Chapter 20 : Epilogue: One Journey's End is Another's Beginning
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Soft piano music wafted through my flat, filling the endless silence with a gentle melody that always relaxed me. The wireless was positioned on the mantle of the fireplace in the living room but I could always hear it clearly from wherever I was in the flat. Presently I stood in the kitchen, my elbows resting on the edge of the sink while my hands were submerged in soapy water. The bright afternoon sun shined through the window over the sink, illuminating everything in its golden glow.
I suppose I could have tried my hand at using magic to wash my dishes. But my magic never seemed to work properly after I left Hogwarts. So I did dishes, and all my other household chores, the Muggle way. Yes, my hands ended up wrinkly and smelled funny. And using a vacuum gave me a headache. Even washing my clothes always seemed to take forever.
But really, what rush was I really in? I had no friends. I hardly spoke aloud anymore. And I was on leave from the Montrose Magpies this season, so I didn’t even have Quidditch games to look forward to. With those thoughts, I closed my eyes and ran my dish rag over my lunch plate, spending more time than necessary on it but feeling no urge to hurry up and finish.
A loud knock sounded at my door, breaking the tranquility of my early afternoon routine. At first, I wondered if I heard right. Was there really someone knocking on my door? Maybe it was a visitor for one of my neighbors. No one would want to visit me. So I ignored it.
A minute passed before another, louder knock echoed through my flat. Yes, the knocking certainly was on my door. Someone must have gotten the wrong flat number. Pushing myself off my elbows, I left the dish and rag in the soapy water, dried my hands, and shuffled lazily out of the kitchen, across the living room, and towards my door.
I passed Benjamin on my way. He sat motionless in his chair, looking out the window and down at the streets of Muggle London. He had been that way for months now, never saying a word. He just sat there, his head resting on the open palm of his left hand, his index finger running up the side of his face while his middle finger rested on his upper lip and the other two fingers hid his mouth from view. He never blinked as his eyes seemed to be continuously unfocused, never seeming to notice the changes outside as the weather went from autumn to winter and now early spring. I figured a while ago that he was reviewing his memories of his favorite ancestors of mine. I was too boring to keep his attention anymore.
A third knock, more like a banging, shook the door. If whoever this was knocked down the door, my landlord will be pissed with me. He never liked me since I had first moved in after my seventh year of Hogwarts and Benjamin caused the entire place to flood.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I called, undoing all the locks except for the chain at the top. Taking a deep breath, I pulled open the door far enough to peek out. “Sorry, but you have the wrong-” I stopped as I looked up at the visitor.
My hands started trembling behind the door. “Hello, Remus.”
I then looked away, back towards Benjamin. He remained motionless. I didn’t know if he was aware of Remus’s appearance or not. He should have seen Remus walking up the street, unless Remus just Apparated inside and then found my door. But since Benjamin wasn’t giving me directions, I had to use my own judgment.
“So,” I said, finally looking back out through the crack, “are you lost? I mean, why are you here?” I thought about our last conversation nearly three years ago. Time alone couldn’t make me forgive or forget the horrible things I had said when I was forced to break up with him.
“Actually,” Remus said slowly, “I came here to see you.”
I felt my face grow warm. I tried to force myself not to blush as I continued to look out at him. Now I knew he must have Apparated into the building. I mean, he wore wizarding robes, the same as I wore, so he couldn’t have simply walked up the street with the Muggles in order to pay me a visit.
“Are you going to let me in?” Remus asked patiently. He pointed to the chain keeping the door from fully opening.
I sighed, closing my eyes. Remus didn’t sound excited like he could have found Benjamin’s counter-curse. It didn’t exist. But he genuinely sounded like he wanted to see me. What should I do?
I closed the door without looking back at Remus. I reopened my eyes at the door, looking at the chain keeping the door from fully opening. I could just walk away. I knew Remus would leave if I asked him to. He wouldn’t be happy about it, but he would still respect my wishes. My hand hovered over the other locks. I could easily close them and walk away.
But instead, I pulled the chain across its course, then released it. It clanked softly against the doorframe, its metal links all making slightly different pitches of noise. I then turned and walked away from the unlocked door.
I just entered the kitchen when I heard the door open. Remus called tentatively for me, but I didn’t answer. When Remus cautiously stepped into the kitchen, I had my back turned to him as I continued doing my lunch dishes. All three of them.
“Why are you here?” I asked again, not even looking over my shoulder at Remus. “You haven’t approached me, or even spoken a word directed at me, in nearly three years. Not since I- since I had to break up with you.” My submerged hands gripped the rim of the plate. That single worst moment in my life still haunted me in my dreams.
But Remus didn’t answer me at first. I heard the lone chair slide away from the small table as Remus took a seat. He then commented casually, too casually actually, “You don’t seem to have a lot of knick-knacks. Lily and James have been living in their house for barely half a year and already it’s brimming with odd little trinkets.”
“I never saw the point in getting more than I need,” I said. I already heard that James had married Lily. He wore her down during our seventh year. But I didn’t care about old classmates. I was more interested in the matter at hand. “Why are you here?”
Remus let out a long sigh. “Maybe because when I went to see a Montrose Magpies game on my birthday a couple of weeks ago, which I have been doing since we left Hogwarts and you joined their team, I realized for the first time that you weren’t playing. Maybe because I then found out that you haven’t played a game all this season. Maybe because it took me this long to pester your captain and convince her to tell me your home address so I could see that you’re okay. Why aren’t you playing this year?”
I couldn’t pretend to wash the dish any longer. I put it up on the drying rack and moved onto the glass. I shoved the rag into the base and started turning the glass slowly while still submerged. “I’m on sabbatical this year. I’m expected to play again in September. But . . .” But I couldn’t just explain it. I drained the water out of the glass and gripped it tightly in both hands, the rag balled up at the bottom.
I turned around slowly, giving Remus his first view of my eight-month pregnant belly.
Remus jolted out of his seat with such force, the chair flew back and smacked into the wall, then clattered to the floor noisily. His jaw hanging slightly agape, his amber eyes couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to look at my face or my stomach.
“Surprise, I suppose,” I said weakly. I glanced back at the drying rack. A lone drip of water ran down the back of the plate. “I’m pregnant. Saying I’m on sabbatical sounds better than maternity leave. And in case you were wondering, I’m not . . . not even married.”
Now I couldn’t even keep my eyes open at anything. I closed them tight, the shame of admitting this to another person after my Quidditch captain being almost too much to bear. I felt my heart start pumping faster in my chest, the sound drowning out the piano melody and replacing it with this unpleasant rhythm.
Meanwhile, Remus seemed to get over his state of shock. He didn’t filter any of his thoughts as he asked, in quick succession, “Do you know what this means? How did this happen? When? Why didn’t you tell anyone? Who is the father?!”
“You won’t like the answer,” I replied softly.
“Oh god.” I heard his shoes take a few steps closer to me. I could feel that he was close but he didn’t place a finger on me. “Marta, do you know who the father is? Was it even consensual?”
My eyes snapped open. I gaped up at him. “I wasn’t attacked!” I promised. I couldn’t believe that Remus had thought this baby had been conceived through foul play. Then again, he will like the truth even less. “Remus, I know the father. I’ve known him for years. And at the time, we did it because of the heat of the moment.” I was certain that my face was red by just talking about this. Especially with Remus. I still couldn’t believe that he was here, standing in my kitchen. “Please, Remus, promise you won’t tell Sirius.”
For a moment, I was afraid that Remus was about to have a heart attack. He lost all color in his face. His shoulders slumped to practically nothing. I saw that while Remus still looked like Remus, he had aged visibly in the two years since we left school. A man at the onset of his twenties shouldn’t have any strands of grey hair.
“How could Sirius be the father?!” Remus demanded. “We’re talking about the same person, right?! His main idea about the difference between the sexes is that men and women have to use different restrooms! He never cared about all the girls at school who were batting their eyelashes expectantly at him! Hell, Sirius can’t understand why James is excited about being a dad! What a hypocrite!”
“Sirius probably doesn’t even know anything ever happened!” I yelled, tears falling from my eyes as I tried to explain the truth.
“How can someone not know they had sex?! You don’t get a baby from a simple handshake!”
“BECAUSE EVEN I DON’T REMEMBER DOING IT!” I screamed. I sobbed back a fresh wave of tears. I hiccupped. I then heard a crash. My hands had lost their iron grip on the glass. Millions of tiny shards splayed out over the kitchen floor, the light from the window making them all look like glittering diamonds. The largest pieces were still smaller than my fingernails.
“Not now,” I sobbed, kneeling down as best I could over the mess. I withdrew my wand. “Reparo. Reparo. Come on, you stupid glass, it’s just a simple spell! Reparo!”
But I knew it wasn’t my spell that caused the glass to reform. Remus took the repaired glass and placed it gently onto the counter. He then took my arms and guided me to stand, then walked me out of the kitchen without a word. He initially went to have me sit down in Benjamin’s chair, but when I muttered “Occupied,” Remus changed our course and sat me down on the left side of the couch instead. After a brief hesitation, he sat on the right side, practically squeezing himself against the armrest to give me as much room as possible.
We were both silent for the next few minutes. I knew that I was lost in my own thoughts. I couldn’t believe I just shouted that out. Why did I feel the need to even mention Sirius in the first place? I hadn’t even spoken his name since that night last July.
“So, how did it happen?” Remus whispered.
I looked back to Remus. I needed to see his expression before I chose whether to tell him or not.
But Remus wasn’t looking at me. He sat at the edge of the couch, both feet resting flat on the floor. His upper body leaned forward, most of his weight being supported on his elbows, which rested on each knee. His hands were interlocked in front of him and his eyes looked forward but without any focus.
“You mean how did I go from just accepting Benjamin’s constant sabotage of my life to being a mother-to-be who isn’t making any visible plans for adding a baby to her life?” I shrugged a shoulder, readjusting myself in my corner of the couch so I could be both comfortable and see Remus. “What would have made me just decide to throw away my life and sleep with one of your best friends, knowing full well what would most likely follow?”
“Yeah,” Remus said, hardly moving. His ears turned bright red, though. “That. How did it happen?”
And so I told Remus the truth. A truth that I hadn’t spoken aloud to anyone. A truth that I regretted even recalling to myself as I watched this new life within me grow.
It had happened after the last game of the season. My team, the Montrose Magpies, were playing against the Falmouth Falcons, the roughest team in the League. Our Seeker got knocked out of the game five minutes in. Our only hope of winning was for the Chasers to score like crazy and for me to block as many Quaffles as I could.
But of course, the Falcons wouldn’t be content until they saw me down as well. About an hour into the game, a Bludger got past our Beaters while I was defending a shot. I took the bloody thing to my back. I didn’t exactly lose consciousness, but I was dazed enough to only manage to cling to my broom and hover just a bit over the ground to stay in the game. When my mind cleared enough for me to get back to my hoops, the Falcons had managed to score an impressive number of points. I only had five minutes to do my job before the Falcons Seeker caught the Snitch and ended the game.
I was told by my teammates that our loss wasn’t my fault. But I still felt guilty about letting everyone down. If I hadn’t let myself get hit like that, we might still have ended up winning the League Cup despite losing to the Falcons. Hell, we might have ever gotten enough points to allow us to compete in the European Championship.
Once I had finished changing, leaving my robes behind to be cleaned and my broom to be serviced for the post-season attention they both deserved, I emerged from the locker room expecting to Apparate back to London.
But one person was waiting for me. Sirius. He clapped for me, then approached, saying that he saw the game and thought I was excellent. After all, most players after being struck by a Bludger like I had would just let go and fall completely to the ground, their landing signaling that they were out of the game. He offered his hand and offered to buy me a drink to celebrate nevertheless.
Three hours later and after many shots of hard liquor, firewhisky being the tamest of drinks we sampled that night, we laughed ourselves out of some random pub, arms linked and babbling about some stupid conversation that only drunks could concoct. The last thing I remember asking that night was how to Apparate to my flat when I couldn’t even remember how many arms I was supposed to take with me.
And then everything was a blur. I had no idea whether we Apparated away, called for the Knight Bus, or sprouted wings and flew like birds.
But in the morning, I found myself in Sirius’s bed. Naked and with a hangover, the stench of alcohol and sweat permeated the room. Just as I was awake enough to put the pieces together, Benjamin appeared before me.
He wore his widest grin. His eyes seemed to dance in genuine happiness. “Congratulation, Forty-Six,” he said cheerfully, “you’re pregnant! I can’t wait to meet your daughter!”
I dressed and went home before Sirius could even think of waking up. By the following Monday morning, I had made out my will and had it filed within the Ministry of Magic.
“So you see,” I said softly over a half hour after I had started, “I don’t remember doing anything. It wouldn’t surprise me if all Sirius remembers of that night is leaving the Quidditch pitch before the bright idea to see me occurred to him.” I pressed my palms against my temples. “It also wouldn’t surprise me if Benjamin orchestrated the whole thing, from Sirius even attending the game.”
“I see Sirius all the time,” Remus said. His position had remained the same during my story. “I’ve thought about it, and he never once even mentioned you in the last year. No one talks about you.” Remus’s hands tightened their grip around each other. “At least, they don’t talk about you in front of me. They still think that I’m the one who broke up with you.”
Now it was my turn to be surprised. “You didn’t tell them what I told you?”
“And then what?” Remus snapped, finally moving just slightly to look at me out of the corner of his eye. “Do you realize what they would have done to you if they thought you broke up with me because of my lycanthropy? You would have been the target for all of their pranks. And skill or no skill, you would not have been on the Quidditch team during our seventh year. They would have made your life a living Hell.”
“I was already in Hell. But maybe that would have been best.” I paused. “Then I wouldn’t have this.” I patted my hand over my belly.
Remus finally moved the rest of his body. He sat back on the couch but still looked a bit too rigid at being there. He also angled himself to look in my direction. “How long do you have? I mean, when are you due?”
“Oh my god.” Remus started shaking his head back and forth. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to stop Benjamin. I should have looked harder. But I didn’t want my friends or anyone in the Order to find out about Benjamin’s continued existence.”
Remus waved his hand. “That’s not important now. Just know that I’ve learned more since Hogwarts than all of our Defense Against the Dark Arts classes combined. I’ve even come in contact with some, er, shady groups and individuals. But nowhere have I heard about any counter-curse to Benjamin, or even a way that Benjamin was created in the first place. Whatever magic Benjamin Gaunt put into this, it was old and powerful.”
“I never expected for you to find the counter-curse,” I said. “I’m going to give birth to my daughter, and then she’ll be an orphan.”
“Orphan?” Remus shook his head. “But surely you have someone else to raise her. Your father or grandfather?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t spoken with my father since the end of Christmas holiday seventh year. I moved into this flat right after we finished school. There’s no way I’m going to tell him about this and hurt him more than I already have. And Grandfather-” I took a deep breath. “He disappeared a bit more than a year ago. I read something about it in the Daily Prophet after my letters to him came back unopened. I don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
I tried to hide my tears from Remus. That seemed to be the only thing I could do around him. I thought I had accepted my situation. But his arrival, speaking about the truth of this situation and my impending demise, shook me. I was only twenty years old, after all. How could it be that when I met the person sitting beside me on this couch, I was almost halfway through with my life?
“I’m sorry,” Remus whispered. “I didn’t know. I should have been there. But I-”
“You couldn’t have,” I interrupted. “Benjamin would have killed you.” At least now, since it was too late to do anything for me, Remus was safe.
“I know,” Remus sighed. “I also spent a lot of time trying to think of a way to get around that.”
“That makes two of us.” I then gasped, straightened a bit as my hands went to my belly.
“What is it?” Remus asked, his posture stiffening again.
“She kicked.” I giggled. “Here, Remus, put your hand here. She’s quite an active little thing. Doesn’t like to sit still for long.”
Remus seemed hesitant about putting his hand on me. So I pulled him forward and we waited. When my daughter kicked again, I saw the smile spread on Remus’s face. For the smallest of moments, we forgot what this child would bring and simply took delight at laughing at the aerobics routine happening within me.
After a minute or two, when my daughter settled back down, I released Remus’s hand and scooted back further into the couch. “She’ll be safe,” I said. “Benjamin will protect her, no matter what family comes along to adopt her. Because his discovery could be blamed on my mother, Benjamin promised not to punish my daughter for what I did. He reasoned that I only involve you and your friends in my business because Diana started it all.”
“You’re really ready to roll over and let Benjamin win?” Remus asked, sounding disgusted. “There still must be something you can do. A way to prevent Benjamin from transferring to your daughter at least.”
I shook my head. “She already has my cursed blood. Even though she hadn’t been born yet, Benjamin is already attached to her as her imaginary friend. But since she won’t know her family, she won’t be able to track down her family tree.” I looked back to where Benjamin sat. He hadn’t seemed to have moved after all this time. “I’m doing the only thing I can do. Ignorance is bliss. I only wish my mum had been that considerate for me.”
“I still refuse to give up.” Remus then stood. “Why don’t you give me your mother’s diary for safe keeping? Maybe I can try to find a way to read it for myself. There has to be a way to make the ink visible to others, and then maybe I can discover something we missed before.”
“I know you’re planning on saving it for my daughter,” I said flatly. “But you can’t have it.”
“Because I destroyed it three years ago, shortly after breaking up with you.” I also got to my feet. “Please, don’t interfere with my daughter. I want what’s best for her, given the circumstances.”
“That’s all well and good,” Remus said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice, “but then she’s going to be shocked when she realizes that she’s dying after giving birth to her own daughter, which could have been prevented.”
I shrugged. I had no desire to fight with Remus. I just wanted to give up. It was easier this way.
“Look, there’s still a chance we can beat this,” Remus said, walking to the door. “I have to check some things. We’ve still got two weeks to figure something out.”
“There’s no ‘we,’ Remus.”
“Just take it easy,” he continued, ignoring my comment. “I’ll pop over tomorrow. And no, I won’t tell the other Marauders.” Remus’s eyes flickered to my belly again. “So long as I’m alive, I’ll search for a solution to your curse. Everything will be okay.”
Remus then left my flat. When I opened the door to peek outside, no one was on the landing. He must have Apparated away by now.
“Oh Remus,” I sighed, closing and locking the door behind me. But as I walked back to the kitchen, an abrupt sensation struck me, making me wince. I leaned onto the couch’s arm to keep myself steady. What the-
“Honestly, I thought he would never leave.” Benjamin stood from his chair. He straightened his robes. When he turned to look at me, he wore the widest grin. “Didn’t you know, Forty-Six? Babies can be born perfectly healthy before the due date. And your family has a tendency for delivering babies slightly preterm. You’re going into labor now. In just a few hours, I’m going to meet your daughter!” He clapped his hands together. “I’m going to run ahead. Catch up when you can!”
“I’m having the baby now?!” I demanded, panicking. No, this couldn’t be happening! I wasn’t due for two weeks! Remus just left with a promise to see me tomorrow!
“Labor usually precedes childbirth,” Benjamin said slowly as if I were completely stupid. “Don’t worry, I’ve seen this done forty-five times before. This is one part of my job that I will never get tired of.” He walked up to me. Look down into my eyes. “Goodbye, Marta Diana Kulinski. I wish I could say it was nice knowing you.”
Benjamin then faded slowly. The last part of him I saw was his perfect white teeth, smiling wickedly down at me.
And then I was left alone.
I looked around my flat. A couch, a chair, and an end table. No pictures. A clock rested above the mantle of the fireplace. Beside it rested the wireless, still filling the flat with peaceful music. It was actually Benjamin that found this flat for me, simply for the fireplace that could be connected to the floo network.
My feet shuffled towards the fireplace. A tiny part of my mind reminded me that I still had water in the sink. I should drain it before I left. But why? Chances were good that someone would come around and collect all my possessions before the Muggle authorities could wonder how I left this flat with all the locks still secured.
I shouldn’t delay. I felt another contraction ripple through me, reminding me that my daughter wanted to enter this world early.
“I’m going, I’m going,” I murmured. I reached up and scooped up a fist full of floo powder. I didn’t trust myself to Apparate lately. I threw the powder into the fireplace, which ignited instantly.
Stepping into the emerald flames, having to stoop a bit in order to fit, I took one final look at my flat. It was a nice place. Though I didn’t really think of it as home. It had merely been somewhere for me to sleep since leaving Hogwarts. Realizing I had virtually no attachment here, I turned my attention to my destination. The thought of going there made me want to vomit.
The last place I would ever want to go.
The last place I would ever go.