In the stillness of her sleep there were no interruptions, no nightmares that did not belong to her, no corridors of darkness, no blonde woman screaming mercies. It was as if his dreams had never been hers in the first place. She felt a yawning emptiness that seemed to expand to every corner of her subconscious: black nothing. She felt drowned in it, disorientated. Time and space no longer had any meaning. Her own thoughts echoed on and on, reverberating back at her, spiralling without end. Had it always been like this, before? Had everything always felt so lonely? It seemed to her is if to wake would be to face the stark reality. There was something out there, in the waking world, that she would have to confront. She had forgotten what it was along the way, but it niggled at the back of her conscience. And she could not stay away forever, could not ignore the voices that called her name and the hands that stroked her forehead.
"Hermione . . ."
No. The light would burn her eyes and illuminate the bitter facts of waking. Here in the darkness, at least she could pretend it was all a lie.
"Hermione . . ."
But it was too late now. She was being pulled up, up into reality and with it memory came flooding back. A monster's snarl and the death mask of a fallen angel. Green light, everywhere green light. Blonde hair bright against brown. And grey eyes that spoke of the end, and of goodbyes, and of something stronger than either of them had ever been able to articulate but that both had felt deep down.
She awoke with a gasp and a bitter sob. The room was bright and harshly white. She covered her eyes with her hands.
"Hermione, can you hear me?" A hand on her head to check for fever. "Hermione."
"What's wrong with her?" Another familiar voice, but it gave her no comfort. It wasn't the one she wanted to hear. She shook her head to try and blot out the sounds.
"It's the shock, I expect. She needs a calming draught." Someone tried to pull her hands from her face.
"No, no, no. Get off me," she cried. "Get off!" A blurred face came into focus. Madam Pomfrey. And behind her, Harry, Ron, and McGonagall with her hard eyes. Suddenly she felt ashamed of herself.
"What am I doing here?"
"They had to stupefy you," Harry said. "You wouldn't stop screaming . . . You wouldn't let him go." The last sentence sent a stab of pain through Hermione's chest. Everything suddenly seemed very far away.
"Where is he?" They looked at one another uncomfortably. No one spoke. "Tell me where he is! He's here, isn't he?" She slipped out of the bed and no one tried to stop her. The tiles of the Hospital Ward were cold against her bare feet. The white beds stretched on and on, all empty but for one. She ran to it with tears in her eyes. That great hole of emptiness inside her seemed to grow even wider and she knew now what it had truly meant for Draco to stand up on top of that tower and look down on the castle lawns below. She understood now how desirable the sweet bliss of nothing was. Anything was better than the pain of knowing.
He was as pale as the sheets he lay on. It dawned upon Hermione that he had always managed to hide behind a smirk, or a swagger, even when he was angry. She had seen him at his worst, his most vulnerable, but even then he had been hiding something of himself. Now there was nothing to hide. He looked small and young, crippled by the world. How unfair it all was. He had never asked for the life he had been given, the father he had. Was this all there was? A constant struggle and then the end? Falling towards the sweet grass hundreds of feet below seemed like a mercy to her now.
She moaned and buried her head on his chest, the way she'd done before. Only this time there was no bliss in it for either of them.
"Don't leave me, please," she begged, knowing it was too late.
"Hermione, there's something you should know." They had gathered around her, with a strange look upon their faces.
"Wait! Be quiet," she said, holding up a hand. "Can you hear that?" There was a gentle thump against her ear, faint and slow, but the sweetest sound she had ever heard. She gave a laugh. "His heart – He's alive! Help him, he's alive." She shook him. "Draco! Draco, wake up." She looked around at the others. "What are you waiting for?" Someone pulled her back by the shoulders.
"We know, but he's barely clinging on to life and no spell, no potion, will wake him."
"No. There must be something." McGonagall stepped forward.
"Poppy, Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, may I have a moment alone with Miss Granger, please?" Her friends nodded but they left reluctantly and had to be ushered out by Madam Pomfrey. McGonagall took a seat on the other side of Draco's bed and together they sat opposite one another for several moments. Hermione stared at her brazenly. Eventually the headmistress sighed.
"There has only ever been on case of a person surviving the killing curse."
"Harry." McGonogall nodded.
"Indeed. And we both know how that worked out . . . And now another instance. And how am I to explain it? I can only guess it has something to do with this soul bond of yours."
"I – I think the curse broke it. Broke the bond, that is."
"How can you be sure?" Hermione knew deep down, but that was proof too. Reaching across she began to unbutton Draco's shirt. He was still dressed in the one he had worn into the forest. It was ripped and dirt smeared, with droplets of blood that could have only been hers. But when she pulled it open, the skin beneath was perfectly pale and unblemished. She stroked the skin above his heart, feeling that faint pulse once more.
"There was a mark here on his chest, a symbol of our contract. But it's gone now." Hermione felt like crying. Draco was becoming further and further away. Not even her soul linked them now. She thought she should feel free. But she didn't feel any more intact than before or after she had sold her soul.
"The magic bond of a soul between two people must be a powerful thing. Perhaps it acted in some way as a barrier between the curse and Draco's life and in the process was shattered," McGonogall said. What did that mean for her soul? Was it shattered too? She didn't think so, but how could she possibly tell? "This kind of magic is strange and complicated. I don't think we will ever truly understand how it works."
"What does it matter," Hermione said miserably. "The bond is broken now. You don't have to worry about the Ministry getting involved."
"Miss Granger, I will not pretend to understand your relationship with Mr Malfoy, but . . . his father will not see the outside of Azkaban again and Draco has no other close relatives to care for him. If he should not wake . . . At some point we may have to decide to . . . end it for him." Hermione shook her head adamantly.
"He'll wake up, I know he will."
"There are no signs that his brain still functions. We have carried out every test we can to no avail. I need you to be able to come to terms with his death if it should come to that."
"He will wake up." McGonagall lowered her head and nodded.
"Very well. I will leave you for a few moments. Madam Pomfrey will return shortly to give you a check up." After the headmistress had left, Hermione crawled up onto the bed with Draco and rested her head on his chest. His breathing was so shallow she hardly felt his chest rise, and his heart beat seemed to flutter desperately, fragilely. But she could not believe that all that was left of him was the shell of a body.
"You will wake up, won't you?" she whispered. There was no answer in that cold, bright room.
She came most days and time slipped by like it had never mattered. At first the school had been abuzz with the news: an escaped Death Eater, an explosion in the Forbidden Forest, a comatose student! She had become numb to the stares and the whispers, numb to the pain. Later the excitement faded and people forgot about the boy who lay in that small part of the Hospital Wing, curtained off from the rest of world. Although she never could. She would sit and sometimes talk. At other times the silence would stretch on between them, reminding her of when they had played chess together and a single look, a single quirk of the eyebrow, could speak more words than they had needed. And rarely, in sweet moments of silence when she thought she could take it no more, she felt him. As if he had never left. Just a familiar brush of conscious, a wave of emotion. He was out there, waiting to come back, she knew it.
Today she came early, before breakfast and classes. She pulled the curtains wide to let the dawning summer sun shine on his pale skin.
"Exams in a week's time," she muttered, brushing his hair from his forehead. "You're going to miss them. What good will that do you?" . . . Silence . . . "Don't be a fool, Draco," she huffed, before sitting down on the side of the bed. Sometimes she thought that maybe she was slipping away like him too. People's voices echoed at her from far away and her eyes often wandered off and glazed over. The school was a detached background through which she floated like the ghost of the Grey Lady.
"One week until the end of term. Not long for you to wake up. You better get started." She paused to look at him, breath bated, but he lay still and did not move an inch. She had the sudden temptation to strike him hard. It was not the first time.
"You wake up now!" she growled. "I said, wake up!" she shook his head from side to side, and opened his eye. "Look at me!" But his pupil was rolled back as far as it would go. There was nothing of him in there. They were back on the crenelations of the tower, only this time Draco had already jumped and she was screaming at thin air. "Don't do this to me, Draco," she huffed. The curtains suddenly drew back.
"Miss Granger." Madam Pomfrey looked at her disapprovingly, an aged man in proper wizard's attire at her shoulder. The witch turned to the stranger.
"Mr. Smethwyck, this is Miss Granger, a – ah – friend of Mr. Malfoy's."
"Miss, Granger, a pleasure to meet you," the man said. His face did not break into a smile, but remained deadly serious. He extended a hand to shake hers but she just stared at it.
"Mr. Smethwyck works at St Mungo's, Hermione. He will be assessing Draco's state to see if he is deemed fit to be transported."
"So you can put him away and let him rot until you grow bored of looking after him?" Venom dripped from Hermione's tongue.
"I assure you, Miss Granger, that is not what we intend. Every care will be taken with Mr. Malfoy." Hermione turned away.
"He's going to wake up."
"We all hope that he does so, but if he should not, the school cannot care for him for much longer. Mr. Malfoy belongs in the proper care of St. Mungo's."
"It is for the best, Hermione," Madam Pomfrey said, patting her hand in a show of sympathy. The display did little but send a wave of shame through Hermione's stomach. She could not help but think the staff thought all this was her fault. But for McGonagall, they did not truly understand what had occurred only that Hermione's continued implication could not be ignored. Perhaps it was all her fault. If she had never signed that slip of paper in the first place . . .
Time held no meaning in the place where fractured souls drifted. Each thought could be condensed down to seconds or elongated into years. He had no way of telling. And they weren't thoughts, not really. More like shattered memories and feelings, things that had been in his head once, and were now only dislocated pieces of what had once been him. It felt like a gentle decay into death, not the sudden ending he had once expected.
There was no sight, or smell, or sound in the void within which he existed. But there were his memories, particularly one, visiting him again and again. The green glow of light. The sudden wrenching feeling of being ripped apart, flung into pieces across the world. Something wholly warm and familiar peeling itself away from him and drifting off. Her name, like sweet gold on his tongue, but she was no longer there. He was just fragments of a soul, torn apart by dark magic and soul magic alike, and there was no one left to glue him back together again.
There were others here, coming and going. Some fast, as if they knew exactly where they needed to go, other slow, hesitantly, clinging onto life. They passed him like the faint brush of someone's skin against his own; the feeling that sent shivers down a person's spine. And sometimes the sensation would come with a small burst of another's memories, fleeting and sweet and bitter all at once. A whole life reduced down to memories drifting in nothing. For what really was a person, but the recollections of a life lived?
He would have screamed if he had a voice, sobbed and forgotten what little he still knew of himself. He would have disintegrated even further, or followed those souls that drifted past him, wherever they went, but he did not, could not. Because, every once in a while, something gentle and familiar and soft was there, embracing him. Something that had been there, cushioning him, before, something he had barely noticed. It had been taken from him, but for some sweet moments he felt it, recognised it. And he would remember, remember things he thought had left him, things that reminded him he had once existed. Skin, voices, passion, sweetness and hate, anger and love, all the elements of humanity like electricity running straight through him. Sometimes he thought he could hear that familiar voice, begging, bargaining, come back, come back. Memories? Or something else? Something from beyond the void?
And then he knew he could not let go, could not give up. Because he wanted more. There had been so little, and he was greedy, greedy for life and what existed within it: Her.
So he would keep on drifting. Drifting until someone glued him back together again . . .
Hermione woke with a gasp, clutching her chest. She scrabbled at the sheets to feel the silk beneath her hands, to feel! It had been so real. Her soul had been detached from her for so long, perhaps it was not fully anchored once more, perhaps now it sought its previous owner. Could it be? . . . A vast emptiness and the disintegration of a consciousness. She couldn't let that happen to him, she couldn't.
"Hermione, you can't do this." The ward was dark, and would have been silent if Ron had kept his mouth shut like she had asked him to. Madame Pomfrey lay in bed, sleeping soundly, or so Hermione hoped.
"Please, Ron, be quiet."
"He's right. You shouldn't be doing this. It may not even work." They'd both followed her. She hadn't wanted them to; it was something she felt she could do alone. But they'd caught her writing the note and no amount of arguing could dissuade them from following her. She padded across the tiled floor, cursing under her breath as she heard them awkwardly follow. The summer moonlight was so bright it turned Draco's hair to silver. She stroked it, like she always did, as she came to stand by his bedside.
"Harry, do you have the quill and ink pot?" she asked. His look was one of pure reluctance, but he fished within his pocket and produced the items nevertheless.
"Hermione, please, just think about this."
"I have!" she snapped. "The man is coming to take Draco to St Mungo's tomorrow. And then I can do nothing. I won't have them cart him away and treat him like he's dead already. He's still alive somewhere, I just have to reach him."
"How could you possibly know that?" Hermione shrugged.
"I just do. This is the only way. His soul is out there but it's broken. I have to piece it back together again. I have to." She turned to her friends and hoped in the dark they could read the sincerity on her face. "Just trust me, please." Harry handed her the quill.
"And if it doesn't work? Have you thought about that?" Ron asked. Hermione raised her wand and whispered a spell. Before her a knife appeared, shining cruelly in the moonlight. She held back tears as she laid the knife on the bed between her and Draco. She tried not to notice the horror on her friends' faces.
"If it doesn't work, then I'll make sure he can move on myself. And if . . . if somehow I become like him, I want you to do the same for me too. No magic. It's too unpredictable when soul magic is involved. The knife . . ." Harry shook her head.
"You're crazy," Ron hissed.
"Please . . . please, Ron. If you ever loved me, you would do this for me. You can't . . . you can't possibly know what it is like beyond. Unable to move forward, unable to move back, just . . . being. Don't let me suffer that too."
"There must be another way."
"There is no other way." Before they could argue further, Hermione had produced the piece of parchment upon which she had been writing earlier. It looked eerily familiar. Upon it her neat handwriting looped a phrase she hoped would make all right once more:
I, Draco Malfoy, do hereby entrust full ownership of my complete soul to one Hermione Granger for safekeeping, until the time she sees fit to relinquish said duties, in return for the right to existence within my own body. The ownership of my soul shall not pass unto Hermione Granger any effect, benefit or authority that contradicts mine own will.
It was a complicated contract, one that could quite easily fail on any account. She had wanted to bypass any of the effects or benefits that owning a person's soul had, but could that really be possible? She had been reading through the book McGonagall had given her, and though there was very little information, there was enough to give her hope that it could be done. By possessing your soul I will bind you back together again, Draco, I promise, she thought.
Teasing open his stiff fingers, she placed a quill there and guided his hand across the parchment to create a shaky signature in the form of his name. Once the quill was laid down and she had gripped the piece of parchment in her shaking hands, she finally took a breath.
Seconds ticked by and nothing felt different. Harry and Ron shuffled awkwardly. Draco's body still lay still. Not a muscle twitched.
Togetherness, clarity. He was going back. Going home. Going towards her. Pieces of himself collecting, pooling together, more and more of who he was merging into one. He was coming.
Hermione shook him by the shoulders. A sinking feeling had filled her chest, where once there had been a glimmer of hope.
"Wake up!" she said. "Wake up!" He did not move. She climbed up onto the bed and continued to shake him as the world turned black at the edges. "WAKE UP!" she was screaming it at him, again and again, not caring that she could wake the whole castle with her cries. "I fixed you! Wake up!" Harry and Ron were trying to pull her away but, without realising it, she had sent them flying with a spell. The knife was in her hands.
"I'll do it, Draco. I'll do it." It hovered above his chest. Her shoulders drooped. "Please, please, don't make me do it. I don't think I can. Please. I love you." She was crying and her tears spattered against his chest but he did not move.
She could climb down from the bed right now and walk away. She could never look back and he would be gone by the morning to St Mungo's. She could tear up the piece of paper and curse it and grow old knowing there was nothing she could have done. But he would still be there, somewhere, unable to move on while his heart still beat, waiting for her.
She raised the knife and her arm swung down in a short arc.
He felt like he was flying, rushing, everything whipping around him in a frenzy. Light and taste and sound were there, just within reach, if only he could move a little faster. And she was there, he knew. He was surrounded by the feeling of her, the sweet comfort. She was calling for him. Just a little faster, a little further . . .
The knife jumped lustily. And then a hand grabbed Hermione, stopping the movement of her arm. The loud gasp of air saturating lungs filled the sudden silence. The knife clattered to the floor. Ron swore from across the room. Trembling arms clutched onto her skin. She sobbed and the tears were brushed away.
On the platform in Hogsmeade the train spat steam and students milled in groups or climbed onto carriages. Draco watched them, basking in the heat of the summer sun. It had never felt so warm upon his skin before. There was no rush to board the train, no rush at all.
Hermione stood at his side, supporting him with an arm looped into his. He was still a little shaky on his feet. The months he had spent in a bed without movement had taken a toll on his muscles. He was weaker than before, but nothing that he could not fix. Hermione looked at him with concern, her chestnut hair flaring copper in the light and he smiled.
"Why are you smiling?" she asked. He didn't answer, but instead kissed her. He'd never needed a soul bond. Not really. The touch of her lips was nirvana enough for him. Eventually he pulled away.
"I'm smiling because we don't know what comes next."
"Exactly. Who knows what effects this new soul bond will have on us? We are back to square one all over again," Hermione sighed. He brushed her forehead, trying to erase the crease that formed there when she frowned.
"Yes, back to square one." And he grinned and threw his arm around her. A beginning, one great open sky of beginning.
A.N. This is it! The end! This story has taken me many years and a lot of hassle to write, but I hope it has been worth it. It started as a short light fic and turned into something else, something deeply emotional and at times incredibly hard to write. Something, I think, that made me confront a part of myself.
So I apologise that it has taken such an incredibly long time to come to this ending. Life has a habit of throwing up obstacles to the things you love to do, don't you think? And the support I have had for this fic has always been phenomenal. I am sure I would have never reached the end without all you lovely readers, who showed me how much this story meant to you. I honestly wish I could express how much that meant to me. So thank you, thank you, thank you! And I hope the ending was satisfactory enough for you all.
With Love at the end (or the beginning?),