"Draco. Wake up."

Draco wasn't really asleep yet — he'd only gone to bed a few minutes ago, and there were only two rooms (not counting the loo) in the tiny tent Mother had insisted was all they needed for a single night away from the Manor. His transfigured bed was situated in the main kitchen/sitting room, so his parents moving around in the bedroom had kept him mostly awake. Not to mention, every time he closed his eyes, he kept thinking of Tricia Mullet and the things that witch could do on a broom. Still, he was sleepily out of it enough that it took a moment for his mother's words, and the tone of them, to register. "Mother?" he asked, scrubbing at his eyes with his palms, trying to force them to adjust to the light charm she'd cast — bloody blinding, that thing. "What's going on?"

"The Truce is failing, we're leaving. Now. Get up."

He pulled himself out of bed, a cold wave of fear sweeping over him. The Truce was... He couldn't even imagine a world without it, it had been there since he was one, when the war had ended. It was, at least the way Mother talked about it, the only reason they were still able to live in the same tiny society as Light fanatics like the Weasleys and not worry about being cursed in the back while they were walking down Diagon Alley. The only reason Houses like theirs had been able to retain their place in society despite Father being forced to serve the Dark Lord. Even after the Dark Lord fell and everyone who'd been under his Imperius broke free, there'd still been loads of Death Eaters out there, the war could have kept going, if anyone had been inclined to pick up the pieces. Aunt Bellatrix had been arrested, yes, but Mother insisted that she could have broken out of Azkaban any time she wanted to. (Which Draco believed, if only because she and Black were apparently the same fucking person, and Black thought the worst thing about dementors was that they made other people boring when they came around.)

The only reason Aunt Bellatrix had stayed in Azkaban was 'Lady' Zabini. (She always told him to call her Mirabella, but he never did, because, well...she was a commoner, and a foriegn one at that, and she went around marrying muggleborns and even muggles (even if she did kill them eventually), and he didn't have any idea how she'd managed to make it so far in their society, or why Mother tolerated her company, they hardly had anything in common, and it was clear Mother didn't really like her being around any more than Draco liked Zabini being around, he wasn't about to speak informally to someone like that no matter how many times she made the offer.) 'Lady' Zabini had somehow convinced Aunt Bellatrix that the Dark Lord would have wanted her to wait for his return, rather than carry on the war in his absence, and then the Minister and Dumbledore that, as long as they didn't kill prisoners and gave everyone fair trials, Aunt Bellatrix would stay in Azkaban and they could all move on. Carefully. Avoiding even talking about the War as much as possible.

But now Aunt Bellatrix had escaped (or been killed by the Ministry, but most people thought she'd escaped), probably because everyone now knew Lord Black never got a trial — and he wasn't a Death Eater any more than Father, so he really should have gotten one — and Draco had thought everything was still going to be fine because, well, no one really wanted to go back to war, but... But he could hear screams in the distance, now that he was listening for them, and...

This was bad. This was worse than he had words for. He didn't even understand how it was possible, he just—

If he'd been standing, he thought he might've had to sit down, because he'd gotten awfully light-headed all of a sudden. But nobody argued with Mother when she sounded like that, so just sitting there in shock wasn't really an option. That didn't mean he couldn't ask questions, though. "What do you mean the Truce is failing? Where's Father?"

Before the words were fully out of his mouth, however, he heard his father calling from the other room, "There are anti-disapparation palings up!"

Mother muttered something that sounded like Gobbledygook, though it wasn't a word Draco knew. "Are you a wizard or not, Lucius? Conjure something that would pass! Draco, get dressed! Two minutes!" She wasn't even looking at him, throwing things back into her bag. Her hair was plaited for bed and she was wearing the old grey and green duelling robes she favored over a nightdress, or even normal pyjamas. She couldn't possibly be planning on going out like that, could she?

"Are you sure about this, Cissa?" Father appeared a few seconds later to stand in the doorway, wearing his own duelling robes — cut the same as Mother's 'pyjamas', but black, and much newer — with a black cloak and a silver mask. A Death Eater mask.

But the Dark Lord was gone! Draco couldn't imagine why Father was dressed up as a Death Eater now — especially if the Truce was failing! (How could the Truce fail? And why?) Obviously Mother had told him to, but surely this was the last possible time that she should want to draw attention to his (involuntary) allegiance to the Dark Lord!

"Of course I'm—" Then she looked up. "No, not a mask, your mask," she snapped, conjuring something white and gold and throwing it at him.

"I don't know, Cissa..."

"What's the problem, Malfoy?"

"It's very distinctive, that's all," Father said, sounding rather defensive about it.

"Well that is rather the point — put it on and do as I told you unless you want me to throw you to the wolves come morning!" He fixed the conjured mask in place with some sort of sticking charm, Draco thought. It was distinctive, white with gold filigree along the edges, cut so that it covered only his right eye, nose, and cheekbone. It did absolutely nothing to hide his identity. "Draco! Why aren't you getting dressed?"

Mostly because he didn't understand anything that had happened in the minute or so since she'd woken him. "You didn't answer my question. Why is Father wearing that? What do you mean the Truce is—"

"I mean tents are burning and we need to get out of here before someone thinks it a good idea to—"

"Cissy! Did you know there's a riot going on outside?"

("—take revenge on a former Death Eater or two, so put your bloody robes on!")

"How the hell did you get in here, Black?" Father snapped, wheeling around to face Draco's (supposed) cousin, who had appeared behind him, grinning (as usual), and hopped into an armchair, sitting on her knees. Draco glared at her, even as he started pulling his robes on over his nightclothes. Mostly for calling his mother Cissy. She had no respect for her elders, at all. But also because, really? There was a bloody riot going on, and she was just sitting there all casually, as though she was wasting an afternoon in the Slytherin commons (where she wasn't even supposed to be, anyway).

"How do you think I got in here, Lucy?" Draco's eyes grew wide — that was even worse than Cissy! At least she was actually Mother's niece, Mother could have given her permission to be informal. Draco didn't think she had, but Father certainly hadn't! And not even Mother called him Lucy. "Nice mask, by the way. Very distinctive."

Father made an inarticulate sort of gah! sound, rather than reprimand Black for her outright mocking form of address. "You see, Cissa!"

"Go, Lucius!" Mother ordered him, in the same tone she'd used to wake Draco. Father looked as though he might object, but only for a moment before he turned on his heel and stalked out of the tent. "And don't get yourself killed!" she shouted after him.

"Do I even want to know?" Lyra asked, slightly amused and annoyingly unfussed as ever, thoroughly at odds with Mother's attitude. Apparently she didn't, because she continued, "There's an anti-disapparation paling up. I couldn't break it, so I'm guessing they've got a few mages actively stabilising and repairing the bloody thing."

"At least five, if they're following protocol. We'll head overland until we get clear. I imagine they're focusing on the Irish, and Mister Cavan's party?"

"Oh, yeah, or... I think so? We were at the victory party though, so there may be other targets I don't know about. Saoirse's holding them off — it's not just Death Eaters, I'm pretty sure it's all the British nationalists, you know, people who took exception to Saoirse and Michael being here. I heard there are Auror reinforcements on their way, but the whole Irish camp is kind of on fire, and obviously people took exception to that, so everyone's fighting everyone else, it's great!"

She would think so, crazy bint.

Mother ignored his cousin's highly inappropriate enthusiasm. "We'll head south until we get past the palings, then — I imagine most people will. Why are you here?" she asked, then started casting spells at Draco. Most of them he recognised — Snape taught all the Slytherins basic attention avoidance techniques, for emergencies (everyone just used them for sneaking out after hours, though). A few he didn't, but he couldn't exactly ask what they were because Black wouldn't shut up.

"Ah, well, Sirius ran off like the selfish little shite he is, left me to get everyone else somewhere safe, but then I realised we couldn't just apparate out, and Zee would rather be stuck in the middle of a riot than dragged through shadows, so we're heading back to our campsite — we're using Uncle Danny's old dragon-hunting tent, should be safe enough — and it occurred to me that if I'm playing First Daughter tonight, I should probably make sure you're safe, too, and if you meet us there, that's two doxies, because you'll be safe and you can keep an eye on Harry and Blaise and Zee while I go find Sirius — I can't believe that fucking idiot pulled rank on me, just so he could run off and have all the fun— Seriously, if he dies out there, I'm going to resurrect him just so I can kill him again!"

Mother paused in her casting long enough to say, "Lyra! Duty comes first! Focus!"

"I'm here, aren't I? I'm just saying if one of us has to get all the useless people to safety, and one of us gets to go play Aurors and Warlocks, it's way more important that Sirius doesn't die. He is the Lord of the House."

What the... Had she seriously just equated what even she recognised as a life or death situation with a bloody children's game? That was just...absurd. Absurd and disturbing. And definitely sounded like something he'd expect his mad Aunt Bellatrix to say, just based on the stories he knew. He didn't know why it had taken so long for it to sink in when Mother had told him Lyra was basically a copy of his aunt — in hindsight it was bloody obvious. It was an insane thing to do, making yourself a bioalchemy twin and raising her as your daughter, but Aunt Bellatrix was insane, everyone knew that.

Though, come to think of it, he had believed it when Black said she'd used Black Arts to make him lose the last quidditch match of the year because he'd reversed Granger's knees, and that she'd do something worse if he did anything else to the mudblooded bitch — he would say he couldn't believe they were dating, but actually that was perfectly in character for both of them — because, well, something about the look in her eye as she said it, completely matter-of-fact, as though it was perfectly reasonable to call on a bloody god to get revenge for a schoolyard jinx— She just wasn't that good a liar, so he didn't know why he was still so surprised when she came out with something absurd and disturbing, either.

"Sirius is a better fighter than you — don't argue, Mirabella told me he wins four out of five when you spar — and we both know you're going to go back out and join in the fun later, so just—" Mother cut herself off rather abruptly, apparently realising that duty comes first applied to her too, and they had more important problems to deal with at the moment. "Yes, we can head to your site. Do you know Mother's adaptation of the Prince's Whipping Boy?"

"Er...yeah? Why?"

"Because I don't want my son to be murdered, Lyra!"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Draco interjected. He immediately flushed, as he realised he'd just sworn at Mother, but he really, really didn't like her talking about him being murdered. Plus, he knew the Curse of the Prince's Whipping Boy — or, well, he'd heard of it, at least. It transferred pain and injuries from the caster to the target — one of the worse curses he knew of, outside of purely destructive ones like the Entrail Expelling Curse or the Constrictor, of course. But he didn't see why the hell it would matter if Black knew it or not, or what it had to do with him being murdered.

"Cissy wants me to curse her so that any physical damage anyone does to you actually happens to her — I thought we talked about this, Cissy, not babying Draco. If he gets taken out, you can still get both of you to safety; if you get taken out, you're both fucked. You do realise that, right?"

"Just cast the damn spell, Lyra."

His cousin rolled her eyes. At Mother. Even before she spoke, Draco was pretty sure that was a no. Which...he didn't want to get hurt, but he kind of thought that sounded like a good point. Mother could be a bit...irrational, sometimes, when it came to his safety. "You know if I let you die — or even worse, if I help you get yourself killed — Bella will kill me."

Mother froze for the briefest moment, then grinned, pulling her wand and beginning some spell, even as she said, "You know, that's actually a very good point."

"What are you— No! Cissy, don't you dare, you—"

Two flicks sent spell light flashing at both Draco and Black. She tried to dodge, but Mother apparently anticipated that — his cousin walked right into the spell. As soon as it touched her, a flash of heat raced over Draco's entire body, followed by a wave of cold, and then Mother smacked him, completely out of nowhere! He stumbled, pushed off balance, so it took a second to realise it didn't actually hurt.

Black, on the other hand, was rubbing her neck, a red, hand-shaped mark on her right cheek.

"Perfect." There was something vaguely terrifying about the smirk that accompanied that declaration. Mostly because it looked like it should be on Black's face, not his mother's.

Black herself actually looked slightly shocked. "You are such a cunt, Cissy. See if I ever do you a favor again!"

"A compliment to the witch who raised me, I'm sure — and if you're playing First Daughter, you're obliged to protect the children of the House to the best of your ability."

Black apparently had nothing to say to this (not even that Draco wasn't a Black, which he thought was slightly relevant), as she just glowered at Mother. "I hate you."

"That's nice, dear. Now, let's go."

"Draco, if you get me killed, I'll find some way to make you regret it from beyond the grave."

Somehow, Draco didn't doubt that. And she already had plenty of things to make him regret. He nodded, trying not to look too terrified.

"I'll remove the spell when we get to safety."

Black scoffed. "Oh, yes, once it makes no difference to me whatsoever."

"Exactly. You could come with us, help me keep him safe," she said, as though this was incredibly magnanimous of her.

"I left Harry and Blaise in the middle of a riot with Mirabella Zabini for protection," she pointed out, sounding very unimpressed. Mother winced. "Yeah. We'll meet you at the tent. Site Two-Seven-One-Eight. It's about half a mile east, next field, a bit closer to the forest. And Draco? Don't get me killed."

She vanished as suddenly as she'd arrived. Draco stared at the spot where she'd been standing for a long moment, weighing the probability of his actually dying out there versus just getting hurt, and then Lyra making him suffer for getting her hurt. "Maybe you should break the spell..."

"If she didn't agree with me, she'd have broken it herself. She'll be fine. Let's go. You have your wand?" Mother asked, moving to the tent flap and peering out into the night.

"What? Yes, of course, but... If she'll be fine, that means I'd be fine, doesn't it? So..."

His mother whirled around to glare at him. "We do not have time for this! Let's go!"

He went. (No one argued with Mother when she sounded like that.)

This was a terrible idea, Gin thought, batting another curse back at the coward hiding behind a plain silver mask — it covered his entire face, all she could really tell about him was that he was about a foot taller than her, and twice as wide across the shoulders. His friends called him Paulie.

There were two of them, they'd been heading toward the fighting, the same as her. (Now the others, Scoffer and the Quiet One, were laughing at them from the sidelines of their fight — guarding their prisoners, mocking their friend and throwing the occasional curse at Gin when they got bored.) They'd gotten side-tracked, though, cornered a witch, the backs of three tents forming a sort of dead-end alley between them. She'd had a baby in her arms and a little kid half hiding behind her legs. The men were all jeering and threatening her, laughing over her fear as she pleaded with them in some language Gin didn't know, probably begging them to let her go.

Maybe they wouldn't have done anything but scare her, but as far as Gin was concerned that was bad enough. She had acted without thinking, snapping off a sabreace at the one closest to her. It had caught him in the shoulder, all three of them whirling around, casting shields, worried they were under attack — at least until they realised it was just her, just a thirteen-year-old girl in faded pink shorts and one of the twins' old muggle tee shirts.

This was a terrible idea, and I'm going to die.

"Ron! Ginny! Wake up!" Bill's voice cut through dreams of flying with the Irish chasers, sounding worried, almost scared. "Ron!"

"Bill? What's..." She trailed off as the screaming registered, coming closer, as explosions shook the ground. For a flash she was somewhere and somewhen else — back at the orphanage in London, it was the summer of 1940, the earliest days of the Blitz, just days before she was meant to go back to Hogwarts. Before Tom was meant to go back to Hogwarts, she corrected herself. She was Gin Weasley and it was 1994 and she was at the Quidditch World Cup Final, which meant those explosions — there was another one — couldn't be German bombs. Maybe some kind of blasting curse? But...

What the hell was going on?

"The Irish camp is burning and there's a mob headed our way, we need to move, come on!"

Ron was just as sleepy as she was — though at least a little less confused, since she was probably the only person in the room having flashbacks to events four decades before she was even born — but Bill practically shoved the two of them out of the tent. People were running in every direction, Dad and the others had formed a sort of huddle just outside. They pulled Ginny and Ron into the circle, eyes darting toward a wave of flashing light, jeering, and roars of laughter making its way across the field, setting tents ablaze in its wake.

Someone cast a bright green spell, crackling into the open air above the crowd, illuminating the scene — dozens, maybe hundreds of wizards, marching and laughing, hooded and masked, levitating four struggling people above them, perhaps fifty feet up, terrified shrieks mingling with drunken cheering as more and more wizards came out of the dark to swell the ranks of the mob.

"Was— Was that an Avada?" Percy muttered, casting a fearful glance over the twins' shoulders.

When the three men had realised that the person who'd attacked them was only a single, skinny thirteen-year-old girl — Ginny was well aware that she was hardly an intimidating figure — the one she had hit waved his...friends on.

"I'll take care of the little bitch, go on."

One of them had laughed. The other scoffed. "Gonna take that long, is it? We can wait."

Gin glared at them. She was not going down without a fight. She wouldn't have attacked them if she didn't think she could stop them. Well, okay, she'd kind of thought (to the extent that she'd been thinking at all) that she could distract them long enough for the young mother to escape, and then disappear into the smoke and the crowds. She might not be very intimidating, but she was very fast. When the one who meant to take care of her threw a nasty dark cutting curse at her, it was the one who'd scoffed that she flicked it back at. He ducked it, swearing, to the amusement of the others.

"What are you waiting for?" She'd shouted at the woman. "Run!"

But Scoffer was angry, now. "Incarcerous!" The spell wasn't directed at Gin, but rather at the witch and her children. "I have a better idea: Let's show the kid what trying to play hero gets her. Go on, Paulie."

"I think those are the Robertses," Charlie exclaimed, squinting at the tiny, floating figures. One of them was spinning, now — a child, barely half the size of his parents. Someone flipped his mother upside down, the crowd hooting and jeering as she screeched, trying to cover herself.

"Here," Bill said, shoving his way into the circle between Gin and Charlie, holding a handful of amulets. "This isn't just a bunch of drunks, it's organised. There's palings up against apparation and portkeys. Put these on." He didn't say why, but he didn't have to, really. Whatever they were, they were bound to help them somehow.

"We're going to help the Ministry," Dad shouted over the noise. "Bill, Charlie, Percy, and I," he clarified, as the twins exchanged one of their looks and then nodded at him, uncharacteristically serious. "You two get Ron and Ginny into the woods. Stick together, keep your heads down, and I'll come find you when it's over."

"No!" Gin heard herself objecting, even as she slipped the amulet — a set of three runes hastily carved into a wooden token and strung on a bit of twine — over her head. "Dad, we can help, we can—"

"Now, Ginny," Percy said, in his most patronising, condescending tone. "You can't really think you'd be any help against fully qualified wizards. Leave this to the adults."

Gin scowled at him. "I'm not useless, you prat! I can help!"

"Your brother's right, Ginny. You worry about getting yourself to safety! We'll take care of the Robertses."

"Yeah, you can protect us," "and Ron!"

"Hey! I can take care of myself," Ron snapped. He'd been in a shite mood since they'd run into Harry and Blaise, hours ago — yesterday, now. Dealing with Malfoy at the match hadn't made it any better. She refrained from correcting him because it would only annoy him more, but Blaise could probably beat Ron in a fight.

Dad hadn't really given her a chance to respond, anyway. "Go on, straight into the woods, and don't stop until I come to find you! Come on, boys!"

"Let's go, Gin!" one of the twins shouted, reaching across the circle to grab her hand.

Bill stopped him. "Give us a second," he said, waving the others off. "We'll catch up." As soon as they were gone (Dad giving him a half-suspicious, half-fond look as he went), he muttered, low and uncharacteristically intense, "I know I can't stop you from doing something stupid, but...here." He cut his pointer finger with a silent charm, drew something on her forehead and whispered a spell she couldn't quite hear, though she felt the magic as it activated, light and hot, washing over her. It faded after half a second, but she could still feel a sort of echo of it, a hint of warmth like standing in the summer sun, or sitting at Luna's kitchen table taking tea with Cassie fucking Lovegood.

Paulie, the one she'd cut, growled something under his breath, threw another sizzling dark spell at her. She thought she recognised it, one of the waking nightmare curses — Theo liked to use fear spells when they practiced, so they didn't have to stop as often to heal her. They were also 'beam' spells, rather than 'point' spells, so they were harder to reflect with sesapsa. She ducked, retaliated with a chain of charms and a few basic curses — sabreace, of course, and the trigger-drop jinx; a numbing charm; a slightly wider-angle beam spell that was meant for gardening, but acted as a sort of scattershot cutting charm; a nerve-tweaking curse; and a bludgeoning charm — dodging his curses all the while.

The second time through, when he shielded against the scattershot slicing charm, she replaced the nerve tweaker with lumax. Her bludgeoning charm actually managed to hit him, but it was barely strong enough to knock the wind out of him. He still managed to shield against her next cutting curse, and went back on the offensive, pushing her back.

And then his friends started to get in on the action, tossing piercing hexes and bone breakers at her in tandem when she was in the middle of a chain, forcing her to break off to dodge one and bat the other away.

"What the hell was that?" she'd asked.

"Old magic. Better if you don't know. But it might tip the scales." She didn't think she'd ever seen Bill look more serious than he did staring down into her eyes at that moment. "Try not to get yourself killed, Gin."

And then he was gone and the twins were on either side of her, dragging her off toward the trees.

She followed them for a while, picking their way carefully through the brush, trying not to fall on her face, not really paying attention to their speculation about who was behind the riot and what they were trying to accomplish. For one thing, she didn't really care, and for another, she couldn't stop thinking about Bill's spell. Whatever he'd done to her, when he'd drawn a fucking blood rune on her forehead. None of the others had noticed, so it had to have vanished when it did...whatever it did.

It'd be pretty bloody impossible for her not to know anything about Runes. Between Bill casually lecturing her on the subject whenever she saw him all through her childhood and Black babbling off about whatever mad enchanting project she was attempting at any given moment, not to mention Tom's memories floating around in her head, she kind of expected the first couple years of Runes to be a piece of cake. And anyone who knew anything about blood runes knew that they were usually associated with ritual magic.

Bill saying it was old magic, and it was better if she didn't know... She was pretty sure he'd just done some sort of White Arts thing. She would've said Black Arts, almost everything she'd heard about blood magic — almost everything she knew about blood magic, from Tom — was just plain evil, but that hadn't been dark magic, not by a long shot. And she wasn't entirely certain how to feel about that. Most ritual magic was dangerous and illegal, even when it was light magic — light healing rituals, even, you had to have a license to do, there were specialists at St. Mungo's, you couldn't just do them yourself.

Not to mention she just couldn't imagine what it did.

Something to tip the scales — what the hell was that supposed to mean? Some kind of protection, maybe? He seemed to understand that she wasn't just going to quietly do as she was told, run away and not stop until Dad came to find them. She didn't have a plan, really, aside from avoiding the rest of them so they couldn't stop her. She knew that Dad and her older brothers had gone to help with the muggles, but that wasn't the only place there was trouble — Bill had said the Irish camp was on fire, she figured that meant over by where they'd run into Finnegan yesterday, she could just head that way, see what she could do to help.

After a while, she didn't know how long, picking their way through the woods by the light of their wands, the boys started to get further and further ahead of her. She hadn't been talking much, thinking about Bill doing White Arts — where had he even learned that sort of shite? Every so often one of them would look back and tell her to hurry and keep up, but they weren't paying that much attention. It wasn't hard at all to just...nox her wand and creep off the path they'd taken — it wasn't even a real path, just picking their way through the trees away from their campsite in more or less a straight line, along with everyone else who'd evacuated this way. And once she had, it wasn't hard to lose herself in the crowds and the dark. She heard them yelling her name when they realised she was gone, but she didn't stop.

She wasn't some helpless little kid who needed to run away and be protected by her big brothers, she thought stubbornly, heading back not quite in the direction they'd come from, but more west, toward the stadium — she thought that was where the Irish camp had been...

Of course, she couldn't dance forever. One of the piercing hexes Scoffer and the Quiet One had been throwing around eventually hit her in the arm, threw her off long enough she couldn't dodge some kind of explosive curse. She cast a protego at the last possible moment, but it still blew her backward into a tent, which collapsed around her. She cast the shield charm again as soon as she managed to shake off the stunning effect of having the wind knocked out of her and getting stabbed in the neck and left knee by cracked tent poles — just in time, as the man tried to force the canvas to engulf her. The protego held it off, letting her clamber free.

She was bleeding. She couldn't tell how badly, but she could feel it running down her shoulder and chest, hot and wet, even as she cast the shield charm again, fending off a volley of curses from all three of the men, fighting to keep herself upright and the shield stable, not to mention pay enough attention to the incoming spells to identify the ones protego wouldn't stop and dodge or sesapsa them. But she was getting tired, and slow, she could feel herself getting slow, it was just— She couldn't stop, she had to keep going...

This was a terrible idea, she thought again, trying to pivot out of the way of another nightmare curse. Her knee, the one that had been stabbed by a tent pole, gave out, sending her falling to the ground. She cast the protego again, attempting to climb back to her feet, but she'd messed up her ankle too, falling, almost dropped the bloody shield when she tried to put any weight on it at all.

The men advanced slowly, menacingly, only throwing spells she could catch — playing with her, trying to make her shield get too unbalanced to maintain, which didn't take long. Yes, she could keep it steady better than she had when she'd first started training with Theo, but after half a dozen curses or so, especially when they were real curses, not just stunning charms and frozen ink pellets...

Then they were standing over her, vicious grins on their faces, plucking away at her shield — hardly even trying anymore, drawing the moment out like the sadistic bastards they were — and she could feel the interference growing, she had seconds left, and she wouldn't be able to get away or cast a new one quickly enough, she would be finished, and they would... She didn't know what they would do, but it wouldn't be anything good...

Even as her shield shattered under a dark curse of some kind, magical backlash stinging her wand arm all the way up to her elbow, there was a blinding flash of light and a thundering snap, and one of the masked rioters was slammed to the ground, a tall woman suddenly crouching on his chest, Gin had long enough to make out short blonde hair before—

"Lovegood!" It was one of the men who'd shouted it, his slightly muffled voice a mix of anger and fear. The green flash of a killing curse lanced out toward her, and Cassie bloody Lovegood dove out of the way, firing off another spell at the man she'd knocked over. (The ground around him shifted, vines sprouting out of the trampled dirt, wrapping around him and fixing him down.) She was spinning up to her feet, and one of the men had cast another one of those nightmare curses, and Cassie's wand came down in a blink, slamming into the spell just as it came within arm's reach, and it exploded, a flash of brilliant silvery light, and by the time Gin's eyes cleared the man who'd cast it had already been blown off his feet, another batch of vines surfacing to bind him in place.

Then there was only one masked arsehole left, but he didn't stay alone for long. They'd been left mostly alone for a few minutes now, Gin and the mother and her kids and the three rioters in their little valley burned between the tents, but apparently the shout of Lovegood had drawn attention. Which wasn't surprising, when she thought about it — Cassie bloody Lovegood was famous for fighting dark wizards all around the world, successfully taking her down would be serious bragging rights with these types. (That, and she was probably the most dangerous person around at the moment.) More masked rioters were rushing in their direction, two, five, Gin had lost count, they were surrounded.

If Cassie was worried about that, she certainly didn't show it. She stunned the last of the original three with an almost casual flourish, even as she twisted out of the way of a Cruciatus coming in at her back. Then the curses were falling in, thick and heavy, the rioters moving to surround her, but none of them landed, Cassie deflecting them away, dodging in graceful twists and dips, almost seeming to dance...

There were more flashes of green, three killing curses fired almost at once from different directions, but then there was another burst of white light and a crash of thunder, a shuddering rumble of a shockwave crossing the air, but ridiculously powerful, three masked idiots flung off their feet and into the air, Cassie had somehow teleported behind them through the anti-apparation wards. (Was that fucking lightning? Could Cassie bloody Lovegood travel through lightning?) She hit one of the rioters in mid-flight with something that had him suddenly slamming against the ground hard — that one was probably out for the count — curses were falling in at Cassie again, she cast a stunning charm with an odd little flourish in front of it that Gin didn't recognise, only put together what it was a second later, one of the flying rioters abruptly reversing direction the instant before the stunning charm hit, Cassie's dive out of the way of the spellfire starting with an unnatural jerk — a summoning charm, she'd pulled herself out with a summoning charm — she popped out of her roll even as the rioter she'd summoned tumbled to the ground at her feet, a lazy flourish of her wand and vines were surrounding him too, an instant later a curse so light the air burned striking another rioter, he screamed for a split second before crumpling limp to the ground—

(Okay, that trick right there was just fucking awesome.)

More curses were flying, but Cassie danced out of the way of all of them, broken by flashes of silvery light, her own spells bringing down the rioters one by one. Seemingly desperate, one cast fucking fiendfire — that had to be what that was, flames orange and black, dark magic shivering across the air, a shifting dragon reaching out and—

And Cassie was standing right in front of it, and she was singing — loudly enough Gin could hear it from here, though she couldn't pick out the words (or even tell what language it was in) — and she grabbed the fiendfire with her bare hand, gripping the burning dragon's head, and her hand was glowing, her face was glowing, and suddenly it was raining...at least, it smelled like it was raining — suddenly, out of nowhere, green and loamy life overpowering the reek of ash and blood — and the fiendfire was gone, dissipating into whisps and smoke, like it'd never been there at all.

Apparently, Cassie felt the wizard who'd cast it was too dangerous to live: a jab of her wand at point-blank, and his chest burst, blood and bone and guts splattering across the grass.

There were only a few more left at this point, Cassie nailed one with another light curse of some kind within a handful of seconds, and he was down, and one of them was throwing off blasting curses like they were candy — indiscriminately all over the place, seemingly hoping at least one would do something useful. Gin jumped — one of them was coming right at her! — she tried to move, but she could hardly get to her knees, she couldn't—

She lost her balance, flopping over onto her side again, when the ground under her shifted, like a rug yanked out from under her. The blasting curse landed with a deafening explosion of noise and fire, so close, but it hadn't hit her, she was fine. By the time she looked back up again, the witch who'd cast it was on fire — the flames were white and yellow and red, so hot she could feel it from here, the air tingling with light magic so thick she could taste it — and the woman was screaming, a high, piercing wail that shivered down Gin's spine.

(Not that she actually felt bad about the pain the woman was obviously in — the bitch had nearly just killed her, after all.)

Cassie downed another rioter before firing off another spell at the burning witch. It hit like an overpowered banishing charm, slamming her against the ground and dragging her across it, in a second all that was left was a smear of body parts and moodily flickering flame spread across five metres or so.

And then there was only one.

At some point, he'd gone back to the mother and the kids, taking them hostage, putting their bodies between him and Cassie. He had the mother by the throat, trying to bring his wand around to point at the baby but he couldn't quite manage it, the mother screaming and trying to twist away. The boy, Gin noticed, was kicking the masked idiot in the shins, yelling at him in some foreign language — Gin wished she could understand that, she had the feeling it was probably pretty funny.

For a brief moment, Cassie paused. Now that she was standing still for once, Gin could see she was wearing distinctly muggle-ish jeans and a blouse that had probably been white at some point, but was now covered with ash and blood. (Streaks and splatters, Gin was certain it wasn't hers.) Gin had a side-view on her, so she could make out her face.

Staring at the rioter, holding the mother and her children hostage, Cassie had gone cold. She usually looked a lot like Xeno, with the same bright smile and bouncing cheerfulness, if somewhat more focused than her spacey older brother, more calm. But now... Gin hadn't even known until just now that the soft, gentle Lovegood features could be absolutely terrifying, but despite the light magic hot and soothing in the air around her she'd gone still and hard and cold, it was just scary.

For an absurd moment, Gin was reminded of Tom, or Lyra — which was insane, there was nobody less like those dark sociopaths...

Slowly, glaring at the masked rioter the whole time, Cassie turned her wand on her own arm, cutting a shallow line into her skin. She passed her wand to her off hand, rubbed her fingers over the cut, covering them with her own blood. The man was yelling something at her, something about not moving or the death of his hostages would be on her hands, but Cassie obviously wasn't listening. Her three middle fingers glistening in the firelight, she brought them up to her lips, and she blew on them, and... Well, she was obviously doing something, though Gin couldn't begin to guess what it was — rainbow sparks shimmered over the blood on her fingers, like oil in sunlight, swirling and shifting. It grew thicker over the next couple seconds until it hardly looked like blood at all anymore, a twisting kaleidoscope of purples and oranges and reds and blues. Then she stopped and, in a casual, easy motion, swiped her fingers across the air.

It looked like an overpowered cutting curse — three bands of rainbow light slicing across the air, crossing the space between them in a blink. The mother yelled, but whatever curse it was went right through her, seemingly ignoring her entirely. The rioter holding her, though, wasn't nearly so lucky. Whatever it was, it wasn't a cutting curse, instead he...

Well, he just seemed to fall apart. He crumbled like dry cake, the fingers gripping the woman's shoulders just breaking off, his robes falling limp to the ground. When it was done there wasn't any blood, or anything that looked like the human body at all, just rumpled robes twisted up in a pile of white, snowy ash.

Gin had absolutely no idea what the fuck that was. But she didn't really need to to know that making Cassie Lovegood angry was a bad, bad idea.

(Morgen's tits, she was so fucking cool.)

Now that the fighting was over, Cassie checked with the foreign woman to make sure she was okay first. Gin, in pain and barely able to move from curses and blood loss, tried to not take this personally — everyone knew how Cassie Lovegood could get about kids, and there were two of them over there. After a bit of chattering, the woman breathlessly rambling off with what Gin assumed was gratitude, all of them came shuffling over to Gin. Cassie said something to the woman in her own language (slightly awkwardly, she clearly wasn't fluent), and then they were both standing over Gin and casting spells.

Healing spells of some kind, obviously, though Gin couldn't say what they were. There were a bloody lot of them. Light magic washed over her in waves of soothing warmth, cuts stinging as they knit themselves back together, groans wrenched out of her throat as bones were twisted back into place before mending. (She'd obviously gotten hit with at least two bone-breakers, though she'd hardly noticed at the time.) Most of the magic seemed to be focused on her neck and her knee and her ankle, so thick it burned, her eyes watering.

It lasted a minute or two, and by the end Gin could...sort of move. She wasn't completely healed by any means, of course, but she did manage to sit up the rest of the way, her back throbbing and her head spinning. As she tried to get her bearings, rapidly blinking, she saw the little boy reach into a pocket of his mother's odd foreign robes, pull out...a sheet of paper. With an almost painfully bright grin, he turned to Cassie, chirped something in whatever language that was.

Cassie laughed, shaking her head. Crouching down next to him and muttering something that sounded almost but not quite like chastisement, Cassie took the piece of paper, pulled a pen out of nowhere...wrote something short on it, and...

Had... Had Cassie Lovegood just given a little kid her autograph in the middle of a riot? Okay...

Cassie gave the kid's hair a fond ruffle, before finally turning to Gin. "Fancy seeing you here, Miss Weasley." This first bit was said in an overly formal-sounding voice, clashing with the shouting and the explosions and the fire all around them, the soot on her face and the blood on her clothes. "Your heart's in the right place, I'm not gonna say I don't understand, but maybe you're a little out of your depth here."

"Yeah, uh, I guess so." She'd thought she could handle herself, she wasn't a helpless little kid anymore, but she hadn't realised how... She'd nearly died...

"Probably should get to safety, even with someone watching out for you." Cassie's eyes trailed up a little, staring at Gin's forehead, frowning a little. "Anyway, I have work to do yet. Mind keeping an eye on these three and getting yourselves out for me?"

Gin blinked. "Er, sure, I can do that." It looked and sounded like the fighting had mostly moved on from here by now anyway, closer to the Irish camp. Chances were Gin wouldn't get pinned by multiple Death Eaters again.

A smirk twitching at her lips, Cassie gave Gin a little sarcastic salute. "Good luck out there, Comrade." Then, in an intense burst of light magic and a flare of red and white flames, Cassie was just gone.

Was that... Was that phoenix fire? Was it even possible for humans to do that?

For a few seconds, Gin couldn't move, just blankly staring at the spot Cassie bloody Lovegood had been. She'd known Luna's estranged aunt was a seriously powerful sorceress, but damn, that whole thing had just been so fucking awesome, Gin didn't even have words.

On the one hand, Gin kind of wished Cassie could come with them — even with the healing spells they'd cast on her, her knee and ankle still hurt. Her back felt like a mass of bruises from landing on whatever had been in that tent, and she was pretty sure she needed a Blood Replenishing Potion. But she could stand, and it was kind of...well, kind of great, actually, that Cassie fucking Lovegood thought she could take care of herself well enough to help this witch and her kids get the fuck out of there, even though she'd just had to save Gin's arse from... She didn't know what Paulie and company would've done when they finally broke her shield, but it wouldn't have been good.

"Come on," she said, pulling the witch away from the fire and the noise of the mob by her elbow.

She seemed to understand what Gin meant, but instead of following her immediately, she shoved the baby into her arms. Gin was so surprised she nearly dropped...him? her? She'd never really held a baby before, so she just froze, watching the mother pull the little boy up onto her back. Then she took the baby back, and nodded at Gin, nudging her forward with a hand on her shoulder, kind of taking the lead — which was stupid, Gin was the one who had a hand free to use her wand, and the mother couldn't know where they were going any more than Gin did, but whatever.

Pretty much everyone over here seemed to be gone, either evacuated or joined in the fighting. Gin wasn't even entirely sure where they were, though if the witch and her family had been camping here it probably wasn't one of the British enclaves — she was pretty sure the organisers had tried to group people together by nationality, at least a little bit. When she'd been wandering around with the twins, before they'd run into Harry and Zabini and the Blacks, they'd seen a few areas where no one was speaking English at all. (Or even French — it was supposed to be the big international language, how far away did mages even have to be from to not speak French?) And all the little wooded spots around and between the fields looked the same. They just headed away from the fires they could see, figuring they'd run into other people eventually. Or at least, Gin assumed that was also what the witch was thinking.

It didn't actually take that long before they ran into a bunch of mages she must have been related to. They'd been moving through the abandoned tents calling for Aleka, and the witch had gotten all excited when she heard them, started yelling back, and when they'd finally come face to face with the other group, she'd thrown herself into their arms, crying. If Gin had to guess (and she did, she couldn't understand a bloody thing), she was telling the man she was hugging — her husband? brother? — what had happened. She kept gesturing at Gin, and clearly objecting every time she tried to leave — she wasn't entirely sure where she was going, but she had to at least try to find her own family, she couldn't just stay with these random foreigners.

Unfortunately none of them seemed to speak English — one tried French, but she barely knew any, not enough to really speak it — so she couldn't explain that, and they came over all worried when she tried to just walk away. The witch — Aleka, apparently — kept putting an arm around her shoulders, guiding her back toward the group, clearly meaning that Gin should stay with them, but, "No, you don't understand, I have to go! I have to find my own family! No, Aleka, please, just... My people are out there!" She pointed into the darkness, toward the nearest stand of trees. "I have to go find them!"

"Red? Is that you?" A familiar voice called out from the dark, four bright sparks of wand light coming closer.

"Zabini? What the hell?"

Eventually they came close enough to confirm that everyone was who they thought they were — not only Blaise, but also his mother and Harry and Black.

"Ginny?" Harry said. "Hi! How— Where is everyone else?"

"Yeah, how did you fall in with a bunch of Greeks?" Black asked. Gin guessed she didn't really care about the answer, because she went on without waiting for one, saying something to Aleka and her family in what was presumably Greek — actual Greek, not whatever language dementors spoke.

"Oh, dear," Lady Zabini said, looking her over. "You're looking a bit worse for wear, Miss Weasley."

"I'm fine," she lied, probably unconvincingly, as she felt like she was about to collapse from exhaustion where she stood.

"Don't be stubborn, Red," Blasie advised her. "Let Mira heal you."

Oh, was that where she'd been going with that? Well, Gin wasn't about to stop her. More healing spells sounded great. "Er, I guess, if it's not too much trouble..."

"Of course it's not," Lady Zabini said, casting a few spells at her.

"Yeah, you're not nearly as messed up as Lyra was earlier," Harry said, rolling his eyes at the girl, who was happily chattering away with Aleka and her family as though they weren't standing in the middle of a bloody war zone. (Which, he hadn't seen her earlier, but whatever.) "Apparently Narcissa Malfoy cursed her so that anything bad that happens to Draco actually happens to Lyra instead, and he keeps falling over shite like a clumsy idiot and getting hit with stray curses," he explained, over Lady Zabini's casting.

Gin found absolutely none of that surprising — Narcissa Malfoy was a ruthless bitch, of course she would screw Lyra over to protect her son, and Draco was a clumsy idiot, she wasn't the least bit surprised he would've managed to get himself hurt just running away from the fighting like a coward. She was far too distracted by the healing to say any of that, though.

The first few spells didn't seem to do anything, probably just analysis charms, but the next couple eased the aches and pains of bruises and a lingering headache she hadn't even really noticed until it disappeared. They were followed by one that reinforced the strained muscles in her ankle and knee, wrapping them in stiff (but not entirely immovable) bandages. She didn't know what the last one was, but it made her suddenly far less tired, as though she'd just woken up from a good night's sleep, or chased half a vial of Pepper Up with three cups of coffee.

Blaise grinned. "Unfortunately that one doesn't last very long, but it should be enough to get you back to the Black tent, at least."

"Speaking of which," Lady Zabini muttered. "Lyra! Tell your new friends goodbye, we're ready to go!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," she called back, before saying something else to the Greeks, who smiled and nodded and turned to leave.

"Care to fill the rest of us in?" Harry asked.

"Why don't you just use legilimency to eavesdrop? You know I hate repeating shite. They're heading south until they find the edge of the anti-disapparation paling. Many thanks to Gin for saving their Aleka and little Deion and Cora, blah, blah, blah. I told them we'd help you find your family, but honestly, you'll be better off waiting at the Black tent until morning, even if the Powers are looking out for you tonight." That last bit was said in a very leading sort of way, as though she'd already decided that was what Gin was going to do, she just didn't want Gin to object, and so was phrasing it as a reasonable suggestion. Which it was, but.

Lady Zabini gave her a smirk that somehow managed to seem rather exasperated. "No, Lyra, no one expects you to go track down the Weasleys to return their wayward daughter, no matter how concerned they might be about her safety. We're all aware that such courtesies are too much to expect from you when there's a bloody riot going on."

"Good, because I wasn't going to. Even if I was willing to waste the whole night escorting fucking Weasleys around, it makes much more sense to keep her and have her help Cissy guard the tent." Gin couldn't decide whether she should be annoyed by Lyra's obvious dismissal of her family's concern, or pleased that she thought she could still do anything, as beat up as she was. "Wait, was that sarcasm? Zee!" Lady Zabini ignored her, as did the boys — Gin got the impression they hadn't even been paying attention, muttering to each other over there. All three of them headed off, presumably toward the Blacks' site. Black shrugged. "I guess I could go tell William you're not dead if it's really important..." she offered, trailing off. There was a note of doubt in her voice, as though she wasn't certain it was, or whether the offer was one she was obligated to make.

Which, while it probably was — though Ron and the twins were probably more worried about her than Dad and their older brothers — that mention of Bill reminded her of the whole even if the Powers are looking out for you thing a minute ago. "What the hell did you mean by that?"

"Well, I may be wrong, but I don't think your father would take it well if I just stepped out of his shadow, so—"

"No, not that." She had seen Lyra and Bill talking during the match, and Lyra had asked Bill to back her up when Dumbledore and the Blacks (and Lady Malfoy, and Lady Zabini, and Mr Crouch) had been arguing about Harry in the corner, so they'd obviously been talking about wards. Knowing that, Lyra probably considered Bill to be her sort of person, both of them being mad cursebreakers with no respect for the law, and all. It made sense she'd rather track him down than Dad. "You said earlier that the Powers were protecting me, or something."

Black grinned. "Someone marked you," she said, poking at the spot on her forehead where Bill had drawn that rune — Gin had completely forgotten about it in the fight with those men, and then Cassie showing up, and dealing with Aleka and her family. She pulled her finger back very quickly, shaking it as though she'd been burned. "Like a blessing sort of thing, asking anyone who sees you out here to keep you safe. Well, anyone inclined to protect stupid children from getting themselves killed doing stupid shite. Aspects of Youth and Life, mostly. Not a terrible idea — Artemis and Brigit both have people here, not to mention all the foreign ritualists around." She shrugged.

Was that... Had Cassie bloody Lovegood only shown up at the exact proper moment to save her stupid arse because Bill had marked her, or whatever? She didn't...

Huh. She had no idea how to feel about that.

Also, what the fuck did Black mean, Artemis and Brigit have people here? There were white mages at the campsite? Who?!

Black, being Black, didn't seem to realise she'd said something completely insane. "Come on, we're burning moonlight and I have places to be."

It wasn't that much further to the Blacks' tent — a positively medieval looking thing, round with a peaked, umbrella sort of roof, it was far simpler than the castle-like monstrosities of the other Noble Houses Gin had spotted earlier, and tents with gardens and shite attached. It might even have been able to pass for muggle — eccentric, certainly, but not obviously magical — except for the colour. It was blacker than it seemed possible for anything to be, darker than the smoke-filled sky behind it, even with fires burning here and there to illuminate the scene. It had to be charmed, probably just to be intimidating, because she was pretty sure there was no mundane way to get canvas to look like that.

Anyone who was actively rioting, trying to burn tents and whatnot, had long since passed, leaving smouldering wreckage in their wake. The Black tent was, in fact, the only one left standing in the immediate vicinity. There were great furrows dug into the ground around it, and Gin saw at least two unconscious wizards lying on the ground — if she had to guess, she'd say they'd taken exception to the tent resisting their efforts to trample and burn it, had a serious go, and been taken out by the wards on it. Granted, it would be weird to put offensive wards on a bloody tent, but she didn't really doubt that Black would.

"Cissy!" the mad witch called, looking at an empty space off to one side of it. "Why are you out here?"

Narcissa Malfoy shimmered into sight, somehow managing to look just as gorgeous as usual — no matter how evil she might be, even Mum would admit that Narcissa Malfoy was probably the most stylish mage in the Wizengamot — if in a very different way than she usually did. She actually looked disheveled, probably for the first time in her life. Gin didn't think she'd ever seen the blonde witch with a hair out of place, or wearing anything other than formal robes that probably cost more than the Burrow (not counting earlier in the top box, where she'd been wearing what Gin assumed was the muggle equivalent). Her glamour charms were always flawless — Gin's old roommates had had an hours-long debate, once, about whether she even used them, because they were so good no one could tell — and she looked at everyone around her as though they were ants beneath her feet. Kind of like Daphne Greengrass, but colder and meaner.

But now her hair was plaited over one shoulder, wisps escaping around her face and she was smiling (which made her look about a decade younger), wearing the same sort of dueling robes that Lyra wore around school on the weekends (but green and silver, like the uniforms Slytherin wore in the photos in the trophy room from back when they had inter-house dueling competitions). She was as poised and confident as ever, but more...present in the moment, rather than all cold and distant. She was actually sweaty and there was ash on her face and Gin could now definitively say she did use glamour charms, because without them her eyebrows were invisible, making her look kind of like Luna...if Luna were a fucking Black. Normally she couldn't see the family resemblance at all — Gin looked more like a Black, honestly — but right now it was obvious, everything from the smirk on Lady Malfoy's face to the set of her shoulders echoing those of her niece.

("Why is she here at all?" Gin heard Harry ask Lady Zabini, quietly enough that Black and Lady Malfoy probably didn't. "Didn't she just curse Lyra?")

(Lady Zabini chuckled. "She's here because she's Family.")

"Lyra. It's easier to guard the site from out here. Having fun?"

"Not as much as you," she said, eyeing a third downed attacker very pointedly. Gin hadn't seen him at first, he was lying in one of the craters and appeared to have been crucified to the ground, his hands and feet pinned in place by heavy wooden spikes, which couldn't possibly have been necessary — he'd also been hit in the face with something hard enough to break his nose and give him two black eyes, which had to have been enough to knock him out, or she could have just stunned him or something.

Lady Malfoy just shrugged, sneering down at the man, who wasn't dressed as a Death Eater — Gin didn't recognise him, but presumably he had a grudge against the Blacks. She imagined quite a lot of people did. Bellatrix had killed a lot of people during the war, and tortured more. "He kept throwing wide-angle blasting curses at me. It was annoying."

"Uh-huh. Speaking of annoying, where is that helpless little twat you call a son?" Black stalked off toward the entrance to the tent before Lady Malfoy could answer, leaving the blonde to hurry after her, hissing something angrily under her breath. Black's response was a mocking ha! as the rest of them followed more slowly.

By the time Gin entered the tent, Malfoy (barefoot, in muddy pyjamas) had been knocked to the ground, his hand pressed to a reddening cheek. Lady Malfoy was objecting to this, shouting something at Black about how she couldn't just go around hitting her son.

Gin, however, wasn't paying much attention to their argument — that last spell Lady Zabini had used on her was wearing off, and she was suddenly exhausted, too tired to really think about anything other than finding somewhere to sit.

There was a fire burning in the middle of the tent (which was...really weird, just a big open field surrounded by black walls, glittering on this side with runes like stars in the night sky) — a real, wood-burning fire (which was also weird, because where was the smoke going?) — with a handful of simple, foreign-looking beds — more like cots, really, just wooden frames slotted together, with some sort of cord woven across them to create a loose, hammock-like sleeping place — covered with fur rugs and canvas bedrolls. A couple of similarly...rustic tables and a box covered in ice — an improvised cold-box, apparently — sat off to one side. One of them had a collection of dishes and cooking supplies on it. The other held a pile of valises and knapsacks (half of which looked like something that Great Aunt Muriel would own, positively ancient), with jackets and outer robes strewn across the pile.

She couldn't even imagine what was in the collection of trunks and crates that had been stacked and hung with sheets of canvas like a childrens' fort on the other side of the tent, but there was an enormous cauldron suspended over it on some sort of metal frame, so she was guessing the 'fort' itself was some sort of shower stall. There was a mirror propped up on one of the trunks that jutted out of the pile just a little more than the rest on the outside, and a basin beside it for hand-washing, so there was probably a vanishing toilet over there somewhere, too. (Lady Zabini had shepherded Malfoy in that direction to get him cleaned up and check him for lingering curses, but mostly, Gin suspected, just to get him away from Black.)

All in all, it was just...overwhelmingly strange, and not at all what she'd expected — maybe a fancier version of the tent Dad had borrowed, or even just a Portal going back to one of the other Black properties. (It wasn't like Black couldn't do that, if she wanted to.) Certainly not...whatever this was. And most importantly, there were no chairs anywhere. The beds all obviously belonged to someone, so... Fuck it, the ground would do.

Ahh, so much better...

Black reclaimed Gin's attention as she cut Lady Malfoy off with a loud scoff. "The hell I can't, Cissy! That incompetent little prick managed to turn both of his ankles, break an arm, and get hit by a fucking Blood-Boiling Curse within the twenty fucking minutes it took you to get here! He's worse than Lucy!"

"And yet here you are, whole and hale, and presumably itching to go play with everyone else over in the Irish camp."

"That is not the point, Cissy!" Exactly what the point was was interrupted by the runes on the wall suddenly growing brighter, a wave of light spreading from a spot near the door. Instead of elaborating, Black stomped over to the tent flap and stuck her head out. "Do you mind? We're in the middle of—" The runes flared again, presumably someone throwing a spell at Black. "Oh, fuck you!" She stepped out of the tent, but only for a moment before she returned, cleaning blood from a positively wicked-looking dueling knife.

"Feel better?" Malfoy said, giving her a smug smirk.

Gin hadn't really believed the rumors that Black was Bellatrix's daughter (by Sirius or Tom) but, according to Ron, Dumbledore had basically told Mum that she was a bioalchemy twin of the notorious madwoman (and also out to get him), which...really seemed like it should have been obvious, now that she knew. Not the being out to get Dumbledore part, Gin was pretty sure that was mostly Xeno, but it wasn't like it was exactly difficult to imagine someone like Black (absurdly powerful, incidentally terrifying mad genius) growing up to be someone like Lestrange (absurdly powerful, intentionally terrifying mad genius) — especially if she was right and Riddle had been compelling Lestrange to become his perfect weapon since she was a kid. (Which was exactly the sort of thing Tom would do, if only because a five-year-old version of Lyra Black would presumably have been the single most annoying, hyperactive person he'd ever met. He'd compel her just to make her shut up.) At the moment, watching her vanish her knife with shadow magic, it was impossible not to believe it.

"Not particularly — who the fuck thinks it's a good idea to attack the House of Black when they're too drunk to see straight, let alone get off a proper curse? That wasn't even fun."

"Ah, well, they're also too drunk to think straight," Blaise quipped.

"Did you— You didn't, um...kill them, or something, did you?" Harry asked, so hesitantly Gin was sure he didn't want to believe she might have, but just couldn't help thinking it anyway.

Black rolled her eyes — obviously she'd done something — but didn't actually answer, which left Gin (and Harry, from the look on his face) uneasily suspecting that she actually might have killed them. Instead, she just said, "Does it matter?" before moving on. "Now that you're all here, Cissy, you continue to guard the tent, Red can back you up." Lady Malfoy gave Gin, still sitting on the ground, a look which said she doubted that very much, but it was hardly important to note. Gin might have been more annoyed about it if she didn't feel like she might fall asleep at any moment. "The wards on this thing are designed to deal with dragonfire and rampaging quintapeds, not spell damage, so I wouldn't let anyone just hammer away at it, but you should be fine as long as they don't use proper siege spells."

"Wait," Harry said, now with an entirely different sort of suspicion on his voice, "we should be fine? Are you— Lyra you can't be serious."

She turned to give him an absent sort of smirk. "No, Sirius is out having fun without me."

"Having— Lyra, you aren't going back out there!"

"Why wouldn't I? In case you hadn't noticed, there's a riot going on."

"Well yeah, that's kind of my point. Sane people avoid riots! Taking on one or two drunk idiots and looters at a time is one thing, but there are hundreds of people out there! In case you hadn't noticed, you were half eaten four days ago! You can't just—"

"Shut up, Harry," Black snapped, cutting him off with a sharp glare and a flick of her wand. "I was barely eaten at all, and I've already said thank you for that, it's been four days, move on already. I see absolutely no reason what sane people do should matter to me. And yes, I can, just, and moreover I'm going to, because I have been itching to curse someone since Dumbles decided to drop by, and before that run in with the lethifold I was stuck between planes for an entire bloody week, and before that I spent a month and a half on my best fucking behavior because Blaise said it would freak you out if I didn't—" Harry tried to object to that, apparently having forgotten he was silenced, but Gin was pretty sure Blaise was right — the shite Black came out with when she wasn't bothering to censor herself was downright disturbing. And this was coming from someone who shared Tom Riddle's memories. "—and because the Acting Head of the House doesn't have the luxury of acting like a half-mad little hellion with more curiosity than sense anyway, and breaking shite I didn't actually want to break, and dealing with politics, which I hate, and secrets and plotting, which I'm terrible at, and I hate being shite at things even more than I hate politics! It's been a very stressful summer! No, strike that, year, because the ten months before that I had to keep my nose clean to keep people from asking questions I can't—"

Lady Malfoy stepped in and grabbed her right wrist with one hand to control her wand, slapping her across the face with the other, bringing an abrupt end to Black's near-hysterical rant (this was probably the most emotional Gin had ever seen her) with a single cool, confident statement: "Duty comes first, Lyra."

That had to be some kind of watchword, because Black closed her eyes and took a deep breath, obviously working to master her temper. (The air in the tent seemed to shiver, almost nauseating, Gin was almost surprised when her own breath didn't come out fogged from cold.) She even more obviously didn't quite manage it, because when she opened them again they were glowing an eerie purplish blue. Gin had thought that only happened in fiction (and trashy romances, at that), people getting so angry their magic flared involuntarily and made their eyes glow or their hair blow in a breeze no one else could feel, but apparently not.

"Let go of me, Narcissa Zaniah." Lady Malfoy did, taking a step back as well. If Gin didn't know better, she'd say Lady Malfoy looked like she was scared of Black, which would make a lot of sense, because the inside of the tent had just dropped about ten degrees, dark magic flaring around her in a way that made Gin itch to go for her wand. (She didn't, of course, Black would slaughter her if she tried to curse her, but she couldn't help edging back slightly, even from a few metres away.) "I've done my duty tonight. Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've been able to really cut loose? Months, Narcissa. Acromantulae and inferi don't count. And now there's a fucking riot going on not a mile away from here, and it might actually be a crime against nature to try to stop me from participating, so— Zee, sneaking up on me right now would be a fantastically bad idea!"

Lady Zabini, who had moved to join them right around the time Black started calling Lady Malfoy by both her first and second names, was apparently unconcerned about the furious, obviously unstable Black sensing her approach without turning to look at her. "It can't possibly count as sneaking up on you if you know I'm here," she pointed out.

She took Black by the shoulder and spun her around, away from Lady Malfoy, leaning down until their noses were almost touching, as though she was going to kiss her. Black froze, glowering at her, eyes still glowing, tension in every line of her body, but didn't resist or pull away, which struck Gin as kind of odd. She really didn't expect Black to be okay with being manhandled like that, especially when she'd just gone off on Lady Malfoy for smacking her. "No one's going to try to prevent you blowing off some steam, and the riot's not going to end before you get there. Harry simply needs some assurance that you aren't going to get yourself killed, because he doesn't know you like Narcissa and I do. I suggest you promise to retreat into the Shadows if your life is legitimately in danger, and go find a more appropriate target for your frustration than your own family."

Black didn't say anything for a long time — or at least, it seemed like a long time to Gin, exchanging nervous glances with Harry. Even Blaise seemed tense and serious in a way he usually didn't. Black just stood there glaring, Lady Zabini staring back, every inch of her projecting unyielding confidence in a way that might have cowed even Tom. After a short eternity, Black seemed to accept Lady Zabini's words (or possibly realised that the longer she kept up this staring contest, the more likely it was that she would miss out on the whole riot). Magic and fury faded slowly from her eyes, the cold, sickening aura of dark magic on the air fading somewhat. "Fine." Gin thought she detected just a touch of resentment there, but Black nodded, tipping her head just slightly — any more and she probably would have headbutted Lady Zabini in the nose. "Yes, I can do that." She took another deep breath, and finally pulled away from the older witch, closing her eyes. "I promise I'll retreat into the Shadows if my life is legitimately in danger," she bit out. "Okay?"

Harry seemed too shocked to answer, but Gin didn't really think she was talking to him, anyway.

Lady Zabini made an affirmative little hum. "Yes. Good girl, Bee." Then she leaned in closer yet to murmur something in Black's ear that actually managed to get a small smile from her.

Everyone else — or at least Gin — let out a breath they'd been unconsciously holding as the tension (and the magic) around her loosened dramatically.

"Cadmus Nott and Menelaus Parkinson have indicated that they'd rather die than fall in line," Lady Malfoy said out of nowhere, presumably suggesting them as more appropriate targets for Black's frustration with...what? life in general? than herself.

Maybe she wasn't as shaken as Gin had thought if she was asking her insane niece to fucking murder her political rivals. Or maybe her confidence had just been restored by Lady Zabini apparently getting Black under control. Which was honestly kind of terrifying, even more than Black being so...volatile, in the first place. Was she a mind mage, or something?

"Cissy..." the older witch said, the nickname sounding like a warning on her lips.

But Black just grinned at the woman she'd seemed so close to cursing only two minutes before. "Narcissa, I distinctly recall telling you that I wouldn't be doing you any favours after that little stunt you pulled earlier tonight."

"Yes, well, if you happen to run into them and change your mind, the fact remains..."

"Narcissa, drop it. Lyra, go. Have fun. Just keep in mind, if you get yourself detained I'm leaving you in holding for at least three days."

"I always do." Black laughed, and vanished into thin air.

Lady Zabini sighed, the fearless calm she'd shown in facing down the mad Black easing from her bearing, replaced with annoyance, and perhaps a hint of concern. "I would appreciate it if you didn't encourage Lyra to act like Bella."

"I would appreciate it if you would cease meddling in the affairs of the House of Black, but that seems rather unlikely, doesn't it?"

"Well, I could just let her put you in hospital the next time you imply she's taking her responsibilities to the House less than seriously, if you prefer. But you can't possibly deny that Bella was a bit liberal when it came to eliminating problems. You Blacks, always so eager to employ the most extreme option..." She shook her head as though disappointed, clicking her tongue in disapproval.

"This coming from you? Besides, she wouldn't have hurt me, Zabini." Lady Malfoy positively pouted, sounding far more certain than Gin suspected she'd been at the time, and comprehensively failing to address the point about assassinating her political rivals being an 'extreme option'.

Lady Zabini sighed. "Yes, principessa, she would have. She's not Bella, and even if she was, Bella would have punished you for such disrespect as well. Now, I've had Draco put on a pot of tea, and I suspect the worst of the night's attacks are past us here, so—"

"Are we just not going to talk about the fact that Lyra's out there somewhere getting into a fight for no fucking reason?" Harry interrupted. Gin had almost forgotten about him and Blaise, standing quietly off to the side of the drama. Probably using legilimency to talk to each other, if the way Harry was glaring at Blaise and shaking off the arm that had been around his shoulder was any hint. "Or the fact that she just killed a couple of guys for taking pot-shots at her bloody tent?"

"She didn't kill anyone," Lady Zabini said, exasperation tinging her words.


"There would have been more blood on her if she'd killed them," Lady Malfoy said, jn a way that suggested she was far too familiar with what it looked like after someone knifed a man to death.

Lady Zabini wrinkled her nose in disgust. "If she had killed them, Harry, she wouldn't have stuck around to argue with you about whether she ought to go back out. She simply wouldn't have had the self-control."

"I doubt she would have even come back into the tent," Lady Malfoy noted.

"She probably would have, she really has been trying very hard. But she certainly wouldn't have stood for any further delay to her joining in the fun."

"Joining in the fun?! She could still get herself killed, you know! Even if she does just slip away if she gets cornered, that won't stop her getting cursed in the back. And for what?"

The other witches exchanged a look before Lady Zabini answered, smirking slightly. "Because for her not to be out on a night like tonight would be a crime against nature?" That was what Black had said, and not any sort of answer (though Gin wasn't entirely certain it wasn't true).

Harry scowled, but before he could respond to the ridiculous non-answer, Lady Malfoy added, "If you're not about to die, you're not really living — that's how Bella used to put it."

He turned his glare on her instead. "That's insane."

Gin took it upon herself to make the obvious response, the one she knew Black would have made if she were there. (In her best imitation of Black, of course.) She levered herself to her feet to throw an arm around his shoulders. "Er...yes? And?"

"Oh, shut up, Ginny," Harry snapped, shaking her off and stomping toward the table where Malfoy was trying very hard to look like he hadn't just been staring off into space looking all terrified. Wow, apparently her little joke had annoyed him enough he'd rather hang out with Malfoy.

(Everyone else laughed, though.)

"Hey, Siri!" Little Bella said brightly, appearing behind him out of the fucking Dark, shattering his focus and startling him badly enough to disrupt his aim.

"Fuck! Down!" he snapped, pulling her below the impact plane of an incoming cutting curse arc and casting a protego around them.

Bella rolled her eyes and cast an aegis to complement it. "What now?"

"What do you mean, what now? You were the one who came to find me!"

"Well, yeah, but not to talk!"

"Well then what the fuck are you doing here? I told you to get everyone else somewhere safe!" He'd ordered her to, actually, as the Lord of the House, and she'd obviously wanted to hex him for it, but she'd actually listened, and damn if it hadn't felt good, forcing her to do as he said for once, instead of ignoring him and doing whatever the hell she liked. At least, she'd better have done as he'd told her, because if she'd left Harry out here in this...

"I did. We couldn't apparate out, so I got them all back to the tent. Cissy's being a brat — cursed me in the fucking back, and then had the nerve to ask for a favour not even an hour later! — but Draco's there, too, so she has incentive to hold the fort. Most of the fighting's moved on, anyway."

For a brief moment, Sirius almost let himself get distracted by the story behind Cissy cursing Little Bella, because there had to be a story there— But, no, focus, Sirius! Okay, that was probably okay. He'd obviously missed something, wasn't really sure where Narcissa came into this at all, but she probably was capable of holding the tent against anyone who was still over there — whichever Eridanus it had originally belonged to hadn't fucked around, designing the wards on that thing. Good. Harry was safe. Reasonably safe. "And why are you here?"

"Figured I'd watch your back, since you refused to go back to the tent. Not that I blame you, really, but a dead Lord Black is a useless Lord Black, so. Where are we, and what's our objective?"

"There is no we!" He didn't want or need her watching his back, not when they'd never trained together — in a situation like this, where any minor mistake, any distraction, could lead to one or both of them getting their fucking heads cut off. "Go back to the tent!"

"Not a chance."

"I'm the Lord of the fucking House, Bellatrix! You just said it yourself! Go!"

"Make me," she said, giving him a reckless grin.

Apparently she was only going to listen to him when she wanted to. (He should have known it was too good to be true, her actually doing something because he said so.)

Sirius let out a frustrated growl, but he really wasn't surprised that sending her away from a riot wasn't one of those times. Bella lived for this sort of thing — violence and danger and chaos — he knew that. Well, everyone knew that. But he understood it. (He'd been trying to tell himself he wasn't anything like Bella since he was eleven years old, and even then he'd known it was a lie.) He suspected it was a Black thing, that need to fight, to challenge everyone around them and push themselves until they broke, as much as the Madness or their all-or-nothing affections or their general disregard for life and limb.

If he couldn't get rid of her, he'd have to work around her. Just fucking fine. Annoying, but then, when wasn't Little Bella annoying? He would deal.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. So. Where are we, and what's our objective?" As if this was a fucking strategy game, honestly. He was fairly certain none of the scenarios he had played out as a kid with Reg and Cissy and their little topographic models of historical battlefields and enchanted armies had involved anything quite like this, but...

Fine, whatever.

"The Irish delegation is that way," he said, pointing. "There's an anti-apparation up as well, so the Aurors are stuck fighting their way in like the rest of us. Hit Wizards, too. But they're moving en masse, slow enough to build another front around themselves." Forming a phalanx was a textbook strategy for riot control, but one much more suited to an urban environment — whoever was in charge back there obviously hadn't fought in the War. "Once the Aurors get to the Irish, they'll make a perimeter along with the rest of the defenders and push back, or escort the muggles out." Probably the former — with a mob like this, if they tried to move the muggles within a defensive circle the centre of the mob would just move with them. Well, unless they were keeping a path clear behind them, that would explain why they were so bloody slow.

"Not that I'm complaining, but where the fuck are their cursebreakers?"

"Probably helping strike teams locate the anchors and take them out." Though if they were this organised, the anchors probably had their own guards, and ones who knew what they were doing at that, coordinating over mirrors, so they'd be able to compensate for any losses.

Little Bella snorted. "Figures."

"Everyone's pushing toward the Irish. When we get there, we'll help Saoirse hold the line until the Aurors break through. There's loads of civilians on both sides." Including Little Bella. She was really fucking good for fourteen — at least as good Narcissa at that age, better than he had been — and she'd gotten better in the few weeks they'd been sparring together, could probably hold her own against any single idiot out here, but she'd never fought in a proper battle any more than whoever was calling the shots for the Aurors. As far as he knew, she'd never fought multiple opponents at all, not counting that little scuffle they'd had with those muggles. "Can't tell who's with who, just defend yourself and put down anyone masked, or using lethal force or Unforgivables. Preferably non-lethally." And stay out of my way. He didn't say it, worrying about where he was as well as everyone trying to kill her might be the difference between her getting out of here alive and not. And annoying as she was, he liked Little Bella, so.

"And...the muggles are the primary objective?"

"Obviously." Just to be clear, he added, "Getting Cavan and his party to safety is the primary objective, followed by extricating Saoirse, then supporting the Aurors' efforts to break up the riot. While minimising loss of life." That last part was important, because Sirius kind of doubted that Little Bella would hesitate to loose fiendfire on the camp or something in order to 'win' the game she seemed to think they were playing.

She rolled her eyes, but didn't object. "Any other constraints I should know about?"

"...No Unforgivables." He would say not to use anything illegal, but he kind of doubted anyone would be paying that much attention, and it wasn't like they couldn't afford any fines they got slapped with, so.

"Right." Bella frowned, obviously considering her strategy. "Anyone tell Saoirse the Aurors are on their side? You know, in case they manage to get over there sometime tonight."

Sirius was fairly certain the answer to that was no. "How the fuck would they have? They're on the other side of a fucking mob!"

Bella looked out at the mass of people as though she'd forgotten they might be an impediment to anyone who couldn't travel through Shadows. "...Right. I'll take care of that, then come back." She popped up and hurled a crowd-control stunner over the head of the most competent of the mages pinning them down (Who the hell had taught her that?), vanished into thin air even as she began to draw fire.

Two seconds later, the purple-red ball of light expanded, taking out the closest half-dozen mages and giving Sirius the opening he needed to go back on the offensive against the rest, ducking and weaving between enemy spells — most non-lethal in a crowd like this, for fear of friendly fire — throwing together impromptu chains of prank spells and simple charms, transfiguring the ground around them to disrupt their footing, conjuring animals to defend himself, animating the very grass beneath their feet to trip them up — untouchable because he could feel them, feel the magic of their incoming spells, the waves they made in the air and the aether between them, timing perfect, because how could it not be with Magic Itself singing in his veins?

They'd taken Felix Felicis, once, he and Jamie and Remy (and the Traitor), made a single, perfect afternoon for themselves. It had almost been like this, but this was better. This was real. (And unlike actual Madness, battle-madness faded away when the fighting was over.)

This was Sirius being exactly where he was meant to be, where the universe wanted him to be, free, and pitting himself against an endless horde of foes — more masked now than not, throwing more dangerous spells as he attracted their attention, as he threatened them — every one of them itching to take him out with their cold, deadly magics, every one too slow to stop him, or even delay his advance, making his way toward the glow of the palings Saoirse had erected— Was it just him, or had they gotten brighter in the time since Little Bella had come and gone?

He didn't know how long it had been, it didn't matter. All that mattered was magic and motion and the pounding of his heart and the fierce, undeniable excitement he hadn't felt in almost fourteen years, throwing himself into the fray without the slightest hint of fear or reservation, because it didn't matter if he died in the next seven seconds or eighty years from now, because right now he was alive.

Gods and Powers, he'd missed this.


That wasn't Little Bella, she hadn't come back, or if she had, she hadn't cut in, interrupted the dance — either way, that wasn't her voice. A woman, yes, but too far away to be Bella stepping out of his shadow, too serious, because if he couldn't keep himself from grinning, he doubted Bella could keep the laughter out of her voice. Not to mention the magic the mystery witch was casting was far too light to have anything to do with his mad cousin.

"Kinda busy here!" he shouted over his shoulder, batting away a volley of cutting curses and transfigured ice daggers, sending a flock of fire-bird constructs to retaliate.

The mystery woman picked off the witch he was fighting, breaking the flow of the fight, but gaining his attention as she'd no doubt intended. He cast a shield as he spun on his heel, profanity on his lips. "What the fu— Lovegood?"

Castalia Lovegood — it had to be Cassie, she looked just the same as she had sneaking off to the Forest with Evans, half a lifetime ago (well, messier, but almost exactly the same, anyway) — grinned, the vicious expression half-hidden with ash and blood. "If you were aiming for the Irish, you're going off course!" she shouted, pointing toward the glow of the palings.

He looked around to find the stadium, orient himself. Oh. So he was. One engagement had led to the next, and he'd let himself get drawn around to the east of his original line of attack. The Aurors' advance had almost caught up to him, though only because their phalanx had fallen apart — they might have been flanked — and they were now pushing forward by squad, the four-mage teams cutting through the mob much more effectively, though they did end up leaving enemies behind them instead of clearing a path to extricate the muggles.

Now that he'd slowed down for a second, he noticed he was standing on a flag — it was slashed with char, but Sirius could still make out the purple dragon on a green field of Ars Brittania. He blinked, glancing in the direction of Saoirse's wards. If the Corpse Munchers were teaming up with the British nationalists against the Gaelic nationalists that... That wasn't good. In fact, he thought it might be a Very Bad Thing.

But this also wasn't really the time to get distracted with that sort of thing, so he turned back to Lovegood. "Cheers! Have you seen Bella?"

Cassie frowned, making a face as though she wasn't sure she'd heard him right over the screams and the blasts and the general havoc all around. "Lestrange? I don't think she's here."

She wasn't. They'd definitely know if she was, because the sky would be on fire or something, and the entire fucking mob would be running the other way. According to Mirabella and Little Bella, Bellatrix had no intention of returning to Britain anytime soon. All Sirius had had to say on the matter was good riddance. (As long as she stayed somewhere she couldn't be extradited to Britain, he didn't need to feel guilty about not telling the Aurors what he knew about the situation, because it wasn't like they'd be able to get their hands on her anyway.)

"Not Bella Bella, the little one! Lyra!" He held a hand up level with his collar bones, though that probably wasn't much help, the original Bella wasn't much taller. He shrugged. "Looks just like the big one, but on our side."

"Haven't seen her! Someone's been throwing around pretty serious dark magic over there, though!" There was practically directly west of them, nearly in step with the Aurors' advance.

Well, hopefully Bella wasn't throwing around anything too dark — he'd thought she was going to stick to the rules he'd laid out, if only because accepting a handicap made winning more difficult and therefore more interesting. Like trying to play out a reconstruction of the Fourteenth Goblin Rebellion without using witchcraft, or winning a formal duel with only illusions (which was still fucking hilarious, he wished he could have seen it). But this was Bella they were talking about, there was every chance she'd gotten bored with the game and found some other way to entertain herself. "Could be her!"

"I was just on my way to check it out!"

Well, that sounded like an invitation to Sirius. "Go on, I'll follow you!"

About two minutes later — Cassie had gotten awesome, in the literally awe-inspiring sense, since the last time Sirius had seen her fight (he had heard that she was killing Dark Lords as a hobby now, but seeing her in action was something else) — they managed to reach there, which was Bella, because of course it was, laughing and dancing between bolts and arcs of spell-light, letting them pass her by harmlessly, only to strike other opportunistic enemies behind her; using her knife to split incoming wide-angle things she couldn't just dodge (that was a semi-freeform thing, probably what Cassie had felt her doing from however far away); and keeping about six masked idiots at bay with a fucking fire whip (which did kind of make him wonder why the Death Eaters were targeting someone who was so very obviously Bellatrix, or possibly her child — but then, he supposed, the Death Eaters had all met Bellatrix, so...), presumably because why the fuck not.

Seriously, who used a fire whip in actual combat? No one! Fucking no one! That was just so absurdly impractical... But she was doing pretty well with it, dropping the curse after each crack, leaving burning welts behind and letting her snap off point spells — mostly piercing hexes and pain curses laced with enough dark magic he could feel them from here — between lashes, and...

Was it wrong of him to think that was kind of hot?

(Probably yes, he decided. But that didn't mean it wasn't.)

He meant, on the one hand, she was fourteen, and his cousin, and clinically insane, but on the other... He defied anyone to watch her put on a show like that, dark and deadly, but not serious, just playing, almost...innocent, in the lack of malice in it despite the very real danger — yes, he knew the curses she was throwing around were potentially lethal, but her elaborate, impractical strategy could be mistaken for nothing else — dancing on the edge of destruction (any slip-up would mean death, because the Death Eaters who had her surrounded weren't playing), expressing pure, violent joy, and tell him it wasn't — she wasn't — just fucking beautiful.

(And also hot.)

"Definitely Bellatrix's kid," Cassie noted, sounding slightly disapproving. "Someone should tell her to stop fucking around before she gets herself killed."

"Eh, I think she's got it under control."

As he watched, someone managed to tag her with some kind of bludgeoning curse, knocking her to the ground several feet away, just in time to avoid an Avada lancing through the spot where she'd just been standing, and an impaling curse, spears erupting from the ground in a line chasing her down. She rolled back to her feet without losing momentum, jumped over a cutting curse aimed at the spot where she'd fallen (casting some sort of dispelling shield on the ground to stop the impaling curse) and ducked a Heart Rotting Hex. The man directly behind her took it instead. She let herself get hit with a couple of spells (neither of which had an immediate, visible effect) to avoid an Entrail Expelling Curse, cut through the path of an elemental spell intended to blast her off her feet with a torrent of water, and managed to catch one of the masked wankers around the arm with the whip — apparently unexpectedly, because when he reared back, it pulled her off balance, stumbling forward a few steps.

Rather than simply drop the spell to break the connection, she looked up and grinned at her attacker — whom Sirius was beginning to feel preemptively sorry for — and twisted her wand, flame transforming to lightning, racing toward the wizard, leaving a thunder-clap and a very unconscious, slightly steaming (possibly dead) man in its wake.

Bella let out a triumphant "Ha! Suck it, Ciardha!"

Sirius just stared, because... What the hell even was that? Some kind of elemental lightning thing? And how the fuck had she cast it while already casting another curse which required her constant attention?

Neither of them noticed the man at her seven o'clock cast the Cruciatus at her until it was far too late for her to avoid it. She shrieked, though only for a second or two before Cassie nailed the man with an almost painfully bright flash of searingly hot light magic — Sirius had to catch up to her later and ask her to teach that one to him, because the Death Eater exploded into bloody mist and flying chunks of charred bone, just, fucking hell — capturing the attention of everyone within ten yards, half of them running, half throwing themselves at her, the few defenders present freed from combat, pushing forward again, leaving Bella flat on her back, alone in the middle of a sort of lull.

By the time Sirius reached her — a second behind Cassie, but he couldn't fucking teleport (How the fuck had she done that? Was that phoenix fire?) — Bella was sitting up, trying to catch her breath between panting giggles. (Being released from the Cruciatus really was a hell of a rush.) Up close, it was clearer that she hadn't managed to avoid all the spells cast at her over the course of the night — her hair was matted with blood on one side, and there was a nasty-looking slice in her left shoulder. He wasn't sure she'd noticed. Blood and ash and mud were smeared across her arms and legs, and she'd obviously been caught by a fire spell at some point, because part of her green and gold totally-supporting-Ireland-and-I'm-not-talking-about-quidditch blouse had been scorched and blackened.

"Hey, Siri."

"You okay?"

She probably was — she took his hand when he offered it to pull her to her feet, looked around kind of absently, taking in Cassie's fight against...pretty much everyone with a rather...evaluating expression. Sirius was pretty sure none of them had managed to tag her with anything yet, it was kind of hilarious, about twenty attackers falling over each other, getting absolutely destroyed — even better because Cassie was still doing the no dark magic thing. (He remembered she'd gotten shite about it at Hogwarts, but she'd apparently gone on to prove she didn't need dark magic to be completely fucking awesome.) It kind of reminded him of Bella and his Mouldiness taking on Dumbledore and half the Auror Corp at Denbigh Moor. He'd bet the Black Seat that Little Bella was also wondering if there was any possible way to get Cassie to fight the original Bella, just to see it, because damn.

"Mmm, yeah. Fine. Well, as long as I get a curse-check in the next three or four hours. But yeah. Did Lovegood already kill the one that crucio'd me?"

"Ah, definitely yes." Honestly, Sirius doubted there was even enough left to identify him from — didn't help that his wand had probably been caught in it too. (Apparently, using Unforgivables on children in front of Cassie Lovegood was a terrible idea, even if the child in question was just Bella. He'd heard Cassie had a thing about kids, but fucking hell...)

Bella glanced around the rest of the field and sighed. "Well, fuck. Guess I'll have to settle for ruining everyone else's night then." She turned away from Cassie's fight, cast a few analysis charms — a distance measurement of some sort, and one that returned a series of arithmantic formulae which were...something about apparation? He'd never much cared for Arithmancy.

"Er, what? What is all that shite? You do realise we're in the middle of a riot right now."

"You do realise I don't actually like being hit with the Cruciatus? Besides, Lovegood stole everyone worth fighting. Just cover me, this won't take that long."

"No, seriously, what are you doing?"

She pouted at him. "Don't you like surprises?"

"Not when you're the one doing the surprising."

"You're no fun."

"Lies and slan— Fuck!" Apparently their lull was over, because that was definitely an explosive, bone shattering curse, and it had definitely been aimed at his head.

Bella spared half a second to smirk at him before kneeling — getting out of the line of fire — and casting a sound illusion, which, probably not surprising she could pull that off, even while casting half a dozen more analysis charms, she had spent most of last week using them to talk, after all — he hadn't missed her doing so wandlessly, earlier (the look on the Old Goat's face had been classic) — but he was pretty sure he'd never heard anyone use a straight sound illusion to replicate an entire fucking song... He finished off his chain of offensive spells with a long-distance conjuration — a very basic, very flammable gas, and a fireball that expanded to engulf all four of the people who'd decided he looked like an easier target than Cassie. Not that they were wrong, they were stupid enough to stand close enough to each other that he could catch them all with a single Hindenberg, but nobody was that stupid. (She was Cassie bloody Lovegood — Sirius was good, but he could count on his fingers the people he'd ever seen who were more intimidating in a fight.) "Is this the Doors?"

She nodded. "It's a hint. Now shut up, I'm trying to concentrate."

Uh huh. Concentrate. While replicating and projecting a song he hadn't heard since he was in school — Five to One? What kind of hint was that supposed to be? — talking to him, and silently running through a series of calculations, projecting notes and diagrams in the air before herself with another illusion. (Bella had apparently always been ridiculous.) He was pretty sure that she could just drop the music if she were that distracted. He did stop talking to her though, at least for a few seconds, had to fend off the two new attackers sneaking up on his left, conjure a steel wall to ground a stray Avada (Cassie had dodged it), but Bella wasn't even looking up, and—

Oh! He got it! "Bella, you'd better not be planning on killing everyone here!"

"No, I'm just not letting anyone leave. Unless you interrupt, then I probably will kill everyone here. Don't talk to me, don't touch me, and don't cast anything that directly affects ambient magic. Er...if I pass out, hit me with an ennervate or something." Oh, yes, because casting spells that had a significant probability of knocking you out, in the middle of a fucking battlefield was a great idea... "Also, could you not conjure great fucking blocks of iron in the middle of my casting area?! It's very distracting!"

"Oh, well excuse me for saving your life, you ungrateful little..."

He vanished the damn wall — it had served its purpose already, anyway. Cassie was moving on, and Aurors were starting to break into the clearing — the field of dead and incapacitated rioters, really — that she'd left behind her, regrouping before pushing through the final fifty yards or so between the lot of them and the palings Saoirse was still holding. Which was pretty fucking impressive, really, they had to have been taking a beating throughout the entire bloody fight, Bella had said that Ingham kid knew what he was doing.

Bella closed her eyes and dropped the fucking illusions and started carving runes into the fucking aether, because of course someone had thought it was a good idea to teach fourteen-year-old Bellatrix runic casting. The whole situation was really starting to remind him of chasing Evans around a fucking war zone trying to keep her from getting killed long enough for her to keep everyone else from getting killed, which was just unnerving as hell. (He was starting to get why Bella had wanted to recruit her so badly, probably reminded her of herself as a kid.)

But in the interests of not interrupting a spell which... Okay, she probably hadn't been kidding when she'd said this could kill them all if it went wrong — that was a lot of runes, and even if he wasn't casting anything that directly affected ambient magic he wasn't the only other person casting shite in their general vicinity. So in the absence of anyone to defend against, and the interests of not blowing them all halfway back to London because some blibbering humdinger decided to stop fourteen-year-old Bellatrix from doing a massive rune-cast something — or even just to see if she was okay, sitting on the ground in the middle of the carnage Cassie had left behind, with Sirius hovering over her all awkwardly — he started casting a few palings to deflect the attention of anyone who might notice the runes accumulating in the air around her.

Not that it mattered, he didn't get through more than a couple of them before she finished the spell. For a brief moment, the rune-scheme hung there in the air, shimmering with the not-quite-light of magic, more felt than seen. Bella still had her eyes closed, which was even more unnerving than the realisation that she reminded him of Evans, even if he knew she could probably feel the magic more clearly than she could see the actual runes. Cold, dark power was rolling off her, tracing over them with a thousand invisible fingers — checking her work, apparently, as she cast a couple more runes before looking up at Sirius with a downright cocky smirk. "No one here gets out alive."

He wasn't sure if she'd actually made that the activation key, or if she just manually set the thing off, but Sirius could feel the ambient magic twisting around them as it took effect, a double handful of rune-clusters streaking off in every direction, the others winking out in sequence as they did...whatever they were intended to do. He had a sense that there was something breaking apart all around him, just outside his actual ability to see or feel it, the fucking ground shook — What the hell did you do, Bella?! — and then...everything stopped.

And he did mean everything — even the drunkest of the rioters (not that many this close to the heart of the fighting had made it here while intoxicated) couldn't ignore a fucking earthquake. For the space of half a dozen heartbeats, Sirius was sure they could have heard a pin drop. He broke the silence himself, casting a Reviving Charm on Bella, who had passed out — he wasn't sure whether from the mental strain of the working, or overchannelling, or both. If it was overchannelling, the charm probably hurt like a bitch, but she had said to ennervate her (and it couldn't possibly be worse than the Cruciatus, so).

She gave a whole-body twitch, as though he'd kicked her rather than hit her with a standard counter-charm, sat up blinking and pressing her palms to her temples even as everyone else apparently realised that, whatever had just caused a fucking earthquake, it wasn't actually doing anything to stop them trying to kill each other...and also that the Aurors had managed to close in on them while they'd been busy trying to kill each other.

"Did it work?"

"I don't know, Bella! You never told me what the fuck you were trying to do!"

She smirked. "I hijacked the Death Eaters' anti-disapparation palings and tied them into the foundation enchantments on the stadium. Well, kind of. Fucking thing's huge, they had to integrate it into the local ambient magic currents, so I treated it like a geomantic reservoir, teased out a loop to support them as proper wards. I'm gonna say it worked." She pointed over his shoulder, toward Saoirse, where the Aurors were advancing, trapping the rioters against the wards and the furious Gaelic separatists, and the rioters were...panicking.

Seriously panicking — whoever was organising this little party must have given the order to drop their palings to retreat and realised they couldn't. They were effectively trapped between Síomha Ní Ailbhe and Cassie Lovegood, a position also known as thoroughly fucked. About half of them had their hands up in surrender, and half were trying to make a run for it on foot, or do that fumation thing that so annoyingly worked even when apparation didn't. Those were probably the leaders, too. For about two seconds Sirius thought they might get away — there wasn't a good spell to stop someone in that particular state, or at least they hadn't had one when he'd been in the Corp. Then Bella did...something, another handful of runes flashing into and out of existence. Whatever it was, every single cloud of smoke — including the haze of normal smoke from burning tents and conjured explosions — slammed into the ground, pinned in place by...

"Did you just bring the ward dome down on top of them? Wait, why would they put up palings against fumation?"

"They didn't, moron. I tweaked them. I said no one's leaving, and I meant it. Fuckers."

Well...okay, then. "Am I missing something?"

"Probably," she muttered, pushing herself rather unsteadily to her feet.

"Ha bloody ha. Going to tell me what the fuck is going through that mad little head of yours?"

"I'm pretty sure I don't have to justify myself to you."

"Well, I mean, I can just add this little incident to the list of Shite Bellatrix has Done Because Bellatrix is Insane," which included well over half the things she'd ever done, but. "I'm just saying, getting a bunch of British nationalists and Death Eaters arrested instead of letting them go to fight another day seems a little...nice, for you."

She blinked up at him, an expression of complete incomprehension. "You're kidding, right?"

"Er...no? This is the kind of thing people get in the Order of Merlin for. You know, if you don't get arrested for breaking the fucking World Cup Stadium."

"I didn't break it...though I might not actually be able to un-do it, so I guess that is debatable. But it's not actually hurting the stadium, they could just leave it. And it's not like they'll use it for anything ever again anyway." She didn't sound quite certain of that. "Er... Zee did tell me not to get detained, so...maybe we should go."

Yeah...that was a point. Even if she wasn't charged with anything, the Aurors would probably want her to come in and explain what the fuck she'd just done, which would take ages, especially since they probably had two- or three-hundred captured rioters to process first, at least half of them seriously injured and abandoned or incapacitated over about a quarter square mile, so they'd have to coordinate with St Mungo's, probably... And Sirius didn't particularly fancy sticking around to be questioned either. He shrugged, started leading the way back to their site. "You coming?"

She sighed, casting a longing glance back at the few rioters who were still attempting to resist capture. "Yeah, I guess." Was that— Did Little Bella actually sound disappointed?

"Hey, cheer up, kid, we won."

"Well, yeah, but that means it's over. And this was great, I didn't want it to be over. I mean, I know it couldn't just go on forever, but... Is this what sadness feels like, Siri?" she asked, apparently sincerely, dark eyes wide and solemn, frowning up at him behind spatters of mud and blood and streaks of ash — adorable, in a baby thestral kind of way. "Because I have to say, not a fan."

Sirius snorted, because, well, "That was such a Bellatrix thing to say."

Okay, it may be a bit of a toss-up, whether I like innocent!Draco or baby_thestral!Lyra better...it's easy to forget that she's also still a kid, no matter how intelligent and well educated and magically powerful she might be. —Leigha

[Good luck out there, Comrade.] — For the record, Cassie is familiar enough with muggles to be aware of the leftist use of this word, but this isn't supposed to be a suggestion she's, like, a member of the Communist Party or anything. She's just silly and strange sometimes. —Lysandra

[There were WHITE MAGES at the campsite? WHO?!] — Gin is *so close* to putting it together that Cassie might kinda sorta be one of them... If she weren't so very exhausted at the moment, she'd probably get it.

(And let's be real, it's going to make Gin's whole summer to have Cassie fucking Lovegood address her as a comrade in arms xD)

There is a short list of people who understand Lyra well enough to manage her. Unfortunately for Cissy, she's not on the list...

[Was it wrong of him to think that was kind of hot?] — Sirius, in case you were wondering, this is the reason Black Incest Jokes are a thing.

And yes, Lyra is legitimately confused about getting the leaders of the riot arrested being a nice thing to have done — an excerpt from the conversation she and Sirius have after the battle:

"This isn't the sort of thing where I get into the Order of Merlin, either. This is the sort of thing where I'm informed that I'm a disgrace to Slytherin House and Ciardha refuses to teach me anything for like, two months, because I can't be trusted not to use my powers for evil. Paraphrasing, obviously. Ah...Snape would probably find a way to fob off actually teaching the first-years' lessons on me because I need to learn patience or moderation or something."

"Wow, I didn't think Snivels hated his students that much. Also, aren't you supposed to be a Gryffindor?"

"Oh, right. I am, yes." Sirius snorted. "Well, kind of. I mean, I probably spend more time in the Slytherin Commons, and Dumbles and Minnie seem to think I should be Snape's problem to deal with. Plus if you ask the Gryffindors, they'll say I'm a disgrace to Gryffindor, too. And given the average level of competence displayed by the vast majority of Hogwarts underclassmen, I'm guessing Snape does hate them that much, but that's not the point. The point is, people don't reward me losing my temper and getting carried away and doing stupid, excessively vengeful shite like this, no matter how neat it is. They just don't. Ever. Even if they don't really mind that I got a bunch of people arrested out of spite, I'll probably get in trouble because runic casting is super dangerous and I just started fucking around with it last November, and even if I didn't kill everyone, I could have. The done thing is generally to discourage me from doing things that even have the potential for a body count."

Okay, okay, I'll stop now. —Leigha