They have lost one of their little brothers and Percy knows that all of them, all three of them, Bill, Charlie, and him, feel as though they've failed at something, failed the duty that none of them chose for themselves, because you didn't choose to be an older brother; it was pushed on you and then you never cared that you didn't choose it. But none of them feel it as much as he does, because he was there, he was there, and he couldn't stop it happening, and now Fred is dead and George looks glassy and exhausted and defeated and broken and Percy's afraid that they've lost him too, even though he never gave up; he fought to the very end, defeated Yaxley and helped clean up until Dad said they all needed to go home.

When they all return to the Burrow, Bill follows Percy up the stairs to his room. Percy can't even think about how it's the first time he's been back in years; the first time he's climbed that narrow staircase since he was nineteen years old. What a fool he'd been; what a young, abysmally stupid child. They could have died, all of them, and now one of them has, and he—

"Perce," Bill says, as Percy sits down on his old bed. He hasn't bothered shutting the door. Anyway, there isn't much point, as Bill always excelled at getting through locked doors.

For a second, Percy doesn't answer, but then he glances at his eldest brother. Bill's eyes are red but he's not crying currently; Percy doesn't think he is either and then can't remember if he has; his eyes feel dry and sandy. He expects Bill to say something; but Bill, his older brother who's always been cool and in charge, always known what to do and what to say, seems at a loss for words. So Percy says, "Sorry I missed your wedding. It sounded—really nice."

Really he's in no position to say that, as he's not heard anything about the wedding besides the fact that it was disrupted by 'Ministry officials' – his name for them then, though he calls them Death Eaters now, of course. He was sick with fear for his family before he could think twice about it. Umbridge asked him what the problem was and he stuttered that he must've had something bad in the canteen for dinner.

Bill looks slightly incredulous and Percy immediately feels stupid; but he'd much rather picture Bill's and Fleur's wedding than remember what Fred looked like, still and white and laughing, for once not at Percy, but with him… Then Bill speaks in a low voice. "You'd better not be blaming yourself, Perce."

Percy looks away and grimaces. "Aren't you?"

There's a long silence. And then, "Of course I am." When Percy meets Bill's eyes again through glasses smudged with dirt and blood, Bill sighs. "But just because we both are doesn't mean we should be."

Percy knows what Bill's going to say because he's already had some of it from George when he tried to speak with his younger brother. "We're in the Order," George said flatly; "We knew what might happen." As though that makes it better for anyone. Charlie, who was close enough to hear, mumbled, "Leave him for now," as George moved off across the Great Hall.

With another sigh, Bill sits down on the bed. The springs creak as the mattress sags. "Look, I can blame myself for being the oldest. Charlie can blame himself for being the toughest of us. You—well."

Percy wonders what Bill thinks he can blame himself for and appreciates, in a way, that he doesn't want to say it, but this is part of it to him. "I can blame myself for betraying all of you."

"Not when it really mattered," Bill replies evenly. With a shrug, Percy looks away. "Perce, I'm serious." His oldest brother puts a hand on his shoulder. "I'm not going to say I know how you're feeling, because that's trite. I just—I mean, look, I don't think it's really sunk in for any of us yet, but I have to think…no, I know that Fred didn't think he needed protecting. He had as much stake in fighting as any of us. And I think all he'd care about was that he'd a hand in bringing down Voldemort." Bill takes a deep, shaky breath. "And I know it doesn't make either of us feel better. But I think––that's part of being an older brother. You have to know when to let your siblings be their own people, even if––" He stops and swallows hard and doesn't go on.

The two of them sit in silence for a long time. The house is mostly quiet – a low murmur that might be crying is coming from somewhere and there's faint birdsong from outside, but other than that, there's no sound. Warm yellow sun shines through Percy's east-facing window, the same sun that's always illuminated the house. Nothing's changed, and yet everything has. And his brother hasn't said what Percy expected him to because he knows that isn't what he needs to hear.

Finally, Bill pats Percy on the shoulder and stands up heavily. He walks to the door, still without saying a word, but then he hesitates and turns around. They meet each other's eyes and Bill says, like he's continuing an earlier conversation, even though Percy doesn't think it's one they were having, "But Perce, if you feel like you need a big brother...well, you know where to find me."

Percy tries to respond but finds that his throat has closed entirely and won't let him make a sound, so instead he just nods.

He's glad, despite all of it, that he's home.