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The Phantomess of the Opera and the Half-Blood Prince

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Derik struggled to remember a time he had felt any less dignified. There had to be something—a night of unruly drunken rambling, or some adolescent misadventure, perhaps—and yet, try as he might, he couldn’t conjure anything that had made him feel quite as ridiculous as squatting under a cardboard box, fighting for each too-heavy breath, while a spoiled, fifteen-year-old brat whined about her life in a put-on French accent.

"Maman!Why did we have to move to England?Why couldn't we stay in France?"I asked my Maman as I was unpacking items inthe living room. Maman was unpacking items in the kitchen while my Papa was out looking for a job."Erika, you already know why!Your Papa and I think it is time that you start going to a real school.But not only for your education, you also need friends!"She replied.

The walls of Derik’s cardboard enclosure were at once stifling and perilously thin. Too thin to keep out the anger that already seemed to be pressing itself into his skin from all sides. He itched to get away, but this was the only hiding place in the scene.

“Gall,” he whispered harshly. His partner was in the next box over. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah, I hear you,” came her muffled reply. She was just about as thrilled with the boxes as he was, but she fit better. “What?”

Derik shook his head. “I hate this one already. This is absurd! France has a very respectable academy of magic. Why wouldn’t she go there?”

“Easy,” Gall answered. “No snoggable canon characters at Beauxbatons in the Marauder era.” She sighed. “Listen, One-eye: I know she’s got the thing with her face, but try not to let this be one of those missions where I have to do all the work and babysit your crazy ass at the same time, okay?”

For a moment, Derik was speechless. He’d been listening to the characters and Gall at the same time, and the characters had just had a perfectly mind-boggling exchange:

"But my great-great-grandfather didn't have any friends!""What about about Nadir, also known as The Persian?"And that kept my mouth shut as I continued unpacking.

Derik was torn over which insult most deserved his scorn. He addressed Gall’s first, because it was pertinent to the other.

“It’s not about her face,” he hissed.

This was a lie he was telling himself out loud. It was everything to do with her face: the connection it symbolized and the presumed burden of its lineage that was already unraveling not two chapters into the story.

Erika was the great-great-granddaughter of the Phantom of the Opera (Erik, though Derik never referred to him by the name they’d once shared). That much was plausible thanks to the ending of the Susan Kay novel, which suggested that the pity of Christine Daaé had led her to do a bit more than kiss the Phantom’s forehead before taking her leave with Raoul de Chagny. The trouble was that Erika styled herself “too much like [her] great-great-grandfather,” but she’d already thoroughly damned her chances of being taken seriously with a litany of watered-down physical similarities:

He had a deformed face that included a hole instead of a nose and eyes that in the light, they looked like dark holes, and in the dark, they glow yellow,like cat eyes. The top half of my face is deformed, I have a small nose, and in the light, I have ordinary blue eyes, while in the dark, they somehow glow yellow,like cat eyes. His skin was a sickly pale and he had ink-black hair. I have pale skin and ink-black hair.

Her features were a far cry from the withered, mummified appearance of the Phantom. Her “deformity,” in the absence of any further description, looked more or less like a port-wine birthmark across her forehead. It wasn’t as though she were so hideous that even her mother couldn’t stand to look at her. Quite the opposite: she had the benefit of two loving parents, something the Phantom never did. Furthermore, in this crossover, she belonged to the Wizarding World, which was markedly more tolerant of physical and personal eccentricity than the mundane world. Rather than being kept hidden away for fear of violence to herself and her family, she had the privilege of choosing not to go out and make friends.

This was all more than Derik wished to know as intimately as he did, more disgusting to him than he felt was reasonable, and far too much to explain in whispers from the inside of a tiny sharding box.

“The setup just makes no sense,” he said instead. “Even if we assume this girl tried and failed to integrate socially in France, why should it be any different in England?”

A snort from Gall. “Is being the kind of person you can’t take anywhere a blood trait? It would explain so much.”

Derik opened his mouth to complain that Erika knew about the Persian and knew his name from the Kay novel, and therefore she ought to have known that even the Phantom had managed to get by in society for much of his adult life. However, something in Gall’s tone caught him up short. “Are you talking about me?”

No response, but the air had the distinct texture of someone smirking nearby.

“What nonsense!”

“Shush, she’s coming over here.”

Derik subsided in ill spirits, stewing in his ire while Erika took more Generic Things out of moving boxes. He attempted one of the meditative exercises Agent Thoth was trying to teach him, but he was a poor student when it came to sitting still and quieting his mind. To make matters worse, the dense air kept him from drawing a satisfying breath, and crouching like this was making his calves cramp. The lofty metaphysical concepts he was supposed to grasp slipped away from him like water, leaving him more frustrated and edgy than when he’d started. Sometimes he didn’t know why he bothered.

He gave up and went back to observing the Words. Continuing her selective comparison with the Phantom, Erika also considered herself “incredibly smart” and claimed to have “an angelic voice,” just like her great-great-grandfather. Derik was not looking forward to finding out the truth of that. Even enduring a pair of charley horses was preferable to letting another Sue pierce his eardrums with her so-called music.

To his relief, the doorbell rang, providing a distraction. Erika’s mother sent her up to her room to put on a mask—she hadn’t even been wearing one up till now. She chose one that matched her outfit (though neither were described), implying that she had a selection.

“So it’s an accessory,” Derik grumbled. “A fashion choice.” Insolent girl, this slave of fashion, he thought, the melody that went with the words drifting through his mind unbidden, and he snorted. He was going to have the score of the Lloyd Webber musical stuck in his head, of course. Wonderful.

When Erika returned to the living room, her mother had been joined on the couch by another woman, named Mrs. Brennan, and her teenage daughter. For someone who had no friends and needed no friends, Erika showed herself surprisingly willing to break the ice with the daughter.

I don't know why, but I wanted to start a conversation with her.Usually, I feel too uncomfortable around people, reason why I have no friends.I guess this means she could be my friend.

Derik cringed when Erika gave her full name as Erika de l'Opera. It was ridiculously on-the-nose, and besides, shouldn’t the family’s name have been de Chagny? After all, Christine’s son would have been raised as Raoul’s, saving his family from scandal.

The other girl was clearly going to be important, since she got a description: “fair skin, jade eyes, and black wavy hair.” She introduced herself as Fionnuala Brennan, pronouncing it “fi-o-noo-a-la.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” muttered the Harper. Pern had a fair bit of Irish heritage passed down from some of the more prominent Terran colonists (and the series’ author). Some of the phonemes had lived on, and an instinctive ear for language was one of the traits Derik himself shared with the Phantom.

Gall hissed to get his attention. “Hey. What’s this ‘foost’ thing they’re nattering on about?”

“What?” He tuned back in to the conversation.

Apparently both teenagers were huge fans of the opera Faust. Which one wasn’t specified, but insider knowledge suggested the 1859 production by Charles Gounod. Naturally, opera was such a common pastime among seventies teenagers, it was no surprise that two fifteen-year-old opera buffs should happen to meet each other by chance on a random house call and coincidentally share a passion for the one related thematically to the story of the Phantom.

Derik growled at the ridiculous convenience of it all. Also at the ache in his back and neck. “I can’t explain it like this. It’s only come up as a plot contrivance, anyway. They don’t say anything to suggest they know the story.”

“Ugh. This suuucks.” A restless shuffling sound came from Gall’s box; no doubt she was getting as uncomfortable as Derik.

The girls moved on to chatting about Hogwarts houses, since it so happened that Fionnuala was also a young witch. Somehow, everyone just knew this without having to mention it. Fionnuala, a Hufflepuff, speculated that Erika would be a Ravenclaw, since it was the house for “people who are smart.”

“That rules her out, then,” Gall snarked in a passable imitation of Movie!Merriadoc.

Soon—and none too soon for the agents—the Brennans left, and the chapter came to an end. The fic transitioned to the next day and a park that Erika had decided to visit. With a lurch, the agents landed off to one side, boxes and all, near a pair of larches. While Erika amused herself on a swing set, the agents burst free with sighs of relief and stretched out on the grass.

“Never again,” Derik groaned. He took a deep breath, and another. The fic’s nonexistent paragraphing and frequent failure to leave a space between sentences made getting enough air difficult, but being outside eased his sense of claustrophobia. He stared longingly at the blue dome full of fat, lazy clouds overhead. “Do you miss open sky as much as I do?”

“I guess? You should spend more time in the Courtyard if it bugs you.” Gall sat up and tugged her pleated school skirt into a better position.

They’d chosen to disguise themselves as fifth-year Hogwarts students, since Intel said the majority of the fic would take place at the castle. As teenagers, they were both shorter and less filled out than their brawny adult selves. Gall was only a little affected, but Derik’s wide shoulders without significant muscle on them gave the impression of a coat hanger in want of a coat.

Gall looked around and snickered. “Get a load of Miss Fancy-Pants. They don’t learn.”

According to the Words, Erika had chosen “the perfect dress” for the park from her closet, but no description was given, just a very long hyperlink. When Derik sat up and looked at her, he found that the image floating in front of her—but not behind—was a blank, broken rectangle with a red X in the corner.

“Thus we see the perils of relying on Internet links in place of description,” he remarked. “They may break, and then you’re left with nothing but a white sheet and a cold seat.”

“Right?” Gall grinned at him. “Wish I had one of those camera things.”

But Erika had also chosen a “matching mask decorated in flowers,” which showed up just fine.

Irked again, Derik pulled out his charge book and started writing. “Those embellishments will draw more attention than her face,” he grumbled. “What’s the point of wearing a mask if it’s more noticeable than what you’re trying to cover?”

Gall tilted her head in a semi-shrug. “Eh. If you’re gonna do something as bizarre as wearing a mask in the first place, might as well have fun with it.”

Fun?

Derik stared at her, searching for words to explain why he felt so offended. “It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be necessary to spare the public from her supposed hideousness and spare herself from their supposed cruelty.”

Gall stared back. “Yeah. And that’s weird. So if you’re already being weird, might as well go full-blown eccentric, right?”

“But she’s not that weird.” Derik kept a tight rein on his volume. “She has a birthmark. She’s trivializing the whole issue.”

And the mask did draw attention. Erika felt someone watching her, and it wasn’t the agents. She got off the swing to investigate.

A boy, about my age, with pale skin, black greasy hair, and wearing old clothes but classy clothes, was staring at me. He was standing under a tree, with a book in his arms. I don't know why, but I thought he was handsome.

“I don’t get what anybody sees in Snape,” Gall said, for that was the boy’s identity. “If you’re into the weedy nerd type, there are plenty of better specimens out there. Fitz from S.H.I.E.L.D., or Cisco from The Flash. Ones that won’t, like, make you drink frog spawn or whatever, and might even give you attractive kids.”

Derik wasn’t really listening. The fic’s next sentence had grabbed his attention:

A strange feeling for someone like me.

Why should it be strange for someone like her to feel attraction? Does she think the malformed are incapable of appreciating loveliness?

Derik’s fist clenched around his pen. “Oh, yes; never mind that the beast longing for beauty is an important theme of the Phantom’s story,” he growled, oozing sarcasm.

Gall pulled a face at him. “Is Snape the beast or the beauty in this analogy?”

Derik blinked. He hadn’t thought about it that far. “Er. I suppose he’s the beauty.”

“Ew,” Gall groaned. “Erika better not seduce him with a random horse and a boat and creepy Helping Hand candelabras. Handelabras?”

Derik chuckled in spite of himself. “If she does, I’ll kill her.”

“You’re going to kill her anyway,” Gall pointed out. She added hopefully, “Maybe now, before any greasy, disgusting make-outs happen?”

“No. Duty first.”

They both sighed.

Erika did try to approach Severus, with or without make-outs in mind, but he ran off, leaving her to wonder who the “mysterious boy” was as the scene came to a close.

Before the agents could react, the world pulled a Crazy Ivan on them. They grabbed on to each other as they reeled dizzily with the temporal-spatial distortion. When it passed, they were still sitting under the same tree, looking at the same playground, but it was as though the Earth’s poles had reversed. Worse, they saw Erika arrive at the park and get on the swings, as though it hadn’t just happened a few minutes ago.

“Ugh, we have to sit through this again?” Gall groaned. She shook her head, one palm pressed to her head.

Derik kept one of his hands on her back as he squinted at the Words. “Apparently it’s vital that we see it from Snape’s point of view, as well. Gives her an excuse to describe herself again.”

I looked up, and saw a beautiful girl, with ink-black hair, blue eyes, and pale skin, wearing an elegant outfit that included an elegant mask, approaching the swings.

“And she still doesn’t properly detail her clothing,” Derik added. All the added adjective achieved was to give the white rectangle the proportions of the Golden Ratio.

Nothing new happened at all. Erika spotted Severus, he ran away even though he himself had no idea why, and each of them went home wondering who the mysterious other was.

The agents portaled to the next chapter to avoid headaches and nausea when the point of view shifted back to Erika.

It was a week later, and Erika, Fionnuala, and their parents were visiting Diagon Alley together. The narrow streets, filled with people and boxed in by wizarding shops leaning over them on either side, intensified the stifling quality of the air. There was nothing the agents could do but suck it up and follow the OCs, grumbling as they went.

“Stupid Diagon Alley. Stupid people. Stupid Sue,” Gall panted. She kicked a pebble at Erika’s heels, but missed. “Stupid pebble.”

Not unsympathetic, Derik dropped his hand heavily to her shoulder. “Stupid agent, if she gets us noticed.”

“Just look at her. Out shopping with her stupid little friend, just like everyone else, without a care in the world.”

Derik nodded, though he wondered at Gall having a complaint beyond her own discomfort. “It’s maddening, I know. But we can’t do anything to her yet.”

Gall rolled her head to look up at him in exasperation. “Yeah, yeah. Duty. Got it the first time.”

Finally, the shopping trip ended. With Fionnuala’s weirdly prescient statement that “I have a feeling my friends are at the icecream parlor, waiting for us,” she and Erika quickly went into Fortescue’s.

The agents slumped in after them.

It turned out Fionnuala’s friends were Lily Evans and Severus Snape, who were sitting at a table together. Fionnuala and Erika joined them. They all introduced themselves, and Erika showed how gracious she was by reassuring Severus that she understood why he’d run from her in the park, scary mask-wearing stranger that she was. Severus showed how out-of-character he was by thanking her.

"You are very welcome, Severus"I replied, and I smiled at him. He smiled back and said"Please, just call me Sev."

“Never in a million years,” Derik remarked, scowling. “I’m not sure it counts for a charge of Inappropriate Nicknaming, since he was called that sometimes, but he’d never allow it so easily.”

Gall just shrugged; her mouth was full. The agents were taking advantage of the opportunity to share a large hot fudge sundae with three flavors: chocolate raspberry, strawberry peanut butter, and sticky toffee pudding.[1] Gall had just stuffed her face with an enormous spoonful of the latter.

Derik rolled his eyes and went back for a more circumspect bite of the chocolate raspberry. The cold, sweet flavors helped alleviate the oppressive atmosphere, but not that much.

They had time to eat while Erika regaled her new friends with “amazing things” about Paris. Precisely how the shut-in knew about “all of the amazing sights, all the exquisitive food, and all of the beautiful clothings” went unexplained. Predictably, she got around to talking about the Palais Garnier, which got Severus’ attention.

I guess he read Phantom of the Opera. I'm am not surprised. Both the Susan Kay version and Gaston Leroux version are incredibly popular.

Derik swallowed hard and groaned at the ensuing brain freeze on top of the pain of faulty logic. “That’s an anachronism,” he croaked. “The Kay novel wasn’t published until 1991.”

“Did I mention I liked that one better?” Gall smirked, watching him. “’Specially the bit with what’s her face, queeny bitch, when she was gonna cut off Erik’s—”

“I remember, thank you,” Derik cut across her, but she didn’t stop.

“—and stuff it in a small jar, and he’s like, ‘are you so sure a small jar would contain me, madame?’ You think that boast was true?”

Derik stared at her.

Gall grinned at him.

Erika squealed, “You like Faust, too?”

The agents broke eye contact to glare in disgust at the characters as they revealed that both Lily and Severus also loved that particular opera.

“And that’s another charge for contrivance,” Derik said, adding it to the list.

The characters went on chatting, presumably about Faust, though the conversation was not detailed. Instead, the Words concerned themselves with Erika’s thoughts about her two new friends. Lily: reduced to the bubbly type who always seemed to have a sugar rush. Severus: mutated into a self-effacing gentleman who “even allowed me to say something first when we were about to say something at the same time.” Erika had no idea why he was in Slytherin.

“He makes her feel ‘strange’,” Derik reported, to the amusement of his partner. He made his voice high and breathy in imitation of an overexcited teenage girl. “ ‘A sensation I never had. But, it felt right.’ ”

“Ooh, don’t stop. Tell me more!” Gall snickered. “Actually, on second thought, don’t. I don’t wanna know what’s going on in the Sue’s pants.” She polished off the last of the melting strawberry peanut butter.

“There is no more,” said Derik. “The scene’s nearly over. See, their parents are here to take them home.”

“Time to go,” Gall agreed.

They portaled past the scene break . . . and found themselves standing right back at their table in Fortescue’s.

Gall did a quick double-take at the room, which appeared to have mirrored itself on its axis, and moaned. “Not again!”

“Snape’s point of view,” Derik growled in confirmation. He sank heavily back into his chair.

“Do we have to watch it?” Gall looked perfectly miserable at the thought.

Derik sighed; he didn’t like it any better. “Yes. There may be additional charges.”

“Ugh.” Gall dropped down onto the chair beside him.

Severus came in and joined Lily at her table, Fionnuala and Erika arrived, and the scene replayed from their introductions. Again, the only difference was Severus’ internal commentary, which included the phrase “goodness gracious” more than once and flattered the Sue.

I realized Erika is a really kind girl who didn't have any friends in France. I also realized how smart she is. I have a feeling she is going to get sorted into Ravenclaw.

“Taking bets now,” Gall mumbled, leaning on the table with her cheek smooshed against her fist.

“Not on your life.” Derik plucked at a crease in his trousers. A fresh glance at the Words made him snort with amusement, and he read aloud again:

But, I also realized that I had a strange feeling around her. A strange sensation I had never felt before, but it felt right.

Gall groaned. “Aw, I didn’t need to know what’s happening in Snape’s pants, either. Ew.”

Derik nodded absently. “You know, she keeps doing this—making their thoughts almost word-for-word the same. That’s disturbing. As if taking his personality away isn’t bad enough, she has to substitute it with her own?” He glared at the back of Erika’s neck as she got up and headed for the shop door. His fingers twitched.

“Aura of Smooth is a hell of a drug, eh?” Gall got up. “Come on, it’s over, finally. Let’s go do the next stupid scene twice.”

For a change of pace, they didn’t revert back to Erika’s point of view at the start of the next chapter, but stayed with Severus for the first pass. The scene simply involved Severus and his mother visiting their new neighbors with a basket of cauldron cakes. After Erika’s mother took the basket to the kitchen, there was no further mention of it, so Derik and Gall stole it.

“This fic is gonna make us fat,” Gall remarked happily.

“Only if you eat them all at once.” Derik ate one, held onto another, and tucked the rest of his share into his pack, wrapped in the tea towel they’d come with.

The cakes provided a diversion from the tedious meet-and-greet going on in the next room. The agents couldn’t watch it directly without too much risk of exposure, but the kitchen and living room turned out to share a half-wall, so they could listen. There was one high point: Eileen Snape remarked how nice it was to meet Erika and her parents “aswell,” resulting in the three de l’Operas blowing up like Aunt Marge and floating around the ceiling for a minute before settling down to the furniture again. Their complete unconcern was even funnier the second time, and Gall sprayed soggy cake crumbs across the kitchen wall with a guffaw she couldn’t hold in.

Derik patted her on the back as insurance against choking on her next inhalation. “Disgusting. I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Too bad,” Gall rasped, eyes watering. “We have to go to ‘the piano room’ now.”

“Ah.” Derik fell still, and his hazel eye glinted with menace as Erika and Severus went down the hall and into the room. “Chapter six: ‘The Beautiful Piano and Her Angelic Voice’. This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”

“Probably.” Gall cleared her throat and was mostly recovered. “And just FYI, you’re not nicking the piano. I don’t care how shiny it is. There’s no space for it.”

“I reckon we could make space. Fellrazer and Arasgorn in the bathroom, you in the supply closet . . . ”

“The closet is already full of your loot, you crazy magpie. I could share your cot, though, if you really want it.” Gall grinned.

“Oh, come now. It’s just one little lute.” Derik stalked down the hall, fixated on the target and deaf to Gall’s innuendo.

She rolled her eyes and crept after him.

Erika hadn’t bothered to close the door to the piano room after showing Severus inside. The agents were able to lurk in the hallway and peer in around the door frame. The interior, lit only by “a lot of candles,” was afforded a spare but surprisingly effective description.

It had walls that were painted white, and a mahogany floor. And there was a flute, a recorder, a violin, and the most beautiful piano I have ever seen!

It was very shiny: a French baroque parlor grand, white, with hand-painted gold scrollwork along its sides and its elegant, curving legs.[2] Derik couldn’t help wanting it. Pianos were an extreme rarity on Pern due to the need of costly hardwoods for their construction. Though he couldn’t play it, his fingers still itched to dance over the keys of such an exquisite instrument. He made a sound of longing in his throat. It was quiet, but not quiet enough.

“No,” Gall hissed.

“But—”

“No.” She squinted sternly at him.

He shot her a toxic look back. “Well, I’m taking the other ones. I won’t leave them in the clutches of a pretentious little Suvian who doesn’t know sharp from flat.” He glared at the back of Erika’s head.

She was in the midst of showing off one of several leather folders full of her own compositions to Severus, who was dutifully impressed by the number of them.

“Quantity does not guarantee quality,” Derik groused.

“They would make a quality bonfire.”

Derik smirked. “We’ll burn them. If Suvian stories are dangerous, so are Suvian scores.”

“Good,” said Gall. “If you wanted that junk, too, I’d think you’d really flipped your lid.”

Severus asked Erika to play one of her works for him. She refused, but there was no relief for the agents, because she decided to perform something else instead.

"It's called 'Laissez-Moi Planter Le Mai'.This was my great-great-grandfather's most favorite folk song. It's my favorite too."She told me.And she started playing it on the piano.The piano sounded divine!And then, she started singing.
  youtube.com/watch?v=3aNbcYP8RpQ&feature=player_detailpag...

The piano was indeed well-tuned and had a warm, pleasant tone, but Erika’s playing, mimed to the actual sound piped in from the ether of YouTube, was the hesitant fumbling of a young girl who wasn’t really supposed to be doing what she was doing. The clip was from the 1990 Yeston-Kopit Phantom of the Opera, and accompanied a scene of young Christine, then a servant in the de Chagny household, making friends with young Philippe (standing in for Raoul in this adaptation), first at the keyboard and then in an outdoor performance with Philippe playing a pipe, Christine’s father on his violin, and Christine singing. This meant that the singing was passable—a pure but untrained voice, as Christine was supposed to have—but the clip stopped after the first verse, and there were two more.

Derik cringed from the door when Erika’s own Suvian siren-shriek took over. She may, technically, have sounded like an angel, but only because some angels were mind-bending horrors. “Ah, shards and shells, I knew this would hurt.”

“Yeah.” Gall rubbed her ear. “Remind me why we let them live long enough to pull crap like this?”

“Duty and suitably ironic punishment,” Derik said through gritted teeth. His heart wasn’t in it.

“Right. That second thing.” Gall risked a peek into the room and pulled back. “Maybe we can kill her with hot wires in her ears.”

“I’d settle for a rope around her neck. That way she can’t shrill at us while she dies. But . . . ” Derik sighed. “Charges first.”

And there was a doozy when the song came to an end.

After she finished, I was amazed.Her voice, her beautiful voice, could not be from this world. It must have came from Heaven, because she had angelic voice. It was too beautiful!I started clapping my hands and I told her"That was too beautiful!You could have not come from this world! You are an angel from Heaven!"This caused her to blush immensely. It was true. She really is an angel from Heaven!

A honey-sweet, golden cloud of saccharinity wafted from the room. The agents scrambled away from the door and back into the kitchen. It was just as well, since Erika’s mother was about to come by to tell Severus it was time to go.

“Ew,” Gall moaned. “She actually made him say it. Ew. Ew! Oh, Thor, I so regret all the sugar I’ve eaten today.” She sat with her back to a cabinet and rested her head on her knees.

“Not only completely out of character, but redundant, too.” Derik harshly scratched “making Severus Snape a fawning sap” into his charge book. His own stomach churned with disgust. “He didn’t even have words like that for Lily Evans, as far as I know.”

“No,” Gall agreed. “Snape is gross. This is gross.”

Derik looked at the Words, and a wicked little smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. “The sensation he feels around Erika ‘just grew bigger’.”

Gall groaned. “Evil.”

He felt a twinge of regret and patted her on the shoulder. “Cheer up. Chapter’s almost over, and we don’t have to do the scene over again this time.”

She looked up. “We don’t?”

“No. Looks like we’re heading to the Hogwarts Express next.” He scowled. “She takes the violin with her. Damn. Have to get it later.”

But nothing was stopping him from taking the flute and recorder. Just as soon as the characters left the music room to make their good-byes, he hurried over and placed the instruments carefully into the bottom of his pack.

He lingered by the piano, running his fingers along the keyboard. He couldn’t play . . . he was quite sure he couldn’t . . . but he found himself arching his hands over the keys as though he’d been born to do it. Just a little Mozart. I will play you Mozart, if you like, which will only make you weep . . .

“Would you hurry up?” Gall hissed at him from the door, breaking his reverie.

He snatched his hands back from the piano and stepped away.

“You can’t have it,” Gall said. “Let’s go!”

“I know.” He shook his head. “I . . . I’m done.” He joined her in the hall and shut the door behind him.

She gave him a penetrating look, as though he were a dog that might be rabid and she were looking for the tell-tale froth. “Are you . . . y’know . . . okay?” It wasn’t the sort of question that came to her naturally, and her tone was of concern for personal inconvenience if she had to put him down.

“Fine.” Derik suddenly wanted nothing but distance from her and from this place. He couldn’t abandon his partner, but he could punch up a portal to the next scene, which he did. “Come on.”

They skipped over chapter seven, which was just one scene of the four students meeting by chance at Kings Cross Station. Why this had to come about by accident instead of intentionally was unclear, since three of the four lived near each other, they were all buddies now, and it would have made sense to coordinate, but it wasn’t a charge.

Instead, Derik took them to chapter eight, set from Snape’s point of view in a central corridor of the Hogwarts Express. This was a despised location for many agents, since it was nearly impossible to find a good place for two people to hide where they could still observe the action, and not everyone could get their hands on a See-Through Device or a pair of Extendable Ears. Their Background Student disguises were vital while they padded behind Erika and company, pretending to look for an empty compartment like the characters were.

All six of them turned around at a shout of “Hey, Evans!Will you go out with me?” courtesy of James Potter. He leaned through the door of a compartment to one side of the agents.

From the other side, Lily shouted back: “How many times do I have to say this!NO, I WON'T GO OUT WITH YOU!”

Caught in the middle, the agents could only press their backs to the wall and try to be inconspicuous. The canon characters couldn’t see them, but for a moment, Erika did. Her eyes fixed on Derik’s face. In this world, his scars took the form of a magical burn, but his likeness was nonetheless unmistakable. Her mouth opened, and—

James walked past them, toward Erika, and asked for her name. Severus and Lily took exception to this and unintentionally came to the agents’ rescue.

We stood in front of Erika as Fionnuala said"None of your buisness, Potter!""Step aside, Snivellus and Fishoola!"He said. We still didn't move out of the way. "Very well then. See you around." He said as he entered his compartment."Who is that boy?" Erika asked

The agents held their breath. It was clear to them that Erika was not talking about James.

Fortunately, Erika’s friends hadn’t noticed Derik, and they remained firmly on script. Fionnuala promised to explain when they’d found a compartment, and they all turned and continued down the corridor, taking Erika away with them.

Derik panted in relief. “That was too close. We’d better keep out of sight from now on.”

They followed, but not too quickly.

After a moment, Gall spoke. “Hey, don’t get pissed at me, but . . . have you considered messing with your disguise a little in these situations? Y’know, look a bit less . . . ” She gestured circles around his face. “Phantomy?”

Derik stopped and glared at her. “Do you really think that never crossed my mind?”

She raised her hand defensively. “Okay, but you’re not great with the computers, so I’m just saying, I could give it a shot next time.”

“No. You lost your privileges after that stunt you pulled with Fellrazer, and don’t think I’ve forgotten it.” He shook his head. “Anyway, it wouldn’t work. It just doesn’t. Narrative Law of Ironic Suffering or some such.”

“Ah. Yeah, I guess you’re boned. Sucks to be you.” She slugged his arm, and they continued down the corridor until they reached Erika’s compartment.

To avoid being seen, the agents sat down on either side of the compartment door. They’d missed overhearing most of a disparaging explanation of who James and the Marauders were, but the end told them everything they needed to know.

"And the worst part is that the leader fancies me all because he thinks I'm beautiful, not for who I am. So every single time he asks me out, I reject him, and as punishment, he gives cruel nicknames to my friends. That's why he was all of a sudden iterested in you."And Lily started crying.

Gall raised a disbelieving and amused eyebrow. “Is that all?” she whispered. “ ‘Snivelus’ is canon, I think, but I don’t even get ‘Fishoola’.”

Derik shrugged. “If they were saying her name right, it would make more sense. ‘Fin-noo-la’, you see?”

“Aha. Yes,” Gall deadpanned, “for who could stand to be called by a name with the word ‘fish’ in it? Odin forbid ‘snot’, or, gasp, ‘hiccup’! The—” her expression broke— “the gall!” She couldn’t keep it together anymore and broke down in smothered, silent laughter.

Derik’s face didn’t so much as twitch. “To be fair, your clan’s naming conventions are odd even within your continuum.”

Gall grinned at him. “Hey, if you want your kids to be snatched by goblins because their names aren’t repulsive enough, that’s on you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you pick your own name?”

“It’s a family name.”

Derik was about to call her on what he felt sure was complete nonsense, but the sound of Lily crying in the compartment had stopped, and another sound took its place. Erika had taken out her violin, and she began to play one of her compositions on it, having suddenly decided she was ready to share after all. The melody[3] was “so mysterious, yet so beautiful,” and so very, very familiar. The first few notes, a descending chromatic arpeggio, went through Derik like an electric shock. Erika didn’t sing, yet the words arose in Derik’s mind with perfect clarity.

In sleep he sang to me,
In dreams he came . . .

It was bad enough when a Sue sang songs from the musical as though they’d been written for her. This Sue claimed the iconic melody had been written by her, and the other characters fawned over her and lavished her with praise for it.

Derik was filled with a sudden, intense hatred.

How dare she?

“I know,” he snarled. “She dies for this.”

He wasn’t aware of standing up. The next thing he knew, the air whooshed from his lungs, the back of his head struck the floor, and he was on his back, blinking up at Gall in confusion. She crouched over him with one arm pressed just below his neck, the other hand raised in a warning.

Shh!” she hissed in his face, then tilted her head, listening.

They both heard Severus Snape suggest a name for the piece and Erika enthusiastically accept it.

"Alright!The Ballad of the Phantom of the Opera it is!"

A protest started in Derik’s throat, and Gall pressed her arm up against his larynx.

“Shut. Up.” She glared down at him. “You want to get us hexed? Calm your chakras, or whatever woo-woo crap Jötun makes you do.”

Derik could have thrown her off. She might get a blow in, but not one good enough to do any damage. However, enough self-awareness had returned for him to realize that having to explain to Thoth—never mind the Flowers—that he had lost control again and actually hashed the mission this time would be unbearably humiliating. He hated Gall a little for making him see it while being so disparaging about it.

He nodded to her. “Be easier if I could breathe. Get off me.”

She evaluated him, then nodded back and shifted to the side.

Derik sat up and took a few slow, heavy breaths of the Word World’s too-dense air. There was no calm to be had from it. The rage left him, but only to be replaced with several levels of unease. He didn’t understand what had come over him. Yes, he was broken; yes, he was prone to fits of anger; but being ready to kill over mere plagiarism? It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t as though he held any reverence for Andrew Lloyd Webber, so why?

He didn’t have time to analyze further.

“You done?” Gall said. “I think the chapter’s ending; they’re just nattering about nothing now.”

Derik nodded. “I think you’re right. Let’s get out of here.”

They portaled ahead to Hogwarts’ Great Hall and found seats at the Hufflepuff table, which no Sue ever paid attention to—including Erika, even though her very first friend Fionnuala was in Hufflepuff. Erika entered the Hall with the first years and barely glanced in Fionnuala’s direction long enough to wave hello as she walked up to the top of the Hall for the Sorting Ceremony.

Since Erika was going last, after all the first years, the majority of the ceremony proceeded as normal. The Sorting Hat’s song was mercifully undetailed and thus not horrible.

Erika’s Sorting wasn’t especially remarkable, either: naturally, she possessed the positive traits of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff in equal measure, but the only hint of Slytherin was that, according to the Sorting Hat, “you keep on depressing yourself by saying you are ugly and you have to wear a mask.Tut-tut!”

“Puh-lease,” Gall said. “Low self-esteem is the last thing a Slytherin needs. You gotta believe in yourself to get out there and take what you want no matter whose bones you have to break in the process.”

“Or at least be self-centered enough to believe the world owes it to you for some reason,” Derik muttered.

“That, too,” Gall chirped, cheerfully heedless of the implied criticism.

The hat finally put Erika in Ravenclaw, concluding the Sorting.

“Called it!” said Gall. “Pay up.” She backhanded Derik’s arm to get his attention.

He scowled at her. “I never bet you.”

“Too bad.” She smirked. “I will accept payment in cash or fenceable shiny objects.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sure to let you know when I have any.”

Dumbledore said a few words (“Magic, enchantments, spells, charms. Enjoy.”), and the feast began. The food was excellent, as usual. Derik couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for it—what he really wanted wasn’t permissible while disguised as a minor in a school—but Gall had yet to meet a free meal she was willing to turn down. She tucked in with gusto.

Over at the Slytherin table, the Carrow twins tittered about Erika’s mask just loud enough for her to overhear them. Derik considered the merits of punching them in the face for being evil little bastards, even if the worst insult they could muster in this fic was “I bet she's wearing that mask because she is ugly and she can't bear to look at her face!” Mean, yes, but not quite the caliber of cruelty one would expect from a pair of future Death Eaters. Erika wasn’t even hurt enough to cry about it, despite the fact that having been home-schooled should have made her unused to the sort of taunting she might have gotten from other kids. She just stared at her food, which she hadn’t been eating much of to begin with.

“She doesn’t know anything about real cruelty.”

Derik nodded. Not for the first time, he wondered at such a serious observation from Gall, but he couldn’t fault it. “Supportive family, kind friends the moment she looks for them—even the Sorting Hat is there to reassure her! What right does she have to complain?”

Gall paused her chewing and looked as though she were about to respond with a question, but just shook her head.

Erika was cheered up by Xenophilius Lovegood, who warned her about wrackspurts living in her violin.

Derik raised his eyebrows at that. “Have wrackspurts ever been confirmed or denied as real in canon?”

Gall shrugged. “I’unno. Why?”

“I might have to learn how to clear them out of Erika’s violin.”

“Or you could just let it go.”

“I will not.”

“Ugh. If they turn out to be real, keep them away from my stuff.”

The feast came to an abrupt end with Dumbledore warning the students not to wander the halls after-hours. The agents stalked Erika to the Ravenclaw tower, where they found that the canonical eagle-shaped knocker had been replaced with a portrait of an eagle.

“Wall art?” Gall whispered, eyebrows raised hopefully.

Derik shrugged. “Why not?” It was handsome enough, he supposed, and not too big. “We’ll have to break it of giving stupid riddles, though. Only an idiot would fail the one-story pink house one.”

“Sweet!”

To Erika’s minor credit, she did not use the insultingly simple misdirection riddle in an attempt to show off her stunning intellect. The Head Boy and Girl answered. The thing was merely pointless.

Everyone went up to their dorms, and first-year Erika learned that she was rooming with second-year Sybill Trelawney and no one else. No explanation for this oddity was given.

It turned out that each girl knew of the other’s famous forebear, and Sybill prompted Erika to take off her mask.

Outside the door, Derik tensed.

"I don't think you'll want to see what is underneath."I answered."But, you do know since we are roommates, I'm going to have to see your face.And, also, I have a feeling it is a very uncomfortable to sleep with a mask on."She pointed out. I do have to admit, she is saying the truth. So, I closed my eyes, slowly took off my mask, and waited for a shrilly scream. But, that scream never came, and instead, I heard an amazed voice say"It is exactly as I imagined it!" I opened my eyes to see Sybill with an amazed look on her face. Well, that went well.

Derik let his head hit the wall with a soft thunk.

“Wow,” Gall remarked. “It’s almost as though her horrible deformity is not actually horrible.”

“It’s an insult! An insult to everything that makes Erik’s story tragic and poignant!”

Derik’s fingers twitched, but at a sharp look from Gall, he caught himself and reached for his charge book instead of the Sue’s stupid, scrawny neck.

By the time he finished writing, the characters had gone to bed.

Gall yawned and said, “D’you wanna catch some zees? I’m about to pass out.”

“That’s what happens when you gorge yourself on rich food,” Derik said, scanning ahead through the Words.

“Also, this is so boring. There’s no action, just a lot of dumb Sue-yap. I mean, what’s so important about her eyes glowing in the dark that she had to point it out twice? It’s not like Kid!Trelawney cares. It doesn’t matter.”

“And it looks like more of the same banality for the foreseeable future,” Derik agreed. “There’s a bit with Moaning Myrtle being nice that we might need to watch, but then we can probably skip to—” He blinked and reread a passage. “It’s before Halloween, but it mentions ‘these last few months in Hogwarts’. School starts on September 1, always. It’ll have been a month and a half, tops.”

Gall sighed. “Oh, goodie; timeline distortion. Let’s definitely skip that.”

“Room of Requirement?”

“Yes, please.”

They slipped out of the Ravenclaw tower and through the castle to Barnabas the Barmy’s corridor on the seventh floor. After they had performed the requisite ritual, the door appeared across from the portrait, and the agents went inside.

Derik froze and gave Gall a caustic look. “Really?”

“What?” She was all wide-eyed innocence, or would have been if that were an expression she could ever credibly pull off.

He pointed.

Her eyes barely flickered. “Look, I don’t know what you were imagining out there, but I think that bed is fine, and—”

“What?” Derik looked around and took in the single bed of rather cozy proportions for two people. He shook his head. “No, not that. That.”

“—mature adults, so—wait, what?” Gall squinted at him in confusion and looked where he was actually pointing.

On the wall beyond the bed, there was a pipe organ.

“Huh,” said Gall. “Well, I didn’t do it.”

“I certainly didn’t,” said Derik. “It had to be you—and it’s not funny, by the way.”

Gall shook her head vehemently. “No way; I’m not the guy obsessed with getting his hands on every instrument that isn’t bolted down or on fire. That . . . that might actually be both?”

They looked at it again. It was not on fire, but it was covered with enough glittering bronze candelabras to seem that way if they let their eyes unfocus.

Derik shivered. “If you didn’t . . . it must be the fic. Erika. Does she come here later?”

“I don’t know; you’re the one who keeps track of these things.” Gall shrugged. “As long as it doesn’t start playing itself in the middle of the night, I don’t care. I’m tired. I’m going to sleep. You can join me or pull up a piece of floor, whatever.”

She pulled off the outer layers of her Hogwarts uniform and slouched into bed in a huff.

Derik stood staring at the organ, torn between conflicting urges: to get as far away from it as he could on the one hand, and to go over and play it on the other. Never mind that he didn’t—couldn’t—know how. He would rip such music from it that the whole castle would tremble. Their dreams would be haunted with wrath. Most of them wouldn’t know why, but one stupid little brat with a perfectly normal birthmark might learn to regret the day she’d decided to claim a lineage to—

In the end, Derik decided that sleeping within easy tackle’s reach of Gall wasn’t such a bad idea.

Not that he did sleep. This fic had really gotten under his skin, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just waiting for a moment of weakness in which to take him over. It had happened before. He wasn’t about to let it happen again. He stayed awake, trying to meditate. Failing. Listening to his partner’s soft, peaceful snores. Resenting her. Trying to think . . . think about anything other than the violent music throbbing at the back of his mind.

In the morning, Gall woke up bright-eyed and bushy-haired as usual, eager for a Hogwarts breakfast. If she realized that her partner had been tossing beside her all night, she didn’t show it.

“You know, this mission isn’t half bad,” she remarked, pulling on her black robe. “Erika is a freak who can’t even get being a freak right, but at least she’s providing us three squares, more or less.”

“Do you think about anything besides food?” Derik snapped at her. He immediately regretted it. “Sorry. That was uncalled-for.”

“Damn right.” Gall folded her arms and glared at him. “I think about lots of stuff. Some of it you’d know if you were paying attention.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” His head hurt. It wasn’t an excuse. He rubbed his eyes and stood up stiffly. “Let’s try to get this over with quickly.”

“Yeah, okay. But not before we eat. That means you, too, old man.” She planted her hands against his back and propelled him toward the door.

He staggered and wrenched himself out of reach. “Stop it. I don’t need you herding me like a sun-dazed wherry.”

“Bet you’re awake now, though.” She darted toward him, feinting a pair of rabbit-punches at his chest. When his fists flinched up in response, she hopped out into the corridor, snickering.

Derik sighed and followed. She was right, damn her.

The agents again took places at the Hufflepuff table, and Gall loaded both their plates with toast, beans, tomato slices, sausage, and black pudding—all the essential components of a British breakfast. There was also enough tea to drown a giant, strong enough to knock one down. Derik nursed a large cup between bites of food he made himself take whenever Gall was looking. This was often, because nothing much was happening with the fic. Only two items were of any note:

One, Erika had the image of a particularly fancy mask floating in front of her face: bright blue with glittering silver and blue designs. It was pretty, and it should have drawn an enormous amount of attention amid the sea of black-clad Hogwarts students, but it didn’t.

Two, Erika introduced Sybill to her friends. They all said good morning to each other ad nauseam and discussed their class schedules before splitting up to eat at their own tables. The existence of three quadruple periods (Charms, DADA, and Ancient Runes) with all four fifth-year classes went onto the charge list.

Derik and Gall skipped over Erika’s first day of school, the only part of which she had detailed was an exchange of words with James Potter. He failed to annoy her with the nickname “Opera Geek,” but succeeded by begging her to ask Lily out for him at every opportunity.

However, dinner came with entertainment.

And just as I was heading to my seat, SPLOOSH!Pudding landed on my face. I tried to clean the puding from my face using my hands, and when I wiped pudding off my eyes I was able to see clearly. I looked at the Slytherin, and I saw the carrows laughing really hard, and Amycus had his hands dirty with pudding.Then I heard a familiar voice, James' voice, call out"Rather think about, Opera Geek doesn't seem to be working, so how about Pudding Face!"

James, Sirius, and several other students burst into laughter. There was a high, maniacal overtone to it that brought Derik’s head up sharply, but it was only Gall cackling beside him.

“Now, that’s how you do it!” she said. “If only they knew how right they were.”

Derik grinned a humorless canine grin. In his former life, as a Harper apprentice, he’d have thumped the likes of Amycus and James for bullying a more vulnerable student, and even now he thought Amycus’ face would look better with a broken nose instead of that evil smirk. On the other hand, Erika really needed a taste of what it was like to be properly mocked for her differences if she was going to claim victimhood over them. “I’d say this was a positive development in the story, only she’s driven James further out of character for it. Can’t see him allying with a Slytherin for any reason.”

“Yeah,” said Gall, “because you know if a slimy Slytherin did it, it was wrong, right? But if a golden Gryffindor did it, it was totes heroic and justified.” She did have her moments of insight. But only moments. “Food fight?” She scooped up a serving-spoonful of the pudding at their table and looked for a target, but the Great Hall showed no signs of erupting into delectable chaos. “Aw.” She dropped the spoon back into the bowl with a plop.

Erika ran from the hall in tears, not even stopping at her friend Fionnuala’s call, and the agents pursued her to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. They had to duck a parenthetical author’s note that flew out the door at them:

(A/N:I have a feeling you guys might be wondering how Erika's satchel looks like. Here's a picture of it:TopShop_Medium-Leather-Satchel)

The link was broken, and it gave the note jagged-glass edges. It narrowly missed the agents and embedded itself in the opposite wall before dissolving back into the Word World.

Going into the bathroom with the Sue wasn’t an option, so the agents once more settled down to listen through the door. For a moment, the only noise was running water and Erika sobbing.

“Jeez, that note almost took my head off.” Gall felt around her scalp to make sure it was still attached.

“Nothing vital, then,” Derik remarked. He received an elbow in the ribs in response. It was oddly comforting. “Sorry.”

They had to shut up and listen when Myrtle started talking.

"I know how it feels. People can sometimes be so cruel."I stopped crying, and I looked around. When I saw nobody, I called out in a sob"Who's here?""Follow the ray of moonlight with your eyes" The voice answered.

Gall covered her mouth to muffle a snort of laughter. “I know Myrtle likes drama, but that’s just dumb.” She put on a fruity, wavering voice. “Woooo, I am a spooooky ghoooost! You can oooonly seeee me in the moooonlight!”

She waggled her fingers at Derik until he swatted her hands away.

The girl and the ghoul introduced themselves. Erika tried to shake hands, but of course this didn’t work. Myrtle’s pearly lips quivered.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I just forgot I-I-I'm a-a-a g-ghost!"And then she let out a loud sob and a moan.

Gall nodded. “That sounds like Myrtle. Even though she was totally playing up the whole see-through thing two seconds ago.”

“Give it two more seconds,” Derik said grimly.

"Well, I saw what happened to you at the great hall, and I realized you were coming here. So I thought I would come to comfort you since that had happened to me once and I know how it feels."She told me. I smiled at her and told her"Merci, Myrtle! You are being really kind."It is true. She is being really kind. She got excited, smiled, and replied"You are very welcome!And thankyou!Nobody has ever said anything kind to me. Instead, I was just bullied."

“That’s because she was an annoying, nosy, self-centered little toad,” Gall said, rolling her eyes. “Sheesh.”

Derik shook his head. “Mind you, that doesn’t make it accep—oh, shards. Move!”

He scrambled to his feet and hauled Gall with him around the corner just in time to avoid Fionnuala, who was coming up the corridor looking for Erika. Once she was inside the bathroom, they crept back into place. Derik leaned his head back against the wall with his eyes closed, willing the throbbing in his skull to die down. This was made next to impossible by the dialogue going on behind him.

First, Myrtle recapped the events in the dining hall for Fionnuala’s benefit. That was fine. Then the two of them started urging Erika to tell Professor McGonagall in increasingly shrill voices, which were like needles through Derik’s ears. Erika refused, and they finally gave up, but then came a hammer-blow of perfidy.

Just then I realized, I'm not wearing a mask!I grabbed my satchel and I put on my mask."You know, your face is not as scary as you say it is."Fionnuala told me.

“There’s the not-so-ugly truth. No one would ever say that to Erik!”

“No, they would not. That cinches it.” Derik forced his eyes open. “That just . . . what?”

Gall was looking at him with an expression of what might be called concern on anyone else, but the agents had to move away from the door again before she could say anything.

They caught one final line from Erika as she and Fionnuala left the bathroom:

"That's easy for you to say. My grandmother never wanted to see me again after seeing my face."I replied.

Gall tilted her head challengingly at her partner.

“Well, that doesn’t actually change anything,” Derik responded. “So her grandmother was an intolerant cow. That singular instance of rejection utterly fails to offset the automatic love and support she’s gotten from everyone else in this story—including Moaning bloody Myrtle.”

“That’s not what I’m—” Gall started.

“Listen to this.” Derik recited from the Words: “As I walked to my commonroom, I thought about how kind Myrtle is. I could tell she is a little bit traumatized because of when she was bullied. Why would they bully someone who is so kind?

Gall snickered in spite of herself. “Okay, wow. I’m not saying Myrtle was asking for it, because I’m pretty sure you would hit me if I did, but . . . ”

Derik raised an eyebrow. “Saying what you’re not saying rather defeats the purpose.” He bounced his fist off the top of her head to be sure she got the point.

“Ow.” She batted him back. “What do you have against my head today?”

“At the moment, the way it’s making noise. Hush while I check ahead.” He scanned through what he could see of the next chapters. “Fionnoula takes Sybill and goes to McGonagall anyway; good for her . . . Amycus, James, and Sirius get detentions . . . the Carrows attack Erika, but she’s ‘not as violent’ as her great-great-grandfather, so she doesn’t even defend herself . . . James and Sirius save her for some reason . . . and James demands a favor in return. No prize for guessing what the favor is.”

“Ask Evans out?” Gall planted a fist on her hip.

“Ask Evans out,” Derik confirmed. The next line made him laugh bitterly. “Erika describes that as ‘the worst mission ever’. I beg very much to differ!”

Gall grinned. “You and every agent in Headquarters. Some of ’em would stab her just for that.”

“Alas, we have standards. Well, I do.” Derik stopped looking at the Words and blinked to bring the physical world back into focus. “And they aren’t met yet. We’ll have to press on and see what happens at Halloween. Damn.” He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair.

Gall smelled an opportunity for mischief. “Well, if it’s anything like last Halloween . . . ”

“Don’t.” Derik got the remote activator out of his bag.

“ . . . then you’ll get blind-drunk on pumpkin spice ale . . . ”

Don’t.” He punched in the coordinates.

“ . . . and tell everyone your life story about five times . . . ”

Derik sighed heavily, folded his arms, and waited.

“ . . . and come home with a new boyfriend, and I’ll have to break the news to Jötun, and he might cry.” Gall nodded to emphasize her grave warning. “Then I’d have to comfort him, and it would be so awkward, but you know how these things go.” She gave a salacious grin.

Derik snorted at the nearly inconceivable image of Thoth, a Space Marine, in tears; never mind the rest of it. “Are you done?”

She spread her hands. “I’m just saying, if you wanna kill Erika now and avoid the whole sorry scenario, I won’t tell anyone.”

Much to his shame, he actually thought about it. Getting out of here to go find an analgesic, alcohol, and sleep had its appeal. He shook it off. “Don’t tempt me, woman.”

He clicked open the portal and strode through.

“Oh, sure, that tempts you,” Gall muttered, trudging after him.

They entered the small room adjacent to the Great Hall where first-years received their instructions for the Sorting. Outside in the antechamber, many students were crowded around a poster on the wall so densely that it would have been impossible to move through them unnoticed. Even Severus struggled as he made his way toward Erika, on her way to breakfast. The agents could barely see or hear them from the doorway to the side room, but it still technically counted as direct observation. Derik was able to charge for Erika's ability to read the poster from the edge of the crowd, not to mention an anachronistic and uncharacteristic Ralph Lauren outfit for Severus and yet another perfectly accessorized mask for Erika.

"So, what is all the hubbabaloo?" I asked. He pointed to the poster, and I read it. "Halloween Costume Contest. Why is it so exciting?" I asked Sev.

Instead of answering her, Severus asked if she’d had breakfast yet. Gall looked up and grinned at Derik in anticipation of another Hogwarts breakfast, at which Derik shook his head; it had barely been an hour for them.

He needn’t have worried. Erika declared she didn’t intend to eat; she was only going to keep Sybill company. On cue, Sybill left the Great Hall, delivered an owl message to Erika, and went on her way. Erika and Severus decided to go straight to Hogsmeade.

The agents groaned.

“Pointless scene is pointless,” Gall grumbled. “Dammit, I was going to swipe some kippers for Fellrazer.”

“Those awful fish were never going in my bag, so it’s no loss.” Derik opened a new portal. “On we go.”

Hogsmeade was chilly in October, and the agents were unprepared. Gall seemed untroubled, but Derik came from warmer climes, and the sudden transition made his headache worse. He was happy to follow the students into the costume shop without questioning it.

Gall, however, looked around with a scowl. “I’m pretty sure this isn’t supposed to be here. I think there’s a branch of Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions in Hogsmeade, but this? It’s not even a normal shop; look.”

Derik raised his eyes with an effort and grunted in surprise. Instead of aisles, the merchandise was arranged in floating “isles” that drifted gently over the floor and bumped into each other and the customers, who didn’t seem to notice. In and of itself, it wasn’t too strange for the Wizarding World. The merchandise, however, seemed chiefly to be the cheap, prepackaged sort that one would expect in a World One pop-up store. There was a lot of Disney. Erika was at that moment inspecting the dress of Esmeralda the gypsy from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Derik shrugged. “Walt Disney was a wizard.”

Gall looked at him like he’d grown a second head.

“Or . . . wait, no.” He frowned. “That was . . . Agent Sedri complained about that when we were in Medical after the invasion. Never mind. I’ll charge for it.”

Gall nodded. “Also,” she said when he finished writing, “I think we missed the reason why everybody is so flipping worked up about this contest thing.” She started pawing through the piles of costumes.

“Is it wrong that I could not care less?” Derik said. He watched Snape hunt for a Phantom of the Opera cloak and mask, and his lip curled.

Severus explained to Erika that he dressed up as the Phantom every year and never won, but kept doing it anyway. This gave Erika an idea, and she left.

“The Red Death is coming,” a mocking voice seemed to whisper. “How derivative. That’s so last century.”

Derik blinked and looked around. He didn’t see anyone that hadn’t been there before. A glance at the Words confirmed Erika’s intent to dress as the “Masque of the Red Death,” though.

Gall didn’t appear to have noticed anything at all. “Only if it comes back to bite us in the ass,” she said cheerfully, answering Derik’s question of a moment earlier. She scooped up an armload of costumes. “Meanwhile, open up a portal home before this place vanishes. People will give me serious moolah for these when the next HQ party comes around.”

Derik said nothing and obliged her with a hole in the floor that opened above her bed. She began dropping the contents of one of the “isles” through, mumbling to a tune that might have been “Winter Wrap Up” from Friendship Is Magic. “HQ party, HQ party . . . ”[4]

After several moments of nothing else unusual happening, Derik sighed. “The depths of your avarice will never cease to amaze me.”

“Yeah, yeah, like you can talk.” Gall held up one of the last packages and grinned. “Check it out. Sexy Mermaid. Whadda ya think?”

“I think my patience and this setting are both fading at the edges.” It was getting a bit claustrophobic. He really needed to get out of here.

Gall snorted and chucked the mermaid costume through with the rest. “Okay, I’m done.”

“So is this chapter.” Derik squinted painfully at the Words. “Back to Hogwarts, one week from now. Let’s go judge this contest.”

“Ooh, ooh, is the prize for winning a free death?”

“It just might be.”

They jumped through a portal to the Great Hall, where the students were gathering in their costumes. The agents settled in to observe from the Hufflepuff table.

There was, again, a preponderance of Disney on display. A quick consultation of the Canon Analysis Device revealed that none of the costumes were temporally anachronistic, since the films they came from had all been released before the fic was set, but Derik was feeling especially vindictive after his earlier mistake, so he charged for the cultural anachronism anyway.

“Can I have that?” Gall took his notebook and pen without waiting for an answer. “Cool.” She flipped to a blank page and drew a quick grid with names in wide, clumsy letters down one side.

Derik cringed at the inefficient use of the paper. “What are you doing?”

“Judging!” Gall chirped. “Let’s see, Lily Evans as Princess Aurora. Originality: two out of five. Quality: store-bought; two out of five. Gods-damned excuse for it: zero.”

After a moment, Derik relaxed. He could get more paper in Headquarters. “Does James get more points or fewer for being Prince Philip to coordinate with her?”

Gall tapped the pen against her pursed lips. “Hmm, weeell, he does have an in-character gods-damned excuse for it, so I’ll give him a couple points there, but it wasn’t his own idea, so that’s a zero for Originality. I guess they break even.”

She scored Fionnuala’s Snow White and Sybill’s Alice of Wonderland the same as Lily at first, but then docked an additional point in Originality for each successive Disney character. The Carrow twins did slightly better as Sexy Si and Am, the Siamese cats from The Lady and the Tramp, for not being princesses and for going with a different spin on their characters, but they lost out in Quality for being inappropriate and gross.

Severus stood out amid all the sequins and cartoon-bright colors in his austere white mask and black cloak, but Gall gave him zero points for Originality since he’d said he did the same thing every year.

“He’s got a narrative reason for it,” Derik pointed out when Gall hesitated over the Excuse column. “It’s his favorite character from his favorite book.”

“But that’s stupid, though,” Gall said, and drew a bold, fat zero.

After thinking about it a minute, she did award him a couple of points for Quality. “He makes a better Phantom than Erika, I’ll give him that,” she remarked. “He’s got the brooding sulk down pat.”

“If only he realized that, he might get somewhere in the contest.” Derik closed his eyes and massaged his temples. The tedium of the scene was wearing on him despite Gall’s amusing diversion. “The real Snape could do a stalk and swoop, too.”

“To be the Opera Ghost requires a touch of the theatre; a magician’s command of the audience’s eye. It isn’t child’s play.”

“Well, maybe he didn’t learn that until later in life,” Derik said—then looked up sharply at his partner. “Since when do you have opinions about theatre?”

Gall stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“You just—I thought you said—” Derik shook his head. “Never mind. I must have dozed off for a second there.” He attempted to hide the lie behind a smile. It failed.

“Well, wake up.” Gall swatted him with the notebook. “If your cookie is crumbling, just tell me, because the real show’s about to start, and you know it’s going to be something that pisses you off. Maybe you shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m fine,” he snapped, but her expression called bullshit, and he recanted. “I’ll be fine when it’s over.” Taking Gall’s foreboding on board, he had a precautionary look at the Words and gave a snort. “I already knew she was going to come as the Red Death. Rather spoils her would-be dramatic entrance. It’s all right.”

“She’s coming as what?” Gall half-rose and turned to look at the entrance to the Great Hall.

Dumbledore, who’d started a roll-call of students participating in the costume contest, reached Erika’s name, and the doors flew open on cue. Erika stepped into the room wearing a “magnificent and stunning red dress and a skeletal mask that covered the top half of her face” with a cape that had “something in French” embroidered on it in gold thread.

Gall sagged back into her chair. “Oh. That Red Death.” She laughed. “Damn, for a second there I was worried this might cross over with my world!”

That got a weak chuckle from Derik. “That’s all we’d need to really ruin our day, eh?”

Gall got a thoughtful, evil look. “Can we feed her to the giant-alpha-dragon Red Death? Would that be poetic justice, or just really funny?”

The idea had so much perverse appeal that Derik didn’t tell her transporting Sues between continua was against regulations. He smirked. “We’ll see.”

Erika let everyone stare at her “in awe,” then walked to her table amid the susurrus of students commenting on how great her costume was and how beautiful she looked in it. This, despite wearing a death mask with the light dim enough for her eyes to glow golden through the eye sockets.

“Oh, sure,” Gall drawled, “they slam Alecto for dressing as a sexy kitty, but Erika dresses as a sexy plague victim, and that’s hot, even though they’re both supposedly ugly as sin. Once again, Slytherin gets the double-standard shaft.”

The contest finally began. Derik sat up and took notice when the movieverse-canon Frog Choir appeared at the head of the hall and started playing “Double Trouble”—or rather, they mimed playing it. The actual sound came from YouTube: a solo flute piping the melody over an accompaniment track. The accompaniment, twice recorded, was of dismal quality. The flute itself was fine, but the last note was shrill with too much enthusiasm.[5]

The Harper winced as the sound lanced through his skull. “Fair idea, foul execution. For shame.”

The orchestra continued to make their presence known, since “every single time when someone dressed up like a character from a musical, like Disney movies, the Frog Choirwould play a melody from the movie, and a singer would sing the lyrics.” There was no more YouTube, though, so it provided a good distraction from the otherwise boring parade of off-the-shelf Disney costumes until Erika’s turn came.

She went up to the front, and Dumbledore prompted her to explain her choice. As she did so, things took a peculiar turn. A lot of the students, especially the male students, took rather more notice of her than was reasonable. Even Derik in his student disguise felt an odd flutter in his belly as he listened to her. When he realized what was happening, he was so revolted he stood right up and walked away to lean against the wall with his back to the crowd. A few people turned to look at him, but were quickly drawn back to Erika.

Gall caught up to him a moment later. “What now?”

“The Words,” he snarled. “Her voice. Three times—three times she has to emphasize how seductive she is.” He shuddered at the too-familiar touch of Suefluence.

“Oh, Thor. Gross!” Gall turned to glare at Erika and pounded a fist into her other hand. “Okay, I officially hate her and her stupid not-ugly face.”

Derik was surprised at her vehemence. She sometimes got territorial when other women noticed him (even though he paid them no more heed than her), but here it was as though she understood how violated he felt.

Doubting his sanity but grateful nonetheless, Derik put a hand on her shoulder. “Not yet. It’s not over yet.” He felt regret, too, and he wasn’t sure whose it was.

Gall gave him a mulish look in return, but nodded. She turned her back to the wall and tilted against it with a thump, arms crossed, the picture of a bodyguard on watch.

Erika now regaled them with her ideas about what made the Phantom of the Opera an important character in his story.

"The Phantom, or Erik, shows a very important lesson. Some of you might say the lesson is that if you love someone with all your heart, give them their freedom. Others would say that the lesson is that love will never die."

Derik gagged, not entirely for show. It got a little snort from Gall, who thoroughly agreed with him that Love Never Dies was garbage now that she’d seen both it and the original.

"But here is the most important lesson of all!" I said as I held up the leather folder containing the music sheets. I used my wand so I could have the words 'Don Juan Commemore' imprinted on it, which means Don Juan Triumphant in French.

“It bloody well does not,” Derik said. He spun around to face forward again, and the full weight of what was happening struck him. “Oh, no.”

"He also shows the beauty of music! A lesson, a really important lesson he shows is how beautiful music can be! He was not a creator of beautiful music, he was music itself!And because of that, I shall sing."

Both agents groaned.

In a show of arch bitchiness, Erika “approached the Frog Choir and threw the folder at them,” catching a hapless cellist across the face, and announced that she would be singing a song called “The Beauty of the Music of the Night.” If any of the student musicians wondered how she expected them to play one of her “original” compositions on the spot with no rehearsal when its pages had scattered at their feet, they had no time to say so.

The Frog Choir started playing the melody of the song. And then I started to singing emotionally.
youtube.com/watch?v=8H65FIlWl0Q[6]
Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination
Silently the senses abandon their defences

Erika continued lip-syncing her way though Sarah Brightman’s performance of “Music of the Night.”

Derik didn’t hear a word of it. The jealous rage he’d felt back on the Hogwarts Express returned a thousandfold, rooting his feet to the floor and making him tremble and gasp in its grip.

“She dares—she dares to use that piece, and to claim it as her own! It’s not for her! It’s for Christine, only for Christine!”

He was vaguely aware of Gall snapping her fingers in his face and saying something to him, trying to get his attention without breaking their cover.

He shook his head, trying to regain some clarity. “I’ll kill her,” he choked out. “I’ll kill her.” His hands came up and gripped his partner’s shoulders. He didn’t know if he was threatening her or begging for help.

“Yeah, I know, but not in front of everyone,” hissed Gall. Undaunted, she grabbed his arms and brought all her weight to bear against him, forcing him to take a step back.

The action of setting him off balance brought him around. He blinked at Gall, glanced at Erika, and nodded urgently for them to leave. They sneaked away along the wall and made it to the pre-Sorting room.

Derik paced the small space in agitation.

Gall put her fists on her hips and glared at him. “What the hell is going on?”

“I don’t know.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“This is wacko even for you.”

“Brilliant insight!”

“I thought Jötun was supposed to be helping.”

Derik rounded on her, all previous warm feelings shattered. “You shut up about that! You don’t understand at all; you’re always too busy mocking me to try.”

Gall had nothing to say to that, because it was true.

“It’s me,” Derik went on, pacing again. “It’s something about me, and this,” he gestured to the Word World around him, “and her.” He meant Erika. “I hate her. But I don’t hate her that much. I don’t think I do.”

The sound of applause reached them from within the Great Hall. Erika had finished the song and brought down all four houses, even winning over the Carrow twins.

In a low, dangerous voice, Gall said, “If you don’t tell me what the hell you’re talking about, I will punch you in the head and finish this mission myself.”

Derik was about to tell her to go ahead; she’d be doing him a favor. A voice stopped him short. It was “a sweet, masculine voice, as strong as thunder,” and very familiar, because it was almost exactly like his own.

"Very well done, mon chere! You made me incredibly proud today! I'm proud to have you as a great-great-grandaughter, and don't ever forget that, Erika. You are the next Masque of the Red Death, the next Angel of Music, the next Phantom of the Opera! You are the Phantomess of the Opera!"

Derik’s throat went dry. “It’s him. He’s here.”

“What?” said Gall.

“The—!”

“I am,” said Erik. “Why did I say all that? I hate her! The little thief! If I could, I would kill her with my bare hands, promise or no promise to the Daroga.”

Derik looked around wildly, but there was no one in the room besides himself and Gall. “How is this happening?”

Erik’s voice chuckled. “You haven’t figured it out yet?”

“Figured what out?” Derik demanded.

“Hey!” Gall shouted. “Who are you talking to?

Derik stared at her. “You can’t hear him?”

“Hear who?”

Erik laughed a madman’s uproarious laugh. “It’s really an amusing joke! I have truly become a phantom!”

“You’re a ghost,” Derik echoed dully. He shook himself and addressed Gall before she did something violent. “It’s him. The Phantom.”

That statement was almost always followed by a silence that begged to be filled by a dramatic sound cue, and this time it was: more of Erik’s wild cackling.

Derik went on: “He spoke in Erika’s mind just now. But . . . ” Some things that hadn’t made sense were starting to become clearer. The incongruous words he’d thought he’d heard; the odd urges; the thoughts and feelings that had seemed a bit off from the very beginning. Derik spun around furiously. “Have you been here this whole time?!”

“I’ve been stuck in this devil’s fantasy as long as you have, yes,” said Erik. “It wasn’t so easy to speak until now, but you seemed to hear me some of the time. Only you.”

“He’s in my head,” Derik told Gall, on the verge of panic. “He’s—”

“—there, inside your mind?” Erik crooned.

“Stop it!” Derik slapped the stone wall. It didn’t help; it just stung. At least this time he’d lashed out with an open palm. He wouldn’t have any humiliating injuries to show for it.

Gall, meanwhile, stood impotently seething while her partner shouted at someone she could neither see nor hear. She’d gathered enough of what was going on to understand the problem, and she seriously considered following through with her threat to knock Derik out, for his own good, but that seemed . . . wrong. She wasn’t sure how or why, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. With no solid target available for retribution, she was forced to think of some other solution.

She took a step farther into the room and shouted: “All right, everybody with half a face or less, shut the hell up!”

Derik looked at her, startled, and held still apart from his ragged breathing.

Gall cocked her head. “That worked? Huh. Cool.”

“Is she always so charming?” said Erik.

“Always,” muttered Derik.

Gall glared at him. “I said shut up.” After a solid three seconds of silence, she nodded. “Okay, so. One of the crazy voices in your head is a bit more, uh, real than usual, huh?”

“You could say that.” Derik’s voice had gone whisper-soft with strain. “This whole time. I was sensing him this whole time. Shards and shells, I didn’t know.” He raked the fingers of both hands through his hair.

“Calm down, before you have a stroke or something.” Gall tapped a foot, thinking. “So Erika brought him back as a ghost, and now he’s talking to her . . . and you can hear him, but I can’t. Uh . . . you know how I was giving you shit about sharing blood traits when we first got here?”

Derik stared blankly at her. “Whatever you’re thinking, I don’t like it.”

“Well . . . ” Gall started.

“But it’s true,” Erik’s voice mused. “You and I are kin, somehow. It explains—”

“No, we’re not!” Derik barked. He started pacing again. “I’m no kin to you, nor to her! Get out of my head!

“Would that I could,” Erik muttered dryly. “You are extremely trying company.”

“Stop shouting!” Gall snapped at the same time. “Look, I think the only thing to do here is just finish the mission. Killing Erika should fix everything, right?”

Erik chuckled in a way that made the hair on Derik’s neck stand on end. “At the very least, it will be gratifying.”

“On that, we agree,” said Derik.

Gall opened her mouth, then tilted her head. “Are you talking to me, or him?”

Derik blinked. “Uh. Both, I think?” He ran a hand over his face. “This is terrible.”

“It’s weird, anyway.” Gall’s eyes narrowed. “Man, now I get why you’ve been making so much less sense than usual. Half the time you weren’t talking to me.”

“I thought I was. I couldn’t tell—how could I not tell the difference?”

Gall shrugged expansively. “I dunno. He’s supposed to be a great mimic, isn’t he?”

Derik shook his head—that was true, but it wasn’t the answer—then paused, listening.

“The mind hears what it wants to hear,” said Erik. “A ghost . . . an angel . . . a friend . . . ”

“A Phantom,” said Derik flatly.

Gall gestured impatiently at him to explain.

It was hopeless. Derik flung up his hands and made another circuit around the room. “I’m losing my mind. The bits I had left, anyway.” He stopped in front of Gall, pleading with his one sighted eye. “How are we supposed to finish a mission like this?”

“Gimme a minute, I’m thinking.” Gall wasn’t used to this sort of thinking, and she didn’t like it, but her usual strategy of bull-rushing the problem and clobbering anything that got in her way was not going to serve here except to get them killed by Snape or one of Erika’s other admirers. They needed a plan, and Derik was in no shape to make one. It was up to her.

She looked at the Words. Reading typeface with its cramped little squiggles was hard enough even when everything was spelled right and there were paragraph breaks to track. The Wall o’ Text that was the next chapter immediately made her eyes ache with the strain of keeping her place. She muddled along, though, until she had a fair idea of what was about to happen.

“So like, everybody gets prizes and we’re gonna have to swipe the lot, cuz there’s no way James should have a video cassette or a ‘videocassette recorder’ of Sleeping Beauty. And, I’m sorry, a poster signed by Walt Disney and ‘the whole cast’ of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Like, does she mean the voice cast, or the cartoon dwarfs?”

Derik tilted his head. “Are we absolutely, one hundred percent sure that Disney wasn’t a wizard? Don’t laugh, you don’t know,” he groused irritably over his shoulder.

Gall blinked hard and gave herself a shake. “Whatever. The point is, we’re stealing it all, and especially Erika’s super-special talking Phantom doll that comes with its own miniature pipe organ, which is . . . actually . . . kind of adorable?”

The protests from the two ’Riks were immediate and voluble. Gall could only hear half of them, but she got the gist.

“Aww, but I thought we could keep him,” she wheedled, smirking gleefully. “You know, make the duet into a trio?”

“That,” said Derik, “is the worst idea you have ever had, bar none, not even the stunt with Fellrazer in Beleriand. And he”—Derik gestured over his shoulder—“agrees with me, which should terrify you.”

Gall couldn’t help it. It was too absurd. She broke down laughing.

Derik glared at her. For all Gall knew, Erik did, too.

After a moment, she pulled herself together. “All right, all right. But I’m still swiping it. Someone back in Headquarters will want it.”

Derik’s eyes narrowed. “I know that look on your face. If you say one word about Thoth, so help me, I swear I’ll give you the thrashing you deserve.”

Gall fluttered her eyelashes at him and stuck out her bum. “You promise?”

Derik groaned and whirled away. “Be serious, will you?”

Gall wasn’t sure whether he was talking to her or not. After indulging in another good snicker, she pulled her game face back on. “So like I was saying: Dumbles gives out a bunch of dumb prizes and makes a speech, then everyone clears out except Erika and Snape. They meet up by the entrance to the Great Hall so Erika can give him the doll. Dunno why she doesn’t just give it to him right away, but whatever. That’s probably our best chance to nab them. We can wait here until all the other students leave. Then Lancelot, Galahad, and I leap out of the rabbit, taking the French completely by surprise—and not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!”

It was even odds if Derik would play along or not, but after a second, he turned, eyebrows raised. “Who leaps out?”

“Lancelot”—Gall pointed at him—“Galahad”—she pointed up and waved her finger in a vague circle—“and I.” She cocked her thumb at her own chest and grinned.

Derik tilted his head, listening, and made a sour face. “I hate that laugh. I really hate it.” He heaved a sigh and ran a hand over his hair. “How long do we have to wait?”

Gall shrugged. “However long it takes for everyone to go to bed, I guess.”

Derik’s head jerked to one side. “Shut up!” He gave Gall an apologetic grimace. “Then what? I—we—I take Erika and you neuralyze Snape?”

“Something like that, anyway. I figure you can play her the same way you played Janessa, right?”

Derik’s face fell. “I . . . I’m not sure.”

“I thought you were all gung-ho to kill her.”

“Yes—at least, I think so. I know she needs to go, but . . . I lost myself killing Janessa, and I didn’t have him present enough to yammer incessantly in my ear then.” Derik paused. “He says he has no use for my ‘pathetic body’, but . . . ” His hands snapped into fists. He eyeballed the air and muttered dourly, “My body’s a sight better than yours ever was, you jealous damned spook, and you’re not having it.”

Gall bit her tongue and counted to ten, until most of the impure thoughts faded. “Urgle?” she said. She shook her head until the rest of the thoughts went away, cleared her throat, and tried again. “Look, um . . . I hear you, but I feel like trying to keep you away from her would be a headwind and sun-in-the-eyes sort of battle? I’d rather point the two of you at her and watch the fireworks, and I’m not just saying that because I think it’ll be hilarious. Once she’s dead, everything goes back to normal, so I don’t see a problem with letting your powers combine or whatever.”

“What if it doesn’t, though? Go back to normal?” The look on Derik’s face, quite literally haunted, shook the Viking more than she cared to admit.

“Then . . . I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” She shrugged. “I will knock you out if I have to. Trust me.” The words came out in a way that felt weird. She grinned and punched Derik’s shoulder, like she was just messing around, and that was better. “Come on, don’t be a wuss. Let the hate flow through you!”

“Next I suppose you’ll promise me cookies,” Derik said, one hand covering his shoulder. A faint glimmer of amusement showed in his eye. “All right. We’ll do it your way. By the First Egg, I hope I don’t regret it.”

“Me, too,” muttered Gall.

Derik gave her his messenger bag with the neuralyzer and remote activator in it, the better to do her part and leave him free to do his. They waited out the rest of the Great Hall scene in silence, though every so often Derik’s head would twitch in response to something only he could hear. He and Gall pricked up their ears at the sound of many voices out in the entrance hall, and waited on the balls of their feet until they went away.

Gall gestured at Derik to be quiet and stay put, and opened the door to the side room just a crack. The coast was clear. She opened the door the rest of the way as softly as the ancient hinges would allow, and the two agents (plus invisible Opera Ghost) slipped out into the entrance hall. They took up posts on either side of the double-doors to the Great Hall and overheard the last bit of the exchange between Erika and Snape.

"Listen. The reason I entered the contest as the Phantom in his Masque of the Red Death costume was for you! You deserve it! You are a really kind and sophisticated boy. You don't fool around like any other boys, and you never hurt anybody's feelings. I don't understand why you are in Slytherin. You deserve these."

Derik had the distant look of reading the Words in his eye. “Snape hugs her,” he whispered, miming the action for good measure. “And . . . ” He broke into a weak grin. “That feeling he has around her?” He mouthed the words even bigger, and his accompanying gesture left no doubt as to his interpretation of them.

Gall stifled a groan that was more to do with having her imagination unfairly teased than with horror at the thought of Snape’s pants. She rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue in an exaggerated show of disgust to compensate.

Then one of the doors opened, and Erika stepped out.

As Derik’s gaze locked on to her, his good eye gleamed yellow in the torchlight.

Erika stopped. She turned; she saw; she gasped. “C’est toi!

At the sound of her voice, Snape hurried after her. “Erika? What’s wrong?” He looked around, but his eyes slid off the agents until Derik spoke.

C’est moi, en chair et en os,”[7] he said. It was Derik’s voice, but the strange words slipped from his tongue as smooth as honeyed silk, without a hint of his usual Pernese accent.

Snape’s jaw dropped in awe and, showing a hint of his canonical intelligence, fear. “Is that . . .?”

Grand-père? Mais toi—” Erika protested with a glance toward the Great Hall.

Neither the Sue nor the canon were looking at Gall. She chose that moment to pounce. With a lunge, she tackled Snape from behind and pinned his arms to his sides. “Derik, get her now! Gah!

Snape wrenched and twisted; Gall heaved backward, and they toppled to the floor.

Derik advanced on Erika. Even if she doubted his identity, there was no mistaking his intent to kill. “Soyez une fille intelligente et criez pour Grand-père.[8]

Erika screamed. She bolted for the stairs, as if climbing would save her. Derik went after her like one of the hounds of Hell, and Gall would have sworn she heard him laugh before he was gone from her sight.

Erika was agile, despite her ridiculous Red Death costume, which didn’t encumber her at all. She made it up three flights of stairs, including one with a trick step, before peeling off into a corridor. Derik grinned as he crested the stairs behind her. He wasn’t quite as light on his feet as she was, but he could outlast her on level ground. He tracked her around a corner by the flutter of her gilded cape, followed seconds later—and skidded to a halt.

He had entered the armor gallery. Erika had vanished.

It was a long gallery; there was no way she had fled all the way out the other end. Derik hadn’t heard a door. Erika had to be hiding among the rows of armor standing silent watch.

“Do you think one of these shining knights will save you?” Derik called—at least, the words had come from his mouth. They reverberated eerily off stone and steel. “They won’t. You can’t hide from me. I will find you, wherever you go.

The last sentence seemed to issue from within first one of the plumed helms, then another. Derik walked slowly and silently down the row, searching the shadows. The voice went leaping ahead of him.

“Are you here, ma chérie? That’s the proper way to address a lady, by the way. Maybe here? Not that you’re a lady. You are a very stupid creature putting on airs of darkness that are like to choke you. The night is not kind to things that don’t belong there.”

He reached the middle of the gallery and stopped, turning his head from side to side. He had heard something—some small sound of protest.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Derik’s voice crooned from the next suit of armor, and then the next. “You’re a monster—but the only thing you have in common with Erik is stooping to trickery and deception to beguile people into thinking you’re something you are not. Who abandoned you as a child? Who fears your talents? Who hates your ugliness? Who shows you, a living person, the same pity and disgust that they would a dead dog when they see your face?”

His head whipped around; his voice jumped again. “No one. Practically everyone you meet adores you; the few who don’t merely display the garden-variety pettiness of schoolyard bullies, and not particularly cruel ones at that. You frighten no one; you horrify no one. You have never been forced to fight to survive. You weren’t driven from the light in fear of your life. You don’t dwell in the shadows of human awareness as a waking nightmare. And you dare call yourself ‘Phantomess of the Opera’? You couldn’t haunt a rusty tea kettle.”

“But—!” Erika’s protest burst forth.

Derik rounded on the suit of armor that had hidden her. “So there you are!”

She sprang up and faced him. “I am the Phantomess of the Opera!” she went on. “I am the next Angel of Music! You said so yourself! Didn’t you?” Her glowing yellow eyes flickered.

Derik scoffed. “Certainly not.” He stalked toward her.

She darted behind the next suit in the row. “But . . . I made you say it. And everyone loves my voice! They have to!”

Derik laughed, and the sound seemed to double as it rang through the gallery. “Everyone loves Sarah Brightman’s voice, you mean. You stole her sound.” His voice turned harsh. “Worse than that, you stole Erik’s words for Christine and paraded them about as though she never existed. That is unforgivable! If you were really Erik’s great-great-granddaughter, you should honor and adore your great-great-grandmother Christine Daaé, without whose compassion and bravery you could not exist. But no—not one word celebrating your ties to a lady of such excellent qualities that Erik happily died of his love for her. Nor a word of gratitude to the Vicomte de Chagny, whose love for Christine must have been great indeed for him to stand for a cuckoo that might have been as cursed as its father.”

“But—!” Erika protested again.

“But we both know you’re no true blood of Erik, don’t we? You’re a false, thieving little guttersnipe—and for that, you will have a fitting punishment.”

This time, when Erika tried to run, she was stopped short by a heavy boot stamping on the hem of her “magnificent” red dress. Her scream was muffled by a hand over her mouth. Then all was darkness and silence.


Gall knew the moment Erika was unconscious because Snape’s appearance changed from a well-groomed young man wearing Ralph Lauren and an opera cloak to his canonically greasy, shabbily-robed self. The agent took a deep, satisfying breath of air that was no longer compressed by the lack of paragraph breaks. Then she toed Snape none too gently in the ribs.

“Okay, pal. Wakey-wakey, heads a-breaky.” She’d had to knock him out, of course, but now that canon was beginning to restore itself, that was wearing off, too.

Snape groaned and sat up groggily, pressing one pale hand to his head. Abruptly realizing what had happened, he froze and darted his eyes this way and that, looking for his attacker.

A short, red-headed girl wearing a pair of overlarge Muggle sunglasses grinned at him. “Say hi to the birdie!”

FLASH!

“Severus Snape, you’re a manky git who is not noticeably interested in The Phantom of the Opera or opera in general or really anything that isn’t the Dark Arts or Lily Evans. You have an undying grudge against James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, who are probably up to no good right this minute. You should go try to catch them and forget all about any weird girls from France, and especially forget any ‘feelings’ in your pants.”

Snape’s face was slack with the neuralyzer trance, but even so, Gall thought he looked a bit disgusted before he came back to his senses. Rightly so. He then turned and strode off without a backward glance.

Gall chuckled. The mission was all but over. All that was left to do was collect her loot, find and kill Fionnuala, and meet up with Derik.

Since most of the students had gone to bed, it was easy to portal into each dorm and swipe all the contest prizes plus Erika’s violin and the eagle portrait from Ravenclaw Tower. She stuffed everything that would fit into Derik’s messenger bag and eased the rest through a portal to their response center. She thought about bringing Fellrazer over, just because she could, but settled for giving his inquisitive snout a pat and letting him know she’d be back very soon.

Fionnuala, having been barely present during the contest and about to be completely ignored for the two weeks following it, had no fight in her and died quietly in her bed. Gall charged her cursorily with having a dumb name and existing only to aid and abet a Sue. She dropped the body into the middle of the dragon sanctuary in Romania, where she knew it would be appreciated.

She figured Derik would have the sense to return to the entrance hall, where they’d last been together, once he finished with Erika. She was nearly right. He wasn’t in the hall itself, but the door to the side room stood open. She went in and found him tucked up in a corner, sitting with his back to the wall, knees drawn up, and chin resting on his folded arms. The deflated crash dummy that had acted as a lightning rod for Erika’s first-person narrative lay in a mangled heap a few feet from him. He looked up when Gall entered, but didn’t say anything.

Seeing him so dejected, in the body of a teenage boy to boot, made Gall feel things she didn’t have words for. What the hell was wrong with him? Shouldn’t he have been happy now that everything was over?

Unless it wasn’t.

“Hey,” she said. “Is he gone?”

Derik nodded. “Erika, too.”

Gall sighed in exasperation. “That’s good. How come you’re acting like your favorite puppy just died?”

He shook his head slowly. “I wasn’t myself. I managed something like a charge list, but . . . I murdered her. It was brutal, just brutal.” His eyes pinched shut. “And now I’m not sure she deserved it. Was she really that bad? Or was I so consumed with his hatred that I judged too harshly?”

“No way!” Gall scoffed. She snatched up the crash dummy and started balling it roughly into the limited space left in the messenger bag.

“Are you sure? You, of all people, defended her silly masks,” Derik pointed out glumly.

Gall’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. It wasn’t as though she’d been wrong, because that never (well, hardly ever) happened, but . . . “That was just one thing. She messed up everything else. I mean, what do you think happens to the Harry Potter story if Snape is a namby-pamby pretty boy who doesn’t have a hard-on for Harry’s mum the whole time? Nothing good, that’s for sure.”

“I suppose.” Derik sighed and curled his fingers into his hair. “I’m just so tired of this—sick and tired of being out of control with anger, whether it’s mine or not. I want it to stop.”

“Well, then, you’d better tell Thoth to kick your ass harder.” Gall had the satisfaction of seeing Derik look up at her in surprise. She smiled wickedly. “Or maybe he can kiss it and make it better. Either way.”

Derik looked up and stared at her for a tense moment, then softly snorted. “Right.”

“Tell him,” Gall insisted seriously. “If all that psychic woo-woo stuff can’t keep a ghost out of your head, then it’s crap, and I’ll kick his ass.”

“It’s not his fault,” Derik snapped. Catching himself, he winced. “But, you’re right. I’ll just have to try harder.”

“Right. Good.”

Gall watched him as he got sluggishly to his feet. He seemed better—resolved and no longer so disturbingly vulnerable. Just exhausted. Maybe, once they were back home, he’d let her tug his boots off, slide the heavy leather jacket from his shoulders, and tuck him under a blanket. It wouldn’t be the first time. He’d probably go for a painkiller and a drink or two before that, though. No surprise if his head hurt after this bastard of a mission.

Even so, he mustered a faint smile as he reached toward her. Gall realized she still had his bag and handed it over; it was bloody heavy and she was short, so if he wanted it for the next two seconds, he could have it. She kept the RA in her hand and fired up one last portal.

Derik hefted the bag in one hand. “Shells! Did you loot half the castle?”

“Nah, not this time,” Gall said lightly.

They crossed into the response center, stretched, and sighed, settling back into their proper bodies. Derik made a bee-line for the bathroom medicine cabinet. Gall greeted her dragon, told him he was a good boy, and promised to buy him a special treat with the proceeds from her Halloween-costume haul.

After Derik had knocked back a couple ibuprofen, he discovered Erika’s violin on his cot. He took it from its case and examined it gingerly, unsure whether he was pleased about it or not. It was a fine instrument, as all Suvian artefacts were, and it didn’t seem tainted by glitter or anything Phantom-y.

He turned to Gall, who was watching him expectantly. “You got this,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” she replied, folding her arms. “You made a whole big thing about wanting it.”

“I did,” he agreed.

“But,” Gall added, “if you don’t anymore, you can always sell it. Especially if it’s got wrackspurts.”

Derik had forgotten it might be infested and quickly looked it over again. But wrackspurts were invisible, and probably not even real. He chuckled. “No, I don’t think that’s actually likely. And I do still want it.” If for no other reason than because Gall had gone out of her way to remember it for him, and he wanted to be sure that was real. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Thanks.”

Maybe someday he would play it for her. Maybe, if he worked hard with Thoth from now on, and learned to keep his ghosts at bay . . . whether he was haunted from without or within.