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The Three Kings: Resist

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Sidonia Heir Missing?
Taken from Acta Diurna, September 2013

Marcellous Sidonia has not been made a public appearance for nearly three months.  Marcellous is the heir apparent to House Sidonia and heir presumptive to the Papas fortune.  Anyone with information is encouraged to speak to their local Auror office.

Marcellous was last seen at the House of Seanus during a party celebrating the conception of Quintus and Otacilia Seanus’s heir.  It is believed that Marcellous left the celebration early after falling ill, though he was seen later that night traveling the streets in his litter while in the company of a young woman.

After the arrest of Marcellous’s father by his ambitious half-sister, the Vestalis Maxima Luccenia Sorio, rumours are flying as to whether... (ctd. page 3, column 2).


 Britain Pulls Out Of Confederation In Light Of Mage Threats
Taken from The Daily Prophet, December 2013

On Friday afternoon, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge announced that Great Britain will be leaving the International Confederation of Wizards.

“After careful consideration, the Ministry has concluded that this is the best protection that we can offer our citizens,” said the Minister during the press conference.  “By insulating ourselves, we can preserve our way of life for future generations - away from the mage threat.”

This announcement comes following several months of deliberation by the Wizengamot.  A Ministry insider confirms that in the upcoming months, we can expect to see the beginnings long-term isolationist policy being put into place.  This will include the closing of Britain’s borders to outsiders… (ctd. page 4, column 1).


Arthur Hawkins Fired Pending Investigation
Taken from The Quill, January 2014

Arthur Hawkins, Headmaster of Ravenwood Magical College, was fired late last night following a lengthy deliberation by the school’s Board of Governors.  This comes months after the revelation that he willingly gave his granddaughter, the wizard-born mage Rebecca Hawkins, to the Department of Mysteries, nearly resulting in her execution.  Hawkins had been Headmaster for almost three decades and was universally well liked and respected by his students.

“We are not taking a stand for mage rights.  That’s not what we are trying to do,” said Olive Horn, a member of Ravenwood’s Board of Governors, when asked about the Board’s intentions behind Hawkin’s firing.  “Instead, we are asking if a man who gave a child to an organization such as the Department of Mysteries should be Headmaster of one of the most prestigious schools in America.”

“We were all really shocked,” said Colin Rivers, a student at Ravenwood.  “Mr. Hawkins was always such a nice guy. We never thought he’d have someone killed.”

The Hawkins family released an official statement, stating that they were as unaware of the Department of Mysteries true intentions towards Rebecca Hawkins, just as everyone else was.  They say that they have taken steps to regain contact with Rebecca, only to be met by silence on the mage front. The Hawkins family is refusing to further comment at this time.

However, sources close to the family have claimed that… (ctd. page 8, column 3).


 China Leads The Charge: The Future Of Mage-Wizard Relations?
Taken from Morning Beijing, March 2014

China’s Xiang Li has become the first Minister of Magic to conduct open negotiations with the mages of San Francisco, following the historic Confederation Broadcast last summer.

Li announced his decision in last night’s Ministry bulletin, along with a shocking reasoning behind his choice.

“My son is a wizard-born mage.  I put him through the Department of Mysteries’ conversion program because I believed it would help him.  However, if I had known what was happening, I would have bought him the first Portkey to San Francisco that I could find,” Li revealed as his son, Jingyi Li, stood beside him.  “I was wrong about magehood. My son and I are going to have to live with my mistake for the rest of our lives. But I refuse to stand still any longer!”

Li says that in a week’s time, he will be meeting with the mage co-leader Atem in San Francisco to discuss China’s future as an ally to their cause.  When asked about whether he will request that the mages return his country’s gold, Li responded, “We owe them reparation. Frankly, the money is a good place for us to start.”

British Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, responded to Li’s declaration this morning, stating that Great Britain will no longer be doing business with China and is encouraging other countries to follow suit… (ctd. page 2, column 1).


Russia’s Gringotts Closes Its Doors: The First of Many?
Taken from The Daily Prophet, April 2014

Gringotts Wizarding Bank locked their Russian vaults for the last time yesterday after spokesgoblin, Rannot, confirmed that the Russian branches would be closing indefinitely.

This comes after the mage thief, Bakura, drained the accounts of five wizarding families following their alleged attacks on wizard-born mages in the months following the Confederation Broadcast.

“It is not good for business,” said Rannot.  “We cannot keep our doors open for a clientele that refuses to trust us.”

When asked where the Bank’s workers would seek future employment, Rannot answers, “I don’t know.  Perhaps America?”

This closure seems to be the start of an upward trend as more and more witches and wizards feel that their gold is safer away from the clutches of mages.  When asked to comment on the matter, concerned citizen Lucius Malfoy said, “We must keep ourselves safe from the growing threat of the mages. If that thief Bakura wants my gold, he will have to try and take it from my hands and not those of an incompetent goblin.”

Lucius Malfoy has recently donated one hundred thousand galleons to the Ministry’s relief fund for those who were financially impacted by the mage theft and is offering double that to the brave soul who would bring the thief Bakura to justice… (ctd. page 8, column 3)


 Palamo Under Fire: Ex-Husband Sues For Custody Following Assassination Attempt
Taken from The Quill, June 2014

Minister of Magic Reyna Palamo made history three years ago after becoming the first female divorcee to hold the position.  Now, only three days after Adam Morin’s botched attempt on her life, Palamo might become the first Minister of Magic ever to lose custody of her children while in office.

Palamo’s ex-husband, Tavell Cross, is the former Head of the Department of Magical Cooperation.  According to sources close to the pair, their marriage fell apart after nearly a year of mutual infidelity and conflicting political interests.  Palamo was granted full custody of their daughter, Chanara, and their son, Marco, after Cross re-married his scandalously young former employee, Angelina Mina.

However, in light of recent events, Cross has taken his ex-wife to court and is suing her for custody for their children, claiming that they will be safer with him.

When asked, Cross’s lawyer said that his client is only thinking of what is best for his family, “Mr. Cross does not want for his children to be caught up in the dangers associated with Ms. Palamo’s political career.”

Both Palamo and Cross refuse to comment on their ongoing court battle and are asking for privacy during these trying times.

However, a Ministry insider confirmed that yesterday… (ctd. page 10, column 4)


 Nicolas Flamel And Wife Die At The Age Of Six Hundred And Ninety
Taken from La Providence, July 2014

Nicolas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, passed away in Devonshire, England early yesterday morning.  The Flamels were well-known alchemists and the only known makers of the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance capable of creating, amongst other things, the Elixir of Life which the pair had used to extend their lifespans across several centuries.

A small private funeral will be held in two weeks time at Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and the couple will be buried on the grounds alongside members of Perenelle’s family.

Both of the Flamel’s were gifted Beauxbatons alumni and made substantial contributions to the school over the years, transforming the old muggle covenant into the stronghold of magical learning that it is today… (ctd. page 4, column 1).


 Shawn Pendergrass: A Look Behind The Revolutionary
Taken from Oracle, July 2014

While sitting in Shawn Pendergrass’s apartment, you would never expect him to be a member of one of America’s most prominent wizarding families.

“Dad’s not exactly happy with my line of work,” Shawn grins as he sets a cup of cocoa down on the table in front of me.  The mug is muggle in origin, displaying a comic book character with a circular red, white, and blue shield. “I moved out once it became obvious that we weren’t going to reconcile.”

Shawn’s father, Neal Pendergrass, is the current Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.  Neal is also seen as a figurehead of America’s anti-mage leanings, a direct contrast to his son’s ideology.

Since the Confederation Broadcast, Shawn Pendergrass has been working tirelessly to protest the treatment of mages throughout wizarding history and push for significant reform in America’s policy concerning wizard-born mages.

“It’s ridiculous.  We can’t just shove our heads in the sand and ignore the world around us,” Shawn says.  “We have been sentencing our brothers and sisters to years of torture to fix something in them that the wizarding world views to be abnormal.  But its not. Mage magic is just as natural as our ability to use a wand - maybe even more natural if you believe what that British Curse Breaker is saying.  This is intolerance at its finest and it needs to be stamped out.”

Of course, this leads me to bring up his older sister, Chelsea, who is one of seventy-three suspected American wizard-born mages who disappeared on the night of the Confederation Broadcast.

“Chelsea is safe and that is all I’m going to say for now.  What matters now is making sure that there are never any more children who have to suffer as she did,” Shawn says.

When I ask him how he plans on going about that, he introduces me to his roommate and best friend, Royce Land.

It’s not the first time that I have met one of the three wizards who lived inside the mage borders of San Francisco.  Only a month ago, I was able to interview Delphia Caro in her new home on Oahu Island. Delphia had focused our interview on talking about her experiences with individual mages, telling stories about love and family and comradery in times of peril, giving us an insight into the humanity that mages possess despite the wizarding world’s attempts to ignore it.

Royce Land reminds me so much of Delphia when he speaks, talking of his time inside San Francisco with a strange sort of reverence that only comes when remembering life-changing events.

“We’re going to be working with educators to help the next generation to better understand what is going on and how they can work to change wizarding attitudes towards mages for the better.  We’ve reached out to the Chinese Ministry and they’ve been very willing to help us out. All of this is going to be happening alongside Shawn’s political outreach program,” Royce tells me.

I ask the pair if they believe that this is going to change anything - after all, The Quill ’s latest poll puts the pro-mage rights faction of this country in the substantial minority.

After a few minutes, Royce answers, “It doesn’t matter what the press says.  It doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. It doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.  This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.  When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth and tell the whole world, ‘No.   You move.’”

It’s an impressive speech.  Royce laughs when I tell him that.

“Thanks.  But I can’t take the credit for it.  That’s all Steve Rogers - but you have to say, he makes a damn good point.”

I have no idea who Steve Rogers is, but he sure doesn’t lack in conviction.

And neither do Shawn Pendergrass or Royce Land.  Together, they’ve managed to… (ctd. page 2, column 1).


 Italy Opens Its Borders: Vestalis Maxima Repeals Pureblood Protection Act
Taken from Oracle, June 2014

After her historic rise to power, Vestal Luccenia Sonia has been making waves throughout the Italian Forum Romanum by using her abilities as the leader of the Vestal Virgin to appoint herself as Minister of Magic, becoming the youngest person ever to hold the title.  Most recently, the Vestalis Maxima has repealed the controversial Pureblood Protection Act.

Enacted in 1936 by Minister of Magic Agrippa Seanus, the Act declared that no witch or wizard of foreign blood would be able to marry into the Italian pureblooded families, either great or lesser, on pain of death.  It legalized marriages between full-blooded siblings within the remaining for great Houses of Zabini, Sidonia, Papas, and Seanus, even going as far as to encourage it over matches outside a family. Agrippa Seanus was known internationally for his belief in wizarding blood superiority and championed the movement to expel muggleborns from Italy upon their discovery, lest they intermarry with those of 'cleaner' bloodlines.

The Act came a fraction too late to stop the marriage between Cassiopeia Black and Herius Zabini, which marks the last time someone of ‘unclean’ blood married into one of Italy’s great houses.  Vestal Luccenia brought up this marriage during her debate, stating that the children of Cassiopeia and Herius (Lartia, Caius, and Agrippa Zabini) had not experienced many of the health complications associated with the Italian pureblooded families.

“We can no longer ignore what our bodies are telling us,” Luccenia said as she announced the repeal.  “We are dying because of our obsession with blood purity. Isolating ourselves to the outside world was a mistake.”

The repeal has gone uncontested, a surprising feat considering the extreme conservatism of the Italian wizarding community.  This may be due to several factors, including Luccenia’s purge of Ministry officials connected to the four great pureblood houses at the start of her reign, as well as the arrest of her father and predecessor, Titus Sidonia, who remains imprisoned to this day.

However, darker rumours are floating around the Forum .  There have been whispers of a secret movement to… (ctd. page 4, column 2).


 Come To The R.O.M!  New Egyptian Discoveries Paint Legend In New Light!
Taken from the Toronto Star, August 2014

The Legend of the Three Kings is a story that has been told in thousands of languages and hundreds of countries worldwide, making many historians sure that these three figures were a bit more than legend.

“It’s like the classic flood myth.  If every culture has one, then perhaps our ancestors were describing an actual event and not, in fact, trying to tell a story to frighten children before bed,” says Shada Inanna, co-presenter of the Royal Ontario Museum’s newest exhibit.  He and his partner, Ishizu Ishtar (who was not well enough at the time of the interview to give a statement), wish to not only provide proof of the legend with their collection but also to shed light onto the lives of the Kings and those that surrounded them.

Some of the key attractions include the three crowns supposedly worn by the Kings themselves, a Medjay sword belonging to the Dragon Princess (the King Commander’s female successor and eventual wife of Pharaoh Seth), and several knives used by the Thief King and his men.

The exhibition’s most dazzling piece is a massive stone mural, depicting a scene from the Egyptian myth.  Standing nearly twenty feet tall and spanning the entire length of the room, it is easily the centerpiece of the collection.

The exhibit can be viewed on the Museum’s lower level.  The spacious room is uncluttered and lowly lit, allowing for a quiet trip back into a time of myth and legend.  The doors open on October 31 following a private viewing on the 28th.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow.   Buy Yours Now!

Chapter Text

Vivian Wong looks up from her laptop, her fingers pausing for just a moment, “Tea?  Can you send me today’s inventory? I don’t think I got the email.”

“Can’t you just grab it yourself?  You’re a technopath, aren’t you?” Tea answers from where she’s laying stomach down on the floor, her own laptop sitting on the ground in front of her.

“Yeah.  But I figured that I should ask first.  Manners, and all that,” Vivian pokes her with her toe.  “So, you gonna?”

Tea swats at her with a hand, “Fine!  Fine! There. That should do it.”

“Thanks,” Vivian smiles as she gets the alert in her Gmail inbox.  She clicks on the email and gets to work. Between her and Tea, they’ve got five new wizard-born mages expected to make landfall today and had to ensure that their transition into the city was as smooth as possible, on top of everything else.

It’s been a long year since the Confederation Broadcast, as the wizarding world had come to know it.  The first few months had been the busiest time of Vivian’s life, as hundreds of mages had flocked to the city in droves to seek asylum.  Matthew’s contacts, who were usually used to providing one false identity every three or four months, had been overwhelmed. Duke had suggested that Vivian lend them a hand, using her powers to take some of the burden.

After the initial onslaught died down, Tea had opened up Bakura’s Google Doc that he’d created shortly after returning from his raid on the Archives.  She sorted through the names, figuring out who had come directly after the broadcast and those who had remained behind. Then, using a combination of Spellcaster magic and Vivian’s own technopathy, they had managed to get in contact with any wizard-born mages still residing in the wizarding world.

Amanda walks in sometime around two, hanging up her jacket on one of the hooks by the door.  The last week has been surprisingly cool even for late August, the temperature never going above fifty-three degrees.  Amanda also has take-out.

“Tea, I love your girlfriend.  I’m going to marry her,” Vivian calls out, pushing her laptop off her legs and onto the couch, making grabbing hands toward the bag that Amanda sets on the kitchen counter.

“That’s fiance to you,” Amanda grins and pulls out plastic containers full of curry.  Vivian’s jaw drops.

“What?!  When? How?!” She leaps up and grabs Tea, pulling her friend into a bone-crushing hug.  “What the fuck? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We were going to wait until Bakura and Atem came back from their trip,” Tea explains when Vivian pulls back and lets her breathe.  Tea’s smile is blinding as she wiggles the fingers on her left hand, displaying a tasteful white gold band with a blue topaz stone in the center.  Vivian is going to cry.  “But I guess now is as good as ever.”

“No shit, girl!” Vivian punches Tea lightly on the shoulder before moving over to hug Amanda.  “Deets! You owe me deets!”

“Later, later!” Tea laughs, “Come on, Viv!  We’ve got work to do.”

It takes most of the afternoon to finish up the new IDs for the five new mages, stuffing pamphlets about financial aid, housing, therapy, and medical insurance into gift bags.  Weevil comes by to pick them up around four. The boy had volunteered to become one of their first contact people for incoming wizard-born mages after one group had brought in smallpox and nearly infected the entire city.  But since Weevil was mostly immune to disease as a result of his powers, he could effectively get anyone infected with something into quarantine without endangering himself.

Vivian thinks back to how it had been when Duke first brought her to San Francisco.  There had been only a few thousand mages with minimal funding and resources. Now, they had connections within governments both magical and not, a steady stream of income, and allies across the world.  With a new population of nearly ten thousand mages, they’d had to expand out into Oakland.

Atem and Bakura would soon be returning from one of the many trips that they’d taken in the past year, which they’d spent deep in negotiations with various magical peoples across the world.  Their talks between the Chinese Minister of Magic, Xiang Li, had been extensively covered in the wizarding papers, giving them their first public appearances outside of the Confederation Broadcasts.  China had become San Francisco’s most prominent supporters and was planning to open up their eight magical schools to encourage an exchange of information between the two cultures.

The two Kings had also been in contact with a variety of magical races, meeting with Veela, vampires, and most recently, Merpeople.  Atem and Bakura would be returning later this week after visiting the Arctic to meet with a pod from Baffin Bay, but they’d also spoken to a family of vampires in Honduras and rescued a flock of Veela that have been filtered through the wizarding sex trade in Chicago.

While the vampires had offered support but refused to move from their ancestral home, the Veela, led by a stunningly beautiful man named Nahnah, had made the trek back to San Francisco.  Once they’d gotten back on their feet, the Veela opened up a flower shop in the Marina District and named it Lost Thyme.  Business had been booming ever since they’d provided the bouquets for a Hollywood wedding and gotten referred to some very high profile clients with some very expensive budgets.

Vivian finishes off what she needs to do and heads out, congratulating Tea and Amanda once again by showering them with love and embraces.  It’s almost dark by the time she gets to the BART station and misses her train, so she sends Duke a text to let him know and then calls Corilea to tell her that she’s going to be running a few minutes late.

Corilea was one of the Veela to come south with Nahnah.  Vivian had met her during one of her Technology Learning classes that she taught once a week, so help those who had grown up on the other side of the Statute of Secrecy to learn how to use modern non-magical technology.  Corilea struggled with smartphones the most, becoming so frustrated that she would almost transform into what her people called their Warrior’s Soul. Vivian had had to walk her through the steps one-by-one, giving her private lessons on the side as a way to help.

After a couple of weeks, Corilea had texted Vivian to see if she wanted to get dinner sometime.  They’d taken it from there, moving at a glacially slow pace because Corilea has far too much history with sexual violence for them not to.  But that’s alright because Vivian’s kind of convinced that she’s met the One and is willing to hold Corilea’s hand through the best and the worst of it all.

Corilea lives with her flock down the road from Lost Thyme on the top floor of a brightly lit apartment building.  Her younger brother, Tenei, opens the door and Vivian has to look up almost a foot to meet his gaze.  Tenei usually is hesitant around humans, and rightfully so. But when he leads her inside and places an intricately woven crown of cream coloured roses, chrysanthemum, and Queen Anne’s lace on her head, Vivian is so surprised by the gesture that she almost cries.

Corilea waves from her seat on the couch, a Wii controller in her hand.  She and another Veela named Oramora are playing Mario Kart and Corilea just red shelled her friend to dart in front of her at the last moment and cross the finish line.  They’re both playing horribly, with the time clock somewhere in the fifteen-minute range and their drivers in last place against the PCs.

“Viv!  You made it!” Corilea flips over the couch, nearly spilling the bowl of sunflower seeds that she’d had on her lap, and rushes over to Vivian, pressing a kiss to her lips.  She’s wearing baggy sweatpants, a massive hoodie, and has kept her hair loose because she knows that Vivian loves to braid it. “Did you see? I won! I finally won!”

Vivian smiles, her heart beating wildly in her chest.  She feels like the luckiest girl in the world.


 Mokuba walks into Nomad, finds a seat in his usual booth, and removes his prosthetic.  The cold is making his stump ache and he wants to scratch at a foot that’s no longer there.

Mai greets him warmly as little Haley barrels into Mokuba’s chest, nearly knocking him over.  He clings to the girl and offers her mother a small smile.

“How was school?” Mai asks after she extracts Haley from the stranglehold grip the girl had had on Mokuba and sends her back to her booth to complete her homework.

“Had to fight an asshole for the last seat at the front of the lecture room,” he answers.  He’d almost had to take off his leg and wave it around before the guy would move up a few rows.  “Other than that, the prof is pretty interesting.”

Not as much as Professor Mutuo had been, Mokuba thinks to himself, remembering the pretty purple-haired teacher who’d smiled at him.  He and Atem had talked at Solomon Mutuo’s funeral, his wheelchair making indents in the muddy earth and her holding a black umbrella over both of their heads even though the rain had long since stopped.

The front door of the Nomad rings again.  Mai and Mokuba both look up to see three people walk through, two women and a man.  They’re all wearing incredibly shabby clothing and have heavy scarring on their faces. Despite how young Mokuba knows them to be, grey streaked through their hair.  Their eyes were all flecked with gold.

Mai’s back straightens and her jaw pops open.  Mokuba would stand, but he’d have to put his leg back on first.  He’s known that they were coming, known that he was to meet them, but he’d never considered what would happen when he did.

Lycans, Mokuba thinks.  It’s been hundreds of years since we’ve been so blessed.

One of the women turns toward them, squares her shoulders, and takes a few hesitant steps forward.   The pack’s Alpha, Mokuba realizes.  She’s a few years older than Mokuba, with olive-coloured skin and a beige hijab covering her hair.  She’s beautiful.

“I’m Israa,” she introduces herself.  “We’re… we’re, ummm…”

“Mai,” Mai says quickly, stepping forward and stretching out a hand.  “I’m Mai and this is Mokuba. We’re so honoured to meet you.”

Israa blinks at her, taken aback.  She shakes Mai’s hand and allows her pack to be lead toward the booth that Mokuba sits at.

“Please forgive me for not getting up,” Mokuba says, nodding toward his stump.  The other girl in the pack stares at it openly, making him a little uncomfortable.  Israa swats at her to make her stop.

“It’s fine,” the Alpha says, folding her hands in front of her on the table.  They’re covered in tiny knicks and half-healed scratches. Someone’s stomach growls.

“Can I get you anything?  Something to drink? To eat?” Mai offers.

The pack swaps a few half-hearted glances before Israa answers, “We don’t have any money...”

“On the house.  Anything that you want,” Mai says quickly, her gaze reverent.  “Please, you being here… It means more than anything I can give you.”

The pack does end up ordering food and drinks, hesitantly passing around a laminated menu and looking as if they were expecting for a rug to be pulled out from under them.  Once Mai disappears into the back, Israa clears her throat.

“We…” she looks so nervous, glancing around the room once before focusing back on Mokuba.  “We understand it if you don’t want us here. But…” Israa pulls a snapped wand from her belt and places the two halves on the table in between them, “...We’re willing to work any job you want, anything you need.  Kadrick promises that he won’t practice magic again if that’s what it takes. We just…” she trails off again, looking at the man beside her, who Mokuba assumes is Kadrick.

Kadrick is a stick thin twenty-something-year-old man with a patchy brown beard, finishes Israa’s sentence for her, “We’re just looking for a place to live.  We’ll do whatever you want. Just please.”

It’s around this time when Mokuba realizes that something is very, very wrong.

“What do you mean he won’t practice magic again?” He asks Israa.  Then he looks at her pack, from one person to the next, “Are you… You’re non-magic.”

“Yeah, I am.  Kadrick’s the only wizard in our group,” Israa says.

“We were all mug-- non-magics before we got bitten,” says the girl who had been staring at Mokuba’s stump.

Got bitten?  You didn’t consent?”  Mokuba’s hands clench with anger.

“Why the fuck would anyone want this?” Kadrick spits, his hackles coming up as a growl escaped his throat.

This is so much worse than anything Mokuba could have imagined.  Bakura, along with the some of the other wizard-born mages, had told him how Lycan magic had been corrupted over the centuries, making it impossible for those who possessed it to control their inner wolves.  But to learn that the wizarding curse had destroyed their Law of Consent is almost too much to bear.

His anger doesn’t stop there.  Mokuba had known on some hypothetical level that Lycans existed somewhere beyond the Statue of Secrecy.  So he’d always assumed that any future Lycans that had been born or created had been wizards. To think that they had allowed this curse to affect those who wouldn’t even know what had happened to them, who could not possibly give their blessing to become a member of this species, is something that makes him sick to his stomach.

They were pacifists, Mokuba thinks angrily.  Their magic was peaceful and their religion was beautiful.

So Mokuba swallows, works through the breathing exercises that his therapist has him do, and tells them about the culture that had been stripped from them.

By the end, the pack has fallen silent.  Kadrick’s jaw is hanging loose and Israa is actually crying.

“I thought that you were, I don’t know, making fun of us or something,” she says when she finally finds her voice.  “With the whole ‘honoured guest’ thing.”

Mokuba shakes his head, “We’re really not.  You and your pack, you’re a blessing. And if you want to live here, we will do everything in our power to help you regain control of your magic.”

“If we want to…?” Israa hiccups, reaching across the table to grab Mokuba’s hand.  “Thank you. Thank you …”

Mokuba nods and gives her a smile, trying his best to be reassuring, “We should start with getting you guys in to see a doctor.  Mai’s going to help out with housing and we’ve already got a team on making you new IDs.”

“We’re going to need a safe place to transform on full moons.  A place where we can’t hurt anyone,” Israa says. “Either that or… access to Wolfsbane potion.”

“We’ve got a knock-off recipe, but we could never afford the ingredients,” Kadrick pushes a piece of parchment across the table.  Mokuba takes a look at it, understands absolutely nothing, and vows to turn it over to their Spellcasters in the hopes that they could replicate it.  The next full moon was just under a month away, so there was a little bit of time.

“You said that we had a god?” The girl from earlier pipes in.  She’s got to be no older than twelve, wide-eyed and scarred almost beyond recognition.

“Kiera!” Israa snaps, sounding upset about the interruption.  But when she glances back at Mokuba, he can tell that she hopes that he’ll answer the question.

“I don’t actually know much about Ilia or her following, but we’ve got a flock of Veela living with us.  They might be able to explain it better than I could.”

“Why would Veela know?” Kadrick asks, sounding skeptical.

Mokuba raises an eyebrow, “They worship the same goddess.  Technically, you’re cousins.”

“To Veela?”  Kadrick raises an eyebrow.

“And Centaurs.  And Merpeople, too.  I think. At least on a magical level.”

“Mermaids exist?” Kiera interjects, rounding on Kadrick, “How come you never told me that mermaids exist?”

“Talking to Veela would be… nice,” Israa says instead of waiting for her packmate to answer.  She looks at Mokuba and asks, “Fifteen of us came down from Detroit. Is that… too many?”

Mokuba grins, “Never.”

“There might be… more.  Coming later.”

“We’ll be happy to meet them,” he says.

Israa finally smiles, just a little bit.  Mokuba’s heart skips a beat.

“Thank you,” she tells him again.  “Just… thank you so much.”

“Any time,” he promises her.


 “Well,” Duke says, looking at the newspaper Kisha is holding up  “Shit.”

“Yeah.  Not exactly the front page news that anyone wanted to wake up to this morning,” she says.  The mirror in Duke’s bedroom ripples and simulates a split-screen television, allowing Royce and Shawn to join the conversation that they were having through Matthew’s Spellcaster-powered Mirror Network.

They met like this, once every few weeks on alternating days so that no one watching could figure out a pattern.  Usually, the four of them exchanged news or talked about ways to advertise Royce and Shawn’s outreach program. But today, Kisha hauled ass to get home from her job at the Ministry to tell them what had happened.

“Oh.  You’ve already seen the news,” Royce says, looking gaunt.  “This is going to be a setback.”

On the front page of The Quill, the headline spells out, “ MORIN DEAD!  ASSASSIN KILLS HIMSELF BEFORE HEARING!

“Palamo’s was trying to keep it quiet, but someone leaked it to the press,” Kisha sighs and sets the paper down just out of sight.  “That’s not even the worst of it.”

“What do you mean?” Duke asks.

Kisha leans forward, “Morin left a note.  And it’s… guys, it's really bad.”

In the first few weeks of May, the American Minister of Magic, Reyna Palamo, had been traveling to New York City to visit her parents when Adam Morin, a thirty-six-year-old wizard from an old American pureblood line, opened fire on her family home.  Thankfully, Palamo’s security had ensured that no one died and that Morin had apprehended before he could apparate away.

In the investigation that followed, it was revealed that Morin had been planning this since the Confederation Broadcast last year.  His manifesto had been leaked to the press as well, which encouraged those of pure ancestries to rise up and reclaim their rightful place on top of the world.

“‘Magic Is Might,’” Duke reads when Kisha shows him a copy.  “What kind of bullshit is that?”

From the way that the three of them look at each other, he realizes that he’s missing something.

“‘Magic Is Might’ is an old pureblood rallying cry,” Shawn explains.  “It’s used a lot during blood supremacy wars.”

Duke ponders on it for a second before swallowing, “So, Morin saying this in his manifesto is a really big deal, isn’t it?”

Royce nods, “There’s been a lot of… talk lately.  About whether Palamo’s good enough to keep doing her job.”

“It’s always been like that, especially with The Quill.   It’s just gotten a lot worse lately,” Kisha interjects.  “Palamo was put in after Hatfield retired. And a lot of the people were outraged that Neal Pendergrass was passed over.  And now that The Quill is turning her custody battle into a soap opera, everyone who’s been keeping mouths shut about stuff you normally don’t say in polite company - they’re all speaking out.”

“Morin is going to be the first of many,” Shawn says, sounding pessimistic.  “And his suicide just made him a martyr.”

“A martyr for what?” Duke asks though he thinks he already knows the answer.

Royce swallows hard, “War.  Total, global war.”

“It will be within the confines of the Statute at first, but it might not stay that way,” Shawn tells them.  “My dad… he’s been visiting Europe a lot lately. He’s telling the media that he’s visiting some distant cousins of ours in Britain, and you can’t deny that it’s fishy.  Especially since Britain only allows you to come in if you can prove your ancestry these days.”

“Everyone says that the Sidonia heir is missing, but the Vestalis Maxima doesn’t have him in custody.  So there’s a chance that he’s out there recruiting or something,” Kisha points out but trails off.

“It’s just gotten really scary, really fast,” Royce says.  “We had a lot of people signing up to help us in the beginning.  But with the way politics is now, we’ve had a bunch quit because they’re scared of having their families targeted by the next Adam Morin.”

“No one is asking you guys to risk your lives for us,” Duke says, his fists clenched tight.  “If you need to get out, we’ll help.”

Kisha shakes her head, “There are worse things to die for.  And someone has to stand up for what’s right. If we don’t, who will?”

“So what now?” Royce asks the group.  Kisha looks nervous.

“I shouldn’t be saying this, but I think Palamo wants to talk.  To you guys,” she nods very pointedly at Duke.

“You mean Bakura and Atem,” he clarifies.  “She told you this?”

“Sort of,” Kisha shrugs.  While Royce and Shawn had set up an outreach program to help rally pro-mage supporters and Delphia moved to Hawaii to retire away from the chaos, Kisha had been hired on by Reyna Palamo herself as a consultant on the San Francisco mages.  “I mean, she knows that I’m still in contact with you guys, but since no one can prove it, so she normally lets it go. She’s never outright asked how I do it until today.”

Duke sits upright.  One of the points of these meetings as to control the amount of information about San Francisco that was released to the wizarding public.  If the American Minister of Magic knew about the Mirror Network, then the connections that they had to all the wizard-born mages who had decided to stay on the other side of the Statute were compromised.

Kisha understands his worry immediately, “I didn’t say anything!  I told her that I didn’t know what she was talking about and got out of her office as fast as I could.”

“Well, if she does want to talk, she’s going to have to wait a couple of days until Atem and Bakura get back,” Duke says, but thinks, It could be a trap.  If Palamo is desperate enough for some kind of victory, would she be willing to put Kisha in prison for committing treason?

“‘Get back?’  I thought that their trip to China finished up a month ago,” Shawn frowns.

“They’re up in the Arctic talking to Merpeople,” Duke supplies.

“There are Merpeople in the Arctic?!” Royce exclaims and that derails their conversation for a while.


 Seto unlocks the door to his apartment, steps inside, and is immediately greeted by the smell of cooking.

Huh, he thinks.  Kuirmet must be over.

The goblin warrior stood on a stool in the kitchen, stirring a pot with a wooden spoon.  Serenity was leaning next to him, chatting away about one of her university courses - she’d gotten an early acceptance and Joey had danced around the apartment when they found out.

Joey is also home; Seto had missed him at first because his boyfriend had hidden away in his blind spot, spread out on the couch.  Joey grins when he sees Seto, making grabby hands to encourage him to do some kind of inelegant flop. But because Seto is beyond that, he raises an eyebrow and yanks Joey to his feet, planting a kiss on his lips.  It’s still a thrill, even a whole year later, to be able to do something that he’s wanted to for several millennia.

“Get a room.  I can hear you two from over here,” Serenity mumbles.

“Nope,” Joey grins at her.  “If you can have your boyfriend over, so can I.”

“Please note that I live here,” Seto mumbles, feeling a little embarrassed.  He changes the conversation, “When’s Mai coming home?  And what’s for dinner?”

Ghaach Der Dhec,” Kuirmet says in Gobbledygook.  “The best thing I can compare it in your culture is a mushroom and meat stew.  And Mai has called to say that she’s picking Their Majesties up to escort them here, along with her daughter and your brother.”

“Not you?” Seto asks.  Kuirmet shakes his head.

“I have been allowed the night off,” the goblin explains.  “Apparently, there is an announcement to be made. Hence, Ghaach Der Dhec.”  Kuirmet nods at the stew.  Seto guesses that it must be some sort of traditional dish.

“I’m guessing that the meeting with the Lycans went well,” Joey says as he detangles himself from Seto and moves to set the table.  Seto watches as Joey’s shoulders stretch beneath his white cotton shirt, remembering dragging his nails across them for the first time a few nights ago.  Seto’s powers don’t allow him to carry marks, but he bets that there are still scratches on Joey’s back and that sends a thrill through him like nothing else.

“I still can’t believe it, though.   Lycans.  In our city,” Serenity smiles as she feels her way around the kitchen, looking for her seat.  She gathers up her textbooks, all ridged with Braille, and places them within the backpack that is slung over the back of her chair.

“We might still have some old Lycan texts in one of our vaults,” Kuirmet says as he spoons the boiling hot stew into bowls.  There’s a ping on someone’s phone and Seto assumes that it’s Mai, telling them that she’ll be right up. “I can get in contact with one of our branch managers to see if we can have them sent here, so that this new group may learn of their culture.”

Joey helps bring the food to the table as Kuirmet jumps down from his stool.  Mai unlocks the door and Haley bursts into their home. He’s not quite used to the large blind spot on the left side of his vision just yet so she catches him completely unaware, running full tilt into Seto, climbing up his leg and onto his back like a monkey.  Mai pulls her daughter from his shoulders and offers him a hug.

“Tell me about the Lycans,” Seto says immediately and she laughs at him.

He’d have thought that it would have been awkward between the three of them, when they’d started this relationship (“Trupple!” Mokuba had called them, just to watch Seto squirm at the ridiculous sounding word).  But they’d just come together and talked about how it would work. Seto kind of glad for that because he doesn’t think that he would trade Mai’s friendship and Joey’s love for anything in the world.

Mokuba walks in, with a skip in his step that Seto hasn’t seen in a very long time.  Seto looks from his brother to Mai, who tells him, “He thinks that their Alpha is very pretty.”

“She is,” Mokuba insists as Nurnok and Skrags lead their son through the doorway, helping him to remove his jacket.  “Her name is Israa Khalaf and she’s awesome.  She led her pack here on foot all the way from Detroit.”

Seto has learned more about goblin childhood development in the last year than he had in nearly every one of his cycles.  Apparently, they aged at a rate nearly double that of humans for the first eight years of their lives, before slowing to a snail's pace once they hit adulthood.  That was how Nurnok and Skrags were the human equivalents of middle-aged despite being close to eighty years old while Kuirmet was mentally somewhere in his late teens while only being alive for less than twelve.

But even despite that, the young Prince Lurtet was small for his age and probably always would be.  His parents had named him after the founding member of the goblin monarchy the day he left the hospital nearly four months after his birth, so small that Skrags could hold him with one hand.  But Lurtet had returned shortly after that with breathing problems that might be asthma, but it was too early to tell.

Two months after that, they’d discovered that Lurtet was deaf.  So Seto had bought Nurnok and Skrags a book on American Sign Language.  The goblin couple had taken to it as quickly had they did everything else, the knowledge trickling through their hive-mind until every goblin knew the new language of their prince, including Lurtet himself.

They all sit at the table, talking and signing and eating.  Kuirmet’s stew is probably the most delicious thing that Seto has ever tasted and is shocked to hear that the goblin had toned it down for human tongues.  It’s a quiet night, pleasant and domestic in a way that Seto has learned to appreciate due to the lack of such things when he was growing up.

“You had an announcement?” Mai asks Nurnok later when they’re all sitting in the living room.  They’re watching Legend of Korra with the captions on, a show that Haley loves and is trying to help Lurtet understand.  Serenity has her headphones in and was listening to a narrator describing everything that was happening.

The goblin queen smiles, “I’m pregnant.”

Gasps ring out around the room and Seto feels a smile stretch across his mouth.

“What?”  Serenity leaps to her feet, rounding on Kuirmet.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I made Ghaach Der Dhec, ” Kuirmet answers, a sly look on his face.

“Are you… going to be alright?” Mokuba asks the goblin queen, looking a little worried.

Nurnok and Skrags hold hands while she answers, “We can’t risk not having a backup plan in case something happens to Lurtet or me.  And with the wizarding political climate the way that it is, it’s the safest options for our people. It’s only going to be a matter of time before someone figures out that the majority of their wealth that was reclaimed was in stolen goblin artifacts.”

“Besides,” Skrags says with a wry smile.  “We always talked about having a large family.  And we’re finally in a position where we can .”

Nurnok nudges her husband with her nose and the tips of Skrags’ pointed ears go dark as he blushes.

Seto leans into Joey, who’s holding his girlfriend’s hand.  He looks around the room, sees all that they’ve worked to build, and knows that he’s going to do whatever he can to make sure that Nurnok and Skrags  remain in a position where they can accomplish their dream.

The Millennium Eye lies dormant in his left socket, covered in a black patch.  He hasn’t used it yet, not since his first cycle, but Seto doubts that life in San Francisco will stay peaceful for much longer.


 

Bakura flops face-first into his bed, rubbing his nose in the sheets.  There’s a thump and he assumes that Atem has joined him. He’s so fucking jet lagged.

The last year had been one of the busiest of his entire life.  Between the recovery efforts following the San Francisco attack, the planning of the Confederation Broadcast, and the subsequent influx of wizard-born mages, he and Atem barely had any time to sit down.  They had just begun to pour over the books that Bakura had stolen from William’s Abbey, looking for locations of former mage allies, when the Chinese Minister had made his announcement. After that, the two of them ping-ponged around the globe, moving from one country to the next, looking for those that could remember the days of old and the contracts between their races.

They’d just gotten back from the Arctic, where they’d spent nearly a week below the waves, kept alive by the magic of their hosts.  The Merpeople of Baffin Bay had met them on the shores of Qeqertarsuatsiaq, an island off the western coast of Greenland, and sang to weave together a spell that would allow the two of them to breathe underwater and survive the freezing temperatures of their city.  Mejarra, the warrior who had been sent to collect them, told them that they were the first Walkers to be allowed within their walls since the enactment of the Statute.

Mejarra, much like the rest of his pod, had been nearly fifteen feet long, had dark skin on his back and milky white along his front, his lower half similar to a massive narwhal.  Between his golf ball-sized eyes was a large tusk that spiraled outward until it formed a sharp point. A thick layer of fat beneath his skin kept him warm while his fingers gripped at a spear made of the horn of a fallen warrior.

He had taken the pair of them to meet his King, an eighteen-foot-long merman named Kyah.  Atem and Bakura had spent time listening to his peoples’ tale of how their temples had been ransacked after the Fall of Camelot and their connection with their magical cousins severed.

“Ilia has not been able to answer our prayers for centuries,” Kyah had said.  “But last night, I heard her sing to me. She told me of your return, Your Majesties.  She told me what you are and what you will do.” Kyah has paused then, regarding them with his large black eyes, “Our magic is returning to us.  I can feel it when our kin howl, when they dance and run in the light of Ilia and her million stary children. I feel the world returning to how my grandfather described it in his tales.”

“We’ve made contact with our gods as well,” Bakura told him.  “Our Spellcasters can reach across the Realms again, to call up them for aid.  We can access the forms of our Ka for the first time in generations.”

“Why?” Kyah had asked, “I do not mean to question miracles, but there must be a reason why this is happening?”

Bakura had looked at Atem, hoping for an explanation.  But she has none.

“I don’t know either, but it is a sign that none of us can ignore,” Atem had said.  “We come before you to ask your help, King Kyah. Will you sing of San Francisco? Will you help us to help those who have had their powers stripped from them?”

“We will sing of your Walker city, only if you will sing of our fallen temples,” Kyah had promised.  “Come. Let us visit one of the few we have left.”

According to Kyah, after Emeric Hufflepuff used the Elder Wand to severe the connection between the Divine Realms and the Mortal Plane, Rowena Ravenclaw had traveled the world to burn and loot the temples of fallen gods to magically sterilize the various races of the world.  There had been a traitor, Kyah told them: a selkie by the name of Linbhóiblìonn, who had shown the Founders how to find their homes after she shed her scales to love a human man. Many fell because of Linbhóiblìonn’s treasons, but Kyah’s grandfather, Waltoko, had managed to keep theirs hidden by singing a song of storms.  The resulting winter winds had blown Ravenclaw off course and nearly frozen her to death, but she managed to escape before succumbing entirely with the help of her former squire.

The temple that Waltoko had saved was one of the smaller ones, but no less magnificent.  Bakura and Atem swam through a long corridor cut deep into the rockbed floor before coming to a solid wall where a glittering pair of intertwined serpents had been carved into the rock, their eyes set with large green gems.  Kyah sang, calling out for entrance, and the snakes part way, allowing them to swim inside.

Bakura had never visited a Temple of Ilia before and as far as he knows, neither had Atem.  The King Commander had had the honour, visiting a pod of sirens in the Nile Delta during the first year of their reign.  But the tales that their lover had told them could not match seeing the real thing. The main chamber was very long and brightly lit.  Through the walls ran veils of blue-green algae that emitted a soft, bioluminescent glow. Towering pillars had been carved out of the rock, around which swirled even more carved serpents with gemstone eyes.

At the head of the temple stood a statute that was as high as the temple itself.  Bakura had slowed to a halt, treading water to get a better look at it.

The likeness of Ilia, the lunar goddess of Merpeople, Lycans, Centaurs, and Veela, had been carved into the rock.  She had the body of a sea serpent, each scale fitted with a jewel so that her tale shone in the light of the algae.  Sprouting from her back were large bat-like wings and her arms were covered in thick hair that swayed in the tide of the room.  Her head was that of a horse and in each hand was a ball of magically burning flame.

“She’s beautiful,” Bakura had said.  Kyah had smiled at that.

A ping rouses Bakura from him from his musing.  Beside him, Atem makes an uncharacteristic grunting noise and her hand flaps around at her side to grab her phone.  He hears her unlock it and pause to read the message before she gasps.

“Leo!”

Bakura blots upright in bed to see his girlfriend smiling at her phone, her thumbs moving across the screen to type out her response.  The three of them had texted each other a lot over the last year. Leo had helped them coordinate flight plans and lodging in the different places that they had visited, but he had also been there to watch old movies alongside them in hotel rooms and provide snarky commentary that had Bakura laughing a stitch into his side.  Atem had hour-long discussions about Marvel versus DC and had unwittingly introduced Leo to an awful self-insert fanfiction that Yuugi had written when she was twelve years old.

It would be so easy to love him, Bakura thinks, butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

“What’s he saying?”  He grins.

Atem sits up and leans against his shoulder, showing him her phone.

> good flight?
> We just got home.
> :) :) :) :)
> you going to bed, baby girl?  or are you going to netflix and chill with pretty boy?  ;P

Bakura laughs, “I know I’m still new to twenty-first-century slang, but is Leo trying to sext you?”

“It would appear so,” Atem smiles.  She gives him a wicked look, “Do you… think we should encourage him?”

The two of them had spoken about including Leo into their relationship several times since discovering his identity as the King Commander.  They had never acted on it, concerned that Leo’s overall flirtatious nature meant that their feelings were not returned. But there was something about tonight - perhaps it was their overtired minds or the triumphant result of their time in Baffin Bay - that made them want to take that risk.

> We’re going to stay up a little longer.
> Do you want to see some of the pictures we took in the Arctic?
> …
> baby girl, you know that we’re not supposed to know what each other looks like, right?
> We remember
> Do you want to see some anyways?

There’s a very long pause before Leo responds:

> yes

Atem filters through her camera roll, sending a few photos of the early morning sunrise across Qeqertarsuatsiaq’s coast.  Then, a picture of a cafe that they’d visited on the mainland that served fresh coffee and danishes. After that, Atem sent him shots of the airport in Nuuk before finally posting a selfie that she and Bakura had taken after surfacing from King Kyak’s underwater city, Atem’s lips pressed to his scarred cheek.

The phone tells them that he’s received and looked at each photo, but Leo doesn’t answer.  Bakura throws an arm over Atem’s shoulder, rubbing comforting circles into her skin, and they wait for as long as they can.

Then, when Bakura’s eyes were starting to droop, there are two back-to-back pings.

“What’d he say?” He asks urgently.

Atem stares at the screen, her eyes flicking back and forth, before she looks up.  Bakura swallows hard and she shows him Leo’s message.

> i’m sorry
> i have to go

Bakura’s heart sinks and Atem pulls him into a hug.

Shit,” he mutters into her shoulder.

“Shit,” she agrees.  They stay that way for a long time, falling asleep in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

The doorbell rings, jerking Reyna out of her sleep.  The book in her lap falls to the floor. Cursing, she bends forward and picks it up.  It’s a first edition copy of Violetta Black’s Throne, free of the editing that a lawsuit had forced her to comply with.  Tavell had given it to her to celebrate their first Christmas as a couple because he’d known how much she’d loved the Lady Pharaoh growing up.  He’d told her that he’d started his search the day that they’d met and paid an arm and a leg to get it.

Reyna chuckles at the memory, placing it on the side table beside the wingback chair she’d been napping in.  The bell chimes again and the feeling of happiness fades.

It’s time, she thinks.  Reyna checks that her wand is at her hip, still shaken from Morin’s attacks all those months ago, and goes to answer the door.

Her ex-husband, Tavell Cross, stands on the other side, hand in hand with his new wife.  Tavell looks as tired as Reyna feels, the lines on his dark face brought on by the stress.  He’d gone grey in the last few years and had taken to shaving his head bald rather than have his hair dyed.  He gives Reyna a small smile, which she returns, and steps forward to hug her.

“How are you?” He asks, looking her in the eye when they part.  Tavell is just as tall as Reyna is and she always used to appreciate the fact that they could never not look at each other when they spoke.  But right now, all she wants to do is to focus her gaze on anything besides him.

“I’m alright,” she lies.  Reyna turns to the woman beside him, “Angelina.  You’re looking well.”

Angelina is almost a foot shorter than Reyna and nearly twenty years her junior.  She’s a radiant young woman, always seeming to be full of laughter. Angelina’s hair and makeup were as stunningly perfect as the rest of her, her stylish robes uncharacteristically somber for the occasion.

“Thank you,” Angelina says and Reyna can tell that she means it; she likes that about the girl.

“Please come in,” Reyna gestures invitingly toward the open door.

Despite what The Quill claimed, Reyna’s divorce was less of a riveting tale of scandal and more the final chapter of a story that needed an end so that it’s cast of characters could move forward.  She and Tavell had moved too quickly and married far earlier than they should have, resulting in a partnership that could never have outlasted the storms they faced. They’d tried to make it work, if only for their children, but eventually decided that they were better off apart.

There had been no infidelity, though the timing of their actions after their divorce had been finalized had not helped to quell the rumours.  Tavell and Angelina had met no less than a week later and hit it off spectacularly and Reyna had made the mistake of bringing Neal Pendergrass as her plus one to Nicholas Hatfield’s retirement party three years ago.  The media had picked those stories up and run with it after Hatfield announced that Reyna would be replacing him as Minister for Magic.

“Where are the kids?” Tavell asks as he sits down at the kitchen table.

“Upstairs.  Chanara’s behind on packing,” Reyna explains, not wanting to get into the argument that she’d had with her daughter this morning.  Chanara didn’t understand why she had to move, didn’t realize that Reyna and her security force might not be able to protect her from the next Adam Morin.  And while she takes some comfort in Chanara’s belief in her strength, she knows that it will only make it worse when the anvil finally drops.

“And how’s Marco taking it?” Tavell says, glancing up at the ceiling, knowing that their children’s rooms were just above their heads.

“He’s excited to see you again.  It’s been too long,” Reyna says, couching her lies in truths.  In almost direct contrast, Marco seemed to be all too aware of her weaknesses and was convinced that she’d be killed on the job.  Reyna had gotten a floo call from his school just the other week saying that Marco had been sent to the nurse’s office after a lockdown drill. Apparently, one of the other children had started a rumour saying that there’d been another assassination attempt and Marco had had a panic attack, believing that it had been real.

It’s for the best, Reyna tells herself, swallowing around the lump in her throat as the coffee pot finishes with her brew.  Tavell’s parents left him a cottage up in their will.  And once we cast the Fidelius Charm, they’ll be hidden away, protected for good.  Her fingers curl around the handle and she lifts the carafe from the heat.  It’s for the best, she repeats.

Halfway through their divorce, Tavell’s parents had been killed in something that the New York Auror Department had classified as an accident, saying that they’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time and gotten merely caught in the crossfire of a gang war.  Tavell had been so distraught at the time that the judge had awarded Reyna full-custody of Chanara and Marco, worried that their father might not be able to care for them in the long term. But Reyna had always had her suspicions. Travone and Nayshya Cross had been wealthy muggleborn business owners making moves in a predominantly pureblood circle of competitors, meaning that it wouldn’t be completely out of the way to think that they’d been the victims of a hate crime.  She’d brought it up with Neal Pendergrass once in an attempt to get him to reopen the case, but he’d told her there was nothing that they could do.

People like Neal don’t like talking about how blood purity still rules our society, especially when they profit off of it, Reyna thinks, gritting her teeth and tries to think straight.  She hadn’t been alive the last time America had a supremacy war, but both her’s and Tavell’s parents had been survivors of Marie Fawly’s rise to power in the sixties.  I always knew which side Neal’s family supported, but I also know where he stands now.

Yet, after pictures of Adam Morin’s corpse hanging from the ceiling of his cell leaked to the press, Reyna worries that her children will grow up amidst the next wizarding civil war.  

She pours two cups of coffee and set them in front of Tavell and Angelina before grabbing the third mug for herself.  Reyna sighs, adding creme and sugar before taking her first sip, “I told them that you would be coming to pick them up, so they should be ready to go.

“Do you want me to have a talk with them first?” Tavell offers.  Reyna nods, but she doesn’t think that it will change anything. She’s already told both Chanara and Marco that The Quill was wrong, that their father wasn’t trying to take them away.  Instead, she and Tavell had asked a judge to change the custody agreements of their divorce so that her ex-husband could leave with their children without having to worry about an investigation by the Auror Office.  The Quill had taken that, sensationalized it, and turning this whole thing into another story about how Reyna fucked up and wasn’t fit to be Minister.

I’m trying to protect them, she thinks, remembering how helpless she’d felt when Adam Morin attacked her parent’s home in New York, using her own body to cover Marco while her security team worked to protect them from his onslaught.  Why can’t everyone just see that?

Tavell finishes his coffee and moves toward the staircase, pressing a comforting hand to Reyna’s shoulder before starting his ascent.  Angelina gives her just half a minute of silence before she pulls a stack of papers out of her bag.

“Is that…?” Reyna starts but lets her sentence peter out.

Angelina nods, “The findings of my investigation, as ordered ma’am.”

While she may have started her Ministry career in the Department of Magical Cooperation, Angelina Mina’s skill set would have been wasted there had her resume not made its way across Nicholas Hatfield’s desk shortly before his retirement.  Following the collapse of Marie Fawly’s regime in 1962 and the resignation of Hatfield as Minister of Magic, he created a secret spy network that worked to gather information about threats to the American Ministry and reported back to the Minister themselves.  And Angelina, who’d graduated Ravenwood Magical College with top marks in all her subjects despite her abysmal attendance record, seemed to be someone with a unique information gathering skills. Hatfield had recommended that Reyna hire her after he’d told her of the Board’s existence, just before their transfer of power had taken place.

Shortly after returning home following the Confederation Broadcast, Reyna had promoted Angelina to Head of the program and tasked her with finding out everything that she could on the mages of San Francisco, specifically the strange looking pair that had declared themselves the leaders of the movement.  Angelina had come back to Reyna nearly three months later, admitting that all she could on the two mages was a few credit card transactions - more from Bakura than Atem.

“Bakura, I can at least date him back to late April 2013, when he bought some furniture for an apartment.  But it’s like Atem didn’t exist until she went to a hairdresser roughly a week before she helped blow up the island in the Pacific,” Angelina had growled, pacing back and forth in Reyna’s office.  “The birth certificates and passports that they have are bullshit, all leading back to some obscure village in Egypt that doesn’t even exist on a map. Whoever Bakura and Atem are - if those are even their real names - San Francisco went out of their way to hide their pasts from the world.”

But now, she sits in Reyna’s kitchen with a stack of parchment so thick that it makes a noise when Angelina thumps it triumphantly on to the table.

“You’ve found who they are?” Reyna asks, her eyes wide.

Angelina shakes her head, scowling, “Sadly, no.  My team still hasn’t made any headway into discovering who Bakura and Atem were before they came to San Francisco.  But we have made surprising headway into what they have been doing afterward.”  She pulls a map out of the stack, “They’ve been making trips around the world, looking for allies.”

Reyna frowns, “The only country to openly suggest an alliance with San Francisco has been China.  There have been whispers of others, but--”

Angelina interrupts her, “I’m not talking about human allies.  I’m talking about other non-magical races around the world.”

“What?”  Reyna asks, taking a better look at the map.

“Aurors in Detroit are telling us that the Werewolf packs that have squatted there for years are on the move, heading south.  Someone also broke up the Veela sex trade in Chicago just before the wolves disappeared,” Angelina pauses to pass Reyna a grainy muggle surveillance photo.  Several of the most beautiful people she’s ever seen stand off to the side in the middle of a train station. Beside them with a laugh on his lips is Bakura, looking so relaxed and non-threatening that Reyna doesn’t even recognize him at first.  “This was taken from a security camera in the Amtrak station. The train they got on was heading west making all stops to Reno. And from there, it’s only a five-hour bus ride to San Francisco.”

Angelina takes a breath before she continues, “We’ve got evidence of them in Central America visiting Vampires, in Russia talking to Giants, and even in Britain itself after they closed their borders.”

“What were they doing in Britain?” Reyna asks, while thinking, So much for British superiority…  Because if Angelina could get information out of the country without causing an incident, she’s honestly not surprised that the mages could slip past their security unnoticed.  Hell, even Neal could get in - though he had what their Ministry thought was a valid excuse. And Bakura has done something similar before, she thinks and remembers the day that her Ministry had been turned into a desert.

“Well, considering that that foul woman, Dolores Umbridge, has been calling for the restriction of Centaur territories, we can only guess that they were heading to talk with them,” Angelina answers.

“But why?  Why them…? What can Veela and Centaurs do that talking to us can’t?” Reyna asks.  Before they’d disappeared entirely, Atem had warned the Confederation that they’d be in touch.  And yet, no one except Xiang Li had even heard from them. Hell, half of Angelina’s rationale for Reyna to hire Kisha Borrego was to see if she was still in contact with San Francisco and control the flow of information the mages had about the American Ministry itself (which had proved ineffective because they somehow had a way of filtering out false information and acting accordingly).  “Could they be building an army?”

“It’s a possibility,” Angelina says.  “With tensions brewing within the goblin ranks, it won’t be long before they turn sides too.”

“How are they doing this?” Reyna asks, “To organize something on this large a scale, they need some form of communication.”

“We think they’re using the internet.”

“The what?”

“The internet,” Angelina explains.  “It’s like… imagine if the floo network was connected to the biggest library in the world.  You can’t actually go to the library, but you can get information from it just by asking it a question.  And anyone can access it through their computers - these machines that the muggles build to use the internet.  I’ve put a Squib in our employ who’s really good at hacking, so we’ve been able to see a few their communications.  We think that they’ve got this group called the Jackals helping them out. There’s leader is someone called Leo. Bakura and Atem seem to talk to him quite often.  I actually think that they’re close friends.”

Finally.  A lead, Reyna feels hope blossoming in her chest.  She’d been so without it in the last few years, leading her to do something as desperate as straight up asking Borrego for her to contact Bakura and Atem for her.  If they don't come to me, I’ll have to go to them.

“My Squib thinks that we can track Leo’s internet address.  Do I have your permission?” Angelina asks. She looks up, squints, and then starts to put her papers back in her bag.

There are a series of thumps coming from the ceiling, meaning that Tavell has convinced their children to come downstairs.  Reyna has to make the decision now.

“You do.  Come back to me when you have a location and I’ll take it from there,” Reyna says.  She stands and turns just in time to see her children comes down the stairs.


 Light flickers around the Cave of the Eternal Flame and Holly stands beside her husband.  They are dressed in flowing black and yellow silks, the colours of the Houses Sidonia and Hufflepuff, holding hands before the blazing inferno before them.

Their audience is comprised of the purest blood that the world can offer.  In the front row are the remaining members of Italy’s oldest families.  Decimus Papas, a wisp of a man with swollen joints and bones that were prone to breaking.  Decimus had lost both a son and a brother-in-law to the Zabini black widow, but his sister had died giving the world Holly’s husband, so she had ordered that he be seated in the middle as an honoured guest.

Quintus and Otacilia Seanus had been placed to his left.  Otacilia had a shaking hand over her pregnant belly, her skin-and-bones fingers twitching uncontrollably.  Her brother and husband sat beside her, his thin face gaunt and his eyes staring hungrily at Marcellous.

He wants my husband’s strength… or perhaps he just wants my husband, Holly keeps her eyes on Quintus, her lip curling in warning.  He is mine, boy.  You had best remember that.

Just behind her two children, Caesia Seanus had chosen to stand rather than sit, barely holding herself up as she leaned on her cane.  If Holly remembers correctly, one of Caesia’s grandmothers had been a foreigner and Luccenia Sonia had used the woman as an example for her repeating of the Pureblood Protection Act.  Holly regards the old woman carefully, for she had a shrewd look about her.

A space had been left at Marcellous’s request for the Zabini heir, for when Viola would return to the home of her birth.  Holly looks out at the crowd beyond and sees the lesser families of Italy, those few that had remained loyal to their betters.  She doesn’t understand how those that sided with Luccenia could commit such a heinous act. Justice lays across her lap and Holly imagines unsheathing it and running it through the Vestalis Maxima’s chest, watching the blade run red as the girl’s life left her body.

“My brothers and sisters,” Marcellous rises to his feet, taking a few steps forward.  Holly doesn’t think that she’d ever get used to seeing him move without pain, but she revels in it nonetheless.  By the looks that Quintus continues to give him, she is not the only one. “For too long have we sat silent, held back by those with mud flowing through their veins.  For too long we have been forced into the dark, while the spawn of muggles sit in our rightful places. No longer! Not a moment longer!”

A cry goes up amongst the crowd and Marcellous waits for it to settle before he continues.

“My half-blood sister calls herself Minister, using a power granted to her by my father to steal his position from him.  If she were to have her way, our children,” he points to Otacilia and her unborn child, “would mate with muggles and mages, polluting our blood with their filth!”

“Never!” Otacilia hisses, “She will have my son over my--” her words are cut short as she starts to cough so violently that her entire frame seems to shake.  Caesia rushes forward, pressing a handkerchief to her daughter’s mouth. When she pulls it away, it’s stained red.

“I have been given new strength, using the power of the ancient wizards of this city hid within this Cave.  My brothers and sisters, I give you the Eternal Flame!”

Marcellous gestures toward the bonfire, burning in a thousand nameless colours, arching high above their heads as Holly’s husband raises his hands toward it.

“The Flame has kept my wife alive for nearly a thousand years.  She is the daughter of Hufflepuff, the granddaughter of the great Pompilia Sidonia, and the heiress to the Pendragon throne.  When she married me, she told me of the Flame, so that I might lead the wizarding world into a golden age!”

Their audience roars, sending red and gold sparks overhead.  Marcellous knows how to put on a show, regardless of the falsehoods in his words.  The bonfire was just that - a bonfire. The rest power lies in the tunnels above, in the small red stone that her mother held in her hands.

“I want to share this power with you, my brothers and sisters!  I want to you to stand beside me so when I fight in this war, you will fight alongside me!” Marcellous shouts and the crowd goes wild, screaming at the top of their lungs.  “Walk through the flames and do not be scared! Because tonight, the Roman Empire begins anew!”

One by one, the Italian families of old were reborn.  Otacilia and Quintus are the first, the siblings holding hands as they walked through the fire.  They emerge unburnt the other side black haired and beautiful, their baby kicking in its mother’s womb.  They are followed by Demicus, who needs to be carried into the Flame by his house elves. As his servants burn beside him, Demicus roars as he is filled with life.  He steps out of the flames a handsome young man with a full head of red hair and a spring in his step.

“Mother!  Walk through!  Walk through!” Quintus calls, reaching out for Caesia to join them.  The old woman moves slowly but surely, limping toward the Flame with her ever cautious gaze.  But she too is transformed, her age reversed and her long dark hair flowing thick against her back.

Their celebrations continue throughout the night, as they eat and drink in the light of the Flame.  Sometime around midnight, Holly tugs her husband away from his conversation with the Seanus siblings and pulls him into a hidden cavern, kissing him for all that she worth.

Marcellous pushes her against the wall, pushing her silks up around her hips and fucks her roughly against the stone.  They don’t do this often - him inside of her, even after his health has been restored - but tonight they come together as one.

They are interrupted once your when Decimus pulls a weepy looking girl into their hiding spot.

“Oh, looks like this spot is already occupied,” Decimus smirks and tugs the girl away.

“With any luck, the girl will give him an heir tonight,” Marcellous says as he moves within her. Holly grins into his mouth.

“With any luck, I’ll give you an heir tonight,” she whispers. Marcellous grips her tight as his cums, filling her completely.

When they return to the party, laughing as they tug their silks back into place, a man is waiting for them.

He’s not of Italian blood, that is certain. Holly recognizes the high cheekbones of the British noble families and the silver blond hair of one in particular.

“Lucius Malfoy,” the man introduces himself. He takes Holly’s hand and bows low, pressing his lips to her fingers. “My lady, you are as lovely as your groom promised you would be. I apologize for not making it to your wedding, but it was an honor to receive your invitation for tonight’s ceremony.”

“We were unsure if the members of the Sacred Twenty-Eight would be able to attend, what with Britain closing its borders,” Marcellous says, though his eyes narrow when he notices that Lucius’s hand had lingered on her’s a second too long to be polite. Holly wants to scoff at her jealous husband, wants to kiss him with pride.

“Cornelius Fudge is a friend with deep pockets that enjoy being filled with gold,” Lucius explains. “He owes me a favour or two. So when I ask if I can bend the rules a bit, he looks the other way.”

Holly rolls her years, Malfoys never change.  The Malfoy mercenary clan had aided her mother and their family in the sack of Camelot and their leader, an impressive man named Swain, was said to have a friend in every castle - one that often owed him a boon.

“And what did you think of tonight’s ceremony?” Holly asks.

“I thought it rather dull at first, to be honest. But when the honorable couple from House Seanus stepped through the Flame, well…” Lucius’s eyes stared at the flames with naked desire, “I could not help but believe.

“Would you pass word of the revelation onto our cousins in Britain?” Marcellous asks. “To remind them of their duties to the Roman Empire?”

“I shall, but if I may say so, I believe that I can go a step further,” Lucius’s mouth curls into a sly smile. He reaches into his robes and pulls forth a battered leather-bound book. On the cover are the initials T.M.R.

“This diary was entrusted to me long ago by the Dark Lord himself. He told me that one day, I was to give it to my son and it would aid him in finished Salazar Slytherin’s greatest world: purging the mudblood filth from our country,” Lucius says, turning the boom over in his hand. “But my former master lies dead at the hands of a half-blooded infant and Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets remains locked beneath Hogwarts Castle. I have never been able to decipher how this book was to help Draco, but now… Now I wonder if, perhaps, it was just waiting for the right moment.”

Holly frowns in confusion, remembering her cousin Sal. What is this fool talking about?

“You wish to unleash this Chamber upon Britain’s filth, so instigate fear into the hearts of our enemies?” Marcellous grins, “You do not need my permission to do such wonders, Lucius Malfoy.”

“I’m not seeking permission, Lord Sidonia. I want this act to be seen as an… offer of sorts. From House Malfoy to you own.”

Marcellous pauses and sees that his peers are watching this conversation with interest. They want to see how he acts, to see how he leads.

“An offer?” Marcellous asks. “In exchange for what, might I ask?”

“I have a son. And if you and your beautiful wife have children of your own, you might have a daughter,” Lucius leers at Holly. “Might I propose that we join our Houses, in celebration of a barren well struck.”

Marcellous regards Lucius for a moment before turning to Holly. They exchange a look, their fingers intertwining with one another. Holly nods.

She lashes out, digging in Lucius’s mind with her Occlumency, aiming not to find anything, only to inflict as much pain as possible. The man falls to the floor, screaming and clawing at his face, tears streaming down his cheeks. Holly kneels down beside him to watch him shake, to listen as he begs for mercy, begs for his mother, begs for death. She smiles.

“My lord of Malfoy, you seem to be under the impression that you are equal to the likes of my brethren and me,” Marcellous smears from up above.  “I wish to dissuade you of that notion as quickly as possible. You and your family may be able to trace your lines back a thousand years, but my ancestors were birthing wizarding kings when yours were picking up their wands for the first time.”

Holly lets Lucius breathe for a moment before pulling Justice from its scabbard and pointing its tip at the man’s throat.

“You are going to let your son unleash Slytherin’s Chamber upon the filth of Britain, but not because of a promise of marriage. You are going to do it because if you don’t, my darling wife is going to kill you,” Marcellous continues. Then he pauses, tilting his head to the side in contemplation. “On second thought, when the war is done and my father has been freed from his wrongful imprisonment, your son may fuck Luccenia, if he desires her.  His tainted blood is worthy enough for a bastard girl from the traitor house of Sonia. And if she whelps a child before I kill her alongside the mages and muggles she loves so much, then you are welcome to keep it and name it your heir.”

“Do you understand?” Holly asks, pressing Justice’s point into the thin flesh of Lucius’s neck. A trail of red runs down his throat.

“I… I understand,” Lucius answers

“I am not Lord Voldemort, Malfoy. I am not a single-minded moron created by the Department of Mysteries so that they could harvest babies from the wreckage he left behind,” Marcellous hisses. “I am creating a new world, where all that are pure may live in peace away from the unclean masses.  My wife and I will rule as the immortal Emperor and Empress and you, with the filth that runs through your veins, will learn your place.”

“Do you understand?” Holly asks again, prodding at Lucius’s mind just to watch him squirm.

“I understand!  I understand!” He scrambles away from Justice’s kiss, grasping at his neck to quell the bleeding.

“Then leave us,” Holly stands, turning her back on Lucius.  She listens to his footsteps as he stumbles toward the exit.

Marcellous’s smile is infectious.  Holly moves forward and kisses him passionately in front of the purest of the Forum Romanum, as her mother looks on from the tunnels above.  Let them see our love.  Let them see their future.  We will lead them into a new era and nothing will stop us!


A gust of wind knocks Bill’s hat from his head.  He summons it back with his wand and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.  Jamming it on his head, Bill rises to brush the dust from his muggle cargo pants.

“Well,” he says to no one in particular, “That was a waste of time…”

It had taken him almost an entire year to get a permit to leave Britain following the closure of its borders.  The Ministry witch who had worked his case had assured him that she was doing everything that she could to help speed the process up, but Bill seriously doubts that.  His father had ranted for nearly a fortnight about how Lucius Malfoy could leave the country on a moment’s notice, but Arthur’s own son had to slog through miles of paperwork just to be able to submit an application.

Besides, Bill was a Gringotts Curse Breaker, which might have held a bit of weight a year ago, but now it only brought suspicious down on his head.  What actually happened the day of the theft? People asked him that question almost as often as, Did you see the thief Bakura?  Or his personal favourite, Why didn’t you stop him?  Like Bill could have done anything from the Burrow, where he was helping his youngest brother, Ron, get ready for his first year at Hogwarts.

This year it was Ginny’s turn, but Bill couldn’t be there to send her off.  Instead, Gringotts bank had spent almost twelve months and a ridiculous amount of money to send him to Iraq.

Or more specifically, to the ruins of Assur, the ancient capital city of the Assyrian Empire.  Assur had remained occupied for nearly four thousand years, from the time of its creation in the early Bronze Age to the Tamerlane massacre in the fourteenth century.  The city that had withstood millennia of conquest had been reduced to a few low rising walls of red brick, with that threatening to collapse as well.

A muggle war, the scale of which Bill could hardly comprehend, was being waged around them.  Gringotts had provided him with a security force to keep him safe while he took one last look through the site, searching for anything of magical historical significance before it was declared unsafe for exploration.  Bill, of course, had found nothing that hadn’t been stripped from the site decades ago. He sighs and abandoned the temple remains that he’d been investigating, flanked by his guard.

The sun dips below the horizon and one of his guards tells him that they need to hurry back to the safe house.

A gust of wind knocks Bill’s hat from his head.  He summons it back with his wand and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.  Jamming it on his head, Bill rises to brush the dust from his muggle cargo pants.

“Well,” he says to no one in particular, “That was a waste of time…”

Bill shoves his hands into his pockets in irritation, squinting in the evening sunlight.  Another wild goose chase like this wasn’t going to win the bank back any more credibility.  If anything, the Ministry was going to give Gringotts employees an even harder time when they were just trying to do their jobs.

Of course, it probably didn’t help that Bill had finally managed to publish his thesis paper about the truth of the Statute of Secrecy.  While he was proud to finally get Yanni’s words out to the public, he had done so at a high cost to his family’s safety.

“Tell the world the truth,” his father had said after Bill told him that he’d been approached by Oracle, an independent magazine from America, a few months ago.  “Never be afraid to do that, Bill. Those who choose to be voiceless in times of crisis have always sided with the oppressor.  I know that. Your mother knows that. And we will always support you, no matter what.”

Within hours of the publication, the Ministry had sent an investigation team to the Burrow and searched it top to bottom, looking for any evidence that they had sided with the mages of San Francisco.  Bill’s brother Charlie had sent word that the dragon sanctuary that he had just gotten a job had been raided by Romanian Aurors and that he’d been interrogated for nearly eighteen hours. They’d kept asking him about Ryou Andrews, a wizard born mage who they’d both gone to school with but never actually met.

The sun dips below the horizon and one of his guards tells him that they need to hurry back to the safe house.

A gust of wind knocks Bill’s hat from his head.  He summons it back with his wand and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.  Jamming it on his head, Bill rises to brush the dust from his muggle cargo pants.

“Well,” he says to no one in particular. “That was a waste of-- Wait.”

Bill looks around and finds himself standing in the temple remains that he’d just left his guard waiting to take him back to the safe house.  The sun was still in the sky, hovering just above the horizon.

He shakes his head, clearing his thoughts.  I’m just imagining things, Bill thinks and begins the long walk back to base.  

The sun dips below the horizon and one of his guards tells him that they need to get inside quickly.  But then a gust of wind knocks Bill’s hat from his head. He summons it back with his wand and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.  Jamming it on his head, Bill rises to find himself right back in the middle of the temple remains.

“Well,” he says to no one in particular.  “This is officially weird.”

Clearly, something or someone didn’t want him leaving this spot.  Bill takes a better look around, because in all his years as a Curse Breaker, he’s never seen magic powerful enough to lock someone in a time loop like this before.  It makes him wonder, How long have I been looping, without even realizing that I was doing it?

The temple is located in the northern half of the inner city, just west of a ziggurat built during the time of the Old Empire.  As for the Temple itself, it was roughly one hundred and twenty square meters in size and dedicated to a primary deity of the Mesopotamian region.  Inanna had started off as a Sumerian goddess but had found a home amongst the Assyrians under the name of Ishtar.

There were magical stories about this site if you knew where to look.  According to Tamotsu Kitamori, one of Bill’s idols in the field of archeology, this was the supposed home of Clan Ishtar, the King Commanders legendary family.  They had been nobles who dedicated their lives in the service of their goddess but had fallen on hard times after a family feud divided the Clan, sending half their members into exile while the others remained behind to serve their city.

Following the collapse of Egypt’s Amarna Period, the Clan had managed to reconcile before they’d disappeared from the records entirely.  Their temple had remained vacant for several years until the wife of the Assyrian king had reopened the grounds.

Bill takes a few cautious moves to his left, unsure of what will activate the time loop spells.  He ignores his guard, who has started to yell at him to come back to the safe house with them. Bill kneels before one of the back walls of the temple, poking his wand at the brick.

A gust of wind knocks Bill’s hat from his head.  He summons it back with his wand and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.  Jamming it on his head, Bill rises to brush the dust from his muggle cargo pants.

“Okay,” he says to no one in particular.  “Not that way then.”

To the right then.  Bill pads carefully across the floor, remembering how Yanni had told them that not everything a Curse Breaker did was based in magic.  Sometimes, you had to hear what the earth was telling you.

Bill’s footsteps sound just a tad louder in this section of the temple.  He leans down and presses his ear to the stone floor, closing his eyes and listens.

“Weasley!  Hey, Weasley! We have to get back soon!  It’s almost nightfall!” One of his guards calls, but Bill doesn’t care.  He shouts and jumps to his feet.

“There’s something underground!” He pulls his wand out of its holster and pushes a gust of air from its tip, blowing the dust and sand away from the ancient temple floor.  Bill runs his fingers along the seams between the tile, looking for something that was out of place. He hits a ridge where there shouldn’t be one and his heart skips a beat.

“Come and help me!”  He calls to his guards but gets no response.  Bill looks up to find his companions laying face down in the dirt and a lone figure standing over them.

He points his wand at the figure, firing off a curse.  But the figure vanishes before it hits him, fading into the lengthening shadows.  Bill stands still, listening to the wind blowing around him, as the sun dips below the horizon and leaves him in complete darkness.  Then, suddenly and without warning, the air became unnaturally still, the temperature dropping exponentially.

“Mr. Weasley,” a voice calls out and Bill spins around, only to be blinded by a flash of light.  He raises his arms up to block it, squinting toward the sound of the voice. A low hum rings out in the background, and Bill recognizes it as the sound of a muggle car.

How did that get here without me noticing?  He wonders, his stomach churning with anxiety.  How long have I been looping?

“Who wants to know?” Bill shouts back as his eyes begin to adjust.  He manages to make out a pair of headlights and a man leaning against the hood of a muggle Jeep.

The man is dressed in a long billowing robe that seems to move despite the sudden lack of wind.  A turban donned his head and a scarf was wrapped around his shoulders. All in all, he looked like one of a thousand people who frequented the local village that Bill was staying in.  But there was something about the man that set Bill’s teeth on edge like he was witnessing something that shouldn’t exist.

“William Arthur Weasley,” the man begins again.  “Born November 29th, 1991 to Arthur Weasley and Molly Prewett in the small town Ottery St. Cattermole, located in Devon, England.  Attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry between the years of 2002 and 2009, where you were sorted into Gryffindor House and eventually became Prefect and then Head Boy.  After being hired by Gringotts wizarding bank, you went on to fight in the Order of the Phoenix and then marry--”

“Marry?  I’m not married,” Bill frowns, lowing his arms.  He sees the man pause and look at the paper he seems to be reading his facts from with a look of careful blankness.

“Ah,” the man says eventually.  “My mistake. My friend who gave me this information often forgets what year it is - an unfortunate consequence of her gift.  Do you know a Ms. Fleur Delacour?”

“Ms. Who?” Bill feels incredibly lost.

“Not yet, then.  Or perhaps never, at this rate.  The future is constantly in flux, while the past remains rigid and unchanged,” the man moves forward.  Bill swears he sees his legs move beneath his fluttering robes, but something tells him that the man is gliding across the stone floor of the Temple Ishtar.

“Who are you?” Bill asks, taking an involuntary step backward.  The man comes to a halt just in front of him and Bill can see that he has the glossy grey eyes of a dead man.

“I have had many names over the years.  You may call me Shada, for it was my first and my favourite,” the man raises a hand for him to shake.  Bill nearly jumps a foot in the air when he passes right through Shada’s skin, feeling an icy trickle of water running down his spine.

“You’re a ghost,” Bill realizes.  Except Shada is unlike any ghost that he has ever encountered.  He wasn’t transparent like any of the spirits Bill had run into at Hogwarts.  Instead, Shada seemed surprisingly solid, almost unnaturally perfect, like an artist had painted him into the fabric of the world.

“No.  Not a ghost.  I don’t know exactly what I am, only that I brought back from the Realms of the Dead against my will using necromancy,” Shada explains.

“That’s not possible.  Necromancy has never worked, except--” Bill stops short.

During his first few days working as a Curse Breaker, Yanni Kanas had petitioned the Forum Romanum to grant the two of them access to the tomb of Olcinia Zabini, the first known wielder of a wizarding wand.  Olcinia had not been buried in the crypts of her family’s home but in a plot beside Cadmus Peverell. Her ornate sarcophagus had been engraved with the mark of the Deathly Hallows: a straight vertical line that divided a circle in half, following by a triangle that encompassed them all.

Yanni had explained what the sign meant, but Bill only remembers the circle right now, “The Resurrection Stone?  The Hallows are real?”

“Thankfully, when Cadmus attempted to revive me, he and his brothers were still unused to their new weapons.  I was able to fight back against his will, but in doing so I severed my connection to the cycle of Life and Death, cursing myself to remain on this plane for the rest of eternity,” Shada says.  “For two thousand years, I have walked the earth. But I’ve always managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Except, perhaps… right now.”

Shada, Bill thinks, wracking his brains for why the name sounded familiar.  Where have I heard of him before?  Shada wasn’t a prominent character in the Peverall legend - especially since, according to the man himself, he had been dead at the time.  So who could he have been?

“And what do you want me to do?” Bill asks.

Shada smiles, the skin of his lips peeling back and revealing a void where there should have been teeth and tongue, flesh and bone.  There’s nothing inside of him, Bill realizes a moment too late.  He’s not human any longer.

“I’ve already set you on the path,” Shada answers, gesturing at Bill’s torso and legs.  Bill looks down and sees that his pale skin has been burnt red in the sun, his shirt and shoes barely holding themselves together.  He’s walking and has been for a while, though he doesn’t remember moving his legs.

Bill looks up at Shada, who’s gliding alongside him and his trek.  He tries to speak, but his mouth is so dry that he can’t get the words out.  Something gold glitters around Shada’s neck.

“I’ll see you soon,” the shade says before disappearing into the headlamps of the muggle Jeep.  “Wake up, Mr. Weasley.  Hey!  Hey, Weasley!  Wake up!

Bill jerks awake, stumbles, and then falls to his knees gasping for air.  His entire body is trembling with exhaustion, his burnt red fingers gripping at the desert sand.

“Merlin’s fucking dick, Weasley!  What the hell are you doing?” Bill turns and sees his guard holding out a canteen of water.  He grabs it, ignoring the searing pain that erupts when his skin touches the metal, and guzzles its contents.

The sun shines down from above.  It’s daytime, he realizes.  But… it was night just a moment ago.

“You’ve been missing for three days,” the guard says.  “Disappeared right in the middle of the dig in Assur. We’ve been looking all over for you!”

Three days?” Bill wheezes and looks around, trying to figure out where he is.  All he can make out are the sandy dunes of the Iraqi countryside. “How… What…?”

“I mean, fuck man.  If you needed to get to Toronto so badly, you could have just asked.”

Bill whips around, grabbing his guard by the lapels of his shirt, “What did you say?”

“Toronto.  You kept saying that you needed to get to Toronto,” the man says.

“Toronto?” Bill repeats and something feels so right about that word.  “Yes. I need to get to Toronto. Take me there.”

“You need to rest--”

“Take me to Toronto,” Bill tells him.  “Now.”


“What a load of bullshit.”

Amane looks over at Blaise, who’s staring at the newspaper stand in Diagon Alley.  The front page of The Daily Prophet read: PROFESSOR LOCKHART: FORMER CONVERT ASSURES PUBLIC OF PROGRAM’S SUCCESS.

Amane thinks that if Blaise rolled his eyes any harder, they’d pop right out of his head and onto the street.

“Everyone knows the conversion program as bullshit, but the Ministry keeps trying to convince people that mages aren’t that big a deal,” Blaise mutters under his breath.  “Fudge thinks that if he claps his hands over his ears and shouts, ‘La! La! La!’ as loud as he can, then the problem will just go away. This thing with Lockhart is just another stupid distraction, just like the Border Closure.”

“I don’t know,” Amane says, teasing.  “Lockhart’s face is pretty distracting.”

“Not you, too,” Blaise groans, over dramatic as ever.  He squints at the picture of Lockhart posing for a picture with the Minister of Magic, flashing his blinding smile to the crowd of Prophet reporters.  “That’s all that anyone ever says about him.  Ooooh, Lockhart’s so smart!  Lockhart’s sooooo pretty!  If that’s what you think, maybe you should marry him?”

“Maybe I will,” Amane smirks.  She enjoys pushing Blaise’s buttons a little too much for her own good.

“You won’t.  He’d bore you to death within a week,” Blaise snorts, but it was clear as day that he was jealous.  “Come on. We’re gonna lose your cousin to the ice cream parlor again. And you know that milk makes her sick.”

Akoi Nakada, Amane’s seven-year-old cousin, had moved to Britain with her family not a week before Fudge enacted the Border Closures.  Akoi’s mother and Amane’s aunt, Ayame Nakada, had uprooted her husband, brother, and parents upon receiving Natsuki’s letter, swearing that if her sister would not come home to her family, then her family would come to her.  And so, Amane gained six family members that she’d never even known existed within the span of a few days. They’d moved into one of the apartments in Viola’s building and refused to budge, even after the Ministry closed the borders.

Of course, this had been followed quickly by Ministry officials swooping into their new home, demanding to immigration papers and identification certificates.  Amane’s grandfather, Tamotsu, had even had to use his extensive background in history to prove the pureblood ancestry of the Kitamori Family just so that they could have a chance to remain in the country.  Even then, they were faced with constant threats by the Ministry to deport them.

Amane was just glad that her cover at Hogwarts hadn’t been blown yet.  That being said, she didn’t know how much longer that was going to last.

She and Blaise intend to pull Akoi out of the line in front of Florean Fortescue’s, but give in the moment the girl starts to cry.  Amane ends up asking the owner if they carried a dairy-free ice cream, to which the man smiled and handed a bouncing Akoi a cone topped with bright pink shaved ice.  The girl happily skipped along beside Amane, chatting away in Japanese about how each bite seemed to have a different flavour.

They cross the street, heading into Madam Malkin’s.  Amane sits Akoi down in the chair at the front and tells her not to move until they’ve gotten their robes, hoping that they’ll be able to get out of here quickly.  Akoi sticks out like a sore thumb dressed in her bright red kimono, decorated with golden dragons. It’s dangerous these days, being different, Amane thinks, fingering her shoulder length hair, which was still dyed tea brown.  She hates the colour.

The line at Madam Malkin’s is ridiculously long and the more they stand around, the more looks that Akoi get.  A witch three people ahead of them starts to whisper with her husband, pointing at the little girl with nasty words under her breath.  Amane’s clenches her fingers into fists. She’d gotten a lot of that last year at Hogwarts, ever since Xiang Li announced that China was going to open its doors to San Francisco.

It doesn’t matter that Japan’s following in Britain’s footsteps.  If you look Asian, they all think you’re Chinese, Amane thinks.  Blaise notices and takes a step closer to her, his shoulder brushing up against hers.

Sometimes she wishes that Blaise had been sorted into Hufflepuff with her instead of Slytherin.  He told her that he’d fought against the Hat’s decision for a while, though she’d never gotten an answer out of him for why he’d given in at the end; Blaise seemed to clam up when she pried too much, wrapping his arms around his chest and refusing to speak.  It was only when Amane brought out their map to see if he wanted to sneak out at night again to break into the Restricted Section of the library that Blaise would unwind enough to talk.

“Amane?  Amane, is that you?”  Amane turns just in time to see her dorm mate, Hannah Abbott, waving at her from further up in the line.  Hannah motions for them to join them and Blaise, ever the Slytherin, grabs Amane by the hand and ignores the angry squawks of the customers that they cut in front of.

Hannah isn’t alone.  She’s joined by one of her usual pack of friends, Ernie Macmillan.  Amane didn’t usually hang out with them, despite being in the same House.  She’d kept Dumbledore’s words close to her heart, including his threat to expel her if she caused any trouble.

“Oh, I thought that you were by yourself,” Hannah says, smiling slyly and nodding towards where Blaise was still holding her hand.  Amane feels her cheek heat up and snatches her hand away.

“This is--” She starts to introduce Blaise, but Ernie cuts her off.

“Blaise Zabini, correct?  Ernie Macmillan,” he offers Blaise his hand in the way that every pureblooded witch or wizard worth their salt seems to do whenever they met him.  “And this is Hannah Abbott.”

“I know,” Blaise says, stuffing his hands in his pockets.  “Your fathers introduced you both to my mum and I after we came to Britain.”

“At the party that Maxwell Greengrass threw!  Oh yes, I remember now,” Ernie laughs in a way that makes Amane think that he did, in fact, remember, long before Blaise had reminded him.  “I think he was trying to set you up with one of his daughters, that old scoundrel.”

Blaise twitches, obviously uncomfortable, his arms crossed over his chest, “Well, considering that I’m already engaged, he didn’t need to bother.”

You are?” Hannah gasps.  “To who?”

Blaise doesn’t answer, but his eyes do flick toward Amane, which is enough of a response for them.

“Oh!  I… I didn’t realize,” Hannah stammers.  Her voice betrays her, letting Amane realizes that Hannah was actually a little disappointed by Blaise’s admission.  “Is that how you… you know…”

“Is that how I what?” She snaps.

“You know…” Hannah says again, looking pointedly back at Akoi.  Amane’s cousin has finished her shaved ice and is bouncing impatiently in her seat, her nose up against the glass she stares out that the ice cream store across the street.

“I think that Hannah wants to know if it was your engagement that allowed you to come to Britain, after the Border Closure,” Ernie says, a little too quickly.  “Immigrants like you and your family are a bit of rarity, these days.”

Amane wants to slap him.  I was born here, she wants to say but knows that is something that Amane Andrews might have been able to prove.  Amane Kitamori was a Japanese transfer student and couldn’t.

“She was allowed to come here for the same reasons that I was,” Blaise hisses.  “Or did you forget, I’m an immigrant as well.”

“But that’s different!” Ernie tries to defend himself, but Blaise is having none of it.

“It’s not different.  You just value the blood in my veins more than you do the blood in her’s.”

“I-- I--” Ernie puffs himself up, trying to look indignant.  “I don't appreciate what you're implying, Zabini.  My family fought and died in the war against You-Know-Who!”

“Just because you don’t want muggleborns dead doesn’t mean you get a free pass when you say crap like that,” Blaise tells him.  He grabs Amane’s hand again, “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

They grab Akoi before they leave, tugging her away from her mad dash toward the ice cream parlor.  They end up getting their new uniforms at the second-hand robe shop, which Blaise says will probably make his mother’s entire day.

“Anything that will make her ancestors roll in their graves sends her into a laughing fit,” Blaise tells her, the bell chiming as they walk inside.  “Let’s pick out something absolutely awful looking. Like this!”

He pulls a maroon velvet pair of men’s dress robes from one of the racks.  It was trimmed with lace at the neck and sleeves and smelled faintly of mold.  Amane bursts out laughing at the image of Blaise wearing it.

They do eventually find Hufflepuff and Slytherin uniforms in their size, though not before the shopkeeper threatens to throw them out for disturbing the other customers.  Amane doesn’t think that some of them minded all that much; she recognized a family of redheads from school chuckling at their antics. The twins are quite handsome themselves and Amane ducked her head, staring at her feet, whenever they looked her way.

She finds Blaise absently thumbing through a section of mothball infested dresses with an oddly wistful look on his face.  Amane raises an eyebrow and grabs one of them, a periwinkle blue ball gown, holding it up to Blaise’s chest.

“It’s your colour,” she tells him, a smile on her face.  She expects him to scoff and make some half-hearted, backhanded joke.

But Blaise does none of that.  He blinks once, looking down at the dress that she’s splayed across his torso.  He glances up at her, almost shy, and asks, “You think?”

Amane doesn’t know what to think of that.  Her heart races and she licks her lips, “Maybe?  I… You want to get it?”

Blaise laughs awkwardly, a little harsh and a little sad, and tells her to put the dress back.

They buy their uniforms and have a few minutes to kill, so they head back to the ice cream parlor because Akoi won’t leave them alone about it.  The owner remembers Amane’s cousin and pulls them out of line to give Akoi another bright pink shaved ice.

Amane pats at her robes, looking at Blaise, “I think I left my wallet back at the shop.  I’ll be right back. Watch Akoi, alright?”

“I can pay!” Blaise shouts at her, but Amane is racing back to the west end of Diagon Alley.

When she gets back, Amane immediately realizes that something is wrong.  The ice cream parlor owner is sitting at a table with Blaise, a hand hovering protectively over the boy’s shoulder.  Akoi has abandoned her cone, the pink ice melting on the ground at her feet.

An owl pecks at a few crumbs on the table and there is an opened letter in Blaise’s hand.  Amane remembers receiving another message just over a year ago that had pulled the rug out from under her.

I’m sorry, Ryou had written.  Goodbye.

“It’s my mother,” Blaise whispers when Amane gets close enough.  He glances up at her and looks utterly destroyed. Blaise can’t seem to get the words out, so Amane takes the letter from her hand and reads it.

And her blood runs cold.

Chapter Text

Reiko wakes up to an empty bed.  She blinks sleep out of her eyes, rolls over, and presses her palm into the vacant space, feeling the warmth left behind.  The sheets are scratchy, the mattress is lumpy, and the window to her left has a draft. Outside, the sun is rising over a field of lush countryside.

Reiko rolls out of bed, her entire body aching.  That seemed to be the norm for her these days, after Helena Hendrix - Helga Hufflepuff, she reminds herself - had stopped healing Reiko with her divine weapon.  She strips out of the cotton nightgown she’s wearing and stumbles into the en-suite bathroom.

At least the water is warm , Reiko thinks as the stream erupts from the showerhead above her head.  She grabs a bar of gritty soap from the corner of the tub and scrubs her skin until it’s raw.  Reiko’s fingers run over more scars that she remembers receiving, with a new one popping up every so often.  Some are pale, others bright red and fresh. She grits her teeth, All my old injuries are finally catching up to me .

When she steps out of the shower, Reiko is not alone.

She blinks.  The cat sitting on the bathroom counter blinks back, it’s purple eyes a stark contrast to its pitch black fur.

“When did we get a cat?” Reiko asks, not expecting an answer.

“I am not a pet, little witch,” the cat says with a flick of her long tail, her words ringing in Reiko’s mind rather than the air around them.  Her eyes widen in surprise.

“Sekhmet?” She breathes.

The cat blinks again, long and slow, “I am an aspect of her, just as she is an aspect of me.  Guess again, little witch.”

“You sound like her, but you’re not her,” Reiko says, reaching for a towel to wrap around her body.  When she turns back, she squints, “You’re Bastet, aren’t you? I thought you two were sisters.”

“Siblings is the easiest way for you humans to understand it,” the goddess answers and starts to lick her paw.

“You’re vaguer than a seer,” Reiko sighs.  Bastet blinks again, and she realizes that the goddess is laughing at her.  “What do you want? Because unless this is an emergency, I need to pee.”

The cat continues to clean herself, ignoring Reiko entirely.  She just manages not to roll her eyes. Figuring that she really doesn’t care about modesty right now, Reiko hikes the towel up around her waist and sits on the toilet to relieve herself.

“Why are you here?” Reiko asks again when she’s done.

“I have not been able to manifest myself in the mortal realm since Godwyn’s daughter made her deal and opened a Rip,” Bastet answers.   “Perhaps I wish to enjoy a freedom that my fellow gods cannot.”

Reiko frowns.   Helga made a deal?  And what’s a Rip?  But instead of asking those questions, she says, “Why can’t the other gods come to our world?”

The cat leaps down from the counter, landing on the cracked tile floor as a woman with the head of a black house cat.  Bastet stands so tall that she has to stoop to stand within the room, her large ears scraping the ceiling. Her body is covered in short black fur made out of the night sky, with constellations shifting across her limbs like the stripes and spots of a galaxy.

“I have a chosen,” the goddess answers, sounding like an orchestra of war drums.

“Me,” Rieko clarifies and the temperature of the room skyrockets, the air becoming desert dry.  Blood drips from Bastet’s mouth and Reiko sees Sekhmet shifting underneath her skin, calling for battle and death.

“You,” Bastet responds, her voice echoing with the thunder of a thousand armies.

“Why me?”

Bastet tilts her head, “You don’t remember your father, do you?”

Reiko takes a step back, her heart pounding, “He died before I was born.  Why?”

“It is through his mother’s magic that you are able to allow me passage through the Rip.  Though it is not without its costs,” Bastet reaches out with a massive clawed hand.  Reiko realizes that the goddess is hurt, her fur caked and matted with golden blood.

“You’re... What...?”  Reiko’s mind is whirling.

“It is worth it, if only for a few moments,” Bastet tells her.   “Your father’s powers are not as strong in you, which is...” the goddess’s tail flicks in irritation, “...unfortunate.  But it is enough for a god such as me to be able to slip through the cracks between our two worlds.”

“A god such as you?” Reiko asks, “So there are different kinds of gods?”

“Different in how we are born, equal in what we are.”

“And that is?”

Bastet blinks again, “Concepts.   Ideas .”

“An idea?” Reiko says, skeptically.

“Brought to life, or back to life in some cases, by the force of humanity,” Bastet tells her.   “Love, and through it, worship, are the most powerful forces on this earth.  They were the first mages and they will be the last.”

“Powerful enough to keep gods from dying, even though they’ve been killed?”

Bastet purrs, a rumble that seems to shake the cosmos, “Names have powers, little witch.  You should know that by now.”

“And as long as there is someone to worship you, you’ll live on.  Innate magic, powered by the planet itself,” Reiko frowns, remembering room dedicated to the study of love inside the British Labs.  “There are other innate magics, aren’t there? Darkness and Light. Chaos and Order.”

The goddess blinks in a silent nod, her amethyst eyes twinkling like a thousand stars.

“The Great Gods,” Bastet answers.   “The first Gods.  Brought into being when the earth was new.”

“Why are you telling me this?”  Reiko asks. And suddenly, she is not facing Bastet, but the trembling might of Sekhmet’s lioness form, the blood of her enemies dripped from her mouth.

“The Rip is closing soon and with it, the deal that Helga Hufflepuff made.  Just as it happened with Cadmus Peverell, with Priest Aknadin,” Sekhmet hisses, red leaking between her fangs.  The goddess gets closer and closer to Reiko until Sekhmet’s breath burns her skin and sand curls around her body, “And when it closes, there will be no battle.  There will be no war. It will be a slaughter.”  It is in that horrible moment that Reiko realizes that Sekhmet is not smiling.  She is crying tears of liquid amethyst.

“Why are you telling me this?” Reiko asks again, reaching for the goddess and placing her tiny mortal hands on her divine shoulders.  The sand shifts one last time, slipping between Reiko’s fingers and cascading to the floor. There stands a woman that Reiko has only seen in a single black and white photograph.  The horns of a bull erupted from her head, cradling a small glowing sun between them.

“We only live until the last time our name is spoken.  And for that, I am scared, little witch,” Hathor says, using the voice and face of Chiyo Kitamori, the mother Reiko would never know.  The sun between her horns flickers before dying. And just like that, the goddess is gone.

Reiko glances at the bathroom mirror one last time before getting dressed.  The floor underneath her is ice cold, the rickety old cottage had been abandoned for almost a year by the time they’d found it.  She slips her wands into their holsters and heads downstairs, ignoring how her joints have started to ache.

The enticing smell of bacon waft through the kitchen.  Standing in front of the stove, poking at the spitting pan in nothing but a pair of boxers and an old shirt, is Keith Howard.

“Morning,” Reiko calls, leaning against a wall.  Keith grunts in response - apparently she’s caught him before his first coffee.  Off in the counter, Pete is pulling a set of mugs out of the cabinet, muttering about how they’re ancient looking and like his grandmother’s, Jesus .  Tilla and Depre have pressed their heads together, going over the last of their plans to work out the gritty details.

And there, standing barefoot at the front bay window is Gara.

She’s wearing an old muggle dress that she must have fished out of one of the closets upstairs, it’s previous owner having left in a rush.  Gara’s blonde hair hangs limp down her back instead of up in the tight curls that Reiko remembers her favouring in her youth.

Their first night in the hotel room had been spent cutting Gara’s hair, shearing away the split ends and teaching her how to use modern elastics to pull it away from her face.  Reiko had brushed it until it shown like liquid gold while silent tears ran down her cheeks.

She’s beautiful , Reiko thinks now and pads out to wrap her arms around Gara’s waist.

“You should have woken me,” Reiko says, pressing her lips into Gara’s shoulder.

“You needed the sleep,” Gara points out.  “Besides, I wanted to watch the sunrise.”

That’s not all you wanted to watch, Reiko thinks, allowing her gaze to linger on the cottage just across the way.  One of the windows is open and the soft plinking of an amateur pianist spills out into the early morning streets of Devonshire.

“Eric’s getting quite good,” Reiko remarks, naming the small blond boy that they can see sitting at the keyboard.

“He is,” Gara says and Reiko can feel her tense.  “Why did Helga choose here ?  She could have lived anywhere with Garrish.  But she purposefully stationed herself across the street from--”  Gara’s voice cuts off as she stares at Eric Bishop experimentally tapping at the keys before flipping the page of his music books.  He looks so startlingly like his great-grandmother that it takes Reiko’s breath away.

“Whatever her reasons where, Perenelle Flamel left a ton of money to the music school he goes to in her will,” Keith says.  When Gara tells him that eavesdropping is rude, he snorts, “You’re having the conversation in the middle of the kitchen where everyone can hear you.  I’m not eavesdropping.  You’re just loud.”

Pete brings him his morning coffee and Keith chugs the whole thing without even caring that it’s ridiculously hot, sputtering as it scalds his throat.

“Why would she leave money to a music school?” Pete wonders allowed, setting a pair of mugs down in front of Tilla and Depre.  “I mean, wouldn’t it be smarter to have taken as much cash as she could before faking her death?”

“Helga also donated a crap ton of gold to Beauxbatons over the years as well - too much for it to be just a cover for Perenelle Flamel,” Keith says, sounding a bit more awake.  After they’re moved into the old Flamel house about a month ago, they’d scoured the place top to bottom for anything on what Hufflepuff and Garrish had been doing here. Amongst the scraps of half burnt parchment, Keith had found Gringotts bank notes for withdrawals that they’d matched to the Flamel’s supposed philanthropy.

“Not to mention that Helga fake-buried herself and Blaine Garrish - or Aloc Flint, whatever his name was - at Beauxbatons,” Tilla points out, holding up a La Providence article from earlier in the year.

“And then there’s Gellert Grindelwald,” Depre says, not looking up from the papers scattered in front of them.  He holds Tilla’s free hand in his own, fingers intertwining together. The two of them had shared a room since they’d gone on the run almost a year ago but had refused to say anything more about how their relationship had transformed into something else.  “In the last few years of his conquest, he became obsessed with France - abandoned Germany and focused all his attention on it.”

Reiko detangles herself from Gara, nodding along with what Depre was saying, “You’re right.  Most modern historians attribute his change in targets was what sewed the first seeds of discontent amongst his followers.  He built Nurmengard in Normandy, which was so costly that by the time Dumbledore took him down, Gel was so broke he couldn’t even supply food to his armies.”

“Not to mention that he was planning on attacking Beauxbatons itself,” Gara says.  Reiko whips her head around in shock.

“Really?  Nobody’s ever written that down.”

“Latner liked to talk while she was running tests while I was pregnant,” Gara says, sounding incredibly blase about the whole thing.  “She said that Gel kept going off script, breaking through his reprogramming and hyper-focusing on Beauxbatons. I figured out after the fact that she was distracting me with mission parameters so that she could magically sterilize Amelia to screw over Pegasus’s and Garrish’s plans.”

Reiko glances up at Keith’s hair, which was a shade or two darker than it had been a year ago - a result of him trying to strip Latner’s permanent transfiguration spell from his genetic coding.   She does have a history of tinkering with genetics , Reiko reasons.

Tilla slams a fist down on the table, smirking in victory, “So, your brain can heal itself after it's been reprogrammed.  That’s why we’re able to recover our memories, or why Bode was able to resist it for a few seconds.”  She grins up at Keith, who’d been pouring over his mother’s old notes that they’d stolen from inside the Time Room before setting it ablaze, “If you can cook up a substitute for what was in the Bell Jar, we might be able to take Grindelwald back before his reprogramming.”

“We’ll still need a few ingredients, but Meron’s cousin might be able to help,” Keith says.  The captain of the Cerulean had introduced them to the magical black market that her mother’s family ran when she’d smuggled them into Britain under the noses of the then-functioning Department of Mysteries.  They’d be staying with her cousin after Meron’s contacts got them out of Britain later today.

“So that’s it, then.  We’re all ready to go?” Tilla asks the group.  Before they can nod, a knock comes at the door.

They jump, pulling out their wands in preparation for an attack that never comes.  Gara relaxes first, squeezing her eyes together and steeling herself. Reiko realizes who is on the other side of the door just a second before Gara opens it.

“Amelia,” Gara smiles brightly at her daughter, covering up the tears that she wants to let loose.

“My dear, how many times do I have to ask you to call me Amy?  Only Mrs. Cole ever called me Amelia, and that’s when I was getting into trouble,” Gara’s daughter laughed, the lines on her face showing each and every smile she’d ever worn.  Amelia was in her late eighties but still stood as tall as Keith, towering over the rest of them like an enormous willow tree. Her formerly red hair was now a silvery white and her eyes were a twinkling bright blue behind her half-moon spectacles.

Where Eric Bishop took after his great-grandmother, it was clear that Amelia Bishop had inherited so many of her genetic father’s traits that it was like staring at a female Albus Dumbledore

“It’s hard to imagine you getting into trouble, Amelia,” Gara says, barely able to hold in her wistful longing to know the daughter she’d never gotten to raise.

“Well, then I’m so glad that you didn’t meet me when I was sixteen,” Amelia chuckles.  “But never mind that. Dennis and I would love to have you over for supper tonight? I know that you’re supposed to head out soon, but you’ve all been so kind - helping to fix the car, bringing in the groceries for Steph and Derek.  We would love you have you all over, just to say thank you.”

Gara tries to answer, but the words lodge in her throat.  Instead, it’s Tilla that says, “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Bishop.  But we’re heading out in a few hours. We have a train to catch.”

“Oh.  Oh, yes.  You did tell me that...” Amelia trails off, the brightness of her eyes fading ever so slightly.  Reiko’s teeth grind together and Gara is pale as a sheet. Amelia laughs it off with a wave of her hand, “It must have slipped my mind.  So many things do these days. Well, it was so nice meeting you all. You’ve all been so wonderful, helping out Mr. and Mrs. Flamel. Lovely neighbours, they are.  Do you know when they’ll be coming back? Perenelle always loved listening to Eric play. He’s got a concert soon - tell her that when you see her next, please?”

Gara’s smile is pinched when she says, “I will, Amelia.  I promise.”

Amelia’s daughter-in-law, Stephanie, runs across the road to shepherd her mother away, apologizing for the interruption and wishing them good luck on their travels.

“Oh, Gara,” Reiko sighs when they finally disappear behind the door across the street, pulling the girl into a hug.  “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

Gara’s sobs rip through her body, wet and sad and mournful.  Dennis Bishop, Amelia’s husband of nearly sixty years, had been dead for over a decade.  And as Amelia's mind slowly started to slip away from her, her son Derek and his family had moved back in to help.

They’d had the same exact conversation with Amelia at least once a week since they’d moved into the Flamel home and it makes Reiko want to scream each and every time.

“She got married,” Gara told her that first night together, back in the hotel.  Bode had told Gara about her daughter once a year, always on her birthday. “She met her husband at Wool’s Orphanage.  They moved to Devonshire after the War and raised their children together.”

Gara had buried her head in her hands as Reiko ran the brush through her hair, “She’s a Squib, thank Merlin - Latner saw to that.  And I don’t think she passed on any magic either. But Amelia... my little girl, she was so happy. And I never got to be there for her.”

“Oh, Gara,” Reiko says now.  “I’m here. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

“I should be happy for her,” Gara tells them all between her sobs.  “Why am I not happy for her?”

No one knows what to say.  Reiko does the only thing she can and holds Gara through the worst of it until her tears dry and the quaking stops.


 

The bus drops them off in Seaton.  While the others wait back at the station, Pete makes the brisk walk around the corner to a coastal cafe where Meron’s British contacts have promised to meet him.

He finds a seat at one of the few empty tables, tapping his fingers against the solid wooden tables.  A waitress with a tag that says her name is Sally comes over and asks if he wants anything.

“Hot chocolate,” Pete answers.  It’s been a surprisingly cool summer, even for Britain.  He hopes that the warm drink will do something to keep him calm.

Sally just finishes placing Pete's mug on the table when Meron’s contact walks in the door.  His eyes widen at their appearance, unable to think of anything to say.

“Misha, right?” Meron’s contact asks, sliding into the chair across from Pete.  “I’m Droms. Nice to meet you.”

Pete blurts out, “I’m sorry, but… Are you… well, um…?”  He shakes his head, “I’m sorry. I’m trying not to be offense, but--”

“Just say it offensively.  I haven’t got all damn day,” Droms says, sounding annoyed.

“Um…” Pete hesitates, “Are you… uh, are you a guy or a girl?”

Droms smirks, “Right now?  Neither. Use the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ when you want to address me.”

Pete nods slowly, taking it all in.

Droms is unlike any human being that Pete has ever met before.  Appearing completely androgynous, their light brown hair runs long down their back and their wide dark eyes are accented by sweeping lashes and a strong, square jaw with just a hint of stubble.  They wore a pleated blouse, tight jeans, and heavy black combat boots that matched their nail polish.

Pete watches a smirk made its way onto Droms’ bright purple lips and only just catches as their eyes flash from deep brown to bright green.

“You’re a metamorphmagus,” Pete says, amazed.  He’s never actually met one before.

But Droms just shakes their head, “Nope.  My husband is, and so is my daughter. But me?  I’m a mage shapeshifter.”

Pete’s jaw drops, “A mage?  I thought all of them left after the Confederation Broadcast.  What are you still doing here?”

Droms rolls their eyes, “How do you think they got out?  My husband and I have been working as smugglers for various causes over the years, so it only seemed right to turn our attention to the mage cause after the Broadcast.”

“But aren’t you worried that you’ll be caught?”

“Aren’t you?” Droms returns.  Pete doesn’t have much to say to that, so Droms continue on, “Meron mentions that there are six of you heading across the Channel.  That shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, especially because we’re expecting a returning trip today from France. You got the payment?”

Pete nods, sets a large bulky package onto the table with a solid thunk , “Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, as requested.  You know, I really hope that you don’t charge fleeing mages the same rates.”

“Nope.  We help them out for free.  It’s only former Unspeakables that we gouge this badly,” Droms says as they open the package and peek inside, one perfect eyebrow raising in surprise.

“Solid gold?” They ask.

“If the stock market holds, it should equal out to the amount we discussed,” Pete says.

Thankfully for Pete and his team, the Flamel’s basement had contained a vault stacked high with gold and silver, rubies and sapphires and diamonds, completely untouched by Bakura’s supposed Gringott’s theft.  Reiko had mentioned that Helga Hufflepuff had cashes like this all around the world so that she could travel anonymously if needed. They had scooped all that they could carry and tucked it into Reiko’s bag, which had been enchanted with an Undetectable Extension Charm.

Droms hums in response as the sun takes its final descent into the ocean beyond, “Well, then.  I guess we’re ready to go.”

That night finds Pete and his team standing on the English coastline, staring out at a black sheet of water.  There is no moon tonight and the lights lining the beaches have conveniently been switched off. Droms is joined by who Pete presumes is their husband, a fair-haired and big-bellied man named Ted.  He’s surprisingly plain looking for a wizard who could supposedly change their appearance at will. When Pete tells him that, the man laughs and shifts into a dainty, blonde girl.

“Is that better for you?” Ted asks, his (her?) voice no louder than a whisper in the empty night.

A small boat emerges out of the inky shadows, nearly invisible in the lack of light.  It glides through the water with the barest hint of sound, the engine on the back turned off.

“Lorenzo.  Anton,” Droms greets the two boys in the boat.  They’re both tall, olive-skinned, and handsome, so similar that they had to be twins.  They both possessed the same beady black eyes as Meron, marking them as part of her mother’s family.

“Droms.  Ted,” Anton nods in response.  Then he pulls at something in the boat, a large silvery cloth, and a third man with a woman and two little girls suddenly become visible.

Pete blinks, recognizing him, but it’s Tilla that names the man, “Neal Pendergrass?”

Pendergrass whips his head toward Lorenzo and Anton, hissing, “You swore that I’d be able to pass in secret!”

“Quit complaining.  You already brought back three unexpected passengers, and good luck getting them out of Britain without our help,” Lorenzo shrugs as he pulls Pendergrass's wand out of a tackle box and hands it back to him.  Anton does the same with the woman.  “And keep your voice down. There are Aurors all up and down the coastline. Do you want to get caught?”

Pendergrass turns back to Pete and his team, squinting in their direction.  Finally, he says, “You’re the Unspeakables that Pegasus brought in for the investigation…”

Former Unspeakables,” Gara corrects him, her voice as stern as steel.  “Now if you wouldn’t mind, we really need to get out of the country.  And I’m sure that you have places to be as well, Mr. Pendergrass.”

They swap places.  Pendergrass, the woman, and her children step onto the beach while Pete and the others lay down on the bottom of the boat, covered beneath Lorenzo and Anton’s massive invisibility cloak.  Then, one by one, they pass the two boys their wands, which they hide in the same tackle box that held Pendergrass’s.

Pete gets one last look as Droms slips Lorenzo a brick of gold as payment.  He sees Ted turning to Pendergrass, wrapping her (his?) arm around the man, “Don’t worry, Neal.  Maxwell and Clarice haven’t noticed that we’ve swapped yet. We'll deal with your friends later, but let me get you up to speed on the Greengrass house…”

Lorenzo and Anton keep the engine off for most of the trip, slowly paddling to ensure that they don’t make a sound louder than the waves.  Pete’s stomach seizes when they reach the border, remembering the security measures that the British Ministry had put in place. A heavily patrolled barrier would alert the Auror forces to anyone with a wand that passed through it.  Using that, along with a knock-off magecraft detection spell that had been salvaged from the wreckage of the Department of Mysteries, they formed an impressive blockade around the entire country.

But Lorenzo and Anton knew what they were doing.  They’d hidden all the wands within a box that would disguise their magical signatures, as well as protecting their physical appearances beneath the natural darkness of the sea.

Besides, the British Ministry of Magic would never be looking for a pair of muggles in a paddle boat, Pete smirks.

They do see someone get nabbed, though.  There’s no warning before Pete sees a team of Aurors descending upon a group of stupid kids.  There’s a series of red flashes, and then silence. Beside him, Gara goes utterly tense. Remembering that this is the first time that she’s been back in the field after a century-long hiatus, Pete touches her wrist with his fingers.  Gara looks at him, blinks, and then lets her eyes go soft.

Once they're through the border, Lorenzo and Anton paddle for maybe an hour or two longer before they talk about turning on the engine - long enough for them to be completely in the clear.

And then, just when Pete think that he can sit up and they can get a move on, Anton whispers, “ Shit.

“What?” Reiko hisses, emerges from under the cloak.

“Bruneau... He’s... God fucking damn it,” Lorenzo is staring at a phone screen, sifting through what looks like a series of articles.  Pete catches a glimpse of a body in one of the pictures and assumes the worst.

“We have to turn back,” Anton says.

“No.  No, we have to make it to the shore,” Gara implores.

“What’s happening?”  Keith asks, not having seen anything.

“France just closed its borders,” Lorenzo says.  The brothers look at each other, silently communicating with each other.  Then they pass the phone to Tilla, who reads the article.

When she’s done, Tilla swears more profusely than he’s ever heard her do.

“Bruneau’s dead.  Someone strung his body up in the middle of the Arc de Triomphe and wrote Le Magie est Puissance in blood above him .  The whole of muggle Paris just saw it happen.  There’s going to be no denying what happened, it’s already all over the...” Tilla pauses, gesturing to the phone.  “The inter-thing.”

“Internet,” Lorenzo corrects her.  He’s staring out at the blackness, toward the French shoreline.  “Bruneau was going to pull a China and open up a dialogue with San Francisco.  It would have been huge - a major European power acknowledging mages, even working with them.  It was the talk of the underground.”

But it was so much more than that.  If Meron was right, then she’d given her half-sister Cassandra Bleu information that ended up in Minister Bruneau’s accusations during the Confederation Broadcast.   If someone leaked at Bruneau was working with mages before the Broadcast, then it’s going to change everything going forward , Pete realizes.

“We have to keep going,” Gara says, sounding final.  “We’ve already come so far.”

“We need to get to France.  Once we hit the shore, then you can get yourself to safety.  Please,” Tilla says.

Anton and Lorenzo steel themselves and begin to paddle once again.  When they hit the shore, the sun peeks over the horizon announcing a new day.  But for some reason, all Pete wants to do is jump back in the Channel and swim right back to England.

Chapter Text

She stands at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber.  The stone floors were damp and faintly green with creeping mold. Massive pillars of black marble stood on either side of her, rising so high that they seemed to disappear into the ceiling.  Carved serpents with hollow eyes swirled along the massive stone structures, looking eerily lifelike.

She begins to move, her bare feet ghosting across the cold floors.  The empty eyes of the snakes seemed to follow her as she made her way toward the statute at the end of the chamber.

She stops and cranes her neck back to look at the monkeyish face of an old man.  He had a long, thin beard that coiled around his enormous grey feet. The green and silver pain of the wizard’s stone robes had flaked off centuries ago, leaving the errant chip behind to indicate their colour.

She knows who he is, but cannot seem to remember a name.

Hello?  She asks, but cannot find her voice.  She brings her fingers up to her lips and feels a single layer of skin, her mouth suddenly non-existent.

Fear grips her heart and she hears something clunk behind her, the sound echoing around the empty chamber.  She ducks out of sight and hides behind the wizard’s feet, peeking out to see who else was there.

The statute shakes and shivers as stone grinds against itself far, far above her.  Then, in a flash, four figures stand in the center of the chamber. Her eyes widen as she recognizes Em amongst their number.  He looks more like a god than he ever has before, with long flowing robes embroidered with golden dragons. Em leaned against a pale wooden staff, a wiry look on his young face.

Em’s companions are much more unique.  The shortest of them is a goblin that would have barely come up to his hip.  The goblin is naked and sexless, with skin made of black rock and eyes that glowed like liquid amethyst.

The tallest was a creature until anything that she had ever seen before.  With the head of a horse, the body of a snake, the wings of a bat, and the arms of a wolf, the beast towered fifteen feet over them all and glowed with silvery starlight as flames licked at her fingers.

Em’s final guest made the breath catch in her throat.  There stood a woman who wore the face of her mother.  Erupting from the woman’s head are a pair of bull’s horns, and between them spun a miniature sun.

“Will it work?” Asks the horse-creature asks, it’s voice sounding like crashing waves and crackling flame.  As it’s tail coils around itself, she watches as it leaves a trail of golden blood.

It’s injured , she thinks.

“Maybe.  But it’s the best chance that we’ve got,” Em answers, his purple eyes glinting.

“We didn’t ask for your help for a chance, wizard,” the goblin growls and the earth grinds together in its irritation.  The goblin is hurt as well. Gold blood leaks sluggishly from its neck and chest like the skin had been taken clean off.

Em rolls his eyes, “No.  You asked for my help because you’ve realized that you’ve got no other options.  I’m doing the best I can, Maglubiyet. You know the rules as well as I do.”

“We are only anxious, Emrys,” the woman wearing her mother's face says.   “If this plan does not succeed... If Godwyn’s daughter accomplishes her plan and we are unable to act...”

“I know what will happen if we fail,” Em sighs, rubbing his forehead in frustration.  “The pieces are being set, Hathor. All we can do now is wait for them to fall into place.”

“But even if our plan works, there’s still a chance of failure,” the horse-creature says.   “The others are waiting for the Rip to close.  They will not be merciful.”

“Don’t worry.  I think I--” Em pauses mid-sentence, his head twisting around to look directly at her.  “Oh. Oops.”

Oops?! Maglubiyet the goblin cries, outraged.  The other gods turn to see her as well. “We trust you with our lives, Merlin Emrys, and you--”

Em appears in front of her, his bright purple eyes glinting.  She has never felt so small.

“Luccenia,” Em asks, a smirk on his face.  “Don’t you have somewhere to be today?”

She gasps, jerking awake.

A dream, Luccenia thinks, pressing her palms into her eyes.  They’re still heavy with sleep. I have more pressing things to worry about.

She summons her house elf.  He helps her to sit up, sliding silk slippers onto her feet.  Then, with his thin arms holding her up, the elf assists her in walking toward her wheelchair, setting her down with gentle grace.  He wheels her toward the doors to her rooms and into the corridors beyond.

The house elf leads Luccenia to the private bathhouse within the Tempio di Vesta .  He strips her of her bedclothes and helps her into the warm water.  On the other side of the baths, Grata splashed and laughed while another house elf washed her golden hair with perfumed soaps.  Luccenia watches the little girl, smiling softly as Grata abandons her position and floats accord the pool to visit her. Grata takes Luccenia’s hands in her’s, babbling about the stunning brown designs that had been painted onto Luccenia's skin the day before amidst the song and laughter of a culture that she was only beginning to understand.

It’s good for her to be a child, free and curious.  She’s only ten, still too young to understand the life she’s been given , Luccenia thinks as Grata abandons her painted hands to dive beneath the surface of the water, reveling in how she could move without pain within the bath.  Her house elf begins to run his fingers through Luccenia’s hair - she often rolls in her sleep, so her thinning red hair is full of tangles and knots.

She hates her hair.  Luccenia wishes more than anything that she could look like her mother, Gabinia, but life did not seem to care what she wanted.  Instead, Luccenia possesses Titus Sidonia’s features - something that Gabinia had always told her was for the best, all while holding her pain behind a bright smile.

Titus saw her and wanted her.  So he took her, not caring that she was married , Luccenia grits her teeth together.   There were no repercussions for what he did back then, but I will make sure that he suffers.  And I will tear down this corrupt system that allowed him to do it. Today’s celebrations are the first step of a long road I must walk .  She thinks of Atronia, squeezing her eyes shut to prevent the tears from falling, I only wish that I could have walked it beside you.

The house elf finishes washing her hair, dries it, and begins to tie it into her traditional six braids, threading a pure white ribbon in between the strands.  Then he washes her arms and back before lifting her from the bath, pressing warm, plush towels to her skin.

Luccenia is dressed in the white woolen gown of the Vestalis Maxima , ignoring how itchy it feels against her body.  Noorey helps her back into her wheelchair and leads her back to her rooms.

Her breakfast is waiting for her.  She eats slowly, only managing a few bites of bread and cheese before her stomach rebels and Luccenia vomits into a bucket placed next to her table.  It’s not the first time that she’s been unable to keep her food down and she doubts it will be the last. She washes her mouth out with some cold water, nibbles at the bread once more to get something back into her belly, and hides the leftovers inside of her sleeve.  There’s a pocket there, enchanted with an extension charm - Tiberius had cast it for her when he’d first joined her guard, mentioning how his mother had done something similar to hold toys and snacks for him when he was younger.

Tiberius is waiting for her in the main foyer of the Tempio di Vesta.

“You look beautiful today, my lady,” he says, smiling warmly.  He helps her to her feet, allowing Luccenia to cling to his thin arm as she takes shaking steps toward the litter that is waiting for her at the bottom of temple stairs.  The sun is shining and Luccenia squints, looking out that the streets before her. Her heart seizes in her chest.

Generally, at this time of day, the witches and wizards of the Forum Romanum walked calmly along the cobblestone streets, darting between the shots and temples.  There would be a slow procession of young girls and boys making their way to the Templum Veneris et Romae , where they went to school and learned all they could about the magical world around them.  In her early years as a Vestal, Luccenia had so badly wanted to join them, to live a normal life.  But when Atronia had taken her aside and taught her all that she knew about the true secrets of the wizarding world, all Luccenia could do was pity them for their lack of understanding.

But today, as it hard all week, the street in front of the Tempio di Vesta were lined with angry protesters, their screams contorting their angry faces.  But Luccenia could not hear them, for a barrier had been put in place to block out their harsh words.  That didn’t stop her from reading the signs they held aloft.

Magia est Viribus , Luccenia swallows hard.   Magic is Might.

“What are they saying?” She asks Tiberius as she notices the crowd beginning to chant.  He looks shaken, and Luccenia thinks that the silencing charm is only there for her benefit.

“It’s not a concern, my lady--”

“What are they saying, Tiberius?” Luccenia presses as her centurion helps her into her litter.  He swallows hard. Tiberius glances quickly at the crowd and then back to her. “Be honest with me.  I am not scared.”

“They’re saying...” Tiberius takes a shuddering breath.  “They’re saying ‘Death to the usurper. The Vestals have fallen.’  My lady, what happens today--”

Luccenia silences him with a look, “What today is a celebration of love.  Of commitment. If they cannot see that--” she jerks her head toward the mob, “--then they are the problem.  Not me. And not those who put their lives on the line to support me.”

Tiberius takes one more look at the crowd and then back at her.

“Someday,” he tells her, “I wish that I will be as brave as you.”

He swoops in, pressing a kiss to her forehead, and shuts the door of her litter.

Luccenia feels the house elves beneath her raise the wooden box up with their magic, floating her down the streets towards their destination.  She cannot see what is happening outside, but she imagines Tiberius and her centurions casting the barrier around her litter to shield her from those who would do her harm.  Every so often, they have to stop and wait for a path to clear, delaying their quick trip to the edge of the Forum by nearly two hours.

The other Vestals will not leave the Tempio di Vesta until I come back, Luccenia tells herself.   There are contingencies in case something happens to me, along with increased security.  Anyone who tries to enter the temple grounds will be stopped. It will all be alright. It has to be.

Once, someone breaks through the barrier and rushes her litter, tearing the door open.  Luccenia has just enough time to hear the man shout, “Filthy cunt!” before a flash of green light fells him.  Tiberius is quick, closing the litter door, and screaming at his men to be more diligent. Luccenia risks peeking out through the curtains of the window.  The crowd swells, pressing up against the barrier in an attempt to break through.

She lets go of the curtain, sitting back in her chair.  Her presses a hand to her mouth, trying desperately to keep her fear inside.  Tears leak unbidden from her eyes.

I have to do this.  No change will occur otherwise, Luccenia thinks to herself.   Atronia said that it was hardest to be the first.  When the next one happens, it will be easier. And then on and on until this is commonplace.

She wipes her cheeks and steels herself, clenching fists in her white gown.  She is silent for the rest of the trip.

The elves set her down and Tiberius opens her door for her, offering his arm once more.  Luccenia exits her litter, her back toward the barrier holding back the angry masses, and she ascended the stairs of her family home.

While the four great pureblood houses of the Forum Romanum lived within the temples built during the early Roman Empire, the lesser houses existed on the fringes and were only allowed to come into the center of the Forum for business and schooling.  Luccenia’s mother had been a member of House Sonia before her marriage and today, Gabinia Flavina had brought her husband and son back to her family home for today’s celebrations.

Shortly after Luccenia used her influence as Vestalis Maxima to install herself as Italian Minister of Magic earlier in the year, she ousted her father’s old council and replaced them with members of the houses that supported her.  One of them had been Luccenia’s cousin, Mettius Sonia, who had worked tirelessly beside her to repeal the Pureblood Protection Act.

Mettius had always been a rebel, even under the reign of Titus Sidonia.  Much like their shared cousin, Atronia, he had made it his duty to speak out against the Act and calling attention to the declining health of the Italian wizarding families.  For even though they were not as pure as the great houses, after nearly fourteen hundred years of intermarrying, the Sonia family were showing the same signs of physical weakness.  He was now in charge of a committee dedicated to the research into the continued health of the Italian population.

Mettius had also been one of the few Italian wizards not to be schooled at the Templum Veneris et Romae .  Instead, he had petitioned the Ministry to allow him to study abroad in the tiny wizarding community within Pakistan.  It was there that he’d met Karya Zardari, a muggle-born witch. And today, against all the odds that had once been stacked against them, they were to be married.

Tiberius announces Luccenia’s arrival and is invited inside by the Sonia’s house elf.  And there, sitting in a wheelchair just inside the door, is her mother.

“Mama!” Luccenia cries, taking three stumbling, unassisted steps toward Gabinia, falling into her mother’s arms.  Gabinia’s hands and feet remain unpainted with henna, as it had been unclear up until this morning if she would be attending the wedding after being violently sick for almost half a year.

“Oh, Luccenia!  Let me see you, my daughter,” Gabinia pulls her away, placing two hands on her cheeks to meet her gaze.  Luccenia hasn’t been able to see her mother in so long and is shocked by the toll her illness had taken on her.  Gabinia was whisper thin, with hollow cheeks and deep bruises beneath her eyelids. Her usually dark complexion was a pasty grey and most of her thick hair had fallen from her head.  She covered her baldness with a woolen palla, a large rectangular cloth that she wore like a hood to keep her warm.

She is here, though.  That’s enough, just for now, Luccenia thinks.

“My beautiful girl,” Gabinia sighs, her breath escaping her chest like a death rattle.  “You have grown so much since I last saw you. You are so strong now.” When she smiles, Luccenia can see that she’s missing several of her teeth.

“Tiberius,” a voice calls from the other side of the room.  Luccenia turns just in time to catch Tiberius’s grin as he moves forward to embrace another figure in centurion armour.  

“Cnaeus!  You passed your tests,” Tiberius laughs.  Cnaeus grins back at him before turning his gaze back to Luccenia.  She sits down in a wheelchair of her own and slowly rolls her over to meet her half-brother.

Cnaeus Flavina was Gabinia’s trueborn son, born to her husband Vel, the uncle of the current Head of the Flavina family.  It was for that reason that Cnaeus, tall and sixteen, had been allowed to join the centurion legion. Luccenia hopes to one day include him in the Tempio di Vesta’s guard.

“My lady Minister,” Cnaeus drops to one knee and bows low before her.  Luccenia scoffs.

“We are in our mother’s home, brother.  We can skip the formalities today,” she tells him.  Luccenia opens her arms and he falls into them, holding her tight.

“It’s... It’s been a long time, sister,” Cnaeus stutters when he pulls back.  His ears are red and he can’t seem to look her in the eye. Luccenia tilts her head, confused at his reactions.  “You look... very nice.”

Gabinia interrupts their introductions, “Come!  Come! We must join the others!”

Luccenia dismisses Tiberius, allowing him to follow Cnaeus toward where the groom’s party was getting ready, as Mettius’s late mother had been Tiberius’s older sister.

Luccenia joins the women in the bridal party, learning more and more about this foreign culture with wide eyes and amazement.  Around mid-morning, an emissary from Mettius sends gifts from the Sonia family - a tradition that, Luccenia learns, should have occurred the day before, but couldn’t due to the protestors outside blocking any chance of the presents getting into the house.  Luccenia even participates when Karya, looking utterly radiant in her heavy red and gold lehenga, is showered in flower petals by her groom's relatives.

“There’s so much that happens,” Luccenia tells Karya when they have a moment together before the ceremony.  “Is it always like this?”

“We’re actually doing a compressed version.  Usually, the ceremonies start a week beforehand - and that’s only in love matches,” Karya explains in perfect Latin.  She’d explained yesterday that she and Mettius had practiced learning each other’s languages since the day they’d first become friends.  “In an arranged match, there’d be a ceremony between our two families to finalize the engagement and then Mettius and I would be allowed to court each other.  But since we started dating in secret when we were fourteen...” Karya chuckles nervously, “I never thought that I’d actually be here.”

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t allow your parents to enter the Forum ,” Luccenia says.

“As much as I want them at my wedding,” Karya sighs and shakes her head, “their lives would be in so much danger if they ever came here.  Maybe someday, it will be allowed, but now...”

“I hope to one day see such a thing,” Luccenia tells her.

“I do, too,” Karya agrees.  And then, in an action that would have usually gotten her executed, Karya reaches out and takes hold of Luccenia’s hand.

She’s so warm, so solid, Luccenia thinks, staring down at their intertwined fingers.  The henna on their skin seems to weave together, interlocking until it was impossible to tell where one hand began and the other ended.  In that moment, there is no difference between Luccenia’s millennia of wizarding heritage and Karya’s lack thereof. I hope that one day, everyone can know that to be the truth.

“Welcome to the family,” Luccenia says with a bright smile.  She places a garland of white roses over Karya’s head and wheels her chair into the hall, stationing herself beside her mother and step-father.

The wedding is just as stunning as all of the ceremonies that had come before.  Held within the audience hall of the Sonia household, Karya and Mettius had combined the best parts of both of their cultures.  Karya had been carried into the room by Tiberius and Cnaeus, both of whom were dressed in the red uniform of the centurions. Then, as Karya and Mettius sit side-by-side, they exchange garlands before a sacred flame.

Karya walks around the fire three times to the chanting of a priest before grabbing the handles on the back of Mettius’s chair and pushing him around it for a fourth and final time.  Together, they utter vows of marriage and promises of love in both of their languages. And then finally, Karya helps Mettius rise from his chair. Her groom clings to her as she helps him take seven steps into the beginning of their journey together.  Luccenia has to hold back tears watching her cousin walk for the first time in years. She glances over at Tiberius, sitting beside Cnaeus on the groom’s side, and sees that he is crying openly.

Then, finally, Karya and Mettius clasp their hands together, pressing their lips together as they are pronounced bonded for life.  They are married in the eyes of Italian law, the first international couple to do so in almost a hundred years. The audience, consisting of the lesser families that have supported Luccenia’s ascension to the position of Minister, erupts into thunderous applause.

This is what revolution looks like , Luccenia thinks as a smile breaks across her face.  She looks out at those who had joined them today and sees the faces of nearly three-quarters of the lesser families.   Not violence or hatred, but unity and love .

The reception afterward is just as lavish as the ceremonies that had preceded it.  There’s an eight-course meal, with each dish being paired with its own wine. Luccenia wishes that she could try some of the curries that Karya had included from her Pakistan, but her stomach rolls after the first bite.  She doesn’t even think that it’s the spices - it’s getting harder and harder for her to keep food down these days and there isn’t much that Em’s miraculous potions can do.

Instead, she watches as Mettius and Karya move onto the floor for their first dance.  Mettius leans most of his weight on his new wife, but she supports him with a radiant smile.  Luccenia sits in her seat as those that can stand move to join them, pairing up and twirling majestically in each other’s arms.  Tiberius asks for a dance from the Pentronax heiress, Helvia, a slight woman four years his senior with light brown skin and dark curly hair.

Tiberius is older than most of the unmarried men in the centurion legion, turning twenty-five next month.  If he settled down and had a family, Luccenia wants him to have a wedding just as grand as this one. She hopes that she will live long enough to see his children be born, maybe even grow up.  Luccenia watches Tiberius dance with Helvia, holding her graciously and staring at her with absolute reverence, and thinks that he’d be a good husband, that he’d be a good father.

“My lady.”

Luccenia turns and sees Cnaeus moving toward her, his ears the same pink as they’d been in the entrance hall earlier this morning.   He’s embarrassed , she frowns.   Why?

“Cnaeus,” she nods toward the empty seat next to her.  Cnaeus sits, his back oddly straight, his eyes darting between her face and the floor.  “What troubles you, brother?”

“That has been... it’s been an experience, right?”  Cnaeus asks. He gathers the courage to look at her, “Do you... ever think about getting married?”

“I’m the Vestalis Maxima , brother.  Marriage has never been in the cards for me,” she answers.  In truth, she’d never really thought about marriage, or men in general.  Luccenia keeps wondering when her mind will finally find them attractive, but for now, she is content with her lack of interest.  Marriage, or even love, would just be a distraction.

Cnaeus snorts, “Like you’re going to keep the Vestals around for much longer.”

Luccenia freezes.

“Who told you that?” She asks carefully.

Cnaeus shrugs, “You’re doing away with all of our other traditions.  Dissolving the Vestal Virgins just seems like the next logical step.”

Luccenia thinks very long and hard before she answers, “Being Vestalis Maxima gives me legitimacy within a power structure that would not allow me to speak otherwise.  Or did you forget, Cnaeus, that I am your half-sister and carry our mother’s maiden name? I am a bastard--”

“Born to Titus Sidonia, the Minister of Magic.”

Former Minister of Magic,” Luccenia stresses.  “And I don’t know why you’re defending him, after what he did to our mother.”

“She was his lover.  Everyone knows that,’ Cnaeus interjects.  “If she had a problem with Titus, she would have refused his offer.”

“Titus Sidonia is the heir to one of the four great houses of Italy.  On top of that, his trueborn son, Marcellous, is the heir to two - House Sidonia and House Papas.  The combined power of the Sonia and Flavina families could not even hope to match theirs. There was no way Gabinia could have said no to him,” Luccenia snaps.  “Our mother was not Titus’s lover, Cnaeus. He was her rapist.” When he sputters, shocked at her bluntness, she adds, “Do not couch the circumstances of my birth to preserve my innocence, brother.  Call them what they are. I certainly do.” She sighs, “I do not know what you hoped to accomplish by coming here, but I believe that our conversation is over.”

Luccenia reaches down to move her wheelchair, but Cnaeus lurches forward, grabbing her wrist.  Immediately, she reacts, pulling her wand from her sleeve and presses its tip into Cnaeus’s neck.

“Remove your hand from me, Cnaeus Flavina.  Or you won’t live long enough to worry about my marriage prospects,” Luccenia growls, ignoring the fear she feels.  In a magical battle, she would be next to useless. Unlike Cnaeus, she’d never gone to school and barely had enough strength in her body to perform even the simplest of spells.   I’m practically a Squib, but that doesn’t matter.  Atronia taught me enough to get by.

“It’s not... I don’t...” Cnaeus glanced nervously around the room again.  “Don’t move! I mean… Don’t go. Just don’t…”

The bottom drops out of her stomach.  Luccenia realizes that her brother is not embarrassed.  He’s scared.

“Cnaeus…” she breathes.  “What have you done?”

An explosion rocks the audience hall, ripping through the barriers outside and blasting a hole in the wall, sending chunks of marble and clouds of ash everywhere.  Cnaeus dives on top of her at the last moment, shielding her from the blast. Luccenia lays there beneath him, her eyes wide with shock and her heart pounding in her chest.  Her ears ring so loudly that she can barely think.

There is an awful moment of silence.  And then, the screams start.

They were high, thin sounds, drenched in agony.  The hall was littered with countless corpses, unmoving as the dust settled around them.  She sees a man, lying face down beneath a fallen column, his head cracked open like an egg.  Then, a hand and a foot and an arm that all belonged to someone who’d been torn apart. A girl, no younger than Luccenia herself, dragged herself away from the blast point, the lower half of her body missing, the rest of her burnt black, her hair falling from her head in flaming chunks.  She is begging, crying for her mother, screaming for anyone to help her-- but no one is coming.

“Play dead,” Cnaeus tells her as he smears blood on her face.  “Play dead. Play dead,” he keeps says as he moves off of her. Luccenia shakes, staring at the floor beneath her, hears the screaming all around her.

Cnaeus lays something heavy across her back.  It’s warm and sticky with gore.

“Play dead,” he tells her again.  “I asked him to spare you. Just play dead, Luccenia.  I can get you out of this, I promise--”

He throws a cloak over her, hiding her from view.  And then Cnaeus leaves her.

The mob outside thunders through the opening.  Luccenia can see flashes of red and green, of slicing purple and dark light, and knows that those who could not run are being cut down around her.  She smells something burning, rancid and all-consuming, and the rallying cry of “ Magia est Viribus.”

Luccenia hears one voice carrying above all the rest.  It belongs to a man, deep and deadly, calling for her to show herself.  When she recognizes it’s owner, her blood runs cold.

Luccenia doesn’t know how long she lays there, beneath the cloak and the heavy thing on her back.  It is long enough for her to overheard her step-father crying Gabinia’s name, before he’s cut off in a flash of green.  Luccenia moves her spider-thin hands over her mouth to keep any sounds in, but she can’t stop her eyes from making tear tracks through the blood Cnaeus covered her in.

They’ll give me away , she thinks hysterically.   They’ll see tears and they’ll know that I’ve been crying and they’ll know that I’m not dead.  I have to stop crying. I have to .

She can’t stop.  Her sobs force themselves out of her chest and the thing on her back lets out a rattling sigh and--

Luccenia turns her head and sees the mangled face of one of the wedding guests - Marcus Uticensis, he’d just turned thirty, he has a wife who was expecting their first child.  His chest is split open, staining Luccenia’s dress a bloody red, and something grey is dripping from a crack in his head. She can see his organs spilling out of his stomach despite--

Marcus isn’t dead .  And it’s so sickening to watch how his heart continued to beat, how his lung would suck air into a body that could no longer use it, how his shattered brain struggled to maintain a life that was slowly slipping away.  Luccenia wants to scream, wants to breathe, but she can’t because Marcus’s dead weight has trapped her beneath the cloak. She’s choking, unable to think, unable to give voice to the agony inside of her.

There’s a roar, bestal and deranged, followed by a thousand bright lights and screams, more screams , and Luccenia so badly wants them to stop, wants them to go away, please , she’s only fourteen years old and she just wants her mama--

The fighting stops.  The lights die out. The silence presses down on her and she can’t-- she can’t stop crying, she can’t.

There are footsteps, slow and painful, coming closer and closer until they’re right on top of her.

Play dead.  Play dead , she thinks desperately between each sob.   Em, please help me play dead.

The cloak is whipped off of her and Luccenia shrieks, covering herself with her hands, curling beneath Marcus Uticensis’s half-dead corpse.  She doesn’t want to die. She just wants her mother. She just wants to--

“Luccenia!  It’s me. It’s me.  You’re safe. I promise you’re safe.”

Tiberius kneels before her, throwing Marcus off her.  She doesn’t even think. She just throws herself at her centurion, wrapping herself around his body and cries.  “We have to go. We have to go now.”

He scooped her up, cradling her effortlessly in his arms.  Luccenia remembers tiny snippets of the world as they pass them by.  She sees Gabinia and Vel in the middle of the floor, staring blankly up at the ceiling, their faces twisted in their final seconds of pain.  She breathes in the smoking remains of the Sonia household, of the rooms that she’d grown up in before being given to the Vestals. She sees violence carved into the walls and hatred splattered across the floors.

Luccenia throws up on Tiberius’s shoulder.  He doesn’t seem to notice.

Tiberius leaves the house through the backdoor, crouching behind the remains of a garden wall to hide from the mob outside.  The outside air is heavy with soot. In the Verania home beside them, a woman’s hysterical screams, accompanied by the wails of an infant, filter out of a bedroom window.  Tiberius sets Luccenia down on the ground for the first time since joining the Vestals and she, in a moment of frivolous childish wonder, digs her toes into the earth.

I lost my shoes , Luccenia thinks and a giggle escapes her lips.

“We need to get to the Tempio di Vesta .  We can shelter there,” he tells her, his voice betraying how scared he is.  “I don’t have my troops with me, so I need you to watch my back.” He presses a wand - her wand, she must have dropped with when Cnaeus tackled her - into her hand.  “ Avada Kedavra - that’s the spell.  Don’t say it. Not until we’re out there.  You have to mean it, my lady.”

“You… want me to…” Luccenia finally finds her voice.  “Tiberius, these are my people...”

“They are not your people.  This is war; they have chosen their side.  And they aren’t going to hesitate to kill us,” Tiberius presses a kiss to her forehead, just like he had done this morning.  It feels like it’s been a million years since then. “Please,” he begs. “Please, my lady. Grata’s back at the Tempio .  She’s all I have left.”

Above them, the baby’s cry is cut short.  The woman is thrown from the window and her body slams down in front of them.  Her clothes are torn and bruises are forming around her wrists and thighs. Blood pools out from where her head had cracked against a rock.

The men and women who had murdered her spot Luccenia and Tiberius when they come to the window to laugh.  Luccenia leaps onto his back and Tiberius runs before the first volley of death can reach them, blindly firing a killing curse over his shoulder.  It catches one of the woman in the chest and she yelps, falling out of sight. Luccenia clings to him, using every ounce of strength that she has to keep her from falling off.  She looks up and takes in the streets as they pass.

The mob has set fire to almost everything.  The shops that had lined the streets of her beloved city have been looted, their noble patrons dragged into the streets and massacred.  They pass by a fountain, the water stained red with blood. Luccenia sees two bodies floating face down in the pool and a third impaled on the sword of one of Rome’s early heroes.

She and Tiberius are attacked a half dozen times before they reach the Tempio di Vesta .  Tiberius manages to hold his ground each and every time, but he is tired and hurt, the blood from his injuries soaking into his red centurion cloak.  Luccenia has tried to help him, but she’s too weak to fire a spell normally, let alone one with the magnitude of Avada Kedavra - all she’s managed to do is give someone a nosebleed before Tiberius took them out.  She feels so useless .

Tiberius races up with Tempio’s steps, leaving bloody footprints behind.  When he crosses where the barrier should have been, he comes to a scrieching halt.

“No,” he gasps, staring at the Tempio ’s door.  It’s been blasted clean off its hinges.  “ No!  Grata!

He barrells toward the entrance hall.  Tiberius is barely inside before they are set upon again. He cuts through them all without a hint of remorse, roaring like an animal the entire time.  One of them grabs Luccenia off his back, but she remembers Atronia and what she’d taught the Vestals about fighting.

Fight dirty, Atronia had told them all.  Luccenia sinks her teeth into her attacker’s flesh until she draws blood.  The woman shouts and drops her on the ground. Luccenia grabs the first thing that she can find, remembering, Even the playing field.  Use weapons .  She slams a fallen metal torch into the woman’s knee, hearing the bone snap.  Luccenia doesn’t even think when she takes a second swing at her attackers head, doesn’t even think when the woman falls to the ground.

Another pair of hands grabs her, ripping Luccenia’s weapon from her hands and hoisting her up into the air.  The man swings her around and all she can see are his teeth, yellow and rotting in his skull.

“He promised that he’d give you to whoever found you.  Lucky me,” the man laughs, filling the air with his foul breath.  Luccenia steels herself, stops struggling, and reaches for the front of his breeches.  The man grins, “Eager to start, are you? Little slut.”

Luccenia gives him a polite smile as she slips her hand inside his pants.   If a man is so close to you that you can smell what his last meal was , Atronia had said, a sly smirk on her face.   Grab him by the balls, twist them like a doorknob, and then rip them the fuck off.

The man wails , high pitched and horrified.  He drops Luccenia again and she lands on her goddamn feet, throwing his ruined manhood on the ground where it belonged.  She makes a fist, remembering watching Tiberius instruct his new recruits on how to fight hand-to-hand, and slams it into the man’s throat.

He chokes and Luccenia does it again, feeling something break beneath the skin.   Use your legs , Atronia had told her, so she grabs the man by his hair and smashes his face against her knee with all her strength.  Luccenia lets him go, grasps for her fallen weapon, and swings it at his stomach, at his head. The man crashes to the ground is a splat and stays there.

Luccenia’s strength leaves her the moment the fighting stops.  She shakes, shivers, and tips over, her limbs feeling like limp noodles.  Her lungs burn as they suck in air and her fingers tremble uncontrollably, but she forces her head up to see Tiberius dispatch the rest of their assailants.  Her vision blurs as he stumbles over, but she keeps herself conscious as Tiberius pulls her up and back onto his back.

“We have to find Grata,” Tiberius says, his words slurring.  He moves slower and stiffer than before. “There will be more still inside the building.”  He pushes her a little farther up onto his back, “They must be here for…”

Tiberius trails off, but she knows what he’s talking about.   Titus Sidonia , she thinks.   They’re here for him .

“I don’t understand.  How did they get inside?” Tiberius wonders aloud.  “The barrier around the Sonia house could have withstood a thousand explosions.  How…?”

“Cnaeus.  He knew that it was going to happen.  He’s the one who hid me under the cloak,” Luccenia tells him.  “He said that he was trying to help me--”

“If he were trying to help you, he would have gotten you out of there, not put a body on your back to keep you in place,” Tiberius growls.  “If I see him again, I’ll kill him. I’ll fucking--”

He stops at the entrance to the bathhouse.  Luccenia peaks over his shoulder and shrieks.

There were no bodies there, only scraps of flesh and bone that were scattered across the room.  The walls had been painted a deep wine red, while a dark mist hung in the air like a promise. The bath itself had been tinted pink.  Floating in the water were a small pair of hands, the charred remains of a torso, and the head of a house elf.

And there, leaning motionless against the far wall, is Grata Oceanus.

The noise that escapes Tiberius’s mouth is inhuman.  He rushes over to her tiny body, cradling his baby sister in his arms.  Luccenia slides from his back as he rocks her back and forth, barely able to comprehend that she was seeing.

Grata was ten years old, she thinks.   How could anyone… She was ten years old.  Luccenia knows the others are dead, too.  She doesn’t even need to see it. I am the last of the Vestals.

She turns back to the bath, watching the bits and pieces of Grata’s house elf float in the pool.  The creature had drawn the most spellfire, almost like Grata’s murder had been a mere afterthought.  Luccenia looks around the room, takes in the blood-stained walls and tastes the copper in the air. She turns her gaze back to the elf, What did you do?

There’s a sound that echoes down the outside hall.

“Tiberius?” Luccenia whispers, dragging herself across the floor.  Her centurion looks almost catatonic, barely even breathing as he held his dead sister.  “Tiberius, someone is coming.”

“I don’t care.”

“Tiberius,” she tries again, clutching his arm.  “Tiberius, please!”

“Let me die,” he tells her, his voice broken beyond repair.

“Tiberius, Marcellous was at the Sonia house.  He led the attack. That’s why he’s here now. He’s looking for Titus,” Luccenia says.  Tiberius looks up. “Something’s happened to him. He’s walking and leading armies and--  I don’t know how, but if he can cure himself, then…” She leaves her sentence hanging.

Tiberius looks down at Grata, cold and small and lifeless.  He presses a kiss to her forehead and sets her down.

Fueled by desperation, Tiberius moves more surely, each step solid and resolute.  Together, they move deeper into the Tempio , down flights of stairs hidden beneath layers of protective spells and curses.  Luccenia clings to Tiberius’s back, rubbing comforting circles into his skin. She loves him, more fiercely then she’s ever loved any member of her blood family.  She tells him this as they walk. Tiberius stays silent, soaking it all in.

Just before they reach the prison levels, Tiberius whispers, “Luccenia?”

“Yes?”

He turns his gaze toward her and says, “I saw my family murdered today.  I’m the last of my house. And I… I can’t… There will never be anyone else, not through me,” Tiberius swallows, his voice a shivering, shaking mess, “You’re the daughter I always wanted.  I want you to know that.”

Tears fall from her eyes and Luccenia admits, “You’re the father I never had.”

Together, bound by the blood of the covenant, they take their final steps through the door.

Titius Sidonia lays naked within a cell, propped up against the back corner, just as he has been for almost a year.  His normally pale skin is a transparent grey, his eyes a glinting ember in the dark pits of his skull. Stripped of the trappings of his station, his flesh clings to his skeleton like a wet cloth, making him look smaller than Luccenia has ever remembered him.  He turns his head toward them as they come in and gives them a toothless smile.

He is not alone.

A flash of magic separates Luccenia and Tiberius.  She screams, clawing for purchase on the stone floor as she is flung across the room, slamming her against the brick.  The metal torches twist around her limbs, crucifying her to the wall. Tiberius is forced to kneel and she hears him roar in anger, his wand floating in mid-air just out of his reach.

A figure steps out of the shadows, revealing a woman.  She is in her mid-forties with the red hair of House Sidonia and blue eyes bright with calculated intelligence.  The woman looks shockingly familiar, but Luccenia cannot place her.

“That’s enough of that,” the woman says, sounding blank as ever.  The wand in her hand dips ever so slightly and Tiberius’s voice is cut off.  Titus laughs, his chest heaving in his levity.

“I told you, Helga,” Titus addresses the woman.  “I told you they would come for me.”

The woman - Helga - hums in agreement as Titus dissolves into a coughing fit.  Blood drips from his mouth, running down his naked chest. Luccenia’s eyes widen, He’s dying.

“It is quite convenient.  I do require a scapegoat,” Helga says, her voice tinged with bland disinterest.  She gives Tiberius a quick glance and he bares his teeth at her, wild with fury. Helga barely even blinks.  She turns her attention to Luccenia, moving closer. She wipes the blood off of Luccenia’s face, “You’re unharmed.  That’s good. It is a serious crime to harm a Vestal, no matter what crimes they may commit.”

“I don’t know who you are, but you will never get away with this!” Luccenia uses all of her remaining courage to snap at the woman.  Helga pays her no heed. “Marcellous can burn whatever he likes, kill whoever he likes, but the world will look at what he did today and they will not let this stand--”

“Do you think that I care about my son-in-law’s pureblooded nonsense?” Helga asks, tilting her head in thought.  “He may believe himself to be a king, but he is nothing more than a pawn. Fanatics are so easy to control, after all.  Your father understood that, more than any Sidonia before him. It would almost be a shame that his son is so narrow sighted, if he wasn’t so useful ,” The woman nods toward Titus’s cage.  “You would have known that, had you been raised within the walls of father’s house, like he wanted you to.”

Luccenia eyes widen, finally remembering where she’d seen the woman’s face before.  The Tempio di Vesta contained numerous secret texts that had been hidden from the wizarding world before the enactment of the Statute of Secrecy.  Atronia had made her memorize each and every one, including the ancient marriage documents between Pompilina Sidonia and Godwyn Pendragon.

“Helga…?  Helga Hufflepuff?” Luccenia whispers.   That’s not possible.  She was born over a thousand years ago!  But then she remembers an inquisitive Atronia commenting that Hufflepuff was the only Founder to not have a known grave.

Helga hums again, “Smart girl.  It’s too bad that your mother gave you to the Vestals, instead of allowing you to be raised by your father.  I could have used you to inspire Marcellous instead of my own daughter. Gabinia thought to protect you by destroying your chances at marriage when all she did was damn you to an early grave.”

Luccenia’s heart clenches and she realizes just what she’s pinned against.  The prison cells beneath the Tempio had been repurposed to hold Titus after his arrest, as their primary duty had been to bury Vestals who had committed treasons against Rome.

“You would have been an interesting pawn,” Helga tells her and flicks her wand again.  The stone behind Luccenia turns to putty, sunking her in and spitting her out in the tomb on the other side.  Luccenia shrieks, launching herself at the barrier, clawing at the brick until her fingers bleed. She lurching over as her stomach heaves, bile spilling from her mouth and splattering against the floor.

Em!   Luccenia prays, Em, help me!  What do I do? I don’t want to die here!

The barrier flickers and goes transparent, allowing her to see the world beyond.  Luccenia looks up, pressing herself against the brick, and locks her eyes on Tiberius.  His face is contorted with mad grief, his eyes bloodshot red as he silently screams for her, tugging against his restraints.  Helga walks past him without a second thought, kneeling before Titus’s cage.

“The time has come, my old friend,” she tells him, reaching through the bars.  Luccenia watches as Titus crawls forward to touch Helga’s fingers, staring at them with absolute reverence.

“Those of House Sidonia have worshipped you and your daughter for centuries,” Titus admits.  “I have loved you from afar my entire life, just as my mother loved Hollarius for all of her’s.  I have always been your servant, Helga. Tell me what I need to do, just as you have always done.  Let me help you.”

Helga removes her hands from his and stands tall.

“Become a martyr, Titus Sidonia,” she tells him.  “Become the spark that saves us all.”

Titus smiles, “For you?  Anything.”

Helga nods and turns back toward Tiberius.  With a flick of her wand, she forces Tiberius to rise to his feet.  His wand snaps back into his hand and Luccenia watches him fight Helga’s will, watches him try and fail not to point it at Titus.

There is a flash of green.  Titus Sidonia flies back in his cell, his eyes blank in his death.  Luccenia screams as Helga commands Tiberius to stand and turn his wand on herself, cutting her with a slash of purple flame.  Helga doesn’t make a sound as she crumples against the far wall, red blossoming from her stomach.

The door to the prison is blasted open and footsteps thunder into the room.  Luccenia recognizes Marcellous at the head of the charge, but is astounded by how much he has changed.  His body is strong, his hollow cheeks filled in his healthy skin and his eyes filled with unwavering determination.  He has a full head of hair, coloured in the traditional bright red of house Sidonia. He is dressed in the armour of a centurion, but wearing yellow and black robes to match his family’s crest.

And beside him, with cropped auburn hair, dark eyes, and a sword at her belt, is a woman that Luccenia recognizes from Atronia’s secret texts: Hollarius Hufflepuff, daughter of Helga.  There is a ring on the girl’s left hand and Luccenia realizes that Marcellous has taken this immortal as his bride.

“No!” Hollarius shouts, drawing her sword and slicing Tiberius up the back.  His blood splatters on the ground and he roars in pain, his voice returning to him.  He buckles, falling to one knee, a cruel and uncharacteristic grin on his face.

Hollarius orders her followers to restrain the centurion as she runs to her mother.  Marcellous approaches his father’s cell as a wretched noise erupts from his throat. Luccenia watches from her tomb as her half-brother falls to his knees in front of Titus’s body, openly grieving before his followers.

“Mama, mama…” Hollarius whispers, helping her mother to sit up.  “Heal yourself. Please, just…”

Helga pulls a small, red stone from her bloodstained robes and Luccenia sees her wound sewing itself shut.

“I’m alright, my daughter.  But…” Helga looks helplessly at Tiberius.  “I couldn’t stop him. I’ve never been much of a fighter…”

Marcellous rounds on Tiberius, casting a curse that makes the centurion writhe in agonizing pain, “Did that bitch order you to do this?  Where is she? Where is Luccenia?”

Tiberius laughs.  Except, it’s not his voice that comes out of his mouth.  Instead, a loud, rumbling hiss makes it’s way past his lips, sounding like steam escaping from a volcano on the verge of erupting.  He moves like there’s something not human using his body, something ancient and terrible lurking just beneath his skin.

“Oh, she’s long gone,” the thing inside Tiberius tells Marcellous with a mouth full of bloody teeth.  It spits in Marcellous’s face, “She stayed long enough to have me kill your weakling father. She laughed when he begged her to spare your life - said that you’d crumple like paper beneath the weight of her army.”

“What army?” Hollarius growls through gnashing teeth, approaching the thing inside Tiberius like she can’t even see what’s wrong.  The centurion turns his eyes to hers and then falls to the floor, clawing at his face as Hollarius rakes through his memories.

The girl snarls and lets Tiberius go.  Hollarius turns to Marcellous, “Luccenia… she let the mages into the Forum .  She’s traveling to America to fight back against us.  She’s…” Hollarius rips back into Tiberius’s mind, leaving him shrieking on the stone floor, twisting in ways that no human body should.  “She’s been talking with the American Minister and is planning on allying with the mages to overthrow the Statute.”

Liar! ” Luccenia screams, throwing herself at the barrier.  There had been no talks, no plans for allegiance. The San Francisco mages had been a means to an end, an opportunity to do away with Titus’s power as Minister.  “Liar! Liar!” She continues to cry, but no one can hear her.

Helga… She did something to Tiberius!  She put something in him! He would never-- Luccenia thinks desperately, This can’t be him!

The thing inside Marcellous lifts his head, pulling his lips back into a smile.  It turns Tiberius’s head to look at Marcellous, “You’re too late. Everything is already in position.”

A foot comes down on Tiberius’s back, forcing his face to the ground.  Cnaeus points his wand at his former friend and warns, “Tiberius, just stop.  Stop talking. You’ll get yourself killed--”

“You traitor!” Tiberius roars and for a moment, Luccenia sees her centurion beneath the control of the thing .  “You killed my sister.  You destroyed everything that Luccenia hoped to accomplish!”

“The world Luccenia wanted to create isn’t one that we can live in: having us marry muggleborns, stripping us of our traditions, opening our barriers to outsiders,” Cnaeus tries to reason with him.  “Tiberius, I love her, more than you know. But she wanted to bring muggles into the Forum , just for a wedding.  She had to be stopped before she could do any more damage.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Tiberius shouts, struggling against Cnaeus’s strength.

“Tiberius--”

“Cnaeus Flavina.   Move ,” Hollarius says, sheathing her sword.  In her hands is a wand. Luccenia plees for Tiberius to run.  Cnaeus steps back, his head bowed in respect.  “Tell me, Tiberius Oceanus. Have you been taught how to duel?”

The thing inside takes back it's hold of Tiberius, making him grip his wand and rise to his feet.  It doesn’t seem to feel the injuries that Tiberius has sustained, the wound on his leg leaking sluggishly.  Tiberius is deathly pale, his gaze unfocused, but the thing within him manipulates him regardless.

“I have."

“Then dance with me,” Hollarius says.

They bow, face each other - straight-backed and proud - and begin.

The duel is so one-sided, it’s painful to watch.  Hollarius plays with Tiberius, blocking his curses with an almost uninterested look on her face.  When she grows bored, she tortures him, making the centurion scream until he bit out his own tongue, until he raked all the skin from his face and arms.  Bleeding and broken, Tiberius twitches on the floor.

Hollarius kneels before him, a goddess of war and death.

“You don’t deserve this honour,” she snarls, pulling his armour from his body and tossing it aside.  “You will be remembered as nothing more than a traitor, a stain that needed to be removed before our world could live in peace.  And if little Luccenia Sonia thinks that the mages of San Francisco will be enough to stop us, then she is going to be proven wrong so very quickly,” Hollarius jams her wand into the soft tissue of Tiberius’s neck, ripping the red centurion cloak from him and leaving him in a white loincloth.  “She left you here to die.”

“Lu-- Luccen--” Tiberius stutters, his bloody fingers reaching blindly toward her tomb.  “Lu--”

Incendio.

Luccenia watches mutely as Tiberius Oceanus burns , barely able to comprehend it’s truth.  She cannot cry. She cannot even scream. There’s nothing left for her to give.

“Cnaeus,” Marcellous calls and Luccenia’s two half-brothers come together.  “Look at me.”

Cnaeus dies, forcing himself not to turn his gaze toward the burning embers of Tiberius’s corpse.

“I believe that I instructed you to deliver Luccenia to me after we liberated the Sonia household,” Marcellous says.  “Is that not the case?”

“I was, my lord,” Cnaeus answers.

“And I promised you that, if you did so, I would give her to you as a bride.  Is that not true?”

“It is, my lord,” Cnaeus says.

“Then why, may I ask, is she on her way to America to continue in her treasonous ways?” Marcellous asks, cupping Cnaeus’s face with his palm.

“I… My lord, I don’t understand…”

“It is because you failed to do as I ask.  You failed me, Cnaeus Flavina,” Marcellous tells him.

“My lord, my lord, please --”

Cnaeus yelps and something falls from the side of his head.  Marcellous slips his wand back into his side holster.

“I will only take your ear.  Be thankful that I am a merciful Emperor,” Marcellous says, his voice hard and final.  “Fail me again, and I will take the other - and everything that is attached to it.”

“T-Thank you, my lord,” Cnaeus says, clutching the side of his head, his eyes wide with pain.

They leave, taking Titus Sidonia’s body with them.  Luccenia watches them go, helpless inside her tomb. She curls up against the barrier, shaking as cold suddenly overwhelms her.

I’m going to die here , she realizes.  Then, she thinks, I don’t want to die.  I have too much to do.

“Em,” she calls out, begging for an answer.  “Em, I need you to help me. I need--”

Luccenia’s voice dies in her chest.  Because for the first time since being locked inside the tomb, she realizes that she’s not alone.

The body lays propped up against the back wall, her remaining skin half-rotted off its face.  The most of the white woolen cloth of her dress had been eaten away - by time or rats, Luccenia could not tell.  But the pin that held back the girl’s hair, dotted with white diamonds and set in yellow gold, gave her identity away.

“Atronia…” Luccenia whispers, horrified.  “Oh god. Oh god, no…”

“She didn’t suffer,” a voice tells her.  Luccenia whips around and sees Em, dressed in his red tunic and blue neckerchief.  She pulls her arm back, makes a fist, and punches him right in her jaw. The god barely flinches.

“What is wrong with you?!” Luccenia cries, “How could you?!  How-- You said that helped people while everyone else was fighting!  How could you let this happen?!”

“That was when I was mortal, Luccenia.  I’m not anymore. Gods… we have different rules--”

She punches him again.

“Luccenia, it’s true.  I can’t just do things anymore,” Em explains, looking almost annoyed.  “I have to work through someone else, through a mortal human.”

“And who’s that?  Your Daughter of Albion?  Your Queen Consort To Be? Your precious prophetic figureheads?”  Luccenia screams hysterically.

“No.  It’s you.”

She stops, “What?”

“The Daughter of Albion prophecy is one of three, just like the one threatening the Return of the Three Kings.  Why do you think your mother gave you to the Vestals, when you would have had a better life living with your father’s family?”  Em tells her, “Why do you think Atronia singled you out to teach you how to fight? To teach you how to lead? Because I needed you ready to play a role in all of this.”

“What are you saying?”

“I need you, Luccenia.  To help everyone else, while the two sides are focused on fighting each other,” Em asks as he walks over to Atronia’s body, plucking the diamond pin from her hair.  “If we don’t move quickly, the Rip will close and we won’t be ready. And we have to be. Or we’ll lose everything.”

“What do you need to me do?” She asks.

“Undo the hold on the magicks of old,” Em tells her.  “Release the ancient powers that slumber within the earth.”

“How?  Where?”

“Where rumours call land snakes and sea serpents.  Where Linbhóiblìonn fell.”

“Must you always speak in riddles?” Luccenia asks, feeling utterly exhausted.

Em smirks.

“Never become a god, Luccenia,” he says.  “Divinity forces you to work in strange ways.”

Em presses Atronia’s charm into the barrier.  The diamonds light up and the wall dissolves into a pile of dust.

“Condensed spells.  Atronia always loved them,” Em explains, waving the now-jewelless hairpin.  “It’s an old trick, but a good one.” He clears his throat, “You need to get out of the Forum .  Follow the water.  It will always lead you to where you need to go.”

Then he vanishes.  Luccenia curses him halfway to hell, her voice echoing in the empty prison.  She pulls the loaf of bread that she’d saved in her sleeve just that morning, though it feels like an eternity ago.  She pulls it apart, forcing herself to eat each and every bite, knowing that she will need the energy for the battles to come.

It takes her a very long time for her to crawl out of the tomb.  Luccenia drags herself across the floor, pausing only once beside the pile of ashes that had once been Tiberius Oceanus.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, feeling so inadequate at that moment, unable to do anything other than apologize.  “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

She doesn’t even have time to bury him.

Luccenia hauls herself over to the pile of centurion armour in the corner, to the red cloth that had been Tiberius’s uniform.  Slowly and surely, Luccenia removes her stained white dress and wraps herself in his robes. Then she takes each piece and straps them to her body, feeling the spells inside the metal coursing through her body.  The legions’ uniform was been enchanted by the healers of the Forum , designed to strengthen their wearers to allow them to walk and fight.  Without them, Tiberius would have been as weak as Luccenia was, held back by hundreds of years of inbreeding.

There’s a reason why we don’t just give them out to everyone who can’t walk, Luccenia thinks as she pulls the straps on her grieves a little tighter.   Just like there’s a reason why Karya was the first muggleborn within Italy's borders in centuries .

She grabs his helmet and then, for the first time in her life, Luccenia runs.

She doesn’t have any time to marvel at it, just makes her way to the top of the entrance hall as quickly as possible.  Luccenia hurries into the temple kitchens. They’re the same as the bathhouse had been, the walls painted red with gore.  She grabs the first knife that she can find and hacks away her red hair, shaving herself almost bald to avoid recognition.  She jams Tiberius’s helmet over her head and looks around.

There are no house elves here , she realizes.   They must have escaped.

But she doesn’t have time to think about it.  Luccenia rushes out of the temple, down the main steps, and back into the burning streets of the Forum Romanum .  She races down the road, barely seeing anything around her, until she enters the courtyard.

Hanging from the pillared buildings are members of the families that had supported her.  Some are still alive, their feet kicking as they struggled for breath. In the middle of the courtyard, the beautiful fountain had been replaced with a massive pile of wood.  Standing in the middle, bound naked to the pire, were Mettius and Karya Sonia.

Marcellous and his wife stand before the crowd, ranting and raving.  They tell of Hollarius’s first victory in France, where she’d hung a blood traitor for his crimes and installed trueborn leaders worthy of such a position.  They call for those loyal to the old ways to join them in their conquest, for the lives of the unclean to be vanquished so that they could usher in a new age of peace and prosperity.  And all the while, hidden off to the side, was Helga Hufflepuff, looking out at their audience with bland disinterest.

Pawns , Luccenia thinks as Marcellous proclaims himself Emperor of New Rome.   Pawns playing at being Kings.  I’ll play my part in this game.  I’ll flip the entire board, if I have to.

Hollarius Hufflepuff sets the pire aflame.  Karya and Mettius refuse to beg, refuse to cry.  They hold hands and wait for the end.

A lighting bolt cracks down from looming clouds, instantly incinerating Karya and her husband.  The entire crowd is knocked back as a man, fifteen feet tall and made entirely of crackling light, rises from the ash.  Luccenia has seen his face before in the mosaics of old and trembles before his might.

“Woe!  Woe! ”  Jupiter, King of the Roman pantheon, cries out in rage, golden blood showering the streets, “Death to the Empire!  The gods are angry!”

The god explodes into a million fireworks and Luccenia runs for the exit, jumping over the fallen corpse of the gateway’s guard.  She slips through the shimmering sheet of magic that separates the Forum Romanum from the rest of the world.

Above her, the muggle sky unleashes a downpour, the winds pulling at her clothes.  Luccenia shivers Tiberius’s red cloak, soaked to the bone. Every muscle in her body hurts and her eyes burn, trying to shed tears that she no longer has.  Luccenia looks up, the rain washing her face clean.

What am I supposed to do? She asks for anyone who might be listening.   Atronia, what am I supposed to do?  Almost in response, the wind shifts and the storm begins to travel north.

Luccenia laughs, desperate and hysterical.  She takes the first step.

Chapter Text

“Your mother’s condition is worsening, Mr. Zabini.  Perhaps it is time to discuss her continued care in the company of your…” Amane watches as St. Mungo’s ancient-looking owner glances over her family with haughty derision, “...your family.”

“They are our family, Mr. Lestrange,” Blaise hisses, his fists balling at his sides.

“Perhaps your closeness to these people has convinced you that water is thicker than blood, but your mother’s medical records say otherwise,” Lestrange tells him.  “Company policy says that I must contact a patient’s next of kin, should no one else be able to--”

I am my mother’s heir--

“You are a twelve-year-old boy,” Lestrange says, looking down on Blaise with his steel grey eyes.  Amane tries to ignore how Blaise flinches under his gaze, “Those below the age of majority are not taken into account when making these kinds of decisions.  I will be sending an owl tonight, should no other relatives arise. Good day to you, Mr. Zabini.”

Lestrange bows low to Blaise, ignoring Amane and her mother entirely as he limped out of Viola’s private rooms, his lime green robes a flourish of movement behind her.  Viola’s eyes twitched behind their lids while the rest of her lay unsettlingly still.

Natsuki sits at Viola’s side, her fingers running softly through the other woman’s hair.  Amane watches as Natsuki’s chin wobbles, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. Her mother presses a kiss to Viola’s cheek, then her forehead, and then finally her lips.

Natsuki hadn’t told Amane about the shift in her relationship with Blaise’s mother, but she didn’t have to.  Despite her sister’s continued offers to allow them to move in with their Japanese family just down the hall, Natsuki had politely declined to leave Viola’s bedroom.  No one spoke of what might have gone on behind those walls, but it was clear as day what was happening.

“They can’t send her back there,” Blaise whispers, his voice filled with dread.  “They can’t. She risked her life to get us out of the Forum .  If she goes back…”

His voice trails off, but Amane knows what Blaise is trying so hard not to say.  If Viola Zabini ever returned to Italy, she would be married off against her will for the eighth time and forced to bring more children to term before she finally died.

“Who do you think they’ll contact?” Amane asks.

Blaise shrugs, “Decimus, probably.  He’s the closest legitimate relative my mother has.  But we’re related to all the remaining families in one way or another.  Lestrange could contact any of them. I can’t…” he chokes, “I don’t want to go back there, Amane.”

How do I fix this? She wonders.   What do I do?

Natsuki stands suddenly.  She points her wand at the door, locking it with a muffled click.  She yanks the sheets back from Viola’s bed, exposing her sleeping form to the air.

“Kaa-san, what…?” Amane asks.  Natsuki doesn’t answer, her wand slowly traveling down each of Viola’s limbs as she mutters spells under her breath.  She remembers, with sudden clarity, that her mother had been training to become a healer before James Andrews had snatched her away from her family.

“Liver failure,” Natsuki finally concludes.  “Damn it, why do organs always have to be so complicated ?  We can grow backbones without even blinking, but organs --” She pauses, wiping her wet cheeks.  “Blaise, can you get in contact with the bartender at the Hog’s Head?  He’s been supplying your mother with her treatments. Maybe he can do something…”

Blaise nods, “The visitor's lounge has owls.  I can send him a letter.”

As he rushes out of the room, Natsuki turns to Amane, “Go with him.  No one should be alone after hearing that kind of news.”

Amane finds Blaise on the fifth floor, sitting in one of the chairs beside the post office.  The sleeve of his right hand is stained in ink, a testament to how fast he had written his letter.  Blaise holds his head in his hands, his shoulders a slump picture of defeat.

“I can’t go back there,” he says again, this voice wracked with tremors.  “If she dies, one of them will come here and take me away. I can’t… I just can’t…”

“I know,” she says, slipping into the seat beside him.   I feel so useless.  What am I supposed to do?

“She always wanted a girl,” Blaise whispers suddenly.  Amane looks at him, remembering their first conversation almost a year ago.  “She told me that so fucking often.  She wanted a daughter, but she never had another child.  Not after me.” Blaise hiccups, “‘Women move between families,’ she always said.  ‘It keeps the secret safe.’ She said that’s why we had to leave Italy - because the secret was trapped within the Zabini family.”

“What secret?” Amane asks, frowning.

I don’t know !  She didn’t tell me because--” Blaise grits his teeth, “Because I’m not… I’m not…”  Blaise laughs, sounding so completely broken. “Maybe that’s why she wanted you so badly.  Maybe she wanted to pass the secret onto you.”

No.  That can’t be it, Amane thinks.   Whatever the secret is, your great-grandmother died getting it out of Italy.   In a blinding moment of clarity, she remembers Nurnok and what the goblin had said.

The Secret Keeper, the Daughter of Albion, will find you , the tiny beardless goblin told her.   The fate of the world rests on your shoulders.  Be careful .

Amane wants to go back to Gringotts to ask for Nurnok again.  But Nurnok was dead if Keith Howard was telling the truth, and he was the last person that she wanted to talk to right now.

“I bet it has something to do with that map that the goblins sent me,” Amane tells him.  “We should--”

“We’ve been looking for information on that map for almost a year.  We’re not going to find anything else, Amane. Just drop it,” Blaise snaps, but then quietly apologizes for losing his temper.

“I bought you that dress,” Amane blurts out.  Blaise looks at her with red-rimmed eyes.

“What?”

“The one at the second-hand store.  I went back and bought it. That’s why I left,” she says.  Blaise stares at her and Amane stares back. I’m seeing something , she thinks.   But I don’t know what it is.

“You bought me a dress…” he whispers, every word flowing carefully off his tongue.  Amane nods and Blaise presses the palms of his hands into his eyes. When he finally raises his head again, he’s got a sad, lonely smile on his face.

“Thank you, Amane,” he whispers, pulling her into a warm embrace.  “Thank you for being my closest friend.” When he moves away, Blaise’s eyes are wet, “Do you seriously think that your goblin’s map has something to do with the secret my mother wants to share?”

I bought you a dress , she thinks, not knowing what that meant, but knowing that it meant something.  Amane nods, “Yeah. I think it does.”


 

Bill arrives at the Royal Ontario Museum and a man with short black hair and bright purple eyes calls him over to the ticket booth.  He blinks at the large sign before him, advertising the opening of The Three Kings: A Living Legend for October 31st.

“Here you go, Mr. Weasley,” the ticket seller passes him a sheet of paper.  Blankly, Bill registers that the man’s name tag says his name is Em. “You’re all set.  Just take the Totem Staircase all the way down.”

The entrance hall of the Museum has a small shop off to the side, it’s shelves lined with ancient Egyptian memorabilia.  Bill watches as one little girl grabs a plastic crown and jams it on her head, declaring herself the King Commander to any who will listen to her.

Bill smiles, remembering that his sister, Ginny, used to do the same thing when she was young.  She’d often grabbed a stick in the backyard and used it to protect their mother’s vegetable garden from the wandering packs of gnomes that inhabited Ottery St. Catchpole.

He walks toward the massive dinosaur skeleton that stands in the middle of the hall, it’s long bony neck and tail extending out nearly fifty feet in each direction.  Bill stands beneath its massive form for a moment, in awe of the museum workers and excavators who had strung this ancient beast together piece by piece without a hint of magic to aid them.  The creature’s skull looks surprisingly lifelike, its mouth opening to take a bite out of the tallest trees it’s ancient world had to offer.

Muggles , he thinks, chuckling softly to himself.   They are truly incredible .

The exhibition is located in the lower levels, so he takes a sharp turn to the left and heads toward the grand staircase.  A massive totem pole, intricately carved with a hundred faces, stands in the open space between the winding steps, illuminated by an enormous skylight far above.  Children race past Bill as he makes his descent down the well-worn stairs, their exhausted parents barely able to keep up. But when his feet finally hit the floor, Bill realizes that he is alone.

“Hello?” He calls out, listening to his voice echoing off of the walls.  He turns his tickets over in his hands, wondering if he’s made a mistake.

“Mr. Weasley.”

Bill yelps, spinning around and pulling out his wand, pointing it at the figure that had snuck up on him.  Shada barely reacts, offering Bill a tilt of his head and a twitch of his lips as a response.

“Mr. Weasley,” the shade tries again.  “Welcome to Toronto.”

“Well, you didn’t exactly give me much choice,” Bill growls, pocketing his wand.  He looks around, “Where is everyone else?”

“This is a private exhibition, Mr. Weasley,” Shada tells him, his glossy grey eyes uncomfortably lifeless.  “It will open up to the public in two days. For now, you are our only guest.”

Two days? Bill frowns as he follows Shada as the shade glides across the floor.  He looks down at his tickets, reading the date. His heart skips a beat.

“It’s October,” Bill says.  Shada nods his head. Bill tries again, “It’s late October .  Right now.  When I left Iraq, it was September.”

“It is October,” the shade confirms, forever unhelpful.  The bottom drops out of Bill’s stomach.

My travel permit said that I had to be back in Britain by September 7th , he thinks.   My family is already in enough trouble as it is because of my work.  If the Ministry believes that I’ve gone rogue--

“There is no reason to worry, Mr. Weasley.  Your permit has been extended until the new year,” Shada tells him as he opens the door to the exhibition hall.

“It took me an entire year just to get my permit.  And now you’re telling me that the Ministry just…” Bill feels so lost, so out of his element.  “I’m not Lucius Malfoy. I haven’t got Fudge in my back pocket. How did you…?”

Shada offers him a polite smile and fingers a golden ankh that hung on a cord around his neck.  Bill frowns, How did I miss that before?

“I convinced them the same way I convinced you to come to Toronto,” the shade tells him.  He gestures to the door, “Please. Come inside.”

This is a bad idea , Bill thinks, but his legs move for him, taking each measured step toward the unknown.

Shada seems to fade away once he crosses over the threshold and into the room.  The dim ceiling light cast long shadows along the floor, enveloping the exhibition in quiet mystery, leaving Bill gasping at the treasures laid before him.

To conceal the birth of magic during Egypt's eighteenth dynasty, Bill’s predecessors had worked tirelessly to create a false era of history called the Amarna Period.  Curse Breakers, working in conjunction with the Department of Mysteries, had scoured the lands and tombs along the Nile, looking for anything that would compromise the Statute of Secrecy by revealing the ancient Egyptians first attempts at understanding their new power.  The most well known of all these cover-ups was the creation of the false king, Tutankhamun, in an attempt to hide the final resting place of the legendary Pharaoh Seth and the magical items that lay within.

So when Bill looks around the exhibition hall and sees ancient scrolls containing early descriptions of magical theory, weapons that had been spelled to never lose their edge, and beautiful carvings of ancient magecraft, he can’t breathe .

How has this gone unnoticed? He thinks widely, his head snapping from one display to the next, his mind a state of utter panic.  Bill moves through the exhibition, pressing his nose up against the glass cases. One small stone mural, painting in vivid colour and detail, depicted a woman dressed in the black cloth of the Medjay warrior, a bronze sword strapped to her waist.  Above her flew a silver dragon with bright blue eyes, lightning lancing out of its mouth. Bill swallows hard as he reads the tiny card at the bottom right corner of the case.

“The Dragon Princess, depicted in this late 18th dynasty carving, was the successor to the King Commander and eventual wife of Pharaoh Seth.  Very little is known about her origins,” Bill continued to read, “but recent discoveries have led us to believe that may have been the lost sister of the Assyrian Queen Muneera, the princess Kisara.”

He steps back in shock.   No one has ever figured out who she was, not even wizards.  So how… Bill looks back at the room, his heart pounding in his chest.   How is this even possible?

He stops, grits his teeth, and shouts out to the room, “I would really appreciate not being played with.  So, whoever you are, come out and give me an explanation.”

There is a soft, breathless chuckle and then the sound of wheels running over the smooth linoleum floor.  Bill turns around and nearly backs into the Dragon Princess’s mural.

The tiny woman before him sat in a motorized wheelchair.  She wore a dark plum niqab over her face and a loose black abaya was draped over the rest of her skeletally thin body, the tubes of the oxygen tank strapped to the back of her chair disappearing beneath the layers of cloth.  The woman’s hands poked out from her sleeves like paper thin spiders, her blue veins clearly visible under a transparent layer of flesh.

The woman’s eyes were the only part of her face that was visible.  They lay sunken into her skull, surrounded by bruise-dark skin. Her pupils seemed to shine like a cat in the darkness, giving her an aura that put Bill’s teeth on edge.

“William.  It is good to finally meet you in person,” the woman says as she propels her wheelchair forward.  Her voice is whisper soft, almost impossible to hear beneath the breathing apparatus that she’s clearly hiding under her niqab.  The corners of her eyes crinkle, indicating a smile, “Forgive me for not shaking your hand. It’s not the time for that yet.”

“Who…?” He asks, unable to understand what he is seeing.  “Who are you? How did…?” He gestures blindly at the exhibition around them.  “How…?”

“I can answer both those questions with a single answer,” the woman tells him.  “My name is Ishizu Ishtar.”

Bill’s jaw pops open.   Holy shit.  The name Ishtar could only mean one thing.

“No… That’s… That’s impossible.”

“For thousands of years, my family lived below our old temple in Assur - the very temple that you were excavating in September,” Ishizu says, bringing her wheelchair to a halt right in front of him.  “We were charged with the protection of an ancient treasure as well as a final, sacred duty that was passed from son to son. It is only in the last decade that we have resurfaced to share our knowledge with the world.”

“Clan Ishtar ...” Bill mutters again, still unable to get past the fact that a living descendant of the Three Kings legend stood before him.  Then, in a moment of selfishness, he asks, “So… Are there any wands in your collection?”

Ishizu laughs at him, “I believe you know the answer to that already.”

Mages.  They were all mages.  I was right, he thinks victoriously.   Take that Bagshot.  I was right!

“Come.  I wish to show you my family’s collection,” Ishizu says, turning her wheelchair around and leading him around the exhibition.

She tells him fantastic stories about each piece, painting bright pictures with each whispers word.  Bill asks a thousand questions and Ishizu answers each one, adding tiny details so that everything feels so real.  The thing that fascinates him the most is all the magically preserved cloth. Entire outfits had been saved, the wisp-thin linen looking fresh from the looms.  Bill sees the black Medjay uniforms and a stunning azure blue dress supposedly worn by High Priestess Mana. He pulls out a spiral muggle notebook, committing everything that she tells him into ink.  He scratches hasty diagrams of painted pots and jeweled artifacts, his mind ablaze with the new knowledge.

Just before they reach the end of the tour, Bill finally builds up the courage to ask, “Why me?”

Ishizu lets out a soft hum as if asking him to elaborate.

“Why me?”  He asks again, “You could have made anyone come here, but you chose me.  Why?”

Ishizu blinks at him, her sunken eyes bright in the dim lighting.  She tilts her head to the side.

“I have one last thing to show you,” she tells him and leads him to the back of the exhibition room.  She stops him in front of the wall and Bill blinks, his eyes suddenly blurring. He squints, shaking his head, and suddenly everything comes into sharp relief.

Bill takes a step back, in both shock and awe.  The massive stone mural took up the entire back wall of the room, the rock strapping against the ceiling with its might.  It depicted an ancient battle; in the far left corner showing the two opposing sides coming together, and the further to the right you went, the more chaotic it became.  Finally, in the far corner, the fight had been won. The Pharaoh stood before a crowd of kneeling men and women, his arm reaching out in acceptance.

“Do you know what this is?” Ishizu asks.

Bill shakes his head, “No.  But I know him,” he points at the Pharaoh, recognizing him from the books that Yanni had gifted him with at the start of his career. “That’s Aknamkanon.”  Then, when he examines the crowd again, Bill frowns. “Why is there a baby?”

At the end of the group were a pair of figures.  The first was a young girl, with thick black hair that ran down her back.  In her arms was an infant boy. They appeared to have been added to the mural after its initial construction, the differences in the artist’s styles evident to the trained eye.  But the oddest thing about the two was that they were standing in the Pharaoh’s presence, not bowing down in worship.

Ishizu reaches out, her thin fingers brushing against the ancient stone.  She touches the girl’s ankle with a careful reverence, the corners of her eyes crinkling into a smile.

“This is the Battle of Deir-El Medina,” she explains.  “It depicts my ancestor, the exiled priest Kukuru--” Ishizu points to the kneeling figure at the head of the crowd, “--being thanked for his help by Pharaoh Aknamkanon.  Because of his actions, Kukuru’s noble status was renewed and he was allowed to join Aknamkanon’s court as one of his subjects.”

“That doesn’t explain the baby,” Bill points out.

“Yes, it does.  Because Kukuru Ishtar took his children within him when he was banished from his temple in Assur,” Ishizu says.  She touches the girl’s ankle again, staring up at the infant boy in wonder, “William, this is the earliest known depiction of the King Commander.”

Bill can barely believe his ears, “You know his father’s name ?”

“His sister’s, too.  I am her descendant, after all,” she hums, the glint in her eye hinting at some guarded secret.  “She was born Iskhu Ishtar, but her father changed her name to Isis when she came to court, in the hopes of pleasing their new Egyptian benefactors.”

Bill stares up at the baby, committing every last detail to memory.  He’d heard of the Battle of Deir El-Medina - anyone who studied the legend of the Three Kings had.  Around the midway point of Aknamkanon’s reign, his empire had been plagued with war and disease. Half of his country was in open rebellion, fueled by the supposed softness of their weak-minded king.  Everything had come to a head in the artisan town of Deir El-Medina sometime around 1352 B.C., where the citizens had risen up to aid Aknamkanon in his fight against the rebels.

The King Commander , Bill stares into the baby’s eyes, noting that they had been painted a deep purple in contrast to Isis’s traditional black.   He was real, then.  Merlin, could there be an actual depiction of the other Kings themselves?  Maybe even in their prime?

“But that doesn’t answer my question,” Bill says again.  “Why me?”

Ishizu ignores him.

“Would you like to see the Battle, William?” She asks instead.

“Pardon--” And that’s all the warning Bill gets before the floor shifts beneath his feet and they are propelled thousands of years back in time.

Bill slams into the ground, his mouth filling with hot sand, screams filling the air.  He scrambles to his feet, coughing and sputtering, and ducks just to avoid getting his head chopped off by a curved khopesh sword.  It’s owner, a large dark-skinned man wearing a bloodstained cloth around his waist, doesn’t even seem to know Bill is there, too intent on hacking his way through his opponent’s wooden shield.  He steps right through Bill, kicking sand in the eyes of his enemy and cutting him down with a single strike.  

Bill stands in the middle of an ancient battle the likes of which he could have never imagined.  Horse-drawn chariots carry men with large bows, smashing through shield walls and trampling enemies beneath their hoves.  Arrows rain down from the sky, killing handfuls in their deadly descent.

A man falls to the ground, his fingers digging into the bloody earth, and the field begins to shake.  A massive crack opens up and swallows a half dozen people before closing with a deafening boom .  A demonic skull creature with leather wings roars overhead, sending out shockwaves of electricity before it is felled by a shining bird with four arms.  And finally, off in the distance, were seven hooded figures, each clasping something golden in their hands.

Mages , he thinks.   They have mages, trained and battle ready.   A jolt of fear runs down his spine.  He remembers listening to the Confederation Broadcast and realizes that if the wizarding world ever went to war with San Francisco, the city might drag them all down with it.

Something shifts again and Bill finds himself watching the battle continue on from the safety of a cliff.  Beside him, Ishizu sits calmly in her wheelchair as something glows beneath the folds her niqab.

“What is happening? ” Bill cries, unable to understand anything that he is seeing.

“This is the Battle of Deir El-Medina,” Ishizu explains.  She tilts her head toward a small crop of rocks, behind which a little girl was holding a crying baby.  Something clicks in Bill’s mind and he walks toward them, crouching down to look at the pair.

“Can they see me?” Bill asks, staring down at the infant King Commander and his terrified sister.  Ishizu shakes her head.

“No.  They can’t.  We may visit, but we cannot change this world.”

He stands, “I don’t understand.”

“Then I will explain,” Ishizu says and the earth shifts again.  But this time, instead of flinging them backward in time, she seems to take them outside its grasp.

Bill stares up at a shimmering, silver tree.  Spreading out from its great trunk were a trillion branches, each one diverging off into a trillion more shining pathways.  He watches as one branch flickers and disappears into the void, while another twelve seem to emerge from nothingness farther up the tree.

“The Tree of Time,” Ishizu says.  “The trunk represents the past, rooted in fact.  Farther up the tree where the branches begin to sprout, that is the present - ever growing and full of possibility.  And then,” she gestured toward the rest of the tree, a massive silver willow, “the future, constantly shifting in the breeze.”

She takes a laboring breath, “We are at a crossroads, William.  Look at the tree. Look at what is happening.”

Bill sees.

He sees two royal women within the walls of an ancient stronghold.  He hears the scratching of a quill on parchment and the hissing of a language he doesn’t understand coming from within the walls as a sleeping force awakens beneath the floor.

He sees a girl in armour, broken but driven, the rain washing her tears from her face.  He sees six of seventh in a tall tower, following the same path toward the temple beneath the first steps.

He sees the city where land meets water, of the great red bridge that crossed the open bay.  A storm surrounds their hills, but none of those who dwelt within seemed to be able to see the impending danger.  He sees two shining immortals heading to their deaths in search of their third.

“See what must never happen,” Ishizu calls again and Bill watches as the voices within San Francisco are snuffled out like a candle in the wind.  A woman with red hair and bright blue eyes stands still as a million years pass her by. The woman falls to her knees, a scream echoing out into nothingness, as the world around her turns to ash.

“See, William.  See what must happen.”

A thousand images flash before his eyes.  He sees the armoured girl surrounded by her knights, preparing to offer all that she has to give.  He sees the two royals standing within a sunken temple, falling to their knees in desperate prayer.  He sees a war raging within the walls of the city, as former enemies joined hands to hold off their own destruction.  He sees laughter. He sees pain. He sees loss and tear, joy and love.

The ground shifts again and Bill reappears in the exhibition room, kneeling on the floor in front of Ishizu.

“We are at a crossroads,” she says again.  “And yet, no matter what path the world takes, only one thing is constant.”  She points a single grey finger directly at Bill. “You.”

“Me?” He asks, barely able to understand.  “Why me?”

“You need to bring the three groups together so that they can act as one,” Ishizu tells him, ignoring his question once again.  “The fate of the entire world is at stake. Will you help us, William?”

“I have a choice?” Bill breathes, trying to gather his thoughts.

Ishizu’s gaze softens, “You always have a choice.  The future is fluid, remember?”

Is it really, though?  He wonders.   If I chose wrong, the world will end.  But then a dark voice inside his mind reminds him of the red-haired woman, who stood for centuries before the world became dust.   Yes, but in a million years.  You’ll be long dead by the time that comes to pass.  You would be safe if you just do nothing.

It would be so easy to just say no, to walk away and tell Ishizu Ishtar to take her terrifying Tree of Time and shove it up her ass.  He’s got a family to worry about, a job that he needs to keep to achieve his own dreams. Bill shifts from foot to foot, trying to decide what to do.

Why did you do it? He’d asked his mother once when he was eleven years old and staring down at his Hogwarts letter.   Wouldn’t it have been easier not to?  Uncle Fabian and Uncle Gibeon wouldn’t be dead if they didn’t fight.

Molly had taken her hands between his and sat him down at their kitchen table.  Her stomach had been swollen with a hope for the future and her eyes were dark with tears of the past.

When you see someone being drowned by someone else, his mother had asked, What do you do?

Help them, he had answered.

How?

I’d stop the bad person drowning them , Bill had said.   I’d swim out there and make them stop.

But you’re safe on the shore.  Why would you risk your life to help someone you don’t know when it would do is put your own life on the line?

Bill had frowned, Because I don’t want that person to die.

Molly had tipped his chin up to meet her gaze, Sometimes, when those safe on the shore are so blinded in their own privileged position, they will turn their backs on those that are less fortunate then they are.  They refuse to take a side, refuse to do anything to change what’s happening. And so those in the water drown. Then, when those poor, poor people wash up on the beaches, everyday and every night, all that those who live on the shores ever do is wonder why nothing has changed.

But they could have helped , Bill had implored.  Then he had paused, thinking it over, Is… not helping just as bad as… drowning someone else?

If someone’s life is on the line, and you can swim…?  Yes, Bill. Yes, it is.

“What do I have to do?” He asks Ishizu.  He watches as the golden glow appears under her niqab.  Beside her, Shada reemerges from the darkness, his ankh in his hand.  

“One to go back to England,” Ishizu says and Bill feels something crack , deep down in his soul.  Bill sees himself stand, sees Shada press the point of the ankh to his forehead and watches himself walk out the door.

“One to travel onward to France,” Ishizu continues and BIll feels another crack .  Again, he watches as he stands, as Shada presses his ankh to his forehead, and sees himself leave.

“And finally, to come with us to San Francisco,” Ishizu reaches out a hand to Bill, just like the mural of Aknamkanon behind her.  He takes it, feels how inhumanly cold her skin is, and rises to his feet. Shada presses his ankh to Bill’s forehead and feels something unlock.


 

Reyna closes the door to the bedroom and rests her head against the wood.  She can hear Rosaline speaking to her children just beyond it, trying to keep them calm.

Neal places a hand on her shoulder, “They’re safe here.”

Yes , Reyna thinks.   We’ve hidden them here for almost two months now.  But that’s not what I’m worried about.

Together, they head into the old sitting room, their footsteps echoing in the empty house.  The wingback chair scrapes on the wooden floor when Reyna sets down, holding her head within her hands.  There’s a creak of rusty hinges and then a pair of heavy clunks on the coffee table in front of her.

“You did the right thing, getting them out of France.  I don’t know if I ever thanked you for that,” Reyna tells him.  She peeks through her fingers to see Neal popping open a bottle of a pale amber beer with a flick of his wrist.  He passes it to her and does the same thing to the second bottle. She smirks at him, “It always amazes me to see you drinking anything other than twelve-year-old bourbon.  I always figured that was what purebloods like you did, when I was growing up.”

“My father would be rightfully appalled.  Beer is swill, in comparison.  But Hatfield never had much taste for good alcohol, so it felt wrong to stock his cellar with anything else,” Neal says without a hint of sarcasm.  He takes a long sip, keeping his eyes on her the entire time. When Neal places the beer back on the coffee table, he sighs, gesturing to the room, “Merlin, I miss him.”

“So do I,” Reyna agrees, giving the empty house a silent toast.  It had belonged to her predecessor, Nicholas Hatfield. The old Minister died just over a year ago and had no family left to leave his estate to, as they had all been murdered during Marie Fawly’s reign of terror.  Neal had bought the property out of respect for their old mentor, but had never used it for anything until today.

“What are we going to do?” Neal asks, mostly to her but partly to their memory of Hatfield.  She doesn’t blame him. Sometimes, she wishes that the old man hadn’t found so much comfort in the idea of life beyond the grave.  Perhaps, he might have stuck around as a ghost and be there to offer advice to them in times of need.

Angelina had suggested that Reyna send Neal to Britain in the hopes that he could use his family connections to the old pureblood families there to scrounge up supporters for an international coalition.  Reyna had planned for the wizarding world to approach San Francisco as a united force - not just as singular nations, like China and now apparently, Pakistan, India, and Vietnam. Neal told her that the most powerful of Britain's Sacred Twenty-Eight had no intentions of doing anything, but Bruneau had been on board the moment Neal had secreted himself into France for a meeting.  But then Italy had sent in incredibly powerful witch to assassinate him, and Neal had barely gotten the former Minister’s family out of the county in time.

“No one should have known that Bruneau got his Department of Mysteries information from mages,” Reyna hisses and takes a swig of her beer, remembering the secret conversation she’d had with Angelina in the wake of the Confederation Broadcast.  “That was classified information. So how in the world the Forum Romanum find out about it?”

“I don’t know.  Has your secret spymaster been able to get any information from inside France yet?” Neal asks.

“I’m not telling you who they are.  I keep saying that,” Reyna says, dragging up an old joke.  She leans back into her chair and tries not to focus on how Neal’s eyes never seem to leave her.  “But yes, they have. Apparently, they’ve imported a pair of new Ministers.”

Neal raises an eyebrow, “Imported?” And then, after a moment’s pause, “A pair ?”

Reyna nods, “Straight out of the burning wreckage of the Forum Romanum itself.  And apparently on the orders of the Emperor himself,”  She digs into her pocket for the photograph Angelina had provided her just that morning.  The couple looked like the siblings they probably were, with black curly hair and dreamy hazel eyes.  The husband stood just off to the left of his seated sister-wife, her hands pressed against her pregnant belly.

Neal frowns, “They look too healthy to be from the Forum .”

“I know.  And that’s what scares me.  Because those two are supposed to be Quintus and Otacilia Seanus.”

Neal’s head snaps up, “ Seanus ?  As in, the ancient House of Seanus?  One of the final four families?”

“The very same,” Reyna takes another sip of her beer, trying not to cringe at the bitterness it left within her mouth.   Hatfield really did have awful taste .

Neal leans back in his seat on the couch and lets out a long, drawn-out breath.  She tilts her head, observing him.

“Can I ask something?” When Neal nods, Reyna continues, “As a pureblood, what’s your opinion on the old Forum families?”

Neal lets out a chuckle, “You are always so blunt when you’re not worried about public opinion.  I’ve always liked that about you.” He sighs, glancing up at the ceiling, “I suppose this is where I’m either supposed to say that I hate them, or that I worship the blessed ground they walk on.”

“Well, do you?”

Neal shrugs, “To be fair, I never really thought about them much until Hatfield dragged the pair of us to our first Confederation meeting.  My father never talked about them; he was more focused on our continued connection with House Greengrass,” he explains, mentioning the old British family that the Pendergrass’s were a branch clan of.

“And now that you've met them?” Reyna asks.

Neal smirks, “You know, I wasn’t kidding when I said that I liked your bluntness.  So please, actually say what you’re leading up to.”

Reyna kicks him in the shin and he sighs, exhausted beyond belief.

“I’m serious, Reyna.  Just spit it out it.”

She fiddles with her beer bottle for a moment, “You hate muggles, Neal.”

“I don’t hate--”

“I see the way you look at them.  If that's not hate, then it’s a severe enough dislike that I’m worried… I’m worried that when you replace me after I die--”

“You’re not going to die,” Neal snaps, his brow creasing in the center.

Reyna snorts, “Neal, between the coup d’etat in France and the purge in Italy, with the way the tides are turning, it will be a miracle if I make it to the end of the year.”

Almost a quarter of the American Ministers of Magic have ended up dead before the end of their carriers , Hatfield had told them toward the end of his carrier, back when it was a toss-up between Reyna and Neal to be his successor.   This is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  If you want out, there’s the door. Don’t waste any more of my time.

They’d both stayed.  And now, almost four years later, Reyna feels like it’s only a matter of time before she becomes part of that deadly statistic.

“That’s why we’re pushing your image on the public, making you look like a respectable alternative,” Reyna stresses.  “Damn it, Neal. You could say the same things I do or worse and The Quill would take it with a grain of salt because you’re a pureblood, rich, white man.  I don’t have time to train a successor like Hatfield did. I’m making due with what I have and, damn it , I need to know--”

“Are you asking me if I’m a pureblood supremacist?” Neal frowns.

“I’m not asking.  Neal, you’ve made a hell of a lot of progress from where you were when we were first partnered together as Aurors, but we both know that you still need work,” Reyna cuts him off before he can say anything else.  “The future of America, of the entire wizarding world, rests on our ability to be able to communicate effectively with mages and their muggle allies. We don’t have to like them; we just need to get along. And I need to know if my replacement can do that.”

Neal grits his teeth and closes his eyes.  Something within him deflates, leaving a hollow shell of a man.

“My daughter lives in San Francisco,” he says, his voice cracking.  Reyna recalls what fading memories she has of Chelsea Pendergrass, a quiet girl with somber eyes that looked more like her dead mother than she did Neal.  Looking back on it, Reyna could see the effects of the trauma the Department of Mysteries' conversion program must have had on Neal’s daughter, but she hadn’t don’t a damn thing that the time.

“Chelsea packed up in the middle of the night and left .  She didn’t say goodbye.  She didn’t leave a note. She hasn’t made any attempt to contact me.   Nothing ,” Neal says.  “Because I made her go through that program.  I hurt my little girl so badly that she didn’t feel safe in her own home.  But I know that, where ever she is now, she’s safe.” He lets out a broken laugh, “I know that the mages and muggles in San Francisco are doing more for her now than I ever did.”

He shakes his head, clearing his thoughts, “I never really got it until my kids left me - not even when I was partnered with you.  You were half-blood, a second generation witch... You grew up here and it was so easy to forget that your family didn’t come from my world.  And no matter what you told me about it being harder for you to climb the ranks because of your family’s status, I never understood-- no, that’s not it.  I never really tried to understand, because I was comfortable the way things were.”

Neal looks at her, his hands twitching like he wants to reach out and touch her.  But he doesn’t, respecting her space.

“And now Shawn’s gone, too.  The last time we spoke, we fought about… about everything.  About Chelsea. About the risks involved his new program. About…” Neal takes a shuddering breath, “About his... friend who was helping him.  Royce. I said so many things, things that can’t ever take back… Reyna, I didn’t understand why Shawn was choosing to put everything on the line, when it would have been so much safer for him to stay quiet.”

Reyna listens, quiet and patient.  They’d had talked about Shawn’s estrangement before, in conversations about how best to protect their families in the following months.  But she’d never know what the two of them had argued about. Perhaps , she thinks, Neal was not ready to talk about the truth .

“Then Adam Morin tried to kill you and people started saying that you deserved it.  That you deserved to have your kids taken from you. That Morin was right ,” Neal stares at her, unable to look away.  “And when those same people started to say that I should have been Minister, I was disgusted.  Not just in them, but in who I was, to ever give them that idea.”

Neal huffs, “My prejudices are wrong , and it is up to me to work to work on them.  And I’m sorry if I ever made you upset because of something that I said or did.  I can’t change who I was before, but I can fix who I will be going forward. And if using the privileges that I have keeps me safe, then I’m going to use them to shield you for as long as I can.  I don’t want to see you die, Reyna. Please, don’t ever ask that of me.”

He reaches out, stopping just short of touching her skin - not because he’s disgusted by her, like some of the older families were.  But because he was respecting her own choices, her own agency.

Reyna closes her hand around his, “Promise me that when the worst comes… that you will keep an open dialogue with San Francisco.”

He nods.  His eyes stare into her soul, as if he was trying to pass on some hidden secret.

“I promise,” he tells her.  “I’m your man, until the day I die.”

Reyna leaves shortly afterward, apparating back and forth between random cities to cover her trail in case anyone was tracking her.  Finally, she landed just down the road from her own house and walked up the boulevard under the pale moonlight.

Except, it’s only when she’s fishing for her keys on her porch does she realize that her front door is open, the locking mechanism lying broken on the ground.   Cold runs down Reyna’s spine. She reaches for the cast iron wall art nailed to the brick, touching the metal flower petals to activate the communication spell attached to it.

“This is Minister Palamo.  There’s been a break-in at my home.  Please, respond,” she states, only to be greeted by empty silence.  She swallows, Someone must have disabled it.  How…?

Every logical thought in her brain is telling her to leave, to run while she still could.   They’ve already tried to kill me once.  What’s stopping them from trying again?  Except, Reyna was an Auror long before she was ever a Minister.  And she’s entered uncleared buildings alone more than she cares to admit.

Everything seems to come rushing back to her the moment Reyna blasts open her own front door, her wand pointing in front of her and ready to stun anything that moves.

There’s a shadowy figure sitting in her wingback chair, an open book obscuring their face.  The light on the side table clicks on and Reyna’s breath leaves her lungs.

The book, her rare first edition copy of Throne , snaps shut.  The woman in the chair holds it carefully in her lap and gives Reyna a polite smile.

“Hello again, Minister,” the mage leader, Atem, says.  Her otherworldly purples eyes are filled with mirth. “I hear you wanted to talk?”

Chapter Text

Reyna blinks.  Slowly, she lowers her wand.

“You could have knocked…” She grumbles.  “I’m going to have to replace the lock.”

Atem offers another polite smile, one that tells Reyna that the mage woman thinks that she holds all the cards.  She’s seen that look on so many people throughout her political career - people who look at her skin and her gender and her half-blood status and think that Reyna needs someone to explain how the world works.  She hates it.

“There’s a Home Depot not far from here.  You can send me the bill. We certainly have enough money left over from the Gringotts raid to pay for a doorknob,” Atem tells her, her fingers drumming on the hardcover of Reyna’s copy of Throne .  She wants to snatch it away, to put it back on the bookshelf that the mage undoubtedly stole it from.

That’s mine , Reyna thinks, irrationally.   You don’t understand what that book means to me.

She pushes her thoughts down, slowly shutting her front door and hanging her coat on the hook in the corner.  Reyna lets her eyes flick around the room, looking for anything that Atem might have interacted with after she’d broken in.  Everything seems to be in place, from the knife rack in the kitchen to the various knick-knacks that Reyna had picked up in her travels.  A small inkling of relief worms its way into her stomach before she turns her gaze to the stairs, where it is promptly stripped away.

Hovering just above the fourth step is a cookbook.  Reyna's brother, Enrique, had given it to her as a housewarming gift back when she was still living in that shitty apartment just outside William’s Abbey, eating instant ramen at every meal to put herself through Auror training.  Reyna’s never been much of a cook, so she’d charmed most of her pots and pans to respond to particular recipes within the book that she’s enjoyed over the years.

The boyfriend is here, too, Reyna realizes, her heart pounding in her chest as a page flips from one side to the other.   Bakura, that was his name.  Reyna eases herself into the couch on the other side of the room, forcing her eyes away from the floating cookbook.   He’s not even hiding that he’s invisible.  They want me to know he’s here.  They want me to know I’m outnumbered.

“So…” Reyna says, her eyes narrowing.  She hasn’t put away her wand yet, preferring to keep it out in the open.  The wizarding intelligence community knows very little about the abilities that Bakura and Atem possessed.  In fact, aside from the powers of invisibility that Bakura had displayed during the Confederation Broadcast, these two were a literal black hole of information.  It had frustrated Angelina to no end.

“So…” Reyna tries again, thinking of a conversation she’d had Kisha Borrego just over two months ago.  “Kisha is your mole.”

Atem smiles, “She is the obvious choice, isn’t she?  After all, that’s why you hired her - to see if you could control what we knew, what we didn’t.”  Atem sighs and shakes her head, “Ms. Borrego is a red herring, I’m afraid. We have more secure methods of procuring information, Minister, as you have already guessed.”

This isn’t news, but it still digs at Reyna to hear it laid out so blatantly.

“Please don’t fire Kisha, though,” Atem continues on.  “She’s a lovely girl - very bright, very talented. She’d be an incredible asset to your government if you continue to allow her to be.”

Reyna blinks, mulling over what Atem had just revealed.   Kisha might not be feeding San Francisco information from inside my Ministry, but she is still in contact with them.  She frowns, And not only that, but Atem seems to actually like her.  Why?

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Reyna responds.  “Kisha does good work. And I’m not about to get rid of the only known connection I have to you because I was wrong.”

Atem lets out a low hum, her polite smile looking just a tad more genuine, “I am sorry for all this.”  The mage gestures vaguely around Reyna’s house, “I was going to try and contact you at your office, but you’d appeared to have gone home for the night.”

If you were really sorry, your boyfriend wouldn’t be rifling through my kitchen supplies right now , Reyna grits her teeth as she watched her cookbook deposit itself on marble countertop before her drawers started to open at close at random.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where were you tonight?” Atem asks, drawing Reyna back into the conversation.

Reyna snorts, “Classified, I’m afraid.”

Atem studies her with her inhuman purple eyes for a moment before saying something absolutely devastating, “Where you visiting the late Minister Bruneau’s family?”

Reyna jerks to her feet, a cold rush of panic flooding her veins.  Nobody knew about that. Nobody except for Neal and Angelina.

How-- ” She asks, but is cut off.

“The Almeida crime family doesn’t pick sides when it comes to battle, Minister.  They only care about who is paying them, and how much,” Atem informs her. “Though, I will be fair and admit that we have a bit of a personal connection to them, so we do have a tiny leg up on Mr. Pendergrass.  Please give him our regards.”

Reyna shakes .  If San Francisco knows that she’s hiding the Bruneau’s on American soil, then there’s no telling what they could do with that information.

Atem raises a hand in mock surrender, “We don’t harm children, Minister.  This secret will never leave this room. I promise.”

The mage indicates for Reyna to sit again, but she stays standing out of spite.

“You promise ?” Reyna growls.  “Why should I believe a single word you say?”

“Because trust is the foundation of any alliance.  Minister Li knows this. As do Ministers Rafiq, Potdar, and Ðức Phong,” Atem says, listing the names of the Ministers of Magic from Pakistan, India, and Vietnam respectively.  The mage finally breaks eye contact for a second to glance down at her hands before raising them once more, “Bruneau knew this. I’m sorry that we couldn’t get to him in time.”

Reyna's knees give out on her.  She drops back into the couch cushions, stunned, “You were talking with France?  Before…?”

Atem nods, “In secret.  But yes. We were.”

“And Italy hung him for a traitor because of it,” Reyna swallows, muttering mostly to herself.  “I knew that he was interested in an alliance, but...” She looks up at Atem, “Why didn’t he tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Atem says and chuckles when Reyna gives her a look of suspicious, “Believe it or not, Minister Palamo, but we don’t actually know everything that goes on in the wizarding world.”

Reyna still finds that hard to believe.

“Why did you ask Kisha how to get in contact with us?” Atem asks, tilting her head to the side.   She looks… almost human , Reyna thinks.  It’s almost too easy to forget that this is the mage who broke down the doors to one of the most magically secure buildings on the planet with the flick of her wrist.

It’s like she just cancelled out the spells , Angelina told her, quoting the results of the Forum Romanum’s investigation.  It shouldn’t be possible - there were so many contingency curses.   What the hell is she?

Reyna leans back in her seat, toying with her wand.  She’d wanted to open talks with San Francisco for a long time - probably as far back as last year when she watched Atem and Bakura’s host of mages disappear from the floor of the Curio Julia in a brilliant flash of strange magic .  Reyna had watched as the wizarding world turned on its head and thought, We have to get ahead of this now, before it’s too late.

Neal had his reservations, like he always did, but followed her nonetheless.  Angelina did her job, searching the entire damn world for scraps of information, for anything to give Reyna a leg up in future negotiations.

Reyna’s eyes drift to her bookshelf, where Angelina’s file is located.  She doesn’t think that Atem and Bakura have tampered with it, but she can’t be too sure.

“Minister Palamo?”

Reyna jerks back to reality, watching as Atem leans forward in her seat.  Somewhere in her kitchen, Bakura has clearly found what he wanted in her cabinets and has actually started to make dinner .  Because this is Reyna’s life right now.

At least I know why he was looking through that cookbook, Reyna thinks distractedly before turning back to Atem.  “You were the ones giving us the silent treatment. I had to find a way to talk somehow.”

Atem blinks, considering her for a moment.  There’s a hint of a smile on her lips when she asks, “If it makes you feel better, we were about to swing by - you beat us to the punch.”

“And why didn’t you?”

“Switching time zones takes a toll, Minister.  Even on us,” her smile is less of a hint now, more of a promise.  “We wanted to be at our best before we tangled with you .”  Atem’s inhuman purple gaze almost seem to flash, her face a polite mask of stone, “Now, we’ve stalled for long enough.  What would you like to talk about?”

“San Francisco exists with US borders,” Reyna says as she stands, heading over to her liquor cabinet.  She pours herself a gin and tonic, “At the very least, we need to establish some kind of open dialogue.  We’re close enough geographically that it would be stupid if we didn’t.” She takes out an empty glass, gesturing vaguely to it, “What can I get you?”

But Atem shakes her head, “While I’m aware that the wizarding world says I’m old enough to drink, the laws of my land say that I’m not.  I’m going to have to pass.”

Holy fuck , Reyna thinks, but tries not to let it show on her face.   She’s young… Merlin, what is this world coming to?  Her own daughter, Chanara, was fourteen, and yet here Atem was, probably not a day older than twenty, speaking with some of the most influential people the wizarding world had to offer.

For someone so young to be held in such a position, especially in a hastily put together society like the San Francisco mages, Atem herself would have to be incredibly powerful.  Or…

Or, there are so few mages who make it to adulthood that she’s been shoved into this position, Reyna thinks.  The revelation sits like a stone in Reyna’s throat.

“And what would be the purpose of our talks?”  Atem asks.

“At first?  An armistice,” Reyna answers, taking a swig of her drink and walking over to her bookshelf to grab Angelina’s file.  Somewhere in the kitchen, Bakura starts to set the table for three as his pasta water comes to a boil. “We need to establish that our two societies can co-exist before we can begin to think about much else.”

“Funny how you refer to this as an ‘armistice’ - especially considering that we have not attacked you,” Atem says.

Reyna grits her teeth, “Your boyfriend--” she jerks her head toward the kitchen, “--stole ten percent of the gold from every Gringotts bank in the world and you --” she turns her gaze back to Atem as she sits back down on the couch, “--are using the threat of doing that again to hold the International Confederation of Wizards hostage.  What do you call that, if not an attack?”

“Reparations for the slaughter of countless innocent mages over the last millennia,” Atem responds cooly.

“And what do you call your alliances with various magical creatures?”  Reyna reaches into the file and throws down the muggle photo of Bakura laughing amongst the crowd of veela at the Amtrak station in Chicago.  “We’ve got reports of you two jumping all over the planet, talking to giants and werewolves and vampires. Now, I don’t know how much you know about our history.  But when our people start doing that, they usually turn out to be Dark Witches or Wizards in search of an army.”

Marie Fawly’s use of wampus cats to hold entire cities under her control, combined with sweeping strikes by quintapeds imported directly from the Isle of Drear by British sympathizers, made her nearly undefeatable foe.  Reyna’s mother told her that Hatfield lost his wife, three children, and eight grandchildren to the five-legged flesh-eaters while leading the rebellion. Fawly had used the wampus cats to hypnotize them into holding each other down while the quintapeds chewed on their limbs and sent Hatfield a howler containing their screams.

“You misunderstand our intentions,” Atem tells her.  “We’re not allying ourselves with the other magical races to aid in battle.  We’re honouring old treaties by providing aid and shelter, now that we have the resources to do so.”

“‘Honouring old treaties?’” Reyna asks, taken aback.  “What treaties?”

“Long before the Roman Empire upset the balance of magic by caging its power within specific bloodlines, humanity lived beside the other magical races through a complex set of alliances,” Atem explains.  “For example, the Andranos Accords fashioned between Pharaoh Shabaka and the siren Queen Naisia led to increased commerce between the two cultures. Eventually, it culminated in a trade route that encircled the entire globe, including the Mayans, the Shang Dynasty, and the Ojibwe.  But the main purpose of the Andranos Accords was to ensure the continued survival of all the peoples involved. If one were struggling, the others would offer support.”

Reyna blinks, her mind blank.  Atem frowns, “You are acting as if you’ve never heard of the Andranos Accords.  It literally shaped the world for decades after its inception.”

“I… haven’t,” Reyna answers.  To be fair, she’s still stuck on the part where Atem implied that wizarding started with the Roman Empire and not thousands of years prior with the Three Kings.

“What about the Pact of Tadite?” Atem asks, and Reyna shakes her head.  “The Treaty of Xitix? The Olympiad Conventions?”

Reyna has no idea what she’s talking about.  Atem sighs, looking at her feet, “Well, it would explain a few things…”

“What things?”

“Why wizards treat non-human races like they do,” the mage says, a sense of foreboding dread making its way into her voice.  “I mean, you enslaved the elves…”

“House-elves want to work--”

“No.  They do not,” Atem says, her tone cutting and final.  “You don’t know anything , do you?”

Reyna’s had enough, “Is that what you came here for?  To insult me? Look, I’m sorry that I don’t know about your Andranos Accords, but they didn’t exactly teach Mage History 101 at Ravenwood!”  She stands, rage coursing through her body, “And I realize that that’s probably the fault of some Unspeakable cover up, but I honestly don’t fucking know--

“Minister Palamo, please listen--”

“No.  You-- You listen, for once,” Reyna shouts, everything in her exploding outwards in an uncontrollable wave.  “I get why you stole the gold!  I understand why you did what you did!  You think I haven’t thought about it myself, every time I hear someone make a comment about my blood status or my heritage?  Or that I married a man who left me for a younger, blonder model?  Or that I’m still paying off my debts from Ravenwood while my best friend just asked his father for a loan and now lives in a fucking mansion?  You think that I don’t want to burn the whole system down every single time I pick up The Quill to see what excuse their using to call for my resignation even though I’ve had the strongest economy in almost a hundred years?

“I get you.  More than Neal Pendergrass ever will.  I think what you did was right .  So Merlin help you, when you end up dealing with him, because you will never get this level of understanding when he’s Minister of Magic,” Reyna stresses.  Her eyes are burning, but she refuses to cry in front of Atem the mage. “But that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been consequences for what you did.”

“You’re referring to Adam Morin?” Atem says, and Reyna isn’t even surprised that the mage knows about that

“Yeah, I’m referring to Adam Morin.  I’m also referring to every other whackjob who’s sent me and my family death threats in the past year because you singled me out on the podium,” Reyna says.  “I’ve had to put my kids and ex-husband into hiding so that they don’t end up dead.”

“We won’t let that happen,” Atem promises, but Reyna just laughs .

“Did you tell that to Bruneau, too?” And Reyna revels in the way Atem’s jaw clenched ever so slightly.   Yeah, you did.  And what your words are worth in the end?

“You changed the rules,” Reyna continues.  “And while you’ve been off partying with giants and merpeople and veela, the rest of us are stuck here trying to live with the consequences.  The wizarding world is on the brink of global war. France has fallen, Britain is throwing their own people in prison for trying to cross the border, and the new Emperor of the Forum Romanum is on the march.”  She remembers Angelina's last report, “Frederick Haas, the Dutch Minister… He and his family were found dead in his house yesterday.  This morning, the Netherlands’ new Forum -born Minister announced they were closing their borders.  Tell me: with the way things are going, how long do you think it’s going to be before your friend Xiang Li and his mage son are strung up as traitors in Tiananmen Square?  Or will you not let that happen, too?”

“Then what would you have had us do?” Atem hisses and at last Reyna sees the cracks in the armour.  “Stay silent? Continue to let the Department of Mysteries murder our people in droves?”

“No.  You did the only thing you could do, given the circumstances,” Reyna says.  “You made this bed, Atem. You and your thief boyfriend,” Reyna nods toward the kitchen.  She’s so goddamn tired .  “Now, you two have got to sleep in it, bloody sheets and all.”

It takes a few minutes for Atem to speak again.  But when she does, it’s with a terrible fire in her purple eyes.

“Or maybe, it seems like we have a common enemy,” the mage supplies.

“What enemy?”  Reyna snaps.

“The one that wants us to be too busy fighting each other to notice the havoc it reaps on the other side of the world,” Atem says.

“You’re speaking of an alliance,” Reyna scoffs.  “Alliances need trust. And no offense, but I don’t trust you .”

She throws Angelina’s file on the table, and a few of the pages escape, sliding across the wood finish.  Atem reaches across the table to pick on up, her eyes flicking across the inky word written on the parchment.

“You’ve done your research…” Atem says, but she seems unimpressed.  Reyna suppresses a smirk. You don’t know the half of it.

“Fake birthdays.  Fake citizenship papers.  Fake everything,” Reyna says.  “I don’t know who you are prior this date.” She opens up the file and pulls out a receipt for a hair salon in May of 2013, “I can get information on every other person who walked into the Confederation with you that day.  Seto and Mokuba Kaiba, your supposed brothers, were especially easy to find, given that the NYPD still has warrants out for them regarding the death of Gozaburo Kaiba,” and Reyna has to give Atem credit for her poker face because the girl doesn’t even flinch.  “But you two? Nothing. And that makes me think that you’re hiding something so bad that you’ve got the best of the best inside San Francisco covering it up.”

“What is the point of this?” Atem frowns.

“You want an alliance?  Give me something,” Reyna pleads.  “Throw me a goddamn bone, so that I can trust you.”

When dealing with wildcards, back them into a corner just to see how they’ll react, Hatfield had told her once.  And Reyna’s always been good at taking things to heart.

Atem doesn’t fidget, doesn’t even blink.  There is something unnatural in her stillness, in the fierce red of her hair and deep purple of her eyes.  Something buzzes underneath Reyna’s skin, something that tells her that she may have sprung her trap, but Atem is anything but caged.

There is a hidden power to this girl-creature, something that Reyna doesn’t think that she’s ever seen before and ever will again.

Atem tilts her head to the side, bird-like, and responds.

“My parents didn’t love each other.  Or, if they did, they’d stopped long before I was born,” the mage tells her.  “But despite everything, they remained married right up until my father died.”

“Because of you?” Reyna asks.  Merlin knows that she and Tavell had tried to slog through their own problems for the sake of giving their children an unbroken family.

But Atem shakes her head, “No.  My father was an important man, and being his wife offered my mother certain privileges.  She stayed with him because it was advantageous, nothing more,” The mage looks at Reyna, “You’re divorced, correct?”

“I am.”

“Are you happier, now that you’re no longer married?”

Reyna thinks about it for a moment before answering, “Concerning my relationships… Yes. I am.”

A sad smile ghosts across Atem’s mouth, “Women in positions of power sometimes have to sacrifice their personal wants for the sake of professional gains.  Sometimes I wonder if my mother would have been happier had she left my father. She deserved that, if nothing else,” Atem’s grin shows some teeth, “I’m sure she would envy you and the courage it took to say: ‘No.  I will have both.’”

Atem comes from privilege, Reyna thinks, replaying what she just learned.   She has a low opinion of her father but idolizes her pragmatic mother.  But… her brows knit together, That comment about deserving happiness... Perhaps the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Reyna glances down at the file, at the new information Angelina had dug up just last night.  Off in the kitchen, Bakura is mixing his cooked pasta together with some kind of cream sauce.   Got you.

“Your mother took a lover, didn’t she?  That’s why you think she should have left your dad.”

Atem blinked, “I’m…” Something passes over her eyes, like she’s not quite sure how to respond.  Like she genuinely doesn’t know something. “I don’t…”

“What’s the matter, baby girl ?  Cat got your tongue?”

That gets Atem’s attention, “What did you just call me?”

“‘Baby girl.’  That’s what he calls you, isn’t it?”  Reyna asks but already knows the answer. “Not Bakura, of course,” Reyna nods toward the floating spoon in the kitchen that has mysteriously stopped moving.  “It was… Leo, wasn’t it? Or at least, that’s what you call him. His real name is…”

Reyna takes her time rifling through Angelina’s file until she finds the right page.  Across from her, Atem is stiff as a board.

“Well…” Reyna raises an eyebrow at the name Angelina has listed.  “I don’t think I can pronounce that. But I can tell you that Leo lives at 116 George St. in Toronto, Canada in a penthouse suite.  And--” she lets out a low whistle, “--you two text a lot .  Tell me, does Bakura know that you’re ready to jump into bed with another man the moment he looks the other--”

There’s a knife at Reyna’s throat.  Bakura fizzles back into existence, not in the kitchen, but right behind her, his breath ghosting over Reyna’s neck.   How?  She thinks for just a second before looking back over at Atem.   It was her.  She controlled the spells I put on the pots, just like she took the doors off their hinges in the Forum .  Reyna swallows, the razor blade of the knife kissing the thin skin of her neck.   Bakura was behind me the entire time .

Bakura unleashes a hiss as a snake-like tongue flicking out between grey lips.  Across from her, Atem’s hair looks more like bloody feathers as black talons erupt from the tips of her fingers.  In the kitchen, whatever was being cooked starts to burn, filling the room with the putrid smell of blackened cream.

Reyna buries her fear and stares into the girl’s eyes, Atem’s pupils blown wide like a hawk.

“Is this supposed to intimidate me?” Reyna says, keeping her voice as level as she can as the lights flicker uncontrollably, “You won’t kill me.  You won’t dare risk San Francisco over--"

“Don’t you dare presume to tell me what I wouldn’t do for Leo,” Bakura’s growl vibrates deep through her chest, and Reyna realizes that, somehow, she got it completely wrong .  “If you even breathe on him, there isn’t a force on the earth that can protect you from my wrath.”

The blade pressed into her skin, not enough to cut it, but just enough to leave a reminder, before disappearing entirely.  Reyna makes fists in her robes so that she doesn’t reach for her neck. Do not give them an inch , Hatfield told her.

Well, shit, old man.  I just think I have them a mile.

“Who gave you that information?” Atem asks as she stands, the flash of the lights putting her face into sharp relief.  If Reyna had thought that the mage woman had looked inhuman before, it is nothing compared to now. A hooked beak sprouts from Atem’s face as her back arches unnaturally, like she’s grown six new vertebrae in the past few minutes.  Something moves along her back, under her shirt, and her knees violently crack as they invert.

“You have your ways of getting information.  I have mine,” Reyna says, because she’s going to continue playing this game no matter the consequences.   They won’t kill me.  They won’t fucking touch me.  Because I have Leo, whoever this kid is to them.   “I won’t do anything to him.  Just like you’re not going to tell the world about how I’m hiding Bruneau’s wife and kids.  Don’t you trust me? Alliances need trust.”

“I trust you about as far as I can throw you,” Bakura hisses.  Reyna laughs and almost throws out a ‘The feeling’s mutual.’

Except she doesn’t.  Because there’s a knock at her door.

“Minister Palamo?  Minister Palamo? Open up, please.  It’s urgent,” a man’s voice comes from the other side.  Reyna’s heart seizes. If I’m seen with mages, I’m done for.

Astoundingly, Atem and Bakura realize this.  Bakura darts to his girlfriend’s side and they both disappear under the cloak of his invisibility.  Reyna swallows the knot in her throat.

“Who is it?”

“Captain Laird, ma’am, of the Auror Department and Ministry Security.  Minister Palamo, I need you to open the door. There’s been an emergency concerning your ex-husband.”

The bottom drops out of Reyna’s stomach as blood rushes through her ears.  Tavell and their children were supposed to be hidden under the protection of the Fidelius Charm.  How could there be an emergency? Let alone one that the Aurors would know about?

“Don’t open the door,” Bakura whispers, somewhere to her right.  When she doesn’t listen, the mage warns again, “Minister, don’t do it.  Trust me. Please!”

“They have my children…” Reyna murmurs, her worst fears coming true.

The knob is cold against the palm of her hand.  She turns it, feeling impossibly light headed, and yanks the door open.

She knows Captain Bryan Laird.  He’s middle-aged, maybe in his mid-fifties, but he’d gone grey early, sometime before they’d been introduced.  With boxer’s build and strong jaw, Laird was someone that his subordinates looked up to. There was talk of him taking over Neal’s position one day, when Reyna’s friend eventually retired.  The captain was a steadfast ally of hers during a time when she needed them the most.

Laird is a good man - a loyal, hardworking man with a wife and a daughter and a St. Bernard dog waiting for him at home.

So when Laird raises his wand and points it at Reyna’s chest, her mind genuinely can’t comprehend it.

Avada Kedavra!

There is a flash of green and what feels like a horse kicks Reyna in the chest.  She flies across the room and hits the back wall, air exploding from her lungs. She slides down to the floor, her head lolling, too heavy for her neck to hold up.  Her eyes droop and she falls to the ground, darkness encroaching on the sides of her vision.

I’m so tired , she thinks and then all she knows is blackness.


 

Plant #85,855 sits calmly on the couch as she watches Tavell Cross’s breathing slow before finally coming to a sudden and abrupt halt.  The poison had worked just as it was supposed to. She’d calculated the dosage to his height and weight. There is no mess. No pools of blood.

[Plant #85,855 is efficient, an asset worth her salt.  Her handlers had always prided her on that.]

Plant #85,855 takes a few seconds to observe Tavell’s body.  She traces the lines of his face with the tips of her fingers, runs her palms over the width of his chest.  She feels nothing for the man as she strips him naked and poses him, as per her instructions. Plant #85,855 wraps a rope around his wrists and ankles, pushes his body inside a large burlap bag, and hang him upside down from the ceiling.

[“It must match the death of Minister Haas and his family,” Latner had said.  “Those who see the pattern will rally behind it.”
Latner had shrugged when Plant #85,855 asked why, “Fanatics have always been easy to control.”]

Frederick Haas had had two children, just like Tavell, but his wife had been home as well.  Plant #85,855 did not kill the Haas family, nor had she known the Plant who had. He hadn’t been as productive as Plant #85,855 would have been, taking his time with the kids while their parents had been forced to watch.  The Plant should have been killed upon his return, as the Department did not want to leave any loose ends.

Plant #85,855 had been placed into deep cover at the age of eleven, cultivating a backstory throughout years of dull schooling in the hopes of being noticed by top Ministry officials.  After she’d been selected, Plant #85,855 had rooted herself within the government, made herself indispensable with a whisper here, a rumour there.

She’d been one man’s surrogate daughter and another man’s surrogate wife, a caring sister for a lonely woman and a doting mother for a little girl who wondered where their real one had gone.  She’d played the fool and the wise man, the gift and the gifted. She’d controlled what information reached the ears of the most powerful people in America and filtered all that she’d learned of them back to her true masters.

Plant #85,855 had played her part well.  Her handlers in the Gardens called her the next Gellert Grindelwald.  And then one day, everything had gone silent, and Plant #85,855 had been left adrift in the wind.

She grits her teeth and she climbs the stairs of the old cottage, anger bubbling up against the back of her throat.  Plant #85,855 had craved the order that her handlers had given her, so much so that in their absence, she had searched the world for them.  But when she’d turned up nothing but dead bodies rotting in the Garden’s pits, Plant #85,855 realized that she was alone.

[For the first time in her life, Plant #85,855 had been scared.]

The darkened hallway upstairs contains four doors, beyond which are three bedrooms and one bathroom.  Light streams out from under from under two of the doorways. Plant #85,855 turns the knob leading to the one closest to the stairwell.

Inside, Chanara looks up from where she is laying on her bed, a book in hand.  The girl glances at the clock on the wall.

“I was going to go to bed soon.  The chapter’s almost done, anyways,” Chanara tells her, a slight whine running through her voice.  “Curfew isn't for another three minutes.”

Plant #85,855 shuts the door behind her.

[“It must be a match to Minister Haas and his family,” Latner had said.]

When it’s done, Plant #85,855 looks down at Chanara’s ruined body.  She sits down beside the girl, running her fingers through her thick curls.

“I’m sorry you’re dead,” Plant #85,855 says and presses a kiss to Chanara’s forehead.  She tastes the girl’s blood on her skin, feels the still-warm flesh beneath her lips. “I was so alone for so long, Chanara.  I thought that you could be like me. I thought you would be strong enough.”

But Chanara heart had given out not even a tenth of the way through the training Plant #85,855 had gone through in the Gardens.  It makes Plant #85,855 seeth with disappointment. She had wanted a successor and she’d thought that Chanara Cross, with all her will and strength, could give her that.

[“Weakness will not be tolerated,” Blaine Garrish, a man with slicked back hair, had told her.
It is Plant #85,855 first memory and it is the one she holds most dear.]

Plant #85,855 takes one last look at the body.  She feels nothing. She moves on.

Marco’s room is located at the end of the hall, on the left side like his sister’s.  Plant #85,855 despises Marco and she thinks that the feeling is mutual.  The boy is frail, weak in body and mind, barely worthy to call himself Chanara’s sibling.  He needs vapours to calm his asthma and potions to relieve his anxiety. He is small and worthless.  Plant #85,855 knows that his death will be quick.

She opens his door.  His room is empty; a chess board with the black pieces set in zugzwang is placed on the bed.  Plant #85,855 is not at all surprised.

Marco’s only redeeming feature is his curiousity.  He often sneaks out at night to play down by the river, poking at the frogs he finds with sticks.  Plant #85,855 assumes that is where he will be.

She heads back downstairs.  Plant #85,855 is not in a hurry, her steps laced with measured calm.  She pauses to observe the bagged body of Tavell Cross hanging for the ceiling and takes a moment to adjust the knot, ensuring that it will stay in place until this place is discovered.  Plant #85,855 takes her coat from the hook by the back door and wraps herself in its warmth before heading outside.

The night air is crisp and the grass beneath her shoes is slightly damp.  The sky is clear, the stars blinking in the inky blackness as the moon illuminates Plant #85,855’s path toward the river.  She listens to the crickets and takes in the glowing fireflies that hover just above the long grass, flickering in and out of existence.

The boy is not at the river.  Plant #85,855 stares down at the long stick that had been flung hastily to the side, one end wedged into the mud on  the bank.  Footprints are leading away from the river. Marco must have turned back home. She turns back to the cottage.

Marco Cross is waiting for her at the backdoor, illuminated by the light spilling from Chanara’s bedroom.

“They’re dead, aren’t they?” The boy asks.  His hands are shaking and his pupils are dilated.  It could be the fear, but it could also be the side effects of the vial of vapours that Marco has clutched in his fist.  She has seen such a response in him before.

Plant #85,855 says nothing.  She observes the boy, feels the calm in his voice, the blatant lack of anything.

Finally, she responds, “Yes.”

“You killed them.”

“Yes,” Plant #85,855 tilts her head.

“I knew it.  I knew you would do it,” Marco says.

“How?”

The boy shrugs, “You’re a liar.”

[Plant #85,855 can’t help it.  She is intrigued.]

“Are you going to kill me?” Marco asks.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I was ordered to.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t care.”

“And then what?  Where are you going to go?”

Plant #85,855 blinks, “To the next mission.  Why?”

“Because I want to go with you,” Marco says.

“No.”

“You always liked Chanara better.  But she’s weak. She can’t be what you want her to be,” Marco raises his chin in defiance.  “Chanara can’t lie. But I can.”

Plant #85,855’s eyes narrow.

“The first time I had a panic attack, everyone paid attention to me.  Mom. Dad. Chanara. You ,” Marco says.  “I like it when people pay attention to me, so I learned how to fake it.  I don’t even need this.” The boy throws the vial in his hand into the grass, letting it roll through the long green strands until it disappeared out of sight.  “I just like getting out of class so that Nurse Gaamwala will fuss over me.” Marco grins, “I’m a liar. And so are you.”

Plant #85,855 sees the ambition in his eyes, sees the drive that she possessed in the earliest stages of her training.

[Could she have been wrong?  Could Plant #85,855’s successor have been this slip of a boy this entire time?]

“Your mother is dead.  Your father is dead. Your sister is dead.  America will fall. All by my hands,” Plant #85,855 says, stretching the truth ever so slightly.  She had Imperiused Bryan Laird, using him as a scapegoat to assassinate Minister Palamo. The Auror captain was under orders to copy the Haas murders, just as Plant #85,855 was.

[“‘Magic is Might’ must be written in her blood.  The American idiots will fall in line and the country will crumble from within.”
Latner had said and Plant #85,855 was too obey.]

“So what?” Marco says, and there isn’t a hint of regret, of sadness, of anything other than blind dismissal.

[“It must be a match to Minister Haas and his family,” Latner had said.]

[The Department has left Plant #85,855 alone for far too long.  And she is lonely.]

Plant #85,855 moves, reaching for the boy’s chin.  She tilts his faces up so that his eyes meet hers.

“If you falter... If you show any sign of weakness… I will cut you down without hesitation,” she promises.

Marco holds her gaze, “Liar.  You would hesitate to kill me.”

[He might be right.  Plant #85,855 is impressed.]

She lets him go, turning to walk away.  The boy follows.

“Angelina,” he asks.  “What’s your real name?”

Plant #85,855 does not look at him when she answers.

“I do not have a name.  And from now on, neither do you.”