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If the Ring Fits by dream_catcher
Chapter 8 : In which things get progressively worse
 
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Chapter 8: In which things get progressively worse


Draco stopped just inside the kitchen doorway and would have stayed there permanently if Ginny had not given his back a firm push. He stepped forward a little farther and she let the door close behind them. The kitchen, which had seemed small the first time he had been in it, now seemed claustrophobia-inducing.

The four Weasley men were taking their seats at the table, which was now far too long to be unmagically supported by its four legs alone. Even with magical assistance, it sagged slightly in the middle, loaded down with steaming pots and pans containing every type of food imaginable. Oh Merlin, Draco though with panic, surveying the amount of food, what if there’s more of them coming? Like a family reunion or something!

Ginny was standing on his left, also surveying the scene, but with something closer to pride. He leaned down to her and whispered, trying to keep desperation out of his voice, “You aren’t expecting more people, are you?”

Ginny glanced at him in mild surprise. “No. I mean, Dad will be home from work any minute, but that’s it. Why?”

Draco shrugged and avoided her gaze. The Weasleys, with the exception of Molly, who was still stirring something over the stove, had taken their places at the table. Just as Draco began to wonder where on earth he would sit – and if it would be possible for him to eat in a different room entirely – Ginny took him by the arm and guided him to a chair. It was on the far right of the closest side of the table, and Draco found himself staring across the table into George’s less than welcoming face.

“Mum will sit here,” Ginny motioned to the spot at the head of the table to Draco’s right, “and Dad will sit down there,” she nodded toward the other end.

“Where are you sitting?” The question sprang forth before he could stop it, and he clamped his mouth tightly shut after it, as though to prevent any other wayward words from popping out.

She gave a little laugh and touched the chair to his left, “Right here. Don’t worry.” Giving his shoulder a pat, she went to help Molly carry the final, bubbling pot to the only available uncovered tabletop. Just as the bottom of the pot came to rest with a thud on the table, there was a “pop” as someone apparated into the entry hall.

Seconds later, Mr. Weasley burst through the swinging door, battered hat in one hand, an equally decrepit briefcase in the other. His red hair, tinged with grey, was messy, and his robes were in a state in which Draco would have committed them to the rubbish bin. Draco was, however, willing to overlook it all for the warm smile that adorned the man’s face. It gave Draco a feeling of encouragement; perhaps Mr. Weasley would improve the general mood of the dinner. “Something smells wonderful, Molly!” he exclaimed.

Molly hurried to take her husband’s hat, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “When doesn’t something smell good?” she teased him. “Now come greet our guest.” The cheerful smile could have slid from Mr. Weasley’s face no faster than if Molly had instructed him to “come greet Voldemort.”

There goes any hope of my not dieing this evening, Draco sighed mentally. Resigned, he took a few, tentative steps forward and offered his hand. “Good evening, Mr. Weasley. You have a lovely home.”

Mr. Weasley shook Draco’s hand quickly, giving him a nod, “Thank you.”

“Dad,” called one of the twins from the table behind Draco, “come sit down already, so we can eat!”

For a minute or two the kitchen was filled not only with mouthwatering smells but with the sound of chairs scraping across the floor. Then, as the final family members – and Draco – found seats, silence fell.

“Well now…” Molly smiled a bit awkwardly down the table and then spread her hands toward the food before her. “We might as well eat before it all gets cold.”

The kitchen was set into motion once more as each family member reached for the closest dish. Draco, only a few seconds behind the rest, took the bowl of mashed potatoes in front of him and dabbed a little onto his plate. Copying the others, he passed the bowl to his right – to Molly.

Molly took the bowl, but didn’t serve herself. She stared at Draco’s plate with dismay. “Don’t you like potatoes, Draco dear?” she asked, sounding distressed.

“Y-yes,” stuttered Draco, taken aback. What had he done wrong now?

Molly’s look of consternation was quickly replaced by a kind smile. “Then don’t be timid. Have some more.” With that she added several generous spoonfuls of mashed potatoes to Draco’s plate.

Now Draco was the one looking with dismay at his plate. “Erm, thank you, Molly.”

She chuckled warmly, “Well, I’ve got to look after you if you’re not going to look after yourself properly.” Then she took one, small spoonful of potatoes for herself and handed the bowl to George.

Draco found this particular scene repeated many times as the supper dishes circulated the table. If Molly found his serving of a particular food inadequate, she didn’t hesitate to add more to his plate, chastising him for “being shy.” Draco’s dismay grew with the heaps of food before him, and he swore he could hear his stomach groaning with apprehension. Finally the dishes stopped coming and he noted the mashed potatoes once again resided in front of his plate.

“Dig in!” Molly declared, and there was a clang as everyone pick up their silverware.

Draco followed suit, but his fork hovered over his plate as he debated the best course of action. If he ate quickly he could consume a lot more before becoming full, but then Molly would have more time to refill his plate. If he ate slowly, however, he would finish the food in front of him later but probably be full before he was halfway done.

As Draco contemplated the lesser of two evils, his fork still suspended in midair, Ginny leaned over to him. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she whispered in his ear, “You don’t have to eat it all; I probably won’t finish all mine. Just eat slowly and talk a lot. And move stuff around your plate.” She took her hand off his shoulder and picked up her spoon. Demonstrating, she flattened her potatoes and moved half of her peas to the opposite side of the plate.

It did look like she had eaten quite a bit of them. I love that girl, Draco thought, relief flooding him. Then, almost as soon as it had happened, he realized what he had just thought. He could feel his face pale and then flush, and a little choking noise emerged from his throat. No! his mind screamed. No, no! I didn’t mean it! It’s just an expression! I most certainly do not love Ginny Weasley.

Molly was looking at him with concern. “Draco, are you alright? Do you need some water?”

“I’m fine, Molly,” he managed to say, although he decided, in retrospect, his voice might have been a little higher than usual.

Ginny, swallowing a bite, gave a little “Oh!” Setting down her fork she continued, “Mum, Dad, I just remembered… Narcissa asked me to pass along an invitation to you. She’s having a party Friday evening and wants you to come.”

“Narcissa Malfoy? ” Mr. Weasley frowned at his daughter.

“Don’t be silly, Arthur. Do we even know another Narcissa?” Molly scowled down the length of the table. Turning to Draco, she smiled, “That’s very kind of her, but unfortunately we already have dinner plans with the Dunstans.”

From the other end of the table, Mr. Weasley gave a groan. “I’d forgotten about that. Again, why are we having dinner with them? Roger is the biggest bore I’ve ever met; all he talks about are his precious honking daffodils.”

“We’re having dinner with them because Jane is a delightful woman whom I like very much.” Molly’s normally warm voice was sharp, and Mr. Weasley, like any sane man, quelled under her glare and did not rely.

Draco hid his grin by taking a bite of steak – tender and delicious, although did he expect anything less from something Molly cooked? – and his gaze fell on Ginny’s left hand, which was reaching for her water glass. At the spot where the ring should have been visible there was only a small blur, and Draco felt his eyes slide away from that area, as if he had just noticed something a small distance away. A disillusionment charm, and a good one at that. She must have gotten sick of explaining. And I’m sure it makes it worse that it’s my ring. All things considered, the disillusionment charm made perfect sense. Draco, however, couldn’t shake the feeling that, for some reason, it bothered him that Ginny didn’t want to be associated with him. Shaking himself mentally, Draco refocused on the conversation around him.

“– need to order more lovage for our Daydream Charms. They’ve become really popular in the past couple months.” Fred, sitting on George’s right, across from Ginny, grinned. “We’ve been making a killing!”

“Really, Fred,” sighed Molly, “I wish you wouldn’t use that expression. It sounds so violent.”

Draco was amused to see the twins roll their eyes simultaneously. After a moment he inquired, “So your joke shop’s been doing well?”

They eyed him with uncertainty and exchanged a glance before George replied, “Yeah, it has. Like Fred was saying, our Daydream Charms are selling well. And right now we’re developing a new product line.”

“Really? What kind?”

After another quick glance at each other, Fred said, “It’s aimed toward adults working in offices. One of the things we’re working on right now is a device for when people want to take a break without anyone noticing. It can be attached to an office door and creates an illusion so someone walking by will see the person inside hard at work.”

“It only lasts for about ten minutes, so people won’t be able to use them for hours on end,” George continued, looking warily at his mother out of the corner of his eye.

Draco frowned slightly as he considered the concept. “Do you have to prerecord an image?”

George nodded, “Yeah, when the device is attached to the door and activated with a wand tap, it records for the first ten minutes. Then it can be played back at will. It would be best to do something generic while it’s recording, so it doesn’t look suspicious if the same person walks by several times.”

“Right now it’s only good for one use before the spells wear off – ”

“Which is good for selling a lot of them,” George broke in.

“But it means we can’t charge as much,” continued Fred. “Eventually, though, we’ll find a way for them to be reusable, and those will cost extra.”

Draco nodded. Trick products for adults opened up a whole new market, and, from what he had heard so far, Fred and George’s products were going to be popular. “What else are you doing for offices?”

George told him, “We’re doing a line of ‘Office Sweets’, too…”

Draco wasn’t sure how long he listened to George and Fred talk – with him asking the occasional question – but his plate was significantly less empty and his stomach full by the time they were winding down.

He had just eaten his last bite of bread when Weasley, sitting between Fred and Mr. Weasley, pointed at the bowl in front of Draco and said “Pass the mashed potatoes, Malfoy.”

Draco reached for the bowl, but Molly’s hand got there first, holding it firmly in place. “Ronald Weasley!” The man in question flinched at the tone in his mother’s voice. “In this house we call our guests by their first names!”

Weasley looked from his mother to Draco and back again, expression hovering between disbelief and dismay. “Or,” Molly continued, a slight, almost dangerous smile on her lips, “if you can’t show that courtesy, you can address him as Mr. Malfoy.”

Beside Draco, Ginny made a hissing noise as she attempted to smother a laugh with her fist. Internally Draco, too, laughed at the thought of Weasley having to call him “Mr. Malfoy” – although his internal laugh was more of a satisfied chuckle.

Weasley seemed to be deciding how badly he wanted the potatoes. Finally, the stubborn expression on Molly’s face not wavering, he cast the bowl a mournful look and muttered to his plate, “Pass the mashed potatoes, Draco.”

Molly’s hand, however, did not lift from the bowl. “‘Pass the mashed potatoes,’ what?

Sounding, if possible, even more sullen, Weasley tried again, still addressing his plate, “Pass the mashed potatoes, please, Draco.”

“Very good.” Molly freed the bowl, and Draco was able to pass it across the table, trying to keep from leaning across Ginny’s plate as he reached.

Weasley accepted it without looking at Draco and, as he was about to spoon some onto his plate, Molly gave a pointed cough. Weasley looked up with an expression that read: “Now what?”

Molly raised her eyebrows. “What do we say when someone does something for us?” She spoke as if addressing a five-year-old.

Weasley’s nose wrinkled, but he offered grudgingly, “Thank you, Mal – Draco.”

Molly turned to look at Draco and he realized a response was expected of him. And she’ll want me to use his name, too. He wasn’t even sure it would come out properly. Half expecting “Weasle” to spring forth from his subconscious mind, he replied through gritted teeth, “You’re welcome, Ron.”

“There!” Molly gave a satisfied smile that was both pleased and triumphant. “That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”

Yes it was! Draco thought firmly, and he was mildly disturbed to realize the other man was probably thinking the same thing.

“Are there any peas left?” Mr. Weasley inquired down the table.

Fred peered into the dish in front of him. “Nope. All gone.”

Molly gave a little laugh. “What did I tell you, Ginny dear? They turned out just fine!”

To Draco’s surprise Ginny flushed pink and muttered, “I see that, Mum.”

Chuckling again, Molly explained, “Ginny had a bit of an accident cooking the peas – some cloves got in with the sauce – but luckily I was able to fix it. I told her they would taste just fine, and clearly I was right!” She smiled indulgently at her daughter.

Ginny, who was now very red, sank down in her seat. “I know I’m rubbish at cooking,” she muttered.

Looking at Ginny, now staring determinedly at her plate, Draco felt a strange emotion in the pit of his stomach. It took him a moment to realize that instead of relishing her embarrassment, as he had only a few days ago, he was feeling bad for her. He wracked his brain for something to say that would make her feel better. After discarding the idea of insulting another member of her family – sure not to improve the situation – all he could offer was a feeble, “Well, I’m sure it would have tasted fine with the cloves, too…”

Molly didn’t appear to hear him, as she had moved on to berating Fred and George about not coming home often enough, but Ginny glanced over at him and whispered, “Thanks.”

Suddenly there was loud “pop!” from the hallway and all conversations stopped as the dinner party turned toward the kitchen door. The new arrival shuffled about the hall for a few seconds. Then the door swung open to reveal Harry Potter, carrying a large basket of what appeared to be laundry and wearing an embarrassed grin.

“I hope I’m not – ” he began as he ducked away from the door’s return swing, “interrupting anything…” He trailed off as he caught sight of the dinner table. “I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were still having – ” He broke off abruptly as his eyes landed on Draco.

Draco didn’t know how long he sat there, half turned in his chair, just staring at Potter. He was, however, pretty sure it didn’t matter, though, because time had stopped. Potter, too, didn’t move, still standing in front of the door, clutching his basket of laundry. After the time Draco had spent at Grimmauld Place during the war, they had reached an unspoken agreement not to speak to each other. Thinking back, Draco realized it had been almost nine years since he had last seen Potter. And the scruffy-haired, scar-face hasn’t changed, Draco thought with a grim satisfaction.

After anywhere from thirty seconds to twenty years, someone behind him cleared their throat. Potter broke eye contact with Draco and gave an awkward cough. Behind him, Draco heard Molly rise from her chair, crossing the corner of his vision as she walked around the table to approach Potter. Taking the basket from his arms she smiled, “Don’t worry, Harry dear, we were just finishing up.”

Potter’s eyes snapping back to Draco, he asked, “What’s he doing here?”

Molly shifted the basket to one hip and patted Potter’s arm with her free hand. “Come put this in the sewing room with me and I’ll explain.” With that she led him out of the room – up a staircase in the far corner that Draco hadn’t noticed.

Ginny, who was sitting upright again and whose face had returned to its normal color, said brightly, “Well that was awkward!”

Draco gave her a glare that he felt was worthy of a prize, if prizes were given for glares. As they were not, he had to settle for personal satisfaction – which, although said to be its own prize, clearly did not compare to a medal, and certainly not to a cash prize.

The silence that reigned in the kitchen after Molly and Potter’s footsteps faded up the stairwell was one of the loudest Draco had heard yet that evening, and he had felt more than his fair share of dense silences in the past few hours. Finally the footsteps returned, followed in a few seconds by their creators.

“Now,” declared Molly enthusiastically as she reentered the kitchen, “how about some dessert? I believe we have some pie about which there’s been a fuss.”

Mr. Weasley drew his wand and conjured a wooden chair at the corner of the table between himself and Weasley. I refuse to think of him as “Ron,” even if I have to call him that, thought Draco stubbornly. Potter took a seat at the corner and Molly, flicking her wand, sent a plate soaring to land on the table before him.

Molly’s words brought the pie contest suddenly back to Draco’s mind. I can hardly believe I forgot about that! It was the whole point of this torture-fest. Ginny, too, seemed to have forgotten, as she gave an “Oh!” and rose from her chair. Following suit, Draco stood and followed Ginny around the table to the pies lying on the counter.

“So how are we going to do this?” he asked her, their backs to the table. “We can’t just taste each other’s – we both know we’ll say our own in the best.”

Ginny laughed, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Of course I’m right. I’m always right,” smirked Draco. Ginny jabbed his hand with a fork. “Ow! That was uncalled for.”

“Don’t be such a sissy.”

Draco wisely refrained from replying, as she was now cutting the pies with a rather sharp-looking knife. When she had finished, she paused, knife hovering above Molly’s blueberry pie. “How are we going to do this?” she mused. Suddenly she exclaimed, “I know! Harry can decide!”

“What?!”

“What?!” Draco turned to look at Potter, who had twisted in his chair at the sound of his name.

“It’s perfect,” Ginny continued, undeterred by the lack of appropriate enthusiasm from the two men. “Harry doesn’t know whose pie is whose, so he won’t be biased. The rest of my family probably would be,” she admitted.

Draco stared at her for a moment before he was forced to admit, at least to himself, that she was right. It really was the perfect solution. If only it didn’t involve Harry Potter… but that couldn’t be helped. Besides, the man had saved the entire wizarding world; surely he could judge pie adequately. Draco gave a nod of consent and told Ginny, “Alright.”

“Harry, will you help us?” asked Ginny happily.

Potter looked wary. “What do I have to do?”

“You just have taste each pie and tell us which one is better…unless you generally like either blueberry or apple better…” Ginny frowned as she realized this potential snag.

Potter shook his head. “No, I like both.” After considering for a moment, he told her, “I guess I can do that. Just as long as I don’t get in trouble for my choice.” He glanced at the table full of Weasleys and Draco, quite unwillingly, understood how Potter felt at the moment.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Ginny said lightly – a little too lightly if anyone had asked Draco – and she put a piece of the blueberry pie on a small dessert plate. Draco, too, took a plate from the stack on the counter and scooped out a piece of his apple pie.

Ginny, seeming eager to have the blueberry tasted first, hurried the plate to the table, placing it before Potter. As Draco scraped a few loose chucks of apple from the bottom of the pan and flicked them on top of the slice, he heard Potter declare, “That’s really good!” His words were slightly garbled from his mouthful of pie – which made Draco cringe – but his intent was clear enough; Draco’s apple pie would have a tough act to follow.

Taking the plate with his pie carefully in both hands, Draco turned and tried to walk back to the table. That was when everything went wrong. Somehow, quite mysteriously, his shoelaces had tied themselves together. As he attempted to take his first step, Draco was sent into a face-first plunge toward the floor. The pie went flying as he threw out his arms to block the rapidly ascending floor.

Landing hard, Draco laid there, catching his breath, delaying the moment when he would have to get up and face the room. Of all the groups of people in front of which he would have chosen to utterly humiliate himself, this one would have been last on the list. Slowly he pushed himself to a sitting position. As he had suspected, everyone was staring at him – Charlie, on the opposite side of the table, had even stood for a better view. It was then Draco noticed where his pie had landed.

Weasley wiped a piece of apple off his nose and added it to the pile on his plate, which he had already picked off his jumper. A bit of pie filling was still smeared across his cheek and a hunk of crust sat on his shoulder. To his left the twins were red with suppressed laugher, which was now beginning to break free in the form of loud snorts.

His own face burning, but not from laughter, Draco untied his shoelaces and stood up. As he was trying to decide what he could possibly do next, Potter reached out his fork and scooped a bite of pie off his friend’s shoulder. Putting it his mouth, he chewed thoughtfully. His eyes widened. “Merlin, that’s amazing!” The fork returned to Weasley’s shoulder, this time retrieving a piece of crust. Now all eyes were on Potter. When he had swallowed his latest bite, he nodded firmly. “This one – the apple pie – is the best.”

Ginny, who had been standing behind Potter’s chair, groaned. “Harry!” She sighed. Turning to Draco, she conceded, “Oh, alright, I guess you win.”

“Thanks,” Draco muttered, but the thrill of victory was overwhelmed by the desire to be somewhere – anywhere – else. After a second he asked softly, so only she could hear, “Where’s the loo?”

She gave him a half smile. “Up the stairs to the right.”

He nodded and headed toward the stairs as quickly as was possible without actually looking like he was escaping.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Whew! *wipes forehead* Well, there you go. I certainly hope it was worth the wait! Yes, incase you were wondering, I do realize it’s been almost 6 months since I updated. Not that I’m making excuses, but since then I’ve applied to college and chosen one (go Kalamazoo!!), graduated from high school and spoken at my graduation, planned and hosted an open house, rehearsed for and performed in a dance recital, and, most recently, turned 18 (yay for voting!). Not that you should care about any of that, except that it’s all over now and I have much more time to devote to this most precious story!

I’ve actually started working at the place I was working when I came up with this story – I had a lot of time to think as I dusted shelves – and although I’m doing a different job I still have mental writing time. And the good news is that I plan to finish this story before the 7th book comes out, so I can honestly say it was cannon (ok, mostly) when I wrote it. Go me! So clearly the next (and last) chapter will be out pretty soon.

Anywho…so you can clearly see the result of the pie vote: apple won! But it was a bittersweet victory for Draco, so I hope those who voted for blueberry won’t be too disappointed. What did you think of how it all worked out? I really, honestly want to know! I live for feedback.

Toodles for now,

dream_catcher


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