The Sugar Quill
Author: Dessie  Story: We Have Loved  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: Thank you to Ada, my new, permanent and very lovely beta. :)

We Have Loved

You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we donít recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?

~ Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

She was definitely a bride.

Derek had wheezed his way up to the pretty country church as he had done so many times before, expecting the churchyard to be as empty as it always was. The church on the top of the hill, surrounded by trees and colourful flowers in the spring, was popular for weddings. Come summer, there would be no point making the journey up here on a Saturday; the narrow lanes would be full of cars and people, noisy, cheerful, and well-dressed. But on a cold March morning like this one, all the brides were at home, planning their big days with military precision.

Except this one. And she was definitely a bride. There were some dead giveaways: the dress, obviously, and the veil and the flowers in her hair, but there was also just something about her... a sort of forced elegance.

Derek walked a little further up the path in order to observe her closely. The girl - and she was barely out of girl-hood - was of average height and she was thin. Not by nature, surely, she looked like the kind of girl who would always have a tendency to be well-rounded; no, this was the kind of thinness achieved by worry or stress, or simply not eating.

She was pale too, but again, she didnít look to be designed by nature to be pale, it didnít suit her. She should have been tanned and healthy, brown and cheerful, not pale and thin, shivering slightly in the bitter March breeze.

Her dress, although long and elegant, was slightly old-fashioned (as far as Derek could tell, and letís face it, he was hardly an expert on womenís fashion), and she didnít look like someone used to wearing the kind of delicate high heels she was currently sporting. Her brown hair had been twisted up into a sort of sleek and elegant bun, but multiple strands had escaped and the wind was teasing them back to their normal frizzy state.

The girl was standing, staring at a tombstone which, Derek noticed with a sinking heart, was next to his Elsieís grave. He stayed where he was, torn; having made the journey up here, he was loath to go back down again before heíd paid his respects, but he felt awkward about intruding on the girlís grief. Just as he was deciding to go and sit in the church for a bit, she seemed to sense his presence, and turned around.

"Oh, Iím sorry!" Her voice was high, young-sounding, but Derek realised she was slightly older than he had originally thought. Certainly older than Elsie had been on their wedding day, anyway. "I didnít think...I mean, I donít..." She pulled herself together, smiled sadly at him and turned back to the grave.

Deciding to act as though she simply wasnít there, Derek made his way up the path, and stood in front of Elsieís grave, taking care to stand as far away from the girl as possible without seeming rude. He gingerly knelt down and placed his solitary rose in front of the tombstone as he always did, and then took a step back.

He hesitated, uncertain of what to do next. Normally, he would stand here for half an hour or more, telling Elsie everything that was going on in the village; just because she was dead was no reason to get behind on the gossip. There was no way he was doing that today, not with a stranger standing so near, but he didnít particularly want to leave, either. Quite apart from the fact that he wasnít sure he was up to the long walk back yet, he had a simple human curiosity about the girl. He didnít think she was a local, but there was something vaguely familiar about her. He risked a glance at the headstone, but didnít recognise the names - Nicholas and Elizabeth Granger.

Once again, as he stood there dithering, she took the matter out of his hands by speaking.

"Itís my wedding day today," she said, rather needlessly. Derek resisted the urge to say something sarcastic, contenting himself with nodding instead. "Happiest day of my life," she continued softly, still staring at the grave.

"They should have been here!" she suddenly burst out, finally turning her head to look at him. "They were so happy when we first started going out...well," she corrected herself, "my Mum was. Dad was a bit torn, I think, doing the overprotective father thing, you know?"

Derek did know. He well remembered the feeling of wanting to kill every young man who even looked at his eldest, Mary; she was long married now, with two of her own, but he still caught himself keeping an eye on his son-in-law. Unable to tell a stranger this, though, he found himself nodding again. It seemed to be enough for her.

"I should have walked down that aisle with my Dad. He would have been so proud of me. And my Mum should have been sat in the front row, wearing a big hat and doing that whole mother of the bride thing. Do you know who gave me away? My fian... my husbandís father. And I love him, I do, he and Mrs. Weasley have looked after me ever since my parents died, even before that, actually, but...itís not the same. Theyíre not my parents." This speech seemed to have taken it out of her, for she fell silent for a while. Derek felt awkward standing there, wondering whether to go or not, but eventually his natural curiosity took the better of him.

"How...how did they die?"

She turned her head to look at him. "They were murdered," she said simply. Derek cursed himself for asking.

"Iím sorry."

She laughed at that. "Why? Did you kill them?"

"I just meant..."

"I know." She smiled at him again. "Itís all right. It was a while ago now."

"Did they get the bast..." he corrected himself, "...the person who did it?"

She nodded. "Heís dead now," she said matter-of-factly, and then gave a slightly bitter laugh. "Iím not sure if that makes it better or worse, to tell you the truth."

Derek opened his mouth, and then closed it again, at a loss for what to say. He stared instead beyond the girl, to the mountains and the sea behind the church. He had forgotten how beautiful the view was up here, he so rarely just stopped and looked at it.

"Itís gorgeous up here, isnít it?" said the girl, uncannily echoing his thoughts. "My Mum loved it here. She used to drag me up the hill every Sunday when I was little, but then I got my...got to a certain age and I refused to go." Well, that explained why she seemed familiar, he must have seen her around. A local girl after all. "I went away to school, you see," she continued, "and I didnít come home very often. There always seemed to be more important things to do."

"And now you wish you had?" he asked her.

She sighed. "I should have spent more time with them. They always said they didnít mind if I didnít come home for the holidays, and I would always convince myself they were telling the truth. I should have spent more time at home."

"You couldnít predict this would happen," he said softly.

She laughed again, a laugh with no humour in it, but nodded her head in agreement. "Anyway," she said, shaking her head slightly as though clearing herself of a thought, "why am I standing here telling you all my problems?"

He shrugged. "Iíve got nothing better to do. Itís a nice day." She smiled at him and indicated Elsieís grave.

"Was she your wife?"

He found himself nodding again, and quickly stopped. "Yes," he said instead. "Thirty-seven years we were married."

She looked at the grave again, at the death date some thirteen years previous. "Do you still miss her?"

"Every day," he said with feeling. "They tell you it gets better. Itís a lie. But...you do get used to it. You move on."

"Can I ask you a personal question?" she said hesitantly.

His instinct was to say no, but he looked at her pale face and changed his mind. "I asked you one, fairís fair."

"When you got married, did you have any doubts?"

Derek leant on his walking stick and considered the question. Did he have any doubts? It was such a long time ago that he could barely remember. He remembered feeling nervous, but those nerves were more in case he said something stupid or tripped over on his way up the aisle, something like that. He couldnít remember ever having doubts about the wedding itself.

Eventually he spoke, but slowly, measuring each word. "No. I donít think I did. I certainly never doubted whether it was the right thing to do. But..." He paused. "Elsie had doubts."

The girl looked quickly at him. "She did?"

"Too right she did. Took me years to talk her into marrying me, I must have asked ten or fifteen times."

"What changed her mind?"

"Well, now, that I never found out," he lied cheerfully. "I was just glad she agreed."

"But she still had doubts, even then?" He nodded. "Didnít that make you sad?"

"A bit, I suppose," he said, trying to remember. "But the thing was, I knew she loved me and that was what counted. Mebbe it was marriage itself that worried her, not me in particular. Ambitious, you see. Things were different for women back then, more difficult. They were expected to behave in a particular way."

The girl stared out unseeingly at the view. "Are you sure theyíre not still expected to?"

"Now, none of that!" he said, gently rebuking her. "Youíve got so many more choices than your mother or your grandmother ever had, and donít you forget it."

She looked slightly taken aback at his tone and her face briefly hardened as though she was about to argue with him; then she relaxed again. "I feel so guilty for having doubts," she said, so softly he could barely hear her. "I love him, I do. But..." She waved a hand helplessly. "I canít explain. I know this is the right thing to do, but Iím still scared."

Derek shifted his weight on his stick again; his back was giving him gyp. "I think thatís normal."

"It is?" she asked, surprised. There was another pause, and then she spoke again. "Did you and your wife ever fight?"

"What kind of question is that? We were happily married for nearly forty years!"

"Sorry," she said quickly, but he hadnít finished.

"We fought every single bloody day! Usually about the washing up, if I remember rightly."

"Really?"

"Or my pipe smoking, that was another favourite." He laughed at the expression on her face. "I always felt it was just our way of having a conversation. Like some people make small talk about the weather? We would bicker and argue about anything we could, itís just another way of saying ĎIím alive, and so are you". You ever meet a couple that says they never argue, theyíre either lying, or thereís something very wrong there."

"Must be more peaceful, though."

He waggled a finger at her. "Peaceful is just another word for boring, young lady, and donít you forget it." He paused before asking a question that had been on his mind for a while. "If this is your wedding day, wonít everyone be wondering where you are?"

She shrugged. "I told them I had forgotten something, and had to pop back home. Theyíll probably start worrying in a bit, I should go back." She made no effort to move, though, and neither did Derek. He decided to ask another question that had been bothering him.

"You didnít get married at this church, did you?" he asked. "I donít remember any banns being read out, and there havenít been any extra cars around this morning."

A flash of panic swept across the girlís eyes, so quick he couldnít be sure he hadnít imagined it. If he hadnít, she recovered herself quickly.

"No," she said, "I drove here. We got married at the, er, Manor."

"Ah, of course," said Derek, not believing a word of it. "The Manorís very popular for weddings these days, so I understand?" She nodded, looking relieved. "Yes, itís not like my day. No one would dream of getting married anywhere other than a church, but things change, I suppose."

"Tempus fugit," she said solemnly, a sudden hint of amusement in her voice. "My parents would have been horrified, but, well, neither myself or my husband are believers, so I would have felt a bit hypocritical, you know?"

"Yes." And he did know.

She was looking away from him again, looking at the sea. "My parents got married in this church," she said quietly; then, to Derekís horror, her face crumpled and she began to cry.

He had never been any good with crying women. With his wife or any of his daughters he would pat them ineffectually on the back and then flee the room at the first opportunity. He couldnít do that here, not to a stranger, so instead he fumbled awkwardly in his pocket for his handkerchief, handing it to her with a sort of apologetic smile.

"Thanks," she whispered, obviously trying to get her sobs under control. "Iím going to ruin my makeup," she added with a shaky laugh.

Derek gave a sort of grunt, and half turned away, looking intently at the group of trees on the other side of the churchyard in an attempt to give her some privacy. He wasnít quite sure what happened next; he heard no car, but as if from nowhere, there suddenly came a shout.

"There you are!"

He turned, as did the girl, to see a tall young man with bright red hair and a worried expression running up the path towards them.

"Are you all right? Iíve been going frantic! Ginny said..." He stopped, looking at Derek as if he had only just realised he was there. Derek decided that now was the time for a tactical retreat.

"Iím just going to look at the parish notice-board," he said to the girl, who nodded and smiled at him. He could feel two pairs of eyes on him as he limped down the path, leaning heavily on his stick, and neither of the young couple spoke until he was out of earshot. He made his way to the front porch of the church, and did exactly as he said he was going to do, standing in a position where he could read the notice-board. What the girl probably hadnít realised was that he could also see her and her young man from this spot.

Elsie always laughed at him for his nosiness, saying he was worse than a gossiping old woman. He would always reply that it was simple human curiosity, and was she any better? They would then have a brief bicker about who was the nosiest, which she would win, for he was nosy, he always had been. He felt a slight surge of guilt for spying on the girl, but it was drowned out by the desire to know what was going on.

The pair on the path appeared to be talking earnestly to each other, but try as he might, Derek couldnít make out what they were saying. He could see that the girl seemed to have stopped crying though, and after about five minutes or so, the young man reached forward and took her in his arms. She was so much shorter than he was that his chin rested on the top of her head. They stood there absolutely still, clinging to each other without speaking.

Suddenly feeling very guilty for intruding on the young couple's privacy, Derek switched his attention back to the reminder about the plant sale on the seventeenth. If he remembered correctly, that was the weekend of the FA Cup Semis, and he made a mental note to have a word with the vicar about scheduling church events around the Cup.

He was never entirely sure what happened next. He supposed he must have sat down and gone to sleep, though he could not remember doing so. He woke up in the porch with some confused memories of the girl coming and saying goodbye to him, and apologising for something, and saying she wanted to give him a present to say thank you, but he wasnít sure if that had actually happened or if it had been a dream. He made his way down the hill, still confused, thinking about the girl. He hoped she would be okay. He would never consider himself to be sentimental, but she had reminded him of his Elsie, somehow, though he had found himself talking to her as though she was his daughter.

Lost in these thoughts, he didnít realise until he had got home how much less time the journey had taken than normal. As he stood in his kitchen, he realised how little his back was hurting him; in fact, it was as if the pain had completely gone. And, to his ever-increasing delight, his hip didnít feel stiff; in fact it felt looser than it had in years. Experimentally, he tried bending, first to one side, then the other; he stretched up to the ceiling; stood on one leg and then the other; and finally he reached down and touched his toes. Straightening up again, a huge grin spread across his face.

Ah. That explained a few things.

After a cup of tea, he decided to take advantage of his new fitness, doing something he hadnít done for years. He took the small stepladder from under the stairs, went into his bedroom, set up the stepladder next to the wardrobe, climbed up it, and took down the box, hidden behind other boxes on the top of the wardrobe. He climbed carefully down the ladder again, and sat on the bed, opening the box with trembling hands.

There was an assortment of objects in this box, some looking ordinary, such as several letters, a few books and a diary, and some not so ordinary. And, beneath them all...

He lifted it out - a slim, flat box, looking a little like a smaller version of a flute case, but made of cherry-wood and exquisitely carved - and carefully opened it. Inside was Elsieís wand, ten inches long, also made of cherry-wood, and containing a single unicorn hair. He held it up, studying it, and smiled as the memories flooded back to him.

"But why wonít you marry me, Elsie? You love me, I know you do."

"Itís not about love, Iíve told you before. I just canít. There are things about me you donít know, and you donít want to know."

"Canít I be the judge of that? Just tell me, for Godís sake!"

And they had argued, and eventually she had snapped and told him, and once the words were out, there was no taking them back...and she had taken this case out of her handbag and opened it, showing him the contents, and he had laughed, thinking it was all a joke, if a very elaborate one...

Even once heíd been convinced, it wasnít easy at first. How could it be? He was confused and upset, she was scared, her family wouldnít accept him, he couldnít even tell his family about her...but they had worked through it. She had refused to get married in a church, which had upset him, but at least she had agreed to marry him at all. He had known she had doubts, even on the day of the wedding itself, but he had never regretted his decision, and he hoped she had never regretted it either.

He shook his head to clear himself of the memory, and put the wand back in its case, and the case back in the box. He then poked through some of the other contents of the box - the kidsí Hogwarts letters, cuttings from the Daily Prophet - and picked up a bundle of moving photographs. He flicked through them, resisting the urge to wave back at his children, dressed in their Hogwarts robes and waving at him enthusiastically, Mary with her Head Girl badge on her chest, Anna with her broomstick... There were similar pictures, but he was looking for one in particular, and eventually he found it. A picture of the two of them on their wedding day, looking so young (did he really used to have that much hair?) and very much in love. He had his arms around her and looked slightly bemused, though happy, and Elsie was leaning back into his shoulder, looking directly into the camera, her face full of shining laughter. He couldnít remember who had taken the picture, but whoever it was had caught the pair of them in a perfect moment; long ago now, but never forgotten.

He sat there for some time, staring at the picture. He didnít cry, for his tears were cried out years before, but he felt very old and very tired, looking at the young couple with so many rich, full years ahead of them. Eventually he put the photographs back into the box, and replaced the box on top of the wardrobe. He put the stepladder back under the stairs, went into the kitchen, and got out some sausages for his tea. As he carried out these tasks mechanically, he was thinking about the two young brides who had somehow blurred together in his mind; very different in appearance, but he had the feeling that if they had ever met they would have rushed together with their arms held out, recognising a kindred spirit.

He read a little after tea, watched the news, and went to bed, still lost in thought.

Derek Peter Walters died that night in his sleep, aged 76. The young girlís magic had given him relief from back ache for the last few hours of his life, but there was no way she could have known about the cancer slowly eating its way through his body. He died in peace, remembering in his dreams another young girl whose laughter would always echo through his mind.

Hermione Jane Weasley nee Granger returned to her parentsí grave many times, but though she always secretly hoped to, she never met the old man again.

//
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