"You are, what is it, kémikus, chemist?" Laszlo is looking over her shoulder, at the ball-and-stick models she's been scratching for half the morning. They don't help much with potions, but she likes to keep the important molecules straight in her head, when she is able to find their explication in the literature. She guesses at others, postulates composition based on preparation.
"Yes. Thank you so much." He's brought her another cup of coffee. She reaches for her handbag, but he forestalls her with a graceful little palms-out bow.
"The house will cover. You are here all the time. You are at university?"
She nods. It's a white lie, and safe enough.
"You will do well. Study, study, study. It's good."
She returns his smile. There's a little flicker of warmth in her core. It's the most conversation she's had with anyone in days. A week? Maybe more.
She's losing track of time. If the café didn't keep consistent hours, she doubts she would. She sleeps poorly, tossing and turning on the narrow bed, and when she wakes, it's to a detached fog that drifts around her like the morning miasma off the Thames. She's begun taking long walks near Westminster Bridge. Either the apparition or the exercise clears her mind. Sometimes.
She's not sure if it's the destruction of the note, or the destruction of her hypotheses, but she's begun to see them all as abstractions, now, and not terribly interesting. Although, if she's honest about it, there's still a little kernel of resentment, centered on those eight scarlet words. They were a toxin, leaching through her life. Ink-induced marital coagulopathy – little clots of self-absorbed nastiness, when she shut the door on Ronald in favour of scrambling to produce the next thing, and the next one, and the one after that. A rat-race of productivity, but the joke's on the rat: the promise of cheese is a laugh the experimenters are having at the expense of the hapless creature. And while she was busy stifling any passion she might have taught herself to feel for this other person sharing her life, in favour of ardour for research alone, she'd been unknowingly hemorrhaging every other aspect of herself.
She considers therapy, but in the end, she buys a plant.
It's a species of Dieffenbachia. She's a bit leery of Central American introductions, after the mezcal, but she likes its leaves. Too, its foliage is full of calcium oxalate raphides, little intracellular needle-like crystals which, if chewed, will produce localized edema and thus temporary paralysis of the tongue, giving the plant its common name, dumb cane. Poisonous plants appeal to her, somehow. It lives on her windowsill, and she even remembers to water it.
She meets up with Harry, one grey afternoon. The coffee at Fortescue's is inferior to her usual, but Harry doesn't like side-along apparition, so they're limited to Diagon Alley. She thinks he just wants to chat, catch up, see how she's doing. (She'd like him to express some tiny bit of interest in her health or well-being.)
But he's on a mission: "I had a funny sort of owl, last week."
"A funny owl, or a funny letter?" She asks, with a quirk of a smile.
He's apparently not in a light-hearted mood, though. "Funny letter. Weird, y'know. It was someone asking after your address. Said he'd tried to owl you, but it didn't deliver. I checked later, with Ron, I mean, and he said there was an owl for you, but he didn't take it." He peers at her closely, as if to gauge whether mentioning Ronald's name is going to produce some infuriated reaction.
She rolls her eyes. "I wonder why he wouldn't." She's picturing him beating at some poor post-owl with his Nimbus, and thinks the notion might not be far off the mark.
"Er, dunno." Maybe Harry's imagining something similar. "But it checks out, anyway, about there really being an owl. But I felt odd, y'know, having someone asking me. I guess they know we're friends, everyone knows that. So it stands to reason. Still."
"And?" It's pulling hen's teeth, getting Harry to come to the point. There are things that never change, which ought to be reassuring.
"Well, I felt like it wasn't my place, handing out your address. Old reflexes, I suppose. Gin says I'm a raving paranoid, which turns out to be really useful at work, with one thing and another."
She smiles tightly, and gestures for him to continue.
"Right. Anyway. I owled him back with your mobile number, the one you gave us. I thought, if he's legitimate, he can figure out a telephone and call you for your address. That should be enough to forestall a random nutter, yeah? So I wanted to give you a heads-up. Just in case."
"Thanks, Harry." Thanks for making her correspondence more difficult. Ah well, she can see he's tried to be sensible and cautious, and all the other adjectives she once despaired of him ever attempting.
He witters on, nervously, about the children and their various accomplishments, for just a few more minutes. And then he's gone. She rests her chin in her palm, and watches him through the glass, as he recedes into the swirling snowflakes. It's not always going to be like this, is it?
On a whim, she trudges down to the Post, and sends a bland Hello, how have you been? to Viktor. She doesn't really expect a response, and she doesn't really want one, except that she worries, sometimes, late at night, that she doesn't exist anymore. She'd like some independent corroboration of the reality of her continuing survival. Although maybe she was never real to begin with: Harry Potter's friend, Ronald Weasley's wife. No one at all, except in apposition to others.
When her mobile rings, a couple evenings later, it nearly startles her half to death. By which logic, she's alive after all. It's nice to have that sorted.
"Hello, Ms. Weasley?"
"Yes," she affirms, warily.
"Oh, ehm, apologies, I should be asking for Ms. Granger, now, shouldn't I? Slipped my mind, 'though I saw it on your latest, your, ehm, authorial reversion, I should say, but it did slip, gotten used to thinking of you as Ms. Weasley, don't you know. But I'll try my best to get it fixed upstairs, under my hat, I mean. This is Tibs, by the by. How are you, my dear?" This cheerful bubble of social frivolity (no other word springs immediately to her mind) is delivered in the plummy-est of Received tones, despite its content or lack thereof. Tibs?
"Oh! Dr. Prince! I—I'm fine."
"Now, now. I thought I'd gotten you trained, we mustn't backslide into formality. Can't bear it. Worry my father's in the room when anyone asks for Dr. Prince."
"Cer-certainly. Tibs. Then you must of course call me 'Hermione'."
"I intend to do nothing but, save that it seemed a touch casual for the telephone. Wonderful devices, because it's a delight to speak to you. I do so wish they'd get the international Floo sorted. No matter, I've found you now. I did send an owl, but, ehm, it didn't quite manage to deliver my letter, it seems."
She flushes hot. How awful. Her editor has run afoul of Ronald's idiocy. "I'm so sorry, I've changed address, and I didn't even think to include it in my submission."
"Oh, don't fret, there's no harm done. To tell you truth, in retrospect I am considerably pleased at the necessity of channeling this dialogue through, ehm, unconventional means."
"Well," there is brief lapse, with a peculiar pucking sound – is he smoking a pipe? "In addition to contacting you at a truly unconscionable hour, for which my apologies—" It's later in Amsterdam, so what's he on about? "—I really think it's best I have this chat with you entirely outside the office, as it were."
"It's rather, ehm, not done, contacting an author outside the regular channels. But I am positively compelled, m'dear, compelled. You see, I've got your manuscript back across my desk right now, or earlier last week, I should say, and I confess that the third reviewer I solicited is just as inadequate to the task as the first two."
She sits back down, because she feels as though she's taken a blow to her solar plexus. Three reviewers? Inadequate. "I'm so sorry."
"Oh, no, you mustn't misunderstand me." His voice is up an octave, and she can hear now that it cracks faintly at the edges. She involuntarily reshuffles her mental image, adding greyed hair to the pipe and dressing gown. "I am utterly convinced that you've got something rather brilliant here. But I am constrained, my dear, by the process. Despite my efforts, I've got three separate 'rejects', and there's just nothing I can do with it. The situation, I mean."
Well, it was a good thing she didn't treat herself to the torta she'd been eyeing up in the café. In better than a month, the only thing she's really accomplished is keeping a plant alive. A plant that hasn't even been here the entire time. But she is not going to whinge. Not to an editor. "Is there anything you can recommend, that might see it fit for resubmission?"
"Now that's precisely what I most wanted to discuss. It's…" he pauses, to puff at his pipe, and perhaps to find the word he wants, "Delicate. Yes. With your permission, I should like to send your manuscript on to an acquaintance of mine."
"Certainly; you don't need my permission for that."
"Oh, but I must have it. You see, this would be… ehm, outside of the Guild, strictly speaking."
"Oh. So not to a Guild member?" That puts a different spin on things. Guild membership means playing by the rules; peer review and academic acceptance of one's work functions entirely within its constraints.
"Ehm, no. No, lapsed, quite some time ago. But I can certainly vouch for their discretion."
"Yes, of course. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply—"
"Oh heavens, no, m'dear. Not in the least! If I couldn't vouch for them personally, I'd never suggest such a thing. But I think your little paper will fall on fertile ground there, and some good ideas are apt to sprout up. Now, in consideration of, ehm, concerns you may have as to priority, I've gone to the liberty of drawing up a patent application on your behalf; I shall send that on to you directly. You take a look over, sign it, and pop it in the post. Easiest thing!"
She has the faintest sense she's being hustled into something, so, "May I have just a moment to consider this?"
"All the time you need." He sucks again at his pipe.
A patent's a good idea. That provides as much security as Guild membership; her idea can't be stolen without some pretty comprehensive legal repercussions. She wouldn't have thought you could patent something that hasn't got a process, yet, but Tibs clearly has the advantage over her. And if this fellow's not even a member, he's not going to snaffle her paper and publish it himself. Probably just someone on the applications side, able to commit the 'elbow grease' needed for a full study.
"This person? He's a brewer? Or an apothecary?" Although the latter's unlikely.
"None of those things, I'm afraid." He sighs. "Only someone with entirely too much time on their hands, and too little else to do. An apprentice of mine, who didn't take the field on in any professional capacity."
That's a bit disappointing. Still, if Tibs will vouch for them, there's nothing lost, is there? "Alright, then."
"Splendid! And your address? We'll get the patent on the books, first thing, so you needn't lose a wink over it."
She smirks wryly at the notion of sleeping well, and rattles off her address.
As he's beginning to make his polite farewell, she decides, on a whim, to plumb the depths of a little mystery: "Pardon, I expect this is a bit out of the blue—" she's fallen into idioms, something about his locution must be rubbing off, "—But I was wondering what originally brought my work to your attention?"
He chuckles, apparently delighted with the question, which is some relief. "Ah, my dear, I've an eye for talent. I keep a sharp lookout when it comes to new authors."
"Oh." His praise tickles her straight through, a giddy little buzz. She'll wager it all: "I wondered if it might not have been my coauthor. I thought perhaps you'd known him, Severus Snape, I mean."
"Ah. Well, yes. Actually." It sounds as though he's exhaled through his nose. "Sister's son. Bit of a disappointment, really, that he never accomplished much. Still, he managed to teach you an appreciation for potions, before it was all over, eh?"
"Yes. He… he had a distinctive teaching style. I learned a lot." They say their goodbyes, and she sets her mobile back on the nightstand. The novel she'd been reading doesn't seem appealing anymore; she's curiously deflated in the aftermath of their conversation.
But she does fall asleep, and what's more, stays that way until morning. Perhaps something's ended; perhaps the toxins have finally been neutralized.