Conflict lay in the mire of her mind and chaos in her soul, as Hermione released a long sigh.
The Hogwarts library had been her safe haven since she was eleven years old, a bright-eyed first year with visions of grandeur and delirium to spare. Back before she could have even guessed at what life would have in store for her over the following seven years—and the person she would be on the other side.
Her beloved library stood before her now in ruins. It was symbolic of how her life had come to feel and was simply another of the many losses she had experienced.
The only difference was that this one could be recovered.
Recalling the many memorial services she had attended over the previous two months, Hermione swallowed back the bile pushing up from her stomach. They wouldn't get Fred back—or Remus and Tonks. Colin, Lavender, even Snape. Severus' had been the smallest and most somber of affairs, but McGonagall had insisted upon holding it.
If she were truly honest with herself, Hermione had leapt at the chance to return to Hogwarts in advance of what had been deemed her eighth year. If for no reason other than some time to process her thoughts.
After the Battle of Hogwarts, she had stayed at the Burrow for a while, her own parents' memories beyond repair. But it had quickly grown to be too much, and she had found herself anxious over the ubiquitous despair. The churn in her stomach every time she saw George, lost in another bottle, or walked in on one of Molly's breakdowns.
A small contingent of students and professors had committed to the repair and cleanup efforts, and it had come as no surprise that Hermione had been assigned to the library. After all, she knew those dusty stacks better than anyone.
Or she had.
Gazing around the wreckage, untouched for two months, she felt tears sting her eyes.
Where her favourite armchair had once sat, perfectly positioned relative to the hearth so she was never too hot or too cold, there now existed a gaping, blackened maw, filled with rubble and debris.
The stacks which had held books on the Goblin Wars all the way to the ones containing advanced household charms were simply gone. Her heart mourned the loss of information, of the aged books that could never be recovered.
The reek of fire and ash, mingled with dust and destruction, pervaded her senses and her eyes itched.
Jolted from her inspection at a sound behind her, Hermione released a tight exhale.
She had two months to help put the library back to rights before the train arrived at the beginning of September. Her gaze swept the group of people joining her, lingering on one recognisable head of ashy platinum blond, and grey eyes swivelled to find hers before she swallowed and looked away.
At least she wouldn't be braving the memories alone.
Two weeks had passed since Hermione had returned to Hogwarts for the cleanup project, and she had found a sort of quiet peace in the work of it. She had been granted her own private quarters, along with each of the other eighth year students, and she was grateful. The last thing she needed was dormmates witnessing her nightly forays into the memories she couldn't yet leave behind.
There were six of them altogether working in the library—four students and two professors—and day by day, it started to look more like the cavern of knowledge it had once been.
Only, it didn't.
The tables were fresh wood, their surfaces unmarred by the scribbles and engravings of centuries of quills; the armchairs were a bit too stiff.
Hermione had been tasked with sorting and repairing the books that had been lost in the heaps of rubble, and salvaging whatever could be saved.
Her work was proceeding rather slower than the rest—but they couldn't expect her to go through thousands of books without getting distracted now and again. Even after six years of study at Hogwarts, there were still so many books she had never even seen. It was one silver lining of the situation.
The other was that Draco Malfoy—whose presence in the repair efforts had been mandated as a part of his trial acquittal—had largely kept to himself. Although he didn't have a friendly word to offer her—nor her for him—he hadn't gone out of his way to antagonise her like she would have expected.
Especially when it was often him who caught her reading when she was meant to be restoring.
A couple times she thought she had seen a smirk grace his lips, but it was a ghostly shadow of the confidence he had worn so blatantly in their younger years.
All she could remember, every time she looked at him, was the searing pain as his aunt's wand and knife tore through her, leaving her a gasping, sobbing mess. And the way Malfoy had watched on, fear in his wide eyes.
Even barely conscious, she had seen the remorse, mingled with something akin to pity. Like the rest of them, he had been a child when his path had been set. Not that it excused the way he had treated her and her friends for years—but she had seen it plainly in his face that day, that he had no spirit for the cruelty like the other Death Eaters.
Drawing herself back to the present, Hermione shifted some torn pages to a stack for homeless information. An ancient tome was buried near the bottom of the stack she had been working through, its thick cover having protected its contents remarkably well. Upon closer inspection, she realized it wasn't a book, so much as a series of pages bound together by magic and held within a sturdy spine.
As she flipped it open, a breath caught in her throat. The tome was old. She could see it in the yellowed parchment and the fine penmanship that read in an archaic voice. She skimmed the wording but much of it was faded beyond recognition so she couldn't decipher the message very well.
Several pages in was a black and white, still photograph of a young man, perhaps Hogwarts aged, with thick brows and sleek hair down to his shoulders. The robes he wore were of no fashion she had seen, and spoke once more to the age of the collection.
Absently, she dropped into a seat at the nearest table, peering closer.
On the next page was a photo of another young man, and on the next, a young woman, dressed in a similar sort of old style garb.
Hermione flipped idly through the pages, careful with the frailty of them, until she reached the end. The final page of parchment showed the visage of a man, older than the rest, with long hair and a plaited beard; his expression was stern.
A faint caption was scrawled below the photograph, and Hermione could just make out the edges of the lettering before it faded off.
She skimmed her fingers over the text with bated breath, and flipped back one page. A regal looking woman stared back, and below the image, she could just make out the cursive R. Ravenclaw.
With awe and reverence, her mind pieced together what she was looking at. Students and professors from the founders' time, the earliest years of Hogwarts' existence. What a fascinating find. She might have questioned the legitimacy of the photographs, given there were obviously no cameras during that time. But there had always been spells to capture the likeness of a person to parchment, and she could see by the vague shimmer to the pages that something similar had been utilised; as a result, they appeared close to true life images, without the movement.
Her heart raced in her chest as she backtracked, flipping once more through the book with even greater care to examine every page.
She stopped, utterly frozen.
One sheet of parchment, roughly a third of the way into the collection, caught her attention, and the breath chased from her lungs.
It was her. From the dark eyes to the wild brunette curls, to the curve of the smile. The likeness was nearly identical. Eyes wide and unblinking, Hermione stared at the image, unable to comprehend what she was looking at. How was a photograph of her buried in this ancient tome from the founders' era? But it couldn't be her, because the young woman wore the same ancient robes as the rest of the ladies did.
A snicker from behind her back drew her attention from the page, and Hermione jumped in her seat.
"Nice outfit, Granger," Malfoy drawled, lingering over her shoulder as he walked past with an armful of books. He set the books down, peering closer.
Forcing a thick swallow, she shook her head. "It isn't me."
"Of course it's—" Malfoy cut himself off, dragging two fingertips across the aged parchment. "It isn't?"
As much as she didn't want to invite conversation with Malfoy, she couldn't begin to understand the similarity of the likeness, and maybe he could think of something. "I don't think so; look."
She flipped to the back pages of the book, to where the photographs of the four founders were, and she watched his eyes widen in surprise.
He breathed to himself, "Salazar Slytherin." Then he straightened. "Odd, that a student during that time looked so remarkably similar to you. Could have fooled me."
But before she could say anything more, Malfoy collected his books and was gone.
Undeterred, Hemione squinted at the photograph of Slytherin. He appeared to have some sort of stitching on the chest of his robes; a squiggle reminiscent of a serpent. As she flipped through the photographs of the other three founders, she saw a vague likeness of each of their symbolic animals.
Upon closer inspection, although some of the photographs were too faded to be certain, each student appeared to bear the symbol of their house as well. Curious, Hermione flipped back to the young woman that looked like her. Her brain whirred and twisted when she discerned the vague serpent embroidered on the girl's robes.
Uncertainty coursing through her, Hermione glanced furtively around the room. Everyone else was working in different sections of the library, and even Malfoy was nowhere to be seen. Carefully, so as not to damage the thick covers—which now seemed as if they had been added as protection some years, or centuries, later—she stowed the book into her bag.
Hermione had found only fitful sleep the night before, distracted and kept awake by thoughts of the photographs from the library. It was the first night she hadn't been stirred by night terrors, but the thought was of little consequence.
With deep shadows beneath her bloodshot eyes, she made her way to the library after a hasty breakfast to continue with her tasks, but kept the photographs stowed safely at the bottom of her bag.
Malfoy was already sorting books in her section when she arrived, and he glanced up at her presence; after a long moment, he offered her a stilted sort of nod. Surprised, Hermione pursed her lips and returned the gesture.
As she sorted through the pile, keeping an eye out for any more ancient looking tomes that might have been from the same section, she found herself unable to focus.
Idly stacking a few books, she whispered, "Malfoy."
He glanced up, irritation flashing across his face for an instant before his expression fell stoic. "What is it?"
"Your family." She waved a flippant hand. "They go back really far, right?"
Upper lip curling with a hint of a sneer, he turned to face her. "Yes, Granger, my family has been in England since the eleventh century."
"And before that?"
"The Malfoy line has been successfully documented back to seventh century France." He snickered. "You aren't still fixated on that book, are you?" Shaking his head, he added a muttered, "Of course you are."
She fixed him with a stare and he released a sigh. "Whatever you're thinking, Granger, it has nothing to do with my family."
"I didn't think it did," she said, curiosity keeping any animosity from her tone. "Obviously, I'm a Muggle-born so I can't quite understand why someone who studied at Hogwarts in the founders' era looked like my doppelganger."
"Technically," he mused, looking back to the books he was sorting, "you'd be the doppelganger."
Hermione waved him off. "It doesn't make any sense, right?"
Lifting an unimpressed brow, he conceded, "Right."
"And even if it did," she went on, enthusiasm colouring her tone, "she wouldn't have been hand-selected by Slytherin for his own house."
Malfoy made a face. "How do you know she was in Slytherin house?"
"Her robes." Glancing around the library, Hermione drew the book from her bag and pointed out the crests she had noticed the day before. "So she must have been pureblood."
Shaking his head, he flipped through a few pages on his own before turning back to her. "I'm not condoning this theory, and frankly, I wish you'd leave me out of it, but Muggle-borns are sometimes an anomaly in a line borne of a squib."
"So she could be an ancestor?" Hermione asked, her heart rate escalating. She had heard the theory espoused before, vaguely, but had never heard it confirmed.
"I suppose she could." Malfoy waved his hands, as if to get rid of her. "But honestly—she doesn't look related to you, Granger. She looks like she is you."
Quiet settled between them, and he took the opportunity to make himself look busy again. But she wasn't so easily deterred. "I have another theory."
Despite the exaggerated sigh he levied, his lips twitched. "And I suppose I'll be the first to hear it."
"Do you believe in past lives?"
His head swivelled towards her, grey eyes narrowed. "Like reincarnation."
Malfoy carded a hand through his pale hair, then pressed his fingertips to his temples. "There's no proof that reincarnation exists, Granger. Besides, wasn't it you who dropped Divination because you thought it was complete tosh?"
Making a face, she waved him off. "Yes, but this is different."
His lips twitched again, curving with a hint of a smirk. "Theoretically? In magic, under a very specific set of circumstances, so they say, it's possible. But everything I've read on the topic suggests it occurs in time periods so far spread there isn't any way to find irrefutable proof. Many people believe in it, but that doesn't mean there's any measurable data."
Hermione stared at him for a long moment before realising she hadn't taken a breath as he spoke. "Do you? Believe in it?"
"Sure, Granger." He released a sharp, humourless chuckle. "Maybe you're reincarnated from that girl. Congratulations."
But she wasn't satisfied. "What are the specific circumstances?"
Malfoy clenched his jaw, and she was given the distinct impression he was done discussing the matter with her. His upper lip curled. "We're in the library—why don't you look it up?"
Scowling, Hermione reclaimed her book and walked away without a backwards glance.
Although she had plenty of work to do with regards to sorting and re-homing the damaged books, Hermione couldn't help herself from scanning the shelves that Malfoy had already put back to rights.
It seemed he knew the library almost as well as she did, because most of the sections were as they should have been—although most specific books were out of order. The downside was, of course, that many of the books had been outright destroyed, so the shelves were significantly barer than they should have been.
And despite the countless hours she had spent in the library, Hermione had never sought to research reincarnation—or anything even remotely connected. She thought she knew roughly where it ought to have been, but those shelves had been caught in the worst of the blast.
It didn't stop her from skimming the titles in adjacent sections, just in case.
Malfoy had been more willing to discuss the topic than she had anticipated, even though he hadn't been particularly inviting. It was certainly the most they had ever spoken in their entire lives. She didn't care to bother him over it anymore, however, and when he walked by as she was flipping absently through a shelf, he smirked and carried on.
Eventually she grew frustrated, wondering whether the books she was looking for were actually in that section or elsewhere.
As another day wound towards its end, and the rest of the students began trickling out, Hermione felt herself cave, and decided to ask Malfoy whether he knew where she could find resources around reincarnation.
He had been the one re-shelving most of the books, anyways. It didn't hurt that he already knew about the situation and could help her look if he were so inclined. Which, admittedly, was a far stretch.
But when she watched for him as the others slowly filed out, Malfoy was nowhere to be seen.
The group of students working at Hogwarts on the repair efforts was small, and comprised mostly of those in their upper years who had seen the effects of the war firsthand.
As a result, they gravitated towards sitting together at the table that stretched down the middle of the Great Hall, which happened to be the Ravenclaw table. With one notable exception.
Draco Malfoy sat at the opposite end of the Slytherin table, as far away from everyone else as he could manage, and studiously ignored the rest of the group.
This morning, he was reading a book, absently carving slices out of an apple with a paring knife, and Hermione found her eyes narrowing on him in consideration.
Despite his actions during the war, he had been acquitted under a set of conditions put forth by the Wizengamot. Which included, among others, his return to Hogwarts both for the repair efforts, and the sitting of his NEWTs during his eighth year.
Hermione had attended his trial, and had been surprised to learn the extent of the pressure he'd been under during his sixth and seventh years—but they'd all experienced their share of hardships during that time. She didn't feel sorry for him, but she supposed if she dug into her own heart, she would have done whatever she could to save her family as well. And, in a way, had she not?
Her parents were far away in Brisbane, unable to recall the existence of their daughter. But they were safe, and alive, and it was enough to bring a shred of peace to her otherwise fraught spirit.
But yet, despite everything, Malfoy continued to isolate himself, and he hadn't made any particular effort at amends. Not in a blue moon would she have expected him to ever apologise… but there was a chance at a fresh start this year. For everyone.
Feeling her gaze, he glanced up, his grey eyes tight and unreadable from across the hall.
Hermione waited until most of the students had retreated towards their respective duties, because Malfoy was prone to lingering in the hall and avoiding small talk with the others when they all arrived at the library.
Steeling her shoulders, she cast a furtive glance at the few remaining students and professors, then made her way down the length of the Slytherin table, feeling an intense awareness of her breathing and the click of her boots on the floor.
Malfoy folded his arms across his front as she approached, which served to make him look even less inviting than he already had, but she kept on, lifting her chin as she slipped into a seat on the bench across from him.
Unimpressed, his head fell to the side. "You're here to hound me about that book again." When she didn't deny it, he scoffed. "Why do you care so much? You can't be this much of a swot."
The words weren't said with any significant level of ire and Hermione snickered despite herself. "I'm curious. All I need to know is whether you've come across the information I'm looking for in your restoration."
He stared at her for an extended moment, then brandished one pale, long-fingered hand. "Let me see the book again."
Cautiously, Hermione dug into her bag and drew the collection of photographs free. Malfoy skimmed through each page, his expression stoic. At last, he closed the book, leaving it face down on the table, and lifted his eyes to hers. "The information you're looking for is restricted content, Granger."
"The restricted section?" A wrinkle pulled to the bridge of her nose. "All I'm looking for is information on reincarnation. Surely that isn't connected to dark magic."
Even as she spoke the words, a twist pulled at her stomach. The restricted section had been reduced to bits of parchment and ash.
"What you are looking for, specifically, was in the restricted section." There was an ambiguity in his words that hinted at something deeper, but he frowned, shaking his head. "And I suppose those books would all be long gone now."
Feeling deflated, Hermione wondered for a moment at his initial query. Why was she so determined to figure out the truth about the mysterious student? Maybe it was academic curiosity—but maybe there was a part of her that wanted to learn the truth in case there was a deeper connection. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she'd lost the only family she'd ever really loved.
Malfoy released a long sigh. "Look, Granger. There are books in the library at Malfoy Manor that might have what you're looking for. I can owl my mother to send me a few."
Hermione's eyes narrowed as she stared at him. "You'd do that—why?"
He glanced away, and she could have sworn twin spots of pink bloomed on his cheekbones. "Fuck if I know, Granger. Obviously I'm a lucky sod to even be back here at Hogwarts." Silence hung between them, thick and rancorous, and she blinked several times in an attempt to process the subject matter he'd ventured towards. "I've made a lot of mistakes, and I'll carry those regrets for the rest of my life."
"Malfoy..." she began, frowning. She wondered at the depth of what he had experienced under Voldemort's mastery.
But his upper lip pulled into a hint of a sneer before his face fell blank once more. Chin lifted, he met her stare, almost defiantly. "Merlin knows I could stand to do something halfway decent."
Discomfort churned in her stomach, and she frowned back at him for a long moment, uncertain what to say. He flipped the book over once more, fingers grazing the sturdy cover. At last she cleared her throat and murmured a tentative, "Thanks, Malfoy."
His eyes flickered up to meet hers for a moment. "Don't thank me. You don't owe me shite."
Idly turning the pages once more, he flipped to the very back where the four founders' visages were, and worked back towards the front, his gaze lingering for an extended moment on a photograph that was so faded she could barely see the face. When she twisted her head around in an attempt to see better from the opposite side of the table, he flipped the page, and moments later, closed the book.
"Can I borrow this for a few days?"
The question caught her off guard, and Hermione frowned. She had no claim to the book, of course, as it had obviously been around for nearly a thousand years. But she had found it, and she was the one looking into the photo of the young woman who could have been her identical twin.
But Malfoy was staring at her, his gaze expectant, and she managed a half-hearted shrug. "I suppose. But return it when you're through?"
"I won't damage it," he scoffed, but there was a teasing undercurrent to his tone, and a smirk tugged at his lips. "You aren't the only one who finds things like this interesting."
"Fine, yes," she said, with as flippant of a wave as she could manage. Glancing at her watch, she realized they were running late for that day's restoration session, and the rest of the stragglers in the Great Hall had already trickled out. Feeling oddly bereft, she slung the strap of her bag onto her shoulder and left the precious book in Malfoy's care.
It had been three days since her last interaction with Malfoy, and neither of them had made any attempt to speak to the other. She didn't want to ask, but couldn't help the endless curiosity over whether he had owled his mother for the books from the Malfoy Manor library.
He also hadn't bothered to return the photographs.
Not that they would have changed or anything, and she didn't have any other information to help with research, but it was a matter of principle. Surely he'd had enough time to look through the book by now—and she was the one with a direct interest.
If she didn't know better, Hermione might have thought he was avoiding her. And she wasn't certain she knew better.
She never found him alone, not even during their restoration sessions, when he ordinarily worked alone. As she had approached him after dinner the night before, he rose and left the hall, looking pointedly in the other direction.
All day in the library she had sought him out, but it was as if he had vanished altogether. Or perhaps he had transferred to another part of the castle. Their work in the library had been moving along nicely, to the point that much of what could be salvaged had been.
But they hadn't yet been back at Hogwarts a month and there was still plenty to be done.
That evening Malfoy wasn't at dinner.
Maybe he had come down with something and was in the hospital wing for treatment. Not that it was her business or her place, but she just barely refrained from seeking him out. Instead, she drifted aimlessly through the corridors, pondering what the upcoming year would be like.
Harry and Ron didn't intend to return to complete their NEWTs, having been offered automatic entrance into the Auror training program. Neville, Dean, and Seamus would be returning, to her knowledge, along with Ginny and Luna. It wouldn't be the same, but maybe it would be nice to be able to focus on her studies for once, without the threat of impending death hanging over her head. Furthermore, she would be able to focus on her own studies, without feeling pressed to help Harry and Ron as well.
For a fleeting instant, she considered finding Malfoy's private quarters—all of the returning eighth years were along the same corridor, so theoretically she could find his room—but the thought passed with a shudder down her spine. She could only imagine his disdain.
Instead, she found herself wandering a familiar passage on the seventh floor that she had visited countless times during her previous years. An innocuous stretch of wall stood before her, and in her mind's eye Hermione could see vicious flames, searing and insatiable. She could still hear the roar.
A sharp exhale chased from her lungs as she stared at the wall, frozen to the spot. The Room of Requirement hadn't been listed in the restoration efforts, and she wondered whether its magical properties had been damaged beyond repair. Or perhaps the professors hadn't deemed it worth fixing.
Drawing in a long, steadying breath, Hermione lifted her chin. She couldn't allow the memories to grip her forever, and despite the tremble to her hands, she paced before the wall three times.
It was remarkable the stone walls weren't damaged, because a charred doorway slowly materialised before her, as if with too much effort.
A horrified gasp pulled from her lungs as she took a few steps into the Room of Hidden Things. The obnoxious scent of burnt pervaded her senses; the towers of items that had once existed were gone, rendered to small piles of blackened remains. The whole room was shades of black and grey; a haze hung in the air with nowhere to dissipate.
But the most startling thing was that she wasn't alone.
Along the nearest wall, sitting in the ash, knees propped up in front of him, and arms thrown over top, was Malfoy. He gazed out, unseeing, into the wreckage. Hoarsely, he asked, "Are you fucking stalking me now?"
"No," she whispered, her entire being vibrating at the shocking sight before her. "I just… ended up here. It must have been a coincidence."
Malfoy released a sharp, bitter, "Ha." Sweeping a hand through his lank hair, he said, "There are no such things as coincidences."
Hermione was reminded, in stark relief, of the last time they had both been in the Room of Hidden Things. When the flames of the Fiendfyre had licked up the towers, its animalistic forms devouring thousands of lost and hidden items—and one of his oldest friends hadn't made it out.
She recalled his words at breakfast a few days prior. That he had regrets he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
Collecting the depths of her courage, Hermione slid down the blackened wall to sit alongside him. He cast her a suspicious glance, as if she had come to mock him; from up close, she could see his eyes were bloodshot and glassy.
He sucked in a shaky breath, and turned back to face the room. "It wasn't a coincidence that you and I were in this room that day, either. I am well aware of the fact that I'm only here today because your friend is a better person than I am."
Malfoy was barely more than an acquaintance—they had never gotten on even remotely—but Hermione felt a tug at her heart and a sting at her eyes. "I'm sorry, Malfoy. About Crabbe."
He didn't react for a long moment. When he did, he shook his head slowly from side to side. "We all lost people—I know you did, too. But I lost Crabbe long before that day."
Uncomfortable silence fell across them, but Hermione wasn't given the indication that he wanted her to leave him alone. As she gazed out into the ruins, memories running through her mind of times when the room had been anything else, the space between them shifted.
It wasn't companionable but it was understanding.
At last, he blew out a long breath, and Hermione was sure he was going to leave, but he only dropped his head back against the wall. A thin coating of ash had settled in his hair. His voice was gruff but quiet. "Do you ever just fucking wonder, Granger?"
She cast him a glance. "All the time."
His lips twitched with an effort at a smirk but he sobered. "If you had taken one different turn in life. Stood up when you stepped back. Gone the more difficult path."
The words resonated, more than she would have expected. She admitted, "In our first year, I was in the loo when Professor Quirrell let that troll into the castle. I was… hiding out because my feelings were hurt."
Malfoy stared at her, agape and amused. "You were hiding. That's shite timing."
"Yes." To her surprise, a laugh chased out. "But Harry and Ron ended up saving me—and that was the day we became friends."
"So what you're saying," Malfoy drawled, waving a hand absently, "is that if a few kids hadn't decided to fight a bloody troll, Potter would have died years ago." A somber expression crossed his face and he looked away. "And the world would look a hell of a lot darker."
Hermione pulled her knees into her chest, propping up her chin. "Well, who knows how it all would have played out? Maybe we would have still become friends, at some point. Maybe the possibilities of the choices we didn't make are all playing out on alternate timelines."
Grey eyes slid sidelong to find hers when she glanced his way again. "You believe that? But you don't believe in Seers and tea-leaves?"
"I believe…" Trailing off, she released a harsh breath. For a fleeting moment, she wondered how the pair of them were having such a conversation. "I believe things happen as they're meant to. If Harry was meant to defeat Voldemort, and if I was meant to help him… it would have happened. Even if everything had gone differently, I think we still would have found one another."
Malfoy shifted on the floor, his expression unreadable. He pursed his lips, rummaging in the pocket of his trousers. With a wave of his wand, two small books enlarged to their full size in his palm. "Mother sent me these from the Manor library. I skimmed them, but I don't think you'll find the information you're looking for—with regards to reincarnation. While we're talking about all this."
"Thank you." Hermione accepted the books, tucking them into her bag. "I'll have them back to you as soon as I've read them." Then she hesitated, glancing at him. "Why are you even talking to me?"
Dragging a hand down his face, he blew out a long breath. "Because I'm tired, Granger." She felt the sentiment innately in her bones. "I'm tired of the hate and the anger… the war is over." Glancing away, he trailed his fingertips through the ash on the floor, drawing out a pattern on the hard stone. "And at some point, somewhere between believing my whole family was going to die if I didn't kill a man, and watching a snake eat a woman for her beliefs…"
Malfoy shook his head, sucking his teeth.
A stifling breath caught in Hermione's throat.
"At some point, I decided I wanted to think for myself."
His breathing was shallow to match hers, and neither spoke for a long moment, each staring into the destroyed remains of the room.
Finally, Hermione twisted her head to face him. "If it helps, Malfoy—I don't think we have to be defined by the decisions we've made in the past. Not if we make an effort to change the future."
He clenched his jaw, and for a brief moment, his eyes met hers, and something like desperation shone in their depths. Hoarsely, he breathed, "Thanks, Granger."
Sensing their time together had come to a close, she rose to her feet, dusting off her jeans. He was gazing out into the room again. "See you in the library tomorrow."
She didn't wait for a response before casting a final glance around the room and slipping through the exit.
By the time the weekend came around, it had been several days since Hermione had come across Malfoy in the charred remains of what had once been the Room of Hidden Things.
It was a beautiful summer afternoon and the students working on the restoration program had been granted leave to visit Hogsmeade.
Hermione opted to walk, the warmth of the sun beaming down on her. After so many hours spent poring over tomes in the library, it was nice to get some fresh air. Their efforts were nearing completion, and ahead of schedule.
Unfortunately, her other project was moving along with less expediency. The books Malfoy had lent her from the Manor library didn't have any information with regards to how the young woman from almost a thousand years ago looked like her.
One of the books contained a handful of mentions of reincarnation, but with no regard to the validity of the idea. All it claimed, as Malfoy himself had done, was that there was no irrefutable proof. Furthermore, it wouldn't have explained their matched appearances.
There was one ambiguous mention that had caught her eye and lingered in the back of her mind ever since.
In the rare case of those bound by two halves of one soul, certain strange occurrences have happened, but they are the exception and will not be discussed in further detail here.
It made very little sense, and did nothing to answer her questions.
Malfoy had still yet to return the book of photographs, despite having had it for a week already. She wondered whether he had simply forgotten about it, but that didn't align with the fact that he had gone out of his way to arrange for books to be sent from Malfoy Manor.
By the time she arrived in the village, it was almost eleven and Hermione decided to visit the small book store just in case there was anything that piqued her interest.
The shop was empty but for the proprietor when she arrived and she took her time browsing the shelves. She selected a new eagle feather quill and picked up a few other supplies, but none of the books caught her eye as something that might help.
"Let me guess." A pointed drawl came in her direction as Malfoy rounded the corner towards her, absently skimming the back cover of a book in his hand; she hadn't even noticed anyone else come in. "The content I lent you didn't help."
Folding her arms across her front, Hermione cast a furtive glance around the shop. "Not specifically, no. But I appreciate it all the same."
He gave a shrug. "I scanned them as well but nothing. Like I told you, you're looking for something that has never been proven. You can theorise all you like, but I don't think you're going to find a concrete answer."
Disappointment stirred in her stomach as she stared at him. Shaking it off, she tucked the book she'd been looking at back onto its shelf. "Are you enjoying your day?"
"Yes." Malfoy waved a flippant hand, as if he couldn't be bothered either way. "The village is the same as ever."
Hermione noticed the proprietor keeping a close eye on the pair of them and she shifted, uncomfortable. Her companion noticed as well and scowled.
Huffing a breath, he returned his own book to the shelf. "I'd better go before you get kicked out of here for talking to me." A self-deprecating smirk curled his lips but the humour didn't reach his eyes.
Startled, Hermione wondered what sort of backlash he received when in public.
"Malfoy, wait." They both blinked, surprised, at one another. "Have you eaten?"
After staring at her for so long she thought he hadn't heard her, he shook his head. "I have not."
In hindsight, it was a bad idea to invite Malfoy to join her for lunch. For the entire fifteen minutes since they'd placed their orders at a small cafe, conversation had been sparse, awkward, and stilted. Malfoy had spent most of the time gazing at the walls or ceiling, and it was starting to feel as if he didn't want to look at her at all.
But he had never been the type to spare her feelings, and if he didn't want to join her for lunch, he shouldn't have agreed.
Perhaps it was that the pair of them, seated at a small table for two in the quiet of the establishment, felt too intimate.
If felt like a date—though it certainly wasn't.
Although Malfoy had been tolerable lately, Hermione had no interest in him like that whatsoever, and she knew it was mutual. Which was likely why he was itching to get away from her.
She wished he hadn't agreed. It would have been preferable to sit and eat on her own than to be so uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the waitress delivered their meals, and Hermione was spared from attempting to carry the conversation any further. Some of the tension sank from Malfoy's shoulders as well, and she watched as he carefully dipped one end of a chip into his vinegar, letting it absorb, and then the other, before folding it in two and eating it whole.
She let out a low snort.
Chewing his bite, he fired her a scowl.
"Sorry," she announced, "I was only wondering whether you needed some chips with your vinegar."
His eyes on her tightened further, and he took a drink of his water before speaking. "Excuse you, I happen to enjoy chips and vinegar. You don't see me mocking your—whatever sort of sandwich that is."
"It's a cheese and pickle sandwich on rye."
"Cheese and pickles." He peered closer, lifting the top slice of bread from her sandwich; Hermione swatted his hand away. "Literally just cheese and pickles. It sounds rubbish."
"And here you are mocking my sandwich." Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Hermione shook her head.
"You invited it on yourself." But there was a bit of a smirk tugging at his lips, and his grey eyes shone with a hint of humour. "You ought to have kept your thoughts on my food preferences to yourself."
Huffing, Hermione took a bite of her sandwich and chewed carefully before swallowing. "For the record, it isn't rubbish."
Leaning back in his seat, he folded his arms and chewed his tongue. "Let's try it, then."
Hardly able to believe they were debating the subject, Hermione sliced a corner from the untouched half of her sandwich and spun the plate towards him, unwilling to deal with the grief he would give her if she touched his food. He picked up his fork and speared through the bite before eating the sandwich straight from the tines. Eyes narrowed on her once more, he chewed the bite before setting his fork down onto his serviette.
Hermione lifted expectant brows.
"Rubbish." His lips twitched again, and he even released a laugh. "It isn't terrible, Granger, I'll give you that."
Crisply, she proclaimed, "I will take it," before flashing him a smile.
Malfoy's eyes found hers across the table, and slowly, his lips dragged up into a crooked grin that she had most definitely never seen directed her way before. Pointing at her with a chip, he said, "You're ridiculous," before submerging the entire morsel in his vinegar and eating it.
She could smell the pungent scent of it on the air between them.
"And you," she began, fixing him with a pointed stare, "haven't returned my book of photographs."
'It's yours now?" He snickered, looking away. "I'm looking into something."
Surprised, she eyed him in silence for a moment. "What are you looking into? When will you be through?"
With an exaggerated sigh, he ignored her in favour of his meal. At last he answered. "Once you've forgotten all about it, so I don't have to keep fielding your inane questions about it. I gave you the books—didn't they tell you enough?"
Frowning, Hermione returned to her own sandwich, feeling disheartened. Maybe there really was nothing to be discovered.
And just like that, the light atmosphere between them vanished once more.
Despite Malfoy's words in Hogsmeade, Hermione was determined to figure out the truth of the matter. Even though it was likely irrelevant, and it had no bearing on her life currently, she couldn't help the niggling thought that the answer was out there. She wished she had the book of photographs to take a closer look for anything she might have missed, but she and Malfoy hadn't spent any time together in almost a week.
After the last time they had discussed the topic, she felt suitably chastened, and hadn't wanted to broach the subject again.
Their work in the library was nearing completion, and they would both be assigned to another part of the castle in the next day or two.
But in the evenings, she returned to the library, hoping that there was something she could find that had been restored and returned to the shelves that day, and had been simply missed. She didn't quite trust Malfoy to let her know if he'd found anything.
He hadn't returned the book, and then hadn't explained to her what sort of theory he was following, whilst discouraging her from her own.
So as far as she was concerned, they had no business together. Their time working in the library together was at its end, and soon they would once more be Gryffindor and Slytherin, with no more in common than they ever had.
Although he had been one of the only students to return with whom she'd spoken at all.
Something about the idea of going back to the way they'd always been left her feeling bereft.
"Granger." Releasing a sigh, he turned to stare at her as she hovered near his end of the table.
Edging closer, Hermione took a seat at the Slytherin table with a furtive glance around the hall. The last students had vanished through the door at the far end, and Malfoy was the only other person remaining after dinner, languidly perusing a book.
He stared at her from beneath pale brows, his expression blank. "What do you need?"
Folding her arms on the table, she offered a hesitant smile; Malfoy didn't react. "How is the third floor restoration going?"
"Tedious." Taken aback, Hermione recoiled and made to rise once more, but he huffed a sigh. "And you? Sixth, right?"
"Sixth floor, yes," she permitted. Almost unbelievably, it had been strange not to see Malfoy's scowling face every day in the restoration project. Once the library had been completed, their group had dispersed to assist with other regions of the castle.
Sucking on his teeth, he tapped the feathered end of his quill onto the open book before him.
She was anxious to get away; he was more mercurial than anyone she had ever met. "I figured I ought to return these books."
"So you're finally giving up," he mused, and Hermione felt herself deflate as he snickered. "I told you that you weren't going to find the answers you're looking for."
Waving her hands in defeat, she nodded. "I suppose you were right. I've read these books three times now and… nothing." His eyes met hers across the table, and she added, "Unless you've discovered something."
For a curious instant, so fleeting that if she had blinked she would have missed it, something faltered in his expression. But then it was gone and he offered a minute shake of the head.
But Hermione stared at him, agape. "You found something?"
"No," he snapped, frowning.
"What aren't you telling me?" When he only scowled in return, she leaned forward, her heart rate escalating in her chest. "Was there something else in the book of photos?"
"There is nothing else," he muttered, yanking back the books she had sought to return.
His glare deepened as he shoved the books into his bag; Hermione flinched at his rough handling of them. Then he swung the shoulder strap over his head, rising from his seat and striding away from her.
Staring after him, she found a fluttering of surprise in her chest. He was always so droll and irreverent that it was startling to see him worked up over something.
It furthered her curiosity and she grabbed her own bag, chasing after him. She followed him from the Great Hall into the corridor that led towards the dungeons, until he spun on the spot, stopping dead.
Hermione nearly collided into his taller form, and she blinked up at him, her chest heaving a little with her hasty exit. His grey eyes were narrowed, jaw clenched, and anger shone in the lines of his face.
"Back the fuck off, Granger."
Despite the frisson of fear chasing down her spine, she knew him better now. "Just tell me what it is you learned."
"I didn't learn a damn thing," he said, staring down at her; he towered over her by several inches at least. "At least, nothing worth knowing."
From so close, she could see the shimmering of silver in his irises and a breath caught in her throat. She had never been so close to Malfoy, and he looked different somehow. Voice scarcely above a whisper, she asked, "Can I have the book of photographs back then?"
His upper lip curled with a cold sneer. "No." Despite the steely tone in his words, his eyes searched hers for a moment; his throat bobbed with a swallow. Something akin to desperation crossed his face, but again, it was gone before she could make anything of it.
Hermione whispered, "Please, Malfoy. Just tell me."
"I can't," he ground through his teeth, still close enough that her chest could have brushed against his if she shifted a step closer, and Hermione couldn't make any sense of the situation. She couldn't comprehend why her heart was racing a little faster, and it wasn't out of fear.
His lips parted as if to speak, but he only shook his head. "Trust me, Granger. It's nothing you want to know."
"You can't just—" Throwing her hands up in exasperation, she huffed a tight exhale through her nose. "You can't say that and expect me not to ask, Malfoy." Now there was a hint of desperation in her own voice and she couldn't wrap her head around any of it.
"I know," he conceded. Clamping his jaw shut again, he forced another swallow. His voice dropped to a breath. "But I'm never going to tell you."
That same something she couldn't identify crossed his face once more as he stared at her in silence, and then in a swift movement, he spun on his heel and strode away.
Heart pounding anxiously in her chest, Hermione only watched him go, feeling somehow emotionally spent.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for the incredible reception to the first chapter of this story! I was blown away by the interest, and your kind words made me so happy! I hope you enjoyed this second installment!
Alpha hugs to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta love to I was BOTWP.
The restoration was complete.
With only days left until September arrived, Hogwarts castle stood once more ready to accept a fresh crop of students. When the final touches had been concluded three days ago, the students and professors had celebrated with a quiet, somber toast and remembrance of those whom they'd lost.
It was important that such a vital place of learning had been recovered. Mostly, anyways. The castle still bore scars like the rest of them—and they would only serve as a reminder.
Most of the students had returned home for the final days before the start of the fall term, Malfoy among them.
They hadn't spoken since the night she had followed him from the Great Hall, and whatever had occurred between them ensued. The emotion she had seen on his face that night had since been carefully concealed behind his usual mask of indifference, to the point where she had started to second guess whether she had seen it there at all.
But she could still remember his last words.
Hermione couldn't understand why, given they had never really been friends, but she missed the easy way they'd talked for a few weeks. Even though they hadn't exactly been nice to one another, there was no need for pretense. A vague smile crossed her face, recalling the way they had poked fun at one another for their food choices in Hogsmeade. The smile drifted away, falling into something softer and more hesitant as she remembered the few deeper conversations they had shared.
Despite the awkward and unpleasant way they'd left things, she couldn't help but wonder how he was doing. Whether he had gone back to the Manor to see his mother, given his father had been sentenced to a lengthy stay in Azkaban.
It wasn't possible she missed him. She was only curious.
She had opted to remain at Hogwarts until September, unwilling to return to her parents' empty house, or to face the mix of chaos and anguish that had become the Burrow.
Taking up a seat on the grass along the Black Lake, Hermione stared up at the castle, folding her legs beneath her.
Her final year—for real this time—before venturing out into the world. It was an interesting thought, and almost surreal.
A dark silhouette obscured her sunlight for a moment, and Hermione glanced up as a large tome was dropped into her lap. A breath caught in her throat at the distinctive set of his shoulders, and Malfoy settled into the grass alongside her, his expression blank as he leaned back on his hands.
Running her fingers along the thick cover, she stared at the book and then at him. "You're back?"
The bridge of his nose wrinkled. "Only went home for a short visit. I left most of my things here." Sweeping a hand through his hair, he squinted into the sun. "I decided it wasn't fair I kept that book from you. Do with it as you will."
When he made to stand, Hermione dropped her head to the side. "Malfoy—stay for a bit?" Without any argument, he settled back at her side but didn't speak. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me what it is you found."
"No," he said idly. "But, if you really mean to figure it out, I know nothing I do or say will stop you."
Hermione shook her head, even as she turned the book open, flipping to the page of the girl who looked like her. "No… I think I'm going to let her go. I debated going to Diagon Alley to research there, but… I guess it was a desperate bid to connect to someone." She ran her fingertips along the girl's curly dark hair in the photo. "Maybe there's a connection, but maybe there isn't. It's okay either way."
Malfoy's eyes slid sidelong to meet hers. "I heard about your parents, after the war." Startled, she only blinked at him. "I was sorry, to think that you had to go through that."
"Thanks, Malfoy." Gazing into the grass beneath her, she wracked her brain for anything else to say, but a comfortable silence descended upon them and she finally cast a glance his way. The acknowledgement of her struggles meant more in the moment than she could have realised.
They both stared up at the castle in the distance, and Malfoy blew out a long breath. "Can't believe this is it—I sort of thought I'd never get my NEWTs."
Hermione gave a low snort. "You haven't earned them yet. Don't get ahead of yourself."
He scoffed loudly, making a face. "You think I'm not going to earn my NEWTs? Please."
"They're challenging," she mused, lips twitching. "All I'm saying is you're going to need to work hard. It's one thing to earn a NEWT and another entirely to get an Outstanding."
Rolling his eyes, he shook his head at the affront. "Like you didn't notice my name always second to yours. I know how to study."
"Just saying." Hermione gave an absent shrug, flashing him a small smile. "If you need a study partner."
His eyes narrowed as they swept across her, and a shiver rose to her flesh. "You might regret the offer."
He barked a laugh, a slow grin spreading across his features. "I'm sure I'll take you up on that at some point."
A flush crept up her neck and across her cheeks when she recalled the last time he had offered her a genuine smile; he really was quite handsome when he wasn't scowling at her all the time.
The thought caught her off guard as it crept, traitorous, through her mind, and the smile dropped from her face. He looked away, dragging a hand across the back of his neck, and rummaged in his bag for a moment.
"I have to go to my dorm," he murmured suddenly, looking uncomfortable. "Before you make any offers you can't retract… Here."
She found a small, leather-bound book pressed into her palm, and he glanced away, squinting once more up at the castle.
"What's this?" Startled, Hermione flipped the book around in her hands.
Sucking in a long breath and blowing it out through his nose, he rolled his head back. "That's the book my mother sent me that I didn't give you. In case you're still curious." His eyes snapped to hers, his expression stern. "But if you read the contents of that book, you won't be able to unread it. And don't say I didn't fucking warn you."
With that, he rose to his feet and walked away.
Gaping at the small tome, she tore her gaze away and called out, "Thanks, Malfoy!"
Her heart picked up into an anxious cadence and he turned back towards her for a brief moment; he offered a sort of salute and was gone.
A slow grin pulled at the corners of Hermione's mouth when she stared at the book and the photographs. She could accept it for what it was—a peace offering.
It was past midnight, and there was no way Hermione would be able to get any sleep. Despite her words to Malfoy earlier that afternoon, she was still desperately curious to learn the truth about the girl in the photograph.
So she had retreated to her quarters and begun digging into the new book he had failed to give her in the first place. To give her tired eyes a break from the small, tedious text, she had returned to the photos. Her heart chased with the thrill of the revelation as she stared down at the book of photographs.
It was hard to tell for certain, given the photo was so faded, but… it had to be. The stark flash of pale hair, the crooked tilt of a smirk. There was a student in the same book of photos that looked identical to Malfoy.
Hermione could see how she had missed it the first time when she had been merely skimming the photos, since the defining features were hard to see. But now, peering closer, she could see the light shade to his eyes as well. An embroidered serpent adorned the chest of his robes.
But what did it mean? Her mind raced with unrelenting thoughts, postulations, and theories.
How was it possible that two students looked like both her and Malfoy?
Obviously, there was something yet to find in the last book that Malfoy had offered her, given the way he had reacted when she confronted him about it.
A thought niggled at the back of her mind: the way Malfoy had reacted when he looked closer at the photographs, the morning when she had ventured towards him at breakfast. Perhaps he had seen the picture of his lookalike then, before taking the book for his own, and pieced something together without her.
Rubbing at her eyes, Hermione turned back to the book, scanning a few more pages with a wide yawn. Perhaps she would have to set it aside and finish reading the next day after all.
But then a line jumped out at her, and it mentioned those who shared two halves of a soul. It triggered a memory of a line from one of the other books Malfoy had given her.
Wracking her brain, she struggled to recall the phrasing.
In the rare case of those bound by two halves of one soul, certain strange occurrences have happened, but they are the exception and will not be discussed in further detail here.
She swallowed thickly, the words drifting vaguely about in her mind but not quite coming together to make sense.
The new book, however, elaborated.
In certain cases, those who share two halves of a soul may perform a spell to bring them back to one another, indefinitely, through time. The spell is complex and inadvisable for many reasons, namely the plethora of issues that can arise in the casting. But those who are bound to one another by the soul will always find one another, no matter the time or place. This is magic that transcends the borders of light and dark, and draws from the ancient magicks of the earth itself, to mimic the creation and restoration of life. So the two halves will never be without one another for long, for they will always find their way.
Hermione's mouth went dry.
Bound to one another by the soul.
Reading the passage again, she whispered the words to herself. Mimic the restoration of life. Indefinitely.
Gasping as the truth collided down upon her, she breathed, "No."
As if her world hadn't experienced a massive shift on its axis at a fundamental level, life went on. Hermione soon found herself swept into classwork and timetables once more.
And she hadn't spoken to Malfoy since the day by the lake. They shared most of their classes, being two of a score of returning eighth years, but he hadn't so much as acknowledged her. She couldn't help but notice him, seated more often than not with Theodore Nott, one of the only other Slytherins to return.
A few times she had thought she felt eyes on her from the back of the room, but when she glanced around under the pretense of shifting in her seat, his gaze was fixed on his work every time.
Hermione wasn't certain how he could have simply dropped such a bomb of information on her and walked away, leaving her to process it entirely alone. As it was, she had scarcely come to terms with what she had read.
Bound by the soul. Soulmates.
While she had seen the term mentioned vaguely over the years, it was always without context or confirmation. To wrap her mind around the fact that soulmates actually existed was one thing.
But she could not come to terms with the fact that she was bound in some capacity to Draco Malfoy, of all people.
They had never connected even remotely, he had ridiculed her for years, and they had nothing in common.
There was simply no other answer, however, to explain why two students who looked identical to the pair of them both attended Hogwarts during the time of the founders. And both had been Slytherins, which meant…
Absently chewing a bite of her potatoes, she didn't realize she was gazing blatantly at Malfoy across the Great Hall until her eyes drifted to meet his and she found him already staring back, his eyes narrowed. She could almost picture the slight hint of silver in his irises.
That was another thing: she didn't find him attractive. Not in any conventional way, although she supposed when he smiled at her it did something to her insides, and the way he'd changed his hair in recent years was quite nice.
Hermione huffed a curse to herself under her breath, wrenching her stare from his; her heart was throbbing in her chest.
"Everything alright, Hermione?" Neville asked from her side, and she forced a tight nod, a thin facsimile of a smile plastered on her lips.
"Of course," she breathed, "not feeling so well. I think I'll head back to my quarters."
She could feel Malfoy's eyes on her as she abruptly rose and gathered her things. And she knew she wasn't making it up that time because she caught his eye when she strode past the Slytherin table.
A breath caught in her throat when she watched his throat bob with a swallow, and she felt his stare all the way through the doors.
Hermione hissed across the nearly empty Arithmancy classroom; Malfoy glanced up, turning to stare at her. His expression was stoic as always, but he cocked a single brow.
The class wasn't due to start for another ten minutes, and given there were only a handful of students in their year attempting advanced Arithmancy, they were the only two in the room. Furtively, Hermione slipped across the room, dropping into the seat beside him. She dragged her bottom lip between her teeth as she stared at him.
"Do you suppose we should talk about this?"
Malfoy's shoulders lifted with a flippant shrug. "I've been leaving it to your discretion."
"It involves us both," she muttered with a scowl.
Beneath heavy lids, his grey stare seared into her. "But here's the thing, Granger—this is your call to make."
"My call?" she exclaimed, voice rising with derision. "And how do you figure that?"
Huffing a sigh, he looked away from her, scratching some sort of design into a sheet of parchment with his quill. "Because obviously you're the one who would be lowering your standards if you even so much as entertained the thought of what you learned—because my guess is you've come to the same conclusion as I did."
His words struck a blow to her chest and she gaped at him, and she clung to his last statement. "But how? Soul—"
Hissing, he cut her off. "This is neither the time nor the place to have this discussion." Glancing around, she saw a few other students trickle into the classroom. "If you really want to do this, come by my quarters tonight. Eight?"
Hermione's stomach churned at the thought of being alone with him, discussing how their souls together formed two halves of a whole, and her mouth went dry as she echoed, "Eight."
His stare caught on hers for a moment, and she found she was unable to look away until Professor Vector swept into the room, drawing their attention. "You'll be working in pairs today," she announced without preamble, "with your table partner."
Glancing back at Malfoy, Hermione pressed her lips into an unconvincing smile; his curled with a facetious smirk.
Palms slick with moisture, Hermione pressed them to the thighs of her jeans, drawing in a deep breath for courage.
The thick wooden door in front of her bore the name D. Malfoy on a silver plate, only a few down the corridor from her own room. Curling her fingers into a fist, she blew out a breath before lifting it to knock on his door.
Nerves overtook her and she stepped back, silently fuming at her own cowardice. It wasn't as if discussing the matter with him meant anything.
Before she could come to terms with the idea of simply retreating back to her own room, the door swung open and Malfoy leaned in the frame. "Are you coming in or not? Because ideally I'll not have you standing outside my room all night."
A furious blush coloured her cheeks and Hermione looked away, clenching her jaw as she edged into his room, prepared to feel inherently out of place in his personal quarters. Despite what she might have expected, however, the room wasn't adorned in green and silver accents. In fact, it was similar to her own, though bland with few decorations.
She claimed his desk chair, ignoring the twitch of humour on his lips as he took up a seat on the edge of the bed.
"So," he prompted, staring at her as he folded his arms. "Am I to imagine you've found the same information I did?"
"If you mean the photo that looks like you," she said quietly, "and the claim that we're somehow connected through our souls as a result… then yes."
His expression sobered and he drawled a low, "Right."
A cross between panic and desperation flitted through her chest. "But how is this possible? You and I have never—"
"Never been given a chance to know one another," he mused with a shrug. "And if circumstances growing up had been different, our paths could have gone a different road." She could only stare blankly at him, surprised that he wasn't even questioning what he had read. But he went on. "I think the most important thing here, Granger, is that we can ignore all of this."
Which would most assuredly be his choice in the matter. Her mouth felt dry and her head was spinning. "At what cost?"
"I don't know." They were both silent for a long moment, before he swept a hand through his hair, already a little more disheveled than usual. "In case you weren't aware, soul bonds aren't exactly common."
Hermione clenched her jaw, her teeth grinding almost painfully. "What else do you know about this?"
He offered a flippant shrug that belied his next words. "I went home because I needed to know more," he said, rising from his seat. "I spent three days in the Manor library and I was able to locate the spell. It's old magic, Granger. I couldn't take the book out of the library but I made a copy of it for you."
Surprised, she froze in her seat as he walked over to the desk, leaning over her to shift through some papers. She caught the warm scent of his cologne at before he handed her a scroll of parchment. Unfurling the scroll, she dropped her face to cover up the rush of blood to her cheeks.
"This is…" Frowning, she trailed off.
"Latin," he volunteered.
Distracted from the matter at hand, she turned to look him full on. "You understand Latin?"
With a noncommittal grimace, he said, "Well enough. Basically what it says is that the spell is for casters, bound in soul, to secure their souls to the earthly plane so that one half will never move on while it has found the other half. This process will carry on indefinitely until something inhibits it."
Hermione's face tightened as she pondered the words. "Sort of like… the souls rebounding from one form to the next."
"Yes and no. Did you bring the photographs?" Nodding, she drew the album from her bag. He took it from her but didn't open it. "These people in the photos… they aren't our ancestors. They are us—or an earlier iteration of us."
"So those two." Hermione managed a thick swallow. "What—they met up at Hogwarts in Slytherin together, realized they were meant to be together, and cast this spell?"
Hesitant grey eyes found hers. "I don't think so." Something ominous hung in the air between them until he spoke again. "I think those two in the book met up in the same way as you and I have now. Most likely they had no clues to guide them—they simply found each other, and maybe they never understood any deeper than that. Like the book said… two halves of a whole will always find one another."
An unpleasant feeling churned in the pit of her stomach. "So you're saying this is inevitable." Scrubbing her hands into her eyes, she shook her head. "I can't accept that my life has been decided for me without any choice on my part."
"It hasn't been," he said, his tone far too dismissive for the subject matter. "The spell will end if something interferes, remember?"
"Interferes," she echoed, eyeing him cautiously.
"The war," he murmured, a curious tilt to his head. "If one of us hadn't survived, the spell would have been broken. Obviously the version of us during the founders' time accepted the bond, but if they hadn't… you and I wouldn't be having this conversation because we wouldn't exist in this same manner. Our souls would have dissipated with their passing."
"Okay." With a heavy sigh, she dropped her head into a hand, propping her elbow on the desk. "I think I understand what you're saying. Because some earlier iterations of us found us, we still exist today. Or we exist again, rather."
Malfoy offered a crisp nod. "Potentially… our souls have been finding one another over and over again, only in different times and places. That's my understanding of it, anyways. My Latin isn't perfect."
"It makes sense." Gazing at the book still in his hands, she shook her head. "When do you suppose the spell was actually cast?"
His mouth twisted to the side. "I have no idea. It could have been a version of us from thousands of years ago. I can only imagine they thought they were doing their future selves a favour… it is incredibly rare for someone to meet their soulmate. And from the limited literature on it… it's something else."
Hermione noted the care in his tone to keep his assessment clinical. But she couldn't help the way her heart leapt at the thought. Shaking off the possibilities, she fixed him with a hard stare.
"What if we agree to ignore this—to never speak of it, and to never act on it?"
She couldn't read anything in his face as a reaction to her suggestion. "It is my understanding that if nothing ever comes of this, and we do not accept the bond, the spell will break when one of us passes on. Our souls will be separated at last and this will never happen again."
Staccato breaths chased from her, rapid with the beat of her heart, lips parted as they stared at one another. She breathed, "What do you think we should do?"
"As I told you earlier," he clipped, leaning back against the headboard of his bed and stretching his legs out in front of him. "This is your call."
"Why?" she asked, affronted despite the freedom of the choice he was offering to her. "Shouldn't it be a decision we make together?"
"Maybe." A flippant shrug. "But like I said—you'd be the one lowering yourself to accept me."
Even with the utter lack of levity to the situation, she muttered quietly, "I don't think that's true." His face faltered for a moment. "So whatever I decide—you'll just accept?"
"I will do my best."
Opening her mouth to retort, she froze instead. "You think the magic will act to push us together."
"You read the same text I did," he said quietly, his eyes sliding to the side to meet hers. "Two halves of the whole will—"
"Always find each other," she finished, burying her face in her hands again. Despair broke her voice as she whispered, "It feels like the situation is forcing us into something."
"You're right," he said with a sigh, and his eyes were softer as he turned to face her again, leaning in. "And I thought that at first as well, before I remembered that our souls made this happen, long ago. There aren't very many things more natural than that."
Her brows knit and Hermione gazed at him for a long moment. "You think we should do this? Just… surrender everything about us—every reason we shouldn't, just because some ancient version of us that did get along decided it should be so?"
A war raged within her, and Hermione could scarcely think over the chaos.
But Malfoy ducked his chin, and for a fleeting instant, something akin to sadness lingered in his face as he stared at her. She thought his gaze dropped to her mouth for a second before jumping back as he cleared his throat. "Like I said—I won't force you to accept anything. This is your call, and you don't need to make it tonight."
He rose to his feet, jarring her from the whirring of her thoughts, and she followed him to the door. Leaning back against the oak, she caught his stare for one last moment. "I appreciate that. But… if you were to make the choice—if things were different between us, like they must have been at some point in time… what would you want to do?"
Propping a hand on the door jamb, Malfoy stared down at her. When he spoke, his voice was soft. "I never expected to find my soulmate in a million years, Granger. Even less, I never would have imagined it to be you. It's unconditional, or so they say—people long to find their other half, and so few ever do."
Her heart stuttered in her chest, and she felt a stinging of moisture at the corners of her eyes from the feelings his words evoked. He shook his head, long and slow, and added, "I haven't done anything in life to deserve a connection like that, Granger. But you deserve to find your soulmate, and I'm only sorry it turned out to be me. I can imagine your disappointment."
It wasn't an answer, and it only served to put a tremble into her hands as she bit down hard on her bottom lip to stay the threatening flood of emotions.
A resigned sort of smile tugged at his lips as he reached around her to open the door. "Go think, Granger. Let me know what you've decided when you're ready."
Before she could unload every last thought, every wild, churning emotion chasing through her—perhaps he knew anything she said now wouldn't be carefully considered—he nudged her gently through the door and she found herself staring once more, semi-catatonic, at the blank oak door, and his name carefully carved into the metal plate.
But now everything felt different.
Author's Note: Thank you all for your wonderful, kind words on this story! Your reviews have just made me dopey-grin and I'm so glad you're all enjoying it! I hope you liked part 3!
Alpha and beta love to Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP!
She couldn't help herself—Hermione watched him.
In classes, his expression was pensive as his quill flew across the parchment. At meals, as he sat in quiet discussion with Nott. The way he flew with an elegant ease during the first Quidditch match of the year—Ravenclaw versus Slytherin.
Despite herself, she was secretly pleased when Slytherin won.
She watched the slow grin split his face as he spoke to his teammates after the victory, and attempted to ignore the fluttering in her chest as she recalled the times he had looked at her in that same way.
Through it all, he never noticed her. Or if he did, he paid her no mind. Not once did Malfoy look her way, grey eyes searching out her own; never did he speak to her.
It had been more than a week since they had discussed the situation in his quarters—since her world had become infinitely more complicated.
Hermione had never given any thought to the concept of soulmates, because she had never put any stock in the fact that one person was made for only one other. She had always considered herself far too rational for such whimsical, romantic notions.
So to learn Malfoy was her soulmate; that it was so explicitly shown before them… she hadn't even known where to start.
While there was a part of her that could recognise the ways he had changed since the war, another part of her was so staunchly opposed to the fact of having no say in the rest of her life that it had stayed her tongue every time she thought to approach him.
Without knowing the strength of the bond between them, or how intensely it would drive things, she hadn't been keen on rushing a decision.
Because he was still Malfoy. Slytherin, blood supremacist, ex-Death Eater. And she was Hermione Granger and there was no way—
Startled, she blinked from her thoughts as a sudden stirring erupted around her, students pushing away from their desks and collecting their things. She scowled as she swept her still blank parchment into her bag; now Malfoy was interfering with her ability to focus in her classes, and that simply wouldn't do.
Idly, she recalled the way she had offered to be his study partner and a wave of nausea settled in her stomach. Clearly he had Nott for that, now.
But Nott had already vacated the Charms room, leaving Malfoy alone to gather his textbooks. From across the room, Hermione could see the tension gather in his shoulders as he froze, halfway turned towards her.
Slowly, his head turned towards her, and his grey eyes were narrowed; she could feel the unfriendly chill in his glower even with several tables between them.
Only three other students remained in the room, and Hermione took her time in packing her things so as to make it seem coincidental that they were the last two in the room. But Malfoy made for the door before she could reach him, and he was closer. With his long stride, he was halfway down the corridor by the time she caught sight of him.
Hissing, she jogged a few steps to catch up with him; a hint of disdain curled his upper lip as he focused his stare ahead of him.
A surge of courage chased through her and she spoke before she could lose her nerve. "Why are you avoiding me? I know I haven't strictly given you an answer, yet—"
"You've given your answer," he clipped, cutting her off. "Loud and fucking clear."
Shaking her head, she sped up to keep up with his pace. "No, I haven't!" she exclaimed, brow furrowing. "I've had lots to think about, and—"
"Save it, Granger." He stopped walking and released a long, exasperated sigh. "I don't want to have this conversation with you. I know how to take a fucking hint."
Hermione huffed, wishing she hadn't sought him out after all. He was more interesting when he wasn't angry at her. Folding her arms, she ground through her teeth, "Just tell me one thing."
Finally he glanced her way, and she could see a flash of uncertainty cross his face before his expression hardened once more. "What?"
"When did you realize?" Her voice was scarcely a whisper, and his eyes softened as they swept hers.
When he didn't answer for an extended moment, the pair of them standing in the middle of the corridor, she started to wonder whether he was actually going to.
At last he sighed, sweeping a hand through his hair. "I saw the second photograph when I said I wanted to borrow the book. Then I started to piece it together when I read the third book my mother sent—the one I didn't give you initially—but it all fell into place when I went home the week before term started and found the old spell."
His expression faltered as she gaped at him, lost for words. Finally, he concluded, "Long enough that I'd already come to terms with it by the time you and I discussed it."
The last words resonated quietly in her brain as she played them over, shifting nervously. "So you've…" Losing her train of thought, she shook her head, despair creeping up along her spine. "Accepted—"
"I haven't done anything, Granger," he muttered, "other than to let the idea of it go."
Something like fear, like denial chased through her at the words and she shook her head. "I told you I haven't decided anything yet."
"And I'm making it easier for you." The finality in his tone dislodged the blockage in her brain and she flinched.
"Malfoy," she gasped, fighting the moisture gathering at the corners of her eyes. "You're… what, you're walking away now? You said it was my decision."
"And like I said," he breathed, shifting a hair's breadth closer, "your decision—or lack thereof—has been very clear. You don't have to put it into words, Granger. And I'll be honest—I expected it to play out this way. We'll both just pretend nothing happened and go on with our lives. Now… please, Granger…" A grimace crossed his face, a flicker of something deeper. "Stop bloody staring at me all the time."
Heart racing in her chest, mouth impossibly dry, she could only stare at him as he turned and walked away.
For a while, Hermione considered the thought that she might actually be able to carry on with her life as it had been before she had learned the truth about her connection with Malfoy.
He was, for all intents and purposes, ignoring her existence, and if he was bothered over the situation he wasn't letting on in her presence. And she had been able to settle into a routine of classes, schoolwork, and NEWT preparation.
Hermione was starting to feel like herself again, despite everything the last year had put her through. For several weeks, she felt as if things were going to be okay, for the first time in a long time.
And then the dreams began.
At first they were innocuous, and she hardly noticed the shift as the common nightmares lessened in frequency. On occasion Malfoy would show up in an insignificant capacity; he was simply present and nothing more.
But after a few weeks, his presence grew more frequent, as if her mind were pushing him to the forefront of her subconscious—as if the floodgates had been released.
The nightmares were virtually gone, but the dreams where Malfoy featured were almost more disturbing. Sometimes he would sneer at her from across the room; others he would smile at her, that slow, crooked grin stretching across his face as his grey eyes sparkled with warmth and mischief.
They would talk and laugh together, and there was a version of Malfoy, tucked away in her dreams as he was, that gave her hope. Maybe there was a side of him that she could get along with after all.
But in class, during her waking hours, he offered her only coldness.
Frustration at the vast disparity between her dreams and reality set in, and Hermione found herself wishing he would talk to her like he had during the restoration. She constantly recalled the time they had eaten lunch in Hogsmeade—how they had prodded one another for their taste in food—despite that it was a meagre memory to cling to.
If there was more to him—if there was a possibility for them, after all…
She needed to know.
Night by night, her sleep grew restless, and she could feel it without any context that the unrest was in her very soul. The Malfoy in her dreams became everything she wanted.
But the Malfoy that truly existed was completely different.
As September rolled into October, the late summer warmth dissipated, leaving a cool autumn breeze in its wake. Spurred by the stirrings in her soul, Hermione found herself wandering the grounds as the fading sun dropped over the lake, leaving a brilliant array of oranges and golds in its wake.
Fatigue had settled in and she felt an almost ubiquitous tugging at her eyelids during all of her waking moments, so much so that she had been struggling with her assignments and had ventured to the hospital wing to inquire with Madam Pomfrey as to some Dreamless Sleep Potion.
The potions hadn't worked, and she wasn't entirely surprised that the magic of the brew hadn't superceded the magic of the bond.
Glancing up as she neared the lake, Hermione jumped, startled, to see Malfoy sitting with his back pressed against the wide base of a tree trunk. His eyes were lightly shut but he cracked one open as his face turned towards her.
"Sorry," she gasped, feeling a flush colour her cheeks. He had, in no uncertain terms, made his stance on the situation clear the last time they had spoken. "I didn't mean to disturb you—I'll go."
As she turned, clutching her arms to her front with a chill that had nothing to do with the breeze, she halted at his voice, feeling it resonate deep within her.
Hermione hesitated, half turned from him, tension wracking her entire body as silence descended once more.
He released a long sigh, and said, "You can stay here if you like."
As she turned back towards him, incredulous at the offer, he grimaced and shifted over; the width of the trunk was large enough to just barely accommodate the pair of them. He certainly couldn't expect her to sit that close.
But as she stared at him longer, something fell in his expression, and she could see it in that moment. He was exhausted. Dark shadows bruised the skin beneath his eyes, his shoulders were sunken, his skin paler than usual. His eyes fluttered shut and he blinked them open at her, with a quiet, "Please."
Nerves churned in her stomach and she took up the seat beside him on the grass; her shoulder just barely grazed against his and he made no effort to shift away.
Taking some comfort in his proximity, Hermione breathed, "You haven't been sleeping."
A long, slow shake of his head. "You?"
"No," she returned. His shoulder pressed against hers a little heavier; the contact was doing something to her soul that she couldn't quite understand, and she felt some of the tension she'd been carrying for weeks release.
"I don't know," he began, his voice hoarse and uncertain. Clearing his throat, he spoke louder. "I don't know what to make of this situation. I've tried to give you space."
Hermione could feel his pain in her own heart, and she whispered, "It isn't working."
Malfoy shook his head again and turned towards her, leaning his face against the tree trunk so that the loose strands of his fringe grazed the side of her face. Quietly, he admitted, "I feel like I'm vanishing."
"I don't think there's a right answer here," she said, steeling herself with courage from somewhere deep inside. "But this… what we've been doing feels wrong."
He answered only with a sharp intake of breath.
Never before had she seen Malfoy so vulnerable, and yet he had laid himself bare at her side. Every instinct within her roared to take him into her arms. Instead she angled her head towards his, so that his forehead pressed against her hair. He released a shuddering, ragged breath.
His words were pained against her hair, and she felt the vibrations of his voice so close. "I never should have tried to push you away."
"I need you to explain something to me," she said. He hummed against her hair, and Hermione fixed her gaze out towards the lake. Every fibre of her being felt like she was hanging on some precipice that could determine the outcome of the rest of her life. She was willing to jump but she had no desire to be pushed. "You never cared about me before… not even a little bit. So tell me, please, how this doesn't feel like magical coercion?"
Malfoy was silent for a long moment as his breathing steadied out and she wasn't sure whether he hadn't drifted to sleep. At last he tugged at one of her curls, letting it spring back into place, before lifting his head so he could face her.
"I don't know, Granger. I've asked myself the same thing more times than I can count." Gazing towards the lake, he gave an absent shrug. "All I can come up with is that this magic is so much stronger than anything else. Including our past." As an afterthought, he added, "I can understand your hesitations—believe me."
"But you think this is fine," she whispered, unable to meet his gaze. "You think we should blindly trust in magic."
He canted his head back and forth, his shoulder still pressed against hers. "Tell me this isn't the best you've felt in weeks. Right now."
"I can't." She forced a thick swallow. "But I can't make any sense of this."
As if he recognised her implicit drive to understand, he nodded, turning his gaze towards the lake. "Try looking at it like this: since first year, we've been around one another but there was nothing because we have always been so polarised. Our souls had nothing to find in one another… and we were only children. But since July we've been here."
Her mouth felt dry. "We've been getting to know one another without everything else pushing us apart. Do you think it somehow activated something?"
"It's possible," he mused. "My other thought was that our awareness of the situation, by way of finding the photographs has released… this."
It was a fitting description for the situation that now encompassed them, when Hermione wasn't able to put it into words either.
But he grimaced and added, "There isn't exactly a lot of documentation on this sort of thing—I've looked."
"So have I."
After a long moment's hesitation, he glanced her way again, something soft in his stare. "The question remains—what do we do about it?"
Blowing out a breath, Hermione only shook her head. The entire situation felt overwhelming, and as if anything she said would lock them into something she might not be able to retract.
Interpreting her silence, he spoke softly after a long moment. "I have a thought." Her eyes swept to his, cautious, and his face was blank. "I happen to recall you offering to work together to prepare for our NEWTs."
Relief swept through her at the suggestion. "We could do that."
"And," he went on, a low quality in his voice that chased a shiver down her spine, "if it suits, we can get to know one another better."
Understanding his intentions, she nodded. "On our terms."
"Exactly." A hint of a smile tugged at his lips. "Technically, in the content I've been able to find, there's nothing explicitly stating the soulmate bond has to be romantic in nature. So… maybe we could just try to be friends."
Hermione wasn't certain what to say to that idea, when just the timbre of his voice was doing strange things to her insides, never mind his close proximity, but she managed a nod all the same. She appreciated the suggestion that they simply continue spending time together and learning more about one another, as they had done during the summer.
"Friends," she exhaled. "I see no reason why we can't try to be friends."
His lips curled into a smirk and he huffed a breath of amusement from his nose. "Can you believe it?"
They fell into a companionable sort of silence, the sun setting over the lake in front of them, and Hermione took solace in his presence, to her own surprise and dismay. She still didn't know how she felt about the magic at play between them, and how it would affect things moving forward, but she relaxed back against the tree at his side.
After a few minutes she glanced over, and his eyes had fluttered shut.
"You've completely misinterpreted this translation," Malfoy said with a haughty snicker, tapping her page with his quill as he leaned in. "I don't know what text you're using, but—"
"I'm using the Syllabary," Hermione hissed, recoiling from him with narrowed eyes. Maybe studying together had been a mistake, but it was their third session in a week, and aside from actually making progress in her NEWT preparations, she had been sleeping well again at last. It seemed that just spending time with Malfoy had eased some of the unrest in her soul, and she wasn't entirely certain how she felt about that.
He squinted closer at her notes, and she caught a hint of his cologne. Clicking his tongue, he scratched out one of her runes and Hermione huffed at the affront, smacking his hand out of the way.
Before she could berate him for touching her work, however, another voice intruded.
"Draco, there you are—" But Nott cut himself off, staring blankly between them. Hermione shifted in her seat; if the baffled look on Nott's face said anything, Malfoy clearly hadn't told his mate about the situation between them.
"Theo." Malfoy carried on, drawing out a new rune on her page before looking up. "What do you need?"
As if it were any other day and there was nothing unusual about the pair of them studying Ancient Runes together. Hermione could have laughed at the gaping look on Nott's face.
The other Slytherin continued to stare at her, his chin dropping and brow furrowed; Hermione managed a tight smile. "I thought I'd see if you wanted to work on Transfiguration—but I can see you're already in the middle of something."
"We are." There was a brisk tone to Malfoy's voice but he offered a placating press of the lips. "Granger and I have a standing arrangement for Wednesday evenings, as it turns out." She felt a hot flush colour her cheeks as Nott raised an incredulous brow. "Perhaps tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," Nott echoed, with a swallow and a nod. "Of course. Tomorrow works just fine."
Hermione's eyes flickered to meet Malfoy's, and at his smirk, she barely withheld a nervous titter. She could only imagine the conversation that would happen between them once she was no longer present.
"Great," he clipped, turning back to his friend.
Nott's fingers coiled around the strap of his shoulder bag, and he finally snapped out of his surprise. "See you then." Ducking his chin into a nod, he added, "You two enjoy yourselves."
Despite herself, Hermione chuckled. "Only if Malfoy stops marking up my page."
"He does that," Nott replied, and she felt a sort of relief sweep through her at the easy olive branch between the two of them. After a sort of awkward salute, he stepped away.
With a smirk, Malfoy turned towards her. "I didn't know how much of this you wanted people to know."
"I appreciate that." When his expression faltered, she added, "But people will see us together, so I suppose it won't matter soon enough."
Although he eyed her with a sort of guarded skepticism, his lips quirked with a hint of something more genuine as he murmured, "Okay."
"Hermione, can I talk to you for a minute?"
It was Potions class, and Hermione had been paired with Neville. Ordinarily, that meant Hermione crafting the potion while Neville busied himself reading instructions and collecting ingredients from the open stores at the front of the room. It worked out better for both of them that way.
Charming the glass stirring rod in their potion to rotate counter-clockwise, she turned to face him with surprise; their friendship wasn't so formal as for him to ask. "Sure Neville, what is it?"
Neville's stare flickered across the room, and if she wasn't mistaken, he briefly glanced at the table where Malfoy was working with Nott before he turned back to her. "I hear you've been spending time with Malfoy."
Surprised by the topic, her stomach gave a lurch. "Where did you hear that?"
"Theo mentioned it."
Hermione's eyes tightened. "I didn't realise you and Nott were on a conversational basis."
"We got to know one another last year," Neville said, averting his gaze; a pink flush graced his cheekbones. "He wasn't keen on the Carrows' methods, you see. Saved my arse more than once."
Despite herself, she found her interest drifting across the room towards Nott. Malfoy's eyes lifted to meet hers and she quickly looked away. "That sounds fair enough. He seems a decent bloke." As Neville continued to stare pointedly away, she felt her lips twitch. "How well did you get to know one another?"
Neville's flush deepened but finally he looked back with a sigh. "Well." At Hermione's widening grin, he released a smile himself. "Theo didn't want to make a big thing about it because of his father, but then…"
Her smile dropped off; Nott Senior had been killed during the war.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Neville nodded. "Anyways, Theo met Gran over the summer. They really hit it off, which is remarkable because Gran doesn't hit it off with anyone." Flushing again, he shook his head at Hermione's exclamation of glee.
"It sounds serious!"
"It is, I think," Neville said with a brief nod, glancing once more across the room. Nott looked his way, lips twitching with a smile. "Anyways, this isn't about Theo and I; I'm not sure what's going on with you and Malfoy—"
"I'm not sure either," she interrupted in a whisper. "It's… complicated." She nearly groaned aloud at the words, but Neville only offered a kind smile.
"He hasn't told Theo anything, of course," Neville said, "but Malfoy is Theo's oldest friend and he could tell something had changed. All I wanted to say was… Theo's told me a lot about Malfoy. I don't think he's as bad as we always believed him to be. In fact, it sounds like he's matured into a pretty decent bloke at the heart of things."
Some of the tension lifted from her shoulders at the proclamation, and a soft smile tugged at her lips. "I think he has, too, if I'm honest. The war changed us all, didn't it?"
Neville's hand curled around her shoulder. "It sure did."
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! I hope you've enjoyed this chapter. My best wishes of safety, health, and support to everyone, no matter where in the world you are.
Alpha hearts to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta love to I was BOTWP!
The silence between them stretched on long enough that Hermione could term it comfortable, and when she glanced at Malfoy, he was gazing at his text, a furrow in his brow. His frown deepened with a wince and he leaned back against the headboard of his bed before his gaze swung to hers.
"These goblin wars are officially blending together," he muttered, pressing the heel of his palm to his temple.
From her spot cross-legged in the middle of his bed, sheets of parchment strewn on all sides, she released a sigh. "Maybe it's time for a break."
"Thank Merlin," he said, cracking a smirk. "I was sure you were going to insist we carry on."
With surprise, she took in the wall clock. "It's nearly ten."
They had taken to studying in his quarters when the library was particularly full and noisy, and Hermione was pleased to learn he was as fond of utter silence as she was.
Malfoy gathered his materials before setting them in a tidy stack on the bedside table, and a twinge chased through her at the idea of parting for the night. It had been one of their more productive—and more sociable—study sessions.
Rolling out her neck, she leaned back on her palms, turning towards him. "Do you know what I've been wondering at?"
"I have a feeling you're about to tell me." A slow grin spread across his face, the sort that always caused her stomach to toss and spin.
"Right." A flush coloured her cheeks as she averted her stare. "How often do you suppose the spell resets? Before it… I don't know, recycles our souls or what have you."
His flippant shrug was belied by the seriousness in his response. "I've considered the same. There's no evidence that one soulmate can't live on after the other one passes on, so surely some length of time after the second dies. But they can't be too close—in time or distance—or people would catch on."
"Especially if we always look the same," she added.
"Maybe we don't?" He shrugged again, sweeping a hand along the back of his neck. "Although it wouldn't make sense why the versions of us from Hogwarts of a thousand years ago looked the same, so I think we can safely assume we've always looked this way."
Hermione wrinkled the bridge of her nose and teased, "You're telling me I've always had a thing for blonds?"
He fired her a scowl. "Yes. You have."
"Okay." Planting her hands on the luxurious material of his comforter, she caught his stare. "Is there any way of determining when the spell was cast?"
"Not to my knowledge," he returned. "The spell itself was reported thousands of years ago, according to the book I read at the Manor. But there's nothing to say it wasn't created even further back. So realistically… no, there's no way of knowing—and I can only imagine how that will grind you."
Blowing out a breath, she pursed her lips. "So there could have been a version of us during some interesting periods of history. Imagine the things we've seen?" That secretive smile lingered on his lips as he stared at her, slowly shaking his head at her ponderings. "I wonder if we've ever been Muggles."
"No." At that he responded, gaze tightening. "It's magic that's always bound our souls to this plane, and magic has always been intrinsic to their existence." Before she could say anything more, he added, "And yes I know that means you haven't always been Muggle-born, but technically you are now."
Hermione pointed a finger at him, collecting her thoughts. "But, you can't hold it against me anymore."
His expression sobered and voice dropped. "I haven't for a long time now."
She caught the unfathomable depths in his grey stare, unable to discern the intent behind his words, and she glanced away with a thick swallow. "That's good."
Feeling his gaze linger, her face grew warm until finally he announced, "I think we would have had some interesting times together. I can see you as a queen or something. A pharaoh."
"A pharaoh!" she exclaimed in return, tittering. "And if I was a queen, you were my king I presume?"
His nose wrinkled. "Your stablehand or something, more like." His head dropped to the side in thought. "You were a princess, betrothed to a cruel, ruddy-faced king some several kingdoms away. But alas, you refused to go, and together, you and I caused the demise of your family's royal seat when we ran away into the wilds."
Hermione gaped at him, an incredulous laugh escaping. "You did not just make that up!"
"Maybe I did." A dull flush coloured his cheeks and he glanced away, even as his lips twitched with a remnant of a laugh.
"Okay," Hermione mused, a smile curling her lips. "How's this—you were a dread pirate—the most cutthroat and fearsome on all the seas—"
Malfoy's loud, genuine laugh cut her off as he dropped his head back against the headboard, and a grin stretched his face as he turned back to her. "Do go on. I like this one."
Humming, she met his stare. "What was I? A stowaway on your ship? A runaway desperate to prove herself? A noble in need of a change?"
"You had a crew of your own," he said. "But you struck riches and settled on an island, left to your wealth and desires—until I unknowingly landed on your beaches."
She whispered, "That one sounds controversial. I wasn't fond of you—at first."
"At first," he echoed, voice quieting. "But you warmed up to me. You persuaded me against the life of pillage and plunder."
A soft smile tugged at Hermione's lips as she stared at him across the bed. "I never knew you had such an imagination."
His jaw clenched and eyes drifted to the side. "My father never cared for it."
The words, coupled with the guardedness in his stare, the tightness in his face, spoke volumes. "Your father's in Azkaban." On a life sentence—though she left the words unspoken. When he returned with a slow nod, some of the tension sunk from his face. Hermione glanced away. "I can't help but wonder what your mother thinks of all this."
"I haven't told her."
Her confidence faltered and she managed a quick nod. "Of course not."
"It isn't that—" Sweeping a hand through his hair, he looked away, shifting back. "When I was home at the end of summer, I didn't even know what to make of the situation. And since then… I haven't really known anything at all."
"It's unorthodox," Hermione mused, voice dropping at the serious turn to the conversation. "I suppose I don't really know what's going on either."
Malfoy's expression was that of extreme discomfort and he stared pointedly at the comforter. "It isn't clear what you want from me."
She could feel the fibres of herself shrinking away as she watched him. "I want a choice."
"Right." He gave a sharp nod, pressing his palms together. "Of course. And you haven't had that."
Taken aback, Hermione drew her knees up into her chest. "You said you wanted to be friends."
"Sure, Granger." He swept a hand through his disheveled hair, lips pursing. "We're trying to be friends, yeah?"
"Yeah," she whispered, mouth dry. "But you have given me a choice." His eyes lifted to meet hers, expression otherwise carefully guarded. "You haven't forced any of this on me, and… maybe friendship isn't what we need."
When Malfoy remained silent, regarding her as if he were her wounded prey, she sighed, shifting to sit alongside him against the headboard. He asked, "What are you saying?"
The words tumbled from her lips, feeble and anxious. "Every version of us that ever existed found one another—and they chose one another."
She could see the question in his stare when it met hers once more. Steeling her courage, she drew in a deep breath. "Magic spell or not—we must be soulmates for a reason, right?"
"There it is," he murmured under his breath, a smirk curling his lips and spreading into that slow, crooked grin that he did so well. "That famous logic."
His shoulder brushed against hers, and with a sharp breath, Hermione dropped a hand atop his; he twisted his hand, fingers entwining with hers, gaze fixed on their joined hands as he mused, "So you want to give this a try now."
She squeezed his hand, and when his stare finally met hers again, something shone behind the grey in his irises. All she could manage was a hoarse, "Yes."
Then before the last faint shreds of courage could chase away, she leaned in, dragging the fingers of her free hand across the sharp bones of his jaw and cheek. A sinful hint of something pulled at his lips and he tugged her the rest of the way, his lips finding hers.
Something the likes of which she had never before experienced released within her chest at the feel of his kiss, and she pressed her lips against his, hard, her eyes fluttering shut as her hand grazed his face.
She felt breathless and terrified at once, her heart leaping to life with an anxious rhythm when his lips simply pressed against hers again, and his teeth snagged her bottom lip. A sort of quiet whimper escaped her as her lips parted, tongue grazing against his.
In that moment, Hermione forgot all the rest.
The pounding in her chest pushed her, a singular driving force as she threaded her fingers into the fine strands of his hair; one of his hands clutched her thigh, dragging her across his lap as he buried the other deep in her curls.
And his mouth never left hers in a slow, meticulous assault, his tongue tangling with hers with a careful patience that chased the butterflies in her stomach.
Malfoy released her with a barely there kiss, his lips grazing the curve of her jaw and trailing back to snag her earlobe between his teeth. Chest heaving, Hermione found herself breathing into the warmth of his throat, her hands clutching the back of his head as one of his hands slid up to the small of her back.
In silence, she dropped back onto her heels, straddling his lap, to see his face and the slow smirk she already knew she would find.
What she wasn't prepared for, however, was the tingle in her skin where his hands had touched. The way her heart continued to race as if it would never slow. And a deep longing she couldn't place as she gazed into his eyes.
An immeasurable sensation of joy.
A smile spread across her face at the feel of it, and his smirk softened into something else entirely—something quiet and vulnerable and laden with emotion.
She couldn't have put the feel of it into words if she'd spent a thousand years. So she merely stared at him, catching his hand and twisting their fingers.
And she could feel in his stare, that he understood. He was her soulmate; the thought of it left an exhilarating rush in her veins. Her soulmate.
With a burst of genuine mirth, she buried her face in his throat, basking in the feel of his hands as they swept along the length of her back and tugged at her curls.
As if reading her thoughts, he breathed next to her ear, "Soulmate."
"You know, Hermione."
Startled from her thoughts, she whirled to see Neville's amused face staring at her. "Sorry," she whispered, sheepish, "what were you saying?"
Neville waved a dismissive hand. "Only that you and Malfoy can't stop staring at each other, and if you'd rather work with him I won't be offended."
Flustered, and feeling a blush grace her cheeks, she shook it off. "Nonsense. You're my partner."
Ever since they had kissed in his quarters two nights prior, Hermione had scarcely thought of anything but Malfoy. At night, she dreamed of him. During the day, she drifted to thoughts of him, a smile curling her lips. And when she caught his stare in classes, the look in his eye was something private for her.
Presently, he'd been staring at her, biting down on his bottom lip, and it caused her core to clench in the most delicious way—and unwelcome, given they were in Potions class.
"I insist," Neville pushed, already packing his ingredients hastily into his bag. "You and Malfoy work together, and I'll work with Theo."
Hermione wanted to ask him to stay, as he was the only reasonable barrier to her thoughts remaining inside her head; if Malfoy was at her table she didn't know what would happen. But Neville had already been more understanding of the situation than he needed to be, and he didn't even know the truth of the matter.
That Draco Malfoy was her soulmate.
The thought danced around her brain with a joyous swell, and she couldn't fight the smile as Neville chuckled and walked away; moments later Malfoy settled into the vacant seat beside her.
His eyes slid to the side to find her. "Looks like we're partners now."
"I think Neville and Theo are tired of us," she whispered idly, watching as he drew his materials from his bag with long, deft fingers.
"Right, well," Malfoy drawled, "I grew tired of them last year, so Theo owes me."
"You knew?" Gaping at him, she dropped her voice to a hush when Slughorn glanced at the disturbance the four of them had made. "Last year?"
He gave a sort of vague, noncommittal gesture. "I suspected, anyways. They never told me, but it was pretty obvious after a while."
Glancing up, Hermione became aware of the dead silence that had overtaken the room. Most of their classmates were blatantly staring, and it occurred to her that it wasn't exactly common knowledge that the two of them had been spending time together. In her distracted state, she hadn't even considered the way that it would come across for the two of them to work together.
And for him to sit down and commence casual conversation.
But at a scowl and a lifted brow from her new desk partner, the rest of the room turned back to their work, although a buzz of quiet conversation lifted into the air.
When he carefully opened his text to the proper page and turned towards her, the flurry of heightened emotions racing through her awoke once more. With a secretive smile, he said, "You're going to need to focus, Granger." Cursing herself, she noticed she had knocked over a partial jar of ink with her elbow, and hastened to siphon it back into the jar with her wand. His voice dropped and he added, "But for the record, I'm feeling it too."
Hardly able to account for her flighty state, she drew in a deep, stabilising breath. "Feeling what?"
He gave a single-shouldered shrug. "This. Whatever it is between us. Everything feels… more."
"Yes," she breathed with a thick swallow. "More."
"Like the world just became clearer, and everything makes more sense."
Hermione gave a voracious nod. "That's the spell?"
Tongue darting out to moisten his lips, he gave a short shake of the head. "I don't think so—I think it's the bond. I think we accepted it. Two nights ago."
The words jarred through her head but she nodded all the same. She had come to terms with the idea of it, and it reasonably made sense that such a deliberate expression towards one another would awaken the full strength of the soul bond.
Beneath the table, his fingers grazed hers; without hesitation she took his hand, even as she understood the intended message: they could keep the situation private if she so chose.
In a whisper, she asked, "How much do Theo and Neville know?"
"Only what they've figured out on their own," he replied, lips twitching. "Both of them come from old families—I imagine they have a few guesses."
Her gaze drifted across the room, and she saw Neville and Theo in quiet conversation as they stared at the pair of them, their potion ignored on the table in front of them. She mused, "I'm sure they do."
Malfoy untangled their hands, rising to his feet to sort through his materials. Following his lead, she rose and they worked on the potion in companionable silence for a while until he spoke. "I sort of figured I would owl my mother—unless you don't see this going anywhere."
The words felt incredibly tongue in cheek, when given the context that they had accepted an irreversible soul bond between soulmates. Hermione was quite certain there wasn't any way of going back from that, although the thought didn't scare her as it once had.
If anything, the idea of the rest of her life with her soulmate was now an enticing one.
And despite her earlier reservations, she didn't think it was the magic spurring anything onwards. They had spent time growing to know one another, and if she was honest, she didn't think there would be much in the way of incompatibility between them. It was in the very nature of their souls being two halves of a whole.
He was still staring, pointedly, and she nodded. "I imagine that's fine. What will you tell her?"
"Whatever you want me to."
Considering the thought, her head dropped to the side as she lifted her knife and idly began to dice some roots. "I'll have to meet her."
"Yes." Amusement graced his expression when she handed him her cutting board, and he scraped its contents into their potion, which bubbled away in a merry shade of teal. "However and whenever suits you."
"Will she be upset?" Hermione was grateful for the busy tasks before her as she moved on with the next stage of potion preparation. "You know, that it's me."
When Malfoy didn't answer but to stare at her, she finally looked up. He released a long sigh, setting the potion to stir itself. On their feet, he looked so much taller than her, and the thought of meeting his mother in such a capacity set off a wild string of nerves.
At last he said, "My mother wants me to be happy."
Hermione scooped a careful portion of beetle eyes into the cauldron; it fizzled and popped before shifting into a chromatic violet. "And that you've found your soulmate?"
She dared look up at him, more nervous than she knew she ought to be, and he was gazing at her with something she couldn't quite place. Quietly, he responded, "She will be thrilled." He ducked in, one hand grazing the small of her back, and breathed, "You have no reason to worry."
His tone was reassuring enough that she allowed a smile, the nerves sinking from her shoulders. "Very well, then." When she held his eyes and watched as they darkened, she added, "Should I come over tonight?"
A grin spread across his face. "Yes, please."
Hermione could already feel the elation churning in her stomach, the peace settling over her countenance as she waited for Malfoy to open his door that evening.
Idly, she wondered whether he would always make her feel this way or if it was a residual side effect of the soulmate bond between them.
But when the door swung open she was hauled into the room, Malfoy's lips on hers before he could even kick the door shut behind her. She smiled into the kiss, twining her hands into his hair as the full length of his body pressed her back into the inside of the door. The lean muscle of his chest and stomach melded with her, his hands snaking to her back as his tongue tangled with her own, heart racing at the all-encompassing feel of him.
It was different than the first kiss they had shared, tentative and cautious; his touch had her blood flaring in her veins, her fingers eager to feel and touch and she idly toyed with the knot of his tie at his throat as he groaned against her mouth, his hips grinding against hers. Dragging his teeth along her jaw, he murmured, "Granger. Hi."
"Hi," she returned, her voice breathless as her head dropped back against the door. His lips latched on to the column of her throat, working the sensitive skin. She could feel the hard evidence of his arousal against her and her own core clenched with awareness and desire.
Her fingers made deft work of his tie, slipping the top few buttons of his Oxford before his fingers stifled her own. He drew away, his eyes glazed and lidded as they sought hers, and his lips twitched with a smirk before he ducked in to trail the flat of his tongue along the soft skin of her neck. Finally he drew back entirely, a flush to his face.
With a cheeky grin, he adjusted his trousers and settled on the edge of the bed; smoothing her shirt, she took a seat on the bed, facing him with her legs folded beneath her.
"Thanks for coming."
Her heart still raced at the sight of him. "Thanks for having me."
The smile slid from his face. "I owled my mother—nothing specific, just that I wanted her to meet you at some point in the future."
Swallowing back her fear, and the memories of Malfoy Manor that still occasionally haunted her dreams, she nodded. "That sounds reasonable."
A thought had been niggling at the back of her mind, and she dropped onto her stomach on the bed, rolling her head to face him as he shifted alongside her to gaze up at the ceiling.
"I keep thinking about what the book said—that two halves of a soul will always find one another." Hesitating, she dragged her bottom lip between her teeth. "Do you think this was inevitable?"
"Honestly?" His brows lifted. "I think I realised that after we tried to keep apart and it didn't work out at all."
"But say nothing changed," she went on, eyes tightening. "Nothing happened to put the two of us on this path; or maybe the war ended differently. If he won."
Malfoy swallowed, looking uncomfortable. "I don't know how to answer that, because I don't know what would have happened if that had been the case. I've tried not to think about it for years." When she glanced away, embarrassed, he added, "I just keep coming back to the thought that soulmates will always find one another. So whether that was now, or five years from now when our paths crossed out in the world…" Trailing off, he offered a shrug. "Yes. I do think this was inevitable. How else have our souls carried on together for thousands of years?"
"The day when I found you by the lake," she mused, rolling to face the ceiling. "Merlin, the day we both wound up in the Room of Hidden Things."
He glanced at her with a smirk. "And I told you it wasn't a coincidence."
Hermione looked at him with surprise. "You knew, even then?"
"I suspected. But… our souls have been looking for one another, maybe ever since it was safe to do so. Because by the nature of it… my soul would never have tried to endanger your soul. Does that make sense?"
"It does," she replied, feeling at peace with the idea of it at last. That the soulmate bond wasn't coercing them; it was simply bringing them to one another. "So during the war…"
"During the war it couldn't have worked," he replied quietly. As if his mind drifted elsewhere, he suddenly asked, "What are you going to tell Potter and Weasley?"
A quiet huff of laughter escaped her lips. "I can't say I've given it all that much thought yet. Or maybe I just haven't wanted to."
"I haven't wanted to either," he admitted with mocking seriousness. "I have this feeling Weasley's going to try to knock my teeth in."
"I won't let him," she breathed with a smile. "You have such nice teeth."
"At least I have Longbottom on my side," he went on, flashing a toothy grin. "And we don't need to have that meeting for a while."
Distracted, she turned to face him, running her fingertips along the sharp angle of his cheekbone. "I like when you smile at me."
The humour dropped from his face, to be replaced with something far more sobering. He leaned closer, pressing a soft kiss to her lips before resting his forehead against hers. "I feel like I have seven years to make up for."
Her heart stuttered in her chest at the admission, and her own smile fell into something sad. "I think we both have a lot to work through." His arms coiled around her shoulders, drawing her close and her eyes fluttered in his embrace. "But the good news is… we have the rest of forever."
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! Just one chapter remains of this little story, and I'll shoot to post it Tuesday-ish, since the next chapter of Nocturnus is scheduled for Thursday.
I hope you're all holding up okay with the challenges currently in the world. Be well and safe and look after one another, and I'll do my best to keep sharing words xoxo.
(Also PS some of you mentioned about the Theo/Neville, and I actually wrote a two-part seventh year fic about them last month if you're interested!)
Thank you to Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP for their help with this story.
It was remarkable how quickly time became both immaterial and abstract. For Hermione, the weeks that followed her acceptance of the soulmate bond with Draco drifted past in a blur.
With little regard for the thoughts and opinions of the rest of the students in their year, they started working together in most classes, and studying together in the library. When they weren't studying, they paced the corridors, ventured onto the grounds, and spent hours upon hours talking and learning one another better.
And in the evenings, they would usually end up in one of their quarters', exploring some of the more physical aspects of the bond.
While, to a certain extent, Hermione recognised the magic of the soulmate bond at play, most of the time it simply felt like the connection between them had rapidly grown strong enough to overpower all the rest.
They had shared many frank discussions of the war and their formative years, and she was satisfied to think that most every negative experience between the pair of them had been set aside, eclipsed by the hope of a future together.
Because there would be no going back, even if she wanted to.
Draco still had a tendency to tease her, and she was often keen to incite a debate—mostly good-natured, although sometimes they escalated into something more heated—so she knew they hadn't changed as people.
It was more like they had simply accepted all the ways in which they fit with one another.
The way he smiled at her brought a flutter to her stomach; the way his hands felt against her skin awoke heated desire deep within—but neither of them had been in a rush to take things to the next level just yet. Hermione suspected it would be an experience worthy of patience.
But most importantly, she had grown to truly admire his mind. His creativity, his keen, intuitive intelligence, and his dry sense of humour.
Oddly enough, and in every way that counted, Draco had become everything she had ever wanted.
When his grey eyes lifted and caught hers as she stared at the consideration written on his face in study, his lips pulled into an easy smirk. The best part was that their life together—this time around, anyways—was only getting started.
"Another owl from my mother," Draco drawled, brandishing a scroll of parchment as he stifled a yawn. "I don't think she's going to give up, just so you know."
"I don't think she is either," Hermione replied, her lips tugging into a smile. "I suppose we ought to make plans to see her soon."
His arms laced around her middle from behind, toppling the pair of them sideways onto his bed as his lips found the curve of her throat. Against her skin, he muttered, "Only if you're comfortable with it."
With a sigh, her eyes fluttered at the feel of his ministrations, skin alight where he touched. The words hitched in her throat as she said, "It's a Hogsmeade weekend. Maybe she'll be willing to meet us there."
Draco froze, eyes lifting to meet hers. "Granger, she would meet us in a back alley at this point. It isn't overt in her letters, but she is far more curious about this than she's trying to let on." Propping his elbows on either side of her, his expression sobered. "And we don't have to tell her everything yet if you prefer. All she needs to know is that you—" cutting off, he pressed a kiss to her jaw, "—are it for me."
When his lips shifted to meet hers, Hermione smiled into the kiss. "And you for me."
The slow grin that spread across his face set her heart racing.
Cautious grey eyes met hers as Hermione worried her bottom lip. Draco's hand gave hers a squeeze. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," she breathed, managing an effort at a smile. "There's no sense in putting it off much longer. We can't change our situation—not that I want to—and your mother should know the truth of it."
He was silent at her side for a long moment before he offered a sharp nod. "I've never introduced anyone to my mother before. Seems… fitting that it would be you." He wasn't prone to fidgeting, so the way he toyed with the handkerchief in his place setting suggested he was nervous as well.
They had selected the only tea house in Hogsmeade, and it wasn't exactly posh by most standards, but it would do well enough, according to him. He had assured her his mother was keen to meet with them no matter the locale.
As the bell above the door tinkled, they both flinched, glancing up—but the newcomers to the otherwise empty shop were Neville and Theo. The pair froze on the threshold, staring blankly at the two of them already seated, before Neville offered a wave and Theo ducked his chin with a nod.
Draco released an audible sigh and grumbled something under her breath when Hermione smiled and waved in return. Neville and Theo had been aggressively intrigued by the situation between them, although they still didn't know the truth of the matter either.
Despite their best efforts.
It was almost comical, the way Theo and Neville had taken to observing their interactions—and the four of them had even begun sitting together at meals. It wasn't what Hermione had ever expected for her eighth year; but then, none of the previous years had gone as she might have expected either.
"This looks uncomfortable," Theo commented with a wry grin as he approached the table, Neville in tow. Vaguely, he waved towards the two of them sitting on one side of the table together.
Draco adjusted his tie, a bitter twist to his mouth. "We are meeting my mother."
Theo snickered. "Enough said. We'll mind our own—over there."
But even as Neville and Theo selected a small table across the shop, Hermione could feel their eyes on her. She pulled Draco's hand into her own, grateful when he easily interlaced their fingers.
Thankfully they didn't have much longer to wait, because minutes later Narcissa Malfoy walked through the door and Draco leapt to his feet, rounding the table to draw his mother's chair for her. Hermione's stomach twisted at the casual effort.
The woman took her seat with grace and a demure smile, her pale blonde hair pulled into a delicate coif, looking every bit the lady of the manor. "Thank you, Draco. Miss Granger, it's wonderful to see you."
Hermione bit her lip on any sort of derisive comment related to the fact that the last time the two had seen one another, she had been bleeding out on the floor of the older woman's drawing room. Dipping her chin into a nod, she offered, "And you. I hope you've been keeping well."
By the slight hint of a falter in Narcissa's smile, she recognised the circumstances just as well without Hermione's inferences. "Well enough, as it were. Are you enjoying your school year so far?"
On instinct, Hermione's eyes flitted to meet Draco's, and a smile pulled at her lips.
She could feel Neville and Theo watching the three of them, and forced her focus to remain on Narcissa. "Certainly. There have been unexpected occurrences, as I'm sure you've gathered." Draco clicked his tongue and offered a smirk.
"I see that," Narcissa said, her smile softening into something else.
Their pot of tea was delivered, and Draco was quick to pour three cups; Hermione noticed he prepared his mother's tea in a very specific way, and also her own as she preferred it.
The three of them looked up, distracted, at a clattering of china across the tea shop; it appeared as if Neville had dropped his teacup on the ground. His face was red when Hermione looked towards him and she couldn't help but wonder whether they were attempting to eavesdrop.
Narcissa blinked several times, shaking her head. "Is that young Mister Nott?"
"It is," Draco replied with a grimace. In an effort to draw his mother's attention back to the matter at hand, he added, "Hermione and I have been spending a lot of time together since returning to assist with the Hogwarts reparation during the summer."
"That is excellent," Narcissa replied with a nod. "And I can see by looking at you that you are doing much better." The woman's blue eyes met Hermione's with a warmth she hadn't expected. "I am so pleased the two of you have found one another."
"Actually," Hermione said with a quick draw of breath; Draco's hand beneath the table gave hers a squeeze. "It's an interesting circumstance, you see—"
Cutting herself off, she forced a thick swallow. Hesitant, Draco's eyes found hers and she managed a nod.
He turned towards his mother. "Believe it or not, Mother, Granger and I discovered we are actually—"
A familiar, incredulous voice sounded and her eyes widened as they swung towards the door. Harry and Ron stood on the threshold of the small tea shop, dressed in their Auror robes and mouths hanging open in surprise.
"Hermione, what the—Neville?" Ron stomped forward, scratching the back of his head, his expression growing increasingly bewildered.
Narcissa blinked at the events unfolding, startled. "You and Miss Granger are what, dear?"
Harry stomped over to the table, a thick furrow in his brow.
Unable to fight off a grimace, Hermione said, "Harry, what are you doing in Hogsmeade? I thought you were in training."
"We had the weekend off," Ron broke in, folding his arms as his eyes narrowed in on Draco at her side. "Thought we'd surprise you—and what, in the name of Merlin, are you doing here with him?"
Draco rose to his feet, his mother watching on in confusion; within moments Theo and Neville leapt across the room, sensing an altercation.
"If you don't mind," Draco drawled, casting a scowl across all of their unwanted company, "we're in the middle of something."
"The middle of—" Ron spluttered as he was dragged away from Draco by Neville. "Neville, what the fuck?"
"Language, Weasley," Draco snapped, gesturing towards his mother.
Hermione found Narcissa's stare across the table and managed a quiet, "I am so sorry for all of this."
The woman merely waved a hand and took a sip of her tea, as if accustomed to the antics of young men. "Rogues, the lot of them."
"Is someone going to explain why Hermione is out for tea with Malfoy and his mother?" Harry bellowed to the room at large.
Cheeks coloured with embarrassment, Hermione rose from her seat, turning placating eyes on her oldest friend. "Harry, look. This all has a perfectly reasonable explanation."
Despite her efforts, Harry's green eyes narrowed. "Then I suggest you explain before Ron knocks his teeth out."
Draco gave her a pointed look, and an uneasy titter bubbled forth from her lips.
"Yes, Hermione," Theo broke in, stepping in alongside Harry, who cast the Slytherin a startled look. "Why don't you and Draco finally explain what's going on?"
"Finally?" Harry echoed. "Are you two together?"
"Yes," Hermione conceded, blowing out a breath. "Harry, Draco and I are together."
"WHAT?" Ron had torn free of Neville's hold, sullen and pouting as he stormed the table once more. "Tell me this is some bad joke."
"This is utter madness," Draco muttered as he adjusted his tie and swept in alongside her; there was a flush to his cheekbones and his hair was disheveled.
In some sort of bizarre standoff, the six of them stood at odds while Narcissa took another sip of her tea, her eyes narrowed at the lot of them. "Is someone going to tell the group what's happening here?"
"Merlin," Hermione breathed to herself. It was a wonder no one else was in the shop; she felt badly for the servers.
Draco swept a hand through his hair. "Theo is here with Neville. Hermione and I are here for a nice visit with my mother. You two—" he gestured towards Harry and Ron "—I don't know what you're doing here. But the only person I'm sharing anything with is my mother."
Chaos erupted once more.
Vaguely, Hermione could hear the persistent arguments of Harry and Ron; Theo's exclamation of, "There are only six possible scenarios that make sense here," caused her to press her fingers to her temples in frustration, even as Neville's efforts to placate the rest fell flat.
Almost incredulous, Narcissa gave a titter of amusement as Hermione dropped back into her seat. Idly toying with her handkerchief, she looked the older woman in the eye and quietly announced, "Draco and I are soulmates."
Narcissa's small gasp was the only sound to punctuate the sudden gaping silence.
A reassuring hand squeezed her shoulder, and she glanced up to see Draco eyeing her with a soft smile.
Then Theo announced, "I knew it. Nev, didn't I say that's what it was?"
With a heavy exhale, Harry dropped into the seat beside Narcissa, a hunch to his shoulders. "Hermione, is that true? I didn't even know that was… well, real."
"Soulmates are very real," Narcissa spoke quietly; when Hermione looked her way, the woman's blue eyes were glassy. "But incredibly rare." As Draco took up his own former seat and some of the chaos diminished, she added, "How on earth did you find out?"
"It's a long story," he said with a grimace. "But, yes. It's true."
When Hermione hazarded a glance towards the audience, Neville and Ron were both gaping; Theo's arms were folded, a smug grin on his face.
Just then the server interrupted, her expression meek. "I'm sorry, but I need to ask you all to leave."
Draco took a long swig of his tea and rose to his feet once more. "It's honestly a fair request."
After the group of them were kicked out of the tea shop, Hermione and Draco spoke briefly with Narcissa, promising they would meet again soon under better circumstances. Then with a grimace, he turned to the rest of the group, suggesting they go for a Butterbeer instead.
Hermione wasn't keen to hand out all the details, but she and Draco shared a brief recap of finding the photographs, and how they had grown to connect with one another over the summer and through the months since returning for their eighth year.
She could tell Harry and Ron weren't exactly thrilled about the idea, but they left the pub with begrudging acceptance.
While it wasn't even close to how she had imagined telling her friends, it felt nice to have it all in the open, and she was mentally drained by the time she returned to Hogwarts with Draco.
When he collapsed on his bed once they'd arrived in his quarters, rubbing at his eyes, he muttered, "Well that went terribly."
"It could have been worse," Hermione suggested; at his cocked brow, she grimaced. "Not much worse. But ultimately, everyone was okay with it."
Toeing off his shoes, he laid back, tugging her alongside him into his arms. "True. I thought Weasley was going to come at me in a tea shop for a minute there."
"So did I." A smile pulled at her lips as she met his eyes. "The good news is that the most uncomfortable conversations happened all at once."
Draco released a genuine laugh, a grin crossing his face. "Also true. And now I get you all to myself without worrying about your friends."
"You do," she mused, voice dropping as she twisted her hand into the fabric of his tie, drawing him in so that her mouth found his. When he deepened the kiss, hands coming to the line of her jaw, Hermione felt her body flare to life, core clenching with desire. She whispered against his mouth, "I'm all yours."
Freezing, his eyes snapped open to meet hers, searching for something within them. She only smiled, slipping free the knot of his tie while he watched, his throat bobbing with a swallow. When she plucked open the top few buttons of his shirt, his fingers caught hers. Voice thick, he said, "What are you doing?"
Eyeing him carefully, Hermione shifted back against the headboard, feeling nerves tingle along the surface of her skin as he eyed her with caution. Loosening the top buttons of her own shirt, she watched as a smirk pulled at his lips before he dove forward, covering her mouth with his own once more.
Between kisses, he mused, "You aren't serious?"
Her fingers carded through his smooth hair. "I'm serious—unless you want to keep waiting?"
Drawing back, Draco lifted one pale brow, chin lowered. "Hermione." The word was a quiet oath. "If you want to do this, I am more than willing."
She stared at him for a long moment, feeling the warmth emanating from his eyes across her skin; his fingertips danced along the fabric of her sleeves towards her shoulders. "You should know," she breathed, "that I want this—I want you. And not because of any old spell. We're going to be together for the rest of our lives..." Embarrassed to feel moisture stinging at her eyes, she glanced away, blinking rapidly. "And I already know there's no one else I'd rather be bonded with."
Draco's face softened as he listened, sweeping the pad of his thumb beneath her eye. With a slow shake of his head, he breathed, "I'll never deserve you."
As she exhaled a shaky breath, her lips twitched. "Irrelevant."
"Unfortunately for you."
They shared a grin and he ducked in, kissing her harder as he slipped the remaining buttons of her shirt, grazing his palm along the lace of her bra as he threw her shirt to the floor. He swallowed the soft whimper that escaped her mouth as he tweaked her nipple through the thin fabric, and she dragged her hands down the rich material of his shirt, continuing her earlier efforts until she was able to push the fabric from his shoulders.
Suddenly he swept an arm around her back, startling her, and deposited her onto her back in the middle of his bed. Grinning down at her, he ducked in, trailing a line of kisses from her throat to the curve of her breast, dragging the cup of her bra to the side and taking her nipple between his lips.
With each touch and every kiss, her body awoke and pulsed with awareness, anticipation shimmering below the surface of her skin; her back arched from the bed at the feel of his deft movements, the way his hands gripped her hips to hold her in place.
Hermione could sense the magic dancing between them, elevating everything beyond what she could have expected, and she nearly groaned aloud when he loosened her jeans, dragging them from her legs. Then he was kissing her again, his bare chest grazing hers when he reached beneath her back to release the clasp of her bra.
The contact was heady, and the feel of Draco overwhelming as she fumbled with his belt buckle, a slight tremble to her fingers before she managed it. She could feel the smirk against her lips when he pulled off his trousers, and when she slipped a hand into his pants to take him in her palm, he groaned into her mouth.
Her chest heaved with the racing of her heart, and his eyes met hers once more as his fingers gently tugged at the fabric of her knickers, seeking assurance or confirmation, she wasn't certain—but she managed a nod, mind slipping into a state of delirium when his fingers slid between her legs, finding her slick juices and pushing towards her core.
Eyes rolling back, she dragged his mouth to hers again, seeking to explore his mouth as he made quick work of his pants; she groaned as, within moments, he carefully pushed inside of her.
For a singular moment, it felt as if time had stopped.
Draco met her eyes, and in the grey depths of his irises, for a brief flicker of time, everything hung before her. For thousands of years, he had been at her side in one way or another. In his eyes, for that instant, she bore witness.
Once more, they had found one another—and their souls would carry on indefinitely, seeking and searching.
The emotion of the moment echoed back at her, endless and forever in its depths.
Then she blinked, and it was gone.
The heaviness of his exhale and the surprised part to his lips drew a smile to her own. Leaning in with a soft kiss, he began to move—
Her body was alight with the feel of him, her soul basking in the energy of its mate, and a soft sound escaped her as he thrust into her with an increased fervour, her nails dragging down the skin of his back.
On a hushed exhale, he breathed her name, prayer and absolution, hands gentle but assertive as he traced the lines of her body. And with each drive into her core, she drifted closer to the edge, chasing both darkness and light behind her eyelids as her mouth once more sought his.
Her orgasm swelled and crashed upon her with a cry as she fell, heart racing and soul alive with the feel of its other half.
When Draco followed moments later with a soft groan, he blinked his eyes open, chest heaving a little with exertion; his cheeks were flushed, a thin sheen of sweat coated his temples, and she had never seen him so wonderful.
A soft, secretive smile on his face, he withdrew from within her, grappling for his wand to cast a quick contraceptive spell before shifting beside her.
As he laid his face flat on the comforter, they stared at one another in silence. His hand lifted to tuck a stray curl behind her ear, and his fingers lingered on her face.
"Call me crazy," he breathed at last, "but I fucking love you."
"You're crazy." Her smile softened into something else, something she felt in her heart as the admission resonated within her. "But I love you too."
"Good," he mused, lips grazing hers, "because you're stuck with me forever."
The thought of it made her soul soar.
Eight months later
Fingers pressed to her temples to quell the anxious throbbing there, Hermione stared at the contents of a small square of parchment. To her right, Draco, Theo, and Neville were engaged in a loud, celebratory conversation at one end of the Slytherin table.
Her eyes narrowed and she felt the hot sting of moisture, even as she furiously blinked it back.
"You're going to drive yourself crazy." Draco's voice was quiet in her ear as he ducked in. "It doesn't matter that much, Hermione."
She fired him a scowl and with a facetious lift of his brows, he returned to the conversation. Instantly, her eyes dropped back to the parchment on the table.
Ancient Runes - E
It stared back at her, mocking, from within the row of Os.
She had studied the content backwards, frontwards, and every which way imaginable. There was no way she hadn't scored an Outstanding on her Runes NEWT.
But Professor Babbling had insisted the score was correct, and presented an explanation of her errors. The woman had gone so far as to congratulate her on performing so well.
If Hermione had performed well, she would have received an O.
She drew in a long breath, chest lifting with the effort, and glanced up to feel three sets of eyes fixed on her. Neville was the first to break the awkward silence, dragging a hand through his hair. "Hermione, you're going to be alright, yeah?"
The worst bloody part of it was that the blond at her side had received an O. They had studied together every day, for Merlin's sake.
Disgruntled, she threw her hands into the air, feeling a flush colour her cheeks. "I won't be alright if I decide I want to pursue a career in Ancient Runes!"
"But that wasn't your intent anyways," Draco mused, swiping a carrot stick from her mostly untouched plate. "Honestly, it happens. One E isn't the end of the world, and it certainly isn't going to stand in the way of any job. You got an O on everything else, didn't you?"
Her narrowed eyes fixed on him once more. "You received an O on everything." With a bland, closed-lipped smile, he shrugged, and Hermione released an irritable huff. "I just don't understand, when we studied all the same material. You used my preparation timetable!"
Vaguely, somewhere abstract in the back of her mind, Hermione recognised it wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to her, and she wouldn't even have minded receiving an E, but for the fact that Draco had earned an O.
Theo and Neville stared on, amusement clear on their faces, but Hermione only shook her head.
"I do seem to recall," Draco began, his voice gentle and gratingly patronising, "that I mentioned months ago your translations using the Syllabary were not quite right."
She couldn't look away from the thin, slanting E on her grade report.
"Merlin," Theo muttered with a low whistle, "I feel like this is the end for you two. I have to say, I thought this was a forever situation."
The tongue in cheek statement drew Hermione's ire in Theo's direction, and he cowered under her fuming stare.
But Draco only clicked his tongue and waved a hand. "It is, as we all know. She's stuck with me for life—and she'll always remember the time I outperformed her in Ancient Runes."
A long, defeated groan escaped her lips as her countenance sunk.
With a grin, he slung an arm across her shoulders. "The good news, love, is that I can help you if you ever need a runic translation done." Jaw clenching, she shrugged his arm off and he barked a laugh. "Too much?"
"Too much," Theo echoed with a grimace. "At the least, I think Hermione's going to call off your upcoming trip."
Momentarily distracted from her melancholy cloud, Hermione glanced up. She and Draco were set to depart England shortly after leaving school, with plans to visit several countries on the continent before settling into their respective careers.
Most interestingly, they had contacted a scholar in Madrid who dealt with matters of fate and the soul—and he was even familiar with the spell that had been cast on the pair of them long ago. Hermione was eager to see what they could find, or whether they would be able to learn anything about any of their past lives together.
When she turned towards Draco, hesitation shone in his stare; he loosed a sigh and muttered, "I was only ribbing."
Forcing a swallow, she folded up the sheet of paper at last and tucked it carefully between two books in her bag. "I know." Releasing a breath through her nose, she dropped her voice so only he could hear and added, "I wouldn't cancel our trip. Definitely not over something like this."
A slow smirk crossed his face, setting the butterflies in her stomach alight. "So you admit you're overreacting."
A quick glance across the table assured her Neville and Theo had ventured into a conversation of their own. Folding her arms, she said, "I don't think I'm overreacting." She couldn't keep the hint of petulance from her tone. "But, I'm not going to let it come between us."
"Merlin, I hope not," he teased. "The rest of our lives is a long time to be upset with me over an exam score."
As it always did, the inference of forever plucked at her heartstrings, and she sought the warmth in his stare.
Now and again, she saw flickers of something else behind his eyes. Something older and otherworldly. And she couldn't help the thought, ambiguous though it was, that she was sensing his soul. In an instant, it flashed in the grey depths of his irises, but before it vanished, she witnessed the joy and peace beneath the surface.
Their souls had known one another for so long—knew each other so well.
Her eyes stung at the thought of it; Draco dragged his hand along her back, planting a kiss to her temple when she glanced away. As if he'd seen it too.
This was just another chapter in their existence together. And she felt in her heart—in her soul—that they would make the best of it.
Before their souls one day drifted free, wisps on the wind, in search of one another once more.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading everyone. Your lovely comments have really helped uplift my spirits during these challenging times. If I can make just one person smile with these words it'll be worth it. I hope you enjoyed this tropey little story.
I hope you're all keeping safe and well, and you're all in my thoughts.
Love and hugs to my wonderful team with this story, Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP.