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?
A/N: Hail and welcome, my friend, to this, a story of considerable volume and very little brain. I am afraid I took rather literally the portion of your Original Request in which you asked for "...something a bit unexpected.... Use your imagination and sense of humour.". Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy my tale, large in size but humble in ambitions.
Endless gratitude to my beta reader, M, who endured much, made miracles, and spotted commas. All mistakes herein are the responsibility of the author.
(A Sordid Tale of Destiny, Evil, and Garlic)
by Urania Scholastica
Ron Weasley woke up at six in the morning, stretched, and threw the curtains open to face the rising sun. He sat down at his desk, stared at it for five solid minutes, and then closed the curtains and went back to sleep.
At eight, nine and ten he peeked out from under his blanket to track a bar of light leaking through the curtains as it progressed across the wall. At ten-twenty-six, the protestations of his bladder won out over the warmth and comfort of bed, and he shuffled downstairs in his pyjamas to have a pee. He also showered and wanked, rinsed off, and only then realized he didn't have a towel. He blotted himself dry with his pyjamas and tromped naked and dripping back up to his room, where he donned his last pair of clean socks and the freshest pair of boxers he could find. He considered going back to bed, but the hot water had mostly woken him up, so he supposed he might as well face the day already in progress.
In a dressing gown with more than a few loose threads trailing off the hem, he made his way down to the kitchen past the four vacant bedrooms of the Burrow. Errol was unconscious on a mound of kitchen-table debris, but he was still breathing, so Ron collected the scroll from his beak and let him lie.
Still having a lovely time in Ibiza. Wish you were here! Dad has been off exploring the Muggle shops again, causing trouble, but don't worry I'm certain the Muggles haven't noticed a thing. I have been relaxing on the beach and catching up on my reading. Did you know Gilderoy Lockhart has published a new book? Quite exciting!
Pictures enclosed. We will see you at the end of the month! Be careful!!!
All my love and kisses,
PS remember to eat!
The pictures were mostly of Arthur Weasley, sunburnt, off-center and out of focus, waving from a variety of breathtaking tropical settings. A few apparently contained Molly, but she was almost never entirely in the frame, and sometimes the only sign of her was a wisp of gray-red hair at the bottom of the frame or the trailing edge of a festive tropical muumuu. Both his parents' thumbs occasionally swooped into the shots to occlude all or most of the image. Ron hung them all on the cold-cupboard anyway, along with the batches from the many weeks before, and next to the ragged strip of parchment labeled simply JOBS.
He checked Errol's pulse again, then found a package of corn flakes in the back of the pantry. He munched on them while listening to the afternoon serials on the WWN. Mindy was having Aurelius's love child, Agatha plotted to kidnap Eamon's dog, and Brock found out that Humphrey was his long-lost dad, which Ron had predicted two weeks ago when Nunciata died without revealing the countercurse to Zelda's jinxed corset. More post arrived, but after checking the names Ron used it to elevate Errol's legs instead of reading it.
After the serials, he peeked through the first-floor curtains at the glittering late-summer light that spilled heavy and golden across the back garden. He finished the corn flakes and made a ham sandwich for an early tea, washed it down with a butterbeer, and clipped the loose threads off the bottom of his dressing grown with a pair of nail scissors. Eventually, he dragged himself back to the cold-cupboard and looked at the list marked JOBS, finger tracing down a line of tick-marks to the bottom.
"Right," he said aloud. "Chickens."
He pulled on galoshes and braced himself to step outside. That beautiful syrupy sunlight spilled over him, making him flinch and squint while he yawned. Maybe he should take a nap first? No, chickens first, nap later, and then he could warm up some shepherd's pie for supper. If there was any shepherd's pie left. And if it hadn't gone over. He'd have to check.
"Chickens," he muttered again, and stomped across the yard.
The chickens squalled and flapped at him, so he tossed a handful of feed in a random direction. The henhouse slouched against the side of the house, soft grey boards shrugging apart at the seams; a broody hen poked her head through one of the gaps to eye Ron with a certain avian malevolence. The henhouse had been here, just like this, for as long as he could remember, but when his parents left at the beginning of summer for their long holiday, they asked him specifically to see about "fixing it up a bit." He kicked one wall of the sad little structure experimentally and was only vaguely surprised when the wood gave way entirely. Fix it up, right. Might as well build them a new one entirely, he thought darkly, and went back inside to make a cup of tea.
He was almost finished with his tea, and still prodding the broken boards with his toe, when the sound of a double Apparition wafted up from the bottom of the hill. Ron's wand was in hand in an instant, but it took him a moment longer to spot the two small dark figures in the lane that led up to the house. Who would Apparate here instead of using the Floo? None of his brothers, not Ginny, not Harry or Hermione or Neville, and his parents were still on holiday...Luna Lovegood might come by, but she was just as likely to walk, or fly, or possibly dig an elaborate tunnel into the cellar. (The last issue of the Quibbler had reported on a series of abductions by what were apparently enormous, invisible, ill-tempered bats.) That left strangers, and unannounced strangers at that, but also strangers who weren't particularly worried about being caught if they were going to Apparate so close to the housethat ruled out Dark assassins and ambush journalists. But who else would bother to come seek him out?
It occurred to Ron suddenly that he might want to put on trousers.
He dove behind the henhouse (earning more flat, beady stares of contempt from the chickens) and peeked over the edge, wand still at the ready. The two little figures were strolling up the lane now, showing no particular concern for stealth, but they were still a bit too far away to identify. Keeping the intruders in his sights, Ron moved back towards the kitchen door, only tripping over two chickens in the process. He scrambled inside and rooted through a stack of laundry until he located a pair of jeans that were not torn, stained, or inches too small; he struggled to get them on until he remembered he was still wearing the galoshes. After much hopping about, he got his trousers on straight and his feet in a pair of frayed old house shoes that, on second thought, had probably been slept in by Errol in the recent past. No matter; he tied down the sash of his dressing gown and crept into the darkened foyer.
He hadn’t even been in this room of the house for weeks, and it was getting more than slightly dusty. The curtains were still drawn, just as his mum had left them, including the ones on either side of the front door. Ron crouched under one of these and carefully folded the edge of the curtain back, pressing his face against the glass to get the measure of his visitors.
He found himself looking directly into a pair of pale, bloodshot eyes.
“Yearrgh!” Ron threw himself backwards and raised his wand, but accomplished nothing except landing very hard and painfully on his arse. The curtain fell back innocuously, and a moment later, someone knocked at the door. Pulling himself up on an end table, Ron limped back to the door and, very carefully, cracked it open.
Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini smiled at him in unison.
Ron slammed the door shut again.
"Weasley?" Malfoy called, and Ron flattened himself against the door, just in case they tried to blast their way in. "Weasley, we do know you're in there, there's no point in hiding from us."
Ron looked about frantically at the dusty foyer and his own shabby clothes. "I don't suppose," he called back, "that you could come back another time?"
"No," Malfoy said.
"Maybe," Zabini said at the same time. There was a mysterious thump from the other side of the door. "If now is inconvenient for you, that is," Zabini added.
Ron, wand still up, carefully opened the doorjust a sliver. Malfoy and Zabini were still standing on the stoop, in sober dark robes, and Zabini was still smiling. Malfoy was scowling, and had a dusty scotch mark on his shin. "What d'you want?" Ron asked warily.
Malfoy brushed down his robes and turned up his nose. "Weasley, we have a business proposition for you."
"A very lucrative one," Zabini added. "If you have a moment of your time to spare."
"As a matter of fact, I don't," Ron said. "Good day."
He tried to shut the door but Malfoy suddenly leaned hard against it. "As a matter of fact, you do," he said, "or I'll eat Blaise's hat. Let us in."
"No," Ron said.
"Go away, Malfoy."
"Weasley," he grunted (he had got his foot in the jam and was pushing hard, while Zabini looked on with faint discomfort), "trust me. You really want to hear this."
"I've never trusted you," Ron pointed out.
"You did too!"
"I saved your life!"
"You tripped me while you were trying to run away!"
"It's the same thing!"
Zabini tugged on Draco's shoulder, pulling him back from the door, but Draco stubbornly kept his foot wedged in placeor perhaps it was merely stuck. "Weasley," Zabini said, "it won't hurt you at all to listen to us, and at the moment that's all we're asking. You're free to send us away later. Does that sound like a deal?"
Ron stepped behind the door and considered several things, such as the time of day, the henhouse, his own three-week growth of not-exactly-a-beard, and the state of the kitchen. Malfoy wiggled his foot impatiently. Ron supposed it wouldn't exactly kill him to let them in to talkthe chickens could live in their firetrap a day longer, the evil-minded little bastards, they'd been living there happily for decades. And, Ron decided, the state of the house shouldn't really matter eithereven in a dressing down and none-too-clean house shoes, he was still a bloody decorated war hero, wasn't he? He could stand up to some random pair of Slytherins. He could even stand up to Zabini and Malfoy, and if this all turned out to be a cunning plot
Wait. What if it was a cunning plot?
Ron peered around the edge of the door again. "What sort of business are we talking about, then?" he asked warily.
Draco and Blaise looked at one another, and Draco smiled. "It's an exciting opportunity in a high-growth industry."
"What's that mean?"
"We can explain it inside" Blaise said.
Ron shook his head. "What are you up to?"
"It's nothing evil, if that's what you're asking," Malfoy said irately. "You know for a fact we've quit that."
"Snakes don't shed their skin."
"Actually, they do."
Ron considered this, then shook his head. "Tell me from out there and maybe I'll let you inside."
Malfoy jerked his foot out of the door, almost causing Ron to slam it; he stomped off the stoop muttering darkly about Mad-Eye Moody. Blaise smiled altogether too widely. "It's an exciting opportunity in the food-service industry," he said cheerfully. "Now may we come in?"
Ron did shut the door to think about this for a moment. He opened it again. "You're serious?"
"Unfortunately," Malfoy said, with a pained smile. "Now can we get inside before my foot swells up and falls off?"
Ron let them inside. They gave him funny looks all the way through the house, right up until the moment he shoved a pile of plates, post and Errol off the kitchen table. They declined when Ron offered them tea, but accepted chairs, and he noticed for the first time that Blaise had a slim briefcase with him. It was, in fact, chained to his wrist. "What's that?" he asked. "And what the hell are you talking about, food service?"
"The answer to the first is, in part, an answer to the second," Zabini said, leaning forward slightly. "And so to address the second question firstDraco and I are opening a restaurant."
Ron laughed. Zabini did not. Malfoy just rolled his eyes. "Youwhat?" Ron asked. "Restaurant? Huh?"
"Let me put this in words that you can understand," Draco said. "Blaise and I need money. Well, Blaise needs money, I need a capital investment. Blaise, allegedly, can cook. We are going to start a restaurant."
Blaise held up the briefcase. "My grandmother's recipe collection. A thousand years of the finest Roman cuisine, distilled into absolute perfection, readable only by a true descendent of her blood." He smiled. "My mother was furious she couldn't sell it off for cash after the funeral. So were my last four stepfathers."
Ron blinked at him. "And...you can cook?"
"That's not important," Malfoy said. "What is important is that, unfortunately for all of us, we need your help to make this restaurant a reality."
"Wait, what?" Ron asked. "My help? What have I got to do with anything?"
Blaise and Malfoy sighed in unison, and Blaise actually slumped in his chair. Malfoy leaned forward. "Weasley, believe me, we don't like this any more than you do," he said. "But when it comes to dealing with the average wizard on the street, Blaise and I have a bit of a...liability, as it were."
"What, that you're evil?"
Ron regretted the words almost as soon as he said them, but Zabini only rolled his eyes, and if possible, Malfoy stuck his nose up even higher. "No," Malfoy said, "but as you so perfectly demonstrate, for some reason everyone thinks so. I suppose we could make ourselves badges that say 'Really Quite Nice,' but somehow I doubt that will inspire a great deal of confidence in our sincerity."
"Right," Ron said, "of course." And for some reasonmaybe because Malfoy really had saved his life that once, even if it wasn't deliberate"Sorry."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow at that, but Blaise took over the talking. "Now, this is the part where you come in, Weasley. Nobody seems particularly willing to buy Italian food from former spies, regardless of which side we were spying for. In fact, we've had a terrible amount of trouble even dealing with the Ministry for it, and they're the ones who issued our pardons."
"Apparently they thought we'd take our liberty and faff off to parts unknown, never to trouble them again," Malfoy added. "And frankly, I'm halfway tempted to oblige them."
"Why don't you?" Ron asked. "Really, why not? Or at least wait a bit, until it's not all so...y'know. Recent."
At this point, Blaise looked distinctly uncomfortable, though he also had his chin in the air like Malfoy, so it might've been mistaken for gas. "My financial situation won't allow it," he said. "Mother has cut me off from the trust fund and married a Brazilian, and as for my other family..." He raised the briefcase and shrugged.
Ron glanced at Malfoy, who snorted. "What are you looking at me for? I'm in it for the potential return on my investment."
"Not, you know, to help out a friend in need?"
"What do I look like, a charitable foundation?"
Ron snorted. "Real charming, Malfoy."
Malfoy turned to Zabini. "Blaise, if I attempted to lend you money in some spirit of friendship, camaraderie or general altruism, what would you do?"
"Restrain you until the curse wore off," Zabini answered promptly.
"There, you see?" Malfoy said. "There's no generosity between friends like us, Weasley, only good solid business. And this restaurant will be a fantastic business, if only we could get past the paranoid parchment-pushers who can't see past a few rather unfortunate but thoroughly outdated headlines. Which is why we are here, talking to you. Is that perfectly clear to you?"
"Clear as mud, maybe," Ron said, and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you want me to do, write you a letter of recommendation? Beg for peace, love, and understanding across the wizarding world?"
"Merlin, no," Malfoy said, looking a little alarmed at the thought. "Why would we want that?"
"You just said"
"Weasley," Zabini said, and it sounded like he was at the end of his rope. "What we want from you is very simple. Come with us while we talk to some people. Look suitably heroicmaybe you can wear that Order of Merlin they were so eager to thrust on you a few months ago. Smile. We will do all the talking, and your mere presence will generate the necessary goodwill to achieve our ends."
Ron frowned at them both. "That's it?" he demanded. "I mean, that's all you want? Just to have me smile and nod and look heroic?"
"And possibly engage in some personal hygiene beforehand, but in general terms, yes," Draco said. "You may have to sign a few documents, but it won't be anything important. Or at least nothing legally binding. I'll take care of everything."
"And when you've got your restaurant?"
"You're free to walk away." Malfoy spread his hands wide and smiled. "Nothing keeping you. Even if you wanted to hang about, we wouldn't allow it, so don't worry your hideous red head one bit. You won't be responsible for anything."
It sounded, among other things, like a trick, a delusion, and a way to put off dealing with the henhouse. Ron glanced from Zabini to Malfoy and back, not sure if he was waiting for encouragement or for someone to burst out of the pantry with noisemakers, shouting Gotcha! Yet this was also a bit too surreal even for Fred and Georgetoo surreal and not enough explosions. At least, Ron hoped there wouldn't be explosions. "Why me?" he decided to ask. "Why not Harry or Neville or...well...anyone else in the world?"
"The only others with the necessary degree of celebrity are, regrettably, otherwise occupied in such a way that I doubt we'd be able to get their attention," Zabini said. "Except for Lovegood, and frankly, I'd rather eat candles."
"Harry'd take an afternoon off to help" Ron started to say.
Malfoy folded his arms across his chest; if he pointed his chin any higher he'd tip the chair over. "I could go the rest of my life without having anything further to do with Harry Potter."
Ron winced because, yeah, he should've seen that comingtoo late to take it back, though. "So I was your last resort, huh? You two sure know how to make a bloke feel special."
"If we wanted to make you feel special, Weasley, we'd have brought flowers," Malfoy said. "What we want is for you to help us. I mean, it's not like you've got anything better to do."
Ron opened his mouth to protest, thought about the henhouse, and shut it again. Chickens or Malfoy and Zabini? Strangely enough, it was not a difficult choicethe chickens, after all, hadn't saved anybody's life (even by accident). The chickens weren't suffering from the bad consequences of a good decision. The chickens shit and ate and gave him dirty looks, whereas Malfoy and Zabini just have him dirty looks (and Ron wasn't responsible for anything else.)
Besides, it might be good for a laugh later on. Something to tell Harry, if he ever remembered to write him back.
"What are you selling, exactly, then?" he found himself asking. "Just whatever's in the cookbook?"
Blaise seemed to take this as the acquiescence it was, and smiled broadly. "Well, I plan to start out by focusing on a dish called pizzaMuggles seem to have made an art of selling it."
"And since turning Muggle seems to be all the rage these days," Malfoy said with a bit of a sigh, "we thought we might as well turn some gold on the fad while we could."
It sounded reasonable to Ron. If they were actually in business a month from now, perhaps he could get some for his dad, claim they were eating a real Muggle dinner. "So what do I do?" he asked them.
"For starters?" Malfoy said. "You can get rid of that hideous skin disease on your jaw and cheeks. In general? Be awake and presentable tomorrow morning at nine. We'll take care of the rest."
Before Ron could protest the slander of his beard, Malfoy and Zabini were standing. Malfoy simply walked out; Zabini smiled at Ron, and shook his hand long and slow. "A pleasure doing business with you, Weasley," he said.
Ominous, that. Ron smiled back at Blaise's straight white teeth. "I sure hope so."