Chapter 9 : IX: You Don't Seem Happy to be Here
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Three words best describe my Christmas holiday. In this order, it was: boring, boring, boring.
Gee, now what might make my holiday so boring? Let’s see, my father worked too much. I had no friends. I had to totally ignore Benjamin completely to keep myself from being shipped to St. Mungo’s (again). Most of the wireless was in a language that I stopped speaking at the age of eight. Oh, and the only thing that could possibly keep my mind active was my winter homework. Just what every teenager looks forward to.
I wasn’t sad to see the holiday over. In fact, I was delighted when I woke up that morning. I passed Benjamin on my way to the shower. He hadn’t moved from the back corner of my room since the third day we came home. He hadn’t spoken to me since Christmas morning. He just sat on the floor and looked at some distant spot on the opposite wall.
Having breakfast with my father was a little unusual in the fact that he was still home. I kept my head bowed over my food, though I peeked a look at him a few times through my fringe.
He would be less subtle about watching me. I wondered for a while if he wanted to tell me or ask me something, but if it was important, he would have talked at me earlier. Yes, talk at me. I never feel like he talks to me.
I Apparated with him to his Ministry of Magic, the only physical contact the two of us had throughout the holiday, and followed him to the Portkey. He came across several people that tried to talk to him in the halls, but he easily got out of conversations. When the fourth person looked from my father to me and then went away, I knew he was blaming me for being unable to talk. Whatever.
When we finally arrived in London, Father brought the two of us straight to King’s Cross. We stepped onto the platform exactly fifteen minutes until eleven o’clock. It was already crowded. Many parents were saying fond farewells to their children that were leaving for another term at Hogwarts. I only saw a handful of exceptions, where the parting moments seemed more formal than emotional.
I was positive my father and I fell into that second category.
I took hold of my trolley, already carrying my trunk, before turning back to my father. I held my left hand out to him, palm up.
Father nodded and pulled out my wand. He placed it in the middle of my gloved hand. “Stay out of trouble,” he said.
“I’ll do my best.” I put my wand into an inside pocket, then turned to push my belongings towards an empty compartment on the train. I didn’t bother looking back as him. It was understood that I would stay at Hogwarts for the Easter holiday. I just hoped Father would become too busy come June to worry himself about getting me. I would rather have my grandfather collect me any day.
I did manage to catch a glimpse of my father through a window in the train. He continued to stare at me. But either because of the distance or the poor quality of his reflection in glass, I couldn’t clearly make out his face.
But when I went to load my trunk into a compartment, I found his reflection was gone. I sighed. I wouldn’t see him again for another five months.
“Okay,” I huffed softly to myself, pulling the trunk off the trolley and using all my strength to get it onto the train, “definitely have to teach myself the levitation spell. All my possessions are incredibly heavy!”
“This is all your stuff?” And then, from behind me, a pair of hands clad in black gloves placed themselves on either side of my white-gloved hands, giving me the extra strength to get my trunk on board.
When I turned around, I smiled widely. “Remus!” Before I could stop myself, I wrapped my arms around Remus’s torso, enveloping him in a massive hug. “I’m sorry! Forgive me!”
Remus had initially stiffened at the sudden contact. But then I heard him chuckle. “So, I finally got an elusive hug for helping you with your luggage?”
Finally, I disengaged. My stomach churned as I realized how I must have appeared. I couldn’t stop smiling, though. “Look, I’m really sorry about what happened in Hogsmeade, and I thought you might have still been mad at me, and-”
Remus raised a hand to silence me. He then pointed to the gloves. “I should be thanking you for the gloves.”
I shrugged a shoulder. “What was I going to do, leave them on the counter? I figured it was an appropriate Christmas gift.”
“It was.” Remus’s smile reached his eyes as he continued, “Only you would give me a Christmas present on Boxing Day.”
I felt my jaw drop. I must have looked as stupid as I was. “But, but I sent it right after I got home!”
Remus nodded. “And the poor owl was completely exhausted after flying over several countries to reach me.” Remus looked past me to the inside of my empty compartment. “I should be apologizing to you, though. I didn’t get you anything.”
I waved off his concerns. “It’s alright, Remus. Really. Think of your gloves as an apology gift.” I felt my face turn warm. I couldn’t look up into his amber eyes anymore. “You’re the only one who doesn’t hate me for my odd behavior.”
Remus sighed above me. “Being different isn’t always a terrible thing.” He paused. Then, “Look, I have prefect duties, but do you want me to poke in on you during the ride to Hogwarts?”
I shook my head. “No, I should be good. I’ll see you around.”
Remus smiled, nodded, then disappeared into the crowd.
I boarded the train and took my seat, closing the door and curtains behind me.
“Oh Marta, the touching farewell between father and daughter I could tolerate. But did you have to actually hug the half-blood? Don’t you think that was a bit much?”
I turned away from the window, finally sitting across from Benjamin, who stretched out to encompass the entire side of his compartment. “And here I thought you were still sitting comatose in my room. Now that my father’s not here, do you have to resume your commentary on every move I make?” I opened my trunk and started looking through my belongings.
Benjamin, though, sat up so suddenly, I thought he would roll off his seat. “Marta! You’re talking to me! You haven’t spoken to me in weeks! I was starting to think that you didn’t believe in me anymore!”
“What, so I have to believe in you and that’s why you’re still here?” I shook my head. I refused to get into an argument with Benjamin at the moment. I didn’t have much time. “Well, for once, I’m glad that you’re here.” I reached deep into my trunk, finally pulling out my charms book from third year. “I have some ‘studying’ to do before the term starts.”
Benjamin’s wide hazel eyes dimmed. He sat up properly but slouched in his seat. “What are you going to do to me?”
I smiled, feeling victorious in having made him worried. “I have a school book, my wand, and an idea for tonight. And, fortunately for once, I have a guinea pig that can’t tell anyone else what I’m about to do to him.”
Seeing Benjamin swallow, his Adams apple quivering, make me happier than I was on Christmas.
And by the time the train pulled into the station in Hogsmeade, Benjamin seemed to be happier than I had ever seen a living or non-living person.
In fact, if he were real, a professor might ask me if he was on any drugs and take him to St. Mungo’s for treatment.
“I am so happy right now!” Benjamin laughed, jumping off the stairs and into the sea of students. “I’m so happy, I feel like I can fly!” He flapped his arms up and down, but nothing happened. His arms actually passed through the chests of a gaggle of girls standing around him.
I giggled, imagining what the girls would say to Benjamin if they could see him acting this stupid. But when the girls looked at me and frowned, I turned away and headed for the carriages, hoping they didn’t think I was laughing at them. It was Benjamin’s fault I was laughing.
Okay, so maybe the fifteen perfected cheering charms that I put on him also had to do with Benjamin’s excellent mood, but I needed the practice. And let’s face it, chocolate frogs wouldn’t really show me if they were happier because of my wand work or just because I hadn’t eaten them yet.
“Oi, Marta, wait for me! Brrrroooooommmmm!” Benjamin buzzed his lips as he weaved through the crowd. When he finally caught up, his arms were outstretched as if he were a soaring owl. I mean, he wouldn’t imitate a Muggle plane.
“Hey Marta, what are we going to do tonight?” He finally lowered his arms. He hopped on one foot as I continued to walk. “I know there’s a feast. I love feasts! I wish I could eat something, though. I wish I had a real stomach. But then I’d have to use the loo a lot. That’s something I don’t miss. And sleeping. Did you know I don’t sleep? I just watch you all night. Every night. You’re very pretty when you sleep. Do you know what else I think is pretty? Flowers. Brightly colored flowers. But I don’t like Herbology, because I’m afraid of the plants eating me. Of course, I can’t eat them back, because I have no stomach. But I think they would have given me a stomach ache if I ever tried to eat them.”
I did my best not to laugh as I boarded a carriage. A trio of girls also came aboard, triggering it to begin its journey to school. I looked around the path instead, hoping that if I laughed at anything else Benjamin said, they would think that I just remembering a ‘fun’ moment from my holiday.
“Weeee! I like these carriages! And the thestrals look super-creepy! Can you see them, Marta?”
Thestrals? What were those? I looked around, but nothing looked out of the ordinary. I shrugged my left shoulder and went back to looking around elsewhere.
“Oh, that’s right, you can’t see them. That’s okay. Babies don’t really understand death, and you don’t remember seeing Diana die. That’s okay. You can only see a thestral once you see and understand someone has died.”
I turned my head slowly to look up at Benjamin. I then tilted my head to the side slightly, hoping he would understand my silent question.
“How do I know what thestrals are?” Benjamin laughed. “I do listen to other students talk about their homework assignments, Marta. Fifth year Care of Magical Creatures class.”
Right, but how was Benjamin able to see them? I dismissed the question at once. Who says he was actually seeing it and not just messing with me for fun? And since he wasn’t real, Benjamin might be able to see other things invisible to normal eyes.
Benjamin was again fun to watch when we got off at school. “The Marauders!” he squealed. Yes, he squealed in delight, like one of their fan girls. “There’s James Potter! And Sirius Black! And Remus Lupin! And Peter Pettigrew! I love Peter Pettigrew! He’s my favorite Marauder! Petey, wait for me!” Benjamin broke away from me and literally ran through the crowd to reach Peter. He wrapped his arms over Peter’s oblivious shoulders and began chattering away to the smallest Marauder. If Peter could see what I saw, he would most likely wet his robes.
“Note to self,” I muttered under my breath, making sure my lips did not move. “Fifteen cheering charms is fourteen charms too many.” And with everyone else paying more attention to their own friends, I went with the flow and took a seat in the Great Hall.
It was good to be back at Hogwarts. And I felt especially pleased with myself, knowing that all my homework was completed through my own efforts- not Benjamin’s- and I might have gotten good marks on most of my classes. The only one that I might have failed was McGonagall’s assignment, but I could live with that.
“I love Hogwarts!” Benjamin laughed as dessert replaced the dinner trays. “The food, the atmosphere, everything about it! Wow, look at that ceiling! Pwetty!” He spent the next five minutes staring at the ceiling.
Smiling at Benjamin’s continued acts of stupidity, I glanced down the table to the Marauders. Maybe he sensed my gaze, or maybe it was a coincidence, but Remus turned from listening to James to look down at me. He smiled, offering a small wave at the same time.
I returned the gesture. For the first time in weeks, I felt content with my life.
Benjamin, growing tired of arching his head back apparently, looked down to see Remus and me smiling at each other. “Oh, what the hell, go ahead and stare at him!” Benjamin said happily. “I’m in a fantastic mood. You’re not as incompetent with magic as I thought. In fact, you can do whatever you like. If you want, you can even talk to the Mudblood and I won’t-”
I snapped my head back to focus on Benjamin, my smile vanishing.
Benjamin’s eyes widened. “Uh-oh, I said the ‘M’ word, didn’t I? Bad Benjamin. Here, allow me!” He then punched himself in the nose. Hard. He fell off the other side of the table, laughing and saying something about how he should probably have a more crooked nose than Dumbledore if he were a living person.
I turned back to Remus, but he had already turned away and was talking to his friends. Since he was using hand gestures, I figured he was too involved with his friends to pay attention to me anymore.
I ate slowly, making sure I was one of the last students to leave the Great Hall. Hopefully, most of my roommates would be settled in before I showed up. It would also give them a chance to gossip about me before I arrived.
Remus and his friends were already long gone as I stood up, leaving Benjamin jumping up and down on the table, flapping his wings, and trying to fly to the sky. The last I heard from him, he was yelling at me to imagine a broomstick for him since even Muggle-borns can fly. Well, he didn't use that word exactly. I left him to take care of himself.
I would become a Death Eater before I would give Benjamin permission to follow me into the sky.
Part of me knew that walking the hallways by myself was dangerous. Especially since I didn’t see where the Marauders disappeared to when most of the students headed to bed. One might assume that the wand clutched in my left hand was just me being paranoid. But I was prepared tonight.
It happened on the seventh floor, just a few paces after I left the staircases. The hall seemed too quiet, especially since I knew there had to be some Gryffindor students ahead of me. I mean, I wasn’t too late coming up to bed.
If I wasn’t listening, I wouldn’t have heard the rustling of fabric or the soft step on the stone floor behind me.
I spun on the spot, took quick aim, and threw a cheering charm straight at Sirius.
Sirius’s wand, which had been raised at me, lowered as his smile brightened. “Haven’t seen you since last year, Marta!” he smiled. “Wow, excellent cheering charm. What was it for?”
I pointed my wand at the wand now at his side. “To get that thing pointed away from me.”
Sirius’s gaze followed my wand. “Just to let you know, the cheering charm is different from the disarming spell.”
“I know.” I lowered my own wand, crossing my arms. “I’m just proving to you that I can learn spells on my own and don’t need your help.”
“And why did you learn the cheering charm?”
“To use it against you.”
Sirius beamed. “So you actually do need me in order to properly study. I still am your motivation!”
“What? No! I mean-” I thought about Sirius’s logic for a moment. I tried approaching my action from different angles. But only Sirius’s conclusion made sense. I certainly wouldn’t have used that charm on Benjamin so many times for the fun of it (not that I knew a dopey Benjamin would be the result).
“You’re welcome,” Sirius said smugly.
I sighed. Looked around. Nope, no one else was in the halls. I should have been one of the first to leave after dinner. “Look, how about this: I promise to show you a new spell every day, and you can stop stalking me every night.”
“Nope. I really don’t mind taking time out of my busy Marauding schedule to check up on you. If you fail out of school, we lose our Keeper.”
This wasn’t going anywhere. I approached Sirius, making sure his wand stayed lowered at his side. I used the few seconds to think of another argument. Too bad I had thought Sirius would back down so easily with me just showing him the cheering charm.
It was hard for me to say this next part, as Sirius kept smiling at me with that sappy, pathetic look on his face. I bet I could tell him that the castle will collapse around us and he would be perfectly fine with it.
“Sirius, what about when I get my next boyfriend? The boys I’ve dated before would probably have a problem with you stalking me every day.”
“But you don’t have a boyfriend right now, do you?”
I hesitated. “Well, not yet. Not technically. No.” Not like Benjamin would let me date who I really wanted.
“Then there’s no problem.”
Sirius just wasn’t getting it, was he? How else could I get him to leave me alone?
“You know,” Sirius said slowly, looking up above my head, “I just had a thought.”
“Does it involve you leaving me alone? Because you stalking me is annoying.”
“Nope. Quite the opposite.” Sirius looked down into my eyes. He looked like he had just discovered a potion that would cure anything. “You’re my girlfriend, aren’t you?”
“What?!” My right leg buckled under me, making me stumble. I placed a hand over my heart. For a tiny moment, I wondered if he could also hear Benjamin. But Benjamin wasn’t here- he was still in the Great Hall, laughing like a maniac and punching his nose flat into his imaginary skull.
“The way I see it,” Sirius said, “James stalks Evans practically every day. He gets on her nerves a lot. I’m doing the same with you.”
“No, you’re just using my ineptitude to amuse yourself.” But I started feeling warm around my collar.
“Well, we both meet each other every day, almost like a date.”
This time, I knew my jaw dropped. I could have sworn that I’d had a very similar conversation with Benjamin a few weeks ago.
Sirius finally replaced his wand into an interior pocket of his robes. “I’ve never actually had a girlfriend before,” Sirius said lightly, “but you’ve had boyfriends before. Am I doing something different from what they did?”
My mouth was still hanging open as I tried to think of an argument. Let’s see now. My boyfriends didn’t attack me. But Sirius would claim that he was tutoring me, and that’s what Matthew used to do for me. And my boyfriends went with me to Hogsmeade. But Sirius actually met up with me for the November trip after my grandfather left. My mind then blanked on any other argument.
“Then I guess that’s it then,” Sirius said. “I mean, you’re a girl. And I suppose being teammates makes us friends.”
Finally, I found my voice. “Come off it, Sirius. Stop teasing me. There must be other girls in the school that you might fancy.”
Sirius shook his head. “Most girls giggle too much for my taste. And they don’t like being ‘accidentally’ pranked.”
I sighed, realizing that Sirius wasn’t going to think anything different. He would give up the idea of being my boyfriend when he gives up his idea of ‘tutoring’ me. “Fine,” I whispered. “I’m your girlfriend.”
“Excellent.” Sirius reached forward. But instead of wrapping his arms around me, his patted me on the top of my head. If he thought it was awkward doing that gesture to someone the same height as him, he didn’t let it show. Then again, the thought probably didn’t cross his mind.
“Now then,” Sirius said, still patting my head as if I were an obedient puppy, “I have other things to do besides tutor you. One of our Marauders’ resolutions for the year was to step up the amount of pranks. I still have a lot to do before tomorrow-”
Movement in the still hall caught my attention. My heart sank, dreading what the female population would think of me after they find out that Sirius Black is no longer available.
It turned out that my heart felt like it plummeted all the way down to the dungeons when I saw Remus walking up the halls.
“Hey, Padfoot. Marta?” Remus’s casual smile seemed forced as he approached. Even his walk seemed a bit strained, as if he were trying to keep himself from running to us. “What’s going on?”
“Just showing Sirius how well I can perform a cheering charm,” I said quickly. My voice actually squeaked. “That explains the sappy look in his eyes. And, well, he then explained that you four Marauders are getting started early this year, so I won’t keep-”
“I just found out that Marta is my girlfriend,” Sirius said, his voice cutting over mine.
It felt like all the air had been sucked out of the hall.
Remus’s smile remained his place, but his amber eyes widened, then faded. “Really?”
“Yup,” Sirius said, oblivious to his friend’s reaction. “I’ve been tutoring Marta for a few weeks now, and I figured that since we’re meeting so often, and she’s a girl, that she’s my girlfriend too. So, did you set up your part of our prank yet?”
It took Remus a few seconds to realize that he was asked a question. He kept his eyes locked on me, but I couldn’t return the contact. Instead, my gaze rested on a painting of wizards playing wizard’s chess.
“Er, mostly. You were supposed to meet me downstairs. That’s why I came looking for you.”
“What are you waiting for then? You found me.” I saw Sirius turn away from me though the corner of my eye. He then turned around again. “I almost forgot.” And before I knew it, Sirius had given me a peck on the cheek. I looked up in time to see him smile brightly at me, then he turned his attention back to his friend. “Alright, let’s go. I feel excellent! This prank can’t go wrong!”
I should have looked to Remus, explain that Sirius didn’t know what he was really saying, that we weren’t a couple. But I couldn’t make myself look into his hurt eyes one more time. Instead, I just watched a black pawn take down a white knight.
I remained still as Sirius’s chattering faded as the wizards descended the stairs. I just continued to watch the painting. The black queen quickly forced the white king into checkmate.
“Okay, so I think I smacked myself enough to make up for the ‘M’ word I said earlier.” Benjamin jogged up the stairs, his nose still sparkling in crimson blood and one of his eyes was blackened. “Now I know what an abused house elf feels like. But I still feel great!” He draped his right arm over my shoulders. “You know what, I know it will never last, so when Lupin flirts with you again, invite him on a date. He can be your new tutor. Whatever you want to do with him, you have my blessing!”
I couldn’t take it anymore. The painting I had been watching blurred as tears filled my eyes. I tried my best to keep them contained, but they soon traced twin paths down my face.
“Marta! Oh no, what happened?! Who do I have to hurt for you?”
I sniffed back the mucus that was threatening to escape my nose. “Sirius,” I whispered.
Benjamin’s arm stiffened. “Sirius? But what could he do to you? He didn’t get you before you put that cheering charm on him, did he?”
I shook my head. “I’m now his girlfriend.”
I blindly shoved Benjamin away from me. My brain ran itself in circles, wondering how this had happened. Just a half hour, everything was perfect. How could one small event make me feel this terrible?
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