SIYE Time:17:38 on 10th December 2018

James and Me
By Northumbrian

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Extreme Language
Rating: R
Reviews: 109
Summary: Annabel has had a bad day. She tries to deal with it as best she can.

The last thing she needs is to meet someone else who has hurt her, someone who she hasn't seen in many years. Or is it?

Do people really change. Has James Sirius Potter finally grown up?

Note added by admin: while the H/G portion of this tale is secondary and comes later, the story is a fine addition to the Northumbrian post-canon, and is welcome at SIYE.
Hitcount: Story Total: 21439; Chapter Total: 947
Awards: View Trophy Room



He had film star looks. His hair was night black, his teeth were impossibly straight and unnaturally white, and his chiselled jaw was blued by stubble.

As I gazed at his too perfect features, my view of him changed. His appearance didn’t, but I saw beyond it, and I saw someone else. Was it insight, hindsight, or foresight? I had no idea, but it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, it allowed me to see past the physical. The sparkling smile was a too-wide rictus, and the shadowy darkness behind his eyes made me shiver.

‘Hello, children,’ he said calmly. ‘My name is Raymond Patterson, I’m here to help.’

‘Help?’ Henry appeared to be as worried by the man as I was. ‘We don’t need any help, Mister. James’ dad called his people, and they’ve taken her away. We caught her. All of us! We did it together.’ My brother’s words dripped with disbelief as he continued.

‘Yeah.’ James stepped forwards to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother. He added his own voice to Henry’s. ‘Help with what?’ he asked. ‘You’re too late to help. The Aurors are gonna put her back in prison.’

As the mist of mistrust surrounding me thickened into a fog of fear, I looked around and realised I wasn’t the only one who was worried; everyone felt the same. Our combined anxiety was swelling to the point that we were physically closing ranks. As we clustered, James and Henry moved to the fore.

‘These two are Muggles, James,’ the man explained through a smile that remained fixed even while he spoke. He pointed at Henry and me. ‘You know what has to be done.’

‘You’re an Obliviator,’ Al was horrified. He and Hugo immediately stepped forwards, interposing themselves between the man and Henry.

The man nodded. I was fascinated by the way he could keep that smile on his lips despite the fact it went nowhere near his eyes. The cold darkness I saw in those impossibly blue orbs was infecting me. I shivered as my blood began to freeze.

‘They’re our friends!’ Rosie said. ‘They won’t tell anyone.’ She stepped in front of me.

‘And anyway, Annie’s not exactly a M…’ Lily began her protest as she stepped alongside Rosie. The man pulled out a stick and waved it. Lily gagged. ‘Hmng!’ Even when she thrust two fingers into her mouth she was unable to free her tangled tongue. Her attempt to protest remained a meaningless mumble.

‘I’m very sorry, young lady,’ He told Lily. The smile finally vanished, and we all knew he was lying. He wasn’t sorry at all. James shouted and dashed towards the man; we all followed. We weren’t fast enough. He waved the stick at us.

As he did so, a harmonium began to drone. The noise of it filled my dream. I felt a sudden jerk behind my navel as I was squeezed and spun through space. Pulled away from Drakeshaugh, I opened my sleep-filled eyes and found myself back in my Sheffield bedroom.

I stared at the plain white ceiling, breathless and frightened, and trying to make sense of what I could remember of this latest, and wildest, dream before it faded. I’d certainly been sound asleep, the stiffness in my limbs was testament to the fact that I hadn’t moved for some time. But the encounter in Drakeshaugh Wood felt more like a memory than a dream. It couldn’t be, but I was beginning to worry. My dreams were getting crazier.

Stretching my limbs and arching my back, I slid out of bed. Since my trip to Mam Tor I’d worn the bloodstone claw constantly, only removing it when I was swimming. It was a comfortingly warm presence on my cold and clammy skin. The dream was fading, but there was that word again–Muggle. It seemed so familiar, but what did it mean? I could ask James, provided the memory didn’t fade. He’d used it when we’d first met; “just some random Muggle” he’d called me.

On the table next to my bed, my phone was still playing the song I’d set as my alarm. I’d changed it weeks earlier, the night after my first ride on the Tiger. Rolling on some deodorant, I sang along under my breath.

‘One’s for sorrow, two’s for joy, three’s for a girl, and four’s for a boy, five’s for silver, six for gold, seven’s for a secret never told. Devil, devil I defy thee…’

Realising that I’d let the song play for long enough, and my singing was increasing in volume to a point where it would probably disturb Vicki, I swiped a finger across my phone. Silence fell, but I broke it immediately. ‘Seven’s for a secret, never told,’ I whispered to myself as I carefully opened my bedroom door; it creaked loudly.

Stepping onto the landing, I realised that my ineffective attempt to remain quiet was unnecessary. Vicki’s bedroom door was open, and so were her curtains. The usually dingy landing was bathed in early-morning light. When I walked into the kitchen, she was eating porridge. My flatmate was dressed, and she seemed to be waiting for me.

‘Morning,’ she said. ‘Want some?’ She lifted the plastic container in which we kept the porridge oats.

‘Yes, please. I’m going to make myself a pot of Scottish breakfast tea…,’ I stopped and gave her an enquiring look.

‘Hmmm,’ She had a mouthful of porridge, so she nodded.

‘I didn’t think you had any lectures this morning,’ I said, switching on the kettle and busying myself with the teapot.

‘I don’t,’ Vicki admitted as she poured oats and milk into my bowl, gave it a stir, and put it in the microwave. ‘But I thought I’d walk down with you. I need to go to the library.’

‘Your decision to come with me wouldn’t have anything to do with Simon–with what I told you last night–would it?’ I demanded.

Vicki shook her head firmly, but she was a lot easier to read than the man I’d been dreaming about–Obliviator Patterson. Pushing aside the fact that I’d given the man in my dream a name, and I could still remember it, I stared at my flatmate.

Despite her vigorous head shake, her expression told me that she wasn’t being honest. She intended to ensure that I wasn’t hassled by Simon on my way into lectures. When I raised a cynical eyebrow, she knew that I knew.

‘You’re flashing again,’ she said in a desperate attempt to distract me.

Pulling the strap of my vest back up onto my shoulder and my scrunched-up boxers down from my bum crack, I decided that I wouldn’t argue with her. When I’d told her–the previous evening–of the incident with Simon and his pals, it had been obvious that my account had worried her. She’d dismissed my attempts to move the discussion on to Rosie, and had questioned me carefully about Simon. Now she was trying to protect me. I decided to accept her help.

‘I don’t believe you, but thanks.’ I smiled gratefully.

‘No problem,’ she said, smiling back.

In order to make the tea I had to move the clothes airer; it was full of Vicki’s stuff. The uppermost item was a colourful George t-shirt, and its drooping label told me that it was “age 13-14”. I smothered a grin and concentrated on making the tea. Vicki bought most of her clothes from the children’s department, and most of her shoes, too.

This was my defender! Vicki was no more than 45 Kilos wet through, and wouldn’t look threatening even if she put on a ninja costume and struck a Manga warrior pose. Nevertheless, if Simon was up to something, her presence at my side would be enough. A witness is always a better option than a warrior. Feeling happier, I immersed myself in my tea-making routine. While I was pouring the water into the pot, I had an idea. Leaving the tea to mash, I picked up my phone.

‘Reminder,’ I said.

‘Please set reminder,’ my phone replied.

‘Friday morning, ask James about Muggles,’ I paused, ‘and Obliviator Patterson.’

‘I didn’t hear that,’ my phone told me patiently. ‘Did you say muddles and Oliver Patterson? If yes…’

‘Oh, bugger off,’ I told it. Giving up, I opened the planner instead.

‘What was that all about?’ Vicki asked me when I finished typing a reminder into my phone. To do it, I had to override the autocorrect.

‘I’m not sure,’ I said, not wanting to tell Vicki about my dream. ‘I think it’s probably to do with something that happened when I was little. You know what it’s like when you can’t quite remember something? I thought I’d ask James when I see him.’

Twenty minutes later we were strolling down towards the university. As we walked, I looked down at my friend, smiled to myself, and resisted the urge to hug her. She didn’t notice my amusement, because she wasn’t looking at me.

Vicki had pulled her long black hair back into two untidy plaits, which were rolling across her shoulders as her head swivelled. Her deep brown eyes darted everywhere. She was examining every side street, ginnel and snicket, seemingly certain she’d spot Simon skulking somewhere in the shadows.

We’d been walking in silence for some time when she finally asked the question again. She’d asked it three times the previous evening, so I’d known she wasn’t convinced that my reply was honest. It was a question that nagged at me as much as it nagged at her.

‘You really don’t have any idea what he’s up to, what he’s trying to achieve?’

‘No,’ I assured her. ‘Honestly, Vicki, I have no idea. He might not be up to anything. Perhaps it was simply a coincidence.’

‘Huh!’ Vicky’s surprisingly gruff grunt firmly dismissed that possibility. ‘But Pete was hanging around outside the Union Building when you left, and Rosie walked you home?’

‘Yeah,’ I admitted. ‘Well, almost home, anyway. She came to the end of the street, and then turned off up towards the Hallamshire. But Pete didn’t follow us.’

‘The hospital?’ asked Vicki anxiously. ‘That’s in completely the other direction. Rosie must’ve been really worried about you.’

I laughed, shook my head, and tried to reassure her. ‘Not the Royal Hallamshire, Vicki, the Hallamshire Arms, the pub up the hill,’ I assured her. ‘Rosie isn’t living in student accommodation, she has a house somewhere up that way.’ I gestured in the general direction of Crookes. ‘She walked with me because it was on her way home. It’s nice that you’re worried, but I think you’re overdoing it a bit.’

Vicki shrugged, lapsed into silence, and increased her vigilance. She wouldn’t even let me walk into the law faculty building alone, insisting on taking me right to the door of the lecture room. It wasn’t necessary; there was no sign of Simon.

‘Doesn’t he take this course?’ Vicki asked.

‘Yeah, but he doesn’t like early mornings. He used to skip the morning lectures, and I’d message my notes to him.’ I failed to keep the glee from my voice. ‘He’s going to be in trouble, because that’s not going to happen this semester.’

When I left my first lecture, foundations of international law, Simon and Matt were outside, waiting. It was just the two of them, and the second they saw me they strode purposefully forwards. I was trying to prepare myself for the encounter when they stopped.

‘Morning, gorgeous,’ smarmed Brad, appearing at my shoulder from nowhere. ‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?’

‘It’s the law faculty, where else would I be? What’s your excuse?’ I asked. Pausing, I turned to look directly at Simon and Matt, and raised my voice. ‘Are you stalking me … Brad?’

As I hesitated, and just before I said my final word, Simon and Matt turned on their heels and fled.

‘Now that’s what I call suspicious behaviour,’ observed Brad as he stared at my rapidly retreating ex. ‘Nicely done, Anna. You’re a sneaky bugger.’

‘Me?’ I shrugged and looked inquisitively into Brad’s face. ‘I’m beginning to think I’ve got nothing on super-sneaky Vicki! I bet she put you up to this, but how the hell did you find me?’

‘I’m a genius, didn’t you know?’ Brad grinned. ‘Vicki’s call was spot on! Smarmy Simon is up to something. Any idea what it is?’

‘How the hell did you find me?’ I asked again.

‘Your lecture timetable is on your fridge. Vicky photographed it, sent it to us all, along with a message. She asked if we could keep an eye on you between lectures.’ He put an arm around my shoulder and squeezed. ‘To be honest, I thought it was a joke, but Corinne was worried. She insisted I turn up here, because I’m the only one with a free period right now. She’s on the top floor of the Arts Tower doing God-knows-what Shakespearean nonsense. She made me promise! It’s a good thing I was here. I’ll let her know what’s just happened.’ He pulled out his phone.

‘Nothing happened,’ I said. ‘Simon and Matt saw you, and scarpered.’

‘That’s not nothing,’ Brad said. ‘I don’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something going on, and you know it, Anna, so stop the bullshit. Come on, your next lecture is advanced criminal law and justice, and it’s upstairs, isn’t it?’ He led me to the stairwell.

‘Yeah, but…’

‘No buts, big butt,’ he said. as he followed me up the stairs, he was texting furiously.

‘You’re a sexist body-shaming twat,’ I told him cheerfully. He ignored me.

‘It’s not really big, is it?’ I asked in my best worried-little-girl voice. He laughed.

‘It really is good to have you back, Anna! Alex and George are going to meet you when this lecture is finished. They’re going to take you to lunch, and escort you to your afternoon seminar.’

‘I’m not a child,’ I said.

‘Never said you were! But, like you always used to tell Alex, taking every precaution possible is the sensible thing to do. Alex and George volunteered. Corinne’s feeling bad about not being here now, and she was going to come along too, but they insisted that it be just them. They want to talk to you,’ Brad said. ‘Corinne is desperate to know what they want to say. She thinks Alex is shagging him!’ He twirled a forefinger next to his temple. ‘But not even George is that stupid. Here you are!’

‘Sorry ‘bout the other week, I shouldn’t’ve tried to grab James. I hated that fucking motorbike.’

Alex words came out in a rush, but her tone was flat, and she didn’t meet my eyes. I stared at her in astonishment, then looked over at George. He rolled his eyes.

‘Don’t expect more,’ he said as his usual cheery grin appeared. ‘She really is sorry.’

‘You letting George speak for you now?’ I asked her. She shrugged.

‘Now, where’s this arsehole of an ex of yours?’ George asked, clenching his fists and cracking his knuckles.

‘You’re safe from him now, Anna. George is almost as tough as Vicki, you know,’ Alex deadpanned.

I laughed, and so did George. ‘He’s not here,’ I told George. ‘He isn’t taking advanced criminal law and justice, he doesn’t need to. He wants to work in business law when he graduates, because that’s where the big money is. So, I’m safe. There’s no need for you to be here.’

They were flanking me as we walked down the stairs. No one could get past us, but that wasn’t really a problem as it was almost one o’clock and everyone was heading in the same direction–out. There was no sign of Simon, but I hadn’t really expected to find him.

‘Not taking the option? I’m surprised you’re doing it, then!’ Alex snapped.

‘He tried to persuade me to take contract law instead, but I’d had my heart set on criminal law before I even got to uni. I signed up for the criminal law course, before I’d even met him,’ I admitted. As I spoke, I began to wonder about his motives; a worm of suspicion began burrowing through my memories.

‘Lunch in the Union?’ George asked.

‘Why not?’ I said. ‘Brad says that Corinne thinks you two have something to tell me. He thinks that she thinks that you’re in lurve!’

‘And Vicky thinks that Simon is stalking you.’ Alex blatantly diverted the conversation back to me. ‘That’s the only reason we’re here. What do you think?’

‘You know she walked down here with me this morning?’ I asked. They nodded.

‘That was the plan,’ George admitted, glancing sidelong at Alex as he spoke. She was staring at me, oblivious to his attention. ‘There were messages flying back and forth until midnight last night. You know what Vicki was like when we were in C7! Remember her cleaning and cooking rota? She’s a hell of an organiser.’

‘That fucking pain-in-the-arse, colour-coded, rota!’ added Alex. There was bile in her voice, but a smile on her lips. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, Anna, we don’t really care about you. We’re only here because Vicki said this was important.’

‘I care!’ George protested, shaking his head in despair. ‘So does Alex, really! So what’s happening?’

‘Vicki is definitely more worried about Simon than I am,’ I assured them. ‘You should have seen her this morning, Yellow Power Ranger Vicki was ready for anything!’ I paused in the doorway to put on the pose. My friends began to laugh, but our good humour only lasted until we walked outside into a dank drizzle

‘Looks like she was right to be worried,’ George observed.

He nodded across to the bike shelter, and there they were. Simon, Matt, and Pete stood under the corrugated plastic, sheltering from the rain. I stared. When they saw us, Simon muttered something, and they turned to leave. Alex, however, raised her voice.

‘Hey, isn’t that your ex-boyfriend and his pals?’ she said loudly. ‘Is it true that he’s got the smallest cock you’ve ever seen…’ I was about to protest, but Alex elbowed me in the ribs. ‘George?’ she finished, looking past me at our bearded friend.

Simon had stopped mid-stride at her “cock” crack, but her final word was the killer blow. As I watched my ex clench his fists, I remembered several dismissive comments he’d made about Phil and realised that I could add homophobic to the ever-increasing list of my ex’s flaws.

Like me, George was staring at Simon. Nevertheless, he snorted with laughter. ‘One day that tongue of yours is going to get you into trouble, Alex,’ he told her.

‘Most blokes like my tongue,’ she told him. ‘Even you! I expect that you fantasise about what I could do to you with it, Georgie.’

‘Fuck!’ I said. Simon disappeared into the rain. ‘Really? Come on, Alex, you haven’t behaved like this to George since…’

I paused, and looked at her. She lowered her head; I faced down George instead. When he nodded, I knew. My remembrance of our first year falling out with Alex was the key. The pieces finally fell into place.

‘She doesn’t want any I-told-you-so’s from anyone,’ George said firmly. We halted at the kerbside and I stared at my friends.

‘Hard luck, Alex,’ I said harshly as we crossed the road. ‘Is it chlamydia, again, or something else?’

‘Same,’ she grumbled.

‘Once is a misfortune, twice is carelessness! You never listen! Why don’t you ever fucking listen? What the hell is so wrong with using condoms? The pill’s fine by itself–provided you’ve got a faithful boyfriend–but…’

As I scolded her, I managed to distract myself from my rant with my own words. ‘Fuck,’ I said as my advice hit home. ‘I wonder if I should get myself tested?’

‘D’you feel okay?’ Alex asked.

I nodded.

‘Then you probably are,’ she reassured me. ‘But I’ll give you the number of the university clinic if you want to be certain.’

‘Thanks,’ I mumbled. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with worry and feeling worse than I had in weeks.

‘On the plus side,’ Alex said, ‘you’re a serial monogamist. If you’ve got it, it’s because Simon gave it to you. I’ve got no idea who I got it from. I had to tell five different blokes.’

‘How’s that a plus?’ I asked bitterly.

‘You can warn every girl he talks to,’ she said, glaring at George.

‘That’s how I found out,’ George said. ‘I ran into Alex up there.’ He motioned towards the Union building. ‘We had lunch and joked on, as we do, you know? After she’d left, this guy I’d never seen before came up to me and told me. He wasn’t very polite about it.’ His stare told me how much he was understating the guy’s comments. ‘That’s why we went off together the other day, after that bloody awful bike ride. I wanted to tell Alex I knew why she was being such a bitch.’

Alex laughed, and gave George a hug. ‘You know what this little star did to the guy?’

I shook my head.

‘I told him I was her brother,’ George said. ‘You should’ve seen his face! I’ve never embarrassed anyone so much in my life.’

Despite myself, I laughed.

‘Why do you need us, anyway? Where’s biker-boy? Shouldn’t he be the one looking after you? Why has he abandoned you in your hour of need?’ As he opened the door into the refectory for us, George bombarded me with questions.

‘He’s gone off to Hogwarts, to do some research for an article he’s writing,’ I told them. ‘I’ll see him at the pool tomorrow morning.’

‘Gone where?’ asked George.

‘Hogwarts?’ Alex queried. ‘Where the hell is that?’

‘It’s his old school,’ I told them. ‘It’s somewhere in Scotland. I’ve no idea where.’ As I spoke, I wondered how I knew. I could feel the memory fading so I pulled out my phone, opened the planner, and added the word Hogwarts to the list.

‘What was that all about?’ George asked.

‘I’m not sure,’ I admitted. ‘I’ll find out when I see James, tomorrow.’

‘Should we be worried about you and James?’ Alex asked me. ‘He’s vanished just when you need him and, frankly, the thought of you sitting on that fucking bike terrifies me!’

‘The thought of you getting an STD for the second time in two years terrifies me!’ I fought back.

‘This is where we need one of Vicki’s lectures on statistics. “Everything you do in life carries a risk, you need to be able to assess them”.’ George interjected.

‘Please God, no!’ Alex protested.

‘There’s no need to worry about “me and James”!’ I told them. ‘I’d trust him with my life.’

‘Good, because when you’re on the back of that machine, that’s exactly what you do!’ George said.

‘You’d trust him with your life!’ said Alex thoughtfully. ‘And he fancies you, and you fancy him, and yet you’re not fucking. Why not?’

‘Perhaps I’m worried that Simon has left me with a little something,’ I suggested. It didn’t work.

‘You hadn’t even thought about that,’ said Alex. ‘You’re trying to change the subject, Anna. Was it your decision, or his?’

I didn’t answer.

‘His!’ she announced.

‘Not everything is about sex, Alex,’ I said. ‘We’ve… We… The box… The rules… Trust is… Always be true to each other, whatever happens.’

‘Now you’re starting to worry me, Anna,’ George exclaimed. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘It’s a secret,’ I said with as much certainty as I could muster. I knew that I was right, there definitely was a secret, but I couldn’t remember what it was. I told them what I did know, what I knew in my gut to be true. ‘James and me, we have a lot of history. That’s all you need to know, okay? Let’s talk about something else.’

Alex eyes gleamed.

‘No, I’m not going to talk about Simon,’ I told her. ‘What about your–latest problem, Alex? George knows, I know, and your current bedmates…’

‘Former bedmates,’ Alex interjected.

‘Former bedmates know,’ I continued. ‘Can I tell the rest of the gang, or do you want to do it yourself?’

‘You can let Vicki know,’ she said. ‘I’ll tell Corinne.’ I nodded, and bit my tongue. Despite her bravado, I’d always suspected that Alex never wanted to receive critical judgement from Vicki.

‘What about…’

‘Going-to-be-a-doctor Phil was the first to know,’ Alex admitted. ‘I checked symptoms with him, and got the whole sexual health lecture from him when I did. I don’t need another one. Let’s talk about George, instead. He still doesn’t have a girl, not since he split up with Emily. I think he and Vicki would be good together. What do you think?’

George began to protest, but it made no difference. We spent lunch good-naturedly teasing him. Afterwards, they walked me into my afternoon seminar. There was no sign of Simon, but they were worried.

‘There won’t be anyone waiting for you when you finish,’ George said. ‘We’re both in lectures.’

‘And Phil’s working, and so is Corinne,’ Alex added. ‘Oh, and Corinne said I was to tell you that there might be a waitressing job coming up at her place.’

‘And Vicki’s meeting her tutor to discuss her assignment for this term,’ I added.

‘And so’s Brad,’ George told me. ‘Sorry, Anna. I’ll skip lectures, if you want.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ I assured them. ‘Brad saw Simon hanging about after my first lecture, and you two both saw him after my second. If I vanish without a trace, I’m sure Vicki will let you know. It won’t happen, but if it does, you know who to finger for the crime.’

They looked worried. ‘Honestly, I’ll be fine,’ I tried again. ‘This is an optional European Court of Human Rights seminar. One, it’s optional. Two, it’s human rights law.’ I held up my fingers as I made the points. ‘I can guarantee that Simon won’t be here. He probably didn’t even register the fact that it’s happening.’ As I spoke, I knew I was right. I knew how Simon worked, and the worm of suspicion had done its work; I knew what Simon wanted.

I was right, of course. The seminar room was crowded, but there was no sign of Simon. Unfortunately, in my attempt to reassure my friends, I’d forgotten about Stu. When I left the room, two hours later, I spotted him skulking behind the drinks machine. He was on his phone and, when he realised I’d spotted him, he hastily ended the call. Keeping my gaze on him, I closed in for the kill. He assessed his options, and decided he’d have to stay and face me.

‘Don’t say anything, Stu,’ I said cheerfully. ‘You don’t need to.’

‘Oh, hi, Anna. Were you in the seminar? I didn’t see you. Some interesting points about the increased need for…’

‘C’mon,’ I ordered, strolling past him. ‘Don’t dawdle. You’ve had your orders. Simon wants you to keep an eye on me until he gets here, doesn’t he?’ Staring into his worried face, I saw that I was right, and stopped. As I continued my stream-of-consciousness speculations, I needed to see his reaction. ‘You’ve got a problem, haven’t you?’

‘Problem?’ he asked. I could see he was beginning to panic.

‘Simon wants you to slow me down, to keep me here. But the problem is, now that I’ve stopped, you haven’t got me, I’ve got you!’

‘Got me?’ His panic was rising.

‘Exactly.’ I nodded. ‘You can keep me here until he gets here, but if you stay with me, I’m going to ask you a lot of awkward questions. Such as…’

I paused, looked into his face, and threw him a bouncer.

‘That girl I walked in on–was she the first?’

‘I… I… I don’t know,’ he lied.

‘Hesitation!’ I pounced. ‘That means you do know. And if you know, and you’re not prepared to tell me, to protest that he’s not like that, it can only mean that she definitely wasn’t the first. What do you think Simon will say when I tell him that you told me? You’re going to be in so much trouble, Stu. Bye.’

I stepped past him. He followed, protesting. ‘Please, Anna, don’t.’

‘Don’t what?’ I asked without breaking my stride. ‘Don’t go? Don’t tell Simon that you told me he cheated on me with several other girls?’

‘I didn’t say that!’ We’d reached the street, and he was beginning to sound desperate, so I stopped again.

‘No, you didn’t, not exactly. But who will Simon believe?’

Stu was speechless.

‘That’s a terrible indictment, you know,’ I continued in a friendlier tone. I was on a roll, and I was beginning to enjoy his discomfort. ‘Your “friend” Simon is more likely to believe me than you. I’m better off without him, Stu, and you would be, too. I could go, now, and you wouldn’t stop me. You couldn’t stop me! You’re in a bad place you know. It really doesn’t matter whether I stay, and tell him what you’ve just told me, or go and leave you as a failure.’

‘I didn’t tell you anything!’ he protested.

‘Doesn’t matter,’ I said. I was beginning to feel sorry for him, so I pressed my point before I had second thoughts. ‘The outcome will be exactly the same for you. You’ll be in trouble with Simon, unless…’

‘Unless?’ He clutched at the straw I offered him.

‘Unless you tell me why you’re all stalking me.’

‘Stalking?’ Stu said the word so loudly that a couple of passers-by slowed to see what was happening. He noticed. ‘We’re not… I’m not stalking you, Anna. Simon wants to speak to you, that’s all. I don’t know why, honest!’ He looked, and sounded, very convincing.

‘You know, I think you’re telling me the truth,’ I said sorrowfully. ‘And that’s the saddest thing I’ve heard. You were in that human rights lecture, Stu. You should know that the “I was only following orders” defence isn’t a good one.’

For an instant, he looked horrified, then relief spread across his face. I followed his gaze. Simon and Pete were crossing the road. They were only metres away, but I could also hear a familiar growl, and it was getting louder.

‘Hello Anna,’ Simon smiled as he approached. He turned to his friends. ‘Can you give us a minute, please, guys?’

‘I didn’t tell her anything,’ Stu said.

‘Of course you didn’t, Stu, because you don’t know anything.’ As his friends backed away from us, Simon gave me a smile that reminded me of Obliviator Patterson. I stared into his calculating face, and knew what he wanted.

I smiled back. The growl behind me turned into a purr, and then there was silence. Simon looked over my shoulder.

‘Fuck!’ he said.

‘Hello, James.’ The Tiger’s growl was already familiar to me, so I didn’t need to turn. I raised my voice so that everyone, including Simon’s friends, could hear me. ‘Nothing to worry about, I’m perfectly safe! Simon was about to ask, or beg, or bribe, me into letting him submit my business tax law report as his own. That’s why he offered to “proofread” it for me over the summer.’ Simon’s face told me that the theory that had been forming in my head all day was correct. ‘But it wouldn’t matter if he offered me a million quid, or let me cut off his testicles with a rusty hacksaw, my answer would still be the same. Fuck off, Simon!’

My ex was speechless and shaking with anger. I’d belittled him in front of his friends and that, I knew, was the worst thing I could do. Simon’s star could not be tarnished. But now his friends were staring at him in astonishment. That was enough for me. I turned to face a grinning James. ‘Now, it’s your turn, Jamie. Hogwarts, Muggle, Obliviator Patterson! Explain!’ His smile vanished.
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