“Fortunately for you, Marta, Sirius Black is currently not seeing anyone in a romantic way. So we don’t have to wait for any current relationships to dissolve.”
I turned my head, intentionally letting the shower fill my ears with water. Maybe, just maybe, my clogged ears could prevent me from hearing Benjamin’s rubbish today. Too bad I hadn’t decided to take a bath instead of a shower. Then again, the shower curtain prevented me from actually seeing Benjamin. He at least provided me a tiny bit of privacy.
“Now, within the last two weeks, I’ve noticed a number of girls gazing longingly at Sirius Black, but no one has made a move on him. I’ve actually heard someone admit she is ‘too intimidated to even think of approaching that sexy Marauder.’ It’s a good thing you can play the Quidditch teammate angle.”
I considered whether or not I should take down the shower head and spray Benjamin with water. But then I would have to clean up the mess. Yeah, that was a terrible plan. Besides, I knew the water wouldn’t affect him. He would just laugh at me.
“I’ve also done a bit of research into his prior relationships, and you’ll be please to know-”
“That Sirius hasn’t ever been in a relationship and therefore I won’t have an angry ex hexing me behind my back?” My voice echoed in the bathroom, surprising me a little. I had forgotten that Benjamin couldn’t produce an echo. Then again, I wished that Benjamin couldn’t produce a sound I could hear.
“Marta! You’ve been listening to me! I’m touched!”
I just groaned. “Would you mind leaving me alone while I’m in the shower? I still have mud in rather inappropriate places thanks to you.” Yeah, James could only arrange a one-hour Quidditch practice this afternoon. When we had to fly back down so the Ravenclaw players could take the field, Benjamin appeared right next to the broom shack, exactly where I had intended on landing. Forgetting I could have just flown through him and no one would have noticed, I veered away and landed myself in a patch of mud. It didn’t help that it had been raining for three days straight. Most of my teammates actually found my appearance as a mud-monster amusing.
But Benjamin’s voice became a bit louder. I saw his shadow move closer through the shower curtain. “This is very important business, Marta. And while you were busy in the library this morning, wasting time-”
“Doing research for Muggle Studies is not a waste of time.”
“-I actually saw a girl writing a love letter to Sirius Black. It was very sappy, mind you, and the spelling was awful. If it ever gets into Sirius Black’s hands, he’ll be lucky to decode that horrible Mudblood’s excuse for handwriting-”
“DON’T SAY THAT WORD!” I opened the shower curtain and threw my bar of soap at Benjamin’s jugular.
The soap flew through Benjamin’s neck and smacked into the mirror behind him. My imaginary friend didn’t even flinch.
“I would give that throw an eight out of ten. And you still have some dirt on the side of your neck, right here.” He patted his own neck, lifting the collar of his robes to show me exactly where.
I whipped the shower curtain closed again. But then I realized that I didn’t have any soap in here with me. Groaning, I reopened the curtain and hopped out of the shower to retrieve the bar.
I felt Benjamin’s eyes on me as I walked past him on my tip-toes. “And with that body of yours, there’s not a bloke who wouldn’t want to have you.”
I got the bar. Then turned to face him. My right knee instantly went up and smacked him where no boy, real or imaginary, ever wants to be smacked.
“Sweet Mother of Merlin!” Benjamin collapsed to the wet ground, clutching his bruised manhood.
“Serves. You. Right.” I closed the curtain behind me and finished my shower with renewed vigor. I briefly wondered if it was okay to get so much pleasure from Benjamin’s pain.
Then again, I wouldn’t have to hurt him if he was actually a nice person.
I probably should have broken Benjamin’s nose when I got out of the shower. But he was still groaning about his ‘boys’ and how they never did anything to deserve such abuse. I felt lucky that none of my roommates were present to wonder why I was smiling so much.
It was still early evening as I descended the stairs with my Muggle Studies books in my arms. I found a quiet corner and faced myself away from my peers as I got started on the finishing touches of my essay on submarines.
“Owe, Marta, that was definitely below the belt,” Benjamin wheezed as he caught up with me. He sat on the opposite corner of my study table. He leaned against the wall and surveyed my fellow Gryffindors. “You know, no one else is studying on a Sunday evening.”
“That’s because it doesn’t take everyone else a whole bloody weekend to do their homework,” I whispered, placing my right hand over my lips.
“Well, Sirius Black has one of the best grades in the class. Sure, he might not do his homework, but I keep seeing him get O’s on exams. He’s rather gifted.”
“Why don’t you turn yourself into a female imaginary friend and date him yourself,” I whispered. “I’ve never understood why you present yourself as a boy.”
“Man,” Benjamin corrected me. “I’m seventeen, remember? I’m always a year older than you.”
“I don’t understand that either.”
“There are a lot of things you don’t understand, Marta. But that’s why you have me!”
I closed my eyes, imagined Benjamin lying on the ground covered in boils, then opened my eyes and went back to work. The pressure that submarines could withstand was mind-boggling, even more so than the feat of rockets that have brought Muggles to the moon.
“Too bad Sirius Black isn’t here right now,” Benjamin sighed. “Then he might see you struggling, come over to help, and you’d be saved from an evening of boredom. You finished all your homework yesterday, remember?”
“I still have Muggle Studies,” I mumbled into my hand.
I got so engrossed in the essay, I successfully tuned Benjamin out for a half hour. But after I mentally patted myself on the back for finishing it all by myself, my ears started picking up Benjamin’s constant drone about Sirius Black.
“-promise you I won’t do anything to hinder your relationship with Sirius Black-”
I checked my watch. Nope, it was only eight o’clock. Too early to go to bed. I didn’t want to be trapped in my dorm with just Benjamin to keep me company. So I pulled out a piece of parchment and started the extra-credit assignment for Muggle Studies: Burbage wanted us to draw a diagram of a submarine and label all the key parts. Extra credit in any class couldn’t hurt my grade.
“You wouldn’t even have this problem if you went out with Frank Longbottom when you had the chance, Marta.”
The tip of my quill nearly snapped as I pressed too hard against the parchment. The base of my submarine looked like it had just been attacked by enemy fire. I really wished that I could remember the spell to fix my mistakes.
“There are three reasons why I never considered your suggestion of dating Frank. One: he was two years older than me. Two: he was a fellow Gryffindor. And three: he was already dating Alice Swan.”
Benjamin shrugged. “I suppose I can’t argue with that logic. The last part, that is. Alice Swan is another Pureblood.”
I just rolled my eyes, then went back to my diagram. The general shape didn’t look too shabby. I opened my textbook to look up key words.
“Well then, who else is there? You’ve already dated two Hufflepuffs and a Ravenclaw in their seventh year. None of their Housemates are true Purebloods like you. The boys from those Houses in your year are also no match for you.”
“They also have had classes with me,” I sighed. I labeled the bridge section of my submarine. “They know for a fact that I’m weird.”
“It doesn’t matter what they think of you. The only potential matches for you are in Gryffindor and Slytherin.”
“Slytherins and Gryffindors don’t fraternize,” I whispered. “If anyone here caught me even holding hands with a Slytherin-”
“And yet your grandfather is a Slytherin.”
I just rolled my eyes.
“Marta, you only have two choices. Slytherin has more real Pureblood students than the other Houses. And Gryffindor has Sirius Black. I still say he should have been Sorted into Slytherin.”
“Right, like I should have been Sorted into Ravenclaw like my mum?” I shook my head and continued working. I had to flip around the chapter, looking for more information on submarines. Too bad the book itself didn’t have a complete diagram. Then again, I wouldn’t be able to do this assignment to boost my grade then.
“But then your mum should have been Sorted into Slytherin like your grandmother, who in turn was in the same House as your great-grandmother, but she should have been Sorted into Hufflepuff like your great-great-grandmother-”
I let Benjamin drone on about my family tree, grateful he would be occupied for the next few minutes on a pointless idea. I finished the diagram just as Benjamin was saying ‘great’ about twenty-seven times. At least it was easier to ignore him when he was repeating himself. I knew he was just making all this stuff up anyway.
“I really wish ink didn’t smudge my hand like this every time,” I sighed, taking out a handkerchief and rubbing the smudges off my skin. Too bad it was too hard to consider writing my essays from right-to-left. Then again, writing essays in any direction was hard work.
Benjamin stopped recounting my family tree when he noticed me gathering my books. “Where are you going now?” he asked. He hopped off the table as I ascended the stairs. “I wasn’t finished.”
“I’m done with my homework. Now I’m going flying.” I opened the door, ready to toss my books across the room and hope they land close to my bed.
My arms ended up smacking themselves into Lily’s chest as she was about to leave the dormitory. She stumbled back from the impact.
“Evans!” I yelped. “Merlin, I’m so sorry! I didn’t know you were up here!”
Lily coughed once. She looked up at me with narrowed eyes. “Really, Kulinski? Care to go a week without annoying me?”
My jaw dropped. “I’m really sorry, Evans! Honestly, I didn’t know anyone was even up here!”
“Sure you didn’t.” She stepped around me. “And I heard what you said coming up about going flying. Just don’t be out past curfew and lose us more points.”
“Want me to trip her?” Benjamin asked.
I yanked Benjamin into the dormitory before anything worse could happen to Lily. But my mind was still racing about what Lily said. She heard me say I was going flying? That meant she heard me ‘talking to myself.’ What if she figured out that I wasn’t just talking to myself, but in reality still had an imaginary friend? Would she report me? Or worse, would she tell the entire school?
“Marta? Marta, are you alright? You’re not moving.”
I jumped at Benjamin’s voice. “Sorry,” I apologized. “I was just- wait. Why am I apologizing to you, of all people.” I dropped my books onto my bed and left the dormitory.
“Wait, so you’re really serious about going flying? But you just had practice two hours ago! Remember, right after your early dinner.”
I left the common room without looking at anyone. Once outside and far enough from the Fat Lady so she couldn’t hear me, I looked back at Benjamin. “If you would just shut up, I wouldn’t have to retreat to the Quidditch pitch during all of my free time. It’s all your fault!”
I headed down the main stairwell, grateful that I didn’t have to wait too long to go down. But when I got to the landing for the fourth floor, all the other staircases would lead me back upstairs. I needed to get down to the ground level.
“-just took a shower to get the sweat off! You’re going to go back up there? It still looks like rain outside-”
I groaned loudly and continued to wait for the stairs to move. Why did it seem like the castle was working against me?
I saw movement from the floor below. A student stepped onto the landing on the third floor. When he looked up, though, I locked eyes with Remus.
Remus looked away almost instantly. He retreated to go back the way he came without even a smile at me.
“Is it too soon to say that I hope he stays away from you permanently this time?” Benjamin asked idly. He leaned over the rail in order to catch the last glimpse of Remus. “It’s been nice that he hasn’t spoken with you in these last two weeks.”
I desperately wanted to push Benjamin over the rail, to make him fall down to the base of the stairs. But I had to have control of myself. Instead, I walked away from the stairwell, intent on taking another route to reach the ground level.
“Wait, Marta, the stairs were just starting to move in your favor! Marta!”
“I hate you with a passion,” I hissed to Benjamin as I pulled aside a tapestry, revealing a narrow staircase. I ran down as my thoughts turned to Remus. Again. I didn’t blame him for avoiding me. But I missed having someone real to talk to.
“You know, your words don’t really bother me, Marta. And remember, you’ve tried the silent treatment on me. It doesn’t really bother me either. It just means that I don’t have you interrupting me as often when I try convincing you that Sirius Black-”
“Would you just quit- whoa!” My left foot didn’t stop on the step. It fell through the stair, all the way to my knee. I lost my balance and landed all across the stairs. My right leg fell into an awkward angle under me. It remained useless as my left foot swung itself back and forth under me, unable to find anything to hold onto.
“Looks like you fell through that trick step. Again.”
“No, Peeves just stole half of my leg.” I tried to push myself up, but any pressure put on my right leg made me want to cry out in pain. Besides, one has to exit the trick step at the same angle one’s leg got there to begin with. I was stuck all by myself. “Benjamin, help me out!”
Benjamin sighed but offered his hands. But before I could grasp them, he pulled them up, taking a step down and away from me.
“Get yourself out of there, Marta. Any competent witch could enchant her way out. Especially a sixth year.”
“I get it. I’m not a competent witch. Thank you for that lovely reminder. Now seriously, help me out!” I held out my hand again.
“No?” Maybe I really should have pushed him down the other stairwell when I had the chance.
“No. If you can’t get away from me, you can’t avoid hearing what I have to say, which I think is very important in itself.”
“I don’t care! SOMEONE GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
I wasn’t sure how long I was stuck. I kept yelling for help, not caring that I might lose Gryffindor some points if a teacher or Filch caught me. I’d rather have Filch with me rather than Benjamin.
“-importance of your lineage. And the Black family has been pure for-” Benjamin stopped. “Well, speak of the devil. Here comes your savior.”
I stopped my struggling in order to look down the stairs. My heart sank faster than a submarine. Sirius Black was at the base of the stairs. He kept his grey eyes locked on me as he dashed up them.
“Marta!” he yelled out, smiling at me. “A fine place to go for a walk, isn’t it?”
“Delightful,” I grumbled in agreement. “Do you think you can give me a hand up and out of here?”
“I might be able to manage something.” Sirius took my hands and hoisted me up. I nearly stumbled backwards back into the trick step, but Sirius took hold of my shoulders and held me steady.
“Uh, thank you,” I said. I looked down at my legs. They seemed to be fine. The right one certainly felt better now that it wasn’t in an uncomfortable position anymore.
“So, where were you headed?” Sirius asked pleasantly, as if he didn’t find me trapped on the stairs like a clueless first year.
“But we just had a practice-”
“I know,” I sighed. “But I just finished my homework and-”
I stopped. Turned to look up. My heart sank deep into my left foot. “Filch’s cat!” I hissed.
“Uh-oh,” Sirius said, also sounding worried. “I hope Filch didn’t find the surprise we left for the Slytherins tomorrow morning.”
Benjamin ran up the stairs, no longer looking delighted that Sirius and I were all alone. He passed through the tapestry on the fourth floor for a moment. When he appeared, he looked furious. “Crap! Filch is coming this way! And he’s covered in what appears to be sweet potatoes!”
“Down!” I hissed to Sirius. “Get downstairs now!”
The two of us ran down to the second floor just as the tapestry on the fourth floor was pulled aside. “I know you’re down there!” Filch called. It sounded like he was running down the stairs two at a time.
“He’s on your heels!” Benjamin said. He pointed to another staircase down the hall. “Double back! He might not think to head back upstairs!”
“This way!” I led Sirius back up the stairs. But my legs were starting to cramp up. I wouldn’t be able to make it up to Gryffindor Tower, especially with Filch following us. Unless, “Is he still following us?”
Sirius paused to look down. “I don’t see-”
But then we heard the second floor tapestry slam against the wall, followed by shoes that kept getting louder.
“I’d say he’s still following us, yes,” Sirius said. He pushed me ahead of him. “Trust me, you don’t want to get blamed for what us Marauders just did.” Sirius chuckled. “Even though it was completely brilliant, and that’s saying something.”
“Marta! Over here!” Half way down the third floor corridor, Benjamin stood at the statue of the one-eyed witch. “Hurry, tap the hump and get inside! Hurry!”
I pulled out my wand, ready to smack the stone to smithereens if needed. But what made her open again?
“Dissendium, Marta, Dissendium!”
“Dissendium, you old hag!”
The witch’s hump split into two. The gap into the passage beyond seemed smaller than I remember, though. Then again, I haven’t been here since second year when Benjamin first showed it to me.
“Quick, get inside,” I whispered. I pulled myself through first. I slid into darkness. Landed at the base with a bruised palm. I tried to stand up, but Sirius’s body plowed into mine before I could move out of his way.
I looked up just in time to see the witch’s hump close.
The passage remained pitch black.
“Don’t worry, Marta, I think you’ve lost Filch. Think you can light your wand?”
Sirius’s wand illuminated not even a second later. The light blinded me at first, making me look down.
“Whoa,” Sirius whistled. The wand light moved as Sirius turned around, taking in his surroundings. At least this allowed me to open my eyes and see something besides purple-and-yellow spots.
“I think we lost him,” I whispered. I picked up my wand. “Lumos.” I wasn’t too surprised when my wand just emitted a pitiful spark and remained dim.
“How did you know this was down here?” Sirius asked in astonishment. He moved over to the stone slide, poking his head up to see how far it was.
“Uh-” I looked to Benjamin. Telling the truth was out of the question. “Well, I saw an older student use this once. When I was a second year. He swore me not to tell anyone about it.”
“I never said that!”
“There’s a secret passage this way too.” Sirius walked along the tunnel, leaving me back in the nearly-dark entrance. “Do you know where this might lead?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. I moved back towards the slide. “Look, Filch must have lost us by now. And I don’t want to stay-”
“Okay, where does this lead?” Sirius turned back to me, grinning widely. “I can’t believe us Marauders never found this before! I have to tell the others about this.” He turned his back towards me. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!”
“At least your intentions are clear,” I mumbled. Louder, “It leads into Hogsmeade. The Honeydukes cellar, actually.”
“Honeydukes? Sweet! Literally!” Sirius turned to look at me over his shoulder. His eyes were bright. “Just give me a minute and you can take me there!” He turned away from me again and took a step down the passage.
My part of the tunnel became even darker. I couldn’t even see Benjamin’s features anymore. “Lumos,” I whispered again.
My wand lit up for a second. Then exploded like a Muggle light bulb (it was fun seeing it done in Muggle Studies, but not so much on my own wand).
“Lumos!” I hissed again.
My wand spat out a dozen or so tiny beads of light. They fell to the ground and went dark.
A loud bang exploded from my wand. I was forced back onto the slide behind me.
“Fine, fine,” Benjamin sighed. His shadowed figure knelt next to my wand. “Lumos.”
A faint but steady glow emanated from the tip of my wand.
“Now that you can see . . .” Benjamin stood up. He looked over to Sirius.
Somehow, Sirius had ignored me as my wand acted stupid. I actually wasn’t too surprised that he even ignored the explosive noise of my last attempt.
“Why don’t you see what he’s doing over there?” Benjamin asked.
“No,” I whispered.
“Awe, come on, Marta! Take advantage of this opportunity! It’s perfect, really. Just the two of you, alone, in a secret passage. Maybe you could have a nice date in Hogsmeade tonight!”
“No,” I repeated, just as soft as before. “Want me to get another detention?”
“And you’d have detention with Sirius again? Not a bad punishment. Really, you’re not even giving this a chance! Any other girl would practically die to be in your shoes! He’s the smart, sexy Sirius Black! Just-”
“I said NO!” I screamed.
Sirius turned to look back at me. I just caught sight of a bit of parchment before he put it in his robes. “Sorry that took me a while,” Sirius said casually. “Now, if you’re done talking to the voices in your head, maybe we could get going.”
My jaw dropped.
Sirius heard me! He heard me talking to Benjamin!
I couldn’t breathe. Sirius knew. But he couldn’t know!
“I don’t hear voices!” I turned and dashed up the slide. “Dissendium!”
The hump of the statue opened. I squeezed out and ran for the closest stairwell to get me into Gryffindor Tower. As I ran, I kept trying to think of ways to explain what just happened. Sirius heard me? How could I be so careless? And just after Lily heard me too! Idiot!
I reached the seventh floor nearly out of breath. But I was almost there. I could see the Fat Lady. I opened my mouth to tell her the password.
But the Fat Lady also saw me. She frowned and moved to another portrait. When I got in front of the entrance, she was already five portraits away.
“Come back!” I yelled at her. “Pumpkin pastries! Pumpkin pastries! Come back!”
“Amazing,” Benjamin said. He walked up behind me. “For such a fat ‘lady,’ she can move pretty fast.”
I turned to punch Benjamin in the jaw, but he vanished before I could do anything to him.
The sudden weight of a Marauder on my shoulders was too much for my exhausted legs to withstand. I collapsed to the ground, landing on my left elbow.
“Sorry!” Sirius scooted off me, then offered me a hand to get to my feet.
And like the idiot I was, I accepted it. But once I was on my feet, Sirius’s hand didn’t let me go.
“Marta, I just want to say that I’m sorry if I upset you-”
“Forget it, Sirius-”
“No, I was just joking-”
“I said forget-”
“I thought I was being funny, but-”
“Marta!” Sirius squeezed my hand with his snap at me. When I didn’t say anything, he smiled. “Well, now that I have your attention. You should know it’s pretty rare for me to apologize.”
I just nodded. Yeah, ‘Marauder’ does not equal ‘apologetic.’
“And I also know James would kill me if I did anything to upset our Keeper.”
I nodded again. James could get really evil on the pitch.
“So, I’m sorry if I offended you. Forgive me?” He then grinned. Those magnificent grey eyes of his especially begged for forgiveness.
I sighed. I couldn’t really afford to be picky with the people actually willing to spend time with me. “Alright.”
Sirius smiled even wider. “Yes! Now Prongs won’t replace me on the team with Wormtail!”
“He wouldn’t do that,” I said.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Yes, he would. Didn’t you hear that Paulina nearly got kicked off the team for ‘letting’ that Bludger get you during our last game?”
Really? I had heard rumors, but this school was like a gossip factory. Sadly, no one cares to share gossip with the friendless freak in Gryffindor.
Sirius finally released my hand. “Right then! How am I going to make sure you stay happy and I stay on the team?”
“Uh . . .” Where was he going with this? Well, at least Benjamin wasn’t here to offer his two Sickles.
We stood there for a few moments. I wondered if I would have to wait for someone in Gryffindor Tower to come out in order for someone to let us in. I had a suspicion that the Fat Lady wouldn’t return until I was gone.
The snapping of Sirius’s fingers shocked me out of wondering how far the Fat Lady would go to get even with me.
“Do you even know how to turn off the light on your wand?”
Sirius reached forward, grabbing my wand from an outside pocket of my robes. The faint light was still going strong.
Well, don’t I sound intelligent? If it weren’t for my height, I would be willing to go back to first year and try everything again.
Sirius passed me my wand. “You got the Lumos spell to work for you.”
“Eventually.” Actually, that was Benjamin.
“If you can turn it on, you can turn it off. Try it.”
I looked at my wand. Thought for a moment. “Off! No? Accio? No, that’s the summoning charm. Uh-” I looked to Sirius. “I can’t really remember.”
I expected Sirius to make another joke about how I could be a sixth year and forget a simple spell. He did smile. But he shook his head. “It starts with an ‘N’ and ends with an ‘X’, and it’s three letters-”
The pathetic glow from my wand easily went out.
“So, how many spells do you think you know off the top of your head?” There was no accusation in Sirius’s tone. Just curiosity.
“Well, definitely four at the least.” I took a moment to think things over. “Um, maybe no more than twenty.”
I knew for a fact that we’ve learned hundreds. And as sixth years, we’re supposed to know how to do these spells nonverbally. That still wasn’t happening for me.
“Then I’d suggest that you brush up on them,” Sirius said. He backed away from me. “Now, I have some unfinished Marauder business to take care of elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if you’re required to brush off those cobwebs in your brain at unexpected moments.”
With that, he turned and walked away, back the way we came.
“What do you mean by that?” I called.
Sirius just laughed. And while my gut felt like it was sinking to see where my heart had gone earlier, I couldn’t help but smile.
Benjamin reappeared. He was leaning against the empty portrait protecting the common room. “Well played, Marta.”
Write a Review My Not-So-Imaginary Friend: VI: Careful, the Stairs Can Be . . . Tricky