Lauded Cloud Nine [Harry Potter/Worm]

Summary: Harry plays a terrific new game, and gets a mile high score. Taylor behaves like a Skitter in a candy shop, i.e. busy weaponizing all the candy. Snape learns how to make friends and influence space whales. Riley builds a Splatterbird.

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When the door to her office flew open, Principal Blackwell's stern façade briefly faltered and her eyes widened in shock, as alien vistas bloomed beyond the rectangular yawning gap in reality. Lower-case vistas, at that; only one member of the local Wards team attended Winslow, alas, and the school's resident hero-in-training wasn't the girl with an ability to fold space like a napkin.

The view through the doorway could have easily been mistaken for an example of the popular young Shaker's handiwork, though. Past the doorframe, Blackwell had expected to find the familiar sight of her front office, with a desk, a rolling chair, a computer, a potted plant, and sundry other miscellaneous pieces of bric-a-brac that her secretary had accumulated, plus a few extra - less comfortable - plastic chairs, where Winslow's worst offenders could sit and wait until she had gathered the energy to deal with them.

(Obviously, only the most incurable delinquents were sent to see the Principal, when the meting-out of punishment could not be avoided any longer; if every last troublemaker and aspiring gang-member in Winslow was sent to Blackwell, they might as well move the entire school into her office.)

Instead of these things, Blackwell saw stars, and the black void of the cosmos.

Well, alright; a lot of the view was filled with trees, but there was definitely a good amount of night sky peeking around the darkened woodlands.

The open doorway now showed a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, with rolling grassy hills, deep forests and a tranquil lake; further in the distance, she saw a mountain range that would be exceedingly hard to describe without the use of trite phrases like "majestic", or "Kodak moment". Arching over this scenery was the dark canvas of the night sky, where pinpricks of starlight twinkled and gleamed like countless flecks of bright paint, left in the wake of a painter going through their fluorescent-white period, and most likely a sneezing fit.

Blackwell couldn't remember the last time she'd seen so many stars - evidently, wherever this landscape might be found in the world, it was nowhere near Brockton Bay, or any major city with enough neon lights to pollute and blur the night sky. For a moment, the jaded principal felt her calloused heart swell with emotions she'd struggle to name, and hadn't realized she sorely missed until just this instant.

Then, flickering so fast that Blackwell might have missed it if she'd blinked, the view shifted - stone castle walls, sweeping staircases, suits of late medieval armor standing at attention, a grand dining hall lit with candles that floated in midair...

Blackwell blinked.

Her secretary stared at her with a quizzical look of faint concern. "Ma'am? Are you alright?"

"Huh?" She took a steadying breath. "Um, yes... Yes, of course. I'm fine." Furrowing her brow, she thought back to what had happened before the door opened to... Whatever that was. She'd heard a knock, called out for them to 'Enter!', and... "Did you need something?"

The secretary nodded at the other person standing in the front office. "The last applicant is here for their job interview, ma'am."

...Oh. Right. That. They'd scheduled a meeting for this afternoon - which, as she glanced at the analog clock on the wall, Blackwell realized was now.

Gesturing for the newcomer to enter and giving her secretary a brusque 'thank you', Blackwell distracted herself from lingering thoughts of starlit mountains by inspecting the potential new teacher.

The man was casually dressed, in a shirt, long coat and slacks; a little too casual, in fact, for Blackwell's liking, at least for a job interview, where people would be expected to dress to impress.

Still, she was hardly in a position to complain; Winslow was nobody's first choice when they looked for employment, and when her secretary had introduced the not-quite-slovenly-dressed man as 'the last applicant', that had been, to put it nicely, an attempt to put it nicely. 'First applicant' would have been equally accurate, as would 'only applicant'.

Besides, his clothes weren't nearly as bad as his hair. It was black, and messy, like a bird's nest that had weathered three raptor attacks and a U.S. Air Force bombing run. Barely visible under this barber's nightmare was a scar on his forehead, jagged and old.

But oh, his eyes... That was a, uh, very intense, quite possibly unique shade of emerald green. If Blackwell had been ten years younger - more realistically twenty, but she wasn't about to admit that, even in the privacy of her own mind - she would have been entirely amenable to studying the hue in greater detail, and at length, possibly over a glass of good claret and a Barry Manilow album. Remembering how long it had been since the last time she'd... Studied color theory, Blackwell mentally adjusted her requirements to 'cheap beer and elevator muzak'.

The large, clunky, round-rimmed glasses he wore did nothing to reduce his magnetic gaze. If anything, they simply combined with his uncombed hair and lopsided smile to give him a look that Principal Blackwell was fairly certain her female students would call 'adorkable', while either cooing or squealing, as their temperament dictated.

Well, at least some of the girls might call him adorkable. A number of the young hooligans would be more likely to pick a word that, in less reputable dictionaries, would be listed under F, and rhymed with 'pluckable'.

When the man shifted a little, and started to awkwardly lower his outstretched hand, Blackwell realized that, much to her chagrin, she'd been silently staring at him for several seconds too long. Before her inappropriate behavior could cross into full 'ogling' territory, she hurried to suppress her blush and grasp his hand. "Uh, pleasure to meet you," she grunted. "I'm Principal Blackwell. Please, take a seat."

The young man smiled that damn lopsided grin again, bracing his hands against the armrests as he sank into the offered chair. "Thank you for seeing me, ma'am. My name is Harry." He paused for a moment, as though he was trying to gauge her reaction to his textbook standard introduction. "...Harry Potter."

Blackwell smiled, in a professional and completely non-flirtatious way. "Ah, yes. I believe I have your application here, somewhere..." As she hunted for the errant paper amongst the very nearly well-ordered stacks of bureaucratic detritus on her desk, she watched Mr. Potter out of the corner of her eye.

He seemed... Relieved? Pleased? Odd reaction, really, when all she'd done was respond in a normal and measured manner. He was very young-looking, for a potential educator; was he so inexperienced at his job that he'd been worried she might dismiss him out of hand?

That didn't quite fit, though. She hadn't actually found his application, yet, although she was sure she'd read it earlier. Now, where had she...?

"Aha! Here we go," she said, pulling the slim bundle of sought-after papers out from under a handful of others. Skimming it quickly, she'd soon familiarized herself with the salient points. "Well, that's certainly an interesting CV you've got there, Mr. Potter. I see you've studied at, uh... Hogwarts School of WYSIWYG and Worldliness? Am I pronouncing that right."

Potter's face lit up in a big grin. Clearly, Blackwell wasn't the only person who was bemused by that name. "Yes, that's correct. It's in Scotland; I grew up in Britain, you see."

Blackwell's face creased in a rare smile. "I thought as much - the accent was something of a giveaway. But, um, if you don't mind my asking... How, exactly, does an education in, ah, 'WYSIWYG and Worldliness' qualify you to become a P.E. teacher?"

Potter coughed in his hand, looking surprised. "...P.E.? You mean, gym class?"

Blackwell's eyes narrowed. "You did read the job advert before applying, didn't you?"

He waved her off. "Yes, of course. P.E. teacher, that's me. I'm all about the running and jumping." He grinned again. "As it happens, the WYSIWYG in question is, uh: What You Study Is What You Gain." He shrugged. "At the end of the day, physical education is all about the gains, isn't it?"

She stared at him blankly for a couple of seconds. "...I'll, uh, take your word for it." She glanced back at the paper. "I notice that you don't have much in the way of prior employment and work experience as a teacher..."

Potter smiled and nodded, utterly unabashed. "None whatsoever."

"...Right. Well. Hmm... Ah, but you have, however, been a T.A. in the P.E. class equivalent at Hogwarts for almost a full year. How did that work out?"

He waggled his hand. "So-so. Our teacher at the time was... Unsuited for the job, due to a number of reasons, so I ended up doing most of the teaching. Well, all of the teaching, really."

Blackwell's eyebrows began to rise. "...How many students did you teach?"

He scratched the back of his head. "Um... Somewhere between three-quarters and, uh, all of them."

Blackwell's eyebrows were now high enough to have sought refuge behind the fringe of her dirty-blonde bowl cut. "And, eh, how many students attend Hogwarts, would you say? Rough estimate, back of the envelope, ballpark figure?"

He told her a number. It had three digits, none of which were ones.

"Um," she said. "That is, eh... That's quite impressive. How old were you, when this...?"

"Fifteen."

"Right. Yes. Quite, ah, quite impressive. So, how did the students do, grades-wise?"

Potter was actually blushing now, studying his shoes. If he was putting on a show of false modesty, he was a damn good actor. "Well, once we had a... More competent teacher available to conduct examinations and grading, the, uh, students got higher grades on average than at any other point in their education."

Blackwell flicked a few pages, briefly studying another sheet that had been stapled to the application. "Your letter of recommendation from your headmistress seems to support that assessment. A very glowing recommendation, at that."

The interview dragged on a little further, with Blackwell gently grilling the young man, trying to get a decent measure of his character and suitability as a teacher, while avoiding pressing so hard that she might risk scaring off the first, last, and only applicant.

Finally, she clapped her hands down on the desk and smiled at him. Twice in one day; this was a rare high point. "Well, Mr. Potter! Based on your résumé, your recommendations, and this interview, I think it's fair to say that you're the most qualified applicant, and the job is yours, if you want it."

Potter shook her offered hand and returned the smile. "Thank you, ma'am! I look forward to working here." He stood.

Privately, Blackwell wondered how long it would take before Potter reconsidered that statement. Probably until some point between the start of his first lesson, and the end of his first lesson. Out loud, she just informed him of the time and date for this possibly-precipitous first lesson of his, and gave him a polite nod as she bade him goodbye.

"Um, if you'll excuse me," he muttered over his shoulder while opening the door. "I really ought to... Whoa!"

As Potter stepped out of the office, he immediately plummeted out of sight, like he was falling through the floor. Blackwell heard him shout, sounding more surprised than pained. She heard a meaty thud and a solid crack, accompanied by another voice, screaming; that sound definitely had some anguish to it. She heard muffled cursing, and the sharp crack of gunfire.

The doorway flickered, like oscillating waves of static on an old TV, viewed through a murky pane of bluish-purple glass and possibly half a bottle of scotch.

Click, went the door as it closed. Then, silence.

Once upon a time, Blackwell's first instinct might have been to rush to the door, flinging it open to check on the wellbeing of her newest member of staff. Years of working at Winslow - or, more specifically, surviving at Winslow, and in the Brockton Bay area, with occasional bouts of teaching happening along the way - had ingrained different habits.

Blackwell slid out of her chair, taking cover behind the sturdiest part of her desk.

Reaching up, she scrabbled around on the top of her desk until her fingers closed around the familiar plastic shape of the office intercom. She fished the electric gadget down to her hiding spot, and pressed the button.

"Yes, ma'am?" Her secretary sounded perfectly normal and remarkably un-gunshot-wounded.

Blackwell cleared her throat. "Ahem... Did you hear anything... Unusual, just now? Alarming, even?"

There was a short pause at the other end. "Uh... No, ma'am. Should I have?"

"What about Mr. Potter?" Blackwell pressed on. "Is he alright?"

The pause this time was even longer. "He seemed fine when he left twenty minutes ago, ma'am."

Blackwell glanced around for a clock, then fished out her phone to check the time. It had been three minutes, at most, since Potter opened the door and walked out.

When she eventually deemed it safe to stick her neck out, Blackwell found the outer office in a state of total normalcy. Her secretary was eyeing her with increasing worry, and suspicion, a situation which took some small amount of effort to deal with. For some reason, when Blackwell tried to reassure people, they never seemed all that reassured, afterward.

Ensconced in her own swivel chair once more, Blackwell made a mental note to have a chat with Sophia Hess; or, better yet, call her PRT liaison. She'd need to inform them that Winslow's latest employee was, quite possibly, a parahuman, so the PRT would be prepared to deal with the situation, in case he turned out to be a villain. That lightning bolt-shaped scar on his face did make him look like a scoundrel, and that smile and those eyes of his might as well be a Master power in their own right.

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In the heart of Coil's top secret underground base - or, if not the heart, then at the very least the liver or kidneys, where unpleasant and outright toxic matters are handled on a regular basis, and prepared for dispersal on an unsuspecting world - Coil sat in his relatively unassuming office. The gentle click-click-clickety-clicking sound of fingers tapping on a computer keyboard filled the room.

He'd been working most of the night, finalizing the plans for his next major operation, and... He glanced at the clock. Alright, make that all night, and into early morning, now. This task required multiple smaller operations to be carried out simultaneously, which gave rise to a considerable amount of planning and coordination.

Logistics, the bane of upper management, even amongst super-villains.

Still, the goal of this operation was much too important for him to take the risk of making a shoddy job of it, so he cracked his knuckles and soldiered on. At a stray thought, he amused himself with the idle notion that the slithering pattern on his bodysuit was a real serpent, and the sound of clacking plastic keys was the threatening rattle of its tail, as it prepared to strike.

...Good thing his Tattletale wasn't here right now. She'd no doubt pick that silly thought straight out of, if not his mind, then at least his respiratory rate, or the angle of his elbows, and laugh at him. Busy as he was, he didn't have timelines enough to spare one on killing her non-permanently.

Speaking of timelines; while Coil toiled in the depths of Brockton's soil - rhyming doggerel, now? He really must be tired - Thomas Calvert was heading for work.

To an outward observer, Calvert would appear relaxed as he strolled along the street, ambling in the general direction of the PRT building. He didn't usually walk to work, preferring to drive - and that was the point.

Well, one of them, anyway. Armsmaster might be hailed as a champion of efficiency, but nobody made better use of their time than Coil.

As such, the main purpose of going by foot this morning was to break his own pattern. It was possible that, at some point, for some nebulous reason, Thomas Calvert might need to avoid driving to work in the morning. If his habit of always taking the car was too well-established at that point, any departures from that customary behavior could be flagged as suspicious. Coil hadn't gotten to where he was today by taking unnecessary risks. His power only gave him a single lifeline, after all; it was up to Coil to acquire the rest.

There were several other reasons for taking a walk, of course. Healthy exercise, for example, and getting a different angle on the PRT building, with an eye for potential new avenues of attack, if and when such a notion became a necessity.

And so, as it happened, this was one of the randomly selected mornings where Thomas Calvert braved the mean streets of Brockton Bay by foot on his way to work. Thankfully, it wasn't one of the days where he forced himself to take the bus. Every time he used public transport, he was given a stark reminder of how badly this city needed proper leadership and government, while the accompanying encounter with the general public made him question why he wanted to rule this cesspit in the first place.

He was drawn out of his musings by an odd noise, coming from above. He was already moving to the side, ducking for cover on instinct, while his conscious mind processed the sensory input - parahuman attack? - and made him reach for his gun.

Something struck Calvert on the shoulder, possibly dislocating his arm and definitely knocking him aside. Tumbling over asphalt, he tried to gain control over his roll, but the pain in his upper body was an effective distraction, renewed every time his shoulder hit the ground.

Rolling to a stop, Calvert gingerly raised himself on one hand, and looked for his assailant, and his gun.

There was a dark-haired man with glasses, getting up from a prone position on the sidewalk. He looked young, in his twenties or early thirties. He also looked surprised, and slightly ruffled from his fall, but remarkably unhurt. Calvert was fairly certain that the man had landed on him, after falling from a considerable height; did the kid have a mild Brute rating? One that was nevertheless reliable enough for him to use his own body as a missile weapon, or was the collision a true accident?

Either way, Coil would find a way to possibly exploit this opportunity - was the guy another neophyte hero-wannabe, who would feel terrible guilt at having a struck an innocent bystander, and even more so when he discovered that the victim just happened to be working for the PRT? Favors owed, soon enough, which would benefit Coil through the guise of Calvert - or, if the attack had been deliberate, he'd find out the who, and the why. Then, he'd dispose of the little snot, and anyone who might have hired him to-

A truck slammed into Calvert, and flung him through the air. His second crash landing within the last minute was even less gentle than the first. The cracking noise and sudden pain in his temple alerted him to the fact that he'd just whacked his head on something, hard; possibly a parked car. It didn't really matter what.

He registered the sound of an unfamiliar voice, asking him questions about whether he was alright and other such nonsense; wasn't it obvious that, no, he was not peachy keen, right at this instant, and in no fit state to communicate that past the red wheezing bubbles on his lips (fractured ribs, leading to a punctured lung?), so could he perhaps get a chance to just lie back and bleed a little? Through blurry vision, he eventually recognized the black-haired, spectacled assassin who'd jumped on him and shoved him into oncoming traffic.

Calvert thought he heard the man pretend to apologize for the "accident"; he even seemed to be faking his way through some inept first aid, to make himself look more innocent. Honestly, what are you going to do with that stick, you moron? Splint my arm, while my fractured skull bleeds out?

"Don't worry, uh, Thomas?" Ah. So the assassin did know his name, then. If questioned, he'd probably claim he'd just read it off of Calvert's name tag. "The, uh, ambulance will be here any minute, I'm sure." British accent. Foreign agent? Did Gesellschaft have connections in the UK?

Calvert's final thoughts, just before his internal bleeding and head trauma dragged him into a state of unconsciousness that, for anyone else, would be exceedingly permanent, were:

Did this bozo just mutter something to himself about the last time he got someone named Tom killed, at least it was on purpose, because the guy deserved it?

The timeline closed.

In his secret base, Coil blinked.

Taking a deep breath, he split himself again. He immediately stood and headed for his hidden escape route.

Meanwhile, the other Coil opened a new file on his computer and began to type out all the important details of the attack, while they were still fresh in his mind. Typing one-handed, he picked up the phone with his other hand to call on a few of his mercenaries, get an investigation started. No, better start with Tattletale; he had precious few points of data for his un-powered agents to work from, and she was more likely to pluck some out of thin air.

Besides, she was overdue for an interview, anyway. He had the pliers, bamboo needles and jumper cables ready in his bottom drawer; he also had a fresh bottle of sulfuric acid, just in case it turned out that she was behind this strike against hi-

Before he'd taken a single step-

Before he'd had time to do more than type four words and pick up the phone-

He tried to leap aside-

He tried to leap out of his chair-

When he heard the noise - in both timelines, this time - it was already too late. He'd been caught between the chair and the desk-

He'd been too engrossed in his computer, and his phone-

To move quickly enough. With muffled screams and strings of curse words, both Coils were slammed into the desk. His heads cracked into a hard edge, in the same damn spot as he hit it a couple of minutes ago, in the sauntering-to-work timeline that now hadn't happened. He felt the familiar sharp pain in his cranium, as he managed to turn around and get a look at his assailant.

Same damn kid, same damn messy black hair, same ugly damn glasses. Far less apologetic-looking than last time, though, especially once Coil drew his sidearm and tried to ventilate the assassin's internal organs.

Gunshots rang out; sound and fury, signifying a depressing lack of results. No bullet holes in Mr. Glasses, who was now standing next to Coil. When did the guy steal Coil's gun? He checked his hands; empty, and slumped on the floor, unresponsive. Everyone betraying him, today. Terribly rude.

"Trying to shoot me might have been self-defense," the assassin muttered. "But between the snake motif on your outfit, and the plans to kidnap a little girl on your computer... I'm gonna go out on a limb, here, and say that you're just another Tom Riddle in the making."

...The assassin knew his name, even before unmasking him?! That explained how he'd been able to find Coil in both timelines... Well, part of it, anyway. How did he get in here? A Mover power? That explained the weird noise overhead when he arrived... But did his power force him to land on people, or was it by choice? And what riddle was he talking about? Didn't matter. Now, Coil just needed to... He had to...

Coil's final final thoughts, as the white stripe on his bodysuit was painted dark red from the head on down, were: What if if if the British accent was fake? Mmmaybe Mr. Glasses was an Australian Drop Bear, in disguise!

The timelines ended.

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A/N: The author is not liable for any mental trauma, deep and abiding feelings of physical nausea, or dogmatic schisms, that readers may or may not incur, suffer, or undergo in connection with, but which cannot be proven to be a direct result of, any of the following:

A) Reading a sentence (or multiple sentences) that could potentially give the possibly wrongful impression that Principal Blackwell might be undergoing a Trigger Event, which may or may not imply that the narrative in question could have a chance of featuring a super-powered version of everyone's least favorite high school administrator;

B) Reading a sentence (or multiple sentences) that could potentially give the possibly wrongful impression that the narrative in question may or may not feature a romantic and/or sexual relationship between everyone's least favorite high school administrator, Principal Blackwell, and any other character;

C) Any sentence or number of sentences that readers may or may not, potentially, on an off chance, might perhaps maybe respond to with phrases including, but not limited to:

c1) "Hate boner", c2) "Brain bleach", c3) "Oh crap, oh crap, Principal Blackwell was the zeroth Endbringer all along".