Welcome to the final chapter of The Gift of Joy. Beta provided by HighlyIntelligentBlonde.
This is the song that inspired it all:
When I first held you, I was cold
A melting snowman I was told
But there was no one there to hold before
I swore that I would be alone for ever more
Wow, look at you now
Flowers in the window
It's such a lovely day
And I'm glad you feel the same
Cause you stand up, out in the crowd
You are one in a million
And I love you so
Let's watch the flowers grow.
There is no reason to feel bad
But there are many seasons to feel glad, sad, mad
It's just a bunch of feelings that we have to hold
But I am here to help you with the load
Wow, look at you now
Flowers in the window
It's such a lovely day
And I'm glad you feel the same
Cause you stand up, out in the crowd
You are one in a million
And I love you so
Let's watch the flowers grow.
So now we're here and here is fine
So far away from there and there is time, time, time
To plant new seeds and watch them grow
So there'll be flowers in the window when we go
Wow, look at us now
Flowers in the window
It's such a lovely day
And I'm glad you feel the same
Cause you stand up, out in the crowd
You are one in a million
And I love you so
Let's watch the flowers grow
Flowers in the Window - Travis
Though the rest of the world was left to pick up the pieces of a war, within the walls of the Hogwarts Hospital Wing, a quiet sense of peace settled over its occupants. Even the air itself didn't stir as the newly-created family slept for a few hours in the aftermath of the previous night.
Hermione was the first to wake. As she floated into awareness, she felt the comforting presence of a warm body beside her own in the hospital bed.
Draco. She snuggled closer into him, and he didn't stir at all. He must have been exhausted.
The light streaming in through the window told Hermione that it was likely midday. If she moved her head slightly, she could see a blue sky from behind the wispy curtains, where a light May breeze was blowing into the room. Truly, it was a lovely day.
What a lovely day to have a baby.
Hermione turned to her left, where Madam Pomfrey had transfigured a wooden box into a proper wicker Moses Basket. Her daughter was fast asleep inside, innocent to all the painful experiences the world had to offer. Her tiny pink body was swaddled in a soft blanket, her pin-straight chestnut hair hidden beneath a little cap with a bow on it. Her eyes had yet to stay open for more than a handful of moments, so no one had quite ascertained their colour yet.
To Hermione, she was absolutely perfect.
While she was sure all new mothers felt this way about their babies, she felt that there truly was something special about this one. This sweet babe had vicariously experienced so many horrible things even before she had taken her first breath, but she held on through it all. She was a tough little thing, that was for certain.
Looking at her now, Hermione promised herself that this little girl would never need to be that tough again.
The baby's mouth twitched in her sleep and Hermione's heart melted all over again.
Hermione could stare at her for hours.
After some unknown amount of time, Madam Pomfrey poked her head through the curtains. It seemed she had been able to get some sleep. After healing Hermione in the early hours of the morning, the mediwitch had excused herself to take a quick nap before heading back into the Great Hall to deal with all others who might need medical assistance.
"Hello, dearie," she whispered, tiptoeing over. "It's good to see you're awake. How are you feeling?"
Hermione smiled, leaning back on the pillows that propped her up. "I'm feeling quite well, thanks to you. I'm tender, obviously, but there's no major discomfort."
"Thank Merlin for that." Madam Pomfrey eyed the other figure in the hospital bed. "I see Mister Malfoy is still quite asleep."
"Yes, well, he doesn't have sore breasts to wake him up, does he?"
The two women chuckled.
"No, he definitely does not. Have you had a chance to feed the little one yet?"
Hermione shook her head. "Not yet. Is that bad?"
"Oh, no. I fed her some formula a couple hours ago while you were sleeping. But chances are she'll be hungry soon."
As if on cue, the baby began to whimper, her eyes scrunching up a bit.
"And there you have it. Shall we give breastfeeding a go?"
Madam Pomfrey scooped up the baby as Hermione unbuttoned her nightgown to expose her breast. It looked and felt entirely foreign as she gazed down at it – engorged and sore.
Draco would be so upset that they were off limits for now.
The baby was placed against her breast, and she guided her nipple into its little mouth. It took a bit of finagling, but after a few botched attempts, the little girl began to suck away. Hermione's breath hitched at the sensation. Was it supposed to be painful like this?
As her daughter filled her belly, Hermione felt a stirring from beside her. Draco inhaled through his nose and yawned, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair. After a minute or so, he sat up, bleary-eyed. He stared at her for a few moments, blinking, before his eyes widened properly. It seemed that the sight of his daughter attached to his girlfriend's breast was enough of a stimulant to properly wake him up.
"How's the baby?" he asked through another yawn.
"Good," Hermione replied, wincing. "Trying to eat. It hurts more than I thought."
"Oh, that's nothing to worry about, Miss Granger," Madam Pomfrey reassured her, patting her shoulder. "This process will likely hurt for a week or so, but the pain doesn't last."
Hermione vaguely thought she remembered reading that in one of her stolen books. Her brain seemed so fuzzy.
"I Flooed St. Mungo's just a bit ago to ask for a pediatric healer to come and visit. They said they would send him over later this afternoon and you can ask all the questions you like. He'll check on the baby and make sure everything looks good." Madam Pomfrey paused for a moment, and Hermione saw her expression shift; her lips pursed and her eyebrows knitted together in concern. "Now, Miss Granger, since you are awake, I must express my utter shock to find you in this position."
Hermione felt her cheeks heat up. She opened her mouth to respond, but shame kept her from doing anything other than stuttering.
"Well… erm… you see…" She groaned in frustration as she searched for the right words. "Draco and I… it just…"
Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "You misunderstand me, Miss Granger. While, yes, I was mildly surprised to see a young woman of ambition such as yourself pregnant at eighteen, you are far from the first young woman in your position. I was speaking to the condition of your reproductive system after our conversation two years ago."
Hermione's eyes widened in comprehension. Looking up, she saw a similar expression on Draco's face.
"How you managed to conceive and carry a child nearly to term is beyond me," the mediwitch continued. "And the added stress of fighting in a war… you're an extraordinary witch, Miss Granger."
"I don't feel extraordinary," replied Hermione, looking down at her daughter. "I feel stupid for ever putting her in harm's way."
"Yes, well… it's a near miracle that things turned out as well as they did. You can thank Merlin for that and do your best to learn from it."
"Do you have any guess as to what happened?" Draco asked, his eyes flicking back and forth between the baby and the healer.
"Your placenta was off to one side, was it not?"
"Well, that side was the opposite side as your curse scar, Miss Granger. It is my guess – and I may be wrong – that one side of your uterus contains more scarring than the other. It seems this one–" she indicated the baby, "–landed on the correct side."
The baby let go of Hermione's breast and began to fuss. She paused and blinked downward at the squalling child. She had read about infant care, but having a crying baby in her arms was completely different.
"I think we're supposed to wind her now. Is that right?" she asked.
Draco held out his arms. "May I?"
Hermione watched in fascination as Draco took the newborn in his arms with utmost care and held her up to his shoulder. With only a couple rubs, the baby let out the smallest of burps and immediately settled into the crook of her father's neck for a nap.
Draco closed his eyes in what appeared to be utter bliss.
"Shall I leave you two for a while? I'm sure you'd like to rest and talk together before the pediatric healer arrives. I've got other matters to attend to."
Hermione briefly thought to inquire about the happenings outside the walls of the Hospital Wing, but before she could even begin to formulate a question, Madam Pomfrey bid them goodbye and disappeared through the curtains. Her shoes clicked against the flagstone floor as she made her way back toward the corridor.
"I like the look. You should keep it."
Hermione turned to see Draco looking at her, baby asleep in his arms, one eye open, and a smirk on his otherwise peaceful face.
"Wha–? Oh!" Hermione pulled her nightgown closed and buttoned it back up. Even though she was perfectly comfortable being naked around him, there was something particularly vulnerable about leaving her breast by itself out in the open.
Draco gave a soft laugh. "Damn. And here I was hoping for a show."
If he hadn't been holding the baby, she would have swatted at him. Instead, she settled for sticking her tongue out. It felt nice to flirt with Draco – to just be around him and feel light hearted because of it.
"So," he said, speaking in low tones. "Now what?"
"Honestly, I have no clue." Hermione leaned into her pillows and watched Draco cuddle their daughter. "What are we supposed to do while the baby sleeps? Watch her? Because that's all I want to do."
"Do you want to put her down? You look uncomfortable in that position."
He shook his head, his loving gaze fixed on their daughter. "No. I think I'll hold her a bit longer."
After a few minutes of doing just that, Draco spoke again.
"You know, we're going to have to pick a name for her sooner rather than later."
Hermione sighed. "I suppose we can't just call her baby."
"Think of how much she'd be ridiculed as a First Year when her name is called by the Sorting Hat." Draco snorted. "No, we'd better pick something else."
Hermione reached for a wand – still Bellatrix's, unfortunately – and summoned the one book she had perused more than all the others combined.
Draco shifted the baby so she laid horizontally in his arms and leaned back onto the pillows beside her on the hospital bed; he nuzzled her bushy hair, planting a kiss on her temple. "So, what should we name her, then?"
Hermione paused, considering her words carefully. "I want to name her something special – something with meaning. But nothing trite like 'Hope.' It just doesn't seem… enough. Do you know what I mean?"
Draco nodded as he looked down at the baby. "There's always the Black family tradition I mentioned. A celestial name would be easy enough. They're pretty limited and have interesting histories. And heavenly bodies are significant in meaning."
Hermione's heart clenched a bit, Bellatrix's wand gripped a little too tightly in her hand. Frankly, she had come in contact with that member of the Black family enough to last a lifetime. And naming her sweet, innocent daughter with a Black family tradition just didn't sit right, somehow. She wanted to be open, though – wanted to make Draco happy. "Did you decide whether that's an important tradition for you to fulfill?" she asked. She held her breath as he answered.
"Well," Draco began, his grey eyes searching her face, "I guess it doesn't matter to me. Not really. It's not as though it's a Malfoy tradition, per se."
"I think it's a lovely tradition," said Hermione, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes. "But…" her voice tapered off.
"But?" Draco raised an eyebrow, rearranging the baby slightly. She made a little noise, and he began to rock back and forth a bit.
Hermione took a breath. "I want this little girl to know with every fibre of her being how loved and wanted she has always been. And a Black family name — a constellation name is lovely, but it just doesn't seem to fit."
The two looked down at their daughter. She was fast asleep in her father's arms, swaddled like a gift, just for them. She even had a little bow on top of her sweet head.
"She looks like a little birthday present, wrapped up like that, doesn't she?" Hermione reached forward and caressed her little cheek, cooing at their daughter. "You're a perfect birthday present, darling."
Suddenly, Draco went slightly stiff. "Hermione, can you take her? I want to see the name book."
After Draco transferred the baby over to her, she looked on with curiosity as he flipped through the dogeared book they had poured over at Shell Cottage. He seemed oddly determined, his eyes narrowed in focus as he turned page after page. Occasionally, he stopped to consider something before folding the corner of a page and moving on.
"Right," said Draco after a while. "I've got some ideas and I want to hear what you think."
Hermione looked up from the baby, who was still in the midst of her milk-induced sleep.
"The way I see our daughter… it's like you said. She's a gift, isn't she? She's a gift we didn't ask for, but one that we needed. I think… I think something in this awful world knew what it was doing when McGonagall left me under your watch. And I think it knew when I came running to your aid you all those months ago."
His eyes never left hers as he spoke, and her heart leapt at the earnest tone in his voice. Was he even the same Draco Malfoy she had agreed to take on as a ward nearly a year ago? Had his eyes always possessed the ability to be filled with such kindness? His voice with such a gentle lilt?
"It's like you said, I want her to know that we loved her before we even knew her. That we wanted her, even though we're young.."
Hermione felt tears prickle in her eyes.
"So… I went through and found every name that means 'gift.' I think I got them all. What do you think?" He smiled tentatively, and she nodded through her tears.
"It's a perfect idea."
Draco grinned. "Okay. Let me know what you think of these." He cleared his throat. "Donatella."
Hermione blanched and shook her head vigorously. "Absolutely not."
"Better, but I just think of Oz."
"Oz? What's that?"
"It's a place in a famous muggle book. Dorothy is the main character."
"Ah." Draco's eyes traveled down the page.
Hermione shook her head again. "No… not those. They're too… archaic sounding. Besides, they're too similar to… to Nymphadora." Hermione took a deep breath as she spoke Tonks's name aloud.
Silence settled between them for a minute. It was clear what was on both of their minds.
It was Draco who broke that silence.
"How about Shiloh?"
Hermione whispered the name to herself, feeling the sounds roll off her tongue. The name had a sweet quality to it without being banal. Gazing down at the little girl in her arms, the name floated across her mind again. Shiloh.
"And a middle name?" she asked, not looking up.
Draco paused, sifting between the pages of the book, seemingly without much thought. "We want a name with meaning, right? Well, what kind of gift is she?"
In the end, they chose for their daughter to be a gift of joy for a world that sorely needed it.
Their little Shiloh Beatrice Malfoy.
The next day after the pediatric healer had confirmed Shiloh's health, Draco and Hermione finally decided – with Madam Pomfrey's permission, of course – to allow for visitors on the ward. Though they had only been confined for a little more than twenty-four hours, so much had changed during that time. She knew it was time to come to grips with the reality outside of the little bubble they had created, but a good part of her wanted to remain in this quiet world forever, just the three of them.
That being said, she wanted more than anything to see Harry and Ron. Her memories after Shiloh's birth were a bit hazy, especially after all the blood loss. Had they come to visit? She couldn't really recall.
What Hermione did know was this: she had yet to properly grieve, and knew that process couldn't begin properly until she had given them hugs and spoken to them.
It was just after lunchtime when Hermione heard the Hospital Wing doors swing open, followed by the sounds of two pairs of feet crossing the floor to their little curtained-off safe haven. Draco was dozing in an armchair he had conjured, his mouth hanging open in his sleep. Shiloh was lying in her lap, alert and looking around with her dark eyes, the rest of her body snuggly swaddled. Hearing the footsteps brought an instant smile to her face.
"'Mione?" Harry called out softly from behind the curtain.
"Come in," she answered, looking up from her daughter.
Her two best friends rounded the corner, sheepish grins on their faces. Both had clearly showered and slept since she saw them last. On the outside, they actually looked perfectly normal. But nearly seven years of friendship let her see otherwise.
Harry looked relieved and relaxed, yes, but he also looked remarkably sad.
Ron, although he had clearly slept, still had bags under his eyes. What was keeping him from sleeping well?
Yet, here they were, pushing aside their grief to visit her during what was supposed to be a blissful time in her life. Hermione felt her heart soar as her friends beamed at her for a moment before their eyes traveled to the little creature in her lap.
"Blimey, Hermione. You're a mum."
Hermione shook her head, a laugh escaping her lips. "Hard to believe, isn't it?"
"And you're all right?" Harry asked, tilting his head, his green eyes glued to her.
"The healers say I'll make a full recovery. I'll be up and moving in another day or so. Oh, don't look so worried, Harry. I'm fine."
"And the baby?" Ron piped up. He was completely entranced, it seemed, his eyes never leaving her daughter.
"Perfectly healthy," came a drawling voice beside the bed. Draco had woken up. "Four pounds and six ounces. Seventeen and three-quarters inches long. She's small, but perfect."
Her boyfriend stood and stretched, clapping both Harry and Ron on the shoulder before walking over toward the bed.
Hermione furrowed her eyebrows. Since when had the three of them been such friendly terms?
Draco reached out and lifted Shiloh from her lap, taking care to support her head in his palm. Though the little girl fussed a bit, she settled into her father's arms with relative ease. Hermione's heart stuttered a bit as Draco leaned down to kiss her and then their daughter. Then, his chest puffed out with pride, he turned to Harry and Ron.
"I'd like to officially introduce you to our daughter. Meet Shiloh Beatrice Malfoy." Draco twisted so both young men could get a good look at the baby.
"She's so tiny," Ron whispered, reaching out a hand.
"Want to hold her?" Draco posited.
Ron's eyes went wide for a moment, the shadow of fear crossing his face.
"Erm… I dunno. What if I drop her?"
"You would never drop your goddaughter, would you?" Hermione suggested, smiling over at her redheaded best friend.
Ron gaped at her. "W-what? G-g-godfather? Me?"
"Yes, Weasley. You." Draco stepped forward and placed the baby in Ron's arms.
The newly-appointed godfather stared down at the baby in his arms. His whole body had gone stiff as a board.
"Am… am I doing it right?" His voice cracked, panic in his face.
The tightness that had lived in Hermione's chest for the past year began to relax as she watched Draco Malfoy teach Ron how to hold her daughter while Harry looked on, amused.
This is what they had made all those sacrifices for. This is why she had Obliviated her parents. This is why she had camped in the woods for all those months and escaped from Gringotts on the back of a dragon.
It was all for a moment just like this, when the world finally seemed right again.
Shiloh ended up remaining asleep in Ron's arms for some time as Harry recounted the story of what had happened to him before Hagrid had carried him back to the castle, supposedly dead. Hermione marveled at her best friend's courage. Not only had he actually died and returned to life, but he had somehow found the strength to support her immediately after Voldemort's downfall, waiting to sleep until both she and Shiloh were safe.
What an amazing best friend she had.
"But none of it would have happened without your mum, Draco," Harry explained as he sat on the foot of her hospital bed.
Draco looked up as Harry spoke his name. "Without my mother?" His eyes narrowed.
"She lied to Voldemort. Told him I was dead."
Draco winced at the name before she saw a myriad of emotions flash across his face. "Why would she do something like that?"
"She asked about you. Asked if you were alive. I think she just wanted to find you and get out, honestly."
Draco licked his lips and blinked rapidly. "I saw both my parents right at the end. I was trying to get to Hermione, and they wanted me to run away with them. But I couldn't, not when I've seen them do the things they've done."
There was a heavy silence for several moments before Draco spoke again.
"Where are they now?"
Harry cleared his throat.
"Both of them were taken in for questioning. Your father has been detained, but your mother was released. She's back at home, if I heard correctly."
Another stretch of silence settled around the curtained-off area. Hermione watched as her boyfriend battled with himself, trying to come to grips with this new information. His eyes, so full of life and wonder when he looked at Shiloh, seemed dull.
"That's probably for the best, then," he grunted.
A squalling noise broke the tension after a few seconds. Hermione shifted her attention from Draco over to Ron, who had finally settled comfortably into the conjured armchair. Shiloh had woken up and had begun to cry, her tiny face scrunched up.
Ron looked as though he was seeing a thestral for the first time.
"What did I do? I swear, I didn't mean to!" He was so alarmed it was almost comical.
"You didn't do anything, Ron." Hermione laughed as she spoke. "She's probably just hungry. Give her here."
Ron stood and transferred the infant back over into the crook of her left arm while she began to unbutton her nightgown with her right.
Before she had hardly exposed any skin, both Harry and Ron managed to turn purple.
"I think," croaked Harry, "it's time we go. We'll see you again soon, all right? We'll let you know about… erm… about funerals."
Hermione paused as she fiddled with the second button. Her mouth went dry, but she managed to nod before Harry and Ron left, leaving her free to get Shiloh into a good position.
Over the course of the next couple days, they had several other visitors. Ginny, Luna, Neville, and a handful of other friends stopped by to visit and express varying degrees of shock about her pregnancy. Luna, of course, had known, and brought a sort of talisman to ward off unlucky creatures. Ginny questioned the two of them thoroughly as she paced around the Hospital Wing, hands on her hips. Neville sheepishly asked to hold Shiloh.
Professor McGonagall had stopped by as well. She congratulated them and even admired the baby for a bit. Then, to Hermione's great surprise, the new headmistress expressed full support for both her and Draco to return to school come September to complete their NEWTs, baby and all.
"Of course, we can discuss specifics later," Professor McGonagall said, a wistful smile on her face. "But know that you two have my full support. Had I known that placing Mr. Malfoy in your care would lead to this…" She actually managed a chuckle. "Well, nevermind that now. I look forward to seeing all three of you on September the first."
Lying in bed that night, Draco expressed to her worry that Mrs. Weasley had not come to visit them in the Hospital Wing. Funerals would begin tomorrow, and they were going to be released in the morning in order to attend.
"She must be out of her mind with grief right now, Draco. Give her time."
Hermione cupped his cheek with her hand, and he closed his eyes, sighing. "Yeah, I guess. Still… I just wanted someone motherly to know. I'm not ready to talk to my own mother yet. And your parents…" Draco paused, his eyes fluttering open. "Sorry."
Hermione gave a sad smile. "It's all right. I still don't regret my decision to Obliviate them. They're safe."
Draco took her hand and laced their fingers together. The touch kept her grounded.
The two of them fell asleep holding hands, only to wake an hour later to the cries of their daughter.
Hermione insisted on attending a number of funerals, and Draco didn't have the energy or the will to beg off any of them. The two of them often sat somewhere near the back in case Shiloh got fussy. Each funeral seemed to be more solemn than the next; it was as though their grief compounded with each one. Though he didn't know most of the names and faces whose funerals he sat through, he couldn't help but feel gratitude that they gave their lives so that the survivors could live theirs.
He wasn't sure if he was truly deserving of this fate, but he planned to use the rest of his own days to their fullest.
The first funeral that Draco found particularly difficult was the joint one for Professor Lupin and his cousin, Tonks. He woke that morning to find Hermione feeding Shiloh in her rocking chair, tears in her eyes.
They had returned to Shell Cottage a few days previously at Bill and Fleur's insistence; he was grateful that he had taken the time to put the nursery together all those days ago, because now all he wanted to do was stare at his daughter. Seeing his girlfriend's distress, Draco padded downstairs to fetch her a cup of water; she was likely going to cry a lot today, and the pediatric healer said she needed to keep up her fluids to feed the baby. When he returned, Hermione took tentative sips, her eyes still red-rimmed.
"Tonks was supposed to have early-morning feedings like this," she said wistfully as she leaned back into the rocking chair.
Draco didn't have a meaningful response. Instead, he rubbed her knee in what he hoped was a comforting way.
When they had dressed in their black robes, they Apparated to the quiet cottage where the Tonks family had made their home. He, Hermione, and Shiloh arrived thirty minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, though they were hardly the first ones there. Already present were a handful of Weasleys, Harry, and a few Order members.
Draco cradled Shiloh in one arm, reaching for Hermione's hand with the other. Together, they rounded the corner to the garden where the caskets were sitting in front of a cluster of chairs. He found it rather odd. The flowers were budding, the tips of their bright petals exposed to the warm air. It seemed that a garden still grew, even in sadness. Pushing down his grief, Draco led Hermione over to a pair of open seats. But before they got far, Draco felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he blinked in surprise.
Narcissa Malfoy stood before him, draped in black, her face softer than he had seen it in years.
"Draco," she began, reaching out a hand toward his face.
He drew away on instinct, but felt his stomach twinge with regret when he saw the sting of rejection in his mother's eyes. When she spoke, it was not with the haughty voice he had come to associate with her, but rather, it was with a tentative tone.
"How are you?"
"I'm getting by, mother." Draco made sure his responses were like ice. He wasn't ready to forgive his mother. Not quite yet.
Narcissa smiled sadly at him for a moment before her eyes traveled down, only the faintest surprise on her face.
"So the rumours are true, then. There is a baby." Her voice was thick with emotion.
Clearly, she had spotted Shiloh, her tiny face tucked into the crook of his arm.
"Yes. Hermione and I had a child."
"Hermione? You mean Miss Granger?" Draco watched as his mother's eyes flicked toward his girlfriend, who stood just behind him. The woman's face turned slightly green. Clearly, she had just made some sort of connection. What had she realized that made her nearly sick? That the mother of his child had been tortured on her drawing room floor? Or that she was a Muggleborn?
"Yes, mother. And I love her very much." There was no question in his voice. Hermione squeezed his hand.
His mother nodded slightly, her eyes wide. "I see." She cleared her throat. It was odd, seeing her so flustered. He had always known her to be fairly stoic, yet now, she faltered. "May I hold the baby?"
Draco paused for a moment at the request. He glanced at Hermione. Though he shouldn't have been surprised, he saw a small, encouraging smile and slight bob of her head.
"Go on," she whispered.
With stiff steps, he moved forward and transferred the baby to his mother's arms. She stared down with a look he had hardly ever seen on her face. Her eyes were soft and her lips, upturned. It was a look full of love.
"Actually," Hermione touted, "she's your granddaughter."
His mother's head snapped up. "She? You mean…? But that's impossible. Going back centuries…!"
"Yes, mother," Draco said as he tried to hold back a smile. "It's a girl."
Draco Malfoy had never seen his mother cry before. Not really. He had seen her upset on occasion, but never before had he seen tears gather in her eyes like they did now. A single tear trickled down her cheeks as she looked down at her grandchild. Between her little sniffs, she spoke a few small words that made his heart ache.
"I'm so sorry, my little dragon."
Draco felt an odd sort of hitch in his chest. When was the last time she had used that name? He must have been ten or eleven at most. Just thinking about those simpler times made him want to be the one crying.
His mother returned Shiloh to his arms and handed Hermione a small leather volume with a small smile. "I found it under your pillow after you left, Draco. I can't see what's in it, but somehow I figure you aren't sleeping with your potions notes."
Draco looked over at the book in Hermione's hands and felt a smile instantly grow on his face. The journal.
His heart stuttered with gratitude, but before he had the chance to say anything, Narcissa Malfoy strode away toward the Apparition point. Clearly, that had been enough of an emotional display for his mother.
This particular funeral more than any other yet made Draco feel grateful to be alive. He and Hermione elected to sit closer to the front this time. A grieving aunt Andromeda had relinquished Teddy to his godfather's care temporarily, and it seemed the infant was a welcome distraction for a distraught-looking Harry.
When the first few handfuls of dirt had been cast onto the graves, they all headed back to the house for a luncheon. Hermione kissed him and left to speak with some members of the Order. Draco, still on baby duty, sidled over toward Harry, who clearly looked uncomfortable caring for Teddy.
"Arm asleep?" he asked jokingly.
Harry sighed. "Has been for over thirty minutes, but I don't want to move him."
For the first time, Draco got a good look at his new cousin. As Lupin had described with pride, the little boy was clearly a metamorphmagus. His hair was a brilliant turquoise at only a few weeks old.
"He's so big," Draco marveled.
"Yeah, well he's technically supposed to be six weeks older than Shiloh. He was on time and she was very early."
He found it rather odd, standing next to Harry Potter comparing babies. Hadn't they just been fighting a war? Hadn't they just been fighting with each other in school? Draco wondered if he would ever get used to being friends with the Boy-Who-Lived.
But even if he didn't get used to it, there was one friendship he was willing to kindle.
"Shiloh, meet your new best friend, Teddy."
Draco held his daughter's face close to Teddy's. Both babies were asleep and didn't notice a thing.
The hardest funeral was Fred's.
Mrs. Weasley remained practically inconsolable. According to Ginny, she had been shut up in her room for days, not taking food or speaking to anyone. The youngest Weasley sibling had massive bags under her own eyes – so different from the ferocious eyes Draco had seen this past summer when they had flown together. Yet, she managed the ghost of a smile when she saw Shiloh.
"Hello, little girl," she cooed, planting a kiss on her little head.
This time, at Ginny's insistence, he and Hermione sat in the second row, just behind the Weasley family. The funeral proceeded with a kind of heavy melancholy that somehow didn't seem right for Fred Weasley. He should have gone out with a bang; there should have been some sort of practical joke played on the attendees. Whoopie cushions on the chairs. Cursing flowers. Something like that would have been fitting.
Instead, all Draco could hear was the solemn sound of silence between speakers.
Lee Jordan. Angelina Johnson. Bill Weasley. They all stood before the grieving crowd and spoke of fond memories all centered around Fred. Through it all, George hardly looked up from his shoes.
To everyone's surprise, Mrs. Weasley stood to speak as well.
Draco felt his heart break as he watched her stand beside her son's casket. This was the woman who had taken him in and treated him as a son without question; she had taught him to cook with patience and had nearly broken his ribs each time she hugged him. This was the woman who had held him like a proper mum as he cried.
Just a few words into her speech, Shiloh began to fuss in his arms. Her little newborn squalls grew louder, even after he tried to shush her gently.
People were starting to stare.
Shooting an apologetic look at Hermione, he placed a single hand on her thigh before standing. He wanted to duck out before he really drew attention away from the funeral. As he began to walk swiftly away, Shiloh started screaming. Three-quarters up the aisle, Draco froze in panic. What if his movement had hurt her? What if she was in pain?
Every eye was on him now.
Including, it seemed, Mrs. Weasley.
The family matriarch had stopped speaking altogether, and was looking at him as though she was seeing him for the first time. Giving the casket a short glance, a smile slowly spread across her face as her gaze returned to Draco.
"You know," she began again, dabbing at her eyes. "Fred was always my fussiest baby. Oddly enough, it was the only way he was the opposite of his brother. He cried constantly, and Arthur and I couldn't for the life of us find a way to calm him. That's how we actually learned to tell the two of them apart. If the baby was asleep, that was Georgie. If he was crying, it was likely Freddie. Of course, that stopped once they learned to make each other laugh."
She sniffed once more, leaving her spot at the front, and began to walk toward Draco. He was still frozen with Shiloh crying in his arms. Mrs. Weasley drew near, and heads followed her every movement. Just inches away, she stopped and reached out a hand to stroke the baby's head.
"Hello, little one. I don't believe we've met." Mrs. Weasley smiled down at Shiloh for a moment before looking right at Draco, though she continued to speak to everyone.
"After many failed attempts, I only ever found one method to get Fred to settle."
Mrs. Weasley gently maneuvered his arms so Shiloh shifted to her side with his entire forearm supporting her little body. She then began to help Draco sway back and forth. After a few moments, her cries turned to whimpers, and then her whimpers turned to quiet breathing, her eyes drooping.
"Just like that. Very good, love," she murmured, her eyes trained on him. In those few moments, Draco swore he saw a little light return to her face. "I loved my Fred so very much. Even if I didn't always admit it, he made me laugh. Love your little girl, Draco. I hope she'll make you laugh one day, too."
Mrs. Weasley patted his face gently before returning to her seat.
As his daughter's slept on, Draco looked just beyond Fred's casket at the edge of the orchard.
The flowers were in full bloom.
When they returned to Shell Cottage in the late afternoon, both new parents collapsed onto the bed after setting Shiloh down in her cot. Draco felt bad for even thinking about it, but he was officially funeral-ed out.
"Well I don't know about you," said Hermione from his left side. "But I am ready to enjoy a nice quiet time for a while."
Draco chuckled. "Do you think it's possible?"
"I think so. She'll keep us grounded." Hermione gestured toward their sleeping daughter before curling into his side.
He felt his heart jump a bit as his girlfriend hugged him, one leg slung over his hips, her nose nuzzled into his shoulder. Even though the evidence was right in front of him, Draco still wanted to pinch himself occasionally.
This was now his life. A girlfriend. A daughter. A future.
Just the thought of it all was enough to fill his heart with enough joy to last ages.
He felt his eyelids getting heavy, and he snuggled into Hermione's side.
And then, to his right, came a loud squishing sound.
Hermione gave a sleepy chuckle. "I got the last one. You're on nappy duty this time, Draco."
With a groan, he stood and padded three steps over to the cot.
He made a face. "Ugh. It's everywhere."
Hermione busted out laughing.
That evening, at Hermione's suggestion, they walked into town to get some fresh air and to let Bill and Fleur have some time alone. Shiloh was strapped to his chest in a contraption Hermione had insisted they buy. Her little head was cradled next to his heart.
Beside him, his girlfriend held his hand as they strolled down the green path. The sound of waves rolling onto the shore created a nice rhythm for this new life. Neither of them spoke of anything important as they walked – just tidbits about the weather and about what classes they might like to take this coming Fall.
The residents of the nearby town seemed to have no real inkling that anything momentous had happened in the last several days. They continued to go about their daily lives, uninterrupted by anything as horrific as war.
Draco found the normalcy of it all jarring and comforting all at once.
Down several cobblestone streets they wandered, stopping occasionally to check on Shiloh or peer in a shop window. As the sun began to sink low in the sky, Draco's ears perked up when he heard a familiar tinkling sound in the distance.
He turned to face Hermione, raising his eyebrows in a smirk.
"Fancy some ice cream?"
They sat on a bench and ate their Magnum bars. Draco had to eat extra carefully to avoid dripping ice cream on his daughter.
Hermione finished hers first, crumpling the wrapper in her hand. When she looked up, it was clear she was holding back a giggle.
Draco liked it when she laughed. He missed watching the way her nose crinkled.
"What's so funny?" he asked, a smile growing automatically on his lips.
"It's your face."
Draco furrowed his eyebrows, reaching up with his free hand to pat his cheeks. "Why? What's wrong with my face?"
"You've got chocolate on your chin, love."
He wiped the spot with his thumb, but instead of finding a napkin, he reached over and ran the finger over Hermione's lips.
"Draco, what are you–?"
He kissed her, long and slow, savoring the feeling and taste of her mouth. There would be many kisses like this in the time to come. Perhaps hundreds or even thousands. Draco vowed to savor each one.
Hermione grinned at him when he pulled away.
"I love you, you know," she said, clearly in a daze.
They smiled at each other for a minute before Shiloh began to squirm. Hermione offered to take over holding her.
"We should get back," she suggested. "The sun'll be setting soon."
She stood and held out her hand, and he took it.
As they wandered back, Draco sighed.
"Sickle for your thoughts?" Hermione asked, tilting her head.
"I'm just thinking about what comes next."
"Yeah? What do you want?"
Draco paused, considering his answer. He looked down at his sweet daughter – his little gift.
And with that, I am filled to the brim with tears of joy, sadness, and thankfulness. The Gift of Joy is now complete. I am grateful to each and every person who read this story; I am grateful to to everyone who read with every update and to those who will read in the future. Know that I love all of you. Without your encouragement, I would have never been able to mark The Gift of Joy as complete today. I have never finished writing a story before now, and the fact that I have posted through the epilogue with regular updates is all because of you. So thank you. Thank you so much.
The sequel will be posted soon. I want to get a few chapters written and written WELL before I post. I want everything I publish to be something I'm proud of, so thank you in advance for your patience. It won't be too long, though. I have a solid outline and a bit already written. Please subscribe to me/follow me if you aren't so you can get a notification when it's up. I also will provide information on tumblr at biscuitsforpotter.
What will it be called?
The Gift of Life.
I hope you'll all drop by and read it when it's live.
Let me know what you all think! I'll be waiting with bated breath and a box of tissues.
Love to you all, eternally 3