It was just one kiss, I told myself as we parted. It was little more than a brushing of lips. I'd made certain of that, as I'd kept my teeth clamped tightly together. I didn't want him to think that I was keen; even so, James was looking smug.
To show how little it actually meant to me, I made up some feeble reason why I could not to invite James into my flat. Unfortunately, he didn't protest, but simply accepted my excuse. As I turned my back on him, I cursed silently. Now I wasn't even sure how much the kiss had meant to him.
I dashed inside, swatted away Vicki's questions, ignored Simon, and made my way through the flat to the bathroom. Simon had been waiting for me in my bedroom, but he pursued me to the bathroom. I simply ignored him, pushed him out, and locked the door.
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves, and looked in the mirror. One glance confirmed my fears. My hair was a mess, I smelled of swimming pool, and I had just been kissed by James Potter.
I'd only done it to annoy Simon, and I'd succeeded. He was trying to talk to me through the bathroom door.
'Let me explain,' he began.
'Just collect your stuff from my room and go!' I shouted.
He started to protest, so I turned on the radio and turned up the volume. Thanks to Vicki, it was Radio 4, and the early-evening repeat of The Archers! But I didn't bother to switch stations.
Pulling off my sweatshirt and ignoring the knocking on the door, I had a good wash. As I washed, I wondered how I would handle Simon. I'd been stupid! It would have been so much easier if I'd let James into the house.
No, I told myself, I would not rely on James; that would be an even bigger mistake.
Normally I would shower and change before going out, but Simon's presence in the flat would make that difficult, I knew that I wasn't ready for another fight with him. I was in tatty old clothes, and I wasn't made up, but I was only going to a pizza place with an old friend (who I'd only kissed once, and it was only a little kiss). I didn't need to be smart.
My decision made, I pulled on the sweatshirt, and didn't even check myself in the mirror. It was only James, and with James there was no need to pretend.
Simon was waiting for me when I opened the door.
'I thought I told you to collect your things from my room,' I told him. 'I'm going out, Simon, and you'd better not be here when I get back.'
I pushed past him, ran through the house, and dashed down the stairs. Simon followed, but James was leaning on the wall just outside the door, and Simon stopped his pursuit the moment he spotted him.
'Ready?' James asked, ignoring Simon.
I nodded. 'This way,' I said.
I led him through a maze of streets to Ticino's Pizzeria. We didn't talk much, James tried, but I wasn't in the mood so he fell silent and simply matched my stride. He didn't pester me, and didn't even mention my hasty exit from my flat, or the fact that I hadn't changed my clothes.
I hadn't been to the restaurant for a very long time, but ten minutes after we'd placed our order, James and I were spotted. It should not have surprised me, as it was good food, and inexpensive. That made it a very popular student haunt.
My friends Brad and Corinne arrived not long after we'd received our starters. I could see them staring in surprise at us. They hadn't seen me in the place for some time, because the little family run pizzeria was rather downmarket for Simon. He preferred more exclusive places, or one of the large chains where the menu never changed.
They'd seen that I wasn't with Simon, and I could see the curiosity on their faces. Realising that I'd have to deal with the gossip sometime, I beckoned my friends over and introduced them to James. As it was midweek, the place wasn't busy. Between us Brad and I we managed to persuade the waiter move a table so that we could all sit together.
In my first year, like almost all freshers, I'd been placed in shared student accommodation in Endcliffe Village. Brad (whose name was actually David Pitt), Corinne, Vicki, Phil the medic, boy-Alex, girl-Alex, and George the mad vegetarian had been my randomly selected flatmates. Despite the randomness of our meeting, with the exception of boy-Alex (who'd dropped out after his first year) we'd all become—and remained—friends. I introduced them to James, explained who he was, and then told Brad and Corinne what had happened when I'd walked in on Simon. I was surprised to discover that, thanks to a flurry of texts, and Simon's facebook page, they already knew quite a lot. Simon had tried to put a positive spin on the events, but as Corinne acidly pointed out, it's difficult to say "my girlfriend walked in when I was shagging another woman" and come out of it in a good light. Instead, apparently, in the past few minutes he'd begun an attempt at character assassination on me. I was surprised to discover what a nasty bitch I was.
To my astonishment, I found myself able to talk about the incident quite easily. Despite the fact that I'd only had the briefest of glimpses, I couldn't stop myself from being catty about the girl's appearance. By the end of the evening—as Brad, Corinne and I finished the litre carafe of house red (James stuck to orange juice)—she'd been turned into an ugly old harridan and had become the butt of many jokes.
Brad and Corinne were always good company. They had got together within days of our first meeting. We'd been eight fresh young students, all away from home for the first time, and we'd been forced together. From all the first-year relationships, they alone were still a couple two years later.
As we ate and talked, Brad—the evil sod—pulled out his phone and insisted on showing James some photographs of me from our first year. He even offered to forward a copy of one of the photos to James's phone. James stared at the photo, grinned, and told Brad that he'd would wait until I offered to send it to him.
We'd gone to a "James Bond" themed party on campus. I'd lost a bet with Alex and, as a consequence, I was Honey Ryder. The guys all wore tuxedoes, Brad had hired one with a white jacket, and he'd almost managed an old-fashioned "Daniel Craig" look. His hair had helped a lot. The other girls were all in evening wear, Corinne looking particularly gorgeous in a dress split to the thigh. However, because of the bet, I was in a white bikini with a wide leather belt and a cheap plastic knife. That was only two weeks after the eight of us had first met. It was also the night Brad and Corinne got together, and it was the night I spent being jealously guarded by George, bless him.
By the end of the meal James knew rather more about my university exploits than I'd have liked, he certainly knew more than Mum and Dad did. When we finished, Brad and Corinne asked us to join them at the pub, I considered it, but when James politely declined, I decided against more booze. Instead, I allowed James to once again walk me back to my flat. En route I texted Vicki: Simon still there?
She replied immediately: Long gone. Where are you? You okay?
Fine. On my way. I replied.
It was only a little after nine in the evening, but I was stifling a yawn when James halted in front of my door for the second time that day. I was full of pizza capricciosa, and feeling a little light-headed. As we'd walked through the streets, James had been full of praise for his calzone, and for my choice of restaurants.
'Thank you,' I said as we stood outside my front door. I expected him to try to kiss me, but he didn't.
'I've had a great day,' he told me sincerely. 'But I really should be going. I was supposed to meet Rosie eight hours ago,' he told me. 'And eight hours is a lateness record, even for me. I really should call on her before it gets too late, even if it's only to apologise.'
He tried to look remorseful, but failed.
'You should have abandoned me to my fate, instead,' I said.
James shook his head firmly. 'I can see Rosie anytime, but I haven't seen you in years. Thanks for a great day. That was one of the best pizzas I've ever had. Brad and Corinne seem like a nice couple, too.' He reached forwards and gently brushed my cheek with his fingers. 'I've…' He hesitated, and looked into my face, an anxious look in his hazel eyes. His next, nervous, words tumbled out with surprising speed. 'I've enjoyed catching up with you, and as I said I've had a really great day. Can I see you again tomorrow?'
I was about to say yes, but a sudden feeling that I was being watched made me glance upwards. I could see a curtain twitching in the window above the front door. My flatmate was watching me.
The sight of Vicki's face brought me back down to earth with a bump. I'd spent an entire day, or at least more than ten hours, with James Potter, and it had been wonderful. Nevertheless, I sternly reminded myself that I was still emotional, and very tired. My sensible side struggled to make its voice heard: you need time to think, time to take stock, it reminded me. For once, I listened to it.
'Not tomorrow,' I told him firmly. 'I've got a lot to do.'
His face crumpled into despondency, and I took pity on him.
'Saturday,' I suggested, 'if that's okay with you. I just need some time to sort stuff out, okay?'
'What time on Saturday, and where?' he asked.
I shrugged. I hadn't given any thought to the when; I'd simply wanted to say yes. 'Some time in the afternoon,' I suggested, pushing any thought of meeting him in the morning to the back of my mind and continuing my attempt to play it cool, to appear ambiguous and aloof.
'Five past twelve. That's after noon,' he said promptly, betraying a keenness which I didn't expect, but which made my heart do somersaults.
I tried to hide my elation. 'Okay,' I told him.
'I … er … I own a motorbike,' he said cautiously. 'We could go for a ride somewhere, if…'
'Only if you have a spare helmet,' I told him, as my heart skipped. 'Mine is at home.'
'You have your own helmet?' he asked, attempting to outgrin the Cheshire cat. 'Wow! That's great. Can you ... do you ride a bike?'
'I've passed my test,' I said. 'But I don't even own a scooter.'
'Perfect, yeah, er, great, excellent. Saturday, after noon, I won't forget,' he promised, bouncing excitedly on his toes. 'I'll just come here, okay?'
'Yeah, that'll be great. D'you want my mobile number?' I asked. As I spoke, my mind flew back to the only call he'd made all day. 'That reminds me, what sort of phone do you have? It looked weird, more like a wood-framed mirror than a smartphone. You could give me your number too, just in case something crops up.'
For some reason my request worried him. 'Saturday,' he said evasively. 'I'll give you my number on Saturday.'
I was about to protest, but he grabbed my waist and pulled me in for a kiss so passionate that it dispelled any worries I had. Any treacherous thoughts about his reluctance to provide me with his number, or the whirlwind of a day I'd had, fled from my brain. It was much too busy processing the sensation of being in his arms.
When he finally released me, we were both panting. The kiss had almost silenced my sensible side, and I was very tempted to invite him into the flat. A small, but rapidly increasing part of my mind wanted to ask him to stay for the night. It was probably fortunate that, before I could catch enough breath to speak, he turned and strode off down the street. He gave me a cheery wave, and called, 'See you Saturday, Annabel-Anna-Annie.'
I had barely managed to gasp, 'Bye, James,' before he had walked swiftly down the street, turned onto the main road, and disappeared from sight.
As I looked at the corner where he'd vanished, my mind began to spin. In the space of little more than twenty-four hours, my world had changed. As I stared down the street I realised that I still knew next to nothing about James. He knew where I lived, and what I was doing at University. What did I know? I could probably find his cousin Rosie, but apart from that—I had no address, no phone number, nothing. If he didn't arrive on Saturday, I might never see him again.
That thought alarmed me much more than it should have.
I was still staring anxiously after him, wondering whether to give chase, when my front door opened, and Vicki peered out at me.
'Who was that?' she asked.
'That was James Sirius Potter,' I told her.
'Sirius?' she queried. 'What sort of a name is Sirius?'
'His brother is called Albus,' I said, 'Albus S-s-something, I don't think I ever found out what his "S" stood for. And their sister is Lily Luna; the Luna is because she's named after a lunatic – luna-tic, get it? Are you okay, Vicki? You look worried.'
'Simon was been back, about an hour ago, while you and …James… were at Ticino's,' she told me. My flatmate was unable to look me in the eyes, so was staring at my knees as she spoke. 'He's gone again, but he arrived with a big black bin-bag. He said… He said that it's got all your stuff in it, and that there is no need for you to call at his place to collect anything.'
I shrugged. I'd left some clothes and some of my course notes at Simon's house, if he'd delivered them to me, then I wouldn't need to see him until our third year lectures started in four weeks time.
'What else did he say?' I asked.
'He called you… He called you some very rude names, and he wasn't very complimentary about James, either.'
'What, exactly did he call James and me?' I asked.
Vicki's head drooped even lower, and her voice dropped to a whisper. 'He said that James was a smarmy chancer who was…' she lowered her voice, 'trying to get into your knickers.'
'I'd probably have let him, if he'd tried,' I said, surprising both Vicki and myself with my confession. 'What about me?'
'He, er, he called you a two-timing slut,' she told my feet.
I laughed, alarming Vicki, and startling myself. My laughter caused her to raise her head and I saw the anxiety on her face. She thought that I was about to have hysterics again, but I was surprisingly untroubled by what she'd told me.
'That remark simply shows what a two-faced bastard he is,' I said. 'Fucking hell, Vicki, twenty-four hours ago I walked in on slimy Simon—the man I've been with for more than a year—shagging another girl. This morning, I met a boy I hadn't seen since I was eleven, and he was nice enough to let me take my anger out on him. And he listened to me ranting and swearing and complaining about my two-timing twat of an ex-boyfriend. Okay, I gave James a kiss or two, but I haven't done more than that. But even if I had, Simon did it first.' I stopped, because I realised that my protestations were unnecessary, and beginning to sound like self-justification.
Vicki was watching me closely, and a little suspiciously. 'You seem a lot happier and more relaxed than you were when you left this morning,' she told me. 'I'm really glad, Anna, because I was worried about you. If you haven't… I mean, what on earth have you and this James Potter character been doing?'
'Talking, and listening,' I said. I grinned as Vicki continued to look sceptical. 'I haven't spent the day in a hotel room with him, if that's what Simon has been insinuating,' I sighed, yawned and stretched. 'Fuck knows what he'll tell people, but at the moment I don't care. I think I need a cuppa.'
'Shall I put the kettle on?' Vicki asked. 'I'm quite capable of filling it with fresh water. Or would you rather I left even that job to you?'
'You can put the kettle on while I nip to the loo, Vicki,' I said. 'But I'll make the tea. It's time for a Ceylon Orange Pekoe, I think. Would you care to join me?'
'Yes, please,' she said. 'Do you want to talk?'
'I think that I do, yes,' I told her as I followed her upstairs into our flat. 'I should really tell somebody my version of events.' We walked through the flower-festooned living room and into the kitchen. I left her running the tap, as I headed for the bathroom.
By the time I'd finished my ablutions, the kettle was approaching its second boiling.
'I've rinsed the pot once already, and it's full of boiling water,' said Vicki nervously. She knows how precious I am about my tea. She'd pulled out the correct caddy, and set two fine china mugs on the tray, too.
'Thanks, Vicki,' I said. 'Perfect, in fact.'
As I emptied the pot, prised open the caddy, and carefully measured out the aromatic leaves, I gave Vicki a weary, but grateful smile. I had just scooped the leaves into the pot when the kettle boiled. Pouring the water over the leaves, I inhaled the aroma and placed the lid on the pot. As I picked up the tray, Vicki moved ahead of me and opened the door to our living room. The room was not large, and it was made smaller by the fact that every flat surface was covered in flowers.
'It seemed a shame to let them go to waste,' Vicki told me. 'But I'll throw them out if you want.'
I shook my head. My flatmate had obviously been very busy with the enormous bouquet Simon had sent me that morning.
'No need for that. The flowers simply show what a fucking smarmy twat he is,' I said. 'What did he think would happen?' I lowered my voice and tried to mimic Simon's southern accent. 'My girlfriend arrived back a day early and caught me in flagrante delicto—I know what I'll do—I'll buy her flowers, and she'll forgive me and everything will be okay again.' I returned to my normal voice. 'He's a total wanker. But they are nice flowers, and I like the new vases. Good work, Vicki.'
We owned two vases, and the sheer number of flowers Simon had sent me was enough for—I counted up the make-shift vases—nine. It seemed that Vicki had used every receptacle she could find. There was a red coffee mug whose handle had broken off a few days before I'd gone home; an empty instant coffee jar; and various cook-in-sauce jars which she must have rescued from our recycling bin.
'Thanks, Anna,' said Vicki, smiling. 'I wasn't sure whether you'd want me to keep them, or throw them out. When you stormed off this morning…'
'This morning I was still pissed off with Simon, and I hardly slept last night,' I said. I yawned again; my sleepless night and long day was finally catching up with me. 'Now, I don't give a shit about the tosser. But I'll keep his flowers.'
'You really shouldn't swear so much, Anna,' Vicki told me.
'You're probably right,' I admitted, taking a sip of scalding hot tea. 'James doesn't like it, either.'
'Who is he?' Vicki asked. 'You said you hadn't seen him since you were eleven. Where did you meet, and how did you recognise him?'
'Recognising him was easy, he's a few years older than me, he'd have been thirteen or fourteen the last time I saw him,' I said. 'He hasn't changed much, not really. He's a lot like he was the last time I saw him: good-looking, quick-witted, not quite ginger, with nice eyes and an inflated sense of his own importance.'
'Oh,' said Vicki. 'That's not good, Anna. Except for the ginger, it's the way you described…'
'Simon! Shit, it is, isn't it?' I said, annoyed with myself for not realising. 'I was going to tell you that he's nothing like Simon. But I'm wrong. Crap, damn, shit and buggeration.'
I looked uneasily at my friend, suddenly uncertain about what I was doing. James had suddenly re-entered my life, and he had taken up my entire day. He'd cheered me up when I was down. But as I again remembered the horrible trick he'd played on me on my eleventh birthday, my anxiety grew. He had been such an annoying boy.
'So much for not swearing,' said Vicki, quietly rebuking me. 'Do you want to talk about James, about today? When did you first meet him?'
'When? A very long time ago, so long ago that I can't remember much about it,' I admitted. 'Which is hardly surprising, I was probably only two or three when we first met. We grew up together.' I smiled at the memories.
'You don't have to tell me,' said Vicki with blatant insincerity. It was obvious that she was desperate to know more.
'Once upon a time,' I began in a sing-song voice. 'In the tiny village of Alwinton, in upper Coquetdale, in the far north of England, there lived a little girl called Annabel May Charlton. Everybody called her Annie, and she had a brother named Henry Michael, who everybody called Hen.'
'I've met your big brother, remember,' said Vicki. 'He collected you from C7 in our first year. At Christmas.'
'Oh, yeah,' I said, returning to my normal voice, 'I forgot, sorry.' I smiled at my friend, and continued.
'Henry started First School in the September just before his fifth birthday. It was a small rural school, and there was only one other new starter, another boy. The other boy was called James Potter. Henry and James hit it off straight away, at least that's what Mum and Dad always told me. And Mum and Dad became friends with Mr and Mrs Potter. Mum and Ginny—that's Mrs Potter—were very close, and Mum and I were regular visitors to Drakeshaugh—that's the house where the Potters lived.
'James had—has—a brother and sister. Al was in the year above me at school, and Lily was in the year below me. Lintzgarth—my parents' house—is great, but the Potters' house was better. It was big and rambling, and stood in about twenty acres of land. It was a wonderful place for kids, and we were a gang.' I closed my eyes and lost myself in the memories.
'We had some great times. We played in Drakeshaugh Wood, and paddled in Drakestone Burn. We—it sounds stupid, I know—but, it was an idyllic childhood,' I said wistfully. 'We were pirates, we were explorers, we were witches and wizards, we fought dragons; we did all sorts of things in the house and grounds. And we went swimming almost every Saturday, and we even went to swimming competitions when we got older. Henry and James were always getting me, Al and Lily into trouble.
'The Potters' cousins were often there too. There were loads of cousins, but Rosie and Hugo were the ones who visited most often. They were always there in the holidays, and they were in the gang too.'
'You know I was a bit iffy with you when we first met in the Endcliffe flat? That's because you introduced yourself as Vicki, and the only Vicki I'd ever met was one of the Potter cousins. She was Victoire, actually—she had a French mother—and she was always "tres chic". Even at eleven, I didn't like her,' I smiled an apology to Vicki, closed my eyes, and once again lost myself in memories. 'In the summer we'd climb trees and build dams, in the winter we'd sledge and build snowmen, and we had some amazing times. Once, I even met Santa.'
'What?' Vicki asked.
I struggled to open my eyes. 'I swear, Vicki. It happened when I was four or five. I was in the Potter's living room and this man came down the chimney and stepped out of the fireplace. It's one of my earliest memories. I can still remember it clearly. Of course, I was certain that he was Santa. I've no idea what I really saw. My brother tells me that I made the whole thing up, but I didn't. The man I saw was definitely real, because I saw him several more times over the years. He was enormous; I think he was called Haggard, or something like that. Drakeshaugh was that sort of place, it seemed almost magical. We had secret hide-outs and swings and…'
Vicki was interested, but I realised that I could tell tales of my childhood for hours, and my blinks were becoming longer. I stopped, drank more tea, and thought about what I was trying to tell her.
'And we grew up,' I said sadly, stifling another yawn. 'I suppose I'd always known that the Potters had more money than we did. Mum and Dad aren't poor, but we certainly didn't have a second property in London, and my parents definitely couldn't afford the fees to send us to a private school. But when James was eleven—actually he was almost twelve—he didn't go back to Middle School after the summer holidays. Instead, his parents sent him off to a posh school. It was somewhere in Scotland. The year after that, James's brother Al went, too. There was only Lily left, and my brother had made new friends.
'The Potters were always back during the summer holidays, but it wasn't the same, and when James pulled a really cruel practical joke on me on my eleventh birthday, that was that. I still saw Lily at school and I was still sort-of-friends with her, but only sort-of, because I knew she'd be going away to school, too. So we sort of drifted apart.'
'Why was he here?' Vicki asked. 'What was he doing in Sheffield?'
'His cousin is here, she's at Uni,' I yawned again. 'You might even know her, Vicki. She's a numbers geek like you. She's only just arrived. She's starting a PhD in Maths.'
'So she'll probably have moved into Ranmoor last weekend. What's her name?' Vicki asked.
'Rosie something…' I yawned again. 'It was a weird surname, no, not weird—weirdly, no Weasley, that's it, Rosie Weasley.'
While I'd been talking, Vicki had begun to tap and swipe her way through various pages on her tablet. There was a gleam in her eye.
'This is her, isn't it?' Vicki asked. She turned the tablet around, and displayed a photograph. There were two people in the foreground. One was a skinny middle-aged man who wore what must once have been an expensive suit; it was unfashionable, crumpled, and two sizes too big for him. He was shaking hands with a tall and gangly girl with a long straight nose and short-cropped bright ginger hair. In the background, four other students looked on.
'That's her,' I said, blinking and rubbing my eyes as I peered at the picture. 'Unless that guy is really short, Rosie is taller than me, and I'm no midget.' I thought back to the several parties I'd attended as a child. 'Her dad was tall and thin and he had the same colour hair. She's got his nose, too. How did you know? Where did you get the photo?'
'It's from the S.U.M.S. webpage,' said Vicki. It took my sleepy brain a few minutes to remember that S.U.M.S. stood for Sheffield University Mathematics Society. 'She's the newest member of Professor von Seidel's Quantum String Group,' said Vicki. She sounded very impressed. 'Everyone calls them "The Impossibles"; they're some of the cleverest mathematicians in the country. They're working with the Theoretical Physicists on something to do with string theory, imaginary, unreal, and impossible numbers. It's well beyond my statistical brain; it's cutting edge theoretical maths, all about…'
The summer sun was at its zenith, and it blazed down on us with an almost tropical intensity. The birds where chirruping in the trees as we dashed out of Drakeshaugh. We were all in shorts and t-shirts and only one thing lay between us and the woods. It was big and black and shining.
'D'you wanna sit on it, Henry?' asked James. My brother warily shook his head. Al and Lily looked nervously at each other, wondering if they dared.
'I do,' I said. I dashed towards the bike, put my foot on the peg, and swung my leg over the saddle. James's dad's bike was huge, and once I was astride the seat my feet simply dangled either side of the engine. The bike had been in the sun for hours, and the black saddle was so hot that it was burning my legs. I ignored my discomfort. I didn't want my friends to think that I was a sissy. I leaned forwards and, with arms outstretched, I grabbed the handlebars. 'Vroom, vroom,' I said, twisting the throttle.
'It can fly, too,' James boasted.
'Don't be silly,' I told him. 'Motorbikes can't fly.'
'This one can,' James said. 'It's…'
'James Potter,' James's mum shouted across the yard at him. 'How many times have I told you? If you keep this up, we will have to stop Henry and Annie from coming here.'
'Sorry, Mum, sorry Annie,' James said. 'I'm just being silly. Let's go into the woods an' play.'
Everyone dashed off, and I struggled to dismount from the bike. By the time I reached the edge of the trees, the others had vanished, and the ground was covered in snow. I was wearing red polka-dot wellies and a bright red duffel coat.
When I reached the big glade, where the rope swing was, the others were building a snowman. At some point Rosie and her little brother had arrived too. It was an enormous snowman and we soon used up almost all of the snow in the clearing, but James had an idea.
Despite Al and Rosie's protests, he clambered up the yew tree and out onto a branch. Once there, he began to bounce on it. He was about thirty feet in the air, and the snow fell from the boughs, bringing most of the snow from the lower branches with it and creating a huge pile on the ground. Unfortunately, he also brought down snow from above, and it knocked him from his precarious perch. As I saw him fall, I squealed. But he seemed to slow down, and he floated to the ground no faster than a snowflake.
'Wha' happened,' the giant asked as he dashed into the clearing. His name, I remembered, wasn't Haggard, it was Hagrid. He wasn't as tall as a double-decker bus. He wasn't as wide as a bus, either, because that would be impossible, wouldn't it?
'James fell out of the tree,' said Rosie.
'But I'm okay,' said James. 'I, er, I must've landed in the deep snow. That was lucky, wasn't it?'
'Yer fine, I reckon,' Hagrid said, brushing the snow from James's back with a hand bigger than a snow shovel. 'Time ter go inside, kids. Food's ready, a real Halloween Feast. Follow me.'
As he turned and led the way back through the woods, I scrambled to my feet and brushed the autumn leaves from my black duffel coat. Hagrid was holding two wooden poles, one in each hand. Dangling from a string at the end of the poles were the biggest pumpkins I'd ever seen. Both had a carefully carved face on them, and they glowed orange. There was an almost impossibly bright candle inside each of them. We chattered and laughed as we followed the dancing pumpkins through the trees and back to Drakeshaugh and a "sumpters feast", as James and Henry called it.
The Potters' Halloween parties were always wonderful, great food and amazing fireworks were guaranteed. I was offered hot chocolate or pumpkin juice, something which only the Potters drank. I rejected both, and asked for tea instead. We were in the massive living room, and I stared into the faces of the pumpkins, which were now swinging from the ceiling. Flickering shadows did a shimmy around the walls as the pumpkins swayed in time to the music.
'D'you have to go to that school?' I asked Lily. 'What's it called?'
'Yeah, I do, sorry. Bye, Annie,' said Lily sadly. She clambered onto the back of a giant red warthog and sat behind her brothers. 'I'm going to school.'
I tried to grab the warthog's tail, but I missed, and fell to the floor.
I woke with a start, and the feeling that I was falling.
Completely disorientated by a dream which had consisted of muddled and part-remembered memories from my childhood, I cautiously opened my eyes. The room was in darkness and I could see very little. My neck was stiff and sore, and my arms and legs were aching, too. I'd been swimming, and walking, I remembered. I had punished my body. I was, however, warm; I was very warm. Vicki had wrapped me in my duvet. I pushed it to the floor, staggered over to the doorway, and searched for the light switch.
As I blinked in the unfamiliar light, I looked around the room and tried to remember what had happened. The wall clock told me that it was almost four in the morning. I'd fallen asleep on the sofa, while Vicki was talking to me. She'd taken away the mugs and teapot. I checked the kitchen, and discovered that she'd rinsed the pot and washed the mugs.
I yawned again. I'd had virtually no sleep the night before, and I was still absolutely bloody knackered. Grabbing my duvet from the floor, I made my way through the hall to my bedroom. Despite the fact that I was barely awake, I spotted the slip of white paper on the doormat. Curious, I staggered downstairs and picked it up, hoping that it wasn't from Simon.
It wasn't; it was from James. With bleary eyes, I read it.
Annie, I should have given you this when you asked. Sorry. Just in case you need it, or need me before Saturday, here's my number: 52637 768837. I know that it doesn't look like any number you've seen, but it's correct believe me. Thanks again for a great day. See you soon.
'James, kiss,' I said sleepily to myself as I entered my bedroom. After pulling my vest and shorts from under my pillow, I pushed the note into the same spot. I undressed, pulled on my nightwear, and collapsed into bed, dragging my duvet with me.
Epic day, Annie, I thought to myself as I shuffled into a comfortable position. Annie the name, like James, was a part of my past. I had not thought of myself as Annie for years. I'd been Anna since I'd gone to High School but now, because of James, I was Annie again.