"You needn't come if you don't like," Sherlock said. "It's tedious, of course, and futile, but Mummy appreciates it and it's my turn this year."
A small tow-headed figure appeared behind Sherlock. "Don't go. Stay here with me." Sherlock, of course, heard nothing. Only John was able to converse easily with the ghost of Sherrinford Holmes.
If a ghost could seem tense, Ford did as he waited for John's reply.
"I'll stay here, then, if that's all right," said John. He saw the boy smile.
"I won't be long. Flowers at the grave and all that. Meaningless nonsense."
"Not for the person who leaves them there. I know from experience." John pinned Sherlock with a look that would have cowed a drill sergeant.
"Yes, of course. Well. I'll see you shortly."
"Don't rush on my account." Which really meant: Do whatever the hell your mother wants to do and keep your complaints to yourself.
Sherlock departed, leaving John and Ford alone in the big house. Well, John amended silently, as alone as one ever was when there was domestic staff about.
"I'm glad you're here, John. It's been ages since I had anyone to play with on my birthday."
"What do you want to play?" What could an ex-army doctor and a pre-teen ghost play together?
John laughed. "I'll do my best to follow you."
"Just like last time!"
"Just like last time, yes."
"Only this time there's no naff brother around to spoil it."
John followed Ford to the conservatory where the piano sat, untouched by anything but dusters and polishing rags. He sat on the bench and the boy sat beside him. Ford placed his transparent hands on the keys and John laid his corporeal hands over them.
"Take it slowly, please."
"I will. Well, I'll try. You try to keep up!"
John chuckled. "I'll do my best, but I promise nothing."
Haltingly at first, they began to play a simple melody. John was no musician, but his hands were strong and nimble and he did, indeed, do his best.
Ford glanced up at John and grinned. "You're all right."
"This is the best birthday ever. Thanks, John."
"My pleasure, Ford."
And if passing members of the household staff heard the piano or saw the man who seemed to play it speaking to the air, they never said a word about it. Not even to one another.