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Chapter 16 : XVI: This Has Been in My Family for Generations
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The fine mist in the air seemed attracted to each and every one of my teammates as we wrapped up Quidditch practice. Despite the fact that the clouds were high above us, we all looked like we had been flying during a rainstorm. If it weren’t for the water-repellent charm on his glasses, James would have been blinded by just a few speckles for water.
“Alright team, gather round!” James shouted. I left my hoops, knowing practice was over. My heart pounded hard through my chest, harder than it had all during practice.
Once we were all within hearing range, James praised us for our efforts. He then broke it to the rest of the team that we would not be practicing tomorrow and Sunday but we would still get onto the pitch Monday evening. Everyone but us sixth years groaned.
“Is this your idea of an April Fool’s Day prank?” Wendy asked skeptically. “Because if it is, you could have done much better than faking this.”
“What are we supposed to do without Quidditch practice?” Paulina complained loudly. “Did you and Sirius get detentions again?”
But James looked ready for the protest. “This is your last free weekend,” James announced. “We play Ravenclaw in just over a month from now. You’re seen their games. Their captain is a brilliant strategist. I don’t want you accusing me of being a ruddy pain.”
“Even though you are,” Sirius coughed loudly.
James just shook his head, small beads of water flying from his hair and falling as a precursor to real rain. “I think all of you want to win the Quidditch Cup this year, so this is your last free weekend until then.”
“Hey sis,” Paul said, grinning, “now you can get started studying for those annoying O.W.L.s.”
Paulina smacked her brother on the shoulder, looking a bit pale. “I still have two months.”
James and Sirius snickered at the only fifth year on the team.
“Let’s go,” Wendy said, looking up at the clouds. “Looks like we’re in for a real storm tonight.”
“But we’re already drenched anyway,” Erin said as the Stevens siblings raced each other to the broom shack, followed by Wendy. The small girl looked down at the ground, frowned, then looked back at us sixth years who hadn’t moved. “Um, why are Lupin and Pettigrew down there?”
“Because they’re flying up here to meet with us,” James answered calmly, indicating Sirius and me silently.
“Why? Are- are you replacing any of us with one of them?”
“Of course not,” Sirius said dismissively. “Could you honestly see Peter as a Seeker? Neither can I.” He shivered, but not from the cold water soaking through his robes.
Erin looked up at me. “Are you okay, Kulinski?”
“Just fine,” I lied.
“Are you sure? You don’t look it. I worry about you and . . .” Her voice trailed off as she looked away. A faint blush accompanied the awkwardness of her statement.
Erin worried about me? She was a cute kid. The thought of someone brave enough not to shy away from someone with my reputation touched me. I tried my best to give her a reassuring smile. “Go on, don’t let us keep you. The five of us aren’t going to do anything Quidditch-related, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Erin looked up as if to say something else, thought better of it, and just shook her head in defeat as she floated down while Remus and Peter flew up.
“I hate meeting up here,” Peter shivered, his school robes already soaked. “Why can’t we meet on the ground?” His teeth started chattering to emphasize his statement.
“Because this is the only place Benjamin can’t overhear us,” James reminded him. “Invisible or not, he can’t just sprout wings and fly up to us here.”
“True,” I nodded grimly. “That’s the main reason I joined the team in second year.”
“It helps that you’re the best player in the school,” Remus added.
“Can we please break the curse before you two start exchanging love confessions?” Sirius groaned. “Control those hormones, Moony. Honestly.”
“I was just stating a fact,” Remus said, though he turned a little pink when Sirius mentioned the L-word. He readjusted the cloth soaked in Murtlap essence over the left side of his face, a sign that Benjamin must have gotten upset with him while the rest of us were up here for Quidditch. It wasn’t the first time Remus had gotten injured like this, but I still felt guilty because of Benjamin’s damage.
“So, is everything set up for tonight?” James asked. “Because if we’re not doing it now, then I want to get my Quidditch team back to let them know practice is back on for the weekend.”
“We’re all set, I think,” Peter said, looking up at the darkening clouds as he tried to remember.
“The potion is brewing just like the instructions say it’s supposed to go,” Remus said, his eyes unfocused as his thoughts turned back to review what he and the others were doing for me. “No one but us has been in that dungeon classroom since yesterday, so no one has messed with it.”
“Not even Benjamin?” James asked.
Remus shook his head. “We stripped everything out of that room, remember? And we even gouged out some of the stone floor to make sure the cauldron won’t tip over.”
“And what we do need is locked inside the supply cupboard with a lot of charms to keep it closed,” Peter added.
“He has to know something is going to happen,” Sirius said, looking at me.
I nodded, then glanced down. Benjamin stood below our little circle, head arched upward but unable to hear anything or really be heard by me. “He keeps telling me that our plan won’t work.”
“Then he either has no power to stop us or he’s so absorbed in his brilliance that he can’t see his end is near,” Sirius said proudly. “Obviously, we are more brilliant than he is.”
“Let’s not pat ourselves on the back until our plan succeeds,” James said. “I don’t want us too disappointed if we just wasted three weeks on a bad idea. Let’s go over it one last time.” When Sirius went to complain, James added, “I don’t look forward to spending another three weeks remaking this potion, alright? We’ll also lose a lot of our adoring fans if we stay out of trouble for too long.”
The four boys reviewed the plan with each other with perfect timing, each saying what he will do after the previous step is complete. I mostly remained silent, my mind wandering back to my mother’s diary. Something in my gut told me I was missing something. But I had practically memorized her diary. I could recite a few of the more interesting entries by heart.
When Diana was a teenager, Benjamin only appeared to offer her advice when she needed guidance. But during her fourth and fifth years, she started wondering where Benjamin was getting his wisdom from. Unlike me, she actually paid attention to everything that was said in class. Benjamin often made comments about things she had never heard about before.
But like with me, Benjamin tried to get Diana to date in her fifth year. She initially thought it was odd that he was her imaginary friend but thought getting a boyfriend was more important than her O.W.L.s. Once she finished her last exam, she started research on her family tree, discovering the truth shortly before her sixth year. She kept everything a secret, even from her rival-turned-best-friend, Minerva McGonagall.
Eventually, her diary became a chronicle of Benjamin’s behavior and cryptic history he couldn’t help but brag about. Several entries in her early twenties seemed to be written more as a reminder to herself: “I must never have a daughter.”
And then, almost a year after she wrote the introduction pages to her diary and the tone suggested that she was talking to me, the daughter she vowed never to have (though she must have conceded to the possibility at some point), she met my father in Egypt. Or rather, as she kept gushing about him in her diary, ‘Kaz.’
“Kulinski? Hey, Kulinski, what’s wrong?” James flew closer to me. “Are you alright?”
I jerked myself out of my thoughts, unaware that the boys had finished talking. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Just thinking about my mum. Nowhere in her diary did she even mention her pendant as a possible link to the curse.”
I pulled the pendant to the outside of my robes. Its sapphire stone seemed unremarkable, normal. But when we tried casting spell after spell at it, trying to destroy it, Benjamin deflected everything. Literally. Every time we tried to hex it or jinx it or even curse it, Benjamin placed some part of his body between the caster and the necklace. Any spell, after passing through Benjamin, deflected harmlessly off the pendant. We even tried to destroy it up here, on our brooms, but Benjamin manipulated the winds and almost made Sirius’s curse hit Peter. We had to find stronger magic.
And we did. Three weeks ago yesterday, Sirius stumbled upon a potion in one of the Restricted Section books. Three weeks ago today, they started brewing. And today, today would bring an end to him.
Because tonight, we were going to destroy my mother’s pendant. And with it, Benjamin.
“Your mum was a curse breaker, not a Potions Mistress,” Sirius pointed out. “We checked out all of your ancestors. None of them had the background to make a potion like we have waiting for us in the dungeon. A majority of them didn’t even have a profession.”
“Thank you, Benjamin,” I sighed sarcastically, looking back down at him. “He knows it’s going to happen tonight. He’s watching us. He’s been getting paler and paler by the day as you’ve made that potion for me.”
“That’s a good thing,” James smiled. “It must mean that he doesn’t know how to stop it. After all, he never had to contend with anyone like us Marauders before, huh?”
“He’s not an idiot,” I said. “He’s probably trying to figure a way around our plan. Or intimidate us not to go through with it. Over nine hundred years of knowledge is on his side. Three of my ancestors discovered what he was on their own but he still killed them. I’m certainly no match for him.”
“That’s why you have us,” Remus said, flying to hover by my right side. “The curse started with Marta Pontem. It will end with Marta Kulinski.”
I closed my eyes, repeating that to myself. I had to believe it. It just had to be true.
“This is still your call, Kulinski,” James said. “If you want some more time, we can wait. The potion should remain viable for another three months before it expires.”
“Why wait?” I reopened my eyes, surveying James, Peter, Sirius, and Remus. “Have I told you guys how much I appreciate all this that you’re doing for me?”
“Only on a nightly basis,” Sirius said brightly. “C’mon, the sooner we get this done, the more time we’ll have to pull our annual April Fool’s Day prank. We only have four and a half hours left.”
We all laughed as the rain started coming down, the fine mist replaced with tiny raindrops.
“Time to put your brilliant plan into action then,” I said, tightening my grip on my broom. “Let’s go!”
I led the five of us to the ground, with James and Sirius on my heels as we flew towards the broom shack. When I touched down, Benjamin materialized before me.
“It won’t work,” Benjamin insisted. He would have sounded more confident if he wasn’t deathly pale and his voice wasn’t quivering.
“Shut up, Benjamin.” I picked up my broom and swung it as hard as I could. The bristles slammed into the right side of Benjamin’s face. The strength of the strike forced his head backwards and he collapsed to the ground, the bright red scratches on his face leaking imaginary blood across his skin before dripping into the dirt.
“He’s down,” I reported.
“Then let’s move!” James led Sirius into the boys’ locker room while I dashed into the girls’.
I emerged from the girls’ locker room as the boys came out of theirs. Benjamin was still unconscious as we passed him to get to Remus and Peter and ran together back towards the castle, avoiding large raindrops as they pelted us through our dry robes. Once we got inside, we slowed only long enough to dry our shoes to avoid slipping.
As we jumped down the stairs, I noticed Remus was having a bit of a problem keeping the Murtlap essence cloth over his face. A few times, it slipped from over his would, revealing a pink burn on his cheek. It had obviously healed quite a bit since Remus got injured, but the mere fact that he was attacked again because of me was unacceptable.
We traveled to the most distant classroom in the dungeons, a room not used in over a hundred years if an old scrap of forgotten homework was any indication. Then again, why would this room be used? It was the furthest place from the Slytherin common room and, more importantly, Slughorn’s office.
James skidded to a halt in front the room first, his slightly-damp shoes not having the proper amount of traction. He steadied himself on the door before pulling out his wand, establishing several powerful security spells that would alert us if anyone even thought of coming down this way.
“Is Benjamin here yet?”
I shook my head, reaching back to tighten my hair tie. “I nailed him pretty hard in the head. We might have to wait a bit.”
“If Benjamin were a real person,” Sirius laughed as he went inside, “I would imagine you’d have several assault charges filed against you.”
“If that would have led to a restraining spell placed between the two of us, I wouldn’t mind,” I countered. “Trust me, there’s only been a few times when I was glad Benjamin wasn’t real.” I followed him into the room.
Peter and Remus followed the two of us inside and, once James put the finishing touches on the enchantments outside, James was the last to enter not even a second later.
“Kulinski, let us know when Benjamin arrives,” James said, running his hand through his damp hair nervously. “The rest of you, let’s set up, just in case he’s early.”
I watched the boys work, surveying the classroom as I waited. The room was completely empty except for a large, sturdy steel cauldron embedded almost halfway into the stone floor. The potion inside was bubbling slowly, its silver surface resembling that of liquid mercury. Each burst of a bubble sloshed the liquid within as if it were made out of molasses.
Remus worked for a minute, undoing all the spells he had previously placed on the large cupboard so he and the others could access its contents. Once the door opened, the others began emptying it out completely. James and Sirius levitated two large worktables, the only original objects of this room that hadn’t been redistributed to surrounding classrooms. Peter went in next, taking out the final two ingredients yet to be added to the potion. Finally, Remus went inside and retrieved the book, Moste Potente Potions, to check for the millionth time that they knew the last few steps.
“Marta?” Remus asked, tossing away the Murtlap essence cloth as he needed both hands to hold open the book. “You doing alright?”
“No sign of Benjamin yet.”
Remus smiled. I couldn’t even see the burn on his face anymore. “I’m not asking about Benjamin. How are you doing? Alright?”
“Nervous,” I said. I reached around my neck, pulling off my pendant.
“I’m more excited than nervous, actually,” Sirius hummed from the corner behind me. He waved his wand, putting up the first steps of a powerful shielding charm. The long table was wide enough for two people to stand behind it. Once everything got started, we didn’t want to risk meeting the same fate as my pendant will.
“How are you coming with your charm, Pads?” James asked, straightening up. He turned from his corner. “My desk is a bit longer than yours and yet I’m done first.”
“I wasn’t aware it was a race.” Sirius did one last flick before turning to the rest of us. “I don’t want to burn up like my namesake, thank you very much.”
James just rolled his eyes.
“How can you four be so calm?” Peter wondered, crouching on the ground with the jars resting at his knees. “We are making a very dangerous potion that is supposed to destroy a curse that’s been in existence for over nine hundred years! And you can joke?”
“We’ll be fine,” Sirius said, shrugging off the concern. “Didn’t we-”
“He’s here!” I shrieked, nearly dropping the necklace. I expected to have seen him before hearing him.
“Marta, please.” Benjamin’s image came into focus, though he kept out of arm’s reach. His face was clean of blood, but small scratches from my broom’s bristles remained on his cheek. Unusual, since his injuries never lingered before. “I beg of you. Please. You can do whatever you want, but don’t destroy that necklace. Please.”
“He’s pleading with me not to destroy this,” I reported, keeping my eyes trained on Benjamin. “Finish the potion.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them move. First, Peter got off his knees and handed one jar to Remus. Peter opened the other one, which was covered in a thick layer of frost, and dumped the Ashwinder eggs into the calm potion. As soon as the eggs made contact, however, its silvery surface flashed bright red. The bubbling intensified. James then grabbed Peter, pulling him behind the overturned desk on the other side of the room. He raised his wand, getting ready to finish the strongest protection charm any of the library books could offer.
“-five, six, seven, eight, nine!” Remus finished counting the seconds, tipping the Exploding Fluid of Erumpent horn into the cauldron. He then darted for James and Peter, jumping over the table just as James did one last thing with his wand. That corner of the room glowed blue, a sure sign that they would be protected from random sparks from the potion.
Speaking of which, the potion’s reaction was more violent than before. The surface turned bright orange. The bubbling stopped as hot steam rippled the air above it, warming the entire room in seconds. The last few bubbles that did appear burst long ropy trails across its surface. Their trails were evident a few seconds after each burst, leaving a distinctive line across the surface.
“The Pahoehoe Potion,” Benjamin gasped, looking at the lava-like concoction in the corner of the room. “That’s what you were making?! Don’t you know how dangerous this is? Potions Masters don’t dare take this one lightly!”
“We figured if it was so strong, it had to be powerful enough to destroy this.” I opened my right hand, palm up, displaying the pendant one last time.
Benjamin shook his head back and forth. “What do you want me to do? What? Tell me! I promise, I swear on my grave, that whatever you want, it will happen! I have the power to make practically anything possible!”
“Then there’s one thing you could do for me.” I paused. “I want my mother back.”
Benjamin’s jaw dropped.
“I thought so. Eh-hem. Wingardium Leviosa!”
I swished my wand clockwise, flicking the point hard at the sapphire stone. It lifted off my hand, following the direction where I wanted it to go. It floated through the air, towards the potion, through the rippling waves of heat engulfing the cauldron.
“No!” Benjamin tried to grab the necklace. His hands passed harmlessly through the golden chain. He turned back to look at me. “Marta, please! Please! PLEASE!”
But I refused to let Benjamin’s magic interfere with mine. I maintained magical control, forcing the pendant to hover just over the potion’s surface. When it was in place, I backed up to stand behind the long table with Sirius, who was ready to erect our shielding charm against the potion should something go wrong. I suppose we could have done without the tables, but we wanted to take no risks in case the potion proved to be too powerful.
“Goodbye, Benjamin.” I released my hold on my mother’s pendant.
Sirius finished the last step of our shield charm, tinting the rest of the classroom in a bluish hue.
The pendant and chain fell onto the potion, though it didn’t sink at first. It rested on the surface as it turned bright white.
“HOW COULD YOU, MARTA?!” Benjamin bellowed. He then stumbled backwards as if punched in the stomach. “HOW? NOOO!”
A burst of potion, like a spark from fireworks, shot out of the cauldron with an accompanying bang. One of the sparks hit Sirius and my shielding charm. The charm held up against it, only showing blue ripples across its surface from where the spark hit.
And then, my necklace sank beneath the surface of the potion. And that’s when Benjamin seemed to lose it.
Benjamin smiled, looking at empty air in front of him. “Marta! You’ve been listening to me! I’m touched!” His head then snapped back, as if something had grabbed him by his hair. He stumbled a bit. When he straightened, he looked different. His hair was slightly shorter. His tie and badge had changed to display Ravenclaw colors. “Diana, you’ll do fine on your O.W.L.s. Do you really want to make yourself sick over some silly tests?” Benjamin stumbled back again. As he once again composed himself, his robes changed yet again, this time displaying Slytherin colors with pride. “Rhea, of course Alexander Greengrass likes you! He’s been watching you in class all year! Don’t waste time, go after him!”
Benjamin continued with this pattern. He would say something from an old conversation, twitch, then speak to that witch’s mother.
“What’s going on?” Sirius shouted. The fireworks from the potion had intensified once Benjamin started babbling.
“Benjamin’s losing it,” I called, hoping my voice was loud enough to be heard by James and Remus- Peter was crouching behind his desk and screaming, his hands over his ears. “He’s reliving conversations with all of us. He started with me, then my mum, grandmother, and so on. He’s now in Hufflepuff robes.”
I watched with morbid fascination as Benjamin went back through time, seeming to be unaware of what was happening to him. But I noticed that he hardly switched back to Gryffindor robes. He only wore those colors a few times. Most of my ancestors appeared to be either Slytherins or Ravenclaws. But when he spoke condescendingly at Venus Lupin, he was sporting a Hufflepuff badge.
When I felt there was no end in sight, Benjamin reverted back to Slytherin robes and stayed in them. Until finally, he spoke with the first witch cursed with Benjamin as her imaginary friend. He remained in those colors as his eyes widened, seeming to remember what was happening in reality. He looked up to the ceiling. “MARTA!” His voice actually echoed off the walls. He started to glow white.
When his glow was almost too blinding to look at, he exploded.
Millions, billions of tiny white shards scattered over every inch of the room. When they hit our protective charms, the shields cracked and then broke apart. But nothing hurt us. The broken charm and Benjamin’s magical remains felt warm and soothing against my skin.
The five of us waited in silence for a few moments, all breathing heavily.
“Uh,” James said slowly, his eyes practically popping out of his head and his hair messier than it had ever been in his life, “was I the only one who heard that scream for ‘Marta’ before seeing a big flash of light?”
“You heard it too?” I asked, looking at the boys. “What did you see? Hear?”
“The potion looked like a firecracker show,” Sirius said beside me. “Complete with the firecracker sounds. But like James said, I heard someone cry out for you and then something exploded from right beside the cauldron.”
“He wasn’t calling out for our Marta,” Remus said, climbing over the table and looking into the cauldron. “He was calling out for Marta Pontem. He was still in love with her, remember? Obsessed. Hey, come take a look at this.”
We all shuffled over to the cauldron. The potion, after its fifteen minutes of being active, was supposed to have turned jet black and start solidifying almost instantly. But the potion hadn’t been active for fifteen minutes. And the cauldron before us looked empty.
Empty, except for the indentation on the bottom in the shape of the golden chain and the pendant of my necklace.
“Wasn’t there supposed to be something left over?” Peter asked, appearing amongst the group last.
“It was still supposed to be active for another six minutes,” James reasoned. “Must have taken all this potion’s power to destroy the pendant.”
“At least now it is destroyed,” Sirius said.
“Are we sure about that?” Remus asked. “Marta, is Benjamin really gone?”
“I saw him explode,” I confirmed. “That was the white light you saw, remember? His power broke down.” I looked all around us. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Well, except for the five of us standing in a nearly empty room with a cauldron sunk into the stone floor and two overturned tables in the corners. Except for that, everything looked normal. “Benjamin? Are you still there?”
No one answered me, ordinary or otherwise.
“I think he’s gone,” I said. I felt myself start to smile. “Benjamin’s gone!”
“That’s great,” Remus started.
“But I know one sure-fire way to make sure he really is gone for good!” I pushed past James and grabbed two chunks of Remus’s robes. Pushing him back two steps to stand against the wall, I stretched up and smacked my lips against his. A moment later, I had him in a full-force snog. My heart pounded hard in my ears as every fiber in my being told me not to stop.
But just as Remus was getting over the shock and I felt him start to relax, I reluctantly pulled away. I was sure my face mirrored his expression of pure joy.
“Wow,” James whistled.
“Benjamin would have had a fit if I tried to do that in front of him,” I reasoned. “Remus, feel any discomfort?”
“None at all,” he grinned.
“Well I do,” Sirius said lightly. “Now that this is over with, the others and I have only a few short hours to get to that April Fool’s Day prank. Lucky, we’ve been set up for the last two months.”
“Then let’s not waste any time,” James said. “Remus, you and Kulinski mind putting everything back the way it’s supposed to be?”
“Nope,” Remus said, glancing down at me. “If I’m not with you guys, I won’t get in trouble.”
James snickered. “C’mon, Wormy, there is mischief to be made.” He ran out of the classroom, Peter following at his heels.
“Have fun, you two,” Sirius said, pausing at the door out of there. “You both totally deserve each other.” He gave a thumb’s up, then ran after his fellow Marauders.
The door wasn’t even completely closed before I had my lips covering Remus’s once again. This time, he was ready for me, and I felt him return the kiss wholeheartedly. When his hand reached up to caress my neck, I shivered in pure pleasure.
At one point, we broke apart to get some air. Panting, I looked into his amber orbs. I never wanted to look away from them again. “Be my boyfriend?” I asked.
Remus nodded, grinning. “Girlfriend?”
“Definitely.” And with that, we continued to snog in the dungeon classroom, safe in the knowledge that no one, real or imaginary, would interrupt us.
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