I wanted to stay asleep forever. Or at least until the holiday season passed. Just skip the next few weeks.
“Marta . . .”
A different voice intruded my dream. Deeper, darker. Commanding. I didn’t like it.
The murmurings became louder, but their tones changed. Instead of being soft and comforting, they became strained, serious. And both voices were deep. Male. Familiar.
I took a deep breath. At least the scent of mint didn’t change.
“Marta, you should probably wake up now.”
I opened my eyes to see my mother’s room bathed in light. Benjamin stood at the cracked door, looking out and down the stairs. His back was to me as he continued to listen.
“What’s going on?” I whispered. I pushed the covers off me and stood behind Benjamin.
“What else? Kazik is here.”
I wished Benjamin didn’t have to depress me.
“Just shut up for two weeks and we’ll survive,” I whispered. I opened the door wider to allow myself to leave my mum’s room.
“Easier said than done, Marta. But I’ll behave if he does.”
As I descended the stairs, watched by the dozens of pictures of either my mother or grandmother, the voices below became easier to comprehend.
“If you are finished giving me a lecture on how to raise my own daughter, I’ll collect her and be gone.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. What do you have planned for the two of you during the holidays? You can’t expect Marta to be happy if all you do is work while she’s home.”
“What I do with my daughter is none of your concern. I would appreciate it if you stopped giving me parenting advice.”
Grandfather’s tone turned darker. “Excuse me, but my daughter was never as depressed as yours about coming home. Now why might she be so eager to stay with her grandfather instead of going back with her father?”
“Alexander, you were the one who insisted I take her with me this Christmas. I would be perfectly fine if you still want to keep her over the holidays. If you’re implying that you want her to stay here-”
“I want what’s best for my granddaughter. I would love to keep her. But she needs you, Kazik. She-” He paused.
“What’s the matter?”
The man standing with his back to the stairs finally turned. He stood far taller than my grandfather. As he moved, his motions reflected the precision he took in every part of his life. His hair was cut nearly, the same shade I had but only slightly faded with age. His blue eyes narrowed as he looked into my identical blues.
“Hello, Father.” I took a deep breath. I looked past him. “Good morning, Grandfather.”
My grandfather was the one who smiled at me. “Good morning to you too. Don’t let us old men disturb you. Do what you need to get yourself ready.”
“Our Portkey leaves at eight o’clock,” Father said. “I do not wish to miss it this year.”
I nodded, finally averting my eyes from the two of them. I took a few steps towards the bathroom. I stopped, though, when I knew I was out of their visual range.
“She looks more and more like Diana every time I see her,” Grandfather whispered fondly.
“She looks nothing like my wife.”
Getting ready to leave my grandfather and the country weighed me down as I put on my nice traveling cloak, making sure to tuck my mum’s old diary securely in an inside pocket. Benjamin, fortunately, remained silent as I packed. He just sat on my mum’s bed and looked out the window at the clear sky. He looked so thoughtful, I was almost tempted to ask him what he was thinking. Then I remembered that I liked it when he was quiet, so I left him alone.
I was back downstairs at seven o’clock, and after a quick and silent breakfast, my father and I flooed to the Ministry at seven twenty.
“Wow, forty minutes early,” Benjamin commented as we followed my father and the trunk he was levitating through the main lobby and to one of the lifts. “We might be lucky and make it there on time if we hurry. Might being the key word.”
The Ministry was pretty deserted for a Sunday morning. Of course, everyone was probably sleeping in or relaxing. Other parents might have been delighted to have their children back from school.
When the lift door opened, though, two people emerged. A man and someone who appeared to be his son. The man looked at my father and nodded his head. “Mr. Kulinski. Nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Mr. Crouch,” Father said in the same formal tone.
I looked down at the boy. He was a lot shorter than me. I didn’t really recognize him. I just knew he wasn’t in Gryffindor nor was he a member of his House’s Quidditch team.
“Ooh, Barty and Barty Crouch,” Benjamin said longingly. He leaned against the wall. “Another good family. Too bad this Barty is too young for you, Marta. Ah, the possibilities that could have happened if you two were the same age.”
I just rolled my eyes and hoped that Benjamin would shut up on his own.
He didn’t. For as long as my father was talking with Crouch Sr., Benjamin was doing the same amount of talking about Crouch Jr. I was forced to chew on my tongue to keep myself from doing anything stupid.
“So,” Barty said after a while as the parents continued their conversation, “you really as weird as they say?”
I took my eyes off Benjamin and instead looked at the boy. “Excuse me?” Even Benjamin stopped talking to listen to this.
Barty shrugged a shoulder but didn’t take his eyes off me. “I have some classes with Lewis and Miller. Your name comes up a lot when they’re talking about your Quidditch practices.”
I crossed my arms but resisted the impulse of taking a step away from him. “And what exactly do they say?”
“Yes, what are they saying?” Benjamin mirrored my expression and leaned in close to young Barty.
He just shrugged his shoulder again. His grin, though, was a little eerie. “Just that you’re easily distracted. A little weird. You seem to only be good at Quidditch and nothing else. And a whole lot of stuff that I wasn’t too interested in listening to.”
“Well, that’s not as bad as it could be.”
“Marta, we’re going to miss our Portkey.” Father finally turned away from Crouch Sr. But his tone of voice sounded like it would be my fault if we were late.
“Happy Holidays, Kulinski.”
“The same to you, Crouch,” I said in the same fake-enthusiasm. I entered the lift but kept my arms crossed.
There was only one person in the office when Father and I arrived. Sitting in the middle of the room was a broken trumpet. Its three keys all pointed in different directions. It certainly would never play a note ever again.
“I suppose I should go ahead then. I’ll be waiting in your room. I know you don’t want me traveling with him.”
I just walked through Benjamin as he started to fade and touched the trumpet at the bell.
“Dear, you’re five minutes early,” the witch said. She smiled at me. “The Portkey won’t activate until eight o’clock sharp.”
“I just don’t want to miss it,” I said.
I tried not to pay attention to anything while my father made sure the trunk was firmly affixed to the trumpet, then went on to confirm that the Polish Ministry of Magic was aware of the Portkey. Right, as if his Ministry didn’t know their senior ambassador had to take time out of his busy schedule to pick up his daughter before every holiday.
When there was two minutes until the Portkey would activate, Father finally placed his hand over the missing mouthpiece. This was actually the closest we been to each other since last summer.
“Have a pleasant trip,” the witch said cheerfully as the trumpet began to glow blue.
A moment later, I felt a tugging sensation behind my navel. I tightened my grip on the trumpet, determined not to let go. I kept my eyes closed tight, wishing for the jerking sensation to end.
I landed roughly on frozen soil and remained still. The wind was knocked out of me. I felt like I must have fallen off my broom during a Quidditch game. Except that whenever I’ve fallen off my broom before, I usually had someone charm the ground to make it softer just before impact.
I opened my eyes to see my father had landed successfully on his feet. Not a hair was out of place and not a speck of dirt tarnished his fine robes.
My trunk was still attached to the trumpet. I pulled apart the fasteners before pushing myself up.
I then turned my attention towards my father’s house. It stood alone at the edge of a forest. Just past the house, which looked too large for just the two of us, the mountains to the south were covered in fresh snow. There were mountains at Hogwarts too, but the mountains here seemed so much more breathtakingly beautiful.
Father had already picked up the used Portkey and lead the way to the front door. I followed with my trunk digging into the dirt. I didn’t care if it got muddy or banged up. It would at least give me something to do over the holiday.
The front entrance was as immaculate as I remembered. A spacious entry hall with a shining chandelier almost made me think of this area as a room of its own. I almost felt a bit bad for bringing in some bits of grass onto the polished floor.
Father placed the Portkey on the table next to the closet. He then hung his traveling cloak inside the closet and kicked off his shoes.
Getting the idea, I also removed my shoes. I placed them on top of my trunk. Father would have a silent fit if I got any other part of his house remotely dirty.
It was only then that Father looked at me. He held out his right hand, palm up. “Marta?”
I sighed. I was really hoping he would forget about this. Seeing no reason to argue, I pulled my wand from my robes and placed it gently in his hand.
“Thank you,” he said. He pocketed the wand. “You understand, correct? We don’t want any accidents over the holidays.”
“That’s a good girl. I will see you when it’s time for dinner.”
I just smiled politely as I took hold of my trunk and lugged it with me up the stairs. I let the smile fade when I had my back to him. Once the door to his study clicked closed downstairs, the fake smile completely disappeared.
“Let me guess- he confiscated your wand again.”
“He treats me like I’m some clueless child!” I hissed, kicking the trunk into my room. It slammed into the footboard of my bed. A layer of dust rose into the air as a response. “And he couldn’t have at least touched up my room before I got here?”
Unlike the rest of the house, and unlike my mum’s old room back in England, my room looked like it had been abandoned years ago. Okay, maybe not years, but it felt like I was literally the last person to have left this room nearly four months ago.
“Well, you complain that there’s nothing to do here.” Benjamin sat at my windowsill. The corners of each windowpane had tiny spider webs growing in the corners. “This should take you a few hours to clean. Maybe even a day if you take your time.”
“And then what? I still have many, many more days to waste until I go back to school.” I walked around my room. Even though I was sixteen, I barely had any toys or trinkets decorating my room. Especially since I went to Hogwarts, I felt like decorating would be a waste of time for a room that I hardly lived in. My dresser remained mostly bare except for the thin layer of dust blanketing the dark wood. The same was true for my desk. Checking into each drawer, I found a few spiders had made their own little homes in each empty space.
I felt more comfortable staying at an inn than my own bedroom.
I finally turned on the wireless after climbing over all my furniture to clean the corners of my ceiling. My Polish was a bit rusty, so I couldn’t fully understand most of what was being said. At one point, I was almost certain that they were talking about Voldemort. Benjamin wanted to listen to that part, so I naturally changed the station. I eventually found a music station and listened to the instrumentals more than the vocal lyrics.
By the time Benjamin announced it was dinnertime and I should get my bum downstairs, my bed sheets had been stripped and hung from two of the posts of my bed so that the covers could be beaten severely by my thick Transfiguration textbook. Not that I wanted to tell my mum’s old best friend that I thought her book was that meaningless to me. It currently rested on my desk, the recently disturbed dust settling over the cover.
“Aren’t you going to change first? You look all sweaty from whacking all the dust from your bed.”
“I’m fine.” I opened my door.
“Will Kazik think so too?”
I closed the door. “I’ll change.”
A few minutes later, I entered the dining room alone. Benjamin accompanied me down the stairs, but he refused to be in the same room as my father if we were alone. I couldn’t blame him.
I wanted dinner to be over with as soon as possible.
My father was already seated at the head of the table designed to seat six people comfortably. He looked up when I entered, then went back to reading something that I could guess was work-related.
I could have sat in either of the seats next to him. I could have. But I didn’t want to sit so close to him. I sat in the opposite chair from Father. As soon as I was seated, Father took out his wand and charmed my setting to arrange itself in front of me. He never looked away from his reading, though.
Dinner was quiet like that too. The food mostly stayed in the middle of the table. When I wanted something to eat, I just said the dish’s name and Father used his magic to bring the food closer to me. When I was finished with the dish, it would float back to the middle of the table and we both continued eating.
So for the longest time, only utensils scraping against our plates filled the house.
As dinner was finished and Father summoned the dessert to the table, I thought for a moment that I might escape this initial meal without conflict and be able to relax until our traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
“So, Marta.” Father finally put down his papers and glanced up to me for a moment before looking back down. “How is school going for you?”
“Fine.” I put a piece of pie in my mouth to avoid any request to elaborate.
“That’s nice. And your friends?”
I swallowed the pie. “Got a boyfriend. Lost the boyfriend. Maybe lost a long-lasting friendship. Gained a stalker. All my roommates continue to hate me. The usual.” I ate another piece, determined to chew until it was mush in my mouth.
Father also seemed to be cutting his slice of pie into deliberately small pieces. “Good, good,” he said absently. “Are you still playing that silly game of yours?”
“Quidditch?” I finally looked up. I swallowed the mush. “Actually, I had a game just last month, and I only let in one goal. And I played most of the game with a terrible ankle injury. The school nurse was angry that I didn’t let myself be taken out of the game, but-”
“So you’re having a marvelous time playing Chaser.”
“Keeper, Father. The Keeper guards or ’keeps’ the hoops. The Chasers ‘chase’ the Quaffle. The Beaters ‘beat’ the Bludgers. And the Seeker ‘seeks’ the Snitch.” Honestly, this must have been the ninth time at least that I’ve explained Quidditch terms to him.
By this time, Father’s pie was gone except for the crust. “That’s all splendid, just splendid.”
I sighed. I also still had my pie crust, but I never ate it. It was too hard. “Well, Father, thank you for-”
“And Benjamin. How is Benjamin doing these days?” Father now locked his eyes on me. And I knew he would not look away.
I fought with myself to keep up the staring contest between the two of us. I willed for the feeling to return to my fingertips and for my face to remain neutral. I had to struggle with my throat to keep it from closing up and distorting my voice.
“Honestly, Father, I’m sixteen. I wouldn’t have a clue on how he’s doing since I haven’t seen him since I was abandoned in St. Mungo’s eight years ago.”
“Come now, Marta.” Father placed his fork and knife across his plate with his untouched crust. “I know you’re sixteen. So you’re old enough to know that what I did was for your own good.”
“I’m old enough to know that my father still doubts my competence as a witch. Not to mention my sanity.”
It hurt when my father didn’t correct my interpretations of him. I had hoped deep down that things might have been different. But he just continued to stare at me.
I clutched the sides of the table, grateful for the vast distance between the two of us.
Finally, Father was the one who looked away. He stood up and picked up his plate.
I also stood. But I had no intention of clearing my place. “Father.” I waited until I had his attention. And then, in the best fake-cheerful voice I could manage, “I wish to thank you for a terrific dinner. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Let me know when the next Portkey to London is scheduled.”
I then turned and left the dining room. I knew better than to disrespect my elders. Especially my only living parent. But I wasn’t eight years old anymore. I wasn’t about to go on and on about what Benjamin and I had been doing. I just wished that I had learned to keep my mouth shut about him earlier.
When I reached the staircase, I paused. Listened. I wanted Father to follow me. To tell me that he was sorry for insulting me. To acknowledge that respect is a two-way street and that as a teenager, I was expected to handle only so much. I would have been perfectly fine if he came out to scream at me or apologize in the form of a hug.
Scraping plates against one another as dinner was being cleared from the table was the only sound that reached my ears.
I found Benjamin standing just outside my bedroom door. But by the look on his face, with his eyes soft and his lips pressed thin, he only nodded once. He vanished, allowing me to enter my room unimpeded.
I sat at my windowsill in the darkness. I hadn’t gotten around to clearing my windows yet. I used the sleeve of my robes to clean just a little and watched the stars twinkle over the mountains.
I rested my forehead against the cold glass. “Mum,” I whispered. I reached into my robes and felt her diary sitting safely in its pocket. “How could you marry a man like that? How?”
I must have fallen asleep, wondering how such a brilliant, successful, popular witch like Diana could have fallen for a cold wizard like Kazik. But when I began to stir and sunlight stung my eyes through my eyelids, I sat up to realize that the comforter from my bed that I beat to death yesterday was tucked around my body, keeping me warm throughout the night.
“Huh?” The comforter fell to the floor as I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the sun. “Benjamin? Did you put this on me?”
Benjamin was lounging on my bed, his arms over and behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling. “Nope.”
Huh? I got to my feet. I tossed the comforter over my bed. It passed through Benjamin. He moved around a bit to rest on top of the new addition.
“Kazik poked his head in here last night.” He kicked his right leg in the direction of the door. “Read for yourself.”
I followed the path to my door. Written on a scrap of parchment was a short note.
‘Consider it forgotten. See you on Christmas Eve?’
I turned back to Benjamin. “Did he say anything to me while I was sleeping?”
“No, Kazik did not say anything to you while you were sleeping.” However, Benjamin remained lounging on my bed and did not take his eyes off the ceiling. I wondered for a moment what got Benjamin in a sulky mood. I wanted to learn how to do that myself.
I reread the note again. Smiling, I left my room and traveled down the hall to my father’s room.
I knew it was Monday, meaning Father was probably already off at work and wouldn’t be home until after sunset. So his room was deserted when I crept inside and looked for a piece of parchment and a quill.
It didn’t take me too long to write my reply: ‘I look forward to it.’ I placed it on his pillow since I was unable to perform a sticking charm at the moment. Then again, I didn’t know the incantation for the sticking charm. Maybe I could look it up in my spare time to impress Sirius.
Wait, impress Sirius? What was I thinking? I described him as my stalker last night, not my boyfriend. I hated to think that part of Benjamin’s ramblings was somewhat reaching my thoughts.
I looked across the bed. I knew my father slept on the right side of the bed since his nightstand had extra ink, quills, and parchment resting on its surface. The left side of the bed, though, used to be my mum’s. The only thing on the nightstand on her side was a single picture.
I walked around the bed to examine the photograph. I have only come in my father’s room a few times, so seeing this familiar picture wasn’t as clear in my memory as others I’ve seen.
It showed my parents, both standing with the mountains in the background and looking happy. All the trees were full of leaves, so it must have been taken over the summer. My father stood behind my mum, his arms wrapped around her shoulders and smiling over her right shoulder. Mum kept her hold on my father’s arms, smiling into the camera. She would occasionally look back to make eye contact with Father before looking forward once again. A few times, though, she looked directly to her right and her smile faded somewhat. But her full smile would reappear when she looked to the person taking the picture or back at her husband.
I once asked my father about this picture when I was small. Even back then, before St. Mungo’s, he never smiled like the way he did in this photograph. He did tell me that the picture was taken eight months before she died. So she was a month pregnant with me.
As far as I know, this was the only picture that existed in which my mum and I were in the same shot, even though I was still growing within her.
I retreated back to my room, looking over all the dust that had settled over the night. I would be able to finish cleaning everything today if I got started now. But with the air still stuffy, I opened my window and let the cool air into the house.
“You’re going to get sick if you keep your window open,” Benjamin said. He sat up, apparently over his little ‘mood.’
“That’s all right,” I said. “I’ll have two weeks to get over it.” But instead of grabbing a rag and agitating the dust, I pulled the comforter off my bed and wrapped it around me as a bulky cloak. I then pulled out my mother’s diary and examined it in the better light.
“Really, Marta? That old thing again? Just leave it alone.”
“Nope.” I then wandered to my dresser and picked up a spare pin in the corner and started messing with the lock. Maybe the Muggle approach had some merit. Too bad Muggle Studies didn’t teach us how to pick locks. I wondered if I could suggest that to Professor Burbage when I see her again.
“You know, I’ve been thinking.”
“That’s never good.” I curled up on the floor next to my bed, using it to block the wind from blowing onto me directly.
“Next summer, you’re going to be seventeen. Maybe, and this is just a thought mind you, you can suggest to Kazik that you get a head start on living in the adult world. He wouldn’t have to take time out of his schedule to fetch you, and you can look for somewhere you want to live after Hogwarts. Unless, of course, you want to live here full-time after seventh year.”
I didn’t reply to Benjamin. But I thought about the idea. It had some merit. It was possible. But I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction that he said something I actually liked. So I just worked on the diary until my eyes were sore and my fingers were pricked raw from the blasted pin.
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