Across the street, the school bell rang, and the last of the Françoise Dupont students cleared off of the sidewalk and into the building. From her balcony, Marinette could see her old classmates in their homeroom, gradually making their way to their desks. Lila was still sitting in the back, but Marinette didn't doubt that before long, she would have taken over Marinette's old seat.
Day three of her expulsion from Dupont, and Marinette was (rightfully) no less bitter about it now than she had been three days ago.
Seriously, how was it fair that she got expelled without any sort of investigation? How was it legal? How had her teachers and principal even believed that Marinette would do anything like what Lila had claimed?
Did Lila have secret brain-draining superpowers that no one had found out about yet? That was the only thing that she could think of.
"At least Adrien tried to get Lila to come clean," Tikki offered as her Chosen clambered down from her balcony and headed for her desk. "I mean, I know it didn't work because Lila is too stubborn, but..."
"At least he tried," Marinette finished. She was really grateful for that, honestly. When Adrien had stopped over to check in on her the previous day, he had sounded super frustrated. Apparently Lila had somehow gotten herself invited to his photoshoots and he had confronted her then, trying to bargain the appearance of his friendship to get Lila to walk back her claims about Marinette. At the time, Lila had seemed to agree, but she hadn't followed through afterwards.
Count Marinette not surprised. If Lila walked back on any of her claims, well, that meant that all of her other claims would be questioned, and she would not want to open that door. Even if that meant irritating Adrien.
"And at least someone at Dupont knows that it was Lila's fault," Marinette added with a sigh. Not that it did anything, really, since no one would listen to Adrien, but it was still nice. "And at least he's planning on coming over again and talking to my parents today, so that they aren't just going on my word that I didn't actually do any of the stuff Lila accused me of. But that doesn't get me un-expelled."
"Well, if you can't do anything about it, maybe we should just brush it off and move on," Tikki suggested. "Mulling over it isn't going to help, and if an akuma comes again-"
Marinette hid her scowl and reached for her remote, flipping her monitor from computer screen to TV to drown out the rest of Tikki's words. She knew that it wasn't a good thing that an akuma had actually managed to get as far as corrupting her purse, even if Marinette had still had enough control at the time to start taking her earrings out so that Tikki could fly away with them. Tikki didn't have to keep reminding her that getting akumatized wouldn't be good. Marinette knew that.
(Marinette was this close to going to Master Fu without Tikki and talking to him about her kwami's constant scolding. Marinette knew that her duties as Ladybug were important, but what about the girl under Ladybug's mask? Didn't her feelings matter, too? What was she supposed to do, take a train out to the countryside so that she was out of Hawkmoth's range and only let her emotions out there? Be an emotionless robot until Hawkmoth was defeated? No thank you.)
"Don't be bemused, it's just the news!" Nadja Chamack was saying on-screen, beaming into the camera as Marinette pulled up her first lesson of the day on her tablet. "In today's news, we have extended coverage from the most recent akuma battle, updates from the mayor on proposed new recycling initiatives, and much, much more!"
Madam Chamack chatted on as Marinette started reading through her first class's lesson, determined to at least stay on top of her studies and not let herself fall behind. The online school she had gotten herself enrolled in for the time being was flexible enough that if she got a little behind schedule because of an akuma attack it wouldn't be too big of an issue, but there was no point starting off on the wrong foot.
Besides, if she could work ahead, then she could maybe have some more free time to try to make some progress on tracking down Hawkmoth. That would be making the most out of her situation, at least, and then she would be in a better position to focus on improving her designs and sewing techniques so that she could start developing a portfolio while she was in lycée.
Tikki finally settled down across the room, fiddling with some of Marinette's extra thread and beads while Marinette worked her way through the day's Literature lesson, then Math and Civics and Chemistry. The TV kept playing in the background, muted only when Marinette needed to listen to a video for her schoolwork on her tablet.
"Morning classes done ahead of schedule," Marinette said cheerfully as soon as she finished her last electron drawing. "And homework for them finished at the same time, not that there was much homework to do to start with. Time for a break, I think."
"It is almost time for lunch," Tikki agreed, flying over to join her. "You wouldn't be getting out for another half-hour at Dupont, but you've been working hard! And normally, you would have breaks between classes."
"Mm-hmm." Marinette glanced back up at her computer monitor to glance at the time, then did a double-take when she saw the screen. "Hey, I remember hearing something about this before! Tikki, can you turn up the volume?"
"-the continued fallout from the plagiarism scandal at Paris's famed university for the arts," Madam Chamack said onscreen as Tikki bumped the volume. "Another professor has been linked to the scam, which came to light after a student discovered the plagiarism. After the faculty member that she brought her concerns to didn't do anything about the issue, the student, who wishes to remain unidentified, did her own digging and found enough evidence to go straight to the police."
Marinette froze, eyes fixed on the screen as Madam Chamack kept talking, telling her viewers the timeline of what had been discovered so far. There was a lot, with faculty members at the university trying to sweep the problem under the rug all because of some rich donors who wanted to keep the flow of ideas coming to them. Three attempts from the student to let professors and administrators know that it was happening had all been swept aside with empty assurances and nothing had happened.
No one had expected the stubborn student, armed with facts and evidence to the point where she could directly get the police involved.
And Marinette's brain went aha.
There was plenty of evidence out there that Lila was lying, if only people bothered to look. The looking had been the issue at school, with everyone just taking Lila at her word instead of actually looking for themselves. Marinette didn't doubt that Lila had taken at least some steps to cover her steps- forging her mother's signature, probably, and giving incorrect email addresses that would divert to any emails to her mother to a mimic email that Lila could control- but that didn't mean that they just had to take that at face value!
But if Marinette compiled a whole pile of evidence, then- well, Marinette wasn't going to kid herself into saying that that would solve everything, either. Knowing the discipline that was given at her school, Lila would probably get a tap on the hand as punishment, and everything would get swept under the rug. But if Marinette got evidence, and then went to the proper authorities so that Ms. Buster and Mr. Damocles were forced to act, well...
That might be the exact thing she needed.
Adrien wasn't sure what to expect when he headed over to the Dupain-Cheng bakery after school. He had waited until most of the other students had cleared off before leaving, so that Lila wouldn't see him going over and try to mess things up even more, then ducked into the bakery itself.
He had told the Gorilla that he was studying at the school for a couple hours, so hopefully he wouldn't be interrupted.
"Good afternoon, Adrien," Mrs. Cheng greeted him. She didn't sound as upbeat as she usually did, which wasn't much of a surprise considering that Marinette's expulsion was still fresh. "What can I get for you today?"
"I wanted to talk to you, actually," Adrien told her, glancing around the bakery. The collège student rush had passed, and now there was only a businessman perusing the shelves of baked goods. "About what happened earlier this week-"
Mrs. Cheng's shoulders stiffened, and her smile became a bit more wooden. "I appreciate the concern, Adrien, but-"
"Lila's a liar," Adrien blurted before she could wave him out of the bakery. "She's been making up stories left and right about knowing all these famous people ever since she arrived in Paris, and she's had it out for Marinette from the start because Marinette never fell for her lies."
Mrs. Cheng blinked at him, clearly perplexed. "Are you sure that Lila is making up her stories? Alya dropped by for a couple minutes yesterday and she seemed certain that Marinette was just jealous."
Adrien only just barely resisted the urge to snort. Marinette, jealous? Marinette was possibly the most connected person in their class, if he didn't count the connections that he and Chloe had just because of who their parents were. She designed things for Jagged Stone on at least a semi-regular basis, and Clara Nightingale knew her and liked her, and his father had complimented Marinette's designs. "I'm positive, Mrs. Cheng. Lila claimed to be Ladybug's best friend right after she first arrived in Paris, and I was there when Ladybug confronted Lila about lying. And Lila claimed that she once saved Jagged Stone's kitten on an airplane tarmac and so he's a huge fan of hers, and Marinette knows Jagged Stone. She knows that Jagged never had a kitten. And if Lila was making that up, the probability of everything else being a lie, too..."
Mrs. Cheng's expression turned pensive.
"Besides, the pendant that Lila claimed was her grandmother's is actually from my father's latest jewelry line," Adrien added. "It's a replica of the Fox Miraculous, and she bought it shortly after she arrived in Paris. And Lila claimed to have injured her ankle from falling down the stairs, but as soon as there isn't any attention on her, she's walking just fine. And the foot that she's 'favoring' keeps switching."
"And the teachers didn't notice that, or investigate?" Mrs. Cheng asked, the doubt in her voice finally starting to vanish. "It's what they're meant to do, surely."
Adrien could only shrug. He wasn't sure why Marinette's expulsion had been rushed, unless... "Lila told us that her mom's an Italian diplomat. They might have just not wanted to cause an incident."
Mrs. Cheng muttered something under her breath that Adrien didn't entirely catch, but it sounded rather like "I'll show them an incident."
...if Mrs. Cheng was going to storm over to the school to throw hands with Mr. Damocles, Adrien wanted to be there.
"Thank you for letting me know, Adrien," Mrs. Cheng finally said after a couple of seconds had passed. "I didn't want to doubt Marinette, because the accusations didn't sound like her, but I was putting too much faith in the teachers, it seems. That, and the fact that Alya seems to like Lila... well, that was a bit confusing."
Adrien nodded. He could understand that.
"You can go up to see Marinette, if you want," Mrs. Cheng added after another pause. "I mean, if she's working on her schoolwork then don't disturb her, but I'm sure she would enjoy seeing you otherwise."
"Thank you, Mrs. Cheng."
"And here, have a cookie on your way up, I know these are your favorite."
Adrien lit up as he accepted the treat. "Thank you, Mrs. Cheng!"
That mission accomplished, Adrien headed up the stairs with a bounce in his step. It seemed like Mrs. Cheng had believed him, which would hopefully help repair any strain that had appeared in the relationship between Marinette and her parents. He wasn't sure if Marinette's parents would be able to get through to Mr. Damocles any better than he had- Adrien had tried talking to their principal again today between classes, only to get immediately brushed off- but it was at least a step in the right direction.
Even with a fresh cookie to munch on, it didn't take Adrien long to reach the Dupain-Cheng living room. Marinette's trap door was propped partway open, so he headed, up, keeping his steps quiet in case she was still trying to study. Up above, he could hear Marinette's voice, a low murmur as though she were absentmindedly talking to herself.
"Okay, so either Lila was lying about her mom being an ambassador, or the pictures that she showed us of her with her mom were photoshopped," Marinette was musing aloud when Adrien popped his head in her room behind her, going completely unnoticed. She was sitting in front of the computer, intently focused on something onscreen. It didn't sound like schoolwork, though, so Adrien slipped through her open trapdoor and into her room. "Which would make sense, if she didn't want us recognizing her mom out on the street and saying anything about all of her lies, but how good would she have to be at Photoshop, really?"
"This doesn't sound like schoolwork," Adrien teased, making Marinette yelp and startle before spinning to face him. "Your mom said not to disturb you if you were still doing your lessons, but is it safe to say you've finished?"
"Finished and then some," Marinette agreed, waving him over. "Right now, I'm finding evidence."
Adrien bounced up, at her side in a moment, instantly curious. "Evidence? That Lila's lying, I'm guessing, just based on what I just overheard."
"Exactly." Marinette waved at her screen. "And right now, what I'm finding is that Mrs. Rossi isn't an ambassador. Not unless she has a different last name than Lila and isn't the same person that Lila showed us in her photos."
"I- what?" Adrien leaned over, scanning the computer screen. Marinette let him, scrolling down to let him see the rest of the page, which was apparently from the Italian Embassy's site and showed all of their top staff. Sure enough, there was no sign of the woman whose picture Lila had shown them of her mom. "That's just- wow. Uh, do any of them have, like, personal descriptions at all? You know, like get-to-know-me pages?"
Marinette shook her head. "I've already checked. They're all very professional, no personal information in sight. Which doesn't surprise me, really. I mean, if there are people out there who might have a bone to pick with the embassy for some reason, you don't want too much personal information online."
Adrien opened his mouth, then closed it. He hadn't thought of that. He also didn't understand why someone might have an issue with an ambassador to the point of wanting to target their family, but if Marinette thought that that might be an issue, then he would believe her.
"So that's a dead end for the time being," Marinette told him. "Which is fine, really, because I got a job description of what ambassadors do, which isn't what Lila has been telling people, and then this is evidence that either she's lied about her mom being an ambassador, or she's lying about what her mom looks like-"
"Or she's lying about which country her mom is ambassador for," Adrien finished. He shrugged when she gave him a dubious look. "I mean, it's possible! Then the teachers wouldn't know which embassy to contact."
"I guess. I hadn't thought of that."
"D'you think it's enough to make Mr. Damocles undo your suspension?" Adrien asked, stepping back to snag Marinette's extra chair and pulling it over to sit next to her. "Because I mean, it feels a little mean to say it, but... he sometimes doesn't seem the sharpest? And I just worry that he might try to say that Lila's other lies don't matter, just because of what they 'found' in your bag and locker."
Marinette ducked her head, clearly trying to hide a giggle. Adrien was glad that he could amuse her, at least. "I'm not planning on going over with just a little evidence. Lila could probably lie her way out of that. I want to find a ton of evidence and actually get other authorities involved. Like, Lila definitely was skipping class without permission, and there are such things as truancy officers."
...this was starting to sound serious. Like, really serious.
"That seems like a lot of work that you shouldn't have to do, Marinette," Adrien pointed out, suddenly worried for his friend. He knew that Marinette had a tendency to overwork herself, and with all of the additional stress of getting expelled, that didn't seem like a good idea. "Are you sure-"
"That I want to spend time on it? Definitely," Marinette finished. "I'm not sitting by and letting Lila get away with expelling me. It'll go on my permanent school record- getting expelled, and the cheating and the stairs and the stealing from another student. Once I get to lycée and go back to a traditional school, the teachers won't trust me at all." Her expression became determined. "So if the adults won't step up and help, then I'll make it so that they can't not help."
...Adrien hadn't thought of that before. Being expelled from the school that Marinette had gone to for years and from classmates that she had known for even longer was bad enough on its own. But the effects didn't just stop there, and that had to suck. Like, a lot.
(Adrien was going to ask Plagg to destroy Lila's homework, he really was. Maybe it was petty, but in comparison to what Lila had done? It was nothing.)
"Ooh, yeah, I didn't think about that." Adrien scooted closer, glancing at her for permission before snagging her notebook to look at her list of lies. There... well, there were a lot of them. He had kind of tuned Lila out after a point, so to be honest, he didn't remember all of them. One of the topmost bullet points caught his eye, though, and Adrien frowned in confusion. "You're trying to disprove her being abroad using her Skyping? How is that meant to work?"
Marinette grinned, perking up and snagging her tablet from next to the computer. "Yeah, I took pictures of her when she was Skyping us, and they're clear enough to make out the background behind her." She tapped a couple spots on her screen, then turned it to face Adrien. Sure enough, there was an entire folder of pictures of Lila Skyping them from a whole bunch of different places. "Aside from the fact that she definitely wouldn't get enough Internet to get be able to call us from the street- or good enough cell service to get that clear of a photo- there's no people or cars in the background. Of very main streets. Ever."
Adrien's jaw dropped, and he stared at her in admiration. He had suspected that Lila wasn't telling the full truth, of course, but he had mostly thought that she was lying about who she was meeting, not necessarily where she was. But Marinette was absolutely right. "Wow, Marinette. I didn't- I didn't even think of that! You're brilliant. So what was she in front of, then? Posters?"
Marinette nodded. "I think so. I did a little bit of searching at the time, and if she had used a greenscreen, then she would have risked a little distorted halo showing up around her. Either way, she had to get the picture from the backdrop somewhere, and I want to find it. How I'll do that I don't know, exactly, but I'll figure it out."
"Brilliant." Adrien gave her another admiring glance before turning his attention back to her list. Marinette was a lot like Ladybug, really. She noticed details that no one else did, and could pick out when things were even a little out of place. It was a talent for sure, and one that Adrien honestly wished he had.
But he didn't, so he would have to content himself with helping out the most fantastic girls in his life in whatever ways he could.
Which, at the moment, could very well be using his connections.
"I actually have Prince Ali's contact information," Adrien commented as he noticed one specific bullet point on the list. Lila had told several stories about being in contact with Prince Ali and organizing charities and events with him. Connections with an actual prince was a undeniable attention-getter, so her fascination with him was no real surprise. "We've not been in contact that often, but my father had him and his assistant over while they were in Paris. There was an idea that there might be some collaboration or publicity with Gabriel that fell through, but, well..." Adrien shrugged, bashful. "Neither of us had that many friends at that time, so we exchanged numbers. I can text him and ask about Lila's claims and if he has any suggestions for sites to look at to back up his claims." He flashed a smile at Marinette. "Because I bet we don't just want word-of-mouth, right? Since emails can be modified or faked."
Marinette looked thrilled. "Right! And I'm so glad you have a way to contact Prince Ali, because I figured- well, I figured that those lies would be the most difficult ones to disprove, since Achu seems to keep him fairly sheltered from the media and not that much information about his life gets out."
"They do, but I'm pretty sure that Prince Ali does have some official pages with information on his projects." Adrien pulled out his phone, shooting a quick text to Prince Ali before tucking it back in his pocket and turning his full attention back to Marinette. He had the better part of an hour left before the Gorilla would come looking for him, and he wanted to use that time to help Marinette as much as he could. "Okay. What else do you have on your list?"
Things were coming together faster than Marinette had expected, she had to admit. Only days after she started collecting evidence, her parents' last lingering doubts about the validity of any of the claims against her had vanished, they had told Madam Chamack and she was preparing a story to break once Marinette said the word, and on top of that, they now had a lawyer who had listened to Marinette's detailing of everything that had happened at school. They were preparing a lawsuit against the school, because absolutely none of the required procedures for expulsion had been followed.
Like, literally none. The accusations had been flimsy and all coming from one other student, and they hadn't been investigated at all. There had been no consideration of how likely the accusations were given Marinette's stellar history, and no calling in Lila's mother to discuss the accusations. There was absolutely no sense of any procedure being followed, and considering how much behavior from Chloe the school had let slide before, well...
The favoritism there was astounding, and they couldn't let it stand.
Marinette smiled at the reminder of that meeting as she navigated her way though her online school's portal. It was really nice to have so much support from adults, after months and months and months at school where people hadn't listened to her about Lila, hadn't done anything about Chloe, had told her that really, it isn't as big of a problem as you're making it out to be.
It was a big problem, and people weren't addressing it correctly, and that was going to be fixed. It was unfortunate that it had gotten to the point where lawsuits had to get involved, but things couldn't just be allowed to continue as they were.
And this time, it wasn't entirely up to Marinette to end it. The adults would take care of all of the legal stuff, and if Marinette decided that she was tired of dealing with the situation entirely, then that didn't mean that Lila would get away with things.
Which was nice to know, even if Marinette had no intention of excusing herself from the whole thing. Lila had made life exceedingly difficult for Marinette; now, Marinette wanted to look Lila in the eye while grinding all of her lies into the ground.
...maybe she shouldn't be so focused on revenge when she was a superhero, but honestly, Lila had it coming.
Smiling to herself, Marinette clicked a couple few more times before reaching her target page. It loaded quickly, the title of her class and her current unit at the top of the page, with a little bar below it showing where she was compared to where she was meant to be.
Marinette had started slightly behind schedule- Dupont had apparently fallen behind the national standards schedule, probably because of akuma attacks interrupting their days- and now she had caught up in most subjects and already had started edging ahead in a couple classes, including this particular one.
Civics. Unit: Foreign Relations
Unit project: Create a product- a poster, a paper, or a film- on a country of your choice, documenting their relationship with France, current and historical. Exact requirements, due dates, and minimum lengths detailed below.
It wasn't a mistake that Marinette had pushed herself to get ahead in this particular class. She had looked ahead and seen this particular project coming up and, well, filming some interviews at the Italian Embassy sounded like it would fit the bill perfectly.
"Do you really think that that's necessary at this point, Marinette?" Tikki asked from where she was perched on Marinette's sewing machine. "I mean, you have enough evidence to prove that Lila has hardly been truthful and shouldn't be trusted, and even if she tries to wriggle her way out of it, it's not going to work. Not with a truancy officer alerted and on her trail. Once an accusation has been filed, they will investigate it until they're satisfied. It's going to take more than a couple fake tears and excuses for them to drop it."
"Honestly, this bit is mostly because I'm still curious." Marinette sat back in her chair, scanning over the project guidelines. "Like, I know that Lila needed a backstory that would make it plausible that she could have met a bunch of famous people and be traveling all of the time, but why the Italian Embassy? Was that picture really of her mom? I just- I want to nose around a little. Besides, more evidence is always a good thing, and it doubles as a school assignment, too!"
"A school assignment that isn't due for weeks," Tikki pointed out. "You know what your mom told you, about not burning yourself out by overworking!"
Marinette shrugged, even as she made a few notes about things that she would have to do before filming- looking up some basic history about France-Italian relations, reaching out to a couple ambassadors to see if she could interview them, and seeing if she could check out some decent video camera and microphone equipment from the library were on the top of her list, along with coming up with questions that would hit all of the needed points plus a couple extra. "I mean, I think I'll be fine, especially because, well, I don't think I'm going to get invited to any get-togethers with the girls this week. Alya seemed pretty ticked with me when she left yesterday. So I'll have a lot of free time, probably."
Tikki made a face at that. "I suppose. But you still have Adrien coming over every day! It's not like you aren't speaking to any of your old classmates."
Marinette ducked her head, unable to hide her smile. Adrien had been spending a lot of time with her, and every afternoon they spent together made it that much easier for her to speak to him and see the time as hanging out as friends, not as a potential lead-up to a date. She could enjoy their time together fully, instead of being strung out and on edge.
It didn't take long for Marinette to get fully back into her schoolwork, continuing her slow edging forward ahead of the schedule. Despite her kwami's (and her mother's) worries, she really wasn't overworking herself. Pushing herself, maybe, but really, all Marinette was doing was putting her best foot forward and going at her own pace. It was just that her own pace was fast.
It was just that in class, they always had to slow down when someone didn't understand what was going on, which- well, in some classes, it could be pretty often. Then there were disruptions from people asking questions (or making comments about the famous people they had "met" that were somehow meant to be relevant to whatever they were doing) or having arguments, and the time spent handing out and collecting papers. There were breaks between classes, and even some classes where they ended up with extra, wasted time at the end of their class when they finished something early and didn't have enough time to start something new. That added up to a lot of time, it turned out, and with someone who was properly motivated, getting ahead in classes was a piece of cake.
Marinette was properly motivated. So motivated, in fact, that she completely missed Adrien calling her name from downstairs before coming up into her room, hair in disarray with sweat after his fencing lesson and backpack slung haphazardly over his shoulder.
"That doesn't look familiar. You must have passed us, then."
Marinette yelped, startling and whipping around. Adrien just looked amused at her reaction, pulling up his usual chair next to her. "Am I right?"
"Yeah, I'm working ahead," Marinette admitted, glancing back at her screen. "It gives me something to do. And when the curriculum was made, I think they factored in some interruptions during class, and I don't really have that. I mean, we had a meeting with a lawyer today, but that was kind of over lunch anyway so I didn't fall behind."
Adrien blinked, puzzled. "A lawyer?"
"My mom was talking to Madam Chamack, because they're friends, and she said that it would be the best idea," Marinette told him. "It'll get my expulsion cleared for sure, and will address some of the ongoing problems at the school."
A flash of uncertainty crossed Adrien's face and he started worrying at his lip. "So Ms. Bustier and Mr. Damocles will be getting in trouble, too, not just Lila?"
She had suspected that Adrien might have trouble with that. Marinette had too, because she had known Ms. Bustier for years now and for the most part, had enjoyed her as a teacher. But, well, it was impossible to ignore all of the serious missteps that Ms. Bustier had made. "Yeah. But if it was just Lila getting in trouble, then what happens down the road if another liar shows up, or just another bully in general, and they just keep doing the same thing where there aren't any punishments? I could handle it, but I couldn't always, and, well..."
"And not everyone is as resilient and brave as you," Adrien finished, the uncertainly on his face starting to ebb away. "And not everyone is as willing as you to stand up and fight, or help classmates. I know if it was me that Lila had targeted, I- well, I might try protesting, but I don't think it would go very far. I would end up homeschooled again for sure, and never get to go back to public school again."
"I think the rest of us would protest, and I would definitely go after Lila just like I am now," Marinette assured him. "But for kids in the future who might not have that- well, I don't want injustice to go unchecked. I'm not going to be surprised if someone gets akumatized over this, but better one or two people now than a whole slew of people in the future."
Adrien nodded, letting out a slow breath. "Yeah. Yeah, I can understand that. It makes sense, I was just surprised." He worried his lip, then perked up. "Oh, I meant to tell you right away- I think that Madam Mendeleev has caught on that Lila isn't telling the truth, because she isn't being as lenient with Lila as she used to be. She's not giving any accommodations whenever Lila tries to claim that she needs them because of some condition or another, and she's told Lila off about story time in her classroom."
Marinette giggled. "Oh, I would love to see that. I bet Lila is pretty mad about that."
"She's whined plenty, but I don't think that it's going to do much. Not if she doesn't have a doctor's note to back all of her 'conditions' up, and not when Madam Mendeleev has actually had students with some of the conditions that Lila has claimed before." Adrien grinned. "The look on Lila's face at that- oh, you should have been there. Al- some of the other classmates were scandalized that she was questioning a medical condition, and there was a whole thing- actually, I can see how you're getting so far ahead of us," Adrien interrupted himself with a snort. "Ten minutes of class, gone, just because of, uh, people pulling up sources on accommodating disabilities and trying to talk over Madam Mendeleev until they got sent to the office."
"Why do I get the feeling that you were referring to Alya?" Marinette asked with a sigh and a roll of her eyes. "Now she decides to go for her sources. She won't even entertain the idea of looking up sources for Lila's claims or for some of the stuff she posts on the Ladyblog, but the moment that someone questions Lila..."
Adrien quirked an eyebrow at her. "Should- should I ask?"
"Alya came over yesterday to update me on her 'investigation' and I commented on the fact that she wasn't even looking at Lila as a possibility even though she was the one leveling all of the accusations, and she got really ticked at me," Marinette told him. "She said something about making accusations without any evidence and being obsessed with Lila and then stormed out."
Adrien spluttered. "She- you- she accused you of making accusations without evidence? But you have a literal pile of evidence right over there- it's not hidden or anything! Like, it's super-obvious! How did she miss that?"
Marinette could only shrug. "You know Alya. When she gets focused on one thing, she just turns oblivious to everything else."
"That's frustrating." Adrien reached over to squeeze her hand comfortingly, flashing her a small smile. "I'm sure she'll be kicking herself once everything comes out."
"Yeah, especially because of the latest interview I got." Marinette reached forward, picking up the flash drive sitting next to her computer and waving it at him. "I got a brief interview with Ladybug, and she confirmed that the first time she heard of Lila was when she saw the video on the Ladyblog, and that she saw Lila throw away your father's book, and that she was in Paris on Heroes' Day, and that she's maliciously interfered with akuma battles before."
"Ooh, nice," Adrien said appreciatively. "That must have been hard to get, but that'll be good. And also a good way to point out to Alya that she literally didn't check anything."
Marinette could only smile. Actually, once she had gotten things set up, it had been quite easy to get the video. All she had really needed to do was record herself asking the questions, pitching her voice a little higher than usual, and then play them back while Ladybug answered the questions, doing her best to make it sound like she hadn't practiced already and pitching her voice slightly downwards.
The Miraculous would protect her identity no matter what, but there was no point in risking someone noticing that her voice and Ladybug's were incredibly similar.
"Are you almost done with evidence-collecting, do you think?" Adrien asked Marinette, giving the flash drive one last look before turning his attention to Marinette. "I mean, the sooner you break the news, the sooner you can come back."
Marinette winced. This was the news that she hadn't been looking forward to breaking. "Actually, I, uh..."
Adrien practically wilted. "You're not coming back?"
"My parents are really furious at the school," Marinette admitted. "We've been talking a lot, and I maybe hadn't told them everything that had been happening at school over the past few years with bullying and discipline, and- well, they said that unless there were significant changes, they don't want me going back. I'll be rejoining everyone in lycée," she added quickly before Adrien slouched straight off of his chair. "Which isn't that far off, really, in the grand scheme of things. And I can hang out with the class whenever, and if you want to come over like you are now, or over lunch..."
"So it's not like we won't be seeing you at all," Adrien finished, scooting closer to her. "I was worried about that."
Marinette flashed a smile at him. She was going to miss hanging out with people between classes, but sacrifices had to be made if she wanted to fully capitalize on her temporary homeschooling and it wouldn't be forever. "Right. I'll be right across the street, available to hang out. It's not the end of the word."
"And it gives me a reason to look forward to lycée," Adrien added on. He glanced at her computer screen, which still had her online school portal up. "And I was right, wasn't I? About you being ahead of Dupont now?"
"It wasn't hard," Marinette admitted. "You guys are behind, and when I work at my own speed, I can cover more than a day's work. So that's another reason it wouldn't really make sense for me to go back, because I'll be so far ahead. And it's probably going to be another week at least, because all of the legal stuff takes some time to put together and file."
Adrien nodded, still looking a bit let down. Clearly he had been hoping that Marinette would be returning to school soon, and as much as that made Marinette's heart race, she couldn't change her plans. "Right."
"But enough depressing stuff," Marinette decided, shutting her notebook and closing the school website before grinning up at Adrien. "Wanna play Mecha Strike?"
"That sounds perfect."
Marinette headed up the steps of the Italian Embassy, a spring in her steps. It hadn't taken long to set up an appointment to interview an ambassador and a couple other staff members at the embassy, and they were more than willing to spend a few minutes with her. She had promised not to take up too much of their time- after all, they had important work to do- and now she was arriving early, just to make sure that something like a delayed bus wouldn't make her late.
Not that she would have allowed a delayed bus to make her late. After all, Ladybug could cross Paris faster than any bus could, so if it had come to that, she would have just transformed and raced across the rooftops. It wouldn't be ideal- she didn't want Chat Noir to see her out and about and interrupt his school day because he thought that there was an akuma- but the option was still there.
"So I'm meeting with Ambassador Bianchi in ten minutes and Monsieur Moretti after that," Marinette told Tikki as she mounted the last few steps and headed for the door. "I tested all of the equipment last night, so that I know how it works and that it works. I checked to make sure that all of my previous footage was off, so I have plenty of space. Tikki, am I forgetting anything?"
"No, I don't think so!" Tikki chirped, sticking her head out of Marinette's purse briefly before vanishing back inside. "You're all set, Marinette!"
Giving a determined nod, Marinette pulled open the door, stepping inside the embassy. A cheerful lady at the welcome desk gave her directions to the ambassador's office, and Marinette strode as confidently as she could down the hallway and up the stairs to the second floor. There were more than a couple people wandering down the halls chatting in Italian, and Marinette caught flashes of conversations as she passed them.
It wasn't hard to find the ambassador's office- the embassy had good signage, she would give them that- and Marinette stepped in the open door, coming to a stop in front of Ambassador Bianchi's secretary's desk, where a oddly familiar woman sat.
Lila's mother. And it definitely was Lila's mother because behind her, pinned to a very full corkboard, was a picture of Lila and her mom together with an older couple.
Well. Maybe Lila had been lying about her mother being an ambassador or in any sort of top diplomatic position, but she was at least at the Italian Embassy.
"Ah, you must be Ambassador Bianchi's eleven o'clock appointment," Mrs. Rossi said, giving Marinette a friendly smile. "She said something about a student project?"
"Yes, I'm on my Foreign Relations unit right now and we're supposed to do a project on France's relationship with another country. My Nonna is Italian, so..." Marinette shrugged. It wasn't an entire lie. Even if Lila hadn't been in the picture, Marinette probably would have picked Italy to research. That, or China. "I decided to learn a bit more about the country that side of the family is from."
"How lovely!" Mrs. Rossi exclaimed. She smiled at Marinette. "Now, if you want to take a seat over there to wait, the ambassador will be about five minutes."
"Okay," Marinette said automatically, then paused. Maybe she already had all of the evidence she needed to get Lila in very deep trouble, but she couldn't deny that she was really curious about Lila's mom and what exactly was going on there. "Or, actually- if you're busy or don't want to, that's fine, but could I maybe interview you about what you do at the embassy as well?"
Mrs. Rossi perked up. "Oh, I think I can spare a few minutes for that! I never really get asked about what I do," she confided as Marinette quickly pulled out her camera and attached the microphone to it. "Which I can understand, because everybody always talks about the ambassadors and the ministers and they get the spotlight, but there's plenty of staff behind the scene who make the entire place run smoothly. There's a lot of work involved- I work overtime most days, but that's also because I'm still getting used to this job."
Marinette nodded as she checked both mic and camera to make sure that they were running. "When I was reading up on what an embassy does, it certainly sounded complicated! It's not a huge surprise that there are people behind the scenes making sure that everything gets done."
"It might surprise you how many people that information does surprise." Mrs. Rossi considered Marinette again, pausing. Marinette tried to not stiffen up. Had Mrs. Rossi realized who she was? "Forgive me for prying, but I'm curious- shouldn't you be at school right now? Did they give you a pass so that you could do the interviews?"
Marinette shook her head, feeling herself starting to relax. Maybe Lila had decided that her mom might be suspicious or decide to move her to another school if she reported any problems- real or imaginary- to her and so hadn't mentioned Marinette at all. "I'm being homeschooled at the moment- or, rather, I'm enrolled in an online school for the rest of collège."
"Oh, that's quite nice," Mrs. Rossi commented, perking up. "And smart, considering the akuma attacks here in Paris! My daughter's collège was closed for several months because of akuma attacks there- or maybe it was just one akuma who was taking forever to defeat, I don't remember- and I do worry about how that's going to impact her education. I'd have her switch schools, but I worry that other schools would have the same problem and the one she's at is quite highly rated." She sighed. "And Lila seems to have made quite a few friends there, and she's gotten a boyfriend, so I don't want to make her switch and I hadn't had the time to look into other options anyway."
...okay, this was interesting. It also answered the question of how Lila's mom hadn't noticed her skipping school for months on end, but Marinette was really wondering how busy Mrs. Rossi was if she hadn't even looked into Lila's claims. One simple Google search, and she would have found out that no such long-term akuma existed.
She also had questions about the boyfriend claim. Something told Marinette that Lila had probably claimed that she was dating Adrien, who was likely to be less than happy about that claim.
"Huh, I hadn't heard any news about any collèges being closed because of akuma," Marinette said instead of questioning anything, shrugging one shoulder. "Odd. But getting back on track..." She made a show of getting the camera properly lined up, then peered over the top. "Can you tell me what you do here at the embassy?"
Marinette was prepared.
Over the past couple of weeks, with Adrien's help and a bit of an assist from her family's lawyer, she had debunked pretty much all of Lila's lies. She had printed out pages of evidence and compiled video clips from the interviews she had done on flash drives. The lawsuits- both against the school and against Lila specifically- had just been filed, and Madam Chamack would be breaking the story that morning, while Marinette went in to confront Ms. Bustier and Lila.
Everything was ready, all of her evidence packed into her bag the previous evening, and Marinette was doing breathing exercises while waiting to head into the school. Her family's lawyer, several members of the school board, a substitute teacher, and a truancy officer were all waiting downstairs in the bakery, and would be accompanying her over.
A ding from her phone caught Marinette's attention, and she pulled it out of her purse. On-screen, there was a message from Adrien.
Looking forward to seeing you! You'll do great :)
Smiling, Marinette tapped out a quick reply before sending it and heading downstairs. Nerves were really building in her stomach now, but she pushed them back down. She had faced akumas and supervillains before. This would be a piece of cake.
"The bell has rung," Madam Rochefort commented, glancing up from her tablet. "Let's head over in five, to give people time to settle down."
Ms. Boutin flashed a grin at Madam Rochefort. "It's so odd, seeing you deliberately planning to make a scene during classes. Normally you're all about pulling teachers aside before or after school."
"They decided to make the accusations and expulsion a public spectacle, so I'm not going to grant them the privilege of resolving their problems in private." Madam Rochefort smiled at Marinette. "And I certainly couldn't deny Miss Dupain-Cheng here the satisfaction of throwing all of her evidence in her class's face."
Marinette smiled at that. She had been a little worried with all of the officials that had gotten involved that she wouldn't be able to carry out her (admittedly somewhat petty) plan, but they had been willing to accommodate her.
Five minutes later, they were marching over to the school. Ms. Boutin knocked on the large doors sharply, then stepped back to wait for an answer. Seconds later, Mr. Haprèle opened the doors, annoyed look giving way to confusion.
"Good morning, we're from the school board," Madam Rochefort announced, ushering Marinette in ahead of her and flashing her ID at . "We've come to speak to a couple of the teachers and your principal."
Mr. Haprèle nodded, stepping to the side to let them in even as the confused look stayed on his face. Marinette led the way up to Ms. Bustier's classroom, excitement mounting in every step.
She could do this. Everything was labeled so there was no chance of her messing anything up. There was no need to go into detail for anything if she didn't want to. For once, other people could exert some actual effort and look at the evidence she had helpfully gathered for them instead of her having to explain each and every piece.
"Go get 'em," Ms. Boutin told Marinette, patting her arm. "And we're right here, waiting for our cue. They won't be able to ignore you this time."
Nodding, Marinette put on her Ladybug face, then turned towards the door. With one last deep breath, she shoved open the door, sending it flying open and drawing every student's eye to her as she strode into the classroom, confidence in every step.
"Marinette!" Ms. Bustier exclaimed, rising from her desk at the front. There was a frown on her face. "What are you doing here? You've been expelled, you're not allowed on school property, especially during school hours-"
Marinette's fierce expression cut her off. "Actually, I'm here to contest my expulsion. I think you'll find that none of the requirements for expulsion were even met. Additionally-" Marinette started digging in her bag, a frown flashing across her face as she realized that it might be a bit difficult to pull things out of her bag.
"I can hold your bag, Marinette!" Adrien offered at once, sliding out of his seat and coming up front to join her, taking her bag and flashing her an encouraging smile. You've got this.
"Thank you, Adrien." Marinette returned his smile, then returned to her earlier intensity. "As I was saying- no procedure was followed. The decision to expel me was entirely based on claims made by a lying, thieving, completely untrustworthy liar."
Lila gasped theatrically from her seat, which- surprise, surprise- was now next to Alya, in Marinette's old spot. "You're still trying to call me a liar? Just because you're jealous-"
Marinette cut her off, pulling the first stack of packets out of her bag while staring Lila down. "Evidence that Lila was lying about saving Jagged Stone's cat and knowing him at all. Almost all of which is public information, if anyone had bothered to look." She slammed the first packet down on Ms. Bustier's desk. "That she was lying about knowing Prince Ali." Another slam. "And that literally all of her supposed involvement in charity work and other organizations is a lie, as are all of the other connections that she claimed to have and that I'm not even going to dignify naming."
This slam was even louder. There were several flinches around the room. Lila was starting to look a little less confident, her eyes darting towards Ms. Bustier.
"And, most importantly." Marinette's eyes flashed back to Ms. Bustier, who was looking very taken aback. "Which the teachers here really should have looked into properly, instead of just blindly believing Lila. She was lying about being out of Paris at all and was using posters as her background when she called us, which should have been obvious to anyone with eyes, because there were exactly zero pedestrians or cars behind her. I found all of the posters she used with a very simple reverse photo search."
There were gasps at that, and Ms. Bustier pressed a hand to her chest, looking over at Lila.
"Additionally, as if the posters weren't enough, I have interviews with both Ladybug and Mrs. Rossi that confirm that Lila was in Paris for the entirety of the time that she claimed to be traveling." Marinette reached in the bag one more time, pulling out her flash drive. Lila had gone pale at that, and oh, it was so satisfying. "Those were both very interesting, actually. Ladybug told me that the first time she had ever heard of Lila was when she saw the Ladyblog video where Lila was claiming to be her best friend, and that Lila has hated her for calling her out of the lies. Additionally, Lila has deliberately gotten in the way of the superheroes during akuma battles in order to sabotage them, and she was in Paris on Heroes' Day as Volpina, who made the illusions of Ladybug and Chat Noir fighting."
There were gasps at that. Marinette was not done.
"And on top of that, Ladybug saw Lila throwing a book into the trash- a book that Lila stole from Adrien." Marinette's eyes narrowed at Lila, whose mouth was opening and closing wordlessly. "Because she had gotten what she wanted out of it, also known as the fake Fox Miraculous that she had just bought from a Gabriel shop."
"Which, I might add, she tried to pass off as the real Fox Miraculous right away," Adrien chimed in from next to her. "And that necklace was the same one that she said was from her grandmother and she claimed that Marinette stole."
"And, if that isn't enough, Mrs. Rossi thought that Lila was staying home because the school was closed due to an extended akuma attack," Marinette finished, a smirk flashing across her face at the look of pure panic that flashed across Lila's face. Clearly she had thought that Marinette was bluffing about meeting her mother."Because Lila told her that the principal was akumatized and therefore the school was closed." Against her better judgment, Marinette's eyes flashed towards Alya for a moment. "How's that for research and evidence, hmmm?"
"I- no-" Lila attempted, clearly scrambling to pull herself together. "That is- a misrepresentation of what- Marinette is just making things up, she's just jealous and bitter that I didn't let her bully me-"
"I have video evidence, Lila," Marinette told her, using her best cold, no-nonsense, I-am-a-superhero-and-you-WILL-listen-to-me voice. She could see several people shrink back, intimidated. "And an entire pile of evidence to disprove your other lies. And..." She reached into her bag for her final folder, opening it up and pulling out another packet before striding over to Lila and slapping it down on the desk in front of her. "A lawsuit against you, for slander with malicious intent."
"But Lila can't get in trouble with the law," Max protested from the back of the room. "She has diplomatic immunity because of her mother."
Marinette smirked at that. Lila was really wilting now. "Top diplomats might get diplomatic immunity for their families, sure. But the secretary for the ambassador certainly doesn't get immunity for her family."
There were gasps at that.
"Additionally, diplomatic immunity can be waived by the family member or the home country even if it did apply," Mr. Bernard announced, stepping into the classroom. "Which we have seen before, and if it had applied in this case, I'm sure we would see it again."
"Who are you?" Ms. Bustier asked, stepping forward. "This all seems like a lot of disruption, we are a school-"
"I am a truancy officer, and Ms. Rossi here is in quite a bit of trouble. Skipping multiple months of school is definitely grounds for punishment, particularly when I suspect that she forged her mother's signature on the school leave forms." Mr. Bernard flashed a doubtful look at Ms. Bustier. "If, of course, there was even an attempt at following procedure in that case."
Ms. Bustier flushed. "We- we were told it was a very last-minute trip, and that Mrs. Rossi was quite busy, and we wanted to be accommodating, so we waited until after the return to really push for ..."
"Procedure is not optional. It is there for a reason, to keep things like this from happening." Mr. Bernard did not look impressed, but he jerked his chin at Lila. "Ms. Rossi. Your mother has been contacted and is on her way. Collect your things at once."
Lila glanced around frantically, rather like a cornered rabbit, but all of her classmates were glaring at her. Slowly, she gathered up her things, picking up the lawsuit notice last, and then headed out after Mr. Bernard, dragging her feet the entire way.
There was a pause.
"It- well, it seems as though I owe you an apology, Marinette," Ms. Bustier finally said, sinking back into her seat. "I should have looked into things more thoroughly instead of letting them slide. I'll get your expulsion wiped off of your record at once, and you can return right away."
"Actually, I won't be returning to Francois-Dupont," Marinette informed her, ignoring the gasps from the class in favor of fishing out the last of her forms and setting it on Ms. Bustier's desk. "My parents don't think that the environment here is conducive to my learning experience, and they don't trust that there will be enough change in the remainder of the year to satisfy them."
Ms. Bustier reached across the desk for the form at once, her eyes going wide as she took in the top page. It was another lawsuit, this one against the school for not following proper procedure for expulsion and for failing to protect their students from a bully.
Marinette had been a little unsure about the last bit, but the school board had pointed out that, had any of the teachers looked into things, Mr. Bourgeois didn't actually have the power to punish the school for properly disciplining Chloe, and even if they couldn't be bothered to look that much up, they at the very least could have separated Chloe and Marinette into different homerooms instead of placing them together for so many years in a row. It wouldn't have been possible to place them in different classrooms every year- after all, Chloe bullied everyone- but getting a break every other year shouldn't have been too much to expect.
Having adults standing up to Chloe instead of leaving students to do that themselves shouldn't have been too much to expect, either.
"I'll be rejoining the class for lycée, but not before," Marinette added, because she could hear Rose starting to sniffle. "And I can hang out with you guys whenever, but my parents aren't at all happy with the administration here."
Rose managed a small smile when Marinette glanced her way, nodding in understanding.
"Speaking of people being unhappy with the administration, we need to speak to you, Ms. Bustier," Madam Rochefort announced, sticking her head through the door. She stepped aside to let the substitute teacher who they had brought in. "We'll go to Mr. Damocles' office, if you could."
Ms. Bustier nodded, even paler as she followed Madam Rochefort out. Marinette took that as her cue to leave as well, tucking her empty folder back into her bag and taking it back from Adrien. He was smiling at her, proud and a little sad at the same time.
"We'll miss seeing you during class," Adrien murmured in her ear as he slid Marinette's bag over her head, arranging it at her side before pressing a quick kiss to the side of her head. "But I know I'll visit as often as I can. For both the company and the food."
"Our door is always open for you," Marinette promised, trying not to flush and probably failing. Adrien was too cute for her blood pressure sometimes. "And you have my number, too. If you want to come over during lunch, too, you can."
Adrien perked up at that as he escorted her to the door. "I might end up never leaving if you keep inviting me over, just so you know."
Marinette giggled. As though she would actually ever complain about that. "We'll make up a bed for you."
"Very tempting." Adrien smiled at her, then glanced back into the classroom. The substitute teacher was looking back at him. "I have to go, but see you later?"
"Of course." With a final wave, Marinette stepped back, watching Adrien head back into the classroom before turning herself and heading back out of the school. She was by herself now, the school board members and lawyer and truancy officer all busy, but that didn't matter. She had done what she had come to school to do. The expulsion would be wiped from Marinette's record, and the faculty at Dupont would be given the help and training they needed to be far better teachers for the next set of students to come through and all of the students after them, too. On top of that, Lila had been taken down, her following gone and her reputation in shatters. With any luck, she would be removed from Paris entirely in order to keep her from getting akumatized again.
Hopefully her next set of teachers would be given a heads-up about Lila's tendency to make up stories so that no one else would have to go through the same thing that Marinette just had.
Humming to herself, Marinette paused at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change. She had taken down one schoolyard bully and made life in Paris just that little bit better for everyone.
And now that that was over... well, now that she had more free time, she could turn her attention to a much bigger target. Hawkmoth had better beware, because before long, Ladybug was going to be on his case.
a/n: I really wanted to play with this concept after the Ladybug episode came out, since why would Lila go along with Adrien's implied threat? From her point of view, he's all bark and no bite. Never mind whatever Gabriel's motives are, Lila would definitely benefit not having someone who is continuously trying to call out her lies at school.
(I swear this is the last Lila takedown-focused fic for a while. That episode just...ugh.)
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete! And as always, reviews make my day!