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Prologue

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them. To die-to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to…

~ Hamlet (William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, lines 56-63) August 22, 1985

Dear Remus,

As you most certainly know in three months, almost to the day, it will have been four years since that horrid Halloween night and the beginning of our living hell. Though little Harry may have won that battle for us, Voldemort still won the war. He destroyed enough innocent lives that the magical world may never fully recover. He succeeded in killing off entire wizarding families - the Bones, the Prewitts, the McKinnons - and almost eradicated others - the Potters, the Raegans… But I am afraid that he has now won his final victory over the Raegans. Soon the last living descendant shall no longer be present on Earth.

Oh, I know you, Remus, and I can suppose that as soon as you read this letter you will rush off to find me and save me from myself. You'll do that, won't you? You are the type - you've always tried to put others first. I can assure you, however, that it will be a futile effort. I can be very good at not being found if I don't want to be. You know that.

After all, what is left for me here in England? I have no family; Voldemort saw to that back in school. I have no respect, no credibility; that was lost when I won the notoriety of being His girlfriend. All I have to my name is the heritage left me by my parents. What good is money, anyhow? The past, lives, and happiness can't be bought. Financial stability is nothing if you are emotionally dead.

In a cruelly ironic way, Remus, you were lucky to be only His friend and not His…lover. You were able to retain some anonymity, while I….I would see my face splashed all over wizarding news, reported as saying things I never even thought, under such sickening headlines as "Into the Mind of a Murderer: Secrets Only a Girlfriend Could Know" and "Killer's Girlfriend Tells All!" And how could anyone forget those horrible trials?

I don't believe I told you, but last week a witch stopped me on the street and asked, of all things, whether I wished He were dead. I told her quite honestly that I didn't know. I think I can almost hate Him now. Not for what he did to us, whether living or dead, which was horrid enough, but for what he did to those twelve innocent people. Perhaps you can understand.

Still I am confused. I try not to think too much, period, but I constantly see little reminders of the past, of good times, which always make me wonder how He could throw all that away. I don't think I could ever fully understand how or why.

I have made my decision now to take the fool and the coward's way out. But I haven't forgotten my responsibilities. As Harry's godmother, I have arranged through varied and complex methods to have him watched. Should the Dursleys, as much as I dislike them, ever find themselves lacking because of the boy, they will find anonymous donations for Harry's use only. I have also enclosed this key to the Raegan family Gringott's vault. Feel free to use it - you are the last family of any sort that I have, so it rightfully goes to you.

I can't do this anymore, Remus. I can't live behind this mask, acting as if all's right with the world when it most certainly isn't. I can't live with the pain, the guilt. I'm not strong like you - life has worn me down too far. You always were the stable one throughout everything, not I. Once more, I have failed you. I am very truly sorry.

You are the last Marauder, Remus. Please be strong, for all of us.

Laurel Raegan.

Remus Lupin set the letter down and rubbed his forehead gently, massaging away the last vestiges of his post-full moon headache.

It had been exactly ten years since he had come home to find Laurel's last letter lying on his pillow, delivered via owl post. Ten long, hard, lonely years in which to heal slowly.

For almost nine years he had kept the letter without re-reading it, finding the memory of his supposed last friend's suicide rather painful, as was too much already. After resigning as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor a year ago, Remus found the old letter, wondering what would have been different had Laurel known the truth about Sirius. Had they all known the truth. But "what ifs" mattered little in this world, as he well knew.

In a month Remus would be returning to teach at Hogwarts, which had required smooth talking on Dumbledore's part. Despite Remus' fears and initial misgivings, he had been hired on to the newly-created post of Dueling Instructor. Dumbledore thought that this would be a useful class, especially with what they had learned last year with the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Dumbledore had also mentioned having someone specific in mind for the new DADA Professor, though if she declined Remus would be welcome to both jobs if he so desired.

Remus found himself wondering yet again who this mysterious candidate was.

Chapter One ~ Discovery

Laurel Raegan paused to wipe the sweat off her brow. Even in the shade, the heat of the desert in July was almost unbearable. Only magically-helped vegetables such as the ones she was tending, could ever survive in such a God-forsaken place as this. None but the hardiest people lasted very long in the harsh desert climate.

Which was just how she liked it. Laurel had spent the past decade of her life exploring the world's most isolated places, finding the overwhelming solitude preferable to the general inquisitiveness of people, wizard and Muggle alike. After her botched suicide attempt ten years ago, Laurel had run far and fast, away from people and their stupid questions, away from reporters and their misinterpretations of all she said, but most of all away from her memories. Living in her self-imposed banishment, Laurel had come to grips with her inner turmoil and had managed to systematically remove all traces of her past from her conscious memory. However, it all hung at the edge of her sub-consciousness, threatening to overpower her yet again.

At least if Laurel lost it out here in the desert, no one would witness her breakdown. And as she planned never to return to civilization, no one ever would. Yes, alone was the best way for her to live. Her old life need never come haunt her.

"That is quite a garden, Miss Raegan, for such an arid climate."

For a second, the voice didn't register with Laurel as actually belonging to a person and not some sun-induced madness. When reality kicked in, she spun around to see her uninvited guest. A tall man with long white hair and beard, pale laughing blue eyes, half-moon spectacles, and flowing wizard's robes stood in front of her.

Instead of reacting out of fear or anger, her first impulses, Laurel chuckled softly and bowed her head. "I should have known that you would be the one to find me, Professor Dumbledore."

The old man smiled warmly. "Oh, come now, Miss Raegan. Surely you can bring yourself to call me Albus. After all, you are hardly a student anymore."

Laurel tried to hide her fear at this sudden intrusion of her past behind friendly words and a weak smile. "Fair enough. But only if you call me Laurel and tell me how you discovered my deception over a glass of iced tea."

"That I will be happy to do, Laurel. I do think we have much to discuss," said Dumbledore, following her into her small house.

Laurel led him into her meager kitchen and offered him a seat at the table. After filling two glasses with ice and drink, she took her place across from Dumbledore. "So Prof-Albus, would you like to fill me in on how you managed to track me?"

Dumbledore took a sip of his drink before answering. It was obvious that he was unfamiliar with the concept of iced sweet tea, but he managed to partially conceal his surprise with practiced ease. "It was not that hard once I realized you were alive. As you know, your family's unique gift often leaves miniscule traces on the recipients. I recognized signs of your recent presence so to say, on both Remus Lupin and young Mr. Potter. From there, I contacted a few old liaisons in the foreign Ministries of Magic and found out where you had been hiding all these years."

Laurel looked up from staring blankly at the tabletop. "Could I ask how many people are aware of this? My talent is not exactly publicized. The Raegans met with unfair treatment, as well as their end, because of it."

"You need not worry, my dear. As it stands, only Professor McGonagall and myself are aware of your continued existence. But I would like to ask you to consider returning to England," said Dumbledore calmly.

Laurel was momentarily speechless. "I…I don't think I could do that."

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I beg you not to pass judgement until you have heard me out. Once again, these are desperate times. Voldemort has returned with all his power. Twice in the past four years he has used professors to infiltrate Hogwarts. Last year at the TriWizard Tournament, he kidnapped two Champions, Cedric Diggory and Harry Potter. Mr. Diggory was killed and Mr. Potter was used to give Voldemort his body back. Luckily Mr. Potter escaped, but the Dark Lord proved once again that he is a force to be reckoned with. Despite this eminent threat, Cornelius Fudge refuses to believe me.

"This term, I would like to have as many absolutely trustworthy professors on staff as I possibly can. I have resurrected the old dueling classes, but I ask that you return as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor."

This time Laurel was stunned absolutely speechless. Sensing the awkward silence, Dumbledore snapped his fingers and a large tawny owl flew in the open window. "This will be a difficult decision, I realize. Take some time to think about it. Send this owl back with your reply before the fifteenth of August, if you would. I will be awaiting you note. It has been pleasant talking with your once again, Laurel."

With that, Dumbledore stood and Apparated out of the room, leaving Laurel with only the owl and her ghosts for company.

Chapter Two ~ I Remember

Laurel shivered as she stepped out of the cab. After the desert, late August England was positively freezing. She had long since begun to doubt the sanity of her decision to return and the weather did not improve her mood at all. She had arrived in London a few days previous, on the twenty-eighth, and had been boarding at the Leaky Cauldron. Tomorrow she would enter the entirely wizarding world of Hogwarts School and had spent the day finalizing the last of her Muggle-based affairs.

Once inside the crowded pub, Laurel slowly picked her way over to the bar and took a seat.

"What'll it be today, Professor?" asked Tom, the kindly aging bartender.

"Oh, something not too hard, I should think. I wouldn't want to begin term with a hangover the size of Gringott's, would I?" Laurel smiled briefly at her own joke as the bartender chuckled.

"No, I can't see as how that would be appropriate. By the way, Professor, your packages from Diagon Alley arrived and I took the liberty of putting them on your bed for you."

Laurel uttered her thanks as Tom handed her a freshly filled mug. Tucking a lock of wavy blonde hair behind her ear, she stared sadly into its' swirling amber depths.

This was the first time in many years that Laurel had been in such close proximity to so many people and the effect was overwhelming. Laurel's innate gift of weak telepathy had been recently resurrected, and the impressions of people's thoughts flooded her mind. Most of the feelings were friendly, but she sensed a few stray suspicious thoughts.

Perhaps it was simply paranoia, but Laurel felt that wizarding folk were beginning to recognize her despite the reports of her death years ago. She was sure that the rumors and the whispers had started again.

"I wonder what she ever saw in him…"

"Did she know? Was she a part of his plan?"

"Didn't she have some clue?"

None of it was new to Laurel. It was as if her murky past was being dredged up for all to see. But this wasn't a sudden development, either; rather, it had been resurrected two years ago when Sirius Black escaped Azkaban. Laurel had ideas on how he accomplished that, but refused to share her knowledge with the authorities. Whether because of some ill-kept loyalty or an unwillingness to step back into the public light, she vowed to keep his secret.

Disgusted with the overbearing mind-chatter, Laurel drained her drink, left a few coins on the bar in payment, and headed up to her room. Away from people. Again. This was getting slightly repetitive.

True to his word, Tom had placed her parcels on the corner of her freshly made bed. Opening the first of the brown-wrapped packages, Laurel found the items she had ordered from Madam Malkin: numerous sets of everyday black robes, a few dark blue standard robes, and a single set of dress robes.

Laurel stepped into a pair of the black robes to double-check the fitting. Doing the same for the blue robes, she examined herself critically in the mirror. The robes were nothing special- the same style she used to wear all the time. It felt strange to be wearing them after so long.

A cold shiver ran down her back and she shuddered reflexively. The last thing she needed right now was to be reminded of her past.

Shedding the blue robes, Laurel tried on her dress robes - long, flowing indigo material that shimmered as if wet when caught by the light. Obviously Madam Malkin was like Mr. Ollivander in that she remembered every customer as well, for these were identical in almost every sense to a set of robes she had worn long ago.

Laurel braced herself, tried to stop it, but she could not prevent the memory from rushing forth out of a time farther away than dreams.

~~~

Laurel stood in the Great Hall, which was all decked out for the Christmas season - the Winter Ball of her seventh year. She scanned the room for her friends.

James Potter and Lily Evans were nowhere in sight - doubtlessly making the best use of their time doing some heavy-duty snogging in one of the darkened rooms conveniently located nearby.

Peter Pettigrew was lurking by one of the huge and elaborate refreshment tables, helping the House-elves rid themselves of leftovers.

Remus Lupin and Sirius Black had been cornered across the room by a couple of over-eager Ravenclaw fifth years and were looking decidedly uncomfortable. With an evil grin, Sirius muttered something indecipherable to Remus and hastily made his escape. Remus, now left to the mercies of both girls, looked stricken at his friend's desertion.

With a self-satisfied smile, Sirius made his way over to where Laurel stood expectantly. He intertwined his fingers with hers as he spoke. "I think Moony can fend for himself for a little while, can't he? Although those Ravenclaws can be a bit pesky at times, I will admit."

Trying to suppress a smile, Laurel arched an eyebrow. "You know, Sirius, you really ought to be careful about who hears you say that. Rion and Polly might be a tad bit offended."

Mischief twinkled in Sirius' pale blue eyes at the mention of his siblings. "Yes, I suppose I should, shouldn't I? I'll keep that in mind."

"What did you say to Remus, by the way? Or do I really want to know?"

"Oh, just that I'll miss him loads and think of him often." Sirius paused, his expression forming into that of nervous solemnity. "Anyway, Laurel…they're getting ready to play the last song of the night. I guess I wanted to know if you'd like to grace everyone else with our amazing dancing abilities…unless you'd rather pull a Prongs and Lily, that is. I could deal with that, if you'd like," Sirius mused.

She laughed, grinning widely. "I'm sure you could, but I don't think it's going to happen. Not right now, at least. Yes Sirius, I'd love to dance with you."

The couple had no trouble working their way through the thinning crowd onto the dance floor. Taking their place between Remus and one of the obsessive Ravenclaw girls and the newly reemerged James and Lily, Laurel and Sirius began to rotate slowly in a simple dance as the music began.

As Laurel lost herself in Sirius' eyes, the words of the song seemed to envelop her, penetrate her, fighting past all her defenses.

Do you still remember
How we used to be?
Feeling together, believing whatever
My love has said to me.
Both of us were dreamers,
Young love in the sun,
Felt like my savior, my spirit I gave ya,
We'd only just begun.
Hasta mañana, Always be mine…

Viva forever, I'll be waiting
Everlasting, like the sun.
Live forever, for the moment,
Ever searching for the one…

But something wasn't right. This wasn't the song she remembered dancing to. What was wrong?

~~~

When Laurel was jerked abruptly back to harsh reality, she felt a warm liquid on her face - tears. She realized belatedly that her neighbor, a teenage witch with an obvious affinity for Muggle music and listening to her stereo too loudly, had provided the new music of her fantasy.

It was then that the words of the song hit her, sending an Arctic chill racing through her body. Laurel slumped forward, gripped the edge of the bureau as the tears flowed unchecked, and stared at her enraged reflection in the mirror. She looked a horrible mess, with her hair mussed by static and her blue eyes even bluer against the background of bloodshot red.

"Yes, goddamnit, I remember. Everything. Every last painful detail of every damned moment," Laurel hissed, her voice rising dangerously as she spoke. "Did you know it would turn out like this, Sirius? Is this what you planned all along? To destroy me as fully as you did James and Lily? Peter? Remus, even? Or am I just a casualty, a side effect? Is this what you wanted?! If it is, then honey, you've gotten your wish! Look at me! I'll never be able to live normally and Dumbledore thinks I can teach? Ha! All because of you! Are you happy yet?" Laurel was all but screaming now.

Sobbing, she fell back onto her bed and whispered, "I loved you then, Sirius. Did you know that? I would have given everything - and I almost did. But obviously the Sirius Black I fell in love with is not the Sirius Black you are. I'm sorry."

Laurel turned off the room's lights with an absent-minded flick of her wand, plunging herself into total darkness. She cried herself to sleep like a child, furious at herself for letting such old matters resurface so easily.

Soon she was able to sleep peacefully, undisturbed by dreams.

Chapter Three ~ Shades of the Past

Laurel arrived at King's Cross Station with her trunk by ten-thirty, giving her half an hour to spare. To her surprise she found much as she remembered, with only a few vendors and their wares here and there having changed.

After browsing for ten or fifteen minutes, Laurel made her way cautiously over to the barrier between Platforms Nine and Ten. Studying the solid-seeming brick wall before her, she sincerely hoped that the doorway to Platform 9¾ was the same as it had been some twenty-odd years ago. Otherwise, Laurel would be making a complete and total fool of herself momentarily.

Taking a deep healing breath, Laurel leaned against the barrier and found herself sliding through time, space, and reality to emerge in the wizarding world.

All around her parents fussed over their children, older students waited eagerly and tried to appear nonchalant, first years were terrified, and younger siblings cried. Just like always; no surprises yet.

Moving forward through the huge crowd at this moment was an almost futile effort, so Laurel pulled her trunk to the side and sat to rest.

She felt the mind flutter of an oncoming memory again and rather than fight it, Laurel let it come.

~~~

Laurel and James had just emerged onto the Platform, ready to begin their sixth year. The Ministry had called Mr. Potter into work early so they had all bade farewell outside King's Cross Station.

"Laurel! Prongs!" called someone over the din.

They searched for the source of the voice and saw Sirius, Remus, Lily, Peter, and a few other friends standing by the wall near the head of the train, waving madly at them.

Laurel and James fought their way over to the group - no easy task - and warm greetings were exchanged all around. She was just about to meet Sirius' gaze when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

She turned to see Sirius' sister Polaris, a Ravenclaw fifth year, standing there looking a trifle nervous. "Er…excuse me. Professor Raegan?"

Why had Polly just called her "Professor"? She had no reason to; she couldn't have known. Unless…

~~~

Laurel blinked and saw not Polaris Black, but an anxious-seeming girl with bushy brown hair and large hazel eyes looking at her. "Yes?" she replied cautiously.

The girl breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good. For a moment, I thought I had the wrong person. I'm Hermione Granger, a Gryffindor prefect. Professor Dumbledore asked me to make sure you made it on the train okay."

Laurel smiled weakly. "Yes, that does sound like him. Well, Hermione, I think my only problem today will be getting my things to the train and finding a free compartment in which to store them. If it is anywhere as crowded as it was when I came here, that should be quite an accomplishment."

Hermione seemed to like the idea of a challenge. She grabbed one end of Laurel's trunk and led the way, pulling rank as a prefect to weave a path through the milling students. On the way she began asking questions. "You'll forgive me for being nosy, Professor, but how come you attended Hogwarts if you're an American? Did I judge the accent correctly? Aren't there wizarding schools over there?"

Laurel was impressed by the girl's perceptiveness - her accent had almost been lost by now, melded with traces of so many others. "Yes, I am American. Born in the South, though I haven't been back to the States since I was younger than you are now. There are wizarding schools in the U.S., but my sister and I were sent to Hogwarts for political reasons. My father was an old friend of Albus', so he offered us a safe haven. Though in the end I think it was more harm than help."

"Oh, really? That sounds fascinating!" Indeed, Hermione sounded as if she would very much like to hear more, but Laurel was in no mood to divulge more of her past. Luckily, she was spared an awkward silence when they reached the train.

After helping Laurel find an empty compartment near the back of the train Hermione ran off, presumably to find her own friends. Laurel sat down by a window and pulled out a wizarding copy of Shakespeare's MacBeth she had found in Flourish and Blott's. A good Muggle story like this ought to put her mind off the memories.

Somewhere in the middle of Act I, the Hogwarts Express pulled away from the station. Laurel had just begun Act II when she felt the brush of a familiar-seeming mind nearby. But then, that couldn't be…wouldn't Dumbledore have told her?

Shaking the brief sensation off, Laurel did not look up when the door to her compartment opened and the familiar presence entered, taking the seat across from her. She was successfully and forcibly immersing herself in her book when he spoke.

"I was told I would find the other new professor in here so I thought I would come introduce myself." Ice ran through Laurel's veins as she recognized beyond doubt the warm tenor voice. "I am-"

"Remus Lupin," she finished, looking up for the first time.

He seemed slightly taken aback, but it was obvious that he didn't recognize her right off. "Why, yes…how- Oh my God, Laurel? Laurel Raegan?"

Laurel nodded, unwilling to deny her identity to an old friend. She wasn't sure if she'd ever seen Remus caught off guard like this ever before, and it was slightly disconcerting. "B-but…I thought you…that you…" he sputtered.

Laurel felt her cheeks start to flush and she looked away, mortally embarrassed. "I…er…I almost did. But I couldn't and I've been hiding away for the past ten years. Until Dumbledore came and connived me out of my early retirement, that is. I'm sorry I never told you, Remus. I thought it was for the better…"

Remus had his face buried in his hands. "Why, Laurel? Why couldn't you tell me?"

Laurel sighed, feeling a major guilt trip forming. "Cowardice, I suppose. The same reason I'm still here. I mean, it just wouldn't have looked good to send you that letter and then show up saying, 'Hi! I was too weak to kill myself, so if you wouldn't mind discarding that note…?'"

At that response Remus took her hands in his, causing her to drop her book, which protested vehemently. "No, Laurel. That's not true and you know it."

Though she felt deeply ashamed, Laurel faced Remus and was immediately struck by now little he had apparently aged over the past ten years. The only signs of the passage of time were a slightly worn face and grey flecks in his light brown hair. His green-and-gold-flecked eyes still shone with the same sad intensity. She briefly wondered if it might have something to do with his lycanthropy, staring blankly at the paneling just above his head.

Taking a deep breath, Remus continued. "Sirius was devastated when I showed him your letter, Laurel. He's been blaming himself for everything…"

Suddenly furious, Laurel jerked her hands away and stood with her back to Remus. "As well he should! Dear God, Remus! How could you talk to the man after what he did?! Did you visit him in that hellhole or have you…have you been sheltering him?"

Remus looked confused for a moment, then laughed sadly. "I would have thought Dumbledore might have told you, but I see he didn't."

"Tell me what?"

"That he's innocent."

Laurel spun to look Remus directly in the eyes, a half-crazed expression on her face. "Would you mind running that by me again, Remus? I could have sworn I heard you say that he's innocent."

Remus put his hands on her shoulders to brace her. "You did. Sirius is innocent, Laurel. It's true."

Laurel bit her lip, wondering if perhaps Sirius had placed Remus under some kind of spell. Surely he couldn't be… "I'd love to believe that, Remus, but how can that be? He killed Peter…so many people saw it."

"They didn't see what they thought they saw. Sirius was framed."

Even though it belied all logic, Laurel felt inclined to believe her old friend, who up until now had been the logical one. "B-but then…by who?"

Remus' face darkened malevolently. "By Peter Pettigrew. He faked his own death and spent most of the past fourteen years in his Animagus form. I saw him just over a year ago and he confessed…but escaped before he could be turned over to the Ministry. That's why Sirius is still wanted."

Laurel started incredulously. "What about James and Lily? Wasn't Sirius was their Secret-Keeper?"

Shaking his head, Remus replied, "No. At the last minute they switched to Peter, using Sirius as a ruse. They didn't tell you for your own protection. If you knew nothing, then the Death Eaters would have no use for you and they certainly didn't need another reason to come after you. They…didn't tell me…because Sirius suspected that I was…the spy." He sighed, troubled by the thought.

Laurel was absolutely stunned. All the truths of the past fourteen years had been unceremoniously dumped into the trash compactor in just a few minutes' conversation. She had no clue how to respond to this. "So…Peter betrayed James and Lily…he was the spy…he killed those people…he…he convicted Sirius…innocently…!"

"Yes! But we can't prove Sirius' innocence until we find Peter! The only people who could testify that they saw him are a convict, three teenagers with a history of breaking rules, and…a werewolf. Right now only a handful of people are aware of this; people Dumbledore knows he can trust. You'll probably be questioned by Ministry officials about Sirius and his whereabouts, but you mustn't tell them anything," explained Remus passionately.

Laurel nodded blankly as a horrible thought hit her. She started to crumple to the seat but Remus grabbed her, setting her down gently. "But this means…all these years…all this time…he's been in Azkaban…that awful hellhole…innocent…and I've thought he betrayed them. Betrayed us. I should have known! If only…"

"No," said Remus sternly, sounding more like a guardian than a friend. "You couldn't have known. There was no way, so don't go assigning blame where it has no right to be. Sirius has the help and trust of Dumbledore and he will continue to evade capture until proper justice can be served. But we mustn't talk about this too openly, as most don't know the truth."

Laurel nodded and Remus cleared his throat, continuing, "Well, certainly there must be other things more pleasant to discuss. Why don't you tell me all that has happened to you during your missing years?"

Chapter Four ~ Return

When the end of the train ride drew near Remus said, "Now, there are probably a few things…students actually, that you should know about before your classes begin. Of course, the Slytherins are always trouble, as I'm sure you'll remember. There are a few Gryffindor seventh years who seem to idolize the Marauders. They actually had the Map for a couple of years before passing it on. I don't believe they know the true identities of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, so that's a good thing. Fred and George Weasley, identical twins, and their friend Lee Jordan are the budding terrorists. Just like James, Sirius, and I, so you'll need to keep an especially close eye on them…" He trailed off when he noticed that Laurel had stopped listening and was staring at the passing countryside, tears slowly rolling down her cheeks.

Guessing what was going through her mind, Remus said, "Yes, I know. I wish it could all be the same; that it had never happened. Who knows what great things might have occurred?"

Laurel grinned reflectively. "We all thought we were invincible, didn't we? We were young and therefore no one could touch us. No matter that Voldemort was striking down people in our generation left and right, nothing and no one could shatter our perfect world." She turned back to Remus, a sorrowful expression on her face. "But we were wrong."

Remus nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Trying to calm his own nerves, he reached out to Laurel and pulled her into a loose hug. She wept softly on his shoulder and he kissed her lightly on the top of the head.

Suddenly there was a knock at their compartment door and Hermione stepped in with two boys about her age: one with fiery red hair and a bewildered expression, the other with messy black hair and glasses. Laurel and Remus jerked back from each other in shock. "Um…if we've come at a bad time, Professors…" said Hermione slowly.

Remus shook his head as Laurel wiped away her tears. "No, it's fine, Hermione. Come, sit down. Harry, Ron, you too." He gestured to the compartment's bench seats.

At the mention of the names, Laurel looked strangely at Harry. So this is Harry Potter at age fifteen - my godson. Of course, Lily and James only named me godmother because Sirius was his godfather. Everyone thought that we…we would be married soon. But we never got the chance... My word, he looks so much like James at that age, but his eyes are unmistakably Lily's. I really shouldn't have expected anything different, but it's still rather spooky. She shook herself out of her reverie and saw that Harry was returning her strange look inconspicuously. Laurel supposed that he must be used to the public eye by now.

Hermione, however, missed the exchange altogether. "Harry, Ron, this is Professor Raegan, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Professor Raegan, these are my friends Ron Weasley and Harry Potter. They're in Gryffindor also."

Laurel decided not to call any more attention to Harry than necessary and instead turned to Ron. "Weasley? As in Fred and George?"

Ron looked like the cat that ate the canary. "Um…yes, actually. They're my older brothers. Heard of them, have you? They'll be thrilled that their reputation proceeds them."

Laurel smiled. "Yes, I've been duly warned. Though I think I may rather enjoy teaching them."

The teenagers looked surprised at her statement. Remus, on the other hand, knew exactly what she meant. The tables had been turned and now they would have to watch out for practical jokes. Goodness knows how many they and their friends had pulled during their own glory days.

Harry continued to glance at Laurel out of the corner of his eye, a strange feeling in his stomach. Not a bad one, but strange, all the same. She glanced out the window and recognized the scenery. "It looks as if we'll be entering Hogsmeade in a moment, so I hope you have all your things together."

Almost as soon as she had spoken, the pull of the brakes was felt as the train began slowing down. Any further conversation was lost in the commotion as students scrambled to gather their belongings. Remus calmly took down his tattered briefcase and Laurel repacked her book inside her rucksack as the train reached a screeching halt.

Stepping off the crimson train, Laurel found to her delight that Hogsmeade Station had remained pretty much the same as well. Remus led Laurel over to the line of waiting carriages, the traditional form of transportation for second years and up, and helped her in.

Once inside the black carriage, Laurel turned to Remus. "You never said why you were riding the Hogwarts Express. It's been my understanding that teachers usually arrive beforehand."

Remus looked slightly uncomfortable. "They do. I'm assuming that you no longer keep up with the lunar calendar, but the full moon was three days ago. Normally, I'm fully recovered by that time, but I had run out of the Wolfsbane Potion with no way of getting any more, so…" he trailed off. "May I ask why you rode the train?"

Laurel sighed. "Procrastination, I suppose. Trying to put off my return to the real world as long as I could. Hiding from possible pain, like usual."

"You really need to stop putting yourself down like that, you know. All that is in the past now - Sirius is innocent, you're alive, and you're a teacher. You can't let these kids down, not now of all times. There is too much at stake for you to have an inexcusable lack of self-confidence," said Remus, frowning.

Laurel was slightly surprised to hear such a lecture from Remus, but recognized that he was right. She must put her past completely behind her now that she had returned.

She glanced out the window as the looming castle drew nearer. "It seems so strange to return after all these years. I never dreamt I would be asked to teach. Did you?" asked Laurel, turning back to Remus.

He shook his head remorsefully. "To tell the truth, I wasn't expecting to be ever offered a job, much less one that involves leading the next generation." It was now Remus' turn to stare sadly out the window.

Laurel bit her lip, realizing she'd come dangerously close to a very touchy subject. She'd forgotten the nuances of talking to Remus in public and would have to remember to keep a hold on her tongue from now on.

Presently they arrived at the entrance to the Great Hall. When their carriage stopped at the front steps, Remus helped Laurel out of the car and the two professors walked in among their students.

A few teenagers called greetings to Remus, who responded warmly. Laurel was glad to see that at least here, Remus wasn't viewed as a beast. He'd worked so hard to overcome that in his lifetime.

The two went around a side hallway to enter the Great Hall from the front near the teacher's table, where Dumbledore was waiting for them.

He greeted Remus warmly and then turned to Laurel. "I'm so glad you decided to come, my dear. Now, let's have the introductions all around. There should be a few professors that you recognize, but others that you may not. Come, join us." Dumbledore gestured for Remus and Laurel to follow him to the Head Table.

She scanned the length of the table, searching for familiar faces as she was introduced to each. There was McGonagall, Trelawney, Flitwick, Sinistra, Snape…

Wait…Severus Snape? A Hogwarts professor? That's ridiculous!

Suddenly Snape turned her way and there could be no mistake. The look in his eyes when he saw her was priceless. She grinned and quickly took the free seat on his right. "Why hello, Severus. Long time no see, eh? I never expected to see you back here."

Snape forced a pleasant smile. "Laurel Raegan. I was…overjoyed…when Dumbledore informed us that you had accepted the post. So nice to see you again."

"Charmed, I'm sure." Laurel had found early on in her schooling that the quickest way to irritate Snape was to be amazingly nice to him, so she did her best to be civil. A glance to the back of the room told her that the Sorting was about to begin.

She smiled, for the first time remembering her past without being troubled. Her own Sorting seemed ages ago.

~~~

The mass of eleven-year-olds had slowly grown smaller as each was Sorted into their proper House. Laurel watched anxiously as first Sirius, then Peter, and then James were Sorted. Sirius and James became new Gryffindors, while Peter took his place with the Ravenclaws after throwing a longing look back to the Gryffindor table.

Laurel wondered what House she would be best for. Most of the information she had gathered was slightly biased, but from all accounts, she thought that Ravenclaw or Gryffindor suited her best. She'd already met the Slytherins and had no desire to join them.

She tensed when the boy in front of her was called. "Raby, Aquila!"

After a moment of silence the tattered old hat called out, "HUFFLEPUFF!"

It was now Laurel's turn. She clenched her now-sweaty hands into a fist as Professor Rafinki called her name. "Raegan, Laurel!"

There was a slight murmur from a small smattering of people. Apparently news of the Raegan family notoriety had reached even England.

Sitting down on the stool, she saw James flash her a smile and a quick thumbs-up, which eased a little of her tension. The Sorting Hat was placed on her head and Laurel waited for the verdict.

To her surprise, she heard a voice inside her head. "Laurel Raegan, eh? I don't recall ever Sorting a Raegan before, that truly doesn't matter. Now, let's see…to come so far from your family takes great strength of nerve. I see cleverness, honor, morals, and a good mind, but your work ethic isn't the best, now is it? That would rule out Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw would be good for you, but I see the potential you hold being wasted there. No, without a doubt, you belong in GRYFFINDOR!"

Laurel faintly heard the Hat shout the last word to the silent room, and the Gryffindor table burst into raucous applause. Grinning widely, she ran over to take a seat between James and a girl she did not know. The tall black-haired boy across from her congratulated her briefly, but their attention was soon turned to the next girl after Laurel, a rather irritating blonde by the name of Hannah Rosier.

~~~

"SLYTHERIN!"

A small boy grinned slyly and ran to join his Housemates, who were cheering wildly. Both Laurel and Snape applauded as well, though she more out of duty. Glancing down the table to where Remus sat, between Hagrid and a short professor with flyaway hair, they exchanged a look that clearly said they could do without another Slytherin.

After the last first-year joined his fellow Ravenclaws, Dumbledore stood to deliver his start of term speech. As always, he reminded the students about the Forbidden Forest and other boundaries. He gave the items the caretaker, Argus Filch, had added to the list of forbidden objects, and then it was time to introduce the new teachers.

"This year, we have added a new class, Dueling, to our schedule. It is a mandatory class, and I am sure you will benefit greatly from taking it. Those of you who are Third Year or older will remember Professor Lupin, who has kindly consented to fill this experimental post.

"As some of you learned two years ago, Professor Lupin is a lycanthrope, and he has asked that you all be made aware of this fact. This in no way means that he is to be disrespected. He is not a danger to you during the month, nor will he be on the full moon, thanks to the Wolfsbane Potion. He may have to miss a class or two on occasion, but he is overall an excellent teacher. I hope you will all welcome him back."

There was a smattering of timid applause. Laurel saw that only a portion of the Gryffindor table truly cheered. She supposed that the rest were slightly intimidated by his condition.

Dumbledore then gestured to Laurel. "I would also like to welcome our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Raegan. She has traveled all the way from the deserts of Egypt at my request, so I hope you will all make her lengthy trip worthwhile and rewarding. She is an expert in this field, having been part of a secret team supplementing the Aurors during the Dark Lord's reign of terror, as well as an amateur explorer these past few years. Hopefully in the trying times to come, you will be able to provide strong resistance with her guidance.

"Now, I believe we are all sufficiently hungry, so let the feast begin!" Dumbledore clapped his hands once and food filled all the platters and serving bowls set out on the tables. A low roar of conversation filled the Great Hall as students began their meals.

Laurel sighed softly. She had made it to Hogwarts and through the start of term feast. The next challenge would come the next morning, with her first class.

Chapter Five ~ Embrace of Pain

Laurel's first class began at nine o'clock the next morning. It looked as if today would be an easy day, teaching-wise. She would begin her new career with the seventh year Gryffindor class containing the Weasley twins and Lee Jordan. This ought to be entertaining.

She entered her classroom, what had been the Potions classroom in her day, and gathered her notes for the day's lesson. For her fifth and seventh year classes, which had large cumulative tests facing them in the spring, she planned a yearlong review of the two big categories in her subject. The fall term would be spent learning Curses, and the spring learning about Creatures. Today she had scheduled the beginnings of an overview on the Unforgivable and Intolerable Curses. She knew that the students had already studied the Unforgivable Curses, but she didn't know how many had even heard of the Intolerables. With a frown, she surmised that most of the Slytherins probably had.

Her first class entered the room shortly before nine. She spotted two redheads in the back of the room, quite obviously the Weasley twins. She supposed that the mischievous-looking boy with them was Lee Jordan.

It seemed that the trio was eager to test Laurel early on, for they immediately began practical jokes. "Oi, Katie! Katie Bell!" hissed a twin.

When the blonde girl in front of them turned, the other twin asked, "Want a jelly bean?" He held out a scarlet drawstring bag innocently.

"Sure!" said Katie, reaching in and grabbing a few, popping them all in her mouth. Not a second later, she gagged. "Oh my word, what did you do to them?!?" she cried, running to the garbage can.

The three laughed at their work, but quit when they saw Laurel walking towards them. They obviously thought that they had gotten away with it. "Let me guess," said Laurel slowly, suppressing a smile of her own. "You've enchanted them all to be the same flavor. Sardine, perhaps? Or maybe booger. Which detestable flavor was today's pick?"

As Laurel picked up the scarlet bag, Lee muttered, "Vomit, ma'am."

She arched an eyebrow, moving aside to let Katie return to her desk. "Vomit? That's quite a hard one to enchant, if I recall. Most impressive." She turned, taking the bag of enchanted beans back with her, laying them on the corner of her desk.

Laurel turned back to the class, now smiling. She quickly called roll and then began, "As I'm sure you all know, I am Professor Raegan. I remember well the intrigue of a new teacher, so I will try to answer all decent questions you might have. Let me take this opportunity to assure you that I am not a Death Eater in disguise; I am the real Professor Raegan." Some in the class tittered at this comment, while others shifted nervously, remembering last year's deception.

"As some of you might have guessed from my accent, I am American. Despite that, I did attend Hogwarts, so I am not completely lost as you might imagine. Believe it or not, I was your age once, and I do know exactly how boring classes can be, so I will attempt to make this interesting. Or at least, engaging enough to keep you awake." A few more students laughed at this.

"This year, I plan for each and every one of you to ace the Defense Against the Dark Arts part of your N.E.W.T.s. We will spend this term on curses, with which you should be reasonably familiar. Now, if you would please take out your textbooks, we can begin." When she heard a few poorly concealed giggles, Laurel smiled. "How to Dodge, by Kell Narcassan. Yes, it sounds like a joke, doesn't it? Despite the humorous cover, this book is far from laughable, as is the entire topic of curses. If you walk out of here without learning a darn thing about the subject, then you had better know how to dodge, because you can't hope to hold your own in a wizard's duel otherwise.

"I daresay you are familiar with the Unforgivable Curses by now - Avada Kedavra, Cruciatus, and Imperius. Each is terrible, but the ranks of curses do not stop there. For some twisted minds, killing simply wasn't enough. The pain of Cruciatus wasn't intense enough. Power over another's mind was no longer satisfying. So a whole new rank of curses was created, building up the pyramid. These are the Intolerable Curses. They combine the effects of the Unforgivables with whole new torture, and each is more horrible than the next. The use of the least of these constitutes instant life in Azkaban without trial. Sometimes the perpetrators are even met with the Dementor's Kiss."

Laurel waited as the class scrambled to take down notes. "The first of these curses, found on page 57 in your books," she continued, pausing briefly for books to be opened, "is known as Amplector Morsus, or more simply, the Knife Curse. It doesn't sound too fear inspiring, but the repercussions of this curse, if you survive the initial attack, can last the rest of your life.

"No one knows exactly when Amplector Morsus came into being, but there is evidence of its use in the early tenth century. The curse saw its' most widespread use in the 1930s and 1940s with the rise of Grindelwald. The Dark Lord and his followers, however, all but abandoned this curse for the relative ease of the Cruciatus, which accounts for the virtual anonymity of this horrific spell.

"Just like Avada Kedavra, Amplector Morsus takes a good bit of power backing it to be executed properly. It is cast with the words Amplector Morsaii. Unlike most curses, this is one that is preferable to be hit with at point-blank range. Instead of losing intensity, Amplector Morsus only gains force over distances, which is why it is mostly used in long-range wizard battles."

A dark haired girl, Savyna Dewby, if Laurel remembered correctly, raised her hand. "What exactly does Amplector Morsus do, Professor?"

"Well, as I said, its' more common name is the Knife Curse. Wherever this curse hits you, it forms a knife-life stab wound. The further away it is cast, the deeper the injury. At the same time you are stabbed, intense pain sears through your body, not unlike the Cruciatus Curse. This pain lasts only for around thirty seconds, but that may be enough to doom you in a serious situation. A stab wound like this would usually not impediment a fully trained wizard, who could heal it in seconds, but it is impossible to treat Amplector Morsus with magic. Doing so only causes longer episodes of pain and a possible permanent injury. So you are now shaken from the initial attack and left with a nasty wound that probably disables you. If you were lucky, the spell-caster was either a good shot, and the stab killed you immediately, or a crappy aim, and couldn't hit fish in a barrel. Neither case is too terribly appealing."

One of the twins, George, she supposed, raised his hand but didn't wait to be called on. "Is there any way you could show it to us?"

Laurel shook her head. "To use Amplector Morsus on any living creature, even an enlarged insect, is punishable by law. There are no loopholes that could allow demonstration. I'm sorry."

Laurel talked a bit more about Amplector Morsus, and then continued on to the next curse, Severa. "I'm sure all of you have used this curse's little brother, Severa Primo, at some point or another to trim edges. Well, Severa does the same, except with body parts. It's quick, easy, and less messy than a battle axe. Contrary to how it sounds, this curse does not have the added bonus of turning the victim into a cross-dressing Snape, horrible fate as that is." She smiled and let the class laugh at her joke before continuing.

"It is cast by saying Severa and then the part of the body you wish to amputate. For example, if I were to sever Lee's arm, I would point my wand at him and say Severa Brachium. This is one reason knowing scientific terms is useful."

Fred copied his brother and didn't wait before speaking. "Why is that? In case we happen to decide to become Dark Wizards?"

"No, because you might like to know which body part you will be missing shortly, and have what little comfort that provides," explained Laurel, marveling at the imagination of those two.

It didn't seem soon enough when her first class ended. She glanced at the pile of confiscated items on her desk. Each time Fred, George, or Lee had brought one out, she had walked over and retrieved the offending object without interrupting her lecture.

The mischievous trio now came up to her desk. "Umm, Professor?" asked Lee.

"Yes?"

"Might we have our things back now?" asked a twin.

Laurel thought for a moment. Most of their joke items were not potentially harmful, like the enchanted jellybeans, but others she had cause to worry about, like the Filibuster's Fireworks concealed inside an inkbottle. Something reminded her that these students had Potions class next.

"Most of them, yes. I will have to keep a few, however, but I don't see why you can't have these." She picked out the two or three dangerous pranks and placed them in a desk drawer, and pushed the rest over to the boys, who were grinning happily.

Flashing a knowing smile before shooing them out, Laurel said, "I really would hate to hear about any trouble in Professor Snape's class."

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