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Avoiding Draco had proved much harder than Hermione had reckoned.  Not only did he seem to be in all her classes, save Ancient Runes, but Hermione tended to be the last one to class, given her very pregnant state.  Hermione knew it wouldn't be too long now, maybe a couple weeks more,and she'd have to find a way to manage her school work, Headgirl duties, NEWTS and a baby. 

But the most pressing matter of all was that she had yet to decide whether or not to tell Draco.  The small but none-the-less heavy weight of the silver rings Hermione carried around with her were a constant reminder of Draco's absolute ignorance on such a paramount issue.  Sighing as the morning post came in, Hermione couln't help but feel a wave of relief at the weekend.  No worrying about getting to class on time, about Draco staring at her and realizing she was carrying his heir. 

It was a dark brown owl hooting at her that called Hermione out of her reverie, and she untied the letter from his leg.  Hermione knew who this bird was, of course.  She had ben the one to send him originally after all.  The owl dipped his beak into Hermione's pumpkin juice before it have her a sten look and flew off to the owlrey, awaiting her return letter.


Dear  Hermione,

Have you eaten enough breakfast?  I know how you don't think you need to eat every few hours, but, well, we've been over this a thousand times already.  I'm sure you've been doing fine, as the ring has yet to do much other than adorn my finger.  Dear, I do hope you know that you can call on me at anytime.  Now, I already know that you've yet to tell...him, but Hermione, I must impress upon you again the absolute importance of doing so.  Not only will it serve you both better in the long run, but I know that he'll be able to help out.  It is very important for children to have both their parents, you know, and I often lament for Harry, never having known the wonderful people Lily and James were.

I know that the time is near, it must be.  I've arranged things with Albus and St. Mungo's so that you can be very discreetly taken out of school and placed in the ward.  Moving around the week prior to the actual event will be most dificult, and I leave it up to you to decide whether or not you'll check in early.  I'll be in contact again very soon, dear.  Now finish your breakfast.

Love,


Molly


Hermione smiled for a moment at the concern of the rather understanding woman.  Frowning the next moment, Hermione knew that everything Mrs. Weasley had written was true; she would really have to tell Draco sooner or later.  The worry and threat that Death Eaters, or worse, Voldemort would find out lindered, however. Draco was now an outcast from that group of people; having killed his father inadvertantly and spilling secrets to the Order had left Draco in disfavor and his mother in hiding.  While Voldemort wasn't full out hunting him, Hermione knew that any excuse,any reason they could get their hand on to make Draco suffer would not be passed up.

Casting her eyes across the room, Hermione wasn't surprised to find she was the only one there.  It was far too early to be awake--the sun hadn't even broken the horizon when Hermione found herself laying awake in her bed.  She stared at the left side of the Slytherin table, where Draco always sat.  She wasn't sure what had made him come around.  It was all very tenuous, Hermione contemplated, that at one moment Draco would be smirking and taunting herself and making Harry's life miserable, while the next he would be seen at Order meetings, a haunted look in his eyes and fear in his voice.  Having asked him about it later, Hermione always found herself shocked--not so much at the answer itself, but by the fact that Draco had confided to her.


"You don't know it was like," Draco told her, his voice wavering and his fists clenching.  "Seeing him torture some to insanity, abuse others fatally, force them to mutilate themsevles before their own eyes, while they, while we  all looked on, unable to offer any help, or even show the slightest glimpse of sympathy or remorse."  Draco looked up into Hermione's eyes, desperation and horror swirling around in his grey orbs.  "You never saw their faces or heard their cries as they begged for him to kill them.  And at last, when he finally obliged, you never saw the vacant look in their eyes, a smile tugging at their lips, glad to have finally escaped the terror he put them through." 

Tears were streaming down Draco's face unchecked now.  He was no longer sitting in that empty classroom with Hermione; Draco was at Voldemort's side, yet another mask in the endless ring of Death Eaters, initiated or not.  He was there in a room watching a helpless wizard, self inflicted cuts and gashes all over his body, begging for death.

Hermione reached out to him, cupping his face in her hands, focusing his attention back to the present.  "Draco, I'm--I'm so sorry," she choked out, tears catching on her lashes.  She extended her arms and pulled him close to her so that Draco was bent forward, his head resting on her shoulder and nose nuzzling into her neck.

After a minute of trying to repress his sobs, Draco calmed down enough to go on.  "And then he'd turn on us, especially the newer and younger ones.  His red eyes would bore into my soul.  And he's tell us that if--that if we didn't do as he said, then we'd be the ones writhing on the floor, imploring death."  Draco's eyes fastened on Hermione's.  The girl looked down into her former enemy's eyes and saw the helplessness, the need for understanding.  One of Draco's hands was fiddling with the ends of Hermione's hair, his other wrapped loosely around her waist, gripping the hem of her shirt.

Hermione's brow's knit together in heart-wrenching sympathy, and she drew the boy in her arms closer to her.  "I'm glad you're here," she whispered to him.  "Where you're safe."


After that, they hadn't much talked, though they did acknowledge each other on civil terms.  In retrospect, Herione supposed that it was this meeting that had led her to make the decision she had some months later.  Because when that unexpected ambush broke out, Hermione had seen the look of utter fear in Draco's eyes, and recalled how he looked that day when he had told her why he turned over a new leaf.  Draco wasn't a bad person, he never really was.  He was merely...lost.  Yes, lost for quite some time.

"Hermione?" She knew that voice, knew those arms that encircled her.  Leaning into him, Hermione closed her eyes as she let Draco hold her.  "What are you doing up?"

"I was hungry," Hermione replied.  Immediately noticing her mistake, she added, "And I couldn't sleep."  Draco moved to sit down next to her and spread some jam on her toast.  The sun was pouring through the windows now, and Hermione knew that the Great Hall would soon be filling up.  "Thanks," she smiled, accepting the piece of toast.

"Er--I better go," Draco commented, standing up.  The clatter of feet from the early risers was echoing down the hall.

Hermione grabbed his arm to stop him from leaving.  "You don't have to," she importuned Draco.  "It's not as if the whole school doesn't know that we're friends, or well, something along those lines. 

Draco looked down into her face for a moment.  He smirked at her.  "Just friends, huh?"

Hermione's face flushed and she gave him a reprimanding look, though Draco could easily see the amusement dancing around her eyes.  "Oh shut up and eat your breakfast."

"What are you doing today?" Draco inquired, sitting down next to her. 

Hermione reached for a blueberry muffin that Draco ended up handing to her.  "Homework," she sighed.

"Let's go for a walk," Draco declared on a sudden caprice.

"I--what?  No."

"Well, the sun is nice out, it's not too cold today.  Hermione, the leaves are still changing colors.  I know you love Autumn."

Hermione sighed.  Under the normal circumstances she would gladly have gone on a walk with Draco.  But at the moment, when she could barely make it to class on time, a long walk just for the hell of it was simply inane.  "Draco, I really don't want to."  Said boy looked thoroughly displeased, and not the least miffed.  "Okay, why don't we walk out to the lake and have our breakfast there?"

"I knew you couldn't resist my charm," Draco smirked.  "Never could."  He sighed dramatically and Hermione responded by throwing an apple at him.  "Really, Hermione, if you're going to throw something at me, I'd really prefer it to be yourself, not a piece of fruit."  He just barely caught the pear that was sailing right at him.

Draco carried the food in a basket, courtesy of a muffin basket that Hermione insisted they return later.  As soon as the doors closed behind them, leaving behind the twenty some odd people that had risen early, Hermione linked her pinky through Draco's, and brought them to a slow but steady pace towards the lake.  Draco was right in telling her about the picturesque scenery outside; every tree was embellished with the warm hues that only Autumn entailed.  The air outside was crisp and dead leaves crunched beneath their feet as Draco and Hermione made their way to the far side of the lake, out of view of everyone except the creatures in the Forbidden Forest. 

Finally stopping, Draco sat down the basket of food, but pulled Hermione into his embrace.  Hermione nuzzled into his chest, and for a moment felt a stab of guilt.  Draco was so open with her, so trusting, and yet here she was hiding such a tremendous secret from him.  Draco was playing with the ends of her long hair as he always did in a great show of affection.  "I wish we didn't have to hide," he remarked bitterly.  "They should know how much I love you."

Hermione leaned back against Draco, resting her head on his chest.  She reached up and cupped his cheek, her hand shielding it from the biting air.  "I know," Hermione sighed, then gave a sharp gasp of pain, her hand slipping from Draco's face to clutch her rib.

"Are you all right?  What happened?"

What had happened was that the baby had kicked.  That in turn meant that the baby was awake and many more gasps of pain would emit from Hermione.  Biting back any further utterances of discomfort, Hermione replied, "Nothing.  Something poked me."  It wasn't entirely false at least.  Draco's face relaxed then, and Hermione took that moment of silence to decide things.  It was already early November, but Hermione knew that her due date was well before Christmas break.  There was no escaping it--Hermione would have to miss school. 

Slightly irked by this knowledge, Hermione commenced eating a mini Pumpkim Pie to appease herself.  She may as well check into St. Mungo's next weekend; all that was on her mind anymore was when the baby would arrive anyway.  Hermione had contemplated this often and knew what to tell Draco.

"Draco, I'm going to be leaving for a while, to visit my parents."  It was only a half-lie; Hermione had been getting rather good at bending the truth over the years.  She could do so with just the right amount of emotion to make her story believeable.  "I haven't seen them in more than a year."  Before Draco could protest, Hermione added, "And before you start with me, think about how you'd feel if your own daughter showed up with some guy you had never seen before and thought she loathed."

Draco smirked cheekily and gave Hermione a swift kiss.  "Don't tell me you told your parents that you hated me, Granger.  When you know that this whole time you've been secretly and madly in love with me."

Hermione turned to Draco and brought her face within mere centimeters of his, teasing him with an almost kiss.  "Well, you see Malfoy, I may have mentioned it.  And if I was honestly madly in love with you, I'd be snogging you by now."

Hermione made to pull back, but that had done it; Draco cupped her face and drew Hermione close to him.  "You know, it has been a while since I've had a good snog."


A/N: Sorry!!! that it took so long.  I had it written out a couple weeks ago, but only got around to posting it now.  I was contemplating just merging my next chapter with this one, but I decided not to.  Hope you all enjoyed it, please leave me a comment about what you think! 




  

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