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My Not-So-Imaginary Friend by The Quiet Girl
Chapter 15: XV: One Would Say It's a Family Business
XV: One Would Say It’s a Family Business
The classroom was deathly silent as I finished reading.
I felt all the real boys’ eyes focused on me.
Benjamin remained by the window, looking up at the stars outside.
I dropped the diary. It landed on its spine, opening to a random page. I didn’t care.
“KILLER!” I screamed, jumping to my feet and running at Benjamin. My hands forming into fists as I stalked across the classroom, I was hardly aware of the hot tears gathering in my eyes as I slammed those fists into Benjamin’s chest and arms. “How could you! How could you kill Diana! How could you murder my mum!” I hit Benjamin again and again, now feeling those hot tears burning twin trails down my face. My world became blurred the more and more I punched him.
Benjamin didn’t defend himself. His imaginary muscles twitched with each impact, but he made no other sign that he even knew I was there.
“Don’t ignore me!” I screamed. “Answer me!” My fists started stinging the more I kept hitting him. “Answer me!”
“Kulinski, calm down!” James said from somewhere on my right. Then, my right arm was restrained.
“Hitting him isn’t going to do any good,” Sirius agreed from my left, taking the corresponding arm.
Together, the boys pulled me back across the room and forced me back into the desk chair. The diary I had dropped resided in Remus’s hands.
I tried to get back up again, to finish what I started, but James and Sirius pushed me back down by my shoulders whenever I tried to stand. Once the initial anger had passed, too many thoughts bubbled up to my consciousness. I closed my eyes, spilling more tears. The air in the room felt too warm and heavy. I let out a single sob I didn’t even know I had. With my elbows resting on my knees, I pressed my eyes into my palms, trying to stop the burning liquid before it could dissolve my skin. And trying to stop the horrible thoughts and feelings that came with it.
“Is she okay?” Peter whispered from some distance away. His voice trembled. “I mean, do you think Benjamin is doing anything to her?”
“It’s shock, Peter,” Remus said, sounding a bit distracted. “How would you feel if your family had a curse that killed your mum?”
Peter didn’t give much of an answer. He just whimpered, probably using his imagination.
Above my deep breaths as I tried to calm myself, I heard Remus flipping through the first few pages, as if looking for the message I had just finished reading. “Impressive,” he muttered. “Your mum must have been brilliant. A lock that only opened at Benjamin’s name and an ink that could only be read by you. I suppose both enchantments were designed to keep this information secret for only Diana’s descendants.”
“Yeah, she was brilliant,” I grumbled. “See how brilliant she was? She’s still dead, isn’t she?” With one last deep breath, I wiped my eyes and looked around. But seeing makeup smeared all across my palms, I worried about how messed up my face appeared. Then I realized how truly pathetic I was. I would rather worry about my looks than about a curse that killed every woman in my family.
“So, what’s Benjamin doing now?” James asked.
I pointed to him. “He’s standing by that window. Hasn’t moved from there since the diary opened.”
“And he wasn’t fighting back?” James asked.
“He hardly ever does when I decide to smack him for being terrible. He just complains about how much I hurt him.”
“Well, you have to admit,” James said lightly, “it was strange seeing you in a fight with empty air. Even stranger to stop it.”
“And killing a dead bloke won’t help us either,” Sirius pointed out.
I started to nod, understanding the reasoning.
But Benjamin chose that moment to break his silence. “I’m not dead, because I was never alive. Neither am I alive, because I can never die. I’m just the manifestation of the curse, gifted with consciousness.” His tone sounded flat, as if being discovered as something more than an imaginary friend was a sign of defeat.
I repeated Benjamin’s comments verbatim, adding the impressions I had gotten from him.
“Marta,” Remus said, closing the diary, “your mother said something about someone named Venus Lupin. Uh, well, is there any relation to me?”
I opened my mouth to repeat the question, but Benjamin must not have cared too much that it came from the ‘half-blood’ or the ‘werewolf’ this time. I mean, he usually didn’t answer Remus’s questions unless they were repeated by someone else.
“Of course there’s a relation, werewolf,” Benjamin spat. His first emotion since the diary opened, his voice was dripping with anger and disgust. He glared hard out the window. “There had been two Lupins when Athena Webb discovered what I really was. I went to a lot of trouble and had to use a lot of my power to get Athena to marry one of them, which produced Venus Lupin. I then had to punish Venus for Athena’s discovery of me. Annoying little girl. But how was I to know that the younger Lupin would marry a disgraceful Mudblood and soil the Lupin name forever? Over the generations, all other Lupins also abandoned their honorable lineage for those with dirty blood.” He paused. “And it didn’t help your case, werewolf, that your first name sounds close to Venus’s, whom I hated for being a brainless twit. It was a good day when she had her own daughter and died.”
My jaw hung open. I looked back to Remus. “We’re- related?” I asked.
“And how stupid are you, Marta?! Your last common ancestor was six hundred years ago! You’re more closely related to Sirius Black and James Potter, though still separated by several generations and centuries. Then again, that is the way of true Purebloods.” Benjamin shook his head in disbelief and went back to staring at the sky.
I struggled to repeat all of what Benjamin had said without sounding totally disgusted and throwing up. I cleaned up his language as best I could, but there was nothing I could do about the idea. I stared at my lap, unable to look at any of the boys.
I saw silent glances passed between them out of the corner of my eyes. After a few seconds, James was the one silently voted to speak. “Benjamin,” James asked, “would you be willing to tell us about Marta? I mean, the original Marta that our friend Marta Kulinski was named after?”
Benjamin let out a long sigh. “Diana’s diary didn’t do my story justice,” he said. “She said I was brilliant. I actually had Professor Ravenclaw, in this very room, tell me on several occasions that if Professor Slytherin hadn’t spoken with my father first, she would have been delighted to have me in her House.”
With the pause, I repeated Benjamin’s words, getting the impression that Benjamin’s tongue was finally loosened and I would finally learn the full truth about him.
“Diana failed to mention that I wasn’t just any student of the four founders. I was the first Slytherin student. The first eleven-year-old that Salazar Slytherin personally invited to his new school. One of the first to sleep in the beds and learn from the most brilliant witches and wizards to ever exist.
“But you want to know about Marta Pontem. Yes, she was a year younger than me. And she was also a Slytherin because her blood was pure. When I first saw her arrive, I knew the two of us were meant to be together. Yes, I knew when I was twelve years old that I was going to marry her.”
“Wait,” Sirius said, stopping Benjamin. “It sounds like Benjamin is recounting things that happened to him. But he just said he’s the personification of the family curse.” He shrugged, not knowing how the whole thing worked.
I felt a bit dumber when I realized that I didn’t see it first.
“It’s strange for me trying to remember that I never had those experiences,” Benjamin confessed, closing his eyes and crossing his arms. “The real Benjamin, as you will, wasn’t content to just have the curse strike without adding a personal touch. He fashioned me, a perfect duplicate of himself, complete with the memories and motives of himself, and gave me the power to fulfill the curse every generation.” Benjamin opened his eyes and uncrossed his arms. He looked at me. “Most of the witches in your family saw me but didn’t see me, just as my Marta had done.”
I repeated it all, again, and this time it was James who spoke. “So Benjamin, what happened to the real you? Did you die? I mean, obviously the real you is dead after nine centuries, but did the real Benjamin die in the process of making you?”
Benjamin snorted. “Do you really think I would have killed myself just to get even with a witch for choosing another wizard? I still had an obligation as a Pureblood to carry on my magical blood to the next generation. I chose another to marry and had a family of my own.” Benjamin looked up at the ceiling, thinking. “The last time I saw the real Benjamin, he was just over a hundred years old. He didn’t look too bad. He actually met with my fourth witch, though she didn’t recognize him as anything but an old wizard. I- he seemed satisfied that I was doing my duty diligently. His grandson actually married the great-granddaughter of Salazar Slytherin. My fifth witch was just an infant, so I went to the wedding. That was a beautiful ceremony.”
This time, I didn’t repeat what Benjamin said. My own mind was racing. And my stomach churned in revulsion. “So Marta Pon- er,”
“So Marta Pontem chose someone else. You ended up killing her. So why in Merlin’s name did you have to punish her descendants? None of us had anything to do with your failed love life!”
“NO!” Benjamin’s eyes snapped back to me. If I had been standing, it would have made me take a step back. I had never seen such a murderous gaze like that from anyone before. “Marta Pontem had to be punished! And the fruit of her misplaced love for another man couldn’t be forgiven. And you’re still the descendant of the man who stole my love away from me!” He marched up to me, his right arm raised.
“Marta-” Remus started, obviously concerned at the prolonged lack of information about Benjamin.
I shook my head at Remus while keeping my eyes locked on Benjamin.
But instead of causing me physical harm, he only confused me. His hand lowered until he touched my hair. Adding to my confusion, he pulled out my hair tie and let my hair fall around my shoulders. He stroked the brunette strands, his cold skin chilling the side of my face with each pass. But if this would get Benjamin to reveal more about himself, he could do whatever he wanted.
“Did you see that?” Peter whispered to his friends. His voice trembled. “Something is messing with Kulinski’s hair!”
“Kulinski, what do you want us to do?” James asked.
“Wait,” I said softly. “Just wait.”
“You all have the same face as my Marta,” Benjamin continued, his voice soft, lost in a memory that wasn’t his. “The hair and eye color change to that of your fathers. My Marta was blonde, her golden locks more brilliant than the sun. Her eyes were the same shade of the clearest blue sky you ever saw, and just as intense.” He rubbed his thumb around my eyes. Besides the cold, I felt a tingling sensation. I would have sworn that he was clearing my eyes for me. His other hand rested on my shoulder. His fingers trailed towards my neck, then started playing with my pendant. “But you all have the same eye shape. The same nose. The same cheek bones. The same lips.” He leaned forward, closing the minuscule gap that had come between us.
My brain went blank as Benjamin kissed me. His proximity felt like someone threw me face-first into the middle of the Black Lake in the dead of winter. Even the air was frigid as I tried and failed to breathe. But Benjamin wasn’t real. No one was really kissing me. No one was kissing me! But Benjamin was still kissing me!
I closed my eyes and screamed, my shout muffled by my own lips that I refused to part.
“Get off her!”
My eyes snapped open. Remus stood right in the middle of Benjamin. His wand was drawn, not that it did him any good. He looked around, not seeing the cause of my distress.
Benjamin broke the kiss and moved out of Remus. He turned his furious gaze onto my oldest and dearest friend. “I will do whatever the hell I want to her, werewolf!” He swung his arm forward, as if to punch Remus in the middle of the chest with his open palm.
But knowing Benjamin’s power, the added show probably reflected the added strength Benjamin was putting into the effort. I jumped to my feet, wand in hand.
Remus flew back as Benjamin ‘made contact’ with him.
I waved my wand, changing all the tables and chairs into mattresses and pillows. Another flick of my wand forced them to gather against the wall Remus was heading for.
Remus smacked hard into the cushioned wall. His lack of balance brought him to his knees. He was dazed, but at least he wasn’t dead.
Benjamin spun to face me. His anger had dissipated, and he seemed to have regained his sensed. “No,” he whispered. “You don’t have that power. I made sure of it. You’re terrible at Transfiguration!”
“You made sure I suck at magic?” I shrieked. I shoved the tip of my wand into Benjamin’s throat. “Explain!”
Benjamin gulped. “I, well, er, you see-”
Frowning, I tapped my wand. Benjamin went flying across the room. He smacked against the window before falling onto the floor. Before he had a chance to gather his thoughts, I was again standing before him, this time my wand aimed at his chest. “I’ll do it,” I promised.
“I feed off your magic, alright?! My power comes from you! You and all your ancestors. I take what I need. But with you, I take what I want. I don’t have to play nice with you. And you can thank Diana for everything when you see her in a few years.” His fearful expression then turned into one of glee. “Besides, if it weren’t for me, you would never have been born.”
And then, in the span of just a second, Benjamin faded into nothing. He vanished. But whether he was really gone or if he was just making himself invisible to me, I didn’t know.
I took several deep breaths, but my wand continued to shake in my trembling hand. I heard the others checking on Remus. Their tones suggested he was okay, but my mind couldn’t process their exact words.
The room started spinning. Ideas also spun in my head. Diana Greengrass. Marta Pontem. Benjamin Gaunt. The family curse. I couldn’t keep all this straight. I heard my wand clatter to the floor before I fully passed out.
I was almost aware that I was unconscious. Whenever I felt myself start to wake, I forced myself back asleep. If I slept long enough, I might get past this nightmare. Maybe it was all a nightmare. Please let it be a nightmare.
Eventually, I woke up and couldn’t force myself unconscious again. As I moved off my back, the floor bended to my motions. I was in a bed. And I heard voices. Opening my eyes, I saw curtains blocking my view from all directions. Smelling around, though, I knew it wasn’t my bed. It smelled a bit musky, not completely unpleasant, but not the sweet perfumed aroma that permeated the girls’ dormitory. And with the deeper voices that spoke softly from beyond the closed curtains, I knew this had to be the boys’ dorm.
I moved the curtains aside. All four Marauders were gathered on the other side of the dorm, sitting on two of the beds. Books from the library were piled between them, but all of their attention was focused on Sirius and an old volume open in his hands. Remus had a roll of parchment on his lap and seemed to be copying down whatever Sirius recited.
“Uh, hi,” I called. Looking past them, the sky was a deep orange.
All four looked up. Remus put the parchment down between himself and Peter. “Are you feeling alright?”
“As good as I can, I suppose,” I said. “Um, how long was I out?” From how much it felt like I slept, it didn’t feel like this was early morning.
“You missed class, if that’s what you’re talking about,” Sirius said dismissively. “Nothing too exciting happened today. Remus has your Transfiguration notes and Peter has them for Muggle Studies.”
Peter shifted a bit as I looked at him.
As I tried to figure out how to ask how I’d gotten here, Remus said, “The others thought we should bring you to Madam Pomfrey. I told them it was best to just bring you up here.”
“Th-thanks,” I said. My heart had started pounding once I heard ‘Madam Pomfrey.’ “Um, whose bed am I in?”
James and Sirius looked to each other. James said, “We figured Peter’s bed was the safest. You say he’s Benjamin’s favorite Marauder.”
I nodded and rolled myself to the edge of the bed. Peter seemed uncomfortable that I was even there, but knowing him, he wouldn’t complain. At least, not while I was around.
“So,” Sirius said brightly, “you stopped reporting what Benjamin was saying last night. What’s new with him? Is he in the room?”
“I doubt it,” Remus said. “I haven’t been hit with anything all day.”
Remembering what Benjamin said, I wanted to keep all of that to myself. But figuring that these boys had gone to the library to get all these books and were still trying to help me solve my problem, I figured that I had no right to keep anything from them.
I recounted Benjamin’s comments about how the real Benjamin Gaunt lived to be over a hundred years old, his twisted logic that made him decide to punish all of Marta Pontem’s descendants just because he still had a grudge, and how the curse even affected how we look.
“It explains why I look so much like my mum and grandmother,” I said, shrugging. “I always thought it was a normal thing.”
“If the original Marta looked like you,” Remus said, “I can’t really blame him for being infatuated with her.” And then, realizing what he just said and how it sounded, he blushed scarlet and looked away.
“Honestly,” James sighed, shaking his head while smiling. He looked from Remus to me. “If it weren’t for the whole Benjamin thing, I would wonder why it’s taking you two so long to get together.”
Now it was my turn to feel my face grow warm. I didn’t comment.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s all well and good,” Sirius said dismissively, “but was there anything else that happened? You turned deathly white just before passing out, which happened right after an impressive bit of wand work on your part.”
Benjamin’s parting words got to me. Thinking about it, I knew he was completely right. “I pretty much owe my existence to Benjamin,” I said. I shuddered at the thought. “If it weren’t for the curse, my ancestors probably wouldn’t have married the wizards that they did. Or they would have delayed in having children.” I shook my head.
“Don’t think like that,” Remus said sternly, finally looking back at me. “We can’t do anything about your ancestors, alright? But you don’t have to end up like them.” He picked up the scroll beside him. “We’ve been going through Sirius’s brother's book of Pureblood lineage. All your ancestors are in here, though they’re scattered throughout the different Pureblood families as witches that wizards had married.”
“But you’re not in here,” Sirius said, flipping to the middle of the book. “Because Diana married your father, she just dropped off the pages, so to speak. But it puts her date of death as the sixteenth of April, 1960.”
“The day I was born,” I sighed.
“Exactly,” Remus said. “And Diana’s birth date is the same as Rhea Brown’s date of death.”
“We’ve already gone back about three hundred years,” James added. “It’s a lot of page flipping. Diana probably did the same thing. With the witches changing their names and getting put on two family trees, no one would see it unless they were looking, and even then they wouldn’t know what it was about.”
“Hearing about how brilliant Mum was, that’s probably exactly what she did,” I agreed.
“Well, we don’t know,” Sirius said. He picked up a book on top of the stack and tossed it across the room to me. It was Diana’s diary. “Now that you’re awake, think you can flip through this and find out exactly what happened with her and Benjamin? It sounded like she wanted you to review the whole thing and find something that she probably couldn’t see.”
“I wonder if she would have trusted me if she knew how stupid I was.”
Remus groaned. “How many times do I have to tell you, you’re not stupid, Marta!”
But I help up a hand to stop Remus. “Apparently Benjamin tried making me as dumb as possible. He’s been the one doing my homework for me, so I never had to pay too much attention in school. He didn’t want me to figure out what Mum trusted me to do.”
“But I bet he never counted on us,” James said, grinning. “You’ll be alright, Kulinski.”
“Um. . .”
James, as well as the rest of us, turned to look back at Peter. “Yes?” James asked.
“Well, I can’t stop thinking about yesterday,” Peter said slowly, sounding nervous. “Of course, yesterday was scary and we got to see what Benjamin looked like and everything. But, um, was I the only one who saw Kulinski’s pendant move while Benjamin was playing with her hair?”
I gasped. Seeing the other three Marauders look blankly at Peter, they had probably been focused on other things. “I remember that!” I pulled at the golden chain, the dull blue stone reflecting the light in the dormitory.
Remus was the first to show recognition in his eyes. “You told me that that pendant used to be your mother’s. And before her, your grandmother’s.”
“So is that the connection?” James asked.
“It must be,” I said. I fumbled for the clasp, trying to remember how to take it off. It felt strange to hold the thin chain in my palm and not have it wrapped comfortingly around my neck. “When Grandfather gave it to me, he said the pendant had been in the family for generations. Or rather, that’s what my grandmother had told him.” I held the stone up to the light. I had often admired the sapphire stone.
“But why would it be passed down to you?” Peter wondered.
“Because Benjamin wanted the pendant to stick with you!” Sirius shouted. “It makes sense! And with only one girl bring born, it wouldn’t be too hard to present the necklace as a gift to each and every witch as a gift from their mothers postmortem.”
“But there’s only one problem,” I pointed out. “If Benjamin and the curse have anything to do with my pendant, why didn’t Diana realize it before and get rid of it? How did I have Benjamin with me before I received the necklace?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” James said, ruffling his hair in exhaustion. “Maybe by the time your mum realized anything about the pendant, it was too late. Or maybe the only books on the subject were in our school library.” He pointed to the old volumes stacked between the two beds that the boys occupied. “Either way, only you can find out Diana’s thoughts.” He then went back to ruffling the back of his hair.
“I know that look,” Sirius said, sighing. “Prongs old boy is coming up with a plan.”
“Yeah, I am.” Seeming to settle with something, he looked back to Sirius beside him. “You and Remus should continue Marta’s family tree. Go back as far as you can. Maybe one of them was famous before she died and we can find out more about one or more of them.” He looked to me. “Kulinski, read through your mum’s diary. See what she left behind and if anything there can tell us if we’re on the right track. Peter.” James reached forward and picked up the top-most book. “Start looking for anything about cursed objects and something that even remotely resembles Kulinski’s situation.”
“A fine plan there, Prongs,” Sirius said. “And what, might I ask, will you be doing?”
James’s shoulders slumped. “Homework.”
The four of us just looked at the bespectacled boy in confusion.
“We can’t afford Kulinski to get detention,” James reasoned. “Sirius and I never do homework, and the teachers have given up on punishing us with detentions for those small infractions. I’ll write out the assignment, and Kulinski, you can copy my work into your own writing before class and all will be good.”
“No, Potter,” I started to protest.
“I know, I know, you’d rather have Remus tutor you, but we don’t have time to make sure Benjamin doesn’t bring the library crashing down around you two when you start flirting.”
“I don’t flirt with her!”
“I don’t flirt with him!”
Our answer, both in unison, was accompanied by our respective blushes returning.
“Right,” James said slowly. “So, it’s agreed. Everyone, get started.” James then pulled up his own book bag and got out some parchment, quill, and an ink bottle. As the five of us did our respective tasks, he seemed the most glum. Then again, it was the best plan any of us could come up with.
“Marta, don’t do it.”
I looked up, just five minutes after we got started on our tasks. Only Sirius spoke, and even that was in a low voice that recorded the births and deaths of forgotten ancestors.
Benjamin stood next to the bed post over me, his head tilted to rest against the wood. “Please don’t,” he whispered. “You don’t want to do this. It’s not the way to be free of me. Please, Marta, just tell them to forget it all.”
His hazel eyes pleaded with me. I considered calling the whole thing off, return to my own dorm, and live my life the way I would have before revealing my secret to Remus two weeks ago. But then I remembered the evil actions he had done, the terrible words he spat with distaste.
Clutching the golden chain still wrapped around my right fingers, I turned a page in Diana’s diary, reading about how annoyed she was with the ‘Gryffindor who wanted to be a Ravenclaw as well.’ She complained in the pages how upset she was that McGonagall had beaten her in a Transfiguration exam by just half a measly point.
“I’ve tried to warn you, Marta.” Shaking his head, Benjamin faded. As he did, the sapphire glowed a bit before resuming its normal appearance. That only served to encourage me to resume reading about a thirteen year old witch who would spark the beginning of the end for Benjamin.