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SIYE Time:8:07 on 16th December 2017


James and Me
By Northumbrian

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/PM
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Extreme Language
Rating: R
Reviews: 91
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: 11941; Chapter Total: 617
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Tiger

I was hot on James’ heels as he thundered down the stairs to the front door. Vicki, who still looked concerned about my plans, hesitated for a moment and then followed us. As he stepped out into the street, James moved aside, swept his arm around, and indicated the gleaming red, black, and chrome machine parked at the kerbside.

‘Annie, meet Tiger,’ he said. ‘And Tiger, meet Annie.’

‘Bloody hell,’ I said as I walked over to examine the bike. It had a ’14 plate, so it was far from new, but it looked immaculate, as if it had just left the showroom. ‘Do you have any idea what this is, Vicki?’ I asked.

‘It’s a Tiger one-thousand-and-fifty Triumph,’ she told me, pointing at the petrol tank. ‘The name is written on the side.’

‘Most people would say ten-fifty, Vicki,’ I told her, winking at James. ‘It must be your mathematical brain. It’s also a Sports Triple, a ten-fifty triple, which means what, my little walking calculator?’

‘I have no idea,’ Vicki told me, but she smiled at my use of the nickname I’d given her in our first year.

‘Oh, miss, I know, I know!’ said James, raising his hand and jumping up and down like an excited six-year-old. ‘Three cylinders, total capacity ten-fifty cubic centimetres, so that means each cylinder is…’ James paused to do the calculation.

‘Three-hundred-and-fifty ccs,’ said Vicki promptly.

‘See, you did know,’ I told her teasingly.

‘One-one-five brake horsepower,’ James continued excitedly, ‘And ... it doesn’t matter.’ His voice tailed off resignedly as he saw Vicki’s eyes begin to glaze over.

‘You can save the technicalities for later, Vicki isn’t interested,’ I said. ‘Is it fast?’

‘Yup!’ James nodded. ‘You might say “like shit off a shovel.” You might! I’d never say anything like that of course. Mum wouldn’t approve.’

‘Never mind fast, is it safe?’ Vicki asked anxiously as she inched carefully towards the bike. She moved as if she was creeping up on a wild animal, as if the silent and slumbering Tiger might burst into life and attack her.

‘I’m sure it’s perfectly safe,’ I assured her. ‘Providing that there’s nothing wrong with the nut holding the handlebars.’

Vicki cautiously peered down to examine the bars, and James laughed.

‘She’s talking about me, Vicki,’ he told her as he placed his helmet on the seat and zipped up his leather jacket. ‘I haven’t crashed it yet, Annie. But I’m not the only nut on the road, remember.’

‘Where are we going?’ I asked.

I handed my jacket and James’ spare helmet to Vicki. After pulling on my sweatshirt, I retrieved the jacket, shrugged it on, and fastened it.

‘I thought that we could go west, out into the Peak district,’ James suggested, reaching for his helmet. ‘If it’s okay with you, I’d like to stop in Hathersage. We could have lunch there and call into the church yard; then we can go on to Blue John and Mam Tor.’

‘Lunch? I haven’t even had breakfast yet,’ I told him. The full-face helmet in my hand was, like his, the colour of the bike’s petrol tank. I pulled it on and fastened it. ‘Why the church yard at Hathersage? Do you want to visit Little John’s grave?’

James looked surprised and a little uncomfortable. ‘Yeah, if that’s okay with you,’ he said. He looked as though he’d been caught in a lie, and for some reason, I remembered the dream I’d had on the night after I’d met him.

‘Does your motorbike fly like your dad’s?’ I asked him.

I thought it was an innocent enough remark, but his face lost its colour; he almost dropped his helmet.

‘Fly?’ His voice was a panic-filled squeak. He cleared his throat, tried to regain his composure, and spoke normally. ‘Motorbikes can’t fly, Annie. What on earth made you ask that?’

‘What on earth made you squeak?’ I retorted sarcastically. ‘It almost sounds as if your denial is the lie. But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah,’ he agreed. Looking down, he pulled a pair of leather gloves from his jacket and placed them next to his helmet. ‘Of course it is.’

He paused, and tried to look into my face. I had the advantage. With the helmet on, he couldn’t even see my eyes properly. I looked into his confused, almost guilty face and tried to work out why James was being so weird.

‘I squeaked because you surprised me, that’s all. You said “fly like my Dad’s”, why in... on earth would you think Dad’s bike could fly?’

‘Because you told me, the first time I sat on your dad’s bike,’ I said.

‘And that memory stuck with you? Did you hang on my every word when you were little?’ he asked teasingly.

Despite his smile, there was a sad and far-away look in his eyes. For a brief moment, I got another glimpse of a nervous and insecure young man, and I wondered if James was really as upbeat and irrepressible as he seemed. His expression reminded me of one I’d seen on my brother’s face just days after Christmas. Sky, his girlfriend, had waited to get her Christmas present before dumping him by text message.

James attempted to mask the fact that he was sinking in a quagmire of self-doubt. I remembered how I had deflated him after my swim at Pond’s Forge and wondered how quickly he’d bounce back. As I watched him, I was also filled with guilt about the way I’d treated Henry. When he’d found out what Simon had done, my brother had phoned me to make sure I was okay. At Christmas, when Henry had been despondent and downhearted, I had been less than sympathetic. I had simply told him that he deserved it; Henry had been hurt, and I’d done nothing to help him.

‘Let’s go,’ James said, pulling himself together and putting on his helmet. ‘The helmets have a, um, a wire-free intercom,’ he added, his voice a stereo whisper in my ears.

‘Wireless,’ I told him.

‘Same thing,’ he muttered as he pulled on his gloves. I grabbed my gloves from my pocket and followed his lead.

James swung his leg over the bike, lifted it upright, and kicked the stand backwards under the exhaust. I waited. Turning his head, he took a firm grip of the bars and nodded to me.

‘Okay,’ he said.

I placed a hand on his shoulder and stepped onto the foot peg, trusting him to hold the bike upright. It barely moved, and I swung my leg over and settled myself down on the pillion seat.

‘Okay,’ I said loudly.

He winced. ‘Wireless,’ he reminded me quietly as he sat between my thighs.

‘Sorry,’ I said. I squeezed his shoulder apologetically.

Moving my hand to take hold of the grab bars beneath my hips, I shuffled backwards on the seat to give him more room. As I did so, I realised that what I was about to do was a very different prospect to sitting pillion behind my dad.

I could hold onto Dad. When I sat behind him I always put my hands around his waist. Physical contact was fine, he was my Dad! But this was James, and no matter what I did, his–admittedly firm and attractive–buttocks were going to be nestled between my thighs for quite some time. I let out an involuntary, and embarrassingly erotic-sounding, groan which I tried to disguise as a cough.

‘You okay?’ he asked carefully, expressing what I hoped was concern.

I cleared my throat theatrically. ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Let’s go.’

James pressed the starter and twisted the throttle; the Tiger roared. Vicki took a step backwards, looking petrified. James toed the bike into gear, and I gave my flatmate a cheery wave. James released the clutch, and we roared off down the street. As we weaved our way through the crowded streets of Sheffield, I glanced around at the car drivers, all cocooned in their little tin boxes, and grinned happily.

Simon’s Audi was a soft top. The thought sprang into my mind while James drove us down past the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. I puzzled for a moment and then realised why I was thinking back to the first time I’d sat in Simon’s Audi with the top down.

We’d been driving through the city, and Simon had asked me what I thought of his flash car. I’d told him that it was okay. My less than ecstatic reply had really annoyed him. Simon had expected me to be a lot more impressed with the car than I was. At the time I hadn’t been able to figure out why it didn’t thrill me in the way he thought it should. Now, suddenly, I knew. I released the grab bars, slid my arms around James’ waist, and gave him a hug.

‘What’s that for?’ he asked. He sounded slightly worried.

‘Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with you,’ I teased.

‘Riding the Tiger,’ he told me immediately. He sounded happy.

‘Riding the Tiger,’ I agreed, giving him another hug simply because he knew.

‘Kristen hated it,’ he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. ‘She wanted me to sell it.’

I released his waist and didn’t reply. I had no idea what to say, although it was obvious to me that Kristen, whoever the hell she was, was a total idiot.

‘Hathersage for lunch?’ he asked. ‘You didn’t say.’

‘That’s fine,’ I said.

Brocco Bank was fairly quiet, but the traffic picked up when we turned onto Ecclesall Road. Fortunately, by the time we reached the outskirts of Whirlow, the road ahead was once again clear.

Within minutes, Ecclesall Road became Hathersage Road, and we were out into open countryside. The moment we left the thirty limit, James kicked the bike up through the gears and opened the throttle. I gave another involuntary--but ] this time definitely happy--squeal. We flew rapidly over the tarmac, and I realised what we were doing. I’d been riding in a thoughtful silence, which I broke.

‘We’re flying,’ I said.

‘Not really,’ he said. He initially sounded dismissive, but then he realised what I was saying.

‘Oh! Yeah! I think that’s what Dad used to say,’ he told me happily, ‘that he’d go flying along on his bike. Perhaps that’s why I told you that his bike could fly.’ He sounded ridiculously happy that, between us, we’d come up with a logical explanation. We lapsed into silence again, and I simply looked around, enjoying the sights and the speed.

Within a matter of minutes, orderly fields filled with grazing cattle gave way to low and lumpy sheep-speckled hills. As we roared along the road, I stared at the few stunted and stubby trees standing on the not-very-distant horizon. We seemed to be hurtling towards the bleak and lonely edge of the world. I lapsed into silence and enjoyed the ride.

We rounded a hill and entered Derbyshire. The landscape changed colour and the horizon expanded. Purple and ochre moorland was added to the greens of farmland and forests. If it weren’t for the unnecessary mortar in the stone walls at the roadside, I could almost have been home in Coquetdale. I smiled happily as we hurtled along the winding country roads. In no time at all, we were approaching Hathersage.

‘Pub or caf?’ James asked.

As if on cue, my stomach gave me a grumbling reminder that I hadn’t eaten any breakfast.

‘Whatever we reach first,’ I told him.

‘Your wish is my command,’ he said.

On the outskirts of the village, an A-board on the grass indicated the direction and distance to “The Traveller’s Pack Inn — Fine Food”. We turned down a side road and no more than a minute later, we were pulling into the car park of an old stone pub. As we rolled to a halt, I took my hands from James’ waist. It wasn’t until I did so that I realised what I’d just done. I looked down at my hands as if they belonged to someone else and wondered how long they’d been holding on to him.

‘Are you going to get off?’ James asked.

‘What? Oh yeah!’ I said. I stood up on the foot pegs, trusting him to hold the bike upright, and dismounted.

While he kicked down the stand and lowered the bike onto it, I continued to stare at my hands and rack my brains. How was it possible that I’d managed to put my arms around James without even realising that I’d done it? Thinking back, I recalled that I’d grabbed him soon after we’d entered the hills. It had only been friendly hands-above-hips hold, not a proper sitting behind a boyfriend hug, I reassured myself.

‘Are you going to take that helmet off?’ James asked.

‘What? Oh yeah!’ I said again, fumbling with the strap.

‘Are you okay, Annie?’ James asked solicitously. My behaviour was worrying him.

‘Long time since I’ve been on a bike,’ I said by way of explanation.

He grinned. ‘Still feeling the buzz, aren’t you?’ he asked, accepting my justification. ‘That’s a damn fine singing voice you’ve got.’

‘Singing!’ I stared into his face in horror as I realised that I had another question to answer. How was it possible that I’d managed to sing without even realising that I’d done it? Surely he must be joking? Convinced that he was pulling my leg, I was about to call him out on it, but he burst into song.

‘Says Red Molly to James that's a fine motorbike, oh, a girl could feel special on any such like. Says James to Red Molly, my hat's off to you, it's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.’

When James sang the opening words, I realised that I had been singing, and that–much to my surprise–James had a decent enough singing voice. I’d heard him singing Tea for Two in my kitchen, but at the time I hadn’t realised that he was holding the tune.

‘I enjoyed the first couple of lines, but after that it gets a bit grim,’ James said, sounding strangely affected. ‘I haven’t “fought with the law since I was seventeen”, or “robbed many a man” for that matter, but... I suppose I’ve fought my dad a few times, and in a way he is “the law”. But that... Even so, perhaps I’m not irredeemable.’ James held out a hand. I took it, and he led the way into the pub.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ I asked as he held the door open for me and ushered me through it. The place was busy, but not heaving.

‘Possibly,’ he said thoughtfully. Then he looked over to the bar and immediately changed the subject, ‘What’re you drinking?’

I looked at the long row of pumps at the bar, ‘Robin Hood Ale,’ I said. ‘But I’ll get them, what about you?’

‘No booze for me, not when I’m on the bike,’ he said. ‘I’ll just have a fresh orange juice.’

I caught the barman’s eye. ‘Half o’ Robin Hood and a fresh orange.’

‘No ice in the orange,’ James added as the barman reached for the ice bucket.

Picking up a couple of bar menus, James handed one to me and pulled out his wallet. While the barman finished pulling my half, left it to settle, and poured orange into another glass, I took a quick look at the menu. My stomach was reminding me that I wanted food, not beer.

‘And I’ll have a Scotch broth,’ I told the barman as he topped up my half and placed the drinks on the bar in front of us, and James pulled out a fifty pound note. ‘I’m paying, James,’ I said firmly.

James glanced at the menu. ‘Scotch broth and bread roll sounds good. I’ll have the same.’ James told the barman. He proffered the note to the barman, but I’d waved my phone over the scanner on the bar before James could do anything about it.

‘I was going to pay,’ he protested.

‘You paid for everything the last time we went out,’ I reminded him.

‘Someone will bring the soup over when it’s ready,’ the barman told us. He handed me my receipt and a bright yellow spoon on which the number 7 was painted in red.

Hanging my jacket over the back of the chair, I sat, and placed the spoon in the cutlery pot on the table.

‘Griff... House colours,’ said James as he sat opposite me. I raised my eyebrows. He nodded at the spoon, ‘Red and yellow... my house colours at school.’

‘Seven,’ I said, pointing at the number as another old memory arrived. ‘We were the Drakestone Seven.’

‘Bloody hell,’ he said, staring thoughtfully at me. ‘We were, weren’t we? You, me, Hen, Al, Rosie, Lils, and Hugo, the Drakeshaugh Seven! He looked a little sad. You and Hen were the only two who didn’t wear the red and yellow at school.’

‘We did,’ I said. ‘Perhaps it wasn’t the same red and yellow as you, but we did.’ I pulled out my phone and accessed my photocloud. It took me almost a minute, but I eventually found the photo. ‘There!’ I said triumphantly, showing him the photograph of my brother and me in our yellow t-shirts and red tracksuit trousers. Behind us hung the embattled red and yellow stripes of the flag of Northumberland. ‘That’s us representing the County at the English National Swimming Championships. I was fifteen. Unfortunately, we were hammered by the opposition.’

‘Blimey, Hen looks like he’s a lot bigger than me,’ said James. ‘I’d better watch myself, he was always very protective of you.’

‘No, he wasn’t,’ I protested. ‘He was always horrible to me!’

‘That’s a brother’s privilege!’ James grinned. ‘Being horrible to you doesn’t stop him from being protective of you.’ He took another look at the photograph. ‘And you suited your hair like that, Annie. It was naturally curly when you were little. I’d forgotten.’

I ignored his attempt at a compliment. ‘Henry doesn’t swim, not any more. These days he pumps iron and plays rugby. His nose is a lot more bent than in this old photograph, and his hair’s already receding.’ I said. Turning the camera, I looked at the photograph. I stared at my long, curly, dark blonde hair. These days, curls weren’t fashionable.

‘Simon didn’t like my curls,’ I admitted. ‘So I cut my hair short, lightened, and straightened it.’ I self-consciously ruffled my spiky almost-white mop.

‘You know, every time you say something about Simon, my opinion of him gets lower, which is pretty impressive as I was certain that it had started at rock-bottom,’ James told me. He gently took my hand and tipped it to take another look at the image. ‘This is weird. Have you ever counted the stripes on the flag?’

‘Seven?’ I guessed.

‘You always were smart,’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ I agreed. I nodded towards the painted wooden spoon which had started the conversation. ‘But I don’t believe in fate, so don’t try to feed me some crappy line just because of the red and yellow and the number seven on the spoon. I’m not in the mood for romantic bollocks.’

James popped his eyes, put on a thoughtful expression, and stared at me.

‘What?’ I asked. I took a sip of beer.

‘It’s no good,’ he began, shaking his head seriously. ‘I simply can’t imagine romantic bollocks.’

His timing was perfect. I snorted beer down my nose and almost choked with laughter. I was using a serviette to wipe the tears from my eyes and the beer from my nose when a white-aproned girl arrived with our order.

‘She’ll be okay,’ James assured the girl as she placed a bowl of broth and a plate containing a large crusty roll in front of me

After the girl had given James his food, she took the wooden spoon, said, ‘Enjoy your meal,’ and left us.

Hunger assailed me. I tore the large crusty roll in half, dipped it in the broth, and took a bite of soggy bread. It was a mistake. The soup was so hot that it burned my mouth. With watering eyes, I tried to cool down my mouth by panting. As a result, I spat some half chewed bread at James. Mortified, I tried to stare an apology at him. When our eyes met, he burst out laughing.

‘Don’t change, Annie,’ he said. ‘Don’t ever change.’

I eventually managed to swallow the hot, half-masticated mess in my mouth. ‘Fucking hot,’ I told him, gasping. My tongue was tingling, and I could feel the roof of my mouth beginning to blister. I took a gulp of beer. ‘So, are you and your dad okay?’ I asked, trying to change the subject.

‘You really are studying law, aren’t you?’ he asked. ‘One comment from me and you start a cross-examination.’

Deciding to wait and let the soup cool, I opened the pat of butter, which was rock hard, and failed to spread it on the bun. ‘Please stop prevaricating and answer the question,’ I told him with a smile. Giving up on the butter, I simply ate the bread.

‘Tenacious, aren’t you?’ he asked. He looked at me thoughtfully.

‘Stubborn, pig-headed, and obstinate,’ I said, remembering Simon’s major criticisms of me.

‘You make it sound like that’s a bad thing,’ he told me. ‘You’ve always been stubborn, haven’t you? I remember the first time you tried to climb the Drakestone. Never give up, never stop trying. It’s a good thing, Annie. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’

I could see honest admiration in his eyes. ‘So, what about you and your dad?’ I asked.

He laughed. Reached across the table, he took my hands and squeezed them; when he released them, he put on a serious expression.

‘We fell out when I was eighteen,’ he admitted. ‘I joined a protest group. I wanted to change the world. Unfortunately, they weren’t really a protest group; they simply wanted to get Harry Potter’s son in trouble. It’s a long story, Annie, and in a way it isn’t over yet. I can’t really tell you everything. At the time I honestly thought I was doing the right thing. Maybe–definitely if we keep seeing each other–I’ll tell you one day. I don’t want you to hate me any more than you already do. All I’ll say is that I don’t think Dad trusts me to stay on the straight and narrow, and–well last year didn’t help.’ There was something in his expression which told me it was a girl.

‘Kristen,’ I said between mouthfuls of bread, ‘The girl who wanted you to sell the Tiger. Tell me about her, instead.’ He recoiled from the name.

‘She’s the past,’ he assured me.

‘How long?’

‘Eight weeks,’ he admitted.

‘Eight weeks,’ I said. ‘You’re still keeping count.’

‘Aren’t you?’ he asked.

‘Yeah,’ I admitted.

‘I used to count the days,’ said James quietly. ‘But I haven’t thought much about her since...’ He paused. ‘Since I met you,’ he admitted, waiting for me to scold him for his confession.

‘On Wednesday, you gave me a shoulder to cry on. It’s only fair I do the same,’ I reminded him. ‘And you might not want to talk to me about your dad, but you do want to tell me about her. I know you do. It’s obvious in those big hazel eyes of yours.’

‘There are a lot of things I’d like to tell you,’ he admitted. ‘Like I said, some of them I can’t, not yet. I have a lot of secrets, Annie, But I suppose I can tell you about Kristen.’

‘Go on then,’ I said before I pushed the final piece of bread into my mouth.

‘Kristen Kelly,’ he said. ‘We were together for eleven months, and I thought she was the one. Mum told me that she was trouble, but who listens to their mother? And besides, she said the same thing about…’ He sighed. ‘She was right then, too,’ he admitted.

‘Eight weeks ago I discovered that Kristen had been seeing someone else for a couple of months,’ he paused and looked down at his plate. He hadn’t touched the bread or the broth. ‘You shouted and threw things. Did it help?’

I thought back to that evening and, for the first time, I was able to rationally analyse what happened and my reaction to it.

‘No,’ I admitted. ‘Well, I suppose the shouting helped me to release my emotions, a bit. But really, it wasn’t a rational reaction.’

‘No one can be rational all the time,’ James told me. ‘Except Aunt Luna, of course.’

‘It was the betrayal,’ I said when I finished laughing at the idea of “Aunt Luna” doing anything rational. ‘It is the betrayal. The realisation that I’d been lied to was what hurt the most. Does anything help with betrayal?’

‘I haven’t found anything,’ said James. He sounded uncomfortable. ‘I was working in a cafe, and working on my writing, when Craig–my best friend from school…’

I raised my eyebrows.

‘My best friend from big school,’ he corrected himself. ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about Hen since I met you. I’ve even been dreaming about us all. Anyway, Craig fancied Lily and he asked me to arrange a double date. I persuaded Lily to go, and he brought Kristen. After two months with her I had got a job in the Ministry; it was a boring job, but the salary was okay. Four months after that, Kristen had moved into the flat I was renting. We’d only been living together for a couple of months when I found out she was... She was shagging a friend of mine. Office gossip! I went home to confront her, but she’d gone. I’d been trying to settle down, trying to conform. Kristen and I had been putting money into a joint account. We were saving up for a deposit on a house. She’d closed the account, emptied it, and taken almost everything of value from our flat. Dad wanted to track her down, but I told him to leave it.’

The hurt showed in his face, and somehow I knew that there was more.

‘Except...’ I said.

‘Except... She took my pocket watch. The gold watch Mum and Dad bought me for my seventeenth,’ he spotted my quizzical expression. ‘A gold watch on the seventeenth is a family tradition,’ he explained. ‘After Kristen left, I quit my job. I’d never been keen on it; I don’t think I’m made to be a Ministry pen-pusher. And now I’m sort-of unemployed.’

‘You told me that you were a journalist,’ I reminded him.

‘I don’t have a proper job,’ James admitted. ‘But, I’ve been commissioned to write an article for a history journal That must make me a journalist.’

‘History?’ I said, surprised. ‘You don’t look much like a historian.’

‘Aunt Luna doesn’t look much like a naturalist,’ said James. ‘But, somehow, she makes a living from it. I was lucky, really. When I went to tell Mum and Dad I’d quit the Ministry job, Aunt Luna was visiting. Mum was really upset with me for quitting another job, but Aunt Luna said: “What’s the point in doing a job you don’t like? You’re a clever boy, James, you should find something you love to do and try to make a living from that.” So I am.’

As he quoted Luna, I could hear her. He’d used her dreamy, sing-song inflections in his voice. ‘What are you going to write about?’ I asked. Before he could speak, I answered the question myself. ‘Robin Hood, of course, why else would you want to visit Little John’s grave? But, history! I’d never have guessed you’d choose that subject. Do you have a degree?’

‘No.’ James shook his head. ‘History has always fascinated me. That surprises everyone who knows me, particularly as my history teacher at school was totally tedious and had been doing the job for at least a hundred years. But although old Binns was boring, the subject itself isn’t, not at all.’ His eyes gleamed. ‘Professor Binns hated the legendary stuff, so I used to ask him about it constantly. The most fascinating parts of history are the legends, don’t you think?’

‘But they aren’t real history, James,’ I protested. ‘That’s why they’re called legends.’

His eyes widened, and I saw another James–a passionate, interested man who was enthusiastic about his subject.

‘Fyrenne dracan wron gesewene on am lifte fleogende,’ he said. ‘That’s from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles, it means “fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky”. Written eleven hundred years ago about something that happened only a hundred years earlier. They were supposedly portents of the Viking raids, but think about all the stories, Annie. We’ve all heard them. You know about Merlin, Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table, everyone does.’

‘But...’

‘And what about the stories we were told when we were little? You know about the great worm of Lambton; your Mum told us that story, she taught us the song. You sang it when you were ten. “Whisht lads, had yer gobs, al tell ye aal an aafull story,” You’ve always had a good voice. And there’s the story your dad told us, about the laidly worm of Spindlestone Heugh. And Drake is another word for dragon. Drakestone, Drakeshaugh; dragon’s stone, dragon’s hollow. That’s what I’m interested in, Annie, the point where Mu… where history and legend meets.’ His brown eyes were wide with passion as he spoke.

‘But... Robin Hood,’ I protested, trying again.

‘My original plan was to go looking for the worms, or wyrms or dragons or whatever they were, of Northumbria. To go home. But I found you here, and... This isn’t far from Robin Hood country, and they’re great stories. Everybody knows about Little John and most people have heard that he was really John Little of Hathersage. The story of Robin and Marion is timeless. And then there’s Much the Miller’s son, Will Scarlet, Alan A’Dale, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. What if they’re real? What if they are all real, their stories twisted over the centuries, turned into myth?’

I smiled and shook my head in mock despair. ‘You’re crazy. I don’t see how you can hope to make a living from this nonsense, especially as you’ve forgotten the fat friar,’ I teased.

‘What?’ he said. I could tell by his face that, for some reason, my words had shaken him.

‘Tuck,’ I said, laughing at his confusion. ‘If you’re going to try to list “Robin Hood and his Merry Men,” you shouldn’t forget Friar Tuck.’

‘Tuck, the Fat Friar!’ His face creased into a grin. ‘Annie Charlton, you are a true genius!’ he announced loudly. The drinkers at the adjoining tables turned to look at me. ‘I really hope it’s true!’

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ I asked.

‘Something I learned at my school,’ he said. ‘A... a ghost story, I really hope that it’s connected. Thanks, Annie.’ He looked down at his broth. ‘I think this’ll be cool enough to eat, now. You’ve finished your roll, but you haven’t started your soup. D’you want to share my roll?’ He tore it in half and offered me more bread.

‘I haven’t had any breakfast,’ I reminded him by way of an excuse as I took it.

‘No need to apologise,’ he said with a grin.
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