Chapter 6. Apple
There was no question in Harry's mind. He knew what he must do; he'd explain the situation to Ginny, and let her off the hook.
In retrospect, it had been rather presumptuous (if not outright daft) in the first place. She hadn't asked for more Mysti Stags tickets, so why push them on her? He ought to have recognised the error sooner, but having a terrorist incident so close to their next concert cleared the head, giving some real perspective that he'd missed earlier. Harry would never call such an incident 'lucky', but at least it had helped knock off his bout of self-centred depression, and he saw it as now giving Ginny a perfectly valid, guilt-free, excuse to back out of an awkward commitment.
However reasonable that sounded, Harry still found himself sighing. He patiently explained to himself (yet again) that this was his chance to set things right, and he'd do so. Even if it hurt.
And no, he had not forgotten Angie's admonition about finding love. If anything, her words had clinched his decision — if he was going to be serious about treating this as his one chance for true love, he couldn't afford to mess it up by rushing in. With luck, if he started played things a bit smarter now, there might come some other happy day when conditions were right to move things along. But that first meant slowing down, and giving Ginny time to gradually discover (hopefully) that he was a decent, caring, semi-normal, non-creepy bloke.
So, the natural first step in all of that was to let her set a distance where she could be comfortable.
He'd do that for her.
All he needed now was to find her, so he could give her his semi-prepared speech.
Of course, since he had no idea where she lived, or her daily routine, he had to hope to run into her again at the library. He obviously now knew where her study carrel was, so hopefully he could find her there sometime between now and Friday evening.
The sooner, the better, he supposed.
To improve his odds, he decided he'd accomplish his normal library work as efficiently as possible, and use the extra time to take occasional treks through that second floor wing.
It did concern him that if he suddenly started spending too much time in this part of the building, it could arouse some suspicion. Harry paused on the second floor landing, wondering what he would say if someone (a superior, a student, etc.) asked why he kept haunting this corridor.
That was a bit of a problem.
Dr. Appleblum told staff that she would not fault anyone over the occasional spontaneous chat with a student, especially something mutually consensual that wasn't interfering with anyone's work, but he didn't want to be in the position of scrambling to explain why he was hovering around one particular block of carrels, basically waiting to ambush a student who generally came here to study.
He didn't cherish risk, but this was important; important for Ginny's sake. So, it was worth it. Though, perhaps it would be best if he had a prepared alibi.
And that would be...?
Not feeling incredibly creative, he felt around in his pockets, looking for something to 'accidentally' lose. Discovering a sheet of paper that he'd tucked in a back pocket some time ago, he unfolded it and found it to be a page from a scratched-up early draft of a song the Stags would be introducing this weekend — a fun little ditty called 'Saying Bye to You Again'.
The song had been tweaked numerous times, so this early draft was now completely outdated and the page meant nothing to him. Nonetheless, knowing the obsessions that some people had with memorabilia, Harry was certain he could convince someone that, if he accidentally lost it, he would legitimately want to find it again.
Nodding to himself, Harry refolded it and let it fall discreetly into the space between the second floor water fountain and the wall. Turning the corner, he glanced down the corridor to see that Ginny's carrel was dark, and the door was locked.
Shrugging in mild diappointment, he carried on with this work, hoping he might fare better later in the day.
As it was, the light in her carrel didn't come on until, finally, around 3:00 p.m. that afternoon. Fortunately, the timing was perfect — just about when he would normally go for his afternoon break.
Now, all he needed to do was knock on her door, politely, and tell her.
Simple but, oddly enough, his heart was pounding. It was thumping nearly as wildly as in the final seconds before the lights went up on a big performance.
Calm... Breathe... He inhaled. Think of the crepe paper birds...
Harry exhaled deeply and took the final three steps. With another slight breath, he was just raising his hand to knock, when- "Oh!" The door swung open.
"Uh?!" On the other side stood Ginny, her wide, expressive eyes looking nearly as surprised as Harry felt. "Sorry, I was hanging up my jumper before, uh..." She gestured up toward the hook on the back of the door.
"Ah. Well, that's a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing." Harry managed a nervous smile, though it faltered as he considered how dopey that must have sounded. Fortunately, Ginny had managed a bit of a smile too, which encouraged him. "So, I'm glad to find you, Miss Smith. I was wondering if I could speak with you for a moment."
She nodded and took a quick step back, making a hand gesture that Harry interpreted (optimistically but accurately) as welcoming him in. She closed the door behind him. "Uh, how might I help you?"
Despite a bout of nerves, something about seeing Ginny again buoyed Harry, tempting him to smile. The corners of his mouth flickered for a moment, but he suppressed the emotion because, well, the reason for his visit was not an especially happy one. He sighed and gazed down at his feet. "Er yes. You recall, yesterday, how I invited you and Mione to our gig Saturday?"
Something about his downcast expression and tone made Ginny's skin prickle. Forcing herself to nod, she took a dry swallow and tried to brace herself for disappointment.
"Well, I suppose you're still welcome to come if you wish, but..." Harry chewed his lip. "You see, there was a pub bombing only a mile or so away from the Half Moon yesterday, and I'm a bit, erm, concerned for your safety, so I thought I..." He trailed off.
"Concerned for our safety?" The words a quivery rasp, Ginny coughed and stared for a moment. Then, the degree of resolve she'd found yesterday kicked in, and she managed to find her voice, sharp and articulate. "Yes, I did hear about the incident. But, your performance is still on, right?"
Harry blinked at the suddenly clear, clipped tones. "Er, yes, we still plan to perform. According to Lee, the owner promised to hire extra security, and they asked us not to cancel."
"Well, if it's safe enough for you to perform, why on Earth would Mione and I bail?" Ginny took a step forward, her face angling up. "Unless you... Unless you want us to cancel?"
Harry stared, dumbfounded by a conversation that, less than a minute in, had already gone way off the well-rehearsed rails.
Ginny tapped her foot. "Would you prefer we not go?"
"No! I mean... Er, what I meant to say was..."
Harry froze, replayed her question, and realised how perilously close he had come to plunging headlong into a classic, nefarious and utterly sphinxian 'no-trap'.
Yes, the 'no-trap' – a deathly peril as old as the sphinxes (not, not the fat, affable, Egyptian male sphinxes; we're talking the sleek, articulate and vicious female Greek variety) invented by females to torture males, vis-a-vis terrifying trick questions like, "Wouldn't you like to meet my parents?" Of course, "Yes," clearly implies you'd rather be roasted on a kebab spit than meet the girl's parents, whereas "No," is precisely the sort of heartless male negativity that gets you hung by the toenails, Thebes-style.
Girls had subjected Harry to such trials by fire before. He usually failed.
Uncomfortably aware that his mouth had fallen open, he remembered that the only thing worse that getting caught in the 'no-trap' was getting caught waffling amidst a delicate negotiation. Vaguely recalling that viable escape sometimes came in the form of concise, heart-felt answers that managed to avoid both the words 'no' and 'yes', Harry surrendered to survival instincts and —
Harry stared, suddenly realising that he'd basically just pleaded for Ginny to do precisely the opposite of what he'd originally come here to convey.
He shifted awkwardly. "I, uh... Listen, I sincerely don't want you to put yourself in danger, but assuming there isn't much threat, which there may not be, then ummm, well I'd lo- Er, I should say 'we' would love it, because Lee would love to meet you too... so, yeah, 'we' would love for you to come, it's just that I couldn't rule out any risk and so, if it happened that you, uh, preferred to be, y'know, cautious..."
He somehow managed to look her in the eye, hoping that his incoherent prattle, although far from concise, was at least coming off as genuine. "Um, either way you choose, we would... respect your decision?"
Ginny eyed him carefully.
Harry suddenly found himself very aware of those eyes; their depth; their obvious incisiveness. He shifted slightly under the pressure.
Ginny tapped her lip thoughtfully. "You'd still like us to attend but you're concerned for our security?"
Harry nodded, amazed that she had been able to properly translate his gibberish.
"Fair enough." Ginny's eyes sparkled slightly in a blend of bemusement and something else that Harry didn't quite catch. "I'll tell Mione you thought of us, but I can't imagine we'll be changing our plans."
"Oh, you mean you're...? Really?" Harry blinked, half baffled and half amazed. "Well, that's great, then! May I give you our number, in case there are any, er, issues?"
"Er, sure." Ginny fumbled around for a pen, and handed it over with a notebook.
Harry scrawled his number and address down, and handed pen and notebook back. "Well, I'm sorry to have interrupted you for nothing. I won't tie you up any longer, but instead I'll just look forward to seeing you Saturday!" He flashed a quick smile, then made his way toward the door.
"Er, yes?" He stopped and turned.
"That bombing? Do you think it's really the IRA?" Ginny had a curious look in her eyes.
"Oi. I don't know." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I'm afraid I've barely read or heard anything, but... well I do seem to recall that they hit a fair number of pubs back in the 70's. So the modus operandi fits, yeah? But, uh... have you heard differently?"
"Not exactly." Ginny shook her head. "Mione just says their tactics are odd. Blast patterns are quite different from last summer's car bombings. And I was... er well, no. I don't know anything myself."
"It is odd, yes." Harry frowned. "Well if one of us hears anything interesting, maybe we can compare notes later or, er, whenever." He gave another polite smile and again turned to leave.
"Harry, is this, umm...?" Ginny reached to her desk and picked up a now-unfolded piece of old paper that he immediately recognised. "I found this over by the water fountain. Could it be yours, by any chance?"
"Ha, yes!" He grinned, and accepted the music draft from her. "I, er, must have dropped it?"
Ginny shrugged and smiled. "It looks like a cute song."
"Cute?" Harry thought about it for a moment. "Yeah. A bit goofy; a bit fun. Dean and Shay like it, because it's not the least bit 'emo'."
"Right. It isn't, yeah?" Ginny tapped her lip, contemplatively. "You know, I'm wondering if..."
Watching as she moved closer, Harry found himself deeply intrigued to know what a fascinating, perceptive girl like this might be 'wondering'.
"So..." Ginny reached to point toward the top bars on the page, seemingly unconcerned that her shoulder was pressing firmly (warmly) against his chest. "As written, it's a fine for those two to bop about, light-hearted and a bit clownish but, well... I was wondering if you could build the effect with some contrast? A bit of a 'set up'? Like, for your keyboard opening, couldn't you try something more serious and moody like... like..."
With four well metred 'ahhs', Ginny sounded out a basic, yet evocative, 'G — e-minor — C — D' line.
Harry blinked. A frown crossing his forehead, he hummed it back carefully, tried replacing the D quarter note with D-A eighth notes, then chuckled. "You know, that's kind of cool, yeah?" He grinned. "I'll pop it on the others tonight."
Her shoulder still close enough for Harry to feel radiant heat, Ginny angled her face to look directly into his. Her mouth parted slightly.
Harry's breath caught.
He was vividly reminded, in many ways, of the tense moments he'd experienced with other girls when they expected him to... do something. But this time, just as he was trying to decide if he had it in him to do in a proper way what he had messed up with so many others; as he took in that awkward little breath in case he, er, suffocated or something... Ginny broke the spell.
"Harry, are you from West Country?"
Harry blinked. "West Country?" He blinked again. "Me?"
Ginny nodded, her eyes earnest.
Harry registered the fact that she had not planted her lips on his. She had not grabbed hold of his hand and, uh, put it somewhere. She was simply asking a question. One that seemed to imply a genuine curiosity about who he was. As a person.
"I don't rightly know." He looked away, slightly embarrassed. "You see, I'm an orphan, and I don't recall much from when I was really young, but Lee's parents raised me for a while up in Holloway before they, er, well, something happened to them about a decade ago. After that, Lee and I were schooled in a couple of Camden council houses."
"You're not Lee's birth brother?" Ginny's eyes searched him. "But you and he are so very alike."
Incredulous, Harry spent two seconds trying to reconcile the image of Lee's dark skin and dreadlocks over his own pale-faced feather cut, before finally catching the tiniest hint of tweak in the girl's expression. He chuckled. "Yeah, well, you'd best not share that opinion with Lee. He'd kill you for that."
Ginny smirked for a moment, then pulled back. She reached into her backpack. "I'm sure it's time for me to let you get back to work, but please take this with you."
"An apple?" Puzzled, Harry accepted the polished red fruit from her hand.
"Yes." Ginny nodded seriously. "You work so very hard, Harry. I'm worried that you're not keeping proper care of yourself."
"Er, perhaps not, yeah?" Harry gave her a curious glance. In that moment he found himself perfectly able to banish every memory of anything any other girl had ever given him (jewelry, books, articles of clothing) and focus on the fact that girl in this room had wished him... good health. He grinned. "Thank you Ginny. So I'll, uh, see you soon, right?"
Ginny nodded, flashed a momentary smile in reply, and turned away, leaving Harry to gaze at her — at her hair; the smooth flesh on her forearms; the subtle curves half-hidden beneath her jumper.
He shook his head, and made himself leave.
Ginny settled back down at her desk, listening as footsteps retreated down the corridor.
Before the echoes had gone out of earshot, she heard a little whistling tune spring up.
And once again, she found herself humming along.
Just you and I...
For our Three Feather Sunset.
"Hey Mione, I'd rather forgotten, but the Stones played at the Half Moon a couple years back." Ginny handed Mione a music 'zine', folded open to an article on the venue they were about to visit.
"Stones?" Mione's eyes widened. "As in, 'rolling'? Big lips and such?"
Ginny nodded. With two fingers, she was in the process of attempting to recreate the lurid icon with her own mouth but, mercifully, the train's jolting and shuddering arrival put an end to the effort.
Along their brief Thames-side walk to the Putney bridge and across the river, they enjoyed the unseasonably mild breeze. Over the water, a few strands of low cloud draped above the southwestern horizon, still rosey from sunset. The light reminded Ginny of an image that 'Three Feather Sunset' always sparked in her, of ruffled tracers framing an evening sky. And that, in turn, made her picture the song's imaginary meadow.
The image seemed to have a powerful effect on Ginny.
From somewhere in the very distant recesses of her (not-very-reliable) memory, it was almost as if she, too, had once spun about on a high grassy hill, amidst some long forgotten celebration. But that was probably self-fabricated whimsy. After all, nothing else about her early years seemed to hold any inspiration beyond what little a string of boxy, dreary flats in and around Exeter could afford.
Nonetheless, she sighed, almost as one reminiscing.
Mione glanced at her, then followed her gaze off to the southwest. "Pretty sky," she remarked.
"Pretty sky." Ginny nodded, giving a partial smile that did not make it all the way to her eyes.
The pretty sky did not last much longer. By the time they walked past the final few shops on Lower Richmond Road, the reds and violets had since given way to grey, and darkness was setting in.
Frowning, Mione made careful note of the bus schedule, not particularly relishing the thought of a return walk, in the dark, all the way to the nearest tube stop. Even on a late bus, it could prove a bit of an adventure.
This growing friendship with a musician was starting to push the boundaries for two young women who had never before made a habit of thrill-seeking. It also worried Mione that the new adventures might start to push the boundaries of 'pocket book'. Although event tickets had been fully covered by Harry and Lee, there were incidental expenses like out-of-zone transit and pub meals. Mione had a comfortable amount of leisure money, but she was vaguely aware that Ginny was on government assistance, which presumably might make for a slim, marginal existence.
Fortunately, at the door, they had a happy surprise awaiting them. The host at The Half Moon announced that their meals and refreshments were to be covered by the Jordans. Minutes later, their server (perhaps angling for a gratuity) approached them with a distinct twinkle in his eye. "Your benefactors asked that you 'please not be shy'," he said, handing them menus.
"Erm?" Mione's brow arched as her friend's gaze slid straight to the bottom of the drinks list. She pursed her lips. "Uh, do be a little bit shy, Ginny. The two of us have to find our way home tonight, and I don't plan on carrying you."
Plugging in various cables to and from the keyboards, Harry looked up to see Langley stride into the Singers Room.
"Evenin', mates!" The agent waved at the band-mates and made his way toward Lee, who was making adjustments to his drum set.
"Hey! How it be to be Nevi today, eh?" Lee grinned and stood. "Any update on Kingston?"
"Ah right." Langley pursed his lips. "Sorry, I haven't heard a word from him since before Wednesday's attack, so I'm not certain he'll still make it tonight, but..." He smiled. "It does appear, though, that you have a bit of company."
"Company? Harry's harem showed?" Lee's grin spread wide.
The grin was a bit too wide for Harry's pleasure, and the younger Jordan scowled. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that." He stood and wiped his hands. "Mione and Ginny, I assume? They're out in the pub?"
"Aye!" Langley nodded. "Go on and say hi. I'll catch up with you two later."
"Brill. Thanks!" Lee finished tightening a bolt, and joined his brother.
Emerging into the brighter-lit pub, they couldn't help squinting for a moment. Making their way past the bar, Harry spotted the girls. "Over there."
Looking past Mione at just the right time, Ginny's face burst into a momentary radiance. She nudged Mione's arm to keep her from being terribly startled as Lee swept in beside her.
"And with your Veggie Burger, might I recommend..." Lee swept open an imaginary menu. "La Colección Privada Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp citrus overtone, perfect to tame the wild fennel? And for la Mademoiselle Smith, perhaps a glass of Le Pinada Carignan to complement your order of Dorset Lamb Shoulder?"
"You can recommend whatever you wish..." Ginny's eyes twinkled dangerously. "But if you try to pry this Otter Bitters away from me, I may very well bite you."
"There'll be no prying of Bitter Otters then!" Lee shook his head, grinning. He caught the still-seated / somewhat-bewildered Mione into a spontaneous shoulder hug, then swung around to the other side of the table where he pulled the rising Ginny into a fierce squeeze. His eyes clenched shut in a moment of raw, undefined emotion, then he pulled back, his eyes studying the girl's face. "Blimey, it's been so long since I've seen any of you lot!"
Ginny's eyes reciprocated, searching him for hints of familiarity, or some long lost memory.
"Hey there, Mione. So pleased to see you!" Harry exchanged smiles with the older girl before his hand found Ginny's. It locked in, gentle but definitive; almost as if reclaiming her from his brother. His eyes smiled deeply. "Ginny, I'm thrilled you could make it!"
"Er, yes." Blinking at the sudden realisation of where her hand was, Ginny slipped from Lee's grasp to focus on the younger Jordan. "Thank you so very much for the invitations and vouchers."
"De nada." Lee grinned, taking a seat and turning his attention to Mione. "So my brother says you're both studying at C.U.L.?"
"Why yes!" Mione's eyes lit up. "Ginny's half way through her Psychology degree, and I'm in my last year of Criminology Honours with a Psych minor. I've been accepted into the Masters program next autumn at University College London."
"Brill!" Lee nodded. "C.U.L. to U.C.L. -- a big step up, yeah?"
"I suppose it is, yes." Mione smiled.
"Care for a pint, Lee?" Harry released Ginny's hand and gestured toward the bar.
"Yeh yeh, thanks." Lee gave his brother a thumbs-up. "And you Miss Smith? Where do you see your psychology studies taking you?"
"I haven't rightly decided." Ginny resumed her seat. "Perhaps a career in healthcare? Though sometimes I wonder if I'm just learning psychology to try to understand my own..."
Something caught Ginny's eye. She trailed off, her eyes fixed over Mione's shoulder at a man entering the pub. Without knowing why, she scowled, muttering, "Arse."
"Ginny?!" Mione gaped at the sudden cloud over the girl's face. "What is it?"
Lee's gaze followed Ginny's across the room, settling on a tall man with gaunt cheeks and long platinum hair. Apart from a few pieces of silver bling, he wore all black — a sharp French turtle neck and pressed trousers. Lee echoed Ginny's scowl. "Creepy-looking ponce, eh? You know him?"
"Know him...?" Ginny stared a moment longer, then laughed. "No, surely not. Pfeh, I guess there's your answer for me studying psych, yeah? Some unknown bastard walks into a bar and I instantly fall in hate with him?"
"Eh, well, reckon you're not the only one." Lee gestured to Harry, whose white knuckles were clenched around the handles of a pair of frothy mugs. "You okay, bro?"
Harry put the beer down a bit ungently, shook himself, and forced a smile. "Sorry mates. Just a bit of pre-show nerves, maybe."
"Nerves?" Mione patted his arm. "Don't fret, Harry; you'll do swimmingly!"
Mione, silently cursing her penchant for sitting with her back to the door, was distinctly curious (and a bit unsettled) over the caustic tension among her companions over the arrival of a stranger, but she was in no mind to
prolong the unpleasantness with annoying questions. Rather, she projected around a very serious face, and flicked a 5p coin onto the table. "Wagers on our chances to medal next week at the Olympics?"
The icebreaker worked perfectly, leading quickly to a discussion of the British women's curling team — Ginny attempting to convince Harry that Mione's morning hair-care exploits had nearly qualified her; Lee drawing blank stares by calling it 'the only non-Quidditch sport played with brooms'. That all devolved soon into a semi-illogical series of amusing anecdotes and trivia that went a fine way toward reigniting a friendly chemistry within the foursome.
Ever the Crim student, though, Mione remained subtly vigilant. A while later, as Lee was regaling the others with the field hockey prowess of his girlfriend, Mione finally shifted about in her chair just enough to gaze curiously about the pub.
The timing proved fortuitous; she happened to finally set her own eyes on the tall platinum-tressed stranger, slipping into an unmarked door near the back of the pub... just as a broad-shouldered, jovial-looking fellow in a vibrant Dashiki shirt emerged through the main entrance.