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SIYE Time:8:08 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: 11943; Chapter Total: 714
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Peverell?

On our way out from the pub, James stopped to ask the barman for directions to the church. The man cheerfully told us that it was only a short distance away and that, if we hadn’t turned off the main road to the pub, we’d have missed it.

‘It’s a church and a graveyard,’ he added, his voice as dour as his face. ‘I shouldn’t say this, but there’s nowt to see, not really.’ He paused thoughtfully, and turned his eyes from James’ face to mine. I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye. ‘Cracking view across the valley, o’ course, but nowt else.’

‘Little John...’ James began.

‘The grave o’ “John Little o’ Hathersage,” aye,’ the man nodded slowly, and I could hear the quotation marks he’d placed around the name. ‘It’s nobbut a Victorian folly, but I reckon ye’ll want t’ go an’ see that for yersel’s.’ After confirming my suspicions, he gave us a sardonic smile, shrugged, and turned away to serve another customer.

‘Are we still going?’ I asked as James held the pub door open for me.

‘Aye, lass, that we are,’ said James in a fair approximation of the barman’s accent. I smiled.

We remounted the Tiger and, by following the barman’s instructions, James soon found the steep road. The lane was, unsurprisingly, named Church Bank. It was little wider than a car, but trees arched over the stone wall on each side, making it appear even narrower. It was fortunate that we didn’t meet anything coming the other way. The lane widened a little at the church, but not enough to ensure that the bike would be safe from passing traffic should we park there, so we followed the signs up to the car park.

‘We could’ve walked up here from the pub,’ I said as we left the bike and walked into the graveyard.

‘I didn’t realise how close it was. And we’re going to Mam Tor, remember,’ James explained, a concerned look on his face. ‘I’m being sensitive, thinking of your well-being. Two walks in one day might be too much for you, little Annie.’

‘Idiot!’ I told him, playfully pushing his shoulder. He stumbled backwards as if I’d landed a solid blow on him and tried to look astonished by my strength. ‘What a wuss!’ I said scornfully. ‘I bet I’m fitter than you are.’

‘Swimming, tomorrow morning at Ponds Forge, name your time,’ he challenged, raising his fists and taking up a mockery of a boxing stance. ‘I’ll show you who’s toughest! Raarr!’

‘No!’ I said.

‘No?’

I noted his surprise. He hadn’t expected me to turn him down.

‘Nope,’ I told him smugly. ‘Tomorrow’s Sunday, so there’s no lane swimming. Make it Monday, at four o’clock, Jimbo! Prepare to have your arse handed to you on a plate.’

‘Jimbo?’ he asked. ‘No one’s ever called me that. Why Jimbo?’

I shrugged. ‘I asked you to call me Annabel, or Anna, but you use Annie anyway. I’m simply exploring my options, Jimmy.’

He stared into my face, and grinned. ‘And once you find the one I hate the most...’ He stopped expectantly.

‘That’s the one I’ll use,’ I told him, smiling.

‘That’s not fair,’ he complained.

‘You claimed to be sensitive, to be thinking of my well-being! But you’re still calling me Annie. Why?’ I asked.

His brown eyes bored into mine. He seemed to be staring into my soul. ‘Because–and you’re going to deny this–deep down you like it when I call you Annie, Annie; that’s completely obvious to someone as sensitive as me. So there’s no reason for you to call me Jimbo.’ he moved closer, and I thought that he was going to try to kiss me. I was a little disappointed when he didn’t. ‘You’ve always been Annie to me, Annie, and I bet Hen still calls you Annie.’

‘He does,’ I admitted, impressed and amused by the number of times he’d managed to use my name. That was when I remembered my brother’s phone call. ‘I forgot to tell you. Henry phoned me the other day when he found out about you. He asked me to say hello to Jamie. I forgot.’

‘Jamie,’ James grinned. ‘Hen’s the only one who calls me Jamie. I hate it!’

‘No, you don’t,’ I said. ‘You only want me to think you do.’

He shook his head at my comment and put on his thoughtful face. It was his real thoughtful face, not the, I’m-pretending-to-think-deep-thoughts face, which was all furrowed brows and pursed lips. This was the pensive, slightly baffled, I’m-going-to-have-to-use-my-brain look that indicated he really was thinking. I wondered what was troubling him and watched as he very carefully chose his next words.

‘Annabel May Charlton,’ James began with my Sunday name. That might have meant trouble, but I couldn’t tell if he was being serious. ‘The day we met, I spoke to Rosie on my phone. I was going to tell her about you. You practically begged me not to. In fact, you asked me not to tell anyone. So I haven’t. But you must have told people, lots of people. How else could Hen know? Do your Mum and Dad know?’

He was right, and he’d managed to make me feel guilty about my actions. For some reason that annoyed me. I chose not to answer him.

‘The barman was right, it’s a great view,’ I said, pointing past him, out across the countryside.

James looked over his shoulder. The church sat on a hillside above Hathersage. From our vantage point we could see slate-roofed stone houses below us. In the distance, the greens, browns, and purples of the heather-clad hills swept up to meet the sky, making the horizon undulating and colourful.

‘It is,’ James agreed. ‘Now answer the question.’

‘Why Mam Tor?’ I asked. His eyes narrowed as I continued to avoid his question. ‘I didn’t think you knew this part of the world.’

He pulled a face, but rather than rise to my baiting, he answered my question. ‘I don’t, not really,’ he admitted. ‘Rosie knew that I wanted to come here, to see Little John’s grave. She suggested that, afterwards, we travel on to Mam Tor. Do you know the place?’

‘So you have told someone. Rosie knows we’re together!’ I pounced on his words.

‘Rosie knows I’m meeting the girl I met in town,’ said James. ‘I haven’t told her who you are. So, who have you told?’

‘Mam Tor is a bit of a tourist attraction like Blue John cavern. It’s a bigger climb than the Drakestone round, and it’s a little bit further, but there are steps and a decent path most of the way. It’s not bogs and rough terrain like the Drakestone and Harbottle Lough,’ I continued to avoid answering his question, simply because it amused me. As I looked up into his smiling face, I was sure that he, too, was amused. ‘It shouldn’t be too hard a walk, even for a big soft city boy like you. Now, let’s go and see this grave you’re so interested in.’

I grabbed his hand and pulled, but James didn’t move. He lowered his eyebrows in a mockery of a frown and set himself against me. Although he didn’t say anything, I knew that he wouldn’t move until I answered his question. Fortunately, I’d bought myself enough time to formulate a reply that didn’t make me look two-faced.

‘We were spotted by Brad and Corrine, remember? The restaurant?’ I said. ‘My friends know who you are. And Simon saw us, too. He was being an arse about you online, so I amended my profile to say who you were. Henry spotted it and phoned me up to ask what was going on.’

Despite my excuses, which were good ones, I was still feeling a little guilty. I’d asked James not to tell anyone, and it seemed that he’d kept his promise. But I’d told almost everyone. The only people who didn’t know were my parents.

‘Are you serious?’ I asked. ‘Didn’t you tell Rose who you were going out with when you saw her?’

‘You said don’t tell,’ said James. ‘So I didn’t.’

I stared into his shining hazel eyes and decided that he was telling the truth, and also that he wasn’t really annoyed. He was teasing me again. He really had kept his word. The realisation that James Potter had kept his word made me feel guilty. And the realisation that, even after every nasty trick he’d pulled over the years, James could make me feel guilty annoyed me. I needed to regain the moral high ground.

‘My parents don’t know about you,’ I said. ‘And I’d like to keep it that way, at least for the moment. But I shouldn’t have been so worried when you phoned Rosie. After all, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t know. In fact, there’s no reason why the rest of the Drakestone Seven shouldn’t know. After all, we all swore an oath–in blood!’ I grinned at the memory of us standing at the Drakestone.

‘The Drakestone Seven!’ James smiled. Lifting his head, he stared over my shoulder, not into the distance, but into our shared childhood. When he shook his head and brought himself back to the present, half-remembered childhood adventures danced across his smile.

‘I’d almost forgotten,’ he admitted. ‘Those were good days. You, me, Hen, Rosie, Al, Lily-Lou, and Hugo–we were adventurers, dragon-slayers, righters of wrongs, explorers. In those days we weren’t constrained by anything as mundane as reality. We could do anything, be anyone!’ Happiness shone from his eyes like a searchlight. ‘And that’s what we did.’

‘You once told us that you wanted to be the greatest wizard in the world,’ I reminded him. ‘How’s that working out?’

‘Not as well as I expected,’ he admitted, looking a little embarrassed. ‘But you haven’t become Prime Minister or stopped bad people from doing bad things, either.’ He reached up and ruffled my hair affectionately. ‘There’s still time for both of us, although I think you’re more likely to succeed than I am.’

‘Just a bit,’ I said, laughing.

‘I really wanted to tell Rosie, because she’s strordinarily curious about who I’ve met.’ James gave a huge grin as he used another of his childhood words. ‘I’ll tell her tonight; I’ll let Al, Lily, and Hugo know, too. It’s only fair.’

‘Tonight?’ I asked. I’d thought we would be out until late. ‘Are you planning on seeing Rosie tonight?’

‘I expect I’ll see her. After all, I’m living with her.’ He saw my face and laughed. ‘Rosie’s parents have bought her a two-bedroom house in a place called Crookes, so I’ve moved into her spare room. You’re going to be stuck with me for a while, Annie.’

‘You’re living with Rosie? What does Uncle Ron think about that?’ I asked.

I’d always called Rose’s lanky ginger-haired dad “Uncle Ron”. I’d always called James’ dad “Uncle Harry”, too, although I wasn’t related to either of them.

‘Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione expected her to live alone. They didn’t want her to have to share a flat with any old riffraff,’ said James.

He’d set me up nicely for a riposte, so I didn’t disappoint him. ‘But you’ve dashed their hopes in that regard!’

James tried to look hurt. ‘I’ll have you know that I’m not “any old” riff-raff,’ he protested.

I patted his shoulder consolingly. ‘No, James. I know what a very special sort of riff-raff you are,’ I told him.

As he laughed, he put an arm around my shoulders and gave me a very brotherly hug. It was definitely a sign of affection, but I was disappointed. It seemed that James was once again seeing me as his best friend’s kid sister, and nothing more. I ignored the hug and returned to the reason for our visit.

‘Look, Jamie, a big grave!’ I said, pointing across the graveyard.

He didn’t reply. Instead, he released me. Wide-eyed, he swayed slightly, putting all his weight on one foot, then the other. I stifled a laugh. It was his “excited” stance, and it seemed it hadn’t changed in the years since I’d last seen him. He abandoned me, striding rapidly down the path to examine the grave. With a rueful shake of my head, I followed.

It was a tourist attraction, and that was immediately obvious as we approached it; even so, it was an impressive edifice. The headstone read “Here lies buried Little John, the friend & lieutenant of Robin Hood…” The grave was extraordinarily long, at least two-and-a-half metres from headstone to footstone. Although the headstone was well tended, it was also relatively modern, perhaps a couple of centuries old, but no more.

‘The barman was right, it’s not old enough,’ I observed.

James shrugged, crouched down, and placed one hand in his pocket, the other on the grass. ‘You’re right, Annie, but that doesn’t mean that the bones in this grave aren’t older. Perhaps they really are his,’ he tried to keep the excitement from his voice, but failed.

Suddenly unwilling to curb his enthusiasm, I bit back the sarcastic remark I’d been about to make and watched him. He stared down at his hand. From his expression it seemed that he was trying to see, or feel, what was inside the grave. He grinned and nodded.

‘He can’t possibly be that tall.’ I protested. ‘No one’s that tall!’ It was then that I remembered the dream I’d had the night after we’d met. ‘Apart from that huge and hairy old bloke your dad knew, the one with the weird name–Hagrid.’

‘Rubeus Hagrid,’ said James quietly as he remembered that particular giant of a man. When he looked up at me, I saw a mix of sadness, admiration, and excitement in his eyes. ‘If you keep coming up with comments like that, Annie, I may have to credit you as the co-author of my article.’

‘Santa,’ I said, my mind drifting back to Drakeshaugh. James looked puzzled. ‘One of my earliest childhood memories is of Mr Hagrid stepping out from the fireplace at Drakeshaugh. It was just before Christmas, and I thought he was Santa. The memory is really clear, although it’s also ridiculous. People don’t really step out from a fireplace, do they? Thinking about that always makes me wonder what I really saw.’

James looked startled, and then lowered his head so I couldn’t see his eyes. ‘Rubeus Hagrid was big and strong, and usually he was a very gentle man. In many ways he was like Little John, although I don’t suppose that Little John was a keen knitter,’ he said thoughtfully. When he looked up, his face was tinged with sorrow, and I finally caught the tense he was using.

‘Was?’ I asked quietly, knowing what was coming.

‘He was ninety-five when he died,’ James told me as he stood up from the grave.

‘That’s a good age, particularly for someone as big as he was,’ I said. I had an overwhelming urge to hug James, and I gave in to it. ‘He meant a lot to you, and to your dad, didn’t he?’

‘Yeah,’ James admitted. ‘He was a link to Dad’s parents, one of the very few Dad had.’ He patted my back and hugged me. It was a strong and friendly hug, but when I squeezed him, he released me. ‘Thanks, Annie. I’ve seen enough here, shall we leave?’




Hathersage was busy, and people turned to look as the bike roared down the high street. We soon reached the centre of town, where a signpost pointed the way towards Hope and Castleton. Within minutes we were back out into open countryside.

The road up the valley was wider and a lot busier than any of the roads up into Cheviotdale. The valley bottom was wide and flat, and the hills more distant than in my home. As I watched the world fly past, I was surprised to find myself feeling a little homesick.

We banked into sweeping bends and roared through the countryside, and my mind continued to wander back to Cheviotdale–to my home, Lintzgarth, and to James’ place, the almost magical Drakeshaugh. My recollections were interrupted when we slowed. I looked up just in time to see a sign saying “Welcome to Hope” flash past. As we rode through the village, I once again had the urge to sing. I managed to restrain myself for a while, but when James began singing ‘One Sunday morning Lambton went a-fishing in the Wear; an’ catched a fish upon his hook he thowt looked very queer,’ I realised that, although I hadn’t been singing, I’d been humming the tune under my breath.

‘Mum used to sing “one Sunday morn young Lambton went”,’ I said. ‘And it’s heuk, not hook, and varry, not very.’

‘That’s right, take the Mickey out of my accent, why don’t you?’ said James. We passed under a bridge, and I saw a sign: “Thank you for driving carefully through Hope”. We were out of the village as suddenly as we’d entered it. As we rode out into the open countryside, James continued. ‘I can’t remember all the words, anyway. Perhaps you should sing it to me.’

‘All of a sudden I’m not in the mood to sing,’ I said, trying to sound sad. ‘I’m beyond Hope!’

Simon wouldn’t have understood, he’d have given me that “shut-up-you-foolish-girl” look of his, but James had obviously been paying attention to the road signs. He roared with laughter. ‘Your Dad would be proud of you, Annie,’ he said, squeezing my knee. ‘That’s definitely as bad as anything he could come up with.’

The moment was lost almost immediately. We banked into a sharp right-hand bend, foot pegs almost brushing tarmac, and were faced with a car that had strayed over the double white lines. James sounded his horn, straightened up, and swerved to the left. We passed within inches of the car, and I gave the startled driver two fingers. We were heading for the verge, and a hedge, but James dropped the bike back into the bend. Somehow we made it round the corner without going onto the grass. The Tiger seemed to be glued to the road.

It was a fine piece of riding on James’ part, but as the incident unfolded I was too busy swearing to be impressed.

‘Fucking cunt!’ I shouted. ‘He was on the wrong side of the fucking road! He could’ve... We could’ve... Fuck! Fucking fuck!’ I was shaking, and my arms were wrapped tightly around James’ chest.

‘He didn’t. We missed him, and we’re okay,’ James told me calmly. Taking his left hand from the handlebars, he reached back and slid his hand gently up the outside of my leg and squeezed my hip. It was enough to make me realise how tightly I’d been holding him. I slackened my grip on his torso. He slid his hand slowly down my thigh for a final caress of my knee before returning his hand to the handlebars. ‘We’re safe, Annie, so no more swearing, please. Why don’t you sing instead? I’ll whisht, and haad my gob, and you can tell me about the worm.’

I was tingling from his touch. A thigh squeeze wasn’t the action of a man out with his best friend’s sister! Or was it? My knees were tight against his thighs. So long as we were riding the Tiger, my legs were the only parts of me he could touch. But a reassuring knee squeeze would have been easy for him; instead, he’d reached as far as he safely could. Was I over-analysing? I had no idea what sort of relationship James wanted, but I had no idea what sort of relationship I wanted, either. I knew James too well, and at the same time, not well enough.

Uncertain of what else I could do or say, I did as he asked.

‘One Sunday morn young Lambton went,
A-fishing' in the Wear;
He catched a fish upon he's heuk,
He thowt leuk't varry queer.
But whatt'n a kind of fish it wez
Young Lambton couldnae tell.
He hadn't the fash te carry it hyem,
So he hoyed it doon a well.’

As I began to sing the chorus, James joined in.

‘Whisht! Lads, had yor gobs,
An A'll tell ye's aall an aaful story
Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs,
Aa'll tell ye 'boot the worrm.’

I was still singing, and James was still adding his voice to the chorus, when we entered Castleton. We roared through the narrow streets.

‘This fearful worm wad often feed
On caalves an' lambs an' sheep,
An' swaller little bairns alive
When they laid doon te sleep.
An' when he'd eaten aall he cud
An' he had had he's fill,
He craaled away an' wrapped he's tail
Ten times roond Penshaw Hill.’

‘Whisht...’

James didn’t join in. ‘Bloody hell!’ he said, suddenly slamming on the brakes. I grabbed his waist and squealed as the Tiger slid to a halt at a tiny little side road. My heart was once again galloping, but this time his sudden manoeuvre puzzled me. So far as I could tell nothing seemed to be wrong with the bike and the road was quiet.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.

James began to laugh. ‘Sorry, Annie, it’s Rosie!’ he said. ‘She’s a lanky, nerdy swot; sometimes I forget that underneath it all, she’s still a Weasley.’

‘And I’ve forgotten to bring my Gibberish/English dictionary, Jimbo,’ I said sarcastically. ‘Nothing you’ve just said makes any sense. You’ll have to translate for me.’

‘Look.’ He pointed at the sign at the junction.

‘Peveril Castle,’ I said. ‘I can read. It’s a castle, so what? They’re a bit of a rarity around here, not like up our way.’ I peered in the direction of the sign and spotted the castle perched on top of the hill. ‘It looks like there’s more left than there is of Harbottle Castle, but it’s definitely no Bamburgh.’

‘Why isn’t this place called Peveril?’ James asked.

Kicking the bike back into gear, he turned off the main road and rode up the aptly named Castle Street.’

‘What?’ I asked.

‘Harbottle Castle is in Harbottle, Bamburgh Castle is in Bamburgh,’ James explained as we rolled slowly up the road.

‘We’re on Castle Street in Castleton, and you’re surprised that there’s a castle? I always suspected that you were thick,’ I told him sarcastically. Because of his sudden stop, my heart was still beating at nineteen to the dozen.

‘This place is called Castleton, not Peveril,’ he said.

‘So what?’ I asked. ‘There’s a castle in Newcastle too, and it doesn’t even have a name, it’s just “the castle”.’

‘That’s different,’ James protested. ‘The city is Newcastle because it’s named after the new castle! The clue is in the name, Annie.’

‘New! It’s more than nine hundred years old,’ I said. ‘What’s all this about, James? Surely you saw enough castles when you were young?’

He snorted with laughter. ‘I even went to school in a castle. But it’s not the castle, Annie, it’s the name. When Rose suggested that I take “my mystery girl” to Mam Tor, she said, “You might find Castleton as interesting as Hathersage.” Now I know why!’ he told me. ‘Is it okay if we take a walk up to the castle?’

‘On one condition,’ I said, sighing. ‘You have to tell me why you’re so excited about this particular castle. You’ve seen bigger and better ones than this. Was your private school–whatever it was called–really a castle?’

‘Yes,’ James admitted. ‘Although it’s been modernised–a bit.’

He squeezed the bike into a narrow space at the end of a long line of cars and waited for me to dismount. He said nothing until our helmets were fastened to the bike.

Looking into my eyes, he struggled to figure out what to tell me. ‘According to the stories... well, according to Dad, I suppose... The Potters... We’re... It’s...’

‘Bleak cheap interview, pool cue fancy pants. chick baits apricot, short term sweat,’ I sang.

‘What?’

‘If you’re going to talk gibberish again, so am I,’ I told him. ‘You’ve been blabbering about names and castles, but you’re not making any sense. Hamstring monument, shark shit welterweight...’ I continued the song.

‘Okay!’ James held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. ‘It’s complicated, but...’ He paused for thought, but when I opened my mouth, he continued. ‘My family, the Potters, are related to an old wiz–wise–at least supposedly wise family called Peverell,’ he spelt the name for me. ‘According to various, well, we–I–Dad... No, that’s too complicated. There are lots of stories about the Peverells and we–the Potters–are supposed to be their descendents, but other than a few gravestones in a West Country village called Godric’s Hollow, I’ve never found any evidence of where the first of the Peverells lived.’

‘So you’re researching your family tree as well?’ I asked.

‘Sort of,’ he told me. ‘You know that most people reckon that there are only a few types of English surname: occupational, descriptive, geographic, and patronymic?’

‘What?’

‘I’m a Potter,’ he explained. ‘So, in all likelihood, one of my ancestors made pots; unless he simply pottered about the place. You’re a Charlton, which I think is geographic–a place name. It’s probably old English, from ceorl tun, which means your ancestors came from a peasant farm.’

‘Thanks,’ I said sarcastically. ‘You’re a tradesman, but I’m a mere peasant!’

‘Peverell is difficult,’ he continued, ignoring my interruption. It seems that a Peverell came over from Normandy with William the Bastard...’ I raised an eyebrow. He shrugged. ‘I’ll call him William the Conqueror, if you prefer. But solid information about ... about the family has proved very hard to find. There’s a place called Peverell, with an E and two Ls, it’s a suburb of Plymouth, and there’s a Hatfield Peverel, with an E and only one L, near Chelmsford. But until now I had no idea that there was a Peveril Castle.’

‘Spelling,’ I began. He waved me into silence.

‘Spelling is a recent invention,’ he said dismissively.

‘Recent?’

‘Five or six hundred years, that’s all,’ he told me, smiling. ‘C-W-E-N. Any idea what that spells?’

I shook my head.

‘A few hundred years ago, that was a perfectly acceptable way to spell the title given to a king’s wife,’ he told me. ‘So V-E-L, V-I-L, one L or two, none of them make any difference. Damn Rosie! I wonder how long she’s known about this castle, and she’s never told me.’

‘Are you looking for Robin Hood, your ancestors, or dragons?’ I asked. ‘You seem to be flitting from one thing to another, James. You said that we were going out for a walk. There was no mention of outlaws or dragons or ancestors until you got me on the back of the Tiger.’

‘You’re right,’ he said shamefacedly. ‘I dragged you away from your studies, Annie. I shouldn’t impose mine on you. I’ll certainly be revisiting Hathersage Church without you. So I can come back here another day, too. I’m sorry.’

‘It’s okay,’ I told him. ‘You’re like a little kid, James, particularly when it comes to all this stuff. You’re either a really good liar, or you know your ancient history. Did you make up that bit about my name?’

‘Ceorl tun? No, I didn’t make it up. Tun means farm, it’s in lots of place names, usually as “ton”.

‘Ashington, Ellington, Widdrington, Washington,’ I said, trying to sound clever.

‘Yeah, but they’re all “ing” ton’s; that means farmstead belonging too. So there must’ve been someone called Ash, Ell, Widdr, and Wash who owned the original farm.’

‘I’m beginning to think that you actually know what you’re talking about when it comes to ancient history, and even that you can speak Old English,’ I told him.

‘Astonishing, isn’t it?’ he said, looking a little embarrassed. ‘When I left school, I took some night classes, but my old English is mostly self-taught. I’m hardly fluent. As for history, I’m no expert on ancient history. Forget about the Romans and earlier, it’s the miss-named dark ages, and the early medieval period, that fascinates me. From Arthur Pendragon to Richard Cur de Lion is the period I’m most interested in.’

‘That would have sounded so much more impressive if you’d started with a real king instead of a legendary one,’ I teased.

‘I’m researching Robin Hood and his Merry Men,’ he reminded me. ‘But let’s not turn this day into a history lesson. I’ll come back to Castleton another day. Shall we ride on and find this walk?’

I looked up at the castle and wondered whether we should walk up and take a look at it. Then I had an idea. ‘We can come back here another day,’ I told him. ‘But let’s go to Mam Tor today.’

‘It’s a deal,’ said James happily. We remounted the bike, and he retraced the route back down to the main road.

We rode on up the valley in silence. I was trying to understand my emotions. The familiar feeling of chaos, of glimpsing the unknown from the corner of my eye, was back. It was a feeling I associated with my childhood. Now I was, supposedly, “all grown up”, yet it seemed that the unknown was still staring back at me.

James was likeable, but there was always the feeling that there was something standing at his shoulder, hiding in the shadows. I’d just invited myself out with him again. Was that really a good idea?

Was I simply using James to hurt Simon? I didn’t believe I was. Was it possible to hurt Simon? It was definitely possible to annoy him. Simply forgetting that he was the centre of the universe was enough to do that. What was I doing with James? He was nice. Nice? After what he did when we were children, how could I think he was nice? How could I have my arms around his waist? I removed them.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked me.

‘’What are we?’ I asked in reply.

‘Two old friends going out for the day,’ he said. ‘That’s enough for me, Annie. At least, for now it is. One day at a time, okay?’

‘One day at a time,’ I agreed.
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