I am Agent Moira Magpie of the PPC.
The words were carefully rounded, painfully precise, and, now that Moira was really looking at them, probably trying way too hard. She chewed her bottom lip, thought about it, and then added for clarification:
(The Protectors of the Plot Continuum).
She paused again, wondering how best to describe it. “A selection of sleep-deprived workaholics that seem to sustain themselves only on dubious painkillers and chocolate” was accurate , but not very nice. “Unsung heroes that rid the world of terrible fanfiction, one story at a time” was more flattering, though it lacked complexity. For now, she opted to not describe them at all.
A large, black bird perched on the edge of the sofa. He let out a couple of demanding, hoarse caws, and she absentmindedly tossed him a piece of cheese. He caught it, threw it in the air, and swallowed it on the way down, and then flew over to settle in Moira’s hair. As he moved across the room, he passed over piles of books in a variety of sizes and thicknesses littering every surface. Many of them were open somewhere in the middle, with bookmarks, post-its and the occasional long feather marking relevant passages.
I was born in Minas Tirith , Moira wrote. My father was a great man, one of the powerful Istari wizards, and my mother a beautiful half-Elf.
She made a little cringey face.
I’ve been informed that this is actually impossible.
It was a strange word to be using when describing your own past, but it was the one Blank had used. Her tone had firmly stamped down any possibility of argument. And yes, when she actually read up a little bit on the world into which she had been born, Moira conceded that it... did seem impossible.
Sixteen years of her life had been lived in a dream. Now that she was awake, she was beginning to notice the logical inconsistencies of that dream, and things that had never bothered her before were embarrassing in hindsight. There had only ever been five Istari in the world, for example, and none of them had carried her father’s name.
Also, as a helpful Elf agent had pointed out to her one day when she had brought it up in the Cafeteria, the name Othoniel was apparently Sindarin for ‘Useless Pine Girl’ which didn’t... sound quite right. She’d asked about her own Elven name Wirdith as well, at which point the Elf agent had burst into what could only be described as a hysterical cackle and left her blinking in confusion.
She’d looked it up later. There had been a number of interpretations, of which the least terrible one was ‘Tiny Baby.’
“We all have something to cringe about in our past,” Autumn had said in the gentlest voice possible. “Be glad it’s something you can keep to yourself.”
True in theory. But the fact was, she couldn’t keep it to herself. Her species was written on her face, in the way her hair flowed, in the soft and melodic tone her voice had. Everyone who looked at her could see. That was the embarrassing part. And because they could see, there was judgement. Not judgement that was always noticeable. It wasn’t as if she were the only former-Sue agent. Still, it was a perspective that chilled to the core. The horror of knowing yourself, and having others know you.
Now I live with Blank and Autumn , Moira wrote in a new paragraph. I travelled with the Fellowship of the Ring for a while, but I don’t think I was helping as much as I thought I was. Blank was sent to kill me.
Her pen paused again there. Those were dangerous words.
Instead I was recruited. I think that was a good thing. I’m not even sure where my story was going.
That was the problem, wasn’t it... Her story had just kept happening. Her only goal had been to maybe date Legolas, and she hadn’t even been doing a very good job of that. Even in a scenario of her own design she’d been too chicken to just go for it whole-heartedly. And what else had there been? A desire to keep Elves in Middle-earth, maybe, and do a poorly defined something about the evil in the world. Wanting to help was a decent goal, at least. She could be pleased with that. Her story just hadn’t been the place where she could figure out the rest.
There was a rattling of the door to the response centre and Moira sat up straight. Her hand immediately went to her hair, not that it wasn’t already too late to do anything about it. Her long chestnut braid was always coming undone no matter how many times she redid it, and it never helped to have an extremely bored and understimulated corvid constantly pulling at it with beak and claws. Mellon spotted her hand and jumped on it, nibbling affectionately at a finger as he let out a series of trilling caws.
The door opened and Autumn stepped in. She didn’t say a word, just raised her eyebrows, catching Moira’s gaze as if she were about to make a point, and then held up her keys. Moira paid close attention. Absolute silence was required. She never minded focusing on Autumn, though; there was something very comfortable in resting her gaze on Blank’s wife.
Autumn had long hair in a shade somewhere between medium brown and dark blonde, which was usually in a semi-braid that kept it away from her face while at the same time letting it fall down her back. She could have arranged her hair to hide the large brown birthmark on the right side of her face, as if someone had spilled chocolate on her, but Autumn never made any effort to cover that up.
She tossed the keys. They flew in a four-foot arc across the tiny room, and both agents’ heads mirrored the arc before the keys landed perfectly in a little dish on the table. Autumn punched the air and Moira clapped her hands.
“That’s the third day in a row you hit it,” she said helpfully.
“I’m getting into the groove.” Autumn grinned. “How are the studies going?”
Moira glanced at the piles of books that littered the table, the sofa and most of the floor.
RC 700 had been fine for a married couple. With the arrival of herself and Mellon, some arrangements had been made in order to fit them, but it was a tight squeeze. A petition had been filled in order to also claim a response centre across the hall, but it was slow going. For now, the two chairs by the dining table had been replaced with a fold-out sofa that theoretically provided an extra bed, but in actuality made the tiny kitchen unusable when unfolded. As a result, Moira slept on the sofa itself, usually in a foetal position next to a pile of books.
“Okay, I think,” Moira said. She nervously began to stroke Mellon’s back, which quieted him down a little. “I finished Sandman .”
“Good.” Autumn sighed and set her bag down to rummage around in it. “Might be an influx of badfic there with the series coming; best to be prepared. Here.” She pulled out a wad of bunched-up paper napkins and thrust them firmly into Moira’s hands.
They were creased and greasy, and Moira had to delicately peel the paper layers off each other to reveal two squished-together donuts, sticky with sugar and leaking strawberry jam.
“It’s bad for you, but it tastes good,” said Autumn. “So start with that and I’ll whip us up some instant noodles.”
There were a lot of instant noodles in the PPC. Anything that could be cooked quickly and filled the stomach was jumped on, and the kitchenette was not really enough for any substantial cooking to be done anyway. Moira took tiny bites of her donuts, savouring them as Autumn boiled water. Soon they each had a bowl of steaming noodles, and sat next to each other on the sofa, since there was no other seating arrangement possible.
“So,” said Autumn, pouring a healthy helping of chilli flakes into her bowl, “what have you been up to today?”
Moira swirled her noodles onto a fork. “I went to FicPsych to say hi to Othoniel. He’s doing okay. Still, um... not really good at being an Elf, but I think he’s getting there. He’s adjusting to his, what was it? Culture implant?”
“Yes. That’s good, it’ll help him just to know what an Elf is supposed to be. The people up there have a very particular set of skills.” Autumn sipped her broth, wrinkled her nose and added more chilli flakes. “You know you can approach them, right? If you, you know... have problems. It’s about as close to health insurance as we get in here.”
Moira nodded. There had been a nurse there with what appeared to be a limitless supply of patience, who had made it very clear that if Moira needed to talk about anything, there were support groups for people like her. Other agents, with Suvian heritage. It was all well and good, probably.
“I’m just not... there yet,” she said. “I mean, it’s not something I want to talk about. I’m fine. I’m adjusted. I know what I am.”
“I know that you know, but sometimes...”
“I don’t have to talk about it.” Moira sipped some water and switched the subject before any more could be said. “I’m almost at the end of Half-Blood Prince . That’s good, right? Harry Potter is a big universe, so that’ll be helpful.”
“Yes. I’m sure that’ll be great.” Autumn smiled a little, and then noted Moira’s continued silence. “You sure you’re okay?”
Moira gave a half-shrug. “I guess. It's just... I feel a little caged in. I don’t even remember the last time I was outside, and I used to be outside all the time. Is there even an outside here?”
“Oh yeah. I mean, I’m pretty sure. I think we left it somewhere.”
“Do you think Blank will ever let me on a mission?”
“She will.” Autumn sighed. “I promise she will. She just needs you to know as many different canons as possible before you go anywhere. You’re of no use unless you know what to protect. And she doesn’t want you to get hurt.”
It felt like a lie. It had all the indications of one. Moira felt tears burn in her eyes, dangerously close to spilling over, and furiously blinked them away while staring into her noodles.
“She hates me.”
“She doesn’t hate you.”
“No, she does. I can feel it. It just doesn’t feel fair.”
“Moira, it’s complicated. Things happened that didn’t have anything to do with you, and it’s not your fault. Just give her a little time, okay?”
Moira nodded. “I just want to do something,” she said quietly. “I can be an agent. I think I've proven I can handle myself. I want to try .”
“I know. It’ll be okay.”
Autumn looked about ready to talk more, when the console and connected portal generator burst into life with a furious hum. Moira froze like a deer in headlights, but Autumn barely flinched.
Blank stumbled out of the portal and stood there while it shrank behind her. With her she brought a wave of acrid smoke that evoked imagery of forest fires and singed hair, to the point that Moira felt her eyes sting. Blank looked blearily from one person to the other as if trying to place them in her mind, blinking slowly before nodding to herself and disappearing into the bathroom without a word. She moved jerkily, not putting enough weight on her right leg. After a few seconds they heard the shower coming on.
Autumn stood up and put her bowl on the table. “Give me a minute. Urgh, that smell is worse than cigarettes...”
She went and propped open the door into the corridor to air out the room, before checking on Blank. Moira was left alone in the main room, listlessly stirring her noodles. There was always a tension in the RC when Blank came home from missions. Not fear, exactly. Just uncertainty. There was no telling what mood she’d be in, or even what mood Moira would have preferred. Sometimes the mission had been uncomplicated enough for Blank to be in high spirits and satisfied in a job well done. Sometimes she entered with a wild burst of angry energy that seemed to power her entire being, ranting about some ridiculous detail that was more entertaining than frightening, even if Moira tried to stay out of her line of sight to avoid being accused of Sue-age by proxy. These days, however, complete exhaustion was the norm.
Silence from the bathroom. Moira’s fingers drummed against the surface of the table, only stopping when Mellon jumped up on her hand and gave her a look of deep disapproval, accompanied by a harsh caw. He looked over to the bathroom door. If he’d had eyebrows, he would have raised them. Without a word, Moira got up and snuck to the door, and pressed her ear against it. A risky move, but then again, she had nothing to lose.
The argument was in hisses.
“You can’t keep this up,” said Autumn tersely.
“I’m doing just fine. We have Capitol ointment for the burns, it’ll heal up in no time.”
“I’m not talking about the burns, Blank! You need a partner. There’s a reason agents travel in pairs.” There was a pause where Moira held her breath. “Take the kid.”
“Sweetie. Take. The kid. This is not a request.”
“They can’t force me to work with her. Just because Ekwy recruited her...”
“No, the Flowers can’t force you.” There was a darkening of Autumn’s tone. “ I am forcing you. I won’t just stand by and watch while you work yourself like this. I'm not losing another one. This is not working. So try her out. If she can’t hack it with you we’ll see about finding someone else, but she’s at HQ to stay.”
“It doesn’t have to be her.” Blank didn’t sound petulant exactly. More stubborn.
Autumn’s voice went gentle. “I haven’t exactly seen a line out the door to partner up with you, babe.”
“They could. I’m approachable.”
“You are not. I love you, but you have been working almost twenty years and people still introduce themselves to you. Or they would, if you actually were approachable. You’re not, so they don’t. Take the kid.”
The conversation seemed over. At the last second, Moira found her bearings and scrambled back to the table, so at the moment when the door actually opened her hands closed around her bowl of cold noodles. She blinked innocently at Blank, who stood in a tank top and boxer shorts with a bunchy bandage wrapped around her thigh.
“Hi,” said Moira with an awkward wave. “Are you alright?”
Blank just nodded and brushed past her, aiming for the bed. She collapsed gracelessly on top of it, angling herself so she was just uncomfortable enough for the Narrative Laws of Comedy to not send another mission, and within seconds she was snoring. Autumn came out of the bathroom, screwing shut the lid on a tin of burn ointment. She gave Moira an encouraging smile and a thumbs-up. Well. That was promising.
For an hour or so, there was relative peace. Autumn sat down with her laptop and a mug of tea to watch an episode of some anime with her headphones on. Mellon fell asleep with his head under his wing. Moira returned to her books, but she could barely concentrate. There had been a change, a palpable difference in the atmosphere. The unmovable object that was Blank’s stubbornness had met with the unstoppable force of Autumn’s firmest voice, and the world was shifting on its axis. Not a lot. But a little. So Moira read the same few lines over and over without taking it in, before she sighed and gave up. Too many thoughts. Too much anxious energy swirling around in her head, taking up all available space.
Every resident of RC 700 jumped. Mellon vocalised at the console as if it had personally insulted him, but Moira only had eyes for Autumn, who calmly went over to it and tore off the print-out at the top. A few seconds of silence passed as she skimmed the description.
“Huh,” she said eventually. “I know this one. It’s been making the rounds for a long time.”
Blank had of course woken up at the console’s jarring alarm, and was grumpily stretching on the side of the bed.
“What is it?” asked Moira hopefully.
“More importantly, why hasn’t it been handled before now?” grumbled Blank.
Autumn shrugged. “The PPC is overworked to a comedic degree and always has been. Un-prioritised fics can bounce around in the system for years before anyone deals with them. This is just one of them. A Mary Sue, short and uncomplicated. Abandoned for nearly two decades. It’s a no-brainer. Should be easy for the newbie.”
She gave her wife a long look with her eyebrows raised. Blank made a little dismissive sound somewhere at the back of her nose and gestured for the print-out.
“Right, right...” Her grey eyes scanned the page. “Adopted by Snape but raised by the Malfoys, sorted into Slytherin, probably paired with Draco. Wears a truly ungodly amount of pink...” Blank grimaced. “It’s a Sue, alright. Not even a very inspired one.”
“So it’s a perfect teaching moment!” Autumn clapped her hands together and turned to Moira. “Great! You’re going to the magical land of Harry Potter .”
“Has she even read all the books?” asked Blank.
Moira sat up straight and forced herself to look her supposed partner in the eye. “I just finished the sixth one.”
“That is definitely enough for this.” Autumn beamed. “I’ll make you some sandwiches while you make up a game plan! This’ll be fun.”
“It’s not fun,” muttered Blank. “It’s the Duty.”
“Yes, dear.” Her wife smiled widely and plonked a kiss on top of Blank’s white hair. “You are very dutiful and very cute. I’ll make you PB&J’s!”
She bounced over to the kitchenette and started pulling jars out of cupboards. Blank rolled her eyes, and then they fell on Moira, who was standing awkwardly hopeful by the sofa. They stood there looking at each other for a few seconds as Autumn’s admonishing tones could be heard in the background.
“No, Mellon, beak out of the peanut butter jar, that’s not for you...”
“You still need to think of a better name for that damn bird,” said Blank.
Moira shrugged. “I can’t think of anything better. He’s always been my friend. Is it that important?”
“Suppose I should be grateful for small favours. You were notoriously terrible with names.”
Blank tossed her head, motioning for her to sit, and Moira, face flushing, obediently did. Luckily it didn’t much matter that the comment had rendered her unable to speak out of sheer mortification, because Blank already had a game plan for the fic and it didn’t require much input. Moira was supposed to come with, stay quiet and not be in the way. She was supposed to learn the ropes, maybe keep notes, but absolutely not be in charge.
So yeah. Blank was grumpier than usual, but Moira couldn’t bring herself to care. She was going! It was a mission! It meant leaving HQ for the first time in weeks!
They chose the lime green robes of St. Mungo’s healers for their disguises, since the first scene of the fic took place outside of Hogwarts. Blank had just opened up the portal when Autumn rushed up to them and thrust Blank’s well-decorated backpack into Moira’s arms.
“Be safe! Aw, they grow up so fast.” She beamed.
Mellon cawed loudly and took flight, his tail-feathers gleaming in iridescent green and blue, before he settled on Moira’s head.
“No animal sidekicks,” said Blank acidly. “That’s in the rules.”
Moira paused. The weight of Mellon perched on her was a familiar comfort, but she couldn’t deny that he was a distraction, and an unpredictable one at that. She put up her wrist to him and he leapt onto it out of habit.
“I’m sorry,” she said gently, transferring him to the back of a chair. “You have to stay here, okay? Don’t do what you did last time, please. I’ll be back soon.”
The look he gave her was of wounded betrayal.
“I’ll be back soon,” she repeated, but it didn’t make her feel better at all. “Be good. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back?”
Mellon blinked at her with shining bead-like eyes and ruffled his feathers. He sat where he sat, though, so presumably he agreed to it, even if it was under protest.
Blank pushed a button and the portal spun into life, swirling and crackling with a roar. Its light shone in Blank’s eyes. Moira wondered if it was doing it with hers as well. The portal, with all its potential, was filling her entire view.
They stepped through it together and into an unspecified ward of St. Mungo’s hospital.
The witches at St. Mungos didn’t know what to do. Who did this infant girl belong to? Why had nobody come to claim her?
Uncertain of how to show the nondescript hospital, the fic had put the agents in a room made out of Generic Surface (TM), containing a bassinet and absolutely nothing else. The bassinet ought to have held one beautiful, green-eyed infant with a tuft of blonde hair, but said child was currently being cradled by an undescribed witch named Zelda Winkle. Even Blank had to admit it wasn’t a terrible name for a Harry Potter character, though it was a little unclear what her purpose was other than coo over the baby Sue.
“Head witch,” mused Blank as they tried to be inconspicuous in the corner. “Head of what? The whole thing? The department? What floor is this?”
There were no answers provided. Moira peered up at a sign. It should have been the insignia of the wizard hospital, a bone and a wand making a cross, but instead it portrayed a surly mongoose. It was wearing a halo.
“That’s not supposed to be there, right?” Moira asked, pointing at it.
Blank squinted, confused for a brief second before she scanned the Words again and realisation dawned. “Oh! St. Mungos . What a difference a stroke of the keyboard makes, huh?”
“I know about Cruelty to the Common Comma,” said Moira as she raised her pen. “Is there one for apostrophes?”
“Apostrophe catastrophe? Doesn’t have the alliteral appeal, but it works in a pinch. And I don’t think it’s the last time this Sue will cause it.”
She was proven correct almost immediately, when another missed apostrophe granted the Sue multiple hearts. This wasn’t immediately noticeable on her, of course, but added to her charge list and caused Blank to snort. She then nodded at Moira.
“Heads up, we’ve got canon company.”
Three Hogwarts professors appeared in the room, immediately recognisable as Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape. The latter was flickering back and forth between a wrinkled and a youthful face, as if the fic couldn’t make up its mind. Moira squinted and relaxed her eyes, focusing on a blank spot on the wall.
“He’s being described as both old and young at the same time,” she reported after reading the Words. “That’s, um... some sort of time anomaly?”
“Based on the timeline, the year ought to be 1982... He’s in his early twenties.” Blank shook her head. “Not old by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m not sure what happened there. Perhaps an error that an editor would have caught. Either way, it goes on her list, so I hope you’re keeping up. You can add Dumbledore’s crocked nose on there too. You can tell she meant ‘crooked’ but that’s not what ended up on the page, and now it looks like an earthenware cup.”
In front of them the rest of the scene unfolded. Zelda Winkle put the baby down and left so the Hogwarts teachers could discuss the child. Her existence seemed to be somewhat of a surprise, but McGonagall was adamant that she could not be left with her aunt and uncle, as they did not treat the one wizard child they already had custody over well at all.
“Oh wow, three guesses who,” sighed Blank. “Interesting twist. She opted out of the angst potential of being raised by the Dursleys with Harry and went for a different approach... I wonder what her angle is.”
“I’m really confused...” Moira bit her lip. “Why can’t anyone know who this child is? Dumbledore is absolutely convinced that people knowing about her would disrupt the balance in the Wizarding World forever, and I have no idea what that means. Is that in the seventh book?”
“It’s not in any book. There’s no such thing as balance in the Wizarding World; it’s not the Force.” Blank rubbed the bridge of her nose. “And add ‘word proximity’ to the list. She used the word ‘child’ five times in one paragraph, and it was only six lines long. This fic is giving me the worst headache already.”
“And Snape just said he’d adopt her! This is so weird.” Moira’s eyes widened with horrified realisation. “You think it’s because of Lily? Oh, it has to be. It’s basically his only motivation for doing anything.”
“I would prefer not to think about it.”
“This is Lily’s daughter, even if the fic isn’t saying it out loud. She has green eyes, too. I don’t like the implications of this at all.”
“You are definitely giving this Sue too much credit. Like she gave another thought to this other than wanting to have Snape dote on her as much as possible.”
“Well, then, with a job at school who would take care of her during the school year?” Minerva was intent that Snape was not ready to rear a child.
“Her godparents would. I have two friends who would be more than willing to help raise her while I worked. They have a son just a year older.”
“Godparents are generally asked first,” Blank pointed out. “He’s got some nerve calling it ‘helping’. He’s immediately foisting a random baby on them for nine months out of the year and thinks they’d be happy to, especially with a young child of their own already.”
Moira inhaled sharply. Pleased with her new ability to read ahead if she wanted to, she’d skipped a few lines to when Snape named his new daughter after his mother: Amalthea Minerva Snape.
“That’s a charge!” Moira stopped herself from jumping up and down. “His mother’s name was Eileen!”
Blank shook her head. “Sorry, she gets a pass.” She pointed somewhere vaguely upwards. “Use the Words or the print-out, but check the date this was published.”
Moira focused for a second and her face fell. “Oh. 2004.”
“The year before Half-Blood Prince came out. No one knew the name of Snape’s mother back then. No charge.” She scratched her chin. “Although it does beg the question of what the Sue’s name actually is . She’s Harry’s younger sister, even if I’m not sure how that’s possible since the Potters died a year ago in the story and she’s still young enough to be considered an infant. We have no idea where she’d been before she was brought to the hospital or who was looking after her, but presumably the Potters must have named her, or had a name in mind...”
“How about Rose?” suggested Moira. “JKR loves her flower nam—”
“ Not Rose!”
They stood in awkward silence for a few seconds before Blank broke it to take out her DORKS. The little metallic cube that was the Disguise-Outfitting Ryticular Kostume System was currently masking itself as an unusually sedate Golden Snitch.
“After this it’s a timeskip to her eleventh birthday,” Blank said. “I’m not planning to stick around for that long, but we’ll need other disguises. So. Newbie. We’re going to Malfoy Manor. What would you suggest?”
“Oh, um...” Moira thought about it for a second. “House-elves? Dobby should still be working there, right?”
The Sue hadn’t mentioned any House-elves at any point during the story and never would, but it was a better suggestion than anything else. They stepped out of the portal as two equally spindly, three-foot-tall creatures, one considerably paler than the other but both wearing monogrammed Malfoy pillowcases. Without a word, Blank pulled Moira down to hide behind an elegantly curved sofa in dark purple velvet and pointed straight ahead.
They had arrived in the middle of a birthday celebration. Amalthea the Sue, no longer a baby, was surrounded by her family and friends, though exactly who they were was unclear. The Malfoy family were there, but the rest of the guests were a little obscured. The fic had no one else to pull out, but Moira was fairly sure she recognised a number of Pureblood family members, all looking a little dazed and confused at being there. Each of them moved mechanically, like animatronics on a theme park ride, repeating the same stiff movements over and over while staying in the same spot.
“Oh, that’s bad,” murmured Blank. “That’s creepy and bad.”
“Why are they moving like that?” whispered Moira.
“Not sure. But I think the PPC should have handled this story years ago. It’s gotten very... off.”
Amalthea Minerva Snape was a very pretty child. She stood in the middle of the room, having just had everyone sing to her, and an overwhelming amount of joy was filling her. This immediately faded into sadness, causing Narcissa Malfoy to begin fawning over her. The story explained in stilted statements that Amalthea was sad because her father wasn’t there, but any tension evaporated as Severus Snape instantly appeared.
Moira added ‘bad pacing’ to her list of charges. She wasn’t actually sure if that was a charge, but it ought to be. Everything was extremely rushed all the time, with only the bare minimum of description, and Amalthea’s one-sentence statements to clarify everything that was happening were starting to get on her nerves. Something was very strange about this place. People’s emotions were definite and defined, but everything else felt shaky, like the world they were in was built on loose foundations. Even the house itself was wrong. Even though it was never described, there was an aura of mistakes around it nonetheless, as if the building itself rose from a fog of poorly done research. It took the agents a few seconds of scanning the Words to realise that this was probably due to the Sue’s insistence that this was not the Malfoy Manor as they’d assumed, but the ‘Malfoy Mansion.’ The distinction was certainly the difference between ‘centuries-old estate’ and ‘tacky nouveau-riche,’ which felt very out of character for the Malfoys.
“I also don’t think there’s even a word to describe how out of character Narcissa is, specifically,” sighed Blank. “This Sue is obsessed with making her into an unappreciated, sweet woman who gives her anything she wants.”
“Not entirely out of character,” said Moira. “I mean,” she added quickly when she saw the anger flare in Blank’s eyes, “considering Amalthea is supposed to be family. Or close to family. Narcissa looks down on a lot of people, but she dotes on Draco, so it does seem like Amalthea could conceivably get a similar treatment.”
For a few seconds she was sure she’d made a mistake, but then Blank nodded.
“I guess so. But the real Narcissa would have had a lot of follow-up questions about this sudden infant once Snape showed up with her. Like her blood purity, for instance. Narcissa never falls out of that line of thought, no matter what. She agrees on Voldemort’s ideology to the end; his methods are just too messy for her.” Blank squinted at the motherly figure by the Sue. “But I think you’re right. I think that is Narcissa Malfoy, not just a character replacement.”
“I wonder what Snape told her.” Moira glanced over at the slender blonde, surrounded by her echo chamber of prejudice and disdain. “He can’t have said Amalthea’s a Potter. Narcissa would never have accepted a half-blood under her roof and the Potters were blood-traitors to begin with. Snape must have lied about her. Because of course he would have, in order to protect her. Can you imagine the drama if Narcissa found out? And the fallout? You think she would just kick Amalthea out of the house and pretend she never had a goddaughter?”
“Again, you’re giving this Sue way more credit than she deserves.”
“I’m just saying it would be a strong premise!” The words kept spilling out untethered, as possibility unwound itself in her mind. “Amalthea would go from being spoiled rotten by one of the richest wizard families to spending her summers in a neglected house in Spinner’s End, with a father she barely knows who tells her nothing and probably only keeps her around because she’s the only thing he has that reminds him of the toxic, obsessive love he still feels for a woman long since dead. You can’t tell me that’s not at least interesting .”
Blank stared at her. “Are you going to be like this every time you’re on a mission? Go on a long rant on how it could be decent?”
“I don’t know,” Moira mumbled.
She honestly didn’t. Where had all of that even come from?
“Well, hate to break it to you, newbie, but none of these stories will ever be good. They’re bad by definition. Otherwise we wouldn’t be sent in to take care of business. Even speculating about it is just... pointless.” Blank leaned against the nondescript wall, crossing her arms, and nodded towards Amalthea. “This Sue was never going to talk about Snape’s motivations, and she was never going to have a fall from grace. She’s here to be spoiled and take up space and get in the way; it’s what she’s for . Pretending she’s anything other than what she is will only distract you from what has to be done.”
“You don’t have to.” Moira swallowed. “I mean, you didn’t do the duty with me.”
“Ekwy saw something in you. I was against it.”
Well, Moira had known that. In her first meeting with the white-haired PPC agent, Blank hadn’t exactly been supportive at the suggestion of Moira joining the organisation. It had been her partner Ekwy who’d been behind it and offered another way to progress. It had been a choice between joining or being assassinated, and in that moment Moira hadn’t even hesitated. She’d seen herself so clearly, and cringed at what she saw, that the choice had been a very easy one.
Still, it burned to hear Blank state it outright. Moira looked away from her partner and focused on the story again, blinking away tears.
Snape had given Amalthea her acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
“Open it!” Draco was just as excited as Amalthea was. He had been hoping that she would soon get her letter as well.
“Go on dear, read it.” Lucius Malfoy was never excited about much but this time he was intrigued as to find out what was going to be in this letter.
Moira tilted her head so her large ears flopped to one side. “This is such a... non-event,” she commented after clearing her throat. “Lucius knows what’s in this letter. They all do. There’s no mystery to it.”
“They always have to make a big deal about the letter,” muttered Blank. “All the Sues get it, all the Sues act like they weren’t sure they would.”
And indeed the letter turned out to be a copy-paste of the one given to Harry, with the one distinction being that it was signed by Albus Dumbledore instead of McGonagall. Odd, considering how easy that would have been to get right, and the agents had a small discussion on whether it was an honest mistake or a chance for the Sue to be extra special.
The birthday party was winding down. Nothing more happened after the letter arrived, and there was nothing more to say about it.
“Alright, so.” Blank stretched. “Now there’s gonna be a time-jump to September first. We have absolutely no idea how long that jump is—could be days, weeks or even months—but either way, I need a nap. So I’m going to find somewhere to do that. Somewhere far away from the Sue, if at all possible.”
Moira had no objections. Not that it would have mattered terribly if she had, but she had a suspicion that if she agreed with too much enthusiasm it would have caused Blank to stay awake just to be contrary, so she merely shrugged.
“The Manor is full of empty bedrooms, I assume.”
“The Mansion, you mean. Small but important distinction.”
“Yeah.” Moira bit her lip. “What do we do about that? Do we burn it?”
“I think it’ll snap back to itself once the Sue leaves, which she will do soon…” Blank covered her mouth as she yawned. “Her hold on this place is so unstable, canon will reassert itself once her focus is elsewhere. We’ll get her when she shows up at Hogwarts. Her Sorting should do nicely. We’ll need to Obliviate the Malfoys, obviously, but that’s easily done.”
They left the party. The Mansion was a blurry mess of a place, but it was not hard to find an unused room with something that at least resembled a bed. Blank took a running leap at it, and was likely asleep before she even landed.
Moira had no interest in sleeping. This was her first real venture out into the multiverse, her first official mission that didn't include rounding up kidnapped crossover characters, and she was curious about it, even if a house made out of grey sludge was a pretty poor representation of the Harry Potter universe. There was something she wanted to check, though, and away from Blank to not risk waking her up. As long as she kept away from the Sue, she ought to be invisible, not that anyone apart from the Malfoys and Snape were ever mentioned as regular visitors to the Mansion. Moira tugged her pillowcase dress to straighten it and padded out the door.
The house was quiet. Not the suspenseful silence of foreboding nor the comfortable calm before the storm, but a ‘no thoughts, head empty’ kind of quiet that bordered on white noise. Moira shook her head. It felt like it was creeping in on her, the silence. Pressing against her skull, until the edges of her being were starting to feel blurry as well, so that she was fading into the background and disappearing entirely...
Steps, as silent as a whisper. Moira opened her large, lamp-like eyes and spotted Narcissa Malfoy walking down the corridor. She moved in an oddly floaty way, as if propelled by invisible puppet strings, and tilted her head with unblinking eyes.
“Such a sweet girl,” she mumbled. “Amalthea is such a sweet poor girl. I have to get her everything she needs. I have to make her feel at home...” Narcissa paused and leaned forward, posing like a marionette that was whispering a secret. “I am the sweetest woman she has ever met. Always kind and always loving.”
Then she continued down the corridor, with her feet barely touching the floor.
At least it had broken the silence and cleared the fog from Moira’s head. She kept going, down the stairs and outside, hoping for a secluded spot where she could test her theory. She pulled out her wand. It was a fairly standard one, not especially suited to her or anything. Moira had been kitted out with the beginner’s pack, weapons that worked in many different universes, but she was only really proficient with a bow and arrow. The wand was a new weapon to her and she had never tried magic before. Well. Not any kind of magic that wasn’t Speshul Sue Powers, anyway, which wasn’t quite the same as this.
“ Lumos. ”
The tip of her wand burst into light, and Moira smiled widely. It was so pretty... Like a little star balancing at the tip. Then her smile faded, as the light started to flicker. She repeated the spell and the glow stabilised again for a few seconds, but it was dimmer, as if the wand were running out of batteries. That wasn’t a thing, right? She wasn’t too knowledgeable about magic, but she was pretty sure that wasn’t a thing.
“What is that?” asked a voice from behind her. “I have never seen that before. I am astonished.”
Moira squeezed her eyes shut. Shoot. Shoot shoot shoot.
Slowly, she turned around. There stood Amalthea, blinking with large green eyes and staring straight at the wand in Moira’s hand.
Blank was going to kill her.
“Uh...” Moira held up the wand. “It’s, uh... a wand?”
Way too late she realised that she should have aimed for a squeakier voice and a more submissive demeanour if she wanted to sell the House-elf disguise, but the Sue didn’t seem to notice.
“A wand is a tool used for magic,” said Amalthea. “Who are you? I have not seen you before. I am confused about you,” she added helpfully, in case there was any doubt.
“Yes, I imagine you would be...” Moira interrupted herself with a cough and squeaked. “I mean...”
What did she mean? Under the scrutiny of those green eyes it was difficult to concentrate. All her knowledge felt like it was fading away, and the more she tried to grab hold of it, the harder it became to keep.
Amalthea was so pretty. She was like a little doll. Looking at her made Moira want to play with her. Dress her in little outfits and walk her around. She didn’t look like a monster. She just looked like a child out of her depth, a child that didn’t know what she was doing. Not a bad guy. She looked like someone who needed help.
“My name is...” Moira began.
“Monky is a bad elf !”
The screech shattered the moment and Moira turned. Blank was making her way over to them, looking in equal parts furious and simpering.
“There is another one of those little creatures,” said Amalthea matter-of-factly. “This one looks angry.”
“Blanky is so sorry, Mistress!” squeaked Blank. “Monky got away! Monky is a bad elf who should be grievously punished for this! And she will be ,” she added in a growl, side-eyeing her partner.
“‘Monky’?” Moira repeated.
Amalthea blinked at the unfolding scene. “I am going to Hogwarts soon,” she eventually informed them.
Blank untensed. “That’s right, Mistress,” she agreed. “Mistress’ bags will be packed and ready! And all this nasty business will be forgotten!”
Amalthea skipped away. Moira blinked after her. There had been an opportunity there, she felt it. A chance to turn this whole thing around had come and gone. A chill still clung to her. Moira shivered and hugged herself, rubbing her arms to get some warmth back into her bony body. Listening to Amalthea was like falling asleep in the snow.
“I think that could have gone better,” she said quietly.
“Oh, it went pretty badly. You’re lucky this isn’t a Sue with a lot of agency. When she’s unsupported by her own narrative, she doesn’t do much. This story has been abandoned for too long.” Blank glared at her. “What were you thinking?”
“I just wanted to try some magic. I’ve never done it before. Something is wrong with this place.”
“Gee, you think?” Blank gestured at the Mansion, which looked like it was made out of melting wax.
Moira opened her mouth and closed it again. She couldn’t put it into words, this strange sensation of wrongness that went above the silence, the chill and the edgeless grey. It was... fundamental.
Blank took her silence as shame. “I’m going back to bed,” she said firmly. “You stay put this time. Don’t wander off.”
They returned to the nondescript bedroom. Moira did what she was told this time, but kept looking at her wand, and how the glow of it dimmed like a dying ember, before it went out completely.
* * *
Morning came, at least in theory. There was no visible change between day and night in this mere suggestion of a house, but it was close enough. Blank had gotten enough sleep and was in a much better mood, and fiddled with the portal device while holding one of Autumn’s sandwiches in her mouth. The portal they stepped through opened into Amalthea’s bedroom, which was nearly as nondescript as the rest of the house. Some effort had been made, though. Amalthea’s bed was “pink and plush,” which translated into a fuchsia square covered in cushions. At the foot of it was the Sue’s packed Hogwarts trunk. Other than that, the room contained “many shelves” filled with an absolutely ridiculous amount of clothing.
Amalthea favoured pink. She favoured pink very strongly indeed. There was nothing inherently wrong with that in Moira’s opinion, it just wasn’t her personal style.
The agents hid under the bed. It wasn’t comfortable, but at least they had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the room, well away from the eyes of the Sue. Soon enough, Narcissa came up to wake Amalthea, and they exchanged words on getting ready while Narcissa puttered about to check every last detail.
Moira shuddered. Narcissa Malfoy still moved like a puppet, with her feet barely touching the ground. Then suddenly she disappeared entirely, and her voice was heard in another part of the room as she told Amalthea they would be wearing Muggle clothes to the station.
Blank, who had enough experience to know when something ridiculous had happened, squinted at the Words.
“Narcissa is now in Amalthea’s trunk making sure she packed everything she would need,” she sighed. “So that’s probably literally: she is literally standing in it right now. So undignified.”
Amalthea walked over to her many shelves of clothes and picked out a pretty pink, beige and white plaid mini skirt and a pink halter top and a white jacket. She decided on white knee high stockings and a pair of white MaryJanes. She’d seen the outfit in a muggle magazine once and asked for it for Christmas. Not only did she get that but half of the clothes in the store. The Malfoys made sure that Amalthea always felt at home.
“A mini skirt? For an eleven-year-old going to boarding school?” Blank winced. “No, I don’t think so. Put some trousers on. Or a longer skirt. Or hey, how about some robes, even?”
“I can accept that the Malfoys buy her anything she wants,” said Moira. “But... for someone raised by a Pureblood family, she sure seems to have access to a lot of Muggle stuff, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah. Muggle clothes from Muggle magazines, and later Muggle books from Muggle authors... Where would she even get her hands on any of that in the first place? It’s not like Narcissa gets any non-Wizarding fashion magazines. Or would even allow anything Muggle in the house.” Blank paused and eyed the shocking pink mini-backpack that Amalthea had just stuffed a few books into, despite the name implying that it was too small for that. “Not a bad Bag of Holding, though. I might steal that. What?” she asked as Moira gave her a look. “She’s eleven. It’s not like any of her other crap would fit me.”
The characters appeared to be leaving, and the agents scrambled out of their hiding spot to follow. Amalthea moved very slowly down the stairs, thinking fondly on how much she loved this house even if it was creepy. Apparently it always smelled of freshly baked bread, and she and Draco used to slide down the bannister. It was like she was trying her hardest to make the house as homey as the Burrow, just adding massive amounts of wealth to the mix. It was not very convincing.
Lucius called Amalthea “ravishing” in her outfit and prompted Draco to agree. There was some bumbling from Draco’s side, causing the agents to immediately tag him as the intended love interest, which made them grimace almost as much as Lucius’ comment.
“She’s basically his little sister,” Blank pointed out. “Not technically related, but it’s not like he remembers a time when she didn’t live here.”
The story was moving at a dizzying speed. Breakfast was eaten. Trunks and owls were packed into a barely referenced car, which drove off and arrived at King’s Cross Station within only a few sentences. The agents grabbed onto Generic Surface™ to not lose their balance, but Moira—who was not used to the jolts—slammed into the ground and bit her lip. She groaned, pulling herself up, and noticed that at some point during the proceedings they had changed disguises yet again.
“I thought background first-years would be appropriate considering the new environment,” said Blank, pocketing the device. “Not that other people are described, either.”
They didn’t really need to hide, as the narrative focused on canon characters for a moment. As Narcissa brought Amalthea to the bathrooms, Lucius took Draco aside and told him to help her out. A decent thing for him to be doing, all in all.
“Yes father but what will Pavarati think? She is my girlfriend father.” Draco had been at school for a year already and had already found a girlfriend. He wasn’t all that unattractive.
A spider the size of a poodle skittered past them. Moira leapt away from it, but Blank looked like she’d been expecting it. What neither of them had been expecting was that the spider would be singing in a beautiful but somewhat Gollum-esque tenor: “ La donna è mobile, qual piuma al vento, muta d'accento—e di penssssier... ”
“What was that?” squeaked Moira.
“Pavarati.” From some corner of her backpack Blank pulled out a bag of dried fish, a more travel-friendly alternative to bouillabaisse, the otherwise favoured snack of this kind of creature. “You’ve heard of minis, haven’t you?”
“They’re made when a canon character’s name is misspelt, right?” Moira tapped her index fingers together.
“Yes. In Harry Potter, they’re mini-Aragogs. Part of our job is collecting them and sending them somewhere they can be properly cared for. Pavarati! Here, sweet girl! There’s a treat and a portal out of this for you!”
The spider turned and zoomed towards the agents, and paused to catch a piece of broken-off dried fish. “Little agentses,” it hissed, sounding pleased and not at all surprised at finding them.
“That was a very pretty song,” said Moira politely.
“Thank you.” Pavarati clicked its pincers. “ Sssempre un amabile, leggiadro viso, in pianto o in risssso—è menzognero.… Fitting, it isss.”
“I expect you’re wanted at HFA,” said Blank and opened up a mini-sized portal. “And you’ll have plenty of friends. I know for a fact there’s another one who likes opera.” Once Pavarati had disappeared through the portal, she sighed. “Okay, where do we even begin...”
Moira grinned. “Well, it’s not even a mini for the right character. Parvati Patil is not Draco’s girlfriend. Actually it’s too early to even call Pansy Parkinson his girlfriend at this point. We can’t be sure exactly when it happened, but it definitely wasn’t official in their second year.”
“And also... what?” Blank massaged her temples. “Draco is worried his girlfriend will be jealous of a girl who is essentially his little sister? He’s probably always been encouraged to look after her, and Pansy would already know the situation. Kids this age wouldn’t consider a younger girl a romantic rival; it’s much more believable that Pansy would simply think that Amalthea was annoying and in the way...”
Lucius told his son that Amalthea was family, and that family comes before pleasure. To have his father care so much about family was apparently so out of character to Draco that he had no “rebuttle.”
Moira blinked. “That is like... a defining Malfoy trait. Caring about family is what they do . Right?”
“You are not wrong. That’s made even more explicit in Deathly Hallows .” Blank sighed. “But it’s 2004. It’s not common knowledge.”
“Right, right... Withdrawn.”
“There is no platform 9 3/4.” Amalthea was astonished. How could they be going to a platform that doesn’t exist.
Again, Moira felt the lack of something fundamental to the world, like the bottom had fallen out of her stomach. For the first time during the mission, she actually voiced it.
“She was raised by wizards . Why is she shocked when something magical happens?”
Blank started to speak, and then stopped. “That’s... yeah, that’s true, actually. Wait...” She frowned, and checked the Words to confirm. “Yup. Passing through the gateway to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters is one of only two magical things that happen in the story.”
Once again Blank started to rummage around in her backpack, and pulled out her C-CAD. She’d received it a few missions ago and had spent many rants since going on and on about how it didn’t seem possible that something could be so useful and so garbage at the same time. In Moira’s eyes the Combined Content Analysis Device was basically magic that bleeped a lot.
It required some fiddling with it to get the proper setting, which took several minutes that the story spent on yammering about how all you had to do to pass through the partition was to “open your eyes” and “believe.” Soon all the characters had disappeared into the secret passage, and the agents followed with Blank still tinkering with the device.
“Such wasted potential,” she muttered. “If the Sue wanted to be a little interesting she could have mentioned Dobby being around and messing with the entrance, or acting suspicious and guilty. She mentions later that Harry and Ron aren’t on the train, so it’s the perfect opportunity to build a little mystery, even if it’s a mystery the reader already knows about. Alright, here we go! I think I’ve figured this stupid thing out...”
She pointed the C-CAD to the nearest large object, which happened to be the Hogwarts Express. The device blipped gently.
[The Harry Potter Continuum. Today’s date is September 1st 1992. The weather is a pleasant 21 degrees Celsius and overcast, with a heavy downpour of misplaced punctuation scheduled for later in the day.]
“Alright,” said Blank. “And the magic stuff?”
Blip . [Background magical radiation is at 8%, most likely due to negative Sue influence. Suggested remedy: Terminate Sue.]
“ Eight percent ?” Blank stared at the readout. “This universe is barely holding together!”
[Correct. Suggested remedy: Terminate Sue.]
“Oh trust me, we’ll be doing that.” Blank shoved the device back into her bag. “I hope there’s enough magic left in this world to Obliviate the Malfoys. Neuralyzers always feel like cheating in a universe with a perfectly good memory spell available.”
A random lady appeared at the door of the train to check Amalthea’s ticket, apparently fully prepared to stop her if she didn’t have one. The agents were not sure what the purpose of that was. It wasn’t like that was a thing to ever happen at the Hogwarts Express. Every wizarding child in the UK and Ireland took this train and tickets were free, so why would there be a need to check that every child had a ticket?
“Right, so, the Sue is on the train,” said Blank. “We don’t have a lot of time.” She paused. “I’ll go take care of the Malfoys. You get on the train and keep an eye on her. Do not talk to her. Don’t engage. You got it?”
“Don’t even look at her. Find an empty compartment near her, and keep your head down. Can you do that?”
“My first time in the field I survived a collapsing legendary badfic. I think I’ll manage somehow, despite your complicated instructions,” said Moira drily.
“I suppose we’ll see.”
The ticket lady actually proved somewhat of a problem. She was an unnamed and undescribed OC with no reason for existing, but she had one job and clearly intended to do it properly, and she could see Moira clear as day. Luckily, with a thousand students and only one checker of tickets, Moira managed to sneak onto the train when the lady was looking somewhere else, and hid in the compartment next to Amalthea’s with no complications.
A few minutes later Blank joined her.
“Well, the Malfoys no longer have any memory of Amalthea,” she reported. “If they get any owls from her, the letter is to be burned immediately and then forgotten, but it’s not like that will happen anyway. Amalthea is mentioned to have an owl, but since anything whimsical or magic is glossed over immediately... Their Manor should be back to normal when they get home.”
Then, with no warning at all, chapter four started and both agents were immediately slammed to the ground.
“What’s happening?” wheezed Moira.
Each breath felt like trying to draw in treacle through a straw. She also found herself tightly pressed against Blank, as if an invisible force were pushing them together from every angle with as little space as possible between them. Blank growled and forced her arm between them, but winced when it was squeezed uncomfortably.
“It shouldn’t last long.” She spoke between gritted teeth. “This chapter is completely unformatted. No line breaks or paragraph breaks. Just keep quiet and focus on the story, we’ll be back to normal soon.”
That put a very effective damper on any hope of a comfortable and easy-going journey. Amalthea spent an undefined amount of time reading, name-dropping Jurassic Park and The Pearl as two novels she had brought with her on the train. Apparently the former was not a book she particularly enjoyed as it was about dinosaurs, but the more unlikely part was that she showed any knowledge at all about Muggle authors. She shouldn’t have had access to either of those books.
After some time, exactly how long was impossible to gauge, Hermione Granger showed up. She was alone on the train, as was accurate to canon at least, and attempted conversation in quite a Hermione-like fashion, which was to talk about books. The lack of formatting obviously affected the characters, too, though. Hermione was practically sitting on Amalthea’s lap and they were talking over each other, each of them eager to get their stilted, awkward dialogue out of the way as quickly as possible.
Amalthea finished her sentence, put her bookmark back in it’s page, slowly put the book down and stood up. “This is my first year. My name’s Amalthea, Amalthea Snape.” With that she put her hand out to shake Hermione’s. But Hermione’s ony reaction was that her jaw dropped and for a moment (a brief moment) she was silent. “Di.di.did you say Snape? As in.Severus Snape?” She stuttered with her words as if she couldn’t get them out. “Yes. Severus Snape is my father. He teaches the Potions classes at Hogwarts. Is something wrong? Do you need some chocolate?” Amalthea’s concern was real. What was wrong with this girl Hermione? Maybe she was sick.
The air around the agents groaned. Then Moira squeaked as they were peppered with tiny, hard pellets, oddly shaped and sharp-edged in some places. They fell heavily and angrily for a couple of seconds, and then stopped. The story gave a sigh of relief.
Moira prodded a little black ball. “That’s a... period sign?” she guessed.
Blank brushed a series of apostrophes off her shoulder. “I guess the C-CAD warned us about this... This Sue’s been going haywire with her punctuation for a while. A shower like this was overdue.”
The chapter was already winding down. Hermione reacted a little more to the strange reveal of Amalthea’s parentage and voiced some concern at not finding her friends, but that was all there was. Chapter five started immediately with a minor time-skip where Amalthea was surprisingly not making best friends with Hermione. In fact, Amalthea seemed annoyed at many of Hermione’s traits, which was unusual enough to comment on.
“Hermione isn’t even that out of character,” said Moira as the formatting reappeared and allowed her to stand up again. “She’s poorly written, but she’s acting more or less like herself. And she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be and is worrying about her friends doing something stupid.”
“Yes. Hooray.” Blank didn’t sound too enthused. “The Sue is just making a point out of not liking Hermione and hoping they’re not in the same House. She doesn’t like Ginny, either, and from what little we see of her, she reacts to Amalthea in the same way.”
They followed their target off the train and were delighted to see Hagrid on the platform, acting like himself and guiding the first years down to the boats. Amalthea recognised his ancestry right away and seemed to think nothing of it, finding him nice enough despite his size. Another sign she had not been raised by any Malfoy the PPC was familiar with; Draco had, after all, had her exact same upbringing and he had never clocked that Hagrid was half giant. When he had been informed he’d not exactly been accepting, either.
Two unnamed girls, one with long white hair and one tall brunette, were meant to join Amalthea and Ginny in their boat. The coincidence was enough to make Blank smirk.
“We can’t both take their places,” she said. “The brunette is mentioned later. I’ll take the other one’s spot. I’d bet a hundred Galleons she’s supposed to be part Veela, so that puts her on my Sue-dom shortlist immediately.” She gave Moira a nod. “You find another boat and enjoy the scenery.”
There were plenty of boats to choose from. Moira watched as Blank unceremoniously went up to the white-haired first-year and Petrified her before taking her place in the boat with the Sue. Moira settled into her own seat. In the periphery of Amalthea’s influence, there was nothing to distract from the magic. The boats slid out soundlessly across the lake, which was as still as a mirror of black glass, with stars hanging brightly above in the crisp, late summer air. Moira was so busy peering into the water to catch a glimpse of the Giant Squid that she nearly missed the reveal of Hogwarts. The story had no description to go on and thus reverted to canon, and the enormous castle was every bit as beautiful as advertised.
For some reason Hagrid chose a path through the dungeons to get them to the Great Hall. The dungeons were full of spiders and webs, which other girls were frightened by but Amalthea was special enough to enjoy.
After a short walk they were in a large hallway that had torches on the wall to show the wway.
“All of you wait here, Professor McGonnagall will be with you in a moment.” And with that the Giant walked away.
The extra W whirled like a shuriken and embedded itself in the stone wall half an inch to the left of Moira’s ear. Blank pulled out the letter and pocketed it as they both watched Hagrid grow several feet, bang his head on the ceiling and walk away looking mildly concussed.
Blank sighed. “Well. We’re in the homestretch now. She’s at Hogwarts. We can get her once she’s Sorted and officially on the path of ruining the school as well.”
When a spider suddenly popped into existence, neither agent raised an eyebrow. It hissed out a passing imitation of McGonagall’s lines and led the students into the Great Hall, where it took its place at the front and started calling out names.
“That’s weird,” said Blank. Both agents ducked as a superfluous H, the clear result of not proofreading, zoomed above their heads. “She got it right in the first chapter. In this one it’s consistently spelled wrong.”
There was very little ceremony to be had. Four students were named, one of them Colin Creevey, but the Sue skipped to her own Sorting as quickly as she could. Her last name caused some attention. Not too much outside the realm of possibility since no one had been aware of the surly Potions Professor having a daughter, and there were even a number of sceptical statements that she couldn’t possibly be his.
It seemed like the entire Hall was privy to the Hat’s considerations. It cycled through three of the Houses, stating that she’d do well in both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, and then adding that there was also a little Hufflepuff in her, before eventually and for no particular reason announcing that she was indeed a Slytherin.
“Not a surprise,” Blank stated dryly. “She does certainly contain multitudes but has a fairly obvious bias toward Slytherin House. Basically everyone she’s ever met has been in Slytherin. Yet not a sign of blood purity being an issue. It’s almost as if that’s a squirmy little detail she doesn’t want to associate herself with.”
Moira sighed. Yeah. Maybe Amalthea would have been a touch more interesting if the Hat had sensed any conflict in her, but now it had quite clearly picked up on her personal preference and nothing else.
So there it was. The Sorting was done. Only thing left to do was duty. They saw Amalthea skip down and sit next to Draco and Pansy Parkininsin, another mini but at least of the right character this time.
“Let’s go,” said Blank. “Maybe we can get her out of the Great Hall, at least. The PPC have made Filch scrub enough glitter out of the stones as it is. Here.” She pressed something heavy and cold into Moira’s hand. “Better be hands-on if the Killing Curse is not a reliable way of doing it this time.”
Moira looked down at the object she was holding. It was a dagger, a solidly cast metal blade decorated in a swirling pattern of tarnished silver, and a handle of polished black stone.
“Replica of Bellatrix Lestrange’s knife,” said Blank by way of explanation. “And we’re lucky to have it... Used to be, we had to do this kind of thing with the Sword of Godric Gryffindor. Doesn’t handle nearly as well.”
“I have to do it?”
Moira wasn’t proud of how her voice came out. It was a little squeak, an embarrassingly shrill noise that made her cheeks flush. This was ridiculous. It wasn’t as if this was her first kill. She stared down at the knife. It wasn’t a weapon she recognised, maybe something that played more into Book 7, but it looked nasty.
Murder rips the soul apart.
She’d read the words not long ago. But this wasn’t murder, was it? This was... just removing something that didn’t belong. Like pest control. That felt like a cold thing to call it... Amalthea was sitting right in front of her, and she looked alive. She affected the world around her in a horrifying way, but Moira had done that, too. She’d been given a second chance and a shot at redemption. Denying Amalthea the same seemed cosmically unfair.
“Someone has to do it,” said Blank. “And this is an easy one, after all.”
That was true, this should have been an easy one. Autumn had called it a no-brainer. So why wasn’t it? Why was her stomach clenching and her throat burning, like she was fighting back vomit?
“Uh,” she said nervously. “Are we sure we have to...?”
“Yes. This is what we do.” Blank’s voice was calm but cold. “This is what you signed up for.”
“She could be recruited instead.”
Blank snorted. “There’s nothing in there. In your case there was something to work with. This one couldn’t be clearer. Amalthea is a menace who needs to be put down for the good of canon.”
Blank paused. Pressed her lips together.
“And she’s not getting any older than that,” she finally said. “It’s a Sue. They can take any shape, any age. They’re a threat no matter what. So yeah, it doesn’t matter. She dies today.”
Moira drew in a breath. She could do this. She’d have to. She’d killed dozens of Orcs, and that had had no effect on her. That was before she’d joined the PPC, but still... If she wanted to be an agent, this was the way. And Ekwy had believed she could do it.
It’s an Orc. It’s a big and scary Orc who wants you dead. It’s not a frail child who just wanted to go to Hogwarts at all...
She swallowed. And nodded.
“Good,” said Blank. “The floor is yours. Start by getting her out of here.”
Moira approached the Slytherin table. She had no idea what to say to make Amalthea come with her, but when Blank had spoken to her before it hadn’t seemed to matter much what she said. Amalthea responded to tone, and didn’t focus much on the exact words.
The only people at the Slytherin table were Amalthea, Draco and Pansy. The rest were faceless extras; not even Crabbe and Goyle had earned a mention in the narrative. Pansy was also still shifting back and forth between her pug-faced canon self and having the spidery qualities of a mini. This Sue just could not get the spelling of her last name right.
“Hi, Amalthea,” said Moira, and grabbed the first idea that came to mind. “Professor Dumbledore wants to talk to you.”
Amalthea turned her green eyes to the agent. There was no light in them. No awareness of what she was doing.
“Dumbledore wants to talk to me?” she repeated. “This is so strange.”
“I know. But... trust me.” Moira bit her lip. “I was sent here to bring you to him. There’s something you have to know. About, um, your past.”
“Okay.” Amalthea stood up.
Moira blinked. Well. That had certainly been simpler than she’d been expecting. Draco was making some moves to follow and she quickly put her hand out.
“Not you, Draco,” she said. “This is only for Amalthea.”
He sat down, scowling. Moira walked Amalthea out of the Great Hall and away from the feast. Her heart was pounding. This was it, then. Her moment. Time for her to prove herself worthy of the faith Ekwy’d had in her.
The night outside was still warm. Stars were twinkling up in the sky. Barely a breeze. Amalthea stood with her arms at her sides, waiting.
Moira turned towards her and cleared her throat. “Amalthea Minerva Snape,” she began. “Um... Original name unknown. You are being charged with the following: Being a Mary Sue, being the uncanonical offspring of a canon character (James and Lily Potter), causing a minor time anomaly, giving Dumbledore a crocked nose, being the the adopted daughter of Severus Snape, being special in a very undefined and vague way, making Snape adopt you to then immediately foist you on his friends without asking them first...” Moira glanced over at the Sue, who still just stood there in the moonlight, watching and listening to the charge list with a blank stare on her face. “Uh... Creating the Malfoy Mansion, ignoring House-elves, getting your acceptance letter signed by Dumbledore instead of McGonagall, causing severe OOC-ness in Narcissa, Lucius and Draco Malfoy as well as Severus Snape, creating minis, draining the Harry Potter continuum of magic to the point of having a character raised in a wizard household be surprised when they come across something magical, giving the Hogwarts Express a ticket lady, realising mistakes but not bothering to fix them, poor pacing, word proximity, lack of formatting, lack of punctuation and general spelling errors. The punishment is death.” She swallowed. “How do you plead?”
Amalthea blinked. She did so very prettily.
“I am starting to think something else is going on here,” she said. “I don’t like it very much.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Moira said quickly. Her hand whitened around the knife’s handle. “I mean, I could talk to someone. You could start working for us instead. It would require a lot of work, but I could help you, you could take a few lessons with me, and then you could start your training...”
She trailed off. Amalthea’s eyes were like glass beads of polite non-understanding.
“You don’t have to die,” Moira repeated. “I can help you. My name is Moira.”
Amalthea smiled. “Moira suddenly felt cold.”
A frozen wind blew in from the north and caused Moira to shiver. The chill came over her as if frost were spreading over her shoulders and down her arms. She looked at Amalthea in confusion. A soft feather of smoke came out of the Sue’s mouth, which looked oddly pink despite the crisp moonlight.
“It was odd,” Amalthea continued. She took a step closer to Moira, keeping eye-contact, and her bright green gaze filled the world. “Moira had never felt this weak before. But now it felt like she could go to sleep right here.”
“Stop that!” Moira’s eyes threatened to close as the mist of Amalthea’s breath came close enough to inhale. “I’m trying to help you!”
“I don’t need any help. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.” Amalthea’s voice was so soft. It was like a lullaby. “I am Amalthea. This is my story.”
“No, it’s not,” whispered Moira. “You just hijacked it.”
“I’ll make it mine.” The Sue took another step closer. “I wanted it to exist. Now it exists. I make things happen. This is all because of me.”
“I know. But... it’s better if you don’t.” Moira’s voice was starting to slur. She was only half aware of what she was saying.
Amalthea laughed. “But it’s so easy. It’s harder not to do it.” She was very close now, and raised her dainty hands to squeeze around Moira’s throat. “This would be easier if you didn’t fight,” she explained.
Silence surrounded them. The only thing piercing it, the only thing that was clear, was Amalthea. Her words were definite, resounding truth. When Amalthea spoke she remade the world.
“Moira felt like giving up. The darkness was coming and there was nothing she could do about it.”
Moira tried to raise her arms and fight. It was ridiculous. She should have been able to overpower this girl. But all her fighting spirit had left her. Amalthea was right. It would be easier to let her have everything she wanted. After all, why shouldn’t she? It wasn’t like she was hurting anybody real. Sure, she was hurting Moira right now, and pretty badly, but that was an easy thing to forgive. She hadn’t been doing such a great job of things anyway.
“Everything was so cold, and so dark,” cooed the Sue. “And then there was nothing at a— uh .”
Her eyes widened with surprise and her grip around Moira’s throat went suddenly slack. As she had been the thing holding both of them up, the pair of them tumbled over, Moira at the bottom, with Amalthea’s body on top of her. It wasn’t much of a weight, and after a few seconds of greedily pulling air back into her lungs she pushed the corpse off her, staring down at it. In the back of Amalthea’s head, shimmering with the glitter that flows through Suvian veins, was a W.
“There,” said Blank. She did not look impressed. “That’s how you do it.” She knelt down by Amalthea and pulled off the pink mini-backpack, taking the opportunity to stab the corpse twice in the back. “Two hearts. Best to make triple sure. Wouldn’t want this one to come back.”
“They can do that?” Moira whispered. Her throat ached. Her brain felt like cold porridge.
“It’s a magical universe. I’m not taking any chances. You alright?”
Moira nodded. She didn’t like the feeling of speaking too much.
“Good. Next time, try stabbing it before it gets the drop on you.”
“I was trying to help her.” Moira coughed, wincing at the roughness of her voice. “She... she wouldn’t accept.”
“Of course not. Not enough in her to make an informed decision and you were an idiot for trying. This is not the kind of Sue that can be recruited. Even if she had been, once upon a time, she’s been in stasis too long.” Blank held up her index finger, giving Moira a warning point. “And I don’t like that you went against my orders.”
“I was making a judgement call.”
“You’re an idiot newbie on your first assignment. You don’t go off book again or so help me, you will never leave the RC. You got it?”
Moira nodded grumpily. There was a sour feeling in her gut. A burn of failure.
“Good.” Blank stretched. “Well. While you were out getting cosy with the enemy, I was cleaning up the mess inside. All of the minis are rounded up and minor memory adjustments have been made on all affected canons. I’d say we’re good here. Oh.” She pointed to the dead Sue. “You’ll be weighing that down and throwing it in the lake. Call it a penance. We haven’t fed the Giant Squid in a while, not that there’s much meat on this one.”
Moira groaned. “And how am I supposed to do that?”
“Luckily, the magic’s back. I’m sure you can figure out how to tie some massive rocks to the body before too long. I’m going to head back in and see if I can get something to eat. I will say this for the Harry Potter universe: it has good food.”
Blank ducked back inside. Moira turned toward the Sue. A river of glitter was pooling underneath her, gleaming in the moonlight not unlike unicorn blood. Amalthea’s eyes were staring at nothing. Moira sighed, and then leaned in to close them.
“Well,” she mumbled. “I tried.” And then, because she wasn’t sure what else she could say, she added, “I’m sorry.”
Blank had been right. About most everything, but certainly about the weighting process. A quick Incarcerous tied the body to a rock, and a Wingardium Leviosa lifted the whole thing into the middle of the lake, where it disappeared without a trace. For a Sue burial it was about as dignified as it got.
After a few minutes, Blank came out of the castle gnawing a chicken leg.
“Got you something.”
She tossed Moira a small red-and-white object, which she instinctively caught. It was a mint humbug. Moira stared at it. Then she shrugged and popped it into her mouth. It was pretty good, and actually made her throat feel a little better.
Blank opened a portal. As they stepped through it, Moira felt her disguise fall off her, and she cricked her neck. Felt nice to be herself again... for good or bad. She had a feeling her hair was still a mess.
Then she walked straight into Blank, who had stopped in the middle of the room. Moira peered out from behind her.
Autumn had a visitor. The stranger was a tall man, draped across the sofa like an oil spill. His grin was the only streak of white about him; his skin was a graphite grey. Dark brown eyes gleamed over a harshly edged nose. His features were not perfectly balanced, his chin a little too small, his cheekbones a little too protruding, making him look slightly off and inhuman in a dozen subtle ways. His pitch-black hair, which came down to his shoulders, was slicked back and shifted in patches of green and blue as he moved.
“Um, so,” Autumn began awkwardly. “Mellon got out. Uh. He flew out the door as soon as the portal closed. Sorry about that.”
“What?” gasped Moira, eyes widening. “But...”
“It’s okay. He came back. Um...” Autumn waved vaguely at the man on the sofa.
There was a moment of silence. And then Blank audibly groaned as Moira gasped again, hands going to her mouth.
“Hey, Tiny Baby,” said the man. He had a pleasantly hoarse voice, but it sounded like it was only just barely containing laughter.
She squeaked. “ Mellon ?”
“Actually,” he said, and grinned, “you can call me Buddy.”