A wide, quick gait; a black trouser suit; a discreet watch and necklace, the only concessions a mighty businesswoman could possibly make to fashion; and an eleven-inch, dragonheart stringed, deadly wand hidden in its forearm holster.
Hermione smiled to herself as she reached for the dark glasses in her breast pocket.
If she didn't watch herself, she'd start humming the James Bond theme any minute now.
"And you are to be as quiet as possible, no contact to the suspects…"
"Keep your voice down, Percy. We might be overheard."
Blushing, the redhead shut up. At last, she thought. If she heard another word on how highly suspicious it was for two known ex-Death Eaters to book tickets for the same – Muggle – plane, and how important it was for the Ministry to find out what their ulterior motives were, by Merlin, she'd eat her Auror certificate and go on extended holidays to Bermuda.
That, or she'd make Percival Ignatius Weasley eat her credentials. It wasn't as if he didn't deserve some measure of retribution for his pompousness, after all.
"You know what? Either target could see us and recognise you now, I'm the only one under disguise, after all. Perhaps you should drop me here and tell the cab to turn around…"
To her relief, he complied. One moment later, she stood in front of Heathrow's second terminal with her suitcase. She grabbed the handle, started for the main entrance, paused a moment to discreetly cast a Leviosa on her luggage, and went on.
Who knows, being a secret agent could even be fun.
Fun, however, was not the word Lucius would have used in connection with a Muggle airport. Wasn't it enough that he was now banned from international portkeys and had to rely on, Merlin forbid, Muggle methods to hover above the Atlantic for hours at an end? Did he really have to suffer going through a crowd of dirty, sweaty, disrespectful plebeians?
"Relax, darling," Narcissa said in a somewhat unconvincing manner.
"I'm not your darling any more, dear," he answered. "We've been divorced for years now, couldn't we revert to more formal addresses, at least in public?"
"This public won't care, and you are indeed my darling, braving the Muggles like that to take care of our joint business overseas."
"I own 55 of that joint business, and that's precisely why you refused to go yourself as a dutiful wife would have!"
"Tsk, tsk. The divorce, remember? Now be a good boy, go through that door, and don't give these nasty Americans any more concessions than the points we have discussed together, darling. I love you!"
And with a firm push in the back, she surrendered his helpless person to the hands of the security officers.
"Hands up for a quick search, sir…"
Things couldn't possibly get any worse, Lucius decided as the guard's hands felt the inside of his thighs.
But things were worse for Severus. A lot worse.
Mundungus had been late, later than even he usually was. They had had to meet in front of the terminal, and Severus had had no choice but to hastily shove the… shipment… inside his suitcase in full view. He hoped to Merlin no one had peeked through his do-not-notice charm.
"Passengers for flight 759-oh-3 to New York, please check in at gate 18. I repeat, passengers…"
Holy shite, that was him. Where the fuck was gate 18? Could these… Muggles please move out of his way, faster!
"Last call for passengers on flight 759-oh-3, please check in at gate 18…"
He was trying, and if he failed, he'd beat the crap out of that useless Fletcher… Ah, there it was.
"Suitcase on the scale, sir, please. Do you have any prohibited items in your luggage, sir?"
Fuck fuck fuckity fuck – Occlumency! – no of course not, I'm innocent-
"Guns, aerosols, knives, blunt objects, chemicals…?"
"Did anyone help you pack? Did you leave your luggage unattended at any point?"
"No, and no."
"Here are your passport and boarding pass and passport, sir. Have a nice flight!"
Not bloody likely.
He walked to the lounge; boarding had already started.
Hermione had been among the first to board the plane, and she had taken the opportunity to swap seats with a older lady. It had cost her window seat, but her new position – central aisle, in the back – was ideal to keep an eye on the comings and goings in the rest of the plane.
It also offered cover should any wands be drawed during the flight. She hoped it didn't come to that, though – obliviating everyone afterwards would be tedious.
She opened the security leaflet and pored over it. She spotted Lucius right away – no one could mistake him for anyone else, not with his long blond hair. He sat down in first class – of course – but the quick charm she'd cast on the separation curtains would ensure that she saw everything that happened in the front of the plane on the glass of her apparently anodyne wristwatch.
More passengers trickled in, but not the one she was waiting for. Could he be disguised as this corpulent lady? No, he'd never wear pink glasses, that much was sure…
A flight attendant started to close the door as the passengers settled in.
Well, well, well. It was either Polyjuice or misinformation on her side, then. Knowing Percy's fastidiousness, she favoured the first option.
She'd find out the truth either way.
Lucius fidgeted on his seat, feeling uncomfortable. This was how Muggles protected themselves from gravity? A tube of steel? Well, last time he'd checked steel tended to plunge downwards at the first opportunity, not rise into the air. Why weren't they able to make something resembling a broom that worked on eclecticity rather than on magic, he wondered.
He looked up and nearly started in fear.
This wasn't possible. No. No.
He hastily grabbed the first thing he could see – some glossy magazine someone had stuck to the seat in front of him – and opened it in front of his face himself.
This man could not be in this plane. He couldn't. It was as simple as that. He'd killed the bastard himself three years ago, right before he'd joined the Order, in fact. Dead men didn't walk into Muggle airplanes. They didn't. That defied the laws of magic.
Deep breaths. And again.
The man had disappeared into this "economy class" the inferior Muggles patronised, and Lucius allowed himself to lower the magazine.
Think, Malfoy, think.
It couldn't be him. It couldn't be a glamour either, no one could cast such a perfectly resembling one. That left Polyjuice – but who on earth would polyjuice themselves into a lesser ranking, late Death Eater to board a Muggle plane? Someone who had known that peculiar Death Eater, obviously, and that had access to Polyjuice. Someone who needed to go to America and who, like him, could not Portkey there.
He was sure there were not so many witches or wizards that fit the bill, but whether or not he'd be able to figure out who before it was too late was another question entirely.
The whole plane shook and he saw the airport move out of the porthole with dismay. He was about to leave the firm ground, trapped in a tube of steel with someone who bore the looks of someone he killed.
Severus sank his head back against the head rest and closed his eyes. The easiest part was now over; he could relax for the next six or seven hours.
"…keep your seatbelt fastened…"
Blocking out the American-accented voice out was not all that hard.
"…weather is clear and we'll arrive at the John Kennedy airport in approximately six hours and fifty minutes from now, at 5 pm local time. I wish you a pleasant flight…"
Severus closed his eyes, and before he knew it he had fallen asleep.
Hermione glanced at her watch. Lucius looked anxious: he kept turning around towards the curtain that separated him from the economy class. A stewardess approached him, and he waved her away.
Was he afraid of flying? But then he'd have requested champagne to ease his nerves. Was it possible that he had recognised her? But then he wouldn't look that fidgety, would he? Unless, of course, he really had a nefarious plan and was afraid she might prevent him from accomplishing.
Well, she was pretty sure he wouldn't try to gain control of the plane to crash down on the twin towers. Malfoys always did strive for originality, after all.
Or – had he spotted Severus?
She looked around the economy class. It was nothing but the usual mix of tourists and business people. Polyjuice, then, but who…?
Hermione took a deep breath and a decision in quick succession. She'd go to Lucius as ask who Severus was masquerading as. With surprise on her side, she might get a straight answer out of him…
Severus woke up with a start as the fat lady next to him nudged his arm with her elbow. She probably wanted to go to the bathroom…
He stood up reluctantly to let her get through. She didn't thank him, and started walking towards the rear of the plane, bumping into a younger woman on the way.
Now that caught Severus' attention. The woman was not unattractive – brown hair in a strict bun, a dark suit… Merlin, he had a little something for professional women. A pity she was only a Muggle…
He sat back down, looking up discreetly as the object of his attentions walked towards the first class. He caught sight of her arm – a plain wristwatch – and then gazed at the pretty rear that oscillated so enticingly to the plane's vibrations. What a nice…
Wait, something was not right. Something was very wrong about this woman.
It was not a Muggle device.
Or rather, it was, but it had been charmed. Years of spying had honed his reflexes, and he had caught the tell-tale glint that indicated that magic had been done on, or with, this artefact during the last few minutes.
And there were not that many reasons a witch should be on board the same Muggle plane as himself, were there? She must be from law enforcement. And after him. His disguise had probably foiled her attempts for now… she must have decided to start a methodical search for him, beginning with the first class.
He had to find some way of evading her attention. Now. Before she reached economy.
Lucius felt the poke of a wand in his lower back just as he head the whisper.
It actually reassured him, in a way – orders at wandpoint had been a part of his life for many years now, while jerky tubes of steel hovering at an uncertain pace several thousand feet over the ocean were most emphatically not.
And anything, anything that took his mind off it was welcome. So – a female voice. Not the Death Eater in the back, then. Probably someone monitoring the Death Eater in the back…?
"Who are you, and what do you want?"
"I'll ask the questions around here. Do you know anyone on this flight?"
"Well, strictly speaking, I do not…"
The stewardess interrupted them.
"I think your seat is in the economy class, Miss…"
Hermione stood up to face her, but the plane seemed to hiccup and she fell sideways, straight on Lucius' lap. In a swift gesture, he placed his arms around her waist… and his right hand over hers, controlling her wand.
"She is a friend of mine, I insist that she remain here."
The stewardess, clearly at a loss, looked around her. The other first class passengers had remained oblivious to the entire exchange – Lucius' neighbour was still engrossed in her laptop, and loud snoring rose from the other nearby seats.
"You may dispose," he added, hand still clamped around Hermione's.
The attendant reluctantly left them.
"Now, who exactly should I recognise?" he asked.
"Isn't that question a tad superfluous," Hermione asked, inching her left hand towards her right arm. If she could just wrench his hand away from her wand… "If you did recognise him, you know who he is, don't you?"
"I recognised the person he – it is a he, you said as much, did you not? – Polyjuiced into. Now, if you were to share your intelligence, I might be convinced to…"
Hermione grabbed his little finger and twisted his hand away. Her wand came to rest against his jugular with lightning speed.
"Who is he?"
"Economy class – brown hair, medium height, navy blue suit, no hand luggage…"
"That's good enough… I'll go find him. In good time. Right now, sir, I'd like to know why you are going to America…"
The loudspeaker interrupted her.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are entering a zone of turbulences. Please remain seated, seatbelts fastened, until further notice…"
Hermione hastily moved her wand to his back so as not to injure him permanently with the wild jerks of the airplane. Lips curved into a thin smile, he closed his arms tightly around her.
"Do let me be your seatbelt," he practically purred.
Hermione swallowed. The plane seemed to move erratically, which made her bottom bounce on his, er, lap. And the close contact, the pressure of his arms around her waist, the scent of his cologne, the outline of his lean muscles against her wand arm, the flight's vibrations made it, she had to confess to herself, a pleasurable experience.
Who was she kidding. This was the best sexual experience of her life, full stop.
"You are young still, there is hope for you to experience many more adventures of the kind…"
The bastard was using Legilimency on her! She narrowed her eyes.
"What are you doing overseas," she asked tightly.
"Business. I want to buy another company and there are some things one prefers to check in person beforehand…"
"Their access is forbidden to, I quote, known Dark Wizards," he answered bitterly.
"Well, you're all clear then. I will have to run a few background checks, you realise…"
She withdrew her wand from his back and put it back in her arm holster.
"But for now it's all mission accomplished? You are now off duty?"
"Indeed." She lifted an eyebrow.
"Well, as two lone magical beings in a foreign land, perhaps we could get to know each other a little better during our stay?"
"Meaning, it has been a long, long time since I last met a witch of your calibre-"
"Narcissa was the last one, yes, but she and I have long parted ways long ago, on mutual agreement, I assure you. And you confessed to yourself that you felt a certain attraction to my humble self…"
Hermione snorted. Lucius was many things, but humble was not one of them.
"I am tempted to agree, but I have some unfinished business in economy class…"
"Ah. I do understand. May I accompany you?"
She looked at him quizzically.
"As long as you keep you tongue and wand to yourself…" she paused. "I might require those, mind you, but later. In private."
Their eyes met.
They smiled to each other.
Severus had cancelled the eavesdropping spell he had cast on the separation curtain and regained his seat as he had been instructed. He had heard enough.
When Hermione and Lucius walked to him, he was prepared. He looked up from his standard company-issued safety manual and lifted an eyebrow.
"Professor, I know it's you."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I have an international arrest warrant here, in my pocket, and shall not refrain from using it if you do not co-operate."
"What do you mean exactly by co-operation?"
"I need to know what you are doing on this plane, and to ascertain that it does not break any laws."
"And that you will agree to partaking in a threesome adventure with she and myself," Lucius added.
Both his interlocutors turned to him, gaping.
"No, Lucius, I cannot caution that, I won't misuse the powers vested in me to get unwilling wizards in my bed, it's not ethical-"
Severus had regained his composure.
"No, that part is all right, really, I'd be glad to oblige, but as for the first…"
"Your charms won't prevent me from arresting you, you know."
"Well-" Severus was looking distinctly uncomfortable. He covertly cast a do-not-notice privacy charm. "I am breaking a law, but not a wizarding one."
"And it's not a British one either, nothing at home says we can't-"
"Can't do what?"
"Well, export, er, specific products…"
"Professor! Are you smuggling? Arms? Explosives? That's wrong, you know, wrong!"
"No, no, nothing of the sort!"
Severus shifted on his seat. He hated this, really, hated what he had to do to fund the rarer ingredients he needed for his potions research. Not only were the risks far higher than he'd prefer, but the whole business sounded downright ridiculous at times. It paid well, yes, shockingly well, but still…
"Foie gras," he answered curtly.
"Par ma foi, c'est bien la première fois comme la dernière fois que je vends du foie dans cette ville de Foix, disait par sa foi la marchande de foie dans la ville de Foix en vendant du foie pour la première et la dernière fois," Lucius recited in a badly accented French, laughing his head off.
"What?" Hermione repeated, confused.
"Americans – some of them at least – banned foie gras," Lucius answered. "They think it cruel to breed geese specifically to consume their pâté'ed liver, and thus deprive the connoisseurs among them from one of the finest things in life."
"How would you know that?" Hermione asked.
"The firm I plan to buy used to specialise in poultry," he said. "I'm going there to see whether their infrastructures can easily be converted to something more profitable. It might still be able to get some nice farming subsidies from the federal government…" his voice trailed off before he could lament the scheduled death of the Common Agricultural Policy and thus the forced reconversion of his French pig farm.
"So you are smuggling pâté across a border," she said dully.
"Pâté? Pâté?" Lucius looked aghast. "Now, Miss Granger, let us make certain things clear between us from the beginning of this relationship, or else it shall never last. You are not, ever, to refer to foie gras by that name. Not if you want us to remain good friends, that is."
"Smuggling is a big word," Severus added. "I just, er, bring in a full suitcase and make selective use of confundus charms to make the customs guards look elsewhere."
"And who, may I ask, provides you with the stuff?"
They both looked to Lucius with annoyance.
"With the foie gras?" Hermione repeated, to avoid further lecturing.
"Mundungus Fletcher," Severus mumbled.
"All right," Hermione said. "The Ministry won't tolerate having you confund random Muggles just like that, you know."
"Even foreign Muggles?" Severus asked, still hopeful.
"Now, look here," Lucius interrupted. "He might be inconveniencing a few Muggles here are there, but he's bringing the finer tastes of civilisation to many others too! He's operating for the public good!"
Hermione was not convinced.
"The International Statute of Secrecy…"
"Has only been ratified in the USA, it's never entered into effect. They have a very cautious stand on international treaties…"
"And how would you know that too?" Hermione asked again.
"How do you think I intend to renovate that new factory I am thinking of acquiring?"
"Perhaps I should better not be made aware of that," Hermione answered, sighing. "All right – Severus goes on with his little traffic, you buy whatever you came here to buy, and we all shag like wild bunnies at the first opportunity?"
"That sounds good," Severus answered.
Lucius did not reply. He was too busy thinking that airplane rides were not that scary, after all.
It turned out to be quite enjoyable, as a matter of fact.
But he still looked forward to the landing.