Harry backed up, reaching for anything that might support him. He made an incoherent noise as he scrambled for words.
"Don't even think of using magic against me," Gringwad's eyes narrowed. "I have a charm on this hut to mask all sound, but I will blow thing sky high before you get out a Expelliarmus."
"I'm not going to use magic," Harry stammered. "But – but how did you find me?"
"I never lost you." Gringwad reached into his coat pocket and removed a small green object with sharp points at opposite ends. "Recognize this?"
Harry squinted at it. "No. Should I?"
"It took your blood. I've used it to track you since I visited you in Azkaban."
Harry blinked twice and shook his head. "No, no, I – er, no. I did not see you in Azkaban."
"I erased your memory then," Gringwad tucked the object away. "But I had your blood, and I have been keeping watch over you for the last few months."
"Few months? I've been here seven months. Have you been here watching me?"
"No, I've been off conducting other business. I checked by once or twice using the Imperius curse on that idiot American, but you weren't leaving so I went to track down a diamond poacher."
Harry opened his mouth, but nothing came out. As always, Gringwad relayed far too much information in a few simple sentences than any reasonable person could handle. Other business, the Imperius curse, the American, and what in the heck was a diamond poacher?
"Charming setting," Gringwad prodded the hammock with the tip of his cane. "The world's most powerful wizard living in poverty and stinking of fish. A far cry from the manor, but I suppose you missed that cupboard you slept in as a child."
Harry put his hand on one of the beam to steady himself. "Does Snape know where I am?"
"Probably not," Gringwad went to the table and poked around the food pots and plates with his cane. "I didn't tell him. If he wanted to know where you were, he should have put his own marker on you. He has offered a reward for you though."
The hut fell silent, and the sound of the ocean filled the night air.
Making a face, Gringwad turned away from the food and looked Harry. "Well, nothing here the least bit impressive. A dirty orphan in a dirty hut, grubbing around in a third-world country."
For some reason, that last bit enraged Harry, especially after he spent time each evening scrubbing his skin raw to get rid of the day's muck. "What do you want, old man? Take it and get out of my place."
The sarcastic smile disappeared from Gringwad's face. "Mind yourself, boy. I'm lenient now because it's your birthday, and I surprised you, but after this, I will cane you within an inch of your life if you speak to me like that again."
His tone made chills run up Harry's spine, but he masked his feelings as he said, "I am not interested in going back to the Wizarding world. If you are here to blackmail me by threatening to tell the Ministry where I am, I can get you some money. It's Muggle money, but if you give me a few days, I can go into the cities and get enough -"
"Shut up," Gringwad reached into his coat again and withdrew a parchment. "I'm here to collect on our agreement."
There on the creamy sheet in black ink read the words I, Harry Potter, surrender myself to Gringwad's apprenticeship. Below was printed his name and Snape's.
And where he had signed Harry so long ago in Snapdragon Manor.
"I didn't sign this," Harry blurted out.
"This isn't your signature?"
"I didn't finish signing it."
"But you started it. And it will recognize your magic."
"But Snape didn't sign it."
"No, he didn't," Gringwad pretended to look crestfallen before he smirked and added, "That's why I waited until you were of age."
Harry felt the blood draining out of his face, and it hurt to swallow. "I-I-I don't want to be your apprentice."
"Sadly," a mock frown of sympathy, "after tonight, your feelings won't hold much sway over me."
"I'll fight you," Harry warned. He raised his hands, pulling in magic as he squared his shoulder to face the older man.
Gringwad did not move.
"I'll destroy you, old man," Harry growled.
A sharp needle of pain jabbed in the back of his neck.
He barely had time to reach back and pluck out the two-inch dart before his legs buckled and he collapsed to the floor.
He gasped and managed to roll on his side, but after that his muscles no longer worked.
Gringwad calmly stepped out him and picked up the dart. "This was right behind you since I stepped into this place. You didn't even bother creating a protection charm on your person. Someone could have attacked you in the night and killed you before your magic could react."
Harry tried to reply, but his tongue wouldn't move.
"It's a paralyzing potion," Gringwad went on, "stolen of course from the manor. The spell to get it to track and hover on prey is my own invention."
Harry gave a growl between his motionless lips.
"So," Gringwad knelt beside him, "let me explain what is going to happen to you. In the future, I might explain matters that concern you or I might not. As of this very second, you are my apprentice, surrendered entirely to my will and judgment. These will help you remember that I'm in control."
Harry couldn't lift his head, but from the edge of his vision, he saw Gringwad take something silver and shiny out of his coat. Then Harry felt cold metal around his wrists, wide bands of silver around each wrist, the feeling between that of bracelets and manacles. They tightened snugly around his wrists and then lay still.
"If you try to act against me, these amulets will deliver pain to you. If you use magic against me, they will sever your hands off. Any magic you conduct will be through my instruction, and thus these amulets will not hurt you."
Harry made no sound, listening intently.
"As for where we are going, I'm taking you back to Snape."
Harry shot surprised eyes up at him.
"We're going on my boat back to England, and I'm going to drag you into the manor myself to collect the reward. Snape has offered 50,000 galleons for your returned alive and I'm taking every single coin."
Harry managed the tiniest shake of his head.
Gringwad gave a short laugh. "Imagine his humiliation as I pull you into the manor and demand the reward. He gives it to me, and then I announce that he can't keep you because of the contract you signed with me."
"No," Harry groaned from half-frozen lips.
"After that, well, I'll let you know when we get there."
Gringwad stood up. "And as for calling me 'old man' again -"
A swishing sound went through the air, and then a stripe of pain bloomed across Harry's rear. Gringwad raised the cane against, and Harry winced, but that didn't help lessen the second whack.
He wasn't sure if it was the pain or being unable to move or just the awfulness of his birthday night, but Harry's eyes filled with tears.
A third stroke and the tears spilled over.
"I'm tempted," Gringwad said somewhere above him, "to give you all seventeen strokes so you'll remember this birthday. Seeing you limp around my boat would be fitting retribution for you running off and hiding all these months."
A pause followed, and Harry braced himself for fourteen more whacks.
Instead magic lifted him up to a standing position and held him up for Gringwad's inspection.
The man lifted off of Harry's wrists and tugged at the amulet. It didn't come off. He paid the same attention to the other wrist, but neither amulet budged.
"Your clothes will do. And there's nothing here to take with you."
Harry looked at the jar where he kept his money, right next to the pot of sunburn potion, but he doubted if Gringwad would care about a handful of cedis. And the two new bottles of purified water would just go to waste.
Gringwad spun around and went out, and Harry felt the floating magic move him along, keeping his bare feet a few inches above the ground. They went towards the water, but no one was out on the dark night.
A boat – wooden with large sails and at least forty feet long – was moored in the shallow water, but a gangplank slid out over the water to reach the sand. Gringwad went up the plank, and Harry trailed after him, managing enough control over his body to look back at his hut. The hut seemed small and pathetic in the dark.
Once on the deck, Gringwad lowered Harry to a sitting position. "I believe you had a boat in the village harbor?"
The boat pushed off the sand and moved to deeper water before following the shoreline back to the village.
Harry pointed to his boat when it came in sight. Pulling out his wand, Gringwad drew the little boat out towards them. Harry couldn't help but smile as The Ginny bobbed along bravely, its reddish wood gleaming in the moonlight. He had kept that boat in smart order, and it would –
"Incendio!" Gringwad barked.
A spark shot out from his wand, and the little boat was covered in flames a second later.
"Hey," Harry got himself to his knees and then his feet, willing away the rest of the paralyzing potion, "that was my boat!"
He took a step towards Gringwad, but the amulets burned around his wrists as Gringwad gave him a cool look.
"Did you ever enhance it magically? Would it be something I should have turned into the Ministry as an improperly-charmed Muggle artifact?"
Harry paused, torn between the need to vent his anger and the need for self-preservation. He finally let the tingling metal around his wrists make the decision for him, and he stepped back to watch his burning boat sink into the water.
Then Gringwad shoved him below deck into a dark room with a single bunk in it and an empty bucket on the floor. Gringwad closed the door, locking him in, and Harry turned to the porthole where a glimmer of moonlight shone against the wood of the hole as the only light available.
He sat down on the bunk and stared out the porthole as he felt the boat gain speed and the waves splashed against the hull.
They were going back to Snapdragon Manor. He was going to see Snape again. See Snape for real, in the actual flesh rather than in the projected Legilimency space. He would see Snape.
And he was Gringwad's apprentice. And Gringwad was taking him to Snape.
Leaning to one side, Harry gingerly reached down and touched where the cane had landed. Even with loose capris and short underneath, the cane had left three long welts that spanned across his entire rear. He could feel the heat from each stripe, and he shuttered at the thought of taking a full seventeen from Gringwad's enthusiastic arm.
Back in the summer, Draco had admitted that Lucius caned him, and Harry had been horrified at the brutality of such a punishment. Apparently, he had been right to feel horrified because a caning made spanking feel like mere love taps. There were many problems and confusion at his current predicaments at the moment, but with undeniably clarity, Harry knew he never wanted to be caned ever again. That stood out in his mind as an absolute certainty.
As for seeing Snape . . . Harry felt something that could have been relief or fear. Maybe both. Either way, his nervousness was trying to choke him, and he couldn't control the jitters that made his hands and knees bounce in short pulses of energy. How would he ever settle down enough to sleep? Who knew what horrors Gringwad would force on him in the morning, and exhaustion would not help any of it.
This was different than the sleepless hours he had endured only in his hut; there he laid under the heavy loneliness and longed for interaction with someone. Here, he dreaded the coming morning. Ironically, he wished he had one of Snape's calming potions to sip at to soothe his frightened state at the thought of going to see Snape. Perhaps –
"If you aren't asleep," Gringwad's voice rang through the door, "in two minutes, I'm coming in there to help you calm down."
Harry lay back on the bed immediately, keeping his body still and closing his eyes.
When he heard the door open, he kept his body relaxed and face gentle as he breathed softly in what he hoped looked like sound sleep. His heart pounded in his ears, but the door shut again with the lock drawing against the wood.
He assumed he would fret all night, but the trauma of the evening caught up with him, and sleep pulled him down within a few more minutes.
By mid-morning the next day, Harry felt convinced beyond all doubt that agreeing to be Gringwad's apprentice was the worst decision he had even made. Worse than when he had tried to steal the Necklace from Malfoy Manor. Worse than lying to Snape. Worse than moving to Ghana for seven months.
Gringwad had given him two pieces of bread for breakfast. Not toast – cold, hard bread that stuck in his throat. And water.
And then Gringwad set him to scrubbing the deck of the boat.
Before going to Hogwarts, Harry had enjoyed Muggle books about adventures on the sea. Munity above the HMS Bounty, Treasure Island, Horatio Hornblower – books hard for a ten-year-old, but he skipped over the words he didn't know and enjoyed the adventures. A few places the books had mentioned the drudgery of swabbing the decks, and Harry had imagined the chore as fun under the warm sun atop a sparkling sea. The cabinboys swabbed while the sailors or pirates called out orders and blew whistles, all before an attack broke out against another ship or a race started to find the treasure.
Books couldn't begin to capture the misery of scrubbing decks. Gringwad had a hand brush and wouldn't charm it into a proper mop so Harry had to get on his hands and knees. There was a bucket of suds and a bucket of clean water. He had to scrub about two square feet with the soapy water and then rinse it off with the clean water.
It was tedious, and the sun bore down on his back and calves and bare feet, and he knew a swish from Gringwad's wand could set the brush cleaning for hours without his arms pushing it.
But he didn't dare voice that. A few times Gringwad had walked by, he had ordered, "Keep going," and twice he had smacked Harry's rear with the cane. The smacks weren't as hard as the night before, but they stung over the remaining welts, and Harry did not want to risk Gringwad's temper.
While he worked, he considered mapping out an escape plan. However, it occurred to him that Gringwad might try Legilimency on him at any moment, and Harry was not about to be caught in the middle of a mental scheme to rid himself of the apprenticeship.
Finally, at noon, Gringwad transfigured several pieces of wood and a loose sail into a table, a chair, and an umbrella. He sat under the umbrella, and Harry had to wait on him for lunch.
Had to wait on him like a servant from the 1800's. Had to wait on him by holding a tray, pouring him wine and water, and then standing at strict attention while Gringwad ate a leisurely lunch.
Harry felt sorry for the cabinboys and the valets and butlers of past centuries. He wanted to feel sorry for himself, but he had to pay close attention to Gringwad because the man warned, after Harry's almost spilled the water,
"If I have to correct you again, then will be no lunch or dinner for you."
To his horror, Harry heard himself reply, "I'm so sorry, sir. I will do better."
He hadn't been this meek and contrite at Azkaban, but the one time he had tried to use magic to balance the tray, the wrist amulets had burned, and he stopped immediately. Gringwad made no comment and continued to eat.
Gringwad did let him have lunch: a piece of break, chunk of cheese, and an apple with more water.
The afternoon chores consisted of painting the masts and trimming the sails, both activities that made no sense as the boat was running on magic and not wind power. The shore was not in sight, but Harry knew they were moving at a fast clip, far faster than any sails could carry them.
When it was time to fix dinner below deck, Harry swallowed his pride and approached Gringwad.
"Sir, I have worked all day for you. May I please have a bucket of water to rinse off before dinner?"
Gringwad was directing ingredients into a bowl with his wand. "No, I plan to keep you filthy. until we reach the manor."
Harry knotted his hands into fists, but he asked in the same tone, "Then may I please have some dinner? I'm hungry, and I have a headache from being out in the sun."
"There's your dinner," Gringwad motioned to a pail on the ground.
Harry approached it trepidatiously, but it was filled with rice, chunks of meat, and veggies that didn't look too bad. He reached for the handle.
"Sit on the floor and eat," Gringwad directed.
Harry slumped down by the pail and scooped up a handful of food. He waited, praying Gringwad wouldn't tell him to put his face in it and chew like a dog.
But Gringwad turned back to his cooking, and Harry began shoveling the food in his mouth. Never had cold food tasted so good.
The next two days of sailing were simply endured. Gringwad didn't let him change or shower, and he worked his new apprentice like an animal.
A few times Harry thought about using magic, but each time he drew magic in, Gringwad would look at him and the amulets burned. Alone at night, Harry had almost tried a spell or two, but each time he lost his nerve at the thought of the bracelets cutting his hands off. He told himself he could endure another day.
Oddly enough, he never got sunburned. He thought the boat might be enchanted, but he didn't dare ask.
The fourth morning onboard, they arrived in England. Gringwad had him take down the sails, put down an anchor, and lock up the ship even though they were not close to any harbor that Harry could see. In fact, they were almost a mile off shore, but he was not going to be the one to point that out.
A breeze blew over deck as he worked, and Harry was glad as he couldn't stand the smell of himself anymore. His skin was itchy, oily, and patched with dirt and dried salt water. He had tied his hair back with a rope, but the feel of the greasy strands over his ears irritated him. But they were leaving the ship finally, and he could stand his gross state a few more hours.
Harry wondered if one could sail from Ghana to England in a matter of days as quickly as they did, but as he had in the last three days, he kept his opinion to himself.
"Time to go," Gringwad announced. He was dressed in a tailored suit and cape, clothes too hot for the summer, but obviously spelled to be cool and comfortable. He put a box on the deck table and opened it, revealing a small vase inside. "Portkey."
Harry stared at it. This whole time they had had a Portkey. So the whole voyage was just there to make him suffer. That was so . . . typical.
On the count of three, they both grabbed the Portkey.
It spit them in front of the gate of Snapdragon Manor.