A Love Without End
"Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire."
- François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
He never got over her death.
Not really. He never got over the fact that he didn't say goodbye. It changed him in many ways and for many reasons.
I was fourteen when it happened, when our whole world was torn apart. It was just an accident, an unavoidable, unpreventable tragedy. The driver had a heart-attack, lost control, and she never even saw the car as she stepped out to cross the London street, never even had time to draw her wand.
I stood with him at my mother's funeral, dry-eyed as my sisters sobbed around us. Fourteen was old enough to be strong and silent on the outside – stoic. Fourteen was young enough to be shattered and dying on the inside – broken.
There were five of us. I was the oldest, one boy with four sisters. Four little motherless girls with her hair tinged in red and her eyes, her fire. Four constant reminders of the hole in his heart.
Me? I took after him – same shaggy mop, same build, same pig-headedness. Except for one thing: magic. In a family that oozed with it – even my youngest sister at only two could make things spark – I didn't have a drop. It threw him. He loved me, but he didn't know what to do with me and it set us at odds more often than not until there was a deep gulf between us that neither quite knew how to breach. She'd been our bridge, our mediator. Now where did we go?
After the funeral, he shut himself in their room, expression blank and a bottle in his hand.
Grandma Molly stayed with us, cooking, cleaning, drying my sisters' tears as she hid her own.
On the third day he finally emerged, pale and scruffy. Without a word, he crossed the hall to the bathroom and shut the door. An hour later he entered the kitchen, showered and clean-shaven, eyes haunted but determined. He kissed Grandma on the cheek and sent her home. Then, with hands that trembled, he tied on Mum's apron, ruffled Lizzie's hair, and made lunch.
That was the beginning of my education, my discovery of the man who was my dad. He'd always been a good father, a devoted husband, but after she died he became father and mother, supporter and comforter – everything.
The first few months were…there isn't a word to describe them. His heart was broken but his resolve and love for us was stronger. But that didn't mean it was easy. Doggedly, he taught himself to complete her tasks, though he knew he would never fill her shoes. He learned to sew on buttons and kiss scrapped knees. He read bedtime stories and learned to give Saturday night baths. He combed the tangles from four heads of bushy, auburn hair and tried so hard to do them up in ribbons and clips like Mum had, while I watched from the shadows where I had retreated to deal with my own pain. I saw the tears in his eyes as their little lips trembled. He Flooed Aunt Ginny the next day and she came to stay for a week. Patiently, she smoothed his motions, guided his rough, calloused hands, taught his fingers. By the time she left my father was passing fair at ribbons and clips, ponytails and plaits. And something in my own heart had softened.
His first meals were nearly unpalatable, but we choked them down and he didn't give up. By the time Jeannie's fifth birthday came, he managed to bake the cake without burning anything.
"I love you, Daddy," she said, throwing her little arms around his neck.
I was the only one who saw the tears in his eyes.
He changed in other ways as well. He'd always been loud and boisterous, a little wild and very much a big kid. With time, he gradually learned to smile and laugh again, joke and play, but never quite the same. After her death he was quieter, sadder, more mature.
Time went on and so did life. We fell into a routine.
Once a week, Uncle Harry came and got Dad. They'd stop at the cemetery to bring Mum flowers and then he'd take Dad out to be with the guys - my uncles and the friends he didn't see as much now he'd quit the Auror Corps and taken a Ministry desk job for us. We'd already lost one parent; he wouldn't risk making us orphans.
Mum's parents had died before I was five, but we never lacked for family. Sunday's were spent at the Burrow where Grandma Molly covertly checked to make sure we weren't starving, Grandad Arthur plied us with stories, and Uncles Fred and George made sure I never felt left out, a lone squib in a family full of magic.
After she died, Dad made peace with his oldest enemy. I'll never forget the time I came home and found them there, both asleep on the couch, shaggy ginger hair brushed with grey melding seamlessly with shaggy ginger fur flecked with white. Misery loves company and they shared a desperate aching love for the same missing person, a love strong enough to bury even the largest of hatchets.
Years passed. Dad went to work and came home, fixed the toilet, did the laundry, fed that cat. He passed his driving test on only the fifth try, without even having to Confund the instructor. Without blinking, he turned down promotions at work that would have taken him to exotic places – but he never missed one of my rugby games in the two years I was on the team.
One by one, the girls started Hogwarts and Dad added to his skills. He learned to restyle Mary's dress robes to fit Katie, and Katie's to fit Jean. He lost all shame at being found on a Saturday morning in his Chudley Cannons sweatshirt, liberally decorated with pins, measuring tape around his neck and wand sticking out of his pocket.
At sixteen, I took a summer job at Uncle Fred and George's shop. Ministry desk jobs didn't pay all that well and I had big dreams. Time had eased my pain and bridged our gap. Magic was no longer a factor in our relationship. I'd learned to hold my head up high and be myself. I'm probably the only guy who ever put himself through Veterinary School by working in a wizards' joke shop, but I did it. I'll never forget the day I finished. Five whole rows of seats were filled with shockingly red hair, the whole clan turning out to show their love and support and celebrate a Weasley first. It meant so much, but not as much as after the ceremonies when Dad came up and pulled me into a strong embrace.
"I'm proud of you, Tony," he whispered thickly in my ear. "And she is, too. We love you."
I didn't answer back – I couldn't – just pulled him closer and held tight.
He never remarried. The aunts would try occasionally to get him to go out and meet people. He'd give a good attempt to appease them, but his heart wasn't in it. He'd found his one love. She might be gone from this world but she was still very much alive in his heart. There wasn't room for another.
And he had us. We were his world now.
He never got over her death. It changed him, but it changed me, too. I love my mother with all my heart and still miss her desperately, but I can honestly say I love my father just as much. I'm not sure I would have been able to say that if she hadn't left us, if we hadn't been forced to go through the pain together. Her death destroyed him, shattered his very soul, and it would have been so easy for him to lie down in the dark pit of sorrow and despair and never get up. But he was a better man than that, the best man I know, and he forced himself to climb, scarred and bleeding, back out to the light.
Because of love.
Because he knew that's what she'd want.
And because he loved us, too.
Dad, you gave your whole life for us, the greatest act of love, and I can finally say now what I was too scared to say before: "Thank you, Dad. I love you, too."
** Special thanks to theelderwand for betaing and encouragement! Thanks bro!