A/N: Some of the inspiration for the first part of this piece comes from our own Lady Altair's Gone Grey and Songbirds and Silk and roses-at-sunset's Reinvention, which can be found on her LJ page. Thank you to Sara Winters for beta-reading this. Written for the Reviews Lounge's Birthday Ficathon Collaboration, for Realmer06.
Lavender Brown should've been expecting it. But, for some reason, whenever Bill Weasley stopped by to see her, it surprised her all the same. After all, the man was married to Fleur Delacour. And Fleur was many things: a Champion, a talented witch, and beautiful. Indescribably so.
And Lavender was—
Well, she was permanently scarred. Not so beautiful any more. If a bloke had to choose a witch to spend his free time with, wouldn't the answer be obvious?
"Bill, hello again," Lavender managed, feebly attempting a smile.
"Morning, Lavender." His smile was far bigger and more real.
She couldn't meet his eyes. Instead, she occupied her hands with picking at the quilt on her bed. Seamus Finnigan had found it; he had scrounged around for some Galleons to order it for her.
She suspected that he had found a job whenever he was away from her bedside, and she had one guess as to where he worked. Often times, he'd come to her room and his scent would remind her of Hogwarts when the twins were there, testing their products on the younger students: faint traces of sulphur and gunpowder, with the occasional exploding blister on his hands. She asked him no questions about his whereabouts, although he'd often come by with Ron and they'd be covered in soot and stink and sometimes fur. She wanted to laugh at the pair of them; they looked ridiculous after all. Seamus would want to buy her things — pretty, colourful things — and she'd insist that he did not need to, that he should save his money.
Although Lavender had to admit that the quilt was beautiful. She marvelled at the colours, the iridescent reds and golds, the oranges, greens and blues that shimmered in the light of her room at St. Mungo's. The quilt certainly gave the otherwise dull space life. It gave her the colour that had been absent from her life for so long, colour that she so desperately needed. To live without all that beauty was the price she and other girls had to pay though, to blend in, to not draw Carrow's attentions, lest they found themselves alone with him in a corridor at night.
Lavender smoothed the fabric with her palms. It did make her feel better to have something that was so beautiful, something imbued with such joy. And something that reminded her so much of Seamus. Through the quilt, he surrounded her body, even if he could not physically do so per her Healers' orders.
"You look good today," Bill said. He smiled as he pulled up a chair next to her bed.
She blinked and turned to face him, a small but knowing grin emerging on the uncovered side of her face. "You're lying."
He chuckled. "I don't lie. I'm incapable of it without blushing." He swirled a finger around his face. "Do you see any red?"
Lavender cocked her only eyebrow at him and giggled softly. "No, I guess not." She cleared her throat. "You came today."
"Of course. Should I not have?"
"I don't know. I know you that you say you'll be back for another drop in on me, but I'm always surprised when you do. Guess you don't want me to feel bad about . . ." Her voice faded away as she gestured at her bandages. Lavender sighed, a sad smile on her face. "Bill, why do you keep coming here to visit me?"
"I like visiting you, for one. Why? Do you want me to leave?"
"No!" she said a little too enthusiastically. She giggled again. "Sorry. Didn't mean to sound so excited."
"Well, damn! Here I was hoping that most witches get giddy at the thought of spending time with me. But alas!"
Lavender laughed, shaking her head. "I like it when you come by and visit. Any time anyone comes by to visit, and it isn't Madame Crotchety and her Therapy Regime of Pure Evil."
"Isn't that Madame Crochey? Pronounced 'crow - shay'?"
"Crotchety is a far more appropriate name for that woman. I think the bint got her bedside manners from the Carrows."
Bill stared at her shocked for a few seconds. And suddenly, he laughed. He laughed so hard that Lavender saw his eyes water.
"What I said couldn't possibly have been that funny."
Bill inhaled, regaining his composure. "I don't know if it was, but it was a fine joke and I was surprised you made it. And colour me shocked that you can even joke about the Carrows after what they did to you and the other students."
"Well, what else are you going to do? What else can you do but laugh? Cry? Wail about all the injustice?" She snorted rather daintily. "That's silly, you know?"
He looked at her pensively. "You know what I always told people about my injuries?" he asked, his voice low and serious. "About what the worst after-effects were?"
She shook her head.
"That Fleur has to cook all my steaks very rare. 'Practically mooing' is what we'd say."
Lavender made a gagging gesture. "Rare meat? Sounds disgusting."
"You never know; you might end up liking it."
"Not bloody likely. No pun intended."
They paused for a second, and then they laughed. They laughed until they both clutched their stomachs, Bill with both of his arms, Lavender with her right.
After a few more chuckles and snorts, she calmed down and watched Bill rub his eyes.
"How long did it take for you to make jokes?"
He regarded her, catching his breath. "Excuse me?"
She almost regretted asking the question, finding her voice weak, quite unlike the girl earlier who could refer to Death Eaters so flippantly as a punchline. She simply couldn't, not yet. Her wounds were too fresh and her bandages were still stuck to her face. And St. Mungo's matrons had taken to their strongest Spellhesives to make sure she didn't try to peel off her latest dressings.
"Lavender, did you ask me how long it took for me to make jokes? Do you mean after Greyback attacked me?"
She nodded, but she couldn't look at him. For the second time since Bill came for his visit, she focused her gaze on her quilt. "I'm not sure if I can. Or if I'll ever be able to."
"Hey." He took her hand into his. She looked up, her eyes drawn to his. "You don't have to now, you know? If it takes something as small as asking the nurses for a flea bath—"
Lavender couldn't stop her laughter from bursting forth.
"Or, you know, trying your hand at 'Finnigan hunting'."
She chortled, her face growing red.
"Oh see?" Bill said with a laugh and a nod. "You're already halfway there."
She reached up with her good arm and gently punched him on the shoulder. "I'm not the one making the jokes right now. You are."
"Yeah, maybe. But if you can crack wise about the Carrows, after everything they did to you, then you'll be able to see the funny side to this." He gestured to his own face. "Someday."
"I'd like to think so. But Bill, what if the bandages come off, a-and," Lavender felt her throat constrict; she could barely breathe. "What if what I see in the mirror can't laugh back."
"Then it'll be Finnigan, or me, or — Merlin forbid! — Ickle Ronniekins doing something to make sure you will. Lavender, honestly I see it in you."
"Your laugh. Your spirit. Your soul." He regarded her with a broad smile, looking almost beastly although she knew that was not his intention; he didn't do soft well, not with the more rugged landscape of his face. Lavender couldn't help but wonder if she would no longer be soft once she healed completely.
"My soul? That sounds a bit deep."
He shrugged. "I'm a surprisingly deep bloke. No, really Lavender. I know you well enough now to know you're a survivor. Look at everything you've been through."
She swallowed, but nodded slowly.
"The last two years at Hogwarts alone, with the start of the war. And your seventh year! You handled the Carrows brilliantly."
"Mostly it was Neville and Ginny and the others in the D.A. Seamus took the Cruciatus far more than I ever did. Even Michael Corner and Terry Boot — Ravenclaws, no less — they allowed themselves to be tortured for hours, days even for their acts of bravery."
"Someday you'll be able to see the forest through the trees."
She sat still, absorbing his words.
After a few moments, Bill continued. "Ginny and Seamus and your other friends've been telling us stories about what you and the others did, helping take care of the other students when they got hurt, keeping their spirits up whenever you felt them lag. And you helped Seamus every time he worried about Dean. You're still alive, you still have your spirit inside of you. That wasn't, nor is it, something they can take away."
"Right. They can't take away my spirit. Just my face."
Bill stopped talking, not sure how he should reply. Lavender sensed his hesitation — and she smiled. A little bit, but enough so he could see. He replied in like manner.
"I should get back home. I'll swing by during lunch next Wednesday. Spend it here with you. Is that all right?"
Somehow, despite her mood earlier, she knew her eyes were glinting at the prospect of his company. "Absolutely it is."
"Great." Bill gave her a wink and stood up. He placed a kiss on her forehead, right on her bandages. He always made sure to touch her on her marred side, whether it be a kiss or a delicate pat. For Lavender, his sweet and gentle gestures never hurt.
"Until then, beautiful."
She pressed her hand to her mouth, her giggle making it shake. "Thanks, Bill."
He smiled and tipped two fingers towards her before he walked out the door. "Anytime.