A Stranger Life

The Announcement

The first people to enter the house were Narcissa and Lucius. Narcissa was holding a box, and when Hermione asked her what was in it, she just smiled mysteriously. "It's a surprise," she whispered. "It's something to help with the announcement Lucius and I think you and Draco are going to make."

Hermione nodded, but inside, she was asking herself "and what is that? I don't have any idea."

Draco for his part said nothing about the box his mother held, but the greeting was equally warm on both sides. "Your father should be along any minute," Narcissa informed him. "He forgot something back at the manor and sent me ahead."

He nodded and went to the kitchen to get the appetizers, placing them in the center of the large kitchen table. "If you're hungry, Mother, we have some little things if you want them."

Narcissa got up and went to look at what he'd laid out. She got a few things and then went back to the couch, where she gazed at Hermione. "Tell me what the big surprise is, please. I promise I won't tell anyone."

Uncertain of what to do, Hermione looked at Draco for help. He smiled and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mother, but you'll have to wait just like everyone else. But it will be worth it, I promise you." He paused, then looked up at Hermione.

"Darling, may I see you in the bedroom?" he asked. Hermione gave him a confused look that Narcissa couldn't see, then followed him out of the parlor.

"Don't worry you two," Narcissa called after them. "If anyone else comes, I'll let them in."

When they were both seated on the bed with the door closed and locked, Draco gave Hermione a look. "I have a plan for what we'll tell people when they ask why we're throwing this party," he announced.

"That's good," Hermione said, feeling immensely relieved. Then she paused and eyed him suspiciously. "What is it? Does it have anything to do with me?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "For once, can you trust me? Everything will work out perfectly, and you have absolutely nothing to worry about, all right?"

Hermione looked at him for a few more moments to see if his eyes would show a lie, but his expression never changed. She finally decided to trust him because his idea was all they had.

By the time they returned to the parlor, it was full of people, including Bellatrix and Snape. Narcissa and Bellatrix were discussing the decorating scheme, and when Narcissa saw Hermione, she began to extol the virtues of the parlor's appearance.

"Actually, the decorations were Draco's doing, not mine. I had to go out for awhile and he told me he had things under control. I have to admit, he did do a fabulous job."

Meanwhile, Bellatrix was trying to needle the secret news out of Draco. "Bella, don't bother." Narcissa advised. "They didn't tell me, so I'm pretty sure they won't tell you either."

Just then, Hermione came up to Draco and tapped him on the shoulder. "I'm not feeling well," she informed him. "I think I must have eaten something bad at breakfast. I think I'll go lie down. Do you think you can handle everyone while I have a little rest?"

Draco nodded. "You do whatever you need to. I'll take care of things here."

As soon as Hermione was gone, Narcissa gave Draco a worried look. "What's the matter with her?" she asked.

"She isn't feeling well," Draco said. "But once she rests a little bit, I think she'll be fine."

Narcissa nodded, but once Draco had looked away, she leaned back into the couch, her face looking troubled. "Do you think I should go in and look after her?" she asked finally.

"No, Mother. I think it would be best just to leave her alone. It's nothing serious. Just a little upset stomach."

"I wouldn't be surprised after all she ate today," Bellatrix said. "It looks to me like she's put on a bit of weight."

"You'd be the only one who thinks that, Bellatrix," Snape said dryly. "I myself believe she seems remarkably well, what with all the things she's been going through lately." He looked at Draco for a moment. "Are the two of you planning to go away on holiday soon? I think it would be a good idea."

Draco nodded. "I don't disagree. I'll ask Hermione and see what she thinks." He quickly excused himself and went to join Hermione, who was lying in the bed and wearing an expression of suffering. "Are you ill?" he asked, "or did you just need a reason for a break?"

"The latter," Hermione answered truthfully. "Your aunt keeps giving me these awful looks and I have no idea why."

"It's because she thinks you're letting yourself go," he answered plainly. "She mentioned especially that she thinks you've put on a significant amount of weight."

Hermione sat up and groaned. "I have not! I like to eat, that's all. And who does she think she is, criticizing me like that?"

She jumped out of bed and went stalking back into the parlor with Draco following close behind.

"What is your problem?" she demanded as soon as she reached Bellatrix. "I am not fat, and even if I was, I don't see how it's any of your business!" And for some inexplicable reason, the next thing she did was burst into tears.

"It's all right," Narcissa said in a calming voice, putting a hand on Hermione's shoulder, while at the same time shooting death glares at her sister. "Severus was just commenting that he thinks you look lovely, as the rest of us all do."

"Really?" Hermione sniffed, taking a deep breath and looking to Snape for confirmation. He nodded without missing his cue. At that point, Draco walked over to stand behind her and cleared his throat, making the whole room silent.

"I know you all are wondering why you were invited here today," he said. "The truth is that Hermione and I have something to share with you. It explains why Aunt Bella thinks Hermione's gained weight, why she ate so much at breakfast, and why she has an upset stomach. The fact is, Hermione and I are expecting a baby."

Silence followed the announcement. Then, everyone gasped as Hermione's eyes fluttered and she began to fall towards the floor.

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