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Chapter 17 : XVII: The Storm Outside Looks Nearly Over
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“So, Benjamin’s really gone.”
“How long now?”
“Two weeks. Two terrific weeks.”
“Do you miss him?”
“Do you regret destroying him?”
“Nope. You know why?” I leaned forward, brushing my lips against Remus’s before settling back down. “I could never have a boyfriend as fantastic as you if he were still around.”
Remus’s ears had become pink when I kissed him, and they only intensified as I finished my answer. He shifted about on his bed a bit, his sandy-brown hair falling across his eyes as he found a better place to rest his head against the pillow.
I reached forward to push the hairs out of his eyes, letting him keep his right hand resting on my waist. “I’m not too bold with you, am I? I know I’m your first girlfriend and all . . .”
“You’re fine,” Remus said quickly, his voice squeaking a bit. When I giggled, his blush spread to the sides of his neck. “I suppose I was a bit obvious that I liked you in this way.”
“Maybe.” Finished playing with his hair, I let my hand slide back down to the narrow gap between us. My fingers brushed over the buttons of his robes, twitching a bit as if wanting to undo them. “Although, I hate to admit, Benjamin did help give me strong willpower. I can, for the most part, resist my impulses.”
“And what impulses are you tempted to act upon?” Remus whispered.
I smiled over at him. “Impulses that would require Pettigrew to do his homework in the common room, at least.”
“Huh? Did you call me?” Peter sounded surprised to hear his name spoken. “Am I doing something wrong? I’m trying to be quiet for you.”
“You’re fine, Pettigrew,” I sighed, forcing my head deeper into Remus’s pillow. “Just ignore-”
“Peter, what time is it?” Remus called.
“Uh, it looks like it’s ten minutes until midnight. Why? Something wrong?”
“Nah, just didn’t want to move around too much just to check my watch. Go back to your studying. Feel free to ask for help if you need it.”
I just glared at Remus until he was finished speaking. Then, in a hissed whisper, I echoed, “‘Ask for help if you need it’? Really? Why not just invite him to do his homework at our feet?”
But Remus looked ready to laugh. “Don’t worry, he knows not to interrupt us as long as we’re just laying here.”
“Two weeks, three hours, and forty-four minutes. That’s exactly how long Benjamin’s been gone. And your friends are still worried about me hurting you?”
“Not exactly.” This time it was Remus who reached up to readjust my hair, tucking stray strands behind my left ear from when I had moved a bit because of Peter. “Are you forgetting? We may have helped lift your curse, but I’m still cursed.” His gaze left mine as he seemed more focused on making my hair look perfect. Or rather, focused something else.
“Remus.” I took hold of Remus’s hand, lowering it from my head and replacing it on my side. “I don’t care that you’re a werewolf. I’ve told you that. Benjamin was the prejudiced one. Your curse only takes hold once a month.” I ran my hand up Remus’s arm and all the way up to his collar. I pulled the cloth back a bit, revealing a few scars. I couldn’t tell if they had been there for a few months or a few years. “Twelve hours a month, you’re not yourself. I’m the one who had to endure my curse twenty-four hours a day. That’s seven hundred six hours of cursed time for me to your twelve. And I didn’t have any real friends to help me. Until you, of course.”
But for some reason, Remus looked at me the same way he did when I first revealed Benjamin to him. Eyes wide and mouth hanging open a bit, his speech was a bit slow as he spoke, as if still putting his sentence together. “How were you able to pull that number out of thin air like that?”
“I have had quite a bit of time to think about our respective situations, you know. And there are twenty-nine days for the lunar cycle. I added ten hours to make up for the instances where full moons are thirty calendar days apart, just to give the average time. Why?”
But Remus just chuckled. “Why didn’t you sign up for Arithmancy with me? Then we’d have another class together.”
“Are you joking? I’m not smart enough for that class! That and Ancient Runes are two of the hardest elective courses!”
“You say you’re not smart enough, and yet you manage to multiply large numbers in your head just for the heck of it? I keep telling you that you’re not as dumb as you say.”
Huh? Well, my math tutor when growing up had said I was good at numbers. But after the whole St. Mungo’s thing with my father, I didn’t really give my studies all my effort anymore. And Benjamin had always offered to help.
“I hate Benjamin.”
“Then you definitely don’t have regrets about destroying him. Care to tell me how many hours he’s been gone then?”
I thought about it for a few seconds. “Three hundred thirty-nine hours.” I smiled, knowing what was coming next. “And as for minutes, he’s been gone-”
“Hold that thought. I want a proper calculation. Peter! Time, please!”
“That would make it twenty thousand, three hundred ninety-two minutes he’s been gone,” I said after a brief pause. “Although if you want to know how many seconds, you can do that one yourself. I didn’t exactly look at the seconds hand on my watch when I finished snogging you two weeks ago.”
“No, you’re fine.” Remus took a deep breath. I could practically feel his heart start to race. “It’s just that, well, I can’t believe I’m actually here with you.”
“You say that whenever we snog anywhere else,” I teased. “Now what would be incredible is if you and your friends could figure out a way to lift that Glisseo spell on the girls’ staircase. Then the two of us-” I paused. “Actually, forget that. If Potter ever had a chance to follow Evans up to our dorms, I think she would kill me.”
We both laughed at the thought, imagining the mock-massacre that would ensue from the impossible situation. I sobered first, thinking back to the many times Benjamin followed me up to my dormitory without a second thought.
I felt Remus staring at me. He wouldn’t ask this time. He would just wait for me to shrug off any good or neutral memories of Benjamin. Despite his nature, Benjamin had been good to me for a while.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I closed my eyes, hoping to escape into unconsciousness.
Soft pressure against my lips wiped sleep from my mind. I let out of a soft moan, enjoying the kiss that I hoped would lead to more. Or as much as we could get away with considering one of the other three Marauders was keeping an eye on us.
“Don’t apologize.” Remus pulled away. When I realized he wouldn’t offer any further kisses, I reopened my eyes. Remus just smiled at me. “Marta, when was the last time I got you a present?”
“Huh?” I thought about this. Last Christmas? Nope. Birthday last year? No, O.W.L.s kept us from our usual ‘hi, how are you?’ exchanges. Same with that Christmas. “Uh, two years ago, maybe, so fourth year? I’m sorry, but I don’t remember-”
“I got you a lousy book,” Remus said. “I remember because I got the same book for Sirius and James that year for Christmas. It was a Quidditch handbook. But my point is that I owe you several presents. You always remember my birthday and Christmas.”
“Not hard considering you like chocolate. Didn’t know you were an apparent chocolate addict because your monthly curse requires a chocolate remedy.”
“Among other treatments,” Remus added glumly. Brighter, he continued, “What I’m trying to get at is that I don’t want you to think that I went overboard with your gift. I’m just paying you back, and, well, since you’re turning seventeen, it’s kind of a big deal.”
Now Remus fully moved. He rolled over, turning his back to me as he fumbled with something over the edge of his bed. When he rolled back, he looked ready to burst from his smile. “Happy Birthday, Marta.”
It was a small grey box, wrapped in a simple red ribbon. I had to prop myself up on my right elbow to get a better look at it. And once I pulled the ribbon off and opened the top, I nearly fell back onto the bed hard. I kept looking from the present to Remus and back again.
“Do you like it?” Remus asked hesitantly. “If you don’t like it, I can get you something different.”
“I love it,” I whispered, my voice practically gone. I lifted up the new golden chain, and with it a small charm. Half the length of my index finger, the slender gold beam ran up towards a tiny hoop. Embedded within the hoop was a small gem. As I lifted it higher, it caught the light and reflected beautifully. My eyes started tearing up as I realized it was golden miniature of one of the Quidditch hoops I guard, complete with a ruby Quaffle resting within. It was too breathtaking for words.
“I figured that this could replace your cursed pendant,” Remus reasoned. “And, well, maybe if you have a daughter, if you decide to have children at all, you might want to give it to her personally. Make a new tradition.”
Just then, that was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to me. That was when I lost it. Tears flowing freely, I lurched forward and wrapped my arms around Remus’s neck. I tried telling him how much I loved the present, how I truly felt about him, but my throat kept betraying me. I settled for just laughing as Remus wiped my tears away. The tears subsided as Remus finished clearing my eyes and pressed his lips against mine, applying the perfect amount of pressure that made me want to just melt in his arms.
“Okay, okay, time’s up! I need our Keeper well-rested for tomorrow morning’s practice! Don’t expect us to sit out on the stairs all night!”
Remus and I pulled apart as the dormitory door slammed open. I turned in Remus’s bed to look at James as he entered first, doing my best to look irritated while it was probably evident that I just finished crying and kissing mere seconds ago.
“What?!” James asked, returning my stare unaffected. “We gave you a few minutes past midnight, just like Remus told us to do. But we need to be in the air in just under eight hours. Now get to bed. Go!” He pointed the still-open door.
“You all knew about this?” I asked, holding up the necklace to show the boys.
“Of course,” Sirius shrugged, looking a bit bored. “Moony kept worrying himself into fits, paranoid you might not like the idea of getting another necklace, seeing as how the last one turned out.” He then grinned. “We made certain that it’s a necklace and nothing more.” Sirius opened his trunk and rummaged for his sleep clothes.
“Thank you,” I smiled. “Um, before I go to bed then-” I turned back to Remus. “Would you mind putting it on for me?”
Remus did, his fingers lingering over my collarbone as he made sure the chain was long enough. The charm rested perfectly against the top of my sternum. Once it was settled, I couldn’t help but run my fingers over it. It was different from the sapphire stone I had worn for years, but I loved this necklace so much more than the old one.
“Goodnight then,” I said, turning to give Remus a brief kiss before getting off his bed and straightening my robes.
“Mates,” Remus said, “can’t Marta stay here tonight? I promise, nothing slightly weird will happen. It’s her birthday, after all.”
Peter looked about ready to agree with Remus. Then again, Peter was much more willing to accept me after we destroyed Benjamin.
Sirius too looked like he was going to agree.
“No way,” James interjected. “When I get Evans to date me, would any of you let me spend the night with her in my bed?”
“Hell no! Marta! Your dorm! Now!” Sirius pointed to the door. “Go on, we need our sleep for when Prongs becomes evil tomorrow morning.”
“No going easy for the birthday girl?” I begged sarcastically. But I still grabbed my book bag and headed for the door.
“Be grateful we’re doing practice in the morning,” James said. “That way you’ll have the rest of the day to spend with Remus. Now go! Or you’re going to have to fly laps for an hour while the rest of us have breakfast in the morning!”
“Okay, okay! See me? Walking out the door? Here I go!”
As I closed the door behind me, I heard Sirius ask Remus, “How can you even still be snogging? It’s been two weeks! Aren’t you getting bored with that yet?”
Chuckling, I crept up to the girls’ dorms and slid into bed, grateful that Sirius still had no clue about what boyfriend/girlfriend relationships were really about.
Sirius was right, though, about James still being evil during practice. He took no mercy on me just because it was my birthday. By the time practice was over, I was sweaty, winded, and cranky. Fortunately, having Remus meet me outside the locker rooms eliminated my cranky mood. And the walk back up to the castle, hand-in-hand, gave me a chance to catch my breath. And after my shower, I was no longer sweaty and therefore felt no guilt in hugging Remus in a firm grasp before we headed down to lunch.
“I noticed some owls came looking for you earlier,” Remus said as we ate. “Did you get any more presents?”
“Who really cares?” I asked, pulling my new necklace from beneath my robes. “This present can last me the rest of my life.”
“A really, really long life,” Remus added encouragingly.
I smiled at the reminder. I wanted to add something to that, something about the possibility of him always being with me, but I decided to save it for a time when we will be able to measure our relationship in months. I had plenty of time for that, after all.
So after lunch, I went up to the girls’ dorm to check for presents. Three packages rested on my nightstand. I must have missed them when I came in earlier for my shower. Then again, I didn’t want to waste any time in getting back to Remus. I grabbed the packages and met Remus in the common room. One of the large armchairs was empty, so we squeezed together. I didn’t mind the closeness, and Remus apparently enjoyed the opportunity to put his left arm over my shoulders and hold me close.
“I’m actually used to only getting two presents,” I admitted. “Grandfather usually gets me a present from himself, and then he gets me something from both himself and Father. Of course, Father doesn’t really get me anything.” I sighed. I looked at the stack of packages. One large, one medium, and one tiny.
“Well, let’s see what Grandfather got me this year,” I said, pulling out the largest box first. It was pretty light considering its size.
And, like I expected, it was a set of dark violet robes. My fingers lingered over the velvet material as I sat up to pull the entire set from its box. There was a note pinned to the front, wishing me a happy birthday from my grandfather. Of course, Grandfather always got me nice robes.
After putting them back into their box (though they didn’t seem to fit as nicely anymore), I opened my next present- an alarm clock. The package said it had an automatic Reparo charm on it. As long as it wasn’t incinerated or vanished away, it would last through three thousand smashes against the wall or floor. The note with it said it was from both my father and grandfather, but it was written in Grandfather’s handwriting. Slughorn probably commented about how I was sometimes late to class when he was here for the last Quidditch game.
But the third box perplexed me. It was so small, it easily fit in the palm of my hand. I couldn’t even begin to guess what was inside. The plain paper wrapping gave my name, but the handwriting wasn’t that of my grandfather.
“What’s wrong?” Remus asked.
“I don’t know who this is from,” I said. I squinted at the handwriting. It looked vaguely familiar. “I think-” I gasped, finally placing it. “This present actually is from my father!”
“You sure?” Remus asked. “I thought you said he doesn’t give you presents.”
“He doesn’t. I mean, he hasn’t in the last few years.” I turned the box on its side, pulling open the wrapping. The box inside was a dull brown. When I lifted the lid, a small golden key rested on a black cushion.
“Okay, if this is for my mum’s diary, in which he probably doesn’t even know that I have it in the first place, this is about a month late.” I passed the key to Remus.
“No, this is a Gringotts vault key.” He turned the key over in his fingers a bit, studying it. He then eyed the box’s lid. “Looks like there’s a note in there. What does it say?”
A note? Indeed, it rested snugly on the interior of the lid. I had to dig my fingernail into the corner just to bend the paper enough to help it escape its confinement. I then unfolded it twice to read the short message, again written by my father.
Your mother’s will dictated that her vault key, and all its contents, be left in your possession once you turned of age. Do not squander her last gift she left for you. Put the funds to good use and make her proud, as I have been of you these past seventeen years.
“Love Dad?!” I repeated, my eyebrows raising. “Since when have you been a real dad to me? And you’ve never been proud of me!” I looked at the paper, as if it would respond in his voice.
The note remained just as it was and it didn’t seem likely to change its message anytime soon.
I looked at Remus. “I don’t know what kind of joke my father is playing at, but this isn’t funny. Does he think he’s humoring me?”
“From what you’re told me about him, he doesn’t have any sense of humor.” Remus read the note himself. He then picked up and examined the package wrapping, probably comparing the handwriting samples. “Though you also just said he doesn’t get you any presents for your birthday.”
“Yeah, because it’s just a reminder that he lost my mum the day he got me.”
“What does your mum have to say about him?”
I shrugged my left shoulder. “She was totally taken with him. It’s almost like the man my mum describes is a different person than the man who technically raised me.” I reached into my robes, pulling out my mum’s diary. I still carried it so I would have at least something of hers in my possession at all times. “Benjamin.” The lock clicked open and I instantly turned to a few of the back pages.
“It says here that my father seemed to go out of his way to find her when they met in Cairo,” I summarized, flipping through the pages. “And as my mum moved about to the different tombs of the pharos, ‘Kaz’ always had some kind of work in the vicinity and often suggested they have a lunch date together.”
“Kaz?” Remus echoed. “Isn’t you father’s name Kazik?”
I nodded. “It was the nickname she gave him. Though he doesn’t seem the type to appreciate anything so informal.”
“Did your mum ever talk to him about Benjamin?” Remus asked.
“Yeah.” I flipped to one of the last entries. Instead of summarizing, I just read aloud what my mum had written a bit over seventeen years ago.
24 of March, 1960
I tried talking to Kaz about Benjamin again today. I’ve already told him about my family curse and how it will definitely overtake me when I give birth to you, Marta. I have just a little less than a month left of my pregnancy, but Kaz says there is nothing to worry about. He thinks my work as a curse breaker made me a bit paranoid in curses being around every corner. I only wish that were the case.
I love Kaz so much, and normally his laugher brightens any room he happens to be in, but hearing him laugh at such a serious matter stabs into my heart. I know he will no longer laugh once he learns how right I am. I ask him every night if he would be a good father to you if he had to raise you alone. He just kisses my forehead, promises to be the best, and reminds me that I will be a fine mother myself. If only he knew I fall asleep crying when he says those loving words to me.
And though I haven’t seen Benjamin in years, I know he is still watching me. I can feel it. He’s waiting for you to be born, Marta, so he can take out his revenge on you. I’m so sorry I failed you. But I know that when Kaz sees that I was right, that I died in childbirth and he has to raise you alone just as my father had to with me, he will do everything in his power to help you banish Benjamin. That knowledge helps me know that you will have a better life than me.
I closed my eyes after reading that page. It was one of the last entries, and the last one that sounded even remotely composed. The last three entries had been written in a less legible hand and all conveyed the fear and anxiety of dying.
Remus’s arm held me firmly, trying to reassure me. “Are you okay?” he whispered softly.
I nodded, willing myself to calm down. “I think about Mum every day,” I said. “The way she described my father right there, does that sound like the same person I spend the summer and Christmas holidays with?”
Remus shook his head. “No,” he said slowly, “but do you remember what he was like when you were little? Before . . .” His voice trailed off as he looked away. “Before you met me?” he finished.
“Before St. Mungo’s?” I closed and locked the diary, turning the Gringotts key over in my fingers slowly. “I was just a little kid. I thought he was okay. Not exactly the most fun person to be around, but I got the impression he cared about me.” I thought harder, trying to remember more. “One of my tutors was always watching me when Father was at work. And when he came back at the tutor had left, he would always ask me what I had learned.” I gasped, not believing I couldn’t see the answer sooner.
“What? What is it?”
“I talked about Benjamin all the time,” I said. “I would chatter on and on about him during dinner. And-” I focused harder. I remember seeing how Father looked a bit grumpy, but I thought that was what all adults looked like after a long day at work. “I was constantly bringing up Benjamin and what he was also teaching me. I never considered that Father knew he had been Mum’s imaginary friend as well. He was probably angry at himself for not believing her! And here I thought he was mad because I wasn’t growing up fast enough!”
“But why would he act all distant around you?” Remus asked. “If your mum wanted the two of you to be close-”
“Benjamin probably had something to do with it,” I interrupted. “I’m certain of it. He must have done something to my father. He never really was the same towards me after St. Mungo’s. Then again, I had little to say to him. Benjamin told me to-” I gasped. “Benjamin told me to not be as nice to him! To start keeping secrets from my own father! Benjamin hated my father for what he did to me, and I picked up on that dislike! Benjamin is the one who destroyed my family even further!” I clutched the diary, my fingers turning pure white.
“Marta! Benjamin’s gone! Remember?” Remus placed his right hand over my hands and leaned forward so he could look straight into my eyes. “Everything he’s done can’t be undone.” He reached forward with his other hand and picked up the note from my father. “But read this again. Does it really sound like the person you thought disliked you? He’s trying to tell you he still loves you. He probably doesn’t even know Benjamin is gone yet. But he wants what’s best for you.”
I reread my father’s note. My shoulders lowered as I eased myself next to Remus. I listened to his heartbeat. Thoughts of my father and Benjamin swirled around my head. One thing Benjamin once said last Christmas echoed through my mind above the rest.
‘No, Kazik did not say anything to you while you were sleeping.’ Benjamin had been acting a bit moody, not looking away from the ceiling as he lounged on my bed. I brought this up to Remus, wondering if he would reach the same conclusion I did.
His amber eyes widened as he thought this over. “He repeated your question back at you, saying your father didn’t speak to you,” he whispered. “But what if-”
“What if Father came into my room that night and spoke with Benjamin?” I asked. I nodded. “My thoughts exactly. I want to know what happened. If Benjamin could communicate with my father somehow, what kind of exchange did they have? How often did they talk? Did Father try to find a way to break my curse without letting me know anything about it?”
Remus shook his head. “I couldn’t even begin to guess.”
“The Easter holiday is almost over,” I said. “Now I wish I had gone back home to speak with him in person. I guess I’ll have to settle for writing him a note, telling him the good news.” I smiled at the thought. “I know I can’t get my mum back, but maybe having my dad back will be good enough.”
“Whatever makes you happy,” Remus said, hugging me close. He listened carefully as I ran ideas past him on how to break the good news to my father. And even though I wouldn’t be going home for another two months, part of me was finally looking forward to seeing him.
That thought elated me for the rest of my birthday. After dinner, I wrote the first draft of my letter to Father, not wanting to send anything less than perfect. I had to break the news to him just right. And I wanted to send him the next date for our Hogsmeade weekend as well. Maybe news like this might spark him to actually meet me at school.
My day couldn’t have gone more perfectly. Remus eventually decided to quiz me on a few of our subjects. Except for Transfiguration, he said I was doing perfectly fine on my own mental powers. We talked about everything and nothing. We headed up to his dormitory and snogged on his bed, this time with a Quidditch-strategy-planning James as our chaperone. And, once again, James, Sirius, and Peter had to kick me out of their dormitory when they wanted to get some sleep.
As I snuck around the girls’ dormitory, trying not to awaken any of my roommates as I slid into bed, I imagined how perfect my meeting with Father will go. We might even go to visit my mum’s grave. And somehow, everything will turn out just fine. My life was finally my own. With that last thought, I closed my eyes, hoping for pleasant dreams.
“Oh no. You’re not going to sleep just yet. I still want a word with you.”
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