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“Well,” the Healer said with a smile, stepping away from Draco and finally allowing the blond to pull his shirt down once more. “Everything looks fine. You should expect to lay within the week.”

Narcissa clutched Draco’s hand tightly, proud tears prickling at her eyes.

Draco rolled his eyes at her, but inwardly, he felt a similar sense of elatedness. He was healthy now. There should be no complications. Everything was fine.

Everything was fine, and wasn’t that in itself worth celebration?

“That being said,” the Healer continued, “there is a slight procedure-”

Draco waved a hand flippantly. “I already read the books,” he assured.

“Of course,” the Healer agreed, “but let’s just run things through once more, alright?”

Draco sighed, but nodded. Part of him wanted to defend himself, to assure the man that he knew what he was talking about, but he still didn’t feel comfortable around most people yet. His mother, sure. Thuban, definitely. But even with Pansy, with Astoria, he was faintly uncomfortable.

And then there was Potter, with whom Draco forgot to feel discomfited by.

“Much of the specifics depend on what kind of bird your veela takes after,” the Healer began, “and I’m no veela Healer by any means, but there are some similarities between clutches for us to go off of until you find a Healer more suited for your needs.”

Draco shrugged noncommittally. He didn’t like the thought of opening himself up to another Healer about himself, about his history, and his genetics. He supposed he might need to eventually—might even want to, further down the line, when he was more confident—but until it was imperative, he would continue to push it off. For now.

“Now,” the Healer continued, “there should be no blood, but considering this is your first oviparity, lubricant would be a wise choice. If there is blood, however, I wouldn’t be concerned unless there are copious amounts of it, in which you should contact me immediately. Have you found a spot in which you would like to lay?”

Draco nodded.

“He’s been nesting,” Narcissa whispered, sending Draco a conspiratory wink.

Draco flushed in mortification.

The Healer laughed politely. “That’s fantastic!. Your egg has, of course, not been fertilized, so it will not hatch. However, you may still instinctively desire to incubate it. This is normal, and is sometimes accompanied by bouts of depression, as if it were stillborn. Your egg is most definitely not stillborn, Mr Malfoy, merely-”

“Unfertilized, yes, I understand,” Draco assured.

The Healer nodded calmly, but his eyes didn’t lose their sincerity. “Should the depression lead to suicidal thoughts, or any decline in health whatsoever, contact me immediately.”

Draco nodded again, but his stomach gave a little twist at the thought of having suicidal thoughts and depression once more.

But he was stronger now.

“Now, oviposition, while not childbirth, is not all rainbows and roses, Mr Malfoy. Physically, your hips have changed, of course, but they are still quite male, and still viable to being stretched further while you lay. If you experience any tremendous pain, contact me immediately.”

“What if it were fertilized?” Narcissa asked.

“Mother,” Draco hissed at her, flushing again.

The Healer smiled at her patiently. “No, no, this is good. It’s good to have questions. What about fertilization?”

“If it had been fertilized,” Narcissa repeated, “would any of this change?”

“Assuredly,” the Healer nodded, eyebrows furrowing. “The egg would be much larger, and it would form to near maturity inside of Mr Malfoy. He would likely need a cesarean section to remove the egg, as it would have an infant inside of it, and therefore would be much larger—not to mention, much less pliable—than a normal baby.”

Draco was admittedly interested. “And it would hatch? The child?”

The Healer made a so-so motion with his hand, rocking back on his heels and leaning against his desk opposite the examination table Draco was currently seated on.

“Hatch is a tad too avian of a term, I would say, but in a sense, yes. See, the zygote, embryo, and fetus formation would all happen in correlation with regular pregnancy. However, during the later stages, the shell would begin to form around the placenta, cutting off connection from the umbilical cord. This is around when the c-section would need to take place, because most of the shell is primarily composed of calcium carbonate, which much of comes from the hen's bones—or in this case, your bones. That being said, a diet low in calcium will produce thin-shelled eggs and poor bone quality in the child. Your body isn’t designed to hold the egg for much longer after the shell-forming stage, or you’ll quickly become calcium depleted, increasing susceptibility to the development of multiple bone fractures.”

“Fantastic,” Draco said faintly. “No, not really. That sounds terrifying.”

The Healer laughed. “That was me showing off my knowledge of veela birth, I’ll concede, so I apologize for getting too technical and making this sound more scary than it actually is. For all you really need to know, a fertilized birth would consist of a c-section, an incubation period of a few days to a month—again, depending on which bird your veela takes after—assisted by your magic, and then the ‘hatching’, as you called it. However, in most cases, the child cries for you to break their shells, instead. Unlike in normal childbirth, veela chicks who wake in shells feel like just that—waking from sleep, as there is no abrupt thrust into this world, but your magic slowly, gradually adjusting their lungs, and their stomachs, and all of those important functions. Most cry from shock and confusion when they first awake, but it has been recorded that a few woke without a fuss, and proceeded to break their shells on their own.”

“And they’re born just like that?” Narcissa breathed, and Draco knew from her face, from her voice, that she wanted that. She wanted one.

With one fell swoop in his stomach, Draco sort of, kind of, very much wanted one too.

He placed a hand over his abdomen, and thankfully, the Healer was too busy addressing his mother to notice.

“Brilliant, isn’t it?” The Healer smiled broadly. “Some have even been recorded to be born mid-transformation between their more avian counterpart, but as soon as they see their parents, other human-looking creatures, they adjust. Just like that.”

“Can that happen to adult veela as well?” Draco blurted. “I may have felt that, that abrupt adjusting you’re talking about.”

The Healer nodded. “Go on,” he prompted gently.

“Upon your recommendation, I started yoga with a couple of my friends-”

“Wonderful,” the Healer commended.

Draco brushed off the compliment with practiced ease. “I was doing some stretches, and it felt odd—kind of painful, actually. I’ve never really been very flexible, to be honest, but I could see the instructor bending this way, and Astoria—my friend— bending the same way from the corner of my eye, and then suddenly I could, as well. I’m not explaining it well, but does that make sense?”

The Healer nodded. “That makes perfect sense, Mr Malfoy. One of your many veela gifts, you should be pleased to know, is to adjust to your surroundings almost instantaneously. For some veela, I’ve read, it can be altering their appearance, or scent, or even their voice.”

Realization dawned on him. “I might be able to do that as well? Or maybe it’s just a bird thing?”

The Healer gave him a patient smile, and Draco continued.

“I was singing to Thuban—my, er, dog—and my voice sounded very... smooth. As though I hadn’t been smoking like a chimney for the majority of seven years.”

The Healer nodded. “It could very likely be either.” And then, his expression softened. “You can heal your vocal cords, you know. Maybe not completely, but we have potions for that.”

Draco swallowed.

Part of him wanted to keep it, to remind himself. He wanted to remember, every time he spoke, of what he had almost become.

But another part of him wanted to move on.

Draco felt a sharp intake of breath, because it was true.

He wasn’t focussing on before, during, and after the War, but on Tomorrow, on his egg, on Thuban, on Mother, and Astoria, and Pansy.

He wanted to move on.

Draco nodded silently, and if his lip wobbled a bit, the Healer politely took note of his request on his noteboard, and Narcissa offered silent support by placing a hand on his shoulder.

And he let her. Because he wanted it.

“Erm, hello,” Draco greeted Blaise Zabini.

Blaise raised an eyebrow a the shy Draco waving at him awkwardly.

“What’s up with him?” he asked Pansy, who was standing nearby, watching with amusement.

“He just got weird,” Pansy said simply, and Draco scowled at her, but Blaise just shrugged at them both, apparently appeased by their familiar antics, and that was... that was amazing. That was just what Draco wanted, really. To be treated normally.

And when Theodore Nott showed up for Pansy’s impromptu party, and Greg, and Zacharias Smith, well, they didn’t pay him much mind either, be it out of some annoyance with him for ‘ignoring’ them for so long, or plain disinterest. And when Longbottom and Lovegood showed up, and bloody Padma and Parvati Patil, well, Draco managed to throttle his anxiety enough to say his polite, stinted hellos before grabbing a glass of lemonade and chugging. It wasn’t exactly a firewhiskey, but Draco wasn’t going down that road again.

But, the tipsier they all got, the easier it was for him, and after an hour to two of fluttering about, Draco was even comfortable enough to plant himself next to Pansy, despite her being the life of the party, because no one was paying him any mind, besides the odd, genuine question thrown his way.

To say Draco was surprised he hadn’t met any aggression would be an understatement, but the longer he spent with the group, the more he realized how adult they were. They’d all grown up without him, and part of Draco felt blessed to even witness it, while a smaller, more selfish part of him wished they had waited. How had they all learned to act like a responsible adults? They could have learned together, but instead, it was... just him. Instead, he had done it all wrong, fucked it up, and was ever so slowly healing and relearning.

Had none of them gone through the same thing? Had none of them hurt as keenly as he did? Been as lost, and as hopeless, and as weak as he had been?

Of course they had, part of him reasoned. They just knew how to deal with it in a way that was productive. Or, he conceded, in a way that wasn’t quite so difficult and/or timely to recuperate from.

Everyone dealt with the War differently.

“So what did you even do?” Zach inquired from around the rim of his glass.

Draco blinked at him, startled. “Excuse me?” His heart pounded. This was it. Someone was going to ask him about the War. About how much of Potter’s testimony at his trials were true, and how much was-

“In America,” Zach clarified. “You lived there for years, didn’t you? What did you do there?”

Draco felt his shoulders retreat from where they’d been around his ears, and took a deep breath in, and an even deeper breath out.

Calm your tits, Draco, he was just asking about your scintillating life in the Americas, he assured himself dryly.

He also noted that he needed to stop talking to himself.

At least he wasn’t doing so aloud.

“Well?” Zack probed.

“Baseball,” Draco blurted, which was utter rubbish, but it was better than killing myself slowly.

“Baseball,” Zach repeated, blinking blearily back at him. “The fuck is that?”

“A muggle sport.” Draco snorted. “It’s no Quidditch, but it’s alright, I suppose.”

“Isn’t that that game where they hit balls with sticks?” Blaise asked, leaning over Draco drunkenly to peer into his face. “Sounds kind of gay,” he said in a stage whisper, before erupting into a fit of giggles.

“You’re kind of gay,” Pansy dismissed easily, and from what Draco had picked up from around the room, Blaise was bi and with plenty of conquests to prove it, so he supposed Pansy’s comment was truthful enough. “Tell us, Draco,” she then addressed. “How do we play this ‘Base Ball’ game?”

Draco thought on it. “You hit balls with bats. You catch them, you throw them—the baseballs , not the bats, Christ. If you catch the ball before the person who hit it gets to the base—the base is like a safe zone—then you get to smack them with your glove—they make your hands larger so it’s easier to catch the ball—and tag them out. If you don’t get to them in time, then they, uh, run around the diamond, I suppose.”

Pansy snapped up in her chair. “Diamond?” she asked, sounding rather breathless. “And this is played by muggles, you say?”

“I like the idea of smacking people with my large hands,” Parvati declared, looking at said hands with avid interest, as if seeing them for the first time.

“I hate running,” Padma argued.

“But you get to hit people with large hands, balls, and bats,” Greg said.

“You don’t hit people with the bats,” Draco cut in quickly.

“Large hands and baseballs,” Greg amended.

“You’re not supposed to hit people with the baseballs, either,” Draco said.

Zack squinted at him. “So what is the point of the game, exactly, if not to hit people?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Like in Quidditch, you uncultured trolls ,” he snapped, “the goal is to get as many points as you can. Only it’s harder than Quidditch, because you can’t rely on your fast broom, only your weak, human legs, and hitting moving balls with bats is also difficult, and so is catching them, and throwing them with any sort of accuracy,” he huffed.

The others stared at him.

“You know,” Pansy said after a second, “you almost sounded like the old Draco, just now.”

“I’m still me,” Draco said, and Blaise lifted his drink in a silent toast to that.

Zack seemed to have ignored them all completely. “How bloody hard can it be to hit a ball with a stick?” he sneered.

“Bat,” Neville corrected.

“If it’s anything like your aim in the bedroom, Smith, much more difficult for you than you’d think,” Blaise sniped with a shit eating grin.

Zach gaped, and Pansy looked on in clear interest.

“You two-?”

“No,” Zach denied vehemently, “ no , we did not . I’m not bloody gay-”

“Cute, nor am I,” Blaise replied.

“So how does he know?” Pansy pressed, like a dog with a bone.

“I didn’t.” Blaise snickered. “Not until he made that face, anyway.”

“You’re such an piece of shit!” Zacharias snarled, but he was too tipsy to do much more than wave his arm furiously.

Blaise raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “I’m offended?” he asked more than answered.

“I challenge you!” Zack slurred. “To a game of Bats and Balls, then!”

“Baseball,” Neville corrected.

“You’re on,” Blaise replied, eyes sparkling with challenge.

“Next weekend? We’ll meet up at the Manor around, say, twelve, and we’ll all apparate from there?” Draco offered hesitantly, half anxious, half excited by the thought. It would be absolutely amusing watching his old friends attempt to do something as common as hit a ball with a bat without getting hit with it, or losing their grip, or hitting someone else with it-

On second thought, maybe this wasn’t such a safe idea.

“It’s a date then,” Blaise agreed, and the rest of the party gave a single, drunken whoop before moving on to another topic with their tapering attention spans.

Draco, sipping on his drink, smiled to himself.

Luna, who sat opposite him, smiled back.

“I can’t believe you didn’t invite me!” Astoria whinged. “Does no one ever remember to invite me to parties? I’m married, not incarcerated!”

Draco smiled sheepishly. “Sorry? Come over for tea, and I’ll make it up to you,” he promised. “I can show you the garden! There are these lovely flower vines which I’m sure will like you as much as they do me. I think they have a thing for blue eyes, and get rather handsy.”

Astoria smiled. “Assuring me I’ll be groped by plants? I’ll be right over.”

“You’re not actually following me, are you?” Draco asked as he sat on the bench next to none other than Potter, who blinked at him in surprise.

“What?” he asked. “No, James just likes this park.” Then, Potter frowned a bit. “And I was here first.”

Draco smirked. “I was, actually. I was over there,” he waved in the general direction, “when I saw you two walk over.”

Potter raised an eyebrow, but he was smirking as well. “Watching us, were you? And you said I was following you ? Besides, that’s not what I meant. I was here first, as in, we’ve been going to this park longer than you have.”

Draco sniffed and raised his nose. “Yes, well. You’re clearly obsessed with me.”

Potter rolled his eyes. “Ah, that must be it. Speaking of obsessed—since you’ve yet to use the L word to describe it—where's your dog?”

Draco reclined against the bench dramatically, wiping an invisible tear from his eye. “Off playing with the other crups. Can you believe it?”

“They grow up so fast,” Potter agreed facetiously. Then, he sighed.

Draco peered at him. “Something on your mind, Potter?”

Potter shrugged and crossed him arms, reclining against the bench as well. Of course, he looked more like he was slouching than Draco did.

“I’m gonna have to head back to work soon,” Potter said, hiking up one shoulder in another little shrug. “We need to find someone to watch James, is all, but it’s tough finding people to trust with that responsibility, with me being me and all.”

“Yes, with you being you. No Nanny will ever surpass you in parenting skills. Even I would be hesitant to try and compete with you, and we both know that I almost always beat you at everything.”

Potter snorted. “I meant because I’m Harry Potter, not because I’m a good dad, and even then, I’m not perfect, Malfoy.”

“I know that, Potter, and I know what you meant,” Draco said flippantly. “I just wanted a chance to boast my superiority.”

“Naturally,” Potter drawled, with a smile.

Then, Draco nudged him a bit with his elbow, because they sat that close. “Granger can’t watch him? You’re still friends with her, yeah?”

Potter sighed again. “She’s working a lot, and so is Ron—he’s my Auror partner, and her marital one. I could ask them occasionally, I’m sure, but not full-time, and not all the time.”

“Just hold auditions,” Draco suggested.

Potter groaned pitifully. “That could take years,” he grumbled.

“By then, James will be old enough to take care of himself,” Draco chirped. “Seems like a solid plan to me.”

Potter turned to look at him with a mixture of disbelief and amusement. “You do actually know that you’re being utterly useless, right?”

Draco smiled at him cheekily.

Potter shook his head. “I’ll figure something out,” he said.

“How long do you have?” Draco asked.

“A week,” Potter mumbled, and judging by the way he ducked his head, he was expecting Draco’s incredulous squawk.

What ? You’re an idiot ,” Draco hissed.

“I know,” Potter said miserably, peeking through his fingers at the blond. “To be fair, Ginny isn’t helping, and I’d rather, you know, spoil James than plan ways to get rid of him.”

Draco reared up, ready to go off again, before deflating. “You do actually know how utterly useless you are, right?”

Potter smiled at him charmingly, and Draco fought the genuine desire to swoon. That couldn’t be good.

“I suppose I could watch James for a bit?” Draco offered. “Until you find a replacement?”

Potter’s eyes widened and he sat up straight. “Oh, no, Christ, I couldn’t ask that of you.”

Draco forced a shrug, preparing himself for an awkward rejection. “I’m not currently working because of a, um, health thing, and it would only be for a week or so, yeah? Less, even, if you get lucky and find someone who knocks your socks off,” Draco tried.

Potter, much to Draco’s surprise, seemed to be considering it.

“You know,” he said slowly, “I might just take you up on that. Or, what about Thuban?”

Draco shook his head. “He’s potty trained. All Mother needs to do is leave a door open, and he should be able to keep himself amused for the rest of the time.”

“What about your health thing?” Potter asked, and with the way he tilted his head, and the way his eyes sparkled, it sounded as though he were asking after Draco’s health because he genuinely cared, and not because it might interfere with Draco working.

Draco couldn't resist his smile. “Worried about me, Potter?”

“My obsession’s rearing it’s ugly head again, what can I say?”

Draco’s smile widened. “It shouldn’t be an issue, but if it is, I won’t hesitate to make a big deal out of it and tell you.”

“Good.” Potter smirked. “Then, you’re temporarily hired, I guess. Though I suppose I should run it by Hermione, first. She’s usually the one who handles all this stuff because I’m-”

“Useless?” Draco offered.

“I was going to say trusting, but that works too.” Potter looked out at the field. “Oh, well, would you look at that.”

Thuban streaked by, tail wagging with ecstasy, as James screamed with delight, holding on for dear life.

Draco sighed. “He’ll stop running in approximately fifty-seven minutes. We can catch them then.”

Potter raised a challenging eyebrow at him. “Why, Malfoy, where’s your sense of adventure?”

And then Potter took off running, and Draco gaped after him.

“What are you, five?” Draco yelled after him. “Grow up, Potter!” But he was grinning as well.

Draco awkwardly fiddled his thumbs.

“Well,” Granger cleared her throat, “Harry seems to think highly of you.”

Draco shrugged awkwardly. Weasley and Potter had both gone somewhere else in the Granger-Weasley abode, leaving Granger to drill Draco about his qualifications for the job. It had seemed like a good idea at the park, but in actuality, Draco realized how daft he must seem. They were barely friends, and here he was, volunteering to watch Potter’s kid?

Obsession rearing it’s ugly head again, indeed.

“Look,” Granger sighed, and she sounded taxed to be having the mere conversation. “It’s been awhile since school. You’ve obviously changed, and while I don’t know you enough to trust you with anything, let alone someone as important as James, Harry trusts you. Considering he actually sat Ron and me down to ensure we treated you like his friend , not his boyhood enemy, I’m willing to trust his decision. He knows what’s best for his son, after all.”

Draco blinked at her. “Thank you, I suppose.”

“It’s not for you,” she assured, her eyes narrowed, “it’s for Harry.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, well, thank you for trusting Potter. He seems to be under the impression that his decisions are no good unless they’re passed by you first, so it’s refreshing to know that you don’t actually find him incompetent.”

Oh, yes, he could still sting, judging by her wince.

“I apologize,” she amended quietly, “that may have sounded rude, but that wasn’t my intention.”

Draco shrugged, still peeved with her, because, “I apologize as well, for hurting your feelings, I suppose, but I won’t take back what I said, as it’s true. Also, you really don’t need to apologize to me. Like, ever. I’ve done too much shite to you and your loved ones, for one-”

She opened her mouth, and he could tell by her expression that she was going to spout some nonsense about water under the bridge, or some other such rot, so he powered on.

“-And for another, your opinion doesn’t really matter to me.”

At this, Granger rolled her eyes, but she did, thankfully, shut her mouth.

“The female Weasley, however, I presume will want a word with me as well before trusting me with her sole offspring?” Draco asked, raising an eyebrow as he knew for a fact that Ginevra was not even in the house.

Granger shifted in her seat. “She’s off with her Quidditch team at the moment, but she also trusts Harry’s judgment.”

Draco sent her a dry look.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Draco rolled his eyes again to cover his inner anxiety. Should he say something? He hadn’t the nerve to say anything to Potter’s face, but to Granger, he could probably get away with saying something, right? If she told Potter, and Potter confronted him about it, Draco could say he was just taking the piss to rile Granger up, because he was just an arsehole like that.

“She seems rather absent, is all,” Draco said innocently.

“Yes, well,” Granger sniffed. Then, she sent him an indecipherable look of her own before leaning forward a bit, a conspiratorial glint in her bright eyes.

“What is it you want to tell me?” Draco asked bluntly.

“I agree,” Granger said simply. “Ginny’s very absent, not only to poor James—that boy is a blessing, and she doesn’t even realize—but also to Harry. Of course, he would never speak against his wife, and she’s Ron’s sister, so he’ll always take her side, but you and I both know that their marriage is less than ideal.”

“Then why did they marry in the first place?”

“People dealt with the war in different ways,” Granger said, and Draco felt his throat tighten. “Harry especially, was taught early on that happiness doesn’t last—carpe diem, and all of that nonsense, because for a time, there was a definite possibility that they wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. They married right after school, because they wanted to experience it. But they’ve changed—they’re different people from the kids they once were.”

“Granger, why are you telling me this?” Draco asked skeptically.

Granger sighed. “Harry hasn’t seen you since school, right? Well, he seems to revert to his obnoxious, mullish, loveable old self when he’s around you, and I think that’s a good thing—that you’re a good thing for him. And if you watch James for him, you’ll also be giving him the space I think he needs to compose himself, so he and Ginny can talk out whatever it is that’s holding them back from loving like they once had. Without being there for James himself, Harry’s bound to ask Ginny about it sometime.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“I’ll interfere.”

“Naturally. And why is it you think I’ll help you with your little scheme?”

“You offered to watch James anyway,” Granger said reasonably. “So unless you were planning to break Harry and Ginny up, I really don’t see how you could ruin this for me. You aren’t going to break them up, are you?” Granger’s eyes were predatory.

Draco raised his nose. “I’m not a homewrecker, Granger. Honestly.”

Granger abruptly laughed. “I didn’t mean you get with Harry to break them up, I meant that you would find Harry or Ginny someone else to date.”

Draco squinted at her. “Why did you just assume that, if I were a homewrecker, I would get with Potter?”

Granger stared at him candidly. “You two have always had a thing for each other. Seemed more likely.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” But his heart was already racing. She could tell? How? Was he being obvious? Was she even talking about a romantic thing between them? And if so, was it between them , or between Draco and an unrequited Potter? Did it matter? The git was married!

But apparently there was some turbulence on their ship.

But he just promised not to break them apart.

Not that he could, even if he wanted to, because Potter didn’t think of him that way.

But Granger just wanted them to be happy, yeah?

As long as they were happy, no matter their decision...

He felt he should clarify that with her. “You just want the two of them to be happy,” Draco said.

Granger smiled genuinely. “Exactly. See, Malfoy, I’m actually a rather caring person, when you get to know me. I care about my friends. I’m only being so-”

“Manipulative?” he offered, and she swatted at him, but to his horror and pride, and it was playful.

“I’m only being so nosy in their affairs because, yes, I want them both to be happy.”

Draco pursed his lips, then nodded. “Okay. Fine. I agree. I’ll make sure to be a superb nanny so Potter can pull his head from his arse and decide what he will about his relationship with his wife.”

Granger’s slight smile was infectious.