Harry rubbed his eyes, and groaning at his aching muscles, sat up. Daylight filtered into the room through a seemingly solid stone wall. Malfoy stood before it and alternated between tapping the stone with his wand and kicking it.
"Mornin'," Harry mumbled.
Malfoy fixed him with a bloodshot gaze. "About time you woke up, Potter! We're locked in!"
He slowly stood and stretched. "Eek hasn't shown up yet?"
"I told you he was bad news!" Malfoy turned to the wall. "I can't make heads or tails of this... It's permeable to air and light but not anything else."
Yawning, he joined Malfoy by the wall. He rapped it with his knuckles, pressed his ear against it, eyed it from up close, and even gave it a sniff. "Hmm. Interesting."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Do share the insights you gleaned, Potter."
Harry had not, in fact, gleaned any insights, but that sounded like a challenge. He furrowed his brows and tried to ignore the intensifying call of nature. "It could be a matter of perception. We think the wall's there, so we can't get through." He squeezed his eyes shut, stepped forward, and rebounded off the hard stone. "Ow. Or not."
Malfoy snorted. "I can tell I'm in the presence of a master. Move over."
As Malfoy resumed his thus far futile probing of the wall, something niggled in the back of Harry's mind. Perception... "Malfoy, didn't you put up some protections yesterday?"
Malfoy spared him a glance. "What of it? I couldn't trust a kook like him to do us no harm."
He gestured impatiently. "What did you use?"
"Well... The Boundary-Monitor, naturally, as well as Cave inimicum, Sensus Abscondam, and—"
Harry cuffed him on the back of his head. "The Notice-Me-Not?"
Draco scowled and appeared ready to retaliate, then blanched. "Oh."
"Oh's right, you daft git! Hurry up and undo it!"
Malfoy didn't waste time talking back and just flourished his wand. "Finite."
They stared at the wall. The level of light seeping through changed subtly, but nothing else of note happened. Harry danced on his tiptoes. Ikililou better return soon, or he wouldn't be responsible for any liquid damage to his belongings.
As if answering his wish, the outer wall abruptly vanished, revealing a sunlit corridor in which Ikililou stood in all his wrinkly glory. He carried a bundle wrapped in cloth and for once did not look amused.
"Decided to occupy my house, have you?"
"We thought you locked us up for good!" Draco cried.
"I thought I'd lost a portion of my memory in Dragon Poker again," Ikililou retorted, "and forgot to write myself a note!"
"You wager your memories in a card game?"
"Can this wait?" Harry squirmed. "Eek-low, where's the nearest comfort station?"
Ikililou's lips stretched back from his teeth and he raised a hand off his burden to point. "Behind the waterfall."
Harry took off. Ikililou's and Malfoy's resumed argument faded behind him as the sound of running water loudened. He returned five minutes later, relieved, refreshed, and soaked through. His companions seemed to have ironed out their differences and were chowing on some small fluffy pancakes Ikililou had procured.
Perking up, Harry sloshed his way to the table, snatched himself a fork, and speared a pancake to take a greedy bite. It was piping hot and tasted mildly of coconut. He blew on the half remaining on his fork, then popped it into his mouth with relish.
"Feel free to join me for breakfast," Ikililou said acerbically.
"Cheers," he mumbled, sucking air through his mouth to cool the food.
Ikililou tilted his head at him. "You're dripping on my floor."
He speared another pancake. "It needs washing anyway."
Ikililou glared at him for a moment, then laughed and tossed some herbs into a pot. Draco scarfed down his breakfast, dabbed at his mouth with a handkerchief, and jumped to his feet.
"Pardon me," he said, squeezing past the table and toward the exit.
"Careful, the rocks are slippery," Harry advised.
Draco grunted and disappeared around the corner. Harry went back to demolishing the pancakes, nodding his gratitude when Ikililou set a clay cup before him. The steam rising off it was fragrant with herbs.
"You're welcome," Ikililou said pointedly.
He swallowed hurriedly. "Thanks."
Ikililou nodded graciously. Picking up a spare fork, he stabbed a pancake from the diminished pile and brought it to his mouth.
Harry's eyes narrowed at his dexterous movements. "Excuse me, but... you are blind, right?"
"Blind?" Ikililou cried, gesticulating with the fork. "What an insult! I'll have you know, Harry Potter, that I see more than most!" He immediately proved it by stabbing the stone table and wincing when the fork was jarred out of his hand.
Watching him grope for the dropped utensil, Harry resisted the temptation to speak. If Ikililou was messing with them, he wouldn't give him the satisfaction of playing along.
By the time Malfoy returned, the food was gone and Harry was contentedly sipping his weird tea. (It wasn't nearly as good as British, of course, but it would do in a pinch.) He looked Malfoy over. His wrinkled robes were dry, but his hair was damp and his shoes squeaked with every step. It wasn't hard to put the two and two together.
"Warned ya," he said, smirking.
Sitting down on the nearest cushion, Draco kicked off his shoes and upended them to shake out the water. "Be quiet, Potter, and maybe I'll dry you off after I'm done with these."
"Doesn't look like I'm missing out on much. Easy on that swish, charmswork needs a gentle approach." Leaving Malfoy to wave his wand irritably over his footwear, he swiveled to Ikililou. "That reminds me, were you able to get me a wand?"
"I said I would, didn't I?" Ikililou reached into the pocket of his cut-off jeans and pulled it out with a flourish.
Harry gaped. Clutched in Ikililou's gnarled fingers was a branch not unlike the one Draco had played with on the beach. Roughly a foot long and thicker than any wand he had ever seen, it still had patches of bark in places and unseemly knobs where smaller twigs had been trimmed off. Worse yet, the tip that looked like it had been crudely sawed off was crooked sideways.
Ikililou thrust it out. "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Harry reached out but held back. Taking it would mean accepting Ikililou's claim that this... this abomination was a wand. "It doesn't look very, uh, finished."
"Do you want it to look pretty, or do you want it to do its job? I'd like to see British wandmakers do better on such short notice!"
Against his better judgment, Harry clenched his fingers around the rough wood. His palm tingled as he looked the stick over in fascinated horror.
He had come into contact with quite a few wands in his life. His own, the one with the Core-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, thrummed with energy, eager to be wielded. Draco's remained cool and aloof, not going beyond the bare minimum and punishing the slightest mistakes in incantation or gesture. Others still, he recalled, felt little more than twigs.
This one, though... It had power, all right, but it was so crude, so half-arsed, that if it could speak, he was certain it would beg him to end its misery.
Ikililou smiled smugly. "Barely an hour's work, and it only cost me a bottle of rum. How much did you pay for yours?"
"Seven Galleons," he muttered, trying to find a stable grip.
"Seven—" Ikililou gasped. "For that much gold, you could wrap yourself head to toe in charm amulets! Your countrymen must be crazy. I should tell Tsinjo to move to Britain—he would make a killing!"
"That the wandmaker you mentioned?" Harry privately doubted the bloke would have much success competing with Ollivander.
Ikililou blinked. "Wandmaker? No, no, I said he was a craftsman. Builds tables and stools, mostly."
Draco's shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. Harry eyed the stick with dismay, then carefully waved it to get a feel for the irregularly distributed weight. Perhaps Ikililou was right: it just needed to work, nothing more.
Licking his lips, he swished-and-flicked at his teacup. "Wingardium Leviosa."
The cup rattled on the table and burst into smithereens, spraying the remains of his tea over the room. He wiped his forehead with a wet sleeve. "It bloody exploded!"
"Yes, nicely done." Ikililou fished a clay shard out of his white hair. "You owe me a cup."
Harry fixed him with a stare. "It was supposed to levitate."
"What would be the point of that?" Ikililou sounded genuinely stumped. "Do you want to destroy your enemies or impress them with floating tableware?"
He growled and shook the stick, causing sparks to fly out its tip. "Have you even looked at this thing?" In retrospect, that was a poor choice of words, but he was too heated up to care. "It curves left! I won't hit anyone farther than a few feet away!"
Ikililou threw up his arms. "Then aim to their right! Are all British this stupid?"
Draco burst out in laughter. "Oh, get over it, Potter. It suits you perfectly."
Harry trained his 'wand' on Draco, who flinched and ducked.
Ikililou rose from his cushion. "Now that you have your fancy stick, I'll take you to the cultists' hideout as we agreed."
Harry wasn't ready to table the discussion about his wand, but Ikililou evidently was, so he just sighed and carefully slid the stick into his inner pocket. "How are we getting there? Apparition? Flying? Portkey?"
"Boat," Ikililou said, walking over to the shelves.
Draco raised his eyebrows. "Boat?"
"A wooden vessel that floats on water, yes."
Draco glared at his back. "Why are we taking a boat to wherever it is we're going?"
Ikililou's expression as he glanced over his shoulder was unusually grim. "Because the only way in is by sea, and the magic that makes it so is ancient and temperamental. I advise you not to test it." He ran his fingers along an array of dusty bottles. "Even that route is heavily protected, hence our preparations."
Ikililou rummaged through the shelves, tied bags to his belt, and stuffed a mortar and pestle as well as other herbalist's tools into his bottomless pockets. Thus equipped, he took them outside and blew his conch to seal his home. Waving them to follow, he set off along the corridor.
Halfway to the settlement, he began muttering and trailing his palm along the wall. His fingers brushed an inconspicuous protrusion, which depressed with a click. Unseen mechanisms rumbled as a dark passage opened into the mountain. Ikililou strolled in without a backward glance.
Harry and Malfoy peered at the cave suspiciously, neither inclined to go first, until Ikililou stuck his head out.
"Stupid Englishmen, do you want my help or not?"
Chastised, they entered the passage. The entrance rumbled closed, but between his spectacles and Draco's wand light, Harry could easily make out the rough-hewn walls. The passage was much cruder than the glyph-marked corridor behind, and he had a hunch it was built in a different era. It angled down and occasionally veered left or right for seemingly no reason. At times, cold water dripped from the cracks in the ceiling.
Harry wanted to ask where they were going, but given Ikililou's propensity for derisive and completely useless answers, he held his tongue. He didn't need to wonder long, because they encountered a dead-end not a quarter of an hour later, which rumbled open at a pull of a rusty lever.
Sunlight flooded the passage, accompanied by a rush of humid heat, pungent smells of soil and exotic flowers, and the noises of birds and insects. Ikililou stepped outside and tested the scree-strewn trail under his feet.
Following suit, Harry shielded his eyes. They had emerged near the base of the mountain, onto a small path leading down into the jungle. While steep and winding, it was incomparably better than the route he and Malfoy had braved yesterday. Still...
"We're going to the beach, right?" he asked. "Couldn't we just Apparate?"
Already shuffling down the path, Ikililou turned his head to answer. "We have to gather some ingredients on the way. Don't fret, Harry Potter. I was counting on sneaking you in under the guise of the night to begin with."
Harry eyed the green canopies below, exhaled, and unbuttoned his robes to tie their sleeves around his waist. Brilliant, another day of slogging through sweltering heat. No place in the world had any business being this hot in bloody February.
The path meandered off between the trees. The thick foliages sheltered them from the sun, but it was a mixed blessing since they also blocked off any breeze. In minutes, the shirt that had begun to dry was clinging to Harry's skin again. Ikililou displayed no sign of discomfort as he followed some barely noticeable trail. Any doubts Harry might've had about the blind man's ability to navigate the jungle were dispelled by the way Ikililou ducked under branches and stepped over protruding roots. In another situation, he might've puzzled over the mystery, but he had his hands full just keeping up.
More than once, Ikililou squeezed through the underbrush whereas Malfoy had to clear a path for their larger bodies with Severing Charms. Ikililou did wait for them, but not without biting commentary. Harry would just swallow his annoyance—it embarrassed him that a man who looked five times his age was spryer than him—but Draco voiced his complaints loud and clear. Not that they slowed down the grueling pace Ikililou set in the least.
The first break came after Harry crashed through a bush and stumbled into a murky pond. Ikililou squatted at the shore and groped around until his fingers encountered one of the many floating pink blossoms. He plucked a petal, and crumpling it, brought it up for a sniff. Harry slouched against a tree by the water and caught his breath.
Draco trudged up. "Potter," he said breathlessly, "is there any point in subjecting ourselves to this? Take us home—please. I'll hire the best experts to research this cult for you."
Harry closed his eyes. It was tempting, very tempting—yet when he thought of Su lying pale and comatose in bed, and of the empty corner in his room where a red-haired lamia would rest her magnificent coils, his determination surged anew. "We're hot on their trail. I can't let this chance slip away."
Ikililou stuffed a handful of petals into one of his bags and straightened up. "That's the spirit. Come, we still need boomslang venom. If you get bitten by a large green snake, grab on and don't let it get away!"
With that foreboding instruction, the journey resumed. The heat grew even worse, but breaks became more frequent, and Ikililou's bags began to sag with the weight of the herbs and fungi he gathered. When Harry inquired if all that was necessary to get them to the cultists' hideout, the old fart laughed in his face.
"Most is for my own purposes. Might as well use the chance to replenish my supplies, no?" he explained, making Harry grind his teeth.
The most dramatic part of the trek came when Ikililou cried and lunged at a thick green liana—except it was no liana but a snake. At his frantic urging, Harry and Draco helped him wrestle the boomslang into submission, whereafter Ikililou milked its venom into a bottle.
"We can head to the coast now." Ikililou jiggled the bottle beside his ear as the violated boomslang slithered off, hissing what must've been expletives. "Hungry, Englishmen?"
Harry and Draco murmured in affirmative.
"Then why didn't you eat on the way?" Ikililou mocked. "We passed too many fruit trees to count."
Scowling, Harry looked around. The branches of a bushy tree nearby were abundant with what looked like green crabapples. He stomped up to it and twisted one off. "Right. Can I eat these?"
Ikililou sniffed the air. "Manchineel? Oh, certainly."
Harry rubbed the small fruit on his shirt and lifted it to his nose. It certainly smelled sweet.
"If you want to get blisters in your mouth and puke blood," Ikililou continued. "And that's nothing compared to what the tree's sap will do to you."
His teeth froze a centimeter away from the manchi-whatever's flesh. The corners of Ikililou's eyes crinkled in a smile. Swearing, Harry tossed the fruit aside and wiped his hand on his shirt.
Snickering, Ikililou bent down to dig out a pebble. He blew—or perhaps whispered—over it before rearing his arm for a throw. The pebble whistled through the air, curving unnaturally, before thonking into something overhead and spooking a colorful bird. With a rustle of leaves, a large green fruit fell into his hands.
He chucked it to Harry. "Soursop."
"Er, cheers," Harry said, not having the foggiest of what that was. The fruit's tiny thorns pricked his skin as he extended it toward Malfoy. "Draco, mate..."
"I'm not your mate. Diffindo." The fruit split down the middle, exposing juicy white pulp and black seeds. "Give me half of that."
"Get your own, boy," Ikililou said, stooping to pick up another pebble. "Don't tell me you can't even do that much."
Scowling, Draco looked up to where more green prickly fruit dangled from the branches. It took him several tries—interspersed by Ikililou's laughter—but he eventually succeeded in summoning one to his hands. After filling their stomachs, they made for the coast.
The jungle grew sparser, letting through some wind, and with the sun rolled to the lower half of the sky, the heat became less oppressive. Unfortunately, evening meant mosquitoes coming out in force, and it wasn't long before Harry was alternating between swearing and slapping at his exposed skin. Fed up, he untied his robes from his waist and slipped them on. His gaze lingered on Ikililou; the insects fluttered around him but never landed on his wrinkled skin.
"How come you aren't getting bitten, Eek?"
Ikililou looked at him as if he were stupid. "Magic, what else?"
"Well, can you cast the same on me—us?" Draco demanded, catching up.
"Are you helpless babes? Cast it yourselves." Ikililou cackled. "I thought you enjoyed providing sustenance for the mosquitoes. To think the renowned Hogwarts school does not teach its pupils a charm that basic."
"Son of a..." Malfoy brandished his wand. "Incendio, Incendio, Incendio!"
Harry leapt away from a plume of flame that nearly singed his eyebrows. Malfoy looked around and gave a triumphant 'Ha!' at the lack of mosquitoes, but it was barely a minute before they swarmed him again. Ahead of them, Ikililou snickered.
Ocean came into sight, glimmering in the setting sun, and a salty breeze cooled Harry's face. As they stepped out into the beach, he shielded his eyes and looked for a ship moored nearby, but there was only white sand and the waves lapping at its edge.
"I don't see a boat."
Ikililou set off along the boundary of the jungle. "It's around here somewhere. I always forget where I leave it."
Harry's eyebrows rose, but he followed without comment, weary after the trek. They walked for another ten minutes before Ikililou exclaimed and dived into a thicket of palms that Harry's gaze had passed over. Sticking his spindly arms into the undergrowth, he pulled at a vine. A mat of fronds slid off a canoe propped against a palm. Long and narrow, its surface fractured and bleached by the sun, it was little more than a hollowed-out log with a collapsed mast near its bow.
Halting in his tracks, Harry eyed it with dismay. It wasn't like he expected Ikililou to summon a ghostly galleon from the depths of the sea, but it was difficult to get any more disappointing than this.
"Go on, drag it to the water," Ikililou said. "Or are you going to make an old man do all the work?"
"Oh?" Malfoy stopped beside Harry and folded his arms. "What's the matter—can't do something as basic as a Levitation Charm?"
"Pah!" Ikililou spat on the ground. "You think everything should be solved by waving your wand, boy. Put your muscles to use for once or you'll always be a skinny runt."
Harry laughed, not so much at Malfoy's expense, but at the irony of the diminutive man calling someone a runt. Malfoy fingered his wand with a sneer.
"Oh, let's just get on with it," Harry said, drawing his own. "Wingardium Leviosa—"
With a resounding boom, the trunk of a nearby palm several feet above the ground shattered. Its upper part toppled onto the beach, passing close enough to Ikililou to ruffle his grizzled hair. Harry shielded his face from the spray of sand the tree kicked up.
"Right," he said in the ensuing silence, "forgot it does that." It was lucky the wand was crooked, or the boat would've been in pieces now.
Ikililou wiggled a finger into his ear. "That's wand magic for you. All noise and show but not much use."
"Wish you'd aimed a little to the right," Draco murmured. He stepped over the fallen palm and raised his wand. "Wingardium Leviosa."
Ikililou scooted aside as the vines tying the canoe snapped and it wobbled out into the beach. Malfoy furrowed his brows, rotating it the right side up with a swish and directing it toward the water.
Ikililou plugged his nostril with a finger and trumpeted. "Took you long enough."
Malfoy set the canoe down on wet sand and sent him a dark look. "Are you certain this thing is seaworthy? How far do we have to go, anyway?"
"I've been going out into the sea before you were a twinkle in your daddy's eye." Ikililou yanked the frond mat out of the thicket and spread it on the sand. "Be patient. We won't get far without something to turn away the guardian."
"The guardian?" Harry asked.
Ikililou snickered. "You'll see. Oh, yes."
Harry doubted he could get more out of the insufferable old man, so he simply watched him kneel and lay out his tools on the mat. These included two gleaming copper bowls of different sizes, a stirring rod, a mortar and pestle, and a round paintbrush. The sight of Ikililou's arms sinking to the elbow into his pockets to pull out one item after another resembled an act of a Muggle illusionist.
Ikililou then fumbled with the bags on his belt. The blossoms from the pond went into the mortar whose pestle proceeded to grind them by itself, while several bluish leaves he deposited into the smaller bowl and soaked them in boomslang venom.
After a minute, he mixed the contents of the two vessels in the larger bowl and sprinkled an ochre powder atop. He then poured in a generous measure of a pungent liquid from a bamboo flask sloshing at his belt and stirred vigorously. Harry dearly hoped he wouldn't make them drink the potion, or whatever it was. The brown sludge not only looked foul but was potentially lethal.
"Take off your shirts," Ikililou said, letting go of the rod.
Malfoy frowned. "Why?"
"So you don't become sea serpent food. Pah!" Ikililou pointed a gnarled finger at the bowl. "The paint loses potency every minute. Any more stupid questions, and it might not be enough to protect us."
Draco unbuttoned his sweat-stained shirt. "I'll go first."
Ikililou nodded and blew into his conch shell. His fingers moved over the aperture, producing wavering notes. When he removed the mouthpiece from his lips, the conch continued playing on its own.
Ikililou rested it atop the mat and picked up the brush. Dipping it into the bowl, he sketched a stylized octopus across Draco's right shoulder.
Malfoy's nose wrinkled. "Ugh, what's that smell?"
"Goat piss, mostly," Ikililou said.
Malfoy lurched away. "Goat—"
"Stop squirming, boy, or you'll regret it!"
Malfoy groaned and inched closer. The tip of Ikililou's brush unerringly found the unfinished octopus and traced its tentacles down Malfoy's chest. Reloading the brush, Ikililou started an array of S-shapes on the opposite side.
Malfoy turned away, looking like he was trying not to breathe through his nose. "Mr. Ikililou, I told you my name was Malfoy."
Ikililou's teeth flashed in the evening twilight. "Forgive me—Draco Malfoy is too difficult for a foreigner to pronounce," he said, pronouncing it perfectly.
Malfoy scowled and opened his mouth, then stilled as Ikililou wagged the brush at him. The conch continued its mournful melody, producing notes Ikililou hadn't played. Harry looked at it thoughtfully, then, spying something out of the corner of his eye, pivoted back to Malfoy. For an instant, he had seen a glowing tentacle worm into the squiggle Ikililou was painting on Malfoy's pale skin, but on a second look, the symbol appeared perfectly mundane.
Frowning, he closed his eyes and tried to tune out the conch, but its keen resonated in his very bones. Before he knew it, Ikililou spoke up.
"Done. No scratching!"
Malfoy rose from the mat with a long-suffering expression, his front a jumble of strange shapes and stylized sea creatures. Resigning himself to the same fate, Harry took off his shirt and his Horntail amulet.
Ikililou waved him lower. "Kneel, you great beanpole."
Harry assumed a dignified expression (as much as was possible given the stench stinging his nostrils) and allowed himself to be slathered with the dye. Did its ingredients have to be so disgusting?
"This is old magic to turn away the evil eye," Ikililou murmured. "It will hide us, as it hid me the last time." He sidled behind Harry's back. "All I ask in return is that you do me a favor in the future. Are we agreed?"
"Yeah, yeah," he said, crossing his fingers on principle. "I promised, didn't I?"
"Good." Ikililou whispered something so quietly Harry thought he might've imagined it.
The brush daubed the cool paste over his upper back, making him twitch and distracting him from his momentary suspicion. Despite the dense cover of the jungle he still managed to get sunburnt. Sunscreen charms weren't a part of the Hogwarts curriculum, if such things even existed, so he would have to protect his pasty skin better in the future.
After a few minutes, Ikililou announced he was done. Harry was reassured to see him peel off his T-shirt and put the brush to his own weathered skin: so this was no prank or trickery. He wondered what contortionist techniques Ikililou would employ to paint on his own back, but the paste ran out after he sketched the last concentric circle along his ribs. Unconcerned, Ikililou began tidying up.
Harry frowned. Upon a closer look, Malfoy did not have anything painted on that spot either. He began reaching for the back of his neck.
Ikililou clicked his tongue. "Smear the paint and the protection's gone!"
He hastily lowered his hand. Fastening the conch around his neck, Ikililou dragged the mat into the thicket. No hint of the strange ritual remained on the pristine beach except the stench that shortly dissipated in the wind.
Ikililou strolled to the canoe, hopped in, and groped around its rounded hull for the collapsible mast. Raising it with a huff, he fixed it in place and settled cross-legged in the back where a pole was attached to a rudder.
"Get this thing moving," he said, waving, "and be quick about it!"
Harry trotted over and planted his palms on the canoe's stern, but just as he began to push, it skidded into the water by itself. Stumbling forward with a splash, he turned around and glared at Draco, who had his wand out. "Thanks a bunch."
Malfoy's lips twitched. "Always happy to help." He propelled the canoe forward with another nonverbal Banishing Charm.
Ikililou hugged the steering pole. "Get on," he cried in their general direction. "Don't let the water wash off the paint!"
Lukewarm water lapped at Harry's knees as he waded up to the canoe. Grasping its gunwale, he clambered on and appropriated the front seat. A violent lurch made him curse and clutch the mast as Malfoy climbed in awkwardly from the middle. Ikililou snickered.
The ocean stretched endlessly before them, making Harry feel small and vulnerable. Even in this calm weather, their tiny vessel bobbed up and down, and there was a puddle under his feet. Hopefully, it had dripped off him and not seeped through a leak.
"Cast off!" Ikililou cried theatrically. "Raise the mainsail!"
Harry looked around before realizing the command was meant for him. "Um, come again?"
"Arr! Blasted landlubber, don't tell me it's your first time on a boat." Cackling, Ikililou extended a weathered finger. "Pull that rope."
Harry tugged a rope dangling from the mast, and an angled crossbar rose, unfurling a faded triangle-shaped sail. Tying the rope to a ring to keep it taut, he eyed the sail expectantly, but the fabric barely fluttered in the breeze.
"No wind," he observed.
Ikililou spat into the water. "Are you a sorcerer or not? If there's no wind, make some. "
Frowning, he fished his wand out from the bundle of clothes in his lap. "Vent—mmphck!"
Malfoy's clammy hands clamped over his mouth and slapped down his wand, its tip already aglow. "Don't!"
Harry's eyes widened and he pointed the infernal stick away. Despite him swallowing back the incantation, the spell had acquired a life of its own, pooling at the tip in a pulsating orb that glowed so brightly it hurt to look at. The stick began to smoke, and he shook it frantically until the orb detached and dropped into the water with a sizzling plunk.
He gave the wand a once-over, decided that the scorch was an improvement, and leaned over the edge. The orb sank slowly into the clear blue water—except it was now less an orb and more an eyeball made of light. It swiveled around as if coming to terms with its existence, then sprouted some tentacles and undulated away.
"Heh, freaky," he commented.
Draco shuddered. "Potter, I implore you, don't use that thing in my presence unless absolutely necessary. I don't want you accidentally summoning another otherplanary horror."
"Oh, come one," he grumbled. "I do it once—once—and never hear the end of it." He glanced guardedly at Ikililou, but if the old fart was interested in the conversation, he didn't show it.
"Once is one time too many." Malfoy raised his wand at the sail. "Allow me. Ventus!"
The sail whipped out, and the boat lurched forward so abruptly the bow nearly dipped underwater. Harry's butt slid off his seat to land painfully on the bottom, and Draco didn't fare much better.
"Oh, well done," Ikililou said. "A little steadier, and keep it going for a couple of hours, if you please."
Malfoy slowly lowered his wand. "I... don't know how."
Ikililou gasped. "No, really? The state of wand sorcery continues to astound me. How did you graduate without knowing how to conjure a tailwind?"
"Why in the blazes would I need to conjure a tailwind in the middle of Wiltshire?" Malfoy ground out.
"You're no longer in Wiltshire, boy, so start learning."
Ikililou raised his conch to his lips and struck up a lively tune. The wind from the ocean ruffled Harry's hair and flapped the sail. As the tune went on, the wind reversed direction to blow from the land, and the sail snapped taut.
Ikililou let go of the conch, but even though the melody cut off, the wind continued blowing. With a creak of its mast, bobbing over the waves, the boat sailed off.
The sun was little more than a purple and orange haze over the horizon. The first stars winked on, and the crescent moon shone brighter, reflecting in the ocean. Harry lowered his hand and skimmed his fingers along the water. The air was getting a little too cool for comfort, but he didn't want to smudge Ikililou's handiwork by putting on his clothes.
Perched at the boat's stern, Ikililou would occasionally crane his neck, sniff the air, and produce a note on his conch. Whether that changed their course or strengthened the wind, Harry couldn't tell. The island bobbed behind them as it dissolved into the encroaching darkness. Soon only the glow of the dead volcano at its center remained visible over the horizon.
He glanced over his shoulder to the ocean stretching in front before facing his companions again. "I've been meaning to ask, but where exactly are we?"
Ikililou waved vaguely. "Miles northeast of an island the No-maj call Mauritius."
Harry nodded sagely, not having the faintest clue where that was, then leaned to whisper to Malfoy. "Ever heard of a magical settlement around these parts?"
Malfoy shook his head mutely.
He raised his eyebrows. "So much for the Department of International Magical Cooperation."
"Just because I work there doesn't mean I know every nook and cranny in the world settled by renegade wizards," Malfoy said. "For the most part, we communicate with other ICW members—civilized countries with stable governments."
A snort from Ikililou drew their attention. "The island is a sanctuary from zealous bureaucrats and stifling regulations. What would be the point if every busybody knew how to find it?"
Harry looked around the dark ocean once more. "And our destination? Is it far from here?"
Ikililou hummed. "Direction and distance are meaningless when it comes to that place. A cartographer attempting to plot its location would be driven to tears... It doesn't matter where you start your journey as long as you have the right approach." He brought the conch to his lips, his milky eyes narrowing. "You'll see, yes, very soon... Silence now—and keep your wands sheathed, if you value your lives."
A reverberating note from the conch sent a shiver down Harry's spine. The sail went slack. The rocking of the canoe that had accompanied the voyage ceased, and silence descended, so deep he could hear his companions' breathing: shallow and anxious before him, slow and steady farther to the back. He craned his neck, but there was nothing in sight except starry sky and its reflection in the mirror-like ocean.
Tendrils of mist crept over the water, rising and thickening before his eyes until he couldn't see farther than a few yards. Swallowing, he gripped the wand atop the clothes in his lap, then recalled Ikililou's warning and forced his fingers to unclench. They were quite literally in the same boat, and he had no choice but to trust him.
Exhaling, he closed his eyes. With little to distract him, a state of heightened awareness came readily, and with it, a sensation of being smothered in cotton wool from all sides. It was as impenetrable as the fog had been to his eyes.
Drawing his awareness to himself, he couldn't help but gasp. The blazing markings on his skin extended beyond two dimensions to form bizarre animals and impossible geometrical configurations. He examined a segmented serpent coiled around the back of his neck, then the fluorescent seahorses dancing across his ribs. The animals turned in unison and regarded him with something akin to sardonic amusement. His breathing quickened and his hand jerked to his chest, coming just short of scrubbing at the paint.
The seahorses cackled in a manner disturbingly similar to Ikililou's. Harry flinched and opened his eyes. The symbols on his chest became, once again, little more than flaking ochre paint, but he couldn't shake the feeling of being watched.
He cast his gaze around the fog to distract himself. Tiny waves lapped at the canoe's hull. Frowning, he glanced over the edge and was gripped by a sudden fear. Perhaps because of the vestiges of his heightened awareness, he could swear something lurked in the dark depths below, something colossal and furious and so hungry...
He pivoted toward Ikililou. "Something's—"
Ikililou raised a finger to his lips. His milky gaze was sharp and piercing.
Harry clammed up. A pulse went through the water, and the canoe swayed. Despite the lack of wind, the ripples intensified by the second. Gripping the gunwale, he nervously looked around. Before him, Malfoy hunched his shoulders and cradled his wand.
The boat rocked violently as something dark and enormous breached the surface in a spray of foam. A gigantic serpentine head burst upward, dousing them with water running off its mottled green-and-black hide. Its spiny neck rose higher and higher until he had to tilt his head back to take it all in. Malfoy whimpered.
The serpent gurgled and lowered its muzzle to behold the canoe with a pitch-black eye. Rows of wicked teeth jutted along its jaws. Harry held his breath, as much out of fear as a horrendous stench of rot. Pausing a mere arm's length away, so close the billowing whiskers alongside its nostrils almost brushed his hair, the serpent inhaled deeply. He raised his wand, but his chest suddenly itched so badly he had to claw at it for relief.
The serpent drew back, opened its toothy maw wide, and sneezed, splattering gobs of foul-smelling goo over the canoe. Shaking its head, the creature snorted loudly and sank with a splash. Ripples ran along the surface until everything became tranquil.
Exhaling loudly, Harry lifted his robes to wipe his face and grimaced when he got a faceful of serpent snot for his trouble. It stank even worse than Ikililou's paint, and that was saying something.
A snicker came from Ikililou, and squinting through his smeared glasses, Harry saw that the stern of the canoe had been mysteriously spared the deluge of snot. He opened his mouth to ask how, then closed it, not wanting to be made fun of again.
Ikililou's crooked grin widened, and he blew gently into his conch. The fog roiled as a breeze picked up, and the boat began gliding along the smooth surface. Only the sloshing of water and the slime dripping onto the deck from the sodden sail broke the eerie silence.
Malfoy's seat creaked as he shifted his weight and waved his wand furiously to scour off the gunk. Harry sent him a pleading look and nodded his gratitude when his skin was scrubbed, leaving it pink and raw but delightfully clean. The paint had come off too, but Ikililou did not seem concerned.
More notes resounded, terse and discordant, and the canoe swerved erratically. The fog thinned and jagged rocks jutting out of the water all around came into sight. A dark shape towered ahead, still shrouded by the mist.
Under Ikililou's manipulations of the rudder, the canoe weaved between the rocks, following a path only he knew. The fog dispersed until the moon cast its ghostly light upon a tremendous mountain rising out of the ocean ahead, its nearly vertical face dappled with tenacious greenery. A gloomy cavern loomed in its middle like the maw of a beast so great it could have swallowed the sea serpent itself.
Typically, the spooky cave was exactly where they were headed. Harry peered ahead trying to penetrate the darkness, but either there wasn't enough light or something was interfering with the enchantments on his spectacles.
The hull scraped an underwater rock, and the canoe wobbled. Perspiration beaded Ikililou's wrinkled brow, and his tune grew frantic. Harry inspected the bottom for damage, then eyed the waters ahead and gulped. A row of jagged rocks with hardly any space between barred the cavern's mouth.
Ikililou summoned a powerful gust of wind that sent them skimming along the surface and leaned on the rudder. The canoe listed so low the crossbar of the mast dipped into the water. Harry cried out, clutching his clothes with one hand and holding on with the other. He was certain they were about to keel over, yet before he knew it, they slipped past the tooth-like rocks and into the cavern. The boat creaked upright and slowed to a drift.
The darkness proved no obstacle to Ikililou, who steered with slight turns of the rudder. A faint chirp of crickets entered their ears, and as the boat rounded a corner, a moonlit beach with dense jungle stretching beyond it came into view. Emerging from the shadow of the cavern, the canoe came to rest on the sand.
Ikililou clapped, the sound startlingly loud in the night. "That concludes my part. Get off my boat, off you go."
Harry braced against the canoe's side and clambered out. The ground felt wobbly beneath his feet. Draco appeared to have similar troubles after he disembarked with the same lack of grace.
The stuffy air rang with the sounds of frogs and crickets. Jungle encroached on the small beach in the front, and a great wall of rock that screened this haven of nature from the ocean stretched in the back. Standing on the small strip of sand between, it was difficult to gauge the size of the bowl-shaped island.
Harry dropped his voice. "This whole place belongs to the cultists, then?"
Ikililou vaulted over the gunwale and onto the beach. "As much as a relic of times long past can belong to someone born in this century—although I doubt they would appreciate that argument." He pushed the canoe back into the water with high-pitched grunts.
"Wait," Draco said slowly, "how are we supposed to get out of here after Potter's done?"
"Not my problem, is it, boy?" Ikililou climbed into the boat. "Build yourself a raft for all I care. The guardian shouldn't interfere with anyone trying to leave."
Realizing he hadn't quite thought this through, Harry waded into the foamy surf. "Couldn't you come back to pick us up—say, tomorrow evening?"
"That wasn't our deal. Forgive me if I don't linger—not the friendliest folk, Mara's followers." Ikililou worked the rudder, turning the canoe around. "Until next time, Harry Potter."
A lively note rang out, and the wind began pushing the canoe into the cavern. Harry trailed it with his gaze, then glanced helplessly to Malfoy.
Scowling, Malfoy aimed his wand. "Accio boat!"
The canoe juddered and halted, but Malfoy's victory was short-lived because the wind suddenly picked up and blasted sand into their faces. Harry sputtered and shielded his eyes; when the gale died down, there was only darkness and an echo of a cackle.
Malfoy kicked at the sand. "Damn it! I hope you're happy, Potter!"
Forcing his gaze away from the cavern, Harry considered the dark jungle. "We'll see." It hadn't been the smoothest journey or the most pleasant one, but he was finally in the lair of the bastards who had attacked his home and hurt Su.