DISCLAIMER: All people, places and things relating to the "Harry Potter" universe are the property of JK Rowling, et al.
SUMMARY: Immediately following the events of "Goblet of Fire," Bill Weasley has a heart to heart with Fleur Delacour.
CATEGORY: Drama, romance, vignette
SETTING: Post "GoF," pre-"Order"
A NOTE ABOUT BILL'S AGE-- I have seen a wide range of age estimates for the Weasley's eldest son, so allow me to explain my OWN take on the subject, as it directly affects this story. In "GoF," Bill remarks to Harry that he hasn't seen Hogwarts in 5 years. What does that mean? I have no idea. For my purposes, I'm going to say that Bill went back five years ago to see CHARLIE graduate - Charlie and Bill are supposed to be close in age, so I think it's logical to imagine they graduated relatively close together. So, to get this straight for everyone reading: Charlie graduated five years ago, which means (in my universe) that Bill graduated SEVEN years ago. That means he would have been 17 seven years earlier, which would make him 24 as of GoF. *pant, pant* I really hope JKR clears up this whole age issue in "Order of the Phoenix," because it's really confusing! LOL! But I think having Bill graduate a year before Harry arrives at Hogwarts, then Charlie the year after that, would be making them all too close in age. Poor Mrs. Weasley, having that many children so close together! The poor woman HAS to have taken a bit of a break somewhere. LOL! If you think Bill's older or younger than my estimate, bully-oh for you, but I'm sticking by my theory. *giggle!*
A NOTE ABOUT FLEUR'S AGE: Much easier to determine than Bill's, since she's still in school, albeit her final year at Beauxbatons. By most guesses, this would make her 17or 18. I'm going to go with 18, just to have her nicely of age, and to avoid all that squidgy Minor/Adult relationship unpleasantness. :-D
This love was stronger than the powers so dark
A prince could have within his keeping;
His spells to weave and steal a heart
Within her breast, but only sleeping.
Willy DeVille, from "The Princess Bride"
For as long as she'd been Professor of Herbology, Professor Sprout had kept a fragrant herb and flower garden on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, partially as a way to maintain her stores of magical plants, but also as a quiet retreat from the hurly-burly of the school. Once a person passed the borders of this hedged-in haven, an inner peace seemed to fill them, due (in part, at least) to the bushes of Hedera calma - Tranquil Ivy - that Professor Sprout had planted all round the latticed entryway. Frequently, when O.W.L.S. or N.E.W.T.S were approaching, students would find their way here, to the Garden, to clear their minds and get in some quiet studying.
Bill Weasley remembered spending many hours in this place. His favorite spot had always been a bench tucked in amongst the glossy-leaved rhododendrons. He liked the way they crowded around him like helpful tutors, occasionally nodding their funnel-shaped heads in agreement with his mumbled studying whenever the wind blew. He made his way to that bench now. Even in the pale wash of moonlight he was able to wander the twisting garden paths as though he'd never left. The events of the night were still fresh in his mind, and he could still hear the loud voices and hurried feet - muffled by distance - echoing across the grass from the Quidditch field. Thankfully, the garden hedges were high and thick; they drowned out specific voices and turned the remnants into a faint background hum.
Harry Potter was lying - dazed and half-dead - in one of Madame Pomfrey's hospital beds. Tensions were running high between Cornelius Fudge and Albus Dumbledore, which left Bill with a sour taste in his mouth. Professor Snape was off on some highly dangerous mission - Bill's mother hadn't known more than that, and wouldn't divulge anything she DID know - and somewhere out there, in the deep dark world, Voldemort was walking through a grassy graveyard, no doubt angry he'd once again failed to murder the Boy Who Lived. Bill supposed that now he'd have to be called the Boy Who Lived Twice.
He had already contacted his father, though it was no use for the man to try and get to the school tonight. Apparating was out of the question due to Hogwarts' security spells, and all available Port Keys had been maxed out by frantic parents rushing to the school to cradle, rock and care for their shell-shocked children. Until a new Port Key could be set up, or the Hogwarts Express mobilized into action, Mr. Weasley was going to have to work on damage control from the Burrow or his Ministry offices. Bill knew his father well enough to know he'd find a way to get to the school; it was just a question of when.
His purpose - for the moment - completed, Bill was filled with an overwhelming sense of uselessness. He felt impotent, like a sail hanging limp in the wind, waiting for the first breeze to pick up and put it to good use. He could have used that breeze right now; could have used anything that made him feel like more than a walking skeleton with no purpose. What was a treasure-seeker good for in a world where Gold played third fiddle to Life and Peace?
Turning a familiar corner, he found himself in the rhododendron patch. To his surprise, he was not alone. A slim, pale girl was huddled on the bench, face in her hands, glorious silvery blonde hair shimmering on her shoulders like moonlight made substantial. It didn't take long for him to realize this was Fleur Delacour, the young woman from Beauxbatons who had been one of the Triwizard Champions. It was obvious from the way her shoulders shook that she was crying.
New purpose pumped through Bill's veins. HERE was something he could do; comfort the damsel in distress. At the very least, he could be a shoulder to cry on; perhaps he could stop the tears all together.
"Miss?" he asked softly, taking a step closer. "Miss Delacour? Can I help you somehow?"
Her face came up, and as she scrubbed her cheeks, he recognized the ethereal veela beauty that hung about her like elusive perfume. Even through tears, she outshone most of her peers. "Oh," she gasped, trying to collect herself. "I… Pardon, Monsieur, I did not mean to disturb… I… I will return to ze Beauxbatons students."
She started to stand, but Bill quickly held up a hand to stop her. "No," he said quickly, then gentler, "No, don't worry. You aren't disturbing anyone. I saw you crying and was hoping I could help somehow. Please, have a seat."
She nodded and sat again, albeit with a slightly stiffer back. "Merci," she thanked him, leaving room on the bench for him to join her.
He accepted the invitation and sat beside her. Silence, punctuated by her sniffles, reigned for a minute before he asked, "Is there anything I can do?"
The young woman released a shaky sigh and shook her head. "Not unless you can turn back ze time and stop zat 'ORRIBLE wizard from… from killing Cedric. Sweet Cedric… And poor 'Arry…" Talking didn't seem to be helping; Bill could hear her throat closing up as she mentioned her two fellow champions, and she trailed off to resume crying softly into a dainty lace handkerchief she clasped tightly in a slender hand.
Bill rested his hand on the small of her back, rubbing gently. It didn't even occur to him that this was hardly a position for a man like him to be taking with an unknown woman; hardly more than a girl, to be truthful. Words seemed futile, however, and the touch appeared to soothe her raw emotions. She leaned towards him, resting her head on his shoulder as though he'd always been her comfort in times of duress.
"Pleaze, tell me it iz going to be okay," she whispered hoarsely, wringing the handkerchief in her hands. "It must be okay…"
Bill closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the crown of her head. His hand snaked around from the small of her back to rest on her hip, his thumb stroking comfortingly up and down over the curve where her hip melded into the rest of her torso. "I remember last time," he murmured, voice a little dreamy.
Fleur shifted against him. "Que voulez-vous dire?" she asked softly.
Bill smiled. "I don't speak French," he reminded her, squeezing her hip.
"Oh… Pardon," she apologized, and he could feel the warmth of her blush through his cool summer shirt. "I asked what do you mean?"
Nodding, Bill sighed. "Last time You-Know-Who was powerful. I remember it. Clear as water."
He felt Fleur raise her head from his shoulder, and turned his head to meet her gaze. She was giving him a quizzical look. "You do?" she asked, tilting her head. "'Ow?"
Somehow, he found himself chuckling. Some of her hair had stuck to her cheek, glued there by sticky tears, and he reached up with his unoccupied hand to guide them behind her ear. "Don't you know I'm an old man?" he asked, eyes twinkling a little. "It was only 14 years ago when it all ended. I was 10. How old are you?"
"There you go then. You'd only have been four. And in France at that."
She reached up to tug his hand down from her hair, eyes fixed to his. Curiosity burned there - a fervent desire to know how bad things were going to become. "What do you remember?" she asked, her French accent smoothing the words into a supple wave.
Bill was about to answer when he realized that he didn't want to talk about it. Everything that had happened tonight, all that he'd seen and heard and been told… It was too soon. Catastrophes like this were only supposed to happen once in a lifetime. Mad, bloody dictators were only supposed to rise like rogue volcanoes once in a man's life, then sink beneath the sea, to bother that man's grandchildren. Weren't people supposed to have a little peace? A little distance from fear? Twice now the same wizard had risen to rule the world with a wicked fist, and Bill was only 24. If the pattern continued, he'd never live to see 50.
Fleur must have sensed his inner conflict, because her cool hand against his cheek drew him from his reverie. "I am zorry," she murmured, running her thumb back and forth over his cheekbone. "I did not mean to prezume…"
Bill stared down into her eyes, and only then did he realize how close they were. Fleur was virtually sitting in his lap. His arm was wrapped comfortably around her slender waist, and she had molded herself to his side with such ease, it felt as though they shared skin. His hand felt at home on her hip, just as hers felt natural against his cheek. This was how his parents felt, he realized with amazement. This secure ease of company, knees touching, sharing personal space. He'd met veela before - most recently at the Quidditch World Cup - and he knew the power they could wield. He'd fallen in love with all of them, at least a little, though it was a hollow, insubstantial love, devoid of the intimacy and tenderness associated with the real emotion. Loving a veela was like bottling steam - it cooled when left alone, leaving the container empty, save for condensation. Or, in the case of a veela, wisps of memory.
But there was something different about this girl. His heart wasn't racing, and he didn't want to kiss her blind, which was his usual impulse upon meeting a veela. Rather, he was more than happy to share the stone bench with her, holding her close and comfortable in the crook of his arm, smelling the soft, lilac scent of her hair. And he realized, as suddenly as he had the reverse, that perhaps he DID want to talk about it. Perhaps he DID want to share the memories with someone, so that he wouldn't have to shoulder them alone, the stalwart eldest son of the steadfast Weasley clan. Just thinking about it lifted a 30 stone weight from his shoulders.
"I remember Mum crying," he said softly, eyes going distant as memories passed over his sight. "I remember her standing at the sink, up to her elbows in warm, soapy water, just crying. I didn't know what she was crying about; only that it must have been bad, if she broke down doing the dishes. I knew she cried - we all knew. She'd hide it, make some excuse to pop up to the bedroom for a while so that we wouldn't see. But we all knew." He shook his head a little. "That was the day the Potters died."
Fleur gasped faintly. "Zat iz 'orrible," she breathed.
Bill shook his head again. "No," he answered softly. "You-Know-Who was gone. Missing at least, maybe dead. The things he did to people, the things he made people do… Having him gone was a blessing. I didn't need to worry about Hogwarts being closed when I started there in a few years. Mum didn't have to worry that dad would end up missing from the Ministry one day. Dad didn't need to worry that You-Know-Who would Apparate in and murder his family."
He sighed and rubbed his eyes with one hand. "I think that's why my mother cried," he continued quietly. "Not from all sadness, because of the Potters, and not from all joy, because You-Know-Who was gone. She cried because she didn't know what else to do. He was gone, but at what price? What price is too high? Still, he was GONE. That deserved celebration." He ran a hand through his ginger hair. "It was too much for her, so she cried. We all did. What else were we to do?"
The garden seemed distant and blurry as Bill dwelt in his memories. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Fleur look down at the ground.
"Do you know why I wuz crying?" she asked suddenly, voice soft as summer rain.
Bill forced his eyes to focus and looked at her profile, muted by moon shadow. "Why?" he asked, sliding his hand up from her hip to comb through her long, smooth hair. "I thought You-Know-Who…"
She shook her head, leaning forward, elbows resting on her knees. "Oui, zat iz part of it." Her delicate hands, brutally powerful when wrapped around her wand, were shaking as she clasped and unclasped them in the air in front of her knees. "But… it iz not ze ONLY reason. It iz not ze WORST reason."
When she looked up to meet Bill's perplexed gaze, her eyes were filled with fresh tears. Bill felt his heart lurch.
"I… I cry becoz I am glad it wuz not me," she whispered, in a voice filled with such revulsion, it didn't seem possible it could come from such a beautiful mouth. "I cry becoz zat Crouch stunned me, but 'e did not kill me. I cry becoz Cedric and 'Arry, zey were ze ones to reach ze Cup, and zey were ze ones to meet… to meet 'IM." She shivered, half with fear, half with self-loathing, and looked away again.
Eyes fixed on the moss around her feet, she whispered, "I cry becoz… becoz I am glad someone else died instead of me." Her voice broke as she began to cry anew. "I am an 'or…'orrible p… person…!"
She was sobbing in earnest now, harder than when Bill had first found her. He didn't know what to do. For a moment, he was that ten year old boy again, peering round the kitchen door, watching his mother cry over the supper dishes. He felt rooted to the spot, unable to move, unable to think, lost and desperate for something to do.
So he did the only thing he could do. The same thing he'd done all those years earlier to comfort his mother.
"It's going to be all right," he whispered, gathering Fleur into his arms and hugging her with all his might. "It's going to be all right, you'll see. I'm here. Everything's going to be okay."
Fleur melted against him, letting him support her as her muscles gave up and the sobs took over. Here the similarities between past and present ended. Whereas ten year-old Bill Weasley had hardly been able to wrap his young arms around his mother's warm, soft waistline, Fleur Delacour disappeared into twenty-four year-old Bill Weasley's strong embrace. Whereas child Bill had buried his face in his mother's stomach as she cried into his ginger hair, adult Bill pressed his face into Fleur's silvery tresses as she cried into his chest. And whereas young Bill had forced a stiff upper lip as his mother cried her pain away, mature Bill closed his eyes and let his own tears fall, making slow, quiet tracks down his cheeks; because he wasn't a child anymore, and he DIDN'T know if everything was going to be okay. Molly Weasley had cried, all those years ago, because the nightmare was over. Fleur Delacour cried today because it had all begun again.
A long time passed before either one of them moved from the position; enough time for the moon to have uprooted a few stars in its nightly circuit of the sky. Fleur's tears had subsided at least half an hour before, but she didn't make a move to leave his embrace, contenting herself with resting her forehead against his breastbone as Bill stroked her hair with long, skillful fingers. Bill had closed his eyes some time earlier, resting his chin lightly on the crown of her head and turning his face up to feel the cool evening air. The hubbub from the Quidditch field had long ago dissipated, presumably as it moved from the outside to the interior of the gothic school.
When one of them DID move, it was Fleur. She took a deep, shuddering breath before pushing slowly away from his chest. She didn't go far, choosing instead to stay within the comforting circle of his arms. Raising her eyes, she gazed into his face. Bill gazed back, still caressing her hair, enjoying the quiet moment. Her eyes were still puffy and her lips were slightly swollen from the tears, but the pain he'd seen in her eyes had diminished to a manageable level.
"Merci," she murmured eventually, her gaze switching from one of his eyes to the other and back again before focusing on both at once again. "I… do not do zat often. It iz très embarrassant."
Bill shook his head and shrugged. "I don't think so. Everyone cries. It's one of the things that makes us human." He stroked her hair behind her ear again; it felt like habit.
The sudden spark in her eyes escaped his attention until she reached up with one hand to cup his cheek. The hand was shaking, but not with grief. "Vous êtes l'homme le plus doux vivant," she breathed, stroking his cheek as though he were some precious Grecian statue.
Bill frowned a little. "Come again?" he asked.
Her smile was radiant as she answered. "You are ze sweetest man alive," she translated, voice hoarse. "No one else zees me as 'uman. Zey zee only ze veela."
Bill felt himself blushing, and was thankful for the cover of darkness. "I'll admit, it's hard to miss," he confessed, reaching up to catch her hand and draw it down between their bodies, cupping it against his stomach as his thumb stroked her knuckles.
"But it iz not all you zee?"
"If it was, I would have kissed you senseless by now."
She laughed softly, and Bill thanked his lucky stars she wasn't offended. "Do you do zat wiz all ze veela you meet?" she asked, eyes sparkling mischievously.
Bill felt a smile tug at his lips. "No, but I always want to."
Her eyebrows raised. "Oui? And 'ave you wanted to do zat wiz me?" He smiled innocently at her, which only made her laugh again. "You are 'orrible!" She smacked his arm. With a laugh, he reached up to grab her hand and pull it down with the other, holding them playfully against his stomach.
He could feel the pulse in her wrists drumming against his fingertips. The space between them had shrunk to nearly nothing; a thin sheet of air separating their bodies. Her breath tasted like mint. Their laughter still lingered in the air around them, but only as echoes. Now, she was looking into his eyes as though seeing him for the first time. "Bill?" she whispered, voice suddenly vulnerable.
"Yes?" he asked, equally soft.
"Do you zink I am an 'orrible person?"
There was a weight to the question that Bill could feel, like a robe draped over his shoulders. It was dreadfully important for him to get this question right; the young woman in front of him, a breath away, was depending on him to tell her the truth.
"No," he murmured, squeezing her hands. "I can't think you're a horrible person, Fleur, because I'm glad you're alive, too." He pressed his forehead against hers, gazing deep into her dark blue eyes.
He almost couldn't hear her reply. "What about Cedric?"
Bill sighed. "I can't think about Cedric," he murmured, letting his gaze move down to her cheekbones, then up again. "My stomach won't let me. It rolls like an angry ocean when I think about him, and Cedric was never about anger. I didn't know him, but you could see it in his eyes. He was about respect, and honor, and loyalty." A sad smile touched his lips. "And I can tell you this." He brought one hand up to cup her cheek.
"Cedric would never have wanted you to die, Fleur," he whispered. "That wasn't the man he was. And right now, he's watching you and wishing he could help you, because Hufflepuffs have always been like that. Hufflepuffs are the strongest of all of us, Fleur - they're not afraid to sacrifice. Unafraid of toil, that's how I heard them described once. And Cedric was a Hufflepuff, through and through. He knew you were human, too, and humans want to live. Crying about being glad you're alive doesn't do his memory justice. HE'S glad you're alive, and that's all that matters. We're never going to forget Cedric; we're going to fight to avenge him and to solidify his memory. But to do that, we have to live, Fleur." He paused, then gently kissed the tip of her nose. "Live."
She snuffled, and they were quiet for a moment. Then she tilted her face up and placed a small kiss on his chin.
Bill smiled. "Is that an agreement?" he asked quietly.
Fleur gave him a shaky smile. "A start," she whispered.
He bumped noses with her. "Good." He gathered her hands again and brought them to his lips. Before he could kiss her knuckles, however, she spread her fingers like a blooming flower and cradled his face. When he looked into her eyes, they were shining.
"Merci, Bill Weasley," she said quietly, smiling. "Pour me faire rappelez-vous comment être humain. J'avais oublié.*"
Bill furrowed his eyebrows. "What?" he asked.
Fleur grinned wider. "I'll explain later," she murmured, before leaning forward and kissing him firm and square on the lips. Contrary to everything Bill had ever imagined, it was the veela who ended up kissing HIM senseless. And he didn't mind in the least.
*"Merci, Bill Weasley… Pour me faire rappelez-vous comment être humain. J'avais oublié.: "Thank you, Bill Weasley. For reminding me what it's like to be human. I'd forgotten."