Dinner was the same as it always was that evening. Six candles glowed at the head of the long table, where three people sat together, talking politely about their lives. Beside them, the fireplace crackled lightly, casting a small glow over the dark wood, glittering crystal and silky fabrics that the dining room beheld. Everything around them promoted wealth, prosperity and security.
The father, tall, blonde and pale, was good-looking, yet lost within himself, disconnected from everything around him. He was confused yet sure and he sat in the high-backed leather chair chewing on the tasteless food. It was not that his beautiful wife had not made wonderful food. It was not that. His mind was elsewhere, so it was impossible for him to focus on something as unimportant as the taste of the Mediterranean salad that she had spent little time preparing for the family.
The mother, as previously mentioned, was beautiful, daringly so. She had short brown hair on her petite head, a soft blush permanently upon her cheeks, roseate lips and strong bronze eyes but she wasn’t dressed as majestically as the room she was in; she had thrown on a pair of blue jeans and a grey jumper as soon as she had got in from work. Her bare feet hovered just above the stone floor. Her hands grasped the knife and fork patiently.
Sitting beside her father, opposite her mother, was a small girl. She had short mousy brown hair that liked to change. Not in the way that it suddenly transformed, but in the way that time and temperature dictated. The day that she was born, she owned a tiny helping of white-blonde hair and the older she got, the darker it became. Occasionally, it turned ginger in the summer when she exposed to the sunlight, having to protect her skin also, like her father. Unlike him and more like her mother, she had darker eyes, not quite bronze, but a dark green, almost hazel. Her small face was covered with light freckles but she was very much an equal mixture of both mother and father, displaying nothing other than pure and innocent beauty, even at the age of five.
“Can I blow out the candles?” she asked, having already put down her fork and attempting to climb up on the chair that had been specially raised for her.
Her mother smiled. “Of course you can. If everyone’s finished.” She looked at her husband.
He nodded. “I’m done.” A good deal of vegetables were still left on his plate and he hadn’t touched his wine.
“Okay.” She got up to collect the plates.
“I’ll do that.” Her husband took over and she smiled, adding this to her list of reasons why marrying him was a good idea. Yes, she was concerned that having a list was troubling, and even more troubling that she was still adding things to it, but nothing in their lives had been easy and that included the decisions they made.
Her husband drank his glass of wine in one swallow as he disappeared into the kitchen with the plates. Meanwhile, she relocated to the other side of the table to help her daughter reach the candles.
“Be careful,” she told her as she held her hands.
The five-year old sat on the edge of the table while her mother carefully moved the candles closer one at a time.
The little girl blew. The first candle was extinguished.
“What’s wrong with Dad?” she asked.
Her mother frowned. “What do you mean?”
Another candle was blown out. “He seems sad.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” she replied dishonestly. “Has he said anything to you?”
Her daughter shook her head and blew more candles. “Nope.”
“Maybe it’s his job,” she mused.
“He loves working at the bank,” she told her mother. “He told me.”
“It seems he tells you everything.” The mother laughed and her daughter chuckled in that high-pitched sweet way that she did, dimples appearing in her cheeks. Her mother’s hand stroked her hair. “He loves you more.”
“He loves us both,” she assured her mother. “This much.” She flung her arms out, unintentionally knocking the final candle over.
“Get her off the table,” came a loud call from the kitchen doorway.
The tiny flame fell onto the table, a used serviette suddenly ablaze and rising dangerously. The mother grabbed her daughter and moved away, protecting her. Across the room, her husband was reaching into his inner pocket and alarm bells sounded in her head. She didn’t want him to do this. Not now.
She put down her daughter (who went to hide behind a row of bookcases) and yelled out “No!” He looked at her darkly as he froze and she used one of the expensive silk cushions from an armchair to put out the fire.
Exhaling, she glanced at the black and burned patch on the material.
“Sorry,” she apologised.
Nothing was said or done.
“Well,” she continued in the quiet. “I should take Marigold upstairs.”
“That’s okay, I’ll do it.” He strode past her to the doorway and she was unable to read his emotions. Marigold rushed up to him and jumped up into his arms.
“And what do you think you’re doing?” he asked her, laughing.
“Carry me, Daddy!” she ordered.
“Somebody’s getting bossy,” he noticed. He hitched her up in his arms. “You know, if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t put up with this.”
“I know.” Marigold leaned her head against his shoulder and held on tight as he took her upstairs.
A few hours later, after washing the dishes, after washing some clothes, after reading material for work, after tidying the house a little, Hermione found that her daughter had fallen asleep in her bedroom. She was sprawled across the floor in her pyjamas having been halfway through making her Barbie doll take a trip around the room in her pink convertible. Hermione pulled the sheets back on the bed, scooped up her child and placed her in the sheets, tucking her in and kissing her head. Sitting on the ground, she began to quietly put the toys all back into the toy-box, looking over each item, remembering a time when imaginary grocery shopping and pink plastic accessories were all that she cared about. To be young was to be unaware of all the potential pain you could endure and Hermione wanted to keep her child safe and blind to this hurt.
She heard him behind her. He was watching.
“Did she have a bath?” she asked.
“And you washed her hair?”
She put the last of the toys in the box and turned to face him, standing up. “Good.”
Hermione walked by him and to their bedroom down the hall. Collapsing on the bed, she took up a book that she had begun reading six months ago; she had not yet gotten to page fifty and that was not like her. Well, it was ever since she became a parent. There was no time for yourself. Then again, why would you want to spend time alone when you had a beautiful child like Marigold?
When Draco came into the room, she gazed up, her eye catching on a pair of his shoes waiting by the door. It seemed odd to her but she resumed reading about the thirty-something year old legal secretary and how she works up the courage to tell her best friend that she is in love with him.
About ten minutes into the painful rejection the legal assistant endured, Hermione lowered the book. There was still more than half to go so there must be a happy ending. At least, happier.
“Well, that was disappointing …”
She noticed that Draco had been sat beside her looking at his hands and at the ceiling and at the walls quietly.
“What’s up?” she asked him. “Is it work?”
“No,” he said unsure. He must have been thinking about something deeply intense. And then he confirmed her suspicions. “She knows, Hermione.”
She looked into his eyes, not sparingly. “I know that,” she replied stiffly. “We told her. She understands.”
“So why don’t we use magic around her? She knows we’re magical.”
“Why do think, Draco?” He said nothing. “And we get to it!” she said with raised hands. “The real reason you tear yourself up at night. The thing that really gets to you. You kept going on and on and on about it when she was a baby. ‘I performed magic when I was twenty months old, my mother told me so.’ Twenty months passes and nothing. So you move it up a notch. ‘I was making quills levitate when I was two,’ you said. Some powerful child, I guess. So you made me feel terrible when my child seemed mediocre compared to this warped idea you had of her.”
“You know I don’t -”
“I’m not finished. I need to get this out … So she turns two, three, four and I am going out of my mind. I’m asking all of the magical parents I know when their child starting showing signs of being magical, or when they did. When they were a toddler, most say. All except Neville Longbottom. But you don’t want a Neville Longbottom do you, Draco?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what the hell I’m talking about. We’ve been talking about it for five years. Mari is not magical. And that - that is why I don’t perform magic around her. I don’t want her to feel as crap about it as I do. I don’t want her to feel like a disappointment.”
He took her hand. “I understand that Hermione.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I just feel like a fraud.”
“In what way?”
“I don’t know. This is my house. Malfoy Manor has been a magical household for thous -”
“Oh, here we go! Don’t even go there -”
“No, I don’t mean that. It’s just that I’m used to performing magic. I feel like I’m forgetting or something. You won’t even let me Apparate to work …”
“Let you? That makes it seems as though you don’t agree with my decision.”
“But what if she never gains magical power?” Hermione asked him, her eyes pleading with his. “Surely driving a few miles into London isn’t much hassle for you.”
“It is when I have to pay for parking,” he muttered under his breath.
“Parking? You’re this upper class, rich kid with piles of gold in his vault at Gringotts and you’re worried about the couple of pounds you have to spend on parking?” She sighed, tired. “Listen, I’m going to have a shower and go to bed. I have to get up early tomorrow.”
She tried to get up but he held onto her wrist and held her face.
“What?” she asked.
“I’m going to kiss you, stupid,” he replied. And he did so, affectionately and slowly, making her forget that they had even had a dispute.
They laid down together, holding each other close.
“Does Marigold like her school?”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“To be completely honest, I forget. By the time I get home …”
“Well, she’s only been there for a month. It’s okay. She’s making friends. Expensive, though. Why couldn’t she go to a cheaper ?-”
He raised an eyebrow. “The more expensive it is, the better security it has, better staff, they feed her better food, teach her more efficiently, and so on.”
“I didn’t go to an independent school and I turned out fine,” she reasoned.
“Best not to take any chances,” he decided, smiling. “Did Mari tell you what she wanted for Christmas yet?”
“No. She’s so happy with the toys and the playhouse and all of the clothes you got her for her birthday. I don’t think she’s had time to think. Maybe you could get her a book.”
“The answer to all of your problems.”
“Shut up,” she chuckled, sitting up. Hermione began to undress and walked to their private bathroom, talking to him as she went. “She loves when you tell her stories, so why not a storybook or fairytales?” She turned the shower on. “Where will we go for this Christmas, anyway? Last year we stayed here with your family …”
“So this year, we spend time with yours,” Draco replied behind the half-closed door. “You’re dad makes a great Christmas pudding.”
“Oh yes, with the ice cream … But what about Harry and the Weasleys?” she asked while removing her makeup using the mirror above the sink.
“So, you and Mari can go to them afterwards. New Year maybe.”
“And you won’t come with us.”
“They say they’re being civil, but I reckon one day they plan to get rid of me. I saw it the day we got married. They’ve never trusted me. And I’d rather not make it easy for them.”
“You’re being ridiculous.” She showered quickly and stepped back out, wrapping herself in a warm blue towel and quickly drying her hair. “Besides, I think it will be nice for you to bond with them. Ginny’s mood has improved since she had Lily. She actually likes you now. I think. And I think Mari misses Albus and James. They’re her family. I feel like she’s lonely here sometimes. Yes, they do use magic a lot there, but I can ask them to tone it down for a little while, can’t I?” She listened for his response.
“What do you think?” There was nothing. “Draco?”
Hermione opened the bathroom door, all of the steam flowing out at her feet. She didn’t move and neither did he.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Draco looked at her, guilty. He was putting on his shoes. Not only was he putting on his shoes, he was wearing his jacket, equipped for the winter weather and he had a bag over his shoulder.
“Where are you going, Draco?”
Hermione could not cry. She closed her eyes for a second and then asked, “Will you be coming back?” He hesitated. “What are you doing?” she asked again, confused. “Why?”
“I don’t know -”
“Don’t know what?”
“I don’t know who we are,” he replied softly.
“No. No! That is not a good enough answer!” Her fingernails dug into the towel as she held it up.
“It’s the truth,” he said, taking a step towards her.
“Don’t tell me that this is some identity crisis, Draco. You’re stronger than that. We both are. We can get through whatever it is that’s bothering you.”
“But not soon,” he said. “We’re not even close to sorting things out, Hermione.”
“We are. We’re married. Mr and Mrs Malfoy. Whatever it is, we can do this together.” He shook his head. “Well, what about Marigold? What am I supposed to tell her?”
“Tell her the truth. We raised her to be strong.”
“Dusting off her knee when she falls and telling her not to cry is not the same as abandoning her for selfish reasons!”
“I’m not being selfish.”
“So don’t go!”
Draco looked down at the ground and then into her bronze eyes. “I still love you. Both of you.” He tried to kiss her but she leaned away, avoiding his advances.
“No,” she whispered. “No. You … you are a coward. You would have left while I was in the shower. While I wasn’t looking so you wouldn’t have to explain yourself.”
“I don’t know how to explain, Hermione.”
“Just tell me, Draco: what was the point in everything that we’ve been through, every obstacle that we have overcome, just for you to bail out when things get tough? What was the point in all of that?”
He had no reply. There was nothing he could say because she was right. And he was simply confused. Time apart meant that he could figure out what to do.
“I’m not going to beg you to stay,” she told him, pain in every syllable.
“I don’t expect you to, Hermione. And I’ll never beg you to forgive me,” he sniffed, holding back imminent tears. “I don't deserve it. But know that I am sorry. I don’t want you or our daughter to hurt because of me.”
“”But if you leave -”
“I’ll be sparing you all of that pain. I love you.”
Draco took her hand and she did not oppose. She simply stared at the opposite wall as he held it in his palm. Finally, he walked away. But when he got to the door, she unfroze.
The vase on the ground was broken. The water soaked into the bedroom carpet and the dying roses laid on the surface, brown and wilting. She looked down at it, almost appalled at what she had become, yet proud with the strength that she had found, that she never knew she had.
He didn’t even look at her.
“Did you just throw that at me?”
She did not move.
“Did you really just throw that vase at me?” he asked, using one hand to touch his sore shoulder, the victim of the glass.
“I’ll never understand you,” she told him, tears falling silently down her face and her lip quivering.
“No, I think you always have, Hermione.”
He closed the door behind him.
But she didn’t want him to leave.
“Draco …” She ran to the door and pulled it open, rushing down the hall, down the staircase. But he was gone. Must have Disapparated. He was gone from the halls of Malfoy Manor, gone from her life, gone from Marigold’s, leaving them both alone.
She clutched the banister and clutched her chest as it tightened. Hermione yelled quietly while her heart broke. She could not breathe so she lowered herself to the ground, pulling her legs to her chest. Tears gushed from her eyes so much that she could not see that her daughter had appeared behind her, watching silently from her bedroom door.
“No …” Hermione whispered through her tears. She took in huge breaths through her mouth. “No, please …” Her entire face was wet, glistening as her skin turned bright red. “Draco, please, I love you … no, no, no …. please …”
Marigold, crying, walked over to her mother and hugged her. Surprised, Hermione held her tight in her arms and closed her eyes as they both sat on the staircase, weeping. They were all they had now. He had once told her that it was them against the world, that they could get through anything and now he had abandoned her and their promise to be together forever. This promise had come years before they got married, years before Marigold. Even still, Draco had gone. Somehow she knew that he would not be coming back for good but was confused as to why. Why? What Hermione understood and what was reality suddenly seemed to be two worlds apart and she had lost faith in everything.