Disclaimer: Me? Just a poor fan. Therefore own nothing.

Hurrah! It did happen! Finally I've got both inspiration and time for this story, can you believe it? For I surely can't.

Chapter 21

Many years later, he still remembers the fear. At the time, he didn't recognize it as such. As a child, he only knows that his parents deny him everything. He cannot leave the yard on his own. He cannot go outside unaccompanied, even to see a playmate in Ottery St Catchpole. He cannot make a step aside from his mother when they are shopping in Diagon Alley. He cannot do anything and it's so unfair. It feels like everything his mother does is restraining him. And he's sure she does it on purpose. Just to spoil his day or making sure that she has a helping hand with all these kids that just keep coming.

He cannot link his being limited to stay home with the weariness clouding his father's face when he comes back from work, or his mother securing every door three times and checking before letting someone in. He cannot relate it to all these conversations his parents hold in a low voice, so that children wouldn't hear. Sure, he knows they are afraid, but he cannot make the connection between the two things.

As he grows older, he is faced with reality. With the idea of You-Know-Who and the vigilance they all need to survive. Vigilance? It's fear, he realizes and that makes him feel bad. Even then, at the tender age of eight, he knows that there is something deeply disturbing by the idea of hiding, instead of fighting.

Years later, he can see that his parents' fear had nothing to do with their own safety and everything to do with their children's. But at the time, he worships his uncles Gideon and Fabian, who are so funny and witty and who aren't afraid. Every visit of theirs leaves the Burrow energized and happier. They can make even his always weary mother laugh and while they are here, Bill doesn't need to worry about Fred and George doing something crazy, dangerous and not funny, no matter what these toddler troublemakers think – they are always sitting timidly with their u8ncles. All right, maybe not so timidly, but they are there. No need to lose your time looking for them. Gideon and Fabian make the war look exciting, great, actually – so different from the constant fear Bill lives in.

It's a shame that those who did not fear the war had to die in it.

Bill cannot imagine his life without any of his siblings. He is blessed to have them. However, sometimes being a big brother is a little hard. All right, quite hard. He cannot say whether he chose to be a role model, or his parents pushed him into it, but it's a fact. He cannot do anything for himself, he always has to take the other six in mind. He has to help his mother caring for them physically. And while he doesn't mind all over, sometimes it's too much. There is a reason why Charlie is his favourite, not that he would ever admit it in front of anyone. Charlie is an equal. A comrade. Someone he doesn't need to be responsible for, someone whose company he can just enjoy. No strings attached.

Besides, the others come in his life quite late and he is forced to get used to them. With Charlie, there is no such issue. Not only can't he remember ever having lived without Charlie, but for a long time, he really doesn't believe that he ever has.

At Hogwarts, he fits effortlessly. He is a perfect student and it isn't hard since he knows how to divide his time between different priorities. With six younger siblings, he would have gone mad long ago if he hadn't learn how to do it. Long before he became a Prefect, he was one of the authoritative students in Gryffindor common room. He doesn't know how to do it. Maybe that, too, came with being the eldest Weasley boy: he is used to enforcing his authority without actually enforcing it. And he is well meaning to everyone – well, maybe not Slytherins.

During his first year, he feels severely homesick, but at the same time, freedom makes him feel intoxicated. He is free from his role model function; he is free from his mother's expectations. He can be whoever he wants to be. Later, he would realize that he wants to be a role model, the caring big brother, the perfect student with just a streak of independance. But if he hadn't had these two years at Hogwarts alone, he might have never known it.

And yet, he had never thought of finding a job here, of settling here. Has he always wanted to run away? He isn't sure. But when he thinks about it years later, he realizes that he had never once considered his future in Britain. Even on his career counseling, he says without thinking and without hesitation, "Oh I want to work somewhere abroad." He doesn't specify what career he would pursue. Professor McGonagall gives him an odd look, but fortunately, she doesn't say anything. Tactful and wise, she just directs him towards a career that she considers the best for him. Actually, it turns out to be the most awesome thing imaginable. Yes, Minerva McGonagall is one heck of a teacher, understanding her students far better than is required for a Transfiguration class or even for the normal functioning of Gryffindor House.

Why does he want to escape? He loves his family, no doubt about that, but they are just too overwhelming. He feels that he can never be a man of his own unless he separates himself from them. He must have always felt it, even when he was little: he would hide with a book about the adventures of brave wizards in distant lands and pretend that the other eight who would turn the house – and his head – upside down didn't exist.

It takes him a long time to realize that Fleur isn't welcome into his family. He is so happy to have her that it never occurs to him that others, mostly his mother, do not feel the same way. Fleur is intelligent, a bit stubborn – now, that is something that he's used to, because his mother is the same and Ginny already gives indications that she'll be of that ilk, too – and so beautiful that months after starting dating her, he sometimes catches his breath at the sight of her. He sees the way men look at her, both in and outside Gringotts. She is constantly asked to a date by numerous men. Bill is proud to have won her over them. They can talk about everything. He simply cannot imagine that she and his mother have nothing to talk about. Sure, he might have noticed that on family dinners, no one addresses Fleur, but that suits him just fine – this way, he has her all for himself. And maybe, just maybe he doesn't see it, because he doesn't want to see it? Because seeing it would equal to admitting that there is a problem and frankly, after Percy's leaving he just isn't ready to risk raising another uproar in the family if he can avoid it.

When Fleur doesn't receive a Christmas Weasley sweater, though, he can no longer ignore it. His mother does not approve of Fleur and has no qualms showing it. Fleur gets the message and reacts defensively. These are the facts, pure and simple.

Bill cannot get it. What's wrong with his mother? Why doesn't she trust him to make his own choices? He wants to talk to her, to make it painfully obvious that Fleur is the only reason that he is still around. Well, maybe not that he's still around – he would have stayed anyway, because he felt it was his duty to fight Voldemort, even if he died in the process – like his uncles had. But Fleur is the one he is ready to settle with. To settle for. If it wasn't for her, he'd leave for Egypt as soon as they win the war, and never look back. Surely his mother should know this and be pleased with Fleur for making him stay. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Worse, not only does she demonstrate complete disrespect to Fleur but she lets Ginny do the same. Sometimes, Bill is very tempted to sit down, throw his baby sister on his knee and give her a good spanking, something he had thought reserved only for Fred and George until they grew too tall for it. But it wouldn't fix the problem. He had to address it with his mother and despite being all independent and so on, it's still damned hard to tell Molly Weasley what to do. She just wouldn't accept it from her children. He tries, but she doesn't get the message. Too bad for her. He is not going to lose Fleur for something like that.

His mother doesn't know that he had silently given her a term to show respect for his choice: if she didn't do it until the end of June, he would give her the cold shoulder.

Ironically, it is Fenrir Greyback who does this job for him.

His scars doesn't bother him… much. True, he experiences a real shock to see himself in the mirror for a first time after that fateful night, but he is too stunned by other things to pay real attention to that. Really, some scars? He might be infected with some aspects of the werewolf curse, Albus Dumbledore is dead, the Light has lost its leader, the perspectives are as dark as they come and he is supposed to worry over some minor scratches… bites… whatever? Come on! Besides, Fleur doesn't care. Why should he?

It isn't always easy, of course. People stare at him, he gets glares, he gets children saying "Mummy, why is he like that?" Sometimes strangers actually flinch at the sight of him. Of course it hurts. But the hardest part is hearing the whispers behind his back, "What does a woman like her finds in him?" If he got a Knut for every time he heard that, he could buy Firebolts for half the Quidditch teams in Britain! But well, it isn't as if he can change something about that. With time, he loses interest in his scars because Fleur has lost it long ago.

The wound in his heart, in the place where Fred used to be, closes much more slowly. Actually, he isn't sure it has closed at all. Sometimes he thinks it is. He sees the sky, he hears his children's voices arguing about silly things like whose turn it is to clear the table – no magic included, they are still underage, - who ate the biscuits and who had spilled ink over Victoire's new dress. He breathes the salty air of the sea, he looks at Fleur, still as beautiful as the day he married her – and he thinks "It was worth it." And then, at a family gathering at the Burrow, at George's shop or actually, at seeing a set of twins, any set of twins, and the pain comes back. Was it worth it? Sometimes he thinks it was, other times he thinks, No. Nothing could worth this much. The only constant thing is the wound that might feel healed over, but it isn't. It has bled too many times for Bill to keep the illusion that it ever would.

Three children. Three is perfect for Bill. It's perfect for Fleur, too. And the fact that they just happened to get the greatest three there were is an added bonus. But even if they were less great – or infuriating, for that matter – they would still settle for three. Grown up in a big family, Bill cannot imagine having only one child and Fleur, thanks to Gabrielle's late arrival, had experienced much loneliness, so she, too, wants more than one. But they cannot imagine having seven either! Big family is not only good and wonderful and downright fantastic, it has its flaws, too, and Bill isn't ready to deal with these. Besides, he and Fleur are not like his parents. Times change. They are a modern couple and Fleur needs her job, her friends. She is not as maternal as his mother. She is a woman who needs to dress prettily and go outside, she needs time for herself and quality time with him – and that is impossible having too many children in the house. She needs to do things outside. Being a mother isn't enough for her and that suits Bill. Besides, if he wanted a conventional woman, someone more like his mother, he shouldn't have proposed to a participant in a Triwizard Tournament, let alone part veela, right? That is part of the attraction – that she is so different from the other woman who is important in his life. He enjoys having a wife who is as much as a woman as she is a mother. Fair deal.

He's never been good at detecting romances. Oh he sees Victoire sighing after Teddy for years, but that's hardly something he can fail seeing. He doesn't catch the beginning of their romance. Or the middle. He is very grateful that Fleur opens his eyes, otherwise he might have learned from the wedding invitation!

He detects the sparks between Al and Isabelle, though. These were something even he could not not see, so he cannot take much pride. But there is something warm and fuzzy when you see two people you love finding their way to one another, especially when you are there from the beginning to see their progress, Bill thinks at the day of their wedding. Then, he shakes his head. Not becoming sentimental now, am I? Must be the old age.