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Background Noise by teh tarik

Format: Novella
Chapters: 4
Word Count: 22,373
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Slash (same-sex pairing), Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Humor, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/OC, Lily/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 06/18/2014
Last Chapter: 01/14/2015
Last Updated: 01/14/2015

Banner by Idioteque

Jo Mannering has been cursed to die a horrible death and Lily Potter, the Devil Incarnate is trying to steal her soul.

Meanwhile, it has been predicted by Renowned Mystic and Genuine Seer, James Potter, that him and Jo are going to wind up all happy together. In another dimension, Nora Patil-Brown, Resurrected Inter-Dimensionalist, is trying to run a kingdom.

A cult classic of crime, car chases, crackpot concepts, and cataclysms of a cosmic character.

Chapter 1: The Curse of Carkett Close
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A/N: This is written for bellatrixlestrange123's Wacky OC Challenge. The prompt was: drunk old man who's a reincarnated princess.

Hi all, welcome to this - whatever this is. This is kind of a crackfest experiment for me where pretty much anything goes except perhaps realistic characters and a coherent plot and the basic rules of logic. I've been in a queer sort of writing mood these last few weeks, and as a result, the narrative of this story has become somewhat mental.

There. I've done my part and you have been warned.


One: The Curse of Carkett Close

Here are a couple of things I know about Carkett Close.

First, it’s a decrepit, dying cul-de-sac in the maggot-eaten heart of the city, cursed down to every cobble. Or so Nora described it once, when she’d swung through a bout of poetics.

The Close begins somewhere in the shabbier end of Diagon Alley. Behind the scintillating white of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the street forks into Knockturn Alley and a brick wall.

It’s the wall that you want, should you be wishing to get into the Close, though honestly speaking, not many people wish such.

You’ve got to tap the brick that used to be where the twenty-fourth row and the fifteenth column of bricks intersect – imagine the wall to be a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and start counting. Only problem is, it’s the actual brick that’s crucial here, not its position. And by that, I mean the bastard of a wall shuffles its bricks every two minutes, so forget about the intersection of the twenty-fourth row and the fifteenth column. Visitors always end up tapping at random bricks and getting them wrong, resulting in the spiteful Wall spraying black, tarry sludge onto their faces.

But The Wall is also a cunning, obscene glutton for blood; drip a little of yours onto the bricks and it’ll open the Close right up.

Or you can just Apparate in and out of the Close. It’s up to you.

The next thing I know about Carkett Close is that everyone born in the Close, and this includes me, is CURSED. Cursed cursed CURSED CURSED. Carks tend to cark it early; more precisely, they have an average lifespan of twenty-seven years. And no matter where they drift to, the CURSE follows them.

As a popular local saying goes, ‘Once a Cark, always a Cark.’

For the first twenty-seven years of life, us Carks have it okay, usually. Sunshine follows us wherever we go, as do rain and snow and hurricanes, generally; we tend to win small amounts at lotteries, and we tend to lose as well; we have it okay in life.

But as soon as a Cark hits twenty-seven, okay starts to run out.

Sometime during their twenty-seventh year of life, Carks start dying in all manner of ways. They get knocked off by falling grand pianos (classic). They get savaged by their own beloved poodles which turn rabid overnight. They get run over by illegally Engorgio-ed lawn mowers. They die of dragonpox even if they’ve had dragonpox all their lives and it never used to kill them until it does.

It has been rumoured that Death Itself comes to collect the Cark who’s carked it. The Ministry of Magic have sent a hundred Cursebreakers to rid the Close of all the dark spells imbued within its stonework and streets, infecting all its people, and every one of those Cursebreakers have returned empty-handed and baffled. The Ministry is now quite resigned to the reality that all Carks are going to die horrible deaths and they’ve issued a new law, which decrees that nobody is allowed to birth children in the Carkett Close Clinic, or anywhere within the area of the Close.

So maybe it’s easy to understand why I’m not at all thrilled when I wake up one morning and realise that the Thing that I’d been trying to quash for the last six months, shove it right to the back of my mind, has arrived at last and I’ve got nowhere to go.

Today’s my twenty-seventh birthday.

❈ ❈ ❈

Nora Patil-Brown is my partner in literal crime and also my neighbour; her room is just two steps across the dingy landing. We left school together and now we’re what we call Diverters and Redirectionists.

Despite living in the Close with me, she’s not a Cark, so lucky her.

Nobody knows where she comes from, and she’s still on that eternal quest, which people undertake to find out the answer to who am I. (Not Spiderman). She’s the adopted daughter of two heroes from the Second Wizarding War: Lavender Brown and Padma Patil. There’s quite a story behind how they got together, though Nora is never interested in recounting it.

Bottom line about Nora is, nobody really knows her true parentage.

She’s not really Nora, for starters. Psychics and Diviners and Tarot Readers and Palmists and Enteromancers and Fire Scryers and Crystal Ball Oglers all have the ability to See The Future.

Nora, on the other hand, has the rather unique ability to See The Past.

Her past life, that is. Snatches of it, flashing moments through a smoky veil, scenes that she remembers never having lived through. Before Nora became Nora, she was a drunk old man, wandering the streets, jumping on passers-by and demanding spare change, mangy cats nipping at his ankles.

“It is indeed bizarre,” Nora told me once. “I was never him, but I do remember very clearly being him, at some point of my non-existence.”

“Sounds like a bucketload of non-sense to me,” I told her.

“I don’t know his – my name. But I do know that I had a scraggly grey beard. I wore a wool cap and I sashayed around singing Celestina Warbeck singing the Coventry Carol. I drank Firewhiskey from a broken bottle and I hated children. And then I died, penniless, on the streets.”

That wasn’t the end; apparently Nora was reincarnated after that. And in the process of reincarnation, her soul got spliced.

Half of that drunk old bloke’s soul was reborn as Nora. The other half of the drunk old bloke’s soul, however, was brought back as a princess of the faraway kingdom of Gotchump-Altruissia, which exists in Another Dimension inaccessible to everybody in this world, except Nora of course. So Nora sort of zones in and out, alternating between being herself and being her other self, i.e. a princess in the Other Dimension, running the kingdom of the Gotchump-Altruists.

That’s Nora: a spliced-soul Inter-Dimensionalist Politician and Multi-Tasker Extraordinaire. And a terrible cook.

On the morning of my twenty-seventh birthday, Nora marches into my flat, uninvited.

In her hands is a platter, and on the platter is a monstrosity. A melting hillock of brown and pink, crowned with drippy candles that smell of smouldering animal fat. I can’t decide which smells worse: that, or the fog of my own morning breath.

“Happy birthday, Joanna,” she says, gravely, plopping the platter onto the foot of my bed. “Are you ready to cut your cake and blow out your candles?”

“You mean that Anglo-Saxon burial mound?”

“Yes, that was my inspiration for the cake. Here.” She thrusts a copy of today’s Daily Prophet at me.

“I don’t read the paper.”

Nora looks confused. “It’s meant to be a gesture of consolation,” she explains.

“Consolation for what?”

“You’re twenty-seven now. You’re going to die, Joanna.” She thins her lips into a line and squints and gives me The Look, the very look that indicates that she’s peering right into the depths of my soul to gauge my true emotions that I’m supposedly always keeping under lock and key.

I hate The Look. “Haven’t we talked about giving people The Look?”

The cake is beginning to liquefy and ooze off the plate, staining chocolate onto my sheets. My eyelids are thick and cushiony from sleep and my hair’s been mussed into a power cable nest. I reach for the Prophet. Might as well make one of us happy.

JAMES POTTER II TO DIVORCE SECOND WIFE, ELLIE ENDERBURY is the screaming headline at the top of the page.

“A divorce is on the front page?” I turn to Nora, who’s now making my bed and straightening out the sheets, even with my arse still sitting on it. She’s strong, the girl.

“The headlines are generally the most arresting part of the paper,” she explains.

“So the rest is drivel, then?”


“Going meta, are we?”


And the title of a smaller column near the bottom: ELDEST SON OF HARRY POTTER TO HIT THE THREE BROOMSTICKS ON AUGUST 31st.

“Do you think it actually means hit, as in to pound or to whack? Because I don’t really get why the paper would publish an article merely detailing this James Potter’s attendance at a pub.”

Nora shakes my foot off my pillow and plumps it up and sets it neatly back down. “When in doubt, always take the literal. It’s an old saying that Councillor Tefombray of the High Council of Gotchump-Altruissia told me, once, when we were attending the feast of Saint Marchesta.”

“I can’t deal with all that information,” I tell her curtly. “You know the rules with us, Nora; what happens in the other dimension stays in the other dimension.”

She shrugs. “If you so wish to remain ignorant.”


Yep, the Prophet has clearly gone to seed.

“Who on earth is this James Potter person?” she wonders out loud.

“Famous firstborn fuck-up of the family of Potters.” I swing off my bed and reach for the crumpled pile of jeans. “Fortune-teller sort of bloke. They say he can see the future and all. Real tosser.”

“I can see the past,” Nora quips. “My past, actually. And I was actually asking a rhetorical question. I know fully well who James Potter is; I remember him from school. He was the Divination genius.”

“Or fraud.”

She gestures at the cake, which is becoming more and more misshapen with each passing moment. “Make a wish.”


“It’s your birthday, Jo.”

“Okay, well. 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’.”

I blow all the twenty-plus candles out. By then, most of them have burnt to stubs, and the wax has formed hard pools on the surface of the shapeless cake that Nora had cooked up from whatever unholy oven she keeps. The smell of scorched lard festers in the air.

“Happy twenty-seventh!” Nora beams at me.

“So it’s my birthday.” I shove the plate of cake aside. “Why am I up at this ungodly hour, then?”

“Surprise, surprise. We have a job to do, Joanna.” She examines the wall mirror streaked with fingerprints. “Your DNA’s all over this thing.”

“I don’t want to do a job. It’s my birthday.”

“Old Butts will not appreciate your attitude.”

Bernie Buttons is our BIG BOSS. And because he’s such a BIG BOSS sort of bloke, we rarely have any direct dealings with him. But we’ve heard that he’s there to make sure that the mercenary lot of us don’t become too mercenary, and that basically, we never leave our jobs. We’ve sold our souls to him, pretty much.

“Besides,” Nora continues, “Lizzy’s already downstairs waiting for us.”

“No, he isn’t.”

“I’m afraid he is. I can’t change this reality.”

There’s little else for me to do except get dressed while Nora inspects my flat with her usual cool air of disapproval. I sneak her cake off my bed and into the bathroom, where I tip it down the toilet and flush, which results in the pipe getting blocked and the bowl filling up with water to the rim, brown and pink chunks of cake eddying round and round sluggishly. I reach for my toothpaste. The bathroom sink is completely carpeted by layers of green, orange and brown furry mould. Years of unhindered growth and a steady diet of toothpaste lather and gargled water and the other rinsings from my mouth has enabled the mould to flourish, evolve and become a sentient, telepathic being.

Good morning, Joanna, and happy birthday! The Mould ripples as I spit into the sink.

“Shut up.” I scowl at it.

Are you afraid of dying?

“Go to hell.”

No, you are going to hell.

“Want me to bring in Nora and her Mould-Blaster spell arsenal?”

The Mould goes silent. Score.

Later, Nora and I go downstairs and through the cramped backroom of a pub and then out into the pub itself. The pub is known as The Uxorious Horseshoe, and it sits right beneath our rooms. It didn’t use to be a pub, the place below our rooms. It used to be the Carkett Close Apothecary, but then the owner turned twenty-seven and got run over by the Knight Bus. So with the apothecary done for, a crew of clowns crept in and made themselves right at home and opened up their own drinking establishment.

The Horseshoe is mostly empty at this hour, with the exception of me, Nora, a scruffy bloke sitting at the end of the counter, and Sleazy the Clown, who is on barkeep shift today. In total, there are seven of them who run the bar, including Sleazy – clowns, I mean. There’s Sleazy, Squeezy, Sputnik, Sputum, Spitty, Spinoff, and Schizo.

“It’s Joanna’s birthday today,” Nora announces to the mostly-bare pub.

Sleazy sniggers sleazily at me. “Old lady.”

Sleazy is wearing a orange and green synthetic jumpsuit with red polka dots. He has a neon red Ronald McDonald wig sitting on his head. His nose wears a clamp-on red clown nose. His face is coated with flaky white powder. His red painted mouth is smeared across his face in a sleazy grin.

“It’s Joanna’s twenty-seventh birthday,” Nora presses.

The grubby bloke at the end of the carpet groans into his elbow and raises a hand at me. He looks like he’s been sitting there a decade. Probably sprouted roots out of his arse and into the barstool.

I glare at Nora. “You don’t have to tell that to everyone.”

“Twenty-seven eh?” Sleazy smirks sleazily. “Drinks on the house then. Might as well fill yourself up while you still can, eh?”

“That’s a great – ”

“Not now, Sleazy. Joanna has a job to do.” Nora beats me to it, her thin eyebrows shooting up so high they’re practically grazing her hairline.

“Nora,” I deadpan.

“Jo.” She’s unflinching.





“Fine, fine. Tonight, then. Tonight I’m opening the floodgates. If I’m to die this year, then I must –”

“Revel in the deepest cesspool of debauchery for as long as possible?” Nora suggests. She shrugs. “Tonight, the floodgates open, then. Now, we work.”

Nora’s a despot with a soft spot somewhere deep among all her cardiac tissue. If she even has cardiac tissue, of course. I doubt she’s fully human. I wonder how the Gotchump-Altruists are doing with her as their leader.

“So, where the hell is Lizzy?”

“Right behind you,” she answers.

“Not falling for that.”

“And you just did, Mannering,” comes a voice an inch away from my left ear. I draw my wand in a jiffy and spin round, the point jabbing hard into the chest of a very tall, skinny bloke in cheery sunflower yellow robes that’s already giving me the start of a dazzling headache. The robe is pure happiness, which should have been outlawed long ago. In fact, this bloke is the very epitome of happiness. He’s smiling too widely and too innocently, and his teeth are nicely brushed and well-shaped, and there’s a sickening earnestness in the clear blue of his eyes.

That is, until he opens his mouth and starts to speak. There are monsters in the crevices between his teeth, I swear. And hidden glands dripping venom onto his words.

“Mannering!” Lizzy exclaims in mock shock. "Is this a Fright Night morning after for you?"

I retract my wand and throw him a dirty look. It’s as good as his fault that I’m down here at this absurd hour of the morning, waiting to do some messed-up job on my very last birthday in this world.

Lysander ‘Lizzy’ Scamander is the person who kind of deals with the logistics of our job: the planning, the equipment, the what-goes-where, the who-says-what, the how-the-crap-do-we-even-manage this. Nora and I are pretty much the field personnel, the dirty workers, the bottom feeders. I honestly don’t care about climbing up the ambition ladder, and Nora is far too busy zapping between dimensions, so that leaves Lizzy, the Opportunist, who’s one up above me and Nora.

He’s also our Vessel for Higher Instructions. It’s Lizzy who gets the orders from Bernie Buttons, our BIG BOSS, who purportedly gets his orders from someone above him, who gets their orders from someone above them, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

So who’s right on top, then? The BIGGEST of the BOSSES? The one who can flip a switch and potentially make us all either filthy rich or make us drop dead from Kneazle rabies?

There are rumours, whispers, which steal down the chain of command. Some say it’s God. Others believe that it’s a goblin of Gringotts.

Either makes sense. Neither makes a difference. So we just do what we do, anyway.

“I heard it’s your birthday,” Lizzy says casually as he slides into a seat at the counter.

“So it is,” I shrug.

“And you’re a Cark.”

“So I am.”

“So that means – ”

“So it does.”

“So brave, Jo. I could never be like you,” Lizzy sighs and slumps over the counter. “You’re such a Stoic, you know that.”

Sleazy the Clown sidles over, dragging his creepy gloved hands along the counter. “Firewhiskey,” says Lizzy, but Nora glares at Sleazy, pretty much spitting. “I think not.”

“Coffee, then,” Lizzy sighs, and Sleazy looks outraged. Nora’s raised eyebrow silences any clownish protest he might raise.

“What are we doing today, Lizzy?” Nora asks.

“I’ll explain on the road.” He takes a swig of the black oily coffee from the chipped mug and Nora and I exchange a grin and eyebrow flash. Lizzy’s cheeks bulge and contort and squeeze like dough, the mouthful of liquid swirling about within, unswallowable. The coffee at the Horseshoe tastes like piss. The clowns probably keep their machine in the loo. Lizzy gives up and spits the coffee back into the half-full mug and thrusts it across the counter back to a glaring Sleazy.

“Put it on my tab.” He turns to us. “You sugar-loafers ready or what?”

“I am!” cries a hoarse voice from the end of the counter. It’s the unshaven, dirty bloke. He raises his hand bolt upright in the air, before falling off his stool and onto the floor, facedown, where he promptly begins snoring into the lino.

“Not again,” snarls Sleazy, picking up his broom and making his way round the counter before proceeding to sweep the sleeping bloke toward the door. “Out, Creevey!”

We leave Sleazy behind, muttering murder and cursing humankind to the end of eternity, and go out into Carkett Close.

First day of the end of my life.

Chapter 2: The Devil (Who is Neither in Disguise Nor in Prada)
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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.

Chapter 3: A Gentle Snow of Pianofortes
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A/N: So I think this is a saner chapter than the previous two? But I dunno. THANK YOU for the reviews, everyone!

THREE: A Gentle Snow of Pianofortes

The morning after that nightmarish circus of a birthday, I wake up in a bed that isn’t mine. The sunlight is how I know. In my flat, I’ve had the bed moved into an awkward diagonal, cutting across the room, pushing as far away as possible from the window. And my window is plastered with old newspapers and layered over with Muggle rubbish bags and old black robes, so whatever sunlight that worms through the coverings is hued with dirt and reasonably dull.

Right now, the too-bright morning is stabbing through my eyelids, and the bed I’m on is clean and yellow-patterned and smelling of an alien laundry soap, not something you’d ever find in this dimension.

“Yes, indeed,” Nora says sourly. She’s sitting next to me in bed rubbing her eyes. “You are occupying half my bed.”

“How the hell did I end up here?”

“A good question. I wish I knew. I only know that your dead weight exceeds the maximum load I am able to lift, therefore it is unlikely that I carried you to my bed.”

“I don’t believe I’m that heavy.”

“You are,” Nora assures me. “You possess a great amount of muscle mass. Your biceps ripple every time you move your arms. You must have a rather gruelling exercise regime.”

I don’t even remember falling asleep, though I do remember Nora dripping with pie. Chunks of beef sliding down the sides of her face, her hair sticky and brown with gravy, pastry flaking off her eyelids.

Nora jumps off the bed and is nearly swallowed up by her flat, which is a live, pulsing, pastelled creature, all doilied curtains and lace-trimmed cushions and buttercup-coloured rugs and tea towels. On the walls are hand-crocheted hangings embroidered with slogans in CAPITAL LETTERS: DUST IS THE PIT OF HUMAN DIGNITY. DUST IS THE MESS-IAH OF DARKNESS. DUST BUNNIES ARE THE TRUE MONSTERS BENEATH THE BED. DUST IS NO PIXIE DUST.

I’ve never been into Nora’s apartment before, despite it being just two steps away from my own. I suppose I always suspected it would be something like this. A towering bookshelf is filled with books arranged in alphabetical order – mostly DIY and self-help and other instructional manuals, and there are a sizable number of titles from the For Dummies series. Cupcake-making For Dummies. Running a Kingdom for Dummies. Drinking Firewhiskey for Dummies. Transmogrification of Pet Cats for Dummies. Inhalation for Dummies. Exhalation for Dummies. Nora lives by the textbook. Religiously.

Nora emerges from the bathroom, foaming at the mouth, a toothbrush handle gripped between her teeth. She’s clutching her head and groaning.

“Had too much to drink last night?” I ask.

“Nothing as simple as that,” she murmurs, flecks of lather flying. “I’ve just had a vision. Another glimpse of my past life.”

“The life of the drunkard?”

She scowls. “Do be careful about how you phrase your words, Joanna. This is me we’re talking about. My pre-reincarnated self.”

“Okay. So what’s new?”

“The old man – and by the old man, I mean me – had a cat.”

“Well, that’s helpful.” I yawn and vault off her bed. “Thanks for the, uh, bed. But I’ve got to go. New job and all.”

“As personal bodyguard to one James Potter?”

“As personal bodyguard to one seer thickwit whose satanic sister blackmailed me into taking the job. I’ve never met him, but I just know that I won’t care very much for him.” I open the door of Nora’s flat and step outside to the grimy landing. “See? I can predict the future as well.”

Before the door shuts, Nora yells after me, dribbling more lather onto her chest. “Its name was Mrs. Norris! The cat belonging to the old man who is my past self!”

* * *

After a bitter dispute with The Mould in my bathroom, half of which took place within my head, I meet Nora downstairs who’s sitting at the bar. With Lizzy Scamander, who’s still in yesterday’s sunflower robes, though these are now splotched with spilt drink and dried gravy stains.

“Still here, are you?” I say to him.

“Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow. Heigh-ho, it’s Jo, hello, hello!” His usual shark-toothed snark sounds rubbed. He’s glaring at me. “New job, huh? Lucky you. Me and Nora on the other hand have got to go and face the wrath of Butts.”

“I’d take the wrath of Butts over this new job.”

Someone clears their throat very loudly. It’s Sputum the Clown, who’s on barkeep duty, pouring himself a shot. The Uxorious Horseshoe looks spotless. The floor is gleaming and the windows are clear, and there isn’t a vestige of last night’s clownfest extravaganza. Lizzy signals to Sputum for a drink, and in response, the clown, who is wearing a pair of grubby overalls, a yolk-orange wig and greasy makeup clumping on his face, emits a furious gargling noise from the depths of his throat.

“Forget it,” Lizzy snarls, rising and kicking the barstool away. We head outside into yellow sunshine, which resembles an overkill of happiness. “This is one shitty bar. The whole neighbourhood’s gone to seed.”

“You think?” I say, blearily. “Everyone’s dead or dying.”

We’re not gone ten paces from the Horseshoe when suddenly, there comes a loud whistling from above, crescendo-ing rapidly, and Nora, who is the quickest out of us three to grasp the nature of events, leaps aside and shrieks, “Watch out!”

I grab Lizzy and slam us both into the recessed doorway of a boarded-up former antiques shop, just as a Steinway & Sons D-274 concert grand smashes down onto the spot we’d been standing on two seconds earlier.

“Oh, wow,” Lizzy swears. “What the fuck, wow.”

Nora comes running toward us, skirting the pile of pulverised grand piano and leaping over shards of lacquered wood and splintered metal. She grasps me and Lizzy by our arms and yanks us both to our feet.

“I’m afraid this is entirely Jo’s fault,” Nora explains to Lizzy, who swings round to glower at me.

“It’s that curse of yours, isn’t it? So that means anybody who hangs around you is going to get offed like that?”

“Stop hanging around me and then the death threat will go away for you,” I snap. “Thank all your gods that you aren’t lucky me.”

“I think that you’re the diametrical opposite of lucky,” Nora says, seriously.

So this is it, then. I’m going to get knocked off Looney Tunes style. It’s going to rain anvils wherever I go. It’s going to snow pianos. Above me, the sky is an innocuous shade of blue. Cloudless, guileless. What a fucking liar of a sky.

“I don’t deserve this!”

“Death really wants to get a hold of you,” Lizzy scowls. “And yelling to the heavens won’t help.”

I glare right back at him. “Let’s just get out of here before it starts hailing taxis.”

“Oh, Joanna, you witty devil, you.”

☯ ☯ ☯

After parting ways with Lizzy and Nora, I meet Lily-Lou outside the Potters’ house. It’s…a very big house. A mansion, in fact. Iron-wrought gates, towering white pillars, fountains, beds of expensive roses crossbred to genetic and aesthetic perfection, albino peacocks prowling the lawn, statues in togas, statues of togas, bay laurels and privets cut and trimmed into shapes of sharks and Gringotts’ goblins. A thick maze of box-like hedges stands in the centre of the grounds.

“Oh, the place didn’t always belong to us,” Lily-Lou tries out a bored tone with her voice, decides she likes it, and sticks with it. “This was actually Malfoy Manor once. You remember the famous Malfoys?”

Everyone knows the famous Malfoys. Their family name was tarnished after their suspected involvement in Death Eater activity during the war. In order to salvage the precious family name, they invented a scapegoat, a fictitious family member to take the blame for all the family’s war crimes. Hence, MacGyver Malfoy, younger adopted brother of Lucius Malfoy, supposedly eight feet tall and devilishly handsome but crafty as a Sphinx, and who had been a surly hermit all his life. When the second war struck, MacGyver Malfoy emerged from exile, declared support for the Dark Lord, and basically coerced the entire Malfoy household into complying with Voldemort’s wishes. For example, the conversion of their innocuous wine cellar into a dungeon conducive for the torture of countless Muggle-borns. Everything was pretty much MacGyver’s fault. When the war was over, MacGyver Malfoy was disinherited and officially removed from the Malfoy family tree in a grand and joyous and very public ceremony, and thenceforth, the Malfoys were absolved of their crimes.

“So, why did you Potters move in here? I didn’t think you lot got on well with the Malfoys, despite them being cleared of all charges?”

“Oh, we mostly avoided them.” Lily-Lou’s heels tick against the long and winding road up to the front door. “Until the day Rose Weasley, one of ours, eloped with Scorpius Malfoy a few years back. Those two fruitcakes left us a long, melodramatic note, boo-fucking-hoo, and then disappeared off the face of the map, leaving behind the rest of the Montagues and Capulets to wage war on each other. And my mum led the charge.”

I can’t help shuddering at the mention of Ginny Weasley Potter. That woman has a reputation for cannibalism. And slow-roasting her opponents before consumption.

“Relax, she’s not that bad,” Lily-Lou offers.

Really, what would the devil know?

When we finally make it through the front door, through several expansive entrance halls, up several flights of carpeted stairways, through several dining rooms with miles of tables and high-backed dining chairs, Ginny Weasley Potter is waiting for us in her study. She’s sitting behind a colossal desk but even this is dwarfed by her commanding stature and her grim stare, and the coiffured red hair, stacked precariously on her scalp and urged into shape by an array of glittering pins. Lipstick gives her mouth a hard edge. This is the woman who destroyed the Malfoys and evicted them from their own mansion, forcing them onto the streets.

“Strap on your best steel and amp up your charm,” Lily-Lou whispers, her breath curling in my ear. There are hot coals in her breath, and I feel a blush raging across my cheeks. It’s the coals. She’s the Devil Incarnate. Nothing else.

She stalks on ahead of me towards Ginny and proceeds to hoist herself onto the desk and gesture extravagantly toward me. “I’ve found the perfect person for the job, mum.”

Ginny frowns. “And this would be Joanna Mannering?”

“Right you are, Mother,” Lily-Lou cuts in before I can speak for myself.

I approach the desk and sit down before Ginny, staring her in the eye and trying to make myself appear as aloof and as professional as possible. Lily-Lou goes behind me, folds her arms on the back of the chair, against the nape of my neck and rests her chin on top of my head. I can practically feel her smirk sitting on my head. Ginny says nothing about her daughter.

“Well, Miss Mannering,” Ginny says, crisply. “Your CV is very impressive.”

I’m fairly sure that I never gave this woman a copy of my non-existent CV. This must be Lily-Lou’s work.

“This is your curriculum vitae, isn’t it?” Ginny’s eyebrow is hitched high up her forehead, as she hands me a roll of crisp, starched parchment. Lily-Lou nods, her chin digging into my hair.

“Yeah, of course it is,” I say.

“It appears that you have Muggle military training as well.”

“I – most certainly do.”

“With the Bahraini Special Intelligence Service.”

“The Bahrainis are the best in what they do.”

“I made a call to BASIS. They swear by you. Said you’re the best thing to have ever come out of the agency.”

“…I believe in being the very best.”

“And you’ve worked as the personal bodyguard for the Crown Prince of Singapore, saving him from a grand total of seventeen assassination attempts.”

“That was indeed a very demanding position. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, of course.”

“But you failed to save him from colon cancer.”

“I wish I could have done better.”

Lily-Lou is practically sniggering into my hair. Amazingly, her mother doesn’t seem to be the least bit perturbed by her daughter’s behaviour. Or even notice much.

Ginny rolls up the parchment and nods. She tucks away the CV, which I didn’t write, into a drawer. “James has been very picky about bodyguards; he refused every single Auror in my husband’s department.”

“A wise choice on his part, Mrs Potter,” I nod, sagely. “Otherwise, how could I ever offer him my rigorous and infallible protection?”

Ginny picks up a quill, bends it backward and lets it snap back into its crisp, upright position. “You’re hired, Mannering. Lily-Lou will provide you with the details of your remuneration.”

“You won’t regret it, Mrs Potter,” I tell her through grated teeth. Lily-Lou has pretty much given me the details of my remuneration already: her very cheap silence on my Redirectionistic activities. What shittier thing can there be in the world than a rubbish bargain that you’re forced to accept?

Lily-Lou threads her arm through mine and pulls me out of the room in a rather undignified manner. Ginny doesn’t even bat an eye.

“Let’s go, Mojo Jojo!”

♅ ♅ ♅

I suppose I can count myself as being in the presence of a celebrity.

Specifically, the sacred presence of The James Sirius Potter, Golden Idol of the Prophet, Divorcer of Wives, Firstborn Fuck-up of the Famous Family. Hitter of theThreeBroomsticks. Renowned Mystic and Discoverer of the Secret of Oneness with the Universe.

The James Potter is sitting in the centre of the maze in the grounds, where sunlight falls in a concentrated column, so he’s constantly illuminated by a tractor beam of the divine. We hadn’t bothered navigating through the whole maze; Lily-Lou had merely sent a streak of blue sulphurous flames through the greenery and burned her way right to the clearing in the centre. We strolled down the pathway flanked by the crisp edges of charred bushes, still steaming.

I don’t know what I was expecting about The James, but it was hardly this: a scruffy, rank-haired, barefooted bloke smelling of onions and ale and incense, slouching on a gilded garden bench. Wearing a trenchcoat, of all things. He lifts a hand to scratch his stubble.

“My darling brother,” Lily-Lou exclaims. The James looks up, blinking and trying to focus on her.

“Ah, Lily-Lou.” He blearily waggles a finger at us. “I foresaw your coming.”

I honestly wonder why people even bother with assassinating him.

“So this is the new girl on the job, the one that you asked for – foresaw, whatever.” Lily-Lou shoves me forward. I shove her back. In fact, I do a half-turn and stop so suddenly that she walks straight into me, her face pancaking into my shoulder and leaving a cosmetic smear on my sleeve.

“That’s not how you want to treat me, Joanna,” Lily-Lou hisses dangerously.

“No, I want to do a lot of worse things to you,” I snarl. “I want to exorcise you, for instance. Send you screaming back to the depths of Hell.”

She goes back to being bored. “Okay, Constantine. Maybe another day.”

“Sexual tension,” The James has hobbled up to us, leaning heavily and rather artificially on a black sandalwood cane.

Excuse me?”

“The hate-at-first-sight formula. Which is really just sexual tension. Between you and my sister,” The James repeats, thickly. He lifts his cane and prods Lily-Lou, and then me, on the calves. “This is – strange. I most certainly did foresee sexual tension, but I anticipated it to be between you and me, Joanna.”

“Don’t be an idiot. I’m a –,” I grit my teeth, “bodyguard, not your bloody Implied Love Interest.”

“Guard my body, my bodyguard.” The James swoons and then breaks into a fit of laughter. He shakes his trenchcoat, and from the inner pockets tumble a whole lot of turnips and several tarot cards. He groans and sinks onto his haunches and attempts to gather them up, but achieves greater success in grabbing handfuls of dirt and gravel.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“I told you he was a useless fool,” Lily-Lou answers. “Also, he’s been unfogging the future.”

“The Future,” The James cries, dramatically, “The Future is fogged. A fog. The Fog. How do we speak to the future? How do we communicate with it? You know what we seers say? To know The Fog, you must be The Fog.”

I suppose that explains it.

The James reaches into his trenchcoat and draws out a large jar of pickling onions and offers it to me. I decline by staring hard at him.

“I must be The Fog,” he declares solemnly, and uncaps the jar and pops a dripping onion into his mouth. Onion breath steams from his chewing mouth. Both Lily-Lou and I step back.

“That’s it,” I tell her. “I can’t do this. I’d rather go to jail. Whatever, I don’t care. I resign. I’m going to die anyway.”

“You wouldn’t.” She raises a hook of an eyebrow.

“Look, what am I supposed to do with him? You lied to your mother about all those achievements of mine. I’ve never done anything remotely like this job before.”

“But James wants you. So, follow him twenty-four seven. Make sure he doesn’t get killed.”

“Joanna!” The James bleats. “Please don’t go! Look, I saved your life, Joanna! You’re standing here, whole and well, because of me.”

“And pray, do tell me how you managed to do that without me noticing a thing.”

The James whips up a handful of tarot cards. “The Future is in these cards. I only need look into them to see how things end up for some people. I looked into your future this morning, Joanna, and I saw that you were destined to die by falling grand piano. So I shuffled all my cards, changing the mind of Fate itself, and now Fate has decided that you won’t die by falling grand piano.”

“Wait, how did you know about the grand piano?” My head starts to pound. Then, “You can really change the future by shuffling those cards of yours?”

“I can, and I saved yours,” The James nods, a mixture of excitement and hope as he shoves the cards back into his pockets. Lily-Lou wanders off, bored, to the gilded garden bench vacated by her brother.

“Enjoy your bonding session, both of you,” she drawls.

“Well, what does my future say now? Does it say when I’m going to die?”

The James shrugs. “Pick a card.”

He’s not holding any cards.

“You’re not holding any cards.”

“They’re in my pocket.”

“I’m not fumbling around your pockets.”

“You have to,” he protests. “Every time I stick my hands into them, something unexpected turns up. And it’s different each time. See?”

With that, he sticks his hand into his pockets and brings out a toy giraffe. He puts his hand into his pockets again and draws out a packet of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Pita Bread (Bertie Bott’s are now branching out into pita bread). He does it again and this time pulls out a stack of One Dimension CDs. Another time, and he pulls out a live Kneazle. Things start piling up around us: ten pairs of socks, a Persian rug, a chandelier complete with burning candles and all, a pair of lacy knickers, three Ming vases, a baby unicorn, the latest model of the iPhone (iPhone 6), a kitchen sink, a box of Ansell extra-thin condoms, and an original manuscript of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

“So you’re a magician as well as a seer. Whatever.”

“Sorry, Joanna. I can’t find my cards.”

I glare at him. “Accio tarot cards.”

The cards zoom out of his trenchcoat effortlessly. The James looks sheepish. I catch the whole deck, then pull one out from the middle. It has a picture of a rather fluffy barn owl, with an expression of adorable oblivion in its round eyes. I thrust the card toward The James. “Here.”

He looks at it. “It says that you’re going to die of a virulent case of avian flu. Which you’ll contract when you come into contact with a postage owl.”

“Fuck.” I shove the whole deck at him. “Shuffle it!”

He does, and I snatch another card. This time it’s a picture of the Hogwarts Express.

“I suppose I’m going to get run over by a train,” I say, scowling as he peruses the card, knitting his eyebrows in a semblance of pensiveness.

“Not quite. It says that you’re going to be a victim of murder on the Hogwarts Express, and your death will lead to an elaborate Cluedo-style whodunit. I can’t foresee who did it, but I can narrow down the murder weapons to either the lead piping or the spanner.”

“Shuffle again!”

Lily-Lou makes snoring sounds from where she’s sitting on the bench. “Might as well accept it, Mojo Jojo.”

The next card I pull out has the picture of an AK-47 on it.

“Right, I don’t want to know what that says. Shuffle. Again.”

The James groans and clumsily shuffles the deck. The next card has a can of baked beans on it.

“Let me guess. I develop a sudden severe allergy to baked beans. That or it’s a deadly case of botulism, which I perish from.”

“Actually, this card says you’ll die of malnutrition. Quite possibly an insufficiency of baked beans in your diet.”

“Give it up, Jo,” Lily-Lou calls again, stretching in the sunlight with one eye open.

“Give what up? Nobody’s giving up, surely?” says a new voice. Coming through the pathway, which Lily-Lou had burnt, is a tall strapping bloke in white Calvin Klein briefs and nothing else. His body has been bronzed until gleaming with spray-on fake tan. He’s shaking a glass tumbler filled with a liquid that looks milky and vaguely proteinaceous.

Lily-Lou gets off her chair and strolls toward us. “My other brother,” she tells me. “Albus Potter.”

I’ve heard of him, sort of. “The bodybuilder?”

“The knight,” Albus Potter answers, clicking his tongue, winking, and wagging a finger at me.

“It’s true,” The James says. “He’s been knighted by the Muggle king for services to bodybuilding.”

“The Muggle king? I heard he was knighted by his trainer with a kettlebell to the skull,” Lily-Lou scoffs. She makes a violent swinging motion with her arm. “I dub thee knight, so rise, Sir Loinsteak!”

“That’s a good name for my bodybuilding alter-ego.” Albus turns to face me, sizing me up. “Jo, is it? We should do some arm-wrasslin’ sometime. You look like a good match.”

“Yeah, thanks, and no.”

“Sexual tension!” moans The James unhappily. “Between you and my brother now. I didn’t expect this to occur either.”

Albus only grins, uncaps the tumbler of grainy protein slime and raises it in a toast. “All of you should drink this. This stuff will make you a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus. Just like me.”

He drains the tumbler and wipes his lips. Then, he falls to the ground and does a round of crunches at breakneck speed. His pectorals and abdominals are so level and firm and divided into such even squares that you can probably play checkers on them. The rest of his body is mostly gathered into tight florets and bouquets. Bouquets of triceps, thigh muscles, gluteus maximus, etc. I’ve heard vague rumours that Albus is so successful in the Muggle art of bodybuilding only because he performs simple Engorgement Charms on his musculature and drinks Strength Solutions every night. He passes all the Muggle drug tests and he’s clean in the steroids department.

After meeting the Potters face to face, I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t really miss my family. Not my mother who vanished when I was three years old. Car crash, they said. Not my father who disappeared in a sheep farm in Loch Lomond. Not my brothers and sisters who never existed because they were never conceived. The Potters are demented. Narcissistic, ruthless, scheming, and demented. And somehow, I’ve been sucked into the midst of all their dementedness.

I notice something unusual. I didn’t see it before; maybe it’s because all of a sudden there’s a tree which has sprouted out of nowhere behind The James. It didn’t exactly sprout. Sprouting indicates a gradual process: it wasn’t there at first, and then I blinked, and suddenly all of us are standing in the shade of a giant sixty-metre sequoia, which shouldn’t even exist in this part of the world.

We look up and blink stupidly at the massive tree and the tree seems to look back at us rather politely, and tries to bow before us, bringing down its arms and thick leaves to wave hello, perhaps initiating a friendly handshake.

Friendly handshake be damned – the fucking tree is uprooting itself so it can fall and crush us.

I grab the body nearest to me, which happens to be The James, and haul him away, as far as I can from the slanting tree. The tree seems to pause, and then it swerves, roots squeaking through the gravel and topsoil, until its angle of fall is once again aligned with The James.

“Run!” I holler at The James, but he continues to stare, open-mouthed.

Evanesco!” Albus Potter yells at the tree, whipping out his wand from his white Calvin Klein briefs. A chunk of the massive trunk disappears. A very small chunk, like a chipmunk bite of wood.

I’m running, pulling The James with me, zig-zagging, and the tree keeps turning on the hinge of its roots, catching us with its enormous shadow. The smell of sulphur pierces through the chaos; Lily-Lou is probably working her hellfire against the thing, and for once, I’m almost glad for the reek of Hell.

“I did not,” The James pants, obviously unused to running for his life, “foresee this.”

Albus is still yelling ineffective spells, Vanishing the tree chunk by chunk, and Lily-Lou has lit a fire in its roots.

“Got the roots!” she screams, and the tree doesn’t veer about anymore.

Instead, it falls.

With one last burst of effort, I send The James flying as far away as possible and I roll after him, the ground punching into my stomach and lungs. The tree hits the ground, sixty metres of it obliterating the maze and flattening the hedges, sending a cloud of dust into the air. The ground shudders with the impact of its descent, and several albino peacocks take flight, shrieking.

I drag myself to my feet. “What the actual fuck.”

I actually can’t tell if the tree was after me, or if it was after The James. Someone is darting through the ruined hedges, someone dressed in black, top to toe with a black cloth tied over the head and face, cold eyes glaring through a band of space. I’m guessing that the tree was after The James then, and this intruder is the assassin who’s after him. The reason I got roped into the whole Potter family mess in the first place, when I myself am barely managing to stay alive. I leave The James behind and scramble after the ninja.

Tarantallegra!” The ninja does a dance that appears to be full of Kyokushin karate moves. It doesn’t last long and pretty soon, they’re on the run again.

Lily-Lou and Albus pop up in front of the ninja. For such a discordant bunch, the Potters work remarkably well together. With the exception of The James, who doesn’t seem to be of much use at all.

“Gotcha!” Albus grins, pointing his wand at the ninja. He smirks at Lily-Lou and then at me. “Toldja that stuff works. I am a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus, I am.”

The ninja whirls around, seeking an escape route.

“Save yourself the trouble,” Lily-Lou drawls. “Anti-Apparition wards are up.”

And then the ninja ninjas into thin air. As in, thin air. A ripple of air, like a visible seam in a transparent wall, and they’re gone. Lily-Lou screams in rage.

“I thought you said anti-Apparition wards are up?”

“That wasn’t Apparition!”

There is something on the ground where the ninja had been a moment ago: a black pearl with a swirl of darkness trapped in its gleam, strung on a piece of piece of string. I pick it up and dangle it in front of both Albus and Lily-Lou, as if to ask if it belongs to them. They look blank, shrugging.

The James has slipped back into our midst, looking very upset. “I swear I haven’t done anything wrong to incur all their wrath. I haven’t!”

“You know who they are?”

“They’re not from around here.”

“We get that, big brother,” Albus says, patiently.

“No, I mean, here. As in this dimension. This universe.”

Lily-Lou turns to me, frowning. “Don’t you have an inter-dimensional friend somewhere?”

♘ ♘ ♘

Nora Patil-Brown is in a foul tight-lipped mood when we all cram into her personal space at the Horseshoe.

“Where’s Lizzy?” I ask her.

“In hell,” she spits.

“No, he isn’t,” Lily-Lou cuts in, lazily. She taps her temples. “He’s not in the visitors’ register. And he hasn’t obtained permanent residency yet.”

Nora looks even more furious. Clearly, she hasn’t forgiven Lily-Lou for dumping her inert body on the road during her trip to Gotchump-Altruissia. Or for being slobbered over with broken pies during last night’s madcap party that Lily-Lou had brought to the Horseshoe.

“What did Butts say?” I say, as amiably as I can.

“Bernie Buttons is not at all pleased with any of us,” she snaps. “We’ve been assigned another job, which will take place in three days’ time.” Before I can protest, she holds up a hand. “You’re not excused, Joanna. Especially not you, Butts said. You’re just going to have to find your balance between jobs.”

“Can we get to the point?” Lily-Lou says, irritably. “I really don’t give a shit about Joanna’s shitty life at the moment.”

“A round of drinks for everybody,” The James announces to Sputnik the Clown, who’s wearing a blue bathrobe and guzzling beer straight from the tap.

“Not for me, I brought my own,” Albus says, shaking yet another tumbler of that protein mucus. At least he’s wearing clothes now.

“I do not imbibe any sort of liquor,” Nora sniffs. She isn’t impressed with any of the Potters.

I hold up the black pearl pendant for her to see, explaining the whole crazed sequence of events at the Potters’ manor. She takes the pearl and rolls it between her thumb and finger, looking thoughtful.

“You’re right,” she says at last. “If that assassin had this, there is a good chance that they originate from a different dimension. This is a Medal of Voidism.”

“A what?”

“I believe you heard me perfectly, Joanna. You just need to trust your ears and ask the right questions. The correct question to ask is, what is Voidism?” Nora says in a most patronising manner, before proceeding to answer the question that she thought I ought to have asked. “Voidism is the most widespread religion in all the dimensions that exist. It’s a multiversal religion, though it doesn’t seem to be a major belief in this world. A significant proportion of Gotchump-Altruists are Voidists.”

“Are you a Voidist?”

“I am a recent convert to Catholicism.” She pulls a brown scapular from around her neck, along with a crucifix. Lily-Lou balks and glares at Nora, who looks triumphant. The James begins shuffling his deck of tarot cards, and offers one to Sputnik the Clown who declines.

“What do these Voidists believe in?” I snap my fingers in front of Nora and Lily-Lou’s faces.

“The Void, of course,” Nora replies. “At the centre of the Multiverse is The Void that once birthed all light and life and the multitude of universes, and now devours all light and life and universes. Followers of The Void constantly pray to The Void, so they may be eaten by The Void, and thus become one with The Void.”

“Well! Doesn’t sound like a very vigorous club!” Albus exclaims. “I was never really one for religion. Unlike my dear sister over here.”

“So what do we do? Do we even do anything? I suggest we don’t do anything to endanger our lives,” I say, cheerfully. “How about we hide The James in an underground bunker for the rest of his life? After all, the Voidist assassin wants him, not the rest of us.”

The James looks miserable. “It’s not my fate to be buried in an underground bunker for the rest of my life.”

“I do know someone in this dimension who’s a follower of the Voidist faith,” Nora says. She speaks only to me. “I suppose you could ask him more about Voidism and if he was aware if anyone of the Voidist faith recently visited this dimension.”

“Spit it out, Patil-Brown,” Lily-Lou says, sweetly.

Nora continues to ignore the Potters. “He’s the one who lives in Hollywood.”

I understand. “The Quidditch player?”

“The Shark-Man.”

I turn to the Potters and tell them. “His name is Viktor Krum.”

Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow - from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 6
The Looney Tunes series belongs to Warner Brothers.
The Montagues and the Capulets are borrowed from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
A goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus – quote from the movie Predator (1987), directed by John McTiernan.
Constantine is a character from DC Comics, created by Alan Moore.

Chapter 4: Voidism and Avoidism
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A/N: I apologise in advance for this chapter. I've gone for what feels like ages without writing anything so I just turned desperate and pushed stuff out. I haven't checked too thoroughly for typos/grammatical errors SORRY. I'm just so relieved that I've broken what I refer to as The Curse of Becoming a TA. Y'know, the curse where, "OMG-I'M-A-TA-I-CAN-POST-STUFF-UP-WHENEVER" and then just never post another thing up EVER.

Sorry for rambling. At least this chapter is a little saner than the others.

FOUR: Voidism and Avoidism

“The Portkey is about to depart in approximately thirty seconds, Joanna, what the hell are you waiting for?”

Nora has quite a growl, which I do indeed find reminiscent of a bad-tempered old drunk, and the more I look at her, the stronger the feeling that there ought to be some sort of feline figure perpetually entangled with her ankles. Her left hand makes erratic arcs through the air, just missing the heads of Lily-Lou, The James and Sir Loinsteak Albus Potter, who are all squashed together beside her, looking rather disagreeable. Nora’s right hand, along with the right hands of the other three are firmly fastened to a packet of Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Pita Bread, drawn at random from the fathomless depths of The James’s trenchcoat pockets.

In other words, the Portkey, they’re all clinging to the Portkey as though it’s about to depart any moment, which it is. The packet of pita bread begins to glow blue. The James reaches into the plastic wrapper and absently tears out a wedge of bread and eats it.

“Pork floss flavoured,” he announces to everyone, nodding. “Just as I expected. My precognitive abilities are working perfectly.”

“Kindly desist with ingesting the Portkey,” Nora says, coldly. “Fourteen seconds, Joanna!”

I refuse to budge from my seat on one of the Horseshoe’s barstools. I’ve glued my arse down using every inch of willpower. Skippy the Clown has just come on barkeep duty and now he’s mixing together some unholy cocktail behind the counter, dressed in nothing but thick coils of a child’s luminous skipping rope.

“What’s wrong with Joanna?” Lily-Lou demands. There’s a furious glint in her eyes and black smoke whirling out of her nostrils and ears. The James and Sir Loinsteak are whimpering in pain, as Lily-Lou’s mounting wrath begins to blister their delicate skins. Nora is impassive; she’s probably immune to hellfire as a result of some transferable Gotchump-Altruist characteristic from the Other Dimension.

“It appears that Joanna’s irrational fear of rollercoasters has translated to Portkey travel,” Nora quips.

“Jo, don’t leave us,” The James begs, unhappily. “We need you. You promised to help us, remember?”

“Mannering,” says Lily-Lou in deceptively calm voice.

“Eight seconds, Jo. Eight.”

“I prefer driving,” I tell them all in the sulkiest tone I can muster. “I’ll drive.”

“You will do nothing of that sort,” Nora snaps.

The pita Portkey packet is glowing with a greater intensity, making the whole pub look as though the sky itself has descended into the premises. Skippy does a whoop of delight and unravels a length of skipping rope from around his torso and proceeds to do a skip.

Two seconds, Joanna.”

I Apparate across the room, curse them all to kingdom come, and slam my hand on the pita Portkey packet just as it takes off. Portkeys are worse than Apparition and rollercoasters. Somehow, the journey sucks all my innards out, atomises them and disperses them across the world. Then by some unholy glue of the cosmos, all the dispersed atoms of my existence are clumped back together and life goes on. I’ll never fathom how most people always end up looking rather intact and unfazed. Soon, the blur of speed dissolves and the world refocuses itself into sensible dimensions.

We’re standing outside a set of towering iron-wrought gates, barring off a massive estate. Acres of lawn unfurl behind the gates. Lakes glint in the sunlight. A maze of hedges, statues in togas, albino peacocks, modern art sculptures that look like a conglomeration of diapers, exotic rose beds, et cetera. Far off in the distance, a whitewashed house-shaped speck.

“Welcome to Krum Castle, Hollywood,” Nora says. “Strangely, I still do not know why I am here away from home with such undesirable company.”

“You know you adore us,” Lily-Lou yawns and stretches her arms above her head, cuffing Nora on the chin in the process.

“If I am to keep undesirable company, Nora, then you must keep the same company as me,” I answer. “Aren’t we partners of a sort?”

Nora harrumphs. “Right, keep this in mind, Joanna, that I am doing all this for you.”

“I appreciate this truly.”

“After all, you do not have long to live. You will be dead within the year and it is the paramount duty of the living to attend to the wishes of the dead and dying.”

“This I don’t truly appreciate.”

“Sexual tension,” The James wails.

“Oh, be quiet.”

The James looks mortified.

“Careful there, Mojo-Jojo.” Lily-Lou waggles a finger at me. “He’s a dunce, but he’s still my brother.”

“I can scale these gates,” Sir Albus declares. “After my two o’clock protein shake.”

He draws out yet another tumbler of the milky gunk he’s been drinking all day and drains it to the last drop. His cheeks begin to glow and his complexion turns ruddy. He gives a joyful whoop and begins climbing the gates easily, using the iron curlicues as footholds. At the top of the gate, he swings his foot over to the other side and leaps down before giving his own chest an affectionate pat.

“Nobody cares,” I tell Sir Albus rather nastily.

The rest of us Apparate over the gates.

“So, this Viktor Krum bloke,” says The James, “He’s a Voidist?”

“Viktor the Voidist,” Sir Albus muses.

“Indeed,” Nora answers curtly, before striding far ahead of everyone toward the direction of the white house in the distance.

Viktor the Voidist turns out to be a tall, strapping, tanned, late middle-aged bloke in a purple suit, white starched shirt and with a towering turban of tea-towels coiled around his head. On the topmost towel is a stack of pancakes. On the highest pancake is reputed to be the location of the entire Who-ville, together with a post office, movie theatre, town centre and a population of three thousand. Nobody can see Who-ville with their naked eyes.

Viktor the Voidist oozes Hollywood celebrity. Hollywood celebrities have a very special ooze to them, and Viktor the Voidist definitely has the ooze. He also smells like cucumber and aloe vera lotion.

“Velcome! Velcome! Vell, you are early for the meeting,” Viktor exclaims.

“What meeting?” I say.

“Vy, the Veekly meeting for Voidists, of course.” Krum’s eyes narrow at our blank faces and his smile evaporates. “If you are not here for the meeting, then you are not velcome. Only the initiated may enter.”

“Feel free to reconsider your choices.” Lily-Lou gives a sagely nod, but the edges of her lips are turning black, and ugly patches are rising to the surface of her skin. She’s going to turn into a furnace and incinerate the whole lot of us if nobody stops her.

I haul Lily-Lou behind me and step forward. “Mr Krum, we are here to – ,”

Sir Albus Loinsteak Potter cuts me off. “Allow me, Joanna!”

He steps forward gallantly, arms outstretched, his bare torso catching sunlight and gleaming like a shield. “Viktor Krum! I say – I’ve definitely heard of you!”

Krum’s jaw drops. “I know you! But you are the bodybuilder, Sir Albus Potter. Velcome! I did not see you earlier.”

Sir Albus grins widely and him and Krum give each other that one-armed manly embrace of manliness.

“Sexual tension,” The James murmurs.

“Vot are you all standing out there for?” Krum gestures to the rest of us. “Come in at vunce. You must join our Voidist meeting; perhaps you shall be enlightened by the vays of The Void, yes?”

“I believe in the light of the burning coals in The Pit,” Lily-Lou replies.

“Your brother fits in completely with the celebrity lot,” I say to The James.

Lily-Lou sniffs. “You think he would have got to where he is without my help?”

“What, you’ve got his soul as well?”

“Satanic intervention always comes with a price.”

“She hasn’t got my soul,” The James says. “My soul is whole and pure, Jo. For you.”

“Give it to Nora, Potter.”

Nora aims her coldest glare at The James and he shrinks, his neck sinking into the collar of his grimy trenchcoat. We go inside Krum Castle. It really is a big celebrity palace kind of venue: seashell staircases, chandeliers clinking with Swarovski crystals, square lily ponds cut into the middle of the marble tiled floors, solid gold cabinets filled with trophies and numerous Academy Awards. Gaudily dressed people are milling around the rooms of Krum’s grand house sipping flutes of champagne and making elaborate curlicues of hand gestures to accompany the random phrases of Tagalog injected into their conversations. Tagalog is currently the most fashionable language to speak in Hollywood and just what is Hollywood if not fashionable.

Before the war, Viktor Krum was a mildly famous international Quidditch player. But once the war was over and done with, he had a brainwave and moved to Hollywood and began making Muggle films of himself starring as a shark. He got the idea from back in his teenage days when he’d participated in the Triwizard Tournament and Transfigured himself into a half-shark, half-human creature as part of the competition. Years later, he perfected his self-Transfiguration into a fearsome deep-sea predator and starred in a number of box office hits including Jaws XXIII, Shark Attack XI, Megalodon IX, Deep Blue Sea XXI, Jaws of Death VI. But soon enough, he began experimenting further with his animal transfiguration and discovered that he could transform half his body into a shark and the other half into another creature of his choice. It was then that he really became famous, making movies such as Sharktopus, Sharkantula, Sharkbear, Sharkosaurus, Batshark, and the Oscar-nominated Sharkhuahua. The Muggles film reviewers kept praising the stupendous CGI work of his films, and the reviewers from the wizarding world kept marvelling at the genius and precision of his improvisatory shark-Transfiguration.

“Yes, yes,” Viktor Krum beams at me when he catches me peering into the glittering depths of one of his trophy laden display cabinets. His teeth are pointed and curving to the tips, protruding from crimped red gums like rows and rows of razorblades in his mouth. Like the mouth of a sand tiger shark. “I am doing very vell as you can see. I am loved here. I vos not as vell-loved back in Europe. And I vould haf von an Oscar last year for Best Picture had it not been for that – that seventeenth remake of that abominable Pride and Prejudice book.”

The James points at Krum’s head still bandaged in the tea-towel turban and balancing a stack of pancakes, which in turn is bearing the weight of the entire population of Who-ville. “May I ask about that?”

Viktor nods solemnly. “I am a Voidist. In Voidism, vee believe in the importance of balance in vun’s life. Every day of life, vee believe, is a balancing act. And so vee must follow these principles.”

“Fascinating,” Lily-Lou yawns rudely.

“Vell, enjoy yourselves. There are still a few minutes before vee begin the meeting.”

Nora and I exchange looks. There’s a chance that the ninja assassin who’s also a Voidist and who’s trying to knock off The James will be attending. A slim chance, but I’m itching to get rid of this inter-dimensional nuisance and be done with this whole Potter Protection Project thing.

Viktor the Voidist leaves us, taking Sir Albus with him and they both proceed to mingle with Hollywood’s elite. Lily-Lou links an unwelcome arm through mine.

“Assuage my fathomless boredom, Joanna,” Lily-Lou says. She smells of freshly-cut mangos and laundered sheets and hay fever and short-circuiting machinery and –

“Would you stop sniffing at the Devil Incarnate, Joanna?” Nora scowls and I jolt back to reality and try to wrench myself free of Lily-Lou. She doesn’t let me go and pretends not to notice.

“Let go!” I snap and she begins to hum.

“Joanna Mannering!” This new voice sounds incredibly familiar.

It’s Bernie Buttons, the Big Boss, the one who assigns Nora and I all our Redirectionist jobs.

“Mr Buttons,’ I blurt out. “Fancy seeing you here in Hollywood.”

Bernie Buttons is a portly man with sideburns and a monocle and a silver moustache. He’s a follower of a particular fashion trend that emerged in the last decade or so: New Victorian Vogue. Consequently, he goes around dressed like someone from Great bloody Expectations or something. Waistcoats with notched collars and pinstriped trousers, suspenders and frock coats and gloves and frilly cravats, stovepipe hats and elaborate walking sticks and pocket watch and fob. He also believes in workhouses, the coming of the ninth industrial revolution, and magical Babbage computers made of chrome pipes and spinning cogs that compute the exact date for the End of Days.

“Mannering,” Bernie Buttons says, adjusting his monocle and tapping his giant hook of a walking stick on the ground. “Patil-Brown and Scamander told me you weren’t able to meet me earlier on today under the pretext that you were violently ill with an unpleasant intestinal disease, the primary consequence of which is the transformation of your bowels into a pair of giant bellows.”

“My apologies,” Nora mumbles behind me.

“I won’t forget this,” I snap over my shoulder. To Old Butts, I say, “I – well – by the way, I can explain everything about the last job and – ”

Butts cuts me off. “But first, kindly explain your sudden recovery. I am most invested in your health and wellbeing, you being one of my employees.”

“Oh, didn’t Jo tell you?” Lily-Lou interrupts, her face twisted with a most unpleasant grin. “Jo has accepted another job offer. Her time is now divided between work for you, Buttons, and for her new employer.”

I will exorcise Lily-Lou. Somehow I’ll find a way to rid myself of the curse of her presence.

Nora sticks up for me. “Why don’t you just bugger back off to that flaming pit of yours, Potter?”

Butts, however, ignores Nora. His face flushes into an alarming shade of crimson. The corner of his mouth develops a dangerous tic, and his whole body goes rigid; the effort it takes for him to contain his rage is enormous, and his movements appear somewhat constipated.

“Mannering, is this true?”


Lily-Lou grins and rubs her palms together, lifts them to her mouth and blows into them. Then she spits out a long train of parchment, which turns out to be the contract of employment, and it falls to the ground and rolls out like a carpet. This, she hands over to Butts.

“Not going to lie, Buttons, but I do lie heaps. I’m just not doing it right now.”

Buttons seizes the parchment, fiddles about with his monocle and proceeds to peruse the document in its entirety. Twenty minutes later, he looks up, his face turning green, then a sickly yellow, then returning to crimson. He resembles a malfunctioning traffic light.

“That’s a fake document. A forgery of my signature,” I lie helplessly.

Lily-Lou tsk-tsks.

“You’re fired, Mannering,” Butts growls. He throws the contract back at Lily-Lou who curtsies and stuffs the parchment into her mouth and swallows it. She burps and the smell of burning paper and ash fills the air. “Also, you have forfeited your deposit, which you paid at the start of employment.”

“No, don’t! You can’t do this!” I yell at him and quite a few of Krum’s other guests cast disapproving glances at us. “Alright I’ll leave, but I want that deposit back! I’ll exchange it with its value in cash!”

“What’s the deposit?” Lily-Lou asks curiously.

“None of your business!” I snarl at her.

“A fragment of Mannering’s soul.” Butts leers at me and my hand twitches toward my wand, and the words Avada Kedavra pop into my mind.

“I foresee bad things,” The James moans. “Jo, what have you done?”

Lily-Lou’s eyes brighten. “I’ll buy it from you, Buttons.”

“Fuck all of you!”

“I’ll sell it to you gladly for a fixed sum of five hundred Galleons,” Butts says.

“Fixed, Buttons? I would love a redefinition of that term. And by redefinition, I mean one-tenth of your offered price.”

“I’ll pay you five hundred Galleons for that, Butts!” I’m beginning to yell now and a woman with flittering wings from her midnight blue butterfly suit tut-tuts at us.

“I’ll let you have the item at no less than four hundred Galleons, Miss Potter.”

“And I’ll not pay anything above sixty Galleons, Mr Buttons.”

Butts and Lily-Lou ignore Nora and I. The deal is settled at seventy Galleons. Seventy Galleons for a piece of my precious soul. Lily-Lou always wins every fucking deal she makes. She spits out a smoking cheque for seventy Galleons, mimes a kiss at me while holding that transgressive slip of paper between her second and third finger, and then gives it to Butts.

And that is how that evil demon bitch bought a section of my soul.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Miss Potter. Your purchase will be at your doorstep tomorrow morning,” Butts says in his most gentlemanly voice. He taps his hook-cane on the floor, tips his hat toward her, ignores me completely and stalks off.

“I, too, am throwing in my resignation!” Nora calls after his retreating figure. “By the way, Mr Buttons, going on the assumption that your presence in this place suggests that you’re a devotee of the religion of Voidism, would you happen to know anything about ninjas?”

“I most certainly hope not,” Butts calls back and then he’s swallowed up in a titter of socialising with a couple of reality TV stars.

I raise my wand and point it at Lily-Lou. “How about I kill you now, Lily-Lou, and retrieve my piece of soul.”

“How about you try,” Lily-Lou says, lazily.

Nora grasps my arm firmly, sensing my intention. The James takes my other arm.

“Not right now, Jo. We’re in the middle of Hollywood,” says Nora.

“Why d’you do it, Jo?” says The James sadly. “That’s got to hurt, splitting your soul like that. What did you have to accomplish to wreak such ruination and brokenness upon your own soul?”

“Spare us the poetics, big brother,” Lily-Lou says. “Everyone’s soul is a little broken, isn’t it? Well, except maybe yours, which increases the value of your soul tenfold. I keep a running meter on the ever-increasing value of your pure soul, by the way. And as for Joanna, she had to kill someone in order to break up her soul and gain immortal life, or some shit like that.”

“But why?” The James’s voice is plaintive. He plunges his wrists deep into his trenchcoat pockets and accidentally draws out a pair gardening shears, which nick him on the fingers. He sucks his fingers angrily before tossing the shears behind him, where they bounce off the head of someone’s pet Chihuahua, which begins to whine. “Why taint your beautiful intact soul in such a way?”

“The Carkett Curse,” Nora says, impatiently. “Isn’t it obvious? Joanna is intensely terrified of the reality of her imminent death.”

“I am not intensely terrified of the –”

At the mention of death, The James looks even more morose than ever. “My condolences, Joanna. I think I understand you a little better now.”

“Shut the fuck up all of you,” I snarl at them and Lily-Lou unleashes a peal of laughter.

A loud gong! resounds through the house, the floors and walls shivering around us. All the guests gather up their skirts and capes and butterfly wings and Chihuahuas and champagne flutes and begin to cat-walk toward the lush, scarlet-tapestried ballroom of Krum’s mansion. The grand ballroom is crowned by a band of chandeliers, though there aren’t any actual sources of light on those fixtures: no candles, no bulbs, nothing. In fact, the place is illuminated solely by the glittering light of the thousands of clinking diamonds of the chandeliers, shedding rainbow fragments on the ground below. Viktor the Voidist is standing right in front, beating a large gong hanging from an ornate gold frame. Rows and rows of gilded armchairs have been arranged across the ballroom, and the fact that the seats outnumber the guests does indeed raise questions on the popularity of the Voidist faith.

“See you in a few hours.” Nora selects a seat at the very back row, sits down stiffly with her hands folded on her lap, shuts her eyes and zaps off to Gotchump-Altruissia.

Sir Albus Potter Loinsteak saunters into the ballroom, arm-in-arm with a film star who became famous in the eighties when he starred in an action movie about drug dealers, winks and waves at me and Lily-Lou and The James but doesn’t sit with us. Instead, they make their way to the very front row and sit right before Viktor the Voidist, who’s still banging away at the gong.

“You can stop now,” Lily-Lou says testily, and the multiple glamorous heads of the seated glamorous crowd swivel round to direct their glares at us.

Viktor the Voidist shrugs, but good-naturedly puts down his beater and removes the stack of pancakes with Who-ville on the top from his head. Then, he unwinds the turban of towels to reveal his very normal, non-celebrity crewcut.

“Velcome, my brothers and sisters of The Faith, to our veekly meeting. I am pleased to announce that vee haff a few visitors who are most eager to learn about our sacred vays vith The Void.”

A shuffle of applause through the crowd.

“For god’s sake,” Lily-Lou utters, loudly.

For once I agree with her. No sound from Nora, whose pulse seems to have gone silent. Probably engaging in hand-to-hand (or claw-to-claw) combat with a handful (or claw-ful) of Latec rebels.

“Where’s Potter? The other one? Your big brother?” I whisper to Lily-Lou. The James has disappeared.

Lily-Lou groans. “That twerp. I’m going to flay him. I’m going to flay him alive. Then I’m going to pour salt on him. Then I’m going to stretch him on my rack in the deepest, most sulphurous chamber of The Pit. Then I’m going to regrow his skin and whatever limbs he’s lost and do it all over again. If anything happens to that piece of shit, Mother’s never going to shut up about it.”

“I see all this as a sign that we need to exit this place,” I say.

The diamond-glow of the chandeliers are extinguished and the ballroom dims like a movie theatre. The double doors shut and an automatic Sealing Spell welds them together. I can hear the fizz of magic.

“Oh, excellent.”

“In our faith,” Viktor the Voidist begins, “Vee are alvays seeking The Void. The Void is the manifestation of all the emptiness vithin us. Day by day, vee must strive to empty ourselves, to return ourselves to The Void, until vee reach the state of total enlightenment.”

“I’m guessing,” Lily-Lou declares, “That the 100% Enlightened Ones are all vacuum cleaners.”

The crowd hisses at her. The woman with butterfly wings shimmers with poisonous radiance, which of course has no effect on the Devil Incarnate.

“Close your eyes, everyvun,” Viktor’s voice booms through the darkness. “And together, let us recite the Voidal prayer to profess our faith.”

The room goes deathly silent for a moment, and then the crowd raises its voice in a flat chant.

“We believe in The Void, the Great Emptiness that presides over all life, and whence all life sprung out of nothing. We believe in the providence and the compassion of The Void who birthed us out of its own essence, out of the flesh of nothing and from nothing we are composed. We are the beloved of The Void, we who cherish our origins, we who were non-existent. We believe in the universality of The Void. All things shall be returned to The Void, all life be taken back into The Void, all our hopes and our laughter and our grief and our burdens shall be swallowed by The Void. We shall feed its Great Emptiness with the emptiness that is our existence. Solemnly, we swear to muster every ounce of our strength to return ourselves to the welcoming embrace of The Void, that we may be unified in the absence of substance with The Void, that we may ever seek sanctuary in its divine oblivion. Glory be to The Void Eternal, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

Something strange happens while the Voidists are reciting their little creed. There’s a cool tickle of air against my eyelid, and I blink away that itch of a draught. It persists, a thin ribbon of air rubbing against the tender membrane over my eyes. I start to rub at them, gently at first, then the irritation seems to diffuse through into my eyeballs.

“What’s wrong with you,” Lily-Lou says. “Stop rubbing your eyes like that.”

“Bloody. Itchy. Something’s got in,” I hiss, gritting my teeth.

“Is that an invitation, Mannering?”

“I’m being fucking serious.”

The itch vanishes and I drop my hands. My vision is blurry, swimming with movement, but the world doesn’t clear up, doesn’t slide into focus. In fact, everything darkens and the whole room begins whirling around, warped out of shape, breaking up and flaking away, sucked into a spot in front of me: all the pieces of the broken world gathering into a black shapeless mass. Matter, light, bodies – everything becomes clots or bulbous silhouettes; everything is eaten into The Great Nothing in front of me. A Nothing so dense and so pervasive that it is Something. And then, don’t ask me bloody how, The Void looks at me. The Abyss Gazes Back. I am Viewed by the Vacuum, Contemplated by the Chasm, Noticed by the Nothing, Beheld by the Blankness, Eyed by the Emptiness, Seen by the Space. Its Non-existent Invisible Eye penetrates through all the clumsy opaque flesh of my existence and peers nakedly into my heart and pulls all the thoughts out of my head. Nothing is mine; I am not mine; I am an agent of Nothing. I am The Void. I feel like I’m being lifted off my seat and I’m floating toward the gaping maw of oblivion.

“Snap the fuck out of this, Mannering,” someone hollers down my ear.

I jump to my feet and now everybody is looking at me but I honestly can’t give a fuck. Turns out I’m yelling pretty hard. I yell loud enough for Nora to be pulled back from princessing in the Other Dimension and she jolts awake in her body.

“Goodness gracious, in the name of the High Deities of Gotchump-Altruissia, what is the meaning of this racket, Jo?” Nora demands.

“You’re embarrassing yourself, Joanna,” Lily-Lou adds, petulantly.

Everything appears to be normal. The room, intact. The people, still as gaudy as ever. The diamonds are still twinkling their expensive light down upon us. No trace of the great emptiness, that just a few moments ago, was swallowing everything up, sucking the light and life out of the world.

“The Void was looking at me. The Abyss Gazing Back. I was Viewed by the Void, Contemplated by the Chasm, Noticed by the Nothing, Beheld by the Blankness, Eyed by the Emptiness, Seen by the Space!” I yell at all of them and they look blank. “I’m a believer!”

Nora looks disbelieving.

“Well, someone has finally cast aside all her heathen ways,” Lily-Lou says, after a pause.

I kick my chair aside and stride toward the doors. Nora sighs and follows, and I can hear Lily-Lou’s stilettos clicking behind me. I whirl around, wand drawn. “Open the doors!”

“But – vee haff just begun!” Viktor the Voidist protests. “And you haff been chosen; The Void has bestowed its blessing upon you!”

Open the doors.”

The doors swing open and the three of us march out, Nora making apologetic hand gestures behind us. Nora’s always big on things like courtesy and empathy and alien concepts like that. Must be a Gotchump-Altruist thing, because it certainly isn’t human.

“So,” Nora says. We’re standing in one of Krum’s marbled, gleaming hallways with four ceiling-to-floor aquariums full of rare sea fungus instead of walls. “It has indeed been a productive day. Jo is a Voidist now.”

“Actually, an Avoidist,” Lily-Lou quips, smirking.

“Such as an Atheist? But she no longer disbelieves the existence of The Void.”

“No, she’s just going to Avoid the hell out of all things Nothing.”

I tell them to shut up and Lily-Lou to screw herself. “Also, we’re still missing your brother, remember?”

➴ ➶ ➴

The James is nowhere to be found.

We search high and low for that twat, through all the rooms of Krum’s mansion, through his shaving rooms and billiard rooms, through his conservatories and greenhouses, through a room with a complete driving range in it, through the tennis rooms and the smoking rooms and the powder rooms and the trophy rooms and the props rooms and the sock storage rooms. Some rooms have walls plastered with posters of monsters. All the monsters are half-sharks. All of the monsters are Viktor Krum starring in different films. There’s even a poster of him as a half-shark, half-duffel bag chewing at a yellow dinghy containing a scared looking couple in Baywatch swimsuits.

All that but no Potter.

Lily-Lou’s temper is becoming worse by the minute. Already, she set several expensive suites of furniture on fire, and razed millions of Galleons’ worth of paintings.

“May I suggest that we adjourn to the gardens and continue with our search there?” says Nora.

“May I suggest that you go and boil your head?” Lily-Lou replies rudely.

But we go outside anyway, Nora and Lily-Lou sniping at each other. First thing to do when I get home: Google the exorcism prayer.

Most of the next hour goes into traversing the vast grounds of Krum’s estate. He’s got a lake bigger than the Caspian Sea and a woodland patch denser than the Amazon. Lily-Lou leaves a trail of destruction in her wake, and all that greenery and expensive flowers are reduced to charred stumps and beds of ash. I don’t know what Viktor the Voidist is going to say once his meeting is over but we really need to pick up The James and get out of here before further devastation of Krum’s property.

It’s Nora who finds The James.

She gives a shout and Lily-Lou and I rush over to where she is, by a stagnant duck pond, the surface membraned with dirty feathers and the water smelling sharp and ammoniac. The James is floating face-down in the centre. Nora’s already wading into the muck, her jeans sopping wet and mud-stained. She hauls him out all by herself, grunting as she dislodges him from the tangling grasp of waterweed wound around his knees and drops him to the ground. He isn’t conscious, and the front of his shirt is slashed open and stained red. His face is chalk-coloured, as though he’s lost a couple of pints of blood.

“Oi!” Lily-Lou slaps his cheek. “Wake up!”

“I wouldn’t do that,” I say.

Nora shoves Lily-Lou aside. She points her wand at his still form. “Rennervate.”

He draws in a deep sudden breath, chokes on the influx of air and spews out a stream of water. The next few moments are filled with his loud gasping and Lily-Lou and I just hover at the periphery and let Nora take charge with her knowledge of Healing Spells.

“What happened?” Nora says.

He frowns.

“We found you trying to drink the whole pond, big brother,” Lily-Lou adds.

The James’s eyes widen, and something like memory flits through his stare. “L-lobsters,” he wheezes.

“Hungry, are you? Well, we can get you some food right after you tell us who did this to you. Was it the bloody ninja?”

He shakes his head weakly. “Lobsters.”

Nora gasps, both hands flying to cover her mouth. “Lobsters?”

“Lobsters,” he confirms.

“You are absolutely certain?”

“Lobsters. Yes, lobsters.”

“I see you two have formed quite the rapport.” The edge of Lily-Lou’s mouth curls and her smile becomes thorny.

“It wasn’t any ninja Voidist that mauled him in such a vicious manner,” Nora explains. “It was the Latec rebels from Gotchump-Altruissia. The very same rebels I’ve been battling all these years. It appears that the Latecs have unfortunately found a way into this dimension.’

“Those Latex rebels are lobsters?” Lily-Lou says, doubtfully.

All Gotchump-Altruists are lobsters,” Nora snaps. Then she does a double take. “Wait. We aren’t lobsters! We’re Gotchump-Altruists. Kindly refrain from labelling us as such.”

The James groans weakly, his eyelids flickering. His breathing is laboured.

“He requires an immediate dose of Instant Blood Replenishment Solution,” Nora concludes. “We’ll never get it in time.”

I reach forward and stick my hand into the pockets of The James’s trenchcoat and begin fumbling around. There’s an unbelievable amount of junk in there.

The James opens his eyes. “Y-you’re fumbling in my p-pockets, J-J-Joanna,” he moans. “It f-feels very much like s-se – ”

“It isn’t sexual tension at all,” I cut him short. “Groping around in someone’s pockets doesn’t mean anything. Stop trying to read signs into things.”

Accio Blood Replenishment Potion,” Lily-Lou says, and a scarlet vial zooms out of The James’s pocket, brushing against my hand. “Open your mouth, big brother.”

His mouth cracks open, his jaw quivering, and Lily-Lou empties the vial down his throat. Colour returns to his ashen cheeks and his breaths broaden out and deepen and he manages to pull himself up to a sitting position.

“Sorry, everyone,” The James mutters.

“What were you doing out here by yourself? Especially now that you know that there’s a ninja who can slip between dimensions out to assassinate you?” Lily-Lou demands.

The James wrings his hands. “I – I was just coming out here to examine my options, to – to test my precognitive abilities. I – I didn’t think they were working properly.”

We look at him blankly.

“It’s Jo,” says The James.

“What have I got to do with anything?”

“Well, before I met you I foresaw that you and I would well, build a future together. We’d be happy. We’re supposed to find fulfilment in each other’s company for the rest of our lives. But so far you haven’t shown a whit of interest in me, and so I was wondering if my Sight is mistaken, or if I’ve misread the Future or something.”

“You definitely misread the Fog.”

Nora snorts. “Jo doesn’t have a future. Her future lies within the grave. Even with her split soul and her various other endeavours to elude Death, the great Equaliser, which is how we Gotchump-Altruists refer to it.”

“Another time for that,” Lily-Lou says, “What I want to know is exactly what happened to you.”

“I was – I was just walking along the pond, and then something knocked me to the ground. I can’t tell what it was or from what direction, I never saw. All of a sudden I was biting dust. And – and when I rolled over, there were two huge lobsters bent over me. One of them slashed at me, then picked me up and threw me into the water.”

“Where did that come from?” Nora says, tersely, pointing to the empty vial of Blood Replenishment solution.

“From his pockets,” I answer. “He’s got all kinds of shit in there. Look.”

I reach over into The James’s trenchcoat again and pull out a car battery, a glockenspiel, and Celestina Warbeck’s sex appeal. Another dip of my hand, and out comes a kitchen sink.

Nora groans. “Those aren’t just pockets. They’re portals, sewn into his pockets, doorways to heavens-knows-where, to other dimensions, I would suppose. That’s where he’s been drawing all that stuff from. That must be where the Latec rebels emerged from.”

“From his pockets.”

“It appears so.”










“My bone sockets hurt,” whines The James. “One of those lobsters must have pinched me too hard.”

Who-ville is from Dr. Seuss's books
Shark Attack (1999) is a film directed by Bob Misiorowski
Deep Blue Sea (1999) is another shark film, directed by Renny Harlin
Megalodon (2002) is a terrible shark film, directed by Pat Corbitt
Sharktopus (2010) is a half-shark, half-octopus film directed by Declan O'Brien (starring Viktor Krum)
Baywatch (1989-2001) is a TV series created by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, and Gregory J. Bonann

I think that's it. :)