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Inhabits Common Clay

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Inhabits Common Clay
"HOW lovely the elder brother's
Life all laced in the other's,
Lóve-laced!—what once I well
Witnessed; so fortune fell."
--Gerard Manley Hopkin, "Brothers",

 

Love and Some Verses
"Bloody EGYPT? Are you serious?" Charlie's voice is incredulous, and Bill can't help a guilty flush as he kneels in front of his school trunk, unpacking it only to repack it again, this time for Egypt. He hasn't even left yet and already his room feels oddly small, as if just being offered a job means he's outgrown the Burrow, somehow. Bill doesn't answer and he can hear Charlie pacing before he he finally slumps onto the bed beside the open trunk, freckled face wan. "Maybe I could get a job there too, when I leave school," he suggests thinly.

Bill sits back on his heels and looks at his little brother. Not so little anymore. Charlie will always be shorter, but there's muscle and breadth to his shoulders now, more man than boy in his features. Bill knows his own are the same, but it's hard not to look at Charlie and think of them both as younger. "You'd be a rubbish Cursebreaker. You wouldn't even like the job. Crumbling old mummies and pyramids? You'd suffocate."

"How would you know? You haven't even done the job yet, you self-righteous berk," Charlie grumbles. But it's true, and he knows it. The idea of deciphering secrets hidden inside the walls of dusty, stifling old pyramids sounded like heaven to Bill, but Charlie would just miss the open sky and be lonely surrounded by nothing but memories and a few stray Goblins. He belonged outside, surrounded by some of Hagrid's strange monstrous creatures that Charlie liked for no reason Bill could figure out. Or on a broom, maybe. "You'll write?" Charlie asked, sounding resigned. "I'm going to laugh if some mummy's curse hexes off your dick or something, you know."

"I'll write," Bill promises, smiling just because Charlie is. "And I'll come visit - for hols. Over the summer, maybe. It's just an apprenticeship anyway - I may be rubbish at it and be sent home you know."

Charlie gave him an odd, tight smile. "You're never rubbish at anything."

Bill doesn't know what to say to that. It's not true. There's things Charlie can do that Bill is useless with - he's good on a broom, but had nothing even approaching his little brother's skill. He's never liked animals that weren't small enough to be non-threatening. Bill's brilliant with helping around the house, but when it comes to getting his little brothers to stop crying, it's always been Charlie's who's best at soothing hurts and distracting. Charlie's funny, and brave, and going to be very, very far away. Much further than a few dorms down. "I'll miss you."

Charlie seems to be fighting with himself and then finally heaves a sigh, losing the battle. "Then don't go. Not until after the summer. You could put them off until then, yeah? And they paid you an advance. You could get a flat, let me stay there. Mum wouldn't mind. . ."

Bill could do that, maybe. And he half wants to. And that was why he doesn't think that he should. He thinks maybe if he doesn't go now, he never will. "I'll miss you," he says again instead, and it's answer enough. Charlie's face crumples, and for a horrible moment Bill thinks he's going to cry. Instead he hauls Bill to his feet, and the mumbled you'd better, you fucker is almost too rough to be understood, but Bill understands anyway. And then Charlie's mouth is on his.

Searing and hot and so deep and familiar and this, this moment and the dozens others like it are why Bill has to leave now. The door to their room is open and this is dangerous in so many ways, but Bill's hand curls into Charlie's hair and Charlie presses hard and muscled against him, thigh between his legs. Hard teeth snag at his lip as they break apart, breathing hard, and Bill stares into eyes the same shade at his own, but so different, to him. "Tell me this won't change everything. Tell me you won't run off to fucking Egypt and convince yourself this never happened," Charlie demands.

Bill wants to promise that, but he doesn't lie to his brother. He never has. "It has to. You know this is wrong."

"That's why you want it. That's why you STARTED it."

Bill wants to deny it, but some part of him is still too honest. Head Boy. Top of his class. Cursebreaker. Prefect. The perfect oldest son. All of that is a part of him, but something in him needed to go against the tide, too, and take what he shouldn't have. "You're the same way," he says instead, making it an accusation.

Charlie smiles, bitter and amused at the same time. "Wrong never had a thing to do with it, big brother. Not for me."

Bill can't deal with the honesty, or the real reason he sees in his brother's eyes. He kicks the door shut and locks it, already pulling at clothes, pushing back until Charlie's sinking onto Bill's bed, and Bill's kneeling between his legs. Strong, sure fingers curl into his hair, pull him closer, and Charlie breathes his name as Bill sucks the familiar shape of his brother's cock past his lips. Down the hall his mother calls for Percy, and Charlie shudders, knees pressing tight on either side of him, as if trying to hold him in place. Bill has no intention of moving, though. Not until it's time to leave.
~~

Teeth in the Grass
"I trust that, Weasley or no, you do actually bathe when you're not working?" The silken voice grates along Bill's nerves and he grits his teeth, resisting the urge to snap back. Instead he carefully sets one dusty, worn artifact after another on the shelves in front of him, feeling the press of the older man's gaze as he works. This isn't even his job. He's meant to be working his way through a maze of crypt-hexes, not running found artifacts to buyers like a paid clerk. A statuette of Bast nearly tips and he rights it with quick, careful hands, but not quickly enough to escape notice. "You do realize that I bought the contacts of that vault intact, and not broken by ineptitude, I take it?"

Bill's temper slips and he spins, irrationally irritated as he takes in the cool pale hair and gray eyes, the utter fresh crispness of Lucius' robes in stark contrast to his own shirtsleeves, stained trousers, and dusty hair. "Finish yourself. I'm not your bloody errand boy!"

"Odd. Considering they sent you here to run errands. Apparently your work in the field isn't exactly indispensable," Lucius says, idly straightening a nonexistent wrinkle in his robes. "Your father," he begins, and Bill's jaw tightens enough that his teeth almost grind, "was denied a promotion, again. As I understand it. Pity, how a man can spend his whole life working and remain nothing."

Bill doesn't even realize he's moving until his hands are fisted in Malfoy's robes and he's breathing close enough to his pointed, haughty face that it ruffles the pale hair. "My father has never been nothing."

Lucius doesn't even have the decency to look ruffled. "And that is why his eldest son fled across the world to do a job that was as different from his father's tiny ministry hole as possible. Why your brother ran off to play with dragons." Lucius smiles, thin and sharp. "You want badly enough to be nothing like him that you'll run into a tomb. Or a dragon's mouth. The Weasley penchant for running into danger is really a lucky thing - your unfortunate fertility would have us overrun with grubby redheads, otherwise."

The light comment hits home too-hard. Letters flash in front of his eyes. His mother's nattering about how proud she was of him, of Charlie, worry written in the lines between the notes. His father's enthusiastic talk about the Ministry and Percy's careful, but still-childish scrawl about how their mother had taken to shopping second hand. He'd been offered a dozen jobs that paid him more he could have sent home to help, and Bill had passed them all over.

Most of all, he thinks of Charlie's infrequent letters. Of how he heard about the near-miss with the Vipertooth only because his mother told him about it. Would you talk to your brother, please? Sometimes I think he's TRYING to get killed! she'd pleaded, and he'd obeyed. Charlie's scrawled answer had been sent on a postcard with a cartoon dragon on the front. I'm fine. I don't need your worrying now. Do your job, big brother. I'll do mine.

He tears away and Lucius stares at him until his skin itches. Bill feels like the older man is staring through him, seeing beneath his skin to where his blood pumps and his heart beats and all the things he never, ever admits to lurk and wait to burst out. Bill wonders if maybe everything would be different if he'd been born third, or fifth, and no one expected anything of him. "He is," Lucius observes, slow and thoughtful, "up for a raise in his paygrade next month, I believe. I'd imagine that, negligible as it is, it would still be a benefit to your pauper family." He reaches out with an elegant hand and it runs down Bill's chest, fingers finding a nipple through thick cloth and twisting lightly.

There's nothing erotic in the touch, somehow, and Bill's body shudders instead of shivers. He think of Charlie and heat that's closer to shame than anything else curls in his stomach. "A word in the right ear might be of benefit." Gray eyes stare at him, and Bill doesn't see desire for him, there. Instead Lucius looks at him the way a predator watches a lesser carnivore - something insignificant, but still needing to be disposed of. Or put in its place. "I'm staying at the Nott's manor outside of Cairo. I'm sure you know to be discreet."

"You want me to fuck you so my father gets a raise?" Bill asks, and he's not sure if he expected it, or if he's too shocked to feel it, yet.

"My wife prefers not to travel to these climates," Lucius answered blandly. And I want to see your father at work every day and nurse the knowledge that at any time, I can tell him I fucked his eldest son until he screamed, Bill imagines he says with the smile he gives.

He wakes up aching sometimes, hard as a rock and almost feeling Charlie near him, touching him, wrapped around him or deep inside him. He ran from his family, from his duties as the eldest, from everything. Maybe this is penance. "If you ever tell him, I'll kill you."

Lucius laughs like it's not a threat, and he lifts a hand again, sleeve falling back just enough that Bill imagines he can see the edge of the dark mark he knows lies beneath the fabric. Fingers fist hard and unyielding in his hair and yank him forward with more strength then Bill would have thought the older man had, kissing him punishingly hard, careful not to touch him and his dusty robes otherwise. Bill wants to wind in close and pin him to the wall just to stain his robes and leave him dirty and fallen, the way he should be. Men like Lucius shouldn't be here, buying a vault of priceless artifacts while Bill's father and his family wear second hand clothes and skimp and save.

Men like Bill shouldn't get to do jobs they love when they've made so many mistakes. When evil men snog them and it makes them hard and hateful at the same time.

"Seven o'clock," Lucius says. He surveys the artifacts and then shrugs. "Bring them then. And bathe, first." He vanishes and Bill takes a deep breath, turns to begin repacking the ancient items, one by one until his hands stop aching and his cock softens. He wishes it was that easy to stop hating himself and he wishes he were strong enough not to resent the fact that the people he love just make the hatred easier, by always, always being better than him, and never believing that he's not as good as they believe him to be.
~~

Cinder and Smoke
There's an order to curses. They're magic, but there's a science and specificity behind them that appeals to Bill, and always has. It's magic, and it's dangerous, but beneath it all there is a foundation that can be built upon, or undone, if you just figure out the shape of it. Old curses are like puzzles, and Bill's always liked puzzles.

London is damp and gray as he wanders Diagon with his mother, keeping watch on her while she shops, searching out sales and weighing the merit of every purchase. He slips a few galleons in her bag a few times, but when Molly catches him at it, she blisters his ears and Bill subsides and shops in cowed silence. Cursebreaker or no, Bill still knows that in some matters, his mum will always be in charge.

Molly's almost finished when she rounds on him, lips pursed as she orders him to go and 'pick up a book or two on sale for Sirius, so he stops stalking about the house all the time'. She manages, somehow, to sound both disapproving of Sirius and concerned for him at the same time. Bill is a bit glad to hear the concern, really. Sirius and she are such different beings that most of the time she just sounds well. . . shrewish when she speaks to him. Not that Bill is fool enough to point that out.

He picks up a couple of novels at random, a treatise on wizarding wars, and a book of word puzzles, taking them up to pay. As he stands in line, he sees Percy's bright red head skulking in the back of the shoppe, cheeks flushed and eyes carefully not looking at Bill. Molly could be there any minute, and Bill tells himself that's why he doesn't approach his brother - because if Molly saw him, Percy would only brush her off again, and Bill can't stand the look in her eyes when he does. He's not sure that's the reason, but it'll do.

He takes the books back, tucks them away and helps his mum with supper, then plays a game of Chess with Ron, who tries without success to pretend he isn't watching Hermione while she reads. Bill feels a bit guilty that he'll be back in Egypt for a few weeks, soon, but really he's had his fill of living amidst a house of teenage hormones. (Not to mention Fred and George's constant explosions and apparating from one room to the other, or the fact that he can't be near his family without thinking of Charlie, whose not there, and wondering if that's because Bill is here.)

It isn't until he's getting ready for bed in the dilapidated room he's been assigned that he remembers the books and takes them to Sirius. The older man is sitting on a chair in his room, limbs curled awkwardly - as if some part of him still expects them to be limber with youth, or maybe forgets that he's not a dog who can curl himself into any space comfortably. When he reaches for the books, Bill can see the tattoos that flash dull and dark on his skin, like prison bars, and the slide of his shoulder blade beneath his skin. He's thin enough that Bill half thinks it might slice through Sirius' skin, and Bill wonders why his mother doesn't go on and on about feeding Sirius up, the way she does Lupin or Tonks.

Sirius takes too long to thank him, and it's awkward, but when Bill turns to leave with a muttered goodnight, Sirius stops him. "Do you miss Egypt?" he asks, and Bill can't help but think he sounds lonely.

"Sometimes," he answers. Bill thinks of the inconstant drizzle of English days, and the blistering, sweltering heat of Egypt in the summer. "I miss the heat," he adds, like a confession - because who's daft enough to miss that kind of heat?

"You must be nothing but bloody freckles if you've been out in that kind of sun." Sirius' mouth curves up at the corner, and for just a second Bill remembers the pictures he'd seen of the Order, and Sirius before Azkaban, when he'd stood straight-shouldered and clear-eyed. He can see a shadow of it in the man before him, when he squints. "I wanted to be a Cursebreaker, once." He pauses, and Bill waits. Eventually the low, rough voice adds. "I wanted a lot of things." He looks at Bill too long, and Bill feels an odd shiver go through him. "I still do, when I remember."

Bill holds his eye, and Sirius doesn't look away, and then Sirius flips open one of the books, and the spell is broken. "I've always been rubbish at crosswords," he says with a smile. "Remus was always one for them though." He sounds lonely, again, and Bill regrets the book choice, and wonders how much had been between Lupin and Sirius, and if Sirius has seen the way he and Tonks try so hard not to look at each other, too.

"I could help you. I like them," he hears himself offer.

Sirius looks up, flashes that smile that seems younger than the rest of him again. "Yeah?"

Bill smiles back. "Yeah," he agrees. "I've nothing to do most of the time until I head off anyway." Unless the Order had a mission for him, but that went without saying.

Sirius smiles, and nods, and Bill heads for bed, oddly looking forward to a day spent over crosswords.

Bill has two weeks before he's due back in Cairo, and he splits his time between the rare Order missions, checking in at Gringotts, and his family. But every moment he has left he spends with Sirius. The older man is mercurial and odd - some days he's wry and sharp-witted, quick with an argument or a joke. Other days he's vacant and lost-seeming, spark of anger easier to flare and harder to extinguish but colder, somehow. Lupin brings him by lunch one day, and the two end up in a row Bill pretends not to hear, head bent over the second puzzle book he'd bought, vainly trying to focus on what 7-down was. Sirius is shouting, and Remus is low-voiced and resigned looking, and Bill flushes and pretends not to notice the intimate way Sirius' hands fist in Remus' shirt, or the quiet, guilt-ridden rejection in the way Lupin moves away.

Bill had learned a long time ago that people gave away more than they wanted to in the things they did and the way they did them, but Sirius has lost too much of himself to have hidden depths. Everything he is that day is right there on the surface, and it changes from day to day, moment to moment. The more time Bill spends with him, the more he starts to see what kind of man Sirius had been, before the Dementors sucked half his life and self away. The more he sees, the more it becomes obvious how much is missing, and he regrets not having known that man.

On Bill's last night at Grimmauld, Sirius is vacant and strange again, and Bill is frustrated. He wants him there today, because tomorrow Bill will be gone and there is no certain future for any of them. In the middle of an argument about whether or not 13-Across was likely to be "prat" (Bill favored no), Sirius drifts off to stare vacantly at a wall, or a memory, or a hole where a memory should be.

Even now, with years of evidence to the contrary behind him, a million assembled moments of mistakes and whims and impulses, Bill doesn't think of himself as impulsive. His earring, his hair, his job - they were all a mask for the methodical, Head-Boy mindset he had beneath it all. But still, he caught himself leaning forward, catching that still-full mouth with his, kissing Sirius as if he could give the older man back a piece of himself, just by a press of lips and a sweep of his tongue.

For a moment, Sirius doesn't react, and then when he does it's with a sudden surge of near-frantic energy and bruising grip that make Bill wonder again how he'd been when he was young and vital and tasted of hope instead of bitterness and echoes.

He'd meant it to be just a kiss, Bill thought, but he's not sure which of them is the first to push or pull the other up. He's damn sure it's him that's backing toward the bed though, and his hands that reach first for Sirius' shirt. A low, dog-like rumble of a growl stops him, and he freezes, but Sirius just slides a hand into his hair, pulling the ponytail painfully free (likely losing a few hairs in the process), and jerks him back into a kiss.

Sirius kisses like it's a war. A battle of lips and tongue and teeth and Bill fights because he's startled, and then loses because he wants to. He lets the older man take his mouth and slides his hands up under Sirius' shirt, feels Sirius' fingers fumbling at his, popping buttons and wrinkling fabric. Between frantic kissing and harsh jerks of their hips, Sirius murmurs a name, and Bill knows its not his, but he doesn't care. Sirius' eyes are dark and alert and aware, and even if his mind is thinking of someone else - at least it's thinking. The mattress is old and lumpy against his back, and Sirius' cock is hard against his as he grinds up against the older man. Bill shuts his eyes and pictures the Sirius in the pictures he'd seen, only older and still vital. The man who might have been, if fate had conspired differently. He lifts his head to answer another bruising kiss and moans as thin fingers find his fly. Sirius laughs, softer and smoother and the picture in his mind comes all too clearly into focus as everything else fades away for a few minutes, at least.

The next day he leaves. When next he hears of Sirius, it's after he's fallen and gone, and Bill never thinks of word puzzles without remembering how he tasted.
~~

Fever Dream
The July sun is beating down through the windows of his old room, and the cooling charms Bill used to keep it temperate have long since given up the ghost and quit on him. Sweat beads on the back of his neck as he digs through the trunks in front of him, sorting what's his, what's Charlie's, what's some other brother's. What he's taking with him to Shell cottage, what he's leaving behind. Fleur takes the things he hands her and packs them in the new trunk she bought him to pack with so he could leave the battered trunks and cabinets of his youth here, at the Burrow.

She folds clothes carefully, packs items methodically. Her hair is in a soft twist at the nape of her neck, and she looks as cool and perfect as she always has, untouched by heat, somehow. The scars on his face are long since healed, but whenever he sweats he feels them itch, and has to resist the urge to scratch. When he fails, fingertips lifting to touch the jagged lines, her slim hand catches his, pulls it away, and she smiled at him. "This is not yours," she tells him in French, holding up a battered old journal, "C.W." in faded letters on the front. He hesitates, almost puts it back, but then Fleur shakes her head, fingers tracing over his face and then tucks the book away. "You would not take it if it were not yours to take."

He leans up on his knees and she sways toward him, graceful as a reed caught in the currents, and their lips meet. She is as delicate looking as the flowers she's named for, but she kisses hard and her teeth are sharp on his lips, fingers fierce when they close around his neck. He wears bruises from her fingers, scratches from her nails, patches of skin colored in by the sucking heat of her mouth. He hears the scuttle of footsteps and the pause too long by their door, and starts to pull away, but the footsteps fade, and the metal of Fleur's ring presses against the damp skin of his neck as she kisses him.

When they break apart, Fleur straightens. From down the stairs he hears his mother yelling for Charlie to bring something down, and feels the color bloom in his cheeks. No matter where he goes, Bill feels pulled between what he should be, and what he is. What he wants, and what he needs. Who he's been, and who he is.

Fleur's blue eyes are like pools of sky, or like the ice reflecting a sky - unreachable, or cold enough to freeze. He can never quite tell which. Most of the time, Bill thinks it's both. It's what he likes best about her. "There is more to you than what they let themselves see," Fleur tells him, and she smiles, small and wry and imperfect - too sharp a twist of lips to be beautiful. She doesn't let many see her smile like that. "I'll always see it all. It will be our secret. Not yours alone, anymore. Let them think what they want of us. We know the truth." She speaks in English, accent lighter than it ever is with anyone else.

And this is why Bill loves her.

Because his mother sees the temperamental French woman with her nose in the air. His sister the haughty, finicky beauty. Everyone forgets that she was a Triwizard Champion. That she faced down a dragon. That she's not infallible or without sentiment, but that she's ruthless and fearless underneath it all. They think she's less than she is, and paint her into a corner, and she stays there, and she plays the part, and when no one is looking, Fleur is nothing like the watercolor they think she is - she's vibrant and fierce. But being that didn't help her learn how to show others how to see her, and she's content with what they see because she knows it's not what he sees.

And he can walk down an aisle with her, join his life to hers, because all the secrets he keeps, the scars on his face, all the mistakes no one would ever think him capable of and the dark glimmers of want that have always made him feel like a fraud in his own life - somehow, she's always known them. And she doesn't begrudge him those depths. Fleur has her own dark places, and her own secret being.

"I love you," Bill tells her, and he feels it right down to his bones. He feels it so much he aches with it, because he loves her, but he doesn't love just her, and he never will.

Fleur stands and closes the trunk. "I know. You will always be mine, too," she tells him. The smile she gives him is too sharp - Veela menace tempered by humanity and a sense of humor sharp and unforgiving as glass shards. Fleur never forgets, and she never forgives. Somehow, somewhere, she'd just decided that his past and his heart wasn't something that she needed to forgive or possess entirely to accept as her own. "I vill send your brother up to help with ze trunk," she tells him, accent heavier again as she vanishes twinkle of amusement in her eyes, calling imperious and demanding for Charlie. Only he hears the meaning behind it.

"We will go pack your things today," she'd said. The day Charlie got back for the wedding. What she'd meant was I'll take you to talk to him.

He loves his wife. God help him, Bill wonders if that just makes it worse as Charlie steps inside and shuts the door slowly behind him.
~~

Naked As We Came
Bill stands, rooted to the floor, watching in aroused disbelief. His chest aches and his trousers are straining ad his wife's pale hair falls all around his sister's freckled, long thighs. Ginny's back arches as Fleur's face presses between her long, freckled thighs. His sister is spread across the bed he and his wife share, writhing beneath Fleur. But her eyes are on Bill, and her eyes are the same as Charlie's, as his own, the shadows of a war beneath them. Her belly is a faint curve, just barely registering the child she carries there.

Ginny moans and Fleur's tongue flicks, fingers sliding a thick dildo inside her ass as two slim fingers work inside the slick heat of Ginny's cunt, moving to the same slow, teasing rhythm Bill recognizes from when Fleur works that same thick length inside him when they fuck. Down the hall his infant son sleeps as his aunt is fucking his mother, and Bill has forgotten how to breathe, and how he ever thought he'd get away from the sheer wrongness of everything he's done. Because he hasn't been this hard in years, and he knows it, and Ginny is watching him as Fleur lifts her head, face shining and serene as she looks at Bill and smiles, sharp and inviting. "Do not imagine for a moment that this is about me," she tells Bill. He knows he's the only one who hears the laugh hidden behind the comment and sees that beneath the arousal, Fleur is amused by all of this instead of appalled.

Ginny's already red-cheeks flush, but her chin lifts defiantly. Charlie's gesture. Fred's gesture. George's gesture. "Did you think it was just you?" She licks her lips and moans again as Fleur's fingers moved. "Did you think I didn't know?"

He'd thought no one knew. "But, Harry. . ."

Fleur laughs and Ginny smiles, too-old and too-jaded. "Do you think he doesn't know?" his sister asks him.

Everyone has their secrets. Bill wonders where Harry is, right now. Who he keeps locked in his closet. He swallows as Ginny arches, pushes herself up as Fleur rocks back on her heels, hand sliding between her own legs, making herself shiver as she leans out of the way, giving Bill a clear view of his sister. "Bill," Ginny breathes, soft and pleading.

He groans and crosses the space between them, shedding clothes on the way, sitting on the bed. As smoothly as if it'd been choreographed, Fleur's hand is sliding over his dick, slick with lube, and pulling the toy free of his sister's ass while Bill lifts Ginny's slim, long-legged body, sets her down on his lap, pushing inside the tight hole his wife already prepared for him. He can't pretend this is anything but deliberate, that Fleur had done anything but stretched and opened Ginny so he could slide inside her, feel Ginny's ass clench tight around him as she moves, riding him already. Fleur settles between both of their legs, stretching up to nip sharply at Ginny's peaked nipples, fingers finding his hand and guiding it between Ginny's legs, showing him how to touch her. He fucks his sister and wonders whether it was Fleur who saw something in him and put this in motion, or if it had been Ginny who came to her.

Later, Fleur sleeps on one side of him, her hair a curtain across the pillow. Ginny lies sleepless and still beside him, her thigh against his, not touching him otherwise. "Why?" he asks softly.

He doesn't think she's going to answer at all, the silence stretches so long, but finally he hears her, voice hoarse from moaning, and that alone stirs his cock and makes his stomach twist. "There's parts of everyone I'll never have. Part of Harry that's not mine. Part of Charlie that's not anyone's. Parts of George no one will ever see again. Nothing is how I thought it would be. I could take this from you. It wouldn't make anything worse. And I saw you, years ago. With Charlie. You two shone, then. I wanted part of that. I thought if I had it, then I'd be like you two. I'd get away. Be someone."

Bill swallowed. "I don't shine anymore."

Ginny laughed. "No one does. You didn't then, either. I was just too young to know how to look for the bloody tarnish."

"You're someone, Gin."

"Mrs. Harry Potter."

"You play Quidditch. You're going to be a mum. You fought in a war. You're more than that. Fleur's more than just my wife."

"I know." Ginny sat up, looking at him. "That's why it had to be you. You would understand." She kissed him hard, and then slid out of bed, dressing and going back to her husband. She didn't shower, and Bill wondered if that had been part of the point - going back to Harry smelling of sweat and sex and letting him wonder.

He turns into his wife's arms and gathers her close. She curls against him and murmurs a sleepy endearment. "You didn't have to," he tells her. He's not sure if it's comfort or criticism he's offering.

"I never have to do anything. It's always my choice. And yours. We just don't always choose what others would have us choose," Fleur answers, and her fingers press against his lips to silence him before she drops back off to sleep.
~~

Passing Afternoon
Their room smells stale and unused, and the bed beneath Bill creaks more than the trick knee he's had since '04, when he managed to break his leg - not even doing anything impressive, he'd just tripped while he was working out a countercurse and landed wrong. Everything feels old, tired, and worn. His mother is thin, now, and wears his father's absence all too openly. She'd come upstairs with him, her fingers on his elbow, but fled before too long. Downstairs he hears James Jr. And Teddy gamely trying to keep a conversation going, Ron and Harry piping in with comments, now and then. Once in a while he hears the soft sound of his mother's formerly strident voice, murmuring some memory of a dead son. He never hears George, but then George hasn't been that outspoken since the end of the war. Since Fred. Since he'd lost his other half and sunk inside himself.

Bill envies him the openness of that. He and Charlie were brothers. They'd seen one another at holidays, family gatherings. They'd played mock Quidditch games while their nieces and nephews and Bill's children mocked the old men on brooms. He should weep. He should hold his wife and his children, hug the rest of his family, mourn and be done.

He shouldn't feel like his world has ended, and all he has left are lies and bits and pieces of people he'd never been able to have all of because he couldn't give them all of himself.

Ginny calls to ask if anyone wants tea, and he hears Harry shuffle to help her, the thud of feet as one or another of the kids gets up to help.

One big happy fucking family.

He wants to laugh until he he stops wanting to scream, or cry.

It's Charlie's bed he's sitting on, and nothing here smells like his brother anymore. He can't remember the sound of his voice when they were sixteen and Charlie was laughing and drunk on stolen firewhiskey.

He can't remember the last time they talked. Really talked.

His head is in his hands when arms slide around him and a face presses into his shoulder, spectacles cool against the skin of his neck. "Percy-" he starts.

"Shhh." The door is shut, and Percy pulls at him until Bill lies back, his head in his younger brother's lap and Percy's finger in his graying hair. He used to lie like this with Charlie, when no one was home. He'd thought Percy too young to remember seeing them, or understand that it meant more than it should. "He loved you," Percy says quietly.

It's meant to be comfort, but it burns instead. "I know," Bill whispers thickly.

His eyes are shut, but he can still hear Percy swallow, feels it when Percy leans down, kisses him upside down and soft. When he opens his eyes Percy's face is close, and a blur of red-hair and freckles, the gray hidden, the spectacles set aside. He can almost pretend. "I love you too. I would have-"

"Don't," Bill says. His voice sounds sandpaper-rough to his own ears.

Percy stills, and then straightens. His fingers still in Bill's hair. "Why is it never me?" he asks, bitter and low.

Bill wonders how much he knows, how many of them have slipped around Percy and let him see their tarnish. "You were lucky."

He stands, and Percy does the same, slipping his glasses back on and staring. He smiles suddenly, sharp and angry - but understanding, too. Love beneath it that Bill isn't sure he's ever deserved. "Not that lucky. He loved me too. Just not as much as he did you."

It's like a punch to the chest, for a second, and then suddenly Bill's laughing, and he can't stop. He laughs until he cries, and Percy leaves him there. When his still-beautiful wife glides in, Bill wraps his arm around her and holds her tight. "I am still here," Fleur says, English perfect and measured and no one but him knows, still. No one ever will. Fleur keeps her secrets better than he ever has, he supposes.

"I love you," he answers. He wishes the truth of that made anything simpler, or better.
~~