The Fourth

They say that no spell can bring the dead back into the world of living, yet there is a loophole in that law—what if the person never really left in the first place? What if they became a ghost, a spirit, quietly occupying the places where their living body once roamed? And so, there must be an inherent choice hidden in the prospect of death: to stay behind... or go beyond?

It is something that every mortal must ask itself.

1.1

"He will have... gone on."

"What d'you mean, 'gone on'? Gone on to where?" By now the boy is speaking quickly, not listening for any of the answers. As if there are any. "Listen—what happens when you die, anyway? Where do you go? Why doesn't everyone come back? Why isn't this place full of ghosts? Why—?"

The ghost hesitates, wondering whether or not to humor the distraught young student standing before him. But then he remembers... "I cannot answer," he finally says, settling on the truth.

"You're dead, aren't you?" demands the boy, exasperatedly. "Who can answer better than you?"

The specter sighs inwardly as he spots the welling tears behind his friend's eyes. Who, indeed?

"I was afraid of death," explains the ghost slowly. "I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn't to have..."

The ghost tenses, as though expecting to relive the painful blows to the base of his neck once more. "Well, that is neither here nor there... In fact, I am neither here nor there..."

1.2

"If I had known that you were a wizard, I should never have wished to meet you!"

The enraged voice and furious tears of his beloved flash through his mind again like lightening, stabbing at his composure and battering down his usual noble mask of cool detachment. Chin trembling with the fear of what is to come and with barely repressed anger, he glances down at his manacled and chafed wrists, tests the chain once again to find it holding, reopening his wounds in the process; the day prior, he had been strung up by the wrists and lowered into an erected pool of Holy water to test his guilt. He had floated, as most humans tend to do, and it had been decided that the reason for his buoyancy was his sinful body, which the Holy water had aptly rejected. His fate sealed, the title of Wizard branded on him like a curse, his execution—not by burning at the stake but by beheading—had been announced for the following morning. This morning.

He doesn't want to die.

The powers that be had decided to perform the execution atop a hill which overlooks the churchyard, and this is where he waits, in the pouring rain, held tightly on each side by a nervous guard, each which glances at him every so often as if expecting him to disappear from their grasp. He grits his teeth. He will not apparate; the wizarding world must not be so blatantly exposed even to save his own skin.

So, wandless, hopeless, he waits in the gray rain for the executioner to arrive, watching his hopes and dreams splash into the watery mud, each lamenting with a mournful gloop before streaming down the hill.

He doesn't want to die. Perhaps he is afraid of death.

The storm has gotten worse. Lightening strikes the ground nearby, spooking the approaching horse, and thunder crashes overhead. He is drenched, shaking from the cold and perhaps the fear. His stomach churns, his throat is thick. Yes, he is afraid.

The executioner slowly dismounts his horse, and with a grin, jabs a finger to point at a low stump merely paces away. The guards hustle their prisoner over and force his head upon the smooth wood, his face pressed flat into a shallow pool of water and turned so that he can see his executioner.

The man's heart starts to flutter—it is nearly time and he is not ready. Oh God, he doesn't want to die... Be brave, he thinks to himself. You are a Gryffindor at heart, be brave.

"Last requests, Wizard?" the executioner sneers, settling his grip onto the axe handle.

The man glares, blinking streaming rainwater from his eyes, ignoring its pricks of ice upon his face. "I have done nothing for which I am ashamed." There, that sounded brave at least.

The executioner grins, stepping into position by the stump. "You know," he says, laying the cold blade of the axe against the man's neck to find his mark, "you're my fourth—this week."

The wizard clenches his jaw with anger. "You are ruled by a blind prejudice—may you and all like you be damned! I only wish I could send you to hell myself." He spits out the words, the familiar taste of rainwater in his mouth, one of the last things he will experience in this life. His body trembles, betraying the inner battle between his instincts to run and his pride to die honorably.

"Too late to try your curses on me, Wizard."

The church bells begin ringing tumultuously behind the doomed, announcing his impending execution and calling him, he fancies, toward his new life, just as the executioner raises the axe overhead, devilishly silhouetted for an instant by a flash of lightening beyond.

"Not yet," gasps the man quietly a moment before the axe comes thudding down upon his neck.

1.3

"I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead."