Disclaimer: I own none of the characters, settings or inanimate objects to be found herein.
When Adam Young turned sixteen he started to think about the future. Not, as some might suppose, the future of the planet. After all, it seemed to him that asking somebody who was half–way through their GCSE's and hadn't even had a proper girlfriend yet to referee the grand pissing contest between heaven and hell was a tad unfair, even if they did happen to be an antichrist. No, when Adam Young was sixteen, he started to think about what the future would hold for The Them once they'd finished their A levels.
They could take a gap year, of course; it would be their first chance to explore parts of the world that weren't on their parents' list of respectable holiday destinations. But what then? University seemed like the obvious answer. The thing that worried Adam about this was the fact that university probably meant the four of them going to different places. Pepper had been talking about how Lancaster had one of the best Sociology departments in the country, whilst Wensleydale was already making enquiries as to whether the US would be a better place to study Computer Science than Britain, and Brian, not being the most academically inclined of people, seemed to be seriously questioning whether he'd be able to get in anywhere, let alone somewhere classified as 'prestigious' or 'world class'. The ideal scenario, as far as Adam was concerned, would be if somebody decided to build a top notch university in the Tadfield area, which would, against all odds - and possibly due to some sort of clerical error - admit Brian.
If you were to ask the members of the Tadfield Borough Council exactly how the idea of building a world class centre of learning excellence in an area of wasteland just north of Upper Tadfield came about, none would find themselves able to give you a clear and coherent answer. They were also a bit hazy as to where the funding for the project was coming from. Nonetheless, on June 16th 2002 – and in one of the most astoundingly quick and efficient moves from planning to building in recent British history – the construction company broke ground. There were inevitably many residents in the area who were upset about this move by the authorities to invite – or incite, depending on how you looked at it - several thousand young people to relocate to the area. Mr. RP Tyler wrote a seven page letter to every major newspaper in the country, which rambled at length about irresponsible town planning, NHS waiting lists, immigration, the state of Britain's roads and why National Service and the cane ought to be reintroduced. Nobody at any of the papers receiving the diatribe could divine quite what the upshot of the letter was supposed to be, but The Daily Mail published it anyway on the grounds that it contained something for nearly all of the regular readers to angrily agree with. Still, after a while, most of Tadfield's inhabitants agreed, albeit grudgingly, that this particular building project was remarkable in the lack of inconvenience and environmental damage it seemed to be causing. Indeed, when a certain pale, light-haired young man named Mr. White arrived to work on the site, he quickly found it impossible to locate a chink in the eco friendly working practises of Harvis Construction LTD and promptly moved on to greener pastures that were more susceptible to chemical seepage.
"I've got in." The level of elation and relief in Brian's voice as he waved the letter of acceptance aloft was infectious and Adam and Pepper found themselves whooping and cheering with him. Adam was well aware that Brian only had a place on the BSc Environmental Science course owing to a blip in the newly installed computerised enrolment system rather than, as Brian thought, because the tutors could see past his two A levels at grade E and the misspelled personal statement. He wasn't however about to mention this to his friend.
The three of them were sitting in Brian's parents' front room, tanned, tired and feeling slightly giddy. They'd flown back from Thailand the previous week after ten months spent visiting some of the world most exotic destinations and sleeping in a procession of tents, huts, youth hostels, cheap hotel rooms and in one notable instance a glass box(1). Their arrival at Gatwick had been notable in that it was the first in which Brian hadn't been hauled over for a search by customs officials.
"The thing is," said Brian, once the excitement of realising that he'd escaped being prematurely forced into the world of work had worn off, "does all of this going to university stuff mean we're grownups now?"
The other two considered this.
"Nah," said Adam eventually. "My dad reckons that you're not a proper adult until you've graduated and got a sensible job." By 'my dad' he of course meant Mr. Young. He wasn't quite sure about what his 'other' father would have had to say on the issue.
Brian looked relieved. "That's alright then. We don't leave for another three years."
"And there's always postgraduate study," said Pepper.
"Yeah, but then you'd have to do loads of work. My cousin Paula said that her dissertation was twenty thousand words long."
"So was your story The Amazing Adventures of the Outstanding Mr. Platypus."
"It doesn't count if you're stoned when you write it thought. And the last time I wrote an essay when I was stoned Mr. Luton demanded to know what I thought that the music of Green Day had to do with abnormal cell division."
"What did you tell him?"
"That I was stoned when I wrote it. Nothing else I could say. Of course, that was when my parents made me go and see that TV therapist, you know, Dr. Darryl Birkett."
"It didn't work then I take it?"
"What, the counselling? "
"Well, given the number of illicit substances I've seen you take over the last year, I'm assuming that the just say no message was a little lost on you."
"Pepper I wasn't just taking drugs. I was experiencing the local culture in a non-oppressive non-imperialistic way."
"Yes, but most people would say that drinking every hallucinogenic concoction that some bloke who lives in a Peruvian cave gives to you, at once, isn't a good idea."
"It wasn't as though you didn't do any experimenting yourself," said Brian, clearly deciding that attack was the best form of defence.
"At least I knew what I was taking. And I know my limits, unlike you and Wensley."
At the mention of Wensleydale's name Brian seemed to tense.
"We should go and see him," said Adam, suddenly sounding rather serious.
"Who?" said Pepper, the response delivered a little too quickly for ignorance to be believed.
"Wensley. We haven't spoken to him since we got back from the airport."
"Well, it was him who was being off with us. Though I'm not letting you off the hook Brian, you're being a bloody idiot about things too."
"It wasn't my fault," said Brian, face falling. "Well, I suppose it was my fault for well… you know. Though it was kind of him that started it. But afterwards he just stopped talking to me. Pretending that nothing had happened. And then he caught the first plane home as soon as we reached Lima."
"Pretending nothing happened?" said Pepper, snorting incredulously. "That's rich. The pair of you must have managed to wake up the whole campsite."
"I think that was the problem. Well, that and the fact that you wouldn't stop making comments the day after."
Pepper bristled. "But you'd both have made comments if it was me and Adam shagging in a tent in the middle of the Andes."
The mention of himself, Pepper and shagging within the same sentence was enough to induce several interesting, downright explicit and not entirely unwelcome images in Adam's mind. Still, he told himself, as Brian, who had just moments ago been so thoroughly ecstatic about getting into university, slumped miserably on the chintz sofa, if this whole mess showed anything, it was that getting involved with your friends in 'that' way was invariably an extremely bad idea
"It's not the same. You know that Wensley doesn't like talking about personal things. Besides, it's not as if your mum would throw you out of the house if she found out that you liked girls instead of boys, is it?" It was, as far as Adam was concerned, disconcerting at the very least to hear Brian sounding so serious. Pepper, needless to say, was already on the verge of righteous indignation.
"You mean that his mum would?" she demanded.
"Well, you know what she's like."
"Yeah, a complete cow, that's what."
Once The Them had entered their teenage years Wensleydale's mother had made it abundantly clear that she thought that the other three were a terrible influence on him. In all fairness however, this had come about soon after Brian had been suspended from school after two bouts of apparent pyromania, Pepper had broken Carl Porter's nose and Adam had been observed conversing with numerous unsavoury types on the village green(2). Pepper, of course, had been the most outspokenly furious about not being seen as a fit acquaintance for Mrs. Wensleydale's only son.
"We should still go and see him," said Adam, spying imminent conversation derailment in the form of Pepper and Brian both launching into protracted diatribes on the subject of Wensley's mother, and the general unlikability thereof.
"I know," said Brian. "Why don't you and Pepper talk to him first?"
"You mean that you want me and Adam to sort it all out for you?" said Pepper, eyes threatening to start rolling at any moment.
Brian appeared to think about this for some time. "Yeah," he said, eventually. "I mean, if you wouldn't mind, that is."
"You can't go through life expecting other people to sort out your problems for you, you know. In fact, I think that we should all go to Wensley's house right now and sort things out."
The expression on Brian's face suggested that the thought of 'sorting things out' was inducing around the same level of apprehension as the prospect of, say, sitting in a piranha infested paddling pool for twenty minutes. Nevertheless, the fact that he got up, mumbled something about needing to change his clothes first and headed upstairs, implied that the thought of having Pepper be vocally disapproving at him held marginally more terror.
It may or may not have been of comfort to Brian to know that several hundred miles away in Mayfair a certain demon was having equally fraught afternoon. Crowley's day had started well enough; with a quarter of an hour's worth of light hacking ensuring that every e-mail address on an evangelical Christian mailing list was flooded with a deluge of some of the kinkiest pornography that the internet had to offer, and a quick jaunt to the Harrods' food court yielding an irresistible opportunity to invalidate every credit card within a half-mile radius. On returning to his flat however he had found two letters awaiting him. The first, which took the form of an old bit of parchment stuffed into a grubby brown envelope, informed him that in recognition of recent successes his monthly tempting targets had been doubled and that any failure to meet said targets would be met with a swift and thorough review of all his activities over the previous one-hundred years, with special attention to previously uninvestigated failures in apocalyptical planning and protocols. As the parchment spontaneously combusted in his hands, he loudly cursed hell's personnel department and silently bemoaned the loss of the four month snooze he'd had planned for the remainder of the year. The second letter bore the logo of The University of Tadfield. He'd heard about the place on the news, of course; and the lack of legal wrangling, planning disasters, fund misappropriation or any other hiccups that would normally accompany a project of that size and scale had served to consolidate his suspicions that the enterprise was receiving a very special kind of help. Still, he was rather surprised to be receiving a letter from the institution. He was even more surprised – not to mention horrified - when he opened the crisp white envelope and read the contents.
Twenty minutes later a bookshop dwelling angel found his mid-afternoon reading rudely interrupted by an angry phone call from an irate demon.
"My dear," he said as, on the other end of the line, Crowley launched into a tirade of furious accusations, "I can assure you that none of this is my doing."
"Who else would sign me up for the post of student advisor?" demanded Crowley, clearly seething. "Bet you thought it would be a brilliant joke didn't you? Let's force Crowley to interact with a bunch of miserable, unwashed students, that'll be good for a laugh."
Aziraphale sighed in an exceedingly put upon manner, it was near impossible to reason with Crowley when he was in a mood like this. "Do you honestly think that I want fresh young minds to be warped by the sort of advice you'd give out? Anyway, it's not as if you have to take the job, is it? I mean, you can always write a polite letter explaining that you have other commitments that mean you can't take the post after all."
Crowley paused for a moment. "What, you mean that I should lie? Angel, I'm surprised at you." Aziraphale could almost hear the smirking.
"Hardly. I'm almost certain that you have other commitments, even if they do mostly involve the proliferation of those terrible, educationally bankrupt children's programmes that have been all over the BBC lately. Besides, I daresay that you not being there will make things a little easier for me."
"Easier for you, how?" The demon's tones were suddenly suspicious.
"I received a letter from The University of Tadfield this morning too. Apparently I've been made head librarian."
"What, Head Librarian? Why?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. I certainly didn't apply for the post. Though I strongly suspect that young Adam might have had a hand in it. He'll be studying there in a month's time; taking history, I believe"
"But you're not going to take the job, are you?"
"Actually I thought I would. The boy clearly wants us to be there." What Aziraphale carefully failed to mention was that taking the job would also enable him to temporarily close the shop and evade, for now at least, the pursuit of a particularly tenacious would-be customer who seemed to be intent on buying several of his more jealously protected tomes. "Besides," he added, with more than a hint of a smile, "just think of what an uncontested heavenly presence will do for the students."
"That," said Crowley, after a few moments of hesitation. "Is the most disgustingly transparent attempt at emotional manipulation that you've made in the last five hundred years."
"I take it that you won't be joining me then?" said Aziraphale, as he ducked behind the counter to avoid being spotted by the aforementioned tenacious would-be customer, who had just appeared at the shop door.
Crowley snorted in a supremely irritated fashion. "Of course I bloody well will. Can't have you being given free reign over all of those young impressionable minds, can I?"
Aziraphale had the decency not to adopt more than a mildly smug expression. "And the location means that you'll get to see young Bentley more often, of course."
Crowley muttered something that sounded a little like 'oh bloody heaven I never thought of that'.
Bentley Pulsifer-Device had entered the world seven years ago, shortly after his mother had gone into premature labour whilst on a rural picnic. It was, everybody agreed, a very good job that his father had managed to flag down that passing vintage car. The birth itself had been accompanied by a great deal of agonised shouting: all of it coming from the driver of the car who had been near hysterical about the fate of the leather upholstery. Anathema and Newt had made Crowley the little boy's honorary uncle, they had felt that it was the least they could do to make up for the trauma and severe nausea that getting placenta on the back seat had quite obviously caused.
"Really Crowley, you couldn't hope to meet a better behaved child," said Aziraphale.
"You're just saying that because the he was gullible enough to be impressed by your coin behind the ear trick. The kid's a walking disaster area. You should have seen what happened to my laptop last time I was conned into baby sitting; and don't think I've forgotten that you still owe me for that one."
"He just has a very… um… peculiar gift."
"Gift! It's a bloody curse. Isn't safe to let him within ten feat of anything with a voltage."
Bentley, for reasons unknown – and quite possibly ineffable – seemed to have inherited both his mother's psychic disposition and his father's technological aptitude. The net result of this being that he only had to be in the same building as an electrical appliance before it started to behave in a manner not covered in the instruction manual. There was already a note in the Tadfield Primary School register stating that on no account must any class trips to taken to the Sellafield Visitors Centre.
"It's not as if he intends to do any harm."
"That," said Crowley, in a manner that suggested he still wasn't over the complete destruction of his state of the art cinema screen television, "is not the point."
"Well, I really ought to be getting on with things," said Aziraphale, as he sensed that the threat from the would-be customer had passed. Crowley, obviously recognising that Aziraphale didn't want to be subjected to another half hour rant on the near-ruination of every single piece of microchipped equipment in his flat, mumbled a quick goodbye and hung up.
Aziraphale, relieved to find his shop no longer under assault from those trying to viciously remove its contents in exchange for money, decided that he'd leave as soon as was possible. After all, you never knew when a purchaser might try and strike again.
Back in Tadfield Adam and Pepper were quickly realising that merely placing Brian and Wensley in the same room as each other wasn't going to have the desired effect.
Things had got off to an unsettling start when Wensleydale, on opening the front door, had decided – for the first time in fifteen years of friendship – to firmly shake Brian and Adam's hands by way of greeting. Pepper hadn't been quite sure whether to laugh or gape. They'd then been led to the kitchen of Wensley's parents home, which could have probably shamed an NHS operating theatre when it came to hygiene and sterile surfaces, where he'd then proceeded to babble at length about football, C+ and the comparative merits of tomato ketchup and salad cream.
Neither he nor Brian seemed quite able to look each other in the eye.
"If they carry on like this they'll be on to DIY and weight lifting within half an hour," muttered Pepper, as her two friends discussed the trivial and appropriately masculine with increasingly desperate faux cheeriness. "Still," she added as Wensley, clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel that was meaningless conversation, launched into an assessment of the merits of the new Burger Lord adverts, "it's not as if either of us could force them to be sensible about things."
"And it would be wrong to do it even if we could," replied Adam.
Pepper regarded him in a slightly nonplussed manner. "Be wrong for us to do what."
"Force them to be sensible about things. Well, it would be wrong, wouldn't it?" For some reason Adam's tone seemed almost unsure, as if he were engaged in some sort of mental debate about the ethics of the matter.
"Suppose so," said Pepper, shrugging. "Though it'd be good if you could force people like politicians to be sensible. It'd solve most of the world's problems."
For some reason Adam didn't reply.
All things considered damnation wasn't as bad as it could have been.
This, at least, was what Draco Malfoy told himself when the paperwork began to get to him and the rows of filing cabinets started to seem as though they were stretching into infinity(3). He'd been killed after running blindly into the path of an articulated lorry going at 80mph, whilst, in the grand tradition of cowards everywhere, trying to flee a fraught battle between the Death Eater and a group of plucky youngsters loyal to Harry Potter. Still, he was doing a lot better here than some. He certainly wasn't, for instance, as badly off as Fenrir Greyback whom he heard the Ironic Torments Department had had turned into a very small, fluffy lamb, or his Aunt Bellatrix, who'd apparently been sent directly to one of the Medieval Themed Dungeons(4), or, for that matter the Dark Lord himself, for whom the most humiliating of all fates had been bestowed. No, being made the most junior admin assistant in Under Duke Dagon's department was probably the best outcome he could have hoped for given the circumstances; even if it was stultifying, mind numbingly, brain crushingly boring. At least there were plenty of entities around to talk to – though he strongly suspected that most of them inhabited the bottom rung of hell's social ladder – and the department was generally acknowledged to be the best place to pick up gossip about the goings on amongst the netherworld's bigwigs.
"…. and Abbadon apparently saw Hastur and Pazuzu having an intimate loiter in an alleyway somewhere in Dis. Ligur doesn't know, of course, he just thinks that Hastur's been putting in more hours than usual at the office."
This seemed to cause a great deal of murmuring amongst the assorted demons, imps and damned gathered around the speaker; an incredibly beautiful, female-shaped creature, with serpentine eyes and whose job description had, until five months ago, been Dark Lord's Familiar. She seemed to have taken a liking to Draco. He put it down to having fed her snake form a few stoats during his last days as a Death Eater and living being.
"How'd you find out?" demanded an immense demon with six arms, clearly not as certain of the authenticity of these claims as many of the other listeners seemed to be.
The female-shaped creature gave an exaggerated sigh. "Because I overheard Belphegor telling Dagon about it."
The large demon seemed to accept this explanation. It was, after all, widely acknowledged that the ex-horcrux Nagini had the best eyes and ears in the Seventh Circle.
"Anyway," she continued, quite obviously revelling in the attention, "do you lot want to hear about Belial's snit with Lillith, or not? Because if you're just going to keep interrupting me then I…." she trailed off as a tall thin shadow fell over the little group. "Er… helloYour Disgrace, I was just briefing this lot on the new unhealth and unsafety protocols."
As Hastur's unpleasant beady eyes fell upon him, Draco desperately tried to think of a way to explain why he was standing around the blood of the damned cooler rather than dealing with the gigantic stack of Personnel Parchments that resided in his hands.
"Draco Malfoy?" sneered the Duke of Lurk
Draco squeaked with sudden terror and began to wonder whether now would be a good time to become a devotee of the Dobby school of servility.
"Ain't you the lucky one," Hastur continued with a leer.
"Lucky, your Gr- Disgrace?" The stack of parchments tumbled towards the floor as he started to tremble uncontrollably.
"Yeah. Gone and got yourself given one of them second chance thingies ain't you?"
Nagini gaped. "Him, a second chance?"
"Orders directly from himself," said Hastur. "Course, this wouldn't be 'appening if the whorecrux here had done 'er job properly." The Duke paused and looked around expectantly. "I said," he reiterated slowly and dangerously, "that none of this second chance stuff would be 'appening if the WHORECRUX here had done 'er job properly."
This time the assembled entities were bright enough to give a half-hearted titter. It was the pathetic, forced laughter of a group who'd just heard the joke for the eight billion and second time and were now heartily sick of it, but it seemed enough to placate Hastur for now.
"Don't worry though Nagini. You'll be going with him."
Nagini's face was at once the very picture of horror. "M…me?"
"That's right. Despite your dismal failure as Riddle's pet snake you're going to be this little bastard's case worker. His negative conscience, if you will. Keeping him away from the straight and narrow. Making sure that when he snuffs it he ends up back here."
"You mean I'm being demoted to… to…." She pulled a face of utter disgust. "I'm being demoted to shoulder demon?"
Hastur's sneer intensified to hitherto uncharted levels of repellence. "Well, these is modern times see, you don't actually 'ave to stay on his shoulder. In fact I've got another little job for you while you're up there."
"Another job?" she queried, in a manner that suggested she wasn't quite sure whether to be daunted or relieved.
"I want you to observe the movements of one of your serpent pals and report to me any behaviour what is not becoming of a demon."
Nagini appeared to think about this for a moment. "You mean you want me to spy on Crawly?"
"Yeah, that's it." Hastur nodded. "Course, if you was to report back anything what might get 'im sent back down 'ere for a lengthy period they'd have to send another snake up there in his place, if you get what I mean." With all the subtlety and finesse of a breeze block, the arch demon then squinted both his eyes, ostensibly trying to wink suggestively, but lacking the co-ordination to do so. "Anyway, I've got better things to do with my time than spend it around 'ere with you useless little plebes. Fink I might let Dagon know how you 'orrible little lot slack off the moment his back's turned." And with that Hastur turned round and skulked off in the direction of Accounts.
"Er Nagini," said Draco, once the other assorted creature and damned souls had scurried off in a frantic attempt to look busy, not quite sure whether it was the right time to talk to the now overtly annoyed demoness. "What's a second chance?"
"It's what it sounds like. They bring you back to life, send you back up there and give you another chance to prove your true worth… or lack of it, of course."
"You mean," said Draco, trying to suppress the jolt of hope that suddenly flared in his chest, "that I'm going back to earth as Draco Malfoy."
"Yes. But they'll probably put you in some kind of horrible situation to obtain a true measure of whether you're actually capable of nobility, compassion, goodness and all the rest of it."
"When you say horrible situation, what exactly do you mean?"
Nagini rolled her eyes, given that the slit pupils seemed to dilate as she did this, the effect was rather interesting. "Oh you know, living in a hovel with some kind of tedious menial job that involves back breaking labour and bad smells."
"And if I'm good I get to go to heaven?" he asked tentatively, feeling as though her patience might crack at any moment. Fortunately for him it didn't.
"You don't want to go there though. The filing's even more boring than it is down here. What you should do is engage in as much sin and debauchery as possible, while you've actually got the chance."
"But you've got to say that, haven't you?"
"Of course I do. If I bollocks this one up I'll be put to work in the imp crèche for the next six millennia."
"But if you get something pinned on that Crawl- I mean, that job stealing bastard who took your righ- wrongful place on the Eden thing, you'd get to stay on earth." Since being cast into the pit Draco had spent more time in Nagini's company than any other being's and it had taken him only a very short while to determine that the most effective manner in which to worm one's way into her affections was to encourage her to vent her spleen about her six-thousand year old grudge about not being the one who got humanity ejected from paradise.
She seemed to ponder this for a while. "True, but you're forgetting one thing."
"Hastur's loathed and despised me ever since I told a couple of Incubi I know in Dis about his holy relic dust snorting addiction seven hundred years ago, and it somehow got back to him. So it's not as if he'd let me stay up there, even if I did manage to dish the dirt on Crawly."
"But he just said that they'd need to find a new demon for the job, whilst making extremely obvious suggestions that it'd be you."
She gaped, before proceeding to look at him as though he were a complete idiot. "Yes but he's a demon. We drop false hints all the time. Anyway, you need to go and get yourself processed and I need to pack my things and get Tom Riddle ready for the journey. It'll be his first big trip since the form recalibration."
This time it was Draco's turn to gape. "But you can't take him back to earth, can you? He's a maximum security case."
"Of course I can. It's not as though I'm going to let him out of his little tank, is it? Besides, would you report me to Infernal Customs and Excise?"
Draco gulped, very aware of the malevolent things that could be done to his person was the slightest hint of thought in that direction suspected. "Er… no. I just thought that he might, you know, try to escape."
"Oh he'll probably try, but he won't succeed. After all, I'm a demon and he's a pathetic, failed Dark Lord who wouldn't recognise a competent plan for global domination if it hit him over the head with a sledge hammer. No he'll be stuck in his tank, shedding his skin and bemoaning the day that he decided that it would be a good idea to stick a piece of his soul inside me."
For some reason this statement caused the warning bell in Draco's mind marked 'famous last words' to sound.
Zeliel had always been a timid sort of angel. He - as far as Zeliel could be considered a he - enjoyed gardening, quietly contemplating the majesty of God's wondrous creation and organising his extensive quill collection.
It was therefore a mark of how thoroughly incompetent heaven's personnel deployment department had become that he'd been assigned to the post of Michael's personal secretary.
There were times when he felt as though he couldn't take any more of the Seraph's brash righteousness and near constant smiting talk. He'd once considered falling as a means of escape, though the earth-bound angel Aziraphale had, after a long and sympathetic conversation over tea and biscuits, managed to talk him out of it, pointing out that the kinds of demon you got in the pit were often, hard as it might be to believe, even more loud, brash and smite-driven than Michael.
Right now Zeliel was being subjected to what sounded vaguely like a lengthy speech about how an angel always had to be ever ready to thwart the wiles of their vile enemies.
"They'll never miss a chance to tempt, Zeliel. We have to be ever watchful of their depraved machinations, prepared to strike down sin and blasphemy wherever we find it. Every soul's a battle you know."
"Er… yes, Michael," said Zeliel, nodding nervously, not quite sure exactly where this particular diatribe was going.
"Which is why you're being sent to the front lines. A damned soul's been returned to earth. Given a second chance. I need you down there using every tactic in the divine field manual to bring him back to the light."
"You're sending me to earth, alone?" As much as Zeliel had faith in the infallibility of God's great plan for all creation, the thought of escaping from Michael's direct supervision, if only for a little while, filled him with a tremendous sense of hope.
"Alone, into the thick of the action, against the machinations of a vile abomination, who'll seek to ensnare to once more the young man's immortal soul with her lascivious charms and false promises."
"You mean I'm going to be a shoulder angel?"
"I know it seems like a demotion," Michael continued, completely oblivious to the sudden look of joy on the other angel's face. "But you don't actually have to stay on his shoulder; and there's another task for you down there, one that I could only entrust to an upstanding member of my department."
"What is it?"
"There are concerns about Aziraphale. Talk that he's been engaged in certain behaviours unbefitting of an angel. I need you to keep an eye on him. Report back anything that you find suspicious."
"You want me to spy on him?" said Zeliel, rather horrified at the thought. True, Aziraphale had seemed a little strange the last time they'd met, but the thought of, well, telling on him, was almost too horrible and backstabbing to contemplate.
"No, not spy," said Michael, pulling a face, clearly shocked and disgusted by the suggestion. "I want you to observe your fellow angel in an honest and forthright manner."
Zeliel nodded, feeling slightly relieved.
"But I want you to do it in secret."
A file of gleaming white paper appeared in Michael's hand. "Now your full briefing is in here: read it, memorise it and prepare yourself for battle with the forces of evil."
Crowley looked at Aziraphale's five battered suitcases in horror. Just an hour after he'd called Aziraphale, to slanderously accuse him of setting him up, Aziraphale had called back saying that it would be prudent to set off for Tadfield immediately. Crowley had responded by pointing out that as a demon, prudence was something that one generally tried to avoid. Aziraphale had, of course, said that he understood perfectly and that he'd just have to catch the train and that he'd actually be rather glad of having more time to prepare his heavenly itinerary alone. Crowley had fumed for ten minutes, before agreeing to pick Aziraphale up in the Bentley after tea.
"They're straight out of the nineteen sodding twenties, you know."
"Quite literally," the angel said, beaming. "They made things to last back then. Not like some of this modern rubbish that you get."
Crowley felt mildly offended on behalf of the sleek black travel case he'd bought from Harvey Nichols a few hours earlier. Unlike the angel he was travelling light, taking just a few of his best suits and his three favourite pairs of designer sunglasses.
"Look, are you sure that you need to take all of those manuscripts with you? You are going to be working in a library, you know."
"Oh, I'm not taking them for my own good, you understand. I thought that some of the literature students might benefit."
Crowley privately doubted the angel's intention to allow anybody, let alone first year students, to lay their grubby mitts on his precious books. It was, he thought as, for a microsecond, the back end of the car threatened to buckle under the weight of Aziraphale's luggage, a bloody good job that the Bentley's suspension was diabolically reinforced.
"Looks like we're all set then," said Crowley, taking an almost regretful last look AT their Soho surroundings
"Well, shouldn't we get going?"
Crowley gave a small sigh and turned the keys in the ignition. It certainly looked like the next year was going to be an interesting experience.
In Lower Tadfield two people who'd previously thought themselves to have outgrown such childish pursuits, sat on an upturned milk crate in The Pit.
"Do you remember the Tadfield Inquisition?" said Pepper, finally breaking the silence.
"Yeah, you were the Head Torturer," said Adam, smiling slightly. "Kind of ironic really, what with all of those anti human rights abuse protest marches you went on last year."
"Adam, what are we going to do about Brian and Wensley? In four weeks time we're going to be sharing a flat with them and it'll drive me mad if they're acting like, well, like today, all of the time."
Adam shrugged. He'd given up messing about with things when he was eleven and it wouldn't be right to just go playing about with Brian and Wensley's heads, even if it would make everybody a lot happier in the long run. No, you had to let people sort things out for themselves.
An ancient looking frog, who'd been hopping about in the long grass, seemed to look at him quizzically for a moment.
On the other hand, he thought, if he just tweaked things this once and didn't do it again then it wouldn't be as if he'd be changing anything big, and it certainly wouldn't be as though he'd be changing Brian or Wensley on any fundamental level, and they'd probably actually be grateful for the intervention if they knew and…. NO, he told himself firmly, I can't think like this.
The night watchman at the University of Tadfield's main campus had, on hearing a series of high pitched screams emanating from what was, in a months time, going to be the students union pub, rushed towards the building, fearing that some sort of brutal attack was taking place inside.
He was, all things considered, rather relieved to find that the shrieks were coming from a young man with white blonde hair who was accompanied by what one could only assume was his girlfriend; though given her apparent lack of apparel, one rather suspected that she might just be the kind of girlfriend whose company was financially negotiable.
"Is he alright, miss?" the night watchman asked, noticing that the woman seemed to be wearing a pair of novelty contact lenses.
"Oh yes," said the woman, with a faint hiss. "He'll be fine. Once he's acclimatised to the fact that he's a muggle who has to clean tables for a living."
(1) Which occurred despite Pepper's continual warnings about the dangers of befriending performance artists.
(2) One of the main problems he had encountered with regards to being the planet's only antichrist was the fact that hell's social climbers seemed to be forever trying to grab an audience and a photo opportunity. It was all rather annoying, especially when one was trying desperately to stay out of trouble, under imminent threat of Playstation confiscation.
(3) Which was, broadly speaking, actually the case.
(4) Though word on grapevine was that she wasn't entirely dissatisfied with this turn of events.