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A/N: This is my favorite chapter so far. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I included more than I intended to, so please forgive me if you think it's too long and boring!

Many thanks for the many kind and warm reviews which have encouraged me to re-read and edit ever so often, for fear of not meeting your expectations. Thanks!


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'Hermione, I've just seen to Rose. She's upstairs. Come with me.'

Hermione grabbed Hugo's hand and followed Draco Malfoy willingly. Her stomach felt as if it were tied in knots, but they had loosened themselves a little at the sight of Malfoy, who looked wonderfully in charge and reassuring. The curly-haired receptionist, along with half a dozen other waiting patients, was staring at her in scandal, but she didn't care. She didn't have enough breath to ask Malfoy how her daughter was, but she didn't even know if she had the courage to; before she was aware of it, they were standing in front of a door covered with drawings of balloons and flowers - the children's ward. She could see through the glass that her daughter was lying down in the bed closest to her, and she ran into the room.

'Rose - Rosie?'

Rose turned around and smiled at her - Hermione felt relief replace panic so quickly that she almost went giddy and had to clutch the end of the bed to avoid falling. Ron was sitting in a chair next to his daughter's bed, his head in his hands, in the same apparent state of mind as his wife.

'My darling, darling Rose,' said Hermione with tears in her eyes, hugging her so tightly that Rose almost whimpered in pain, 'are you all right?'

'They did something funny to my leg,' she said, and Hermione looked down. Her daughter's knee had some sort of thick, yellow paste on it. Hugo giggled.

'Did they give you any sweets?' he asked hopefully.

'No, but the Healer said they'd give me something to drink. But Mum, I'm thirsty now.'

'Malfoy,' croaked Ron, 'Malfoy took care of her.'

He said it as if it were an unbelievable truth, then shook his head and hid it weakly with his hands again. Hermione could not muster the strength to comfort him; she felt both too giddy and too tremendously relieved to say much. Tears pressed her eyes as tonight's events flashed in her mind. She kissed Rose's forehead.

'I'll go see if I can get you some pumpkin juice, darling,' Hermione managed to whisper sweetly. Rose smiled again and started chatting with Hugo about the other patients in the ward.

It did not take long for Hermione to find a beverages machine. She approached it slowly and cautiously, feeling light-headed, grateful that the hallway was deserted. Rosie was all right... But what would have happened if she flown higher? If she hadn't had a soft landing?

'Desired beverage?' the machine asked her as she neared it.

'Pumpkin juice, please,' she said, and she inserted a Knut into it.

There was a whirring noise and a few seconds later, a paper cup of pumpkin juice had been produced. She took it in her hands and paced a few steps, her mind replaying what had happened that night. She stopped dead as the full weight of what had occurred suddenly hit her.

She was a failure - everything seemed to go wrong with her - her dinner parties, her marriage, her child... She doubled up, slightly nauseous. So much had occurred that it was difficult not to feel dizzy and exhausted - she grasped the back of the wall desperately to steady herself - everything was confusing and overwhelming - it was impossible not to cry, to hold back tears -

'Hermione?'

Hermione looked up and saw Malfoy standing there, worry in his eyes. He shifted the chart in his hands and kneeled down next to her.

'She's going to be all right, Hermione.'

Hermione shook her head, aware that she should have nodded and thanked him, but there was too much to handle to think straight.

'You're trembling...'

Malfoy was looking at Hermione, who was indeed shaking so fiercely that she couldn't hold the paper cup properly - she dropped it and pumpkin juice spilled everywhere on the floor. Malfoy grabbed her hands to stop them trembling so violently.

'Shh - shh - it's okay - calm down - take it easy - Rose is going be fine - calm down, now -'

'I feel dizzy,' she managed to say.

Malfoy was instantly by her side, holding her shoulders strongly in case she should faint. He put a hand behind her neck and pushed it forward, down to her stomach, so that the blood would reach her head. She could hear Malfoy repeating the same words - 'Breathe deeply, Hermione, breathe deeply', and tried to followed these instructions. After a minute or so, Hermione felt better and sniffed, then lifted her head up. She nodded and took another deep breath.

'Come and sit down,' said Malfoy worriedly, and he indicated her towards an empty seat, keeping a tight hold of her as he guided her to the chairs. Out of nowhere, he conjured a goblet and with an 'Aguamenti', filled it with water. 'Drink it. Healer's orders.'

Hermione drank the cool water, and it was as if it drained her of all bad things; it was refreshing and she felt better. Malfoy sat next to her.

'Thank you so much,' she finally whispered. 'For Rose... I just - thank you... It was so horrible, so - so -' She shuddered, unable to find the right words. Malfoy's grip on her grew stronger.

'Don't think about that now. She's going to be okay, Hermione,' Malfoy said gently, and patted her shoulder.

Hermione nodded a third time, but could not keep the tears away. How could she be such a bad mother? How could she have let Rose fly in the dark? Why hadn't Ron listened to her? She suddenly and involuntarily let out a sob and covered her eyes with her hands, doubling over once more, down to her knees. She was ashamed of this outburst - but Malfoy did not mock her -

'It's okay, Hermione, she's going to be all right,' he repeated, and he put his arms around her. 'Come here.' He pressed his hands against her back and pulled her gently towards him, comforting her, asking her without words to let her grief out by trusting him; unconciously, she let him, not caring whose body was comforting her, as long as there was one to cry on. She felt a vague sensation of numb disbelief that this could be Malfoy, but her grief as a mother pushed it away - her desire to be told that she was not a failure forced her to forget that this was her archenemy.

And then he was hugging her, and it was bliss, to feel this sort of protection, to be shielded from the world by him, by someone who assured her that things would be fine - and it was so easy to follow him, to listen to him, to grasp his shirt tightly as sobs fought their way out of her and wettened his yellow robes.

'Shh, it's fine, you're fine,' he said, again and again, keeping such a strong hold on her that Hermione stopped feeling dizzy entirely and believed what he was saying. 'Take deep breaths with me, Hermione, come on - you're fine, you're fine.'

It seemed like half an hour, but it was really only a few minutes later, when Hermione had finally cried all the tears in her and managed to let go of Malfoy. He took out a tissue and offered it to her; she dried her eyes gratefully with it.

'You must have a stack of these,' she said thickly, 'for every mother who cries her heart out at the first Healer passing.'

Malfoy smiled, admiring her ability to joke even in this time.

'I'm lucky that I was the first Healer passing, I guess. Don't worry about it, Hermione. It's normal to have this sort of reaction after a shock. I'd be worried if you didn't have it.'

'I've never broken down like that before,' she admitted, 'not even when the Chudley Canons lost to the Holyhead Harpies.'

'Be serious,' said Malfoy, but he smiled nonetheless. 'You're a mother.'

She made to stand up, but Malfoy restrained her with a hand on her shoulder.

'Take your time. Are you sure you're all right?' he asked seriously, and Hermione nodded, averting his eyes. 'Okay.'

They stood up and walked towards the ward together, Malfoy glancing occasionally at Hermione as they did so. She was remarkably pale, and he didn't want to upset herself anymore than she already was.

'Rose needs her sleep,' he said, as they reached the door, 'it can only be a short visit.'

Hermione gave a curt smile.

'You can't fool me, Malfoy,' she said quietly, 'I know it's not Rose who needs her sleep.' She paused for a moment. 'Don't - Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.'

She made to open the door, but Malfoy's hand enclosed gently over her wrist. She met his eyes and saw concern in them, his brow furrowed.

'Will you, Granger?' he said softly. 'Because I do worry about you.'

'Don't, Malfoy,' she whispered, and looked away, unable to meet his eyes. He gazed at her.

'You wouldn't rather call me Draco?' he asked.

She looked at him, but he couldn't read her expression. Saying nothing, she shook her head, and he understood. By refusing to call him Draco, she was refusing to shorten the distance between the two, and he took it as such. He removed his grip from her wrist, and she turned the handle, entering the room. Malfoy followed her and ignored Weasley as he narrowed his eyes.

'Well, Rosie-girl,' said Malfoy, smiling. Hermione looked at him, surprised - he employed a completely different tone of voice when speaking to her daughter, a kind one. 'How's that knee of yours doing?'

'It's bizarre,' she said, wrinkling her nose. 'What's it for?'

'It's so that it won't hurt anymore,' said Malfoy, and he ruffled her hair. 'As for that arm, I'm afraid there's only one thing to do about it -' he looked at Hermione and Ron. 'Skelegro.'

Hermione stifled a whimper. She had heard from Harry how much it had pained him to regrow bones, and it wasn't something she wanted to put her daughter through. Evidently Ron was thinking the same.

'Can't you just mend it with your wand?' he asked forcibly.

'Well, I mended the broken bones, Mr Weasley.' Hermione noted the 'Mr' in the sentence, sure that Malfoy was being polite for the sake of the children, something she appreciated. 'But there are some bones I'm a bit too cautious to heal, because I'm not entirely sure how severe the damage is. Skelegro really is the riskfree way out.'

'But the most painful one.'

'Painful?' squeaked Rose, her eyes round with fear. Hermione looked daggers at Ron. She took her daughter's hand, but before she could say anything, Malfoy had already spoken words of comfort.

'We're only giving you a small amount, Rosie-girl,' he said, winking at her. 'I'm sure it'll glide down nicely with a big piece of chocolate.'

'Chocolate!' exclaimed Hugo, his eyes now as round as Rose's, though not with fear. 'Mummy, if Rose gets chocolate, then I get chocolate too!'

'Hugo!'

Malfoy chuckled.

'I think we'll manage to find one for Hugo as well.'

He eyed Hermione and Ron. Ron was looking both angry and hesitant, as if not knowing what to say to him. Hermione, on the other hand, was deathly pale and exhausted. Draco was very worried about her. 'I think it's time Mummy and Daddy went home, don't you, Rosie-girl?'

Rosie smiled at Draco.

'I think so too, Healer Malfoy,' she said and she kissed her mother's cheek. Ron swooped down and gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead.

'Be good,' he said to her, and Rose giggled.

'What about my chocolate?' demanded Hugo, looking at his mother. Draco quickly kneeled down next to him and pulled a chocolate out from behind his ear, as if by magic. Hugo smiled and was about to take it, but Draco wagged a finger warningly.

'Only if you promise to act like the most perfect child when you get home,' he said. Hugo nodded fervently and popped the chocolate in his mouth. Ron took his son's hand and pulled him slightly away from Draco.

'Thanks Malfoy,' he said roughly. 'But don't ever give my son orders again,' he added in a voice so low that only he and Draco could hear. Draco inclined his head coldly as father and son walked out of the ward.

'Goodbye sweetheart - I'll come see you ASAP tomorrow,' assured Hermione, as she kissed her daughter's cheek again.

She straightened herself up and let out a sigh as she walked towards Malfoy, who was waiting by the exit.

'Thank you again, Malfoy,' she said, 'I - I can't -' she struggled to find the right words. 'Thank you.'

She smiled one last time and was about to exit when he called out -

'Granger?'

She turned.

'Get some sleep.'

He looked surprisingly serious and earnest as he said it, and Hermione nodded. They both knew that she wouldn't. Just like him, she was the sort of person who spent sleepless nights thinking about the mistakes they had made that day. Ron slept through everything.

*


Hermione was up at five o' clock in the morning the next day, ready to see her daughter as soon as visiting hours began - at six. She had woken Ron, but he had wanted to go back to sleep, insisting that Rose wouldn't be awake until at least ten, and that they shouldn't bother her. But Hermione would hear nothing of it.

'Then come along yourself at ten if you want,' she said a little crossly, as she pulled on a cardigan. 'Can you watch Hugo while I'm gone?'

Ron rubbed his eyes and sat up, looking at the outlined figure of his wife in semi-darkness. He reached out for her shoulder and clenched it.

'I'm sorry about last night - you were right about Rose not flying about -'

'I can't deal with this now, Ron,' said Hermione, and there was definite anger in her voice now. She threw a couple of Rose's books in a bag, together with a large packet of sweets. 'There's a time for when we decide who was right and who was bloody wrong, but I'll reserve that for another day. Right now, I just want to see my daughter. So if you'll look after Hugo while I'm gone?'

Ron shrugged and sank back against his pillows. His face was concealed in shadow, but Hermione knew he was angry. She meant to say a few words of comfort, but was still too furious at him to do so.

She did not stop by the receptionist this morning to ask the ward number, but hurried past her and walked up the stairs to her daughter's room. There was hardly anyone about in St. Mungo's, as it was too early for most visitors, and the patients were still asleep. Only a few Healers could be seen, wandering about with charts in their hands and casting Hermione curious looks.

She reached the correct ward and entered; the lights were out and her daughter - along with all the other children - was still asleep. Pulling up a chair, she saw that Rose's face bore a grimace of pain, and Hermione imagined how much the Skelegro was paining her. She slipped her hand into her daughter's, and stroked her hair softly. She was so beautiful. Before Hermione had given birth to her, she had never known how much a person could love a human being. Of course she loved Ron - but her love for him was not unconditional. Her love for Rose - and for Hugo - was.

'Granger, I thought I told you to get some sleep?'

Hermione looked up, and saw Malfoy at the half-opened door, looking angry.

'I did get some sleep,' she lied.

Malfoy took a deep breath and walked towards her. Before she knew it, he was gripping her arm firmly, though not painfully, and dragging her towards the exit effortlessly - she had no strength left in her to stand her ground.

'What are you - ? Let go of me -'

'Granger, you're no use to Rose half-dead,' Malfoy said angrily, as he shut the door behind them. 'I thought you were cleverer than that.'

'I'm fine, Malfoy, now let me go back to my kid -'

'Granger, I'm a Healer, in the name of Merlin, I can see you're not all right! Now get back home and get some sleep!'

'No!' yelled Hermione loudly. She bit her lip, regretting having lost control, and quickly lowered her voice. 'No, Malfoy - this is my child, and I'm staying by her side as long as she is in this place.'

Malfoy eyed her coolly, taken aback by her strong resolution. It was as if he was trying to think up a good reason to convince her to go home and get better.

'Granger, I - I need you healthy and whole for my divorce case,' he said. Hermione narrowed her eyes.

'D'you honestly think I give a damn about your case right now, Malfoy?' She was so angry with him that she spoke in a whisper.

'I don't think you give a damn about anything right now, Granger,' he said softly. 'Which is what makes you, quite honestly, a mess. You're not being rational. Your life is falling apart and you're clinging to your child - using her as an excuse to get away from Weasley and -'

He never finished his sentence, for she had slapped him on the cheek. He lifted his hand and touched it gingerly - it did not hurt, for she had not had much strength left to strike hard.

'That brings back memories,' he muttered, unable to prevent a smile.

'Don't you dare suggest that I'm using my child,' Hermione said shrilly. 'Like - Like I don't care about her - as if I'm just here to avoid whatever other problems I might have -' She took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. 'I always knew people didn't change, Malfoy, but I had hoped you were the exception.'

'Oh, don't give me that,' he spat. 'Change is overrated.'

'Yeah, well so is telling a mother that she isn't doing her job!' Hermione shouted. 'Now let me go see my child!'

Draco had no choice; the moment he let go of her, she stormed off into the ward. He stood in front of the door, watching her through the small window. She resumed her previous position, sitting down and stroking her daughter's hair, and he suddenly regretted that he had scolded her. She didn't need that - she probably got enough of that from Weasley. He crossed his arms, sighed and leaned against the door panel, his face softened. He could have stayed there all day, just watching her, Hermione, and the tenderness in her gaze.

*

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