“So, why don’t you leave, then?” the ruined man asked. He looked a dementor himself, wearing a ratty black cloak over his striped garb and having a face so sunken it barely existed at all.
“Erik, as I have told you many times before, I have as much left to go to as you do,” Sirius Black responded. “I’m old, hurting.”
Erik coughed and laughed at the same time. “As much as I had, you have now. Azkaban is my home, my doom.”
“Is that why the dementors leave you alone?” Sirius asked.
“No, my friend. They leave me alone for the opposite reason that they ignore you.”
“Because I can transform into a dog?”
“Dogs, like yourself, are innocent, subjects to their upbringing.”
“If you’re the opposite of innocent, then you’re guilty. You’re not the only one here who is.” Sirius laughed into his hands.
“No, I’m not, but I hold regret and desire punishment for my crimes, which is the opposite of knowing that you’ve been wrongly accused. I am a ruined man, and I made myself this way. I have no emotions to feed them.”
“What did you do that was so bad?” Sirius asked.
Erik raised a bony white arm and pointed out the narrow slit in the stone.
Sirius did not bother to squint and peer through. Erik meant the dementors. What else could be out there? “What about them?”
“It’s quite the tale.”
“I have time, obviously,” Sirius said, stretching his arms and folding them behind his head. “I’m stuck here, the same as you, Erik.”
“Only I am stuck, and Erik isn’t my name. It’s Ekrizdis, and I’m nearly eight hundred years old.”
And so Ekrizdis told his story, and Sirius listened.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Ekrizdis held that quote above all others. He kept it on the tip of his tongue like a motto. The triumph over death consumed his life. Immortality, but more… Power.
These were Dark thoughts, he knew.
He didn’t want to be a Dark wizard, but he had no choice. Life came from darkness, just as death sent people towards the light. He intended to live.
The poor soul on the table stared blankly up at him. A muggle sailor, drawn in from the shores. Ekrizdis hadn’t intended to catch them in this way when he had built Azkaban in the middle of the North Sea. He had wanted seclusion. Though he had cast disillusionment charms over his castle, the muggles blindly sailed all too near anyway.
Ekrizdis used this.
He swished his wand in a triangle. “Animostium!”
A gray light emanated from the tip of his wand and hit the muggle. The sailor began to convulse involuntarily, beating his arms against the bindings holding him to the table. Momentarily, the muggle’s skin faded, as if it dissolved into transparency, but then restored in color as the convulsions ended.
“Not dead, are you?” Ekrizdis murmured. Creating spells required trial and error. He had previously tried a straight-down wand movement rather than the triangle, which had killed his last test subject outright. He cracked his neck and shook out his shoulders. “Not even half-dead.”
The muggle stirred and began to moan. “Please—plea…”
“It would be worse for you if I waited until morning,” Ekrizdis said, and he swished his wand in a circle before pointing. “Animostium!”
The siren’s beauty melted off her face as he drew nearer. Twisted, sharp teeth punctured out from a wide grin. Scales spiked through the smooth human skin, and her shimmering long hair became a tangle of skunk-smelling seaweed. Her maiden’s hands became a lobster’s claws.
Ekrizdis gave the goblin-made mirror to the monster, who handled it gently and examined herself over. Sirens desired magic from land-dwellers, but made little of their own works to trade (not to mention, they often ate any humans who attempted to speak with them!).
She would treasure this particular mirror, Ekrizdis knew. It showed the siren the glamor, the spell shrouding the monster within. The siren in the mirror depicted a woman with perfect skin, emerald scales, sky-blue eyes, and pristine-white teeth.
“I can procure other objects, or perform magic on you from the methods of my people.” Ekrizdis waited a minute before continuing his pitch. The siren was too preoccupied with herself. “Also, the remains will be tied to the docks, here. You’ll be hunting men the same as usual, only I get to have them first and you’ll be rewarded.”
The siren nodded. “I will sing.” Her voice wisped through the air like strummed harp, and Ekrizdis found it hard to keep from blushing. Warmth crept into his cold body, even as the spray from the sea touched his face.
The Dark wizard nodded, and then he mushed wads of clay into his ears. As the siren began to sing, he cast a spell on her. “Sonorus.” Even through the noise-canceling clay, the amplified voice of the siren flooded his mind with warmth and desire. Ekrizdis fought the compulsion to jump into the sea with her.
Several hours later, he saw the first ship. Now, he’d net his prey.
A terrible wind shot out of the end of his wand, and the ocean stirred.
A colossal wave jostled the ship, tipping it each way, and Ekrizdis poured his magic into the storm’s upkeep. Finally, the ship rocked to one side but did not right itself. The crew poured out into the waters.
A flailing sailor flew from the waters onto the land.
“They choose to stay,” Ekrizdis said to himself. He wondered if his victims intended to ward off any further muggle sailors from approaching or if they just didn’t know where else to go. The ghost-like beings swarmed and circled his castle, and dark clouds gathered around them.
The winds, ice cold.
Ekrizdis had once envisioned himself as a treasure to civilized society. A man who defeated death, disease, fragility. A man who brought true peace to the world. His castle, Azkaban, the pinnacle of modern medicine and science. Perhaps, someday, it would be a museum to his great achievements, a monument to a new age without suffering.
But what he had brought into the world, so far, he called the Tormented.
He had tortured many muggle sailors, ripped their souls out, and forced them to keep only a torn piece of their life-forces. The ghastly beings were his creations, and the price of his Dark spell experimentation soared around Azkaban, a tribute to the horrors he had committed.
Animostium hadn’t been the correct Word.
Magic was finicky like that. The meaning, the recitation, the ideal behind the word mattered. The concept of what the magic would do amended what would be produced.
Anima, soul. Ostium, door.
But his magic could not conceptualize a door to the soul. How can a person be a door? So the spell had failed him, but not without price. If eyes symbolized windows into the soul, then the mouth had become the door. It tore a black hole in between life and death, and mouths crave and taste and lick their lips.
The Tormented faded partially as their souls drained through their mouths. Their bodies became phantasmal. They flew, hungered, searched, and consumed every happy thought that came too near them. His victims. Hundreds and hundreds of shadows peered over his shoulder at every minute.
Animavelum had been the correct word, and it had taken him a year to figure it out.
Velum, a veil. Death was a curtain, not a door. This spell had almost cost him his life, the first time.
“So, you’re trying to tell me you created the dementors?” Sirius asked.
“Yes, need me to spell it out?” Ekrizdis replied.
“What about that veil? How did you almost kill yourself?”
Ekrizdis shook his head. “I had no way to contain it when I made my first attempt. Killing rips the soul apart, I know this now. But, to make a veil, two men must kill each other. I had stupidly tried to accomplish this myself.”
“A veil.” Sirius laughed. “Gives a new meaning to a wedding veil. A very cheery thought.”
Ekrizdis shook his head. “Weddings are a union of two who are living. A husband stands under an arch and draws back his wife’s veil to kiss her. A union in death covers them both in a veil.”
“Great, now I’m envisioning a dementor in a bridal gown. Erik, you may now kiss the bride.” Sirius stretched his legs out. “Speaking of, why didn’t the dementors ever kiss you? Aren’t you the one who claims to have tortured them? Shouldn’t they have wanted to get revenge?”
“My magic, over the years, turned me into something closer to them than a man. I have hardly any soul left for them to feast upon. I had become Death.”
Two bows unloaded arrows at once.
Two muggle bodies dropped their weapons and fell on both sides of the room, dead.
“Animavelum!” Ekrizdis shouted, his wand swishing in a triangle shape.
Two gray lines of fire spit out of his wand, one headed at each of the dead muggles. After the fires began to consume them, the fires headed for each other. A triangle of gray flames formed between the three.
The fires met under an archway. Made of stone, the arch formed a door-shape tall enough for a man to walk through. On the top of the arch, a small gemstone glittered.
The veil summoned out from the Undergloom and spread across the triangle, filling it like the skin on a bat’s wing.
Finally, the veil latched onto the archway, and then Ekrizdis fell backward, his wand flying across the room and shattering on a wall. Ekrizdis saw the gemstone on the top of the arch fill with gray light as he passed out.
When Ekrizdis came to, he saw that his spell had worked. After a thousand tries, it had actually worked. He had contained the veil between life and death within a stone archway.
Would it really be cloth? That was the purpose of his spell. To make death into a tangible material, something workable.
His mother, Atropos, had passed down a pair of goblin-made scissors, which he took out from a drawer after finding his feet. The goblin had claimed that the scissors could cut through magic. Would they now?
He stretched the blade out to the archway, touching it for the first time. It waved like a blanket hanging out to dry. He snipped at it.
Stitched together, his new cloak vanished completely on one side. The other, so that he would be able to find it, he sewed in shining, silvery cloth. He secured the cloak with powerful spells, enchantments, and curses to make it impenetrable, sturdy, and reflective of any harmful magic that might hit it.
The cloth cut from the deathly veil reflected invisibility because the world of the dead could not truly exist in the world of the living. So, light flittered through it, as if it were not there at all. This would be crucial for entering the veil, as any mortal that touched the veil would die. The cloak could be handled, however, and would protect him as he passed through.
One of the Tormented entered the room uninvited. It ignored him, but came to the stone archway like a moth to a flame. Ekrizdis watched as the ghastly creature stretched out a single finger and touched the cloth of the veil. It tugged at it, ripping a piece off. The veil in the archway grew back the lost piece and resealed itself. The Tormented consumed what it had torn off through the lone hole that formed its mouth. A strand of gray fell from its back, like a cutting of cloth.
Ekrizdis speculated that to touch the veil himself would kill him, but the Tormented had hardly any soul left. The Dark wizard laughed. “Ventus!” A gust of wind blew out of his wand and knocked the ghastly being back.
He had work to do.
The gemstone at the top of the stone archway no longer glowed with gray light, but that was as it was meant to be. Ekrizdis cast it off with his wand and floated the gem to himself.
Energized with the veil, he would turn the gem into a portkey, of sorts. Normal portkeys targeted a distance, a measurement of space, but this would be different. No distance separated life and death. Also, most portkeys departed on a schedule or instantly when grasped, however, Ekrizdis would need this object to be useable whenever he wanted.
An object from the living world to return him to life. He filled it with the power of death to reach into the Undergloom. This would be his most important tool. For what was the point of entering death if he could never return? Anyone can die, after all, and everyone does eventually. Death wasn’t special.
Ekrizdis, wearing his cloak and holding the portkey to life, entered the veil under the stone archway.
Drawing back the hood, everything shone too bright to see for a few minutes. He had expected death to be harsh, ugly, but as the Undergloom came into focus, he saw green trees.
The world of the dead looked similar to an old forest he used to play in as a child. The colors were muted, the expanse blurred, but he recognized the grove of elder trees that covered the plain. A rope swing hung from one he remembered his father pushing him on long ago.
Ekrizdis walked through the grove, wondering if he’d also find his old tree house. Perhaps death formed uniquely to each within. Would he ever meet another person, then? He wondered.
Something moved in the distance. He hurried toward it. The elder trees thickened strangely and less light crept in from the canopy.
The movement came from a herd of threstrals, the winged, skeletal-looking horses that could only been seen by a person who witnessed death. Ekrizdis had read about them and certainly had seen death, but these were the first he had been near. The threstrals picked at the blue grass under the elder trees.
Why are they here? he thought. If this is my version of death, my elder grove, then why do I see creatures I’ve never known before?
Ekrizdis went to an elder tree and pounded on it. It rang unnaturally, like a hollow metal drum. He reached up and snapped a branch off. He turned it to look closer and magic sparks flew out of it. He waved it again. Light flowed from the tip, sparking each way.
“Never have I felt magic flow like this!” he said to himself.
After shattering his wand during the creation of the veil, Ekrizdis had procured another from a wandmaker immediately, but it hadn’t chosen him. None of the wands he had tried since had felt natural. After hours and hours of testing, Ekrizdis bought the one in the box closest to him and left the shop.
It performed mediocre magic.
But the connection to the elder branch spoke to him the same way his first wand had, so long ago when he had been a child waving sticks in a store, but even more. He took several branches from the elder tree with him, and on a whim, he took several tail hairs from the threstrals.
Many magic creatures could be used in making wands, so why not threstrals? They were rarer than unicorns or dragons, but the idea was not unheard of.
He would bring the components to the wandmaker in the morning, if, of course, his portkey worked as planned. He took out his gem and turned it thrice in hand.
He opened his eyes within a sea of Tormented. They had gathered around the veil, to suck at the strips of death’s cloth. They had transformed now, cloaked, as he was. Frayed gray strands of cloth ran from their backs, arms, and bodies as they ate from the stone archway.
Ekrizdis used his magic to push through them, fighting the instinct to fall into the cold mists and cry.
Ekrizdis stood on the roof of Azkaban. Thunderclouds shrouded him from light.
His past few weeks had been spent at an inn on the mainland. Rumors and chatter of a Dark wizard in a sea-castle circulated in the pubs. He needed to act on this, he knew.
Upon returning to Azkaban, he saw that Tormented swarmed his home like flies on a dead pig, and a chilly wind blew in his face. All cloaked in gray, now. Pale imitations on his own beautiful cloak. He wondered if they could turn invisible, too, but how could they if he could still see them?
His life’s achievement was shrouded in horrors. He had been victorious in his quest to enter and return from death. His cloak shielded him, his stone resurrected him, and his wand, he had come to find out, painted death like a brush on a canvas. He had taken his newly crafted wand to a dueling club to test it out. No one matched him. Even his weak charms bested duelists who used Dark jinxes that might have put him out of consciousness.
One such man had tried a killing curse, only to have it rebound and slaughter him instead.
Ekrizdis had mastered the art of death. No, he was Death.
And yet, would any society praise him for his good works when it took such horrors to accomplish? He knew he needed to fix what his mad schemes had cost him. The wizarding community would arrive to him sooner than later. What would they see? His progress in the field of medical and scientific magic? No. He needed to revive the Tormented, or else Azkaban would never become a monument to his accomplishments.
And he had brought a dead man back using the gem.
Yesterday, a man walked within his elder grove. It looked like a shade of his uncle. Ekrizdis did not speak to him or draw near. Instead, he used his magic to take the man back into the world of life. His uncle, it was clear from seeing his face up close, returned only as a shade. Ekrizdis believed he could fix this, rejuvenate his body and possibly the bodies of his victims from before.
But, first, he would need more test subjects.
He peered off into the seas around his castle. It had been a year since he had seen his last muggle ship. Not even the siren’s song would bring them with so many Tormented hovering around his castle. The ghastly beings created an aura of fear that kept anyone from approaching, not to mention the dark clouds and cold rains. Perhaps he would be forced to go to the village and steal muggles from their houses.
“A ship.” The words slipped from his lips before he understood. Out, beyond the storm, a ship approached. This will be the last I’ll need, he thought with hope.
A terrible wind shot out of the end of his wand.
“Ventus maxima!” He had done this too many times before. The ocean became a mad stew overboiling. The ship turned side to side, but then righted itself.
“Ventus maxima!” Ekrizdis shouted again.
But instead, the ship became shrouded in a bubble of light and sailed on as if the seas still carried a gentile breeze. It sailed right up to Azkaban, and Ekrizdis could even see the name on the side, The Bard’s Bridge.
Cheated of his test subjects, Ekrizdis flew down the steps of his castle. If not victims, these obvious magic-users would be treated as guests.
If they kept their wands in their cloaks and spoke kindly, then he would show courtesy, if not, then it was good that his wand, created from the world of the dead, bested even the strongest duelists.
Three men approached his castle’s front entrance. If they had intended to kill him, they could have flown on brooms into his windows. Teleportation was impossible within the zone of his castle, he had seen to that much protection. But no, these three used a wizard’s rule of hospitality: non-magical entrance at the door.
They were young, he noticed. Perhaps they merely took curiosity to the rumors that persisted on the mainland.
Ekrizdis pushed the wooden gate to his castle open.
“Welcome to Azkaban, travelers,” he said, bowing. “I am Ekrizdis, the lone occupant of this fortress. Might I ask your names?”
The tallest and thickest spoke first. “Antioch is my name, but your spell tried to wreck our ship. How should I feel welcomed?”
“Antioch, remember your manners. I am Cadmus Peverell,” said the second. He was pale-skinned and skinny. “We’re all Peverells, actually, brothers. The other is Ignotus.”
The third brother smiled and bowed, but said harshly, “I’m with Antioch. This guy says he’s the lone occupant here, but fails to note them floating above us. What are they?”
Ekrizdis blew out through his mouth. “A story too long for the doorstep. I invite you to come in, Peverell brothers. But first, does your ship require proper docking? How does it stay afloat without you on it?”
“Old Beedle waits for us. He’ll man it until we’re finished,” Antioch said, stepping through the gate.
The other two brothers followed, and Ekrizdis sat them in a cold room with several chairs, far from his laboratories upstairs. He lit a fire and brought out a bottle of cherry wine.
Only Cadmus accepted drink. The other two sat, wearily.
“I’m impressed,” Ekrizdis said, pouring himself a glass. “Your magic surpassed my own, handedly. I have heard rumors, whilst on shore, of a Dark wizard living on the sea. Therefore I’ve shrouded myself in protections such as the storms.”
Ignotus laughed. “Don’t play coy. The rumors are about you. That’s why we are here. Isn’t that obvious? I want to know—”
Cadmus interrupted, “Ignotus, please don’t—”
“No, we might as well get it over with. What is going on in this place? What are those monsters flying outside?”
“Ghosts, simply put,” Ekrizdis lied. “They haunt the seas. I have come here to study them.”
“You don’t strike me as a magizoologist,” Ignotus said.
“I’m trying to learn the secrets of invisibility,” Ekrizdis lied again. “No spell accomplishes a true ability to vanish yet, however—”
But the conversation ended there and then, as the Tormented themselves entered the room, hungry.
“Did they die here?” Sirius Black asked his friend.
“No. Antioch, in the chaos, grabbed my wand from my hand and asked me how to kill the dementors. I told him my wind spell to push them back. He kept my wand. Cadmus found my experiments and notes, and destroyed it all. He took my gemstone for himself. Ignotus carved the stone archway out from the floor and moved it onto his ship to take back to England. He stole my cloak for good measure.”
“And what did they do with you, Erik?”
“They forced the truth from me with a potion. For my crimes, Antioch wanted to kill me outright. Ignotus wanted to force me through the veil one last time. Cadmus, however, won the debate. I would be left to live with my victims. Before departing, Cadmus took me aside in private. He had lost a loved one, and wondered if perhaps we could resume the work later in secret, to bring her back.”
Sirius Black stood up as the door to the cell unlocked loudly and opened.
Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, stepped in with an entourage of officials and politicians. They filled the room with the scent of newly-tailored suits and chattered in whispers to each other. Fudge’s voice silenced them all: “And here, a prisoner who I deem nearly-reformed. You’ve all heard of Sirius Black, of course.”
He waved from his group to Sirius. The eyes of the crowd beamed around the room.
“Good evening, Minister,” Sirius said, smiling. “Or morning, I suppose. It’s hard to tell in this place.”
The Minister laughed. “Good afternoon, Black.” He turned to his colleagues. “Of course, we could never allow him out, no matter how changed he is. The incident with the muggles and the finger is too well known and connected with the Potters. I would be thrown out of office for the mere suggestion of it. But Sirius is reformed, a model prisoner. In fact, the dementors leave him alone so much that this is the only cell I can stand to be in for any length of time. The other cells are swarmed with them.”
“Got the crossword, Minister?” Sirius begged.
From behind his cloak, Fudge produced a newspaper. “Of course, lad. I knew you’d ask.” He shuffled his group back out the door. “Now, the next part of our tour is for—”
The cell door shut and locked.
“He speaks as if you’re not there,” Ekrizdis said.
“He didn’t even notice you,” Sirius replied, looking at his newspaper. “Did Cadmus ever return?”
“Yes, years later, and regrettably. I showed him how to return a shadow-form of his old love. For my act, he sailed me back to the mainland, but I heard he killed himself, in the end. I have no idea where the gemstone went. The Ministry of Magic finally took the Azkaban story public. Some wanted to use the place as a prison, you see. With my freedom, I went to the Ministry in disguise and renamed myself Eldritch. I spent many years fighting for the destruction of my old castle, but I failed. I resigned myself to fake Eldritch’s death and return here, to my initial punishment, to spend the rest of my life with my victims.”
“Long live the King of Azkaban, then! You’re quite imaginative. Tell me, if your story is true, then how are you still alive?” Sirius asked.
“Does Death himself age?” Ekrizdis laughed. “My experiments made me closer to a dementor than a man, like I said. I mastered death, but I’ve failed at life. I’m stuck in eternity.” He paused to cough. The pattering of the rainfall echoed through the room. “I deserve this, but you don’t, Sirius.”
“I don’t, but I don’t have a reason to leave, either.” Sirius snuffled and pawed at his newspaper. The picture on the cover depicted a family visiting Egypt. Seeing a happy group of relatives all together like that was a foreign ideal to him. Sirius had a cousin close, here in Azkaban in fact, and he loathed her.
The mother and father in the photo smiled. His own mother had been a witch of a witch. All dead, he thought. Even my brother. He scanned each kid’s face, wishing he had had siblings like them. A young boy in the photo held up a rat, and Sirius felt the air leave his chest.
* * *
That’s the end! Thanks for reading! Send me a tweet and tell me what you think.