Chapter 9. Purple
When Lee walked into the kitchen, he did not find luke-cool coffee. Nor was there a single piece of plain toast awaiting him. Rather, what he encountered on the morning after Valentine's Day, was the makings of a fully and cheery breakfast spread.
Harry wedged a spatula into the fry-pan, and flipped a mushroom across the room, which Lee caught with deft hands and a grin. "Mornin', bro!"
"Mornin'!" Harry turned down the gas beneath the pan. "You're looking remarkably human for this time of day."
"Who'd 've thought, eh?" Lee chuckled. "Twelve hours ago, we'd all have reckoned I'd still be sprawled rat-arsed in bed."
"Pretty much." Harry shrugged. "Rat-arsed or not, I'm glad you're smiling."
"Huh. Smiling. I actually am." Lee scratched his cheek as he slid into a seat. "Even after getting thrown over by the bird I've been dating for... whoa... Four years? Four years, mate! And yet, I really do feel, er, okay anyway." He popped the mushroom into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
Harry served him a plate and squeezed his shoulder on the way past. "Well, when you think it over, the flame's been fading for a while, yeah? Ever since she decided to move away? I can't imagine you both won't still have regrets over what could have been, but maybe it's the right time for that little kick off the ledge to get you started on the next of life's flights."
"I spose." Lee nodded. "Thinking back, I wouldn't be surprised if she's been thinking of cutting it off since Christmas; maybe even back in August, but couldn't budge up the bottle... so it's likely for the best I couldn't talk her out of it. But I'm still sore she did it on fricking Valentine's day..."
"And just as the Stags are coming along so hot." Lee took a drink of coffee. "We're looking at real money, bro! At this rate, I'd likely soon have had the coin to skip down to France and see her a two-three times a month." He scowled at his plate for a moment, then took a drink of his coffee. "Eh, but at least now I'll not have to worry about trying to sort out the wacky Chunnel rail schedules."
"Nah." Harry raised an eyebrow. "Instead, you'll be learning the bus route down to Clerkenwell."
"Clerkenwell? As in, the Lady Granger of Clerkenwell?" Lee grinned, digging into his meal. "Touché, bro. How 'bout I just hang a bell around your neck and follow you down? Suspect you'll be beating a regular path to the lady's roomie, eh?"
Harry ignored him. "Listen Lee. A huge part of me is grinning ear-to-ear because you had the perfect soft landing right after Angie dumped you, and I'm glad Mione seemed to enjoy preening your wings, but I want you to promise you'll treat her well, yeah? She's a wee bit prim at times, but a clod like you is hardly bound to find a more decent and kind-hearted girl ever. She deserves more than a bloke being sweet on her just because he got ditched. You catch me?"
Lee stopped, mid-chew. He stared for a long moment at his younger brother; his face an odd brotherly blend of affection and tetchiness. "Eh, well fair enough, mate. But in return you bloody promise me to treat Little Sister Smith a'right, too. I go way back with that family, and-"
"Way back?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "You'd never have even recognised her down at Half Moon, if I'd not pointed her out."
"I said I 'go way back'." Lee rolled his eyes. "I didn't claim I bleeding remember anything. Anyway, what's important is that she comes from one of the best, kindest and most honourable families Mum and Dad ever knew, and she liable to be the same, eh? So, I've every reason to believe she's a fine, good-hearted lass who deserves all the best treatment."
"Fair enough." Harry chuckled — simultaneously amused and impressed. "But, for the record, I'd like to think I've been fairly considerate, yeah? Not pushing. Taking things slow and proper?"
"Eh." Lee equivocated. "Being slow and proper is better than being an arse, but when I say 'best treatment', I mean looking out for the stuff she needs but doesn't ask for."
"I somehow reckon she's had a few bumps in her life, bro." Lee took a long pull on his coffee, gazing out the window. "She's probably tougher than the lot of us, but save a place on your shoulder for her chin. The way Mione did for me last night."
Mione shook her head as she removed the griddle from the skillet. "I still can't figure out what could have caused the party to deflate so quickly. Did you get a sense of why everyone left?" She apportioned the omelet among her plate and Ginny's.
"No." Ginny shook her head. "Harry and I went outside for, oh, no more than ten minutes. By the time we got back, everyone had just decided to bail."
"Oh right — I'd forgotten that you went out." Mione took a seat. "Did you have a nice stroll?"
"Er..." Ginny blinked. It seemed a perfectly innocuous little question... but it was one that reduced her to staring blankly at the toaster.
Sure, there were various answers that she could have rattled off. They would have gone roughly along the lines of:
Actually, it was more running than strolling — Harry racing out to flag me down after I went all nutcakes and ran off in the cold and dark without my coat because I freaked over something in Psychoblondie's weirdo rant about some batty childrens' book. Funnily enough, I was then attacked by some creepo in the park, who froze my legs, but that was no big deal because Harry vapourised a lightning bolt with his fist, and the nice lady NLTA driver wandered over and cured my paralysis. So yeah — a jaunty bit of moonlit recreation.
Nice simple account... but it wasn't one Ginny was eager to share.
Understandably she was a bit tired, and not in the mood for interrogation, but the big issue was more that Ginny didn't want to even think about the episode right now, let alone talk about it. Her reason basically came down to another battle with the 'forbidden'.
While Ginny had made great strides in tearing down the strange barriers in her mind (Harry, and his wonderfully infectious calm had certainly helped), there were obviously still a few hedges left to hack. Late last night, lying in bed after returning home, she'd dared trying to replay the incident in her mind.
Apparently there were nasty consequences to even admitting to herself that she'd seen what she'd seen. A bare few minutes thought had been enough to grind away what had been a pretty good mood, and replace it with prickling, jabbing sensations that she knew would probably drive her around the twist if left unchecked.
So, she'd wisely shelved it, and was still quite reluctant to prod the purple foggy ogre.
Perhaps she might be able to safely tackle it later. Maybe Harry would be willing to coach her in his meditation techniques? Even being around him when he was meditating had helped her tolerate, deal with, and dispose of some ugly 'forbiddens'. Unfortunately, Mr. Zen wasn't exactly sitting with her right now at the breakfast table, so her options were avoidance, or brutal pain.
Except for the niggling matter of some sort of response still being required for Mione's question...
Ginny immersed her face half way into her glass of orange juice and mumbled, "Was okay."
She hardly needed college level algebra to calculate the relative fishiness of a ten second pause followed by a three syllable mumble. However, she also knew that patience could be a virtue when dealing with opaque friends, so she decided that she would let Ginny volunteer information at her own pace.
Of course, the less Ginny elaborated, the more Mione speculated.
Mione had already decided that the exodus from the party might have had something to do with the guests feeling abandoned by their hosts. Lee, obviously had been a bit indisposed, but perhaps if Harry had been tied up doing whatever with Ginny, then that had been the last straw? Either way, Mione didn't feel particularly guilty because she hadn't much taken to the other guests anyway.
Then, when it came to guessing what Ginny and Harry had really been up to outside? Well, it was not a huge stretch of Mione's imagination to assume that whatever moonlit recreation those two might have enjoyed was quite possibly a sweet precursor to the piano performance that Mione and Lee had later witnessed.
Yes, unbeknownst to Ginny and Harry, there had been an audience for at least part of last night's musical accompaniment.
Yes, an audience. Not spies per se.
After all, from Mione's perspective, Harry and Ginny had asked for tea, and Mione and Lee had tried to deliver it. And whose fault was it if she and Lee had paused for, say, five minutes to wait for a break in the music in order to make civilised 'cream or sugar?' type inquiries?
And whose fault was it if, somehow that tea never did get delivered, let alone drunk? It was clearly not missed.
And, ultimately, those tender moments at the piano were certainly not something to be missed either.
It took the will of strong discretion for Mione to not sigh dreamily at the recollection of a young musician working his way through beautiful lilting ballads, with his dearest fan (and Mione's dearest friend) practically glued to his side. It may not have been the story book Valentine's day ending for your typical lovers, but Harry and Ginny were not typical lovers, and weren't technically quite 'lovers' yet anyway, but they had definitely touched Mione's heart.
Sipping her orange juice, Mione debated for a moment whether to reveal what she'd seen, but shook her head, and opted to change the subject. Fortunately there one burning topic at the ready. Waggling her fork, she caught Ginny's attention. "You haven't asked me about Lee."
"Ah." Ginny finished chewing a bite. "How is Lee?"
"Lee is okay. Under the circumstances, of course." Mione raised an eyebrow. "But, you haven't asked, erm, about, me and Lee?"
Ginny took a long drink of juice. "Mmm... Freshly squeezed?" She put the glass down. "So, how are you, and how is Lee?"
Mione glared at her for a moment, gradually surmising that the girl was being difficult... and had quite a poker face. "Well, Ginny, if you must know, Lee and I had a long and pleasant chat last night, and we got on rather well."
"Ah?" Ginny dabbed a bit of brown sauce onto her omelet. "Not sure I would have noticed."
"Oh? I thought it should have been..." Mione narrowed her eyes. "Listen, you twit. I'm telling you this because this is a tantalising and tricky matter for me, and I value your opinion as a friend."
"My opinion on...?" Ginny looked up from her meal. "On you risking a 'rebound relationship'?"
"I suppose, yes." Mione frowned at the characterisation. "I'm trying to be cautious because I'd hate to accidentally hit the wrong switch and torpedo the good ship Friendship, but I... I felt very pleased to have been there for him. As a friend. At a time when everything had gotten all so suddenly intense for him." She gazed off for a long moment through their window, out over the spindly tops of neighbouring rowan trees. "It all felt a bit like what Harry described in that lovely song he wrote for you."
Ginny blinked, momentarily startled.
Mione didn't notice; her thoughts still tied up elsewhere. "Of course, last night was an easy part for me to play — listen and smile; groan at the right moments; pat his hand unobtrusively now and again." She sighed. "But now everything looks so much more complex. Will Angie ring up him in a couple days and sob her way back into his arms? Does he go out partying this weekend and sleep with some wench with, you know...?" Mione's hands made the universal sign for what Ginny recognised as mutant female body proportions. "I wish it was all as simple for Lee and me, as it is for you and Harry."
Ginny's mouth fell open, but she said nothing.
Still facing toward the window, Mione didn't register the awkward pause. She tapped her lip. "I'm sure you'll pardon my saying so. I realise that nothing like this is truly ever a walk in the park, but your situation does seem easier, doesn't it? Neither you nor Harry have jilted lovers to fret about. There don't appear to be irritating competitors. No past regrets or obstacles. You both treat each other so well — so thoughtfully, respectfully. And neither of you seems in any great rush to blunder madly ahead and make a hash of things." She tapped her lip again. "I truly envy you."
Ginny gaped for a long moment. "Don't."
"Beg pardon?" Mione turned, queryingly. "Don't?"
"Don't... envy." Ginny shook her head, her voice come out as a rasp. "Not so easy."
"Is something wrong, Ginny?" Mione's eyes widened. "Is something the matter with you or Harry?"
"I..." Suddenly prickling all over with a 'forbidden' that she had neither expected nor understood, Ginny stood up, tense, restless, her hands clutching the chair back. "I..."
"Ginny, you can tell me." Mione extended a hand, but Ginny was out of reach. "It may make you feel better to talk about it."
"I can't." Ginny let go of the chair and clenched her hands, trying to will away the electricity zapping through her head.
"Ginny!" Mione blanched. Rising from the table, she caught her friend's shivering hands. "You don't have to talk about it, but can you at least tell me if you're okay? Is there anything I can do to help?"
The words didn't register. Looking pointedly away from Mione, Ginny's mind was feverish from some sort of rising storm, like a resurgence of last night's fit, except possibly worse.
Despising the thought of imploding in front of anyone else, Ginny fought back hard.
Enough is enough! You've beaten this off before; beat it now. There's nothing wrong. Nothing! There's NOTHING wrong with liking Harry!
Pulling herself straight, she forced herself to meet Mione's concerned eyes. In a sudden spasm, Ginny's fingers flinched free of Mione's grasp, and snapped back, catching Mione's hands in a tight, pneumatic grip. Her voice lashed out, nearly hissing, "Past regrets!"
"Past regrets?" Mione's eyes widened. "With Harry?? But you've only just met him!"
Ginny's lip trembled. "I... I think Harry and I knew each other when we were little."
"Really?? What do you remember?"
"Something happened." Ginny's eyes gained a lucid, intense gleam. "Something awful. I think my family knew his, and I think that they... we... helped each other, protected each other, but something went terribly, horribly... no, well I'm not sure I ever even truly knew what happened, but I suppose that... I wonder if... well, look Mione — we're both orphans, right? Harry and me both? And... and... Mione, I think something in my head has been trying to wall this off from myself, from Harry, from everyone, or maybe somehow it's all been... well... Maybe PTSD or something? I just don't have... I just can't..."
Face pale, lips purplish, eyes deep and haunted, Ginny looked at... looked straight through... Mione.
Mione nearly screamed.
But she didn't. By the time Mione was even able to breathe, Ginny was gone.
A pleasant morning chat obliterated, Mione stared aghast at the closed, locked bedroom door behind which Ginny had fled. Pulse banging in her ears like brass cymbals, Mione fought back a half dozen panicky urges, and finally just groaned.
Haltingly, fearing her shaking limbs might give way beneath her, Mione stumbled to her room-mate's door. "Ginny, I-I'm so terribly sorry. I had no idea! So sorry that I, errr... Brought it up?"
She trailed off, ears straining for even the slightest rustle or sigh.
But all was deathly silent.
Her pulse finally subsiding to merely half-panic, Mione took several sustaining breaths, then pressed close to the door. "Ginny, I have to go to class. Is there anything you need? From campus? Or...whatever?"
Face descending into her hands, Mione exhaled for a long moment. Then she straightened up, and went to get her coat.
By eight thirty in the morning, a fine morning had already gone down hill for Harry. On his commute down to the university, he started to feel queasy and agitated. By the time he disembarked at the bus stop, he was certain that it wasn't mere motion sickness, and began to wonder if he was physically ill.
The busy morning work regimen sapped rather than invigorated. At lunch, he found he couldn't eat, and almost considered visiting the WC to void his stomach, before eventually managing to ease the turmoil with deep breathing.
By his late-afternoon break, he'd still not tamed the agitation and discomfort, so he finally resolved to do what he should have tried hours ago. Throwing on a jacket, he wandered out to find a quiet spot in the chilly quad. Seeking out the peaceful spread beneath a tree, he descended cross-legged onto a large flagstone, and turned his face toward a patch of moody sky.
He closed his eyes.
After several minutes, a mobile of crepe birds had still not materialised. There was no familiar wooden rail to grasp. He was still not even remotely relaxed.
Rather, Harry felt himself bombarded by a strange, almost popcorn-like barrage of agitated twitches.
What the hell?
That, of course, was not part of the normal zen script, but apparently what he was facing was not normal anxiety. Putting aside any attempt at steering his mind, he surrendered to the twitches, letting them push and tug at him; allowing the bizarre jabs and prickles to have their way until, finally, they evened out into a numbness that began to wash over him.
A faint frown creased Harry's brow as odd sparks of seemingly random thoughts and images flickered. Those, too, were unexpected. Again, however, he just let them take shape; watched passively as they began to resolve into... something that he could not recall having experienced before.
Slowly assembling before his mind's eye was a pattern. It was the dark grained pattern of ancient wood.
Curious, he took another deep, slow breath.
He was looking at a door; standing before a heavy wooden door as if in a very old, historic building of some sort.
No, not standing. In fact, he was leaning; his shoulder pressed hard into the door — a burden that was neither weight nor friction. The more he struggled against the door, the more it resisted until, after a series of calmer and deeper breaths, his hands and arms steadied and strengthened, and at last he was able to push back the barrier.
Peering within, he found a cavernous, low-lit stone chamber. He took a tentative step foward-
"You should not be here."
The vision receded.
Intensely intrigued, but not panicking, Harry took another breath and regrouped. He drifted back to the recognition of how his real body was sitting cross-legged on the cold February ground in the middle of a London afternoon, then he slowly retraced his way back into the meditative vision — the heavy door, a darkened interior, and the voice.
This time it enmeshed him in a sense of exquisite, near-reality. As the voice (a child's voice; a little girl, perhaps; frightened yet hopeful) trailed off, Harry knew that a response was required. He was not merely an observer, but in fact a participant in what seemed to be a waking dream.
But, what should be say?
Harry replayed the sentence again in his mind; pondered the tone of contradictory fear and hope. The voice had implied he'd trespassed... but surely there was a reason for his intrusion? Why else would he have pushed so valiantly against the obstinate door?
He took another deep breath and, in doing so, found unexpected clarity. Even though he was still unsure what he was clear about, his voice emerged with conviction.
"It's true I should not be here, but I had to find you."
Harry listened for a long moment, hoping again to hear a word or phrase of guidance.
In his continued, mysterious clarity, Harry began to move forward into the darkness, his stocking feet crossing tentatively over cold flagstones. Gazing about himself, a spare glow from the distant doorway revealed his body to be small and child-like. His left hand was extended out as though he feared bumping into something in the dark, while the other was clenched at his side; taut and anxious.
Slowly, carefully, he raised the clenched fist upwards. Inches from his face, he loosened his fingers, and gazed in upon the small object he was clutching with such urgency...
Harry's eyes snapped open.
Before he had any conscious notion of what he was doing, he was back on his feet, racing across the quad, up the steps into the library, then over to the main stairwell, making for the second floor carrels.
Tap, tap, tap, tap...
The compulsive finger tapping was annoying Mione. Distacting her. In fact, it was so annoying and distracting, it actually took a moment for Mione to realise that the offending finger was her own.
She jammed the digit firmly between her leg and the chair, lest the tedious noise get her thrown out of class.
Tetchy finger snits are rarely the sign of a good day, and today could probably be classed somewhere between 'miserably useless', and 'uselessly miserable'.
She had come within a hair's breadth of skipping her two afternoon classes to run home and check on Ginny... but couldn't quite bear to break a multi-year string of perfect attendance. Unfortunately, she was now quite certain that skipping one class earlier in the day to ease her mind likely would have helped her pay far better attention to the rest of the lectures.
But it was too late for second guessing. She was now more than half way through her final afternoon class, and she'd basically have to double down on her independent readings because she'd be damned if she'd truly absorbed even a single detail of the arcane nuances of the legal ethics lecture she was supposed to be listening to.
And such fretting made the monotone drone seem even more inaccessible...
"... thus the mere fact of being aware of being aware of prospective bias often tends to produce a reverse bias that may, in fact, exceed the scope and magnitude of any original..."
Tap, tap, tap, tap...
In disbelief, Mione stared. Glared. At her fugitive, flagrant, repeat-offending, serial-tapping, yet ever-so-slightly contrite-looking, finger.
The carrel was dark, and the door was closed.
Pressing close to the glass, Harry could see no sign that anyone had entered the little room at all today. The chair was still pushed all the way in, and the rubbish bin protruded a few inches, just as night staff would have left everything after their cleaning rounds.
Harry had never made a habit of memorising Ginny's schedule, but he really couldn't recall a day in the last week or so when his friend had not made at least a brief appearance.
He knew, of course, that there were surely a lot of basic, mundane reasons why Ginny might not have visited the library today. Hoping for reassurance, he bolted up the steps to seek out one person he was absolutely certain would have shown up for at least part of the day — Mione.
Unfortunately, third floor proved comparably disappointing. Mione's carrel was also, for the moment, empty.
In a bit of a haze, he returned to the stairwell, and stood there, a tense hand running through his hair, trying to figure out what to do.
He needed to find Ginny — that much was clear.
Of course, that was about the only thing that was clear. Everything else (why he needed to find her; why he had imagined himself holding her ring in that dark stone chamber; why he might have had such a vision in the first place; how he was actually going to locate her if he didn't know her phone number or address) was a complete muddle.
Harry stared for a long moment, studying a featureless cinder block wall; seeing nothing.
He had no idea what on Earth had him so ridiculously unsettled today, but he did know, ethically, that he was hardly earning his university salary right now. He wasn't sure what to do about this prolonged anxiety attack, but at the very least he ought not bill his employer for the mania.
And, with that, he started down the steps.
Mione was fit to be tied. She wanted out out out out out.
Out. O-U-T; she wanted it.
Vaguely aware that her professor was taking questions from the class, Mione's hand would normally have been bouncing in the air, but not today. Mione's only questions were of a form (Is Ginny okay? Has she had anything to eat or drink? Could she really have known Harry as a child? Did something dire truly happen to them? Why did she suddenly fly off the handle?) that would hardly flatter the instructor.
When the bell finally sounded, Mione burst from her seat. At the door, she had an ill-timed encounter with a tall, serious (actually quite good-looking) fellow student who for some inexplicable reason seemed to be trying to attract her attention. Veering aside just in time to avoid jabbing her textbook straight into his solar plexus, she gave a no-eye-contact brush-off. "So sorry Ernie! I'm in a bit of a rush." And rush off she did, leaving the poor fellow open-mouthed, and scratching his head.
She raced across the quad. Go straight home. Don't dally. Don't stop. Not even at the lib...
Mione skidded to a halt.
She was actually already twenty feet past the library steps. She never passed the place without practically genuflecting, but what stopped her now was not academic homage. Rather, she'd just had an idea.
Could he help? Help Ginny?
It was worth a try.
Doubling back, she raced up to the double doors, into the foyer, making a bee-line for the check-out desks, and spied him (Yay!) standing by a pillar right over by the administrative offices. With a whisper-voice that could be heard across most of the first floor, Mione waved frantically. "Harry! Harry! I really need to-"
Emerging from behind the pillar next to Harry was a woman, tall and greying, with the most severe hair bun Mione had ever seen. The woman's eyebrow arched every so slightly. "Yes, Miss Granger?"
Mione was equally prepared to cringe, squeek, run, or merely evapourate into ignominy. Yet, in fact, she was surprised to hear her own voice speaking semi-intelligibly. "I'm so very sorry to interrupt, Dr... Dr... Er, you know my name?"
"Millicent Appleblum." The woman extended her aged, thin, yet oddly powerful hand. "And yes, I make a professional point of recognising exceptional students; especially Senior Dean's Medallists such as yourself."
The woman offered what was almost a smile, then turned away. "Please pardon me a moment while I finish with Mr. Jordan." She returned her focus to Harry. "Yes, of course you may be excused for the remainder of your shift. I'd hardly fuss over twenty minutes, but if you feel truly compelled to make up the time, I can find a task or two for you to complete at your leisure. In the meantime, my sincerest wishes to you in resolving the personal matter that concerns you. Perhaps Miss Granger may be prepared to assist." She nodded cordially to Mione and returned to her office.
"Er, thank you so kindly, Dr. Appleblum." Harry stared for a moment at the door to the administrative suite. He blinked, then shook himself. "Mione, I was looking for you. Might I speak to you outside?" His attempt at a smile was a bit pathetic.
"Uhhh?" Wide-eyed, still trying to process nearly every adventitious aspect of the unexpected exchange, Mione nodded. "Uh, yeah? Please?"
Forgetting to notice whether he had a jacket (fortunately he still did), Mione latched on his wrist and had him outside in a matter of seconds. She pulled him to face her. "Listen, I need to talk about, er... So, at breakfast this morning, Ginny... uh..."
"Is she okay?" Harry tensed.
"I think s... well, I don't exactly..."
"Where is she?" Harry started down the steps. "Do you suppose I could see her?"
"Yes. Absolutely! This way." Mione's grip around his wrist tightened again, and before Harry could say anything more, they were racing out into the promenade along St. John Street, weaving a wild slalom course around Friday afternoon students who, apparently, had nothing better to do with their lives than walk at normal paces.
After sprinting up multiple flights of stairs, Harry attempted to catch his breath for a moment as Mione cursed and fumbled with her key.
Finally catching the lock right, the door opened with a whoosh, and Mione swept inwards. "Ginny are you home? Ginny?" She hurried up to the second door on the her left. "Ginny, please answer."
Harry entered the flat, his ears practically ringing in a silence disturbed only by his heart beat and Mione's ragged breath.
Mione tapped lightly on the bedroom door. "Ginny? It's me, Mione."
Still no answer.
Coming up beside Mione, Harry placed his fingers lightly on the door, studying it.
The door was thin panelling, painted white. It was not the dark hardwood he had imagined earlier in his meditations, but the difference seemed completely inconsequential, compared to the words that rose to Harry's throat.
"Ginny? I know I probably shouldn't be here..."
Silence hung for a long moment... then the door eased back a few inches, seemingly of its own volition.
A slight rustle stirred from within the darkened room. There was the sound of a breath; reticent, yet hopeful. "Perhaps not, yeah? But you had to find me?"