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September 19th

~*~



    Hermione lay anxiously in her bed, eyes flittering slightly as she willed herself to keep them closed. Not much longer, she thought with mounting agitation.
    The alarm trilled.
    Hermione sat up immediately, eyes wide and expectant, hair tousled from sleep.
    Today was September nineteenth – the day she had looked forward to every year since she had understood the reason to anticipate it. Today was her birthday. Her eighteenth birthday. It was a benchmark, a milestone, a new era of her life.
    Then why don’t I feel any different? She thought helplessly.
    Hermione crawled out from under the covers and scooched down to the foot of the bed. There they were: A lovely, colorful pile of gifts.
    She rested her hand absent-mindedly on her stomach, drumming her fingers across its slope.
    Why am I not happy? She asked herself, almost angrily. Why can’t I just be happy that I’ve turned 18? Happy like every other normal teenager!
    But, of course, the answer to these questions lay just beneath her flicking fingertips.
    Staring down at her burgeoning belly, Hermione said, “We, both of us, are going to be happy this day. You because, well, I should be a much better equipped mother at eighteen rather than seventeen. And me, because… well, the same reason really.”
    The alarm trilled again, for Hermione had never turned it off, and she hopped promptly out of bed to do so.
    The next order of business was obviously the presents lying unopened at the foot of the bed. It simply wouldn’t do to not open them now… I’ll be talking to Harry, Ron and Ginny this morning and they’ll want to know what I think of them…
    Happy with the excuse for her self-indulgence, she plopped herself in the midst of her gifts, and grabbed the nearest box.
    The first  was a brilliant shade of pink with an orange ribbon, and she recognized Ginny’s loopy letters in the note on the underside of the lid. She smiled at the emphatic birthday message as her right hand searched through the piles of crinkled tissue paper.
    Finally, her fingers closed around soft fabric and she pulled to the surface a cloudy grey chenille sweater.
    Maternity sized, no doubt, Hermione thought as she pulled off her own pajama shirt and put it on.
    Standing in front of the mirror, she put her hands on her hips and let her stomach stick out.  
    Oh, lord, she thought, groaning out loud. I’ll need to ask Dumbledore for that concealment charm soon. There’s no way people aren’t going to notice this!
    She sighed and amended her mental to-do list to include this latest task before walking back to the heap of presents.
    The next two were from Harry and Ron who gave her a book on leisure potion brewing and a leather-bound diary respectively.
    Typical, she thought, picturing the boys heading straight for the book and paper supply store to purchase her gifts.
    The next box was large and wrapped in twine. On the top was a note in a familiar scrawl and Hermione beamed as she read Hagrid’s well wishes.
    Inside was his traditional birthday cake. Hermione swooped one finger through the buttery, pink frosting and licked it off with relish.
    Being able to eat cake before breakfast was undoubtedly the true purpose for celebrating a birthday.
    As she put the cake box carefully aside, she reached for her final gift: a box wrapped neatly in periwinkle blue paper. The small card attached to it was signed ‘Molly Weasley’ and Hermione’s interest was immediately piqued for Mrs. Weasley had never sent a birthday present before.
    Carefully tearing the corner of the package, she ripped of the paper and shook off the lid. More tissue paper awaited her on the inside and as she sifted through it, she couldn’t help but wonder what could have compelled Mrs. Weasley to buy her a gift this year…
    Oh. No.
    Hermione stared down in minute horror at what lay in her hands.
    It can’t be.
    She slowly stood up, letting her gift unfold itself before her.
    Fat pants. She has bought me fat pants.
    Hermione let the damnable article of clothing fall to the ground in all of its elastic wonder as she sulked morosely back to her bed.
    Who was I kidding? This isn’t going to be able to be a normal birthday. I’m getting fat pants as a present for god’s sake!
    Heaving an enormous sigh, she grudgingly slid out of bed and trudged off to the bathroom to get ready for school, kicking Mrs. Weasley’s well-meant gift under her bed and out of sight. 

* * *



    “Oh, Miss Granger, this is for you,” said Professor Vector off-handedly, peering down at the name written across the seal of a tightly furled scroll.  
    Hermione got up from her desk and walked over to retrieve it. Once the note was in her hands, she tapped the seal with her wand to unravel it.
    As she had expected, it was from Dumbledore, calling her out of class for the meeting she had requested by owl earlier that morning.
    She caught the Professor’s eye, as he was in the middle of a demonstration, and pointed towards the door to signify that she had to leave.
    He nodded and got straight back drawing a complex mathematical sequence upon the chalkboard and Hermione swung her book bag over her shoulder and walked out of the classroom.
    The reason she needed to talk to Professor Dumbledore was simple. And it was currently stretching out her school shirt, and making her normally loose-fitting robes feel a bit constricting.
    She needed that concealment charm before another Lavender Brown incident occurred, for she had a feeling that if anyone happened to touch her stomach now, they wouldn’t be able to hold themselves back from shrieking in amazement and blabbing instantaneously to the entire school.
    Yes, Dumbledore would simply have to accommodate her. There was really only one problem: How was she going to convince him not to involve Malfoy?
    Hermione had reached the stone gargoyle guarding the stairs to the Headmaster’s office, and spoke the password he had included in his note agitatedly.
    How can I persuade him to find another way for the concealment charm to be performed without sounding like a silly schoolgirl?
    She had rounded the top step and was now reaching out for the gleaming brass knocker, but no sooner had her fingertips grazed the smooth metal, the door sprang dutifully open.
   
    “Ah, good afternoon, Miss Granger,” said the Headmaster cheerfully from behind his desk. “Please, sit down and help yourself to a bisquit.”
   
    Hermione took a deep breath in.
   
    “Professor.”
   
    “Yes, Miss Granger?”
   
    “You invited him again?” She exhaled sharply through her teeth and gave a fleeting look to the blond-headed boy sitting in the armchair next to the one she was currently supposed to be inhabiting.
   
    “Well, Miss Granger, you expressed quite vehemently that you required the concealment charm as soon as possible; I assumed that it would be proactive to request for Mr. Malfoy to join us. He is, after all, the one who will be performing the charm.”
   
    “I suppose,” grumbled Hermione under her breath as she sat down next to Malfoy.
   
    “If you don’t want me here, I’ll leave,” said Malfoy coolly, fixing her with his usual icy stare.
   
    Hermione met his gaze and, oddly enough, detected something akin to frustration in his steely eyes.
   
    Thoroughly confused, she turned once again to the Headmaster and said, “Alright, let’s get on with it then. I don’t want to miss more of Arithmancy than is absolutely necessary.”
   
    “Right, right, Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore with his usual amused smile, “Now you both must listen carefully because the concealment charm I am teaching you today is both complex and dangerous.”
   
    “Dangerous?” asked Draco.
   
    “Yeah, what exactly do you mean by dangerous?” continued Hermione.
   
    “Naturally, all spells have an element of risk to them,” the Headmaster responded collectedly, “And, considering your state, Miss Granger, any spell to be performed on you has a heightened level of risk.”
   
    “Yes, I understand that, but what could possibly happen if, if things go wrong?” Hermione asked.
   
    “Miss Granger, you know what the normal risks are when performing concealment charms. They unfortunately do not change in your case.”
   
    Hermione knitted her brows as her mind quickly recalled the lurid images in her transfiguration textbook. People whose concealed appendages had managed to attach themselves to various incorrect locations on their bodies.
   
    “But what will happen to the….”
   
    “Baby?” Dumbledore finished for her. “There has only been one case of this occurring and, unfortunately, the baby was lost.”
   
    Hermione’s lips tightened.
   
    An awkward silence proceeded where the Head Boy and Girl sat quietly, each lost in their own thoughts, lamenting their forced responsibility.
   
    “Are you sure you still want to go through with this, Miss Granger?” the Headmaster asked kindly.
   
    Hermione snapped to focus.
   
    “Yes,” she said sharply, “I’m not ready to face the entire school with this.”   
   
    “Alright then,” he said with a nod, “I suggest we start now then.”
   
    Dumbledore pushed away from his desk and rose spryly to his full height. Walking towards the standing chalkboard in the corner of the room, he motioned for them to turn their chairs.
   
    “The charm I will be teaching you today is known as Ora Dissimulo,” the Headmaster began with a twinkle, “There are a vast number of concealment charms to choose from, but this one will be most useful to us for it allows the caster to set a perimeter, thus containing the charm within a certain portion of a person’s body.”
   
    “So Malfoy will be able to cast the charm solely on my stomach and then it will… vanish?”
   
    “The concealment works as a sort of reversal – your stomach will essentially shrink back in on itself.”
   
    “And what’s supposed to happen to the baby?” asked Hermione skeptically.
   
    “You should think about it like a shrinking charm for that’s a much better description of what will be happening.”
   
    “So you’re saying,” Malfoy began, “that what I’ll really be doing is shrinking her stomach back to normal size?”
   
    “More like you’ll be shrinking her womb.”
   
    Malfoy’s cheeks turned the briefest tint of pink and he leaned back in his chair.
   
    “Professor, are you positive this will be safe?” Hermione asked, worried about Malfoy’s obvious lack of enthusiasm. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted him to be performing the charm if he was so worked up.
   
    “The both of you are making this into a much more difficult process than it need be,” the Headmaster said with a chuckle. “When it comes down to it, the spell itself is rather simple.”
   
    “Maybe,” began Hermione, glancing cautiously at Malfoy, “Maybe you should just demonstrate it once so we know what we’re getting in to.”
   
    Dumbledore followed her gaze to Malfoy’s troubled profile and nodded.
   
    “That’s probably a wise idea, Miss Granger. Why don’t we go up here where there’s a little bit more space,” he walked up the few steps behind his desk and into an alcove where there was a large rug and a reading chair. “Yes, this should do.”
   
    “Er, why exactly do we need space, Professor?” asked Hermione.
   
    “It’s best if the person who is receiving the spell lies flat on their back,” said the Headmaster, “That may sound odd now, but once we start the process, you’ll understand why it’s more practical.”
   
    “Alright, I guess I’ll lie down then,” Hermione said with a shrug, lowering herself to the ground.
   
    “Very good,” said Dumbledore, kneeling down, “Now, Mr. Malfoy, here comes your part.”
   
    Draco nodded and followed suit, kneeling on the other side of Hermione.
   
    “Miss Granger, I’m very sorry to have to ask this, but it’s required that we cast the charm on skin only and so I’m going to have to ask you to roll up your blouse,” Dumbledore said with sincere apology.
   
    “Oh, it’s perfectly alright,” said Hermione, a little pink, “I sort of guessed that would be necessary.”
   
    After Hermione had bunched up her school top so that the round, curve of her belly was in plain sight, Dumbledore pulled out his wand and instructed Draco to do the same.
   
    “Now, Mr. Malfoy, the incantation for this charm is Ora Dissimulo as you may have already guessed.”
   
    “Ora Dissimulo,” Malfoy practiced saying.
   
    “Right, so what you’ll have to do is say the incantation and then draw a clean circle with your wand around Miss Granger’s belly.”
   
    “That’s all?” Hermione asked, picking her head off the floor.
   
    “Yes, that’s absolutely it!” said the Headmaster with a reassuring smile at Draco.
   
    “Alright,” he said slowly, “Maybe, could you do it first so I could see?”
   
    Dumbledore nodded, “Are you ready, Miss Granger?”
   
    “Yeah, go ahead, sir.”
   
    Dumbledore cleared his throat, “Ora Dissimulo!”
   
    The point of his wand glowed with a small pinprick of silver as he lowered it to Hermione skin, tracing one continuous circle.
   
    Hermione peered down just in time to watch her stomach recede back on itself. It was as if Polyjuice potion had been applied, but only to one specific segment of her body.
   
    “Simple as that,” said Dumbledore, placing his hands on his knees. “I’ll just reverse it so that you can try, Mr. Malfoy.”
   
    Dumbledore then lazily waved his wand, casting his silent reversal, and Hermione felt her stomach pop out as if she had just slipped out of a particularly binding pair of pants.
   
   
    “Are you ready, Malfoy?” she asked him uncertainly.
   
    “Well I definitely won’t be if you keep asking me that,” he snapped, concentrating on her belly.
   
    “Fine, just focus,” Hermione huffed.
   
    Dumbledore smiled to himself.
   
    Malfoy pursed his lips and breathed in deeply through his nose, “Ora Dissimulo!”
   
    He lowered his glowing wand-tip to the point on Hermione’s abdomen about five inches above her bellybutton and began to trace a light circle all the way around until he had met his starting point once more. Hermione felt the expected sensation and watched as the skin of her stomach gurgled back to what it had looked like a few months earlier.
   
    Malfoy exhaled sharply.
   
    “Well done!” exclaimed the Headmaster. “Now this charm should last until midnight.”
   
    “It has a Cinderella effect does it?” Hermione asked.
   
    Malfoy looked at her awkwardly.
   
    “What on earth are you talking about?”
   
    “It’s a Muggle fairytale, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore hastened to explain. “A servant girl is given the garb of a princess for a night, but the fantasy wears off by the strike of twelve. Am I right, Miss Granger?”
   
    “Yeah, completely,” said Hermione, shooting Malfoy a disgruntled look.
   
    “Well, anyway,” continued the Headmaster, “It will be at midnight that our particular charm wears off, so I suggest you try to stay clear of anyone at this time if you don’t want them asking questions.”
   
    “Yeah, that would pose a few awkward questions,” mumbled Hermione.
   
    “But, besides that, you no longer have to worry about anyone noticing.”
   
    “Hear that, Granger? That means we can finally burn that hideous lumpy sweater you’ve been favoring so often!”
   
    Hermione smacked his shoulder as she got to her feet.
   
    “Ouch,” Malfoy said in feigned anguish. “Do you see what I have to put up with, Professor?”
   
    “From what I see, you deserved it, Mr. Malfoy. Now, off to class, both of you!”

* * *



    “–Happy birthdaaaaay, dear Hermioneeeeeee! Happy birthday to you!!!”
   
    Hermione beamed at the three friends kneeling in her common room, circling a candlelit cake with her picture gracing the frosted top.
   
    “Oh, guys, you didn’t have to!”
   
    “Shhh! Make a wish!” Ginny instructed.
   
    Hermione walked over to them and got to her knees, no doubt in her mind what she needed to wish for this year.
   
    She gave a dramatic puff and the melting pink candles extinguished in spiraling ribbons of smoke.
   
    “Happy birthday!” they all shouted in unison once more.
   
    “You know, you guys really managed to surprise me! How did you even get in here?”
   
    “We asked McGonagall for the password,” said Harry.
   
    “And I suppose she thought it was sweet, considering my condition and all,” Hermione grumbled, pulling her feet from underneath her so she wouldn’t have to rest on her knees.
   
    “Hey, don’t complain, you’ve got cake,” admonished Ron with a stern waggle of his frosting-tipped finger.
   
    Hermione laughed and Ginny handed her a plate with a fat slice sitting gloriously atop it.
   
    “Now I won’t just be pregnant fat, I’ll be fat-fat!” she said, staring at the giant wedge in awe.
   
    “Oh, shut up!” said Ginny throwing a cushion at her, “You can hardly even tell that you’re pregnant at all!”
   
    “Well I should hope not!” Hermione said, smiling at their puzzled faces. “Dumbledore taught us how to do the concealment charm this afternoon.”
   
    “Really?” said Ginny, thoroughly interested and appraising Hermione stomach with newfound curiosity.
   
    “By ‘us’, you mean – ” Harry began to ask.
   
    “Malfoy and I,” finished Hermione in a tone that she hoped conveyed annoyance with a touch of disgust.
   
    Ron and Harry exchanged glances.
   
    “I know you two don’t like it – and I don’t either, don’t get me wrong – but he’s the one living here, so I have to deal with it.”
   
    “Yeah, but what if we set up a secret meeting spot that we agreed to meet at every morning before breakfast?” Ron implored.
   
    “Yes, and what about the days that you decide to skip breakfast altogether? What am I supposed to do then?”
   
    The boys looked disgruntled as they stabbed into their cake.
   
    “Well, I think it’s fine, Hermione,” Ginny piped up.
   
    “Thanks, Gin.”
   
    “I mean, Malfoy’s got a better mark in Transfiguration than the two of you combined!”
   
    Hermione buried her head in her hands as a piece of chocolate cake with pink frosting found its way to Ginny’s forehead.
   
    She was about to intervene as the two redheaded siblings, both sporting faces the color of fuchsia, lunged for the cake, but at that very moment, the portrait swung open and Draco Malfoy sauntered in.
   
    Everyone, including Malfoy, froze.
   
    “Well, don’t let me ruin the party,” the Slytherin said coldly, treating Hermione to a particularly harsh glare.
   
    “Yes, run along upstairs, ferret, you’re not wanted here,” Harry said back, matching Draco’s icy tone.
   
    Malfoy took three long strides till he was standing directly above Harry.
   
    “Potter, I’ll remind you, since it seems to have slipped Granger’s mind, that this is my common room. Not yours, mine.”
   
    Harry rose and tried his best to stare Malfoy in the eye though he was a good four inches shorter.
   
    “We’re here for Hermione, it’s her common room too,” he said through clenched teeth.
   
    Malfoy sucked in his breath and puffed out his chest.
   
    Hermione took this as her cue to stand up.
   
    “Harry, please, it’s getting late. Maybe you should all just head back to Gryffindor tower.”
   
    Harry and Malfoy didn’t take their eyes off of each other.
   
    Ginny, wiping frosting from her brow, heaved an enormous fake yawn.
   
    “Boy am I tired!” she said, standing up and stretching her arms. “Come on, Potter. If you want a goodnight snog, you’ll walk me back.”
   
    Hermione kicked Ron in the butt and gave him a threatening look.
   
    “Yeah, Harry, let’s go. Wouldn't want you to miss an opportunity to molest my little sister!”
   
    Ginny rolled her eyes at him and grabbed Harry’s arm, steering him away from Malfoy.
   
    “Alright, toodleloo Hermione! Happy 18th!” Ginny called as she marched the two boys out of the common room.
   
    The portrait slammed behind them.
   
    There were a few moments of silence before Hermione turned to face Malfoy again. He hadn’t moved from the spot where he had been confronting Harry.
   
    “You know, sometimes I just can’t believe you,” she said angrily, walking towards him. “Usually, you’re just fine around me. You don’t even call me mudblood anymore. But then, the minute they’re in the room, it’s like we’re all back in third year again!”
   
    “So, are you saying that you’d be just over the moon if I brought Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy in here without telling you?”
   
    Hermione eyes hardened, “No I wouldn’t be over the moon, but I wouldn’t come in here and throw a tantrum.”
   
    “That’s not even what it was!” He yelled incredulously. “I merely asked Potter if he remembered whose common room this was after all – he was the one that got indignant!”
   
    “Oh it hardly matters who started it! It’s the fact that you took the bait, that you came walking over here, puffing out your chest, trying to be a big man.”
   
    “I did not puff out my chest.”
   
    “You most certainly did,” said Hermione, taking a moment to pantomime the encounter for him to see.
   
    “You’re ridiculous.”
   
    “No, you’re ridiculous, Malfoy. You’re the bigger man, you didn’t have to sink to his level and yet you did!”
   
    “Oh I’m the bigger man, am I?”
   
    “Shut up.”
   
    Malfoy looked like a proud canary, fluffing his feathers.
   
    Hermione exhales in aggravation and stalks over to the sofa, hands supporting her lower back.
   
    Malfoy smiled to himself as he removed his cloak, slinging it across a chair and helped himself to a piece of cake before taking the seat next to Hermione.
   
    “So, what’s wrong with you?” he asked gruffly through a mouthful of cake.
   
    “What?” she asked in an offended tone.
   
    He nodded towards her hands, still supporting her back despite her seated position.
   
    She sighed and closed her eyes, “Well, typically Malfoy, when someone is holding onto their lower back it is because it’s being an aching pain.”
   
     “Yes, thank you for that, but why? Why is it hurting?”
   
    Hermione looked over at him skeptically, “I’m pregnant. Have you forgotten?”
   
    “So, is the baby kicking you in the back or something?”
   
    Hermione stared at him.
   
    “What?”
   
    “The baby does not kick yet, Malfoy.”
   
    “Sorry! You don’t need to get all offended by a question.”
   
    “Well you would think you would know this, were you really that sheltered?”
   
    Malfoy shrugged.
   
    “My back hurts because of the extra weight I have to carry and because I’m walking all weirdly now.”
   
    “Hmm…” said Malfoy, nodding his head.
   
    Hermione looked around awkwardly.
   
    “Granger?”
   
    “What, Malfoy?”
   
    “I am going to do something right now that you will probably find surprising.”
   
    “Um… What?” she asked, scooting a bit away from him.
   
    “I, being the gallant gentlemen that I am,” Hermione snorted, “Am going to ask you if you want a back rub.”
   
    Silence.
   
    “Well?” he said expectantly.
   
    “Malfoy, you’re an insufferable kiss-ass,” she said, laughing.
   
    “I’m trying to be kind, Granger,” he said over her laughter, “It could be your birthday present if you like.”
   
    She stopped laughing, “You’re serious?”
   
    “Yes.”
   
    “Well, huh, alright then,” she said, watching him for any hint that he was only pulling her leg.
   
    “Granger,” he said after a few moments of her staring at him suspiciously, “you’re going to have to turn around or something if this is going to happen.”
   
    “Oh, right, yeah, I guess I’ll lie down then.”
   
    “Probably a good idea.”
   
    Draco moved off the sofa so she could lie down and then knelt down beside her, lifting up the back of her shirt and placing his fingertips where she had previously been clutching.
   
    “Bloody hell, Malfoy!” she said with a sharp intake of breath, “I don’t know if I want a massage – you’re hands feel half dead.”
   
    “Sorry, poor circulation,” he said, grinning, “But of course you want a massage, Granger, if that look of pain on your face was anything to go by.”
   
    “Oh, shut up.”
   
    “That’s no way to treat the man giving you such a charming and selfless present.”
   
    She rolled her eyes into the cushions.
   
    A few moments passed in silence as Malfoy slowly rubbed her back.
   
    “So,” he began, deciding to initiate conversation again, “Do you really think I’m the bigger man, Granger?”
   
    “Oh good lord. I really don’t know if I want this selfless present if I’m going to have to listen to your conceited prattle!”
   
    “Come on, Granger! You’re the one who said it!”
   
    “Yeah, so what if I did?”
   
    “You know, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you’re going to get away with being purposely vague and illusive.”
   
    “Actually, I believe you’ll find that’s exactly what it means,” Hermione goaded.
   
    “Well, not with me.”
   
    “Really? And what do you plan to do about it?” she asked dramatically, twisting her torso and propping herself on one arm so that she could look him squarely in the eye.
   
    “Well I believe you are the one in the position of vulnerability as of now, so it would seem that I could do just about anything.”

    “And what would you dare to do?”

    He looked at her mischievously, a daring glint in his eye, and placed one hand, light as a feather, on the side of her stomach, causing the most minute and infuriating tickling sensation.

    “You wouldn’t dare,” she said, her whole body tensing up.

    “Do you really want to test it?”

    “You wouldn’t do it. I know you won’t.”

    He moved two fingers lightly across the responsive skin and she squirmed violently, practically throwing him off her.

    “Malfoy!” she pleaded as he pinned her down again and began to tickle her mercilessly. “Please – please – stop!”

    “Do promise to stop eluding all my questions?” he asked, laughing at all of her ridiculous faces.

    “Yes – whatever you want – I promise,” she gasped.

    “Do I have your word?”

    “Oh my God! Yes – you have – my word!”

    He took his hands away and grinned wolfishly at her as she caught her breath.

    “I don’t give idle threats, Granger.”

    “Like hell you don’t,” she said, pushing him on his chest.

    “Well you were sitting there playing the pregnancy card!” he yelled

    “Shouldn’t I be able to?” she nearly screamed, getting up from the sofa and walking halfway across the room.

    “To a certain extent,” he said carefully and quietly.

    “Oh really,” she mocked, “And I suppose you’re the one who decides to what extent I’m allowed to be pregnant.”

    Malfoy clenched his jaw, figuring now was not the time to retort.

    “You know what,” she began, her eyes stinging uncomfortably, “I would really much rather have you just – just leave me alone. I – I’m going through enough. I don’t need you too.”
   
    She looked at the ground.

    “Well,” said Draco, standing up awkwardly, “I guess… If that’s what you want.”

    “Why wouldn’t it be what I want?” she screamed.

    “I don’t know! I wasn’t questioning it!” he said defensively, holding his hands in the air.
   
    Hermione stared at him. Her face was hot from yelling. Him standing there like she was holding her wand on him.
   
    She lost it. The back of her throat seemed to break like a dam letting a strangled cry escape, her eyes following suit, releasing a torrent of fat, salty tears.
   
    Draco slowly lowered his arms, his eyes wide in confusion as he watched her waddle pitifully over to the window seat. What the HELL have I done now?
   
    Watching her carefully for any signs of a fresh outburst, he took a few tentative steps in her direction. When she didn’t look up but only sobbed harder, he went all the way and took the seat next to her.
   
    “Uh, Granger?” he asked. He had to raise his voice quite loud to be heard above her sobbing. “Granger?”
   
    No response.
   
    “Look, Granger, I’m really sorry if I’ve offended you or something.”
   
    “It’s–not–you,” she managed to get out.
   
    He furrowed his brows, more confused than ever, “Well, what is it then?”
   
    “I don’t know. I’m – in – a – disaster,” she sobbed.
   
    “You mean because you’re pregnant?” he questioned.
   
    A fresh break of tears poured down her ruddy cheeks.
   
    “But, Granger, it’s not all bad! I mean you won’t be pregnant forever, right?”
   
    “Then – I’ll – have – a – BABY!” she said, anger beginning to taint her words.
   
    “Well, yeah… but it will be all cute and chubby and you’ll love it!” he said, his optimism surprising even him.
   
    “I don’t want to,” she said, quietly for a change and raising her head to look him in the eye. “I don’t want to.”
   
    He looked at her for a few seconds.

    “Why not?” he managed to ask.
 
    She swallowed at the lump in her throat and slid a hand underneath her eyes to clear away the stray tears.

    “Well, I’m scared.”

    “How can you be scared,” he asked uncertainly. “It’s your child.”

    “It doesn’t feel like mine,” she said quickly, nervously, “I mean, it’s not really mine, right?”

    “It’s yours now.”

    She sighed, exasperated, “But, it’s all wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way!”

    “Well, yeah, you’re right about that.”

    “This is supposed to happen after I fall in love. Babies come after you fall in love, after you get married… after you graduate.”

    “But, this is different, Granger. This isn’t how it normally happens, but that doesn’t make it less… right.”

    “I’ve never been in love, Malfoy,” she said unblinkingly.

    He stared back at her, uneasy. Yeah, well, me neither.
   
    “How can a baby be the first thing I ever love?”

    Several moments passed as they sat there staring at one another, Hermione’s question hanging like a knife between them.
   
    “Honestly, Granger,” he started, his voice low, “I don’t know how it can happen this way, but I don’t doubt for a second that it will happen. You will love that baby. I know you. You will.”

    “Can you promise me?” she implored.

    “Yeah, yes, I can promise you that.”

    She closed her damp eyes and exhaled a sigh of relief.

    “Thank you, Malfoy,” she said, grabbing the sides of his face and bringing him close to her so that she could kiss him on the forehead. “Thank you.”

    She pushed herself up from the window ledge and walked off to the stairs, up to her room. The door clicked.
   
    Malfoy sat in silence next to the rain-splattered window for a few more minutes. He rubbed his hands through his hair and then rested them on the place she had kissed him.

    He shut his eyes.

    Dammit, you can’t do this, Draco. You’re falling, I can see it, you’re falling.    

~*~

A/N: Well, well,well, after possibly a month or more of waiting I've somehow managed to finish this cursed segment of my story. I know many of you lovely, lovely people are frustrated with the unfathomably long wait, but, rejoice it is here! Please, take the time to tell me what you think. Is it utter crap? Is it your new favorite chapter? I want to know, good and bad. Love! Don't hate me forever, please!

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