18 May 2017

SEHE; Chapter 21

Having my own owl has been a wonderful gift. I've been able to correspond with Lena and Draco at regular intervals and don't feel so disconnected. I finally got an explanation about Keelan's letter from Draco. He asked around Slytherin's inner circle and discovered that Keelan has, in fact, become a Death Eater. Or rather is on the path to become one. I'm simply astounded and have no idea what to think. Currently I'm sitting in the kitchen while Cheyenne naps in her bassinet beside me, talking with mum about that particular situation.

"Can you get a wizarding lawyer? How does that work?" I shake my head and look down at Draco's letter.

"It doesn't work that way there, exactly. I don't even pretend to understand how it all works. It makes no sensible logic that a wizard with no relation to a child can decide to leave a baby on the doorstep of his muggle family without consulting someone." My mum gives me an odd look. "It happened to a boy in my year. His parents were both killed, he had no wizarding relatives, so the headmaster left him with his muggle aunt. It doesn't make any sense."

"We'll figure something out."

"If he comes for her I may kill him."

"Who are we killing?" I jump as Jordan and Nate enter the kitchen, noisily sitting down at the table.

"No one. No one. I'm just.. going to the loo." I get up and leave the room, lean against the wall in the hallway and close my eyes. If he comes for her, how am I to protect her? I'm smart and know my share of spells but against a Death Eater taught specific dark magics I'd never dream to know? I don't know how to compete with that. During my inner breakdown I feel a pair of arms wrap me in a hug. I can tell it's Nate by his smell and height.

"No one's going to take her, Bell." Tears leak out of my eyes and wet his shirt. He can't begin to understand the potential threat. "Alright?" After a few minutes I hear Cheyenne start to fuss and pull away from Nate while I rub my hand over my face and go back into the kitchen. To my surprise Jordan has picked her up and is moving her through the air. Mum has left to somewhere else in the house. I lean against the door frame and smile.

I really wasn't sure how Jordan would handle having a baby in the house. He never enjoyed having baby siblings and has never expressed a desire to have children of his own. But he's been a pretty great uncle so far. He turns, spots me watching him and gives me an awkward smile before resuming his movements. Deciding that I'm not needed just yet I grab Draco's letter off the table and retreat to my room to send him some type of response.

+++

"Oh, Becca, it's wonderful to finally meet you!" My mum practically shoves Nate out of the way to get in for a hug. Nate has finally decided to let us meet Becca for dinner tonight. I feel a great swell of pity and amusement for the poor girl. We are a big family and it can be very overwhelming, especially for someone that's an only child, as Becca is.

"Thank you for having me, Claire. I've heard nothing but wonderful things about you all." I raise an eyebrow at Nate and he shrugs his shoulders, grinning shyly. After the introductions are out of the way the younger boys run off to play, Jordan goes to his room, and Cheyenne decides she's hungry so I sit in the living room with a book while I feed her. I only half read as I attempt to eavesdrop on the conversation in the kitchen. I don't make out much but suddenly my mother squeals and I hear her blubber about something. I shake my head and give my full attention to the hungry infant and my book.

After Cheyenne is fed and contently sleeping again I wander into the kitchen to see mum preparing dinner. I sit at the table and watch her for a few minutes. "Where'd everyone go?" She gives me a spoon to sample the pasta sauce.

"Charlie took the littles to get dessert from Norris, I don't know where Jordan went to, and Nate and Becca are in the basement."

"Ooh, I love Norris. What are they getting?" She shrugs while taking the spoon from me.

"Not a clue. I told them to pick something yummy." Norris is a bakery halfway across town. Their pumpkin tarts are amazing and I look forward to them every year for Christmas.

"What was all the yelling about earlier?"

"Not to worry about that, sweetheart. Can you grab the eggs from the fridge?" I roll my eyes but do as she asks, handing her the eggs and mustard because I know she'll want that later. "Thanks, hon." I watch as she moves about the kitchen until Charlie and the boys gather themselves back into the house. Very noisily. I'm about to scold them but before I can Cheyenne screams loudly from the living room. I sigh and make my way to her.

"Sorry, Bell." I ruffle Mark's hair as I walk by.

"No worries, bud. Want to hold her?" Mark hasn't yet held his little niece. I think he's scared of her. "Come on, once I settle her I'll just set her on your lap, yeah?" He's hesitant but nods and situates himself on the couch. "Stick a pillow under your left arm, yep, and hold your arms like you're going to catch a football. Great, here you go." I gently place her down and Mark looks as if he might throw up all over her. I sit beside them and pat his shoulder. "Nothing to it, eh?"

"She's really little." He touches one of her tiny fists with a finger and she blinks up at him.

"You were this small once. Crazy, huh?" His eyes widen and I smile.

"Bell, Bell, Bell I want a turn, too!" Leon skids into the room and nearly runs into the bassinet.

"You will, sport." Mark shifts and I quickly pick her up before he can fully disengage from the baby. Leon takes Mark's place on the couch and happily holds her for a full five minutes before he grows bored and asks to leave. "Freddy, want a turn, too?" Freddy is standing in the doorway with a peculiar look on his face. When I acknowledge him he quickly shakes his head and runs off to the stairs. Before I have a chance to wonder about that Jordan, Nate and Becca enter the living room and sit on the various furniture. Never a quiet moment here. Truthfully I love the chaos that comes with 5 siblings. There's always someone to talk to.

Becca sits beside me and asks me questions about Cheyenne and the pregnancy. I'd already asked Nate what information he's told Becca about me; namely, if I'm a witch. He hasn't and said it isn't up to him to tell her. As such, I have to be careful about what I tell her. It's strange having to censor my life. She's very lovely and I'm happy that she and Nate found each other. She asks to hold Cheyenne and her face just glows while she holds her. I wink at Nate and he smiles awkwardly. "How old is she, Bell?" I look back to Becca.

"Just over 5 weeks now."

"Wow. It's truly incredible. Nathan said she was early?"

"4 weeks. Not terribly early, but too early for my liking. I actually had some pretty serious pre-term labour contractions around 30 weeks. Thankfully they stopped and she got to bake for a while longer."

"Amazing. How did you choose her name?"

"Nothing exciting, really. Draco and I wrote a list of names we both liked and we chose from those. Mostly we agreed on her middle name, Lillian, and I got top pick for her first. He said we'll have to completely agree for any other kids." I roll my eyes and get a smile out of Becca.

"And you're engaged, that's wonderful! Any ideas on a wedding date yet?" I lean back into the couch and tuck my feet under my bum.

"Not really. I want a fall wedding but it definitely isn't happening this year. I need to graduate school and don't want to plan a wedding while caring for an infant." Becca makes a noise of agreement.

"Nathan told me not to say anything," She grins "but I can't not, seeing as I'm a wedding planner. I want to gift you my planning services and help you." I stare at her in shock. I had looked into a planner but they can be quite expensive. Hold on..

"Rebecca Masterson?" Becca nods. "No way! I went by your office last week. I had no idea it was you." I throw Nate a mock glare. "That's fantastic, thank you!"

"Don't even worry about it. I would love to help you." Cheyenne starts fussing then and Becca hands her back to me. I decide to feed her quickly before dinner and carry her up to my room. I also want to write to Draco and tell him that we don't need to worry about finding a wedding planner afterall.

Of course he's told me, repeatedly I might add, not to worry about how much anything costs when looking into everything. I balk at his insistence that money is no object. I never lived that way and don't fancy myself someone that suddenly gets lavish just because her fiance's family has money. His mother has apparently written up a guest list and he said there are over 500 names on it. I had to put the letter down and walk away from it before hyperventilating. Absolutely not.

I write Draco a quick letter, also sending more pictures (he insists I send some every week), and send Hector on his way. Despite his mother's insistence, I very much want to do this wedding the muggle way. I can compromise, of course, but certainly not to 500 guests. I also don't want to count on his money to pay for things. I have my own savings, meager as it may be. He tells me I'm being silly.

Once Cheyenne is settled I tuck her into her crib and join my family for dinner.

06 May 2017

SEHE; Chapter 20

Tuesday January 20 [26 hours old]

Cheyenne was born at 11:26 AM on January 19.

She's still in the nursery as her lungs are a little sluggish but otherwise is completely healthy. I've been to see her as often as I can and I'm completely enthralled. Recovery for me has been a breeze so far. Wearing those huge pads has been a dream come true.

I think mum has told just about everyone she's ever met as she's been on the phone almost nonstop. She stops poor, unsuspecting people in the hallways to show them pictures.

Cheyenne has my fiery red hair and I feel positive that once she opens her eyes they'll be green, just like mine.

My older brothers came by yesterday evening to see her. My younger ones aren't allowed as they're too young. They both say she looks exactly like I did as an infant. I couldn't agree more.

Everyone is gone doing various things so I'm finally left alone for a moment. I close my eyes and sigh. I didn't know that I would feel so much for her immediately. I was concerned that the situation with her father would somehow taint my bond with her. Well, I needn't have worried. I sense, more than hear, someone approach the door to my little room and jerk my eyes open, positive he can't be who I think he is.

But he is. Draco walks slowly up to me, a guarded look on his face. I frown at him. "What's the matter, Draco?" He sits on the edge of my bed, beside my left leg. "If you don't tell me I may resort to violence." His expression doesn't change. "Seriously. You're worrying me. What's happened?"

"I wasn't sure if I would be welcome." My frown gets deeper.

"Why ever not?" He picks at an imaginary piece of lint.

"I hadn't received a reply to any of my letters. Richards said he'd owl'd you about who knows what. I didn't think I should come at all." I look at him curiously.

"Draco, look at me." He reluctantly brings his eyes to mine and holds my gaze. "Your bloody owl never stayed so that I could write you back. I don't have an owl at home. And I've been here for almost a week. How was I to send or receive anything from here? What must you have thought?" His eyes harden.

"I'd thought you accepted my proposal because you were looking for someone to take Richards' place." I stare at him, simply stunned. Without warning I grab a pillow from behind my back and hit him with it.

"You *smack* bloody *smack* insecure *smack* idiot." Draco moves away from my pillow attack.

"Bell, stop hitting me with that infernal pillow." I glare up at him.

"Not until you realize that you're a great big prat. What are you talking about, I agreed to marry you because I wanted to replace Keelan. Merlin, you can be so thick. I agreed to marry you because I love you, you moron." For emphasis I chuck the pillow at his face. With his Quidditch reflexes unfortunately it doesn't hit him, but to his credit he looks speechless. "Now, could you stop being so bloody stupid and talk to me?" He sits back down quietly, inconspicuously putting the pillow on his other side, toward my feet. "Explain, please." He sighs deeply, mussing up his hair.

"I didn't think much of it when you hadn't replied, really. Lena told me you hadn't replied to her either. We didn't want to, I don't know, overwhelm you so we agreed not to send anything else. That same day Richards told me that he'd sent you a letter. I don't know what he'd said but it infuriated me. How dare he? I got angry and we dueled there in the corridor. We both lost 30 points. After that I just stewed and apparently overthought things, making connections and jumping to false conclusions." He pauses, drawing in a breath. "When Phoebe sent me an owl I was completely convinced that I was merely a replacement. I don't think I was particularly polite to your healers." I just shake my head when he's done.

"Draco Lucius Malfoy," He winces at his full name. "You are completely ridiculous. Come here." As if unsure of himself, he hesitates before moving closer. I take his hand and pull him so he's resting against my chest. "You have a daughter, Draco." I feel his breath hitch. "Would you like to meet her?"

"I can't, Bell. I wouldn't know what to do." I hug him as tightly as I can manage. His uncertainty makes me hurt for him.

"You're gong to be wonderful, trust me."

+++

Cheyenne is two weeks old and we're finally able to take her home. She developed jaundice and had to stay in the hospital for some extra time. Completely normal in newborns, especially ones that are born early. Dumbledore was gracious enough to allow Draco to stay with me for a week. Having him there when I had to go home and leave Cheyenne at the hospital did me a world of good.

Charlie sets Cheyenne down, who is currently snoozing in her car seat, and shuts the front door behind him. "Well you're all home now, Bell. How are you feeling?" Mum is back at work, having taken the first two weeks off, so Charlie took the day off to drive us home.

"Slightly overwhelmed, I think. She isn't even awake and I'm having trouble adjusting without the nurses here to help." Charlie looks at me sympathetically.

"Of course, but you'll do just fine. Plus Glenda will come by during the day for the first little while, so that should help, yes?" I nod, but it does little to assuage my worries.

Being a teenage mother qualifies me for certain programs through the hospital. One of them is a nurse that comes to your house everyday for the first week that you're home to help you settle in. Most babies are newborns, as they go home when they're a day or two old, but Cheyenne's extended stay in the hospital prolongs the help I've been receiving. I have to say I'm quite grateful for it. Motherhood is frightening.

"Why don't you take her to the living room and sit down and I'll make you a sandwich?" I nod again, grab the car seat's handle and carry the baby to sit on the floor beside the couch. She shifts a little but doesn't wake. I slide onto the couch and shutter out a sigh, looking around at the baby paraphernalia. A bassinet sits off to the side of the couch, a swing is smack dab in the middle of the floor. I wonder where mum shoved the coffee table and notice it in the front hall.

I'd thought about how different life would be after she arrived. The obvious late nights, a new person to bring with me wherever I go, the all consuming thoughts of caring for another human being. Merlin, how mum did this six times I'll never know. I wasn't prepared for the soul shattering, ever persistent self doubt that I feel.

Growing up with 2 older and 3 younger brothers wasn't easy in any stretch of the imagination. Ruthless teasing, being ganged up on countless times, but always content in the knowledge that each one of them has my back no matter what. I grew up with a self assurance and confidence that only comes from having multiple siblings. And it all seems to crumble with the prospect of caring for my own offspring.

I jump when Charlie suddenly appears before me. I hadn't heard him come into the room. "Sorry, hon. Here," He hands me a plate with a sandwich and cut up cucumber slices on it and sits beside me. "Anything you'd like to talk about?" I toss a cucumber into my mouth.

"How do you get past the doubt and fear enough to properly care for another person?" Charlie's eyes soften and he pats my knee in a reassuring manner. He looks down at Cheyenne and smiles.

"You never truly do. Once you think you have they throw you a curve ball that messes it all up again," He winks at me and I feel a light blush across my cheeks. "Mostly you do the best you can with what you have and figure it out along the way. No one has it figured 100% of the time." A sudden thought occurs to me.

"How did you accept mum, someone with three kids that weren't yours, into your life?"

"It was never a question for me, Bell. I loved your mother and I loved you and your brothers as if you were my own. And you are my own. I love you no differently than I do the younger boys." I feel tears spill from my eyes. "Draco loves you. It's quite obvious. And don't worry, I won't tell your mother." I blink and take a bite of my sandwich to stall.

"Tell her what?" Charlie chuckles and looks pointedly at my bare ring finger.

"Draco asked me for permission, you know." My eyes widen.

"He failed to mention that little detail." Charlie pats my knee and stands up.

"You'll be fine, hon. Now eat and nap while you can." I smile lightly and watch as he walks out of the room. What? Draco has some explaining to do. Before finishing my lunch I jog, jog!, up the stairs to my room. To my surprise, an owl is sitting on a perch beside my bedroom window. "We thought we'd surprise you, so you're not dependent on other's owls. He still doesn't have a name." I spin around to see Charlie leaning against the door frame.

"Seriously? You got me an owl?" I turn back to my new owl and approach him. He hoots at me softly. I extend my arm and he gently nudges my finger with his head. "He's beautiful. Thank you." I turn back around but Charlie is already gone.

+++

Draco,

I had an interesting conversation with Charlie today. You have some explaining to do, mister!

In better news, Cheyenne is finally home. I wish you could be here to share it with us. I've included pictures for her fan club. I know they don't move but they'll have to do.

Send my love to Lena. She especially loves hugs.

Give Hector a nice treat before he returns. This is his first flight.

My love,
Bella


+++

02.03

Dear Bell,

I had planned to tell you but couldn't find the opportunity. I'm a proper gentleman, Bell. I do things the proper way.

I'm so glad that she's home. I know how anxious you've been even if you can't articulate it. I cannot wait to come home to the two of you every day. June is closing in!

Don't expect any of the photos back. I may or may not have kept them all.

Hector has been very polite.

Yours,
Draco

05 May 2017

SEHE; Chapter 19

Monday January 19 [36w 0d]

"Just a few more seconds Bell, you're doing great." I breathe through another contraction, wishing I had someone here with me. Phoebe left just an hour ago after I assured her that I'm fine, I'm not in labour, and to get out. Well surprise, once the contractions started getting serious, did they ever mean business.

After the current one is done I let my breath out and ease my grip on the bed sheet. They're coming every 6 minutes or so. Not close enough for active labour but close enough that I barely have time to recover before the next one. "You've called my mum? She's on her way?" My nurse today, Jennifer, is very calm and soothing.

"Yes, love. When I called she said no more than twenty minutes. Should be any minute now, my dear." As if on cue, my mother rolls into the room with Phoebe in tow. Jennifer moves aside to let my support system do their jobs.

"Annabel, you told me you were fine." I grin up at Phoebe, who has a mock glare on her face.

"I thought I was. It's happening really fast." Mum sits at the end of the bed while Phoebe takes the labour ball in the centre of the room. Dr Anne walks in and smiles.

"We've got ourselves a full house. I'm just going to check to see how dilated you are, all right Bell?" I nod and grit my teeth. It isn't pleasant but she's done quickly. "100% effaced and I'd say about 5cm dilated. You're making great progress-" I tune her out as another contraction hits, gripping the sheets, leaning over the hospital bed. Jennifer digs her fingers into my lower back which helps immensely. I ride it out, trying my best to breathe. "Have you thought anymore to an epidural, Bell?" I shake my head and stand, my back hurting from hunching over.

"No, I want to do this naturally." Dr Anne has an amused look on her face but doesn't argue.

"Okay, I'll be back soon to check your progress." She leaves and Jennifer walks out after her. My mum smiles at me.

"No one's going to think less of you, hon. Epidurals are wonderful things." I walk around a little.

"I don't care what people think of me, mum. I want to do this for me. No one else matters here."

"What do you need us to do?"

"Ice chips." My mum smiles again before grabbing my empty cup and leaving my little labour room. I turn toward Phoebe. "She's going to drive me insane. I don't even have anyone to blame because Keelan isn't here."

"She just hates to see you in pain, Bell." I sigh and run my hands through my hair. I'd meant to braid it but it's hard to do that when I have to stop every few minutes. Without prompting, Phoebe brushes my hair back and french braids it neatly, managing to get the elastic on as another contraction starts. I turn and grab her shoulders, resting my head on her chest. She mimics Jennifer's motions on my back and this one passes rather quickly.

"Gods I hope this is over with soon. I am not a fan whatsoever." Phoebe helps me down onto the labour ball and I bounce around a little. It helps the pressure in my hips and pelvis and I sigh happily.

"I don't know why, Bell. It looks like a lot of fun." I glare up at Phoebe but am too tired to manage a retort. I manage through three more contractions before my mother makes it back with the ice chips.

"You'll never guess who I saw in the lobby. Do you remember Mrs Tolloway from down the street? Her husband is here getting a knee replacement." I grab the cup and swallow down a snarky comment. Phoebe's massaging on my shoulders helps to relax and keep me focused. Jennifer has been in and out, seeing how I'm doing. She says the contractions are getting closer together, fabulous, and stronger, wonderful, and doesn't think it'll be too much longer now. Two contractions later and Dr Anne is back.

"90% dilated, Bell, fantastic. This is very good. I'm going to move you to the birthing room, all right? It's baby time." I contemplate throwing an ice chip at her for being so chipper but decide against it. How she expects me to walk is beyond me, but I'm pleasantly surprised to find it's only through one door. I can manage that. Once I'm situated in the room Jennifer talks to me, mostly to my mother, about who the extra nurses are and why they're here.

Since baby is premature there are three extra nurses waiting for me to deliver. They will take her to the part of the hospital that the premature babies go to. Once she is assessed I will be allowed to see her. I've told my mum that she isn't to let the baby out of her sight for any reason.

I listen distractedly to the nurses and their conversations. One just got back from a trip to Japan yesterday, where she and her husband eloped. One is returning from maternity leave and misses her baby. The last one is planning to propose to his girlfriend for Valentine's Day next month. It helps keep my mind off the pain and pressure between my legs. "How are you doing, Bell?" I can't tell who asked so I just answer into the room.

"Lots of pressure. The strangest sensation in my arse." I hear a couple chuckles.

"I'd say it's time to push, Bell. Want to hop up on the bed?" I shake my head. I'd tried labouring while laying at the beginning and it was excruciating. It feels much more natural to do it from a squatting position.

"Nope, you'll have to catch this one, doc." I hear some movement behind me and feel my gown being moved. Birthing a human is no time for modesty, I've come to find out.

"Just checking you, Bell. 10cm, wonderful. It's time to push with the next contraction. Push exactly like you're having a bowel movement." I'm suddenly terrified that I'll crap all over her, but I think my intestinal tract has stopped working. In fact, I think all of my organs have stopped and I seem to be having trouble breathing.

"Breathe, Bell. You're doing great. When this next one comes, just push, hon. Just push, let gravity help." The imagery helps me focus and with the next contraction I grip whoever's hand is within reach and push down to my toes. Six contractions later and she's here. She's bellowing. She's tiny and she chisels a spot in my soul for herself.

My mum follows the nurses out of my room and Phoebe clutches my hand. "Good job, mama."

SEHE; Chapter 18

Wednesday January 14 [35w 2d]

I shift a little in my bed, laying myself on my left side to see if it will help with the gradual onslaught of contractions. Phoebe is sitting at my desk doing her homework and she frowns at me. "More?" I nod.

"Seems so. I don't think I'm going to last the week, Phoeb." Her frown deepens and her eyebrows crease.

"Anything I can do?"

"Help me with this pillow. I can't get it quite right." She assists me with adjusting the pillow under my belly and sits beside me, rubbing my arm comfortingly. "I'm worried."

"Oh, honey, I know. But you're not alone."

"I want Draco to be there when I deliver. I don't see how that's possible."

"Do you think your headmaster will allow him to leave?" I shake my head sadly.

"I'm not sure. I wouldn't feel right asking anyway. He has enough to think about without taking up space in his head for my problems." Phoebe's hand halts before resuming her motions on my arm.

"You've mentioned a war?" I sigh deeply.

"I don't know much about it. I prefer not to read the papers because it's all hyped up nonsense. I know Draco's family is in the middle of it but he won't tell me any details. I suspect that's to protect me in some way. A boy in my year, his name is Harry, and two of his friends have been gone this year. Lots of rumours so I don't know what to believe. With everything that's been going on with me I haven't paid it much mind. I do know that people have died, most of them muggles."

"That's terrible, Bell."

"Yes. This bastard is a real piece of work. He idolizes purebloods above all else and he isn't even one himself. His father was a muggle."

"How does Draco fit into this?"

"His father is what is called a Death Eater. They carry out the bastard's dirty work and protect him. His mother has to publicly support her husband because it's expected of her, though Draco suspects she hasn't believed any of this stuff for a long time. Draco was being conditioned to follow his father, except he met me." Phoebe smiles at me.

"You saved him." It's a fact, not a question.

"I think I did. All I simply was, was his friend. I was with Keelan and didn't have any romantic feelings or otherwise. But I listened to him, gave him advice, and ultimately had to let him choose his own path. I'm very proud of him."

"You have every reason to be. And I'm proud of you, Bell." My 'brows knit together.

"Why?" Phoebe suddenly gives me a hug and moves hair off my face.

"For being you. For seeing the best in people even if they don't always deserve it. And especially when they don't see it themselves. For keeping it together when you have every right to break down. For being strong." Tears leak out of my eyes and down my face.

"You're amazing, Phoeb. You're a wonderful friend." We smile at each other and I try to ignore another painful contraction. It must show on my face because Phoebe frowns.

"I'm getting your mother." Before I can stop her she's left my room. I huff and throw my arm down on the bed behind me. A minute later Phoebe and my mum enter my room, both looking worried.

"I think we should go to the hospital, Bell." I shake my head.

"No. I do not want to go there. If I go there it means I won't be leaving until I deliver." Sudden, angry tears trails their way down my face. My mum sits beside my.

"Sweetheart, you've carried her this far, let the doctors do the work for you now." The anger dissipates as quickly as it came and I'm suddenly, utterly exhausted. Mentally and physically drained. I have nothing left to give and it scares me. "I'm going to call the hospital and let them know we're coming, okay?" I nod, my eyes closed, and listen as my door shuts. I feel Phoebe take my mum's spot on my bed.

"Is your bag packed?" I nod again and point at my dresser. Sitting beside it are two bags. One for me and one for the baby. I somehow managed to convince Nate to help me pack it. Seeing him put a big pack of industrial sized pad into the bag is something I'll never forget. I open my eyes and watch Phoebe retrieve them and set them on my desk. "Do you want to change or wear that?" I'm wearing pajamas. Not much sense in wearing actual clothes if I can't go anywhere.

"Yes. Maybe changing will help me feel better." Phoebe smiles and helps me pick out a comfy pair of leggings and a tank top, completing the ensemble with a sweater I stole from Jordan. "I do feel better."

"That's the spirit. Come on, I'll help you down the stairs." I pee first and then we make our way to the kitchen where mum and Jordan are sitting at the table. They both look up as we enter the room.

"I've called the hospital to let them know. They said they would alert your doctor."

"That's my sweater." I grin at Jordan.

"Going to take it back?"

"You've stretched it beyond recognition. No way it's fitting me now." I snort and flick his forehead. Jordan is a foot taller than me, with a broad, stocky build. He played rugby in school and I think his arm is as big as my head.

"Come now, children. No matter how old you get, you're still toddlers." I catch my mum's eyeroll and Jordan chuckles. It's nice to see them getting along. He changed while I was at Hogwarts and for the better. Nate tells me he's cleaned his act up and has stopped hanging around the losers that influenced him so heavily. I suspect his girlfriend has something to go with it but he still hasn't told anyone about her.

I jump a little when there's a sudden tap at the kitchen window. I hear my brother mutter bloody owls.. before opening the window and untying the parchment from it's leg. It swoops off as soon as the letter is freed and Jordan hands it to me. I recognize the messy scrawl and frown.

"Something the matter?" I shove it in my bag and decide to deal with it later.

"Nothing at all. Shall we get a move on then?" I catch a look between Jordan and Phoebe but ignore it, instead slipping my shoes on.

+++

It's late at night and everyone has gone home. After much stalling I finally pull the letter out of my bag and resume my frown at it. It's from Keelan. Before overthinking it too much I slide the string off and unroll it.

Whatever Malfoy told you about me isn't true.

I flip the page over, knowing there's nothing on the other side. What in Merlin's name is that about? I haven't gotten any other letters from Lena or Draco since Friday so I have no idea what Keelan is on about. Before Christmas I had heard a rumour that he'd joined Voldemort and become a Death Eater but I couldn't believe it to be true. But I don't know him anymore, that much is clear. And this letter isn't promising either way.

I fling it away from me and slam my fists into the bed's mattress. Like I'd suspected, I've been admitted to the hospital until I deliver. I don't know how I'm going to send or receive letters now. I doubt the hospital takes too kindly to owls flapping around the halls. I huff out a sigh and lay back against the pillows. Damnit. Before I can wallow for too long a nurse strolls in.

"Hello, dear. I'm here to hook up your monitoring belt so we can keep track of your contractions." I nod and she pulls two long elastics with holes at even intervals out of a drawer. I sit forward as she wraps them around my back and belly, securing them with what looks like a plastic disc with a metal knob in the middle. "This one will monitor baby's heart rate, and this one will monitor your uterus for any contractions. They're a little uncomfortable but unfortunately have to stay on at all times."

I nod and readjust myself on the bed. "Dr Anne said something about effacement?"

"Effacement is the thinning of the cervix and it happens at the beginning of labour. Luckily you're only about 50% effaced and not dilated at all. Good signs for now. It could take hours to change or weeks so we'll keep our heads up." The nurse, whose name tag says Theresa, smiles at me in what I think she believes to be a comforting way. I just want her to go a-way.

"Thank you."

"No problem, dear. If you need anything just press the call button." After another smile and busies herself out of my room. Without anyone here to keep me company I feel edgy and stressed. Keelan's letter didn't help matters much. He may not be involved but his actions could indirectly effect the baby's life. I don't want that to happen.

Without many other options I roll onto my left side and try to get some sleep.

03 May 2017

SEHE; Chapter 17

Friday January 09 [34w 4d]

"Any pain, discomfort, tightening?" I clasp my hands around my belly.

"More of those practice contractions, I think. I lay on my left side, drink plenty of water like you'd said." Dr Anne nods. "They go away eventually."

"I would like you to start timing the duration and time between as they occur."

"Do you think I'm close?"

"Yes, I would think so. It's too early for our liking but I've come to learn that babies make their appearances as they would like. All we can do is prepare." I hug my belly a little tighter. "Do you have any questions for me, Annabel?" I shake my head. "All right. I'll see you on Monday, yes? Make an appointment with Sandra on your way out." I grab my bag and before leaving the office, make an appointment for Monday afternoon.

Nate is in the waiting room and decides to stop for lunch on the way home. I reason that walking into the restaurant couldn't do me much harm, so we eat in instead of taking the food home. "If this puts you into labour you are not allowed to blame me." I chuckle as I flip open the menu.

"I'll be sure to tell mum that you had me walking around all afternoon."

"Even if I did, I doubt you'd tell her." I consider that while looking at the food options.

"No, likely not." We're interrupted as our waitress takes our order. I order fish, chips and an iced tea. Nate gets a burger and salad. After the waitress leaves he rests his chin on his hand.

"So. This Draco." I'd wondered when he was going to bring it up. "I only saw him briefly right after Christmas. Tell me about him."

"Well he's.. rather extraordinary."

"You've known him since first year?"

"Sort of. We knew of each other, of course. We had our classes together. He was arrogant and conceited and bullied people he thought to be lesser than. As we grew up and became friends he started to change. We relied on and supported each other. I've helped him through a lot." I pause, collecting my thoughts. "And despite the engagement and such, he's been a wonderful friend and support for me. Especially with things involving Keelan."

"I wasn't kidding, you know. About Keelan. I've planned his murder a few times." I shake my head.

"You'd be well behind a few people I imagine. No, Nate, I've moved past it." Anger lights his face.

"How can you be so passive, Bell?" I frown.

"I don't have much other choice, do I? He's made his decision. What good does it do me to dwell and simmer? I would rather come to terms with it and move on. I'm not the one losing in this situation."

"How are you so grown up, baby sister?" I wrinkle my nose but smile.

"Because I'm the best, obviously." I take a sip of my water. "I hear a rumour. About a girl." I catch a quick blush.

"Yes, there's a girl. Her name is Becca. We've been seeing each other for a little while now. Jordan is seeing someone as well." I blink in surprise. This is news.

"You're kidding. Who?" He shrugs and pauses as the waitress brings our food.

"I haven't a clue. He's very tight lipped about it."

"Amazing. Usually he flaunts them around. He must really like this one."

"I think you're right."

"Huh, who would have thought our Jordie would find someone serious."

"Does mum know about your engagement yet?" I shake my head and pop a fry into my mouth.

"No. I want to wait until after he's graduated before saying anything. Hopefully everyone can keep their mouths shut."

"Better find a good hiding spot for that ring." I snort.

"Yeah, apparently in plain sight on my desk just won't do."

After finishing our lunch Nate drives us home and helps me up to my bedroom. Once he's gotten me some water he leaves me alone. I'm about to settle into my favourite book when I hear a tap from downstairs. A minute later Nate brings me a little stack of letters. "From your fan club, I imagine." I take them and he leaves my room again. There are 5 letters in all, 4 from Draco and 1 from Lena. These are the first ones I've received since they got back to school. I start with Lena's.

My Bell,

I do believe I've taken you for granted all these years. Life at Hogwarts is dreadfully boring without you.

I've explained your situation (leaving out the complicated bits) to whomever has asked after you. Everyone sends their love and well wishes. They all want pictures once that baby arrives!

Draco has sought me out in the library twice just to chat. I think the poor lad is going a little nutty. He misses you terribly. We all do.

Take care of that belly and the momma attached to it.

I love you,
Len


I tear up while reading her letter. I had no idea so many people cared about me. I laugh at the thought of Draco randomly sitting down beside Lena in the library. That must have been quite the shocker. Next are Draco's.

01.05

Annabel,

I'm sorry I haven't written you before coming back to the school. I can't go into detail in a letter but home life is difficult, to say the least. I suspect things but of course know nothing for sure.

After I got home Mother would not shut up about meeting you. Part of me thinks she'll just show up at your house. If she does this, I apologise!

Some of my fellow housemates have noticed your absence. I asked Lena what she was telling people so I've been doing the same. It suits me fine because I hardly understand most of it myself.

More to come later.


Slytherins have asked about me?

01.06

Bell,

I was asked not to say anything about this but I feel no such inclination to actually listen.

Richards cornered me after class today. He inquired as to your whereabouts and the situation behind it. I told him nothing as I feel he made that choice for himself long ago. If I was wrong, please let me know and I'll relay whatever you wish him to know.

Do not feel pressured to give him information just because he is bothering me. You know I can handle myself, Bell.

My love,
Draco


I stare at the letter, practically dumbfounded. I decide to explore how I feel about it later and continue on.

01.07

Mother wishes to send you things though she wouldn't elaborate as to what. I told her to send nothing before you give your permission.

I'm sorry today's is so short.


I feel a few tears prickle at the thought of Draco's mother taking time out of her day to think about me. His last letter is the shortest yet.

Is it June yet??

I smile and pile the little stack on my belly and laugh when they're kicked off. "Sorry, have I been ignoring you?" Deciding to reply to the letters later, I pick my book back up and spend the afternoon lost in it's pages.