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Isolation

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Inclusion : An Epilogue to Isolation for Those Who Desire It

~.~

Eleven Years Later

Andromeda flinched as she tried to shift Teddy's suitcase toward the front door. At fifty-seven, her bones groaned a little louder and longer than they used to; only the other day a sneeze had triggered a series of painful spasms up her spine. Caring for a toddler for the past decade certainly hadn't helped, not that she would have changed that for the world. It was times like this, though, that she really missed Tonks and Ted. It was hard to think about all the things that they had never had a chance to see as Teddy grew at a blindingly fast pace. She worried about him, too, and all the moments that had been stolen from him in this life without his parents.

But Teddy had been an absolute joy. He had brought her just as many smiles as Tonks had, if not more. The pride she felt when she looked at him was, at times, awe-inspiring. For a child who had been denied so much by cruel circumstances, he was a responsible, bright, and kind young man. And, despite the fact that it would probably give her some much-needed rest, she was really going to miss his presence when he left for Hogwarts tomorrow.

Fighting the inevitable tears that would no doubt come in torrents the next day, she attempted to move another one of Teddy's suitcases, but she got the angle completely wrong, and her back twitched in agony just as the front door opened.

"Ow! Bloody hell!" she gasped.

"Aunt 'Dromeda, what the hell are you doing?" asked Draco, rushing to her side. "Why didn't you just use magic?"

"Because I left my wand in the other room."

"Why didn't you just Accio it?" asked a younger, smaller voice.

Despite her pain, Andromeda smiled and lifted her head to meet a set of curious, dark-grey eyes. "Hello, Taura."

With a little aid from Draco, Andromeda adjusted her crumpled posture and practically scooped the girl up into a warm, familiar embrace. Taura's bushy, blonde hair tickled her nose, as it always did, not that Andromeda cared at all. Behind them, Draco's eyes softened as he watched the pair.

"You've learned the Summoning Charm?" asked Andromeda, pulling back to peck Taura's cheek. "You really are such an intelligent young witch, sweetheart."

"Yeah, you try having a five-year-old who already knows some incantations," grumbled Draco, shooting his daughter a look. "Impressive, yes, but also terrifying. Granger and I have taken to locking our wands away, just in case."

Andromeda chuckled in spite of herself. "Then I guess we should be grateful she hasn't inherited her father's mischievousness."

"Yet," he finished. "Come on, let's sit you down and I'll make some tea."

"Hermione and Theo not with you?" asked Andromeda as they moved into the kitchen.

"No, Theo's in the final stages of teething and screaming bloody murder, so I thought I'd save your eardrums."

"He really is very loud," agreed Taura.

"They'll be at King's Cross tomorrow, though," continued Draco. "I only popped around to make sure Teddy was all sorted for tomorrow."

"Did Teddy get his pet?" asked Taura, her eyes animated. "What did he get?"

"Yes, he did, darling. He got a barn owl. I'm sure he'll let you have a little play with her. Why don't you pop up to his room and see her?"

The words had barely left Andromeda's mouth before the little witch practically sprinted for the stairs and clumsily ascended them. They heard her small footsteps padding around upstairs until there was a gentle, polite knock at a door. In spite of himself, Draco grinned as his first-born excitedly invited herself into Teddy's room with an enthusiastic tone that reminded him more and more of her mother. Taura Andromeda Malfoy was every inch Hermione Granger's daughter, and he thought that was perfect.

Turning back to his Aunt and sitting at the table, Draco cocked an eyebrow as he studied the dark shadows tucked beneath her eyes and the new wrinkles that certainly hadn't been there a week ago. "You okay, 'Dromeda?"

"Me? Oh yes, I'm fine. Are you okay? I remember the teething days, and those were some sleepless nights."

"Indeed," he nodded, rolling his tired eyes. "According to Mum, he gets it from me."

If Taura Andromeda Malfoy was Hermione Granger's daughter, then Theodore Orion Malfoy was definitely his son. Although not yet a year old, Draco was already drawing parallels between his son and stories his mother had told him about how he'd behaved at that age. If Theo was half as smart as his sister, they were going to be in trouble by the time he reached three.

"Your Mum sent me a letter wishing Teddy luck for tomorrow," said Andromeda, interrupting his thoughts. "She's going to come over for lunch after Teddy's gone to Hogwarts."

Her voice faltered slightly on the final syllable, and Draco noticed. "Hey, if you're going to miss having a kid around, you can borrow Theo for a few days."

"There's a big difference between an eleven-year-old and a one-year-old, Draco."

"Fair point. So, how is Teddy feeling about tomorrow?"

"I'm not really sure," sighed Andromeda. "He seemed fine at Diagon Alley today, but he was a bit distracted. It was very quiet in town."

"I read in the paper that there are only a few new students going this year. It said it was because they were the 'War Babies' and the birth rate was low that year for…obvious reasons."

"Yes, there are only eighteen First Years. But then apparently the next couple of years will have more students; a typical post-war baby boom."

Draco frowned and drummed his fingers against the table. "Seems so long ago now. Strange to think there will be children going to Hogwarts this year who weren't alive during it."

"That doesn't mean they weren't affected by it."

"Makes me feel fucking old, too."

Andromeda grinned. "You'll always be young to me."

"That's because you're old," he smirked, glancing at the stairs. "Well, I came to have a chat with Teddy."

"I think he'd like that. You go ahead. I'll keep Taura busy with something."

"As long as it's not your wand, you should survive."

As Draco left the kitchen and headed upstairs, he couldn't evade the wall of nostalgia that crashed into him. This had been his home for four years after the War, and despite the residual horrendous memories from those months that haunted the house, he had been comfortable living here with Andromeda and Teddy. It was a creaky home with more cobwebs than candles, yet it had always felt warm and secure. Even now, as he scaled the stairs, he knew which steps would squeak beneath his feet after sneaking back home from Granger's and trying not to wake Teddy as a toddler.

He gently tapped the door and pushed it open, hesitating in the doorway so he could watch two of the most important people in his life. His daughter was gracelessly slumped on the floor, thumbing her way through Teddy's pile of new books with a wild, fascinated expression. Teddy, perched on his bed, watched her with amusement while gently stroking his young barn owl, although Draco could sense his cousin was tense with buried nerves.

Teddy's hair was a vibrant shade of red, a colour that had often tinted his hair when he'd felt nervous as a young child. His Metamorphmagus abilities obviously enabled him to alter it at will, but every now and then it would subconsciously reveal his dormant emotions.

Despite everyone commenting on how much he looked like Remus, Draco saw more of Tonks in Teddy's young features, but perhaps that was because he had known her better than her husband. Teddy might have the responsible, reserved demeanor of his father, but that inquisitive and adventurous glint in his ever-changing eyes was down to his mother.

"So, you get a new pet," said Taura, captivated and intrigued. "And you get to read all these books?"

Teddy chuckled. "Yes."

"You are so lucky! I can't wait to go to Hogwarts. Aunt Luna said that Ravenclaw has a huge library in their tower-"

"There is another big library that Slytherins can use," interrupted Draco."And so can the other Houses, whatever they're called."

"They're called Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor," she listed, tilting her head knowingly. "And Mum said you need to stop trying to get me to pick Slytherin. She said it was a rule."

"Well, your Mum's not here," he quipped, coming into Teddy's room. "Although your obsession with rules probably means you're destined for Gryffindor anyway."

Taura climbed to her feet and beamed playfully at him. "Would you still love me?"

"Yes, I'd just like you a lot less," joked Draco, grinning down at her. "I need to have a little chat with Teddy. Can you go downstairs, please?"

"Do you fancy letting Agatha out for a fly?" asked Teddy, holding out his new owl. "She could do with stretching her wings."

The young Malfoy didn't hesitate; she flung out her arm as Teddy carefully transferred the owl with care, ensuring that Taura could handle the weight and inelegance of Agatha. Once she achieved some semblance of balance, the young witch practically skipped out of the room, and Draco closed the door behind her so he and Teddy could have some privacy.

"Agatha?" questioned Draco, taking a seat on the bed opposite his young cousin.

"It was the name of Dad's owl," replied Teddy, looking down with thoughtful eyes. "I like it."

"What's wrong, kid? Are you nervous about tomorrow?"

"Weren't you?"

Draco cast his mind back almost twenty years to a very different version of himself. "No, but my circumstances were different. I knew a few other students in my year before Hogwarts, like Blaise and Theo."

"That must have made it easier."

"It did. But you know, Granger didn't know anyone before Hogwarts, being a Muggle-born, and she made friends easily enough. I mean, she could have been a bit more selective rather than just settling on Potter and Weasley, but she's always felt the need to care for pathetic things."

"Is that why she married you?" retorted Teddy.

Draco's lips twitched with mirth. "I have taught you well. See, with that wit, you'll make friends easily. But learn from Granger's mistakes and be picky."

"I'm not really that worried about meeting people."

"Then what is it?"

Teddy grimaced and looked down again, his hands fidgeting in his lap. "It's the sorting ceremony."

"Why would that bother you?" asked Draco, his brow knitted with confusion.

"I don't know…I just feel like whichever House I'm in, someone will be disappointed. Mum was in Hufflepuff, Dad and Harry were in Gryffindor, and then you and Gran were in Slytherin. I can't please everyone."

"Well, what on Earth made you think you need to please anyone? If you're that concerned with others' opinions, then it sounds like Slytherin's off the table anyway."

"So you wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't end up in Slytherin?"

Draco exhaled and offered Teddy a reassuring half-smile. "Well, it sounds like a lot of hassle to disown you, so I guess I'd just have to deal with it. Honestly, kid, you can choose whatever House you like."

"Even Hufflepuff?"

"Hufflepuff?" repeated Draco, but he adjusted his tone and nodded in surrender. "Yes, fine, even Hufflepuff."

Teddy's stunned gawk shot up to his cousin. "Really? But you make fun of them."

"I make fun of everyone," he shrugged. "Besides, the only Hufflepuff I really knew was your Mum, and she turned out okay. And the common room is pretty close to the kitchens, so that's a bonus."

"So, it really wouldn't bother you?"

"It would not."

"And you wouldn't be disappointed?"

"I wouldn't be disappointed."

"And you'll stop making fun of them?"

Draco narrowed his eyes with jest. "Don't push your luck, kid."

.

 

* * *

 

.

Carrying his slumbering daughter over the threshold of his home, Draco sighed with relief at the blissful silence that shrouded the house. Crookshanks, now flecked with flashes of grey fur, greeted him at the door and purred at his feet. Taura snored lightly in his arms as he moved through the hallway, ducking his head into the study and kitchen, searching for Granger. He eventually found her in the living room on the sofa, cradling their son, but her agitated eyes flew up to meet his as he kicked the door a little harder than he'd intended.

"Be quiet," whispered Hermione, and despite the low volume, it was a harsh whisper. "I literally just got Theo to sleep and I swear I will kill you if you wake him up."

"Oh, foreplay," Draco whispered back, gently settling down Taura in an armchair. "Why don't you just put him to bed?"

"I'm scared if I move I'll wake him up again."

Draco shifted his eyes down to his youngest; his fragile wisps of ashy-blond hair were periodically stirred by Hermione's breaths, and his cheeks were flushed and still damp with tears. While Taura's baby months had been a breeze of easy days and nights, Theo had been a lot more challenging, and he had probably cried more in his first week alive than Taura ever had.

As Hermione had taken parental leave with Taura, Draco had taken parental leave for Theo and had been perpetually exhausted for nine months. There had barely been a fistful of nights uninterrupted by his son's screams, but Draco had gone back to work a couple of months ago, and now he and Hermione rotated days to care for the children.

They both worked for the Ministry: Hermione for The Department of Magical Law Enforcement as the Head Advisor for the Wizengamot, and he for The Department of International Magical Cooperation as Deputy Manager of the International Magical Trading Standards Body, with a particular specialty in potion trading. Both of their careers were thriving, and the Ministry had been more than accommodating to their childcare needs, particularly when Theo had suffered from blood poisoning at only five-months-old. So, despite the insomnia and skull-splitting headaches, the memory of sitting in St. Mungo's, desperate and aching to hear his son's wailing, always reminded him to be grateful his son was here at all.

Grateful. That was definitely the word. Grateful for his life and those in it.

"Are you okay, Draco?"

Hermione's low murmur snapped him out of his reverie and he looked at her. Really looked at her. Above anything else, he was grateful for her. Even now, over a decade after their isolation at Hogwarts, sometimes it still struck him speechless how much she meant to him. If he believed in romantic and pathetic notions like soul-mates, he would say she was definitely his.

Yes. Very grateful.

"Here, give him to me," said Draco, reaching for Theo.

"Be careful!"

"It's fine, he's out of it."

He sounded more confident than he felt as he gingerly handled his son and apprehensively settled him into the nearby Moses basket. The moment Theo was settled, he muttered a quick Muffling Charm over both of the children before he slumped heavily down onto the sofa next to his wife.

"So, how was-"

Draco interjected with a hard and prolonged kiss, gathering her close to his chest to deepen the moment. He let it linger for a while, and when he pulled away, she was smiling brightly at him with hooded eyes and rosy cheeks.

"What was that for?" she asked, feathering some pecks against his jawbone.

"Have I told you I love you this year?"

"Yes, back in March."

"Oh, never mind then," he shrugged, chuckling when she playfully flicked his arm. "I do though, you know."

"I know."

"Good. So Theo's still being a pain in the arse?"

Hermione nodded and rubbed her eyes. "I think he's almost finished teething. Your son sure has a set of lungs on him, though."

"Very much like Nott did, I reckon. Perhaps naming him after Theo was asking for trouble."

"Well, you were the one to suggest it."

Indeed, although Draco didn't regret it at all. When they had been sat in St. Mungo's, frantic and fearing the worst, Draco had wondered if naming his son after his tragic friend had been some sort of eerie foreshadowing. But then he'd come to realise that, like Theo Nott, Theo Malfoy might just be unlucky; one of those people that life seems to treat a little harsher for no conceivable reason. At least this Theo would have a father who loved him unconditionally.

Draco had even questioned if Theo's illness had been fate's punishment for his life before Granger and their room at Hogwarts. He felt so far away from his teenage self now; like that spiteful version of himself was nothing more than a stranger. Sometimes, just before he drifted off to sleep, a dark and unwelcome memory of something he'd said or done to Granger would flash across his mind, and he would cringe until it faded.

He liked who he was now: imperfect but decent, which is all anyone can really hope to be.

"Draco?" said Hermione. "Did you hear me?"

"Sorry, what?"

"I asked how Teddy was?"

"He was fine. A little nervous."

"Well, that's understandable."

"And he wants to be in Hufflepuff," he grumbled, glaring at Hermione as she erupted with laughter. "What is so funny, Granger?"

"S-sorry," she choked out between giggles. "And how did you react to that?"

"Appropriately, believe it or not."

"I don't believe it."

"Well, I did," he said. "I told him he could choose whichever House he wanted...even sodding Hufflepuff."

"Then you did the right thing. You know your opinion means a lot to him."

"And then your bloody daughter started talking like a proper Gryffindor. I'm obviously just destined to grow old surrounded by Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors. This is my punishment for being a dickhead teenager."

"Don't be so melodramatic," she said, smiling and sitting up. "Come on, we need to get this pair to bed. We have an early start tomorrow. Harry, Ron, and Luna are aiming to get there for about ten, so-"

"Weasley's coming? Merlin's arse, this day just keeps getting worse."

"If you stop whinging and help me get the kids to bed, I might know how to end your day on a high."

Draco's eyebrows shot up with intrigue. "Is that you trying to flirt, or are you going to trick me into helping you alphabetise your books again?"

Hermione smiled and kissed him slowly. "I'm trying to flirt, Draco."

.

 

* * *

 

.

Platform 9¾ was a bustling swarm of bodies before ten o'clock. Perhaps all the additional press about this set of First Years being the 'War Babies' had roused public interest. There was already a substantial herd of journalists weaving through the crowd like snakes, trying to identify family members of the smallest group of First Years Hogwarts had ever received. Draco fought the urge to use Theo's pram as a battering ram when a couple of them headed toward him, but apparently his scowl was enough to deter them.

Beside him, Hermione had lifted Taura into her arms to better keep an eye on her among the chaos. Fortunately, some of the platform attendants had noticed the disorder and were ushering the fifty or so journalists away from the waiting Hogwarts Express until, finally, there was room to breathe.

"Ah, here you are," a familiar, airy voice spoke. "Blaise, I found them!"

"Luna!" Hermione exclaimed, immediately lowering Taura to the floor and enveloping her friend in a customary embrace. "It's so good to see you."

Behind them, Blaise meandered his way through the horde to their small clearing, clutching his daughter close to his chest. Upon seeing them, Hermione stepped forward to offer Blaise a hug, which he accepted somewhat awkwardly as he tried to balance his child on his hip.

"Don't even think about it, Lovegood," remarked Draco.

"I wasn't thinking about anything, Draco," she smiled.

"Well, that I can believe."

Draco ignored the glower that Blaise fired at him as he untangled himself from Hermione's arms and set his daughter down beside Taura. Nova Brigid Zabini was the mirror image of her father, except for the thick mass of black curls crowning her head and her silver-grey eyes. She was four-years-old, only six months younger than Taura and, naturally, the two intelligent young witches showed all the signs of an enduring friendship.

"Since when do you hug Granger?" Draco asked his old friend as he came to stand by him.

"I think the question is since when has Granger hugged me?" He peered into the pram that Draco was still holding. "Nice to see Theo asleep, for a change. Don't be rude to Luna again or I'll wake him up just to piss you off."

Draco rolled his eyes. "She knows I'm only messing with her. Do you get more sensitive with each new grey hair that sprouts out of your head?"

"Don't be smug, you'll get them soon; especially if Theo carries on screaming your roof tiles loose."

But then, Blaise hesitated, and his expression darkened with severity. "Seriously, though, is he all better now?"

"Yes, he's fine. His last follow-up appointment was last week-"

"You didn't say anything."

"Well, Granger didn't want people worrying. Anyway, he's all clear."

"Good," said Blaise, grinning and gracing Draco with a friendly slap on the shoulder. "I was a bit concerned about my godson for a while."

"Me too," he admitted quietly.

"Heads up," warned Blaise with a nod. "I think I just spotted the Weasleys."

The moment his godfather had uttered the words, Theo's chestnut-brown eyes reluctantly blinked open and he began to whimper and gargle his protests. Grumbling a few profanities under his breath, Draco quickly scooped up his son in an attempt to resettle him. Glancing over his shoulder, Draco saw them; it wasn't just Ron, Katie, and their children, but also the families of his brothers Fred, George, and Bill. They moved like one vast sea of red hair.

"I think Theo's allergic to Weasleys," said Draco.

"That's impossible," Taura's little voice countered. "Maybe all the red hair just upsets him."

Both Draco and Blaise barked out short gusts of laughter at her comment. "There's hope you'll be in Slytherin yet, my girl," said Draco, ruffling her hair.

The Weasley clan slotted themselves into the space occupied by the Malfoys and Zabinis with some difficulty. There were sixteen of them, after all. Ron and Katie had three children: the twins, Milo and Hugo, aged six, and a younger daughter called Lila. Then there were George and his wife Angelina with their two boys, Maximus and Jonah. Next were Fred and his husband Lee Jordan, and their adopted daughters: Maisie and Eleanor. Finally, way at the back, were Bill and Fleur with their daughter Victoire.

Draco certainly didn't know all their names (hell, he doubted they did), but Granger knew each and every one and went about hugging as many as she could. In spite of himself, he grinned as his eyes followed her; after the year they'd had, it was soothing to see her so carefree and jovial amongst her friends.

"Hello, Draco!" shouted Fred, pushing his way toward him. "How are you?"

"Which one are you again?" asked Draco, only half joking as he still tried to pacify Theo's sniffles.

"Hey, Malfoy. Hey, Zabini," greeted Ron, standing at his brother's side. "Are you okay, Malfoy?"

"Well, I was doing pretty well until your small army woke up my kid."

"Is Teddy not with you?" asked Fred.

"Yeah, he's in my pocket, obviously."

"Oh, there he is!" shouted Ron, pointing to the other side of the platform. "And there's Harry and Ginny with him!"

"Oh joy," scoffed Draco. "More people."

Their growing throng seemed to shift as one like the tide toward the final arrivals, and Draco took advantage of the distraction to tuck his slightly composed son back in his pram. Teddy and Andromeda neared the group alongside Harry and a heavily pregnant Ginny. Their two sons, James and Albus, rushed forward to the others, yanking Teddy along with them until he was seemingly swallowed by his waiting crowd of well-wishers.

"Merlin's grave," muttered Blaise to Draco. "Do you think there are enough people here to see him off?"

"I would say more than enough."

"Hello, boys," said Andromeda, appearing from nowhere and instantly smothering Blaise in a hug. "Thank you so much for being here today."

Despite her beaming eyes and sincere smile, Draco could tell she'd been crying. "Are you keeping it together, Aunt 'Dromeda?"

"I'm just happy so many people came to see Teddy. Don't keep asking me if I'm okay; it will just make me worse"

"Andromeda!" exclaimed Hermione, joining their little cluster with Luna close behind. "How are you doing? Are you-"

"Stop, Granger," said Draco. "You'll set her off."

The Hogwarts Express roared its low, aging whistle and the conductor bellowed out a ten-minute warning.

"Oh dear," said Hermione, looking from Draco to Andromeda. "You two should probably go and say your goodbyes."

"Bugger," sighed Draco. "This is going to be shit."

"You just swore," said Taura, wagging her finger like a miffed teacher. "Twice."

"Tattletale," he retorted, looking at Hermione. "She's definitely your daughter."

With a reassuring smile, Hermione gently cupped her husband's face, clearly sensing his apprehension. "Go on. Go and say goodbye to Teddy."

Unable to ignore it, Draco realised that there was a heavy sense of sorrow now sitting in the pit of his stomach as he contemplated Teddy's imminent departure. He had grown so much fonder of the boy than he could have ever predicted eleven years ago. He knew that, to Teddy, he had become somewhere in between an older brother and father figure, as had Potter, although he was reluctant to admit that they shared such an important role for the same person.

Snaking their way through the others, Draco and Andromeda found Teddy speaking with Harry. A solemn hush seemed to have descended on the entire platform now as family members muttered sad goodbyes to the other First Years waiting to board the train.

"…Will see you at Christmas," Harry was saying. "Trust me, it goes by so quickly."

"Okay," nodded Teddy, reaching up to hug him. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too."

Teddy then flicked his sad eyes to Draco, and Harry took a step back to allow them some space.

"How are you doing?" Draco asked his young cousin.

"I'll be fine."

"You really will be. Just remember, if some goofy-looking Gryffindors start talking about some evil lord, you ignore them and come straight home."

Teddy chuckled half-heartedly. "I'll miss you, Draco."

"Of course you will."

Without a warning, Teddy rushed at Draco and wrapped his arms around his torso with a tight grip. "I know you hate hugs, but-"

"It's fine," Draco assured him, patting his back.

Pulling away, Teddy finally turned to Andromeda, who was now allowing her tears to fall freely. Draco stood to the side, accidentally finding himself near Potter.

"He hugged me longer than he hugged you," said Draco.

Harry scoffed. "No, he didn't."

"Pretty sure he did."

"How did you react to the whole Hufflepuff thing?"

Draco shrugged nonchalantly. "Fine. You?"

"Fine."

"Liar."

"Well, you're lying, too."

They exchanged a short but knowing glance just as the final warning whistle echoed around Platform 9¾'s sentinel catacombs. Teddy told his grandmother that he loved her and hugged her for much longer than he had hugged Draco and Harry combined. With a parting wave to everyone who had gathered to wish him farewell, he boarded the train.

Draco felt Hermione's arms wind around his waist and he placed a hand over hers, twisting his head to kiss her cheek. There was a gentle tug on his other hand, and he looked down at his daughter, lifting her up so she could better see the train. Theo's pram was at his other side, pushed there by Blaise, and Draco peered down to watch his sleeping son for a moment. Andromeda was stood close by, dabbing her damp face with her handkerchief, but smiling all the same. The train's engine rumbled like an impatient dragon and then, slowly, it started to crawl forward. Inside the carriage, Teddy waved frantically out the window, as did his two new companions.

"I'm not looking forward to doing this with Taura and Theo," mumbled Hermione.

"No, me neither," Draco admitted quietly, holding Taura a bit tighter and pecking her forehead. "A while to go yet, though."

But as the Hogwarts Express drifted further and further away, and Teddy blurred into the distance, he knew that the time would pass quickly. He also knew that it would be fine. Everything would be fine. Because all was as it should be.