Lila sniggered to herself as she snuck up the stairs in the Dupain-Cheng bakery, unnoticed and unhindered.
Really, it had been way too easy to get in. All it had taken was feeding Alya a lie about how she had lent Marinette something to help her finish with their most recent Literature project but hadn't gotten it back, and she was worried about approaching Marinette to ask for it because, well, Marinette had been so busy recently that she probably thought that she had returned it. Lila was worried about appearing like she was accusing Marinette of stealing it if she asked about it, and they were only just starting to fix their relationship after getting off on the wrong foot. Alya had swallowed the lie like it was the most believable thing in the world, clearly thrilled that Lila and Marinette might be on the road to reconciliation, and from there all Lila had needed to do was suggest that maybe it would be easier for her to just fetch her things herself than it would be to ask Marinette.
Alya had been too eager to help, going into the bakery herself and getting permission from Mrs. Cheng to go in. Then she had let Lila in the side door- "I can't possibly go through the bakery myself, what if they recognize me and blame me for the time when Marinette got expelled and don't let me in!" Lila had exclaimed when Alya suggested that she just go in through the front herself- and made sure that she knew the way up before leaving. There had been a dicey moment when Alya moved to come up with Lila and help look, but Lila had waved her off with another excuse, insisting that she didn't want to eat up more of Alya's free time, especially when she knew that Alya and Nino had been thinking of going out for ice cream.
Alya had left, Marinette's parents would be busy in the bakery for hours, and Marinette herself was across the city at some sewing techniques workshop that she had won a full-ride scholarship for and hadn't shut up about all week. There would be no one to catch Lila and plenty of time for her to investigate Marinette's room and find- well, anything she could use against her.
A diary with embarrassing secrets, perfect for blackmail. Money, perfect for- well, money was always a good thing, and so was jewelry that she could pawn. Photos, also for blackmail. Sketches of designs for any other contests Marinette might have her eyes on, to copy and claim that Marinette had taken Lila's ideas. Maybe in-progress commissions that Lila could mess up, all the better to put a dent in Marinette's reputation if the damage wasn't found before she sent the pieces off to whoever had bought them.
One last flight of stairs, and Lila pushed open the door to the Dupain-Cheng apartment. Another set of stairs led up to a trapdoor that Lila could recognize as Marinette's (thanks to Alya's instructions), and she scampered up the steps and into the obnoxiously pink room at the top of the stairs.
The first thing she noticed: it was neat, unlike what Alya had warned her. There wasn't fabric draped all over the place or notebooks left out. On one hand, that would make things more difficult because she would have to search to find anything interesting, and unless Lila wanted to raise suspicion right away, she would have to put away anything she took out. On the other hand, well, it would probably be easier to find some things if she didn't have to dig through piles of fabric scraps or whatever it was that Marinette apparently usually had scattered around her room.
"Okay, first impressions," Lila said out loud as she glanced around. Marinette's school bag was by her desk- maybe she could tear out a couple pages of notes, so Marinette wouldn't have them to study from on the next exam. Next to the desk was a mannequin with what looked like a fairly complete outfit on it, leather pants with a lot of detail work and a matching jacket. Lila fingered the material, glancing at the seams on it. Since the piece was complete- or at least it looked complete- Marinette probably wouldn't look at it too closely before sending it off to its recipient. The recipient who, if the size of the pieces and the look of them was any indication, was probably Jagged Stone.
If she could mess with Jagged Stone's perception of Marinette and maybe mess up their working relationship, that would be perfect. Then he wouldn't feel inclined to do Marinette any favors like, say, coming in to call Lila out on her stories.
Lila decided that she would look for a seam ripper later, when she was poking around the desk. There was no point in stopping her assessment of Marinette's room now for that. After all, she had plenty of time.
The desk was otherwise pretty clear of anything interesting, though Lila was sure that she would dig through it later if she had time. The boxes on it probably just had sewing stuff anyway, and that- well, mixing it up or taking things might annoy Marinette, but she probably wouldn't think that much of it.
Across the room, though- well, there was a storage chest doubling as a bench, and Lila would be very surprised if there wasn't anything interesting in there. There might be a lock to deal with, but she had expected that and brought along her lock picking kit along. A few pokes and she would be in, ready to find out any secrets that Marinette might prefer stay hidden.
"Why couldn't she leave her diary on her desk like a normal person," Lila grumbled anyway, because it was also very possible that she would unlock the chest and find...nothing. Maybe Marinette didn't have any juicy secrets for Lila to exploit, and this whole trip would be- well, not for nothing, because she was still fully intending on causing ill-intentioned chaos, but not nearly as productive as she had hoped.
And considering that Lila was running quite a large risk with her lies to Alya about the thing she had 'loaned' to Marinette, a large payoff would be really preferred.
After a few more minutes of poking around- Marinette didn't keep a diary up near her bed, either, or any jewelry of any value, not that that stopped Lila from pocketing a few exotic-looking necklaces that she could always claim were gifts from people that she met around the globe- Lila turned her attention back to the large storage chest. The lock gave after a minute of working on it, and she flipped the lid eagerly, hoping that- well, hoping that there would be something interesting inside. Instead, she came face-to-face with...presents.
Boring. Knowing Marinette, they were probably all homemade and not worth anything.
Lila scoffed, wrinkling her nose at the pile of gifts. There was nothing interesting about Marinette being so disgustingly organized that she had gifts for her friends prepared well ahead of the holidays and their birthdays. She shoved a couple of the presents to the side, her nose wrinkling further at the next row of equally neatly-wrapped presents underneath.
Except... they were all labeled as being for Adrien.
Lila's eyebrows raised as she glanced at the top row of presents and- yep, all for Adrien. On closer inspection, all of them had little post-its on them with what event- and what year- they were meant to be for.
She sniggered. Marinette was a little obsessed, wasn't she? But as interesting as this was, it wasn't exactly something that she could easily use as blackmail. A bit disappointed, Lila kept digging, shifting packages aside. One more layer, and her fingers brushed against a dark wooden box, one that looked like perhaps Marinette had put it together herself.
It was exactly the sort of thing that a girl like Marinette- someone annoyingly craftsy- would store her diary in. Jackpot.
Smirking, Lila pulled the box out and considered it, her smile dropping as she did. Really, upon second glance, it was surprisingly sloppy, with uneven, dripping varnish and wonky nails. It was ridiculously heavy, even for its size, and especially considering that it was clearly made out of some cheap plywood. And oddly enough, it had two locks on it.
Frankly, the locks were the only reason why she didn't immediately lose interest. If they hadn't been there, Lila probably would have assumed that it was actually a failed project that Marinette was trying to hide.
"Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which lock to try," Lila scoffed, setting the box on the floor in front of her and settling down more comfortably to work on it. "That second keyhole isn't even in the right spot!"
Really, had badly had Marinette messed up that she had managed to insert a keyhole in middle of one of the side panels, nowhere close to where the box and the lid had come together? It wasn't even straight- in fact, it was upside down. Shoddy craftsmanship, all around.
(The fact that Lila had never made anything like the box and had no idea how to even approach putting a lock like that on a box or even make any sort of box herself was, of course, completely irrelevant.)
Unlike the lock on the storage bench, the lock on the box wasn't very straightforward. There were more pins in this lock, and each one had to be individually maneuvered into place. Lila worked on it, scowling in concentration as she slowly picked it open.
Either Marinette had just happened to have a lock sitting around that she used, or there was something good inside of the box. No collège student was going to spend the amount of extra money it would take for a fancier lock like this for no reason at all.
With one last careful nudge, the lock gave. Lila grinned in triumph, flipping the box open. The lid seemed a bit heavy- for some reason it seemed to be lined with a strange metal band, but who cared- and there were a few stray papers and a thin journal sitting in the top compartment, on top of a wooden shelf with- you have GOT to be kidding me- another lock, just barely visible. Lila reached in to move them, and suddenly metal flashed, quick as a blink. Lila shrieked in surprise, automatically yanking her hand back, but she was far too late. Pointed metal teeth had snapped shut around her arm, keeping it in place, and- oh god.
They hadn't just closed around her arm. No, they had gone straight through the skin and- oh god the pain-
Marinette had been having a lovely time at her sewing techniques workshop. Their instructor had walked the small class through all sorts of different ways of handling material, and next week they would be covering more tricky materials. They had gotten an entire binder with step-by-step photo reminders of what they had learned, and Marinette's already had notes scribbled up and down the margins.
She was so glad that she had won the scholarship to the class. It wasn't that she couldn't afford it herself- after all, with the commissions that she had done lately for Jagged Stone and Clara Nightingale, she wasn't left wanting for money- but considering that she often had to miss things because of akuma attacks, Marinette wouldn't have wanted to spend the money on something that she might not even be able to attend. With the scholarship...
Well, if an akuma showed up, that would still suck. She was learning so much from the class and it would definitely up her design skills. Having to duck out on the class because someone got upset and Hawkmoth had to akumatize them would be a huge disappointment, because she would miss out on so much valuable instruction. But at least she wouldn't be spending her own money on it.
She still felt a bit guilty that she was doing the class and not spending the spare time working on learning more Guardian stuff, but the Order and Master Norbu had assured her that she should make sure to balance her superhero duties and her civilian life. After all, they didn't want her coming to resent her duty as Guardian because of everything that it made her miss out on.
The last section came to an end, and everyone turned off their machines and started packing up. Marinette tucked her sewn samples into her bag with her binder- at some point, she wanted to actually file the fabric pieces in next to their respective instructions, but that was a project for another day- and pulled out her phone, opening it up to check for messages. She had put it on silent for the class- silent with the sole exception of akuma alerts, thank you Max for that setting modification- so that no one would accidentally distract her. Sometimes the class chat blew up over the weekend, and having that pinging constantly throughout the class...
Well, it wouldn't give anyone a very good impression of her, that was for sure.
-and oh boy that was a lot of messages.
"My parents tried to call me ten times, Tikki!" Marinette hissed, all of the relaxation and good feelings from the day gone in a heartbeat as she tried and failed not to catastrophize. "Oh my god, what if one of them had a heart attack or a machine broke and sent pieces everywhere and they're at the hospital and it's really bad and I should have been there and-"
"Call them back!" Tikki urged, sticking her head out of Marinette's jacket as soon as they were clear of the rest of the group. "And- look, it was both of your parents calling, not just one or the other. So that means that they're probably fine, right?"
"Oh!" Marinette considered that for a minute, then dove straight back into her worrying. "Then maybe the bakery caught on fire and burned down and we're homeless and-"
"Just call them back, Marinette!" Tikki exclaimed, though she was looking worried, too. "Then they can tell you what actually happened."
Marinette wavered, then pressed Call. Her mom's phone rang once, twice, and then she picked up.
"Marinette! Ah, is your class over?"
"Yeah, we- we just finished," Marinette responded, her heart rate slowly dropping back towards normal. Her mom didn't sound overly upset, so- maybe it wasn't super-serious? "I- I saw you called? And papa?"
"Yes, I hated to call during your class, but- well, there was an incident," her mom told her, sounding a bit hesitant. "Right away- your dad and I are fine, the bakery is fine, the house is fine. But your classmate- Lila Rossi- she broke into the house and into your room. She got into your storage bench and- anyway, long story short, there was a box in there that was, ah, quite severely booby-trapped?"
Marinette's heart skipped several beats, jumping straight into her throat. The- that was the box where she hid the Miracle Box. It was very well hidden- after all, it had been in a locked storage bench, hidden under Adrien's presents, and then locked (several time over) itself- and she had assumed that that would be enough to keep it undiscovered. If Lila had gotten into it- even just into the first layer- that could be enough to put the Miracle Box in danger. The police might want to know what was in the box, or they might have broken it open to get Lila's hand out- because presumably Lila had gotten her hand caught when she tried to get the box open, and getting the trap open wasn't exactly straightforward- or maybe Lila hadn't been caught too badly and had somehow persuaded someone to open the box for her. "It- yes?"
"Whatever the box is hiding- well, it's still hidden," her mom assured her, and Marinette couldn't stop herself from letting out a sigh of relief. "The second level is still locked. And the doctors did manage to get it off of Lila's arm- well, after a bit of puzzling, at least, they said that set-up was very clever. That was why we called you, actually. We didn't want to bother you, but it was just taking the hospital and the police so long to figure out that lock mechanism and they had been hoping for a clue."
...well, at least her mom didn't sound upset with her. Yet, anyway.
"We've gotten the box back now," her mom continued. "And we've already dealt with the police, so you don't need to worry there. They understand that Lila wasn't meant to be in our house, much less your room, and that the box was securely hidden and locked up. The only reason they might want to talk to you is to learn more about why Lila might have broken in."
"To make me look bad, I bet," Marinette said dryly. "To steal things, or plant evidence, or try to find something to blackmail me. Why else?"
"Lovely girl." Her mom said something to someone else on the other end of the line, muffled and indecipherable, before she came back. "That's all, really. Will you be coming back soon?"
"Yeah, I'm heading for the bus stop."
"All right. See you soon!"
With that, the call disconnected. Marinette stared at her phone for a minute, then glanced down at Tikki. Her kwami looked just as worried.
"I thought that you had hidden the Miracle Box really well!" Tikki exclaimed. "That was a really nice place, and no one ever goes digging in there! Add in the fact that you had it locked, and it should have been fine."
"Yeah, but clearly Lila was digging around with the intention of finding anything that I had hidden," Marinette told her. She let out a sigh, the stress starting to inch back in on her, taking all of the relaxation from her sewing class away. Maybe the Miracle Box hadn't been found today, but- well, this was hardly going to be the end of this whole fiasco. If (when) Lila got akumatized again, she would probably go after the box again to see if she could break it. She might tell people at school about it- changing, of course, the reason why she had been in Marinette's room in the first place and making up completely different circumstances as to how she had ended up with her hands on the box. While Marinette really had no choice but to return the box to its previous spot for the moment- after making sure that it was re-set, of course- it wouldn't be completely safe for the long term.
At least summer break was coming up soon and she had already been doing research on how to DIY hidden compartments. Clearly she would need to use that knowledge earlier than intended.
"Maybe she'll actually get in trouble this time," Tikki offered hopefully. "I mean, breaking and entering, trying to steal- you could try to press charges."
"Maybe, but considering how injured Lila probably is, she'd probably pull the sympathy card." Marinette groaned. "I don't understand how she even got in! We've been keeping the side door locked, and mom knows better than to let Lila into the house."
"If she got through the locks on the bench and the box, Lila probably knows how to pick locks," Tikki reminded her. "She might have just picked her way through the door downstairs."
That was a terrifying thought, honestly. That someone like Lila could just pick her way past a door lock and get in her house...
"If that's what happened, I'm definitely going to petition my parents to get better locks." Marinette checked her room again, then headed back down the stairs. Tikki flew after her, phasing into her purse. "I don't think they would agree to put in booby traps, too, but- ugh, I'm going to be worrying about people getting into the house now."
"Maybe it's just a matter of the lock being old and needing to be replaced," Tikki suggested. "Hopefully your mom knows more."
"I hope so!"
It felt like it took forever for the bus to come, and then it trundled along the streets far too slowly for Marinette's taste. She spent the entire trip worrying over different scenarios where Lila could twist things around to make Marinette look like the bad guy and trying to figure out where she could add a hidden compartment to her room, somewhere where no one would notice the addition.
This far, she was coming up blank. Maybe she could put something on her balcony- but that just didn't seem secure enough. It would be far too easy for a passing akuma (or, perish the thought, a passing supervillain) to accidentally knock into and destroy a hidden compartment. No, it would be better to get creative inside her room.
Once she hopped off of the bus, Marinette wasted no time in hurrying home. The bakery was still open- hopefully business hadn't been interrupted too much by Lila's injury- and she headed in, sparing a quick smile for a few regular customers that she recognized. Her parents had one of their normal bakers working the counter in her mom's place, clearly finishing up the day so that the Dupain-Chengs would be able to deal with the mess going on in their home.
Hopefully it wasn't messing production up too much. If both of her parents were upstairs and they had one of the normal back kitchen bakers at the counter, that meant fewer hands on deck to start preparing things for the next day. And since the staff wouldn't stay overtime, that meant that her parents would end up working long hours.
Freaking Lila. Of course she just had to make life difficult for everyone else simply because she was spiteful and fixated on revenge.
Not wasting any time, Marinette headed upstairs. Her mom was in their kitchen and on the phone, her back to the door, but her dad wasn't anywhere in sight. That meant he was probably downstairs, which suggested that she actually wasn't in trouble because she had the trap. If she had been, her dad would be there too, his arms folded and a frown on his face.
Her mom, though, was more than making up for the frowning as she argued with whoever was on the other end of the line.
"No, I am not arguing the definition of 'breaking and entering' or 'trespassing' with you," Mrs. Cheng snapped into the phone, mere seconds after Marinette entered the room. Marinette paused, blinking over at her mom in confusion. Normally her mom didn't raise her voice over the phone. "You are not a resident here, you do not get to let people in who we don't want inside. That is outright irresponsible behavior- no, I do not care what your interpretation of the situation was, I already told you that. And I will be contacting your mom about this. Perhaps she can get it through your head how unacceptable your actions were. Good-bye."
With that, Mrs. Cheng hit the end call button with a flourish, scowling at the phone for a moment before noticing Marinette. Her scowl was promptly replaced with a smile. "Marinette! How was your class?"
"It went well," Marinette told her, biting back the urge to gush. That could wait until dinner, after the more pressing issue of Lila's break-in had been dealt with. "Who was on the phone?"
"That was Alya," Mrs. Cheng told Marinette with a sigh. She pocketed her phone and washed off her hands before returning to her dinner prep. "I was calling to ask her if- well, she stopped by earlier to get something, so I wanted to know if she saw or heard anything out of place while she was here. I just wanted to try to get a better idea of when Lila might have broken in so we wouldn't have to go through as much security footage-"
"Wait, why did Alya come over?" Marinette interrupted, frowning in confusion. She hadn't borrowed anything from Alya recently, and normally Alya at least texted her to let her know if she was borrowing anything from Marinette for some reason while she wasn't home.
"I was getting to that, don't interrupt," Mrs. Cheng gently chided her. "Anyway, Alya seemed pretty surprised about us having a break-in... until I mentioned that it was Lila."
Marinette groaned. She was getting a sinking suspicion that she knew where this was going. "Please don't tell me that Alya let Lila in."
"...Alya let Lila in," Mrs. Cheng confirmed, sighing. "...on the plus side, at least she didn't pick her way in through our doors. I would be looking into swapping out our locks if that were the case."
"Why on earth would she think that that would be a good idea in any way?" Marinette exclaimed. "And- well, presumably she let Lila in and then just ran off instead of supervising her, which- even if Lila somehow made up some reason for having to stop by my room, why wouldn't Alya at least have the common sense to stay with her?"
"Well, from what Alya said, Lila said that she had loaned you something and you had forgotten to give it back, and she was worried about bringing it up and making you upset... because you might think that you had already returned it and think that she was trying to frame you. Or something." Mrs. Cheng pinched the bridge of her nose, clearly exasperated. "It sounded like Lila was making it sound like you two were starting to mend bridges. And I told Alya that Lila was found with a lock picking kit and some jewelry from your Nonna Gina in her pockets, but she's still insisting that it was all a misunderstanding. "
"How- how much did you tell Alya?" Marinette asked suddenly, brain all of a sudden dancing with pictures of Alya hearing about the trap and trying to dig into what, exactly, Marinette was trying to hide. She presumably had enough sense to not go digging through Marinette's things in hopes of an interesting discovery, especially considering how hurt Lila had gotten, but that didn't mean that Alya wouldn't incessantly ask her questions, and within hearing distance of other people, too.
Not that Lila probably wouldn't bring up the trap on her own- or would she? Why would she? There would be no way to talk about it without making herself look bad. But if Lila's reputation was tanking anyway, maybe she would bring it up just to make Marinette look bad, too.
"Not much," Mrs. Cheng assured her. "I didn't have to. I implied that Lila got into a locked box of sewing things and cut herself that way, which is very believable. Your fabric scissors are sharp, as are your rotary cutters, and it's not hard to believe that someone who wasn't familiar with that box might get themselves injured. I'm not going to tell your most inquisitive friend about your very mysterious and heavily-guarded trap box."
Marinette breathed out a sigh of relief.
"On a related note, I suspect that Alya might not be very keen on coming over here for a while," Mrs. Cheng added. "I was not subtle about how irritated I was with her. And she just kept on digging her heels in more whenever I pointed out things that she wasn't considering or just flat-out missed." She paused, looking slightly sheepish. "And I may, before you got back, have insulted her investigative and observational skills. Just a little bit. I just got too mad about the fact that she fell for such an obvious lie and didn't even try to check with you about it before she went ahead and let Lila in."
Honestly, Marinette couldn't blame her mom for exploding. She couldn't believe that Alya would have done that- and apparently still thought that she was completely justified in doing it. If Lila hadn't gotten herself injured and had gotten away without being caught, who knew what sort of damage she could have caused or what information she might have gotten her hands on?
Frankly, if things had gotten to that point, once she realized what had happened, Marinette probably wouldn't have been able to resist the urge to pull out the Horse and Portal Lila to somewhere dangerous. The arctic, maybe, or the surface of the Moon. She wouldn't be able to cause trouble there.
After a pause, Mrs. Cheng nodded towards the couch. "Your box is there. I think the police said that it's currently disarmed, but be careful with it."
Marinette nodded, scooting around the table to grab the box off of the couch. She was planning on being super careful. After working so hard on the trap- well, she had once gotten a cut on her finger while she was assembling the booby trap, and that had been without any force behind it. She had no intention of becoming acquainted with those same blades with force behind them.
Besides, the box was completely safe when it was disarmed, and Marinette really didn't think that she was likely to ever just forget to disarm it, not with all of the safety measures she had deliberately built in. All that took was unlocking the second lock first- the crooked one that looked like it had been a mistake, or just a practice run on a spare piece of wood that ended up not being a spare piece- and then she could unlock the lid itself. There was a visible latch on the inside that would give away- to her- if the trap was set or not, and she always checked it just in case before sticking her hand in.
"I know how to open it safely and make sure that it's disarmed before I put my hand in," Marinette assured her mom. "After all, I designed it. I won't forget how to do it."
"Honestly, I figured that much. It wasn't a reassurance when I looked at the box at first because honestly, it doesn't look like an expertly engineered box." Mrs. Cheng smiled over at Marinette. "But that's deliberate, isn't it? No one would suspect that there's anything inside when it looks like a beginner's project."
"It was either make it look like that or try to make some sort of ornate box with a hidden key hole so that no one could figure out where the lock was, but- well, I don't have the time or skill to do that sort of carving." Marinette ran one hand over the box, remembering how much effort it had taken to make the box really solid and then go back and make it look like a beginner's project, ramshackle and not at all sturdy. If the person looking at the box knew anything about construction, the presence of the lock would probably give away the fact that she knew what she was doing, but Marinette was willing to bet that most people wouldn't know that. "It would have been cool, though. I've seen some locks online where people would never figure out how to open it unless they had been shown how, and that would have been nice."
Hawkmoth would probably just try to slice the box open then, but- well, if he did, he was in for a surprise. The wood might crack, but the enchanted metal underneath wouldn't budge.
"You've done quite a bit of research about this, then." Mrs. Cheng considered Marinette for a long moment, and she resisted the urge to squirm. "Honestly, there's a part of me that really wants to question the box and say no to you having it, because it's clearly dangerous- I mean, I saw the damage that it did to Lila- and even though I know you'll be careful, it's hard to be comfortable with the idea of that being in your room. But clearly you've been responsible with storing it, and I trust that you wouldn't have gone so far out of your way to get the materials and do the modifications to that trap if you didn't think it was important to protect whatever is in there." She took a deep breath, and Marinette could tell that her mom was severely torn about whatever she was about to say. "So your dad and I are going to allow it, and we won't ask about what you have in the box. Heaven knows you deserve some privacy."
Marinette let out a sigh of relief. "I- thank you."
"And- I didn't want to say anything over the phone, but the police had originally wanted to talk with you about why you had that trap on the box," Mrs. Cheng continued, and Marinette's heart dropped right back into her feet, the moment of relief gone. "Because- well, normally kids your age don't have stuff like that. But- oh, you should have seen it. Your dad got very puffed-up and huffy with them about how this was the second time in less than two years that a classmate of yours had been caught breaking into your room with ill intentions and were you not allowed to protect your things? And one of the police was Officer Raincomprix, so of course he was in a pretty big hurry to drop that line of questioning. Particularly when he was reminded that his daughter was the other classmate that had snuck in."
Marinette hastily muffled a laugh. She would have loved to see that, honestly. "And they didn't say that they would, like, come back later or anything?"
"Only to get a statement from you that Lila wasn't meant to be at our house at all. Your father and I discussed it, and- if it's all right with you- we'd like to pursue pressing charges. We've heard enough about Lila that we want to make sure that she won't be bothering you in the future. Breaking and entering is just- she's taken it too far. She's been taking it too far, and I apologize for both your dad and I that we haven't taken it seriously. No disorder is going to compel someone to target you to the degree that she has been, much less plot to break into your room." Mrs. Cheng shook her head, clearly disgusted at herself for having fallen for the lie. "At the very least, we want to look into getting a restraining order. That should keep her away from you."
"What if Lila spins some tale or tries to get sympathy and we can't get the order?" Marinette asked. Even with their evidence- well, from the sounds of it, Lila's hand was probably pretty mangled, and she didn't have the magical healing potion that Marinette kept on hand just in case to put it back to normal. "What if they decide that her hand is punishment enough?"
"Then we'll argue that." Mrs. Cheng's voice was firm. "If you testify about what Lila has been like, then the courts will know that she's likely to just go back to school and cry about her wrist to get sympathy. And they've seen people like her before, I'm sure. They're not going to be as easily fooled as your teachers and classmates and- well, and your dad and I."
Marinette swallowed and nodded. That would be nice. That would be really nice.
"And if they do- well, and even if they don't- I will be talking to Lila's mother. There's no way she knows what her daughter has been up to, if she still was letting her run around." Mrs. Cheng nodded once, sharp, and Marinette knew that there would be no stopping her mom now. She was determined to keep Lila away from Marinette and force her to see the consequences of her actions, and so it would happen.
Honestly, Marinette had the best parents ever.
Marinette let out a sigh of relief as she tucked the box back in its spot, piling the presents for Adrien back on top of it and shutting the lid of her storage bench. It locked with a thud and a sharp click, sounding sturdy and secure.
It was too bad that that was a lie. Marinette ran her fingers over the lock, wondering if she should try switching out the lock for a different style, something that would be harder- or, even better, impossible- to pick. It might be hard to do that without attracting attention, though, and if she messed it up?
It would be better to not have signs of tampering on her bench, just in case. Maybe she should practice with putting in and taking out locks on a bit of scrap wood first.
A blanket went over the bench, set at a jaunty angle, just casual enough that it didn't look arranged. Marinette's backpack went next to it, the perfect picture of nothing here to see.
And still Marinette worried her lip.
"It'll be fine, Marinette!" Tikki told her, zipping up next to her shoulder. "Downstairs is all locked up, the box is hidden, and the bench is locked. No one is going to be breaking in- and Lila is in the hospital anyway."
"I know, but..." Marinette trailed off, glancing around her room. Whenever someone entered her room without her consent- when Sabrina broke in, after Jagged Stone's camera wandered in while broadcasting live to all of Paris, and then now with Lila- she always felt thrown off kilter and uncomfortable, out of place and not as secure as normal in her own room. It wasn't ever a nice feeling.
She couldn't even safely leave her diary out in her room. Not her diary, not anything that might be the least bit valuable, not any signs of her crush or anything that might even hint at her double life. Maybe it would be a good idea to tuck those things away anyway, but there was a difference between having to simply put things away instead of leaving them out in the open and having to lock everything away under several layers of protection.
Marinette was starting to get the feeling that once she was older and had her own place, there would be a lot of personalization with false walls and hidden compartments where she could hide away- well, everything, really. All of the parts of her life that she might be at all leery of anyone finding out about.
It was always going to be a good idea to hide the Miraculous stuff, especially while Hawkmoth was active, but Marinette should be able to expect some measure of privacy in her own room. The fact that she apparently couldn't...
Maybe it was a better idea to not dwell on that too much. And, with any luck, they wouldn't have any trouble going forward. She and her parents had talked over dinner and come up with a new rule for letting in friends and classmates: all visits had to be approved by Marinette before they set foot through the door. If she let them in herself it was fine, of course, but if they came in through the bakery and wanted to be let up then Sabine had to have a text on her phone from Marinette approving it. There would be no more surprise visits from her friends- or at least no truly surprise visits, since she would at least get a couple minutes' warning from her mom's inquiry text- and no more people going up to her room when she wasn't there 'just to grab something really quickly, honest'. If someone tried to come over as a surprise and Marinette didn't see her mom's text right away- either because she was just busy or because she was out as Ladybug- then that was just too bad. They didn't just get to saunter up and poke around in her room unattended until she got back.
That- well, security reasons aside, it was a really good change. There had been multiple times lately when Marinette had been in the middle of trying to catch up on homework and one (or more) of her friends burst in and interrupted her, and that had both thrown her completely off and eaten up time that she really didn't have to spare because she felt bad about sending them away when they had come over to see her. There hadn't been any times yet where Marinette had been out as Ladybug and came back to find someone in her room, but, well, she couldn't get lucky forever. If they hadn't made the change, then it would probably only be a matter of time before Ladybug slipped into her room after a long fight and found Alya waiting there.
(That would be a disaster.)
"At least I hadn't gotten around to painting the trap with the poison that the Order sent me," Marinette commented after a pause, pushing away thoughts of her new visiting arrangements and how she really should have implemented them earlier for the time being. The poison was a new suggestion from the Order, something to completely ensure that Hawkmoth wouldn't be able to steal the Miraculous, and it was a suggestion that made her really, really nervous. She fiddled with one of the tassels on the blanket, then resolutely turned and headed up to bed. "The police might have been fine with the bear trap- if only barely- but a bear trap coated in poison? I would have gotten in so much trouble."
"I still think it would be a good idea to put it on," Tikki told her. "I know it ups the scary factor even more, but in case Hawkmoth finds the box and he doesn't pass out from the trap- or if it doesn't catch him as much as it sounds like it got Lila, since he might be expecting a trap!- then it should still keep him from getting away scot-free. You have the antidote and the healing potions, so you should still be safe!"
"In theory, at least." Sure, the Order had assured her that it would take some time for the poison to kick in, enough time for her to get to her remedies- a delay of sorts, followed by it absolutely flooring the unfortunate person affected- but that still depended entirely on her keeping her head long enough to actually get to them.
Maybe she needed to consider a rearranging of where things were so that there would be less distance between the box and the antidotes, just in case that very dangerous and (hopefully) very unlikely scenario of the box snapping shut on her ever happened.
Ugh. More things to do, as though she didn't already have enough on her plate. But Tikki was right- Hawkmoth was too much of a threat to keep putting off the secondary level of protection. She would just have to be super careful around the box- even more than she had been before- and prioritize getting her remedies located closer to the hidden Miracle Box.
That, and she definitely had to make sure that she kept her remedy up-to-date, no slacking and letting it come close to expiration. And, well, she had to make sure that she didn't use up the healing potion- the potion that would immediately reverse the damage from the trap in case something went wrong- with injuries that she got while sewing or tripping over her own feet.
At least she knew how to make the healing potion. As long as Marinette kept an eye on how much she had- and her (poorly) hidden supply of potion ingredients, those had to be next on her list of things to build hiding spots for after a new spot for the box and a close but not too close location for the remedies- and made sure to top it back up whenever she got low, using it for other injuries shouldn't be a problem.
"I'll tell Mom no babysitting next weekend, and do the poison then," Marinette said, realizing that she hadn't said anything for a minute. "If I do it right away and the police end up wanting to see it again, then that'll be an issue. If I give it a little time, then I won't end up putting the poison on and then having to take it right off again. And I need to get some more supplies- a dedicated paintbrush, and some gloves so that my skin doesn't come in contact with it at all."
Tikki nodded, approving. "I didn't think of that! That's a good thought. I think that should be fast enough. And it'll give you time to think about ways you can shake up your set-up so that no one else will know about it again!"
"The biggest changes there might have to wait to summer, honestly," Marinette admitted. The amount of work it would take to make a hidden cubby- and to make it fast enough that no one would notice it- would be absolutely insane, her biggest project yet. "But I'm sure that I can make some changes to up my security before then, and dream up improvements that I can make so that I'm ready to hit the ground running as soon as I have enough free time."
Her mind was whirring with more ideas already, actually. She would have to ask the Order to enchant more metal so to be Miraculous-resistant, pieces that she could put inside of the storage bench and keep it from being destroyed. If Hawkmoth (or his akumas) couldn't pick locks, that should be enough to stop him. And then if she practiced with taking out and putting locks in, then she could put in a lock like one she had seen online most recently, the one that had a hidden keyhole. Both improvements wouldn't affect her ability to get in- which was a good thing, since speed was super important during akuma fights- but should make things for difficult for anyone with nefarious intentions.
It would be a lot of work, of course, and might mean skipping out on a few outings with her friends to get things done quickly just in case, but she could make the Miracle Box safe and secure again. It might even end up helping her in the long run, since now she knew where the weak points in her security were and could fix them before they were put to the test by an akuma or Hawkmoth. Sure, it wasn't ideal that people knew about the box at all, but- well, it wasn't worth crying over spilled milk.
Marinette would come back from this, and she would come back stronger.
A/N: So this is the end! Now that there's been one problem, security is going to go up for sure. There's not going to be any more people getting into Marinette's room without Marinette knowing.
I sort of headcanon that Gabriel inquires about the break-in after hearing something about a trapbox and Lila's accident. Marinette claims that she was tired of classmates trying to break in and protected some of her things and that the box was also an exercise in engineering that turned out more powerful than expected. She also claims her parents confiscated it as too dangerous, just to further dissuade any suspicion.
As always, comments make my day! :)