"Lyra! Where the hell have you been?! We almost missed the train waiting for you!"

Lyra groaned. Somehow, when she'd decided to forego actually catching the train to finish her little trap for Bella, she hadn't considered that Maïa might have a problem with it. She was barely half an hour late, honestly!

Shadow walking really was the most convenient trick ever, she truly didn't understand why more people didn't invest in learning it. Of course, if they did, then more people would probably start looking into ways to block it, but... Never mind. In any case, she'd walked straight to Maïa, assuming she'd be on the train (which she hadn't actually missed, so what was the problem?), and when she'd realised that Maïa was sitting in a compartment with just Blaise, Theo, and Gin, promptly joined them, sitting down even as she pushed herself across the planar border. She'd materialised an inch or so above the bench she was aiming for, the jolt as she fell onto it reverberating through her spine in a minorly painful way, but it probably still looked good.

"Hi. No one wanted to play with me over here, so I went to visit Bella. She didn't want to play with me, either, but because she's a heinous bitch, she knocked me out for like, twenty hours while she went off to meet with Solange Martin, and then I got caught up designing— You know what, it's not important. I was in Aquitania. Now I'm here. Did I hear you talking about the Wizengamot?"

Because she was pretty sure they'd been talking about the Wizengamot. Specifically, how the Allied Dark and Ars Brittania were dealing with half their people being dead or implicated in the World Cup Riot, a subject which she was herself rather curious about.

"What— No, did you just say you were visiting Bella? As in..."

"Yes, Lyra, I thought we talked about the admitting we're in contact with our notoriously murderous mum thing."

"Well, yeah, we did, but I kind of doubt Theo and Gin are going to turn me over to the Aurors, and doesn't everyone here know that she's not actually my mother?"

"If you're not her clone, where the hell did you come from, then?" Gin asked — oh, apparently not — even as Blaise shook his head with an overly-exaggerated expression of exasperation, and Maïa snapped her fingers in front of Lyra's nose.

"Focus, Lyra! What the hell do you mean you were visiting Bella? Why— What were you thinking?"

"Er...something along the lines of everyone else is busy packing or moping and doesn't want to deal with me being insane and if I don't do something, right now, I might die, or start setting things on fire so Sirius will get out of bed, and Bella has to know what this is like, and Dora's on the Continent trying to find her, so really it's her responsibility to entertain me anyway, and she's probably a better duelist than Dora by like, a lot — which she is, by the way — and that sounds like fun, or at least a good way to exhaust myself — which it wasn't, by the way. Yes, obviously she knows what being mad is like, but she was busy too and didn't want to deal with me being insane, either, so we only played one little game — the most boring game, I never even got her to move — though she did use this cool space-warping thing I have got to figure out — and then she beat me in about twenty duels in fifteen minutes, and then she started poking holes in me because I was annoying her, and when I finally agreed to leave her alone, she knocked me out, because she somehow knew I was lying. Bitch."

"God, I'm surprised she didn't just kill you — this is Bellatrix Lestrange we're talking about! Out of all the people in the world you could've gone to annoy... How did you even find her?"



"Bella Black. The Lestranges apparently dissolved her marriage contract back in the Eighties, so she's a Black again. Not that most people know that, but. Not important. And she wouldn't kill me, or not just for being annoying, at least. Filicide is much less acceptable than patricide, and she has been telling people I'm her daughter — or, she's been telling werewolves and Lise Delacour, at least — and I'm pretty sure I'm on her list, anyway. And it wasn't hard to find her, I already knew where she was." And if she hadn't, she was sure Eris would have told her. Really, that was just a silly question.

"You what? How...?"

"Wait, did you think this was the first time I'd visited her?"

"You— Did you all know about this?" Maïa demanded of the others. Apparently she had. Weird.

Blaise, who had been watching them with rapt attention, nodded. Theo and Gin seemed to be discussing their training schedule, muttering over a pocket calendar and hardly paying them any attention at all. It actually took a moment for Maïa's question to register, whereupon Theo looked up and shrugged. "No, but I'm not surprised."

Gin nodded. "Same. Have you met Black? Why wouldn't you expect her to just go have tea with the most terrifying Dark Lady since Cromwell?"

"I wouldn't go have tea with her, tea is terrible. But I had to go adjust the wards to let her in when she finally got all her werewolves to the Vinyard, and have words with her about Riddle — she doesn't want to help kill him, which, fine, more fun for us! but she's not going to try to stop us, either — and there's this really neat runic augmentation thing they did, and we kind of got off topic and I ended up just talking to her for a few hours, she's kind of great. Or, well, I thought so, before she knocked me out and did something to my head — seriously, I didn't even know it was possible to keep me unconscious for twenty fucking hours when I'm like this, and it feels like I was out for a week, like I slept through the most fun part of the Madness, which apparently is the entire point of the spell. It's awful, and she has to hate this thing as much as I do, Mickey said she tried to stab Riddle for using it on her, once, and that was while she was still his mind-slave, which I'm pretty sure makes her the world's biggest fucking hypocrite! It's fine, though, I got her back for it. Or I will have done, once she gets back to the Vinyard. That's why I missed the train, I was designing a trap ward to bind her to her bedroom for the next few days, ruin her week just like she ruined mine. You know, just to make it clear that fucking with my head is not okay, and I might not be able to touch her in an actual fight but I can hurt her too, if I want to."

Maïa's mouth was hanging open, just the slightest bit, blinking at her, obviously at a loss for words, which was kind of funny, Maïa was hardly ever speechless. Before she came up with something to say, or Lyra could try to change the subject back to the Wizengamot, because Cissy was up to something and wouldn't tell her what it was, Blaise cut in. "Mickey?"

"Oh, Fenrir. Don't call him Mickey, only Bella's allowed. And me, because he's my Fictional Foster-Father, and also they can't stop me. Did I tell you that?" She thought she had at some point, but she'd be the first to admit she didn't pay that much attention to who'd been told what unless it meant she was going to have to do a lot of tedious repeating herself later. "That if Bella had used bio-alchemy to make herself a kid, she said she probably would have given it to him to raise? So I was officially raised by werewolf terrorists, now. If anyone asks."

"Seriously! Where did you come from, really?"

"Why would you think it's a good idea to set a trap to annoy Bellatrix bloody Lestrange?!"

Obviously Lyra preferred to answer Maïa's question, mostly because it was just funny, watching Red get all annoyed over not knowing something that everyone else around her knew. "Black, and why wouldn't I? I can't take her in a straight fight, and I really couldn't let her just get away with fucking with my head."

Maïa let out an adorable little argh of frustration. "Sometimes, you really, really should just let it go! What is she going to do in response? Did you even think about that before you went and did something specifically intended to piss off the most dangerous person you've ever met?!"

"Well, it's not like she's going to come to Hogwarts just to curse me to seven hells. I expect by the time we run into each other again, she'll be over it. It's not like it's a big public thing that she'd have to respond to so other people know they can't get away with shite like that, and it's a completely proportionate response."

Maïa's eyes narrowed in some vaguely negative expression. Scorn? Concern? (Lyra was terrible at this.) "Are you honestly telling me that if you were in her place, you wouldn't come after yourself for pulling something like that?"

"If I was in her place, I wouldn't have knocked me out to begin with, but...yes? I mean, she should know why I did it. I'd actually be kind of surprised if she didn't expect me to retaliate in some way. It's fine, Maïa, really." Maïa tried to offer some other spurious objection, but what more was there to say on the subject, really? Even if she did manage to somehow convince Lyra that getting Bella back was a bad idea, it was far too late to not do it now. "So, Theo, has Cissy told you how she's planning to remain un-fucked by the entirety of the Ministry and half the I.C.W., given that she and Lucy vouched for all those Death Eaters who were caught in the riot?" Not to mention, she'd sent Lucy out to get caught as well, made sure everyone would know he was there even if he wasn't caught, even.

"Um, no. No, she said she has a plan that will supposedly take care of the infighting and also foil the accusation that the Malfoys gave false testimony on behalf of actual Death Eaters back in Eighty-One. I guess Lady Longbottom demanding that they put Lord Malfoy on trial as soon as possible is part of it, but that's all I know. Well, and she said, when you asked I should tell you that you'll find out in the papers like everyone else, it doesn't involve you, and no, you aren't going to have to break her out of Azkaban, this is going to work."

Gin snorted. "Of course it is, this is Narcissa Malfoy we're talking about, here. Every time someone decides to oppose her, their plot goes all Icarian on them just when it looks like they've got her cornered, it's bloody absurd." ("That's what I told her," Blaise interjected. He had, yes, because neither he nor Cissy seemed to realise that she really wasn't concerned about that. She just wanted to know what was happening!) "But why would Malfoy be telling you shite, Theo, and not Black?"

Theo flushed slightly. "Well, um. I guess you didn't hear, then? My father was killed in the riot."

"Oh, Theo, I'm so sorry!"

Blaise rolled his eyes. "Don't be, Maïa, he was a controlling, abusive bastard. Our Theo's better off without him."

"Mmm, yeah. You're welcome, by the way." Every head in the compartment turned toward Lyra. She smirked at the lot of them, gave them about two seconds to put it together.

Dear Cadmus had had an unfortunate encounter with a really neat beheading curse while trying to kill some Auror cadet during the World Cup Riot. At least, Lyra hoped he'd been a cadet — he'd gotten separated from the rest of his little four-man squad in the fighting and managed to get himself disarmed somehow, couldn't find his wand, had been squirming under, if she wasn't much mistaken, a Cholic Curse. Not the most painful curse Cygnus had ever used on her, but it did have longer-lasting effects than most of the more strictly illusory pain spells, since it actually did cause increasingly intense muscle spasms throughout the victim's gastro-intestinal tract. One of the more dangerous, too, if it was kept up too long.

It was possible Cadmus hadn't actually been planning to rip the baby Auror apart from the inside out (a Cholic Curse was a messy way to die), just play with him a bit and then knock him out or leave him curled up in pain on the ground being all pathetic while he went off to find something more interesting to do, but she honestly doubted that he would have restrained himself. He was, after all, one of the (relatively) few rioters actually wearing a Death Eater mask, which she expected meant that he had no love for the Aurors and no mercy for idiots. And Sirius had said that she could put down anyone wearing a mask or using lethal spells preferably non-lethally, which wasn't at all the same as making a rule against lethal measures in general, or even try not to kill anyone, and she'd never had an opportunity to use that spell outside of practice. So she'd gone ahead and done it, just...snick — nine blade-like planes of force arranged themselves in an iris diaphragm around his neck before twisting closed, narrowing the aperture to nothing and resulting in the head just kind of sitting there in mid-air for about half a second while the body collapsed to the ground, spurting blood from neatly severed arteries.

(Ciardha hadn't even liked her to practice that sort of thing, because when would she ever need to behead someone so elaborately? Gods forbid she actually have a bit of fun in the event that she did ever have an occasion to behead anything bigger than a pixie...)

It'd been kind of hilarious, actually, especially the look on the baby Auror's face. Probably would have been better if Cadmus hadn't been masked. She bet he would have looked surprised. As it was, she couldn't see his face at all until his head hit the ground and the mask fell off. Somehow, she hadn't expected the first person she killed — or the first one she knew she had killed, at least — to be someone she'd known personally, back in her old life.

Not that she minded. She'd mostly been vaguely annoyed when she realised it, because if (when) Cissy found out that Lyra had killed him, she'd think she did it because Cissy had asked her to — Nott and Parkinson were leading the attempt to fracture the Allied Dark which had completely disrupted Cissy's plans for an alliance with Ars Publica and Common Fate over the summer — when she really hadn't. If she had known who he was, she might have used something non-lethal on him specifically because she'd just told Cissy she wouldn't be doing her any favours any time soon, but whatever. It had been far too late to do anything about it by the time she'd realised her mistake, so she'd simply shrugged and thrown the baby Auror a Black Cloaks' salute on a whim (she kind of doubted he'd recognised it — Uncle Draco had taught her, but they'd all been wiped out here in the Forties) before skipping off to find someone more interesting to actually fight.

"Thanks. I wasn't going to tell people, but I guess you don't care if this lot know?"

"Know what?" Maïa, for once seemed to be the last one to figure out what was going on, or else had and thought she was wrong for some reason.

"Why would I care?"

"Lyra killed the bastard, out there running around with his bloody Death Eater mask on, throwing lethal curses around and using torture spells on Aurors. They recovered his wand, there was more than enough evidence to rule cutting his fucking head off a reasonable degree of force, given the threat he presented."

Lyra really couldn't help but giggle a little. "Like you would've cared if it wasn't?"

Theo rolled his eyes. "Roger wanted to demand justice even though it was — he actually liked my father. But the rest of the regency council talked him out of it."

"You got a whole council of regents? Tough luck, mate." Blaise gave Theo a sympathetic grimace, then grinned. "Still, means you don't have to deal with the political shite for a few more years, at least."

"Or ever, would be nice. I hate politics. Might just amend the House laws when I come of age so the heads of the client houses keep most of the responsibilities, make them—"

He was cut off by a rather annoyed "Lyra," from Maïa. "Why didn't you tell me about... You said the riot wasn't a big deal, everyone was safe, and... You actually went out in it, in the fighting?"

"Well, yes, obviously. It's not like I would have let Cadmus into the bloody tent. And I was advised that you probably wouldn't take it well if I told you how much fun it was, even if I didn't really do anything out of the ordinary."

By Sirius, actually.

They'd ended up just kind of walking around the fields of destroyed tents talking about random shite for hours after the battle came to its rather abrupt climax, because she couldn't really stand the thought of facing Harry and Cissy and Zee after her little freak out before she'd finally gotten to get out there, and the lecture Zee was bound to give her on why it wasn't okay to lose her temper like that (which she had tried to do anyway when they'd finally come back, but Lyra had taken the opportunity to repay the silencing she'd used in her little show for Dumbledore until she gave up). It wasn't like she had anything to say that Lyra didn't already know, she was perfectly capable of coming up with reasons she really didn't want to kill Cissy for herself, and it should be obvious that losing her temper meant she hadn't had enough control of herself to not lose it, so.

It wasn't like either of them had been tired, really. Lyra had been a bit fried — hijacking the Death Eaters' palings at the end was probably the single biggest working she'd ever done. Most of it had been runic casting, exploiting ambient magic, so she hadn't even had to channel most of the energy involved, and she'd still managed to knock herself out, just from the mental strain of it. But being magically exhausted — or at least worn out, as she hadn't quite started overchannelling but she had been pushing her limits...which was saying kind of a lot since she'd actually started to come into her power over the summer — and kind of fuzzy-headed and tapped out as far as her ability to focus went didn't mean she hadn't still been running high on the adrenaline from the fight. Sirius had also informed her that the best thing to do in that situation was find someone to screw her brains out, but apparently that wasn't him volunteering (even if saying no had sounded rather painful). So they'd just...walked. And talked. And because Zee had reminded her that she didn't need to set such high standards for herself as far as keeping secrets and pretending to be normal went, she'd ended up telling him pretty much everything. (He'd been insufferable about the you're-really-Bellatrix-I-totally-knew-it part.)

At some point in the course of their talk — after it was pointed out that she probably should have invited Maïa to the match, even if she did hate quidditch, and before they'd come up with general rules about who it was and was not acceptable to kill, and in what circumstances — it had come up that normal people didn't tend to like fighting, really. Which Lyra had already known, insofar as they got scared or guilty or whatever about almost getting killed or hurting people themselves. And she probably could have guessed that they didn't appreciate the sheer chaos of a battlefield nearly as much as she did.

But she really wouldn't have guessed that most people, normal people, would think it was disturbing and horrifying if she told them how exhilarating and perfect the whole thing had been, how right it had felt, being in the middle of the chaos and destruction and violence, being a part of it, like she never really was with any other human thing. How in the middle of the battle, surrounded by pain and death and madness, she'd actually felt relaxed, not having to hold herself back for once in her entire fucking life. How it had been incredibly frustrating that it had ended so soon, and forcing herself to stop had been almost painful, even after getting hit by a Cruciatus and exhausting herself by hijacking the Death Eaters' palings.

(In less-frustrated hindsight, that had been incredibly dangerous and probably not worth it, given the likelihood of killing everyone there, including herself. She still couldn't believe they were talking about letting her into the Order of Merlin for it. She also couldn't believe Sirius hadn't just stunned her from behind when she'd refused to tell him what she was doing — Ciardha definitely would have. Though she supposed Ciardha would have been able to figure out what she was doing, so he might have let her do it if she'd let him help, that would've made it much safer...)

All of which Siri had agreed with (he'd even admitted that battle was better than sex), but all of which he'd told her not to tell anyone else, because pretty much everyone outside the Family could get weird about these things, and while Lyra wasn't terribly concerned about making normal people uncomfortable, it would definitely draw more attention to the fact that she wasn't one of them, and in fact might be a danger to them and should be treated as such — i.e., killed before she could grow into a threat on par with Other Bella. (Not unreasonable, given the aforementioned stupidly dangerous stunt she'd pulled at the end, there.) Also, the ones who weren't scared of her would probably nag her about it. (She'd put that one together herself, based on Harry's reaction in the days after the riot.)

She was pretty sure she could admit to killing Cadmus Nott, though, and the two other mages the DLE's forensics people had so far determined she was responsible for (also determined to be self-defence, given the evidence their wands had provided). That was, after all, a matter of official record. It would probably be in the Prophet, actually, as soon as the DLE finished their analyses of the bodies. Not that the DLE would officially release it, but everyone knew the Ministry was an absolute cesspool of corruption — if something was written down anywhere there was someone who could and would get you a copy, for the right price. And even if Skeeter and the like didn't decide that the Blackheart's daughter beheading the heads of other Noble Houses was prime gossip material, Dumbledore's people would probably leak it in a further effort to discredit the Blacks. So Maïa was going to find out anyway.

Though maybe she shouldn't have admitted that Sirius had told her not to talk about it? Bugger.

"Bill said you hijacked the Death Eaters' palings and made them permanent, and no one can figure out how to get rid of them, now. That's pretty out of the ordinary."

"Is he the one who narked on me about that? I thought it was Siri. He has kind of a weird sense of humour, convincing them to induct me into the Order of Merlin is the sort of thing he'd think—"

"You killed someone, Lyra! You didn't think that was a big deal?!"

"It was a riot, Maïa. It's not like I was the only one who killed someone. Siri got five, and he was avoiding lethal spells. I heard Lovegood took out at least a couple dozen."

"I saw her kill at least three," Gin volunteered.

Lyra nodded. "So in comparison, me killing three total is hardly impressive."

Blaise chuckled. "That's not what she meant, Lyra. Most people consider getting into a life-or-death situation like that to be a big deal, even if they don't kill anyone, which is also generally considered a significant event that one might tell one's girlfriend about."

"Wait, girlfriend? You mean you two are shagging now?"

"Ginny!" Maïa exclaimed, going very red. (The answer was no, because Maïa got all skittish and flustered and pulled away when they were snogging and Lyra's hands drifted anywhere below her shoulders. It was kind of funny, actually.)

"Okay, now you're making it sound like I should have told her about the riot." Damn it! Why couldn't people give her consistent advice on shite like this?

(Gin grinned. "Just don't forget the silencing, yeah?")

"Why wouldn't you?"

Fuck it, she'd already mentioned it and Maïa was already annoyed, might as well throw in for a galleon. "Sirius told me not to because I'd sound like a vicious little psychopath who takes way too much pleasure in bloodlust and battle madness if I did, and that's not generally considered attractive, except to other crazy people, and Maïa is not that crazy."

Blaise rolled his eyes, was definitely going to say something, but Maïa had apparently heard her name. "I'm not that crazy? He's hardly even met me, where does he get off— What is his problem with me, anyway?"

Oh. Well, that was unexpected. Not unwelcome and kind of confusing, but they could talk about Sirius instead of her, that was fine. "Problem?"

"He spent the entire time we were in Ms Zabini's flat being a complete arse, making fun of us going out, and just— You didn't notice, did you?"

"Well it's kind of hard to miss Siri being an arse, so yes, I noticed, but he mostly just thinks it's funny that I'm dating anyone. It has nothing to do with you."

Maïa gave her a very Minerva McGonagall -esque sniff of disapproval. "Oh, yes, I'm only fifty per cent of the couple he's mocking. Nothing to do with me at all."

"You know what I mean." At least, she thought she did. Maybe she didn't. She decided to elaborate just in case. "It doesn't matter who you are, me being in a romantic relationship with a normal person is still going to be absurd."

"Maybe I'm not a normal person, did he ever think of that?"

"Er...probably not. I mean, you're human and you're not a Black, so..." Granted, even most of the Blacks had thought Bella a bit much to handle most of the time, but at least they were generally familiar with the Madness, and hadn't really ever expected her to act convincingly human. (Though Wally had always found it terribly frustrating that she couldn't even fake it.)

"Well, she did just go from freaking out about you killing people to being all annoyed about Sirius Black being...Sirius Black," Gin pointed out. "I had to sit next to him at the World Cup, I'm pretty sure he's always an arse," she informed Maïa, as an aside. "But I'm also pretty sure that's not normal."

"Like you have any room to talk," Maïa snapped. "I don't see you objecting to Lyra killing people over there."

Okay, now Lyra was confused. Did Maïa want to be considered a normal person or not? Before she could ask, Gin drawled, "I was there. Plus I have first-person memories of Tom Riddle vivisecting muggles on his summer hols floating around in my head." Really? Neat. Lyra should see if she could find a pensieve in the Vault, or maybe make a new one, could be a fun enchanting proje— Ooh, Flamel was going to be teaching Divs! Maybe she'd give her some pointers. She had been instrumental in developing the first one, and they hadn't changed much in the centuries since... "Black killing someone in the heat of battle isn't exactly shocking in comparison." Everyone turned to stare at Gin, who shrugged. After a too-long pause that was probably awkward for the rest of them, she rolled her eyes. "How about those Cannons?"

Blaise snorted, returning to their previous conversation. "It's easier to be annoyed with Sirius than admit that she doesn't care that she's thinking about snogging Lyra even though Lyra just admitted to killing several people and doesn't see why that's a big deal." Hermione kicked the only part of him she could reach, contorted on the bench across from them as he was, which was his left shin. "Ow?"

"It's also easier to be annoyed with you for reading my bloody mind when I've told you not to dozens of times now!"

"You really think I have to read your mind to know that? It wasn't Sirius who decided you weren't that insane, anyway, it was Lyra. And," he added, as she opened her mouth to protest, "in comparison to Mirabella who thinks this whole thing is just precious, Little Lyra growing up, and Sirius, who keeps making jokes about her first time, you are a normal, sane person."

Lyra nodded. "They've both been completely insufferable about it."

"I don't know if I've mentioned this, Zabini, but your mum is kind of scary. Is she actually, you know..."

"Blaise is not at liberty to confirm or deny the rumours about Mira murdering her husbands," Theo informed Gin. "I know what you mean, though, she seems so normal and then does shite like giving a five-year-old a pet boggart."

"Or does some weird mind-control shite to stop Black from murdering Lady Malfoy."

"It wasn't mind-control, just—"

Maïa managed to figure out a response to the revelation that she was, in fact, a comparatively normal, sane person (regardless of whether she wanted to be or not) before Blaise could explain the focus on me and I'll tell you why everything just went to hell and how to salvage the situation thing Zee was so very good at. "Lyra, I've known who you are and where you came from for the better part of two years, subjectively." ("Where did she come from?!") "And I asked you to be my girlfriend anyway. If you get caught up in a bloody riot, where people are killing each other, and you could have died, I want to know about it. And I definitely want to know if you've killed someone!"

Lyra blinked. "Are you sure? Because you said you didn't want to know about spider hunting, and the riot was way more fun than that. I kind of thought your interest in knowing about potentially deadly situations was inversely proportional to how much fun I'm having without you."

"I don't want...details, I just— I refuse to believe that you think being involved in a riot is perfectly ordinary and unworthy of comment."

Oh, well, no, she didn't. That was kind of the opposite of what she'd thought about it, actually. "I didn't say the riot was ordinary, just that I didn't do anything particularly out of the ordinary in context. Well, the thing with the palings might have been, a bit, but I'd just been crucio'd so I was kind of annoyed, and Lovegood stole everyone worth fighting, which was very frustrating. And it's not unworthy of comment, or, I don't know, insignificant. Actually, as far as life experiences go, it's probably one of the most significant I can think of off the top of my head. I just don't want to go back to the thing where you're all awkward because you don't want to want me to be your girlfriend."

"Careful, Black," Gin drawled, "it almost sounded like you actually care what your girlfriend thinks of you for a second there." Blaise snorted again, trying to suppress a laugh. Maïa glared at them in turn.

"Of course I care what Maïa thinks of me, she gets all annoying and tedious and avoidant when I freak her out, and I don't want to sit through the first week of classes with no one to talk to." Well, Harry, but Harry couldn't really hold up his end of a decent conversation, and he could probably actually use the beginning of the year let's see if you dunderheads actually remember anything from last year revision shite.

The glare shifted to Lyra. "Just tell me. It's not as though I don't already know that you did something you think I won't like. Though I already know you killed people, so I'm not really sure what—"

"She liked it," Gin said.

"Hey! I was going to tell her." As soon as she had figured out exactly what to say, because I liked it was true, but fell so short of capturing the essence of why the riot was significant that it was actually kind of funny.

"You were being all tedious and avoidant about it."

"You're a terrible minion." And that smirk of hers looked awfully like an expression one might find on Professor Riddle. Kind of uncanny, really.

It disappeared into a glare almost immediately. "That would be because I'm not your minion, God damn it!"

Lyra smirked at her. "You totally—"

"You liked...killing people?"

Oh. Right. Focus, Lyra. "No... I mean, killing people is fine, I didn't dislike it, but if I was going to kill someone for fun, I think I'd want to be...closer to it. Beheading some random arsehole at twenty paces is kind of... There's no danger in it, you know? No risk. And the other two, well...that's just what happens when you're in a battle to the death and you lose." One of them she hadn't even realised she'd killed, and the other she'd been more focused on getting that fire-to-lightning translation (finally) than on the wizard at the other end of it. "I liked the fighting, just the chaos of it, and people trying to kill me, the adrenaline and battle madness. And I liked...not having to pretend to be less than I am, being able to push the limits of what I'm actually capable of, rather than stopping myself from hurting people by accident because they just can't keep up, and I'll scare them if I don't hold back, or on purpose, because they're slow and frustrating and it's one of those days where I just hate everyone for existing, and I don't care if I scare them. I... It was...probably the best thing I've ever done. Like being mad, but with the whole world keeping up for once, or Walpurgis, but without Choice making sure no one actually gets hurt, so more real, and just—

"I did kind of know that it would be great, being in an actual battle. Like spider-hunting, but better. But I didn't realise... I'm pretty sure that's actually what I was born to do. I mean, not literally, but... I don't know, I'm not good at feelings things. Just, if it could have gone on until I just passed out from exhaustion, that would have been perfect." Really, she shouldn't have told Siri to revive her if she passed out, but she'd needed to see if it worked. "I completely understand, now, why Bella wouldn't have wanted to just finish the takeover of Britain, if every battle is like that. We could do that every single fucking day, and that would be great. I kind of suspect that the way I feel about fighting for my life — against intelligent, competent opponents, with real stakes — is how most people feel about sex, and I might actually be sad that it's over, especially since I don't know when I'll get to do it again."

Siri had said that, no, the post-battle emptiness and dissatisfaction and directionless anger that (ironically) made her want to kill people more than she had when she was actually fighting that she'd described for him wasn't what sadness felt like — that was what being a fucking addict felt like. But given the (increasingly familiar) look of horror on Maïa's face, admitting that she was kind of low-key constantly distracted by longing to do it again and that she was intensely annoyed at her past self for agreeing not to engineer any riots or other significant conflicts specifically so that she could get into a real fight — that she needed to do it again (that hunting spiders and practicing dueling, even with Siri or Dora, were just pale imitations, and she already knew they weren't going to cut it anymore), and wasn't sure she'd be able to stop herself if she came across an opportunity to spark off such a conflict, regardless of said agreement — was probably a bad idea.

Even Eris's obvious disapproval of her intentionally putting herself in such a dangerous situation didn't really put her off the idea — the goddess admitted that she'd long since come to terms with the fact that her Bellatrices needed to fight, it was in their nature, and given the chaos inherent to the battlefield it wasn't terribly difficult for her to sway the odds of survival in their favour, not like with the lethifold, or when Bella was escaping from the Unspeakables. (An echo of resignation accompanied the sense of cool disapproval which emanated from the back of her mind whenever she thought about the subject, which was pretty much all the time.)

She was going to go ahead and say that Maïa was still more fun than it sounded like James Potter had been — honestly, he sounded like a prat, if Siri had to have fancied one of Harry's parents Evans sounded by far the better option — but apparently Sirius had been closer than she'd thought, when he'd explained exactly why the idea of Lyra dating a normal person was so incredibly amusing. That didn't mean, though, that Maïa wasn't currently staring at her looking vaguely frightened. Lyra's eyes flicked over to Blaise almost instinctively — fixing things like this was kind of his job. More than it was hers, anyway.

"Alright, there, Maïa?" he asked, sounding a little amused. Probably because he thought it was funny Lyra couldn't do the whole putting people at ease thing that came so naturally to Zabinis at all. Arse.

"It's just... Do you ever have moments when you become acutely aware that we're sitting in the same room as a young Bellatrix Lestrange?"

"That bitch and I are very different people. Also, it's Black," Lyra corrected her, again. "If you ever call her Lestrange to her face she'll probably hex you." At least, Lyra would expect to be hexed if she did that — just to reinforce the point a bit, as Walburga would have said.

"To her face? Why would I— I thought you said she wasn't coming back to Britain!"

"She's not planning to do anything here, but she might visit at some point. I mean, it's not like she said anything, but it's not out of the question. There is going to be a Triwizard Tournament on, you know. Or we could go to France some weekend, I guess. After her being annoyed with me for trapping her in her bedroom has worn off, obviously."

"What? No! Why would you even suggest..."

"Isn't meeting each other's family part of the whole dating thing?" She knew it was with courting, assuming someone actually managed to find an appropriate match whose family they didn't already know. She, for example, had definitely met all of the parents of everyone in her social circle (which included anyone Arcturus would have considered selling her off to) by the time she'd started school. Granted, she hadn't known them well, but she didn't really know anyone well. Though if she were going to do the whole marriage thing, she probably would have to meet more people in this timeline, if only because the parents she knew, she knew from when they were all kids in her old universe, and they definitely didn't know her.

Fortunately, Bella had made herself so notorious in the past thirty years that no one in their right mind would want their son to marry her daughter, no matter how magically powerful and brilliant and wealthy she was.

Anyway, talking. "Really, you're getting off easy. Yes, Sirius and Bella can be complete shites, but at least you don't have to put up with sixty-five person holiday dinners." Silver lining to Bella fucking murdering most of the House, that. "If we go to France, I can meet your father's family, too." And she could try to figure out what the deal was with those wards on (or maybe just near) Maïa's grandmother's house.

"What? NO! I mean— You don't have to meet your girlfriend's 'parents'—" She put the word in quotation marks with her fingers. "—when they're an escaped mass murderer who's particularly notorious for killing people in your bloody demographic!"

Lyra giggled at her vehemence. "She doesn't care that you're muggleborn. I actually tried to annoy her with that, but she was definitely more focused on the having a girlfriend part."

"Why would she care that you're dating a girl?" Gin asked, a tiny furrow of confusion forming between her eyebrows. "Wasn't she kind of dating Blaise's mum for ages?"

"She doesn't care about the girl part, either, just thinks it's weird as hell that I'm in a romantic relationship. Pretty much the same as Sirius, actually." Maïa frowned at this, clearly annoyed that everyone thought Lyra dating (her) was a weird concept. Well, Zee was reserving judgment until she met Maïa herself, since Lyra couldn't give her nearly enough information about the sort of person Maïa was, and Blaise thought it depended on how well (and how quickly) Maïa got over her whole pretending to be a good person thing. But in the meanwhile, he also thought it was going to be an enormous pain in the arse, holding her hand through the whole thing. (Metaphorically.) "But yes," she said, in response to Gin's question. "They've known each other since they were eleven, but wasn't suggests it's not an ongoing thing? I'm about ninety per cent certain that Zee told Bella about the World Cup in person—"

"I am at liberty to deny that," Blaise cut in.

Lyra stuck her tongue out at him. "Bella didn't deny that Zee is screwing her as well as Sirius when I said that that's basically the same as Bella fucking Sirius herself, just that it really, really wasn't. The same, I mean. I don't think their relationship counts as dating, though. It's more of a soul mate, complementary insanity sort of thing. So Bella thinks it's weird that I'm attempting to establish a long-term relationship with someone ostensibly sane." Which wasn't quite the same as Sirius's point that there were things about Lyra that Maïa would probably never be comfortable with, even if Lyra's general lack of humanity did happen to be on that list. "Well, that and I doubt she gets the concept of dating in general any more than I do."

She shrugged. She'd asked Zee about the whole relationship thing, trying to get an idea of how they generally worked. Zee had written off all of her but that doesn't make sense and what is even the point of this moments as muggle cultural differences, Lyra, don't worry about it. So she wasn't. If she fucked it up too badly, she was sure Maïa would let her know.

"Ostensibly sane?"

Lyra groaned. "Okay, just— Do you want to be considered a normal person or not? Because I'll be the first to admit that I'm the worst judge of people, you could be as mad as Luna in some way I'm just not seeing, and Siri did suggest that you probably weren't as normal as you seem if you actually want to date me, so it could really go either way."

Maïa apparently didn't know the answer to that question any more than Lyra did. She just sat there, staring, for about three seconds before her eyes narrowed. "Wait, you changed the subject!" Lyra was...pretty sure she hadn't? "I can't believe I have to say this, but you can't just– just kill people for fun, Lyra!" she exclaimed, changing the subject. (Hypocrite.)

"Well, obviously. Didn't I just say that it wasn't about killing people?" Obviously Maïa didn't get this any more than Lyra got the idea of dating.

"Yes, Lyra. But people died."

"People who were using lethal force, in the middle of a riot that they started. It's not like I just decided to go murder a bunch of idiots minding their own business in the middle of Charing or something." Even though that would almost certainly result in a real fight when the Aurors came to stop her— No, bad idea. Bella had just reminded her that she wasn't hershe might be able to pull something like that off, but if Lyra picked a fight with all the fucking Aurors, she would die. And that would be bad. (Yes, ducky, that would be bad. I do much prefer you alive.) "The D.L.E. doesn't think I did anything wrong."

"This is the same D.L.E. that leaves people on an island full of dementors as punishment for reading books, yes? Forgive me if I don't put much stock in their moral authority. Just because you're getting away with it doesn't make it better. It's the principle of the thing, Lyra!"

Lyra turned to Blaise. "Am I missing something, here?"

He shrugged. "The inherent value of a human life?" He must have been able to read the unspoken what inherent value in her face because he added, "I mean, even if the particular person means nothing to you, you'd admit there's some value in sacrificing them, so they must have some intangible value outside of your own regard for them."

Oh. That was...kind of a decent point, she supposed. Murder for the sake of killing would be kind of wasteful, in that light. "It's not like I was just killing them for fun, though."

"That's not the point!" Maïa snapped.

"Well what is, then?"

"You don't have the right to take another person's life," Gin said, out of nowhere. All four of them turned to stare at her. "It doesn't matter that they were a clear and present danger — Bill and Charlie got letters from the D.L.E., too — by muggle standards, you overstepped by taking matters into your own hands instead of running away like a good, helpless little girl, because where would we be if everyone went around claiming the right to kill anyone who offended them, or broke social convention?" Lyra was pretty sure that was sarcasm because, Light as the Weasleys were, they'd also been involved in Dumbledore's little vigilante club back in the Seventies. "Also, muggles don't really consider it to be self-defense if you intentionally put yourself in a position where you need to defend yourself with lethal force."

Huh. Sounded like Gin was making even more progress with Riddle's memories than she'd thought. Picking out memories of events (like the odd vivisection) were one thing, but as she understood it, interpreting the memories of more intangible things like the actor's reactions or thoughts about events was far more advanced. But she couldn't imagine where else Gin would have picked up anything about muggle attitudes on...anything, really. Which was both good and bad. Good because it meant she could probably start questioning her about Young Not-Professor Riddle, but bad because it meant she was going to have to find something else for her to do. Planning and organising and delegating were not things Lyra was good at.

She was, however, pretty good at ignoring problems that didn't require an immediate solution, and statements that were just plain silly. (Of course it was still self-defense, no matter how you got to the point of needing to defend yourself!) The other part, though, the sarcasm, which she presumed was meant to indicate that Maïa really thought something like that, that required a response. "Er... You know that's basically how it works, though. Society. Magical British society, I mean. Fundamentally, under all the Ministry's regulations. You do whatever you can get away with doing, take on whatever responsibilities you like, and if you overstep someone will take on the responsibility of getting rid of you. And yes, that does lead to blood feuds on occasion, but that's why we have the Wizengamot — to negotiate or force a peace between families when they get too out of hand, and figure out how to deal with the big issues that affect all of us, like the Statute of Secrecy."

Maïa stared at her as though she'd completely lost the plot. Obviously further explanation was needed.

"Okay, take the riot, for example. The precedent for this sort of thing is that the D.L.E. determines whether each kill was legal, based on the circumstances in which it occurred. If not, you're tried by the Wizengamot for murder and punished accordingly. If it is, and the family of the dead person wants to make a thing out of it, they do it by demanding weregild or something along those lines — it's not always money, just, you know, some sort of restitution. House Wilkins actually did that last week, Sirius killed the brother of their head of house. If they can't settle it between themselves, they take the dispute between their families to the Wizengamot to arbitrate. Which we're almost certainly going to have to do, because Meda says it would set a bad precedent, letting another House hold the House of Black accountable for our actions, and while Siri would totally pay them off anyway behind her back because it's just money, he refuses to issue the public apology they want because he's not sorry. George Wilkins was using lethal spells trying to break through the palings between the Gaels and the rioters, he deserved what he got. I actually have a letter from Meda to give to Maeve to give to her father telling him exactly that, I should find her at some point..."

Maïa continued staring for several more seconds. "Oh. My. God. What is this, the fifth century? Every time I think Magical Britain can't get more absurd, I find out, oh, I don't know, I'm living in some feudal, clan-based society with a sense of justice based on who has the most money and social influence!"

Gin giggled. "You know, that was almost exactly Tom's reaction, just with a very different tone. You have to think of the opportunities, Hermione!"

"Maïa would be a much better Dark Lord than Riddle was." Lyra was absolutely certain of that. As far as she could tell, all Riddle had really wanted was his autonomy — their own little European Miskatonic, so to speak — which was all well and good, but didn't really lend itself to a proper revolution. Maïa, on the other hand, would have all sorts of ideas about changing their society, which would either work and everything would be chaos as people adjusted to the new normal, or fail miserably and everything would be chaos as people tried to work out a new new system in spite of her. So...like Lady Cromwell, but without the inane Christian stuff and the crazy racism.

(Eris giggled at the back of her mind. Yes, well, I did tell you she had potential, didn't I?)

(...Noted. She'd have to see what could be done about encouraging that potential then. Just...carefully. Given the way she was reacting to the comment, Lyra didn't quite think Maïa was ready to take that sort of idea very seriously.)

Blaise raised an eyebrow at her, but didn't say whatever he was thinking, and she couldn't possibly guess.

Maïa missed it, distracted as she was by going rather red at Gin and Lyra's comments. "I'm not going to become a— That's just ridiculous, and— Hey, you're trying to change the subject again!"

"No, you keep trying to change the subject back to something we've already moved past! Conversations drift, it's what they do!"

Before Maïa could come up with some excuse for her hypocrisy, someone knocked softly on their compartment door. Lyra, who was closest to it, slid it open and grinned. "Good summer, Luna?"

Luna ignored her greeting — not entirely surprising, since she was under orders from her Patron not to interact with Lyra (the Moon said we can't be friends, honestly), lest she further corrupt the least innocent dedicate of Innocence she'd ever met. Not that she'd met any others, but Luna was still terribly suited to Gelach, they all knew it. "Theo," she said, peering around Lyra. "Can I...talk to you about...something? Privately."

"Um...sure? I think we're set, right, Gin?"

She nodded, tucking her calendar back into her bag. "I'll talk to Harry and Justin about our schedule and get back to you. Might be a week or two, we'll have to wait until the quidditch team sets their practice schedule for Harry."

Theo nodded, turning to the little blonde still hovering in the doorway, though Lyra had sat down again to let her come in. "Where did you want to...?"

Luna gave him a helpless shrug. There was something...off about her, though Lyra couldn't quite put her finger on it. "Somewhere liminal. And private."

"Somewhere liminal?" Gin repeated. "Why?"

Probably something about re-dedicating herself to someone other than fucking Gelach, Lyra suspected. A goddess of innocent, ignorant potential would probably have trouble seeing shite that happened in the middle of a transitional period, after all. She bit her tongue to keep from saying so aloud, though, given the whole dedication being Unforgivable here thing.

"I can't tell you, Ginevra. Please...don't ask. I just need to talk to Theo. It's important."

"Er...yeah, okay..." Gin made a face at the little Ravenclaw, who still hadn't entered the compartment.

"Did you get turned by a vampire over the summer, Lovegood? Pretty sure on the train is still liminal, even if you're not directly in the doorway."

Luna ignored that, too, though she did inch forward, leaning heavily on the doorframe as the train gave an unexpected lurch.

"Don't be an arse, Black," Gin snapped. Lyra opened her mouth to ask exactly what she'd done that could be construed as arse-like, but the redhead talked over her. "Come on guys, lets let Luna say whatever she needs to say. We can find somewhere else to be."

"Erm...yes, alright," Maïa agreed, giving Luna a look very similar to the one Gin was wearing. Clearly Lyra was missing something, here.

"Mmm, I did tell Daphne I'd come find her after the initial girly oh, you changed your hair, have you heard this bit of salacious gossip I've just made up, my holiday was way more expensive than yours chatter died down."

"You do realise not all girls carry on about shite like that," Maïa snapped, leading the way out into the corridor. Lyra thought this was obvious, given that they hadn't been discussing any of those topics, and three of them were girls. (And one of them was Blaise — he was arguably more feminine than Lyra herself in several ways, including their relative propensities for discussing their hair or gossip of any sort, salacious or not.)

Blaise smirked. "No, but Parkinson and Brown and those little bits of fluff that follow her around do, and Daph is obligated to make nice with the other spoilt little bitches, for the sake of appearances if nothing else. I probably should go rescue her, though. And didn't you tell Harry you'd catch up with him?"

"Well yes, but I expect they'll still be talking about the World Cup — the quidditch team is hiding him from his adoring fans," she explained to Lyra.

"Did he cancel the disguise charms?" Because so far as she knew, Harry had been planning to use the same glamours he'd worn at the World Cup to avoid all the attention at the train station.

"Malfoy outed him on the platform, little twat." Maïa scowled off into the middle distance at the absent twat in question.

"You'd think by this point he'd realise that he's only digging a deeper hole for himself."

"Yes, well, stunning as Tricia Mullet might be on a broom, the snake wants what the snake wants. And Harry's even more distracting now that I'm snogging him. Driving Dear Draco up the nearest wall, really, and he has no idea why, it's bloody hilarious."


Lyra could hear the laughter in Gin's voice as she explained. "Haven't you heard, Hermione? Harry's always distracting Malfoy's snake."

"Yes, well, fun as it is to discuss my favourite cousin's burning desire to hate-fuck Harry, I have to go find Maeve Wilkins before I forget again." A task made much more difficult by the fact that Lyra had only seen a picture of the fifth-year Hufflepuff — spying on people from the Shadows really only worked if she knew their magic well enough to identify them across the planar border. She was going to have to actually look in every single compartment on the bloody train. Physically.


Oh, you never know.

Oh? Is that a hint? What do you know?

That would be telling, ducky. (Of course it would.) I'm just saying, your shadow tricks are convenient, yes, but spending all your time out of the mortal plane does rather limit your opportunities to happen across potential points of interest.

I don't spend all my time outside. Only like...twenty percent of it. Maybe thirty, if she was feeling particularly antisocial (or the people around her were being particularly annoying, which mostly amounted to the same thing). Though perhaps she had been neglecting her duty to Eris, lately, avoiding most people she didn't already know. It was just, everyone seemed to rub her the wrong way, lately. Even the people she did know — Harry was being all nagging, and Zee was just being patronising with her oh, you're growing up so fast schtick. Most of the reason she was going to find Maeve now was that she really didn't want to stick around for Hermione to continue whinging about her participation in the riot.

She's just concerned for you, Eris said, slightly amused.

Yeah, well, concern is annoying. Besides, what is she concerned about? I didn't tell her anything really bad. ... At least, she didn't think she had, she wasn't always clear on what counted as really bad. But she hadn't told Maïa anything Harry didn't know, anyway.

You could have died, my little bellatrice.


Yes, I know you didn't, but you did tell her that you were hit with the Cruciatus in the midst of the battle.

And Maïa had never seen Lyra deal with that particular curse. All she knew about it was shite she'd seen in books, which drastically overstated how debilitating it was. It was excruciatingly painful (kind of the point, in the name and all), and kind of exhausting — every muscle tended to feel like she'd just run five miles after a few seconds — but she was still quite capable of fighting after she'd been released from it, and conscious enough that she was pretty sure she could retreat into Shadow to break it if necessary. Lovegood had intervened just as she was gathering her focus to do so, so she hadn't tested that theory yet, but. Yes, it was possible that someone else might have hit her with a lethal curse while she was under...

...or in the immediate aftermath — that she couldn't keep her focus through. In her defence, she had much more experience dealing with excruciating pain than overwhelming pleasure...the solution to which seemed obvious now that she'd identified it as a problem (which it actually was, because most people might not think of it but some of those orgasm-inducing charms she'd found after Sirius mentioned they existed would be dead easy to throw into an offensive chain) — clearly she needed to practise thinking while Sylvie was doing that thing with her tongue... But in any case, she would be willing to bet most people would rather see her in pain than dead. She was, as Mickey had so recently informed her, very easy to hate.

Ugh, whatever. I'll talk to her about it later, I'm sure she'll bring it—

"Hey! Watch where you're— Oh...hi."

Lyra blinked down at the child she had stumbled into as the train rounded an unexpected curve, and grinned. A first-year muggleborn girl — jeans and trainers peeking out from beneath her school robes and a muggle knapsack at her feet — with a piss-off attitude that positively screamed potential. Is this the one I was meant to be keeping an eye out for?

I didn't say you were looking for anyone in particular. (Her amusement said it was.)

Well, she had had a piss-off attitude — it had vanished abruptly halfway through her watch where you're going, as Lyra had caught her eye. Which was kind of... Oh, oops. She had been on the verge of thinking it was a bit odd, that the girl had been so very distracted by simply looking at her — the Black look was striking, but not that striking — but then she'd realised that her magic was kind of everywhere at the moment, which could...well, make it kind of hard to think, really. She'd only met a couple of sorcerers before she'd made her dedication, but she did recall that was a thing. She just didn't really think of it as a thing that applied to her, because, well, it was kind of like the shadow-kin thing — she wasn't quite used to the idea that she was suddenly channelling far more magic than the average mage simply by existing in much the same way she wasn't quite used to the idea that she wasn't properly human by any definition of the word, anymore.

This must be how people who suddenly get taller feel, she thought, even as she focused on reeling her aura back to her body. Except Bella was only about two inches taller than she was, so instead of getting all gangly and clumsy she was just...very obviously leaking dark magic all over the place. Kind of embarrassing, especially after Bella had just made that point about her casting being sloppy — which it wasn't, hers was just unnaturally tight — and also probably more than a bit suspicious. So...she should probably work on that. Which was— Ugh, it had taken ages for her to get to the degree of reflexive control that Ciardha had insisted she master before he had agreed to take her anywhere interesting, and now she was going to have to start doing basic focusing exercises again, and focusing exercises were so boring...

"Hey," she said, grinning down at the kid. She wasn't actually that much shorter than Lyra, just kind of slouching as she leaned against the wall of the corridor, obviously waiting for the loo to free up. Her shoulder-length hair was a mousy brown, her eyes an indeterminate bluish-grey, and her features generally plain. She wasn't noticeably thin or heavyset, just... Lyra would be the first to admit she was a poor judge of these things, but as far as she could tell, the girl was the definition of average, at least physically. Magically...also fairly average, she thought, though probably unusually sensitive if she was that overwhelmed by Lyra's presence, and with somewhat better control than she might have expected. There weren't a lot of muggleborns around to compare her to in this timeline, but those in her own first-year class hadn't been aware enough of their magic to keep it that contained for at least a couple of months. Probably meant she'd known about her own magic, at least, before school, had been semi-consciously practicing freeform effects. Between that and the attitude she'd had before getting all distracted by Lyra's magic getting away from her, she could see why Eris might think this one was potentially interesting. Or at least potentially useful.

If not particularly articulate. "Hi..." she said again, followed by, "um. I already...never mind. Were you waiting for...?" she gestured at the door to the loo.

"No." The loos on the train were nice, for train loos, but the ones at home were nicer. "I'm Lyra Black. Call me Lyra. And you're new. Who are you?"


"Fae-struck?" Lyra suggested, pulling her magic back a bit further.


"Ah...right, muggleborn. Idiom for when you were going to say something and then forgot what it was." Also, in this case almost literal, in the overwhelmed-by-magic sense. But the girl didn't need to know that. "Though I don't think fae can steal your name from you."

"Rachel. Campbell. Um...hi?"

"You can stop saying hi, now."

"Well, what else am I supposed to say? If you're not waiting for the toilet, don't let me hold you up." There was that piss-off attitude again.

Lyra grinned. "Well, I suppose the usual thing in these circumstances is asking whether you know what House you want to end up in, though I also suppose that would be on me. So..." Rachel Campbell groaned, Lyra tried not to laugh too hard at her reaction. "How many people have already asked you that?"

"Twelve? Fifteen? I stopped counting. Whole thing's just... How'm I supposed to pick a House, when I've only known about magic for a month?"

"Well, you don't actually get to pick for yourself. Or, well, you kind of do, but the Hat helps, and makes the final call. Are you really telling me you didn't know you had power before McGee showed up on your doorstep being all let me astound you with the wonders of Hogwarts and the hidden world of magic, behold my stunning ability to lick my own arse and hack up hairballs?"

The muggleborn girl stared at her completely blankly for about two seconds before collapsing into hopeless laughter, literally doubling over before she managed to get control of herself again. "Sorry, sorry, it's just, she did, she turned into a cat! I mean, does she do that every time she's telling someone about magic?"

Lyra shrugged. "Probably? I don't know, she's not nearly interesting enough to spend any significant amount of time spying on her. But since she did it with you as well and she's not what I'd consider creative about...anything, I'm guessing probably."

"You, um...don't really seem to think very well of her. I take it she was just as patronising when she was telling you about magic?"

Wait, what? Oh. Right. She was still wearing the muggle shorts and vest she'd taken to wearing over the summer, and the kid had probably been too fae-struck to put that first exchange in the proper context. "No, she didn't tell me— Honestly, I don't know if there was ever a time that I didn't know about magic. I don't think I actually met a muggle until I was, I don't know, seven? eight? I didn't even think they were real until I was about five. You know, just something in fae tales to scare the shite out of bad little witches, because imagine having to live without magic. I was really confused in that first lesson about the Statute of Secrecy, let me tell you! And then it turned out the actual scary thing wasn't the not having magic bit, it was the shite they manage to come up with without having magic. Like that nuclear bomb thing? And the fact that they actually use them — I mean, there are probably rituals that could kill an entire city, but they wouldn't be condoned by the government of a world power, that's the sort of shite that gets banned as Anathema over here. By which I mean the magical world on this side of the Atlantic, so I guess maybe it makes sense, kind of, it was an American world power and Miskatonic is about the only place you could talk about city-killing rituals, in a serious let's do it just to see if we can sort of way." But that was straying into the territory of things we don't talk about in public, even if she was only talking to a first-year muggleborn who hadn't even been sorted yet, and didn't seem to be paying attention to what she was actually saying, anyway, just scowling down at her shoes, now. "Anyway, no, McGonagall didn't tell me about magic."

"Of course she didn't," the kid muttered, mostly under her breath. "You're one of them."


"One of those magic-born jerks, like the ones I was sitting with earlier."

"Depends, who were you sitting with? Because while I may be both magically raised and a jerk, there are vanishingly few students in this school who can claim to be much like me in any significant way. Also, I don't think I've done anything particularly jerk-like to you yet? I mean, sure I was kind of ragging on Minnie a bit — McGonagall, that is — but you thought it was funny, so calling me a jerk for that seems a bit hypocritical, doesn't it."

Rachel sighed, still pouting. "No, you're— Sorry. It's just, these two girls, Abbott and MacDougal, they're just first-years like me, but they kept going on about all the shite they already know about magic and the school, and being all, I don't know, condescending, about it all, like oh, you poor muggleborn, of course you don't know anything, it's not your fault we're better than you and know all sorts of shite about school houses and where we're going to end up and how the Sorting works but we won't tell you because you're muggleborn. Racist bitches."

Ah, yes, Maïa had complained about that before too, to the tune that the kids from light pureblood families, the ones who mostly ended up in Hufflepuff and Gryffindor, could be worse to muggleborns than the Slytherins in some ways. More subtle and patronising about it — they didn't obviously hate muggleborns, they just kind of thought of muggles as though they were children, and a bit slow, and whenever a muggleborn did halfway decently at anything they acted like it was a huge surprise because their expectations for anyone raised by mugglesi.e., without the tiny head-start that being raised by a light pureblood house might give them (from the point of view of someone with a Black education, they were all pathetic) — were so incredibly low.

"Oh, no. I'm not like them. I am to them what they are to you in a lot of ways, actually. They know a lot more about the fluffy, unimportant bits of culture than you do, like who Celestina Warbeck and Xeno Lovegood are, but I can pretty much guarantee they don't know much more than you about anything important like history or politics or, you know, magic. And what they do know about magic is a bunch of lies told to children that only hurt them, give them misconceptions about how it all works and false limitations to go along with." Lyra had noticed that muggleborns tended to be cleverer in their use of magic than the average mage, often making up for the power disadvantage they usually had, she assumed that was why. "The real question is, what do you want to do about it? Them being racist bitches, I mean."


"You know, what do you want to do to them because they're being racist bitches? Like, punch them in the face, or befriend them in spite of their prejudice and teach them the error of their ways, or just ignore them and do your own thing? I mean, you are kind of just lurking in the corridor — that loo is open, isn't it? — so I'm kind of guessing you lean toward the last one, but I guess you could be trying to avoid punching them and getting detention before you even get Sorted, or planning your revenge or something. So. What do you want to do to them?"

The girl glared. "Is showing them up and rubbing their stupid faces in it an option?"

Lyra grinned, because yes, yes it was. It was, in fact, the best option, because it was the Slytherin option, and, well... There had been muggleborn Slytherins in her universe and time, but not here, and the Hat had suggested that she couldn't completely fuck up that House from the outside — convincing a muggleborn to go there would definitely upset the status quo. Plus she could make it known that the muggleborn Slytherin was under her protection, which would give her a great excuse to pick fights with everyone she owed a bit of payback for that little spot of torture at the end of last term.

"Of course. And if you want my advice — which I'm sure you do, because you're a poor, ignorant muggleborn—" Rachel gave her an adorable furious glare. "—and more to the point, an unsorted firstie — if that's really what you want, you'll ask the Hat to put you in Slytherin."

"Wait, hat?"

"The Sorting Hat. The talking, mind-reading hat granted consciousness by one of history's greatest fools, Godric Gryffindor. Seriously, what kind of man invests a hat with consciousness? Seems like torture, to me, being a sapient entity tied to an inanimate object for literally centuries, but, hey, whatever. Sorting Hat, honestly. You put it on, it tells you where you belong, taking into account your personality, the makeup of the various Houses at the moment and, if you could go to multiple Houses, your opinion on the matter. It also keys you into the school wards, and sings. Which also kind of seems like torture to me, it's completely tone-deaf, but no one asked my opinion on the matter."

"We're sorted by a magic hat?!" the girl repeated, looking and sounding mildly outraged.

"Yep. Slytherin is the House that values ambition, among other things. Bettering yourself and your circumstances, broadly speaking — all the rest of the House traits go back to those, really. It's the House for kids who, when life gives them shite, turn around and tell life to suck it, they're going to succeed in spite of whatever odds are against them. If you really want to become the best fucking witch you possibly can, because fuck those racist bitches, that's where you belong. And if the stupid talking Hat says otherwise, tell it I'll set it on fire if it doesn't put you there. And so would Professor Riddle, and no one cares what Professor Snape thinks. The Snake Pit could use some new blood, and you're just the person for the job."

The girl looked vaguely uncertain, as though she couldn't decide if that was meant to be a compliment or not (it was, sort of). "Er...thanks? I...maybe? I was kind of thinking that that sounded like the best fit, but... Well, Professor McGonagall kind of made it sound like that was like...where all the bullies and jerks ended up, really."

"Yeah, well, she's the Head of Gryffindor — rival Houses. And yes, there are a bunch of stuck-up idiots around who mistake having ambitions of excellence for actually being special, and more who think that the whole Slytherins use any means thing means they're obliged to be selfish pricks, or think that the House reputation for cunning magically makes anyone who gets in cunning, which it really, really doesn't. But there are bullies and jerks in all of the houses and, like, ninety-five per cent of all the people you'll ever meet are idiots of one stripe or another, so that really shouldn't matter. And if you want to make connections and actually integrate into our world, Slytherin really is the best option.

"Well, Hufflepuffs are good at networking, too, but the Hufflepuff option was to befriend the racist twats. Slytherin's more...competitive. New Hufflepuffs are accepted immediately, just because the Hat said you belong there. In Slytherin you have to fight to earn respect, prove you belong there, but it means a whole lot more once you get it. If you can carve out a place for yourself in Slytherin, you'll almost certainly be able to handle yourself when you leave school, you know, trying to become a successful adult without a house supporting you, which is definitely not something any of the others can say.

"It's probably easier to be a Hufflepuff, at least while you're in school, but easy doesn't really prepare you for real life. Besides, it's not like I'd just tell you to jump into the Snake Pit and leave you to fend for yourself, I will look out for you if you end up there. Also, Slytherins get their own bedrooms, everyone else has to share with at least one roommate. Pretty sure that alone is worth any degree of shite from your housemates."

"Um...right. And who are you, exactly? 'Cause, I mean, no offense, but...you can't be that much older than I am."

"Lyra Black. Hogwarts Champion and fourth-year prefect. And also, today, a post owl." She plucked the letter she was meant to deliver to Maeve Wilkins from a shadow pocket with a grin, loosing her hold on her magic just a bit, to emphasise the importance of her next statement. "Think about it. Slytherin, I mean. And hopefully I'll see you in the Commons tonight." She did, after all, have detention. A detention which Severus almost certainly hadn't meant for her to sit tonight, but he could hardly complain about her doing exactly as she was told — this was the first night of term. (And he definitely deserved her interrupting his welcome speech and embarrassing him in front of his new snakelings for setting her a detention on the first night of term anyway, especially because the only reason she'd been caught out of bounds was because she'd been tortured into unconsciousness, that was hardly her fault.)

Before the girl could come up with a response — which might take a while, she was staring all fae-struck again, which probably meant Lyra had overdone it just a little — she twiddled her fingers at her and returned to the errand at hand, skipping down the corridor peering into each compartment in search of a certain fifth-year Hufflepuff, or anyone who might know where she'd squirrelled herself away, and trying to think of things to do after she found her.

Ooh! She could go find Sylvie! Explain the Very Serious Problem of not being able to concentrate while being distracted by overwhelming pleasure, and how Sylvie might be able to help her out with that...

Éanna Ó Caoimhe sat speechless, frozen with horror.

Teach? Master Severus expected him to teach? Like...other people?

He should have listened to his dad, this was a terrible idea...

The conversation had moved on some since that terrible revelation, the adults in the room going back and forth on...something to do with projects for NEWT students, guessing from context. Éanna doubted he had much to contribute in any case. Unlike Master Severus's other two pseudo-apprentices — a sharp middle-aged witch named Laura and a blond man in his thirties named Rhys (Éanna was expected to use their first names, they were colleagues now) — he hadn't taken the exam yet.

And probably never would, honestly. Only people looking to get a job or into a Mastery program took the standard exams — even if Master Severus didn't take him up for a proper apprenticeship, his recommendation would probably go a long way to getting him into one with another alchemist. He could take the exams, of course, he just didn't need to.

That, and the discussion was less about actual Potions theory — that, at least, he knew quite a bit about — and more about the practical considerations of teaching actual Potions theory. Éanna knew nothing about that. Mother save him, he'd never even taken a class before! Well, no, that wasn't entirely true — he had sat in on a few courses at the Academy over the years, but none of those had been in Potions. All of his Potions work had been from tutors or self-study, he'd never been in a single session of group instruction in Potions, not once, ever.

And Master Severus expected him to teach? Was he mad?!

Éanna focused on his breathing for a moment, trying to tamp down his rising panic — the others probably already weren't taking him seriously, going on and having an anxiety attack right in front of them over being expected to teach would not help matters the slightest bit.

He cringed, nearly jumping out of his seat, at the sound of a chair sliding against the floor. (The sizzling pressure built low in his spine, crawling up, he let himself shiver to release it.) Apparently the meeting was over now — Laura and Rhys were getting to their feet, chatting on about preparing labs for the imminently arriving students. Oh, erm, was he expected to do anything in these last few hours before they came? He hadn't been paying attention. He could ask, he guessed, though maybe once he had Master Severus alone, so he didn't look quite so—

His smooth, drawling voice pitched low, Master Severus said, "Stay behind for a moment, Éanna."

Oh. Well. Okay, then.

It was only a brief moment until they were alone, dragged out for a couple seconds when Laura hesitated at the door — Éanna could near feel her eyes on him, the back of his neck tingling. Out of concern of some kind, he would guess, which was more than a little unsettling. Laura was trying to be nice, obviously, but he would rather she just left him alone. About personal things, he meant. Talking about potions and alchemy was fine, making it about squishy things was just uncomfortable.

(He never knew what to say when Laura tried to talk to him. He wished she would stop.)

Before too long, the door clicked closed, and they were alone. Master Severus remained silent a little longer, putting schedules and lesson plans back in their proper files; waiting, Éanna let his eyes wander, idly trailing over Master Severus's bookshelves. (He had a lot of books in here, the shelves covering most of all three walls, it took some effort to stay sitting and not go poking about.) Finally, "If you don't mind my asking, Éanna, are you all right? You seem unsettled."

Unsettled, yes, that was a word for it, Éanna was unsettled. "When we were talking about me doing this, this stuff with the students, I thought it would mostly be grading potions and, and marking essays, you know, that sort of thing."

"There will be more than enough of that sort of thing to go around, I assure you."

"I know, but." There was a brief stinging on his thumb — Éanna hissed, consciously placed his hands on his knees. (He'd been trying to stop picking at his own knuckles for a while now, but it was hard.) With his hands where they were now, he could feel his left heel was bouncing, he hadn't even noticed he was doing that. "You're really going to have me, me– You want me teaching? Like, in a classroom with people in it?"

In his peripheral vision, Éanna noticed Master Severus's face shift. (A smile? No, probably a smirk.) "One typically finds more success at teaching when there are people present, yes." ...Was that sarcasm? Éanna was pretty sure that was sarcasm. Of course, it was also true — obviously, just talking at an empty room wouldn't be proper teaching, would it — but that was a thing people did sometimes, saying a true thing mockingly...which, Éanna was pretty sure that wasn't sarcasm, but people called it sarcasm, even though—

Never mind that now, focus, Éanna. "Do I have to? I mean, I don't think that's a very good idea."

"Why not?"

...Okay, Éanna had to come up with reasons now. He hadn't prepared for talking about it, he'd thought it was just...kind of obvious, really. "Um, I'm only fifteen, which is younger than a lot of the students, and, and, you know, I've literally never been in a Potions class before..." Like, forget taking a course, he'd never been in a room Potions was taught in...

"Though you will assist in labs up to the OWL level, your lectures are mostly scheduled for the second- and third-year classes. You will not be as much older than your students as they are accustomed to, but you will not be younger."

Fair. Sort of. Éanna's heel was bouncing higher, his spine tingling, it was starting to get hard to hold in the urge to move. "Okay, but about the literally never having been in a Potions class thing, though."

"It's not particularly complicated. With your experience in this area, I wouldn't expect you to plan the lessons yourself. You will be provided a potion or a topic, a brief list of points that must be addressed — how you go about addressing them is up to you."

"But how do you do that, though?"

"I don't doubt you know the material, Éanna. You will be communicating the same information you learned from tutors or books — there is not so great a leap between these media as you might expect. Laura or myself will be present for all of your classes, at least at first, to assist if you miss anything important, or are otherwise struggling. But I am confident you will perform adequately."

How nice for him. Éanna wasn't confident of that, he wasn't confident of that at all. "So this, this, this teaching thing, it's not negotiable."


Shite. He'd been worried about that.

The urge to move became too much, practically vibrating in place, so Éanna sprang up to his feet, circled around his chair to start pacing down the middle of Master Severus's office. (He'd learned a long time ago that people thought it was very weird when he moved too much while sitting down, but pacing was a relatively normal thing to do.) Of course, now his fingers were free to pick at his knuckles, he folded his arms behind his back, gripping his wrists. Which instantly had his shoulders crawling, because now his arms were being held from moving, but there wasn't a whole lot he could do about that if he didn't want to have to dissolve the scraggly calluses off the joints of his fingers again, that hadn't been fun.

Of course, pacing was also a very good excuse to not look at someone while talking to them. Maybe not a very good one, he guessed, but certainly a better one than it feels weird. So, directed more at the walls around him as he walked a straight line parallel to the desk, Éanna said, "This, this, this me teaching thing, this is a bad idea, Master Severus. I don't think you understand how much it— This is a bad idea."

"I do understand. Unfortunately, developing some familiarity with organising your thoughts in a fashion to be addressed verbally will be necessary."

Éanna jerked to a stop, turned to frown at the wall behind and a couple inches above Master Severus's head. "Why?"

That was definitely an uncomfortable-type expression. Annoyed, maybe? Disdainful? (The bloody things looked so similar sometimes, he didn't understand how normal people managed it.) "The licensing boards in this country are somewhat behind the times when it comes to..." Master Severus paused, just for a moment, doing that thing people did when they weren't sure how to put something inoffensively (not that Éanna was really ever offended by anything). "...accommodating the needs of all potential applicants."

It took him a second to figure out what he was trying to say. "You mean they don't know how to deal with spastics."

"You have autism, not palsy."

Éanna had no idea what that was. Must be a muggle thing, Master Severus pulled muggle words out of nowhere all the time. It was very confusing.

"You are very talented, Éanna. I have no doubt that the day will soon come when you will submit a mastery project for consideration by an alchemy licensing board. And, when that day comes, you will need to defend the merits of your project, and your own virtues as an alchemist, to other experts in the field. In person, face to face. If you cannot coherently communicate the concepts of elementary potions to students with no incentive to challenge you, how can you expect to speak of your own original work in mastery-level alchemy to professionals with legitimate cause to do so?"

...Oh. That was actually a good point.


"I... I don't know if I can do this, Master Severus." He didn't know, maybe, maybe Dad was right, and this whole thing was just a terrible idea. He'd been against Éanna sending letters out to master alchemists in the first place, said it wouldn't go as smoothly as Éanna thought. That he didn't have to put himself through this — give it a few years, and they'd find someone who'd agree to take him on. It wouldn't be particularly difficult, given the resources of their family — the founder of their clan was famous in part for founding a school, a school that continued operating to this day, there simply wasn't any academic field they didn't have a litany of connections in — they could find something more his speed when he was ready, there was no reason to rush into things.

But, when he'd heard about Master Severus taking applications to assist him at Hogwarts in exchange for his tutelage, Éanna hadn't been able to help himself. He'd already been considering writing a few master alchemists, but that had been the last kick in the pants — this was the youngest master alchemist in the modern history of the country they were talking about, and Éanna was looking to beat his record, it only made sense. True, it wasn't a real apprenticeship, but in their previous discussions Master Severus said he'd be willing to offer plenty of guidance on that, in what free time they would have over the next months, and he'd even left the door open to a real apprenticeship further along. He hadn't explicitly said as much, but it had been obvious enough for Éanna to pick up on it, which could only mean he'd intended for it to be obvious. (Éanna was infamously oblivious, his cousins teased him for it constantly...or so he was told, he rarely noticed, because oblivious.)

Éanna had made it very clear, during the interviews and stuff, that he was not very good at the whole...dealing with people...thing. He wouldn't think he should have needed to say that, it should have been more than obvious enough just talking to him. Master Severus had made noises about that being fine, that he understood perfectly, that that was fine, that he was more than willing to work around Éanna's quirks, that was fine.

Well, clearly that had been a big stinking lie, because now Master Severus expected him to teach!

And Éanna would be very annoyed if Master Severus didn't have a bloody good point about it. Honestly, somehow, over these last couple years, it hadn't even occurred to him that he'd have to speak with the licensing board. In person, with words coming out of his mouth. And those words would have to be convincing enough for the masters evaluating him to accept that he knew what he was talking about, despite his age and general strangeness. That he would never be taken seriously at this whole alchemy thing if he couldn't figure out how to talk at people about alchemy.

Suddenly, Dad's reluctance about letting Éanna throw himself into this stuff sounded a whole lot more reasonable.

Master Severus started speaking into Éanna's horrified silence — he was pretty sure he hadn't missed anything. "There are any number of resources you will be able to exploit here at the castle. Not only have the three of us decades of teaching experience between us, but...some of my colleagues here are competent, and they'll have their own assistants coming in this year. If you can find a moment with them — they'll both be very busy expect — I would recommend speaking with Ashe or Filius." Professors of Runes and Charms, he knew, Éanna had met them briefly. (Though he'd heard of both before, of course — the latter had been a rather famous professional duelist in his time and the former was a foremost innovator in modular logic enchanting, fascinating work.) "You might find Septima's—" Arithmancy, her work was very abstract and theoretical, Éanna could barely parse it. "—particular lecture style attractive. If you require advice on more...peripheral concerns, I'm certain Cassie will leave her door open to you."

He didn't know that one. "Cassie?"

"Castalia Lovegood. She's teaching Defence this year."

Ah. Right. Now that he thought about it, Éanna was pretty sure she'd said he could call her Cassie, the one time they'd met so far — just, he'd barely been able to hear her over her magic. Cassie's magic was...very, very loud. He didn't mean loud in a bad way, it was sort of nice, actually, all warm and soft and pleasant. Strongly reminded him of his great-grandmother, which was strange, because she'd been First Priestess of the Mother, and Éanna was pretty sure someone would have mentioned Cassie Lovegood being a white mage...

Or, maybe not, because the Brits had made it illegal, the old ways had been driven underground even in Éire... Eh, oh well.

The conversation wrapped up quickly after that, Master Severus saying there really wasn't choice in the matter, he'd have whatever help he needed. Éanna was really only half-listening, which...probably wasn't a good thing, but he was trying to remember when and why exactly the whole high magic being illegal thing happened.

Though, apparently he wasn't quite done giving Éanna an anxiety attack. Instead of dismissing him to prepare for the arrival of the students, Master Severus reached into a folder. He pulled out a photograph of a black-haired girl — cut from the Herald, looked like — and demanded of Éanna one more duty. Master Severus, with a completely straight face, as though unaware of the absurdity of his request, ordered Éanna to, by any means necessary, befriend Lyra Black and report to him on her activities.

Éanna couldn't even find the words to protest. He was completely fucked.

Éanna was starting to think the thing Slytherins were really Sorted for was a predilection toward dramatics.

He couldn't say he really understood this Sorting thing. He'd met Hogwarts alumni before, of course, so he'd heard all about their houses and whatnot, but he'd always found it just...kind of silly? To be all concerned over a personality test they were given when they were eleven, he meant. And he wasn't sure he understood how the houses were supposed to be that different. Looking at it from different angles, the only pairing he couldn't see were virtually identical were Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw — take any other pair, and there was a way to frame their "virtues" that just sounded like different ways of saying the same thing.

But that didn't mean he'd noticed no commonalities between people sharing one of these silly school houses. The ex-Slytherins, they seemed to be...well, dramatic. Not always in the...solemn, super-formal, overly-serious kind of way — though a lot of them were like that all the time, Master Severus himself was a good example of the dignified sort of Slytherin-ness. But Slytherins could be silly too, but even when they did, it was overdone, and...colourful. As though they were performing their silliness for an audience, or had some paragon of silliness in their head they were seeking to live up to. They were very strange people.

(Though, of the Hogwarts graduates Éanna had known, he usually preferred the former Slytherins. For all their theatrics, they tended to be reasonable, rational people, less unpredictable.)

The dormitory was very much a continuation of this. Squirreled deep under the castle, the common room was filled with comfortable-looking furniture in muted colours arranged in subtle, strategic angles, the few hearths and many silvery lanterns spilling light across chairs and sofas and pillars and sconces to throw shallow, criss-crossing shadows over everything, granting the room a confusingly inconsistent, but very dramatic, sense of contrast. And then, of course, there was a bloody lake outside the huge, wall-sized window at the opposite end, which was...

Okay, how was that even there? They hadn't walked nearly far enough for the lake to be there, in any direction. There must be quite a bit of space-manipulation worked into the wards. Which, yes, obviously, Éanna had known that already, but he'd been under the impression that a closed system could compress or expand, but not both — the dungeons definitely had some compression and warping going on, but to be under the lake now meant some hallway or staircase somewhere had been expanded out and down, which...

These last days he'd spent at Hogwarts, Éanna would occasionally recall that Slytherin and Ravenclaw had been peerless wardcrafters in their time. The place bled talent from its every inch, to those who knew how to see.

(Of course, there was also the fact that he was pretty sure the castle itself had a soul, but he was trying to not consider the implications of that.)

And Master Severus was, as Éanna had learned, one of those dramatically serious types. After the feast, he'd met the new first years in the common room, to welcome them to Slytherin and give them a very serious, very dramatic speech as to the rules he expected them to obey. Éanna had been introduced with his other assistants — after the first years were made to introduce themselves, before he named the prefects — which had started a minor storm of whispering, as the gathered students realised that, not only was he not so much older than them and a Gaelic commonor (the horror) who hadn't even had the decency to be in Slytherin, but he had the absolute, unmitigated gall to not even have attended Hogwarts at all!

Mother save him, this was a terrible idea...

Master Severus managed to flatten the kids' protests quickly enough — mostly with Éanna's clanname, which was irritating, and with assurances that he was a mastery alchemy student, which wasn't strictly accurate but fine — moving on with his interminable (and dramatic) monologue. Honestly, did Master Severus think they were in a spy film or something? When the First Rule of Slytherin House (What Happens in Slytherin Stays in Slytherin) was followed by the Second Rule of Slytherin House (Don't Get Caught), Éanna barely managed to hold in the wholly inappropriate urge to laugh.

He knew everyone else in the room was being so very serious about this, but really, he kept flipping between dumbfounded disbelief and childish giggles. Hogwarts was such a silly place, he couldn't help it.

It abruptly became a whole lot less funny when the Watcher Herself appeared in the middle of the room, interrupting Master Severus with Her very presence.

At least, that was what Éanna had thought for one mad, horrible moment. He'd been this close to the Morrígan exactly once — an experience he was not likely to forget, or ever wish to repeat — and for a single instant he was there again, eight years old and confused and terrified.

But no, he realised quickly, this wasn't the Watcher, just a mortal witch. A very dark, very powerful mortal witch. Her aura wasn't nearly so overwhelming as the Watcher's, though still feeling wildly out of proportion with her appearance — the little, black-haired girl at its heart hardly looked to be twelve, it wasn't at all impossible for a human but in one so young? And the music of her magic felt dark and bloody, but not in the same way. The Watcher, much like the Mother, was a protector, but one more vengeful, vicious and proud and furious and absolutely deadly. Like a dragon attacking an enemy — it might be doing you a favour at the moment, but maybe don't go poking too hard if you like not being on fire.

This girl, no, she wasn't quite like the Morrígan, the feel to her something more...playful? There was an edge of violence on the air, yes, but not the same kind of... Éanna would almost think one of the fae had suddenly decided to pop into the middle of the Slytherin common room, if that weren't entirely absurd. Or, maybe not as absurd as it should be, since their Professor of Divination for the year was apparently a bloody peri, but... A dark priestess was more likely than fae. Probably a trickster god, he thought, that would explain the feel of her magic. So, not his problem, just endeavour to be boring and he'd be fine. (People did tend to find Éanna strange or boring or both, so that shouldn't be a problem.)

Belatedly, as cold reason ate away at the last shreds of instinctive panic, Éanna recognised her. That was Lyra Black. The noble girl Master Severus had ordered him to befriend was obscenely powerful, and maybe priestess to a trickster god.

He was so fucked. Hogwarts was going to drive him insane, he just knew it, bad idea, bad bad bad bad...

"Good evening, Your Honour," Black said into the uneasy silence her sudden appearance had caused. Though it was loosening now, people remembering to breathe again now that the sense of her magic on the air quickly faded away — she must have lost control of it temporarily while doing...whatever it was she'd done to appear here. (She certainly hadn't come through the door...) She skipped nearer, as light and cheerful as a child at play, plopping down to a seat on a sofa next to a first-year girl. (None of the other first years had joined her, instead shooting her dark, scathing looks. Muggleborn, maybe? Éanna recalled the British nobility could be odd about that.) "Sorry I'm late, had to talk to our esteemed Deputy Headmistress after dinner. Carry on."

Master Severus, with exhausted exasperation even Éanna hadn't managed to get from him yet, drawled, "Why are you here, Black?"

"I was assigned a detention, Your Honour. Did I miss introductions?"

Oh, Éanna had seen Master Severus do this before — head bowed slightly, hair coming forward to partially hide his face, one hand pinching at the bridge of his nose. The Chief Warlock (er, Headmaster) had interrupted one of his meetings with Éanna and Laura and Rhys to ramble off about confusing nonsense. Apparently, Master Severus found Dumbledore and Black to be similar degrees of annoying. "Your detention is scheduled for tomorrow evening. I trust you can see yourself out."

"You said the first night of term. This is the first night of term." Her tone sounded very much like Éanna's cousins when lying about doing something they weren't supposed to be doing. Crossing her arms, slouching back into the sofa, "Also, I'm already here."

"In that case, you may have another detention tomorrow evening — insubordination."

Apparently, Master Severus's flat, cold, I am very unimpressed with you tone had absolutely no effect at all on the mad girl — which Éanna didn't understand, every time he heard it it sent goosebumps up his arms, even if it wasn't directed at him. (He'd been perfectly decent to Éanna so far, but he never forgot that Master Severus was not a nice person.) In fact, she giggled, light and girlish. "Are you sure you can give detentions for insubordination? I mean, you'd think I would have gotten one before now if they were actually a thing. Also, if you keep giving me frivolous detentions, I'm going to start thinking you enjoy my company. And, you know, I am a girl of a certain age, I'd think you'd want to be careful about what that might look like to people who don't understand this beautiful friendship of ours. But sure, whatever."

Master Severus was actually shocked into silence. Éanna couldn't see his face from this angle — not that he was great at reading facial expressions anyway — but the way he went all stiff, making no more sound than a quiet, sharp hiss, how he just stared at Black for long seconds— That had to be what that was. As mad as she definitely was, Éanna was impressed — he hadn't realised shaking Master Severus was even possible, what with the mind magic and all.

It'd hit him so badly, apparently, that he didn't even bother responding, just went right back to explaining the rules of Slytherin as though they'd never been interrupted, and the last minute hadn't happened.

"You're letting her stay?" That was one of the prefects, er... Shite, Éanna had forgotten his name. He was terrible with names, especially British names, ech. "But she's a Gryffindor!"

Black spoke before Master Severus could press on. "I've been exiled for un-Gryffindor-like behaviour. Apparently letting people draw false assumptions about the vitality or lack thereof of a certain person who shall remain unnamed is dishonourable. Who would have guessed?"

Was that... She was talking about that business with Harry Potter maybe being dead, right? Éanna never picked up on the news of the day — he'd rather focus on his studies, and most of it was just bloody stupid anyway — but people had been talking about that enough even he'd picked up on it. He'd been under the impression it'd all been a misunderstanding, but that sounded like Black had lead people to believe Harry Potter was dead on purpose.

Not that Éanna actually cared, of course, it was just another reason this girl was completely terrifying, and Master Severus expected him to talk to her, Mother save him, he was so fucked...

While everyone else in the room was processing the implications of that, the girl next to Black leaned in to whisper something at her. Black answered, not bothering to keep her voice down — and also losing her hold on her magic again, the room going all cold and dark and scary, Éanna's skin crawled so hard he shivered, tried not to fidget too obviously. "When I was Sorted, the Hat implied that I couldn't completely fuck up Slytherin House from the outside. Figured I should do something about that this year. Also, it gives me an excuse to pick fights with all the pureblood twats who have a problem with you being here.

"This one is mine," Black said, turning to pin the prefects with a (terrifying) grin. "Do the twats a favour and make sure they know? Thanks."

Éanna had absolutely no idea who the "twats" in question were, but they'd have to be complete fucking idiots to do anything to that girl now. This pureblood supremacy shite was nonsense to begin with — at least, that was the assumption Éanna was working on here, it was possible it was something else he wasn't picking up on — but it certainly wasn't worth the risk of attracting the attention of a priestess of a dark trickster god. Just killing themselves would be quicker, and probably much less confusing.

...Assuming people knew what Black was, which he kind of doubted they did. Éanna had been reminded earlier today that high magic was technically illegal, and if it were common knowledge that Lyra Black was a priestess someone probably would have mentioned it. So they wouldn't even see it coming, then. Perfect.

Éanna hoped his duty to befriend this girl wouldn't include hiding the bodies. He didn't like blood, okay...

"Er, who are you, though?" one of the boys asked.

Black turned him an unimpressed look — even in his peripheral vision, it looked very much like Master Severus's, Éanna wondered if she'd copied it from him. "You look like a Rosier, but you can't guess? I'm hurt, Cousin. Lyra Black, Hogwarts Champion and fourth-year prefect." Éanna hadn't known there were fourth year prefects...

Master Severus drew attention back to him with a harsh scoff. "The Hogwarts Champion is yet to be chosen, and there are no fourth-year prefects." Oh, Black was being ridiculous, okay. "Even if there were, no one in their right mind would give her the job. Miss Black is...my paramenon."

That didn't help this make any more sense to Éanna. He had no idea what that was (besides Greek...probably).

"Paraménousa." (Right, definitely Greek, though he still didn't know what it meant.) "Also, no one in their right mind would make you a custos, Your Honour. And that would imply you had some way to—"

"Keep talking and I'll set you a detention teaching the first-years how to mince flobberworms."

That, apparently, was enough of a threat to get Black to shut up. Her unnerving grin vanished (along with her magic, thankfully), and she sat back on the sofa, quietly letting Master Severus continue through his speech. Well, not entirely quietly — she did make little interjections now and again, but they were short and didn't merit a response from anyone in the room, they were apparently ignoring her now. They didn't get off track again until they were starting in on a stern (dramatic) lecture about something called the Truce.

Which was somewhat irritating, because Éanna hadn't any idea whatsoever what the Truce was. It'd been mentioned a couple times by noble kids he'd met before, and once or twice since arriving at Hogwarts, but nobody had actually explained it before. He'd been operating under the assumption that, since he didn't know what it was, the terms of this Truce thing didn't apply to him. Probably.

It was still a good idea to know what it was, just in case, but Black interrupted almost immediately. "Oh, we're still doing that, then?"

"Of course we're still doing that, Black," one of the prefects snapped. "Why wouldn't we—?"

"Well, there was that whole riot thing a couple weeks ago and, you know, Bellatrix no longer being in Azkaban. Just, I've been in the States all summer, thought I'd check."

Oh! Sounded like the Truce was related to that whole thing they'd had with that Dark Lord and his followers, and their little miniature civil war, the British nobility killing muggleborns and/or each other. Right, yeah, that didn't apply to him, okay.

The (probably) muggleborn girl next to Black asked, "Who?" then glanced around the room at the silent, incredulous stares she was getting. Which, Éanna could understand that a little bit — he knew practically nobody, and even he'd heard of Lady Blackheart before — but they couldn't well expect a muggleborn (probably) to know about her, could they? That was just unreasonable.

Black got to explaining first. Which, probably anybody else might have been better. "Infamous war criminal, convicted mass murderer, and de facto Dark Lady. Also my mother, according to some rumours, which of course I can neither confirm nor deny." Black said that like it was a joke, but Éanna wasn't sure what was funny about the suggestion the Blackheart was her—

No, actually, that was bloody hilarious, but the kind of funny Éanna assumed normal people didn't get and he tried not to admit to finding funny aloud. Still.

While Éanna was distracted with wondering whether that was supposed to be funny or not, one of the first-year boys started saying something about the Blackheart having been on the side that killed people like the (probably) muggleborn girl...in a taunting way, as though he didn't at all disapprove of that genocidal nonsense, and wanted her to be very aware of that. (Éanna didn't get people.) But before he could get it all the way out, Black silenced him — wordlessly, because of course she did. "Watch yourself, Avery. Apparently the Truce is still a thing."

While the Slytherins muttered darkly, Master Severus broke the silencing — without even drawing his wand, he just snapped his fingers, a pulse of magic rushing from him in a tingling wave. (Éanna had already seen Master Severus casually whip out wandless magic a handful of times before, he was very impressive.) "Five points from Gryffindor, Black. And that's Rowle."

"Whatever, Your Honour. And hey, I could make prefect! It's not out of the question, Slughorn even picked Bella."

"I'm fairly certain that Bellatrix never broke into Slughorn's rooms to threaten him in the middle of the night."

For a moment, Éanna wondered why the fuck Black was running around threatening McGonagall, but then he remembered what McGonagall was like — Black had surely met her, and that was almost reason enough, she was very irritating. (Just because Éanna wouldn't do things like breaking into people's rooms in the middle of the night to threaten them didn't mean he couldn't understand why someone might want to.) Also, there was the priestess thing. Service to a trickster god probably demanded fucking with irritating people, seemed like the sort of thing they'd be into.

Éanna was distracted for a moment thinking about what he might do to mess with irritating people, if he had the wherewithal to do that sort of thing. When he checked back in, Master Severus was saying, "...the practice of the Dark Arts is forbidden at Hogwarts, though the Second Rule always applies. If you require further clarification of what is considered a Dark Art, I recommend you talk to your sixth-year prefects. Black and White Arts are both forbidden and prevented by the—"

"What?" That wasn't supposed to be out loud — Éanna hadn't even noticed he'd said anything until half the room turned to stare at him. His eyes drifting up toward the ceiling, trying not to fidget, he said, "Er, I mean, do you mean like, like any high magic? Because, I'm supposed to, every dawn— I've always done that, I don't know, don't know if I can not." He'd done it this morning, in fact, so he already knew the wards didn't block high magic. The suggestion they did was quite silly, Éanna doubted that was even possible.

(Honestly, they were gods — they probably saw human warding to be vaguely adorable, like children at play.)

It didn't quite click that he'd essentially just admitted to committing Azkaban-worthy offences every bloody day since he was old enough to light a candle by himself until he registered the dead silence in the room and the dumbfounded eyebrow Master Severus was raising at him. Oops?

Eventually, his voice absolutely blank and even, Master Severus said, "Any minor religious observations routinely practised by certain segments of our society should be of no concern — it is only the greater workings, powerful rituals with significant external effects, that are likely to draw attention." Master Severus turned back to the rest of the room. "There is only one relevant exception: students and staff who wish to do so are permitted to celebrate the major Sabbats on—"

"Oh, well, now that we have your permission," the Black girl drawled, scorn so heavy on her voice it was perfectly obvious even to Éanna. "And the wards don't prevent the use of— Brigit?"

It took Éanna a moment to realise Black was asking him a question. "Oh! Er. Yes, it's Bríd, but yes." Technically, it was also very rude to just go baldly spitting out Her name like that, almost as rude as pronouncing Her name wrong — Black was using an older version, but she hadn't said it right — but Éanna wasn't offended, didn't seem worth it to say anything.

A peculiar hush fell over the room, but Master Severus addressed it before Éanna could even think to ask what that was about. "No, Mister Éanna did not just publicly admit to being a white mage. Certain families among the Gaels still practise a somewhat modernised form of their ancient religion. The rite Mister Éanna is referring to is a ritual prayer to greet the new day — it's commonplace in Ireland and perfectly legal, though not the sort of thing they often speak of with outsiders."

Oh, he hadn't even realised that was an exception to their silly laws against high magic, okay. Of course, the priests of Bríd (and Lú and Morrígan) were all what they would call white (or black) mages, but Éanna wasn't likely to tell a bunch of Brits that, was he.

Black shrugged. "Right, but, as I was saying, the wards don't prevent ritual magic, they'll just light up like a bloody Christmas tree if you do anything too big. Er, if it's a black ritual, anyway — I honestly don't know if they'll react to White Arts at all, so even if Éanna were a white mage he might be fine. But anyway, it's the strength of the magic that's the thing, so you could probably invoke Hecate inside the old dueling ring and no one would notice, the Holston variation on that thing is fucking impressive."

Master Severus went very still again. He must be glaring at Black too — she didn't react, but the (probable) muggleborn next to her leaned away, as though to escape an incoming curse. "And you would know this how?"

And Black rolled her eyes, because she was completely insane. "I wasn't even in the castle for Yule, you know. I wanted to see if I could practise any decent dueling spells, obviously. Illusions are really kind of useless if you're not facing an equally useless idiot like Darling Draco."

By how the prefects reacted to that, Éanna was positive there was a joke he wasn't in on. Again.

Master Severus's very dramatic recitation of the rules of the house was apparently mostly over by this point. There were a couple more minor points he got into after that — mostly stuff about when and how to contact him or the prefects, the procedure to bring forward a grievance against another Slytherin for arbitration, blah blah. Then there was a quiz of sorts, asking after the rules, throwing question after question at the first-years, going around seemingly at random until someone got the particular point correct. (Not that it took more than one attempt very many times, Master Severus was the kind of person it was very difficult to not pay attention to.) Finally, with a last (dramatic) drawl that basically amounted to an order to behave — most of the rules could be boiled down to that, really — Master Severus turned in a flicker of robes, and fled toward his office.

Éanna was right on his heels, stepping through the door out of the common room a bare second behind him. Once the door was closed, he said, "You can't be serious. About the Black girl, and, and the talking to— You can't be serious."

Momentarily paused in the middle of his office, Master Severus turned to give him that droll little raised eyebrow of his. (Éanna thought so, at least, he was too uncomfortable to look very closely, eyes dancing over the bookshelves instead.) "I'm quite serious, Éanna."

"But she's a dark priestess, though!" It occurred to him the second after he said it that he probably shouldn't have outed a 'black mage', since the British were silly about that sort of thing...but Master Severus was probably fine. If nothing else, if Master Severus tried to turn her in to the 'proper' authorities, Black's god wouldn't be very happy with him, that was probably enough for him to keep it to himself. "You expect me to talk to a priestess of a, a trickster god of some kind?"

"Noticed that, did you?" Master Severus, the arse, almost sounded amused. (And Éanna hadn't outed Black, he was obviously unsurprised.) "Eris is not precisely a trickster god, though I suppose the term is close enough to be getting on with."

That was probably meant to be informative but, while Éanna of course recognised the name from Classical Greek literature, he knew absolutely nothing about what the actual goddess was like in the modern day — he was only passingly familiar with gods recognised beyond Éire, or really any besides the Mother — so it made no real difference at all. Shuffling in place while Master Severus poked about his desk, he muttered, "You shouldn't speak her name."

"It is superstition that speaking the name of a god attracts their attention." It was most certainly not just superstition, especially when it was a mage as powerful as Master Severus in a place of powerful magic like Hogwarts, but Éanna wasn't going to argue about it. "Black's connection to Eris is, in fact, a significant part of the reason why I wish you to keep an eye on her. It would be nice to have some forewarning of what trouble she's whipping up."

Éanna glared up at the ceiling. "There's nothing I can say to get you to change your mind, is there."

"No, there is not." Master Severus, the arse, almost sounded amused again.

He groaned, rubbing his face with both hands. Mother save him, he was so totally, thoroughly fucked...

"It occurs to me, Harry...Mister Potter, that I may have done you — and indeed our entire world — a disservice, in not inviting you to have this conversation at some earlier juncture."

Harry squirmed uncomfortably in the squashy armchair Dumbledore had offered him for this very ominous (and apparently overdue) conversation, whatever it might be about. He was beginning to regret telling Lyra and Hermione that he didn't want or need either of them to accompany him. The Headmaster's note, delivered to him in the same mysterious manner used to fill the serving dishes at the Feast, hadn't said that he had to come alone, and Lyra had offered (though she'd admitted she only wanted to come to avoid the meeting McGonagall had demanded with her), but Dumbledore was probably still pretty angry at both of them, Harry figured. Besides he'd thought it would look more...confident, he supposed, to come alone. He wasn't afraid that Dumbledore was going to do anything to him — he couldn't even imagine what he might try to do — it was just silly to think that he might try to compel or obliviate him. Dumbledore, for all he might not be a particularly good man (a position Harry had only come around to in the wake of his attempt to drag him back to the Dursleys at the World Cup), didn't really seem the type to actually hurt him in some way.

His intentions weren't bad, he was just...

Well, naive, basically.

Harry and Sirius had had a very long talk, the night after the World Cup, back in California. Sirius had given him a (very small) glass of firewhisky and they'd sat by a fire (much as he and Dumbledore were now, actually, but on a beach, lounging on damp sand under a cloudy sky), and they'd talked about Harry's parents and what they would have wanted for him, and why Dumbledore seemingly couldn't understand that the Dursleys were terrible people Harry wanted nothing to do with and that feeling was completely mutual. Why he had such faith in family and the power of love and why kids from fucked-up, abusive families didn't tend to end up in Gryffindor.

Albus Dumbledore, Sirius said, had never understood how terrible people could be to each other, because they were scared or powerless or simply because it felt good to them, beating someone else down. For all he had seen war and tragedy, lived a (very) long, full life, for all he had seen that there were terrible people in the world, for all he had met them, fought them, he didn't understand them. Sirius suspected that this was because Dumbledore had never been truly scared or powerless himself, and being an empathic man took no joy in others' suffering. It was literally incomprehensible to him. He might know, academically, that abusive families existed, but...his family hadn't been.

According to Sirius, Albus and Aberforth (Dumbledore's brother, who owned the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade, apparently) hated each other, but neither had a bad word to say about their parents, unless it was that their mother had favoured the other over themselves. James had been the same, but he'd been close enough to Sirius to see at least a little of the horrorshow that was the House of Black, to understand that bad people, the sort of people who should never be given power over the life of a child, existed, even if he hadn't suffered at their hands.

Dumbledore, Sirius said, never had. Not in any way that made it real to him.

So Harry was pretty sure the Headmaster had never meant to hurt him (even though he was definitely responsible for leaving him with the Dursleys). He had thought that he was acting in Harry's best interests (even when he insisted that Harry needed to go back to the Dursleys). He'd been wrong, obviously, but now that Harry had (accidentally) broken the protections he'd put in place, there was no real reason to try to make him go back, and since he wasn't trying to hurt Harry for the sake of it (because he couldn't even comprehend the sort of person who would do something like that), there was no reason to think he would even try to convince him to go back in this meeting, let alone try to find some way to force him. Which, so far, he'd been right about that, Dumbledore hadn't even mentioned the World Cup. Obviously he hadn't forgotten about it, he was calling Harry Mister Potter, so he was probably still angry with him, too. He was just...pretending not to be.

In any case, Harry didn't need the girls here for moral support, or witnesses, or whatever.

But he was starting to wish he'd let Hermione come along, just so this whole...thing wouldn't be so...awkward. Even if she and Dumbledore ended up getting into an argument before they left, she would probably fill the silence, at least.

Because Dumbledore was just sitting in his own armchair, staring moodily into flickering flames, being all cryptic, and Harry had no idea what to say. "Er...how's that, sir?"

Dumbledore sighed. "You may recall, Mister Potter, that you once asked me why Voldemort wanted to kill you as a baby. And I, thinking you too young, too recently traumatised by your run-in with Professor Quirrel and the lingering evil which had possessed him, deferred. I sent you home for the summer, thinking that, while you had been forced to face the danger Voldemort represented far sooner than I had expected, certainly sooner than I had intended, but you had acquitted yourself well. You fought a man's fight, Harry, and I was proud of you. You had delayed his return, bought us more time.

"Time which I, to my shame, squandered. I said nothing — eleven was far too young, I told myself, to lay such a painful burden on your shoulders."

Harry was beginning to feel...distinctly uncomfortable, about the direction of this conversation. He hadn't expected this to be what Dumbledore wanted to talk to him about — he hadn't really known what to expect, of course, but...this still hadn't been it. Not that he didn't want to know why Voldemort wanted to kill him, but... Hadn't he wanted to kill him for at least thirteen years now? What could possibly be so urgent that they had to talk about this now, tonight? Did— Had Dumbledore heard something, about what Riddle was doing? About whoever he was possessing at the Ministry?

"And so we entered your second year here, at Hogwarts. And once again you met challenges even grown wizards would shrink to face. Once again, you managed to face him down, to destroy an object so very precious to him..."

"The horcrux, I know," Harry interrupted, as the old man hesitated in a way that suggested he might go on some tangent about the stupid diary, when Harry really wanted to know why they were talking about this, or at the very least, whatever terrible thing Dumbledore seemed to be working himself up to say.

Dumbledore nodded. "Miss Black will have explained, I'm sure."

"Er...Blaise, actually. It...came up, over the summer. It's...probably not important." Dumbledore perked up in a way that said he very much disagreed, but Harry refused to be distracted. You couldn't just go telling a bloke you were going to lay some painful, cryptic burden on his shoulders and then not tell him. "You were saying, about second year?"

The old wizard gave another heavy sigh. "Yes, well. We discussed your scar that year, we came very close to the subject. But you did not ask me again, and I could not bring myself to ruin your triumph, and in any case, twelve was hardly better than eleven to learn such a thing."

"I'm fourteen, now, professor," Harry pointed out, as calmly as he could, though he was starting to get rather annoyed. He didn't care about whatever excuses Dumbledore might have come up with not to tell him last year, he just wanted to know whatever this thing was that was so important that he'd requested a meeting on the very first night back. (That was so important it had shaped the course of his entire life?)

"Indeed... Indeed you are."

"And I still want to know why Riddle wanted to kill me," he prompted him.

"There was a prophecy," the old man said simply. "Like the one you heard Professor Trelawney make last year, Fate speaking through her, telling us... I will not tell you the precise wording," he said firmly, "For that is still not widely known, and may be of vital importance to keep from Voldemort, but the prophecy spoke of a boy. A boy who would be born at the end of July, to parents who had defied the Dark Lord three times. A boy who would have the power to destroy the Dark Lord, their fates irrevocably linked. Neither may live while the other survives. And so he set out to identify the child and destroy him, assure that he would be the one to live by denying your survival."

Fates irrevocably linked? A nauseating, cold wave of panicked shock crashed down on him as the words registered. "A prophecy." That was... How?

Dumbledore nodded.

"And...you're sure it was about me? I don't— I mean, I can't be the only boy born at the end of July, and— Why should it have been about me?" He demanded, hoping against hope that there had been some sort of...some sort of mistake. It had to have been about someone else, didn't it? "It didn't have my name in it, did it?"

Dumbledore gave him a soft smile, probably thought that was supposed to be a joke. "Ah, no... No, but I'm afraid... Prophecy is a tricky thing, Mister Potter. There were other details which suggested that you were the one, details which Voldemort did not know at the time, but which have since been confirmed — there can be no other. I am sorry, Harry, that this terrible responsibility falls to you, but... This is the reason Voldemort tried to kill you, and the reason he will not stop attempting to do so until either you or he is finished, once and for all."

The panic sunk in ever deeper with the Headmaster's every word. Harry balled his fists in his robes to keep his hands from shaking as certainty settled in his stomach, a knot of terror threatening to rise up and overwhelm him. "And...so, you just decided to hide me with Petunia until, what, he was ready? Because– because I'm not— I can't kill him, I don't know how I would even start, and— I can't defend myself, not nearly well enough— He's going to kill me. I'm going to die..."

He didn't know whether to be furious that Dumbledore had kept this from him, had wasted thirteen years of his life instead of training him to protect himself from Voldemort's next inevitable attempt to kill him, or grateful, because he was freaking out a bit, he wasn't ashamed to admit it, and he couldn't even imagine trying to– to have a life, growing up — or even now — knowing this, it was just—

A quiet, distant part of himself quashed his panic — occlumency really was the most useful thing ever — thinking that perhaps he really should have asked the girls to come along for moral support. Hermione would be demanding the exact wording of the prophecy and arguing with Dumbledore, trying to find any way that it could possibly not be about him, even though that didn't really matter, he realised, because undead-Riddle would be trying to kill him anyway, and Lyra would...

Well, Lyra would probably be demanding that Dumbledore tell them everything he knew about Riddle and what had happened back in Eighty-One, and how he'd managed to not die so she could kill him herself, properly this time. Because she was definitely planning on killing him herself, basically in revenge for turning Bellatrix into his mind-slave (through childhood compulsions, which were apparently a much more legitimate mind-control excuse than the Imperius Defense) and the damage done to the House of Black in the War. She'd started a whole conspiracy and everything. If Fate said it had to be a boy who killed him, Lyra would probably tell Fate to go fuck itself.

Which...didn't seem like a terrible thing to do, actually. Demanding more information, he meant. (Telling Fate to go fuck itself seemed more like the sort of thing that would just piss it off...) Definitely more useful than panicking or denying that Voldemort was going to keep trying to murder him, no matter how stupid the reason was. (It would give him something to actually contribute to the Conspiracy, assuming they actually got as far as making a plan some day.)

Also more useful than sitting here listening to the Headmaster spouting fucking...platitudes at him, all, "Harry, my boy, I know it seems overwhelming, but you must understand—"

"Stop. Please, sir. Just...stop. I don't care. I don't want to hear it, I don't want your excuses or explanations or whatever. What's done is done. Just... Do we have a plan?"

That, apparently, was not what Dumbledore had expected Harry to say, any more than this conversation was something Harry had expected to find himself talking about tonight. "I– I'm sorry?"

"A plan. You know, some way to make sure he's the one who dies so I can live, you know, without looking over my shoulder waiting for him to show up and murder me for the rest of my life."

"I must say, Harry, you're taking this...far better than I expected..."

"I'm screaming on the inside," he said drily — a phrase he had stolen from Blaise, though Blaise generally said he was laughing on the inside, when he didn't think whatever was going on was very funny, even though everyone else did. Dumbledore's already cautious look grew a few degrees more concerned. "I'm— That was a joke." Well, he wasn't joking, actually, he was sure as soon as he was alone (or more likely, as soon as he made his way down to Slytherin and found Blaise) he was going to have a massive freak-out over this incredibly disturbing revelation, but he hadn't meant for Dumbledore to take it seriously. "That's not important. Can we just— You have to have a plan...right? So what do we know? How did my mum try to kill him? How did he survive? Was it just the horcruxes, or—"

"Horcruxes?" Dumbledore repeated. "As in..."

"Yes, as in at least two, I— Well, I didn't see the second one, it was some locket that belonged to the Slytherins, Lyra found it in one of the old Black properties and kind of...broke it, accidentally, over the summer. And I'm guessing there were more than just that one, too, since I'm still getting these weird dream-vision things..." He knew there were more than just two, because one of the things Gin had managed to figure out from the memories she'd stolen from the first horcrux was that there had been five, at least.

(According to Blaise, when Harry had got around to asking him about the Conspiracy in the wake of his freak-out about Lyra just casually going to hang out with Bellatrix fucking Lestrange a couple of weeks before the whole Accidentally Killing a Horcrux Incident, and Lyra just fucking vanishing while he was trying to have it out with her — yes, that's good, be angry at Lyra keeping secrets like an arse, much better than panicking... No, wait, focus on the fucking conversation, idiot!)

He wasn't about to tell Dumbledore about the (at least) three other horcruxes because he was pretty sure that Gin wouldn't want Dumbledore to know that she still had pieces of Riddle floating around in her mind. He didn't imagine that would go very well for her. Best just leave it at, "Snape did tell you about that, right? Blaise said he was probably going to, so..."

"Yes, Harry, Professor Snape—" (As though anyone cared about Snape's proper title at the moment...or ever.) "—has been keeping me abreast of the developments in that arena. He failed to mention, however, that another horcrux had been discovered."

"I'm...not sure he knows?" He did, of course, but, like Gin, Snape had his reasons to not tell Dumbledore things — like that he was conspiring with a bunch of students to murder the bastard on the other end of his Dark Mark. Not that Dumbledore was likely to disapprove of trying to kill Voldemort, but he'd probably think Snape was doing something wrong, getting them to help, despite him not really being in charge, or anything. It probably wasn't a great idea to make Dumbledore think Snape and Lyra were in cahoots, either. "I mean, Lyra didn't tell anyone, she said she was trying to get it to answer some questions, and it wouldn't, so she threatened to set it on fire, and it still didn't...so she set it on fire. And killed it. Accidentally. Before anyone even knew that she had it." Well, before Harry and Blaise had known she had it, at least. "But, I mean, that's good, right? That they don't all have to be stabbed with a bloody basilisk's fang, or whatever..."

Dumbledore, however, didn't look terribly reassured. "Harry, my boy, I'm sorry to say, but...simply setting a horcrux on fire is hardly likely to be sufficient to destroy it beyond the ability of magic to repair it. Are you certain that Miss Black is not possessed by the thing in much the same way as Miss Weasley was?"

Okay, that was almost funny. Though he couldn't exactly tell Dumbledore why, obviously, any more than he could tell him about Gin or Snape. The whole having a god living in her head thing was apparently the sort of shite that could get Lyra a death sentence if the wrong people found out about it, and if Harry was Dumbledore, and had to deal with Lyra bouncing into his life and ruining everything, making him think people were dead and shite, he just might make sure the wrong people found out. (Harry was probably a worse person than Dumbledore, Dumbledore probably wouldn't try to get Lyra killed (...probably), but Harry still didn't think it was a good idea to tell him.)

"Pretty sure, yeah." Really, he'd like to see Riddle try legilimising Lyra. Harry had been terrified, getting stuck in her head. He'd felt lucky to get out alive, when he'd finally had a moment to think about exactly what had happened. And she had let him legilimise her. If she was being attacked by a mind mage... Well, put it this way, Harry was pretty sure Magic Itself would win. "And it wasn't normal fire, obviously." Not that he knew exactly what it was, other than supposedly whatever fire worked on dementors. "It didn't hurt the locket, just the enchantments on it, I guess. The smoke was heavier than air and kind of dissolved her carpet."

"I...see. And you are certain that this thing was truly a horcrux?"

"Well, like I said, I didn't talk to it, but, I dunno, would there be some sort of traces or something on it? Because I'm sure she still has it, she said something about maybe donating it to the school? So you could check it out, if you wanted."

"Yes, I think I shall have to do so." Dumbledore looked singularly displeased about that prospect.

"So, um...aside from the horcrux thing, what do we know? About Riddle, I mean."

Dumbledore sighed. "So much, and yet, so very little. He lacks — has always lacked — a certain degree of...humanity, I suppose one might say. I knew him, as a boy. To my eternal shame, I was the one who brought him into this world, who introduced him to magic. There was always a darkness in him, cold and unfeeling...his motivations truly incomprehensible to a good man. And...I will admit that I made mistakes with him, though in truth, I am not certain that there was ever a way to redeem him, to set him on a path of righteousness, rather than one of selfishness and domination. Even when I first encountered him... I...

"I suppose the thing to do would be to arrange a series of memories for you to view. Give you an opportunity to develop some...understanding or, perhaps it is better to say, a degree of familiarity with his character. Both at Hogwarts and...after. Perhaps you will see some pattern in his decisions and behaviour that I have not. The Aurors recently did something similar, examining memories of Bellatrix Lestrange in an effort to predict her likely course of action...and in an effort to prepare their younger members for the horror they will almost certainly face, in attempting to apprehend her. And then... I will consider our next steps."

He kept on, giving a long, rambing sort of plan-outline thing that sounded suspiciously like No, there is no plan to ensure your survival in the eventual conflict with the undead Dark Lord, I'm making this shite up as I go. But it was, Harry supposed, better than nothing?

Maybe not much better than nothing, but at least now Harry knew. Why Riddle wanted to kill him. Even if it was a terrible reason. And, that Dumbledore expected Harry to finish him off. (That prophecy had to be wrong, or not about him, or something, because, seriously?!)

Now he just had to figure out what to do about it. He could... He could write to Sirius about it, the whole prophecy thing — he'd been around back during the war, and James had to have told him something about it, he might know more of the specifics of why Harry — which did raise the question why Sirius had never mentioned the reason Voldemort was trying to kill Harry... Maybe James had sworn him to secrecy, or something. Hmm... Well, he would still ask, he decided.

And, as Blaise had pointed out, when he was freaking out about coming back here, knowing that Voldemort was possessing someone in the Ministry, that he was here, Harry did have other, very competent allies, at least one of whom was already planning on taking care of this particular problem. Which, Lyra could have him. She was far more qualified than Harry to kill anyone, up to and including Riddle.

Seriously, Harry really didn't see how it was possible that he was the only person who could possibly kill Voldemort. He was sure that if they could get a copy of the prophecy, Hermione could find a way to make it apply to just about anyone. That was one of the few things he'd learned in Divs, last year — true prophecies were like Fate saying checkmate, but they could have dozens of interpretations, the only sure thing was that one of them would happen. And the best way to deal with them was, he thought, to just ignore them?

Because this didn't really change anything, other than Harry knowing now that Voldemort was... No, actually he'd already known Voldemort was an insane idiot. A terrifyingly powerful, evil idiot who refused to just fucking die already. The only thing that had changed was, now Harry knew that Voldemort was trying to kill him because he thought his own life depended on it. (Fucking ridiculous, but okay...) Whoever was actually destined to kill him (surely not really Harry) would do it, regardless of whatever else happened, that was how prophecies worked. Harry just had to stop Riddle killing him in the meanwhile.

Yeah, easy. He could totally do that... (He couldn't do that, he had no idea what he was doing, he could feel the panic breaking through his attempts to push it away, his pulse rate increasing, palms growing sweaty—) "I– I have to go," he said, jolting to his feet without actually deciding to stand. He had to get...away. He was going to lose it, because even though this didn't really change anything, it definitely felt like it did, like talking about it made it more real, and—

"I understand," Dumbledore said kindly, his tone...too deliberate to be really reassuring, even if Harry was in any way capable of being reassured at the moment. "This must be a great shock, of course, and a great deal to process all at once. And I have, in any case, kept you from your friends and your bed long enough." Ha, as though Harry would be sleeping tonight... "I will send you a message when I have gathered the first batch of memories for our examination."

"Er...right. Yes. I'll just...lot to think about..." he muttered, even as he fled, paying far more attention to his breathing and the effort of keeping the shrieks of terror and frustration trying to escape his throat to himself than the direction his feet were taking him. Anywhere away from here was fine.

Anywhere away from people and dark and quiet and preferably with Blaise there to tell him that everything was going to be alright and actually make him believe it, because he was having a hell of a time convincing himself, at the moment, that he wasn't doomed to die horribly at the hand of an undead madman at some unknown point in the future.

Just breathe, Harry... He's not going to kill you right now, just breathe, it's fine, you're fine, everything's fine...

(He'd be a lot more reassured if he could pretend he didn't know when he was lying to himself.)

We just can't write short chapters, can we...

By the way, the "Mother" Éanna occasionally refers to isn't his mum, it's an epithet for Bríd. The Watcher is another epithet, for the Morrígan this time.

[Mister Éanna] — In case anyone is wondering, this is the proper polite address for mages with Gaelic names (in English, at least, they hardly bother with titles and such in Gaelic). Formally, he'd be called Mister Éanna or Éanna Ó Caoimhe (without the title). Brits who aren't aware of the proprieties might call him Mister Caoimhe, but this is very wrong: to Gaelic ears, it'd sound like you're talking to someone whose first name is Caoimhe, and also being very rude (Caoimhe is a girl's name, so). Informally, he's simply Éanna, or Éanna Mhuirgel (mother), or if they need to be really specific Éanna Mhuirgel Rórdáin (mother and grandfather). Most of his cousins call him Éanna Faiteach ("skittish/shy"), but this is very rude, and shouldn't ever be used by anyone outside the family. Or really even people in the family, but children are terrible.

You think this is bad, having two slightly different ways of doing names side-by-side, it actually used to be a lot worse. There was a time in the Isles where you had heavily romanised Celtic, more traditional Celtic, and various Germanic peoples intermixing in a relatively small space, all with their own differing naming conventions and formal modes of address, with local varieties that could be completely unpredictable. In the Founders' time, for example, it might have been hard to know how you're supposed to be addressing someone without just asking them. The modern (mostly) binary Brit–Gael system is already greatly streamlined.

And I thought about that way too hard. —Lysandra

If anyone didn't read the summer scenes and is wondering what happened with Lyra visiting Bellatrix the second time, that's in Go the Fuck to Sleep, should be the last chapter in the summer fic.

Paramenon — convicted criminal who's sentenced to something like house arrest under the direct supervision of a person who guarantees their good behavior. Basically it amounts to bond-slavery. It's very rare.

After the debacle at the World Cup, Dumbledore decided that if Harry doesn't want Dumbledore to protect him, then he won't. Cue actually telling him shite for the first time ever. Doesn't hurt that telling Harry this might actually have scared him back into compliance with whatever the hell Dumbledore told him to do. You know, if Harry didn't have anywhere else to turn for help. So, bit of a flaw in that plan... —Leigha