This was written for Pinky Green's wedding challenge at the Harry Potter Fanfiction Challenges forum.
It's dedicated to WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot and respitechristopher, with thanks for their encouragement and friendship.
So, it's the night before my big brother's wedding, and here I am back home again. Except it isn't. Home, I mean. Bill still calls it "home" (though I guess that'll change once he and Fleur move properly into their new place). So do the twins, despite spending most of their time at the flat over their frighteningly-successful shop (trust Fred and George to fall on their feet). Godric only knows whether Percy thinks of it as home or not – Godric only knows what Percy thinks about anything these days. (What I'd do for a few minutes alone in a room with Percy, and believe me, I wouldn't need a wand.) And Ron and Ginny are kids still, so it's fair enough for them to think of The Burrow as home. But it isn't for me. Home is the dragon reserve in Romania, has been for a long time. Not that I'd tell Mum that… No point in giving her something else to get upset about, she's good enough at finding things already. And Merlin knows, there are enough things for anyone – not just someone with Mum's ability to expect the worst – to worry about these days.
Perhaps I should have done what Bill did – jacked in the job abroad and come back once You Know Who did his reappearing act, instead of seizing on the excuse of recruiting foreign wizards to the cause to stay happily where I was. Let's face it, I do my best, but how much can I usefully do in Romania when the action is here in England? But Dumbledore handed me the reason to stay put on a plate, and I jumped at it. No one objected, no one told me it was a cop-out (and most of the time I manage to avoid thinking of it as that myself), but when I come back here I wonder. Even Mum's stopped making remarks about how dangerous dragons are lately. She probably thinks I'm safer with them than I would be here. Especially after what's happened to half the rest of the family these last few years – Ginny getting dragged into the Chamber of Secrets by that maniac ghost or memory or whatever it was; Dad getting attacked by a bloody great snake; Bill getting his face half eaten by a werewolf (I guess I'll get to that later, though I'm doing my best to avoid thinking about it); George losing his ear. And that's not even going into all the things that Ron seems to have got involved in since making the mistake of having The Boy Who Lived as his best friend. (Not that I have anything against Harry – he's a nice kid.)
So I'm back here in the room Bill and I shared as children. It's way after midnight, but Bill's still outside in the orchard with his Mrs-to-be (wonder if her maman knows?). I guess he might reappear before daybreak, but then again he might not. Hermione was quite shocked at the idea of Bill and Fleur staying in the same house tonight. Apparently there's this weird Muggle idea (so weird that we all refused to believe her till Harry backed her up) that the bride and groom aren't supposed to see each other before the wedding. Bad luck or something. (Though how much worse luck can you get than being attacked by a werewolf a month or so before you get married?)
I think I probably got off lightly by only getting back today (or yesterday, I suppose, to be strictly accurate). It seems I missed Mum in full-on panic mode. (Because clearly it's impossible for Bill and Fleur to be properly married unless the house is spotless from top to bottom and everything is a hundred per cent perfect.) I got the tail end of that with her insisting on cutting my hair. Merlin knows why, since Bill's the one getting married, and his hair is much longer than mine ever was. I guess Fleur might have had something to say about it if Mum'd cut his hair, but it still strikes me as female logic of the oddest sort.
Maybe Bill and Fleur should have gone ahead and got married in France - though that would have been complicated, I suppose, with everything else that's going on at the moment, and it would only have given Mum a different set of problems to fuss about. And wherever the wedding was, Mum would still be worrying herself sick about Ron and Harry and Hermione, who are up to something – though they can't tell us what because Dumbledore "swore them to secrecy". Honestly, I know the guy was supposed to be a genius, but I can't help wondering what the hell he was thinking of. Perhaps he really was as daft as he looked. I mean, they're teenagers. Okay, they clearly know their stuff, and have done more than most adult wizards (me included, I don't deny it), but they are only teenagers. There's the Order full of adult wizards including Aurors, Dark Arts experts, a curse-breaker, people on the inside in the Ministry, and even a few who fought You Know Who first time around, and Dumbledore gives his top-secret-make-or-break-mission to a bunch of kids who are barely of age. Makes no sense at all to me. But then I'm only a simple dragon-keeper. Perhaps there's some deep and hidden reason behind it all that'd never occur to an ordinary bloke like me. I sure hope so, for all our sakes.
Anyway, we're not supposed to be thinking about all that for the next twenty four hours. Though I'm not sure that getting married in the middle of a war – a war that our family is up to its neck in – is the wisest idea that Bill's ever had. It's an even worse idea if you look at it from Fleur's point of view – if she had any sense at all, she'd head back to France pronto, well out of You Know Who's way. (Though I guess France won't be safe for long if You Know Who wins over here. He's not going to be satisfied with Britain on its own for long.)
Bill's well aware of all this of course. We had a chat this afternoon, while Fleur and Ginny and Gabrielle and Mum and Madame Delacour were ensconced in Mum and Dad's room trying on dresses and doing whatever else it is that females get up to on the day before a wedding. (It seemed to involve a lot of giggling and shrieking in both English and French, whatever it was.) Bill asked me whether I thought he was doing the right thing in getting married now. Well, what the hell was I supposed to say to that? If you look at it logically, of course he isn't. But it's clear to anyone within about fifty miles of the pair of them that he and Fleur are totally besotted with each other. No way would Fleur go back to France without Bill, even if he asked her to. And no way would he go with her and sit things out in France, because he just isn't that type of bloke. (Unlike me, I guess. Bill and Ron got most of the noble self-sacrificing genes in this family.) So since Bill and Fleur are both set on staying here, they might as well get married as not. At least if anything happened to either of them… Anything worse than already has, I mean…
Which brings me to the subject I've been trying to avoid. That I'm trying not to even think about if I can help it.
Greyback. Bill's face.
I knew, of course, and I knew it was bad. Mum had told me. So had Dad, Ginny, Ron, and Bill himself. They clearly all thought they ought to warn me about just how bad it was before I saw him. Except that the descriptions (and Dad's and Bill's own were pretty graphic) didn't really prepare me at all for actually seeing it. Whether I thought they were exaggerating, or whether I didn't read the letters properly or whether I just didn't want to believe it was that bad I don't know. I think I had this vision in my head of a few nice tidy scars on Bill's cheeks and forehead – that he'd look basically the same as he ever had, but with a few lines on his face that never used to be there.
But it isn't like that at all. If I hadn't known it was him… The left side of his face almost isn't there any more. Well, it is, of course, but it's all sunken in right down from his forehead to his chin. His mouth doesn't move properly on that side either. And the other side is nearly as bad, with these bloody great – grooves I suppose you'd call them - all the way down and a kind of criss-cross effect on his cheek. As I said, if I hadn't known it was Bill, and of course his eyes were the same as ever, I seriously wouldn't have recognised him.
He knew of course. He's not stupid. (Don't I know it? I had to follow him through school, with every bloody professor in the place – except the Care of Magical Creatures one – wondering out loud why the hell I wasn't as bright as my brother.) I did most of the journey by Portkey, but I Apparated the last few miles from London, and Bill came to meet me outside the wards round The Burrow. And he saw the look on my face when I saw him. But he didn't say anything, just grabbed me and hugged me – and I'm looking anywhere except at his face, because I can't – and I saw there are scars on his hands and arms too that no one thought to mention to me, so then I didn't know where to look, and I couldn't have said anything if you'd paid me a thousand Galleons.
Bill knows me very well. He sort of pulled back from me, and took hold of me by the shoulders and shook me and said, "Look at me, for Godric's sake. I'm still me, Charlie." And then, for some reason, it was okay, and I could look at him without wanting to run away and hide somewhere.
Bloody, fucking, sodding Greyback.
Fleur, of course, says she doesn't mind about the scars. (Though that's not strictly true – how can anyone who cares about Bill not mind about them?) What she really means is that they're not important, that Bill is still Bill, like he said, and that she still wants to marry him. Of course she does. She loves him, and even I know that proper love is worth a bit more than caring what someone looks like. Fleur's reaction didn't surprise me at all when I heard about it, (the remark about her being "good looking enough for both of them" is typical of her – modest she ain't), but apparently it threw Mum for a loop. It's no secret that she's never liked Fleur, and she just assumed that she'd run a mile the minute she saw Bill's face. She didn't of course, and her sticking by him is perhaps the only thing that could've brought Mum round to her side. It shouldn't have taken a fucking werewolf to do it, but Mum can be darned obstinate on occasion. (Family trait, I know.)
I get the definite impression that Ginny has yet to be persuaded about Fleur. And it's pretty obvious what's at the bottom of that – she's jealous, pure and simple. Not really that surprising, I suppose, but not nice to look at. With six big brothers, Ginny's been spoiled rotten and got used to being the only girl. And now there's this other girl taking her favourite brother's attention away from her. (No denying that Bill's her favourite – apart from anything else, he's always spoiled her even more than the rest of us have.) I suppose there's nothing to be done about it – I'm certainly not saying anything to her about it. (Coward, Weasley, scared of your little sister!) I just hope she'll come round in time, like Mum has.
I think the twins and Ron are okay about Fleur. Fred and George make fun of her and Bill of course, but then they wouldn't be Fred and George if they didn't. And Ron has this unfortunate tendency to look totally stunned every time Fleur comes too close to him, but I guess he'll get over that sooner or later. Dad, I think, rather likes her, though it's hard to get past Mum's dramatics to find out what Dad thinks sometimes. I suspect he's been engaging in a lot of quiet persuasion in the background over the last year or so that Fleur's okay really, and that even if she wasn't, Bill's quite old enough to make his own decisions. He's years older than Mum and Dad were when they got married anyway – they were barely older than the twins, and they had Bill just six months later. (We're supposed to pretend we believe he was born early. Yeah, right.)
There's no knowing what Percy thinks of course. I can't really believe he hasn't come round yet. I thought I knew him. But Perce has the family obstinacy in barrow loads, and admitting he's wrong has never been one of his strong points. I miss him to be honest – and I never thought I'd hear myself say that. So do the twins – Fred especially, I think – though they'd never admit it to you in a month of Sundays, however hard you pushed them. It's like there's this bloody great hole in the middle of our family that no one else can fill. He has to come round eventually. He's an idiot, but not that big an idiot. I just hope he doesn't leave it too late. (Merlin, now I'm getting maudlin.)
He won't be here for the wedding of course, unless common sense suddenly smacks him in the head, which seems unlikely. He got an invite – two, in fact. Bill and Mum both asked him without telling each other. And both of them had the invitations sent back unopened. I had these slightly surreal parallel conversations with Bill and Mum earlier today when they told me about it. ("Don't tell Mum. She'll only get upset." "Don't tell Bill. I don't want him to be angrier with Percy than he already is.")
As for me, I like Fleur. Always have, right from the first moment I set eyes on her. (And not because of how she looks either, though that's hard to ignore.) It's odd actually to think that both Percy and I met Fleur before Bill did. First time I saw her, she was walking into the arena to face the Welsh Green at the Triwizard. Any idiot could see that she was absolutely bloody terrified (and I can't blame her – I'd be absolutely bloody terrified at having to face a Green on my own with nothing but a wand, and I'm supposed to know what I'm doing). She was white as chalk, and shaking like a leaf, but she had her head held high and a look in her eyes that told you she wasn't going to let anyone see how scared she was. Brave girl. And she didn't make a bad shot at getting past the dragon either.
And since I've met her again on the few occasions I've made flying visits back to this country over the last couple of years, I've got to like her more. Sure, she's vain – but with the way she looks (and you can't deny she's gorgeous), that's hardly surprising. She's used to being the centre of attention and doesn't like it when she isn't, and I think she was probably spoiled even more than Ginny was with being an only child for ten years or so before her sister was born. She can be rude and tactless, and is definitely not one to think before she speaks. But I like her. She's smart and funny, and can be kind when she chooses. And she absolutely adores Bill.
He adores her too, of course. And, however much Mum may try to kid herself otherwise, they are one of those couples that the phrase "made for each other" was coined for. Fleur's the best thing that could have happened to Bill, and I'd say that even if he hadn't been mauled by Greyback.
And by this time tomorrow, they'll be married, and off honeymooning in Bordeaux. Unless You Know Who's crowd manage somehow to muck things up… But they can't, they just can't. Let this family have one nice normal day please – where the worst thing we have to worry about is if the best man (that's me) loses the rings. I'd better not. Fleur, Mum and Madame Delacour would all hex me to kingdom come. Bill too, probably. He'd not forgive me for upsetting his missus on their wedding day.
I was a bit surprised he asked me to be his best man, actually. I thought he might ask his friend Zoran from Gringotts. They were mates at school – though Zoran was a Ravenclaw - and trained together in Egypt, and have been working together since Bill came back home two years ago. He sees a hell of a lot more of Zoran than he does of me these days. But when I asked him why he'd chosen me he looked at me like it was the stupidest thing I'd ever said to him (perhaps it was, though there have been a few others that came close) and said, "Who else would I ask? You're my brother."
I guess that's it. Friends come and go – though the good ones like Zoran, and my mate Idris don't – but brothers are different. Forever. Family. Bill and I were always close, and still are. We might not see each other for six months, but when we do, it's like we've never been apart, we just pick up where we left off. Mum used to say it was like having two sets of twins sometimes. (Perhaps that's one reason Percy turned out to be such an idiot. Maybe the perpetually being left out, stuck in between us and the proper twins made him feel so excluded that leaving the family wasn't a big deal for him like it'd be for one of the rest of us. Ugh. I hope not. Family is forever, whether he likes it or not. He just has to see sense someday.)
It's nearly four o'clock, and it seems the lovebirds have finally dragged themselves away from each other, as I can hear Bill coming up the stairs. I guess I could do with a bit of sleep tonight too, if I'm not going to lose or drop the rings tomorrow or forget my speech halfway through. (Which would be a shame, as it's a good one, even if I do say so myself. Parts of it will definitely make Bill's ears go red – though I did have to tone down my initial draft a bit for fear of offending Mum and – Godric help us – Auntie Muriel.)
Wonder how far I can get away with regrowing my hair without Mum having a fit about it?
A/N The description of Bill's scars is deliberately graphic. Stories and pics where his scars are nice and tidy annoy me slightly. For JKR to describe him as "looking grotesque" and in light of Ron's anguished "Dumbledore can't leave him like this" - not to mention Molly's certainty that Fleur would leave him - I think they have to be pretty awful.