A/N: My sincerest apologies for the time between chapters. Many thanks for your continued support and encouragement to continue. It's highly appreciated.

This chapter is Fleur and Bill centric and won't be very long. This just needs to happen.

AT LONG LAST

CHAPTER 8: SADNESS

He knew going forward things would be different. He had felt the bond he shared with his wife ebbing away slowly since the kids had arrived at Shell Cottage and he knew things were going to change dramatically in the coming days.

He'd arrived back at the house earlier than he had expected and he just couldn't go inside. He wanted to talk to his wife alone and find out for sure what was happening, but he was trying to deal with his feelings first.

He truly loved Fleur. Their life together had been nice and simple so far, even with the stress of the war. He loved being married to her and how they always took care of each other. Even when he had known he wasn't her destined mate, he had truly enjoyed their time together. They had made a home for themselves in their little cottage and surprisingly, Fleur had adapted well to their life without many frills or luxuries.

As he walked down the shoreline, he wiped a tear from his cold cheek and sighed. Even when his feelings for his wife were diminishing, he knew it would hurt to let her go completely. He knew they'd figure out a way to stay friends, but he would need a little time to go from being a happily married man, to a solitary one. While the transition would be smooth and not overly painful, he was still feeling it. Maybe it was the little bit of wolf in him that was messing with what was supposed to be a painless dissolution of their marriage. As far as he knew, it wasn't supposed to hurt; he would be able to let Fleur go without hard feelings between them. But it appeared it wouldn't be that simple.

Maybe the wolf in him felt some sort of connection to his wife's Veela, or it was just a possessive thing, some misguided attempt at mating with her. But whatever it was, he felt hollow inside. He was torn between letting her be happy with her rightful mate and keeping her with him. He knew also that no matter what he did, it wouldn't work because if she wasn't destined to him, there was nothing and no magic that would make her stay.

Fleur had never had a problem with his condition and never shied away from his scars. She was proud of being with him and she had loved him. He had no doubts that she had been a devoted wife to him while they had been together. She had understood the times he needed to be alone because the moon affected him a bit, she understood his business with The Order and she supported him always.

But something major had happened between the time he had left and the time he had come back. He could feel it in his bones. Fleur was no longer his and she had taken some step with the person she was destined to be with. He just had no idea who it could be because there were six additional guests in his house, not counting Griphook, and he couldn't for the life of him decide which of them it could be.

He just hoped it wasn't his brother. The idea of letting Fleur go to another family member bothered him, even if he would have no say in the matter. He also hoped it wasn't the old man, because as much as Mr. Ollivander was nice, he just couldn't picture his wife with him. Griphook was totally out of the questions, since he didn't think a Veela would ever mate with a goblin.

So that left two young men and two young women. It could be any of them because he was well aware Fleur's mate could be a woman.

The more he thought about it, it dawned on him that Fleur seemed to be having a battle of wills with Hermione. They were butting heads and extra aware of each other since she had arrived. He hadn't thought much about it at the time, but his wife had been adamant about the brunette's care and wellbeing and she hadn't allowed anyone to help her. Even as they bickered, they could hardly take their eyes off of each other. He had thought those were measuring looks meant to find a crack in each other's armor.

Now, it seemed, the looks had meant something altogether different.

He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed as he stopped his pacing and faced the rolling waves. It seemed he had his answer.

"William?"

He turned around to come face to face with his wife. She was dressed in jeans and a bulky sweater, a soft scarf around her neck.

"Fleur," he greeted softly.

"What are you doing out 'ere? When did you get back?"

"A while ago. I just needed to do some thinking."

"Oh?"

Bill offered her his hand. "Walk with me for a bit? I think we need to sort some things out, yeah?"

Her eyes widened just a tiny bit, but he saw it nonetheless. She placed her hand in his and he smiled reassuringly at her as they started walking down the solitary beach.

"You found your rightful mate," he started softly and felt her body stiffen next to his. He gave her hand a comforting squeeze as they continued to walk. "I'm not mad. Just a little sad to let you go."

Fleur sighed.

"You're sad? But you're not supposed to feel any pain!"

"I thought the same, but there you have it. I think the wolf part is the one responsible, because I know I have to let you go and I think I'm okay with that, but there is a part of me that is hurting because we're over. I can't help how I feel and I don't want to lie to you about it, either."

Tears pooled in Fleur's eyes as she looked at him. "I honestly didn't zink zis would ever 'appen, William. I zought you and I would be 'appy and no one would come between us. I'm so sorry!"

"Hey, I don't want you to cry, alright? There is nothing you can do to change this. It is your destiny and I'm happy you found her. Please don't apologize."

Her eyes widened once more and her tears finally fell down her face. "You know who it is?"

"I have a good idea. I've been out here thinking for a while, running everything over in my head trying to figure it out. I know it started when the kids arrived and I just have this feeling its Hermione."

Her gasp was all the confirmation he needed. He hung his head a little and swallowed the sudden lump trapped in his throat.

"William, I don't know what to say to you. I was waiting for you to arrive at 'ome so we could talk about it."

"I figured as much, but I needed to wrap my head around it before we spoke. How did you know it was her?"

Fleur shrugged. "It's 'ard to explain. Once zey arrived, I just felt zis pull towards 'er. Something I 'ad never felt before for anyone. I just 'ad to be near 'er, take care of 'er and make sure she was alright. She was so beat up when she arrived. Zere were so many bruises and so many scars! All I wanted was to gather 'er in my arms and make it all better. I wanted to take away all of 'er bad memories and all of 'er pain. I didn't know what was 'appening so I 'ad to contact my family."

"Wow. I didn't know it would happen like that. I just thought if you ever found the right person, you'd know right away and so would they."

"I didn't know 'ow it would 'appen, either. But I just 'ad zis feeling I couldn't shake so I wrote my grandmother and mother. Zey asked me to come over so we could talk about it. Since I didn't want to bother you with ze news if I was wrong, I didn't tell you I was going. When you got 'ome yesterday and I 'ad just arrived, I was coming back from France. I'm sorry I lied to you."

"I had a feeling you hadn't just come from the market. Hermione and Luna seemed worried I was there and you weren't. And then when I tried to kiss you, you sort of pushed me away."

She looked towards the rolling waves before saying anything. She hated hurting him because he really was a good man. He didn't deserve this and she just didn't know what to do to make it better for him.

"I don't know 'ow else to apologize to you. I never meant for any of zis to 'appen."

"I know that, Fleur. I know you didn't set out to purposely hurt me. I knew when I married you that it might not be forever. I guess I just didn't expect it to be this short of a marriage."

Again, she was at a loss for words. How could she keep explaining things to him when it was so obvious he was hurting? How could she tell him everything had finally made sense to her when she had kissed Hermione? How could she tell him that even now, holding his hand, she felt like she was betraying the brunette?

"Fleur, I can see you're struggling with this. I don't need to know all of the details. I just need to know what to do now. What do I do to make this easier on both of us? Do you want me to move out?"

"Non! William, zis is your 'ome. I don't expect you to do zat at all. I 'ave my own place in London. If anyone 'as to go it's me."

"But what about everyone staying 'ere?"

She sighed sadly. "Ze trio is going to be leaving any day now. I know zey are plotting something and Griphook is 'elping zem. When zey leave, we need to make sure Luna and ze rest 'ave a safe place to be."

"Wait. You're not going with her?"

Fleur threw out her arm in frustration. "'Ermione is very stubborn. She won't let me go with zem and she wants me to be somewhere safe as well. I don't know what to do."

"And you're just going to listen to her? Fleur, wherever they go from here is bound to be dangerous. She's already hurt. I wouldn't let her go."

"And you don't zink I already 'ad zis conversation with 'er? You don't zink I want to go? Just ze zought of 'er being out zere and getting 'urt again is killing me! But I must also understand 'er reasoning and respect 'er wishes."

He watched her for a moment before speaking again. "You love her."

Fleur locked eyes with him and simply gave a small nod. "I don't know 'ow it's possible so quickly, I don't understand it, but yes, I do."

He just pulled her into his arms and held her. He didn't know what else to do to ease her pain. Because it was obvious by just looking into her expressive eyes that Fleur was already in pain and feeling the loss of her mate leaving and going into danger.

"Everything is me is screaming at me to protect 'er, even if I 'ave to give my life to save 'ers. I don't know 'ow I'm going to survive not 'aving 'er close, William."

When she started crying softly, he just held her tighter and fought his own tears. Somehow, as they had spoken, his own pain had eased knowing she was happy. He wasn't feeling hollow anymore, but protective. He just felt some sort of peace now that was helping him hold his crying wife and she cried for the one she loved.

"Fleur, I'm going to be here for you no matter what, alright? This bloody war is tearing every family apart and I don't want you to be alone. Even if you go to London, I'll be by to see you and make sure you're doing well. I'm not going to abandon you when you need me most."

Fleur's cries just got louder as he ran his hand over her hair.

"You're an amazing man, William Weasley and I was lucky to 'ave you ze short time I did."

"No way, darling. I was the lucky one!" He stepped back and used his fingers to dry her tears. "Come now, there is no more crying. We're going to go to the house, sit everyone down and explain all at once what's happened. I don't want to repeat myself more than I have to."

"Do you zink everyone will take it well?"

He scratched at the stubble on his chin and thought about that for a moment. "Hmm, I think so. I think most everyone will be okay with the news other than my little brother. He fancies Hermione and he's not going to take the news well. I'm just warning you right now that he's probably going to act like a right prat, but if he does, I'll set him straight."

"Oui. I 'ad figured as much already. 'E is not going to be 'appy about zis. I just 'ope 'e doesn't decide to abandon zem again. I don't zink 'Arry and 'Ermione can do this alone."

"And if he does? If he decides he can't help because he's mad at her?"

Another profound sigh left her parted lips. "Zen she will 'ave to listen to reason and let me come along. It's 'ard enough letting zem go. Zey are just barely adults and it feels like the weight of ze wizarding world is in zeir 'ands. It's not fair, William."

"You can help, you know. We can go to The Order and I'm sure they'd be happy to let you help again. We already helped with getting Harry that one time and you did a really good job. You have amazing skills and you're a gifted witch. We can always use more help and that way you'll feel like you're helping them along."

She nodded. "I like zat idea. I won't be able to sit at my flat in London and pretend like zings are alright. I'd rather be 'elping in any way I can."

"Then it's settled. Let's go up to the house and talk to everyone at once. Then, when the shook wears off, we can start planning. I'll bunk with the boys tonight," he added as an afterthought.

"I appreciate zat, William, but I zink, if it's alright with you, zat it would be best if I stay in 'Ermione's room until she leaves. I promise you zat nothing will 'appen between us. You can 'ave our room."

"Fleur, I'm really okay with things now. Talking has helped a lot. I think I just needed that. I know she's your mate and that soon she won't be next to you. Whatever happens, happens, alright?"

She hugged him fiercely. "I do love you, William Weasley."

His smile was a little wobbly when he held her back, but he returned her sentiments before stepping back once more, taking her hand and leading her back to the cottage.

0-0

When they entered through the kitchen, Hermione and Luna were there going over Fleur's cookbooks once more. They both looked up and Hermione's eyes zeroed in on their clasped hands.

When Bill noticed, he quickly cleared his throat before letting Fleur go. "Um, Luna, can you gather everyone in the living room? There's something Fleur and I need to talk to you all about, but first we need to speak to Hermione alone."

The blonde looked at all of them before nodding slowly. After giving Hermione's shoulder a light squeeze, she walked out of the kitchen.

Hermione watched them warily for a moment before standing up and walking closer.

"What is it you need to talk to me about?"

0-0

A/N 2: How many of you are betting Ronald throws a hissy fit when he finds out?