Chapter 29 : The Devil to Pay
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Chapter 29: The Devil to Pay
‘Ten sickles on Brynmor.’ Katie Bell smirked as she dropped down to sit on the blanket Riley had laid out on the floor of the big, spacious abandoned warehouse that had become the Lions’ latest hideout.
‘You’re on. Nick will wipe the floor with him.’ Riley looked up from the papers spread out in front of her, and gave her friend a tired smile. It seemed all she focused on these days was paper - messages, intercepted communiqués, maps, plans, theories. ‘Are the wards secure?’
Katie nodded. ‘This is a great spot. The buildings are densely packed, I just need to hook up the wards at the alleyways rather than all around. The background level of Muggle disinterest’s really high. People just wander past here and don’t give it a second look. Like a Diagon Alley charity shop.’
‘Good.’ Riley frowned. ‘Let’s see if this extends as far as the Ministry.’
‘If we use some more Portkey-bouncing to confuse the trail,’ said Katie, ‘I think we should consider using this place for the long-haul.’
‘Don’t get ahead of yourself. We only just got here.’
‘And already the boys are trying to kill each other. How thoroughly appealing and not at all tiresomely and predictably macho.’ Katie both frowned and smirked at the impromptu sparring match that had sprung up amongst the more boisterous of the boys, magic sparking off between pairs locked into what varied between casual practice matches and outright wars of ego. ‘You should wade in. Show them how it’s done.’
‘And undermine their precious masculinity?’ Riley snorted as a fresh spark of a spell knocked Cal Brynmor, locked in a fight with Nick Wilson, onto his back on the floor. ‘You’d better get those coins out.’
‘Oh, hey, look at that, I’m a fugitive and so have no money. Sucker.’
‘Are you two betting against my boy?’
Riley tried to not tense as Gabriel Doyle’s voice came drifting over, and the long-limbed man came to a halt at the edge of the blanket, smirking down at them. He usually smirked. He never smiled. Not in public, anyway. ‘I’m betting against him. Katie has faith.’
Gabriel glanced over at Katie. ‘Oh, you foolish girl.’
‘So I’m learning,’ she mused. ‘He looks like he should be good in a fight.’
‘Because he’s built like a brick shithouse and he knows how to use his size. Unfortunately that’s not so much use when we’re dealing with magic,’ he said.
‘Nick has him beaten on speed, technique, and experience,’ Riley agreed.
‘So when he said “spar”, he actually meant “wildly unfair beat-down”,’ said Katie.
‘We will fight wildly unfair fights in the field,’ Riley said, bending over her papers and sensing that she was around the edges of a conversation she really didn’t want to get into.
‘So that’s completely what we want to do when we’re having a bit of R&R, isn’t it? Then again, Wilson does prefer these fights unfair.’ Gabriel stuck his hands in his pockets. ‘I was going to get a drink. I’ll leave you two ladies to your plotting.’
‘And so does Doyle remain weird,’ said Katie as Gabriel headed for the pile of crates that were their supplies. ‘What was that about unfair fights?’
‘Doyle is still trapped in a schoolboy mentality, with schoolboy grudges against Nick for things that happened years ago. You know, before we were running and fighting for our lives and for justice every day,’ Riley growled into her paperwork.
Katie blinked at the vehemence, and straightened her sweater. ‘You know, I’m going to go check up on our wards now they’ve had five minutes or so to settle. Make sure they’re not being set off by rats or something. Besides.’ She nodded at the centre of the warehouse, where the groups were splitting off. ‘You have a conquering hero to congratulate.’
But Wilson did not come over, not even when Katie got to her feet and headed for the door out into the alleyways. He’d ended the fight with Cal Brynmor on his back, again, finally conceding defeat, and then hadn’t so much as extended a hand to help the burly Welshman back up before he’d cast one glance in her direction, one glance towards Gabriel - who was fussing over snacks at the crates - and storming over to his own corner with Cormac McLaggen.
Riley bit her lip, rolled her eyes, and tried to focus again on the dispatches she’d received. This didn’t last very long, however, before the broad shape of Cal himself flopped down onto the blanket beside her with a groan.
‘Not interrupting, am I?’
A small surge of satisfaction that she was at least not being ignored off-set any irritation. Besides, the work could wait. ‘You look like you need a seat anyway.’
‘His Stunning spells hit harder than Bludgers.’ Cal rolled his shoulder. ‘Your boyfriend fights dirty.’
‘It keeps him alive, that’s the bit I care about.’
‘True enough.’ Cal seemed more cheerful about being beaten than Wilson seemed about having won. ‘I’ll learn a lot. I’m getting better. I’ve not had to do this sort of stuff since school.’
‘And it’s very different to school out here. You’re doing pretty well, though. You already have a couple of Enforcers taken down. Don’t be afraid you’re not pulling your weight.’ She looked up at him, big and burly and inexplicably grinning.
‘Oh, yeah, two.’ Cal nodded across the warehouse. ‘You know the guys keep count? It’s like a contest.’
She bit her lip again. ‘I know.’ They had half-points for those they just stunned or incapacitated. Full points for those they killed. She knew it to be a legitimate means of keeping up morale, a form of friendly competition, but the idea of lethal force being rewarded more highly made her sick to her stomach.
It had seemed hypocritical to criticise, however, considering the first time they’d hit a group of Snatchers with lethal force it had been on her say-so. Stuns only kept them off the street for a day. Killing them kept their targets safer for life.
Cal watched her for a minute - his gaze was astute, but not half so uncomfortably prying as Gabriel’s - before running a hand across his short, bristly hair. ‘I wanted to thank you, anyway,’ he said bluntly. ‘For giving me a chance.’
Riley glanced over at him, and nodded. ‘You’re a good guy to have on the team.’
‘I feel good.’ He sighed. ‘I know, I don’t have much to complain about, spending six months with the Ministry paying for my food and not even having to work - let alone not being in mortal danger daily. But I feel so much better being out here. Like I’m actually making a difference. I feel downright alive.’
He sounded so refreshed that she couldn’t help but smile. For months all she’d felt had been the stress, the fear, the strain, but she couldn’t deny it was good to hear someone else talking like that. It was how she’d felt at the start, and it stirred those lingering feelings she still kept, deep down. ‘That’s good. Happy freedom fighters are productive freedom fighters.’
Cal chuckled, and she couldn’t help but wonder how dour, snide Gabriel Doyle had become friends with someone so easy-going. She’d always known Tobias better than Cal Brynmor, whose reputation had been thoroughly tainted by the revelation of his father’s identity, but he had at least been acknowledged of being one of the ‘better’ Slytherins.
Then again, Tanith Cole, to whom she owed the life of the man she loved, had been considered evil incarnate for a good period of time at school. Life changed everyone and everything. Especially perspective.
‘Then I’ll be productive as anything.’ Cal sobered a little. ‘I know you didn’t have to trust me. I intend to be worthy of it.’
‘I didn’t have to,’ Riley agreed. ‘But Doyle vouched for you.’
He looked across the warehouse to find Gabriel, who was clearly baiting Percival Anderson over what snacks were left in one of the crates. ‘Even if I’d known he was with you, I wouldn’t have realised his word was worth much weight.’
‘He’s proven himself, and his visions, a dozen times over.’
‘And yet most of the rest look at him as if he is, at best, still the same bastard he enjoyed being to you at school, or at worst, a freak or a sham,’ said Cal, with an astuteness she couldn’t say she cared for. ‘It only seems to be you who speaks for him. I think the ones who do trust him, trust him because you do.’
‘I seem to be better than most at focusing on the bigger picture.’
‘Better than Wilson.’ He nodded across the warehouse. ‘He looks ready to blow a gasket when you so much as look at Gabe.’
Thank you, Brynmor. I was trying to ignore that.
‘Nick really doesn’t like him. So long as they work together, that’s not my problem.’
‘Is that why you keep Gabe in debriefs but not Nick?’
She didn’t like the innocent tone of his question, and certainly his eyes were far too earnest when she glanced over at him. ‘Are you insinuating something, Brynmor?’
He smirked. ‘Well-’
She hadn’t even heard Katie returning, even though she must have come storming in from the door, as it was only just swinging shut. Her shoulders were tense, her voice urgent, and she was as white as a sheet.
Riley was on her feet in an instant and at her friend’s side. ‘What is it?’ She let her voice drop, urgent but cautious. Information could spread across the group in waves and, sometimes, information needed containing.
‘It’s the wards -’ Katie lifted a hand as Riley went for her wand, shaking her head. ‘Not here. You’d know inside if something went wrong here. The ones we left behind. At Nick’s place.’
The bottom of Riley’s stomach dropped out. ‘His family? The wards have been breached?’
Katie nodded, looking like she was going to be sick. ‘About five minutes ago. I only just noticed the runestone, I was looking at the current wards, not the old ones...’ She took a deep, shaking breath. ‘Jen, we’re looking at about a dozen people hitting the place. They don’t stand a chance.’
The Canary Wharf office was quiet at this time of night, and that was just the way Tanith liked it. Paperwork was a boring pain, but it was easier to get on with without the buzz of activity and aggravation that followed the room around like a swarm in the middle of a busy shift. Jacob had gone home, giving her a slightly judging look for pulling an extra shift, but she’d waved him off and settled down at her desk and tried to work.
In reality she’d found herself looking at the big map on the wall. Not the one of Britain - Robb’s old map, the one he’d been using to track Tobias and his accomplices across Europe. It had been left untouched since late December, since the news had come in and Robb had died, and nobody had bothered to update it since. Certainly nobody had dared touch it with Brynmor around.
She’d stared at it before the attack for hours, and she’d stared at it when she’d thought he was dead, but this was the first chance she’d had to reflect upon it with the revelation he was alive, and not in Russia. Now she wondered where he was, if he was safe, what he was doing.
Is he thinking of me?
Again she felt guilty as her thoughts crept from Tobias to David, and she fought a blush even though there was nobody there to see it. The guilt was fleeting, at least, and she reached into her pocket to grasp his watch, which she still couldn’t bring herself to be parted from.
Come back. Come back to me from the far side of the world, when the war’s over and we don’t risk death every day just to bring a little bit of hope and justice to the country wrapped up in darkness. Then we’ll talk about promises.
Her father had been right, of course. She couldn’t try to live just for after the war. She probably wouldn’t get that far if that’s all she did.
But it was hard to not think about it, sometimes. Think about -
She started and turned in her chair as Thanatos Brynmor came barrelling into the office, pulling on his thick, heavy coat. She wasn’t sure where he’d come from, but he looked like he meant business. ‘Get up and come with me.’
‘Um. What?’ But she still got to her feet, grabbing her wand and her coat, and falling into step along with him. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Is there - of course there’s only you. Everyone else is home or out.’ He said “out” with an emphasis she didn’t like. ‘We’ve got a situation on our hands.’
‘Is it the Lions?’ She tried to not flinch as he led her down the corridors out towards, she guessed, the apparition zones for when the members of the MLE Department mobilised on official business. He had all of the zeal and vigour behind him that he usually did, and she bit down on a surge of gleeful approval of whatever had upset him.
‘Sort of.’ Brynmor glanced over his shoulder. ‘Lestrange has been pretty canny. Worked with some of those boffins down in the Department of Mysteries on ways of tracing Portkey movement.’
She frowned, no longer so gleeful. ‘But we’ve not had enough notice on any Lions attacks to...’
‘Not usually, no. But at the last one he had two of the Enforcers hold back to activate the wardings before moving to engage. The Lions got away with it, wrecked the Brighton safehouse, but he got a lead on the Portkey they used to get out. So he chased it down.’
Her breath caught, but her instincts told her that something else was amiss, that this wasn’t just Brynmor bringing her to the scene of a fight - or, worse, a bloody aftermath of the takedown of the Lions of Britain. ‘What’s wrong?’
They were at the door to the broad stone chamber where those with the correct runestones could apparate in and out safely by now, and Brynmor stopped, turning to face her. His expression was graver than she had ever seen it. ‘I didn’t know he was doing this,’ he told her sincerely, and it almost sounded inexplicably like he was defending himself. ‘The first I heard was Yaxley telling me the Obliviators were getting down there. Complete with clean-up crews.’
The clean-up crews. Also known as the Sweepers. The witches and wizards who fastidiously tidied while the Obliviators cast the necessary spells to make a magical exposure and incident go away from Muggle eyes. What they cleaned up more often than anything else was rubble, and blood, and bodies.
Her mouth went dry. ‘Where’s Lestrange?’
‘It looks like the Lions hid out at the house of one of their Mudblood members’ family,’ said Brynmor carefully. ‘They’re gone now. But Lestrange decided it was time to finally act on that policy he was so happy about.’
‘Oh, God.’ Tanith’s breath caught. ‘Whose house?’
‘I think it’s the Wilson household.’
She wasn’t sure if that made her feel relieved or more nauseous - not that there was a member of the Lions she would have less wanted to suffer, and to stop reflecting on the unpleasant choice she focused her attention on Brynmor and asked one last, but pressing question. ‘Why the hell are you going, then, and why the hell do you need me?’
‘Believe it or not,’ said Thanatos Brynmor, turning to step into the apparition room, ‘I don’t approve of using this kind of wanton violence just because we can.’
It was a laughable thing for a man of his record, for one of the men who’d killed Annie MacKenzie to say, but Tanith didn’t much feel like laughing as he turned and extended an arm to her, and even if she’d known exactly where they were going she was dimly grateful for the offer of side-along apparition so she didn’t have to try to concentrate.
They twisted in the air, and whirled along through space and it was more than peculiar to be alongside Thanatos Brynmor, to be strung out and catapulted across the country right by his side, but what was most peculiar of all was that when they arrived in the middle of the devastated cul-de-sac she was grateful for his presence.
She would have been grateful, probably, for the presence of anyone, because the sight before her was not one she would have wanted to face alone. But when feeling horrified, threatened, and afraid, there were worse people to have next to you for a sense of personal safety than a Thanatos Brynmor who was on your side.
If only for a night.
It was still horribly, horribly reminiscent of the night of Annie MacKenzie’s murder, from the array of devastated houses and string of panicked and injured Muggles, to the Dark Mark glooming in the air above the particular building they stood in front of. Tanith couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen it, hovering in the night sky, because Death Eaters hadn’t bothered to use it for so long. It had been a warning of their presence. When they were in government, who needed warning?
But if Rodolphus Lestrange was trying to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies, it made sense that he would draw on its old power again.
One refreshing difference to that night was that the emergency Ministry teams were already on the site, already tending to the wounded, the buildings, and already Obliviating people. It seemed bizarrely compassionate for this administration, but Tanith knew it was just cold-hearted efficiency. After all, they could murder every Muggle, but only the most extreme of Death Eaters wanted them all eradicated, and even those who did had to recognise it was not the time to begin genocide.
So when they needed to attack Muggles they tended to tidy it up afterwards pretty much like the old government had. The difference was simple, though: the old government neither sought nor sanctioned this violence in the first place.
Brynmor let out a dark growl the moment they arrived which unhappily summed up much of Tanith’s feelings. ‘This is fucking ridiculous,’ he muttered inexplicably.
Tanith’s eyes swept over the injured people, the panicked Muggles, the brusque and uncaring attention of the Obliviators, and landed on the house in front of them. She could see the burly form of Mulready standing in the doorway, looking entirely unfazed by the cries of pain or the scene of desolation that surrounded them.
I don’t want to know what’s in there.
‘This is horrid,’ she corrected him.
‘Yes,’ said Brynmor, and though he didn’t quite sound like he got it, he didn’t sound insincere, either. ‘This is why I’ve brought you, Cole. You actually understand the meaning of restraint.’
You mean I have a moral compass? she wondered, but didn’t argue as he headed for the gate and walked up along the front path towards the house, towards Mulready.
The Death Eater rolled his shoulder as Brynmor approached. ‘Sir.’
Brynmor’s expression was thunderous. ‘Lestrange in there?’
‘Yes, sir.’ A sick smile tugged at Mulready’s lips. ‘He’s finishing off.’
The bottom dropped out of Tanith’s stomach as she followed Brynmor into the shadow of the front hall of the Wilson house, and the first thing to hit her was the stench of burning. No, not quite burning. Cooking.
‘Oh, my fucking God,’ she breathed as they turned the corner into the sitting room.
Lestrange was in there, all right. As was Lackardy, lounging on one of the armchairs, and a couple of the other Enforcers, all of them former Death Eaters or people who’d embraced the establishment all-too-willingly, milling about the room.
It made sense that Lestrange would have only brought them. Only brought people who would do his bidding without question. Only brought people who could kick back and relax when there were the singed, crisped, burnt remains of a woman half-in the fireplace, half splayed out across the stone of the mantelpiece, as if she’d writhed and twisted in torment, contorted herself in agony, until she’d finally died.
She wasn’t sure if it was a worse end than the husband had suffered. She’d only noticed the body in the fireplace first because of the smell; the corpse hanging from the ceiling upside-down, that had been battered and bruised and hacked at with magic, chunks of flesh ripped from limb and face and body, skin sliced and severed until death had eventually, mercifully come, was more obvious a sight.
Brynmor was impassive as he surveyed the scene. Tanith, by his side, was mustering all of her strength to not throw up. But Brynmor’s gaze drifted across the room, across the Death Eaters, and settled, at last, on their leader. ‘Lestrange.’
‘Brynmor.’ Rodolphus Lestrange nodded. ‘Good of you to join us. Though, we’re done here. It’s nothing but clean-up.’
Brynmor gave a curt nod, then glanced around. ‘The file said there were three casualties.’
Mulready made a small sound. ‘She’s upstairs.’
Dread seeped into Tanith’s gut, and it didn’t fade when Brynmor nodded briskly again, and gestured for her to follow as he headed for the stairs. ‘Come on, Cole.’
Her legs felt like lead as she followed him up. All was silent, none of the Death Eaters up here, no sign of life in sight or in earshot. Just the creaking of their footsteps on the stairs, and her by-now laborious breathing.
‘I want them all accounted for,’ was all Brynmor said as he ducked into the first room.
She wasn’t sure why she didn’t follow him. It wasn’t as if she wanted to be on her own when she found something, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to find something. Nevertheless, her legs carried her past the door Brynmor disappeared through, along the landing, and into the next room.
The first thing she saw as the door swung open before her was the body.
She’d been a girl a few years younger than Tanith. The walls of the room were decorated with posters of Muggle bands Tanith didn’t recognise, and the frame of the mirror on the dresser was adorned with photographs of fun, of friends, of better times and brighter days and life. If the man and woman downstairs, or the remains of them, were Nick Wilson’s mother and father then this, Tanith reasoned, had to have been his sister.
She had not suffered the same mutilation as her parents. Or, at least, not physically. It looked as if the Killing Curse had been her end - but it had been at the end. The magical restraints which pinned down her ankles and her wrists had not been dispelled; nor had they been kind, for she could still see where they bit into the flesh enough to draw blood. It would have been made all the worse by her struggles.
Of course she’d struggled. But it had clearly been for nothing, because even now she was still pinned there, bent face-down on her bed. Her jeans and underwear had been torn when they’d been ripped down to her ankles.
There was distressingly little blood, and no other signs of magic.
They’d not needed it to do their work.
Tanith didn’t know how long she stood there, poised in the doorway. She did know the nausea in her belly had faded for something altogether colder, harder, and considerably less pleasant, by the time there were footsteps behind her, and Thanatos Brynmor made it to the doorway.
She turned to face him, expecting indifference or only sneering disapproval, but there was something dark and thunderous about his expression that even in his tempestuous moods she had never before witnessed.
Again he growled, then turned sharply on his heel to bolt down the hallway and thunder down the stairs. She followed him only on instinct, and out of revulsion at the idea of being left in the room on her own. She wasn’t sure what to make of his reaction.
Nor was she sure what to make of how he flew across the living room to grab Lestrange by the front of his robes and slam him against the wall. ‘What the hell,’ he snarled, ‘did you think you were doing?’
Most of the Death Eaters in the room just stared at their two commanders breaking into a brawl in front of them. Mulready reached for his wand but didn’t draw it, and Tanith, at the foot of the stairs, eyed him carefully, her hand on her own wand.
Just give me a reason. Please.
Even the defence of Thanatos Brynmor, right then, would have been good enough.
‘What - get your hands off me, Brynmor, you ape!’ Lestrange snapped, flailing indignantly. ‘I have been carrying out my duty!’
‘With this - this carnage? This circus of wanton brutality?’ Brynmor shouted, spittle flying.
‘Yes! These people sheltered the Lions, and now not only will they not do so again, but when word spreads nobody will ever dare to give succour to such dissidents again, lest they fear this same punishment falling down on their heads!’ Lestrange retorted, and yanked at Brynmor’s wrists until he let go.
The bigger Death Eater’s chest was heaving furiously. ‘This was unnecessary,’ he snarled, pointing at both bodies downstairs. ‘This was everything about us that they have good reason to hate!’
‘That is your opinion, Mister Brynmor,’ said Lestrange in a forced level voice. ‘In my opinion this is a necessary sacrifice to carry out our duties, and Yaxley happens to agree with me, so I would suggest that instead of taking out your brutish anger on me, you bring it up with him.’
Brynmor straightened, lip curling, but before he could do anything, say anything - and for one terrifying moment, Tanith thought he was going to go for his wand - she stepped forward, lifting her hands. ‘Sirs. If policy isn’t up for debate, then perhaps we should clear out and let the Obliviators finish up here.’
She spoke with a calm she did not feel, but her stomach had gone beyond churning, and she couldn’t even smell the stench of Wilson’s mother cooking in the fireplace. She did know, at least, that she didn’t want to be in this building any more.
‘...yes. No preening on the site of victory,’ Brynmor snarled, and whirled on his heel to storm for the door. ‘Come on, Cole!’
Tanith had no idea why he was demanding she go with him, but she was in no state to argue, and tore out of the murder scene hot on the heels of her superior - a man she knew for a fact had killed innocents in cold blood before, yet who was striding out of the house, down the path and along the road as if he had just witnessed something that distressed him to the very bottom of the heart she doubted he had.
He did not disapparate, and she didn’t think she could bring herself to, either. But he was putting distance between them and the Obliviators, and this was a move Tanith had very little argument with.
They were at the end of the road before he stopped, running his hands through his hair, and his body language when in distress was so like Cal’s it was briefly, uncannily uncomfortable. ‘Those... those lunatics,’ he hissed, eyes wide in disbelief.
But she certainly couldn’t bring herself to sympathise with him. ‘I have no idea how you’re managing to stand in judgement of them, sir.’
There it was. There was the emotional reaction to what she’d seen. But it was such a cold and deadened one that she didn’t, in this moment, care about vocally taking the moral high ground against the psychopath who had been her boss for the past six months.
‘What?’ Brynmor’s head jerked up in astonishment. ‘I have killed people, yes, but I have never participated in that kind of... wanton... unnecessary... suffering.’
‘Really?’ Her lip curled. ‘Tell that to Annie MacKenzie and her family.’
His gaze darkened. ‘Every person in that house who died, died to the Killing Curse. I did not torture them to death, I did not burn them to a crisp, and I most certainly did not rape the girl before I killed her!’
‘All that tells me,’ Tanith said coldly, ‘is that if I wanted a pitiless murderer to come to my house and kill me and my family in the night, I’d rather it was you than Rodolphus Lestrange. Is that really something you’re going to claim the moral high ground over?’
‘No.’ Brynmor straightened, big shoulders squaring. ‘And that’s the difference between him and me. I don’t claim the moral high ground over the people that I murder. It is a necessary evil of what I do, and what I have done. The world I would build for wizarding kind does carry a price of blood, and I will pay that price, but I will not relish in it as he has.’
He sounded so self-righteous, so utterly hateful of Lestrange, that for a moment, until she closed her eyes and was back in the MacKenzie’s living room with Tobias’ screams filling her ears, she could almost accept his deranged logic.
But it was deranged.
‘...if the world you would build needs blood?’ Tanith’s voice dropped. ‘Then that is not a world you want.’
Brynmor stared at her for a few long moments, uncomprehending, bewildered, and still angry and clearly distressed at what he had witnessed. Then his expression closed down, though of all the emotions to linger behind, when he looked at her she could see approval. ‘That’s why I brought you here, Cole.’
‘To remind me that you’re all fucking evil?’
‘Because you do see things like this and you do see the evil in them, not the necessity. You might think it is harsh of us to do these things and you are not wrong,’ said Brynmor. ‘But it is necessary. The thing is, a day will come when it’s not necessary any more. And what I understand, which Lestrange doesn’t, is on that day people like him and I not only won’t be needed, we shouldn’t be there.’ He gave her a brief, cool nod.
‘You, on the other hand. You will be. And you should be. And then things like this can stop.’ Brynmor’s eyes narrowed. ‘Until then, they are necessary. But we should never, ever do more than is necessary.
‘And we should never, ever relish in it.’
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