Summary: In which the agents have an unexpected first mission.
There is a sound that traditionally comes at the beginning of every PPC mission. While one of the most annoying, hated, violence-provoking sounds in the multiverse, it is also one of the most thrilling, because everyone who has heard it knows that what follows will be an Adventure: the protagonists, with the barest sense of what's happening to them, will be faced with breath-taking scenery, unspeakable horror, and the epic struggle between Good and Evil in which they will eventually triumph.
This was not that sound.
Agent Supernumerary let his chair come back to all four legs with a sharp bang, his own legs having uncrossed from atop the console's keyboard. He leaned on one bony knee, a book dangling from his left hand, as he inspected the monitor.
"The frell you say?"
It seemed two notices had come in nearly simultaneously. The console had tried to beep both of them at once, gotten confused, and given up. The first, which gave rise to Nume's perplexed mutter, was a mission. This was strange because he was supposed to be in the Department of Implausible Crossovers now and the story in question was a Suefic. It was doubly strange because the second notice was an official statement of his transfer and, he read with great interest, the assignment of his new partner. This was the notice he had been hoping for. This should have been good news. Instead, he could only raise one black, slanted eyebrow at the horrible timing.
Then the door chimed. At some point, someone—not Nume, much as he wished it was his idea—had torn out the original door and replaced it with a sliding panel a la Star Trek. Voice commands didn't work due to some disagreement between it and the console, but its native circuitry was in fine condition and happily used whatever power supply made things run in Headquarters. Nume let his book fall closed where he set it on his cot and casually stood to toggle the door open. On the other side, blinking all four eyes at the rush of air, stood Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill. Nume had met the Andalite once before, when Nurse Jennifer Robinson of FicPsych brought him to the Lounge in order to acquire a few DNA samples for a human morph. (His first attempt had been a complete disaster but, as Jenni pointed out, he had only just got used to his own form and couldn't be expected to assume a new one so easily.) Technically, Ilraen had only existed as such for about a month. He barely knew himself, let alone the ways of the PPC.
Raw, green, wet behind the eye stalks . . . these all together didn't begin to cover it. This was what Nume had to carry through Sueage and back again. He could have cried.
<Er . . . Agent Supernumerary?>
He blinked through his green-framed glasses into Ilraen's equally green eyes. The two were of a height, if one ignored the extra eyes. "Yes," said Nume. "Hi. I'm afraid I was contemplating the ways in which we could both shortly be dead, but please come in." He stood aside and, as Ilraen passed gingerly into the wider space beyond the console and the cot, reached for the flask of Bleepka he kept at his hip.
<What is that?> Ilraen asked, peering through one stalk eye.
Ilraen blinked. <Yes, I see that,> he replied at length. <You had it with you before. You drink from it with your mouth.>
"Fascinating. Do go on, I'm dying to know where this'll end up." Nume sat heavily on his chair and folded his arms across the back.
<I only meant,> continued a perplexed Ilraen, <that I wonder what you drink. I was attempting to make conversation. Nurse Robinson says you are not very good at it, but that I should try to learn anyway. Is that wrong?>
"No. I'm terrible at conversation, especially when I'm stressed, which is always. This—" he held up the flask— "contains Bleepka, which is a mixture of Bleeprin with non-alcoholic alcohol substitute. It lets me forget things that break my brain. I drink it as a palliative, and sometimes as commentary on how much my brain is breaking at a given time. We have a mission, see."
<Oh! They told me it might be soon. What continua? I was able to read several books of canon, including—>
Nume raised a finger. "Continuum, singular. I hope you were about to say Harry Potter. I suppose you'd better have a look, since you're here." He slid the chair across the generic surface of the floor with a generic shriek of abused wood and stood up.
Ilraen winced at the noise, but looked. <But that says Mary Sue. I thought—>
"Nice, isn't it? I mean, it could be worse. It is Potterverse, which means I won't be completely useless when it comes to dispatching her. I did a year at HFA and I can use a wand. It's just that it's Snape." He shuddered and took a long pull from his flask. "I hate Snapefic. You have no idea."
<Erm. No.> Ilraen shuffled his hooves. <But I am here to learn,> he added helpfully.
A laugh broke from Nume's throat. It wasn't nice. "That's right. Better get to it, then, hadn't we? We should be students, I suppose. Feh." He turned and quickly programmed the disguise generator. In an instant, man and Andalite were replaced by fifteen-year-old Gryffindor boys, the former terribly gawkish with spots across his forehead and the latter willowy with bright orange hair, green eyes, and a baby face. The redhead, with much windmilling of his arms, fell on his arse with a yelp. Nume ignored him until the portal was open and he had grabbed his shoulder bag. Only then did he lift Ilraen more or less to his feet and, with a muttered "Come on," hove him through the portal.
They stumbled into generic space, infinitely gray in all directions. Nume glared at Ilraen until he quit clinging to his robes and stood on his own.
"One good thing about the disguise generator," said Nume in a voice that cracked vowels like walnut shells, "is that it really doesn't allow you to be incompetent with a disguise. It doesn't alter your morphic field, it overlaps it temporarily. Unfortunately, mine is exactly what it was in high school, hormones and all. That said, if you fall into any more 'Andalite-in-human-morph-for-the-first-time' clichés, I won't be responsible for my actions. Understand?"
Ilraen nodded, wide-eyed. He opened his mouth, then thought better of it and looked at his feet.
At that time, the featureless world exploded into sound as the author's voice rolled over them and both agents clapped their hands over their ears.
Hogwarts' Great Hall appeared around them, fuzzy and indistinct. It was the welcoming feast, but the sole point of any description was a "greenish portal" through which the injured Sue was carried by an unnamed bit character. No one had anything to say about this. In fact, the first reaction was Snape's gasp as the Sue was given to him by the bit character.
Nume was already scribbling in his little black notebook. "Good grief. Two author's notes, nine sentences of story, and three charges. What are they, newbie?"
Ilraen, who had been staring at the story with mouth agape, started. "Um?"
"The charges. One at least is obvious."
"Oh. Yes. Severus Snape has no known family."
Nume nodded. "Good. Keep watching the fic, but don't let your mouth hang open like that. You look daft."
They both returned their attention to the scene as the bit character explained himself to Snape, who demanded to know how he had escaped the attack with minimal injuries.
"What the hell?" Nume protested, his voice splintered into at least three octaves. "It isn't as though the canon has rules about death and ghosts, so I'll just make up my own!"
Ilraen looked at him. "Agent Supernumerary, I think the rules are—"
"Sarcasm," Nume interrupted. "That was sarcasm. I know the rules. Did I mention that I hate Snapefic?"
"Yes, you did."
"All right." He took a deep breath and a deep drink of Bleepka. "There are at least five charges just in that paragraph," he explained. "That's not counting the comma splices, because I've already written that on the list. The rotten thing is that it's only going to get worse, and we have to catch up with Snape now. Come on."
Dragging Ilraen along by the sleeve of his robe, Nume followed the Potions Master to his bedchamber. Snape had neglected to close the doors behind him in his concern for the Sue. The agents flattened themselves against a wall alongside a bookcase while he went for some potions. Nume was quietly nauseous when he called the Sue "sweetling" and fretted over force-feeding her the potion that was supposed to heal her: "he knew his niece and he knew that she did not like being force fed."
"If she is unconscious, how should she know what he does?" Ilraen wondered.
"Precisely," said Nume in a growl. "There are things one doesn't do to an unconscious person, but feeding them medicine isn't in that category. This is just to show what a free spirit she is, and how Snape is really an old softie who wouldn't do anything against his 'sweetling.'" The word was a sneer worthy of canon!Snape.
Ilraen would have asked what one doesn't do to unconscious people, but a temporal compression bucked them over a span of several hours, at the end of which the Sue was still unconscious and Severus sobbed like a girl.
"You begin to see why I hate this stuff," Nume said to Ilraen's horrified look. The compression had left the newbie pale and gasping for breath, his hands splayed against the wall as though the contact was the only thing keeping gravity alive. He fixed his eyes on his partner. Nume was looking at Severus. "No need for a CAD to tell that he's completely out of character, and it's always disgusting. In fact, this looks more like character replacement." He glanced at the Words, then dug through his bag as Ilraen looked on. "Dumbledore comes later, but it doesn't say he stops crying in the interim. You know how to use one of these, yes?" He pulled out a beat-up Canon Analysis Device and handed it to Ilraen.
"I point it toward the character and push the big button," he said, regaining his composure in the face of something he understood. "First making sure the volume is off." He checked. It was glued in the off position with something sheeny and purple.
"Good. Before you do that, better come over here." Nume had moved to the bedchamber's doorway. "It might explode, and if it does, we should run away."
"Perhaps I shouldn't," Ilraen said, now holding the CAD at arm's length.
"Nonsense. We need a reading for the report and I need a new CAD."
"Oh, go on. It'll probably just spark a bit and melt."
"You do know how to use it?"
"Stop interrupting me! Please," Ilraen squeaked. Both agents ducked out the door as Snape looked around.
Nume gave his partner a thoughtful look. "You don't know what 'hazing' is, do you?"
"No . . . "
"Good. Forget the CAD. I don't want to hang around to hear Snape tell his whole history to Dumbledore. Enough that it's complete tripe about his being adopted and having a brother and so forth. We'll go on to chapter two, which is short. We can take him out at the end of chapter three if it turns out he's a doppelganger and get the Sue after she's suffered through chapter four. All right?"
Ilraen stared. "How do you know what is coming?"
Nume stared back. "Didn't they teach you anything?"
"They told me that you would explain the particulars of our work. It's in the Manual."
"I see." The black-haired agent sighed and bowed his head, adjusting his glasses in the process. "It goes like this: We're in a story. The story is the world. The story is made of words. Therefore, the world is made of words. Because we know this, we have the power to see these World Words. It just takes a bit of refocusing. Look at it with your brain instead of your eyes."
Presently, Nume realized that he had done something unintentionally cruel. He grinned and let it go on a bit longer.
"Ilraen," he said finally, "that was a metaphor. You can stop the facial calisthenics, amusing though they are."
"Oh." He opened his mouth to say more, but Nume cut him off.
"Try thinking of it as visual thought-speak, maybe. There's the hearing you do with your ears, and there's the hearing that skips your ears and goes right to your brain. It's similar with seeing and Words. They're there, they just skip your eyes unless you pin the little buggers." As he spoke, he took his remote activator from his bag and opened a portal. "Come on. Work on it as we go."
They passed into chapter two, skipping the author's notes and narrowly avoiding the "rumors flying about Snape's relation to the mysterious girl." Nume, who knew what a stray rumor could do once it latched onto someone, dragged Ilraen under a Generic Table and refused to leave until the exposition resolved into a sort of scene. They soon found themselves in the Potions classroom, where Hermione was serving detention.
"'When all she had done was raise her hand,'" Nume muttered, quoting the Words. "For the fifth or sixth time, after being told not to at least twice, I shouldn't wonder."
But if he had any hope for a resurgence of canon, it was soon dashed. As a matter of course, Professor Snape was there, working on a healing potion while Hermione scrubbed cauldrons. In sight of the two agents, he walked into his supply closet and did not come back. Well, something that looked like him came back. It couldn't have been the real Potions Master, because he would never allow—much less require—the help of any student to complete even the most powerful healing potion. Yet the Words declared that while Hermione was there, she was "able to help Snape." Nume's CAD, its innards helplessly frazzled to begin with, quietly coughed blue smoke and died in Ilraen's hand.
"Well," said Nume. "This is wonderful. We know where the real Snape is, and I get a new CAD."
Then the temporal distortion caught them. "Meanwhile" became synonymous with "nightly," and "nightly" was two weeks compressed into that excruciating "meanwhile." Time moved simultaneously too fast and too slow—anybody who has ever experienced these phenomena separately can imagine the agony; the terror of rushing headlong into the future, every missed moment passing with torpid clarity. Both agents experienced a feeling of knots being tied in the fibers of their being, pulled tighter and tighter until they threatened to snap. When the distortion released them, they sprawled on the floor, limp with relief. Presently, Nume feverishly snatched his flask from his hip and rolled onto his side to drink. The Bleepka soon quelled the worst of his residual vertigo and nausea, and he was able to look to Ilraen.
The newbie had curled into a tight fetal position, sides twitching arrhythmically. Nothing had prepared him for the effects of bad writing on his newly-mastered self. Nume could sense the Andalite within the disguise reeling at the assault on his inborn time sense, far more acute than any human's. He needed help, and even Nume was not so callous as to refuse him. Roughly, he pried Ilraen out of his curl and wedged the mouth of the flask between his teeth. Ilraen swallowed reflexively to save himself from choking on the first mouthful of liquid and coughed the excess out of his throat. After that, he recognized the good it was doing him and would have drained the flask if Nume hadn't wrenched it away. The senior agent scowled at the near-empty slosh and reattached it to his hip.
"What . . . what . . . ?" panted Ilraen, the green of his eyes reduced to thin rings around wide pupils.
Nume deliberately misconstrued the intent of the question. "Where," he corrected. His adolescent voice fractured under the strain of being heard over the din of talk in the air. He turned his attention to their surroundings. They were still under a table, as it happened. This time, however, they were fenced in by rows of black-robed legs on either side. That and the cold flagstones beneath were clues enough, but it was the platters of half-materialized food rising through them that conclusively told Nume they were in the Great Hall, and that it was dinnertime.
The Law of Narrative Drama allowed the agents a moment to be mildly squicked as a large dish of savory pudding caught them both in its passage. They pulled faces at the ghostly taste left in the backs of their mouths and shared a lucid glance. Neither one would ever mention this to anybody else.
Then a hush fell over the Hall. There was a sound of the great doors opening, followed by the progress of feet between the tables. After a moment, doppelganger!Snape spoke, opening a brief dialogue:
The last speaker had "a strong Irish accent in her words," which manifested as a deliberate attempt to accent the words by someone who did not, in fact, have an Irish accent. Nume got out the charge list, but he was interrupted by an author's note:
"I doubt it," muttered the agent.
He dragged Ilraen through a portal and skipped the three weeks preceding Cordelia's Sorting. Nothing happened in that time except that she was allowed to sit at the staff table and hang around the Potions classroom, and it seemed that was the only reason for the three-week delay. The Sorting itself had the Sorting Hat singing praises to the girl's status as a capital-D Druid and a princess. ("She's related to the Queen of England?" Nume wondered, and made a note on the charge list.) Naturally, she possessed qualities which could have placed her in any of the four houses. She ended up in "Gryfindore," upon which she joined the "Gryffindore" table and two mini-Aragogs joined their brethren at the Hogwarts Fanfiction Academy. Ilraen watched silently as they scuttled through the portal Nume opened for them.
Nume watched Ilraen. "I hesitate to ask," he said, "but: what is going through your mind?" It was better than listening to Cordelia ingratiating herself with her canon classmates. There was nothing surprising or particularly heinous about it, so it was just boring.
Not that Ilraen was exciting, either. His gaze didn't alter when the portal closed, and his eyes had a glazed appearance. Nume scowled. "If you can't recover from a temporal distortion, you'll never make it in this life. Pull yourself together, Andalite. That is not a request." He caught Ilraen a sharp slap upside his carroty head. Just to make sure he got his attention.
Ilraen yelped and covered his head with both hands. The dead CAD fell to the floor and shattered with an air of forlorn dignity. This was not the way it would have wanted its remains handled. However, even in ignominy, it served to draw Ilraen out of himself. He focused on the scattered parts. "You broke it."
Nume blinked. "I beg your pardon? You dropped it because your brain was addled. If you're ready to be useful, pick up the bits and get ready to follow the Sue."
Ilraen shot him a look so baleful and so brief that Nume almost thought he'd imagined it. Indeed, the rookie agent did as instructed and carefully deposited every piece of CAD in Nume's bag. After the last one tumbled off his fingers, he stood a moment before his partner. "I have behaved poorly," he said haltingly. "Thank you for making me realize it. I will do better in the future."
"Good." Nume turned away from him. "There she goes. Come on."
They followed Cordelia into a Generic Corridor, in which she encountered faux!Snape. She tackled him gleefully and started a tickle fight (the doppelganger won), after which she called him Sithchean and realized that the world was full of uncertainty and that the future was shadowed. Then she left. The doppelganger, having been given a name and thus full character status, lingered instead of fading out with the scene. Nume pulled out his wand and delivered a Full Body Bind with such force that Sithchean actually scudded across the floor before he was quite prone.
"And this is meant to be Severus Snape. I ask you." Nume adjusted his glasses and beckoned to Ilraen. "Get a reading on him for the report. I assure you, my other CAD works." He handed the device to his partner and faced the doppelganger. "Right then. Doppelganger, alias Sithchean Bran, you are charged with crimes against the Harry Potter continuum; to wit, the wrongful and pathetic impersonation of one Severus Snape; also, the aiding and abetting of one Mary Sue, alias Cordelia Driscol. We already know you plead like a whiny girl, and what you think about it doesn't matter anyhow. For these crimes, and on account of the fact that you're useless without Cordelia, you are going to die. I don't care what you think about that, either." From his pack, Nume withdrew a small steel case containing a syringe of clear liquid. Once injected, it quickly sent the doppelganger into convulsions. These were happily kept under control by the Body-Bind, so really it was only the rolling of his eyes that showed the progress of his death.
Ilraen watched with his mouth hanging slightly open, forgotten CAD upraised in his hands. "Agent Supernumerary . . . what was that?"
"Liquid salt, essentially." Nume replaced the empty syringe in its case and deposited it in his bag. "Get too much salt in your blood and the water rushes out of your cells to compensate. Unfortunately, the cells shrivel up and die in the meantime. Very painful. Very clean, though. Even if the syringe broke, the only thing I'd have to worry about is the electronic equipment. And there's nothing to contaminate the continuum."
With the help of the mobility charm, they transported the body to the Potions classroom. Distorted space-time had it off the very corridor they were in, and they had to come back later to get the real Snape out of the supply room. They could deal with it then.
The agents portalled into the fourth chapter to find Cordelia explaining some of her particular speshulness to Hermione, Ron, and Harry.
"'An atheme?' This fic is anathema to my mental health," Nume complained.
Ilraen tilted his head. "Oh. A pun. But, what is an atheme?"
"A wand with fingers, apparently. But regular wands don't focus magic. They're just there for silly people to wave about."
"I think she means that her magic is somehow different, and requires a different kind of focus."
Nume leveled a dour look over the top of his glasses at Ilraen. "Yes. I know what she means. That is not the point. The point is that she didn't say it that way and left herself open to misinterpretation. It amuses me to take these openings when I can. It keeps me from losing my temper."
Ilraen swallowed. "I understand."
A moment later, Cordelia suddenly cottoned on to the fact that her uncle was missing. This would have worried the agents, but it was all part of the story. The girl left the common room, Nume and Ilraen on her heels, and—she vanished.
"How did she do that?" Ilraen wondered. "Apparition does not work on Hogwarts grounds."
Nume rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Hermione. Clearly we're dealing with Speshul Druid Princess Powerz." He had the satisfaction of seeing Ilraen cringe at the grated Z-sound. "Fortunately, we know where she's going." A blue portal sprang open before them. "Come on. This is the best part of the whole fic. But, be very quiet."
They stepped into forest darkness a few feet removed from a mysteriously-lighted circle of Death Eaters with Voldemort in the center. The self-styled Dark Lord was just finishing a round of "Let's torture the minions for no good reason" featuring the "Crutacious Curse." This had the effect of turning its victims into crab-like beings with no carapace, which had to be every bit as embarrassing as it was painful. The creatures gave off a sharp garlicky odor. Cordelia was nowhere to be seen, but even Sued!Voldemort was not as easily fooled as that. Restored Death Eaters captured her and held her before him. Then—while Nume eagerly bared his teeth—he used the same Curse on her.
"Well, yes. There's nothing between your soft, invertebrate flesh and the cold, cruel world," Nume said. "This is beautiful. I knew torture was involved, but looking at the Words and seeing it in the flesh are two different experiences. Mark this well, newbie. You don't often see such a wonderful example of poetic justice."
He moved away before Ilraen could respond. A missing full stop at the end of the chapter left the characters in suspended animation pending further input from without. Nume, who did not fancy a tangle with Voldemort in any form, wasn't about to wait around for the author to realize her mistake. He scooped Cordelia out of a pile of her clothing and deposited her in Ilraen's hands—then, as an afterthought, he picked up her modified wand and dropped it in his bag. The Sue was little more than a sack of organs and loosely-joined limbs. She tried to struggle free, but only succeeded in losing a leg.
"Stop that," Nume ordered. He flipped open his black notebook and stood with his red pen stuck at an authoritative angle behind his ear. "Listen up. Cordelia Driscol, you are charged with being a Mary Sue. You are further charged with being Severus Snape's uncanonical niece; altering the background of said Severus Snape; ignoring or altering the rules of Hogwarts, death, and ghosts; with abuse of the Common Comma; sending Severus Snape completely out of character by way of causing him to use the word "sweetling," to be completely spineless and incompetent, and to cry like a spoiled child; with causing Dumbledore to appear stupid; instigating the abduction and subsequent replacement by doppelganger of Severus Snape; causing temporal-spatial distortions and forcing me to waste Bleepka on a gormless newbie; abusing the Sorting Hat (honestly, do you think it cares?); creating mini-Aragogs; pretending to have an Irish accent and causing everyone to think it's real; possessing stupid powers and a stupid Suvian artifact, to wit, an "atheme"; having still more stupid powers; and finally, with the creation of a non-canon spell, to wit, the "Crutacious Curse." But you know all about that last one, don't you? For these crimes among others, you are about to die. . . . Well. Not right away." He looked at Ilraen. "I think we'll give her to the Department of Mary Sue Experiments. They'll enjoy taking her apart. You'll just have to carry her."
Ilraen nodded. He was clearly too overwhelmed to protest and followed mutely as they backtracked to the Potions room to release and neuralyze the real Snape. That done, they sent Sithchean's body to the dragon reserve in Romania. Those critters were always hungry. The atheme went up on the wall as a souvenir. Cordelia's ultimate fate was a mystery, but there was a rumor about garlicky crab bisque in the cafeteria a day or two later. Neither Ilraen nor Nume felt like investigating.
And the boys complete their first mission. This took me about two years to put up here, due in part to procrastination and in part to Real Life eating my time. It's still kind of exciting. I feel for Ilraen. He's in for a good deal more torture before things get better for him.
As for the fic, it's not the worst I've ever seen, but it was annoying enough that I felt it was worth tackling and not too tough for the fledgling team to handle.