Going back to school wasn't usually something Lyra looked forward to. Hogwarts had been, in her home universe, a relatively boring place, compared to doing whatever she wanted with Ciardha all day. Well, not whatever she wanted, but she'd been deciding what she studied for years, now. As long as she was being productive and not causing too much trouble he didn't usually complain. And yes, Zee had been at Hogwarts which had made interacting with their other classmates...marginally bearable, at least, and there were always more things to learn about how normal people thought. But Zee existed outside of Hogwarts as well, and it wasn't as though it had been particularly difficult to convince her parents that it was a great idea to let her run around with Bella and Ciardha, rather than sitting around with them in their normal, boring little house. It would never not be funny that Zee's shockingly normal parents were pretty much the only people she had to work at manipulating, they'd never have let her run around with Bella unsupervised, but Ciardha just oozed respectability, and it had taken less than five minutes for him to decide that having someone else around to entertain Bella would make his job about a thousand times easier, so Zee had spent most of the summer between first and second years with her. Last summer, of course, she'd been focused on the time travel project, but the point was, she hadn't had to go back to school to see Zee.

And at school she was actually expected to attend classes and pretend to be...at least somewhat human...though if she'd known there were wilderfolk in the Forest, she might not have minded that so much, being able to take a break now and again was a lifesaver. (For everyone around her, obviously.) Plus, while Zee had been at Hogwarts, Meda hadn't been, and while Zee was generally more amusing and tended to have more fun ideas and be more...relatable, Meda, like Maïa, could keep up. Zee, while cunning and far better than Bella at pretending to be human, wasn't really quick enough to hold up her end of a proper conversation. Though Meda had always liked politics and history and...people things more than magical theory or arithmancy. There had been other trade-offs that were more even, of course. Professor Riddle was around, but Ciardha wasn't, and while Riddle was more fun in a dark-magic-nerd, Parseltongue-speaking way (but was under no obligation to humour her much of the time), Ciardha was more fun in a runes and cursebreaking way (and was sort of stuck with her). There were more people around to mess with at school, but they tended to have less potential than the people she ran into outside of school. And of course, Cygnus couldn't get to her at Hogwarts. That was just about the only unqualified good thing about going back to school.

In her old universe.

In this universe, yes, there were still a lot more interesting things going on out in the real world at the moment, but there was going to be a Triwizard Tournament this year, which meant that Hogwarts was, for once, going to be the most interesting place to be, starting in November. Especially since she'd fixed the panel of judges (Angelós Black was going to be at Hogwarts!), and suggested (ages ago, when Zee had asked what she and Blaise thought of the Task ideas they'd been throwing around) that they have each school design three tasks, rather than just have three total. She didn't really have any doubt that she would be chosen as the Hogwarts Champion, age requirement be damned, but even if she wasn't, there would still be a break in the regularly scheduled monotony every three weeks or so, and visiting students and professors, and all sorts of opportunities for fun.

Not to mention, everyone was about to get confirmation that Harry wasn't dead (she'd been so annoyed when she'd realised he'd known he was 'dead' the whole time, she'd spent all those hours editing the papers Zee had imported over the summer to remove any mention of the scandal surrounding his 'death' for nothing — well played, boys), and Dumbledore's freak-out over his disappearance had completely disrupted shite in the Wizengamot.

And there were going to be new professors, Zee had managed to push through a few reforms with Dumbledore off-balance, and Babbling had said Lyra could join the NEWT Runes class if she got her Runes and Arithmancy OWLs. Which she had, though the Examination Authority had made her come in to the Ministry to take them again, because they thought she'd somehow cheated the first time around — annoying, but worth it, just for the look on that stupid proctor's face when she met their demand for an arithmantic breakdown of the Colour-Changing Charm and raised them a comparison between the charm and an equivalent transfiguration effect. She'd read Babbling's publications, no idea why she was teaching at Hogwarts, but she wasn't about to complain, the witch was a bloody genius. Lyra had never even considered anchoring wards in different planes until she'd seen the shadow-walking wards Babbling had written for Severus. (Though she had somehow overlooked that Lyra could shadow-walk, and therefore would be able to access the anchor-points anyway, didn't matter, it was still bloody neat.)

Plus the Death Eaters were apparently trying to make a come-back, possibly independently of Wraith Riddle doing whatever kept waking Harry up in the middle of the night? It was hard to say for sure, no one had told Sev anything about the thing at the World Cup, and Lucy was being annoyingly cagey (even on a scale of Lucius Malfoy). Theo was pretty sure his father had been involved in organising that little riot (which had been fun, they should do that more often), but neither Lyra nor Theo was a necromancer, so Cadmus wasn't exactly in a position to tell them anything about his plans.

Cissy (who'd spent the whole evening being a brat, and so hadn't been invited to play Aurors and warlocks with all the fun people) thought it might have had something to do with his attempt to undermine her strategy with the Allied Dark, but she had bigger problems than in-fighting at the moment, what with a solid third of her bloc dead or captured in the riot. They'd talked about it when Lyra had introduced her to Emma, and she said she had a plan to deal with it and get the new coalition off the ground despite the setback. Lyra couldn't imagine how — she apparently wasn't planning on pushing Lucy off the carpet, and he (they) had vouched for all of the marked Death Eaters who'd escaped Azkaban back in '81 and '82 by tagging along on Lucius's Imperius Defense. Cissy had just smirked at her like Walburga and said it was a surprise, she'd find out in the papers like everyone else.

Politics in her old universe hadn't been this interesting since...probably the early eighteenth century, and the situation was bound to spill over into Hogwarts eventually.

Before that, though, Emma was going to be making her debut as the first muggle to vote a seat in the Wizengamot in at least four centuries in...probably mid-September. Lyra predicted that...pretty much all of the Nobles would have a problem with that, and therefore with her, and probably Maïa, too — on top of retaliation from Dumbledore's supporters at all levels of society for her article at the end of last year. It was kind of weird how seriously everyone had taken up against Maïa, when she was arguably far less responsible for the whole thing than Xeno Lovegood, but then, she was a muggleborn, they probably thought that made her an easier target. Even with the vassalage agreement in place, the papers had been full of speculation and opinion pieces absolutely trashing the Granger name.

And the Blacks', of course, but it was kind of hard to smear them given, well...faking someone's death for a few days was one of the least ridiculous scandals they'd ever caused, as a House. There was that whole war thing a decade or two ago, for example... Plus Sirius had only been cleared of all charges two weeks ago, so he was fucking untouchable at the moment, and someone — she wasn't sure who — had actually floated the idea of giving Lyra herself a fucking Order of Merlin for her role in the World Cup riot...which was just...kind of weird. (She half thought Sirius might be behind it, playing some sort of obscure joke on her.) Not that she was complaining, just, she hadn't done anything particularly out of the ordinary. If anything, she'd kind of expected Dumbledore's allies to try to get her up on charges for using runic casting or destruction of public property or something, but apparently the circumstances were so very mitigating that she could've burnt down the fucking stadium and gotten a slap on the wrist if it'd helped capture the masked morons and save the Tánaiste.

Anyway, point was, the press and the public could hardly expect the Blacks to give a shite what anyone said about them at this point, but Lyra couldn't really imagine the children of Dumbledore's followers wouldn't make their families' disapproval of everything to do with Maïa very clear over the next few months, which was going to be great, especially since Maïa's problems were now Lyra's problems de jure as well as de facto

She didn't think she'd ever been this excited for the end of a holiday.

They'd just come back to Britain yesterday. As far as she knew, no one even knew they were back, yet — she had gone ahead and broken Dumbledore's monitoring charms after she'd caught up with Harry in California, because they'd already served their purpose by then, and it was none of his business what Harry was doing. And mostly because he'd annoyed her with his suffocating light magic aura dragonshite while they'd been discussing the fact that she would not be returning Harry to his custody before the first day of term. Which meant—


"Yes, Blaise?"

"I don't know if you realise this, but you're flooding the room with magic."

Oh. Now that he pointed it out, yes, she was. Oops. Clearly thinking a little too hard about that particularly obnoxious tactic of the Esteemed Headmaster. But it wasn't like her magic was light, it shouldn't bother Blaise. "So?"

"So, I can't pack with you being all distracting like this."

"You do know the Packing Charm takes all of ten bloody seconds, right?"

"Yes, but I don't want to pack everything, some of this shite is too small, or old, and some of this stuff is staying here instead of going to school. And as far as I know, there's no Un-Packing Charm, so..."

There wasn't, no. She could probably figure out how to do something like that, but it would definitely take more time than re-organising the trunks manually, since you'd probably have to be aware of exactly what was in the trunks and decide exactly what you wanted to do with each thing anyway... "Ugh, fine, I'll go find someone more interesting if you're so set on being boring."

Honestly, she still didn't know how it was taking him so long to go through his things, she'd been done with her packing for hours. She flounced out of the room, bypassing Harry's door entirely, he'd already told her to bugger off — he was packing too, and in a rotten mood because he'd had another Not-Professor Riddle dream-vision thing (which she still thought was really fucking neat, but he hadn't agreed) and had only gotten a few hours' sleep. Which, she didn't really see what the big deal was, but.

Zee was still in California, apparently she had a few final meetings to attend — business people, Lyra thought, or possibly the Future Late Mr. Zabini... Though, this one seemed to be relatively tolerable, given that they only saw each other, as Lyra understood it, a few dozen times a year — she wouldn't kill him until he started getting tedious, and since she hardly ever saw him, he would probably last a while longer than the others had. Which just left...

"Siri! What are you doing?" she asked, stepping around the wall between his room and the adjacent sitting room. Wasn't hard, he had the windows tinted and only a single candle lit, so practically the whole bloody room was shadows.

It appeared that Sirius was doing nothing, just lying in bed staring at the flickering flame, a photo album lying abandoned at his feet, his diary on the desk beside the candle, as though he'd been trying to write, but gotten distracted moping and just...given up on the whole day. Which was something she personally had never understood, but she'd seen more than enough Blacks in this sort of mood — Arcturus and Orion were particularly prone to them — to know that there was absolutely no point trying to get him to do anything interesting, or even get a rise out of him at the moment. Short of setting the house on fire, he simply wouldn't care. Which was really very inconvenient. She'd kind of been hoping she could drag him into the Madness with her, that night they'd gotten in a muggle fight and stolen a motorbike was great, and the World Cup riot was even better. They could have had an equally great last night before she went back to school. (Well, maybe not as good as the riot — seriously, she could understand, now, why Bella would've wanted to keep Not-Professor Riddle's war going indefinitely, if all battles were like that.)

Predictably, however, his response to her sudden appearance at his bedside was, "No. Go away," followed by a pillow pulled over his face, as though she would cease to exist if he couldn't see her. Which...there might be some kind of creature that that worked on, but it certainly wasn't her. On the other hand, being resolutely boring was kind of repellent.

"Ugh, fine. Be that way. The train leaves in twenty-seven hours, if you're still planning on coming to see us off. And you should shower and eat something at some point today."

She popped back over to Blaise's room to tell him to make sure Sirius did, in fact, shower and eat something at some point — looking after baby Blacks was her job, never mind that Sirius was technically older than her now — then returned to the bedroom she'd used last night to consider alternative activities. Maïa and Theo and Justin and pretty much all the humans she knew would, presumably, be packing and boring, the same as Harry and Blaise, or possibly working and boring like Meda and (presumably) Emma. She could go see if Sylvie wanted to go hunting, but the spiders had retreated to the heart of their territory after their failed ambush a few weeks ago, and hadn't started venturing out again yet. And she wasn't quite overconfident enough to try taking on the entire colony at once, especially when they had the home-field advantage. (Yes, she could just set fiendfire loose at the centre of their webs, but that would end the game pretty damn thoroughly, and the wilderfolk and centaurs would probably drive her out if it went out of her control, which...control wasn't really the point of fiendfire, so.)

Normally when she was this manic — she still thought the muggle term was a bit weird, but both Maïa and Blaise used it, insisted it was more specific than simply mad — she would annoy Ciardha until he gave her some ridiculous theoretical warding problem to work out, or find someone to practice dueling with for a few hours. Once she'd intentionally picked a fight with Cygnus, spent a whole afternoon fighting him off, and then the better part of the night under various torture curses when he'd eventually managed to beat her down (and the rest of the week recovering from the effects of said curses — she really hated Skelegro). Last time — the last time it was this bad, at least (there'd been a few less-dramatic up-swings over the course of the past few months) — she'd dragged Dora over to test the dueling wards she'd written for Zee, got to see what an Auror was capable of up-close and personal. Which was a lot of very painful, very incapacitating spells, and a degree of stamina which was frankly ridiculous, given that Dora hadn't been in the same state of mind as Lyra herself. (Metamorphs were fucking cheaters.)

But Dora was off somewhere on the continent playing Black Cloaks with Moody. Which, she could still pop in on them, it wasn't hard to find someone shadow-walking, and she knew Dora's magic well enough to orient herself without a clear idea of who she was pretending to be or what she was doing, she'd looked them up a few times since they'd taken up their ridiculous quest. But just lurking in the shadows wasn't really that much fun, and she had to lurk because Moody probably wouldn't look to kindly on her shadow-walking anywhere, let alone into the middle of his 'case' — not that Bella was planning to let him get anywhere near catching her, but.

Oh! Oh! That was a great idea! Bella! Bella would spar with her, she was almost certain of it, if only because she definitely knew what it was like to be so up that you were about ten seconds from ripping your skin off if you didn't do something, right now. (And if she could drag Bella into the Madness, she would probably be even more entertaining than Mad Sirius.) Yes, she decided, already halfway to the Gate room and Château Blanc, this was a great idea.

There was a shift in the atmosphere of the magic in the study Bella had taken for herself, distracting her from the letter she was composing. It was subtle, the currents of magic disrupted as though another mage's presence was affecting them, despite no other mage being present — most people, she suspected, wouldn't notice such an anomaly at all or, if they did, would consider it a natural fluctuation in the ambient magic. After all, this sort of fluctuation would normally be lost in the magic of the mage who was causing it, if an observer was aware of the flow of ambient magic at all, which was rare. She hadn't really been aware of it until she'd felt the change, but now that she was... The only explanation she could think of for that sort of shift, without the accompanying presence of the mage causing the disruption, would be that the mage wasn't entirely in the same plane of existence as Bella herself. There were a few adjacent planes they could theoretically be lurking in, close enough to create a pull on the ambient magic here, but only one of them was remotely convenient to access.

Someone was spying on her from the Shadows.

"Lyra, I know you're there," she said calmly, throwing her quill back into the ink-pot.

There were, of course, other creatures that lived in or passed through the Dark, but most other shadow-creatures affected magic differently than a mage standing (otherwise) just outside human perception. And it was comparatively easy to ward a semi-interrupted property like this one to detect unauthorised shadow-walkers entering the vicinity (even if keeping them out was a bloody nightmare). That would have alerted her if an unauthorised human or vampire or other sufficiently human-like Dark creature had stumbled upon her. No alert had been triggered, so it really couldn't be anyone other than her 'daughter' lurking just outside the boundaries of reality.

"How?" the girl demanded, stepping out of thin air into the middle of the room. Bella wondered if she realised how impressive that was — while not impossible, extrapolating from the basic principles of shadow magic to use other sympathetic traits to specify, relate, and travel between places was incredibly difficult, especially without having ever had the concept fully articulated and explained to one, which Bella doubted she had. Probably not.

"You're the one who was apprenticed to Monroe — are you telling me you missed the tripline in the Shadows?"

"Not how did you know I was me, how did you know I was there? Eris says she didn't tell you, and you weren't using shadow magic, so—"

No, she hadn't been. She had, however, spent the better part of thirteen years sitting in a cell with nothing better to occupy herself with than endless hours of meditation and practicing wandless (and freeform) effects. She'd had time and reason to develop an acute sensitivity to the magical environment around herself. "That would be telling. What do you want?"

The girl pouted at her for half a second before skipping over to an armchair and throwing herself across it dramatically. "I'm bored. Entertain me!"

Bella snorted at the overly-petulant demand, and Eris's simultaneous response to the question of what Lyra wanted, which was an immovable object to throw herself at for a few hours.

Ah, that sort of mood.

Eris indicated her agreement, tainted with a hint of disapproval.

Aw, don't you like it when we're mad? It had been pretty clear when she'd been working on her escape that she didn't. Bella had gotten the impression that Eris thought she took too many risks with too little forethought when she was mad, even if she did have more potential to cause chaos simply by existing. Which was, amusingly enough, more or less Tom's opinion as well. (Though he thought that mad twelve-year-olds interrupting delicate political meetings demanding his attention were the sort of problem that required an immediate solution rather than just fucking hilarious.) You know, Eris, you and Tom have more in common than you like to admit.

Shut up. You are my least favorite Bellatrix.

If lies make you happy, ducky. All teasing aside, Eris wouldn't spend nearly as much time paying attention to her if she didn't like her, especially since Bella made a point of not allowing her unfettered access to every corner of her mind. The goddess 'glowered' at her, annoyance flooding the connection between them, making Bella feel all warm and fuzzy. Love you, too.

Unfortunately for Lyra, Bella was in the middle of something. "Go play with the kids, I'm busy."

"Kids are boring and too easy to break. Spar with me!"

But kids are boring, and too easy to break, Bella thought, smirking to herself. "What, you couldn't find anyone to play with in Britain, so you had to come here?"

"Exactly. Dora's over here trying to find you, so it's your job to play with me, now."

"Go play with the kids, I'm busy."

"You already said that."

"I did, yes. Because I'm still busy. And they're werewolves, you're not going to break them." In response to Lyra's exaggerated pout, she added, "I'll come kick your arse for you after I've finished this letter."

If only because she'd implied she'd been sparring with an Auror at some point before this summer, and now Bella was kind of curious how good a duelist she actually was. From her reaction to some of the memories they'd watched together, back on Walpurgis, she'd gotten the impression that Lyra wasn't really much of a fighter at all. By her standards, obviously — she'd be shocked if the kid wasn't unreasonably good for her age by the standards of anyone who wasn't a professional warrior. She'd apparently held her own well enough in that little riot at the World Cup, after all.

"Fine." The girl tried to keep up her pout as she flounced off, but she'd have to try a hell of a lot harder than that to hide the fact that she was pleased from Bella, of all people. Even if she didn't know what she looked like when she was trying to keep a straight face, she had just agreed to give Lyra exactly what she wanted — to set herself against a vastly superior opponent and be beaten back despite her best efforts until she was too exhausted to think or move or even cast a fucking lumos... Though Bella wasn't entirely certain Lyra was conscious enough of that desire to articulate it, and she highly doubted she'd admit it aloud if she was.

When she caught up to the girl half an hour later, correspondence completed, she was on her back in the middle of an interior courtyard (one of the ones with dueling wards worked into the surrounding walls), at the bottom of a dogpile consisting of four preteen werewolves and two wilderfolk. Each of the children had taken a limb, while Harmonie and Mélodie licked her face and feet and poked their wet, canine noses in ticklish spots. Lyra seemed to be having trouble breathing, she was laughing so hard, but that didn't stop her struggling to escape. She managed to wrench a leg free, kicking and flailing. Darren, one of the younger boys, reeled back with a bloody nose, shaking his head as though slightly stunned by the blow.

"Erich, come help us!" Kiki shouted to one of the bemused onlookers, clinging to Lyra's right arm. "She's going to get away!"

"It is strange to think of you as a child," Mickey said conversationally, coming to join Bella in the doorway where she had paused, thinking more or less the same thing.

"I wasn't really much like Lyra when I was her age." Most people would probably say she had been, and yes, there were certain ways in which they were very similar, but Bella knew she had been far more serious than Lyra. Far more controlled. She was fairly certain she'd never let anyone pin her to the ground and tickle her, for example — no one would have dared for one thing, and she'd never had time for...playing anyway. Some of her seriousness was directly Tom's doing, of course, his compulsions guiding her away from such silly (annoying) childishness, but he'd also given her a purpose, a cause to work toward. Between her determination to become one of his Knights and her need to defeat Cygnus and protect her sisters (and younger cousins, by then), she'd been far more driven than Lyra.

"She seems a little... Is she okay?" There was actual concern in Mickey's tone, there. Bella looked up to face him, somewhat surprised.

"Of course. Did you never— No, I suppose you wouldn't have seen me like this. This is normal, for us. For me in particular, but it does run in the Family as well. We're rather notorious for it. Tom... I learned to control myself, eventually." Mostly. Tom had helped her develop the occlumency skills needed to hold back the worst of the Madness (or trigger it) a year or two before the pack had joined the Death Eaters. There had still been occasional days or weeks when she'd been (at least to herself) noticeably more manic than usual — the idea to let the pack hunt her on the full moon had come to her in one such up-swing, as had several of her more productive thoughts on the nature of time. But it hadn't been terribly out of character for her to challenge all of her recruits to attack her at once, and she never had had particularly regular sleeping habits. It wasn't surprising that Mickey wouldn't have noticed her acting much out of the ordinary.

Lyra managed to free both arms and a leg, rolled to her feet with a small child still clinging to her left ankle, and was immediately tackled from behind. Bella was fairly certain she heard the snap of a wrist, but none of the children fell back in pain. Must have been Lyra. Sure enough, a few seconds later, Erich, the oldest and largest of the attackers, and the one responsible for the flying tackle a moment before, realised what had happened, started pulling the others off, apologising and offering to fix it as the others assumed various expressions of contrition.

"I've got it." Lyra grimaced, straightening the fracture and muttering an incantation, wriggling her fingers once the purplish-orange glow faded from her arm. "Are we done, then?"

Erich exchanged an uncomfortable look with his fellow werewolves. "Er...I mean..."

"We didn't have to stop," Lyra scoffed. "It's not like it was something important."

"You're...sure she's okay?" Mickey asked, still sounding unwontedly concerned.

"You've seen me walk off far worse injuries in training." Hell, he'd given her worse injuries than that and she'd still managed to kick his arse after.

Erich seemed to spot the two of them, then. He ducked his head and came slinking over like he'd done something very wrong. "I'm sorry, Bella, I didn't mean to—"

Lyra, who had followed him, smacked him in the back of the head with her recently mended hand. "Why're you apologising to her?"

Bella snorted. "Because you ignored his apologies, and mothers are supposed to get protective when someone hurts their offspring."

"It's not like that wrist hasn't been broken about two dozen times by now. And you're not my mother." Erich gave her a rather confused look — Clarence and Lena had decided, after the first time Lyra had visited, that it would be easier to tell the children that Lyra was Bella's daughter than to tell them the truth. "And Dru wouldn't care either. And also, I already fixed it, stop groveling." The last bit was obviously directed at the boy, who muttered something like er, yeah, okay...I'm still sorry, though before retreating to join the other kids, all of whom had become rather subdued in the wake of the tragedy that was an accidental broken wrist. (Bella had seen young Death Eater recruits acting rather similarly more times than she could easily count, unnerved by having dealt another person a serious injury for the first time — it was never not vaguely amusing.) "So, sparring?"

"Yeah, alright. Hey, you lot, clear the yard!"

Lyra skipped back out to the centre of the open space, shooing the wilderfolk off toward the colonnade on the north side of the square. Most of the others had headed that way as well, there were benches there for spectators. Once the last of them were clear, Bella engaged the dueling wards. They were fairly old-fashioned — designed to simply tank any spells or physical effects that came into contact with them, channelling the energy, whether magical or kinetic, away into the ground until it lost coherence — but strong enough to withstand anything short of an Unforgivable. Bella followed, stretching as she went.

"Knives and wands, to knock-out or yield," Lyra suggested, bouncing on her toes, as though she couldn't physically stand still. Which...she probably couldn't.

"No, first we're going to establish what you're capable of, and then we'll go until I decide you're done." Mostly because she was intimately familiar with Lyra's current state of mind, and well aware she couldn't be trusted to judge her own limits at the moment. Bella did have a meeting in about two and a half hours, but she didn't really doubt she could wear the kid out before then. She charmed a circle into the ground around herself, about two feet in diameter. "Eris said you wanted an immovable object to throw yourself against, so. You try to make me step out of the circle, by any means necessary. Just don't throw Unforgivables at the spectators."

Lyra grinned. "I knew this was a great idea!"

"Are you waiting for a starting cue?" Bella smirked, flicked a banishing charm at the girl, flinging her across the courtyard, not quite forcefully enough to hit the wall behind her, but certainly hard enough to knock her out if she'd hit her head rather than rolling over her shoulder and popping back to her feet, a flaying curse on her lips.

Twenty minutes of near-continuous casting later, the girl stopped dead in her tracks. "How the fuck did you— You can't block the Cruciatus, I know you can't!"

No, and she couldn't dodge, either, without stepping out of the circle. She gave her 'daughter' a mocking grin. "Space-warping spell."

"But...how? That sort of shite isn't anything near battle-castable!"

"Not traditionally, no. But I presume you're familiar with Chati's Paradox?" Lyra nodded. "Yes, well, incantations and wand motions are every bit as arbitrary as language. Once the effect is reified and you fully understand how and why it works, abbreviating the casting process is relatively trivial." Relatively being the key word — spells affecting the nature of time and space were among the most difficult to fully grasp, and therefore the most difficult to reduce from a two-minute incantation to a brief series of syllables with no other meaning than the essence of the desired effect. Of course, channelling enough magic to make it work within the much shorter casting time was well beyond the capacity of most mages (as she and Tom had discovered when they'd started trying to teach it to the others), but that only made it even more astonishing to anyone who happened to see it.

The girl opened her mouth as though to object, then closed it, staring as though Bella had just smacked her across the face with a fish. "That is fucking brilliant."

"It is, isn't it. Am I to take your resorting to Unforgivables to mean you've run out of ideas?"

Lyra pouted at her. "Maybe."

"Are you sure?" She hadn't tried any truly creative methods, like creating a rift beneath Bella's feet or transfiguring the ground to a frictionless substance or setting a shield-based vacuum around her. (Not that any of those would have worked either — she'd been playing this game twice as long as Lyra had been alive, and Tom always had been more devious than her.)

"It's boring when you just stand there!"

Bella shrugged lightly, cancelling the charm that delineated the circle. "Well, I thought it only fair to let you get a warm-up in." She smirked, casting a series of cutting curses, followed by a broad-angle stunning charm and a progressive transfiguration that created a miasma of flue gas, its casting hidden in the recovery from the sweeping stunner.

As intended, Lyra missed the miasma, spinning out of the way of the cutting curses and shielding against the stunner, grinning. Bella gave her an opening to counterattack. She was somewhat rusty, still — even the ritual she had done to restore the years and strength she'd lost in Azkaban couldn't entirely reverse the effects of sitting around letting her skills go dull for a decatriad — but she wasn't so out of practice that Lyra would be able to go on the offensive if she didn't. The girl took the opportunity to cast a very competent fractal lightning curse. Easily blocked, however, with a conjured copper net which she then banished at the girl, forcing her to leap aside, off balance from casting an Egyptian Heart-Rotting Hex, which Bella sidestepped smoothly, positioning herself to summon the net directly into Lyra from behind. She declined to follow up, just to add insult to injury.

Lyra stumbled, growling in frustration, used a freeform vanishing to get rid of the copper wires that had tangled around her arms and torso. Unless Bella was very mistaken, she was beginning to feel the effects of the carbonyl miasma, because that was unwontedly clumsy of her. She threw a False Avada just as the girl straightened again, the spell striking right over her heart.

"Dead," she announced, followed by the counter to the flue gas transfiguration, just to mop up anything Lyra's vanishing hadn't taken out.

"What the hell was that?" Lyra demanded, wiping green paint off her muggle vest. She dropped her wand to her side, taking a breath of fresh air and shaking her head as though to clear it.

"The practice avada, or the poison gas I just countered?"

"Practice— Wait! You gassed me?! How?"

"Flue gas — colorless, odorless, it's easier to detect the ongoing miasmic transfiguration than the gas itself. It was part of my opening volley. The False Avada is a conjuration designed to have the same casting requirements as the Unforgivable, so my recruits didn't accidentally murder each other."

The girl simply pouted at her. "Again."

Bella shrugged, made an open-armed what are you waiting for sort of gesture.

Fifteen minutes later, Lyra had been stunned, paralysed, 'killed' three more times, disarmed and trapped under half a dozen various shields she'd been unable to break without a wand, and buried up to her waist in the briefly-liquified ground of the courtyard. From which position she was currently glaring at Bella and trying to find some way to release herself, as Bella lazily countered her every attempt to soften the soil or escape into the Shadows or Apparition Space.

"I'd yield, if I were you," she said, smirking openly at the girl, who was growing angrier by the second.

"Ignis infernalis!" Lyra spat instead, demonic flames racing across the ground between them.

Bella cackled. "Playing with fire are we, now?" she tsked. "Didn't we learn our lesson about that summer we burnt down the nursery?" That was a bit of an exaggeration, she hadn't actually burnt it down, but she had accidentally set a curtain on fire, which had spread to engulf half of the room before Lil had realised that five-year-old Bella had been entirely too quiet for almost three minutes and come to put it out. It was a safe assumption Lyra had done something similar at some point in her own childhood.

She cast the same spell herself, the monsters and demons of her flames falling upon Lyra's until they became an indistinguishable mass of heat and rage and dark magic, over which the two of them fought for control in a perverse sort of tug-of-war.

Lyra was stubborn, Bella would give her that, but imposing her will and maintaining control over...anything, really, hadn't ever come naturally to her. Even with magic, she had a tendency to guide it, rather than force it into the shape she needed (which was half the reason Lyra's casting was so sloppy). And Bella had a lot more practice, what with the two decades she'd spent in various positions of command. Slowly but surely, she pushed the flames back, circling them around the girl, still half-buried in the floor of the courtyard.

"Face it, darling, you're outmatched." A tiny red-orange dragon snapped at a wayward curl, vaporising it as a cockatrice lunged at her nose. "I will burn you, you know."

Lyra hesitated, either wondering if Bella meant it (she did) or whether she'd be able to come up with some way to free herself before she passed out from the pain (judging by the results of her efforts thus far, she wouldn't). "Fine! I yield!"

Bella pulled the fire back before breaking her hold over it — allowing the magic to leach out of the flames — and casting a condensing charm to bring a wave of water out of the surrounding air.

Lyra sluiced her singed hair back out of her eyes, even angrier now than before. "You're holding back!" she snapped. "Playing with me."

"I am, yes." It was rather more entertaining than she'd expected, too. The last time she'd done something like this, it was with Cissy — she'd been sixteen and getting overconfident, destroying the cocksure little Death Eaters too often. Though, of course, Cissy had had the good grace to accept the lesson after a single demonstration. Lyra...not so much. (Though that was hardly unexpected.)

"Stop it! Stop being all careful not to hurt me and just—" She cut herself off, apparently uncertain where she was going with that sentence. "I expect this kind of shite from Dora. Not from you."

Bella grinned. "Oh, well, why didn't you say so?" She checked the time. "I have to get cleaned up for a meeting with Solange Martin in just over an hour. If you're still conscious by then, you can come," she offered. Not that Lyra would be conscious at the end of this little session, but giving her a goal would keep her more focused.

She set a timer to count down even as the girl's eyes lit up. She nodded eagerly, rage gone in an instant in the face of something new and exciting to look forward to, probably thinking that there was no way Bella would be able to wear her down to the point that she actually passed out in a single hour — being manic always felt unstoppable like that. "Let me up, first, though."

"Hmm, no, I don't think so." Lyra opened her mouth to protest, but all that came out was a gasping sort of moan as Bella hit her with a vicious disarming charm, wrenching her shoulder from its socket as well as her wand from her hand. She did let her keep her knife, not that it would help her much. "Do you know how many spots there are on a human body that you can put a piercing curse without killing someone?" she asked, taking a seat cross-legged on the ground, just out of Lyra's reach.

A giddy grin spread across the girl's face, even as Bella cast the first curse, putting a finger-width hole through her left pectoral, just nicking the outside of her second rib. Lyra gasped, a half-laughing, entirely disbelieving sort of sound. "You— Fuck, Bella! Ow!"

"Of course, it's actually easier to list the spots you can't put a piercing curse without killing someone, if you're willing to heal them immediately, you know." She cast a sizzling dark healing charm at the wound. Lyra gasped again as the pain suddenly vanished. "But then, if you think about it, healing them is cheating." She pierced the same spot again. "Cauterising helps, too, and that's not cheating," she informed the girl, tweaking the next piercing curse - through her left bicep - to sear the flesh as it passed. That was followed by one between the ulna and radius of her recently mended left wrist, fracturing both of them again, and then, because Lyra was a skinny bitch and there weren't really a lot of places to poke holes in her without hitting something important, one low in her left lung that left her coughing blood, her right hand pressed tight over the wound.

"I– I'm not sure I like this game..." she muttered, a smile twitching at her lips, the giddy excitement which was their experience of fear warring with shock, Bella expected.

"You literally just told me to stop holding back," Bella pointed out. "Exsercio."

That particular healing spell, like the space-warping transfiguration effect she'd demonstrated earlier, had had, in its original version, a much longer, more complex incantation. It was, in fact, considered by many to be the epitome of dark healing spells, the sort of thing that could be used to repair a body damaged even unto the point of death, assuming its soul was able to channel the necessary magic — the caster only supplied the intent — and its mind was able to withstand the shock and pain which were the 'cost' of the spell (magnified, of course, by the decreased duration of casting). It was physically, mentally, and magically exhausting, the sort of thing that was normally used as a last-ditch effort to save those critically wounded in battle, or restoring torture victims, the healing its own form of punishment.

It certainly wasn't the sort of thing one casually threw around with the sole intent of exhausting someone, but it did work better than almost anything else when it came to wearing her down in the middle of an episode of the Madness. That was the whole reason Tom had decided it was worthwhile to abbreviate in the first place.

Of course, the more seriously she was injured before being healed, the more the healing would take out of her. Bella's plan had been to beat the shite out of the girl a few times, forcing her to heal the wounds between beatings. She'd never lasted more than four rounds of that before she'd passed out, mad or not, and she knew better than Tom exactly which injuries were most taxing to heal.

Lyra gasped, blinking against the pain, clenching her (bloody) teeth to avoid screaming, panting slightly as the spell concluded. When she managed to catch her breath again, she glared furiously at Bella. "Just because I don't want you to– to fucking mock me being all careful not to hurt me doesn't mean I want to just sit here and take whatever you feel like throwing at me!"

Bella pouted at her. "No one ever lets me have any fun," she said, before reverting to a more serious tone. "There is no practical difference between this and me not going easy on you, you realise." If she stopped giving Lyra openings and used more serious spells, she'd end up on the ground cursed to nine hells and in need of serious healing before she could offer any sort of resistance.

"Yes there is, I can fight back!"

"You really can't. I may be out of practice and even aside from the Madness, you're very good for fourteen, I'll grant you that, but killing a handful of idiots who didn't know the difference between their wands and their dicks doesn't make you competent, and getting your first taste of battle madness doesn't make you me." Increased speed and stamina, perfect timing, and an unnatural awareness of the magic in use around her (all of which the girl should be experiencing at the moment, anyway) could only do so much, especially in a one-on-one fight — the potential for the efforts of multiple attackers to be turned against each other, exploiting the inherent chaos of the battlefield, was arguably more useful than the adrenaline-fueled sharpening of her own skills. "Word of advice, darling: don't let earning yourself an Order of Merlin for that little fit of pique at the end of the riot go to your head. We both know you'd be dead if Lovegood hadn't stepped in and saved your sorry arse."

Lyra, who had appeared to be on the cusp of objecting for the entirety of her little speech, clearly hadn't expected that last point, her expression shifting from rage to scorn and annoyance. "Don't be stupid, they're not really going to give me an Order of Merlin, and how do you even know about that?"

Bella actually had to laugh at that one. "You may not have noticed, but most people don't give a flying fuck why you do something like trapping scores of violent idiots in a position to be easily arrested. Even if they did know that you did it to express your frustration over the battle effectively being over, they still wouldn't care." At least, Bella assumed that was why she'd done it, to hurt the bastards who'd started the riot and then couldn't hold up their end of it properly, letting it come to an end all too soon. "Or at least, they wouldn't care about that nearly as much as they would about the outcome. Which does look pretty fucking heroic, especially given that they think you're my daughter. And I have my sources."

The girl glared at her, annoyance only intensifying. "Zee told you. But she wasn't there, either."

Yes, it had come up in the course of her complaining about having to deal with Bella going through her volatile teenage years again, this time without Tom's compulsions acting as a stabilising influence on her personality. Apparently Lyra had fucking terrified her, losing her temper with Narcissa as she had during the riot. She'd legitimately thought Lyra was going to lose any semblance of self-control entirely. Which...Bella would have been extremely annoyed if Lyra actually had hurt Narcissa, but she also understood how incredibly frustrated the girl must have been, what with her obligations repeatedly delaying her participation in the first proper battle she'd ever been anywhere near. As she'd pointed out to Zee, the closest thing she could compare it to would be going to the Revel and trying to resist joining in the orgy because other people insisted she ought to value monogamy.

Zee had pouted at her, bitching about how Blaise wasn't nearly this much trouble, and Bella could make some effort to help with the parenting of her younger self, or at least managing her, but no matter how she might deny it, Zee was obviously perfectly capable of handling the situation.

Plus, there was a reason Arcturus had left her with Cygnus. She hadn't realised it until she'd been analysing her memories with the advantage of her current perspective, but it was fairly clear the Black Patriarch had decided early on to sacrifice Cygnus to the cause of raising her. It had been obvious from the moment he'd found out about her dedication that Bella was eventually going to win their contest of wills. She almost certainly wouldn't have become nearly as formidable a witch without an adversary to pit herself against for her entire childhood, one which she was capable of resisting and eventually overcoming — because if she hadn't, she would almost certainly have eventually broken, and he didn't want his heir broken, only trained to a shape he could work with. But if she didn't break, her designated enemy would have to, and the balance of probability had held that she would destroy him when he did. Placing herself in a similar position relative to her younger alter-ego simply could not end well for anyone.

(Zee, unlike Bella, had always had a knack for resolving situations without directly opposing anyone, and so was hardly in danger of locking herself into the same sort of existentially defining conflict with Lyra.)

She gave Lyra an agreeable hum. "Yes. She got it from Sirius."

The girl scowled. "You know that both of you fucking Zee is basically the same as you fucking Sirius, right?"

It really wasn't. Sirius was an angsty, self-righteous little bitch, and their history consisted entirely of her acting as his protector, or else punishing him for his teenage rebelliousness (which had gone about as well as she imagined her attempting to manage Lyra might go). She actually liked Zee.

"You can make as many Black incest jokes as you like, but you're not changing the subject, here. You obviously have some sensitivity to the magic in use around you, but you haven't been using that awareness to your advantage, so I can only assume you don't know how. If you did, you would have caught the flue gas. Plus your casting is sloppy and if you're using an avoidance-heavy technique, you really should learn not to signal your movements with your body language — that's why you keep walking into False Avadas." It went without saying, Bella thought, that her spell repertoire was far too narrow to truly keep up, if she moved away from standard battlemagic and the torture spells Cygnus had favored.

The girl crossed her arms, glowering, as though attempting to set Bella on fire with a silent, wandless spell. "My casting is not sloppy," she muttered after a moment — clearly the only point she thought might be open to debate.

"It really is," Bella informed her, resisting the urge to poke another hole in the kid for her impertinence. She's not a trainee, Bella... (It wasn't as though she even particularly liked teaching, she just hated being surrounded by incompetence all the time, and Lyra wasn't actually incompetent, anyway, even if she wasn't as good as she could be.) "Challenge Cissy to a Venetian-style exhibition duel sometime."

Not that Cissy's casting was particularly sharp, she just had a ridiculous knack for using the waste energies that tended to accumulate over the course of a duel to produce unexpected effects, casting apparently random spells alongside more standard dueling fare until they combined with her opponents' sloppiness to explode in their faces. It was incredibly weird, Bella still had no idea how she did it — she couldn't do that sort of arithmancy on the fly — but it was a very neat trick. The Venetian dueling wards had elements built into them to help spectators visualise such extraneous magic, which in a competitive duel would be taken into account in the scoring.

Lyra, in her easily distractible state of mind, dropped her glower to ask "Why?"

"Because you could learn a thing or two?" Bella rolled her eyes, handing Lyra her weird American wand back, silent permission to find some way to excavate herself. "I don't know how she does it, by the way. I assume it's some weird Lovegood talent."

"How she does what?" A few softening charms loosened the dirt packed around her legs, before she pushed herself out with a sort of freeform banishing charm and attempted to remove the soil still clinging to her muggle shorts with an obscure sweeping charm.

"That would be telling. And the spell you use to vanish ash from the floo would work better."

The pout returned. "You know, if you didn't want to play with me, all you had to do was say so."

That was just... Really? "That is the biggest load of hippogriff dung... I do know you, you know. Fuck, I was an annoying kid." Honestly, the more time she spent around Lyra, the more sympathy she had for Tom and Walburga.

"Whatever. What are we meeting with Solange Martin about?"

"Excuse me, we?"

"Hey, I'm still conscious! You said I could come if I was conscious."

"You decided you didn't want to play that game, that bet went along with it. Besides, you were never going to be at that meeting."

Lyra grinned, slipping through her shadow and stepping out of Bella's, on the other side of her body. Show off. "How are you going to stop me?"

She sighed. "I know you're not going to go home if I ask politely."

"Nope! So what are we meeting with Solange Martin about?"

"Excuse me, we?"

"You already said that!" Lyra giggled.

"Yes, because you're still not invited. I will knock you out if you don't drop it." Establishing a diplomatic relationship with the Martins — who were among the most prominent, most outspoken neo-Gemeenschoppists in France — would not be made easier by Lyra's presence. At the moment, Bella was still gathering intelligence on the movements of various Resistance groups across the continent, but the eventual plan was to begin coordinating their efforts, which necessitated the support of local leaders like Solange and Emile. It would be difficult enough to negotiate the issue of her own identity and history without her slightly mad 'daughter' making a nuisance of herself.

Not to mention, revealing her own identity to them was a relatively small risk, should they decide to betray her rather than allying with her. She was already a notorious war criminal, wanted by Britain for various acts of terrorism committed in the war (not to mention the people she'd killed in the course of her escape), had committed murder in two different ICW member states in the past month, and performed an incredibly illegal blood magic subsumation ritual in one. It hardly mattered if anyone knew she'd been speaking to the likes of the Martins. Lyra, on the other hand, was a mostly-respectable member of the British nobility (and soon-to-be member of the Order of Merlin) who really shouldn't let it be known that she and Bella were in contact with each other, let alone meeting with anti-Statutarian activists together.

"Ugh, fine! I'll go bug Cissy, then!" Lyra snapped, flouncing off toward the nearest doorway leading back into the building, apparently to make an exit — slamming a door was somewhat more emphatic than vanishing into the Dark, she supposed.

But... Did she really think Bella believed that? It was possible that she would go annoy Narcissa for a bit, but Narcissa was equally likely to have business to attend to, and both the Wizengamot hall and the Ministry buildings had wards to alert security if anyone attempted to shadow walk into or around them. Unless she was at home, it would be much more difficult for Lyra to just drop in on her. Though Bella honestly suspected she wouldn't even try, just find something to amuse herself for an hour or two, and then come find Bella again, accidentally-on-purpose interrupting her meeting and inviting herself to stay. After all, she would already be there, might as well. And then she would smirk and Bella would be stuck putting up with her because they both knew she wouldn't curse Lyra in front of a potential ally — that would undermine the whole "my reputation for being a fucking savage is highly exaggerated" tone she was aiming for.

That was what she would do, at least. She had, in fact, twice, before Tom invented a way to prevent her from doing so.

"Go the fuck to sleep," she incanted, tracing a rune into the air between them and pushing it at Lyra's back before she could escape. Not that she knew what was coming. She managed to turn halfway around before it reached her, her eyes going wide with surprise in the brief moment before it rendered her unconscious, giving Bella plenty of time to cast the far more complicated element of the spell — a time dilation effect, modified to affect the mind, while leaving the body (mostly) untouched.

It wasn't perfect, the after-effects were similar to the worst hangover she'd ever had — disorienting, mind-numbing, and vaguely nauseating — on top of a migraine and the effects of a minor magical backlash, but it did what it was designed to do. Which was knock her out and leave her unconscious through the most elevated period of a bout of the Madness. The time dilation was dependent on her state of mind to function — she was almost certain the migraine-backlash bit was due to that part of the spell failing when she started coming down to something approximating her usual state of mind, subjective days or weeks later, though she never noticed the time passing — the knockout part of the spell rendered her entirely unconscious for about twenty hours. Which meant Lyra should wake up... Probably a few hours before she was meant to be on the Hogwarts Express.

It was hardly Bella's problem, in any case — her meeting with Solange was in Nice. The intervening hours would give her time to enchant an amulet to obscure her presence from Shadows so Lyra wouldn't be able to track her down so easily, and she wasn't likely to get back here until tomorrow afternoon, by which time Lyra would be somewhere in Scotland.

She is going to be very annoyed with you, you know.

Bella did know. 'Go the Fuck to Sleep' might actually edge out the Imperius on the list of spells she absolutely hated. She was half-convinced Tom had never addressed the after-effects as incentive for her to learn to control herself rather than be subjected to it, and the Imperius was really very easy to break, all negative associations aside.

Yes, well, she's welcome to try to make it my problem, but in the meanwhile, I have things to do. And by the time Lyra managed to catch up with her, she would almost certainly have gotten over it.

Lyra woke with a start, wrenching herself into a sitting position, her wand in her hand, before she managed to get her eyes to focus on the dark, unfamiliar room she found herself in.

There was a man asleep in an armchair off to her left — or rather, a man who had been woken by Lyra's own startled awakening. "Lyra?"

"Mickey? W'happened? My head feels like nifflers," she grumbled. All...fuzzy and like something had been digging around in it. Did that make sense? Did it even come out as actual words? She didn't really care. Eris, did I blow myself up again?

If she had, she didn't remember it. She didn't remember much of anything, honestly, just...she'd been sparring with Bella — and that was a terrible idea, why had she thought Bellatrix would be fun to try to fight? And then... She was pretty sure there was some talking? She definitely didn't remember blowing herself up, though. It also didn't really feel like blowing herself up — the magical backlash, yes, but more...hollow and empty and...kind of post-Walpurgis-y (except Eris was still there). And also sick, as though she might vomit. And her head was pounding.

Ah, no, Bella knocked you out.

Right. It was coming back to her now, Bella had been going to meet with Solange Martin, and Lyra had said she'd go visit Cissy, then, and then... That fucking cunt! She cursed me in the back!

Yes, she did. Eris sounded far less furious than Lyra really thought she ought to. More exasperated than anything. Well, you were going to follow her.

Yeah, but she didn't know that! You didn't tell her, did you?

No. It's more interesting if you don't scare the Martins away from her little alliance, but not enough to ensure your absence from the meeting. She says she just knows you, and also stop being a baby.

That— Lyra had no words, so Eris was treated to an inarticulate wave of fury (which did nothing to alleviate her headache).

"Bella said this would help," Mickey said, passing a potion vial to her. He sounded somewhat amused, though he did a pretty good job keeping a smile off his face, his brow furrowed slightly in concern.

Lyra gave the thing a suspicious glare before snatching it out of his enormous hand. It smelled like a hangover potion, but she wasn't entirely certain she wanted to trust anything Bella gave her at the moment. Or ever again.

She says yes, it is a hangover potion, and you'll be fine in a couple of hours.

Yeah, maybe, if she's not lying, the traitorous bitch — but in the meanwhile I feel like shite, and where the fuck does she even get off cursing me in the fucking back?!

She poked a finger in the vial and tasted it to check before actually taking it and letting herself collapse back onto the bed.

"How are you feeling?" the werewolf asked.

Slightly murderous. "Like someone cursed me in the back." Though the headache had started to fade almost immediately on swallowing the potion, so that was something, she guessed. She cast a tempus, wondering how long she'd been out, because this room wasn't underground, and it was definitely morning when Bella had cursed her. If it was this dark, it had to be...six in the morning? She cast the spell again, wondering if she'd fucked it up somehow, because that was...twenty-one hours or so. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been unconscious that long, especially under the Madness — even stunning spells and the like wore off after an hour or so. "What the fuck was that?"

Mickey shrugged. "She calls it go the fuck to sleep. I think de Mort invented it. I was surprised to see her use it — the only time I saw him use it on her, she tried to stab him for it."

Eris, tell Bella she's a hypocritical bitch for me. Because she is such a hypocritical fucking bitch! I can't believe her! What the actual fuck!

Eris didn't have anything to say in response, which was fine, because it was mostly rhetorical, anyway — though she wasn't kidding about telling Bella she was a fucking bitch. Seriously, using a binding spell of some kind to keep her unconscious? And it had fucked with her head somehow, now that the headache and nausea were clearing up, it felt like she'd been out for a week, somehow, like she was feeling all hollow because she was coming down from the Madness, when she'd just been going into it. She couldn't really say how she knew that, because under the hollow bleh she mostly felt the same as she had earlier, just, she knew this was the down-side of the whole thing...somehow. It was incredibly disorienting. Not to mention infuriating.

Bella says you're welcome to try to stab her, and yes, sleeping through the worst part of the Madness is the point of the spell.

What?! That was just... How dare she! Making a point about fighting her being a terrible idea was one thing (and even that had been reminding her of Cygnus a bit, especially when she'd refused to let her up and disarmed her and started poking holes in her), but fucking around with Lyra's mind like that... That was a very different thing, and Lyra was going to go ahead and say it was not okay. Not even a little bit! Obviously she wasn't going to try to stab Bella, Bella would probably fillet her if she did, but she was definitely going to do something...

"Are you okay?"

She glowered at the overgrown werewolf. "Of course I am. Granted, I'm not particularly pleased with Bellatrix at the moment, but..."

He gave her a strange sort of smile, she couldn't really parse it, and didn't care enough to try. "It's okay to hate her, you know."

Well now that I have permission... Though it was kind of weird for Mickey to say that. Or at least, she...thought it was? "Aren't you two friends?"

"...No. Comrades, yes. But not friends. Closer to family, I think, and family can be complicated."

Lyra had nothing to say to that. Well, aside from the fact that it made sense, then, that Bella had said she'd've given Lyra to Mickey to raise, if she was actually her daughter. Even if she didn't think of him as family — which, Lyra was pretty sure family meant something different to the House of Black than it did to the giant muggle werewolf — Bella was obviously comfortable with the werewolves the same way Lyra was out in the Forest with Sylvie, and he probably would have treated Lyra like a niece or something (and one he actually liked, at that). "Did she tell you that you're supposed to have raised me?" she asked, as it occurred to her that no one had confirmed that she had.

He nodded gravely. "Lena was not happy to learn that Bella and I fictionally shared a child."

Was... Was that a joke? Even if it wasn't supposed to be, it was probably the funniest thing she'd heard Mickey say at any point since she'd met him. Funny enough to tease a smile from her, even feeling as shite as she currently was. "Somehow, I'm not actually surprised that at least one of my foster parents fucking hates me, just on principle."

Lena had avoided Lyra almost entirely, but in their brief passing interactions (mostly after Bella finished removing the scars Cygnus had left on her back, last time she was here), she'd gotten the impression the alpha's wife was...weirdly soft for a werewolf. She'd've gotten over it, if Lyra had grown up with the wolves, she was almost sure. Especially since she had joined the pack well after Mickey left Britain, so theoretical baby Lyra would've been there first. And even if she hadn't, she still probably would've liked her better than Dru.

Mickey nodded again. "You are a very easy person to hate."

Okay, that was probably the funniest thing he'd ever said. Well, it was mostly in the delivery, because she was sure it was true, the list of people who occasionally wanted to torture her was longer than the list of people who didn't, after all (she currently wanted to torture Bella, even), but. She was barely able to keep enough of a straight face to say, "Why, Mickey, that hurts — you hardly know me!"

"You are more like Bella than she thinks you are," he said simply, giving her a tiny shrug and an even smaller frown. "Though as your fictional foster-father, I think I should advise you not to try to stab her for using that spell on you. Even if that is what she would do." Her irritation must have shown on her face, or something, being reminded of Bella's treachery, because he added, "Because it is unfeasible, not unwarranted."

"Oh, I know I can't take her in a fight," Lyra assured him, considering her options. "I knew that before I came here, actually, that was kind of the point. But..."

An idea was beginning to take shape, thinking on people who wanted to torture her and the incident at the end of last year. She might not be able to get anywhere near hurting Bella in a fair fight — she hadn't managed to land a single curse, earlier, even when Bella had just been standing in one spot mocking her — but she could almost certainly set up an ambush for her. She still had a few hours before she had to go back to Britain, and Bella wasn't likely to come hunt her down for revenge at bloody Hogwarts. Especially if she limited it to something really inconvenient and fucking humiliating, rather than actually harmful. By the time they ran into each other again (which would be a good long time, if Lyra had anything to say about it), she would almost certainly have gotten over it.

"But?" Mickey prompted her.

She gave him her most devious smile. "Tell me, Fictional Foster-Father, where does Bellatrix sleep?"

As for what Lyra does to Bella, well... We have to do the actual plot-relevant summer scenes first, so this little incident probably won't come up until chapter five or six in THAT WAS PART OF THE PLAN. Which we're actually going to start publishing...next week? It'll probably be a few weeks between chapters, but yeah, SEQUEL, WOO! We'll post chapters here and on AATP to let you know when it goes up, but after that you'll need to move to following the new story. Or just follow us instead of the individual stories. Whatevs. —Leigha

Because we've been working on summer scenes, and me my solo projects, while much of the necessary planning is done for fourth year, we don't actually have much of a buffer. ATM, the first and fourth chapters are done, the second is...half-ish, and the third is barely started. Especially with my insomnia and Leigha's work going into busy season soon, yeah, might be delays as we get stuff sorted out. —Lysandra

This thing will be re-posted soonish in a more reasonable order than 'oh, well, that's what I felt like working on today, so that's what's done, here, have a thing' so keep an eye out for that, if reading these chronologically or organised by sub-plot (or both, probably both) is something you're interested in.

Also, those of you who've read Mary Potter know that I like to make PDF versions of full stories available for anyone who wants them, so I'm working on a PDF version of AATP (with a few minor corrections for continuity, typos, etc.). If you want a copy, PM me. Make sure to include your email, and if you're on FFN, MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE SPACES or spell out 'at' and 'dot' so the stupid site doesn't cut out the address. Eg: 'your_email gmail . com' OR 'your_email at gmail dot com'. —Leigha

The scenes were reordered chronologically by sub-plot on 5/20/2020. —Lysandra