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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.