"Hey, Maïa."

Hermione startled badly at the sound of her girlfriend's voice, blotting the letter she was attempting to write to her father.

Not that she was getting anywhere with it, anyway. Mum had told Dad about...everything, apparently. And Dad was, as predicted, not happy with her. Or his mother. Or Tienne. He wasn't angry at Hermione, exactly, she didn't think, not like he was with the rest of them. But he was hurt that she hadn't wanted him to come, and it was fairly clear from his letter that he was hoping Hermione would side with him on the issue of Mum being completely insane to stay in the Wizengamot when people were trying to kill them.

Which, obviously she did. She'd already told Mum that she did. The problem was, she didn't think Mum cared. And she didn't know how they could possibly resolve this. All assurances to the contrary (from both of them), Hermione couldn't help worrying that realising twenty years into your marriage that your wife would be willing to endanger both of your lives for a job and wouldn't quit even though it was taking up all of her time and they didn't sign up for bloody death threats, was the definition of irreconcilable differences.

And she didn't know what to say. To either of them.

She didn't know what to say to Lyra, either, but at least she wasn't likely to make Lyra feel bad, no matter what she said. Dad, she wasn't sure there was anything she could say that wouldn't make it worse, because every time she wrote I'm sorry, she felt compelled to add, but.

I'm sorry I didn't invite you, but I care about your opinion of me. I want to make you proud, which makes me self-conscious and I was doing magic that could've killed people if it went wrong. I needed to focus on that, not you bloody watching me. I didn't want Mum to come either.

I'm sorry I didn't invite you, but I didn't want you to come because you would get to see how dangerous my girlfriend actually is (and magic in general, for that matter), and you already don't like her.

I'm sorry I didn't invite you, but honestly it's just as well I didn't, because there was another riot and even if Mum says she was fine and the Blacks had it handled, I don't think you would've liked seeing the magical world at its worst like that.

I'm sorry I didn't invite you, but I had my reasons, and yes, I know that makes me sound like Mum, but—

"Lyra!" She spun in her seat to see her, nearly tripping over her chair as she tried to stand up to hug her.

Lyra, who had probably never done anything that clumsy in her life, let out a little eep as Hermione half fell on her — of course she did, she was injured in about three dozen different ways, Hermione probably shouldn't even have tried to hug her, much less gone falling all over her. As soon as she regained her balance, she let her go.

"I'm so sorry! I didn't— I wasn't thinking, I didn't realise—"

Lyra gave her a bewildered look. "Er. What are you sorry about, exactly?"

"You're still hurt! You eeped! I didn't mean to—"

"I'm sore. Bella tricked me into doing this quick-healing thing without telling me I needed to keep moving the whole time or I'd be too stiff to move after because she's a bitch like that—" She scowled into the middle distance at the absent war criminal.

Hermione refrained from asking exactly why she'd been talking to Bellatrix in the first place — they'd not been on speaking terms since the beginning of September, which she thought was probably for the best. Not only was it sort of creepy that they could talk to each other from different continents through Eris, but Hermione was still...generally uncomfortable with the idea that, in another life, Lyra could have become a dark lady notorious for torturing people to death or worse. She was uncomfortable enough with some of the things Lyra herself did, but she infinitely preferred Lyra being annoyed with Bellatrix, rather than considering her some kind of...role model, as she had rather seemed to do before their falling out.

"—but now we're even for me trapping her in the Shadows for the first week of term — still not sure what I did wrong adapting that element of Ashe's ward on Sev's office, she was supposed to be trapped in her bedroom and just moderately inconvenienced, not accidentally forced to disappear on her contacts for a week without notice or set back her plans in Helvetica and Genoa — and since I'm pretty sure I can resist her stupid binding spell now, I don't need to avoid her anymore." Great. "I'm aware that I look like death not-very-thoroughly warmed over, and admittedly probably won't be up for anything much more athletic than sitting in a bath and reading for a couple more days, but you didn't hurt me, hurt me."

"I did, though," Hermione insisted. Even if she hadn't just now (which she wasn't entirely certain of, Lyra would probably say she wasn't hurt on her bloody death bed), "You may not remember—" She had been badly injured and sufficiently out of it that she'd been speaking Elvish at first. "—but I woke you up out in the arena and made your injuries worse! I should have known better, I should have listened to Violet, I was just— I'm sorry."

"You really don't need to be. Yes, I remember, and I'm glad you did, even if it was for a bloody stupid reason." It was a little shocking how relieved Hermione was to hear that. Even if it didn't quite ameliorate her guilt over hurting her in the process. "I'd probably still be in hospital if I hadn't been able to start neutralising that fucking Judgement Curse right away."

She looked like she should still be in hospital anyway, Hermione thought — even paler and skinnier than usual, her shoulders, when Hermione moved in again for a much more careful hug, painfully boney under her robes, and...was she glowing? What the hell?

"Just, for future reference, if you're going to enervate someone who's seriously injured, use a body bind on them first so they don't reflexively sit up. I mean, a healer would probably tell you that you shouldn't enervate people who are seriously injured, at all, but." She shrugged stiffly, obviously intending to express that it was fine to enervate her, but Hermione was going to make a point of learning more about healing and more acceptable revival charms anyway.

"Are you glowing? How are you even out of bed? Madam Pomfrey can't have let you check out yet..."

Lyra's face broke into a familiar, crooked grin. "No, I convinced an elf to steal my wand back for me and broke out, because Siri was pretending he didn't get Pomfrey's letter asking whether there's a family secret explaining how I could possibly not be magically unstable from being soul-poisoned, because he didn't want me annoying him convalescing at home. Which was stupid, I just spent the last forty-eight hours meditating, he probably missed out on the longest period of me not being an annoying little shite in my entire life, but I thought he deserved to be hexed for it anyway. Your mum says 'hi', by the way." What? Oh, wait, Mum must be at Ancient House today. Of course she was. Not like she might want to cut back on the House of Black stuff for a while, try to reassure Dad that it wasn't entirely taking over her life. Why would she? "And..." She squinted at her own hand for a second. "Yes, I might be glowing, just a little bit.

"On which subject, Emma also mentioned that we need to have a talk about me definitely not being human, even though I don't really see what the big deal is. And also that I should tell you, yes, I did insert McLaggan's hand into his buttock — did you know your mum can't say the word buttock with a straight face? — and yes, you did draw my attention to him, but no, I didn't do it for you. I would hurt people for you if you wanted me to, but Siri says that's not the sort of courting gift you give to sane people, and anyway, I was just bored and it was funny."

"I don't want you to hurt people for me!" Hermione said quickly. Not without her knowledge, at least. She thought she deserved at least as much opportunity as Harry to say, no, don't murder my abusive relatives (or whatever). Her relief that Lyra at least hadn't thought she was doing something nice for her with that little "prank" was almost entirely cancelled out by the fact that she was clearly changing the subject away from the not being human thing — especially since she'd changed it to a topic Hermione couldn't just dismiss. "And it's not funny! Do you have any idea how long it's going to take until he can cast magic again?!"

Her infuriating girlfriend just gave her another stiff shrug, gingerly lowering herself to the edge of their bed. "If they were willing to use dark healing spells, Saint Mungo's could've fixed him the same day. I know Bella knows one that would've worked, she used it when she was poking holes in me, and she's not a healer, so it can't be that obscure. It would've hurt like hell, but it's quick. If his parents are smart enough to take him to the Continent to find a bioalchemist to repair the damage, it could be a few months. Or if they stick with light, British government approved healing magic, it could be a few years until he can use his right hand again, I guess. But if it does, he can still learn to cast with his off-hand, anyway. It's not like his life is completely ruined."

While on the one hand it was reassuring that she hadn't intended to ruin his life, "It's still completely disproportionate, Lyra! Yes, he's a creep, but—"

"Eh?" After the briefest hesitation — before Hermione could begin to remind her of their conversation about taking revenge on the idiots who kidnapped and tortured her, earlier in the year — her confusion cleared, a bright grin taking the place of her baffled frown. "Oh! Retaliation against people who have harmed you or your House should be proportionate, unless you want to start a blood feud, but I wasn't really trying to punish him for grabbing arse, just amusing myself.

"As the instigator here, I can start at whatever level I want," she explained, as though this was some sort of– some sort of game with perfectly obvious rules known to and understood by all involved. "Well, a level at which I'm prepared to accept retaliation. It's sort of bad form to pull some shite you're not prepared to deal with yourself and then act like fair retaliation is an escalation — see...at least half of the Goblin Wars, but. Did you really not think it was funny? Éanna thought it was funny when I told him why I needed that much Flesh Fusing Ointment on short notice..."

"That is not the point," Hermione snapped, hating herself a little bit because Lyra had just gotten out of hospital, she didn't want to be talking about this, having to tell her off over– over violating McLaggan's buttock, rather than catching her up on everything she'd missed the past two days.

Gabbie had spent Saturday and Sunday nights at Ancient House with Fleur and their family — apparently her older sister was devastated that she'd been removed from the field for losing her temper and setting Ingrid on fire. Gin had done the same, hiding from her mother — they'd had a row, about what Hermione wasn't entirely certain, Gin hadn't wanted to talk about it when she finally returned.

In the meanwhile, Hermione had been alone in their room, which was unnervingly quiet — all the more unnerving because she distinctly recalled feeling traumatised by having to share a room at the beginning of first year. Now she was...actually lonely by herself, which was just...weird. It was weird and unpleasant. And she wasn't really sure when that had happened, becoming accustomed to having other people around all the time. It was just...strange, realising that she'd changed at some point in the past few years. It reminded her of looking at Harry and realising that he looked happy.

The papers were speculating that Harry and Astoria were a couple — the actual omniocular footage hadn't been released to the public yet, but enough photographers had gotten pictures of the screen when she crowned him to feed the rumour mill. Harry found this annoying; Tori thought it was hilarious. Krum had shaken Harry's hand Sunday morning in the Great Hall, congratulating him on winning their aerial duel. Harry had instantly become a red-faced, stammering mess and blurted out but I hit a tree, because of course he had.

Theo had asked her to tell Lyra that she owed him a second favour for cursing him in the arena — Hermione still didn't know what the first favour was for. Blaise had asked her to tell Lyra that Rachel had been one of the more seriously injured Slytherin students, hit with several petty jinxes by her housemates in the disorderly retreat from the stands — apparently the effects hadn't mixed well — but she'd been released by the Healers after a couple of hours. (Rachel herself had just asked Hermione to pass on get well soon wishes.)

By some absolute miracle, the politicians had managed to avoid a complete diplomatic meltdown; they would still be completing the Tournament (rumour had it because the judges didn't know what the Goblet would do if they cancelled it now, or even moved it, or changed any of the tasks); they wouldn't be getting their scores until probably Saturday, because the judges wanted all of the Champions to be present, but everyone knew Hogwarts won, and Beauxbatons probably lost even though they'd technically made a better showing than Durmstrang, just because of Fleur and Ingrid.

She'd even rather talk about the death toll — four people had died: two falling from the stands and two from curse complications after being removed to Saint Mungo's for treatment — or Mum and Dad, or how...weird everyone seemed to be treating Hermione herself these past few days. There had been an article speculating on whether she, Ryan, and Fred would be punished for stopping the riot in some way — not sent to Azkaban, since ICW laws held supremacy here at the moment, but possibly expelled or something — and at the other extreme, Cassie had recommended the three of them for Awards for Special Services to the School.

They probably wouldn't get them, but it was still nice of her to try. Dumbledore had called them up to his office for a Very Stern Talking-To about using that sort of magic ever again, trying to make it sound like he was doing them a huge favour not expelling them and this was their only warning, or something. Next time you save who knows how many lives by using legal magic to end a bloody riot, you won't get off so leniently, basically. (The more direct contact she had with that man, the more she wondered how she'd ever thought he deserved his amazing reputation her first three years here.)

The student body couldn't seem to decide if Hermione was now cool or kind of terrifying. Honestly, she preferred the latter — people she'd never met before trying to talk to her in the library or the corridors, acting like they were friends now, were just annoying and she didn't know how to deal with them. She didn't want to offend them, but she really wanted them to leave her alone. Harry had parrotted her own advice from second year back at her (Just ignore them, Hermione, they'll lose interest eventually), which she now understood had been supremely unhelpful, and there was no call to be so smug and amused about it, Harry!

Any of those topics would be better than McLaggan — and they needed to talk about what the hell Lyra was, exactly — but she couldn't seem to stop herself nagging instead of changing the subject. "You can't just– just go around hurting people because you're bored!"

"Pretty sure I can," Lyra replied, with one of those half-amused, half-confused little smiles that said she knew she was probably missing something, but had no idea what.

Hermione hesitated for a moment, but then decided she had to at least try. "What if– What if I don't want you to?"

Lyra shrugged. "Then I won't. I won't need to, anyway."

"Need to?" That couldn't possibly be the most absurd thing she'd ever said or implied, but at the moment, Hermione was having trouble thinking of a more egregious example. "What is that supposed to mean? You don't need to horribly maim people for your own entertainment, Lyra!"

She had the nerve to look at Hermione like she was the one being ridiculous, here. "Need to as in, I'll die if I don't? No. Need to as in there are days when I suddenly just hate everything and just fucking existing around people grates and I won't be able to focus on anything other than fantasising about murdering everyone I see until I find someone to take out my frustration on? Yes, absolutely. I mean, I do also enjoy hurting people even when I don't need to, but sometimes I do really need to." Oh, that wasn't disturbing at all...

Before she could think of something to say — maybe Have you ever considered therapy, Lyra? Because I know people tell you that you're insane all the time, but there's annoying, disruptive insanity, and then there's a danger to oneself and others insanity... — her girlfriend added, "But it's fine. As soon as I stop glowing and can be seen in public, I'm going to go convince Cæciné to be my duelling partner."

"You're what?!" Hermione...sort of shouted. Said much more loudly than she'd intended to, anyway. Setting aside for the moment her girlfriend's sadistic tendencies (and why she was glowing, for that matter), "She tried to kill me, Lyra!"

Lyra, her girlfriend, who should be taking her side here, if for no other reason than she'd been seriously hurt saving Hermione's life, scoffed at her. "Doubt it. I haven't talked to her yet, obviously, but I'm guessing she thought you were me."

"That's what she told Harry, yes, but that is such dragonshite! Your aura is much stronger than mine, and much darker, and—"

"And when you've been fighting full out for over half an hour and you're completely exhausted bordering on delerious, you can get a little stupid. She did keep moving us away from the unconscious idiots who tried to ambush us, so I doubt she'd intentionally target a non-combatant, and Angel said she was frustrated and disappointed with the way it ended, too. So I'd believe her."

"Well, I don't!" Hermione snapped. It might have been a little jealous of her, but she couldn't stop herself adding, "I don't want you hanging out with her!"

For a long second, Lyra just blinked at her. "Maïa, I don't think you understand, I need her to be my duelling partner. She's fucking perfect. Like, I know you don't get needing to fight, Siri says normal people don't—" Hermione ground her teeth at being called normal people. "—but asking me not to is like asking you not to sleep."

That was ridiculous. "Sleeping is a biological need, Lyra! Fighting isn't."

"Fine, like asking you not to do magic."

That was hardly a better comparison. "I spend months at a time not doing magic at home, you know!" Well. She had, during the summers after first and second years, and most of last summer as well, with the exception of when she'd visited Lyra. This next summer, she supposed she would probably spend more time back and forth between home and Ancient House. But still.

"Yeah, that's why I said sleeping first. Because I can't not fight, or at least blow off steam killing spiders and pranking arseholes. We literally just covered this. I'll go insane."

You're already insane, Lyra...

For once, Lyra actually seemed to know what she was thinking, because she added, "Not insane like I'm always a little mad, actually insane, like losing control of myself, might actually use the Cruciatus on Draco for being a twat -insane."

"I think you could if you really wanted to," Hermione insisted. "Bellatrix was in Azkaban for how many years?"

Lyra glowered at her. She didn't like being compared to Bellatrix any more than Hermione liked being called normal people. "Bella was more than twice my age and as down as it's possible for us to get when she went to Azkaban, not to mention she only stayed there because she thought it was what Riddle would've wanted her to do and her entire personality was warped around those fucking compulsions of his. Plus, we aren't the same person! If you ask her, I have about as much self-control as a sugar-high pixie, even compared to her at my age. Also, I don't really want to."

Well, Hermione had sort of assumed as much, but that wasn't the point!

"What I want is to find a duelling partner who has enough of an advantage over me that I won't accidentally kill them, but who isn't so much better than me they can take me out in two minutes unless I somehow manage to trick them or get a solid strike right off the mark like Siri or Dora," she said, counting points on her fingers, "who actually likes fighting, doesn't have a problem throwing lethal shite around for fun, and has the stamina to keep going until I'm actually tired. Cæciné is perfect. That was literally the best fight I've ever been in. Why would you want me not to—"

"She almost killed me, Lyra! She almost killed you!"

"I thought we'd already established that was an accident, and yes, I know she almost killed me, too. I just had this conversation with Severus. Well, a couple of days ago." What? Why was she talking to Snape about— No, never mind. Hermione wasn't going to get dragged off topic trying to figure out whether Mum was right and Lyra actually did like Snape. Especially since they were already well off-topic, or at least off the topic she wanted to address — What are you, Lyra, and why didn't you tell me before now? "What part of she's perfect is so difficult for you people to understand?"

Hermione glowered at her. "The part where you apparently think nearly dying is a good thing!" Also, the part where Hermione found herself in any category of "you people" with Severus bloody Snape. That was even worse than normal people.

The bloody madwoman just gave her an unnervingly self-satisfied grin. "It is. Well. I mean, it sort of depends how you're nearly dying, I guess, but acute mortal peril, like slip-and-you're-dead fighting, is pretty much the most exhilarating thing ever. And...shite, I don't know how to put this. Why is there never a Zabini around when I need one?"

"Lyra, just say it," Hermione huffed. Out of all the things that occasionally annoyed her about Lyra (of which there were admittedly several), assuming that she needed to ask Blaise (or, lately, Gabbie) to mediate conversations between them, as though Hermione wouldn't possibly be able to understand her awkward attempts to explain herself, had to be at the top of the list. (She shouldn't need her mother to talk to her girlfriend for her, but she shouldn't need Blaise to talk to her for Lyra, either, damn it!)

"Fine. Honestly, I prefer losing fights sometimes. Not because I like losing, it's just...more satisfying than winning a lot of the time. I mean, beating Draco in front of the entire school or whatever is fucking hilarious, but it's not hard. And it would've been a little disappointing if I'd actually beaten Cæciné, especially in our first fight. I don't like being at someone else's mercy, I'd definitely keep demanding rematches until I could beat her even if I didn't want her as a regular duelling partner, and if I'd won, it still would've been the best fight I've ever been in, but... Do you know how often I actually put my best effort into something and fail? Not at like, pretending to be normal, but at something I'm good at, that I've worked at. Not very often. So I don't get to push myself, because I usually succeed before I reach my limits.

"Being completely exhausted in a fight, just reaching the absolute end of my endurance, practically never happens anymore. Either I'm playing with someone who's much better than me and they slap me down when I could keep going, I'm just, you know, buried up to my waist in the courtyard with a fiendfire dragon nipping at my nose, so I have to yield, or I got stunned or Siri broke both of my arms or something so I'm incapacitated, but I'm not tired yet and I don't want to be done. Or I'm playing with someone I don't have to try that hard to beat. Or if I do have to try, it's because we made rules. Like, I could definitely take Theo easily if I could use everything I know against him, but since we only use shite we can heal, that limits my repertoire a lot. Or, and this is the worst, I'm playing with someone I do have to work at beating, but they just hit their limit before I hit mine, and yay, I win, but I didn't get everything I actually wanted out of the fight, because I want to keep going until I can't keep getting up. Even the riot at the World Cup ended too soon.

"And we were almost there. Even if you hadn't interrupted, it probably would've just been a few more exchanges, and sure, Cæciné was even more exhausted than I was, but I had more injuries and she's a stubborn little thing. She would've held out long enough to put me down, even if she passed out as soon as the fighting high wore off. So, yeah. I don't know how it would've gone if I'd recognised that blood magic shite she did at the beginning, or stopped her anti-shadow-walking thing, but as it was, she had me dead to rights. Almost killed me. Perfect." She gave an awkward little shrug, noticeably stiffer than usual, even accounting for the fact that she was clearly still in pain. "Does that make sense?"

Hermione actually thought it almost did. She didn't really see the appeal in getting the shite beaten out of yourself until you couldn't move, but she did understand the appeal of a theoretical, unspecified challenge that you had to learn and improve your skills in order to accomplish. She nodded. "I still don't like it, though."

Lyra rolled her eyes. "You don't have to like it, it has nothing to do with you."

Hermione bit her tongue on a retort to the effect that if it involved Lyra, it involved her, because they'd already had that argument multiple times this year, and Lyra still didn't understand that being her girlfriend — or even just being her friend, she wouldn't want Harry getting involved with Cæciné, either — meant that Hermione cared and had a right to know and have an opinion about important things going on in her life, even when Lyra didn't think they had anything to do with Hermione. They affected Lyra, therefore they affected her, if only indirectly. (What if she actually kills you, you idiot?) What part of that is so difficult to understand? But she didn't want to rehash the same argument again, and certainly not right now, when she could instead redirect the conversation back to another very important thing she had a right to know about, which Lyra had been hiding from her for she didn't even know how long: "Like you not being human has nothing to do with me?"

Her girlfriend gave the change of subject a somewhat exasperated sigh, her face instantly twisting into a pained expression — clearly she'd forgotten that she was too sore for dramatic sighing. "Er. I know that was sarcastic, but it really doesn't..."

"It does when you're lying to me about it, insisting you're human when you're clearly not!"

"A, I don't know what I am, I'm one thousand per cent making this shadow-kin thing up as I go along — Emma said you were freaking out over me bleeding darkness, which I didn't notice until Saturday, either — and B, pretty sure I never lied to you about it."

"Well, you sure as hell didn't tell me — I just learned the term shadow-kin from Mum after the task!"

Her infuriating girlfriend rolled her eyes. "Okay, but when was the last time I actually said I was human?" Hermione didn't know, but that wasn't the point, damn it! "I didn't learn the term shadow-kin until I was stuck between planes over the summer. Before that— Well, I know I've never really been a normal human, but there's not exactly a word distinguishing the Family from other humans, and Dru insists that she's human, too — I mean, she did manage to produce fertile offspring with two different men, so I assume she's biologically human, at least, which has to be how she manages to square that one — so what else should I have called myself?"

...Much as Hermione hated to admit it, that was...fair. She couldn't really say she would call Sirius non-human, and the two of them seemed like the same species, aside from the shadow-magic. "So...bleeding darkness is just a shadow-kin thing? You're not actually an immature eldritch abomination, or something?" she asked, just to be sure.

Lyra hesitated. "Er. Well, I think bleeding darkness is a shadow-kin thing, but that doesn't mean I'm not an eldritch nymph." Was that actually the proper term? Or had Lyra adopted it after Mum mentioned it to her? "Probably depends on your definition of eldritch abomination."

She couldn't help but feel that Lyra was being a bit evasive there, even if she probably wasn't doing so intentionally. "Which means...?" she prompted her.

"Well, I was hanging out with Angel and Kore at Samhain, and as it turns out, I'm apparently a baby avatar, which in hindsight explains sort of a lot, like cryptic hints about Eris and me being different people for now and Theo suddenly needing to lie down when I told him what we did to restore Bella's autonomy and suggesting that I should learn how to deform creatures like she did to Cygnus in my old world for myself if I want to dissect them and see exactly what she did...which may be what that weird spell I threw at Cæciné would have done, actually. She did refer to it as throwing raw chaotic energy at something in the context of resisting Bella's stupid binding spell in the same way I resisted Cæciné's stunner, and that was sort of an extension... Hmm..."

...Hermione wasn't entirely certain she was following. "You mean...you're an Avatar of Eris like Angel is an Avatar of the Dark? You're— Does that mean...you're basically Eris?" That...couldn't be right. She wasn't—

"Well...sort of? Definitely moving in that direction, apparently. I thought it basically just meant being low-key possessed all the time, like there wasn't a whole lot of difference between being an avatar and being dedicated under the Covenant, and, well, I sort of knew that most of the Mad Blacks actually put some thought into their dedications, rather than relying on soul resonance, because most of them weren't desperate seven-year-olds, so I thought Bella and I both fit the definition, and it wasn't really a big deal, because, I mean, I've been this way since I was a little kid, right?

"But Angel said that's really just a first step. You're not really an avatar until you're indistinguishable from your patron, like you just grow more similar to them until your soul resonates perfectly with them, and you're sort of subsumed into the greater consciousness of your patron to become an extension of them. Before you die."

Hermione felt her eyes growing very wide as the horror of– that Lyra's soul was essentially being...taken over by Eris— "That's— How long does this take? Is there any way to stop it?"

Lyra frowned at her. "Why would I want to?"

"Because you're– your soul is slowly being eaten alive, and— How is that not like being told you're dying, Lyra?!"

"Er. Because I'll still be alive? That's sort of the point, that we'll have a body on the mortal plane to affect shite directly."

"But you won't be you anymore!"

She just shrugged, completely nonchalant, oblivious to how– how utterly devastating this was! "From my perspective I will be. I mean, people do grow and change all the time. That's like saying you won't be you in a few decades just because you're going to grow up and have new experiences and shite."

Hermione forced herself to take a deep breath, trying to resist her reflexive emotional reaction. She found the idea of– of developing into nothing more than an extension of some magical being to be horrifying, but Lyra clearly didn't see it the same way. "Decades?" she repeated, focusing on– on how much time they would have left, rather than...what would eventually happen when—

"Well, yeah. Maybe longer? I don't know, Angel made it sound like she's still independent of the Dark in some ways, or maybe like she retains some of the traits she had as Angel before she became a part of the Dark? and she's been dedicated for like, five centuries." ...Did that mean Lyra was effectively immortal, then, and not going to be completely subsumed by Eris until well after Hermione's lifetime? God, this was so confusing— "I'm not really sure what the big deal is, though." An incredulous snort escaped Hermione at the utter ridiculousness of that statement. "Like, yeah, I can use Eris's magic to do some things and maybe Siri's right, that's a little obvious, not shite I should be throwing around in public — we just had this conversation — but—"

"Who else knows?" Hermione blurted out.

"Er. You, Siri, Emma, Angel, and Bella, obviously. Probably Theo, maybe Luna? but maybe not, because she hasn't said anything. Probably some of the Irish delegation, they tend to be more familiar with ritualists in general, so some of them probably recognised what I did in the Task and put it together. There were probably a few others there who would have recognised it as well — Meda, Siri says they talked about it after, though Cissy might not have noticed — but we sort of figure anyone who would recognise it would have their own incentives to keep their mouths shut, because they're probably ritualists themselves. Er...Snape? I don't know he knows, but I wouldn't want to bet that he doesn't. Same with Zee, honestly. Magical theory is hardly her forté, but Bella may have mentioned it to her. Apparently she noticed the first time we met." She shrugged again.

So, it was about as well-kept as any of her other secrets, was what Hermione was hearing?

"Oh, wait, no, Eris says Bella says she didn't mention it to Zee, but she did tell Dru. Why would she— As if Dru needed extra incentive to avoid me?" She rolled her eyes, presumably at the voice in her head, or the absent Bellatrix, or possibly even her mother? Not at Hermione, certainly. Then she giggled (and winced).

"What?" Hermione asked warily.

"Bella suggested that I ask Dru for advice on concealing the fact that I'm slowly ascending to godhood from the general public, which is hilarious because A, Dru does a terrible job convincing anyone that she's human and B, she really hates people implying that she's not."

"Ascending to godhood?" Also, that was the second time Lyra had referred to her mother as though she wasn't human in this conversation. It was odd that she was talking about her at all, Hermione could probably count on one hand the number of times she'd come up, but what did Lyra think she was if not human? She wasn't also an avatar of some god or another, was she? Hermione was almost certain that Eris's presence only affected Lyra's magic (and whatever she'd done to her brain as a child, but that didn't change her genetically). Was that what she meant, about Druella calling herself human despite only being biologically human? And what about— "Is Bellatrix also an avatar?"

"No, Bella likes being independent. She was never as close to Eris as I am, even when she was little, and I think her personality developed in a more destructive direction because of Not-Professor Riddle, anyway. But as for ascending to godhood, well, yeah, basically. I mean, from Eris's perspective, she'll be subsuming my soul, but from mine, I'm pretty sure I'm going to just grow closer and closer to her until we eventually become a single consciousness and I have access to the entirety of her consciousness, like across all planes. I think. We're not really sure. I mean, if there are any other Bellatrices who have become avatars— Okay, there are a few others who are also in the process of becoming avatars in various timelines, but none of us have been fully assimilated or ascended, or whatever. So yeah, we're figuring it out as we go along. But it's not really a big deal."

Hermione nodded slowly, thinking...

Well, first of all, thinking that Lyra was insane for not thinking this was a big deal, apparently to the extent that she hadn't bothered bringing it up at any time in the past two weeks — yes, they had been a busy two weeks, but it wasn't as though there hadn't been any time to talk, but whatever — but mostly thinking that she needed more time to– to process this. It was just—

What are you supposed to say when your girlfriend tells you that she's slowly ascending to godhood?!

"Why are you glowing?" Changing the subject away from the fact that her girlfriend's soul was in the process of being assimilated by a god seemed like a good idea at the moment. That was just...too big to really wrap her head around, at least right now. She suspected that it might be a good idea to talk to someone who knew more about this and wasn't Lyra, who could give her a more reasonable perspective— Theo. Theo would be good, she'd said he knew, and he'd been a good resource when she'd been looking for more information on Walpurgis...

"Er. Probably because I was trying to instinctively compensate for the additional stress of speeding up my metabolism to heal faster—" Because that was definitely a thing people could do. (Hermione was fairly certain she'd read in multiple places that there was no way to circumvent the Fournier Limit.) "—by channelling more magic than usual to help sustain myself. It's fine, just bleeding off what I can't assimilate to avoid over-channelling. Which is most of it, since I don't really do free subsumption, just, reaching for more magic when you don't have enough energy is a thing some mages tend to do instinctively. I'm not sure how common it is in real life, but it's a sort of trope in plays and literature, used to show that a character is over-extended, still on their feet through sheer force of will or in a healing coma or whatever.

"Anyway, now I'm out of hospital — and have looked in a mirror and realised that I've sort of unintentionally been starving myself a bit — I dropped the quick-healing thing, so it should stop eventually. In the meanwhile, I'm thinking a nice long soak sounds like an excellent idea," she said, as though — well, as though she really didn't think this was a big deal at all. She pulled what appeared to be a picnic basket out of a shadow pocket, setting it on the bed beside herself. "Also, have a biscuit," she added, grabbing one as she headed for the bathroom. "Apparently I look like a cave-wight. Sort of like a goblin ghost-wendigo, I think, I'm not entirely certain. I'd never heard of them before Bobble told me I had to take the basket because I look like one. Not that I'm complaining, he makes really good biscuits, but." She turned around, giving Hermione a confused look. "Are you coming? You didn't have other plans before dinner, did you?"

Well, no, Lyra generally had Runes Tuesday afternoons, but Hermione's schedule was clear. But, "Er...what?"

"I don't want to soak alone." She gave Hermione a crooked grin. "That sounds incredibly boring, especially after spending the last two days in hospital. So come tell me what I've missed. We can transfigure the tub into a tiny caldarium and catch up on lost snogs, it'll be nice."

Oh. Well. That did sound nice. Almost...romantic, actually. Which was honestly more out of character for Lyra than claiming oh, not only am I not human, but I may be slowly ascending to divinity, by which I mean I definitely am, was not a big deal, but Hermione wasn't complaining. The idea was a little anxiety-inducing. Yes, they slept in the same bed and Lyra did so casually nude, but Hermione normally wore a nightshirt and knickers at least. It would be all too easy to get...carried away if they were both entirely naked, and she couldn't help feeling a little self-conscious with her entire body on display. But she couldn't deny that it did sound nice, and, well.

She'd been trying not to think about it, and doing a fairly good job, what with being distracted by McLaggan and Lyra being horribly injured and not being human and...everything, but even if she hadn't really been in a position to appreciate it at the time, saving her life like that, just stepping in front of a curse for her at the last possible second, was...rather more attractive than Hermione would have guessed, if she'd considered the possibility beforehand. (Especially now that Lyra had assured her that she was forgiven for waking her up in her panic and making everything worse.) She'd always found her girlfriend distractingly, annoyingly pretty, and she might be in love with her brain, but she hadn't thought stupidly noble heroics, of the sort she'd always rather disdained in stories of Gryffindorish knights rescuing helpless damsels in distress, were quite that...well, hot.

Catching up on lost snogs and pretending Lyra hadn't just casually confirmed that she was, in fact, an eldritch nymph of some sort (even if it had nothing to do with her bleeding darkness) seemed like a fine way to spend the remainder of the afternoon, was what she was trying to say. Much as she hated to admit it, Lyra had had a point when she'd said Hermione...wasn't entirely prepared to accept some of the more disturbing aspects of her girlfriend's personality. But others were just attractive enough she couldn't seem to convince herself that the disturbing parts were more important, and whether Lyra was or was not human or might be entirely overtaken by Eris in a few decades or centuries was...similarly not disturbing enough to dissuade her traitorous hormones. As long as she wasn't lying to Hermione about it, or...essentially deciding for Hermione whether she was able to take that information into account, at least.

She felt her face grow a bit warm as she nodded.

The crooked grin grew wider. "Brill, you can start with what happened at the Fort — Siri said they improvised an actual bomb? — and how the hell you stopped a bloody riot in its tracks, because I have to say, Maïa, that might be the single hottest thing you've ever done. I can't believe I missed it!"

(Hermione was in so much trouble.)

Hermione: I want you to tell me everything so I can decide for myself whether I in fact didn't want to know and pretend that I don't, damn it!

Lyra: Normal people are weird.


Lyra: You know, I won't be able to say anything at all if you're snogging me in a hot tub.

Hermione: ...That is an excellent, entirely reasonable argument, my teenage hormones see no flaws with it whatsoever.

Really, I think the most awful thing about Hermione being fifteen and annoying is that she KNOWS she's being a nagging bitch, she just...can't stop. And doesn't have the relationship experience yet to realise that should be a hint this relationship isn't good for her. Poor kid.

Other notes:

[Lyra would probably say she wasn't hurt on her bloody death bed]

It's only a flesh wound!

[Siri says that's not the sort of courting gift you give to sane people]

Siri also says that it's a bad idea to tell your girlfriend that you may be in love with another girl, even if you have no intention of dumping your girlfriend for her and literally only want to try to kill this other girl. Emma says that she shouldn't hide this from Maïa, but warned her that they're going to need to have a very serious conversation about Lyra's feelings if she doesn't want Hermione to break up with her. Since discussing McLaggan and the fact that Lyra clearly isn't human seem more important (because Hermione already knows about them), she's just going to avoid using the word 'love' to describe her feelings about Arte, since Siri assures her that normal people are not going to recognise wanting someone to try their level best to kill you as 'being in love' anyway, and Lyra's still not entirely sure that term really applies.

This is the last of the chapters I have written for the Plan. I'm going to be shooting for monthly updates from here out, so, uh...we'll see how that goes.