It is so much easier not to care.

So much easier to close your eyes, shut your ears and seal up your heart. To ignore. To pretend that you didn't see, didn't hear the voices of things passed linger on in your head like an echo you can't mute.

Because she missed him.

So much that it hurt when even the faintest snippet of memory associated with him slipped past her guard and into her consciousness. And when on rare occasion, memories of him that she'd forgotten permeated into her unprepared mind, the old wound would break again, and she would be left with the painful task of sealing it up again.

She'd always been a fast learner.

And learning quickly that carelessness had a heavy price tag, she kept her guard up. Her thoughts were filtered. Her memories censored.

Because it was so much easier. So much easier not to care, even if it was pretend.

So much easier to hurt less.

To feel less.

To not care.

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She pushes her daughter gently on the swing set that sits in the middle of the play ground. The weather is cool and dry, with the refreshing chill of the wind caressing their faces. It is finally winter; her favorite season. The time of the month where she had an excuse for cooping up in the library all day; where Ron and Harry had no reason to drag her outside in the frigid conditions.

She smiles at those memories, memories of a happier time past. A wistful smile plays on her lips. She misses those times when things were so simple.

The faint whistle of the wind hums around them in the pale watery sunlight. It's cold; she bends down to button up the top of her daughter's coat and tucks her woolen hat securely on her head. She smiles as the wind ruffles through her fine light brown curls.

Today she turns eleven months old.

And today, a small voice in her head reminds her; he's been gone nearly fourteen months.

There is a painful swelling in her throat at the thought, like she has just dry swallowed a pill. She swallows hard, and pushing the lump in her throat down, she pushes aside the thought of him too.

She presses her lips together and thinks firmly about the plans for the day. She needs a distraction. The baby girl with the dark blue-grey eyes begins to call out.

Her thoughts clear momentarily as she bends down to pick her up. "Tired of playing are you, Ana?"

She straddles her snugly on her hip before slinging her bag on the other shoulder. She opens her mouth to announce their next destination, the next activity of the day, when she realizes she can't remember. She stops short, and pauses to focus. Think, come on, think. It is now of dire importance that she remember. She needs a goal in mind, an end to work towards.

It's how she functions. So she tries to think hard, scrambling her thoughts together. She knows she's planned something for today. She plans everything. She has to remember. If she doesn't, if she can't- no. She must. All she knows is she cannot think of him again. The floodgates of her memories of him have always only been too ready to give away, as she knows from previous failures. Then the thought repeated itself over in her head.

Today she turns eleven months.

A welcome relief washes over her. Yes. Now she remembers. Invitations to buy for Ana's party. She turns one year old in a month.

She faces her daughter with a near steady smile as she can manage. She almost lost it; he was almost on the verge of her thoughts.

Ana smiles brightly at her and playfully thumps her stuffed toy against her; almost as if helping her mother carry out the congratulatory pat she herself cannot bring herself to do despite her relief.

She turns on her feet and begins to walk purposefully towards town, when she hears it in her head.

Only it is not a ghost of her recollection, because she hears it too strongly, too loudly, too assuredly in her head, too much like how he'd spoken it that night.

Twelve kisses for every month I am gone, and no more, because I will be back.

And the thought is followed closely by another which she has so far tried successfully to ignore. Because it has already been fourteen months.

Then she stumbles back, and tears uncalled for make her eyes overly bright. She rushes to sit down quickly on the park bench, because now that she has started she can't stop.

It's this reason why she hates it. Why she sticks to that code of not caring so much.

It is so much easier not to care.

Because in truth she cared. Too too much.

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"You will take care of yourself, won't you Malfoy?" she said, not in the least agitated, but the silent plea was clear in her eyes. She gave him a small smile to ease his worries.

"I've got a wife to take care of back home, haven't I? Not to mention a baby when I return." He smirked unaffectedly at her, glancing down at her enormous stomach.

For a moment, a genuine light shone in her eyes and she looked up to smile at him. He tucked a stray lock of her brown hair behind her ear, before looking her once over.

"A little Malfoy. Never in my life did I imagine it would be a half Granger too." His lips curled slightly as he reached over and drew her to him.

"Well if it comforts you enough Malfoy, you'll be pleased to know that I'd have picked being hexed a thousand times over than bearing your children any day. So don't get too smug." She announced pertly, thrusting her chin up squarely at him.

He smirked confidently back at her, inwardly pleased that he'd managed to make the tiny furrows on her forehead disappear, if only just for a while. He didn't like to see her worry too much.

"Granger, if someone had told me in our fifth year we'd be married and you'd be expecting my baby, I would have rather been murdered." He remarked.

The laugh lines on her face instantly vanished, leaving him to regret his words immediately. Quickly, he tried to make light of it. "That'd have been rich, wouldn't it? Because then you'd have gone your whole life without ever kno-"

"Don't." she whispered softly, placing a hand on his lips as she fought back tears. "Because-because…" she couldn't go on. He knew what she was going to say.

"Granger," he spoke to her, pulling her closer to him. "I'll be fine. I promise you. No one could ever defeat a Malfoy in a fight!"

"Don't!" she suddenly cried out, pulling back. "Don't Malfoy! Stop playing games! This is a war! In this war no one plays games!" she bit her lip hard, trying to stop it from trembling.

Her tears began to slide silently down her face. "Stop playing games with me," she pleaded shakily, gripping the sides of his cloak. "People die in this war. You've seen them. I've seen them."

She hung her head down as she struggled to take in a deep breath. Her tears dripped down on both their cloaks, making dark wet patches against the thick wool.

Finally she looked up into his blue-grey eyes, hers red and watery with tears. "So don't Malfoy. Don't play with me, because you could die too."

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She sits on the park bench for a long time. The tears stream quietly down her cheeks like they did that night ago. Some fall on Ana's soft pink cheeks, some fall on her scarf, some on her bag.

People walk by and stare at the sight. She can't blame them, because it must really look an odd sight.

Ana tries to speak in incomprehensible words to comfort her. She thinks of how she has never known her father and for that she cries harder.

She hates him, hates him with a passion. She always had.

He loved to play games with her, and once upon a time she had detested it before she'd become excited in it too. Now as she sits here, it is for that she hates him even more.

She wonders if he is playing another game with her now. While deep down she knows his games have long lost their malicious intent, she can't help but wonder if indeed this is yet another game. The reason for his yet to return home.

Because if it is a game, she must beg him to do what she did that night so long ago.

"Stop playing games Malfoy," she sobs wretchedly into her gloved hands.

Don't play with me, she thinks once again. Because I miss you. So, so much.

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The faint scent of her wavy brown hair filled his nose as she stumbled forward and pressed her head against his shoulder and sobbed. She couldn't be brave any longer. Their flippancy in this matter could barely hide the gravity of the situation.

Her husband was leaving to spy for the War. She was only twenty three and heavily pregnant. Harry and Ron were away on missions and her other friends were either on a mission, dead or in hiding. No one was contactable for long and here she was, alone.

She cried harder into his cloak.

It hurt so deep she had yet to fully register the extent of danger he was going to be in every single day. All she knew now, all she ccould think about now, is that he could die.

And that alone scared her to the very depths of her soul. She couldn't lose him.

He pressed her tightly against him, as close as he could without causing pressure on her swollen stomach. He rubbed his arms up and down her back, and even through the thick clothes she wore he couldn't be fooled. He knew she was much too skinny for someone so pregnant.

It was not that she did not have sufficient to eat. Every bit of food he bought, every extra he had, he saved for her. Even Mrs. Weasley sent packages of nourishing food whenever she could. No. It was her worry.

He was suddenly filled with such intense agitation and concern, not for his plight, but for her. Holding her with as much love he could muster, he stroked her thick brown hair, kissing her. She must know how much he didn't want to leave her. She must know.

After what felt like an eternity, she pulled back gently, pink cheeks sticky with drying tears. There was so much vulnerability written on her face and she looked so fragile. He had the strangest urge to just kiss her soundly and make love to her. He wanted to feel her solid and unbreakable in his arms, in him.

"Couldn't you just stay?" her soft voice called out to him, full of foolish hope. It was foolish because they both knew he couldn't. But still she tried. She always had.

"Couldn't you just stay with me?" she murmured softly, running her hand down his face. "Just three more months, till the baby's born?" she took his hand and placed it atop her stomach.

He looked at her. There were so many things he wanted to say to her, thousands of things, but this was not one of them. "I can't."

He stared at her sorrowfully, smiling with bleak acceptance. "You know I can't."

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Ana reaches up with a mittened hand and clumsily wipes away some of the tears that drip from her chin. She smiles through her tears. She loves her little girl so much. It's all that's left of him, and bending down, she gives her a kiss.

She tries her best to wipe away the tears. Merlin knows how she must appear like to passer-bys. A crazy woman, they must surely think.

In a way she might be crazy, she thought numbly. While the War has ended a few months back and Ron and Ginny are back, she knows the only person she wants to see is him. Not that her friends don't matter; in fact they do even more than words can express, but she wants him back so she will not go crazy.

Out of the blue, a memory pops into her head. It is during her seventh year and she is standing in the middle of the Head dormitory common room. The remembrance twists her lips into a part smirk and part sad smile.

She hears herself shouting at him, he with the pale blonde hair and critical grey eyes.

"I cannot believe the nerve you've got to go into my room and then remark on my underwear to me!"

She remembers holding a lacy black camisole top and bottom in her hands and shaking them angrily in embarrassment and utter repulsion of him. Now the thought just makes her want to laugh because over the years he has not only bought her much sexier undergarments, but he has also seen her in them.

"I swear, I will go completely crazy if I have to live with you for the rest of my life! Thank heavens after this year I will never ever see you again Malfoy! You can be sure of that!"

The fact that at this very moment she is, in truth Mrs. Malfoy, and is right now carrying a beautiful baby girl whom she calls their child, seems so terribly hilarious to her when she thinks about those words she uttered that she cannot help but laugh.

She laughs hard, if somewhat bitterly, through her tears. And afterwards she feels better, much better. Only he could make her laugh in spite of everything now.

She dries away the wet tracks on her cheeks and thinks of what she will do to him if he returns. Then quickly she catches that and changes her thought. She cannot give up hope. When he returns, she thinks bravely.

She will kill him, she thinks, wanting to smile.

But then the nasty little voice inside her head snickers. 'Oh yes you will, if he's not already dead.'

And the tears catch in her eyes again because now her words from so long ago take on a different meaning. She cries again, because she doesn't wish never to see him again.

Instead she will go completely crazy if she never lives with him again, and she will thank the heavens if she ever sees him again.

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She knew it was what she needed to hear, to instill the finality of the situation she had been fighting against, but it was not what she wanted to hear.

He understood that, the reason for the tear that began to slide down her face.

"Don't cry Granger. Don't cry…" He whispered softly to her as he brushed it away with his thumb.

It killed him over and over and over again seeing her like this. If he had his way, they would be safe far away, and she would be a happily pregnant young wife with nothing but their baby to worry about.

But he didn't have his way; all the people who had gotten tangled up in this web of war and danger did not.

The glint of his watch caught his eye and with a slow creeping panic he realized that they didn't have much time till he had to go. The others on the mission would arrive soon and the port key would be activated. But he was careful to conceal his panic from the woman in his arms. There was still time left, however little, and he would not ruin it for them.

"I'm scared Malfoy…" she told him, struggling to get the words out and despite the situation, he curled his lips up in a mock smirk.

"And I thought your lot was supposed to be brave." He teased, in the hope to see one last smile before he left.

His wish was granted when she rewarded him with one, albeit shaky smile. "You cocky prat." She inhaled with a wobbly laugh. "We are brave. It's just- it's just the hormones." She stated. "Pregnant lady, you know." She added with a tiny watery smile.

He laughed loudly, before pulling her to him. Oh how he grew to love this insolent know-it-all he would never know, but after her he couldn't love anyone else.

Without warning there were several loud 'pops' behind them. She turned around immediately. More tears started to stream down her face despite his efforts to stem it.

"It's time now, isn't it?" she questioned him almost inaudibly. He nodded.

He could see her taking a deep breath, then she looked up and there were no more tears. Always brave, always courageous.

"Alright." She leaned in on her tip-toes to press a soft kiss on his lips. "Be careful. I know you'll come back. I know you'll come back to me." She smiled on bravely at him, reassuring him as much as she was reassuring herself.

He knew this. "Of course. I'm not that slimy bastard I was ten years ago, you know Granger."

"Of course I know. Do you think I'd have married you if you were?" she retorted as strongly as she could.

He took a step back to pick up the small bag he'd set on the ground earlier and looked at her. She seemed much smaller than him still, despite that enormous stomach of hers. So alone and defenseless, he thought, despite knowing that when rifled, Hermione Granger was nothing but incapable of fighting back.

He couldn't resist taking another step back towards her even as Ernie Macmillan reminded him it was time to go.

A relieved smile came upon her as he drew near to her again. One last hug.

"One last kiss," she whispered softly.

He raised his eyebrow. "Only one?"

"No," he said before she could answer. Then he leant in and began to kiss her twice on every spot she liked. Twice on her lips, then on her nose, followed by her forehead, down to both cheeks, before he moved to her ticklish spot on her neck.

"Twelve kisses for every month I am gone, and no more, because I will be back. Be careful alright Granger? " His breath tickled her skin as he promised her resolutely.

He began to follow the rest, and she watched his back, biting her lip so as to not cry. Before they completely disappeared into the thick woods where the port key awaited them, he turned back one last time.

'I love you.' He mouthed, wearing his signature confident smirk. 'Always.'

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She sighs as she can no longer find any more tears in her to cry. She doesn't know how long she has been sitting here, the whole afternoon perhaps. After all the sky is quickly darkening and a light dusting of snow is falling.

With a resolved determination she sets Ana on the ground and holding her hand, they begin to walk home. She promises herself it will be a long time more till she breaks down again like this.

Life has to go on, hasn't it, she tells herself optimistically with as much belief in it she can muster.

Today she lets her longing for him get the better of him. Tomorrow she won't. Tomorrow they will buy invitations and she will meet up with the Weasleys.

Tomorrow, she promises Ana brightly, will be a better day. She promises her daughter she won't cry again. Tomorrow she won't think of daddy so much, she tells her. Ana can't understand much yet, but she tells her that daddy will come back soon.

As she says this while they walk, she forces herself to believe it too. For his sake, for hers, and for their daughter's.

Finally they have reached their door. The winter sky is now velvet darkness and she fumbles with her keys as the cold wind picks up.

The door swings open and as she looks up, she freezes in her footsteps. She cannot believe what she is seeing. After so many, so many months of dreaming about it, wishing and waiting for it, she now finds it hard to accept he is back. Finally, back.

He turns towards her, placing the photo of Ana and she back down on the mantelpiece. His pale blonde hair is slightly disheveled, his robes old and worn. A long thin scar marks the side of his face.

Then she watches as Ana toddles up to him. Unknowingly she has let go of her hand. She watches mutely as he bends down and after a long moment gazing at her, his own daughter, picks her up.

He meets her gaze, his blue-grey eyes shining. Hers too, are wet with tears.

Then he comes toward her and without single word envelopes her in a crushing hug. She gasps for air but he does not let go. She begins to cry again, so much like that night so long ago. But this time he does not wipe her tears away, does not ask her to stop.

He, like her, knows that tomorrow will be a better day.

There will be no pretending not to care, because at long last, it doesn't hurt to care anymore.

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Hey hope you like this. It just popped into my mind one night. Something slightly angsty and somewhat sad. Review please and all comments are appreciated! Thanks very much.