"The scarring on your eyes shouldn't be permanent, but it will take some time to heal, as it was very extensive," explained the Healer in a gentle voice as the bandages were gently pulled away from Hermione's face. "I can teach you the charm for navigation through obstacles, but I recommend going down to Diagon Alley and finding a magical guide companion to help you."
Hermione blinked. Everything was a giant bright blur. The only things that she could detect were movement, and even then, the shapes were indistinct and hard to track. After a moment, she closed her eyes again, hating how they stung with bitter tears when they didn't even work right. Not anymore.
It had been all her fault, too. She'd run off after a group of fleeing Death Eaters all by herself, even though Ron and Harry had told her to stay with them. One of the horrible masked men had turned and hit her with something that she'd easily deflected, and she was too busy sending back her own spell to realize that she'd run into an ambush. There were four or five spells that hit her directly in the face at almost the same time- their combined force slicing her from forehead to chin and burning her eyes. One of her arms felt heavy and hot with blood as it leaked into the ground around her. She'd been too busy screaming in agony to realize that her attackers had been chased off by reinforcements from the Order, but then again, pain had a way of drawing time to a standstill and making it hard to focus on anything else.
It had been a long time until the pain had stopped, and even longer until the Healers at St. Mungos finally let her come out of the magically induced coma they'd placed her in. Unfortunately, the damage to her eyes was severe enough that it would take about a year or so for them to heal properly, and no one wanted to risk putting Hermione in a coma for that long, especially when the rest of her was completely healthy.
Hermione had to force herself not to touch her face. She knew about the scars, of course. They ran across her face and cheeks randomly and gave her an almost tiger-like appearance. Of course she also knew that they were ugly, like fat, red worms. Ron had said as much before Harry had punched him in the arm to shut him up.
Hermione had thrown Ron out when he'd started to whine about how her looks were affecting his attraction to her. He'd had the gall to tell her to wear a glamour to hide them.
"Plus your eyes are weird now, 'Mione!" he'd exclaimed, sounding as though he thought he was being helpful and not being a total git, "They don't follow people like normal eyes. It's...unnerving."
"Great!" she'd shouted hysterically, bursting into tears again, "Then don't bother coming to see me again, you massive git!"
Hermione kept forgetting that just because she couldn't see someone didn't automatically mean that people were far away and having trouble hearing her, but Ron deserved having his eardrums blown out by her angry shouts.
One of the only good things that came of being unable to see anything was that she could now hear the way people felt in the sound of their voices. It was curious. She'd never really stopped to think about how one's voice changed when they were sad or happy or worried. However, without the cues of someone's face to tell her how they felt, the tone of a person's voice was uncannily accurate.
Harry had stayed by her side and gone to get her a Sightstick, which helped her to magically find her way while she was walking around. It drew off of her wand's power, so she did have to remember where to insert her wand, but it didn't seem to restrict her ability to cast spells. She simply had to hold the Sightstick like a staff. She imagined that she looked a bit like Moses parting the red sea when she cast spells, but she didn't know for sure. After all, she was blind.
Harry also helped her to sew little tags into her robes so she'd know which way was back. There were a hundred little things to do to get her living space ready for her return, especially since she'd never been there before. Harry had handled the sale of her parent's house and purchased a cottage near the Forbidden Forest in Hogsmeade.
"It has its own meadow and a great place for gardening!" Harry had said excitedly. Hermione had heard the rustling of newsprint as he had obviously turned it around to show it to her.
"You do know that I can't see it, right?" she'd said bemusedly, but it still had hurt, knowing that sometimes the pain of what had happened to her would start to fade until suddenly it would rear up and make itself known in the most painful way possible.
"I'm so sorry!" Harry had jumped up and thrown his arms around his best friend, and Hermione could feel herself rolling her eyes. It was a weird sensation without being able to actually see, but she knew she'd done it when she heard Harry snort quietly with laughter.
"You always were good at the epic eyeroll," Harry said, "I guess that means you're really healing, Hermione, right? Soon, you'll be good as new, just like the Healers said."
"Soon is not soon enough, Harry," Hermione said wistfully, gently tracing the line of healing scar flesh on her forehead.
Harry practically smothered Hermione with attention in the days before her release from St. Mungo's. Hermione knew that this was because of Ron's terrible behavior and abandonment. He hadn't even attempted to owl her, even though she now knew the spell for transcription of written documents. She'd been considering learning muggle braille as well, mainly as a way to keep her busy, but the transcription charm worked fine in a pinch.
"Are you sure you'll be all right here on your own?" Harry whined as Hermione shooed him out of her front door. "I left some Floo powder on your fireplace just in case you need me."
"Yes, yes, Harry. You showed me all around my house and I am very impressed on your internal decorating...at least, I think I am," Hermione said, hoping she sounded surer of herself than she was, "I know how to get around and I have my Sightstick and my charms. I'm blind, not stupid."
"I had an Unspeakable friend of mine from the Ministry place protective wards all around the windows and doors, too," Harry said, hugging Hermione tightly, "I checked them and they're very strong. I want you to be safe. I want you to feel safe. I want…."
I want the old Hermione back.
The words hung between them, unsaid, but Hermione could hear them anyway.
"I know, Harry," she said softly, her hand curling tightly on the doorknob where he couldn't see. "I...need some time."
"Take care of yourself, Hermione," Harry said, as he walked down the stairs and stepped out onto the gravel walkway. Hermione couldn't see what he was doing, but the creak of wood and the sound of crunching gravel under boots was unmistakeable.
"You too!" she replied, forcing herself to wave.
"I'll come check on you if I don't hear from you!" Harry called out, farther away. Then, with a resounding crack, Hermione knew that she was alone.
One of the things that Hermione hadn't realized was that being blind was equal parts terrifying and boring. Terrifying because even with the aids she'd been given, navigating new places was difficult, especially when there were a lot of people around. Not being able to see others' faces was hard, especially since she could only discern the difference between people by the sound and direction of their voices. But the worst part was the boredom. The transcription charm was really only good for short notes and letters. Reading books with it was a pain, and Hermione couldn't research or do much in the way of studying without a good way of discerning the information in the books she wished to read.
Which was why she had decided to go on a walk. And now, she was fairly certain that she was lost. The path she was walking on seemed to be fairly narrow, and she could feel branches brushing against her robes and arms from time to time, but she still couldn't really tell where she was. Just as she thought she might send her Patronus for help, she heard a whining noise coming from her left. Something sounded like it was in terrible pain.
Hermione, not wanting to leave something suffering, started in the direction of the noise. She could, after all, just send a Patronus for help, regardless of where she was.
There it was again. A whining noise and the sound of a tail beating against the ground rapidly.
"Woof!" A bark and then a whine.
"Hello there, puppy," she said, bending down and blindly holding her hand out for the animal to sniff. "I don't mean any harm."
She winced, wondering if perhaps the animal was not a dog at all and might bite her, but moments later, she felt the curious wet, warm nose sniffing her fingers and a tiny lick on her fingers before the animal seemed to lie down and whine again.
"May I touch you?" she asked, knowing full well that dogs couldn't talk, "I can't...see, you see." Reaching into her jacket, Hermione felt for the miniature pockets she'd sewed inside of it, each one with a raised bump pattern reminiscent of braille. She grabbed the vial that she needed and pulled it out.
"Dittany," she said, "for wounds."
The dog whined again and she could hear the tail beating against the ground.
Whap whap whap whap.
Hermione got down onto her knees and felt gently across the dog's body as it wagged its tail and whined in pain. It was a lot larger than she'd originally assumed, more like a wolfhound than a terrier, but it was very docile. Its fur was matted in many places, and from the feeling of its prominent ribs, it was obvious that it hadn't eaten in a long time. When Hermione's hand came to rest on the underside of its throat, it yelped in pain. There was a deep cut that had nearly closed over, but felt hot with infection. Hermione felt a stab of anger at this. Why would anyone treat a dog with such cruelty? She knew that the poor animal would die if she didn't do something immediately.
"I'm going to put on this medicine now," she explained, hoping the animal wouldn't bite her in fear, "It may hurt a bit, but I promise that it will make you feel better."
Somehow, even though she was alone in the woods with an unknown dog, she felt more useful than she had in months. Even though she was unable to see anything, she still could do good, and it made her heart swell.
Spreading the dittany across the wound, she felt with her fingers as it closed up and grew cooler until it matched the temperature of the rest of the dog's body. The animal licked her face and she could hear the tail going a mile a minute before she heard it running around in the underbrush, leaving her behind.
"Well," she said, pulling herself up to her feet, "I suppose I'd better head back home. Wherever home is."
Suddenly, Hermione felt herself growing cold with fear. She couldn't do this. Why had she thought she was useful at all?
"I'd better send out a patronus so that Harry can come and get me," she muttered bitterly to herself.
But, just as she raised her Sightstick, she heard a soft noise at her leg.
The dog had returned.
It stood at her side, pressing its back against her hand and whuffed softly again.
"What...do you want me to follow you?" Hermione asked skeptically.
She began to wonder, though, if perhaps this dog was like Fang. Perhaps it was trained to help people, like those dogs in the mountains that ran around with brandy containers around their necks.
The dog bumped against her gently and she smiled for the first time in what felt like forever.
"Okay! Okay!" she said, her hand resting on its back. "Lead the way, then!"
The dog never walked too quickly for Hermione to keep up. Sometimes, the Sightstick chimed when branches were hanging too low or there was a rock in the pathway, but the dog never ran ahead until the end. But by that time, Hermione had felt the familiar gravel of her front walk under her feet and she grinned with excitement upon realizing that the dog had somehow led her home. Touching the railing on the stairs that led into the cottage, she felt the wards drop and accept her into the house. She made a strange motion with her stick to admit the dog, which was now gamboling around her ankles and making loud, busy sniffing noises.
With a happy bark, it ran ahead of her and waited on the front porch next to her front door to be let in.
"Well, well," she said, "Aren't you just the gentleman? Or gentlewoman, not sure what gender you are. Don't you have an owner? A master?"
The dog made a groaning, growling noise and then whined softly.
Hermione decided that was good enough a reply for her. Whoever would leave a frightened and injured animal in the woods alone to die was not the sort of person she wanted having their dog back.
"Well, then," she said decisively, "you can stay. First things first, though. You are obviously in grave need of a bath."
Hermione had underestimated how difficult it would be to get a large dog to take a bath, and was coming to the realization that sight had very little to do with it.
First, she'd tried cajoling the animal into the bathtub with a warm, comfortable bubble bath. That had not worked at all. Then, she'd tried using food as a bribe. This worked until the food was gone, and the dog had refused to jump into the tub itself. FInally, Hermione simply levitated the beast, though she had trouble figuring out the logistics of how to get it through the door. This time, however, she had the good sense to close the bathroom door behind her, so after a lot of wrangling and exertion, she finally had the dog in the bathtub, and began to wash it all over. The fur under the dog's belly was terribly matted, and Hermione had to use a lot of her own detangling conditioner on it. She found out that the dog was male this way, accidentally scrubbing a bit too far down until she realized exactly what she'd rubbed her hand over.
"OH MY!" she exclaimed, blushing at first, then realizing that she needed to scrub that area as well, and it was just an animal after all, she did what needed to be done, finding a number of burrs that had worked their way down around the sides and could not have been comfortable at all. When she was done, a large, wet dog shook himself all over her before she could cast a Drying Charm, but that was fine. She didn't have a brush for him, so she simply used her own, and soon, he felt soft and fine, just like she imagined a dog ought to feel.
Hermione was somewhat glad that she couldn't see the mess in her bathroom. She felt around for the biggest clumps of hair and put them in a pile, Vanishing them away with her wand. Then, she washed her hands while the dog mulled around her feet sniffing and sniffing and bumping his head against her leg.
"I know, I know," she said, "You're hungry. Let's get you something to eat."
The meat in the fridge was no match for a hungry dog. Hermione felt around in the meat bin but all that was left were some defrosting bacon slices that she had been saving for the next morning. She considered tossing an apple towards the dog, but didn't trust herself. Not being able to see where she was throwing would probably end up in disaster.
Satisfied and fed, Hermione and the dog retired to the sitting room. Hermione sat in her chair and put her feet up, using magic to set a roaring fire in the fireplace. She could hear the dog turning around and flopping down in front of the fireplace even though she couldn't see it.
"Well, then, what about a name, then?" she asked aloud.
"Whuff," the dog replied tiredly.
"I can't very well just call you "Boy! Or Dog!" Hermione mused, "How about Spot?"
The dog let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a derisive snort.
"Okay, okay, Spot is out! After all, I don't even know what you look like," Hermione laughed, "Then...what about Bobby?"
The derisive snort emanated from the dog again as he let out a loud doggy yawn.
"Well, that's out, then," Hermione said, "Hmmm, well, I could name you Forest. After all, that's where I found you."
All she heard was the soft thudding of a dog's tail wagging and she smiled as she thought of the happiness she'd brought to such a smart, kind creature.
"All right, then," she said with a yawn before she snuggled into the chair and began to doze. "Forest it is."
Forest proved to be a very special partner in the weeks and months to come. When Harry first met him, he'd marveled at the giant black dog, who was indeed nearly as big as an Irish Wolfhound. Forest was still very scrawny, but he was still very strong due to his size. He moved like a dog half his size, though, and Hermione marveled at how he moved around the small cottage without knocking things over when she still had some trouble with that.
But the most important part about Forest was that he gave her the confidence to go out in public on her own. She still couldn't Floo very well, but she could finally walk into Hogsmeade and do her daily shopping without worrying about getting turned around. Forest was also large enough to wear saddlebags for her groceries, and he carried them home without complaint.
"You've really improved these past few months," Harry said one day during an afternoon tea session, "I feel like you're really getting your confidence back too, Hermione! It really makes me happy to see you like this!"
Hermione smiled behind her teacup, feeling Forest's big head resting on her foot.
"He's always with me. He sleeps at the foot of my bed, takes me out and about, and stays with me no matter what," she said, feeling serene, "He's my eyes and my friend in a way I didn't realize that I needed until I found him."
"But...what about as your sight returns?" Harry asked concernedly, "You're not going to get rid of him, are you?"
Hermione could feel Forest tense under her foot and she shook her head violently.
"No! No matter what, he always has a place in my home," she replied calmly, bending down to pet Forest gently behind the ears. She smiled as he relaxed and the sound of his tail beating rapidly on the floor filled her ears.
"That's good to hear," Harry replied, his smile evident in the sound of his voice, "I'm just so glad to see you happy, Hermione. Which reminds me, I have a present for you."
"What is it?" Hermione asked, bending forward curiously, even though she knew that she couldn't see it any better if she did that.
There was a sound like paper unwrapping and something was placed in Hermione's hands.
"Feel it, Hermione," he said proudly.
Hermione ran her fingers along the spine to ensure that the book was oriented the right way up and then she ran her fingers across the top.
"Bartleby's Advanced Blind Spellbook: Complex Spells and Enchantments for the Visually Impaired Magic-User!" Hermione exclaimed. "Thank you, Harry! I've been looking for this for awhile, but they're always out of it at the bookstore!"
"It was hard for me to track down, but for you, anything," Harry said bashfully.
Hermione could barely wait to look at the book, but she politely finished tea with Harry and wished him well.
"You know, Hermione, I know it's silly to say, but I wish someone looked at me the way that Forest looks at you," Harry said as he left, giving her a tight hug.
"I can't exactly see it myself, but I think I know what you mean," Hermione replied, grinning as Forest bumped his head into her hand and she stroked the soft fur behind his ears in a way that had become a soothing action for them both. "He protects me, and I love him for it."
The sound of Forest's tail slapping against the floor told Hermione that the feeling was mutual.
Nearly nine months after her attack, Hermione was beginning to see blobs in addition to the movement of objects, and it was making her very excited. Even vague colors had begun to fill the shapes if she stared intently at them. Still, she tried not to get her hopes up too much. The damage was so far reaching that a year had been the shortest period of time that St. Mungos had been able to estimate it would take for her to recover. Really, it would probably be something more like two years or even three. But as long as Forest was there, helping her get things she needed, or navigating spaces in public, Hermione knew that she would be fine.
There was something about Forest that gave her a feeling of freedom that the Sightstick, spells and even learning spaces (such as her own home's layout) did not. Having another being care for her without judgment or a cruel word was heavenly. She hated the stares she knew she was getting when she walked around in public. She knew that people said things about her, and her hearing had become ever sharper as she'd been without her sight.
She did hate when people crowded around Forest, or tried to grab at him while he was helping her. He was generally very patient with children, but adults got growled at. People did tend to talk to her more because she had a dog, though. It helped her feel less visible in a negative way. Instead of staring at her facial scars, people looked at her dog with his saddlebags and asked questions about him, which, she supposed, was preferable to being whispered about.
In short, she was beginning to think that she couldn't live without him.
So, as her sight began to come back to the point that she could finally see him, a fuzzy black blob at her feet, she couldn't help but throw her arms around him and call him a pretty boy over and over again, even as his tail went thump thump thump on the floor at her praise.
After not being able to see well for so long, Hermione began to wear dark glasses when she was outside, because the light strained her eyes. She still avoided looking in mirrors, though. She knew that she looked terrible, even though she'd grown her hair out and kept it parted down both sides of her face.
It became easier and easier to navigate the world as her sight got better, and soon, Hermione merely had to wear a pair of thick oval-shaped glasses on her eyes. She cried when she could finally read a book again, and spent hours rereading her favorite books over again simply because now she could. Now, she and Forest could take long jogs through the forest together, because she didn't have to worry about tripping on her own two feet. They spent days in the garden, which Hermione could finally tend to properly, and their evenings in the study, sitting before the fire. Hermione was filled with a peace that she hadn't felt since long before the war.
One morning, Hermione woke up alone.
"Forest?" she called out, as she fastened her glasses over her eyes. But she couldn't hear the scramble of clawed feet coming to greet her.
Hermione's heart raced in her chest. She pulled her robes on and dashed through the cottage, but Forest was nowhere to be seen. There was, however, a folded piece of parchment on the desk, but she didn't pay it any mind at first. She went outside, calling in the early morning light, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Finally, she sat at her desk, trying to think of what to put on a Lost Dog poster, when she saw the folded parchment and picked it up.
"Hermione," she read, looking at the spidery handwriting on the outside of the paper. She unfolded it and began to read.
"My Dearest Hermione,
It is my fault that I allowed myself to stay for so long, but I simply couldn't bring myself to leave before. Now, though, you do not need me. When you saved my life, I found myself finally able to think beyond simply trying to survive, and I pledged to take care of you until you no longer had need of me. It took me awhile to be able to turn back into my regular form, but now I can do it seamlessly, and though I've been putting it off for weeks and weeks, I know now that I must leave and stop leeching off of your hospitality. You do not truly know who has shared your bed for the past year, whose head you've stroked so lovingly, and whose eyes have always been looking for you even if you could not see them. I am sure that if you did, you would hate me just as much as everyone else. I know that you often doubt yourself, but I see a wonderful, talented and kind witch who deserves all of the happiness in the world. So, please, move on and welcome a more worthy curr into your home, one who deserves what you have to offer and does not rely on deceit to keep you close. I shall never forget you, Hermione. Nor shall I ever forget your kindness.
My love always,
Hermione squinted at the end of the letter, and her eyes went wide. Then...her dog...had been….
She flipped back to the beginning of the letter and read it again and again. Something about the letter struck her as vaguely familiar. The handwriting looked like something she'd seen before. And the fact that Forest had signed his name with two S's in parentheses gave her pause. They were his true name's initials, that much she was sure. At first she thought that he might be on the animagus registry, but then she realized that she was probably wasting her time. Anyone trapped as a dog bleeding in the woods and then proceed to live with someone for more than a year did not sound like the sort of person to register their form with the Ministry.
It wasn't until that evening when Hermione was poring over some notes she'd kept from school on animagi, when she'd pulled out an old DADA paper that had notes in the margin that looked suspiciously familiar.
Her face went deathly pale as she realized exactly who had been living with her and guiding her while she'd been unable to see.
"No," she whispered, tracing her finger over the two S's written in spidery script at the top of her paper and then doing the same with the two S's written at the bottom of Forest's letter. "Alive? But how?"
It was then, as her heart thudded with loneliness and loss, that she realized the truth of what she'd known all along. She loved him.
"But he obviously doesn't care enough to tell me the truth himself," she said bitterly, drawing her legs up to her chin and hating herself for the hot tears that came soon after, "Ah...I'm just a mess, aren't I, Forest?"
And then she realized that Forest was well and truly gone.
She fell asleep only when the tears would no longer come.
A knock came at the door, startling her awake. She'd fallen asleep on the chair, her face crusted over with old tears, and she knew that she looked awful. Pulling her glasses off of the table beside her, she put them on, not caring that her hair was sticking up at odd angles and her robes were disheveled.
"Who is it?" She screeched through the door, hoping that they'd use their good sense and leave her the hell alone.
"Please." The voice was quiet, but she knew it in a heartbeat, her chest growing tight as she struggled to undo the locks on the door.
She looked up at him, straightening her glasses nervously. He stood outside on the front porch, holding something in his arms. Something black and squirmy.
"I...felt terrible for just leaving you alone," he said flatly, not meeting her gaze. "I needed to find...a suitable replacement."
He handed over the puppy, which licked her face and wagged its tail exuberantly against her.
"I...I'll go now," he continued, turning.
"Wait." Hermione could see him freeze immediately at the word.
"I know that you hate me, but...please...let me remember what it was like to be cared for," he said, his voice growing higher until it cracked slightly. "I do not think I can bear to see your face if it is as full of betrayal as your voice."
"I do not hate you, Forest...er...Professor?" Hermione paused, unsure of what to call him now that she knew the truth.
"Just...call me Severus," he said, his voice full of defeat as he stared at his shoes.
"I'm shocked, angry, yes. But...I could never hate you. Do you hear me? Never!" Hermione replied, taking a step towards him.
He shrunk back against one of the railings of the porch, his hair hiding his eyes.
"I lied to you. I didn't tell you the truth. I just...I loved being with you so much, being actually kind to someone who saved my worthless life...and I...I just couldn't stop….it was...addictive."
"I know," Hermione said, cuddling the puppy, "It was for me too. It...is."
He looked up and she could see the pain in his eyes, but also a bright, shining sense of hope.
"Come in, Severus," she said softly, "come in and we'll start over again."
"What about..?" he stared at the puppy for a moment as though unsure as to what he should do next.
"We're keeping her, of course!" Hermione exclaimed, "After all, she needs someone to teach her how to be a good companion, and I happen to know a dog who has a penchant for melodrama but is a wonderful teacher all the same."
"But surely you can't-!" Hermione grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him towards the door, her heart surging as he followed her easily inside.
"I can and I will," Hermione said, smirking up at him. "After all, didn't you write in your note that I am amazing and talented? I hope those weren't simply vacuous words to fill up space."
"N-never!" he stuttered, looking at her fiercely, "I...I meant every word."
"Then come here," she said, opening her arms, "It's been far too long."
"I…" He stood back, looking sheepish.
"I don't care what form you take," Hermione said with a small smile, "I love you."
And just like that, he'd closed the distance between them and scooped her up in his arms, squeezing her tightly as a small black puppy ran around their feet barking excitedly.
Then there were two black dogs, running in dizzying circles around Hermione as she spun and laughed merrily, knowing now that all was right with the world.
Wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag wag.
Hermione's heart filled to bursting as she welcomed them both to their forever home.