Chapter Three

Draco enjoyed his morning shifts the most. He got to spend them in the nursery, tending to all of the newborns until they were ready to be taken home by their parents. As much as he hated to admit it, he loved being by these little bundles of life. Yes, they cried, whined, and made messes, and they all had an unbearable amount of needs—but they all seemed to have a common desire: love. He was almost jealous of them. These babies literally had their whole lives ahead of them, and the problems of adulthood were far from their reach.

He was feeding little Thomas Green—who was the son of one of his co-workers Paula Green—when he remembered that today he would discover whether or not he would be a father. He didn't know how to feel, or if what he was feeling was right.

He wanted to be with Hermione and their child, he knew that for sure. Draco knew what it was like to have an inadequate father, and would not treat his daughter or son the way his father had done to him. (Thank God his father had been sentenced to Azkaban for his affiliation with Voldemort—Draco couldn't even imagine the fit he would throw at hearing his pureblooded son had fallen in love and bred with a Mudblood!) He would not watch from the sidelines as his child grew up, even if that's what Hermione wanted him to do. Draco wanted to be a father, and it wasn't out of obligation. He loved Hermione Granger, just as he loved the little girl or boy that was inside her.

Placing baby Thomas down for his nap, Draco checked out of the nursery, knowing exactly what he would say to Hermione the moment he saw her.

He entered the staff lounge first, which was empty as usual. Draco found that the employees at St. Mungo's didn't take breaks nearly as often as they should. It was almost always empty, but it was for that very reason that Draco knew Hermione liked it because she could work and have a cup of coffee at the same time without distraction or interruption, but today his intuition failed. He sighed and slumped against the closed door, but was quickly pushed off it as someone else opened the door in a rush, sending him toppling.

"Damn it, Hermione!" Draco exclaimed, seeing it was none other than the bushy-haired goddess herself. He straightened himself up and brushed off his robes. "I was just looking for you."

"As I was looking for you," Hermione replied. She was panting, making him wonder just how long she had been looking for him.

This was it.

"Look, Hermione—" he began.

"No, wait. Draco, I'm—"

"No, you wait," he interrupted, "I need to tell you now, or I'll never get it out. I love you, Hermione Granger, and I love the child that you carry. I'm going to be a part of his or her life, and there's nothing you can do about it. But I just don't want to be a man that visits him or her now and then—I want to be a father. And," he took a step closer to Hermione, "I want to be in your life too."

Hermione smiled, but her eyes remained melancholy. "Draco, I'm not—"

"I was in the nursery this morning," he continued, "Hermione, seeing a those little children . . . it made me realize how ready I am for fatherhood, how much I want fatherhood, especially if I can share the experience with you."

"Draco, I'm not pregnant!" She hated to burst his happiness and enthusiasm that way, but it had to be said, otherwise he would have continued and just gotten his hopes up that much more. A heavy pause followed her outburst, and Draco looked at his feet, clearly devastated at the news. He felt as if he had lost something he never had to begin with. "I . . . I figured it out on my own, shortly after you left last night. And then my good friend came over with my tests, which proved to be negative. I'm definitely not pregnant."

"How did you know before you got the tests?" he asked softly.

Hermione bit her lip. "Well, er, Mother Nature decided to pay me a late visit, if you know what I mean."

"Oh," Draco said, grimacing. "I see."

"Well," Hermione tried to sound optimistic, "Now that we don't have an unplanned pregnancy hanging over our heads, we can move on. It's what's best for both of us, Draco." He didn't respond either verbally or physically, so she continued, "Er, I'm getting a promotion, can you believe it? I've actually been offered the job of Head Healer at another magical hospital. That's the only thing that's keeping me from accepting right away though, the fact that I would have to transfer. I've come to love working here so much."

"If you're just trying to avoid me," Draco said, "don't worry about it. We work on different floors now, remember?"

Even though being even further away from Draco was a perk of the potential job, Hermione didn't have the heart to admit it. Instead, she replied angrily, "Why do you assume everything I'm doing is to get away from you? I've been offered an amazing job for someone of my age that is of even higher status than the one I hold now. If anything you should be happy for me. Besides, I'm still thinking about it. Nothing's official yet." Draco failed to respond, and Hermione decided to take the opportunity to escape. "Goodbye, Draco," she said softly.

Draco jerked his head as a form of dismissal. When he looked toward the door, she was gone. As Draco slumped toward the counter to make himself a cup of pre-prepared coffee to burn away the pain, tears threatened to emerge in the back of his eyes. He pushed them back forcefully and raised his mug to his lips, letting the liquid flow into his dry mouth.

He spit it out a second later, disgusted by the bitterness. Bloody hell, the coffee was cold too. With nothing else to do and nothing else to fight for, Draco proceeded to making a new batch.

Three weeks later, Hermione Granger was met with the surprise of a birthday party, celebrating her twenty-fifth year of life. She had insisted to everyone who knew her not to throw a celebration—as Hermione was partial to quiet, intimate gatherings with only her closest of friends and family—but there was no stopping them.

Harry and Ron rented out a large section of a new buffet restaurant in Hogsmeade, though how they managed to do such a thing was beyond Hermione's knowing. The restaurant itself was extremely exclusive and expensive, and something told her Harry and Ron used their statuses as saviors of the wizarding world to lessen the expenses. (Not that Harry and Ron were financially challenged in any way, with both of them being professional Quidditch players. But still, Hermione thought, it seemed to be such a frivolous purchase for a one-night event.)

She was practically dragged there against her will by Ginny and Cho, but once she was there she knew the night would be fantastic. Familiar, smiling faces instantly greeted her with choruses of "Happy Birthday, Hermione!". She saw Harry and Ron, of course, with Ginny and Cho at her side, along with the other Weasley's, Hermione's parents, a few Hogwarts teachers, and the entire Order of the Phoenix. Also present were (much to the displeasure of Harry, Ron, and Ginny) a few friends that Hermione had made through her previous relationship with Draco Malfoy: Daphne Greengrass, her boyfriend Blaise Zabini, and Theodore Nott. Though the three were still proud Slytherins, their pureblood supremacist ideology had faded with maturity. Ginny, who had composed the guest list, invited the three purely out of kindness, since she knew they were friends of Hermione.

Hermione was elated to be surrounded by all of these people that she loved, so much that she was almost able to forget the one person who was on her mind the most.

"Hermione!" Harry Potter exclaimed at the side of her. He engulfed her in a hug and kissed her on the cheek. "So good to see you."

"It's good to see you too, Harry!"

"Look," he lowered his voice, eyeing the mingling crowd, "before everyone else steals your attention for the rest of the party, I want to personally give you my gift."

"Oh, sure."

Harry fumbled in the pocket of robes for a minute before producing a small, rectangular box, wrapped in a bright red. "Here we are," he said, handing it to her, "I saw it a few months ago and knew I had to get it for your birthday."

"What is it?" Hermione asked, carefully tearing at the wrapping.

Harry chuckled. "Just open it and see for yourself."

Hermione gasped when she opened the box and saw a truly lovely necklace. From a silver rope chain hung a pure diamond pendant, large and circular, surrounded by a silver design, resembling a teardrop. It was extraordinarily beautiful, especially in the dimness of the restaurant.

"Harry, I—I'm speechless!" said Hermione, "It must have cost a fortune! I couldn't possibly accept—"

"Oh, yes you can," Harry grinned. "Here, allow me." He delicately took the necklace and box from her, putting the box aside, and placed the necklace around Hermione's neck, left perfectly bare and exposed by the cut of her dress. It hung heavy and shined bright.

"Harry Potter, what am I going to do with you?" she beamed at him.

"You've already done quite enough for me, Hermione," Harry supplied. "You were there for me from beginning to end, even when others weren't. For that I couldn't be more grateful. You're my sister, Hermione," he added with a friendly nudge. "Thanks to you, I'm alive and able to be with the woman I love." He jerked his head toward Ginny, who was deep in conversation with Cho Chang.

Hermione could almost cry. "You know I've always thought of you as my brother, Harry." The two hugged, and Hermione felt a pleasant warmth at having such comfort.

A moment after they broke apart, a large man with a thick mustache entered through the double doors leading to the kitchen, announcing that the food was prepared in a profound Scottish accent, followed by at least half a dozen servants pulling out large, heated trays of food for guests to serve themselves from. Hermione's mouth watered and she wasted no time in helping herself from the finest cuts of steak, side dishes, and wine. It was her birthday, after all.

An hour later, Hermione was licking the last bit of frosting from her birthday cake off of her index finger. She couldn't believe she had eaten so much, or that her body allowed her to do so! Why, she even gave Ronald Weasley a run for his money! Still, when Ginny and Cho pulled her by the arms into the dancing hall, she couldn't resist.

Unnoticed by the younger guests, the older party-goers had retreated to a corner in the dance hall, conversing and sipping at various alcoholic beverages. Remus and Tonks talked in particularly hushed tones to each other, watching Hermione on the dance floor.

"She seems to be quite all right, Remus," Tonks observed.

"Good," her husband replied.

"Do you think she'll tell anyone about this little scare?"

Remus shrugged. "I don't know, love. Hermione doesn't like secrets, but this one would probably cause more unnecessary drama than relief."

"What's going on now?" came the mousy voice of Mrs. Granger from next to Tonks, and the couple shared a shocked look. "Are you two talking about Hermione?"

"Oh, um, Mrs. Granger . . ." Tonks fumbled, "perhaps this isn't the best time . . ."

"Is something going on with my daughter?" the suddenly concerned mother continued. Remus shared a glance at his wife, who nodded in silent approval. "Mrs. Granger," he began, "could I speak to you outside the dance hall, please?"

Draco knew it was unwise, rude—creepy, even—for him to following her every move, but that's what he had been doing, which is how the young man found himself in front of an elaborately decorated restaurant in Hogsmeade. He didn't know why he was there or what he was planning to do. He just stood, watching the unmoving building. He knew today was her birthday, and she was probably in there haven't a bloody good time—who was he to ruin it?

Just as he was considering departure, a friendly voice said, "I never thought you'd turn out to be a stalker, Draco Malfoy."

Draco looked up, only mildly surprised as to the source of this new voice. "How nice to see you, cousin," he replied. "How are you Nyphmadora?"

"You know I don't like being called that."

"I know," Draco smirked.

"Why are you standing out here?"

"Why are you?" he retorted.

Tonks shrugged. "My husband is in there practically taking a beating from Hermione's mum. Thought I'd get some fresh air before I check the progress."

"Hermione's mum?"

"Why are you out here, Draco?" she asked again.

It was his turn to shrug, at loss for an adequate response. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore."

"You should come inside and join the party."

He snorted. "The moment Potter or Weasley see my face, I'd be forced out. They never approved of me with Hermione." When Tonks quirked her eyebrow, he continued, "Okay, I guess I can understand why. I was a right bastard to all of them in our Hogwarts days. But those days are long gone—time to grow up, don't you think?"

"Well, maybe you will get kicked out and maybe you won't. You have to take the next step."

"Do you enjoy speaking with that annoying air of mystery, cousin? You've perfected it."

Tonks was quick to appropriately steer the subject. Her near-permanent smile softened. "Draco . . . I'm really sorry about the pregnancy. Well, the false alarm, I should say."

"You know?" He was utterly taken aback.

"Yes, Hermione came to us first to talk about it. It was my husband who even conducted the tests for her."

Draco struggled to seem nonchalant. "Doesn't matter to me. Just as our potential baby didn't matter to her."

"You're a terrible liar, Draco," Tonks giggled, "and I'll tell you now that Hermione wanted a child with you."

"You think so?" He couldn't help but perk up a little.

"I know so," Tonks reassured, "After my husband returned home from discussing her test results with her, he told me about the pure disappointment he saw in her eyes. She wanted to be a mother to your child, Draco, she just doesn't want to admit it to herself or anyone else." She began walking back towards the restaurant. "I hope to see you in the restaurant within the next five minutes, Draco Malfoy," she added jokingly, "Or else."

The party was finally beginning to die down, and the guests were forming a large group near the front door, hugging, giving goodbyes, and wishing Hermione a happy birthday several more times. What no one was expecting, however, was to see Remus Lupin attempting to hush Mrs. Granger by the door, who seemed to be asking a million questions at once. The audience quieted in curiosity and Hermione emerged to the center of the room, watching.

"Listen, Mrs. Granger, I know it's a bit of a shock to hear, but as I've explained before, I assure you she's not—"

"Are you or are you not telling me that my daughter is pregnant?!"

Several gasps were heard as every head in the room turned to Hermione Granger, who immediately flushed a bright crimson. She bit her lip and shook her head, backing away from the crowd. She had never felt so embarrassed and exposed in all of her life . . .

Ginny was the first to break the painful silence. She approached her close friend and grasped her by the shoulders. "Are you really pregnant, Hermione?" the redhead asked, shocked.

"How come we're only finding out about this now?" said Harry. Hermione turned her face toward him and clearly saw the sadness in his expression. He thought Hermione, the sister he never had, would come to him about anything.

"Why didn't you come to us sooner?" said Cho, who also joined Hermione at her side.

Ron shoved his way through the crowd to stand before Hermione. He crossed his arms and frowned at her, like a father scolding his teenage daughter for sneaking out with an older boy. It was almost annoying how protective he was. "So, who's the father?" he finally asked the question that was surely on everyone's mind.

"It's obviously Adam, ginger," snapped Daphne Greengrass. "That's the only man she's been with recently."

Blaise actually chuckled. "Isn't it obvious? It's Draco. That's why she didn't want to tell anyone."

"No bloody way, Hermione!" shouted Ron, "Please tell me it's not him! Out of any bloke on the world, please tell me it's not that ferret!"

It was well out of control. The guests burst into fits of questions and Hermione was shoved one way and then another, every time confronted by a new face asking a similar question. The hot tears welled in her eyes and her body temperature was rising steadily, dangerously high . . .

"Please tell me Malfoy is not the father," Ron begged.

"Is it true?" Ginny urged, "Are you really pregnant?"

"I don't understand why you and Draco broke up in the first place!" said Cho Chang.

The people in the room were thriving on any bit of information that would escape from her mouth. She almost felt betrayed that she was being subjected to this intense questioning by her own friends and family—people who loved and cared about her. However, she knew that the reason for all of this controversy surrounding her supposed impregnation stemmed from the fact that she was Hermione Jean Granger—the perfect student at Hogwarts, defender of the wizarding word, and a celebrated Healer—making her the last person that anyone would suspect of being found in this situation.

"Okay, that's enough!" Hermione finally found her voice, "Shut up!" Her voice bounced off the walls, shrill and loud, and the room quieted immediately.

"Everyone," Hermione attempted to steady her breath, "I am not pregnant. It was a false alarm." She turned to Ron. "And yes, Ron, if I were pregnant—which I am NOT—Draco would have been the father. But it doesn't matter at all," she added, turning back to the audience as a whole, "I'm not with child, and even if I was, Draco has made it more than clear that he isn't interested in any sort of relationship with me."

"I implied no such thing," came Draco Malfoy's voice from the side door of the building. Everyone turned and watched with excited awe as he approached Hermione. (Blaise and Theo smirked, having expected he would somehow intervene. They knew their friend too well.) "I told you I love you. You're the one who suggested raising the baby as single parents so we wouldn't have to be miserable together. You're the one who made it clear that you didn't want a relationship."

"But . . ." she was at loss, "but you seemed so relieved what I told you I wasn't pregnant!"

"Relieved?" He almost laughed. "Hermione Granger, are you bloody blind? I was devastated when you told me! You just didn't see because you didn't wish to see. Stop thinking that you know what I'm thinking—because even you don't know everything, dare I say it."

Hermione simply stared as he continued. "Hermione, I wanted you to be pregnant. I wanted to have an opportunity to connect with you on a level that we never had before. When we first broke up those few years ago, it was because I was immature and you wanted someone more serious. I've grown into that man, and I wanted to prove it to you by being there for you during your pregnancy."

She actually smiled. "We could've gotten back together if you hadn't behaved so cryptically. We shouldn't need a pregnancy scare to rekindle our relationship, Draco."

"You're right," he took another step toward her.

"I don't think either of us is ready for a baby, anyway," she admitted. "But still, the thought of having a family with you seemed—"

"Amazing," he finished her thought.

Hermione looked up at him, their eyes meeting each other's. "Yes," she whispered. "Amazing."

"Hermione," he took her hands in his own, "baby or no baby, I want to be with you no matter what. I've experienced what life is like without you for far too long, and I don't ever want to have to return to that again." Draco moved one of his hands to grab her by the chin, slightly tilting her face upward towards his own, and ran his index finger along her bottom lip. "Is that clear enough for you, Granger?"

"Crystal," she grinned in return. There was no need for further conversation. Leaning in, the couple finally closed the small gap between their faces in a passionate kiss. Draco's hands instinctively slithered around her waist, crushing her petite frame against his own, while her arms wrapped around his neck, deepening the kiss.

Their audience erupted into whistles and squeals of joy. Even Ronald Weasley clapped. If Hermione was happy, Ron was happy—even if she was with a slimy ferret.

"I don't mean to intrude," said Harry, breaking free from the crowd and interrupting the glorious reunion, "but, well, we do still technically have this place rented for another half hour, and it looks like we've got a lot more to celebrate other than Hermione's birthday."

The party began anew, but Draco was impatient. "Hermione, don't you think we deserve some alone time?" he yelled over the music.

Hermione smirked and placed her lips against his ear, replying huskily, "Oh, just be patient, Draco. I promise we'll have an even better celebration in my bedroom later." He chuckled and pulled Hermione into his arms, together at last. Knowing what he had to look forward to, Draco figured he would go ahead and enjoy his love's twenty-fifth birthday party.