What a difference a year made.
A year and two months, really, but it didn't matter. Draco sat with Hermione, holding hands with Katie sitting next to him as they watched Claire receive her graduation diploma from Professor McGonagall. Scorpius and Leo both let out a loud wolf whistle from the student section as her name was announced, and Katie cheered just as loud, causing Claire to blush slightly as she took her rolled up scroll from her favorite teacher. He noticed her give a small wave relatively towards his direction, and also noticed who she was waving too - Albus Potter. He bit back a laugh as Harry noticed the exchange between the two of them as well, and responded by giving his son a good wallop over the head with the graduation program in his hand, with another whack coming from Teddy for good measure. He gave up on the notion that Claire would fall for someone other than Albus Potter back at Christmastime, but the two of them had stayed true to their promise. Nothing about their relationship had been improper during this past year. Anyone who saw them conversing at school knew they'd grown up together, and considered them to be friends.
"Daddy, where's James and YaYa?" Katie asked, noticing the absence of her big sister.
"Jamie has a cold, so they're staying home today," Draco said. He was disappointed that Anya wasn't here today for her sister's graduation, and found it somewhat peculiar that Claire didn't seem put out by her sister's absence. "We'll see them back at the house for Claire's party."
Katie nodded and crawled up onto her father's lap, which was often her preferred place to sit when the option presented itself. Draco didn't mind at all. More and more he was realizing that Katie wouldn't be little forever, and so he would let her be a little girl as long as she wanted to be one. The two of them had actually been spending more time together this year, teaching her how to better control her magic. Hermione wasn't sure where to begin with this, because she didn't know at that age that what she was doing was magic, but Draco had been taught how to control his magic by his parents, and with Katie's unusual gift, Draco decided to teach her earlier than he did with his other children. Professor McGonagall had heard all about Katie and her talents from Claire, Scorpius, and now Leo this past year, and had offered to assist in Katie's magical development as well, so far to even suggest that she be given a wand at nine or ten, so that she could learn how to reign in her magic well in advance before she got to Hogwarts and accidentally cast a spell without understanding the full volume of her strength.
After the ceremony, Draco carried Katie on his shoulders as he and Hermione waited in the courtyard for their children to find them. Harry and Ginny stood with them as well, with Teddy and Albus nearby, talking to other friends who were their as they had siblings graduating today as well. Leo and Scorpius found them first, both of them dressed in their house robes. Both of them were sporting similar haircuts now, short and spiked, and it was frightening how identical the two of them were becoming, their only differences now being in eye color and height. Both of them had their respective Slytherin and Gryffindor neck ties pulled down a bit now that the ceremony was over, and Katie immediately requested to be put down so that she could hug her brothers, having been without both of them this past school year.
"Katie!" Scorpius exclaimed, scooping up his sister as soon as she was done hugging Leo, laughing as she hugged him tight. "What are we going to do this summer?"
She didn't answer, as she was too busy hugging her big brother.
"I don't think she missed you at all," Draco teased Scorpius as Leo gave him a hug.
"I can tell," Scorpius said with a laugh. His voice had been getting deeper this past year, and Hermione was convinced he was sounding more and more like Draco every day. "Are we still having a party?"
Hermione nodded. "As soon as your sister finds us, we're meeting Grandma Jean and Grandpa Richard at the house. Anya and James will be there too - Jamie just wasn't feeling well this morning. He still has a cold."
Claire came bounding about a few minutes later, and nearly tackled Draco to the ground as she took a running leap at him. "I'm done!" she cheered as Draco hugged her. "Kings College, here I come!"
Draco kissed her cheek and let her go. She received her acceptance letter into the premedical program at Kings Cross back at Christmas time, and she hoped to funnel into their dental school upon graduation, just like her grandparents did. "Keep attacking me like that and your father won't be around to pay for it," he teased.
"I'm sure I can still afford it," she quipped right back.
"Your words wound me," he snarked.
"Be nice to your father," Hermione playfully minded as she gave Claire a hug and a kiss. "I'm very proud of you, sweetheart."
Claire grinned. "Thanks, Mum," she replied. Claire and Anya both started consistently referring to Hermione as "mum" right after James was born. Neither was really sure what started it, but both of them had sheepishly admitted at different times to Hermione that it was long overdue. "Where's Albus?" she asked, unzipping her graduation robe and handing it over to Hermione, as it was starting to make her sweat. She was wearing a turquoise blue dress underneath, with it's high scoop neck top and thick sleeveless straps before the dress flared out at the waist, falling to the tops of her knees. Anya had it sent to her as a graduation gift. Saw this at Harrods, and knew it was meant for you. All my love, Anya was the note in the card as she tore the box open in the middle of the great hall. Anya, being the good sister that she was, even sent her a pair of heels to go with.
"He's over there," Katie said, pointing in the direction of Teddy's bright blue hair. "With Teddy."
"Can you distract Dad for a moment?"
Hermione eyed her daughter. "Why?"
But Claire didn't answer. Instead, she smirked and jogged in her heels over to Albus, tapping him on the shoulder rather insistently until he turned around. Her blond curls were pinned up into a low, side chignon, her makeup light and effortless, and while Claire had been working on her modest this year - she knew when she looked good. "Well?" she asked, her hands on her hips.
Albus looked at Claire for a moment and wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. "Well what?"
"Well what!" she exclaimed. "Are you seriously kidding me right now?"
He kept a straight face for a moment, but the corners of his lips betrayed him as he began to smile. He reached out a hand and playfully yanked her close. "You look stunning today," he said as she wrapped his arms around his neck.
"I do look pretty fantastic," she agreed with a smirk. "So when are you going to kiss me?"
"Why on earth would I kiss you?" he asked with a smug grin.
"Why on earth am I still standing here?" she asked.
"You want me to kiss you?" he asked her quietly.
She gave him a nod.
"More like five seconds ago but -" she didn't get to finish her sentence, because before she knew it, the sweetest kiss she'd ever experienced was happening to her, and she never wanted it to end.
"I cannot believe those two did that in front of everyone!"
"Oh Draco, honestly," Hermione said with utter exasperation. "Who cares? She's not a student anymore, and you knew it was going to happen -"
"But I didn't want to see it! I didn't want to see it and I saw it and now I can't unsee it!" he shrilly shrieked.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "How many times have you seen Anya kiss James."
"I don't particularly care to witness that either."
She sighed, pulling out two veggie trays from the fridge to take outside where the tent was set up for the food in the backyard for the party. It was really just a gathering of family, but it was a beautiful day outside and in England, beautiful days were taken advantage of to the fullest extent. "Claire is an adult. She's going to go to college. She gets the same rules that Anya did."
Draco clicked his tongue. "I don't know about that."
"They get the same rules," Hermione reiterated. "You can't give different rules to the girls, Draco, and you know that. Doing that will click the sleeper genes your child has of yours into overdrive and she will defy everything you ask of her. She's going to university. She has a smart head on her shoulders, which she has proven time and time again in the past year and a half. If she and Albus choose to be together, then we will allow it because Albus Potter is a good man." She could see Draco's jaw was clenched, knowing full well that was a sign of no retreat. Putting the veggie trays down on the table, she walked over to him and stood up on her tiptoes to give her husband a kiss. "She isn't six anymore," Hermione softly spoke.
"Which is a goddamn shame if you ask me," Draco muttered.
Hermione laughed. "Oh sweetheart. It'll be ok. You still have Katie."
He sighed. "She's almost five…she's getting big."
"She's your baby," Hermione reminded him. "And she, just like the other girls, and the boys, will always need you."
He dragged a hand through his hair. "I know you're right…"
"And Albus loves her," Hermione added for good measure. "You can see it in the way he looks at her. It's the same way James looks at Anya. It's real, it's genuine, and it's exactly what I've been telling her to wait for." She walked over and grabbed the veggie trays and handed them to her husband. "Now put on your happy face - because it's a happy day - and take this outside please. My mother is waiting for them."
Draco gave his wife a nod and leaned over the trays to give her another kiss. "Anything else you'd like me to do?"
"Not yet," she replied with a wink."
"Not yet," Draco playfully mocked as he walked out the back door. "You're such a slave driver."
"You can't force the willing, darling," she teased.
He was greeted by Ginny at the backdoor, thanking her for holding it open while he walked outside and she walked inside. "Can I help with anything?" she asked Hermione.
Hermione shook her head no. "Draco's taking out the last of the food, and so we're just waiting for James and Anya to get here. How's it going out there?"
"The kids seem to be having a good time," Ginny said. "It was a good idea, inviting some of their friends over too."
Hermione nodded. "Seamus and Susan's little boy, Mickey, is just a doll. He and Leo have become good friends this year. Thankfully, he doesn't have his father's same penchant for causing destruction by way of untimely explosions."
"I'm sure that was a relief for McGonagall, too," Ginny said with a laugh. She walked over to the fridge to get a bottle of water and grabbed one for Hermione too. "You know that abandoned magical baby everyone's been talking about in the newspaper?"
Hermione nodded. It had been a hot topic in the wizarding world all week. A baby witch had been born to two unsuspecting muggles, and because the magical baby registry didn't have a name, it set off an alert to the law enforcement office, and the abandoned baby was confirmed by a muggle police officer in London, who was also a squib. Hermione had a firm belief that for as much flack as squibs received, their world really wouldn't survive without them. They were the necessary link, the informants between the wizarding and muggle world, and for that she had been nagging Harry for years to pass some legislation or laws that would help eliminate the blatant ostracization of these particular citizens. "Draco mentioned that they've been sending flyers out all week pleading for a wizarding family to adopt her. Did you see her picture in the Prophet? Such a sweet face."
"My heart is just broken about it," Ginny said. "I just can't imagine having a baby and just abandoning it."
"I know, Hermione agreed. "But everyone has different circumstances. I just hope for her sake she's taken into a good home."
"Harry's been following it closely," Ginny said. "He thinks an adoption imminent. He would know better than all of us what happens when you're taken into a home where you aren't wanted."
Hermione nodded emphatically. "Absolutely."
It had been a whirlwind 48 hours for James and Anya, but the chaos and secrecy had been well worth it as they watched the little girl, snugly swaddled in a pink blanket, sleeping in the bassinet in their room. When James heard about the abandoned baby earlier that day at work, he was casually speaking to Anya about it that night at dinner while she was eating and keeping an eye on James as he used his spoon to feed himself some applesauce.
"So she's all alone!" Anya exclaimed in horror.
"An orphanage has her right now, one that's run by a group of nuns, but yeah, she's all alone," James said with a perturb sigh. "She's only a week or so old."
Anya picked up her glass, but couldn't make herself take a drink. "James…I don't…how could someone just leave a baby?"
"I don't know, love," he replied. "But it's been bothering me all day."
"Yum!" James interjected, swallowing a mouthful of applesauce. "Mum! Yum!"
Anya smiled at Jamie, reaching over to ruffle his head full of shaggy black hair. "Mummy loves you so much," she said. "Do you want more applesauce?"
"No!" he said, but nodded as he handed her the bowl. He hadn't mastered "yes" yet, but instead would nod and say no, which always made everyone laugh. When he meant no, everyone knew it.
She walked over into the kitchen and spooned a couple of dollops into his bowl from the applesauce jar and walked it back over to James, placing it on his high chair tray. Anya looked over at James, who seemed to be deep in thought. "James?" she asked before taking a bite of her garlic bread.
"We could turn the other room into a nursery," he said in response. "It wouldn't be hard. That room is already a nice pale pink color, so we would just need to go get another furniture set."
Anya's heart skipped a beat. "James Sirius Potter - you better not be joking."
"We have the means, we have the space," he began to rattle off. "Jamie's eighteen months, so they'd be close in age…"
She jumped out of her chair and walked over to her husband, kissing him soundly on the lips. "Are you certain about this?" she asked, pulling away just a bit.
James nodded. "I've been thinking about it all day, and thinking about my dad, when he was younger and how he grew up, and I think we could do it. But what about you? What are you thinking"
"I was ready to take her in the moment you mentioned her," she confessed. "What do we need to do?"
"Let me talk to Dad," he said. "You take care of getting stuff, and I'll take care of getting her, ok?"
Anya kissed him again. "Ok."
Plucking her carefully from the crib, Anya cuddled her new daughter close and kissed the top of her curly, dark brown head of hair. Her skin was almost as pale as her fathers, but they had taken their daughter to Jamie's muggle pediatrician and after a thorough checkup, the doctor deemed the little girl to be in perfect health. With the muggle adoption process, it would be several months before the adoption was final, but James and Anya knew that the Ministry would do what they needed to do with the Muggle agency to expedite the process.
Anya carefully walked with her daughter out of the nursery she quickly put together with a ballet theme, and it was darling. James, using his name, asked Professor McGonagall to borrow Claire last night for an hour or two so that she could meet the reason why they would be missing her graduation, and Professor McGonagall agreed without hesitation. She too, seemed relieved that the baby everyone had been talking about would be in a proper home. When Claire apparated with James back to their flat, completely confused at what was happening, she all but melted at the sight of Jamie cuddled up next to Anya, watching as she fed the little girl with the bottle.
"We're not going to make it to graduation tomorrow," Anya said with a small smile. "We don't want the publicity. Everyone will figure it out soon enough. We're going to tell everyone tomorrow at your party, if you don't mind."
Claire nodded enthusiastically, practically skipping towards her sister. She picked up Jamie and placed him on her lap, hugging him as she peered over at the little girl. "I can't believe you two adopted her!" she quietly exclaimed.
"It was the right thing to do," Anya said, just as quietly as she removed the bottle from her mouth, watching as her daughter as she dozed off to sleep. "And Jamie already loves her. He was a very big help today. Maybe even too helpful at times," she added with a little laugh.
Claire kissed Jamie's cheek, and laughed as he giggled. "Of course he was a very big help." She reached a hand out and touched her little foot that was hanging over top of Anya's cradled arms. "What's her name?"
"Well," James said, sitting down on the other side of Claire, holding his hands out to Jamie as he willingly crawled over to his father. "We were going to name this one here Amelia Jean if he had been a girl."
"I like Amelia," Claire interjected. "Do you think she looks like an Amelia?"
Anya nodded, brushing a light touch of her hand over her tiny, brown curls. "I think she definitely looks like an Amelia."
Claire held her hands out slightly. "Can I hold her?"
Anya smiled, and carefully passed the sleeping baby over to Claire, who cradled her close. "Isn't she beautiful?"
"She is gorgeous," Claire replied, slipping one of her fingers into her new niece's tiny grasp. "You're such a sweet little thing, Amelia Jean Malfoy Potter. Auntie Claire loves you so much already."
"So you're ok if we don't make it to graduation?" Anya asked.
Claire gave her sister and James a mischievous look. "That depends. Who knows?"
"No one," James replied. "Dad might have an inkling, because I had to get some logistics from him…but no one knows officially."
Grinning, Claire leaned down and kissed Amelia's hand. "Well in that case, I guess it'll be ok."
Anya smiled at Jamie as she walked into the living room. He was showing off his toy dragons. "Rawr!" he exclaimed with glee as he made them smash into each other.
"How ferocious!" Anya exclaimed quietly as she looked around for James. "Where's Daddy?"
"Right here," James replied, carrying two different bags. One of them had all of Jamie's necessary things and the other bag held all of Amelia's. "I had to think for a second what all to pack in Millie's bag, but I think I got it all."
She looked at her husband with a bemused smile. "Millie?"
"That's my new nickname for her," James stated as if it were obvious. "And I personally think she looks like a Millie, and…yeah. That's what Daddy is going to call her. We have a Jamie and a Millie - it all goes together, you see."
Anya walked over to the car seat perched on top of the table and carefully placed the sleeping baby inside of it, carefully buckling her in so they could start loading everyone up in the car. "Did you hear that?" she asked her daughter. "Daddy thinks you should be called Millie…and he might be right. You kind of look like a Millie."
"Me-ee!" Jamie exclaimed, pointing at his sister. "Dad! Me-ee!"
James laughed. "That's right, buddy, her name's Millie," he said, scooping Jamie up, blowing raspberries on his belly as the little boy giggled. "Jamie's a go on Millie too."
Anya grinned as she looked over her shoulder. "Well I guess if the council has spoken, it must happen."
"Good," James replied with a laugh. He handed James over to his wife and tossed both bag straps across his body, then went to grab the car seat Millie continued to sleep in . "You ready to go surprise the hell out of our parents? We should probably get out of that habit, now that I think about it,"
"Yes to both," she said with a laugh. "And don't swear in front of the children."
The ride out to the Malfoy home was quiet and uneventful. Millie woke up about halfway there, but had enough toys and a mirror dangling from the handle of her car seat to keep her thoughtfully occupied. Jamie passed out five minutes into the ride, and Anya followed suit soon after, leaving James to his thoughts as they drove through the English countryside. He was so glad that he and Anya had been on the same wavelength when it came to their new daughter. James had wanted to go down to the orphanage the moment he heard about the abandoned baby, and had only hoped Anya would have the same intuition. James assumed he would, based on the person she'd become since Jamie's birth. Jamie managed to do in an instant what James had spent most of his life trying to do - which was to eliminate the anxiety and burden she'd carried on her shoulders about not being enough. He understood his wife knew she had an irrational way of thinking. A world class ballerina, a loving wife with a husband that adored her, but still feeling that way, but it had to do with her mother and no matter how hard Anya tried to get over it, Anya couldn't seem to crawl over the hump. But James noticed the moment Jamie was put into her arms that she looked like the weight of the world had been eliminated from her chest. It was if she had become a whole new person. Being a mother suited Anya, and if James had to bear a guess, gave her an understanding about motherhood that she didn't have before, allowing her to finally make peace with how everything happened with Astoria.
As he turned left onto the road that lead out to the mansion, James looked over at his wife, watching as she stirred, and glanced up into the rearview mirror to check on his kids.
"Hmm…almost there," Anya mumbled as she carefully rubbed the sleep from her eyes, not wanting to smear what makeup she was wearing. "Kids ok?" she asked, turning around to check.
"Jamie's been passed out, Millie woke up a little bit ago, but she's just looking around," James said, stealing a glance at Millie again through the rearview mirror. "I'm really glad we adopted her, YaYa."
She reached a hand over and placed it on his thigh, giving it a squeeze. "I am too. The moment those nuns let me hold her…I just knew I wasn't letting go."
"I know," he replied. "I felt it too." James pulled into the driveway of the Malfoy mansion and pulled around the brick circle drive, parking right in front of the main entrance. He noticed Jamie stirring through the mirror as the car shut off. The two parents unbuckled and climbed out of the car to retrieve their children. "I'll get Millie," he said, knowing he was going to be carrying her inside with her still in the car seat.
"Alright, Anya replied, walking around the front of the car as Jamie sat behind the driver's seat. Opening up the backdoor of the SUV they owned, she popped the buckles of Jamie's car seat and pulled her sleepy boy out of the car. "Are you ready to see everyone?" she asked in an excited, but hushed voice as Jamie held his arms out for her to pick him up.
"Papa's?" Jamie asked, pointing at the house.
Anya grinned. Much to her father's dismay, he had been overruled on being called Grandpa, because it was too hard for Jamie to say. He had no problem, however, saying Pa or Papa, and somehow Jamie had decided that her father would be Papa and Harry would be Pa. He said Ga for Grandpa Richard, just like Scorpius, Leo, and Katie did when they were little, and Grandma Jean decided that her great grandchildren could call her Nana. Ginny was Jamie's GiGi, and Hermione was Jamie's Gamma. "We're at Papa's house," Anya said, acknowledging Jamie's identification as she shifted him onto her hip. "Can Mummy have kisses?" she asked.
Jamie smiled, and leaned in to kiss Anya's lips. "Wuv mummy," Jamie said, placing his still tired head on her shoulder.
"Mummy loves you too, buddy," Anya replied.
"Me-ee? Where Me-ee?"
"Daddy has Millie," Anya said, endeared by Jamie's concern as to his sister's whereabouts. He definitely had his father's attentiveness, and could always tell when someone wasn't feeling their best. "Let's go show everyone your new sister, ok?"
Jamie nodded, and Anya pulled a tissue from her pocket to wipe his snotty nose. He was getting his two-year molars a little bit early, and it has his nose running on overdrive. She wasn't sure she remembered a life where she didn't have tissue in a pocket, but she definitely didn't mind it. Walking into the house, they happened to catch Claire jogging down the main staircase, dressed a bit more casually.
"Care!" Jamie squealed, and Claire immediately plucked her nephew out of her sister's arms. "Hi!"
"I'm so excited you guys are here!" Claire replied, kissing Jamie. "Does anyone else know you're here?"
Anya shook her head. "Actually - could you go get the grownups and ask them to come inside? I figure we can tell everyone else after they know."
Claire nodded, and disappeared with Jamie on her hip, while James walked into the living room, placing the car seat on top of the coffee table. He unbuckled Millie out of her seat and carefully pulled her out, pulling down her white dress with black, green, and pink polka dots on it so that it covered her pink ruffled diaper cover. She had a pink bow clipped in her hair, and wore a little pink cardigan over her dress as it had no sleeves. Still wide-awake, she had her little head resting against James' chest as she suckled on her little fist.
Anya stood next to James, a hand on Millie's back as she smiled at the baby. "You ready to meet the masses?" she asked. "Even if you aren't, you have no choice…you're stuck with us."
"That's for sure," James agreed with a smile. They heard the mumblings of the adults and the shuffling of footsteps. James turned Millie around, holding her in the crook of his arm as if she were sitting in an arm chair, with his proud 'new dad' grin on his face, while Anya stood on his other side, an arm wrapped around his waist. "Surprise!" James gently exclaimed to the shocked looks of their elders.
"You did it," Harry said, speaking in a proud voice. "You two were the ones!"
James nodded. "We haven't submitted the paperwork yet - we didn't want the chaos - at least for the first couple of days. Being related to you has some perks - did you know?"
Harry laughed. "Just a few."
Jean and Richard were only a little bit confused, but Harry and Draco filled them in while Ginny and Hermione instantly wept tears of joy as they cooed over the newest addition to their family. "She's so beautiful!" Hermione gushed. "We were just talking about her too, weren't we Ginny?"
"We were," she confirmed. "I didn't even know you two were interested in adoption."
"We didn't either," James said. "But we talked about it and we instantly knew we had a place for her if they let us have her. We took her to Jamie's doctor, he said she's perfectly fine, and in a few months, once the muggle agency processes all the paperwork, she'll be an official Potter."
"A Malfoy Potter," Anya corrected with a teasing glare. She wasn't going to use her last name in Jamie's name initially, but when the official birth certificate was presented in front of her, she couldn't bear the thought of her child not having her family name as well, so with a dip of the quill in the inkwell, she gracefully wrote out James Richard Malfoy Potter onto his birth certificate, placing both Richard and Malfoy on the Middle Name line, and James approved.
"What's her name?" Draco asked as Ginny handed him his newest grandchild.
"Amelia Jean Malfoy Potter," James boastfully recited. "And we're going to call her Millie for short."
"Well, she is just beautiful," Jean commented, walking over to give James and Anya a hug and a kiss. "She will be so lucky to have parents like you."
Anya kissed Jean's cheek and smiled. "Thanks, Grandma."
"So what does young Jamie think of his little sister?" Richard asked as he gave James a congratulatory handshake.
"We've had her for what, two days now?" James asked Anya, who nodded in agreement. "And he's curious, but in a good way. He likes helping, and tells us 'shhhh!' when he thinks she's sleeping. And she's a content little thing…is hardly fussy, and almost reminds me of how Mum used to talk about Al when he was a baby - calling him a watcher."
Ginny fondly smiled. "He was a watcher. Always looking, trying to figure out what was happening."
"He's a good big brother," Anya reaffirmed.
"I'm sure he is," Hermione said. She looked over at Draco, then at Harry, who seemed to be waiting for a turn. "Draco, let Harry hold her."
"I don't think I will," Draco said rather haughtily, snuggling Millie close. "You saw what his son did today to my daughter."
"Oh sweet Jesus," Hermione said with a sigh.
"What happened?" Anya asked.
"Your brother-in-law kissed Claire in front of everyone after graduation," Ginny replied with a smirk.
James pumped a fist into the air, but quickly retracted it as he saw the disapproving look on Draco's face. "I'm just excited that Teddy owes me money," James said. "He thought he'd at least make it to the party."
"You were going to be my favorite son-in-law," Draco warned as he reluctantly handed the baby over to Harry.
James laughed. "I'm your only son-in-law."
"For the moment."
"Dad!" Anya exclaimed. "Be nice!" She walked over to her father and opened up her arms to give him a hug. She knew this was one of those days where he was feeling old, despite not being that old, and that he just wanted a little bit of sympathy. Hugging him tight, she felt him kiss her cheek. "So what do you think?" she asked, pulling back slightly as she kept her arms around his waist. "Do you think she has what it takes to be one of us?"
Draco nodded. "Absolutely."
Millie had been a hit at the party, and everyone instantly fell in love with the little girl. She had been passed around from grandparent to grandparent, from uncle to aunt, and as the afternoon drifted off into the evening, she was tucked away into the crook of her father's arm, suckling away at a bottle while James fed her and carried on a conversation with Teddy, Harry, and Draco like an old pro. Anya found herself sitting on a large bench swing in the backyard, with a sleepy Jamie draped across her like a sack of potatoes. She saw Hermione across the way, carrying an exhausted Katie in a similar fashion, her body limp as she'd run out of energy and was now asleep with her head on Hermione's shoulder.
"Mind if I join?" Hermione asked.
"Not at all," Any replied, rubbing a soothing hand against Jamie's back as he snoozed. She leaned back into the swing, her heels rocking the four of them back and forth ever so slightly. "They wear out so quickly," she remarked with a chuckle.
"That's what a long day and a lot of sugar will do," Hermione replied with a light laugh. "This one was up at five-thirty this morning, just a little bit excited to go to Hogwarts today."
Anya smiled. "I can imagine Dad was thrilled."
"He got over it," Hermione replied. "She crawled into bed with us, and the two of them watched cartoons for a bit before passing out again. I barely notice the early morning cartoons at this point."
She nodded, brushing a hand over Jamie's hair. "James does that with Jamie on the weekends. I wake up, and the two of them are already up, watching cartoons, cereal all over the place…but I have him all week, and so James gets up with him and lets me sleep. I used to get up, but James doesn't like it," she said with a laugh. "It's Daddy and Jamie time, apparently. He thinks Jamie likes me best."
Hermione shook her head. "I'm certain he loves you both equally."
"He does, but he's a mummy's boy for certain," she said with a smirk. "Like this for example," she said, motioning to her exhausted son. "He doesn't want Daddy when he's like this. It's all Mummy."
"Unlike this one, who will fall asleep on whoever is holding her," Hermione remarked. "She actually passed out on Teddy this evening." She pressed a kiss to Katie's temple and relaxed into the swing. "Her healer thinks that because we've been working with her magic, and trying to teach her how to keep control of it because of her power, that it's causing her to still wear out easily."
"How is she doing with that?"
"Amazingly well," Hermione said. "Her power, Anya, is just short of amazing."
Anya shifted James on her lap slightly, moving his head to her other shoulder so she could cool off the other one. "Ginny keeps asking me if Jamie's showed signs of magic yet, and he hasn't, but I'm sure he will. Usually magic manifests with frustration and anger in little ones, and he's just so laid back, I mean, at the rate he's going we might not know if he has magic until his letter comes."
Hermione giggled quietly. "I'm sure he'll surprise us all when we're least expecting it, just like Katie did."
Anya looked over at her sister and reached out to push a stray curl away from her face. "Last night, I was rocking Millie in her room, and I was staring at her, watching her sleep, and I just felt my heart growing and breaking all at the same time and that's when I heard Dad in the back of my head." She hugged Jamie closer and pressed her nose to the top of his head, inhaling the sent of his lavender baby shampoo she was so fond of. "He used to say all the time that my mother was doing the best she could, and I never understood it. I didn't accept the answer, because to me, she was my mother, and she should have been a mother instead of what she was before the end of it all."
Hermione could see where this was headed, but nodded in understanding.
"But some people can do it and some people just really can't," Anya said in a sad, but matter of fact sort of tone. "I told James the moment that nun handed Millie to me - I knew she was mine. I knew she was my daughter, and I instantly loved her just like I love this sleepy head here. There's no difference between the two. And her mother didn't want to, or maybe couldn't, but it's just like my mother - she could but she couldn't - and that eventually turned into wouldn't until it was too late to go back, and none of that was my fault - or Claire's fault. It wouldn't have mattered if Scorpius had been born first. None of it was going to matter. She was who she was."
"This is very true," Hermione remarked.
"And…as embarrassingly as this is to admit…" Anya said, tucking her long black locks behind her ears. "I didn't understand you at first. You loved us from the moment Dad asked you to watch us when it was just Claire and I and I didn't understand how you could hug us and kiss us and tell us you loved us as easy and as freely as you do and I thought I understood it when I had Jamie, but two days ago, I realized I had no clue until I looked at Millie. But then I realized that I was able to hold her and to instantly fall in love with her because of you."
Hermione sighed, reaching a hand over to cup Anya's cheek, brushing away a tear that had escaped from her daughter's eye. "I'm sure your dad had a little bit to do with it too."
"No," Anya said with a laugh and a shake of her head. "Dad taught me many things, but you taught me how to be a mother. You taught me how to be a mother before you became my mother, and every day after, and it's because of you that I'm just so irritatingly happy all the time!"
Hermione had to clap a hand over her mouth to keep from bursting out with laughter as Anya suppressed her own laughter, wiping the tears that fell freely from her eyes. The two drew the attention of their spouses, who excused themselves from the gathering of men and shuffled their way over to the women. "What's so funny?" James asked.
"Nothing," the two of them said in tandem, only to giggle again.
Draco and James exchanged a look and a shrug. "Do you want me to take Katie inside?" Draco asked.
"Please," Hermione replied.
"Anya, the boys want to know if we'll spend the night tonight," James asked Anya.
"Do we have pajamas for the kids?"
James nodded. "I had a feeling it would come up."
"It's fine then," Anya replied with a smile.
"Draco, put Katie in Claire's room. We can put Jamie in Katie's room and pull the bassinet out of the storage room and put it in Anya's room," Hermione instructed with a smile.
Draco picked Katie up, shaking his head at how dead to the world she was, and cradled her in his arms. "And if we put her in Claire's room, where will Claire be sleeping?"
Hermione gave him a look. "You and I both know you're incredibly smart and asking a really dumb question. She is going out with her friends tonight and will probably go back to Albus' place."
His nostrils flared slightly. "I don't like this, Hermione."
"I'm aware," Hermione replied as she stood up from the bench. She grabbed her hands towards Mille and James willingly handed his daughter over to her. "Well look at you, the only little one that's awake," she cooed, kissing her little nose. "Nana needs your help for a moment. Yes - yes she does."
"Hermione where are you going?" James asked with a laugh. He saw her walking over towards Claire and Albus, currently snogging behind a tree, and laughed again. "This ought to be good."
"You two lovebirds!" Hermione called out to Albus and Claire, startling them slightly as they both had some decency to blush. "Come here for a moment please."
Hand in hand, Albus walked with Claire over to where Hermione stood in the middle in the yard. "Yes, Aunt Hermione," Albus said.
Sweetly, Hermione motioned for them to come closer to her. "Isn't Millie adorable?" she gushed. "I mean, look at her little feet, and her little toes, and her sweet little bow and her precious little face!"
Claire grinned. "She is super cute, Mum. She gets it from her Auntie Claire."
"I'm sure she does," Hermione said, indulging her daughter's remarks. "Claire, how long do you think you'll be in university?"
Clare, slightly confused, shrugged as she answered. "I don't know, seven years I think. Four years with undergrad, and then three years of dental school. Why?"
Hermione handed her granddaughter over to Claire, who eagerly accepted her as Hermione took a step closer to the two of them. "I think it's brilliant that you two are together. I can't thank you both enough for respecting our wishes in keeping a lid on it until you were done with school, Claire. And I know you two are eager to explore whatever this is and as adults I won't tell you what to do but hear me when I say this - you two are smart people. Show up with a baby before you're finished with university, and there will not be a witness protection program to save either of you."
Claire swallowed hard and Albus shivered slightly, neither of them ever having been at the end of a talk quite like that. "Mum, we're not stupid -"
"I know you aren't," Hermione reiterated. "That's why I said you two are smart people. And I fully know you have no intention of sleeping in the house tonight, or much of this summer if we're being honest, which is why I want you to hear me now or fear your father later. Understood?"
"Understood," the two lovebirds chimed, as Hermione took Millie back from Claire.
Walking back over to her stunned husband, she gave him a look. "Do you feel better?" she asked Draco.
He gave a simple nod. "Yes…frightened a bit, but yes…I feel better."
"Good," she definitively replied.
Once the party was over, Albus and Claire discretely disapparated from her home to his flat in Hogsmeade, landing hand in hand inside Albus' living room. Neither could really tell if the silence between them was awkward or not, but having it be the first time that Claire had seen the inside of his apartment, Albus caught himself holding his breath almost, as if he was waiting for some sort of approval. He watched Claire look around the small, two bedroom flat, poking her head into each room, the skirt of her dress flaring slightly with each pivot of her foot.
He sat down on the arm of his leather sofa and watched as she looked over at the bookcase that his telly sat on top of. "Katie would be so proud to know I've actually got books in there," he said. "Don't you think?"
Claire giggled. "Most definitely." She walked over to where he sat, standing right in front of him, leaning the tops of her legs ever so slightly into his knees. "Thanks for coming to my party," she said a little bit shyly.
Albus smiled. "Where else would I have been?"
"I don't know," she said, chewing on the inside of her cheek. "I mean, I know, but you know…"
"Are you nervous?"
"Why would I be nervous?"
"Because you look terrified," Albus replied, reaching out to grab her hands. "You don't have to stay here tonight if you don't want to. I put your bag that you gave me at school in my room, but if you want to go home I won't be upset."
Claire shook her head quickly. "I want to stay," she said. "I just…I don't know."
"What don't you know, princess?" he asked, using her universal pet name for anyone who had known her since birth.
She shrugged. "I guess this all just feels foreign to me. Not in a bad way, you know, but, um, you know, I just…now we're on the other side of this thing."
Claire blushed. "You know…you and me."
Albus stood up from his perch and gave her a gigantic hug, which she returned with equal vigor. As he let her go, he gave her the sweetest grin and found her hands with his, grabbing onto them as their fingers laced together. "I don't want to screw this up," he told her. "I never thought in a million years you and I would be together, and I know that if we go down this road there's no turning back, but I don't want to rush anything."
"Do you mean that?" Claire asked, a bit timidly. "Because I know you're right. There's no turning back if we try this…I just don't want you to get tired of me."
"Tired of you?" Albus asked with a chuckle. "You could never fit the mold of boring, Claire."
She rolled her eyes. "I don't mean dull - I mean - well - I don't have the same experiences as you," she finished off with an embarrassed blush.
He leaned and gave her a light kiss, his lips barely brushing against hers. "You know what I want to do tonight?"
Claire made a face. "What?"
"I want us to put on our pajamas, plug in a movie, and sit on this couch any way we want, without being terrified that someone's going to see us," Albus earnestly replied. "I might even kiss you once or twice, just because I can."
She arched a playful eyebrow. "Just because you can?"
"Are you really going to tell me no?"
"I'm pretty unpredictable, Albus," she shamelessly teased. "Half the time I surprise myself with what I'm thinking, or what I'm about to do or not do."
He stifled a snort. "Believe me, Claire, I'm aware."
He pulled her down to his bedroom, and grabbed his pajamas so he could go change in the bathroom. When he returned, he found her standing there in nothing but one of his old Slytherin quidditch shirts and a short pair of black shorts barley visible as the shirt she wore was too big. "Shirt snake," he teased.
"Actually, your mum gave me this almost three years ago," Claire said with a sassy hand on her hip. "After that water fight we had at your house."
Albus remembered that day. "You had on a pink dress -"
"That went completely see through when you and Scorpius launched those balloons at me," Claire replied with a little bit of irritation. "That's when your mom came outside and gave me this shirt to put over my dress."
"But you didn't give it back."
"You obviously didn't miss it."
"I'm just saying…you're a shirt snake."
"And I'm just saying maybe I will go back home tonight."
Albus feigned a look of hurt and horror as he shuffled towards her. "You won't leave me."
"Eh…you're probably right."
He laughed and she smirked. "Movie?"
She nodded, and let him take her by the hand out of the bedroom, leading her down the short hallway over to the couch. She sat down, tucking her legs up underneath her while he popped in a movie and went over to the kitchen to pop some buttered popcorn. When he returned, he sat down at the end of the couch and balanced the bowl on the couch arm while Claire grabbed the throw blanket from the back of the couch and curled up next to Albus, using his chest as a pillow. She grabbed the bowl and placed it in the gap between Albus' leg and the arm of the couch so that she could reach as well. When she recognized the opening credits to be that of one of her favorite romantic comedies, she sat up a bit and looked at Albus. "You hate this movie."
"So why are we watching it?"
He shrugged. "Because it's your graduation day, and you like it, and I figured the other day I could probably suffer through pretty much anything as long as you're next to me."
His words were plain but true, and Claire could hear the honesty in his voice. She leaned in and kissed him, holding a splayed hand against his face as he returned the sentiment. "Albus Potter," she mumbled against his lips. "You keep this up and I might fall just in love with you."
Albus smirked, and kissed her again. "Good," he said after a few moments. "Because I might already halfway there."
Draco heard the cries of his granddaughter around three in the morning. He and Hermione offered to put the baby in their room before they turned in for the night so Anya and James could catch some sleep, which they were much appreciative of, despite the convincing it took on both Hermione and Draco's part to get them to agree. Tossing the covers off of his bed, he got up and approached the baby, gently picking her up out of the bassinet and cuddling her close. He summoned Harby the elf to heat up a bottle for her as he walked downstairs, and by the time he reached the couch and sat down, Harby had returned to Draco with a warm bottle ready for Millie.
"There you go," he said to a fussy Millie, whose cries evaporated as soon as the bottle nipple found its way into her mouth. He admired the little girl as she ate, letting one of her little hands hold onto his index finger while she ate. She was a beautiful baby. She had the sweetest dark brown curls, and the biggest, most curious looking eyes - which was saying a lot considering he had Katie - and she always looked like she was trying to figure out something.
He didn't hear Hermione come down the stairs halfway through Millie's bottle, but he felt her sit down next to him, kissing his shoulder through the t-shirt he wore. "How is she?"
"Perfect," Draco replied softly. "Just perfect."
Hermione hummed in agreement as she continued to lean against them. "Sometimes, I feel like I should say thank you to you."
Draco looked over at his wife. "What on earth for?"
"For this life," she confessed. "So many things I'd never thought I'd be, and then you happened, and suddenly, I got everything I wanted, even if it wasn't in the way I ever imagined it."
Seeing that the bottle was now empty, Draco pulled it away from Millie and propped her up on his shoulder, attempting to get the sleepy baby to burp before putting her back to bed. "You did the same thing for me, Granger."
"I guess," Hermione said, kissing his shoulder again. "Can you believe they adopted this sweet baby?"
"Actually, I can," Draco replied with a soft laugh. "James has always had a big heart, and Anya, well, you've rubbed off on her more than she realizes some days."
Hermione reflected back on the conversation the two of them had on the swing. "She's a wonderful mother."
"Because she had a wonderful example," Draco replied. "You raised my daughters into something I never could have done on my own, and you did the same thing for my son, and now our children. I tell you all the time - I would have been lost without you."
"You would have figured it out."
"And I'm eternally grateful that I didn't have to," he said.
Once he got Millie to burp, he kissed her tiny temple and hugged her close as he climbed up off of the couch, holding her with one strong arm as he held a hand out to Hermione to help pull her up. She let him lead her back upstairs, their fingers barely linked together as they walked up the stairs. They checked in on Scorpius, who was passed out on his stomach with a book laying next to him. Leo was found the same way only he had a large book open and laying on top of his chest, which Hermione gently removed before kissing him lightly on his head. Katie was sound asleep in Claire's room, clutching Scorpius' Mr. Bear in one arm and her blanket in the other arm. Inside Katie's room, Jamie was half on top of his stuffed dragon, sucking his thumb as he slept. Across the hall, James and Anya were wrapped up around each other, a tangled mess of arms and legs, leaving both Hermione and Draco to wonder how the two of them ever got any sleep, because it didn't look comfortable. But that wasn't the first time Hermione and Draco had seen the two of them asleep that way, and it clearly didn't bother the two if they continued to sleep as if they were velcroed together.
Hermione slipped back into bed once they got to their room, watching Draco as he gently placed a sleeping Millie back into her bassinet. When he returned to bed, she curled up next to him, nuzzling at his chest as he kissed the top of her head. Draco leaned up slightly to grab their blankets and pulled them up to Hermione's shoulder and sighed a breath of contentment.
"What are you thinking?" she asked quietly as her eyes began to close.
He kissed the top of her head again. "Sometimes I think I need to pinch myself…when I remember the life I had, and knowing what I know have."
She nodded against his chest, her eyes closed. "You've come a long way. I never would have taken you for such a cuddler at school."
He suppressed a laugh so he wouldn't wake up Millie. "I don't think there was really anything warm and fuzzy about me back then. It kind of just happened when Anya was born. Sometimes, she was the best medicine to a truly rubbish day. Babies have some sort of magic about them that I don't understand."
Hermione smiled. "It's not magic. It's their innocence, and that they know nothing of the world around them. They're untarnished and perfect."
Draco agreed, and hugged Hermione closer. "Hermione?" he asked a few minute later.
"Yes?" she mumbled.
"Do you think Claire's happy?"
Hermione nodded. "I do. She still…has a lot of growing up to do," she said in between a yawn. "But she'll get there, and Albus will wait for her."
"Do you think the fates decided that my punishment for my former life would be that I would have daughters that would fall in love with Potter's boys?" Draco asked.
Hermione laughed slightly. "I hardly think it's a punishment. I think it's a sigh of relief. They're both good boys that were raised into fine men. It's a shame they don't have a son for Katie."
Draco scoffed. "Katie's never getting married. She already promised me."
"Anya made that same promise…at five," Hermione reminded him through another yawn. "So did Claire."
"Katie's different," Draco proclaimed quietly. "She's not a traitor like the other two. She's too much like you. She'll keep a promise better than those two."
"You're just setting yourself up for disappointment," Hermione softly said with a chuckle. "Besides, if Anya hadn't married James, we wouldn't have Jamie or Millie. Can you imagine a life without them?"
Draco sighed. "No..which is crazy because we haven't even known Millie for twenty-four hours yet."
"So you see - everything works out for a reason," she said, giving him a squeeze with her arms that were wrapped around his torso. "Life has a funny way of working out sometimes."
"Would you change any of it?" he asked, almost hesitantly.
"Change what, sweetheart?"
"Our lives. How everything…happened. Do you wish it would have been different?"
"Not at all," she promised. "Astoria's request might have pushed us in the right direction, but you are the catalyst for all the good things in my life, and without you, I would have nothing."
Draco sighed again, agreeing with his wife. He went to say something, but heard the creak of their bedroom door open. Both of them sat up a bit, and saw a sleepy Katie, holding her blanky and Mr. Bear, staring at them with an exhausted look about her. "I woke up in Claire's room…and I'm really confused and really tired."
Hermione pressed her index finger to her lips and pointed over to the bassinet, while Draco opened up their blankets as an open invitation that Katie didn't think twice about taking. He leaned over and hoisted her up into the bed, dropping her right in the space between them. Katie curled up against Hermione, and Draco rolled over so that he could drape an arm over both of them. He looked over at Hermione, who was already falling asleep as Katie cuddled against her, and smiled.
He wasn't sure when he'd ever see Astoria again, but whether it be in a random dream or in the afterlife, he made a mental note to tell her thanks, because while he'd like to think he'd have figured it out eventually, it was ultimately her unspoken blessing through a simple request that changed his life, and the lives of the children he and Astoria shared, for the better.
This is the end...and I cannot thank all of you readers enough! Your comments/reviews were wonderful, and your enthusiasm for the story was just overwhelming. It's nice to know that you all get just as much enjoyment out of reading the story as I do writing it.
Now...I'm off to fix/finish up the third installment of the IAU universe (which I'm sure a lot of you are like 'it's about )(*# )$ time - but I'm going to try to make it worth the wait!)
See you soon! -Redhead414