Cacophonous bird calls. Stifling heat. Buzzing insects. Consciousness returned slowly but relentlessly. With consciousness came a throbbing in his temples and a dull ache throughout his body that made him long for the feverish oblivion.
He cracked open his left eye and squinted against the glare. His right didn't work, and when he tried to roll away from the sunlight, he discovered that his limbs didn't either. A blurry lattice of shadows across something red-brown loomed before him. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what he was looking at.
He ran his tongue over his crusty lips, and inhaling deeply, forced his head to turn. The muscles of his neck contracted, and his head rolled, strangely out of his control, until settling with his face up.
A rectangular patch of azure sky shone above a wooden grating. The world reoriented itself. He was lying at the bottom of a pit about as deep as he was tall. His pulse raced, and he struggled to rise, but only managed a feeble wriggle.
Exhaling, he took stock of the situation. His glasses, unbroken if askew, were still perched atop his stuffy nose, and he had his shirt and trousers on. His left arm was numb, and when he swiveled his eyes, he saw that his sleeve was punctured around the shoulder and soaked with blood. The arm itself was wedged awkwardly under him.
He spent minutes twisting side-to-side to extricate it, then gulped down air as he welcomed the pins and needles that accompanied the return of sensation. If he was simply tossed in here as he suspected, he had been lucky not to break any bones.
Having caught his breath, he pushed himself backward with his hands and feet until his head propped against the side of the pit and he could take a better look at his lodgings. Earthen walls, roots sticking out of reddish soil, a fat centipede scurrying across the bottom—and, on the opposite side, a hunched figure.
"Malfoy." His voice came out hoarse. "Malfoy, you alive?"
Malfoy remained still, blond hair splayed on the ground, face pallid and flecked with mud. The centipede approached his cheek, poked it with its feelers, then reared and climbed on.
Harry clawed at the clayish soil as he strained to rise; the lid of his right eye snapped open with an almost audible rip. "Oi! Geroff!"
All he got for his effort was a bout of dizziness. Sagging, he panted for air and blinked the crumbs of what was probably dried blood out of his watering eye. Malfoy was only passed out, he had to be. It wouldn't make sense to imprison a corpse.
After his heart stopped pounding, he gingerly pushed himself up a little higher. "Malfoy, wake up. I'll doodle on your face again, don't think I won't—"
A shadow fell over him, and he lifted his gaze to find a muscular man crouching by the edge of the wooden lattice to peer inside. His face was tattooed with scales and missing the tip of his nose. Tenacious bugger.
Harry forced a grin that faltered when his lips cracked painfully. "Are you responsible for these accommodations, mate? If so, I'd like to lodge a complaint."
The cultist's mutilated face twisted in a sneer.
"Yeah, I don't think this place is structurally sound," Harry prattled, more out of nervousness than anything. "And when's dinner? It's against the law to starve prisoners, you know. Ever heard of the Geneva Conventions?"
Snake-Face rose and vanished as if never being there. An absurd hope that he had gone to fetch something to eat welled up inside Harry. Never mind food, he would've paid its weight in gold for a glass of water.
He stared at the bars overhead for minutes, but Snake-Face didn't return. Sighing, he rested his eyes. His pulse thumped in his ears. He couldn't so much as stand, and if Su's condition was any indication, he wouldn't be able to for days. Even then, he had no wand, and the island was warded against magical transportation. How was he going to get out?
He blinked at the earthen wall. Did he not have a familiar who could come to him regardless of distance? Had he been able to move, he would've slapped his forehead—but perhaps it was for the best he couldn't. His brain felt swollen enough as it was.
Closing his eyes, he called Firo, already imagining the captors' faces when they came back to an empty pit. Opening an eye, he glanced around before trying again. A clear mind... Never mind the captors... Warm, golden flames...
"Useless bird," he muttered. All that thinking about fire only made him sweat.
He drifted off, checking his surroundings whenever the noises of the jungle grew loud enough to rouse him from the jittery slumber. Shade crept up the walls of the pit, indicating an approaching evening, but it did little to reduce the sweltering heat.
He wasn't sure how many times he dozed off and woke up, but at some point, he opened his eyes to two silent figures looming over the pit. Swallowing dryly, he scrutinized them as they did the same to him.
The taller figure belonged to the worshiper from the temple. Somewhere along the way, he had donned a straw hat that looked ridiculous paired with his pentagram-decorated robes. His eyes gleamed under the shade of its wide brim and his tongue darted out regularly to moisten his lips.
At his side stood the woman with a scar across her throat. Unlike those of her companion, her dark eyes were looking down at him with nothing but cold contempt.
Harry's gaze drifted to her loincloth, and he brazenly tilted his head to get a better angle; if he ended up here because he tried to catch a peek, he would damn well get his money's worth. The view made his numb fingers stretch toward where his Warlock's Rod would hang off his belt. Not all rainforests were worth preserving.
"Awake already," said the man, making Harry relocate his gaze to less engaging sights. "You must be blessed by Mara herself to shake off the venom so quickly." He sent the woman a significant look.
"Huh?" Harry too glanced at Scar, but she had stepped back and was avoiding his eyes.
"I know who you are, Harry Potter, and why you are here," Straw-Hat continued in accented but smooth English. "You couldn't resist Her draw, could you? To witness Her glorious resurrection, perhaps even to have a hand in it... There's no higher honor in this world!"
Harry frowned; he had been meeting a lot of know-it-alls lately. "You're raving. I came here because you lot ransacked my house and hurt my girlfriend."
"Please, we have nothing to hide from each other." The man nudged the brim of his hat upward and peered at him earnestly. "We're brothers and sisters united in our great cause, and I know you are one of us. Why else would you sleep with her likeness, crude as it is?
"Sleep with?" A stunning realization dawned on him. "It was you... You wanker! Return my waifu this instant!"
Straw-Hat cast him a sympathizing look. "Don't worry, I of all people understand the depth of your devotion. It wasn't long after a fragment of Her dreadful prison came into my possession that She began whispering to me, appearing in my dreams, then during the day, beckoning, pleading... I would do anything to end her unjust suffering..."
"Er..." Harry looked away from his fevered gaze. "Sure, pal, me too. How about you let me out so we can talk about how great She is, eh?"
A wide smile broke out on Straw-Hat's face. "Of course, brother, of course!" He turned to respond to Scar's speechlike hiss in kind, then looked at Harry. "Simply speak to us in the sacred tongue to prove you're one of Mara's faithful."
He opened his mouth, then closed it. Straw-Hat peered at him expectantly. Scar met his eyes, crossed her arms, and hissed, jutting out her chin. Sweat beaded on his brow. The one time, the one bloody time that being a Parselmouth would come in handy...
"Potter?" Straw-Hat glanced at Scar. "Please understand, I can't convince my brothers and sisters otherwise."
"Um, one moment..." He racked his brain, but Parseltongue had come to him so naturally during his time as Voldemort's horcrux that memorizing the words never crossed his mind. The only sounds he could recall with any clarity were the ones he had taunted the basilisk with. He took a deep breath; it wasn't like he had much of a choice. "Hissss, sssss... Shhsssss, hiss."
Had the situation been less dire, he might've laughed at his captors' expressions. Straw-Hat in particular looked like a betrayed puppy, his hands clenching at the air.
Harry offered him a weak grin. "I might be a little rusty."
The words shook Straw-Hat out of his shock. "So the rumors of you being a Speaker were false! Just like the tales of your great exploits, I assume." He stepped onto the precariously creaking grating and glared down. "Make no mistake, you will serve Her—as an offering if nothing else. Even that is more than you and your silent friend there deserve. Rot in here until She's ready to take you."
He spat at Harry—not very successfully, since most of it dribbled down his chin—and backpedaled onto solid ground. Scar gave that odd raspy laugh. Then they were gone, leaving Harry alone with his despondent thoughts.
Evening became night. He flitted in and out of sleep, fragments of bizarre dreams intruding on reality, until the rising sun cast its rays into the pit, and reality came back with a torrid vengeance. He clung to sleep as long as he could, but some bird kept cawing raucously outside, making him wish doom upon its entire kind.
He called Firo without success, then swore and sat up. Albeit still lethargic, he could move easier than yesterday. His nose was clogged, and his mouth tasted like something had died in it. Blocking one nostril with a thumb, he expelled a wad of mucus and coagulated blood. His cleared nose turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing because the air was thick with the stench of body waste.
He gazed across the pit to where Malfoy lay in the same pose as yesterday. Sun beat down on him and flies buzzed around his head. Harry crawled over, taking breaks every few feet, and tugged him into the shade.
Reddish clay caked one side of Malfoy's face, contrasting with his ashen skin. Harry put an ear to his lips and exhaled in relief when he felt more than heard him breathe. Swatting halfheartedly at a fly, he dragged himself back to his corner.
After taking a breather, he dug himself a cathole. The earth was damp and gave easily, but he couldn't put strength into his hands, and digging a few inches took what felt like hours, leaving him with sore muscles and chipped nails.
He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and sank his fingers into the soil once more. His nail caught on something and tore painfully. Wincing, he pressed it to his shirt and carefully dug one-handed around whatever had injured him.
What looked like a roundish stone emerged from the dirt, but upon prying it out, he saw that it was a yellowed bone, just small enough to fit in his palm. He employed it as a spade and soon stumbled upon another bone—this one long and with a jagged end.
Slumping against the wall, he eyed them dubiously. They didn't look human to him, but what did he know? What he thought a prison might've had a more sinister purpose.
His head jerked up, and he grinned in relief when he saw Malfoy peering at him through sunken grey eyes. "Draco! How are you holding up?"
"Hurts," Malfoy whispered. "Water?"
He sobered up. "That's in short supply right now."
Malfoy swallowed and opened his mouth again. "...enix?"
"Phoenix." His chest heaved as if he had run a race. "Call it."
"I did. Either she's having too much fun, or... or this island's warded tighter than Hogwarts." He stared at his lap. If Ikililou's words about the only way in being by sea were to be believed, it was likely the latter. "Look, Malfoy—sorry for dragging you into this. I should've listened... Malfoy?"
Malfoy's head had lolled back and his eyes were closed. His eyelids were twitching and his breath was coming in raspy bursts.
"Hang in there," Harry muttered.
His thoughts wandered. Any hopes that someone back home would track them down were fading fast—if even Firo couldn't find him, scrying spells stood no chance. With Malfoy out of commission, it would be up to him to save their necks, yet all he was left with were the clothes on his back.
He made a frustrated noise. A wizard without a wand was still a wizard. What other resources did he have?
Time, for one. If Voldemort's resurrection had taught him anything, it was that such rituals necessitated extensive preparations. (Well, that, and the importance of situational awareness.) Time wasn't entirely on his side, however, because he just might die of dehydration before being sacrificed to this alleged goddess.
His knowledge, for another. While he had never been the most diligent student, his NEWTs were nothing to scoff at. Seven years at the premier school of witchcraft and wizardry had to count for something... Alas, the curriculum didn't encompass wandless spellcasting. He could almost hear Ikililou's derisive cackle.
He glanced at the bones he had been idly fiddling with. The jagged one, if sharpened further, could hypothetically be used to stab someone. Someone unarmed. Preferably blind and deaf too—or at least polite enough to wait until Harry shuffled close enough.
Snorting, he looked up. If he didn't succumb to thirst before he sufficiently recovered from the venom, he might be able to snap the twines that bound the wooden grating and climb out. As he was now, however, even standing was a tall order.
He stared off vacantly. His gaze landed on a jagged line he had scratched into the clay nearby, and he blinked. There was a way for him to do magic without a wand. He lacked tools, lacked proper materials, but those were mere aids—while the end product wouldn't be pretty, it would still—
The hope died as quickly as it had come, and he chucked away the bone in irritation. Whatever runes he etched, he still needed a wand to activate them. That was how they had always done it, from the first Ancient Runes class in his third year.
No, that wasn't quite right. The first classes had been devoted to theory, history, an introduction to the craft. Professor Babbling had explained that runes were an ancient form of magic—that long before the advent of wands, the earliest mages would carve inscriptions onto granaries to repel pests and onto homes to prevent fires. Back then, of course, it wasn't called runes but simply writing, and literacy was scarce enough to be considered a magic of its own.
He furrowed his brows. How had the ancients done it, when wands wouldn't be invented for millennia? Surely there were other ways to channel magic. Perhaps even something as simple as speech or music, if what he had seen around these parts was any indication.
He eyed the fallen bone, and regretting his fit of temper, crawled to retrieve it. Locating a stone sticking out of the pit's wall, he filed the bone's tip into a point. It was slow going, but hope was a powerful motivator.
His pulse raced from equal parts exertion and excitement as he took his impromptu chisel back to his corner. Raising it above the flat bone, he deliberated until settling on Algiz: the basis of any protective scheme. The first pass scratched an even vertical line, but his triumph was short-lived because the tip he had tapered so meticulously crumbled. Scowling, he pressed down the now-blunter tool to etch the rune's arms.
Laying the chisel aside, he lifted the flat bone and blew the powder off its surface. The rune was far from accurate—and accuracy mattered, the professor had drilled that into his head—but it was, unmistakably, an Algiz.
He touched his finger to the etching and imagined power flowing through his veins, down his arm and to his fingertip, permeating his skin, trickling into the rune, filling it with magic...
The bone looked no different. Perhaps the response was too faint to see with a naked eye? Making himself more comfortable, he joined his palms and meditated. Between the punishing heat and the noise, relaxation didn't come easily, but he had time in spades. Eventually, his breathing evened out and his aches retreated.
There was Malfoy, oddly muted compared to how Harry remembered from the boat ride; as expected, the venom on the darts had a magical component. There was a stifling film over them—over the entire island, as far as he could tell. And there was, clutched in his palms, a piece of distinctly unmagical bone.
Allowing his frustration to surge and ebb, he brushed his thumb over the etching and imagined that same energy as when he first picked up his wand surge through his limbs, into his palms, filling them with warmth... And he pushed it into the rune, making it come alive...
Except it hadn't.
Growling, he gripped the bone as if to crush it. Pain lanced through his finger, and his concentration wavered—but not before he saw, not with his eyes but a deeper awareness, the crooked rune flare up.
His eyelids flew open. His torn fingernail had caught on a furrow in the bone, and a droplet of fresh blood stained its surface. Even now, he could almost sense a feeling of security radiating off the rune.
Of course. He should've known after witnessing Voldemort's ritual in his first year and after reading tales of human sacrifice throughout the darker parts of history. Blood held power that could be harnessed by an unscrupulous wizard, and although he never learned the forbidden spells to do so, he evidently didn't need them for something as simple as powering runes.
He looked across the pit—if only he could share his victory with Malfoy—then grinned and set to work.
He toiled into the night, at first pausing to look up every few minutes, then becoming so engrossed he lost track of time. His palms blistered and his chisel eroded to a stub. By the time he scrawled the last empty inch with a Thurisaz Merkstave, he was so exhausted he barely had the presence of mind to hide the evidence before passing out where he sat.
When he woke up, latticed light had already descended the opposite wall almost to the bottom. The thought that the sun would soon reach its zenith and turn the pit into an oven made him moan. His eyes hurt and his body was heavy, although whether that was because of the hunger and thirst or the all-nighter he had pulled, he wasn't sure.
He blinked the crust from his eyes and made sure no one was watching from above before retrieving his handiwork from his trouser pocket. In broad daylight, the carving was strikingly ugly, and not just because of the crude workmanship. He had pondered on the enchantment to use—a shield, a curse, a veil—but what he settled on wasn't quite so... structured. Purposely breaking every rule he could recall, joining runes in combinations forbidden due to their volatility, he crafted an abomination that would've sent his erstwhile professor into hysterics.
The method to the madness was something his housemates had dubbed the 'Longbottom effect'. After a year of joint classes with Gryffindor, they became well-acquainted with the fact that improperly performed magic tended to produce unpredictable—even violent—results.
Funnily enough, violent was exactly what he wanted.
He eyed the comatose Malfoy, wishing it was Neville in his place—an imitation would never measure up to natural talent—then flipped the carving over. Odd symbols mixed in with the runes drew his gaze. In his exhausted, half-delirious state, he had reproduced some of the glyphs he had seen in the temple—for what reason, if there even was one, he couldn't recall.
In all likelihood, those would do nothing at all. He just hoped the thing packed enough of a punch to serve as a distraction. As much as he wished to see the naga in the flesh, he didn't fancy paying for it with his life.
He slid the carving into his pocket and ran his parched tongue across his lips. His mouth felt like it was lined with sandpaper. Sunlight advanced relentlessly across the bottom and toward Malfoy. Harry groaned and crawled over to move him. The cultists had better come soon, or there wouldn't be anything left to sacrifice.
Malfoy stirred as he dragged him into the dwindling shade. His eyes were glazed, and Harry had to put his ear to his lips to hear him.
"About seven feet below ground, on an Unplottable island, in the hands of snake-worshiping cultists," Harry reported dully. "Same as yesterday."
Malfoy's gaze focused. "Hate... you."
He patted his shoulder. "That's the spirit. If you still have the energy to joke, you're not that bad off."
"Wasn't... a joke."
"There you go again," he said, ambulating back to his corner. "I'll have you know I prepared a little something while you napped. The fuckers will be in for a surprise when they come for us."
Malfoy squinted at him as if having trouble seeing. "What?"
Harry smirked. "You'll see."
Malfoy pulled a face. His sunken cheeks and blackened lips made for a ghastly sight—but then again, the same could probably be said about Harry himself.
He battled his stained shirt before pulling it off and draping it over his head in lieu of a headscarf. Once the sun beat down directly, he wasn't even certain it had been worth the effort. Squeezing his eyes shut, he imagined that the glare was caused by a golden fireball, that Firo had come to take him away from this hellhole...
Sighing, he opened his eyes a fraction. The flies that had left during the night returned with friends, but he couldn't muster the strength to swat them. A shadow glided overhead as a colorful bird perched atop the grating. It tilted its crested head to look down at him, then flew off.
He absently checked the carving in his pocket and froze when he felt something else. Rummaging around, he fished out a peanut. He stared, hardly believing his luck, then tossed it into his mouth.
The rancid taste made bile rise in his throat. Rolling the bitter bits around his arid mouth, he swallowed again and again until there was nothing left. Gagging slightly, he propped his back against the cooler soil.
The shadows of the lattice crept along the floor. Hunger, which he hadn't really felt before, now gnawed his stomach, and his thirst grew even more acute. For someone able to get clean water at the turn of a tap his entire life, this was a miserable experience indeed.
He wallowed in self-pity for a while, then shook it off. A wizard. He was still a wizard. Glancing at this grimy palm, he cupped it and imagined it filling with water. He checked surreptitiously if Draco was looking before whispering, "Aguamenti."
Nothing. How did Uagadou teach its students to do magic without a wand? Come to think of it, how had Voldemort accomplished his wandless feats? Perhaps H would know.
"Aguamenti. Aguamenti. Aguamenti."
Was it just his fancy, or had his skin grown damp? He licked his palm tentatively and grimaced. Just sweat. He sagged against the wall again.
"Aguamenti, Aguamenti, Aguamenti..."
A snort made him look up. Malfoy stared at him as if he wanted to say something but couldn't spare the energy.
Harry ducked his head, but his chagrin was nothing compared to his desire for water. Glaring at his palm, he resumed his chant.
Minutes passed before a feeble voice echoed his. Malfoy was staring at his own trembling palm as his scabrous lips moved almost soundlessly.
Harry grinned; his actions didn't seem so stupid anymore. Under Malfoy's murmurs, he brought his palms together and believed, really believed, that at his word, cool water would fill them to the brim, trickle over his fingers and drip to the soil, sloshing in his unsteady hold...
A bead appeared in the groove between his joined palms. He held his breath, blinking furiously, fearing that he was hallucinating—but the bead was growing, forming a tiny puddle—
Laughter rang out from above, and he dropped his hands to his sides as if caught doing something improper. Snake-Face and Plait stood by the pit, their eyes glinting with cold amusement. From behind them came up Straw-Hat, who wore an expression of malicious glee.
"If only Britain could see her hero now," he taunted. "You were always a fraud, weren't you, Potter?"
Harry's brain was too sluggish to come up with any retorts. He glanced at his hands, where damp streaks were prominent across mud-caked skin. That tiny victory made the cultist's jeers seem insignificant.
Dirt rained down as the two topless men lifted the grating. Straw-Hat brandished his wand and levitated the prisoners out of the pit. Harry played up his weakness, flopping prone on the grass much like Malfoy had.
Plait waved his hand before his nose and hissed; Snake-Face laughed.
Straw-Hat chuckled before lifting his wand. "If you wanted water, you should've but asked."
A jet of water hit Malfoy's back, causing him to jerk and flounder. Straw-Hat thoroughly doused him, much to the amusement of his comrades, before directing the stream at Harry.
He lifted his head and gulped down greedily, barely registering the captors' laughter. Stuck in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, the poor sods must've been lacking better entertainment. Being an understanding bloke, Harry didn't mind so long as he got to drink his fill.
Snake-Face stepped on the back of his head to mash his face into the mud underneath. Spluttering, he turned sideways so he could breathe. Never mind. He might be an understanding bloke, but this prick was going down hard.
A thick hand clamped around Harry's ankle, and he yelped as he was slung over Snake-Face's shoulder like a sack. Tilting his head back, he spied Plait touching a charm around his neck before subjecting Malfoy to the same procedure.
The cultists traipsed off into the jungle in a single file. Dangling upside down, Harry craned his neck to avoid smacking his cheek against Snake-Face's loincloth. Behind, Plait hauled Malfoy with no visible effort. Harry regarded the dense trees as he flexed his muscles. He still felt too shaky to make a run for it, never mind bringing Malfoy along.
The path turned, and around Snake-Face's muscular hip, he saw the stone temple loom ahead, a trio of cultists gathered at its base. His gaze flicked up to his trouser pocket. There was nothing for it now but going through with his plan.
The crone, the teenage fisherman, and even the little boy from the village joined their procession up the pyramid. The cultists communicated in hisses alone, making for an eerily quiet scene despite the elation on their faces. When Harry met the slit-pupil eyes of the crone, whom the teenager was supporting by the shoulders, she leered revealing her elongated fangs.
His head bobbed above the top stair, and the stone platform came into sight. Two posts were erected before the concentric circles, which had been scrubbed clean of dirt and debris. He glimpsed dimpled grooves dividing them into what looked like a heptagram.
Snake-Face chucked him down beside a post, and yanking his arms back, tied his wrists behind it. He tested the ropes as Malfoy suffered the same fate. So much for hoping that the cultists would trust the poison to immobilize him.
The cultists streamed past him and Malfoy without a backward glance. The crone proceeded to hiss and point, directing the others to take positions at the points of the heptagram.
Harry wondered where the last member of their merry band was and got his answer when Scar emerged from the temple carrying a tray upon which jade statuettes were perched—four of them. Less stable than three or five... That might explain why whatever was locked inside could reach out.
The cultists watched in reverent silence as Scar tiptoed into the heptagram and arrayed the statuettes inside the centermost circle. She rose to her feet, bowed to the crone, and took the last empty spot at the seventh point.
Anticipation charged the air, and an alien jubilance—something Harry hadn't felt since Voldemort's second coming—infringed on his consciousness. Heedless of his chafing wrists, he rubbed the ropes against the post in hopes they would fray enough to snap.
A bamboo flask changed hands between the cultists. Each took a swallow before Scar drained it and tossed it aside. At the crone's command, everyone drew a wavy dagger and started a chant in Parseltongue.
Harry couldn't help shivering. Despite its sibilant quality, the chant gradually drowned out the noises of the jungle—or rather, it was the jungle that was falling silent. Birds fled the nearby treetops, insects quieted, and the trees themselves stilled as the ever-present sea breeze died down.
The alien feeling of joy spiked as the chant undertook a harsher tone. The cultists swayed with its flowing rhythm, their pupils dilated to blackness. In the middle, the statuettes writhed closer to one another as if attracted by a magnetic pull. Harry lost himself staring at their refined forms, each depicting the naga in a different state, before a guttural cry made him flinch.
Blood spurted from the boy's extended wrist, his other hand lowering a crimson-stained dagger. Despite the pain he must have suffered, there was only rapture on his youthful face.
Harry tugged at the ropes, then, abandoning caution, leaned forward to overturn the post, but it didn't budge.
Plait stuck out his meaty wrist and slashed, adding his blood into the stone groove below. The chant went on, each high point punctuated by an involuntary exclamation and a spatter of blood. Crimson stained the grooves circle by circle, drawing ever closer to the center. The air above shimmered as though with heat, but Harry could only feel a deep cold. The sun dimmed as dark clouds gathered over the temple.
"Potter," Malfoy said, not bothering to lower his quivering voice, "if you have something up your sleeve, now would be the time to use it."
"I'm trying!" He battled the ropes until his arms felt like they were about to pop out of their sockets.
The boy sank to his knees, his pale lips still moving stubbornly. The crone too began to falter, the blood from her wound trickling along her parchment-like skin to drip from her gnarled fingers.
Blood colored the second-to-last circle before seeping into the innermost one. The previously perfect jade fractured as the statuettes slithered toward one another, four desperately seeking to become one.
The crone teetered and collapsed, and the chant broke. Straw-Hat gave a keening cry and pierced his forearm, his ashen face splitting into a demented smile as his blood gushed out. The innermost circle brimmed crimson, and the surroundings darkened while the heptagram glowed as though drawing all the light into itself. At its center, the statues shattered, and specters of the naga emerged, rising and intertwining.
Exultant cries rang out, and tears ran down Harry's cheeks. At last. After millennia of agony, she was free, free to seek revenge on the descendants of Atlantis, to bring the world to heel, to restore the glory of—shaking off the elation engulfing his mind, he clenched his jaw shut to cut off his maniacal laughter.
The specters merged, and four different expressions overlapped on the naga's face before it settled on a mask of rage. The outer circles dimmed as the center glowed so intensely it became unbearable to look at. Frigid wind rushed outward, stealing the warmth from Harry's body like a passing ghost, and he sagged to the ground. The surrounding trees withered and died with a susurration of desiccated leaves.
The blazing light coalesced into a tall serpentine figure. A muscular tail covered in violet scales coiled on the ground before curving up to a humanoid upper half of lilac skin and shapely curves. Flowing aquamarine hair framed a proud face with glinting crimson eyes. Agile fingers tipped with tapered claws trembled with emotion.
Harry's jaw sagged. Mara was reborn.