Her first act as mistress of Shell Cottage is to plant a patch of Sweet Williams – transported directly from her parents’ garden – outside their front door. It is a girlishly romantic gesture, laden with symbolism, which she explains to Bill.
“Flowers for me, Fleur,” she says, tamping down the soil with her knuckles as she kneels next to them. “And Williams, obviously, for you.”
“I am pretty sweet,” he says, nodding sagely.
“No, you are ridiculous.” Her words are belied by her smile. “And gallant, I suppose, since zey symbolize zat as well.”
“Gallant,” he says, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I like it.”
When they're making dinner that night – their first in the cottage – she sprinkles the blossoms over everything. He says he’s never tasted anything so gallant and she laughs, her heart wild and hopeful, like a fluttering bird trapped in her chest. It is a good omen for their married life, she thinks.
When she’d come to Hogwarts, she’d hated it. It was nothing like Beauxbatons; it was cold and stony and full of people who stared at her, half with moony, teenaged-boy lust and half with envious hatred. The second Madame Maxime’s carriage touched down and she set foot on the hard cobblestone path, she wanted to go home.
“My room at school ‘ad beautiful furniture,” she sighed to Roger Davies at dinner as she poked listlessly at the sorry excuse for a bouillabaisse they’d served. “Crown moldings, silk 'angings. Paintings in gilt frames. I did not ‘ave to live in a carriage next to ze ‘orses. Ze students, zey ‘ad manners and respected ladies and zeir elders. ‘Ere no one even stands up! It is disgraceful.”
“Huh?” Roger’s eyes were glazed over, his mouth slack as he stared at her enraptured. For a second she despised him, even though she knew it wasn’t entirely his fault.
“Never mind,” she snapped crossly, pushing her plate away with scowl and clutching her muffler more tightly about her neck. She caught a younger girl at the Gryffindor table glaring at her. The girl’s hair flew about her face, wild and untamed. Fleur knew just the charm for that, and she might have shared it with the girl if she hadn’t been glaring with such undisguised hostility. Fleur returned the glare in kind and mentally counted the days until summer.
“Who is zat man wiz ‘Arry?”
“Hm?” Professor Flitwick looked around, stood on his tiptoes to see through the crowd. “Oh, that’s Bill Weasley. One of the finest students Hogwarts has ever seen. Head boy, exceptionally clever. He’s a curse-breaker with Gringott’s now.”
“I see,” she said, watching him, watching the way he moved. He looked down at the woman beside him – his mother, from the look of it – with more interest and respect than Fleur was used to seeing on the face of a man other than her father. She didn’t realize she was staring until he glanced up and caught her eye. She knew she should look away, blush becomingly. There was a dance, after all, and she knew it well. A minute later, however, and she was still staring. He smiled then, a raffish grin, and her pulse stuttered.
“Miss Delacour,” Professor Flitwick’s voice jolted her back to the present. “It’s time for the final task.”
“Yes. Yes, of course.” She looked back at Bill but he had returned his attention to his mother and Harry. When she took a step, her knees wobbled a bit and she clutched her father’s arm to steady herself. That smile replayed itself in her brain, her breath catching anew each time, until she suddenly had unexpected sympathy for all those moony, lust-addled boys she’d dismissed over the years.
He gave her flowers on their first date. It was not particularly inspired; he was far from the first to think it clever. But the other boys had given her massive bouquets of roses or artful lily arrangements or, on one memorable occasion, a cloak lined in enchanted moonblossoms that almost suffocated her in thrice-hourly clouds of perfume. Bill gave her a sprig of delicate white flowers, little more than weeds, because, as he said, “you always stop to smell them in the courtyard on your way in.” She was surprised and pleased to find he’d been paying that much attention to her habits.
“They’re called snow-in-summer,” he told her. “They’re more of a plant than a flower, really. Muggles like them but they don’t realize how magical they are. Medicinal, actually. They produce a cooling effect. For fevers.”
“You seem to know much about plants,” she said, brushing the petals idly with her fingertips. Indeed, they did feel cool to the touch, even though the air around them was warm.
“I did all right in Herbology,” he said with a grin.
“What else did you do ‘all right’ in?” she inquired, matching his smile with her own.
“Oh, this and that.” He took the flowers from her hands and tucked them behind one ear, seeming satisfied with the result when he stood back to look at her. She played along, throwing her hair over one shoulder and striking a pose. When he offered her his arm, the gesture was practiced and automatic.
All throughout dinner, she could feel the flowers, cool and soothing. When he kissed her cheek outside her front door, the cool brush of the petals was in sharp contrast to the warmth of his lips.
It’s different now than it was before. On the surface it seems the same; Bill still touches her reverently, like she is fragile and rare, she still shudders at his slightest touch. But there’s a purpose to their movements now, they are more careful, more deliberate. She is keenly aware of the difference. It strikes her as being both sacred and primitive, this act of creating a child.
She borrows Teddy fairly frequently. “For practice,” she tells Andromeda, and Andromeda’s happy to take advantage of the free babysitting. It’s only half the truth, though. She also borrows him for Bill, for the way he laughs when the boy manages to upend the coffee table or get his lunch on the ceiling. And maybe a bit for herself, for the warmth that spreads through her stomach at that laugh, or at the easy way he has with Teddy. She does not have such an easy way.
“Ooh, ‘ow do you always do zat?” she says in frustration as Teddy stops crying the instant Bill hoists him out of her arms. “Why does 'e only cry for me?” Bill grins at her discomfiture.
“I guess I’ve just got a gift,” he says, bouncing Teddy and making faces to amuse him. He’s rewarded by Teddy’s joyous shriek and Fleur frowns. They joke about it, but she’s starting to worry about what will happen with her own baby. Will she cry and scream until Bill comes home every night? Will she only want to be in Bill’s arms? Bill notices her furrowed brow and leans over to kiss the lines between her eyes, the baby clutching at her hair as he comes near.
“You’ll be fine,” he says. “It’s different when they’re your own.”
“Promise?” she asks, hating how she sounds like a scared little girl.
“’Ello,” she says to George, doing her best not to cringe at the mess of clothing and shoes, food containers and unidentified objects littering the living room floor. It had been cluttered but clean the last time she visited. Fred must have been in charge of housekeeping. “’Ow are you doing?”
“Fine,” he says. She knows without asking that he doesn’t even think before saying that now, that it’s his pat answer for any and all questions. She’s heard him at it with Molly. How are you getting on, George? Fine. Feeling all right? Fine. How about a spot of tea, dear? Fine.
He leads her into the kitchen. The afternoon sun streams through the curtain-less window, spotlighting the dishes piled in the sink. She ignores them in favor of maneuvering herself into a chair. She’s not all that large yet, but sitting down has already become a bit of a production.
“Tea?” he asks, brandishing the kettle and setting it on the stove when she nods. She chatters while he moves around the kitchen; they speak of Bill, of Charlie’s new job with the Ministry, of Molly’s scandalized reaction to Ginny moving into Harry and Ron’s flat. It pains her how strained he is, how polite. She has always liked George. There’s a softness to him, an extra dose of kindness. Of all the Weasley boys, it is George who reminds her most of Arthur.
He sits, pours them both tea by hand, his wand still lying next to the sink. She accepts her cup and they drink in silence for a few minutes.
“So,” he says, breaking the hush. “How’s that going, then?” He gestures to her stomach. She could almost balance her teacup on it now.
“Frightening,” she answers honestly, something she hasn’t even told Bill yet. “I’m not sure if I can do zis. Everything is so new and I feel like I’m doing it alone, even zough I ‘ave people all around me.” His teacup clatters against the table. When his eyes well up, she feels her heart clutch.
“Yeah,” he says, his voice rough. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She leans forward and covers his hand with her own. The kettle clicks on the stove, cooling, as they sit with their hands clasped together, tea forgotten. She lifts herself awkwardly out of the chair and moves to stand behind him, placing her hands on his shoulders. His head is bowed, the back of his neck so pale and vulnerable that it breaks her heart. She waits until he stops shaking, until he reaches up and covers her hand with his, a mirror of her earlier gesture. Then she turns to the sink, pulls out her wand, and begins to clean.
"I look like I swallowed a cauldron." She turns to the side, critically examining her stomach in the mirror. It strains at the fabric of her dress, making it hang strangely from the navel down. She pulls it tight at her hips, inches it up experimentally, before giving up and stripping it over her head to stand in her underclothes. Bill is lounging in his favorite armchair, flipping through The Daily Prophet and looking for Hermione’s new column – brand new Special Correspondent, Ron had told them proudly over dinner at The Burrow as Hermione blushed – on cooperation between magical beings. She sees him look up at her in the mirror, the paper folding onto his chest, forgotten.
"You look beautiful," he says dutifully, smiling when she scowls at him.
"Zis pregnancy business is quite ugly," she decides.
"But you're glowing," he tells her. "Everyone knows pregnant women glow. I can barely stand to look at you, you're glowing so." He makes a ridiculous show of shielding his eyes and cringing. She sighs, doing her best to hide her smile.
"I cannot believe I married such a silly man." She finds her dressing gown and pulls it on as she approaches him, belting it loosely. It doesn’t quite make it around. The paper makes a rustling sound when she pushes it to the ground and his large hands pull her fully onto his lap. She barely fits any more, so huge is her belly. She traces the scars written on his skin with a gentle fingertip. He does not flinch away. He never has, not even when the scars were still new and he had every reason to, which has always pleased her.
It’s a bright, heavy afternoon. The breeze that stirs the curtains is warm and it makes her drowsy. She hasn’t been sleeping well. Her dreams are restless and strange, even more so in the summer’s heat, and she can’t remember the last time she was cool and comfortable. Even the cooling charms she casts over her increasingly frequent baths don’t make her feel any less sticky and unwieldy. She drops her head to his shoulder, allowing his steady, even breathing to lull her into sleep.
By the time their daughter is born, the Sweet Williams have grown as if charmed to take over the entire front of the house and half of the side. They name her Victoire, for victory. The first time Molly holds her, Fleur is half afraid she’ll never give her back.
She is a sweet baby, happy and easily pleased. Fleur watches Victoire divert herself for hours by carefully examining her own fingers or vainly attempting to stick her toes in her mouth. Her favorite place is under those Sweet Williams. Butterflies and bees gather there, the white blossoms nodding as the insects flit between them. Fleur spends hours there with her, reading her stories and making flower chains, lying back and watching the clouds break and reform across the vault of the sky. Bill was right. It is different with her own.
He joins them there whenever he can. Victoire adores him, her face breaking into a toothless grin at the mere sight of him. She clamors to spend every possible minute in his lap, artlessly touching her fat little hands to his scars in a facsimile of Fleur’s own habit, shrieking with laughter when he catches her fingers in his mouth and growls. Fleur would be jealous of them together if there were any room left in her heart for such petty emotions. She never knew it was possible to love any two people this intensely, this painfully.
“Let’s stay like zis forever,” she says to Bill. “Let’s never get up.” He is lying back on the grass. Victoire is on his chest, crowded up under his chin and fast asleep. He doesn’t open his eyes but he smiles.
“Okay,” he says. “We’ll stay here forever, just me and my girls. Just the three of us.” She lays her head on his stomach and smiles at his words, feels her heart expand until it can’t fit under the sky anymore, until it breaks free and fills the universe.
title from "The Secret Garden"