with a welcoming grin. "Now, I reckon we ought- Oi! Hold on, luvs." She grappeled for a pocket, and hauled out a pulsating coin. Holding it up, she squinted, rotated slowly back around in her seat, then stared slightly off to the right. "Contact, K! It's pointing from a shade east of north."

"East of north. Islington, not Holloway." Kingston scowled. "They're at Wolf."

"House of Wolf?" Mione leaned forward from her seat. "That's where we were headed. We believe Dean Thomas is being held there."

"Dean? Captive?" Dora back riveted to Mione with piercing eyes. "At Wolf?"

"We believe so, yes." Mione nodded.

Dora glowered. "Well shite a bite o' kryptonite." Tromping on the clutch, she slammed the Vanquish into gear.


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


Lucy's eccentricities had, over several years of Holloway parties, been the source of some discussion. Angie and Langley had witnessed Lucy doing some interesting things. Indeed, also some puzzling and unhelpful things. But neither of them had ever seen Lucy glue herself seductively to the side of a Maitre d'Hotel, and slide a hand between the buttons of his tuxedo shirt.

"I must imagine it gets so very lonesome, all alone in your flat after closing." Lucy's wide eyes seemed almost deer-like. "I should perhaps join you; I think we could look at magazines together, over cups of hot milk and carob. What did you say your telephone number was?"

"Mademoiselle..." A deep flush of agitated discomfort crept up the man's neck. "I have already informed you that the Penningtons have canceled due to the weather, and that your party may have their table. You really needn't... uhh, I mean this is perhaps not the best place to... Erk! May I lead you to your seats?"

Except for Appleblum, who was busily studying something that looked like an old pocket watch, everyone looked on with amazement as the last barrier of private establishment snotty exclusivity crumbled, along with the Maitre d's normally stolid composure.

"Thank you, dear boy." Lucy stretched up to administer what may have been, depending on viewing angle, either a cheek kiss or an earlobe bite. "You've been so very helpful. I wish to speak with the proprietor to personally commend your service. Would you please be so kind as to arrange that?"

"I, uh..." The young man extracted himself, and hurried to them lead back toward an unconspicuous inner chamber of the restaurant. "I will see what I can do."

"You're really quite sweet." Lucy smiled. "Of course, if the owner is otherwise occupied, I would be content passing a message along through his son."

"Ah yes, I'm quite certain young Master Bonnefoi is on the premises." The Maitre d' gestured awkwardly at a table set within an alcove beneath steps leading to upper floors. "Your table. I will send a server out shortly with menus."

Angie bit her hand in pained silence for thirty seconds, until the man had scurried out of earshot, then unleashed a snort. "Yo' wretched whore! Lucy, that was beautiful."

"How very kind of you to say." Lucy hid her face shyly for a moment, then scowled at the table, quickly whisking away a bouquet of flowers that she seemingly found offensive.

"Yes, thank you Lucy." Langley nodded, a bit shell-shocked. "On such short notice, I was certain he would have turned us away. Pretty sure he thought us all dreadful scum but...? Heh, heh."

Ronnie pulled out a chair for Appleblum (who was still examining her device), then seated himself. He glanced around uncomfortably. "So, we're in. But what do we do? How do we find the woman who was assaulted? And when do we get back to finding Ginny and, uh, her boyfriend?"

"Well, Mr. Smith..." Appleblum put her watch-like instrument away. "It may be that Ms. Lovelace's request to meet with the owner's son will shake loose some clues on the young lady in distress. And, if my observations are correct, I believe that Ginny and Harry are, at this very moment, somewhere on the premises."

"Really?" Ronnie sat up bolt stiff. "Then ought we find some way to search the place?"

Appleblum pursed her lips. "Let's sit a minute, and think how best to..." Her voice trailed off as she caught a glimpse of some movement out in the reception area.

"How interesting." Appleblum's forehead creased as she focused on two people: a couple; middle aged; immaculately dressed. "Group, there is something I would like to examine a bit more closely. I'd ask a pair of you, Mr. Smith and Ms. Johnson perhaps, to follow me at a discreet distance. "


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


"G-g-ginny?" One of Dean's encrusted eyes was peering at her in confusion. "What... what are you doing here?"

"Hold still, I'd rather not slice off your hand." Ginny wedged an elbow firmly into the meat of his shoulder. Concentrating on the quarter inch of space between manacle and wrist, she fought back a nervous tremble while stewing over whether she was even remotely capable of enough precision on her first-ever attempt at a cutting spell.

"Errr..." Harry glanced back from where he was working on mending a fractured fibula. "Maybe it'd be safer to break him loose from the wall, and just split the chain between his hands. You reckon?"

"Oh, of course!" Ginny exhaled, then sliced quickly through the metal links. "Sorry Dean, but you're going to be clanking about like Jacob Marley until we get the proper tool to snap your little bracelets."

"Don't apologise." Dean settled on the stone floor, weak but grateful. Lightly, he rattled the chains about his freed wrists. "It's me who ought to apologise to you."

"If you wish." Ginny paused to tuck Dean's mirror-like pendant into his jumper, then checked his ribs and collar bone for any obvious breaks. "I'm listening, but the instant Harry's done with your leg, we'll all need to scarper."

"Er, yes. On that note..." Harry lifted Dean's foot and rotated it about the ankle. "I think the bone is mended, but please tell me if this hurts? "

Dean winced slightly, but seemed otherwise preoccupied. "Ginny, I'm deeply regretful for every-"

"Crap!" Ginny clamped a hand over the boy's mouth. "Harry, I heard a door."

"Oi." Harry went a shade paler; his voice dropped low and hoarse. "Dean, we'll have to chance that you're okay, 'cause we need you standing. Now!"

A confused clatter of footsteps sounded from the distant stairwell.

In a flash, Ginny had them all Disillusioned, while Harry helped Dean to his feet, wrapping the prisoner's arms around Harry's and Ginny's shoulders.

"We need to get out of the light." Harry glanced toward the door. "The wine cellar is out and to the left."

"Uh, Harry?" Ginny bit her lip. "'Out and to the left' means we'll be heading straight toward whoever's coming down the steps."

"That's why we've got to go now." Harry pulled them an awkward step forward. "It's not far; I think we can make it before we get blocked off."

The trio lurched out of the root cellar and ten feet along the tunnel, then froze when the clattery footsteps were punctuated by a female voice, at first muffled, then suddenly erupting into a blaze of caustic epithets.

Then came the wet, hollow sound of fist striking a face.

Silence fell for a moment, then came a cavilling male voice that Ginny wished she didn't recognise from a dark Camden Town alley.

"You munter, I warned you not to go all screechy on me! I didn't want to do that, you know!"

Sardonic female laughter ensued; crepitating as if through blood and phlegm.

"Get you head together, bint! All Dad and Mum wanted was an honest answer. Did you speak to that singer — Harry whatsisname? Did you? Did you tell him anything? About us? Just effing tell me that, and you'll be fine; I'll get everything back to normal."

"You're a pfaffetic pffukhing pffonce, Drake. Sfod you and your bfloody normal!"

Wincing at the bloodied, split-lip consonants, Harry and Ginny quailed at the thought of how harshly Pansy Parkinson was now paying for her machinations.

"Tell me, and I won't lock you down here." A ragged edge grew within the male voice.

Spluttery Laughter.

"Tell me, and I won't beat your face in!"

More ghastly cackling.

"Shut up, Pansy!"

ThwACK!!

Sickening clatter of limbs crumpling.

"Get up, you hysterical bint! I barely hit you little tap to shut you up didn't even effing hurt. GET UP!!"

Silence.

Finally shaking off a horrified trance, Harry tugged the others. Breathless, he, Ginny and Dean resumed edging toward the door to the wine cellar. Unnervingly, perilously, close to the foot of the staircase where Drake Bonnefoi seemed temporarily at a loss, Harry calculated that if the assailant's stupour could persist even just a few more sec-

"BITCH!"

They froze, listening to Drake's ragged agitated breaths, not knowing what rash mania would come next. Finally, he merely loosed a sigh. "Okay, lie there like a cow. I'll go hook up some extra chains for you. Right next to your poofter guitar-loving lover. So ruddy romantic now, eh? You two rotting with the turnips 'til Greywolf comes to gnaw your filthy hides? Serves you both right."

A pair of wing-tip shoes scuffed the floor, and began clopping closer, almost to the corner...

Given the narrow passageway, Harry, Ginny and Dean scrambled to flatten against the wall. Although Disillusioned, it seemed impossible that Drake could pass through without at least bumping them.

Adrenaline racing through his veins, Harry wondered how many scoundrels were lurking, ready to investigate whatever ruckus was bound to happen next? Yet, he saw no choice. He had to stand his ground and hope that-

br-BriiINNG- BriiINNG!

"Oh, for the love of...!" The stomps ceased. "Hello? Who? Ted? Listen, this is NOT a good time. I... whuh? What 'psycho blonde'? Eh?! Mind Control? Magic?? I don't know any psycho blondies with magical mind powe... You're shitting me! You're... You... There's a whole troop of them? Whole troop of magic psycho blondes? Oh, whew. Okay, well give a bleeding minute, and I'll be up."

There was a loud, harried exhalation that sagged into a sigh — tired; almost regretful. "Pansy, you thick-headed twit. If you'd only answered the questions, none of this would ever..."

There was a long pause. The sound of a shoe prodding flesh. "Are you really out cold, or are you having me on?"

Silence.

"Well, to hell with you. Stupefy!"

Thudding louder than ever, the footsteps resumed, and clomped their way back up the stairs.


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


"Oop! Go limp, kidders!" Dora's steering was textbook skid control, but the road was too slick; the momentum too great, and a brilliantly lit window decked with ornate, sparkling glassware loomed before them, barely one ice-glazed berm away.

Not the least bit limp, Mione clung to any part of Lee she could reach; her mouth pulled long in a noiseless Edvard Munch scream...

Then the auto pulled straight, and high precision tyres suddenly bit the road with renewed confidence, as if they were all out for a pleasant sunny jaunt through countryside.

"You prat!" Dora gave Kingston a flinty look. "A) I had everything under complete control, and B) we're not supposed to use magic."

Kingston raised an eyebrow. "C) No amount of magic will ever restore a totaled Vanquish to peak performance, and D) we're in the company of impressionable youth. 'Living, breathing, many-years-ahead-of-them' youth, might I add?"

"Old nelly." Dora scowled as she navigated the remaining quarter mile of Upper Street without incident. Just short of the Islington Assembly, ample space seemed to mystically open up between a pair of parked autos, giving enough breadth to park.

Pulling to a stop, Dora turned the key, and everyone fell silent, gazing a short distance ahead to the restaurant. Though quieter than the average Saturday hop, the establishment was nonetheless fairly busy.

Interested less in the clientele, and more in the property configuration, Mioned frowned. "There are a number of ways in and out; I count at least two doors, plus several exitable windows along the southern face, so perhaps we could post sentries along south, west and north cardinal points, while two people go in through-"

"Negative Grangey." Dora shook her head. "You kids sit tight, while K and I pay our respects to 'House of Wolf'."

A hot pulse of indignation was just beginning to throb it's way up Mione's neckline but then she blinked. "Look!" She pointed. "It's him!"

"Well, jeers 'n' cheers." Dora's expression could not have been less cheery. "If it isn't my sweet auntie Cissy and unck-y Lucas. Lord and Lady Bunny-foo; stepping out for a breath of evening air."


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


For Ted North, the evening was shaping up to remind him how much he loathed serving as Maitre d'Hotel at House of Wolf.

Unfortunately, given his status as orphan and not-quite-independent ward of the proprietors, he didn't feel he had much choice but to accept the long hours, low wages, shady ethics, social intolerance... and other crap.

Sifling a groan, he hung up telephone, straightened his tie, and prepared to- "GaAHH!"

"Hello." Lucy tapped on the door through which she'd just entered and, in a word-staccato completely lacking oral punctuation, said, "I thought you were sending out a server was that the owner's son you were speaking to on the telephone the flowers on our table were wilted and among them I found this."

Lucy held up a small round mirror.

"Ack." Ted lunged for it, but Lucy stepped deftly to the side, at the very moment that Langley stepped through the door behind them.

"Lucy, they're still not back, so- huh??" Langley, on pure reflex, reached up and grabbed Ted's forearm, arresting the Maitre d's charge.

As the two males stared at each other with faces frozen half way between outrage and mortification, Lucy looked on, clucking her disapproval. "My, my. Are all the staff such boors? This will certainly come out of any gratuity."

"Unhand me!" Struggling against Langley's grip, Ted grappled toward Lucy. "Give me that!"

"Give you what?" Lucy pocketed the mirror.

"Give who what?" Drake Bonnefoi emerged through the cellar door, blinking in the bright light. "Ted, what the hell is going on? Who are these twits?"

"She took- AiiII!" Ted flailed about; his hand throbbing purple from Langley's suddenly brutal clench.

"Sorry mate." Langley released Ted, letting the Maitre d' stumble down onto one knee. Langley turned to scorch Drake with his eyes, yet somehow still managing to hold his voice low and even. "Perhaps this is all a misunderstanding. Perhaps we won't press charges. And perhaps we'll just return to our table."

"No you won't." Drake whipped out what seemed to be a plain black conductor's baton, pointing it at Langley's chest. "Not before you tell me what your friend took."

"I took..." Lucy's finger did a little dance in the air before jabbing downward. "I took a look at the grotty greeny splotch on your trousers and nearly vomited."

The instant Drake glanced down, Langley's foot lashed out, catching Drake's wrist to send the wand twirling across the room — the perfect distraction for Lucy to grab Ted's bow-tie, tipping him face forward as her knee jerked up to greet his jaw with a sickening crunch, while Langley swung the teetering younger Bonnefoi head first into a solid oak cabinet.

"Well, that was fun." Lucy smiled placidly at the confused array of nattily-dressed limbs.

"Ya, eet looked qvite fun."

"Oi!" Langley gaped as the scrawny, scraggle-haired Camden Palace business manager seemed to have suddenly materialised... out of thing air? "Gyorgy, what on Earth are you doing here??"

"I just cooking up little more fun for you, Nevi." Antonin Gyorgy Dolohov grinned toothily, waving his wand. "Me, and my master chef, Greyvolf, ya?"

Slowly, and with dread, Langley's head turned to see that now, standing directly behind him, was a hulking, impossibly hairy man with wild, piercingly grey eyes.

"A werewolf?" Lucy yawned. "Oh please. Full moon isn't for four more days, and it will be overcast with showers and drizzle all night."

"Eh?" Gyorgy's eyebrow raised in momentary surprise, before regaining full composure. "Greyvolf doesn't need fangs and clawsz to be scary bloke." He nodded to his monstrous companion, then pointed at Ted and Drake. "Greyvolf, dump zhese two lazy-bones on couch. Zhen ve escort Langley and zhis bubble-brain blondie downstairz for being more hostages."

"Bubble brain?" Lucy blinked.

"Gyorgy?" Langley turned suddenly pale. "The Stags show at the Palace... You tipped the Bonnefois off about Harry, didn't you? You detected his magic?"

Gyorgy grinned.

"Shite." Langley shook his head. "And to think I considered you a mate, and a halfway decent music director."

Lucy's eyes went remarkably wide. "This scurvy little rodent is a music director??"

"Ya." Gyorgy sneered at her. "Vhat's it to you, Chick-ee?"

"Music?" Lucy stared disconcertingly. "Director? You?"

"Eh, yah?" Gyorgy frowned; puzzled at the odd question and an even odder look on her face. "Eet's my job vhen I'm not-"

"I can't get NO..." Lucy took a huge breath. "SATISFACTION! When I'm DRIVIN' in my CAR... and the man comes on the RAAY-DE-OHHH... tellin' me MOH AND MOH..."

In the ensuing chaos, as everyone scrambled to plug their ears, nobody noticed as Lucy opened her container of ground willow bark, and began letting a thin stream of it trail onto the floor.


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


"Just goin' out for a, uh, smoke." Ronnie waved to the waitress who was standing in for the absent Maitre d'Hotel. "Be back in a jiff."

Of course Ronnie was neither a smoker nor a particularly good liar, but the waitress, distracted by an odd sound of singing that had just sprung up somewhere in the building, barely noticed as he walked straight past her at the reception booth. Shrugging, Ronnie made a quick final glance about the entranceway, then raised his hood against the weather and hastened out the door.

Ronnie's eyes swept the street, up and down, gazing into alleys and recessed doorways... but did not spot Angie and Appleblum. Instead, he noticed a rather boss sports car idling a ways down the street. Pulled for a moment into one of his boyish fancies, he took a few unconscious steps toward the beautiful machine, then stopped, captivated by the sound of whispers.

"... but his hands are shackled. To the wall!"

The whispering female voice, just barely audible above the skittery noise of falling sleet, seemed to emanate from a shaded alcove, mere feet from where Ronnie stood.

"Don't roll your eyes at me, Lucas. The prisoner cannot have covered the mirror by himself. Someone removed it for him, or put it in a pocket. Someone has to have broken into the-"

"Someone did break into the cellars, Cissy." A male voice huffed. "And, given how evasive Miss Parkinson was, I suspect she knows who."

"Someone found the prisoner? Who??"

"Presumably Potter. Of course, that's precisely as intended, although admittedly I wasn't expecting him for another few days."

"Lucas! That's...! What are we going to...?!"

"It's fine, Cissy. Fortuitous, even. Everything is under control. Fenrir just barred the windows; he and Gyorgy are heading for the cellars as I speak. They'll sweep the premises, and will hopefully catch Potter and Thomas before they figure out where they're going. If Potter and Thomas aren't down there, we'll simply conclude that Pansy, our ingrateful little trollop, informed them of the tunnel. And hence my reason for this pleasant evening stroll — a pre-emptive trip up to the station to batten down the magical wards on the Highbury exit."

"Oh oh oh. I have an awful feeling about this, Lucas. Potters are such lucky bastards! Something is bound to go wrong."

"James' luck ran out in the end, Cissy. Besides, the younger ponce has no magical training. We'll handle him with ease."

"This still all feels so ill-advised. And I loathe that station. That corridor..."

"Twit! Pure coincidence it leads down to the Portal. Nobody has used it in years; nobody ever goes in there. As far as we're concerned, it's merely a disused Muggle maintenance area that happens to link to our tunnel."

Amidst an anxious female warbling, Ronnie heard the male voice grumble irritably, "Listen, if I didn't require your hand with the wards, I'd let you go back to the den and whinge into your chianti, but that is NOT AN OPTION. Now, shut up, and let's get this done!"

Ronnie ducked behind a large ice-glazed holly hedge the barest instant before a well-dressed gentleman and lady emerged from their sheltering alcove and began to move briskly north.

It was only then, under the cover of the foliage, that Ronnie finally spotted the pair he'd been originally seeking — Angie and Appleblum, crouched at the far edge of the greenery about twenty feet away.

Angie caught his eye and tugged lightly at her ear, silently mouthing an urgent question.

What did you hear??


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


Dean watched in amazement as Harry's fingers closed Pansy's cuts and lightened her bruises by mere touch.

"Well, that takes care of the superficial stuff." Harry looked thoroughly grim. "I'd try to awaken her, but with a probable concussion, I have no idea what risks magic could pose."

"Yes, and we still need to minimise our spell use anyway." Ginny bit her lip, frowning. "How to evacuate her, though?"

Dean blinked. "Er, I owe Pansy some favours. Let me see if I can carry her." Dean freed himself from Ginny's grip, took a step toward Pansy, then immediately collapsed to his knees, clutching his ankle.

"Sorry." Harry cringed. "The bone should be healed, but the soft tissue is likely still a mess. To fix ligaments and cartilage, I guess you need to know more about how they're supposed to connect."

"Of course. Makes sense." Ginny face descended into her hands. "Ugh. Two injured people to lug about, and the poxy slug who assaulted her could be back any second with reinforcements. I wish we'd signaled Dora a bit earlier."

Harry bit his thumb. "We'll just have to make do. There's no way we'd get these two up through the rear window, so let's finish finding the tunnel from the wine cellar. If you can help Dean hobble along, I'll throw Pansy over my shoulder."

"Ouch." Ginny glanced at Pansy, who was clearly no tiny waif. "I suppose levitation is too risky in tight quarters?"

"Right. I'd be afraid of banging her head." Harry threaded his arms around Pansy's midsection and tried, tremulously, to get his feet under himself in the tight space. Fortunately Ginny's hands, lifting beneath one of his triceps, gave him the extra bit of impetus he needed to struggle up. He wobbled, righted, then gave his girlfriend a smile. "Thanks."

Ginny helped Dean rise to his one healthy foot and, with deep fortifying breaths, the shaky group stumbled into the wine cellar.

Moving with excruciating care through the tight aisle between barrels, and listening anxiously for unwanted company, they eventually managed to navigate back to cask 27. Within a moment mercifully devoid of drama, Ginny figured out how to push it open, and they found themselves peering into a stone-lined stretch of thick darkness, just wide enough for them to traverse.

"Oi." Harry looked distinctly unenthusiastic. "How far is this, again?"

Ginny shrugged. "A few hundred yards."

"Uhhh..." Dean's eyes kept darting toward, then away from, the dark passage. "You don't suppose there'd be... snakes?"

"None to trouble you in February." Ginny shook her head. "They'd be hibernating."

Harry couldn't tell whether she was bluffing, but he nodded supportively, and gestured with his elbow. "You two go first, but wait for me right inside. I may need a hand stepping up over the lip."

Ginny looked appraisingly at an awkward 18 inch rise that was the price of admission to enter the tunnel. Inhaling, she launched upwards, setting one foot onto the stone lintel and pulling forward with enough momentum to thrust past and help Dean up through the narrow opening. He whimpered while jarring his injured leg against the lip of the cask... but they made it.

A half minute later, thanks to an intricate dance of shifting momentum, Ginny had successfully helped Harry lift Pansy up and through.

Harry was just fitting the cask panel back into place, when they all heard an odd noise that was... not... the sound of a cask-panel door closing.

"Huh? Was that...?" He frowned. "Sounded a bit like, The Rolling Stones?"

Ginny blinked incredulously. "Er, the song, perhaps. But, unless Mick Jagger has come down with a frightful case of laryngitis...?"

"Uhh? You know..." Dean's eyes were wide. "It rather sounded like Lucy Lovelace."

"Oh no!" Ginny's voice half-shattered. "Don't tell me we're going to have to rescue her too?!"

A pained look began to cross Harry's face... then he shook it off, biting his cheek. "No. We simply can't. If we don't at least get Dean and Pansy out to safety, then nobody will end up rescuing anybody."

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