Chapter 10. Prying
Her pulse had descended to normal. The nervous twitches had been almost completely soothed away by the slow, deep breathing that Harry had coached her through... though perhaps the best remedy had been his strong yet gentle grip on her hands.
With the crisis conquered, Ginny slumped forward, resting her forehead wearily on Harry's chest. She loosed a sigh. It was ragged; it might have sounded a bit like a sob, but it was definitely a sigh, and it was an expression of relief.
Releasing one of Ginny's hands, Harry reached around to hold her in a one armed embrace, his fingers placing a steady, comforting pressure on the softness of her upper back. Then he too sighed. "We seem to keep putting it off, but maybe we ought to talk a bit about... about you; about me? Us?"
"Talk." Ginny nodded. "Yes, a little."
"What were you experiencing?" Absently, Harry caressed the skin at the base of her neck — a gesture he'd never before even imagined himself doing with anyone. "Do you know what causes it?"
"Purple. Blue and red." Her words vague and pensive, Ginny pulled back slightly. With only a low light creeping in beneath the bottom fringe of the curtain, her eyes fixed on the brightest surface in the room — reflective opalescence from a pearly button on his shirt. She nodded to herself. "Blue is calm, thoughtful clarity; red is hostile, primal confusion."
Harry watched silently, very curious to hear what she might choose to say, rather than caring how closely it hewed to his questions.
"The colours don't coexist well; something makes them battle." Ginny reached up with her free hand to finger the button. "The conflicts mostly crop up when I'm starting to glimpse something strange; the closer I get to understanding it, the more I'm thwarted by undefined fears that get in the way.
"So, blue is like logic?"
"Yes, rather like that." She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "Blue is a weave of all that's clearly reasonable, plus intuitive connections to other things that feel like they're related. Blue is like solving a tricky riddle, except that as soon as I think I'm getting close to an answer, the red swarms across, blotting and smearing everything. It feels almost like an electrical storm in my head; a purple storm, with wind and hail and purple lightning. Then at a certain point, the whole weave just shatters. Chaos. There's no longer any blue or red; it's all a thick prickly purple fog."
"Do you...?" Harry bit his lip. "Do you see me in the blue?"
"Sometimes." Ginny nodded solemnly. "You have to understand that the colours are both knowledge and power. Blue knowledge can be familiar words, or sights or sounds. Or memories, I guess? I think they're memories, because that's what they feel like, and I take them as real memories even if I'm often not completely certain that I, er... truly remember them. Because, in my mind if they weren't real, they'd be red, like illusions, falsehoods and other distractions that mislead."
"And then there's power." Ginny pulled back, quirking her neck slightly as she looked at him. "Like knowledge, power can be either blue or red.
Suddenly very aware of his own heart beat, Harry said nothing; waiting for Ginny to continue.
"So, I think I feel you in both." Ginny pulled back far enough to look into his eyes.
"Both? Both blue and red?"
"No." Ginny squeezed his hand; her eyes tracing paths over the contours of his face. "Both power and memories."
"I'm in your memories?" Harry's eyes widened. "And you feel... power? My power?"
"I-I think so. I can't see anything clearly for long enough to be completely certain." Ginny sighed. "But, it makes sense. You do have a power, right?"
"Well yes, assuming you're referring to things like me catching the ring. And what I did last night in the park."
"I guess my question, then, is if you can actually sense that sort of thing?" Harry pursed his lips. "I mean, you obviously saw strange things happen. We both did. But are you somehow able to... feel the power that flowed through me when I did those things?"
Ginny's eyes went diffuse for a long moment. She began with full intention of answering his basic question as asked, but something occurred to her; something deeper. "It's really true, isn't it? Sensing your power does nothing to trigger the purple in me."
"Errr...?" Harry gave her a quizzical look.
Ginny shook her head. "You see, I've always regarded power as forbidden; I've assumed that merely feeling power would trigger the purple, but that clearly need not be the case. There wasn't even the slightest discomfort when you summoned the ring. And nor did the incident in the park bother me. I think this proves that there's no problem with using power for good reasons. Kindness; protection; self preservation, perhaps? If so, then maybe the purple is only unleashed with-"
"Ginny? Harry? Is everyone okay in there?!"
Ginny and Harry both glanced at the closed door. The corners of Harry's lips turned in amusement. "You shouldn't have locked her out. She's probably going spare with curiosity."
"Always best to keep one door between me and a curious Mione." Ginny smirked, leaning forward from the bed, shifting weight onto her feet. "But we've tormented her more than enough for one day. I'm completely better now, so let's go let her off the hook. And maybe we can finish this discussion later?"
"Absolutely." Harry smiled and offered his arm as the two rose. They crossed together to open the bedroom door, edging back discreetly as Mione stumbled inwards a half step.
"Oh." Mione blinked in surprise. "You were in there quite a while and, er, well, Ginny, you look...? You look quite well, actually. Do you feel okay now?"
"Yes." Ginny nodded. "I'm fine. Quite hungry, actually."
"That's great!" Mione's eyes widened. "So what worked? What helped you recover?"
"Meditation." Ginny smiled. Releasing Harry's arm, she made her way around Mione, heading for the kitchen.
"Harry..." Mione turned to him, her expression shifting to a different sort of distress. "You realise you were in there for nearly an hour and a half? So, considering that it's a Friday evening, I figured I'd best ask whether you have-"
"A gig tonight." Harry slapped his forehead. "Shite, I'll be late!"
"Where do you need to be, and by what time?" Mione reached for her 'London A-Z' and transit schedule, both sitting handy to the telephone.
"UnderSolo. Inverness Market, just south of the locks. seven o'clock for sound check; we're on at 7:30."
Mione skimmed her references. "Northern Line. Make a mad dash from here to Old Street, and if you're lucky, you may still be able to catch-"
"What the eff!?" Mione glared at the front door. "Who is it??"
"Delivery! Any o' yer blokes order Pierogies 'n' Golabki!"
Loosing a torrent of un-Granger-like profanities, Mione whipped open the door. And gaped. "Dora?!"
"Grangey! GinSmith!" Dora stood there, nibbling a Kotlet, waving as Ginny emerged from the kitchen. "Scrummy. Yer wan' a bite?"
"Dora...?" Mione's hand tangled itself in her thick hair and began pulling. "None of us ordered delivery, and-and Harry desperately needs to clear out of here as he-"
"As he'd be late if he don't soon get his sculpted little fife and drum' out to me chariot." Dora licked her fingers clean and gestured out toward the street. "Ladies be welcome to ride along too. There's plenty of eats for all in back, if'n yer like Polish carry-out. The Kopytkas are delish."
"But, but..." Mione suddenly realised that her hand was still rooting about in her hair like a frightened, tangled rabbit. "We can't go out like this. We're... I'm..."
"Pfeh." Dora waved her off. "Ye'r beautiful, luv; I'll give yer a little makeover in the loo at the club. Now, go go GO!"
"Oh oh OH!" Mione twitched frantically as she grabbed her purse and stumbled toward the door. "But it's the Friday evening rush! How do you plan to drive through that chaos?"
"Heh." Dora grinned as she whisked Harry past, and waited for Ginny to lock up. "We'll get there right 'n' rosey. As long as you all shut yer eyes and hang on."
"Erk...?" Mione gulped, facing a fear worse than mysterious carry-out in cardboard boxes. Worse even than venturing out with unkempt hair.
Arriving intact at permit parking on Inverness Street, Ginny let herself out of the back door of Dora's Rover 827, and offered her hand to Harry as he slid from the middle seat.
Harry glanced over at Mione. Seeing her quivering, half-paralysed on the far seat, he decided to cross around to her door, gently coax her out, and perhaps also discreetly brush off the shreds of cabbage that had somehow found their way into her hair (odd, considering she hadn't eaten any of the carry-out).
While Harry did that, Ginny took the opportunity to sidle quietly up to Dora. "Okay, what's the deal?" she whispered. "Do you always magically appear out of nowhere to bail out Harry when he's in a fix?"
"Neh, don' be daft!" Dora laughed, then leaned in a bit closer. "Eh, well, ideally yes."
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "And just how much 'magic' should I assume goes into 'magically appear'?"
"Er..." Dora opened and closed her mouth twice in rapid succession. She shoved a hand in her pocket and pulled out a pair of slips, hurriedly pressing them into Ginny's hand. "Oi GinSmith! Almost forgot to give yer these complementary NLTA passes fer yerself an Grangey. They'll cover the door charge and a few drinks."
"Oh?" Ginny blinked at the vouchers, losing her train of thought. "That's nice of you. Thank you so kindly!"
"Ye're most welcome." Dora grinned, then pointed up the street. "So, you and Grangey will enter in through the main door off Inverness Market, whilst Harry 'n' meself scarper in the back way. Oh, and GinSmith? Be sure t'wish yer boy luck, eh? Give 'im a little 'hit an' miss'." She winked suggestively.
Hit and miss? Somehow Ginny's synapses were firing well enough to translate the East End rhyming slang almost immediately into the word 'kiss'. Even more surprising, she didn't think twice. Completely forgetting that she was a shy young student in the presence of a semi-famous rock musician, Ginny latched onto Harry's unsuspecting arm, and pulled him close, her lips rising to catch his full on.
Stepping back fast enough to see her victim's astonished expression, Ginny chucked his chin cheekily. "See you after the show, luv. Knock 'em senseless!"
'Knocked senseless' might well have described Harry himself at the moment, though 'gobsmacked' probably sufficed just as well. Either way, Dora needed both arms to uproot him and start him moving toward the back-lane performers' entrance.
Mione, still stunned from the inspired battle with rush hour traffic, was in a similar state. Ginny took her room mate's arm, tugging until the older girl fell into robotic step. Ginny then proceeded to guide the pair past a cluster of vendor stalls, beyond which they located the right entrance.
A young doorman examined the vouchers, nodded deferentially, and let them pass down the steep stairway from the street. Beyond the coat check, they entered into the subterranean Under Solo, just as it was beginning to get a lively Friday evening buzz.
Searching for a spot to settle, they found themselves wandering straight past the performance area. Gazing into what resembled not so much a stage as a small car port cut into one wall, they were right in time to see the band unloading cases of gear.
Harry gave a quick wave, prodding Lee who looked up and grinned, flashing a thumbs-up. Shay was busy with a mess of cables, but Dean happened to catch the flurry of action, and glanced over in time to direct a long, curious gaze in their direction.
Already smiling to the two Jordans, Ginny waved to the tall guitarist, before hurrying to catch Mione, who now had a bead on a pair of available seats.
Five minutes later, seated and holding tall and opulent-looking drinks, Mione turned to Ginny, eyes wide; stern but inquisitive. "So, girl. Spill!"
Handling her drink a bit gingerly, Ginny shook her head. "Not yet, but I'd best sample an inch or two off the top to head off the risk, yeah?" She took a fairly serious drink, and grinned at her roomie.
Mione rolled her eyes. "I'm talking about information! This morning you were half fit for Bedlam. You cowered in your room most of the day, then lo and behold! Ninety minutes with Mr. Boy Wonder, and you're all hale and perky. I believe I deserve an explanation, wouldn't you agree?"
Ginny saw fit to take a slower, more contemplative drink before replying. Finally, she nodded. "This morning was bad, Mione. If I looked like hell, I was hardly faking it."
"What set you off?"
"Remembering?" Ginny sighed. "Last night something triggered a bunch of little glimpses back to what I think are old memories. Some of them... many of them perhaps, are very unpleasant and I responded poorly. You recall, I used the term 'PTSD' for it and, while I don't think the diagnosis is quite correct, it gives you a rough idea."
"Whew." Mione took a deep breath, privately appraising the unlikelihood that the girl would tolerate professional help. "So how do you intend to cope with it? You normalised fairly quickly in there with Harry; are his meditation methods really that effective?"
"They're good; they definitely helped." Ginny fiddled with her straw. "Other things already had me on the mend, though. A quiet day to sort through things is always good. But I reckon that, meditation or not, the biggest difference was Harry himself."
"Harry himself?" Mione blinked. "How is he the difference?"
"He's proof that things are going to be okay."
Mione was far from certain what her friend meant, but she couldn't help smiling fondly.
Ginny responded with a quick smile before her gaze pensive drifted back over toward the stage area. "I told you how I believe he and I knew each other once... quite possibly as friends? Well, without really admitting it to myself, I reckon that somehow I was frightened that bad memories or... other things... would drive a wedge between the two of us getting to know each other again."
"Getting to know each other?" Mione smirked. "Ginny, ten minutes ago you practically snogged him!"
"Mione!" It was Ginny's turn to roll her eyes. "I was merely wishing him luck. It was an innocent little peck on the lips. Surely you've dished out the occasional casual pucker, yeah?"
Shaking her head, Mione's eyes narrowed. "Random acts of casual affection are hardly my style, and I don't seriously believe they're yours either."
Ginny was in the process of crafting a smart response when she became suddenly aware of a tall, hovering presence.
"Oh? Looks like you ladies already have drinks." Slightly chagrined, Dean smiled down at them. "Might I take the liberty of telling the barkeep that the next round is on me?"
"No thank you." Ginny shook her head. "Dora gave us vouchers and I dare say Mione will be dangerously potted before they run out."
"Ginny!" Mione raised her hand in (half) mocking outrage. "Thank you Dean. We are covered for the night but if you and the others are able to join us after your set, we'd love to chat some more." She smiled.
Dean renewed a polite smile. "Oh, well thank you. I'll be sure to pass that along." With a quick wave, he turned and made his way back to the stage.
Mione's shoulders bobbed. "Nice enough fellow."
"I s'pose." Ginny watched him make his way past the crowd gathering near the stage. "I'm sure he means well, alth-" She pulled a sharp breath, her eyes rivetting toward the club's main doorway, though which a stranger had just emerged.
It was a tall man, with gaunt cheeks and long platinum hair.
"Bloody hell!" Ginny's face turned bolt-stiff. "Him again."
"Him? Oh yes." Mione's gaze locked on. "He was the bloke at the Half Moon whom you didn't like. Have you figured out what it is about him that sets you off?"
"I-I..." The question threw Ginny for a moment. "I don't know. I think, er... he may remind me someone in my past and, well perhaps it was a coincidence, but Harry and Lee also took quite a strong disliking to him."
In the back of her mind, Mione had a growing list of Ginny-questions that she really hoped to begin working on at some point but, in the midst of a potentially threatening situation, that would have to wait. She focused instead on rapidly and systematically assessing the club's layout, searching for possible exits that might somehow avoid close encounters with the stranger who seemed (either deliberately or unknowingly) to be blocking the main door.
Mione's scan did not reveal an alternative escape, but she did spot a couple of other encouraging developments. On the far side of the room, Dora seemed to be making a circuitous tour of the dance floor, heading oblique toward them. Meanwhile, by way of odd coincidence, Harry and Lee had apparently both opted to take a break from their setup and were cutting straight for the girls.
As they approached, both of the Jordans seemed tense, though Lee managed a semi-natural grin and levity. "Oi bro! Been a while since we've performed for such a pair of beautiful women. I quite respect your excuse for being late."
For all the affable jest, Mione did notice Lee's eyes subtly darting about the bar; wary, like a street fighter in a closed alley.
By contrast, Harry made no pretense of comfort. With stiff shoulders and no hint of a smile, he looked them over. "You two doing okay?"
Mione shrugged, but Ginny gave a slight shake of her head. Harry followed Ginny's eyes over toward the entrance where... there now was nobody standing.
"You slugs! Get back and finish yer preps -- show's on in fifteen!" Dora wagged a stern finger at the Jordans, then found a smile for the two girls. "Oi, sweets. Yer two still want me to powder them pretty little noses in the WC?"
"Ugh." Lee grabbed Harry's arm, laughing. "Somewhere in all of that is a cue to scarper, eh?"
Harry hesitated, catching Ginny's eye, an unspoken question on his lips.
Ginny met his glance, paused to make a quick final frowning scan of the place, then shrugged and offered him a puzzled half smile.
Harry nodded in reply, forced a smile, and let himself be dragged off.
With lipstick gleaming a pleasingly lurid burgundy in the low light, Dora beckoned again to the girls. "Come hither, miladies. I promised yer beauty everlastin'."
"You what?" Mione's eyes veered from the retreating Harry over to Dora. "What's going on?"
"Dora is reminding us that she offered to fix our makeup." Ginny stood, and gave Mione a hand up. "But of course that's nothing more than a neat little diversion to disguise the fact that she just chased away that silver-headed ferret fart."
Dora's nose wrinkled, muttering something that sounded a bit like, "Bloody prying Prewetts."
The bustle of the crowd and the jolting sound-checks from the stage prevented Ginny hearing the exact phrase but, she nonetheless deigned it worth sticking her tongue out at Dora.
Scowling, the older woman turned heel and led the way around the bar toward the loo.
Following perplexedly, Mione turned to Ginny. "Okay, I ask this on behalf of a half planet's worth of really confused people — what on Earth was that all about? What diversion? And why do I think it was no accident that everyone scurried over to us the moment we saw that that tall man in the black cape? I know you don't like him, but should we regard him as a legitimate threat, then?"
"I don't know." Ginny gave a glance toward the band. "It's entirely possible Harry and Lee were merely coming to check on us, but Dora..." Ginny spoke the last word quite loudly as she and Mione entered into the brighter light and relative quiet of the loo. "... may now take this chance to share what she knows about the slimebag, and why she's protecting us from him."
Arms folded on her chest, Dora gave the girls an irritated look. One of Dora's hands twitched, or fluttered, slightly.
Ginny's ears perked.
Had things just suddenly gone rather silent? Or at least muffled?
It was rather as if a pair of fairly ordinary-looking doors suddenly now provided their conversation a good deal of shelter and privacy from the rather busy nightclub.
Intrigued, Ginny nonetheless stayed on message. "Well Dora? Mione wants to know — what are you protecting us from, and why?"
Dora's eyes narrowed. "I have no idea what you're going on about Ginny. I'm NLTA staff assigned to facilitate the Stags. I'm a driver."
"Yes, of course you're a driver." Mione nodded. "May I see your license?"
Dora slid a finger into her pocket and handed Mione a plastic card.
Mione squinted at the back. "Oh? TT and NC entitlements? Do all NLTA drivers have tactical pursuit and firearms acceditation?"
"Shit." Dora deflated. "Ruddy criminology students."
Mione handed the license back, frowning. "So, what's going on? Are we... uhh...? Are the Stags in danger?"
"All right, all right." Dora sighed. "Stags' driver is my cover. I'm not going to share my affiliation, but it's correct that I'm assigned to keep an eye on Harry. Strictly precautionary. If there was a proven threat, he would have been notified, but until then it's our policy that he needn't be burdened with paranoid crap. Let the boy have a normal life, y'know? Or, as normal as can be hoped for a beau with a voice and bod like that." She quirked a lop-sided smile.
Surprised at how non-Cockney Dora sounded off-cover, Ginny stared for a moment, then refocused. "What can you tell us about who the crooks are and what they're up to?"
"Well..." Dora's half-smile persisted. "Your 'ferret fart' friend is one of maybe three or four suspected operatives who seem to be working together. He was seen at the East Putney pub the afternoon of the blast, and a witness fingered him in the vicinity after it went off — loitering and behaving oddly. We'd actually been keeping an eye on him a while before that; possible connection with, uh, 'Real IRA'. And, of course, there's also the sneak who jumped you up in Holloway last night; we didn't get an ID on him, but his behavior sounds familiar."
Both Mione and Ginny fell dead silent.
"We do have reasons for keeping this as quiet as possible." Dora shifted slightly, distractedly tapping index finger and thumb together on her left hand. "The only reasons I'm telling you lot anything is because a) you're bloody nosy, and b) I've already vetted you both way more thoroughly than you'd probably ever have guessed. So, I think I can trust you both to secrecy, eh?"
Mione chewed her lip.
Ginny looked away. "I'm not sure I can keep it secret from Harry."
"Try. Try for a little while, yeh?" Dora gave her a sympathetic smile. "Another few weeks, and we could blow the top off this. Maybe we can do it so quiet that Harry can write and sing and never have any need to suffer strain and distraction. Then with luck, six months from now, it'll all be long forgotten."
Ginny stood silent for a long moment. She had grown rather sick of a life in which so much had been forgotten. On the other hand, there was the notion of letting Harry have a measure of peace... letting him live and be Harry...?
She sighed. "I suppose. But you damned well better tell us the moment anything gets any more... dodgy, yeah?"
"Deal." Dora grinned. "You two prove to me you can keep this secret, and I may tell you a few more details as we go along. How 'bout that?"
Her pulse pounding, Mione blinked. "Errr... does that conform to protocol?"
"Conforms to my protocol, yeh." Dora laughed. "Listen luv, I run tight and tidy little jobs. I don't get a lot of help, and I don't ask for much, but every once in a while I do see the value in some extra eyes and ears, and maybe this is one of those times, eh? 'Specially when those and eyes are attached to a pair of sharp little uni students with Criminology and Psychology training."
Mione nodded breathlessly.
"On that note." Dora's tone fell an octave. "Estimating that most of the birdies flitting about this grungy basement tonight are not exactly bright young uni students in Crim and Psych... I believe I mentioned something about makeup?"
"Oh?" Ginny was noticeably intrigued, despite the fact that she almost never wore the crap. "You're going to make us into something other than innocent little scholars?"
"Ha!" Dora's stern tone gave way to a cackle. "Yer two're walking out of this loo as the cattiest pair o' hottie sluts this side of the locks. Messrs Jordan are going to bloody pop their goggles when they see this."
Ginny's face spread into a wildly wicked grin.
Mione's face did not.