2. OTHER OPTIONS

„First I have to give you this," said Claire frowning, when she and Serene were settled at the coffee-table by the open french windows in the salon. "And believe me, I don't feel good about it."

"Why?" Serene turned the parchment which only bore her name in blue ink and an inconspicious seal.

Claire exhaled slowly. "It is a letter from a common acquaintance."

"Yes?"

"Ben Olsen."

With great unease she watched Serene blush to the roots of her red locks.

"Oh."

"Is this all? Oh?"

Serene stuffed the letter into her bag and when she looked up again, her face was blank. "He used to be a student with me and Laurel in the course for adult students three years ago."

Claire waited until the elves had served tea and heavenly smelling apple- pie and left the salon again. "I understood as much," she said, still upset about the sly way Olsen had blackmailed her into delivering the message to Serene. "But I also know he tried to kill Snape with a poisoned wand, and has since changed sides. If he wasn't a Death Eater in the beginning."

Serene's tense posture made it evident, that she was not in the mood to discus Ben Olsen right now.

Claire shrugged, secretly more worried than before. "Well, aren't you going to open the letter?"

"How is the baby doing? Poppy said you could feel it kicking you?"

"Serene!"

"What would you rather have, boy or girl?"

Shaking her head exasperatedly, Claire gave in. "Boy, I think. No, I don't really care. I want it to be healthy."

Serene bit her tongue in shame. How insensitive of her to have their discussion take that direction. Claire saw the other woman's embarrassement and smiled faintly.

"If the baby is a aquib - well, he or she will grow up in the one house in the wizarding world that is perfectly equipped for squibs."

"And he or she will have a mother who'll love them," added Serene and reached for Claire's hand, a rare gesture that Claire appreciated even more, knowing that Serene usually avoided to touch others or show any deep emotions.

„Hi, Serene," said Sirius casually when he entered the salon.

She stared at him in shock and surprise. "Black! Shouldn't you be … I don't know, in hiding, somewhere?"

Sirius gave her a big grin, brushed a kiss on his wife's forehead and took a seat at the coffee-table. He looked utterly at ease, and only the hollows in his face spoke of the weeks he had spent in a cell in Azkaban.

"Well, I'll soon be a father," he drawled. "So I thought I ought to have a look at my daughter once in a while."

Claire passed him a piece of apple pie. "What makes you so sure it will be a girl?"

He shrugged. "Male instinct?"

Serene frowned. "How can you just sit there as if nothing happened, when you only escaped from Azkaban two days ago!"

"Don't worry, Serene, he is in no present danger,"Claire tried to calm her.

"I am not worried about him," her friend exclaimed aggravated. "I am worried what the Aurors and the Ministry will think if somebody sees him in your house!"

"Nobody will know," he waved her concerns away.

An uneasy silence fell, and only Sirius seemed completely unaware of it. To Claire it was obvious that Serene wanted to talk about something she did not want Sirius to hear. Claire gently nudged him under the table, and after the third time he understood and got up and left the salon wordlessly.

As soon as he had left, she turned to Serene. "So it is true? Remus Lupin made it back to Hogwarts? I knew he was the only one who could pull it through!"

Serene sighed. "Yes, he is back." Suddenly not hungry anymore, she stood up and went to the open window that led out onto a wide terrace. "I did … I did something awful," she confessed.

Claire laid inclined her head watched her carefully, but kept silent to give her friend time to come clear.

The door opened and Serene jerked around, only to see Sirius enter.

She stared at him in shock and surprise. "Black! Shouldn't you be … I don't know, in hiding, somewhere?"

Sirius smirked. "I have been told so, yes. I only came to get some coffee, and some news from Hogwarts, if you got any."

"Darling, this is not a good time," whispered Claire.

"I heard you mention Remus," Sirius ignored her warning. "Is he well?"

Serene turned away from him and stared out at the still flowering garden, which now, in early October burst in the vibrant colours of autumn.

"Yes, he is well," she answered, her voice blank.

"I'll never forget what he did for us," said Claire softly. "He risked his life so we could be together."

"Together?" Serene looked at her with pity. "Even if he claims nobody will see him here - which I seriously doubt, by the way - Sirius must get away from you soon and hide somewhere else. So you won't be together for a long time."

Claire blushed. "You … are right: He'll have to leave." She kicked his shin under the table. "Preferably soon."

Sirius left indeed only a minute later, not without an exaggerated limp.

Serene pointed out of the window. "When did you plant all those roses?"

"When did you ever care about what grows in my garden?" asked Claire sternly. "Quit the evasions and tell me what awful thing you did?" She raised a hand to her mouth in sudden fear. "Oh no! You did not reject his proposal again, did you?"

The red-haired witch winced. When she turned, Claire suddenly noticed how tired the other woman looked, as if she hadn't slept for some nights.

"I hit him. He came back from Azkaban, all disheveled and exhausted and I hit him."

"You did what?" Sirius asked in disbelieve from the door. "You hit him?"

She stared at him in shock and surprise. "Black! Shouldn't you be … I don't know, in hiding, somewhere?"

He ignored her questions, but crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her with a mixture of disgust and exasperation. "When Remus runs as a wolf, it is awfully hard for him to focus on … human things. I bet he only made it back to Hogwarts because you were there. And you hit him? What's wrong with you, woman?"

"Sirius!" Claire rose and put a hand on his arm. "We don't know what happened. Yet." And only for his ears, "And if you don't get out of this room immediately, you'll never know, because I am going to kill you!"

He left, and Serene sat down, clenching her fists defiantly. "I smacked him right across the face." Her voice trembled. "You know he did not tell me about the plan, and the danger he'd be in?"

"No," said Claire slowly. "I was not aware of that."

"When I finally found out, I thought I'd go crazy. The waiting! And all the time everyone from the house-elves to the bloody paintings kept telling me Remus would be alright. So they all knew, what was going on, and I was the only one in complete ignorance …"

"Serene, I don't think he …"

She rose a hand. "When he finally came home, I felt so … "her voice was only a whisper, "desperate, I could not think of anything else but hitting him."

Claire went to her and gave her a hug that was not returned but at least accepted. "He must have had a reason for not telling you. And I am sure he'll understand why you over-reacted."

"No. He won't understand. He has this foolish idea …"

"This foolish idea of being in love with you?" Claire prompted.

Serene nodded and closed her eyes. "He thinks he is my life-mate. It is a werewolf-thing, apparently. Something about staying together forever."

"But what is so bad about that?"

"I am not what he thinks I am!" Serene jumped from her seat and paced the salon like a caged tiger.

"And what does he think you are?"

Serene frowned. "Oh, I am gifted and kind and have a good heart and I am of course beautiful!" she counted off her fingers, mocking herself without mercy.

Claire sat down and once again admired her friend's beauty. Serene's red trenses almost sparked with energy and her green eyes burned with a fire that should have been scary but made her only look lovelier than ever.

"But you are," Claire remarked soothingly. "Just look at you! Remy is not the only one who thinks you are the most beautiful witch they have ever seen."

At that Serene promptly burst in tears. Claire rose instantly and was by her side with a few steps. Had it been Laurel she'd have offered her comfort by holding her, but with Serene a clean handkerchief was all that would be accepted. But she did not let go off the other woman's hand and drew her to a sofa by the window.

"Now. Tell me what is wrong. And don't give me that nonsense about not knowing how lovely you are, Serene. I pride myself in having a good eye for all things beautiful." She smirked. "Just look at my husband."

"Thank you, baby. I always suspected you married me for my looks," Sirius chuckled in the door.

Serene looked up in shock and surprise. "Black! Shouldn't you be … I don't know, in hiding, somewhere?"

While she blew her nose, Claire stood up and took her husband at the elbow to lead him out of the room with utmost determination.

In the hallway she pushed him against the wall and hissed: "Quit that right now, Sirius!

He smirked and bent down to steal a kiss, which only made her nudge him in the ribs. "If you enter that room once more while Serene is here, I swear I'll …"

"I never knew that the Fidelius Charm was such fun!" Sirius laughed. "It is amazing how everybody forgets about my presence as soon as I am out of their sight. I wonder if Jamie and Lily enjoyed it as much."

"I bet they did not use it as a means to torture innocent visitors," Claire shook her head. She, too, was relieved how well the charm worked, but never forgot it had been cast to keep Sirius save, not entertained.

"I am going back in to Serene now, and I can only beg you to give us some peace. She is desperate."

"She is a coldhearted bitch, and Moony is a poor sod if he still believes she'll love him back one day."

"Oh Sirius!" Claire rose on tiptoes and kissed his chin. „You're so blind it is a wonder you ever found home to me."

His face suddenly got very earnest and his blue eyes lost the mischievous twinkle. "I'd find home to you deaf and blind and crippled. But then I will always know you'll be there to welcome me. Was Serene there when Remus came home?"

"She was."

"Only to smack him across the face from what I heard."

"She was worried about him."

"She has a strange way to communicate that, then," Sirius scowled. But at least he let his wife return to the salon and promised not to show up again until the visitor had left

Claire smiled faintly when she sat down next to Serene again. "Now, where were we? Ah yes, you being ugly and evil and all that."

"I know I am not ugly …"

"Not ugly?" Claire gave her the sweet laugh that had drawn her towards the other woman at first, before she'd even known how genuinely nice Sirius' wife could be. "You have no idea how many times I envied you for your hair, your skin, your body, your eyes!" She threw up both hands in mock adoration. "And I know Laurel does the same at times."

"My hair. My … looks," Serene repeated slowly. She raised again and went to the mirror which gleamed over the mantle. Staring at the glass in its gilded frame, she picked up the paper knife Claire had put on the mantle after opening the noon-owl. Before Claire even comprehended what was going to happen, Serene had sawed off a handful of locks and threw them into the fireplace with a shrug.

"Are you mad!" Claire ran to her and pried the paperknife out of her hand. "Your beautiful hair!"

"Don't you think I'd gladly get rid of my damn hair if I could get rid of my visions as well?" exclaimed Serene angrily. "Don't you think, I'd rather have a normal face and a normal live as well? Instead of everybody staring at me like at a beautiful bird in a cage?" She hit the marble mantle with her fist and winced in pain. "This," she nodded at her mirrored image, "is not who I am."

"Serene …" Claire was lost for words at the self-loathing in her friend's outburst. "Please sit down. You scare me."

Trembling with tension Serene let the paperknife drop and did as she was told. Claire poured them some fresh tea, and both sat silently for a few minutes to calm down a little. Then Serene sighed.

"I am sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me lately."

"Listen, I won't talk of Remus anymore if it disturbs you so much. But …, Claire sat down her teacup and looked at her friend worriedly. "You must not hate yourself that much!"

Serene smiled sheepishly. "Or I shall be bald soon, you mean."

"Let me tell you a little story." Claire cut off a generous piece of cake and passed it to her guest who had not eaten a bite yet. "While you eat this. All of it." She sighed. "All my thoughts revolve around food right now. Pregnancy does that to you, or so I am told. Eat!"

Obediently Serene started on the cake.

Claire leaned back. "You know that I am a squib."

"Hmh."

"My parents sent me to Hogwarts, still. They hoped I was just a late bloomer, but eventually, when I showed no sign of magic after my second year, they took me out of school and made me stay at home."

Serene nodded, still chewing. The cake tasted deliciously of apples and butterscotch, and she suddenly noticed she was ravenous.

"On the day they picked me up from school, Dumbledore asked me to come to his office, where he explained things to me. I was thirteen then, and I thought my life was over. I had never met a squib, all my family were wizards, I did not even know any Muggles. So I felt totally lost. As I sat there crying, Dumbledore patted my hand …"

"He does that all the time," remarked Serene and eyed another piece of cake longingly.

Claire smiled and pushed the platter across the table. "He really is the nicest wizard I've ever known."

"He can be scary at times."

"Oh yes! Anyway, he patted my hand, and then he said something I did not fully understand then. He said: "You can be whoever you choose to be." I thought he was making fun of me, since I could not be the only thing I desired to be - magic. Only now I begin to comprehend what he meant." Claire smiled and laid a flat hand on her belly. "Today I know I didn't really want magic - I wanted to be with others, I wanted to be part of something bigger, to be loved. As a teenager I could only assume that I'd be loved if I was like anybody else. They'd accept me, and they'd love me. Well, I was wrong. And I have never been happier than now that I am … me."

Serene looked at her saddly. "But I have no idea what I really want. All my life my only goal was to get admitted to Hogwarts. I wanted a magical education, and I wanted to be amongst people of my kind. But now? I am turning thirty this Christmas, and I don't know what I want to do with my life." She smirked. "Pathetic, isn't it?"

"I don't think so. But Serene, you've got a career."

"Look, Laurel and Remus are born educationalists. They love to teach. It is not that I hate my job, but I can't see myself teaching Divinations forever."

"You know what they say: 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.'" chuckled Claire. "I always thought, that in the case of Divinations the saying is especially true."

Serene nodded fervently. "It is not something you can teach, really. So, that's not an option. Sirius is a writer. I couldn't write a story if my life depended on it. You are a business-woman. I can hardly manage my salary. Severus is a scientist. I hate the mere thought of researching and experimenting." She put down her fork. "So what's left? I could apply as a serving wench in the "Three Broomsticks." And Rosmerta would fire me the second day for breaking too many plates."

"What you say is not correct," interrupted Claire slowly, and Serene could see how her friend's shrewd mind suddenly started to add up numbers. "I saw you doing research, and I saw you experiment, and you enjoyed it."

"Did I?" Serene frowned.

"You keep an archive of sketches of about every robe that has ever been made. You constantly change the colors, fabrics, trimmings of my clothes, of your own robes, even of Laurel's if she lets you. This is experimenting, and it is research."

"No, it is merely a sense for fashion."

"Well, since when is fashion not a serious occupation?" Claire stood up to get a notepad and a quill. "Let me just think this through …" she mumbled to herself, "15.000 Galleons a year should suffice for the first three years. By then we should be able to buy out Gladrags …"

"Claire!" Serene complained. „What in the world are you going on about?"

Claire hardly looked up from her calculation when she asked: "Ever thought about owning your very own fashion line?"

* * *

Remus Lupin sat on the examination table in the hospital, his bare chest covered with some foul salve Poppy had insisted on applying. His escape from Azkaban hav provided the nurse with some work. She had already mended the cracked rips he'd suffered from jumping off the walls of the fortress into the sea. Then she'd healed the abraasions and scratches and the torn muscle in his calf. He remembered kicking in the door of his cell after the transformation, and assumed he must somehow have fought his way to the outer wall, from where he'd dived into the icy water. His memory was blurred, but he was almost certain he'd neither hunted nor killed on the way back to Hogwarts.

While Poppy rummaged in a cabinet to find something even more disgusting to smear onto him, as he suspected, he had enough time to think the last two days over. The mirror Snape had left him had surely saved his life. Only with the small piece of glass he'd been able to catch a moonbeam from the tiny window high up the wall. It needed considerably less moonlight to make him transform since he had not taken the Wolfsbane potion, but without the mirror, no moonshine would have reached him at all. This had been the first transformation in years without the subduing potion, and the pain had shot through him like a knife. But after the pain came a heightened sense of smell and sound, it was almost as if he could feel the other prisoners, the Dementors, every damned Auror in the fortress. And none of them would hold him back …

Remus laughed mirthlessly when he remembered how the wizard, who guarded the wall, had shrieked when he suddenly found himself face to face with a determined werewolf. He could only hope he had not injured the man too badly.

"Oh my, you are a disgrace!"

He snapped out of his memories, only to find Laurel standing right in front of him, the little boy holding onto her skirt, looking up at him with a grave face.

Remus slowly relaxed. "Laurel. You scared me."

She chuckled. "Yeah, sure. You haven't had a look at yourself lately, have you? You look like something out of a first-aid manual."

Secretly she thought that he never looked better than now, even with that vile stuff smeared all over him. Poppy had tied his brown, grey streaked mane in the nape of his neck so it would not stick to the salve, which only drew attention to his face. A half healed scratch graced his cheekbone. The brown eyes, flecked with amber, were … more alert. More awake. She could hardly tell what it was. Once again she felt confirmed in her believe that he and Serene would make a beautiful couple.

"Have you seen Poppy?" she asked before her staring would make him uncomfortable.

"She is looking for some herbs and ointments she needs for my shoulder," he shrugged and winced when the gesture reminded him exactly why he'd finally agreed to let the nurse do something about the deep cut at his shoulderblade.

"Then I'll wait. She has kindly watched Jonah, when I was teaching the last weeks and I hoped …"

Remus smiled down at the toddler. "So he's got a name now?"

Laurel nodded. "His parents are dead," she explained in a low voice, as if the child could understand every word she said. "We decided to keep him as our own."

"Congratulation," Remus squeezed her hand carefully. In the days after the transformation he often underestimated his remaining strength. "How can you manage all this? I mean, teaching, the child and the most demanding job of all - putting up with the Potions master?"

She shook her head laughingly. "I get help from the elves and Poppy with Jonah, and with Severus … well, you know. Love makes it a whole lot easier."

His face darkened as if a cloud passed over it.

"I could watch Jonah while you teach if Poppy isn't up to it," he offered quickly before she could say something. Which she would do anyway, he knew her too well. Laurel Hunter had never managed to let others suffer without feeling obliged to interfere.

"You mean, you want to babysit?" Laurel frowned. "Remus, I really don't think that's a good idea."

He froze and looked away. "I understand."

"Why .." she put a hand over her mouth in sudden understanding. "No! It is not what you think." Laurel bit her lip and couldn't believe how stupid and insensible she'd just been. "Don't be ridiculous, Remus!"

"I am a werewolf." Hurt trembled through his voice, although he held onto the table so hard he could feel the wood give in.

"And I am well aware of that. Still, I know that Jonah would be perfectly save with you." Laurel picked the boy up and sat him next to Remus on the examination table. "Don't touch the poor man," she cautioned the child. "He is hurt, and this stuff stinks like hell."

Then she climbed the table herself and took Remus' hand. "It is just that we teach the same hours, and I am not sure how the Bogarts would react if Jonah tried to climb into their wardrobes or wherever you keep them."

He relaxed gradually, and she would not let go of his hand while she asked: "Now, tell me what is wrong, Remus."

"Nothing is wrong."

"Come on!" she demanded unimpressed. "I have watched you for a while, and it is hard to take how unhappy you are." Laurel tickled Jonah to distract him from the interesting bandage the wizard wore at his wrist. "Sometimes I blame myself for encouraging to pursue Serene," she admitted softly. "I mean, she is my friend, but maybe she is not the right woman for you."

He stared straight ahead at the wall. "How much do you know about werewolves," he asked after a while.

Laurel inclined her head. "Well, I had a great teacher in Defense against the Dark Arts." She flashed him a warm smile. "They feel compelled by the moon to turn into their were-shape. They are allergic to silver. That potion Severus concocts for you every month, keeps you subdued while you are a wolf, so you are not dangerous."

He nodded. "Right. 10 points to … Ah, I remember, you had no house."

She let Jonah ride on her knees and laughed. "I'll take them anyway."

"Being a werewolf doesn't only mean I turn once a month into a monster. It means I am part wolf." He looked at her intently. "All the time."

Laurel frowned, but kept bobbing the boy up and down, a game that made him giggle on top of his voice. "And what would that mean?"

"Being a wolf? It means a constant fight against the desire to act like a wolf. To claim what's mine."

She paused and Jonah looked up at her with a sad pout. "Serene?"

"Wolves choose a life-mate." Remus jumped off the table and paced the room agitatedly. "One companion to spend their life with. Serene is mine."

"But …" Laurel resumed the game to keep Jonah content. "But Serene does not believe in this."

"No." His voice was void of hope. "She does not. But for me it is not a matter of believe. It is in my blood. I love her, and I can not change that. As much as I wish I could right now."

He looked so desperate, so broken, that Laurel felt almost as if she had to hug and comfort him like she did with Jonah when he woke up crying at night. But Remus was a grown wizard, and although she considered him her friend, she knew that she'd have to resort to kind words. "What happened?"

He shook his head.

"What happened?" she insisted.

"I kissed her."

A big smile split Laurel's face, and Jonah, not understanding why she laughed suddenly, joined her nonetheless.

"That was about time, Professor Lupin!"

"I didn't want it like this, Laurel," he turned to her and his eyes flashed. "I wanted it to be … special. I promised myself that I'd only kiss her when I was sure she loved me."

"But Remus, all those years …"

"All those years I was strong enough to not let it happen. I told myself I had to be patient. But even I can only take so many rebukes." He yanked the string out of his hair and shook his head. "I was so angry, so hurt. The wolf in me was still strong and it demanded …

"Ah, Remus Lupin, didn't I tell you not to move!" Poppy interrupted from the door, loaded with bottles and jars.

Laurel bit her lips and slid off the table, not without putting Jonah on the floor first. The boy staggered towards Poppy with wide open arms. Laurel went to Remus and put a hand to his cheek. "Pride almost destroyed everything Severus and I had," she said very softly.

"I don't have much pride left."

"I know. But please, Remus, do not give up now."

* * *

Serene walked slowly through the Forbidden Forrest, her broom following silently behind sun had almost set and the trees threw long thin shadows over the path. She felt still dizzy from the figures and concepts Claire had thrown at her, but somehow they had rekindled an excitement she'd long forgotten. Maybe, just maybe Claire was right and there was something she'd be good at.

A flicker of hope made her smile. If only she could fix things with Remus, if she could keep him as her friend without arising false hopes …

When somebody suddenly stepped in her way, she froze and for a heartbeat thought it was Remus. Then she recognised a face she had not seen in many months.

"Ben?"

He smiled his cool smile at her, and his pale eyes scrutinized her like a treasured object of art. "What did you do with your hair?" he asked instead of a greeting.

Selfconsciously she raised a hand to the spot where she'd cut off the handful of hair an hour ago.

"Nothing." She frowned. "What in the world are you doing here?"

He casually fell into step with her. Serene gave him a sideways glance while she carefully checked her mental barriers. During their time as students she and Ben had been pretty close, both awkward with their respective talents, and both drawn to each other for want of other adult students. Laurel had been involved with Snape too soon to be of any interest of Ben - if he would have been interested in somebody as plain as Laurel at all. He'd told Serene often enough how beautiful she was, how she should wear her hair and stuff like that. She had always taken his biting criticism of her appearance as a sign of attachment, but she wasn't so sure about that any more. He wore the stern robe of a clerk or junior minister, his fair hair shorter than that of any other wizard she knew, and parted to the left as if he'd taken a ruler to it.

"I came a long way to see you, Serene," said Ben with his cool but pleasant voice, secretly annoyed about how she shut him out of her thoughts so completely. He should have forced her to come with him when he left, he reprimanded himself silently. Of course all those fools in Hogwarts had poisoned her with their pathetic ideas about the light.

Instead of an answer, Serene paused and pulled back the sleeve from his forearm. "So you've taken the big step." The black skull grinned at her from the pale skin, and Ben gave her a smile that was eerily like that of the Dark Mark.

"I was one of Voldemort's men even before I came to Hogwarts." He grit his teeth and thought about the exhilarating moment when he'd seen Snape tumble off the window-sill with the wand halfway through his shoulder. And the white hot anger when he'd learned that the hated Potions master had survived. "Although I failed him he forgave me." And once the fool Malfoy had been taken care of, and Pettigrew had cut himself to pieces, he, Ben Olsen, would be the Dark Lord's second in command. And who knew, one day, if Voldemort remained as weak as he was right now …

He smirked. "I really missed you, Serene."

"You could have sent an owl." She still was not sure whether to feel pleased or annoyed with his presence.

"Sure, and expose you to your … friends," he scowled. "It took me some time to find an inconspicuous way to contact you. I assume, that common squib you are so fond of, has given you the letter?"

"The letter!" gasped Serene and searched for the parchment scroll in her bag. She'd all but forgotten about the letter when Claire came up with her idea. "It came from you."

"Right." Ben held out an open hand. "Now give it to me. It is only a plain sheet of parchment. I wanted to know if we could trust the squib."

"Why?" Serene frowned again.

"Quit frowning," Ben said sternly. "It will leave lines on your forehead."

She relaxed her face immediately and could not believe she did it at the same time. "Why?" she demanded, now really upset.

"I could not forget about you," he said softly. "We are so much alike, we are made for each other."

Serene looked away, as tears suddenly welled up in her eyes. She knew he told the truth, even if she'd tried to deny it so hard, and had hurt so many people along the way.

"Come with me," he baited, "and you won't have to pretend any more."

"I can't," she said through clenched jaws. "I am teaching. They'd get suspicious …"

"So what? Listen, Serene!" Impatiently he grabbed both her wrists. "Our talents combined! There is nothing we could not reach in the end."

"I don't want this! No idea how you live with reading other people's mind, but I am so sick and tired of seeing other people's future!" She pushed the hair out of her face and stepped away from him.

"Don't you see what is going on?" Ben reluctantly let go off her wrists. "They infiltrate your mind, they try to make you one of their creatures. Don't tell me you listen to that fool Dumbledore now?"

"He is a good wizard," Serene stood her place. "No matter who I am, how I may be, he was always friendly with me."

"As long as you do as he tells you. And guess why he is so interested in you?" He cupped her chin and made her look up. "He wants to exploit your talent."

"No."

"Oh yes, believe is not a saint, your precious Headmaster, he is just a player in a game of power. And - what's even more important - he is bound to lose this game."

Serene shook her head violently. "Stop it, Ben!"

He shrugged and gave her another cool smile. "I did not mean to coerce you." Which he had meant, of course, but seemed to be impossible right now. "I really missed you, Serene."

She looked at her shoes. "I missed you, too. Only …"

"Only?"

"I am so confused right now. I need a little time."

He smiled but kept the triumphant gleam carefully subdued. "Just allow me to keep contact with you. Claire will deliver the letters, and maybe, when you've made up your mind …"

She nodded wordlessly.

Olsen stuffed the parchment into his sleeve and raised his wand. "I'll fix you hair."

"No!" Serene clasped a hand over his to hinder him. "Don't."

He frowned. "But it looks ridiculous."

"I'll do it myself."

"As you like." He kissed her chastely on the forehead, and Dissaparated.

Remus Lupin stepped back into the shadows and watched Serene make her way back to Hogwarts, until the doors closed behind her and he knew she'd be in relative safety. The dangerous three nights around the full moon were already over, but when the pale light hit the wizard's face, he didn't fight it's compelling force.

A lonely howl rose over the treetops, and Serene turned restlessly in her sleep.

* * *