Madam Pomfrey ended up insisting on keeping Harry and me in the hospital wing for the rest of the weekend. We didn't argue or complain, as it was almost impossible for the two of us to move anyways, but neither one of us would let her throw away the shattered remnants of our Nimbus Two Thousand's. I had a feeling that I would never be able to give it up. Not after everything that I had been through. We both knew that we were being stupid, knew that the Nimbus's were beyond repair, but we couldn't help it; we both felt as though we'd lost one of our best friends.

Unfortunately I had written to Mom and Dad about the Nimbus Two Thousand and what had happened during the game. They had come to visit Harry and me - just to ensure that we were okay - before flying back home. Dad had agreed that at the end of the summer we could go back out and get me a new broom. Maybe a Nimbus Two Thousand and One. We had agreed to give Harry Dad's old Nimbus Two Thousand. We would just have to wait out the rest of the year. Once they were sure that we were alright, Mom and Dad had headed back home with a promise that we'd talk soon, and to not take the loss too hard.

We had a stream of visitors, all intent on cheering us up. Hagrid sent us a bunch of earwiggy flowers that looked like yellow cabbages, which did actually make me smile. Ginny, blushing furiously, turned up with two get-well cards she had made herself, which sang shrilly unless Harry and I kept them shut under our bowl of fruit. But I appreciated the thought. The Gryffindor team visited again on Sunday morning, this time accompanied by Oliver, who told Harry and me (in a hollow, dead sort of voice) that he didn't blame us in the slightest. Ron and Hermione left our bedside only at night.

To my ultimate surprise, there had even been another visitor that I'd had once. The night of the incident at the game - in the middle of the night when I was struggling to get ready for bed - I was coming out of the bathroom in the hospital wing. It was very difficult, seeing that my bones were still fragile from the impact, but I was managing to limp back to bed. Harry was currently trying to clean himself up. I was shocked enough to see that Malfoy was standing at the edge of my bed. He was uninjured, so why was he here? I had my hands linked in my towel to dry off my hair.

There wasn't a chance that he was here to see how I was doing, was he? "Come to finish me off?" I asked, dropping the towel on the bed.

"Come to see how you are," Malfoy said, scowling at me.

Well that wasn't the nicest thing that I had ever heard before. Here he was, seeing how I was, still scowling at me like I was his worst enemy. I folded my arms over my chest. "You're joking?" I half-asked and half-said.

"Obviously not, Nox," Malfoy snapped.

He didn't look that happy to see me but he had come here anyways. "Well..." I trailed off awkwardly. "I'm alive. Doing okay. Have you come to visit Harry, too?"

Of course I knew the answer. He might have come to see me because of our quasi-friendship, but there was no way that he was here to see Harry. He absolutely hated Harry. He only severely disliked me. "Of course not," Malfoy scoffed.

"Well you've seen that I'm alive, as much as that must disappoint you. Now you may leave," I barked.

Maybe he'd come to laugh at me and my injuries. "Here," Malfoy snapped.

Was I insane or was I seeing something akin to relief in his eyes? Relief that I was alive? I couldn't quite figure out what the look in his eyes was. I definitely saw the irritation, but I wasn't sure what else was there. Malfoy reached behind him and tossed a big box at me. I gasped but just barely managed to catch it, groaning as it hit me in the chest. It was heavier than I had been expecting and my chest was definitely sore as I'd broken a few ribs during the fall. I glanced down at what was in my arms and noticed that it was a large box of candy.

My eyebrows knitted together. What the hell was that supposed to mean? "Seriously? I fell fifty feet and broke almost every bone in my body. And you gave me a box of chocolates?" Malfoy rolled his eyes at me. I wasn't really sure what I was getting at. I was just annoyed with him. "After you lied to me and told me that Black is the reason that my parents were almost killed?" I snapped irritably.

Maybe that was what the problem was. Maybe he felt bad for feeding me that lie. Malfoy gave me a strange look - another one that I couldn't read. "Glad you're not dead," Malfoy said blandly.

"Really?" I asked disbelievingly.

Malfoy actually gave me something that looked a touch like a smile. "I would be very bored without you to insult," he said.

There it was. He couldn't be too nice to me for too long. "Get out," I snapped. Malfoy grinned sidelong at me. "And just remember, when Slytherin plays its first match I'll be cheering for you to fall fifty feet from your own broom."

Malfoy scoffed. "I'm not scared of Dementors," he teased.

And that was where any hope that I'd had for Malfoy went out the window. He was an ass. I set a nasty glare on him as I walked over and placed my hand against Malfoy's chest, pushing him backwards. "Out," I snapped at him.

"No goodbye kiss?" Malfoy teased.

"Now!"

"Don't be rude, Nox." And so he was gone.

There had been something strange going on between myself and Malfoy for a long time. It had been the same strange feeling that I'd been getting with him since he'd saved me from the falling jar during Lockhart's disastrous Cornish Pixies lesson last year. I couldn't figure out what was going on between the two of us. Friendship, something more, or did we still hate each other? I hated it and I wanted him to stay away. Just so that I could go back to hating him easily. I didn't like the idea that we could be friends, or even something more one day.

That was not something that I wanted to think about. Instead I liked thinking that Cedric had been coming to visit me. Other than Hermione and Ron, he was the person that was here the most. I knew that he still felt bad about what had happened at the game, even though I kept insisting that it wasn't his fault. He had been with me most of the time and had gotten me everything that I needed. He had even been helping me get my homework done. Which was good, since I hadn't been studying much. He even offered to let me borrow his old Cleansweep Eleven. Not a great broom, but it would work until I could get a better one.

The worst part about the whole thing was that I had received another one of those perfectly wrapped black boxes. One that I hadn't gotten in a long time. I'd been horrified to see it in the middle of my pile of presents when I'd awaken the day after the match. Harry had been with me when I'd opened the box and we had waited for Ron and Hermione to show them, too. My hands were shaking so badly that I'd almost dropped it everywhere. It had been so long since I'd seen one. I'd almost forgotten about the mystery sender.

When we had opened the box I had almost screamed and dropped it. The only reason that I hadn't dropped the box was because Madam Pomfrey was standing just feet away when I had opened it and I didn't want anyone else knowing what was going on between myself and my mystery helper. Inside the box were two severed rat tails. Hermione had let out a fearful shriek and Ron had gasped, almost immediately leaving to check that Scabbers was okay - which he was. The tails were laid out in the same pattern that I was so used to. Eighty-three. There was a note along with it.

Find your true enemy

What did it mean? We spent hours upon hours thinking about it, only stopping when someone came to visit. Even then I was distracted about the note. Enemy... I knew who the enemy was. Sirius Black and Voldemort. Both wanted me dead. And what did a rat have to do with anything? Was it just something that was meant to scare me? Hermione told me that it was likely because we were missing something obvious but the rat tails had only been to scare me. Ron hated whoever sent it to me because he had been concerned about Scabbers. And Harry... Harry was almost as bothered as I was.

It was what was now causing my lack of sleep. Over the weekend - all three days before we were allowed to leave - I hadn't been able to sleep. I had gotten maybe a total of six hours all weekend. But it had been almost impossible. I kept dreaming of the boxes and the mystery man and that was only upsetting me even more. Everyone thought that it was just because of the loss. And that was partly it. So everyone kept trying to cheer us up. But nothing anyone said or did could make Harry or me feel any better, because they knew only half of what was troubling the two of us.

Though we had told Ron and Hermione about the boxes, we hadn't mentioned anything about the Grim, which I learned that he had seen, too. We hadn't even told Ron and Hermione, because we knew Ron would panic and Hermione would scoff. The fact remained, however, that it had now appeared three times. Twice it had been followed by near-fatal accidents; the first time, I had nearly been run over by the Knight Bus; the second, fallen fifty feet from my broomstick.

The only time that it hadn't almost killed me was when I had seen it in the playground. Was there a chance that it was a different dog and now I was seeing the Grim? No. I knew that the dog that I had seen - Snuffles - was the same one that had nearly attacked me before the Knight Bus and had watched the game. Could people actually get close to Grim's? What did that mean? Was the Grim going to haunt the two of us until we actually died? Were we going to spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders for the beast? Chances were that it wouldn't have to wait long...

It seemed that we were always about to die. That was only another part of it. Then there were the Dementors. Harry and I had exchanged stories about what we had heard when the Dementors had come to attack. Harry and I were both feeling sick and humiliated every time we thought of them. We kept getting affected by them and last time we had almost died. Everyone said the Dementors were horrible, but no one else collapsed every time they went near one. No one else heard echoes in their head of the ultimate betrayal or a baby girl that was needed or their dying parents.

No. That was just us. Something that neither one of us could bring ourselves to say to anyone else. We weren't really sure that we could say anything. They would just start panicking. I still didn't really understand what was happening every time that the Dementors got too close. I didn't understand what I was hearing. At least Harry knew what he was hearing. I heard something about a baby girl that was needed, an ultimate betrayal to my parents, and my burning desire to be with that unknown man. I didn't understand what any of it meant.

At least Harry knew. Now Harry knew who that screaming voice belonged to now. Just like I relived what I had heard over and over again during the night hours in the hospital wing while I lay awake, staring at the strips of moonlight on the ceiling, Harry did, too. When the Dementors approached him, he heard the last moments of his mother's life, her attempts to protect him from Lord Voldemort, and Voldemort's laughter before he murdered her. It was probably worse than mine. He was actually hearing the death of his own parents.

Over the past few days I had dozed fitfully, sinking into dreams full of clammy, rotted hands and petrified pleading, jerking awake to dwell again on whatever piece of the nightmare was haunting me that night. Every single night it was something else. The Dementors giving me the Kiss, my desire that shot straight through my chest, my parents screaming with a desperation that I had never heard before - not from people who were that brave - and that horrible ice-cold voice. Was it Voldemort? It seemed to be. And I had a terrible feeling that the baby girl might have been me.

Do you remember me? That was what Voldemort had asked me during our First Year. He'd never wanted to kill me. Not in the Chamber of Secrets. It didn't make sense and it was haunting me even in my dreams. I was sleeping on Sunday night when I awoken to find myself in the entrance hall of the school. I knitted my brows as I walked into the Great Hall. No one was there. That was, until I spotted a man lingering in the distance, up at the teacher's table. I couldn't make out his features but I knew that he was the same man that had been helping me for the past two years.

He saved me the trouble of speaking first. "Do you see what's happening?" the man asked.

"Sirius Black. He's here. He's in the castle," I said.

Obviously he wouldn't answer me. I already knew that. He was willing to help me, but he wanted me to figure things out for myself. "Not in the castle," the man answered flippantly.

We knew that much. But there was the question that remained. "So where is he?" I asked.

"Close."

He knew... I knew that he knew... "Tell me!" I shouted.

"You already know. You've already seen him," the man said.

My eyebrows knitted together. I had never seen Sirius Black. Unless he meant in the newspapers or on the Muggle television. "No, I haven't. I saw evidence that he was here in the castle. But I didn't see him. No one except for Peeves and the Fat Lady saw him," I said dumbly.

"Look closer."

It was the same thing that the man told me every time that I got something wrong. "You've told me that before. It doesn't work. Obviously I'm not smart enough to figure it out," I snapped irritably.

"Don't be a fool. It's not becoming of you," the man said.

My eyebrows creased again and my jaws clamped shut. I had no rebuttal to that. "I'm not being a fool. Tell me the truth. Why is he here? What does he want with us?" I asked.

"Open your eyes."

"They are!"

"More," the man ordered. "Wake up, Tara."

"Wake up, Tara," Harry's voice came. I jumped upright from the bed and wiped a little bit of sweat off of my brow. It was just a dream... The man was only in my mind. Harry looked a little concerned for me. "It's time for class."

"Oh..." I muttered dumbly. "Alright. Let's get ready."

The two of us took turns getting ready in the bathroom. While I was in there I realized that I looked almost as bad as I had when I'd started having the nightmares about Voldemort in our First Year. The only reason that it wasn't worse was because it had only been a few days, not a few weeks. But I would get there soon enough if it kept up like this. Once I was back into my uniform I nodded at Harry that I was ready to leave. Just so that we could get out of the depressing confines of the hospital wing - which was slowly making me go crazy.

It was definitely a relief to return to the noise and bustle of the main school on Monday, where we were forced to think about other things, even if it meant that we had to endure Draco Malfoy's taunting. Unfortunately the boy that had given me the box of chocolates was gone and now he was back to being intolerable as usual. Malfoy was almost beside himself with glee at Gryffindor's defeat. He had finally taken off his bandages and celebrated having the full use of both arms again by doing spirited imitations of Harry falling off his broom. Never me, though.

Not that it made much of a difference. He was annoying me as much as he was annoying Harry. Particularly because I was already on edge with my dreams and encounter with the Dementors. We could have seriously been killed. Not that he seemed to care. The Slytherin's all thought that he was very impressive with his jokes and Pansy Parkinson seemed to like to do impressions of my own fall. I was more than pleased when Cedric took twenty points from Slytherin for impersonating a near-fatal accident and winked at me before walking off. It was the first time that Gryffindor liked him since the loss.

Just a few days after our release of the hospital wing, Malfoy spent much of our next Potions class doing Dementor imitations across the dungeon; Ron finally cracked about halfway and flung a large, slippery crocodile heart at Malfoy, which hit him in the face and caused Snape to take fifty points from Gryffindor. It was enough to make me let out a barking laugh. He looked stunned and everyone knew that crocodile hearts were absolutely disgusting. Slimy, smelly, and heavy. Parkinson was horrified at Ron's actions and started screaming every foul name she knew.

"He deserved it!" I shouted at her.

"So did you! Too bad Diggory's a Hufflepuff, which, by the way, is the only reason that he saved you. Not some deluded crush that you think he has. He's just kind. I'd have let you fall," Malfoy said.

That sent the class into an utter pandemonium that Snape was unable to contain. Of course there was a great bit of laughter from the Slytherin's at Malfoy's comment about Cedric. But what genuinely bothered me was that he had just said that he was glad that I had lived only a few days ago. What was it with him? So I picked up a piece of one of the school scales and threw it straight at Malfoy, silencing the shouting in the room. It hit him so hard that he fell from his seat. When he looked back up he had a bloody nose and I realized that his nose was likely broken.

That sent the class into another uproar. The Gryffindor's were laughing as the Slytherin's were howling in fury. The boys immediately jumped in front of me to stop one of the Slytherin's from hurting me while Parkinson fawned over Malfoy. In the meantime Snape howled at us - louder and scarier than I had ever heard - to sit back down. It was enough to get everyone to be quiet and sit back down. Malfoy was holding his bloody nose and scowling at me. Snape took eighty points from Gryffindor and threatened detention for the rest of term if I even dared to move for the rest of the lesson.

"For your unnecessary violence against another student," Snape hissed, in a very deadly manner.

"What's a broken nose compared to a broken everything?" I muttered under my breath.

He probably heard me but made no motion against it. Needless to say, everyone was deathly still and silent throughout the rest of the class. We all simply worked in silence. Malfoy was sent to the hospital wing with Parkinson to help him and he scowled at me the entire way out. Not that I really cared. I wished that I had done more. Many of the Gryffindor students - despite losing so many points - were patting me on the shoulder as Snape nastily tore apart everything that I did with our potions. There was a good chance that he now hated me even more than Harry.

"He's such an ass!" I barked irritably.

"Well you did throw a scale at Malfoy," Hermione muttered sheepishly.

"Did you hear what he was saying?" Ron howled.

"Of course I did! But it is against the rules to fight with each other," Hermione added.

When we were allowed to leave I practically tore out of the room. "If Snape's teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts again, I'm skiving off," Ron said as we headed toward Professor Lupin's classroom after lunch.

"I'm with you," I mumbled.

"Check who's in there, Hermione," Ron ordered.

We had spent the entire lunch complaining about how much we hated Snape. Hermione did make it a point to say that I was lucky that I hadn't gotten detention that night. And she was right about that. But that didn't mean that I had to like him. I still hated him more than anything else. He was an ass and always would be. I had also had to awkwardly explain why Gryffindor was now one hundred and thirty points down. Since it was Snape - who notoriously hated Gryffindor - no one had seemed that bothered. And it was still early in the year. We could make up the points later.

Hermione peered around the classroom door. "It's okay!" she called back.

The four of us ducked into the classroom a moment later. Thankfully Snape was long gone from the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Professor Lupin was finally back at work. It certainly looked as though he had been ill. His old robes were hanging more loosely on him and there were dark shadows beneath his eyes; nevertheless, he smiled at the class as we took our seats, and everyone burst at once into an explosion of complaints about Snape's behavior while Professor Lupin had been ill. Or transforming, as I expected.

"It's not fair, he was only filling in, why should he give us homework?"

"We don't know anything about werewolves -"

"- two rolls of parchment!"

Ron's complaint about having to do two rolls of parchment was enough to make me snort under my breath. "Did you tell Professor Snape we haven't covered them yet?" Professor Lupin asked, frowning slightly.

The babble immediately broke out again. "Yes, but he said we were really behind -"

"- he wouldn't listen -"

"- two rolls of parchment!"

Ron's comment was again one of the loudest. I rolled my eyes at him. Two rolls of parchment was annoying but it wasn't the worst thing in the world. Especially when we had O.W.L.'s coming up in the next few years. We would have to get used to writing long essays like that. And it wasn't like there was a lack of things to write about when it came to werewolves. Professor Lupin smiled at the look of indignation on every face.

"Don't worry. I'll speak to Professor Snape. You don't have to do the essay," Professor Lupin said.

"Oh no," Hermione said, looking very disappointed. "I've already finished it!"

"Yeah. I was getting close to being done, too," I muttered.

But it was probably for the best that I hadn't finished it. Mostly because my essay would tell Professor Lupin that I knew exactly who and what he was. At least we ended up having a very enjoyable lesson. The most enjoyable one that we had been through since Snape had come in a few days ago. Professor Lupin had brought along a glass box containing a hinkypunk, a little one-legged creature who looked as though he were made of wisps of smoke, rather frail and harmless-looking. Although they could definitely be dangerous.

"Lures travelers into bogs. You notice the lantern dangling from his hand?" Professor Lupin asked, as everyone continued jotting down notes. "Hops ahead - people follow the light - then -"

The hinkypunk made a horrible squelching noise against the glass. Everyone started to laugh at the little creature. It was definitely rather amusing. It was much nicer than having to deal with Snape and his nasty comments about how we were doing everything wrong. When the bell rang, everyone gathered up their things and headed for the door. I was trailing in back of everyone else, waiting for Ron, Harry, and Hermione to finish gathering up their things. The moment that we all turned to leave, we were called back.

"Wait a moment, Harry, Tara. I'd like a word."

Harry and I doubled back and watched Professor Lupin covering the hinkypunk's box with a cloth. We stared at each other and shrugged. I had no idea what Professor Lupin wanted with the two of us. Unless it was to ask about the match, which I really wasn't in the mood to talk about. I was still upset that we had likely cost Gryffindor the Quidditch Cup. Oliver's last chance to win it. All because of the damned Dementors and Grim. As Professor Lupin started to pack up his things, I smiled at him.

"We're glad to see you back," I said sweetly.

"Thank you, Tara. I heard about the match," Professor Lupin said, turning back to his desk and starting to pile books into his briefcase, "and I'm sorry about your broomsticks. Is there any chance of fixing them?"

"No. The tree smashed it to bits," Harry said.

"Mine is cracked in too many spots. We're not getting those brooms back," I explained.

Professor Lupin sighed. "They planted the Whomping Willow the same year that I arrived at Hogwarts. People used to play a game, trying to get near enough to touch the trunk. In the end, a boy called Davey Gudgeon nearly lost an eye, and we were forbidden to go near it. No broomstick would have a chance," Professor Lupin explained.

"Why did they plant it?" I asked.

"I'm not exactly sure," Professor Lupin said, rather unconvincingly.

"Did you hear about the Dementors too?" Harry asked with difficulty.

Professor Lupin looked at him quickly. "Yes, I did. I don't think any of us have seen Professor Dumbledore that angry. They have been growing restless for some time... furious at his refusal to let them inside the grounds... I suppose they were the reason you fell?" he asked.

"Yes," Harry said.

Professor Lupin turned to me. "Although I hear a collision with another player was cause for your collapse?" he asked.

"Yes. I hesitated in the air when I saw the Dementors. Cedric Diggory was attempting to get the Snitch at the same time. We collided in midair. He tried to stop me but couldn't manage it," I said, rubbing my arms at the memory of the impact.

"That was good of him," Professor Lupin said.

"It was my own fault. I should have been paying a little more attention. They just distracted me," I said.

Professor Lupin looked like he might have been debating on hugging us. But he didn't. Harry hesitated, gave me a look, I nodded, and then he asked the question that had been bothering us before he could stop himself. "Why? Why do they affect us like that? Are we just - ?"

"It has nothing to do with weakness," Professor Lupin said sharply, as though he had read our mind. "The Dementors affect you two worse than the others because there are horrors in your past that the others don't have."

"I don't understand what that has to do with me," I said.

"You've battled Voldemort face-to-face twice. You know how close to was to your parents being killed. You were still there when he attacked that night in Godric's Hollow. Even though you might have been an infant at the time, there are likely things that your mind has locked away. Hardships that you might not remember, but did happen," Professor Lupin explained.

For a moment I hesitated. I wanted to say something, to ask him what it was that he meant, but I hesitated. Because I was sure that it was something that I would find out. It was something that someone would tell me or I would discover when the time was right. In the meantime no one would tell me. Maybe they didn't even know the truth. So I nodded, despite not understanding. A ray of wintery sunlight fell across the classroom, illuminating Professor Lupin's gray hairs and the lines on his young face.

"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soulless and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. And the worst that happened to you, Harry, Tara, is enough to make anyone fall off their broom. You two have nothing to feel ashamed of," Professor Lupin explained.

"When they get near me..." Harry trailed off and stared at Professor Lupin's desk. "I can hear Voldemort murdering my mum."

Professor Lupin looked at us again. "I hear him, too. But he was saying something about needing a a girl. A child. There's another man with him. Mousy. I can't see him but I can hear his voice. High-pitched. Sniveling. And my parents calling someone a traitor. They're shouting it," I admitted.

That time we definitely caught Professor Lupin's attention. His gaze shot up to me and for a moment I thought that he would say something. But he didn't. Because there was really nothing to say to that. There was no way that he could comfort us. Not unless he knew exactly what had happened. Professor Lupin made another sudden motion with his arm as though to grip our shoulders, but thought better of it. Just like before. Unfortunately we were in school and there was the debate of appropriateness. There was a moment of silence.

"Why did they have to come to the match?" Harry asked bitterly.

"They're getting hungry. Dumbledore won't let them into the school, so their supply of human prey has dried up... I don't think they could resist the large crowd around the Quidditch field. All that excitement... emotions running high... it was their idea of a feast," Professor Lupin said coolly, shutting his briefcase with a snap.

"I've never seen that many of them before," I said.

"Azkaban must be terrible," Harry muttered.

Professor Lupin nodded grimly. "The fortress is set on a tiny island, way out to sea, but they don't need walls and water to keep the prisoners in, not when they're all trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheerful thought. Most of them go mad within weeks," he said.

"But Sirius Black escaped from them. He got away..." Harry said slowly.

Professor Lupin's briefcase slipped from the desk; he had to stoop quickly to catch it. He had astoundingly fast movements for someone who was so sickly. Which only added to my theory. He was just that sickly looking because he hadn't slept last night. Because he had been transforming all night. Because he had likely sustained injuries at night while he was in his werewolf form. It was very hard to keep my mouth glued shut. I was so desperate to say something to him about it.

"Yes," Professor Lupin said, straightening up, "Black must have found a way to fight them. I wouldn't have believed it possible... Dementors are supposed to drain a wizard of his powers if he is left with them too long..."

"You made that Dementor on the train back off," Harry said suddenly.

"There are - certain defenses one can use. But there was only one Dementor on the train. The more there are, the more difficult it be comes to resist," Professor Lupin explained.

"It's a Patronus. The thing that you used on the train. Right?" I asked.

Professor Lupin looked surprised that I knew what it was. "Yes. It is," Professor Lupin said.

"What defenses? Can you teach me?" Harry asked at once.

"Could you teach both of us?" I asked quickly, sending Harry a little scowl for not including me. He flushed slightly. "That way that'll never happen at another Quidditch match."

"Is that your motivation?" Professor Lupin asked, a wry smile on his face.

"Well also to keep them away from me. They're awful," I said.

"I don't pretend to be an expert at fighting Dementors, Harry, Tara... quite the contrary..." Professor Lupin said.

"But if the Dementors come to another Quidditch match, I need to be able to fight them -"

"Exactly!" I interrupted Harry. "They could hurt a student... It will help to have more people that know how to fight them."

Professor Lupin smiled. "You are very much like your father," he said.

"Thank you," I said, smiling softly.

Professor Lupin looked into Harry and I's determined faces, hesitated, then said, "Well... all right. I'll try and help. But it'll have to wait until next term, I'm afraid. I have a lot to do before the holidays. I chose a very inconvenient time to fall ill."

"Thank you!" I chirped happily.

"We'll be there," Harry said happily, before turning to me. "Come on. We should get going."

If I was going to say something, I wanted to say it now. Before I lost my nerve. "You go ahead. I'll be right there. I just need to speak to Professor Lupin for a few minutes," I said, forcing myself not to back out.

"Okay," Harry said.

The two of us waited for Harry to walk out of the classroom and shut the door behind him. Then Professor Lupin turned to me and smiled. I tried to open my mouth and force myself to spit out the truth. Just say it, you idiot! I wanted to say it before I lost my nerve. But my mouth had chosen now to stop working. I wasn't sure how to say it to keep myself from getting expelled. And if there was the off chance that I was wrong... I was sure that I would never be able to look Professor Lupin in the eyes again.

"What else can I help you with, Tara?" Professor Lupin asked, sensing my hesitance to speak first.

"I - I wrote that essay."

"I'm very sorry that you already wrote it."

"I was bored in the hospital wing while I was recovering from the injury. I - I just... um... I don't know why I'm here, actually," I said awkwardly, looking anywhere but at his face.

Professor Lupin took in a deep breath, let it out, and gave me a bitter smile. He knew where this was going. "I get the sense that there's something that you want to say," he said.

"Yes..."

"I can give you extra credit for the assignment if you'd like to hand it in? Not that you really need any. You have almost a perfect score in the class," Professor Lupin offered.

"Oh. I don't think that I should hand in the assignment. I - uh - I gave examples of real life werewolves," I said, trying to lead myself into the conversation slowly.

"I see," Professor Lupin said slowly.

"You know... Fenrir Greyback." Unless I was wrong, I saw Professor Lupin give a little cringe. "Wagga Wagga Werewolf. Silas Crump," I said, trailing off dumbly.

"Anyone else?"

"Yes... But someone that I do look up to," I said quickly.

"Is that so?" Professor Lupin asked.

"Yes. I don't hold that prejudice. My mother and father taught me to never judge someone for something that they can't control. They were very pro-werewolf," I said.

"They were when we were children, too," Professor Lupin said.

It was his own way of telling me that he was. I was sure that it was. Because my parents had trusted him. And that gave me every reason to trust him. He had never given me any reason not to trust him. And if he hadn't said something yet, I could only assume that I was right about thinking that he was a werewolf. So I decided to just go for it.

"So... You are?" I asked, so quietly that I wasn't even sure that he had heard me.

Professor Lupin gave a bitter smile as he started pacing in front of me. "I figured that when Professor Snape set the essay someone would manage to figure it out. It should come as no surprise that you were the one," he said.

"I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said anything," I said dumbly.

Professor Lupin smiled and shook his head. He motioned for me to follow him and I went, sitting behind at his desk with him. "Please, Tara. Your mother was the first of my friends to figure it out," Professor Lupin said.

"She was?" I asked.

"Yes. She recognized the signs. Just the way that you did, I'm sure?" Professor Lupin asked.

"I had a feeling after the Boggart but the essay confirmed it," I explained.

Professor Lupin smiled like he was almost proud of me. "You certainly are my brightest student, Tara. And as exceptionally kind as your mother," he said, making me smile at him. "She never had an issue about my lycanthropy."

Now I understood why my mother and father had always taught me to never fear werewolves. It made total sense now. "There's no reason to fear it. As long as you can manage to contain yourself during the full moon and transformations there's no need to be afraid of them." Professor Lupin smiled as I hesitated, something occurring to me. "Can I ask what happened?" I asked.

Be a little ruder, Tara! My eyes went wide and I was about to take it back, but Professor Lupin spoke first. "Of course. Shortly before I turned five, I was attacked by Greyback," Professor Lupin explained.

"Oh... Oh I'm so sorry," I said, gasping softly.

Fenrir Greyback was, perhaps, the most savage werewolf alive today. He regarded it as his mission in life to bite and to conta minate as many people as possible; he wanted to create enough were wolves to overcome the wizards. He had become so savage that even his human form was starting to meld in with his werewolf form, making him appear permanently as a werewolf. Apparently Voldemort had promised him prey in return for his services. Greyback specialized in children... Bite them young and raise them away from their parents, raise them to hate normal wizards

Somehow Professor Lupin had managed to escape. "That's alright. It's been a long time and I've since gotten over it. As I slept peacefully in bed, Greyback forced open my window and bit me. My father managed to reach the bedroom in time to save me and to drive Greyback out of the house using a number of powerful curses. The deed, however, was already done, and I became a full-fledged werewolf from that point on," Professor Lupin explained.

"Professor Dumbledore knows this? Everyone knows this?" I asked curiously.

Was there a chance that no one knew? Or was this something that was common knowledge. "Many people at Hogwarts didn't know. But some did. My closest friends. Your parents. The staff. Professor Snape," Professor Lupin explained.

"He found out on accident, I suppose?" I asked, referring to Snape.

"A very near accident. But he managed to get away and everyone was okay."

"I suppose that's good. What about during your transformations?"

"Not to worry, I had a place to go. I still have a place to go. You and the other students are completely safe."

That wasn't something that I had ever had a doubt about. "I trust you, Professor Lupin. My parents did and so do I," I said, smiling at him.

"I'm very glad to hear that, Tara," Professor Lupin said.

"And I swear that I will never repeat this to someone," I promised.

"I would very much appreciate that. And I do believe that's the dinner bell. You should get on your way, Tara."

"Thank you, Professor Lupin."

"Thank you, Tara. For keeping my secret and feeling that you could come and speak to me about it."

The two of us smiled at each other. We were in a good place right now. I finally knew the truth but I had sworn to never repeat it. Because I would have been furious if I was a werewolf and someone had repeated it. We exchanged a few nice comments as I sat at his desk, having a cup of tea. The moment that I finished I got up and headed straight to dinner. The others asked me what had happened, but I had merely told them that I had a question about the hinkypunk. As promised, I didn't say anything about Professor Lupin's secret.

What with the promise of anti-Dementor lessons from Lupin, the thought that I might never have to hear Voldemort looking for some child and feeling that horrible desire to be with some man, and the fact that Ravenclaw flattened Hufflepuff in their Quidditch match at the end of November, my mood took a definite upturn. So did Harry's. I had a feeling that Cedric might have thrown the match to try and even things out a little bit for the rest of the season. I would have to yell at him for that if he did. Because I needed to know what he had done.

It turned out that Gryffindor were not out of the running after all, although we could not afford to lose another match. We would have to win the rest of them and win with high points. Oliver became repossessed of his manic energy, and worked the team as hard as ever in the chilly haze of rain that persisted into December. I was sure that we were all going to have hypothermia within a few days. On the bright side, I saw no hint of a Dementor within the grounds. Dumbledore's anger seemed to be keeping them at their stations at the entrances.

Two weeks before the end of the term, when I would finally get a break from all of the craziness in Hogwarts, the sky lightened suddenly to a dazzling, Opaline white and the muddy grounds were revealed one morning covered in glittering frost. As much as I did love Christmas, I was still used to the warm winters back in Florida. I could never get used to the icy blasts of air and snow that fell in Scotland. It was a good thing that I still had Fred's winter cloak. He had simply learned that I wasn't going to give it back.

Inside the castle, there was a buzz of Christmas in the air. Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, had already decorated his classroom with shimmering lights that turned out to be real, fluttering fairies. The students were all happily discussing their plans for the holidays. Both Ron and Hermione had decided to remain at Hogwarts, and though Ron said it was because he couldn't stand two weeks with Percy, and Hermione insisted she needed to use the library, we weren't fooled; they were doing it to keep him company, and I knew that he was very grateful.

So far I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. Whether or not I wanted to stay in the castle or head out to go back home. I knew that Cedric was going to ask me to go out if I decided to go back home but I also didn't want to leave Harry in the castle. Although I knew that Ron and Hermione would be there to keep him company. To everyone's delight except Harry's, there was to be another Hogsmeade trip on the very last weekend of the term. I smiled softly. If I decided to stay at Hogwarts from the holiday, I would be able to at least go out with Cedric to Hogsmeade.

"We can do all our Christmas shopping there! Mum and Dad would really love those Toothflossing Stringmints from Honeydukes!" Hermione said cheerfully.

We all felt terribly for Harry, but there was nothing to be done. We would just have to be resigned to spending Christmas with him. Resigned to the fact that he would be the only Third Year staying behind again, Harry borrowed a copy of Which Broomstick from Oliver, and decided to spend the day reading up on the different makes. He had been riding one of the school brooms at team practice, an ancient Shooting Star, which was very slow and jerky. Even Cedric's old broom that I was using was better. We both definitely needed a new broom though.

Just a few days before the Hogsmeade trip, I was leaving Transfiguration with everyone else and heading to lunch. "Nox!" Professor McGonagall called, halting my movements. "I'd like a word."

"Yes, Professor?" I asked, motioning for my friends to head out.

She motioned for me to come over towards her desk. "Obviously you are aware of the situation with Sirius Black being on the loose and having been spotted both in the castle and surrounding villages. You know that yourself and Mr. Potter are in danger," Professor McGonagall said.

"I'm aware."

Automatically I knew that something was wrong here. The way that she was speaking to me. "Because of this, I need you to know that the teachers and staff here have decided that it is unsafe for you to be in Hogsmeade with the rest of the students until Sirius Black is apprehended. Not without an escort and we can't use our already limited resources to have anyone following you. It is for your own safety," Professor McGonagall said.

My jaw dropped. There was no way that they could keep me out of going to Hogsmeade. That wasn't fair! Sirius Black wasn't going to do anything to me. He was too far away. He obviously wasn't in the castle anymore. Maybe he was gone from the area now that he knew how many people were on the lookout for him. Either way, I had to be allowed to go to Hogsmeade. It was the one thing that I had been looking forward to. Because I really wanted to go back out on another date with Cedric.

"But my parents signed the slip!" I shouted.

Professor McGonagall shifted uncomfortably. "That was before we knew how serious this was. I'm sorry, Nox. But you did get to go into Hogsmeade once. You've seen the village. Nothing changes," she said regretfully.

"Professor -"

"I'm very sorry, Nox. I genuinely am," Professor McGonagall said, actually looking heartbroken for me. "But this is for your own safety."

"Alright. Thanks, Professor," I said lowly.

"You can keep Potter company," Professor McGonagall offered.

"Yeah. I suppose," I muttered.

It looked like she might have said something else, or at least wanted to say something else, but she didn't. Likely because she knew that I was upset and there was nothing more to say about it. So I headed out of her classroom and slung my bag over my shoulder. At least one thing was true; I was going to be able to sit with Harry and keep him company. Which was a benefit. At least neither one of us would be alone. The moment that I walked out I was corned by Cedric. He looked much happier than I was.

"You hear the next Hogsmeade trip is coming up soon?" Cedric asked, grinning at me.

"Yeah. I saw," I said.

"Want to go? I promise I won't drag you to Madam Puddifoot's," Cedric teased.

My jaws set. I would have been going out on another date. And maybe I would have gotten a real kiss this time. "As much as I would love that, I can't. I'd even rather go to Madam Puddifoot's all day. But I can't," I growled.

"Better offer?" Cedric teased.

He was trying to get me to play along. "With Sirius Black being in the area it means that I'm not safe out there. The teachers think that it's a bad idea that I would be out there without protection and they don't just want to have someone following me all the time. So, until Sirius Black is apprehended, I'm barred from going on the trips to Hogsmeade," I explained.

Cedric's face fell as he moved forward and grabbed my hands. "Oh... Tara, I'm really sorry," Cedric said softly.

"It sucks but I guess I'll get over it," I said, shrugging my shoulders.

"I wanted to go out with you again. Make up for the game."

It was enough to make me smile slightly. "That's alright. I'll live. I know that it wasn't your fault. I shouldn't have been just hanging there but the Dementors got to me. It was just an accident," I said honestly.

"I'll bring you something back, alright?" Cedric offered.

"You don't need to," I said.

He could tell that I wasn't into the conversation in the slightest. Cedric stepped into me and playfully jabbed me in the stomach before poking slightly at my cheeks. "Come on. Cheer up," Cedric said.

"How? Some psychopath is after me and now I can't even go to Hogsmeade to enjoy myself," I muttered.

"Alright. Then I'll cheer you up," Cedric said determinedly.

"How's that?" I asked.

If there was ever someone that was good at getting me to smile no matter what, it was Cedric. Surprising me slightly, Cedric ran over to me and grabbed around my hips, picking me up and throwing me over his shoulder. I laughed hysterically, actually feeling a little bit happy, as he dragged me down the hallway. He was holding me tightly around the back of the thighs. There was no way that I would have been able to pry myself away from him and in the back of my mind I knew that I didn't want him to. Because I was actually happy right now.

Something that I hadn't thought that I would feel for a while. He ran the two of us up and down the hallway as I kicked at his back, trying to get off of his shoulders. But he was too strong. Eventually he finally dropped me near the edge of the wall and I laughed again, my head spinning slightly. I grabbed onto his arm to make sure that I wasn't about to fall. The two of us smiled at each other for a moment before he leaned in. My heart skipped a beat as he leaned forward and gently kissed me. He kept one hand against the side of my face and I smiled.

He only lingered for a moment before pulling back. He didn't push for more, since he knew that I was upset. "Now look at that. You're smiling," Cedric teased.

"Stop," I said, shoving him back slightly. "I wanted to be upset."

Cedric gave a small smirk. He knew that he had gotten to me. "You know that I'm not going to let you stay upset. I want you to be happy," Cedric said, giving me another smile. "And I'm really sorry about Hogsmeade. But I promise that I'll bring you something back."

"Like?" I asked.

"Well that would ruin the surprise, wouldn't it?"

"I still don't like surprises."

"I know. But I do."

"Have fun out there," I said, a little more bitterly than I'd meant.

"I'm really sorry that you can't go, Tara," Cedric said.

Shrugging my shoulders again, I leaned back against the wall. "At least I got to go once. And Harry's here in the castle. Maybe the two of us will go do something," I said, looking around us.

"That's the spirit. Come on. It's dinnertime," Cedric said.

He placed a hand on the back of my shoulder and gently pulled me along with him. For a moment the two of us walked with our hands linked. I leaned my head against his shoulder as he placed a small kiss in my hair. My heart was fluttering slightly. At least, if nothing else, Professor McGonagall's warning against me going to Hogsmeade had placed the two of us in the castle together. As we got to the Great Hall, Cedric released my hand and we walked back in. I noticed that many of the girls were glaring at me, despite the fact that we weren't touching anymore.

It was something that had been happening since we had gone to Hogsmeade together. And the rumors had only briefly died down about us when I had been injured during the Quidditch game. Of course, the way that Cedric had reacted after my impact had only made the rumors run rampant again and they hadn't stopped since. The two of us gave each other a quick hug before I turned and went to take my place between Harry and Hermione. They asked what had happened and I regretfully told them about what had happened with Professor McGonagall.

None of them looked happy that I wasn't going to be allowed to go to Hogsmeade. Hermione had commented that it was probably safer that I don't go. After a very loud tirade from Ron she had apologized and told me that she was sorry that I couldn't go and had promised to get me something from Honeydukes. Ron had offered to distract Filch. I had laughed but told him that it wasn't worth getting caught. Harry was not happy to hear that I had been barred from Hogsmeade but he was happy that at least he wouldn't be alone. It was the only bright side to the whole thing.

In the meantime, as the days passed, I noticed that word began to spread that I would not be going to Hogsmeade this time around. Someone must have overheard me saying that I wasn't going to be there. Although it became quickly obvious that no one knew why, which made me perfectly happy. I didn't want anyone to know about my condition with Sirius Black. But it just made the rumors worse. Because now everyone was assuming that Cedric didn't ask me back out to Hogsmeade after our last date and now I was too embarrassed to go.

Unfortunately it meant that I just had to accept the rumors. Because I couldn't tell them the truth about what had happened. But it was incredibly embarrassing having people say that. I wasn't sure what Cedric was saying, but I had asked him to keep the truth about Sirius Black. They didn't need to know what was happening. That meant that Cedric was likely just having to tell people to mind their own business. Which would only make things even worse. Of course. Just when I was thinking that things couldn't get any worse for me. Now I had to add stupid rumors to my plate of things to deal with.

Over the past few days I had gotten a number of condolences. Of course they weren't serious. The girls that had come up to me were all laughing and seemed to be pleased that Cedric had apparently 'come to his senses' about seeing someone like me. I had come very close to hitting someone more than once. People were also simply enjoying making fun of me. And I was now noticing that some other girls were starting to flirt with Cedric, now that they thought that he had no entanglements. It was infuriating me.

On the Saturday morning of the Hogsmeade trip, Harry and I bid goodbye to Ron and Hermione, who were wrapped in cloaks and scarves. They looked very guilty about everything that had happened but we merely shrugged them off and wished them a happy time. Then we turned up the marble staircase, just the two of us, and headed back toward Gryffindor Tower. Snow had started to fall outside the windows, and the castle was very still and quiet. It made it feel lonelier than I had in a long time.

"Sorry you can't go this time," Harry said.

"For once, it's not your fault," I teased, making Harry laugh. "Wanna find something to do?"

"Sure." The two of us headed off to try and find something to amuse ourselves. Which would be hard to do, since we were both a little depressed. "You alright? You've seemed kind of out of it the past few days."

"Just annoyed," I growled.

"About?"

"You don't want to hear."

"Do too. Tell me."

Taking a deep breath, I leaned back onto Harry's shoulder, knowing that I would probably annoy him. "I'm just annoyed that since I couldn't go to Hogsmeade people now think that Cedric didn't want to go out with me again. And he did ask me but I had to tell him the truth. Now girls are flirting with him and making fun of me," I said, hearing the little whine in my voice.

Harry grabbed my shoulder and pulled me off to the side. His hands were tight over my arms. "Don't listen to them, Tara. Anyone with eyes can see that Diggory's got a huge crush on you," he said, surprising me.

"I know... But we haven't really said whether or not we are anything to each other and it's just... weird."

"He kissed you at Hogsmeade, right?"

My head snapped over to him. "What?" I asked dumbly.

Harry laughed and rolled his eyes. "I'm no idiot. I know that the way that you've been looking at Diggory, how panicked he was when you were hurt at the last game, and the way that you've been so bothered by the comments... something happened." Harry was smarter than I gave him credit for. "Am I right?" Harry asked, after a beat.

"Yeah," I admitted awkwardly.

"Was that the only time?" Harry asked.

"He just kissed me in the hall last week when I was upset," I said.

Harry nudged me in the shoulder. "See? He likes you," Harry said.

"But he can't actually say that he does. Or tell others that he does."

"Ask him about it."

That would have made for an awkward conversation. "I can't even think of what I would manage to say," I mumbled.

"Psst - Harry! Tara!"

What the hell was that? Who else was actually staying here? Other than the few older kids who had seen Hogsmeade a number of times and were now bored of the whole thing. The both of us turned, halfway along the third-floor corridor, to see Fred and George peering out at us from behind a statue of a hump-backed, one-eyed witch. My eyebrows raised. What were they doing out here? They were always out at Hogsmeade whenever they could, seeing as it was the only time that they could get out to Zonko's.

"What are you doing? How come you're not going to Hogsmeade?" Harry asked curiously.

"Missing out on a trip to Zonko's?" I asked.

"Of course not," George said, as if I was being a complete moron.

"We've come to give you a bit of festive cheer before we go," Fred said, with a mysterious wink.

"That sounds dangerous," I commented.

"Such little faith, Tara. Come in here," Fred said.

When it came to the two of them doing something that looked very untrustworthy, they were very right about me having little faith in them. Fred nodded toward an empty classroom to the left of the one-eyed statue. Harry and I followed Fred and George inside, exchanging a look with each other. We couldn't help but to wonder what was happening. Fred and George were some of the few who knew the truth about my being barred from Hogsmeade, as I had complained to them about it one day. George closed the door quietly and then turned, beaming, to look at Harry and me.

"Early Christmas present for you, Harry. Something to share with Tara until she's allowed back," George said.

"Something that's going to blow up in my face?" I asked dully.

"You think we're so cruel," George said.

"Maybe because I remember your present from two years ago," I said.

"But it made you laugh," Fred said, poking me in the waist.

I laughed and shoved him away from me. "Now that is true," I admitted.

They both laughed as I took a step back to see what they were doing. Apparently something that wasn't going to blow up in my face. Which I liked, considering that it had taken me two weeks to grow back my eyebrows last time. Fred pulled something from inside his cloak with a flourish and laid it on one of the desks. Harry and I moved forwards to see what it was. It was a large, square, very worn piece of parchment with nothing written on it. I raised my brow and turned towards them, suspecting one of Fred and George's jokes. Harry was still staring at it.

"What's that supposed to be?" Harry asked.

"This, Harry, is the secret of our success," George said, patting the parchment fondly.

"A piece of blank parchment?" I asked.

"Don't be daft," George said, making me scowl.

"It's a wrench, giving it to you, but we decided last night, your need's greater than ours," Fred said.

"Anyway, we know it by heart. We bequeath it to you. We don't really need it anymore," George said.

"And what do I need with a bit of old parchment?" Harry asked.

"A bit of old parchment!" Fred exclaimed, closing his eyes with a grimace as though Harry had mortally offended him. "Explain, George."

"Well... when we were in our First Year, Harry, Tara - young, care- free, and innocent -"

Both Harry and I snorted. That was probably one of the funniest things that I had ever heard either one of them say. And they were some very funny people. But I knew that Harry was laughing at the exact same thing that I was laughing at. We both obviously doubted whether Fred and George had ever been innocent. Judging by the way that Mrs. Weasley would yell at them, they likely never had been.

"- well, more innocent than we are now - we got into a spot of bother with Filch," George finished.

"Shocking," I muttered.

"We let off a Dungbomb in the corridor and it upset him for some reason -"

"So he hauled us off to his office and started threatening us with the usual -"

"- detention -"

"- disembowelment -"

"- and we couldn't help noticing a drawer in one of his filing cabinets marked Confiscated and Highly Dangerous."

"Wow, Filch hasn't even given me disembowelment as on option," I said, giving them a small smile. And Filch really hated me. "Although he did try to choke me to death."

"Well you did Petrify his cat," Fred said.

"Shut up!" I barked.

"Don't tell me," Harry said, starting to grin.

"Well, what would you've done? George caused a diversion by dropping another Dungbomb, I whipped the drawer open, and grabbed - this," Fred said, motioning back to the parchment.

"Not bad, boys," I said, grinning.

"It's not as bad as it sounds, you know. We don't reckon Filch ever found out how to work it. He probably suspected what it was, though, or he wouldn't have confiscated it," George said.

"And you know how to work it?" Harry asked.

"Oh yes. This little beauty's taught us more than all the teachers in this school," Fred said, smirking.

"You're winding me up," Harry said, looking at the ragged old bit of parchment.

"Oh, are we?" George asked playfully.

"Get on with it, boys," I barked.

George took out his wand, touched the parchment lightly, and said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Snorting under my breath, I looked straight down at the parchment. It sounded like something that Fred and George would have come up with. Although I was sure that someone else had come up with it. I watched in fascination as, at once, thin ink lines began to spread like a spider's web from the point that George's wand had touched. They joined each other, they crisscrossed, they fanned into every corner of the parchment; then words began to blossom across the top, great, curly green words, that proclaimed:

Messrs. Moony, Mane, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers are proud to present

THE MARAUDER'S MAP

It was a map showing every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds. My jaw dropped when I saw it. This was definitely something incredible. This was something that I had never thought that I would ever see. Nothing like this. And I had seen some pretty amazing magic. But the truly remarkable thing were the tiny ink dots moving around it, each labeled with a name in minuscule writing. It was definitely useful. And I realized pretty quickly that this was how Cedric had known about the witch statue.

Astounded at the map, Harry and I bent over it. We were careful not to touch it, fearing that if we touched it, the words would vanish. Like one of Fred and George's jokes. A labeled dot in the top left corner showed that Professor Dumbledore was pacing his study; the caretaker's cat, Mrs. Norris, was prowling the second floor; and Peeves the Poltergeist was currently bouncing around the trophy room. And as my eyes traveled up and down the familiar corridors, I noticed something else. The map showed a set of passages that I had never entered. And many of them seemed to lead...

"Right into Hogsmeade," Fred said, tracing one of them with his finger. "There are seven in all. Now, Filch knows about these four," he pointed them out, "but we're sure we're the only ones who know about these. Don't bother with the one behind the mirror on the fourth floor. We used it until last winter, but it's caved in - completely blocked. And we don't reckon anyone's ever used this one, because the Whomping Willow's planted right over the entrance. But this one here, this one leads right into the cellar of Honeydukes. We've used it loads of times. And as you might've noticed, the entrance is right outside this room, through that one-eyed old crone's hump."

"Cedric showed me this entrance before. I can't believe I didn't think about it!" I said, feeling very stupid.

Fred and George whipped around to me. I realized a second too late that I shouldn't have said anything. "How did Diggory know?" George asked, an accusatory note in his voice.

"He overheard you two idiots talking. Showed me one day," I said, faulting them.

"Have to be more careful about that in the future," Fred said, exchanging a look with George.

"Thanks. Got me out on my birthday last year," I said.

"You should've brought us back something," Fred teased, throwing an arm over my shoulder.

I rolled my eyes and shoved him off of me. "Shut up," I barked.

They all laughed as George went back to the parchment. "Moony, Mane, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," George said, patting the heading of the map. "We owe them so much."

"Noble men, working tirelessly to help a new generation of law-breakers," Fred said solemnly.

"Right," George said briskly.

"Who are they?" I asked, looking down at the map.

Fred came to stand over my shoulder. "We're not sure. Old students, somewhere in the last generation or two," Fred explained.

"Don't forget to wipe it after you've used it -"

"- or anyone can read it," Fred said warningly.

"Just tap it again and say, 'Mischief managed!' And it'll go blank," George finished.

"So, young Harry," Fred said, in an uncanny impersonation of Percy, "mind you behave yourself."

"See you in Honeydukes," George said, winking.

"Thank you, boys!" I chirped.

"Our pleasure, Tara," George said.

Fred was not quite as easy to get lost. "Remember. Now you owe us another one," he said, leaning in my ear.

"Get out," I barked, shoving him away from me. "See you boys out there."

The two of them each gave me a smile and I laughed. They were annoying as hell but at least they were being helpful today. The twins then left the room, both smirking in a satisfied sort of way. There were a few times where the twins really came through for me. Harry and I stood there, gazing at the miraculous map. There was actually a chance that we could get out of here and into Hogsmeade. I watched the tiny ink Mrs. Norris turn left and pause to sniff at something on the floor. If Filch really didn't know... we wouldn't have to pass the Dementors at all...

But even as I stood there, flooded with excitement, something I had once heard Mr. Weasley say came floating out of my memory. Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you can't see where it keeps its brain. This map was one of those dangerous magical objects Mr. Weasley had been warning against... Aids for Magical Mischief-Makers... but then, we only wanted to use it to get into Hogsmeade, it wasn't as though we wanted to steal anything or attack anyone... and Fred and George had been using it for years without anything horrible happening...

Plus I had been down that passage before. And nothing terrible had happened to me other than a few little trips and falls. Harry traced the secret passage to Honeydukes with his finger. We stared at each other for a moment before nodding. We would be just fine doing it. Then, quite suddenly, as though following orders, Harry rolled up the map, stuffed it inside his robes, grabbed me, and hurried to the door of the classroom. He opened it a couple of inches. There was no one outside. Very carefully, we edged out of the room and behind the statue of the one-eyed witch.

What did we have to do? I couldn't remember. Harry pulled out the map again. Two new ink figures had appeared upon it, labeled Harry Potter and Tara Nox. Those figures were standing exactly where the real Harry and Tara were standing, about halfway down the third-floor corridor. I watched carefully. Our little ink selves appeared to be tapping the witch with our minute wands. Harry quickly took out his real wand and tapped the statue. Nothing happened. We exchanged a look and then looked back at the map. The tiniest speech bubble had appeared next to our figures. The word inside said, Dissendium.

"That's it. I just forgot," I whispered.

"Dissendium!" Harry whispered, tapping the stone witch again.

All at once, the statue's hump opened wide enough to admit a fairly thin person. Just as it had when Cedric and I had gone to Hogsmeade through it. Harry glanced quickly up and down the corridor, then tucked the map away again. He motioned for me to go first and I did so, allowing him to give me a hand. I let out a little whoop as I slid a considerable way down what felt like a stone slide, then landed on cold, damp earth. I stood up, looking around. It was pitch dark as it had been before. Then Harry hoisted himself into the hole headfirst, and pushed himself forward.

Harry held up his wand, muttered, "Lumos!" and looked around. We were in the very narrow, low, earthy passageway. Harry raised the map, tapped it with the tip of his wand, and muttered, "Mischief managed!" The map went blank at once.

"I'll go first. I've been down here before," I said.

"Nothing in here?" Harry asked.

"Nope. A little hard to walk in but it'll let us right out in Honeydukes," I explained.

"This is great," Harry said happily.

"You'll love Hogsmeade," I said, smiling.

"You can go meet up with Diggory."

My head jerked over to where he was standing, even though I couldn't see much more than his outline. "You really are supportive of this, aren't you?" I asked, still somewhat surprised.

"Not really," Harry admitted, making me smile. "But I don't want to see what you'll do when I get a crush on someone so I'm doing this in hopes that you'll be nice."

"Just make sure it's a nice girl. Or I'll kill her and beat you up," I said.

"Thanks, Tara. And I'll kill Diggory if he hurts you," Harry offered.

"Thanks, tough guy," I teased.

The two of us smiled as Harry folded the map carefully, tucked it inside his robes, then moved forwards. As he was standing against me, I noticed that his heart was beating fast. He must have been both excited and apprehensive. Of course, I understood. I had been nervous the first time that I had been down here, too. As we walked I noted that the passage twisted and turned, more like the burrow of a giant rabbit than anything else. Harry and I hurried along it, stumbling now and then on the uneven floor, just as I had the first time, with Harry holding his wand out in front of him.

It took ages, as it did the first time, but we had the thought of Honeydukes to sustain us. And I might have been able to hunt down Cedric. What joy that might give me to throw it back in the faces of some of the girls who had been laughing at me for not getting a second date. Plus I would finally get to restock my Sugar Quills, which were getting low again. Harry and I didn't speak, just in case the Dementors could hear us. After what felt like an hour, the passage began to rise. Panting, Harry and I sped up, my face hot and my feet very cold.

Ten minutes later, we came to the foot of some worn stone steps, which rose out of sight above us. Careful not to make any noise, the two of us began to climb. A hundred steps, two hundred steps, I lost count as we climbed, watching my feet... Then, without warning, Harry's head hit something hard. I couldn't help but to snort at the thought that he had run right into the trapdoor. Harry stood there, massaging the top of his head, listening. I couldn't hear any sounds above us. Very slowly, Harry pushed the trapdoor open and peered over the edge.

We were in the Honeydukes cellar, which was full of wooden crates and boxes. Harry climbed out of the trapdoor and gave me a hand up before replacing it. I grabbed his arm and pulled him forwards. Harry and I crept slowly toward the wooden staircase that led upstairs. Now I could definitely hear voices, not to mention the tinkle of a bell and the opening and shutting of a door. Hogwarts students coming to buy something. We would have to move quickly. Suddenly I heard a door open much closer at hand; somebody was about to come downstairs.

"And get another box of Jelly Slugs, dear, they've nearly cleaned us out," a woman's voice said.

"Hurry up!" I hissed.

A pair of feet was coming down the staircase. We leapt behind an enormous crate and waited for the footsteps to pass. I heard the man shifting boxes against the opposite wall. We might not get another chance. Quickly and silently, Harry and I dodged out from our hiding place and climbed the stairs; looking back, I saw an enormous backside and shiny bald head, buried in a box. We reached the door at the top of the stairs, slipped through it, and found ourselves behind the counter of Honeydukes. We ducked down, crept sideways, and then straightened up.

Right into the main storefront of Honeydukes. I smiled at Harry and nudged his shoulder. He had finally gotten his trip out to Hogsmeade, despite the rather strange way that he had been forced to go about it. Honeydukes was so crowded with Hogwarts students that no one looked twice at Harry or me. Not that it mattered. They didn't know that we weren't allowed here. We edged among them, looking around. Harry suppressed a laugh, mentioning to me that he was imagining the look that would spread over Dudley's piggy face if he could see where we were now.

It made me snort. He was right about that. If the Dursley's could ever manage to bring Dudley into Hogsmeade, there was a chance that they could never get him to leave. He would have loved Honeydukes. There were shelves upon shelves of the most succulent-looking sweets imaginable. Creamy chunks of nougat, shimmering pink squares of coconut ice, fat, honey-colored toffees; hundreds of different kinds of chocolate in neat rows; there was a large barrel of Every Flavor Beans, and another of Fizzing Whizbees, and the levitating sherbert balls that Ron had mentioned.

Along yet another wall were 'Special Effects' sweets. Those were the ones that Fred and George always seemed to be giving me to try and make me look like a fool. Drooble's Best Blowing Gum (which filled a room with bluebell-colored bubbles that refused to pop for days), the strange, splintery Toothflossing Stringmints, tiny black Pepper Imps ('breathe fire for your friends!'), Ice Mice ('hear your teeth chatter and squeak!'), peppermint creams shaped like toads ('hop realistically in the stomach!'), fragile sugar-spun quills, and exploding bonbons.

"There they are!" I said, spotting Ron's flaming hair and Hermione's bushy hair.

"Come on. Let's go give them a surprise," Harry said ,tugging me along with him.

"Awesome," I chirped happily.

The two of us continued to move forward through the throng of people. It was very hard to beat them all back as they were standing so close to one another and the store was small anyways. Harry and I managed to squeeze ourselves through a crowd of Sixth Years and saw a sign hanging in the farthest corner of the shop: Unusual Tastes. I cringed and walked past it. That didn't look good. But Ron and Hermione were standing underneath it, examining a tray of blood-flavored lollipops. Harry and I grinned and sneaked up behind them.

"Ugh, no, Harry and Tara won't want one of those, they're for vampires, I expect," Hermione was saying.

"How about these?" Ron asked, shoving a jar of Cockroach Clusters under Hermione's nose.

Harry and I exchanged a disgusted look before stepping up behind the pair. "Definitely not," Harry and I said together.

Their reaction was rather comical. Ron nearly dropped the jar. He had to place it back on the counter quickly before he actually did drop it and would then have to pay for it. He and Hermione whirled around to look at us. We both smiled, letting them know that they weren't imagining things. Ron jumped forward and gave the two of us hugs, making both Harry and I laugh. Hermione moved forward a moment later, looking just as surprised but a little more irritable that we were here.

"Harry! Tara!" Hermione squealed. "What are you doing here? How - how did you - ?"

"Wow! You two have learned to Apparate!" Ron said, looking very impressed.

"'Course we haven't," Harry said.

Rolling my eyes at Ron, I leaned back against a display. "It's not even legal until we're of age, you idiot. Not to mention that you can't Apparate into and out of Hogwarts. Listen a little more next time," I snapped.

"So how'd you two do it?" Ron asked.

Harry and I exchanged a look, obviously wondering if we should tell them about the way that we had gotten here. But eventually I shrugged at Harry and motioned for him to go ahead. So Harry dropped his voice so that none of the Sixth Years around us could hear him and I helped tell Ron and Hermione all about Fred and George and how they had given us the Marauder's Map. Once we had finished I noticed that Ron looked annoyed and Hermione looked very concerned.

"How come Fred and George never gave it to me! I'm their brother!" Ron shouted, outraged.

"You honestly think that they would have given it to you?" I asked.

"But this would have been so cool!" Ron barked.

"Well we have it now," I said brightly.

"But Harry isn't going to keep it! He's going to hand it in to Professor McGonagall, aren't you, Harry?" Hermione said, as though the idea of possibly keeping the map was ludicrous.

"No, I'm not!" Harry yelped.

"Don't be stupid!" I barked.

"Are you mad? Hand in something that good?" Ron asked, goggling at Hermione.

"Hermione, this thing is great!" I said excitedly.

"If I hand it in, I'll have to say where I got it! Filch would know Fred and George had nicked it!" Harry said.

And there was no way that I was getting Fred and George in that much trouble. Not from Filch, who was bad enough. "But what about Sirius Black?" Hermione hissed.

"What about him?" I asked.

"He could be using one of the passages on that map to get into the castle! The teachers have got to know!" Hermione said.

"There's no way that he'll know, Hermione," I said.

That was a stupid thought. "He can't be getting in through a passage," Harry said quickly. "There are seven secret tunnels on the map, right? Fred and George reckon Filch already knows about four of them. And of the other three - one of them is caved in, so no one can get through it. One of them is got the Whomping Willow planted over the entrance, so you can't get out of it. And the one I just came through - well - it's really hard to see the entrance to it down in the cellar, so unless he knew it was there..."

He was obviously having some doubt about everything. But I was determined that Sirius Black couldn't get into the castle through the passages. "He would also have to slip by about three hundred residents in Hogsmeade. There's no way that he could do that without alerting someone. Or the owners of Honeyduke's. They'd hear him," I explained to Hermione.

"But... What if?" Hermione asked.

There was no what if. Sirius Black was not getting into the castle. There was no way. Absolutely not. But... was there a chance that Hermione might have been right? As she so usually was? I exchanged a look with Harry and noticed that he was hesitating, too. Because now we were both wondering if she might have been right about everything. What if Black did know the passage was there? After all, he had once been a student. Ron, however, cleared his throat significantly, and pointed to a notice pasted on the inside of the sweetshop door. The one that I had spotted last time with Cedric.

By Order Of
The Ministry Of Magic

Customers are reminded that until further notice, Dementors will be patrolling the streets of Hogsmeade every night after sundown. This measure has been put in place for the safety of Hogsmeade residents and will be lifted upon the recapture of Sirius Black. It is therefore advisable that you complete your shopping well before nightfall.

Merry Christmas!

"See? I'd like to see Black try and break into Honeydukes with Dementors swarming all over the village. Anyway, Hermione, the Honeydukes owners would hear a break-in, wouldn't they? They live over the shop! Just like Tara said!" Ron said.

"Yes, but - but -" Hermione seemed to be struggling to find another problem.

"There are no problems with this, Hermione," I said determinedly, not wanting to think of the alternative.

"Look, Harry and Tara still shouldn't be coming into Hogsmeade. He hasn't got a signed form! And Tara's been barred from being here until Black has been caught! If anyone finds out, they'll be in so much trouble! And it's not nightfall yet - what if Sirius Black turns up today? Now?" Hermione asked.

She always had been a little bit of a buzzkill. "Mione, have some fun! It's only a few hours," I said, grabbing her hands.

"He'd have a job spotting Harry and Tara in this," Ron said, nodding through the mullioned windows at the thick, swirling snow. "Come on, Hermione, it's Christmas. They deserves a break."

Hermione bit her lip, looking extremely worried. We all exchanged a look with each other. There was no way that we were going back to Hogwarts after everything that we had gone through to get out here. We were keeping that Mauraders Map and not giving it back. Hermione was looking in between us, probably wishing that we would give it back. Ron looked very excited. Harry and I exchanged a look with each other, grinning madly. We knew exactly how to get Hermione to agree that this was the right thing.

"Are you going to report me?" Harry asked her, grinning.

"Oh - of course not - but honestly, Harry -"

"Too late!" I interrupted.

"Seen the Fizzing Whizbees, Harry?" Ron asked, grabbing us and leading us over to their barrel, cutting off anything that Hermione might have been getting ready to say. "And the Jelly Slugs? And the Acid Pops? Fred gave me one of those when I was seven - it burnt a hole right through my tongue. I remember Mum walloping him with her broomstick." Ron stared broodingly into the Acid Pop box.

"Seriously?" I asked.

The corners of my lips turned towards as I started to smile. Just a second later the giggling started. That sounded like something that Fred would have done. "Yeah. Stop laughing!" Ron said, whacking me on the arm.

"Oh, come on. That's kind of funny. And Fred was only nine. He didn't know any better," I said.

"Reckon Fred would take a bit of Cockroach Cluster if I told him they were peanuts?" Ron asked.

"I reckon he'd put a tarantula in your bed. Or your shoes. Or pants," I said, grinning as I saw him becoming more and more distressed.

"Stop!" Ron shouted.

We all laughed and headed deeper into the store, with me picking up a package of Sugar Quills. When Ron, Hermione, and I had paid for all of our sweets, the four of us left Honeydukes for the blizzard outside. It was automatically freezing and I realized just how hard it was to actually look through the snow. Hogsmeade looked even more like a Christmas card than it normally did; the little thatched cottages and shops were all covered in a layer of crisp snow; there were holly wreaths on the doors and strings of enchanted candles hanging in the trees.

The whole thing was gorgeous. I wished that I could have come out here earlier. Been out here the entire time. It would have made a nice date for Cedric and me. Maybe I could find him and get him to go out somewhere, but it would take me some time to find him in this. And I might not even be able to. Hogsmeade was large and there were hundreds of students out here right now. As we trudged through the snow, I shivered; unlike the other two, Harry and I didn't have our cloaks. We headed up the street, heads bowed against the wind, Ron and Hermione shouting through their scarves.

"That's the post office -"

"Zonko's is up there -"

"We could go up to the Shrieking Shack -"

"In this weather?" I shouted back.

"Well -" Hermione started.

"What about the Sporting Goods shop? They have the Firebolt!" I shouted excitably.

It looked like Harry might have been about to agree with my plan, but Ron interrupted. "Tell you what, shall we go for a Butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks?" Ron asked, his teeth chattering from the cold.

"Okay... I suppose that's fair," I said.

If it was anything like it had been last time, it would at least be really warm in the Three Broomsticks. I was more than willing to go in for a Hot Butterbeer; the wind was fierce and my hands were freezing, so we crossed the road, and in a few minutes we were entering the tiny inn. I could practically feel myself defrosting. It was extremely crowded, noisy, warm, and smoky. Just as it usually was. A curvy sort of woman with a pretty face was serving a bunch of rowdy warlocks up at the bar. She was the same bartender that I had seen last time.

"That's Madam Rosmerta. I'll get the drinks, shall I?" Ron offered, going slightly red.

"Do you have a crush on her?" I asked, giggling softly.

Ron blushed madly again. "Shut up, Tara," he snapped bashfully.

"Go flirt with her, big guy," I teased.

Ron shoved me away from him as I laughed under my breath. The moment that he walked off I glanced with him. There were a number of people over at the bar. It would take him forever to get the drinks. As my gaze followed Ron I noticed that Cedric was there, too. He was sitting at the corner of the bar. His friends were in a booth towards the front of the shop. He must have been waiting to get them all drinks, just as Ron was doing. I was pleased to see that the only girls that were with them were girls that I knew, from Cedric's explanations, were platonic friends.

Harry must have seen where I was looking. "Go say hi," Harry said.

Smiling at Harry and Hermione, I gave them a small hug. "I'll be right back." They both nodded as I jumped up and ran straight up behind Cedric. It would be a good time to mess with him. "One of those for me?" I asked softly.

Cedric jumped about a foot in the air before whipping back around. He looked shocked at my sudden appearance. "Please tell me that someone didn't put Firewhisky in my drink and I'm just hallucinating that you're here. Actually, on second thought, please tell me that someone did put Firewhisky in my drink and you're really not here," Cedric said slowly.

Apparently he wasn't quite as happy to see me as I had thought that he would be. "And here I thought that you would be excited to see me," I said, folding my arms over my chest.

"I'm very excited to see you. But, Tara, you're not supposed to be here. How did you even get here?" Cedric asked sharply.

For a moment I opened my mouth to tell him about the Mauraders Map before I remembered that it was definitely against the rules. I trusted Cedric to not say anything about it, but I didn't want to get him sucked into it. Just in case someone found out about the map. As few people needed to know about it as possible. So I decided to just go with the one way that he wouldn't question it.

"The statue that you showed me," I said.

Cedric smiled and nodded. "Ah... So I take it that Harry is here, too?" Cedric asked, glancing around the bar.

"Yep. Towards the back of the bar with Ron and Hermione," I explained.

Although Ron was still standing up at the bar, talking with Rosmerta. "Be careful while you're out here, Tara. If you get caught out here you're going to get in so much trouble. The both of you," Cedric said.

"Relax. I can manage myself," I said.

"But, in other news, I am very happy to see you," Cedric said brightly.

At least he was happy to see me. For a moment I had thought that he wasn't very happy to see me. But maybe I could throw this back in the faces of the girls who had laughed over the fact that we weren't going out together. Cedric grabbed my shoulders and brought me into a hug. I giggled softly as he grabbed my hand and led me back behind the bar so that no one could see us. I raised a brow, wondering what we were doing. It was nice that at least we were out of sight from everyone else. No more rumors this time. Actually... they were destined to get worse.

"Have you been hearing everyone else talking?" I asked, folding my arms over my chest.

"About?" Cedric asked.

Literally everyone had been talking about it. How was there a chance that he hadn't heard the new rumors? "Honestly. Do you ever listen?" I asked.

"Not when it's about things that don't concern me or things that I don't care about," Cedric said.

"It kind of does concern you. Everyone is thinking that something happened because I didn't come to Hogsmeade and you did. I guess they're thinking that something happened during our last trip to Hogsmeade, which drives me nuts. It's so embarrassing. Although I can't talk about what happened so I can't even tell them the truth. And now everyone is..." I trailed off, not wanting to admit it.

"Is?" Cedric prodded.

"All of those girls... they..." I trailed off again, unsure of how to put it.

"They?"

"Don't make me say it," I whined.

"What? They're flirting with me?" Cedric asked, a tiny teasing note to his voice.

"Yes!" I barked irritably. "Because they think that you and I didn't... I don't know... I don't even know what was going on between us. No one ever tells me anything. Not you. And I - Just - Please stop me anytime you want."

The last thing that I wanted to do was continue to make myself look like a fool. I looked like a complete idiot while I was standing in front of him. But I was normally being an idiot when I was around him. I could never manage to keep myself all together when I was in front of him. Cedric was grinning at me and I rolled my eyes. He must have thought that this was hysterical. Maybe he would laugh and tell all of his friends about this later. But I knew that he was a much better person than that. He would never do that. Not to me, at least.

"It's kind of funny watching you struggle for words," Cedric teased.

"Don't laugh at me," I said slowly.

Cedric stepped into me and placed a hand against my shoulder, keeping the two of us standing together. "I like you, Tara. I like you a lot," Cedric admitted.

An embarrassing blush settled over my face. "How could you not like me?" I asked teasingly.

"Watch that head," Cedric teased. "And I really like going out with you."

"So?" I asked, sensing that something else was coming.

"I was thinking that maybe when we get back home in a few months, when we're not at school, we can hang around a little more."

A shot of embarrassment went radiating through me. I was such an idiot for thinking that he might have wanted to really go out with me. "Ah. You don't want people to see us together," I said slowly, trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice.

"That is not what I meant. That's not at all what I meant," Cedric said quickly, knowing that he had offended me. "I just meant... I know that you don't like people staring at you and making comments."

"Well you're right about that," I muttered.

"So I was thinking that being back home, no one will see us together. We can do whatever we want and no one will be there to start rumors. It might be a little bit easier," Cedric explained.

Now I felt a little stupid for automatically assuming that he hadn't wanted to go out with me. He knew just how the rumors bothered me so he was trying to come up with a compromise. Something sweet of him to do. "Well... I suppose that's not a bad plan," I admitted.

"I swear I won't find a girl that I like better in the meantime," Cedric said.

"That would be impossible," I said haughtily.

Cedric gave me a long look that told me that he was only slightly amused. Then his lips turned upwards. "Plus it might be a little easier. You can focus on whatever impressive thing that you and your friends are going to do to save the school that barely knew that it was in trouble," Cedric said.

It was enough to make me laugh loudly. "There you go," I agreed, shoving him backwards. "I've got Sirius Black, the Grim, and somehow managing to get Oliver to win the Quidditch Cup this year. And you've got your O.W.L.'s to focus on in the meantime."

"But we'll do something when we get back home?" Cedric asked.

"It's a date."

"Yes, it is. In the meantime..."

"Yes?"

The gaze that he was giving me was enough to make me blush. Cedric grabbed my arms and gently pushed me backwards. I stumbled back into the wall and started giggling softly. A moment later he leaned down and pressed a small kiss against my lips, just as he had twice before. But this time it was a real kiss. My first real kiss. It was much longer. My heart skipped a beat as Cedric pushed the hair from my face. My arms looped over the back of his neck as his hand wound around to the back of my neck before settling over my lower jaw.

It was everything that I would have wanted a real first kiss to be like. Cedric had me gently pushed back against the wall as his hands went around my waist. I was sure that he could feel my heart thundering in my chest. My head tilted upwards so that I could meet his lips a little easier. I could feel my lips break into a smile. Finally, far too soon, he stepped back from me and smiled. My face must have been a brilliant red. My breathing was slightly ragged as he leaned forwards and gave me another small kiss on the lips. My heart was still fluttering excitedly.

"There's my promise," Cedric said.

"It's a good promise," I whispered.

Cedric grinned sideways at me. His hair was a little ruffled and I moved forward to try and fix it. "Have fun with your friends. And don't get caught," he said, laughing and pulling my hands away.

"Relax. I got it," I said.

For a moment I turned to head back to my table when Cedric called out to me. "Oh, Tara?" I turned back and smiled. "Are you going home for Christmas?" Cedric asked.

At some point soon I would definitely have to find out the answer to that. "I think so. I'm going to take the late train though. Stay with Ron, Harry, and Hermione as long as I can. But I was thinking about maybe staying," I said, not giving a definitive answer.

"Well, if you go home, maybe we can hang out," Cedric offered.

That was definitely a good reason to go back home. But I was still going to bat it back and forth for a while. "Yeah. I'd like that," I said. I leaned up on my tiptoes and pressed a kiss against he cheek. "See you up at the castle."

"Have fun. See you later. Did you want a drink, by the way?" Cedric asked, motioning back to the bar.

"Ron's getting them for us. You can get the next one, yeah?" I teased.

Cedric laughed. "Deal." I was about to walk away when he called back to me. "Tara! Where's your cloak? I've never met someone who hated the cold more than you do," Cedric said.

"Well... we kind of had to leave suddenly. Didn't have time to grab it. Don't you dare offer me yours!" I barked.

"Why not?"

"Because I already have too many of your clothes."

"Like I said, they look better on you." I glared at him. "Fine... Don't take the cloak. Take this, at least," Cedric said, handing me the coat that he was wearing.

For a moment I just stared at it. "Black does look nice on me," I finally admitted teasingly.

"Just take it," Cedric goaded.

"One of these days I've give you a dress or something," I teased.

"You own a dress?" Cedric asked, making a very valid point.

"Alright. Fine. I don't own a dress. But I'm going to give you your clothes back at some point," I said determinedly.

"Don't worry about it. I'm sure your friends are getting sick of waiting for you. You should head out. I'll see you later," Cedric said.

"See you," I chirped.

The two of us gave each other another quick hug. Although Cedric leaned in and pressed a small kiss against the side of my mouth. That's never going to not make me blush. I let him head out first. Just to keep the rumors from now changing again. I could deal with the ones about us not having a second date. Those would end soon enough. So I headed back to the table where Harry and Hermione were still waiting. I gave Cedric a quick wink as I walked by his table and he snorted into his drink. I noticed that Ron was still waiting at the bar to grab our drinks.

Harry and Hermione had picked a table at the very back of the room, where there was a small, vacant table between the window and a handsome Christmas tree, which stood next to the fireplace. They both smiled at me as I took a seat, immediately barking at Harry not to ask me what had happened. That one kiss was something that didn't need to be repeated. Maybe to Hermione, but that would be without Harry and Ron around. Ron came back a minute later, carrying four foaming tankards of hot Butterbeer.

"Merry Christmas!" Ron said happily, raising his tankard.

"Merry Christmas, everyone!" I cheered.

The four of us clanked the tankards together and downed the drink. It was extremely warming after the ice cold storm outside. "So what did Cedric say?" Hermione asked, after a few minutes.

"How many of his clothes do you have?" Harry asked, finally taking notice of the coat.

"Stop it!" I barked.

"That means a lot," Harry said.

Rolling my eyes at him, I shoved Harry and wrapped my frozen hands around the warm tankard. "He said that he wanted to actually go out over the summer. Like more dates, holding hands, and not worrying about having everyone around. Get to see what's there without everyone in school watching and whispering about us," I admitted, keeping my voice low.

"That's really sweet. We're happy for you!" Hermione chirped. But the boys stayed silent. "Right?"

"Right," Ron muttered.

"Sure," Harry added.

"That's convincing," I said.

The three of us stared at each other for a moment. I stared at Harry and Ron with an irritable glance. They were so annoying. They had agreed that we would be okay. "Saw you snog him," Ron finally said lowly.

Harry's head snapped over. "What?" he asked.

"Thank you, Ron!" I barked, whopping him over the back of the head. "Oh, Harry, I'm fourteen."

"And he's sixteen," Harry said.

"So?" I asked.

"So -"

"I thought that you were okay with the two of us being together?" I interrupted.

Harry and I exchanged a long stare with each other. I could see Ron and Hermione watching out of the corner of their eyes. "Just..." Harry trailed off, making me smile. "Never snog him in front of me."

It made everyone smile at each other. It was enough to make everyone laugh. They were idiots. But they were my idiots. And I wouldn't trade them for the world. "Deal. But I will gossip about it to Hermione," I said, Hermione squealing slightly.

"I'm all for it," Hermione chirped.

"Gossip about it somewhere else," Ron groaned.

I picked up a peanut that was on the table and tossed it at him. He threw another back at me, almost landing in my drink. "You boys are such babies. Get yourselves girlfriends so I can tease you both," I snapped.

It was enough to make us all laugh again. We sat in silence for a little while. Something that I relished. I was sick of the rumors constantly following me around and the constant thoughts of Sirius Black. I liked the peace and quiet of the Three Broomsticks. As the others chatted softly, I drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted and it seemed to heat every bit of me from the inside. Or maybe that was Cedric's coat. A sudden breeze ruffled my hair. The door of the Three Broomsticks had opened again. I looked over the rim of my tankard and choked.

There went my jovial mood. And likely my admission to Hogwarts. Because I was explicitly breaking the rules of someone who had just entered. Someone whom you never wanted to mess with. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick had just entered the pub with a flurry of snowflakes, shortly followed by Hagrid, who was deep in conversation with a portly man in a lime-green bowler hat and a pinstriped cloak - Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic. A large number of people who could have easily gotten me in a ton of trouble for being here.

"Oh, Merlin," I whispered.

In an instant, Ron and Hermione had both placed hands on the top of Harry and I's heads and forced us off our stools and underneath the table. I immediately sprang forwards and hit the ground in a painful thump. Dripping with Butterbeer and crouching out of sight, Harry and I clutched our empty tankards and watched the teachers' and Fudge's feet move toward the bar, pause, then turn and walk right toward us. Just crouching here wouldn't work. And I would have to do something with Cedric's coat, that had now been given a Butterbeer bath.

Somewhere above us, Hermione whispered, "Mobiliarbus!"

The Christmas tree that had been sitting beside our table rose a few inches off the ground, drifted sideways, and landed with a soft thump right in front of our table, hiding us from view. Staring through the dense lower branches, with Harry pressed right up against me, I saw four sets of chair legs move back from the table right beside ours, then heard the grunts and sighs of the teachers and minister as they sat down. Next I saw another pair of feet, wearing sparkly turquoise high heels, and heard a woman's voice. Rosmerta, undoubtedly.

"A small Gillywater," Rosmerta said.

"Mine," Professor McGonagall's voice said.

"Four pints of mulled mead," Rosmerta said.

"Ta, Rosmerta," Hagrid said.

"A cherry syrup and soda with ice and umbrella."

"Mmm!" Professor Flitwick said, smacking his lips.

"So you'll be the red currant rum, Minister."

"Thank you, Rosmerta, m'dear. Lovely to see you again, I must say. Have one yourself, won't you? Come and join us," Fudge said.

"Well, thank you very much, Minister."

Not good. This was definitely not good. I exchanged a panicked look with Harry before glancing back at the table. I watched the glittering heels march away and back again. My heart was pounding uncomfortably in my throat. Why hadn't it occurred to me that this was the last weekend of term for the teachers too? And how long were they going to sit there? This whole thing was going to be a huge problem. We needed time to sneak back into Honeydukes if we wanted to return to school tonight. I didn't want to be stuck here all night. Hermione's leg gave a nervous twitch next to me.

"How will we get back?" I whispered nervously.

"They'll have to leave at some point," Harry said, sounding even more panicked than me.

"And the Dementors?" I asked, realizing the real problem here.

Definitely not good. This whole thing was anything but good. "Just don't panic. We're going to figure it out," Harry whispered.

"So, what brings you to this neck of the woods, Minister?" came Madam Rosmerta's voice.

At least we might have an interesting conversation to overhear. I saw the lower part of Fudge's thick body twist in his chair as though he were checking for eavesdroppers. Then he said in a quiet voice, "What else, m'dear, but Sirius Black? I daresay you heard what happened up at the school at Halloween?"

"I did hear a rumor," Madam Rosmerta admitted.

"Did you tell the whole pub, Hagrid?" Professor McGonagall asked exasperatedly.

"Do you think Black's still in the area, Minister?" Madam Rosmerta whispered.

"I'm sure of it," Fudge said shortly.

There was something that he wanted up at the castle. I didn't doubt that for a second. He would be here until he got it. Hopefully it wouldn't be Harry or I's life. "You know that the Dementors have searched the whole village twice?" Madam Rosmerta asked, a slight edge to her voice. "Scared all my customers away... It's very bad for business, Minister."

"Rosmerta, m'dear, I don't like them any more than you do. Necessary precaution... unfortunate, but there you are... I've just met some of them. They're in a fury against Dumbledore - he won't let them inside the castle grounds," Fudge said uncomfortably.

"I should think not. How are we supposed to teach with those horrors floating around?" Professor McGonagall asked sharply.

"Hear, hear!" tiny Professor Flitwick squeaked, whose feet were dangling a foot from the ground.

"All the same, they are here to protect you all from something much worse... We all know what Black's capable of," Fudge said.

They thought that none of the kids in the bar were listening. This might have been a good chance to hear something worth hearing. "Do you know, I still have trouble believing it. Of all the people to go over to the Dark Side, Sirius Black was the last I'd have thought... I mean, I remember him when he was a boy at Hogwarts. If you'd told me then what he was going to become, I'd have said you'd had too much mead," Madam Rosmerta said thoughtfully.

"You don't know the half of it, Rosmerta. The worst he did isn't widely known," Fudge said gruffly.

"The worst?" Madam Rosmerta asked, her voice alive with curiosity. "Worse than murdering all those poor people, you mean?"

Harry looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn't sure where that was going. "I certainly do," Fudge said.

"I can't believe that. What could possibly be worse?" Madam Rosmerta asked.

"You say you remember him at Hogwarts, Rosmerta. Do you remember who his best friends were?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"Naturally," Madam Rosmerta said, with a small laugh. "Never saw one of them without the other, did you? The number of times I had them in here - oh, they used to make me laugh. Quite the triple act, Sirius Black, Marcus Nox, and James Potter!"

Did I really just hear them say something like that? Either way, I reacted before my brain could properly process what they had just said. And it turned out that it wasn't just me. Harry and I dropped our tankards with two loud clunks. Ron kicked him while Hermione kicked me. We couldn't draw attention to ourselves. Not right now. But my head was swirling. My father... My smart and strong father had been best friends with Sirius Black. I had known about him being friends with James Potter, but I had never known about Sirius Black. I hadn't even known that they were in the same year.

"Did you know?" Harry whispered.

"No," I said weakly.

"Precisely. Black, Nox, and Potter. Ringleaders of their little gang," Professor McGonagall said. I exchanged another look with Harry. "All very bright, of course - exceptionally bright, in fact - but I don't think we've ever had such a pair of troublemakers -"

"I dunno. Fred and George Weasley could give 'em a run fer their money," Hagrid chuckled.

"You'd have thought Black, Nox, and Potter were brothers! Inseparable!" Professor Flitwick chimed in.

"Of course they were. Potter trusted Black and Nox beyond all his other friends. But even he trusted Black more. Nothing changed when they left school. Black was best man when James married Lily. Black was best man when Marcus married Julia. Then they named him godfather to Harry and Tara. Harry and Tara have no idea, of course. You can imagine how the idea would torment them," Fudge said.

Harry and I exchanged another look as I slapped a hand over my mouth. He was our... godfather? I hadn't even known that I had a godfather. My parents had kept that from me for so many years. They hadn't told me the truth. How could they have not told me the truth? Because the idea would torment me, apparently. They hadn't told me that. I couldn't believe that they hadn't told me that. They obviously knew that I could handle some intense things. I would have rather known the truth than have to find out this way.

"Because Black turned out to be in league with You-Know-Who?" Madam Rosmerta whispered.

"Worse even than that, m'dear..." Fudge dropped his voice and proceeded in a sort of low rumble. "Not many people are aware that the Potters and Nox's knew You-Know-Who was after them. Dumbledore, who was of course working tirelessly against You-Know-Who, had a number of useful spies. One of them tipped him off, and he alerted James and Lily at once. He advised them to go into hiding somewhere near Marcus and Julia. Well, of course, You-Know-Who wasn't an easy person to hide from. Dumbledore told them that their best chance was the Fidelius Charm."

"How does that work?" Madam Rosmerta asked, breathless with interest.

Professor Flitwick cleared his throat. "An immensely complex spell, involving the magical concealment of a secret inside a single, living soul. The information is hidden inside the chosen person, or Secret-Keeper, and is henceforth impossible to find - unless, of course, the Secret-Keeper chooses to divulge it. As long as the Secret-Keeper refused to speak, You-Know-Who could search the village where Lily and James were staying for years and never find them, not even if he had his nose pressed against their sitting room window!" Professor Flitwick squeaked.

"The Nox's already had their Secret-Keeper. Marcus had begged Black to do it, but Black couldn't. Claimed he didn't want the responsibility. And they couldn't have James do it, since they needed one themselves," Fudge continued.

"So who was theirs?" Madam Rosmerta asked.

"Remus Lupin. A good choice. Likely what kept them from being murdered along with the Potter's," Fudge said.

Harry and I exchanged another look with each other. Of course... Professor Lupin had said himself that he had known and been friends with my parents. And that explained why he had been so nice to me. "So Black was the Potters' Secret-Keeper?" Madam Rosmerta whispered.

"Naturally," Professor McGonagall said. "James Potter told Dumbledore that Black would die rather than tell where they were, that Black was planning to go into hiding himself... and yet, Dumbledore remained worried. I remember him offering to be the Potters' Secret-Keeper himself."

"He suspected Black?" Madam Rosmerta gasped.

"He was sure that somebody close to the Potters had been keeping You-Know-Who informed of their movements. The Nox's had already been in hiding for a long time with Tara. Indeed, he had suspected for some time that someone on our side had turned traitor and was passing a lot of information to You-Know-Who," Professor McGonagall said darkly.

"But James Potter insisted on using Black?" Madam Rosmerta asked.

"He did," Fudge said heavily. "He was much more insistent than Marcus had been. And then, barely a week after the Fidelius Charm had been performed -"

"Black betrayed them?" Madam Rosmerta breathed.

"He did indeed," Fudge continued. "Black was tired of his double-agent role, he was ready to declare his support openly for You-Know-Who, and he seems to have planned this for the moment of the Potters' death. But, as we all know, You-Know-Who met his downfall in little Harry Potter. Powers gone, horribly weakened, he fled. It left Tara and her family alive and Harry orphaned. And this left Black in a very nasty position indeed. His master had fallen at the very moment when he, Black, had shown his true colors as a traitor. He had no choice but to run for it -"

"Filthy, stinkin' turncoat!" Hagrid said, so loudly that half the bar went quiet.

"Shh!" Professor McGonagall hissed.

"I met him! I musta bin the last ter see him before he killed all them people! It was me what rescued Harry from Lily an' James's house after they was killed! Jus' got him outta the ruins, poor little thing, with a great slash across his forehead, an' his parents dead... an' Sirius Black turns up, on that flyin' motorbike he used ter ride. Never occurred ter me what he was doin' there. I didn' know he'd bin Lily an' James's Secret-Keeper. Thought he'd jus' heard the news o' You-Know-Who's attack an' come ter see what he could do. White an' shakin', he was. An' yeh know what I did? I comforted the murderin' traitor!" Hagrid roared.

"Hagrid, please! Keep your voice down!" Professor McGonagall begged.

"How was I ter know he wasn' upset abou' Lily an' James? It was You-Know-Who he cared abou'! An ' then he says, 'Give Harry ter me, Hagrid, I'm his godfather, I'll look after him.' Ha! But I'd had me orders from Dumbledore, an' I told Black no, Dumbledore said Harry was ter go ter his aunt an' uncle's. Black argued, even argued that Harry should go to Marcus an' Julia, but in the end he gave in. Maybe he knew where they were. Told me ter take his motorbike ter get Harry there. 'I won't need it anymore,' he says.

"I shoulda known there was some thin' fishy goin' on then. He loved that motorbike, what was he givin' it ter me for? Why wouldn' he need it anymore? Fact was, it was too easy ter trace. Dumbledore knew he'd bin the Potters' Secret-Keeper. Black knew he was goin' ter have ter run fer it that night, knew it was a matter o' hours before the Ministry was after him.

"But what if I'd given Harry to him, eh? I bet he'd've pitched him off the bike halfway out ter sea. His bes' friends' son! But when a wizard goes over ter the Dark Side, there's nothin' and no one that matters to 'em anymore," Hagrid finished.

"How many times I saw him playing with Tara when she was a baby... How much he loved her... I can't believe that he would have done it. But he did," Professor McGonagall sobbed.

My hand shot up over my mouth to cover the horrible strangled sob that threatened to escape my mouth. Harry reached over and placed a hand on my knee. But I gently pushed him off. I wasn't so sure that I wanted anyone touching me right now. Not even Harry. Not when I knew that Sirius Black had once held me. Played with me. Apparently loved me. Not enough to keep him from joining Voldemort though. Suddenly I found myself wishing that I had stayed in the castle today. A long silence followed Hagrid's story and Professor McGonagall's comment.

Then Madam Rosmerta said with some satisfaction, "But he didn't manage to disappear, did he? The Ministry of Magic caught up with him next day!"

"Alas, if only we had. It was not we who found him. It was little Peter Pettigrew - another of the Potter's' and Nox's' friends. Maddened by grief, no doubt, and knowing that Black had been the Potter's' Secret-Keeper, and knowing that he would likely find the Nox's, he went after Black himself," Fudge said grimly.

"Pettigrew... that fat little boy who was always tagging around after them at Hogwarts?" Madam Rosmerta asked.

"Hero-worshipped Black, Nox, and Potter," Professor McGonagall said. "Never quite in their league, talent-wise. I was often rather sharp with him. You can imagine how I - how I regret that now..." She sounded as though she had a sudden head cold.

"There, now, Minerva. Pettigrew died a hero's death. Eyewitnesses - Muggles, of course, we wiped their memories later - told us how Pettigrew cornered Black. They say he was sobbing, 'Lily and James, Sirius! How could you? Were you after Marcus and Julia next?' And then he went for his wand. Well, of course, Black was quicker. Blew Pettigrew to smithereens..." Fudge continued explaining.

Professor McGonagall blew her nose and said thickly, "Stupid boy... foolish boy... he was always hopeless at dueling... should have left it to the Ministry..."

"I tell yeh, if I'd got ter Black before little Pettigrew did, I wouldn't've messed around with wands - I'd've ripped him limb - from - limb," Hagrid growled.

"You don't know what you're talking about, Hagrid," Fudge said sharply. "Nobody but trained Hit Wizards from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad would have stood a chance against Black once he was cornered. I was Junior Minister in the Department of Magical Catastrophes at the time, and I was one of the first on the scene after Black murdered all those people. I - I will never forget it. I still dream about it sometimes. A crater in the middle of the street, so deep it had cracked the sewer below. Bodies everywhere. Muggles screaming. And Black standing there laughing, with what was left of Pettigrew in front of him... a heap of bloodstained robes and a few - a few fragments -"

Fudge's voice stopped abruptly. There was the sound of five noses being blown. That was the part of the story that everyone had known. The part that I had told Harry. At least, part of the part. But now I felt sick. Because now I knew that Peter Pettigrew had also been a friend of my parents. So had Professor Lupin. That must have been the reason that he had reacted so strangely when Harry and I had brought up Black. Because he had also been friends with him. The thought made me want to throw up the Butterbeer.

"Well, there you have it, Rosmerta. Black was taken away by twenty members of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad and Pettigrew received the Order of Merlin, First Class, which I think was some comfort to his poor mother. Black's been in Azkaban ever since," Fudge said thickly.

Madam Rosmerta let out a long sigh. "Is it true he's mad, Minister?" she asked.

"I wish I could say that he was," Fudge said slowly. "I certainly believe his master's defeat unhinged him for a while. The murder of Pettigrew and all those Muggles was the action of a cornered and desperate man - cruel... pointless. Yet I met Black on my last inspection of Azkaban. You know, most of the prisoners in there sit muttering to themselves in the dark; there's no sense in them... but I was shocked at how normal Black seemed. He spoke quite rationally to me. It was unnerving. You'd have thought he was merely bored - asked if I'd finished with my newspaper, cool as you please, said he missed doing the crossword. Yes, I was astounded at how little effect the Dementors seemed to be having on him - and he was one of the most heavily guarded in the place, you know. Dementors outside his door day and night."

"But what do you think he's broken out to do? Good gracious, Minister, he isn't trying to rejoin You-Know-Who, is he?" Madam Rosmerta asked.

"I daresay that is his - er - eventual plan," Fudge said evasively. "But we hope to catch Black long before that. I must say, You-Know-Who alone and friendless is one thing... but give him back his most devoted servant, and I shudder to think how quickly he'll rise again..."

There was a small chink of glass on wood. Someone had set down their glass. "You know, Cornelius, if you're dining with the headmaster, we'd better head back up to the castle," Professor McGonagall said.

One by one, the pairs of feet in front of Harry and I took the weight of their owners once more; hems of cloaks swung into sight, and Madam Rosemerta's glittering heels disappeared behind the bar. The door of the Three Broomsticks opened again, there was another flurry of snow, and the teachers had disappeared. But I couldn't bring myself to move. I simply sat on the floor and stared blankly off in the distance. This was all too much. Far too much for someone who was only fourteen.

"Harry? Tara?"

Ron's and Hermione's faces appeared under the table. They were both staring at the two of us, lost for words. And, in all honesty, we were lost for words, too. For a moment I glanced over and stared at Harry. He was looking at me as if to ask if I knew anything that they were talking about. I just barely managed to shake my head. Because I hadn't known anything that they were talking about. And I wasn't sure what to say. I only knew one thing. I wasn't going back home for Christmas. My parents just kept lying to me. It begged the question, what else were they lying about?

A/N: Next time... In the wake of the news of Tara's true connection to Sirius Black, her spirit is downtrodden; however, during Christmas at Hogwarts, Tara receives a present that sends her spirits sky-high. Uh-oh, the boxes and mystery man are back! And we've finally discovered that Tara's parents did know the rest of the Marauder gang, and Marcus was a member. And we see that Julia was a good friend to Remus and Sirius is also Tara's godfather. Thanks so much for the follows and favorites! Please review! Until next time -A

Grin like the Cheshire Cat: Well I am definitely happy to be back! Thank you so much! I'm really glad that you loved the last one and I hope that you loved this one too.

Vincent: I hope you liked this one!

HigherAngel: Thank you so much! I'm really glad to hear that it was hard to put down and that it was interesting. It's definitely a long story as I write long chapters, as you must have seen by now. At least it was worth it :) I'm so glad that you love the Tara/Cedric moments, because I have a lot of fun writing them. And the Tara/Harry moments are fun, too, as they really are like brother and sister. I would absolutely love to hear any of your guesses about who might be sending Tara the packages!