"Do we know what's going to happen next?"

Síomha, reclining lazily in her armchair, let out an irritated huff. "The D.L.E. has barely even started in on their investigation yet. They might come out with actual useful intelligence on the ringleaders and what they were trying to accomplish, but I honestly doubt it — this is the Ministry we're talking about."

Michael couldn't quite hold in a smirk at her tone, covering it with his glass. (It wouldn't do for her to think he was mocking her...too much, anyway.) He'd spoken with Síomha enough by now to learn she had a very low opinion of the British Ministry. Most of Saoirse did, he'd found, and his own impression was much the same. He hadn't had any reason to be charitable to begin with, and what he'd learned over the last few months, the events surrounding the World Cup, all of it had just made him more and more skeptical.

It was the day after the World Cup, the sky out the window just now darkening with true night, not yet twenty-four hours since the riot had started. Once things had calmed down enough for Saoirse to extract them safely, Michael and his people had all been evacuated to a little magical village. Well, not a village exactly, but the Ailbhe...clan compound? Was that what they called it? (He was still a little behind on this magical culture stuff, some of it was so very foreign.) It looked like a village, little wood houses spotted with colourful banners and sprawling vines and bushes, but only Síomha's extended family lived there, mages named Ailbhe by the dozens.

Not that he'd actually seen many — it'd been the middle of the night by then, the narrow dirt streets had been completely empty, the place still and quiet. Síomha had led them to one of the houses, apparently her own — a tiny thing, little more than a kitchen and a library/office and a single bedroom — where she'd squirreled them away for the night. Ciarán and Muirín were left behind to watch over them, while Fionn, Clíodhna, and Síomha herself dealt with the immediate aftermath.

Breandán had been annoyed about being "detained" by their magical allies overnight, but Ciarán had argued they were concerned about follow-up strikes, it was better they stayed somewhere the British nationalists wouldn't be able to find them. (And even if they did, the village was apparently built for a siege, and all the clan's children were scattered about the place, anyone would have to be completely insane to attack them here.) An eminently reasonable concern, Michael thought, given that the rioters had been at least partially focused on their delegation, and their non-magical bodyguards apparently agreed — after a short whispered debate, Breandán and James had both consented to staying the night, demanding the mages conjure up beds so the civilians could get some sleep.

Alex had conked out pretty much instantly, but Michael hadn't managed to get much rest at all. For one thing, he'd been in Síomha's house, had been distracted with the urge to snoop around. (Not that he had, not with Muirín sitting there giving him a knowing, amused sort of look whenever his eyes started wandering.) And, well, he had still been a bit...keyed up. He had essentially just come out of a magical fucking warzone, it had been...

Terrifying. It had been terrifying. He was all too aware of the fact that, if Síomha and her people weren't very good at what they did, he'd almost certainly be dead right now, murdered by drunk magic Nazis.

It wasn't a relaxing thought, to put it mildly.

But if he was tired, Síomha looked bloody exhausted, her face seemed longer and paler than usual. She clearly hadn't gotten a shower yet — which was a bit silly, she could have cleaned up before meeting up with him back at his flat, but fine — her disheveled black hair missing its usual silky sheen, a couple faded smears of ash still crossing her cheeks, her forehead, flecks of blood still visible around the fingernails of her left hand. She hadn't changed either, still in their uniform — torn in a couple places, still spotted with blood and ash, thin streaks of it running down from a slash above her right hip, and her cloak was missing entirely, she hadn't been wearing it when the fight started and hadn't managed to recover it.

Michael remembered that one injury she'd gotten very clearly: Síomha had shoved him out of the way of one of the first curses, mostly dodging it herself but still getting clipped as it passed. (It was a very strange thought, that she'd figuratively taken a bullet for him, he wasn't certain how to feel about that.) The person who'd fired it was in much worse shape than she was. In fact, Michael suspected he was quite dead. Most of the first wave of attackers — they'd had very little warning anything was wrong before curses started flying — had been cut down by Síomha and company, covering Michael's people while Fionn scrambled to put up wards. He hadn't been able to see what was going on very well, shielded as he was by Saoirse and his own bodyguards, but he was all but certain Síomha had killed at least four people in those first twenty seconds. And she'd put them down hard.

Not that Michael minded so much, of course — they had been magic Nazis trying to kill him personally. It was just sort of intimidating, the very violent reminder that the exhausted young woman sitting in his home across from him had absurd magical powers, and was fully capable of killing him with a wave of her hand if she wanted to.

(But, well, she had figuratively taken a bullet for him, so.)

"Although they won't be able to just sweep it under the rug this time, at least," Síomha was saying.

Michael shot her a skeptical frown. "Sure about that? I thought the Ministry was practised in that by now."

"Oh, that's what they'd normally do, certainly." Síomha managed a smile, her clear exhaustion — the poor woman had probably been awake since six in the morning yesterday — forcing the expression thin and weak. "But you forget, Michael: this was an international event."

It only took him a second to put together what she was saying. "You mean, foreigners were killed."

"We don't have a full casualty count yet — people are still being treated, and they've hardly started picking through the scene. But, so far, they've confirmed the deaths of eighteen Hollanders, twenty-six Danes, eight Saxons, twelve Frenchmen, and one or two here and there from various other countries. The bulk of the dead and injured are Brits and Gaels, of course, but..."

"...that foreigners were killed means the Ministry can't just do nothing, right."

Síomha nodded. "The I.C.W. has already moved to send observers, both for the investigation itself and the legal proceedings afterward. The Ministry can't pull their usual shite, not while the international community is watching."

Letting out a low hum, Michael took a slow sip from his glass. "I don't suppose that's enough to fuck over the magic Nazis permanently."

Another weak smile flickered at Síomha's lips — she found his use of the term magic Nazi amusing, he'd noticed. "Maybe, maybe not. They were already, er, partially fucked. It wasn't just low-level Death Eaters or supporters, there were people from nobles families with the Allied Dark there too — Lord Nott is among the dead, and Lord Malfoy himself was captured—" Michael grinned, served that bastard right. "—so they would have been in a tight spot even without the I.C.W. looking over the Wizengamot's shoulders. But, I don't know. There were Ars Brittania supporters on the ground, but it looks like they were smart enough to not have anybody actually important running around cursing people like lunatics. And, well, it'd be foolish to assume the Allied Dark is actually down for the count — Narcissa Malfoy wasn't implicated, and I wouldn't put it past that woman to come up with something absurd and completely unexpected to get her people out of trouble. It could go either way, at the moment."

"Mm." Michael wasn't sure what to think about Narcissa Malfoy. She was... Well, terms and concepts weren't directly comparable between their politics, but as he understood it she was essentially the head of the magic Nazi party, and, in the aftermath of their Hitler-analogous leader being killed over a decade ago now, had been dragging her party toward a more respectable position. While she had gotten into a coalition with the factions Michael loosely translated to himself as Christian democrats and (moderate) democratic socialists — though, like calling the Death Eaters Nazis, the comparisons weren't perfect, just a convenience for him to process the political dynamics going on — Fionn had been very clear that absolutely nobody thought this reflected any legitimate shift in her principles, that she was just finding a way to preserve some degree of the influence her people had on the levers of power.

Though, she hadn't actually been a Death Eater herself, just married to one — and had largely been raised by one of their primary leaders, though she'd since essentially disowned Lestrange — so nobody was entirely sure how much she actually believed all that mad cultish genocidal shite to begin with, but it was obvious even to Michael that she was moderating herself mostly out of political self-interest. She'd been perfectly polite to him, when they'd met at the game, but it'd really only seemed like it standing next to Fudge and her (magic Nazi) husband — comparing Narcissa Malfoy against people like Fionn and the Blacks was as night to day.

Still a racist, he thought, just of a more civil breed.

And, well, Malfoy's efforts to portray the Allied Dark as reformed and perfectly reasonable now had been rather undercut by her people starting race riots and generally coming off like fucking Brownshirts. So. Magic Nazi apologist, at the very least. And, unfortunately, one with undeniable political acumen — if nothing else, that she still had any influence at all after being at the very least closely associated with genocidal insurrectionists during that whole civil war thing proved that well enough.

Honestly, between the Malfoys, Michael thought Narcissa might be the bigger threat. If only because Lucius was a shite liar.

Also, he was sort of in gaol at the moment — the thought put another smile on Michael's lips.

"At least something good is coming out of this nonsense."

Michael blinked. "Ah, what?"

With a somewhat reluctant smile on her face, Síomha said, "You said it at our first meeting — visibly associating with legitimate figures can only be good for Saoirse. We're already gotten an influx of new volunteers coming in, and the Ministry was forced to deal with us as an organisation with some influence. They hate it, of course, but they didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter, since we were there in an official capacity. There is protocol where groups of mages protecting muggle political leaders are concerned, it's not important."

Actually, he had a feeling it was important. If Michael understood correctly, Síomha was implying the Ministry was dealing with Saoirse as though they were officially associated with the Republic — sort of like Irish Black Cloaks, in a sense — which was not at all what they'd agreed to. But...he didn't think it really made that much of a difference, probably wasn't worth saying anything.

Besides, he was tinkering with an idea to enter into a formal alliance with the Irish nationalists on the magical side anyway, or at least take a more active role looking after the interests of their own 'muggleborns'. If the Ministry just decided such an alliance already existed on their own, he didn't have to convince the President to sign off on it.

"And, well, Dumbledore is finished."

"What does Dumbledore have to do with anything?"

"The I.C.W..." Síomha hesitated, eyes sliding away from his. "Britain has a terrible reputation in most of the rest of Europe, to put it bluntly." Yes, he had noticed that. That's just what happened when a country had genocidal maniacs strutting about out in the open. "Dumbledore provided assurances our foreign guests would be safe here — I'm told there were weeks of schmoozing and flattering involved in even convincing the international community to let Britain host the Cup in the first place."

Michael almost had sympathy for Dumbledore — he hated the schmoozing and flattery that went hand-in-hand with national-level politics, and his own impression of Dumbledore had him convinced he felt much the same. But he knew too much about Dumbledore's record to actually be bothered that much. Taking another sip of his whiskey, he even chuckled at the Chief Warlock's misfortune. "I'm guessing that's not gonna turn out too well for him, then."

"Not exactly, no. Apparently, the I.C.W. has already threatened to put the Triwizard Tournament on hold, maybe relocate to one of the other schools — Beauxbatons and Durmstrang have both said they'd be willing to host it instead, even on such short notice, if Britain really can't get their act together. Fionn tells me that's unlikely, they're probably just looking to extract a few more concessions. There are active trade disputes right now with Holland and Sicily, so, we'll see.

"And, well, I doubt he'll still be Chief Warlock by the end of October." At Michael's raised eyebrow, Síomha shrugged. "You remember the vote last month, where the Light flipped on Dumbledore? Well, Fionn says they think there's a split in the Allied Dark, that half of them are working with Ars Brittania to, with the Light, force their own nominee to replace Dumbledore."

"Wait, aren't Ars Brittania Light?" Michael knew almost nothing about them, they were small enough of a faction they'd barely come up. Not that he understood the Light well at all, their statements and ideology seemed so confusing and contradictory to him.

Síomha shrugged again. "Ars Brittania and the Allied Dark have more in common than a lot of people think. But anyway, Bríd stopped by while Fionn and I were still stuck with the Aurors, and she thinks, with the Allied Dark crippled in the aftermath of the riot, they have a window to expel Dumbledore and get in a new, less obstructive Chief Warlock before their opposition can recover. It'll be a narrow margin, but she's confident they can pull it off."

Ah, yes, Bríd Ingham. Michael had never actually met her, only heard Fionn speak of her now and again — they were cousins, and not too far apart in age. Most of what they'd talked about had absolutely nothing to do with her work in the Wizengamot. See, Michael was under the impression the Inghams (and a lot of Irish mages, actually) worshipped the goddess Bríd — the same one Saint Brigid certainly wasn't based on even a little bit, he assumed — and wasn't that sort of disrespectful? It'd be like a Christian naming their kids Yahweh or some shite, it was bloody weird.

Turned out, according to Fionn, his cousin had been named in honour of Bríd because — he explained, completely straight-faced, with no hint of awkwardness or shame — his aunt and uncle had been having difficulty conceiving, so, on Imbolc (Saint Brigid's feast day, Michael noticed), they'd prayed to the goddess before conducting a sex ritual intended to get her to help them have a child, and his cousin Bríd had been born nine months later. Fionn explained — completely straight-faced, with no hint of awkwardness or shame — that Bríd (the goddess) did things like that sometimes, because she was big on family and children and all that. Which...apparently meant sex rituals...because obviously? (It was obvious to Fionn, anyway, he didn't seem to understand Michael's confusion at all.)

And Michael could apparently take Fionn's word on this, because it turned out he just so happened to be a priest of Bríd. And, apparently, the goddess actually existed in some form, because she gave Fionn visions, and even visited him in his dreams. But, Michael wasn't supposed to tell anyone this, because, apparently, under British law this meant Fionn was a clear and present danger and deserved a summary death sentence. Bríd's and the Morrígan's priesthoods were, apparently, one of the firmest bastions of support for independence, partially motivated by a desire to get out from under the Wizengamot so they could openly practise their religion without threat of being murdered by the state.

Mages sometimes, honestly...

"Sure, then. If I'm following this, the Ministry will be scrambling to deal with the fallout from the riot — which they can't just sweep under the rug, because they have all of Europe breathing down their necks — and the Wizengamot will be bloody chaos, because one of the major parties is falling apart before our eyes and the presiding officer is about to be replaced, and, in all of this, the Irish came off looking like angels, partially just winning the Cup quick and easy, partially you and yours making out like big damn heroes."

A wary sort of smile twitched at Síomha's lips, amused but not quite certain she should be. "That about sums it up, yes."

"Right." So...aside from the part where he'd nearly been killed by magic Nazis, Michael couldn't have hoped for anything better in this whole mess. Okay then. He turned to Alex, sitting obediently silent on the sofa next to him. "So, we never did get to talk about what you were working on."

Alex straightened in his seat somewhat, setting his own drink aside to address Michael properly — silly boy could be a bit finicky about his manners sometimes. "Yes, well. After asking around a bit, I do recommend we reach out to Tricia Mullet."

Síomha frowned. "What for? She's very good, but she's still just a quidditch player."

Sometimes, Michael was reminded that, for all that Síomha was in the leadership council of her little movement, she was something of an amateur when it came to this sort of politics. Tricia Mullet might just be an athlete, but she was now a very famous athlete — in fact, she was the favourite to win an...MVP poll, he guessed (they didn't call it that, but that's what it was). For all their protests to the contrary, mages truly weren't that different from their muggle cousins, especially on a psychological level. They were vulnerable to the same biases and influences. Tricia Mullet was, essentially, a celebrity. An Irish 'muggleborn' celebrity.

Convincing Tricia Mullet to publicly express support for them and their interests wouldn't be a total victory, but it would be a minor one. And every little bit counted.

There was no point going over that now, though, Síomha wasn't his bloody intern. "Sure, we'll talk over how to go about that later." Probably arrange a (secret) ceremony for the team with the President, pull Mullet (and maybe Troy and Ryan) away for a bit... Or, could just borrow an owl to send a letter directly and invite her to Iveagh House... Hmm...

"And I felt out the Blacks, and the Potter kid."

"Did you, now." Michael hadn't explicitly asked Alex to do that, but he wasn't surprised he had — Alex had always been a slippery little shite, it was a given by this point. "What do you think?"

Alex shrugged. "The Blacks, you'd be an idiot to trust them — they're shit-starters, both of them. I'm convinced they only come off friendly-like because they know it'll anger their peers, and might shake things up a bit. We can only count on them until we start boring them."

"The little one, definitely," Síomha said, with a blank sort of frown. "Fionn thinks she's a priestess of a trickster god."

Jesus Christ, all this pagan shite, Michael did not have the patience for this nonsense. "And what does that mean, exactly?"

"What Alex said — Lyra Black will have your back as long as she thinks you're the most entertaining option. Entertaining here defined as whatever fucks shite up for the people in charge and makes the largest mess." Síomha shrugged. "From what I understand, Sirius is somewhat more principled...but only somewhat. I wouldn't be surprised if part of the reason he was so friendly to start with was just for fun, but once you form a relationship, I expect he'll stick to it."

"Even under threat of censure from his peers?"

Síomha's lips twisted into a dark, vicious smirk. "He's a Black, Michael. They live for the censure of their peers. Pick up a history book sometime, it's actually pretty funny."

...So, what she was saying was, Sirius Black came from a long tradition of class traitors. Alright, then. Michael could work with that. "Okay, we'll hang on to Sirius as a contact. What about Potter? This is Harry Potter, right? The hell is with that Boy Who Lived thing, anyway?"

"Don't worry about that," Síomha said, sounding somewhat exasperated. "It's Light propaganda, to do with the events at the end of the war a decade ago. It's all nonsense."

Lifting one shoulder in a shrug, Alex drawled, "Yes, well, I could have told you that. All the stories make him out like some kind of wizard Jesus or some shite, but seemed just a normal kid to me. A bit of a sport nut, really. I wheedled at him a little bit, but, far as I can tell, he's actually surprisingly isolated. I mean, you would think, with what people say, that he has a close relationship with Dumbledore, maybe some of the Lords in the Light, but it doesn't seem so. His closest ties seem to be with the Blacks. He had a row with Dumbledore during the match, in fact, though he wouldn't say what it was about. No love lost there, sure. My point is, for all his notoriety, he appears to be...unattached."

"Wait." Michael felt a grin pulling at his face, the implications of what Alex was hinting at just, just— "You're telling me Harry bloody Potter is low-hanging fruit? Nobody's claimed him yet, we can just walk up and..."

"Well, the Blacks have claimed him, of course — Sirius is his godfather, apparently, he lives with them now. But he's not committed, politically." Alex shrugged again. "Which isn't unusual, since he is only fourteen, but he's also a bloody noble lord. In their culture, fourteen-year-old lords are expected to have opinions about politics. From the way the kid was talking, I didn't get the feeling anyone's really been working on him yet. He came off pretty ignorant, actually."



"Okay, then." Michael threw back the rest of his whiskey, slamming the glass down on the coffee table. "Get some rest, you two. Hallowe'en is going to be very interesting, and we have a lot of work to get done before we even step foot in Hogwarts."

The exhausted, wary look on Síomha's face almost sent Michael into a fit of giggles.

"Do you know why you're here, Mister Weasley?" Amelia Bones asked him, sounding every bit as exhausted as she looked. He'd bet a whole galleon that she was standing on the other side of the table he'd been seated at because if she sat down she'd fall asleep. Coffee and wit-sharpening potions could only do so much, and it had only been three days since the World Cup riot — he'd be surprised if she'd seen her bed since then.

Given that this was probably the earliest opportunity she'd had to speak to him; that he was sitting in a meeting room in the depths of the DLE, plastered with more anti-surveillance wards than the Gringotts Execution Room; and that she was accompanied by an Unspeakable, the leader of the team of wardcrafters he, Fionn, and Black had run off in order to expand the top box, and a sharply dressed, middle-aged witch who was presumably his boss, Bill could make a few guesses.

It probably wasn't about the little ritual he'd done asking Fionn's goddess to keep an eye on Gin, which shouldn't have left any significant traces, or the definitely-legal-in-Egypt-sorry-didn't-realise-it-wouldn't-be-here tracking spell he'd used to find her when the dust finally settled. And he knew he hadn't killed anyone who wasn't wearing a Death Eater's mask or throwing around Unforgivables. It might be about his participation in the impromptu enlarging of the box, but that had averted at least two international incidents, hadn't harmed anyone, and he'd stuck around after everyone else cleared out to reverse it — he couldn't see any reason for anyone to give a single official shite about it.

He wasn't the one who'd overwhelmed the nine mages holding the Death Eaters' (and apparently Ars Brittania's) palings in place, only to tie them into the wards on the stadium so thoroughly, rumour had it, that no one had any idea how they were going to reverse it. If he had to guess, he'd say they thought he had, which was flattering, or (more likely) had asked the goblins for a name to give them a cursebreaker's perspective on what had happened there, which was also kind of flattering, though not quite as much as it would be if they'd thought he was responsible. Being one of the more...personable cursebreakers on payroll (and one of the more presentable, and thus generally one of the least offensive to the average bureaucrat), he was tapped semi-regularly to deal with that sort of request for cooperation, and more often to clarify issues with dig permits, liaise with local governments, and so on.

It really hadn't taken very long at all for him to figure out that the first rule of a successful negotiation was to volunteer absolutely nothing, however, so he kept that guess to himself. "No idea, Madam Bones."

A crystal he hadn't noticed the Unspeakable holding turned red. Some kind of enchantment to determine whether he was telling the truth? Probably. Damn it.

The wardcrafter Black had never properly introduced him to slammed a hand on the table in front of him. "Cut the dragonshite, Weasley!"

He raised an eyebrow at the older man, calmly stretching his legs out under the table, slouching into a deliberately unintimidated posture. It wasn't as though the Ministry man was likely to challenge Bill to an honour duel or try to poison him for not giving a fuck about his posturing. (Both of those had happened within the first three months of his employment with Gringotts.) "You seem to have the advantage of me, Mister...?"

"Forgive me, Mister Weasley. This is Director Warner, from the Department of Public Works, and Wilbur Morgan, one of our senior wardcrafters." Bones didn't introduce herself — they'd met before, several times, when he'd been visiting his father at his office — and obviously Unspeakables required no introduction. "Now, let's try this again. Do you know why you are here, Mister Weasley?"

Well, fine. "No, I don't know why I'm here. I can guess that it has something to do with the hijacking of the palings set up by the instigators of the riot, but I had absolutely nothing to do with that. I have no idea why you're talking to me, and not any of the other dozens of wardcrafters and cursebreakers who had to have been at the Cup. I haven't even had a chance to get back out there and see what happened — Public Works has had the whole site cordoned off since the Aurors cleared out." Which all four of the other mages in this room should know.

The crystal in the Unspeakable's hand glowed a soft bluish white. The Unspeakable nodded to the Director of Law Enforcement in response to some unasked question.

"Very good, Mister Weasley. We are speaking to you on Mister Morgan's recommendation. What do you make of this?" She slid a scroll across the table to him.

"What, you asked if he knew anyone who might be responsible for some bloody mad cursebreaking shite, and he gave you my name?" he complained, unrolling the thing. It appeared to be an analysis of whatever had been done to the stadium, simplified slightly to be comprehensible to a lay-person, which only made it clearer that... "Mate, I'm good, but I'm not insane," he informed Morgan. No more than the average cursebreaker, at least — this was in an entirely different league. "I could do this, if I had a team of five and three hours to set up. I mean, it's just a Hostile Takeover—" A fairly standard cursebreaking maneuver, technically a counter-defensive battle magic tactic originally developed back in the Thirties and Forties to combat the Gemeenschoppists' absurd floating wards, later co-opted for use by cursebreakers attached to law enforcement. "—but the scale...

"The power you'd need to channel... You could tap directly into a ley line, I guess, but that would burn out any single mage who tried it before they got halfway through something like this. Okay, I guess maybe Dumbledore might be able to pull it off, but I think I'd know if there were any sorcerers around practicing cursebreaking, or... I don't know, you might be able to use runic casting to get around that, but you'd still have to be completely mad to— Look, these elements—" He pointed out a few relevant sections of the analysis. "—they'd all have to be enacted simultaneously...and this one. And this one. Which, for the count, means you'd have to be able to focus on at least five different things simultaneously.

"And this—" Somehow, the second section of the report was even more absurd than the first. "That's geomancy. They treated the stadium like a bloody reservoir! Which is brilliant, but also insane—" Though it did explain the small earthquake that had struck about twenty minutes before the last of the rioters surrendered — a sufficiently rapid redistribution of energy as the magical currents in the area adjusted to the new path they'd been forced into could easily cause such a thing. But, "—you don't do geomancy off the cuff, you just don't!" One of the main reasons being, if the 'reservoir' had been too heavily disturbed, that small earthquake might have ended up being large enough to fucking level the stadium, especially since it didn't have appropriate wards integrated into the foundations to prevent that sort of thing — Black had mentioned that, when they'd...



Surely not— She couldn't have, that was absurd. Even for a fourteen-year-old version of the Blackheart who'd gotten lost between universes experimenting with time travel. Even if she had been trained by Ciardha fucking Monroe. There were some pretty absurd cursebreaking feats described in Monroe's fictionalised adventure stories — key word fictionalised meaning more impressive than anything that happened in real life — and not one of them was this insane. Bellatrix had, once, been both brilliant and insane, but no one had ever called her suicidal.

If Lyra had done this, it was beyond reckless...

"Mister Weasley?" Warner prompted him.

"Wha— Oh, sorry, um. You can't do something like this without taking at least a few hours to analyse the magical environment, first. No one could." But Black had had enough time to do so, the night before the match. She'd admitted as much when she'd insisted that the only reasonable approach to the issue of enlarging the box was to allow her to do the bulla — neither he nor Fionn had had time to get a close enough look to pick the wards and the structural enchantments apart by that particular method, but she had...and obviously she hadn't simply been blowing smoke, since she had pulled it off, but...

"And do you have any idea who might have had both opportunity and means to do so?"

"No," he said firmly.

That bloody crystal went red again.

"Mister Weasley. William. I do not have the patience for games today," Madam Bones snapped.

"Why?" Bones gave him one of the flattest, most exhausted, stop dicking me around looks he'd ever seen. "Not why don't you— Why do you want to know who did it?"

It was Director Warner who answered. "Personally, I'd just like a bloody explanation of how this came to be. We need to ensure that there are no instabilities remaining which might interfere with our muggle-aversion enchantments. Amelia, on the other hand..."

"Look, William," Bones muttered, finally letting herself collapse into the only unoccupied chair in the room, fingers rubbing at her temples. "Whoever it was, they're not in trouble."

"Whoever it was, they could have killed everyone for half a mile around, and that's just if the runic casting went wrong!"

"Shut up, Morgan," Bones snapped.

He wasn't wrong, though. Bill was feeling very lucky to be breathing, at the moment — runecast spells were more difficult to cast the more complex they were, and the complexity of the spell which had to have been behind this... A single moment's slip in concentration on her part, and he very well might be dead right now.

"They've provided a valuable service to the people of Magical Britain in enabling the apprehension of dozens of dangerous criminals. I'd pat them on the back and give them a fucking medal if I wasn't up to my eyeballs in paperwork, with about five times more captives than holding cells, and that's not including the ones who tried to use fumation to escape — they're still stuck in the wards in smoke form. And I need them out. So, who the hell is behind this mess?"

Bill snorted. He couldn't help it. The idea that there were still Death Eaters trapped out there as little clouds of smoke, pinned to the ground... How had she done that, anyway? There wasn't a good spell to block fumation, so far as he knew. It was a transformation one had to do some sort of metamorphic ritual to master, not a cross-planar effect like apparation or shadow-walking, so anti-transport wards had no effect on it whatsoever. His eyes skimmed over the report, looking for the relevant—

"Oh," he said, losing his battle not to laugh. "Oh, that is too good. An air filtering charm? That's all it takes to stop those bastards?"

"Yes, yes, we all feel appropriately shown up by a simple solution which seems obvious now that it's been pointed out," Bones said, scathingly. Probably kicking herself over the DLE not figuring this out years ago. Like, at any point during the War. "As I understand it, the problem is this effect is worked into the fabric of the new wards too thoroughly to attack independently, and something about the nature of the way they're tied to the stadium makes them impossible to crack without taking the entire thing apart."

Which, given how bloody enormous the Stadium was, and how it had been integrated into the magical currents of the area, was, for all practical purposes, impossible to do, at least in any reasonable span of time. Right. "And you swear you're not going to have them arrested, or something?"

"William, I swear on the souls of my ancestors that I will not pursue any sort of punitive justice for damage to public property or reckless endangerment."

Oh, at least she realised how stupidly dangerous this little trick had been, even if she didn't much seem to care. Though, of course, she didn't realise that it had most likely been carried out by a mad schoolgirl, in the middle of a fucking battlefield. (He'd spoken to Fionn, Black had definitely been out in the fighting, not doing this shite from the relative safety and security of her tent, or anywhere else she was unlikely to be distracted by a stray curse at any fucking point in the casting of what had to have been dozens, if not hundreds of runes.) That might make a difference, just a bit.

"Fuck, I'll advocate for whoever is responsible to be inducted into the fucking Order of Merlin if they just tell me how to release those bloody smoke clouds so I can go home! Eat a hot meal. Sleep in my own bed. Assure my niece I haven't died under an avalanche of bloody parchment." Bones's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I like you, William, but this is the last time I'm going to ask — and again, I swear upon the souls of my ancestors — if you don't tell me the truth, I'm going to have you taken into custody for obstruction of justice. Who is responsible for this mess? Your best guess."

"Er...well, this is going to sound insane, you realise." Really, it sounded insane to say that any single mage could possibly be behind the work in front of him, but if anyone could...

"Humour me."

He sighed, knowing even as he said it how mad it sounded. Hopefully she wouldn't hold it against him. (He really didn't want even a fourteen-year-old version of the Blackheart to have it out for him, especially if she could pull shite like this out of her arse on the fly.) But Bones had sworn that she wouldn't be punished, so... "Lyra Black."

"Lyra—" Bones frowned at him, as though she thought he was having her on, despite the Unspeakable's crystal growing blue. "You're right, that is insane. Lyra Black is fourteen years old. She's in my niece's class at Hogwarts. And the Blacks are on holiday at an undisclosed location, t takes three days to get a response from them by owl."

So...her objection wasn't really that it was a completely absurd suggestion, but that it would be inconvenient if Lyra Black was responsible for her trapped smoke-men? "You asked for my best guess, she's it. Though, have you tried Gamp's Elixir?" That did tend to reverse even the most drastic transfiguration and metamorphic mistakes. "This charm only affects airborne particles up to a couple of points in diameter. Once they revert to human form, they should be able to just walk away. Or, you know, be stunned and arrested."

"They're smoke, smartarse," Morgan snapped, obviously annoyed to have been shut down by Bones a moment ago. "Can't exactly swallow a bloody potion, can they."

"Severus Snape came up with an atomised version a couple of years ago to deal with a petrified ghost." A ghost which Gin had been immediately responsible for petrifying (along with Justin Finch-Fletchley) — her lingering guilt over the whole matter was the only reason Bill knew anything about it. "I don't see why it wouldn't work on smoke clouds. It's something to try, at least."

"Ponder, do you know anything about this?"

The Unspeakable shook his head — or hers, those cowls they wore were enchanted to entirely disguise their faces and voices when they were on official business, and this one wasn't especially short or tall. "I'll put in a request to Archives, see what they can scrape up."

"Oh, for fuck's sa— Floo Snape directly. Tell him that if he won't share his method, he will provide a sample sufficient to retrieve our smoky friends, or he will find himself in the company of dementors for the next ten days for contempt. I'll be sure to let him out just in time to go back to dealing with his students."

"You are a cruel woman, Amelia Bones," the Unspeakable noted, any amusement in their tone flattened by the enchanted hood.


"Ah...can I go?"

Bones nodded. "Don't leave the country until you get notice from my office that we've settled the matter to our satisfaction. Shouldn't be more than a few days. Talk to my secretary if you need documentation of your status as a person of interest to secure a leave of absence from the bank."

Pity he couldn't get a note from the DLE to secure a leave of absence from his parents' house. His mum had gone positively clingy in the wake of the riot, and he was still officially on holiday until September. "Shouldn't be a problem. I'll be at the Burrow until the end of the month."

Bones nodded again, waving him toward the door in perfunctory dismissal, already addressing another irritated outburst from Morgan.

Right, that was good enough for Bill. He fled, offering Warner the briefest possible nod of farewell. The smirk she gave him nodding back said that she too would like to be as far as possible from the exhausted, short-tempered Director of Law Enforcement, but in the meanwhile, she'd settle for letting her wardcrafter feed himself to the furious badger in her stead, and good on Bill for getting the fuck out of there.

(It was possible he was reading into it a bit.)

[Christian democrats and (moderate) democratic socialists] — Christian democracy refers to a spectrum of political ideology originating in 19th century Europe, characterised mostly by a somewhat conservative stance and centrist economics, i.e. so-called "traditional values" combined with support for a more compassionate capitalism (the formal term is "social market", basically a good welfare state). Used to see a lot of this among Catholics in the US, but not so much anymore, and most of the European Christian democratic parties have drifted right over the last few decades (like pretty much everyone else). Michael uses the term in reference to Ars Publica, which is...sort of applicable. Kind of.

Democratic socialism is...well, sort of, about as far right as you can get and still be socialist? (People like Sanders and AOC aren't even leftist and barely count as socialists, but don't even get me started.) It's something of an umbrella term, and exactly what it means depends on who you ask, but they tend to be very libertarian when it comes to social/cultural stuff, generally anti-statist (especially where police power is concerned, they're involved in a lot of the police accountability protests over here), and have a mildly post-capitalist but still rather moderate take on the economy. Usually, advocating the greater democratisation of the economy through things like worker co-ops, while leaving the underlying market dynamics mostly in place (though some are anti-market, it depends). Michael is referring to Common Fate this time, which is...well, not a bad comparison, given the spectrum of political thought in magical Britain, though perhaps not quite centrist-y enough.

[Morrígan] — This hasn't been explained yet, but, by the way? There are actually two beings called Morrígan. One is a goddess of fate and war and death (very Gaelic, like Bríd doesn't really fit in the Powers thing), and the other is a metamorph/legilimens kind-of-not-really Dark Lady, also called the Queen of Nightmares (direct translation of "Morrígan"), quite possibly the oldest living person in the world. (Old enough the goddess originally developed as an echo of her, it's complicated.) When people use Morrígan as an epithet, they usually mean the former; Severus's joke over the summer about Harry being too childish and too male to be the Morrígan was in reference to the latter. —Lysandra

A point is an archaic unit of measurement equal to 1/12 mm. The shite you learn, writing fanfic... (Also, atomised is definitely a word.) —Leigha

Mocking her girlfriend, so mean. —Lysandra

Hey, how often do I actually know a word that you don't? Approximately never.

The Department of Public Works is the Department directly responsible for big projects like the World Cup Stadium, maintaining the wards on public spaces like the Ministry and Diagon Alley, etc. Basically the Ministry's wardcrafting and enchanting department.

The Gringotts Execution Room is used for reading wills, not killing people. Not that most people who haven't had occasion to use it know that...

...So, this is a thing we're doing, now, throwing in short 1-2 scene interludes when we don't have an actual chapter ready for publication, yet. I may end up regretting this, but if there's anything anyone particularly wants to see, I'm willing to take suggestions under consideration. No promises that I'll actually write said scene, or that it would be published any time soon (hopefully we won't be delaying on actual chapters that often), but I'll think about it. —Leigha