The Sugar Quill
Author: Penpusher (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: By the Pricking of My Thumbs  Chapter: Chapter One: Business As Usual
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“Put away childish things” – [Working Title]

“By the Pricking of my Thumbs”

By Penpusher

Chapter One: Business as Usual

 

Peering myopically out of eyes crusted with sleep and yawning widely enough to dislocate his jaw, Oliver Wood padded into the large kitchen, fumbled for his wand and waved it vaguely at the kettle.  As it obediently began to fill itself with water, he ambled over to the window and drew the curtains, raking his fingers through his hair and gazing out into the large garden beyond.  He had to admit, the landscape certainly had changed since Harry had come home.

 

For several years while its owner had been in California, the garden of Harry’s House had grown into something resembling a tropical rainforest.  Impenetrable brushwood and trees taller than they strictly ought to have been had set Harry’s magical antennae quivering as soon as he had returned, but even he hadn’t been prepared for what had emerged, half-hidden behind the undergrowth.  Oliver had not been personally involved in the high jinx of the summer having been on tour with the Singapore Swifts.  However, on his return he was given chapter and verse, and even now kicked himself for having missed the most exciting adventure of the decade.  Oliver paused in his musings: there was no question that Harry had redesigned the grounds to great advantage, but Oliver had been surprised he had retained the Temple.

 

“That place must have so many awful associations, and so much dark magic about it, I’m surprised you want it within a twenty mile radius, never mind on your doorstep!” he had protested on his return, but Harry’s response had been casual and unworried.

 

“It’s been Excoriated by a professional, Oliver,” Harry replied mildly, “and there are no further traces of dark magic anywhere, inside or out.  Ask Ron; he checked it out.  Besides, there’s really no easy way to destroy something like that.  Its very position on the intersecting lines of power that made it so important to Voldemort renders it almost impossible to demolish without serious consequences.  Take the garden, for example.  Frankly, I don’t know whether the enchantment on it enhances the original size, or shrinks it in the eyes of muggle map-makers.  The spell is now so much part of the land, it would be very difficult to unravel them.  And the land is sustained and held stable by the very existence of the Temple.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  I really don’t want to tamper with that, I’d prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.”  Oliver had shrugged in acquiescence, but he still couldn’t look at the distant building without a shiver running down his spine. 

 

Hearing a door open behind him, Oliver turned away from the window to find Lee Jordan wandering in wearing, like Oliver himself, pyjamas and a bathrobe.  Lee grunted in greeting and sat down at the table, head in hands.  Remembering the kettle, Oliver once again waved his wand, this time with a little more precision, and within moments delivered two steaming cups of tea.  Lee mumbled his thanks and sipped his drink slowly, trying to prop his eyelids open.

 

“Late last night?” asked Oliver, breaking the lengthy silence.  Lee nodded.

 

“Didn’t get to bed till two; wretched Internet connection kept punting me,” he scowled, taking another sip of tea. “I really will have to change my ISP, the server on this one’s down more often than it’s up.”  Oliver smiled bleakly.

 

“I won’t pretend to understand what you’re talking about, but it sounds absolutely frightful,” he replied. “Personally, I’m grateful I only have to deal with prima donna Quidditch players.  I’ll leave the electronics to you, Lee.”

 

“Luddite!” muttered the dark-skinned computer geek, waving his wand for more tea.

 

“What?”  Oliver was genuinely puzzled.  Lee gave an exaggerated sigh.

 

“Let’s change the subject.” Lee yawned again. “You know why I’m looking like death this morning, what’s your excuse?”  Oliver shrugged.

 

“Night out with the players,” he replied. “Spent most of it massaging sensitive egos.  Honestly, anyone would think their lives depended on how many times the Daily Prophet mentions their name in a week.  As soon as they’re out of the news for a few hours, they start panicking.  For Merlin’s sake, it’s only a game!”  Lee choked on his tea.

 

“Oliver, am I still asleep?”  Lee stared at his friend, whose face was slowly colouring brick red.  Oliver looked away.

 

“Well, sometimes that’s just how I feel.” he replied gruffly. 

 

“Yes,” said Lee eying him thoughtfully.  “You said something like that last night.  Oliver, are you looking to give up Quidditch for good?”

 

“Ye gods, no!” Oliver looked shocked at the very thought.  He sighed.  “No, Lee, I’m just tired and heartsore.  What I said last night was perfectly true; I really miss being at home.”  Oliver stretched and seemed to snap out of it.

 

“Still,” he continued, “you have to take the knocks as well as the rewards.  I’ll be okay, I guess.”  Lee gave him a long look then went back to his tea.

 

“Just don’t let the Weasleys hear you even hinting about giving up, that’s all,” Lee added in warning, “Not to mention Harry.  He wouldn’t argue, he’d just hex you until you came to your senses!”  Oliver gave Lee a sour look.

 

“I doubt it at the moment,” Oliver replied, gloomily, “He seems to have more, ah, absorbing pursuits on his mind.”

 

“I’ve noticed,” agreed Lee, in the same mournful tone. “Tell me, Oliver: am I the only one who keeps walking in on them?”  The other man shook his head.

 

“You mean apart from Ron and the bathtub incident?  No.  I’ve had to walk quickly out of the West Room before now.”  Oliver sighed. “I don’t mean to imply anything improper, it’s just, well, they seem so – intimate somehow that you feel you’re interrupting something, even if you’re not!”

 

“They’re in the first flush, that’s all.” Lee made a disgusted face. “I found them in the garden the other day while I was quietly enjoying the afternoon sunshine.  They were so absorbed with each other, I don’t think they even noticed me.  Ah, well.”  He drained his mug and set it down on the table.  “I guess I’m just jealous, that’s all.”

 

“Morning all!” a voice came from behind them causing the two men to turn abruptly, and then sigh with relief on seeing that it was only Fred.  Lee glanced at the kitchen clock.

 

“Hey!” he protested, “I know we agreed on a breakfast meeting, but have a heart, Fred, it’s only 7.15am.” 

 

“Got too much to do today, can’t afford to waste time,” Fred was uncompromising, “but I could see my way to a cup of tea and some eggs and bacon while you make yourself decent.”  Lee scowled.

 

“I could also join in your fascinating conversation about my sister’s relationship with Harry Potter.”  Calmly pouring himself a cup of tea, Fred sat down to an embarrassed silence.

 

“What, no more anecdotes?” he teased, looking around the table, “Pity, I was looking forward to owling George.”

 

“Oh, come on, Fred,” Lee finally broke in. “Even though you don’t exactly live here any more, you’re not going to tell me that their, shall we say, exclusivity has completely bypassed you, are you?”  Fred shook his head, grinning from ear to ear.

 

“Hell, no!” he replied. “As I recall, I was the first person to congratulate Harry on having got her into bed.  He was so touched, he spat a whole mugful of tea over me.”

 

“I’m not surprised,” This was Oliver speaking. “Knowing your tact and discretion, Fred, I’m surprised it wasn’t the whole pot!  Can’t understand why they wouldn’t have you in the Wizarding Diplomatic Service.”  Fred levitated a cushion from the sofa and sent it spinning towards Oliver, who ducked, grinning.

 

“I have to confess, I’m slightly concerned at the intensity of their obsession after only such a short time,” Fred continued. “As I recall, Ginny was something of an old maid before she met that odious Muggle, and Harry, by his own admission, kept very much to himself in LA, if you’ll pardon the expression.  Ginny must be his first girlfriend since Cho Chang.”

 

“And I doubt he got up to much with her anyway,” added Oliver, morosely, “She didn’t exactly give a chap a lot of confidence in his own abilities, if you get my drift.”

 

“I thought she was after your time at Hogwarts, Oliver?”  This was Lee.  Oliver shook his head.

 

“I went out with her, not for long, you understand, in my last year.  If her attitude was the same by the time she went out with Harry, then I very much doubt if he got anywhere at all.”  Fred was laughing fit to bust a gut.

 

“So because you failed to get to first base, it would seriously annoy you to know that Harry scored a home run, huh?” he said, with great amusement.  Oliver looked uncomfortable.

 

“No, Fred,” he said, with a certain grave dignity. “It’s not like that.  Cho was, well, special.  Harry wasn’t the only one who felt bereft when she was killed.  The difference was that I had already given up on her.”  Fred stared at his friend and whistled softly.

 

“Well, you really are feeling below par this morning, Ollie old chap.”

 

“Don’t call me that!”

 

“Sorry, but what’s brought on this sudden catharsis over a very ex-girlfriend, who also happened to be a ball-breaker?”  Lee went very still, fully expecting Oliver to explode at Fred.

 

“Yes, I suppose that’s exactly what she was at the time I knew her,” Oliver replied quietly, after a pause. “Bloody good seeker, though.  Second only to Harry, she could have played for England – if she’d lived.”  Fred made noises of agreement, and Lee slowly let out the pent-up breath he had been holding against Oliver’s reply.  There was a pause while the three drank their tea.

 

“Now, Lee,” began Fred conversationally. “Seeing as Oliver has seen fit to give us chapter and verse on his love life, or lack of it, perhaps you’d care to enlighten us as to your current status.”  Lee glowered at Fred’s grinning face.

 

“You know perfectly well I’m too bloody busy at the moment to even think about women, never mind do anything about them,” he returned irritably. “So what about you then, eh?  Moving out of Harry’s House into a flat of your own.  Makes us wonder whether you’ve got something to hide.”  But judging by the steadiness of his smile, Fred was not daunted in the least.

 

“Nothing I wouldn’t be perfectly happy for my mother to walk in on,” he replied. “Just a preference for privacy.  And as you were saying earlier in your astute observations about Harry and my sister, there’s rather a lack of that particular commodity here.”  Oliver and Lee both lowered their eyes uncomfortably.

 

“Mind you,” Oliver commented, his mouth twisting into a grin, “now you’ve moved out, I find my private life generally comes under a lot less scrutiny.  I can’t imagine why!” 

 

Another cushion from the sofa flew towards the kitchen table.  Too late in ducking, Oliver took it full in the face.  Fred grinned in satisfaction and loped over to the fridge to inspect its contents.

 

“Mmm, sausages, eggs and bacon.  I think I could cope with that.  Got any tomatoes?”

 

“Yes,” returned Lee, retiring to his bedroom to get dressed. “In the little Muggle shop two streets away.  It's a newsagent so they’re bound to be open at this ungodly hour.  And get some milk and some orange juice while you’re there, okay?” 

 

Lee left the kitchen, nearly colliding with Ginny as he did so.  Bright red in the face, teeshirt and tendrils of hair sticking to her body, Ginny collapsed in a kitchen chair, panting heavily.  Presently, she roused sufficiently to see a mug of tea steaming gently on the table in front of her and gave Oliver a wan smile of thanks.  She sat up, abruptly registering her brother’s presence.

 

“Hi, Fred,” she said huskily and with a marked lack of enthusiasm. “Run out of milk, coffee, eggs and fillet steak again, have you?”

 

“And good morning to you too, Ginny,” replied Fred, magnanimously ignoring the sarcasm. “It’s nice to see you too, looking so well and in such a wonderfully uncritical mood.”  She made a face at him.

 

“Oh, get back in your pen, Fred,” she told him. “The bylaws in this area specifically preclude grazing rights for livestock.”  Fred raised his eyebrows.

 

“Not bad, Ginny, you’re definitely getting better,” he replied, “but you need to pause a little longer before the punchline.”  Ginny ignored him.  She nodded at the box of eggs and large vacuum pack of bacon he was holding.

 

“Are you going to cook those, or are you considering taking up still life painting?”  Fred didn’t bother to answer, and proceeded to levitate a frying pan on to the range.  He looked her over critically.

 

“You didn’t go out running on your own, did you?  Where’s your lord and master this morning?” he asked her, while remotely arranging the bacon in the frying pan and cracking the eggs into a bowl preparatory to whisking them.  Smiling, Ginny sat back in her chair and stretched her legs luxuriously.

 

“He’ll be in soon.  I was quite some way ahead of him, so I’m not surprised it’s taken him so long to catch up.”

 

Honestly, the lies that float around this kitchen when I’m not here to keep order have to be heard to be believed!” 

 

Harry stood in the kitchen doorway positively dripping with sweat.  The thin material of his old grey teeshirt and shorts clung to his body, leaving very little to the imagination. 

 

“Oh hi, Harry!” Ginny jumped slightly at the sight of him. “Didn’t hear you come in.”

 

“Obviously!” Harry loped into the kitchen, wiping the perspiration from his face with his teeshirt. “And did it also just slip your mind that you took a short cut home while I stuck it out for the full five miles, huh?”  Ginny flushed slightly at the resultant jeering from Fred and Lee, but refused to be cowed.

 

“Oh, cut the self-righteousness and drink the tea Oliver’s made for you,” she retorted, determined not to be rattled by anything.  Harry stood close to her, his overcharged body exuding heat, sweat, traffic fumes and that indefinable smell which was distinctively Harry. 

 

“Thanks Oliver.”  Harry lowered himself into a kitchen chair, breathed a huge sigh of relief and took a swig of the hot, fragrant liquid.

 

“It’s murder out there,” he complained. “Muggle traffic in London is not much better than in LA.”

 

“You should avoid the rush hour then,” replied Fred, drawing careful patterns in the air with his wand to ensure that none of his food ended up on the floor. “Breakfast, anyone?”  He began to allocate the plates.

 

“Does anyone know of a gym?” Harry continued over his fry-up. “The air around here is so polluted with car exhaust that it’s a health hazard just running down the road.  Not to mention the danger from the traffic; London drivers are scary!  I used to be a member of Taliesin’s on Tarot Street when I was in LA, but I’ve never heard of a wizard gym in London.”

 

“Oh, they do exist,” said Fred, casually mopping up the remains of his bacon fat with a slice of buttered bread. “There’s one in Mornington Crescent, actually, just down the road from me.  It’s called Ace of Wands.  I’ll get you an introduction if you want.”

 

“You mean you’re not a member yourself, Fred?”  The red-haired man laughed and shook his head, pushing his plate aside.

 

“I’d have thought you’d need to get some sort of exercise,” commented Oliver dryly, nodding at Fred’s empty plate, “if you eat like that all the time.”  Fred grinned broadly and raised his arms, stretching from head to toe to reveal a remarkably spare, lean frame.

 

“I get my exercise in other ways,” he replied enigmatically, rising from the table.  Ginny did likewise.

 

“Well, some of us have to work today,” she announced, heading for the stairs. “I’ve a full afternoon’s editing to look forward to, and a technical in the studio this morning with some half-assed band, so I hope someone else is going to cook tonight!”  Harry raised a hand, his mouth full of bacon.

 

“My turn,” he said, indistinctly. “I’ve got a free afternoon.”  Fred glanced over to the doorway.

 

“Ah, there you are!” he greeted Lee, who was just coming back into the kitchen, showered, dressed and hungry-looking. “Time for our meeting?”  Lee stared.

 

“But I haven’t had breakfast.”  Fred shook his head.

 

“We’ve eaten it all, I’m afraid.  Never mind; you can make up for it at lunch!”  At Lee’s horrified expression, Oliver took pity, removed a full plate from the oven and placed it on the table.

 

“Sometimes I think life would be easier if Fred spent more time in Mornington Crescent,” muttered Lee, diving into his breakfast.

 

 

********************************************

 

 

“Octavia, I think I’m going to have to call a rain check on this one.”

 

“Give me one good reason!”

 

“I’m just not sure I want to work with a band at this time.  I told you that before you set this up!”

 

“Just give it a chance, that’s all I ask.  A tryout’s not going to cost you anything.  Look, I know you’re a solo artist, but this stint would give you the lift you need into the popular music venues.  This band’s already got a contact at the P.O., that’s why they need a female lead.  Ginny, I don’t like to pull weight and experience on you, but please, just trust me this time.  After all, if it bombs you can always pull out.  At least come and meet them.  I happen to know that one of them’s no stranger to you.”  

 

And with that, Ginny Weasley’s agent, a shrewd-looking witch by the name of Octavia Tenaxis, turned on her heel and walked into Wizarding Radio’s Hospitality Lounge, leaving Ginny herself no option but to follow in her wake.  She did so, grumpily and with no inclination to co-operate in the slightest.

 

“The youngest Weasley herself!  How lovely to see you after all this time?” 

 

Ginny raised her head in surprise at a familiar voice and found herself face to face with Justin Finch-Fletchley.  Her disgruntled expression gave way to a wide grin as she took in his familiar, smiling face framed with luxuriant curls, and she hugged him impulsively.

 

“Justin!” she cried. “I haven’t seen hide nor hare of you in years!  What have you been doing with yourself?  And what on earth are you doing here?”  Justin smirked in a self-satisfied manner.  Despite the very individual dress sense and the over-long hair, Justin had changed very little from the well mannered, gentlemanly boy Ginny had known at Hogwarts. 

 

“Who do you think runs the band you’re trying out this afternoon?” Justin replied with a wide grin. “I’m the keyboards man!”  Ginny’s eyes grew round, but her mouth firmed into a straight line as she turned to send a glare worthy of a basilisk at the retreating back of her agent.  Why do I suddenly feel as though I’ve been set up? she wondered.

 

“Come and meet the others.” Justin took her arm with the practised casuality of the truly well bred and led her over to a small group of strangers helping themselves from a well-appointed refreshments trolley.  Grasping a cup of black coffee in one hand, Ginny held out the other to a very tall, hunky man with dark brown hair and eyes to match. 

 

“This is Charles, our bass player,” Justin began.  Charles seemed rather young and gauche, but he had a very sweet smile, even if he did blush and glance away quickly when he met Ginny’s eyes.  She turned to a slender, rather spindly individual with bushy hair and a thin, bird-like face.  She almost snatched her hand away, however, when he raised his eyes to hers: they were so wild as to be almost insane.

 

“This is Findo,” continued Justin, calmly, “He’s the drummer.  He’s also known as ‘Animal’ in honour of a well-known Muggle TV show.  He can be pretty scary,” I bet!  thought Ginny, grimly, “but he’s okay when he remembers to take his medication.”  Giving Justin a startled glance, Ginny was not entirely sure that he was joking.

 

“And the blonde bombshell on the sofa, currently ignoring everything apart from his own little world, is Marcus Torrence,” Justin continued, levitating a glass of water and suspending it over the other man’s head.  Without raising his eyes, the man on the sofa raised his wand and deftly transformed the water to steam.  Ginny turned to see a figure dressed entirely in black with blonde hair and skin so fair it was almost translucent.  He was lounging on a sofa, feet on the coffee table, hidden behind the Daily Prophet.  As she looked, he slowly turned a page and reached for his coffee.

 

“This is Ginny Weasley, Marcus,” said Justin, with exaggerated patience. “She’s going to be our new female lead.”  Unfazed, the blonde swallowed his coffee and continued reading.

 

“Wonderful,” he replied in a deadpan tone. “I’m on the edge of my seat.”  Ginny’s eyes narrowed involuntarily at his sarcasm, but she swallowed the temptation to give as good as she got.

 

“Will we be trying out here, or would you prefer to sample the studio?” she asked in her sweetest tone.  He threw the newspaper aside and rose from the sofa in one fluid movement.   His intense blue gaze swept over her with the utmost indifference, finally to fix on the exit.

 

“Whatever.”  The impassive response was tossed back over his shoulder as he stalked through the swing doors and down the stairway towards the basement.  Ginny took several deep breaths to calm her rising temper.  Logic dictated she should walk out now.  This was not her idea.  She was a solo artiste, she didn’t want to sing with any band, never mind this one.  She was positive that she would never be able to work with what was on offer here.  For Merlin’s sake, how had they got together in the first place?  An adolescent, an upper-class charmer, a potential psychopath, and The Ice Man!  Ginny shook her head – I’m out of here!

 

However, despite all logical arguments to the contrary, when Justin popped his head around the door with his oh-so-sweet smile, Ginny found herself following him up to the first floor where the rehearsal rooms were situated, and even warming up a little as she walked.

 

 

*********************************************************

 

 

Hermione was reading the menu in Giovanni’s.  This activity involved ploughing through close type covering two sides of a piece of A3 card.  And then there was the specials board, which almost obscured one complete wall of the restaurant.  Hermione didn’t care: thorough as always, she read through every syllable of the menu while she waited, fully aware that when the time came she would order her usual: Caesar Salad with mineral water, followed by Forest Fruits Sorbet and a small Espresso.

 

Her life had changed considerably since the events of the summer, she reflected.  Until then, she had been the original blue-stocking, working all the hours there were to further her career in the legal profession.  Then Harry had come home, and the knock-on effects of his presence had been immense, not least in her relationship with Ron.  She smiled mistily and eased herself back into her chair.  She was still not entirely clear as to the full ramifications of their summer adventure, but the most important outcome had been their marriage.

 

After years of skirting warily round each other, not entirely sure what had gone wrong in the first place but unwilling to repeat it, circumstances had finally forced them to face up to their relationship.  Ron took an unusually macho stance, refusing to leave her alone for more than a few hours and virtually moving into Harry’s House on the spot.

 

“I’m not about to risk losing you a third time!” he had said in a voice that brooked no denial, and promptly transferred his belongings into her room.  For the first few nights, they had simply held each other, getting used to the feeling of togetherness, but after that…  Hermione smiled and closed her eyes at the memory.  Ron decided within days that there was no earthly reason to wait any longer to be married – I’ve waited long enough for you, Hermione – so they began the preparations immediately.

 

The door of the quiet Trattoria crashed open and feet stomped angrily over to the window table where Hermione was sitting.  She looked up in surprise to find her friend and lunch companion, Ginny Weasley, flinging her leather jacket over her chair with unnecessary violence.  Wordlessly, Ginny picked up Hermione’s mineral water and drained it in one gulp, signalling to the waiter to replace it as she did so.

 

“And I’ll have a large gin and tonic,” she grated out, savagely, “with a chaser of hemlock to take away.  Merlin, what a morning!”  Hermione stared at her friend then narrowed her eyes.

 

“Ginny, you haven’t run into David Markland again, have you?”  The red-haired girl looked up puzzled, then her face cleared.

 

“Oh, no,” Ginny shook her head. “No, it’s not that particular male idiot who’s got me going this time.”  She ground her teeth as their drinks arrived, and absently poured the tonic into Hermione’s empty water glass, ignoring the gin altogether.  Hermione was about to set her right, but took one look at her friend’s face and decided she preferred to deal with her sober when she was in this mood.  Ginny took a drink and sighed, seeming not to notice anything wrong.

 

“Hermione, you have no idea what I’ve been through this morning!”  Her companion smiled and nodded to the waiter who was still hovering.

 

“I suggest we order our lunch, then you can tell me all about it.”

 

 

Ginny’s morning had gone from bad to worse.  Once down in the studio, she had breathed a sigh of relief.  The band seemed to be a good deal more professional than she had expected.  She was aware that Justin had always been a very reliable and talented keyboards player, but she had never actually worked with him before.  The bass player more than knew what he was doing, and the drummer, despite his general insanity, seemed to recognise instinctively what was required.  And the vocalist.  Well, once the rehearsal had started, she had to admit that not only did Marcus sound terrific, he looked incredibly hot.  He was average height, lithe and slight in build like Ginny herself, and the contrast between his blonde pallor and her red-gold English rose colouring was very effective on stage.  And his voice was simply perfect: a match made in heaven for her own.  She was just beginning to enjoy herself and was looking forward to the first playback when it all started to go pear-shaped.

 

Ginny had always been fascinated as to the comparison between a wizard recording studio and the Muggle equivalent.  Both consist of a reasonably large open room with acoustic tiling on the walls and ceilings, and a much smaller ante-room containing the recording equipment, but there the similarity ends.  In Muggle studios, great care has to be taken in building a studio that will not interfere with the sound produced by the musicians in any way.  There are large banks of switches, reel to reel tape machines, splicing equipment, microphones and headphones – you name it, they have it.  For wizards, the sound absorbing tiles in the studio itself are only there to prevent noise pollution from outside the studio; the acoustic properties of the room are adjusted by carefully designed charms.  Equally, wizards have no need of the vast array of machines: their recording is done on specialist pieces of equipment called Echospheres.  These look like small crystal balls filled with colourless swirling smoke, but when the appropriate charm is invoked, the Echosphere will record and play back anything detected within a radius of ten feet or so.  Wizard recording engineers spend a large part of their time modifying the charms on individual Echospheres in order to provide multi-track recording.  They also have vast collections of spells to adjust the acoustic properties of the studio rooms themselves.  A final difference is the lack of microphones: a simple Sonorus spell amplifies the voice, a more sophisticated variant will control how much. 

 

 

At present, Ginny’s career as a singer was burgeoning and she was finding less and less time to work for Wizarding Radio, but when she had first joined Ernie as a trainee, this was the environment in which she had aimed to spend her life.  She had quickly crossed to the other side of the fence, but her hard work and dedication in those early years resulted in a good grounding in the basics of recording work, and unlike many other artists, she knew her stuff.

 

Consequently when, after the first playback of their rehearsal, Marcus Torrence started complaining about the concentration of upper harmonics in the vocal sound, Ginny wasted no time on false modesty.

 

“If it sounds nasal to you, then that’s probably because it is,” she told him. “Instead of criticising the charm-work involved, drink a glass of water and relax your shoulders.” 

 

He gazed at her expressionlessly, but there was something about him that put her in mind of a coiled spring.  She took an involuntary step backwards.

 

“When you’ve been in the business as long as I have,” he began, quietly, “you get a feeling for balance, for what is well-structured and what needs adjustment.  And despite your obvious expertise, that’s something you evidently lack.” 

 

He turned to the ante-room where Octavia was sitting with the sound wizards.  “I say that Echosphere Sync. Five is off to about – oh, a maximum of four degrees.  Check it!”

 

Such was the icy composure of the man and his total conviction that his bidding would be done that it was done, immediately.  Echosphere Sync. Five was found to be off-true by exactly 3.5 degrees.  Ginny seethed in helpless frustration, particularly as Marcus himself neither gloated nor sneered.  He treated her as though she were a small and particularly bothersome child.

 

 

“Anyway, at the end of the session, Justin came over to me and asked what I thought.  Well, I couldn’t lie to him, so I admitted that I thought the sound was terrific, but I couldn’t commit myself just yet.  I said I’d consider it and talk to Octavia before making a decision.  And do you know?  Marcus Torrence simply turned round and told me not to take too long, or maybe not to bother at all.  I demanded to know what he meant, and he just sneered.  I can hear the words now: ‘Female vocalists are ten a penny,’ he said, ‘and you’re no different – even if you are shacked up with the Famous Harry Potter.’  Ooh! I could tell Justin was just about ready to slug him one.  Smoke was virtually coming out of his ears!”  Hermione laughed.

 

“No, Ginny darling, that’s just a head-cold remedy!”  Ginny stared in incomprehension, then joined in Hermione’s merriment.

 

“Oh, now what do I do?” she moaned, gazing despondently at the tabletop.  Hermione shrugged.

 

“Just tell them politely that you’re not interested in singing with them, and they’ll go find another female lead for the chauvinist git to torment.”  Ginny looked up at her friend with limpid brown eyes.

 

“That’s just the problem,” she replied in anguish. “Octavia is right!  I need the exposure, I need to be seen at some of the top places and this lot already have a contract at the P.O.”  Hermione looked puzzled.

 

“Where’s that?”  She asked.  Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise.

 

“The Post Office, of course,” she replied.  At Hemione’s blank look, she frowned slightly.

 

“You don’t mean to tell me you’ve never heard of it?” Ginny was surprised.  Hermione shook her head.  Ginny grinned in real anticipation.

 

“Oho!  Have you got an experience in store for you!” she said brightly. “Tell you what, I’ll reserve a table for you on our first night!”  She clapped a sudden hand over her mouth.  Hermione looked stern.

 

“What!  You haven’t agreed to go with Justin’s band, have you?  Oh, Ginny, how will you cope?  You’ve just spent twenty minutes telling me how you can’t stand to be in the same room with this Torrence guy, now you’re telling me you’re going to be working with him for the foreseeable future?”  The other girl dropped her eyes, wriggling awkwardly in her seat.  Fortunately the coffee arrived just at that moment, and Hermione was too occupied in enjoying the kick from the strong black liquid to seriously harangue her friend.

 

“It’s not forever, Hermione, just a two-week contract at the Post Office Nightclub.  It’ll be a breeze.  I’m sure I can cope with it just for the experience!”  Hermione gave her a very old-fashioned look.

 

“Hmm,” she said thoughtfully. “Ginny, what does this guy look like?”

 

“Marcus Torrence?  Well, he’s not exactly tall, perhaps a little over my height, slightly built, rather graceful actually, very blonde with incredibly intense ice-blue eyes, and a mouth that belongs on a trombone player.  Wait, just a minute.  What are you smirking at?”  Hermione was shaking her head and laughing.

 

“Ginny, how long have you spent looking at this guy?  You say he annoys the hell out of you, so how come you can give me chapter and verse on his knock-out looks?”

 

“Hermione, that’s just not fair!  I wouldn’t go within six feet of him if a Wall of Force separated us.  Don’t be ridiculous!”  But Ginny’s cheeks were warming and she looked away.  Hermione pursed her lips slightly, but decided not to press the point.

 

“How’s Harry?” she asked casually. “Ron’s met him for lunch, but I haven’t seen him for a week or so.”  Ginny smiled.

 

“Still the same old Harry,” she replied, stirring her coffee absently. “He’s been awfully busy settling in to UWIZ again.  He’s taking some DADA classes now and he’s had to mug up on quite a lot of theory.  He went to visit Alastor Moody a couple of times for hints on technique, and, oddly enough, he says that Gilderoy Lockhart has been very helpful indeed.  I can’t see how he could be, but there it is.  All in all, you’re not the only one who’s not seeing a great deal of him!”  She sighed and put her coffee spoon back in her saucer.

 

“Hermione,” she said after a pause, “how do you cope with Ron’s long hours?”  The other girl considered, then shrugged.

 

“I suppose I grew used to only seeing Ron when we were both free from any other commitments,” Hermione replied, at length. “We spent a good few years as friends, you know, even if other things were lurking beneath the surface.  Neither of us dated anyone else, although I know Ron tried a couple of times.  We were just, well, resisting the inevitable I suppose.”  She drained the last of her coffee.

 

“So now when he works late, I just do likewise.”  She smiled, glancing at her watch and picking up her handbag.  “And when he has to go away on business, I take work home with me.  There’s always plenty to do.  Now Ginny, I’m afraid I’ve got to get back to chambers if I’m going to get home at all tonight.”  She threw a light shawl round her shoulders and stood up.  Ginny did likewise, rescuing her leather jacket from the back of her chair.  The friends left the Trattoria and went their separate ways to continue the day’s work.

 

 

********************************************************

 

Harry Potter walked up the gravel drive towards the house, muttered Galileo to the lion-shaped door-knocker, and sauntered into the hall, fully expecting to find an empty house.  Instead he heard the sounds of pots banging, cupboards slamming and swearing coming from the kitchen.  Walking in, he regarded Ginny engaged in what looked like a full-scale war with every pan and utensil in the house.

 

“Hello,” he said, nervously, not quite sure what to expect. “I thought I was supposed to be cooking tonight.”  She looked up at him through her flopping red hair and scowled.

 

“I couldn’t concentrate so I came home early.” She tipped her wand towards a large pan full of frying onions, garlic and fresh basil and a container of lamb chunks emptied itself into it.

 

“Oh, darn it!” she exclaimed, in woe. “The basil should go in after the meat!  Will nothing go right today?”  Harry crossed the room and took her into his strong, capable arms.  At first she resisted him, but eventually she gave a sigh and relaxed against his chest, the tension draining out of her.  He kissed the top of her head, waved a nonchalant wand at the kettle and the teapot and sat her down on the sofa still holding her while the tea made itself.  Presently, two cups winged their way over to the coffee table.  Subdued, Ginny sipped her tea, suddenly aware of how thirsty she was.  She looked up at him.

 

“I didn’t go AWOL, you know,” she said quietly. “I was so mad I found I had covered my afternoon’s work in the blinking of an eye, so I decided not to hang around any longer.”

 

“Very wise.” He took her empty mug from her hands and placed it on the table, tucking her back into his arms. “Now, are you going to tell Uncle Harry what’s wrong?”  She gave a quiet snort of derision.

 

“I’ve already dumped on Hermione today, so it’s a bit self-indulgent pouring it all out over you as well.”  However, with a little encouragement, Ginny found herself once again relating the saga of Marcus Torrence, and she had the immense satisfaction of seeing Harry’s face darken and feeling his muscles bunch when she related the parting shot which had so offended her.

 

“Arrogant little prick!” he muttered crossly, holding her close against his chest and inhaling the sweet fragrance of her hair.  Ginny stiffened in surprise.

 

“Harry!” she shifted to look up into his face, half amused, half shocked. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use language like that before.”  He smiled tenderly.

 

“I have to be really annoyed before I use profanity,” he told her, “and even then, I’m careful who’s around at the time.”

 

“Oh?  So I’m not important enough for you to hold your tongue, is that it?”  An amused smirk belied the stern tone.  Harry’s smile did not falter.

 

“On the contrary,” he replied, easily. “I only allow myself the luxury of expressing my true feelings around those I know will understand and appreciate them.”  Ginny grinned, freeing herself enough to wind her arms around his neck.

 

“Your true feelings, eh?” she whispered, softly, “I could do with experiencing a few of those.  Right now.”

 

“Oh yes?” he returned, nuzzling her neck.  He began to unfasten the buttons of her shirt and heard her sharp intake of breath as his lips met the delicate juncture of neck and shoulder. 

 

“Oh yes, indeed!” she murmured, smiling as she closed her eyes blissfully.

 

 

************************************************

 

Presently the front door opened to admit Oliver and Lee, who had met on the gravel driveway. 

 

“Thank Merlin!” exclaimed Lee exhaustedly, throwing his jacket over the banister and his holdall full of papers into the study.  “You know, Oliver, I could murder a pint later.”  Oliver was already throwing open the cupboards in search of food.  He shook his head.

 

“Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing in this business,” he said conversationally, frowning at the abandoned supper preparations on the table and the range.  He started to clear up. “I put in more hours than the average Ministry employee during the day, yourself excluded, Lee.  I’m away on tours for a large part of the year.  I deal with legal issues, red tape, boring foreign officials, hotels, press, portkey tuners, you name it, I do it.  I act as spokesperson, advocate, public relations officer, surrogate mother, amateur psychiatrist and medic to seven temperamental atheletes, and the pay is absolutely lousy, not to mention the unspeakable conditions …” he trailed away as his eyes focussed on the hearthrug.  Walking slowly over to the fireplace, Oliver gingerly picked up an article of hopelessly creased pale blue cotton with an American designer label.

 

“Lee,” he began curiously, “Doesn’t this shirt belong to Harry?”  Lee finished conjuring the tea things and came to look.

 

“I believe it does,” he replied frowning. “Just a moment: wasn’t he wearing it when he went over to UWIZ this morning?”  They looked at each other, then Oliver’s eyes widened as he reached out a hand towards something half hidden under a sofa cushion.  A muscle in Lee’s cheek twitched and he pointed a finger disbelievingly.

 

“That’s not… “ he trailed off and the two men stared at each other. 

 

“Please tell me that isn’t what I think it is.”  Lee began again in a strangled tone.  Oliver dropped the confection of pale pink lace and satin as if it were on fire.

 

“Ye gods!” he muttered, “They’re at it again!”  He turned to his friend in despair.

 

“Lee,” he began, “We’re definitely going to have to join forces.”  Lee’s eyes practically popped out of his head.

 

“I’m sorry, Oliver,” he began carefully, “but if you’re suggesting what I think you’re suggesting, then I’m very much afraid that we play for different teams.”  Oliver scowled and flushed a deep, brick red.

 

“I mean we need to get a life!” he hissed. “We need to get out and meet people, most especially female people.  It’s getting so as I have to keep taking cold showers with those two around.  And it’s not good for my heart, in any sense of the word.” 

 

“Nor your self-confidence,” agreed Lee, mopping imaginary sweat from his brow.  He held out a mug.

 

“Let’s just settle for a cup of tea now and a pint later, shall we?” Lee glanced around the kitchen at the unfinished dinner preparations. “And we might try to salvage some supper – that is, if those two ever decide to surface!”

 

//
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