It started with a normal morning in Ms. Bustier's homeroom class.
"As you all know, it's fast approaching the holiday season, and our collège always does a fundraiser for a charity before Christmas," Ms. Bustier told the class, smiling widely. The first few cut-out paper snowflakes had appeared in the classroom window that morning, and they all knew that the collection would only grow as December went on. "So remember to remind your parents to check their emails for details soon! Our student representatives have been hard at work brainstorming what to do this year."
Marinette smiled, even as she kept drawing in her sketchbook. Jagged Stone had commissioned an outfit for his Christmas present to Penny from her, and wanted the design ready to be sent to his seamstress as soon as possible so that he could have it ready in plenty of time. He had told her not to rush, of course- "you have so much going on, and I don't want to put you behind in your studies!"- but Marinette wanted to try to get things done early.
After all, akumas could appear and eat up her free time without any notice, and so she was going to take advantage of any extra time when she could.
"Oh, a charity fundraiser?" Lila asked from the back of the room, and Marinette mentally sighed before setting her pencil down. Clearly she wasn't going to get anything done now, if she had to deal with Lila's nonsense, and her nonsense-o-meter was going wild. "That's so wonderful! Do you think that- oh, no, I suppose it would come off a little self-appreciating, never mind..."
"No, go ahead!" Ms. Bustier reassured her quickly. "What is it that you wanted to ask, Lila?"
"Well, I was wondering if maybe I could put forth one of my charities to be considered for the fundraiser's proceeds," Lila told the class, and even without turning around, Marinette could picture the way that Lila would press a hand to her chest delicately, doing her best to look bashful. Adrien's eye roll from in front of her told Marinette that her mental picture probably wasn't very far off. "But I suppose that could come off as, well..."
Ms. Bustier perked up. "Oh, how could I have forgotten that we had someone in our class who had done so much charity work before? I don't think it would come off as self-serving at all! In fact, it could add an extra connection and an element of interest to the whole thing if the school picked one of your charities. Marinette, could-"
"Student council has already settled on a charity for this year's fundraiser," Marinette said at once, not even bothering to look up. She could see exactly where this was heading, and she was going to put a stop to it. Now.
In front of her, she could see Adrien's hastily-hidden grin out of the corner of her eye.
"But this is special, Marinette," Ms. Bustier implored. "Surely they'll understand and want to support a fellow student's charity efforts! This is a pretty unique opportunity!"
"We've had multiple meetings about it, thinned our selections down, did all of the background checks and verification on our final pick, filled out all of the paperwork to submit to Mr. Damocles, and let the charity know so that we could get more information to post around," Marinette informed her, because seriously? Ms. Bustier was going to fall for it, just like that? Also, she was super glad that she had pushed for the council to make the decision early this year, because at this time the previous year, they had been working on finalizing everything still, which would have made a last-minute change like this possible. It wouldn't have been fun, or easy, but it could have been possible. "We can't change it now."
Lila let out a small sigh from the back, and Marinette turned around just in time to see her shoulders slumping. "Oh, that's really a shame, then. For a minute there, I was picturing how much good I- we could do for the children in Africa with a bit of extra funding, but I suppose if they've already picked a charity..."
Ms. Bustier glanced from Marinette to Lila. "Marinette, do you think that we could do two charities instead of one, perhaps? It would just be so nice to be able to support Lila's charity!"
Marinette was honestly going to scream.
"I'm afraid that that would make things too complicated," she said instead, politely as she could and with as little teeth-gritting as possible. "We had a couple fundraiser activities in mind- which we agreed was important, in case an akuma attack keeps people away from an in-person event- plus a couple volunteering opportunities that we wanted to offer. Plus, there would be all of the paperwork and the background checks that would have to be done to add in another charity, and that's not exactly a short process. It's a lot of work."
There was also the fact that Lila didn't have any charities, and any money they earned would- if she managed to sneak her way through their careful screening process- no doubt go straight into her own pockets.
"Oh, I could fill out paperwork so that you guys don't have to!" Lila offered eagerly. "I don't mind, it's for the kids-"
"And the email letting parents know about our fundraiser and our selected charity is already scheduled to go out today," Marinette continued, raising her voice just ever-so-slightly to drown Lila out and making a mental note to talk to Aurore to actually get that email sent over lunch. It had originally been planned for tomorrow, actually, but Marinette wasn't going to give Lila any ins. "So the deadline for any changes has passed." She pasted on her best fake smile, trying not to let any signs of a smirk through as she looked back at Lila. "It's just not possible for this year, I'm afraid. Maybe you can bring it up for consideration earlier next year."
"I suppose that's fair," Ms. Bustier agreed. She smiled over at Lila. "It's my own fault for not bringing it up earlier, it just slipped my mind. Hopefully your charities will still get plenty of support! But right now, we're going to move on to today's lesson. If everyone could please get out your notebooks, we're going to start with a quick video..."
Marinette smiled to herself as she put her sketchbook away and opened up her notebook to a fresh page. This probably wasn't the last that she would hear about Lila's so-called "charities", but at least Ms. Bustier had dropped the subject and she wouldn't be getting pressure from that angle.
Now she just had to be ready for Lila's other attempts to get her hands on charity money.
"I am so glad that you already had stuff all finalized," Adrien said in Marinette's ear as they headed for their next class. Lila was ahead of them, surrounded by several of their classmates. "I got worried for a minute there when Ms. Bustier hopped on the Lila's charity thing."
"I'm just glad that it's a school-wide thing, not just a class-wide fundraiser," Marinette admitted, glancing around to make sure that no one was going to overhear them. She had managed to get out of being blamed for deliberately denying Lila's "charity" a chance to get more money because she wasn't the only person in charge of the fundraiser, and she didn't want anyone in their class mishearing and blowing things out of proportion. Again. "I mean, it's obvious that Lila jumped on that because I'm class representative and she wanted to put me in a bad spot, but she couldn't when I'm just one of the people involved in that process."
Adrien nodded. "Yeah. I was so sure that she was going to drop it after you mentioned the background check and verification thing, though, and then she didn't. Which is...weird, honestly."
"Not really. If we tried going forward and I was the one doing the check, she would probably just say that I was making stuff up about her charity out of jealousy or spite and that was why it failed or something." Marinette had thought the same, honestly, but it became apparent pretty quickly what Lila was up to. Lila wasn't nearly as sly as she thought she was. "I'm surprised that she didn't jump on that and complain that I was just making the background check thing up because I was doubting her. Ignoring, of course, that we want to have statistics in our flyers and posters and emails about how the money is used, and how much work they get done, and their rating by a charity watchdog. That's standard."
"Which is why she wanted to do her own paperwork," Adrien added. He made a face. "I bet that she's still going to try to piggyback off of the fundraiser somehow, or at least rope people into donating some of their own money. I already heard Rose bringing it up, and Alya mentioned something to Nino about posting something on the Ladyblog."
Marinette winced. That wasn't good. She would have to forward the link to their charity watchdog site to Alya later on, maybe under the guise of providing a resource to get all sorts of charity statistics at once to put in her posting. That didn't guarantee that Alya would look at it, of course, but it was worth a try.
(Also, she could use her throwaway account to point out the charity's questionable status, and then- well, hope that other people would see her post and upvote it.)
"She's really going too far now," Adrien said after a moment, pulling Marinette out of her brainstorming of how she could keep Lila from pocketing a bunch of charity money. "I mean, she has been for a while, especially when she tried to get you expelled, but this is just the cherry on top of a heap of awful. I just don't know... I mean, she's sunk her claws in really deep now, I don't know how to fix it. I guess I should have recognized it earlier, but..."
"Well, there's no point in worrying about what we should have done earlier now," Marinette said as they went through the door for their next class, though she couldn't help but feel a bit validated, since she had wanted to stop Lila's lies ages ago. "We can brainstorm later, if you can get away for lunch. I was going to talk to Aurore then anyway."
Adrien looked puzzled for a moment, then caught on with a grin. "Aha, right, since she's on student council too. Is she the one in charge of submitting paperwork?"
"No, that was me. She's in charge of sending out the emails to families." Marinette grinned up at him. "And I bet that we can do a bit of damage control with that."
Aurore was all too willing to bring her lunch over to the Dupain-Cheng bakery instead of eating in the school cafeteria. After all, she told them as they headed upstairs, her lunch was leftovers and best served warm, and the cafeteria microwave was gross.
Marinette could believe that. Aurore had already floated the idea of setting up either a roll of paper towels near the microwave so that people could cover their dishes to keep the contents from exploding all over, or going the more environmentally-friendly route of having microwave plate covers instead, which could then be washed daily in the industrial dish washers that the cafeteria kitchen had. Clearly it was a Big Deal for her.
"You said you wanted to talk about the email right?" Aurore asked finally, finishing her grumbling about someone who had apparently microwaved fish and ugh, the smell was awful. "I thought it was meant to be going out tomorrow? I have a draft that's almost complete, I was just going to review it tonight to make sure that it was perfect, but do you need something changed?"
"We had a situation come up in our class this morning," Marinette told her, leading the way into their kitchen. Her mom had left out food for her and Adrien, it just had to be warmed up and assembled. "I don't know how much you've heard about the new girl in our class..."
Aurore frowned. "Lila? The one with the questionable stories?"
Adrien laughed. "Okay, so we aren't the only ones with working brains in the school, that's good to know. Yeah, her."
It didn't take long to get Aurore caught up, and predictably, she was furious at the idea of Lila trying to hijack their fundraiser funds.
"This is going to go one of two ways, I know it," she told them, pulling out her laptop and getting it set up next to her on the table. "Either this girl is going to make up a charity- name, mission, and all- or she's going to find a charity that already exists, and then she'll claim credit for it. The first one is easy enough to disprove, because no one will be able to find anything about the charity. We could just put a reminder in the email about checking charities out before donating to them, and then enter that link we've been using. But the second one...well, she could use their rating and reputation to collect money, and then- if I'm reading her character right- keep it all for herself."
They all thought about that.
"Well, if Alya posts anything on the Ladyblog, in theory any donations would have to be electronically, though a website," Marinette pointed out after a minute. "As for in-person donations, I would say that people should use checks instead of cash, but I don't know how many people use checks anymore, and besides, that's not going to stop her from cashing them if she wants."
Adrien made a choked, horrified noise in the back of his throat. "It- it won't? How do you even know that?"
"But it might deter her, since that's a traceable crime," Aurore pointed out, her eyes gleaming. She snapped her fingers. "And as for the Ladyblog- if she's capable of creating a website that looks decent, she might give Alya a link for that. So that's still a problem-"
"-unless we notice that and bring it to the attention of the police!" Adrien exclaimed, sitting up straight. He winced. "I'd hate to get Alya in trouble, but otherwise people will be thinking that they're doing something good and helping people in need when actually, they're just giving Lila spending money. And if she told them that Lila gave her the link, then she'd get off pretty fast."
Marinette nodded. Alya would probably be a thundercloud that they had gone to the police first instead of her, but she couldn't say that they hadn't warned her. She just never listened when it came to Lila.
"So we can put in a line reminding people to check charities before they donate and to make sure that any links they follow for charities go to the actual website," Aurore finished. Her fingers tapped away at her keyboard. "My older brother is a computer whiz, so I can text him and ask about things people should look for to make sure that a site is the real deal. Then I can get that typed up and sent during study hall, so it'll go out today."
Marinette could only grin. Maybe Aurore could be hotheaded at times, but there was no denying that she could really pull through. "That would be great."
Unsurprisingly, Lila sold a sob story to Alya about her charity's website being down at the moment, so she couldn't provide a link right away.
"We're working on it, of course, because this is the best time of the year to get donations and we're going to fall so far behind with every day we miss, but the entire system is down and our tech guy is having trouble," Lila told Alya, looking positively wilted. "It's so upsetting! The longer it's down, the fewer people find out about our work, and the less budget we have to work with next year."
"That's terrible!" Alya exclaimed, frowning, and Marinette exchanged an exasperated look with Adrien. "I just wish there was a way to help..."
"Maybe you could post about our school charity instead, for the time being," Marinette suggested dryly. "Since Lila's charity is on the table for next year anyway."
"But we need budget for this year!" Lila repeated, and- yep, she was gritting her teeth. The glare that she flashed Marinette left no question that she had been trying to set up some sort of fake website and the email the night before had thrown her off. Either she was trying to make a more convincing website or- more likely- she was just hoping to wait until the reminder to be careful had faded from people's minds. Or she had had to abandon the online idea entirely in favor of throwing a pity party for herself in hopes of getting cash donations with the help of their classmates, if that hadn't already been the plan all along. "If we wait for a maybe next year, we could go into debt and collapse!"
Alya was looking worried now. "Marinette, are you sure that the student council can't switch charit-"
"It's all set up. We can't change anything, Alya, we established that yesterday." Marinette spared a glance at Lila, who was clearly working to keep a poker face. "Maybe Max can help you with your website issues, he's quite good at stuff like that. We wouldn't want you missing out on donations, after all."
"Oh, I couldn't," Lila simpered, glancing towards Max as well. "We, uh- well, my tech guy is back in Italy, so they wouldn't be able to work together, and he's quite protective of the system. Plus we were in the middle of upgrades when everything crashed, so that makes everything more complicated."
"We'll figure something out, Lila," Alya promised, patting the other girl's arm. Marinette took that as her cue to leave, but she wasn't going to go far. She needed to be able to overhear, after all. "We don't want those kids in Africa to suffer, after all! We can brainstorm before class."
Adrien caught Marinette's eye as she came back to her seat. "It sounds like she's just going to go another way, but isn't about to give up."
"No, she's got the idea of getting money into her head, and she's not about to give it up." Marinette kept her voice low, so that no one would overhear. "Which means that we need to come at the problem at a different angle. Any suggestions?"
Adrien looked unexpectedly delighted at being consulted, but then he paused, clearly not coming up with any ideas. "Uh."
"My first instinct would be to try to warn Alya and Rose and whoever else is going to get sucked in, but we all know how well that would go over," Marinette said, just to fill in the space. "They would clamp down and refuse to listen."
Adrien nodded. "Yeah. But I like what you did yesterday, where you made it sound like you would have gone along if you could and suggested trying next year. Then everyone thought that you weren't fighting against her-"
"-and was actually willing to listen!" Marinette finished, smiling. It was an approach that Tikki had suggested, and she was glad that it had worked. Well, sort of. It had worked in the moment, but just- apparently- pushed the problem off for later. "Yeah, that was nice."
"Maybe we could do something similar now," Adrien suggested. "And offer to be helpful by providing that link still. Like, it doesn't need the website, right? Just the charity name."
Marinette grinned. "Right. And there's no way that she can get around not telling anyone her charity's name. And if she does...well, either it's made up, or she's going to pick a real charity and we can find the real website."
"And congratulate Lila on her site getting back up so quickly," Adrien added with a small laugh. "It's a pain to deal with her, but I'm actually curious about what she's planning on doing going forward. Like, how long can she play this game? She's going to run out of escapes soon enough."
"Yeah, I don't know..." Marinette trailed off as Alya slid into her seat, and she and Adrien exchanged one last look before he turned back to the front, greeting Nino as his best friend entered the classroom.
"Man, I can't believe what bad luck Lila has, to have her charity's website crash at a time like this," Alya said glumly, sliding into her seat. "Lila is stressed about it, of course, but she has so many other obligations for her other charity work that she can't go out and do a collection, not that it would be easy with her throat still recovering from her laryngitis surgery. She can't be out in the cold for more than ten minutes without it causing a ton of pain, which can't be fun at all."
"I want to help, but if we don't have a working link to put on the Ladyblog, I just don't know..." Alya trailed off. "I mean, we could do a door-to-door, I guess, but that only ever gets fairly minimal donations. And there's so many people who set up near the Eiffel Tower, we wouldn't have a chance. But- oh!" Alya perked up as another thought hit her. "We could put posters up at school, so more people know about it and maybe help us!"
Yeah, how about no.
"That's actually against school rules," Marinette said idly, flipping through her notebook as she waited for Ms. Bustier to call for a start to class. "All posters posted in the building have to be approved by Student Council normally, so that the walls don't get too cluttered, but there's an amendment to that that say that if the school is doing a charity fundraiser, posters promoting other charities can't go up during that time. I think it's to keep the effort from getting too splintered and distracted."
Alya slumped. "Oh."
That was not actually a lie, though clearly Adrien thought it was, if the slight frown on his face was anything to go by. Marinette had picked through the guidelines to make sure that she knew every rule that she could use to turn Lila's attempts aside, and apparently the Student Council had come up with and voted to implement that particular rule at some point in the past.
"Maybe you could do a surprise collection," Marinette suggested. "As a Christmas gift to Lila." She was improvising, admittedly, but this would be a good way to keep Alya and Rose and whoever else was getting sucked in from asking Lila too much and giving her chances to control the narrative. "If you ask her what the name of her charity is, and then you can use the website that we were using on Student Council to look at charities- it has all sorts of stats that you could use, information about charities and their work. That way, you don't need to bother Lila for all that when she's so busy."
"Oh, good idea!" Alya exclaimed. She grabbed Marinette's arm. "You know, none of the rest of us has ever organized any sort of charity fundraiser before- if we put you in charge of that-"
"I'm already busy, Alya," Marinette pointed out. She wasn't about to go make a fool of herself collecting money for a charity that didn't exist, not when she had a million other things to do. "The fundraiser for the school is already going to take up all of my time. I can send you the link that we used, but that's it."
"She already said no, Alya," Adrien cut in, so Marinette didn't have to. "Marinette was telling me about that entire process yesterday, and it sounds like a lot of work and planning to pull something off at the level the school is planning. Asking her to plan another thing on top of that for you, instead of doing it yourself- that's not fair to her."
"I just thought that it might be a good way to repair the bad blood between the two of them!" Alya objected, frowning. "Since Marinette wasn't very welcoming when Lila first arrived."
Marinette narrowly withheld a snort. Gee, I wonder why?
"But if you're busy, I guess you can wait to try to mend that bridge later," Alya added. She sighed. "We probably won't be able to raise as much money, though, since we don't have your experience."
"Mmm," Marinette managed noncommittally, ignoring the clear attempt at a guilt-trip in favor of checking her email on her phone. Alya really had been spending too much time with Lila if she was starting to act just the same. Hopefully she would cut that out after Lila's lies had been exposed and everyone realized what a manipulator she was.
Marinette's phone lit up with a text, and she didn't hesitate to open it at once.
Adrien: Remember, if you commit homicide, you won't be around to gloat when people discover the lies.
Marinette snorted in amusement.
Marinette: I'm going to gloat for a solid MONTH after she gets found out. I wasn't very welcoming? Try SHE was a bully from the start and I wasn't about to tolerate that.
In front of her, Adrien's head gave a tiny nod as he put his phone away, just in time to start class. Marinette locked her phone and put it away, resigning herself to what was probably going to be a week of poorly-concealed efforts to get her into the extra fundraising before Alya either dropped it or realized that something was up with Lila's "charity".
At least now she had Adrien on her side.
The school fundraiser was going well as they marched steadily closer towards the holidays, their online portal showing just how much money had already been raised by people going through the link that they had both sent out and posted on the school site. There was going to be a bake sale before the break too, with each family asked to donate two dozen cookies for them to sell at their booths near City Hall and (courtesy of Chloe) in the Grand Paris.
Marinette was really happy. People were being generous, and it really was a very deserving charity to receive the funds. On top of that, Adrien had asked for her help in baking his family's two dozen cookies, so they would get to hang out together.
(She was going to ignore the fact that Alya had tried to convince her to make another extra two dozen cookies because Lila "wasn't going to have time" because "all of her charity work"; that attempt had fallen flat when Marinette had just point-blank asked Alya why, exactly, Alya didn't just do that herself. At least with Adrien, he was just a novice baker and was going to be actively participating in the baking, but he just wanted help to be sure that his attempt turned out edible and it was a good excuse to hang out with one of his friends.)
And possibly best of all...well, Aurore's tech-savvy older brother had pulled through for them again.
"I was looking at the email that we had on file for Lila, and something about it just didn't seem right," Aurore told them as they sat together in a private study room in back of the library over lunch. "The domain on it, to be exact, because it was '.net' instead of, oh, I don't know, something actually related to the government. And my brother agreed, so we did a little searching."
Marinette was pretty sure that her jaw was on the ground. Next to her, Adrien wasn't doing much better. "You mean she was keeping her mom from finding out about everything school-related? I wondered how she got away with skipping so much school! And she was probably emailing as her mom, too, to confirm whatever stories she was telling."
Aurore grinned. "Exactly. So we did some digging, and found Mrs. Rossi's actual email. It's almost the same, just with a different domain. So I'm trying to think of what to send that wouldn't sound weird, because obviously we need confirmation that this is the right address so we can get Mr. Damocles to change it for the school system, but I don't want to come off as accusing or anything and have her tip Lila off accidentally."
Marinette exchanged a look with Adrien as she thought about it. "Well, we could just send the fundraiser email again with a comment about how we think that maybe her email was mis-entered before and is this one the correct one that we should be using. That's pretty straightforward and it asks for a response, and she might not even think to say anything about it to Lila."
"Ooh, I like that." Aurore typed that in at once, giving it a quick once-over to make sure that there weren't any errors and that the email had been entered correctly before sending it. "So, what else is going on in Ms. Bustier's homeroom? Anything new with the not-a-charity?"
"Alya's been confused about why our watchdog site doesn't list anything about Lila's 'charity'- she decided to go for the make-one-up route, apparently- and she's still been trying to find stuff on it just on Google, but apparently no connection has been made," Marinette told them, trying not to roll her eyes. "I know she and Rose were talking about trying to just go ahead with a collection of sorts anyway, so I forwarded an email talking about the importance of keeping track of how much money they raised, down to the last cent, in a ledger sort of thing." She couldn't hold back the grin. "Which Rose is really into. So even though they're trying to collect money for Lila still, at the end she won't be able to keep any of it because there'll be record of how much money they collected."
"Which, if we get in contact with Mrs. Rossi, we can make sure that that gets paid back in full!" Adrien exclaimed, scooping Marinette up in a hug for a long few seconds. Marinette prayed that she wouldn't turn red and make things weird. "Genius!"
"As long as Rose doesn't give that to Lila," Aurore pointed out. She raised an eyebrow at Marinette's head-shake. "No? You've already taken care of that?"
"She'll give Lila an electronic copy, but not the hard copy. I suggested that she might want to hold onto that to show what she did for future charity work. Which I still think is a good idea, even if Lila's charity is a sham. It doesn't change the fact that she was doing all of the bookkeeping."
Aurore made a face. "I am so glad that Samuel is doing our bookkeeping for the non-online donations, because that stuff is not fun. It's really fiddly, and if anything gets off..."
Marinette nodded. Things had gotten off fairly early on, and she had head Samuel- another member of Student Council- complaining about having to go through everything to figure out where his mistake was. Since then, he did regular, frequent checks so that he wouldn't have to go through absolutely everything again, just the most frequent donations. Admittedly, Rose was working with much smaller amounts of money- most people wanted more information on what they were donating to than just the name and "helping kids in Africa" if they were going to toss more than an euro or two into the collections basket- but it was still good practice.
Aurore's computer let out a ding, and she pulled up the student council email at once. "We already got a response! Mrs. Rossi says that yes, this one is correct, please keep using it and thank you for catching the error and were there any other recent emails that she might have missed. I'm going to forward this to Mr. Damocles with a message to note the change in email address, just a second- and done."
"Nice job," Marinette told her, leaning across the table to bump fists with Aurore. After a second's thought, she fist-bumped Adrien, too, so that he wouldn't feel left out. "That's one more thing off of our plates."
Their fundraiser finished right before holiday break with a silent auction, with all of the items up for purchase having been donated by parents, teachers, extended family members, community business owners, and- in the case of an array of signed CD cases and posters- Jagged Stone, Clara Nightingale, and several of their musician buddies, after Marinette had approached Jagged Stone with the request.
And of course, everyone was invited. Posters had been put up outside of the school and emails had been sent out, reminding everyone about the time and date and their charity, plus attaching a list of the items up for auction to get people's interest.
"My mom so wanted to make it, but work came up," Lila told several of their classmates when she arrived at the auction, looking sad. "And there were several things that she was really interested in, like the-"
"Ooh, barf, I can see what you mean," Aurore said, materializing at Marinette's side and wrinkling her nose at Lila. "That's a pretty obvious ploy to get people to buy things for her, isn't it? Or at least to pitch in some of their own money to help her, so that she won't have to pay them back."
Marinette nodded. It really was disgusting, but at least now Lila was moving off with the group towards one of the items so that they didn't have to hear her. She was steering clear of the signed Jagged Stone things, oddly enough, but maybe that would be a dead giveaway that she didn't actually know him. After all, Jagged Stone would sign anything put in front of him, so her going out of her way to buy a signed item when she was supposedly on great terms with him would be pretty strange.
"Do you think her mom actually can't make it, or Lila just assumed that she wouldn't know about the auction and didn't tell her?" Adrien asked. His arm was tucked through Marinette's, though she was pretty sure that it was just so that he wouldn't lose her in the crowd. "Is the fake email still on the list?"
Aurore nodded. "Yeah, up until this morning. I cleared it off so that there wouldn't be any confusion going forward."
"And I would place bets on Lila assuming that her mom doesn't know anything," Marinette added. "She wouldn't want to risk anyone asking her mom about her charity." She grinned and pointed as she noticed someone new stepping into the school. "And look, over there."
The other two looked. There, standing in the entryway and looking around, was Mrs. Rossi. She really didn't look much like Lila, but it was easy enough to recognize her from her official embassy photo.
(Her official embassy photo, where she wasn't listed as the actual ambassador, but just one of the embassy staff, but that- well, that was an interesting little tidbit that Marinette was going to sit on for a little bit longer.)
"Oh, she's spotted Lila," Aurore said gleefully, craning her neck to follow Mrs. Rossi as she wove through the crowds. "And- whoops, Lila sees her!"
Marinette hastily smothered a laugh. If Lila's expression was anything to go by, she definitely hadn't realized that her mom was getting emails from the school and was going to be coming. She had never seen the other girl look so pale before.
"I'd ask if I should go get some of that amazing-smelling popcorn that they're selling so that we can watch, but honestly, I kind of just want to let things take their course and find out later," Adrien said, glancing down at Marinette. "There's some pretty cool items up for auction that I want to check out."
Marinette considered that. On one hand, she wanted to watch Lila's downfall. On the other... well, she had been keeping an eye on the whole Lila fiasco for a while now, and she was kind of tired of it. It would probably be a bit awkward to watch, too, and there was no guarantee that it would happen right away, and they were too far away to hear anything besides.
...yeah, her decision was pretty well made.
"That sounds like fun," Marinette told him, before glancing over at Aurore. "What about you?"
"I might go point Mr. Damocles in her direction," Aurore commented, glancing around the crowd. "Or maybe that can wait until later, since I don't want to throw everything at Mrs. Rossi at once and disrupt the auction with an akumatization." She sent them a slightly sheepish grin. "But you know I like my gossip, so..."
Marinette had to laugh. That was so very Aurore. "All right. We'll bump into you later, then."
Aurore grinned in return, and then was off. Marinette watched her go for a moment, then let Adrien lead the way off into the crowds surrounding the tables. It was amazing to be able to sit back and relax after the past weeks of planning and making sure that everything, from the online link to the cookie sale to this, was going to go off without a hitch. They were well on track raise more money this year than they had any other year, and that was amazing.
And to think that she had had a hand in setting all of this up...well, Marinette just couldn't be prouder.
It was fun investigating all of the donations with Adrien, even though- as part of Student Council and also part of the team that had photographed and logged all of the donated items- she had seen them all before. Marinette couldn't help but peek at the bids despite herself, grinning when she saw some of the higher ones.
"This is amazing," Adrien commented once they had made the rounds and had gone to browse through the assorted refreshments available for purchase. "There were a lot of nice things donated. And people are definitely bidding plenty of money."
"Yeah, some people will spend more to win the prize than it's worth," Marinette told him. "Like with the voucher for stuff from our bakery- the top bid right now is for more than the value of the voucher. It's interesting, but I think that people see it as buying the item, and then making a donation on top. Or something, I don't know."
"That's really cool," Adrien commented, then pointed. "Oh, look, Nathalie and the Gorilla are here! They said that they might show up and do some shopping. I honestly thought that Nathalie was just saying that to be nice, because she's been sick and hasn't wanted to go out, but I guess she's been feeling better lately."
"Oh, that's good," Marinette said, before a memory made her frown. "Wait, I thought you commented on her being sick, like, three months ago. Is she still having problems?"
Adrien shrugged, but he was frowning, too. "I don't know. She had been having these weak, dizzy spells like Mom used to before she disappeared for a bit before I commented on it at school, I think. Maybe whatever treatment she was getting finally kicked in, I don't know."
Marinette frowned even deeper. Nathalie had been showing the same symptoms as Adrien's mom before she vanished? That was a really weird coincidence. And for both of them- presumably both, at least- to have those same symptoms for an extended period of time?
If Mrs. Agreste and Nathalie had been related, Marinette might have guessed that it was a genetic thing. But since they weren't- again, that was an assumption- then the chances of them both separately having the same condition...
"I cannot believe that I fell for such a manipulative, thieving, disgusting liar!"
Alya materialized at Marinette's side, clearly steaming. Rose, Mylène, and Juleka weren't far behind her. Rose looked like she was close to tears, and the other two just looked lost.
"Pardon?" Adrien asked politely, but Marinette could see the amusement glimmering in his eyes.
"Lila's been leading us all around by the nose, making up stories about her life and about her nonexistent charity- and I've missed a dozen akuma attacks because I was wandering around in the cold, trying to raise money for her! I offered to make a posting on the Ladyblog so that I could put up a link to her site to raise more money! She was probably just planning on pocketing it all!" Alya scowled deeper. "I can't believe we fell for it! And aren't you even surprised?" she demanded when neither Adrien nor Marinette reacted. "At all?"
"Are we meant to be?" Adrien asked dryly. "After Marinette's spent so long calling Lila a liar?"
Alya faltered for a moment, then scowled deeper. "You- you knew, but you didn't warn us?"
"Yes, because pointing out the obvious lies worked so well the first several dozen times I did it," Marinette said, adopting the same dry tone that Adrien had used. "And I gave you the watchdog charity link to use. I rather thought that its complete lack of anything about Lila's charity might tip you off."
Alya faltered. "Oh."
"But we still gave Lila money that was meant for charity," Rose said tearfully. Juleka pulled her to her side, trying to comfort her. "And it was a decent amount, too."
"You have your log, right?" Marinette reminded her. "If you tell Lila's mom how much Lila got for her 'charity', then I bet that she can get that money back to you and you can donate it to another charity."
Rose perked up at once, tears drying up magically. "Oh, that's right! We can still put that money to good use! I'm glad you suggested that we keep track of everything, Marinette."
"Yeah," Juleka agreed. "Lila sucks, but at least we can get the money back."
"We should go talk to Lila's mom before she leaves," Rose decided. She dug in her bag, pulling out the ledger notebook that she had been using for their charity collections. "Aha! Yes, I have the amount we gave Lila yesterday written here. C'mon, let's go make sure that Mrs. Rossi knows!"
"Well, all's well that ends well," Adrien said cheerfully as the other girls headed off. "I bet this isn't how Mrs. Rossi saw her evening going, and Lila definitely wasn't expecting any of this, but at least now the adults can figure everything out and Lila can actually see some consequences. And hopefully next semester, there'll be less drama now that she'll be restrained- or gone, if Mrs. Rossi or Mr. Damocles decides that Lila staying here wouldn't be a good idea."
"Hopefully," Marinette agreed. She grinned over at Adrien. "But that's enough worrying about Lila and her nonsense for tonight. I think we should just sit back and enjoy the evening, don't you?"
Adrien beamed back. "I couldn't agree more."
a/n: First story posted from my new computer! I'm still fighting some set-up stuff (words cannot express how much I hate the set-up on Windows 10; this causes a fair amount of debate at work because some people have no taste and like 10 more than 7, never mind that 7 only took me a day or two to re-set up after it had to be reset and that 10 is taking far longer), but for the most part things are straightened up so I can actually start writing again- well, at least once all of the holidays are over and we're done traveling/visiting family/working strange hours at work because shifts get all messed around during the holidays.
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete! And as always, comments make my day! :)