This was written for the Review Lounge's Rainbow Project - a series of stories by different authors, each about a different character but having the theme of rainbows. Please go and read the others - the link is in my favourites.
When he was four, Billy saw a perfect rainbow. It spanned the sky above The Burrow, arching overhead from the hills behind to the village in the valley below. He pointed it out to Charlie, who was less than impressed. Even at two, Charlie was hard to impress with anything that did not involve broomsticks or dragons or Mummy's cooking.
At four, Billy thought that life was pretty much perfect. Charlie was getting big enough to be fun to play with properly now, and if Mummy and Daddy looked worried sometimes, it was only about grown-up things that he didn't have to concern himself with. And there were occasional golden days when Uncle Fabian and Uncle Gideon would arrive, in a flurry of noise and laughter, making Mummy smile, and racing round the orchard with him and Charlie on their backs.
By the time he was ten-going-on-eleven, Bill had seen plenty of rainbows, but never a perfect one again. And he knew now that life wasn't perfect, though a lot of it was still good. There were definite disadvantages to being the oldest of six – no, seven since Baby Ginny arrived – children. Bill occasionally thought that if he heard the phrase "set a good example to your brothers" once more, he might have to do something that would be a very bad example. And the amount of time he and Charlie spent rescuing Fred and George from trouble before Mum and Dad found out about it, or being blamed for not keeping them out of trouble when their parents did find out was getting ridiculous.
Mum and Dad seemed to look worried all the time nowadays too. There were a lot of times when they would stop talking abruptly when he entered the room, and he and Charlie weren't allowed to look at the Daily Prophet any more. Bill knew there was a war going on, of course. And – though no one had ever told him so, or even said it when they didn't know he was listening (he and Charlie did a lot of listening at doors lately in an attempt to find out what was going on) – he got the distinct impression that You Know Who was winning, and their side was losing. Even Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian looked worried when they visited, although they still smiled and played with Bill and his brothers. (These days it was usually Fred and George on their backs when they raced round the orchard.)
Then one day at the end of August, a few days after Ginny's arrival, Bill saw another perfect rainbow. He and Charlie had escaped to the orchard after breakfast, to get away from Percy and the twins who had been bickering continuously (or so it seemed) since Ginny's birth. It had been raining, and the orchard was a sea of mud, but the boys didn't mind (although Bill had a suspicion that their mother would be less than impressed when she saw the state of their clothes later). Bill looked up through the branches of the biggest apple tree, where he and Charlie were perched, and saw a rainbow arching over the hills behind The Burrow.
"Look at the rainbow, Charlie!" he cried. "That means something good's going to happen."
"No it doesn't," retorted Charlie, throwing the core of the apple he'd just eaten at his brother. "It's just 'cos it's been raining and now it's sunny. Rainbows don't mean anything."
"You," Bill told him dispassionately, "are boring. And you're wrong too. Uncle Gid and Uncle Fay just Apparated in the yard."
Charlie cheered, and the two boys slid out of the tree and raced back to the house. When they entered the kitchen, their uncles were sitting at the table drinking tea. Uncle Fabian had Ronnie on his lap. Percy, Fred and George were sitting at the table as well, all three of them looking sulky and cross. Their mother, who was pacing to and fro with a yelling baby in her arms, sighed at the appearance of her two eldest sons.
"Have you two been rolling in the mud?" she demanded. "Go and put something decent on. Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian are taking you to Diagon Alley."
"Really?" Charlie's face lit up.
"Just us?" asked Bill.
"Yes, just you. Go and get changed."
The twins began to complain. "It's not.."
"..fair. Why don't we…"
"… get to go?"
"Because Bill and Charlie are the oldest," Uncle Fabian told them firmly. "We'll take you two and Percy next week."
The twins and Percy, united for once, all glowered at him.
"But…" began one of the twins again.
"Don't argue Freddie, or we won't take you at all," ordered his Uncle Gideon.
"I'm not Fred, I'm George."
"Okay, sorry George, but it still applies."
"He's not George, you were right first time Uncle Gid," Bill told him as he and Charlie headed out of the door to go upstairs and change. Fred and George both made faces at him. Clearly the fact that he could tell them apart was adding insult to injury as far as they were concerned.
Diagon Alley was crowded with Hogwarts students and their parents getting ready for the new term.
Uncle Gideon ruffled his eldest nephew's hair and smiled. "That'll be you this time next year, Billy-boy," he said. Bill grinned, but Charlie scowled.
"Your turn will come, Charlie," said Uncle Fabian understandingly, clapping him on the shoulder.
"Yeah, a whole three years away," complained Charlie bitterly. "Three years! Bill only has to wait one, then he goes away, and I have to stay at home with Boring Percy and the Twins From Hell and the babies. It's okay for you and Uncle Gideon. You're twins. You got to go together." His uncles laughed, and Charlie scowled again at their lack of sympathy.
"C'mon," said Uncle Gideon. "Ice cream'll cheer you up." And, despite himself, Charlie was cheered up by three of Florean Fortescue's best ice cream sundaes. Bill only managed two and a half.
"If you two are sick tonight, your mother will kill us," remarked Uncle Fabian gloomily, but Bill laughed.
"Ice creams never make us sick, Uncle Fay," he informed him. "Only boring things do that."
They explored Diagon Alley thoroughly, looking in windows and deciding what they would buy if they were rich. It was nearly impossible to drag Charlie away from Quality Quidditch Supplies once he spotted the new Comet One Hundred in the window, and Bill was very taken by a beautiful tawny owl in Eeylops Owl Emporium. He was only persuaded to leave by a promise from his uncles to buy him an owl of his own when he started at Hogwarts.
All-in-all it was a wonderful day; one which Bill and Charlie never forgot.
"Bill," mumbled Charlie, once they were in bed that night.
"I think you were right about rainbows. P'r'aps they do mean something good is going to happen after all."
On a sunny morning four days later, Bill, Charlie, Percy and the twins were playing in the orchard when their father Apparated with a crack in the yard.
"Why's Daddy home from work now?" asked Percy curiously, while Fred and George raced each other to reach their father first. Arthur hugged the twins tight, and looked over their red heads at his eldest son.
"Bill, keep the others out here for now," he ordered. "I need to talk to your mother. I'll tell you all what's going on in a bit."
Bill nodded, a feeling of dread he didn't understand tugging at him as he led his brothers back to the orchard, while their father turned towards the house.
It was nearly an hour later when their father re-emerged from the house and came to find his sons. Sitting on a fallen tree, he pulled the twins onto his lap, holding them so tightly that Fred squealed and George cried, "Daddy, that hurts!" Their father loosened his hold slightly, and looked round at his boys before beginning to speak.
Bill still didn't quite believe it was true, not even now on the morning after the funeral. "Dead" was something that happened to old people, to people who were ill, to people you didn't know. "Dead" couldn't mean Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian. They were young. They were full of life. They were going to buy him an owl…
"There's a rainbow, Bill." Charlie was looking out of their bedroom window, and Bill joined him there. "D'you think that means something good's gonna happen?"
Bill shook his head. "Nah," he said. "Rainbows don't mean anything. It's just 'cos it's been raining and now it's sunny. Rainbows don't mean a thing."
Arthur, coming to the door with Ronnie in his arms to call Bill and Charlie for breakfast, winced at the new hardness in his eldest son's voice. Ten was too young for anyone to lose their faith in rainbows. Far too young…
A/N The lack of an apostrophe in the title is deliberate... it would mean something quite different if there was one.
This is with thanks to lyin' because I would never have thought of including Gideon and Fabian in a story before reading her wonderful "Fools" (in my favourites - go and read it!) I've put their deaths a year or so later than she does in her story because I wanted Bill and Charlie to be a bit older.