Printer Friendly Version ] [ Report Abuse ]
Back Next

Background Noise by teh tarik
Chapter 2 : The Devil (Who is Neither in Disguise Nor in Prada)
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

Background:   Font color:  

A/N: Many thanks to everyone who left me lovely surprise reviews for the first chapter! ♡ All of you do indeed have rather peculiar taste in fic. Not that I'm complaining, of course.

And a huge thank you to bellatrixlestrange123, who awarded this fic first place in the super fun Wacky OC Challenge! ♡

It is patently clear from this chapter that I don't know what I'm doing.

TWO: The Devil

(Who is Neither In Disguise Nor in Prada)

Most of Carkett Close is vacant.

Hardly surprising, seeing as most of the Carks have died, and what with the national average childbearing age shooting past thirty in recent decades, Carks are hardly ever replenished. Potential child-bearing Carks perish before they can fulfil their child-bearing potential.

And now of course, the Ministry’s decree effectively forbids any child-bearing to be done on the premises.

Lizzy, Nora and I are walking along the Close, passing by the garishly graffiti-ed Carkett Clinic, the Carkett Close Confectionery, the Carkett Close Convenience Store, and the Carkett Close Kebab Kiosk. Just before the cul-de-sac that ends in The Wall separating the Close from Diagon Alley, is Rottworth Residence, a sparkling villa that used to belong to a local Cark celebrity, Alastair ‘Allie’ Apples. Allie Apples is – was a member of the once popular wizarding band, One Dimension. He wasn’t a very well-known member because he died (aged 27, of course) before they went platinum. Apples was the beat-keeper and vuvuzela blower of the band, and in the early days of One Dimension, when they were still busking in pubs and such, he was the bloke who’d be stomping in iron-shod wellington boots at the back, keeping time and steadying the music, as well as puffing venomous Doxys out of his blue and yellow striped vuvuzela.

The villa is empty, save for the ghost of Apples’ vuvuzela, which honks all night and day and makes passers-by feel like they’re in South Africa in 2010.

At the cul-de-sac, we Apparate out. Or more accurately, we tear apart the fabric of the cosmos, rip through a screaming vacuum of time and space and emerge on the other side, which happens to be the musty garage interior of a deserted Muggle townhouse. Which also happens to belong to me. My Muggle father left it to me before he embarked on a trip to the New Bermuda Triangle, discovered in a sheep farm in Loch Lomond, and never bothered to return. My mum’s carked it long ago.

There, in the mildewed dark of the garage, haloed in white Lumos light from Nora’s wand, is my pride and joy.

“Hello, my precious.”

She is a 2016 Honda Fit. Hatchback. Practically an antique. The paint's been clawed off in some places; the front bumper is dented into a V; the rear bumper is hanging on grimly to the body of the car with the help of several straps of thick masking tape. And a shattered back window, which is more of a crazy spider web of glass and more tape of course, layers and layers of tape.

God, I love her.

“Hellfire and damnation,” Lizzy mutters. “Don’t be such a wank. It’s bad enough that you insist on us bloody driving every time.”

“Some things, Lizzy, you will never understand,” I tell him, stroking the bonnet of the Honda.

Lizzy attempts to ride shotgun, but Nora elbows him out of the way and darts into the passenger seat, slamming the door with such force that the rear window shivers. The undercarriage of the car dips. Lizzy growls in protest, and clambers into the back seat, sulkily. When I turn the key in the ignition, the engine gargles and does a perfect imitation of a tuberculosis victim.

“You’ll want to be more careful now,” Nora says as I pull out of the garage. “After all, your time’s supposed to be up. You could be harvested by Death’s grim scythe any moment now.”

“Yeah, thanks for the heads-up.” I hit the brakes, turn a corner and flick a glance back toward Lizzy who’s sitting in the middle of the backseat, legs propped up on the cup holder behind the the centre console, and his enormous thin knees forming a knobbly palisade. “So, what does God want us to do?”

“God?” Lizzy grimaces as he fumbles about with a jammed seat-belt. “You mean the Gringotts goblin?”

“She’s asking about the job,” Nora adds, crisply.

“I never would have guessed.” The belt snaps back against the seat and Lizzy gives up. “Port Sturry. Magical shipment from Phnom Penh. Old Butts wants you to pick up –”

“Divert,” Nora corrects. “Divert or Redirect. Picking-up is for babies.”

“May I be allowed to continue, Your Highness?” says Lizzy.

I tell him to cut the snark and get on with it.

“Butts wants you to pick up two items, tagged with the numbers 14 and 32. And then you’ll have to deliver them to a waiting vessel at the end of the port.”

“What are those items?”

“Feel free to send Butts an owl and ask. He never told me, you know, your superior.”

A miracle happens: I don’t flip my fingers at him, even though he doesn’t deserve this level of self-control from me. Instead, I ignore him and ask Nora, “So, what d’you think they are?”

Last time we had a job, she guessed that we’d be picking up some Highly Volatile, presumably cursed relics from Easter Island and she was right. They turned out to be stone figurines with jaws that could unhinge and swallow the entire universe (we found out the hard way).

Nora doesn’t answer. In fact, her whole body has gone slack, and her head is lolling to one side, her eyes wide open and empty as glass. Nora’s gone inter-dimensional again. Zapped right out of her body and into the body of the Gotchump-Altruist princess in the Other Dimension.

“Oh, god. Not now. Lizzy! Bring her back.”

Lizzy isn’t pleased. He shakes the back of her shoulders. “Oi, wake up, Your Royal Highness. You’ve got a job in this dimension.”

I join Lizzy in his efforts and slap her cheek and whack her on her shoulder. Her body slumps forward and her forehead bangs against the glove compartment.

Seems to do the trick, because Nora snaps right back, leans back into her seat and says, “Stone relics from Angkor Wat, probably.”

Lizzy throws himself back with frustration.

She only sighs. “You were requesting that I take a gander at the artefacts, which we’re supposed to be redirecting today?”

“I was?” I can’t quite remember. “Sorry, your existential alternation thing kind of distracted me.”

“Just stay with us, princess,” Lizzy replies evenly.

“Can’t help it.” She buries her head in her hands, looking genuinely upset. “The kingdom is in turmoil. The Latec rebels are rising against Gotchump-Altruissia and stirring up unrest in the outer lands. If this insurgency continues, the kingdom will be besieged by these fearsome Latecs, and I fear that the death toll will be an altitudinous one.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Lizzy doesn’t sound sorry at all. I can’t say I sympathise a whole lot with Nora, either.

“How long until we reach Port Sturry?” She cranes her neck trying to look at a passing signboard outside.

“Fifteen, twenty minutes.” I step on the gas and the Honda clears its throat noisily before picking up speed.

“Great,” says Nora. “Let’s do this job.”

Then, she slumps forward again and zaps right back to Fairyland.

☊ ☊ ☊

Port Sturry is the perfect location to shoot a zombie apocalypse film.

Port Sturry is a Muggle container terminal, a deserted one. Full of sprawling echo-ey storage buildings, huge gantry cranes rusting where they stand, discoloured towers of containers, even an abandoned container ship bobbing lifelessly on the sea. Perfect place to film a zombie apocalypse.

Think of The Infected swarming out of the containers in their hundreds. Think of The Hero and The Heroine, both in cargo pants and blood-stained tank tops, running for their lives, muscles rippling as they wham head-on into the very force of friction, and the very force of friction shatters and dissipates against their rangy loping strides. Pursued by hordes of rotting, yammering zombies with missing eyeballs and faces of ripped flesh, The Hero and The Heroine finally reach the edge of a wharf with nothing but the dirty black sea beyond.

“Jump!” shouts The Hero and “Are you crazy?!” The Heroine wails, and of course they’ll both jump in the end, with The Infected crowding the pier and howling down at them, and The Hero and The Heroine will swim through the dark churning water to a safe shore. They’ve survived yet another night.

Well, that’s Port Sturry for you.

No Muggle has come into the port for years. In fact, the place has been pretty much warded off against Muggles.

Now it’s all just Flying Dutchmen and magical yellow submarines from the garden of octopi and other distant ports around the world, turning up with all manner of enchanted cargo. It’s also where we pick up and move all the stuff we have to pick up and move.

I pull the Honda over along a quiet road, next to a clump of blackberry bushes. The entrance to Port Sturry is hidden, as it should be of course, seeing as it is situated right next to the Port of Tilbury, a busy and all-too-Muggle container terminal. Can’t risk the Muggles discovering there’s a wizard port next door.

I give Nora a hard thump to the back of her head and she slips back into her body, looking displeased.

“Give us the Juice, Lizzy,” I say.

He whips out two vials of Polyjuice. Even though they’re all stoppered up, the bitter smell seems to diffuse through the glass. Already, my stomach is clenching at this injustice.

“Whose DNA are we drinking?” I ask.

Lizzy looks slightly guilty.

“Your body language is speaking in a suspicious code,” Nora snaps. “What is it that you’re hiding?”

I grab the vials from him and read the labels. “Keratinous tissue from Vindictus Crabbe. Scalp tissue from Grogan Goyle.”

“These names do not strike me as familiar,” Nora says.

“They’re actually dead, these two. Convicts at Azkaban. Snuffed it there and buried in situ.”

“You’re saying that we’re going to be imbibing the decomposing tissue extracted from corpses?” I say.

Lizzy leans as far away from me as possible. His cheery sunflower yellow robes darken a little, turning a dusty orange. A couple of Pikachus slide out of the folds of his robes and chase each other’s tails round and round Lizzy’s waist. I’ll bet his crazy mother made those robes for him. Lizzy’s family is all shades of mental.

“At least you won’t be recognised. These blokes haven’t been out of Azkaban since – I dunno, the end of the war?”

Nora only sighs impatiently. “Let’s get on with this, Joanna. I’m scheduled to return to my kingdom soon.” She takes my vial of Juice, pops the stopper and hands it back. “Bottoms up.”

“Chop chop,” Lizzy smirks.

To hell with my job.

The Juice is as foul as ever. There’s an acrid smell, and there’s a faint prickling in my brain, as though my skull’s been filled with packets of popping candy. Next to me, Nora is gagging and making awfully inhuman sounds.

"Those are some impressive vocal acrobatics, Highness." And that bastard Lizzy Scamander is sniggering in the backseat.

My body stretches, then knots and bunches up in weird places and my clothes start to strain. The waistband of my jeans spits out its buckle and the arse rips. Hair sprouts on my chin and my head scrapes the low ceiling of my car. I throw the door open and get out of the cramped driver’s seat. I’m now nearly six feet tall and there’s a good minefield of stubble on the lower half of my ugly mug. Huge hands and huge feet that look like they’ve been stung by killer wasps. Nora is even taller and broader and Hulk-ier than me.

Lizzy gets out after us and hands us two sets of black plasticky robes that look like Darth Vader’s cast-offs. On the back are words sewn in yellow: SPELLOCK SECURITIES.

“For your new bodies. Fitted with Adjustment Charms.” His smirk is infuriating. So I cuff him along his jaw. Hard. Lizzy is a really tall gangly bloke, but right now, the top of his head barely grazes my chin, and his face is about the size of my fist. He swears, ducks my next blow and jumps away.

Nora and I peel off our ruined clothes and put on the black Spellock Securities uniforms.

“Give me a mask and respirator and I’m pretty much Vader on steroids.”

Nora and Lizzy both look inquiringly at me.

“Star Wars? Sure it was in the last century, but still, the Darth Vader?”


“Never mind, let’s go.”

Along the roadside is a broken-down parking meter, smack in the middle of nowhere. The magical entrance to Port Sturry, accessible only to those who have business to be there. Like the real guys from Spellock’s, for instance. Nora fishes out a dull copper coin from her robes and slides it into the slot on the meter.

“W-w-wel-come t-t-to P-Port Sturry,” the parking meter sputters. The parking meter glows a deep navy blue and we both lay our hands on the top of the machine and there’s a tremendous whoosh as all the air is sucked out of my lungs and my eyelids are blown open and then Nora and I are shaky on our feet, clutching at a completely different parking meter (this one is painted bright orange, is studded with glittering bulbs and looks like a Pachinko machine wannabe).

We’re also no longer standing by that overgrown side road.

Port Sturry: a vast concrete space with rusted stacks of containers, low flat warehouses and the sea, of course, a dull faded green. There’s a fifteenth century Chinese junk anchored in the bay. A Victorian paddle steamer chugging out to sea, before it flickers like a hologram and goes invisible. The sleek top of a mustard-coloured submarine glistening in the water, smelling of hot dogs and mustard sauce. Witches and wizards hurry about pushing carts loaded with packages and boxes and trunks. Wheelbarrows with bat wings veer through the air, laden with all manner of cargo, which are mostly wrapped in brown paper scrawled with protective runes.

“This way,” Nora motions toward one of the storage buildings where there are a number of witches and wizards in black uniformed robes arranging and unloading packages from a levitating wheelbarrow. The real Spellock Securities workers, of course.

Fourteen and Thirty-two. The items we’re meant to pick up, according to Lizzy, and transfer to an illegitimate vessel hiding somewhere among all the other vessels. In other words, Divert. Redirect. That’s what Nora and I do. People call us illegal movers, or smugglers, but really, those are crude.

Travelling objects have a predetermined destination, an established trajectory, no matter how random their journeys seem. Me and Nora, well, we divert those objects from their pathways. We don’t steal them, god no – we merely re-route them, put them on new trajectories, assign them new destinations, like a railroad switch deflects trains and sends them along new tracks, to new locations. That’s us: we alter the fates of moving objects; we redirect them. We’re Redirectionists. And we work in the massively complex and incredibly intricate field of Redirectionism.

All of a sudden, Nora freezes and I nearly run into her. Moving quickly toward us from our right and left are a group of wizards and witches with their wands drawn. Never a good sign.

“Department of Magical Law Enforcement!” bellows one of the fast-approaching wizards. “And you two are under arrest for impersonation and smuggling.”

Oh, fuck. Nora’s mouth is wide open and she looks real gormless, because after all, she’s wearing that thug Vindictus Crabbe’s face. We’ve been set up.

Undoubtedly, Lizzy’s fault; he’s always making sure we get well-pickled in these kinds of undesirable situations. I’m going to flay Lizzy Scamander the next time we meet.

“We are dignified employees of the reputable company of Spellock Securities! We are on shift duty right now,” Nora protests, pointing to the group of Spellock’s workers at the mouth of a warehouse, who’ve stopped their unloading to watch the spectacle. None of them raise their hands and vouch for us.

“A likely story,” sneers the wizard who’d first spoken. He’s a burly bloke, smelling of freshly laundered robes and fish pie, and his chest is puffed out in a pompous manner. Clearly, an Auror. The others are lower-ranked hit-wizards and hit-witches, and they’ve snuck into a circle around us.

“Drop your wands,” the Auror snarls. “As you can see, you’re surrounded and overmatched. Anti-Apparition wards have been activated all around the premises.”

Nora is looking more and more perturbed and her fingers have begun to twitch around the handle of her wand. I steady my grip on my wand and begin to lower it to the ground.

“What are you doing?” she hisses under her breath.

Oh Nora, ye of little faith.

Here's something to know about me: I'm fast. Very fast. This Grogan Goyle lug that I’m wearing may look stupid and trollish, but I still have all my duelling skills. And I’m a fair duellist. My body lashes upright and catches them all by surprise.

Omnis tarantallegra!”

There’s a brilliant blinder of a spell and the whole crowd goes silent for two seconds. Then, they explode. Well, their feet explode. Into a vigorous dance known as the Tarantella. Their legs start jerking and kicking, ballerina-toed. Their hands fly up and grab at each other’s waists and forcibly twirl each other about. Their wands clatter to the floor. A group of them join hands and start jolting their knees and can-can kicking in a circle. The Auror, meanwhile, is now doing a cross between the Viennese waltz and Gangnam-style.

It’s one of my favourite spells. Works like magic. Well, you know.

I turn to Nora. “I suggest we get the fuck out of here.”

“I believe, Joanna, that you are stating the obvious.”

“Stating it isn’t enough. Let’s do the obvious.”

And so we run fast as we can until we get back to the orange glittery parking meter and slam our hands onto it and there’s that deep blue glow and the whirl and crush of movement, and then we’re back at the deserted blackberry lane, hugging the hell out of the first parking meter, the broken-down and shabby one.

Life is confusing, I know.

☋ ☋ ☋

“This is all your fault!” Nora shouts, twisting her neck round now and then to shoot her poison-eyes at Lizzy in the backseat. “What have you done? Where have you erred? Was your error not an error after all, but a deliberate attempt betray our bonds of – of colleague-ship all along? We were nearly apprehended by the Ministry!”

“Mate, I have abso-fucking-lutely no fucking idea what the fuck just fucking happened!” Lizzy yells right back.

“We have been set up. The Ministry knew we were going to be there. Jo and I have narrowly escaped a lengthy sentence behind bars in Azkaban. This is fucking unbelievable!”

Even Nora’s joined in the blitzkrieg of cluster-F bombs. And Nora hardly ever deviates from her stilted Spock Speak.

I step harder on the gas pedal and the Honda revs and stumbles forward before settling into its new speed.

“And you, Joanna?” Lizzy’s voice is biting cold iron. “Cool as a cucumber.”

“I hope you’re not saying that I set us up.”

“It’s not any of us three, alright?” Nora snaps. She throws her hands up in the air. “I don’t have time for this. I’m on a schedule. And you know what? I do require a reprieve from this disorganised world.”

Her form goes slack and her head tips forward. She’s gone off to save the bleeding Gotchump-Altruists again.

“Perfect,” Lizzy spits. “What are we going to do now?”

The Juice has worn off. Grogan Goyle’s adorable mug has shrunk back into my usual stiff-boned features and fucking hurrah, I’ve got no more stubble, no sideburns, nothing that’s not me. My hands no longer resemble thick chops.

“I’m just going to drive,” I reply, dully. “Not a lot to do. Butts is going to flay our hides off for this. And we can’t even go back to finish the job. Ministry will be on high alert for any outsiders.”

Lizzy’s robes darken into a deep scarlet. The colours of his robe do not correspond to his mood shifts. They correspond to his lunatic mother’s mood shifts. Sunflower yellow for effervescent joy, orange for wholesome, unadulterated bliss, scarlet for a Crumple-Horned Snorkack-sympathising humour.

The car turns off the main road into a quieter street, and all of a sudden, there’s this woman who pops up right in front of the car, out of thin air, and I slam on the brakes.

“What the –,” Lizzy splutters. Next to me, Nora’s limp body jerks forward, crunches and seizes against the seat belt before slopping backward again. Bloody miracle if she doesn’t wake up with whiplash.

“Crazy bint with a death wish is trying to use my car as an instrument of suicide!”

“Wait,” says Lizzy leaning forward, his head next to my shoulder, breathing is hard. “I know that girl.”

The woman is still standing in front of my car, arms akimbo, hip thrust forward, and one leg, angled at the knee, toeing the ground through the front parting of her black robes. Beneath the glossy cascade of her robes is a sequinned mini-dress, and her dainty feet are fitted into five-inch crimson stilettos. Long straight red hair down to her waist, an impeccably painted mouth and a single raised eyebrow, and the smuggest expression ever known to mankind.

She looks plush. More importantly though, I too, know who she is.

It’s the Devil Incarnate herself, Lily Luna Potter.

❦ ❦ ❦

Everyone knows Lily-Lou Potter.

She was well-known in Hogwarts and I happened to be there during her reign of terror. She harvested the souls of everyone who, stupid enough to be lured by her lucrative promises, attempted to negotiate deals with her. Students, teachers, centaurs, house elves, even ghosts – Peeves the Poltergeist was reduced to a floating brain-dead dishrag by the time Lily-Lou Potter sealed her end of the deal.

Worse than a Dementor, this one. She practically ran the whole school – she and her brother, James Sirius Potter, though James was mostly an invisible force at her side. His absence was always keenly felt, and so mighty and so tangible was this absence that it was more a presence than an absence. A presence of absence.

Lily-Lou grins and begins walking over to my car.

“Drive away,” Lizzy hisses. “She’s bad news.”

I try to turn the wheel but the engine sputters and dies completely. Lily-Lou’s got her wand out, pointing at the bonnet of my Honda. She taps on the window of the passenger seat with a long, lacquered nail.

“Hello, Joanna,” she sings. “Could you please unlock the door.”

There’s nothing else to do.

She pulls the door open and appraises Nora’s slumped form. “You’ve got a dead body next to you.”

“She’s not dead,” I mutter. “Just gone to battle some Latex rebels in another dimension.”

Lily-Lou shrugs, unfastens the seatbelt and Nora’s catatonic form topples out of the car and flops onto the road, and Lily-Lou steps over her and slides into the seat gracefully.

“Lily Luna,” Lizzy Scamander jeers from the back. “The baby of the famous Potter family.”

Lily-Lou’s eyebrow hitches upward. “Lou,” she replies, crisply.

“No thanks, I don’t need to go. Just took a piss this morning.”

Lizzy Scamander is off his rocker. Indeed, Lily-Lou’s mouth has gone very, very thin, the corners of her lips sharpened into points.

“One less syllable, Scamander. You may call me Lily-Lou.”

“But I’m not worthy to be on a first-name basis with you,” Lizzy protests, before adding, “Potter.”

Tendrils of black steam unfurl from Lily-Lou’s nostrils.

“Shut up, Lizzy,” I snap. “She’s the Devil.”

Lizzy crosses himself in mock terror and then clasps his hands in mock prayer. He’s a goner.

Lily-Lou spins round in her seat, her wand out and before Lizzy can react, he’s been hit by a hex that looks like a Partial Body-Bind. His mouth opens and closes; a curious sound bubbles from his throat.

“What the hell, Lily-Lou?” I yell.

“I always hated those Scamander twins.” She shrugs, turning forward again and pulling down the flap of the sun visor. “Fucking fleas. This one here who wears his mother’s clothes and the other one, what’s-his-name, Lorcan?”

“The zombie?”

“The motivational speaker.” She slaps the sun visor shut with disgust upon discovering that there isn’t a mirror inside.

“Lizzy?” I say cautiously, throwing a glance at him. He’s frozen in his seat, arms stiff at his sides, eyes wide and round as pennies.

“Burgle burgle,” comes the sound from Lizzy’s throat.


“Burgle! Burgle burgle!”

“I – I don’t understand, sorry.”

“Oh, leave him alone,” Lily-Lou waves a dismissive hand toward the backseat. “Let’s talk about you and me, Joanna. It’s nice to see that you know who I am, by the way.”

“What do you want with me? How did you know where to find us?”

“Well, I am the Devil.”

“But you’re not in Prada.”

“Twilfitt and Tattings. The finest they have to offer.”

“What do you want with me?”

Lily-Lou stretches both her long white legs ending in those stilettos and props them up on the dashboard. “How’s your job coming along, Joanna – wait, where did you say you’re working, again?”

Surely she doesn’t know about all our Diverting antics. “Muggle electronics shop. All Muggle environment, hence the car.” I gesture lamely at the Honda’s interior.

She’s enjoying herself. “Really? That’s where you work? So, you don’t hmm, I dunno, alter the fates of moving objects? Like a railroad switch deflecting trains and sending them along new tracks, to new locations? You’re not a Redirectionist working in the massively complex and incredibly intricate field of Redirectionism?”

I nearly choke. But I don’t. Lizzy doesn’t call me a Stoic for nothing. “No idea what you’re on about, Lily-Lou. Can I go now?”

She only leans in closer, her voice descending into a whisper. “That’s so weird, Joanna. You know, not too long ago, the Ministry sent out a notice that a couple of illegal smugglers were operating in Port Sturry. And anyone with information on their whereabouts should contact the Ministry’s Auror Department immediately. You know, my dad’s department.”

“Burgle burgle burgle!” says Lizzy from behind.

Of course. It’s so fucking obvious.

You?!” I nearly yell at her. “You’re the one who set the hit-wizard squad on us?”

“Burgle burgle!”

Lily-Lou slaps at her white thigh, protruding from beneath her mini-dress. “Damn!”

I suck in a deep breath and hold it. When my lungs are on the verge of exploding, I exhale. “WHY..”

“Getting bold, are we? Well, it’s simple, Mojo Jojo. You have plenty of talents, and you’re wasting yourself in this job. I, on the other hand, have a better job to offer you.”

“I’m dead meat. You don’t want to be offering any jobs to me.”

After all, it’s true.

“Oh, you mean the Carkett Curse?” Lily-Lou yawns and uncrosses and re-crosses her long white legs. “Not a problem. In fact, it’s a bonus for me.”

“So you want me to do some dirty job for you, and then when it’s done, Death will take care of the rest, eh?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Lily-Lou protests. “You and I both know, Joanna, just how far you’ve gone to elude Death. You’re not going to die so easily, are you? Death wants your soul, imagine! Death Itself!” If she weren’t the Devil Incarnate, she’d be crossing herself in reverence. “If Death wants your pathetic little soul, imagine how valuable that pathetic little soul of yours is! I’m taking it for myself.”

“Whoa, whoa. I’m not giving it to you!”

She whips out her wand with lightning speed. All she has to do is cast a bloody Patronus and then I’ll be done for. Me and Nora and Lizzy, although Lizzy deserves it. We’ll be clapped in irons and locked behind bars in a jiffy.

“This is fucking blackmail!” I glare at her. She blows me a kiss. Her lips are lovely, puckered and red. I hate her. “Okay, what’s the job?”

“Good choice, Mojo Jojo.” She whips out a pair of black-rimmed glasses and fits them onto her nose. A trail of parchment appears in her hands. “The job concerns my brother, James Sirius Potter. Heard of him?”

“The Divination fr- I mean, genius?”

She rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Yes, him. The twerp.”

“Thought you and him were best mates and all.”

“You’re joking.” Venom drips through her words. “Our lovely mother has assigned me to find that useless fathead a bodyguard. And you’re his first choice.”


“Powers of foresight and all. He really can glimpse the future, you know. Usually, he’s wrong, though.”


“He told me this, exactly: There’s a witch, born under the sign of a curse. It is she who will be my protector and who will defend me until her very last breath. Her name is Joanna Anna Mannering, aged twenty-seven, and we are fated, like magnets of opposing poles.”


“Turns out that that was one of his better predictions. After all, you exist, don’t you?”


“Don’t be annoying, Joanna.”

Everything sounds like a load of rubbish. “You were quoting him verbatim? He talks like Nora.”

“He was in a trance.”


“Joanna,” she says, warningly. Steam curls from her scalp, through her thick red hair.

Why does your brother even need a bodyguard?”

“Ah, business at last.” She pushes her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose. “He survived two assassination attempts in the last week or so but only because he managed to foresee them just in time. The last attempt was pretty nasty. Someone Transfigured a Chimaera into a nightlight and stuck it in his room, and the spell was magically timed to wear off at James’s bedtime. Nearly turned him to mince, too, had it not been for me. On hindsight, perhaps I should have let it.”

So, someone wants James Potter dead. The James Potter. The one who’s been hogging the Prophet limelight with all the tales of his trivialities.

“Wait, I didn’t see any of this in the news.”

The morning paper had been full of nothing but James’s divorce and his spiritual epiphanies and whatnot. But no assassination attempt had been mentioned, as far as I know.

“Ah,” Lily-Lou says. “It’s a delicate matter for us, Potters. So naturally, I have to silence the press. Keep their attentions on something else.”

Naturally, she's controlling the press.

“I am the Devil Incarnate. And as your Scamander friend behind there said, I’m also the baby of the famous Potter family. We’re well-loved in this world.” She ruffles the parchment in her hand impatiently, twisting the corner into a screw of paper. “Well, Joanna? I’m awaiting your formal acceptance of the job.”

“As bodyguard to your brother.”

“As bodyguard to my dope of a brother.”

“And my soul?”

She throws her head back and laughs. “Your soul, Mojo Jojo? Your soul’s precious to me. I’ll keep what’s left of it intact. Could be a good bargaining chip with Death.” She waves me silent before I can protest. “I don’t suppose you’d want to go and find all the other pieces of your soul so I can have them all, can I?”

“Not for you,” I snarl.

Lily-Lou sighs ruefully, and then claps her hands twice briskly. “Well, I think I’ll seal this deal for us. You work for me and take care of my pathetic mess of a brother. And in exchange, I won’t snitch on you or your friends about your criminal activities.”

“Burgle burgle burgle burgle!” says Lizzy. I don’t need Google Translate to know that what he’s saying is equivalent to, take the deal, Mannering, you fucking idiot, and scoop us out of this shithole.

“Whatever,” I tell her, scowling.

She pumps both fists in the air, does an uncharacteristic little squeal. “Perfect!” She thrusts the trailing parchment and a falcon quill toward me. “Sign here.”

There’s no ink, but I take the quill, anyway. A cut peels open on my left palm, and a line of blood rises to the surface, smudges and pools in my stinging hand. So I dip the quill in my own blood and sign her stupid contract.

“Burgle!” says Lizzy, approvingly.

Lily-Lou beams at me. She takes the parchment and hands me a card. “Nearly done here. Now read this out. Aloud.”

There’s a line of writing on the card. Oh, she has to be joking.

“What’s wrong with you, Lily-Lou?”

“Just read it out.”

The hobo fohmally known as Jojo is no mo'. From this day fowohd, I shall be known as MOJO JOJO!

She slaps her knee, guffawing. “We’re going to be such great friends, you and I.”

Before getting out, she turns back to me and says, “One more thing.”

“Oh god, what is it?”

She seizes me by the back of my head, tilts it forcibly and then kisses me full on the mouth. Tongue between my lips and all. She smells of men’s cologne and hotel rooms and single malt Scotch and sulphur, lots of sulphur. My throat is filled with the burn of sulphur. I splutter and choke and she smirks wickedly after pulling away. I cough out yellow sulphur residue into my hands.

“That was from my brother, by the way.”

Splutter-choke, splutter-choke, chlutter-spoke.

“He foresees some sort of connection between you and him. So, I thought I’d do you both a favour and get it all started.” She winks. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m just the catalyst.”

And with that, Lily-Lou exits my car, tramples all over Nora who’s still lying on the road, and Disapparates.

“Burgle!” says Lizzy Scamander, helpfully.

Nora, Lizzy and I make it back to the Close at dusk. Lizzy fancies a drink at the Horseshoe, and it won’t be coffee this time. Says his throat has gone raw from all that ‘burgling’.

And Nora is back from Gotchump-Altruissia. She’d woken up in a fit of tears (politics is a very emotive subject for her, and it's hard on her tear ducts), wailing about yet more Latecs, and how one of the twelve rebel leaders who’d launched a co-ordinated attack on her kingdom is also a holy monk of an ancient and belligerent bee-worshipping cult.

When we reach the Horseshoe, we stop in our tracks. Light is spilling out onto the dark street from the doorway and the windows. Light and music. Lots of music. Music that sounds oddly familiar –

I run inside and step into a version of the Horseshoe, which I’ve never encountered before. Next to me, Nora is equally astounded, and Lizzy only manages a whistle.

The Horseshoe is full. It also resembles an LSD trip come to life.

Clowns are everywhere, crowding the counter, bouncing on the tabletops. Clowns in red, blue, green, pink, orange, yellow, purple, black and grey polka-dotted and pinstriped jumpsuits. Clowns in wigs that look like nests of rainbow worms. Clowns somersaulting through hoops made of more clowns. Two of them are juggling whirring chainsaws at each other. Another one is pretending to be an ostrich in a pie-dish.

That’s not all.

At the corner of the pub, somehow, a stage has been erected, and on the stage are – well, fuck me if it isn’t One Dimension themselves, the once super-popular band that died out years ago. Salazar Slocombe, the bagpiper, is jiggling up and down and emptying his lungs into his instrument. The guitarist and lead vocalist, Ali Baba Jackson, is on bended knee, screeching out a riff on his guitar. There’s a bassist with three legs wearing shoes made of turnips, a xylophonist with an expression of pure Zen bliss tinkling out pure Zen blissful sounds, and a gospel choir hidden in the wings, responsible for keeping the songs generally in tune. And right at the back, stomping on iron-shod wellington boots, is Alastair ‘Allie’ Apples, the beat-keeper and vuvuzela blower and a known Cark, who supposedly carked it years and years and years ago when he turned twenty-seven.

“I believe that something rather suspicious is afoot,” Nora says.

“Don’t you lot know how to have a smidgen of fun,” comes a slurry, syrupy voice from behind us.

Satan-Lou is back and terrorising us. Lizzy stiffens and his hand drifts toward his wand.

“You know, Joanna,” Lily-Lou drawls, glass of Firewhiskey in her hand, ignoring Lizzy completely. “I’m here for you.”


“Stop that.” Her porcelain forehead crinkles. “Do you like what I’ve done?”

“I most certainly don’t. There are clowns everywhere.”

Nora catches a pie with her face. Lizzy finds himself entangled between three clowns tossing flaming torches and jugs of kerosene at each other.

“Well, you wished for it,” Lily-Lou says.

“Oh, did I?”

She sighs. “This morning. Your birthday cake. ‘I wish I won’t have to die this year from the curse. I wish I’m rich. I wish someone will reanimate the band One Dimension and they do one last epic gig so I can turn up and empty a vat of Wartcap powder on them when they sing ‘We Want It Weird.’” She stretches her arms upward and leans closer to me. She smells of fruit salad and steaming cocoa and store-bought cotton and cough medicine. She also smells of tar and brimstone and eternal despair and sulphur, lots of sulphur. “Well, I’ve decided to grant you one of your wishes. That’s One Dimension onstage now, if you didn’t notice.”

I do my absolute best not to grind my teeth. “You chose to grant me the most useless of my wishes? That’s the one wish I wish I’d never wished.”

But at that moment, a blast of melody from Ali Baba Jackson’s guitar signals the start of a new One Dimension song. Allie Apples jumps up and down, his iron-shod boots beating thunder onto the stage, and his vuvuzela gives a mighty fart and out of the cone flies a swarm of venomous Doxys, which waste no time attacking all the brightly coloured clowns.

It’s One Dimension’s number one hit and my most hated song of theirs, We Want It Weird.

Lily-Lou smiles radiantly at me. “Happy Birthday, Joanna.”

She clicks her tongue twice and all of a sudden, there’s a rope in my hand. Which just happens to connect, via an overhead system of pulleys, to a vat of Wartcap powder, suspended over the stage. Which happens to be exactly where One Dimension are, singing about hippie glitter half-bunny preteens and nostril hair fetishes.

Of course I pull the rope.


The hobo fohmally known as Jojo is no mo'. From this day fowohd, I shall be known as MOJO JOJO! - line borrowed from The Powerpuff Girls, created by Craig McCracken. The name 'Mojo Jojo' is also from this series.

Darth Vader belongs to George Lucas's Star Wars.

Pikachus belong to the Pokemon franchise.

The title of this chapter was sort of influenced by the title of the film The Devil Weasrs Prada (2006) directed by David Frankel.

The line 'My precious' is from J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, I guess.

Jo kowtowing before her car is influenced by Dean Winchester and his Impala in Supernatural.

Gangnam-style is from that PSY song.

'Cluster-F bombs' and 'Spock Speak' are terms used on TV Tropes.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Favorite |Reading List |Currently Reading

Back Next

Review Write a Review
Background Noise: The Devil (Who is Neither in Disguise Nor in Prada)


(6000 characters max.) 6000 remaining

Your Name:

Prove you are Human:
What is the name of the Harry Potter character seen in the image on the left?

Submit this review and continue reading next chapter.

Other Similar Stories

The Brand Ne...
by Ryann