Hermione landed in her bed again that night by broomstick. Draco floated them silently though Ginny’s first floor window and glided low until she could slide off easily and crawl under the covers once more. Leaning nearly flat on the handle of his broom, he brushed her hair from her face and laid a soft, tender kiss on her pink lips.
“Sleep well,” he whispered quietly, and then, before she could voice a reply, he had gone, leaving only a rippling curtain as sign of his departure.
* * *
The next few days spent at the Burrow passed happily in a wave of holiday good spirits. Meals were spent crammed elbow to elbow along the long kitchen table, Mrs. Weasley’s fabled cooking leaving them all in a happy stupor. The house decorations were overseen by Hermione, Fleur, and Ginny, who gladly ordered the boys around from comfy positions on the sofa. Ginny had taken to miming Fleur’s pregnant waddle and moaning in great exaggeration of her aches and pains, all in an effort to get in on the special treatment of the pregnant duo. Mrs. Weasley did not protest, though Ron complained loudly of having to take up her share of chores. Otherwise, things ran smoothly in their usual frazzled, Weasley manner.
Hermione was very much enjoying and savoring her holiday – keenly aware of it being the last one she would spend “alone.” Even now, though, she didn’t feel truly alone. Unbeknownst to anyone save for Ginny, she was receiving upwards of five letters a day from a handsome eagle owl flying from Wiltshire.
Draco had been writing her lovely notes from his desk at Malfoy Manor, sharing with her the drudgery of his day-to-day life there and, more importantly, divulging just how much he missed her. Their correspondence was always at the forefront of each of their thoughts. Narcissa Malfoy saw neither hide nor hair of her son the first few days he was home, eventually taking it upon herself to knock forcefully upon his bedroom door and demand an audience with him. It was much easier to hide one’s whereabouts in the busy Burrow, but that hadn’t stopped the house’s holiday occupants from noticing the apparently very poor state of Hermione’s bladder – the girl was running upstairs to use the loo at least twice in an hour!
Regardless, Draco and Hermione were absolutely reveling in their newfound companionship, which made their Christmas time all the more special and enjoyable.
* * *
“Mind the potatoes, Ginny!” called Mrs. Weasley’s shrill voice from across the kitchen.
Christmas dinner was moving along in the Burrow’s cramped kitchen. Ginny had just been doing her spot-on hilarious impression of her mother’s reaction to finding out she was going to be a grandma – exaggerated crying and screeching included. However, the subject of this hilarity was now stomping through to check on the progress of the cooking, and she did not look pleased.
“Don’t worry, Mum, I’m minding them,” said Ginny quickly, masterfully recovering from the recent bout of comedy. She knew better than anyone when and where it was permissible to tread the line with her mother, and now was not the time. The Burrow, already at what one would assume was maximum occupancy with twelve residents, was going to be stuffed to the brim tonight with eight more on their way.
Since the kitchen hadn’t a hope of seating twenty guests at its table, the parlor had been transformed into a makeshift dining room with one long, magically stretched, table covering its length.
“I don’t know what I was thinking inviting twenty people for Christmas supper,” cried Mrs. Weasley to the kitchen at large as she peppered the potatoes and ran a hand across her perspiring brow, “I feel like I’m living in a mad house!”
As she swiveled around again, no doubt remembering another chore on her mental to-do list, Ginny took over at the stove and chuckled to herself.
“What Mum doesn’t understand is that we’re always living in a mad house. Today it’s just a tad over-capacity.”
A half hour later, with a sparkling glass of elfin wine in her hand, Mrs. Weasley looked much more comfortable with the state of chaos in her home. The remaining guests had arrived and the sound of happy holiday chatter filled the Burrow with warmth from the floorboards to the eaves.
Unnoticed in the chaos, Hermione had escaped again to Ginny’s bedroom where Valerian waited on the windowsill. The corners of her lips crept up in a small smile when she saw a new roll of parchment tied to his left foot.
Draco. It was all she could think about. Draco writing her letters. Draco showing up at her window. Draco holding her in his arms, kissing her. Draco, Draco, Draco.
She hated to admit it, for she was still unsure if what she was doing was right, but he was getting under her skin. He told her that this was what he wanted, and he was proving it, but she still couldn’t shake that niggling feeling that this was all unfair to him. Her belly was getting bigger by the day – a constant reminder of the baby that was soon to be born. This baby was her responsibility and hers alone. What would happen if they got too close, if she got too attached, and then, once the baby was born, he realized he couldn’t handle it? What would happen to them then?
She closed her eyes and squeezed the bridge of her nose where a throbbing ache was beginning to form.
Suddenly, hurried footsteps could be heard coming up the stairs, and, before she knew it, the bedroom door was opened and Ginny’s head had popped around the corner.
“There you are! Hey, you better come downstairs before people start asking about you,” said her redheaded friend jovially.
“Oh yeah, sorry, just had a bit of headache. I’ll be down in a second!”
She stood up quickly to follow Ginny’s lead downstairs, folding the unopened letter in a neat square and tucking it in her sweater pocket.
Dinner was abundant and rich, and conversation flowed effortlessly around the Weasley’s table. Hermione sat back in her chair with an easy smile on her face, both hands resting atop the curve of her stomach. Around that table sat the hodgepodge collection of people she had grown to associate with her family, she couldn’t help but smile at the thought of what a wonderful family they were.
After the main course had passed and most of the guests sat nursing their drinks, Mr. Weasley stood up to make a toast.
“I’m really no good at these sorts of things,” he began, his face flushing pink and his eyes downcast, “but I would just like to say that I feel such immense joy that you are all here with me today. We made it through the hardest of times, and we lost too many, but that we are here now leaves me… leaves me breathless with gratitude.”
Everyone smiled genuinely at one another, murmuring their agreement, and Arthur sat down again. It was truly miraculous that so many had survived. Hermione took a moment to regard each of their faces fondly. Her heart swelled as her mind attempted to place and define the uncontrollable feeling of elation.
And then her eyes landed on one face in particular and her mind abandoned its attempt, turning instead to panic mode. As she had watched, Fleur’s eyebrows had flown up in sudden surprise and then furrowed in immediate and intense worry. She clutched at Bill’s arm, as Hermione stood up rapidly.
“Fleur, what’s happened?” she asked, quickly but calmly.
Bill had turned to stare puzzled at his wife and then up at Hermione. Most of the people around the table were noticing as well and growing quiet.
“I theenk my water ‘as broke,” Fleur said quietly, her eyes unmoving but reeling with emotion.
There was a slight pause between her words and the utter madness that then broke out. Suddenly everyone was on their feet, hurrying about, and panicking. Mrs. Weasley was crying hysterically; Bill was staring at his wife in shock; Mr. Weasley’s head was in the fire, Flooing St. Mungo’s; and all the rest of the house’s occupants seemed to be pacing and panicking… loudly.
Hermione rushed to the other side of the table and kneeled quietly next to Fleur.
“How do you feel?” she asked instinctively, putting an arm around Fleur’s shoulders.
“I am scared for him,” she replied quietly, turning her large blue eyes upwards to meet Hermione’s. “It ees much too soon.”
“Everything will be fine, Fleur. He will be just fine,” she placed her hand on top of Fleur’s, which rested protectively across her stomach.
As she gave Fleur one last reassuring look, Bill swooped down beside them.
“St. Mungo’s says it’s not too dangerous to Floo and it will get us there the fastest,” he said hurriedly, brushing his hand across his wife’s cheek.
“Bill –” she began.
“I know,” he said calmly, resting his forehead against hers. “It’s going to be okay; I’ll be right beside you the whole time.”
With that, he put one arm under the crook of her knees and the other at her back, lifting her easily out of the chair and over to the fire. The guests had formed a semi-circle around them, watching the couple woefully. Once they had both disappeared in the sudden spurt of green flames, Mrs. Weasley called everyone to order.
“Alright everyone, change of plans,” she began shakily but with a smile. “Arthur and I are going to apparate to St. Mungo’s posthaste. Anyone who wishes to join us is most welcome, however it might be a long wait, knowing how these things go! Our home is always open to you if you wish to stay, of course.”
“Molly, we’re coming, obviously,” said Tonks with a smile.
“You couldn’t pay us to stay home, Mum,” Ron said quietly.
Mrs. Weasley pulled her son into a tight embrace.
“Well then, let’s get going, everyone!” said an ashen-faced Mr. Weasley, touting Fleur’s overnight bag. “I’ve just sent word to the Delacours. At this rate, they’ll beat us there and they’re coming all the way from Marseille!”
* * *
St. Mungo’s was teeming with people sporting all manner of holiday-induced afflictions. The lobby was a cacophony of voices as patients attempted to check-in and find their desired floor.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had arrived through the familiar guest entrance into the midst of the Christmas hullabaloo. Hermione took the lead, knowing very well just where the Magical Maternity Ward was located, and ushered them over to the lifts.
The maternity ward was calm compared to the mayhem in the lobby, and they had no trouble locating the Weasley clan.
“Oh, you’ve made it,” sighed Mrs. Weasley. “Fleur’s Healer just arrived and is giving her a primary examination now.”
“Mum, will the baby be okay being this early?” asked Ron hesitantly.
Everyone looked apprehensively at Mrs. Weasley.
“I don’t know, Ron,” she said softly. “He was supposed to be another five weeks.”
“He’ll be fine,” Ginny stated matter-of-factly, but her face was white and her hand reached out in search of Harry’s.
They all sat in nervous silence for a long time. The Delacours arrived within the hour and they, along with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, disappeared into Fleur’s delivery room.
At eleven Harry suggested they get up to stretch their legs and so the four dragged themselves out of their seats and wandered quietly down the empty hall.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Ginny whimpered once they were out of earshot. Harry put his arm around her and nodded his assent.
“I don’t know what we’ll do if he’s, you know, not okay,” Ron continued, his eyes staring blankly at the checkered floor.
Hermione took a deep breath. “He’s going to be okay. You can’t start planning for the what-ifs. Give him a chance, please. He’s going to be just fine.”
They had reached another small waiting area at the end of the hall. It was the waiting area off of which stood Astrid’s office.
“Ah, now here’s a familiar place,” Hermione said with a forced smile. The rest looked at her quizzically. “Err, remember?” she said, pointing at her belly.
“Oh is this where you go every week?” asked Ron, suddenly quite interested.
“This is it,” she replied, walking up to the door inscribed with Astrid’s name. She jiggled the handle half-heartedly, and looked at it in surprise when it turned and opened.
“Don’t keep this place very well secured, now do they?” Harry said with a laugh. “Let’s check it out.”
Hermione watched from the doorway as the three of them sauntered into the very familiar office of her Healer. Hermione had not been the most exemplary patient as of late. In fact, she had skived off the last few weeks of appointments. She told herself this was only practical considering how busy she had been with preparations for the waltz, but she also knew that she had been quite relieved to do it.
“Quite a set-up she’s got here,” commented Ron, admiring the plush examination table and shelves of impressive leather-bound books.
“Yes, well, she’s sort of a specialist, after all,” Hermione explained.
“Merlin, look at all of these,” sighed Ginny from the bookshelf. “I could spend hours reading here.”
“Oh they can’t be that interesting,” said Hermione skeptically. “I’m sure I can find much more to read at Hogwarts.”
“But these are so specified,” said Ginny in awe as she tilted her head to read the titles. “I’m fascinated with magical healing… I’m sure they wouldn’t have some of these at Hogwarts.”
“It’s not that fascinating…”
“Oh look! She’s got a whole shelf on Phasma Eturnus!”
“Wonderful. Can’t we go now?” snapped Hermione.
Ginny eyed her beadily. “I can’t quite figure out why you’re so determined to avoid the subject. Usually we can’t keep you away from the library, but you have shown absolutely no interest in learning about this…”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “That is because I already know what all of those books say, Ginny. No one really knows anything about Phasma Eturnus. It is a magical mystery, an enigma lost in history.”
“But you haven’t even looked –”
“Listen, I can hear people talking down the hall. We had better go,” Hermione pronounced, hurriedly turning on her heel.
This hasty exit had not been unjust, for when they arrived back, they found Bill with the Delacours and Weasleys delivering another update to the group.
“Our Healer says that, though it’s early, the baby looks to be healthy. There’s actually a chance there won’t be any major complications with his birth.”
“Bill, that’s wonderful,” said Tonks jovially, giving him a hug.
“Thanks, yeah, we’re so relieved,” he replied with a weak smile. Everyone understood that neither he nor Fleur would be really relieved until they had a healthy baby in their arms. “Right now, Fleur’s contractions are getting closer and closer together. I’ll try to come out and update you as often as I can… Thank you so much for being her for us.”
Everyone smiled up at him and offered him their reassurances and best wishes.
As he turned to leave, he caught Hermione’s eye and signaled her to follow.
“Is everything really okay?” she asked quietly once they had turned the corner.
“As far as we know, yeah. I have a favor to ask of you, though.”
Hermione raised her eyebrows at him, urging him to continue.
“Fleur has been asking for you. It would mean a lot to her to have you by her side right now. Would you be willing?” he implored desperately.
“Oh. Of – of course, Bill. If she really wants me there, then I’m there.”
He sighed with relief, “Thank you. Come in.”
The room was dim and it took Hermione’s eyes a moment to adjust as she entered. Her eyes searched for the bed, but found it empty. Bill, however, knew what to expect and hurried to Fleur who stood serenely by the window. Her long, silvery hair had been tied back off her face, and she was now wearing a white hospital gown. Hermione thought she looked ethereal – nothing like the laboring women she’d seen portrayed in Muggle movies or television growing up.
“Darling,” Bill whispered into her ear, kissing her cheek. “How are you doing?”
“I am fine, love,” she replied quietly, smiling back at him. “I’m just ‘appy to know he’s okay.”
“I’ve brought you someone,” he said turning her attention towards Hermione who still stood shyly at the door.
“’Ermione,” she cried suddenly, “Oh thank you for coming ‘ere.”
“Of course, Fleur. I’ve been so worried. How are you doing?” she asked, taking the opportunity to move closer.
“Well eet comes and goes,” she replied, smiling slightly. Hermione now noticed that there was indeed a sheer film of sweat covering Fleur’s face. “I was ‘oping you would stay with me – we’ve been going through all this together, after all.”
“Oh I would be honored to,” said Hermione genuinely.
Suddenly Fleur inhaled sharply and her eyes screwed up in obvious pain. She knelt down slightly, holding her stomach to her and squeezing Bill’s hand.
The pain seemed to endure for a good half a minute, the whole time of which Hermione stood planted to the spot, eyes wide.
“Fleur, darling, they’re lasting much longer now,” Bill said frantically once she had eased up on his hand. “I think I should go get the Healer again for another check.”
“Yes, yes… that was much longer,” she mumbled, moving slowly towards the bed.
“I’m going to leave you here with Hermione while I fetch the Healer… It’s going to be fine, love!”
Bill raced from the room once she had made it safely into bed, and Hermione moved tentatively forward.
“Are you okay? That seemed rather painful.”
“’Ermione, that ‘urt like nothing I ‘ave felt before.”
“Oh Merlin. You’re acting as though everything’s still okay! Shouldn’t you be screaming or something?”
“Shush. No. I do not scream,” she said impatiently, wiping her brow. “But, ‘Ermione, this baby is coming very fast. I can feel it. Come, look.”
Hermione was puzzled but moved to her side as Fleur rolled her gown up to expose her stomach above the blankets. Hermione clasped a hand to her mouth as she gazed upon a translucent belly, much like her own had been so many times. This time, though, the baby inside was much, much bigger. She looked closely at his little feet curled sweetly against his mother. His head was facing downwards, getting ready to depart from his cozy home and join the world.
Fleur was watching Hermione’s face for a reaction.
“I’m… speechless, Fleur,” she sighed, sitting gingerly on the side of the bed. “He’s going to be here so soon.”
“I know!” she said and then quickly screwed up her face in pain and grasped for Hermione’s hand. Hermione closed her eyes too and concentrated on counting the seconds until Fleur released her deathly grip on her hand.
“That was a full minute… Merlin, where’s Bill?” she muttered, slightly panicked.
“I don’t know,” Fleur whined, tossing a bit in the bed before gasping and clenching Hermione’s hand again. “Mon dieu!”
“Bill!” Hermione hollered frantically, staring down at Fleur in shock. “Bill! Hurry!”
Bill came running into the room just then, the Healer close behind him.
“What’s wrong? What’s happened? Is she okay? What’s going on?” he stuttered, rushing over to them and putting his hand on Fleur’s forehead.
“She’s just had two contractions one nearly right on top of the other!”
“It seems like it’s time, folks,” said the Healer all too cheerfully from the end of the bed. “I’m just going to cast another pain-relieving spell and we’ll get started.”
“Fleur, darling, I’m right here,” Bill cooed next to her ear.
Hermione stared at the two of them in a moment of awe and shock, uncertain whether or not she was ready to witness what was about to occur. Suddenly, Fleur reached out and took hold of her hand, gently squeezing it. Hermione looked fearfully up at her eyes and noticed that she looked calm, strong.
* * *
Nearly two hours later, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, baby Leon Arthur Weasley entered the world.
A steady procession of the waiting friends and family had filed in to lay eyes upon the tiny baby boy. Bill and Fleur had been delighted to discover that, though early, Leon was perfectly healthy – nineteen inches long, and a whole six and a half pounds.
Hermione stood by the windowsill watching as Leon’s grandmothers cried happily over him, as Fleur and Bill stared adoringly into one another’s eyes, as kiss after kiss was planted softly and lovingly on Leon’s forehead.
The birth had been…overwhelming. At first she had been frightened to see what Fleur might go through, but once Leon had emerged she felt this incredible rush of emotion and exhilaration. She hadn’t known whether she wanted to laugh or cry so she just sat in a befuddled awe.
Now, as she stood on the outskirts of their family’s perfect moment, a new feeling encroached upon her. She thought for a moment it might be jealousy, but that seemed too severe. Really, it was more like a desperate longing. She longed for that beautiful, happy moment at her own baby’s birth. She longed for her baby to be showered with just as much love and affection as little Leon. They looked so wonderfully whole.
“’Ermione?” called Fleur, snapping her out of her reverie. “Would you like to ‘old ‘im?”
Hermione was silent for a moment and then moved instinctively forward. “Yes, yes please. I would love to.”
Fleur smiled and carefully rearranged Leon in his blankets before holding him out to her. Hermione reached forward and pulled the small baby close, cradling him just above her own.
Leon yawned hugely as she held him and then smiled slightly, opening his eyes a fraction to peep up at her.
“Hello, baby,” she said quietly to him, brushing a fingertip across his silken cheek. “Welcome to the world.”
Bill and Fleur were talking quietly to one another now so Hermione took the opportunity to walk Leon over to the window.
“It’s a big world out there, little guy,” she cooed. “You’re going to be just fine, though. I already know. You’ve got so many people here to love you.” She bit her lip as she felt the back of her throat clench and her eyes begin to water. “And soon you’ll get to meet my own little one. I think you’ll be good friends.”
Wiping the tears from her eyes and taking a deep breath, she turned back to room and delivered Leon back into his mother’s waiting arms.
“I’m so happy for you both,” she said earnestly, touching each of their shoulders. “Thank you for letting me be a part of this.”
She left the room quietly, leaving the new family to their private bliss. Everyone was celebrating in the waiting room, popping bottles of champagne and toasting Leon, Bill and Fleur, and the ever-expanding Weasley clan. Hermione didn’t quite feel like being surrounded by all of that just yet and so she headed the opposite direction down the hall, toward a bench beneath a tall window.
As she sat, still and silent, everything managed to bubble up to the surface. She bowed her head as tears slid hot and fast down her cheeks and her lips trembled. Everything was too much. She hugged her arms around her burgeoning belly and sobbed helplessly. All of a sudden, a rhythmic wave of movement fluttered across her abdomen. She wiped her eyes and looked down at her belly.
“My baby,” she said softly. And with those words, the little one kicked some more. Hermione laughed. And once she started she really couldn’t stop.
“I love you,” she said softly. “I really, really do.”
Then, as she slipped her hands inside the kangaroo pocket of her sweater, her fingers brushed against something she had placed there hours and hours before.
She held the unopened letter out in front of her, staring intently at its carefully lined folds. Should she open it? He had written it so many hours ago. What had they even been talking about? She furrowed her brows trying to remember. What if she opened it and it didn’t say just the right things? Her mind was still reeling from all of the night’s incredible emotions, she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk ruining it. He didn’t know what she had been on the verge of experiencing as he wrote it, he couldn’t be blamed if its contents weren’t right for the ending of such a momentous night.
She stared at it a moment longer, mind consumed with thoughts of him once more.
No, it was absolutely impossible not to; she had to open it.
I’ve just had the best idea! Once the baby comes, she is going to need space of her own, right? Well, we can convert my room into the nursery! I admit this idea may arguably be deemed “self-serving,” but you can’t deny a nursery would be mighty useful. And can I really be blamed for wanting to get as close as possible to you? You’ve made me this way, my darling.
How is Christmas Eve coming along? Lots of food I should hope. Mother has ordered a feast for just the two of us. A tad wasteful in my opinion – having the leftovers magicked over to the soup kitchen in town. Hope the Muggles have a hankering for some stuffed goose!
Anyway, I should probably leave you to your festivities. Merlin, I don’t know how much longer I can go without seeing you. Keep New Years open, will you? I have some plans in the making… I’m sure you can only imagine the mischievous grin on my face right now. More later!
Hermione sighed. She began to grin re-reading his words, and then that grin turned into smile and soon enough she was positively beaming.
Maybe all of this wouldn’t be so hard after all. Maybe, just maybe… she wouldn’t have to be all alone.
A/N:Eternally sorry for the long waits. This story is never truly abandoned, though. Please give me your thoughts – I treasure any comments or constructive criticisms you have to give!