So, here it is, the Epilogue and this fic is finally finished.
Many thanks to pagan who has put in many hours sorting out my grammar and making this story read so much better, as well as answering random plot questions. You've been great, P! Also thank you to arosesinnocence for her help with the first 3 chapters.
And thank you to A River in Egypt who has spent the past 2.5 years responding to endless emails regarding this story and who has supplied much needed cheerleading at times. It's really appreciated, M!
And last, but definitely not least, thank you to all of you readers who have patiently waited for updates months and months apart with very little complaining. A big thank you to those of you who have reviewed as it's often been getting reviews on a chapter that has kicked me into writing more.
Hermione could not remember feeling quite so exhausted. Not even during that last year of the war all those years ago when she had never had quite enough sleep or enough to eat, when the fear had been so palpable it had clenched Hermione's gut and made it difficult to sleep. That had been more like a slow grind, a never ending tension of tightened nerves and sleepless nights where the worry had eaten into her soul, that had dragged on for months. Even in the euphoria after the final battle—with Harry alive, Voldemort finally gone, and the anxiety that she might actually die having dissipated— there had remained a deep sense of sadness for all those lost.
This – this was something else entirely. Adrenalin pumped through her body and made her limbs shake uncontrollably. Hermione had not been prepared for the pain of child birth; for all that her mother had likened it to slightly stronger menstrual cramps, for all the books that she had read to prepare herself for the moment, the pain had still come as a surprise. Then there had been the sheer physical exertion being of in labour for twenty hours and that last frantic thirty minutes, where her body had taken on a life of its own, and she had been compelled to push.
Now, as Hermione gazed down on the tiny body that lay on her stomach, she could feel nothing but awe. She and Draco (and a clinic in Switzerland, but she refused to dwell on that), had created this perfect little baby and all the pain of the past day receded far into the past as the baby lay naked, apparently as exhausted as she was, on her bare tummy. Skin to skin time Millie had called it when she had asked if Hermione had wanted to do this straight after birth. Apparently, it helped create a bond faster between mother and baby. All Hermione could think was that it gave her an opportunity to really see her daughter—from the dark fuzz of hair that covered her head to the impossibly tiny hands and toes that curled in on themselves.
A hand came from behind and swept a few straggling strands of Hermione's hair back from her forehead and a kiss was placed on her cheek before Draco settled himself beside her.
"She's perfect," Draco said, as he leaned forward to brush a trembling finger lightly down the baby's back.
Their daughter squirmed slightly and Draco jumped back like a scalded cat. "Oh Merlin, I didn't hurt her, did I?"
Hermione laughed, the sound as breathless and shaky as she felt. "I doubt it. Molly assures me that newborns are harder to break than they look. It was probably just shock."
"Here we go, mummy," the midwife said, coming over with a towel and scooping the baby off her tummy. "Time to get little baby dressed and weighed, whilst you get some stitches put in."
Hermione wanted to protest, wanted this moment to last forever, but the midwife was gone in a flurry of activity along with her daughter. Draco stopped long enough to kiss her on the forehead before he too disappeared, obviously keen to see what was happening next with his daughter.
It left Hermione in the hands of the senior midwife, who held out a clear vial of anaesthetic. "Something to help numb the pain whilst I stitch up that tear."
It was at least forty minutes before Hermione saw her baby again. The midwife had stitched her up in record time and Hermione had transferred from the birthing room to a room across the corridor where she now lay, feeling a little fresher thanks to a new nightgown and a cup of tea. The baby was cradled in Draco's arms, dressed in a pale yellow babygrow that had 'hello world' printed across the front as they walked into the room.
"Mummy's all finished now, Iris," Draco said, a tender smile on his face as he looked down at their daughter.
"I was thinking that we shouldn't call her Iris," Hermione said. "Not for the first name anyway."
Draco frowned. "But you love that name. You had it all picked out even before you were pregnant."
"I know," Hermione said. "But I was thinking it would be nice to call her Lucia."
Draco's eyes flew to hers, a small silence stretching between them, before he asked, "Are you sure?"
She nodded and anxiously twisted the blanket in between her fingers as she awaited Draco's response.
A smile lit up his face. "My mother would like that very much, as would I," he said, his eyes shining with moisture.
Draco was not sure there had ever been such an unlikely trio sitting around Molly Weasley's kitchen table before. A decade or so ago, such a grouping would have ended with wands out and hexes flying.
And me strewn on the floor with something nasty on my face, he thought with a smile.
Happiness had a funny way of reducing painful past incidents into something that could be faced with a smile; that, and the fact that he had been horrid little git who had deserved so many of the hexes sent his way by Potter and his friends.
"Pfft, the rubbish they pass off as journalism these days," Ron said with a scowl, throwing the latest edition of Witch Weekly across the vast table that took up most of the space in the Burrow's well-used kitchen.
The magazine landed close to him and Draco winced as he saw the offending article once more.
'Mistress turned Malfoy Gives Birth
War veteran and spouse stealer, Hermione Granger, presented new husband, Draco Malfoy, with a little girl. Sources close to the couple say they are thrilled to be celebrating a new life after the tragic loss of the Malfoy family patriarch, Lucius, earlier this year.'
The article continued in a similar vein, presenting fact wrapped up in a salacious gossipy style. On the other side of the page was a large picture of his ex-wife, a forced woebegone expression on her face under the headline.
'Did Draco Ditch Pureblood Beauty for a Baby?
Witch Weekly reporter Rita Skeeter speaks to heartbroken ex-wife, Astoria Greengrass, about love, divorce, and her own desire for a baby despite fertility problems.'
Draco snorted so hard that Lucia startled awake from where she was sleeping in his arms, setting up a thin reedy wail as she protested at having her nap disturbed. He got up, rocking the little bundle gently to try to encourage her back to sleep.
"Are you going to sue?" Ron asked, showing his experience of child-rearing by the nonchalant ease with which he ignored Lucia's cries.
Not so practiced, Draco answered in a flustered tone, "No. Hermione was angry this morning and out for blood, but once she calmed down, we both agreed the extra attention was not needed at the moment."
Harry, with Lily serenely chewing chunks of bread on his lap, nodded his agreement. "There's no point. They won't apologise," he said in the off-hand manner of someone who had already faced more than his fair share of issues with the Daily Prophet.
Lucia finally subsided, her eyes fluttering shut as the rocking motion lulled her back to sleep.
"Nice job!" Harry said with a smile.
Draco was just about to congratulate himself on not having woken Hermione, who was taking a much needed nap after being up half the night feeding Lucia, when the kitchen door swung open, and his wife walked in, hair tousled from sleep, and yawning.
"Was that Lucia I just heard?"
"Er…" Draco said.
"Yep, but she's back to sleep. Draco handled her like a pro," Ron said with a wink in Draco's direction. "Need some coffee?"
"Oh yes, please!" Hermione said, smothering yet another yawn.
"Why don't you go back to sleep?" Draco said.
Before she could answer, the back door banged open, George and Ginny barrelling through in a swirl of cold air.
"Hey!" Draco snapped. "Shut the door!"
Ginny rolled her eyes and said, "Relax, Draco! Lucia won't get ill from a little fresh air."
"She might!" he said, wrapping the fleece blanket closer around his daughter.
"Who's up for a quick game of Quidditch?" George asked. "Or are we going to sit around gossiping all day?"
Draco felt the pull of desire. Since he had started playing again in the Sunday League, he had rediscovered just how much he loved flying. He'd had little opportunity to get out since Lucia was born, keen as he was to help Hermione out as much as possible.
His eyes turned involuntarily towards his wife, who was watching him with a small smile.
"Go on!" Hermione said, holding her arms out for Lucia. "It's nearly feeding time anyway."
"Are you sure?" Draco asked. "You could go and have a longer nap?"
"No, I feel great now and besides, you deserve some play time. You've put in as much time with Lucia as I have."
Draco handed the little girl over to Hermione and stood. George nodded before turning to Harry with a questioning gesture.
"I'll stay with the girls and Hermione," Harry said.
"You have one hour!" Molly said sternly, bustling in from the living room, enchanted knitting needles following her. "Then dinner will be on the table."
"Yes, Mum," the three Weasley siblings chorused.
"Two against two," George said. "I baggsy Ginny."
"That's not fair," Ron whined.
"Hey! There's nothing wrong with how I play!" Draco protested.
George, Ginny and Ron all snorted. "You forget, we all played with you at Hogwarts," Ginny said.
"I resent that!"
"Save the anger for the game, Malfoy," George said, amusement lacing his tone. "It might actually improve your play."
"Some things never change," Harry said, as he and Hermione listened to the bickering fade as the group made their way to the field behind the Burrow.
"But I'm glad some things do," Hermione replied, as she gazed lovingly at the blond head of her husband disappearing down the back of the garden.
Lucia stirred against her, rooting around her chest as she smacked her little lips hungrily.
I'm really glad some things do, she thought.