the courage of stars
“How could you leave me to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do all on my own when you told me that you’d follow me anywhere, that you’d never leave me?”
The moment that Benjamin Gray had asked her to marry him, in the tent at Havencroft with the steady thrum of rain against the canvas in the backdrop, Tatiana had known that things would change. She could never go back to being young, naïve Tatiana Penvrane; her grandmother had just died, and she’d committed to training and fighting in the war alongside the Order. Her marriage was something of the future to look forward to, to keep her fighting.
She’d told him that she wouldn’t marry him until after the war was over (after it was won was actually what she’d optimistically said) so that her parents and all their friends who hadn’t gone into hiding with them could attend, and he’d agreed to wait. They’d already promised to spend a lifetime together; there was no point in rushing it – not until the reports came in, at least.
“We think that we’ve been found,” Daniel told her privately one morning as they sat by the campfire and ate their breakfast. There was a crease between his eyebrows as he spoke, and he looked around to make sure that no one would hear them until it was officially announced.
Tatiana placed down her slice of toast, her appetite suddenly lost. “How soon?” she asked thinly.
He looked almost too grim to reply, but then he answered, “Likely sometime tomorrow.” When she let out a breath in surprise, he added quickly as if delivering the bad news this way would be like ripping off a band-aid, “And there’s a lot of them. They’re likely to have us surrounded.”
She glanced away, unsettled. “Do you think it’ll be a bloodbath?”
Daniel didn’t answer, but she saw him nod out of the corner of her eye. “We’ll have to make preparations as soon as possible,” he said, stacking his empty plate beneath hers and standing. “Do you have any last affairs you want to get in order today? Supplies you need for healing or anything of that sort?”
She stood as well, picking up the plates and absently fiddling with her half-eaten toast. “I want to get married today,” she replied decisively.
The crease was back between her brother’s eyebrows. “Without Dad or Mama there? Or any of your friends back at home? I thought you two wanted to wait until you got out of hiding.”
“If you think it’s going to be that bloody, I’d rather that we got married now. We could very well be killed tomorrow; when we get out of here, I’ll have a proper ceremony and reception, but I have to do this now.” She stared him down. “You won’t be able to change my mind on this one.”
He still looked a little bit surprised that she would want to get married now when she’d been so adamant that she was going to wait until later to do so, but nodded slowly. “If it’s what you really want, then I’ll help you find someone to officiate. Will Benj agree to it?”
Tatiana began to pick her way over the logs around the campfire. “I’ll convince him.”
“Darling,” started the young woman as she pushed past the canvas door of the tent and nearly caught her jumper on it. “Will you marry me?”
“I thought we’d already agreed to that,” Benj replied lazily from the bed. “Or do you want to propose this time? Because if so, I hope you know that I’ll require nothing less than the entire one knee and sappy speech thing. I like to be wooed.”
Tatiana rolled her hazel eyes but crossed the room to him and knelt at his side, clasping one of his hands. “Benjamin Oscar Gray,” she started very seriously, “the Cadena is likely to have found us by tomorrow and we’ll have to fight for our lives.” He sat up at this, alarmed, but she held up a hand to stop him from saying anything until she was done. “I love you, and before the battle, I don’t want to have any regrets. If I die tomorrow, I want to have married you first.” She squeezed his hand. “So will you marry me? Tonight?”
Benj still looked concerned at the mention of the Cadena, but he locked blue eyes with his fiancée and then smiled. “Of course I’ll marry you tonight.”
Tatiana grinned and tackled him for a kiss.
They were married a few short hours later, Tatiana having scrounged a white dress from her clothes and Benj having been able to somehow scramble a tie from someone. Two trees were transfigured into an arch, and a smattering of their friends who were in hiding with them were present as Tatiana walked down the (dirt) aisle with her brother in place of her father to the chorus of the bouquet in her hands singing the wedding march. The young couple exchanged smiles, vows, and rings (also transfigured out of daffodil stems). And finally came the time when they were declared husband and wife, and she stood on her toes to kiss Benj, perhaps a bit less chaste than she would have planned to at her wedding, but with the tensions and passions running high in what felt like their last day before all-out war, she didn’t feel any shame.
They ran back down the dirt aisle hand in hand to the sound of their friends clapping, with Tatiana throwing the daffodil bouquet behind her, barely even glancing back to see who caught it. Right before they reached their tent, Benj reached down and scooped her up with hand under her legs and the other supporting her back, and she giggled as he led her in.
“Did you light these?” she asked, her eyes shining as she looked around at their small tent, now illuminated by a series of small, glowing lanterns that hung in various intervals around the tent.
Benj delicately placed her down on the bed. “Well, seeing as we won’t get a proper honeymoon for a while longer, I thought that I might as well do something special. Do you like them?”
“I love them,” Tatiana replied, and then moved closer to the blonde man as he too sat on the bed, “and I love you.”
He pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and then began to unloop his tie. “You never told me what you decided to do with your last name,” mused Benj as he dropped the tie on the ground wrapped his arms around her, “Are you keeping yours? Hyphenating? Do you want me to take yours?”
She shook her head, chocolate locks bouncing, and then explained, “I’m taking yours.” She grinned impishly. “You have to address me as Mrs. Tatiana Gray now.”
Benj grinned. “Well, Mrs. Gray, now that we’re married, we should celebrate. When we’re out of here, I’ll take you to Spain on a proper honeymoon.”
“Spain? How romantic. You can dazzle with me with your extensive knowledge on Spanish,” she replied teasingly but still beaming.
“That’s one goal. The other is to convince you to name our firstborn Ignacio,” he replied, matching her tone.
“You’re ridiculous,” murmured Tatiana, but unable to hold herself back any longer, she leaned into him. Benj tipped her chin up and kissed her, and finally, she was able to put aside any thoughts of the impending war or danger that would soon be upon them and lost herself to her love.
The shouts rose in volume and desperation and Tatiana’s eyes shot open in alarm, her heart quickening. “Darling, wake up,” she whispered quickly, struggling to untangle his body from hers where they lay together. He groggily rubbed at his eyes as she pulled off her sheets and scrambled on the ground for her clothes where she had tossed them the night before. Though the camp had had forewarning that the Cadena would arrive that day, even Tatiana hadn’t expected it would be before the sun rose, and especially not when she’d only gotten a few hours of sleep before this.
“Are they here?” questioned Benj, noticing how quickly she dressed and then he hastened to do the same.
“Yes,” replied Tatiana quickly as she hunted for her wand before she found it underneath the bed. She spun back around and grabbed him by the collars of his still-unbuttoned shirt and kissed him quickly and fiercely. “Protect as many people as you can, but please stay safe. I’ll see you when this is over. I love you,” she said breathlessly but very seriously. She pressed another quick kiss to his cheek and then dashed for the door as he shouted back after her that he loved her too.
It was already carnage outside. She nearly tripped over a body just coming out her tent and had to duck under the onslaught of spells that shot over her head before she straightened back up and dove right into the fray.
Tatiana didn’t know how long the actual battle lasted amidst the adrenaline and the Cruciatus Curses and other particularly unpleasant spells that made her shriek in pain and sapped her of all energy, but eventually, even it came to an end with the rising of the sun on a new day.
She limped through the battlefield, stopping occasionally to bandage a wound that looked particularly nasty. The Cadena had been destroyed and the few remaining had been either captured or scattered, but not before they had taken a devastating number of lives. She herself had seen her own best friend killed in front of her without being able to stop it, and had run on vengeance for Chastity’s murder before it was only grief that fueled her. Now she was running on the little energy she had left to do her duty as a healer for the wounded and dying left in the forest, but when she could find no one else in need of medical assistance, she finally left the battlefield.
She could see her brother embracing his wife, and the thought of seeing her own husband reinvigorated her. Tatiana started forward more briskly toward the throng of the people who now emerged after evacuating the camp of the children and trying to keep them safe; she saw Seren, but made a note to check in with her after she saw her husband.
Unfortunately, the blonde woman had other ideas and grabbed the brunette and spun her around. “Let’s go this way,” she said hurriedly.
Tatiana shook off Seren’s hand. “I think he’d be this way, Seren. Did you see him? He’d probably be with a little kid who needed him.”
There was no response, and in a heartbeat, Tatiana knew that something was wrong. She glanced sideways at her best friend. “Tatty,” Seren started, her voice thick, and the brunette could see now that her best friend’s eyes were rimmed with red – not from lack of sleep, but from crying.
She pushed away from her friend and darted forward through the crowd to where the dead bodies were being laid, her prayers a chant in her mind please don’t let it be him, please don’t let it be him, please don’t let it be him and she was almost able to believe that it wasn’t until she caught sight of the familiar blonde curls.
Tatiana dropped to the ground just in time for Seren to catch up with her, and now she could hear her friend’s voice catching in her throat as she hurriedly explained, “We thought the attention was diverted to all of you who were fighting, so we tried sneaking the little kids out the side of camp. We didn’t know that there would be Cadena members waiting there to ambush us, and Benj – he was on the outside of the group.”
In a flash, Tatiana bent down to his chest, turning her head sideways to hear a heartbeat, and when she could hear none, she grasped for his hand, his fingers already growing cold in hers as she searched for a pulse. The only heartbeat she could feel was her own, rising in panic and quickening in urgency. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she murmured suddenly, “If it was going to be one of us, it was supposed to be me, not him.”
“Tatty,” said Seren heavily.
“Check his pulse, it should still be there. On his other hand – or on his neck, check his neck.”
“I’ll do CPR. It won’t take long.” She pressed her hands in front of her, about to make the swift movement of chest compressions on him, but suddenly Seren was beside her, clasping her hands tightly in her own.
“I’m so sorry, Tatty,” said the blonde gently.
Tatiana finally broke, bending forward in sobs, and Seren let go as the brunette bent forward onto the chest of her husband of eight hours and wept bitterly.
The wave of funerals that had followed had been inevitable, but for Tatiana, they felt like they had gone on for years. It was difficult enough to attend funerals of her acquaintances that attending the funerals of her best friend, grandmother, and her husband were nothing but sheer torture.
She returned home to #54 after the last one, shrouded in black and her eyes puffy. Seren followed her home, unwilling to leave her alone at such a time, and they both took a seat in the kitchen.
“Can you believe that the Ministry still hasn’t recognized our marriage?” said Tatiana after a moment. “We had an actual officiant and witnesses there, too. We just didn’t sign any papers. There wasn’t time to. We didn’t even have any!”
“I’m sure they’ll recognize it soon enough,” Seren reassured her, hopping out of one of the kitchen chairs and rifling through the pantries. “Have you been eating enough? I keep meaning to bring you a casserole. Or a pizza, actually, I don’t know how to make a casserole.” She shut one of the cabinet doors. “Where’s the chocolate? You always have chocolate when you’re upset.”
“I couldn’t,” Tatiana said miserably. “I tried eating it recently and it made me horribly sick. So many other things have, too – eggs, milk, and carrots too.”
“You sure you aren’t getting ill?” fretted her friend, returning to her and placing the back of her hand across her forehead. Tatiana, on the other hand, was dimly aware of another possibility it could be and shrugged off her hand.
“I’m sure,” she said, and promptly stood and went into the bathroom as she knelt onto the ground and rummaged through the cabinet under the sink.
“What are you looking for?” asked Seren, following her in confusion, until Tatiana pulled out what she’d been looking for. “Pregnancy tests? When did you get those?”
“When I first started dating Benj,” explained the witch as she stood and dusted off the box. “Not that I really had any need of them when I was that young since we always used to be so careful.”
“Used to be?”
Tatiana impatiently dusted off the box and then cursed under her breath. “These are so old that they’ve expired. I’ll have to do it the magical way.” She hesitated, unsure if this was something that she could even handle thinking about right now, but when the thought had already planted itself in her head, she would have no peace until she knew the answer.
Fortunately, this was her area of expertise. She delicately lifted up the hem of her shirt and moved her wand to her abdomen, murmuring a charm. Nothing happened for a moment, and then there was a glow, a pulsing beam of light. Tatiana’s face crumpled.
“What does that mean?” asked Seren in awe.
“Positive,” whispered Tatiana, and then took a heavy seat on the ground and wrapped her arms around her legs before she buried her head in it.
“Hey,” said Seren, and took a seat beside her friend before wrapping her arms around her. “You’ll be a great mother. You’ve always wanted a baby, haven’t you?”
“Not like this,” Tatiana cried into her arms. “I’m only twenty, I’d be so young even if I wasn’t doing this on my own. I wanted to have a baby with him one day, but not when he’s dead and left me all alone to do this by myself.”
Seren shifted her arms around her best friend. “You won’t be alone. You’ll have me, and Seth, and your brother, and your parents, and everyone else to help you out. You don’t have to do this on your own.” She paused. “Do you want to do this?”
Tatiana nodded immediately. “It’s my baby – his baby. Of course I want to do this, I just wish that I had Benj. How am I supposed to raise our child without him? How is it fair that my baby will never know his or her father?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Seren, “But we’ll find a way. Don’t be scared.”
Tatiana was, of course, terrified, but she buried her face into her friend’s shoulder and tried to cry out her fear in the hope that she’d hollow out enough room in herself for courage.
“Have you decided on a name yet?” asked Seth in her living room as they sat side-by-side on the couch and idly flipped through channels. Lydia was on her other side, and Daniel was making tea in her kitchen. Her small flat in the Quadrant had never felt large to her until she’d had to live in it alone, but fortunately, her friends and her family were very good at popping over, often at the same time, to make sure that she had some company.
Tatiana glanced at the large swell of her abdomen pensively. “I’ve thought of a few,” she replied, turning back to him.
“Is one of them Benjamin?” asked Lydia, and then paused. “Or is it too ghastly to name a child after his or her father when he’s not here?”
“No, I don’t think I could do that,” admitted Tatiana. She paused, a small smile curving up her rosy lips. “Benj would have wanted me to call the baby Ignacio.”
“Are you going to?” asked Seth in surprise.
The brunette let out a small laugh and shook her head. “I couldn’t possibly. That’s a ridiculous name and, second of all… I’m having a girl.”
Daniel whipped his head around from the kitchen. “I thought that you weren’t going to find out the gender.”
“I wasn’t,” explained Tatiana, “because I knew that that was what he would have wanted, but then I gave in. I wanted to see ultrasounds of my baby, even if that would tell me the gender, so I finally looked. I wanted to be prepared, after all.”
“And now you’ve got a month to paint the nursery pink,” chimed in Daniel.
“Yellow,” corrected Tatiana, “I want her to grow up in somewhere Hufflepuff themed. Oh, and with ducklings painted on the walls. I should start that soon, she’ll be here before I know it.
“Did you two ever talk names before he died?” ventured Seth cautiously. “I mean, I don’t know if you were planning on having kids anytime soon, but if you wanted him to have input somehow, it might be worth remembering.”
Tatiana paused, leaning back on the couch. “Once,” she recalled. “It was very late, and we had had a lot of wine and were drunkenly making pancakes and Benj said something about how he’d like our kids in the future to have something Welsh in their name to represent my side of the family.” She smiled palely. “He suggested Seren and Rhys, and I actually think he was serious about those names, unlike Ignacio.”
“Oh, Seren and Reece are going to love that,” Lydia laughed.
The brunette delicately placed a hand on her stomach. “That’s the thing, though, I don’t want my daughter’s first name to be named after someone we know like mine was. It just makes it worse for them when their namesake dies and they’re left bearing the first name of someone who’s no longer with us. I think her middle name will be Seren.”
“And her first?” prompted Seth.
Tatiana paused and then grinned, tilting her head toward the bookshelf and nudging Lydia in the side. “I’ve been going through my F. Scott Fitzgerald books and marked down quite a few names that I liked, so I’ll have a big selection to go through.”
“As long as you don’t name her Gatsby,” Seth muttered from her left and when she turned to him, he pretended as if he hadn’t spoken at all.
“Anyway,” Tatiana said as she rose with some difficult and waddled toward the kitchen. “I am craving soup, but I seem to have run out of anything I can use to make it.” She put on the most innocent expression that she could toward her brother and her friends. “Would anyone run out and get me some?”
She didn’t add that this was the role that her husband was supposed to have had, with her waking him at midnight to run to the store for her cravings, or comforting her when her mood swings and hormones got the best of her. She’d had to make do without him, either settling things on her own or having one of her friends help out.
“I’ll go,” Daniel said with a sigh as he placed down the cup of tea that he’d just prepared. Seth hastened to go as well when Tatty began listing out all the things that she needed, and soon both were out the door, leaving her with Lydia.
Lydia wasn’t quite the most touchy-feely person that the brunette knew, but the witch didn’t hesitate to embrace her now that it was just the two of them. “How are you doing?”
“Better,” Tatiana answered truthfully. “It’s been nearly eight months, and I don’t think that I’ve quite moved on – I don’t know if I can ever move on, but I’m trying to learn to make peace with it as well as get used to the idea of raising a baby without him.”
“You’re doing a fantastic job, you know,” Lydia added and squeezed her friend’s hand comfortingly. “He’d be proud of you.”
“I hope so,” she answered, absently twisting her ring around her finger.
Clara Seren Gray was born just after daybreak on June 21st, the longest day of the year, after many hours of labor. Josephine Penvrane was in the delivery room, clutching her daughter’s hand tightly and murmuring reassurances as she wiped the young woman’s forehead periodically.
When the wailing baby was delivered into her arms, Tatiana immediately burst into tears. The chocolate brown hair, so like hers in color, was curled in loose ringlets, and when Clara opened her eyes they were startlingly the same shade of blue that her father’s had been.
“Look at her, she’s gorgeous,” her mother cooed at her side.
Through her tears, Tatiana nodded. “She’s beautiful.” She reached out a finger and stroked her baby’s cheek and Clara began to quiet down. “She looks like Benj.”
“She looks like you,” added Josie.
She considered her child again, swaddled securely in her arms. “She looks like both of us,” Tatiana decided, and then smiled finally, unable to tear her gaze away from her daughter, “but she is our baby, after all.” She stroked Clara’s cheek again. “It looks like she’s inherited Benj’s sunny temperament, too.”
Tatiana was soon to find out that Clara, in fact, had not quite inherited her father’s temperament.
“Please stop crying,” she begged her newborn, walking in circles back and forth around their flat. Her parents had offered to stay with her or to have her and the baby stay with them for a while at the start, but in this Tatiana was adamant that she had to be independent. She was a mother now, and she had to take responsibility if she was to be the sole parent that little Clara now had.
Unfortunately, Clara refused to be calmed down. Despite having put her down in her sunnily painted nursery, the baby refused to sleep, and although Tatiana had tried everything – checking to see if she needed a diaper changed, if she needed to be fed, if she simply needed some extra love from her mother – nothing was working. She hummed desperately under her breath and rocked Clara on her shoulder, trying her best to ease the wailing.
The students who lived next door were pounding on the shared wall, calling through, “Can’t you shut her up? We’re trying to sleep.”
“I’m trying!” Tatiana called back sharply in annoyance to them, which only set off her daughter more. “Not you, love, I’m not yelling at you,” she assured the baby, shifting her grip. “Mummy didn’t mean to scare you.”
The wailing didn’t cease, and the witch resumed walking around the flat, humming nursery rhymes under her breath, emotion threatening to overwhelm her. “Please,” she begged Clara, “Please don’t cry. I’ve tried everything I know. What is it that you need?”
Being only a few days old, Clara couldn’t answer, and in desperation, Tatiana sunk against a wall in her bedroom, cradling the baby to her chest.
“I don’t what I’m doing wrong,” Tatiana murmured, tears beginning to spill from the corners of her hazel eyes. “Maybe she doesn’t need me, she just wants you and I can’t give her what she wants. How can I raise her without you?” She looked over toward Benj’s side of the bed, but it was empty, just like it had been for months.
Instead of grief, it was anger that now built up inside of her in frustration and came spilling out from her lips, unfiltered. “How could you do this to me? She’s your baby too.” Hot tears spilled down her cheeks. “We were supposed to have children together. It’s not fair that you’re there just for the easy part; I can’t do this all by myself. How could you leave me to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do all on my own when you told me that you’d follow me anywhere, that you’d never leave me?”
But the bed wouldn’t answer back to her and she rose and carried Clara over and placed her gently on it, still weeping as she laid down beside her daughter and felt for the pillow that even now, after months, just smelled a little bit like Benj. She pressed it close to her face and took a deep breath, and finally, shakily, said, “I’m sorry, darling. I’m so sorry that I haven’t been brave enough to face this alone, but I love you and I miss you and I don’t know what else to do.”
She didn’t know why she was apologizing to him when he couldn’t hear her, and all she was talking to now was furniture and a daughter who wouldn’t be able to reply back to her for months, but Tatiana was absolutely exhausted and miserable without him and she thought that it needed to be said aloud, as if by speaking the words she’d somehow be absolved of all of the grief and pain she’d been carrying around for months.
Tatiana wrapped an arm around her child and pulled her a bit closer. “And I’m sorry to you too, my sweetheart. I never meant to scare you.” She stroked Clara’s cheek gently and added, “I promise I’ll be better. I’ll be braver for you.” She planted a kiss on her daughter’s forehead.
To her surprise, Clara quieted down, her wails fading into whimpers and then into silence as she stared back through wide blue eyes at her mother beside her. The young woman reached out a finger to her daughter’s hand and watched as tiny fingers wrapped around her larger one. She smiled and placed another kiss to her baby, snuggling her closer to her.
“I love you,” she whispered to the calm child. “And we’ll be alright. It’ll be tough, but we’ll make it. I promise.”
She wrapped a finger around a dark curl and thought of how maybe Lydia was right, maybe Benj was proud of her and the great task she’d undertaken alone, and then she fell asleep slowly beside her daughter.
“Are you sure about this?” Orion Penvrane asked dubiously even as he picked up a stack of packed boxes that his wife sat labeling.
Tatiana nodded, adjusting her hold around her two month old who was tugging at her hair. “Dad, I’ve already made the plans. I just need to get everything there in time, if this moving company really will get everything there by Wednesday.”
“But Spain is so far,” complained Orion, “We thought that you living in London while we lived in Wales was far enough, now you’re moving all the way out of the UK!”
“I need to do this,” Tatiana persisted, and her father dropped the matter, already knowing that nothing would change her mind.
That night, she was leaving for Spain with her young daughter. She needed a chance to move on without Benj, and in order to do that, she needed to leave behind the home that they’d shared. She’d managed to get Mungo’s to transfer her to the biggest magical hospital in Spain in return for one of their healers to work in England instead. She’d already made all the necessary arrangements in finding a new flat, ending her lease in London, and finding people to help look after Clara while she was there.
Daniel entered the apartment again. “The movers are here – Dad, you might want to start directing them to things.” He waited until Orion had left and then turned to his sister. “When will you come home?”
“I don’t know,” admitted the witch, “We’ll come visit during this Christmas, and my contract is only currently for a year, but I’ll have the option to renew it.” She forced a smile onto her lips. “It’ll be good, don’t you think? A fresh start somewhere?”
“That’s what you keep saying,” Josie sniffed from the ground, “but I think you and Clara should stay close by, in case you need anything.” She capped the marker she was using. “But if it’s what you really need, then you should go.” She stood and kissed her granddaughter quickly.
“Will Clara come back speaking fluent Spanish?” Daniel joked.
“We’ll find out,” laughed Tatiana, handing her daughter to her mother for a moment as she labeled a box of kitchen supplies. “She’ll have to pick it up from either me or the locals. Maybe my boss — did I tell you his name? It’s Ignacio. Benj would have loved it. But Madrid will be new and exciting for you, won’t it, duckling?” She turned to her daughter and tickled her, inciting giggles from the chubby baby.
Josie still looked troubled. “Is it right to leave England, though? Everything you had with Benj is here.”
“That’s why I have to go, Mama,” she replied with a sigh, “I need to learn to move forward without him, to do what’s best for her, so I have to leave. I hope that I’ll be back, though, and you are always welcome to visit.” She hugged her mother, and then her brother as the movers entered and began picking up her boxes.
When the house was empty, she stood by the doorway with Clara back in her arms and tried to recall, one last time, every memory she’d shared with the love of her life there. Finally, she composed herself enough to have the fortitude to walk away, murmuring a last, “Goodbye, darling,” over her shoulder as she clicked the door shut behind her.