Recipient: Algernon Hyde
Pairing: Ron/Draco (more preslash than slash)
Summary: Ron bites off more than he can chew when he agrees to help Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini open an Italian restaurant. Can anything make it worth the headaches?
Ron slept like a rock, because he was exhausted, but he was troubled by vivid dreams of Malfoy and goblins and exploding calzones. In one of them, Malfoy was wearing a slinky red dress and Stonefoot had tied him to a train track. "Say hello to my little friend!" Stonefoot shouted, and hit Malfoy over the head with a hammer the size of a sheepdog. Malfoy's head was crushed, but all that came out was a river of tomato sauce flecked with olives.
It was already approaching lunch by the time he'd dragged himself out of bed, stared at his desk and washed up; the right side of his arse was cramped and stiff where the hex had been. He found Errol under the kitchen table and sent him to the pizzeria with a notice that he'd be coming in lateit was safer than using the Floo to tell Malfoy to his face. Errol took a few tries to take off, but eventually got into the air and headed in a generally Londonward direction. (Ron took a moment to mourn for Pig, though in truth he hadn't been much better at delivering the post. Pig was never much of an owl, but he'd been Ron's, and that counted for something.) Tiffer could probably take over much of the kitchen for the day, and there was somebody that Ron needed to see before he went in.
Bill and Fleur had bought a little cottage with a large garden, which Fleur redecorated roughly once every fortnight. Ron Apparated to the edge of the property and walked up the little lane, letting the exercise stretch his muscles out. By the time he got to the stoop he was able to walk almost normally. "Hello?" he said, sticking his head through the door. "Anyone home?"
"Round back," Bill shouted. "And have a care, we've been gardening."
Snorting, Ron headed around the side of the cottage. The earth had been turned up in great random clods and patches, and a running hosepipe was creating a small lake among the beans. Bill was on his knees, planting pale seedlings with thin, palm-shaped leaves, but he waved Ron over with a muddy hand. "Isn't it a bit late in the year to be planting anything?" Ron asked.
"Fleur's been on me to finish the borders before we head back to Egypt," he explained. "Dunno why she wants borders so badly when we're not going to be here to see them, but if it makes her happy..."
"When do you go back, September?"
"Fifteenth." Bill flicked his ponytail over his shoulder, getting mud in his hair and on his face and neck. "Why do you think the bank's giving us so much time off lately? Got to 'get our affairs in order.'"
"And by 'affairs' they mean 'gardens?'" Ron crouched down next to Bill, wincing at the pull of stiff muscles.
Bill didn't miss it. "Leg getting to you?"
"Had a long day yesterday," Ron muttered.
"So I heard."
Of course he had. Ron cringed all over again. "Was there shouting?" he asked. "Please tell me Ginny wasn't shouting."
"Not about you, she wasn't," Bill said. He rocked back on his heels and scratched his face, smearing more mud. "But apparently she's outraged that I'm not more outraged, if that makes any sense."
"How outraged are you?" Ron asked.
"Not at all, really."
Ron looked at Bill carefully, at his facethe permanent twist on one side of his mouth, the deep notch below the bridge of his nose, the ridge that pulled down his right eyelid. "Do you hate him?" he blurted.
"Of course," Bill said. "Greyback was a monster and I'm glad he's dead."
"I meant Malfoy."
"Malfoy didn't try to chew my face off," Bill said, "and I don't see the point in looking for extra people to be angry at."
Ron relaxed just a tiny bit. Perhaps he wasn't going to be completely disowned for this.
"Mind you," Bill continued, "I don't like the little bastard at all, and I can't fathom how you've managed not to kill him yet, but he did help save the world, and you."
"He didn't mean it," Ron said.
"Does that make a difference?"
Ron punched him gently on the arm. "You're getting philosophical in your old age, mate."
"You young whippersnappers need the benefit of my advanced wisdom," he said.
"Actually, right now, I could use the benefit of your knowledge of goblins," Ron said.
They went inside, and Ron explained about Stonefoot, Stonefoot's hammer, and Malfoy's "loan" while Bill washed up in the kitchen sink. He poured them both a glass of cold pumpkin juice, and by the time Ron had got to Malfoy's promise to "take care of it," Bill was shaking his head slowly.
"You can't treat goblins like wizards," he said. "Their whole culture is built around treasure and fighting, and if they can fight over treasure, so much the better. Even the bankers gouge on the loans, as much as the Ministry allowsand if Malfoy signed anything, Stonefoot will use that to wring him dry."
"Malfoy says he hasn't got any gold to wring out," Ron said. "Won't Stonefoot leave him alone when he figures that out?"
"Assuming Stonefoot believes him," Bill said, "he'll probably use the excuse to smash the hell out of your pizzeria and carry off whatever he can by right of plunder."
"Merlin," Ron muttered, then: "Wait, it's not my pizzeria."
Bill raised an eyebrow. "Really? So you just work there?"
"I don't work there, I'm helping," Ron said, wondering how many times he'd have to explain this. "If I was working for him, he'd be paying me."
"Of course," Bill said. "Very noble of you. Heroic, even, from the sound of it."
Ron squirmed. "It's not that big a deal. I mean, okay, I want to strangle the little git about five times a day, but I wanted to kill him a lot during the war, too, you know?"
"Yeah, but that was during the war," Bill said. "There were bigger things to worry about than Malfoy being a monstrous git."
"And the pizzeria isn't important enough to be getting upset over," Ron said. "It's just a lark. For laughs, you know?"
"Sure," Bill said. "Just something to pass the time, right?"
"Right," Ron said, wondering why Harry couldn't have understood it so quickly and completely.
Bill raised an eyebrow at Ron. "Passing the time until what?"
Ron choked a little, and set down his glass of juice very quickly. "Er," he said, "I...I'm working on that."
"When you're not running around the pizzeria," Bill said.
"I'm not going to be at the pizzeria forever," Ron protested. "And then...well..."
Well, then he could go back to the Burrow and the henhouse, and in a week or so his parents would be back from Ibiza. And then...keep waiting, he supposed, until something came up, something that he could do, something that made sense after he'd quit school, fought a war, and helped just a tiny bit in saving the world.
But then again (he suddenly thought), what could actually top that?
"I'm not asking just to wind you up," Bill said quietly after a moment. "I just want to know you're going to be all right when we head back to Egypt."
"I've already got Mum, Dad and Hermione worrying over me," Ron muttered.
"Yeah, and they're worrying just like us," Bill said. "Or at least, Mum and Dad are. They keep asking me why you don't write back more often."
Ron hadn't actually read the owl post for days, hadn't had time for writing his own letters even longer. He sighed, and rubbed his eyes. "Thanks, mate, just what I need. A load of guilt."
"Oh, don't get maudlin on me, now," Bill said. "I'm just saying, if you're not sticking with the pizzeria business, you should be looking for something you will stick with."
"Why would I stick with the pizzeria?" Ron asked. "I just told you"
"I know, I know, I'm just saying," Bill said. "I'm getting senile in my old age, you'll have to forgive me."
Ron took a deep breath. "Right. Sorry. Justyou never answered my question, about the goblins."
"You're the one who got us sidetracked," Bill said, and leaned forward over the table. "So, like I was saying, you can't deal with this Stonefoot on straightforward wizard terms. You can either solve this the goblin way, with lots of hammers, or you force his hand and take it to the bank."
"What good would that do?" Ron asked.
Bill smiled slightly. "One, if you make a public complaint it'll make a stink between the bank and the Ministry that the bank can't ignore. Two, the bank has a sole charter to make loans in Britain, and the board includes all the elders of all the goblin clansmeaning somebody is going to be pissed off to learn a member of a rival clan is making a bit of gold on the side."
That sounded like a nice, neat way to solve the problem to Ron, so of course it was also the absolute last thing Malfoy would consent to do. "What about the way with the hammers?" he asked. "How does that one work?"
"You beat the hell out of them," Bill said, brows knit. "If you win, they'll probably acknowledge that you bested themprobablyand submit to you."
"Probably?" Ron echoed. "That doesn't sound good."
"It's a cultural thing," Bill admitted. "They'll fight each other all the time and be gracious loserssort ofbut since you're not a goblin..."
"...we might just piss them off," Ron said. "Unless we really kick their arses."
"But not too badly," Bill asked, "or you might just instigate a blood feud with their clan, and those sorts of things almost never end well."
"No blood feuds, gotcha," Ron said gloomily. "Any other advice?"
"Yeah," Bill said. "Be careful. And remember, we're all behind you, if you need us."
Ron couldn't quite doubt that, but he was fairly certain they weren't behind Malfoy, just like he knew Malfoy would never agree to the public airing of his finances that a proper complaint would require. Instead, Ron tried to think of how theyor more likely, just hecould fight a gang of hammer-wielding goblins without completely destroying the pizzeria. He stopped by Flourish and Blotts and browsed the section on the goblin wars, trying to find a book that was the right mix of short, informative, and unlikely to kill him with boredom. Hermione might have been moved to tears by the sight.
By the time he got to the pizzeria (with Wandwork and Weaponry of the Fifth Goblin Rebellion under his arm) the dining area was busy, the glass display case had been covered in cardboard, and Malfoy's hair was sticking up sharply on one side, apparently held in place with a dried crust of alfredo sauce. "I am not going to murder you right now," he hissed and he all but dragged Ron into the kitchen, "but that's only because I need someone to mind the kitchen while I drink myself blind and sleep away the weekend."
"Good to see you too," Ron said, and stowed his book safely away on a high shelf. "I'd say I missed you, but I'd be lying."
"Blaise," Malfoy said, ignoring him, "has apparently disappeared, because I cannot find hide nor hair of him, so thank you very much for that. The elf is trying to teach himself Italian, in the event we can ever open the bloody cookbook, and Creevey refuses to go near the till despite the fact that I have told him several times it has been dealt with."
"Dealt with how?" Ron asked, but Malfoy just dove into the sink and put a soapy pot directly on the burner. Ron dried it with a charm, but the chemical odor of soap on the burner seeped into the air anyway. "And how do you reckon we should deal with our little friend from last night?"
"I don't know how you deal with your little friend, and frankly I'd rather not think about it," Malfoy said feverishly, splashing oil into the pot and following it with a mass of chopped garlic and onion.
Ron leaned close to his ear. "I meant the goblin, Malfoy."
"Oh." He stopped in mid-stir and blinked. "Er. Of course."
"What did you think I was talking about?"
"Never mind, and get your mind out of the gutter," Malfoy snapped. "I told you I'd see to it."
"I've just talked to my brother," Ron told him, and grabbed a ball of dough to roll out, just to keep busy.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "I like macaroons. Do you have any other non sequiturs to share?"
"My brother who works for the bank," Ron said. "He gave me some advice on handling Stonefoot."
"Why, thank you for talking about me behind my back, I do so appreciate it," Malfoy said. "I said I'd take care of it, didn't I?"
"And did you?"
He threw a large whole sausage into the pot with dangerous force. "I'm currently working on it," he declared.
"Well, so am I, and you probably won't like the solutions I've got."
"All the more reason," Malfoy said, "for me to handle it myself." He charmed open an enormous can of whole peeled tomatoes and dumped the contents on top of the sausage, and then he walked away, leaving Ron to salvage a decent calzone filling from the mess in the pot.
Late that night, while Tiffer rigorously mopped the dining area and Malfoy swore through installation of a new display case, Ron poured over the goblin book. He even made notes. (He reckoned Hermione would be in a dead faint if she could see him.) It helped when he skipped over the boring parts and didn't pretend to keep track of the names or dates. The important part was the conclusion anyway, which didn't give him a whole lot of hope that he could deliver an appropriate thrashing to Stonefoot's gang, but more hope than he'd had right after talking to Bill.
"What are you so absorbed in?" Malfoy finally snapped at him. "There don't seem to be enough illustrations for you."
"It's about how to fight goblins," he said. "Says that the only way a goblin can ever really beat a well-prepared wizard with a wand is by getting about fifty of his friends together to help."
"Well, that's charming," Malfoy said. "Also disturbing and utterly useless, of course."
"Bill says if we beat back Stonefoot's gang, they'll leave the place alone."
"Yes, because we'll have smashed it to kindling for them," Malfoy said.
Ron pretended to be absorbed in the book. "He also suggested that we could complain at the bank and they'd rein the gang in, if you'd rather go that route."
"I'd rather," he said, "try things my way, which requires neither bloodshed nor public embarrassment, thank you."
"Have you decided what your way is, then?" Ron asked.
Malfoy nodded smartly, standing back to admire the new counter. "Of course," he said. "I'm going to negotiate."
"Yes, are you deaf?"
"With a gang of disgruntled goblins."
"I wouldn't describe them as disgruntled, exactly," Malfoy said. "Less than fully gruntled, certainly, but they're still reasonable people. Beings. Things."
"But they're not wizards," Ron said, "and they're not going to let you talk your way out of this."
Malfoy suddenly focused on something over Ron's shoulder, and his back went very stiff and straight. "Why don't we let them decide, shall we?"
Ron glanced back and saw that Stonefoot's gang had returned, still in their ridiculous pinstriped suits. They pushed into the pizzeria and fanned out immediately, and Ron saw one of them (he wasn't sure which one was Blackpick anymore) carrying Thunderstrike the hammer. Some of the others also had mysterious bulges under their coats which might've been concealed weapons, but Ron couldn't imagine what sorts they might be. "Well, hello, Mr. Malfoy," Stonefoot called out. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Stonefoot, my good goblin," Malfoy said. "I'm sorry I wasn't available to speak with you last night, but I'm afraid I had a bit of a run-in with some ruffians and was indisposed."
"Well, the important thing is, you're here now," Stonefoot said amiably. "And you're late on your payment. That's important, too."
Malfoy's mouth twitched slightly, but he didn't quite frown. "I'm afraid you must be mistaken, Stonefoot. I'm sure I paid you on Tuesday, I distinctly remember"
"The payment was short," Stonefoot said. "Over thirty Galleons short, to be precise, and you're collecting interest."
"I'm sure you're mistaken," Malfoy said, pulling a short scroll from his sleeve, "because as you'll note right here, in subsection seven, clause thirteen-b, the interest rate on the principle is set at"
Stonefoot reached out and crumpled the scroll before Malfoy had even finished unrolling it. "I know the contract," Stonefook said. "And I'm saying that you were short."
"Because I overpaid you last week," Malfoy said, "which I was going to explain before you started interrupting me."
Stonefoot looked at one of his mates and shrugged. "I don't recall you overpaying last week."
"Thought he paid same as always," the other goblins said.
"I paid you fifty Galleons extra!" Malfoy snapped, and pulled out one of his little black ledgers. "You see, it's right here, in black and white"
He thrust the ledger at Stonefoot, who took it and examined it swiftly. He then, very precisely, tore out the last page. "I don't remember any extra payment," he said with a nasty smirk.
Malfoy's face was getting very pink, and he glanced among the goblins very quickly. Ron stood up quickly, drawing far too much attention to himself. "He's got you there, mate," he said slowly, with a great deal of eyebrow waggling that he hoped communicated his hasty plan. "You might as well take him down to the vault and give him his money."
Sadly, Malfoy chose that moment to be thick as a post. "Vault? What vault? I don't know what"
"The vault," Ron said, "in the cellar. You know, the one you can almost fall into?"
Malfoy blinked. "Oh. Right. Um. I didn't realize you'd, uh, set it up yet."
"I've just been working on it," Ron said.
Malfoy wiped his palms on his robes, then took a deep breath. He may have even deliberately puffed his chest out. "Well, Stonefoot, since it seems my colleague has, er, finished his little project, why don't I take you down to the vault and we can settle accounts like gentlemenI mean gentlebeings?"
Stonefoot looked suspicious, but either he was some special combination of stupid and cocky or Ron had been far more subtle than he realized. "All right," he said, and snapped his fingers. Two other goblins, including the one carrying the big damn hammer, followed him and Malfoy into the cellar. Ron tried not to think of what that hammer might do if it were pounded into Malfoy's head. It probably wouldn't gush tomato sauce, that was for certain.
That left four goblins still upstairs with Ron, which weren't great odds, but he supposed he'd overcome slightly worse. And it wasn't as if he were alone. He grabbed the mop that Tiffer was still doggedly pushing around the floor and dragged it into the kitchen corridor, the elf clinging to the handle with arms and legs. "Tiffer," he said quietly, "house elves can do powerful magic, can't you?"
"We can does some," Tiffer acknowledged. "We is only using it for proper masters, though. The bond between an elf and master 'tis very powerful, and we is not profaning it with dirty money." He spat, and then immediately wiped it up.
"I'm not asking you to do anything you're, er, uncomfortable with," Ron said quickly. "But Malfoy's your master, isn't he?"
"Yes," Tiffer said suspiciously.
"And these goblins are nasty pieces of work, aren't they?"
"The goblinses 'tis very very nasty," Tiffer agreed.
"So," Ron said, "wouldn't you say that you've got the rightno, make that the duty to stop the goblins from beating Malfoy to death with great big hammers?"
Tiffer squirmed in place for a moment. "What does Mr. Weasley have in mind?" he finally asked.
Ron had formulated a weak plan, but he didn't have time to explain it, because someone in the cellar started screaming. He really, really hoped it wasn't Malfoy, but there was no time to be certain because the four goblins on the ground floor all rushed him at once, trying to get to the cellar stairs. He pushed Tiffer behind himmore from instinct than for real protectionand grabbed a sizable pot lid from the countertop. Holding the lid out before him like a shield, he rained down hexes on the oncoming goblins, like it was any battle in the war, like it was life or death instead of just life or really painful beating, like more was at stake than just a pizzeria. The narrowness of the corridor helped; he tripped the first one with a well-placed Impediment Jinx, and the rest stumbled over him.
The pot lid was a casualty over the first thrown hammer, which, while not as big as Thunderstrike, bent the lid nearly in two. Ron threw it away and dueled properly, Stunning one goblin and knocking another one back on its knees. A third was up, though, and he threw some sort of metal discus with nasty pointy bits along the edge, bits that Ron was sure would open his head up from chin to crown
except the discus made a sudden U-turn in mid-air and flew right back at the goblin who'd thrown it. At the last second, it rotated so the flat side hit him in the face, and he was knocked flat on the ground with a bloody nose. Beyond him, Tiffer pumped his fist in the air and hitched up his tablecloth with the other hand. "Take that, you nasty goblinses!" he squeaked. "You is not harming my masters!"
The other two conscious goblins realized they were hemmed in, and Ron had no regrets about tying them up and letting Tiffer haul them out of the door. He raced downstairs, imagining the worst, but there were no corpses in the cellar and no puddles of blood, or even tomato sauce. Just Malfoy, frantically stacking boxes against the crude door that covered the abandoned tunnel. "Help me with this," he said, "I can still hear them moving around back there."
"Yes, I took care of the ones upstairs," Ron said, levitating a stack of crates over. "I'm fine, by the way, thanks for asking."
Malfoy huffed at him. "Yes, yes, laugh it up, Weasley. You'll be pleased as punch when Stonefoot gets out of this tunnel and sends half his tribe against us."
"I don't think goblins have tribes"
"Well, whatever. He's going to kill me."
Ron shrugged. "Maybe we scared him off."
As it turned out, they didn't, but he didn't sic an army on them. Instead, he sent the Ministry.