Mirabella Zabini popped into existence in the middle of her bedroom, immediately turned for one of the doors into a smaller side room, loosening her formal robes along the way. As she passed through the threshold, her skin tingled against thick wards, insulating the room beyond from the magic outside. A flick of a switch on the bottom of the clunky plastic box had the monitor taking up a significant portion of her desk powered on, but it would be a few seconds for the image to actually be legible. (Her computer was a significant improvement over the system she'd bought only two years ago, but it could still be a finicky, frustrating thing.) She had her robes off and folded in her arms before she could finally make out her calendar.

It looked like she didn't have to be in Cork for about an hour and a half. She'd be in Ireland rather late, since it appeared she had an eight o'clock dinner with Aiden and whoever would be representing a certain client of theirs, but that wasn't unusual — since she was often stuck at the Ministry in the morning, her business in Ireland usually did keep her late to make up for missing half the day. During the summer, anyway. The Department of Education practically went into hibernation from September through the end of April, which she'd always thought was a little odd.

Well, she didn't have to be in Cork for an hour and a half assuming the wards hadn't slipped and cut off the internet again. She'd missed a couple meetings with investors the last time that'd happened. It'd been boring nonsense about minor changes in the tax code, which she couldn't bring herself to care about, but it had led to awkward questions from the Board she couldn't really answer.

After all, it wasn't like she could explain to anyone at the company that she had to maintain her own wards because seemingly nobody else in the entire bloody country was concerned with getting modern technology to work in a magical home. Being charged with a major violation of the Statute of Secrecy would be so very tedious.

Switching the monitor back off, tossing her robes aside to be dealt with later, Mira started off for the kitchen. It wasn't much of a walk, only a few doors further from the foyer down the main hall. (She'd quickly realized it was much easier to wire and isolate rooms on the ground floor, packed together as closely as possible, so it'd just ended up that way.) She heard Blaise's voice coming from ahead — not unexpected at this time of day — but he was clearly talking to someone else. The doors muffled the sound too much, so she couldn't be sure, but it didn't sound like Mary. She should be here any minute, probably, but Mary did have that adorable accent, the cadence of her speech was rather distinct...

Perhaps it was one of Blaise's school friends? She sighed and turned back to her room to fetch her housecoat. For some reason her son seemed to be uncomfortable with her wearing only her knickers in front of them, especially after she'd overheard that Finch-Fletchley lad telling him she was... What was the word again? Oh, yes, a MILF. She smiled over the memory. Muggles had such charming turns of phrase.

Mira froze just a couple steps into the kitchen, blinking thoughtlessly at the scene inside.

There was Blaise, of course, leaning against the long granite counter down the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest and lips twisted with obvious frustration. An amused-despite-himself sort of frustration, judging by the softness in his eyes, but still frustration. He barely glanced at her for a second before turning his mild little glare back to the girl at the kitchen table.

Because there was a girl sitting at the table, one who had made herself quite comfortable in their kitchen, given the steaming cup of tea in her hand. There was an odd, lurching moment, Mira's mind harshly splitting between memory and the present moment. Because she knew this girl, instantly. That untameable mass of black curls, that mocking light in her dark eyes, that tilt to her lips that couldn't seem to decide if it wanted to be a teasing smirk or a reckless grin. Hell, she even recognized the way she sat, with the heels of her boots planted on the gleaming wood of the table, her posture almost confrontational in its lax ease, as though daring anyone to tell her to sit like a proper lady, dammit.

To see that girl in this place, in this time...

Everything clicked into place in her head in about two seconds.

A smirk belying the chastisement on her voice, Mira said, "Really, Trixie? Time travel?"

Trixie turned to her — and it was her, she could overlook her being miraculously young again, because it was certainly her, she hadn't the slightest doubt — and her smirk collapsed into an exaggerated pout. "Of course you figure it out instantly. You know, it's no fun making people guess when they get it right the first try."

It took her a second, blinking down at her, to organize her thoughts again. She'd forgotten how adorable Trixie had been when she'd been little.

("I would have gotten it eventually," Blaise said defensively.)

("Like hell you would have!" Trixie retorted.)

Then again, maybe she'd simply never noticed. She had been rather preoccupied by her own adorableness at the time.

"Hold that thought," she said, turning on her heel to go find the telephone. This called for a change of plans for the evening. If Aiden didn't like it, well, there was always a competent Assistant Vice President or two just itching to move up.

Five minutes later, Alex given the order to cancel everything, she wandered back into the kitchen.

"Mother, is this by chance Bellatrix Lestrange?"

Mira raised an eyebrow, glancing between the two of them, her gaze lingering on her...well, best friend was probably the most appropriate term, though it didn't quite seem sufficient. At age...thirteen, or thereabouts, "Bellatrix Black, I imagine."

Blaise grinned — a rare sight, that. "I knew it! You're such a bad liar!"

"No you didn't, you guessed six other people! And that's even knowing I was a time traveller!"

"If I might interrupt for a moment?" Mira interjected.

Trixie turned to her in a floof of curls. "What is it, Zee?"

"Not that I'm not glad to see you, but what are you doing here, of all places?" She turned, popping herself up to sit on the counter a couple feet from Blaise. "And times? You did come from the past, didn't you?" As much as she did enjoy her, Mira did have a life she'd rather not see obliterated in Trixie's wake...

"Yep." Gods and powers, she still popped her 'p's at this age. So cute. "Nineteen Sixty-Three. And before you say it, don't worry, I came in on Lammas through one of the Black properties, the Department of Mysteries shouldn't even know I'm here. Nobody even knows I exist, which is actually kind of my problem."

"Nobody?" Mira repeated.

"Well, Meda, obviously, I stayed the last two nights at her house. Did you know my niece is a metamorph?"

"Yes, I did." In point of fact, she had made an effort to keep an eye on all of Trixie's family in her absence, writing them on the holidays and following their careers. Nymphadora was particularly impressive. Made her glad to have tracked down the Tonkses and invited them back to Britain when the war had subsided.

"Yeah, she's fun. Snuggles in her sleep even more than you do, though." She shrugged. "But anyway. I assume you also know what's happened to the House of Black in my absence."

Mira rolled her eyes. "Probably better than you do, if you've only been here two days."

"I know, I have so much catching up to do. But first, I hear you're a Director in the Ministry now. Can you get me papers? And get me into Hogwarts? I wasn't planning on it, but it looks like I'm going to have to take up residency in the Castle again."

She had also forgotten that at this age, other people, even Mira herself, had been very much means to ends for Trixie. Not that she had ever entirely grown out of that, but Mira liked to think that she, at least, had grown to hold a special place in what passed for the heart of Bellatrix Black.

"Of course," she agreed. Even though this very clearly wasn't her Trixie, she wasn't in the habit of refusing her favors. Or hadn't been, when last they'd spoken, at least, and theirs had never been the sort of friendship to deteriorate over time. Though she did have to ask, "Why?"

"Well," Trixie said, with a heavy, overly exaggerated sigh. "Much as you know I enjoyed Hogwarts for its own sake, I hear Sirius has escaped from Azkaban, and rumor has it he's headed to Hogwarts. I'm planning on fixing the House, so beating the little tit there and saving his soul from the dementors when he finally shows up seems like a logical first step. Did he grow up to be as annoying as he sounds?"

Mira had heard that rumor, too. The Ministry was a bloody sieve when it came to keeping secrets, so of course it had gotten out the same day his escape had made the Prophet. So far as she could tell, it was even true: the Dementors had been questioned by the Aurors, who had shared their findings with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Apparently Sirius had been muttering constantly to himself for the week or so before his escape: "He's at Hogwarts, he's at Hogwarts."

"Hello? Zee?" Impatience. Irritation. So familiar.

She jerked back to the present moment, hard enough she was sure she visibly twitched. "What? Oh, yes, unfortunately he did grow up to be rather irritatingly self-righteous. Though I suppose that's only to be expected of Gryffindors." Trixie gave her an odd look at that, not quite the irritation of a moment before, not sure how to read it. "And Hogwarts is as good a place to start looking for him as anywhere, though I'm not certain how much credence I'd give to the insane mutterings of a man who's been in Azkaban for the past twelve years. It will take a few weeks to grease the right palms, but it should be done well before the start of term. I'll just need to know your cover story..."

"Hmm," Trixie hummed. "I definitely want to be a Black."

Mira somehow managed to not roll her eyes — she wouldn't have expected anything else.

"I've been thinking maybe a 'muggleborn' descendent of one of the Squibs Who Did Not Exist. Marius would be good. I haven't decided on a name yet, though."

There was no way Mira was going to allow herself to be drawn into the black hole that was the Black Family History trying to find an appropriate pseudonym. "Well, figure it out, and let me know, but don't take too long about it," she said, then quickly cast about for a change of subject. (It was a little weird, Trixie being thirteen again, she was trying not to think about it too hard.)

Her son had been lounging quietly off to one side, watching their conversation with an avid interest, contributing nothing for quite some time now. He would do. "You look like you have questions, Blaise, dear."

"Just one," he said, a hint of a smirk playing around the corners of his lips.

"Well, what is it?" Trixie asked impatiently.

Blaise ignored her, holding Mira's eye, all the better to catch any momentary flash of reaction as he asked, "Were you fucking my godmother?"

"Godmother?" Trixie repeated.

"You, genius."

Well...she hadn't been expecting that to be his one question, but then, she had rather put him on the spot. "Yes, obviously." (That was, after all, the best part of why she was trying not to think about it too hard.)

Shooting her a rather doubtful sort of look, Trixie said, "Okay, now I've got a question. Why the hell would you name me as a godparent?"

Mira started to answer — Trixie had actually been very good with children, had raised Narcissa to be a formidable witch, at least — but she was almost immediately cut off.

"Wait, no. We were fucking? When did that happen?"

Mira had to think about it for a moment. Walpurgis of their third year would have been... "Spring of Nineteen Sixty-Four."

"Oh." Trixie looked flummoxed. Mira presumed she was trying to decide whether that would have happened in her own timeline, if she had stayed out the year. She was willing to bet yes, given Trixie's comment about Nymphadora's sleeping habits.

"Yes, oh. Honestly, I wasn't being subtle about my interest, even as early as the end of first year."

"You...weren't? Maybe it was different in my timeline."

Called it. It was...strangely reassuring, that she still knew her former lover so well after all these years. "I practically sat on your lap in the common room every evening, made you hold my hand through the halls, slept in your bed more often than mine. I kissed you goodbye when we got up in the morning! What did you think I was thinking?"

Trixie just blinked at her for a second, shrugged. "Okay, maybe it wasn't different, then. But why would I possibly think that your touching me all the time and randomly deciding that my bed was more comfortable than yours meant you wanted to have sex with me?"

On the one hand, that comment was adorable in its innocence. On the other, it reminded Mira of exactly what experiences Trixie had had of sex at this point in her life, which was anything but adorable. She chose to let her face fall into a rueful smirk, rather than draw attention to the matter, however. Trixie had never been one to dwell on her father's abuse, after all.

Blaise snorted with half-suppressed laughter. "She's funny," he said, sounding somewhat surprised. "You're funny," he repeated to Trixie. "I can see why you two were friends."

Trixie was wearing the slightly frustrated, slightly irritated expression which meant she most likely thought Blaise was being sarcastic, but whatever she might have been about to say in response to his perceived mockery was interrupted by Mary's arrival.

It had been a bit of an adjustment, muggle servants. The Zabini family had always been relatively well off in their own right, with an elf to keep the house and make the meals, but this house had been Jonathan's before their marriage and his subsequent...demise. She hadn't even had to do much to kill her fourth husband: he'd very conveniently had a heart attack when she'd told him about magic. Well, more precisely, when she'd decided to demonstrate by levitating him into a somewhat adventurous sexual position which, quite frankly, he couldn't have maintained on his own. Perhaps when he'd been a younger man, but alas...

The muggle servants had come with the muggle mansion: the man who kept the grounds and his wife, who did the shopping and any other errands; a trio of girls who came in to clean weekly; and the man who maintained the house and Jonathan's fleet of absurdly expensive automobiles (which, as Mira didn't drive, had remained virtually untouched for nearly a decade, now). Those she had kept after ascertaining that none of them had a problem working around magic — it had come as a bit of a shock at first, but they'd all adjusted easily enough. But not the cook, he'd been a nightmare. French trained, thought his opinion of his food was the only one that mattered. She hadn't even considered telling him about magic. Mary, a middle-aged, second-generation Pakistani immigrant with a penchant for experimentation in the kitchen, had been a fixture for years now, arriving every day to whip up a quick lunch and staying throughout the afternoon to put together more elaborate suppers and breakfasts to be reheated in the morning.

The idea of muggle servants (or human servants in general, really) had struck her as odd at first, and it had taken some getting used to, but she didn't mind them at all now. She thought she might actually prefer them above elves. Humans did tend to be more creative — elves only rarely took initiative on anything — and they were certainly far more interesting to talk to. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that their company was one of the reasons she chose to spend the majority of her time here, rather than somewhere more convenient to work.

She did have to pay— Well, she didn't have to pay them at all, but the Ministry would probably take issue with her keeping bewitched muggle slaves. It had never been common, but some wizards had done that here and there, not even all that long ago, though she was all but certain it would be illegal under current muggle protection laws. In any case, she didn't have to pay them quite as much as she did — she'd done a bit of research as to how much people tended to make doing this kind of work, and had added a good ten to twenty per cent on top for good measure. She'd long ago noted employees were more generally pleasant if they liked their employer, and simply giving them more money was one of the easier ways to ensure they did.

And, well, it wasn't like she couldn't afford it.

Trixie cut off at the rear door swinging open, staring at Mary as she stepped inside. In her usual jeans and brilliantly colorful knit jumper — Jonathan had insisted on the oddest uniforms for his people which Mira had never gotten used to, she didn't bother — long black plait disappearing behind her back, her familiar overlage handbag slung over one shoulder, she jerked to a halt a couple steps into the room, blinking over at Trixie. She, of course, knew all of Blaise's friends by now, well enough to be thrown by an unfamiliar face. "Er..."

So Mira made quick introductions. Trixie raised an eyebrow at her when she explained, just for clarity's sake, that Mary was a muggle, but didn't comment. (Which was a little odd, but she wasn't complaining: she was all but certain her Trixie would have, and said comment would not have been complimentary.) Mary gave her an even stranger look when she explained Trixie was one of her old classmates having made her way here from three decades in the past, and would be staying with them for the foreseeable future, but she didn't comment either. (Presumably travelling forward in time was no stranger to Mary than any other piece of magic she had witnessed and brushed off in the past, though Mira herself was still somewhat thrown by it.)

Mary started digging through the cabinets, proceeding with her usual programme after the introductions had been made and pleasantries exchanged. Trixie stared at her back for a few seconds before finding her voice again. "So the Statute of Secrecy... It does still exist in this timeline, right?"

"Of course it does. I don't tell all the muggles I meet. It just makes things far simpler if some of them know." Mostly just the help, honestly. And since they had been live-in when she had married Jonathan and moved in with four-year-old Blaise in tow, they were — or would have been — considered exceptions to the Statute anyway. Co-residents of a dwelling with an underage mage were allowed to know, if only so the Ministry didn't have to waste resources constantly obliviating them of any accidental magic they might witness. Technically they were supposed to have been obliviated when they moved off-property, or at the latest when Blaise had started school, but she must have overlooked that niggling detail. Along with registering them as exceptions in the first place. Oops.

She had been wavering on whether she should bring Sam in, which would be a blatant violation of the Statute, but she hadn't made a decision one way or the other yet.

"And you meet that many muggles, do you?"

Blaise let out another snort, halfway between chuckling and scoffing. "She runs a muggle tech company. She spends more time around muggles than mages these days."

Mira didn't quite manage to fully suppress her wince. She'd rather Blaise hadn't brought that up, at least not so soon. Trixie could be a bit...odd, about muggles, though exactly how that odd looked had changed dramatically over the decades. The last few years, toward the end of the war, she'd swallowed perhaps a bit too much of her own propaganda, but when she'd been younger she'd just been...dismissive, was the word.

When Trixie had been this age, she had considered the only real value of a muggle to be their potential use as a ritual sacrifice. By and large, she had been completely apathetic to their existence. Not that she hadn't been equally apathetic toward mages with nothing to offer her, just. She supposed mages had, on the whole, had more things Trixie had wanted.

She expected this Trixie to kick up a fuss about it. Perhaps not as much of a fuss as her own, older Trixie would have, and not for the same reasons, but even at thirteen, she had had a tendency to point out any irrationality on Mira's part, and argue into the ground the pointlessness of such irrationality. Voluntarily associating with muggles would certainly qualify as a pointless exercise in the mind of even a young Trixie, and Mira would be hard-pressed to convince her otherwise, given that she considered them worthless animals.

(She chose not to look too closely at the reasons she cared so much what Trixie thought of the rationality of her motivations.)

She knew, of course, that she would have had to tell Trixie eventually, assuming she stayed here in the present, but she would have preferred to wait until she'd had time to sound out Trixie's opinions on this sort of thing, she had no idea how she'd react.

But what was the worst that could happen? Mira did have something Trixie wanted, she reminded herself. And it wasn't as though she would be the first person to tell her she was turning her back on her own people, she'd been called a blood traitor more times than she could count, but from Trixie of all people it would be...

Trixie stared at Blaise for a few seconds, blinked twice. Then she turned to Mira, head tilting and single eyebrow cocking. "There good money in that? I thought you were planning to just marry a bunch of rich guys and kill them off for their fortunes."

Any relief that this Trixie was able to deduce some reason for Mira's muggle life was drowned out by shock that she'd so openly mentioned the Black Widow Plan. "Er..." Mira stuttered, shooting a glance at her cook. She really didn't want to have to obliviate her tonight.

"Pas devant les domestiques," Blaise hissed with a grin, quite loudly enough to be heard by everyone, including Mary.

Mary herself let out a snort of laughter, not even hesitating as she continued with whatever she was making. "Quite a coincidence with your luck, Mira."

Right, laugh it off as a joke, then. "Just because I married well doesn't mean I'm a murderess," she said in her most defensive, poshest tone. "Jonathan had a weak heart, and poor Jack, falling asleep at the wheel — he always did work too much." And then, before Mary could respond, she changed the subject: "In any case, yes, the money in technology is very good. With the yearly exchange caps the goblins impose, I can't transfer much of it to the magical economy, but it would work out to over six hundred thousand galleons, easily. I'm probably richer than the Malfoys by this point."

Frowning to herself a little, Trixie asked, "Do muggles even have that much money? No wait, that was a stupid question — there are more of them, obviously their economy is bigger."

Even if Mira were given time to respond, she'd have no idea how she should react to Trixie giving muggles even that much credit.

"In my time, there were a couple Blacks who were playing around with muggle real estate, but they never made nearly that much gold off of it. I suppose the possibility just never occurred to me. If it's working out for you, then, great, I guess." And she shrugged.

Shrugged.

Mira had been getting the feeling this Trixie was not quite the same person as the one she'd known. Very similar, of course, but not the same. But nothing she'd said so far was quite as jarring as that right there. It was disorienting.

She had absolutely no idea what to say.

Luckily, she didn't have to come up with anything. Her voice thick enough with exasperation the trace of an accent she'd inherited from her foreign-born parents was a little more noticeable, Mary said, "Blaise, have you been doing magic in here?"

Blaise looked slightly irritated with the question. "I know which rooms I can't use magic in, Mary."

"Well, someone did." Mary prodded at the buttons on the stove again, but nothing happened. The timer had even gone blank.

Mira frowned, looking around the room. Now that she was paying attention, she saw the display on the microwave had gone dead as well, and the lights were dark. Of course, there were enough windows in here, squirreled into a back corner of the house as it was, that the lights weren't always necessary, so she hadn't thought twice about it. But it was also oddly...quiet. Tilting herself off the counter, she walked over to the refrigerator, yanked the door open.

Then immediately slammed it closed. "Damn it. Did you use any magic in here, Trixie?"

Trixie seemed entirely unaffected by the accusatory stares she was getting from all three of them — which came as no surprise, of course. She pointed at the pot of tea in front of her, a single eyebrow ticking up. "Obviously."

Mary let out an aggravated groan. "Why didn't you just use the hob?"

Eyes flicking around to the various muggle appliances in the room, sounding slightly annoyed, "Excuse me, I don't know how any of this stuff works."

"Well, they don't work now," Mary said, giving the buttons another demonstrative jab.

Trixie blinked. "Oh. So that's what all that sparking and popping was. Oops?"

Sending a baleful sort of look at the sizeable pile of dough she'd already managed to put together while the three of them had been talking, a long sigh escaped through Mary's teeth. She stood there in silence for a long moment, eyes closed, fingers of one hand rubbing at her forehead. (Meanwhile, Blaise stared at Trixie, and Trixie stared back, both visibly unamused with the other. Adorable.) Finally, Mary straightened, turned to Mira. "So... Thai, then?"

"Sure, go ahead and call it in. And give Aaron a call while you're at it, he'll be needing to order replacements. Oh, as long as you're in there, make sure everything in the office is still working too." While the muggle rooms were isolated from each other, the wards separating them weren't nearly as thorough as the ones isolating them from the rest of the house. A simple boiling charm shouldn't have done any damage over there, but it was possible. Especially since computer technology tended to be relatively sensitive. "I'll be in here seeing if anything's salvageable."

"Right." And Mary was gone, still shaking her head to herself.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize—"

"It's fine, Trixie." Of course, she didn't believe for a second Trixie actually was sorry — she could count the number of times she believed Trixie had honestly felt remorse for doing anything ever on the fingers of one hand — but it didn't really matter. Since they'd moved here Blaise had slipped plenty of times, and even she'd done it more than once. It wasn't like she couldn't afford to replace the things Trixie had inadvertently ruined, it was just slightly inconvenient. "Why don't you two go get acquainted while we're straightening everything out. Blaise, be a dear and point out the muggle rooms for her, hmm?"

"Sure, Mum." Blaise tipped down to his feet, giving Trixie a look. (Mira couldn't see what kind of look, since his back was to her at the moment.) "Come on then, Black. I think you've done enough damage here for the day."

Trixie smirked, somewhere between doubtful and challenging. After all, Mira didn't believe Trixie thought there was such a thing as enough damage. But, with a last glance at Mira, she followed him out of the room.

By the time Mary returned a few minutes later, the face of the display on the stove was hanging half off, the food processor, the mixer, the blender, the toaster oven, and the dehydrator were laid out on the long central counter half-disassembled. Mira was standing in the middle of the mess, screwdriver held between her teeth, changing one of the lightbulbs in the fixture over the counter. (Only one of them had gone out, but for even that Trixie must have put far more into that boiling charm than necessary. It took quite a lot to burn out a bulb, especially when switched off.)

Warily watching her, Mary said, "I really wish you wouldn't do that, Mira. It makes me nervous."

Mira couldn't help smirking to herself a little (which was a little awkward, with a screwdriver in her mouth). She finished twisting in the bulb, pulled the thing out from between her teeth. "I know what I'm doing." Bending over to put a hand down on the edge of the counter, Mira hopped back down to the ground. Smirking at the younger woman, "And, really, even if I do hurt myself, one wave of my wand and I'm fine. What's the harm?"

Mary was giving her a look, one that very clearly said that's not the point, but she didn't bother saying it out loud. She knew by now there would be no point to it. "Sent out for Thai, it should be here in a half hour or so. And Aaron said he'll be in tomorrow."

"Right." Waving a hand over the appliances spread out over the counter, Mira said, "All of this is dead." Well, that wasn't entirely true: she could probably get the toaster oven working again without too much trouble. But she'd have to order parts. It just wasn't worth the effort. She walked over to the oven, flipping one of the knobs back and forth, one of the burners flaring to life before going out again. "The hob still works, but I'll need to get Sam in to fix this mess," with a disgusted wave at the display. She didn't bother checking the refrigerator or the microwave — they both knew from experience that, if anything else in the room had been affected, they'd both be total losses.

"You're bringing Sam in just to fix your oven?" Mary said it with a tone of shocked disapproval, but her face was showing clear amusement.

She shrugged. "Sure, why not? I am his boss." Only because Sam vastly preferred his lab job above management. He was a co-founder of the place, after all, he could have virtually any executive position he asked for — she'd even been concerned he would be made CEO after Jack's death before she could convince the Board to let her have it. But it wasn't what he wanted, it wasn't what made him happy, so he remained where he was, quite possibly the most highly-paid engineer in the industry.

Of course, asking him over to fix things for her was still odd, just not for that reason. Sam still wasn't entirely comfortable with her existence, and it got awkward sometimes. But, this neither surprised nor bothered her. Nobody would suggest marrying and later murdering someone's oldest and closest (practically only) friend shouldn't lead to an awkward moment here or there.

As it was, there wasn't much else she could do about all this at the moment. There really wasn't much else for Mary to do today, either. After putting a preserving charm on the dough she'd put together — stepping out the back door quick to cast it, of course — Mira sent her off home. With a last exasperated look out over the ruined electronics, she left to track down Blaise and Trixie.

That was still a strange thought, that Trixie was here, and suddenly thirteen again. She'd mostly managed to hold it in actually talking to her, but it was...

Anyway, it didn't take very long to find them. Blaise had apparently decided to hole up in the muggle parlor, which came as no surprise — he probably spent as much time in there as anywhere else, these days. She'd been intending to walk right in, announce herself with some joke about what trouble they'd been getting into without her.

But, without really thinking about it, she stopped just before the threshold. She could see them in there, talking. Blaise had laid himself out on one of the sofas, hands folded behind his head, Trixie sitting on the one next to it, leaning against the armrest with her feet folded under her. (Still wearing her boots, of course, couldn't expect her to avoid putting them on the furniture.) Half an ear to the conversation, it sounded like they were talking about timelines and such. Searching out the major differences between this world and the one Trixie had come from.

And Mira hesitated. She couldn't say exactly why.

They were just talking. She meant, they were talking, there was nothing really "just" about it. The subtle fascination on Blaise's face and voice was completely expected, but Trixie...

It should go without saying that Trixie had never really had much in the way of friends. Her patience for other people, outside of a handful of select individuals, had always been perilously thin. At Hogwarts, the other students had only ever been a means to an end for her, if she cared to notice them even that much. From what she'd seen, Mira was the only person her age Trixie had ever spoken to as though she were...a person.

And there was something about it, the way Trixie was looking at Blaise, the tone of her voice, that...

No, Mira wasn't going to go in there right now. Not while it was still...fragile, she guessed.

So instead she quietly padded away, squirrelling herself away with a pile of files. There was always reading to get through, after all.

She was only a few pages into a highly technical report on one of Sam's current pet projects, which she honestly couldn't begin to fully understand, when the pages were suddenly cast in flickering light. Very green light. Following the roaring of wind and the crackling of fire, she glanced up in time to catch Alex step out of the floo. The younger woman spotted her instantly, an annoyed grimace crossing her face. "There you are! I've been calling you for ten minutes now."

Mira ticked up a single eyebrow — really, she only had the one telephone, it wasn't like she could hear it all over the house. "I was under the impression we canceled all my appointments. Did something come up?"

And the annoyed grimace just got more annoyed. But that wasn't entirely new. While she had been gifted with a rather pretty face, and greater unconscious grace than muggleborns tended to have, Alex couldn't exactly be described as the personable sort. Which made her a perfect fit for her secretary, as far as Mira was concerned. After all, a not insignificant portion of her job was telling people to piss off.

Mostly, it was directed at the more annoying people making demands on Mira's time, but Alex's ire was sometimes directed at her as well. Working for her was hardly the life Alex had dreamed for herself when she'd learned of magic, but muggleborns didn't have the best prospects, even after the ineffectual reforms Dumbledore's people had been pushing this last decade. Mira had thought it best to have someone who knew of and preferably could use magic, just for the sake of convenience, but few mages knew the first thing about...well, anything necessary to do the bloody job. It hadn't taken her long to find Alex. The tetchy woman could be rather irritating at times, though she didn't have a whole lot of reason to be — honestly, with the exchange rates being what they were, Mira was paying her far more than she could ever expect to make on the other side. But, despite how irrational it was, she mostly didn't let it bother her.

Alex was hardly the most difficult person to get on with she'd ever known. After so long playing nice with Death Eaters, anything Alex could do or say was really quite adorable.

"Yes," Alex said, the bite on her tone almost thick enough to be a proper snarl, "we had, but Aiden isn't taking no for an answer. He's been in your local office panicking ever since I told him. You really need to take care of it."

Mira let out a long sigh, her head falling back against the sofa. She'd expected Aiden would be uncomfortable hosting these particular clients on his own — they were probably their largest customer, after all — but she hadn't thought he would panic quite as much as he evidently was. He was new to executive management, promoted from within all the way from an assembly tech. He still wasn't used to this sort of thing.

Perhaps he hadn't been the best choice for the job. But, personally, Mira thought it only made sense for the VP of Operations to have intimate familiarity with...well, operations. And he was perfect with the day to day stuff. But dealing with customers and investors really wasn't his comfort zone.

Not that that sort of problem was at all unusual in the industry. Bloody nerds.

In any case, it appeared she'd have to talk him down herself. "All right. He's still in the office at the plant?"

"Should be." With hardly another word, Alex was disappearing back through the floo, Mira already up and making for the only telephone in the house. Which really was quite inconvenient sometimes, only having the one. But wiring and warding more rooms would be exceedingly complicated, it wasn't really worth it.

In barely a minute, she was flopping into the chair in front of her computer. She picked up the phone, dialed the proper number from memory. The first ring hadn't even finished when the receiver at the other end was snapped up. (Rather roughly, by the sound of it.) "Mira?"

At first, she was a bit annoyed with Aiden answering her phone like that, but after a second she put it together. Her calls usually went through Alex — how many people even had the number for the direct line? "Yes, Aiden, it's me. I hear you're having a touch of nerves."

Aiden practically exploded at that. The high, rapid-fire ramble went on for an impressively long time, in fact. Man clearly had decent lung capacity. And he wasn't slowing down at all, going on and on and on, voice somehow becoming both higher and louder as he went. She wouldn't be surprised if he hurt himself at this rate.

Or passed out, she guessed. Hopefully he wouldn't fall on anything. Couldn't exactly go throwing around repair charms over there.

Really, she shouldn't be surprised at all. This sort of thing wasn't close to anything like where most of Aiden's skillset lay. It was too... Oh, she wasn't sure of the word. Perhaps if it were any other client, she might be able to cajole him into dealing with it himself, but these nerdy types could get a bit flustered when it came to anything at all to do with Big Blue.

It had to be a good two minutes before Aiden even stopped to take a breath. She marveled again at his lung capacity. Made her wonder what— No, Mira, behave. "Fine, fine, you win. I'll be there. I just had a minor family emergency to deal with, but it's fine."

That actually got Aiden to jerk to a halt, his relieved sigh cut off halfway through. "I... I didn't— I mean, is Blaise alright?"

"Yes, he's fine." She paused for thought, briefly enough someone as socially graceless as Aiden probably wouldn't even notice. "My niece just showed up on my doorstep. Doesn't have anywhere else to go, I'm afraid."

"Oh, damn, I'm sorry, I had no idea." To his credit, he actually did sound sorry. Enough to almost make her feel guilty for the lie.

Who was she kidding, of course it wasn't.

"I mean, if you need to be there, we can...reschedule, or something..."

She almost had to laugh at that. Reschedule? They were going back to California the day after tomorrow. There wasn't really anywhere left open in their timetable to shuffle things around. What would he propose? That they talk shop over elevenses? "No, it's fine. Everything's settled well enough Blaise can take care of her. I should be in in...oh, an hour or so, I suppose."

"... An hour? Where are you?"

Mira blinked. Oops. "Somewhere an hour away, obviously. See you soon, bye." Without waiting for a response, she hung up.

The Statute of Secrecy really was a pain sometimes.


"Okay, so you already know about the kitchen. That's Mother's study," Zee's son pointed at a closed door. Apparently he actually planned to do as he had been instructed, showing her the "muggle" rooms. "I can't imagine you'll spend much time in there, but there's a computer, and they're even fussier than the kitchen appliances, so don't even think about using magic in there. This is the lounge," he continued, leading Bella into a large parlor. All of the furniture was oriented around a boxy device with a black glass panel built into the front. "That's a television," she was immediately informed. "They sometimes explode if you short them out, so no magic here, either. Basically, just don't use magic in this wing of the house anywhere."

Bella wasn't really listening. "I still can't believe Zee has a kid," she muttered. Out of all the unexpected things she'd learned about her best (okay, only) friend's future since arriving unceremoniously on her doorstep and discovering that she was keyed into the wards, that was the one that she couldn't really reconcile.

That she was somehow a Ministry Director and not doing a bad job of it? Almost expected, now that Bella had had time to get used to the idea. There had been hints, in hindsight, that Zee was going to be a political force to be reckoned with. They would probably have been running Slytherin by the end of fourth year, if Bella had stayed.

That she apparently lived half in the muggle world, with muggle servants and a muggle fortune? Not so strange: Zee had always been pragmatic. Money was money and power was power. Sure it was kinda weird that she had decided to go the muggle route, but maybe it was a matter of opportunity. There really were a lot more muggles than mages.

That she had apparently decided to selectively forego the Statute of Secrecy and was (probably? She thought Blaise's pas devant les domestiques had been a cover-up) marrying and murdering men for their money was the least surprising, really. There was a reason she had been able to befriend Bella in the first place, and her lack of respect for rules, laws, and social expectations was a large part of it. (Even if she did inexplicably insist on pretending to be a kind and decent person.)

But there had never, ever been any suggestion that she might someday want to have a kid. In fact, Bella distinctly recalled Zee being noticeably uncomfortable interacting with Cissy on the few occasions she had visited Bella over hols. It had been all the more memorable because Zee was generally difficult to discomfit. She'd had the distinct impression that Zee simply didn't like kids.

"Seriously, were you an accident of some sort?" she asked Blaise.

This she had more than half expected to irritate him, she was still trying to work out his buttons, but he just grinned, flopping onto a sofa so gracefully it was difficult to believe he was really a thirteen-year-old boy. "More like a challenge. According to Mother, she met my sire in Spain while mourning the tragic loss of her second husband," he twisted his face into an overly exaggerated sad expression.

"Okay, wait, how many husbands has she had now?"

Blaise's tone changed abruptly, quieter, more serious. Businesslike, almost. "Six. Jonathan and Jack were muggles, the staff know about them. This house was Jonathan's, he was number four, died when I was four. She inherited the tech company from Jack — he died in Nineteen Ninety, number six. She's engaged to another wizard, now, from California. Wedding's over winter hols. Funeral's the summer after next. Invitation only, please R.S.V.P."

His delivery was delightfully deadpan, startling a genuine laugh from her. "I'll be there. So Spain?"

"Right, yes. So mother was in mourning, I imagine you can picture the scene." More dry, deadpan humor. She was beginning to recognize the spark in his eye that suggested sarcasm.

In point of fact, Bella had no idea what Zee might be like having just successfully murdered a man, but she knew her well enough to guess that her attitude had been more celebratory than mournful. "Go on."

"Well, Mother was minding her own business, mourning her husband, when a man approached her, looking to take advantage of a pretty, young, helpless widow."

Bella snorted at the idea of Zee being characterized as "helpless", especially if there was a man about. Even last year, most of the the male teachers had been putty in her hands as she flirted and charmed them, staying just on the right side of too forward. (There had been one or two notable exceptions, whom Zee had quickly concluded must be wizards' wizards.)

"Hey, she was only twenty-seven, that's still young. Anyway. This man seduces her over the course of a few days, finally convinces her to bring him back to her rooms, where she promptly turns the tables on him.

"See, this 'man' is actually an incubus, she could feel the dark magic in him from the first moment he turned on the charm, and she's been planning for the past few days to use an old spell to place a binding on him, because no one beats Mirabella Zabini at her own game.

"So they have sex and he tries to feed on her but she casts the binding on him, and he's trapped. Her slave, the only conditions for release being her choice or his child. If he managed to get her pregnant, the binding would be broken, otherwise, she would have to grow bored of him and release him."

"Wait, your sire was an incubus? Aren't they supposed to be, you know, intangible, can't have children with mortals?"

"Technically he was only half incubus, but."

"That doesn't solve the problem, you realize."

Blaise gave her a liquid, thoroughly uninterested, one-shouldered shrug. "I did get this story from Mother, you realize. It could be a complete load of rubbish for all I know. Does it really matter?"

Bella actually had to think about this one for a moment. Did it actually matter? Maybe not. Though if it was somehow true, the fact that Zee's child was technically demon-spawn would go a long way toward explaining why she hadn't just got rid of it as soon as she realized it was there. Demon half-breeds were supposed to be impossible, after all. Making one would be an achievement of sorts. "Still think it's impossible, but fine, whatever."

"Oh, impossible, says the girl who travelled forward in time."

"That was an accident. Or if it was on purpose, it was Eris's doing, not mine. I meant to go back three decades. This is the opposite of what I was aiming for."

Blaise looked intrigued. "Eris? Like the goddess? Are you a black mage?"

"What?" Bella was somewhat startled. "Of course. Didn't Zee tell you? I can't imagine she doesn't know." Bella hadn't told her explicitly about her Patron yet, since admitting to being a Black Mage was tantamount to admitting to any number of Azkaban-worthy felonies, enacting Black rituals on a regular basis and all. But if they had really continued their association for years, she was sure it would have come up eventually.

Plus, Blaise had just claimed demon blood, and all but admitted that Zee was a murderer. It wasn't as though he had any room to judge.

"Shockingly enough, we don't talk about you much, seeing as you've been in Azkaban for yonks. What's it like, being dedicated to a Power?"

Bella made a dismissive pft sound. "Mostly like having this voice in the back of your head that never answers when you need them and otherwise hardly shuts up."

No response from Eris. That was odd. Maybe she was focusing on Other Bella. Bella gave a mental shrug. Not like her occasionally disappearing was unusual: case in point, more like.

Blaise looked rather nonplussed. "And it's her fault you're here? Your patron's."

Bella nodded. "Got us sucked into a different timeline. I'm still not sure where this one diverged from mine. I really need to find a few days to just catch up on history and see if I can narrow it down."

"I might be able to help with that," Blaise volunteered. "What have you found so far that's different?"

Bella sighed. She hadn't really been planning to do this right now, but she supposed it was as good a time as any. "Well, for one thing, my Transfiguration Professor is the Head of the Wizengamot? How? Why? He's just— It's even harder to see Dumbledore as the Chief Warlock than it is to see Riddle as a bloody Dark Lord, okay. And Professor Riddle would be a terrible Dark Lord. But Dumbledore has even less people skills! Why the fuck would he go into politics?"

"Riddle? I've never heard of a Dark Lord Riddle."

"He went by Voldemort, apparently."

"Wait. The Dark Lord was one of your professors? What did he teach?"

"Defense Against the Dark Arts, obviously. He was pretty good, too. Not as good as Ciardha, but still pretty good."

"Ciardha?"

"Monroe. My tutor."

"The Ciardha Monroe was your tutor."

Bella shot him a flat stare. "Heir Presumptive of House Black."

"Oh, yes, how could I have forgotten. This is the same Ciardha Monroe who had all those adventures, and disappeared in the forties?"

"Well, no, obviously not. He was still around in the fifties and sixties in my timeline. Just saw him last week. But I think so? He did have some really wild stories, like the time he ran into a basilisk in some old Indian tomb and stole one of her eggs."

Blaise giggled.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing. Just, apparently anyone can take down a basilisk. There's a rumor Harry Potter killed Slytherin's just this past year."

"Oh, he didn't kill it, that's what makes the story so fantastic." Bella frowned. Harry Potter was certainly a person she ought to know more about, especially since he seemed to be somehow related to Professor Riddle's downfall, but they were getting far enough off track as it was. "Not important. Not right now, anyway. So Riddle and Ciardha and Dumbledore are all significantly different, but Dumbledore's the oldest, most likely to have been alive when the timeline diverged. What do you know about him? How did he get into politics?"

"Well, aside from what's on his Chocolate Frog card... As far as I know, it wasn't really his choice. Going into politics. Or, he could have said no, but the temptation of power was just too strong when it was offered up on a silver platter." This last was said in a rather mocking tone. "And he thinks Slytherins are easily corrupted!"

"Who was offering power on a silver platter? Oh, wait! That's another thing! I wasn't sure at first, but what the fuck is up with the way everyone talks about school houses here? I mean, sure, I make fun of Hufflepuff every now and again, but Meda and Nymphadora kept saying things about Slytherin and Gryffindor like they're, I don't know, really serious about it. Like school houses actually matter outside of it."

She got a rather odd look for that one, but Blaise answered the question easily enough. "If I had to guess, I'd say that's because the Dark Lord and well, mostly you, actually, used Slytherin as a major recruiting ground, so everyone else pretty much thinks we're all evil, now. Well, that and Dumbledore being Headmaster. He's not exactly subtle about his preference for Gryffindor. Just outright gave them the House Cup for the second year in a row."

"O...kay," Bella said, stretching the word out. She still wanted to know more about the House thing, but Blaise had just brought up Dumbledore again. And she supposed it wasn't that weird that he'd been made Headmaster, he had been a teacher for bloody ages, and who knew how the Board decided those things? But, "Aren't Headmaster and Chief Warlock both full time jobs?"

Blaise gave a derisive snort. "He's also the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation."

"The what?"

Her blank-faced confusion startled a laugh from Zee's son. "Oh, wait, you're serious?" Suddenly Blaise seemed equally confused.

"No, he's my cousin. Yes, I'm serious! What's this International Confederation thing?"

"It's...the international governing body that enforces the Statute of Secrecy?"

"You mean the European Council of the Accords?"

Blaise frowned intensely. "Yes? I mean, I think that's what they were called before, you know, Grindelwald killed off like, all the European noble houses."

Finally, familiar ground! "So Grindelwald existed, and it sounds like his war was way more successful than it was in my world?" That would put the point of divergence somewhere in the 1930s, if not earlier.

"Uh, yeah. Successful. You could say that. He outright killed most of the aristocracy, after all. I mean, most of his reforms so far as being rights and the regulation of magic are concerned were only accomplished after Dumbledore defeated him, and he's been trapped in his own prison for the past fifty years or so, but he pretty much broke Europe, so, yeah. I guess so."

Everything started to fall into place. Dumbledore going into politics — if he had been the one to defeat Grindelwald (she wasn't even going to dwell on why or how her Transfiguration professor had been going around defeating Dark Lords) it would have been harder to avoid political prestige than it would have been to leverage it into all sorts of ridiculous positions, like being the Lord of Hogwarts and the Chief Warlock at the same time. Professor Riddle becoming a Dark Lord, his weird fixation on muggles and muggleborns — It sounded like Grindelwald hadn't really gotten to Britain, but his populist rhetoric would have been a great threat for Professor Riddle to rally the ruling class of Britain against. (Murdering the majority of their Continental peers would have been quite threatening.) Even her own madness and the fall of the House of Black made sense in a universe where they had had their own Dark Lord on their doorstep, been intimately involved with his campaign — especially since he had apparently lost.

"Oh, okay then. So I basically ended up in a universe where things went the way I was planning to push them, if I had actually gone back in time. I guess that...kind of makes sense. Right. So about names, I was thinking maybe Meissa."

Blaise frowned. "Wait. That's it? Just, okay, that has to be the point of divergence, moving on?"

"Well, what else is there to say?"

"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "What's your world like? How is this one different, maybe, other than the Houses and Dumbledore and apparently Voldemort teaching Defense?"

Bella sighed. "Well, it's only Nineteen Sixty-Three there, so I'm not sure how much difference you'd see because of the time and how much because of the timeline. Grindelwald's war never really got off the ground in my timeline, so Europe is still ruled by the Nobles. It's not that different from the Twenties, or even the turn of the century, really. Dumbledore is Head of Gryffindor and my transfiguration professor. Riddle is Head of Slytherin and teaches defense. The Head of the Council of the Accords is some Frankish witch, I think her name starts with a 'C' but that's not really important. The political parties in Britain are basically Traditionalist and Progressive, but they're both about a hundred years out of date, since their leaders are pushing one-twenty. The Minister is pro-Ministry, which isn't exactly the same as Progressive, but definitely not Traditionalist. Mostly he and the Traditionalists and Progressives spend a lot of time arguing and sabotaging each other's attempts at legislation."

"That's the same here," Blaise informed her.

"Not surprised. What else... Oh, the Minister is muggleborn. That whole anti-muggle, pro-muggle protection, anti-muggleborn, muggleborn rights thing isn't nearly as big a deal in my timeline, probably because Grindelwald never got big." That was the impression she'd gotten, anyway, flipping through those Prophet articles. She was hardly an expert at this point, though.

"Of course." Blaise smirked sardonically. "No revolution means no counter-revolution."

Bella let an eyebrow tick upward at that. She hadn't credited Blaise with knowing anything, really, but maybe he was smarter than he looked. "Exactly. And no spark for the radicalization of the Traditionalists that Riddle seems to have militarized in this timeline. Tensions are building of course, because Grindelwald's war never happened, so the restructuring of Europe that you mentioned didn't happen, and everyone over there is pretty discontent with the Nobility, but the Wizengamot has been giving over more power to the Ministry to placate the masses, so we're more or less well out of it in Britain."

That was, in fact, the entire reason Bella had decided to go back in time in the first place: it was looking increasingly unlikely that Britain would ever overturn its status quo without some sort of outside influence. As a wealthy and privileged member of the ruling class, of course, she shouldn't be complaining, but the members of the ruling class who actually did the ruling were so out of touch and hide-bound... It was like a constant itch in the back of her mind, knowing that the world would continue as it was unless she went out and did something about it.

"Let's see... The Americas are pretty much ready to go to war with Europe over the Statute, but they'd have to get far more organized before they'd actually do it. Carthage was just taken over by another Dark Lord in Sixty-Two. China... No one ever really knows what's going on in China, they've been maintaining their isolationist policy since the end of the Opium Wars in Thirty-Nine. The Black Cloaks —"

"You still have Black Cloaks?" Blaise interrupted. "Grindelwald had all ours assassinated in the early Forties."

That made sense. If she were trying to destabilize the world political scene, she would have international agents of law and order like the Black Cloaks assassinated, too. "Yeah, they've been decommissioning since the muggle colonies are all more or less independent now, so they have their own local treaties about the Statute. Not completely, of course, but we're not enforcing it anymore, just kind of monitoring the local situations."

"Hmm... I think most of that sounds the same," Blaise said. "The international stuff at least. As far as domestic politics go, we have the Traditionalists who are mostly Dark, and the Light, who are mostly Progressive, but not actually progressive like Mother, more like American Civil Rights -era progressive. Then there's the Neutral Bloc, for those like Mother who don't really agree with either of the major parties. Dumbledore leads the Light, of course, and they've been in ascendence since the downfall of Voldemort, since so many of the Dark, Traditionalist houses were openly or ideologically aligned with him, and oh! Mother! I didn't see you there."

Bella turned to the door. Zee was indeed there, fully clothed, now, and looking like a proper adult, albeit a muggle one. A skirt-suit, she thought that was called. It was terribly risqué by magical standards: the blouse dipped down practically to her navel, her breasts hidden only by the ruffles of the collar, framed by the jacket in such a way that the eye couldn't help but be drawn to it. She was wearing high-heeled shoes and her legs, clad in some sheer, skin-tight silky-looking material, were visible all the way from her ankles to up past her knees. Auntie Walburga would have had hysterics if she had seen it. Bella smiled at the thought.

"Dinner's here," Zee said, holding up a brown paper bag that Bella hadn't noticed.

"And you're going out," Blaise observed. "Don't forget to use a condom," he added, with the spark of mischief that signaled sarcasm in his eye.

Bella had to wonder what exactly a condom was.

"Blaise, it's a dinner meeting!"

"So pass them around like party favors. I like being an only child."

Some sort of contraception, then. A potion, maybe?

In any case, that question was far less interesting than watching the way Zee interacted with her son. They hardly seemed like parent and child at all, really. She had noted it earlier, when he had been asking about her sexual exploits with Bella's alter-ego. There was no sense of hierarchy in their relationship, no indication that Zee cared about Blaise's blatantly disrespectful attitude. It was fascinating. They really seemed more like cousins than mother and son, both more casual and more distant than immediate family. That was probably a large part of the reason the idea of Zee having a son was so odd: she really didn't act like a parent.

Case in point: she rolled her eyes and ignored him, rather than flying into a rage at his presumptuous comment. "I had told Alex to cancel, but she showed up twenty minutes ago begging me to take Aiden's call, and he insists that the deal will fall through if I'm not there to dazzle our guests, and you two seem to be getting along well...?" Her voice rose at the end, there, as though implying a question. Bella caught Blaise's eyes darting toward her own before he shrugged and nodded. "Good, I presume you can keep yourselves occupied for the rest of the evening. So yes, I am going out. Bella, we'll catch up tomorrow, yes?"

"Uh, yes? Sure?" It wasn't as though Bella had any other plans, she supposed.

Blaise sighed loudly. "Yes, yes, go on. But if you think we're saving your gaeng daeng for you, you are sadly mistaken."

"Her what?" Bella had to ask.

"It's this curry soup thing she always gets, it's delicious."

Zee sighed, handing over the bag with a longing, lingering look. Then she smirked. "I'll just have to console myself with outlandishly expensive Italian desserts. Ta, loves."

She was halfway out the door with a flutter of fingers before Bella could even think to respond with a farewell, so instead she turned to Blaise. "What's curry?"


A/N

Return of the revenge of writer's block. Seriously, I've been so useless lately. People still waiting for Her Mother's Love are screwed, ha ha... —Lysandra

You think your readers are screwed... —Leigha

Anyway, yes, chapter. Now that things are settling in, we'll be moving along more quickly. (These three chapters occurred over the course of three days. Slow as hell pacing, when you think about it.) One chapter, one interlude, and we're off for Hogwarts already.

Nobody is prepared.

(All according to plan.)