Sorry about the long wait, and that little hiccup with the update. Here's the next chapter at last!
Fleur's first impression of Britain had been that it was cold. Admittedly, she had arrived in Scotland at the end of October, but it was more than just the temperature; Hogwarts was grey and drafty and dark compared to the open spaces, the broad windows and white marble of Beauxbatons. London was better, especially in the summer, but still it felt gloomy compared to Marseilles or Cannes. But as Bill ushered her in through the front door of the peculiar house in which he had grown up, she had a sudden impression of warmth and coziness, as though it emanated from the walls.
It was so different from anywhere she had lived, with its haphazard construction, overgrown garden, and chickens loose in the yard. Beauxbatons was always immaculate, as was her childhood home, and the cluttered interior of the Burrow was at once foreign and surprisingly welcoming. She was reminded a little of her father's study, with its books lying open on the desk, stacks of notes scattered in a precise order that only Papa could comprehend. Or perhaps Gabrielle's room, where something was always out of place. She felt a pang of homesickness for her parents, and especially her dear younger sister, whom she had not seen for more than a year now.
She felt Bill squeeze her hand reassuringly, and smiled at him. He was her family now, and where he called home, she would also.
"Mum, Dad," he called, closing the door behind them, "we're here." She followed him into a bright, slightly shabby but cosy sitting room, full of photographs and books, with blankets and cushions on a faded couch, love seat and armchair, and children's drawings on the walls.
"Bill?" A pretty girl of perhaps fourteen or fifteen, with hair as red as Bill's, appeared in the doorway. His sister - Fleur recognized her from the photo in his flat. The girl stopped suddenly, a look of surprise on her face.
"Hey Gin," Bill said cheerfully. A tall boy came up behind her, also red-headed. Fleur recognized him as well; he was Bill's youngest brother, and Harry Potter's friend.
"Ginny, is that - woah." He broke off mid-sentence, and Fleur realized he was staring at her.
"She's the one coming to stay?" Ginny said at last. Fleur glanced over at Bill, feeling that her introduction to his family was not going quite as smoothly as she might have hoped. He looked unruffled, though slightly surprised.
"Mum didn't tell you?"
"She just said you were coming over tonight, and to help her get Percy's room ready, because we were going to have someone staying with us for a while. Stop staring, Ron!"
"Well, yes, Fleur will be staying here, probably for the summer - I'll be here most of the time too. Fleur, this my sister Ginny, and my youngest brother Ron."
Ron did not speak but turned rather red as they were introduced, and Ginny narrowed her eyes slightly. Fleur ignored the less than enthusiastic welcome, kissing them both on the cheeks in greeting.
"Where are Mum and Dad, anyway?"
"Mum's upstairs, getting your room ready. Dad's still at work." Bill and Fleur followed Ginny into a somewhat cramped kitchen, where she called up the stairs.
"Mum, Bill's here!"
Fleur remembered Bill's mother from the Triwizard Tournament; she was rather short and plump, with a kind face and a red hair like her children.
"Hello Bill, I've just finished making up your room - and you must be Fleur; Bill's told us quite a bit about you." Mrs. Weasley descended from the first floor, with a smile that Fleur thought seemed just slightly too enthusiastic to be genuine, but greeted her with an embrace and kiss as well nonetheless. "Supper's almost ready - I'm expecting Arthur home any minute."
Bill's mother busied herself about the kitchen, but Ginny seemed content fix Fleur with a critical eye from across the room. Ron, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to stare determinedly in every direction but towards her. Fleur tightened her grip on Bill's hand, leaning close to whisper in his ear.
"Ils ne m'aiment pas."
"Ils aiment bien tu," he murmured back. Fleur glanced back at his sister, who was wearing an expression appropriate for considering how to remove an unsightly stain from a favorite dress.
"Je ne pense pas."
His eyes met hers briefly, and though it was only for an instant she felt reassured.
"T'inquiète pas, ça ira."
Bill's father arrived just as Mrs Weasley was serving. Fleur decided she liked him almost at once. He was tall like Bill, with some of the same relaxed air but a spark of excitement behind his glasses. Although he looked tired and his robes were a little shabby, the faint ghost of a smile seemed to linger about his face, which grew into a broad grin (quite like Bill's) as he entered the kitchen.
"Well, this must be my future daughter in law," he exclaimed proudly.
"Arthur!" Mrs Weasley looked rather dismayed.
"Oh...did I spoil the surprise?"
"Well I did think that Bill ought to be the one to announce it -"
"Ah, so do the best laid plans oft go awry," said Mr Weasley, still smiling unconcernedly. Fleur could not help noticing that Ginny did not seem quite so pleased, and looked rather as though her worst suspicions had just been confirmed. Ron said nothing and seemed confused as they sat down, Mrs Weasley laying out a steaming bowl of soup in front of each of them.
"Wait - you're getting married?" he blurted out at last. Bill laughed, taking Fleur's hand again on the table.
"Yes, we're getting married."
"Ils ne m'aiment pas." They don't like me.
"Ils aiment bien tu," They like you fine.
"Je ne pense pas" I don't think so.
"T'inquiète pas, ça ira.." don't worry, it'll be fine.
Dinner passed reasonably amicably, mostly due to Mr Weasley's enthusiastic interest in Fleur; he asked her about Beauxbatons, growing up in France, her family, making up for Ginny's pointed silence and Ron's blushing speechlessness. Slightly nervous and eager to make a good impression, Fleur found herself talking rather more than she usually would.
"Yes, I 'ave one sister. We are very close, though I 'ave not seen 'er for over a year now. She writes to me often - she is very excited about coming to England again. She is 'oping she will get to see 'arry Potter again; I think she was rather taken with 'im since 'e saved 'er in ze Triwizard Tournament."
Inexplicably, at this comment Ginny scowled fiercely, clattering her spoon against her bowl with unnecessary force. Fleur glanced questioningly towards Bill, but his attention was on his mother, who was refilling his bowl. She offered the pot towards Fleur, who shook her head.
Mrs Weasley raised an eyebrow skeptically. Fleur noticed that no-one else had refused a second, (or in Ron's case fourth) helping.
"It is just a bit 'eavy for me."
Apparently this was the wrong thing to say, because Mrs Weasley whisked away her saucepan and Fleur's not-quite-finished bowl with the hint of a disapproving frown. Fortunately supper was soon over and Mrs Weasley suggested that Bill show Fleur the garden, giving Fleur a welcome excuse to avoid alienating herself further from the Weasley women.
"I told you, Zey don't like me," she said without preamble, after they were a few steps away from the kitchen door.
"Dad seemed to really like you."
"Your mother and sister. Zey 'ardly spoke to me, and I 'ave already managed to offend them."
Bill stroked the back of her hand with his thumb thoughtfully as they walked together through the somewhat overgrown garden. With the evening summer sun warming her face, the sweet smell of grass and honeysuckle, and Bill close to her Fleur felt her worries ease a little.
"Maybe Mum and Ginny will take a little longer to get used to you," he admitted quietly, "But I'm sure they will. Ron, on the other hand, seemed very pleased to see you again." Bill's eyes were laughing, but Fleur didn't smile. Once, the besotted stares of young men were flattering, though she gradually became more indifferent to most of them. But lately she was growing to hate it - it was a constant reminder that she wasn't fully human, that she was inescapably estranged from human relationships.
" 'E doesn't see me," she said, " 'E doesn't want to know me."
Bill stopped walking, turning to look into her eyes.
"I see you," he said seriously. "I know you. And I love you. Give them a little time, and they will too."
At least over the next few days, the Weasley women did not seem in any hurry to love Fleur. Ginny seemed to be avoiding her at every opportunity, and although Fleur tried to be friendly she received mostly cold looks and thinly veiled sarcasm in response. These were nothing new in themselves – jealousy and disdain from women had always been almost as predictable as attention from men – but it stung from someone as important as Bill's sister. It didn't help that Fleur didn't really know how to begin with her; she'd never had good friends among other girls, and her own sister was a good bit younger than Ginny. Mrs Weasley wasn't hostile, but it also wasn't hard to tell she disapproved of her eldest son's choice in women. She had put Fleur in Percy's room on the second floor, and while Fleur couldn't have honestly expected to be allowed to sleep with Bill in his mother's house, she also couldn't help taking it a bit personally. As if to mirror Fleur's fading hopes of being accepted by Bill's family, the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. Though June in England was not as reliably sunny and warm as in France, Friday night was unseasonably cold and it became increasingly cool and dreary over the weekend.
As she cleared away plates after supper on Sunday evening, Mrs Weasley seemed to be trying to catch Bill's eye. She set the children to chores in various distant parts of the house and garden, and suggested (rather awkwardly) that perhaps Fleur might like to take a bath and enjoy an early bedtime. Ron and Ginny groaned, but Bill simply said, "I've told her about the order, Mum."
Molly seemed slightly scandalized and shot Fleur a look of obvious doubt.
"Right...well then...Bill, could you help me tidy up the sitting room before they get here?"
Fleur got the point at once: Mrs. Weasley clearly didn't share Bill's trust in her, and seemed to want to tell him so. Bill got up to follow her, but not before a quick squeeze of Fleur's hand and a just noticeable roll of his eyes, which made her feel a good deal better. To be perfectly honest, Fleur welcomed an excuse to escape the judgmental eye of the Weasley matriarch a little earlier than usual, but strictly on principle she remained at the table until after they had gone.
After (she felt) she could leave with dignity, she headed upstairs and soon sat wrapped in a blanket on Percy's bed and tried to sketch Bill again, for what seemed the hundredth time. Her annoyance and worries about Bill's family wasn't helping. Why did it have to be so hard? Bill seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride, as if he hardly noticed - but what if they never came to like her? She could see how important family was to Bill - would he still want to marry her if his whole family objected?
"Stop worrying, it doesn't help anything," she told herself. She glanced back at her drawing, which once again just didn't seem right, and let it fall back onto the bed with a sigh. A soft tap on the door startled her, and she looked up as Bill poked his head in.
"Want to come down and meet them?
"The order - they're just arriving for the meeting."
Fleur frowned, remembering Mrs Weasley's mistrustfulness.
"Your mother doesn't seem to think that's a good idea," she replied, with a touch more bitterness than she intended. Bill came in and sat down next to her, taking her hand.
"Don't mind it. Mum's just a bit...tense about trusting new people, what with things the way they are right now. And to be fair, she has only just met you. Anyway, I know you're alright, don't I?" He stood up and pulled her to her feet. "Come on."
Fleur heard the front door opening just as they came into the sitting room and a moment later Mrs Weasley came bustling in, followed by a rather shabbily dressed man who might have been handsome had he not looked so careworn and disheveled. She heard more voices from the hall, then a loud thump that sounded like something falling over.
"Oh, terribly sorry Arthur - are you all right?"
"I'm fine Tonks, don't worry about it. It falls down all the time."
A short, pale witch with purplish hair came in, and then -
"You!" She had her wand out in an instant, leveled at his head. She recognized his scarred face instantly; the mismatched, bizarre eyes, the misshapen nose. How often had she seen it in her nightmares, before a flash of red light.
Mrs Weasley gave a little "Oh!" of shock, and the shabby man spun around, drawing his wand. The purple headed witch had done the same, and as Arthur Weasley came in he looked quite surprised to see a sort of Mexican standoff taking place in his sitting room.
The scarred professor was the only one in the room who did not seem alarmed in the least. He stood quite still, his expression impassive, and looked Fleur directly in the eye for a long moment. Even as his normal eye held her gaze, the other one rolled around, then finally settled on her as well. At last he spoke:
"This your girlfriend, Bill?" he growled. "I like her already."
He gave a little nod, and following his eyes Fleur realized his own wand was drawn by his side, trained on her chest. She had not seen him draw it, but now he put it away. "It wasn't me, lass. Put it down."
She felt Bill's hand in hers and gripped it tightly.
"Fleur, it wasn't him..." he murmured quietly, "it was an impostor, in the maze." Slowly, she lowered her wand. There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief among all those present. Mrs Weasley said, rather nervously,
"I'll just fix us some tea," and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Fleur," said Bill, "This is the real Mad-eye Moody, a great Auror and a good friend. Mad-eye - my fiance, Fleur Delacour."
Mad-eye extended a gnarled hand; Fleur put her wand away and took it, matching the firm grip of his rough fingers.
"Hmm," he grunted in apparent approval. "Constant vigilance." She wasn't exactly sure what was meant by this, but he seemed to regard it as a great compliment. The Order began to distribute themselves among the various seats and cushions, and Bill introduced the rest one by one. "Remus Lupin" - the shabby, tired looking man, and the purple haired witch just called "Tonks," who sat down next to him. She couldn't see why, but both of them seemed to look between her and Bill very intently - it made her a little uncomfortable. More members began to arrive, including Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was courteous and friendly despite his imposing figure, followed by Severus Snape, whom she recognized as the potions master from Hogwarts. He fixed her with his cold, black stare from the moment he entered, and merely narrowed his eyes when Bill spoke his name.
Last of all was Albus Dumbledore himself, who took a seat just as Molly came back, carrying a large tray laden with mismatched mugs of hot tea. He smiled at Fleur, and she could tell right away that she was welcome, and he had in fact expected her to be there.
"Madame Delacour, a pleasure to see you again - and may I offer my congratulations to both you and young Mr Weasley."
Fleur realized many of the Order members were looking inquisitively between Dumbledore and herself, and suddenly realized they might share Mrs. Weasley's lack of immediate trust in her. Though she understood rationally they had only just met her, after all, and one couldn't be too careful about spies and the dark arts - how well she knew this herself - nonetheless she felt the beginnings of hot indignation starting in her chest. Bill seemed to sense the danger, and squeezed her hand.
"Fleur and I are engaged to be married," he said simply. "I trust her with my life, and I'll keep no more secrets from her. She's in the same danger we are, anyway, and she deserves to know what's going on."
There was a brief pause, and it seemed to Fleur that the unsaid questions lingering in the room had been answered.
"Well said, William," Dumbledore said, then turned to her. "Miss Delacour, the word of Mr Weasley is enough for me - but you must understand that to join the counsels of the Order is no light matter, and brings with it no little danger. You must be sworn to secrecy, to obedience, even under threat of death. Will you accept this burden?"
At this, Fleur felt a little tendril of cold fear start to creep through the flush of her anger. It was one thing to demand to be taken seriously by mistrustful strangers; it was quite another to pledge allegiance to this calm, serious old man. She forced it back down.
"Yes, I will."
Dumbledore looked at her hard for a long moment, and she felt as though his piercing blue eyes were somehow looking through her, seeing past her bold face to her anger, doubts, and hopes. At last he spoke.
"I am satisfied. Do any here object?" The gathered members of the Order all seemed to be studying her intently, but none said anything. "Very well. Welcome, to the Order of the Phoenix."