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Cast the Die by Infantasia
Chapter 8 : Aileen's Troubles
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 16


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8: Aileen’s Troubles


Aileen was the first to shrug out of the stupor that she and Maxim were in. She shook her head insistently, her eyes wide and horrified. “Lily, this isn’t how it looks.”

Lily’s mind quickly ran through the conversation she and James just had. The traitor got information to the Death Eaters through parchment, and reasonably speaking, this would be the person in charge of all the recorded data.

Her eyes zeroed in on Aileen. “And what do you think this looks like?”

“Don’t be so critical, Lily,” Maxim suddenly said, drawing her attention to him. “We were just going over some information before we go find witnesses.”

He sounded so blasé that Lily would’ve believed him if she hadn’t been so suspicious of him in the beginning. And now that the damage was done, no statement, no matter how casually stated, was going to dissuade her from finding out the truth.

“It didn’t look like you were just going over information.”

Maxim rolled his eyes. “Then what do you think we were doing? Selling information to You-Know-Who?”

She crossed her arms. “Maybe that’s exactly what I think you’re doing.”

Aileen looked like she was ready to collapse. “Lily, please, it’s not like that at all.”

“Then what is it like? Tell me, Aileen.” Lily started pacing along the small corridor. “I just don’t understand you. You claim to care so much about James, but you won’t do anything to help him. You’re just idly standing by and-”

Don’t put your own problems on other people,” Maxim snapped, cutting Lily off. Her eyes narrowed as she turned to him. “We all care about James, but you don’t see the rest of us ignoring our duties. Just because you’re letting emotional ties ruin your job doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to do the same.”

Lily was so incensed that she really thought she’d take out her wand and hex him. Her hands were clenched at her sides, her eyes smoldering. To his credit, Maxim didn’t seem alarmed. In fact, he was looking at her with an odd glitter of triumph in his eyes.

“What did you just say?” she finally spat.

“I’m tired of your mindless accusations.” He grabbed the parchments from Aileen and tucked them into his robes. “If you’d stop acting like a lovesick idiot for a minute, maybe you could go check on the wards like you’re supposed to.”

He bade Aileen goodbye and gave Lily a look as he brushed past her. Her hand itched to slap him, and she probably would’ve if Sirius hadn’t shown up right at that moment. He sidestepped just in time before he crashed head-on into Maxim and frowned at the palpable tension in the area.

“What’s going on here?”

Maxim snorted. “Lily was just giving one of her spiels, like usual.”

She whirled on him. “Oh you are not going to pin this one on me, Max. And you’d better think again if you thought I’d let you get away with all those parchments.”

“Those don’t contain any vital information,” Aileen said quietly. Lily and Sirius turned to her. “They’re just lists of tasks for each person for the past few missions.”

Lily grabbed Maxim’s arm before he could leave. “Give them to me.”

“Why? You’re not in charge of keeping information.”

“Neither are you.”

He sighed and removed himself from her hold. “I’m double checking our records to verify who we’re going to be interviewing and to ensure that there are no possibilities of corruption.”

“But I thought that was Aileen’s job,” Sirius pointed out.

“We decided to do something different for once.” Maxim narrowed his eyes. “Must I report everything to you now?”

“Not if you were being truthful in the first place. And in this case, you aren’t,” Lily retorted.

Sirius stepped in before Maxim could comment further. He grabbed her arm to prevent her from launching herself at him and gave the other two a strained smile. “Just ignore her for the time being. She’s a little stressed lately.”

Lily was furious. “Sirius, let me go. I’m not through with them yet!”

He ignored her. “We’ll get on with our task now. See you later.” He then grabbed her other arm firmly and pulled her away, despite the sharp glares that she was shooting his way. It was only until they stepped out onto the grounds did he release his hold on her.

“What the hell was that?”

She glared at him and smoothed out the wrinkles in her robes. “That was me trying to get to the bottom of everything and you coming in and screwing everything up.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “If that was your attempt, it was a bloody horrible one.”

Lily was smoldering. “Excuse me?”

“Calm down, Evans. What are you trying to do with that glare? Burn a hole through my head?”

“That sounds terribly tempting at the moment.”

He smirked. “Yeah, yeah.” As quickly as his smile came, it disappeared again. “I talked to Remus earlier. Apparently, the house elves saw nothing.”

She nodded slowly, processing the information. “I guess I’m not too surprised. James was pretty quick when he ran off. And if what he did was meant to be a secret, I doubt he’d let other people see.”

Sirius had already started walking along the perimeter of the house. He took a few steps, paused, waved his wand at the area, and watched a light shimmer reflect in the air. He seemed satisfied with the result and moved on.

Lily followed slowly. Even though she couldn’t prove that Aileen and Maxim were the culprits, she knew they were up to something… something that she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know. But the hard part was figuring out what that something was. If only she had a small piece of evidence that could pull her out of the hole she had dug herself into.

Sirius stopped and blew out an exasperated sigh when he noticed that she was still quite a ways behind him. “Come on, Lily. We don’t have all day, you know.”

She scowled. “I’m trying to think.”

“You’re just going to give yourself a bigger headache.” He threw an arm around her shoulders and steered her forward. “And the next time you do think of something, can you not act so redheaded?”

Lily frowned, unsure of whether his statement was a compliment or an insult. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sirius lifted an eyebrow. “It means you shouldn’t act so rashly.”

Lily nearly laughed at the irony of the statement. Back when they were still at Hogwarts, she didn’t think she would ever hear Sirius Black of all people telling her to think before she acted. If there was anyone who was terrible at thinking things through, it was Sirius.

And yet he was now giving her advice. She bit her lip. Maybe she had been acting too rashly? Was she really jumping to conclusions? Those were possibilities, but something in her was telling her the exact opposite.

They continued circling the region, pausing once in a while to check on the wards. Sirius, who seemed to have forgotten the gravity of the situation they were in, started whistling an anonymous tune, one that sounded mysteriously like one of the recently popular wizarding bands that had formed. Lily grinned. She didn’t think Aurors had enough time to keep up with the popular media… all except for Sirius.

She suddenly stopped, her brows furrowed. Had something just glittered on the ground? She slid into a crouch and brushed her fingers along the grass. She was sure that she had seen something… or was it only a trick of the eye?

And then her fingers touched cool metal. She brushed aside the grass and picked up a silver ring that had made its way close to the earth.

“What’s that?”

She looked up to see Sirius bent at the waist, his head tilted slightly as he examined the ring.

“It looks like a ring of some sort.”

His eyebrows rose. “A wedding ring? Who around here is close to being married?”

Lily stood and brushed the dirt from the bottom of her robes. She blew the dust away from the ring and let it glimmer in the sunlight. It seemed to be rather gender nonspecific, which meant it could’ve belonged to either a male or female.

“Have you ever seen this on anyone before?” she asked.

Sirius shook his head. “Nope. At least not from what I’ve seen. Maybe some people wear them on chains or something.”

Lily’s brows were furrowed in thought. All the safe houses were situated in areas that weren’t frequented by many other than the residential Aurors. It didn’t make sense for a ring to be on the ground… unless it belonged to an Auror.

“Bloody hell!”

Lily turned at the shout and saw Sirius gaping at empty space. She frowned at his reaction. “What?”

“There’s a bloody huge hole here.” He flicked his wand at the empty air before them and a light shimmer flickered in the air. And then Lily understood Sirius’ shock.

There was a large, gaping hole in the ward. It was large enough that one more well-placed spell could shatter all the wards around the safe house, rendering the residents open to attack. Was this what had happened to Frank’s safe house?

Sirius let out a low whistle and ran a hand through his hair. “Bloody hell, this is ridiculous.”

“How come we didn’t detect this?”

“Either someone blocked the warning system or it broke down without our knowing.”

Lily doubted the warning system would break down just like that. It had been carefully constructed so that there was no chance it could fail without sending out some kind of notice. She glanced down at the ring in her hand and saw it wink at her in reflection of the sunlight. The wink was almost evil, as if it was saying: “I know something you don’t.”

“I wonder if Moony discovered that the warning systems are down.”

“I’m sure he’ll be able to.”

Lily shifted the ring in her palm. The jewelry was extremely familiar and she knew she had seen it somewhere. But where? And on whom?


----*----



Lily gnawed on the ring’s owner the entire day. For some reason, the answer just didn’t seem to come to her. It bothered her that the memory was just out of reach. If only she could recall where she had seen the ring, then maybe they could find the traitor. She had concluded with Sirius and Remus earlier that whoever had the ring was probably the one who had created that big hole in the wards.

She was currently in the kitchen, mindlessly looking through the food cabinet for a snack. She had discovered long ago that eating helped her think. She was still in the middle of figuring out whether she should eat some Pumpkin Pastries when Tris practically waltzed into the kitchen. Her blue hair flopped around her and she grinned when she saw Lily.

“Hey, how you doing?”

“Hungry,” she replied. “What about you?”

Tris wrinkled her nose and nudged Lily aside so she could get access to the cabinet. “Blah. Boring stuff. We didn’t find anything special.”

Lily couldn’t help but glance surreptitiously at Tris’ fingers as she fiddled around with the food. She had a ring on her thumb and another two piled on her middle finger. The other hand displayed a rather flowery-looking ring on her index finger.

“Hey Tris?” When the girl turned around, Lily held out the ring she had found on the ground. “Is this yours?”

Tris peered at the ring and then glanced at her fingers. “Nope. I’ve got all of mine here.”

She nodded and pocketed the ring again. She hadn’t expected it to be Tris’.

“But it does look familiar.”

Lily’s head flew up. “You’ve seen it before?”

Tris lifted an eyebrow skeptically. “Yes I’ve seen it before. I do have eyes, you know. And better yet, I use them too!”

“Oh come on, Tris. This isn’t the time,” Lily said exasperatedly. “You could be the answer to everything.”

“That important? Wow. I’m not sure I want to tell you now. You’d probably kill me afterwards.”

Lily’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t really know who it belongs to,” Tris admitted sheepishly. “I just know I’ve seen it around before.”

Lily wondered faintly if choking Tris to death would be penalized by the Ministry. She could’ve said that it was only a slip of the hand, because honestly, she felt the urge to strangle the blue-haired girl.

Tris must’ve seen the look on Lily’s face because she started backing away slowly, a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans in her hands. “Okay now… I’m going to be going. Try to control yourself okay?” And then she fled, leaving Lily to fume after her.

But even though Tris hadn’t managed to come up with a name, she did confirm that the ring belonged to someone in the group. That idea alone made Lily even more antsy. There were only a few people that the ring could belong to, and she already had the top two suspects in mind. The only problem was, could she literally go up to Maxim and Aileen and ask them if the ring was theirs?

Lily started heading towards the common room. She needed a comfortable area to do a bit more thinking. When she entered the room, however, she found Alice sprawled on one of the long couches, her face in one of the decorative pillows. Frank was sitting in an armchair adjacent to the couch, his eyes closed and head tilted back.

She frowned in concern and seated herself on the edge of the couch Alice was lying on. “What’s the matter?”

There was a muffled groan.

Frank lifted his head and eyed her wearily. “That’s the problem. Nothing is the matter. There was nothing.”

“You couldn’t find anything?”

“No. We looked inside and outside but either they had cleaned everything up or they just didn’t leave anything behind.”

“Those sneaky bastards,” Alice growled, lurching up suddenly. “Wait till I get my hands on them.”

Lily patted her head sympathetically. “I’m willing to bet they went back right after we cleaned up. They’re not stupid enough to let possible evidence destroy their plans.”

Frank nodded slowly. “We figured as much.”

Alice pulled herself up and crossed her arms with a scowl. “I’m going to figure this out even if it kills me. It just doesn’t make sense. How could a safe house be breached?”

A sudden thought came to Lily’s mind and she quickly told Frank and Alice of her findings with Sirius earlier that day. They listened with rapture, and when she was done, Alice jumped out of her seat, literally spewing fire.

“Who the hell would be stupid enough to do such a thing?” she shouted, punching the air with a finger. “How dare you think we’re stupid enough to not detect it? You coward! Show yourself!”

Frank grabbed Alice’s arm just as she was about to go rampaging through the house and pulled her back. She was still shouting at the top of her lungs, but he maintained a firm hold on her.

“How did the warning system break?” he called out to Lily.

“I don’t know. We’re waiting for Remus to get back with that information,” she replied.

Alice suddenly stopped flailing and turned to Lily. Her eyes were wide. “Do you think the same thing happened to Frank’s safe house?”

Lily nodded slowly. “It could be a possibility.” She had been entertaining that thought the moment Alice mentioned the word ‘breach’.

Frank’s brows furrowed. “But who?”

“Are you certain everyone was as reliable as you thought they were?”

He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Lily. Just because you guys have a traitor to deal with doesn’t mean every Auror group has one.”

“But you still can’t rule out the possibility,” Alice interjected.

He sighed. “Yeah, I know. I’d just rather not think badly of them, seeing as they’re all gone now.”

Lily grimaced and she couldn’t help but agree. It was always disheartening when the people you trusted betrayed you. She took out the ring from her pocket and fiddled with it, flipping it between her fingers. And whoever this person was, she didn’t think the result would make anyone very pleased.

Lily was startled when Alice suddenly leaned over and rested her chin on her shoulder. She was peering at the ring. “Hey, isn’t that someone’s ring?”

“You know whose this is?”

Alice frowned. “I think it’s-”

Aileen walked into the room. “Hey, have you guys seen-”

“Aileen!” Alice shouted, making everyone else in the room jump. “It’s Aileen’s! I knew had seen it before. It was just taking me a while to match a face to my thoughts.”

Lily turned around. Aileen was frozen, perhaps from shock, perhaps for some other reason. But right at that moment, Lily had never felt more disappointed in someone in her life.

She slowly lifted the ring. “This is yours?”

Aileen smiled. “Yeah it is.” She reached out and took it. “I’ve been looking for it for quite some time. I thought Sirius hid it as a prank again or something.”

Lily struggled to steady her breathing. She had to be calm. She had to be rational. “Aileen, do you know where I found that ring?”

She slowly shook her head. “No.” And then she let out a little light chuckle. “Why do I feel like I did something wrong?”

Lily’s smile was tinged with bitterness. “Because you did.”

Both Alice and Frank were looking from Lily to Aileen and back again. Frank looked extremely confused, but Alice’s eyes were narrowed. She seemed to have caught onto the problem rather quickly and was looking at Aileen with a gleam of distrust in her eyes.

“What did you do, Aileen?” she asked.

Aileen frowned. “What are you talking about?” She turned to look at Lily. “What do you mean I did something wrong? What did I do?”

Lily stood up. “Let’s take this to James’ room, shall we? He deserves to know the truth.”

Aileen was growing frustrated. “What truth?”

Alice stood up as well. “Even though I’m not fully aware of what’s going on, I’m inclined to find out. Let’s go.” She grabbed Aileen’s hand and started pulling her up the steps, despite the girl’s protests. Lily exchanged a look with Frank and beckoned him to follow.

Frank’s eyebrows were way up in his hairline. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Possible traitor,” Lily replied grimly.

He sounded extremely exasperated and a tad tired. “Since when did the trust between Aurors die out?”

“Since Voldemort.”

They had now reached James’ room and Alice unlocked the door. She dragged Aileen in and Lily and Frank followed, only to see that Sirius and Remus were already there, speaking to James.

They stopped their conversation when they saw everyone file in.

Sirius lifted an eyebrow. “Is this some impromptu group meeting that I don’t know about?”

“In a way,” Alice said promptly. She transfigured a teacup into a couch and seated herself on it, pulling Aileen down with her. “We’ve come to sort things out.”

Lily seated herself on the armrest next to Alice. She frowned when she saw that James was looking at Aileen, his eyes narrowed and his head tilted slightly, as if they were engaged in secret conversation. She knew it shouldn’t have, but the fact that they were able to communicate with each other without words bothered her slightly.

She cleared her throat and she saw James break his connection with Aileen to look at her. She spared him a look and then turned to Aileen. “Do you want to know what Sirius and I were doing this afternoon?”

Aileen stared at her.

“We went to check on the protective wards around the safe house.” Lily watched Aileen’s face, which remained neutral. “And then we found one spot in the wards that was completely torn down. Completely.”

She was now standing directly in front of Aileen. “Do you need me to tell you where I found your ring?”

Aileen was tense. Her hands were clasped around each other tightly. “You don’t mean to say… you’re trying to accuse me of…”

“I’m not trying to,” Lily said bluntly. “I am.”

“You’re accusing me when you don’t even have all the facts.”

Lily scoffed. She crossed her arms and shook her head. “Are you really trying to weasel out of it? Are you honestly going to attempt to deny your connection to it?”

Before Aileen could say anything, however, James spoke up. He looked slightly alarmed and a little confused, but when he glanced at Aileen, his gaze was firm, as if telling her that he was going to back her on this no matter what.

“Listen, Lily, maybe you should calm down for a second.”

She was incredulous. “Calm down? James, did you not hear what I said? Don’t you understand the situation?”

“I heard you and I understand you. But I think you’re jumping to conclusions.”

“I’m jumping to-”

“Yes,” James said firmly. He walked towards her and placed both hands on her shoulders. “Think about it. If Aileen did break the wards, why would she go around asking for her missing ring?”

Lily twitched. “How was she to know where she dropped it?”

“But if she was guilty, she wouldn’t overlook the possibility of losing it outside.”

She shook her head and stepped out of his hold. “That’s just your excuse for her, James. You know that.”

Now he was the one who sounded exasperated. “Lily…”

“Okay, okay, let’s stop right here before we get into a needless argument,” Sirius intervened. He threw his hands into the air as a gesture of peace. “Aileen is right here. Why don’t we just ask her for the truth?”

Remus nodded. “Aileen?”

Aileen sighed. “I know some of you won’t believe me if I say I don’t know why my ring was there. But I really have no idea. I just remember taking it off to take a bath, and the next thing I know, I can’t find it anymore.”

Alice lifted an eyebrow. “You’re right. I’m finding it hard to believe you.”

“But why would you automatically think I’m the culprit?”

“There’s no other explanation,” Lily said promptly. “Believe me when I say that I have nothing against you personally, Aileen. But if you are the traitor, I’m sure that I’m speaking for everyone when I say that we won’t let you get away with it.”

“But I didn’t-”

“Give me proof that you didn’t.”

Aileen suddenly jumped out of her seat, her eyes wild. She reminded Lily of a cornered animal. “I can’t give proof that I didn’t because I don’t even know how it happened! Why can’t you give me the benefit of the doubt?” She jabbed a finger at James. “You guys all willingly believe that James didn’t betray us but why-”

“Oh don’t you dare bring James into this,” Lily snapped, fully incensed. “You’re his best friend and yet you refused to give up even the tiniest bit of information to prove that he’s innocent! How can you even expect us to believe you?”

“Hey!” James grabbed Lily’s arm. “Don’t go there, all right? That has nothing to do with her.”

She couldn’t believe her ears. Was James defending Aileen? “What do you mean this has nothing to do with her? You obviously did something for her that got you into this trouble. If she’s a true friend, she’d explain!”

“You don’t know the whole story. Stop jumping to conclusions.”

Now Lily wanted to hit him. She wrenched away from his hold. “Then tell me the bloody story, James! Go on, tell all of us.” Her arm swept the room. “Maybe one of you could be kind enough to let us know what’s been happening around us so we aren’t all stuck in the dark!”

James seemed to realize that he had hit a nerve. His face softened and he reached a hand out cajolingly towards her. “Lily, I didn’t mean…”

“Lily is right, you know,” Sirius said. He looked at James, dark eyes serious. “We’ve been trying to find a way to convince Mad-Eye of your innocence, but you and Aileen are hiding key information from us. How can you expect us to help you when you won’t let us help you?”

Aileen was trembling by now.

James exhaled and shook his head. “It’s not my place to say anything.”

Alice turned to Aileen. “I guess you’re the only one who can help us out here.”

There was a lengthy silence in the room. Aileen was biting her lip so hard that Lily thought it would bleed. Her eyes were wide and glistening with unshed tears, as if she was undergoing a serious mental debate about whether or not she should say anything.

Lily suddenly felt a pang of guilt. It seemed that what Aileen was going through was definitely a traumatizing experience, one that Lily wasn’t sure she was completely entitled to hear. But there was more than just Aileen’s feelings on the line. There was James’ innocence, the breach in the wards, and most important of all, the identity of the traitor. And at the moment, all this relied on Aileen’s story.

James was at Aileen’s side, his eyes worried. Wordlessly, he pulled her into a hug and whispered something into her ear.

Alice glanced at Lily, her eyes troubled. “Are you okay?”

Lily wanted to say that she was most certainly not okay, that she couldn’t believe James was being so intimate with Aileen. But Aileen seemed to be going through a mental breakdown, and she was one of James’ best friends. James was never one who would let his friends suffer alone.

“Yeah,” she finally replied, her smile strained. “I’m fine.”

James had his arms around Aileen for at least another minute. He ran his hand through her hair soothingly and said something quietly, something that made Aileen’s eyes light up.

Lily sucked in a deep breath and willed the sudden surge of jealousy down.

Finally, James pulled away and Aileen took in a deep breath. Her gaze swept past everyone in the room. And then she began to talk.

“As you may or may not know, I was captured by Death Eaters two years ago. Conditions in the cells were horrible and we went days without food or water. Occasionally, Death Eaters would come and visit, and when they did, they tortured us for information.”

Aileen took a shaky breath.

“It was… it was maddening. I had lost count of how long I was there and I had pretty much forgotten everything and everyone. I would hear screams at night and wonder when they were going to come for me. Sometimes, when the pain became too much, I would say something, anything, just to get them off my back.

“And to make sure I wasn’t lying, they’d repeat the question over and over again. I almost always forgot what I had said towards the end of it and then they’d go at it again. For the remainder of the time in the cells, I was always half conscious, half aware of what was going on. I think the Death Eaters thought I was on the verge of death and so they stopped coming for me or paying me any attention.”

Aileen looked towards James then and her eyes held warmth. “And that’s when James and his dad came to rescue me.”

He returned her smile encouragingly. There was a period of silence as everyone tried to digest Aileen’s story. Lily had to admit that she was horrified. While James had told her what Aileen had looked like when he had found her, he hadn’t gone into detail. And now that Aileen had, Lily couldn’t help but feel her heart go out for the poor girl. She had been through so much.

“After I was rescued, it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.” She paused then, as if she didn’t want to continue. “It… it was during this time that I realized… that I realized…”

“Repeated use of the Cruciatus Curse wears the body down. Aileen has panic attacks every time she sees a battle or every time she’s in one,” James said quietly. Aileen sank down into a chair, her head in her hands. “She has to take a potion to relax her nerves or else she won’t be able to fight properly. That’s what I went to get the day Frank’s safe house was attacked.”

Lily’s eyes widened. Alice even let out an audible gasp and Frank had to cover her mouth before she made even more shocked noises. Sirius and Remus stayed still, though Lily could see the worry on their faces. And as much as she didn’t want to admit it, Aileen’s reason for not telling her made sense. If Moody heard about this, it was pretty much guaranteed that Aileen would be forced to go on leave, or until she was cured.

A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Moody can hear everything that goes on in this room.”

Aileen’s eyes widened before she let out a sniffled hiccup.

“We’re going to make Mad-Eye see reason,” James said adamantly. “Aileen performs perfectly well after she’s taken the potion. It’s no reason to stop her from being an Auror.”

Lily nodded slowly and the room was immersed in silence again. She was in turmoil. While Aileen’s story sufficiently confirmed that James wasn’t the traitor, was the story enough to wipe away all her doubts regarding Aileen? What about the ring that she had found?

Alice must’ve had similar thoughts. “But that doesn’t explain why Aileen’s ring was where it wasn’t supposed to be.”

Sirius nodded. “I don’t think Aileen’s the traitor, but what the hell is up with that ring?”

Remus sounded thoughtful. “Did you take a walk on the grounds?”

Aileen shook her head. She had cleaned herself up in the duration of silence and was now looking more like her regular self. “I’m really not sure. I’m thinking someone stole it from me, and when they were breaking down the wards, they accidentally dropped it.”

Frank’s eyebrows rose. “You’re saying someone’s trying to frame you?”

“Not necessarily. They could’ve dropped it on accident and it was just dumb luck that it happened to be right when he or she was breaking the wards.”

Though Aileen’s explanation made perfect sense, Lily couldn’t help but question its truthfulness. There was just an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach that she couldn’t fully explain.

“But who would want your ring?” she asked. “The only people who would have access to it is the eight of us, and I just have trouble imagining-”

“Lily, let it go.” It was James.

She turned to him, her brows knitted. “What? Let it go?”

“Yes,” he said firmly. “Forget about it. Let your suspicions of Aileen go. Now that you know the truth, they’re unfounded.”

“Then how do you explain the ring?”

“I believe her.”

And Lily knew, without a doubt, that he did. She could see it in his eyes and the way he spoke. And the sad thing was, he would probably believe Aileen no matter what she said. She could’ve told him that the grass was purple and he would find it somewhere in him to believe it, no matter how far-fetched it was.

It was this realization that hurt Lily the most. She knew she was being a little paranoid, but to fully excuse all the evidence that something strange was happening was not something James would regularly do. But he was doing it now, and it was for Aileen.

She smiled, almost bitterly. “All right. Fine.” It didn’t matter if James believed Aileen. She would figure this out on her own.

She gave her friends brief nods before she turned to walk out the door. But James was suddenly there, his hand on her arm.

“Where are you going?”

“Out,” she said shortly.

He frowned and his hand tightened slightly on her arm. “Stay, please?” And then his voice lowered. “I haven’t talked to you in so long.”

“Because you were too busy talking to Aileen?” Lily didn’t even bother keeping the bitterness out of her voice. It wasn’t completely her fault that she was jealous.

James looked troubled. “I…”

She took that as an affirmative. “Then what do you need me for when she’s already here?” And with that said, she stormed out the door, slamming it shut in her wake.


----*----



Author's Note: So now we finally know what James and Aileen were hiding. Were you all surprised? People have had a few guesses, and I have to say, they were all considerably accurate :) Have fun reading and please review!


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