I wrote this short story last summer. Enjoy. And like always, the characters are not mine.

Dobby's Dilemma

Dobby the house elf just popped into the Malfoy's kitchen with big sacks of groceries when his master, Lucius Malfoy, walked through the elegant doorway. At the sight of the tall, silver-haired human, Dobby's ears drooped. What would he want this time? And more importantly, had he found out about the last mischief he had done? He hoped not, but he would bravely take whatever punishment his master handed out. It was his lot in life to serve dark wizards and he had no choice about it. But he didn't have to like it.

"Dobby!" Lucius called as he stood there in his perfectly pressed dark robes. Dark red embroidery decorated his expensive shirt and his long locks were carefully tied back with a black silk ribbon. As always, his snake-headed walking stick was in one hand. "Did you remember the steaks? We are having company tonight and everything must be perfect."

"Yes, Master, Dobby remembered!" Dobby quickly pulled out the butcher-wrapped paper package, the meat heavy in his hands. He had gotten them from the best wizard-owned butcher shop in Diagon Alley, of course, the best cuts of meat. The wetness dripping through the paper wrappings proved their freshness and Dobby hated how sticky it made his poor hands. "It be here!"

"Good. Preserve it for later with a spell. And dinner should be ready at seven sharp!"

Doby nodded as he quickly performed the required spell on the package of meat, placing it in the coldroom reserved for meats. As Purebloods, the Malfoys did not have a muggle-style refrigerator and instead depended on spells and the magic coldroom. Quickly using another spell, he cleaned the sticky from his hands and set about putting the other groceries away. He could see his master still lingering there near the doorway, scrutinizing him with his dark eyes and he couldn't help but feel nervous. "Does Master desire something else?"

"When exactly was the last time you fed my carnivorous plant? It looks very wilted and I am not pleased."

At the dreaded words, Dobby's heart leaped up into his throat. He hated feeding that plant! It only ate live rats and he always felt so guilty feeding the poor furry creatures to the nasty, evil plant! But if his Master ordered him to feed it, then feed it he must! "Last week...Master say to feed it once a week and so Dobby does so!"

Dobby bowed low, his thin body trembling as he raised his eyes to watch what Lucius would do. Hopefully he would not whack him with the staff again. Getting whacked hurt something awful.

"Go and feed it then. I can't have it wilting in front of the guests."

"Yes, Master! Dobby obeys!" Dobby used his magic and instantly popped out of the kitchen, relieved to be temporarily out of Lucius' sight. He reappeared a heartbeat later in the sunny room that was called the Lady's Parlor. Technically, the room was where Narcissa entertained her guests, but it was also the sunniest room in the house so here was where Lucius kept his dearly beloved plant. It was also the most beautiful room, the walls a delicate shade of cream and the windows covered in thick velvet of the richest burgundy. Truthfully, Dobby never understood why the room was decorated in red and cream when the Malfoys were Slytherins, but it was so.

And there was the loathed plant. It sat upon a delicately carved cherry wood table, the legs masterpieces of art in the shapes of snakes. The side table was an antique, of course. Almost everything in Malfoy Manor was. The plant had clearly spotted Dobby right away, for it licked its eager lips, lips that were formed out of green plant tissue. And it had strong jaws, too, jaws that would eagerly bite on anything that came too close. More than one careless house elf had lost a limb to it.

Dobby stared at it, whimpering. Last time it had almost gotten his fingers and only his ability to apparate so well had saved them. The plant could lunge forward like a living thing, its thick green leaves writhing in excitement.

Why did it have to chomp on poor innocent ratties? Dobby liked the ratties he cared for in their cages. They looked up at him with those beady black eyes, pleading to be let out for a fun romp or to be given tasty goodies. Their fur was soft and their bodies warm. And he loved how they would perch on his shoulders, nestling at the back of his neck. In truth, they were his friends and he didn't want to give any more to the evil plant!

But his master had ordered him to feed it...

Dobby searched for a loophole, some way to get out of the mess he now found himself in.

And then it struck him.

Lucius had simply ordered him to feed the plant, but he hadn't specified what to feed the plant! "Maybe, just maybe, Dobby could feed it something else! But what could Dobby give it? It only likes meat and Dobby has no meat..."

Then Dobby thought of the wet, dripping packages of steak in the coldroom. Maybe that be perfect for the plant? Steaks were meant for Master's supper but maybe Dobby could fix him something else? Maybe Dobby be lucky and Master not know that steaks be fake steaks? But where he would get fake steaks from he had no idea. Nor did he have any money to buy any. He had already done the shopping for this week so he couldn't put it on Lucius' tab, either. Still, if it saved the lives of his friends he would do so!

Dobby apparated off with a loud pop and came back a moment later, the sticky package in his hands. Carefully, he unwrapped it so no juices dripped onto the carpet. The hungry plant must have smelled the fresh meat as it started straining forward, its green jaws snapping in excitement. Dobby picked up the first thick steak, the fresh meat cold against his fingers. Then he tossed it towards the plant, unwilling to get any closer. Dobby used his magic to make the steak float right towards the plant's eager mouth and then it was gone. Only a lump was seen traveling down the plant's thick green stem towards the pot it lived in. One after another, the plant gulped down the steaks until only one was left. And then it ate that one, too, burping its satisfaction.

The house elf stared at the empty, smeared package in his hands. "Oh, Dobby in trouble now! Master expects steak and now they be gone!"

What could he feed Lucius? Where would he find steak when he had no money?

"Master is evil wizard with evil rat-eating plant! Master no deserve any steak!" Right after uttering the hateful words, Dobby banged his head on the nearest wall, causing numerous antique knickknacks to crash to the floor and shatter into thousands of pieces.

"Dobby! What are you doing in there?" Lucius cried angrily from another room. "You had better not be breaking things again!"

"Ooops!" Dobby slapped a hand over his mouth and hastily backed away from the wall. Now the wall's plaster had zigzagging cracks all over it. Master would be very angry so Dobby decided to make himself scarce. Popping off, he went in search of anything that would pass for a steak on Master's plate.

Dobby was desperate, very desperate. In fact, he was so desperate this time he would go where no house elf had ever dared to go before: into a Muggle store. He knew Muggles ate and they had food. But poor Dobby didn't know about supermarkets. Instead he hurried into the nearest Muggle store he found, which just happened to be a corner convenience store. Of course, they did not have a proper meat department and so they did not carry any steaks. But Dobby was desperate and eagerly started shoving anything that remotely resembled meat under his tea-towel. It helped a lot that he was invisible to the Muggles, too, or else they would have had a real fright at the two-foot tall pointed ear creature visiting their shop. After grabbing what he could, he popped off back to Malfoy Manor with his stolen goods.

Time passed and supper time arrived. Dobby did the best preparing the new steaks he had found at the Muggle store. He had no idea what the stuff really was, but he was somewhat sure it was a type of protein. There were two varieties. The first came in small tins that Dobby had to fight with to get open and the other came in some sort of transparent packaging. Worst, the second was a pale pinkish color, not the proper deep red of a steak. And it came out of the package in thin slices no thicker than his ear tips. Cooking it hadn't improved it much, either. In fact, it grew even worst. The meat, if that's what it really was, curled up and refused to lay flat and proper, even with spells cast on it. The sand kept falling through the hourglass though and soon he heard the noises of Lucius' dinner guest arriving. With heart in his mouth, Dobby prepared the food on the plates the best he could.

And then he took the plates out.

Lucius gaped open-mouthed at the strange stuff before him on his plate. It was not often he was at a lack of words, but this time he was. Where were his steaks?

Narcissa was equally confused and she cautiously poked at the rolled up dark brown thing on her plate. It was hard and crusted, burned in places. And next to it was some horrid wet glop in a circular shape, a strong odor wafting off of it.

"What in the world..." Lucius finally uttered.

"Really, Lucius," Severus Snape said in his calm voice. "Is this what you're eating these days? Muggle baloney that has apparently been overcooked on the grill and canned cat food? I didn't realize you were in such financial straits..."