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.