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Just One Letter

A few hours had passed since his last mission; an unusual and suspicious occurrence, in Suicide's opinion. The Greek was taking the unexpected downtime to kick back and relax, and was currently dozing in his chair with his feet propped up on the console. Narnia No-Longerfled was sitting in his lap, occasionally burping up a few sparks, but in general the picture of slumbering reptilian cuteness. Next to the weapons cupboard, Thiranduil was curled up on his hibachi and hugging a fireproof scarf of Diocletian's. (The mini had finally been hunted down near the Department of Fictional Psychology, and was visibly sulking at his owner's continued absence.)

A knock on the door shook Suicide out of his contented nap. Blinking sleep out of his eyes, he stumbled to his feet, dislodging Narnia No-Longerfled and steadying himself against the console. The knock was repeated, this time a little more urgently.

"Comin'!" Suicide grunted, licking his lips and taking a swipe at the long hair that hung over his eyes. He loped unsteadily over to the door and opened it, revealing a pale Noldo Elf clutching a pillow and a bottle of little pink pills.

Suicide blinked down at the Elf, then grinned broadly. "Hey, welcome back, Ith!" he said cheerfully, clapping the nervous-looking agent on the shoulder. "Just get out of Medical again?"

"Four hours ago," Ithalond explained in a shaky voice, clutching the pillow a little closer and eyeing Suicide as if the Greek were about to explode. "I g-got lost in the cafeteria."

"Yeah, it'll do that to ya," Suicide replied, shrugging. He tapped Ithalond on the forehead, raising one eyebrow as the Noldo flinched. "Whassamatta, Ith? Still not feeling good?"

Ithalond glared weakly. "Y-you threw a p-pie at me," he managed to stammer. "It's n-not exactly cond-ducive to ease . . . and it wasn't just any pie, it was a D-Di-D-Dib-Dib-Di—"

"Hey, hey, ease down!" his partner said quickly, grabbing the shaking Elf by the shoulders. "Calm, man, calm. If you can't say it, don't try. What're the pills for?"

"N-nerves," Ithalond managed to say. "The d-doctor says they mmm-may have side e-e-effects, though—"

“Bugger that—I'm not having you shaking like a virgin when we get our next mission. Which," Suicide added with a meaningful glare at the console, "will doubtless be any second now. Take the pills, Ith. You'll need 'em." He nodded approvingly as the Elf dry-swallowed two of the pink tablets; a calm look immediately stole over his pale face, and the tension began to ease out of him. Suicide let go of his shoulders. "See? Better already." Ithalond nodded, letting out a deep breath. "Ik voel beter nu, ja."

There was a moment of silence. Then,

"Say that again, rookie?"

“Ik zei, ik voel beter nu!"

Suicide blinked. "That's not Elvish, is it?"

"Wat is niet elfen?" Ithalond said curiously, closing up the pill bottle.

"That's not Elvish. That's Dutch. Why the hell are you speaking Dutch, rookie?"

"Wat betekun u?"

"All right, that's enough!" Suicide snatched the bottle away from Ithalond, who squawked and tried to grab it back. "What the hell do they put in these things, anyway?"

The Elf cursed and made another lightning-fast snatch at the bottle of pills, but Suicide had it clutched firmly in his hands. Ithalond's nails scraped several red tracks across his partner's arm, making the Greek respond with an entirely inelegant but very effective shin-kick.

"Geef hem steunt, u idioot!" Ithalond groaned from the floor.

"All right, I don't need a Universal Translator to know what that meant. No, you're not getting these things back." Suicide turned the bottle over in his hands, reading the label. "'Tropopenalinguyreneaphen, 200 milligrams. Three refills before prescription renewal. Caution: do not take while consuming alcohol or impregnating heavy machinery.'" He paused. "I guess they let the Kudzu write the labels again. Zeus, Ith, these are some serious meds they've got you on. Was it really that bad? I mean, Dibbler's not the best cook in the multiverse—"

There followed here a long and very loud stream of profanity, which requires no translation whatsoever. The Greek shrugged. "Okay, if that's the way you feel . . . but I don't think you should take any more of these. Who knows what'll happen next time?"

"Wil u echt weten wat ik u denk aan?" the Elf snapped, clambering to his feet. "Ik heb nodig die pillen!"

"Pillen—oh, you need the pills? Tough luck. Nell!" Suicide shouted. Narnia No-Longerfled leapt off the chair and came trotting towards him, grinning expectantly. Suicide scratched the small golden dragon under the chin and held up the bottle of pills. "Open up, boy!"

"GEEN!" Ithalond shouted, but it was too late. A jet of flame consumed the bottle as Narnia No-Longerfled swallowed it whole, licking droplets of melted plastic from his chops and pawing at Suicide's hand for more. The Greek shook his head.

"Sorry, little buddy, all gone. But oh, look, here's an angry Elf you can cheer up. Watch this, Ith—he can do tricks now!" Suicide turned his back on the snarling Ithalond and clapped his hands. "Okay, Nell—what's two and two?"

The dragon looked politely puzzled.

"Let me rephrase that. You kill two Sues, and then you kill two Stus. How many wretched creations have you destroyed?"

Narnia No-Longerfled's face lit up, and he thumped his tail on the ground four times. Suicide beamed.

"Good boy! Good boy! Okay, you charbroil six cute animals and—gack!"

A tip for those of you who would like to enjoy a long life: never, ever, ever turn your back on an Elf who needs his fix.

Fortunately for the thirty-seven-year-old Scythian who was currently being throttled by said Elf, the console displayed an unusual amount of good judgement and chose that moment to BEEEEEP! Loudly, ear-piercingly, and with an urgency not normally found in mechanical devices.

"Agahhghh—" Suicide commented. "Rookie—put me down—"

"Waarom?" Again, the most unsympathetic tone in which Ithalond said this made no translation necessary.

"Why? Because you're—ack—not doing a mission on your own—"

The Elf snorted. "Waarom?"

"Because—my foot—is in your fork—"

There was another unsympathetic noise, this one the sound of a steel-toed boot connecting with Ithalond's Elfhood, and the grip on Suicide's throat was released abruptly. The Greek tumbled to the floor, but turned the fall into a forward roll and came up with his dagger out; he sprinted across the room towards the console and quickly hit the "mute" button, and had read the mission synopsis even before Ithalond had stopped whimpering.

"U vuile bastaard—!" the Elf began, but was cut off by Suicide's urgent expression. His partner was shaking his head rapidly, making little moaning noises and occasionally smacking his forehead against the top of the video display. Surprised, Ithalond felt the urge to strangle the Greek rapidly subsiding; being at heart not an Elf but a Male, he still had no intention of letting Suicide live, but the execution could possibly be held off a little while. "Wat is verkeerd?" he ventured, gingerly waddling over to where the gray-haired man had begun rhythmically hitting himself in the head.

"Mary Sue."

"Zo?"

"Blatant Mary Sue." Sweat was beading on Suicide's forehead. "Another one. Another Harry Potter one." ". . . zo?"

"Well, I fed our last HP Sue to a goddess. But I don't think that will work this time." His partner was looking visibly ill. "She is a goddess."

"Een godin? U maak grappen!" Ithalond broke out.

"No, I'm not kidding. Look for yourself." Suicide was breathing heavily, wiping away the sweat with a trembling, clammy hand. "She's the avatar of an Egyptian goddess, Sekhmet the Destroyer, who is guiding her every movement. AND she's guilty of Ron and Harry abuse. Ith, I don't think we're qualified to handle this kind of thing."

Ithalond bent over the console, scanning the words. He looked confused. "Wat hem—doet?"

"Hit the translation circuit."

The Elf did so, and the computer whirred, translating the page into what looked like a random jumble of syllables. He quickly ran his gaze over the first chapter, and his thin lips pressed together into a terse line. "Ongelofelijk."

"You're telling me." Suicide mopped his brow. "She's got a legendary bloodthirsty lion-goddess walking with her every step of the way. How do we kill something like this?"

"De uitdrijving?" Ithalond suggested.

The Greek looked blank. "Sekhmet isn't canon. How the hell do we exorcise her from the HP universe?"

"Een heilig symbool."

"A holy symbol? I've known Egyptians, but I don't have a damned clue about holy symbols of—" And the light went on in Suicide's brain. "Hold on, give me a second—"

He pulled out his cellphone and quickly dialed a long number. "Hey, Eris? Hi. Listen, what's a holy symbol for ancient Egypt? What do you mean, why? It's important! . . . Oh, all right, we need to get Sekhmet out of a Sue—" He winced and held the phone away from his ear. "No need to shout that loud, thanks, my hearing's bad enough already. Okay, fine . . . Yes, I'll kill her. Slowly. Painfu—come on, that's a given! What do I use? . . . Okay. Okay. Hold on a sec." Suicide covered the phone with his other hand and jerked his head towards the weapons cupboard. "Ith, check the locker on the right. There should be a drawer labeled 'Imaginary Items'—yeah, that one. Grab us an—'ankh,' and make sure it's a big one." He uncovered the phone. "Thanks, Eris. 'preciate it. When are you getting certified, anyway? . . . Pfah, you leave it up to him, you'll never get anything done. Boy, the stories I could tell—yeah. Yeah. Great. You want her scalp or her hair? Hair, okay. And what? The h—who the hell keeps hearts? 'Sentimental value' my ass. What are you thinking, anyway? . . . Oh. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Okay. Thanks. 'Bye!"

He closed the cellphone with a flourish. Ithalond was already at the weapons cabinet, digging through a drawerful of religious symbols. A handsome brass copy of Seven-Handed Sek went flying past Suicide's head and landed with a clunk on Narnia No-Longerfled, who was wandering around and looking strangely unfocused. After a few more seconds of rummaging, the Elf held up what looked like a floppy golden T with a loop on the crossbar. "Is dit het?"

"Yeah, that looks about right." Suicide turned back to the console and began programming disguises. "She spends most of the story in Grimmauld Place—what could be unobtrusive there?" He cursed, flipping through the options that the screen presented. "She couldn't have made it a public place, could she? Noooo, it has to be a headache and a half to hide in . . . "

"Perhaps als een lid of the Order van de Feniks?"

"Nah, they know how many members they've got—" Suicide paused. "Hey, did you say that in English?"

"Ik ben droevig?"

"Never mind."

Ithalond shrugged, tucking the ankh into his pocket. "Silly mistake."

"Hey, you DID say that!" Suicide exclaimed, turning around. "Is that stuff wearing off?"

"Ik sure hope niet. . ." Now the Elf paused as well. "Ik deed!" he said doubtfully.

"Well, when you're fully understandable again, let me know," his partner said brusquely, turning away from the console. "All right. I've programmed us some disguises. How do you feel about being two-dimensional?"

"Zeg what?"

"Trust me," the Greek said darkly as he picked up his rucksack. "You'll LOVE this."

* * *

While Ithalond did not, in fact, love it, he was very obviously puzzled. The two agents had stepped through a portal into a canvas tent, and aside from Ithalond's hair changing to blonde, their physical appearances hadn't been altered at all. They were dressed in loose buckskin tunics and leggings, there were feathers twined into their hair, and their gear was piled around their feet.

"It doesn't feel any verschillend," the Noldo said. He took an experimental poke at the billowing canvas walls. "Waar doe these go?"

"Take a look," Suicide responded calmly. His partner poked his head out through the flaps of the tent. After a moment, he retreated back into the tiny room with a very odd look on his face.

"Why is there een vervloekt reusachtig picture out there? En waarom is it moving?"

"It's not." The Greek unwrapped a Slim Jim and took a bite. "We're the picture. In a house like Grimmauld Place, who's going to notice one more painting on the walls—especially a portrait of an Indian campsite, occupied by two very innocuous guys in brown?" He took another bite, obviously relishing the vitamin-free salt lick that was any meat snack food. "And if the Sue sees us, she'll just think we're another painting. Perfect setup."

"Ah." Ithalond coughed a few times, spat up what looked like a small fluorescent tulip, and crossed his arms. "Are we able to get into other pictures?"

"Yep. Just keep walking."

"Does this explain why there are three very large pink women with one piece of gauze out there?"

"Hey, if she doesn't describe any paintings, they get filled in randomly." Suicide shrugged and tucked away the Slim Jim wrapper. "Did you see a frightening old lady with teeth that follow you around the room and something that could be either a cat or the most evil-tempered cougar in existence?"

"No."

"Then we're probably safe. If you see that one, though, start running and don't stop. Trust me on this one."

"What do you—"

"Shhh! It's starting!"

* * *

Sirius Black had only once made this face before. It was when James Potter, his best friend, had decided to put a frog in his underwear during their first year at Hogwarts. As such, his expression was one of shock, surprise, and more than a little confusion.

“I have a what?” he asked the wrinkly old man in front of him.

"A million opportunities to be defamed and destroyed. Get used to it," Ithalond whispered. Suicide grinned and the two high-fived.

“A daughter. Now Sirius, we’re not exactly sure how this could have happened, but-“ He looked up from the papers he had been looking through on his desk. Sirius Black had left the building. Unlike the usual wise and compassionate Albus Dumbledore people were used to seeing, the headmaster of Hogwarts was slamming his head against the desk. Suicide, on the other hand, was making do with a nicely painted rock while Ithalond shook his head and industriously charged for vagueness and kneejerk abruptness in advancement of so-called plot.

One line break later—a welcome novelty for both agents—the scene outside the gigantic frame shifted to the interior of Grimmauld Place. The Elf blinked and poked his partner. "If we are in Number 12 now, where were we before?"

"Un—" *crack* "—defined—" *bonk* "—geo—" *smack* "—graphy—" *crash, tinkle tinkle*.

"Did you not have a bottle of Bleepka in your pack, Suicide?" Ithalond asked after a moment.

"Yeah?" *thunk* "So?"

"I am afraid I may have some sad news for you."

From their spot on the wall, the two agents could watch the bland scene unfolding. The author had failed to specify where in Grimmauld Place the action was taking place or what the two Marauders were doing, so the walls were all coated with kitschy Generic Victoriana (although the ivory lace doilies were quite nice) and both Sirius and Remus were attempting to sit, stand, crouch, and slouch at the same time. The author attempted to be sly and explained that Apparently, finding out that you have a thirteen-year-old daughter is a bit much, although it can cause quite an addiction to alcohol.

"Don't do sarcasm, sweetie, it just isn't you," Suicide lisped, putting his hands on his hips and fake-pouting. Ithalond winced and held a rag under the Greek's dripping backpack.

“Sirius, is having a daughter really that bad?”

Sirius Black squinted at his friend.

"Whe' yu gettina l'botomy?"

"Suicide, this is not an MST . . ."

"How else are we going to survive this?"

“Dumbledore told me before I went looking for,” Remus explained with a shrug. “Now what’s so terrible about having a daughter?”

Sirius’ mouth opened and closed a couple of times before he managed to come up with an answer. “This means I’m a parent.”

“And?”

“Remus, you can be utterly clueless at times.”

“Then explain it to me, O wise one.”

“And you’re not that good with sarcasm either.”

“Sirius-”

“Be serious? Fine then.” He sighed. “If I’m a parent, then I’ll have to be a role model. And that means I won’t be able to have fun anymore.”

"Aside from the fact that Sirius has been a role model for Harry for two years at this point, it does not seem too terrible," Ithalond said, ducking Suicide's attempted smack upside the head. "No, I am NOT jinxing it, I KNOW how it is going to turn out. Stop it!"

Remus’ mouth hung open in the air. “That’s it? You don’t even care about how your daughter is going to feel about this whole thing? Sirius, we’re not even sure who her mother is! And you’re drowning your sorrows, because you’ll have to act like an adult for once? That’s pathetic.” He stood up, putting on his cloak. “I’m sorry for the poor girl. You’re a terrible father.” With those last words, the werewolf strode out of the Three Broomsticks and into the falling snow outside.

There was a sickening lurch as the scene shifted suddenly, knocking both agents to the ground. The huge frame wobbled, reforming the picture into the interior of the wizards' pub, and the flickering figure of Sirius assumed the Generic Drunken Sot pose #12. Suicide, entirely unprepared for the shift, had been thrown head over heels and now came limping out of the canvas tent with a large purple bruise on his forehead.

"Ow, dammit!"

"Double undefined geography," Ithalond muttered, scribbling away at the charge list. "And Lupin is out of character twenty-two percent. He would be blunt, but not that blunt."

"Notice—ow—how she's trying to garner sympathy for the Sue-spawn," Suicide responded, rubbing his forehead. "Dammit, that's gonna be there for weeks. And if they found out Sirius has a kid, then presumably they found out from the mother—and who's she, anyway?"

"Missing, no doubt," his partner said.

"Nah, my money's on Drunk and Abusive." In the Three Broomsticks, Sirius responded very aptly and was slamming his head against the bar, making the glasses rattle. Suicide winced. "I think Black agrees with me."

Ithalond shook his head. "I will bet you a bottle of Dorwinion Third Age Red that the mother is either dead or missing."

"You're on." The two agents shook hands and sauntered closer to the frame, watching Sirius for signs of movement. A line break announced a change of scene, and they found themselves looking out on the undefined bedroom of a teenage girl. An owl flew in through her window with a letter tied to its leg, and she expressed her reaction to the news with a wonderfully original "Holy shit." And at that Dramatic Moment, the chapter ended.

Chapter Two began with the title "Lost and Found," making both agents shake their heads. Ithalond retrieved the now-soaked rag and began to squeeze Bleepka into his mouth. Suicide poked him. "Hey," he said, "we haven't even gotten to the pain yet!"

"I have no intention of being sober for this."

"Good thinking. Fortunately, I," Suicide said, taking out a green glass bottle, "have made alternative arrangements." He uncorked the bottle, and the smell alone nearly floored both agents. Ithalond managed to clamber to his feet, dropped the rag, and stared at the bottle with an expression of concussed reverence.

"Is that . . . Bleepsinthe?"

It was a few months later that Dumbledore was finally able to catch Sakhmet and make her agree to meet her father. When asked why she didn’t want to meet Sirius, she answered, “You see, Luke Skywalker didn’t have a father either. He grew up to be a great guy, but when he finally did meet his dad, it turned out to be Darth Vader, the majorly icky big bad guy. And then Darth Vader cut off his arm.”

All reverence instantly vanished. Suicide took a hefty swig and passed the drink to Ithalond, who followed his example.

"I hate her."

"I will second that."

"Darth Vader is a majorly icky bad guy? Charge for blatantly disrespectful teenspeak."

"Give me another drink first."

"Done, and done." Suicide handed his partner the bottle. Ithalond swallowed another mouthful of the iridescent green liquid and wrote "Disrespecting villainy" on the charge list. He had a sinking feeling, one not associated with the thujone, that said list would be filling up rather shortly. His Elvish senses could often warn him of danger, and they were currently evacuating all personnel and piling up sandbags at critical intersections. Suicide, more in tune with the Star Wars references, merely had a Bad Feeling About This.

Meanwhile, "Sakhmet" had entered the hall of Grimmauld Place and was confronted with the portrait of Sirius's mother.

“-And I certainly hope you won’t be as much of a failure as that father of yours. He’s a complete imbecile, the fruit of my womb that rotted.”

"That's a bit . . . calm . . . for the portrait," Suicide said between gulps of Bleepsinthe. His brain was already happily fried, but some functions were still running. "She sounds like my scary Aunt Athias—the type that was always 'terribly disappointed' in you."

Ithalond shook his head as Sakhmet looked over the portrait and mentally decided that she would probably like her father more than his mother did. "It is still highly unlikely. She would be frothing at the mouth that somebody else was in the house, especially a bastard. Bastardess? Suicide, what is the feminine—"

"Depends on the context. Interfering, godplaying, soon-to-be-dog-meat little shit would be about right here."

"Ah." The Elf paused. "Sarcasm, yes?"

"Sarcasm. And the truth." Another gulp.

“YO POPS!” The woman in the portrait stared open-mouthed at her. The girl winked and grinned before continuing. “YOU DEAD OR SOMETHING!”

"Americanisms! Argh!"

“My fondest wish,” muttered the mother of the man in question.

At that a man’s head appeared in a doorway up the stairs. The head was followed by a body that slowly walked down the stairs before staring in silence at the floor.

"Oh, and instantaneous decapitations. Whatever happened to 'he walked down the stairs, keeping his eyes on the floor'?"

"Suicide, perhaps you should put the bottle down . . ."

"No! Mine!"

“Hello, I’m Sakhmet.” She hadn’t expected a Kodak moment. She hadn’t even expected him to show up. But she had hoped that at least he wouldn’t be a chicken. “I was just having a lovely conversation with your mother.”

“Was that where you learned to yell like that?” the man asked, raising his head from the floor.

“No, I’m thirteen. I’ve known how to yell for most of my life.”

“So I guess it’s hereditary.”

Sakhmet made a face at her father. “You don’t look much like me. Think the old fart made it up?”

Suicide ground his teeth. "Icky Darth Vader, and now Old Fart Dumbledore?" He reached for the half-empty bottle, but Ithalond corked it up again and put it out of his reach. "Hey, wha' yodotha' for?"

“The ‘old fart’,” said Albus Dumbledore from behind her, “would prefer it if his facts were not questioned.”

“Does he always talk about himself in the third person?” Sakhmet asked her father.

“No, he usually doesn’t mention himself at all,” he answered with a smile. “I think he prefers to deal with other people’s problems.”

“So he’s nosy too? And I thought that there weren’t wizard social workers.”

"Dishrespec'ful! Dishrespec'ful!" Suicide fumbled for a cigarette and a Zippo. "Nee' nic'tine."

“So who’s mom?” Sakhmet asked, voicing the question that everybody not currently Sued had been waiting for. Ithalond, who was holding the Bleepsinthe ready, and Suicide, with a Sobranie halfway to his mouth, waited with bated breath for the answer.

"Tonks," Ithalond whispered.

"Lily," Suicide offered.

“Well, you see-“

“You don’t know.”

“Not exactly.”

“Not exactly or not at all?”

“Well, you see-“

The PPCers glanced at each other. "But wait," Ithalond said after a moment. "If nobody knows who her mother is, then she was given up for adoption or somesuch. So if they cannot identify her naneth, how do they know that Sirius was her atar? How did they find her in the first place?"

"Mag'cal DNA testin'," his partner mumbled, cupping his hands to light the cigarette.

"Does St. Mungo's have a sperm bank?" Ithalond wondered.

Both agents contemplated that concept for a moment, formed the logical conclusion, extended the premise to accommodate the conception of Sakhmet, winced, and reached for the Bleepsinthe. Their mood wasn't helped by the fact that the Sue walked up to Sirius, kicked him, and stormed out of the house.

"Brat!"

"Ti tallbe Orch!"

The world flickered, and Chapter Three began where Chapter Two had ended, with Sirius rubbing his leg. “Why in the world would she do something like that?”

"Yeh! Shcore one f'r logic-man!" Suicide cheered, waving the Canon Analysis Device. Sirius's OOC rating was holding steady at two percent. "He knowin' thingsh!"

Ithalond shook his head, watching the scene unfold with narrowed purple eyes. Dumbledore proceeded to inform Sirius that the Sue had been raised in Muggle foster homes and had been mistreated—Use of overused cliché past to gain sympathy—thus eliciting understanding from the scorned father. Dumbledore then attempted to tell Sirius about a second problem ("Shecond? She a pre'y big problem onner own!"), but was promptly interrupted. The CAD whined as Sirius's rating jumped to nineteen percent, and Ithalond quickly hit the Mute button. Once more into the breach.

“Well, did you notice anything different about her name?”

“It sounds Egyptian, but that’s not that big of a difference from the other names in this family.”

“It’s the name of an Egyptian goddess and part of a prophecy.”

There are some things that can instantly sober up even the most drunken of men. Impending death is one, as is impending mutilation and impending angry wife with a pair of garden shears, although most of these are very minor distinctions. PPC agents have Impending Prophecy. When encountering one of those, even an underweight fairy who has been knocking back shots since seven that morning will find all alcohol immediately flushed from his system, usually in the form of nervous perspiration. Yet another indication that Mother Nature is a nasty old biddy.

“Yes, another prophecy, and this one concerns your daughter.” At this Sirius sat up. “Sakhmet used to be Hathor, Egyptian goddess of love and fertility. But one day Ra told her to destroy all mortals, and she became Sakhmet, goddess of war and death.”

Ithalond could sense the scream of rage rising in his partner's throat. By the time it reached the outside world, the Elf had already tackled Suicide and was restraining him with the implacable strength of a Noldo who was currently feeling very unsympathetic. Suicide thrashed and kicked, yelling Greek obscenities, but Ithalond gave him a sharp whack to the back of the head and he settled down—slightly.

"Is something wrong?"

"Everything."

"Well, at least you can enunciate again," the Elf said calmly. "Now what?"

Suicide did nothing but grind his teeth audibly as Dumbledore, fulfilling his designated role as the bearer of plot, proceeded to explain that “Sakhmet, your daughter, was and possibly is kind and compassionate. But at one point, she’s going to become a killer, and one thing we have to do is make sure she stays on our side.”

A wide gloved hand tapped Ithalond on the shoulder. "Your partner is hurting both mentally and physically," said a heroic baritone voice. "He has met actual Egyptians, such as the marine Ptammitechus who wore chain mail underwear. This misuse of their religion is driving him to express his hate and frustration with wordless physical motions of threat." Ithalond jumped, spun around, and stared—he was suddenly face-to-face with a muscle-bound human in a colorful leotard and tights.

"Who—"

"Ignore him," Suicide muttered, clambering to his feet now that he was freed of the restraining Elf. "That's Captain Exposition. He turns up a lot."

"For an ephemeral concept relating to the given reality of a situation, a name given to the application of right and wrong in the use of law, and an ill-thought-out patriotic standard!" the superhero declaimed. "The opposite of down, the opposite of down, and relocation!" With that, he leapt into the air and flew away.

Ithalond blinked.

"Now I require a drink."

* * *

The opening of Chapter Four found the pair in a park, now inhabiting a poster that had been nailed to a tree. It also found Suicide and Ithalond sharing commiserating glances as Lucius Malfoy approached the unruly Sue, making a badly-written attempt to recruit her for Voldemort's services.

“Sakhmet,” a voice hissed from behind a tree in the park Sakhmet had found to wander in until she could figure out what to do.

"Jumbled word order," Suicide said grimly.

She glared at the speaker. It was a blond man in a dark robe. With a metal-tipped cane, he looked like he was used to sneering at anyone and everyone. She walked over to him before asking waspishly, “What?”

"Oh, and add general stupidity to that. Because yes, you walk over to someone who mysteriously knows your name. He could be a stalker or a murderer for all she knows!"

"Be calm, Suicide. For the good of the mission."

“And who is this man you work for? And what is this proposition you speak of?”

“I work for Lord Voldemort. He would like to offer you the chance to serve in his army.”

“First of all, I dislike him for the simple fact that he sent one of his-“ She looked Lucius Malfoy up and down before continuing. “-Minions to speak with me. This lord you speak of obviously doesn’t know a thing about dealing with people like me. Secondly, I’m going to say no anyway just to piss you off.” The man’s disgusted expression turned into one of fury. “And lastly-“ She grabbed the man’s neck, pulling his face down to her level. “I serve no one.” At that she released the man and walked away.

There was silence in the poster for a few seconds. Finally, Ithalond managed to say: "She did not—"

"She did."

"Insult Lucius Malfoy?"

"And live."

"What does this make her?"

"A tough-girl Sue that's going to die very, very soon." Suicide lit another cigarette; his first one had gone out when it dropped from his open mouth.

“You are a fool,” spat the man.

"HAH!" the agents shouted, high-fiving again.

"And Lucius knocks it out of the park!" Suicide said gleefully. Naturally, the Sue decided to reply with a witty rejoinder—“No more than you are.” Having thoroughly crushed her opponent with this highly original retort, Sakhmet proceeded to stroll out of the park (remaining mysteriously un-obliterated) and went to “curl up in a tree.” Ithalond shrugged, staring at the words and wondering if they had flets in the Undescribed Park. "Curl up in a tree? Have you ever tried that, Suicide?"

"Yep. Campaign against Argos. Nobody got any sleep, and the termites were murder."

A line break gave them some peace, at least until the author announced that Sirius had sniffed out her trail in dog form and followed her to the park. Sarcasm was attempted by a writer clearly not used to it, and Sakhmet “promptly spoke of her indignation in words that would make a sailor blush.” "Sobriety? Chastity? Commitment?" Suicide guessed, making Ithalond snicker. "Just say she swore, for Na'an's sake!"

"Na'an?"

"Scythian goddess. Believed in the ephemerality of all things. Common sense and logic, for example." Suicide's teeth were grinding again.

“And it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to tell her about the prophecy.”

“Why on earth not?”

“Well, she might feel like we’re using her.”

"What the—" Ithalond began. "Oh. A flashback. I hate those."

"I'll second that. Any ideas on surviving until we kill her?"

Ithalond shrugged. "At least it is not whiplashing us with tenses the way the last one was. I propose we ride it out and make the occasional acerbic comment."

"Ith, Ith, Ith!" Suicide chided. "Have you learned nothing yet? We're PPC agents! According to the Narrative Laws of Comedy, we have to get up to amusing hijinks and pitch a fit of temper at least once per episode." He checked off "throw tantrum" on a little yellow notepad. "That's dealt with, but there's still the hijinks to deal with."

"Should not we be gathering a charge list? That seems to have fallen by the wayside, these past few days."

Suicide rolled his eyes, an oddly twenty-first–century gesture coming from the six-foot five-inch ancient warrior. "If you want to be cliché, sure, but—"

Around them, the dimness of the flashback had resolved back into the park where Sirius and the Sue were now talking. The agents weren't paying much attention at this point, since they were still a poster and practically incapable of attracting "Sakhmet"'s attention. An argument sounded far more interesting at that point.

"But what? I have been watching, Suicide. You do the Duty, but only reluctantly. And how many rules have you broken? Agents are supposed to dispose of the corpses in the relevant universe. You fed one to a Hindu goddess, last I heard."

“He wouldn’t happened to have mentioned Lord Voldemort, would he?”

“Actually he did. Now what was that proposition you mentioned?”

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t joined the dark side yet. “Well, if you stick around, we’ll see if we can get you into the year you should be in at Hogwarts.”

"So? I got the job done!"

'Barely."

"Says the Elf who's been here five minutes. What, are you keeping a charge list on me?"

"I have noticed a few things . . ."

"Like what?"

"Dereliction of duty, getting drunk on duty, assault on a partner—"

“Deal.” They shook left hands before continuing to walk on.

“By the way, how did you know what Hogwarts is?”

“I heard it from my namesake.”

"Don't quote me the book! I read it very carefully before I tossed it—anyway, that was extenuating circumstances! You were going to cause a riot in Sator Square!"

"Only because YOU let the Sue get past you!"

"ME?"

"Yes, you!"

"Don't make me smash your face in, you poncy bastard!"

"Like you could!"

"WHY YOU—"

“You spoke to a goddess?”

“Well, technically I had a couple of dreams where she explained stuff to me, but basically yeah. We ‘Sakhmets’ stick together.”

Suddenly, in a poster nailed to a tree, things were very, very silent.

Slowly, an Elf released his grip on a Man's hair, and the Man lowered the brass knuckles that had been aiming for the Elf's chin. The two stared at each other for a moment, then at the casual scene out in the park, then back at each other. Then, as one, they stared up at the sky and watched cautiously for any ominous thunderstorms that might decide to do some impromptu smiting. There were none.

After a long moment of quiet, Suicide whistled. "She's gotta be kidding."

"Sadly, I do not believe she is." Ithalond tapped his ear. "My hearing appears to be functioning properly . . ."

"All right. Being beloved of a goddess could possibly be acceptable. Being the avatar of the goddess, it's been done. But having the goddess turn up in your dreams and waste valuable goddess time by acting as a great big Goddess of Exposition? I somehow don't think so." Suicide sucked in a deep breath. "No wonder we've been so wound up all day. Sekhmet was a goddess of rage; she must be laking broiled over this!"

"Somehow, I do not blame her." His partner glanced at the Words. "I have no intention of waiting through the 'next month' for her to develop a routine. Shall we portal to her thinly-veiled show of Impressive Sue Power?"

"You mean the 'whoopsie-didn't-mean-to-nearly-kill-Sirius-but-it-was-the-goddess-really' incident?"

Ithalond eyed his partner critically. "If you stretched that sarcasm any further, Suicide, you could use it as highway macadam."

"Actually, it was just me saying 'yes.'"

* * *

As the agents emerged into a stunning English landscape, they could hear the commotion already beginning. They dropped their packs and, charge list and weaponry in hand, raced towards the huge frame hanging in midair. Outside, in Grimmauld Place proper, Sakhmet was looming in Sirius's doorway”sand blew around her, along with a hot gritty wind that tasted of camel leavings. Ithalond, He of the Enhanced Senses, grimaced and swiped at his mouth.

“Why didn’t you tell them about me?”

"She's pitching a fit because Sirius didn't tell the Golden Trio about her? About a girl who's supposed to be the personification of a crazy goddess?" Suicide rolled his eyes upward as if appealing to the heavens. "As if Harry doesn't have enough to worry about!"

"Yes, but she is the star of this story, so therefore they all need to worship her." Ithalond grimaced again. "Dear Eru, what is that smell? And that taste?"

"Sandstorms ain't all they're cracked up to be, Ith." The Scythian shielded his eyes, watching Sakhmet practically foam at the mouth. "Sand collects in granules with the soil and the animal shit. Opening your mouth in a sandstorm is a lot like getting smacked with a mud pie."

"Lovely." Ithalond clutched the notebook, trying to keep the paper from fluttering in the wind, and charged for meteorological abuses.

“Are you embarrassed about me or something?” Sakhmet shouted above the roar of the wind.

Sirius couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He barely heard a few people come up the stairs and the screaming as they saw Sakhmet and her sandstorm. After that he passed out.

"Is that ca—" Ithalond began.

"No."

"Charge?"

"Yep."

"Anything else?"

"Bleepsinthe."

"No."

Sakhmet snapped out of her daze of fury as someone grabbed her in an attempt to stop her. She looked around blinking. Tears came to her eyes as she saw her father passed out across the room. “What?” she asked hoarsely. She saw the crowd look at her with pure terror in their eyes. “Oh, no.” The sandstorm fell into a pile of sand on the floor. Sakhmet rushed forward to where Sirius was lying.

Suicide massaged his forehead. "And now . . . the TEHGREATHEALINSEENE!!!!" Somehow, the Extra Exclamation Points slotted neatly into place, making Ithalond eye his partner oddly. "Ai, Tommie would crack her upside the head for this kind of disrespect."

"Falle would do the same."

Both men glanced at each other. "Are we both referencing obscure military connections?" Ithalond said after a moment.

"'fraid so." Suicide considered for a moment. "Bleepsinthe?"

"I said no."

Searching her brain for what the goddess had taught her of healing, she checked for a pulse. His heart was still beating weakly. Closing her eyes, she searched for a problem she could solve. Sand had forced its way into his throat and lungs. She concentrated on it.

Sirius coughed up a small pile of sand. Sakhmet exhaled the breath she had been holding and opened her eyes. Standing up, she stumbled past the small crowd of staring people down the hall to the nearest bathroom where she promptly threw up and passed out.

The world shuddered as, without a line break or any indication, the scene abruptly switched to "the next morning," in Sakhmet's bedroom. The two agents reeled as their bodies experienced an entire sleepless night in less than three seconds. Both were seasoned campaigners, but suddenly discovering that you haven't slept, eaten, or used the bathroom in more than eight hours can be rather unnerving.

After a prolonged humorous scramble for the best spots behind the bushes, the agents flopped down on the turf and wearily shared out a meal of lembas, jerky, and instant coffee granules eaten from the plastic container. In the time it took them to finish, the chapter came to an end (less than a page long, by Suicide's estimate), and the next one—"Kitchen Conversations"—began. Sakhmet wandered out of the bedroom where their portrait was currently hanging.

"Forth!" Ithalond shouted as the agents leapt to their feet. They gathered up their gear and sprinted away from the giant frame that showed them the Sue's bedroom. After a few steps, the pastoral scene of the English countryside faded away, and Suicide and Ithalond found themselves sprinting past a dour-looking arrangement of Black family ancestors. Sirius's great-great grandfather brandished a wand at them, but Suicide kicked over the man's chair as they dashed through, leaving at least two of the ancestors with very undignified bruises.

"They—huff—have weird taste in—agh—paintings," the Man panted. Ithalond, thanks to cursed Elvish speed, was running easily in long strides beside him, but Suicide was definitely feeling his age. However, the avowed oddity of the Black paintings were enough to distract him from the onset of serious achiness; after the family portrait, they found themselves racing through a painted dramatization of the Black Plague, complete with the Four Horsemen running rampant.

AH, AGENT SUICIDE, a graveyard voice called out. Death pulled at the bridle of his white horse and followed the PPCers for a few strides. ON THE HUNT AGAIN, I PRESUME?

"Mary Sue—" Suicide managed to say. "Got Sirius—"

OF COURSE. PLEASE DON'T LET ME DETAIN YOU. The skeleton scratched at his skull in a truly universal gesture of puzzlement. BUT SPEAKING OF MR. BLACK, WOULD YOU MIND TELLING ME SOMETHING? I BELIEVE HE IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD, BUT THE AMBIGUITY IS SUFFICIENT THAT HIS CASE IS UNRESOLVED, AND YOU KNOW HOW I DISLIKE INEFFICIENCY—

"No time!" Ithalond shouted, pulling at his partner's shoulder. The heaps of corpses fell back in the distance, and a few seconds later, the French Revolution loomed up in front of them. A man with vaguely Sirius-like features was standing on the guillotine, struggling with the members of a mob who had wrenched his wand away. Suicide vaguely recalled that a branch of the famous family tree had been abruptly cut off in 1799, but his lungs were too busy protesting (a) a lifetime of hard combat and (b) three years of smoking to notice. Ithalond hauled on his arm again.

"I thought you were a soldier!" he yelled as they ran.

"A HUMAN soldier!"

"Hold on—we are almost there—"

Another pastoral landscape materialized under their pounding feet, and the agents slowed and stopped, feet pushing up turf as they fought for purchase in the dewy grass. Now they seemed to be in a nighttime scene, with a well-appointed farmhouse's windows glowing and several innocuous dogs slumbering in the yard. Ithalond and Suicide stopped and leaned against a lone apple tree, staring out at the huge frame that was their window into the kitchen. Ginny and Ron were talking about (surprise surprise!) the new arrival.

“Harry’s my friend,” replied her brother, apparently known as Ron. “Harry’s someone I know and trust. This Sock net person fits none of those categories.”

Ithalond turned to high-five his partner, but Suicide was too busy wheezing. The Elf shook his head derisively. "Honestly . . . Men."

"You'd be . . . gasping . . . if you had a bloody . . . punctured lung . . ." Suicide managed to say. He was bent over, hands on his knees, in a pose eerily reminiscent of a shortstop eyeing a runner on first. To Ithalond, who had never played baseball in his life, it merely looked as though his partner had suddenly suffered intestinal failure.

"Punctured lung?" the Elf said interestedly. "When was that?"

"Fourth assault . . . on the third day of . . . Thermopylae . . . godsdamned Persians . . . what kind of a man . . . puts bloody needles . . . on his spearhead, anyway . . . ?"

Ithalond patted his partner distractedly on the shoulder as he watched the scene transpiring in the kitchen. Sakhmet strolled in and sharply corrected Ron's mispronunciation of her name, and then proceeded to announce that “it’s not my fault that I don’t fit said categories.”

“Not your fault? Do you even remember what happened last night? You nearly killed your own dad! Excuse me if that gives me a little bit of a reason to distrust you.”

Sakhmet shrugged. “That’s not even all my fault. The goddess chose the wrong time to manifest my powers.”

Somewhere in the distance, right on the edge of hearing, thunder rumbled ominously. The two PPC agents, thanks to internal compasses that were not always pointed due Sane, seemed to be the only ones who could hear it. Ithalond could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Beside him, Suicide rose from his painful crouch, humming what sounded suspiciously like the Cellblock Tango. A short spear had somehow appeared in his hand.

"This Sekhmet must not be pleased at all," Ithalond said cautiously. There was an answering growl of thunder, and the sound of rising wind.

“Yeah, apparently the goddess figured I was old enough to handle getting new powers. But she was busy with something else when she granted me my new gifts, so she didn’t see what was going on over here.”

"Rookie, charge for making an immortal goddess dumb enough to give powers to this bint."

"With pleasure."

"Bleepsinthe yet?"

"NO."

“Who’s this goddess person?” asked Ron, who now had dirt on his nose.

“The goddess Sakhmet. She’s an Egyptian goddess of war and destruction-“

“We saw that part,” interjected Ron.

Sakhmet glared at him. “And if you stayed long enough you also noticed that she’s a goddess of healing too.”

Ithalond eyed his partner nervously, in case Suicide was going to turn red or start growling again. Instead, he saw that the Greek was barely paying attention; he had hauled out his cell phone, and seemed to be in the middle of another conversation.

"Eris? Sorry to bother you again, pal, but I need an emergency fact-check. Yeah . . . the Mythology database. Cross-reference 'Sekhmet' and 'healing.' Okay . . . let me write this down." He had pulled out the yellow notepad and was scribbling furiously. "'Death and destruction . . . balsam for her heart . . . priests obliged to perform rituals . . . ' got it. Thanks. Yeah—how're you doing? Hey, great. Say hi to the Imaginary Objects team for me. Even that guy in the closet—whatshisface. The bogeyman. No, the other one—the one that smells like gym socks. No, don't tell him I said that! Look, it's . . . okay. Thanks. 'Bye!" He clicked the phone shut and glanced at Ithalond. "It's a no go. Sekhmet is a bringer of destruction and plague, but not a healer. Power over disease and curing it ain't the same thing."

"What does that bring us up to? Abuse of mythology?"

"Nah. At the rate she's going, I'd say we charge for contravention of nature."

"Is that allowable?"

"She's messing with a goddess who drank rivers of blood. I say we err on the side of caution."

"Sound thinking."

* * *

Over the next week, the house developed another routine. Sakhmet continued her lessons every other day, and when those were done, she worked on the house with everyone else. Mrs. Weasley had forced the children to clean the house, and with Sirius back up on his feet, they were also able to test out new designs on the rooms of the house. Sakhmet estimated that, if they kept up this rate, most of the house would be finished by the time school started. Ron continued to ignore Sakhmet, and Sakhmet continued to glare whenever she was forced to remain in his presence.

Ithalond groaned. "Why? Because he asked a sensible question?"

"Ah, but you forget, Ith." Suicide was curled up with his back against a tree, idly chewing on a stick of jerky. "She's the heroine. Therefore, anybody who dares to slander her must pay the penalty."

"But he told the truth—she did attack Sirius!"

"Ah-ah-ah!" Suicide corrected, shaking his index finger reproachfully. "Ith, you've come a long way since we first began, and I'm proud of you. You can quip along with the best of us and assemble a charge list like a professional. But remember: mens non est postulo, eh? The motto of the PPC agent!"

Ithalond's lips moved as he parsed the sentence. "The . . . brain is not . . . required?"

"Eh, close enough."

In her lessons, Sakhmet progressed quickly through the first year work at a rate that even Snape would compliment. By giving her more and harder work. Sakhmet didn’t mind this. The sooner she got through the first three years of her education, the easier life at Hogwarts would be.

"Case in point." The Scythian stretched lazily as Ithalond's brain imploded. "You don't have enough of a hard shell yet. Snape giving compliments to anybody even remotely liked by Sirius? Not happening. You're still too sensitive. You have to learn to accept the Wilver Side of the Farce."

Ithalond shook his head, dislodging murderous thoughts. "But you were the one snarling and twitching and getting drunk earlier, weren't you?"

"It is a most imperfect science, but someday I shall master it."

"You are full of shit."

"Ah, you learn quickly, young apprentice!"

Two weeks after the arrival of this large group, Hermione Granger arrived. Mrs. Black tried to scare her off by screaming at her, but when her granddaughter threatened to call up a sandstorm that would rip the painting to shreds, she glared sulkily instead. Sakhmet's friendship with Hermione was cut rather short when she realized what terrible taste Hermione had in boys. When she realized the new girl had a crush on Ron, she decided to be friendly. But she doubted that she would ever be able to be good friends with a girl who actually wanted to date a guy who almost constantly had dirt on his nose.

A great deal of the summer passed by in this fashion. Until one day when Sakhmet was halfway through her third year work, the famous Harry Potter arrived.

The sound of the howling wind was louder now, edging into the brain without passing through the ears. Suicide grimaced and clambered to his feet, picking up his quiver of javelins and swinging it over one shoulder. Ithalond looked up from his perusal of the Words, surprised. "Is something happening?"

"Next chapter, she meets Harry. I think we'll have enough charges to kill at that point—we grab her while she's worked up."

The Elf crossed his arms. "That would be your brilliant plan? What about her goddessly powers?"

"I don't know."

"So we are just going to be killed?" Ithalond said calmly. He slung his rucksack across his back, snitching a packet of lembas out of the left pocket and taking a bite as he did so.

"Yep."

"Why are we doing this?"

For once, the ironic attitude of the Universe got things exactly right. The scene lurched and froze as the chapter ended, and an Author's Note thundered down on the agents:

Acharne, abused egytology major, alphabet, nonononono, and wtf- Your puny insults don't really make that much of a difference. If this is such a bad story, then why are you wasting your time being petty and complaining about it? It's not going to make a difference, and it just shows that you have no life. DEAL WITH IT!

"Oh, I adore the ones who abuse people that don't shower them with praise," Ithalond muttered. "Consider the question withdrawn. So—how exactly are we going to die?"

Suicide flourished the Disguise-Outfitting Ryticular Kostume System, currently disguised as a coffee-stained copy of a romance novel, at him. "We need to be something that can hit her hard and fast. I figure we change here, portal to the kitchen when she starts yelling at Harry, and whack her over the head before she can stop us. Of course, we can probably count on having the flesh flayed from our bones by a sandstorm, or contracting leprosy or something."

"We shall die fighting, in that case." Ithalond took the D.O.R.K.S. and began to fiddle with it. There was a flash, and the two agents found themselves dressed in heavy padding, with a Ministry of Magic badge on their left shoulders. Hit Wizards. As Ithalond and Suicide stowed their gear, the device fizzled and transformed itself into an empty soda can. The Greek pulled out the heavy golden ankh.

"It's been nice knowing you, Ith," Suicide said. The partners shook hands.

"Likewise."

For once, neither of them felt like cracking wise. The world lurched once more as the next chapter, "Another Arrival," began. The Author announced that Snape was unusually grouchy to Sakhmet—that day he acted like he had during their first lesson—and also that the portrait of Mrs. Black was pitching a fit, but that the UberSue had shut it up by threatening to rip the canvas apart with a sandstorm. Ithalond hurried scribbled "Blatant abuse of power" on the charge list, and then tucked it into his pocket. Suicide was watching the scene grimly, coordinates already programmed in the Remote Activator and his thumb poised over the activation switch.

Harry appeared and greeted Sakhmet "in a daze," and was informed that there were problems with owl mail—apparently, the sole reason that Sirius hadn't known his spawn had existed. The world sped up as it suddenly became a few hours later, and Suicide punched the activation switch. The portal fizzled to life. As an Author's Note thundered past them—(A/N: This is the direct quote I warned you about.)—the agents could hear Harry's shouting drifting through the portal. For a moment, the scene's colors seemed to brighten as Canon, so long denied, reentered the room.

“SO YOU HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE MEETINGS, BIG DEAL! YOU’VE STILL BEEN HERE, HAVEN’T YOU? YOU’VE STILL BEEN TOGETHER! ME, I’VE BEEN AT THE DURSLEYS’ FOR A MONTH! AND I’VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO’VE EVER MANAGED AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT—WHO SAVED THE SORCERER’S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO SAVED BOTH OF YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?”

At that point, Sakhmet felt it was about time to intrude. If she could silence her grandmother, she could probably silence the boy who lived. She pushed the door open, making sure it creaked. Hermione and Ron looked at her, their eyes wide. Harry turned around, still fuming. “I guess Sirius forgot to tell me that.”

“What that I’m under-appreciated?”

“No, that you’re self-centered.”

"THAT'S ENOUGH!"

There was a thunderous crash as two full-grown men landed hard on the floor of the kitchen. Ithalond dived, tackling the Sekhmet-Sue to the floor and slamming her into the boards as hard as he could; Suicide, only a split-second behind him, hurled the ankh at the back of her head. It impacted, and there was a flash of red light and the stench of sizzling hair.

"Sakhmet Black!" Ithalond shouted, pinning the girl's arms behind her and twisting them more than was strictly necessary. "You are hereby charged by the Protectors of the Plot—aaaaaahhh!"

"Ith!" Suicide yelled—but it was too late. A hot wind whipped the Elf off his feet and dashed him into the wall, tendrils of living sand springing out of nowhere and buffeting him like a leaf. The Greek snatched a javelin out of his quiver and hurled it at Sakhmet, but the girl was glowing now, and the weapon burned to ashes in midair before it even touched her. Sakhmet rose to her feet, the wind whipping her hair around her head like a lion's mane, and pointed one finger at Suicide. Her aura of light gathered itself and charged.

Instantly, fire sprang up around him. The boards of the Grimmauld Place floor crackled and bent as tendrils of red and green flames surrounded Suicide, licking at his legs and scorching his clothing. He cursed and tried to fling a second javelin, but Sakhmet gestured; an invisible force ripped the weapons from his grasp and hurled them into the fireplace. A sinkhole of sand sprouted up, and sucked the javelins down into some unknown oblivion. The searing wind swirled in two separate torrents around the PPC agents, bringing with it the smell of brimstone. Ithalond tried to climb to his feet; the wind slapped him back against the wall, banging his head into the boards.

"Who are you?" the Sue demanded, advancing towards Suicide like the wrath of God. Claws made of energy sprouted from her fingertips, and a lion's tail lashed behind her. Her eyes were glowing red. "What makes you think you can touch me and live?"

Ithalond shouted something, but his words were lost in the howling of the wind. Sakhmet rounded on him and slashed at the air, and five long cuts appeared on the Elf's face. He cried out, either in pain or in rage, and tried to leap again. Once more, the sandstorm struck him down. The ankh lay on the floor, useless.

There was a roaring in Suicide's ears as the Elf fell. Argue and fight they may, but you never leave a comrade behind. Ignoring the fire encircling him, ignoring the pain as its heat seared his skin, he gathered his strength and leapt forward, hands clenched. Sakhmet laughed and waved a hand: the Greek was swatted out of the air and crashed into the chimney above the stone fireplace, laying open an inch of skin. Blood dripped down the brickwork, but the fury of the Suestorm kept him there, hanging in midair. Smiling like a cat, Sakhmet strolled over to the prone agent and laughingly slashed again, slicing open the skin of his chest.

"I am Sakhmet," she hissed. "I am the goddess of war and destruction. You dare to approach me? You dare to lay hands on me? You will die for this unpardonable crime!"

A choking noise made her head whip around. Ithalond, curled against the wall where the storm had laid him out, was climbing to his feet. His teeth were clenched, and his eyes were clamped shut against the whirling sand, but he was standing nonetheless. Sakhmet frowned and flicked her hand again, opening a matching set of slashes on the other side of his face, but the Elf didn't seem to notice. Something—a little ball of paper—was clutched in his hand.

"Sakhmet," he hissed. "Sakhmet Black. You are . . . charged as a Mary Sue . . ."

"Silence!" the girl shrieked, striding towards him. "Shut your mouth, mortal!"

". . . by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum . . ." The Elf was forcing every word out, but his voice grew stronger with each one. The hand clutching the ball of paper was white-knuckled. "You have been charged with . . . vagueness . . . kneejerk abruptness in . . . so-called plot . . ."

"SILENCE!" Another slash. The Elf slumped, but another voice had chimed in.

"Double undefined geography!" Suicide choked out, still pinned to the chimney. His eyes were open and wide in frantic madness. "Blatant use of teenspeak!"

"Disrespecting geography," Ithalond groaned. He raised his head again. "Abuse . . . abuse of meteorology . . . making Sirius weak . . ."

Sakhmet's eyes were wide. "Quiet! I order you to be silent!" she shouted, turning to stare at first one agent, then the other. One of Suicide's pinioned arms made a very rude gesture, and she struck him with a stinging burst of sand, but her confusion made it weaker than it should have been. "AND ABOVE ALL!" the Greek shouted through the wind, "BLATANT DISRESPECT OF THE GODDESS SEKHMET!"

"That's not the name!" the Sue shrieked. "It's Sakhmet!"

"Sekhmet!" Ithalond burst out. "Sekhmet!"

"Sakhmet!"

"Sekhmet!" the two agents roared. Around them, Grimmauld Place trembled on its foundations. The canon characters all dived for cover, shaken out of their trances by the rumbling and shaking. Suicide and Ithalond ignored this. "SEKHMET!" each screamed at the top of his lungs. "SEKHMET!"

And in that instant, several things happened.

The glow that enveloped Sakhmet, the red and green glow, suddenly began to change. It seemed to tremble and fade at the edges, suddenly laced with a brightness that it had not possessed before, and its center began to grow lighter. Sakhmet slashed at the Elf, the nearest object of her wrath, but the lion's claws that had surrounded her hands flared and died away. The winds stopped as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown, and the forces binding the agents to the walls disappeared. Ithalond fell forward onto the floor; Suicide, less fortunate, fell from seven feet above it and collapsed in a bleeding heap on the sandy boards.

Sakhmet screamed in fury and tried to lash out again, but the aura surrounding her curled around and sank into her. Another shriek, this one of pain, tore from the Sue's throat as pure light inundated every inch of her body—not the flashy glow of Magic!!!, but the hot, brilliant glow of the Nile sun at noon. Her skin crisped, her hair turned to ash, and her body crumbled into burning embers as the power fried her from the inside out. With a brief, shattering scream, she collapsed in a pile of ashes, and the light was free again.

Drifting over the scene, it dived towards the floor in a glowing cloud and struck. Power and heat flowed together, forming a figure—a tall, elegant woman, bare-chested except for a beaded collar, with the body of a goddess and the head of a lion. The mirthless fanged face turned left and right, surveying the scene: the agents crumpled on the floor, and the canon characters half-stunned by the force of the blast, crouched behind the overturned kitchen table.

The lioness shot a glance towards the group at the table, and instantly a peaceful blankness slid over the canons' faces. She bent down and picked up the golden ankh, now sadly twisted and mutilated from the force of Sakhmet's attacks, and turned it over silently in one hand. Then she looked back and forth between the unconscious agents, and what might have been a smile slid across the maw of the lion.

Healing is not my business, a silent voice said. The room flickered, and a tall man in a white linen kilt appeared, bowing to the lioness. He knelt next to Ithalond, and ran a hand over the Elf's wounds; at his touch, the slashes and abrasions healed instantly, and the blood faded away as if it had never been there. The lioness nodded to her son, and he stepped towards the unmoving Suicide, wiping away his wounds as well. An observer might have seen a bemused look on his face as he saw the dozens of scars on the Greek's form.

Well done, Imhotep. The lioness smiled on the god of healing, who bowed again and vanished as silently as he had come. Shaking her head slightly, she turned and again surveyed the scene. And well done, warriors. Go with the blessings of Sekhmet on your heads.

The world wavered, and Sekhmet faded away. A moment later, the prone figures of the PPC agents followed her, and every vestige of the destruction wrought by the Sue vanished like a bad dream. The blank-faced canons flickered as they were moved back to where they ought to be, and a moment later, resumed their conversation as if it had never been interrupted. And this time, there would be no thirteen-year-old adding her own comments.

* * *

"Mmm . . . more apple sauce, please . . ."

"Agent Suicide? Are you all right?"

". . . pass the salt . . ."

"If he is dreaming about food, then he is well."

"I don't understand it—you were both asleep when I came in, but you woke up very quickly. He's been asleep for three hours!"

The Greek in question licked his lips and rolled over sleepily, lost in the visions of pork dancing in his head. Ithalond shrugged and nudged him with his foot, but Suicide refused to stir beyond clutching the pillow a little more tightly. "He does not seem to want to wake up," Ithalond observed critically.

"Then I suppose we'll just have to eat all this food by ourselves," Mithiriel commented. "I tried out that recipe for lamb stew that I got from Agent Lacrimose, and I think it turned out quite well. A pity I made too much, but I suppose the minis will be happy to eat it."

"Stew?"

*zip*

When Ithalond opened his eyes a second later, Suicide (still clad in the ragged remains of his uniform) was already seated at the card table in the middle of the response center. "Come on!" he shouted impatiently, tapping his fork against the surface of the table. "Are you guys going to sit there all day? There's people starving in Klatch, you know!"

There may be people starving in Klatch. However, they weren't going to get any help from two Elves and a Scythian, who proceeded to attack the meal that Mithiriel had made. After the first five minutes, when the two agents had finally stopped for breath, conversation was frothy and light; Mithiriel chatted about her plans to form a playgroup for underappreciated minis, and Suicide and Ithalond fought a fork-duel over the last baked potato.

They were halfway through the meal when there was a loud knock at the door of the response center. Mithiriel stood up to answer it (the baked potato situation had reached critical levels, and was now being resolved by rock-paper-scissors, best five out of nine). When she opened the door, she found a large wooden crate lying in the hallway; it had air holes punched in its side, and several peculiar symbols—plants and eyes, mostly—stamped on its side in black ink. An ominous breathing was coming from within.

"Help me with this, Ithalond," she called out, and her husband promptly answered the call. The two Elves heaved the crate into the response center, where Suicide waited with a crowbar and bated breath. When it had been gotten in and the door closed, the Greek stuck the end of the crowbar under the lid and heaved, levering it off and tossing the wood away. Then, carefully, he leaned over and peered into the crate.

There was a moment of silence. "Well," Suicide said at last, "It wasn't a dream, I guess." And he reached down and lifted a strange creature out of the crate.

It was about three feet tall, standing on its hind legs, and had the snout of a crocodile. A fluffy lion's mane, tied into pigtails with blue bows, flowed around its shoulders, and its front legs were adorned with the fur and claws of the King of the Jungle. Its hindquarters were that of a hippopotamus. Grinning innocently, it flopped onto the foor on its gray behind and blinked up at them with wide eyes.

"What the . . ." Ithalond began. There was a note pinned to the creature's pink collar, and Suicide plucked it off.

"'To the warriors: here is a friend for you to play with. She has a name which I think you will find familiar, but she is very friendly and will not cause you trouble. She has a great deal of heart.' Damn," Suicide observed, staring down at the mini. "I guess that's what you get when you missspell an Egyptian goddess's name. A mini-Ammet . . . good grief."

Mithiriel shook her head firmly. "Well, we can't keep it here; this place is overrun with small things as it is."

"Send her to that friend of yours," Ithalond suggested. "Eris? Perhaps she shall appreciate this little one, since we could not get her the hair of the Sue."

On the floor, Sakhmet yawned widely, exposing long rows of cutely serrated teeth. The stumpy hippopotamus tail, which also had a bow tied around it, thumped the floor as she pawed at her face. Nobody had ever seen soul-devouring evil look so adorable before.

"Sounds like a plan," Suicide responded. "Between Thiranduil, Narnia No-Longerfled, and that damned microwave, this place is bloody well overrun. I don't think we need another tiny engine of destruction tearing up my laundry in the middle of the night."

"Your laundry?" Ithalond snorted. "It would have to be a far braver creature than an Ammet to face that danger!"

"Hey, that was uncalled for!"

"Why? I still have not forgotten that you kicked me earlier. Consider it fair payback."

"I had to! You were trying to throttle me!"

"Extenuating circumstances."

"Exte—no fair, you stole my line!"

"Poor Man. Here is a pen; write to somebody who should care."

"Says the guy who faints at the sight of a meat pie."

"NEVER BRING THAT UP AGAIN!"

. . . and so, in RC #2771a, all was as it should be.

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