The Muggles have a term for it: synaesthesia, or as their medical dictionary says: "a perceptual condition of mixed sensations: a stimulus in one sensory modality (e.g., hearing) involuntarily elicits a sensation/experience in another modality (e.g. vision). Likewise, perception of a form (e.g., a letter) may induce an unusual perception in the same modality (e.g. a colour)."
Synaesthesia. It's something that Poppy Pomfrey experienced long before she knew the word, and until she was in her late teens -- until she started her healer training, in fact -- she assumed that everybody else experienced it, too. Just as she'd once been shocked to learn that not everyone was magical, so she'd been shocked to learn that not everyone saw words in colour. Or had their world flare orange when they bit into a tart apple. Or felt awash in a sea of midnight blue when the touch of magic prickled their skin. She'd had no idea that for most people, emotions and colours were two separate things -- because to her, one was indistinguishable from the other.
But then she found out that some people considered her colours to be a "condition." Now, Poppy is not one of those healers who disdains Muggle medical insights -- in fact, she keeps up with several professional journals regularly -- but she does think Muggles have an unfortunate tendency to over-pathologise magic. For that's what her colour-sense is to her: not "synaesthesia, a cross-sensory neurological condition," but a bright and magical gloss on a world too often smothered in darkness.
It's why she joined the Order of the Phoenix: to do her bit to help keep that darkness at bay. And it's one of the many reasons she loves Amelia Bones: because Amelia is one of the beacons that pierces the darkness. Give the world enough Amelias, Poppy always thinks, and any Dark Lord would just shrivel and die. He'd know there was no point in keeping his hand in.
Poppy and Amelia had been lovers for almost two years before they bought the house. Amelia's flat in London wasn't really big enough for two, and as far as Poppy was concerned, summer simply wasn't summer if she couldn't put in a garden.
The house itself had been rather featureless and uninspiring at first: white rooms, neutral fitted carpets, beige lino in the kitchen. But the garden made up for everything. It was sunny and lush, full of rosebushes that Poppy soon pruned into a riot of red and pink, and plenty of space for orderly rows of herbs and vegetables. For the first few weeks after they moved in, hardly a day went by that an owl didn't arrive from Hogwarts laden with shrunken parcels containing Pomona's best cuttings and seeds.
Poppy was in heaven. She'd stand in the middle of her garden with her eyes closed, breathing deeply, letting the scent of soil and sun curl into her mind and surround her with all the comforting colours that nature could bring.
The hues she saw were not always the ones traditionally associated with a particular natural element -- no, Poppy's palette was unique to herself. The heat of the day, for instance, was never a so-called "warm" tint in her mind; it was always the colour of a perfect summer flower, petal-pink. The smell of earth had its own colour, too. It rippled in her head like sheets of silvery water; it was what she imagined a desert oasis to be: the shimmering center of life.
Once the garden was in place, Poppy turned her attention to the house. "You leave the inside to me, too," she said to Amelia. A beam of light in darkness Amelia might be, but she had no home-making sense whatsoever, poor dear. She'd been in the same flat for over fifteen years, and it still had about as much personality as a hotel room.
Colour. That's what their house needed. Over the course of their first few years in it, Poppy repainted every room, choosing the colours for the feelings she associated with them. Each one represented one of her favourite moments with Amelia. A happy magical home needed to be more than just the sum of rooms and books and furniture and people; it needed the imprint of life as it was lived.
The sitting room Poppy painted a soft lilac, the colour she'd seen on her first real date with Amelia. The date had been quick, just a hurried meeting for afternoon tea in London, for then as now, Amelia was always rushed at work, and it was rare for Poppy to find a student-free hour during the dangers of Quidditch season.
But they'd managed. They'd met in one of those shops that carried enough different teas to require a menu of encyclopedic proportions, and as soon as Amelia sat down and put in her monocle to study the list, Poppy's mind had been flooded with the colour and scent of lilacs. It was the hue of spring, of beginnings -- and a more auspicious start for their relationship, Poppy could not have imagined.
So she painted their living room the same colour as their life together. Amelia loved it. "It's just right," she exclaimed, and it was, of course, even if Amelia would never know exactly why.
The kitchen was yellow, the sunniest yellow Poppy could find, always for her the colour of orgasm. The first night she spent in Amelia's bed had been a veritable explosion of ochre heat; the very blood in her veins had turned into liquid gold, and now she never leaned into Amelia's caresses without feeling that she was entering into the sun itself.
To Poppy, the kitchen was the heart of a home; it's where she wanted her yellow love.
Amelia loved that choice, too.
For the bedroom, Poppy saved the pale blue; it was the colour that she'd seen when Amelia had sent her flowers as a thank-you for saving her sight after a DE attack. An owl had appeared at the window of the Hogwarts hospital wing, drooping under the weight of huge Muggle florist's bouquet.
"Please accept this small token of my thanks and silence," Amelia had written in that no-nonsense way that Poppy had so quickly come to love. No beating-around-the-bush for Madam Bones; she wasn't about to ignore the fact that Poppy needed to count on her discretion when it came to the Order of the Phoenix.
Sitting at her desk holding the card, Poppy had felt wrapped in a blanket of pale sky blue, always the colour of trust to her, so when it came time to paint her and Amelia's bedroom, she never considered any other tint. In bed, naked in your beloved's arms, that's where all pretense fell away, and you handed over your soul.
She didn't put these thoughts into words for Amelia, of course; she didn't need to. Amelia understood.
"It feels so peaceful here," she said after the bedroom had been painted. "I think this house likes us, Poppy. Or does that sound too foolishly unscientific for you?"
"Not at all," Poppy replied briskly. "It's the magic."
And it was.
For Amelia's study, Poppy chose a creamy shade like milk with just the hint of coffee. It was the colour she always saw just before they made love, when Amelia's kisses were cool and feather-light, her lips smooth and mellow yet with the promise of rich brown bite to come. Poppy always feels focused at those times, her entire being concentrated on the moment. It was a good feeling for a study, she thought, and Amelia had agreed.
"Are you sure you haven't been taking divination lessons on the sly?" she demanded as they stood inside the freshly-painted room. "How did you know this was just the colour I needed to keep me on track?"
Poppy scoffed. "As if you ever need encouragement to throw yourself into your work," she said. It was one of their few points of tension, the way Amelia over-worked herself, ignoring sleep and nutrition and even Poppy herself in her dedication to the MLE.
Amelia grinned. "Well, I'm not working now," she pointed out, slipping an arm around Poppy's waist and kissing her way from temple to jaw to throat as her free hand dipped into Poppy's bodice.
Poppy closed her eyes and let the golden sunshine take her.
The only time Amelia raised any objection to Poppy's painting choices was with the bathroom, and when she thought about it later, Poppy could understand why. She'd picked the bright lime green because to her it was the colour of healing, the shade she always saw when she thought of her infirmary at Hogwarts (despite the fact that the actual colour appeared nowhere in the hospital wing).
But it meant "intensity" to Poppy, and whenever she worked on a patient, whether at the school or in the Order safehouse, she seemed to see everything with that healthy garden-green tinge around it. She'd thought it a good shade for a bathroom, considering that a bathroom was a place for cleansing inside and out.
For Amelia, though, the colour must have subconsciously reminded her of unpleasantness: her days in hospital after her eye injury, perhaps, or the many hours she'd spent at among the green-gowned healers at St. Mungo's, waiting for news about injured Auror colleagues. She'd practically moved into the place when Alastor Moody had gone down.
Whatever the reason, Amelia reacted to the bathroom the way she would have reacted to walking into a stone wall: she came to a dead stop and then backed out of the room without turning, nearly running Poppy down in the process.
"You don't like it, do you?" Poppy asked, though she knew it was a rhetorical question. Amelia's dislike was palpable.
But she was honest about it, which was another of the many things Poppy loved her for.
"No," Amelia said. "Sorry. I can repaint it."
"You pick the colour, and I'll do it," Poppy said, leaning in to kiss her. It would be no hardship, immersing herself in a colour that her partner loved.
Amelia put an arm around her, and suddenly Poppy felt a rush of sunny yellow, lilac, and soft sky blue.
But on the night that Amelia's patronus bursts into Poppy's bedroom at Hogwarts, shouting "Attack!" in Amelia's strong voice, Poppy sees no colours at all.
Or rather, she sees only one: everything goes to shades of grey, like an old Muggle film. The entire world is in monochrome and stays that way as Poppy races through the corridors to her office, the place they've agreed Amelia will try to reach in the event of an ambush.
Amelia is there, lying on the floor. From her arm, blood is draining; it gleams black in Poppy's new vision, and she nearly stops breathing in fear.
But then Amelia's hand moves. She's alive.
Poppy crosses to her, almost falls beside her, takes her hand and squeezes. "I thought you were dead," she gasps.
"Going down fighting," Amelia says.
She entwines their fingers together, and as her lover's warmth reaches her, all Poppy's pastels fade from her mind. Grey, cream, lilac, sky blue, even yellow give way to red. Bright red, blood red -- the colour of the heart, of life.
The colour of Amelia alive.