The marks from her soulmate begin appearing at midnight on her tenth birthday, a pattern of swirls along her forearm and a nonsense sentence jotted on her palm that burst into place instantaneously, already drawn—her soulmate is older than her, then.

Hi, she writes nervously, heart leaping in her chest when ink blooms beneath her message moments later.

Hi! Happy birthday—it is your birthday, right? You haven't just been ignoring me since June?

She bites her lip, a small smile forming at their rambling; her soulmate seems as nervous for this as she is.

Yes, it's my birthday. Your tenth was in June?

The 5th! I'm glad we can finally talk.

Me too. She hesitates, then scrawls, I never thought I would like the whole soulmates thing, really. I don't like the idea of fate being in charge—it feels too much like a Nicholas Sparks movie, or one of my mother's soap operas. But—I could use a friend, if you'd like.

His response takes much longer this time—that is, she's pretty certain he's a he, as she's fairly certain she doesn't like girls.

Before replying, he scribbles circles over her latest message until it's illegible. She feels her stomach drop—she's done something wrong, he's decided he doesn't want her, and who could blame him? The kids at school have long since made it clear that she's too bossy, too much of a know it all, too busy with her head stuck in a book, too bucktoothed and ill-dressed to be one of them; can she really blame her soul mate for thinking the same?

His elegant script begins to flow before she can spiral any further, though, and his words gently bring her down from the ledge. Sorry, had to get out of the house. I'd like that very much, though. I could use a friend, too.

A pause, then he continues. My parents, though…it's hard to explain, but my father is very judgemental, and not—not the kindest person. He can't know about you, or you won't be safe, and—that can't happen. I won't let it.

But I don't think we should tell each other our real names, just in case. If even I don't know, he can't find out.

Hermione's eyebrows draw together with worry—her soulmate's father doesn't sound like a very good dad, and even though she doesn't know him yet, she's sure he deserves better—sure anyone would deserve better than a dad they have to be scared of, hide parts of themselves from.

(a part of her is glad, though, because she hadn't thought through what having a soul mate meant, truly—there would be things for her to hide, too.)

That's okay. We'll just be like Romeo and Juliet. She blushes, because she'd just said she only ever wanted to be friends and here she is comparing them to the most famous love story there is.

Sorry, who's that?

Her eyes practically pop out of her head with surprise. You don't know—sorry, that's rude, everyone likes different things. It's—it's a play, Shakespeare, a famous forbidden love story. Their families are enemies, but they care about each other, so they find a way to be together anyway.

For a moment she worries she's scared him off with talk of forbidden love, but then—

Sounds like us, all right. Those can be our code names—you'll be Juliet, and I'll be your Romeo.

She giggles, turning red at the implication but thrilled nonetheless. I like it. Though I hope our story has a happier ending. They both die tragically in the play.

(She doesn't know it, but far away, her soul mate holds back a sob—his Juliet has no idea of the threats beginning to stir, the danger being bonded to him puts her in.)

(their story has every reason to end just the same.)

/

They talk a bit every day after that, each time for a bit longer, gradually more serious conversations, until their friendship just—snowballs.

It turns out Romeo is a big reader, too, most of his books have just been in French—or Italian, which he learned because it's his long-time friend's native language.

He reads Romeo and Juliet, so he can be in on the joke, and then works his way through countless classics at Hermione's behest, and they spend hours every day discussing the Bronte's and Dickens and Zora Neale Hurston.

Talking to Romeo is the highlight of every day—she's never had someone who was able to keep up with her before, someone who thinks the same way she does and understands what she means when her mind's rapid pace would confuse anyone else. Even their arguments make her feel like she's on fire, because he challenges her in a way no one ever has—and when they do have the same ideas, they build on each other's thoughts at light speed like they share one psyche, and learn so much more than either every would've on their own.

On the bad days…the thought of him gets her through it. He can always tell when something is wrong, but they'd both made it clear early on that each of them had things they couldn't tell the other, so he doesn't ask or badger her to tell him what's bothering her—instead, he decorates their skin—art, gentle and bright paintings or soulful sketches, inspiring quotes by brilliant minds, whatever he thinks will help her that day. She tries to do the same on his dark days—quotes and song lyrics, simple hearts, distractions of new developments in books and updates on drama on her favorite sitcom. They lean on each other constantly, make the hard times bearable in a way she doesn't know how she could've gone on without.

It's the best. He's the best.

(She hated the idea of soul mates, but Romeo…Romeo makes her understand why people can't help but end up with theirs. Makes it worth the cliché.)

She never writes on her hands anymore, because Romeo has made it clear that his father can never know about her, can never know about the pages-worth of messages that consume their waking hours; they strictly relegate their conversation to above the elbow, the hips, the thighs—hideable spots. And they have a signal, an x they put on their wrists when one of them can't receive messages for the day, when it's too dangerous for evidence of a soul mate to decorate their skin.

(She's not sure it would be dangerous for her on one of the bad days, per say, but Romeo is hers—she won't let anything taint that, won't let anything come near enough to his words to harm the thought of him.)

She's grateful for him—so, so grateful, even as she wishes for a world where they don't have to keep secrets from each other.

A year after their first contact, Professor Minerva McGonagall knocks on her door. Magic, she speaks of—you're a witch, Hermione.

(The wall of secrets between them only grows.)