A/N: This is something I was inspired to write after reading negative reactions to Fleur's behavior in HBP. I wanted to give her a positive spin, as I've always enjoyed her, and I hope I've done so, although she's not the main focus of this story. R/Hr with B/F. Reviews are always welcome and appreciated. Enjoy!
Brother to Brother
Bill Weasley stared down at his youngest brother and smiled. Ron was sitting at Bill's bedside, his head resting on his arms on the edge of the bed, and he was snoring rather loudly. A puddle of drool was forming on his black sleeve, and his chair was making a light scraping noise as Ron's weight pushed it backward.
Raising his hand, Bill first prodded the side of his own swollen face before reaching over to poke Ron hard in the shoulder. Ron started, snorted out a final snore, and sat up in his chair before looking blearily at Bill. "What's going on?" he asked through a slurp. He wiped his chin on the back of his hand and said, "What time is it?"
"Round about eleven, I'd say," Bill answered, motioning to the darkness outside the windows, "though I just woke up myself."
Ron nodded absently and turned to look around the infirmary. "Where is everyone? How come they didn't wake me?"
There was a pause before Bill replied, as he was straining to sit up higher in the bed. He noticed Ron's eyebrows knit in concern at his efforts, but Bill offered him a smile and sank into the pillows. "I imagine they're all asleep right now. Dad dragged Mum and Fleur away just before you, Ginny, Harry, and Hermione got here – about eight, was it? – and they haven't been back since. They're probably exhausted after hovering over me all day and night like a couple of hens." Bill had awoken the day after the attack to discover his mother and fiancée as thick as thieves, and although he'd been eager for them to bond, he hadn't expected it to be so… overwhelming.
"Oh," continued Bill, "and Ginny's put a note on your back for Madam Pomfrey."
Ron's face screwed up in confusion as he stretched a gangly arm behind his back to grab the piece of parchment Ginny had attached there with a Sticking Charm. Bill had already read it upside down when Ginny had put it on him, just before she left to go back to Gryffindor Tower with Harry and Hermione.
Dear Madam Pomfrey,
I've fallen asleep in my chair like an idiot. Please don't disturb me, as I've not slept properly in days – unless my atrocious snoring bothers Bill. Then you can throw me out on my ear.
Bill chortled at Ron's scandalized expression. "Pomfrey had a good time with that when she came to rub on my ointment a while ago. Well, at least I could tell she was having a good time with it, even though all she said was that she would be the first to be bothered by your snoring. Said she's heard enough of it in six years to last her a lifetime."
"How gracious of her," said Ron sarcastically, and in a mumble he added, "old hag." Then he scooted his chair in and made as if to stand up. "Reckon I should head back."
Bill thought it felt good to speak of ordinary things, though. He'd heard too much bad news and pessimistic theorizing in the past few days, and indeed the past two years, and he knew it was long from over. Some time with his brother, who'd always had a knack for making light of things, was in short order.
"Stay for a bit, Ron. It's been ages since I've really talked to you."
Ron shrugged and resettled in the chair. "All right, but I'm not sure what you mean. Saw you all last summer and Christmas, and that's more than I've seen you in ten years, really."
"Yeah, but I was a bit too wrapped up in Fleur to spend much time talking to you."
Bill smirked at Ron's faint blush. He supposed he'd spent more time on Fleur's lips than he'd thought, but it had definitely been worth it. "No complaining, little brother. I have it on good authority that you've done the Weasley men proud this year. Violet, is it?"
He'd expected the increase in Ron's blush, but it startled Bill that it seemed to be more from shame than pleasure. Ron turned his head to the side, away from Bill, and grumbled, "Lavender: Lavender 'Giant Squid' Brown. Tell Fred and George to shove it up their -"
"Now, now, Ron, don't say something Mum would regret," Bill scolded, not bothering to conceal his mirth. "I already told them to leave you alone. It's not as though they've had much action in… well, ever."
As Bill had predicted, Ron brightened at this. "What? That's not what they've told me! They told me that now they're famous loads of girls have been offering to -"
"Stop! I'm too weak right now to hear what those two have been doing with their groupies," Bill teased. He saw Ron's flash of distress at the mention of his weakened state and went on. "Trust me, they aren't as famous as they let on, and they're too wrapped up in their inventions for much of anything else. They probably do all right now, with their shop, but at Hogwarts even Percy was showing them up."
"But they always said -"
"Listen, you ever see them snogging in the common room after a Quidditch match?"
Ron grinned broadly and sat up straighter in his seat. "Nope! Those liars!"
"Can't blame them too much. I think they were just born like that," said Bill. He shifted on his pillows to get more comfortable. "So, you're snogging Lavender-"
"No!" Ron looked horrified. "We split up two months ago!"
Bill was taken aback, as he hadn't heard that, but Ron's earlier reference to the giant squid fit. "Oh, well you were snogging Lavender, and I hear Ginny and Harry are all over each other – 'bout time, really." Bill again found himself laughing at Ron's expression, which this time seemed to be a mix of revulsion, acceptance, and embarrassment. "You're really growing up, all of you. What about your other friend, Hermione? I reckon she's found a snogging partner too." Ron's look went very sour at that last. "Not a bloke you like, I take it? It's hard sometimes, having female friends, seeing them go out with guys we know are prats."
"Or grouchy gits and bloody apes," Ron muttered, not meeting Bill's eyes. His jaw was set and his hands clenched into fists; fierceness wasn't natural for Ron, though, and he came off as more comical than intimidating.
"That bad, eh? I'm surprised. Hermione seems to be a brilliant witch, but there's no accounting for taste. To tell the truth, I always thought you and her fancied each other, but I guess not."
Ron's face fell, and Bill knew he'd hit upon something. He mused to himself about Ron's ability to fluctuate from emotion to emotion so rapidly, but Ron had always been terrible at hiding how he felt, even as a baby.
"Ah, there's more to it, then?" Bill asked, though it wasn't really a question. "Let me guess: One or both of you fancies the other, there's jealousy involved, and this is part of the reason she wasn't even mentioned at Christmas." He thought he already knew the answers, but he'd let Ron say what he wanted and not scare him off.
Ron appeared to struggle with what to say, but he finally came out with it. "I didn't mean to hurt her for that long. Well, I s'pose I did, but I didn't think it through." Typical, thought Bill. "And she snogged Viktor Krum, so -"
"The Viktor Krum?" Bill interjected.
Ron glared at him. "Don't you start. I have to hear about how great he is from everyone else already." He glared harder. "Yeah, the Viktor Krum. Ginny says Hermione snogged him. Must've been during the Triwizard Tournament, or maybe she really did go to visit him in Bulgaria before fifth year…." He trailed off, frowning gloomily.
Bill frowned too. "She can't have done. She was with us at Grimmauld Place then," he said. "So she snogged a bloke two years ago. I'm sure you've done at least that over two years. Can't hold a girl to higher standards."
Ron was back to his red shade again, and he refused to meet Bill's eyes.
"There's something I'm missing here," said Bill. "You hadn't snogged any birds, had you?" Ron shook his head. "Or Hermione?" He shook it more emphatically. "Are you saying Lavender was the first?" There was a regretful amount of amazement in his voice.
Ron scowled in what Bill could tell was angry embarrassment. "Surprised Ginny didn't owl the whole family. She made a big enough deal of it."
"Calm down," said Bill, trying not to look too amused. "Don't let the fact that our sister is the Weasley who started out with romance at the youngest age get to you."
"What are you on about?"
Bill barked out a laugh. "Did you think you were the only Weasley to not get a kiss until your seventh year?"
"You lot all did away with it before third year, I reckon," Ron said huffily. "Even Percy found a girl who'd put up with him being a prat."
"You'll be shocked to know, then, that I think Percy was the youngest of us, excepting Ginny."
"You think I'm lying," said Bill, "to make you feel better, but I'm dead serious. Percy it was fifth year, Charlie the summer after – some Muggle girl from Ottery St. Catchpole – and I'm not sure on the twins, though I know they hadn't by the time sixth year was over – George told me Fred hadn't and vice versa. I heard that Fred saw that Chaser he took to your Ball for a bit, though, so I suppose it was then for him."
"And you?" said Ron, now sounding more upbeat.
"Me, eh? For me it was seventh year too. I was too wrapped up in marks and Quidditch and my friends to have much luck before that." His unfocused gaze rested on the ceiling. "Alice Filmore. Lovely thing with black hair and dark eyes and the best set of -"
Ron made a sort of strangled noise that lost Bill his train of thought.
"Distant memory now," said Bill. "She was a tad light on the brains; got pretty boring after a while." He found himself thinking of Fleur and smiling at how her looks put every other girl to shame, and she was sharp as a tack on top of it.
"Know what you mean," said Ron, breaking him from his thoughts again.
"Oh? I know you can't be talking about Hermione. Lavender then? What's she like?"
"Like a… girl. I dunno," Ron said, tossing his head in obvious annoyance. "She's like you said – hasn't got much of a brain, and she got boring. All she ever did was giggle and call me stupid nicknames." He let out a disgusted grunt that sounded like 'Won Won,' but Bill thought he must be mistaken on that one.
"Snogging her was fun and all, and we, you know" – he glanced at Bill covertly – "did some other stuff. But in the end I just wanted to be rid of her." Then he said, clearly to himself, "And she yelled at me in the middle of the common room anyway. I should have ended it months before." His face twisted in blatant regret; it seemed like too much just for an overdue break-up.
"We all do it, little brother. I just hope you didn't let that 'other stuff' get out of hand, or use it as an excuse. No matter how thick a girl is, that's not fair to her."
"It wasn't that!" said Ron in a touchy tone. "We just, you know, felt around a bit." He was staring at his lap, his cheeks blotchy as if they were fighting off the blush.
Bill smiled. "Think of it as practice for the next girl, the one that means a bit more to you – or a lot more. The right girl is worth a thousand of the other ones."
Ron visibly grappled then with wanting to say something and being too shy to do so. Finally he blurted out, "I think I know this already… not your answer, but who it…." He cleared his throat. "What I mean is how'd you know? About Fleur, I mean."
Ron's ineloquence made Bill laugh again. He mused that Ron probably thought he was getting enjoyment out of humiliating him, but that wasn't the case. "I doubt you remember too well what I was like at your age, Ron, seeing as you were only a kid then, but I was a lot like you. Really, I'm only laughing because you're like looking in a Penseive version of myself at your age."
"Thanks, I think," said Ron, and he laughed as well.
"About that question, though," Bill said, sighing and touching his mangled chin with tentative fingers. "I suppose saying I just knew won't help? Hmm. The best way seems to be having your face ripped to shreds and then waking to find the girl you want to marry still there, feeding you barely cooked meat and rubbing salve in your wounds."
His attempt to make the situation lighthearted appeared to unsettle Ron, and Bill couldn't help but feel grateful for having such a top-notch family.
"That doesn't tell you how you would know, though, does it? How about this: If you think about growing old and wrinkled – really think about it – and you can't imagine it without her around, that's a good sign. Or, if her flaws can drive you mad sometimes but they're some of your favorite parts about her, and you'd never want to change them, that's a good sign as well."
Ron didn't say anything, or even acknowledge that he'd listened, but Bill knew he was weighing what he'd said. Ron's eyes were glazed and fixed on his hands, and he was picking at a hangnail without much conviction.
After a minute, Bill said, "And another way to tell, I suppose, is if something like this" – he pointed at his face – "happened to her and it wouldn't even occur to you to leave her. Then I'd reckon you love her. As I said, it worked for Fleur." There was a fondness in his voice that he didn't bother to hide. "Mum told me she was great, but I knew that already."
It was obvious that Ron wasn't sure what to say to that, but nothing needed to be said. Bill knew Fleur was the girl he'd love forever. He suspected that Ron knew what girl he'd love forever too, but that something was worrying him about it, and Bill thought he knew what.
"You know, last summer Fleur was aware of what you lot were saying about her -"
"I didn't say anything!" Ron cut in, looking anxious. "Harry didn't either!"
"I thought not," Bill said with a laugh. "Doesn't matter, though. Fleur's too strong to let that stuff get to her; she's part Veela, she's used to girls not taking kindly to her. The point I'm trying to make, however, is that she knew why the girls weren't so keen on having her around."
Ron hadn't worked it out yet. "Thought she was just too different for them," he said.
"That's not it. Mum didn't like her because she's stealing her firstborn and doesn't seem to defer to Mum while she does it. Ginny didn't like her for stealing her favorite brother – same sort of deal. But Hermione wasn't disliking her on account of me."
It was clear that Ron was catching on now, his ears glowing red, a faint glimmer of hope and excitement in his blue eyes.
"There's a reason Fleur never kissed you on the cheek, even though you made an arse of yourself trying to get it to happen." Now Ron blanched. "She was aiming to not hurt Hermione's feelings, Ron. Fleur may be cool and aloof at times, but she's a nice girl when it comes down to it, and she told me she would be hurt if she were in Hermione's place, with you begging silently for attention from someone else. She can't relate to Hermione much, and she doesn't get what it's like to not be gorgeous and confident, but she could see plain as day that Hermione fancied you. In fact, she told me she's known for two years. Thought you were sure to be together already by last summer, and I think she was ticked off a bit that you were both too stupid to see it. 'Zat Ron and 'Ermione, zay need to be locked in a room togezzer until zay figure out zat zay are in love,' were I believe her exact words," he imitated in his poor French accent.
Ron laughed, though it was nervous laughter. "I wouldn't ever call Hermione stupid," he said, "but I reckon I've been stupid about all this."
"Happens to the best of us," Bill said, trying to assuage Ron's guilt. "You two have really never talked about it? Nothing's ever happened?"
Ron seemed more open now, as though he felt relieved to get all this off his chest after years of secrecy, and he met Bill's eyes earnestly. "Not really. We didn't talk for a long spell this year – when I was with Lavender – not until I was poisoned. Then I s'pose we were both trying to stay friends too much to do anything else." He looked down. "Not that I even knew where to start. Still don't."
"Suck it up and tell her," said Bill, not envying Ron's position. "Only thing for it."
Ron gestured helplessly. "Tell her what, exactly? I'm no good at this."
Bill sighed and said, "Tell her the truth, what you think of her and that you feel bad about how you've been treating her – because I can tell you do." He wished someone had given him that advice about women when he was Ron's age, but as the oldest brother he'd had to find out through trial and error that the best course with the female half of the population was straightforwardness. Now Bill could pass it on to his very insecure and bumbling brother, with whom he'd not anticipated having this conversation when he'd awoken to find him still sleeping at his bedside.
Giving Bill an awkward smile, Ron said, "Even though you all weren't much ahead of me with snogging, I bet none of you made such a mess of things as I have."
"Likely not, but then none of us met the girl of our dreams at your age."
Ron looked away, the moonlight coming in from the windows illuminating his sudden pinkness, but he appeared quite happy and repeated, "Suck it up and tell her," to himself in a murmur.
If he was going to say anything more, Bill never found out what, because at that moment the large infirmary door creaked open and a plate came into view, followed by a breathtaking woman.
Bill grinned hard, the gashes in his cheeks aching from the effort, and sat up higher in the bed. "Brought me steak, have you?"
"Bill, you naughty man, you are supposed to be asleep." Fleur came around the side of the bed not occupied by Ron, set the plate on the night table, and leaned over to kiss him gently and carefully, her sheet of silver hair whispering over his cuts and making them feel much better.
"So are you, at the Burrow," said Bill. "Everything's all right, isn't it?"
Fleur sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the jar of green ointment. "Everything is fine. I just couldn't sleep. But I see you 'ave company already. 'Ello Ron." She smiled at Ron, who'd been gazing at the two of them.
"Hey Fleur," Ron answered distractedly.
Bill squinted at his brother for a second, pondering. Ron had always looked at him and Fleur with a sort of rapt attention, as though he was attempting to use them as a visual how-to guide. Now, though, his eyes were filled with longing rather than observation, and Bill knew Ron was desperate for what he had with Fleur. He didn't think Ron would have to go without it long.
"I stopped by ze kitchens to get zis for you," Fleur said, and began feeding Bill bites of steak with her wand. She waited for him to chew before flicking her wand to send another piece into his waiting mouth. "I was 'oping you would be awake. I missed you."
Bill grabbed her hand and smiled adoringly at her. "And I was hoping you would stop by." Movement in his peripheral vision drew his eyes. "Leaving, Ron?"
Ron, who'd stood from his chair, nodded. "Yeah, you two have a good night. I've got to do a couple things before bed."
Bill knew he wasn't referring to schoolwork. "Good luck then."
Ron smiled, though it was aimed in a vague direction. "Yeah. Night."
"Goodnight, Ron," said Fleur, and she snuggled closer to Bill's side on the bed.
Turning back to her, Bill was just beginning to run his fingers up her arm when he heard Ron say, "Bill?" He looked across the room to where Ron stood in the doorway. "Thanks."
"Anytime, little brother."
And then Ron left, his body language exuding determination.
"What was zat for?" Fleur put her head on Bill's chest and used one hand to caress any bit of flesh on his face that wasn't raw. Her touch was magic.
Bill hugged her tightly to him. "Something you were right about."
"Zat could be many things."
Bill chuckled. "That's true. I think you know the one I mean, though."
"Ah, one of zem will finally do something, yes?"
Fleur sat up, grabbed the ointment, and began rubbing it on his face again. "Zey are truly in love, I theenk. Zey will end up togezzer."
Reaching up to stop her ministrations, Bill said, "If he's half as in love with Hermione as I am with you, he won't be able to avoid it."
Fleur kissed him then, deeper than she had since his run-in with Greyback. When she raised her face from his, it was miraculously free of Bill's green ointment and she looked more beautiful than ever. "Would you like to make a wager on it?"
"Definitely," said Bill. "Ten Galleons on our wedding day."
"Fifty on tomorrow," Fleur responded without hesitation.
They laughed, Bill heartily, Fleur airily, and then she kissed him again, and Bill promptly forgot about Ron and Hermione, and everything else except the girl he loved.