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SIYE Time:16:55 on 18th June 2018


Anthem for the Scraps
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Ron Weasley
Genres: Drama, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 101
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.


Hitcount: Story Total: 3944; Chapter Total: 214
Awards: View Trophy Room




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.





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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."

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