22 June 1997

Fleur Delacour adored the sea. Her mother and father had taken her to Marseilles when she was a very little girl…before Gabrielle had been born, she realized, and she had fallen deeply in love with life by the ocean. There was something terrifying and thrillingly magical about the way the sea knew what was coming. Clouds gathered on the horizon first, far away, and if you listened to the ocean, you could protect yourself from the approaching storm.

Fleur had always imagined that one day, when she grew up, she and her husband would have a home by the ocean. Her children would learn to love seashells, waves, and the beauty of a thunderhead before it frees itself over the shore, putting little craters in the soft sand. They would know what it was like to stand on the rocks and wait for the thunder and lightning to end, to see the sun come bursting through the clouds, warming the sand and restoring the divine beauty of the seaside.

Now she sat at Bill's bedside in the Hogwarts hospital wing, her head drooping on her shoulder, her arms and legs crossed. He was sleeping now, and it was midmorning. She had been waiting hours for him to wake up. Molly Weasley sat opposite her, wide awake, but staring at her own hand clinging tightly to Bill's. The rest of her family-to-be had gone with Harry, and were helping to repair the castle…

Mothers-in-law are odd creatures, Fleur mused through barely-open eyes. She had written Molly off as an unwinnable case, she did not like Fleur and never would, for some reason inexplicable to her. Bill could try to help her understand all that he liked, but Fleur was annoyed and upset by her future mother-in-law's unwelcoming nature, and would hear none of it.

Then…tonight…Fleur suddenly understood. The look with which Molly had been watching Bill all night was identical to her own mother's, when she looked upon Fleur. Her oldest son, her first child, had nearly been murdered…and Fleur understood everything.

Fleur closed her eyes, trying to block the tears from sliding down her face. She would never have made it. It sounded silly, overly romantic, stupid, even, but she would not have survived if the werewolf had killed her Bill. For Fleur, it was plain fact. In recent months, she had noticed that seeing her future brothers-in-law react to her presence—Ron, especially—far from being welcome, expected, even…had become jarring, unsettling.

At Beauxbatons, she was used to feeling confident that she was beautiful; she remembered more than one occasion when a boy swooned before her. This had held true at Hogwarts, as well, when she had visited. And then, when she came to work at Gringotts, another confirmation of her beauty. It was effortless for her, simply a part of her nature to stun men with her beauty, and Fleur took a slightly less-than-secret pleasure in it.

Then she had met the one man whom her charms seemed to barely faze. Bill Weasley had treated her like another office worker; kindly, with respect, but just another worker. And suddenly, this was all Fleur wanted. She began to ignore, to laugh off, the attentiveness of other men. For the first time, Fleur was desperately seeking the attention of a man…and it was not altogether unpleasant, she had to admit. Being with the Weasleys, in their home, made her forget that she was beautiful…it startled her to catch Ron staring at her, or see Ginny, or Molly, or Ron's girlfriend—well, not girlfriend in name, perhaps, but close—scowling.

It was mad, she knew, to want to get married, in the midst of everything happening around them. But…and she knew Bill felt this too…if they could survive this, then couldn't they survive anything? Couldn't they outlast the thunder and lightning?

Fleur sat up slightly, opening her eyes, and Molly glanced at her, giving her a faint smile, which Fleur returned. She leaned forward and took Bill's other hand, examining the half-healed wounds that slashed his face and heaving a sigh.

"Molly?" said a very gentle voice at the gap in the curtains. Fleur looked up to see the Hogwarts matron, watching them. Molly sat up as well.

"Yes, Poppy?" she asked in a very tired voice that was nonetheless kind.

"I'm sorry," said the matron. "I don't mean to interrupt, but—do you think you might be able to help me with Mr. Longbottom? He might like some company—I need to sort him out, now he's awake, but—"

"Of course," Molly said immediately. She glanced back at Bill, then at Fleur, who nodded.

"You should 'elp," Fleur said. "Go, I weel stay here wiz 'im."

Molly nodded. She got to her feet and paused for a moment, looking down at Fleur. For a moment, Fleur feared that she was about to receive the rather derisively sweeping gaze Molly had given her every day for ten months—then—

"Thank you, dear," Molly said kindly. She reached out and smoothed Fleur's hair briefly, and Fleur gave a gentle smile before Molly followed the matron from the curtained bed.

Fleur took a deep breath and moved her chair closer to Bill's side, leaning over and holding his hand more tightly.

"You were right, Bill," she said softly. "She does like me…" Fleur's voice broke, and she dropped her head, allowing a few tears to fall. Why had Bill's safety, his health, been the price of discovering that she had been wrong about her future mother-in-law?

"Told you," muttered a very faint voice, and Fleur whipped her head up. Bill's blue eyes were half-open, and he was watching her with a faint, pained smile on his face.

"Bill," Fleur said, as more tears spilled from her eyes. She moved to sit beside him on the bed and leaned over him, her hair falling in a curtain over them.

"Hi, girly," said Bill, putting up one hand to rub her arm. "You all right?"

Fleur nodded, wiping her tears from her cheeks.

"Good," he said tiredly, his eyes closing as he took a deep breath. "Now, why does my face hurt?"

"Oh," Fleur said, putting a hand over her mouth. "Bill—"

Bill's eyes opened. "Greyback?" he asked, seeming to suddenly remember, and Fleur squeezed his hand. Bill sighed deeply, and winced. "How bad?" he asked quietly.

"N-not so bad," Fleur said, trying to smile, though her lips were trembling. "You—you are still vairy 'andsome."

Bill gave a small, humorless laugh, and reached up a hand to touch Fleur's face. "Thanks, pretty girl," he said, and very, very gently, Fleur leaned down and brushed her lips against an unscarred part of his forehead. Bill sighed happily.

She sat up, patting his chest with her free hand. "Remus says 'e seenks zat you weel not—not be—" she broke off, biting her lip.

Bill blinked. "That's a relief, isn't it?" he asked, clearly trying to cheer her. "I always hated Potions, I'd never have the patience Remus does to make that Wolfsbane thing every month."

Fleur sighed, trying not to let her tears fall. She smiled tightly. "I would make eet for you," she said, and Bill gave another laugh, wincing.

"How's everyone else? That was Mum, yeah?" he asked, pulling Fleur's hand in his onto his chest and pointing the other at the curtains Molly had just left through.

"Zey are fine, your bruzzers are all right. So are Ginny and your fazzer," Fleur assured him. "'Arry, and 'Ermione, too."

"Good," Bill said, groaning as he pushed himself up. Fleur sat back, drawing her wand and waving it. A large, comfortable-looking pillow appeared in midair, and she caught it.

"'Ere, chère," she said, and she helped Bill lean forward, stuffing it behind his back. Bill gave her a small grin, sinking back.

"Best nurse in the world, here," he said, and Fleur adjusted herself on the bed so that she could face him a bit more. He studied her face carefully for a moment. "Fleur…has something happened? Are you sure everyone's all right? Tonks, Remus? They're okay?"

Fleur took a breath, looking down at their linked hands. She had not wanted to be the one to tell him, but she raised her eyes to his. "Your—your 'eadmaster, Bill—ze old gentleman—Dumbledore—"

"What?" Bill asked, looking sickened. Fleur squeezed his hand, and felt more tears rising to her eyes. "Dumbledore—Dumbledore's dead?"

Slowly, Fleur nodded. "Yes," she said. "I—I am so sorry," she told him.

Bill pressed his mouth shut, and Fleur couldn't tell if his grimace was from pain or sorrow. "How?" he asked, after several minutes, opening rather wet blue eyes to look at her.

Fleur shook her head. "'Arry said eet was—zat man, in black—ze professor 'ere—"

"Snape?" Bill asked violently, and Fleur jumped. Bill's face was angry, and with his half-healed wounds, he was looking rather wolfish—it was startling, and Fleur forced herself not to jump back. "Snape—he betrayed Dumbledore? He killed Dumbledore?" he asked incredulously.

"Bill, please," Fleur said quickly, laying soothing hands on Bill's arms. "I—I do not know ze 'ole story. We—I 'ave been too worried about you," she said, trying not to cry.

Her tear-filled eyes seemed to calm Bill, and he sank back on his pillows again, taking her hands. He drew a breath. "It's all right," he said, looking very tired indeed. The gashes on his face seemed to stand out more; he had gone very white. "It's all right, Fleur."

Fleur squeezed his hands, and her tears spilled over, falling onto their interlocked fingers.

"Come here, pretty girl," said Bill gently, and Fleur looked up into his torn face. With her fingertip, she gently traced the line of one gash, just below his eye. "Wounds heal, sweetheart," he said softly. "I don't mind them, if you don't."

"Never," Fleur said sharply. "You weel always be ze most 'andsome, most—most—charming man I 'ave ever known," she told him fiercely. "Always. You are my 'usband—you weel be, I mean—and you weel always be'andsome to me. I love you."

Bill smiled, his tired eyes lighting up, and he opened his arms for her. Fleur buried her face against his shoulder, tears coming freshly, and Bill held her tightly. He pressed a soft kiss onto her hair.

"I love you, too," he said quietly, and they held onto one another even tighter.

They had had their warning, Fleur thought. The thunderheads were gathering, far off, where the sky and sea met, and it was not long until the storm broke, beating against the shoreline and any who tried to weather it. Fleur drew a shaky breath and kissed Bill's shoulder. She would do anything it took to ensure that he was protected from the coming storm, and she would stand by his side to face the torrential downpour.

Because after a storm, the seaside is a heavenly place.

Round 8 entry for the 34 Prompts Challenge! A Bill/Fleur piece. Popped into my head and hopped around until I wrote it down. I love the beach after a storm. *breathes deeply* Mmmm... :) Hope you like.