Chapter 1 : Devil's Trickery
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In the distance, the sound of clanging echoes as metal collides with steel. After three months spent in this godforsaken hellhole, it's clear that James is all too aware of what that sound means: somewhere nearby, a cell door is being slammed closed upon some poor soul. Another prisoner has just been brought into the forgotten damnation that is Azkaban, and soon he will be requiring my services. Today, however, James Sirius Potter is my unfortunate victim, and it is upon him that I must focus. In other circumstances, that phrasing might seem somewhat exaggerated, but then again in other circumstances I would be able to choose when people needed me most, instead of allowing certain others to dictate my life.
James is sitting in his cell, morosely staring at a row of systematically organised photographs charmed to stick upon the wall. I can see a few of them - there's him with his parents on his graduation day, his Gryffindor robes quite prominent in that photo, and another picture of a man with dark hair and glasses and a woman with long red hair, and I can't decide if the picture is of his parents when they were younger or of his siblings. Judging by the photograph at the bottom, showing James hitting what looks like his little sister over the head with a Christmas present, I'm inclined to say that it's the latter. A guard marches past me before opening the hatch of James' cell door and pushing a bowl of what is supposedly soup through onto the shelf, not appearing to care when the majority of the murky brown liquid splashes over the rim of the bowl. James groans before climbing unsteadily to his feet, then stumbles to the shelf to pick up the bowl. It's then that I notice that there is no spoon, but this does not seem to be abnormal for him because he returns to his seat on the filth-covered floor and brings the bowl to his lips, gulping the lukewarm soup hungrily.
"James Potter?" I query while stepping out of the shadows. It's a pointless question, considering that Potter, James Sirius is engraved upon the cell door along with his date of birth - December 3rd, 2005 - but it would hardly be appropriate to suddenly address him as an old friend given that I am a stranger to him.
He looks up at me, his blue eyes glinting in the dark. "Who's asking?"
"My name's Anamaria," I answer, sitting down onto the ground next to his cell door, wincing at the chill of the cold steel bars as I lean my body against them.
James scrambles into the corner, his expression of horror clear to see even in the dim light.
"What are you?" he asks, just as ninety nine percent of people in his situation have done.
"I'm a jinnī," I say, falling into this charade with ease; I've done this so many times before, I could recite this entire conversation by heart if I needed to.
James frowns in confusion. "A genie?"
"That's the approximate Western translation of the word, yes."
"Aren't you supposed to live in a lamp or a ring, and I'm supposed to rub it and summon you for wishes?" he asks.
I laugh. "Aladdin's just a story. Most of what you hear isn't true."
"So what is true, then?"
"The wishes. There's no limit to them, but in order for a jinnī to grant a wish, they must be entirely willing to do so. That's why some will put a limit on the number of wishes they'll grant - like Aladdin's wishes - and or put limitations on what you can ask for, like refusing to wish someone dead."
"You don't look like a genie, though," James answers. "You look as human as I am."
"Jinnī," I correct automatically. "And how are the jinn meant to look then, if not human?"
For a moment I regret what I've said, referring to what is supposed to be my species as the jinn instead of we jinn. It would be like James, a wizard from birth, saying the wizards instead of we wizards. I watch him carefully, hoping that he hasn't figured it out, but he doesn't appear to notice. He simply sighs and answers my question casually.
"I don't know. You're just not what I expected of a genie - I mean, a jinnī."
"Mhmm. You're right there," I agree, and for the first time in this conversation, I'm telling the truth.
"So," James says, "what are jinnī?"
"You mean jinn," I answer. "Jinnī is singular, jinn is plural." I pause to give an air of importance to the moment before continuing. "Jinn are souls, attached to a person at birth. We guide people into making the right choices and be exemplary humans, or at least we try to. Do you ever wonder what that voice in the back of your head is? That niggling desire for you to behave appropriately, or to do something that you shouldn't? That's your jinnī talking to you, and who you are is dependent not just on whether they're considered good or bad, but how often you listen to them and obey what they say."
"So what, you're guardian angels?"
"Heh. Sort of. There are limitations on what we can do, just as there are limitations on everything."
James frowns for a moment, thinking over his next question. "So my jinnī could grant me a wish?"
"No," I answer. "They can't show themselves to you, either, unless they abandon you first. Only a jinnī that isn't your own can be seen by you, and can grant your wishes."
"I see," James sighs. "That means you aren't my jinnī, right?"
I nod. "You don't have a jinnī any more; jinn are terrified of Dementors, considering that they feed on souls and we're, you know, souls. Most abandon their humans before arriving at Azkaban; that's how human prisoners here go crazy, because they don't have their jinnī. Some remain loyal, but they get Kissed by Dementors in the end."
"Then what are you doing here? Especially if it's so dangerous for you?"
For a moment I'm internally floundering, having never been asked that question before. James stares at me expectantly, and I know that I have no choice but to answer him and hope I can bluff my way through this.
"Dementors don't Kiss you, because you're a prisoner placed into their custody by the Ministry. You'll only get Kissed if you do something like try to escape, or attack one of the guards. The same rules apply to me."
James takes a few moments to think over what I've said before he nods in acceptance. I'm not sure if he's a gullible fool, I'm an exceptional spur-of-the-moment liar, or he's a desperate man willing to believe anything in the hope that I'll grant him a wish, but I'm not going to jeopardize my luck by questioning how I've survived.
“Can’t you escape?” he asks.
“Not of my own volition,” I answer, and I hope he’s smart enough to realize what I mean: that I can’t get myself out of here, but someone else can. “All I can do is stay here and grant wishes.”
When James’ eyes light up, I know that his interest has been piqued.
“Could you grant me a wish?”
I look down at my fingers, looking away from the flickering flame contained within a lantern as another guard walks past holding the lantern in question and keeping as far from me as possible, but fortunately, James does not appear to notice the guard’s fear.
“Yes, I could,” I say, chancing a quick glance at James as the light fades to see him smiling.
And I smile. I’ve done the impossible and tempted James Potter into making the decision that he now wants to make; soon, he’s going to be mine. I’ve managed to make him fall for my deception.
Hook, line and sinker.
“Really, Anamaria?” James asks, standing up and approaching me. “You’d really grant me a wish?”
I’m careful to keep looking at the ground, my gaze firmly fixed upon the charred cobbles.
“Of course,” I answer. “Although there are terms and conditions, just like those I mentioned earlier.”
There is no audible response, and I assume that James is nodding his understanding. I remain silent; I know from my prior experiences that if I appear too eager to give James what he wants most, he shall grow suspicious of my motives - and while he ought to be, I’m hardly going to be the one who informs him of that.
Finally, James breaks the silence. “Can you get me out of here?”
It’s difficult to resist the urge to smile, but somehow I accomplish that feat. Like every other fool in this prison, all James wants is to be free, and that gift is easy to give. The devil’s bargain that imprisons me here is the very bargain that allows the Ministry to keep the prison’s population low, so granting the request for freedom is almost second nature to me. I stand up, realizing that I’m a good five inches shorter than James as I do so, and then I look up into his eyes. He gasps and takes a step back instinctively, and I don’t blame him. Where James’ pupils are surrounded by irises nestled in the whites of his eyes, my eyeballs are a ceaseless red the shade of blood, with no imperfections marring them. It’s odd, really, how different we look: he’s tall and lanky - something inherited from the Weasley side of the family, I’m sure - with dark raven curls and piercing blue eyes, and despite the fact that he hasn’t shaved that just adds to his appeal. The human form I portray is approximately thirty - a good five or so years younger than him - and has thick dark brunette hair, full lips and Hispanic skin, the reason for the false Spanish name I possess.
“What would you give to make that happen?” I ask, choosing not to explain another lie about my red eyes; it would just interrupt this flow that I’ve established, and the more time that passes, the likelier it is that James will change his mind and I refuse to allow that to happen. Not to mention that James seems to be taking them in his stride now that he’s used to the sight; he’s probably assumed they’re a part of being a jinnī.
James looks at me, his breath more pronounced than ever as adrenaline starts to course through his body at the prospect of leaving Azkaban.
“Everything I have,” he answers.
I nod, fighting the compulsion within me to smile at the prospect. It’s clear that no-one ever warned James Potter about the danger that lies in the deepest, darkest depths of Azkaban, waiting for a fool desperate enough to sell his own soul. More importantly, no-one ever warned James Potter about me. I’m tempted just to release him from this infernal cage instantly, but I have to keep up this pretence of being a jinnī until he actually seals the deal.
“I can’t do what you ask until you wish for it,” I lie, reaching through the bars of the cell to stroke his cheek with my palm.
Like my very own puppet, James acquiesces. “I wish that you could set me free from this prison; I want to go home.”
My hand leaves his cheek and clings to one of the cell bars, following it downwards until I reach the lock. I press my palm against it and allow my magic to seep through; like all dark magic, it leaves a mark. The lock breaks open, leaving behind an imprint of my hand, but James doesn’t notice because he’s busy marvelling at the fact that for the first time in three months, he’s finally able to step out of imprisonment. I proffer my other hand, James takes it willingly and then I begin walking, leading him through the labyrinth that is Azkaban. I’ve been here long enough to know this prison by heart, and I take care to keep him away from the cells where more educated men and women are lest one change his mind so close to the moment I’ve been waiting for.
Finally, I open the last door to reveal a small courtyard situated upon the top of Azkaban. Several brooms are resting upon the wall to our right; the guards use them to get here and depart after their shifts. Most people think that Dementors solely guard Azkaban, but they fail to take into account that the Dementors don’t have the necessary physical requirements to cook food and deliver it to the prisoners, or to transfer prisoners from one cell to another; these jobs are usually left to the guards, who can’t use their wands here lest a prisoner steal it from them which is why, on a small table in the corner, an assortment of wands lie. The door that James and I have entered through possesses several high-security charms, but the magic that I possess is so sinister, it disabled them upon my touch.
“Anamaria,” James says, turning to me. “Thank you.”
“There’s no need to thank me, James,” I smile, watching as he retrieves a wand and a broom before returning to me. “I’ll see you in ten years’ time.”
James opens his mouth - most likely, to ask what is so important about ten years’ time or why our paths will cross once more - but I don’t allow him to say anything. Instead, I grab his collar and pull so that he’s forced to lean down, his lips crushing against mine.
Sealed with a kiss.
It is ten years to the day since I last saw James Potter, and I cannot help but wonder what has changed in the last decade. From the sounds of laughter emitting from the cottage I’m walking towards, it seems that there are multiple people inside. The only significance of those people at present is whether they belong to James or not; if they are, then it is a loss for him but beneficial to me, and if they are not then it is simply an inconvenience for all parties to have them present. Hence, I am hoping that it is the former and that they are not friends or far-flung distant relatives, but his family.
Tinsel charmed to change colour decorates the window along with a Muggle sign requesting Santa to stop at the cottage. A snowman stands by the front door to greet visitors, its long carrot nose drooping slightly while its spiky blond hair made from frozen chips is perfectly vertical; a small sign that a child and an adult built this snowman together. There is a wreath of holly upon the door, and I cannot help but smile at how festive James has attempted to make this Christmas - it’s just a shame that he won’t be able to enjoy it. I reach up to knock on the deep red wood, and within moments James answers the door whilst laughing but the moment our eyes meet, all the mirth just drains from him. In the background, a blonde curly-haired woman shrieks and picks up a small girl before pulling a taller girl to her.
“James!” she screams. “Get away from it! It’s a demon!”
James looks at her before turning back to me, frowning in confusion at the woman’s words and probably the fact that while he’s aged, I look exactly like I did all those years ago.
“Anamaria?” he says questioningly, apparently expecting me to provide clarification. Fortunately, I’m happy to.
“You didn’t really believe that I was a jinnī for all those years, did you?” I ask, my tone filled with incredulity. “Didn’t you tell anyone how you got out of Azkaban? Or even look up what the jinn look like? Books aren’t that hard to find, you know.”
“If you aren’t a jinnī, then what are you?” he queries, retrieving his wand from his pocket and pointing it at me.
I sigh. “I’m a crossroads demon. We make bargains with people; we give them what they want in return for their souls in ten years’ time. The Ministry of Magic don’t approve, especially as our magic is similar to that of an Unbreakable Vow, so they have an ongoing bargain with crossroad demons - although they’d never confess to its existence. In return for pruning Azkaban’s population so that the prison doesn’t overflow, I get to live there in the shadows and make deals with willing victims.”
“So you got my husband out of prison, and now you’re here for his soul?” the woman cries, still clinging to her daughters tightly.
“Heh. Not quite,” I answer, and I see James’ eyes widen as he recalls the precise nature of our bargain. “Would you like to enlighten your wife and daughters on what exactly you said you’d give in return for freedom, or does that task fall to me?”
Tears are flowing down James’ cheeks, and his family all have concerned expressions as they stare at him before he finally gets out those three words. “Everything I have.”
“Consider me a bailiff,” I say with a smile. “Your husband, your father, has a debt to pay and I’m here to collect.”
“No!” James shouts suddenly, and light glimmers from the tip of his wand before fading as quickly as it appeared.
I stare at James, watching the realization of his fate dawn upon him. His wand has recognized what I am, has sensed the bond that links James to me, and is bending against its master’s will in deference of my own superior magic.
“You said everything you have, and I’m taking it all. Your family, your possessions, your magic, your soul. I’ve come to collect,” I say, stepping closer to him until we’re close enough to kiss, just like the position we were in in that courtyard ten years ago, “and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Are we going to heaven?” the younger daughter asks, tears falling from her eyes too.
I shake my head in a silent no, and she opens her mouth to ask a second question but this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I know what she’s asking, and so I give her the answer before she’s even uttered the words.
Author's Note: The references to Aladdin originate from a Middle Eastern folk tale, in which the genie is called a jinnī and later translated to genie in English.
As you can see, this is my entry for Sam's Supernatural Creatures challenge! My creature was the crossroads demon, and I hope that I've done it justice here! *hides* I'd love to hear what you think, so please do drop a line or two letting me know how I've done - I'd appreciate it a lot! ♥
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