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Set the Sails (and don't look back)

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On the last day of June in 1724, Harry's fate apparently decided to fuck it all and dropped him into chaos. He couldn't really blame it, the struggle to keep him out of trouble must have started somewhere shortly around his birth.

He might have also provoked it a bit by deciding to cross the Atlantic. But really, people did that all the time nowadays, and he had nothing that kept him at home. Still, a small heads up would have been nice.

Except there had been warnings. One week. One whole week without as much as a single breeze. Nothing too uncommon, or so the sailors told him. But a bad omen nonetheless.

So understandably, being the ignorant landlubber he was, he had been excited when he had felt a gust of wind in his hair this morning. The sailors however had taken one look at the sky and told him to start praying.

Sailors were a superstitious folk, but most only religious under high distress. So that had been a bit disconcerting.

The captain told the few passengers on board that a storm was coming, but that his ship had withstood every weather so far and that there was most likely nothing to worry about.

It could have been fine, would have been fine probably, if Harry's bad luck had the courtesy to stay in Europe.

A few hours later the storm was almost upon them and the lookout spied a ship.

And that could have been fine, would have been fine probably, if Harry's bad luck had the goddamn courtesy to stay in Europe.

Because the captain's face went ashen and he crossed himself with a reverence that he usually only showed when it came to drinking.

"It's the Voldemort."

It was barely a whisper, a tiny breathless sound that somehow still ghosted across the whole ship. A few members of the crew simply jumped overboard then and there after hearing it, into the sea that was rapidly becoming alive.

And that was the moment Harry knew, he knew he was screwed. As usual though, he didn't know why.

In the overall panic that ensued, Harry grabbed a hold of the captain. "What? What's a Voldemort? What's going on?

"They are pirates. The worst of the worst."

A spike of unease jolted through Harry at his words.

The sailors spoke of the sea like she was alive, a temperamental thing to be loved, but violent and terrifying at times. Some also spoke of giant monsters that devoured whole ships.

But if you really wanted to spook someone and shock them with a bloodied story, you told them of pirates.

Ruthless killers, plunderers, savages. They dominated the seas.

He squinted his eyes at the ship, still too far away to make out the famous black flag.

"Yeah, so? We don't even have any riches. Why would they want to pursue us?"

"They don't want riches, boy," the captain said tonelessly. "They just want blood."

Well that sounded promising.

"But the storm! They'll be caught in it too right?"

"Aye," the captain said and looked up at the sky, clear blue a few hours earlier, now black and thunderous, ready to split. "If we're lucky we'll die before they get us."

The sky tore open then, water splashing down as if it were trying to drown them from above. The sea lurched, waves rose so high and solid you'd mistake them for mountains. The wind picked up, howling, grabbing like invisible hands, shaking everything it touched.

The ship tilted and rocked, helpless in the uneven ocean. It had looked majestic in the harbour, but was now so very tiny amongst the forces of nature.

Water splashed across the decks, buckets, shackles, barrels swirled around loosely.

Sailors screamed, scrambling to save their ship, but there was a fear there that had nothing to do with the storm, a helplessness that robbed them of any coordination, any organization.

Those that tried to combat the storm were trying to roll up the sails, those that wanted to flee loosened them again.

Harry was the only passenger still on deck. The others had scurried into their cabins long ago. He couldn't fathom why anyone would want to go below deck right now, even closer to the sea that tried to devour them.

They've had storms before, but this one was worse. Harry wasn't sure this still classified as a storm. Looking around he was sure he saw the apocalypse itself.

There was a loud blast, followed by a swishing sound. Amongst the thunder crashing around them Harry almost missed it, but it seemed to have purpose, this one.

It was the only warning he got, before their foremast splintered and cracked down.

He realized that even in this hell, even while the elements beat down on them, the other ship had fired at them.

How it had gotten so close in these waves was beyond him. With the rain pouring down and the sea spilling in from the sides, Harry had a hard time naming where was up and where was down, let alone steering a ship in the desired direction.

Another loud blast, another splintering sound and the ship tilted precariously. A hit in the bulk most likely.

More screams filled the air, but mixed within the desperation there was jeering now, laughter.

It was probably one of the most disconcerting things Harry had ever heard. In these circumstances, it sounded just plain wrong.

Officers and the captain started bellowing commands, apparently they had gotten over their shock and seemed determined to at least take some of the pirates with them to hell.

But their vessel wasn't suited for combat. The sailors were only trained because some soldiers needed to be there to protect the passengers. It was more of a mental assurance than an actual protection.

A huge wave crashed over their ship, basically submerging it. A moment later the ocean lifted the ship, the deck almost vertical for a moment before the ship dropping down on the other side, only to repeat the process.

Harry could only grab the railing and hang on to it for dear life.

He was certain that by now barrels and lifeboats weren't the only thing being spilled overboard. Men slipped, lost their balance, or simply got washed away by a wall of water.

Over them thunder tore apart the skies.

And even so, the pirates boarded their ship, jumping and swinging across the turbulent abyss between their vessels.

They appeared completely carefree amongst the violent elements. Unbothered by the overpowering forces.

Harry had only ever heard stories about pirates. While he disagreed with the cruelty, at least so far he had understood them partially. They sounded basically like thieves who plundered ships, not houses.

But why on earth would they board their ship? During this storm? With nothing to gain? A ship that they had already destroyed enough for it to become clear that it would not survive the storm? Shouldn't they save their own ship rather than coming onto one that was sinking?

The fighting started, though Harry wasn't sure one would call it that. With the bucking ship beneath them, men had a hard time finding their footing, let alone move enough to fight.

Soon there were so many pirates amongst them that Harry couldn't distinguish them from the crew anymore. The darkened sky and the chaos of the storm didn't allow enough visibility for orientation.

Mixed in with the thunder, the splashing and the cracking noises were now also the clanking of steel meeting steel. Men fought right beside and in front of him, so far ignoring him or just not seeing him.

He scrambled away, aware that he hadn't even so much as a knife to defend himself.

But what did it matter anyway? Their ship would sink, even if they somehow defeated the pirates with a miracle. Maybe he should get into one of the lifeboats? Though most of them were either in shambles, or had been washed away by the force of the ocean.

And with the sea that lively there was no way he'd survive in the tiny boats. Let alone get anywhere, here in the middle of the Atlantic.

He managed to pull himself onto the quarter deck, which seemed relatively deserted compared to the crowded main deck, where people tried to kill each other before the storm could.

He sat down, pressing himself to the railing, trying to not lose contact with the bucking ship and gasped a few breaths, coughing when the all present water splashed into his face.

His eyes burned from the saltwater. He blinked, then saw that there was a man lying in the middle of the deck, moaning in pain, slithering precariously on the wooden planks.

Harry cursed and crawled to him on all fours, basically sliding on the wet deck.

"You have to grab something! You'll be washed away like that!" Harry screamed at him over the howling tempest.

The man's eyes were closed, his face scrunched up in pain, giving him no indication whether he was even still coherent enough to understand him.

Harry looked him over and saw his leg was gushing with blood. Shot? No, stabbed, very deep.

The ship reared up again and they skidded helplessly on the deck, crashing onto the doors that led to the captain's cabin.

When the ship balanced itself out again Harry set to work. He tore away the bloodied remains of the man's trousers and inspected the wound. The blood had looked more severe than it actually was, because it got mixed with the water. Still, the wound was deep. It would need stitches, but Harry had no means to do that now.

He tore the other leg of the trousers away and swiftly bunched it up to press against the wound, then made to grab the belt to wrap it tightly against the man's calf.

Except the belt tumbled away from him as the deck tilted again.

Harry cursed violently, a habit that had gotten worse with the amount of time he spent under the sailors.

Then he saw someone walking up the stairs of the quarterdeck.

"You there! Hand me the belt!" he ordered impatiently.

The man looked down at his feet where the belt lay then across the deck to where Harry was crouching.

He was standing.

Harry couldn't even imagine the perfect balance needed to stand in this pandemonium. And the man did so without even holding on to the railing. He tilted his head pensively, scrutinizing him.

Pensively.

They didn't have the fucking time for contemplation!

The man finally bent down and took the belt, then walked over to where Harry was.

The ship skewed and reared but the man seemed unfazed, anticipating every tilt and effortlessly balancing himself out.

Harry was on his hands and knees, still having trouble just staying where he was.

"He's not one of yours," the man pointed out, standing in front of him, but so far making no inclination to actually give him the belt.

Harry frowned confused and looked down at his bleeding patient. He didn't recognize him that much was true. He wasn't one of the crew. And neither was the other man.

"Last time I checked no man belonged to me," Harry snapped back. "The belt if you'd please. Now."

He held his hand outstretched, but when nothing happened he looked up from the patient.

The barrel of a gun pointed directly at his head.

Harry was speechless for a good second. "Are you fucking serious?!"

"It is what I do," the man said, amused.

"Well can you do it later?! This man is about to bleed to death! Hand me the belt, now!"

The man blinked, his head tilted curiously as a small smile tugged at his lips.

He made no move to point the gun elsewhere, but he did hand him the belt.

Harry snatched it from his hands, scowled at him, then quickly turned to wrap it around his makeshift compress.

Another huge wave hit the ship and the water that spilled in from the sides pushed Harry back until he hit the man's legs. The gun pressed into his skull now.

Harry pulled the belt tight and tried to wipe some water away from his stinging eyes.

"Can that thing even shoot with all that rain pouring down?" he asked irritated.

"Care to find out?" came the smooth reply.

Before Harry knew what was happening, a hand grabbed hold of his hair and yanked his head around. He could almost hear his neck snap from the abrupt movement.

He gasped in reflex and the barrel of the gun was shoved into his mouth, making Harry gag from the metallic taste.

There was an audible click and… Nothing.

Harry's eyes widened, realizing how close he'd come to death. There was another click and he shuddered in anticipation, but the gunpowder was indeed too wet.

"Hm, you were right," the man said offhandedly.

He pulled the gun away and released him. Harry coughed and gulped for air.

"I always did prefer knives," the man continued, pulling one from his belt and grabbing Harry's head again.

Harry froze in his hold.

"It prolongs the moment. Making it more honest in a way, intimate."

The cold metal of the knife caressed his throat. There was nothing but amusement and excitement in the man's eyes. The tempest roared around them.

Harry couldn't help but try to flinch away. The hold grew firmer.

"Now, now. You were oh so charmingly impertinent before," the man mused, then leaned in closely. "Are you afraid to die, boy?"

Harry spat at him in response.

The storm washed it off easily to his disappointment and the man grinned at his action.

"My, all the fun I could have with you."

Harry started clawing at him, but the knife pressed more fiercely into his skin, warningly.

Suddenly a loud, clear whistle came from the main deck and men started to jeer.

The man stilled momentarily, looking over to where the sound came from, before focusing back on Harry.

"Do you know what that means? It means every single one on this ship is dead. I guess they didn't count you."

Harry's eyes widened as the faces of the crew and passengers flashed across his mind. All dead. He hadn't known them well, but he had spent the past months with them. And there had been absolutely no reason for their death.

The man looked pensive again.

"He'll live?" he asked, nodding down to the bleeding man that had fallen unconscious at some point.

There was a moment of struggle as his desire to tell the man to go to hell and his other stupid urges battled. As always, his stupid side won.

"He needs antiseptics, pine or tea tree oil will do well. Stitch the wound, change the bandages daily. Make sure they were drenched in alcohol before. If the flesh starts to rotten the leg will need to come off. Cauterize the wound, treat it with a cooling balm obtained from aloe vera or coconut extracts."

The man's amusement was palpable. He did put the knife away though and hoisted him up by the collar.

"You survived the cannonballs, you survived the gun… Third time's the charm, isn't that what they say?"

Harry got dragged to the railing and the man hauled him halfway across it. His upper body was suspended in air now, the raging ocean below him.

"You think me cruel? You've clearly never met the sea. Let's see if you survive her."

With that he shoved Harry overboard and for a moment he was falling with the rain through nothingness, the wind howling around him, thunder striking down above him and the sea swirling below him.

Then he hit the cold water and was engulfed by darkness.

 


 

Life is weird.

Harry had thought he'd gotten used to that fact by now. With his penchant for getting into trouble he had pretty much resigned to an unpredictable future.

But not even he would have ever dreamed to be halfway across the Atlantic, his body frozen from the cold water, his scalp burnt from the hot sun and his fingers numb from where they clung to the wooden plank.

His eyes stung from the salt water and his throat screamed for potable water.

The world had disappeared. There was nothing around him. Nothing. Not a bird above him, not a fish around him, not a drifting algae and not a single strip of land on the horizon.

He was alone. Just him and a splintered wooden plank. And the water.

The ocean was calm, a smooth mirror that stretched out endlessly. The air didn't hold so much as a single breeze. He had sneezed a while ago, just to test if sound still existed.

The physical exertion of the sneeze had almost been too much for him. If his hands weren't clasped and locked around the plank in a stiffness that resembled the rigor mortis, he would have probably slipped quietly away, into the silent ocean around him.

His thirst was so unbearable it had become unnoticeable. It was simply a part of him now.

He wondered why he was still alive. He wondered how many days he'd been here, just him and the vast ocean. He wondered where he was and how deep the water below him went. He wondered how the weather could turn form so devastatingly violent to utterly calm in such a short time. He wondered if there was in fact an end of the earth and if he'd found it.

He wondered if he was delirious yet. He couldn't bring himself to care.

He probably should care, he wanted to be a physician after all. He was good at it too. But now he was a lost soul drifting in the unending plain that separated his home from the land of endless possibilities.

It had never crossed his mind that death was a possibility too. Funny that.

Life is weird.

He closed his eyes against the blinding reflection of the sun.

 


 

He dreamed of his mother.

Of her long red hair and her radiant laugh. Of her soft hands caressing his hair and her gentle voice singing him to sleep. Of her brilliant eyes, overflowing with love.

Of the men she brought home with her, a desperate look on their faces, scared to lose her, hating the thought of not having her for themselves alone.

She had a way with men that surpassed any other of the women that stood around the docks every day.

The men jeered and grabbed at them. But not once did someone call his mother a whore. She didn't go out and searched for men. They came to her.

Not with the drunk determination they showed towards the others, when they ganged up on the prettiest ones while the others ignored the screams. To her, they came with flowers, poems, gifts. She was a fantasy.

And she always brought them home, those selected few that caught her attention after weeks of courtship.

But Harry only realized where their money had come from long after she died.

"Is one of them my father?" he asked, when he was about seven years old.

He'd heard you needed a woman and a man to get a child. A novel concept to him. There only ever had been his mother.

"No sweetie," she smiled lovingly. "Your father does not belong on land."

"Where is he then?"

"He lives on the sea," she said, staring out of their little kitchen window to the harbour. "If you stand on the docks and close your eyes, you can smell him."

So Harry stood on the docks, eyes fixed on the horizon and smelled the ocean, imagining his father.

Out of all the men he was the only one whose child Lily carried. If his mother looked out to the sea her emerald eyes glazed over and a smile tugged at her lips.

That was how Harry learned of love.

His mother got sick when he reached the tender age of eleven. They didn't have enough money for a doctor, but he came anyway and Harry recognized him as one of her regulars.

He said it was the side sickness* and that he could only ease her passing.

That was how Harry learned of pain.

On her funeral the doctor apologized to Harry, saying that if he'd received better education then maybe he'd been able to save her. He had heard of cases where the patients lived.

Harry had never felt so helpless before. He became obsessed with medicine.

The local doctor took him in, probably out of guilt for not saving his mother. Soon Harry was the one making the rounds, treating people all across the city. Dockworkers came to him frequently.

Sailors from faraway places too. He liked them best. They reminded him of the soft look in his mother's eyes whenever she had mentioned the sea and his father.

He accepted their wild stories as payment for his treatment and they greeted him with enthusiasm every time they saw him because of it.

When he was nineteen, a ship's doctor came to them for help because the whole crew was suffering from scurvy. Harry treated the men for almost a week at the side of the doctor.

Afterwards the doctor had taken him aside and asked if he wanted to study medicine, more than the local quacks could provide. He'd written a letter of recommendation for Harry, saying that his old friend who lived in America was one of the best physicians alive.

There was nothing holding him back at home anymore. So he got onto the next ship that accepted passengers and set sail for America.

And then he was drowning.

 


 

When he opened his eyes again he felt that something had changed.

At first he couldn't pinpoint what it was. The sea was still calm, the horizon still endlessly blank and the air still unmoving.

But he could feel a presence. He wasn't alone anymore.

Then he heard the soft creaking sound of wood and the faint fluttering of a lifeless sail.

With a tremendous effort he turned his head and rested the other cheek on the wooden plank.

There was a ship to his right. Very close, amazingly big from his point of view. If he could stretch his numb arm he would be able to touch it.

There was no wind, so the sails of the three masts were useless, the ship drifting gently in the calm water like Harry and his plank.

Harry forced his eyes to glance up, higher than the ship's bow and hull, up the mainsail and to the topmast.

Skull and crossbones. White on black. Jolly Roger, the pirate flag.

His eyes widened involuntarily at the sheer impossibility of his godforsaken luck.

His eyes travelled a bit down again, to the ship's deck. A man sat on the railing, peering down at him curiously.

His jet black hair was immaculate and his skin unnaturally pale for someone who spent so much time outside. Instead of rags, scars and crooked teeth there was only smooth perfection.

He looked nothing like a pirate and that's how Harry recognized him immediately.

The man continued to watch him, half leaning onto the ratlines behind him that span to the main mast, completely relaxed, but obviously waiting for him to do something.

Considering that neither of them were moving on the water, Harry had to be drifting beside them for quite a while now, so the man had probably watched him for some time.

They were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the Atlantic and the chance to actually meet anything out here was basically non-existent. To meet the man who had turned him over to death again was rather ironic.

"Hi," Harry croaked. His voice was raw from the all-encompassing thirst he'd endured during the past days.

The man's eyebrow rose in amusement. "Hello again."

His voice was a deep tenor and cool like the water around them.

"Please tell me I'm dreaming this," Harry said weakly.

The man shook his head lightly and Harry sighed, too exhausted to care.

Neither of them spoke for a while. Harry had no clue what to do. He hadn't expected to meet anyone, so shortly before his death. Let alone meet the exact same man responsible for his situation.

He wanted to be angry but he didn't find it in him. He had no energy left in him, his arms only clutching the plank because that was the position they'd been in for the past few days.

If he could still move them he'd have let go willingly days ago, to finally fall into oblivion. It was a bit embarrassing really, to drift here all on his own with a plank, next to the imposing ship.

"How's it going?" he asked, for the sake of saying something.

The man's head tilted to the side, contemplating. "Swimmingly."

A wheezing sound escaped Harry, muscles that hadn't been used for days spasming in his belly. He realized belatedly that he was laughing.

"Ow, ouch. Don't make me laugh you jerk."

"And what are you doing, all the way out here?" he asked, as if the man didn't know exactly how Harry had ended up here.

Harry did find the energy to glare at that. "Oh y'know… Nothing much. Hanging around, mostly."

"How is that working out for you?"

Harry looked at his shrivelled fingers, swollen like those of a drowned corpse. "Could be better."

The man hummed in agreement, looking up at the clear sky. "We haven't had a breeze in days now."

"Must be tough," Harry commented drily, earning him another amused look from the man.

They fell silent again, the water lapping gently at the large ship's hull.

"You've got a beautiful ship," Harry offered after a while.

"She is," the man said, pride evident as he looked behind him to the decks. "The name's Voldemort."

Harry frowned, remembering the captain's ashen face when he had uttered that name. "You or the ship?"

"There's no difference."

Harry didn't understand what he meant, but he found himself often puzzled by things the sailors said, so he guessed this was just one of those.

He examined the man again. Was he the captain? He looked rather young. Then again, Harry had no idea how old pirates were usually. Did you need a certain age to plunder the seven seas?

The man tuned his head slightly and Harry could see that he wasn't completely smooth perfection after all. There was a thin cut running along his cheekbone. The slash looked rather recent and the tissue around it was beginning to turn reddish.

"You should get that looked at," Harry commented and the man turned his attention back down to him.

"Your cut," he elaborated when the man remained silent. "It looks slightly infected. I've seen the swords the sailors used, most of them rusty. It's bad if it gets into your blood."

"Are you always this infuriatingly caring?" The man gave him another onceover. "You're not exactly in a state where you should worry about others."

Yeah that was his problem wasn't it?

"You need to stop worrying about others and start looking after yourself Harry."

"Why did you do that Harry? It was dangerous!"

"Don't bother, it's too late for him."

"It's just a stray cat Harry."

"Who would want to go near her?"

"You have a hero complex Harry."

"You shouldn't have rescued that child."

"You're only going to get into trouble Harry!"

"Just walk away, you can't save everybody Harry."

He couldn't help it.

All these lives… How could he not try and help them? How could he stand by and watch them vanish forever?

All their dreams, gone. Their families, destroyed. Their friends, grieving. Their whole future, cast away.

So what if sometimes it was dangerous for him? It was worth the chance.

He was a nobody.

He didn't say that to belittle himself. He had never hurt anyone. He had never rebelled against his mother's wishes. He was trying to become a good man. He would be a good man.

But after his mother's death there was just no one there. Harry didn't form attachments easily. His friends had been casual acquaintances at best.

He was just another human living his life. He didn't have the ambition that drove so many people to make a change.

Crossing the Atlantic and becoming the apprentice of one of the best physicians alive had been the most ambitious thing he had ever attempted. And he had only done that so he could learn more and help those around him better.

The pirate looking down at him might have killed people, might kill many more. But he was still a man, he had a crew, friends, goals in life, a future.

So Harry couldn't help it, that cut bothered him.

"You should try comfrey or styrax resin," he said.

The man looked at him oddly. "I can't decide if you're trying to be helpful or cheeky."

Harry just blinked at him. "At least wash it out with alcohol."

"Do you want me to rescue you?" the man asked suddenly, completely changing the topic. The question had apparently bothered him for quite some time now.

Harry glanced up again to the Jolly Roger. A fate worse than death was said to befall those captured by pirates. Most claimed the pirate's ruthless killings were actually a twisted mercy, to spare the survivors of said fate.

But really, Harry's main concern was that the man had literally tried to kill him three times already. He wasn't about to crawl to him for help now.

"You're kidding me right?"

The man looked thoughtful. "Well, I suppose the answer to that question is always yes, so I needn't have asked but-…"

"Fuck no."

"Excuse me?"

"Yeah, just no. Hell no."

"No?" the man sounded as if he hadn't even considered that answer.

"No," Harry confirmed firmly.

"Hmm…People in your situation usually beg for it."

"Do you often come across people like me?" Harry asked irritated. "You know, people you've shoved into the stormy sea?"

A small ripple on the ocean's surface spilled over Harry's mouth and he sputtered weakly.

"People in your situation? Here and there," the man tilted his head again, as if to study him from all angles. "People like you? Can't say I have."

"Well, no, we're all unique aren't we?"

"What a disgustingly naïve thing to say," the man stated derisively, but his expression was still mildly intrigued.

"You don't think you're unique?"

The man bristled lightly and rearranged his legs on the railing. "Of course I am, silly boy."

"Well, doesn't everyone think they're unique?" Harry prodded.

The man shrugged indifferent. "They do. They are wrong."

He was philosophizing with a pirate in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

Life is weird.

"How do you know you're not wrong?" he continued.

The man glanced down at him with a spark of annoyance. "Do you always ask that many questions?"

"Yes," Harry said solemnly. "Natural curiosity."

"Natural curiosity and zero regard for your own life, I see," the man chuckled. "What's your name, boy?"

He was a nobody drifting in the sea.

"Harry."

The man nodded slightly in acknowledgment. "No last name?"

"Just Harry."

"Well just Harry, what if I want to rescue you?"

Some more water splashed into his face and he sputtered again. Maybe the sea was starting to come alive again.

"Do I look like I care what you want?"

Couldn't he at least die in peace? That wasn't so much to ask for was it?

The man smirked lazily down at him. "It's not like you have any say in the matter. You can't go anywhere."

A small, ever so slow current picked underneath Harry, tugging at his body.

"I'm faster than you," Harry pointed out and his lips stretched into something resembling a smile.

Maybe it was only just underneath him, or the ship was too heavy for the gentle current, but Harry began to move forward almost unnoticeably.

"See ya."

They continued to stare at each other, while Harry moved along in an agonizing slow speed.

After maybe five minutes, maybe an hour, maybe an eternity, he had perhaps gained half a meter from his original position in regards to the man.

The man smirked tauntingly.

"Yeah okay, it might take a while," Harry conceded.

The man chuckled and shook his head, as if resigning from figuring something out.

He reached behind himself and a second later something splashed down in front of Harry. The water droplets made his eyes sting, because he had been too slow to close them.

The end of a rope now lay on top of his plank. It went all the way up to the deck and was knotted around the railing, next to the man.

Harry just stared at him blankly.

"Grab it," the man demanded.

"I can't," Harry muttered.

His eyes became heavy again. The talking had exhausted him. It would be nice if he could sleep again. Dream of his mother maybe, and then die peacefully.

"Do you want to die?"

"Don't know. Can't be too bad. Why do you want to save me?"

"You're mine."

Harry opened his eyes to peer up at him, feeling rather annoyed at the man's preposterous declaration.

"No I'm not."

"Of course you are. Everything swimming in the world's oceans is mine."

Harry mulled over that fact for a while but he couldn't really see the man's logic. "Why?"

"Because I say so."

"What if I say something different?"

"You don't have a say in that matter," the man said offhandedly.

Harry snorted and closed his eyes again. "Oh fuck off."

"Grab the rope," the man insisted.

Harry frowned with his eyes closed. "No, I'm sleepy."

"You're not sleepy, you're dying."

"Mhm," Harry made, demonstratively turning his head to the other side.

There was a louder splash right beside him. He wanted to open his eyes to see what has happened now, but found himself too weak to do so.

Strong arms encircled him, feeling entirely too warm on his ice cold skin. Then he was lifted up, out of the water, away from his plank.

"Leave me alone," Harry grumbled feebly.

"Third time's the charm, Harry. Welcome on board the Voldemort, boy-who-lived."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Harry drifted in and out of awareness for an undiscernible time that felt like eternity. His body was too weak to move and his mind too weak to hold on to consciousness.

At first he was trembling from hypothermia but soon the icy cold gave way to fever. One of his few clear thoughts was that he never wanted to wake again because everything hurt. His throat was pure anguish and his dried skin was shedding painfully.

He barely registered someone tending to him. He only noticed their presence by the cool touch of the newly wet cloth on his forehead. It provided some small relief, but was exchanged only sporadically to his disappointment.

The first time they had tried to force him to drink something Harry had been convinced he would drown for good, far too weak to gulp it down. After that he was left to suckle feebly on a damp rag and Harry was reluctantly impressed by the crude competence of his care.

When he finally managed to open his eyes and registered the world as more than a feverish fog of pain, he was alone.

Even though he knew he had woken up before, this was the first time his thoughts came to him clearly and he managed to regain control over his body. His fever must have broken, allowing some physical and mental strength to return.

But he was absolutely exhausted. He almost let his eyes fall shut again and snuggled deeper into his blanket when he noticed the faint rocking of the bunk he was resting on. He jolted awake more clearly, remembering ships, storms and strange pirates.

The cabin he was in was small for anyone used to life on land, but for a ship it was quite spacious. The fact that he was lying on a soft cot and not in a hammock cramped between dozens of others was another sign that this was as luxurious a setting as you could get on a ship.

He stood up sluggishly, relieved when it felt alright to stand. In the next instant the ship buckled and Harry promptly lost his balance, tumbling to the floor. He sighed, convinced that the sea now had a personal vendetta against him since he escaped her so narrowly.

Determined to find out where he was he pushed himself back to his feet and left the cabin.

The ship really was beautiful. It was longer than the one Harry had booked passage on, but slimmer, giving it a less inert and more elegant feel. The three masts stood tall and proud above his head, not one crack or splinter in the smooth wood. The deck was scrubbed clean and all the ropes were neatly stacked away. Not a single thing was out of place, the scarce space optimized perfectly.

Harry appeared to be on the quarter deck, his tiny room adjacent to what must have been the captain's cabin.

He wondered again whether the man that had killed and saved him was the captain. Judging from his claim that Voldemort was both his and the ship's name it would make sense.

Making his way to the deck's railing he surveyed the spacious main deck. The sea wasn't unruly, but they were making good speed, the sails full of wind. The sun was hidden behind thick clouds, but they were white and unthreatening.

All the crew members - pirates, he reminded himself - he could see were busy, many of them running along the riggings with the astonishing acrobatics of experienced sailors. Some were tending to the ropes, or scrubbing the floor and barrels, boxes and sacks were constantly being heaved across the deck to be used or stored in the hold. Organized shouting served as means for communication. If Harry had learnt one thing while on sea it was that there were always things to do on a ship.

He made his way down the ladder and strolled warily along the main deck, the wooden planks surprisingly smooth under his bare feet.

He stopped at the ship's waist and looked out at the sea. There was no land in sight, again he was drifting without knowledge of his destination in the vast ocean. But this time the journey came with a lot more head wind.

He got a few curious glances but otherwise was ignored which suited him just fine. He was considering going up to the forecastle deck when his wobbly legs already started to protest and he leaned against the railing to steady himself.

"What are you doing out of bed?"

The man, Voldemort, was descending from the quarter deck, his eyes fixed on Harry. The way he strolled along the main deck left no doubt in Harry's mind - he was the captain, this ship and everything on it belonged to him.

This was the man that could strike so much fear in people's hearts, this was the man that plundered and killed for no reason, this was the man terrorizing the world's oceans. It was almost a bit disappointing.

One expected a monster, but got only a human instead.

How does one treat a pirate captain? Smart people would probably say respect was essential.

"Trying to undo the damage of your inadequate care," Harry answered, never having claimed to be a smart man.

Voldemort paused but before he could retaliate Harry went on. "I don't know how long I was just lying there but my limbs need to move to re-establish proper circulation. Some idiot bandaged my whole skin without any kind of cooling balm when all it needs is to breathe."

Voldemort's eyebrows rose haughtily. "Well, my apologies for my inadequate attempt to save your life, I'm not usually in the business of keeping people alive."

"The first step is not killing them."

"I'll keep it in mind," Voldemort chuckled. "If you don't care for our inexperienced company, the exit is right there."

He pointed nonchalantly over the railing to the sea that flew past under the ship.

Harry scowled at his smug expression. Voldemort knew Harry was trapped here in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to.

Harry had known the pirate ship was the only thing between him and certain death from the moment he realized where he was. And while that thought made him uneasy he had pretty much accepted his fate, as always.

The man's pure arrogance and completely unrepentant attitude however, put Harry on edge instantly.

His thoughts might still have been a bit confused, his state of mind probably not what most people would have considered sane, but in that moment Harry refused to let the other win.

Under the perplexed eyes of the pirate captain, Harry stepped over the railing and dropped into the sea without any regrets.


Several minutes, one complicated sailing manoeuvre and a lot of shouting later, Harry stood dripping wet in front of the pissed captain.

"What is it with you and your self-destructive tendencies?"

Harry trembled mutely in front of him, his wet clothes ice cold in the wind.

"I saved you," Voldemort said, then obviously felt the need to emphasize further. "You would be dead without me. Your life is mine."

"Actually without you I would still be on board the trading ship and making my way to America."

Voldemort's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I don't think you realize the situation you're in-…"

"Where are we going by the way?" Harry interrupted unbothered, shaking his dripping hair to get rid of some water. "I always wondered whether places like Nassau actually existed. Is it really full of pirates?"

Voldemort's brows twitched irritated. "I saved you for your expertise, not to answer your questions."

"My expertise?"

"You're a physician are you not? They are always convenient to have nearby. You will examine all my men and bring them into top form."

"Oh, okay," Harry said relieved, but the man didn't seem to hear him.

"And should you refuse to cooperate you will wish the sea had claimed you, because mercy will be the last thing on my min-…" Voldemort stopped, tilting his head suspiciously. "Okay?"

"Well yes, treating people is what I do. Why didn't you just ask?"

Voldemort looked at him oddly. Harry returned his stare silently.

"Go back to bed. You need to get out of these clothes."

What a weird man.

"But captain," one of the pirates standing nearby spoke up, leering at Harry. "I've got this terrible swelling right here and I don't think it can wait."

While several others around them snickered, he pointed unmistakably between his legs.

Harry just looked at him blankly. "It looks like it could be an edema, it's quite bad. I suggest to cut it off immediately, if someone could hand me a knife?"

The pirates jeered and the man grinned unashamedly.

"No knife for you silly child," Voldemort said, sending his crew a look that got them back to work. "I fear you would cut your wrists open."

"I'm not suicidal."

Voldemort chuckled in disbelief. "Your sudden urges to take a bath are quite extreme then."

"I like the ocean," Harry protested sheepishly.

He always had. A love he had inherited from his mother. Even when they would have been able to afford a better house she stayed in their small apartment by the docks. The splashing of waves on rocks, the screeches of seagulls and the salty smell of the sea were the things Harry thought of when he remembered home.

If he hadn't become so interested in medicine he would have definitely become a sailor. He would have set sail anyways, maybe on the exact same vessel he had been on.

How strange to think that he might have ended up where he was now, no matter what his previous choices were.

"You almost died in it," Voldemort pointed out.

How strange to think he could have met that man even if he had lived a completely different life.

Harry glared at him. "That was your fault."

"Go back to bed," the captain repeated. "I want a full check-up of my crew and you are far too weak to be of any use right now."

Harry huffed but made his way back to his cabin. When he passed Voldemort he spotted the red line still prominent on his cheekbone. Nothing too serious, but the cut should have healed fully by now.

"I told you it would get infected."

 


 

Harry slept the rest of the day and it was dark when he woke up again.

He already felt a lot better. He was able to drink a whole glass of water and his throat stopped scratching him. His only concern was his growing hunger. Now that all the more urgent needs had been taken care of his stomach reminded him that he also hadn't eaten anything in a considerable time.

He stumbled out of his pitch black cabin.

Night at sea was disconcerting to him. When the moon wasn't strong enough or hidden behind clouds like tonight, it felt like the ship glided through pure darkness. The whole world became reduced to the sparsely illuminated deck.

Many of the pirates were gathered on the main deck, lanterns providing the only source of light. Food and drink was lying around, laughter filled the air. It didn't look much different than the evenings Harry had seen on the trading ship, except maybe a bit rowdier.

At least three men were engaged in a brawl while others cheered them on. Card games lay abandoned as the players accused each other loudly of cheating, which seemed to give them far more satisfaction than the actual game. The captain was nowhere to be seen.

"Are you the one that wanted to cut Rosier's dick of? I'm a fan."

Harry turned and to his surprise saw a woman sitting on one of the large barrels, her dark curly hair fluttering wildly in the wind.

The trading ship he had been on had a quite open-minded crew, allowing women on board if they were just passengers. Most other sailors still believed the sea would somehow take offense at the female presence and drown them all.

"Uhm, I'm Harry," he said cautiously. "I didn't know there were female pirates."

"Women aren't allowed on ships."

"Err, so you..?"

"Obviously I'm not a woman."

He blinked confused, looking at her tattered dress that only barely concealed her cleavage.

Obviously she was.

"Rum? Ale?" she asked jovially, procuring several bottles from behind her. "I heard you almost froze in the sea, nothing like a good drink to warm you up again eh?"

"Drowning was the more immediate concern."

"Drowning!" she laughed loudly as if he'd just told her a fantastic joke.

"Thanks for the alcohol, but uhm, I'd really prefer some food right now."

"Food!" she snickered, for some reason even more amused. When she saw his blank face she frowned and became serious. "You want food? Like… to eat?"

He looked at her confused. "What do you usually do with food?"

Her jaw momentarily dropped as she stared at him incredulously, then a huge grin split her face. "Food! Why of course, you need food don't you? I mean you almost drowned! Ha!"

She seemed absolutely delighted. Hopping down from her barrel, she stormed off and started to enthusiastically pile up food in front of him. She brought him everything from pickled apples to dried meat and watched excitedly as he ate.

Harry opted for a reddish soup that was cold but edible and hopefully wouldn't upset his neglected stomach too much.

The woman, who introduced herself as Bellatrix, happily kept him company, only stopping to talk when she was gulping down her rum.

All in all his situation didn't seem too bad. He had no idea where he was going, but the horrible tales he had heard hadn't come true so far. The crew was rough but they left him alone.

Glancing around at the relaxed atmosphere of the pirates it was hard to reconcile them with the murderers he knew them to be.

Maybe that's why an uneasy feeling never quite left his gut completely. They behaved normally enough, yet something seemed off, something he couldn't quite place.

And it wasn't until several days later that he finally realized what it was. No matter what time of day, no matter how much food was piled up in front of them.

He was the only one eating.

 


 

"You're not allowed to work."

Harry sighed and wrung out the rag he was using to scrub the deck. The sun was burning down on them and Harry had to squint his eyes when he looked up at Voldemort.

"I'm cleaning your ship, what's wrong with that?"

"You haven't fully recovered yet."

"I'm not going to get stronger sitting around will I?"

He let the rag soak in new water and wanted to start scrubbing again when Voldemort snatched it out of his hand.

"I'm the captain and I say you're still far too weak for physical work."

Harry scowled at him, unimpressed. "I'm the doctor and I say I'm fine."

"You're biased."

Harry rolled his eyes and stood up, stifling a groan of relief when he stretched his knees.

"What do you care if I drop dead? Afraid I'm better at killing myself than you were?"

Voldemort discarded the rag aimlessly and fixed his intense stare on Harry. One of his hands reached out towards his head and Harry flinched when it softly cupped his cheek.

"You fought for a stranger's life so desperately," Voldemort murmured. "But when it comes to yours you just don't seem to care much. Why is that?"

"I'm still alive, so I'd say my strategy is more successful than you think."

The pirate regarded him for a little while longer, then suddenly grabbed his waist and hoisted him up on the railing. Harry tried not to think about the fact how effortlessly the man could pick him up.

"Jump," Voldemort said, eyes still fixed on him curiously.

The railing was wide enough to stand on, but they were sailing at a considerable speed and the waves made the ship rock unpredictably. Harry swayed unsteadily, Voldemort's lax grip the only thing that stabilized him somewhat.

He twisted his head to look down at the beautifully glistering sea below him and his heart rate accelerated. Beautiful, but deadly.

"You have a problem when I overexert myself and now you're telling me to kill myself?" he asked drily.

Harry didn't know why Voldemort had fished him out of the ocean after trying to kill him several times. But he did know the captain hadn't just nursed him back to health to try again. If he wanted to kill Harry, he would have been dead by now.

The man was studying him as if he was an interesting puzzle. "You did a few days ago."

"And you saved me. Again. Why?" Harry asked, extending his arms to balance himself out on the thin wood.

"You intrigue me," Voldemort answered simply. "Why did you jump?"

Harry mulled over his cryptic answer and decided two could play the game. "It was the last thing you expected me to do."

"Do you like to surprise people?"

"Did it work?"

"Do you always answer questions with another question?"

"Do you?"

The pirate's lips slowly spread into a smile. Harry, once again struck with the unreality of the situation, gave him a small grin of his own, which seemed to amuse the man even more.

"How did you come to be a physician?" Voldemort asked instead.

"My mother died," Harry answered honestly. "How did you become a pirate?"

Voldemort smirked wryly. "My mother died."

Harry raised his eyebrows. Talk about different coping mechanisms.

"Well it's good you didn't become a doctor. You'd scare your patients to death."

Voldemort tilted his head. "Am I scaring you?"

"I'm hard to scare off."

"I noticed."

"Does that intrigue you?" Harry asked, remembering Voldemort's answer from before.

"Very," the captain said pleased. "The fear of death is essential to life. If you take it away there's nothing left to fear, nothing left to stop you. So many stories and myths dedicated to immortality, the absolute power. And here you are, mortal and weak, but unafraid still."

Harry stared down at him, acutely aware that a gentle push from Voldemort was all that would be needed to send him tumbling to his wet grave.

"Are you afraid?" Harry asked quietly.

Voldemort flashed him a sharp smile. "Not anymore."

Those two words were easily the most unsettling thing Harry had ever heard.

Voldemort tugged him down from the railing and Harry let out a small breath.

"Come," the captain ordered. "Have lunch with me."

Harry scowled at the presumptuous command but trotted behind him obediently, his own walk still much wobblier compared to the pirate, despite the weeks he had spent on sea already.

He had assumed they would go to the main deck where the crew took their meals - or well, didn't, as far as Harry could tell - but Voldemort led him straight to the captain's quarters.

It was a lot bigger than Harry's tiny cabin and even had high windows of glass that took up an entire side of the room and gave it a lot more light than you usually saw below deck.

Harry looked around curiously, examining the various books, maps and trinkets while Voldemort rolled up a few charts from his table and arranged the food until it looked like a table for two in a fancy restaurant.

Very fancy actually. And was that fresh pork?

"Uhm," Harry made uncertainly, looking behind himself to the door to assure himself that they hadn't just left the ship.

Voldemort sat down gracefully, poured himself a lavish glass of wine and glanced at him over the rim. "Sit."

Harry did so warily. He waited for the other to start filling his plate, but the captain merely continued sipping his wine, ignoring the food completely.

When he noticed that Harry made no move to start eating he quirked an eyebrow and gestured lazily to the table. "Eat."

"You're…not eating?"

"I ate before."

Harry blinked at him. "You invited me to lunch and already ate?"

"Yes," Voldemort shrugged. "Now eat."

Not knowing what else to do Harry filled his plate and began to eat, still mindful about the quantity he put in his body.

He could hear the waves gently lapping at the ship, the creaking of the wood all around them, the crew scurrying around on the deck. It would have been peaceful and relaxing, if not for the unnerving silence that stretched between them.

Harry cleared his throat. "So… You let me rest, give me food, try to stop me from working…"

"It's called being a gracious host."

"You're a pirate," he pointed out.

"Astute observation."

Harry sighed. "What do you want with me?"

"I told you that before."

"I've looked at your crew. Some were a bit banged up, others maybe a bit sickly, but there's nothing more for me to do."

Voldemort shrugged. "They will be injured again."

Harry bit his lips anxiously. They would only be injured when they took another ship and their prey dared to fight back.

"Why did you do it?" Harry asked softly. "It was the middle of a terrible storm, you didn't even take anything with you. Why did you just board a random ship and kill everyone?"

Voldemort was concentrating on his wine, swirling the red liquid artfully in the glass. "You make the assumption it was random."

"I…it-… It wasn't?"

"I thought it was."

"And then..?"

"And then I met you."

Harry's fork clattered on the table. "W-what?"

Voldemort's eyes shifted back to Harry. "I didn't know until after I saw you again of course, drifting in the middle of the Atlantic."

"I don't understand."

"You see, a storm like this on high seas is enough to drown whole crews on their ships. Do you know how long you were out there?"

Harry remained silent.

"Almost two weeks. With literally nothing."

"I had a plank…" Harry protested weakly.

"And no water."

"I…well…that…"

The captain set his glass down and leaned forward on the table. "What are you, Harry?"

He remembered walking into the ocean when he was so small the gentlest of waves could knock him over. He remembered a town in frenzy because they thought he had drowned. He remembered his mother telling him he had stayed under the surface for over ten minutes.

Harry gulped and lifted his eyes to meet Voldemort's. "What are you?"

The pirate smiled.

"Ship ahoy!" came a yell from outside. "Ship on larboard!"

"Finally," Voldemort said, standing up and checking his swords and pistols. "Don't do anything stupid now, silly child."

Ignoring his words, Harry got up and followed him outside.

The ship to their left was obviously better equipped for combat than the vessel Harry had been on. Still, it seemed as if it was doing it's hardest to outrun them. Their efforts were fruitless, the Voldemort rapidly closing the distance between them.

Commands were being shouted, cannons were being prepared, sleeping crew members were being woken from the hold.

The weather could not have been more different from the last time Harry had seen the pirates in action. The sky and the ocean were almost of the same, brilliant blue. The sunny day somehow made the bloodthirsty jeers and explosions from the cannons even more absurd.

Why were they doing it?

The ship lost the race and was soon overrun by the pirate horde, though the crew was fighting back viciously.

Determined, Harry balanced himself on one of the planks thrown over the gap of the ships and crossed over.

Without the storm, the bloodbath around him was a lot clearer.

The nearest man on the ground was bleeding heavily from his stomach and Harry quickly kneeled next to him, examining the wound.

"You were shot, the bullet is lodged too deep to take out now. I need you to press onto the wound," he said to the groaning man and took his hand to guide it to the wound.

Voldemort appeared out of nowhere, looming over him. "What are you doing, silly child? He's not one of us."

"How should I know that?"

"He's wearing a uniform."

"Oh," Harry said. He hadn't noticed.

Before he could do anything Voldemort swiftly cut the man's throat. Harry looked up at him, shell-shocked.

"Don't look at me like that."

Harry's features twisted into a scowl. How could he take a life so easily? How could he not feel the least bit of hesitation in ending an existence forever?

"Anger? Hmm, yes, that's better," Voldemort said, looking down at him pensively.

He dragged Harry roughly to his feet. "Look after my men, or I will bind you to one of the masts and make you listen to the screams."

So Harry did.

It was wrong, but the right thing to do.

 


 

He holed himself up after that, only leaving his cabin when Voldemort dragged him to his quarters for meals.

They talked. A lot. And the more they talked, the more obvious it became that neither of them understood the other. Too different were their world views, their ambitions and morals on the opposite sides of one spectrum.

And yet they didn't stop talking, without arguing. There was a fascination there, in glimpsing the other's motives, gauging the other's reactions. A satisfaction in seeing the other contemplate himself.

They talked, knowing that the other would never concede, probing at each other's minds nonetheless.

And if they grew tired of picking each other apart, Voldemort would tell him about ports and lands from the other side of the world. The captain had lived and seen everything it seemed, and Harry listened with single-minded attention, for there was nowhere else to go for him.

At least, there hadn't been anywhere to go before.

"Uhm, what is that?" he asked, standing at the railings of the main deck, looking straight ahead.

Voldemort chuckled. "That solid stretch of brown and green is what they call land, I've heard."

The port in front of them looked lively, but very different from where Harry came from. The pirates had taken their flag down and replaced it with an English one, which Harry assumed meant that this wasn't one of the world's famous pirate havens.

"You're letting me go?" Harry asked dumbfounded.

"Pure self-interest I assure you," Voldemort said. "I have a feeling that keeping you at sea without your consent would prove detrimental to my ship."

Harry frowned. "Why?"

"Do you have parents?"

He shrugged. "Everyone has parents."

"I bet you've only ever met one of them."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

Voldemort didn't answer and simply nudged him towards the plank that connected them to the quay.

"Run along now, Harry. If you stay on land from now on you might have a chance at a normal life. Try not to kill yourself."

Harry took a few hesitant steps away from the ship. But he stopped soon and turned back around.

"What if I gave my consent? What if I want to come with you?"

Voldemort was leaning onto the railing, watching him. "Don't be silly, little one. You hate everything I stand for."

"I don't care," Harry murmured, looking down at the quay, oddly unmoving beneath his feet.

"You would be the worst pirate ever. I think you would give riches away instead of taking them."

Harry looked back up at the captain. "If I come with you…will you explain? Everything?"

Voldemort tilted his head in consideration. "I will."

Harry took another look around the abundant green of the vegetation on the land, then turned back around and started walking up the plank.

Voldemort watched his decision with interest. "You're far too curious for your own good."

"Natural curiosity and zero regard for my own life, remember?"

Voldemort hummed. "What a simple minded creature you are."

"You almost make it sound like a compliment."

"It is."

Harry stopped at the highest point of the plank. One step more and he would be back on deck. His eyes locked with Voldemort's.

"Last chance, Harry. If you stay I won't let you go ever again. And ever can be a very long time."

Harry took a step.

"Just like that?" Voldemort asked amused.

"Just like that," Harry shrugged. "Also, I want to go to china, their medicine is very advanced in some aspects."

"This is my ship."

"Of course," Harry said and the captain huffed appeased. Harry smiled. "Now tell it to go to china."