Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. It took almost a year but it is finally complete. My thank you section follows this last chapter.

Chapter 18: Through the Darkness and Towards Tomorrow

Pain.

It was the first thing that Remus was aware of as he made his way slowly towards consciousness.

So much pain.

He couldn't remember a time when he felt as if he was on fire…where there was not one spot on his body which did not scream out in agony. Every movement…every breath…brought him new suffering.

But it was nothing compared to the pain that was deep within his heart…the pain that nothing would ever take away.

The pain of loss. The loss of the only love he had ever known.

Remus shifted slightly, grimacing at the jolt of white-hot pain the mere movement of skin against soft cotton sheets caused. He knew he was in the Hogwarts infirmary…recognized the healing touch of Poppy immediately. He had regained consciousness momentarily, realized that his eyes…and many other parts of him…were bandaged and then had been made to drink something sweet…something with honey in it…perhaps a touch of mint…and then he had slipped away into comforting darkness of oblivion once again.

Until now.

Although he had no idea when 'now' was.

No idea of how much time had elapsed. For all he knew…another cycle of the moon had gone full circle and he would be at its mercy once again.

And he had no idea how he had gotten there…all he knew for certain was that it had been too late…he had seen her look of terror before relinquishing control to the beast within. There had not been any escape for her. He could only pray that she had not suffered. That it had been quick…

"Oh, Hermione," he thought in anguish, tears forming behind closed lids, a sob escaping his lips. He could feel his heart break into a million pieces as he remembered her smile and her laughter and that sideways glance at the Head Table, which had always made his heartbeat quicken.

Gone forever.

And now he was alone again and his life stretched out before him in all its starkness. Companions he still had but love…love had eluded him once again…in the cruelest fashion imaginable.

"Remus?" Poppy's voice was beside him…a cool hand touching his forehead. For a moment, Remus could imagine when he was a child and she had looked after him…the only mediwitch of her time who would even come near the victim of a werewolf's bite. Always healing the damage he inflicted on himself. Always offering words of encouragement when he felt that his life was nothing but a travesty. Always kind and generous.

"Yes?" Remus answered thickly…his throat felt dry and tight, strained…as if he had spent the last few days yelling at the top of his lungs.

"How are you feeling?"

"Must you ask that?"

Silence…then a soft touch on his hair. "I must remove the bandages around your eyes…they are the last ones. You have healed remarkably well."

He did not reply. Again, the mediwitch's capable hands deftly unrolled the bandages and removed the gauze covering his eyes.

He did not open them.

"Would you like something to drink?"

"Later…I would much rather be alone right now."

"I will advise the others that you are up…they have been most anxious for you, Remus. As was I."

"Thank you…but please…I don't believe I will be very good company right now."

"I understand. So many things have changed in the world now that the Dark Lord is gone."

"Gone? Truly gone this time?"

"The Headmaster believes so. Finally, we can live our lives in peace."

"A peace that has come too late for me," Remus thought sadly.

"I will leave you a glass of water on your bedside table. The spell that Harry used to disable the Dark Lord hurt your eyes but they are fine now…no residual scarring." Her voice sounded proud and Remus tried to smile for her sake.

"My eyes are healed and yet they will never see her again," Remus thought…wondering when he would have the courage to open them.

"I'll be back shortly, Remus. I must tell the others…I know they will want to see you. And I think you will want to see them as well. But, for the moment, try to rest. Your strength has not yet returned and you did lose a great deal of blood."

Again, that soft caress on his forehead…something that a mother might have done for an injured son. Then, the sound of receding footsteps told Remus that he was alone.

Yes, alone.

What on earth was he supposed to do now? It would appear that he had not even a promise to keep any longer. Harry had somehow defeated the Dark Lord. It stood to reason that Lucius Malfoy and Wormtail were enjoying extended stays at Azkaban. What was left for him to do?

"And yet, I promised," he whispered to the empty room. "I promised her."

He felt the pull of sleep on him again and succumbed to it gratefully…wishing he did not ever have to wake up again.

*********Sometime later************

When Remus awoke again, he felt much stronger and felt much less pain. He moved his arms and legs around and, despite some remaining soreness, decided that he was going to live after all.

"Poppy had a hard time with you," a familiar drawling voice forced Remus to open his eyes. Severus was sitting on a chair next to his bed. He looked tired, somewhat weak but Remus noticed immediately that the haunted look in his eyes was gone.

"She has always taken good care of me," Remus replied quietly. "Even when I was a child."

"Well, I must admit that you were probably a better patient than I was," Severus smirked.

"Is Voldemort really gone, Severus?" Remus asked…wanting confirmation of the news.

Severus nodded gravely. "He is gone, Remus…gone forever. He was administered the Dementor's Kiss in Azkaban two days ago. I was there…a witness to the procedure. It was…horrifying. I hope to never return to that accursed place." The Potions Master shuddered as if suddenly chilled.

"And…and the mark?"

Severus rolled up his sleeve and showed Remus his forearm. "It is still there. Some marks never fade away just as some wounds never heal." Rolling the material down again, Severus turned to his friend. "I plan to continue working on a cure for you. And I will have help. Between us, I am certain that we will eventually find the right combination of ingredients that will release you from this curse. I give you my word on that, Remus."

"Thank you, Severus."

Severus got up and looked around the room. "Black has been in and out of here all the days that you were unconscious. I am certain that he will want to see you shortly. But, I believe that there is another who is very anxious to see you."

Remus turned away from Severus. "I don't want to see anyone else, Severus. I would prefer to be alone."

"I don't believe that is a viable option, my friend. She is most insistent…a typically Gryffindor trait, I might add. Something that was very apparent as a student and which womanhood has failed to stamp out of her," Severus' voice drawled.

Remus' heart nearly stopped when he caught the first whiff of her scent. Turning around, he could not see her, but he knew she was there.

Severus smiled and stepped aside, revealing…

"Hermione!" Remus shouted and, in a sudden rush of adrenaline, jumped out of his bed and grabbed the Charms Professor around the waist, causing both of them to fall to the ground in an ungraceful heap. Remus frantically kissed her cheeks, her lips, her eyelids…and then stopped to look at her…shock and sheer joy intermingling in his expression. "Is it really you?"

"I was so worried about you, Remus," she smiled through her tears.

Remus' eyes widened in amazement. "You were worried about me? I…I was frantic…thought for certain…dared not hope…by the stars, Hermione…" and he began to kiss her all over again, holding her as if he were afraid to ever let her go again.

Severus made a slight cough. "I will leave it to you, Hermione, to ensure that our patient returns to his bed."

Remus had forgotten all about Severus. He sat up suddenly and blushed profusely. Severus pretended not to notice.

"Yes, Severus," Hermione replied cheekily, eyes glowing with happiness. "Now, do be a good overgrown bat and fly out of here. Margot must be waiting for you somewhere in your dungeons."

Severus tried to look severe and disapproving but failed miserably and his laughter filled the infirmary. Shaking his head in disbelief, he turned to leave, muttering something about know-it-all Gryffindors under his breath. They could still hear him muttering even after he closed the door behind him.

"Come now, Remus. Let's get you back into bed. You've not quite recovered all your strength," Hermione kissed Remus on the cheek.

Slowly they managed to get him back into bed as he was completely spent from his initial outburst of joyous relief. Hermione handed him the glass of water on the table.

"Hermione…I…what happened? I thought…I thought…"

Hermione put a finger to his lips to shush him. "It's a long story, Remus and I don't think I should tell you all of it right now. "

"But…how did you…I…" a horrifying thought came to him. "Hermione, I didn't bite you, did I?"

"No, you didn't," Hermione replied quietly, holding his hand.

"I don't understand. What happened?"

"Severus gave me a derivative of the Draught of the Living Death that made me appear, for all intents and purposes, dead. Werewolves will not touch a corpse," Hermione said.

"Of course," Remus was amazed at the simplicity of it all. "Severus is a lot more intelligent than I give him credit for."

"I am certain you will never tell him that to his face," she grinned.

Remus laughed…all the heartache and sadness leaving him instantly. He leaned over and embraced Hermione tightly. Breathing in her scent and feeling her heartbeat…he felt that he could ask nothing else of the world.

"I thought I had lost you," he whispered into her hair. "I thought that I would be alone forever."

"I was here almost all the time, you know…I could not bear to be away from you for too long," she smiled, touching his hair and caressing his cheek softly.

"I thought…you would be disgusted…seeing me like that."

"It was not the first time, Remus." Hermione reminded him.

"But still…"

"Remus, I love you. This…thing you become…it is not you. I could see that. I looked into its eyes and, when I did, I saw no trace of Remus Lupin…no trace of the man that means more to me than anything else in this world."

"You are a remarkable woman, Hermione," Remus sighed.

Hermione grinned at him. "Besides, as Severus already told you, I will be assisting in his efforts to produce a cure for someone like yourself…bitten by a werewolf so many years ago. Margot will also be providing us with her expertise on the subject."

"She will not be returning to Durmstrang?"

"She does not wish to return and, since the position of Hogwarts librarian is now open, thanks to Pince's treachery, the Headmaster has kindly asked her to fill it."

"I take it she accepted?"

"Let us say that the decision required very little thought on her part. Severus is thrilled, to say the least. They love each other and I don't think I have ever seen Severus so happy."

"Does he still want the Defense Against the Dark Arts position?"

Hermione laughed. "No, the position is yours for as long as you want it. He has resigned himself to being a Potions Master although, if the rumours are true, we will also have a Potions Mistress before long. I suppose he wants to make up for lost time."

Remus took Hermione's hand and held it close to his heart. "He is not the only one."

She blushed prettily but said nothing.

"Stay with me," Remus asked softly.

She turned to look at him…a little confused at the request. "I wasn't planning to go anywhere else today."

"That is not what I meant, Hermione. Please. Stay with me. Always."

Her breath caught a little at that and her eyes began to sparkle with newfound joy.

"Please. Be a part of my life…just as you already are a part of my heart…a part of my soul," Remus implored, kissing that small hand and looking up to her with such strong emotion that it almost hurt.

"Yes."

Fin

And so, it has ended. Wow. I have had a lot of fun with this story and I have lots of people to thank.

Tessie - for writing "The Virus" which was the first Remus/Hermione story I read and which inspired me to do one of my own. Thanks for being my friend and for all your good advice.

Amy - for being someone I could turn to for advice in my writing and for helping me out when things got a little hairy.

Giulia - perchè sono sempre contenta quando ricevo una notizia da te.

Marek - for being such a faithful reader…any writer would be blessed to have someone like you. Keep smiling!

Bre, Gramarye and Aerial - for your enthusiasm that drove me to finish this story a lot sooner than I otherwise might have.

Lynn - my fellow Canadian Marauder…for everything and just for being someone I can always talk to about life, the universe and everything (and Alan Rickman)

Drusilla and Jaded Green - for appreciating Remus (and others) as much as I do

Ashley - for all your encouragement…thanks!

Sharte - who has kindly offered to be my beta for "Redemption" - THANKS

Jessica, Michael, Holly and Marguerite, Holly and Michelle - Just because

Ron - who holds the distinction of being the very first Marauder…thanks!

Joe, Enzo, Natashia and Veronika - for being my friends…I can't thank you enough

Tony, Michael and Nicholas - for being my sounding boards and for putting up with me hogging the computer for hours on end

Mom & Dad - for putting up with my excited "I finished another chapter" outbursts and for always encouraging my creativity

Mel - because being considered 'literate' by you is the best compliment imaginable

And finally, a huge thank you to everyone who read and/or reviewed my story…it is much appreciated.

So, what is next on the horizon for this strega? Well, I am aiming to complete "Ex Libris" before the end of the year (it's not going to be a long story and it isn't completely serious…sort of a fun thing for me to write). Then I will embark on "The Price of Redemption" which is the first full-length Severus/Hermione story I have attempted (and I haven't completely planned it out yet). As for anything else…well, that is up to the muse, as they say.

Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments.

Strega Brava has left the building…for now.

PS: If you would like updates as to when I post something on ffnet, please contact me at stregabrava@yahoo.ca - I always love to hear from my readers. I also have a Yahoo group where I archive all my stories http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stregabrava/