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Title: Between Here and Now and Forever
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: The Founders, various OCs
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Helga's evil plans come to fruition.

Chapter 1
Master Founders Post
Chapter 24

Clio followed Lady Aeaeae away from the luxury cell. She was almost afraid to ask what Lady Aeaeae thought she was going to do about her daughter, but after that interview, Clio thought the best solution was to arrange for a nice sensible accident, and then adopt a foundling or something. Lady Aeaeae occasionally suggested this sort of thing, but Clio had never endorsed it until now, because Lady Ravenclaw had never seemed like much of a threat.

It wasn't as though Lady Aeaeae was any better, but Clio's job was to protect her, and by God, she was going to do her job. Her utterly mad job.

"Well?" Lady Aeaeae asked.

"Would you prefer that they find an identifiable body, an unrecognizable one, or none at all?" she asked.

"What?" demanded Lady Aeaeae, as if she was taken aback. "None of the above! She's still useful." The problem with this conversation, Clio thought, was that they'd had it fairly often, but Lady Aeaeae always acted as if she'd mysteriously forgot all about the previous times.

"With all due respect, my lady, you are --" a complete nutter!, Clio thought. "--You are perhaps being overly optimistic."

"She's going through a rebellious phase, that's all," said Lady Aeaeae. "She's young."

"Isn't she almost thirty?" Clio asked.

"I don't know what's wrong with her," said Lady Aeaeae, who didn't seem to be listening. "I should never have had her educated by a commoner. That's probably it. ...It's nothing to do with me. I'm not responsible for this nonsense of hers." She looked sharply at Clio.

"Of course you're not," said Clio, quickly. There were times she could be more honest with Lady Aeaeae than most people, but when she got into this sort of state, Clio knew what was expected of her.

"I hadn't realized how truly disturbed she was," said Lady Aeaeae, contemplatively. "I mean, I'm her mother! She acts as though I haven't got her best interests at heart!"

"Yes," said Clio, cautiously. Bland agreement was usually safe.

"I think if it proves necessary, they shouldn't find the body," she said, after a contemplative silence. "We should cut off all her hair and store it in a safe place to preserve it for Polyjuice. That way she can turn up again with convenient amnesia, a dramatic backstory, and a much more pliable personality."

"Hm," said Clio, noncommittally. "I know a few people who'd enjoy that job."

"They sound dangerous. Kill them as soon as possible," said Lady Aeaeae. "My new heir will be Obliviated. ...Unless we can come up with a better alternative."

"Of course," said Clio.

"Lady Aeaeae!" said Goronwy, bowing low when he saw them. "The second prisoner has been prepared. I found out some very interesting things about his research -- into thought control," he said.

"You mean Imperius?" Lady Aeaeae asked.

"No, no, this is better," he said.

"Maybe we have got another option, then," she said, perking up. "What do you think, Clio?"

Clio thought that she wanted to get Godric and ask him what the hell he was researching that for. He seemed so normal. But, as for the topic at hand -- "Yes, it could be very useful, but my suspicion is it's not at the moment -- mostly theory. Am I right?" she asked Goronwy.

"Well... yes," said Goronwy. "What sort of problem are you trying to solve?"

"The usual," Clio said. "How to deal with troublesome people." She hoped Lady Aeaeae was sensible enough not to discuss her potential victims of strategic disappearance with lesser Auras.

"Well, at any rate, I've got your secret lover all prepped and tied up," said Goronwy, with a wide, vicious grin at Clio. "Bet you like that!" He walked past them, snickering to himself.

Clio did not react to this, to her credit. Goronwy was a stupid jealous prat, and Godric was doomed, and Ophelia Aeaeae was mad, and there was nothing she could do about any of them except to do her job well and try not to do anything to cause a war of succession. "I suppose you'll want to interrogate him, then?" she asked Lady Aeaeae.

She smiled, looking rather like someone's sweet old grandmother. "Yes, I think I shall. Now, remember you can't speak to him --"

"I am well aware of that," snapped Clio. Lady Aeaeae's grin got wider, and Clio was finding it much harder to keep her temper. "Why are you doing this?" she demanded. "You didn't have to call me in from the siege -- Goronwy's perfectly capable of -- well, no -- someone's perfectly capable of handling this nonsense and telling Goronwy and Maelys what to do. Someone other than me. I understand why you want to get rid of him, but why does it have to be me?"

"Oh, Clio," said Lady Aeaeae. "Because it's funny. You're so upset. It's because you're young, I think. People seem so much more important to us when we're naïve."

Clio, who had killed her first werewolf at the age of twelve and had taken out five more by her thirteenth birthday, did not think of herself as naïve. "I could refuse to do it, you know."

"And then you would die," said Lady Aeaeae. "You wouldn't do that to yourself. I know you too well." She smiled. "You know, I like you, Clio. Nobody else will have these conversations with me. It's like they're all frightened I'll have you execute them."

"I can't imagine what would give them a silly idea like that," Clio snapped.

Lady Aeaeae caught her tone, and smiled grimly. "Quite."

Clio held the door to the holding cells for her, then followed her in. Of course, Lady Aeaeae took the chair; Clio stood in the corner miserably, trying to be professional about this whole thing.

She looked at Godric. He was chained up, and wet, and vulnerable, in addition to his usual handsome and clever and sweet and strong. She tended to find that sort of thing very distracting. On the other hand, he was also bruised and shivering, and she wished she could do something about it, and not just let him suffer.

From an absolutely practical point of view, she knew he ought to see a good Healer, but Clio thought that hacking off Lady Aeaeae's head, charging across Europe overthrowing Muggle and magical governments alike, and taking Godric as her emperor-consort (assuming he didn't mind) sounded much more satisfying. She had always been a bit of a romantic.

Still, she knew most people did not enjoy war -- that there was probably something deeply wrong with her for so doing. Besides, she'd never survive long enough to draw her sword on Lady Aeaeae -- her Unbreakable Vow to protect the Council and its Chief would stop her heart.

"Master Gryffindor," said Lady Aeaeae, cheerfully. "Isn't this nice?"

"Not particularly," Godric said, glaring. He shot a brief glance at Clio, though whether he was disgusted with her particularly or this whole situation, she could not tell. "What do you want from me? I already told Grummond what he wanted to know."

"Yes, but you didn't tell me what I want to know," said Lady Aeaeae. "And you could be a bit more polite," she added. "I am the Chief of the Wizards' Council. You're an abominably rude young man, you know. Didn't Mistress Lockhart teach you any manners?"

"Only as much as she taught Rowena," Godric said, and Clio covered up her giggling with a sudden coughing fit.

"Clio, dear, hold your breath," said Lady Aeaeae. She had no choice but to do so.

"Now," said Lady Aeaeae, "let's stop joking around and get down to business, shall we?" Clio wanted to breathe. Really wanted to breathe.

"Yes, of course," said Godric hurriedly, looking anxiously at Clio.

"Good," said Lady Aeaeae. Clio really wanted to breathe. "First off -- what do you know of Lord Salazar's plans to take the Council?"

"Well, he wants to install me, I suppose, and then he'll have a majority. He's hoping to do it before you kill your husband," Godric said. He looked surprised. "That... that came out wrong."

By now, words and sentences were becoming muddled for Clio. All she could think about was breathing, and how much of it she wasn't doing.

"Oh, were you planning on lying?" Lady Aeaeae asked. "Difficult when you've just had a glass of Veritaserum. And a rather cavalier way to treat your lady friend's life. Did you see what he did, Clio?"

Clio looked helplessly at Lady Aeaeae, whose face was swimming before her. Was she supposed to do something? She couldn't tell. She nodded vigorously, just in case.

"Tell her she can breathe, you madwoman," snarled Godric, struggling against his chains.

"Clio, you can ignore my last order," said Lady Aeaeae.

Air rushed into her lungs. She realized she was slumping against the wall, and stood, horrified at this display of unprofessionalism. She shook her head to dispel the remaining dizziness, though it wasn't really working. "Thank you," she said, quickly, in case Lady Aeaeae decided to punish her for insufficient gratitude.

"Now, Gryffindor, as we've established, I think, a nice idea of who's in charge here and what needs to go on, let's continue. How does your theft here at Bjornarbitholm play into Lord Slytherin's plans?"

Godric frowned. "As far as I know, it doesn't," he said.

Lady Aeaeae paused. "...Really?"

Godric shook his head. "I don't even think he knows about this. Well, maybe. You can't always tell with him. Possibly he hoped Rowena and I would get caught, so that I would end up telling you everything I knew. I really wish he'd warned me, though, if that was the case. This is really uncomfortable -- have I mentioned?" He rattled the chains demonstratively.

The wind having been taken from her sails, Lady Aeaeae frowned, considering what else she should ask. "Well, what's the rest of his plan?" she demanded.

"I think I just told you," said Godric. "Put me on the Council, I'm for him and against you, down you go. He's assumed you're going to try putting Thaddeus Fudge on the Council instead." He sounded resigned to his fate.

"But how's he going to get you on the Council?" demanded Lady Aeaeae. "Is he having you marry somebody influential? Bribery? Intimidation? ...Blackmail? That's one of my favorites," she added unnecessarily.

"I don't know," he said glumly. "I was going to become an Animagus. I thought maybe that'd help."

At this, Lady Aeaeae began to laugh. "You? Really? Ha! Are you going to find the Philosopher's Stone as well?"

"No," said Godric, looking annoyed. "I just --"

"I mean, you're not even human. I mean, maybe you are technically but really now, come on. Humanity is all relative, and Muggleborn hardly counts even at the best of times. Most of the Council have old blood or noble birth -- we are descended from gods, kings, and heroes! But you? You are an accident of magic -- a freak and a commoner besides. And Salazar thinks you could be on the Council?"

"Yes, apparently he does," grumbled Godric. "You know I still have to answer rhetorical questions, don't you?"

"Oh, Salazar. The man's mad," said Lady Aeaeae, giggling. "And I expect you're nowhere near this lofty goal of yours? I hear you have to go to Atlantis or Avalon to become an Animagus."

"I very much doubt that," said Godric. "Rowena's further along than me, I think, but I know she'll be having problems reconciling the necessary spells for the visualization aspect with the nature of silver, because some of the current theory is absolute bollocks, but Mnestra and Circe wrote about it, and who are we to question the ancients? Gods, kings, and heroes make dreadful theoreticians. As for me, I'm stuck on the symbolic meaning of the stone-winged falcon," he said. "I'm thinking it must be jade or malachite."

Lady Aeaeae blinked. She looked at Clio. "...What in Hades did he just say?"

"I don't know," said Clio, who was trying not to find it endearing. She stole a glance over Lady Aeaeae's shoulder at Godric. He was smiling weakly at her, as if she needed reassuring, and her heart dropped into her stomach. She could do nothing to save beautiful mad Godric, and while he seemed to know that, it hurt that he could be so kind about it.

"So you're... actually going to do this, you think -- wait a moment," she said. "Rowena's doing this?"

"We're sort of in competition," said Godric, looking as though he'd rather not talk about it.

"She could get herself killed!" said Lady Aeaeae. "Why doesn't that girl listen to reason?"

"I don't think she likes what it has to say," said Godric. "Anyway, she said the same about me. We didn't know you cared! She'll be touched."

Only touched in the head, Clio thought.

"How long do you think it will take you to reach this goal?"

"Forever, since you're going to kill me before I can work it out," said Godric, sounding extremely cranky.

"Oh, you know what I mean," she snapped. "Hypothetically!"

"I don't know. Five years, maybe?" said Godric. "It's difficult to know, since nobody's done it for a few centuries." There was a little bit of an edge to his voice. "Look, have you decided whether you're going to kill me or not? I can't tell, and it's bothering me," he asked.

"You know, I think you know too much," said Lady Aeaeae. "What do you think, Clio?"

Clio froze up. "...You're asking me?" she asked.

"Yes," said Lady Aeaeae. "As a professional matter, do you think it's safe to let him live?"

Clio looked unhappily at Godric. "...I. Well. He has a slight advantage in combat, admittedly, but it's mostly cancelled out by lack of training and the wrong disposition. Other than that --"

"Politically, Clio," she snapped. "Politically."

Her heart sank. "You had better kill him," sighed Clio. "Or get him onto your side. He'll make Fudge look incompetent."

"Fudge is incompetent," Godric pointed out. "He'll be incompetent whether I'm alive or dead."

Lady Aeaeae rolled her eyes. "You're useless, boy, did you know that?"

"Yes, actually," said Godric, sighing.

"Oh, shut up," she snapped. "...You're supposed to be clever. It seems a waste to kill you. Can you think of any reason I ought to let you live? You could work for me," she offered.

Clio perked up. She had assumed Lady Aeaeae would be ordering her to kill Godric right about now, but she actually sounded serious about her suggestion.

Godric, though, seemed to be trying not to answer. The potion won out in the end, as it always did. "I don't think that would work," he said. "I assume you'd want me to go along with Lord Slytherin and then vote against him, but he'd probably kill me or something if I betrayed him. Unless I turned on you and told him, which I really have no problem doing. Other than my life, what's in this for me?"

Lady Aeaeae grinned. "Oh, that's right," she said. "You can't lie to me. I almost forgot. Hmm. I can't convince you? Nothing you'd make an Unbreakable Vow for? I've found them quite useful for always getting my way." She glanced at Clio. "Oh, that's something! You could ask for her!" she said, as though she thought this was perfect.

"Excuse me?" snapped Clio. She had to do what she was ordered, but even Lady Aeaeae had standards. Mostly standards of practicality, but they were standards. "I mean, it's not like -- he's --" She looked at Godric. "I mean obviously I'm... I'm fond of him, but you can't just give me to somebody."

"Well, obviously I can," said Lady Aeaeae, displeased that Clio would question her absolute authority.

"I hate to interrupt," said Godric, sounding desperately unhappy, "but there is absolutely no way I'd want for you to order Clio to be my -- to be a -- well, it doesn't really sound like my sort of thing either." He looked at Clio. "Not that you aren't, er. Amazing, I suppose is the word," he told her, and she felt herself going pink, and grinning despite herself.

Lady Aeaeae rolled her eyes. "Oh, for Hera's sake. You two are sickening." Before she could go on, though, there was a knock at the door.

Clio sighed. "That'll probably be Bjornson wanting to know why we're still here." She looked at the candle clock in the corner, and blinked -- it was only just after midday, but the room was dark despite the windows. It must be overcast, she thought.

"You get it," said Lady Aeaeae. "Tell him we're still very busy."

Clio sighed and opened the door.

It was Hufflepuff. "Afternoon!" she said brightly.

Clio frowned. "Aren't you --" She stopped. Something was very wrong -- more than just Hufflepuff being here when she should be gone.

"It is afternoon, isn't it?" Hufflepuff asked. She looked very calm. And also slightly manic. Clio decided this was going to get very bad very quickly. She shut the door -- she tried, anyway.

Arnhvatr Stigandrson shoved it open again; he might be a bit useless in actual combat, but he was still a lot stronger than Clio. "Your hospitality leaves much to be desired," he said.

Fuck. Bjornson's bear guards were not doing their jobs, and it was probably Stigandrson's fault. "Stay back," she said, keeping her wand on him and Hufflepuff. Stigandrson was in the way, and he had a sword, so she didn't dare use Expelliarmus; bladed weapons could be dangerous to Disarm.

"Helga, dear," said Lady Aeaeae, "what are you doing?" Her tone was pleasant, but there was a definite edge. "I mean, you have to admit, this does make you look rather... malevolent. Not to mention stupid. Do you have a plan? And what about our deal?"

Hufflepuff laughed sharply. "That's been over for quite some time, hasn't it? Besides, are you really expecting a monologue? Honestly, villain-to-villain, I've been up all night, and I'm in no mood for speeches." She raised her wand and snapped something complicated in Latin, and the ground shook.

Clio tried to regain her footing, but the floor was moving around too much; all she saw was Hufflepuff grinning like a madwoman and Stigandrson moving to hex Lady Aeaeae, so she hurried to block him. There was a metallic wrenching noise from behind her, and she looked up to see that vines or roots or something planty had come through the window and freed Godric from his chains. The things -- roots, she thought -- wrenched themselves further into the room, the edges of the narrow window giving way, widening into a huge hole.

"Well, fuck," said Clio. "This isn't working at all." She needed to get Lady Aeaeae to a safe place, but Stigandrson was in the damn doorway and it was hard to fight off Hufflepuff's roots, which took more and more of the brickwork with them. One of them knocked her wand right out of her hand, and, snarling, she drew her sword and began hacking away at it.

"Get them!" snarled Lady Aeaeae, but this was one of the few situations in which she could disregard orders -- Clio's first duty was to the Council and to the survival of the Chief, and if that meant disobeying orders to save her lady's life, well, she was just going to keep fighting off tree roots.

She wanted to know why Hufflepuff was shouting at Godric, of course -- presumably they were escaping -- but it was only when she realized how much the floor was tilting that she looked up from her defense of the Chief of the Council. Godric was scrambling out the door of the room, struggling to keep his balance as the floor jolted below them, and Clio realized that she was too late to save Lady Aeaeae, because the wall had become a wide, gaping hole, and through it she could see the ground, and it was much too far away.

"Shit," she muttered to herself, then turned to Lady Aeaeae. "Grab onto something!" The floor was beginning to fall apart now, brick by brick. Along with the more obvious structural damage, Clio suspected the magic that had held it up had been badly fractured. She sheathed her sword quickly and looked for something to hang onto.

"Why didn't you stop them?" demanded Lady Aeaeae, clutching one of the now very bent iron bars that had once been the cell.

"Because I'm sane," snapped Clio, grabbing another bar. "Where the fuck are Goronwy and Maelys? This place is supposed to be impenetrable."

"CLIO!" shouted a familiar voice.

She was going to kill that man someday, she just knew it. Possibly not on purpose, but maybe, just maybe, she'd indulge in a little slaughter. "GORONWY, YOU STUPID FUCKER!" she shouted, seeing his thestral approaching. "WE'RE UP HERE!"

"GOOD!" he shouted at her, grinning widely.


"YOU ALWAYS SAY THAT!" he bellowed cheerfully. He flew in closer, so as to retrieve them from the siege tower. "I dunno," he said, flying in small circles below them. "I might just leave you here if you're not nice to me."

"Grummond, get me down from here and stop flirting with your superior," snapped Lady Aeaeae. "Neither of us appreciates it."

"Yes, my lady, right away," said Goronwy, suddenly businesslike. After some careful ledge-assisted hovering on the part of Goronwy and his thestral, and some most undignified whimpering from Lady Aeaeae, she was on the thestral's back, being taken towards the ground. Clio waited patiently for her turn (if it ever came). The roots had lost interest in her, and the floor was nearly horizontal now, but it was also mostly gone, so she couldn't do what she wanted to do and pursue Hufflepuff into the stolen siege tower. She glared at the doorway, which was across ten feet of open air and probably locked shut anyway.

"I was ordered to bring you back. You coming or not?" Goronwy asked from behind her.

Still keeping careful hold of the warped iron bars, she turned to see where he was. "I'm coming." She'd practiced getting onto thestrals mid-air but she hardly ever had to do it, and she tried not to look down as she got on the horse behind Goronwy, hanging onto him for her life. She was taller than him, though, so at least she could look over his shoulder.

He took his thestral gently down to the ground. "I suppose you're going to yell at me for letting the siege engine get away from me," he said.

"I was planning on it, yes," she said. "Although not while you could dump me for shouting in your ear."

"Thank you," he said. "Well, the thing is, it got picked up by some trees and carried away."

"Yes, I can see that," she said, looking at the immense structure she had just left. The tower rested on a foundation of uprooted logs, while the whole structure ambled along on six pine-tree legs. It was going roughly south.

"See, what happened is, you know that girl who hit me earlier today?" said Goronwy. "Her father challenged me to a duel for her honor, and while he was failing spectacularly to hit me, I suppose she must have snuck in --"

"Along with Hufflepuff and Arnhvatr Stigandrson," Clio said, pointedly.

"That. Ah. Well. That would explain the trees," said Goronwy, weakly. "At any rate, then the damn berserkers turned on us, so the ground's absolute chaos, but my first duty is to our dear Lady Aeaeae, long may she reign. I put her in a safe place."

"Your patriotism is appreciated," said Clio, rolling her eyes.

"Is it?" he asked, in what he seemed to think was a seductive tone.

"Not enough for me to fuck you again, though," said Clio.

They landed in the center of the settlement. A few of the buildings were on fire, and there were half-bear half-man corpses lying about. The roars of bears and the cries of Bjornson's men could be heard plainly, but they seemed to be handling it decently, although Clio itched to join them in combat. It wasn't every day you fought werebears. Lady Aeaeae sat by a weak-looking fire in the center, listening as Hrafen Stigandrson described the situation to her. Clio, joining them, cleared her throat.

"Ah, you're back," said Lady Aeaeae. Clio was getting no thanks today, apparently, just more orders. "Take Grummond's thestral and follow the thieves. I want my daughter back. In one piece if possible," she said, looking meaningfully at Clio. "I also want Hufflepuff taken alive. The rest you can kill if you like."

"I'll do what I can," said Clio, all business. "Come on, Goronwy, give me your horse. I'll treat her well, but I'd better fly fast if I want to catch up with the walking treehouse."

* * *

Godric had only just managed to scramble through the door before another sickening jolt rocked the building even further to the side. He collapsed against a blessedly sturdy wall, wishing everything would just stop moving around so damn much.

"Are you all right?" Ari asked him, concern in his voice.

"No," said Godric. He started ticking things off on his fingers. "I was nearly eaten by bears, spent the night in the moat, and then I was stunned, chained up, tortured, Veritaserumed, interrogated, and nearly fell through a wall to my doom. And I haven't eaten since last night, which of course was interrupted by the bears, so I'm hungry. And now I can't stop talking until I've told you all my problems, which is taking a long time." He frowned, realizing he'd run out of fingers. "Besides which, it makes me sound extremely whiny. Moreso than usual, I mean."

"We'll try not to ask you any more questions," said Helga, patting his arm. "But do you know where they took Rowena?"

"No, sorry," said Godric. "But I have a question for you," he said, frowning at her. "What do you mean the deal's over? What deal did you have with her?"

"It's not important now," she said. "We've got to find Rowena, though. She must be here somewhere." She made an odd little gesture with her wand, and the floor went back to being level again. It was still moving, which Godric was not happy about, but at least it wasn't trying to shake him off his feet.

"She's probably in the other cell," said Ari. "They would never put her in the commoners' cell."

"What?" Godric asked. "They have separate cells for nobles?"

"Of course," said Ari, blinking at him. "You don't think they'd chain a noblewoman up with manacles, do you?" he asked, as though this was the most ridiculous idea in the world.

"Yes, I sort thought they'd be practical about this," said Godric, automatically. The others ignored him.

They made their way out of the guards' station, through the courtyard and into the opposite guards' station, where logic dictated there would be another cell. Sure enough, a woman in the Aeaeae uniform blocked their passage. "HALT!" she snarled. "I can take at least one of you down before I --"

"Maelys Vaurien! What a pleasant surprise. Is Rowena in there?" Helga asked, sounding pleased.

"Expelliarmus!" she snapped at Helga, whose wand flew out of her hand. Helga did manage to keep a hold of her shovel, though, which she hefted at the woman.

"Have you got Rowena's wand, Maelys?" she asked. "Godric, Ari, could you check to see if she's got Rowena's wand?"

"Piss off!" snarled Maelys.

"I'm really sorry about this," said Godric, picking her up by the front of her shirt. "If you'd just cooperate -- OW DON'T BITE ME." He dropped her just as quickly.

"I killed monsters for a living," she snarled at him, drawing her sword. "Don't you touch me or you'll never walk again."

"I can handle this," said Ari, drawing his own sword. "Of course, the cowardice of Maelys Unclesdottir is well-known, I would not expect her to challenge a great scholar of Transfiguration such as yourself, Master Gryffindor. But perhaps she is warrior enough to fight me?"

Maelys snarled and went for Ari's neck, but he blocked her quickly. Meanwhile, Helga snuck around and hit her soundly on the back of the head with the shovel.

"I knew it'd come in useful eventually," said Helga, looking down at the dazed Aura. "Search her for Rowena's wand, then tie her up," she told Ari.

"That was brilliant!" said Rowena, who had apparently been watching from a little barred window in the wall. There was no door, but there was a doorknob in the wall.

"Rowena!" said Helga, sticking her hand through the bars of the window for Rowena to clasp. "Are you all right?"

"Not really," said Rowena, "but I'm not hurt." She looked as though she'd been crying.

Godric transfigured the wall into a door, and as soon as it was unlocked, Rowena ran to hug Helga. "Oh gods," she said, sniffling, "I thought I was never going to see you again." She did not let go of Helga, but looked up at Godric over Helga's shoulder. "Godric, you're alive!" she said, genuinely pleased. "How did you get out?"

"Helga's plants released me," said Godric. "Also, I'm Veritaserumed, so --"

Rowena began to giggle, slightly maniacally. She finally let go of Helga so she could help Ari carry the still-stunned Maelys into the cell. They left her there, locking the door behind them.

"You should not have told her that," said Helga.

"I will ask you for all of your embarrassing secrets," said Rowena, still laughing.

"Please don't," said Godric, who found he was more sincere about this than he realized. Did he actually have any embarrassing secrets?

"Got your wand, I think," said Ari, waving it at her.

Rowena grabbed it gratefully. "How are we going to get her out of here?" she asked, motioning at the Aura. "Also, what in Hades is going on?"

"Well, we sort of stole the siege tower," said Helga. "I also might've killed your mother," she said. "I'm sorry, it just -- I don't know if she survived."

"Oh gods," said Rowena, disgustedly. "She probably did, she always survives assassination attempts. It's like a special power of hers or something. You'd better deal with the other Aurae, though."

"They only sent three," said Helga, sounding slightly insulted. "Sheffield's with your mum, and we dealt with Grummond, so I think we're going to be all right. We'd better see how my father and Grimhildr --"

"Your father's here?" Godric demanded. Helga's mother had always claimed he had died performing some heroic feat of magic, but Helga and Leo had always made it clear this was probably wishful thinking on her part. "You didn't deal with him before the Aurae? And why is Grimhildr--"

"She's my half-sister," said Helga.

Which meant Sindri was... "Oh," said Rowena, as she realized the same thing Godric had. "...yeah, you do kind of look -- I mean, you're both short, and blonde, and, er." She went slightly pink as her hands described a sort of exaggerated feminine figure.

Helga raised an eyebrow.

"Anyway!" said Rowena. "The question remains. Why didn't you get rid of dear old Dad before --"

"We needed his help," said Helga, unhappily. "I'm hoping to ditch them somewhere along the way," she said. "I was thinking we could send them along to Father Iestyn."

"Father Iestyn," said Rowena, dreamily. "I'd be in his congregation any day, as long as I didn't have to actually believe that shit."

"It doesn't work that way," said Helga, rolling her eyes.

"I'd like to point out," said Godric, "before I forget, that we left without anything we came here for, and now we're fugitives from the law."

"Actually," said Ari, "they took all of your things into the siege tower, including everything you stole, so it should all be here."

"Oh, brilliant," said Godric, with as much sarcasm as he could muster. "That means we're leaving with everything we came with, and as a bonus now we're also fugitives from the law. That's so much better."

"I'm ...really really sorry about this," said Rowena quietly. "I should've listened to you, Helga. And Godric."

Helga patted her on the back. "It'll work itself out somehow," she said. "Oh, ah, incidentally, Ari tells me his father has some really excellent wine. Well. Had. And a nicely stocked larder."

"There's food?" Godric asked. The nine days' wonder of Rowena actually apologizing was nothing compared to the possibility that he might eat something after almost a day without.

"There's food and wine?" Rowena demanded. "You swiped liquor?"

"There's beer too," said Ari.

"Gods and seers, Helga, you think of everything" said Rowena, clapping her on the back. "I knew there was a reason I liked you. Let's go eat and get drunk."

"Because tomorrow the Aurae are going to kill us," said Godric.

"Probably not me," said Rowena. "...Probably. I wasn't very --" She stopped to think about it for a long moment. "Probably," she repeated.

"It isn't as though we're entirely undefended," Helga pointed out. "I mean, these are my trees we're using for stilts."

"How are we getting home, anyway?" Godric asked. "Does this thing swim?"

"I suppose we'll find out," said Helga, brightly.

* * *

When Clio caught up to the tree fort on the loaned thestral, the thieves were having supper. She knew this because, of course, the kitchen stank and spewed smoke -- apparently one of them could cook, at least. She found herself extremely annoyed at their alterations to the portable tower -- they had done away with the outer wall and some of the inner rooms were clearly crumbling. It would probably keep falling apart the longer it was up here on stilts. At any rate, she had a good view of everybody laughing and talking in the small dining hall, though none of them seemed to notice her.

She saw Godric, cheerful and like his old self again -- well, his new professorial self, really. His old self had been so unhappy -- and treasonously, she hoped she wouldn't be successful. But then he said something that made Ravenclaw laugh like a crow, and he smiled at her the way he'd sometimes smiled at Clio, and -- well. Clio was fond of Godric but she had her duties. And if those duties happened to involve killing the woman who'd murdered her mentor, Clio supposed that was worth the sacrifice of a good man, who'd been brave and clever and a worthy opponent.

Well, no, it wasn't even a little bit worth it, but she had her duties, and if she didn't fulfill them as best she could she would die, and Goronwy would get her job, and he'd probably start a war just by being an arse, and thousands would die because she'd let them down.

She landed quietly in the courtyard, tied up Susannah (her own thestral, Barbara, and Maelys' thestral, Yannick, were also there), and stole into the armory, grabbing a few of the spare wands. She was missing hers, of course, but one of these would do for now. She had heard something like a fist thumping against a wall near the gate, and when she looked into the VIP cell saw that Maelys had apparently been treated to the luxury of a bed, according to her status as the bastard daughter of a noble.

"Clio!" she shouted. "You have to get me out of here. Your monster lover tried to kill me!"

"He's not my monster -- I mean, he's not my lover," snapped Clio. "...Or a monster! How did you even get here?" she demanded.

"Stigandrson challenged me to a duel!" she said. "He called me a coward."

"Oh, well, that's a good reason," said Clio, unlocking the door for her. "You know that's how they got Goronwy, right?"

"Well," said Maelys, looking dismayed. "Well, I. ...Well I bet that's how they got you too!" she snapped. "No need to play all clever."

"Actually, they got me by breaking holes in the floor of the room where we were interrogating Godric," said Clio. "I only just saved Lady Aeaeae."

"'Interrogating,' is that what they're calling it these days?" Maelys asked.

"My entendres are as single as I am," snapped Clio, "so shut it." She threw Maelys a wand. "Come on, we'd better take this siege tower back, it cost us enough money."

"I always said we should get a dragon instead," said Maelys. "Looks intimidating, a dragon. Koschei the Deathless has got one."

"Koschei the Deathless is a brutal totalitarian warlord," said Clio. "He has a throne made entirely of skulls."

"Yes, but so is Lady Aeaeae," said Maelys. "I mean, true, her soul's all in one place and she's not three hundred years old, and her throne's all pretty, but --"

"Hush," said Clio. "We're trying to sneak. You do understand stealth, don't you?" She wasn't actually certain Maelys did -- she was the sort of person who would wear a red cloak on an espionage mission and then wonder why it hadn't worked out.

Maelys rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine, I'll be quiet." Then she frowned, and whispered, "Entirely of skulls? Really?"

"The armrests are actual arms," said Clio, who had survived several audiences with this most unvanquishable of foes, "but mostly it's skulls."

"God's blood, that sounds uncomfortable," said Maelys. "How do they hold it together? Are the faces lashed together or is there glue or --"

"I don't know, Maelys, so shut up," said Clio, irritably. She sighed. "They're having a feast in our hall," she said. "I think we'd better wait it out until they go to sleep. They'll sleep very soundly, considering all the wine I saw them drinking. We should spare Hufflepuff, she's the only one who knows how to control the trees. And of course, we shouldn't kill Ravenclaw," said Clio.

"Pity, that," said Maelys. She thought about it. "...So you're going to kill your lover?"

"Would you shut up about Godric?" snarled Clio. In truth, she hadn't decided what to do about him. He ought to have a good death, or at least a painless one, but she didn't know if she could actually make herself slit his throat in his sleep. Maelys would botch it. And if she brought him back to Lady Aeaeae, he'd be in for more torture and interrogation, and Lady Aeaeae would find his last moments amusing. "...I'll kill him tonight," she said, finally. "He deserves that much."

"Good idea," said Maelys, apparently trying to be comforting. "After all, you have got that blond kept man in London. 'Course, he's probably got a smaller cock, but then it's easier to --"

"Leander is not a kept man," Clio snarled, going red. "Anyway, none of that is any of your business. How do you even know about Leander?"

"Goronwy bitches about him," said Maelys. "He isn't a kept man?" she asked. "But you buy him pretty things!"

This was technically true, although mostly she paid him in actual money. "It's not as though I pretend he's mine or anything," she said, annoyed that they were even having this conversation. She wished they were still talking about Koschei the Deathless' interior decorating tastes.

"Well, if he isn't yours, how about telling me how I can meet him? I could use a pretty blond boy to spoil," Maelys said, grinning.

"He's not... I mean... would you just... he's not taking new clients," Clio snapped, flustered. It was really difficult to deal with incredibly stupid underlings when your natural instinct was to hit them until they agreed with you. "Anyway! I think we should keep focused on the plan here. Because that's really what matters."

"Right, yes," said Maelys, brightly. "So you kill your boyfriend and then what?" she prompted.

"He's not my boyfriend," Clio snapped. "...You know what? This isn't going to work. Goronwy needs his horse back anyway. Get on your goddamn thestral, take Goronwy's with you, and report back to Bjornarbitholm. Give them our position. I will do this alone."

"Oh come on," whined Maelys. "I always have to leave -- this is why everyone thinks I'm a coward!" she cried.

"Maelys, shut up, everyone's going to hear you," she snarled. "Nobody thinks you're a coward. Everyone thinks you're just bloody stupid. Now get out of here before I throw you out, because I'm going to lose my temper if you keep pestering me."

Maelys looked blankly at her. "Well, but, I --"

"Get out," repeated Clio, dragging her off to the stables. "That's an order. You don't have to follow orders from me like you do from Lady A., but I'll be really pissed off and I'll let her come up with the punishments."

Maelys gulped. "Right. I'll go tell them where you are, and, er... that you're in good health, and -- and if you don't come back, I'll tell sweet Leander where you've --"

"Go," snarled Clio. "And don't be seen." She turned and left the stables before Maelys could respond.

Clio took a shaky breath. She could do this. It was like the old days, hunting hags and werewolves in the city. She watched as Maelys led her thestral out and took off, then carefully went to lock the cell door where she'd been kept, and picked her way towards the storage room, where she could hear the sounds of merriment coming from the hall. She would wait there until she was certain everyone was asleep, and then she would kill four people and hold the other two hostage.

She couldn't help but think, as she sat herself down on a crate in the corner, that what she'd really like was to be back in Bjornarbitholm, fighting bears.

Chapter 26

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December 2012


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