Chapter 4 : Set the House on Fire
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Ron paced the flat worriedly. In the three years it had been since Voldemort was killed he had never felt so nervous. At this point, even catching sight of one of his girlfriend’s belongings was enough to make him shudder with fear. What if she said no?
He took a deep, calming breath before deciding what to do next. Glancing at the clock perched on a stack of Hermione’s books, which littered every surface in the small living room, he found that he still had an hour until his girlfriend returned from the Ministry. He had requested the afternoon off from George in order to prepare, but now he didn’t quite know what to do with his remaining hour. Should he cover the flat in rose petals? Start memorizing poetry? Neither idea appealed to him, nor did he think they would appeal to Hermione. Wracking his brain desperately, Ron suddenly had a stroke of inspiration as he caught sight of the telephone half-buried under yet another pile of books. Of course. Harry would know exactly what to do.
The couple had originally gotten a phone line so that Hermione could call her parents when she wanted, but when Mr. Weasley found out about it he requested that the entire Weasley family get one, including Harry and Ginny. Ron had to admit that at times it was easier and more comfortable than using the Floo network, and now prided himself on being a sort of expert at using the phone.
The other line rang for a rather long time after Ron dialed the numbers, and Harry’s voice was muffled as he picked it up, as if someone was covering his head with a pillow. “Hello?”
“What, Ron?” He sounded exasperated.
“I need some help, mate,”
Harry hesitated a moment, and from the other end Ron could hear giggling. His sister was obviously in the room. “Er, I’m a little busy, actually,” Harry’s voice got quieter as he turned away from the mouthpiece. “Gin, quit it, will you? It’s your brother!” he hissed.
There was more laughter on the other end, then Ron heard Ginny shout, “Ronnie! How are you?”
“Fine, Ginny, thanks,”
“Come on, Harry, hang up on him. I’m going to slip into something more . . . comfortable,” she giggled again.
“I heard that!” said Ron indignantly.
“I told you I was busy!”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you meant . . . you know,” From the other end of the line came the unmistakable sounds of two people kissing. “OY!”
“What?” Harry sounded breathless.
“Stop snogging my sister for two seconds, will you?”
“We’re not really snogging!” said Harry indignantly. “It’s more of a light snog at this point,” Ginny laughed from somewhere apparently across the room. “But give me a few seconds and we’ll see where it goes,”
Ron gagged. “Well, leave that alone for an hour and come to the flat, all right? I need you to help me with something.”
“What is it?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here,”
There was a pause. “Can I bring Ginny?”
“So what are we supposedly going to cook? I can make an omelet,” said Harry, leaning casually against Ron and Hermione’s refrigerator as he bit off the head of yet another Chocolate Frog.
“Toss me one of those, will you?” Ron called entering the kitchen with an armful of spices. Harry obliged, and his friend somehow managed to catch the frog in his mouth by the wrapper. “’fanks!” he said through the plastic.
“No problem,” Harry said. He picked up one of the bottles of spice that Ron had been carrying in from the pantry and read the label aloud. “Rosemary? What could –“
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding! Rotten luck.” Ron interrupted without even noticing that Harry had been in the middle of asking a question. He held up his chocolate frog wrapper dramatically, gesturing angrily at it as he muttered, “Nothing ever goes right. There’s always got to be something wrong.”
Harry tried hard not to roll his eyes. It was difficult to not sound annoyed as he said, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Bloody frog doesn’t even have a wizard card in it! I’ve been saving them up to make a collage, and I only have to fill in one more spot. Of course I’d get the only Chocolate Frog with no wizard card in it in the whole set—“
“Calm down, all right?” Harry didn’t even bother to try sounding less exasperated than he was. “There must have been a mistake with packaging. My frog came with two cards. You can have them both if you want.” He held out the cards for his best friend to take.
Ron looked at the cards with a mixture of shame and surprise. “Oh,” he said, slightly awkwardly, as he reached out to take the cards. “Cheers,”
“No problem. Now, what exactly are you planning on cooking?”
“I saw it on one of those Muggle telly-vizzen things. The man made his wife lobster for dinner and she went mad over him. It’s like a delicacy or something,”
“But—where did you get a lobster? And how do you propose we cook it?”
“I went to that fish place in London. Wasn’t that expensive; I just gave the man a Sickle and he went off the deep end. And as for cooking, I was hoping you could help with that,” Ron looked at his best friend almost pleadingly. “You grew up with the Dursleys. They’re Muggles. And you said in our first year that you cooked for them sometimes, so I figured I couldn’t be too hard,”
“Yeah, I cooked for them. Eggs and bacon and stuff!” said Harry. “Lobster is tough,”
“No. We just need to fill a bucket with hot water and drop them in,”
“I meant it’s tough to get right,”
“Whatever. I’m at least going to try.”
Harry looked around the kitchen expectantly. “Right. We’re just going to have to wing it, I suppose. So where are these lobsters?”
“Hang on,” Ron disappeared into the pantry again, returning with a large bucket apparently full of lobsters. “Okay. Now we need to start cooking them. You know how to work this stove thing?”
“Yeah,” Harry replied, striding over to look at the stove. “I know a bit. Put the bucket on top and I’ll turn it on. Mind you don’t touch it, because the burner’s hot,”
Ron did as he was told, and within a few minutes the water within the bucket was beginning to get hot. Just before steam began to issue out the top in tiny wisps, the first lobster managed to climb its way out of the shallow bucket, apparently fed up with the increasingly warm climate.
“Agh! It’s escaping, Harry! What do we do?!” Ron yelled, backing away.
Harry, almost as panicky as Ron, quickly seized the nearest metal kitchen instrument and attempted to beat the lobster back into the bucket, but even as he managed to subdue one of them, three more lobsters were already dropping onto the kitchen floor and scuttling away. With a yelp of fear Ron chased after them, but as he watched they spread into different directions, seeking refuge under furniture, in the fireplace, and even behind a stack of cauldrons in the corner. For the briefest of moments, the two young men looked at each other. Without a word they both sprinted toward where the lobsters had disappeared in an attempt to retrieve them.
Ten minutes later, Ron called to his best friend, voice muffled by the ottoman he was crouched behind, “Harry! Do you smell something funny?”
Harry struggled to extricate himself from under the dining room table, straightening his glasses as he entered the living room to talk with Ron.
“Do you smell something? Burning?”
Harry sniffed at the air. “Yeah, but we didn’t—“ Realization dawned on his face before he could finish his sentence, and the expression was mirrored on Ron’s face. “The stove!” they said together.
Both men ran as fast as they could back to the kitchen, and Ron groaned as the sight of three foot high flames assailed his vision. The bucket, which they had left on the burner, had melted and caught fire. The stove was completely engulfed, flames licking the sides of the appliance hungrily. In unison, Harry and Ron pointed their wands at the fire and yelled “Aguamenti!”
In less than five minutes, the flames had abated, and Harry and Ron were left standing breathless in the middle of the soot-stained kitchen. Almost everything was blackened by the flames, but thankfully not burnt to a crisp.
“Close call,” said Harry, rubbing the back of his neck tiredly.
“Close call?!” Ron croaked. “Close call? Half our kitchen’s burned away!”
“Well, it could be a lot worse,” Harry said brightly.
Ron pulled at his hair, which made him look quite insane. “What am I going to tell Hermione?”
“The truth,” Harry replied simply. “C’mon, let’s at least find the lobsters. We can sort this mess out later, it shouldn’t be that hard,”
Ron gave his best friend a disbelieving glare, but resumed his search of the lobsters without comment. Twenty minutes later, Harry managed to spot one of the crustaceans and shouted out “Gotcha!”
Almost as soon as he reached his hand down to pick it up, Harry snatched it away again with a howl of pain. Ron ran to him and examined the hand in question, which had a bright red blotch on it that looked quite painful. “It pinched me!” Harry cried, putting the part of his hand that was throbbing with agony into his mouth and sucking on it in an attempt to make it feel better. “Didn’t you keep the little rubber band things on its claws?!”
Ron looked indignant. “Why would I have kept those bloody things on there? You can’t eat them, for all I know they could have made us sick!”
“Ron, you idiot,” sighed Harry in exasperation. “you’re supposed to keep them on so the little buggers don’t claw you when you put them in the bucket! Then you cut them off once they’re dead and they can’t hurt you anymore!”
“How in Merlin’s name was I supposed to know that?” shouted Ron. “You’re the expert here!”
“Oh, yeah, and as you can see that’s been useful to us so far,” Harry replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Obviously I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, because we’re currently crawling around on the floor trying to catch the things that you and Hermione are going to be eating in less than an hour!”
“Less than an hour…” Ron muttered. Suddenly his blue eyes grew as wide as Galleons. “Oh no! Hermione gets back from work in twenty minutes! What am I going to do?” he collapsed back onto the couch, hands covering his face as if to shield him from further misfortune.
“It’s ok, Ron, I know what we can do,” Harry sat beside his best friend and spoke in comforting tones. He could tell (as no other could, because no one knew Ron better) how stressed out he was. Not about leaving the kitchen in its wrecked state, not even about rampant lobsters, but about whether or not Hermione would say yes. “You stay here and clean up the kitchen a bit, find those lobsters if you can. I’m going to order a pizza, I’ll be right back,”
Harry got up and left to use the telephone, but Ron felt like someone had replaced all the blood in his body with solid metal; it kept him anchored, his fear of rejection, like a literal weight. Finally, as he heard Harry’s voice talking calmly to someone on the phone in the next room, Ron got to his feet. Sitting around contemplating it wouldn’t make things better. All he could do now was exactly as Harry had said; he needed to take care of the things that he could control. And he could start by cleaning the kitchen.
“All right, the pizza should be here in five minutes or so,” said Harry as Ron walked through the kitchen door. “I paid them a little extra to make sure it got here on time.” He caught sight of his best friend’s face at that moment, and asked worriedly, “Are you OK, Ron? You look pale.”
“Hm?” Ron asked distractedly, drawing his wand to siphon soot from the walls. “Yeah, fine. Just hoping we sort this out before she comes home,”
“Ron,” Harry said soothingly, placing a hand on his best friend’s shoulder. “It’s going to be fine. If you asked her in the Shrieking Shack I’m pretty sure she’d still say yes. In fact, I know she would,”
“You think so?”
“’course I do,” Harry replied with a grin. “She loves you, mate. She has ever since we were eleven years old.”
“Nah, no one could have loved me back then. I was an obnoxious little sod,”
“She did. Ever since you saved her from the troll,”
Ron’s ears turned beet red. “It was you that—“
“I’ll get it,” said Ron quietly. He still had his wand drawn as he opened the door and began to make up excuses, expecting Hermione to be there. When he saw the pimply teenage pizza delivery boy, he could do nothing but stare in awe.
“One large pizza, extra pepperoni? That’ll be—“
Suddenly there was a brilliant white light and a loud bang. Harry sprinted to the door, wondering what on earth had made the sound, and was met by a shocking sight. Ron was standing, his wand still drawn, over an enormous, slimy green slug. It was oozing all over the carpet, feelers wriggling frantically like two haywire antennae. Most disturbing of all, however, was the fact that it was wearing a hat on its sticky head that read “Pop’s Pizza”.
“Ron!” Harry yelled in distress. “What did you do?!”
“I—“ Ron seemed to be lost for words. “We’ve been invaded, Harry! How did the Muggle know where to find us?”
“You idiot, it’s the delivery boy!” cried Harry, his voice cracking from the strain. “I told him to come here so that you and Hermione could eat something other than live lobsters for dinner! And now you’ve turned him into a slug!”
“This Muggle is the pizza man?”
“Oh, bloody hell!” Ron’s face blanched. “And Hermione will be here any minute!”
“It’s OK, Ron,” said Harry quickly. “It’s OK. Just do the counter-curse, we’ll wipe his memory, and—“
“Harry, I don’t know the counter-curse!”
“George used that spell on me once when I insulted his new haircut! He didn’t exactly tell me how to undo it, and I was a slug so I don’t remember!”
“Well—well I guess we’ll have to hide him, then,”
Harry looked frantically around the still-sooty kitchen. “There! In that bottom cabinet!”
“Under the sink?!”
“Do you have a better plan?”
Ron looked around desperately, but in the end he was forced to admit, “No.”
“Then let’s go,” Harry said with determination, bending down to pick up one end of the disgusting creature. “If we hurry we might be able to get it out of sight before Hermione gets back,”
“Right,” said Ron, also bending down. Both of them slid their hands underneath the slug at the same time, then immediately jumped back in disgust. “Eurgh! I’m not touching that thing,”
“Putting it in there with magic would take too long; it’s hard to aim with Wingardium Leviosa,”
Suddenly there came the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Ron’s face went, if possible, even whiter. “Hermione!” he hissed.
Without another second’s hesitation, the two young men fearlessly grabbed the snail around the middle and began trying to shove it into the tiny cupboard. “It won’t fit!” whispered Harry desperately.
“Here she comes!” Ron groaned. “This is it. She’ll leave me for sure.”
“No, she won’t! Now shut up and push harder!”
“What in Merlin’s name are you two doing?”
Harry and Ron swung their heads around, hearts dropping like stones to their feet. They were absolutely covered in slime, and the slug’s eyes were starting to pop out of its head from being squeezed into such a small space as the cupboard. And there stood Hermione, still carrying her briefcase for work, staring with shock written all over her face at her boyfriend and Harry.
“Erm, hi there Hermione,” said Harry awkwardly. His voice got progressively faster as he tried to leave. “See, Ron just invited me over and we were cooking lobsters and they escaped and a lot of mad things happened, which is why the kitchen is black. And Ron can explain the slug, but I really need to get going, Ginny needs me. We’re…er… redecorating the bathroom.” Harry rose to his feet, whispered “Good luck, mate,” and practically ran out the door.
Ron stared after his best friend in disbelief. Before he could say a word, however, he noticed that Hermione was staring at him, expecting an explanation. “Erm…yeah… w-what Harry said is true. I was trying to surprise you, you see. With dinner. All the Muggles on the telly-vizzen make lobster when they love someone, and I thought—“
Before he could continue, Hermione was in his arms, kissing him full on the mouth. Ron was so shocked it took a moment for him to kiss her back, and even when he did she was already pulling away. “Oh, Ron, you were trying to make me dinner?” Hermione crooned. Ron’s confusion deepened at the sight of Hermione standing in the ruined kitchen, kissing her slimed boyfriend, positively glowing with happiness. “That was such a sweet thought,”
“Well, I… er… There’s pizza if you’re hungry,”
“That sounds lovely,” Ron realized that she actually meant what she said. But as Hermione looked around the kitchen with raised eyebrows, he braced himself for an attack. It never came. Instead, Hermione merely continued, “But let’s eat in the living room, OK?”
“Yeah,” said Ron weakly, going over to where the pizza was still sitting on the doormat. He brought it into the living room along with the champagne he’d bought for the occasion. The two of them snuggled up on the couch, covered in slime and pizza sauce, balancing champagne glasses on their knees. And suddenly Ron realized that there would be no better time. He needed to do it. Now.
“Hermione,” he began softly. “This isn’t exactly how I pictured doing this, but I love you. I really do. And—and I want to show you how much I love you every single day of the year, every moment that you’re with me. I want you to know it every time I hold your hand, or mess up a spell and ask for help, or try to make you lobster for dinner. Every time you look at me, I want the entire world to know we’re in love. And I reckon the only way for me to do that is to put a ring on your finger, one that screams to the whole wizarding world that you’re mine, and I’m yours. Forever,”
Hermione had tears in his eyes. He didn’t know if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but Ron pulled the little black box from his robes and opened it. This was the moment. He took a deep breath. “Hermione, will you marry me?”
She couldn’t fight the grin that was spreading across her face now. She was absolutely radiant with joy, and even though she was covered in slug slime and pizza sauce and soot, Ron thought she had never looked more beautiful. Especially after she shrieked the word, “Yes!”
A/N: Well, what do you think? I hope that you’re all enjoying reading this story as much as I’m enjoying writing it! Have any of you figured out my little game? I’ll give you a hint: A certain symbol/object has appeared in every chapter so far and will appear in every chapter to come. Super-mega-brownie points to anyone who guesses the meaning behind it…All will be revealed in chapter seven. Good luck, and thanks again for your support!
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