A/N: Wanted to post this before I go away tomorrow. First time I tried on Fleur's accent. I've been wanting to write her and Bill for ages, but I've never had the guts. So, my apologies for her accent. I hope it's readable anyway. (And, yes, I know this is kind of a cheat as a lot of it doesn't even take place during New Year's, but I realized when I had already planned that scene that Ron would not still be at Shell Cottage for New Year's, so it had to be this way instead.) Hope it's okay. Let me know what you think.

Shell Cottage: Bill Weasley

"Eet ees better thees way, you know." Bill almost jumped at his wife's warm hand grasping his shoulder. He hadn't heard her coming, too lost in dark thoughts.

"What is?" he asked, but her raised eyebrows told him that there was no point in pretending she didn't already know. She always knew. He was beginning to learn that. "And how exactly is this better? Is it better that my kid brother is off, facing who knows what bloody dangers, when he could still be here, safe? I mean, he wasn't even with Harry when he got caught by Snatchers. Now, he'll either be alone and stupid again, or he'll be with the most wanted wizard in the country. Great odds on that, isn't it?" he snapped, then buried his face in his hands, not able to face the sympathy in Fleur's eyes. "He's just a kid, dammit. He's not ready for this. Hell, I'm not even sure I'm ready for this, and Ron… he's barely of age, you know."

"I know," Fleur said simply, putting her arms back around his shoulders, pressing her body up against his. "But, eet ees better. For 'im. 'Ee needs to be with 'is friends. 'Ee was miserable without zem. You know zat."

Bill did know. Even though he now missed Ron's presence with every bone in his body, he could not deny that his brother had been a pretty dreadful houseguest. From the moment he'd arrived, he'd been either sulky and quiet or furious and snapping at whoever dared approach him close enough to give him the opportunity. Bill had attempted to be understanding. After hearing about what Ron had done, seeing the shame and guilt eating him up – well, Bill was prepared to take a lot. However, when Ron had sent Fleur to tears one night, he'd had it. He'd yelled at him, in a way he was ashamed to remember now. Of course, Ron had apologized to both him and Fleur the next morning, but still… He was gone now, and Bill might never see him again. And what if the last thing he'd remember about him would be the way he had sworn at him to get a grip because he was not the only one worrying…?

"You theenking about Christmas Eve?" Fleur whispered sympathetically, her warm breath tickling his cheek, at the same time as her words caused a chill to run down his spine. Christmas Eve. No. He had actually not been thinking about that. He was now, though. And switching his memory lane to that night didn't do anything to improve his spirits.

"Bill, we 'ave to send somezing to your muzzer. She wrote again zis morning, asking us if we could not come around for dinner, at least."

"I know," he sighed, rubbing his temples, unwillingly glancing at Ron, who was sitting in a corner, staring unseeingly ahead, wishing for the umpteenth time that he'd just let them tell the others that he was there, so that they could all go over there. But, no matter how much Bill tried, Ron was still wholeheartedly convinced that both the twins and Ginny would despise him for what he had done, and could not be persuaded to believe that they would be too relieved to find him alive to care.

"We better send ze presents too," Fleur went on, as she stood by the stove, stirring some pot while keeping an eye on the turkey roasting in the oven. "Ron, you are sure you do not want to sign your name to somezing?"

"'Course I'm sure," he growled. "I'm supposed to be off, aren't I? No one expects a present from me, and they sure as hell won't know that I've gone and…"

He stopped himself, looking horror-struck for a moment. Then his scowl was back on, and he muttered something incoherently before storming out the front door and slamming it hard behind him.

Fleur was at Bill's side in a second, looking frightened. "I am so sorry, Bill. Shall I go after 'im?"

He shook his head, dragging his hand across his face once more before rising. "No. I better deal with this. It's not your fault," he added at her miserable expression. "Really." He planted a quick kiss on her lips and forced a smile. "And, besides, you have a turkey to get back to, haven't you? And you know how lousy I am at cooking."

"I do," she whispered, with a small smile. "Fine. I'll take care of ze turkey, and you'll…"

"Yeah," he nodded, carefully keeping the exhaustion out of his voice.

Ron wasn't difficult to find. He never had been very talented at hide and seek when they were younger. Before Ginny had been old enough to play, they'd all assumed it was just because he was the youngest, but as soon as she joined, she was beating him and they all realized that he was merely truly lousy.

"Ron…" he said to the shape of his brother that was all he could make out in the darkness.

He received no response whatsoever. Steeling himself, Bill attempted to slump down next to him. However, he didn't make out the icy surface before he had already stepped on it, and tripped. Luckily, he just landed pretty hard on his back and hand, and didn't slip further down the cliff. Before he could breathe out in relief, Ron's face was close to his, his hand grabbing his shoulder, as to prevent him from starting to glide away.

"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded sharply, but as he spoke, Bill could make out his features softening. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Bill panted, trying to ignore the pulsing pain in his right hand that he was sure he had cut pretty badly on the rock. He finally had Ron's attention, in a more unguarded way he had had since he'd gotten here. He would not lose that for a stupid little cut. "How about you?"

"'M fine," Ron mumbled, but his tone was neither very convincing nor hostile this time.

"Ron… come on." Bill didn't really expect simply pleading to have any effect – it never had before – but he was to be surprised.

A few more seconds of silence passed, in which Bill felt his throbbing hand more clearly than ever. He was thankful that Ron could not make out his face, and therefore did not notice his slight grimacing.

"I let them down." Ron's voice was suddenly different, vulnerable, small, almost inaudible. "I promised him I'd always be there, and her… I let them – and I didn't mean – I didn't think – I didn't realize I wouldn't be able to, y'know, get back. I was supposed to get back, but then those Snatchers – and it was too…"

Bill wanted to speak. He wanted to say something about how he was sure Harry and Hermione would understand, would know that it had just been a moment of anger, and that they would forgive him for snapping as soon as they met again. Because it was all empty words, wasn't it? It wasn't even likely that Ron would ever see his two best friends again, and they both knew it. There were no words.

Instead, he tentatively put his uninjured hand on Ron's shoulder, hoping desperately that he would not be shaken off. Ron shuddered for a moment at the touch, and then, almost automatically it seemed, he inched away from it. Not very harshly, but it was enough for Bill to, again, lose his balance, causing his injured hand to slip from his lap and onto the rock as he tried to regain it. Unwillingly, a gasp escaped his lips at the sharp sting that shot up his arm.

"You're not really okay, are you?" Ron's voice was concerned again, the vulnerability gone. "What happened?"

Bill cursed himself inwardly, but knew that there was no use pretending now. "I – I just cut my hand a bit on the rock. No matter. I'll get Fleur to check it out later, but there's no rush," he said, in one last attempt to keep Ron where he was, with him, and not alone in his room, tearing himself up with all the thinking and worrying.

But Ron was firm. "Hell no. You never admit to being hurt, not even when you'd bloody broken your leg, because you didn't want Charlie to feel guilty for having talked you into climbing that tree with him. We're going inside, now."

Bill had no choice but to obey, and, as he had known, the minute Fleur had fixed his broken wrist after a moment of muttering spells mixed with reproachful words of how he should be more careful, Ron had only paused to gruffly question again that Bill was fully fine, and then he had been up the stairs, out of reach.

"Bill, you couldn't 'ave stopped 'im," Fleur went on, her fingers running soothingly through his hair. "'Ee needed to be with 'is friends, and you couldn't 'ave said anyzing to stop him if 'ee 'ad found a way to get to zem."

"But what if he hadn't?" Bill protested, the anxious suspicion threatening to overwhelm him that had been haunting him ever since Christmas morning when his brother's bed had been found empty; that Ron might have finally crossed the line of desperation enough to attempt finding his friends without knowing how to do it. They had searched everywhere, but had, by the time night fell, been forced to conclude that Ron had left them. However, they could not be sure if he, in his frantic attempts to find his friends, were being as careful as was necessary if he were to avoid…

"'Ee weell be okay. 'Ee knows 'ow to look after 'imself."

Bill didn't answer, and she stroked his chin softly. "Come on, let's get some Firewhiskey," she whispered in his ear. "I zink we need zat."

"Yeah," he agreed hoarsely.

"Plus, we need to celebrate our first New Year as a married couple, do we not?" she breathed against his lips. She deepened the kiss, and he knew that she was merely trying to provide a distraction, to make him forget. He knew that it wouldn't actually fix anything, but he also saw no reason not to let himself be swept away by her soft touches and intoxicating scent. There was nothing else he could do now, anyway. And, plus, they did need to celebrate the start of their first full year as a married couple. (There was a saying, wasn't it, that the way you started the new year was the way you'd end it? He'd started the last one kissing her. If he started this one the same way, maybe that would somehow make sure he still had her there to kiss by the end of it? He needed to believe that, so he made sure to kiss her, just as Fleur smiled softly and whispered, "I zink eet ees midnight".)