Chapter 5

When Hermione woke up, the space beside her where Draco had slept was cold. Opening her eyes, she saw him standing by the window, his bare back to her. Beyond him, a strange light could be seen outside. It was neither the dawning sunlight of a new day nor a midnight light from a lantern or fire, but a peculiar type of radiance that gave the sky an otherworldly, chartreuse-colored glow. The two moons were gone; in their place were clouds reflecting the color around them. They reminded Hermione of Northern lights.

"What's going on?" she asked drowsily.

Draco turned around. His face was solemn. "I don't know. But this," he said as he gestured at the window. "This worries me. It….it looks….spooky."

Hermione hid her grin at his choice of words and was almost tempted to say nothing could be scarier than seeing a Morsmordre hanging in the sky, but refrained. There would be no point in opening old wounds. Climbing out of the bed, she went to stand beside him. Draco slipped his arm around her, holding her as one would a lover. Which was now his right.

The night before had shattered all illusions. Afterward, they'd both come to the truth; whatever mysterious tie it was that linked them, it was far greater than they'd known. Their relationship felt right; natural. Strong, like it had always been there.

And maybe it had, thought Hermione. Maybe their situations had been what kept them from realizing it. Draco had been on one side, she on the other, with no bridge in between. But here in this strange world, it was as clear as day that the two teens were two sides of the same coin.

Both intelligent, articulate, loyal. But they were flip sides as well. One a saint, the other a survivor. One desperately wanting forgiveness, the other practiced in giving it.

Hermione leaned up to give Draco a soft kiss. He pulled her tightly against him and sighed. "Hermione…." he began.

She tilted her head to better see his face. It looked drawn and pained.

"What is it?"

Draco swallowed. "I….I had a dream last night. A nightmare, actually."

Hermione began to rub his back in comforting circles. "Why don't you tell me about it? It might make you feel better."

Draco doubted it, but did what she said. "Well," he started, "it was a simple dream, really. In a way, that made it worse...being simple, I mean…..but, anyhow…...I was standing in front of two doors. Someone, I couldn't see their face, but they seemed familiar somehow, was on the side telling me I had to choose one of the doors to walk through." He nervously glanced at her. Hermione was looking at him, a patient expression on her face.

"Go on," she urged.

"I felt pressured in the dream to hurry. I didn't know which door I should pick. But finally, the person beside me said my time had run out and I had to make a decision." He choked on his next words. "I picked the door on the right…..but when I did….." he looked down at her then, a tortured expression on his face, "I...I lost you." Draco hugged Hermione tightly and buried his face in her curls. "I..I can't….I can't go back to that…." He looked up finally, and Hermione saw his eyes were glazed with tears. "I know it may be too late, but I want you in my life. I need you."

He kissed her then, a kiss that was full of desperate longing and sadness. Hermione returned it with equal passion. What they were feeling didn't make sense, but neither could deny it. It was crazy to feel so strongly. Crazy to have no doubts. But they didn't. They knew implicitly. They had always been intended for the other.

"I feel it, too," Hermione whispered as soon as Draco broke the kiss. "I don't want to lose you, either. But it was just a dream, Draco. I'm not going anywhere."

He was not convinced. "It seemed real. And in this place…...who's to say it wasn't a sign?"

The words had just left his mouth when they heard a knock on the front door. They looked at each other fearfully. "This can't be good," he said.

"Should we open it?" she whispered.

Draco swallowed hard, but didn't say anything. He quickly grabbed his shirt and transfigured his pajama bottoms into the pants he'd been wearing and climbed down the loft. Hermione followed after him.

Looking back, he gazed at her one more time. She gave him a hopeful smile. "I'm here, right behind you."

He did his best to smile back, but fell a little short. Another knock, this one a bit more insistent banged against the door.

Taking a deep breath, Draco opened it to see a tall, black-haired man standing in front of him.

"Professor Snape?" he said in astonishment.

Behind him, he heard Hermione gasp. "Draco…..it can't be him. I….I saw him die."

Hearing her words, Severus raised a brow. "And? Did you think that would be it? That once my body succumbed to the inevitable, the rest of me would follow suit? "

"I…" Hermione was stymied. How did one respond to a question like that?

"I see the both of you are as incapable as ever of grasping nuances. Draco, I'm ashamed. And Miss Granger, I suppose insufferable-know-it alls don't know everything, do they? Obviously, that was why I was sent to deal with you," he said in withering scorn. "Well, don't just stand there with your mouths open. Follow me."

With that, he whipped back around and began to walk toward a clump of rowan trees in the distance.

"Do you really think that's him?" Hermione asked Draco. "It could be a trap."

Snape turned around and saw that the teens were still by the door. Rolling his eyes, he thundered, "You do know why I am here, don't you? . . . I've not been sent to perform this tedious job only for you to stand there like concussed trolls."

Draco and Hermione stared at him blankly.

"It may mean nothing to you, but helping incompetent students who have blundered into places they have no business being is not my idea of an eternal reward. Now, are you coming or not?"

"Sounds just like the professor to me," Draco murmured.

Scrabbling after him, Draco and Hermione soon caught up with Severus. He continued to lead them deeper into the heart of the woods. It grew dark; the two lovers instinctively joined hands. Wherever he was leading them, they would go united. Hermione shivered; Draco squeezed her hand in sympathy. Everything was eerily quiet. Everything, that is, except the sky. Each time a cloud drifted into another, it emitted a strange chime that echoed off the other clouds. The tonal quality of the vibrations was something that neither teen had ever heard. Not a cry created by living flesh, not a note from a musical instrument, not a synthetic, digitized noise, the ringing seemed almost….spiritual. As if the sound wasn't registering with their ears at all but with their souls.

"Maybe I was right after all," whispered Draco.

Hermione looked up at him. The light from the sky was making an ethereal halo around his white blonde hair. Draco looked like a angel.

"You still think we're dead."

He nodded. "You saw the professor die, right? So….we know he is. Doesn't it makes sense that we are, too? That's why we can see him."

"Yeah." Hermione didn't say anything else, but drew closer to him. Putting her arm around his waist, she leaned her head on his shoulder as they continued to trail after Snape.

"I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things," Draco murmured against her hair.

A sarcastic snort cut into the quiet. "Must I suffer listening to your melodramatic sentiments?" the surly professor whined. "You don't know what it means to have experienced the end of all things, boy."

"Don't call him a boy!" Hermione cried, fed up with Snape's churlish attitude. She stopped in her tracks, jerking Draco in the process.

Snape turned around. "Tell me then, Miss Granger," he said scathingly, "Why does it matter to you? As I recall, the two of you were enemies."

"Well…...that….that was before," she stammered. Memories of the previous night flooded her mind and caused her cheeks to flame with color. "Things are different now."

"Oh, really?" he deadpanned. "Care to share with the class?"

No, she definitely didn't want to do that.

"We…..mean something to each other," Draco answered for her.

Severus' smirked. "Indeed. How informative. Mean what, precisely?"

Draco was angered by the older wizard's mocking. "We love each other, alright? Or is that putting too fine a point on it?" Beside him, he heard Hermione's breath catch. "Or rather…" he turned around to look at her, "….we soon will?"

She nodded at him, her eyes shining with happy tears. "We will."

Draco reached out to cup her cheek with his hand. "Funny how it took me dying to see it. But you were always supposed to be mine."

Hermione leaned into his touch. "And you for me."

The sound of hands clapping reminded them they had an audience. Severus stood there wearing a sneer that would have put any of Lucius Malfoy's to shame. "What a touching tableau. So sickeningly sweet."

"Why are you so hateful?" bristled Hermione. Her hair began to fan out with the rising of her magic. The soft breeze that had been sporadically blowing grew in strength. "You know what? I won't put up with it any longer. You're not our teacher anymore. Go away and haunt someone else."

Draco chuckled as he gave his lioness a squeeze. "She's right. You're being a jerk."

Severus' lip curled. "Mind your attitude, you two. And be honest with yourselves. These so-called feelings you've discovered aren't real. Teenage lust and infatuation are the only things driving this little fantasy. They wouldn't stand up to a test."

Draco's face hardened. "It's not for you to judge what's real and what's not when it comes to our feelings. And it's not your place to test us. Hermione's right. Leave us."

"If I leave, others will come," he gave Draco a dark look full of foreboding. "Need I remind you of what they're like? I've been sent to see if you would come to your senses. You know what's expected of you, Draco. You've sown your wild oats; it's time now to stop this nonsense and do what is right."

Right?

Draco sucked in a breath. Yes, he knew what right was. It was what he'd done when he'd protected Hermione that night at the manor. When he apologized to her for how he'd always treated her. When he'd kissed her. When he'd given all of himself to her.

But what the professor was expecting him to do now…..that wasn't right. It was the same as….

The dream.

The seemingly right door had cost him Hermione.

He couldn't let that happen.

Unbidden, a bit of verse from a text he'd read before came back to him. "No sooner did I depart from them than I found the one whom my soul loved. I held on to her and would not let her go."

That was his answer.

"Let them come," he said.

"They'll do their worst," Snape warned. "Don't be foolish, Draco."

Hermione watched with bated breath as the two wizards verbally duked it out.

"They've already done their worst!" he yelled into the professor's face. "My life was crap because of them. Pureblood elitists spouting hate, my father being one of the most vile. I should have been allowed a normal childhood, but I wasn't. It was a waste, but my death won't be."

"Draco, don't…"

"I choose Hermione."

As soon as he said those words, Snape's countenance changed. The scowl melted away. He smiled, a true, earnest smile that showed in his eyes. Hermione was amazed at the difference it made in his appearance.

"Finally," he said. "I honestly wondered if you had it in you. When the perpetual buffoonery that is Ronald Weasley didn't spur you into action, I despaired of you ever seeing the truth. But I admit it; I was wrong. Well done, my lad."

"Wha….you mean, you knew? That I should be with Hermione?"

"Yes. So did the Headmaster."

Draco and Hermione looked at each other in surprised shock.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Snape sighed. "You couldn't be influenced like that. It had to come from within or not at all."

"So….was this a test?"

Snape inclined his head in the affirmative. "One, I regret to say, I failed at when I was your age. But you, Mr. Malfoy, exceeded my expectations and have proven yourself the better man." Then the ex-professor turned to Hermione. Taking her hand, he kindly said, "Although I never gave you any indication of it, I enjoyed teaching you, Miss Granger. Your intelligence and spirit reminded me of another muggleborn I once…..knew." Clearing his throat, he continued, "Now that you've embraced the truth, it's time for the both of you to decide how you will go forward."

"Go forward? But we're dead," said Draco.

"I'd hardly call you dead. At least, not yet."

Hermione's eyes quickly darted to Draco's. "We're not?"

Severus shook his head. "No. You, my dear girl, were hit with a spell that should have ended your life….."

Draco gritted his teeth. No…... He couldn't lose her. Not now.

"...But your soul is connected to Draco's. At the moment of impact, your thoughts were on each other. As you know, the magic of the mind is very powerful. Your tie caused the curse to be shared. Currently, you are both tottering between life and death."

"That's what Barq said," she acknowledged. "That we were in Betwixt."

Severus couldn't help but chuckle at the mention of the tiny wooden creature. "I can just imagine what that conversation was like. However, he did tell you the truth. Where we are now is a place constantly in flux; it is a type of bridge between time and eternity, a temporal place if you will, where thoughts and emotions find expression. Nothing remains hidden here." He looked at them wistfully. His next words were soft. "You will find there is a book of Revelation in everyone's life. Be thankful yours was the discovery of what you two were meant to be to the other."

Then he coughed self-consciously and quickly changed the subject. "I assume you've noticed the irregularity of time during your stay?"

Both teens nodded.

"This country is pulled between the two dimensions. That's why you cannot remain; none can live here, other than the natural inhabitants of this land."

"But Barq said others had come here. Others like us."

"Yes, because they too, had a decision to make. The same as yourselves. That is the nature of this place."

Draco spoke up. "And we will be deciding…...?"

"Whether to go on or go back." He gave both of them a knowing look. "It's time now for you to make up your minds."

"Go on?" asked Hermione. "Go on…..where?"

Severus's expression was enigmatic when he answered in a soft voice. "Far, far away... behind the moon... beyond the rain."

Her next words were in a barely voiced whisper. "Is it…..is it what you thought it would be?"

The professor's voice was very gentle when he answered. "It's far better."

He lifted up his wand from his robe and pointed it at a tall fir tree. Instantly, the tree transformed into the ancient arch they had seen before. The scene in it remained unchanged.

"Hogwarts…..during battle," he murmured. "I was not alive for this."

"Is that where we're going?" asked Draco.

"If you wish it. This portal will take you to your chosen destination."

"So, it is a teleport," murmured Draco. He frowned. "Why didn't it take me somewhere when I stepped into it earlier?"

"Because you hadn't decided yet where you wanted to go," Hermione said. "Isn't that right, Professor?"

Severus gave her a little nod. "As always, you are correct, Hermione." It was the first time he'd called her by her given name. It caused her to blush.

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's get back, love," said Draco. "Let's help Potter end this."

She hesitated. She sensed there was more. "It can't be that simple, Draco. The Professor wouldn't have come otherwise."

That stopped the blonde. He stared at his former teacher, who looked surprisingly guilty. "What haven't you told us?"

"Unfortunately, Miss Granger is correct in her assumption. It….it won't be easy for either of you if you choose to return. Draco, neither you nor Hermione will be in any position to aid Mr. Potter. It's not a given either of you will survive the curse that was directed at Hermione. If not, all of this will have been moot. However, should you live, it will take time for you both to heal. Afterward, Draco….you will be tried and sent to Azkaban. You may or may not be released, depending on the consideration of the Wizengamot."

The young wizard paled.

Severus turned to Hermione then. "If Draco is condemned to spend his days in prison, I'm afraid your life will be quite solitary. Even though the Dark Lord will have been defeated, you will never be truly accepted within the magical community. Harry Potter will be the only one who will remain faithful to your friendship. The others will forget in time."

Hermione's eyes began to shine with unshed tears. A horrible future awaited for the both of them. "Can you see if Draco will be freed?"

Severus sadly shook his head. "Sadly, no. I can't see beyond Azkaban for him."

Draco and Hermione clung to the other. Die…...or live. Possibly. And should they survive, the chances of living a happy life were close to nil.

The odds were definitely not in their favor.

Severus laid a hand on the shoulder of each. "I've given you all the insight I have. From here on out, it's your decision. Choose wisely."

He then moved away from the couple so they could talk in privacy. Walking over to the arch, he placed his hand on one of the ancient stones. He could feel the thrumming of power contained in it. After a few minutes passed, Severus glanced back at Draco and Hermione. Their heads were close together. They made quite a good-looking couple. Their children would have been very beautiful. Very intelligent.

He sighed. Why was it that soulmates so often had difficulties to overcome? What malevolent power tried to keep them apart? Just like what he'd endured with Lily. He'd often wondered what his children would have been like if he and Lily had gotten together. How many times had he imagined Harry without glasses and with black hair and a larger nose? When alive, he'd never admitted that was what often fueled the anger he kept for the boy. That he had looked like James Potter instead of himself.

Away from the professor, Draco and Hermione were doing little other than sobbing in each other's arms.

"I don't want to go back if that's how it's going to be," Hermione said, sniffing after each word.

Draco paused. "I don't want to die…...but Azkaban…" He shivered violently.

"We...we didn't even have a chance to…..to…."

"...fall in love," Draco finished for her. "And one day, marry." He kissed Hermione, his tears salting their lips.

Hermione looked up at the blonde. She tenderly brushed away the wetness on his cheeks while totally disregarding her own.

You were almost mine.

It was so unfair.

"Why did he even tell us this if those are our only options?"

Draco sighed before he kissed her temple. "I guess…..because…...the truth sets you free. Even if it's something you don't want to hear."

As they continued to talk, a short distance away from them, Snape studied the runes on the ancient arch. They spoke ancient words of long ago events. Creation. Destruction. Renewal.

The eternal pattern.

Before long, he heard a rustle. He looked up to see Draco and Hermione walking toward him, their arms around the other. He stood up and brushed off the leaves that were clinging to his robes.

"Well?" he asked. "Have you decided?"

Draco tightened his grip on Hermione's waist. "Yes. We have."


000

The Great Hall was a cacophony of sound. The battle was over; Voldemort had been defeated. But the cost for victory had been great. Laughter and tears, hugs and cries were the sights and sounds that met Harry as he walked the length of the room looking for his friends. Just as Hagrid moved to sit on a nearby bench, Harry spied several ginger-colored heads gathered together near the front where the teachers table would normally be. He called out to them and waved his hand to get their attention, but to no avail. Finally, Ron turned his head. Shock and dread instantly coursed through Harry's veins ; he feared he knew not what seeing his best friend's face twisted with pain. Another Weasley must have paid the ultimate price for their victory.

Oh, please no, he thought in a panic. Fred had died before he'd gone out into the forest to confront Voldemort. Was it?….God, no. Please don't let it be Ginny.

Harry raced ahead as he pushed against others to get where they were.

His heart plummeted when he finally saw the cause of Ron's grief.

They were standing near where the bodies of those who fought for the Light were being laid. There were too many corpses. Too many whom Harry cared about. His vision began to blur. Some caring individual, Luna most probably, had lovingly laid the deceased according to families and loved ones. Magic called to like magic, even in death. It was the way of wizards. Students were placed beside their siblings, the familial powers acting like magnets, needing touch. Couples were also there, united in a final, cold embrace. Harry fell to his knees beside the bodies of Remus and Tonks, their hands still joined.

The Chosen One let out one single, anguished cry. "Hermione!"

For there in front of him were the bodies of Hogwarts' unknown soulmates, Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger, their arms around the other as they left the world the way they'd decided.

Together.


000

AN: Don't be mad! **ducks from rotten tomatoes being thrown** That's where my muse insisted I go. That's why I had to revise. I was originally going to have them go back. But that was not to be. And BTW, please don't think this is any kind of endorsement for devaluing the precious gift of life. It absolutely is not. And I can tell you now...Hermione and Draco would not have survived the curse. They were destined to move on together.

The quote, "I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things," was from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

"There is a book of Revelation in everyone's life" is a quote from Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery.

"Far, far away... behind the moon... beyond the rain" is a quote from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy says this right before she begins to sing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The text Draco remembers was paraphrased and is from the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) in the Bible.