Severus arranged for one of The Ugly Duckling's errand boys to take Miss Granger's parcels back to the ship, and then he exited the tavern and stared at the storefront across the road. He was familiar with The Twisted Corset—more than, actually—but he had never felt less like entering the premises. To be quite frank, he was terrified of what he would find when he entered. He knew what sorts of entertainment the Corset offered in the evenings; he only hoped that its entertainers were above, sound asleep, at this moment in the day.
He also vowed to every known deity that if he could just get Miss Granger to Boston without further incident, then he would repent all his wicked ways and settle down in some harmless little village far, far away.
Unfortunately, that day was not yet here. And right now, he had to enter his favorite house of ill repute, more than likely face his favorite lightskirts, and drag his stubborn, willful, exasperating, disobedient—
"Are you going to stand about all day, Captain, or are you going to join us?" The Corset's madam stood casually in the doorframe, grinning widely. Without waiting for him to answer, she turned and sashayed back into the house. Severus took a bracing breath and followed.
The sight that met his eyes was unexpected. Several of the ladies were gathered in the front parlor, and they appeared to be taking tea with Miss Granger. Fully clothed.
Inwardly, Severus breathed a sigh of relief. As much as he was beginning to desire her, he couldn't live with himself if her innocence was snatched away while she was under his care.
"Won't you join us, Severus?" the madam drawled, patting the sofa next to her. Victoria Habersmith had made her way from England in much the same way as Miss Granger, actually, although her financial circumstances had led her to a life that was much different than he wished for his captive. Still, she was very well off, and she ran her house with an iron fist. Her girls were always clean, well taken care of, and lacked for nothing. He had heard that she even provided tutors for the ones that wished to better themselves through education. Severus had assisted Victoria with some sticky business many years ago and the two had become unlikely friends.
The way Miss Granger was glaring at him now, though, had him nearly laughing. Clearly she thought there was more between them. Severus only smirked; it served her right, running out of his sight and directly into a courtesan's den.
"I'm afraid we can't stay...this time," he replied, allowing enough regret to seep into his tone that even Miss Granger could pick up on it. Her brows drew together and she tossed her biscuit back onto her plate, looking disgusted. "Thank you, ladies, for taking care of Miss Granger for me."
He gripped her elbow and propelled her up and out of her seat.
"Do hurry back to us," Victoria cooed, and Severus sketched her an overly ornate bow before dragging Miss Granger out the door.
"That was terribly rude of you," she protested as soon as they were on the street. "They weren't telling me anything scandalous, you know, even though I did ask, not that it's any of your concern..."
Severus tuned her diatribe out for the rest of the walk back to the dock. He didn't release her arm until she was safely ensconced in the captain's cabin once again. "I had your packages delivered back here. I trust they shall keep you diverted until it is time for us to embark."
"Very well," Miss Granger said, clearly put out. Then she brightened. "Oh, wait! I did have one question—"
"Only one?" He let his eyebrows show his surprise.
Miss Granger rummaged in the plain canvas sack she had slung onto the table before pulling out a small packet. "Your friend at the brothel gave me a gift. What are these?"
Severus felt his jaw drop and his face flush. He made to swipe the offending articles from her hand, but she was too quick and had stuffed them down the front of her shirt before he could reach them.
"Give those to me!" he thundered.
"They're mine. And if you won't tell me, I'll just ask someone else on your ship."
"Those," he growled, "are used when a man has intercourse with a woman who is not his wife."
"Oh. Was that so hard?" Miss Granger made a shooing motion with her hands. "I'll just unpack my things now. Don't you have important ship business to see to?"
Gritting his teeth, Severus turned and strode from the room before he did something he would regret, like strangle her.
Or worse—make love to her.
Hermione allowed herself to laugh when the captain left the room. Of course she knew what a French letter was—she wasn't a complete ninny—but oh, it had been worth it to see the look on his face. She had no doubt that he would be searching the room later in an effort to confiscate them, so she scurried down to the hold and stuffed them in a partially empty crate before returning to her room. Madam H, as she'd called herself, truly had given them to Hermione—with a knowing smile and a warning. "Tell your Captain to be gentle when he beds you," she had said. Hermione shook her head. There would be no bedding between them; even if she wanted to, she doubted that the captain could overcome his annoyance with her long enough to desire her.
Although her mother had suggested that it usually didn't take very long, but still. Hermione wasn't certain that her mother was such an expert on the subject, given that both her parents were inclined to cool logic and intellect rather than passion.
Hermione set to unwrapping all her packages, the result of her illicit shopping excursion earlier today. She had been lucky; one of the seamstresses in Tortuga had had a batch of clothing whose purchaser never returned to collect them, and their destined owner and Hermione had been much of the same size. It was quick work for the seamstress to take in a few seams and hem the items that were a touch too long.
Slipping into one of her new outfits, Hermione twirled and laughed out loud. The velvet dress had criss-crossed lace and ribbons all down the front, much like a corset, and the skirt was actually split so that it functioned more like trousers. There were other items too: shirts and breeches and lacy underthings, and even a new pair of sturdy boots. Fit for a pirate, all of them. Hermione couldn't wait for Captain Snape to see her now.
The last packages, however, were unfamiliar. Hermione undid the wrappings and found, to her surprise, a collection of leather-bound books. Poetry, astronomy, flora and fauna of the Caribbean—surely, in these lesser-civilized parts of the world, a small fortune in paper, ink, and leather.
Hermione stroked the covers reverently, impressed despite herself. Who knew that Captain Snape was an admirer of poetry? This did change how she viewed him, just a little. After all, book lovers needed to stick together.
Sighing regretfully, Hermione re-wrapped the books as best she could and left the room to return them to Captain Snape.
"I believe these are yours?" Hermione asked the broad expanse of the captain's back as he stood at the helm of the ship, watching the shoreline fade away.
"Hmm?" He barely glanced at her, and then his head snapped around as he did a double-take. "What in Merlin's name are you wearing?" he bellowed.
"Oh! Do you like them?" Hermione executed a small spin and then held out one side of the skirt. "I got them in Tortuga—"
"Between the tavern and the brothel, when on earth did you have time?" Captain Snape lamented. Hermione could have sworn that he rolled his eyes heavenward.
"There was a seamstress who had some clothing already made up," Hermione began. "Remember, you saw me exiting her shop? In any case, she—"
"Pray, just give me the name so I know who to punish the next time I return to that town," he grumbled.
Hermione frowned. "No, I don't think I shall. It was quite nice of her to fix them up for me. I could hardly repay her by selling her out to you and your fit of pique."
Captain Snape dragged his hands down his face. Hermione took the opportunity to thrust the books at him. "I said I think these are yours. They must have gotten mixed in with my packages."
He stared at the books with an unreadable expression. Hermione nearly felt a tug of pity for the man, but then he scowled and the effect was ruined. "They're yours."
"No, all my books sailed away, or don't you recall? I would have known if I had purchased any new ones today."
Yes—he was definitely aggrieved. His scowl deepened. "I meant they are a gift. For you."
"They are? Oh, from who? Do you know?" She clutched them happily to her chest.
"From me, you dunderheaded nitwit!" he snapped.
Hermione's mouth rounded in an O. Her brain refused to accept the fact that Captain Snape had bought books. For her. "Why?" she asked inanely.
Now he was embarrassed, she was certain. He glanced around, clearly hoping that no one was witnessing this exchange. "Because all of yours sailed away, or don't you recall?" he replied.
"Oh," she said softly. She glanced down at the books cradled against her chest, then back up at him. "Oh. I confess I don't know how I can ever thank you—words surely aren't enough—"
"Trust me. In your case, the fewer words, the better."
A smile tugged at his lips and Hermione felt herself grin in return. "Well, then, allow me to tell you, quite earnestly and with all the feeling in my soul, thank you."
"You are most welcome," he said. They were silent for a moment and then Hermione stretched up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. She turned back towards the cabins, eager to dive into one of her new books.
She glanced back once to see Captain Snape still standing where she'd left him, the ghost of a smile still on his face. She reflected that for once, she'd left him speechless.
A/N: Thank you all for the lovely reviews! Pirate kisses to you all.