"Are you sure about this, Hermione?" Lady Hannah asked, arm hooked through hers and eyes wide as she stared up at the pub's plaque swinging slightly from a breeze off the water. It was worn, sea salt slowly eating away at the open-mouthed fish painted just below the moniker The Laughing Marlin, the words far too fancily written for such a seedy looking place.
And it irritated Hermione beyond measure that they had a bloody sea bass on the sign, but she just huffed and jerked Hannah forward. "Perfectly sure," she said briskly, then stepped inside the dim tavern before she could change her mind.
Conversation didn't exactly stop, but their presence was noted with a hitch of silence, a stutter that merely preceded a hefty amount of leers, slurs and a few rough barks of laughter before melting back into the encompassing din of several discussions being played out at once. Beady eyes were still focused on the novelty of two well-turned-out women gracing their midst, though, and Hermione assumed it was only her dour expression that kept the animals from lurching forward with grubby paws.
Hannah was practically plastered to her back, and Hermione clutched her skirts in an effort to avoid them touching any of the beasts as they made their way towards the bar. It was rank and humid inside, smoke mixing with hops and sticky liqueurs and Hermione wrinkled her nose, disdain evident in every movement of her body. The flash of her ankle as she dodged propriety and stepped over a pair of outstretched, booted feet, proved too much for one drunken sot, but he only managed to snake an arm around Hannah in his grab for Hermione, swinging the girl back against him with a hearty laugh and a barely comprehensible, "Lookee here, mates."
The petite blonde let out an alarmed squeal, and Hermione spun about, amber eyes lit with ire. "Unhand her, you lummox," she snapped, catching one of Hannah's hands to keep her close, smacking the flat of her clutch sharply across the sailor's meaty bicep.
A deep chuckle vibrated the air behind her, and she twisted and tilted her head up to glare at a tall, dark-haired man sporting what could only be described as a wickedly amused grin.
"Such language, Madam," he said half-mockingly.
She narrowed her eyes even more, mere slits expressing her intense displeasure. Her temper was hanging on ragged threads, and she wasn't known to be prudent in that respect in any case. The Honorable Hermione Granger did just as she bloody well pleased, no matter the repercussions, despite any efforts by her dear parents to keep her in line.
"Kindly mind your own business," she hissed, and Hannah squeaked a distressed, "Hermione," fingers clutching hers in a near death grip as the large, barrel-chested ape tried to drag her further away.
With a growl, Hermione hitched her skirts even higher - much to the delight of all present, if their cheers were any indication - and stepped forward with every intention of hurling herself in the bloke's path, but a firm hand came down on her shoulder, effectively pinning her in place.
"Perhaps I can be of assistance?" the same dark-haired man asked, then without waiting for Hermione's scathing retort about inappropriate touching - really, the nerve of these men - he gave Hannah's captor a loose, deceptively benevolent smile.
"Now, Mitchell, you do remember what happened the last time you manhandled something that wasn't yours, don't you?" The man's voice was a low rumble, and the tavern fell eerily silent as Mitchell gave him a half-confused, half-wrathful scowl.
"Piss off, Zabini," he slurred.
Hermione started and stared at the man with new eyes, a small flutter of apprehension in her belly. That was Zabini? Infamous first mate of The Tidy Squall? He was taller than she'd expected. And neater, honestly. Weren't pirates supposed to be, well... rough-edged and sordid? The man in front of her was nearly a gentleman, coat tailored perfectly along his broad shoulders, the white of his open-necked shirt crisp in the dirt-yellow light of the pub.
There was a flash of white-gold, and suddenly a man was striding up to stand beside Zabini, cruel gray eyes cutting from her to Hannah to Zabini again. "What the devil is going on, Blaise," he growled, color high on his sharply curved cheeks.
"Mitchell here was just about to let Miss...?" He gazed expectantly at Hannah.
"Abbott," she managed breathily, and Hermione thanked god she hadn't thought to toss out her title. Lord knew what would happen then, but ransoming wasn't necessarily unheard of.
Zabini's grin was surprisingly gentle. "Yes, Mitchell was just about to let Miss Abbott go about her business, weren't you Mitchell?"
The blond newcomer tilted his head haughtily and cracked his knuckles, and Mitchell released Hannah with an awkward stumble backwards, visible fear shading his eyes.
Hannah immediately tangled her arms about Hermione's waist, and the brunette could feel the tremors threatening to shake apart her body. She patted her friend's hands and gave her a reassuring smile, then turned her attention to the two men still watching them with blatant interest, Zabini's curiosity tinged with amusement, the blond's with palpable annoyance.
"Thank you," Hermione said, not ungraciously. Not particularly gracious, either, but her nerves were rattled, her temper simmering, and any fight she'd been spoiling for had been neatly eclipsed by the two slim sailors. Not that she held any illusions that she could've gotten Hannah back without their interference. Impulsive, she might be, but she wasn't stupid.
Zabini arched a brow. "At your service," he said sardonically, sketching a bow, and the blond curled his lip up in a sneer.
"You're too chivalric by half, Blaise. What in holy hell are we going to do with these two bints now?"
"Not your taste, eh Malfoy?" a voice taunted from back by the bar, and the blond man sent the heckler a rude gesture that left Hermione blushing.
Then she straightened up, ears pricked, and blinked at the man. Malfoy. Captain Draco Malfoy. How simple was that? Hermione almost smiled. "Captain Malfoy," she said, tone very nearly jovial, "exactly the man I was looking for."
He eyed her warily, and Zabini's brows peaked over his nose. "Really," Malfoy drawled.
"We have a proposition for you," she went on, taking a deep breath to fortify herself before plunging on. Both men were staring at her as if she'd grown another head. Honestly, she knew she wasn't the most conventional young lady, but she wasn't that odd. "We'd like to hire you and your crew to ferret out a missing person."
"Hire us to..." Zabini drifted off, shooting a conspiratorial look towards Malfoy, and Hermione got the distinct impression that he was laughing at her.
Although she really couldn't see why. They were pirates. They would, presumably, perform certain acts for money. Specifically, acts of piracy and various other fruitful ventures worthy of the high seas.
The tip of Zabini's tongue slicked his bottom lip, blue eyes dancing, and he asked, "Why us?"
"Actually, we know a man on your ship," Hannah piped in.
"Do you?" Malfoy asked blandly, one hand on a lean hip. Malfoy looked every inch a gentleman, same as Zabini, fine wool threading his coat and the breeches stretched tight around his lean thighs. And they both looked completely at ease in the rough and tumble seaside tavern, despite their aura of stature above the common man.
Hermione huffed. "An Ernest Macmillan." Youngest son of her mother's dearest friend. He didn't write often, but she'd received a letter just months before stating he'd signed on as a seaman aboard The Tidy Squall, the vessel of the notorious buccaneer Draco Malfoy, and that she wasn't to worry; he knew exactly what he was doing. He made an odd pirate, Hermione thought, as he'd always been a jolly boy, full of smiles and more energy then her father's prized wolfhounds.
The men shared an unreadable glance. "I'm afraid you were mistaken," Zabini said smoothly, and Hermione gave an impatient oath under her breath and snapped, "Does it matter?"
Malfoy's gray eyes were at once bored and banked with irritation, clearly nearing the end of his semi-polite veneer.
"Look," Hannah said, spine finally gaining the steel Hermione had seen so often when she dealt with her pompously overbearing stepfather, "we've a boy aboard the Clamoring Sea Hag, and we want him back."
"A boy," Zabini echoed slowly.
"My stable boy," Hannah clarified, and Hermione visibly winced.
Oh, that didn't sound peculiar at all, she thought with a mental roll of her eyes, then she sent Hannah a withering glare.
"Your..." Zabini looked as if he would've laughed if he hadn't been so obviously stunned by her admission. "You want us to retrieve your stable boy?"
Hermione bristled at the man's derisive tone. Ron was more than just a stable boy. He was a friend. Hannah's closest friend since childhood - barring Hermione, of course - and since Hermione's family estate rested directly down the road, lands touching, she'd grown up almost as familiar with the redheaded lad as Hannah.
Lady Hannah sniffed. "He hates the water. He can't swim. And he gets seasick." She sounded small and pitiful, and Hermione explained further, "He isn't recalcitrant. He was stolen."
Zabini opened his mouth, closed it again, cocked his head to the side and blinked at them, then opened his mouth once more, but Malfoy cut off whatever he was going to say with a single raised finger.
"Blaise," he said, "a moment."
Keeping one eye on the young ladies, Blaise stepped after Draco and watched as the blond captain blew out a puff of breath.
"They're insane, aren't they?"
"A pretty wrist gets you intrigued, Blaise. Doe eyes are your greatest weakness. We aren't doing it," he said with finality.
Blaise gave him a winning grin.
"You're an atrocious pirate," Draco complained. "I've never come across a worse pirate than you. You realize you wouldn't be anywhere without me, don't you?"
Blaise's grin widened.
"And if we do agree to do this, they," he jabbed a finger at the women, "are not to step foot on my ship. I'll not have--"
"You can't say anything about them being high-maintenance, Draco." His brows rose pointedly.
"Bugger it." Draco pressed two fingers to his forehead. If Blaise was a horrible pirate, Draco was just as bad a captain. Worse even, letting the cheeky bastard run rampant over him as well as the Squall. He was infinitely thankful he had such a loyal, well-paid crew, or his reputation as a cutthroat, ruthless scallywag would be in tatters. Blaise only had to bat his pretty black lashes and Draco'd roll over like a trained dog. It was beyond pathetic.
"You're going to be responsible for them," he said ominously, then stalked back over to the girls and snarled, "We'll leave within the hour. I hope you brought your bags with you, because you won't be going home first."
"Oh excellent, thank--wait, no. We're not going with you," Hermione started to protest.
"But you are," Zabini countered.
A curl fell across Zabini's right eye as he leant down close to her face, breath warm and slightly yeasty from ale. "Are," he whispered wickedly.
Hermione's jaw clenched, hands pressed huffily against her hips. "You can't dictate what we do or do not do."
"I beg to differ."
"That's kidnapping," she pointed out shrilly, wagging a finger under his nose.
Malfoy winced. "Pirates," he said dryly, then muttered under his breath, "bloody soft pirates. Flint would've had both our heads for this."
Ignoring his captain, Blaise lightly shackled the top of Hermione's arm with a hand. "Come along, now. No sense wasting your breath arguing. Rest assured you'll have fine accommodations aboard the Squall."
Hannah gave Hermione a panicky, wide-eyed look and hissed, "I told you this was a bad idea."
"No, you didn't," Hermione snapped back crisply, highly annoyed with the whole muddled mess, tugging ineffectually at Zabini's grasp as he herded them out of the tavern.
"Well, I meant to tell you." She latched onto Hermione's other arm, worrying her bottom lip.
Hermione slanted her a glower. "You're not helping, Hannah."
"What will we do? What about our parents? Your mother's going to scour the city and find nothing because you didn't want anyone to know where we were going, not even Lavender, and we tell Lavender everything, and now we're going to board a pirate ship and be ravished because not even your mum--" Viscountess Granger was a formidable, often awe-inspiring lady, "--would guess what you've gotten us into now. This trumps everything, even that time we were stuck at the bottom of MacDougal's well for nearly two days."
"We were five," Hermione grumbled. When Hannah was nervous, she rambled.
Blaise, who'd been half-listening to the women as he led them down the docks, quipped with amusement, "You were stuck in a well?"
"I was a precocious child," she murmured defensively.
Captain Malfoy snorted from behind them, and Hermione resisted the urge to turn her head and stick her tongue out at him. She was seventeen, a grown lady. And grown ladies didn't resort to childish gestures, no matter how satisfying they felt.
Forced into a small boat, the low wooden benches wet from sea spray, Hannah threaded her fingers together and stared out into the dark water. "Is she hidden then?" she babbled slightly. "You're not going to drown us, are you? What do you--?"
The Tidy Squall loomed ahead of them, a black hulk in the clear, starlit night, rolling on her moorings with the high tide. Hannah swallowed the rest of her running diatribe, mouth slacked open in wonder. She'd never been that close to a pirate ship before. Though she supposed it wasn't much different than her stepfather's schooner, sleek and sharp-bowed for speed. Except it had a bit of a sinister air surrounding it, a rumble of voices slurring Sweet Anna-Mae drifting down towards them as they rowed into its shadow.
With minimal prompting from Zabini, Hermione and Hannah made their way slowly up the rope ladder and onto the deck. A few scattering of lanterns were lit along the edge of the stern, and a loud whoop echoed over the wooden planks before Hermione's eyes properly adjusted to the light. Arms banded about her and lifted her clear off her feet, and she gave an unladylike yelp before recognizing the exuberant, "'Mione!"
Only one person ever used that horrid nickname from her childhood.
"Ernest, put me down," she said sternly, wriggling in his hold. "Have you lost all your manners?"
"Pirates don't have manners," he said happily, but dropped her back onto the deck after one last breathtaking squeeze, grinning beatifically down at her when she spun around to glare at him.
His smile was infectious, though, and she never could be angry with the boy. He was far too adorable, with his floppy blond hair and wide, dimple-edged mouth.
"I take it you know these ladies, Mac?" Malfoy drawled, climbing over the rail with Zabini not far behind.
"Know them? 'Mione and I were practically married at birth!" They honestly were, too, good faith betrothal and all. What a sticky situation that had turned out to be. Since they'd been thrown together often as playmates growing up, they had aged with a familial bond of near-siblings between them. Any sort of marital union would've felt nothing short of incest, and so Ernest had hied himself off to his grandfather's first love: the sea.
"Mac?" Hannah puzzled.
He pressed a finger to the side of his nose, then stage-whispered, "I'm sailing under a false name."
Zabini knocked a fist into his shoulder. "You're too good-natured to be a born pirate, Mac. You haven't a mean bone in your body."
"No need to," Ernest grinned. "Not with the captain around."
"Watch your mouth, boy, or you'll find yourself in the brig for a week," Malfoy growled.
"Aye, sir," Ernest replied smartly, smile still wide on his face.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "It's a wonder I have any reputation left at all with you fops spreading good cheer at every port," he muttered.
"Why are ye even here?" Ernest bounced his gaze between the women. "It can't be just to see me. Is it--" He cocked his head at Zabini. "We haven't taken to ransoming young ladies now, have we?"
"Your status is showing, Mac," Blaise chastened. The Squall's crew had been notably leery of Mac's highborn speech when he'd first signed on, and it'd taken considerable effort on the blond boy's part to fit in with the ruffians.
"Ron's been stolen," Hannah offered, mood buoyed by Ernest's presence.
It still sounded completely ridiculous, and Draco still thought the young ladies were walking the edge of irreparable insanity, but Mac seemed to understand exactly what was going on, nodding with a solemn air the boy hardly ever donned.
"How'd he manage that?" Ernest asked, scratching the back of his neck.
Hermione opened her mouth to reply when a gruff voice cut in, "Here now. What's all this?"
A blunt-tipped cane poked her in the side and she turned to glare at a short, wizened old man with misshapen eyes and a ratty-crowned hat drooping over his gray head. "Excuse me," she said stiffly.
"Women's bad luck on a ship," he said, poking her again. "Better toss 'em over."
Zabini chuckled. "You say, Moody? Well, then. S'pose Millie should go with 'em."
"Millie ain't girlfolk, boy," he groused, one eye steady and mean on Hermione, the other rattling lazily up towards the night sky. But he wandered off, gait hitching, a stream of grumbles running under his breath.
"Don't mind Mad-eye," Ernest said, and then Zabini gave him a pointed look.
"Shouldn't you be guarding the hold?" he asked.
Ernest shrugged. "Can guard it here just as well as below," Zabini's eyes narrowed to warning slits, "but I might as well bid ye g'night now. Mornin'?" He cocked his head at Hannah and Hermione, looking just as eagerly puppyish as he always had.
"I don't believe we have a choice in the matter," Hermione stated, slanting Zabini a sharp, accusing glare that he shrugged off unrepentantly. Bloody pirate.
True to Zabini's words, the accommodations for Hannah and Hermione were fine. Adequate, if not quite up to the standards they were used to.
Captain Malfoy was an oddly fastidious pirate, and even though the women weren't allowed on deck very often, and most definitely never without an escort - and even though Zabini had the most disarmingly smarmy grin when he put some thought behind it - it was easy to forget that they were even on a pirate ship. Until, of course, they met up with the Clamoring Sea Hag.
It took five days to reach the pirate isle of Los Muertos, and three more to catch up with the Hag, which was on a steady course towards the Bahamian tropics. Hermione clung to the narrow bunk as the ship rocked with canon blast, and Hannah was panting, back against the door, one hand gripping the handle and lock.
"This was such a bad idea," she groaned.
"This wasn't my idea," Hermione protested at the implication that the situation on board was her fault. "I couldn't have known--"
"Pirates," Hannah interrupted meaningfully.
"Well," Hermione would have slumped on the mattress if she didn't think she'd flop right off onto the floor, "yes."
Up on deck, Blaise stood at the railing and grinned viciously towards the smaller schooner just ahead of them.
"My ship'll be battered for a couple of wenches," Draco groused from beside him, cutlass unsheathed and angled to catch the high afternoon light.
"And the bounty," Blaise pointed out, then went on with relish, "and the fight."
"Ah, yes." There was something to be said about brutality after all. Draco had always been fond of spilling deserved blood. Pulling alongside the Hag, shouts and gunfire echoing around them, he lifted his sword, slicing a humorless grin at Blaise. "Ready?"
Blaise's answering smirk was almost as spare. "As ever."
In the ensuing fight to board the Hag, only Crabbe, the quartermaster, was seriously wounded, and Draco was in relatively good spirits when he had Captain Pucey - a disreputable seaman, even by piratical standards - at sword-point against the mainmast, tip of his cutlass just barely biting into the skin at the hollow of the man's throat.
Pucey spat onto the planks by Draco's boots, and the blond fought the urge to lean into the cut, widen it to a slit. "Pucey," he started with faux amiability, "you've a boy aboard."
"A boy?" Pucey growled.
"A boy. A stable lad you picked up in Torquay, aye?"
"Think," Draco's bicep flexed minutely, twitching the curved sword, "very carefully."
Pucey grit his teeth against the sting. "The brig. Whelp's more trouble than he's worth. I'll be glad to be--" He gargled his own blood as Draco sliced the cutlass across his skin, ear to ear, and then swiped the flat of the blade on the now dead man's breeches.
"You were a disgrace to piracy, anyway," Draco said conversationally, then glanced around at his men. They'd made their fair shares of messes, sweat and blood mixing with their normal, everyday grime, and they gave the captain sated smiles when he scanned the deck, eyes narrowed. Blaise was crouched over an injured Millie, but a slight shake of his head let Draco know she wasn't seriously hurt.
"Zabini," he ordered, "take the helm."
Without question, the rest of the men started heaving dead and dying bodies into the ocean, and Draco strode towards the hold, dropping down into the dark with his sword brandished and ears alert.
The whimpers and growls sounded much like a wounded and spitting-angry animal, and Draco snapped, "Boy?" as non-threateningly as he could. He thought he showed admirable restraint, since his first instinct was to demand whoever was down there to step forward into the small square of light shining down from the open hatch.
There was a scramble of something softly heavy on the wooden planks, and then utter, tense silence, broken only every few seconds by an uneven hitch of breath.
"Boy? Come on out now, you're safe." Draco rolled his eyes. The mere idea of anyone beyond his crew feeling safe in his presence - and even that was a stretch - was an affront to his ruthless reputation on the main. Quickly shooting a look towards the opening above him, he hoped to god no one was listening in on this drivel. "There's no need to hide, I assure you," he went on evenly, moving further into the hold, the deep shadows taking shape as his vision acclimated to the dusky darkness. "You'll only try my limited patience and goodwill."
Draco took an involuntary step backwards as a hulking figure rose in the dark, a flash of pale skin and a rattle-creak of metal before whoever it was folded back into blackness again. The captain let out an irritated huff of breath, then climbed halfway back up the ladder and snarled at Davies to find him a lantern. The stable boy was being annoyingly uncooperative.
Dim, golden light finally in hand, Draco could see that the hold was split in half, with two small, barred cells blocked off close to the hatch, the rest of the room stacked with crates of various sizes.
And blue, blue eyes were glaring at him, dirt-red fringe swept limply across a grimy forehead, ragged breeches baring pale, upraised knees as the boy - boy? Even curled into himself as he was the bloke was notably large, long-limbed and broad - pressed against the far corner of the brig.
Draco palmed his pistol, ignoring the pained wince on the boy's face, the visible flinch, and twirled it so the heavy handle met the cell's lock with a satisfying clang, the rusty metal giving way with relative ease. The door swung slowly outward with a grating rasp. "Ah, now, t'would put me in a far better mood if you'd forgo any struggle and followed me." He arched a brow at the boy, who pinched his lips together and hissed, "Pirate," in a low, parched voice.
"Yes, well. If you were hoping for a denial, boy, you shall be sorely disappointed. And if you were hoping to insult me," Draco's grin was sharp and toothy, "you'd be better off accusing me of mercy."
The blue eyes blinked, glazing over with what Draco recognized as a mixture of resignation and fear, and he slapped the flat of his cutlass along his thigh.
"All right, Captain?" Blaise called down at him. "We're keeping steady, but I'd rather get off this floating piece of trash before she sinks."
Draco tipped his head back and glowered up at Blaise's smiling face. "Have Goyle check the crates down here for anything valuable. I don't relish being aboard any longer than we have to be. The men itching for a fire, do you think?"
"Oh, aye." Blaise grinned wider.
"Right. You," he turned back to the redhead, still slumped dejectedly in the corner, "want to burn, do you?" He stalked into the cell and bent down to curl a tanned hand around his bicep, yanking the boy to his feet, eyes traveling up his chest, the deep v left open to the air from a torn brown shirt, lingering around his dirt streaked throat and the pinked curve just under his jaw. No matter his age, Draco concluded that he certainly wasn't a boy.
The situation might prove far more interesting than he'd previously thought.
"Do you hear anything?" Hannah asked, wringing her hands, pacing the small space in front of the door.
Hermione, sprawled out on the bunk, barely lifted her head to blink at her. "Hear what?" They'd been hearing gunfire and swearing and blasts and shouts for the better part of an hour. It was blessedly silent for once.
"Nothing. It's entirely too quiet, don't you think?"
Rolling onto her side, Hermione pushed her hair back off her face and sighed into the musty blankets covering the mattress. "I just hope they found Ron."
The smell of fire rising above mere expelled gunpowder caught Hermione's nose, and she straightened up, twitching with apprehension.
"What do you think of that?" Hannah demanded, eyes wide.
"I think we need to make our way topside," Hermione rejoined with a determined nod of her head.
A dark-haired, gangly youth with a wide mouth and three-fourths of his left leg missing was standing guard just outside their door. He'd introduced himself as "Boot, miss," six days prior, and hadn't yet left their side whenever they set foot out of their cabin. On orders, he'd assured them, from Mr. Zabini.
"Mr. Boot," Hermione said firmly, "can you say what's going on above?"
He straightened from his slouch against the wall, crude crutch jammed under his arm. "They be burnin' the Hag, miss."
"Ain't a trustworthy hull. Not 'nough for the cap'n to set a piece o' th'crew aboard, I'll warrant. And no use driftin' 'er when fire makes a prettier sight."
Hermione nodded. "I do believe I understood what you've said," she returned with slight wonderment couched in her voice. She imagined a fire of that magnitude would be pretty in the purple-pink twilight, nothing but dark navy sea surrounding them. She glanced over her shoulder. "Did you ever suspect I was bloodthirsty, Hannah?" she asked idly, and Hannah wisely kept silent about that.
She didn't have enough fingers to count on, so many were the times she'd seen Hermione close to killing someone with her eyes, her cutting tongue. Of course, that sort of bloodletting and the kind that pirates practiced were drastically different. Though she couldn't help thinking that if it came down to it, Hermione wouldn't think twice about taking a life. It was at once an unsettling and comforting thought.
"Can we go up then?" Hannah asked, curling her fingers over Hermione's arm. "Was Ron aboard?"
"Have t'wait for the cap--"
"Oh, nonsense." Hermione pushed past him, the boy too stunned to grab for her. "If they're burning the Hag, then I can't see any danger in being on deck."
Hannah grimaced an apology to young Boot, hoping he wouldn't be chastised too harshly for letting them slip by him, and then hesitantly followed Hermione up the passageway.
It wasn't twilight yet, but the sight of the Clamoring Sea Hag folding into ashes and embers, collapsing, hissing smoke, into the cold sea, was certainly interesting. Hermione found herself striding to the rail, eyes locked on the deteriorating vessel, the scent of wood smoke mixing with sea salt high on the air, the sawing creak of the Squall beneath her feet oddly soothing.
"Well, I suppose I shouldn't have expected Boot to successfully keep you at bay," a voice drawled, and Hermione glanced over her shoulder at a thankfully amused Blaise Zabini. "You're the sort what needs a heavy guard."
"Did you find him?" she asked crisply.
"Not quite a boy, is he? Larger than most."
Something tight inside her loosened and she sagged back against the railing. "Thank god," she breathed, then tumbled out, "Where is he? We'll be heading home now, yes?"
"The good captain's taking care of your boy, and no. Not quite yet."
Hermione stared at him with wide, I-must-not-be-hearing-you-correctly eyes. "What?"
"We're sailing on to the Abacos." His voice tipped deliberately louder. "Nott's got a sweetheart there he hasn't seen in years."
"Sod off, Zabini," a mean-looking pirate - though that was rather redundant, considering most of the crew looked disgruntled and cruel - said as he passed by behind him, bow-legged with the pitch of the ship and picking idly at his nails with a wicked sharp dirk.
"You realize you won't get paid 'til we're in England again," Hermione pointed out.
"Ah, but see," he lifted a finger, touching the tip of her nose softly, "we've already received our payment, haven't we?"
Hermione blinked at him. "You can't mean us."
"Quick-witted. Unlike many, I appreciate that trait in a woman."
"But. You can't. My parents won't just... give me up!"
"Providing they have any idea where you've disappeared to," he murmured, faint grin stretching his lips. "Let me guess; you aren't a commoner." He cocked his head to the side. "Eldest daughter of a portly baron, aye?"
"Only," Hermione snapped. "And he's a Viscount."
"Oh yes. Viscount, of course." He nodded. "Should've known by your ostentatious name."
"My name is not ostentatious," she protested, horrified.
But he just ignored her, rubbing a thoughtful hand across his jaw. "And little Hannah Abbott. You've called her 'Lady' upon occasion. Earl?"
Hermione's scowl was mutinous. "Why bother helping us with Ron if you weren't planning on ever letting us go?"
"But we made a deal, Madam, didn't we?" She opened her mouth to retort, but he cut her off with a proprietary hand on her waist, sliding his wide palm around to the small of her back. "Though if that explanation doesn't suit you," he went on amiably, "then think of it this way. You had something stolen from you, which now, by proxy, belongs to us. And the captain doesn't take kindly to thieves not of his own bidding, and likes damage to his property even less."
"Ron isn't property," she ground out indignantly, trying to lean away from his touch but succeeding only in bringing their chests closer together.
"You quibble about the smallest things, my dear. What you think doesn't hold the least bit of consequence anymore."
Hermione's jaw clenched and she snarled through her teeth, "It doesn't, does it?"
"Not 'til we get bored of you, at any rate. So far, you've proved highly amusing to the entire crew. With the exception of Mad-eye, I suppose, but Moody rarely finds anything beyond his own nose satisfactory."
"Do you think you're charming?" she spat.
"Charming?" His brows rose. "Certainly not the word I would've used, love. Makes me wonder about the sort of company you've kept."
The nerve of the man. "I haven't kept any company at all."
He leered at her. "All the more fun for me then."
Hermione was surprisingly more irate than fearful, and she was quite aware that her glare was ineffectual, the heat of it leaving no marks at all as it rolled off Zabini's weathered skin. "You're despicable," she groused.
"Now you've got the idea."
Hannah was wavering between something that felt like fluttering excitement and debilitating fear. Blocking her way at the top of the stairs was a large, angry-looking, looming man who didn't seem to be wearing much of a shirt.
Flushed bright red, Hannah cleared her throat and gave him a weak, "Pardon me?"
The man's scowl didn't lighten, and he crossed his thick arms over his chest, slick muscles bulging.
"Could I possibly... get past you?" she tried again, hands clasped demurely in front of her. She certainly did not want to brush that errant lock of brown hair off his forehead, even though she couldn't see how it would be comfortable for the man, tickling his surprisingly long eyelashes as it was.
She was rewarded with a grunt and a slight, barely perceptible shifting of his stance, but he seemed no more inclined to let her have her way.
Trying another tactic entirely, feeling a bit bold like Hermione, she rolled her wrist and inquired airily, "You could accompany me on deck, couldn't you?"
And just like that, she was strolling about in the late afternoon sunshine with a brutish pirate beside her, still resolutely silent but not nearly as menacing as before. She found it oddly exhilarating.
Later, back down in their cabin, Hermione tapped her fingers on the foot of the bunk and said, "You realize they're going to try and keep us."
Hannah recognized the stubborn determination in her friend's voice. "What are we going to do, then?"
"The Abacos islands. We'll sneak ashore and book passage home."
She seemed so sure. Hermione always seemed sure, though, even if she had no idea what she was doing. Hannah figured that was why they periodically got into such horrendous scrapes.
"It'll simply be a matter of getting Ron," Hermione went on, "out of Captain Malfoy's grip."
Draco approached the boy as he would a wounded pup. Stern, even-voiced with a firm hand that brooked no disobedience but neither threatened.
He'd followed him docilely enough once out of the Hag's hold, dull blue eyes blinking rapidly in the bright sea light, skin so pale Draco assumed he hadn't seen the sun in weeks or more. It was a shame, really. He'd never been much for abusing the fragile and pretty - not much sport in it, after all - and for all the boy's aesthetic brawn, there was an aura of innocence about him that brought out Draco's disturbing, mostly repressed protective urges.
In his cabin, an order to sit brought the redhead to his knees on the floor - an interesting position, of course, but not exactly what Draco'd had in mind. "You're not broken, boy. I saw that anger before." He waved to a chair at the table. "Sit like a man and tell me your name."
Slowly, as if it pained him to move, he struggled to his feet, narrow and bare, and slouched into a chair. He rasped hoarsely, "Ron Weasley."
"Here," Draco said, pushed a half-filled mug of ale towards him.
After a moment's hesitation, eyes wary as if expecting a blow, Ron tipped the heavy metal mug to his lips, tilting his head back and swallowing hastily, chugging thirstily and with little grace, causing a small smile to twitch across Draco's face. The captain appreciated enthusiasm.
"Now, we've some things to discuss," Draco drawled, resting a hip against the table and bracing one arm against the slight swell and rock of the ship. A bowl of relatively ripe fruit rested in the middle, and Draco idly popped a red grape into his mouth, chewing slowly as he stared Ron down.
Throat wet, Ron asked quietly, "Why am I here? What's happened?"
"The reason, two rather troublesome reasons actually, why you're aboard will be revealed in due time. The reason why you're in my cabin should be rather obvious," Draco said slyly, taking in Ron's wrinkled, confused brow with perverse delight. "And as to what's happened to the Hag, I've dispatched Captain Pucey and his accursed crew to Davy Jones's Locker. It was all very satisfying. Now," he arched a thin brow, "your turn."
"My turn what?"
"You're in poor shape, boy. What's happened?" There was an edge to his tone, he knew, but the damn protective urge was back, and he thought perhaps he should've made Pucey die a much slower death than he had.
Ron pressed his lips together, eyes dipped and focused on the table.
"An interesting slab of wood, I'll grant you." Draco tapped a long finger on the now empty mug sitting in front of Ron. "Answer me."
"Nothing," Ron said, voice barely above a whisper.
Reaching out, Draco grasped his chin firmly and caught his gaze with his own. The boy was lying, that much was patently clear. Still, Draco thought it would've been uselessly cruel to push the point right then. He flicked a thumb across Ron's cracked and chapped bottom lip, noting the flash of fire in his blue irises before they fell deliberately blank.
"I'm not particularly known for my hospitality," Draco stated baldly. "You'll work for your passage. For now, I'm willing to let you chose how."
Ron blinked slowly, expression unmoved. "All right," he said finally.
"I imagine you'd like a bath." Draco dropped his hand from Ron's face and straightened, then called out, "Finch, I know you're eavesdropping, you sick bastard. Make yourself useful and bring in some heated water."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n!" a muffled voice shouted, and Draco shook his head.
"Not a decent pirate among them," he groused, then watched with a dispassionate eye as Finch and young Creevey, his latest cabin boy, paced in and out of the chamber with buckets of steaming water, filling the copper tub almost to the brim.
"There we are, sir," Finch said when they'd finished, grin wide and suggestive. "Will ye be needin' anythin' else?"
Draco pinned him with a narrowed gaze. "What do you think?"
Finch just grinned wider. The bilge rat had obviously been spending too much time with Blaise. "You," he snapped, "out. You," he waved a beringed hand at Ron and the redhead froze, a pilfered grape pinched between his thumb and forefinger, "strip."
Finch chuckled all the way to the door, and Draco shoved it shut behind him, dropping the lock and turning to arch one brow at Ron, arms crossed over his chest.
"Well?" he queried testily, foot tapping.
Averting his eyes, Ron slowly got to his feet. He shrugged out of his tattered shirt, thumbing open what few buttons had been left down the front, and Draco bit back a hiss.
"Now I know it was more than 'nothing,' aye?" he drawled dangerously. Ron's ribs and lower back were riddled with purples, blues and yellows, bruises piled on top of bruises, broken skin a raw and angry red.
Head hanging, dark red hair shading his eyes, Ron stood over the bathtub with his hands curled loosely at his sides, pausing at the waistband of his trousers.
Draco snapped his fingers. "Come on, all of it. Off."
In profile, Ron's jaw clenched tight, a spasm twitching along the curved delineation of bone and tendon. "No."
Anger licked up Draco's spine at the flat refusal. He wasn't used to tolerating disobedience; even Blaise was hard pressed to ignore a direct order. Loosing his temper right then, though, wasn't going to help. "Would you like me to help?" he asked in a deceptively soft tone. He let the threat hang heavy in the air, and after a few thick moments where Draco just stared steadily - really, he was impressed by his own strength of will - Ron dropped what little remained of his trousers.
Impassive, Draco growled, "Are we going to do this step by step, Weasley? Get in the tub."
The redhead, blatantly striving for a last ditch measure of modesty, turned his back to Draco as he stepped into the bath. Normally he would've highly enjoyed the view of both sides, and the boy's pale arse certainly wasn't anything to dismiss as it slid past the rolled copper rim, but the marks on his skin served to irrationally fan his ire.
With a wordless snarl, he tossed a bar of soap between Ron's upraised knees, then he unlatched the door and strode out into the passageway. None of his or Creevey's things would fit the boy properly, so he shouted for Finch to give him his spare set of breeches and then went topside, breathing deeply into his lungs the salt-sting of the sea air.
When Hannah first spotted Ron on deck, she threw all decorum aside and leapt into his arms with a glad cry. She'd gone just a bit wild in the week or so they'd been on board the Squall anyhow, so the flash of breeze on her bare calves as her skirts shifted didn't faze her in the least, nor did the redhead's arms encircling her narrow waist, large hands automatically scrambling for her bum to keep her steady. Hermione harrumphed, disapproving of the display, but nonetheless gave Ron a soft peck on his cheek after Hannah slid back down to rest on her own two feet again.
"What're you doing here?" Ron asked, dazed and faintly breathless.
Hermione eyed him critically, noting the way he hunched in on himself, the slight tightening around his expressive mouth. "You're hurt," she accused. "And what do you mean, what are we doing here? Do you honestly think we would've let that man win?" That man, of course, was Hannah's stepfather, who'd long ago jumped to the highly erroneous conclusion that Ron and Hannah were closer than friends. Although even being friends with the stable boy placed Hannah in an unusual and socially frowned-upon position.
"It wasn't a matter of winning, Hermione," Hannah chided, then grinned brightly up at Ron. "We couldn't let you be taken away like that, Ron." She couldn't imagine why her stepfather thought she'd just let that happen; shrug her shoulders and go on as normal, marry well and forget all about the redheaded best mate of her youth. He'd always held strange ideas and ideals about her, though, from the moment he'd met her mum eight years previous.
"Listen," Hermione hissed under her breath, urging Hannah closer and leaning against Ron's arm, shooting a wary, measured look at Boot who stood a few paces to their left, "I'm not exactly sure how to get out of this mess."
Hannah stared at her, wide-eyed. "You said you had a plan!"
"No, no, I said we needed to sneak ashore somewhere along the Abacos, but I never specifically said I had a plan," Hermione pointed out. "Plus, my plans seem to have a habit of putting us in grave danger."
"Oh, so now you admit that?" Hannah wasn't especially upset, though. After all, she'd gone along with the whole let's-ask-some-notorious-pirates-for-help stratagem with minimal fuss.
Hermione tugged a hand through her ratted curls - past being dismayed at how utterly unmanageable the salt air made them - and gave an exasperated sigh. "Look, I know that--ow!" Twisting about, Hermione glared down at the wall-eyed old coat, Moody, toothless grin mean-edged, silver topped cane still brandished in the air, inches from her side.
"Storm's a comin'," he said, voice gravelly-deep with malice.
Hermione was perfectly aware that Moody hoped she and Hannah would be topside during the predicted event, preferably near the rail, and fairly close to his dull-pointed stick.
It didn't storm, though, 'til they were three days out from the Abacos islands - at least according to Finch, a curly-haired blond sailor with a perpetual, disturbing leer - and it hit the Squall with howling winds and splattering rain so fast that Hermione and Hannah didn't have any time at all to duck below before getting soaked to the bone.
They weren't thrown overboard, but Hannah found Hermione burning up the next morning, smudges under glazed eyes, lips dried and white-cracked.
Of the three days sail to the Abacos islands and subsequent two days at port, Hermione only remembered three things: cool, dry fingers at her temples, the sharp tang of oranges on her tongue, and a very odd conversation in the middle of a desert with her deceased elder brother, George. Of the conversation itself she recalled little beyond that her brother's words had sounded thick, muddled, and were strangely tinged with an Irish accent.
Her entire body was sore when she blinked awake in a sun-drenched room that didn't have the faintest pitch or sway to it, the windows swung open wide to let in breezy-hot air. A young man, short-statured and wiry, inquisitive hazel eyes shining beneath a shaggy blond-streaked fringe, was grinning down at her from beside the bed.
"You're awake then," he said with a cheerful Irish lilt.
"Yes," she croaked, and he hushed her with a hand on her shoulder and a finger to his lips.
Then he slid the hand under her neck, lifting her head and tipping a glass of water to her mouth, and his eyes wrinkled up at the corners, echoing his smile. "Welcome to Blue Cay," he went on, then rolled his eyes, "Oh, aye, 'tis stupid, but Theodore named it, and I sometimes suspect he's got the creativity of a codfish." Cool water dripped heavenly down her parched throat and he pulled away apologetically after only a moment. "Sorry, lass, y'must take it slow. Been far too long under the weather, me dear. Just rest a bit more now."
He murmured as if to himself as he puttered about the room, "I'll send Blaise in t'keep you company. Man's been a nuisance, worse than a mother hen..." and Hermione drifted off to his faint melodious voice
When she woke again, Zabini was at her side, a concerned twist to his mouth that instantly loosened when he noted her consciousness.
"Hell of a trick to get out of my wicked clutches," he drawled.
Hermione barely had the energy for a glare, but she managed. He laughed off her attempt at a scowl, though, and lifted his fingers to slide over her lips, thumb coming to a rest at a down-turned corner.
She was understandably perplexed by the softness in his blue eyes. "What?" she rasped, but then the door burst open and Hannah came flying through wearing nothing but boy's breeches and a loose shirt, and Hermione found herself half buried under her enthusiastic, ecstatic greeting.
"We thought you'd die," Hannah whispered, warm cheek pressed against hers.
Hermione smoothed a shaky hand over Hannah's hair. "That would've been a stupid thing to do."
"Aye." Hannah pulled back, grinning broadly, knees apart on the bed next to her hips, and Hermione dragged an incredulous gaze over her indecently clad body.
"What are you wearing?" she demanded hoarsely.
Clasping the top of her shirt closed at the neck with one hand, throat and cheeks flushing, she said sheepishly, "Millie's showing me how to be a pirate."
She nodded, brown irises shining. "And Ernest's got me climbing the rigging, and I'm teaching Viktor to read English, and you know it turns out he isn't surly and rude like I'd thought at all; he's German."
Zabini chuckled. "Miss Abbott's been very busy."
"And how's Ron, then?" She played idly with the light covers, folding them over and over between her fingers. Hannah was learning to be a pirate. The girl's mother would surely tan Hermione's hide for it.
Hannah frowned thoughtfully. "He's been spending an inordinate amount of time on the beach since we got here."
Zabini's hand crept forward to cover hers, stilling it against the mattress, and Hermione glanced at him questioningly.
"He's fine. Draco's watching him," he said, which was odd and really not all that reassuring, but Hermione gave him a wavering smile.
Hannah was more animated than she'd been since she'd turned ten and been forced to abandon the stables for the parlor, scrabbling up trees for a dull afternoon of stitching and petty gossip. Her high color was as much from the sun as from mild embarrassment, and Hermione knew without having a single word said about it that Hannah wanted to stay. Stay aboard the Squall, perhaps stay on Blue Cay.
But Hermione, pathetic as it seemed, missed her mare, Whittier, and missed her garret bedroom with the ice-blue molding, and missed her mum, cool blonde and soft and steely-voiced with sharp brown eyes. She even missed her father and his horrendous singing, and she wanted to be back in time to drag the Yule log home through the first snow, the hounds snapping playfully at her heels and her father seasoned, rum-warmed, and caterwauling Good King Wenceslas at the top of his lungs.
And she was still so very tired and worn out and it felt like forever since she'd breathed easy. "I want to go home," she said softly, and Zabini squeezed her hand.
"You are precisely as dumb as you look," Draco drawled, hands clasped behind his back and stance wide-legged as he gazed off down the stretch of sand. Ron was a speck in the distance, bright head a beacon against the foaming waves, the aqua blue rolls under the sun. "I always suspected as much."
The breeze pulled at Blaise's black hair, tugging it out of the messy club at the small of his nape. He swiped a hand over his forehead and didn't bother pretending he didn't know what Draco was speaking of. "She wouldn't be happy."
"And this matters how?" Draco asked, finally tearing his gaze away from the hunched figure on the beach to arch an inquiring brow at Blaise.
Blaise smirked. "Weasley gave you an absent half-smile yesterday and your eyes lit up."
"That is a horrid lie, Blaise," Draco denied crisply. "A horrid, hurtful untruth."
"And utterly beside the point, at any rate," he went on insistently.
Amused, Blaise bobbed his head. "If you say so, Captain."
Draco shot him an irritated sneer. "You haven't even tried, you imbecile," he accused, then spun on his heel and stalked down into the hot white sand towards Ron.
The boy was a trial; a test of his wills. He was a horrible sailor, unsteady on deck, green at the gills on heavy swells. He was all thumbs at the sails, hopeless with the rigging, and yet he was obviously trying so hard to get everything right. Draco would've possibly found it amusing and admirable if he hadn't known that the boy thought the alternative was beyond anything he could endure.
It was more than a little insulting.
Ron's eyes cut to him and hastily away when he came to a stop at his side, the flash of life sapped out of them in an instant; shoulders, the line of his back, every muscle tensing. It always happened when Draco got too close.
"I've never hurt you, have I Weasley?" he snapped harshly. Ron flinched and tried to pull back, but Draco reached out and snatched one of the boy's curled fists, the fingers thicker and blunter than his own. "You could flatten me with one swing, aye? So stop acting like a bloody coward around me."
"I'm not a coward."
The boy's voice was barely audible, and Draco gave the captured hand a slight shake. "What was that?"
Ron swallowed hard, eyes sliding closed. "I'm not a coward," he whispered.
Draco leant in, mouth hovering by the redhead's ear, and hissed, "Louder."
"I'm not a fucking coward," Ron said, and his blue irises caught Draco's gray, steady, fear simmering just behind fierce determination. "I'm not."
The fist in Draco's hand loosened, and he squeezed it once, lightly, before releasing it with a soft," Aye, you're not." Then he turned away, watching the tide as it gently lapped the beach, foam running up the dark wet sand before falling back on itself. He could feel Ron's gaze on him, curious now, and he let out a deep sigh.
"Miss Granger," Draco started, "has expressed a desire to return to England, and I've suddenly been placed in a position of indulging her."
He got no reaction from Ron beyond a slight shifting of his stance, and Draco wondered at the heat radiating off the boy as he drew subtly closer.
He slanted him a sideways look. "For some ridiculous reason I find myself wanting to see you happy." It was a large admission for Draco. A large, embarrassing admission for Draco, and he drawled, "You tell one soul I said that and I'll--" He cut off mid-threat, but Ron didn't move away, didn't freeze up, though he was clearly poised to run, weight on the balls of his feet.
Ron never used to run from anything.
He'd been born with an unfortunate temper, and Pucey, with his black eyes and mockingly jovial laugh, had taken it upon himself to try and beat it out of him. What pissed Ron off most was that he'd chiefly succeeded. He couldn't help the wariness, couldn't completely turn off the jittery panic in his belly, the bile that crawled up his throat despite any reassurances of his safety, and it was only half because he'd grown up on tales of the dread pirate Malfoy's exploits.
The captain was an imposing sight in person: tall and lean and quick on his feet, slice of his mouth openly cruel, eyes as sharp as the curve of his jaw and cheek. The difference between him and Pucey, Ron surmised, was that Malfoy was honestly brutal - no faux happy spirits.
On some level, Ron realized that anything the blond captain shouted at him, hissed at him, whispered in his ear, was as true as his ruthlessness. He held no pretense of niceties, yet he'd never laid a hand on Ron when he was vibrating with anger, either.
Pucey had watched him cough up blood with a cheerful grin and a table set for tea.
He gazed at Malfoy with conflicting emotions settling in the base of his throat, blocking any words he might've said at the round-about offer to take him home. He'd spent the better part of the four months he'd been aboard the Hag wishing he was dead, and the only thing he was sure of anymore was that he hated the sea. Hated it with a biting passion and a sickening clenching of his stomach. Hated the roll of the planks under his feet and the flapping sails high above his head.
Yet, "Going back to England won't make me happy," he finally managed, then held steady Malfoy's gaze when he turned a questioning look his way. Back there, he'd hated working in the stables. Hated Lady Hannah's stepfather, Townsende, hated being the youngest son of the village's absent-minded blacksmith.
"You can't prefer to stay with the Squall," Malfoy rejoined blandly.
No, of course he didn't. He shrugged, one shoulder lifting. "Seamus said I could stay here."
He'd become fond of the salt air and the sand beneath his feet, between his toes, the warmth of the sun beating down on his upturned face. And Seamus was a friendly little Irishman who kept a neat pub, the only thing of any worth in the small inlet of Blue Cay, the safe port for the Squall. Ron suspected the land had been a gift from Malfoy, and one of the sailors, a dark, swarthy, silent man named Nott, had hardly left Seamus' side since they'd rowed ashore.
Ron started but held still when Malfoy slid a hand around his elbow, calloused yet elegant fingers catching at the skin bared by his cuffed sleeves.
"Do what you want," he advised, and Ron blinked at him, slightly incredulous.
No one had ever said that to him before, not even Lady Hannah, and the words sounded especially odd coming from Malfoy.
"What?" the captain snapped, head cocked to the side.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "You're a horrendous liar, Weasley. Worse than Mac, and Lord knows that puppy can't get through a fib without giggling his arse off."
Ron found himself grinning at the pirate, and Malfoy's entire countenance brightened.
"Well now, aye. You should stay here if that smile is the result," he spilled out, then his lips twisted like he'd bit a bitter citrus, nose wrinkling. "I'll deny those words 'til my dying breath, boy, so--"
"I won't tell a soul," Ron cut in, faint amusement still painting his pale face.
"And since we're suddenly in such a good mood," Malfoy went on, hands fast on Ron's arms and spreading upwards, sliding into his thick hair, curling around his nape and tugging him downwards so slickly that Ron was too surprised to pull away. His thumbs dug into the hinges of his jaw, fingers splayed over his skull, and his lips were dry and firm on Ron's, upper pressing into the seam, lower warm on the patch of skin above his chin. And then Malfoy's tongue was out with clever, slow licks, and jolts of pleasure sang down Ron's arms, the flexed muscles of his back, the tightness in his upper thighs and groin. A groan welled up out of his throat, forcing his lips apart, and Malfoy drew back, mouth red and knowing, gray eyes simultaneously bright and dull with desire.
He loosed his hold on Ron's neck, one hand smoothing long fingers along his jaw, the other pressed lightly on his breastbone. "Still in a good mood?" he asked, hoarse voice betraying his level of want.
Ron inclined his head slowly, feeling the narrow fingers slip over his skin, pads brushing the corner of his nose, mouth, and then Malfoy dropped his arms completely and stepped away.
Sir Harry was a drunkard.
Tragedy in his formative years had honed him into the sort of man who was a terribly depressing sober person, so he stayed mostly drunk and jovial and everyone in his acquaintance was far happier for it. Three years previous he'd been picked up on accident by the Squall's crew when they'd boarded a French pleasure cruiser, and, much to Draco's eternal annoyance, he'd taken up residence at Blue Cay without so much as a please or thank you. He had a room on the third floor of Seamus' house, but most nights he simply passed out in the parlor, too sotted to maneuver the stairs.
Seamus stocked his favorite rum when he could, which meant that Draco had to haul it grumbling from Barbados, but with precious little to do on Blue Cay besides laze about in the sun and cater to the occasional random ship, the blond captain didn't begrudge the Irishman the company.
Besides, Nott's stewing jealousy was always a boon.
Already well in his cups before noon, he pressed a thumb under the tip of his chin and nodded at Blaise, head wobbly on his thin neck, irises locked blearily on the dark-haired pirate. Drink made Sir Harry seem much older than his thirty-three years, but Blaise often marveled at how young his eyes were, serpent green and largely set in his red face. "You're a pirate," Sir Harry said, hardly a slur to his voice.
"How astute of you," Blaise drawled wryly, swirling a bit of amber in his glass without drinking it. It was far too early in the day for him to consume any alcohol, yet Sir Harry thought it the very height of rudeness not to drink when someone else was imbibing in your presence. He held the strangest logic, but then he was never really in his right mind.
"Yes, and she's a maid," he continued blithely.
Blaise's brows peaked over his nose. "Aye."
"And for some inexplicable reason--"
Inexplicable. Blaise was amazed the bloke could wrap his mellowed mouth around the word.
"--you're giving her a choice in the matter. And!" He jabbed a finger in the air, leaning forward in his seat, half-filled glass sloshing liquid over the rim. "You haven't even shown her what she'd be giving up -- wink-wink, nudge-nudge and all that. I quite like Ron."
Blaise blinked at the rapid switch of subject. "What?"
"He's sweet," Sir Harry flapped a hand, "for a lad."
"He's Draco's," Blaise pointed out.
Sir Harry's face fell. "Ah. Pity." He gazed wetly into his glass, then took a large gulp and swallow. "Right, right. You," finger up and out again, this time waggling at Blaise, "need to be more of the rogue I know you are. And I," he licked his lips, "need more to drink."
Hermione felt nearly naked in the loose linen top and the lightweight skirt Seamus had found for her to wear. The heat of the day had been oppressive, though, so she was thankful for the freedom, and she twisted her hair up in a topknot as she stepped into her bedroom, hoping to cool her nape as well.
The room was covered in shadows, golden-gray with the dying light, and Hermione collapsed on the bed, one arm flung over her eyes. She'd been out on the Squall for most of the afternoon with Hannah, and the girl's boundless energy was exhausting. Though, to be honest, moving was still a bit tiring for Hermione, the fever having left lasting aches under her skin.
"How are you feeling?"
Hermione jumped with a yelp and tumbled off the side of the bed.
A match flared to life, held to a candle, and then Zabini's head materialized overtop of her prone figure. "Sorry," he offered, blatantly unrepentant.
He stretched a hand out to her, but she ignored it, climbing to her feet on her own steam and demanding, "What are you doing in here?"
"I'm a pirate," he said, grin toothy.
Hermione gave him a wary scowl. "Obviously."
"And you're a maid."
"All right." Hermione wasn't sure if she liked where the line of conversation seemed to be going.
"Do you know what pirates do to maids?" he asked, voice dangerous and low and eyes glittering with a wicked leer.
She didn't particularly want to know. Or rather she did want to know, and that realization was fairly startling, so she cut off whatever his next, no doubt suggestive words were with a bright, "Teach them how to swim?"
All smarminess dropped from his expression. "What?"
"I have no idea how to swim." She gave him an encouraging, though almost entirely wooden smile.
"You... you're off your nut," Zabini laughed - a deep, belly laugh, head tilted back and one hand pressed over his lean abdomen.
Hermione's smile relaxed somewhat into something genuine at his infectious mirth, then she let out a small, highly mortifying squeak when he caught his arms about her waist and tugged her up tightly against his chest, large hands settling on shoulder blade and bum in an amazingly affectionate hug. She fit neatly tucked under his shoulder, top of her head brushing his chin.
"I could love you some day," he murmured into her mess of curls.
She felt her face heat up, flattered and embarrassed in equal measure. His hand was on her bum.
"I'm not letting you go."
"You're going to have to eventually, you know. Otherwise, this could get awkward," she pointed out, voice muffled, purposefully misunderstanding him.
"I'm not taking you home," he clarified.
Bringing her hands up, she clutched the front of his shirt and dared to lean back, pinning him with bland amber eyes. "I didn't think you ever would, actually."
He looked honestly affronted. "Why not?"
Hermione arched a brow. "Pirate."
"Ah," he nodded sagely, blue irises twinkling, reminding her of the hot sun reflected on the Caribbean blue. "There is that."
One entire side of Blue Cay was cliffs and shear rock faces, making the harbor difficult but not impossible to find. Hannah, one arm curled around the mast aloft in the narrow crow's nest, grinned wildly into the wind as she watched the island grow smaller and smaller in the distance. She fancied she could still see Hermione and Ron, tiny pinpricks of color against the gray. They'd stood on the very top of the steepest climb, waving as the Squall had sailed past, with Seamus bolstering the slaughtered Sir Harry up by his elbow behind them, all smiles and laughter.
The scrabble of the crew below her was somehow familiar and new and different and easy all at once - the shouts and curses, the creak and pull of the rigging, the low hum of ditties being passed along in time with second-nature motions, the spray of waves against the hull as they cut swiftly through the sea - and Ernest had told her it'd been the exact same for him. Like he'd stepped aboard and was home.
They may've gone about it the entirely wrong way, Hannah thought, but everything certainly seemed to have turned out all right in the end. Though she was fairly sure Mad-eye was plotting her demise, just waiting for the opportune moment on deck. And Viktor might be under the mistaken impression that she'd be sharing his hammock. And, of course, she'd ambushed Millie with a kiss that morning, leaving the larger girl startled and stunned and, quite possibly, irate.
Hannah was definitely game for a little adventure.