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Chapter 8: Simple As That
Bill awoke with a start, as his Mum set down a steaming plate piled high with humongous quantities of her home-made meatballs down in front of him. He hadn’t even realised he had fallen asleep, but the stiffness in his neck and the complete numbness of his arms suggested he had been slumped forwards in his kitchen chair, resting his head on his arms for quite some time. He hadn’t realised he was hungry either until he caught sight of the plate set before him.
He hadn’t expected the Order meeting to drag on for so long. Well, truthfully, he hadn’t expected that there was even going to be a meeting that night, but he’d certainly been wrong at that account. Bill enjoyed being a member of the Order of the Phoenix, he truly did, but sometimes, well, the meetings did have a tendency to drag on a bit. Especially if Dedalus Diggle got talking. There was no denying he was a valuable Order member and he had quite an impressive repertoire of impressions of Ministry officials. Really, his Cornelius Fudge impersonation could keep an audience entertained for hours, but, Merlin, he could talk for England.
The meeting would only have lasted a half hour at most, if someone hadn’t brought up the most leading subject of Cornelius Fudge himself. Well! That was Dedalus off on another of his rants, mocking everything about Fudge from his lime green bowler hat to his failure to see what was happening right under his nose, bringing in the old favourite of course; his dramatised reconstruction of Fudge’s most famous speech.
Bill had to admit, it was extremely amusing the first time, watching Dedalus nick one of Mum’s tea towels as a substitution for a bowler hat and prance up and down the basement kitchen of Grimmauld Place, calling out Fudge’s statements in a passable imitation of the man’s voice. Still, after three quarters of an hour, it had become more than a little tiresome. Bill couldn’t blame himself for nodding off.
The last month had passed by in a dizzy, blissful blur, yet, he couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t tired. Between his regular dates with Fleur, his work for the Order, his ever increasing workload at Gringotts, Bill was done in. He couldn’t complain, of course, he was having the time of his life. He was going out with Fleur Delacour, and had been for an amazing month now, he got to see a lot more of his family, which was great, he had a reasonably well paid job, and he only missed Egypt a little bit. Settling back into English life hadn’t been as hard as he’d originally anticipated, but he had a certain Miss Delacour to thank for that.
“Tired, Bill, dear?” Mum asked sympathetically, setting down a glass of pumpkin juice beside him.
“Yeah, a bit,” he yawned as he began to dig into his enormous supper.
“You’ve been working so hard recently,” she smiled proudly, though Bill couldn’t help noticing she looked a bit concerned as she spoke.
“I suppose,” he shrugged.
“You’ve been doing so much for the order, and working at Gringotts and going out nearly every night of the week. I think you just need a rest, dear! I know it hasn’t been easy on you leaving Egypt, but you’re doing fantastically well and...”
Bill let her ramble on as he took a long swig of pumpkin juice. Something she had said seemed to jog something in his brain, but perhaps he was still a bit tired because it wouldn’t click into place. Finally, it came to him and it was all he could do to stop himself from spitting out his mouthful of juice. His Mum hadn’t been wrong when she said he’d been out nearly every night...but he was supposed to go out tonight, and he wasn’t ready!
He swallowed one last mouthful of his barely eaten dinner, drained the glass of pumpkin juice and sped towards his bedroom, uttering a quick combined apology and explanation to Mum who was staring at him bemusedly. How could he have forgotten? He was going out to the leaky cauldron with Fleur tonight, in celebration of their one month together! He couldn’t be late, not tonight, but he couldn’t just turn up looking the way he did now; sleepy with bedraggled hair and rumpled robes. He glanced at his watch, the battered, second hand one his parents had given him when he came of age, as she hurtled up the steps, averting his gaze from the severed elf heads on the wall. He thought he had maybe about ten minutes or so before he was supposed to meet Fleur. He wouldn’t be early this time, but he’d have just enough time to smooth down his hair, change into a fresh pair of robes and Apparate to the Leaky Cauldron.
He was wrong; very, very wrong.
He assumed it was around ten to seven, give or take a few minutes. With his stomach sinking, he realised it was actually half past eight.
Half past bloody eight. Merlin, how long had he been asleep? He wasn’t just late. No, late was showing up ten minutes after the time you arranged to meet, where a chorus of ‘I’m sorry’ and a quick kiss would more than suffice as an adequate apology. Half an hour late? Well, that was an entirely different story altogether. An entire hour and a half? He had to go to her right away, and try and make amends. He wondered if she’d still be sitting waiting in the Leaky Cauldron after all this time. A surge of pity instantly swelled through his heart. Poor Fleur. No doubt she’d be out of her mind with worry and panic, wondering why he had forgotten her, why he hadn’t bothered showing up.
He didn’t even bother changing his robes or fixing his hair before turning into turning into the suffocating blackness that would take him to where he needed to be. He materialised at the front door to the Leaky Cauldron a moment later, and he pushed it open at once, his eyes eagerly scanning the busy little pub for some sign of Fleur.
She wasn’t there. Bizarrely, he felt exactly as he had done one month before as he ran all over Gringotts looking for Fleur. Granted, the dingy Diagon Alley pub was rather different from the grandeur of Gringotts, the sentiments were scarily similar. He crossed over to the bar at once, where the young waitress whose name he’d since learned was Hannah, was polishing glasses. He’d always thought she looked a bit young to be working, only about Ron’s age he supposed, so it must be some kind of summer job. Still, now was not the time for contemplating such matters.
“Hi,” he said breathlessly, skidding to a halt in front of her. “Listen, have you seen the, er, girl I normally come in here with?”
She raised her eyebrows and continued wiping the glass she held in one hand. “She came in here about an hour ago, maybe an hour and a half, by herself. Where you supposed to be meeting her? She ordered two butterbeers.”
Bill swore under his breath. “So I take it she’s not here now, though?” he asked in what he hoped was a calm, and level-headed tone.
Hannah shook her head vigorously, her blonde ponytails swinging out around her. “She left ages ago,” she commented. “Just paid for her drinks and left. She definitely didn’t look happy.”
“Thanks,” Bill said flatly and he turned to walk away, though Hannah called after him.
“Seriously, I’d be wary if I were you. I wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of Little Miss Beauxbatons,” she smiled.
If the situation weren’t quite so horrific, Bill might have smiled, but as it were, he just nodded curtly to the young barmaid, turned on his heel and fled the building. He headed straight for Fleur’s flat and raced up the spindly staircase towards it, his heart thudding painfully in his chest.
He knocked twice upon the cheerful red painted door; feeling nervous and slightly flustered from the evening’s events.
He knocked again, slightly louder this time, but still no answer came, no footsteps from the other side of the door, no sight of Fleur’s beautiful face greeting him.
“Fleur?” he spoke tentatively though slightly louder than he would have liked due to the fact they were separated by quite a solid wooden door. “Fleur, it’s me, it’s Bill, open the door please.”
No reply came, but Bill was almost certain he could hear a slight shuffling noise coming from the other side of the door, almost as if someone was sitting on the bed, trying to make as little noise as possible as not to be heard by the boyfriend who had just stood them up. He ploughed on.
“Fleur, listen, I’m so, so sorry about tonight. I didn’t leave you there by yourself on purpose, really, I didn’t. It’s just, I, er, had to go home and I sort of lost track of time and fell asleep and then I realised what time it was and I-”
He cut himself off, realising he was beginning to ramble on like an idiot. He started again, taking deep breaths to calm his ever mounting nerves.
“Fleur, please open the door, I want to apologise to your face.”
To his relief, he heard the unmistakeable sound of footsteps slapping against the wooden floor, before the door opened with its usual loud scraping noise and he stood face to face with Fleur Delacour. Hannah had been right, she did not look happy at all. She stood in the doorway with her slender arms folded tightly across her face and she glared at him with a ferocious intensity that made his skin prickle most uncomfortably. She was wearing a silk nightdress just visible beneath her pink dressing gown, though just behind her, he caught a glimpse of what looked like blue dress robes patterned with silver hanging over the back of her chair. Her long silvery hair had been pushed messily off her face and her eyes seemed rather swollen and red.
Merlin, he’d made her cry. He’d never seen her look less like herself, and knowing that he had caused it made his heart swell with pity and a fair amount of self revulsion. However, despite the lack of her usual, carefully groomed and styled appearance, Bill found his love for her seemed to increase. He couldn’t quite explain why, but it did. His heart ached with love for the woman who stood before him, even though she was glaring at him as though he were something disgusting she had found on the bottom of her shoe.
“Fleur!” he breathed out in relief at her appearance, though he felt rather intimidated by the ferocity of her glare, even as someone who had been raised by Molly Weasley. “I am so, so sorry about tonight, I can’t believe I fell asleep!”
“So I ‘eard,” she replied coldly.
Ouch. The frostiness of her tone seemed to freeze the very blood in his veins. He decided to continue anyway, in the hope of thawing her out.
“As soon as I realised what time it was, I Apparated straight to the Leaky Cauldron to try and find you, but you weren’t there, obviously, and then Hannah said-”
“’Annah?” she repeated incredulously, her eyebrows raising so high they practically vanished into her hairline. “So you ‘ave been spending a nice little evening with this, this ‘Annah?”
Bill realised how this innocent statement must have sounded to Fleur and he backtracked immediately. “No, no it’s not like that!” he cried immediately. “She’s the barmaid in the Leaky Cauldron, remember? And I was just asking her if she’d seen you and she told me you were there earlier, but then you left.”
Fleur said nothing, but rolled her eyes to the ceiling. This wasn’t perhaps the most encouraging of gestures, but neither was it discouragement, so Bill continued on.
“Then I knew you must have come home, so I sprinted right here to apologise, and, well, here I am.”
Even in his head, this attempted apology sounded remarkably lame. He couldn’t blame Fleur if she slammed the door in his face, which she looked rather close to doing.
“Do you ‘ave any idea ‘ow embarrassed I was, just sitting in zere by myself?” Fleur hissed, her eyes narrowed into slits.
Bill felt a distinctly embarrassed blaze creeping into his face. “I know,” he said sincerely, “and I’m really, really sorry-"
She continued as if he had spoken. “And zen, if that weren’t bad enough, zis, zis ‘orrible man came up to me and ‘e, ‘e...”
She trailed off, her eyes faraway, far beyond him.
“Fleur?” he spoke her name softly, uncertainly. “Fleur, did somebody hurt you?”
Her gaze immediately snapped back to meet his, and now there was a steely edge to those eyes that used to full fun, and laughter, and, well, love.
“What does it matter to you?” she spat in a voice that wobbled in both pitch and volume. “You weren’t there. You didn’t care. You could not bother to drag your backside up there and-”
He could stand it no longer. He held up a hand to cut her off, and despite gearing into full flow, she seemed so surprised that she fell silent. “What does it matter to me?” he asked quietly. “Fleur, it matters everything to me, everything. This last month, you can’t even begin to know how brilliant it’s been for me, how lucky I feel being able to see you every single day. I can’t even start to describe how fortunate I feel knowing that you, you the beautiful, charming, smart, funny Fleur Delacour who could have anybody in the world that she wanted, has somehow chosen me as the one she wants to be seen with. I knew, right from the moment I saw you that you were something special. I only caught a brief glimpse, that morning of the Third Task, but that was enough. I found out everything I could about you, I cheered you on when you went into that Maze, and I saw, for myself, just how brave you really are. I’ve never been more scared than in that moment when red sparks were sent up, because I couldn’t bear it if something had happened to you, and I never got the chance to get to know you, that the world would never get to know you. I wanted nothing more than to be there for you during that whole horrible time. I wanted to hold you, brush your hair off your face and wipe away your tears, because I knew you were upset after that poor Diggory kid died, and it killed me because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
‘Then, I had to start work back in England, and I really wanted to be back in Egypt, when I came across someone making a tremendous mess in the corridor, and I just knew it was you. I set off after you at once, because I wanted to talk to you, wanted to get to know you, wanted you to know me. And somehow, for some reasons that I will never understand, you wanted to talk to me, and agreed to meet me that evening, even though you probably had far better things to do with your time than spend an evening in the Leaky Cauldron with a scruffy redhead. The month that followed has been the very best of my life, and I just want you to know that. What does it matter to me, you wanted to know. Well, I love you, Fleur, simple as that. I love you.”
He felt his throat grow dry, and suddenly, he was very aware of how long he had been standing there, rambling on and on. He never was one for all that soppy, romantic stuff, but he could only hope it hadn’t sounded as stupid as it had in his head. Merlin, what was wrong with him?
He looked down at Fleur for some response, something, anything would be better than the rather awkward silence that had sprung up between them. He’d even welcome a sharp blow to the side of the head! Fleur simply looked up at him, a rather puzzled, quizzical expression tugging at her exquisite features, her previously tightly folded arms a little looser, slacker now.
He cleared his throat loudly, and extended a hand towards Fleur to shake. “Well, I suppose this is it now,” he said solemnly. “I’ll be off then.”
Fleur looked from his face, to his hand and back again. Slowly, very slowly, she reached out one pale, slightly trembling hand towards his. He braced himself for her warm hand against his for what he felt sure was the last time, but it never came.
To his surprise, his complete and utter surprise and jubilation, she knocked away his hand with one swipe, and instead, flung her arms round his neck and kissed him full on the month. It only took a moment or two for him to respond, but he did so, lifting her off her slippered feet, savouring the feel of her lips against his. Her silky hair tumbled down now, entwining round his finger in silvery strands as she kissed him, again and again.
In between these kisses, the kisses which taste faintly of chocolate and butterbeer which can’t be a bad thing, Fleur somehow found time to whisper in his ear.
“I love you too,” she murmured softly, as she tightened her grip round him. “I love you too.”
And with the night that followed, Bill reflected happily that perhaps his heartfelt speech hadn’t sounded quite so silly and soppy. And now, given that they had hit their very first milestone, and with it, what might be classified as a fight, they could move forward, confident and happy in each other’s company. They loved each other, simple as that. And that was all they needed.