By Poppy P
A/N: As always, I'm grateful to Hallie for the Brit pick and Zsenya for the beta. Credit to Z for the "chastity charm". Reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Bill crept into the Burrow as quietly as possible, careful not to let the door slam. He and Remus had just returned from trying to find Moody's body, with no luck. Molly had been adamant about Remus and Tonks spending the night, since it was very late. Bill had insisted that Remus go on up to bed while he saw to the Thestrals that they had used during the mission.
He slipped into the living room and was surprised to see that it wasn't empty. Fred was sprawled out on the shabby sofa, fast asleep. George was slouching in the armchair, staring broodingly into the fire.
"George," said Bill softly. "What are you two doing here?"
George startled slightly at the sound of Bill's voice. "Hey, Bill. I forgot you were still out there."
"What are you doing here?" repeated Bill, his eyes glancing over Fred's sleeping form.
George made an exasperated noise. "Mum," he said shortly. "She insisted on me staying over so she could look over my wound in the morning. Fred said he'd stay as well. I think it's mostly because it's his turn to cook breakfast tomorrow."
Bill crouched down in front of the armchair and took George's face in his hands. He turned him so that the light from the fire hit the side where George had lost his ear. "Mum did a good job," he said, appraisingly.
George shrugged. "I guess so," he said. "There wasn't much she could do for it."
Bill took a seat in the other armchair. They were both quiet for a few minutes, listening to Fred's snores. "So what are you two doing down here? Why didn't Mum set up camp beds for you in my room?"
George flashed his brother a grin. "She did, but we thought it'd be best to make ourselves scarce. You know, in case you and Fleur wanted to do some pre-nuptial canoodling." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Bill felt his face grow warm.
"Are you mental?" asked Bill. "I'm pretty certain that Mum's placed a chastity charm on Fleur's bed. Besides, do you honestly think I could get away with that under Mum's roof?"
"Brother, you're twenty-seven years old. Are you telling me that Mum still scares you?" asked George.
"Mum doesn't scare me," countered Bill. "She terrifies me." Both of the brothers chortled quietly.
"Join the club," Said George. "Shush," he added, as Fred grunted in his sleep and turned over. They watched Fred for a few seconds; until they were assured that he was still asleep. "You know, he's taking the ear thing pretty hard."
"It's not even his ear!" protested Bill. "What's he upset about?"
George smiled. "He thinks it's the end of his life as he knows it. We can't fool Mum anymore. And now he'll have to juggle all of his women by himself."
Bill grinned broadly, though it caused the scars on his face to tighten. "Fred still likes to live dangerously then?"
"You bet," said George. "He's juggling three at the moment." He rubbed the side of his head thoughtfully. "Although as thick as they are, maybe they won't even notice the ear."
"He's lucky Mum doesn't know about him messing around like that. You know how she hammered the 'respect for women' thing into us," said Bill.
"Mum?" said George, "He's lucky Ginny doesn't know. She probably hex him into tomorrow. Although, some of those witches…er…" he trailed off.
"Yeah," said Bill in an encouraging tone.
It was George's turn to blush now. "They're pretty curious about the whole twin thing." Bill still looked confused. "You know," explained George, "they want to go out with both of us, at the same time, to find out if we're really identical. You know what I mean?"
Bill grimaced. "That's disturbing. It's not exactly an image I like to associate with my little brothers." George shrugged in a 'what can you do' gesture. "Besides," Bill added, "you're not."
"We're not what?" asked George.
"You're not identical everywhere," said Bill decisively.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," said George with trepidation.
"You have a crescent shaped birthmark on your bum," Bill said simply.
George looked quite frightened now. "And you'd know this because…"
"Who do you think changed your nappies when Mum was laid up from Ron?" asked Bill.
"Oh," said George, wrinkling his nose, "And here we envied you because you never had to wear hand-me-downs. I forgot about you having to do nappies." At that moment, Fred rolled over again, knocking his blanket to the floor.
Bill got up and stretched it over him again, smiling fondly. "I had to do a lot of this as well. Fred always was a wild sleeper."
George nodded distractedly, running his hand over the side of his head again, as though willing his ear to appear.
Bill noticed. "So," he said quietly, "you two bringing dates for my wedding?"
"Hmm?" said George, turning back to Bill, "Oh dates? Nah, Fred thought it'd be better for us to scope out our options."
"Good plan," said Bill. "Fleur does have some fairly attractive cousins."
George perked up. "Veela cousins?"
Bill grinned and nodded in confirmation.
Suddenly George's expression clouded again.
"George," said Bill gently, "what's wrong?"
George rubbed the side of his head. "I guess this isn't exactly going to make me popular with the witches, is it?" He shook his head, trying to pull himself out of it. "It's not a big deal, really. I'm alive, that's what's important. I mean, look at Moody. And it's not like it completely ruined my good looks…" He looked up suddenly, aghast. "B-bill…I…I'm sorry, mate. I d-didn't mean…" George looked up at his brother, eyes wide.
"Forget about it," said Bill gruffly.
George shook his head, stricken. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…"
"I said forget about it," insisted Bill. "Look, ever since Greyback, people keep giving me that annoying, sympathetic look." He glanced at George. "Oh yeah, I guess you'll be in for some as well now." George managed a wry grin. "Only three people have never given me that look; you, Fred and Fleur." He swallowed, having trouble putting his thoughts into words. "I can't tell you how much it's meant to me, that you've treated me absolutely the same."
"You are the same," said George firmly. "You're still our big brother Bill. Nothing's changed. And Fleur," he shook his head admiringly, "she's mad about you."
Bill tried to suppress a smile, but failed. "Yes she is, and I'm mad about her."
"But she was in love with you before, you know…" George looked down at his feet, "before everything happened. It won't be the same for me." He shook himself, rubbing his hands over his face. "I don't even know why we're talking about this. Mad-Eye and too much Firewhisky," he mumbled.
"George," said Bill placing a comforting hand on his knee, "it's okay for you to be sad."
"Sad?" said George, his mouth trembling slightly, "I'm not sad. I told you, it's Fred who's taking it hard."
Bill watched him pluck at a frayed thread on the armchair. He was strongly reminded of the five-year-old who used to beg to sleep in his bed because 'Fred had had a nightmare'.
George drew a long, quavering sigh. "Anyway, you never felt sorry for yourself, did you?"
"Of course I did," countered Bill. "Took me ages just to pluck up the courage to look in the mirror."
"I never knew that," said George quietly.
"It's not something I advertise," said Bill. He reached up and took the elastic out of his long, pony tail. He shook his hair out and gathered it up again.
"Say Bill," said George suddenly, "how long do you suppose it would take me to grow my hair that long?"
Bill snorted. "Well, as you've been a wizard for what, nineteen years now, is it? I'd say, as long as you want it to take."
"Oh, yeah," said George with a rueful grin. "Forgot about that."
Bill looked at George critically. "I don't think you should grow it as long as mine. I think collar length would suit you better."
"You think?" asked George. "Let's see." He pointed his wand at his head, closed his eyes and muttered an incantation. "There," he said, opening his eyes, "How does it look?"
"Smooth," said Bill. He glanced over at Fred. "Shouldn't you have cleared it with him though?"
George gave him a pained look.
"Kidding, kidding," said Bill with a grin. "You know, Mum's going to hate it."
George smiled brightly. "That's an added bonus."
It covers up the ear nicely," said Bill.
George blushed. "I'm not that fussed about it, really. It's just…" he paused, glancing over at Fred, who was now snoring lightly, "I kind of fancy someone, and…"
Bill bristled. "Whoever she is, if she doesn't appreciate the fact that you were injured fighting You-Know-Who, then you don't need her. You're a bloody hero!"
"That's the thing," said George softly, "she wouldn't understand because she's, well, a Muggle."
Bill's eyes widened in surprise. "A Muggle, really?"
George smiled. "It's nothing official. Her name's Iris. She's from the village; she works in the paper shop there. I've seen her a few times and we've, you know, flirted and stuff."
"A Muggle," repeated Bill. "Oh that's it. You'll be Dad's favourite now."
George chuckled softly. "I guess Dad will be pleased won't he?"
"Pleased?" Bill grinned. "I reckon you'll inherit the Burrow."
George nodded vaguely. "It's just difficult." He rubbed the side of his head that was missing the ear. "How do you explain something like this, to a Muggle?"
"Car crash?" suggested Bill.
George cast him a disparaging look. "I lost an ear in a car crash? Is that even possible?"
"Hell, I don't know," replied Bill. "Why don't you ask Harry? He ought to know about stuff like that."
"I can't ask Harry," said George, shaking his head sadly. "That kid feels responsible for everyone and everything. I swear, if you farted next to him, he'd say 'pardon me'."
"Hermione then," said Bill, "She'd probably think of something clever."
George scratched his chin pensively. "Maybe."
"Bloody hell," blurted Bill, "you're supposed to be the creative one. I'm sure you can think of something if this girl's really worth it…"
"She is!" said George vehemently. "You should see her Bill. She's got these amazing, brown eyes, and…and this hair…it's just…" he broke off, unable to articulate any further.
"Yes, hair is generally attractive on a woman," said Bill, amused.
"Git," said George with an awkward grin. "If I wanted the mickey taken out of me, I'd have told Fred."
Bill's eyebrows shot upwards. "You mean he doesn't know?"
George suddenly became very interested in the fingernails on his left hand. "I reckon he knows that I fancy her. I mean, he's always been there when I've seen her. But then Fred thinks every girl's a potential shag."
Bill studied his younger brother. "Am I to understand that you've got more than that in mind?"
"I want to go out on a date with her and be able to talk about my brother the curse breaker," said George rapidly. "I want to tell her about my Mum who charms a mean cheese." He slapped the arm of his chair in agitation, sending a cloud of dust into the air. "Hell, I'd like to tell her about the wizarding shop I'm co-owner of."
The only sound for the next several seconds was that of Fred's light snoring. Finally Bill said, "George, things are hard enough right now, don't you think? Perhaps you shouldn't pursue this until we see where this war is headed."
"I'm not a coward," said George hotly, causing Fred to stir in his sleep again.
"I didn't say you were," said Bill patiently. "But inducting a Muggle into our world at this point is probably not the safest thing you can do for her."
"So what am I supposed to do?" asked George fiercely, "Not live until Voldemort's defeated?" Bill winced at the name. "That sounds like a load of dung coming from a man who's planning his wedding in the middle of a bloody war zone."
Bill was hurt. "That's not fair. It's different; Fleur's a witch."
"So you have some kind of double standard?" asked George, his voice hoarse from trying to argue in whispers.
"Don't get shirty with me," said Bill, affecting his older brother tone. "I was raised by Arthur Weasley as well, you know."
"Sorry," muttered George.
"Go to bed," said Bill kindly. "Everything will look better in the morning."
"Except for George's ear," said Fred, sitting up suddenly and drawing a deep, sleepy breath, "And your face, Bill."
"You arsehole!" said George, colouring slightly. "You're awake!"
"And this would be why Mum calls George her 'little, sensitive twin' and not you, Fred," said Bill, pinching George's cheek.
"Shut up!" said George, flipping a couch cushion at Bill's face. "Besides, Fred's the closet Celestina Warbeck fan."
"You take that back!" said Fred angrily, struggling to stand up from the saggy couch.
"Not on your 'Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love'," sang George, ducking the cushion that Fred sent flying at him.
Bill shook his head, grinning. "I suppose at least one of you had to be a Warbeck fan. I think Mum and Dad actually conceived you two to one of her songs. Which one was it again? Ah yes, "When Two Wands Ignite."
Fred and George exchanged a look of revulsion. "That's disgusting, Bill," they said.
Bill merely laughed and ducked as two cushions were sent his way now. The cushions hit a lamp, causing it to topple over with a spectacular crash. They were so busy laughing, that they didn't hear the quick, angry steps on the stairs.
"Mum!" said George stunned.
"What are you doing up?" asked Fred trying to fix the lamp with his wand without Molly noticing.
"It is two o'clock in the morning," said Molly in a deadly tone. "Do you have any idea how much noise you three are making?"
All three of her sons shook their heads guiltily.
"I thought Death Eaters had broken in, for Merlin's sake!" she said, clutching her heart. "I'm surprised at you, Bill. George is still recovering," said Molly, her eyes softening somewhat. "Don't you think it would be a good idea for him to get some rest?"
Bill nodded, the twins looking sheepish. "Sorry, Mum," said George contritely, kissing her on the cheek. "We'll go to bed now."
Bill and Fred followed close behind George, kissing their mother good-night as they passed her on their way towards the stairs.
Fred had reached the third step when he muttered, "Last one to the room gets the lumpy bed." Immediately there was a scuffling on the stairs as they tried to beat each other to Bill's room.
Molly tried to keep the smile out of her voice as she called up the stairs, "Don't make me go up there!"
Half an hour later, Bill's thunderous snores filled the room. George lay in Bill's bed having beaten both of his brothers to the room. He wondered briefly if they had gone easy on him because of his injury. No, thought George gratefully, as he rubbed a sore spot on his ribs; Fred had cheated as usual.
"George," called Fred softly, over Bills snores, "are you awake?"
"So, you really like Iris?"
George's sigh was more sleepy than annoyed. "I think so."
"I figured you did," said Fred, his voice tinged with something that sounded like resignation. "Is it…are you…in love?" he asked, hesitant.
George was very grateful for the darkness which covered the spectacular flush that crept up his face. "Maybe," he admitted.
"Does it feel nice?" asked Fred.
George smiled. "Really nice."
Fred rolled onto his stomach, the rickety bed creaking as he turned his face towards George's direction. "Look, perhaps Bill's right. It's probably best not to start anything serious until we kick Voldie's arse."
George didn't answer immediately. He had suddenly become in engrossed in punching his pillow into a more comfortable shape.
"She'll wait for you," said Fred, answering George's unspoken concern.
"How do you know?"
"Because she really likes you too."
"You think so?" George could've kicked himself at the eagerness in his voice.
"Yes, I do," said Fred, and George could hear the sincerity in his tone. "Who knows why she picked you instead of me. I guess there's no accounting for taste."
"Prat," said George fondly.
"When all of this is over," said Fred though a tremendous yawn, "I'll help you win the girl. Then, you can get married. I'll be the best man, naturally. Next, you can name me godfather to all of the sproglets who will all be named after me, of course: Fred, Fredrika, Freddy, Fredrique, Fredrick, Fredette, Fredigard…."
George fell asleep to Fred's litany, dreaming of his future life filled with Iris, their many red-headed children and their favourite Uncle Fred, spoiling them senseless.