Disclaimer- As always, not mine, except those you don't recognize

A/N- Couldn't resist stopping there. I swear- there will be more! I just have no idea what it is yet. This will most likely stick to three parts, and you know what? I turn 17 in...17 minutes! bwhahaha ON WITH IT! Oh and- I've decided I like reviews, so R&R!!! It makes me write more. =)

-2 days later-

Mary sat back and wiped the sweat off her forehead ion frustration. Will's birthday was in two days, and she still didn't really know how the key worked. She'd created it and the Cave said it was all done properly. But as for using it, all she could find out was that 'it requires the deep concentration you use here'. Hopefully Will could understand it, the Cave wouldn't tell her much else. All she had left to do was wrap it…

~*~

Will lay stretched out on his bed the next day, Pantalaimon curled up on his chest. Will hadn't been this content in over two years. Now he had Pan AND a friend he could trust. That had made a world of difference. The only thing that could make it perfect would be Lyra herself, but at least he had a part of her. If only a small part.

Just then- the doorbell rang.

Will raced downstairs with Pan not far behind; hoping it would be Nick. It was Monday afternoon and school had gone amazingly well. He was no longer just the outcast. When he'd come back to his world he'd changed schools and didn't know anyone, nonetheless trust them. He'd slowly become acquainted with his classmates, but that was difficult due to the fact he really didn't want to talk much about himself. Today had been his first day at school with a real FRIEND. And Pan stayed in a tree outside most of the day. That was as perfect as anything could get.

However, the man at the door was NOT Nick, but a deliveryman with a package for him. Will quickly signed the clipboard he was given and turned to the table to open the brown paper wrapping. Inside it was wrapped again in bright birthday paper. Will had actually forgotten his birthday was tomorrow. The box wasn't large, about the same size as a shoebox, and upon unwrapping the birthday paper, he realized it was indeed- a shoebox. Will sat and stared at the shoebox on the table for a moment before lifting off the lid to discover a small, old-fashioned key. It was brass with three prongs, and the end was fashioned into an hourglass within a Celtic knot. The only other thing in the box was a small piece of paper with a 5-word message on it.

'Use it like the knife.'

Will's Jaw dropped as he lifted the key to the light for a closer inspection.

~*~

Mary stood quietly in the doorway to the basement as Will opened his gift. She smiled to herself, pleased with her work.

"Do you like it?" She asked.

Will, startled, spun around and noticed her there for the first time. "Where did it come from?" He asked, extremely confused.

"I've spent the last four months creating it with the help of the cave. I hope you at least can figure out how to work it." Mary smiled. "Sit down, let me tell you a bit about how it works- in theory at least."

Will complied and Pan climbed up on the table next to him.

"Basically," Mary began, "It unlocks a doorway between two worlds, that's why it's a key. Don't worry, I've checked every negative possibility I can think of, it won't release dust. I have the Cave's word on that. Nor will it create a specter."

"So what's the drawback to it? I know there has to be one." Will stated, not willing to believe that there could be such possibility for fear of his hope being crushed like someone stepping on a coke can.

"Only that it's extremely difficult to work." Mary stated with a sigh. "From what I can gather, part of the person using the knife has to be on the other side of the doorway. Directly on the other side."

"How is that possible!?" Will exclaimed in dismay.

"Kirjava's in Lyra's world." Mary said smiling. "Evidently fate was on your side…for once." She laughed softly. After all the trouble 'fate' had given those two, it was about time for it to be kind. "The only real dilemma I can see is getting that close to them without being able to see, hear, smell, or sense them in any way."

"Then we may just have to wait until Midsummer's day." Will smiled, "but I can wait that long, I've waited two years already- and now I have something to look forward to." Will smiled, a real, truly happy smile.

Inside, Mary was overjoyed. Will was happy, and that was all that mattered right now. "I hope you don't mind getting it a day early," She smirked, "but I couldn't keep it secret any longer!"

Will laughed, "I'm surprised you kept it this long!" It really was quite a feat, but Mary stayed in the Cave long enough that she didn't have much time to spill the beans.

"Oh, one more thing," Mary said quickly, fishing in her purse and pulling out a small shopping bag. "This is from your mother." She stated, handing him a small box. Inside was a brass chain, the same as the key. It fit easily through a loop on the Celtic knot, allowing the key to hang comfortably around his neck.

"She asked me to give it to you whenever I gave you the key. She'll be back tomorrow in time for dinner."

Elaine Parry had spent the past few months in therapy to recover from her previous mental conditions. She was much better, and could actually comprehend was she was being told now, but some side effects still lingered. She came 'home' whenever she could, but it never seemed to be often enough. But when she did come home, she always managed to surprise Will with how much she really KNEW.

~*~

Will's birthday- Lyra's world

"Lyra, LYRA!" Dame Hanna had to speak very loudly to get Lyra's attention that Monday. She was still off in dream world.

"Oh!" She said, quickly looking up. "I'm sorry." Since her return, Lyra had managed to acquire a few more manners than she'd previously had at Jordan, primarily because it was demanded at St. Sophia's.

"I was asking you if you could solve this equation." Dame Hanna stated, pointing to a very long, involved set of pictures, numbers and letters displayed on the board. "As a challenge, I have requested the class- yourself included- to tell me what this represents. So far no one has been correct."

Lyra stood up and walked to the board, slowly tracing her fingers over the pictures. One was of several overlapping circles that didn't seem to have a beginning or end. Another showed the Northern Lights, with yet another depicting an adult and a child. The adult surrounded by particles, the child only slightly. Lyra turned in confusion to Dame Hanna.

"Where did you get these?" She asked in shock.

"Several different scholars donated the copies to the school. Why do you ask?" Dame Hanna looked at her with confusion, her earlier anger completely gone.

Lyra pointed to the Aurora and the child. "My father took these pictures three years ago when he went north. I've never seen this one," she said, pointing to the circles, "but I'm pretty sure I know what it is." She grinned.

"Do tell then Miss Silvertongue." She smiled. Every scholar of any note was quite aware of Lyra's immense knowledge on this matter, though Lyra was still unaware of their interest.

"Well," Lyra began, "all of them refer to Dust- of which we've all heard rumors of. Dust does exist, though a lot of people don't believe it, and it is not 'Original Sin' as the Church originally hypothesized. It gives humans, and any other intelligent life form the ability to think and be individuals. Or at least, that's it in a nutshell." Lyra grinned at the shocked looks on her classmates' faces, all except Mel, who of course had recently gained a lot of knowledge in this department. "The first picture, with the circle, depicts the multiple worlds theory which was considered the greatest heresy in Church History, but also happens to be true. The second picture of the Aurora actually shows this. If you look closely, you can see the tall buildings of the city of Citt?gazze- that is in another world. The final picture shows dust. One of the things most scientists and scholars have been most interested in is the difference in how Dust reacts to children and adults. As this shows, adults attract far larger amounts of Dust than children, mostly because their intelligence and individuality attracts more as they age." Lyra sat back down in her seat. "The answer to your question is Dust, Dame Hanna. Also knows as shadows, dark matter, and in some cases, original sin." Lyra looked around the room for the first time since she had begun her impromptu speech and noticed how everyone was staring at her in open-mouthed amazement. Lyra blushed and looked down at her desk.

Dame Hanna raised an eyebrow. "Well said Lyra, though you've just clarified several points currently in heavy debate. The Master of Jordan College told me to trust your word on any mention of Dust, I must say, I hadn't expected such immense understanding."

"The Master is quite aware of my past 'adventures'" Lyra said softly. "I'm glad he trusted me, so few people did then. I told a lot of stories before then." She looked up quickly, "But everything I've just told you- and more- is completely true Dame Hanna." She said quickly before returning her gaze to her wooden desk. "Why are we discussing this?" Lyra asked even more softly, a tear dripping down and splattering on the desk. Dust reminded her of her adventures, her adventures reminded her of Will, thoughts which reminded her that he was still very much out of her reach; despite the comfort it was to have Kirjava.

"The concept of Dust has finally been approved for inclusion in the advanced physics curriculum, since its discovery 3 years ago. Lyra m'dear, you are the only expert in practical application of this information due to your past experiences. Evidently you knew exactly what you were dealing with to begin with, at least to some extent. Your knowledge could be highly beneficial to the rest of the class."

Lyra's head shot up in an instant. "Despite how honored I am at such an idea, Dame Hanna," her eyes had hardened to the extent that their blue depths no longer appeared as deep pools, but two ice cubes. "Dust has been the bane of my existence since the first day I learned of it. It is best NOT to know. The only thing that would benefit you to know is that it is absolutely necessary to live your life fully, watching everything around you and taking in the beauty of the world in which you live. Spending your life studying prevents you from truly living. Live fully, and when you die- tell them stories. Tell your stories all your life, from the time you are born from Dust- to the day you return to it." Lyra stood up and Kirjava jumped into her arms. "Thank you Dame Hanna, but I'll be leaving now." She said simply, walking towards the door. "Studying Dust will only lead to trouble, that I can assure you of." She walked out and closed the door gently behind her before running out of the school to the Botanical Gardens, still the only place she could find peace.

Dame Hanna stared open mouthed at the place Lyra had been standing for a full minute before recovering enough to continue class. NO child had ever had such gall before in HER classroom. And quite frankly, it scared her that one could.

Melanie looked up and frowned. "I'm sorry, but I don't think you should have done that Dame, may I have your permission to follow her and make sure she's alright?" Dame Hanna merely looked at her and nodded, still too shocked to raise much protest. Mel quickly bolted out the door and towards the Gardens; she knew she'd find Lyra there somewhere.

~*~

The day had passed smoothly for Will. First thing that morning he had shown Nick the key and told him how it theoretically worked. Nick had been extremely excited, but was able to hold his tongue the entire day. When he thought about it, he had actually kept A LOT to himself, Will's past in its entirety. Will had invited Nick to his 'birthday dinner' that evening to meet his mother.

School that day had nearly been a blur; Will remembered very little of what had happened. Nothing could even compare to the key he wore about his neck. Nothing in school could inspire so much hope as that simple key. Before he knew it, he was home and his mother was arriving. Everything was going perfectly as planned. Well, at least it was.

Dinner was a success, Mary and Will had combined their small cooking skills to come up with fried chicken, macaroni, biscuits, and a salad- very impressive considering the usual 'fend for yourself' attitude of the small kitchen. Elaine and Nick had been very complimentary of the food, and Elaine had pulled a large cake out of her bag at the last minute. All the food was either eaten or put away by now and the four of them were sitting in the living room talking.

The conversation had been proceeding with a certain tension to it; it had all been rather formal, including the inquiries of schoolwork and friendships along with the latest 'discoveries' regarding the shadows…Lyra's Dust. These discussions were treated with levity hardly to be expected in the discussion of controversial theories. However, that is only to be expected when you have two individuals who had previously experienced and observed Dust in 'action' along with two others of second hand knowledge. Conversation lagged until Elaine looked up suddenly, confused.

"Will, for some reason I think you need to go somewhere…somewhere green." She furrowed her eyebrows, "it's almost as if the…dust floating in the air is telling me that you must go now to a place with a lot of flowers and plants, and I don't know why, but it seems, almost…familiar in a way."

"You mean a garden?" Will asked? "Like the Botanical Garden down the road?" Will had been happy to discover that Mary didn't live very far at all from the Botanical Gardens he and Lyra had agreed to meet in every year. Could that be where he was supposed to go? And how did his mother know he was supposed to go there?

"That sounds right, an enclosed area…with a bench." She said slowly, almost as if she were looking at a picture in her mind that she'd never actually seen.

Will's eyes widened in shock. "I…know the place." He said slowly. "Thank you, I don't know when I'll be back, but…thank you." He smiled, giving his mom a hug. "Nick?" Nick looked up and nodded before standing to join him at the door. "Mary...we'll be back, I don't know when, but we'll be back. Come on Pantalaimon." With that, the three of them darted out the door and ran towards the garden, arriving in less than 15 minutes.

Will slowly walked up to the bench. Their bench. He slowly sat down on the left side, just as he always did when he visited. He smiled and looked up at Nick.

"She's right here," he said, pointing to the other side of the bench, "in this very spot in her world at this very moment. It's time to try the key. I never imagined it would be so soon." Will slowly lifted the chain out of his shirt and rubbed his fingers over the intricate design on top of the key before holding it straight out, just as he'd done so many times before 2 years ago with the Subtle Knife. He felt through the snags in the air until he found the familiar resonance of Lyra's world. Slowly, he slid the key though the snag, which he now realized wasn't a snag at all, but a keyhole.