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Walking with Gods

Chapter Text

"Dark of hair, and dark of heart", or so the smallfolk whispered at their hearths, Modron, the last and best of nine fell sisters, had known considerable power. Even now, it thrummed through her veins and gushed forth from her fingertips, making stone and air and fire throb in a heart-pounding rhythm, in step with her dark hymn. Her feet hovered three feet above the floor of the cavern that stood guard around her, lit only by the flaming sphere that encircled her, and devoid of all life but her own.

Her hymn issued forth from her lips, never stopping, its force and cadence immutable, and as her gaze swept over the smooth stone walls that hemmed in her fire, but her mind wandered.

It all started here, she thought in wonder, even as her chant continued. Fourteen hundred summers ago, a slender, dark-haired girl had sought shelter from a hellstorm in this very cavern, only to find that it was occupied by a legendary mage and his host.

The girl had stood bewildered, feet frozen in place, as she had gaped at a broad-shouldered man draped in velvet and gold, and limned with an unearthly glow. Even now, fourteen centuries later, she could feel echoes of his power clinging to the walls of her cave. His guard had been grand, clad in rainbow cloaks - pureblood lords, one and all - but even their lustre was nothing compared to the power that had flowed from the broad mage in velvet and gold. He was a legend given form - the longest-surviving Archmage in recorded, known history, and the Lord of the Nation of Lothien.

"Hello, little one," he had said, and his smile had been so kind, "If it's shelter you seek, you're welcome to share it with us."

And the words had stirred her from her stupor. She had whimpered and fallen to her knees. "Archmage," she had gasped at him, her voice echoing around the cavern despite the rumble and roar of the hellstorm outside, "I'm yours, Your Grace."

"Rise, child," he had said, "Or perhaps not merely a child. Be you a Ser or a Lady, or mayhaps something higher?"

"I am Modron of Monmouth," she had murmured, her gaze fixed upon the ground, in line with her mother's instructions on how a pureblood lady must conduct herself before an Archmagus.

"Ah," she had heard the Archmagus say, "One of the Marchioness' daughters, I presume? I believe I see the likeness now."

"The youngest of her nine daughters," she had said as she rose to her feet, though her gaze remained planted upon the ground.

"You may look upon me, Lady Modron," the Archmagus had told her, and she obeyed. Her gaze had sought out his own golden eyes, and she found them enchanting. His face had sharp features, but he had not been unpleasant to look upon. But his eyes... his golden eyes had glowed, with power and... more. There had been a hint of humour in his gaze, and a pinch of compassion, but there had also been a tiny drop of lust - a lust that she had later fanned into romance and ruin.

And outside the cavern, the gale continued to rage, and flakes of fire continued to rain down. A wave of fire splashed uselessly upon powerful wards that had been placed at the cavern's maw; she assumed they had been placed there by the Archmagus himself; for even in her lady mother's estate in Monmouth, while the wards were powerful and deflected fire, the waves of heat that accompanied the fire-flakes were unavoidable. But the ward at the cavern's maw, so casually placed, gave way to nothing at all - neither fire, nor even the heat from the hellstorm. And she had felt the hum of immense power that emanated from the spells weaved into the ward - far to powerful for even the most powerful pureblood.

She was drawn to the elaborate runes that had been sketched elegantly upon the flat rock near the exit, and she had studied them for a few moments, her fingers tracing over a particular set of runes.

"Ah," the Archmage had said, as he had strode towards her, "We have a curious lady here, indeed! What do you see, milady?"

"My lady mother once told us of how kaunan was so important a part of our wards, your Grace," she had said, pointing at the runes that the Archmagus had carved in stone, "Fire, to fight fire, to protect our dwellings from fire. The smallfolk and pureblood alike use kaunan, my lady mother had said, a simple rune for a simple hellstorm."

The Archmagus had chuckled.

"I do not see kaunan here," she had said, running her fingers across the glowing symbols. "I do see thurisaz though, and isaz. How can thunder and ice shield from fire?"

"Ice does defeat fire," the Archmagus had suggested.

"That's not how magic works," she had snapped immediately, though she had blushed as she realised just who she had snapped at, "... your Grace."

The Archmagus did not chuckle this time, though his had eyes glinted with humour.

"Ice and thunder," she had continued to ponder, "... something to do with... 'storm'? Maybe, with the essence of the hellstorm...?"

"I'm impressed," the Archmagus had said, "It's not often that one meets a witch - even a Marchioness' daughter - who realises what magic really is. One can always learn about the importance of intent and spirt in magic and philosophy, but only a few truly know it."

"I'm... not sure if I know, your Grace," she had said, "But I... I..."

She closed her eyes, curled her fingers to make a fist and awakened her magic - phantom tendrils of power snaked out, feeling hesitantly around the Archmagus' ward, and probing at its edges. It had been harder back then, in her youth, to wield her magic; magic had been a tool rather than a limb, but she had always possessed an uncommon instinct for sensing magic, and instinct told her that something was amiss within the ward. And that something actually enhanced the ward, rather than betray it.

She had tried to know what it was, but she could not. Not yet.

She had sighed and her magic withdrew into herself. "I don't understand," she had said at last, "It's a ward that uses an idea... an idea of storm... but through the explicit lack of fire... it... it..."

She had shook her head. "Your Grace," she had conceded, "I'm sorry. I don't think I know after all."

She had looked into the Archmagus' eyes then, and they had ensorcelled her with their fiery gaze, though he too had looked intrigued by her. The feeling had made her swell with pride. She had straightened at that, and she had felt smug as his eyes rove downwards, sweeping across her slender frame.

She had not lingered in that cavern long, but by the time the hellstorm had subsided, and she exited alongside the host that had camped in the cave, she had demonstrated sufficient power and knowledge to warrant an apprenticeship with the legendary Archmagus himself. Granted, she was one among a hundred and one acolytes, but at least she had secured a position that made her lady mother proud.

And a hundred years later, the apprentice had surpassed her master, and she knew... she truly knew magic and its secrets, as they were known to the generations of Archmagi who had come before. Her mortality was the first to go, and it was followed by an awakening that surpassed all joys she had known before.

And now, the sphere of fire strengthened about her, and every stone, rock and mote of dust in the cavern turned molten as she remembered her master's - the Archmagus Merlin's - fall from grace, which in turn heralded her rise. She now stood glorious and radiant in the very bowels of Camelot - a city she had founded - as Archmagus Morgaine le Faye, the Dread Queen of Lothien.

But little did the smallfolk and purebloods know - becoming an Archmagus was never truly the end of ambition. It was the beginning of a very slippery ladder that grew ever longer and treacherous. An Archmagus had to contend not just with the petty politics of the realm - that pit embittered Dukes and Marquis and warlocks against each other - but with the larger, ever-shifting balance of power amongst the Archmagi of the mortal realm.

The War of the Archmagi was eternal; the smallfolk simply called it "The War" - so engrained was it in their lives for thousands of generations. The Six Nations of the Known World had always been locked in war, and the smallfolk and purebloods were merely delightful pawns in the hands of the Archmagi that prevailed over each Nation. A few hundred years ago, the Nation of Tybgych had skirmished with the purebloods in her Southern Highlands, only for her to repel the long-haired barbarians and lead sorties across the Ying Hai. Fifty years ago, she had tried to civilise the Black Forests across the Sea of Lothien, only to be held off by the reigning, if mysterious, Archmagus of Ruz - Baba Yaga.

The balance of power was not so much an evenly balanced set of scales as shifting, heaving waves of power and magic that strove against each other. And such an enticing, masterful, addictive game it was - a cycle that kept churning, birthing, sustaining and destroying Archmages and entire civilisations in its wake.

Modron could never really claim that she strove to break the cycle, but the cycle made her thrive in a manner that her erstwhile master had never approved of. She strove to upset the cycle, because upsetting the cycle was just so much fun.

And so, she had chanced upon yet another idea - ancient in conception, though startling when truly known: the mortal realm was never really free of the other realms. Granted, the other realms were always unknowable - it was an Arithmantic theorem that was none had yet managed to disprove - but influences could be exerted by other realms upon the mortal coil, and perhaps even vice versa. The hellstorms, the starfalls, the woodland plagues - these were exertions of other realms that spilled over into theirs.

But few truly knew them. Perhaps only the Archmagi, and only a select few of the Archmagi at that. And while these select few Archmagi could harness the influences of the other realms - she had known Baba Yaga to create hellstorms, and the mysterious Black Mage of Yndu had once set loose a starfall on the Ying Hai - even they did not know as Modron knew. They did not connect the dots, nor see that influences need not always manifest themselves in forms as blatant as mere weather.

Modron ululated, her voice rising in pitch so high as to be inhuman, towards the end of her fell song and the sphere of fire grew, with tongues of flame licking away at ancient rock. Her tendrils of power grew and strengthened, seizing and grasping away at an otherworldly influence only she knew of. 

And then she felt it. Her golden eyes glowed brighter than the flame that encircled her.

Dark of hair and dark of heart, Modron, the last of nine fell sisters and former apprentice of the legendary Archmagus Merlin had known considerable power. But today, as Archmagus Morgaine Le Faye, she had a taste of godhood.

Chapter Text

Location: East Lothien, Kingstown-upon-Hull

Harry's stomach rumbled as he approached a tall man with red hair tied in a ponytail, lounging casually against the thin wooden wall of a fishmonger's stall on the crowded quays. The wooden path along the edge of Kingstown-upon-Hull sheltered various such stalls and other establishments, including a famed brewer whose wares were prized in all six nations, as well as an infamous alehouse that had seen the death of no less than five pureblood nobles in the past seven years. The fishmonger's stalls were imbued with freezing wards meant to preserve the catch, as well as obnoxious charms that were meant to advertise the catch on sale. The fishmonger's stall that the red-haired man leaned against had a giant, talking fish perched on its roof that screeched out the prices for cod, shellfish and bass in an irritatingly high voice.

"Ser Bill Weasley, I presume?" Harry half-asked, half-shouted, so as to be heard over the giant, screeching fish and panting a bit as he came to a halt. He extended his hand to the other man hesitantly, but the red-haired man smiled warmly and clasped Harry's wrist. They shook, and Harry noticed that the other man's grip was firm and assured.

The man waved his wand, and the bustle on the quays, including the giant advertising fish, grew muffled. Harry noticed the fishwife at the stall glance longingly in their direction, but that just made Harry feel a bit sour - he knew she was staring at his redheaded acquaintance, who cut a striking figure in his dragonhide jacket and single griffon-claw earring.

"It's just Ser Bill," the man replied, chuckling. "May I help you?"

Harry ran a hand through his messy hair. "Mister Thomas a few stalls down pointed me in your direction - I hear you're on an expedition to the Yndu and are a few hands short of a full crew? Well, I handed Mister Thomas my resume and he told me to... well... come to you." Harry held out his papers to Ser Bill.

The redhead leafed through them. He turned a curious gaze towards Harry. "Right," the man said, and a familiar embarrassment crept into his tone that made Harry grit his teeth, "So... er... you have a single name on your resume."

Harry sighed. "Yeah," he said, exasperated, "I'm a... natural son."

Ser Bill winced. "Okay, right," he said, flushing slightly, "I see. Er... well... this is all excellent... and Hogwarts?"

Harry rubbed the back of his neck tiredly, and tried to ignore his grumbling tummy. "I was sponsored," he said, shrugging.

"Right," Ser Bill said, and caution crept into his tone, "Your papers are fantastic... if you were joining the aurors or the DMLE... though your birth... er... never mind. I just don't know what you'd do onboard my vessel. Your skills seem to be... well... the more combat-based magicks, rather than the skills I really need. And you've never sailed Jormungand before... wait, you've never even sailed before. You're not an Arithmancer, and I've already got one of those."

"I'm willing to work," Harry said desperately, wiping at his brow, "Even if it's boring, back-breaking stuff. I'm not a slouch with a wand... and I'm a decent enough cook..."

Ser Bill cut him off. "You're obviously not looking to be a sailor," the man said sharply, "So what are you looking for, really?"

Harry fell silent. The muffled bustle on the quays continued regardless, with fishwives' cries, the squeaky advertisements, the rumble of the smallfolk and the laughter of children playing along the seaside filling the air.

"I'm looking for a ride to Dyfedd," Harry admitted at last, "But I don't have the coin to pay my way there."

Ser Bill shook his head. "So take The Long Walk," he said, "And ferry up from one of the south-western ports. There's no dearth of seamen here, and you're obviously not one of them, Harry."

Harry's shoulders slumped. "Yeah," he mumbled, "I suppose I'm not... one of them."

Ser Bill waved his wand again and the muffling charm fell away. A child on a toy broom zoomed over them, laughing, and dangerously close to the quayside. Harry looked up in alarm, though he said nothing as he tried to overcome the disappointment of yet another rejection. The fishwife, however, screamed, and Ser Bill shouted at the child.

"Oi!" Ser Bill exclaimed at the child, letting off a bang with his wand, "Kid! Geroff!"

The kid jerked to a halt, his eyes wide as he swung the toy broom around to stare at Ser Bill. A woman came rushing up and gathered the child in her arms, as the broom flopped uselessly upon the wooden planks.

"Damn kids always forget about the sea-wards," Ser Bill said, grinning at the young mother winningly as she gazed adoringly at him. "Now if you'd excuse me," he said, shouldering his way past Harry, "I believe I foresee a lively afternoon today, with an very adorable young woman."

Harry merely stood forlorn as the tall man strode confidently towards the young mother. Ser Bill leaned towards her, murmured something that made her blush, put a hand around her shoulder and led her away from the quays.

"Some women have all the luck," the fishwife grumbled as a codfish wrapped itself in dry fibre and floated into the hand of a waiting goblin, who in turn handed her a few bronze knuts.

"That woman is probably married," Harry snapped back, "To someone else."

"Pfft," the fishwife replied, "When it comes to a pureblood who looks like that, marriage is but a passing inconvenience in the way of a good lay."

"Whatever," Harry said in disgust as he turned around and strode away, hoping to find someone else who would give him a lift in exchange for work.

"Don't worry, short stuff," the fishwife cackled at his retreating back, "If you want to keep your future bride faithful, all you'd have to do is marry a blind woman!"

Harry ignored the laughs and the pit in his stomach as he walked along the quays, hoping against hope. One would think graduating from one of the most prestigious academies in Lothien would warrant a cushy job, but a bastard was a bastard everywhere; even the smallfolk considered him unlucky and uncouth.

Pureblood nonsense, he thought sourly, just because they can trace their lineage back to one of the Archmagi doesn't mean they're Archmagi themselves. Ser Bill probably has less of Merlin in him than I do.

He only had to compare his own fate to that of his pureblood half-sister - Susan Potter, legitimate heir of Baroness Bones and Warlock Potter. They had gone to the same school - he had been a pariah, sent to Hoggy-Warty-Hogwarts out a sense of obligation that dear, noble Warlock Potter felt towards his nominally gifted bastard son, while Susan Potter truly belonged. The purebloods who made up the majority of the school had shunned him, and the few gifted smallfolk who managed to secure an admission to the prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had ignored him.

Resentment aside, however, Harry had never truly rebelled against the status quo, and had probably kept his neck safe by avoiding the limelight, but his grades had always surpassed Lady Susan Potter's. Nonetheless, she had graduated to much pomp and fanfare and a retreat to her sprawling, lush estates in Leeds, while he had graduated only to be bundled away to his hovel in Spinner's End, where his mother wasted away in guilt and remorse amid ghosts of her past lovers, even as she eked out a bare existence selling charmed jewellery to purebloods and smallfolk alike.

And two years after his graduation came the call. The call that, as always, singled out able-bodied bastards in particular - the call to join the reigning Archmagus' standing army in her War. He had no idea who she was fighting now - the barbarian hordes of Tybgych, or perhaps the Thousand Kingdoms of Yfran, or the mighty nation of Ruz - but he had no wish to risk life and limb for glory and an Archmagus' pride. In fact, he had no wish to risk life and limb at all. He had always been a survivor. At the age of ten - too worldly to be a child, but too young to do anything about it - he had looked on in silence when his mother had not returned to their hovel for four nights running - nights that had coincided with Duke Malfoy's visit to the Potter Estates. He had looked on in silence as his mother had sobbed nine months later with a dead, blond-haired baby in her arms. He had looked on in silence as his mother had ignored him in favour of Warlock Potter whenever he came to visit her at night. He had looked on in silence as her room had filled with gasps and moans as he tried to sleep away his rage. He had looked on silence as a vengeful and jealous Baroness Bones visited their hovel and inflicted furious marks on his mother. He had looked on in silence as his mother had berated him for being less than a man when he did not react to her drunken taunts.

And that had kept him safe. His pride had been ground to dust, but what use was pride for a bastard who was neither of the smallfolk nor of the purebloods? He was called less than a man, but what good did manhood do if all it encouraged was the birth of sorry little bastards like himself? His mother told him that no good woman would find him appealing if he lacked a spine, but were there good women in the world at all?

Keeping his neck down and his knees bent had kept him safe and hale and hearty enough to live another day. A stray word - no matter how true, or noble, or bold - would have doomed him to the Veil, or perhaps the everlasting Green. There was no justice for bastards - all they were was fodder for the War.

So he had fled, with his papers in tow. He wanted away - away from the Archmagi and their endless War, away from the purebloods and their internecine rivalries, away from the smallfolk and their superstitious beliefs. He had to flee to a neutral principality - an island of chaos - where no Archmagus held sway.

And the closest such principality was the Free City of Dyfedd upon the island of Coille, half-way between the his dear old Lothien to the East, where the Dread Queen sought to enlist him to her army, and the Nation of Ruz to the West, where the mysterious and cruel Baba Yaga had reigned supreme for a thousand years.

He needed a ride to Dyfedd.

He wished, not for the first time, that Dyfedd had been a city within the Nation of Lothien, which he could reach by broom or portkey or carpet or even apparition hops. But the island of Coille lay across the Serpent Sea - the Jormungand - that ran betwixt all Six Nations, keeping them separate from each other.

As every child knew, in the early days, the Jormungand was nothing more than a great sea that ran across the Six Nations. Broom and carpet and dragon rider could fly, portkeys could funnel entire armies, and powerful purebloods could even apparate across the Serpent Sea, but generations of Archmagi had warded the Serpent Sea so heavily that neither broom nor carpet nor beast nor portal magicks could conduct beings across it. There was only one apparatus that could ferry beings from one Nation to the other now: the sea-faring Argonauts - vessels reinforced by magic and wood and metal, hardy and swift, which could flee or fight the dangers that resided within the Serpent Sea.

And so he came to his dilemma. Standard fare from the port of Kingstown-upon-Hull, on the eastern coast of Lothien, to Dyfedd, which was all the way around to the west of Lothien - over ten thousand kilometres of Jormungand - was well over a hundred galleons on a respectable barge. The less respectable barges would take him for less, but the chances of safe passage on such vessels were slim. The dangers of Jormungand were bad enough, but what really scared Harry were the dangers of sapient greed. For all he knew, he might wake up in Dyfedd hale and hearty, or in a pleasure house, or not wake up at all and end up as an ingredient in some rare potion - bastard parts were highly priced in certain circles; and the beloved Warlock Potter would happily bid for his parts in that particular auction.

He walked listlessly along the quays, searching for another Argonaut that would take him. He passed several gaudily decorated vessels, with prows fashioned in the shape of beasts. A swarm of giggling fairies zoomed passed him with some white meat in their little hands and a fishwife screamed at them. He glanced at a captain in ragged clothes hopefully, but the captain was too steeped in conversation with a mermaid lazing on the pier with half of her tailfin in the water to bother with Harry. Another captain, perched on an argonaut with a cerberus prow, took one look at Harry and rebuffed any attempt at conversation by shouting orders at his crew, who in turn were magicking crystal balls that held fiery salamanders off his vessel.

His hunger pangs grew ever louder as his search grew futile. His feet took him towards the setting sun, and the floating wooden boards, rotting and ancient in places, gave way to solid rock - Harry was now at the other end of the pier whence he had started. A single imposing manor gate stood guard over the beachfront next to the pier, with solid gold hinges and waves of wood and silver racing across its face. Where the two halves of the gate came together, two halves of a giant runic circle also joined, thrumming with the power of the wards around the twelve-feet-high hedge-and-bramble wall that shielded the manor inside from the naked eye. The giant runic circle floated and shimmered in the air ahead of the gate - any unannounced being or beast that reached for the gate would have to defeat the rune to reach it. The circle had tiny runes running along its circumference - a pattern too complex for the average witch or wizard, though Harry recognized a few symbols. He saw naudiz and mannaz, for need and man from Elder Futhark; he saw the pattern repeated in the Old Lothien runes of nyd and mann, and guess that the runes drew on highly advanced magicks that deciphered the intent and nature of unannounced visitors. The family that lived on the manor grounds must be wealthier than most - perhaps a lord or lady, or even a Duke or Duchess. The runic circle had a giant symbol in the middle - a man with an eagle's head, crossed wands, and shimmering, hypnotic blue fire swirling around his legs - the banner of some House, he supposed, though he did not quite recognize it; most pureblood families that he knew of changed their banners every half century or so. His own Lord Potter had recently changed the symbol of the House from a roaring lion to a stag with massive antlers prancing across a golden meadow.

Harry shook his head and tore his gaze away from the mysterious House's symbol to the pier itself. Larger, sterner prows hung over this section of the harbour, with golden or silver lining around their edges, and Harry knew these were probably of pleasure barges for the wealthy elite of the city or of merchant vessels that were owned by them. He turned away from the barges and headed back to the more ragged parts of the pier to beg for a job, but he was stopped by a swarthy, heavyset man with amber eyes and a powerful build.

"You looking for a job, lad?" the man asked him.

Harry glanced at the man, a little startled, and stammered, "Y-Yes, Ser."

"Look like a Ser, do I?" the man said, in a deep bass growl of a voice. He then laughed - a harsh hacking sound rather than an actual chuckle - and continued, "You would not be too far off, really. Yeah, I suppose I am a Ser."

The man jerked a thumb at his own vessel, parked behind him. Harry looked at the vessel in awe. It was large - larger than the merchant vessels that stood to its starboard side - and its prow was made entirely of exquisitely carved dark red wood made to resemble a snarling wolf. Harry guessed that the prow had been subjected to delicate Charms, for the wooden fur shimmered and rippled in the breeze. The effect was at once deeply intimidating and beautiful. Runic strips ran all over the port side of the vessel, indicating protection and safe passage. Large golden letters ran along the hull, which proudly proclaimed the vessel's name - The Maugrim.

"I have a resume," Harry said quickly, holding out the roll of parchment in his hands.

The man snatched the resume from his light grip and his amber eyes scanned through it.

"Not an Arithmancer, eh?" the man said, "That's alright, I've got one of those already. Two arithmancers on the same vessel's just asking for trouble. And a bastard, eh? From Hogwarts? That must be some impressive... natural father you've got there, boy."

Harry was a trifle annoyed, but he hid it well. "My lord Potter arranged for it."

The man looked up at him and grinned; Harry had to repress a shudder as the man revealed yellowed, and surprisingly sharp, canines. "Potter? As in Warlock Potter? That makes you a highborn bastard, innit?"

"Bastards are always baseborn," Harry deadpanned, "That's why we're bastards."

The man hacked out a chuckle again. "My dad called me a bastard often," the man said, "Don't think he meant it politely either." The man rolled up Harry's resume and returned it.

"Well, you seem to have done alright at school, lad," the man said, "More than alright... might've made an auror if not for your... well... stock."

Harry grimaced. "Yeah," he said, ruffling his hair. A lot of things might have happened if not for his stock - it would have kept him off the frontlines of the never-ending War, for one. All he wanted was a decent job that wouldn't kill him, and some food in his belly. "Well, I'd just like to earn my way to Dyfedd is all."

"Splendid," the man said, "As it turns out, I'm headed there myself. And I've got a position open. It's not much - involves guarding... stuff. And reinforcing the wards and runic rot on our planks if our Arithmancer gets too piss-drunk to do it."

If Harry were more lucid, he would have questioned how a man so rough got a ship so large. If he weren't so hungry, he would have asked why the Arithmancer on so well-maintained a vessel would tend to get drunk enough to neglect the wards.

But he was hungry and weary and desperate. So he shook the man's proffered hand, smiled and said, "Great! When do I start?"

"On the morrow," the man said, grinning his yellow smile, "My men have some things to prepare for. Might be a bit of blood when we go out... fishing... but you don't get too queasy, do you?"

"Not quite," Harry said, shrugging.

"Good," the man said, "See you tomorrow, Harry."

"Thank you, Ser..." Harry floundered for the man's name and then realised that the man had yet to introduce himself.

"It's Greyback," the man said, as the wooden boards of The Maugrim gave a loud groan and the vessel heaved in rhythm with the waves that lapped at the stone pier, "Ser Fenrir Greyback."

Chapter Text

The sea churned, the wind howled, and Harry worked feverishly on the runes that kept the aft space underneath the vessel’s deck - that men called the “fish rooms” - dry and aired out. He thought the phrase “fish rooms” was a bit of a misnomer; the rooms were actually one large cavernous shell, with several smaller actual cells, iron bars and all, ensconced inside. There were six such cells, and wards were etched into all of the iron bars that hemmed the edges, clearly meant to keep their contents in – and worse, the contents seemed to be more than just fish; the bars were too far apart for the cells to be containers for mere mackerel or even codfish. The men had laughed at him when he had asked if the fish rooms were actually brigs for catfish. “Not for fish,” Captain Greyback had growled, “Nor for crew. Keep yer mouth shut, bastard, and maybe you’ll get your due at the end.”

The crew were another matter – they were not quite what he expected. Harry had expected hard, weatherworn men who would snap at him for not being able to distinguish a runic engine from a dragon-vane, green as he was. And while the crew members were hard and weatherworn and did occasionally cuff him for being new to an Argonaut, they seemed more… warlike.

Harry frequently spent his evenings in an airy chamber in the very bowels of the Argonaut, below even the fish rooms, which was simply called the Arena. Typically, after lunch, or past sunset, there would be actual duels in the Arena. And though Harry did spend considerable time there repairing the wards, he often found himself watching the men during the duels. The wards within the Arena were immense and powerful, if crude; the most complex ward could half-heartedly push a deformed landscape into the Arena, such as the remains of a translucent crumbling fortress, but Harry thought he could do considerably better, given time. Most wards, however, were geared towards protecting the walls of the Arena itself.

What was more interesting, however, was that the duels between crewmen seemed as much an exercise as it was the settling of day-to-day spats. Aside from their wands, which were mounted in wrist holsters for most of the crew, unlike Harry who preferred his wand sheathed in an elaborate strap around his waist (one of the few gifts Warlock Potter had deemed fit to bestow upon him), the crew also carried weapons – knives, cudgels, swords and axes, engraved with powerful runes that sharpened or strengthened or poisoned.

The Maugrim sailed south from Kingstown-upon-Hull, right past the crumbling ruins that lined the four islands of the Dry Quartet, faster than Harry had expected. He knew that at top speed, his old Cleansweep could have flown from Monmouth to the King’s Lynn – the closest port to Dyfedd on the island of Coille - in less than five days, but sailing over the heavily enchanted waters of the Jormungand, which permitted no being to fly or magick his way across, was quite different. Harry had expected a long journey, but in less than two days, they had reached the Southern Highlands.

The crew were a colourful bunch of characters, and nearly forty strong. Almost all were lowborn (though none were bastards apart from himself), including the first mate, Das Patel, and the cook who went only by his last name, which was Brown. Apart from Brown and Patel, there was one-eyed Sam – a man who claimed he was the fastest draw on the ship, despite his handicap – and Simple Sam, a slightly gullible, if fierce, dueller who won more fights than he lost. There were also two people named Robb – one was actually called Robb, and people kept telling Harry that he was a fine “trapper.” The other was called Lazy Robb – the rest of the crew considered him one of the finest fighters on the ship, and Harry had yet to see him lose a duel; the nickname was more on account of the man’s one lazy eye, rather than any actual lethargy. There were a trio of extremely fierce-looking brothers on the ship, with broad shoulders and massive barrel chests. They went by Brad Lynch, Eoin Lynch and Simon Lynch, though the crew typically referred to them as Big Troll, Little Troll and Ogre. There were more than a dozen other crew members that Harry had yet to learn the names of, but they were surly, sullen men, given more to outbursts of violence than social chatter.

There was only one actual pureblood on the ship – Greyback – who never seemed to be around, which mystified Harry given that they were all in a single, confined Argonaut.

He had asked Patel – the friendliest of the handful of crew members he knew - about it once. “The captain?” Patel had replied, jerking his head towards the sole “Captain’s Tower” on the Argonaut – a singular, wide, cylindrical construct that stood near the aft of the vessel, and housed the Captain’s cabin, “He typically just sits around in his tower, waiting.”

“Waiting for…?” Harry had prompted.

Patel had laughed at him.

“The moon,” Simple Sam had interjected in his monotonous voice, but Harry had ignored him.

Harry had tried a different tack then. “So… what’s the deal with the Arena?” Harry had asked, “Or is the Arena just typical Argonaut etiquette and I’m just an ignorant landlubber?”

“The Arena’s a ballroom, dolt,” Lazy Robb had told him, “We… re-purposed it. Like we re-purposed this itty-bitty ‘Naut here.”

“Re-purposed from…?” Harry had prompted.

Lazy Robb had laughed at him and then cuffed him across the back of his head. And Harry had desisted from awkward questions since.

The Arithmancer on the ship was a balding man who went by the name of Lee. He appeared to be about sixty; he might have been younger, but if so, Harry couldn’t quite tell, given the amount of wrinkles, grey hair and bloodshot eyes. Although, Harry would be hard-pressed to judge if the man was even an Arithmancer in the first place, given the state of disrepair that he had walked into after he had boarded the ship. Lee seemed to spend far more time drinking then he spent working the wards, and most of Harry’s work was the result of his own diligent analysis of the vessel’s wards than any explicit instruction from Lee.

However, when it came to the massive runic engine that actually drove the Argonaut, Harry was at a complete loss, and depended entirely on slurred instructions from Lee. The engine, thankfully enough, appeared to function smoothly with very little intervention from a semi-conscious, drunk Lee and a very relieved Harry. Nonetheless, the giant runic propeller that churned the waters to and fro, letting the Argonaut heave its way through the choppy waters of the Jormungand, was no longer just a theoretical construct taught at Hogwarts; its thrum, beat and heat were now part of Harry’s daily grind.

Harry liked to think he helped the crew in other ways as well – he was one of the few on the vessel who was quick enough to catch the delicious rainbow trout that flew in wide, sweeping arcs over their ships. He was probably the better cook on the vessel as well; the only thing Brown seemed to know how to do was mash stuff, burn it and mix it with enough water to mask the smell of soot.

The crew had laughed the first time he had helped out, but the smells floating out of the mess hall after Harry’s efforts had beckoned Greyback himself out of his hallowed captain’s cabin. There had been quite a clamour for Harry to take the cook’s job after that, though both Greyback and Brown ruled that option out. Nonetheless, Harry did help prepare dinner more often than not.

The waters were choppy enough, but the skies were clear and sunny, and the summer breeze was always behind them, blowing in from the Southern Highlands that encircled the entire southern coast of North Lothien, which was separated from South Lothien by a narrow strait called the Myr Brozh. Morning turned to dusk, which again turned to dawn, and Harry slaved away at food, trout and wards, for nearly three weeks before they got closer to Dyfedd. Greyback looked increasingly bedraggled as the moon cycled through two of its faces, each larger than the previous. The crew grew warier and tenser, and it set Harry on edge. They were mere hours away from Dyfedd – the rolling hills of the Free City of Coille had been visible through the haze for nearly a week, after they had sailed through the Myr Brozh. The omnioculars mounted on the deck told them the hills were now a mere hundred kilometres away – a few hours at the argonaut’s top speed.

And that was when Harry’s situation truly began to unravel. While Harry had an inkling that he’d picked a dangerous vessel ever since he had boarded it - given the duels and the hard nature of the crew - the last two hours reinforced that feeling a hundred-fold – he knew he’d made the wrong decision now. With each turn of the runic engine, the more Harry saw of the crew’s preparations to land; even as a landlubber, he knew this particular crew’s preparations were far too unusual. The men were gearing up for war – they were all arming themselves, drinking Pepper-ups and loading their casks with pain-relievers. And not for the first time, Harry noticed that he was surrounded entirely by men. There was not a single witch to be seen.

The boat slogged forward, and the waters grew choppier as they neared the port. The sun kissed the mountains and noon succumbed to dusk, with violet, purple and dark blue ribbons setting the sky afire. The flat pebbled shore of Coille grew nearer, and so did the buildings and monuments of metal and wood. He could see the green domes of the famed marble senate of Dyfedd shimmer in the fading light of the sun, as well as the sharp metal contours of the Argonauts’ Guild Hall. A sprawl of smaller buildings hugged the earth nestled between the rolling green hills of Coille, and a massive grass sea covered the north-eastern part of the shallow valley only to end in a blazing white sphere that Harry could not bear to look at.

“The Tomb of Merlin,” a voice murmured and Harry turned, only to see the first mate, Patel, next to him, “Covered by wards so dense and brilliant that only another Archmage may pass through them.”

Harry gazed at their destination again as the sun dipped further down the craggy slopes of distant blue-grey hills. Darkness extended its veil further over the city and the green, frothing waters durned to dark, bubbling waves that lapped away at the vessel. The sound of clinking metal, the nervous mutters of men and growls from the Captain’s cabin filled the air as the Argonaut made its way into a tucked away corner of the beach, towards a stately beachfront villa nestled against a steep cliff, and away from the actual port. Even from this distance, the villa looked old, with ochre walls that looked as if they had risen from the gravel of the beach itself. Harry could make out five massive spires along the front face of the villa that extended upward, lined by crumbling stairs. The building rose by itself from the beach, two hundred yards from the beachfront, with neither gate nor wall protecting it. Blue runes shone faintly from flat stones placed in a concentric circle around the villa, but Harry could not quite make them out.

The murmurs of the city turned into a dull roar – the calls of gulls, screeches of mermen, and the rumble of the quays four miles away were evident, even from this distance, but the villa was silent and dark, save for an orange light spilling out from a narrow slit of a window set in the left-most spire, nearly a hundred feet above the beach. The crew were quite now, and waiting, as night fell upon them. The growls and sniffling wails from the Captain’s cabin, however, only grew louder.

Harry craned his neck to look at the sky. A pale pock-marked moon stared back at him, though it seemed less bright compared to the white of the tomb.

“He’s a werewolf, isn’t he?” Harry asked, not quite looking at Patel.

“He is,” Patel replied.

“And you’re pirates,” Harry stated more than asked.

He felt Patel nod next to him, and beads of sweat ran down his back. I’m an idiot, Harry thought, a fumbling fool who bumbles from one blunder to the next.

“Edd died on our last raid,” Patel said nonchalantly, as if he were talking about the weather. The skies grew darker and the villa on the shore grew nearer. The pale light of the moon and the orange glow of swinging, creaking lanterns on the beach by the villa gave Patel’s skin an unearthly glow. “And you showed up. Edd was not much of a warrior, but he knew enough runes to keep the Maugrim afloat. And we had a target, but we had to move fast to catch her. You walked right into it.”

Harry nodded and gulped. “That’s our target,” he stated more than asked, jerking his head towards the villa.

The murmurs of the men fell away, the growls from the Captain’s Cabin stopped, and Harry’s hair stood on end as their boat bumped ever so softly into the coarse sand, barely two hundred yards from the target. He could feel the moon shimmering against the velvet sky, and the orange glows of the city were but distant candles of hustle and bustle. The villa grounds, which were practically part of the beach, were larger than he had thought them to be from a distance – the grounds were demarcated by flat stones with blue runes etched on their surface, and were a perfect circle nearly four thousand square feet in spread.

“A perfect circle,” Patel murmured, echoing Harry's observations, “And so large.”

Harry grimaced. “Sure”, he said, gesturing at the runes half-heartedly, “But they sacrificed power for coverage.”

Patel nodded and rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “A fact that we’re going to exploit,” he said, grinning, and he looked almost bestial in the light of the moon.

Harry could make out the aggressive uruz and algiz – for power and protection – that dotted the face of all the flat, circular rocks that lined the villa’s perimeter, and knew that Patel was right. He looked on silently as the crew dismounted from the vessel and floated over a massive wooden beam from the deck, the rectangular faces of which were dotted with a messy latticework of shimmering red runes – uruz and thurisaz seemed to be the primary forces.

Harry had never seen an actual cascading ward failure, but he knew he would see one now. The men were feeding their own magic into the wooden beam, and the runes were now glowing an unholy red. They raised their wands above their heads and the wooden beam rose into the air, nearly two hundred feet above the ship, with the red stark against the black of the sky and runes glowing brighter than stars. The sea breeze stopped and the murmur of voices from the distant town grew muffled and still; the very night seemed to hover in anticipation as the great runic ram hung above them. Their argonaut groaned and heaved, and Harry’s wand crept into his clenched right palm.

“Boy”, Greyback growled from next to him, and Harry jumped. He had barely even heard the Captain approach. He looked at the man warily – Greyback looked utterly terrifying; every vein on the man’s body seemed to be on the verge of popping, every muscle seemed to be tense, as if anticipating a massive stress. “When the wards break,” Greyback murmured, “Stay.”

A moment’s silence followed, before Harry ventured, “Here? On the vessel?”

“Aye,” Greyback said, as Patel walked away from them and began to weave a swathe of spells that seemed to be enforcing the wooden beam that still hovered in the sky above them, “Stand guard. See that the damn sheep don’t run all over my wolf.” His voice was turning scratchy, and his amber eyes glowed. Hair seemed to be sprouting from his very arms, and Harry backed away frantically.

“Don’t you mooooOOOOOOOOVE!” Greyback half-growled, half-howled as his nose grew outward and an enormous snout emerged. His canines extended out, his arms reached outward, his legs grew grotesque and the man fell away as his beast overtook him. Harry had seen a werewolf transform only once before; but that had been a guest at Potter Manor, under the influence of Wolfsbane – the transformation had been painful, but the man had fallen away to reveal a noble wolf, rather than the untamed, rabid, slavering menace that loomed in front of him. Sparks flew from Harry’s wand in alarm.

The beast howled and the crew roared alongside it. The beast turned towards the roar, its eyes wild, and the men fell silent at once, but did not back away. The beast looked over them all with its menacing, glowing orbs, and its slavering fangs gleamed white in the light of the moon.

The world froze. Harry tensed. Then the beast turned away, towards the glimmering windows of the ancient beachfront villa, standing stark against the gray cliffs and black sky. The captain leapt over the argonaut’s edge, and the crew followed, rappelling down, or zooming ahead with brooms.

Patel screamed and the massive wooden ram hovering above came crashing down – a shooting star that smote down from the heavens and ripped the wards apart. A shrill alarm blared, and Harry heard the ring of distant bells on the quays that were thousands of yards away. Blue and crimson light flared outwards as the wards imploded – the villa’s glass windows shattered and Harry could now hear the screams of the people sheltered within.

“What… what…” Harry gasped. He hazily saw Lee waddle up to him from his hovel near the engine; the crew seemed to have left their Arithmancer behind as well.

Lee clasped a hand against Harry's right shoulder as they witnessed Greyback slam right through the doors of the mansion in the distance, as if they were made of paper.

“There was a time, during the short peace, when we had five argonauts, and were feared raiders from Pencanze to Thurso,” Lee slurred ruefully, reeking of wine, while Harry gaped at him, “But the War always brings in lean patches. Four of our Argonauts sank in the first four years of this damned war, and we had to… well… replace our last one when it got torn up in a skirmish with one the Dread Queen’s damned purebloods.

“We used to raid kingdoms then. Harbours, fishing villages, even cities… they used to quail at the sight of us.

“We were young, and foolish, and numbered over a hundred,” Lee said with a deep sigh, “We thought it was time we attacked an ancient stronghold… perhaps even took it for ourselves. So we raided Londinium itself.”

Harry stared, wide-eyed, at the drunk Arithmancer. “You… you were part of the Londinium raids!” he stammered. The raid of Londinium by a group of pirates who had allied with the Nation of Tybgych had taken place a few years after his admission to Hogwarts, and the story had been all the rage at school – it had been crushed quickly enough by the Gaunts, without a single civilian casualty. There were no Gaunts at Hogwarts, but the young Malfoy lord had preened all over Hogwarts because of his deep connections to the ancient family; the Gaunts themselves had been minor folk heroes for quite a while afterwards.

And now, Harry kicked himself for not paying close attention to that particular story – if he had, he might not have fallen in with the idiot pirates who had attacked the stronghold of the most powerful purebloods in Lothien.

“It was a bloody slaughter,” Lee continued, “All my mates, my brothers and sisters… all slaughtered by that damn lordling… that half-blood son of a…”

Harry bristled a bit, but dared not voice his objections, as Lee coughed violently. The roars of men grew distant, though the shrill alarm continued to blare out its distress across the valley. Harry saw sparks of red off to the north, near the main harbour – he assumed that the aurors of Dyfedd were amassing in force.

“Do you know what the lordling’s name was, before the Gaunt family decided to legitimise him?” Lee asked in a savage snarl, “He was…Tom. Just… Tom, the bloody bastard.”

Harry looked away, though his fist clenched impotently.

“… And because of that damn bastard,” Lee continued, “We now raid summer fucking villas of little lordlings.”

“Little… lordlings?” Harry asked.

Lee gestured at one of the circular slabs that had previously protected the manor grounds – now shattered – that lay closest to the beached vessel. Harry could just about make out the fading luminous glow of something carved into the stone that was not a rune; it would usually have been obscured by the protection wards, but was now visible since the runes had faded.

The torso of a man with an eagle’s head. Wings flaring out to each side. And faint blue fire sizzling about him.

“I’ve seen this before!” Harry said, “You… the Maugrim… you were anchored right in front of this family’s manor in Kingstown!”

Lee smirked at him. “A bit of reconnaissance. Just to make sure that all the manor dwellers were where they belonged… in Kingstown. An empty villa offers no resistance.”

Harry jumped as he heard the whoops of men running towards the vessel, but Lee grinned. “They’re back already,” he chortled, “Must be some amazing loot.”

Five of the crew that Harry vaguely recognised rappelled up the starboard ladder and heaved themselves into the Argonaut, with full packs slung across their backs. “Bloody hell,” the scarred man in the lead said, “That’s a lot of gold. So… much… gold.”

He slung the rucksack off his back and opened its mouth. Harry and Lee both gasped at the golden shimmer that winked at them from within.

“Merlin’s beard,” the Arithmancer said, swaying slightly, “That is a lot of gold. They just left it here? For anyone to take it?”

The blonde in the group laughed. “That’s the best part,” the blonde said, “We messed up! We thought they were all in Monmouth. They weren’t – two of the little birdies made their way here.”

“We… have a captive?” Lee gasped.

“A bloody big ransom,” the scarred man hooted, “We caught ourselves an heiress, lads!”

More men came onboard, scrambling up the ladder with savage leers and grins. The burliest member of the crew – the largest Lynch brother who the crew called Big Troll - came last, with two floating bundles hovering over him. He cancelled the charm as soon as he boarded, and the bundles dropped onto the ground with screeches emanating from within, barely four feet away from Harry. Harry saw the two Robbs and the two Sams inching forward with wild eyes. Even Patel, who had boarded the ship along with the second set, seemed excited and anxious at once.

Big Troll clutched the sacks and tore them off. The crew wolf-whistled and hooted and called out filthy names.

And at his feet, Harry looked with astonishment and fear at the forms of two, wide-eyed women, whimpering in terror. The one on the right was small and petite and pretty, with brown hair that fell in ringlets around her delicate face. A pert nose and wide brown eyes gazed out at them all. Harry recognised her from his Hogwarts years; she was one of the smallfolk – he vaguely remembered that her last name was Granger, though they had spoken perhaps once throughout his years at Hogwarts.

Nonetheless, while Granger was pretty and cute, if utterly terrified and trembling, the other woman was a goddess given form. Silver-gold hair fanned about absolutely perfect features. Her lush lips were parted to reveal perfect white teeth that grit together in rage and fear, and her wide, sky-blue orbs gazed at them all in steely determination. Where Granger was petite, this woman was downright voluptuous, with curves that Harry had never seen on another woman. Even crouched low upon the ground, her… assets… were obvious – even her conservative robes could not conceal the sheer volume of her bust and rear.

“Bloody buggering beasts of Jormungand,” one of the men practically panted, “I’m going to go through that one every bloody night on this bloody vessel!”

The men edged forward, and the goddess tried to crawl backwards, though her bound arms and feet simply would not allow her to move. She snarled helplessly at them all, while Harry stood rooted to the spot – incredibly guilty and helpless.

Patel – the usually mild-mannered first mate – roared inarticulately.  “You know the bloody rules!” he screeched at the crew, “Greyback always gets to have the first go. At both of them.”

“Screw that – Greyback ain’t here,” one-eye Robb said as he grabbed at the goddess, who screamed and tried to scramble backward, but failed again. Harry heard a muffled scream from the other lowborn girl. Patel inched forward, snapping his fingers at Lazy Robb, who kept shaking his head, as if to clear it. Patel shoved at one-eye Robb, and Lazy Robb drew his wand, letting out a deafening bang that seemed to sober the crew, if momentarily.

Harry felt all of his muscles quiver violently in fear as he scrambled backward, away from the press of men and away from the prone women on the ground. However, before he could move too far away, Lazy Robb cracked his wand again.

“Nobody touches the captain’s goods!” Patel roared, “Nobody!”

Then he pointed straight at Harry. “You,” he snarled, “Take these to the fish rooms. Put them in the racks. And guard them with your bloody life.

“And don’t you bloody touch them. If not…”

Harry gulped. He then took out his wand, raised the two bound captives into the air, and looked everywhere but at their accusing stares as he led them down.

He now knew what… who the cells in the fish rooms were really for.

Chapter Text

Harry tried and failed repeatedly in his attempts to keep his gaze off the women in the cells behind him. Patel had helped him escort them into the fish rooms, and had chained them up against the metal wall of the cell furthest from the entrance of the room. The fish rooms were in a large, cavernous hall, and had portholes that were open to the sea breeze, but a cage was a cage, regardless of how airy and large it was. Harry had been posted as a guard inside the fish rooms, with his bedding in one of the other empty cells, while the three Lynch brothers stood guard outside the fish rooms on rotating shifts.

The first few times his gaze was drawn to the impossibly voluptuous pureblood kneeling inside the cell, he thought it was just his hormones and a prolonged lack of female contact acting up. However, the longer he spent inside the fish rooms, the harder it was to control his eyes – he could practically feel the low sizzle of subtle magic in the air.

By now, it was evident that the two hostages were not on an equal footing. Granger – the lowborn hostage - deferred to the other woman in the room, who, according to Patel, was the pureblood heiress of the Delacour family. Harry hadn’t really heard of the Delacour family, but apparently they were up-and-coming purebloods who owed their lineage to the Dread Queen herself – they were basically a line of purebloods who claimed the ancestry of the mythical Archmagus Nefertiti of Daryan, but one of the sisters of the Dread Queen had married into their ranks. Their up-and-coming status, and the fact that their line was commingled with the Dread Queen’s, meant that they were a very big deal.

“It means there’s a lot of gold in it, lad,” Patel had told him. “And…” Patel had growled, leering at the women, “… a lot of fun. Merlin’s balls, I kept control up there, but in here, with her looking like that, it’s so damn hard…”

Harry had coughed at that, and the sound seemed to shake Patel from his lust-induced stupor. “Don’t let anyone touch them until the Captain’s back,” Patel, said, “Greyback gets first dibs. Always.”

Harry could only nod.

And now, as he found his gaze drawn to the pureblood heiress, again, he knew something was off. He had noticed the silvery blonde hair, the impossible curves, and the manner in which his gaze was drawn first to her lips, then her eyes and then the rest of her (not quite the normal progression sequence of a lust-induced gaze) before, but now it all came together.

“Veela,” he said to himself, “Of course.”

And though he had barely murmured the words, the sound seemed to startle both women. The pureblood heiress gave him a glare that was intimidating, despite her bound hands and her kneeling posture. Granger, however, drew closer to the bars of her cells.

“I… know you,” Granger said, her eyes searching his face desperately, “I’m Hermione Granger. You’re… you’re… I’m sorry, I know we took Runes together at Hogwarts, but I can’t… I don’t… Harrold?”

“Harry,” he said.

“Harry,” Granger said, her voice high-pitched and frantic, “Please, please don’t do this. Please… help us. Help us get out of here. Please.”

And there it was. The right choice, or the easy choice, as their old Headmaster used to proclaim. Easy for him to say, Harry thought, from his lofty pureblood pedestal. For bastards, blending in was the only option there was.

“Yes, Harry,” came another voice, soft and alluring, setting Harry’s nerves on fire, “Set me free, love. Set me free and I shall shower you in gold and love.” The voice was hypnotic, irresistible, soft and feminine, lush and rich, like the notes of a lullaby and a ballad, all at once, and Harry found himself drawn towards it.

You’re an idiot, a strong voice in the back of his mind argued, and Harry snapped out of his haze.

“That won’t work,” he rasped.

“Disgusting pig,” the Delacour heiress spat, “Do me the favour of looking me in the eye when you keep me chained, bastard.”

Harry’s head whipped around as he flinched at the word. No matter how many times he heard it, that word was never one he would get used to or that he would want to get used to. He had promised himself that much.

“I know what you are, filth,” the heiress said, spitting out each word like a curse, “A half-bred animal that fancies itself a peasant.”

Harry thought of protesting, but he shook himself free of that urge and tried to ignore her entirely.

“Fleur, please,” Granger said, “Please, let me just talk to him. Harry, I… I don’t want to face whatever comes next. Harry, I heard them. When the Captain comes back… Harry, please… I can’t… I can’t…” Her voice broke as sobs tore out from her, and Harry knew he had never felt like more of a heel than he did in that moment.

And what he was doing was indefensible, but it was the only way he could survive. So he cast a silencing spell on their cage and tried to lull himself into sleep, though the bliss of sleep was incredibly hard to come by.

***

Harry woke up to the sound of a bang. He tried to orient himself for a moment, and clear the fuzz that seemed to have clogged his head, but the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps made him reach for his wand by force of habit.

“I can’t take this any more,” came a low-pitched growl as Harry jerked upright, only to freeze as he saw Lazy Robb walk into the room.

“I… I can’t…” Harry stammered, “I…. the Captain…”

Lazy Robb stood in the middle of the large cavernous corridor, right outside the cell with the hostages. He was wild-eyed and unkempt – his every muscle seemed to be tense, quivering in greed and lust and every other shade of arousal in between. His wand was in his hand, and Harry could see the obscene tent in the man’s patchy leggings.

This is bad, this is bad, Harry kept thinking to himself as he half-heartedly brought his wand to bear.

“Okay, right,” Harry said, trying and failing to orient himself as he got to his feet and scrambled away from his bedding, towards the opening of his own little cell, “Robb, listen….”

“I touched her yesterday,” Lazy Robb growled, taking a step towards the cell with the hostages, who were now wide awake. Granger was whimpering again. The pureblood heiress, on the other hand, strained at her manacles, while her electric blue eyes glared at the pirate outside her cell with every ounce of ill will that she could muster.

“I touched her,” Lazy Robb repeated, “And… and… I just couldn’t sleep last night. I had to have her. Had to.”

“Robb,” Harry said again, though the man did not even seem to notice him.

“Merlin’s balls, look at her,” Robb said, and the man was actually panting. He shoved his face through the bars of the cell and bared his teeth at the heiress. Granger screamed and Delacour scrambled backwards with a snarl.

Harry couldn’t help but glance at the woman. His gaze travelled down her utterly insane curves, before he pulled his eyes back to look at Robb. Granger gave another high-pitched scream as Lazy Robb started fumbling with the lock.

Harry felt a trickle of sweat making its way down the back of his neck. “Robb, snap out of it!” he said in a much louder tone, though his voice quivered.

Lazy Robb gave him a wild look. His wand flashed, the girls screamed again and Harry hastily deflected an ugly brown jet that had shot out at him

“I’m warning you, boy,” Lazy Robb growled, “Get out of my way. Or else…”

A flash of red and violet erupted outwards and Harry dodged out of the way. The bars of his cell cracked, and Harry hastily made his way out of the cell. “Robb, just listen, please!” Harry said as he held his wand aloft and his left palm up in a conciliatory manner.

Robb raised his wand again, Harry braced himself, the hostages screamed, and then an enormous shudder seemed to rip through the very bowels of the Argonaut itself.

“What the…” Robb asked, his eyes losing a little of their former wildness, “What…?”

Harry held onto one of the still-intact bars of his cell as an enormous gong rang right through the Argonaut, followed by a high-pitched whistle. Greyback’s voice seemed to echo around the fish rooms, “Time to go to war, boys!”

The whistle and the gong stopped, and an eerie silence descended upon the vessel. Robb shook himself and glared at Harry. His gaze seemed clearer now, though Harry could see the madness lurking right behind the sober glare that his crewmate bestowed upon him.

“Stay here,” Robb snarled, pointing to the hostages, “Watch them.”

“What…?” Harry attempted as Robb sped towards the exit.

Robb turned around and gave him a dirty look. “This isn’t over,” he growled, “Fortunately for you, though, we’re under attack.”

***

Harry stared at the hole that had been punched right into the side of the Argonaut. While he knew that the Argonaut was a tall vessel, he had always believed that the fish rooms were beneath the water level when the vessel was cruising through deep waters. However, the hole that had been punched through the walls of the fish rooms, the jagged edges of which were still sizzling from the power of the spell that had drilled through, belied his previous assumption. He could see the patch of sky outside, and the vessel arrayed against them. 

The enemy vessel was pitch black, and he could see only a section of the hull, but even from his constricted, unexpected porthole, he could see that the opposing vessel was armed to the teeth, with two large ballistae pointed right at him from a particular sub-deck at his eye level. He scrambled backwards as the runes on the ballistae began to glow, and fiery spears emerged on their flat wooden surfaces. His wand blazed; a purple bloom escaped outward while a shield snapped into place over the hull covering the fish rooms.

A boom rocked the Maugrim once more, but Harry’s shield seemed to absorb most of the impact. Harry peered out of the jagged opening, only to notice that the two ballistae arrayed against him had both shattered.

He sighed in relief and slumped to the floor.

“Harry, please,” he heard Granger plead again, “Please. Let us out of here!”

Harry rubbed his eyes and looked at her, a bit lost himself. It was a simple thing to do – just point his wand at their manacles, and summon their wands back to them. And yet, his survival instincts, which had kept him safe and dandy to this point, practically screamed against that particular course of action. What if Greyback came down? What if Robb still wanted them?

What if you weren’t such a bloody coward?

Another boom swept through the Argonaut. Harry could hear the shouts and screams of the men topside.

“Bastard,” Delacour said, speaking to him firmly and clearly, though he could detect the undercurrent of fear and panic in her voice, “We’ll make it easy for you. All you have to do, is point and say, relashio.”

Harry merely stood there, torn. Another shudder rippled its way through the vessel and he scrambled for purchase against the hull. And then he felt the roar of magic behind him and threw himself to the ground. Goosebumps broke out against his back as a sizzling white arc blazed over him. Screams echoed through the fish rooms and Harry shielded his eyes against the heat of the spell as it exploded against the far wall.

He looked up after a moment and gulped. The spell had obviously come from the same enemy sub-deck where the ballistae had been housed; several crew members appeared to have shot a massive blaze towards him using some sort of runic weapon, and it had torn out an entire section of the metal floor, exposing the beams underneath. The jagged scar trailed all the way to the far wall – the spell had missed Harry by mere inches.

And then he looked towards the hostages, only to see that the wall their chains had been attached to had been obliterated in the wake of the spell. The hostages themselves appeared to be safe, barring a bit of bruising from the fall, but what really alarmed Harry was the fact that Delacour was grinning up at him, and the grin was feral. Her hands were on fire.

He shielded frantically as a plume of blue fire swept at him. “Lady Fleur!” he heard Granger scream, but Harry’s world was spinning far too much for him to see what Granger was screaming about. The last blast had imploded against his shield, sending him sprawling towards the hard metal wall of the fish rooms. He shook his head frantically and dived out of the way of another fireblast, then brought his wand sweeping upwards in a white flash.

Both girls shrieked, but the white flash was a feint – it merely passed them by with no violent aftermath. Harry paused in his follow-up as he saw that Granger had wandlessly summoned both Fleur’s and her wands to them – he guessed the wands must have been nearby, perhaps in the vault near the Arithmancer’s Hovel.

“Wait,” Harry said frantically, as he backpedalled until his back was against the wall – a wall that they all knew was extremely vulnerable to bombardment at the moment. “Wait, please.”

“Hermione,” Delacour said, her every syllable quivering with rage and anxiety, “Please. Go check the opening. Is it a rescue?”

Granger whimpered as she inched away from the ruined remains of their cell and peered through the opening at the other vessel.

“It’s so close!” she gasped.

“They’re fighting above deck,” Harry supplied, though he cringed as he noticed Delacour’s wand twitch and glow, “The lines must have tangled by now.”

Granger frowned at him but continued to peer at the attacking vessel.

“Milady,” Granger said, in an alarmed tone, “I… I cannot see a flag!”

“Is it his ship?” Delacour asked sharply.

“No,” Granger said, shaking her head, and her frazzled hair bounced, “It’s too… small to be his?”

Delacour’s face hardened as she seemed to make up her mind about something.

“First,” she said, and her wand glowed an eerie green, “We dispose of this pirate trash.”

“Wait, wait!” Harry panted, “Please, just hand me over to whoever it is on the other ship. I surrender.”

“Milady!” Granger said again, wincing as three booming blasts seemed to echo throughout the ship, “If he puts down his wand…”

“He wanted a turn with us,” Delacour snarled, “He’s scum that doesn’t deserve to live!”

“Please…” Harry gasped as he staggered to his feet with his wand tip glowing. Delacour’s hair whipped around her face like blue-gold flames as another series of blasts rocked the Maugrim.

“It’s a pirate ship!” Granger said, pointing to something beyond Harry’s line of sight through the jagged gap in the hull, “Another one… oh Morgana…”

Delacour’s nostrils flared and her blue eyes seemed to glow. “Out of the frying pan…” she said as she glared down at Harry, as her glowing eyes seemed to bore through his very mind. Harry felt the hair rise on his back and dived forward. Delacour and Granger screamed and a green flash slammed past the space Harry had just vacated. He twisted and rolled on the metal floorboards as he came up in a crouch with his wand pointing away from Delacour. Another purple shield boomed into existence as the hull imploded - metal splinters exploded everywhere and ricocheted off his shield.

The sights and sounds of the battle were far clearer now – the torn section had grown into a massive hole nearly eight feet across; Delacour, Granger and Harry just stared for a minute as they saw the enemy vessel in all its glory. And Harry registered that it was a much smaller vessel than the Maugrim but seemed to be far more menacing with a pitch black hull and spikes covering its walls, which were indented with three portholes further astern that had glowing ballistae peeking through them and sizzling with the power of the magic that had been tossed through them.

Harry lurched right through the hole and scrambled up for purchase along the outer wall of the Argonaut; his flailing hands found a latch and he pulled his own weight up quite easily. He then found that the latch he had clung on to was the rung of a boarding ladder that made its way the deck. He rappelled up a few rungs before he heard a scream from below.

“Wait!” Granger screamed from below him, and he heard the frantic hum of a ballista as it charged up for another shot. “Please!”

Harry looked down at Granger, who seemed to be struggling to pull herself up onto the same rung. He stared helplessly at her, then at the ballista nearest to him, then back at her. He cursed and waved his wand – Granger made an “eep” sound as she zoomed up a few feet and latched onto the ladder frantically. He saw her bend down to pull Delacour up; Harry then scrambled up as fast as he could.

And another boom shook the lower decks as the ballistae continued to fire. He jumped onto the deck and gaped at the pitched battle that had apparently erupted on board the Maugrim in his absence. He registered Lazy Robb duck beneath a bolt of light that slammed into Brown – the cook – with a flash and a bang. Brown crumpled to the ground and Robb shot right back at a veiled figure, who conjured a shield.

Harry had seen enough. He dashed to his right, away from the pitched battle and towards the shelter of the Captain’s Tower, but then skidded sideways as he realised that the boarding plank that usually extends down from the Captain’s Tower had been transfigured to stone and was now fused with the hull of the rival ship. The ships were locked hull to hull, and the rival crew had used the gangplank to board their Argonaut.

The Maugrim whined as another shot ricocheted across the bow area. Harry winced and looked desperately at the Captain’s Tower, searching for a place to hide. The massive iron doors at the base of the Tower opened, as if answering his query, and a furious Greyback emerged with a roar.

“You DARE!” Greyback screamed, and it was audible even over the sounds of the battle on the deck, “You DARE attack ME!”

Greyback brandished his wand and swept past Harry, who had backed away behind a beam, only to bump into a soft… something. He turned around and winced again as he noticed a whimpering Granger and an angry Delacour staring up at him. Harry shook his head and dashed away through the open door that the Captain had left open behind him – he heard the ladies’ pattering feet following him.

He slung his wand at the door just as Delacour crossed the threshold and threw a couple of locking spells at it just in case someone tried to break in. He made his way up the winding steps of the Captain’s tower and pushed right into the Captain’s quarters at the top of the tower. Harry gaped for a moment as he took in the sheer… sparkling nature of the room; there were encrusted gems everywhere – on the tapestry by the massive bed, which had its deep gouges in what had once been an extremely plush mattress, as well as on every piece of decorative furnishing. The lamps were glowing, enchanted gems. The two massive wolves that stood right by the entrance to the room had flowing crystalline manes and open snarls that gleamed by virtue of the gems that were carved to look like teeth. Even the bars by the window to the room had gems encrusted within them. The room was… obnoxious and far too ostentatious to be Greyback’s fault, other than the deep gouges in the mattress and walls.

Multiple booms resounded by the window and Harry edged towards it to peer at the battle that had erupted on deck. He registered the two women stepping into the room from the corner of his left eye, and he kept his senses honed towards Delacour while he glanced over the battlefield.

He could not see the island of Coille from his vantage point – so he assumed that the island was somewhere astern, since the window faced the bow. He also saw the vast, open Jormungand stretching out into the clouds on the distant horizon, where he could just about make out the dark line of mountains that lined Eastern Lothien. Harry cursed to himself – he had been so close to freedom, so close to Dyfedd, so close to finally being free from fear and loathing and everything he had strove to escape from – and now, here he was, stranded off the shore of the Free City that was to be his sanctuary, in a sea that threatened to swallow him, caught in a pirate skirmish and full of guilt for being party to their crimes. He tried not to look at the women behind him, but he knew he had to keep an eye on Delacour.

He tensed as he saw her silver gold hair gleam beside him as she looked out through the window. Harry shrunk away, though he could help but admire the sharp, elegant cut of her face, with her high cheek bones, the streamlined avian nose, and the plush red lips. Even here, in the plain light of day, with a pitched battle on deck, she looked like an ethereal painting come to life. Harry pulled his gaze back to the battle before his eyes wandered below her face, for there lay true danger.

Granger sidled up next to Delacour. All three of them looked through the window.

“Are… are there lifeboats here?” Granger asked him, her voice quivering with fear.

“No,” Delacour said before Harry could even answer, “The Maugrim is a pleasure vessel. Not a warship.”

Harry stared at her – he had no idea how she could know that. If she noticed his incredulity, she clearly did not care enough to elaborate.

“They were stupid to board though,” Delacour said, pointing to the battle, “They’re clearly outnumbered.”

Harry looked at the black-clad pirates who had attacked them and knew that Delacour was right. The pirates had miscalculated; if, like Delacour had claimed, the Maugrim was a pleasure vessel, the rival pirates must have boarded them hoping for a lot of loot and little resistance. Instead, they had merely boarded another battle-hardened pirate vessel.

“I’m not going back into captivity,” Delacour said through gritted teeth and Harry noted that her teeth were incredibly white, “One way or another, I’m going to escape this hellhole.”

“But… there are no lifeboats…” Granger whimpered, “How…?”

Harry barely listened as Granger and Delacour debated options – he was frantically thinking about an escape for himself. He could probably rappel onto the other vessel and find some small refuge there, but he had no idea if the other party would win, let alone where they would go if they did win. For all he knew, they would take him might take him right back to Lothien. He could not fly, he could not flee… what choice did he have, save hoping that Greyback won?

Suddenly he saw massive red sparks shoot into the sky. He traced the sparks back down to the deck and saw that one of the black-clad pirates had his hand raised. Immediately, the Maugrim rumbled as he noticed more black clad pirates swell the ranks of their attackers – they were coming on board from just beyond the field of vision offered by the window… clearly they were coming in via the fused gangplank. The booms rocking the vessel were noticeably absent now. The black-clad pirates had clearly gambled and were throwing everything they had at Greyback’s men.

The other vessel had emptied out. And that was when the idea struck him. It was a wild, desperate little idea, but it was the only clean way out for him, as long as the other, smaller vessel truly had emptied out.

He turned and ran down the steps to the Captain’s Tower. Just before he got to the entrance, he tapped his head with his wand and felt the familiar trickle of disillusionment creep over him. He then cancelled his own locking spells, drew the door open ever so slightly, glanced around to ensure that the door itself was not under fire and crept out, keeping himself low and to the ground.

He made his way as fast as possible towards the empty gangplank and then slowed down as he crossed it so as to avoid falling into the sea. He noticed that the enemy vessel was a mean-looking thing – a menacing muddle of black and green criss-crossed across its hull, with runic symbols etched across its surface that screamed death and pain. The hull jutted out on the far side into some sort of avian-looking ram. The Argonaut itself was much smaller than the Maugrim. Harry guessed that the sub-decks consisted primarily of the ballistae room and an Arithmancer’s Hovel; there was no Captain’s Tower on the deck itself – just a small captain’s cabin.

He stepped onto the enemy deck, which was surprisingly sleek and made of marble that looked like desert sand, as daintily as he could, with his wand in hand. Once on board, he dashed for the shelter of the captain’s cabin, which was sleek black on the outside and let off a boom with his wand. He crouched down and waited, but no crew member surged out from the cabin. He opened the cabin door and peeked in, whispering a Revelio. Nothing stirred – all he saw were plush red cushions, a very bare-looking wooden table and some parchment next to a harsh-looking throne-like chair. He backed out and glanced at the Maugrim’s deck. The battle was still at a fever pitch – he had a minute or so, he assumed, before the tide of the battle turned in one direction or another.

He rushed down the stairs near the Captain’s cabin that led down to apparently the only sub-deck that the vessel had, and crouched down low as he saw that there were three men on the sub-level – one for each ballista. He looked around frantically, hoping to find an alcove or a shelter, but a loud scream from behind him robbed him of his advantage. He threw a glance behind him, only to notice a flustered looking Granger – Delacour had clamped her own palm tight over Granger’s lips, but it was too little, too late. The three men immediately flung spells outward, which collided with Harry’s purple shield and ricocheted back – the girls seemed to have been caught off-guard, though they were both beginning to brandish wands.

Harry ducked and dove to the side as Delacour and Granger cast a torrent of spells at the nearest man, who crumpled to the ground as his shield succumbed to the onslaught. The two remaining men, however, advanced undaunted at Delacour and Granger, who seemed capable of holding their own. “Look at this loot, boys!” one of them crowed, “We’re going to have ourselves some amazing fun tonight!”

Spells flew fast and furious, back and forth, but the men had clearly not spotted a disillusioned Harry, who had his eyes on the ballistae. Apparently, the men had stopped firing the ballistae at the Maugrim when their own crew had boarded it. There were two gaping holes already in the Maugrim – one at the fish rooms, which had nearly blown him and the ladies apart. The other, however, was in a much more lucrative location – the Hovel of the Maugrim. Harry swung his wand out, and the ballistae all turned such that they were pointing to the aft of the Maugrim. He ran to the first ballista, quickly checked its scope and adjusted it so that it was pointed right at the hole in the Hovel. He moved to the next one and did a similar adjustment. He noticed one of the men go down again, but Granger seemed to be winded from a concussion hex that had just missed her arm and had apparently caught her in the middle. He moved to the third ballista and adjusted it as well.

He then tightened his right arm, focused his mind on his wand, and pushed out. Three globes of light – bright and red and crackling – flew outward and spun towards each of the ballistae. Both Delacour and her opponent paused mid-duel and stared. The man flung a spell at one of the orbs, but Harry quickly deflected it back at him. The man was too slow to respond and collapsed in an alarmingly violent fashion – blood spurted out from his arm where his own spell struck him and he screamed. Harry winced and quickly shot a stunner at the man, who went dead silent as he bled out all over the floor. Granger, who had apparently recovered, crept towards the man and cast a spell at the man’s arm which seemed to bind his muscles together for the moment.

Harry exhaled and pushed out with his magic – the charged ballistae rocked back as they expelled the orbs outward, right at the Arithmancer’s Hovel of the Maugrim. Harry’s purple shield blazed back into existence as he sped past the staring ladies and out of the captain’s cabin.

He heard the hull outside the hovel explode before he emerged from the cabin, and then a series of booms echoed across the open ocean. Harry winced and swung his wand right at the fused gangplank – it crumbled away to dust as his jet of blinding white magic hit it. The black Argonaut groaned under them, and then surged ahead. Harry watched in eerily guilty fashion as purple flames blazed out from the Maugrim’s hovel and encircled the entire stern of the Argonaut. The men on deck screamed and hollered. He heard Greyback roar, though he couldn’t actually see the captain as the flames flared and increased tenfold in intensity. Their little black Argonaut was already speeding away from the Maugrim – he thanked the fates and the muses for the fact that the crew had left their runic engine running.

He saw a slightly tubby pirate rushing down past the Captain’s Tower of the Maugrim, and recognized the man’s waddle – it was Patel. As Harry’s black ship sped away, he saw Patel do something at the stern of the ship and yellow beams of light burst into existence around it. The battle on the main deck seemed to have paused – several of the black-clad pirates were screaming and shaking their fists at Harry as the distance between them grew ever further. A few enterprising pirates tried to fire spells at him, but they missed by a mile.

And then, purple flames and yellow beams clashed, as the Arithmancer’s Hovel literally broke away from the stern of the Maugrim – the entire rectangular room detached and fell away into the ocean. Patel had apparently activated some sort of safety mechanism for the eventuality of a cascading runic engine failure. He saw a glowing purple sphere burst into existence from within the depths of the room right before it submerged underneath the waves of the Jormungand. And then, he heard a muffled boom. A massive plume of purple fire burst out of the ocean between his black ship and the Maugrim, followed by smaller, shorter plumes as the Hovel sank ever lower. He could see the purple glow vanishing away. Roiling waves from the underwater explosion hit both him and the Maugrim, but the other ship seemed to have it worse – their only guard against the Jormungand had been cast out. The men screamed and flailed, but eventually seemed to find some sort of stability as the waves subsided.

He heard Greyback’s distinct roar, and thought he heard the word “BASTARD!” but he was too far away now to make out the curses and swearing that the men on the Maugrim flung at him.

All he’d ever wanted to do was flee – flee from his lot in life, flee from Lothien, from the Dread Queen, and from the fact that he was a mere bastard and would never amount to anything. And as he looked towards the fore of the black ship, he could see the island of Coille coming ever closer. He could see the mottled brown of the harbor of Dyfedd.

And he turned and looked at the Maugrim, adrift at sea, at least twenty leagues away from Coille, and without its runic engine.

All he’d ever wanted to do was shrink away from attention, to live in peace and quiet, where no one really cared about the details of his birth or his name or his lineage.

And now, he was stuck on a hijacked pirate ship with two former captives, and two pirate gangs who would neither forget his name nor his lineage, and would forever hold a grudge against him.

Brilliant.

Chapter Text

 The Past

Harry’s wand was out by force of habit and he cast a dozen silencing spells on his bedroom walls within the space of two seconds as his mother’s moans and James Potter’s grunts became far too audible for him to sleep in peace. He tried his best to go back to his previously ignorant slumber, but the walls of his room seemed to close in around him, constraining his very existence.

He sighed, got up and leapt through his bedroom window, landing softly on the grass just outside. He walked a few dozen feet and jumped over the overgrown shrivelfig bush that near the southeast corner of their little hut with a little bit of wandless magical assistance. He was greeted with the wide open meadows and knolls that lined the edges of the Potter estates. He could make out the tall spires of Potter Castle in the distance, and he could hear the thestrals that had brought James Potter to his mother’s abode a few feet to his right, but they didn’t really bother him. He could not see them, and they paid no mind to him.

He collapsed backwards, looked at the twinkling stars that dotted the vast canvas of the night and took in the cool breeze. Here, in the dead of night, there were no walls that suffocated, no one who would humiliate and belittle. The stars continued to wink on, regardless of his existence, and the sky stretched on until the edge of the world. 

At least for a little while, Harry forgot himself and knew peace.

***

The Present

Harry wondered if the two women knew he was within earshot of their supposedly private conversation. He double-checked the links on the chains binding their three erstwhile ballistae operators to the bars of a makeshift cell just outside the Captain’s cabin of their small black vessel. Apparently, the black Argonaut did not have a proper brig, or even a crew deck – the crew’s bedding seemed to share the room with ballistae and other tools of war; so they were forced to set up a make-shift cell right on the deck where Delacour and Granger could keep any eye on the prisoners. 

There seemed to be five distinct areas within the ship – the Captain’s cabin, another smaller room beside it that Granger presumed was the First Mate’s room, the ballistae room (that doubled up as a general crew deck), a strange little sub-deck near the stern of the vessel that had no doors at all and was open to the sea, as well as the standard Arithmancer’s Hovel. Moreover, there were several inconsistences across the vessel itself – the outer shell was black and green and menacing, whereas the inside seemed to be extremely bare and sleek. The Captain’s cabin had very few furnishings apart from the plush red cushions he had noticed earlier; the bedding in the other rooms were sparse and very basic. The crew seemed to live a relatively hard life, or were simply highly disciplined in terms of conjuring and vanishing luxury items as and when they needed them.

Harry waved his wand over each of the prisoners, ensuring that the Sleeping Charm cast upon them was active and strong. He then looked warily at the Captain’s cabin, where the arguments still seemed to be sailing back and forth.

“He’s scum,” Delacour said for the third time in the last ten seconds.

“He’s right there,” Granger whispered hotly, though her voice carried, and Harry could almost imagine Granger gesticulating fervently while her tangled hair bounced prettily around her head, “He can hear you, milady!”

“That says more about him than it does about me,” Delacour insisted, “We should hogtie the half-breed and sell it out like the animal that it is.”

Harry shook his head and deliberately tuned out the conversation. He strode determinedly to the edge of the deck and heard the runic engine rev down as the isolated stretch of sand and stone, a little away from the main docks of Dyfedd, drew closer. He surveyed the shore – the sand flowed from bare white to grass-covered dark brown within the space of a few metres. The grass in turn flowed into bushes, which eventually grew into a broken tree line around five leagues away – remnants of the wild forests of the past that had been cut down to create the Free City of Dyfedd. The city filled the island to his right – bustling and blaring with noise and sound. The buildings grew in size towards the city centre – from his vantage point, he could barely even see the blinding lights of Merlin’s tomb, shielded as it was from his sight by the tall buildings near the centre. To his left, he saw the distant lights of the Delacour villa, but he quickly focused on the middle distance, where there seemed to be a ramshackle inn with a creaking sign that stood right where sand turned to grass – around a single league from the shore.

The cabin door slammed open behind him, making him wince and turn around. He tensed as he saw Granger step out, but relaxed ever so slightly as he noticed that Delacour had chosen to remain inside the cabin. Granger strode up to him and smiled tentatively. Harry gave her an equally lackluster smile.

“Harry,” Granger said, and her fist clenched and unclenched ever so slightly, though her voice seemed kind enough, “You… are disembarking here?” She gestured weakly to the sandy beach just beyond the vessel.

Harry nodded at Granger, who bit her lip as if thinking of something to say, but then shrugged, waved half-heartedly and turned back towards the cabin. Harry watched her return to the Captain’s quarters, then slung his bottomless backpack over his shoulder and leapt from the low stern onto the sandy beach with a light touch.

***

The Past

Fleur rubbed at her eyes as she watched him leave. He was a tiny speck on the horizon at this distance, even through her omnioculars, and the gulf between them was far too wide for her to close – socially and physically. The setting sun cast a pall of red over the sky and the lush grasslands surrounding her estates danced haplessly to howling winds.

“My lady,” Hermione ventured, in her usual timid manner, “I… I’m not sure it’s… appropriate for you to…”

“… pine?” Fleur finished, wiping tears away with a furious fist as she glared helplessly at Hermione, “He… I… Hermione, you wouldn’t understand. You just… wouldn’t.

“Have you… have you ever been in…” Fleur started to say, but she realised how clichéd and dramatic she sounded and stopped. She pinched her eyes shut, wondering if she could force all her tears out at once. She had promised herself at a very young age that she would be more than just her heritage, more than just her innate gifts, more than just a part-veela. She would not be her mother. Nor would she be moulded to aspire to mere ornamentation as her father desired.

She would be more than just her pureblood heritage.

She was more than the sum of her parts.

“Fleur?” Hermione gasped, breaking her adherence to her usual salutations, “What… what are you doing?”

Fleur stopped in her tracks as she realised that she had been throwing galleons, clothes and all that she could think of as hers into Hermione’s bottomless backpack.

“I’m going after him,” Fleur said, “I can’t… I can’t just… Hermione, I dream of him. When I go to sleep, it’s his face that appears in every single dream. I think I… I…”

“Milady!” Hermione said, “You can’t just pack… your bags and leave!”

Fleur put her hand on her hips and glared. “And why not?” she asked vehemently.

“I… Do you even know where he’s going to?” Hermione asked, “He might be going to Rus for all we know. Or Londinium… or…”

“Yndu,” Fleur said in a calm voice, “He’s going to Yndu. I know because he told me.”

“Yndu!” Hermione gasped, staring at Fleur – and Fleur flushed as she saw the horror in the lowborn girl’s face. “I… I’ve never been outside of Lothien!”

“I’m not asking you to come,” Fleur rejoined firmly.

Hermione looked torn for an instant, but Fleur could practically sense the gears turning behind the younger woman’s horrified gaze. Hermione’s large brown eyes developed a firmness of resolve that Fleur had seldom seen in them before.

“Of course I have to come, milady,” her lady-in-waiting said, “That’s my bag you’re filling up.”

Fleur smiled, and deep inside, she was relieved that Hermione had consented to accompanying her. Despite her bluster, she knew that the thought of travelling alone terrified her. 

“There’s always a first time,” Fleur said gently, and she found her lips quirking upwards, “Come, Hermione. I’ve sailed to Jormungand before – perhaps not as far as Yndu, but I have sailed it.

“And… I’ve seen it, Hermione. I’ve seen the land in my dreams. Long winding rivers, cities filled to the brim with life and love… and him. I’ve dreamt of this. I know we’ll make it.”

Fleur sealed up Hermione’s bottomless bag with a wave of her wand, and held out a hand to Hermione, who clutched it and rose, still looking a little pale. 

“Come, Hermione,” Fleur said again, “Adventure beckons.”

***

The Present

“I… couldn’t think of anything to say,” Hermione said helplessly, “He… disembarked.”

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Fleur sniffed, waving her hand in the air dismissively.

Hermione shook her head – she knew she didn’t have much of a counter-argument at this stage. “Lady Fleur…” she started again, “I still do think…”

“I’m not going back,” Fleur said at once, cutting her off, as the part-veela rose and stretched. The sunlight streamed through her golden hair, and Hermione felt a familiar stab of envy as Fleur’s impossible silhouette was cast in stark contrast against blue waters of the sea that were visible through the window. “We have had this discussion before.”

Hermione hugged herself and shrugged – she was trying so hard not to think of the ordeal that they had just been through. The kidnapping. The threats. The savage-looking men. And their narrow escape. Even as she strove to avoid those memories, they came rushing back. She wondered, for a moment, how Fleur stayed so strong and so calm despite their recent ordeal – were purebloods truly made of a different stock from smallfolk?

Fleur turned to her and smiled, breaking her out of her reverie. “I told you, Hermione…” she said in her husky tone, “This was meant to happen. Me. Him. We needed a vessel… and fate gave us one.”

“There are easier ways to obtain a vessel, milady,” Hermione said carefully, shaking her head, “Like chartering one. Or perhaps, buying one.”

“Hijacking a pirate vessel wasn’t my first option, no,” Fleur responded drily, “But here we are. We were meant to have this vessel. Why else would it appear? Why else would we be attacked out of the blue. This was meant to be ours… and we need to register this, as soon as we can.”

“Register…?” Hermione looked at Fleur blankly.

Fleur sighed. “I’m sure there’s a Vessel Registry Office of some sort in this horrid little town,” she said, pointing towards the back of their cabin, in the direction of Dyfedd. “At least, our town had one. I tagged along when Papa registered his little merchant argonauts.”

Hermione shrugged. “And they will register a… former pirate vessel that we hijacked?” she asked skeptically, “Do they not require a… proof of purchase… or some similar document.”

Fleur smirked at her. She reached into her robes and pulled out a shimmering golden pendant that was bathed in eerie blue light.

“Milady!” Hermione gasped, “You… you had that with you all along?”

Fleur smirk grew into a smile. “It is mine, Hermione.” She paused and her expression grew a trifle dark. “That’s how… they knew I was an heiress.” Fleur shook her head, and continued with a faint smile, “Nevertheless… here, let me show you how easy navigating a bureaucracy is when you’re the heiress of a prominent pureblood family.”

Hermione merely hugged herself harder, hoping to keep her continuing horror at their particular adventure constrained.

***

The Past

“Taking in the scenery, are we?” said a male voice from Harry’s right, startling him, “And with a kneazle for company, no less.”

Harry looked up at once, but relaxed as he saw an unusually sober-looking Remus Lupin. The man was usually dead drunk whenever he was on Potter grounds, though that may as well be James Potter’s influence rather than the man’s private failings.

“Not quite”, Harry said, pointing to the dozen little holes just beyond his vantage point on top a small hillock. Although, Harry did think the scenery ahead of him was breathtaking – a massive swarm of fairies giggled through the skies as their migration season peaked, and the beast paddocks were full, with returning griffins and galloping white stags stark against the rising sun. He heard a growl from behind him, but ignored it.

He sensed Lupin move closer to him and peer down at the holes. “Ah,” the man said, “Gnome-clearing.”

Harry sighed and sat on his haunches.

“You do know that gnomes are lazy little creatures, right?” Lupin asked, “You’ll be here till noon if you’re going to sit here and wait for them to appear.”

Harry merely grunted in reply.

“Let me guess,” Lupin said at last, “Amelia?”

“The Baroness thought it appropriate that I clear the area around the beast paddocks of gnomes,” Harry said. He jerked a thumb behind him at the fat kneazle that was mewling at him. “She sent… a certain someone… to make sure that I do my assigned chores as instructed.”

Lupin shook his head and gazed into the distance. “Children should not suffer for the crimes of others,” he murmured.

Harry merely shrugged and continue to watch the little tunnels. He didn’t mind Lupin’s presence, but beyond a few entirely random conversations in and around the estates, he could hardly say he knew the man. All he could say in Lupin’s favour was that he had yet to see the man visit his mother’s bedroom.

Lupin sat down next to him, still looking into the distance. “I can’t claim to know what it is to be you,” he said genially, “Not entirely. I’ve only faced a fraction of the overwhelming discrimination that you face from day to day.”

“Hail Modron,” Harry said tiredly. 

Lupin chuckled. “The Dread Queen did make things easier for… men like me,” he said, “My point was… despite the lack of overt hostility from most of the more polite purebloods, every thirty days or so, I do suffer for what another man did to me.”

Harry shrugged again. He knew that the man was a werewolf, but he honestly could not bring himself to care.

“When I become… the more bestial version of me,” Lupin said carefully, “I tend to be… narrow-minded. Despite the Wolfsbane, in spite of the various charms and amulets… I become a beast with a very singular focus – survival. Living from one fleeting moment to the next. The reason becoming a werewolf is so hard is that the transformation is… meaningless. It achieves nothing. And the memories from that transformation linger – the loss of higher mental faculties, the inability to reason, to think, to dream…” Lupin shuddered and continued, “It’s a horrible way to live. Survive each coming day, and move on to the next with no dreams or hopes in between. No man is meant to live like that.

“I don’t know if anyone’s told you this before, Harry,” Lupin continued, “But you deserve better than… all this. You’re better than all this.”

Harry merely shrugged again. And the kneazle behind him smacked his back with a frustrated growl, making Harry wince.

***

The Present

Harry shuffled towards the bar in as wary a fashion as possible, cataloguing the milling smallfolk around him. He spotted two hags sitting in the corner of the room nearest to the entrance, haggling over some shimmering artefact. A cave troll sat on a massive table next to the two hags, drinking a thick yellow liquid and grunting to itself. A few wizards were playing chess on a round table to the left of the troll, while a vampire couple sipped from a tall glass of blood to its right. The room curved back towards the entrance in an oval fashion - a large number of empty tables lined the remaining wall. A hooded being sat right at the bar, which lined the far end of the room. The bartender appeared to be a tattoed, muscled wizard who vaguely resembled a former Quidditch player from the Chudley Cannons.

Harry sat at the bar and ordered a butterbeer from the barkeep, who waved his wand lazily. A glass of butterbeer floated into position in front of him. Harry dropped a couple of knuts on the bar, which flew right into the open palm of the bartender. Clearly, he wasn’t the talking sort.

“Interesting insignia,” the hooded being next to him murmured with a female voice.

Harry turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?” he asked, as he noticed that the hooded person was, in fact, a witch. 

The woman lowered her hood, revealing a severe, lined face and white hair – she looked familiar to Harry, though he could not place her. She pointed to the lapel of his cloak. Harry looked down and his eyes widened ever so slightly as he noticed that he was still wearing the stupid patch that Greyback had forced on him when he first joined the pirate crew – the patch that had a snarling wolf on it, with little words shimmering upon its skin, proclaiming, “Lupus non mordet lupum.”

“Bought it at a thrift shop,” Harry said casually, “Thought it looked wicked.” He tried to make his smile look as immature as possible to give off a swaggering young thug impression. 

“Here in Dyfedd?” the woman asked, sipping at her drink while watching him with a smirk.

Harry nodded.

“Hmmm… guess you wouldn’t know the… problematic history… of that patch then,” the woman said with a shrug.

“Guess I don’t,” Harry said, and returned to his butterbeer, hoping that the woman would lay off.

“That patch used to belong to one of the several pirate groups that raided Londinium a few years ago,” the woman said with a sniff, “You’re old enough to have heard of it… I think.”

“The Londinium Raids,” Harry said carefully, “Yeah, I reckon I’ve heard of it. The Gaunts drove them off.”

“They did do some damage though,” the woman said. She looked at the ceiling and sighed. “Ah, the Londinium Raids. The stuff that legends are made of. The greatest pirate army to attack the Dread Queen’s seat of power… and to be driven off without even a twitch of her little finger. It got tongues wagging about that handsome Gaunt heir.”

“Not a single civilian casualty,” Harry added, “They say he’s Archmage material.”

The woman nodded. “No casualties on that particular raid, true,” the woman agreed. “But that wasn’t the first raid by those pirate groups. Londinium was just the last in a long line of raids on different coastlines. Raids that have been happening for well over fifty years.

“One of their more famous raids before Londinium was Kingstown-upon-Hull,” the woman continued, “Again, the raid was turned away by a singular family – the Grindelwalds.”

Harry shrugged. “Any relation to Gellert Grindelwald?” he asked, despite his lack of interest in prolonging the conversation.

The woman smirked. “The entire reason Gellert Grindelwald is so famous today is because of that raid and his role in turning it away,” she said, “Much like the Riddle heir, Grindelwald was touted as another potential Archmage. Look where that got him.”

Harry nodded. Grindelwald was currently a fugitive, shuttling between Yndu and Yfran, according to general hearsay anyway. Word was that the man had managed to get on the Dread Queen’s sneakoscope, though Harry was not sure as to why, but had escaped before the Archmagus’ agents could get him. The reason However, the reason Grindelwald’s tale was so famous was not because of the escape – though Harry supposed the man was probably one of the few to escape the Dread Queen’s reach; it was what happened next that pushed the event from mere history to a cautionary folk tale. The Grindelwalds – once a powerful pureblood family – had been extinguished, root and stem, from Lothien in the space of seconds. And all deaths had been attributed to natural causes, rather than wandwork and potions.

“Ah,” the woman said, clearly lost in her memories, “That raid… and how Gellert Grindelwald managed to singlehandedly repel it… was such a popular piece of news back in the day. It’s almost striking how similar the Gaunts mirror the Grindelwalds – heh.No loss of life. Not even a single establishment was damaged in a permanent manner. Just a few scorch marks were ships had landed.

“No loss of life… sure. And no loss of property. But just… living and surviving isn’t quite enough, is it? What about the horror of a pirate raid? What about loss of… humanity?”

Harry glanced towards the exit ever so subtly as he tore the patch off. “I… didn’t know,” he said, “I’ll just… yeah, sorry, I just thought it looked cool.”

“One of them…” the woman continued, heedless of his actions, “He… he was a monster. Liked to turn beautiful little children into monsters just like him.”

Harry gaped at her. He could feel the conversation around him winding down ever so slightly. The bartender was now looking between him and the woman and fingering his wand.

“He wore that patch. Proudly,” the woman proclaimed, shifting her position ever so slightly so that she was facing him, “Lupum non mordet lupum. Huh. Guess it doesn’t apply between wolf and child.”

“I… I…” Harry stammered, and his right hand shifted ever so slightly towards his left, reaching for his wand holster.

“Oh, but where are my manners,” the woman said, shaking her head, “My name is… Hope. Lady Hope Lupin. And I offer a hundred galleons to anyone who can bag and tag this sorry piece of shit.”

And his next second was filled with spellfire.

***

The Past

“Milady, please!” Hermione said, with tears in her eyes, “Do not do this! It’s just… it’s so unlike you! We have to tell someone! Your father could…”

“Enough,” Fleur snarled, “My father would stop us. He would stop me.”

“And he would be right!” Hermione said, and Fleur could tell that it took a lot from the poor girl to stand up to her, “We’re just a couple of witches. This isn’t a family trip to Coille, milady! This… this scares me.”

Fleur stiffened. She stepped closer to the deck of the little Argonaut as the summer home of the Delacours approached – the property was little used, and the last she had seen of the beachfront villa purchased by her grandfather had not left a favourable impression. The wards were brittle, the maintenance charms were failing and all the house-elves that had once maintained the fashionable villa had been moved to a more lucrative family property in South Lothien.

But it was off the grid as far as her family was concerned, and accessible to her, so she made for it with the help of an acquaintance – a lowborn called “Pierre” something-or-the-other who she was pretty sure had a little crush on her lady-in-waiting, had kindly obliged when Hermione had asked about chartering a voyage to Coille. Pierre usually acquired various goods for her father from Coille. This time though, he would be transporting something from the Delacour Mansion to Coille.

“If it scares you,” Fleur said, more harshly than she intended, “You should not have come.”

Hermione flinched. “I… I… I’m duty-bound to wait on you,” the brunette said in a small voice after a pause, “And… and you’re my friend.”

It was said so simply and in such a matter-of-fact fashion that Fleur could not help but smile.

She placed a gentle hand on Hermione’s shoulder and drew the petite girl close. “Hermione,” Fleur said, “This isn’t just about a crush. Hermione, I dream of him. I… I love him. I’m… compelled to follow – romance is a compulsion that does not lead you astray.”

“I’m just… not sure you mean as much to him,” Hermione whispered. She folded her arms into her chest defensively, as if expecting Fleur to lash out.

Fleur merely laughed. “Have you looked at me, Hermione?” she asked incredulously, “Who could say no to me?”

***

The Present

Hermione stepped aside and ushered two witches into their rented room with a smile and a wave. Fleur and Hermione had been in town for a little over two days, trying to find someone to crew their vessel. While the Argonaut had been appropriately registered against the Delacour family with the help of a few hundred galleons and a gaggle of greedy goblins, finding a crew was proving to be a far harder task, especially with Fleur’s stipulation of a light, witches-only crew.

Nonetheless, Hermione dearly hoped that Fleur’s quest stayed hard. She missed the comfort of her cottage, her parents and the comforts of the Delacour mansion. She missed the familiar, exasperating conversations with Pierre, who attempted to court her each time she stepped out in the morning on her walk of the Delacour grounds. She missed the familiar tang of ginger in her mother’s morning tea. She missed sifting through parchments on the financial holdings of the Delacour estate while her father snored on his job. She missed the massive Delacour library, and the musty smell of old books as she pulled them off their sturdy oak perches. She missed the twittering fairies and the cheeky little pixies that often poked at her when she walked alongside Fleur every afternoon around the mansion.

She had left the familiar haunts of the Delacour mansion for horror, captivity and violence. And now here she was, trying desperately to mask her annoyance at the fact that two candidates had responded to their witches-only advertisement for crew members – two candidates who were awfully familiar.

“I see that you ladies know each other,” Fleur said softly, gesturing between Hermione and the two witches.

“Lady Chang”, Hermione said, gesturing to the tall, willowy brunette witch. She then waved at the shorter curly haired blonde and announced, “Marietta Edgecombe.

“They were in Ravenclaw,” Hermione continued, “A year above at Hogwarts. We… know each other.”

“The innkeep intimated our arrival, I hope?” Chang said, smiling at Fleur.

Fleur nodded. “She said she knew a couple of applicants who would be interested in joining a crew,” the  part-veela said, “Pardon me, I did not know one of them would be a noblewoman.”

Edgecombe stiffened, though Chang smirked and said, “That’s alright. I’m not really one for formality.”

“So… you’re about three years removed from Hogwarts?” Fleur asked, “That doesn’t leave much room for experience by way of sailing.”

“Lady Chang’s family made frequent trips to Tybgych every summer,” Hermione said, “She has a reputation for being quite the sailor.”

“Indeed,” Chang said with a glint in her eye as she looked at Fleur, “I’m not what one would call... inexperienced on an Argonaut. And... well, I’ve been looking to make a name for myself on the seas - your little advertisement is quite the opportunity for me. I’ve been hoping to get out of crewing my father’s routine trips to Tybgych forever.”

“You sailed merchant vessels?” Fleur asked. She gestured to couches in the hallway. Chang and Edgecombe perched themselves on a sofa. Hermione sat primly on the arm of Fleur’s own luxurious chaise, which faced Chang and Edgecombe. Four glasses of wine filled up on the table in between. Chang and Fleur picked up the wine while Hermione and Edgecombe desisted.

“Well, I’ve been sailing the seas before I even picked up a wand,” Chang said, lounging casually against the back of her sofa, with a hand looped behind Marietta, “And Marietta lives on our demesne...”

“Where is your manor, Lady Chang?” Fleur interrupted.

“Call me Cho,” Chang said, waving a hand, “My demesne occupies a stretch of land near the Cornish coast.”

“Close to the port of Falmouth,” Hermione supplied.

“I see,” Fleur said, “And you’ve been sailing from a young age?”

Cho nodded. “Since I was five,” she said with a shrug, “My father owned five merchant vessels at the time. Our little fleet used to sail to Tybgych at least four times every summer. And I was on every single one of them until I was at Hogwarts.”

Fleur looked impressed, but Edgecombe interjected, “If I may, Lady Fleur, what kind of argonaut do you have? They told us you have a vessel of your own?”

“Recently registered,” Fleur said, “Although, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘kind of argonaut’.”

“We’re not sailors ourselves,” Hermione quickly said, “But from what I’ve read, the ship appears to be a highly modified blockade runner. The registry told us that the ship had very few historical records...”

“Be that as it may,” Fleur said, giving Hermione a pointed look, “Why not continue to sail your father’s vessels? Why reply to my… little advertisement?”

Cho looked at Fleur with a smile and Hermione was struck by how pretty Cho was. She appeared supple and lithe, and exuded a natural air of mystery that was... enthralling. The witch brushed her luxurious black hair over her shoulders and leaned forward, towards Fleur.

“Let me put it this way,” Cho said, “After Hogwarts, I wanted to do something other than just lounge away at home. Y’know… standard pureblood problems. And... well... sailing the Jormungand has always been this little childhood dream. You... have not sailed much, I presume, but for someone who’s been sailing since she was five... the Serpent Sea is... the love of my life. The scent of salted air, the creak of metal and wood, the shriek of harpies as you go around the Dry Quartet, the sight of thunder and fire and ash as you cross the storm-walls... the sea is life. Love. And everything in between.

“Besides,” Cho said with an elegant shrug, “My father’s voyages are boring. Tybgych is well... barely forty days away, and we take the same bloody route there and back again. I... want to do more. Be... more.”

There was a long pause while Fleur and Cho stared at each other, as if assessing one another.

“If I may,“ Edgecombe interjected again, “Lady Delacour, what sort of crew do you have? You said it’s a blockade runner. Standard crew for that sort of ship is... around twenty.”

Fleur looked askance at Edgecombe. “And what is the minimum crew, size, if I may ask?” Fleur asked.

Edgecombe looked a bit miffed. “A crew of two could sail a small vessel of that sort,” she replied, “An arithmancer and a lookout. But…”

“Which applies to most argonauts,” Cho interrupted with a grin, “As long as you have house-elves to keep the decks clean, two people can crew the vessel. The surplus members are basically… insurance. So… do you have insurance?”

“There are two of us,” Fleur said blandly, “Hermione and myself.”

Cho and Edgecombe looked at each other. “And... where do you plan to sail to?”

“Yndu,” Fleur said. Hermione flushed ever so slightly. Marietta drew back, looking a little shocked, while Cho’s smile grew more pronounced.

“Interesting,” Cho said, “So you plan to sail across the entirety of the Serpent Sea, with a blockade runner and a crew of... two.”

“If I have to,” Fleur said, her tone betraying no emotion.

“I noticed something interesting in your notice,” Cho said, “Witches only.”

“I will not sail with men,” Fleur said, raising her chin.

Cho’s gaze rove over Fleur’s body and the part-veela flushed. “I can see why,” Cho said at last.

After a pronounced pause, Cho said, ”I believe you can start calling it a voyage to the edge of the Serpent Sea with a crew of four. I don’t know why you’re sailing there, nor do I know what you plan to do once you’re there, but this the sort of adventure legends are made of. I’m in.”

Marietta shrugged helplessly, while Hermione felt a growing pit take root in her stomach. She had counted on Fleur’s eccentric little venture being laughed off by experienced sailors. Instead, it seemed as if she would have to start packing, all over again.

“We don’t have an Arithmancer yet,” Hermione said, hoping against hope that this venture died at once. Female arithmancers who were willing to sail were rare, or so she had heard.

“Oh, I know a girl,” Cho replied, “In fact, she’s from your year at Hogwarts. And she’s as thirsty as I am... er... for adventure.”

Hermione’s heart sank.

***

The Past

Harry knelt and grunted as he frantically tried to reinforce his shield against the wave of magic that was holding him down. “Please,” Harry panted.

All he heard was laughter. A jinx struck his shield and then another. His shield buckled under the combined strain and he was flung to the ground. He looked up blearily to see a laughing broad-shouldered redheaded boy, another curly haired little lordling and Lord Ernie Macmillan. Susan Bones-Potter and Hannah Abbott stood right behind the three of them, shaking their heads.

“Now, now, boys,” Susan said, “Don’t hurt him. Leave him whole, yes?”

“You have a soft spot for this thing, Susie?” the broad-shouldered redhead asked, his voice filled with scorn.

“Mind your bloody tongue, Malcolm,” Susan drawled, “You’re here as a guest; it’s best you remain a welcome one.”

Harry was still trying to shake the stars out of his vision, but he could finally place the broad-shouldered redhead – Malcolm Preece, a pureblood and a beater for the Hufflepuff team. 

Harry tried to skulk away, but all three wizards immediately pointed a wand at him. Macmillan looked down his nose at Preece and said, “Well, it seems I’ve won this little game, Preece.”

“What?” the curly haired lordling asked, “My spell was the one that broke his shield!”

“But my curse was what held him down,” Macmillan said, “Your little spells would not have breached his shield by themselves.”

“I fired a Stunner at him,” Preece said, giving Harry a look of disgust, “It was probably the most powerful of your lot of spells.”

Susan looked bored, while Hannah Abbott seemed to be following the debate with relish.

“I say we go again,” Preece said, “Three, two…”

The curly-haired boy fired a spell at Harry before Preece could get to one. Harry batted it towards the beater, who bashed it away with his wand. The spell then ricocheted towards Abbott, who screamed, but Harry batted at it this time around, diverting it towards a nearby bush, which seemed to sprout feathers.

“Watch it!” Susan warned.

“You’re a cheater!” Preece yelled.

“You’re a loser,” the curly-haired boy retorted.

Macmillan tried to get off a spell, but Harry was sprinting towards the shelter of the nearby grove of rowans before they could get to him. Unfortunately for him, they merely laughed and took off after him. He batted away two spells, dispelled another, dodged yet another and leapt for the shelter of a shrivelfig topiary that was made to look like a hippogriff. 

“Come out, bastard!” he heard the curly-haired boy taunt, and Abbott giggled.

“Remember guys, no harmful spells!” Susan said authoritatively, “Your job is to tag the bastard, not deform him.”

“I can do a lot of deforming to something else,” Preece said suggestively, “Like your…”

“I get the message, Malcolm,” Susan said in an exasperated tone, “But I doubt your little thing could deform a doxy, let alone me.”

The lordling laughed, and he heard Preece protesting.

Harry tried to animate branches of a nearby rowan, but the animation spells were a bit too advanced for him to achieve at the moment. His hands were shivering and his heart had been thumping at an unnatural rate since the pureblood boys had ambushed him, apparently as part of some game.

Harry peeked out, but drew back quickly as a spell zoomed past his bush.

“That was a ten-pointer!” he heard Preece whine, “Come on, bastard, just stick your face out a little longer.”

“I’m twenty points ahead of you, Malcolm,” Macmillan boasted, “And Zacharias is ten ahead. Face it, you just can’t keep up with us purebloods.” Harry finally placed the third boy – Zacharias Smith. He had seen him around at Hogwarts occasionally, though he had never been at the receiving end of the boy’s taunts. He knew of him from Susan, who frequently complained about Smith’s constant attempts to try and coerce his way into her pants. 

“Ugh,” Susan ground out, “You boys and your weird little contests.”

“I bet I can do more than deform your fine body,” Smith said, and Harry could feel the lust in his voice, “Susan…”

“Give it up, guys,” Susan said, sounding bemused, “You’re not getting a piece of this. I’m betrothed!”

“That’s right boys,” Macmillan said smugly, “She’s all mine.”

“Pfft,” Smith responded, “She never really put out at school, Ernie… even for you. And a body like that shouldn’t go from no one to just one man.”

Macmillan choked. 

“So you’d rather I take you boys out for a ride to get used to the feeling?” she asked, and despite the fact that she was out of his line of sight, he could imagine those generous hips swaying from side to side.

He tapped his head and felt disillusionment pour over him. Harry moved very slowly towards the next grove of trees.

“Finite!” he heard Macmillan scream, but Harry rolled sideways and sprinted into the grove.

“That was a bloody five-pointer. Maybe we should ask the bastard to stand still the next time around while we have a go at him,” Macmillan cursed.

Harry merely kept sprinting until he had passed beyond the boundaries of the Potter estate entirely. The laughter, spells and admonishments, however, followed him.

***

The Present

Harry had a dozen cuts over his right arm, and his left sleeve had been burnt away entirely. Two dozen wizards and a troll now chased him across the ruins of some fallen monument, while he desperately looked for a way out. He was tiring, and his reaction speed had slowed drastically. He leapt across a set of ruins, and cowered behind an ancient, battered wall. He heard the troll stomping and smashing through walls mere yards away to his left. He double checked his disillusionment charm, transfigured a nearby rock into a humanoid construct, put a timed silencing spell on it and sent it running in the direction of the troll, which roared and stomped away after it.

“There!” he heard a few men shout, and the heavy thud of their boots followed the troll’s stomps as they all chased the construct. Harry, on the other hand crawled to his right, even as he transfigured another large rock into a crouching humanoid construct to appear as if he was still cowering. He heard the sounds of spellfire die down in the distance and for a moment, felt relieved. He applied a few basic healing charms to his right arm, and the bleeding seemed to stop. He got onto his feet and peeked beyond the confines of the ruins that sheltered him – he saw no pursuers. He sighed in relief and got onto his feet; his wand was already going through the motions of a disillusionment charm.

And then he heard a whoosh from above, and his heart sank.

Broomsticks.

His wand motions quickly shifted to raise a conical dome of magic above him, as a massive plume of magic bore down upon him. A loud gong resounded through the ruins as the spells from above crashed into his dome, and the bang gave away his position to all of his pursuers at once. In an instant, he was rolling and vaulting over crumbling walls to get away from a hail of spell fire. His heart thumped against his ribs as he heard the troll’s thuds catching up to him.

And then, his foot caught on something - perhaps a tripping jinx. His shield crumpled under the combined spellfire, and he raised his left hand to brace against his fall. And his follow-up shield was just a fraction of a second too late. A massive something slammed into the back of his neck and pulled him up into the air, even as his vision swam and blurred.

***

The Past

“Aww, is poor little Harry hurt?” a female voice asked him as he trudged into his mother’s cottage ever so wearily in the middle of the night. Harry started at the sound, then relaxed as he saw that Lady Susan Bones-Potter was sitting on his mother’s couch and munching on beans from a Bertie Botts packet.

He shook his head and looked around carefully, his wand frantically going through the motions of a Finite. Susan laughed. “I promise I’m alone, Harry,” she said, batting her eyelashes at him, “I’m not entirely heartless.”

“Why are you here, Susan?” he asked at last, once he was sure that there was no one else in the living room.

“Just here to make sure that those idiots did not do permanent damage of some sort,” she said as she stood up and moved closer to him.

Harry’s eyes widened as he noticed that she was currently wearing a very form-fitting bodice with a kirtle that was far too small. Her usually massive breasts pushed out her white bodice so far that the black kirtle barely even contained them. Her lush red hair was all down, and extended in waves over her shoulders in a distinctly tantalizing fashion. She barely had any make-up on, but her lips and cheeks were rosy-hued. Her warm brown eyes twinkled with very familiar mischief… and something else. 

“I'm not sure that’s necessary,” he said, rubbing idly at his left tricep, which he knew had a purpling bruise on it from his numerous falls after the pureblood lords had attacked him for sport. He took a step back as Susan advanced upon him.

“I can kiss it and make it better,” Susan said, her voice turning husky and Harry had to suppress the flush that was creeping through his body at the moment.

“What?” he stammered, “N-No! If your father and mother…”

“You’re such a scared little muffin,” Susan said, smirking at him, even as her dainty fingers reached out towards his cheek, “You should have wiped the floor with those ridiculous little boys.”

Harry merely stared at her as he pushed her left hand down and away. “Susan,” he said, “Do you think I let those idiots hit me because I enjoy it?”

“You are a little masochistic,” Susan said, pouting at him. She lashed out suddenly, clenched his right bicep and pulled. “Especially how you really enjoy it when I…”

“The point is,” Harry said through gritted teeth as he resisted. His left arm curled around her shoulder, keeping her at a distance. “I’m not sure I could have… wiped the floor with them. And I don’t care to. I’m not some… some hero from one of your folk tales who’s out to make a name for himself. I just… I just want to be left alone.”

“No you don’t,” Susan said with a dramatic pout, “You definitely don’t want to be left alone.” She smirked. “Especially when I…”

“My lady Susan!” came a new voice, and Harry immediately backed away, wrenching himself out of Susan’s grip, as his mother entered their living room.

“Oh, hello, Lily,” Susan said, not even bothering to hide her smirk, “How was my lord father yesterday?”

Harry flinched and looked away. He heard his mother stammer through a reply, but Susan merely laughed. She blew a kiss at him and left the house through the front door with nary a backward glance. There was a very pronounced silence where Harry strove to avoid his mother’s stunned gaze.

“What was she doing in our living room, Harry?” his mother hissed at him at last, and he could feel the quiver of fear and rage in her voice as she advanced upon him.

Harry shrugged, and then flinched as his mother’s slap exploded across his left cheek.

“You are not me,” his mother roared at him. He stared at his mother with his left palm over his stinging cheek.

Lily Evans’ green eyes bore into his own as she screamed at him. And then her voice just broke as she collapsed to her knees and sobbed. Harry looked away again.

“I didn’t raise you to be… what I am,” Lily choked out, “These… these purebloods… they’re not like us, Harry. They don’t really even… they’ll never stand up for you. They’ll never really help you… and even when they do, all they’ll be doing is helping themselves.”

Harry frowned as he glared back down at his mother. His mind filled with horror and rage and disgust as he turned on his heel and stormed straight out. His mother’s heavy sobs followed him into the night outside.

***

The Present

Harry opened his eyes blearily to find himself on a broom – only, he was riding side-saddle, and someone else was actually riding the broom.

“You’re awake!” a very familiar female voice screamed into his ear over the rush of wind, “Great! Take over the bloody broom! You know I’m no good at this particular sort of ride!”

Harry instinctively took control and swerved to avoid the three beams of light that lit up his peripheral vision. He embarked into a steep dive, making his companion scream, but apparently, she had enough presence of mind to shoot off beams of magic of her own, though he couldn’t tell if her beams connected with their pursuers. He felt her non-wand hand press a very familiar wand into his chest.

He kept control of the broom with one hand as he skimmed the grassy meadow they were flying over, and with the other, he grabbed the wand she had pressed into his chest. Immediately, he let loose a concentrated ball of magic over his head, which exploded at once. This time, it wasn’t just his companion who screamed – purple lightning pierced the patch of sky just above them and multiple pursuers screamed behind them. Harry winced as he heard the thud of bodies landing on the ground, and really hoped the pursuers had not been all that high up when the lightning struck them.

“That. Was. Awesome!” his companion said, her breath tickling his ear, “Did you just kill half a dozen people with lightning?”

Harry shook his head. “No, the lightning just stuns…” he said as he craned his neck around to look at the woman sharing his broom, “It was...” Harry paused as he finally got a good look at his companion.

“Susan?” Harry croaked, “What… what…”

“Be a dear and steer towards the harbour would you?” Susan Bones-Potter directed, “We lost all of our tag-alongs after your little light show… so I think it’s okay if I go back to my job.”

“Your… job?” Harry asked, bemused, as he directed the broom towards the docks, which were slightly to his left, “What are you even doing here?”

“Oh, the usual thing purebloods do in a Free City after graduation,” Susan replied, “Party, firewhisky and a lot of weird potions with a dash of screaming and hallucination. Just having a good time before they chain me back down.”

“I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to chain you down,” Harry interjected mildly.

“Aww, look at you, you little flirt,” Susan said, ignoring Harry’s shaking head, “And this little trip… well, it opened my mind. I thought about my life… my betrothal, the whole shebang.”

“Really,” Harry interjected sarcastically. Susan slapped his arm.

“As much as I love listening to Ernie go on and on and on and on about himself,” she continued, “I… I can’t be chained to him my entire life. I mean… can you imagine that? Me, a pretty little wallflower who quietly stands aside as that man talks himself up to every single little sycophant who walks up to him?”

Harry chuckled internally at that, despite his current predicament.

“I just… couldn’t bring myself to commit. So I owled him and called off this whole horrible idea,” Susan finished mildly.

“I can’t imagine that went over very well with my Lord Potter and the Baroness,” he said.

“Well…” Susan said, and Harry noticed her arms grip his shoulders ever so tighter, “My Mom sent me a howler, threatening some punishment or another and asking me to come home at once.”

“Naturally,” Harry rejoined, “You didn’t listen.”

“Naturally,” Susan echoed, “I didn’t listen. And when this particular little job landed right in my lap, I thought it was brilliant. A true adventure. Like in the stories! Like Lady Elizabeth Killigrew… or oh, like the Lioness of Lothien taking her vengeance on the great Khan one Argonaut at a time! Oh, I think you should land here – I can see our Argonaut over there.”

“Killigrew and the Lioness of Lothien,” Harry said blandly, though he did look around himself warily as he touched the broom down in an alley just past where Susan had indicated the vessel was, “You’re going full pirate, I see.”

He dismounted and held a hand out to Susan, who followed him off the broom with a pout.

“Well… it’s not really a pirate vessel, but… but it is an adventure!” Susan said, gesturing animatedly. Harry couldn’t help but sweep a gaze over her – she was dressed like one of the smallfolk, as she usually did on her estates, much to Baroness Bones’ chagrin, though her bodice, skirt and jacket were far more conservative this time around. Nonetheless, her jacket did nothing to hide her… Harry stopped his trail of thought at once. Harry had no idea why Susan always wore such clothes – she obviously wasn’t actually looking to fit in with smallfolk. Her stride, her bearing, her brash manner – they all practically screamed “rich pureblood.” He had to admit, though, that the modest clothing accentuated her lush body far more than pureblood fashion usually did.

“You know me,” Susan said, beginning to walk out of the alley into the harbor, “Not particularly good with the whole wand-waving and dueling thing. But I am good with the theoretical side of things.”

Harry nodded. He remembered how smug Susan had been when she had scored higher than he had in Arithmancy in their sixth and seventh years, though he had probably surpassed her in every other subject.

“Plus, you remember our yearly trips to our mansion on Coille?” Susan asked.

Harry remembered them quite fondly. He had never actually been on those yearly trips, but the absence of the Potters from his life always was a blissful vacation, in spite of Susan’s… frequent indulgences.

“I’d always thought it a drag that Father insisted we crew our Argonaut ourselves,” Susan said, scrunching up her nose in a distractingly cute manner, “And every single time, he made me the bloody Arithmancer. Looking after that ridiculous runic engine was the most boring thing ever. Keep calculating, keep adjusting, keep switching gears… ugh.

“But turns out that runic engineering is a professional skill that’s in demand now! Especially on Argonauts!”

Harry shook his head. He knew that Arithmancers who could handle runic engines were few and far in between, but they weren’t all that rare. Moreover, most merchant vessels wouldn’t even hire an Arithmancer who had just graduated from Hogwarts. Not unless Susan had used her lineage, or… the Captain of the Argonaut was trying to get into her pants.

They rounded the corner and emerged onto the harbor. Susan stuffed her broom into her bottomless purse and then grinned up at him. Night had taken over day at this point, and the only points of illumination were the floating lanterns along the docks. They walked along the coastline, towards a fleet of clustered vessels.

“How did you even get involved in that firefight?” Harry asked.

Susan chuckled. “Well, I was just about to pack my bags and get to my Argonaut, when I noticed these little Wanted posters crop up all over the inn that I was staying at. Did you know Coille has a lot of very heavy surveillance charms in place? Anyway, the person on the poster was… very familiar.”

Harry did a double take. “I’m on a Wanted poster?” he asked incredulously, “What?”

“Well, the next time you get into a pitched firefight in the middle of a heavily populated city, have a care,” Susan said, “Don’t fret too much. I’m not sure even they know why you’re wanted – it was just the runes acting up and recording you as a trouble-maker. This is a heavily policed town, after all.”

Harry wondered about that himself. While Coille was was famous on Lothien for its lax rules around gambling and other vices, he had also heard that the Council of Coille was very insistent when it came to upkeep of its heavy Auror force. However, the surveillance charms only operated on parts of the town, he supposed – the Delacour villa had definitely not been heavily guarded, and he had not noticed any surveillance schemes amid the wards that surrounded the villa.

“So… I thought I’d watch the fun. The posters had just cropped up, and well… I knew you pretty well,” Susan said, waggling her eyebrows at the last two words. “So I took my broom, did a Point Me, Harry and… lo and behold, there you were, getting beaten up. Again.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Swooping in to save me isn’t exactly your usual style,” he said, rubbing at the healing cuts on his right arm.

“They were damaging you,” Susan said, pointing at his arm, “I never liked it when they damaged you permanently.”

Harry just gave up on that particular thread of conversation. Susan, however, seemed keen.

“So… what did you do?” Susan asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

Harry sighed. “A lot of things,” he said, “All of them foolish.”

Susan smirked. “I’m going to weasel it out of you, one way or another,” she said with a wink. Then she seemed to turn a bit somber. She turned around to face him abruptly, making him stop in his tracks and clutched at his arm. By force of habit, Harry looked around to ensure that no one of consequence was looking at them – this particular section of the docks was practically deserted. There were a few stragglers – a few goblins playing gobstones near what appeared to be a coffee shop, but they were too absorbed in their game.

“So… Harry,” Susan asked in a very put-on indignant tone, “Why did you leave?”

Harry stared at her. “Er… I left to escape the draft,” he said honestly, “I thought… I could come here. Or go to another Free City.”

Susan scratched her head. “There was a draft?” she asked. Harry merely shook his head – it was astonishing how clueless Susan could be sometimes.

“Well,” Susan said with a smirk, “You’re welcome to stay here, I suppose. Especially with the Wanted sign hanging over your head.”

Harry palmed his face for forgetting that particular topic. He pushed a bit of subtle magic through his wand and his nose turned a little longer, while his eyes appeared brown.

Susan wrinkled her nose. “No one’s really going to look at you – I don’t think anyone even bothers looking at the many, many Wanted posters here,” she said.

Harry grimaced and rubbed his neck. They were now walking past Argonauts harboured along the shoreline. He noticed more people around them – mostly dockworkers and crewmen laboring away on various menial tasks.

“I… I guess I can’t stay here anymore,” Harry said at last, hoping that the men and women around him would not look at him too hard. He rubbed a hand through his hair. “I… I’m not sure… I don’t…”

“Aw, poor little Harry,” Susan said in a sing-song tone, “Don’t you fret. I’ve got your solution right here.” Susan gestured to herself. 

Harry felt his heart sink, though something else rose up ever so slightly.

“You’ll be my manservant. We’re short on house-elves anyway,” Susan said with a curtsy.

Harry stared at her. “I’m not sure any Captain would…” he began, but Susan hushed him.

“We’re here,” she said, gesturing at an Argonaut, “I present to you… my new abode for quite a while into the future actually – the Aviary.”

Harry stared at the Argonaut Susan had just pointed to. It was jet black, with green runes crisscrossing its surface. A mythical harpy of legend screeched out at the world with her arms outstretched right up front. And upon its deck, just behind the helm of the vessel, stood a very furious-looking Fleur Delacour, glaring down upon him.

***

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe we are having this argument,” Fleur snarled, and Susan was surprised at how her impeccable face still looked bloody amazing even when the part-veela was trying to get her ugly façade on. She supposed there wasn’t such a thing as an ugly face for a part-veela anyway. There weren’t even the red splotches that were typical of pale-skinned human women who were angry on her cheeks – everything was practically perfect, and her rosy cheeks and red lips were still as beautiful as ever. And that made Susan ever so jealous, though she would never admit it out loud.

“I still don’t see why it has to be an argument,” Susan said lightly. She noted Harry trying to skulk nearby and had to smile; while Harry was lithe and astonishingly flexible (apart from a few… inflexible parts… that Susan had an intimate acquaintance with), the man exuded a presence that was incredibly distinct, even to those that did not know him at all. Granted, people tended to reject him because of his heritage all the time, and Susan did not think him a particularly prodigious wizard, but Harry had a tendency to surprise her when she least expected it.

“When we conducted your interview,” Fleur said, and Susan had to keep herself from rolling her eyes as she leaned against the railing of the Argonaut, “I made it very, very explicit to you. Not a single man on the ship.”

“Well, you should’ve been more explicit,” Susan said lightly, “I took that to mean you did not want a legitimate man on the ship. Y’know, pureblood, big muscles, bigger ego, cocky swagger, a healthy dose of arrogance and… the lot.”

“What does that look like to you?” Fleur said, pointing towards Harry, who seemed to be curling in on himself so as to hide behind a metallic protrusion right next to the Captain’s Cabin.

“Big muscles? No,” Susan said, counting down on her fingers, “Cocky swagger? Nope. Healthy does of arrogance? That’s like… the opposite of arrogance. Huge ego? Nope. Huge… something else? Well… let’s not go there. That’s not a man. That’s a bastard. My little bastard. A man-servant. I don’t travel anywhere without my man-servant.”

“You don’t travel…?” Fleur repeated, wide-eyed. And Susan grit her teeth imperceptibly as she noticed how incredibly sky-blue the part-veela heiress’ eyes were. Then, Fleur narrowed her eyes reminding Susan eerily of some avian predator getting ready to swoop in and claw at her prey, “Excuse me, Lady Susan, but I dropped him here myself. I did not see you around when I dropped him. Clearly, you’re perfectly capable of travelling by yourself.”

“Not really,” Susan said with a shrug, “I did come to Coille with a man-servant. They called him my fiancé.”

There was silence for a moment, and Susan thought she heard Cho and Marietta snigger off to the side. Fleur’s lowborn lady-in-waiting was just staring between the two of them with her hands over her heart.

“I called it off,” Susan said casually, “And he stormed away. Now, I am in need of a new man-servant. One who they will not call a fiancé.”

Fleur’s eyes were wide with shock or outrage or a combination of the two. She was breathing heavily, and Susan couldn’t help but appreciate and envy the immense heaving bosoms of the part-veela – she was quite proud of her own heaving bosom, but Fleur seemed to outclass her even here. To be honest, Susan didn’t know veela came in such… incredibly busty shapes.

“My lady,” the bushy-haired, lowborn lady-in-waiting ventured, “He… he did help us…”

“He was trying to get away from those pirates!” Fleur said, “His rescue, if you would call it that, was incident! He was one of them, Hermione!”

Now that made Susan immensely curious.

“Sounds like an interesting tale,” Susan said, “Care to share?”

Fleur swiped a hand down angrily and swept her hair over her shoulders. Silver gold strands glistened through the sun in a sweeping arc and Susan just shook her head.

“Right, that’s it,” she said, “That’s so not fair. You can’t look good doing just about… anything.”

“What?” Fleur asked, annoyed and confused.

“Like you said,” Susan repeated with a sigh, “I can’t believe we’re having this… disagreement.”

“How dare you…” Fleur started, but Susan pointed back at Coille.

“You should’ve made the decision while we were still docked,” Susan said, “Then, perhaps, we could have agreed on the exact manner in which my… man-servant would be thrown off board. We’re now nearly twenty leagues from shore. So unless you plan on throwing him off the ship, well, I suggest we just accept that there’s going to be one man… er… servant on the ship and just move on.”

“The ship is twenty leagues away because you lied to me,” Fleur said, “You said he was just there to drop off the baggage…”

“… which he was…” Susan interjected.

“… and the next thing I know,” Fleur said, “He’s squirming out of a trunk that was clearly marked as your luggage!”

Susan giggled. “Admit it,” she said, “You ladies enjoyed the sight of his tight, cushy butt wriggling out of my trunk.”

Cho and Marietta were definitely snickering off to the side – Susan could just about hear them now. And by the look on her face, so could Fleur. The lowborn lady-in-waiting still seemed shocked.

“And…” Fleur continued, spluttering angrily, “And… you… you’d started our voyage before he even crawled out! We were ten leagues away already when he revealed himself!”

“… in a non-fun way,” Susan said, scrunching up her nose, “And ten leagues later, we’re still arguing.”

“Fleur,” attempted Cho from the sidelines, “I don’t think one man makes a big difference. He’s outnumbered. And Susan would vouchsafe your protection herself.”

“Yeah,” Marietta said, “Don’t think he can take on all five of us... not that he even looks like the sort who would want to take on all five of us.” Cho giggled.

Fleur swiveled to look at her lady-in-waiting, who just shrugged helplessly. She appeared ready to breathe fire for a moment, then let out a loud, explosive burst of breath. Blue sparks crackled between her fingertips, but the part-veela clenched her fingers at once, suppressing them.

Interesting, thought Susan, so part-veela can conjure fireballs too. So. Not. Fair.

“Whatever,” Fleur said, “But the next man who joins this crew gets his… bits burned off. As for you…” She pointed right at Harry, who Susan was sure had been trying to shuffle away behind the Captain’s cabin. He froze and looked at Fleur like a fairy caught in a kneazle’s front paw.

“… You do not talk to me,” Fleur said, “You will not speak in my presence. You will not so much as breathe in my presence.”

Susan was pretty sure Fleur had meant it metaphorically, but Harry took her words to heart and actually held his breath.

“You take instructions from the Captain of the ship,” Fleur said, “Which, by right of experience, merit and bloodline is Lady Cho Chang.” Fleur pointed at Cho, and Susan noticed how Marietta crossed her arms and frowned, despite Cho’s friendly smile.

“You will take care of the ship,” Fleur continued, “You will clean this ship, check all the maintenance charms and physically shovel bowels off the ship if you have to. You will catch whatever fish and use whatever rations you can to prepare our meals. And if you fail at any of these tasks, and I don’t care if we’re in the Fell Triangle, I will throw you aboard. Do you understand my instructions, bastard?”

Harry nodded frantically. Susan suppressed a chuckle at the comical wide-eyed stare that Harry was giving Fleur – he seemed ready to start cleaning and cooking at once.

“Fine!” Fleur said, still breathing heavily and sending those bosoms bouncing away again, making Susan frown, “You may all commence your work. I shall retire for the day. Come, Hermione.”

“Er…” Cho interjected, stopping Fleur as she turned around to walk towards the Captain’s Cabin, “So… you’re going to use the… er… Captain’s Cabin?”

Fleur nodded crisply and continued on. Hermione followed her with her head hung low.

“Aw,” Cho said with a pout, “I thought I was the Captain.”

“You are,” Susan said merrily, “She just took your cabin though.”

Cho and Marietta snickered. Harry headed cautiously towards the stairwell leading downstairs just in front of the Captain’s Cabin, clearly moving towards the crew deck.

“Still think this is going to be an adventure?” Marietta asked grumpily, “Even with Miss-Perfect-Pureblood-Lady over there calling the shots?”

“Oh,” Susan responded, “I think it’s going to be an adventure just because it’s Miss-Perfect-Pureblood-Lady over there calling the shots.”

***

Fleur woke up in a sheen of sweat and realised that she had been awoken by Hermione shaking her shoulder frantically.

“I’m up,” Fleur said, and her throat felt immensely sore, “I’m up… I’m… alright…”

A glass of water was pressed into her hands, which she chugged down at once. The glass filled up with water again, and Fleur sipped at it in gentler fashion this time around, and looked at Hermione, who was looking at her in concern.

“Did… did it happen again?” Fleur asked wearily, and her hands tightened around the glass of water.

Hermione nodded, still looking concerned. She pushed the back of her palm against Fleur’s temple, then withdrew. “You seem to be… alright,” Hermione said at last.

“Was… was I screaming again?” Fleur asked as she strove to relax herself. Her every muscle seemed to be tensed in anticipation of… something.

Hermione shook her head. “You… you seemed to be screaming… but Fleur, I couldn’t… I couldn’t hear a thing. It was just… you were… you had an arched back, and you were clawing and thrashing and… Fleur, we should really get this looked at!” she said, growing more hysterical with each word.

Fleur shook her head tiredly.

“Milady…” Hermione started in a frustrated tone, but Fleur cut her off with a gesture.

“There’s nowhere close by that we can get this looked at,” Fleur said, “We’re leagues away from Lothien and Coille.”

“The next port…” Hermione started, but Fleur cut her off again.

“Will come when it’ll come,” Fleur said, “And we’ll see what happens then.”

Hermione looked frustrated, alarmed and worried, all at once. Fleur attempted a smile, but she supposed that it would not mollify Hermione at this stage.

“Milady,” Hermione said, hesitantly, “What… what did… what did you see?”

“I don’t know,” Fleur said tiredly. She drew her knees up to her chest and curled her arms around them. “I saw… I saw a… stone? A gemstone? No… it cannot have been a true gemstone.”

Hermione sat up and listened intently.

Fleur shut her eyes, reaching for the dream… or the vision… that was slipping like sand through the sieves of her memory. “It glinted like gold, and glistened like water. Stone and fire and water… all at once. And then… there were two men. Fighting. Maybe reaching for it.”

“Men?” Hermione asked gently, “Did we know them?”

“No,” Fleur said, “I… I don’t know. I did not see their faces. But they were powerful. Purebloods. They were fighting for it, reaching for it.

“And then there was laughter. Manic. Cackling. A woman’s laugh.”

“Did you see… him?” Hermione asked, and Fleur sensed the reluctance in her voice.

“I did,” Fleur said, rubbing wearily at her closed eyes, “In Yndu, as he promised. I still don’t know what he’s searching for… some artefact perhaps?”

“Was he part of the same dream as the stone and the two men?” Hermione asked.

Fleur shrugged. Her dreams had long since begun to blend together. “I don’t know,” she said, “He saw me and I was crying while harpies screeched around us. I… I felt sad. Mortified…”

“Fleur…” Hermione said, reaching out for her shoulder again.

Fleur shrugged her off. “He said he loved me, Hermione,” Fleur said, “He told me he loved me. We… we made love. He told me he’d come back for me.”

“Was there anything else in the dream?” Hermione asked. Fleur suspected that Hermione had deliberately shifted the topic away.

“It ended with… with… a snake,” Fleur said, shuddering.

“A snake?” Hermione asked, appearing entirely confused.

“A water snake, but nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” Fleur said, “Huge. Tremendous. So large you couldn’t even see it in profile. So vast and deep. And flowing. Always flowing. Skin that ripples like water.”

“Jormungand,” Hermione breathed, “The Serpent Sea. It has been depicted as a snake in many of the old tales.”

“Well,” Fleur said, rubbing at her eyes, “I suppose we’re inside the snake now.”

***

Harry jerked up from his slouched over position on the Crew Deck as Marietta Edgecombe descended the stairs.

“Oh, there you are,” Edgecombe said, gesturing to him, “Come along. Cho wants to speak to you.”

He noticed the lack of a salutation there – clearly, Edgecombe was on very friendly terms with the Lady Chang. Harry dutifully got up and followed the blonde. He also noticed how Edgecombe held herself – she wasn’t quite as servile as one would expect a lady-in-waiting to be. And as they emerged onto the deck, he also noticed how comfortable she seemed to be on a heaving vessel – the waters were a bit choppy and Harry had a little bit of trouble with his footing as they had ascended the stairs up to the main deck. More than sea-legs, Edgecombe seemed to have a raw power to her movements; there wasn’t quite the elegance there that one would expect from a lowborn raised in the company of purebloods.

Oh, Edgecombe was quite the looker – there was no doubt about that. She had strong features – a straight nose, puffy lips, large green eyes and high cheekbones, a buxom waist and breasts that were more than a handful – but she also had powerful forearms and a very firm step. She reminded him of some of the pirates on his last doomed Argonaut – she was more a sailor than a Lady’s companion.

They emerged onto the deck and Harry bowed as he saw Lady Chang waiting for him near the prow of the ship. Her long, lustrous black hair whipped behind her in soft, silky waves as the vessel chopped unevenly through the sea, but much like her companion, Chang too stood firm and ready. She smiled at him, and he couldn’t help but blush ever so slightly at the warmth in her smile. He supposed there were quite a few similarities between Chang and Edgecombe. They were both tall and willowy, they both seemed to be seasoned sailors, and they had similar features - long legs, surprisingly rounded waists and high, firm breasts. But there were quite a few differences as well – and it wasn’t limited to the jet black hair and brown eyes that Chang sported compared to Edgecombe’s blonde and green. Where Edgecombe seemed to exude power, Chang exuded an easy grace. Where Edgecombe’s smiles were more like smirks, Chang’s smiles seemed genuine and compassionate. Where Edgecombe’s facial features were sharp and strong, if pretty, Chang’s features were far more traditionally feminine – a cute, button nose, thin, red lips and a smaller, angular face typical of Tybgychi noblewomen.

“So,” Chang said, “You’re Harry.”

He nodded.

“Tell me about yourself,” she said, waving a hand at him casually.

“I… er…” Harry said, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head, “I’m Harry… but you already knew that.” Chang’s smile grew a tad pronounced and Edgecombe smirked. “I… graduated from Hogwarts a year ago.”

“Oh?” Chang asked, raising an eyebrow, “Marietta and I graduated a couple of years ago.” She rubbed at her chin thoughtfully. “Don’t think I remember you from there.” She glanced at Marietta, who shrugged.

“I was a Gryffindor,” Harry said, “I graduated the same year as… my Lady Susan.”

“Your Lady?” Chang asked with a grin, “You were brought up on the Potter estates, I presume.”

Harry winced ever so slightly as they edged closer to the topic of his heritage. “I… was,” he said, “My Lord Potter and Baroness Bones were very gracious in their allowances – they ensured that I was raised with the best education possible.”

Chang scrunched upon her nose cutely. “I know the Baroness,” she said drily, “I’m not sure gracious is the right term to describe her.

“In any case, I’d like to find out more about your skills. Susan obviously values you quite a bit – enough that she was willing to stand her ground when it came to your inclusion in this particular crew.”

“We’re all interested in what you’ve done to warrant that sort of support,” Edgecombe supplied, crossing her arms and looking over at him curiously.

Harry flushed, again. “I’m… not sure,” he said, “I wasn’t too bad at school… my grades were… fine. No lower than an E…”

“Really?” Chang interjected, “Which subjects did you take in your NEWTs?”

“Runes, Transfiguration, Charms, Defence, Arithmancy and Potions,” Harry replied.

Edgecombe whistled, and Chang raised a brow. “Those are all core subjects,” she said, “How’d you do?”

“E in Arithmancy,” Harry said with a shrug, “O in all the others.”

There was a slight pause. Edgecombe scoffed, and Chang seemed surprised. “Hard to see why you’re not gainfully employed,” she said, “Seems like you had quite a future ahead of you at one point.”

Harry rubbed his arm and shrugged. “There were a lot of rejections,” he said simply. He had thought his heritage was evident – Delacour practically breathed “bastard” each time she deigned to speak to him – and Chang nodded in understanding.

“Walk with me,” Chang said gesturing to him. Edgecombe and Harry followed the brunette, who rounded past the Captain’s Cabin and the First Mate’s room.

“This is a fine vessel,” she said, “Far, far more impressive than anything I’ve personally seen.”

Harry scratched his head in puzzlement.

“Not in terms of the luxuries on board,” Chang supplied looking at his expression, “I’ve seen better on that front. But when it comes to seaworthy vessels, this little Aviary has nothing to be ashamed of.

“The Captain’s Cabin, and the First Mate’s Room, for instance,” she said, pointing to the clustered rooms from the outside, “High on utility. Not so high on expansion charms. Most folks would focus on making their rooms… well, as roomy as possible. But not this one – there seems to be a lot more focus on navigational equipment and quite a few other runic devices I’ve only heard of. On combat vessels.”

“Wait,” Edgecombe said in a distinctly ruffled tone, “You’ve seen the insides of the Cabin? I thought Delacour had set up shop here.”

“She did,” Chang said, “But I suppose I imposed on her hospitality for a bit.

“Harry, one of the things to do on your agenda is to get those fitments – the runic devices, the navigational equipment and anything else that you believe would be more useful to the Captain of this ship… as opposed to the occupants of the Captain’s Cabin – to our quarters.”

Harry was a bit troubled by that, but Chang continued, “Talk to Granger the next time you see her. Last I saw, the poor girl was trying to catalogue every single part of the room against the massive tomes she lugs around in that bottomless bag of hers.”

Harry nodded, feeling a little relieved that he would not have to ask anything of Delacour.

They descended the steps near the aft of the Aviary, descending right into Susan’s lair. Predictably, Susan greeted them with a chipper smile. Harry hadn’t actually seen the Arithmancer’s Hovel before, and he paused as he took in the view.

“Guess they used up most of their expansion charms here,” Edgecombe said with a grin as she watched his bewildered expression.

That’s an understatement, Harry thought.

The Hovel was huge – large enough to cover half of the Hogwarts Great Hall. And right in the middle, protruding up from the base of the vessel, stood the runic engine. But this particular engine was like nothing Harry had ever seen before – the only other engines he had seen before had been a theoretical image in his NEWT-level Runes textbook and the one onboard the Maugrim. Both had been roughly cylindrical, and throbbed regularly with the bluish white pulse of the enchantments within.

This particular engine, on the other hand, was massive. It went from the base to the very ceiling of the vast Hovel, and while it was cylindrical at the base (though far larger than the one engine he had seen before), it branched out into bright blue pipes overhead that crackled with power. Its entire surface was covered with glowing blue runes that twinkled with the force of the magic within that rose upward in waves and dissipated overhead. He could practically feel the reverberating hum of the engine as it powered the Aviary forward through the Serpent Sea.

“And this is why I said this vessel is… impressive,” Chang said, “That does not, in any way, belong here.”

Susan laughed. “I know,” she said, “I thought this job would be boring, but this… well, this awes even me. And I’m not easy to awe.”

“Reminds me of one of the bulk carriers your father owns,” Edgecombe said to Chang, who nodded.

“And it’s fitted onto this tiny little vessel,” she said, “A dreadnought-class runic engine on a teensy little blockade runner. And all that cutting edge navigational equipment.”

Susan grinned. “They say Delacour wrenched this away from pirates,” she said.

“Delacour said Delacour wrenched this away from pirates,” Edgecombe said snidely.

“Yeah,” Chang said, “This definitely wasn’t a pirate vessel. Pirates couldn’t have afforded this, let alone make this work so seamlessly. Perhaps they stole this from another family? The Gaunts, perhaps? Or some Tybgychi noble?”

Harry rubbed at his chin and pondered the observation – Greyback had definitely appropriated his own Argonaut from somewhere, but it had been a rundown, ragged vessel that bore traces of the pleasure barge it had once been. This vessel was far sleeker, and had a menacing feel to it. And the pirates themselves had been… unusual.

He looked at Chang, who was staring at him inquisitively. “So…” she asked, “Were they pirates?”

Harry shrugged hesitantly. “We… didn’t really get a good look at them,” he said, “They wore black robes that covered them from head to toe. And they didn’t really announce themselves or ask Greyback to surrender; they just…  attacked.”

“Wait, what?” Susan asked, looking a little alarmed, “You mean all that stuff Delacour told us was true? About her single-handedly fighting off pirates? About stealing this ship? Wait a minute… what were you even doing with pirates?”

Harry glanced at Chang and Edgecombe, who seemed very, very interested in his answer.

“Er… I don’t know about fighting them off,” Harry said carefully, “This vessel had emptied itself by the time we boarded it. And… Lady Delacour did fight and subdue three men with Miss Granger. But it’s more like we… er… snuck onto this Argonaut and stole it. The other vessel… was damaged and couldn’t catch up.”

“I see,” Chang said slowly, “However… now I’m much more interested in the question Susan asked last. What were you doing on that particular pirate vessel in the first place?”

Harry noticed Edgecombe stiffen, though Chang and Susan remained relaxed, if inquisitive.

“It… was the only ride I could find to Coille,” he said after a long pause, and Harry winced at the pitiful tone of his own voice, “I had less than a handful of galleons on me.”

The women stared at him incredulously. “Some pretty large gaps in your story there,” Edgecombe observed.

“Oi,” Susan said, “I can vouch for his character. Harry’s no pirate.”

“But it still begs the question,” Chang said, smiling at Susan, “Why did your man-servant want to go to Coille in the first place?”

Susan smirked right back. “A very good question,” she said, “For another time.”

“Oh, I beg to differ,” Chang said silkily, and Harry was struck by the tinge of menace to her voice, “I’m not sure how seriously Delacour takes her impromptu appointments, but I am the Captain of this ship. Which means that I need to know my crew. Now, who is he?”

Susan and Chang stared at one another, and Edgecombe glared at the redhead with crossed arms. Harry fidgeted as he noticed Chang’s right hand ever so gracefully grip the wand holster around her waist. And after a few beats, Susan caved.

“Fine,” she said with a pout, “Take all the fun out of it. He’s not my man-servant.”

Harry tensed. Chang raised a brow, and Edgecombe grinned.

“Well,” Susan said, “Technically… yeah, I may not have employed him, but I always intended to. He’s always done my bidding.”

“Has he now?” Chang asked.

Susan nodded. “Harry fled Lothien like an idiot before I could… er… extend an offer of employment,” she said.

“Fled Lothien?” Edgecombe asked, “Why?”

“There was a draft, apparently?” Susan ventured, looking at him.

Edgecombe looked a little puzzled, but Harry could practically see Chang’s brain working as she stared at him.

“Of course,” she said at last, “You’re the Warlock Potter’s bastard. I thought that was just a spurious term Delacour was throwing around to insult you.”

Harry flushed.

“I… didn’t mean to offend,” Chang said, watching his reaction, “But that is what you are, no? A bastard.”

Harry nodded tightly. He glanced at Susan and Edgecombe. Susan looked nonchalant, like she usually did after stirring up some trouble, while Edgecombe, to his surprise, didn’t quite have a look of revulsion on her face. Instead, she merely looked askance at him.

“You fled the Archmage’s draft,” Chang said, “And ended up on a pirate ship in your attempt to try and get to a Free City. You’re either an idiot, or a psychopath.”

“Yeah,” Susan said, “I can vouch for idiocy.”

Edgecombe chuckled. “I… didn’t know they were pirates,” Harry said defensively, “They were shady, but I thought they were smugglers… or something.”

“So you’re an idiot,” Chang said, “But not in the manner that most would think. That’s a relief, I suppose.”

“How’d you know he was my Lord father’s bastard?” Susan asked.

“I’ve seen the Warlock before,” Chang said, “They look… well… alike would be an understatement. And you two are familiar with one another, but not in an overly formal manner. You obviously grew up together, much like Marietta and myself.

“And the draft is for bastards,” Chang said.

“Cho,” Edgecombe said looking a little wary all of a sudden, “We’re talking about the Dread Queen’s last draft, yeah?”

Chang nodded, looking a little grim.

“The same draft that… er… your mother rounded up those boys for?” Edgecombe asked.

Harry tensed slightly, though Susan looked a little lost. Chang seemed to notice Susan’s expression and explained, “My mother thought it fit to send a few boys who worked our estates off for the same draft. Let’s just say that the Warlock Potter is not the only pureblood in Lothien with a bastard. My lord father has at least seven that I know of. All of them were carted off with… gusto… on my mother’s orders.”

“Ah,” Susan said, “I see.”

“Cho,” Edgecombe said, moving closer to Chang, and clutching at her arm, “I’m not sure I’m okay with this. He fled the Dread Queen’s draft. I… I don’t know if…”

Chang merely smiled. “The Dread Queen doesn’t care if a single bastard flees her draft,” she said, “Relax, Marietta. He’s just a man trying to strike out on his own.”

Susan nodded firmly. Edgecombe still looked a little uneasy, but Chang’s words seemed to be comforting enough.

“Now that this particular bit of pleasantry is over and done with,” Chang said, “Back to the engine. What do you think, Susan?”

Susan seemed a little surprised by the sudden turn in conversation, but gamely played along. “Well,” she said, “Like you said, it’s a dreadnought-class engine, but it works beautifully on a ship of this size. The Aviary is fast. Really, really fast.”

“Er… we knew that already,” Edgecombe said, pointing to the massive engine.

“Fine, then,” Susan said with a frown, “If you want to get technical, the alchemical balance on this thing is brilliant. The freestream stagnation recovery at the outset is, well, almost perfect. The runic efficiency too, is almost perfect, though I think it would be a bit less efficient on an actual dreadnought. The outlet stagnation temperature, I think, reaches about eight hundred degrees, which is far, far higher than what I’m used to working with on my father’s merchant ships – it gets so hot that I need to keep resetting the freezing runes on a daily basis.”

Edgecombe looked a little intimidated by the stream of words. Susan smirked at her and said, “Basically, this places top speed at just about a hundred and sixty knots.”

Chang’s eyes widened at that. “A hundred and sixty knots?” she asked.

“What?” Edgecombe asked, “We’ll be at Yndu by the end of the week.”

Susan chuckled. “Top speed,” she reminded them, “A runic engine needs time to recharge and well, those freezing runes wear off very, very quickly. Keep this baby at top speed for too long and you’re left with… well… almost a full day to replenishment and a molten metal hunk for an Argonaut. I wouldn’t advice pushing this thing to its top speed – it’ll last about an hour, tops.”

“What speed would you recommend, then?” Chang asked.

“I’d honestly rev it up to maybe around twenty one knots,” Susan said, “Normally, there’d be two arithmancers working this in shifts, but with such a small crew, I suppose we’ll only do a single shift.”

Chang nodded.

“So,” Susan continued, “We’ll get around ten hours of power from this every day, and the rest of the day to recharge.”

“Which is still pretty good,” Edgecombe said, “Most runic engines we’ve worked with can do about fifteen knots at eight hours a day.”

“Brilliant,” Chang said, “Now Marietta and I just have to find the right currents to idle our engine through, and we should be in Yndu  in around… a hundred or so days. Depends on how long our port stops are too, I suppose.”

They all looked at the frequent pulses of magic hum their way up through the engine for a few moments. Then Chang gestured to Harry and Edgecombe. “Come,” she said, “Let’s walk through the rest of the ship.”

“I’ll be here,” Susan said, “Running the engine like a good little Arithmancer drone.”

Chang laughed, and waved at Susan. They walked through the door at the far end of the Hovel, and into the Crew Deck. Harry shook his head at the fact that the sub-deck’s door from the Hovel seemed to have a latch only on the Hovel side – Susan could enter the sub-deck as and when she chose to. Which could be both a very bad and a very good thing.

“Cozy,” Chang said looking around at the same deck where Delacour and Granger had fought the three hooded pirates, “I suppose they used up all of the expansion charms on the Hovel to accommodate the oversized engine.”

Harry had to agree. There had been at least thirty men who had swarmed up to the Maugrim – they must have been cramped in here, unless they chose to sleep in the Hovel as well.

Edgecombe pointed to the ballistae on either side of the deck. “The firepower on this thing isn’t bad,” she said, “Those are griffon-class ballistae. A pulse from those would tear right through the hull of another vessel.”

Harry shuddered as he recalled the massive holes that the ballistae had punched through the sub-deck of the Maugrim.

“If you say so,” Chang said, “You know I’m not really into these things. Personally, I’m far more interested in this.” With a practiced hand, Chang reached out towards the patch of wall underneath the middle porthole. An ornate handle that was embossed with tiny, birdlike features materialised from thin air, surprising Harry. Chang saw the surprise on his face and smiled. “It’s a common trick we tend to use on Argonauts,” she said as she twisted the handle. Harry heard a series of clicks and a large trunk carved itself out from the patch of floor in the middle of the Crew Deck.

“It’s where we keep supplies,” Chang explained. Edgecombe, who was closest to the trunk, crouched and pulled the lid up. All three of them peered into the trunk. The two ladies looked a little disappointed.

“Well,” Edgecombe said, “I’m a bit disappointed. I honestly expected some fantastic loot.”

Harry peered into the trunk, only to discover that it was a very tightly packed cellar, stacked to the brim with various food items and condiments. There were multiple jars of sealed sardines, as well as bread in standard preservation jars, and various cans of ingredients.

“Right,” Chang said, looking at Harry, “Prioritise this. As soon as we’re done walking through the ship, I want you to come here and catalogue this. Are you a good cook?”

Harry nodded. “I’m alright,” he said with a shrug.

“Good,” Chang said, “‘Alright’ is a step up from Marietta’s cooking.”

“Oi!” Edgecombe protested.

“Catalogue and ration this,” Chang said, “Let me know how long the supplies will last, and if they won’t last, they give me a shopping list for each port stop. Is that alright?”

Harry sensed the undertone of a command there, but nodded nonetheless. He sort of admired Chang’s friendly, if business-like, tone – he couldn’t help but think that Delacour had made a great choice in Chang as Captain. The woman practically exuded command.

Edgecombe closed the lid at a gesture from Chang, who twisted the handle back to its original position. The handle disappeared, and so did the trunk.

They proceeded to the end of the Crew Deck and opened the door to the forecastle – Harry noticed that this too opened outward from the sub-deck and had a latch on the outside. The Crew Deck was looking less like a sub-deck and more like a cell to keep the crew in.

The forecastle was an impressive part of the ship. It wasn’t as big as the Hovel, but obviously had multiple expansion charms cast on it. It seemed to have a working en-suite, and there was a hall and a bedroom, but those features weren’t impressive in themselves. The best part of the forecastle was the fact that the entire hull around the forecastle was obviously enchanted to be entirely transparent. From the outside, the portion of the hull below the bow looked like any other part of the hull, dark obsidian with menacing green runes. But from the inside, this particular section of the hull was almost invisible. The forecastle was like a construct that was open to the sea. Harry could see the Jormungand stretch into the horizon before him from inside the forecastle, and more impressively, he could feel the rush of the sea breeze against his skin. Even the smell of salt was palpable.

“It’s everything we ever dreamed of,” Chang said drily, “Clearly, this was meant to be our quarters.”

Edgecombe laughed. “It’s perfect,” she said, “A room with a perfect view of the sea. Delacour can have her ridiculous Cabin topside.”

“You will move all of the useful stuff from the Captain’s Cabin to here,” Chang said, gesturing to the hall that the Crew Deck opened into.

Harry nodded.

“Very well,” Chang said, gesturing to the door, “Now you may get started… unless you have any questions?”

Harry merely shook his head and turned to the door.

“Oh,” Chang said, and Harry could feel the note of joy in her tone, “And one more thing. The next time you address me, don’t call me Lady Chang. Call me Captain.”

Harry smiled, nodded, and left the forecastle. He had some rationing and re-appropriation to carry on with.

***

Harry was fast beginning to realise that Granger was very, very well-read. “Careful with that!” she said, pointing to a large, disc-like object that Harry was floating into a charmed hovering carton, “That’s an astro-labe.”

Harry just stared at her dumbly.

“It’s something that was used back in the Second Age – back when the Philosopher-Kings were widespread and powerful,” Granger said in one breath, “Its invention is attributed to one of the apprentices of the then Archmage of Daryan, the Great Ancestor Ramesses.”

“And what was the apprentice’s name?” Harry asked, pausing and examining the device closely.

“Apollonius of Antalya,” Granger recited.

Harry was a bit awed by the breadth and depth of Granger’s knowledge – he wished he had known her a little better at Hogwarts. History of Magic would have been so much easier.

He tried brushing some dust away from an extremity, and to his surprise, the device started whirring.

“What did you do?” Granger asked frantically, rushing up to him.

“I was just…” Harry started, but Granger snatched the device out of mid-air and cradled it protectively.

Much to their surprise, a large hologram appeared just above the disk, bright and vivid even in the light of day. A night sky, and a multitude of stars. All sorts of figures started embossing themselves into the bronze surface of the disc. Tiny angles and other geometric figures emerged. A corner of the miniature night sky hologram above the device even flashed red, indicating… something. There was a bright green rune below it in a language that Harry could not identify.

“It’s some… Daryani language,” Granger said, biting her lower lip, “I’ll have to look this up later in the Seven Nations Dictionary.”

“There are only Six Nations,” Harry said, wondering why he had never heard of a Seven Nations Dictionary.

Granger tilted her chin at him in distinctly superior fashion. “The Seven Nations Dictionary,” she said snottily, “It’s an ancient tome that is housed in only a select few pureblood libraries, including the Delacour library. The Seventh Nation refers to a philosophical argument made by the likes of Deleuze and Bergson, who argue that the Archmagi are an institution and a nation unto themselves. Hence… a Seventh Nation.”

“Ah,” Harry said intelligently. Or at least, he tried to make his single syllable sound as intelligent as possible. He had no idea what Granger was saying, and frankly, he couldn’t quite bring himself to care. Granger herself looked less than impressed with him in any case.

“So, may I show it to Captain Chang?” he asked, pointing to the astro-labe that Granger had tucked protectively away from him.

“Ask her to take good care of it,” Granger said snottily, “It’s a priceless artefact.”

“Right,” Harry said. He waved his wand around. “Now,” he said, “If I may…”

Granger stared at him for a moment, before she finally loosened her grip on the astro-labe, which Harry promptly, though with some degree of gentle care, placed it in his carton.

They worked away with Granger sorting all the items and talking animatedly about the tomes that she had scoured to find out more about the various knick-knacks that they had discovered in the Captain’s Cabin. Harry, in all honesty, found her conversation, one-sided as it was, refreshing – she was obviously passionate about learning, in a book-smart sort of way, and Harry admired people who learned things merely for the sake of learning. As for Harry, he was honest enough to admit that he only kept up with his academics to prove to himself that he was worth the price of the education that his Lord Potter had deemed fit to bestow upon him. Learning, on the other hand, was a matter of utility and survival, at least for him.

“So…” Granger asked softly, once Harry had stocked all of the stuff from the Captain’s Cabin into conjured boxes, “… you weren’t always a pirate, were you?”

Harry stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. “No…” he said, “I was just… looking for a ride to Coille. I couldn’t afford the barges, and Greyback captained the only Argonaut that would take me. I… didn’t know he was a pirate… that it was a pirate ship I’d just boarded.”

Granger nodded, as if affirming something to herself. “I thought so,” she said, “You… weren’t like the rest of the… beasts on that ship. And yet… and yet… you wouldn’t free us. I begged you to free me and you did not even see fit to lift a single finger.”

Her voice broke ever so slightly, and something inside Harry knotted in guilt.

“I…” he said, trying and failing to come up with an excuse, “I… I’m sorry, Miss Granger.” He sighed and his shoulders drooped visibly. “I… wish I’d been stronger. I just… I was scared. I was afraid of what Greyback would do to me… of what the others would do to me.”

Granger looked at him. He didn’t quite see an accusatory stare – her eyes were wide, searching his own as if trying to get into his head. “I didn’t grow up in the Delacour demesne,” she said, “My parents were healers in Olissippona. Have you ever been there?”

Harry shook his head. “South-west Lothien, I presume,” he said. She nodded.

“We take pride in the fact that we’re the first city in Lothien that’s kissed by the sun when it rises,” she said, “We’re not, really. There’s a Promontoria Magnum further west, but there’s no real city there. Or if you want to get really technical, there’s a little sparsely populated islet called the Monichique.

“When I turned eleven, I was all set to attend a little local academy called the Redbridge Academy for Witches in Olissippona,” she continued, “But then, my mother treated a little pureblood girl for a scrape, and my life changed.”

“The Lady Delacour?” Harry guessed.

Hermione shook her head. “The little pureblood girl was Fleur’s sister,” she said, smiling fondly, “She’s a gorgeous little ball of energy – our pint-sized Gabrielle – but yeah, my mother treated her, and established a friendly rapport with the Lady Delacour, who just happened to be searching for healers for her particular demesne.

“When she heard that I was about to join Redbridge, the Lady Delacour immediately interviewed me herself to determine my capabilities as a student… and as a witch. She… I think she was impressed with me. She recommended me to Beauxbatons, but the seats for the upcoming school year had already been allotted. So she tried Hogwarts, and there I was, strutting alongside nobility.”

“Did you like it there?” Harry asked, curious about her experience. He knew for a fact that Susan had loved her time there, and so had her pureblood friends who had… treated him less than fairly… when they visited the Potter estates. There had been one other bastard there – but she had been adopted into her father’s family and was quite prickly about her heritage, so the Hogwarts crowd had accepted her.

He had never quite talked to any of the smallfolk there though, few and far in between as they were. From what he could remember, there had been only three in his year – and Hermione had been one of them.

Hermione’s smile grew more pronounced. “Of course I loved it,” she said happily, “Some of the Slytherins were a bit mean to me at times, but everyone else seemed alright. And the Library – by Morgana, that Library was wonderful! Madam Pince was a gracious, kind woman, and Warlock McGonagall seemed to like me well enough. Professor Flitwick was a sweetheart too. And I really liked Professor Vector – I mean, she made Arithmancy seem so intuitive…”

And then she paused and looked at him. “But…” she said, “I barely even remember you. Which is so absurd, considering that we were in the same year and house. I know you from that one Potions class where you sat behind me and got your Girding Potion all over my dress.”

Harry winced. He remembered that particular class – it had been his fourth year. Weasley – a gangly, freckled pureblood – had taken great pleasure in tormenting him, especially in the Potions classroom, and had chosen that particular lesson to throw a particularly volatile tuber into his Girding Potion when Harry wasn’t looking. He remembered it spilling over a couple of students seated ahead of him, but didn’t quite remember who they were until now. He had been too busy trying to hide behind his own cauldron as Snape docked him a hundred points – his detention had involved him scraping away at every spare cauldron in the classroom for an entire week.

“Sorry about that,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.

Granger shrugged. “It was a while back,” she said, smiling again, “And really quite funny, looking back at it now. And well… immediately after that class, when I was cleaning myself up, a boy awkwardly told me that he had a crush on me.”

Harry raised his eyebrows at the sudden and personal admission.

Granger crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. “Yes,” she said, “Hogwarts was wonderful, and I wanted to stay there forever. I had never even dreamed of an opportunity to study at one of the three premier schools in Lothien, and there I was, rubbing shoulders with the best that Lothien had to offer, and walking over the same ancient steps that the greatest witches and wizards in Lothien once trod.”

Harry cringed a bit at that – he didn’t quite know about greatest… he supposed a few of the witches and wizards who once attended Hogwarts did end up doing great things, but he had a very hard time believing that any of his year-mates would turn out great in the truly heroic sense of the word.

“But even the library that Hogwarts had…” Granger said, “… it was nothing compared to the library on the Delacour grounds. It was the Lady Delacour’s pet project – she’s an avid reader… and so well-read too! I’ve been to some of the other pureblood mansions – the Abbots, the Parkinsons and even the Macmillans – but no mansion held a library that was so grand as the one that Lady Delacour had. It was her pride and joy… she had books from all over the world, and the library had vertical expansion charms. Shelves stacked so high that they seemed to reach the enchanted sky above. And built in a single generation, moreover.”

“Lady Delacour… seems nice,” Harry ventured. He guessed that Granger was talking about Fleur’s mother.

“She’s wonderful!” Hermione said, “She’s always… oh, I shouldn’t say this, but… she was almost a mother to me. My lowborn… heritage… never seemed to matter to her. She… wanted the best for me.”

Hermione drew her arms tighter around her and looked at the endless sea that stretched out before them, with her bushy hair blown hither and thither by the wind. “I miss her,” she said and she sounded forlorn, “I really do. I miss little Gabrielle and I miss that library. I miss my parents.

“When I set out,” she said, “When… we set out, I had imagined adventures. Oh, I was scared, but I had imagined adventures nonetheless. I much prefer reading about adventures from a cozy little seat in a library, but I guess it was a chance to experience one myself. Granted, I had long since moved on from the adventure stories and romance novels that I loved when I was twelve. Milady Fleur continued to read them, of course, but I had moved on to what I believe to be… broader things. Philosophy and culture and great, big historical tomes and spellbooks. But ever so often, when I wanted to relax, do some light reading, I always curled up with a slim little romance novel.

“I secretly loved them, of course. Filled as they were with pirates and adventurers and beasts and dangers and… and heroes. Oh, the Heroes… I loved them. The brave, noble Lords and Ladies who would charge into battle to save their loved ones, or even the innocent, from the jaws of mortal danger. The Pirate Queen Teuta with her ebony staff and battle axe. The great war-mage, Lord Odysseus, who won back his beloved Lady Penelope with his cunning and wit after the Trojan wars. The great Lady Boudicca, who stood alone against the Tybgichi Khan. And foremost among them, the great Heracles, warrior-hero of myth, who embarked on adventures so great that they could not help but be turned into song.”

“All tales from the Age of Heroes,” Harry said quietly, “Before Merlin.”

Hermione nodded. “They call the Age of Heroes a different time,” she said, “An age when Lords and Ladies were on par with Arch-Mages, and the world was a richer, brighter place full of colour and story and song. And when milady suggested this quest, I was scared, I was anxious, I was entirely at a loss… but in my heart of hearts, I hoped to experience some… great adventure.

“I wanted to see a hero. A Lord or Lady of myth.

“Instead, what I got were beasts who walked like men… and a coward. I was… so… naïve.”

Harry deflated and felt a pit form in his stomach. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I really am. You… you didn’t deserve… any of that. I just… I… I’m sorry.”

Hermione nodded, and Harry noticed that her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. He stewed in his guilt and watched silently as she drew away, back into the Captain’s Cabin, with a pile of items floating behind her that she had refused to hand over to the recently appointed captain of the vessel.

***

Much later, after Harry had spent a while trying to clear the pit in his belly and eaten a quickly made sandwich, he floated the stacked boxes all the way down to the real captain’s quarters at the forecastle, but the door leading out from the crew deck was latched shut, so he figured that he’d just unload everything the next day. He conjured a mattress and quilt for himself and sat upon it heavily with his elbows on his knees and his eyes staring blankly at the floor.

What had he done? What was he doing here?

For perhaps the first time in his life, Harry wondered if he truly belonged. He wondered if he deserved to walk alongside women and men who were… different from him. Nobility and smallfolk. Not tainted from birth. Not mongrels born of two worlds. Not sons of a lowborn mistress.

“Moving in, are we?” he heard Susan’s husky voice echo across the sub-deck, and he looked up at once. He gulped as he noticed what she was wearing – Lady Susan Bones-Potter was dressed only in her underclothes. She wore a sheer satin set of pantaloons. Each leg section had frills at the bottom, but they barely came down to her knee – her flawless, if meaty, milky white thighs were visible for everyone to see. And the upper body had all its buttons done up, but the bust section struggled to cover up the absolutely massive breasts that Susan was so proud of. Her shoulders were bare, though her blood-red hair fell in waves over them, and curved around her bust, until the rich hair met her curvy waist. Harry tried so hard to pull his gaze awat, but his eyes seemed glued to the top half of her massive jugs bouncing around with each step that Susan took towards him.

She gestured to the boxes around him. Harry shook himself and struggled to remember what she had just asked him. “They’re Captain Chang’s,” he said quietly.

Captain Chang, is it?” Susan asked with a raised brow, “I wonder what they call Arithmancers on these things.”

Harry shrugged and looked around at the boxes, wondering if he should knock on Chang’s door, if only to pull himself away from the situation he knew he was about to fall into.

“She’s gone to bed,” Susan said, sidestepping a couple of the boxes, “With her little lowborn girlfriend.” Now her tits were jiggling all over and her pantaloons were really struggling to hold them in.

Harry raised his eyebrows this time around. “Girlfriend?” he asked blankly, as Susan sat down next to him, on the floor. His eyes trailed down her face, and her neck, and again to her vast cleavage… but Harry averted his eyes ever so quickly at that point, and looked at the door to the forecastle tentatively.

“Cho and Marietta,” Susan said, gesturing to the door.

“Oh,” Harry said blankly, still trying not to look at her. Then he realised what she had just told him and said, “Oh… oh… right.”

“Awww,” Susan said lightly, trailing the tip of her finger across his forearm, making goosebumps erupt all over his skin, “Does that… titillate you?”

“I… I…” Harry said, watching her slim index finger sink in, with her sharp, painted nail leaving a pale white trail across his skin. She leaned into his left arm and he gulped as he felt her right breast press into his bicep. She had entwined her fingers with his, and her ring finger circled into his palm, making him shudder. Harry couldn’t help but let his gaze be drawn right back into her cleavage where her melons strove against her pantaloons, and he breathed heavily, “Susan… I don’t think… I…”

“Shut up,” she snarled, and he shuddered as she lay soft, wet kisses along the side of his neck. Kisses that were familiar and knowing, and Harry groaned as she found his favourite spot near the crook of his neck. His right palm splayed outward and heaved her tits, and she laughed lightly in his ear. “Knew you wouldn’t be able to resist my twins, bastard,” she whispered.

And before he knew it, she had mounted him, with her knees planted on each side of his own, and her hands scrambling behind her back. He heard two pops, gaped as the chest of her pantaloons fell away, and two massive, milky tits sprung out to greet him.

For not the first time, Harry stared in awe. To call these mere tits would do them injustice – it was akin to calling the Cruciatus a tickling curse. These were mammaries – milk melons that were shaped to perfection on Susan’s chest. There were no visible veins that marred them – just milk-white flesh that was so soft and so amazing to the touch. Her nipples too were a thing of beauty – fat and prominent and erect atop her mighty mammaries. Susan had the biggest pair of breasts on any girl at Hogwarts – and with him, she certainly wasn’t shy about flaunting them. And each time she revealed them, he had always stared at them with his mouth as dry as a gust of wind in a hard Daryani desert.

Susan chuckled – he felt her small palm pressing on the back of his head and drawing him in, closer and closer to her tit-flesh, until he suckled upon her right nipple helplessly. Susan groaned, and that shocked him into being more proactive; his hands pressed at her back and he hugged her, until he was munching on her tit sloppily, with nasty sucking sounds echoing throughout the crew deck.

Suck on my tits, bastard,” Susan moaned, “Gnnnnnh…. Suck on them. Nnnnnnggghhh… I missed this, fuck, I missed this. You fucking oaf.”

Harry switched breasts and now munched on her left tit, groaning into it with pleasure. His right palm heaved her right melon up, smacking it into Susan’s own cheek, while his left fondled the melon that was already in his mouth. His tongue teased her nipple in lewd circles, and Susan gave a shocked squeal as her right tit mashed into her chin.

“You’re a dirty little bastard,” she snarled, grinding her crotch down into his own, which grew ever so prominent, “You’re… nnnfff… a dirty little bastard…. ugh… who likes playing with his sister’s breasts. Nyyyaghdisgusting  pig.”

She hooked her arms under his own and pressed upwards; Harry rose automatically, heaving her up as well, though they were glued to each other. Susan ground her crotch into him, with her palms slapping and squeezing at his buttocks, while he pressed his face between her tits, and slapped them from either side, smacking his face with her endless chest-cushions.

Bastard, bastard, bastard,” Susan growled, “You love my fucking tits.”

And she took a step backwards, drawing Harry with her, who pressed her tits together until her nipples nearly touched, and licked away at both of them. “Nnngggh,” Susan groaned, “You just can’t let go, can you?”

Susan took another step back and another, and Harry felt himself stepping forward just so he could keep molesting her chest. Eventually, he just sucked her right milk tank into his mouth, as she drew him all the way across the subdeck, clawing at the back of his neck. “Follow my glorious tits, you little shit,” Susan ground out, “Mnnnnngghhh… half-blood mongrel whore.”

Harry was lost to bliss though – he was hard. As hard as he’d ever been in the weeks since he had left the relative safety of the Potter estates. He slapped, and jiggled Susan’s tit flesh, even as he switched from nipple to fat nipple, relishing the feeling of her breast-cushions in his hands. He slurped, suckled and palmed, rolled her nipples around with his tongue, then munched greedily, making Susan quiver and moan.

Fuck everything else,” she gasped stepping backwards into her Arithmancer’s Hovel, “This is where you’re fucking great, isn’t it?” Harry hummed in tune with the great runic engine powering the ship, and Susan’s massive tits vibrated around him in rhythm with the deep reverberations everywhere. Harry opened his eyes and was startled at the dark blue glow that illuminated the room. Susan had clearly extinguished all the fires a while back, and the only source of light was the glowing blue tree in the middle of the room. Everything was blue – even Susan’s blood-red hair appeared a dark, deep black and blue colour in this light, and her milky, immensely curvy body was bathed in light blue. And before he knew it, she had turned him around her and pushed him onto her bed, which was surprisingly soft and luxurious compared to his own meagre conjuration in the crew deck.

And then she had mounted him with her legs on either side, and she looked primal – a familiar, if still breathtaking, sight for him to this day. Her robes were long gone and Harry had no idea when she had removed them, and he came face to face with her glorious, dripping cunt, though he couldn’t help but notice the prominence of the massive, proud tits that still hung over him. And before he knew it, her wet slit was right on top of his parched lips.

Susan liked to keep herself as bare as possible – despite his… intimate acquaintance with Susan, Harry had no idea if she was naturally bereft of hair, or if Susan followed a strict regimen of waxing every morning, but whenever he went down on her, except for barely noticeable reddish fuzz, there was absolutely nothing there apart from her naked cunt lips, which were fat, with fantastic flaps that just hugged at him.

Nnnnnggghhhh!” Susan groaned as she felt his tongue burrowing into her, “That’s right, bastard, just dive right in. You missed my taste on your stupid lips, didn’t you? Nnnnngghhhhdidn’t you?”

Harry could only hum – she tasted bitter and tangy and amazing, but to his frustration, he couldn’t really use his tongue because Susan was so randy. She ground her slit all over his face, from his tongue to his nose to his chin to his forehead. She dripped and lathered pussy juice everywhere – over his face, his nose, his forehead – as if she were marking him.

“Fucking whore,” she hissed, “Nnnnnggghhhh.” And before he knew it, her lower lips met his upper ones as she ground down again on his mouth. His tongue burrowed into her with easy familiarity, licking and lapping and sucking away at… everything it could reach. Harry couldn’t really hold himself in any more. He reached out and spanked her cushy ass with both palms. She squealed and drove down, aided by his hands pressing down on her ass.

“Yes, yes, yes!”, Susan crowed, “You love it. You love it when your pureblood mistress just ruins your face with her cunt, you bastard.” He saw her own hands twisting her fat nipples as she groaned above him.

And then, she started shaking and squealing. Her legs, bent at the knees on either side of his face quivered uncontrollably, and a torrent of cunt-juice splashed outward at him as she squirted with a moan. He continued to lick and lap at her as she shivered atop him, splashing her juices all over his face, as her muff did little back-and-forth movements with his tongue still burrowed in her.

Fuck,” Susan groaned at last as she slumped forward, clutching at the bedpost so that she wouldn’t just fall onto him, “That was intense. I missed this… this… this is exactly what I fucking wanted.”

Suddenly she switched her left leg around and swiveled, only to plop back and grind down upon him. Only, her big, pale ass cheeks now bared themselves to him, and she was facing his legs. Or rather, his…

“My, my, my,” she said, as Harry bucked up, tensing as he felt her palms all over his clothed crotch, “I’d… well. I’d almost forgotten how you… get.”

And before he even knew it, her hands had unbuttoned his leggings, and Harry groaned as his cock burst free into the open air. Susan squealed happily and her dripping cunt squished onto his lips again. Harry dug his tongue in again as his crotch bobbed up and down, helpless with lust.

“Look at this thing…. nnnnggghhh,” Susan half-moaned and half-giggled, “Swinging all over the place like a troll’s club. That’s it, you bastard, munch my pussy! Nnnnnnaaaagggghhhh!”

She shook again and shuddered -  fat squirts drenched him yet again as she ground her cunt down on his face, practically smothering him with her ass-cheeks, now rosy with the force of his mangling. Harry licked and lapped away like a parched man, quenching his lust, and Susan’s horny moans filled the hovel of the vessel. Harry, for a moment, hoped that there were firm silencing charms around the room – Susan was loud enough for the entire Argonaut to hear, and he shuddered to think of what the others’ reactions would be if they knew that he was defiling the pureblood heiress of one of the most powerful families in Lothien.

He groaned as he felt her seize his cock with both palms and push it down, slapping it against his own stomach. “Nnnnggghhh!” Susan moaned, as she repeatedly plopped his cock down onto his belly, even as she ground her squirting pussy onto him, “Fuck! Lick it, you whore! Fucking… Nnnnnnnn… you shameless fuck!”

And after what seemed like an eternity, where Harry licked and lapped and suckled and moaned as Susan’s cunt ground onto his mouth and her ass melted in his palms, he finally took a deep breath as Susan’s dripping, squirting cunt drew off his lips and into the air, still quivering with the force of her orgasms. He could practically see her cunt-lips seal and re-seal themselves right above him, as if trying to conceal the force of her previous orgasm and failing at it repeatedly.

“I need it,” Susan panted as she flopped onto his chest, and Harry grunted as he felt her palms tighten around his cock, “Give it to me, you giant prick. Fucking give it.”

Harry pushed his palms between his chest and her cushy ass, and groped merrily for a moment, enjoying the feel of her wide butt – Harry liked big breasts, but he appreciated a nice, fat ass as well. Granted, Susan’s ass was wider than it was rounded, but he loved the feel of those smooth, fleshy cheeks in his palms. “You pervert,” Susan squealed, “Stop feeling me up and fuck me!”

Harry obliged. He pushed her up even as he moved her ass down the length of his body. He then held her up with his right hand, even as he angled his dick up with his left. He took his time though, enjoying the feeling of his cockhead strolling through the crevice of her ass, and ultimately squelching lewdly against her fat cunt-flaps. Susan moaned as he pushed at her tightness, and Harry groaned as he flaps hugged his cock tighter than ever. He just luxuriated in the feeling for a moment, just stroking his purple cockhead against her flaps, and feeling her incredibly went cunt drool onto his cock.

Fuck,” Susan moaned, “Bastard, go slow. My poor little pussy hasn’t seen much real action in ages. At least since your giant cock fled Lothien.”

Harry had no idea whether he should apologise or not, but he erred on the safer side and grunted, “Sorry.” He tensed, and pushed up ever so slowly. The very tip of his blunt dome sank into her plush, hot vagina. Both Susan and Harry moaned simultaneously.

Hnnnnn… still the best pussy you’ve ever had, you stupid little shit?” Susan hissed.

Harry moaned in the affirmative, luxuriating in the feel of her amazing flaps squishing his cockhead in bit by bit, but he wasn’t sure she got the message. He loved this feeling – he had loved it from the moment Susan had assaulted him back in his teenage years, and he loved it now – the feeling of her wet, hot, fat cuntlips swallowing his cock, half an inch at a time.

“Say it, bastard,” Susan half-moaned, half-squealed, “Hnnnnn… still the best pussy you’ve ever had?”

“Yessss,” Harry hissed, as he stared down at her cunt molding itself around his cock. Susan squealed again as his cocked burst into her tight, dripping, squelching vagina and continued to soar inward.

Hnnnnnaaaaaaaggghhhh,” Susan squealed, “Yes, yes, yes! Take my cunt, you filthy half-breed. Fucking mongrel whore.”

Harry surged up, but he heard Susan’s squeal turn from pleasure to slight pain and stopped by way of practice. Half of his cock was in her dripping cunt, but he faced resistance from her end. Susan panted heavily above him and exhaled.

Fuck,” she moaned and Harry grunted as she swiveled her glorious passage around his cock, hugging it ever so tightly, “I’ve… nnnnnn…. been… hhhhhnnnngggg… out of practice… taking this cock.”

Harry held her ass up with both palms, and marveled at the sight of her flushed back and thick hair, both appearing an electrifying blue in the light of the humming, throbbing engine. And Harry still could not contain his amazement at the sheer size of her massive tits – ever with her back turned to him, he could still make out the outer curve of both breasts on either side of her upper back.

Susan scrambled forward and switched her grip over to his thighs, now squatting over him with her face towards his feet. Simultaneously, Harry relaxed his arms, and Susan sank down, millimeter by millimeter. Both of them savoured the delicious pleasure of her squelching passage stretching around his cock as it sank ever deeper into her heat.

Fuck,” Susan moaned, “Why did you run away? Fuck! Ernie didn’t even have a quarter of the cock you do.”

Harry wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to hear this, but he never had a choice when it came to Susan, so he just basked in the pleasure of her cunt-passage attempting to milk his cock as it continued to burrow into her.

Hnnnnnnnn….” Susan moaned, “Ernie… that fucking tiny prick. And stupid, stupid old me… thinking I could fucking settle. HnnnnnnggggghMorgana’s fat tits, your cock is so fucking fat.”

Harry wasn’t complaining at the sheer force with which her walls were squelching around him. It was absolutely heavenly, after going dry for so long.

“It… hnnnnggghhh… would’ve been fine if he… nnngggghhh… even pretended at romance,” Susan continued, panting as she sank down on him, “But nnnnnnnnoooooohhnnnnnnngh… Lord Idiot Macmillan was just so involved with himself that he had no place in his life for anything that involved anyone else.”

And Harry moaned as he felt three fourths of his cock sheath itself in Susan’s pussy – and Harry finally lost his patience. He wanted his entire fuckmeat to be bathed in her lewd, squishy, warmth, so he removed his hands from her ass entirely. She slapped his thighs and squealed as her legs gave way. Her ass flopped down on his abdomen, and her fat cunt dropped down the few left of his shaft, and right onto his springy balls, even as his tackle conquered her vagina entirely, which now heaved and tightened uncontrollably around his prick.

Hnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaggggghhh!”, Susan squealed, “You bastard! Hnnnnnaaaaaaahhhh… you giant prick…. Hnnnnnngggh!”

Susan shuddered on top of him uncontrollably, now screaming at the top of her lungs. He felt her vagina attempting to squirt out her lust, but she found no space around his cock, so her cunt-passage had to make do with massaging his cock in an utterly chaotic and helpless fashion.

Bastard!” she screamed, over and over as her vagina squelched and queefed in incredibly lewd fashion, “You fucking giant dick!”

And finally, after entire minutes writhing on top of him as Harry desperately tried to keep his own orgasm at bay, she collapsed on top of him with her back against his chest. Harry gently pushed her hair away from his face, kissed the side of her neck, and then pushed his palms flush against her breasts, kneading them to his heart’s content as her vagina continued to shudder around his cock buried deep inside of her.

“You just… love my tits, don’t you?” Susan panted. Harry hummed in the affirmative.

Hnnnn… that was intense… and I’m so out of practice,” she huffed as her body continued to spasm occasionally and Harry sighed as his cock ground her cunt-walls at a leisurely pace, “Hnnn, fuck… your bloody big lunk of beastly half-breed meat feels insane in my little pussy, bastard. Fuck…. nnnnggggghhhhh…. I really blame Ernie, that little prick. Harry… slow it down so I can fucking concentrate. I’m your half-sister, you fucking pervert.”

Harry’s cock gave a guilty twitch, but kept itself sheathed in her dripping wet muff nonetheless. He still ground it in and out, drawling pleasurable little moans out of her, feeling his balls grind her clit as they gently bumped against it.

“You little pervert, you’re going to make your pureblood sister cum again,” Susan groaned, “Hnnnngggghhh… he never gave it to me like this. Why the flying fuck were you born a bastard?”

Harry shuddered at the thought of him being the trueborn son of the Baroness; he had many, many complaints against his mother, but Amelia Bones was hardly a pleasant alternative. Although, if he had been her son, perhaps… he shook his head before his thoughts veered into darkness.

Susan ground herself atop him, as if luxuriating in the feel of his cock grinding and twitching inside her, stretching her to the brim.

“I’d… nnnnnnngggh,” Susan moaned, “I’d forgotten how… fucking… amazing this was. Fuck, you… oh that’s amazing, you’re amazing inside me… you belong in a fucking freakshow, you freak.”

Harry thought that was a redundant remark. Nonetheless, he squeezed and groped at her immense breasts and suckled away at the base of her neck. Then his hands pulled at her fat nipples, making her moan again. They ground into each other for long, incredibly fulfilling moments, before Susan found enough strength to get up and swivel around on his crotch.

“I missed you,” Susan panted as she turned around to face him, though his cock never left her cunt-sheath, “I missed your stupidly fat club, sure… but I missed you too, Harry.” Her voice softened as she drew herself up, looking at him from above with her warm, brown eyes. And before he knew it, she had drawn in, and her lips met his. It wasn’t the first time Harry had kissed his half-sister, but he was taken aback by the force of her kiss. It was fervent, and really felt as if she were greeting a lover fondly after a long time apart. Their tongues mingled, and Harry lost himself in her, his cock melting in her squelching cunt, his tongue melding with hers and her fat tits flush against his palms.

He had missed this too.

“I had this whole plan, believe it or not,” Susan said, grinning down at him again. Harry’s cock twitched, making her squeal, and her tits jiggled as she shuddered again. “I… hnnnnnnn… had it all planned out. I’d marry that… fuck, your cock is amazing… pureblood twit. But I’d planned to keep you as my… boy-toy.”

She drew close again and kissed him softly. “My own little breeding stud,” she whispered into his ear, “With his crazy big breeding club.”

Harry lost it. He hadn’t even realised how backed up he had been, but he couldn’t take it anymore. He slid downward forcefully, drawing Susan along with him, until he had reached the edge of her massive bed, and his butt was in the air. Susan grinned in anticipation as she recognized what he was trying to do. Harry tightened his abdomen and pulled.

His cock, splattered as it was with Susan’s stream of cunt-juices, squelched out then fucked back in as Harry thrust down, then up. Susan squealed and bounced, and her humongous chest-cushions shook merrily. And that was it – Harry established a fast, fervent rhythm, bouncing Susan on his groin with every bit of strength he could muster. His cock lurched in and out in agonizingly pleasant fashion, drawing messy squeals and moans and screams from the redhead, even as Harry’s cum-filled balls bounced her ass up and down with the force of his thrusting.

Bastard!” Susan screamed, “Fucking amazing… bastard! FUCK ME, MONGREL! Fuck your… pureblood… mistress… NNNNYAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHH!” And Susan was splashing  her cunt-juices again, all over the place and around his fat cock that surged in and out imperiously, conquering her shameless, squelching, juicy fuck-box. Harry groaned as he felt her velvet walls practically throttle his tackle and attempt to milk him as they vibrated and constricted with the force of her orgasm.

And before he even knew he had approached his edge, his cock twitched uncontrollably, making Susan squirt and scream harder and louder than ever before. Then, his cock recoiled as if it were one of the ballistae on board their ship, and he blew out what felt like a fountain of cum.

“HHHNNNNYYYYAAAAAAH, SO FUCKING THICK!” Susan screamed, her tongue lolling out and her eyes staring blankly upward as she laughed uncontrollably, “FUCKING BASTARD…. CUM!”

Harry panted and moaned as he painted her insides with his cum. His hips moved up and down in an uncontrolled, arrhythmic manner, and each slap of his nuts against Susan’s wide ass was followed by a volley of cum spurting out of his cock and into her lurching vagina. He drove in and groaned as his cock spurt right against her very cervix, his cockhead expanding and contracting uncontrollably against that bony partition, and Susan’s laughter increased in pitch as she basked in that filthy moment. Harry groaned once again as he felt his balls drain themselves out through his meaty tube, and then relaxed as he felt his own thick cum stir inside Susan’s amazing cunt-passage.

And then Susan collapsed to his side, panting heavily, and he moaned as his cock pulled out of her wet quim with a lewd, wet pop. Susan fondly caressed his oversensitive cockhead, running the very tips of her fingers around it, and looked at him warmly.

“That was… intense,” Susan panted, “Still the best decision I ever made in my teenage years.”

Harry couldn’t help but chuckle. They lay there, beside each other, with Harry enjoying Susan’s fingertips playing around with his cockhead.

And after a moment’s silence, he ventured, “I’m guessing you haven’t met the Baroness yet. Have you even told her about this trip?”

Susan huffed and shifted her position so that she was wrapped around him, with her breasts flatting against his chest. “My mother stopped making decisions for me a long time ago,” she said. Harry recognized her tone though – this was Susan in her mellow post-sex glow.

 “You’re right though,” Susan said, “She threatened as much in her howler after I owled her about dumping Ernie. Couldn’t quite stand that obnoxious moron, in any case.

“To be entirely honest,” Susan said, scrunching up her nose and Harry found that characteristic distinctly cute, “Delacour reminds me a bit of her. Mom would bloody love her though.”

“You’ve never met her before, I presume?” Harry asked.

“Delacour?” Susan asked, “No way. I’d never cross paths with a bitch, even if she is stupidly gorgeous.”

Harry laughed.

“And talking of stupid,” Susan said, slapping at his chest, “Why would you run away like that?

“I know you didn’t have it easy at the estate… but I’m sure I could’ve protected you somehow.”

Harry frowned at that. “You heard what the Captain told us,” he said, “I don’t think the Baroness would have been… as eager to shelter me once the draft kicked in.”

“Dad was furious, in any case,” Susan said with a laugh, “I think it was the missing broom that ticked him off most though.”

Harry flushed. “I didn’t think he’d miss that one,” he said with a sigh, “I couldn’t risk travel on foot or by Knight Bus or ship from your estate – I’d probably be caught that way around. I made sure to take one of his older models though.”

“You took his Cleansweep,” Susan said, still chuckling, “That was the broom he used at Hogwarts when he first made Chaser!”

Harry looked at her blankly. “I… didn’t know,” he said.

Susan looked back at him and Harry didn’t know if he saw pity or just amusement in her eyes.

“There’s a lot you don’t really know about Dad, isn’t there?” she asked.

Harry merely shrugged. He knew the Lord Potter well enough. He knew enough to clear out when the Warlock visited his mother. He knew enough to keep away from the Lord Potter when he was in a drunk rage. And he knew more than was strictly necessary about the Warlock’s dueling skills – whenever it struck James Potter’s fancy, Harry would be pulled aside and made to duel the Warlock by force.

“He taught you how to duel,” Susan said, echoing his thoughts.

Harry shrugged again. “Taught”, he thought, was too charitable a word for what James Potter did.

“I am grateful for what my Lord has done for me,” he said blankly.

“You’re a horrible liar,” Susan said, slapping at his chest again, “And you don’t even have to pretend right now. We just had sex, idiot.”

Harry sighed. Susan burrowed her face in his shoulder.

“What do you reckon Delacour is after?” she asked and Harry could sense that she was a bit tired out by her… recent exertions.

Harry shrugged. Again. “If it gets me away from the draft…” he supplied.

“Mm hmmm,” Susan said sleepily and nuzzled him as she drifted off to sleep.

Harry waited until Susan was deep asleep before he left for his own meager bed in the crew deck, but his mind wandered in between, wondering about pureblood and smallfolk alike and how crazy and wonderful and sad they all were.

Chapter Text

Harry stretched and felt his joints click as he surveyed the wall of fog in the distance – it stretched across the entire horizontal line where sea met sky. Harry shrugged – the air was a bit still today, and the sea seemed pleasant enough; he supposed the wall of fog was too far away to be of significant concern at the moment. He cancelled the preservation charms on the pancakes, soups and other assorted food items that he had pulled from the cellar underneath the sub-deck. He rolled up his sleeves and got to cooking.

He had been made to serve with house-elves at the Potter and Bones estates often enough to know Susan’s preferences. Edgecombe had made it perfectly clear that the Lady Chang always took her eggs sunny side up and loved massive dollops of honey on her pancakes or waffles. Granger had been exacting too when it came to Lady Fleur’s preferences – no eggs or waffles or pancakes for that particular heiress. She always liked cereal and milk, but the milk should have very little cream in it. Moreover, if she felt out of sorts in the morning, she would crave flavoured yoghurt and a little bit of dark chocolate.

Harry thanked the stars that the ship itself had flavouring potions in its cellars, because Chang and Edgecombe certainly hadn’t stocked up on it. It took a while for the flavours to set in, so Harry mixed up the flavouring potions in a cup of yoghurt first, just in case Delacour woke up in a grumpy mood. He then got to flipping pancakes and cracking eggs with his wand, while he quickly ate through some buttered toast with his left hand. Very few purebloods and smallfolk consented to eat alongside his ilk.

“Hi,” he heard a small voice murmur at him, and Harry was a little startled. He craned his neck around, only to tense as he saw Granger walking towards him and rubbing at her eyes tiredly.

“I… er… would you like me to help?” Granger asked, watching the self-flipping pancakes and the crackling cereal with wide eyes.

Harry shook his head, and Granger seemed a bit relieved. “I’m not particularly good at cooking, I’m afraid,” she said, “The Lady Delacour never really let me anywhere near her kitchens, and well… my parents had a house-elf after they moved to the Delacour demesne.”

Harry nodded lightly – he supposed Granger was lucky enough to have a patron who genuinely liked her.

“Er… did you cook often for the Lady Susan?” she asked.

Harry nodded again. “Yeah,” Harry said, making his voice as nonchalant as possible, “Er… I did a little bit of work in the Potter and Bones kitchens.”

Granger pulled herself up and perched on the railing near his cooking station, which he had set up right behind the harpy at the fore of the ship. Harry quickly finished the rest of his toast.

“What was life like on the Potter Estates?” Granger asked, her tone entirely neutral, though Harry detected a tinge of… something. Curiosity, perhaps?

And what could he say? That it was weirdly peaceful at times, and insanely ragged at others? What do you say about years of getting beat up by purebloods, and strangely affectionate caresses by a pureblood heiress, followed by more torment?

Harry shrugged. “It was alright,” he said, “We had a little cottage on the edge of the estate. Just my mother and I.”

“Are you two… close?” Granger asked.

Harry shrugged again. Not as close as her and a particular Warlock. “We were alright,” he said laconically.

Granger gave him an apologetic look at once. “I’m sorry,” she said, “That question was a bit… personal.”

“It’s alright,” he said, and then winced internally as he realised how many times he had used “alright” in the past three sentences.

“It’s just…” Granger said, looking a bit lost, “You’re very, very… skittish?”

Harry had no idea what to say to that, so he “hmm”-ed in response as he cast cleaning charms at the ram and the portion of the deck in front of him.

“I can help with that,” Granger said, slipping off the railing and withdrawing her wand from the folds of her robes. Harry hesitated, then nodded, and the two of them started casting cleaning charms all over the deck as the breakfast made itself.

***

Susan frowned ever so slightly as she saw Delacour sit down for breakfast and yawn.

“Had a good night’s rest?” she asked as sweetly as she could.

Delacour nodded and said in a tired tone, “Not really, Lady Bones-Potter. I’m afraid I’m not used to… the constant heaving of the vessel.”

Susan had to admit that she was a bit pleased at the admission – Delacour had finally shown some, if tiny, sign of imperfection. She envied any woman who could get up from bed and look as glorious as the part-veela did. No bed-head or bags under the eyes of this one.

“Call me Susan, please,” Susan said, “You’ll get used to the motion, I suppose. It took me a while on my first vacation.”

She stole a glance at Harry, who stood quietly to the side sprinkling something or the other onto her hash browns. Delacour yawned again and stretched – even her yawn was a cute little part-yelp part-sigh, and Susan couldn’t help but stare at the massive bust that pushed outward as the Delacour heiress stretched her hands out behind her. She glanced at Harry to make sure that he wasn’t eyeing up Delacour at the moment, and much to her relief, he wasn’t.

Susan was honest enough with herself to recognise that Delacour was the better looking woman. That bust outmatched Susan’s own prodigious pair, and that derriere was to die for… no human woman could compete with that. And to add to those particularly attractive features, there was that perfect golden-silver hair, those azure blue eyes, and that avian nose… any man would find it hard to resist her. And perhaps some women.

Susan kept a close eye on Harry as he poured baked beans on top of her hash browns, and made sure to wink at him as lasciviously as possible when he glanced at her. He blushed cutely and looked away at once – she absolutely adored how timid he was when there were other purebloods around.

“I must compliment you, Hermione,” Delacour said, “This yoghurt is perfect – how you managed this is a bit beyond me.”

Hermione, who was seated next to Delacour, flushed slightly. “It… it wasn’t me,” she stammered out, “It was Harry.”

Susan chuckled quietly - Delacour looked like she had just swallowed spoiled milk. The part-Veela quietly set the yoghurt aside and glared at it, while Harry winced. Susan smirked at him.

“Right,” Cho said at once and Susan admired Cho’s ability to smoothly interject and steer conversations towards more productive paths when they became a tad awkward, “Right. So… ladies, we have a plan.” She nodded to Edgecombe, who immediately snatched up a roll of parchment from the table, unfurled it to reveal a map and magicked it against the wall. All of them looked at it with a bit of wonder – it was a map of the five nations, but like no map Susan had ever seen before. It was a massive, powerfully enchanted piece of parchment, and the map lit up when Cho pointed her wand at it. Thousands of cities seemed to project outward, and geographical features, like mountains and rivers, seemed real, if tiny, as they heaved out from the surface of the parchment. It was almost like they were looking at the world as they knew of it, but from thousands of leagues in the endless sky overhead.

“That… is magnificent,” Delacour exclaimed, astonished.

“It’s something I’ve seen before,” Cho said, “In the Central Library in Ulaanbaatar. Apparently, these were all the rage a hundred years ago, though rare outside of Tybgych, and were developed by the Khan for some invasion ages ago.”

“Is it a family artefact?” Susan asked.

Cho shook her head. “We found it on the ship,” she said, “It was among the many, many things we found in the Captain’s Cabin… which makes me quite curious as to who actually commanded this ship.”

The ladies looked at each other, then looked back at the map. Cho tapped the island of Coille, which was practically at the centre of the map, and a glowing red “X” formed right on the island. Susan couldn’t quite tell if Cho had configured the map so as to have Coille at the centre, or if the map was made that way.

“Obviously, we started from here,” Cho said. She trailed her wand along the Jormungand, and a golden line uncoiled southward from Coille along the blue waters of the Serpent Sea until her wand stopped at another little island between North and South Daryan. The letters “Cyprium” and another glowing red “X” hovered above the map.

“That’s our next stop,” Cho said, “The isle of Cyprium, between the two halves of Daryan. Marietta and I have sailed there before… so we know the place.”

“Is it a… safe place?” Granger asked, her voice quivering.

Cho smiled. “Cyprium is as safe as it gets,” she said kindly, “At least in terms of the human element. There just aren’t many people around. They say it was a great city once, but repeated skirmishes from the Great War whittled its population down over the ages. Now, it’s just a hardy little fishing village.”

Granger nodded mutely. Susan could recall a tale or two from the Second Age that often referred to Cyprium as a fantastic town that was a melting pot of cultures and a highly important port to boot.

“Then we go down,” Cho said, trailing a golden line down, along the edge of South Daryan until it went in nearly the opposite direction, towards the nation of Tybgych. Soon enough, an “X” was hovering over the island of Pulau Ujong.

“Wait,” Delacour said, rubbing at her chin and glaring at the map, “Isn’t that a pirate hive?”

Cho smiled, and Susan had to concur. “It used to be,” she said, “But it’s quite the bustling port these days, especially for Tybgych. Again, do not mistake this for some Free City; this is owned by The Khan, and is probably bustling with Tybgychi purebloods who’re sailing north to war with our dear old Dread Queen.”

“And that wouldn’t be a problem for us?” Delacour asked lightly.

“The Great War is forever,” Susan said with a chuckle, “But Tybgychi merchants never say no to Lothien’s coin. We’ll be fine. I’ve been there so many times before, and not a single hair on the joint Potter-Bones family was harmed. And my father’s a bloody Warlock.”

Delacour stared at Susan for a few seconds, unnerving her ever so slightly, but the part-veela nodded tightly and Susan relaxed.

Cho cleared her throat and continued trailing her golden light back towards the cape at the bottom of South Daryan, to a little island just north of Yfran – Susan had no idea what the island was called, but the map helpfully supplied its name with a glowing red “X”. The island was called Madagasikara.

“Have any of you been here before?” the Captain asked.

Both Susan and Delacour shook their heads.

Cho rubbed at her chin. “I’ve been there,” she said, “About five years ago. It’s not a very popular stop for most tourists, but merchants typically stay here for a bit to restock their stores and make repairs. It’s another sparsely populated island. There’s an inn, and a little store where Yfrani merchants sell their wares and goods, but little else.”

The Captain took a deep breath and continued, “To be honest with all of you, that’s my outer limit, I’m afraid. The furthest I’ve ever been to the West. Sure, one hears things, and knows things... but Yndu is practically an unknown nation to most people in Lothien… most of our merchants never even bother going beyond Yfran. I’m just hoping we’ll pick up enough tidbits along the way to actually make our way into Yndu.”

“Do you know where we’re going… eventually?” Edgecombe interjected, looking towards Granger and Delacour, “I mean… Yndu is a huge nation. From what I’ve read and heard of it, you have the tropical islands closest to Yfran, and a mountain range at the far end that’s so vast and large that it’s impossible to cross. Those who cross it fall off the edge of the world, never to be seen again. And in between there are plains, deserts and great big stormwalls. So… where are we hoping to land when we actually get to Yndu?”

Susan had to fight her smile as Delacour glared at Edgecombe. “I shall tell you when we reach Yndu,” she said coldly, “And no sooner.”

Cho looked bewildered and Edgecombe huffed, but seemed to let Delacour’s comments fly over her with a shrug.

“Well,” Cho interjected, giving Delacour a sharp look, “Marietta’s asking because the closer we get to the eastern edge of Yfran, the more hostile it gets. Pirate hives, vampire covens, dementor caves… there’s a reason neither Tybgychi nor Lothien merchants never venture beyond Yfran, and a reason why we see so few merchants from Yndu in Lothien.

“The last time I landed in Madagasikara, we met a Daryani merchant who was famous for making the voyage to Yndu twice. Twice. From Daryan. Proof enough that it’s dangerous.”

“Men boast about a lot of things, and not all of them… impressive,” Delacour said, giving Harry an icy look for some strange reason. Susan couldn’t think of anyone who was less likely to boast than Harry.  “And… did this Daryani merchant not tell you how to get to Yndu?”

Cho gave Delacour a very composed smile, which Susan had to marvel at. “He did,” she said, “He said that from Madagasikara, it would take ten or so days until we get to a pirate hub called Omega. From there, Yndu isn’t too far away. In any case, I do not believe it will be a very pleasant voyage beyond Madagasikara.”

Delacour shrugged. “We’ll see when we get there,” she said, with a toss of her shimmering hair. She nodded to herself, then turned back towards the table, pulled her yoghurt towards herself and started eating again.

Susan had to laugh at that.

***

Hermione put her book down and watched warily as Fleur slammed the door open and entered Hermione’s cabin with that familiar troubled look on her face.

“Fleur…” Hermione started quickly, but the part-veela cut her off.

“I’ve had enough,” Fleur said, as she smoothed her robes furiously and perched herself down on Hermione’s bed, “Hermione, we’ve ignored my visions multiple times before. Multiple times, and each time we ignore one vision, the next one gets more… intense. Compelling. I cannot keep ignoring them. I just… cannot.”

Hermione trembled and shook her head frantically.

“Fleur, we followed one of those visions before,” she said hesitantly, “And it’s… it’s led us… here. Away from home. Don’t you… do you not see how these could just be…”

“Dreams?” Fleur practically snarled, “Oh please. It’s not like I’ve never dreamt before, Hermione. I’ve had dreams… and these are nothing like dreams. Dreams are vague, blurry, and you barely recall a thing after they pass. These are… intense. Detailed. Defined. I… I do not believe I should ignore them.”

“Fleur,” Hermione tried again, “We’re still in a position to ignore these dreams and go back to…”

“Enough,” Fleur said, whipping her hair around and silencing Hermione with a glare, “I’ve enough of this nonsense. From now on, we’re calling them what they are – visions. And my vision was clear – I’m not ignoring it again. Even for you.”

Hermione recoiled, a bit stung. “What…” Hermione asked hesitantly, “What… did you see?”

Fleur closed her eyes and massaged her head with slender fingers, “I saw… I saw you.”

“Me?” Hermione asked, a bit surprised.

“You,” Fleur repeated, “The Aviary was perched upon a shore. A shore with three tall spires that seemed to reach so far into the sky that you could not make out the ends of them.”

Dakhmas,” Hermione murmured, “Towers of silence. Quite common in Daryan, from what I’ve read.”

Fleur shrugged. “Perhaps,” she said, “And after we had landed, you… you were wandering amid a few strange ruins. Ancient ruins. You… were asking for… for something, but I could not hear you. It kept showing me a cellar, then the Argonaut itself, then you.”

“Cellar…?” Hermione wondered, “The Aviary doesn’t quite have a cellar. Perhaps a storage compartment? The one that Harry accesses for… the meals?”

Fleur frowned. “You… were asking for something, and then… it was so vivid... and then a black mist swept over you.”

Hermione whimpered.

“It left you unharmed,” Fleur said, waving her palm in a carefree manner, “But once it had passed, you looked… different. It felt like you were different. That something about you had been… altered.”

“I’m not so sure that’s a good thing,” Hermione ventured.

“You don’t believe these are real anyway,” Fleur harrumphed, “So what does it matter?”

“My lady,” Hermione pleaded, making her voice as plaintive as she could, “We’ve… we’re… already on one wild, elusive chase. I’m… I’m not even sure what I… what we… have to do now.”

Fleur crossed her arms and glared. “Clearly,” she said haughtily, “You have to go around asking for something.”

Hermione would have palmed her face if she could. “For… something?” she clarified.

Fleur twirled a strand of gleaming hair on the index finger of her right hand. “Is the Aviary… are we… our stocks… running low?”

Hermione shrugged. “Harry did tell me that… er… we were short on yoghurt,” she said.

Fleur brightened at once. “Then that’s it!” she said, “You have to go around asking for yoghurt!”

Hermione stared at her.

Fleur clapped and jumped in place. “Of course!” she said, “It just… feels right! You have to go around asking for yoghurt!”

Hermione just kept staring.

***

Harry rubbed at the little strip of metal that guarded the cellar on the sub-deck with a fair bit of caution – it was best not to cast cleaning charms at enchanted material with intricate runes; such strips required a more hands-on approach to cleaning. So Harry wiped his brow and swiped at the metal again. And from the corner of his vision, he also kept an eye on Susan and Chang whispering away at the far end. He had noticed Susan point towards him once or twice, and that never boded well.

Finally, he finished cleaning out the strip, and vanished his conjured cloth. He stood up and stretched, only to stop abruptly as he noticed both Susan and Chang stare at his midriff. He flushed and quickly adjusted his garments so that his tunic covered his abdomen. Susan pouted, while Chang looked amused as she strode towards him.

“Susan tells me you duel?” Chang asked him at once.

Harry stared. “He does,” Susan said firmly from the sidelines, “My father… well… he made this one duel him all the time. And Harry was good… like, really good.”

Harry stared back at the spot he had been rubbing at, and continued to grind away.

“Listen well and listen good, boy – you’re a right little bastard, in more ways than one, but you have my blood running through your veins. The blood of a thousand Potter warriors. Warlocks, all of them. Forged and tested by war. Even a drop of my blood instills a warrior’s instinct. I will not see our name sullied by a Potter bastard who cannot hold his own in a fight,” the Warlock James Potter had once told him.

“Susan thinks highly of you,” Chang said.

James Potter got up from the ground and panted as he wiped away the trickle of blood from his lips. Harry gaped at him with his wand by his side. “Good one, bastard,” James said, “Well played. I’ll be sure to tell your mother about this tonight .

Harry’s fist closed and tightened, but he showed no expression to Chang. “I… I was taught by Lord Potter,” he said, and managed to keep his teeth unclenched with great effort, though he noticed Susan smirking – she seemed to know his tells at this point. “He… coached me,” Harry said.

“Then you must be truly fearsome,” Chang said, still sporting a serene smile, “Lord Potter has quite the reputation, especially in his role as a general in the Dread Queen’s armies.”

Harry shrugged. He tried to return back to his work, but Chang continued, “My own father is a Lord, of course, but he’s always sought a peerage from the Earl of Wessex. He’s never gone after the rank of a Warlock though – I believe he’d prefer to be a Baron, or perhaps a Viscount in the Archmagus’ administration.”

Harry admired Chang’s candid talk of her father’s quest for a peerage, but he merely shrugged again.

“My point being,” Chang said, “A warlock is a fearsome peerage. A military leader trusted by The Dread Queen herself. Warlock Potter has a reputation among other warlocks – he must be an amazing dueler.”

“When he has to be, yeah,” Susan interjected from the side, “But I’m not the best judge, of course.”

Harry continued to grind away at cleaning, though his heart sank when Chang said, “Care to go a round?”

***

“Ooh, and now he’s done for,” Edgecombe crowed from the sidelines – she had been bustling around in the forecastle, engaged in some task or another, but had obviously been listening in. “I’ve never seen anyone beat Cho in a stand-up duel.”

“I don’t think Harry ever does a stand-up duel,” Susan said brightly, “And that’s why I think he might surprise you.”

“Indeed?” Chang said, and her eyes gleamed.

“Care to bet on the outcome?” Susan asked, looking right at Edgecombe.

Edgecombe looked uneasy. “I... er... don’t have a lot of money...”

“Money is boring,” Susan said with a smile, “I’d rather make it exciting. If Harry wins this one decisively, you’ll... well... help me upgrade the runic engine once we hit Pulau Ujong.”

Edgecombe laughed. And then, Susan almost regretted her decision as the curly-haired blonde got a dangerous glint in her eye. “And if he doesn’t,” she said, “I get one of your... well... possessions for an entire day.”

Susan raised her brow. “Want to play with an heiress’ hair comb, do we?” she asked.

Edgecombe chuckled but still looked at Susan with that dangerous glint. “Any one of your possessions,” she repeated.

Susan was actually beginning to like Marietta. “Done,” she said, and shook the woman’s hand. They both then turned to look at a very determined Cho trying to persuade a very reluctant Harry into a duel.

***

“I’d rather not,” Harry was saying, backing away ever so slowly, and holding up his cleaning cloth as if it were a flag of surrender, “I’m really not very good at this. I’ve never really… dueled before.”

“You just told me your Lord Potter coached you in dueling,” Chang said, raising an elegant brow.

“Not dueling,” Harry croaked, “They were more like… lessons.”

“Very punishing lessons for an eleven-year-old,” Susan said lightly, “And oh so much fun to watch Harry yelp all over the place as my father made him dance.”

Chang looked incredulously at Susan. “The Warlock dueled an eleven year old?” she asked.

“Nah,” Susan said, waving her wand and perching herself down on Harry’s rolled up bedding, “Like the man said, they were… lessons.”

“Now I am truly curious,” Chang said. She looked to Harry skeptically, who cringed. “Well then,” she said, drawing her wand, the tip of which was glowing in anticipation, “Let’s get to the dancing, shall we?”

Harry was actually surprised by the speed of Chang’s casting. Flashes of light cycled out of her wand before he could even blink, but his reflexes had kicked in by force of habit. He was already sprinting to the side and her spells passed him by a hair. His wand was out and Chang yelped as he actually summoned her towards him. She managed to hold her ground, but it cost her a moment, which Harry exploited to conjure a white flash right in front of her. Chang cast blindly at him, blinking to clear the spots that he was sure were all over her vision, but her spell was off by inches, so he disillusioned himself and fled to the top deck.

The last sounds he heard were of Marietta cackling like a maniac while Chang and strangely... Susan... cursed like sailors.

***

Susan pouted as she trudged through the dense grove at the edge of her estate. She didn’t know why her father did not include her in his training sessions with her half-brother – who, after all, was a mere bastard – and she hated it when people had fun without her.

She cleared a massive oak and stared.

At the centre of the grove was a clearing. And at the centre of the clearing stood her father like she had never seen before. He was… imposing, with bloodshot eyes. He was clearly deep in the throes of a firewhisky-infused bout of violence.

And issuing forth from his wand were flashes of lightning that scorched the ground when they landed. And dancing between the flames of lightning was a little crying boy, trying so hard to avoid her father’s disgust.

“You are just a bastard,” her father snarled, his spellcasting growing wilder and wilder. The boy was casting wildly at everything around him. Tears of pain and fear streamed down the boy’s cheeks, and logs, twigs, leaves zoomed into the way of whatever her father was sending at him.

“You’re my bastard!” her father roared, “You need to earn that drop of blood I put in you! Do you hear me? Do you hear me, boy?” He cast another stream of lightning – Harry was too late with his leap, and he yelped as his forearm was scorched.

“EARN YOUR LEGACY, BOY!” her father roared.

Susan shut her eyes, retreated and vowed to never talk about this to anyone ever again. That… definitely did not look like fun.

***

Susan looked on, one part amused and one part annoyed, as a very confused Granger listened to Marietta’s narration of the duel on the main deck. They had all followed Cho out, only to discover that Harry had dropped his wand and was on his knees, begging the great Lady Chang to forgive him. Marietta had squealed with laughter, while a very quizzical Cho had tried to mollify Harry and continue the duel. Then Harry had refused to pick up his wand – he had looked so apologetic and startled that Cho had eventually taken pity on him and let him continue his routine maintenance on the runes atop the main deck.

Then, Granger had stepped outside the First Mate’s Room, and a laughing Marietta had proceeded to regale the bushy-haired lady-in-waiting of the whole ruckus.

“Er… who won the duel then?” Granger whispered to Marietta, who promptly resumed her chuckling, while Cho grumbled.

“He hadn’t disarmed me!” Cho exclaimed, much to Susan’s amusement, “He didn’t win!”

“I think that pretty much explains it,” Susan said, looking pointedly at Marietta, “She lost.”

“I did not…” Cho started indignantly, but Marietta cut her off. “Much as I’d like to defend your honour,” she said, “He had you right against the edge there.”

Marietta looked pointedly at Susan. “He didn’t quite win though... not decisively, anyway. He had the opportunity to finish, but he just took off like a bowtruckle that’s seen a horny hag and that was the end of that.

“Marietta!” Granger said indignantly, “That is… that’s scandalous! Although… although… why would a bowtruckle…?”

“What do you think a horny hag would use a bowtruckle for, Granger?” Susan asked, waggling her eyebrows, “Bowtruckles are long, stiff and particularly well suited to… well…” She made a motion with her middle and ring finger and Hermione flushed.

“I don’t even,” the bushy-haired girl said, shaking her head, “I… why I never!” Susan, Cho and Edgecombe laughed.

“Seriously though,” Cho said thoughtfully, “He did… take me by surprise – it won’t happen again.

“And… he’s… not like the other guys our age that I’ve fought before. I won’t claim to be the best dueller out there, but I am pretty damn good. I held my own in the Hogwarts dueling championships for two years in a row…”

“As I’m sure we all remember,” Susan said, frowning. She gave Cho a once-over – Cho had been quite popular at Hogwarts… but only partly due to her dueling skills. While the other top dueling specialists weren’t exactly bad looking – purebloods one and all with the occasional gifted lowborn in between - Cho was quite possibly the best-looking dueler out on the Hogwarts circuit. Dapper and neat in a ponytail, or free-flowing with her jet black hair streaming in rich waves behind her, Cho always looked ravishing. Her dueling robes were always impeccably tailored, flowing and accentuating her incredibly tight and wiry physique. And while she didn’t sport… assets the size of Susan’s own, hers were more than a mere handful. And her ass was probably incredibly tight from all those exercises to maintain her dueling physique. Her heart-shaped Tybgychi features were the cherry on top, delicate and incredibly attractive, perhaps more so than Susan’s own more rounded face.

Susan glanced upward, towards the main deck where Harry had fled, and wondered for a moment. She smirked ever so slightly - Harry would never come out and say it, but she knew him. He’d find Cho attractive, of course – any red-blooded man would – but women needed to be built like her to truly awe him into submission. Voluptuous was his rearl type. Also, buxom was, in fact, the only type that deserved a cock that magnificent. That said, watching him and Cho work each other over would probably be a lot of fun too. Especially considering what she knew about Cho.

“It’s just…” Cho said, “He’s… frantic. His footwork is incredible. He was weaving out of the way of my spells before I’d even cast them, and then… then… he actually cast an Accio. At me! Who even does that?”

“He’s… unconventional,” Susan said, snickering, “He had to be, considering… well… his training.”

“From your father?” Cho said, “Pretty unusual for a warlock to take so much interest in a… er… charge, but kudos to him, I suppose.”

Susan winced internally. “Yeah,” she said drily, though she supposed the sarcasm would go unnoticed, “Kudos to him.”

“Well,” Cho said, shaking her head, “In any case, that duel was far from over.”

“Mm hmm,” Marietta murmured from the side.

“He still wouldn’t have… y’know, disarmed me easily,” Cho said stiffly, and even Granger giggled a little.

“Mm hmm,” Marietta murmured again.

Cho and Susan turned towards the blonde, and then saw that she wasn’t even looking in Cho’s direction. They followed her line of sight. Susan smirked, and Cho seemed to freeze. They were all looking at a squatting Harry, who seemed to be searching for something he had dropped on the deck. He was bent over, and his robes, which were too small for him anyway, had stretched tight around his buttocks.

Susan felt her nipples stiffen as she beheld his incredibly taught backside, and could practically see Marietta undressing him with her eyes.

“Mm hmm,” Marietta said again, though it came out more as a moan than an affirmation.

“Why I never!” Granger breathed, and that elicited a chuckle from all of them, though Susan did not miss the pointed glance between Cho and Marietta. 

Susan had an epiphany and wondered if that bet had been a bad idea from the start.

***

It was when the dark spires of Cyprium emerged from the receding evening mist that Harry was struck by the fact that he had travelled much, much further than anticipated from home. He realised, with terrific clarity, that he was now truly out of reach of the long hand of the Dread Queen. There was now no need to avoid recruiting stations, no threat of a pureblood spotting him and flagging him off to the authorities. Jitters exploded through his belly like doxies from a rotten hole and his muscles quivered in anxiety and anticipation.

The niggling sense of unease was still present though - he did not know the Daryani common tongue, nor did he know of Daryani customs, and here he was, about to disembark onto Daryani shores. He had barely heard tell of Cyprium before – he knew what they had taught him at Hogwarts of general geography. He remembered how Daryan was said to be littered with tall, black spires that seemed to reach up beyond the clouds – the dakhmas, which fed corpses to the famed Rocs that found a home among tall, rugged peaks. He had heard of Ma’at the Just – an Archmage who ruled the entire nation with an iron fist. A nation where retribution for even the mildest of crimes came with swift and terrible justice – dismembered hands for stealing, a guillotine for murder, and torture… or worse… for other heinous crimes. He had heard of the massive desert that sprawled across the entire southern part of Daryan. A harsh and terrible land that bred nomads and the dreaded jinns - ultimate predators that could change shape and size and were terrible to behold.

And now, he beheld the first outpost of the great nation of Daryan - three tall dakhmas that reached high above the mist and grasped at the multi-hued heavens. And beyond the tall spires that seemed to be located on submerged land, was the actual port of Cyprium… which was anticlimactically, far less impressive. The wooden and stone docks were familiar enough, but beyond the bare docks, where two fishing boats seemed to be anchored, floating lazily on gentle waves, there was practically nothing. No stalls, no screaming fishwives, no bustling harbor. Just a long, bare stretch of sand and grass and weeds that eventually grew into a scraggly forest in the distance, perched over rolling hills. Near the hills, he could make out gleaming ivory ruins – perhaps of some ancient monument - but there was little else to see. There were one or two homesteads on the island, unlike anything he had seen on Lothien. Where Lothien sported cottages and lush backyards, Daryani homesteads, at least on Cyprium, seemed to sport only tents, which Harry guessed were bigger on the inside than they appeared on the outside. Apart from the imposing black spires that had greeted them upfront, Cyprium seemed to be a bare little isle, with a few hardy people scattered across its shores.

“This is Daryan?” he heard Delacour mutter disgustedly to Granger, “This is worse than Coille. This is worse than anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“It’s just a pitstop,” Chang said, emerging onto the deck with Edgecombe, “There’s no real re-stocking that most of us do here. It’s just a place to get off and stretch our legs – it’s scenic enough.”

Harry supposed it was scenic enough, particularly at this time; the sunset played violent and orange shadows atop the gentle rolling waves, and the sea itself seemed to be afire. The tents cast deep shadows upon the grounds, and in the distance, the receding mist trawled across the rolling hills.

“No… re-stocking?” he heard Granger ask tentatively, “Er… do you think we’d get… yoghurt? Or… er… milk?”

He heard Edgecombe chuckle softly, but Harry didn’t quite think this was laughing matter. Delacour had been incredibly irritable the last few days at breakfast without her usual flavoured yoghurt, and had complained endlessly about Harry’s lack of foresight as the designated chef on the vessel.

“I’m sure you can get some… er… milk, at the very least, from the folks over there,” Chang said, pointing to the sparse tents in the distance, “There are only a few families that actually live on this island throughout the year, but I’ve seen them herding aurochs during a few of our stops here.”

“Well,” Delacour said, “I suppose Hermione can go get some then.”

“Not alone,” Chang said immediately, “Harry, you’ll accompany her.” Delacour glared at her, but Chang shrugged it off.

Harry stared at the tents – he had never really been good with other people before, but he didn’t think they’d know the Common Tongue of Lothien, and he didn’t know a single Daryani dialect.

“So that’s settled then,” Chang said, watching the docks carefully, “Right, let’s drop anchor over here.” Chang then tapped a little bronze plate on the railing next to her with her wand. The plate glowed red for a moment, then green. Harry immediately heard the runic engine rev down, indicating that Susan was slowing the Aviary. The Argonaut came to a stop a few meters from one of the mooring slots – Harry heard a splash and a slight jerk reverberated through the main deck; he assumed that Edgecombe had dropped anchor along the aft of the vessel. Chang immediately tapped the bronze plate again – this time, it glowed blue - and a ramp extended outward from the portside to the walkway along the docks.

“Alright,” Chang said, “Fleur, try not to stray too far from here. The locals aren’t really harmful, but they aren’t the real danger here.”

As if to underscore Chang’s statement, an ear-piercing screech echoed down from the heavens. They all looked up instinctively, and Harry gasped as he saw a massive winged shadow flit across the fiery purple clouds.

“Dragons?” Granger asked, her voice quivering in fear.

“Not quite,” Chang said, “Rocs. They feed from the Towers of Silence.” Chang pointed to the massive, black towers that were now behind them.

“Like I said,” Chang continued, “People aren’t the real threat here. I’ve never ventured far from the docks myself, and I’ve been safe. So keep to that wisdom… all of you, and you’ll be alright. Harry, Hermione… head straight for one of the tents, ask, and come straight back, alright? Don’t dally about. We set sail at dawn, and I’m not mounting a rescue party for you two.”

Fleur scoffed and nudged Hermione, who nodded meekly. She came up to Harry, nodded at him tentatively, and they both disembarked.

***

Harry scratched his head as Granger and the Daryani man seemed to haggle back and forth. The words and syllables sounded harsh and uvularised to his untrained ears, but perhaps it was just his lack of awareness of other languages and cultures. Perhaps to the people of Daryan, the Common Tongue of Lothien would sound savage and barbaric.

What concerned him though was that Granger looked more frazzled with every passing word. And there seemed to be no exchange of… anything, which meant that milk – aurochs or otherwise – was not forthcoming.

Eventually, the man shook his head, said something and jerked a thumb at the ruins a league away. Granger folded her hands, looking like a lost kitten, but the man seemed unmoved. He shook his head again, waved at them and disappeared behind the flap of his tent. The sun had now set, and the main sources of light were the fires that burned near the entrance of the man’s tent. Behind them, Harry could see tiny balls of fire floating above the docks near The Aviary – lit most likely by Chang.

“He doesn’t have it,” Granger said at last, “He says he barely has enough to feed his kids. The aurochs that graze here apparently don’t belong to him – they all buy it from a… jinn… who lives in the ruins.”

“A… jinn?” Harry asked, “Like… a shape-shifting desert monster?”

“That is a popular depiction,” Granger admitted, “But… from what I’ve read, they’re more like intelligent boggarts.”

“Yeah,” Harry said flatly, “I’m not sure I’d want boggarts to be intelligent.”

“He said all five of the families that live here buy from the jinn,” Granger said, looking at the ruins with a worried expression.

“An intelligent boggart,” Harry muttered to himself again, “Fantastic.”

Jinns are classified as beings, according to the Monster Book of Monsters,” Granger supplied, “They don’t really take on scary forms to defend themselves. Shape-shifting seems to be... well... an aspect of their very being. And they’re perfectly capable of carrying out negotiations and conversations.”

“Right,” Harry said. He wasn’t quite reassured – he remembered the folk tales his mother used to read to him back when he was a little boy. Ancient tales of jinn who would transform into fearsome monsters and rend your very soul from your body. “Didn’t the Captain ask us to come straight back?” he asked pointedly. The night was far too quiet for his liking and the air too still for him to be too comfortable. Beyond the fires he could see nothing but darkness. He could make out the shape of the ruins in the distance, though he could not, for the life of him, say whyhe could make out the shapes. Even the rolling hills he had seen in the distance during sunset were now practically invisible against the cloudy night sky. Patches of stars were visible through the clouds, but they should not have been enough to illuminate the ruins. The air carried the sound of distant waves, and muffled conversation from the inside of the nearest tent, but little else. No twittering of birds, no chirping of crickets, not even the sound of the wind blowing through leaves. And if there was an aurochs herd nearby, he could not hear them either. No snorts, no hooves thudding across the ground, no bellows. “We can always ask the Captain and go in the morning when the sun’s up,” he supplied hopefully.

“You heard her,” Granger said in an anxious voice, and Harry could see her brows furrow in the quivering light of the fires, “We’ll set sail in the morning, and I have a feeling that Captain Cho would not be willing to be wait for my lady.”

Yeah , Harry thought, Because your lady is annoying as all get out.

“Besides,” Granger said, though Harry could practically hear her voice bleed uncertainty, “I know Daryani, and I’m sure jinns are no different from a goblin or a centaur or any non-human being. Intelligent beings are less likely to be cruel or menacing if they don’t need to be.”

Harry almost asked her if she didn’t think Greyback was an “intelligent being”, but stopped himself. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea to take on this jinn,” he said, “We should head back and ask the Captain.”

Hermione looked at the Aviary in the distance and winced. “I don’t know…” she said uncertainly, “Lady Fleur will be annoyed if we return empty-handed. And I don’t want to start an argument between the Captain and my lady.”

Harry had no idea what to say. He shrugged helplessly, and to his dismay, Hermione nodded in the direction of the ruins. She held up her wand and conjured a ball of bluebell flames, which lit up the surrounding area in an eerie blue glow, and did not help Harry’s nerves at all. “Shall we?” she asked, waving him ahead with a shaky hand.

Harry took a deep breath and forged ahead, kicking himself in his head with every step.

***

There were still no sounds of aurochs, and Harry had grown up practically herding the aurochs on the Potter-Bones estates whenever the Baroness commanded him to do so, which was often. He didn’t really remember those times fondly – Susan took great pleasure in lounging about somewhere by the paddocks with omnioculars and watching him go back and forth trying to control the aurochs herd, which varied between two to three thousand heads of cattle – along with three centaurs who worked for the Bones estate as well as three of the smallfolk, who avoided Harry like the plague.

The air was so still that Harry was sure Granger could hear his heart thudding with anxiety. The girl herself let out tiny whimpers every once in a while when she tripped over something, despite her blue fire. Harry himself much preferred his lumos, and he supposed he was more used to walking in the dark, given the amount of time he spent outside his cottage at night when a certain warlock saw fit to visit his mother.

The ruins were very visible, in spite of the fact that the ground ahead of them was practically shrouded in darkness, and Harry still could not tell how they were so… illuminated. There practically seemed to be no light source, and yet, the ruins did not glow. As they got closer, Harry could make out broken pillars, crumbling walls, and a lot of rubble, pockmarked with runes that had long since lost their magic… save, perhaps, for that unearthly faint light.

And a few steps later, they were inside the ruins – the uneven ground turned to an even, stony path that criss-crossed through the ruins of what must have been an ancient settlement.

“There!” Granger whispered to him, clutching at his arm. Harry looked in the direction that she had pointed, and sure enough, there were aurochs. Perhaps a dozen adults, and incredibly scraggly, with around six calves that he could count – they were arrayed right at the centre of the settlements where the rubble was sparse. And instead of a beast pen, the aurochs were encircled by a massive, glowing dome of magic – clearly, the source of illumination for the rest of the ruins.

“They’re huge,” Granger gasped, staring at the aurochs, “I never… realised.”

Harry raised his eyebrows at the girl. “You’ve never seen an aurochs before?” he asked, wondering how that was even possible.

Granger shrugged. “The Delacours are merchants,” she said defensively, in a low voice, “They don’t really have paddocks or a farm. I’ve seen illustrations and pictures… but I’ve never actually seen one before. Not like this.”

Harry could see how Granger would think these were huge creatures. Compared to the muscled, well-fed and shaggy North Lothien aurochs though, these appeared far smaller to Harry’s eyes. The North Lothien aurochs stood well over eight feet tall at the shoulder, with horns that were at least three feet in length, jutting out over a massive bovine head. The larger bulls on the Potter-Bones estates sometimes grew to a freakishly enormous size, at over twelve feet tall. Rounding off the herd, especially when it stampeded and made the earth shake - thanks in part to their enormous weight, as well as their innate magical ability to shake the very earth around them whenever they felt threatened - involved raising a magically stable platform for the herders that jutted out at least sixteen feet from the ground, as well as a series of well-coordinated flashy explosions that diverted cattle into a continuous circle until they eventually settled.

On the other hand, there only seemed to be a single male in this herd, which was spotted and less hairy compared to its North Lothien counterparts. It was hard to judge size when the bull was sitting down, but Harry estimated it to be perhaps six or seven feet at the shoulder. And the herd itself appeared to be slightly underfed – or perhaps this species appeared naturally skinny.

Either way, the magical bubble also seemed to mute any noises from the herd. And to Harry’s alarm, Granger already had her wand out and was beginning to cast a diagnostic charm on the bubble.

“Granger, no!” Harry half-whispered, half-screamed.

The bushy-haired girl jerked in alarm, but the damage was done – she had cast her diagnostic charm, and the bubble glowed orange for a moment, lighting up the entirety of the runes. And then, the rattling started – a deep bone-jarring clanging that seemed to chill the very blood in Harry’s veins. There was a slithering sound – Harry noticed Granger freeze entirely, like a cornered animal, and whimper. He spun around with his wand, tracking the sound. He noticed a massive… something… whip behind a nearby section of broken wall, but nothing emerged from the other end.

And then a couple of legs crawled outward from behind the same section of wall – large and hairy and jointed, like the limbs of a giant arachnid – but before his startled eyes, he noticed the limbs grow and change. Eyes sprouted atop them – eyes that were decidedly inhuman, but they morphed. From a thousand mosaic eyes, to a fish-like pupil nested inside a white eyeball, to a slit that looked a kneazle’s yellowed eye, to a startling blue human eyeball. Albeit ten times the size of a normal human eyeball, perched on the end of a stretched out arachnid leg.

And then the eyes and the legs shrunk and withdrew behind the wall. More clanging and slithering and hissing followed.

Granger continued to whimper, murmuring something to herself.

Harry backed away slowly, hoping to bounce into something solid at his back – he took two, three, four steps back, and to his relief, he backed away into a massive torn section of wall. He pointed his wand underneath his armpit and cast a quick unbreakable charm on the wall. Keeping his peripheral sight trained on the battlement where the… whatever… was hiding he quickly checked behind him to ensure that he had bumped into a stone wall and not… something else. Then he trained his eyes forward again.

“Hu…mans,” screeched an unearthly voice, and Granger actually screamed and fell to her knees. A bone-jarring creak followed. Harry felt his hairs stand on end, and he dimly registered that the… thing… spoke the Common Tongue of Lothien.

“And not from the lands of the great Ma’at. Or from my island,” said the voice, much smoother… but now low and menacing. Harry noticed Granger look frantically around her. She screamed as she spotted Harry and then ran towards him as fast as she could manage. In a moment, she was clutching his left arm so tightly that it was painful. Harry half-wished that she was still between him and the… thing.

“Why does the she-human panic?” the voice said, “This one is only a humble servant of the great Ma’at.”

Harry found his voice at last. “Who are we speaking to?” he asked.

Thick black branches of magic weaved themselves out from behind the ruins in front of them. Harry warily noticed that the dome of magic around the aurochs pen was still secure, and the aurochs were still deep in sleep – though he could not tell if it was natural or magically induced. He then looked between himself and the dread creature, and winced as he noticed that Granger had dropped her wand in panic a few feet away.

“My name?” said the coalescing branches, with an amusement that was blood-curdling in its tenor, “It… is not quite something humans can say with ease.” Granger squeaked – she was squeezing his left arm so tight that it was beginning to affect his blood circulation, and she had burrowed her face behind his left shoulder.

“You’re… the jinn, right?” Harry asked, thankful that this… creature spoke the tongue of Lothien, given that Granger was currently speaking only in whimpers, “Er… the Jinn they say who owns these aurochs?”

The branches had coalesced into a massive black mass of… something. The mass seemed to move down, as if nodding in asset to Harry’s statement. And then, the mass writhed, and seemed to form a large, humanoid looking shape that was so black that it appeared a blot against the night sky and the ruins themselves. And yet, the mass kept writhing, as if the black humanoid shape was constantly sprouting and destroying strange outgrowths from its horrific body.

Harry straightened his left arm so that he could wrench his way out of Granger’s grip and bolt away if the situation called for it – he had never been more creeped out in his life.

“Jinn,” the black mass said, and its voice now seemed to writhe out from its roving dark limbs, “Humans use such… appropriate terms. Yes, I suppose I am… the Jinn who owns these aurochs.”

“R… right…” Harry said, stammering uncontrollably, “We… er… were wondering if we could get some… milk.” He had never felt sillier and more petrified when asking for milk, of all things.

“You want aurochs milk?” the jinn asked, “My… aurochs milk?”

“Yes,” Harry said shortly, “If you would be so kind, milord.”

“Kind?” the jinn asked, and the voice seemed incredulous. Tentacles sprang out, then retreated back into the roving black humanoid. “No, I do not think I am inclined to be… kind. Is this how you bargain in Lothien, human?”

“We… have coins?” Harry said tentatively, though his shoulders drooped as he realised how ridiculous he sounded offering coins to a being that may have no need of them.

“Coins?” the jinn said, “No, human, I am not one of your traders. I require… more. I require… something else.”

And now, Harry was tensed and ready to bolt. He straightened his left arm completely, and his right hand vibrated with the force of magic that he was channeling into his wand – a shield spell was at the very top of his mind.

“And what… would you require?” Harry asked the jinn.

“Like all jinn,” it rasped, “Just… a quirk of fate.”

“A quirk of… fate?” Harry asked, still ready to bolt.

“A quirk of fate,” it repeated, and its phantom limbs twitched in what seemed to be amusement, “You’ve never bargained with a jinn before, have you?”

“Can’t say I have,” Harry said as lightly as he could manage, “I’m… I’m not sure what that means.”

The black humanoid mass leaned casually against a nearby wall. “I ask for luck,” it growled, as if frustrated.

A beat of silence followed. “Er…” Harry stammered, “Good… luck?”

And Harry felt immensely foolish as the monstrous jinn just stretched and contracted, as if it was annoyed with him and were taking a deep breath to calm itself.

“When the fisherfolk buy my… aurochs milk,” it said from its invisible maw, “They pay a price. A quirk of fate. Some… luck.”

Granger made a sound that was halfway between a whimper and a gasp.

Harry craned his neck to peer at her – she had buried her entire face behind his left shoulder. “What?” he asked, keeping one eye on the jinn at the other end.

“Felix felicis,” she whispered against his shoulder.

“The… good luck potion?” Harry asked, entirely confused.

“Clever human,” the jinn said, and his guttural voice seemed tinged with faint admiration, “Do you have this potion, human?”

Harry shook his head.

“Well,” it said, “In that case, I shall take your luck.”

“I’m… not sure what that entails,” Harry stammered.

Granger seemed to take a deep breath against him, exhale, and finally raised her head to peer at the jinn, though he could feel her palms tremble against his bicep.

“What… what happens to the fishfolk who… pay you with… a quirk of fate?” she asked faintly.

“I do not control fate,” the jinn replied, and Granger shivered at its speech being directed at her, “I merely sell for… a quirk.

“Sometimes, the fishfolk face a catch that is less than plentiful,” it continued, “Sometimes, they face storms at sea. And sometimes… they drown.”

Harry definitely was not up for drowning.

“If it pleases you,” he said, “I’m just going to go back without any milk.” He was fine with facing Delacour’s ridiculous temper as long as it kept him alive. If it was a choice between a prissy pureblood throwing a fit and giving up on future luck, he would rather face the prissy pureblood – he needed all the luck he could get.

And he could not help but marvel at the fact that he was facing a dangerous being simply because a pureblood could not bear to have her breakfast without some yoghurt for comfort.

“I…” Granger whimpered, then cleared her throat. Her grip was now unbearably tight on his arm, but she attempted to straighten her shoulders and said, in as clear a tone as she could manage, “You can have a quirk from me.”

The black mass seemed to rear and disperse, and then coalesced in a violent fashion as it surged forward. Harry slipped his arm out of Granger’s grasp and leapt sideways as the jinn barreled towards her. She shrieked and Harry could only watch in horrified fascination as the mass surged towards her, and then extended inky black tendrils towards her. Harry had a shield spell on his lips to protect himself, but the jinn made no move towards him.

Granger sniffled and trembled as she stood in place with her back against the ruined wall and her frightened visage illuminated by the pale light of magic emanating from the dome that enclosed the jinn’s cattle. The thick tendrils caressed her face, and slowly turned it up – Harry could see Granger’s knees trembling uncontrollably. And before he knew it, a tiny, sharp black sliver had crept towards her and touched her face. There was a small spark where it touched her, and the jinn seemed to heave a sigh of relief and yearning.

And then, almost as fast as they surged forward, the jinn’s tendrils collapsed back into the writhing black mass that hung behind them, and the jinn retreated. The sounds of the night returned and with a bright flash, an entire carton of milk appeared at Granger’s feet, who promptly fainted.