Merlin's nuggets, it's an actual update! Can you believe it? It only took a year and a half, but inspiration finally struck. Just a couple chapters left now. This story will be finished, come hell or high water. As always, your continued support is amazing and so very appreciated.


Chapter Thirty-Eight

Back to Normalcy


Hermione

"I can't believe I let myself get so far behind in my studies!" I exclaimed, frantically flipping through the 7th Year Arithmancy text. "Exams start in three days and I don't know the material!"

Tears were brimming in my eyes as my stress level shot through the roof. This was worse than 2nd year when I had been frozen by the basilisk and the Headmaster cancelled end of year exams. There was no hope of Headmaster Dumbledore canceling exams this year even though I missed so much with all that had been going on. I couldn't even remember the last time I set foot in a classroom during a lesson.

"'Mione, you mastered that stuff three years ago. I don't know why you're worrying yourself." Harry's voice was gentle as he reviewed his History of Magic notes across the table. "You'll do great like you always do."

"Thanks, Harry. I can't help but worry, you know that." He was right though, I had the knowledge already. All I needed was a quick review of the information and I would be fine.

After twenty minutes of concentrated study, I slipped my History of Magic notes toward Harry. "Just in case you need better notes," I said, smiling. "I figure you and Ron could benefit from those. Where is he, anyway?"

It was not surprising that Ron skipped a study session, but these were our NEWTs coming up. I expected him to be more responsible!

"Er, he's revising with Padma Patil. She's really got him into studying. He even spent time answering some essay questions she prepared for him last night."

My mouth popped open. "Honestly? All those years I spent trying to get him to take his studies seriously to no avail and all he needed was the right kind of motivation!"

Harry nodded and glanced over to the next table where Ginny was sitting with some of her 6th year classmates. "It's amazing what a wizard will do when he likes a witch."

We studied for hours until our bellies growled for sustenance. I wanted to skip lunch in the Great Hall and pop in to the Hospital Wing to see Remus, but Professor McGonagall requested that I make myself available for any stressed and anxious students. This time of the year was worse than the start of the school year for some students, me included.

The Great Hall was filled with raucous chatter as we entered, the students taking advantage of a few moments of freedom from revisions. The feeling was contagious and I immediately fell into the conversations taking place at the Gryffindor table. The joy was short lived, however.

"Er, Hermione?" a voice squeaked behind me. As I turned around, my eyes alighted on a tiny 1st year with teary eyes. The child appeared too small to even be a 1st year, but she had courage to approach our group of 6th and 7th years.

"Hi, what can I do for you?" I turned around and stood, stepping away from the table to offer the ickle firstie a bit of privacy.

"Professor McGonagall suggested I speak to you about my potions studies. I'm terribly worried about failing Professor Snape's exam." The child wrung her hands as she spoke and a small smile perked my lips. She reminded me of my younger self.

"Do you have your notes and book with you? We can go to the library now."

"I do!" she exclaimed, excitedly pulling bag full of books and parchment from her shoulder. "My name is Eloise, so you know."

"Alright Eloise, let's go conquer potions."


Remus

"Come on, mate. Do you ever plan on getting out of this bed?" Sirius joked as he plopped down in chair beside my bed in the hospital wing. "This castle is dreadfully boring without my sidekick."

"Do you think I enjoy being trapped here like an invalid?"

Sirius' exuberance was annoying and he should count himself lucky that I hadn't hexed him the moment he walked through the door.

"Well of course not, but I do think your sour moods are slowing your healing process. You used to be far more positive… and fun, much more fun. Now you're just a cranky old codger."

"Oy, Padfoot, tell me what you really think."

The old dog had a point, though. I had been unusually cranky and full of negative energy in the last week. It was to the point that even Poppy informed me it was slowing my progress. I didn't know how to turn my attitude around. It was difficult to see the upside of things when I was trapped in an infirmary bed twenty-four hours a day.

"You want to know what I really think?" Sirius raised his eyebrows. "I think you need to pull your head out of your arse and start fighting this off. You're cured, but you're not healing. You have a girl out there who loves you so much that she risked becoming a werewolf herself just to help you, but you are losing your mind to some sense of loss."

He paused for and I opened my mouth to argue, but Sirius shook his head. He had to get this off his chest.

"I know that you've been a werewolf for almost as long as you can remember and that you accepted what you were. That's got to be hard, mate. I get it. But things are different now, you're different now. You are normal. You are one of us in every sense. You are free. Take that and run with it, mate!"

As much as I wanted to argue with him, I had to admit that Sirius was right, again. But it was hard to throw away 30 plus years of being one thing only to wake up and not be that thing anymore. I needed time to accept that my life was my own again… but, I had nearly two weeks now and I was no farther down the road of acceptance than I was within the first five minutes.

I had to snap out of it for my own sake and for everyone else's. Too many people worked too hard to make this cure a reality. I couldn't throw it away, no matter how much I struggled.

"You're right, my friend," I admitted solemnly. "I need to snap out of it. I just… don't know how."

"About time you admitted that!" Sirius smiled brightly. "Now, the first goal on your newfound road to recovery is to help me finish this bottle of FireWhisky. Believe me when I say it will really help!"

As Sirius conjured two goblets and poured, I actually began to feel normal… Or, that feeling could have been the need to pee, I wasn't certain.

"Poppy is going to have your head for getting her patient drunk," I slurred after the second serving. One of the side effects of not being a werewolf anymore, seemed my tolerance wasn't what it used to be.

"Poppy loves me. And I'll bet you 25 galleons that she'll finally kick you out of here. If you're healthy enough to drink, you're too healthy to be in here."

Thankfully, I didn't take the bet because Sirius was right. Poppy came by just after we finished the bottle and we were both three sheets to the wind.

"Remus Lupin! If you are well enough to drink your weight in ounces of FireWhisky, then you are well enough to care for yourself in your own quarters!" Poppy scolded as she flicked a cleansing spell in my direction and shoved a set of clean robes on my lap. "Hopefully, you are not too pissed to dress yourself."

With a snap, the mediwitch turned to Sirius. "And you! I should report you to the Headmaster for giving alcohol to one of my patients! What if a student walked in here and saw you like this?" She paused for a moment as Sirius gave her the puppy eyes. "But, obviously your methods have jostled his brain enough to want to get better. Keep an eye on him or I will see to it that you are both removed from this school!"

"Yes, Poppy," we both slurred in response.

We both tried to stand but the room began to spin. "Poppy, could you hold the room still while I put my robe on?" I mumbled.

With a huff, Poppy took pity on us and tossed some sober up potions at us. Thankfully, they were contained within unbreakable vials because neither of us had the dexterity to catch them. Instead, they bounced off my chest and Sirius' nose before clattering to the floor. Shaking her head, Poppy levitated the vials to the bed so we could scoop them up. She knew we'd not get up if either of us tried to fetch them from the floor.

"Cheers, mate," I said, clinking vials with Sirius before downing the potion. Within precisely 11 seconds, I was sober and refreshed. I loved magic!

"Much better," Poppy declared, gazing into our eyes. "Not get your mangy arses out of my infirmary!"

We didn't need to be told twice. Chuckling like school boys, we raced each other out of the Hospital Wing and down to my rooms, the sweet taste of freedom upon my lips. Upon arrival, I searched the cupboards for a bottle of Ogden's Finest. We had some serious celebrating to do.

"Alright mate, to my rooms!" Sirius said when my search came up empty. "My shelves are always stocked!"

I followed slowly, the idea of trying to find Hermione on my mind. It was Saturday and the students began their exams on Monday. I imagined she was holed up somewhere, fretfully revising despite the fact that she could take the tests right now, blindfolded and drunk. No matter how prepared Hermione was, exams always gave her undue anxiety.

With a backward glance down the hall that would be the easiest route to the library, I shrugged it off and jogged toward Sirius' rooms. It was best not to disturb Miss Granger when she was fervently revising. I would see her tomorrow, I was certain.


Hermione

Eloise was a delightful 1st year who was very focused on her studies. She was intelligent and meticulous… almost too much for such a young person… and she took constructive criticism and instruction with incredible grace. I enjoyed working with her. She left our tutoring session confident that she would do well in Professor Snape's exam.

After our session, I stayed in the library to continue my own revision and make myself available for any other students. As the hours passed, the library emptied until only the most diligent students – mostly Ravenclaws – remained.

Sighing, I rubbed my eyes. The remaining students didn't need my help and they had self discipline. I was happy for that since my eyes could not take any more. It was time for a relaxing soak in the bath.

A sudden surge of confidence rolled through me as I packed my things. I wasn't sure if it was leftover remnants of the wolf or if I really was confident in my studies, but in that moment, I knew I would do well on the NEWTs. The confidence was enough to make me want to take it easy on the revising tomorrow. No sense in overdoing it.

The thought of the wolf was enough for my feet to carry me to the Hospital Wing of their own accord. I didn't even realize that was the direction I was headed until I stopped in front of the double doors. Remus should be feeling better after a full day of rest.

"Hi Madam Pomfrey," I greeted as I stepped into the infirmary. "How is our patient today?"

Poppy Pomfrey harrumphed as she bustled around the room. "Oh, the pair of them! I could knock their heads together if I didn't think they'd take the mickey out of me. Thankfully, they are out of my hair for good!"

Puzzled by the mediwitch's comments, I stopped in my tracks. "Er, what do you mean?"

Snapping herself out of it, Poppy smiled down at me. "Forgive me, dear. Sirius and Remus, dear boys that they are, still get such a rise out of me. I swear sometimes they do it on purpose. They both got pissed on FireWhisky and I kicked them out of here. If Remus is well enough to drink, then he doesn't need to be here."

"They didn't!" I exclaimed, rather shocked at such behaviour from Remus. Sirius, not so much. "I swear sometimes that Sirius will never grow up. But then I think about how much was taken from him and I understand exactly why he acts in such a way."

Madam Pomfrey clucked her tongue and nodded. "I know, dear. It's a true shame what he's had to go through, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to throttle him now and again, especially when he drags poor Remus into his shenanigans."

I could do nothing but nod. I knew how she felt. Sirius was both a good friend and a bad influence. I thought Remus secretly enjoyed the shenanigans though.

"Perhaps I should go check to make sure they are both still alive and in one piece."

"Yes, dear, that is a good idea."


There was no answer when I knocking on Remus' door. Despite the late hour, I ventured to Sirius' quarters to see if they were there. Sure enough, a very drunk Sirius Black answered the door after the fourth knock.

"Wassit, 'Mione?" he slurred, slouching against the door frame. "You come to check on yer ol' man?"

The scent FireWhisky rolling off his breath made my eyes water as I shoved past him to check on Remus. Given Sirius' state, I expected worse from Remus based on the last few days. However, Remus was asleep on the settee in front of the fire, mouth open, hair hanging down into his eyes, and arms spread wide.

"Has no tolerance anymore," Sirius mumbled as he lurched toward an arm chair. "Fell 'sleep an hour ago."

Shaking my head at Sirius, I kept silent about my judgment on their behavior. Instead, I ran my fingers through Remus' hair and kissed his forehead. Before leaving the room, I conjured goblets of water and summoned the hangover potion I knew Sirius kept in his loo.

"Goodnight, boys."


Remus

"Ugh, I don't feel so well."

The room spun as I tried to sit up and I flopped back onto the couch with a groan.

"You're such a lightweight, Moony!" Sirius said, tossing a bit of floo powder into the hearth. "Kitchen. Two greasy American breakfasts, if you will. And two extra strong coffees."

Sirius was far too energetic for my liking. "Why the bloody hell are you so bleeding chipper? You do realize we drank enough to kill a Thestral, right?"

"Quit your whinging. We didn't drink that much. And I happened to rehydrate before passing out, which really makes all the difference." Sirius grinned.

He took pity on me when I stared at him miserably and tossed me a hangover relief potion. "Oy, you are so pathetic! Here, drink this."

By the time a house elf arrived with our bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, I was back to normal, if a little sleep deprived.

"Merlin, this is a good breakfast," Sirius declared after the first bite. "I can see why the Americans love these. I heard it's good with something called pork roll, too."

"It is rather delicious, especially now that I am feeling normal again."

As we finished up our meals, pounding sounded on the door from the hallway. "Someone is very eager to see you, Padfoot."

Sirius shrugged his shoulders as he stood. As the pounding continued, he shouted "Alright! I'm coming."

"Oy!" Sirius exclaimed as he whipped the door open ready to yell at whoever was knocking like that. "Hullo, 'Mione."

"Are you boys finally sober? I heard you went on quite the bender yesterday and last night." Her tone was stern as she strode into the room and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

She barely glanced in my direction as she waited for Sirius to say something. My brows furrowed in response to her attitude. Although I knew getting pissed and being kicked out of the Hospital Wing wasn't the best idea, we hadn't harmed anyone and we behaved ourselves. After all that we'd been through, I thought Hermione would understand the need for a little bit of stress release and fun with ones best friend. I didn't see the problem outside of getting pissed while still in the infirmary.

"Honestly, 'Mione, are you angry at us?" I mumbled, not eager to engage her wrath when Sirius failed to respond.

Her expression softening as she finally met my gaze, she shook her head. "No, I'm not angry. I understand why you two did that, I just wish I had known what you were up to before I popped in to the Hospital Wing and got an earful from Madam Pomfrey."

Turning back to Sirius, she giggled. "She is not your biggest fan right now. In fact, I would steer clear of her for a while. She thinks you're a bad influence on poor, impressionable Remus."

"Well, he is," I admitted with a chuckle at the same time as Sirius exclaimed, "But I'm the impressionable one!"

"No one believes that for a second, Sirius."

With a shrug, Sirius agreed. "If you lovebirds would excuse me, I'm going to freshen up for the day."

I waved him off and patted the open area next to me on the settee, inviting Hermione to sit with me.

"How are you feeling?" she asked as she sat and nuzzled into my side. "I was getting really worried about you."

"I'm much better now. Sirius helped me shake free from the self pity. Despite a slight lingering hangover, I feel like my old self, only better."

"That's wonderful," Hermione replied and stretched up to place a soft kiss on my lips.

"I thought so too."

We were in the midst of a full on snog session by the time Sirius emerged from the bath.

"Merlin's bollocks, don't do that shit in my rooms! At least, not unless I'm invited to participate."

"Eww, Sirius! That will never happen! And we weren't doing anything naughty, just snogging," Hermione explained.

"But I do think that we will leave you to your privacy, Padfoot."

Taking Hermione's hand, I stood and led her to the hearth. "We've made it this far without being caught by any of the students; don't want to start now by walking the halls together when I've obviously just rolled out of bed."

"Good thinking. See you, Sirius," Hermione waved as I tossed some floo powder and dragged her into the green flames.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do, you two," Sirius called as we disappeared.

When we stepped out of the floo into my sitting room, I led Hermione to the settee. Feeling a little nervous now that we were alone again, for some unknown reason, I tried to slow things down with some conversation.

"Have you thought about what your plans are for the summer? Are you going to get a job right away? Take an apprenticeship? Travel?" I rambled.

Hermione's eyes widened a little and she gave me an odd sort of look. "Well, not really. I mean, I was so focused on helping you. Then the whole Draco Malfoy thing distracted me for a while. But now, I don't know. It feels like all of the previous plans I had for myself are no longer… enough."

I nodded, knowing how she felt. "Well, the world is wide open for you, especially after you ace your NEWTs."

"True. I need to speak with Headmaster Dumbledore about something before I make a decision. I had a few things in the works that I might be able to turn into fulfilling research. If that is the case, I may be able to get a charms or potions apprenticeship. What are your plans, my love?"

"To follow you wherever you go," I said in my most eerie voice. Hermione giggled and I swooped in for a kiss. "Now that I am cured, thanks to you, I would love to stay here and teach full time. It has always been one of my dreams to be a professor and now that I am here, I would hate to leave."

That did not mean that I wouldn't apply for a position at a different school, even a muggle school, if it meant being close to wherever Hermione ended up. But, I was not going to rush or push anything. Better to let Hermione figure out her life plans and see how I would fit into them, than to push her into something that she would later regret.

Hermione was smart enough to realize that I was not committing to anything yet. "Let me speak with the Headmaster today and see what will work for me. I definitely want to continue being with you, Remus. But I also want to do something fulfilling, too. If I can have both, then I will be one very satisfied witch."


Hermione

"Sour Patch Kids," I stated to the gargoyle in front of the Headmaster's office, waiting as the door slid away and the stairs appeared.

I loved the entrance to the Headmaster's office; it was stately, yet fun. It always brought a smile to my face when I stepped onto the stairs and they began to move. It was the little things with magic that always fascinated me.

"Ah, Hermione. Always a pleasure to see you," Headmaster Dumbledore greeted as I stepped into his office proper.

"Good morning, sir," I replied, adjusting my uniform as I stepped in front of his desk.

"Please, have a seat," the old man gestured to the ornate chairs positioned in front of his desk. "What can I do for you?'

Taking a moment to slip into the soft cushion of the chair and gather my thoughts, I stated my intentions. "I would like to discuss my career options in regards to our recent success with the ritual. Based on the work we all did, I wondered if I could transition that into a research grant for potions or charms."

The Headmaster stroked his beard with his left hand as he considered my idea. I knew that he would approve of the idea, since he was the one to bring it up when I first came to him about the ritual. It was just a matter of what exactly I needed to do.

"I believe that is a wonderful idea, Hermione. I have already spoken to a few of my contacts and they are quite interested in your successes. I will send an owl to follow up to see if any of them would be willing to offer you either an apprenticeship or research position to further your work on this matter."

"Thank you so much, sir!" I exclaimed, practically bouncing in my seat. "It would be a great thing if I could perfect the ritual and cure werewolves around the world!"

"Indeed it would," the Headmaster agreed, his eyes sparkling. "I will write a letter now and let you know after your exams."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, again."

As I left the Headmaster's office, I was hopeful that great things were waiting for me out in the world. At the same time, I worried about where that would leave Remus and me. Long distance relationships were much easier in the magic world, but I would miss those little daily interactions that living and working together offered.

Of course, we already spoke about the fact that we would make it work no matter where my career took me. It wouldn't do to worry about it until I heard back from the Headmaster's contacts.


The rest of Sunday was spent helping worried students, mostly 1st through 3rd years, with their studies. So many of them were scared witless of failing, but most of them already knew the material. They just needed confidence in themselves.

The subject most students struggled with was Potions, which was no surprise. Professor Snape was a demanding task master who accepted nothing short of perfection. It was intimidating to the younger students who hadn't found themselves yet. Professor Snape preyed on the weakness of the shy and self conscious.

I told those students that it was all in the tricks that helped them remember the important things. Once they had those down, the students felt much better about their chances of passing the exam.

By dinner, I had done as much as I could. The rest was up to them.

"Hullo, 'Mione," Ron greeted absently as I settled into an open seat at the Gryffindor table. He had his nose buried in a book as he clarified a point in his notes and nodded in understanding.

"Uh, who are you and what have you done with my friend Ron? You might know him - tall, goofy, talks with food in his mouth, and hates to study."

Ron blushed scarlet and scratched his head. "Very funny, 'Mione. Padma helped me see the benefit of doing well on the NEWTs."

"She told him she doesn't date dumb wizards," Ginny whispered into my ear as she settled into the seat next to me. "Could have fooled me."

"Hi 'Mione," Harry greeted as I shared a brief giggle with Ginny. "Heard Remus was finally out of the Hospital Wing."

I nodded, smiling. "Finally. He seems much better though, thanks to some encouragement from Sirius."

"I can only imagine," Ginny chimed in and we all laughed.

It was a fun evening, full of laughs and high spirits. I imagined it was how normal muggle teenagers felt in the last week of school. Worries about Voldemort and the war could wait until after our exams. For now, we were here for a few more nights of fun and laughs with best friends.

After dinner, Ginny, Harry, and Ron came up to my rooms to hang out. It had been a while since we did that and it reminded us all of our younger years when we spent almost every waking moment together. We talked about past times, the future, and everything in between until it got so late that we could hardly keep our eyes open. Instead of sending them off to their own rooms after curfew, I conjured cots for them to sleep on. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.