A/N: Well, this is really it… I almost want to cry… my first story on HPFF is over. It’s completely and utterly done. It’s really a bittersweet feeling; on the one hand, I am so glad this is over because, as you know, it’s been a while, haha. But on the other hand, I almost wish that it could go on forever. Ah well, all’s well that ends well, I suppose. And I certainly hope that you all feel that the story has ended well! Okay, I know that was a pretty bad joke, but bad jokes are sort of my specialty. Oh, and by the way, MAJOR fluff warning, just FYI. Anyway, read on! I really hope you enjoy the epilogue to “Return After the War”.
Epilogue – Expecting the Unexpected
Hermione Granger Malfoy had never been so grateful to have her own office. Being the second-in-command, so to speak, in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures came with a number of benefits, with privacy and personal space being at the top of the list. And it was privacy that she needed now more than ever.
She continued to stare at the white plastic strip with its tiny blue line, as she had already been staring for the past five minutes. Her mind was a whirlwind of thought, unable to settle on any one thing for more than a few seconds before flitting off to something else. And emotionally… she thought she must be in shock, because shock was all she could feel.
She wasn’t sure what finally spurred her into action, but at some point, she just couldn’t sit any longer. She simply had to be doing something, and logically, there was really only one thing to do. It would have been much simpler to just Apparate, or at least use Floo Powder, but a sudden thought occurred to her that those may not be the safest ways to go, considering her current mental state, and other possible… things. So instead, Hermione grabbed her jacket and told her secretary that she wasn’t feeling well and would be taking the rest of the day off. The old woman nodded sympathetically as she walked away.
Bloody Muggle technology, she thought to herself as she rode the elevator up to the first floor, with their ridiculous margin for error. She studiously ignored the voice that reminded her that nowadays the margin for error was rather low, and that she had done the test three times, all with the same result. That wasn’t the point, she told herself. The point was that however narrow it might be, there was a margin for error here. And she wasn’t going to even think about what happened next until she was absolutely positive.
As soon as she was outside the Ministry, she turned left (the opposite direction of home) and briskly walked the three blocks to St. Mungo’s to seek out Ginny Potter.
Ginny Potter was exhausted. She had spent the last twelve hours on her feet, and it had certainly taken its toll. Interns, she thought to herself with a disgusted shake of her head as she filled out a release form. Nervous idiots with shaky wands, the lot of them. But she reminded herself that the first week was always the worst, and it was almost over. Plus, quite a few of them showed real promise – much better than the group she had dealt with last year. If they managed to make it through the first three months, as she knew not all of them would, they could become great assets to hospital.
But she wasn’t going to think about that now. All she wanted to think about was that, in less than ten minutes, she was going to walk out the doors and not look back for another twenty-four hours. She was going to drink a very large glass of elfin wine, and she going to sink into a hot bath, and then she was going to sleep. And after that, she was going to shag her husband until they were both cross-eyed.
Pleased with her plan, she looked at her watch yet again. Only eight minutes left now.
“Healer Potter?” came a tremulous voice from behind her.
Ginny closed her eyes and prayed for patience. Magnus Rothchild was fairly intelligent, but hopelessly forgetful. If he asked her where the supply cabinet was one more time, she might just have to seriously hurt him. “Yes, Healer Rothchild?”
“There’s, ah, someone here to see you, ma’am.”
She turned to look at him. “Does this person have a name?”
“I, ah… I’m not sure. Ma’am.”
She sighed, biting her tongue before the rude retort could make its way out, and said, “Well, I don’t have any appointments scheduled and I’m leaving in a few minutes, so you’ll have to direct them to one of the other Healers.”
“She asked for you specifically, ma’am. And she said it was a bit of an emergency. Her hair was… brown? And her name was, er… Helena, maybe?”
“Was it ‘Hermione’?” Ginny questioned impatiently.
“That’s it,” he said with a relieved smile.
“Was she hurt?” she said, walking past him.
Alerted by the note of concern in his mentor’s voice, Rothchild followed quickly, huffing a bit with the effort of keeping up with Ginny’s long stride. “Not that I could see, ma’am. But she said it was very important. I could ask one of the other Healers –”
“No. Thank you, Healer Rothchild, but I’ll take her,” she said, dismissing him. She saw her friend standing at the registration counter, tapping her foot and trying not to chew on her nails. “Hermione,” Ginny said when she reached her. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine, I’m just…” she looked around herself nervously and continued in an undertone, “Can we talk privately somewhere?”
“Sure. An exam room all right?” she asked, trying to check discreetly if Hermione was hurt somehow.
Hermione nodded. “Yes, that’s perfect.”
“Follow me,” Ginny said. She led them into a small, but private, exam room. After flicking her wand to light the room, and casting a quick Silencing Charm, she turned to see Hermione twisting the strap of her bag anxiously. “What’s up, Hermione?”
“I’m… How long have you been here?”
Ginny pursed her lips at her friend’s obvious stalling tactic, but decided to humor her. “Too long.”
“When do you get off?”
Ginny glanced down at her watch and smiled ruefully. “Three minutes ago.”
“Oh, I don’t want to hold you up, especially if you’re on your way out. I can just –”
“You can just sit down and tell me what the hell is going on that has you so freaked out,” Ginny said, in tone that left no room for argument. She steered Hermione to the exam table and gave her a little push so she was sitting on the edge.
“Okay,” Hermione said, blowing out a breath. “Okay. So, for the past few days, I’ve been getting a little nauseous after lunch, and I was thinking that it was just the food in the cafeteria at the Ministry – you know, it isn’t very good. And yesterday, I threw up, but I was fine after a couple minutes, so I just… you know…”
“Pretended it wasn’t happening so you wouldn’t have to admit that you might be sick?” Ginny guessed with an exasperated sigh. “I know what you’re like, Hermione, and you know that you’re just making it worse when you don’t treat these things up front. There’s a nasty stomach bug going around, and I can give you a potion for it, but next time –”
“Gin, I’m not done.” Hermione took another breath. She couldn’t keep sitting there; she got up and started pacing restlessly in front of the little table. “So today, I decided to skip lunch all together, just to be safe. But I still got sick, which I thought was really strange because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. So I did some quick counting in my head and… I’m late, Ginny. Really late. I don’t know how I didn’t realize it sooner, but I’ve been so busy with work lately, I didn’t even notice –”
“Wait a second, Hermione,” Ginny interrupted, shaking her head. “Are you telling me that you think you’re pregnant?”
“I ran to the Muggle pharmacy down the street from the Ministry and got one of those tests that they have… well, okay, I got a few of them, just to be sure. And they were all blue.”
“Blue?” Ginny said blankly.
“Blue is positive. But there’s a margin for error with those, right? I mean, they’re not one hundred percent right all time. Right?” Hermione asked a bit desperately.
“Yeah,” Ginny answered with a small nod, though she was thinking it was a pretty damn small margin. Especially if Hermione had taken more than one of them.
“So I think…” Hermione said slowly, “that there’s a chance that I might possibly be pregnant. Maybe. But I need you to check for sure, Gin. I need to you tell me if I’m… if there’s a… I need you to make sure.”
In Hermione’s eyes was a mixture of confusion, fear, and hope. “Okay,” Ginny said soothingly. “I’ll run the test, but it’s going to take a couple of minutes. Sit down and relax. I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?”
“This room isn’t set up for pregnancy tests – it doesn’t have what I need. I’ll be right back,” she repeated, giving Hermione’s hand a reassuring squeeze before she left.
Hermione sat down when the door closed, but was up again within seconds, unable to settle. She peeled off her jacket and laid it over the back of the room’s lone chair, then paced nervously back to the table. Ginny told you to relax, she reminded herself. She took a few deep breaths and closed her eyes, but after a few moments she gave it up as a bad job. How could she possibly be expected to relax at a time like this?
She whirled around when the door opened and Ginny entered, holding a vial of silvery-purple potion.
“Alright,” she said, holding it out for Hermione to grab. “Just drink that, and in a few minutes I’ll examine you, and we’ll see what we see.”
“Okay,” Hermione replied, feeling apprehensive as she uncorked the bottle. She swallowed it down as quickly as she could and grimaced. “Urgh, that’s disgusting.”
“Most potions are,” Ginny reminded her, sitting in the chair.
“How long does this stuff take?”
“A few minutes; it’s a little different for everyone. Lie down and unbutton your shirt – I’ll have to examine you.”
Hermione complied, and after a moment, she said, “I just don’t see how I could possibly be pregnant.”
“Oh, I’m sure it happened in the usual way,” Ginny said with a small smile.
“No, I mean, I’ve been taking a birth control potion. You know – you prescribed it.”
“I was thinking about that actually, and you know that cold you had a while back? Well, it’s possible that your medicine may have counteracted the ingredients in your birth control potion.” She shrugged her shoulders. “It happens every once in a while.”
“But I’ve been taking it every day since. Could that have hurt the…?”
“Nope,” Ginny replied easily. “Once you were pregnant, the hormones in your body would have deactivated the potion. It’s a pretty handy little safeguard.”
Ginny stood up. “It should be working by now. Let’s start checking, shall we?” she said, pulling out her wand.
“Well?” Hermione demanded after a minute of staring at the ceiling while Ginny passed her wand over her stomach in a seemly random set of movements.
A huge grin split Ginny’s face. “Congratulations.”
“Really? You’re sure?” Hermione looked down and laid a hand over her still flat stomach. “There’s really a baby in there?”
“Yes,” Ginny replied, feeling a lump in her throat as Hermione’s eyes filled with wonder. “He’s only about the size of your pinky nail, but he’s in there.”
“He?” Hermione said, looking up.
“Oh, well I can’t actually tell you that yet,” she said with a grin. “Maybe in a few weeks. But I can tell you that he or she is very healthy.”
“How far along am I?” Hermione asked, looking down again.
“I’d say you’re about seven weeks, three days, fourteen hours, and…” she checked her watch, “twenty-three minutes, give or take a few seconds.”
“You can… you can tell it that accurately?” she asked in surprise.
“Mmm-hmm,” Ginny replied absently, still tracing strange patterns over Hermione’s abdomen.
“Just like magic?” Ginny supplied with a laugh.
“Thank you. Now, do you want to hear the heartbeat?”
“Can you really hear it? Can we… No. Not yet.” At Ginny’s confused look, she continued, “Draco should be here the first time, don’t you think… oh. Draco.” She bit her lip in worry. “How am I going to tell him? I mean, we haven’t even talked about having a baby yet. Or not seriously anyway – just in passing, you know… a ‘one day down the line’ sort of thing. And we definitely haven’t been planning on it. What if –”
“Hermione, calm down,” Ginny told her seeing that her friend was starting to get worked up. “Draco’s going to be absolutely ecstatic about this.”
Hermione just nodded, still biting her lip anxiously. “I hope so – I think he will.”
Ginny just rolled her eyes. Hermione would fret and wonder no matter what Ginny said, so she decided to not even bother trying. “You can sit up now. How are you feeling?” she added as Hermione sat up and began buttoning her shirt. “Any nausea?”
“No, nothing like that. I feel… terrified,” she admitted with small laugh. “And amazed and wonderful. A baby…” she murmured to herself, looking down at the hand she had unconsciously curled over her stomach. She looked up when she heard Ginny sniffle quietly. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Ginny assured her. “It’s just… damn it, now I’m going to want one.”
Hermione laughed. “Gin, really.”
“When George and Angelina had the twins last year, Harry started getting really excited about us having a baby, and I said we should wait. We’d only been married for a few years and… well, I just thought, what’s the rush? Let’s enjoy just being married for a while, you know? But lately, it’s been on my mind a lot, and now you… I think I’m freaking myself out a little.”
“Oh no, you’re not allowed to freak out right now – I’m not done yet,” Hermione reminded her. “I’m the pregnant one, I’m the only one allowed to freak out. You can freak after you’re actually pregnant.”
“Well, I have a feeling that I won’t be too far behind you – once I mention to Harry that I’m thinking about it, he’s going to get all excited and, well… it’s coming. I can feel it.”
“Fine. Then we’ll freak out together. But first I need to figure out how to tell my husband.”
“Are you really that nervous about it?” Ginny asked, surprised.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “I mean, it’s mostly a good kind of nervous, but I’m still jumpy about it.”
“Trust me, Hermione, Draco is going to flip – in a good way. I’m positive.”
After being assured by Ginny – repeatedly – that Apparating was perfectly safe for the baby, Hermione arrived home by mid-afternoon, much earlier than she normally would. And since it was too early to start dinner, she had nothing to do but sit and think. Which was doing her no good, whatsoever.
Though Ginny had managed to convince her while at the hospital, Hermione could feel her anxiety returning. It was easier for Ginny – if she were pregnant, Harry would be over the moon, because they’d already had The Talk and they each knew where the other stood.
The same could not be said for Hermione and Draco.
And though Hermione did, for the most part, believe that her husband would be happy when he got the news, there was still the matter of how to tell him. And that was where she was currently stuck.
Should she be blunt? “Draco, I’m pregnant. Your thoughts?”
Should she be gushing? “Oh, Draco, we’re having a baby! Isn’t it wonderful!?”
Should she lead up to it gently? “Darling, do you remember a couple of months ago when you woke up very happy? Well, it’s seems we got a bit more out of that than we originally thought…”
Should she slip the news into regular conversation over dinner? “Do you like the stew? By the way, I’m pregnant. Pass the salt, please.”
Maybe she should make a cake for dessert and write “Baby makes three!” on top.
Hermione put her face in her hands and groaned. None of them felt right, and quite a few of them felt utterly ridiculous. She was pathetic, she decided. Here she was, a grown woman, with a great life and a successful career, struck dumb about how to tell her husband that she was having his baby.
Draco’s baby, she thought, her eyes misting up again. Growing inside her, right now. Hermione laid a protective hand over her stomach. God, she was awestruck just thinking of it.
She shook her head and wiped her cheeks dry. “Damn hormones,” she muttered to herself. She just wanted to tell him in the perfect way, and she couldn’t figure out what that was. She wouldn’t be this worked up if she had a plan.
Deciding to start dinner – cooking had always helped to soothe her – she began pulling out the ingredients for a simple beef stew. Quite frankly, she didn’t think she could handle anything more complicated than that, and Draco enjoyed it.
What if it was a boy, she imagined while slicing the celery. She thought Draco would like a son, teaching him how to fly a broom and how to do all sorts of boy type things. She could almost see them now, Draco running around with the boy on his shoulders.
Or a girl, she contemplated dreamily over the carrots. Draco would spoil her rotten. If it was a girl, Hermione hoped for the child’s sake that she got her father’s hair instead of her mother’s.
It took her longer than it necessarily should have, since Hermione kept pausing as the thoughts ran rampant through her mind – names and possibilities and future maybe-moments, flowing together and slowing her movements. Consequently, she had only just finished chopping the potatoes and was about to begin browning the meat when she heard the front door open and Draco calling, “Hermione? Are you home?”
“In the kitchen,” she responded. She took one last deep breath.
“Something smells good in here,” Draco said when he walked in the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Hermione from behind.
“I haven’t even starting cooking yet,” she said, leaning back against him automatically.
“Did I say it was the food that smelled good?” he responded, sniffing playfully at her neck.
She laughed and turned around to kiss him properly. Even after all this time, he still made her blood sing. And wasn’t it amazing to feel a simultaneous tug in her stomach and to know what it meant?
When she pulled back, the words were on the tip of her tongue and she opened her mouth to speak. But her nerves got the better of her at the last second and instead she said, “How was work?”
“It was great,” Draco responded. He turned away to get down plates to set the kitchen table – they never used the dining room unless they had people over, and even then it was rare – and didn’t notice Hermione’s silent berating of herself. “We got the results back on the latest version of that potion to reverse the Dementis Imitatus spell, and they were really positive. Some of the test patients are even trying to speak.”
“Draco, that’s fantastic!” Hermione responded emphatically, her nerves forgotten for the moment. “Pansy must be ecstatic.”
“You have no idea. She’s been working on this for the past three years, and we’re finally starting to see real results.”
“Oh, Draco, I’m so proud of you,” she said sincerely, her face shining with the proof of her words.
“Me? I didn’t do much work on this project – Pansy wanted to head it up from the start, and she has. This is her accomplishment, not mine,” he responded, looking at his wife again. Despite his words, he couldn’t help a small smile from forming at the look on her face.
“Maybe not, but it’s your company. Without you, none of it would even be possible.” She walked to him and put her hands on his cheeks. Looking into his eyes with a smile, she said, “You did good.”
She humbled him, Draco thought. “Thank you,” he answered, kissing her softly. “Speaking of Pansy,” he continued when Hermione had gone back to the stove. “Who, in continuing in this ridiculous farce of actually planning to marry the Weasel –”
“She’ll probably give it up around the same time that you give up the pretense of still hating him.”
“Hey. Who said it was a pretense?”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know. It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you and Harry and him meet up at the pub every week, could it?”
“Harry drags him along.”
“He asked you to be one of his groomsmen.”
“That was his decision, not mine.”
“Draco, you offered to help Harry plan his stag party!”
“Well, Merlin’s beard, Hermione, what was I supposed to do? Harry is absolute pants at that sort of thing, and I couldn’t very well let the twins plan it – we’d all wind up scarred for life. It was self-preservation.”
“And you’re beautiful.”
“That’s not going to work,” she said, narrowing her eyes playfully.
“What?” he said innocently. “I thought we were stating facts – Weasley is annoying, the twins are terrifying, I’m impossible, and you’re beautiful. All of those things are true.”
Hermione just rolled her eyes with a grin. The pair of them thought it was hilarious to pretend a continued dislike for each other. Though if the truth be told, they were quite good friends. And since Hermione knew how much Draco was actually looking forward to the wedding, she dropped it and moved on. “Anyway, you were saying something about Pansy…?” she prodded him.
“Right,” he continued with a teasing smirk. “She said the bridesmaids dresses are finally in, so she wants you to owl her and let her know what times work for you this weekend for a fitting or some such thing.”
“Oh, good,” she answered with a mental wince, her nerves coming back in a rush. It was going to be hell getting fitted for a bridesmaid dress with a growing belly. Thank Merlin the wedding was only a couple months away. She shouldn’t be too big by then… right?
Lost in her musing, it took Hermione a second to realize that Draco was talking to her. “What?” she asked.
“I said, how was your day?”
“Oh, my day? Um… it was… interesting.” That’s an understatement, she thought to herself.
“Did you get sick again?” Draco asked, concern evident in his voice as he turned her to face him. He tilted her head up. “Be honest.”
“Well… yes. But –”
“Oh, baby,” Draco said soothingly, pressing his lips to her forehead. “You might be a bit warm,” he muttered absently before pulling her into a comforting hug. “Do you want to go lie down?”
Hermione huffed, trying not to laugh. The situation, really, was just ridiculous. “You don’t need to doctor me, Draco.”
“Maybe you should go see Ginny tomorrow, love,” he continued, ignoring her. He was well aware of how much Hermione despised being sick, and that she hated admitting it even more. “You might have caught a bug.”
“Actually, I already went to see Ginny this afternoon,” she began, then she stopped, unsure how to continue. This was it, she knew.
“And?” he pressed when she stayed silent. He pulled back to look at her again.
Here goes, she thought to herself. “I’m definitely not sick,” she said.
“Well, that’s good. Just some bad Ministry food, then?” he quipped with a smile.
“Nope, that wasn’t it either,” she answered with a smile of her own.
Draco’s smile didn’t fade, but his brow did furrow. “Then what could possibly be making you sick every day at the same time…” he trailed off, noticing the look on Hermione’s face – a mix of nerves and joy, the expectantly raised eyebrows, the flush in her cheeks. Comprehension began to dawn, and his smile slipped into surprise.
“Draco,” she said, seeing that he would arrive at the answer on his own if she didn’t say it now. She couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she continued. “I’m pregnant.” When he didn’t speak, her hand fluttered nervously down to her stomach and she waited a few moments before speaking. “Draco?”
“How?” he breathed, still shocked. “Weren’t you taking a potion…?”
“Ginny thinks it might have been deactivated by my cold medicine when I had the flu,” she answered in a anxious rush, biting her lip.
The shock on Draco’s face began shifting into awe as he laid his hand gently over Hermione’s on her stomach. “We’re having a baby?” he asked, as though he couldn’t quite believe it.
Hermione could only nod, tears clogging her throat at the look of wonder that had come into his eyes.
Draco dropped to his knees, laid his cheek against her stomach, and wrapped his arms around Hermione’s body with a reverence that had her tears falling freely.
“I guess you’re okay with it, then,” she managed after a minute, carding her fingers through his hair.
Draco nodded against her and drew a shaky breath, before pulling himself to his feet. When his eyes met hers, Hermione was stunned and humbled to find them wet.
“I’m going to do this right,” he stated with such quiet conviction that Hermione couldn’t help but smile.
She placed a hand on his heart. “You’re going to be a beautiful father.”
His hands cupped her face gently. “I love you so much,” he said, his voice rough with emotion.
“I love you, too,” Hermione answered. Draco’s lips met hers in a deep kiss that was heart-achingly beautiful.
“How are you feeling?” Draco asked nervously as soon as he pulled back. “Are you okay? Are you tired?”
“I feel amazing,” she answered. In truth, aside from her earlier “morning” sickness, she couldn’t remember ever feeling better. Draco didn’t look quite convinced, however.
“Maybe you should lie down,” he said.
“Really, I’m fine. Oh, Draco, for goodness sake,” she said in laughing exasperation when he lifted her into his arms and began carrying her up the stairs toward their bedroom. Then she simply laid her head on Draco’s shoulder and began to weep. Draco was instantly alarmed.
“Did I hurt you? Is it the baby? I’m sorry,” he said in a rush, moving more quickly.
“No, you didn’t hurt me,” she assured him chokingly.
“Then why are you crying?” he asked, placing her on their bed with infinite care.
“I’m just so happy,” she said, looking up at him again. He saw with relief that she was laughing through her tears. “Oh, Draco, I’m just so happy.”
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