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Chapter 18 : Never Trust Superstitions Born From Excessive Time at Sea
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Micah wasn’t getting the message. "Who says you have to spend the holidays with your family?"
"You have to," Victoire insisted, wondering at what point the sunset was going to give her perspective. Micah's suggestion to experience one hinted at therapy and introspection. Except, Micah's view of the world left little room for reflection. Her advice had been blunt: cry yourself a river, build yourself a bridge, and get over it.
Poetic in a kick-you-in-the-arse kind of way.
Victoire understood the need, if not the means, but Micah's casual ditch-the-family attitude confused her. She wanted the support of being with them. And Teddy had Iska. He should have her family. Not the Weasleys.
She propped her feet on the boat's railing, wrapping an oversize towel closer around her shoulders to block the wind. A red and orange streaked sky faced off the starboard side with a glow that was warm only in colour. A swim platform jutted over the water off the back of the boat. The pair perched on an inflated rubber life raft they’d flipped over on the platform. Cold rubber. Her bum was numb. Maybe they should have left a few deck chairs.
"Then tell him to make other plans."
Victoire merely scoffed at the suggestion. She couldn't tell him anything of the kind. The family would want to understand why she'd issued an ultimatum, and she wasn't inclined to explain. Besides, her current plan involved not speaking to Teddy at all.
“No?” Micah leaned back on her elbows, closing her eyes and lifting her face to the crisp breeze. The woman was, by all indications, impervious to the elements. A sly smile broke across her features. “Then why not take the boat for a holiday cruise. She’s ready.”
True. Victoire had been living onboard the last week. “My boat’s a he.”
“All boats are she, hun,” Micah said, not bothering to open her eyes. “With the possible exception of those cigarette boats, because y’ know, compensation. But, generally, it’s the rule.”
“You follow rules?” Victoire had never met anyone so prone to individual interpretation, and if Micah didn’t agree, she saw no problem disregarding.
The question prompted the opening of a single eye. “The ones that make sense.”
“And arbitrary gender assignment makes sense.”
“If you ask the crews, yes. Boats deliver their cargo and protect their passengers. All that feminine vessel crap.” She shrugged, eyes closed again. “‘Course most crews will also tell you having women onboard is bad luck.”
“I reckon that depends on the woman.” The familiar Aussie accent reached them from the dimness of the deck above. “I’d take my chances with you two.”
Micah rolled to prop on one elbow, squinting up at Owen, whose outline disappeared while he ducked into the boat's main cabin for the stairway to the swim platform. “The spare returns again,” she murmured. “Been avoiding him too?”
Victoire scowled. He hadn’t been back that long.
And she didn’t know what to tell him. Worse, she didn’t know what Teddy had told him. She wished she’d left a light on in the cabin so she’d get a glimpse of his expression before he reached them. Not that Owen was prone to revealing anything. She should be more concerned if the sun had dropped far enough to prevent her from giving too much away. Dropping her legs, she swiveled to face the cabin door.
“Whole boat to yourselves and you’re huddled on a raft in the dark?” He strode out and dropped on the raft with a force that had the girls bouncing with him.
“The fairies are around somewhere.” Victoire squirmed back to a sitting position before realizing that, in her self-consciousness, she hadn’t moved to hug or even properly greet him.
“They chase you out?” His tone was teasing, but his watchful gaze probed to the point Victoire suspected he’d start offering ice cream soon.
She’d done the ice cream days ago. Hadn’t helped.
“Sunset brought us out.” Victoire’s face, reluctant to cooperate, left her no idea what form her attempt at a smile had taken. She turned to Micah for help. “Isn’t there something about storms …sky color…?”
Micah hesitated, giving Victoire the sinking sensation her friend might take the opportunity to push her past the topic of weather. She bit her lip, thinking fast, but Micah came through, quoting “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.”
“Yeah, that one.” Apparently, the boat was safe until morning. Victoire was only safe for the next ten minutes. The exact length of time Micah took to make a lame excuse to go inside.
Owen wasted no time. “You gonna tell me what’s twisted everybody’s knickers?” He waited a beat for her to answer while she bit her lip and avoided eye contact. “A man can’t even scare up a mate for a pint. I’m drinking alone these days.”
That did it. “Not the first time Teddy’s been too busy for you.” She managed to keep the bitterness out of her voice, if not all the venom.
The last rays of sunlight crossed the planes of Owen’s face and square jaw at a low, almost eerie angle. "This time’s got me worried."
Victoire recoiled. He was serious. Owen was concerned for Teddy.
“Teddy’s busy being Teddy. I wouldn’t waste time worrying.” She stood, but given that the swim platform wasn’t much bigger than the raft, she didn’t really have anywhere to move. She pressed back against the guardrail and grasped the top rung with a punishing grip. Bloody sunsets. The only thing twilight brought was another night.
"You're wrong. I haven't seen him this detached since-" Owen stopped himself and breathed in. "What happened?"
She wheeled around. "Besides him wanting his cake and Iska too? I wouldn’t know."
Owen cursed to himself. She didn’t hear it; only saw the word formed on his lips before he stood.
“It was nothing.” She’d spent the last week kicking herself for thinking anything different, with the occasional break to imagine exactly where she wanted to kick Teddy. “Obviously. Not worth his mentioning. ”
“He’s not really talking.” Owen stepped beside her and pried her grip from the railing. He sighed, close but not making any other contact. “Should’ve brought a roadie.”
“Dad keeps beer in the wet bar, upper salon.”
He didn’t move.
“I’m not going to jump. Promise.”
Micah passed him on his way to the top deck. Through the open door to the lighted interior, Victoire had a straight view of their short conversation before he went up the stairs and Micah stepped outside with her.
“Traitor,” Victoire said. Flopping back on the raft with her arms over her head, she blinked up at the only two stars bright enough to be visible yet.
“Don’t be ugly, sugar.” Micah sat down when the raft settled, barely causing a ripple herself, and tossed a sweater on Victoire’s chest. “You get this down, and you’ll be doing all right.”
“You speak from experience?”
“Not the same experience, but that doesn’t make a lick of difference. I can still say it doesn’t pay to spend time looking back. It’s what’s in front-”
The words died in her throat and both their heads turned in unison at a sharp hissing erupting from over the dark waves. The hiss grew to a roar and the sky burst with light again. Brilliant red and completely unnatural. The color was hot and vivid. A massive flaming streak thundered toward the boat, rumbling like the Hogwarts Express speeding through a tunnel. The air trembled with the sound.
The girls tumbled off the raft seconds before the fireball hit, ripping the rubber to shreds with the combination of a punitive direct blow and intense heat, expanding the air inside beyond capacity. The raft gave way with a shrill screech and the rapid-fire staccato pops of a warehouse of fireworks set off at once. Ragged strips tore and rained outward with the force of whips. Searing rubber slapped against the deck, the cabin, their backs.
A sharp sting above one ear brought Victoire to her knees, and she gagged at the foul smell of sulfur. A scrap glanced off the side of her head, spiraling with the velocity of a Bludger. She watched in horror as the black strip skidded on the deck in front of where she crouched, twisted in a chunk of singed hair. Then, she transformed.
She dodged the tail of the fire, now assuming the shape of a chimera. Flying sharply upward, she avoided flames but not their intense heat or noxious fumes. She struggled. Her wings couldn’t rotate fully in the turbulence billowing from the assault below. Victoire spun herself around and caught sight of Micah’s outline, bathed in crimson light near the door, facing the fire with a hand shading her face. Shit. She wasn’t running. She was screaming.
Micah didn’t know where she’d gone.
“Vic! Micah!” Owen’s shout from the upper deck carried through the air, but Micah, below the overhang of that deck and now desperately trying to douse flames, showed no sign of hearing him. Victoire had to do something. To get her friends away. And the fairies. Shit, where were the fairies?
Micah turned on the spot to avoid the blazing head of the chimera. She was gone. Victoire only hoped Micah assumed she’d Apparated to safety and had done the same.
Owen couldn’t have seen Micah from above. He hadn’t seen either of them get away. Before Victoire could do anything, Owen jumped from the upper deck, landing near the sweater she’d dropped in her scramble off the raft. He hit hard, almost dropping to one knee, wand already drawn, but his efforts to fight the fire evaporated before getting anywhere near the flames.
The Fiendfyre twisted around, engulfing the sweater and blasting a hole in the deck where the garment disintegrated. The boat lurched with the force of the attack. Deck boards all around burst in flames. The fire was fueling itself on the boat.
Owen jerked back to dodge an igniting board and lost his footing on the now wet deck. The boat, set in motion by the blasts, pitched him overboard. Victoire’s stomach dropped when his head cracked against the hull before he slipped limply into the water.
The Snidget she had been transformed midair. As a woman, she half-dropped, half-dove after him. The salty water was an icy shock compared to the furnace of the flaming boat.
The boat. She’d already lost the boat, held no hope of saving it now. She frantically searched for Owen. She couldn’t lose him. If she hadn’t been such a bloody coward, protecting herself, he wouldn’t have jumped into the middle of hell to save her.
The seawater killed her eyes. She couldn’t see anything in the murk. A Bubble-Head charm helped for breathing, but not visibility. Chunks of sizzling debris sunk through the water from all directions with only a fraction of a heartbeat between seeing and avoiding them. Every time she rolled in the water to escape a direct hit, she searched the new direction.
Where was he? She couldn’t let him drown at the bottom of the harbor with no one around. Where no one would find him. The frigid water had numbed her skin but didn’t stop the shiver that ran through her.
She couldn’t let her worst nightmare happen to Owen.
She’d been rescued from the Forbidden Forest by a first year. Owen wasn’t feather light, water was a complication, but she was a full-grown witch. She pulled her wand to her, her hands clasped around the hilt and her head bowed. The pose had her slipping faster to the bottom, but she needed to gather her strength for the incantation. With a breath so deep her bubble indented, and every ounce of her strength picturing Owen’s smile -remembering his laugh - she thrust her wand through the water.
Her shout echoed within the bubble, ringing in her ears. She kicked her legs and flailed around in a circle. Nothing. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the shadow of movement and turned desperately toward the shape, only to find another chunk of board caught in the undertow.
How could anything be left on the surface after all this? She’d been underwater for what seemed like years.
She grasped her wand so tight her fingernails dug crescents into her palm. A sob choked up her throat. Think. Think. If she could only see him and not the rubbish littering the water. Homenum Revelio. The spell came to mind in an instant of clarity.
Before her mouth even formed the words, she detected a presence in the water.
Not a shadow.
The incantation she spoke, not trusting how she had actually managed a nonverbal, was another Bubble-Head charm. Her wand shot a blue-green bolt through the murky water to him. The light of the spell illuminated the twitch of his body on impact, but his limbs went limp after. She swam in the wake of the spell, faster than she ever had - even when pursued by an irate hippocampus.
She never thought anything would make her want gillyweed again. She’d choke down a double dose to get to him sooner. Had the time been mere minutes or the eternity she’d experienced in her panic?
She grabbed his arm and swung his body around to see his face. The turbulence of the water made it difficult to tell if he were moving or being moved with the choppy swirl of the undercurrent. The light from the tip of her wand penetrated only a short distance in the brown water, reaching no farther than his bubble. His eyes were half open but unfocused. A faint trace of moisture collected inside the bubble, the tiniest spot of sheer mist from his breath. Fresh drops of blood beaded above his eyebrow.
Dead men don’t bleed. She repeated the thought to herself as she laced an arm under his and pulled him to her with a tight grip. She kicked and stroked with her free limbs. Judging by the flashes, intensifying and fading above her, they’d sunk far enough to be closer to the bottom than the surface. She used the increasing glow of the fire, outlining the hulking frame of the boat, to guide her.
She’d never make swimming to the shoreline but couldn’t risk getting too close to the incinerating boat. The dock was her best choice, although she wasn’t sure where she could climb up. She aimed for the dockside of the wreckage. She hoped it was the dockside. If not, she’d be taking them out with the lowering tide.
Brawny Owen, so athletic on dry land, was more anchor than buoy underwater. She swam with stuttered, jerky forward movements. The debris cluttering her path cleared somewhat ahead of her. Helpful. Until, something slimy slithered under her shirt, grazing her shoulder blades before sliding down to the small of her back with a tug that stopped her. Horror and repulsion battled for which could overtake her first.
Her captor propelled her backward with fast, sinuous movements that rendered her limbs useless against the speed and force with which she was being towed. Her grip on Owen slipped and she wrapped her legs around his torso, locking her ankles to keep from losing him. She wouldn’t let go now. She twisted to look behind her in a movement that wrenched her neck in the water’s propulsion. Their rapid descent had them already under the boat.
She couldn’t tell, beyond a flash of silver scales, what beast had captured them. The beast’s intent to ram them into the bottom of the boat and down to a watery grave seemed clear.
Left with no other choice, she braced against their impending doom. The impact she expected turned into more of a squishing followed by a definite squeezing. Her breath left her, and along with it, the cold. Her unexpected escort flung her upward where she and Owen, at last, broke the surface of water.
And hit a ceiling.
Darkness had given way to whiteness. Light and white. The only color came from a half-dozen frisbees and two Quaffles, assumed lost that past summer, rocking in the ripples around them. Unless purgatory smelled like sardines, they hadn’t been murdered. But they were exactly where she didn’t want to be. Inside the boat. In a flooded cabin - the ramora’s cabin judging by the toys - with an arm’s length of airspace between the surface of the water and the ceiling they’d surely dented.
Owen had taken the brunt of the hit with his shoulder; his bubble broke and spilled out a throaty groan from him with the pop. He slipped down before his weight lifted from her. Reflexes took over and he was treading water. He squinted around, hesitated but opted to ignore the ramora, and focused bleary, somewhat bloodshot eyes on her.
“You promised you wouldn’t jump.”
“You jumped first.” Unsure if the ramora intended a rescue or an attempt to keep the rats from leaving the sinking ship, Victoire wasn’t staying long enough to sort out the details. She paddled to the far wall where the top of a door was visible above the waterline.
Owen opened the hatch with some effort. The pair spilled into a narrow hallway with a gush of water. The fire raged on, searching for whatever target had eluded its wrath and, from the splintering sounds above them, not sparing the furnishings on the way. Smoke moved through the upper half of passages and cabins in fast rolling swells. The ceilings looked like they were boiling with the thick black clouds.
“We have to go up.” Victoire coughed. The air scratched her throat and lungs. They should have left the bubbleheads for the smoke, but she was afraid she wouldn’t hear as well. And she wanted to hear the path of the Fiendfyre. “Apparate…from...deck.” She was wheezing now.
Owen took the lead. She shouldn’t have let him. A concussion from the head wound wasn’t out of the question. His wand was surely buried in silt at the bottom of the harbor. Not to mention, she knew the boat’s layout. But, his actions left no room for debate, and she didn’t struggle when he placed a firm hand on her shoulder to keep her close and under the eye-watering smoke. They splashed ahead in ankle deep water.
The closest escape was a spiral staircase leading to the boat’s bridge, the highest point and navigation center for the boat. Victoire reached over Owen’s shoulder to send a blast of air upward, blowing the smoke out of the tube-like passage. They both inhaled quickly and started up to the round hatch in the floor of the bridge. Victoire had her wand in one hand and hooked the other onto Owen’s belt with a firm grip. They moved fast, but the smoke filled the stairwell like a chimney faster than she could blow it back down.
As soon as Victoire cleared the last stair, Owen slammed the hatch closed over the stairwell, flinching at the crack the heavy cover made sealing the opening. The boat’s bridge, intended to give the pilot a full view for navigation, was a circular room with windows all around. The polished wood floor was dominated by a large compass design inlaid in the center.
The smoke that chased them upward dispersed immediately. Eeerily. The room appeared inexplicably untouched. The polished wood, dials and fixtures glistened but not from any natural or interior lighting. They reflected a vicious red dragon circling the deck below and an equally angry thunderstorm brewing up from the horizon with unnatural speed.
The sheer violence of the forces surrounding them was paralyzing. Owen snaked a hand around her waist, leaning heavily against her. “Tell me we can Apparate from here.”
She shook her head. “And I don’t think rain’s going to help.”
Nothing about that storm looked right - not its speed or the force of the electricity brewing within the clouds. She heard the thunder, saw the lightening, but everything stayed within the thunderhead as it raced across the water. She’d almost swear the storm was stalking the boat.
“Water’s nothing but an invitation to kick your arse quicker.” Owen’s words were thick, his gray eyes dilated.
“We need to get off the boat.” She took two steps to cross the room, Owen in stride with her, heading for the door to the deck. Mungos. She’d Apparate them directly to St. Mungos. Owen needed a Healer.
“You need to get the boat away from the wizards.” The fairies emerged from the middle of the compass, blocking them from the door. Faun had spoken, but Matera put her hand up to silence her.
“You’re still here?” Victoire couldn’t believe they hadn’t taken cover somewhere else. “We need to get out.”
“No need leaving the boat.” Matera’s voice was calm, but her troop was edgy. “The boat will meet your needs.”
Victoire tensed as an awful thought invaded her mind. “You can’t be doing this,” she wheezed. The thought made her weak, made her sick to her stomach. “Why?”
Matera spoke slowly, as if to a child. “A scorned wizard is the only Being malicious enough for this. This is not the way of fairies.”
“Stay on the compass,” Faun ordered when Victoire made a frantic move to the door. Faun cast Matera a defiant, impatient glance. The remainder of the troop looked anxiously between them.
The room flashed as the lightening finally unleashed. The bolts lashed out in multiple strokes, narrowly missing the Finedfyre. The electricity discharged was palpable. The shock wave blasted out a window.
“You can go, if you say where,” Matera coached. “Say where you want to go.”
Victoire had no time for games. “Safety!” How were they not getting the need to get away? “That’s where I want to go - to safety.”
Two things happened at once. Another ear-splitting clasp of thunder, accompanied by an instant bolt of lightning, coursed through the air. The room began to spin around, the movement giving them a full view of the strike on the port side of the boat.
The intensity of the lightening flash impaired Victoire’s eyesight. Spots clouded her vision as if she’d been staring at the sun. She wasn’t sure she could believe what she was seeing. The lightening had struck the fiery dragon head on.
By the second spin around, the lightning strike had traveled the length of the beast, which began imploding, writhing and withering. By the third spin, nothing outside the bridge windows was clear. She was getting dizzy and very, very sick to her stomach. Looking down she realized the room wasn’t spinning, the compass was.
Her last thought: they had to get off before she passed out.
Thanks for sticking with me. Can't tell you how much I appreciate it!
Oh, and sorry for the cliffy. Next chapter's going to be shorter and the following chapter is mostly written, so I hope to get those posted relatively quickly.
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