When Remus raised his head, still dazed from the fall, Dumbledore gave him an encouraging if shaky smile.
"You must excuse the long time it took me to get to you, children. Just takes the body a bit longer to follow the mind these days."
He sighed and gratefully took a seat on a stone block the last eruption of power had forced out of the wall.
Remus still crouched on the floor, holding Serene safe in the cradle of his arms. He still did not understand, how in the world the gap had shut - well, almost shut, he thought with a fast side glance. A moment ago they had hung right over the mouth of sure death. And now they sat here with the old wizard, who patiently waited, the wand on his knee.
The wand ...
The werewolf's keen eyes spotted the difference between Dumbledore's usual wand and this one immediately. Twenty years ago the Headmaster himself had taught Transfiguration for a while. Remus remembered only too well staring at the wand and the pincushion that changed into a miniature hedgehog. It had been a plain wand, fashioned from a pear tree. But this one ... Remus had never seen one like this. Beautifully crafted from some material that looked suspiciously like bone, inlaid with thin spiral patterns of pure silver. The silver lured him, as it did with his kind, but he was well aware that only one touch would burn his hand and hurt like hell.
Automatically stroking Serene's hair, he focused at the Headmaster's face. If there was one wizard he respected as much as his father, then Albus Dumbledore. No matter what, he had always listened, helped, offered advice and support and sympathy. And he never seemed to tire. When James and Lily had been killed, and Sirius taken away by the Aurors, it had been Dumbledore who had forced the others to go on, to care for Harry's safety. It was Dumbledore who had never believed in Voldemort's defeat, and all those years he had never allowed Remus to drown in misery.
If Serene had been his guiding star, then Dumbledore had been his navigator, the one who gently stirred him back into course if needed.
The old Wizard's head snapped up as if he'd slept with his eyes open.
"The wand? Whose is it?"
Dumbledore looked down on the wand on his thigh and gave a shrug. "Oh that. It's Etherwing's, of course. The one thing powerful enough to defeat the combined powers of the ancient spells and the magic of this special night."
Serene frowned and sat up. She still shook with exhaustion from the - hours? days? - she'd tried to pull the seams of reality together.
"Didn't you tell us she was all but forgotten? That the other four had extinguished any trace of her existence? How did the wand survive?"
Dumbledore's kind blue eyes twinkled in agreement. "The Hat, of course."
"The Hat." Serene felt a throbbing that announced a major headache. All she wanted was grabbing Remus, getting off this cursed tower. Oh, and a hot bath.
"I should have known all along," mused the Headmaster and studied the silver wand in his hand. "The Hat contained Gryffindor's sword. And it gave it to Harry when he needed it desperately."
"And tonight you desperately needed Etherwing's wand." Remus tried to stand up, and found that his knees buckled as if he'd been ill for a long time. The darkness from the gap had fed off his life energy.
"Desperately, yes." Dumbledore smiled. Then he bowed down to Serene and gently touched her cheek. "That was very brave of you, girl," he said softly, and Remus noticed how she blushed and avoided the Headmaster's gaze.
"I could not ..."
The old wizard shook his head. "I know. You did well." Pointing at the gap that was still sealed by shimmering green threads, he sighed. "Who'd expected anything like that, hu? A portal ..." He rose and stepped closer to the centre of the room. Thin wisps of darkness still seeped out of the opening in the stones. "Haven't seen one in ... ah, ages. Very clever of Thomas to think of the possibility to unlock on at this time and place."
"Thomas?" Serene let her head sink on Remus' shoulder. It seemed so natural to stand like this, one supporting the other. And she did not care anymore if seen appeared weak. She was weak right now, wasn't she?
"Tom Riddle, now better known as You-know-who." Remus kept a close look on the Headmaster. You never knew with Dumbledore. What if he decided to face his old enemy himself and have it over with? What if he re-opened the portal and crossed over to where it led?
"Where does it lead?" he asked, clearing his throat. "To Voldemort?"
Dumbledore shrugged. "I assume so. I haven't had time yet to study the scrolls young Mr. Malfoy got from Ben Olsen. You must understand," he faced Serene, as Remus would know about such things, being the DADA teacher, "that the nature of such a portal is neither good nor evil."
"They used them in the early days to get from one place to another very fast and safely." Beyond all explanations and reason Remus felt the closeness, the warmth. Her breath on the pulse of his neck. The scent of her hair. All he wanted was grabbing her and getting off the tower. And a warm, soft bed.
"I once told you how Hogwarts was created as a safe place in a world that had decided that magic and witchcraft were evil and to be feared. So every similar place had a portal that enabled the wizardfolk to travel in safety." Dumbledore touched the threads here and there and they pulled closer, closing the gap until no darkness could get through. "The portal leads you wherever you want, or wherever the spells that constructed it, specify."
"It smelled ... musty." Remus' forehead knitted in the attempt to identify the scent from the gap.
"If Draco had succeeded in opening the portal, he'd have opened a door right into Hogwarts. We'd have been unprepared and defenceless." Dumbledore blew out a deep breath of relief. "But thanks to you and Serene this hour of danger has passed."
"It was thanks to Granger and her friends," Serene interrupted. "They knew they had no chance but they tried to stop him nevertheless."
"Although they had strict orders to stay away from the tower. Points will be taken away ..."
"But Headmaster, they probably saved all our lives." Her eyes widened in disbelief.
"Then again, as there are no more houses, there are no more house-points," the old wizard winked. "So maybe they'll get away with something less ... unpleasant. Minerva will give them a good talking to."
"Less unpleasant?" Remus snorted.
"And I'll treat them to an afternoon at Fortescue's ice-cream parlour."
"That's more like it."
Dumbledore's face got serious again. "Since we are here, alone, and this is a special night, and we just got away by the skin of our teeth, I'd like to show you something."
He pulled his own wand from his belt and raised it. A few quiet words, and the small turrets in the high walls darkened until neither moon nor stars could shed their light into the tower room.
Instinctively Serene fumbled for Remus' hand. Darkness filled the space within the circular walls again, but this time at least it did not crawl up her ankles like something nastily alive. But still, this darkness here was ... dark. And perfectly so. Impenetrable, and of a density that threatened to take away Serene's breath.
Remus stroked the backside of her hand and whispered into her ear. "It's nothing to fear. It's only because there is no light."
But even he felt uneasy. Werewolves could see in the dark, couldn't they? Everywhere. Always. But not now. It was like going blind all of a sudden, and his other senses ran riot and tried to make up for the loss. He was almost painfully aware of Serene next to him, of Dumbledore's presence in the room, the tiny scrapings of stones still shifting, a nightbird passing by outside the tower.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "You are wrong, Remus. Because this is the only thing we need to be afraid of. The complete absence of the light."
A sigh trembled in the thick darkness and Serene felt tears well up in her eyes. This was what Ben wanted, wasn't it? This suffocating everlasting night.
"From the beginning they fought, darkness and light. And every once in awhile it seems the darkness is about to win. In the Middle Ages, the Goblin Rebellion, the Great Wizard War of 1776. And now again."
Remus could not make out the position of the Headmaster any more, and that made him even more nervous than the blindness. The gentle voice seemed to float in the room, bodiless.
"It was a hard, vicious fight, and each side had it's allies. And it's victims."
Serene felt Remus wince and bitter guilt replaced the fear she felt. He'd lost so many of his friends to Voldemort. How could she ever hope he'd love her, once he knew ...
"Aye, for a while it looked as if this time the darkness was more powerful than ever," Dumbledore went on. "But then ..."
A flicker in the darkness.
A tiny pale light, the flame of a single candle dancing in the air. Never had Serene felt so much relief, and so much admiration for a small speck of light.
"This was ... is Severus."
Remus nodded slowly, although nobody could see it. He had always considered the Potions master the bravest of them all, the one who had been able to make the all important step back to the right track.
"All the odds were against him. And I have to admit that when he joined Voldemort, even I ...," Dumbledore's voice hitched in his throat. "For an awful moment even I doubted he'd ever come back."
Serene reached out in the darkness. Her fingers touched nothing but cool air. "You never gave any of them up," she said quietly. "You believe in second chances, don't you?"
"I do. And I am rewarded more often than even I expect."
Another flame appeared.
"Severus was the beginning. But there were others. Mothers who gave their life without thinking. Not for the cause, or an idea. Out of love." A smile warmed the words. "Go on, dear boy. Touch it."
Remus winced and reached for the new flame. For a heartbeat it danced on his open palm. Comfort and peace filled his heart and a wound that had been bleeding for almost sixteen years, finally healed.
"Love," sighed the Headmaster. "So many kinds of love. For a friend, a child, a husband or wife."
Staring at the flickering lights, Remus could have cried and laughed at the same time. "So this is all it needs? Lights? No hero, no masterplan?"
"Only love," Dumbledore said quietly. The darkness was pierced now with persistent sparks, and light enough to through shadows on his face. "Still, it can be the hardest thing, and the most precious we possess."
Serene's throat tightened into a knot. She'd never loved anybody, had she? Always felt there was something missing, like a void where her heart was supposed to be.
The old wizard seemed to read her thoughts. "Many there were who held themselves in low esteem. Who thought they were not worth or able to contribute." In the centre of the room, where darkness had taken a last stand, two lights appeared and made the victory complete. "Love. It always came easy to you, Remus. Love for others that is. And you, Serene, you thought you could go without and not suffer."
She swallowed hard. "Remus' light I understand. He is decent to the core. But I..."
"You are wrong." He lifted both hands and let them sink in a desperate search for arguments. "I am neither decent nor good. Lily and James, yes. Even Snape, for what he did was incredibly courageous. But I am not. I am .."
"Hard to learn to accept what you are, isn't it?" The Headmaster interjected. "Not only to know and understand it, but to admit it to yourself."
The werewolf bowed his head. He knew Dumbledore for so long now, and it still shocked him sometimes how effortlessly the old wizard could read his heart.
"And you, my girl, are by far not the evil creature you believe yourself to be."
"She is not evil!" Remus drew her closer, holding her in an embrace that was a shield and a stance at the same time. "She is kind. And gentle. And she ..."
"Remus ..." Dumbledore chuckled, quietly amused by the outbreak of the younger wizard. "I know."
Serene could not take her eyes off the tiny lights that trembled in the draft. Could it really be? Had she been wrong all the time?
"Remus loves me," she said softly. "So he sees only the fair side in me, and kindly overlooks the dark streak."
"Nobody is all dark. Or all light for that matter," Dumbledore assured her.
"I?" Now the chuckle turned into amused laughter. "You'd be surprised, my girl! Ah, I am only human after all."
"But you ..."
"Let's just say I lived long enough to make some mistakes not only twice but trice. And as the Muggle saying goes - three is the charm."
Remus returned the smile. His Muggleborn mother loved that saying, and he'd often found it true. And maybe Dumbledore's philosophy was true as well. Maybe one needed only enough opportunities to commit a certain mistake, to finally get it right eventually.
"Now you young people go off and spent the rest of this magical night together," the old wizard waved a hand in dismissal. "Let me sit here for a while amidst the lights and the memories, and catch my breath before I start the long climb down those stairs."
"We'll walk down with you," Serene laid a hand on his arm.
"No, it'd only be a waste of that precious night," he shook his head. "The two of you have some serious talking to do, and when you are done ..." A smile lit up his face and gave Serene and Remus a glimpse of a much younger man. "When all is said, Beltane is a night for kisses. And more."
When Serene blushed, he could barely hold back a laugh. "I had a great many Beltane nights in my life, child. And I can only recommend them. As it is way past midnight, you and Professor Lupin should get out of this old musty tower as fast as possible."
But when Remus took a step towards the door and the stairs, he shook his head. "It takes forever to climb down. Several steps are missing, and the magic will be off until the sun rises. You better pass through the portal."
"Through ... this?"
Serene paled. The mere thought of getting close to the bottomless depth gave her the creeps. "I am not jumping straight into Voldemort's headquarter. No way!"
"I can't hold that against you, I guess." Dumbledore chuckled and stroked the last tear off her cheek. "But as I told you that portal will transport you to where you want to be."
"Both of us?" She grasped Remus' hand.
"Well," the old wizard stroked his beard as if he had to consider the question, "if you both want to be in the same place?"
He raised Estella Etherwing's wand, and the light of the moon caught in the inlaid silver and shot strokes of silvery light at the portal. The green shimmering threads dissolved and the gap opened again. This time no darkness tried to devour the room. But the portal was still a lightless soundless zone, and exactly what one considered a comfortable means of transportation.
"I don't know ..."
Remus took her hand. What Dumbledore had showed them, had recalled so many memories. And hope. This was a magical night, Beltane, throbbing with ancient powers. Tonight he would find out what stood between and Serene. It was imperious to know, as only then he could think of a way of convincing her that it meant nothing.
"Together," he said quietly. "We'll depart together and we'll arrive together. In a place where we want to be."
With a last glance at Dumbledore who still stood with Etherwing's wand raised high, ready to close the portal as soon as they were through, they stepped into nothingness.
* * *
The journey through the portal lasted forever, for a heartbeat, for a deep- felt wish. Walls turned into brushwood, wooden beams into a starry firmament. And where Serene had stood on firm ground, she felt now the soft grass of a clearing under her boots.
A moment of panic. When had they ever wanted the same thing? When he'd loved her, she's refused him. And when she's eventually found, she loved him, he had turned away from her and left ...
"I am here. Right here." His voice was steady, warm, and betrayed nothing of the deep gratefulness he felt for finding her by his side after the journey.
"We are together."
"Did you doubt it?" he teased her and drew her close. He couldn't stop the grin. She was so sweet, so confused about the portal, and at the same time striving so hard to disguise that confusion.
A faint crack of brittle twigs alerted him, and with a fluent move he pushed Serene behind his back to shield her against a possible attacker. When she started to complain, he raised a hand. "Sh! There are not only unicorns in this part of the forest."
Serene kept her breath, but the creature that stepped out of the shadow of the lifeoak in the clearing, was neither dragon nor hydra. The centaur glanced down at them with the arrogant frown of his kind.
"We have not seen you around here since the Midwinter moon, Lupin."
"I was ... ah, indisposed."
The centaur raised both eye-brows. "The stars said so."
Remus sighed. Small talk with a centaur was an impossible feat. He grabbed Serene's hand and stepped aside so she could see the creature. And a sight he was, silver coat and curly beard and all.
"This is Zephyr, one of the centaurs of the western part of the forest."
The centaur bowed his head and gave a soft whine. "She's beautiful, your mate." As dire their steady talk about planets and stars could be, in the presence of a woman they developed unexpected congeniality.
"'tis the night of Beltane. Spring is in the air. I'll leave you alone now." That was unusually tactful for a centaur, thought Remus. But the big grey one probably had a date with some star or comet.
"Good night to you then, Zephyr."
"Good night to you both." He chuckled softly and threw back his mane. "Like the moon, Lupin, we all move in circles."
With that he took off into the woods.
Serene frowned, still impressed by the strange creature and the lightness with which he moved through the brush. "In circles? What does he mean?"
Remus shrugged. "Well, centaurs never tell you straight away what they ..." Then he suddenly smiled. "Or maybe they do, some times. Just turn around, darling."
Behind them lay the pond and the shallow cave, the spot where they'd first made love half a year ago. But where dry leaves had covered the ground then, now bright green blades shot up all over the clearing. Tiny blue flowers dotted the green. In the light of the moon the whole place looked more like a scenery out of one of Serene's dreams. Not out of a vision, she thought when she kneeled down to pick one of the flowers, but out of dream. Her dreams were always sweet, weren't they?
"It is a sign that the portal brought us to this very place. We need to talk, Serene."
He said it casually, but she knew that this was the beginning of the end. They'd talk and he'd make her tell the truth. And after the talking was done, they would not, like Dumbledore had insinuated, spend the rest of the night making love. When all was said, he'd turn away from her in disgust.
"There are things I need to know. Things I have a right to know, I think."
She played for time, stroking the velvety petals of the flowers and avoiding his glance.
Remus kneeled down next to her. Out of impulse she gave him the tiny blue bloom. He took it and with it he took her hand in his and brushed the knuckles with his lips.
Serene winced. "I ..."
"Or are we already married?"
She bit her lip. That. Another lie. Another thing she had "forgotten" to tell him.
Remus cupped her chin with his free hand and gently forced her to meet his eyes. And what she saw there, hope, joy, ... love ... made her change her mind. He had a right to know. Her hand closed around the wand.
"Show!" she whispered.
The sign of the moon on her wrist stood out clear against the fair skin. Smaller than a Knut, it made it's circle, from new to full.
"You did this." He could hardly breathe. The day when he'd asked her to marry him only to have her turn him down, was a memory almost as dark as that Halloween in Godric's Hollow.
"They would have let you die." She dropped her wand and drew a deep breath. "I don't care if you are mad about me now."
"You did this. In many countries, including your home country this is still a sign of shame."
She shrugged. "I never felt at home there. The first time in my life I felt at home was when I arrived at Hogwarts. Only ..." her voice trembled and this time she did not look away, but held on to the love she saw in his eyes. "Only later I recognised it was not Hogwarts, I was at home at. It was you, Remy."
"And you for me." He framed her face, then combed his fingers through her tousled curls, drawing them back, so he could see her clearly. "And don't you see that there must not be any lies or deception between us. That we need the truth."
"I ..." She touched his cheek, desperate for a last caress.
"Ssh." He kissed both her eyelids, then rose from his knees and pulled the robe over his head. "I'll start."
Undressing in his calm and tidy way, he folded trousers and shirt and placed them next to his boots. Naked he moved gracefully and without inhibition, closer to nature than any human being.
"I never let anybody see the change. I ... loathed it. Still do in many ways," he said so softly she could hardly hear it. "But you need to see who I really am."
"I know who you are."
"Not all of me."
The air seemed to waver like it did in the blistering heat of an August afternoon.
Serene dug her fingernails in the palms of her hand and held her breath. She had seen Remus change - well, part of him. His hand. She remembered sprouting pelt, shifting bones. She remembered how utterly stunned she'd been. But nothing prepared her for the process he let her witness now.
The man crouched on the forest ground, and she could see how his face distorted with agony. Sweat gathered on his forehead and his breath came fast and shallow. Then his shape changed, so smooth it was hard to make out where it began and where it ended. Brown human eyes melted into amber wolf eyes. Grey streaked hair grew longer, denser, became a shining coat. And still - it was Remus, she thought, when the wolf stood in front of her, panting and trembling from the exhaustion.
Gingerly she reached out and touched his face. The pelt was surprisingly soft, and where Remus' temperature had almost reminded her of fever, it seemed just right with the wolf. The beautifully drawn face looked up at her, then he stubbed her hand. Serene let her fingers run along the spine, felt the hard muscles under the pelt, the gentle nip of sharp teeth on her other hand.
"You are lovely," she said and deep-felt honesty trembled in her voice. "Just lovely."
The wolf let out a soft sound, almost like a sigh. Then he stepped back, and the change started all over.
Serene sat down in the grass, and when Remus was back to his human form, she forgot all her good intentions to give him time and space, and cradled his head in her lap. From his reaction she could tell she'd acted instinctively right. He closed his eyes and just lay there for a while, breathing hard, hair humid with sweat. Serene traced the line of his jaw with her fingertip.
"You are lovely," she repeated, her voice as much a caress as her touch.
The corners of his mouth turned upwards. "No, you're the one with the lovely face, honeychild."
"But you have better hair."
He propped his exhausted body on one elbow and looked straight into her eyes.
"Why is it you can't take a compliment, Serene? I've never known a woman who takes it almost as an insult if anybody admires her looks."
"It was always my face," she answered, suddenly embarrassed, "always my face men fell in love with. Never my ..."
"Heart." He touched the back of her neck and let his hand remain there, even when she winced. "They did not love your heart because they did not know it. But I knew you even before I'd ever laid eyes on you."
Serene felt the warmth of his hand and closed her eyes, concentrating only on his presence, his touch. "I dreamed of you," she said. "I told you I did not know of you, but I lied."
"I know." His dry answer made her chuckle against her will.
"But Remus, I just don't see how ..."
"Let me tell you a story." The wizard made himself comfortable, laying nakedly on the grassy ground without the slightest notion of shame.
"Four years ago I boarded the Hogwarts Express to assume my first honest job in more than a decade. I was ... nervous. Scared, even. Dumbledore was right, I knew a lot about Dark Arts," he laughed softly. "But who was I to teach children how to defend themselves, where I had barely saved my own life and failed to save my friends?"
Her hands started to wander along his arms, up and down, warming him, comforting him.
"The first day of term was the day after the full moon, and the wizard in Knockturn Alley who'd fixed the Wolfsbane Potion for me, was a quack. Anyway, I felt like chewed up and spit out, sitting in that stuffy compartment, trying to find some sleep. The students boarded, and suddenly ...," his eyes opened all of a sudden and found hers, "there you were."
"I don't remember seeing you on the train, " she mused. "I saw you first in the Great Hall when they started the Sorting."
"I did not see you, either." He snuggled his cheek against her open palm in a very wolflike gesture. "But I felt you. Your ... heartbeat. I knew of your presence. But then there was all that confusion, chaos."
"The Dementors searched the train for Sirius Black," she remembered. "Minerva would not let us go and see what was happening. But the students told us later on."
"Harry ... fainted. Brave boy, he never made much fuss about it." Remus took her hand and laced her fingers with his. "It took my thoughts off you, for a few hours. But then, sitting in Dumbledore's study, the feeling came back."
"Of having reached my final destination. The end of all journeys."
Her throat tightened when she heard the unshakeable certainty. He laughed suddenly.
"Ouh, it was horrible!"
Serene frowned and cupped his face with her free hand. "Make up your mind, Lupin. Was it wonderful or horrible?"
"Both." He nodded sincerely. "Wonderful to know I'd found you after all. Horrible because I feared I'd been wrong all along. Maybe I had misjudged the signs when I was a young boy. Maybe you were one of those giggling schoolgirls I'd seen on the train. I asked Snape if there were any new staff, but there wasn't. Merlin, I was so scared I'd have to wait another seven years till you graduated."
"Well," she mumbled slowly, lowering her face until her lips could touch his forehead, "I could have been Professor Lupin's pet."
"I don't think so," he replied dryly. "You'd never be anybody's pet. My mate, my love, but never my pet."
Cupping her face with both hands he held her only an inch away from his lips, far away he could focus on her eyes, close enough he could feel the caress of her breath on his skin.
"Now, that you've seen me, do you hate me?"
"Then let me see you. Tell me the truth, Serene," he whispered. "There is this wall between you and me and I won't have it any longer."
She froze. With considerable effort she escaped his embrace and sat in the soft grass, burying her head in her arms.
Remus sat up as well and stroked her back in quiet desperation. Oh, he wished he could spare her ... but if they wanted a future together, he needed to know.
When she finally spoke, it came so abrupt and unprepared, he winced and let his hand drop, a gesture that throve tears into her eyes. "I am the one who will deliver Harry Potter into Voldemort's hands."
He said nothing, and Serene swallowed hard. Of course, she'd seen this come. Not in a vision but in the darkest part of her heart. In a few moments he'd find his breath and a polite excuse to leave.
"How do you know?"
She turned in astonishment. "Did you not hear me? I am going to deliver Harry. Voldemort will kill him and the world will go up in flames."
Remus raised a hand in an attempt to slow her words. "My hearing is superb, as you well know. My question was, how you knew."
"A vision." She clenched her fists and a defiant line formed on her forehead. "And don't you dare tell me, it won't come true!"
"Because it will. Because all your visions became reality so far."
He sighed. "And this is it? This is why you would not love me, or marry me or even be with me?"
She jumped up and nervously started to braid her hair, a sign of great despair. The moon gave her skin a translucent shine, and her tresses burned like copper. His heart ached when he only looked at her.
When he rose, she held up a hand to keep him at a distance.
"Don't you understand, Remus?"
"I understand very well."
"Everything that is sacred to you - I'll destroy it."
He shrugged. "Why didn't you take the chance when it was there?"
Now it was she who gaped at him. "Ha?"
"Tonight. You stood at a portal that led straight to the Dark Lord himself. And Harry was there, without anybody to defend him but a few kids."
Her pale face got some colour with shame. "Did you never ask yourself why I was there in the beginning? Not to gaze at the stars, I assure you. I climbed the tower because I knew Harry would be up there."
"But then you changed your mind."
"I couldn't do it tonight." Her voice was but a rasp. "That doesn't mean I won't do it at some point in the future."
Her hands fluttered through the air like two small birds. "So this is over then."
The anger in his voice made her wince. Ignoring her defiance he grabbed her shoulders and shook her furiously. "No! It won't be over."
"Whatever happens, whatever you do, it won't be over. Isn't this why you took the tattoo? As a sign that what we have will last forever?"
On Serene's lashes trembled a single tear and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. Before she could find any words to make him understand, he continued. "Whatever I am. Whatever you are. This is forever. And when it happens, when it really happens, we'll deal with it."
"You will hate me."
"Ah, don't kid yourself, Lupin!" she scowled, suddenly angry. "And don't pretend you'd lean back and watch me do it!"
"I won't." He stayed calm which infuriated her even more. "I'll do my best to stop you. But whether you succeed or not has nothing to do with my feelings for you."
Shaking her head in disbelieve, Serene lifted both hands in a pleading gesture. "I just don't know what you expect of me, Remus."
"What we had in the cottage."
"In the cottage?"
"Falling asleep together. Waking up together. The simple things. Going for walks."
"Watching the sunset." Her voice broke.
"That as well. What I expect ... what I demand ... is the present."
Serene looked at him. His eyes were sincere. Maybe he was right. Maybe she'd forgotten about the present in her worry about the future.
"What?" he smiled.
"I just love looking at you."
"You should know my face by now, shouldn't you?"
"That's part of the miracle." Her finger traced his jawline. "I know your face so well. And I never thought I'd be so close to anybody. Ever. I could draw you, I even dream of you, Remus."
"Your eyes," she continued, when she noticed the light her words had lit. "So ... warm when you look at me."
She trailed off as he brought his mouth back to hers. The kiss started out a sweet caress, lingered, turned into a passionate plea. Remus' hands slipped under her robe, skilfully unfastening buttons and hooks. The smooth material slid down her shoulders, and the soft shirt she wore underneath, followed.
Then he drew her down to the soft grass, and the scent of spring mingled with the now so familiar scent of his body. He wanted her so much, wanted those hands run over him again, wanted to devour her, bury himself in her. Not hiding anymore, but coming home to her. With iron self-control he reigned in the fiercest of desire. He'd never hurt her, never.
"Remy ...," she breathed. "Whenever we make love I feel you are holding back."
"I try to be gentle."
"Don't." She fisted her hands in his hair, drew his head down to hers. "Don't. Be what you are. Don't hide. I won't break."
His eyes flashed amber. A soft growl escaped his throat as he pinned her to the ground. Serene drew in a shuddering breath when he started to move again, forcefully now, his teeth nipping at her shoulder, sampling her taste without hurting her. Shock stabbed into her, fused with molten pure lust.
It was different this time. Oh, it was always good with him, but this time it was even better. The power that always hummed between them, sizzled. Her blood raced and so did her heartbeat, when his mouth found her breasts, ravenous and hot. He wanted every bit of her, needed to know she was all his, and would not cease until he was sure.
His hands held her wrists, forcing her to accept where she was giving in willingly. He savoured, tasted, touched her in places nobody had ever touched her that way. His breath seared her skin, urged her to give herself up to him. And when she did, when she reached the peak of the wave and tumbled down in breathless exultation, he would not let her go.
He'd never let her go.
Clasping her hand with his, she took him into her.
When his tongue slipped over the pulse at the base of her neck, making her shudder and cry out his name, he knew.
And when she started to retaliate, to give back him back the glory in every caress, every touch, he knew.
But when she said it, panting, her lips brushing the side of his neck, while their bodies moved in perfect unity, his heart exploded nonetheless.
"I love you, Remy." Her eyes went blind with passion and tenderness at the same time, and he gladly let her drag him into that whirl of fire.
"I love you."
* * *
The moon was still bright when they awoke from the deep slumber fulfilling sex induced. A soft breeze whispered in the trees, when they gathered their clothes, wordlessly, in silent compliance. While Serene dressed, Remus stood there, with his clothes pressed to his chest, watching her.
This was their night. He did not want it to end yet.
Impulsively he held out a hand. "Let's run."
Serene stared at him, then a smile lit up her face. "I'll spoil my dress," she said slowly.
"And your fingernails," he agreed. "But the forest won't care about the state of your manicure. It will accept you, as you are. And we'd be together in this as well."
"Together." She tasted the word. It felt good. Promising.
Her boots were quickly tossed aside, and when her bare feet connected with the soft grass, she took a deep breath. The air held a promise, too. Freedom. And love. After all, there'd be love.
When the wizard turned the second time that night, she felt as if he'd done it a hundred times in her presence. He was her mate, whatever form and shape.
The wolf pushed his head against her hand, until she scratched the sensitive spot between his ears. Then he ran a few meters to the fringe of the clearing near the pond.
His eyes gleamed amber when he tilted his head as if he was daring her to follow. Sharp teeth flashed in what could only be a grin.
Serene threw back her head and looked up at the moon. This was Remy's world and he offered to make her part of it. How could she refuse such an offer?
The sound that escaped her throat was part sigh, part laugh.
And run they did.
Through brush and wood, across clearings and meadows. Through branches and leaves that stroked their skin, and through high grass that caressed them, for it was the night of Beltane and every living creature celebrated life tonight.
* * *
When Zephyr the Centaur retreated from his outlook on the rock formation by the western border, he spotted them sitting on top of the hill near the lake.
"Small lights we mortals are, compared to the planets," he grumbled to himself. "But, alas, sometimes we shine brighter than the stars."
While the centaur made his way carefully back into the woods, witch and wolf sat on the hill, Serene's hand buried in Remus' soft grey pelt, his head resting on her knee. And there they remained, until the moon paled in the east and the sun rose over the five towers of Hogwarts on the first morning of May.
What comes now is about the six of them, the final battle between the darkness and the light, and how it all ended. And I felt I owed Remus and Serene their own Happy End.
So there will be a three-chaptered "Whole Again - Epilogue", beginning on November 3rd.
Serene was my very own little story-telling experiment. Could I create a difficult character - and slowly turn her into somebody I'd find likeable, without corrupting her? Remus is so easy to love, but Serene? She turned out to be rather interesting - and brittle and strong-minded. And I kind of like her now. Most times.
Let me use this opportunity to tell you how delightful writing this story was. Again I learned a whole load of new words, and some colloquialism as well (even if I use them wrongly sometimes ...)
Thank you all for your reviews and e-mails, for encouragement, criticism (helps a lot) and praise (pleases a lot). I've said this before but it still amazes me that this story is read all over the world, and some of you stayed with me since the first chapter of "WA-Severus".
You all are a great audience!