Title: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Fandom: Harry Potter, 5-6 years after DH
Pairings: Bill/Fleur, Charlie/Neville
Warnings: You might wind up with sand in your pants. I don’t know how, but sand gets into everything and it’s tough to get rid of.
Disclaimer: Not my universe. I don’t make money
Summary: Whenever Charlie comes down with something, big brother Bill comes to take care of him. It works the other way around as well.
Author Notes: Set in my own AU where I’ve written a bunch of other post-series stories, but you probably don’t have to read those for this to make sense!
Bunnies: #8, #42
Feedback: Would be fantastic!
The owl that flew in on them in flagrante delicto didn’t seem to mind Charlie’s overly rosy and freckled arse or Neville’s screams of delight. It sat on the wardrobe and waited until they were finished before it dropped the letter onto the bed beside them. Neville was completely exhausted; he didn’t even move as Charlie lunged over him for the letter. A groan made the owl ruffle its feathers in annoyance. “It’s from my brother, Bill. He’s not feeling so well.”
It took Neville a few seconds to wrap his head around not only the words themselves but the meaning. “You’re going to pay him a visit then?”
Charlie nodded. “Fleur’s out of town, some sort of crisis with her family back in France. He’s got no one to look after him.”
Neville knew all too well how things worked between the two oldest Weasley brothers. “I’ll get your breakfast going and pack for you while you’re eating. You get into the shower now; you smell like sex.”
Charlie grinned and tossed the letter at the owl, which hooted, spread its wings indignantly, and settled on top of the wardrobe. Then Charlie threw himself on Neville. “If I’m going away, I want to go away with a smile on my face. Bill can wipe his own nose for another couple hours.”
Laughing and more than happy to comply, Neville relaxed, reached around, and slapped Charlie’s arse again with his flat palm.
“One of these days, Nev, you’ve got to come with me to Shell Cottage. You’d love the place.” Charlie paused before taking his bag from his partner. “You don’t want to come now, do you?”
Neville didn’t hesitate, just shook his head. “I just started harvesting those herbs we’re giving to the baby dragons. I’ve got to stay to see the whole course properly administered. There might be complications. Sorry, love. But another time, yeah?”
“Absolutely.” Neville moved in for a proper kiss goodbye and got a kiss, a warm embrace, and a grope. “Look after the animals for me.”
“Of course. And I’ll send you a letter so you don’t forget about me.”
Grinning, “I couldn’t possibly.” Another kiss. Another squeeze. And a hand firmly cupping Neville’s crotch. Then Charlie apparated to the travel department where he could take a portkey to the region and apparate the rest of the way from there. Long distance apparating just wasn’t worth the trouble and he wasn’t keen on the idea of spending hours on a broomstick from Romania to the UK.
Shell cottage looked precisely like he remembered it… only smaller, somehow. He hadn’t been there since he was a kid, the summer before his last year at Hogwarts. Charlie knocked on the door, not wanting to barge right in, and he worried when there was no answer. “Bill!” he called out, and got no reply. Just as he was wondering if he should be creepy and walk around the house, looking into the windows, the door opened.
Bill looked horrible. He had a blanket around his shoulders and a hot water bottle clutched to his chest. He had a fist full of tissues, which he rubbed at a bright red and dripping nose. His face was pale but his cheeks were flushed. His eyes were tired and red. His hair seemed not to have been brushed for about three months, tangled and sticking out every which way. He wore blue striped pajamas and pink slippers that looked too small for his feet.
“How are you feeling?” Charlie asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“I’b fii…” As Bill stood there, blinking at the sunlight, his nostrils twitched and he pitched forward, nose buried in the mass of tissues. “eee-Yeh-Shoo!”
“Let me guess. You’re sneezy. Looks like I got here just in time.” Charlie invited himself in.
The sniffling man threw himself onto his couch and pulled additional blankets on top of himself, even though it was a nice, toasty warm in the room. “Sorry I had to write you.”
Charlie sat down on the edge of the couch and pressed the back of his hand to Bill’s forehead, cheek, and forehead again. “Better me than Mum. Bill, you said in your letter this was just a cold.” He was running a mild fever.
“Isd’t it?” His hand emerged from beneath the blankets and felt his own forehead, an entirely futile action, considering he’d been holding a hot water bottle with that hand and it’s difficult to feel your own temperature anyway. He coughed a few times and his stomach rumbled.
How long had Fleur been gone? Had Bill fed himself once since then? Charlie scanned the room, seeing a bottle of water and that was it. It was possible Bill had been cooking and cleaned up after himself, but, somehow, Charlie doubted it. With a sigh, “Okay, Billy-boy. Here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to brave your kitchen. We’re going to hold off on the usual catching up until you’ve had…” He held up his hand and put one finger up for each item he listed off, “tea, a proper meal, and a medicinal potion.”
“ehhh… ehh… ehptChhooo!”
“Though maybe not in that order. You should have called me as soon as the sneezing started. Did you even try taking Pepper-up?”
He shook his head. “Thought I was just—”
“Daddy! I’ve got the tea party set up!” That had come from upstairs.
Charlie’s eyes went wide and he looked in horror at his brother. “Victoire is here?”
Bill nodded then sneezed again. “hehYeshhhooo!” He blew his nose into his tissues, wiped copiously, then called out in a stuffy, scratchy voice, “Be there id a bidute, sweetheart!”
Charlie had thought Fluer would have taken their daughter with her, but now the timeline of the situation seemed all too clear. Fleur had some emergency to rush off to, and Bill would have promised to look after things at home. And, realizing he was ill, he would have struggled to handle it rather than tell Fleur what was going on and worry her. Though she wasn’t a Weasley by blood, she was a wonderful mother and a mother’s main job was to worry.
Bill’s coughs were wet, deep, catching in his throat and making him cough all the more. Charlie tucked the blankets around him and rubbed his arm through the layers. “You’re going to stay right here. I’ll look after your daughter.”
Charlie looked up at him, weakly. “You sure?”
“I survived the Battle of Hogwarts. I reckon I can handle whatever horrors are associated with a tea party. Tea for three coming right up.”
“Thadks, Charlie. You’re abazig.”
Charlie poured the tea when it was steaming hot and warned Bill upon handing it to him. Then he carried the teapot up the stairs to the bedroom. He found one bedroom door covered in pink and purple flower stickers and easily deduced that was Victoire’s room. Charlie nodded. “Victoire? It’s Uncle Charlie.” The door immediately swung open and a small girl launched herself through, wrapping her little arms around his legs. Jostled, he was careful to not spill the tea on her. “Well, hello there.”
Her head tilted back and she grinned up at him. He hadn’t seen her in half a year, back during the Christmas holidays at Charlie’s parents’ house, but she looked older now. “Why are you here?”
“I heard there was a tea party in need of tea.”
She pulled back and showed him the little table in her bedroom, with a tiny tea set spread out upon it.
“Your dad isn’t feeling well, so he said I could take his spot. Is that all right?”
Victoire nodded. “Daddy has a head cold. Un rhume de cerveau, that’s what Mommy calls it.” Of course she did. “But he says he’s fine.”
That sounded like Bill. “He will be fine. Just needs some good food and some sleep.”
It was strange to be looking after Bill’s daughter and sleeping in Bill’s bed in Bill’s house. It was like he’d suddenly Aparated into his brother’s life by mistake. Except that, as he lay in the great big bed, Charlie couldn’t help but think of Neville, not Fleur. Charlie didn’t get much sleep. He kept the door open in case Bill called, and he kept hearing noises from downstairs and wondering what Bill was doing walking around. The grandfather clock in the hallway chimed every fifteen minutes, making him jump each time. Finally, he got up and headed downstairs.
Bill was sitting hunched over a bowl with a towel over his head to keep the steam in. Charlie collapsed onto the floor beside the couch and closed his eyes. He felt exhausted but reached out and put his hand on Bill’s knee soothingly. “Want me to draw you a bath?”
Bill coughed and shook his head. He emerged from beneath the towel and immediately went for a tissue for his running nose. “I couldn’t stop coughing or sneezing long enough to fall asleep. I thought this might do the trick. Heh… ehhh-Yih-HEHShooo!” Bill groaned and lay back down on the couch, curling up. “Guess I was wrong. I feel awful, Char…”
Charlie chuckled. “Living with women’s finally getting to you, my man. You’re starting to whine like a little girl.” Bill groaned. “Not to worry. A couple days with me will put you right.”
“Just wait until you heard what happened to me last week on the Reserve. We have twin Common Welsh Greens that escaped while we were working on the far boundaries. We usually have precautions in place, but we had the protective shields down while we were bringing in a new dragon, a male Frost Dragon from the north. When the twins escaped, they… well, you know how Fred and George were when left to their own devices. The dragons got into so much trouble, setting fire to a shack, frightening some people in the nearby village, stealing some melons straight from the grounds of a garden. The reservation workers and I were scrambling to fix the damages and we couldn’t keep up with the chaos or capture the twins fast enough.
“But then they caught sight of the new dragon and they went straight for him. The cages we transport dragons in are resistant to dragon fire, of course. But the cage bars were no match for the twins’ talons and teeth. They pried the cage apart, let the Frost Dragon out, and began to fight. Territory battles are pretty typical on the Reserve. There is only so much space, after all. But we didn’t know how the new dragon would handle such a fight. And two against one wasn’t fair. The workers tried to intervene, tried to keep the fight from escalating dangerously. But it was in their nature and even our stunning spells weren’t having much effect.
“The three dragons took to the air, the Common Welsh Greens breathing fire and the Frost Dragon countering with ice. It would have been beautiful to watch if it had been under better circumstances. I was terrified one or all of them would be seriously injured. But as quickly as it had started, it ended. Before we knew what was happening, the three were rolling around on the grass together, growling and nuzzling. It was as if sometime during the fight they realized they wanted to be friends. It was like how puppies roughhouse to develop their skills. In fact, for the rest of the week, it was impossible to separate the three dragons.”
Charlie looked up to see his brother’s eyes were closed and his chest was rising slowly and steadily. “Where steam and tissues are lacking, apparently all you need is a boring story from your bother to put you to sleep.” He reached up and tucked the covers around Bill.
Bill slept through breakfast, though Charlie forced him to eat some oatmeal when he woke around eleven. Bill slept through lunch, and Charlie put a container of soup in the fridge for him to heat up when he woke. Victoire, however, was up almost at dawn, in need of food and entertainment almost the entire day. It was all Charlie could do to keep up with her requests for him to read her a story or play a game with her.
In the late afternoon, he managed to get her out of the house, though he went with her. He sat down at the top of one of the smaller dunes and she sat at the bottom, building a castle that looked surprisingly like Hogwarts. The sun was setting slowly over the ocean, giving the water darker hues and a calmer look. The ocean breeze brought with it not only a salty scent but a wealth of memories.
Charlie didn’t realize he was hugging his arms to his chest until Bill came and sat down beside him, putting a blanket around both their shoulders. Charlie pressed his side against Bill’s for warmth and hugged the blanket tightly. “Good thing you brought this with you. I forgot how chilly it can be in the evenings here.”
Bill snuffled into his tissues and watched his daughter play.
“Do you remember when we were that age here on holiday, building elaborate sandcastles for hours on end, only to have them destroyed when the tide came in?”
Nodding, “You always had dragods flyig id add destroying the castles before the tide could.”
Charlie chuckled. “I hate to think what’s happening to the dragons back in Romania without me. I could go back and find everything reduced to ash.”
“Oh!” Bill snorted then snuffled and coughed into his tissues. “I’b sorry. I did’t realize you were so codceited dow.”
“Only when I’m trying to show off for my wildly more successful big brother.”
They exchanged grins. Then Bill turned and buried his nose against the crook of his arm. “ehhChihh! Yihshuhh! Eh-heh-hehhhhhh-hehSHOO!”
“Bless you, gesundheit, à tes souhaits!”
“You sound like my wife.” Bill laughed while blowing his nose. “Oh, I miss her.”
Charlie nodded, knowing the feeling. He’d only been away a day, but already he missed Neville fiercely, and they weren’t even married like Bill and Fleur. “Here you are, married with a daughter. And I’m still playing with my dragons.”
“You do bore thad just that. You’ve got a great job add that guy you’re datig…”
Charlie pulled away a little. “Dating? Whoa now. We’re not dating…”
“You’re sleebig aroud?”
“No, of course not! I just don’t know if you could call what we do dating exactly. We just go out to eat or stay in and make love. We see Quidditch matches or musical performances together. Sometimes we sleep over at each other’s place, though mostly he stays at mine so he’s got a change of clothes there—”
“That’s datig, you berk.”
Charlie considered this statement.
“If he were a girl, would you brig hib hobe to the Burrow for Christbas?”
A shrug accompanied the fact that he absolutely would have. But his parents would completely flip out if they knew he was gay. Wizards and witches their age just didn’t talk about this sort of thing. It was bad enough there was a relative who was an accountant. But Bill wasn’t going to let his older brother know he was right. So he answered, “I don’t think he’s as serious about me as I am about him. He’s younger and hasn’t dated much before. And his assignment as Reserve Herbologist ends in a few months. Then I’ll be right back where I started, with just a job.”
“Add a fabily that loves you. You dow you’re welcub to cub here ady tibe. You dod’t have to wait udtil I cub dowd with a code.”
Charlie gazed out at the open waters then down at Victoire. The temperature was steadily dropping along with the sun. All three of them would have to go in soon so as not to get too chilled. But he watched her for just a little longer, strawberry blond hair waving in the light breeze kicked up from the waves, hands and legs below the knees covered in sand. He’d never even thought about wanting his own kids before, but he could definitely be happy having a whole lot of nieces and nephews.
In the distance, Charlie saw a spec in the sky and almost immediately mistook it for a dragon. He was glad he hadn’t said anything about it when it was clearly an owl and clearly headed straight for them. It dove down, depositing a letter, and flew off without awaiting a reply. It could have been news from Fleur or concern from their Mum. It could have been someone at the bank wondering when Bill was going to get better and come in. It could have been any letter from anyone… but Charlie had a feeling right away it was from Neville.
And the strange thing was, somehow Bill knew as well. “Keeb the bladket,” Bill said, extricating himself from it.
“You sure?” Charlie looked up, feeling chilly now that he was suddenly without Bill’s body heat. But Charlie knew for a fact his ears were burning red and his heart was racing after just opening the letter and catching a few of the words it contained.
Bill nodded and called his daughter. He took her by the hand back to the house.
Charlie sighed and lay back on the sand dune, a happy grin plastered across his face. He curled up in the blanket and read his letter.