Author's Note: This is for TheSteppyOne, for her birthday because she is amazing and because I don't write Ron enough, and I should write Ron more often. So I did.
And, unfortunately, this starts an official fic-writing hiatus for me, until January. I know a lot of you may be saying, "So . . . there'll be four to six months between this fic and your next one, what the hell else is new, Cassie?" and the answer is . . . nothing, but this time it's official and I won't even be working on fic at all. Real life. Gotta love it. But, honestly, the final project for one of my classes this semester is a full-length novel, and if it takes me usually four to six months to get an 8,000-word fic written, I'm gonna have to step it into high gear to get a full-length novel done in three months. So, yeah. Hiatus.
But, in the meantime, enjoy Ron and Bill! Who I do not own. I swear.
Better Than a Superhero
Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero. ~Marc Brown
When Bill was ten, another baby showed up at his house. Being ten, and having four younger brothers already, he knew that the baby hadn't really just shown up, but that's what it felt like. Despite what his parents said, the new baby looked to Bill just like all the others had – red, wrinkled, and squirming.
A few weeks after little Ronnie was born, Charlie lay in the bed next to Bill's and asked in a whisper why they had to have another brother. "Because Mum and Dad wanted him," is what Bill whispered back, though in truth, he didn't know, and would have liked an answer to that question himself. Long after Charlie had managed to go to sleep, Bill lay awake, thinking about it.
He didn't know that much about money, except that some people had it and some people didn't, and they had always seemed to be in the second group. It made things hard. He hadn't noticed it with Percy or the twins, but he noticed it with Ronnie. He noticed that Mum spent more time trying to make his and Charlie's old clothes fit Percy and the twins, and that Dad spent more time at work than he usually did, and that Mum and Dad both looked a lot more pulled than they used to, and more tired. And it didn't help that little Ronnie seemed to cry all the time.
And this night, when Ronnie started screaming — the kid had lungs, if nothing else — as much as Bill might have wanted to do like Charlie and groan and pull the pillow tight over his head, Bill knew that he was the oldest. And when Charlie had been born, his parents had given him responsibility. So instead of rolling over and wishing the noise would stop, he sighed and swung his feet to the floor and went to try and quiet Ronnie so Mum and Dad could get a little more sleep.
He stayed in the little attic room after Ronnie had drifted off again, just watching his youngest brother and thinking. If Bill was honest with himself, he had to admit that things would probably have been easier if Ronnie hadn't been born, if Mum and Dad had stopped having kids with the twins, because the bigger the family got, the more of everything they'd need and the less they'd actually have. But Ronnie was here now, and there was no way to change that, and nothing to be done about it except for Bill to silently hope that Ronnie was the last of them.
And maybe it was a blessing that he was leaving in a year to go to Hogwarts, and Charlie a year after that. Yeah, there'd be books and robes and wands, but there'd also be two less mouths to feed.
It was weird for Bill to think about leaving. It was weird to think that he wouldn't be spending every waking moment with his family anymore, and it was weird to think that he wouldn't be around to watch this youngest brother grow up. In a way, it almost seemed like a tradeoff, this new baby for Bill, and even though Bill knew his parents would be horrified to hear him say it like that, he also knew as soon as he thought it that it made a certain amount of sense. Mum didn't want to lose a son next year, so she'd had another one.
"It shouldn't be this hard," Bill whispered, sounding frustrated because he was frustrated. He was frustrated to be ten and know these things and not be able to do anything except, once in a while, get up with the baby so Mum and Dad could sleep. "It should be able to be you and me, because you're here now, and I wouldn't wish you away." He tilted his head, watching the infant sleep. "I wish I could at least have the chance to know you," he whispered because he knew that he probably wouldn't, not really. He crouched beside the crib then, so that his face was even with his brother's, making up his mind in that instant. "Someday," he whispered fervently, "someday, I'll find piles and piles of gold, Ronnie. And I'll give it all to Mum and Dad, and you and Charlie and Percy and the twins, and maybe then things won't be hard anymore."
He went to sleep that night with that thought settling in his head.
When Bill was sixteen, his youngest brother showed up in his bedroom late one night over the Christmas holidays. Charlie was already asleep and snoring lightly across the room, but Bill was still up, working on an essay for Professor McGonagall, when a watery sniffle alerted him to the presence in his doorway.
Turning in his chair, he saw six-year-old Ron, eyes red, standing slightly duck-footed in too-small pajamas, two fingers in his mouth and a blanket trailing on the floor behind him. "Hey, buddy," he said softly, standing. "What's wrong? Did you have a bad dream?" He crouched in front of Ron as Ron shook his head silently back and forth, sniffling hard to hold back tears. "Then what is it?" Bill asked again. "Are you hurt? Is the ghoul keeping you up?" Each question was met with another silent head shake, and Bill wasn't sure what to do next. Apparently, in the last four months, Ron had grown inexplicably enamored of Bill. Mum had written that he was all Ron seemed to talk about, and Bill wasn't entirely sure how to respond to it. Up til now, he'd just put up with having a constant shadow, but now that it had brought Ron to his door in the middle of the night and not Mum and Dad's, he actually had to do something to live up to the big brother hero Ron had made him into.
With a small sigh, Bill looked down, casting around for some other possibility, when a nearly inaudible, finger-muffled, "There's a spider in my room," came from in front of him. Bill remembered at the last moment not to smile in relief. He didn't want Ron to think he was laughing at him. Mum had written him about the teddy bear incident three years ago, and really, Bill couldn't blame his little brother for the fear. Bill had never really been a fan of spiders, either.
"Spider, huh?" Bill repeated. "Don't blame you for not wanting to stick around."
"Can I sleep with you?" was the next whispered question, and Bill smiled apologetically at his brother. "No, buddy," he said, shaking his head. Ron's face fell. "But, I will see what I can do about that beastie of yours. Okay?" Ron nodded, and Bill hoisted the six-year-old into his arms, settling Ron on his hip. Ron seemed almost to melt into Bill's side, but the close, damp warmth wasn't unpleasant or unwelcome, and Bill found himself smiling.
Ron's grip on Bill's shoulder tightened when they crossed the threshold into his attic room, and he whimpered and clutched at Bill's shirt when Bill made to set him down on the bed. "Shhh," Bill said automatically, gently pulling Ron loose and sitting next to him on the mattress. "Now then," he said, scanning the room. "Where'd you see the monster?"
Ron's wide, fearful eyes jumped around the room for a moment before he pointed up into the rafters by the window. "There," he said in a voice that was little more than a whimper. Bill peered into the darkness, and sure enough, he could just make out the little wood spider nestled in the corner.
"Got it," he said, pulling out his wand. He glanced at Ron. He looked absolutely petrified, his eyes glued on the spider. "You don't have to watch," Bill said gently. "You can look away." Ron swallowed hard, but shook his head, and Bill had to marvel. Ron was clearly terrified, but even though someone else had to get rid of his fear, he insisted on facing it until it was gone.
A simple levitation charm took the spider outside, and after he had sealed the window, Bill waved his wand wordlessly at the glass, which glowed bright yellow, then faded. "What'd you do?" Ron asked.
"I made sure no spiders are coming through that window again," Bill told him, sitting once more on the edge of the bed.
"Really?" Ron asked. Bill nodded.
"Really," he said. "Think you can go to sleep now?" Ron hesitated, then nodded.
"But will you tell me a story first?" he asked shyly when Bill started to rise. Smiling, Bill sat back down again and pulled the quilt up to Ron's shoulders.
"What story?" he asked.
"You choose," Ron said immediately. Bill searched his mind. Ginny would have demanded yet another story about Harry Potter with whom she, at five, was absolutely infatuated, while the twins would have asked for something involving a great many references to bodily functions, and Percy would have declared himself too old for a story at all. Bill didn't know what story Ron would like, so in the end, he started what had been his favorite at age six.
"There once lived a washerwoman named Babbitty Rabbitty. . . ."
When Ron had fallen asleep twenty minutes later, Bill crept quietly from the room. "I've got to find a spell to repel spiders," he muttered on his way down the stairs.
When Bill was twenty-three, his family came to Egypt. After Ginny's disastrous first year, his Mum and Dad thought it would be best to get her away somewhere new, without any memories. Bill had been working to save every scrap of money he could to help them with the vacation, but then they won the Daily Prophet Galleon Draw and Dad said it wasn't an issue (Bill still pulled a few strings at the bank and got quite a bit of the gold put into their vault anyway. He knew that, eventually, they'd notice, and probably know where it had come from, but Bill didn't care. He hadn't forgotten the promise he'd made at ten). Charlie came down from Romania, and for the first time since Ron had left for school, the entire family was together for a few weeks.
Bill felt guilty about that, since he had most often been the one missing. His work in Egypt, while he loved it, kept him very busy, and he hadn't always been able to get away. Seeing them all coming toward him across the hot sands, Ginny frail and sick-looking, Ron at least half a foot taller than the last time Bill had seen him, his parents smiling but worn, Bill resolved to do better at making it home for the summer, at least. He exchanged letters with Mum, of course, but it wasn't the same and he knew it.
He got the full story from his parents that night, and what he heard astonished him. Not only what Ginny had gone through — though that was shocking enough — but the fact that You Know Who had been behind it somehow and that Harry Potter, of all people, had rescued her. And then there was the role Ron, little Ron, had played in it as well.
Though, Bill mused, watching his youngest brother from the doorway of the family's tent, he was not so little anymore. Just thirteen, Ron was close to rivaling the twins in height, though he had a way to go to catch up with Bill.
Ron was alone in the tent, playing with his pet rat. After a moment spent watching him, Bill cleared his throat. "Can I join you?" he asked when Ron turned around.
"Sure," Ron said, moving over on his cot to give Bill room to sit down.
"So," Bill said. "I hear you had an eventful year." Ron shrugged in the non-committal way of teenagers unsure where a conversation is going.
"Guess so," he said. They lapsed into slightly awkward silence.
"Mum told me what you did for Ginny," Bill finally said, softly. Ron shook his head, looking embarrassed.
"Didn't do anything," he said, looking at the floor. "I got trapped behind the cave-in. Harry's the one who rescued her."
"You went with him," Bill pointed out. "You went down into that dungeon without knowing what you'd find apart from a monster who could kill you just by looking at you. You took that risk, Ron."
"Harry's the one who did everything," Ron said again.
"You went," Bill repeated quietly. "It's more than I would have done." Ron turned to him sharply, frowning.
"You would have gone," Ron told him anxiously. "If you'd been there, you would have gone after her, and you would have been able to rescue her."
"Now," Bill agreed. "Probably. After six years of training and experience with curses and monsters. But when I was a second year?" He shook his head at the younger boy. "I dunno, Ron. I dunno that I would have gone." Ron looked very disconcerted by this for a long moment, then his face relaxed and he shook his head.
"No," he said with a certainty that came with being thirteen. "You would have gone. I know you would have." And Bill didn't contradict him again. He just looked away and smiled. There was something of his six-year-old brother shining through in that moment.
They sat together in silence for another little while before Bill, though he knew he shouldn't, asked something he'd been wanting to ask Ron for two years.
"So, what's he like?"
Ron frowned, puzzled.
"Who?" he asked, looking up at Bill. "Harry?" Bill nodded, and Ron shrugged, slightly bewildered. "He's just Harry," he said.
"That's it?" Bill asked. "'Just' Harry? That's all you have to say?" Ron considered for a moment.
"He's lousy at chess."
Bill couldn't help it; he laughed. And though he'd probably never have occasion to tell Ron, he knew in that moment that his little brother had something extraordinary about him. Not many people when pressed to give one defining characteristic of The Boy Who Lived would say he's lousy at chess. Bill couldn't help but feel in that moment that becoming friends with Ron might have been one of the best things that ever happened to Harry Potter.
When Bill was twenty-eight, his youngest brother appeared on his doorstep, hardened, bloody, and with a vague and non-explanation as to where he'd been and what he'd been doing since Bill had been married four and a half months before. When Bill finally got him to say a little more, he almost wished he hadn't. Because what he learned was that Ron had left Harry and Hermione, turned his back on them and walked out because whatever it was they were doing hadn't been exciting enough.
Bill had taken him in, put him up in the spare room, and spent the first few days leaving him pretty much alone, both because he thought Ron needed that and because he wasn't sure what would happen if he stayed too long in the same room with his brother.
His initial reaction to Ron's story had been a burning and overpowering sense of betrayal because in a world where so much was uncertain, Ron's loyalty to Harry had always been constant, and since that day five years before, it had been something Bill depended on. Because Ron didn't leave Harry. Ron was the ever-loyal, the best friend, the one that was supposed to stick by Harry no matter what until the very end. Hearing that he hadn't, that he'd just left the moment things got tough, filled Bill with blinding rage, and though it only lasted a moment before he reigned it in, that moment was more than enough to set Bill at war with himself for days.
He was torn between wanting to give in to that anger and demand to know what his brother had been thinking, and knowing that Ron was doing a good enough job of blaming himself without Bill adding to it. But he couldn't help the feeling of betrayal that returned, in less force but still there, every time he looked at Ron, and he knew Ron felt his disappointment, even though he took care not to voice it.
It wasn't until he looked into Ron's room one night on his way downstairs and was struck by how young and lost Ron looked that Bill realized with a jolt that Ron was young, incredibly young, all things considered. Seventeen was an age for trying to meet a girl and worrying about life after Hogwarts and figuring out who you were, not trying to save the world by finding a way to destroy the most evil wizard ever known. Seventeen-year-olds should not be asked to do the things that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley were being asked to do. It was then that Bill realized that at some point in the past few years, the tables had shifted, and Bill was no longer the brother being idolized.
So long before, Bill had stood by a cradle, watching his youngest brother sleep, and lamented the fact that he would probably never get to know that brother. And now, almost eighteen years later, he stood outside a bedroom door, watching his youngest brother stare, unmoving, out the window, and realized he really didn't know Ron. Ever since Ron had started school and made friends with Harry Potter and gotten pulled along on adventure after adventure, Bill had painted an imperfect, impossible portrait of his youngest brother, and he'd never even realized he was doing it.
He'd experienced fallen idols in his life before, but never quite like this. And Bill resolved to spend some time really considering his youngest brother, taking into account every certain thing he did know, and develop a more realistic, human understanding. And as he did so, he was pleased and surprised to find that much of what he had come to believe in was still there, just in different ways. And, in discovering this, he saw Ron clearer than he ever had before. He saw what Ron had done, but he also saw the obvious regret for his actions. And he saw Ron's biggest weakness – his inability to see himself in a positive light. And Bill knew that until he overcame that weakness, he'd be stuck in self-loathing and self-derision forever. It saddened Bill to see Ron that way, but he didn't know how to help.
His opening came late on Christmas Eve.
"Ron?" Bill knocked on the doorframe to the spare room, where Ron sat as he had for the length of his stay — staring out the window, fiddling with some kind of silver device. He looked up listlessly at Bill's knock. "I've told Mum and Dad that Fleur and I won't be at the Burrow tomorrow. We're heading to bed. Do you need anything?"
Ron shook his head and looked away. "No," he said, his voice dead, and something in Bill came loose.
"What are you doing here?" he asked before he could stop himself. Ron looked sharply at Bill, showing the most energy he had in days.
"I told you," he said harshly. "I can't go anywhere—"
"I know why you came here," Bill said, cutting him off. "But what are you still doing here, Ron?" Ron scowled.
"If you'd prefer I left–" he started darkly.
"You know you're welcome here as long as you need to stay," Bill interrupted. "But I've been thinking, Ron, over the last few days. And I know that you know Harry and Hermione well enough to find them. If you wanted to."
"You think I don't want to find them?" Ron asked angrily. "I can't, Bill, I don't know where they are. It's Hermione laying the protections; I'm not going to find them!"
"You haven't tried," Bill said, the harshest he'd been with Ron. "If you really wanted to find them, you'd at least be out there looking; I know you." Ron turned sharply away, but it didn't stop Bill. "So I can't help but feel there's more to it than you're admitting. So what is it, Ron? What are you still doing here?"
Ron glared at his brother, but Bill held his ground and just waited. Finally, Ron shouted, "They're better off without me, all right? All I did was pull them down; I was worthless to them, and leaving was the best thing I could do, okay?" It broke something in Bill to see that Ron meant it. But more than that, it angered him, in a way that even Ron's initial story hadn't.
"Do you know what your problem is, Ron?" Bill asked softly, an edge in his voice. His tone surprised Ron, and Bill didn't give him a chance to formulate a reply. "You are so determined to believe the worst of yourself, to see yourself in the most negative light, and it is a slap in the face to anyone who has ever believed in you. Your refusal to acknowledge what you have to offer as a wizard and a friend is your greatest weakness, Ron, and if you don't overcome it, you will be sitting in this room forever. And if you can live with that, at the end of it all, then fine. But I know you, and I don't think you can."
He stood then, watching Ron refusing to look at him, and let what he'd said sink in before he continued. "He's just Harry," Bill said quietly, and it took a beat, but Ron eventually looked up at him. "That's what you said to me, and believe me when I tell you, Ron, Harry needs people beside him who honestly believe that. He needs you. He needs you, and that is the least of the reasons why. And more than anything else, I wish you would see that."
When Bill woke the next morning, Ron was gone. Sitting on his bed was a note.
Bill, it read. I've gone to find them. I don't know when I'll see you again, so I'd just like to say — you were right. I have to at least try. Ron. V.
When Bill was thirty-four, Ron showed up once again at his door, his arrival heralded by the shriek of "Uncle RON!" from Victoire, Bill's six-year-old daughter.
Bill took one look at his brother, pried Tori away from her newly declared "favorite" uncle, and led Ron into his study, shutting the door carefully behind them.
"What's wrong?" he asked with some concern as Ron shakily lowered himself into a chair. Bill had never seen Ron like this. He was pale and slightly unsteady and, despite the smile he'd tried to put on for Tori, looked decidedly anxious and more than a little lost. "Are you all right? Hermione?" he asked as he sat opposite his brother. Ron shook his head.
"Yeah," he said after a slight hesitation. "It's nothing like that, it's — we're, uh — Hermione's pregnant." It was almost a question, the way he said it, and immediately, Bill understood.
"Congratulations," he said sincerely. Ron made a half-hearted attempt at a smile but looked vaguely ill. "It . . . is congratulations, right?" Bill asked, watching his younger brother carefully.
"What?" Ron asked, looking up. "Oh. Yes," he said, nodding, but he sounded as if he'd never been less certain of anything in his life. Bill hid a smile. He'd been there.
"So . . . this is good," Bill prompted gently, trying to get some positive emotion out of Ron, but Ron just swallowed and waited too long before nodding.
"Yeah," he said. "I mean, it's not like we were trying, but . . . yeah. It's . . . it's good. Hermione's thrilled." That earned a whisper of a real smile. "And I'm . . ." he searched for words, "thrilled, too." Bill folded his hands together and waited. "Except," he continued after a moment, his voice the strongest it had been since he'd entered the house, "that I'm twenty-four and have no idea what I'm doing." He stood and began pacing. "I'm not mature enough to be a father; I'm not mature enough to even know what I want my life to look like! We said we'd wait to start a family, and I know it's been two years, but I thought we'd have more time to — figure things out! And it doesn't help that Hermione's thrilled, and how do I tell her I'm terrified? Because what if I'm bad at it?"
Bill shifted, fully intending to answer, but Ron didn't give him a chance. "I've been bad at a lot of things, Bill," he said, "and it's never really mattered before, but it matters this time because the worst thing about being a bad parent is that you don't even know it until it's too late, until your kid comes home one day hating you, and you know you've screwed it all up, and it's too late to fix it! And don't," he said harshly, cutting off yet another unformed reply, "tell me that because I'm worried, I have no reason to worry, I have known plenty of people who worried about being bad parents and then turned out to be bad parents, so they did have reason to worry, and I'm going to be one of them, I know it."
Bill sat back in his chair, watching his little brother pace furiously and ramble incoherently, and he didn't even try to insert answers anymore. He just let Ron go on. "And as for having experience," Ron continued heatedly, "I have experience being an uncle, Bill, but it's different when it's your own kids, you know it is, being an uncle doesn't count for anything, and everyone says that it won't matter because once I hold the kid, I'll just know what to do, like it will come instantaneously somehow, which is rubbish and one of the craziest things I've ever heard because why should it be? Seriously, Bill, why on earth should parenting be instinctual? Why are we expected to just know, isn't it supposed to be a learning experience? Why doesn't anyone ever say that everyone's terrified on some level and that we're not going to immediately know what to do? Why doesn't anyone ever say that being a parent is trial and error and there's no one right way and that we're going to make mistakes because that's how we figure it out and at the end of the day, isn't it true that all that really matters is that you make sure they grow up surrounded by love and respect and that they learn right from wrong and that they know and we know that even if we botched everything up today, tomorrow will be better because we keep trying and we'll have learned something?"
Ron turned to Bill then, breathing hard, his brain having caught up with his mouth at last. "Are you going to say anything?" he asked.
"Well," Bill said conversationally. "I was going to say that everyone's scared, on some level, about becoming a parent, whether we can see it or not, and that you're not going to be perfect at it, that you're going to make mistakes and screw up, because being a parent is trial and error and there's no one right way and that as long as, at the end of the day, you can tell your kid you love her and mean it, you're on the right track."
Ron just looked at him. Bill smiled, and continued. "And all that took me the better part of eight months to figure out, and you figured it out in about a minute and a half, which was impressive, really. I think my work here is done." Ron groaned and fell into the abandoned chair, his face in his hands. "Ron," Bill said, sitting up and leaning across his desk. "You're going to be a great father," he said, all levity gone. "Don't ask me to prove it; I can't. But I know it all the same. You're going to be a great father. You're going to make mistakes, but you're going to learn from them and be better for them, and at the end of the day, no one can ask any more of you than that."
"Were you scared?" Ron asked.
"Terrified," Bill told him. "Both times. As I imagine I will be when the next one comes along." Ron nodded after a moment and sank back into his chair.
"She's so happy," he said in a whisper, a genuine smile on his face. "She was glowing when she told me."
"Have you told anyone else?" Bill asked quietly.
"No," Ron said with a shake of his head. "Hermione wants to do a big announcement all at once. We haven't even told Harry." For a moment, Bill was stunned. Ron glanced up and, seeing the look on his face, gave a half-smile, sharing the moment with him. "I know," he said. "If you'd asked me, even a few days ago, who the first person would have been, I'd have said Harry without even thinking about it, but it's your door I found myself standing outside of. Always seems to be." He ran a hand through his hair.
"Why?" Bill said, asking the question he'd had for years now. He thought it might have it figured out, but he wanted to hear Ron's answer. Ron met his gaze.
"I don't know," he said simply. "When I was little, I wanted to be you, and that might have something to do with it, but when I was older . . ." He sighed. "I don't know, it sounds backwards, and I can't explain it, but — I always felt like I had the most in common with you."
"It's not backwards," Bill said, nodding. That was the conclusion he'd come to as well. "You and I do have a lot in common, Ron." Ron looked at him, not sure if he was serious or not. "Neither one of us asked for the life we were given," Bill said simply. "I didn't ask to be the oldest, or to have any of the responsibility and expectations that came with it. You never asked to be the best friend of the biggest hero of your generation. And neither of us was ever fully comfortable with the spotlight we found ourselves living in."
It was Ron's turn to look stunned. "Well, that's it exactly, isn't it?" he said. "I don't think I would have ever come up with that." Bill shrugged.
"I've been thinking about it for a while."
"Really?" He couldn't quite read Ron's look.
"Since the night you showed up in my room asking me to get rid of a spider," he said, completely serious. Ron let that sink in.
"Huh," was all he had to say, and after he had said it, they sat in silence for a long while, each lost in his own thoughts.
"I should get back before Hermione wonders where I've disappeared to," Ron said finally, standing.
"Yes," Bill agreed, standing as well. "If you're gone too long, she might get suspicious. And don't worry. When you make your announcement, I promise I'll act surprised," Bill said. Ron grinned.
"I appreciate that," he said. He headed for the door, but halfway there, he stopped and turned. He looked like he was searching for words, but when he finally spoke, it wasn't what Bill was expecting. "Any name suggestions?" he asked.
"I've always liked the name Rose," Bill said after a moment.
"Rose," Ron repeated, considering. "Rose Weasley. I like it." He looked up at Bill, and their eyes met for a long moment. "Thank you, Bill," Ron finally said, and Bill knew he was talking about much more than the name.
"That's what brothers are for," he said, and he was talking about more, too.
He had been Ron's hero, and Ron had been his, but when the war was over and the day was done and they both were grown, they were something altogether more important than heroes. They were brothers, and in the end, Bill knew, that was all he had ever really wanted.