Chapter 11 : XI: Shattered Innocence
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I was floating. Somewhere. It wasn’t bright. It wasn’t dark. It was just there.
And I didn’t care. Because I just wanted everything to be a dream. A really long, painful dream. I will wake up and it’ll still be sometime in August. My mum will come into my room, sit at the edge of my bed, and give me a hug. Dad will pull up a chair (or just transfigure one) and pat my hair, whispering calming words until I fall back asleep. Please, let me still be at home, and everything I’ve learning in third year have just been a bad dream.
But I knew I was lying to myself, even while I was still in the clutches of unconsciousness. Four months ago, I was happy. I didn’t know my real mother died in childbirth. I had never heard of people like Remus Lupin or Marta Kulinski. And it never crossed my mind that Benjamin, my imaginary friend, could be anything but a helpful, older brother-like guardian.
But I couldn’t unlearn the truth. I couldn’t just take the knowledge I had gained and lock it in a box somewhere and lose it forever. That wasn’t the way my mind worked.
My mother was dead, killed by a curse that has plagued our family for nearly a thousand years. But why was our family cursed to begin with? Benjamin was actually part of that curse, which was created by a real person by the name of Benjamin Gaunt. But what did he have against my ancestors? And I’m really a Pureblood? That meant Marta Kulinski was a Pureblood. So who was my father? He had to have been a Pureblood too, but what happened to him? Was he also killed? Was he forcibly separated from me?
I felt a massive weight take over me, pulling me down into the conscious world. No, I didn’t want to wake. I wanted to dream it all away. Let me rest here, where I could still pretend the truth didn’t really exist.
However, the more I fought, the heavier I became. I could feel my arms and legs take shape, pinning me down at four points. My head seemed to be filled with lead, as if the harsh truth had been poured in and hardened to keep me down with an ever-present force. And my body ached, feeling both a warm presence and a cold chill.
I kept my eyes closed as my other senses returned to me. I was lying down on a stiff bed. The sheets felt crisp, too crisp, under my fingers. There was a stale yet sanitary scent to the air. Soft footfalls crossed the room around me, passing back and forth with a hint of routine movement. And, yuck, there was even a bitter taste in my mouth. I definitely didn’t need to open my eyes to know I was in the Hospital Wing.
But as soon as I realized where I was, and the aftertaste of some kind of regenerative potion made me want to vomit like I did on the first of September, I couldn’t sit still any longer. My muscled ached from resting on my back for so long. I wanted a glass of water. And a sudden itch bothered my nose like no other itch had done in my life.
I moved to scratch my nose first. I opened my eyes as the annoying itch moved to my left ear.
“Oh, you’re awake now, are you?” Madam Pomfrey asked, shuffling over from the other side of the Hospital Wing to stand at my bedside. “How are you feeling now, Miss Perks?”
“I’m feeling like if you asked me to drink that potion while I was conscious, I would have thrown up.” I looked around. The sky outside was already dark. Drops of water clung to the window panes, suggesting it had just recently rained. “Uh, how did I get here?”
“Professor Lupin brought you in,” Madam Pomfrey said, then prompted me to open my mouth so she could see my throat. “Said that after his class, you stayed behind to ask him something, but you became faint and passed out. Brought you straight here.”
“Professor Lupin . . .” I had no choice now. I couldn’t pretend that our last conversation hadn’t happen. Lupin had known my mother. But I couldn’t have guessed exactly how much he knew, or how much I didn’t know about myself.
“Yes,” Pomfrey continued, placing the back of her hand against my forehead now. “He said you seemed a bit distracted during class as well.” She pulled back to get a better look at me, shaking her head back and forth. “Miss Perks, you should have come to me first. I’m not saying Professor Lupin is an incompetent teacher- he’s probably the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we’ve had in years!- but I could have assisted you with your problem far better than he can.”
I looked up at the school nurse, my jaw dropping. Madam Pomfrey also knew about the curse? And better yet, she knew of a way to break it?!
Madam Pomfrey surprised me when she sat down at my bedside. She smiled gently at me. “I’m not sure if you’ve had this conversation with your mum, but now is as good of as time as ever. You do know what happens when a girl starts growing into a woman, right?”
If my jaw weren’t already hanging open, it would have dropped again. In fact, I was surprised that it stayed attached at all. I half expected my jaw to fall off my face and land in my lap. I mean, really?! Madam Pomfrey was giving me ‘the talk’ that my mum had discussed with me since I was ten years old?
Well, after a rather uncomfortable half hour of hearing about what other changes I could expect besides my first of many ‘monthly reminders of womanhood,’ I was just about ready to die of embarrassment. At least if I died of embarrassment, then this family curse I just learned of would end with me.
My stomach growled just as I realized that I should have been eating dinner by now. Hopefully if Madam Pomfrey heard my stomach, she would actually let me talk. Her speech gave me no opportunity to switch from what I now considered a ‘monthly curse’ to my family curse.
“Oh, is it dinner time already?” Pomfrey checked the clock of the far wall. “Well I suppose I should let you go down to the Great Hall. Did you have lunch today? That might explain why you fainted after class. Would you like some chocolate to go? I have a large supply this year, what with all the Dementors in the area.” She waved her hand to a table closer to her office. A giant brick of chocolate rested on its surface. And, if I wasn’t mistaken, a hammer and chisel rested beside it, ready to break more of the giant block into eatable pieces.
“Uh, no thanks-” I started.
The Great Hall doors opened up at that moment. Parvati and Dean came running in, both looking a little winded.
“She’s here!” Dean huffed, doubling over to catch his breath, his shaking hands clutching his knees.
“Should have thought to look here sooner,” Parvati added. Some hair had fallen out of her braid and wandered into her face. She brushed the offending strands aside. “Sally-Anne, what happened to you? You never showed up for History of Magic.”
“Not that I blame you,” Dean added. He finally straightened up but he was still panting slightly.
“What are you two doing here?” I asked them.
“We were worried about you,” Parvati answered. “Even whenever you skive off History of Magic, which you really shouldn’t do as often as you do, I usually find you in our dorm.”
“Or at least in the library,” Dean said. “We realized you were missing when you didn’t show up to dinner, and you never miss a meal if you can help it. We saw Professor Lupin in the Great Hall and asked him where you went after class. He told us you fainted and he brought you here.”
I was slightly annoyed that everyone was saying that I fainted earlier. But that feeling was overshadowed with the reason why I passed out in the first place. I had to tell them. Just like when I got my family tree, I knew I couldn’t tackle this new problem by myself. I needed as much help as I could get. My fingertips grew numb as I took a deep breath.
“My imaginary friend is trying to kill me!”
I had tried to sound serious when I said that, but that last part might have come across with a slightly manic screech. That probably didn’t help my credibility.
Dean just broke out into a wide grin, looking ready to laugh at some unspoken punch line.
Parvati sighed sadly, shaking her head back and forth in a disapproving way.
“What?” I asked, looking between the two of them.
“An imaginary friend?” Parvati asked skeptically. “Aren’t you a little old to be talking of such things?”
“I think it’s funny,” Dean said, finally laughing. “Good one, Sally-Anne! Haven’t heard you use that one before.”
“That’s because I’m telling the truth!” I insisted. Oh no, how can I get them to understand? I wasn’t making up stories this time. If I wanted their help to find a way to get rid of this curse, they needed to take me seriously first. “My life is in danger because of my imaginary friend! Well, actually, he’s not really an imaginary friend, but . . .”
Parvati, Dean, Madam Pomfrey, none of them looked like they were taking me seriously. I looked between all of them, hoping for the impossible.
“They won’t believe you, Sally-Anne.”
I jumped, gasping at the voice.
Benjamin appeared, standing between Parvati and Dean. The mad expression I had last seen him with was gone, but his expression wasn’t carefree either. His eyes were dull now, bored-looking.
Benjamin shook his head, cutting me off. “They will never believe you. How can they? In the last two and a half years that your friends have known you, you’ve spun dozens of fables to explain your interaction with me. You’re put yourself in this position.”
I pressed my lips together. Maybe if I told them everything, about Marta Kulinski and the others in my family-
“They won’t believe you! Do you know what will happen to you if you insist to everyone that I really exist?! You will end up in St. Mungo’s!” Benjamin paused, a hint of a smile crossing his face. “Your mother spent a week there when she was eight years old, simply because she wouldn’t shut up about me to your grandfather. I was able to free Marta because her young age was on her side. You? Ha! You will spend your teenage years in one room with Healers prodding your mind.” He took a deep breath, releasing it through his mouth slowly, ruffling his fringe for a few moments. “I don’t intend for this curse against your family to end with you locked up in a padded cell for the rest of your life.”
So it was true. It was all true. Benjamin spoke the truth, much as I didn’t like it. What else could I do?
“I guess you got me,” I said, smiling weakly at Parvati and Dean. I stood up and straightened my robes. “Maybe I can think of better excuses on a full stomach.” I looked over my shoulder to Madam Pomfrey. “I am free to go, aren’t I?”
Pomfrey nodded, though she didn’t look all that pleased. “If you feel faint again, I want you to come straight here. Understood?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I walked between my friends, through Benjamin, and linked my arms through theirs. “If I pass out on the way, just drag my carcass through the halls and force-feed me until I wake up.”
The words were there, but I didn’t feel the energy behind them. I let myself get escorted to the Great Hall. I couldn’t even recall the route we took. It was all just a fog to me as I struggled to comprehend exactly what had just happened.
The higher noise level of a filled Great Hall during dinner brightened my mood a little. Most everyone was half way through their meals. Near the front of the Gryffindor Table, Lavender, Seamus, and Dean had three empty seats saved for us.
I sat between Parvati and Lavender, who promptly asked me what was wrong with me. I told her I would share it with them up in our dorm later.
Dean shared what I had said in the Hospital Wing with Seamus and Neville. Neville smiled at the ‘story,’ but Seamus didn’t want to let it go.
“So Sally-Anne,” Seamus asked, “you still sleep with a teddy bear at night too? And do you suck your thumb?”
“Of course,” I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes as the girls giggled. “I also still wear a diaper under my robes. And my mum visits me in my room every night to tuck me in and sing me a lullaby. How could you not know that about me?”
That got us then talking about what our parents used to do for us when we were toddlers. Neville shared a funny story about how his Gran used to scare him when he was little because her silhouette from leaving his dark room made her look like a monster.
While laughing about how Dean let ‘slip’ that Seamus apparently wet the bed until he was seven, I took a bread roll and looked up at the professors’ table. And lost what little appetite I had.
Professor Lupin was staring at me. Of course, he looked away as soon as he was caught, but I had a feeling he had been looking at me for a few minutes at least. He was the only other person in this school who knew that I knew, that know more than what I knew.
I looked back at my friends just as dessert was being served and Seamus and Dean got into a little bit of a food fight. Lavender leaned away from them and instead had apparently asked me a question. When it was clear I wasn’t listening the first time, she leaned back to ask Parvati the same thing behind me.
“Not really,” Parvati answered our friend. “Sally-Anne, coming?”
“Do you really want dessert tonight?” Lavender asked.
Considering the fact that I hadn’t eaten the bread roll, I shrugged a shoulder. “Hadn’t given it a thought. We can go.”
When I glanced at the professors’ table one more time before leaving the hall, the Defense Against the Dark Arts chair was empty.
Once in the safety of our dormitory, I told the girls about the conversation I had with Madam Pomfrey. They giggled, of course, when I told them about how embarrassing her lecture was. Not once did I bring up the whole Imaginary-Friend-Who-Wants-To-Kill-Me subject. I mean, if Parvati didn’t believe me, then I knew there was no chance of Lavender being even remotely sympathetic to my larger problem.
The rest of that Friday night was as normal as any other. I managed to convince my friends to play Exploding Snap with me. We had fun, the bangs from the cards competing with the thunderstorm that had just rolled in outside.
As we played, I realized that I kept getting eights in my hand. I started one game with the eight of hearts. When I discarded it, I quickly gained the eight of clubs. Then I got the eight of diamonds. Once I got the last eight, the eight of spades, my hand exploded, leaving me in a thin layer of dust.
Lavender and Parvati didn’t think much of it. Lavender was grateful that we were playing on my bed. But I wondered if either of them thought about the Divination reading they had me do three months ago. Did they still remember the individual cards? Did they remember the second card, the Eight of Swords?
Parvati started falling asleep a few games later, with only the cards exploding giving her any sort of wake-up call. We decided to call it a night. And while Lavender helped tuck in Parvati, I got started on cleaning off my sheets. In the end, I wound up stripping everything off my bed and just beat the dust off.
The Eight of Swords. As I remade my bed, I thought about the card that I couldn’t figure out earlier. And my father didn’t make it into the conversation with Lupin and Benjamin earlier. In fact, I was certain that there was more about this curse against my family than what I just learned.
I tried to fall asleep, hoping I would think of what to do next while waiting for sleep to overtake me.
The storm outside died down again, the only sound outside being the wind as it blew through the trees.
Hermione came up sometime around midnight. Her cat Crookshanks came up with her, purring as he curled up with his exhausted owner.
Around one o’clock in the morning, I was still wide awake, the complete opposite of everyone else in the dormitory. Feeling that sleep wouldn’t take me until I got more answers, I broke down and called him.
A dark, crouched form appeared in the space between Hermione’s and my beds. From my position, lying flat on my stomach with my head turned to the left and resting on the upper right corner (if I had been laying on my back it would have been the right side, anyway), Benjamin looked small and harmless.
I grabbed my wand from my nightstand. “Lumos,” I whispered. I wanted to get a better look at him. He squinted a bit as my wand light shined in his eyes. He looked up at me with concerned eyes.
“Having trouble sleeping, Sally-Anne?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. If everyone else was sleeping, they shouldn’t notice the light too much. But if I spoke too loudly, I would have a good chance of waking someone up.
“What can I do for you?”
I hesitated. I could remember the feeling of pure terror earlier this afternoon. But now, he looked ready to cringe away from me if I even uttered a threatening word. How could he do this?
No, I had better questions to ask. I could figure out Benjamin’s abilities later.
“What became of Marta Kulinski’s family? I know her mum died too because of this curse, but what about the wizards in her family? Her father, grandfathers?”
Benjamin’s eyes narrowed as he pressed his lips thin. “Marta never told her father about getting pregnant with you. Those two were never close- I made sure of that. The only other relative that she had ever met was her maternal grandfather, but he went missing during the wizarding war.”
I sighed. So my great-grandfather must also be dead. “But is my grandfather alive?”
Benjamin shrugged, making him look awkward while crouched down like he was. “After you were born, I never felt the need to torment Kazik again. Traveling to and from Poland after getting my revenge on your mother seemed too trivial.”
My breath caught in my throat. How could he talk about my mother’s death like that? He really didn’t have any remorse for what he had done. A little voice in the back of my head (my own voice, not Benjamin’s) reminded me that Benjamin had been doing this for centuries. He must have only been pretending to care about me for all these years. So I shouldn’t trust the humble appearance he gave me now.
But there was one final question I needed to ask Benjamin. “What about my father? Who was he? Did he know about you?” Okay, I knew that was a stupid question right after I asked it. If my father knew about Benjamin, he would have known that getting together would Marta would have spelled certain death for her. No one could be that much of an idiot.
Benjamin stood at that point, so fast that my eyes stung as they tried to follow him up without me moving my head. “Look, I made a poor choice when I decided on your father, okay! He doesn’t know you exist, and you shouldn’t even bother with him! He’s nothing! Discovering his identity will not help you whatsoever!”
“So you know who he is-” I started.
“Obviously! The only things you got from him were your hair, eyes, and inability to sit properly in a bloody chair! That’s. It!”
Benjamin turned around and stormed off. He disappeared before he could walk through the bathroom door. A moment later, the dormitory was illuminated by a flash of lightning, a signal that another storm had moved in.
I listened to the weather outside intensify. With a harsh downpour pelting the tower with large raindrops, I finally fell asleep close to two in the morning.
I woke up closer to lunchtime on Saturday. The dormitory was empty as sunlight streamed in through the windows, a rare sight after so much gloomy weather lately.
“My dad had or has black hair, grey eyes, and is obviously a Pureblood,” I said to myself, rubbing the sand out of my eyes. “Thanks, imaginary fiend, for that helpful hint.”
As I got myself ready for the day, I made a plan for myself. I would have lunch, then go to the library and look up information on Pureblood families. I’ve seen a section with Pureblood genealogy books there before, near the History of Magic section. I ran down the stairs, planning to look for names of wizards born in the fifties and sixties whom my mother might have partnered up with, then-
I nearly ran into Dean as I entered the common room.
“Morning, Dean,” I said.
“It’s closer to the afternoon, but that’s okay,” he said. He held up my book bag. “You forgot to take this yesterday.”
As I took the strap of my bag, I suddenly remembered all the homework I still had to complete before the end of the term next Friday. I had been lucky that nothing had been due last week, but I had at least three exams to study for and four papers still to write before going home.
“Thanks, Dean,” I said, struggling to smile. “Just what I needed. You wouldn’t happen to have taken any notes in History of Magic yesterday, did you?”
And that was how I ended up spending my entire weekend in the library. With Hermione. It seemed that she didn’t trust me not to run away with her precious notes and fold them into origami animals. Oh well. At least with Hermione around, I felt guilty about thinking about my new quest for my father’s identity. I was impressed on how I finished my History of Magic essay, my Transfiguration essay, and my Charms essay by Saturday evening.
On Sunday, I wrote out my Potions essay, Herbology homework, and Ancient Runes translations.
Monday morning, I studied my eyes out over breakfast, reading and rereading my Arithmancy notes. Our exam wasn’t until Thursday, but I was determined not to let that class’s grade suffer. I was still tied with Hermione after all.
“Glad to see you’re sort of back to normal,” Parvati said on our walk to Potions Monday morning.
“Or at least as normal as you get,” Lavender said.
“Thanks. I think,” I yawned. We got to our usual table in the dungeon classroom and took out our books. When Professor Snape arrived, I made sure to turn in my homework after Lavender but before Parvati, making certain that Snape didn’t have an excuse to consider it late. I might even get lucky and score a five out of ten today.
During classes over the next few days, I really wished that I could confide in one of my friends about what was really wrong with me. No one would ever believe that I had a curse on me. If I went to any of the professors, they would simply send me to the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor- Lupin. I didn’t want to talk to him again. At least he didn’t call me out during the last lesson of the term.
But I knew what all of my friends would say. I saw their reactions last Friday night after all. I was on my own.
“At least my mother had some friends to help her,” I sighed to myself Thursday night. I sat on a chair close to the fireplace, my sketchbook open. I drew a witch riding a broomstick, a girl who looked a lot like me but with brown hair tied back into a ponytail and blue eyes. Marta Kulinski. If my mother was alive, I wondered what she would think of me drawing her picture. Would she be flattered? Embarrassed? Because of the curse, I will never know.
I was just starting on the background, the three hoops that the Keeper defends in Quidditch games, when someone tapped me on my shoulder.
Looking back, I was amazed to see Harry. What was he doing here?
“Hey Sally-Anne,” he said. His black hair was a little damp. Considering the time, he must have just gotten back from Quidditch practice.
“Hi, Harry,” I said. Figuring he must have seen me drawing a Quidditch player already over my shoulder, I angled the book so he could better see the image. “My interpretation of what my mum looked like flying a broom. What do you think?”
“You got the uniform right,” Harry said. “You’re really good at drawing.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Uh, do you need something?”
“Well, since you’re obviously thinking about your mother, and I don’t want to get in Ron and Hermione’s way . . .”
I turned around. On the other side of the common room, Hermione had Crookshanks wrapped in her arms. Ron’s rat Scabbers seemed to be shivering in his back pocket. The two looked to be in a heated disagreement.
“Smart thinking,” I nodded.
“Did you find out anything else about Marta Kulinski?”
I hesitated. I didn’t feel as close to Harry as I did with my other friends. Then again, Harry, Ron, and Hermione mostly kept to themselves. But they help give me guidance where my other friends lacked answers.
“Actually, I got a response letter from one of mother’s old teammates,” I said slowly, considering my words carefully. I didn’t want to risk freaking him out and having Harry just go up to his dormitory to escape my oddness. “Marta Kulinski really was my mother. I got confirmation.”
“About her,” Harry said, “wait right there. I came across something the other day that I think you should see.”
Curious, I watched the most famous wizard in the school run up to his dormitory.
Harry came back down about a minute later, carrying a large book in his hands. He flipped it open, stopping just a few pages into the front. “I was looking through old photos of my parents the other night and came across this picture. Our parents were teammates on the Gryffindor Quidditch team when they were students.”
“Yeah, I saw their names together in the trophy room.” I took the book and studied the picture Harry pointed to.
It was of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, sixteen years ago. Seven faces looked up from the book. Three players standing in the back row, two players kneeling, and two sitting on the ground.
“No, I will not get rid of him!” Hermione’s voice rose above the normal chatter of the common room.
Harry and I looked back to his two best friends. “I’ll be right back,” Harry said, moving off as more people stopped talking to look at the pair bickering over their pets.
“In all honesty, I didn’t think rats were even on the approved pet list,” I muttered before turning my attention back to the photograph to study it more carefully.
As I did, I remembered the plaque I saw in the trophy room a few weeks ago. Four girls, three boys. My mother sat on the grass in the front row, the only Keeper on the team. She looked bored, the only non-smiling face. But it was my mother.
The girl sitting on Marta Kulinski’s right must have been Erin Miller. She was a tiny little girl, but that’s what teams want their Seekers to be like. She wore a bright smile, waving occasionally at the camera. She looked nice enough. Sounded nice enough in her letter to me too.
The two players in the middle of the lineup had to be Paulina and Paul Stevens. I had wondered if the same surnames meant they were siblings or cousins. But seeing how the boy and girl kept poking each other with their bats every few seconds, those two must have been brother and sister. Besides, their parents must have had a strange sense of humor in giving them similar first names.
There were three people in the back row. The Chasers. The only girl Chaser must have been Wendy Lewis. She was a good head shorter than the boy standing to her left.
The boy in the middle had round glasses and a terribly messy haircut. If that wasn’t a picture of James Potter, I would make an Unbreakable Vow to never speak again. James Potter laughed for the camera, his left arm draped over the seventh player in the picture.
The final player, the third Chaser for the team, that had to be the norotious Sirius Black.
He had black hair.
He had grey eyes.
He was laughing with James Potter.
He was a member of the Black family, an infamous Pureblood, albeit almost dead, family line.
Sirius Black was around my mother’s age. He had my hair. He had my eyes.
No. I had his hair. I had his eyes. I had his blood . . .
“NO! THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!” I snapped the book shut with a loud thud.
I hadn’t realized the common room had gone quiet to watch the fight between rat and cat owner. Only when I came out of my thoughts did I hear Hermione and Ron stop in their arguments and look back at me.
I felt my face burn red. No one knew what I was thinking. But everyone was looking at me. I had to think of something. Something to break the silence. I couldn’t have Harry look at the picture later and see the connection I just made.
So I turned around the situation, turned the attention away from me like I always knew I could.
“It’s almost Christmas,” I said, feeling bolder than I felt. I walked up to Harry, who looked like he was still trying to figure out whose side to take. I shoved the photo album at him while looking between Hermione and Ron. “Get into the Christmas spirit and forgive each other!”
I then turned sharply on my heel, got my sketchbook and book bag from my chair, and stalked up to my dormitory. As I opened the door, I heard the normal noise level return.
“Just one more day of classes,” I whispered to myself. I closed the door softly behind me, trying to remember which classes I had to get to tomorrow.
Instead, I just watched my hand shake as I removed it from the door handle.
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