|SIYE Time:8:08 on 16th December 2017|
Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Extreme Language
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: 11947; Chapter Total: 761
Awards: View Trophy Room
It was if I was some sort of mythical creature, and James was my unsuspecting victim. I watched him turn to stone under my gaze. The statue before me was open-mouthed, but unable to speak. I could almost hear his mind working as he tried to decide what words he could use to end my spell.
Only the truth could set him free, or so I thought. I was wrong. He was saved by an unlikely ally.
‘And you wonder why I looked elsewhere, Anna!’ Simon snarled vindictively. ‘Explain!’ He tried to copy my accent. He failed, of course, but I heard the contempt in his voice. ‘Yet another selfish demand from the most selfish and demanding girl I’ve met! You’re a prying, nosey, argumentative bitch. That’s why he’ll dump you, too!’ His words were a spear in my back, wounded by their truth, my hold over James was broken.
Assailed by doubt, I stumbled. Had I gone too far? Was I being unreasonable? To my relief, James’ expression said otherwise. The sadness on his face had been replaced by an angry determination, an emotion more controlled than I could hope to achieve.
‘She needs to be put in her place, “Jamie”. Tell her to piss off, or give her a good slap!’ Simon’s advised.
‘Annie’s “place” is wherever she wants it to be, not wherever someone decides to put her,’ said James quietly. ‘And it took me way too long to learn that taking relationship advice from someone who cheated on his own girlfriend is a very bad idea.’
I looked curiously into James’ sad eyes. His attention was focussed on Simon, but he seemed to sense my stare. For an instant, he glanced at me, and I saw a spark of mischief. Turning towards Pete and Stu, he asked, ‘Did we all just hear Simon make an incitement to violence?’ His shrewd question, and the sly wink he gave me, were all I needed to recover from Simon’s wounding words.
‘It’s obvious you’re no legal expert, “incitement” was the old common law offence,’ I told James firmly. ‘Part two of the Serious Crime Act 2007 replaced it with the offence of assisting or encouraging crime. But you’re forgiven, because you’re a layman,’ I turned to Simon’s friends. ‘Law students should know better.’
As I tried to stare Simon and his friends down, James stepped alongside me. That was enough to make them quail. Before they turned to flee, Simon gave me a glower that promised payback. Because of that, I couldn’t resist taking a parting shot.
‘Remember what I said, Stu. You’re better than this.’ The instant the words left my mouth, Pete and Simon turned on their companion. I wondered if I’d done the right thing.
‘You’re totally amazing when you’re angry,’ James murmured.
Stepping in front of me, he gently placed his hand on the back of my head and moved in for a kiss. His hazel eyes stared into mine. I relaxed and accepted his approach. Our lips met. Slow and seemingly calm, his kiss was as deceptive as the soft caress of water over rock. Deep inside, I knew that over time this gentle action had the power to carve out something deep and permanent.
When we finally separated, I was breathless. James didn’t give me the chance to speak. ‘You asked me a question, and I haven’t answered it.’ I’d never seen him so serious. ‘I will, but not here, not now, and not today.’ He paused, waiting for me to protest, to argue. I didn’t. I simply stared into his face and waited.
‘I want to tell you everything,’ he admitted. ‘I will tell you everything. But telling you everything right now would get me into a lot of trouble.’ He seemed to sense the question forming in my head, and sadness clouded his features. ‘Even telling you why and how it would get me into trouble could get me into trouble.’ A hoarfrost of frustration coated his words, and I shivered in their intensity. ‘I hate it! It’s a wall, a barrier between us, Annie; I know it is. I don’t want to lie to you. Unfortunately, the only alternative to lying is to not answer. I’ve been trying to figure out a way round it, but without success. I’d like to promise that I’ll be able to give you your answer tomorrow. I can’t make that promise, but if I can’t find a solution soon… Will you wait for me to answer, please?’
‘Of course I will,’ I assured him. His internal conflict was spilling out through his watery eyes. ‘But I have another question for you.’
‘I hope it’s an easy one,’ he said with feeling.
‘Of all the buildings on all the streets in all of Sheffield, you rode onto mine,’ I said. ‘How did you know where I was?’
There was a puzzled look on his face. ‘Was that a quote?’ he asked.
‘A much-bowdlerized misquote from Phil’s favourite film. Even so, you must recognise it,’ I said.
He shook his head.
‘Philistine,’ I added. He shrugged.
‘I knew where you were, because I asked,’ James admitted. ‘Rosie called me last night and told me that she’d met you. She wanted to let me know that you’d remembered her ex-boyfriend.’ The worry and concern in his eyes was back.
‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘But I don’t see how I can have remembered him.’
‘Nor do I. Rose has no idea either. It’s impossible. No one should be able to… I shouldn’t have said that. I think that if I stick around here long enough, Annie, I’ll spill my guts regardless of the consequences for both of us. I shouldn’t have said that, either!’ He shook his head in despair. ‘Back to your question. While Rose and I were talking, she mentioned the fact that Simon and his pals had been following you. I was worried. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been because from what I just saw, you had things under control. In my defence, I wasn’t the only worried one. Late last night, Vicki messaged me…’
‘Vicki? Where did she get your numb…’ I provided the answer myself. ‘The note with your phone number on it–the one you pushed through my door on the night we met–it’s still on the fridge. It’s right next to my timetable.’
James nodded. ‘Vicki was obviously worried.’
‘It’s her default state. You get used to it,’ I snapped sarcastically. James’ face fell. ‘That was really nasty of me, sorry,’ I admitted. ‘Go on, please.’
‘Vicki was, rightly, worried, so I left early this morning. I’d hoped to get here before your seminar finished.’ He threw his arms in the air, arched his back, and stretched. ‘I’ve been on the bike for seven hours, with a short break for a cuppa and a sandwich at Penrith. I made really good time to Penrith, but there was a crash on the A66 over the Pennines, and that made me a few minutes late.’
‘Don’t worry about it. If you’d arrived on time, Simon wouldn’t have tried to confront me.’
‘It might have gone very differently,’ suggested James.
‘But it didn’t.’
‘I hope you’re right. I didn’t like that last look he gave you,’ James told me. He stretched again. ‘I can’t offer you a lift, no helmet. I can walk you home, if that’s okay. I need to walk for a while, stretch my legs. I’ll need to find somewhere to park Tiger, first.’
‘I was intending to walk home,’ I hesitated. Now he was here, I wanted to spend more time with James.
‘I’d like to catch up with you, too,’ James told me, somehow figuring out what I was thinking. ‘But, while we walk, you can tell me what’s been going on while I’ve been away. You’ve given me a lot to think about, Annie. I need to figure out a way to answer your questions. I have a deadline to meet, too. If I don’t complete the article I’ve been commissioned to write, I won’t get paid for it.’
He was being sensible. ‘And I need to write up my notes from the seminar before I forget everything,’ I confessed.
‘I don’t think it’s possible for you to forget everything,’ he observed. ‘I’m beginning to wonder if you forget anything. I’ll walk you home, come back here for the bike, and I’ll pick you up for swimming as usual, tomorrow, okay?’
‘And after swimming, we can spend the day together, because I’ve seen your timetable. Your Friday lectures don’t start until next week.’
‘Sounds good to me,’ I said. ‘You can park Tiger over there,’ I indicated the half-dozen bike bays outside the faculty building.
James followed my pointing finger. ‘I can’t; they’re marked: electric vehicles only.’
‘True, but last year Professor Landis told us that there’s no traffic regulation order, so the signs are unenforceable. Things like that really annoy him. He actively encouraged us to use the bays. I don’t think he cares whether the signs are removed, or if the council make them legal with an order, he simply hates it when things aren’t done correctly.’
‘That’s good enough for me.’ James dashed back to his bike. I watched him start it up and ride past me into one of the vacant bays. There was a Zero parked in one bay, an EV-neo in another, and a brand-new e-vino in a third. All three were plugged into the chargers. James examined the Zero, but ignored the two mopeds.
‘Thinking of buying one?’ I asked.
‘Can’t afford it,’ he said.
‘Really?’ I asked. ‘The initial cost is a bit high, but with petrol being the price it is, I’m surprised you can afford to keep Tiger running. How far can you get on a tank?’
‘I don’t really pay much attention to things like that,’ he admitted. ‘D’you really think you’ve sorted Simon out? It looked to me like he was plotting something.’
‘He probably is,’ I thought about it. ‘I don’t know what he thinks he can do to me to make me change my mind, but I’m going to make sure he doesn’t try to steal my report!’
Pulling my tablet from my bag, I jumped up to sit on the wall next to the bike park. James stood in front of me and watched, fascinated, as I worked. Settling myself, I wrote a short message to the business tax law lecturer, enclosed a copy of the latest version of my report, and hit send.
‘Sorted,’ I said happily, dropping my tablet back into my bag.
I shuffled forwards, preparing to drop from the wall. James stretched out his hand to offer assistance. Instead of protesting how capable I was, I took it. He supported me as I jumped down from my perch, and once I was on the ground, he didn’t let go. We made the journey hand-in-hand, our fingers interlocked. While we walked, we discussed what Simon had been up to. I told James how my friends had been there for me during the day, and we’d almost reached the flat before I remembered to ask him about his research trip.
I could tell by the excitement in his voice that he’d been successful. He was having to hold himself back from telling me everything, but he’d managed to find an account, by Friar Tuck himself, of the truth behind the legend of Robin Hood. Despite my questions, he refused to divulge the details, but promised to let me see the article after its publication.
When we reached my flat, our doorstep kiss was long. It was accelerating towards infinity when we sensed a watching presence. Pulling apart, we turned to face our observer. It was Vicki. She hadn’t spoken, or done anything to disturb us, but I knew from her self-satisfied smirk that she’d been there for some time. James slid his arm around my waist, and I sensed his amusement.
‘James is back,’ I said redundantly. ‘And, I want a word with you.’ She looked worried.
‘She wants to thank you for everything you did for her,’ James took pity on Vicki. ‘And I do, too. Thanks, Vicki, I was a little late, but it worked out okay.’ He patted my hip. ‘I’ll leave you to tell Vicki all about your adventures, Annie. I have notes to turn into an article. I’ll be here at seven in the morning to take you to the pool. Bye, ladies.’ With that, he released me.
‘We’re not ladies,’ I told him firmly.
‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry for my mistake!’ His voice was posh and pompous. ‘Goodbye, gentlemen.’
‘Bye, James.’ Vicki was laughing as she replied.
‘Don’t encourage him,’ I warned her.
As we watched him saunter down the street, Vicki leant closer to me. ‘Have you completely given up your attempts to make him call you Anna?’ she asked.
‘I’ve simply stopped noticing,’ I admitted.
It was a cold day, and I’d forgotten to pick up my gloves. I’d slid my hands inside the pockets of James’ leather jacket on the ride back down to the pool and had done the same on the return trip. As we approached my flat, James had started to sing “Magpie”. I’d joined in with the harmonies almost unthinkingly.
‘Seven’s for a secret, never told,’ we concluded, and every possible connotation of those words rattled around inside my head. He seemed to be similarly affected, and we rode on in silence for almost a minute.
‘I set that song as my alarm, weeks ago,’ I told him.
‘Did you? I wonder what brought it into my head?’ he asked.
‘That’s what I was going to ask you! Why that song?’ We both lapsed back into a thoughtful silence. It didn’t end until we dismounted.
‘It means something, doesn’t it?’ he asked.
I’d come to the same conclusion. ‘Can you remember what?’
‘No, can you?’ His response was a mixture of hope and desperation. He wanted to know why the song was in his head just as much as I did.
‘No, sorry,’ I admitted. From the corner of my eye, as I took off my helmet, I saw Vicki’s bedroom curtains twitch. Ignoring the movement, I looked up into James’ face.
‘We can ask Rosie in a couple of hours,’ he suggested. ‘She might know, although–as she’s fond of reminding me–she doesn’t know everything.’
All through our swim session James had been unnaturally quiet. The evasive look on his face when he mentioned our lunch date with his cousin made me believe that there was something else going on. Pushing the song from my mind, I allowed my curiosity to take control.
‘What is it that you’re not telling me?’ The moment I spoke I knew that I’d phrased the question badly.
‘We’ve already established that there are a lot of things I’m not telling you,’ James admitted. ‘What particular “something I’m not telling you” are you asking about? I reserve the right to “no comment”.’
‘I’m asking about lunch with Rosie.’
‘I’ve told you, we’re meeting Rose. Don’t you want to meet her? I hoped that if we got together for a chat, it might help us figure stuff out. The table’s booked, but we can cancel.’
‘No,’ I told him, still suspicious. ‘You’re right. Seeing the two of you together might jog my memory. Tea, Darjeeling?’
‘Please.’ He nodded as I opened the door. ‘Good session this morning, that was a mighty fast freestyle.’
‘Thanks. Yours was good, but you’re still letting your fingers open after the first five hundred metres or so,’ I spoke over my shoulder as he followed me up the stairs. When I reached the landing, the living room door was open. Vicki, looking rather flushed, gave me a nervous smile. ‘What’ve you done now?’ I demanded.
As I stepped into the room, someone stepped out from behind the door, grabbed me by the waist, and lifted me into the air.
‘Boo!’ the voice in my ear wasn’t the one I feared, but as I was already in mid-squeal, that didn’t help calm me down.
My feet were still dangling several inches from the ground as my idiot assailant turned me around. Now, both he and I were facing James, and I was between them. It was a smart move. I watched the clench-fisted tension drop from James’ fighting stance. His expression shifted from worry through astonishment before finally settling on delight.
‘Put me down, you fucking imbecile!’ I ordered, trying to wriggle free. My heart was hammering, and I focussed on being angry to prevent tears of relief from flowing.
‘Only if you promise not to assault me,’ my assailant said, not loosening his hold at all.
‘Fuck off,’ I told him.
‘She promises,’ James said. The ridiculous grin on his face made me realise that I needed to calm down. As my heartrate plummeted back towards normal, I concentrated on my breathing. Vicki gave a worried whimper; James simply watched in amusement. The arms around my waist slackened their grip.
‘Put me down please, Henry,’ I asked politely.
He released me. Rather than round on him, which was my first instinct, I stepped aside to watch as James and my brother faced each other. Neither one moved; it seemed to me that, despite their grins, they were both a little fearful. Henry broke the silence.
‘Areet?’ he asked.
That stupid greeting was enough to make James relax. ‘Mareet, yareet?’ he replied happily.
‘Aye, mareet, Jamie,’ Henry told him. Making fists, he cracked his knuckles. ‘You shagging my sister?’ I glared at him, but he wasn’t watching. He was still sizing up James.
‘No. Would it be a problem if I was?’
‘Oi, I’m right here,’ I reminded them. They both ignored me. It was like being six again. I only just stopped myself from stamping my foot.
‘At least you know what she’s like,’ observed Henry thoughtfully. The years fell away from them, too. If I was six, they were nine, and I could see the “let’s tease Annie” expression forming on their faces.
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ I interjected. ‘If…’
‘She’s just the same as she always was, but swearier,’ James told him, ignoring me.
‘I don’t fink swearier is a proper word, Jamie,’ Henry told him. They both burst out laughing, and I knew I’d lost.
‘Fucking fuck,’ I said.
They walked forwards and embraced each other. Shaking my head in despair, I turned to Vicki, hoping for an explanation.
‘He’s lovely, your brother,’ Vicki told me.
I shook my head in disagreement. It was a waste of time, as she was staring at the muscle-bound moron like he was a Greek god. She had some justification; they were still embracing, and Henry had lifted James from the floor.
‘If you’re that happy to see each other, you should get a room,’ I advised.
That didn’t work. They simply puckered their lips at each other, then laughed even louder.
‘Fuck,’ I said again.
‘Please, Anna!’ Vicki begged me to stop swearing.
Henry finally dropped James; they turned to face me and folded their arms. One glance at Vicki told me that she was amused by their childish antics and was unlikely to ally herself with me.
‘D’you know why he’s here?’ I demanded of her. A glance at her face allowed me to draw my own conclusions. ‘You told him about Simon, didn’t you?’
‘I was worried about what Simon was up to. I told C7, James, and your brother.’
‘Where did you get his number?’ I asked.
‘I gave it to her,’ Henry told me. ‘You were in one of your “I-can-cope” moods when I phoned a few weeks ago, but I was worried. You’re still on my friends list and Vicki’s on yours, so I messaged her the day after I called. We swapped phone numbers a week later. Getting in touch with her wasn’t exactly complicated.’
‘Obviously not, because you managed it,’ I told him. James shook his head at me, and Vicki tutted. Henry simply ignored me.
‘You’ve got a good friend in the lovely Vicki, sis. She’s been keeping me up to date with your extraordinary escapades. She thought you were in trouble, so here I am. Big brother to the rescue!’
‘I wasn’t in trouble,’ I told him. ‘I was in complete control.’
‘You didn’t complain when Brad turned up, or George and Alex and James,’ Vicki sprang to my brother’s defence.
‘Bloody hell, Vicki,’ I snapped. ‘Don’t you know that internet romances are dangerous things. You sound like…’ I saw her face, and I knew that my world had taken another unexpected turn. ‘Sorry, Vicki. You!’ I turned to Henry. ‘Come with me, now.’ I stormed from the room.
‘Big Hen’s in ginormorous trouble with little sis,’ he told James and Vicki as, with annoyingly mock meekness, he followed me into my bedroom.
I walked over to the window, turned, and asked, ‘Have you been stringing Vicki along?’
‘I think she fancies you.’
‘Seriously?’ He asked, the hope in his voice made me even more worried.
‘She’s a maths student; you’re a mechanic! She’s in Sheffield; you’re in Blyth!’
‘Newcastle,’ he said. ‘I’m in Newcastle, Anna. I changed jobs six months ago. Better prospects, more responsibility, and a lot more money. I did change my status and make an announcement.’ He frowned. ‘I keep an eye on you online, make sure you’re okay.’
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I’m a crappy sister, aren’t I?’ I sighed.
‘You’re the only one I have, so I’ll have to make the best of it.’ He smiled. ‘Vicki and I have been messaging each other every day since I spoke to you. I was worried about smarmy Simon, and I wanted to make sure about Jamie. She’s really nice.’
‘She is, but she’s not your type,’ I told him.
‘I don’t have a type,’ Henry protested.
‘Kayleigh, Sheera, Sally-Ann, and…’ I rapped the window frame with my knuckles and raised my voice by more octaves than I could actually manage. ‘Sky!’ Unable to shrill more than that one word, I returned my voice to normal. ‘What colour hair?’
‘They were all blondes,’ Henry admitted. ‘But…’
‘Height!’ I snapped.
‘Sally-Ann was your height; the others were a couple of inches shorter.’
‘And how many A-levels did they have?’
‘Vicki is clever, and tiny, and…’
‘I haven’t asked her out or anything. We’ve just chatted online, mostly about you and Simon and James.’ He paused. ‘At least, that’s how it started. I told her she needs to stand up to you more, and I think she’s beginning to follow my advice. Sometimes you’re a steamroller, sis. You go where you want regardless of who or what’s in the way. I’m bloody sure you’ve flattened Vicki a few times since you met her, but she’s still got your back, and you’ve got hers.’
‘You really do fancy her, don’t you?’ I asked.
‘She hasn’t got a boyfriend. I haven’t got a girlfriend, not since…’ he raised his voice to a squeak, ‘Sky.’
I had to smile.
‘You never liked my girlfriends, Annie,’ Henry observed. ‘But I never liked your boyfriends, either. Let’s just not interfere with each other’s love lives, okay? I like James. I didn’t realise how much I missed him until just now. That hug was pretty intense, like we were both ten again. But if it comes to the crunch, I’m on your side.’
‘Okay, no interference,’ I agreed. ‘And no exceptions.’ Henry shook his head in disagreement.
‘One exception,’ demanded Henry. ‘If you lose what little sanity you have and go back to Simon, I’ll lamp him one.’
I was still grinning when we returned to the living room.
‘Sorted?’ James asked.
My brother and I exchanged a glance. ‘Sorted,’ we agreed.
‘Excellent,’ James said. ‘I’ve already apologised to Vicki, Hen. Annie and I are taking you away from her–we’re going out to lunch.’
‘Why can’t…’ Hen began
‘They’re meeting Rose Weasley, Henry,’ Vicki told him.
It was obvious from his expression that my brother wanted to invite her along, and that made Vicki as happy as a flower in sunshine.
‘Old friends together. I’d be the outsider. I understand.’ Vicki was at her selfless best, but showing a level of sneakiness that surprised me. I decided that I wouldn’t tell Henry that she had a one o’clock lecture, so couldn’t have come with us even if he’d asked.
‘Of course you do,’ Henry told her earnestly. ‘I’ll make it up to you. I’ll take you out tomorrow night, wherever you want to go.’
I watched Vicki blossoming in the light of his words and clenched my teeth. James was somewhere else and didn’t seem to have noticed what was going on between Hen and Vicki. He was positively bouncing about our lunch date.
‘It’s great that you’re here, Hen. We’re meeting… Rosie… for lunch. You have to come with us.’
‘Little Rosie-posie? Wouldn’t miss it for the world! How’s life been treating you, Jamie? How’s the rest of the gang?’
‘You’ll find out soon enough,’ James told him.
As he spoke, I saw a momentary annoyance with himself. He covered it quickly, but when he looked across to see if I’d realised what he’d just said, I pounced.
‘James Potter!’ I waved a scolding finger at him. ‘I knew you were keeping something secret from me and now I know what. It’s not just Rosie we’re meeting, is it?’
He couldn’t deny it. ‘I wanted to surprise you!’ he protested.
‘Seriously?’ Henry interjected, picking up on the clues. ‘Everyone’s here?’
‘Al and Hugo don’t finish their shift until…’ He glanced at the wall clock; it was twenty to eleven. ‘They’ll be on their way now. Lily was waiting for me at Rose’s place when I got back last night.’
‘Lovely little Lily-loo,’ Henry observed, laughing. ‘How is she?’
‘Try calling her that and you’ll find out very quickly,’ James said with a shiver. ‘Your sister’s as placid as … as … as something that’s very placid, compared to Lily.’ James was forced to finish his sentence over Henry’s laughter.
We don’t have to leave for an hour,’ I reminded the boys. ‘I’ll make some tea, and we can keep Vicki company until then. We can catch up with the news of the Drakestone Seven when we’re all together.’
‘The Drakestone Seven,’ Henry said. ‘The name was Lily’s idea, wasn’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ James said. ‘But you came up with the idea, Hen.’
‘What’re you talking about?’ Vicki asked.
‘Long story,’ James began.
‘Too long,’ Henry said. ‘A couple of days ago, you said you were having problems with an assignment, Vicki. Did you get it sorted?’
I went into the kitchen and filled the kettle.
As we walked through Weston Park, my head was a busy beehive. Thoughts buzzed in my ears, anticipation honeyed my emotions. Lost in thought, I’d been dawdling behind Hen and James; they were discussing my brother’s job. Pushing my way between them, I grabbed James by the hand and linked with my brother. The action was enough to break Henry’s chain of thought, and his explanation of whatever garage stuff he’d been boring James with came to a stuttering halt.
‘When’s the last time we were all together?’ I asked.
‘That’s a very good question. It’s the one Rose desperately wants an answer to,’ James said.
‘We were fifteen, it must’ve been the summer of twenty,’ opined Henry as we approached the university. ‘Then, the next year, you simply didn’t get in touch with us. We even went down to Drakeshaugh, but it was locked up tight.’
‘Interesting,’ said James. ‘That’s not what I remember, but we’d better save that conversation until we meet the others.’
‘Fair enough,’ Henry dismissed the conversation. ‘Which one is the maths faculty building?’
‘I didn’t know you were interested in maths,’ observed James. As he spoke, he squeezed my hand, and I knew that he had been paying attention at the flat.
‘He’s not, he’s interested in one particular mathematician,’ I said.
‘Really?’ He turned to my brother. ‘Henry John Charlton,’ he said loudly. ‘I hope your intentions towards my new friend Vikisha Banerjee are entirely honourable.’ Several people turned to look, and Henry began to blush.
‘I doubt it,’ I said. ‘I saw the curtains in Vicki’s bedroom twitch when we arrived back from the pool. I wonder what they were doing in there?’
‘We heard the bike,’ Hen protested. ‘Vicki went over to her window to make sure it was you.’
‘Notice the phrasing, James,’ I pointed out.
‘She went to the window, and he saw her go.’ James squeezed my hand again, then leant forwards to take a good look at my brother. ‘What were you doing in her bedroom, Henry?’
Henry’s blush deepened. ‘James Sirius Potter, you traitor,’ he protested. ‘Have you forgotten that we’re supposed to gang up on Annie? It takes both of us to keep her under control.’
‘I rather like the out…’ James stopped and tried again. ‘The uncontrolled Annie.’
‘You were going to say out of control,’ said Henry.
‘Yes, he was,’ I growled.
‘I apologise, Henry,’ James cried in alarm. ‘Help!’
We laughed, and I slipped my arms around their waists. We were still chuckling as we turned down a road running diagonally away from Brook Hill.
‘This is the Maths department,’ I said, releasing them just long enough to indicate the building. Once we get over the next road, and the tramline, the restaurant isn’t far.’
‘You really know your way around this place, don’t you?’ Henry observed a few minutes later, as I dragged my men down a side street. ‘Anyone else getting nervous about this meeting?’
‘Yeah,’ I admitted.
Me too,’ said James, ‘And that’s ridiculous, because I’m related to every one of them, and I’ve seen them all a lot more recently than you two have.’
‘There, crossing the road,’ I said. The guys followed my eyes. The two women couldn’t have been more different.
Rose wasn’t as scruffy-looking as the last time I’d met her. She was wearing a brightly patterned ankle-length skirt and a grey duffel coat. I couldn’t see her face because the hood was pulled up, and she was half-turned away, looking down at her cousin. Nevertheless, her tall, slender figure and gangling gait made her easy to recognise.
If Lily was taller than her mother, it wasn’t by very much. She reached above Rose’s shoulder only because of the spike-heeled, knee-boots she wore. Her tan leather jacket was very fashionable and matched her boots; her black trousers looked like they’d been painted onto her legs.
Henry waved wildly. ‘Rosie-posy! Lily-loo!’ he bellowed.
‘They’re going to kill him,’ said James.
‘! Go To Top ‘!