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February rolled around in a haze of mud, slush, and bedraggled Quidditch players. The teachers piled more and more homework upon us, claiming that we needed all the practice we could get with our N.E.W.T. so close.

“It’s blooming February!” Lily ranted late one day as she and I sat at a table in a dusty corner of the library. “The tests aren’t until after ruddy Easter!”

Madame Pince poked her vulture-like nose around a bookcase. “Shhh!”

When she turned her back, Lily stuck out her tongue and continued complaining under her breath.

I flicked aimlessly through my Care of Magical Creatures notes, catching sight of foreign ticks and marking penciled in among my minute handwriting.

“Sirius!”

Lily’s finger jumped to her lips, indicating the spot where the evil librarian had just disappeared.

“What?” she mouthed.

I tossed the parchment across the table.

She nearly burst with giggles. “L…looks like s-someone…wants to…ask…you…”

“Whatever, Lily.”

She rolled up the parchment and whacked me over the head with it. “What the hell is wrong with you? An incredibly attractive guy is into
you, and you don’t even care?”

“Oh, come off it! He is in no way ‘into me’.”

“I smell denial…”

“You smell nothing.”

She shrugged. “Have it your way.”

“I will, thank you.”



My bag was full to the splitting point as I hiked back up to the common room.

“Hey, Kat!”

I turned. “Oh. Hello, Tristan.”

He eyed my bag. “You want some help?”

“I’m fine.”

A scarlet flush licked his ears. “Listen, err…I was sort of wondering…”

Oh, damn.

“Would…would you be interested in…err…coming into Hogsmede with me this weekend?”

Poor kid…what to say? I couldn’t face Sirius if he asked, but I also didn’t want to endure the sniggering and inevitable teasing if I remained in Gryffindor Tower alone on Saturday night.

“Err…sure. Why not?”

He beamed. “Great! I…I guess I’ll meet you in the entrance hall?”

“Yeah. See you.”

I quickly darted behind a tapestry to escape.

Damn. Lily was going to kill me.



“You WHAT?”

“Calm down, would you please?”

“I will NOT clam down, Katharina Parker! You spoiled everything! Now he’ll never ask!”

“He wasn’t going to in the first place.”

“You don’t know that.”

I scowled up from where I lay sprawled on my bed. “Your pacing is incredibly obnoxious.”

“As is your stubbornness, and don't change the subject!”

My quill hovered over my half-translated Ancient Runes assignment as my mind drifted elsewhere. “You look as though you’re hatching a desperate, diabolical plot, darling.”

She whirled on me. “I am! Personally, I have no ruddy idea what the hell you see in the Tristan bloke. You and Sirius are friends, right? Why wouldn’t it work?”

I sat up. “Elementary, my dear Lily. First of all, Sirius and I will never be more than friends. End of story, world without end, amen. Secondly, there is still the problem that he didn’t ask me to go. If you look at it logically, he didn’t invite me and therefore doesn’t desire my company.”

She twirled a strand of her flaming hair around a finger. “I cannot believe you. You don’t really want to go with Tristan, so what exactly is your motive here?”

“Good night, Lily.” I pulled my hangings closed.

“Kat, I—”

“I said good night!”

I heard her sigh and the slam of the door as she went downstairs.

I was alone with my thoughts, and I wasn’t sure how wonderful that was.



The cold dregs of my tea lay in wait as I stared into them, half-heartedly contemplating “reading” the tea leaves and telling Tristan that our “date” was canceled due to unfortunate circumstances concerning the position of Neptune and the effect it would have on my lower intestine.

“Poor Madame Butterfly,” a voice murmured.

“What is it, Sirius?”

He sat down across from me, glancing down the table to where James and Lily were seated.

“Someone seems awfully glum considering that she has a date tonight.”

“It’s not a date!”

“Your lover seems to think otherwise.”

I groaned. “I don’t need this right now.”

“Fine,” he exhaled. “Listen. Lily is still under the impression that I am going to take you out tonight. I'm pretending that I have no idea about Walter. Just look like you’re refusing me. No! Make it noticeable! There. She saw it. Now maybe I’ll get some blooming peace!”

I smiled wryly. “I wish I could say the same.”



The Three Broomsticks was extraordinarily packed that night.

“Lily, please stay,” I begged her. “Don’t leave me alone with—”

“You had your chance to back out of it, Kat. James and I are over
there. If you feel like joining us, stop playing games with Triscuit Walden or whatever his name is.”

“It’s Tristan, and I am not ‘playing games’ with him. Have I ever once indicated that I have any romantic feelings for him at all?”

She smirked a bit haughtily. “You’re here with him tonight, aren’t you?”

“You know what I mean!”

She shrugged. “See you later, love.”

I slumped down dejectedly in my vacant seat. What the hell was I doing?

“Bonsoir, mademoiselle,” a horrendously ghastly French accent almost ripped out my eardrum.

“Hello, Tristan. What the—”

He plunked down two Butterbeers and a tray full of Firewhiskey shots.

“Are…are you going to drink all of that?”

He grinned a little too proudly. “Yeah.”

I shot Lily a glance, pointing discretely to his vast quantity of alcohol.

James had her ensconced. Damn.

Tristan slid me a flask. “That’s yours.”

Fifteen minutes later, three quarters of the tray was empty, and he swayed where he sat, nearly falling off his stool.

“I’m going out for a breath of air,” I announced and did just that.
The alley was dark, but I could still make out the silhouette of the lonely bench, which was its only inhabitant.

Lily was right. I shouldn’t have come with Tristan. The poor bloke was inside chugging down Merlin-knows-how-many shots, and all for what? My approval? Oh, God, I hoped not…

A wet, warm, slimy something touched my fingers, and I jerked, instantly pulling my limbs close to my torso.

“Lumos!”

The wavering light of my wand revealed a gigantic dog panting up at me. It blinked innocently, its tongue hanging down its snout as it nudged my toes with its nose.

Tentatively, I stretched out my palm, and it nuzzled my hand in a reassuring manner.

“Hey, boy,” I petted the dog’s furry black coat. “Where’d you come from, eh?”

It cocked its head to the side, as if to ask me the same question.
Before I knew it, I was blubbering away in an alley at night to a dog that couldn’t understand a word I was saying.

“I suppose you could say that I’m on a date. Not really, though; I’m not exactly attracted to the bloke. Lily tried to make me call it off, but I was too stubborn to listen to her; however, she did try to set me up with Sirius. Merlin’s pants… I actually considered it for a moment…Can you believe that? It doesn’t matter anyway. He never asked, which means that he only puts up with me because James wants him to keep a civil tongue in his head whenever Lily and I are in the vicinity.”

Suddenly, the dog dashed out of sight down the high street.

I gazed after it, nearly heartbroken that even a dog could not stand my presence for more than five minutes. Scrutinized my nails, I tried desperately to come up with an excuse for why I was taking so long. (Granted, Tristan was probably too drunk to notice any sizeable time lapse…)

“Remus! Remus, where— oh. It’s you, Kat.” Sirius sat beside me.

“Did you see that dog?”

He frowned. “What dog?”

“That huge black one. It just ran up the street and then you—never mind.”

His eyes slowly surveyed my face. “Are you all right? Walter didn’t drug your drink or anything, did he?”

I shook my head. “No. He’s just…drunk as a sailor.”

Sirius was quiet for a minute, but then he said, “Do you want to get out of here?”

“What, like…leave? Now?”

“Absolutely. Let’s go. Walter is too bloody hammered to notice and James and Lily are busy playing footsy under the table. Come on, Parker,” he elbowed me gently. “Let’s ditch this popsicle stand.”

I snickered. “Fine, but if he asks, you get to explain to Tristan exactly how you kidnapped me.”

“Deal.”



The Hogwarts grounds always look their best when soaked in moonlight. As we walked up the road from the village, Sirius pointed out a group of students assembled on blankets by the lake. Shrieks of laughter reached our ears as we drew closer.

“What are they doing?”

“Each other, probably.”

I hit him on the shoulder. “You’re revolting.”

“Well, well, well!” A rather high-pitched voice hailed us. “What have we here—Sirius and Kat? Welcome, fellow believers. Please sit with us.”

Uneasily, we followed suit.

Flannery gazed smugly around the circle. I scanned the crowd of unfamiliar faces, failing to recognize a single one.

“I call this gathering to order,” Flannery announced imperiously. “Before we begin with the, err…proceedings, Logan will light the traditional—”

“Yeah, yeah, I've got it.” Logan, the sandy-haired youth on Flannery’s left, waved a rolled piece of parchment for all to see.

“Very well. If you would, please, Logan…”

He flicked his wand, and the end of his joint sparked to life. He took a pull, and his whole body relaxed, a dazed, lifeless smile sliding across his lips. Slowly, it spread as the joint was passed from person to person, every member’s expression identical to Logan’s.

“Here,” the girl to my left attempted to push it into my grasp. “Take it.”

I stared at her. It may have been shadowy, but there was no mistaking her features.

“Mary!”

“That’s me,” she murmured as the boy next to her slid his hand
beneath her skirt. “Later, Joel. We’re nearly done here.”

Tears clouded my vision. What had happened to her? She was dressed far more scantily than I had ever seen her, and her beautiful, once-flowing blonde hair was now clinging together with grease. She must have lost at least ten pounds, her skin stretched tight over her scarily protruding ribs.

I staggered up and hurried away, stopping beneath a beech tree and collapsing at its roots. Rocking back and forth and seizing fistfuls of my own hair, I frantically tried to jerk myself awake, utterly convinced that this was a horrid nightmare. I could still make out Flannery’s distinct tone.

“Now, go! Let nature take its course.”

This had to be the vilest, most nauseating societies I had ever experienced…

A rustle in the bushes close by made me start.

“Hey, girl.” It was Logan. “What are you doing out here all alone? Don’t you want some real magic?”

“I don’t need any of that shit.”

He seized my hand in a vice-like grip. “‘Let nature take its course’,” he
quoted.

I clumsily drew my wand, reduced to using my left hand.

“Easy there, doll-face! I’m not going to hurt you.” With a sudden movement, he sent my only weapon clattering down to make friends with the grass.

“Hel—!”

His other hand silenced my cry with virtually no effort whatsoever.

“You nasty little bitch!” he hissed, his breath tickling my neck. “I told you that I wouldn’t hurt you.”

His nails bit down on my arm as he stroked it, my scream of pain muffled to nearly nonexistence by his clutching palm.

“Oi, Huntington!”

A blow struck the side of Logan’s head, and he threw me from him, my skull banging against a jagged rock.

Gentle hands wrapped themselves around my waist and helped me to sit up, while an anxious voice above me worried, “Kat…Kat! Oh, my
God! Wake up. Wake up!”

Whoever-it-was ran his fingers through my hair and along my jaw line.

My lashes parted to reveal Sirius bending over me.

“What did he do to you?” he demanded after I’d recovered slightly.

“Nothing. You have impeccable timing.”

His arm tensed around my shoulders. “As long as you’re okay.”

I nodded.

“Come on. Let’s get you upstairs.”

He offered his arm to assist me, and I clung to it like a drowning animal. Even with his help, my steps toward the castle were shaky.

“What happened? Earlier, I mean,” Sirius studied my expression. “What got you so upset?”

I took a deep breath. “That girl, the ne who handed me the joint— it was Mary.”

He gaped. “Bloody hell.”

“I don’t know what’s happened to her! She…she looks so…thin…like she’s hardly there at all. And…and her hair…she’s…messed up. She needs help…”

Sirius abruptly relinquished his supportive arm and dropped me on the floor in entrance hall.

“Listen to me,” he barked, a harsh bite in his throat. “Huntington could’ve seriously hurt you just now, and all you care about is your friend who is willingly romping around with losers and sleazy drug addicts? What’s the matter with you? You can’t have someone protecting you every minute of your life, Kat. It doesn’t work that way.”

“You didn’t see her! She—”

He shook me violently. “Don’t you get it?! She’s used to hanging ’round with that lot, but you—”

“What? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t think I could handle—?”

“Just shut up, will you? Huntington was going to… The point is you couldn’t do anything to stop him. Eventually, if Mary changes, she’s going to need a lot more than just you for support. Since she’s been inhaling… Merlin-knows-what, she’s going to need intense therapy and maybe even a prolonged stay in the Hospital Wing.”

I shoved him aside and scurried up the marble staircase. How DARE he say such horrid things! Did he honestly think that I couldn't take care of the people I loved?

“Hey!”

He followed, his Quidditch training enabling him to keep up and not even break a sweat.

I ducked into a passageway behind the statue of Boris the Bewildered on the fifth floor.

"Oi! What the–"

I skidded to a halt, wheeling to poke his chest hard with my index finger.

"You listen to me, Black. Don't you EVER tell me what I can and can't do. Do you understand? NEVER. What would you know about it, anyway?"

"'What would I know about it'? Are you that daft? You can't be some all-powerful being, Kat!"

"I know that!"

"Do you?"

I met his gaze challengingly but said nothing.

"What would have happened by the lake if someone hadn't pulled Huntington off you? What would you have done?"

Still nothing.

"Exactly. You couldn't fight him off, could you?" He sighed heavily. "I hate saying this, but you can't save everyone."

I dropped my eyes to the dusty floor of the corridor. "I'm tired."

When we reached the portrait hole, the Fat Lady raised her eyebrows suspiciously, but swung open when I gave her the password.

The common room was deserted.

“Well, err… good night,” Sirius called after me.

I said nothing but hopped up the stairs two at a time to my dormitory.

As I lay awake in my four-poster, I could still discern, faint though they were, the sounds of flirtatious giggles and triumphant shouts from down by the lake.
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