EPILOGUE - Part III

It was the day of the shortest night of the year, Midsummer, which probably was a perfect explanation why the sun would not set, but to Laurel it seemed as if fate had decided to grant her a few more minutes with her child. Did this mean she'd never see Jonah again?

Peeling an apple with a knife instead of a wand, just to keep her shaking hands busy, she watched him sit on the rug in front of the fireplace and wrestle with Lythy, the toy snake.

He was so ... young. So untouched by evil although he'd been in Voldemort's lair as a baby, and Peter Pettigrew had almost sacrificed him in Harry's place. Still, he was a normal two year old ... well, if you overlooked the things he did whenever he got hold of anybody's wand.

Severus had spoken of getting Jonah a special wand for gifted kids. Who would care for their little boy, who would educate him when, for the second time in a life so young, he lost both parents?

"Mommy tired again?"

Jonah looked up at her, his forehead wrinkled with worry.

"No. No, honey, I am alright." Laurel gave him a forced smile but it was obvious she could not even fool a child. Was she mad to think she could fool a socerer as mighty and shrewd as Tom Riddle alias Lord Voldemort?

Kneeling next to Jonah she gave him a quick hug and then started to tickle him viciously until he broke down giggling. Letting him wrestle her down in revenge and cover her face with big smacking kisses, she closed her eyes for a heartbeat. Love had stopped evil once, almost sixteen years ago. Why not another time?

Serene was grateful to see that Abby Lupin had already cooked dinner when she returned from Hogwarts where she had taken last preparations for the plan with Laurel. For one thing, nothing she could have fumbled on the stove would have stood a chance compared with Abby's great cooking, and then it took the woman's mind of Remus' unexplainable absence. Serene had already decided not to tell the Lupins the truth. There was nothing they could do, and they'd know soon enough. She wanted them to have one more night in relative peace.

It was way past nine and still the sky was fair.

Nature had outdone itself and given the flowers and bushes along the lake a growth spurt. For a moment Serene paused and watched the squid backstroking across the lake. So this was peace. Such a fragile thing.

If Laurel's plan went wrong, they'd all be dead tomorrow and never see the sunset again. Life had never seemed so fragrant, immediate, pulsing. So valuable.

When she opened the garden door, not only delicious scents of cooking meat and vegetables and wine wafted out of the open cottage door, but also delicate music. In the cosy living room, a familiar face smiled at Serene.

"Julia!"

The musician leaned her harp carefully against the wall and rose to kiss her future sister-in-law's cheek. "As always I was late. But Papa here told me that Remy has turned tail anyway. Funny, what the thought of a wedding does to a man. Even to a werewolf." She chuckled, quite amused about the situation.

Serene swallowed and forced a thin smile onto her face. "Funny, yeah." Lifting one of the pot-covers, she pretended to be all immersed in the scent of Abby's stew and therefore missed the worried glance Jerome and his wife exchanged.

They sat down to dinner, and Serene did her best to keep up the conversation. They talked about Julia's next concert with her band "Salamander", they talked about the Lupins' other three daughters and their off-spring.

"We can only hope you and Remy present them with grand-children soon," Julia teased and smiled at her parents in indulgence. "Since all my sisters are married abroad, Mom and Papa would just love to have a few grandchildren nearby to spoil them as much as possible."

"That is the grand-parents' privilege after all, dear," Abby laughed and gave her daughter a wink. "But if you are so worried, maybe you could better our situation as well?"

Julia blushed to the roots of her fair curls, and Serene watched with delight how the family fell into the happy banter she so enjoyed.

"Rumour says you have been seeing Castor Black in Liverpool?" Jerome teased his daughter and poured them steaming mugs of tea, before they all settled on the bench in front of the cottage to watch the Midsummer sunset.

"Papa!" Julia's face made Serene laugh, so distressed looked the young witch. "You should not believe what people say."

"Sometimes people are right, dear." Abby patted her daughter's knee.

"Sometimes they are not." Serene could have bitten her tongue off, but it was too late. Her shaky voice made the humorous exchange cease at once.

"Sometimes ..." She looked at them. "Maybe soon people will tell stories about me. That I was ... I mean, am ... evil. That I joined Voldemort or even served as his spy in Hogwarts. Promise me you won't believe these stories!"

Abby frowned and took Serene's hand. The girl was running a fever with nerves, she thought, suddenly alarmed by the fire in Serene's green eyes. "We were only teasing Julia, dear," she said. "We know you. We love you. You are not evil. And if anybody dares to assert that, he'll have to answer to your family."

At Serene's bland stare, Julia gave her a nudge. "That's us, dummy! Your family from now on. And nobody messes with the Lupins!"

After dinner Claire sat in the living room, watching Castor bouncing the baby on his knees. Rose squealed with delight, and Claire bit her tongue when the Auror threw the four month old baby into the air like a quaffle and made her levitate there.

Only after several repetitions both wizard and child got tired of the game, and Claire put her daughter back into the basket that stood by her chair. Very soon Rose would need a real bed, she thought. She grew so fast, would soon make her first steps, get her letter, graduate, get married. Tears shot into her eyes.

"Cas, if anything ever happens to me, would you take care of Rose? I'll ask Professor McGonagall as well since she's been my only friend through my own childhood. But Minerva is old and .."

"What about Lupin? Isn't he Rose's godfather?"

Claire carefully shut the book in her lap and rose to return it to the bookcase - a sly move to avoid an immediate answer and keep her face in the shadow, he had to admit.

"Something might happen to Lupin as well. After all he is a Werewolf."

"What is going on here, Claire?" Castor was not an Auror for nothing, he had a good eye for his surroundings and something was positively wrong. "I've watched you all evening, and there is something that tears you apart."

She only looked at him. They had decided not to inform anybody but Minerva of the men's disappearance - neither the Lupins nor Castor, who had arrived all of a sudden, claiming to visit his sister-in-law and niece, while it was clear he was following Julia Lupin.

In a desperate attempt to turn the conversation away from herself, Claire used what she had. "Did you know that Remus' sister is visiting Serene Kennedy right now?" she said casually ignoring his imploring stare.

Castor blushed and quickly turned away, but she'd already seen it and was almost ashamed to tease him where he was obviously sincerely in pain.

"Well, I am an Auror. It is my job to know things," he muttered and rearranged Rose's toys on the side-table.

"Oh Castor, you are so brave, so courageous in your job, and yet such a coward where the heart is concerned." Claire smiled at him, and thought that this trait had to run in the Black family.

He jumped up and started pacing the room, while Claire let a hand dangle down for Rose to play with. When the tiny fist closed around her finger and the breathing got steady and deep, she knew the baby was asleep. She'd have to leave in less than an hour, still enough to listen to Castor and try to push his heart in the right direction. Anything would be fine but thinking about her own situation.

"The two of you were a couple once, weren't you?" she ventured kindly.

He stopped in his tracks by the window and stared outside. In this moment he resembled Sirius so much she had to avert her eyes.

"That was years ago, in our seventh year and right after graduation." He shrugged. "I am not good at keeping people."

"What do you mean?"

He raised both hands in a helpless gesture. "Just look at me. My twin is dead, and so is my youngest brother. Siri is ... well, who knows where. And Julia hates me for what I am."

"An Auror."

"An Auror." He fingered the star and moon at his collar that identified him as a member of the Werewolf Squad. "It is against everything she believes in."

"From what she told me, she thinks you are a gifted musician and are not only wasting your talent, but also supporting a government she does not believe in."

Castor turned and scowled at her, something he did with Julia most of the time, as Claire remembered. "I don't fight for the government. I fight against Voldemort. That is a difference, and if she is too pigheaded and blind to see ..."

"Castor, she's ..."

"No!" His crossed arms told her the discussion was over - another family trait. "Voldemort's Death Eaters killed my brother Pollux, and I shall not cease until the very last of them has been brought to justice." His face got soft in reminiscence. "Pollux was so ... lively. He was really the gifted one between the two of us. Played the harp, the lute, anything with strings. And we thought we'd live forever."

Claire reached for his hand and he held on to her like a lifeline. "Do you know what it is like to be a twin? He's been dead for so many years, but every time I look into a mirror, I see his face."

"Did you ever tell Julia how you feel?"

"Of course. A hundred times." He swallowed. "Well, not exactly like this. But she claimed to love me, she should understand without words."

"Merlin, you are just so much like your brother!" she sighed and hugged him out of impulse. "Talk to her, Cas. Tell her. Witches like words."

He patted her back awkwardly and looked down at the crown of her head. She was up to something, and he'd find out what it was or he would hand in his Auror's stars.

Minerva McGonagall sat in the Headmaster's office and stared blindly at the wall. All day long she'd managed to keep her eyes dry and her voice empty, had taught her classes and started on the paperwork on Albus' table. But now, with darkness falling, her strength was wearing out. She'd never felt so hopelessly, not even in the darkest times, before Voldemort's first defeat. They had done what was right, and if doubts had risen, they had looked to Albus for guidance.

Two Headmistresses from the 12th and 17th century watched her from their frames, and whispering discussed Dumbledore's condition. Minerva chose to ignore them, but when she overheard the words "fading away" and "death", her fingers clenched around the quill until it snapped.

The sudden pain of a splinter of the quill digging deep into her palm made her almost miss the knock on the door.

"Minerva?" Laurel peeked through the gap. "Sorry to disturb you but ..."

"Come in. Come in." Sucking the small wound the Professor frowned, when not only Laurel but also Serene entered. "Did I forget an appointment?" She found her wand and treated her palm.

The two young witches sat down, and only then Minerva noticed how pale they were. Scolding herself for her self pity, she put wand and the remains of the quills aside resolutely and concentrated on her visitors. After all she was not the only one who feared for a beloved person.

"What can I do for you? Any news about Snape, Black and Lupin?"

Serene shook her head. She understood that Laurel and Claire wanted their children to be taken care for, in case the worst happened. But the less people knew about the plan, the better. Not that she suspected Minerva McGonagall to be Voldemort's spy ... The thought of the stern Transfiguration professor as a Death Eater made her almost giggle with hysteria.

"We are here to ...", Laurel cleared her throat, "to ask you to be Rose's and Jonah's guardian. If anything happens to Claire or me." She stared straight ahead at the painting of a snoring Headmaster, but Minerva's scrutinising gaze almost burned holes into her.

"Guardian." Suddenly the word sounded like a death sentence.

She nodded wordlessly.

"If anything happens." Minerva rose and came around the desk until she stood right in front of the two witches. "What are you up to, girls?"

Both Serene and Laurel kept their eyes riveted at the opposite walls, and that told the Headmistress enough. Serene had always been secretive and hard to read. But Laurel believed the truth ...

"You have decided to go and commit suicide, haven't you?" Two red circles on Minerva's cheeks showed how aggravated she was. "Because that it what going right into the Death Eaters' headquarter is. You got no chance." She reached for Laurel's hand. "Is this what you want me to tell your little boy when he asks me about you one day? That you went and threw away your life?"

"Tell him I loved his father." Laurel's voice was steady. "Please, Minerva, don't make it harder than it is anyway."

"I suppose you have a plan," sighed Professor McGonagall and perched on the edge of the desk. "And I suppose you won't tell me."

Serene gave her a sad smile. "It is scary how clever you are, Professor. And how well you know us."

Laurel stood up. "Will you take care of the children? Financially they will never want anything, Claire and Severus made sure of that. But they'll need somebody to guide them, to keep them on the right path."

'But I need guidance myself!' Minerva wanted to scream. But loud she said: "Don't worry. They will be safe. And you three take care."

In an uncommon outburst of emotion she hugged them both. "Take care and come back!"

Without another word the two young witches left, and Minerva sat down in Dumbledore's chair. Suddenly she felt ancient and tired. Was this how it had to be? To see them grow up, become fine wizards and witches, care for them and worry about them - only to lose them to Voldemort?

When she raised her head, she found all the former Headmasters staring at her, each in their frame, arms crossed, faces expectant.

She frowned at them. "What?"

A little woman whose golden chain and frilled hat identified her as a Headmistress from the late 18th century, frowned back. "Well, what are you going to do about the situation?"

"Do?" Minerva swallowed. "But I am alone. What can I do?"

A grey-bearded wizard laughed out loud until the small Headmistress's withering glance silenced him. "This is what Hogwarts was founded for. So no wizard or witch would have to stand up to evil alone. But of course, if you'd rather hide in your office ..."

She shrugged and turned her back to Minerva, and so did all the other pictures.

Minerva let the words sink in, and slowly her face lost it's hopeless expression. They would not go down without fighting. Not this time.

Once the sun had disappeared behind the horizon, darkness fell quickly. The moon was not full yet, and so Claire brought a lantern to the Shrieking Shack, where she waited for Serene and Laurel.

Rose slept safely in Jonah's nursery in Hogwarts, guarded by the Winterstorm House-Elves, who had refused to let the baby out of their care. Claire had dressed for the Death Eaters' meeting very carefully. Serene liked to say that clothes could be a shield and an armour, and tonight Claire had to admit her friend was probably right. The dark blue velvet robe gave her a regal look, arrogant and distanced. It radiated old money and older blood, and made the mere suspicion of Claire being a squib appear plain foolish.

A loud rumble and a stream of Muggle curses announced Serene, dragging a big trunk up the narrow stairs that led to the Shack's basement.

"I told you we should levitate the damn thing!" she hissed into the darkness.

With as much amusement as the situation allowed, Claire watched the door close, shut by an invisible hand. When Laurel removed the hood of the invisibility cloak, she gave Serene an exasperated look.

"From now on it is yours, anyway. I only thought that after you bumped into the tunnel walls the fifth time, it might be better to do it the old-fashioned Muggle way."

"My hand is shaking a bit, ok?" With narrowed eyes Serene stroked back her wild red hair. "I am nervous. And don't you dare pretending you are not shaking with nerves as well!"

"Peace." Claire shook her head. She kept her fingers hooked into the beaded belt of the robe, so she would not fuss with her hair. "I don't have much time. Ben will pick me up in ten minutes, and you better be out of sight then."

Serene lowered her eyes, ashamed about her short temper. Their friend would venture into a Death Eaters' meeting all alone - and as a squib. Ben Olsen knew her secret. Apparently he had his reasons to keep his knowledge from his co-conspirators. But if he decided to betray Claire, she would never get out of Voldemort's lair alive.

"Claire, I love you," she said softly and embraced the petite woman. "Please take care!"

Helplessly Claire patted her friend's back. "We can do this, Serene. Take heart."

Laurel reached for her hand and squeezed it. "But she is right, Claire. You must not take any unnecessary risks. Promise me!"

With a little laugh Claire eased out of Serene's embrace. "I'll be safe. They need me. And I'd rather have the two of you take care. Especially you, Laurel!"

They had agreed that Laurel would follow the broom Ben was going to send for Serene. Olsen's broom would not be strong enough to carry both witches and the heavy trunk without arising suspicion.

Claire pointed at the broom that leaned on the wall of the Shack. "I still think it would be wise to use an invisibility charm on that piece."

Serene had "borrowed" Harry Potter's cloak while the students had been at dinner in the Great Hall, and had carefully cut off part of it to fashion a tight fitting sheath for the broom. The rest of the fabric had to suffice to keep Laurel out of sight while she followed Serene to the Death Eaters' meeting place.

"A charm would make the broom to unstable. It would not carry my weight, nor would it follow orders," Laurel explained. "Ministry regulations for brooms specify that they can't be used when invisible."

"Still .."

"Hush." Serene took Claire's hand and reached for Laurel's. For a moment they just looked at each other. "We'll survive," Laurel said soft as a whisper.

"And those we love, will survive, too." Claire vowed.

Serene's eyes were dead serious. "And we'll live happily ever after."

Just when Minerva left the Headmaster's office by the gliding stairway, she saw Abby and Jerome Lupin come down the corridor, followed by Julia and Castor Black.

Before she could welcome them, Abby grabbed the witch's sleeve. "What is going on, Minerva? Where is my boy, and why did Serene sneak out of the cottage without telling us what she is up to?"

Jerome gently pried his wife's fingers off McGonagall's arm. "Sorry for intruding at this late hour, but we are worried, Minerva" he apologised. "And I think we do have the right to know if anything happened to Remus."

"Just as well you are here," Minerva sighed. "I was on my way to send an owl. Come with me and I explain the situation to you."

A few hasty words and several stairways later they stood in front of a carved oak door. An ornamental face in the wooden carving opened it's eyes and snarled at them.

"Password?"

"Is this the common-room of Granger, Longbottom, Malfoy, Potter and Weasley?"

Minerva asked impatiently. After Dumbledore had abolished the houses, various problems had aroused and not the smallest of them was the question of accommodation. But the castle had provided for the new situation as it had innumerable times before. All over new chambers and rooms had sprouted, small common rooms and adjoining dormitories.

That everyone had lost orientation in the new maze of corridors, and students were late for class all the time, would be dealt with next term, Minerva vowed silently. And if she had to supply every student with a Marauder's map. The original one was in the hands of Mr. Filch right now who used it to rescue students who were lost.

"Password!" the face demanded with an arrogant snarl.

"Listen, wormwood, I am Headmistress of this school," Minerva hissed, at the end of her nerves. "Let us in or I promise you'll end up in the fireplace in the Great Hall!"

Frowning the face considered that prospect and decided not to take a chance. Although it was only a few weeks old, it let it's hinges squeal loud enough to warn the inhabitants of the room of the unannounced visitors.

Harry and Ron were deeply immersed in a game of chess, while Draco sat by the fire, and Neville battled with his essay about the Magical Revolution. Hermione poured tea from a kettle and helped herself to a plate with crumpets.

"Get me one too," Draco demanded without looking up from the leather-bound volume he read.

Hermione's eyes widened. "Pardon?"

"Get me one too. I am hungry." The voice drawled just enough to infuriate Hermione. With a few strides she was by his chair and snapped the book close so suddenly Draco almost lost a finger.

"What makes you think you can order me around, Malfoy?" she demanded. "Do I have elf on my forehead?"

Neville looked up and gave her a long considering stare. "Well, there is an E, and an L ..."

Both boys toppled over laughing, when Hermione rushed to a mirror to stare at her furious face.

"Ha ha, how very funny," she snapped. "And you, Neville, should think twice before you bond with Malfoy. Unless you want to proof-read that essay yourself."

A dry cough from Professor McGonagall let them freeze self-consciously. The Headmistress took in the scene and distractedly found Albus' hopes fulfilled. With just enough time and some pushing even the worst enemies could become friends. Well, sort of, she sighed inwardly when she considered Hermione's angry glance at Draco.

"Miss Granger, I ask you as a prefect to spread the word that I want everybody in the Great Hall in thirty minutes sharp."

Hermione nodded and slipped out of the room without further questions, efficient and reliable as always.

"Mr. Potter, Longbottom and Weasley, be so kind and help Miss Granger."

Her face let no doubt that she wanted them out of the common room immediately. With a shy glance at Castor, Harry left, with Ron and Neville in his wake.

"And you, Mr. Malfoy, I need in my office. Right now."

There were torches.

Bowls with burning oil. Stacks of burning wood.

Claire could feel the heat, and at the same time was chilled to the bone. There were shadows of figures in hooded cloaks, many more than they had assumed. Dozens, maybe hundred Death Eaters all over the graveyard, their backs turned to the small group in the very centre of the sunken walls and tombs.

Somebody had magicked a throne out of white bones and slabs of marble for the Dark Lord, and Claire had to fight to keep her eyes off it, for every glance in Voldemort's direction made her want to wretch. Olsen, standing next to her, seemed unmoved. Couldn't he smell the disgusting odour of decay and rot that wafted over from the wizard on the throne?

"The Master seems to be ..." she swallowed and concentrated on breathing through her mouth, "... indisposed."

Ben shrugged. "This will change in less than half an hour." Knitting his brows, he watched the southern sky. "The remedy for his condition will arrive soon."

Claire bit her lip. So they had been right. The bones Voldemort needed to sustain his life were almost used up, and as far a she could see, so was the second ingredient - the flesh of his faithful servant, Pettigrew. Time was running out for the Death Eaters and their Lord, and they knew it.

"In ten minutes?" She kept her eyes riveted at the shadows between the fires. Three stakes. One of them had to hold Sirius. "I thought ..."

"The ceremony?" Ben scowled. "Both ceremonies, the initiation and the execution, have been postponed until the Master is his old self."

Claire nodded slowly, anxious not to let him see her relief. She had been ready to receive the Dark Mark to buy time for Serene and Laurel. She shrugged, as carelessly as she could manage. "Never mind. I waited so long to see Black die. I can hold on a few minutes more."

Ben raised an eyebrow. Too bad the woman was a squib ... With her money and her connections she'd make a perfect wife for the next Dark Lord. One would have to wait and see how that child of hers turned out.

"Since there are no secrets in Hogwarts," a humourless smile curled Minerva's thin lips, "I am sure each of you has heard that Headmaster Dumbledore was severely injured two nights ago. We still don't know if he'll survive."

A common gasp went through the assembly in the Great Hall. Even the ghosts who had guarded Dumbledore's sickbed until they had left to join the assembly, froze at the dire words.

"Three of our teachers are held prisoner by Voldemort." Harry perched on his seat, suddenly pale with unease. The mere presence of Castor Black had made him worried about Sirius. But his godfather was far away, wasn't he? McGonagall's eyes met Harry, and the boy's face paled. "Professor White, who the older of you will remember. Professor Lupin, and Professor Snape. As far as we know they are going to be executed by midnight."

She drew a big breath and tried to banish Albus' lifeless face from her mind. "Hogwarts has always stood up for those who were its own, and we shall not throw the wand so easily. We'll come to their rescue."

Silence told her of the chilling fright the mere thought of openly standing up against the Dark Lord aroused in the students. Even her fellow teachers had at first balked at her plan, and she understood perfectly well. Everyone had only one life, after all.

"Those of you who choose to come with me, will stand up. If you decide otherwise, nobody will hold it against you. Only sixth and seventh years will be allowed to join, and Head girls and boys and prefects will be asked to stay to protect the younger students."

Hermione Granger rose, threw one last loving gaze at her shining prefect badge and laid it onto the table.

"I resign," she said loud and clearly.

McGonagall nodded. "I see."

Slowly, one by one, students rose. Ginny Weasley tried to sneak her way up into the ranks of older students and was frog-marched back to the fifth years by her brother Ron.

Draco Malfoy looked around him. A few weeks ago he had desired nothing more than to stand face to face with Voldemort. Now ugly fear tightened his throat when he rose. He was a Malfoy after all, wasn't he? Keeping their eyes riveted at their former leader, those students who had been Slytherin before the house were abolished, stood up and joined him.

Satisfied Minerva saw that only a handful of the older students had decided to stay.

"If we do not return until tomorrow morning, I want you to help the younger ones to pack, and get on the train. Hagrid will come with us, so I declare Madam Pomfrey Headmaster in my absence."

"No." Poppy shook her head ferociously. "I shall not stay behind. There will be casualties, and I wager you'll be grateful to have a mediwitch by your side."

"But who'll care for Albus? The elves can't handle this, all alone. In case of emergency they'll need some human to give orders." McGonagall's eyes scrutinised the room. "Potter."

Harry frowned and stepped back behind Ron, as if his friend could serve as an invisibility shield.

"You'll stay with the Headmaster."

"No!"

Minerva sighed and called the boy up to the High Table. The whole school watched and dropped eaves, but this was not the time for sensibilities.

"There were two people that held Voldemort back," she said softly. "Albus and you. He almost got to Dumbledore, and I can't leave the Headmaster here, unprotected. And if we fail and you fall into the Dark Lord's hand, all is lost." Her hand grasped the boy's. "You know that."

Harry bowed his head. "Yes. But ..."

"No but!" Temper flared for an instance and Harry looked up to the witch who'd been his teacher the last six years, always stern, dull and humourless. Now she'd changed over night and turned into a ... leader. "You stay here and defend Albus, and that is that!"

"Yes, ma'am," he mumbled flabbergasted and sat down on the steps that led to the high table.

"What about the children?" whispered Madam Pomfrey urgently. "Jonah is also in mortal danger if Hogwarts falls. But we can not spare a wizard or witch on our endeavour."

"You are right," said McGonagall. "Ginny Weasley babysat Rose a few times. She should be able to care for both kids."

"She is still a child herself," opposed Poppy. "We need a grown up person."

"Somebody we can't use against Voldemort but who is old enough to handle this. Abby will be here, and she is brave and smart. But she is not familiar with the escape tunnels, and I'd rather have her in the Hospital, taking care of Albus," Minerva mused. Then her face lit up and something like mischief tinkled in her eyes. "I just know the perfect candidate." She turned to the side of the Hall and held up a hand.

"Mr. Filch? May I have a word with you, please."

The graveyard was eerily quiet. Claire could hear no sound but the crackle of the fire and now and then a moan from the white throne of death.

She folded and unfolded her hands, while Olsen tried to keep up the conversation, talking about mutual acquaintances and the weather as if they sat in the Three Broomsticks. More than once she came close to strangle him and yell at him to shut up. Only the thought that it would not help Sirius, held her still.

He was over there, and she knew he was in pain from the few insinuations Pettigrew had let out. The fourth Marauder gave her the creeps. He was not human any more, both body and mind had suffered serious damage in Voldemort's service. And it was obvious he relished the prospect of torturing his old friend to death.

He made her sick.

Sitting there, doing nothing, made her sick.

Ben would not let her out of sight, and certainly would not let her wander past the fires to the three stakes. When a Death Eater came running to report the sighting of a broom two miles south of the graveyard, she let out a slow breath of relief. Whatever happened now, nothing could be worse than this impotent waiting.

Serene landed the broom as gracelessly as she could, to cover up for the dust Laurel's broom whirled up when it touched down next to the stakes. With a sigh she untied the straps that held the wooden trunk and let it thump heavily to the ground.

Ben and Pettigrew stood to the left and right of something that reminded her of a skeleton, only these bones where covered with paperthin skin. And it had eyes. And it breathed. Well ... hissed, more like. So this had to be Voldemort, the Dark Lord.

Serene swallowed hard. This thing would touch Remus only over her dead body.

Laurel pushed the invisible broom into the shadow of a sunken grave stone, and made sure the cloak covered her completely. She had landed right beside a stake, that held Sirius, and although he could not see her, it seemed as if he stared right into her eyes.

He bled from numerous cuts on his arms and legs, vicious wounds that looked like traces of huge claws.

Biting her lips to stifle a sob, she sneaked closer, always keeping the stake and the fires between her and the throne of Death. When she touched Sirius' cheek, he winced. But he was conscious enough to keep still.

"Don't move," she whispered.

"Laurel." It was but a breath.

"Where is Lupin?" Her stomach clenched. "And ... Severus?"

"Moony is over there." He turned his head an inch to the left. "In bad shape. Silver shackles."

Her eyes followed his gesture. Remus hung of the stake, only held by the chains, and only the slight tremor that ran through his body proved he was still alive.

"Severus?"

The word came out like a plea, and Sirius closed his eyes in pity. "The stake in the middle. Laurel, I think he is dead."

"No." Her fingernails dug painfully into his injured arm. "No."

"Laurel ..."

But she was already gone.

"We have a deal." Serene's voice was icy. "You get Potter, I get Remus."

A wave of Ben's hand made two Death Eaters hurry to the far left of the stakes. Serene's heart raced, when they returned, dragging a limp body after them.

"If he is dead, I swear ..."

Remus breathed, she was almost sure she had seen his chest rise and fall. But the stench of burned flesh from his wrists and ankles made her eyes water. "You bound him with silver? You are such a petty ass, Ben!"

The Dark Lord raised his hand imperiously. "Tell the witch to cease her insults, Olsen, and to give us what we desire."

Ben scowled at his master's choice of words. For a long time Serene had been all he'd desired. Now power would have to suffice.

"You heard our Lord Voldemort," he snarled. "Shut up and open the trunk."

Serene stepped between Remus and the wizards by the white throne. If the plan went wrong, she would defend Remus to her last breath - and that would come very soon, she was afraid, when she threw a side glance at the backs of several dozens Death Eaters who surrounded the graveyard.

She reached into her sleeve for her wand and immediately both Pettigrew and Olsen produced their own wands.

"Put it down!"

Shaking her head, she rose the wand, very slowly. "The lock is charmed. Only I know the counter-spell, and I need my wand to open it."

Pettigrew's mouth twitched. "Put the wand down, I said. We open it ourselves."

"No." A hiss from the throne made the wizard shudder and cringe. "Let her do it. We don't have the time to find the right spell."

"Besides," Ben mused and stared at her with a mixture of contempt and suspicion, "it could be a trap. Maybe the trunk explodes if anybody tampers with the lock."

Serene showed them a toothy grin, until her eyes met Claire's. The cool grey stare reminded her of her mission.

She swallowed. Was Laurel at her position by the stakes? There was no way she could find out, all she could do was trust the plan.

With a deep breath she touched the lock with the point of her wand.

A whispered sequence of words.

Serene stepped back, until her heels touched Remus' legs. Her fingers clenched around the wand.

Almost unbearably slow, the top of the trunk opened, and Voldemort's emaciated face lit up in the perversion of a smile.

"Harry Potter, at last."

* * *

It took them almost thirty minutes to climb the fifth Tower. It was the night of Midsummer, and just like at Beltane all magic ceased within the tower but the building' own magic.

When they finally reached the top , it was already past midnight, and Minerva's face grew more worried every time she checked the small pendulum clock that was pinned to Madame Pomfrey's pristine apron.

"We'll be late," she muttered when Goyle, Ron and two seventh years needed four tries to break the sturdy oak door Dumbledore had had Hagrid carpenter to close off the platform on top of Etherwing Tower.

When the door gave way, students poured into the circular room, and Hermione could not suppress the cold shudder remembering the bottomless hole that had been open in the floor last time she'd been there. A fast glance at Ron, Neville and Draco told her she was not the only one who felt a slight unease.

"Everybody step back to the wall. We need to hurry," commanded Professor McGonagall. While Flitwick and Vector began to draw the complicated lines the spell required and Sprout and Hooch placed burning candles at certain points on the pattern, the Headmistress beckoned Draco to her side.

"Now it is your turn, Malfoy," she said quietly. "Do your best."

Draco nodded, so pale with fear Hermione felt a bang of pity. He was probably the only one in the Tower who knew exactly what could go wrong, and still he stepped into the middle of the glowing lines on the floor as if it were the Quidditch pitch.

As soon as the pattern was drawn and all the candles were lit, the teachers withdrew as far as possible. Draco closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. At first the words came slowly, then more self-assured. A ripple went through the floor.

"Ad astra ..." Draco suddenly went silent. "Ad astra et ..." he tried again.

Silence.

Beaten, the boy let his head sink. "I can't remember the last sentence," he whispered.

Ignoring McGonagall's warning hand, Hermione stepped into the pattern. "Come on, Malfoy! Think!" she snapped. "You are a damned pureblood! Your kind is supposed to be superior - now is the moment to prove it once and for all."

His fair eyes narrowed. "Very funny, Granger. I was about to cast the last sentence when you and your nosy friends burst in. Had I ever said it in the night of Beltane, I would well remember it!"

"Yeah, but we would be dead by now, wouldn't we?" snapped Ron.

The lines flickered and dimmed, fading away slowly but steadily.

"There must be a way!" Hermione stamped her foot impatiently. Then her face lit up all of a sudden. "Of course!" She beamed at her fellow students. "It is written in "Hogwarts, A History", where it is credited to Helga Hufflepuff, while I for my self tend to attribute it to a much older source ..."

"Hermione!" hissed Ron and clenched his fists. "For Merlin's sake!"

She shrugged and closed her eyes. "Help will be given to those who ask for it."

Her clear words echoed from the walls of the tower. Suddenly thin flakes of plaster began to peel off the wall between the two narrow windows, and the face of a witch appeared. A butterfly sat on her shoulder, it's palm-sized wings a brilliant sapphire blue.

"Estella Etherwing," gasped Professor Flitwick and stared up at the smiling face. "So not all the pictures of her could be destroyed."

"The tower must have guarded it." McGonagall shook her head. "So many centuries."

"Young witch, you appeal to an ancient law." Estella Etherwing's eyes sank deep into Hermione's. "What is it you need help with?"

Hermione swallowed and stared at the face in the wall, until Draco's elbow connected with her ribs.

"Get a grip, mudblood," he hissed, sharp enough to make her angry. And angry was what she needed right now.

Frowning and rubbing her side, the young witch searched for the right words. "Your tower served as a portal once," she said eventually. "But it has not been used for centuries. We need to open it again, so we can bring help ourselves."

The founder smiled beatifically. "So shall it be. Just say the magic word and the portal will take you wherever you want to go."

With that she faded away until no trace of colour betrayed the portrait's existence behind the plaster.

"Wow." Draco Malfoy's eyes met McGonagall's in disbelieve. "It's that easy?"

"We still don't know the magic word," muttered Ron and dug for his wand. Aiming it at the middle of the pattern, he cast "Alohomora!"

Nothing happened. One by one the teachers tried opening spells and curses of all kinds, some of them so dark, Minerva took note to have a serious talk with her staff once this mission was over.

If they survived, that was.

When it became clear that no common magic would open the portal, all eyes turned expectantly to Minerva. The seconds ticked away, and just when she was ready to admit their failure and accept that Snape, Lupin and Black would die by the hands of the Death Eaters - and their women as well, she was afraid - a shy voice rose.

"May I try?"

A thin eyebrow cocked, Minerva shrugged, already defeated. "Well, Mr Longbottom, why not?"

Neville stepped between Hermione and Draco in the middle of the floor, blushing when he felt so many eyes rest at him.

He swallowed hard. This was probably foolish, but ...

"My Grandmother told me the magic word when I was very young," he said softly. "It is: Please."

Draco snorted. "Please? 'Please, dear portal, open?' This is just so like you, Longbottom."

Suddenly Hermione grabbed his sleeve and pointed at the stone floor beneath their feet. The lines had started to glow anew, and a thin crack began to open.

Minerva gave Neville an acknowledging smile that made him only blush more, then she turned to the students. "Against all odds we'll go into battle after all. Keep your wands ready and stay with your assigned group. Once you are at the other side, remember that we need to fight as a unit."

While the crack opened to a gauge and then to an abyss, the students gathered around the open portal. When the first group together with McGonagall and Flitwick took the leap, Ron turned to Neville.

"Please!" he muttered. "Mom would love that."

Then he grabbed Hermione's hand, gave Draco and Neville a curt nod, and jumped.

Voldemort rose off his throne and made a triumphant step in the direction of ... ah, he was so much more than a mere boy, wasn't he? Insolent green eyes, a mob of black hair, the red scar on the forehead a memento of the darkest moment in Voldemort's life, he embodied everything the Dark Lord hated. Everything that stood between him and eternal life.

Relishing the situation - this time the boy would not get out of here alive, would he? - he ignored that the red-haired witch covered her eyes with her hands.

There were whispers behind his back, but he ignored them as well, drawing his wand to finish his enemy off.

"Dumbledore." Ben's voice was hoarse with fear.

Pettigrew gave only a whimper. "Crookshanks!"

Remus at Serene's feet stared at the full moon and lost conscience again.

In the back of the graveyard, Sirius drew in a breath like a sigh. "The Dementors."

And Severus, barely alive after the torture the Dark Lord had taken him through, opened his eyes. "Father." A gentle touch at his cheek assured him that he had gambled and won. He smiled and gave in to the darkness that embraced him.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Threefold the Unforgiveable Curse thundered.

Threefold the wands of Voldemort, Olsen and Pettigrew shot a glare of green fire. But whoever – whatever - they intended to kill, just stood there, grinning at them, mocking them.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Again they cast the deadly curse. The air started to hum, the ground to shake.

Still the target stood.

Serene kept her eyes to the floor and dragged Remus into the shelter of a sunken wall.

Claire slipped away, her back to the scene, and made her way through the blazing fire to the stakes.

Flashes fired and backfired, beamed.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Voldemort's voice toppled over, when he stepped forward. His wand fired a third time, its lethal power uniting with that of Olsen's and Pettigrew's.

For a heartbeat time stood still. All the magic, the power, seemed to tighten into a minuscule ball.

And then the ball exploded.

For a boggart can't be killed. At least not with the Killing Curse.

Olsen dropped dead when the first wave of throbbing power hit him. His spine just snapped, the Aurors would find later when they studied the casualties on the graveyard.

Pettigrew tried to get away, but the metal in his body started to sizzle, to bubble, to boil. Screaming with pain he went down, thrashing and jerking for minutes, his body deformed beyond recognition.

The magic that killed them was only the fringe of the lethal power they had produced themselves. The main force however hit Voldemort.

The impact was so hard it lifted the wizard off the ground, left him suspended there like a puppet. The dark hole that was his heart sucked in the power he had always craved. A last mad grin split his face.

Time and space screamed.

And then Lord Voldemort was no more.

Later nobody could tell what had happened to him, since everybody at the scene had averted their eyes, and the boggart would not tell.

But some insisted they had seen a thin black snake slither away through the high grass of the grave yard.

In the Hospital Harry looked up from the book he had tried to read all night, finally ready to admit he'd read the same page over and over for the twentieth time.

Dumbledore had not moved all night long, and more than once Harry had felt the urge to check if the old wizard still breathed.

Suddenly a gust of icy wind made the candles flicker, and almost die. But the light insisted.

When Harry looked down at the patient, Dumbledore's bright blue eyes stared straight back at him. And he smiled. Faint, and weak, but he smiled.

"Professor ..." Harry's voice hitched when he touched the wizard's frail hand. A minute ago it had felt cold and immobile, and now life and warmth pulsed through it. "Is it over?"

"Yes, it is over. For now." Although the words came painfully slow and strained, Dumbledore never lost his smile. "I assume your seventh year at Hogwarts will be unbearably boring, Harry."

"Damn it! I completely forgot about them!"

Laurel stood by Severus' stake and was about to draw her wand to undo the magical chains that held him, when she heard Serene's curse. She turned, only to see a line of figures in dark cloaks. Dozens. Hundreds. They seeped out of the darkness, a steadily tightening ring that would crush everything in its centre.

The three women looked at each other. So this was the end. There was no way they could defend themselves against an army of that size and determination – let alone those they'd come to save. Without a word they moved slowly backwards, until each of them stood between their man and the attackers. Neither wizard was in the condition to raise a wand, which had been broken and burned by Voldemort, anyway.

"Three is not enough," Laurel thought feverish. "Three is not enough."

And almost like an answer to her thoughts, the air split.

Suddenly a gap opened right in the middle of nothing, as if an invisible curtain had been slashed by a blade. And out of it stumbled, staggered, pushed ... students. Hogwarts students. In groups of five, mingled with teachers, the Lupins, Castor Black.

Serene did not believe her eyes when she saw Professor Flitwick smile at her and wave his wand in greeting. Claire sighed, when she noticed that Harry was not amongst the students. At least Harry and Rose were safe.

As sudden as the portal had opened, it closed again, and left no trace of its existence.

Minerva sought Laurel's eyes. "Help will be given to those who ask. And sometimes even to those who forgot to ask," she announced dryly.

Then she turned to the students.

"A circle. And remember what you learned in duelling club. Sometimes it is wiser to block than to attack."

The attack came over them like a forceful gale.

Death Eaters, mad with confusion and anger, moved closer, wands pointed to kill. They marched like zombies, ignoring stones and half sunken walls.

Ron looked at Hermione. "I don't like this," he muttered. "We are outnumbered, and we are students, for Merlin's sake. These guys know their curses."

Hermione grit her teeth. He was right, they had only a ghost of a chance. She could already recognise faces, faces she knew from pictures in the Daily Prophet. Honourable citizens. Their eyes burned like those of rabid animals. She held her wand up high, ready to block the first strike.

And then she saw the light.

Literally.

A tiny flame in the air. Flickering, fighting.

Another one.

Many more.

"I see stars," mumbled Draco. "Before I even got hit."

Like a shimmering net the flames linked, until they'd spun a dome of light over the centre of the graveyard. Brilliant pure white light. It seemed alive, breathing, growing.

"All of us," whispered Minerva and felt her eyes get wet with emotion. "It needed all of us."

Most Death Eaters simply dropped their wands and fled the battlefield. But a few covered their eyes and cast their curses against the dome of light, only to see the lethal green glow dissolve like fog. Finally it became clear that no lethal curse, no evil magic would pierce the shield, and the enemy gave up.

And what an hour ago had been Voldemort's army, ran like vermin and disappeared in the fading night beyond the walls of the cemetery.

With Castor's help Claire gently lowered Sirius off the stake. Kneeling in front of her, because he felt too weak to stand up immediately, he grinned at her.

"About time you came." His voice was a caress. "I was just about to escape, but then ..."

"I know." She had to wipe the tears away. "I know, my darling." Her hands touched his arms, assuring herself that he was there, that he was alive. When he winced, she bit her lip.

It took her only minutes to close the deep wounds Pettigrew's claw had inflicted, and Sirius watched her with a strange expression, when she searched his body for more injuries.

"What?" she smiled.

He only shook his head. "I hoped to die, when I heard them talk about you coming here tonight. I hoped to be dead so you would not need to watch when Peter tortured me to death."

"I told you before, I want you alive." Her eyes were cool grey pools. "I haven't changed my mind, Sirius."

He kissed her until her eyes lost any detachment. She snuggled into his arms, and for the first time in days allowed herself a moment of weakness.

Stroking back the shreds of his sleeve, she stared at his arm.

"The Mark!" she breathed, wide-eyed with surprise. "It is gone."

Sirius sighed. "No more Dark Mark. No more Fidelius Charm. Will you still love me when I am only Sirius Black, author?"

Her smile told him everything he needed to know.

Serene cleared her throat. "Sorry to disturb this touching scene, but your talents as a healer are needed."

Claire bit back a sharp remark when she saw the sorrow in her friend's eyes. "Remus?"

Serene only nodded and led the way past the smoking remains of the Dark Lord's throne to where she had bedded Remus onto her cloak.

His face burned with fever. There was no blood, no open wound, and still he seemed in agony.

"Silver." Sirius' mouth got dry, when he caught the whiff of scorched skin. "Olsen took care of that. He made sure the shackles were pure silver."

Claire kneeled down next to Remus and covered his burned wrists with her hands. Focusing on calm waters and green meadows usually helped, but this time the giddy happiness she felt, did the trick much better. Gradually the wizard relaxed as the pain ceased.

His eyes opened. It took him some effort to focus. But when he saw the hazy cloud of red hair, he sighed. "Could not tell you ..."

"I know."

Serene had rehearsed so many angry speeches on the broom-ride from Hogwarts to the graveyard, and now she only remembered how much she loved him. Her hand slipped into his. "You ruined your robe." She tore off the ripped sleeve and cast it away.

"Ben's fault."

"Bastard." Her eyes caressed him. "He was scum."

Remus raised a trembling hand to stroke away her tears, but to no avail. When Claire had treated his injuries, Sirius helped him to sit up.

Serene hugged him, burying her face in the crook of his neck.

"Don't think you can get out of the wedding that easily, Lupin," she sobbed.

He only held her tight, stroking her back, muttering foolish sweet words.

Sirius, never letting go off Claire's hand, crouched down to his friend. "This time it was close, Moony," he said softly.

Remus nodded over Serene's shoulder. "You know that folklore says werewolves get eaten by the moon in the end? When I saw that fat pale sphere ..."

"You saw the moon?" Sirius frowned. "Strange. I ... there was a Dementor ..." He looked questioningly at his wife.

She smirked. "I covered my eyes."

"A boggart!" Remus' eyes lit up. "Brilliant!"

Sirius stared at the scorched ground where Voldemort had ... disappeared, at least. "See what you fear most. Of course he'd see ..."

"Harry Potter." Remus kissed Serene's forehead.

"See, I delivered him at last. I was right after all," Serene sniffed and blew her nose, grateful for the handkerchief Claire offered. It was so like Claire to get out prim and proper and organised, even when the world had almost collapsed a minute or two, she thought warmly.

"It was Laurel's plan," Claire told with obvious pride. "Somehow she made that boggart cooperate."

Remus almost toppled over laughing. "This is so magnificent," he gasped. "Everybody fears a boggart. But the boggarts fear Laurel Hunter."

"But how? Riddikulus would scare it away, I give you that. But scare it into submission?" Sirius picked flakes of sott out of Claire's fair hair.

"She does not believe in boggarts," Remus explained and tried to stand up with a groan. "Imagine that. Doesn't believe in ghosts, either. Muggle born and raised, it's a rare but not unknown handicap."

"Merlin, she challenged the boggart's very existence!" Sirius chuckled. "No wonder the poor thing would hide in that trunk."

"It all came down to the gamble whether Voldemort was afraid enough of Harry to see him in the Boggart. Olsen and Pettigrew we never thought about." Serene scowled. "If he weren't already dead, it would kill Ben to know we framed him."

"We thought we could free you in the ensuing confusion and get out of here." Claire stroked Sirius cheek. "Laurel landed in the back of the grave yard, under Harry's invisibility cloak."

"She talked to me," Sirius remembered. "Asked about ..." His face fell. "Snape. Oh no!"

Drawing Claire with him, he ran towards the stakes.

Laurel sat by the stake, her face vacant, her eyes closed. Tears streaked her cheeks as she cried silently. The Potions master's lifeless body lay on the ground, partially covered with the invisibility cloak. His left leg looked as if it had been mangled, the knee bent into the wrong direction, an open fracture piercing the flesh. His lips were raw and encrusted with blood, where he had bitten them to keep himself from screaming. He did not breathe, and when Claire gingerly touched his wrist, she could not feel a pulse.

"Are you alright, Laurel?" she asked, her voice shaking with compassion.

There was no answer, no sign the witch had heard her at all.

Serene skidded to a stop next to the small group. "Laurel?" In disbelieve she stared at Snape. "Is he ..."

Numb with pain and shock Laurel forced herself to open her eyes. "He was alive when I arrived. I touched him, and he smiled. But then there was the green fire and ..." A sob shook her so hard, Serene had to hold her. "Severus stopped breathing."

With feeble hands Claire pushed up the sleeve of the tattered robe and studied Snape's forearm. The Dark Mark had vanished, but where the skin had recovered unblemished with Sirius, here a vicious scar marred the flesh.

"I don't understand," she said softly to Madam Pomfrey, who stood next to her. "How can a wound scar when the body is dead?"

The nurse shook her head. "It is impossible. He was ... linked ... with Voldemort for a very long time. That's probably the reason why the Dark Lord's death affected him as well."

"But is was his idea to kill Voldemort like that!" Laurel almost shouted the words. "His own idea. He would not ..." She rubbed her wet eyes. "Yes. He would."

"But he can't be dead!", Claire insisted. "Sure there is no sign of life, but maybe he is caught inside. You know, like in a shell he can't crack."

"A shell he built, so Voldemort would not drag him with him into destruction." Sirius nodded slowly. "This sounds reasonable."

Serene looked at the healer and the nurse expectantly. "What can we do?"

Sadly Madam Pomfrey raised her hand. "Nothing. We can only wait and hope."

"Hope." Laurel's finger traced Severus' jaw line. He felt so cold to the touch. Strangely, the coldness reassured her that he was not dead. Surely a body needed time to cool, when the warmth of life left it? And Severus had literally frozen, as soon as the green glow of the Unforgivable Curse had risen over the grave yard. And still ...

She looked up. "I'll take him home."

Remus kneeled down next to her. "Laurel, I don't know if it is wise ..." His voice hitched. "Maybe St. Mungo's would be better suited for his condition."

Stubbornly she stared at him until he lowered his gaze. "I'll take him home with me," she repeated calmly.

But just as she rose, and Sirius and Remus bent down to lift the body, Neville Longbottom, pushed by another nosy student, stumbled forward. Not recognising the invisibility coat for what it was, he stumbled over Snape's long legs, lost his balance and came down with full force, right onto the Potions master's chest.

Laurel cried out.

Neville stared breathless with shock at his teacher's pale face.

Snape gave a dry cough and opened his eyes. When he recognised Neville, his features set into the familiar scowl.

"So this is Hell, after all."

Laurel raised a hand to her mouth to stifle another cry. Her knees shook so hard, she had to give in and sit down. Neville eventually got up, forcibly helped by Sirius, who pushed the boy aside like a bundle of rags.

Snape's hand, still icy, reached for Laurel, painfully weak but determined. "I knew," he whispered hoarsely. " I knew you'd see through. All the riddles, all the deceit. You always saw me."

Now she wept unashamedly. "It is just that I know fear so well, and how it works."

"And the truth." He smiled shakily. "How it would set us free."

His fingers linked with hers, a tie that would not be broken, neither through time nor circumstances. "Let's go home."


In the bedroom, the wizard rose silently. Both children were fast asleep. He picked up the blanket the boy had pushed down and stroked a look of silvery hair out of the dream flushed face of his daughter.

Then he gently closed the door and went down the stairs to the study from where light spilled through the half open door onto the dark corridor. For a moment he halted and savoured the familiar picture - his wife, sitting behind the huge oaken desk, an ink smear on her cheek, deeply immersed in her writings.

As if he'd wordlessly called out to her, she raised her head and looked up. The smile she gave him made the light shine brighter, the fire in the hearth burn higher, his heart beat faster.

"Everyone asleep?" she asked softly.

He nodded and carefully made his way through small stacks of parchment that covered the floor like ice-floes, until he stood behind her leather chair and could look down at her work.

"Are you done?" he asked, kneading away the knots in her shoulders.

She sighed in delight and closed her eyes. "Almost."

The wizard took in the heaps of parchment that covered the oak desk and piled onto the floor. Several magical quills lay, in varying states of exhaustion, in the waste basket.

"So this is it then," he said. "Your father will be so proud. Another writer in the family."

"He'll be even more proud to hear that he'll have another grandchild come next spring." The witch smiled and laid a hand onto her belly. "I'll tell them as soon as they return from Zanzibar next month."

"Well, if their reaction resembles that of my parents in any way, it is worth waiting another month."

She raised her face to him and smiled. "I never thought I'd see your father with tears in his eyes."

The wizard smirked. "He cried at our wedding, remember? At least that's what Mum says. He still insists he is allergic to freesias ..."

The memory made her smile. "We both got great parents, don't we? I only hope our lot says the same about us one day." She patted the parchment. "Pass me a fresh quill, will you? I'll end it now, and take it to London next Monday."

"Another Winterstorm best-seller, just in time for Christmas," he mused. "Headmaster Lupin won't mind if I take leave for a day and accompany you to London. I need supplies, anyway." For a moment his mind drifted away to storage rooms, schedules and pitiful first years wasting precious Joberknoll.

"Have they overcome the shock that now Lorca wants to be an Auror, too?"

He shrugged. "When Jamie told them he'd go to London right after graduation, they took it with remarkable ease."

"I remember Uncle Cas giving James Lupin a toy flame torch when he was but four years old," the witch reminisced with a smile. "That boy wanted to be an Auror before he could ride a broom!"

"True. That's why nobody argued with him about it. They had enough time to become familiar with the thought. But last year, when the twins decided they wanted to be famous dragon researchers and go to Romania to work with Professor Weasley, Aunt Ene almost blew up. And Remus tried to talk them out of it, but to no avail."

"And now Lorca," she sighed. "She is so young, barely eighteen."

"The girl's smart and courageous. She'll make her way. They all will, just like we did." He brushed her temple with his lips, and used his other hand to open a drawer to grub for a new sharp quill.

"So this here tells the whole story?" he asked again.

"About Laurel and Severus, Claire and Sirius, Serene and Remus."

"About the darkness and the light," the wizard added. "And how the light won."

A dark shadow crossed the witch's face. "For the time being."

"For the time being," he agreed. "The present is all we posses. And a hope for the future." With that he put the fresh quill in her hand.

She looked up at him, and for a moment drowned in his eyes, let herself be wrapped in a mental embrace of unconditional love. Love that had always been there. Always, as long as either of them could remember. Even in those dark times when neither of them had wanted to admit it, love had been there.

And with a flourish she added the last words:

THE END

is not the End. As the Beginning was not the Beginning ...

AN:

Well, this is it – the Happy End.

Some 273.700 words ago I thought this would be hard work – but it was a pleasure to write.

Thank you for listening.

Leila B.