A/N: Halp! I'm publishing unsupervised.
Spiders: Quick, get out the net! Oh noe!
Beta Love: AHHHHH! I'm all alone today! *flail* | Oops, I was caught. The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard
A Short Story (Well for me…)
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. —Mark Twain
Hermione worked her way across the yard, her hands feeling her way across the stone wall. A patch of moss, a rough patch, a smooth patch, and a dip in the stone—
She felt the sun on her face and smiled. When she closed her eyes she could imagine the light filtered through her eyelids staining it crimson with blood. If she thought just right, she remembered what it was like to see the sunlight when her eyes opened. She could remember the play of light between the branches of the forest.
As she opened her eyes, the world was still as dark as it has always been since then—
Scream widdle Mudblood!
Scream for me!
And scream she had. At times, it felt she still was. She had felt Bellatrix push in her eyes with— something.
Such bright and shiny eyes. I'll make them even shinier. Only I'll be able to see them, Mudblood. Because you don't deserve to. Maybe I'll have your head mounted on my wall. Just. Like. A. House. Elf. So I can see your shiny eyes forever.
She'd screamed until her voice and throat were raw. She'd screamed as the blood streamed from her bloody eye sockets.
She'd screamed and screamed until Dobby had suddenly grabbed her and the cold tug of the elf's Apparate carried her away.
Now wot' re we gonna do, 'arry? She's bloody useless now! She can't even see!
Hermione sighed. So many things had changed since Harry and Ron had left on their quest to end Voldemort, leaving her behind at the cottage with Bill, Fleur, Luna, and Ollivander— though she hadn't realised it until weeks after— when she'd finally woken up and realised that her eyes were open but, oh Merlin, she couldn't see!
Now, nearly two years later, she felt she could almost see through her fingers and the way the wind blew around objects to touch her skin. She was used to seeing without seeing.
There was a soft brush of velvet against her hand, and she smiled, drawing her hand across the soft skin just before—
Velvety lips sputtered her face and she snorted, shoving the muzzle away.
"Hello, you," she said. Her fingers moved up the great beast's muzzle, and she felt the brush of its lashes and the fuzz of its ears. It nickered, and she pulled a piece of watermelon out of her enchanted pocket, sharing it with the food-seeking beast.
Lip. Lip. Lip.
The nimble lips curved around the slice as crunching followed, a stream of juice trickling down her fingers.
"You're messy," she complained as she ate the other piece she was hoarding in her pocket. As she got to the rind, those lips came seeking, skillfully snagging the rind and making it disappear with crunching noises. "You realised what a strange beast you are, right? What kind of a wild horse just saunters up to people and steals their watermelon?"
Her watermelon-savouring friend nickered and snuffled her face, making her giggle softly. She placed her hand on the horse's shoulder and walked forward, and the horse moved along with her, keeping its body close enough for her to lean on as she wished.
"The waves sound pretty rough today," she said, cocking her head to listen. The water pounded the shore a little more fiercely. The lake was, at least as far she knew, almost eerily calm on most days. Usually the sound was soft and burbling. The marsh lay but a stone's throw in the other direction, setting her abode nestled between lake and marsh, with the swamp acting as a strange, natural barrier to most guests. There was a path, she knew, but she had no idea what it looked like to thought with sight. She only knew how it felt under her feet and the shift of scents of the area she walked. She rarely hurried, however. If it was an emergency, she would have to Apparate and pray that Minerva hadn't put a coffee table where there hadn't been one previously.
Hermione knew she probably wouldn't do that, however. The war was still lingering on like a bad cold that simply refused to give up the ghost. There were still Death Eaters out and about, doing their best to terrorise the British magical world, refusing to believe their Dark Lord was actually dead.
Hell, even Hermione herself wasn't sure if the Dark Lord was well and truly dead. She hadn't heard so much as a peep from Harry or Ron ever since they'd left. Bill and Fleur had brought her to and set her up in the cottage by the lake, but short of bringing boxes of food and supplies and an occasional bit of news, they didn't visit all that often. It was still too dangerous with Hermione being a wanted blood criminal, Mudblood, and whatever other crime they wanted to tack on to the already lengthy list of accusations and epithets. Minerva would sneak a house elf out with food and things whenever she could, and Hermione had come to appreciate the house elves a bit more as a kind of lifeline— regretting her adamant attempts to end house-elf slavery without even thinking the elves well and truly wanted to be helpful more often than not.
Warm movements brushed against her, and she realised she was surrounded. Equine shapes— a herd— grazed around her, but her one particular friend stayed by her.
"You don't have to baby me," Hermione said. "As much as I do appreciate the shoulder to lean on."
Warm snuffling encompassed her ear, giving her lip nips. Hermione snorted and patted the warm neck. She walked with the horse over to the area she had set out to be her outdoor brewing area. The top was sheltered from the elements, but it was apart from her living space just in case something went wrong and caught her setup on fire. She didn't brew anything overly complex, but she was getting pretty talented in recognising the change in how a potion sounded instead of seeing it. She worked on healing salves and tinctures, lotions, and even soaps— keeping busy made her feel less of an invalid or waste of space.
She'd sniff each bottle and feel how much ingredient she needed in her palm. Only sometimes, she'd be almost ready to put something in the cauldron and a rough nose would shove her arm away with a disgruntled whicker and snort.
It was pretty bad, she thought often, that a horse seemed far better at brewing than most people.
Even more strange was that the horse was always right.
The new side business was actually bringing in quite a bit of Muggle money as well as considerable galleons from orders filled anonymously via owl post to Marshlight Concoctions. One bath soap in particular had been inspired by her equine friend's distinctive scent of fresh herbs, warm spice, and musk. It was so wildly popular that she could barely keep any back for herself. She even had a small exchange with a local goat farmer to get the fresh milk for her soap. Everybody won.
She realised with some consternation that she had no idea where she actually was. She could apparate if she had to because she knew what her home "felt like" but she had no idea where she really was or even if she was somewhere in Cornwall near Shell Cottage. She couldn't smell the sea, so she figured she was somewhere with a lake and bog— which didn't narrow anything down at all. She couldn't very well ask the villagers where she was without sounding really, really stupid. "Hey, what village is this?" "Um, you don't know where you live?"
Good one, Hermione, she admonished herself. That would certainly go over well.
As she neared the lake, her toes hit the water, and she shivered. The water was much colder than usual, and she had to brace herself to get used to the chill. She slipped on an algae covered rock, but her hands grasped the equine's mane to stop her fall. It nickered at her, nosing her gently.
She imagined that the horse was more concerned about its mane than her, but part of her liked to think it cared enough to stick closer to her just because it wanted to. She placed her hand on its warm neck and patted. "I'm okay. Sorry I yanked on you like that."
The nose returned, whufting her hair and lipping her nose with a fwup fwup sound. She gave the invading muzzle a soft pat before sitting on the shore with her legs in the water. She listened to the sound of footfalls around her as equine legs moved around in the water. The whole herd milled about her, and she wondered if somehow she had ended up on the island of wild horses whose name she had utterly forgotten. Then again, if they were wild, she thought, why were they okay with her?
A smaller muzzle snuffled her hair, chomping on something that had been stuck in her hair. When she reached up to pat it, she gained a happy whicker and a playful tug.
"Oi, what's with you?" Hermione laughed as another small head thumped into her chest and pressed a thick mane into her face.
"Mmmph," Hermione said giving the head a pat and hug. The mane was encrusted with vines and plant matter, and the horse smelled of earth and water. They all did. It was a strangely distinctive odour of vegetation laden with water— the spice of a healthy lake.
They whickered and snorted around her, their heads dipping down and ripping plants from the water. She could hear them slosh chomping on the watered vegetation.
"Do horses normally eat water plants?" Hermione asked out loud, not expecting an answer. One of them pressed a mouthful of water weeds to her face.
"Mmfph! No thank you, love," she said. "I appreciate the offer."
Disappointed nickering and another shove of waterlogged plantlife hit her face.
Hermione sighed and stuck a leaf into her mouth to satisfy the silly foal. Satisfied nickering sounded off all around her, and she shook her head. It was odd, but, the horses seemed to be like concerned family members, making sure she was surrounded like a water buffalo herd circling their vulnerable calf. Did they realise she was blind? Did they just think she needed a bit of mothering?
It wasn't like she really minded. They helped stave off the aching loneliness while the aftermath of the second war tapered off and the newer and more insidious third had seemingly taken its place. Why else would Harry and Ron not even visited?
Hermione sighed. Her heart knew the real reason.
Now wot' re we gonna do, 'arry? She's bloody useless now! She can't even see!
If they had really needed her, they would have come. Even Minerva managed to pop in for a visit from time to time, even if it was only to curl up next to her as she slept in her tabby form. She would often leave sometime before dawn, but Hermione would smell the scent of cinnamon, tea and feline warmth that became Minerva and feel the light brush of her fur against her face.
Crookshanks would've done the same, but Hermione had never found him after the Burrow was burned down by Death Eaters. He was far too smart to not find her if he had somehow managed to survive. Bill had said he hadn't seen him the last time he went back to visit the reconstructed Burrow. Sad as it was, she knew if her ginger-furred friend could have, he would have surely found a way to return to her side.
Hermione tried to stand but her legs were as wobbly as a newborn foal's. She staggered and a warm body was instantly there to catch her. "I'm such a klutz," she muttered as she found herself sprawled over the back of one of the apparently very patient and attentive equines. The equine nickered, and as she tried to orient herself, she ended up on its back as she hugged its warm neck. Her hands curled around the greenery-entwined mane, but its body was reassuringly warm and solid. Her fingers tangled in the plants that seemed to weave in and out of the hair, and she lay her head against the equine's warm neck, listening to the lungs sounding off like a bellows to a fire.
The equine moved forward and she gasped, clinging like a burr to the horse's neck with a sense of growing panic. Never before had she ever attempted to ride any of her wild friends. She'd taken riding lessons as a child; her parents had insisted. Like most young girls, she had loved horses and riding. But then— she'd been able to see.
Now, her arms wrapped around the horse' neck and her fingers curled in the mane, she felt like she was at the equine's mercy as to where she went. Yet—
The horse's steps were slow, allowing her to settle into the comfortable rhythm of its gait. She heard the soft hoofbeats of the others around her and the soft nipping of a number of flexible lips as they played with her hands. She gradually loosened her death grip on the mane and sat up, allowing herself to settle more naturally on the horse's back. The feel of the muscles moving under her was calming. It felt good to feel the breeze against her skin and the soft warmth of the living, breathing things around her.
The horse' pace slowed, and she recognised the sweet scent of the fanged geraniums that hung near her garden door. She smiled as she moved to touch her legs down to the ground, sliding off the horse's back as she did so. "Thank you," she said stroking the animal's mane with her fingers. She dipped her hand into the bowl of water she kept near the door, and drizzled it over the geraniums, feeling their flowers bump up against her fingers as they eagerly drank in the water.
She felt around the shelf around the door and found the small box and the latch. She opened it and pulled out a few sugar cubes, closing the lid as she held her palm out. Velvet lips hoovered up the sweet treats from her skin with tender flup flup flups.
Hermione smiled, patting the top of the horse' head and down the neck and scratched the shoulder where another horse would usually nip to groom a fellow equine.
"Thanks everyone," she said as she walked into her cottage, feeling around to make her way inside. The soft hoofbeats started to wander out of her garden, disappearing to wherever they went when they weren't milling about around her.
As she walked in, an owl hooted from outside. She turned slowly, feeling her way back outside. She followed the owl's calls, her hands feeling for the perch she had set up for the owls whenever she got mail. Preserved frog legs and owl nuts waited in a bowl for any postal owls that made deliveries. She rarely ever got mail, though. Minerva, Bill, and Fleur sent whisper Patroni, knowing it was easier for her to hear messages.
As her hands ran into the perch, she felt upward and her fingers met the owl's taloned feet.
"Hello," she said, feeling for the scroll and taking it from the hungry bird. She felt for the bowl and pulled out a tasty frog leg. The scroll was tightly wrapped, and she wondered what it said, but it would take a spell to read whatever writing was on it, and her wand was carefully stashed in the drawer in her nightstand.
As she felt around the scroll, her fingers ran into the ribbon and wax seal, and she tilted her head. She wondered who would send such a formal scroll. She felt around the wax seal, trying to discern the shape of it. It wasn't Hogwarts, that much she knew, and Harry and Ron weren't the type to mess about with niceties like ribbon and wax seals. Curiosity chewing on her, she worked the seal with her fingers, prying it off so she could run her fingers across the parchment.
The scroll shuddered and she cried out as the scroll seemed to lunge and clamp onto her hands, a sensation not terribly unlike when Hagrid's infamous Monstrous Book of Monsters had taken a bite out of her. Blood trickled down onto the parchment, and a sizzling hot rush of powerful magic exploded outwards from the scroll.
Hermione gave a choking cry as a thin cord went around her neck and tightened.
"Hewwo, widdle biddy Mudblood," a horrifyingly familiar voice cooed, instantly turning Hermione's blood to ice. "I've been searching alllllllllllllllllllll over for you."
Bellatrix jerked the cord tighter around Hermione's throat as she sent out a blast of her own magic, destroying the delicately woven magicks Bill had woven to protect Hermione from detection and random Apparitions.
Apparate after Apparate came in as multiple people materialised to surround them. Hermione felt the tension in the air rise around her as the level of menace ratcheted steadily upwards. She clawed at her neck, kicking her legs out as she fought with all she had to loosen the tightening noose. She felt the familiar sting of something digging into her flesh, and she tried to scream, but her air was cut off.
"Always finish what we start, right Mudblood," Bellatrix hissed merrily. "We just couldn't let the one who escaped get away with it, hrm? HRM?!" She jerked the cord tighter and dug the knife in deeper.
Hermione whimpered, hot tears streaming down her face.
"Aw, look, widdle Mudblood can still cry, even though I took out her pretty eyes," Bellatrix gloated, grinning maniacally. She jerked the line tight again as Hermione began to turn blue. "That's okay, though. The ones I gave you are so. Much. Better. Even if a dirty little whore like you could never use them."
Hermione's tears streamed down, her eyelids squeezed tightly shut as she strained against Bellatrix.
"Your lucky little friends may have managed to kill our beloved Lord, but he will be reborn just like the last time… but this time with your blood that I will drain from your lily-white neck after I take off your pretty little head. Then, I can bring out our Lord in Harry Potter through his iddle biddle magical head, and our Lord will rise again, triumphant, to unleash His justice upon all of you filthy pathetic Mudblood scum!"
The sound of swift hoofbeats rang out on the damp earth with multiple sloshing noises.
"Muggles are coming!" a male voice cried excitedly. "Probably out hunting a fox! We should play with them!"
Bellatrix hissed lowly, but then she began to cackle a little, bouncing on her toes even as she loosened the noose just the tiniest bit. Hermione desperately gasped for air, coughing painfully.
"Go and greet them properly," Bellatrix said, cackling with sadistic glee. "Ickle Mudblood and I need some private time together." She shooed them off as she dragged Hermione behind the cottage.
The gathered Death Eaters eagerly rushed off to meet the Muggle hunters on horseback.
As Bellatrix dragged Hermione along with her, she found herself face to face with a tall, shaggy-maned black horse with lake weed tangled in his mane.
"Aw, look, Mudblood," Bellatrix cooed. "You have yourself a widdle horsey. Maybe I should kill it while you watch— oh wait, you can't watch, can you?. Oops. Maybe I should kill it anyway while you listen. Besides, when you're gone, it won't have anyone to take care of it, isn't that so sad," the unhinged witch giggled hysterically.
Suddenly, there were terror-filled screams that seemed to come from somewhere near the marsh. Bellatrix jerked Hermione tight. "Aw, that would be your erstwhile rescue party, wouldn't it," she giggled. "Such a shame they're all going to die."
The horse, its eyes fixed unerringly on Bellatrix, steadily walked closer.
"Aw, look, your poor widdle horsey wants to die too," Bella cried excitedly. "I think I'll oblige him. Listen well, pretty Mudblood." She pointed her wand at the black horse until it touched the horse's forehead.
"Cruciaaaaaahhhh!" Bellatrix shrieked as a slithery black goo gushed over her wand and hand like living tar, holding her fast. She tried to free herself, but as her other hand touched the horse, it sunk into the "body" with a deep schlucking sound.
The horse roared, rearing up, and Bellatrix's body slammed into the horse's breast— and stuck there. Her wild, frizzy hair was likewise plastered to the horse's graceful neck, her screaming face stuck fast to the side of it.
"What is this?!" Bellatrix screamed as the horse bolted off at top speed, jumping over the stone fence and barrelling headlong into the marsh.
The horse plowed into the deep marsh until its body was submerged up to its chin and then even that disappeared under the solid, organic sludge.
Hermione gasped for breath as she pulled the cord from around her neck with trembling hands. Then her hands fell, propping her up over the damp earth as her chest heaved spasmodically. Her arm bled where the knife had cruelly dug into her again, but the pain from that seemed far lesser than the burning agony of each breath.
The screams abruptly stopped, and the voice that had tormented her nightmares for nights on end finally disappeared as well. She crawled slowly along the ground, wincing as every single breath felt like she was being stabbed all over again. It was a long way back to her bedside table to get her wand, and her trembling body was protesting mightily with every movement.
A soft clopping drew near again, and soft lips nuzzled against her skin. Whickers sounded all around her, and she collapsed onto the ground, wheezing painfully. It hurt far too much to move.
Soft nudges hit her arm, hands, and face. She slowly touched the nearest velvet nose near her face, and she reached out one hand to tenderly stroke its questing muzzle.
"Thank you," she whispered, placing a heartfelt kiss upon its velvety upper lip.
At the same time, unbeknownst to Hermione, Bellatrix Lestrange and the group of Death Eaters gave up their last breath to the swamp. A blast of heat and magic blew out from the marsh and spread through the entire lake so bright that the distant looming castle of Hogwarts glowed brightly, separated by large expanse of thick marshlands that had both protected and sheltered Hermione and her private cottage from both the school and prying eyes.
"Don't you TOUCH me, Severus!" a flaming haired woman with piercing green eyes yelled. "I'm done with you. I don't care what you say. You called me a.. a…"
"I didn't mean to!"
"There is nothing you do that you do not MEAN, Sev. Nothing. Even if you only meant it in that moment. Even if you only think it was the heat of the moment!"
"Lily, please," the pale young wizard pleaded. "I didn't mean it. Please don't cast aside our entire childhood because of my mistake. One mistake!"
"Oh, don't think I don't know about your other mistakes, Sev," Lily said accusingly. "You and the other boys going at each other like eye for an eye making the whole world blind."
"Lily—" Severus said, falling to his knees beside her. "I've tried to give you space, and I know you are getting married— but can we please, please talk about what happened two years ago? We're moving on from Hogwarts now. Can we please, please move on from this wound that never seems to heal?"
He stood, trying to touch her arm.
Lily whirled as her magick flared in her ire, matching the colour of her flaming hair. "You are nothing but poison, Sev." She grabbed his tie and jerked him towards her so she could snarl in his face. "You grab onto the things that trust you, and you drag them down to drown. And maybe you need to be what you truly are to find out that no one could EVER forgive someone as sick and twisted as you."
Severus reached for her again, his face twisted in pain. "Please, Lily. I'm begging you. I would never really think of you as Mudblood. I swear it!"
Lily's magic flared with her anger, making her hair stand on end. Her wand was out, and she spat out a chain of angry latin that was barely recognisable as language. A green bolt of magic shot out of her wand and struck Severus straight to the chest.
The wizard let out a strangled cry, clawing frantically at his collar as his neck burst from it, rapidly expanding. His hands fused into hooves as his back elongated and he fell onto all fours. His robes ripped and tore as an equine scream came from his throat. His body jerked, twisted, and reformed. Dark vines and muck swirled around in the shape of a horse, fusing with the form and making a twisted, organic muck horse. As the "horse" screamed, the muck and darkness seemed to be sucked inside the horse shape, leaving a quivering black stallion in its place. Dark, black slime dripped from its mouth. His pain-filled black eyes caught hers.
It shook violently as muck and goo slithered over the creature's body, then extending to her, but Lily immediately closed her eyes and stonily turned her back to it. The un-horse's body quivered, returning slowly to a more normal equine shape.
"I found this curse in one of Sirius' books," she said, her eyes firmly shut. "It's called the 'Creatura Captionem.' I wasn't expecting you to become a Kelpie, but I do at least know one thing about Kelpies. Close your eyes before they can touch you or you touch it, and they can't drag you down into the water and drown you. Just so you don't think me entirely oblivious to our history, you do have one out. Find someone that can accept and forgive you. Someone who is willing to kiss… a monster. Then the cursed monster shall become something beautiful."
The dark stallion screamed in agony and ran straight into Black Lake, quickly disappearing beneath the roiling waves.
Lily opened her eyes finally and wiped away a single tear. "I will never forgive you."
Hermione sat on a boulder near the lake, her legs dipping into the cool water. Eyes closed, she cradled her face into her palms, listening to the sound of now human voices mulling about her. The familiar nickerings and soft noses— gone.
She sniffed, berating herself for feeling so bad that the spell had been broken. The last thing she should feel was sad that her equine friends were gone. Friends that were only there for her because they had been trapped by a curse—
The noise of multiple human voices were like a buzzing in her head, loud and rather grating to ears that had been attuned only to the gentle sounds of horses, the lake and marsh life. She listened to them scrambling to cast spells to clothe themselves, stumbling over each other. Some of them had been mates as kelpies, and they and their then-foals were trying to connect again as something completely different— trying to keep their children from running right into the lake to drown themselves.
Perhaps, she thought, they were just as awkward as she felt. They seemed to do better without human speech, choosing instead to nuzzle each other like an equine. She could hear them, the soft brush of skin against fabric, and it made her feel even lonelier.
"Hermione," a soft, low voice said, slightly rough due to lack of use.
Hermione jerked her head up, her eyes still tightly closed.
"May I touch you?"
Hermione flinched slightly, but she nodded.
A gently brush of skin drew across her cheek, a ghost of a touch like the velvet muzzle of a horse.
Hermione gasped, her hands reaching out instinctively. She touched a face and heard a sharp gasp. She immediately drew away, flinching. "I'm sorry."
Warm hands grasped hers, covering her fingers. "No, I was not expecting such warmth. I assure you, it was not unwelcome."
Hermione bit her lip, slowly reaching to touch his face, her fingers tracing hips chin, lips, nose, and eyebrows then around his eye sockets, ears. Her hands met his hair, feeling the long strands of hair that hung around his face like a mane. Then she noticed that a strand of lake weed was tangled within.
"You," she said. "It's you."
He drew nearer, the ghost of his breath tickled her cheek as his face gently, tenderly nudged her face in a familiar, equine gesture. "I'm Severus," he whispered, a tremble in his voice.
Hermione mouthed his name silently. Then, softly said, "Severus." She pressed her face into his hair as her hands clenched some strands. Her nose flared as she took in his scent— so familiar and dear to her heart. The feel of his hair, like his mane, pressed against her cheek. The warmth was the same. The comfort—
She sniffled as she pulled away reluctantly, painfully reminded that they were now free to leave her behind. Free to leave this place that she could not. They might as well have wings and she—
She might as well be a bloody tree, rooted to the very spot.
"I truly care for you, Hermione," he said, his voice but a bare whisper. "I always have. From that very first day, when you stumbled upon me, sticking your hands into my nostrils without fear. Laying yourself across my back— the way you would stand there at the lake and turn your head upwards to feel the tender warmth of sunlight. You lost your eyes, but you saw so much more. Felt so much more. You accepted all of us, and how could we not have loved you? How could I not have…"
His voice trembled and tapered off.
Hermione shuddered, her hands curling into his lush mane of long hair. "You're free now."
"Not without you."
Hermione's lips curved into a frown. "What?"
"Won't you please look at me?"
Hermione shook her head. "I can't."
"I can't!" she sobbed.
"I promise you, Hermione, you can. Trust me?"
Hermione squeezed her tears off, her empty lids tightly shut.
Equine squeals and hoofbeats sounded off around her. She heard the soft whoosh, whoosh of wingbeats. A small muzzle thumped into her head as a drippy tongue slurped across her eyelids.
"That's enough, Sherwin," Severus' voice admonished.
Unhappy nickers pouted around her, and Hermione scrunched her face in confusion. They were supposed to be human. Why weren't they human?
Another soft muzzle nudged Hermione on the temple, soft lips clomping over her curling hair and tugging it.
"Enough, Regulus! Bad enough that Sherwin can't keep his tongue to himself."
A lower grumbling nicker replied to him. The others pushed their way in, giving Hermione's face a definitive slurp. Severus sighed, pushing them away.
"Hermione," Severus said. His hands gently covered hers. "Please. Trust me."
Hermione squeezed his hand, her fingers brushing against his. Slowly, she opened her eyes to reveal the amber cabochons that Bellatrix had shoved into her eye sockets after gouging out her original brown eyes. Yet, when the sunlight hit their surface, the amber shimmered and the remnants of the creature drool seemed to seeped into the surface and "filled" the facets, turning them a deep, shimmering amber.
Hermione gasped, her breaths coming faster as she reached up to touch her eyes and then reached out to touch Severus' face.
Light formed in her vision. At first, a tiny pinprick. Then a sliver. Light, like mist swirled. Blur on top of blur. Ray of light over ray of light. A white and black blur solidified into the face of a young wizard— the face of the man who had appeared in her mind's eye the very moment she had kissed her equine saviour.
Curious equine heads lowered and stared at her. A black one, a pinto, a rusty roan and more all lingered about, wings fluttering against their bodies. Pegai. Every one of them.
"Wha?" Hermione breathed. "But I heard voices. People! I heard— you were all cured. Human again."
One of the smallest foals, a palomino, trotted up with a mouthful of water lilies and practically shoved them into her face with a happy nicker, her tiny wings flapping.
"Trust us," Severus asked, his onyx eyes warm and kind. "Trust me."
Hermione stared into his face, getting lost in the sharp angles of his face and the fathomless blackness of his eyes— eyes she had only ever imagined in the face of an equine friend.
Slowly, she nodded.
"You've always been one of us," Severus said. "Used, abused, forgotten by all those you thought you could trust. All of us have been. Regulus. Andromeda. Luna. They've all been cursed by the Black family's runaway spell, spread beyond the family."
A pale white pegasus mare nickered at her, a crown of pale pink water lilies stuck to her forelock.
"We've all been freed by you," he said. "Allow me— to free you too."
Hermione shivered, holding her arms with her hands. "I'm frightened," she admitted quietly
"We would always be with you," he said warmly. "I would always be with you."
His hand brushed against her cheek, his sharp lines on his face softening as he dropped his head. "Will you have me, Hermione?"
Hermione, trembling, touched his lips with her fingers. "Yes."
He pressed his face to her cheek, the familiar brush of skin against skin, his distinctive scent filling up her senses like the treasure it had become for her. His mouth covered hers, gentle, questing, and then they kissed. A sharp heat jolted through them and blasted outward as the herd reared around her. Hermione's body was consumed in bright golden light as rays burst from her body, and she let out a high-pitched equine scream.
As the light faded, the herd circled around the quivering form of a chestnut mare with a white star star, a chocolate mane and brown and white dappled wings. The black stallion beside her curved his neck comfortingly around her, his teeth working on her withers with tender nips. The foals nuzzled and licked her muzzle then pranced around her.
Hermione looked around her, wide-eyed. Her eyes, still the luminous amber, glistened brightly.
The foals kicked their legs up and sped off, flapping their wings wildly as they took to the air. Their parents, startled, took off after, launching in the air.
Hermione watched, trembling.
Severus nosed her, wickering. His neck curved around hers as he encouraged her, flapping his wings.
Hermione slowly took a step, another, her wings half open and then stretching fully. She flapped them experimentally.
Severus opened his wings wide and flapped them as he reared up. He used his head to push her forward, causing her to squeal as they broke into a canter and then a gallop, wings flapping. Before Hermione knew it, they were in the skies, the thermals pulling off the lake and shoving them higher into the air.
The entire herd bucked and kicked, galloping in the air as their wings carried them higher into the skies. The foals led the way, blazing the path forward with excited nickers and squeals. The adults chased, slightly more leisurely. But in the midst of the herd Severus attended his most beloved mare, flying wingtip to wingtip, keeping a touch upon her.
Meanwhile another black stallion seemed to do the same to a distinctively white mare, whose flightpath seemed to be as random as the flowers in her mane.
Meanwhile, down below, a black and white trout burst from the robes that had once clothed Bellatrix Lestrange, and other fish burst from the robes of her fellow Death Eaters. They quickly formed a school and swam frantically around the Black Lake.
A mermaid's spear thrust into the black and white fish, ending its swim as the mermaid carried its prize deep into the lake.
Meanwhile, from the very spot Bellatrix Lestrange had taken her last, waterlogged breath, another black and white trout materialised and swam back into Black Lake.
An eagle proudly carried away the new black and white trout to its nest to feed her chicks. As the mother eagle tore into the fish and fed its chicks, another black and white trout materialised in Black Lake.
Experts Proclaim Hogwarts' Black Lake Is Cursed!
A very odd phenomenon seems to be occurring in Black Lake, which is located on the hallowed grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Strangely, approximately one week ago, Death Eaters, assorted evil-doers, and Dark Wizards have simply walked themselves into the lake— and subsequently drowned.
So many have walked into the lake that Aurors have been working almost non-stop, frantically pulling out victims, all of them proving to be unsaveable. Even posting guards doesn't seem to help, as these odd, suicidal lemmings always seem to find a way to do themselves in.
Experts say the lake is cursed, and that it was caused by some some fateful event that cried out for justice, most likely somewhere nearby, but precisely what that event was, or why the curse seems to specifically affect only Death Eaters, other Dark individuals and evildoers is as yet unknown, though theories abound and speculation is running rife.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts , Albus Dumbledore, told this reporter, "Hogwarts always has been and will always be a safe haven for our precious children. There have always been the occasional odd events that tests our school's wide array of protections, but Hogwarts has always guarded its children from any and all outside threats, and we have worked very hard at protecting children from themselves on the inside. We all know that fostering positive relationships in school is what will protect our children the most both while at Hogwarts and beyond."
Headmaster Dumbledore, who had been hospitalised for over a week after using almost all of his magic to protect his students during a direct attack on Hogwarts, remains a towering pillar of strength for Hogwarts, encouraging his staff to be actively vigilant in not only guarding their students from any outside threats but simmering strife within. Many seem to think if Dumbledore is not worried about Black Lake and the children, then there truly is no danger.
At least, that is, as long as those children don't choose to dabble in the Dark Arts.
"It's been almost two years since you offed the Dark Lord, Harry," Ron whinged, shivering in the chill mist that pervaded the dark forest around them. "Surely we can go back home now?"
"We can't be sure it's safe yet," Harry gritted out for the umpteenth time as he roasted what looked like a small squirrel on a sharpened stick over the fire.
"We haven't seen a ruddy Snatcher or Death Eater in months," Ron complained bitterly. "I want to go home, Harry!"
"Don't you think I'd like to?" Harry argued, flushing with anger. "Say we do go back. What then? Death Eaters pop up for afternoon tea and kill your whole family and us besides? If you're lucky, we'll get conked out and won't feel our own deaths?"
"You killed that bloody walking snake, yeah? We should go back. Be treated like heroes!"
"You did notice the flood of angry Death Eaters out for our blood, didn't you? Or did I just dream about you grabbing me by the arm and screaming, "Run, 'arry!'?"
Ron snorted rudely, staring into the fire with a glum expression on his freckled face. "So, we what, keep hiding out here in the wilderness until they all die of old age? We should at least send a Patronus to my mum and dad. Something!"
"And what if they are under watch and your little puppy dog comes barking up to mummy and daddy in front of a Death Eater, letting them know that not only are we still alive but in contact with them too?" Harry asked irritably.
A series of snorts startled them both, and Harry whirled around, wand brandished as Ron let out a girlish scream and went tearing out of the clearing at top speed.
Embarrassingly, Harry found himself pointing his wand at a horse. Feeling pretty stupid, he sheathed his wand and took a hesitant step forward. The white horse trotted up to him and smacked him in the face with a mouthful of flowers. Harry spluttered, having been laid out flat on his arse with the wind utterly knocked out of him.
A lithe-looking black horse sidled up close to the white horse, nickering, and the white one neighed playfully, tossing her head. Then, sliding out of the woods, a chestnut mare cantered over, tossing her graceful head and nipping the white mare on the withers. The two mares squealed and reared and bucked, prancing around. It was only when a large black stallion with a long, shining mane of sable hair landed nearby, his great wings folding and disappearing as he trotted up to the chestnut mare and nickered, curving his neck around hers.
Harry tried to get up, but the white mare clocked him over the head with her chin and knocked him back down.
"Neheheheheheheeeeeeeee!" the white horse neighed.
The larger black stallion shook his head, snorting. The smaller black stallion tosses his head to hide his head with his mane. The chestnut mare snorted, seemingly in equine laughter.
"Ow!" Harry rubbed his aching skull as a tightly-wrapped scroll, dripping with equine slobber, was dropped on his head and then tumbled into his lap. He unravelled the scroll after breaking the wax seal and read.
Messrs Potter and Weasley,
After the death of Tom Riddle, whom most knew best as the self-styled Lord Voldemort, I know you went on the run due to the risk of retribution from the remaining Death Eaters. If you are reading this right now, then I know they have found you. Pegai are extremely sensitive to magical fields, and I knew if anyone could find you out in the middle of nowhere it would be them.
Please allow them to fly you to safety. They know precisely where to go. It is imperative that you go with them and do not attempt to get close to Scotland, as there are certain circumstances that may place you in grave danger you should you get too close before we can deal with your scar.
Please believe that the threat of Death Eaters has been eliminated in a rather— final manner. Your journey should be safe, provided you don't attempt to dismount mid-flight.
I await your return.
Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Harry looked around. "Ron?" he called. "RON!"
Silence, save the forest sounds and the shuffling of the pegai rustling their wings and pulling grass up with their teeth.
"RON!" he called. "We're going home! Come on, mate! Where are you?"
Harry stood up, earning himself a solid thump on the rump from the white mare that lifted him unceremoniously onto the back of the chestnut pegai. Harry flailed and then clung like a burr to the back of the flying horse's mane, squeezing his legs in instinctive response. The chestnut squealed and bucked, causing Harry to conk himself on the head on her neck.
"Sorry," he apologised, his face flushing with heat.
The chestnut curved her neck and eyed him from the side. It was only then that he realised the horse's eyes were not really eyes at all, but glowing gemstones— beautiful amber gemstones.
"Hermione?" Harry whispered.
The chestnut mare's nostrils flared, and she nickered at him.
"You're an Animagus?"
The pegai all snorted at him at once, giving him the fish eye.
Harry called out again impatiently. "RON! Come on, mate! The ride home is here!"
Frustrated, Harry pulled out his wand and yelled, "Accio Ronald Bilius Weasley!"
Several loud crashing noises heralded the arrival of the redhead in question as he smashed his way through the old-growth forest, screaming at the top of his lungs all way through. Ron's lanky body flew through the air and slammed into Harry, knocking him off his seat and into the side of their much-abused tent.
"Nnggggghf," Harry moaned. "I didn't think that was actually going to work."
The chestnut mare sighed and shook her head as the black stallions rolled their eyes, ears flattened against their heads. The white mare, however, chased butterflies and frolicked around the clearing, clearly oblivious.
Ron, however, had managed to end his undesired flight by crashing face-first into a massive oak tree. The redhead groaned, rolled over slightly and threw up before passing out in a crumpled heap at the foot of the tree, blissfully unconscious.
Harry rubbed his forehead slowly, marvelling at his new, scar-free condition once more. Dumbledore stood beside him, his arms crossed behind him as they looked out over the ramparts of Hogwarts.
The pegai grazed and frolicked together out on the Hogwarts green, the stallions chasing Hagrid off "their" turf by kicking him squarely on the rump and snapping threateningly at him to keep him away from "their" mares and foals.
"How did you know that pouring water from Black Lake on it would take away my scar, Professor? And why now and not when I had to swim in Black Lake so many times before?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore sighed, stroking his long white beard. "As with all magic, Harry, it is as unpredictable as intent itself can be. Do you know why accidental magic is so very powerful as a child?"
"It is because young children have pure intent but very little self-control," Dumbledore said. "They know precisely what they want but not how to acquire or achieve it. Proper schooling gives you the art of focus, teaches you the words and wand motions to safely trigger that magic, but the magic itself is always there like a deep well buried within you."
Albus popped a lemon sherbet into his mouth. "Sometimes, as fully-grown witches and wizards, we can reach into that pool of magic in our fear and desperation, and like a child— we know what we want in its purest form, but the magic responds in a way that is often just as wild as the emotion that drives it. This is often called 'wild magic', not to be confused with Wild Magick, which always involves nature and often one's faith in it."
Harry nodded slowly, seemingly confused yet trying hard to understand.
"A very long time ago, Harry, I made a terrible mistake in attempting to save a young boy with extremely powerful magical abilities. I thought all he needed was a chance to finally prove himself, but he was far too broken before I ever found him. There was no act, no thing, no desire, no learning that could fill that bottomless hole within him. He wanted to be immortal, better, eternal. He wanted all those lesser than him to bow before his magical might and his intellectual superiority. He crafted himself a name, twisting his own into a new one, 'Lord Voldemort'. He recruited many knights to both fund and fight for his cause, corrupted their ideals into something he could use, and by the time his face twisted into something that demonstrated his true nature, those who had willingly joined him were already damned."
Dumbledore sighed. "Many families succumbed to the seduction of power and their steadfast belief in what they called the 'Old Ways', but they were not the true ways, you see. I sensed that Tom was up to something, but he was so very cunning and full of guile. He could charm everyone around him with his dangerous personal charisma. He recruited under my nose— and the corruption stayed within the school long after he took his leave."
Albus gazed out over the lake, his lips tipping upwards in a small smile as he watched Fawkes flying with the pegai foals. "When your father and his friends were students at Hogwarts, I knew they had all been significantly affected by the— taint. Pranks bordering on the vicious and attacks mixed with near murderous intent. But in my sad attempt to protect the unfortunate Mr Lupin, I turned a blind eye to the strength of their hate. I did not want Remus to suffer alone, without a school, without a home just because Fenrir Greyback chose to use him as a chew toy as a child to take vengeance for his father's sins."
"But, in my fierce desire to protect young Remus, I did fail to see the ultimate end to that chain of unchecked hatred. Your mother, Lily, came to Hogwarts as a bright, kind, accepting little witch whose youthful heart knew no limits. But, as she integrated with the others of the house of Gryffindor, her peers— your father, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Remus Lupin— slowly turned her against anything and everything Slytherin, including her one childhood friend who had been Sorted there."
"There was an altercation between them beside the Black Lake— and a young Severus Snape, your mother's best friend for most of her childhood, unfortunately called her a Mudblood after being publicly tortured and humiliated by James Potter and his friends. She never forgave him the unintentional insult, but he always tried to apologise for the slur. And one night, before the Leaving Feast, he tried one last time to beg her forgiveness, and your mother cursed him with a spell I very recently found in an old journal in the wake of the battle here at Hogwarts, some time after you and Mr Weasley left us. It seems that Sirius Black left his little black book of 'conquests' for the use of all 'true Gryffindors' to torment those of Slytherin house."
"I could not prove what your mother had done until your friend, Hermione, was attacked at the hidden cottage that Minerva and William Weasley had set up for her, which was located in one of the outermost marshes of Black Lake. Unbeknownst to me, a herd of Kelpies had come to live there, hidden within the marsh and lake. Hermione, blinded as she was by Bellatrix, was immune to the lure of their gaze, and thus their most dangerous qualities were nullified. She befriended them, loved them, and they loved her in return."
"But, one day, Bellatrix finally found a way to locate her most passionately hated escapee," Dumbledore continued. "She sent Hermione an owl with a homing beacon on it, destroyed the wards from within, and then attempted to kill her. Hermione did not know her equine friends were kelpies, and they attacked, dragging the Death Eaters as well as Bellatrix herself into the lake where they drowned. Hermione, meanwhile, released her magic in a desperate desire to neutralise the Death Eaters and survive the attack. By the end, her saviours returned, and with that pure love for a friend returned, she kissed one of her kelpie friends in thanks, and it broke the curse. Not just for him, but for all of them— freeing them to take a form more fitting: that of the Pegasus. But they simply could not leave her to suffer alone, and they allowed the power of their herd magic to consume her as well. That is what they truly are, a miracle for certain, magical always, but also— they remember what they once were. At times, if only for a little while, they can take on a human form— the same form they had were when they first were cursed. That is how I finally learned the truth of Severus Snape, Regulus and Andromeda Black, Luna Lovegood, Hermione Granger, and so many others. They have been here all along, keeping themselves sequestered away from Hogwarts and those within to prevent themselves from succumbing to the Kelpie's instinct to drown the living. Now they are free. Just like you, Harry. You are finally free to be simply Harry Potter, your own person. Not a curse. Not a saviour. Not the Boy-Who-Lived. Not the son of man whose deeds were not at all honourable or of a woman who could so cruelly curse her own oldest friend."
Harry looked to Dumbledore, conflicted, feeling very emotional at the realisation that his parents were not the pure-hearted heroes his godfather had always painted them as and that his godfather himself was not such a great man either.
"You are not your parents, Harry," Dumbledore said. "You defeated a Dark Lord with his Horcrux inside your head. You chose to become something more. You even managed to Accio a living person, something that no one has ever been able to accomplish in the long history of that charm. So, I would offer you a chance, young Harry. Stay here at Hogwarts, finish your last year of schooling, do the very best that you can, take your N.E.W.T.s, and chose to be whoever and whatever you desire to be."
"What of Hermione? And Ron, sir?" Harry asked in a small voice, looking over the ramparts to see the foals hiding behind the white and chestnut mares he now knew to be Luna and Hermione.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Hermione has already sat her N.E.W.T.s, my boy, and she and her entire herd shall be welcome at Hogwarts for so long as Hogwarts exists. Besides, they help to keep Hagrid in check and prevent him from sneaking creatures onto the grounds behind my back for experimental breeding purposes, and they are far better at catching interlopers attempting to sneak around the grounds at night than most people would ever imagine."
Harry didn't hear most of what Dumbledore said as he wallowed in the soul-crushing guilt of having callously left his female friend behind him, something that seemed like it had happened decades ago.
"She forgave you, Harry," Dumbledore said. "She forgave you the very moment you did it. I think, however, that if you wish to honour her properly, that you should finish your education and make something of yourself that doesn't involve sneaking around under an invisibility cloak and running amok while hiding from Dark Wizards, hrm?"
Harry flushed. "Yes, sir." He stared across Black Lake. "I think I'll take you up on that offer."
"What about Ron?"
Dumbledore scratched his head. "Your, um, most impressive use of Accio unfortunately finds Mr Weasley recovering from a few wounds that cannot be healed by magic, but rest assured he will be welcome to return to school as soon as his healers pronounce him fit to do so."
"That could take months, sir!"
"Hogwarts will always be here to provide help to all those who ask for it," Albus reassured him. Then he looked closely at Harry. "And no one says that you cannot get ahead on completing your education without certain, ah… distractions, yes?"
Harry flushed, but returned the elderly wizard's knowing gaze with one of his own. "Yes, sir."
End of Wizarding Wars Celebration and 5-Year Memorial Wall Grand Opening
Five years after the final end of the Wizarding Wars, five years without Tom Marvolo Riddle aka the Dark Lord Voldemort, his Death Eaters and the Dark wizards, witches and creatures who allied themselves with them, Wizarding Britain seems to have finally settled into the positives of rebuilding, starting families, and in this case, commemorating the end of the war with the creation and opening of a memorial wall dedicated all those who fell. The memorial wall, constructed of pure white marble, has been erected in the main Atrium of the Ministry of Magic and will remain on display there in perpetuity
The memorial wall, inscribed with the names of all the victims of the combined wars, includes embedded magical representations of photographs that were kindly donated by the families who lost loved ones in defense of the Light.
Additionally, individual and family tickets are now being sold for a series of celebratory banquet dinners with all proceeds earmarked for the newly-created war orphans fund.
Minerva purred as she leapt up onto the lounge chair and shifted back into her human form. She picked up her pineapple-coconut drink, complete with colourful paper umbrella, and sipped on it with a satisfied sigh.
A tiny pegasus foal trotted by carrying a large chunk of pineapple in her mouth as a young colt chased after her, eying the tasty fruit with no little jealousy.
Minerva chuckled as Hermione sprawled out on her stomach on a canvas hammock, enjoying the rare pleasure of her loving mate using his hands to give her a much-desired massage and an occasional tender kiss.
Their little filly and colt, however demonstrated zero interest in taking on a human form, having no memory of what that would have been like and no need, much less desire, for such things. The rest of the herd and their foals wandered up and down the beach, playing in the gentle waves and thumping into the mango and coconut trees to dislodge the occasional edible playtoy.
The island was a very beautiful and secluded location, and with the help of the summer migration of the pegai herd, Minerva had made her own summer holiday home there as well. The house elves seemed to take great pleasure in bringing supplies in from the mainland to supplement the native island goodies, and they wanted to do as much as possible to make both Minerva and the pegai as happy as possible.
Anemone, a filly sporting a white coat with black spots, came barrelling through the lounge chairs carrying what appeared to be half a watermelon, and Regulus and Luna chased after her, nickering in admonishment. A younger foal with a dappled lavender-blue coat neighed in distress, being both smaller, slower, and having no watermelon, unlike her big sister.
Minerva chuckled. "Poor little Wisteria, but she'll catch up to her sister soon enough."
Hermione chuckled. "They always do."
A pure black colt ran in the opposite direction carrying hunks of both pineapple and watermelon in his mouth, with distressed (and clearly robbed) young foals pursuing him at full tilt. The colt's proud tail was held high, and he tore across the beach like a racing Arabian streaking across the dunes.
Severus snorted. "Rowan is going to get his chest kicked in by his sisters soon, if not by the entire herd."
"He doesn't like to share," Hermione commented.
"Or lose, apparently," Severus said, one black eyebrow arching.
A strawberry roan colt now raced across the beach, having nicked the tasty fruit from the fleeing Rowan and now went tearing in the opposite direction, dodging the frustrated fillies as he ran.
Minerva snickered. "There goes Jasper."
A blue roan flew high overhead, carrying the thrice-nicked fruit through the skies.
The pegai foals now took to the air, chasing him and letting out indignant neighs that clearly said, "Cheater! Get back here, you insufferable little git!"
Luna and Regulus flopped down in the same lounge chair, taking on their human forms with a tired oof.
The house-elves popped in with an enormous bowl loaded with fruit including strawberries, cherries, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, guava, papayas and assorted varieties of fresh-cut melon. They disappeared with a quiet pop before the bowl even hit the ground. Tired foals, exhausted from the chase, landed and gratefully stuffed their heads into the bowl without further ado.
"To the winner goes the spoils," Severus commented dryly.
"But to the chasers go the consolation prizes," Regulus chuckled.
"I've always been partial to Chasers," Luna admitted.
"Not the Seekers?" Regulus pouted.
"Maybe one," Luna replied rather cheekily.
Severus rolled his eyes at the exchange, but Hermione flipped herself over and pulled him down for a very thorough snog. He rose up for air a few minutes later, his face flushed but his eyes bright. His black eyes met hers with nothing short of pure love and adoration.
She closed her eyes and then reached out to touch his face, preferring to feel the face the way she had first fallen in love with him— without sight and with only touch helping her come to know him. She traced the lines of his jaw and cheekbones, his eyes, brows, lips, and that most impressive nose.
Then, with a tender smile, she drew his head down and gave him a tender kiss. "I love you, my husband," she said with a smile lighting her amber cabochon 'eyes'..
Severus, lowered his head, brushing his cheek against hers, using his lips to draw across her skin and ghost across her temples and hair, much as he had as a Kelpie, letting her feel the warmth of his skin as well as his heart.
"I love you too, Hermione," he whispered into her ear. "Always."
A/N: Wow, an actual short story! WHUT?!
(cough) I hope you enjoyed my kelpie story. This particular "monster" has been kicking around in my and my beta's brains for quite some time, and we had to get it off our chests. Heh. Heh. Heh.
Much love to The Dragon and the Rose for staying up (way) past her bedtime to beta this fic. Much love to Dutchgirl01 (who works much too hard and didn't get a chance to help beta this one) and to Flyby Commander Shepard (who glues Dutchgirl01 back together when she falls to pieces due to excessive amounts of work-related abuse).
Plush spiders: Hey! What about us? Don't forget about us! *pout*
Fonn: WOOF! (Me too!)
Author: Okay okay! Soon!