“I hate having to sneak around the castle,” I whispered. I was so close to the Great Hall, and I was starving. But I couldn’t just walk through the hall and expect my dinner without being ‘ambushed’ along the way.
“Then don’t sneak around the castle.” Benjamin stood in the middle of the corridor. If he were real, he would be fully visible to anyone entering the Great Hall, effectively giving away my hiding spot. His arms were crossed as he looked from me to the hall. “Look, it’s clear. Get yourself to the feast. I haven’t experienced one since the first of September.”
“Quit your complaining.” I took a quick glance around the corner. Benjamin was right about the hall being clear. I dashed the last ten meters without even a hint of trouble.
I allowed myself a sigh of relief when nothing bad happened to me. I figured that I was safe so long as there were witnesses around me. I didn’t exactly trust my fellow students to help me if I was attacked, but the professors were supposed to help any student, whether she was getting O’s or T’s.
Not that I did that terrible at school! Unfortunately, my overall grades do lean towards the ‘fail’ grading spectrum.
There was a lot of chatter going on as everyone was enjoying our last feast of the calendar year. The Hogwarts Express was due to take us back to London tomorrow for the winter holiday. My books had already been jammed into the bottom of my trunk before most students could just unload their bags.
I looked up and down Gryffindor table. I saw Lily sitting with a few of our roommates at the end closest to the professors’ table. They were all smiling and laughing about something.
I looked down the other way. The Marauders had claimed the very end of the long table as their own. They also looked to be having fun at the feast.
Even at the Ravenclaw table, I caught a glimpse of Matthew. He sat with a Ravenclaw girl. And I mean he was sitting extremely close to her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was actually sitting on his lap.
“I wish I had some friends,” I sighed softly, returning my attention to my dinner. I looked down at my plate, hoping that I didn’t look too pathetic sitting all by myself.
“What, I’m not your friend?” Benjamin finally took a spot across from me and leaned onto the table.
I just shook my head back and forth a few times as I ate. I tried thinking of Quidditch, but even that didn’t help. I wouldn’t be allowed back on a broom until January.
When I finished eating, I watched the enchanted ceiling for a bit. The fake snow only fell so far before it vanished. I wondered how much snow was going to be on the ground when we finally left tomorrow.
Finally, when a majority of people were leaving from the feast, I decided it was time to go. I could always go through my trunk and make sure I had everything before turning in for bed.
The crowd I followed thinned out at the Hufflepuffs went downstairs. Then, on the seventh floor, the Ravenclaw students headed for their tower. I was still on the wrong side of the castle when I realized I was in the corridors alone. And that I hadn’t been ambushed today. My heartbeat quickened as my mind put the pieces together.
Not even two steps into my mad dash for Gryffindor Tower, the sound of metal clanked around my ankles. As I took my third stride, my left foot jerked to a halt. I toppled forward as I lost my balanced.
And I fell into the waiting arms of Sirius Black.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” Sirius teased me. He helped push me up until I was standing again.
I looked up and down the corridor. It was still deserted. “Do I even want to see what you did to me today, Sirius?”
When I looked back at the Marauder, he was just smiling ‘innocently.’ “You make it sound like I do terrible things to you, Marta. I’m just teaching you.”
“This doesn’t feel like any tutoring session I’ve had before.” Taking a deep breath, I looked down at my feet.
Wrapped around each ankle was a thick, metal cuff. Each cuff appeared to be as wide as my knuckles. They were brown with a thick layer of rust. A chain with just as much rust connected the cuffs together. I had just enough chain to stand comfortably but not enough to get a decent stride.
“What is this?” I asked, looking back at Sirius.
“Those are chains, Marta. You know the set that Filch keeps in his office? I found this old pair hiding behind his desk while I was in there yesterday. I don’t think Filch knew they were still back there or else they would be polished like the other ones.”
“Okay, let me make myself clearer. What are these rusty old chains doing around my ankles? And why do you feel the need to ‘teach’ me with such extreme situations?”
“I thought I was actually being nice to you, since we go home tomorrow. This isn’t the worst I’ve done to you.”
I just continued to look at him. I waited.
“Fine,” Sirius said. “Those chains are only coming off when you cast a spell to get them off yourself. And I’m just providing you with real-world examples.”
“When will I ever be chained by my ankles? Wouldn’t someone want to chain my hands together?”
Sirius shrugged. “How are you going to point your wand at the chains if they’re on your wrists?”
“He’s got a point there, Marta.”
“Shut up!” I snapped.
Uh oh, Sirius has his full attention on me. His eyes widened at my extreme reaction. I’ve got to stop being so careless.
“Uh, I mean, be quiet so I can think of a way to free myself.” I took out my wand. But what was the right spell?
I must have spent at least ten minutes standing like that in the hall, trying to think of the right spell. I would look at the chains, look at Sirius as he watched me patiently, glance at Benjamin standing beside me, then look at my wand. I wondered if Ollivander sold me the wrong wand six years ago.
Sirius and I heard movement from further down the hall as we entered the eleventh minute of waiting.
“Look, Sirius, it’s the end of term, so why can’t you-”
“This way, Marta.” Sirius wrapped his arms around me and dragged me to the side of the hall. I tried hopping in the right direction, but I ended up nearly falling down instead.
It was a group of seventh years. They passed Sirius and me with just curious glances before they entered through the portrait of the Fat Lady.
“I can stay here all night,” Sirius said, the hall empty again.
“What about your friends? Potter, Pettigrew-” My throat started to close up. “Remus? Don’t you Marauders spend all your time with each other?”
“I’m not married to my mates,” Sirius said calmly. “What, you think we can’t do anything by ourselves? Well, maybe Peter tags around with one of us, but we don’t have to check in.”
I shrugged, not really knowing. I didn’t have much experience in the area of friendship.
“Look, I’ll give you an early Christmas present. Does that sound alright?”
I brightened. “You’ll let me go?”
Sirius returned the smile. “No.”
I slumped. “Then why are you so happy?”
“I’ll give you a clue to a spell that any first year would be able to do.”
“Can’t you just give me a first year? The munchkin would be able to free me then.”
Sirius laughed. “Marta, Marta, Marta. Okay, here’s a clue. Keep in mind that it’s one word. The first part of the spell, which could open the cuffs and release you from these chains, sounds like a Hawaiian word.”
“Hawaiian?” I’d never heard of that language.
“You know, it comes from the islands of Hawaii? Prongs went there two summers ago with his parents. The natives have their own language. Anyway, the spell you should use sounds like one of their words that means ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘I love you.’ Well, there’s more to the spell, but-” Sirius stopped to grin. “And I just gave you a hint to the last part of the spell too. Didn’t mean to say that.”
“Huh?” I had no idea what Sirius was talking about. “Could you just try speaking English? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“A word that means ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘I love you’? I’ve never heard of it either, but now I want to. Make him say that last meaning again, Marta.”
Sirius shrugged. “You heard what I said. Although I still wish I was allowed to go to Hawaii with the Potters.” He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, and sulked.
“You’re more focused on a missed vacation opportunity than letting me go?! Just release me!”
Sirius looked back at me. His eyes glinted in mischief. “Alright, one more clue. The spell starts with an A.”
Laughter beside me turned my attention back to Benjamin. I looked at him, silently demanding what he found so funny.
“I just figured it out! The clue! The word that he tried to get you to guess was ‘aloha!’ Yeah, I think I actually heard someone say that once, but I didn’t know it was from Hawaii.”
“Aloha . . .” I said slowly, trying out the word. It sounded strange on my lips.
“Aloha right back at you,” Sirius said. He uncrossed his arms and stood in front of me. “So, do you need more of a hint as to-?”
The cuffs opened and fell noisily to the ground. I took a step away from them in case they came alive to eat my ankles again.
Sirius clapped six times before reaching down to retrieve the chains. “Nicely done, Marta. It only took you-” He checked his watch. “Yeah, only took you nineteen minutes today. Not bad.”
I leaned against the wall where Sirius had just been. The rust had rubbed off onto my socks, making them filthy. “You know, you could spend your time better than timing me, seeing how long it takes me to prove that I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot,” Sirius said. “Really, after this, do you think you’re going to forget this spell?”
I opened my mouth. But I couldn’t deny the fact. “No, I’ll remember it.”
Sirius nodded. “And last Tuesday, I spilled powered chalk all over your robes. Can you remember that spell-”
“Scourgify!” I pointed my wand at my socks. The rust stains instantly vanished.
Realizing what just happened, I looked back up at Sirius. I didn’t bother to close my mouth that just decided to hang open.
Sirius smirked. “See? You just needed the right mnemonic trigger.” He slid the chains into his pocket. “Now, these chains have another use besides keeping an excellent Keeper like you rooted in one spot. I catch you next year.” He walked past me.
“Wait!” I paused until I knew I had Sirius’s attention. “What’s a ‘mnemonic’ trigger?”
“It means a memory trick. I can guess that all our homework assignments over the past few years were pretty useless to you. Glad I never wasted my time like that.” He turned away and headed back down the hall.
“You have to admit, he’s good.”
“I thought I told you to shut up.” I smiled on my way to the Fat Lady, shouting the password to her before she could leave her portrait again.
Without worrying about any more ambushes from Sirius, I spent that night and the following morning thinking about how much I’ve learned from just a month of Sirius stalking and attacking me. I’ve learned how to reverse a multitude of spells that Sirius has placed on me. And I could actually see them all being useful once I leave Hogwarts.
“I wonder how Sirius does that,” I said on the train home. I had the compartment to myself, as usual. I also had about seven Chocolate Frogs hopping around the compartment. Their hops were pretty pathetic, but it didn’t make me feel as lonely.
Yes, I considered moving sweets as a form of companionship. I just hope no one thinks that I would eat my real friends.
“I thought I told you,” Benjamin said, watching as a frog hopped through his left trainer, “your boyfriend is incredibly smart for his years. A genius. Gifted with a sound mind and body.”
“Did you just say Sirius has a ‘sound mind’? I don’t think the professors would- wait, he’s not my boyfriend!”
Benjamin shrugged. “He goes out of his way to meet you every day-”
“He stalks me-”
“He’s taking the time to teach you basic, essential spells-”
“He harasses me-”
“And he promises to meet with you the next day.”
“And he threatens to do it all over again.” I took one of the frogs and bit its head off. “Sirius isn’t my boyfriend, and I’m not his girlfriend.”
“Yes, you are.” He turned to look out the window. He started humming a song to himself.
London came into view later that night. I noticed the lights of the city long before the train pulled into the station. And once the train came to a complete stop, I started cleaning up my mess while my classmates flooded into the platform.
“And so begins another Christmas,” Benjamin huffed as he waited for me to take my trunk. “Too bad Alexander or Kazik won’t let you stay at Hogwarts.”
“And do what? Sit in my dorm while I listen to you list all the things you love about Sirius? At least I can get into my room without the door trying to refuse me passage.”
I only stepped onto the platform when half the crowd had already left with their students. I tried looking for my father. But I didn’t see him. Instead, I saw my grandfather waiting on the other end of the platform. He beamed at me as I approached.
“Hello, Grandfather,” I said, stopping just in front of him. I had forgotten that I was actually taller than him now. I looked around him, expecting to see-
“Your father’s not here.” My grandfather offered an apologetic smile. “I know I said that you would go straight home, but your father sent me an owl just yesterday. He has to work late tonight and he can’t arrange a Portkey until tomorrow morning.”
I felt myself start to smile. This seemed too good to be true. But I had to be sure. “Are you saying-”
Grandfather nodded. “If it’s alright with you, you’ll be staying with me at my house tonight. You can sleep in your mother’s old room. Kazik said he would be in the country to pick you up at eight o’clock British time.”
Now I was nodding. “Do you think he could just leave me with you all Christmas? I wouldn’t mind!”
Grandfather chuckled. “I won’t deprive a man the chance to spend time with his only child. Now, just promise me that when your father comes tomorrow morning, you’ll be ready to go without a fuss.”
I grumbled. I didn’t want to make that promise. But my grandfather gave me the impression that he expected cooperation on my part. With one last moan, I nodded.
“That’s a good girl. Now, it looks like the crowd has died down. Let’s get to a fireplace and floo back to my home, shall we?”
Hearing my grandfather talk about his brothers and their desire to maintain appearances, my grandfather’s home would appear sparse to any rich Pureblood. It was a small, two-floor home in a Wizard/Muggle community, somewhere that my great-uncles would never dare to establish roots. There were two bedrooms upstairs and only one bathroom located downstairs. The kitchen was small but comfortable.
The front room had hardly changed since the last time I was here two years ago. I only noticed a new radio, but only when I turned to look at the mantle above the fireplace. The many pictures on the walls and tables still made me uneasy like they did when I was fourteen.
My grandfather followed me through the fireplace. He used his wand to brush away the soot from his robes, then mine. “Are you hungry?” he asked me. “Thirsty? I could whip up something for you.”
“Thanks, but I ate on the train.”
“Yes, you did.” Benjamin stepped out of the fireplace next. There had been no green fire, but I suppose he wanted to feel like he could travel like a normal person. “Of course, you ate nothing but sweets on the train, so you run the risk of getting fat over the holidays and getting kicked off the Quidditch team, leaving you with nothing to do at school that you’re good at.”
My grandfather had been speaking while Benjamin tried to scare me. I didn’t think I missed too much. He just finished up telling me that he would check in on me before he turned in. I guessed that he still had work to finish in his study, or rather the room that used to be the dining room.
I picked up my trunk and dragged it with me up the stairs. Framed pictures lined the walls here too. Some were old and faded black-and-white photographs of my grandfather when he was in Hogwarts. There was usually a girl with him, also wearing the Slytherin crest. Rhea Brown. My grandmother.
There were other pictures that were newer than that but were still quite old. I walked past one that I had studied for hours on end when staying with my grandfather when I was younger. My grandfather, still looking young, was teaching my mother how to ride a broom. She looked to be eight or nine years old. She hovered just at my grandfather’s height, smiling but clutching the broom handle so that her hands were pure white. She would occasionally glance down to the ground before looking into the camera and smiling.
I usually had to study each picture before I could determine whether the girl in the frame was my mother or my grandmother. They both had the same facial features as each other, a face that I had inherited from them. But Rhea’s hair was black and usually worn in a thick braid. At least, it looked black in the photographs. Diana’s hair was kept shorter and was the same brown my grandfather had.
“Are you planning on sleeping on the stairs? Move it, Marta!”
I shook my head to clear the thoughts of my family tree, then pulled my trunk the rest of the way up the stairs and into the room on my right.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed there was someone still living in this room. There was no layer of dust built up, no trace of a spider web in any of the corners. The sheets even smelled as if they’d been washed recently.
This room also had a lot of pictures, but my grandfather only made it into two of them. My grandmother was nowhere to be seen. No, these pictures were all about Diana’s life, and she had never known Rhea. Just like I never knew my own mother. These pictures all showed a popular, well-adjusted, brilliant Ravenclaw prefect. She usually had several friends included. The friend that showed up in most of the pictures wore a Gryffindor crest, with her own prefect badge pinned below it.
There was one such of these pictures framed and sitting on the back left corner of Diana’s desk. My mother and her school friend stood on the grounds, smiling and waving at the camera, their arms linked. A stack of parchment, several quills, and an ink bottle sat in the right corner, waiting for the writer to compose another letter, perhaps to her best friend. Above the desk, three letters had been framed. O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. results that showed perfect scores in all subjects. The third frame held a letter of congratulations to Diana Greengrass for succeeding in her training and proclaiming her a professional curse breaker.
Any part of the wall not occupied with her bed, dresser, or desk was covered up with tall bookshelves. Each shelf was labeled with notes from first through seventh year of Hogwarts and all in the same direction for subjects. Another bookcase held an impressive number of curse breaking books, all with some catchy title that still described that the book’s contents were focused only on how to break ancient curses.
I sank into the desk chair, looking over everything in here. Part of me kept feeling like Diana might come in here at any moment and tell me to get out of her room. My right hand reached up to my neck. The thumb rubbed itself over the sapphire stone. I wondered if I would still have this necklace if she was still alive.
“Why are you looking so glum?” Benjamin asked. He hopped onto my mum’s bed and propped his feet on her pillow. “Yeah, so you knew Diana was a brain. Shame she didn’t pass any of those brain cells on to you, eh?”
“It’s just creepy in here,” I whispered. I released the pendant to pick up the picture from the desk. “It looks like she left here earlier today, not two decades ago to live with my father.”
“Diana is dead. She died giving birth to you. So how could she have been in here earlier today?”
“I said ‘like,’ Benjamin. I know she’s dead.” I put the picture down. Then reached down and opened the bottom right drawer of her desk.
It was empty, except for one small, leather-bound book. I picked up the diary. It was just as small and light as I remembered it. The tiny lock appeared to be weak, but I knew magic had to be the thing keeping this diary closed. The diary was closed so tight on itself, I couldn’t even force the book open wide enough to get a glimpse at any of the pages to see what she might have written about.
“Not that again.” Benjamin sat up but didn’t leave the bed. “You’re so bored that you’re going to try to open that pathetic diary again? You look at it every time we come here. Why don’t you do something else? Look, why don’t you flip through Diana’s school notes from sixth year?”
“I’m not going to think of school work while on holiday,” I said. I tried to wedge my fingers between the two covers. I would break the diary open if I had to. “I want to see what she wrote.”
“I wouldn’t if I were you. It was written by a teenage girl, probably rambling on and on about the cutest boy in her classes.”
“You must have missed this, but my grandfather said Mum never had a boyfriend until she met my father. And they certainly didn’t meet while they were at Hogwarts.” I stopped prying at the diary when my fingertips got sore. “It’s the one and only area I’ve surpassed my dear old mum in. More boyfriends than her.”
“Gee, the Wizarding world should throw you a parade.”
A gentle knocking on the doorframe kept me from answering Benjamin’s sarcasm. I looked back to see my grandfather. I tried to slide the book from my lap and back into the drawer.
My grandfather chuckled. “I already saw it, Marta. Us Slytherins are very observant.”
“That they are.” Benjamin leaned back down on the bed.
“Us Gryffindors are supposedly brave,” I said. I let the diary rest on my lap. “But I’m not that brave.”
“This coming from the girl that has the highest pain tolerance of any Quidditch player I’ve seen?” My grandfather walked into the room. Leaned over and gave me a kiss on my forehead. “I’m turning in for the night. Just wanted to make sure you were all set. Sure you want to pass on a late supper?”
I smiled. “Yes, I’m sure.” I stood to give him a proper hug. When I released him, I said, “I suppose I might have enough bravery to sneak past a Slytherin’s private quarters to retrieve a midnight snack. If the need arises, of course.”
“Of course,” my grandfather chuckled. He reached past me and took the diary off the desk where I had just put it. “I’ve tried numerous times to get this diary open. Never succeeded.” His brown eyes scanned the four walls. “I know every item and trinket in here. Heh, I’ve even read all the letters Diana received from her friends.” He used the diary to point back to the desk behind me. “She and Minerva were terrible at keeping anything from each other. Their poor owls never had a moments’ rest during the holidays-”
“Wait, Minerva? As in, Professor McGonagall?” I looked back at the photograph. “My mum was friends with my Transfiguration teacher?”
My grandfather chuckled. “I always thought you’d realized the connection. You’ve studied all the pictures here numerous times before.”
I didn’t feel like telling my grandfather that I only had eyes for Diana. But at least this explained why McGonagall let me into her N.E.W.T.-level Transfiguration class. I had the required E on my O.W.L.s (thanks to Benjamin), but my daily performance was always terrible.
“They used to be academic rivals until their fifth year,” Grandfather went on. “Diana used to tell me all about the Gryffindor who could so easily enter Ravenclaw Tower.” He smiled at the fond memory.
“Marta, I’m getting sleepy. Can you tell him to go?”
I too was feeling a little drowsy. I yawned, hoping I wouldn’t seem too rude.
He caught on quick. He held out the diary to me. “Here, you can have it. You know that anything here is yours as far as I’m concerned, right? You can take anything you like back home with you.”
I forced a smile. “I know. But Father. . .” I let it hang.
My grandfather nodded, his expression looking more serious. “I understand. But this is small enough to fit into your trunk.” He gave me another kiss on my forehead (to which I had to lower my head slightly to receive). “Diana was an excellent curse breaker. Must have picked up a few tips the last time she locked that diary. Pleasant dreams, Marta.”
“Pleasant dreams, Grandfather.” I watched until he closed the bedroom door closed behind him. I then waited until I heard his own door open and close on the other side of the hall.
“Glad that sentimental moment is over. Put that diary back where it belongs and go to sleep. We go back to Poland tomorrow. That’s sure to be a few weeks of guaranteed fun.” Benjamin pushed himself off Diana’s bed and moved to stand in the far corner.
“Don’t watch me change,” I whispered. I dug out my pajamas from my trunk, changed, turned out the light, and crawled into the sheets. They were stone cold as I slipped inside.
“You know,” Benjamin said slowly. His shadowed form sat itself behind Diana’s desk. “You could try dreaming about your boyfriend Sirius Black.”
I turned myself away to face the wall. My mother’s diary rested safely beneath my pillow. I closed my eyes and instead tried to dream about how fast I’ll need to fly during the first Quidditch practice of the upcoming year. Those were the only pleasant dreams I knew how to have.
Write a Review My Not-So-Imaginary Friend: VII: Don't Go in There, That's my Mum's Room