Genreshort story, complete, au/original (see notes)
rating and length G, about 3,500 words. No warnings.
Notes This is the third in my "Christopher series; it stars 'my' au, Muggle, postwar Snape (now known as Michael Griffin), his son, Christopher (13), Christopher's sister Lily (15), and a few other OCs. A first draft, though I did some rewriting as I went along. Concrit, and especially Brit-picking, welcome.
Music (alternate Title: Reeling through the stars)
"So, tell, me. Whose harebrained idea was this?"
Christopher couldn't read his father's expression; he might have been amused or curious or even genuinely annoyed. If he was annoyed - well. Amused or curious would be okay, but Chris didn't want his dad coming over all protective and slamming the door on their new project. He looked down and twiddled the button of his school jacket, trying to think how to answer.
"Well? I'm waiting."
Christopher looked up at his father. He'd decided he'd better be strictly truthful. After all, they weren't doing anything wrong. Father Sean had said it was okay, and if he was going to be there, why did mam and dad have to worry?
But they always worried.
He sighed, and said, "Mine. I mean-"
"Indeed? And what kind of transport do you expect to get,?"
Transport? "It's at the school, dad!" Chris protested. "It's a school dance. We usually take the bus."
"In the middle of the night," his father said flatly. "You are not taking the bus.
"Then can't Mam-"
"No. And I won't drive you, either."
"But Dad! I have to be there! I promised-"
His father interrupted. "I don't care what you promised. You are not going to be out at a school dance, or any other kind of dance, till midnight on a Saturday. You might consider speaking to your mother or me before you make promises like that."
Christopher felt his stomach tighten. It wasn't fair; they weren't doing anything wrong. Why couldn't dad listen? "I promised!" he shouted. "You always say a man is only as good as his word!"
His father's eyes flashed. "Then a man should be careful about how he gives his word, shouldn't he?" he said quietly. Christopher, to his horror, felt tears in his eyes. Dad would never listen now; he was too angry, and he would have to let the others down. Their very first gig! "Shouldn't he?" his father repeated.
"Yes," Chris answered. He swallowed a lump in his throat, and added, "But Father Sean's going to be there. He hired us."
"Hired you to do what?" came his mother's voice behind him. She'd just walked through the front door, still wearing the white clogs she always wore in the hospital. She had a newspaper-wrapped package in her hand, and the fragrance of hot oil, batter and chips came in with her.
"A gig," Chris answered, hating how squeaky his voice sounded. "We're supposed to play for the school dance, Sam and the twins and me."
"Tomorrow night," his father cut in, "and he didn't see fit to ask us for our permission before he promised his services."
Christopher's mother looked at him, then at her husband. She sighed, set the package of fish and chips down on the counter, and said quietly, "Christopher, go upstairs please, and tell your sister to come set the table. Give us five minutes, will you, love?"
His head down, Chris stumped up the stairs and walked into the bedroom he shared with his sister. "Lily," he said to her, "Mam says, set the table."
"Just a minute," she answered. She was hunched over at the desk, with a pen in one hand and her other on an exercise book. Chris heard the scratch of her pen as she finished her sentence, then turned to look at him. "What have you done now?" she said. "You look miserable."
"S'nothing," Chris answered.
"Oh, come on. You can tell me."
Chris chewed his lip and stared at her for a moment. She was looking straight at him with her hands folded and without a trace of a smile. "It's our band. You know, the banshees?"
"Well, we have a gig. We're supposed to play at the school tomorrow, but Dad won't let me go."
Lily frowned. "You have a gig? You mean they're paying you? They're actually going to give you money?"
"Aye. 'Course." Then Chris added, "Father Sean said he would."
"Did you tell Dad that? That you're getting paid?"
Lily let her breath out in a sound something between a sigh and a chuckle. "Honestly!" she said, "you are a duffer sometimes." Shaking her head, she ran down the stairs just as their mother called, "Lily!"
Christopher sat on his bed, wondering if five minutes were up. Why hadn't he told Dad the banshees were getting paid? Lily was right; it would make a difference. At least, he thought it would. Dad approved of children working for the money they got; he didn't believe in simply giving you things. "That's because he was never given anything very much," their mam had said once. He'd definitely mention the promised payment, if he got a chance - but how could he bring it up now? Dad was pretty mad at him.
He was going over possible conversations in his head when Lily ran up the stairs and knocked on the door. "Chris?" she said, "come down. Tea's ready."
But all his mental rehearsal proved useless. His father's expression was still stern, and Christopher didn't dare bring up the subject of the gig again. His mother and Lily filled the silence at the table, chatting about a nature show on penguins and an experiment Lily was trying to set up for her chemistry class. It wasn't until they had finished their meal and Chris had begun to clear the table that Lily gave him an opening. "I'm sorry I can't be at the party, Chris," she said. "I'd like to hear your band. What kind of music is it?"
"Um - it's - it's sort of unique."
"But you play fiddle, yeah?"
"Yeah. It's sort of punk - jazz - trad - fusion."
"That sounds interesting," his mam said. "Are you the vocalist, too?"
Christopher shook his head. "Terry sings, mostly. And Sam, too, sometimes."
Lily laughed. "Sami can't sing! You'd be better than he is, even if you can't hit the high notes anymore."
Finally, Dad said something. "Who is in this group, exactly?"
"Me and Terry and Pete and Sami."
"And their parents are letting them stay out that late? Not one of them is over fourteen."
Chris dithered. He didn't know the answer to that question, because it had never occurred to him to ask. The twins would have got permission, surely?
Seeing him stuck, Lily came to the rescue again. "How much is Father Sean paying you?"
"Ten pounds," Chris answered.
"Ten pounds, eh? That's generous," Dad commented. Then he continued, "We've spoken to Father Sean. If it were only my decision, you wouldn't be going anywhere, but your mother and Father Sean persuaded me otherwise. We agreed that you can go to this party if you are back before 11:00 and if I accompany you. Since you're being paid, you'll pay my bus fare, as well as your own, out of your earnings. That's the deal; you can take it or leave it."
"Thank you," Christopher said, "Mam? Are you coming, too?" He'd much rather have mam as a chaperone; he could just picture dad standing around all evening with his arms folded, looking grim and disapproving. But if mam were with him, it wouldn't be so bad.
"I wish I could, love. You know, you do need to give people a little more warning in case they have to change their plans. But I'd love to hear you some other time."
"We're online! The twins set up a page for us; I can show you."
"Do the washing up first," his mam said, and she and dad went into the front room, leaving Chris and Lily alone in the kitchen. It was Chris's turn to wash; Lily got a tea towel and began wiping the dishes as he set them in the rack. "Um - thanks," Chris said to her.
Lily rolled her eyes. "Such enthusiasm! I'm overwhelmed. What shall I do?"
"I said thank you! I know Dad wouldn't have let me go if you hadn't asked those questions. It's just - I wish -"
"Dad's still ticked off, isn't he? I mean, I'm glad he's letting me play, but I wish you or Mam could come."
"Why?" Lily looked genuinely puzzled. "Are you embarrassed Dad's going to be watching you?
"No," Chris answered.
Lily grinned. "Tell the truth and shame the devil!"
Christopher could feel his face getting hot; he was picturing his dad's expression when Sam did something ridiculous. He turned away from Lily and wrung out the cloth as hard as he could before setting it out to dry. "I don't mind," he said.
"Oh, yes, you do!" And Lily's grin broadened. "I can see it now. Dad standing there scowling. Half the size of your average bouncer and twice as intimidating. Is that it?"
That was it, exactly, but Christopher wasn't about to say so. "Shut up," he answered, and grabbed the cloth he'd just set down and flicked it in his sister's direction. Laughing, she dodged out of the way and scampered up the stairs. Chris had just started after her when his mam came back into the kitchen. "Christopher," she said, "there was a website you wanted to show us? I've got the computer on."
That was last night. Now Chris and his dad were on the bus, swinging round the last turn before St. Margaret's school. He thought his mam had really liked the music - well, most of it, anyway. He wasn't so sure of dad, who hadn't said anything at all. He still wasn't saying anything. The pair of them had been sitting next to each other, staring straight ahead, for the whole trip. It made Christopher feel even more nervous than he was already. He clutched his violin case in both hands and tried to think if he'd forgotten anything. Well, too late now if he had. He'd just have to manage. If only he didn't feel so sick! His stomach was jumping and he felt bile rising in his throat. He swallowed hard just as his dad touched his shoulder and stood up. They were there.
As they came to the gate, Father Sean walked up, smiling. "Good of you to come, Michael. And how's the fiddler?"
"I'm going to be sick," Christopher answered. His dad looked at him sharply, but Father Sean remarked, "Ah, that's perfectly normal. Inside with you and get some water. You'll be fine when you're playing." Chris swallowed again, staring at the gym door, and felt his dad touch his shoulder once more.
"You wanted to do this," his father said.
"Yeah. Yeah, I did," Christopher answered, and walked forward. Dad and Father Sean were conversing quietly, and he couldn't help wondering, for a moment, if they were talking about him. His hands were so sweaty he had trouble turning the door handle, but then he was inside, and the men's voices went silent as the door closed behind him. Terry and Peter were already up on the raised platform at the front of the gym; Pete was fiddling with his portable amp, while Theresa paced back and forth nervously. "Isn't there a mic?" she asked.
"Back here. It's not plugged in, I don't think," her brother answered. And then Chris was up on stage with them, shedding his school duffle coat and looking around for equipment, and he began to feel better. If he was going to make a fool of himself, he wouldn't be doing it alone, at any rate.
He was busy tuning his fiddle against Peter's guitar - neither one of them had remembered a pitch pipe or tuning fork, but at least they wouldn't be clashing with each other - when the gym began to fill. Dad and Father Sean came in and took up posts by the door, under a band of red and green paper chains. There were paper snowflakes hanging from some of the lights, and a bright red fruit punch on a side table along with bags of crisps. A small gaggle of boys were standing by the table, and Chris noticed a couple of little second year girls off in a corner with their heads together. They seemed to be stealing glances at him. Chris tried not to look at them again; he didn't know what to make of their behavior.
Terry was still pacing. She played a roll on her bodhran and said, "Where's Sam? Can we start without him?"
"Oh, you know Sami," her brother replied. "He'll be here."
And sure enough, like the devil who's been spoken of, Sami came bursting through the door that moment. They heard him gasp, "Hi, Father Sean. Mr. Griffin. Sorry I'm late." Christopher thought his father muttered, "It's not me you should apologize to," but maybe that was his imagination. Sami came racing through the gym - no coat on, just the black T-shirt, with Terry's hand-painted banshees logo, that they were all wearing over jeans. He vaulted up onto the stage, shoelaces flapping, and said to his band mates, "Sorry! I was asleep-"
"You were asleep!" the twins said in chorus.
"Yeah - set the alarm - didn't go off - I missed the bus -"
Terry rolled her eyes. Sometimes Chris thought she took lessons from Lily, whom she admired. Her brother glared at her and said, "'S all right, man. Let's start." And he struck a chord on his guitar.
With that, Christopher loosened his own shoelaces and kicked off his trainers. He set them neatly under the table where he'd laid his coat and stepped forward, ready to play.
The first song was rough. They were in tune with each other, but Pete and Sam were both going too fast and weren't listening to the drum and fiddle. Chris could see Father Sean looking steadily up at them with a rather strained smile. His dad, on the other hand, wasn't smiling at all. He winced as the song came lurching to a conclusion. Christopher winced, too, and he heard Terry's voice behind him. "Slow down, can't you? Can't you listen?" She sounded shaky, as though she were about to cry; and he knew from choir that Terry got worse stage fright than he did.
"What?" Sam asked. At the same time, Peter said, "Well, can't you take it faster?" Terry shook her head, speechless, and Chris knew he had to do something. He walked forward, to the mic, and heard himself saying, "This is a reel. You'll have heard some of it before, probably, and some of it you won't. Because some of it's trad, and some of it's ours. It's called "Reeling through the stars", because this lot wanted to call it that. And we're the banshees." With that, he glanced at Terry again, raised his bow, and began to play. He was starting with a simple version of Master Crowley's reels, and knew that Terry, who'd practiced with him, could definitely keep up. For the first minute, they played alone, and then Peter came in on the guitar. Christopher stepped away from the mic and left it to Sam.
It was going well. He missed a note here and there, but kept to the rhythm, and the twins were right with him. People in the audience were clapping along - even the kids who claimed they didn't like traditional music. But then Sami, who fancied himself a rapper, began shouting into the mic:
"This is a reel. We're reeling!
We're reeling because we're dizzy.
We're reeling because we can't stand up.
We're reeling because we're spinning.
We're spinning! We're spinning!"
Chris, playing arpeggios now and waiting for Sam's rap to end, noticed Father Sean and his dad over by the gym door. Both of them had given up any pretense of trying not to laugh. It didn't help matters that Sami had grabbed the mic from the stand and was turning in circles as he yelled into it. He'd have himself in knots in a moment. But then he stood still and said more quietly,
"We're spinning in outer space,
Across the universe.
We're spinning; we are stardust
Across the universe."
Chris heard Terry come in with a double roll as Sami cried out,
"So dance if you're dizzy!
Dance if you can't stand up!
Dance if you're spinning
Across the universe!
Dance if you're reeling,
Dance if you're dizzy,
Dance if you're lonely,
But don't dance alone.
Don't dance alone.
And Chris was back to playing the reel, with Terry and Peter right behind him. People were clapping again, and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a group of girls dancing a four-hand. One of the mothers who'd come to chaperone, Mrs. McCarthy, had grabbed Father Sean, and they were spinning around to the music. Even Dad had unfolded his arms and seemed to be tapping his fingers against his leg. Christopher saw all that in a glance, and then stopped noticing. Or, rather, he was noticing everything, but it didn't worry him. Because he wasn't performing; he wasn't trying to play the music. It felt as if it was playing him. And he was in it. It was as if he was everywhere and nowhere. He was the fiddle, the bow, the hand driving it across the strings, the notes spiraling up to the ceiling, all at once. When he was little, he'd sometimes dreamed of being able to fly, without machines or wings or anything. He'd just spread his arms and start gliding anywhere he wanted to go. Back then, he'd thought you could only do that in dreams.
Now he knew there were other ways to fly. Anyone could do it. You just had to be doing something you loved.
They had to play their entire set twice, and Chris's legs felt rubbery when they finished, even though Father Sean had spelled them a couple of times by playing pop CDs. But he couldn't stop smiling. He'd have been thrilled to play for another party the next night, if there were one. Most of the younger kids - the party had been for the junior school - had started to go home, and the gym was half-empty when he closed his violin case, picked up his duffle coat, and walked over to the doors.
"Well done!" Father Sean said, and put a ten-pound note in his hand.
"Tie your shoes," came his father's voice, and Chris knelt to tie his laces. "Good night," his dad said, and he heard Father Sean answer, "Good night to you both! See you in the morning."
His father nodded, and Christopher said, "Good night, Father Sean." He noticed the man was smiling just as broadly as he was himself. Then he was out the door, with the cool December air in his hot face. "Get your coat on," his dad said.
"You won't be by the time we get home." And, at Chris's puzzled glance, his dad explained, "We're walking. It's less than a mile, and there's no need to throw away all your earnings, is there, now?"
"No!" Chris grinned even more broadly. But, as they strode down the street heading for the river, he thought his dad was wrong. Dad wasn't a tall man, but he walked awfully fast, and Christopher was still far too hot for a duffle coat. He unbuttoned it, then ran a bit to catch up. A few snowflakes tilted through the air as they reached the corner, and he gasped, "Look, Dad! It's snowing."
"Aye," his father said. Then, "Likely won't amount to much."
"It might, though."
"You'd like a blizzard, eh? Well, we don't always get what we want."
Chris felt a bit deflated. They walked on in silence for the next five minutes, while the slow, desultory snow drifted down, melting as it struck the paving stones. Then, as they stopped at a corner, his father reached out and ruffled his hair. "Ten quid. Not bad," he said.
"No, not bad," Christopher responded. And he thought, sometimes you did get what you wanted. It was starting to snow harder; they were leaving black, wet footprints in the white coating on the pavement now. Even better, his dad was humming under his breath as they marched along.
He was humming "Reeling through the stars."
Mary Johnson, September, 2007