not your typical annihilatrix (furiosity) wrote,
not your typical annihilatrix
furiosity

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Fic: Interregnum - Chapter 28 [PG-13] [WiP]

Title: Interregnum [Chapter 28]
Author: furiosity
Rating: PG-13
Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 5000 words
Summary: Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you. [William Blake]
Beta: None.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.

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Interregnum - Chapter 28



The silence seemed even heavier after Draco stopped. He didn't feel any better. He had to get out of here soon, else he would just spend the rest of his days with the ghosts of better times, and they would drive him mad. He noticed Dusty cowering in the doorway. "Done?" he asked, throat raw.

"Yes, Master," said Dusty. "If Master will please wait in the kitchen, Dusty will pack the rest of Master's things. There are sandwiches."

Draco went into the kitchen and picked up a cheese sandwich. Move. He had to move; he couldn't sit still. He paced, staring at the floor to avoid looking around. How would he get his possessions to England? From listening in to Potter's conversations with Granger and Biggs, he'd gathered that Apparition was out of the question. With the trunks Dusty was assembling, flying would be impossible. Flying. He could use a Muggle aeroplane. The Invisibility Cloak could hide him. He had been at the airport once, with Blaise, to meet an associate of the Zabini family who travelled incognito. Blaise had explained to him about gates and security. The only problem was, he couldn't hide Dusty and the trunks under the Invisibility Cloak.

Dusty entered, and Draco swallowed the last of his sandwich. "You'll have to book passage on a ship," he said. "Take my things to Malfoy Manor and wait for me there."

"How will Master travel?"

"I can't be seen by any wizards. I can't be seen by anyone. I will fly the Muggle way. There was a sack of Galleons in my bedroom. Bring it to me."

Dusty walked out, and returned a moment later with the money. Draco counted out sixty coins and handed them to the elf. "Half of these ought to be enough for passage. If anyone asks you any questions or tries to stop you, give them the rest."

"What if Dusty is caught, Master?"

"Say nothing. Destroy the trunks. If you're not at Malfoy Manor when I arrive, I'll find a way to get you out." He intended to do no such thing; he wasn't about to risk his life for an elf, and he was certain Dusty understood as much. It would do everything to get to the Manor. He deposited the rest of the money in his rucksack and took out a rolled-up pair of socks. "Here. Take them! Now go."

Dusty wobbled out of the kitchen, weeping quietly. Draco pulled the Invisibility Cloak out of his rucksack and threw it on, pulling the hood low over his face. He Disapparated without another glance around. He would never come back to this flat again.

The Berlin airport was as confounding as it had been the last time Draco had been here, but he had the general idea about how things worked. He ducked around a queue and walked between two small booths that held uniformed Muggles looking at passports. He moved slowly to make sure he didn't bump into anything. He followed a Muggle family towards a walled-off area where another queue was growing. Security, with its moving conveyor belts and strange metal gates. Draco saw Muggles taking off their shoes and placing them in little trays along with pocket change and other small items. These trays and the Muggles' bags disappeared into metal boxes. Draco walked past the queued Muggles and through the metal gate. It began to beep harshly, and Draco sped up to avoid the two uniforms converging on the gate. He had no idea what the gate was for, but clearly it had been able to see through his Cloak somehow. Porn rays, maybe. Blaise had told him about them; they could penetrate even flesh. He needed to move fast.

But there were few stern-looking, uniformed Muggles beyond the security checkpoint. There were lots of travelling Muggles, walking to and fro with their bags and their children in tow, milling about inside the shops. It reminded him of Diagon Alley: more tourists than locals, an air of cheerful disorganisation. How would he know which of the crowds would take him to a plane bound for England? He looked up, searching for the television screens Blaise had shown him last time.

"Attention. This is the final boarding call for British Airways flight 981 to London Heathrow. Would passengers Sean Cook and Jacob Aldworth please proceed immediately to Gate A4."

The voice repeated itself in English, but Draco was already sprinting towards the large A4 he saw in the distance. There were more uniformed Muggles here, but he sped past them without slowing, through a narrow tunnel. The carpet muffled his footsteps, and the roar just outside the walls was so loud that he didn't think any of the Muggles had heard him. Besides, they couldn't see him, so they'd dismiss any errant sounds. Muggles had no imagination. Just in case, Draco adjusted the Invisibility Cloak as he approached the aeroplane's door. A uniformed young woman stood just inside, barely giving him enough room to squeeze past. He managed, though the young woman began to frown as he backed away into the aeroplane's belly. Then she shook her head and pressed a palm to her temple.

Inside, there were rows of comfortable-looking seats, many of them empty. Beyond this area, through a narrow doorway, Draco could see more seats, but there were too many Muggles there. He didn't dare sit down yet, in case the two Muggles the tannoy had called earlier would take them. But no one else boarded the plane. Several young women bustled in the entranceway; they announced that the exits were secure, and the plane began to move. Draco tiptoed towards a pair of empty seats and sat down next to the tiny window. Now he just had to be quiet. Something bumped against the back of his seat. He turned around to look, but there was no one there.

"Business class my ass," grumbled a disembodied voice, barely audibly. "No legroom whatsoever."

"Shh," whispered a voice to Draco's right. "Wait for take-off."

Wizards.

Wizards in Invisibility Cloaks; one behind him and one right next to him. He squeezed as far to the left as he could, wondering if he could be lucky enough not to bump into his neighbour's knees on the way out of the seat. On the other hand, he was curious. As long as they didn't know he was there, he could listen to them talk. Not that it would be of any help to him, but at least it might keep him from sinking into the grey despair that hovered around his consciousness ever since he'd walked back into his flat.

The aeroplane was far inferior to a broom. It moved faster, granted, and could seat hundreds of Muggles, but it also made a lot of noise, rattled and shook like an angry caged Kneazle, and stank of a vaguely sweet chemical that made Draco want to vomit. The rattling got better once they were up in the air, but the roar of it was deafening. Draco wasn't concerned for his well-being -- he had his wand, after all, but he wondered what the Muggles would do if the thing were to go down. From the sounds it was making, that was a very real possibility, he thought.

"Jake?" asked the voice behind Draco shortly after the aeroplane driver announced that they'd reached the Cruz latitude.

"Yeah?"

"Think we could take off the cloaks and pretend we were here the whole time? I'm starving." Americans, judging by the accent. Entering England illegally. Draco listened.

"They do head counts," said Jake. "Besides, you heard the chief. No one can know we're here except for Roberts and Potter."

"Robards," muttered the voice in the back.

"Whatever. We don't know if Shacklebolt's got people at Heathrow, so we aren't on this plane. Got lost at Tegel International and missed our flight. Very sad."

Would passengers Sean Cook and Jacob Aldworth please proceed immediately to Gate A4. If Jake was Jacob Aldworth, then Sean Cook must be sitting behind Draco. And now Draco knew exactly who they were: Aurors, from the American Special Unit or whatever.

Jake shifted. "Our doppelgangers should be kicking up all sorts of shit over missing their flight right now."

"Are Kayla and Stacey doing the same thing?" asked Sean. He must've leaned in, because his voice sounded closer than before.

"Yeah, but they're still en route to Istanbul," said Jake. "Dennis and Jimmy should already be there; they flew from Greenland as soon as we got clearance."

"Shit, my two-way," said Sean. "Hello? I can't really talk, Herb. Airborne." Pause. "Oh yeah?" Another pause. "Uh-huh. Thanks."

"Did he find anything?" asked Jake.

"Yeah, our boy was at the apartment, but he's gone. Packed up and took off for parts unknown." Draco tensed. If they weren't talking about him, he was a lizard.

"What did he do, anyway?"

"No idea," said Sean. "Biggs said to be nice to him."

"Either a loony or a vic, then." Jake yawned. "I'm gonna try for a cat nap. Fucking time zones."

Draco didn't understand how anyone could sleep amidst such a racket, so he sat as quietly as he could, trying to process what he'd just heard. American Aurors were on their way to England -- at least six of them. These must have been the reinforcements Biggs had offered Potter. He had to hand it to the Americans: they worked fast. Beside him, Jake began to snore softly. Sean couldn't seem to get comfortable; he kept bumping the back of Draco's chair at regular intervals, and Draco was so annoyed when it happened for the twenty-second time, he was quite close to snapping.

"Ladies and gentlemen," hissed a male voice overhead, startling him. "We're beginning our descent to Heathrow Airport. We will be touching down in approximately twenty minutes. Please return to your seats and fasten your sea pelts. At this time, we must ask that all carrion items be stowed in the overhead compartments or underneath the seat in front of you. The current temperature in London is seventeen degrees, with light rain and some fog. We hope you had a pleasant trip and we look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank you for flying with British Airways."

Carrion? That explained the sickly scent Draco had noticed earlier, but why would Muggles carry dead animals on planes? A superstition, surely, or perhaps it was how aeroplanes stayed up in the first place. And what was a sea pelt?

"Sean?" whispered Jake sleepily.

"Good morning," came the reply. "It's raining in London, in case you missed the announcement. We'll have to lose the cloaks."

"Shit."

"Yeah. There's a cab waiting for us. Once we're out, find a restroom, dump the cloak, and head for the cab. I'll catch up."

"Gotcha. Jesus, I hate these blind missions. Never know what you're gonna get." Jake stretched, or at least Draco thought he must have done.

"The chief said Potter was capable enough. Kind of an asshole to anyone he doesn't like."

"Guess we'll have to make sure he likes us."

"Or let him be an asshole." Sean's voice had a devilish undertone that reminded Draco painfully of Blaise. "Could be fun."

"All right, shutting up. I'll see you in the cab."

"You bet."

Draco wasn't certain when he'd decided to follow the two Americans, but there he was thirty minutes later, loitering in the men's near an exit. He had practically hurtled out of the plane to get a head start on them, but the airport turned out to be enormous, and now he could only hope that the taxi he'd seen outside this exit -- whose driver had turned away several customers already -- was the right one.

The door opened, and no one at all walked in. Draco tensed, pressing himself back against the wall next to an urinal. One of the stall doors banged shut. The toilet flushed. A man stepped out, a giant wearing a grey suit and carrying a black suitcase. This must have been Sean -- taller than anyone Draco had ever seen, it was no wonder he hadn't been comfortable in the aeroplane seat. But if this was Sean, Jake must've gone to a different men's, and Draco had no time to lose. After Sean exited, Draco tore off his Invisibility Cloak, turned up the collar on his jacket, and hurried out. He hailed a taxi, watching anxiously as Sean got inside the other one. Draco's driver had to wait for the other cab to pull out onto the road, and he turned around. "Where to, sir?"

"Follow that taxi," said Draco. In his most nonchalant voice he added, "My friends are in it and I've forgotten the address."

"Of course," said the driver, and the taxi started to move.

Draco didn't know London very well, so he had no clue where they were going. He watched the black taxi ahead of them anxiously as they sped through residential area after residential area until finally stopping on a run-down street. Draco opened the door, pulled his Invisibility Cloak back on, whispered Obliviate at the driver, and climbed out.

Just in time -- the driver of the other taxi got out and went round to open the boot. He had golden brown skin, and dark sunglasses obscured half his face. A bulky jacket hid most of his upper body. Draco hurried towards the nearest building and stood close to a wall. The way the driver moved was vaguely familiar, but Draco couldn't quite place him.

"It's fine," called Jake's voice.

Draco turned to see Jake and Sean getting out of the taxi, both of them narrowing their eyes at the same time as they took in Draco's taxi. Draco's driver was shouting at his radio, demanding that dispatch explain what the bollocks was going on. Draco, however, was too taken by the sight of his unwitting flight companions. Both were tall, though Sean was gigantic whereas Jake was merely taller than average. Not conventionally handsome, but they were clearly a matched pair, somehow complementing each other whilst looking nothing alike; Sean's hair was close-cropped and dark, whereas Jake sported blond dreadlocks. What struck him the most were their eyes. They had Auror eyes, like Potter's -- cold steel.

Sean approached Draco's taxi and leaned close to the driver's window. "Hey, buddy," he said. "Is there a problem?"

Draco's driver threw down the radio and scowled. "No problem," he said. Draco held his breath. If the driver told Sean he couldn't remember how he'd got here from the airport... "Are you looking for a taxi?"

"No," said Sean, straightening. "Not us. Try switching to decaf, my man," he advised, walking back towards Jake and the other driver. "Are they all this crazy around here?"

"Only some of them," replied the driver. Potter. The driver was Potter.

Draco shrank back against the wall. Why had he decided to follow these two again? He'd known they were connected to Potter -- he just wouldn't have dreamed that Potter would be playing errand boy and driving a taxi. Upon closer inspection, Draco realised that the taxi was actually one of the Ministry cars. Fuck.

Jake and Sean got their suitcases and followed Potter to the entrance of the crumbling building next to which Draco now crouched, half-dead from fear of discovery.

"This is it," said Potter, stopping before the door. He took off his sunglasses, and Draco recognised him now, though the tan was odd: when they'd parted ways two days ago, Potter had been as pale as Draco. "Here are the keys. I'll let you settle in. I'll come by after work so we can talk."

"Sure thing," said Jake, hefting the keys in one hand. "Nice meeting you, Potter."

"Likewise, Aldworth. Cook. Oh, do you prefer curry or pizza?"

"Pizza," said Jake and Sean together.

"I'll bring that then," said Potter, grinning.

"Hey, Potter," called Sean. "Do you know if Lee and Stanton arrived yet?"

"Lee and Stanton are at the Hogsmeade safe-house, in Scotland," said Potter. "The other two -- Singh and Moran? -- are going to Wiltshire, but their plane isn't due for another six hours."

Wiltshire. Draco felt a chill and pulled the Cloak tighter around himself in a futile gesture. Potter was sending these cold-eyed Americans after him. He couldn't live at the Manor. What could he do? Where could he go? Nowhere was safe. But Potter had said six hours. Draco would have time to make sure Dusty had brought his things -- whatever ship the elf had taken must have docked long ago -- and decide what to do. Potter didn't even have the entire Auror department at his disposal. It wouldn't be hard to evade any watchers; the Manor was large enough, and even if he couldn't get close on the ground, he could use the elves' tunnels, where he'd told Dusty to go to avoid notice.

Yes. He would go home. By the time the Aurors arrived, he would have left, and this time they wouldn't have a chance to come in and look around. Draco would make sure of that.

*

Six hooded figures sat around a thick mahogany table in a room deep inside the bowels of the Ministry of Magic. Torches burned in wall sconces, but the table was deep in shadow, until a rectangle of light materialised in one of the walls.

"Gentlemen," said Eva Kay, emerging into the light. She took a seat at the head of the table and surveyed the other Death Eaters. "So good of you to come."

"Good of you not to keep us waiting," replied Rodolphus Lestrange.

"I have to admit this is better than those floating conferences," said Nott, leaning back in his chair. "All those cloak-and-dagger codenames were wearying."

"Not to mention the weather in Siberia," muttered Mulciber. "And here I thought England was bad for my old bones."

"Nothing tries one's patience like Jerusalem," said Selwyn. "No escape from bloody Muggles."

"I, on the other hand, shall miss St Moritz," chimed in Avery. "I was thinking about retiring there someday. It's quite peaceful."

Crabbe merely grunted.

"I've got some good news and some bad news," said Eva, flicking her wand at the torches. They burned brighter. "Where shall I begin?"

Nott smiled. "Bad news first. Isn't that the rule?"

The others nodded their assent. Eva smiled. "Very well. How familiar are you with the Vaisey family?"

"Blood traitors," said Lestrange promptly. "Tristan Vaisey married Patricia Longbottom, sister of Auror Frank Longbottom."

"And their son Patrick married the half-blood Millicent Bulstrode," added Nott.

"Charming, delightful young woman, isn't she?" trilled Eva. The men sniggered.

"A pig has more charm than the Bulstrode girl," said Selwyn, his lip curling. "I haven't seen her in years, but I can't imagine she changed much."

"They deserve each other," said Avery.

"It might interest you, then, to know that nearly all of your identities were known to Kingsley Shacklebolt prior to our coup, thanks wholly to Mr Vaisey and his blushing bride," said Eva in steely tones.

"Huh?" perked up Crabbe. "They ain't Aurors."

"Not yet," said Eva. "The wedding was a sham. They staged it so they could gravitate in the crowd of attendees and ask them pointed questions about their whereabouts on the weekend of July twelfth. All this in exchange for Auror jobs, since their Obliviator jobs were about to disappear."

"I'll be--" Lestrange began, but Eva cut him off with an upraised hand.

"If you look at the list of attendees for that wedding, there were precious few names outside the circle of the late Dark Lord's adherents. After Kingsley's pet Mudblood cross-referenced the names, they had a fairly accurate short list."

"Doesn't matter now, does it?" muttered Avery. "We hold the power, openly or not."

"Call it a matter of professional pride," said Eva. "The Bulstrode girl even managed to implicate me to Shacklebolt. I told her a regrettable lie, and after that she became rather like a dog with a bone. Fortunately, I succeeded in using the King of Kings before any damage could be done."

"So you want her dead?" asked Mulciber with an eager expression.

"I want them both dead," said Eva. "Though not before they answer a few questions. This shouldn't have been difficult, but when I sent Shacklebolt to the Aurors' Compound, where the Vaiseys were supposed to be training, they weren't there. No one had seen them since the day they'd arrived, nearly a month ago."

"Why didn't someone report them missing?" asked Nott, leaning forward.

Eva's mouth twisted, giving her doll's face a foreign, ugly look. "There usually is no communication between the Compound and Headquarters whilst training is ongoing. Some dated tradition or another. They were quite scandalised when Shacklebolt showed up."

Nott folded his arms. "What of the Head Auror?"

"I had Shacklebolt speak with him yesterday morning. He was nonplussed. Wanted to know why Shacklebolt was worried about a dead investigation. Robards knows nothing of their whereabouts."

"So what's the bad news?" asked Crabbe.

Eva pursed her lips. "We've got a couple of renegade not-quite-Aurors who are apparently convinced I'm the next Dark Lord."

Nott, Avery, and Selwyn laughed.

"It's amusing in the general sense, but right now our situation is delicate. Several people know of the King of Kings, though not what it does. However, I wouldn't put it past someone like the Mudblood Granger to pursue the matter -- if she could be convinced that the current political changes are due to outside influence, not Shacklebolt himself."

"So you think the Vaiseys are out there sniffing around," said Mulciber.

"I am certain of it."

"That's not so bad," said Crabbe. "What's the good news?"

Selwyn leaned forward. "I'm not sure I follow," he said. "Even if the Vaiseys manage to uncover the truth behind the King of Kings, the guardian's still dead."

"Draco Malfoy might be dead, but his father is alive, as is his mother," said Nott.

"They'll never do magic again," said Eva. "They're of no consequence. But what proof have we got that the youngest Malfoy is dead? There hasn't been a funeral. He was allegedly buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Germany -- German authorities confirm this, but what if he's alive?"

"You mean to say Harry Potter might know something he's not telling Shacklebolt?"

"It's not impossible," said Eva. "Unlikely, but not impossible. But no, I'm not concerned about Harry Potter. Yesterday, I had Shacklebolt set him on a course that, if all goes well, will render Potter irrelevant."

"I thought you didn't want him dead," said Avery.

"I didn't say he'd be dead, just irrelevant," snapped Eva. "You shall see. What I meant when I questioned Malfoy's death was that he comes from a family of schemers. He had chosen to pursue an idle existence after the Dark Lord's fall--"

"Idle?" scoffed Nott. "Amoral, you mean."

"Either way, he was not involving himself in anything that could tie him to Dark magic," said Eva, a deep frown creasing her flawless brow. "The destruction of his parents' minds might've given him the push he'd lacked. And if he's set himself against us, he would not be above teaming up with Mudbloods to seek revenge."

"Has anyone seen him, then?" asked Lestrange. "I'm trying to understand where your suspicions are coming from."

"Shacklebolt, Potter, and Granger had originally announced Malfoy's death after he was supposed to die in the first place," said Eva. "But we now know that had merely been to shield Malfoy -- one of the first things I saw in Shacklebolt's mind after using the King of Kings was that Malfoy was in an Auror safe-house in Berlin, alive and well."

"And one of the first things you heard with Shacklebolt's ears was that Malfoy had killed himself," said Mulciber slowly. "An interesting coincidence."

"'A Malfoy commits suicide' is as unconvincing a headline as 'A Lestrange marries a Mudblood," said Lestrange.

Eva nodded. "My first thought was that the Mudblood was lying, but she seemed too genuinely shaken up. I also knew that Malfoy had told the Ministry nothing about the King of Kings, so she couldn't have had a conceivable reason to lie to Shacklebolt -- she doesn't know what he is now," she said. "It stands to reason that Malfoy faked his suicide, to get out from under Potter's influence."

"If he and the Vaiseys find each other, there could be trouble," said Lestrange. "But how can we catch him?"

"Watch and listen," said Eva. "I have people at airports, train stations, and seaports -- he's too smart to try and get in by magic, but he'll try to get in. If he's alive, he'll turn up sooner or later. He can't make himself completely invisible."

"So what's the good news?" asked Crabbe with a pained expression.

Eva sighed. "I've arranged a pardon for Rabastan Lestrange."

Rodolphus stood up so fast that his chair fell over. "What? How?"

"It will cost you," she said, leaning back. "You'll have to leave us for a time. He will be released into your custody in New York. They can't extradite you and they know it, and they want you to leave them alone. So they will give you your brother and bar you from England for the rest of your lives. If either of you is caught here, the other loses immunity in America."

Lestrange lifted his chair and sat back down. "But the estate," he said.

"Patience," said Eva. "I said you were only leaving us for a time. I cannot yet dispose of Shacklebolt; as long as I operate through him, I must observe certain precautions. But once we take over properly, nothing will stop you from reclaiming your family's lands." She smiled. "And after you take your brother to New York, make sure you're nowhere near the Department's library two weeks from now. We would so hate to lose you both."

*

"So what are our options for downtime?" asked Sean Cook after polishing off the last of the pizza.

"Downtime?" asked Harry, peering at him. He wasn't sure what to make of these two -- they were Special Division, the supposed elite, but the questions they asked had little to do with the Auror trade.

Jake Aldworth looked up from his guitar. "If we're going to blend in with the non-magicals, we need to know what people our age like to do for fun."

"I don't imagine it's much different from America," said Harry. "Not that I know of, anyway."

"Do they play baseball here?" asked Sean.

"Oh. Um. No. Football."

"Football as in soccer?"

"Yeah," replied Harry.

Jake resumed strumming. "What about dance clubs?"

"Oh, loads," said Harry. "Pubs, too. Cinemas." He noted with some consternation that Sean was scribbling down notes. "I don't spend any time with Mug-- non-magicals, though."

"No time or no inclination?" asked Jake.

"Neither," admitted Harry.

Sean glanced at him. "Would you say that's the norm here?"

Harry frowned, thinking. "Yeah, I suppose so. We're very insular. Have been, anyway, until the attacks. We blend in by not existing at all. How's any of this relevant, though?"

"To the case? It isn't. It's only relevant to our cover."

One of the two-ways next to the empty pizza box came to life. "Jake?" A woman's voice. It must have been one of the women in Wiltshire, who were supposed to be checking out Malfoy Manor. He didn't dare go himself; now that he was back on the job, he was needed in London too frequently.

Jake set his guitar aside and snatched up the two-way. "Why, hello, gorgeous," he drawled as he opened it. "What have you got for us?"

"Not a goddamned thing," said the woman. "We need a warrant, which we won't get, or authorisation for covert trespass, which we might. Place is tighter than your virgin ass."

Sean sniggered. "Let me worry about Jake's ass, woman -- how long have the enchantments been up?"

"Coupla hours. Someone got here before we did. My money's on the owner -- it looks like a place that would have elf slaves, but none have come out to turn us away."

Jake turned to Harry. "Does he keep slaves?"

"His family did," said Harry, wondering what Jake would say if he knew about Kreacher. Then he wondered why he even cared.

"Your boy's ahead of us at every step. Are you sure he's got no insiders?" asked the woman in the two-way.

"Not unless I'm the insider," said Harry. "Or my boss. May I?" He gestured to Jake's two-way. Jake handed it over. "Hi, I'm Harry Potter."

"The man in charge," said the woman. "Nice to see you. I'm Kayla Singh."

"I'd like you to go ahead and break the protective enchantments," said Harry.

"Sweet," said Singh. "Tell Jake I'll call him back in a few." She disappeared.

Harry closed the two-way and replaced it on the table. "He was just lucky. Malfoy, I mean. His flat and the manor are the only two places anyone would look for him."

"Any friends?" asked Sean, twisting his wedding ring absently.

"He's supposed to be dead," said Harry. "He'll know not to turn up alive. I hope."

Jake snorted. "Yeah. I think if he's managing to outrun us, lucky or not, he knows to be careful." Harry noticed that he, too, wore a wedding ring. The silence stretched out, and Harry wondered if they were just going to wait until Singh called before they spoke again.

"So you're married," he ventured, nodding at Sean's ring. "How long?"

"Six years this spring," said Jake, grinning. "Did it right after Special Training." He threw an arm round Sean's shoulders and kissed the side of his face.

"Oh," managed Harry after a rather short, stunned silence.

Sean pushed Jake aside gently and looked Harry in the eye. "Is that a problem?"

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