Bill had been the first to leave; so he supposed it was fitting that he was the last to come home that day.
He’d left for Egypt soon after Hogwarts to help with what was only ever intended to be a six-month project. It would help him get further ahead, they said — whether at Gringotts or somewhere else, if he so desired. But then they wanted him to stay another six months. Towards the end of the twelfth month, Bill realized his Arabic had improved, he was moonlighting as a tour guide (for wizards and Muggles alike) and enjoying every minute of it, and he’d even made a few friends. Good friends he knew he’d miss almost as much as he missed the ones back home.
The responses had been… considerably mixed.
“But you told me you were coming HOME!” Ginny had sobbed when Bill told them through Floo.
“Is this late teenage rebellion?” Molly had asked.
“Of course not. I just like Egypt. Besides, I’ll visit all the time.”
“No, you won’t!” Ginny shrieked. She ran from the room, and Ron scrambled after her.
“You’ve broken your sister’s heart,” Molly snapped.
“He’s an adult now,” Arthur told her. “He can do what he wants.”
Bill’s friends were more encouraging, but he could still tell they were sad, especially as Charlie had just left for Romania. Tonks made a joke about it, which told him she was very sad, though he thought perhaps something else was bothering her. Bill reassured them that he’d visit, as he had with his own family.
But in that time, he’d only managed to visit once, and it was when Ginny had been possessed by You-Know-Who. He’d literally dropped everything when he’d heard and rushed home. A few weeks later, he’d received word that his family had won money, and would be using it to visit him.
Now, it was his turn.
Wizards could travel home many ways. If they only intended to stay a number of days, they could Apparate or fly, although both required stops —Apparition meant finding certain points; flying meant having to find a place to rest at least once if it was a particularly long journey. But if they were staying longer than a week, they were required to travel through the Ministry and register as long-term guests. Bill was planning on staying for a month. And anyway, it wasn’t exactly safe to fly over the Middle East. Apparating could cause even more problems.
When Bill arrived at the Department of International Cooperation Office, he was surprised to be greeted by Percy.
“What’re you doing here?” he asked.
“I work here now,” Percy replied. “Thought that I would surprise you.” He held up a clipboard. “Are you William Weasley?”
“You know who I—”
“—sir, I asked you a question.”
Bill realized this was more for Percy’s amusement than his own. “Yes. I am travelling from Cairo with the intent to visit until the first of September, nineteen-hundred and ninety-four.”
Percy asked a few more standard questions.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a minute. “You’ve been refused entry.”
Percy cracked a grin.
“Oh.” Bill laughed. “Very funny.” He couldn’t remember the last time Percy had made a joke. Probably when he was still sleeping in a cot.
“Charlie thought so, too.”
Percy took Bill through the department, which was very busy today. They stopped by a small kitchen area, and Percy put a mug under a grinder, which immediately began brewing coffee.
“You’ll have to meet my boss,” he said, “Mr. Crouch.”
“Are you his assistant?”
“I’m more of a junior executive assistant.”
Bill eyed Percy’s hand as it grabbed the coffee. “I see.”
Crouch’s office was small; on his desk was a picture of a woman, a small boy, and a man who could have passed for a younger version of Crouch. Bill realized with a start that it was Barty Crouch Jr.
“Thank you, Weatherby,” Crouch said, not looking up from his parchment.
“This is my brother, Bill,” Percy told him. “He’s visiting for the World Cup.”
Crouch grunted something unintelligible.
“Anyway,” Percy continued, “I’m going to take him home, where we will have a brief lunch. I will be back as soon as time allows.”
“It was nice meeting you,” Bill told the distracted man. He made no indication that Bill had spoken at all.
As soon as Percy and Bill Apparated onto the path of The Burrow, a somewhat shorter person attacked him.
“Hi, Ginny,” he laughed as his sister hugged him tightly.
When Ginny pulled away, Bill was surprised to see she was somewhat taller. She was wearing makeup — not a lot, but Bill had never known her to really wear any. Part of her hair was pulled back into a braid.
“I can’t believe you’re home!” Ginny said excitedly as she led him towards The Burrow. “Oh, I’ve got so much to tell you — you have an earring now? How was the Floo trip? Did Percy torture you like he tortured Charlie? He didn’t, didn’t he? Percy!”
The door to the house had opened, and an army of redheads emerged from it. Bill hugged them, and gave Charlie a playful punch on the arm, which made Molly roll her eyes.
Then they moved to his head. “Your hair’s so long… you’ve got an earring?”