Hogwarts Sixth Year

James' POV:

"I don't particularly care," I responded pitifully, munching on an apple without tasting any of it. "I was going to cancel that practice anyways due to last night." Last night did not go as I wanted it to, that was for sure and if the rumors were true the sent letters needed to cease. The choice was not easy, but it was the right one...the fair one to her, as much as my selfish heart desired to lock it away as a secret. Although I'd planned to explain everything to her privately, it'd been too much to expect or hope that's she'd come to the May Ball anyways.

"But you're still planning on practicing Quidditch today? In this ridiculousness," Fred pointed outside, which stormed mercilessly.

"Makes no difference to me," I said.

"You're mental," Fred argued, turning toward Simon for support. "Please inform him that he's mental before I have to write home that the eldest son of Harry Potter lost his last knut and ended up swept away in a monsoon."

"We don't get monsoons," Simon commented listlessly, more sullen and quiet today. Simon wasn't ecstatic over what we'd done either, though he remained a loyal friend.

"Not helping! You-you dreadful dim-witted bystander," Fred pointed at Simon with mock outrage.

Simon rolled his eyes, turned to James, and stared, "You're mental."

Fred clapped his hands and danced around, grasping Simon by the shoulders. "See, James! Even this brilliant bloke is questioning your sanity," Fred cheered.

"Not a moment ago I was a dreadful dim-witted bystander," Simon recalled, sarcastically.

"And here you're a changed man," Fred said dismissively, and frowned at James. "Now what has your panties in a wad?"

"Please refrain from referring to them as panties," Simon groaned. "For the love of Merlin, Freddy. It's creepy when you say it."

Freddy awarded him a mischievous grin and mouthed, "panties...panties...panties" before returning to James and remarking, "I think Simon's new nickname should be 'Panties.' What do you think?"

"Hmm," I responded, barely listening to them arguing. With an easy arch of my hands, the apple core dropped into a nearby trash bin.

"Panties, James. Hmm is hardly a proper response," Fred stated, twirling around in a circle. "Panties. Panties. Panties."

"Merlin, I don't even want to know," Delilah interrupted, and I noticed Savannah shuffling along behind her looking more exhausted than usual.

"Wonderful. Come, my lovely rhubarb," Fred cheered and gestured wildly at Delilah, who quietly seethed at him. "Did you find your gal?"

"Don't call me that," Delilah snapped.

"That's the thanks I get for her waking me up last night?" He turned to Simon, shaking his head dramatically in disappointment. "They say do say it's the quiet ones, after all."

"Shut up," Delilah growled furiously, drawing her wand. "Don't talk about Ainsly like that ever again, or so help me-"

"No," Savannah interrupted, placing a hand on Delilah's shoulder to warn her. "Leave it."

"So where is the missing friend in question?" I asked, ignoring the pain it caused. So what if Ainsly had someone else? It didn't make any difference to me, especially since it all went to shit anyways. "And where's my map?" I asked, not bothering to look at them.

"Here," Savannah hissed, and chucked a crumpled ball of parchment at my right temple. Then she stormed off in a huff, which was arguably that quickest I'd ever seen her travel on foot.

Opening it in annoyance, I noticed in outrage that it was the Maunders map. "Hey!"

"Sorry," Delilah expressed, mouth turned downwards in distress. "She's been really worked up since Ainsly was admitted."

"Admitted?" Panic started to settle within me. "Admitted where?"

"Oh," she cringed. "Don't tell anyone, please. She's in the hospital wing." Delilah rushed after Savannah without another word.

What? I felt myself pale.

.......................................................

Hogwarts (Sly's Seventh Year)

Albus' POV:

Throughout the halls of Hogwarts, there was a pale girl who walked but went unnoticed. Like most students, I didn't know her name, aside from the foul nicknames, like Gray Lady the Second (which isn't very creative, mind you). When talking with Scorpius, he mentioned that she sometimes hangs around his cousin, who's a Greengrass and a Seventh Year, but he failed at being able to recall the girl's name. I'd see her pass by, like a soul wading through the crowd blended into the background. The first time I officially "met" her was in the library, she was just standing at the window with a curtain of wavy brown hair covering her face. My clumsy hands fumbled the books I'd carried, and she watched each spin and corner strike the floor with restrained surprise. The ghost peered at the books for a moment before stacking them up in a neat pile, avoiding my eyes with her body stiffened in defensiveness. I remembered being a fool for not helping. She probably expected me to bully her.

"Thank you," I told her in a soft voice. She nodded without meeting my eyes, pausing only a moment before returning to gaze out the window. The silence continued.

"Hey, what's your name?" I extended my hand towards her, the sudden movement causing her to jolt and stare blindly at my hand. "I'm Albus Potter." She nodded once again at the introduction, ripped off a piece of parchment, scribbled on it with her pen, gathered her belongings, and left without a word. Leaning down to read the parchment, I frowned at her message.

I know who you're, Albus. Thank you, anyways.

Ghost, what's your name? I'd asked in my head, clearly interested in the the fact that I'd been ignored. Not rudely, mind you, but in a voiceless manner that was deliberate. I kept going back to the library and found her staring out the window in the same place, or she'd be writing or sketching. We exchanged a few words over parchment but that was all I heard from her, though she became a regular in my presence, and later Scorpius' as well. The silent Ghost, who's presence I heard so loudly compared to others. "Why do you focus so much on her?" Scorpius asked with a knowing smile. "It's the look in her eyes, isn't it?" I nodded quietly.

Other times, I'd hear whispering between the Ravenclaws that the Gray Lady had been lingering around her in the Ravenclaw common room, chatting with her in murmurs even though Ghost never responded verbally. It was then that I'd learned Ghost's true name: Ainsly.

Months later...

I had argued to keep the Maunders Map because of a bad, twisting feeling writhing in my stomach. The expression on Ghost's face today and her concealed drawings had become growingly disturbing. Scorpius insisted that it was merely my imagination but I needed to know for certain, even if it meant watching her name on the map all night. Ainsly was a curious girl, bullied by her classmates but that didn't appear to be the reason for her recent shattered demeanor. Sure, she'd always been quiet; although, now she's mute. How much can less than a year change someone? A lot, apparently.

And then there was the question she'd randomly wrote down to ask me, only to vanish it away quickly in earnest because she didn't want to share whatever burden she had. However quickly she wanted those words, that question, to vanish, it was for nothing. I managed to read it, and it scared the hell out of me.

Have you ever thought about wanting to die?

What drove her to this point of self-reflection? Did it mean she was thinking about wanting to die? I didn't understand, and when I grasped her shoulders and asked her-no demanded-for her to tell me what she meant by that question, she clammed up. Instead of speaking reason to her, I yelled at her and shook that small frame with trembling fingers. I thought I'd frighten her; yet, I only got a resigned sigh and a dead look fixed in those eyes. Ainsly had ended up walking away from me, just as ghostly as she'd came, and I sat there contemplating everything I should have said. Hold on, please. Whatever you do, don't let go and keep fighting. Don't give up. That's what I should said instead, I was certain of it now and of the fact that I needed to look out for her. Glancing at the clock, it read that it was after 2AM and I was on the verge of nodding off.

Scorpius yanked back the curtains to my bed and glared at me. "Go to sleep," he ordered and picked the map away from me, studying it closely after rolling his eyes. "She's probably still... wait," he mumbled. "She's leaving Ravenclaw Tower."

I immediately jumped out of bed, pulled on pants, and slipped into shoes without socks with my wand in hand. Checking the map, everyone else seemed to be still in bed, except for Ainsly. Ainsly...who was making her way to the owlery, and then changed paths to head towards the astronomy tower. After making it outside as quietly as possible, I began to run as fast as I could on the squelching ground. What she must be thinking?

Eyes squeezed shut, I sprinted faster picturing Ainsly's face while she was drawing. Her blank stares out the window, which always seemed to linger on the Forbidden Forest. Then there was the time I startled her, sneaking up on her to discover those blue-green eyes streaming with tears. Hell, we'd even walked our way to the astronomy tower, so I could visualize her slow steps up the stairs as clearly as her name imprinted on the Map. After almost slipping multiple times and tripping on the steps of the astronomy tower, I yanked the door open to the balcony and found her. "Ghost," I whispered.

Eye lids fluttered shut and back towards the sky, her arms are extended like she's desperately seeking an embrace. It would be poetic and artistic if it wasn't for the terror swelling inside me because that small frame descended backwards, like deaths sick jest at a trust fall. So, being close enough, I reacted instantly and grasped her arm, pulled towards me, and smacked her across the face. When those stormy eyes gazed at me in shock and thick rain fell onto chalky cheeks, I hugged her close.

"Albus," Ainsly breathed, her voice thick and broken. It was the first time I'd ever heard her speak.

"You idiot," I hissed, holding her trembling body. "What were you thinking? I yelled at you, and you were supposed to hold on. Not give up."

"I'm sorry," she cried, shaking terribly. "I just..." A creaking sound entered the thick atmosphere between them and Scorpius, clad in disheveled Slytherin robes and slippers stepped towards them.

"She speaks," Scorpius declared, sounding exhausted. "I'm glad you got her in time. For a minute I thought I'd have to catch her."

"Why? How did you know I was here?" She asked, her voice incredulous.

"Al's been watching out for you all night," Scorpius said, sighing loudly. I felt my cheeks blush at the off-hand comment, avoiding Ainsly's eyes. It probably made me resemble some mad stalker.

"Why?" Ainsly covered her mouth, attempting to blockade the broken dam that slid down pale cheeks.

"Even a ghost needs a friend, right?" The pads of my fingers gently brushed away fallen tears, and then I smoothed a hand over her head feeling like if I held her too tightly she'd break. I won't let you slip away, I promised.


..........................................................

Present Day (One Year Post-Hogwarts)

James' POV:

The phone I barely used, unless it was to speak with Ainsly, vibrated in the pocket of my trousers. A smile broke out when I pulled it out and read the screen, it was her and we'd get to spend the day together on the beach.

"Hello darling," I said, grinning like a fool. There was a long silence, which honestly was what I'd expect from her as a response, but it was too tense. "Ainsly?"

"Oh," her soft voice sounded relieved. "You did know it was me, and here I was thinking I'd have to awkwardly turn you around."

"Who did you think I was talking to?" I asked, switching the phone to my other hand to put my broom away.

"Isabelle," she admitted honestly, and my stomach churned. "Or someone else from your fan club."

"Come on now," I protested. "Be serious."

"Isn't that a part of your 'Sirius' line? But anyways, you did tell me she'd be there, too, so I'm hardly jumping for jimmies."

"Jumping for jimmies...? Like the American ice cream topping," I laughed at her misuse of the phrase, 'Jumping for joy.' "And I know, I'm sorry. Isabelle's father put some money towards the beach house so she invited herself." The explanation sounded lame, despite its truth.

"Sly! Come help Savannah. She's sucking at Dark Souls again," Delilah's muffled voice called from apparently the next room.

"Later," Ainsly replied to Delilah. "Tell her to find a bonfire." A bonfire?

"What's Dark Souls?" My question caused Fred, who was exiting the kitchen with a bag of crips to pause, backpedal, and turn slowly around to send me a curious raised eyebrow. I tried to shoo him away, which only led me to dropping my arm in defeat as he sat down next to me.

"An Xbox game," Ainsly answered.

"Xbox..." Fred's expression morphed into mild amusement and he mouthed, Who's playing Xbox?
I mouthed back Greengrass, which caused Fred to choke on a crisp.

"It's a Muggle video game system," Ainsly explained.

"And a Greengrass is playing it?" I teased, instantly sensing her getting defensive over her friend without having to visualize her expression. Fred apparently found the situation hilarious.

"Yes," she said slowly with only a hint of being peeved.

"Defeat the dark accursed thing in the room, they say so friggin casually," I heard Delilah yell, sounding closer now. "But then you have these little bastards that fall off the ceiling and poof. All your souls are gone because you're dead."

"Poof," Ainsly answered her, sarcastically. "Anyways..."

There was a loud crashing sound in the background on Ainsly's end, followed by Delilah complaining, "Oh come on!"

"Ignore the man behind the curtain," Ainsly commented. "Are you certain there isn't rain in the forecast?"

"Did you just refer to Delilah Ollivander as a male? Oh, I'm so going to tell her," I teased. "And you're asking me about the weather like you didn't check it already."

"Bully," she replied. "And there is a five percent chance of rain."

"A five percent chance! You're kidding," I exclaimed in mock outrage. "Well, I'm packing my parka and galoshes."

"And I my poncho," she offered in agreement. "Shall we shake our fists at Mother Nature together?"

"I'm afraid it must be done," I said seriously. "Hey, guess what?" I smiled, ruffling my hair as I lowered my voice a few octaves.

"What's the notice SCOTUS?"

"SCOTUS...Why do I feel like I was just mildly insulted?" The forced huskiness in my voice evaporated, replaced with genuine flabbergast. Damn, so much for charm.

"I had to find some way to get the Emperor of the Night tone out of your voice," she calmly reasoned. "And it's a reference to the American Supreme Court, actually."

"Emperor of the Night... Why do I feel like I'm venturing down into a rabbit hole?"

"Well, if you are, please send my regards to the Cheshire Cat." If it wasn't for a decent knowledge of Muggle literature, I would have been lost rather than laughing along with her. "On second thought, I sense you might get on with him a bit too well..."

"Do I detect concern, darling?" I gasped, teasingly. "And for me, too. My, what a development."

"Well, I suppose it had to be done," Ainsly deadpanned, causing my chest to ache pleasantly. "So what is it?"

"What is what?"

"What am I expected to guess?" I blinked at her question, momentarily forgetting that I'd asked her to guess. My silence seemed to spur her on. "I prefer to know the actual answer than hypothesize with no prior knowledge, observation, or explained topic of the content."

"That...is such a Ravenclaw answer," I commented, laughing happily. I stretched out on the couch to make my long legs more comfortable, much to Freddy's displeasure. After a moment of consideration, Freddy simply shrugged and continued eating.

"It's better than searching blindly in the dark," she reasoned.

"I feel like I've been in the dark," I stated, dropping my voice down again to that husky tone. "I'm practically on another planet."

"Emperor, you hath returned. Lovely," she stated, sighing.

"Who says hath anymore?"

"All the cool kids, James. Actually..." She trailed off, most likely overthinking it.

"I miss you," I interrupted her pensive state. "When are you coming?" I held my breath for a response.

"Don't you touch that cup!" Delilah screamed, followed by another crash and ominous music. Overall, it was not the response I'd anticipated. "Sly, I told her not touch that cup."

Fred leaned in, resting his thick head against me, and nodded in agreement with the advice he'd eavesdropped on whilst munching. "Solid advice," he interjected. I was beginning to think the Weasley-Potter clan was too comfortable with each other because his actions, or our tangled limbs, didn't bother me at all.

"Hit the gold bracelets," Ainsly yelled back. "Sorry, it's a bit...interesting over here. What did you say?" Disappointment began to settle in as I realized she didn't hear my most recent confession.

"Oh," Delilah said, sounding devious. "Are you on the phone with James?"

"Nope, it's Fransisco. My...fish guy," I heard her lie in a deadpanned tone and had to cover up a snort. "Hi. So sorry. Everyone is so chatty today. It's rather exhausting."

"What type of fish would you like, Milady?" I asked, attempting to sound serious. A lengthy silence followed. I began listing with my fingers, "We have mackrel, trout, tuna-"

"Oh you heard that," she laughed. "Tuna. Is it dolphin friendly?"

"It's certainly friendly," I flirted, insinuating that I'm friendly. Wink.

"But is it dolphin friendly," she insisted.

"I'm must admit that I've not been adventurous enough in that department to try it out with a fish," I joked. "I'm fairly certain it's a crime."

"Oh," Ainsly said, realizing his insinuation. "You meant...that." Sex? I could hear the uncertainty in her voice and began to backpedal in my teasing.

"Listen..."

"Emperor! How shocking of you," she accused. "No one likes sexual harassment, James."

"James?" I heard Delilah laugh. "I thought you were talking to your fish guy. Let him know I'm making you fabulous."

Ainsly sighed heavily. "James, I'm going to have to call you back. The devil is currently lingering over my shoulder right now."

"I knew it was James!" Delilah cheered. And then the line went dead.

Fred munched on another crisp, swallowed, and smirked. "Does she live in Hell or something?"

I certainly hoped not.
..........................................................

Sly's POV:

When I was a child, I often did two things: sat in a closet and walked in the forest, both of which involved me escaping into an imaginary world inside my head. If the sound of fighting got to be too overwhelming, I went there carrying a notebook by my side like luggage. Starting at Hogwarts opened up the opportunity for me to broaden my imaginary world, and the exploration of the magic world had turned it into a reality.

The waves crashing against the shoreline in the distance should have been calming, but there was something about the angered tide and sound that drew the eyes. It made me skeptical of its depths, rather than the soothing balm everyone else experienced.

Sitting at the table on the other side of the beach house, my eyes read a book in one hand while the my fingers of my other hand traced patterns into a bit of sand. It was a warm afternoon, so Delilah had insisted on a bathing suit while Savannah gratefully stowed away a cover into my bag. When they'd gotten to the beach house, Savannah and Delilah had dashed away. Well, Delilah had at least.

A loud creak rang out from the doorway, causing her to jump and drop the book. The books pages fluttered and the spine sank into the sand, but it didn't appear to be damaged. I looked over toward the sliding door and saw James standing a few feet away from her, the door now closed behind him and a sheepish look on his face. He was sporting a white t-shirt and a pair of turquoise swim trunks, which should have looked ridiculous yet managed to bring out the green in his hazel eyes. As usual, James also wore a wide grin.

"What do you think you're doing?" I exclaimed, my hand rubbing over my racing heart.

"Did I startle you?" James asked. He chuckled deeply and slid into the seat across from me. "Sorry, you were so engrossed in your book you didn't hear me tap on the window for you. What are you reading?"

"It's about the war in America," I explained, waving the book slightly before closing it and putting it away. He was now lounging on the chair, feet dangling off the side, back against the wall of the house. "Between No-Mag's and magic folk."

James smiled warmly and cocked his head to one side, reading the spine of the book. "You can take the girl out of Ravenclaw but not the Ravenclaw out of the girl."

"How has your day been?" I asked, returning his smile. It was pleasant to have him acting in a friendly manner again, she had missed it.

"Pretty exhausting," James replied, faking a yawn. "Haven't been sleeping too well, so I nearly nodded off while we prepared a luncheon for everyone today.
Pulling my legs up onto the chair to hug them to my chest, I laughed lightly. For some reason I couldn't picture him cooking. "Poor boy," I smiled.

"Boy?" He raised his eyebrows, bright eyes gleamed as he puffed out his chest. "How insulting," he pouted, folding his arms across his broad chest.

"To the man or the ego?" I teased him, returning that infectious grin.

"Would I be a man without the ego?" He winked.

I laughed, cheeks faintly blazing. "Is that your logic?"

"Not exactly," he answered, vaguely. He fixed his gaze on the ocean waves. "Want to go for a walk with me?"

I started to get up from my seat. "Yes, sir." I nodded and waited for him to start walking. James was look at me strangely, the corners of his mouth perked upwards.

"What am I your captain?"

I clicked my heels together and gave a salute, "Aye aye."

James laughed, unable to contain himself anymore. "Stop. Your deadpan jokes always kill me, Ainsly. I can't handle it."

James jogged backwards next to me and I rolled my eyes. The show off. "So who is supposed to come to this thing again?"

"Just a handful of people," he said casually, listing some people I knew and many I didn't. It made me exceedingly nervous that I was about to be interacting with some of the people I hadn't seen since graduation from Hogwarts. And it wasn't a secret that I disliked crowds, not to mention Isabelle. "Ryan told me that he likely wasn't showing up."

I froze; my limbs refusing to obey walking along with James. "He...was invited?" There was shock in my voice, bewilderment writhing around in my gut until it formed nausea.

"I know he was an ass the other night..." His eyes were filled with worry, the green in the irises darkening anxiously. "But if he is to show up then that will not happen." The reassurance fell on deaf ears. My therapist would definitely be against this obvious blow to my mental health.

I huffed, an awkward cross sound between a laugh and a hiccup. What's wrong was I needed to get away from here before I drove myself insane. All I could manage to conjure up on my brain was the night of the May Ball, and how Isabelle had cornered me later to laugh in my face about being stood up. About how Admirer was all lies and how they all laughed at my pathetic letters. It was mortifying; seeing half the school laugh at a situation I didn't fully understand. That Admirer had been some game orchestrated by phantom puppet masters, the only ones I really was ever able to identify were Isabelle and Ryan. Regardless of who showed up at today's part, I had every intention of avoiding those two like the bloody plague.

My hand found the crook of James' elbow, and my fingers pressed into his skin while my gaze flew to his face. James' hand covered mine on his arm, giving it a slight squeeze as he glanced at the ocean. A guarded expression crossed his handsome face. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"For inviting him?" My gaze concentrated on the crashing waves as we walked.

The silence lengthened before he answered, "I'm sorry for a lot of things." He stopped me, the hand on his arm grasping and intertwining with mine. With his other hand, his thumb swept my cheek in a caress. A loud bang sounded from the beach house, breaking the moment and any further conversation between us. James' thumb still lingered on my cheek, as the beautiful Isabelle Wood leaned against the wooden deck staring straight at us. She looked anything but pleased.

Here we go.

................
I could see James and Freddy practicing dueling on the shoreline, taking turns dipping beneath waves what laughing like children.

"Gosh, catering this place, too. The staff is plummeting nowadays," an icy voice asked, stepping out onto the deck in designer heels.

I ignored her, hoping she'd go away as an adult even though the wish was never fulfilled while at Hogwarts.

"What are you doing here, loser? I don't see the Gray Lady wandering our beach house, so get lost." Isabelle sneered at me, swirling the glass of red wine in her hand.

"I was invited," I said carefully.

"Please," she scoffed, pursing her red lips and ran a hand through her hair, straighten it out. "A ghost is what you're, darling. Remembered by no one."

"Center of attention," I pointed out to her. "It's what you need, or you don't feel good about yourself, right?" I got up and walked away from her toxic presence.

"Whatever freak," she scoffed from behind me but thankfully didn't follow me. I kept walking until there was only the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline, and only then did I allow myself to drop down into the sand. It's not like I was hiding exactly my brain argued, instead it was more that I was reaching my limit of social interaction with unpleasant people. The people whom targeted me at Hogwarts.

What had I been thinking agreeing to endure this?

........................

"Hey." I jumped at the sound of the familiar male voice and turned around to find James adjusting his glasses, while his other hand rubbed a towel on his wet hair. "Everything alright? I didn't see you when I came back in with Freddy."

"Mmmm," I responded, uncertain if I should attempt explaining my discomfort. The air in my lungs felt trapped, like something was clogging my throat.

"Tell me what's going on so I can help, or talk with you about it," he whispered.

"I don't think you can help," I murmured, tucking my chin against my knees. At my words, James frowned and ran a hand through his hair in restrained frustration.

"I can let you be, if you want..." He trailed off, cringing as he raised to his knees in preparation to get up.

Shaking my head, I grasped the bottom of his swim trunks to stop him. "No," I said, softly. "Don't leave. Stay." I was trying to work out what I was going to say in my head. Did I want him to know why I didn't want to be around Isabelle? Ryan?

"I'm not going to leave you. I never was... I just wondered if you needed some space to think." He wrapped his arm around me, slowly tightening and questioning with his eyes. "This alright?"

I nodded. He wrapped his arm tighter around me, which somehow allowed air to fill my lungs more easily. The clog was dissipating like a cloud of smoke escaping out an opened window.

"Better?" His voice vibrated the question. I nodded, again, and rested my head on his shoulder. James had said that Ryan might not come, so I should just focus on my breathing and not freak out. He might not even come.

"James..." I turned to face him and felt like I was punched in the stomach. The sun was setting low in the sky, casting light on his head and bringing out the red in his hair. When I looked into his eyes, the light played with the colors of his irises until they changed to green behind his glasses. I was utterly struck by how beautiful James Potter he was in that moment. My fingers itched for my pencils and sketchpad.

"What?" The corners of his mouth perked upwards, resisting a self-conscious laugh. "Do I have something on my face?"

"I want to draw you," I stated without thinking.

"Yeah?" James smiled, the action genuine without an ounce of the arrogance I'd fearfully anticipated. "Tell me why you'd want that, Ainsly." He inched closer to me, so near that I could smell the salt on his skin.

"You're beautiful," I blurted out. Then, after I realized what I'd said, my hand slapped over my mouth. His chest vibrated in silent laughter.

"You think I'm beautiful," he joked, pulling my hand gently away from my mouth. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for him to make a vain response. "Ainsly... Open your eyes, please." The warmth of his body radiated, sending tingles up and down my body as I refused to look at him. My face felt hot, indicating the blush that was sure to be flaming my cheeks right about now.

I cleared my throat, but didn't comply to his request. "Ainsly," he sighed, lacing his fingers through mine. "There is something I need to tell you...it's rather important."

"But?" I whispered, keeping my eyes firmly closed.

"But I'm afraid you'll hate me," James said, so softly that I almost didn't hear him. "And..."

"And?" I asked.

"And," he hesitated, sounding very uncertain. "I want to ask this time before I kiss you."

I held my breath. My heart felt like it was about to burst out from my chest at the thought of his lips on mine again.

"Ainsly?"

Oh right, I hadn't given him my reply. "Yea-" I cleared my throat nervously before I continued. "Yes, James." My eyes didn't see his expression, but I felt his face nearing mine long before his breath stirred a whimper from my mouth.

"Are you sure?"

I nodded and my skin burned it a wonderful way as his lips met mine. His lips barely brushed mine for a moment when a shrill cry came from behind us.

"No way! This is a joke. You weren't seriously going to kiss this loser," Isabelle shrieked. James shifted his body so that I was behind him.

"Stop it, Isabelle. Leave her alone. This is none of your business," James said, his voice firm but calm. Isabelle looked like she wanted to lunge and claw my eyes out.

"None of my business," she laughed. "Right. You know James, you should have clued me in sooner. I would have totally been on board to laugh at the freak again, like old times." Isabelle was bent at the waist, shaking with laughter. And when I looked confusingly up at James, he just suddenly appeared terrified.

"Isabelle, she's my friend. More than a friend and-"

Isabelle interrupted him with another bout of laughter. "More than a friend? You're being with the girl you bullied at Hogwarts, really James?"

If I thought James looked terrified before, it was nothing compared to the expression on his face now. Sure, James had been a prat at Hogwarts and he'd ignored me when I was being bullied but he... He was never the aggressor. I felt confused.

"What is she talking about, James?" Air rushed around us from the storm that was picking up, and a clap of thunder rang in the distance. My brain barely processed any of the impending weather, though. I was bewildered, and yet, a feeling of dread that fell into my stomach like lead.

"She doesn't know?" Isabelle stopped laughing, but her mouth was fixed with a cruel smile.

"Isabelle," James shouted out, trying to get her to stop. He stepped towards her, grasped her shoulders, and shook her. But Isabelle just kept her icy blue eyes on me.

Isabelle seemed even scarier than usual because she was quiet, contemplating what she was going to say before she said it. "He didn't tell you, that handsome git, did he? Do you really think that it was Ryan who sent you all those letters?"

"Admirer," I whispered, my ears processed the sound like I was deep in a hole. My whisper was only a mere echo, as my body became a shell. Isabelle's smile was slow and satisfied at my reaction.

"Yes, Admirer. You didn't think it was Ryan, did you? No...it was James. He picked you out of everyone, picked a nobody freak and then he laughed. He laughed with all of us when you got stood up and cried, limping your way back from the owlery with your tail between your legs."

"I don't..." I trailed off, staring down at my hands. "Your lying. Why would...? James?" My eyes searched for James and I felt my heart breaking. Freddy wouldn't meet my eyes either. I felt sick.

"Ainsly," James pleaded. "I didn't know you then...I'm so sorry. Please." He tried to reach for me and I stumbled backwards, tripping to the floor as I tried to get away from him. To be touched right now was unthinkable, revolving even. "Ainsly, wait, please..."

I started running. Did that mean that he knew about Ryan not standing me up? That Ryan gave me a potion, carried me from the owlery, and fucking assaulted me in the Forbidden Forest. I'd never limped my way back at all, which had me confused by Isabelle's words. Sure, I'd waited for Admirer for hours until I fell asleep in the owlery. And then Ryan had shown up...and I'd been so tired. Too exhausted to resist and comprehend what kind of potion he'd given me. I just accepted that it was a Pepper Up Potion, and it only got blurrier and progressively worse from there.

I squeezed my eyes shut and ran harder, pushing myself far away from the sound of James calling my name. I wouldn't let them see me cry, that was one vow I'd made to myself. No matter how hard they tried to break me, they'd never see the shattered, fragmented puddle that I'd become.

Not knowing where to go, I ran into the house. My feet felt so heavy as I leapt up the stairs and I found a bedroom. Air was choked from my lungs, as I opened a closet door and sat on the plush carpet. I only allowed myself to silent tears when I was seated on the floor, immersed in darkness. The smooth wooden door felt soothing when I leaned my forehead against it. Grounding myself on that sensation, I desperately tried to learn how to breathe again.

I heard pounding footsteps on the stairs and then voices outside the bedroom door. Someone was screaming a whole lot of profanities at James, Isabelle, Freddy, and even Simon. "You need to stay away from Sly. I swear if you so much as look at her, I will hex you into oblivion." I wanted to laugh, it had to have been Delilah screaming at them. I heard the door open to the bedroom and stiffened my body, going into a shell-like position with my knees up to my chest and my arms holding myself together.

"Get the fuck away from my best friend, Potter." A stunned, tense silence followed as I realized it was Savannah who had been speaking clearly.

"Please," James pleaded. "Just let me talk to her. I know I was a horrible prat. I know what Ryan and everyone did harmed her, but-"

"Harmed her?" Savannah laughed sarcastically. "What he did destroyed her, Potter."

"What?"

"Don't play stupid. He probably bragged so much about getting action, that it didn't matter..." Savannah's tone was icy. "But it did matter...and Delilah and I were the ones that found her in the Forbidden Forest. To hell with him, and to hell with you, Potter."

"Are you saying that he...?" James voice sounded breathless, like he'd been kicked in the stomach. Multiple times. "That they?"

"There was nothing bloody consensual about it, so don't even try to insinuate that," Savannah growled.

"No, Ryan couldn't. He wouldn't..."

"James," Delilah was so calm and the voice of reason this time around. It was as if Savannah and her switched roles. "After we found her, Ainsly wouldn't talk. But we saw the marks on her, the bruises, and her clothes were...torn," Delilah sounded like she wanted to cry. "She was in the Hospital Wing and then she wouldn't..." The sound of sobbing entered the room.

My body rocked back and forth on the closet, desperately seeking serenity as tears rolled down my cheeks.

I don't quite remember how I got home. But even when we did get home and I was burrowed in blankets, I still couldn't calm down. More than anything I wished I was a ghost, so I could curl up small and simply vanish.

................

It is said that during times of extreme stress other painful memories can resurface, plaguing the mind like a festering wound. Perhaps that is the reason I remember my father more clearly that night, while I was cold and alone in my room.

Flash.

All around me were church bells that I thought were supposed to chime hopeful melodies, instead of all this darkness. My sore bottom fully ached from the wooden pew, just as my knees did from folding down in prayer. The man giving the sermon was stoic, delivering the message, which was referred to as The Path, with influential purpose to convict a foreign group of people, the Other. As every dutiful daughter of The Path, I listened to what was supposed to be my faith, and undoubtedly my future.

"In the words and text of our Savior, there are no references to the goodness in the Others. All that is found within them is witchcraft: a poison that needs to be purged and cleansed from this world. My children, I am but a pillar for our Savior who strives to protect you," he announced, taking long strides across the alter. "I have my own child, just as many Others and the people of The Path do, and sacrifices must be made. Just as Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22: 2-8). And just as God has commanded again, with these Others, sacrifices will be made." My father's eyes scanned the crowd of worshippers until they landed on me. "Sacrifices. Even if it is within my own blood."

My aching body begged to fall and curl up on the floor. Why do I feel so cold? What did I do wrong? Again?

"But they're just children," someone yelled from the crowd, attempting at reason. "Your own girl-"

My father's expression didn't change as he considered the person's words. "I understand your concerns and compassion. Yet, of course God demanded sacrifice. He is holy, He is offended by sin, and He demands sacrifice to cover sin, appease His anger, and restore fellowship with sinners" (Genesis 22). And then the mouth of my father bloomed into a saddened smile. "The faith of the Path lends you their strength, God's strength. And in return, won't you be the ones to help?"

"Praise the Path!" Someone cheered, followed by another and another, until there was a standing ovation. Meanwhile, if you peered closely, one would find a young girl curled into herself, trembling in a pew on her knees and brown hair shielding a pale tear-streaked face.

"Isaac! Sacrifice the child! Abraham offered his son, his only lovely son, as a burnt offering. We must appease and sacrifice," a woman next to me called, grasping onto my small arm and dragging me to my feet. To my mother's horror, I was forced to the alter where my father was standing, now perched above me like a lion crouched over a pathetic mouse. No that wasn't right, instead it was more like a lamb ready for slaughter. Biblical really.

Wobbly knees filled with fright fell to the hard, beautifully carpeted floor below my father. Only to have my arm painfully squeezed and almost yanked from its socket from the cold, penetrating eyes and hands of my father.

"Get up, girl. You good for nothing, serpent." My father was the master of a verbal tongue lashing, and because I was different I heard it daily.

This scene played in my mind on repeat over and over all night, creating a vicious cycle that was critiqued and meticulously analyzed. No, it was dissected. Focusing on that face, the familiar stature and name until I dragged out my laptop and searched recent articles on No-Mag's in America and backtracked. The burnings, drownings, beatings, trafficking, and corruption erupting from the mouth of the president. Eradicate any existence or trace of magic from the soils of the States, which are being polluted by these dangerous population that is taking over our streets. And then, as if never been erased from my conscious, there he was. My father, dressed in the robes of The Church and that stoic, ageless stature, sat at the table influencing the President of America.

Stuffing the articles and laptop in a bag with some clothes, I pocketed my wand and traveled down the stairs to board the next bus. A crazy notion, this is why I decided to end up knocking on the door of Malfoy Manor at 6AM. It was raining

"May I help you?" Draco Malfoy asked, polite but bewildered at someone calling at such an hour.

"My name is Ainsly Murphy, sir. Is Scorpius around?" I asked awkwardly, shuffling my feet nervously because I'd anticipated a house elf to answer.

"Get inside before you get soaked," the man in front of me ordered, though the dark rings beneath his eyes sang a sad song. Once inside, he asked if he could take my jacket to be dried and I nodded gratefully. With my jacket over his arm, Draco Malfoy shuffled away and called out, "He's not awake yet, but should be up soon. Shall I put some tea on? You look as if you haven't had breakfast yet, as well."

I flushed, feeling like I was being intrusive and that I should decline. Then, I saw the dull look in Mr. Malfoy's eyes that I easily could identify: loneliness. "That would be lovely. Thank you, Mr. Malfoy."

He nodded his head. It was bizarre be served tea early in the morning by Draco Malfoy, I decided.
After setting down the cups in the kitchen near the fireplace, I shivered at how quiet it was here. His gaze moved to the window, to the rolling black sky and gathering lightning streaking across the sky. "Looks like it's getting worse out there. Good you came when you did."

I nodded my head respectfully again, yet didn't say anything.

...........................

I don't own Harry Potter! Or any of the like content. Of course, I also don't own Alice In Wonderland, The Bible, Dark Souls, or the United States Supreme Court. Wouldn't that be interesting? Haha

Thank you and review!

A lot happened on this chapter.

1. What do you think about James and Sly?
2. What about the relationship of Al, Scorpius and Sly?
3. Reveals about Ainsly's past, opinions?

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