Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, the Harry Potter Universe, or any of the ancillary intellectual property.
This one was done for the Teachers' Lounge Iron Fic Contest, where the Secret Ingredient was A Meal At the Burrow, and a special emphasis was to be placed on food being central to the story.
With a whoosh of green flames, Hermione Granger stepped out of the fireplace and into the kitchen of the Burrow. Her friend Ron Weasley was sitting at the table, obviously waiting for her, and she saw his mother Molly Weasley standing over the stove, coordinating things with her wand, with the strains of music coming from the wireless in the kitchen.
"Hey, Hermione," Ron greeted her nonchalantly, although his wide smile at seeing her made her grin slightly at her friend rather than rolling her eyes at his casualness.
"Hello, Ron," Hermione said warmly. "Hello, Mrs. Weasley!" she shouted over the radio, which was playing either Celestina Warbeck or one of her many imitators – Hermione couldn't tell which.
"Oh, hello dear," Mrs. Weasley responded, raising her voice and not turning around. "Ron, don't just sit there. Take Hermione's trunk up to Ginny's room."
"Oi, Mum! How do you know I wasn't about to?" Ron said indignantly and his slowly rose from his seat.
"Of course you were, dear," Mrs. Weasley said. Hermione hid a smile as Ron grumbled and lugged her large trunk up the stairs to his sister's room on the first floor.
"Thank you for letting me stay with you, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said, approaching her.
"You're always welcome to stay with us, Hermione. Harry will be coming a little later in the summer, when the Headmaster fetches him." Molly Weasley turned around, and Hermione saw she was dressed in a set of forest green robes which were possibly the most elegant clothes Hermione had ever seen her wear. They were obviously not new, and of a cut Hermione knew (thanks to five years of rooming with Lavender and Parvati) was more than a decade out of style, but they suited the older woman.
"You look very nice, Mrs. Weasley. Is there some special occasion?"
Mrs. Weasley smiled warmly. "Thank you. It's our anniversary today. Twenty-eight years. Arthur is taking me out for supper, so it will be just you and Ron for supper tonight. What's that you're carrying, dear?"
Hermione looked at the two boxes in her hands. "Oh, my mum sent some pies with me. I'll put them in the icebox, and we can save them for when everyone's here."
"That's very thoughtful of her. Do thank her for me, won't you? You and Ron should have some tonight, though – I haven't made any pudding, and I know he'd like some pie. I've made some stew – it's not much, but I hope you like it. It should be ready in a few minutes. Now, I have to be going – I told Arthur I'd meet him in Diagon Alley, but we'll see you tonight. Or tomorrow," she said with a small smile.
"Bye, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said.
"Ronald! Come down and serve Hermione some supper! Honestly!" Mrs. Weasley shouted up the stairs, and then threw some Floo powder into the fireplace, stepped in, and disappeared.
Ron emerged from the staircase. "Mum left?"
"Yes. She said supper should be ready in a few minutes."
"Good. I'm starving."
Hermione rolled her eyes, and the two friends caught up with what had happened in each others' lives over the past few weeks. Hermione told Ron about her week in Germany with her parents, and Ron caught her up on the news around the Burrow, including Bill's fiancée Fleur Delacour spending the summer with them.
"'Course, they're in France at the moment, visiting her family," he said as he ladled two large bowls of a lovely-smelling stew for them. "And Ginny's over at Loony's place, visiting her before she goes off with her dad to hunt for Horny Snorkers, or whatever," he said with a chuckle about the girl's strange beliefs. Hermione chuckled along with him – she was certainly brave and determined, and the fight at the Department of Mysteries certainly would have went worse without her, but Luna Lovegood was a strange girl, of that there was no doubt. "So it's just us."
Ron tore himself a large piece of the crusty bread on the table, dipped in into the stew, and bit off a large chunk with a moan of satisfaction that Hermione found strangely unsettling.
"Must you do that?"
"What?" Ron said with his mouth full.
"Moan, like you've never eaten before."
"Hey! I'm away from home ten months of the year. Pardon me for liking Mum's cooking."
Hermione shook her head. "You're doing far more than liking it. And the food at Hogwarts is delicious."
"Sure," he said, putting a large spoonful of stew into his mouth, and talking while chewing. "It'sh gweat, but it'sh not Mum's."
The stew certainly smelled delicious. As she began to eat it, she had to admit it Molly Weasley was an excellent cook. On the one level, it was a simple beef stew – large chunks of tender beef in a delicious brown gravy so thick she probably could have eaten it with a fork. There was large pieces of tender carrots in it, along with cubes of potato and turnip. A simple stew of the same kind eaten in a thousands of other English homes that night, no doubt.
At the same time, the flavours of it were unlike any stew she had ever eaten at home. While her own parents' stews would be flavoured with some Worcestershire sauce and HP Sauce, she knew from previous discussions with Ron that those everyday English sauces had never crossed over into wizarding cuisine. In their place, the stew Mrs. Weasley made contained a variety of flavours that were almost familiar, and some Hermione couldn't place at all.
English wizarding cuisine tended to be even more mildly spiced than Muggle English cooking. While flavours such as curry had transformed the English palate, wizards and witches still held the traditional English suspicion of strong spices. Parvati had complained about that for three years until she found that she could request her favourite dishes from the Hogwarts house elves. Hermione herself refused to, as she didn't want to exploit the diminutive people any more than she had to, but she did miss the stronger flavours of Muggle food.
But Mrs. Weasley's stew, while milder than Hermione would have prepared herself, was no less tasty. The flavours were subtler than Hermione was used to, but there were very enjoyable. There was pepper in it, certainly, but some other flavours she couldn't place at all. The most notable was a hint of something that was almost, but not quite, cinnamon, but there were hints of things she had no familiarity with at all, other than previous meals made by Molly Weasley.
It was very good.
As Hermione tasted and considered her way through every bite, Ron practically inhaled his whole bowl, and went back to get more. He moaned in satisfaction just as much through his second bowl as he did through the first.
"Why are you so loud? You're never this bad at school," Hermione said.
"I told you, I love Mum's cooking. You can't tell me this isn't amazing," he said.
"It is very tasty, of course. I always enjoy your mother's food."
"Then let me enjoy it," he said with a smile.
Ron had managed to eat three whole bowls by the time Hermione finished hers, and sat back satiated, completely content with his lot in the world. "Now that was wonderful," he said. "Nothing like a good stew."
"How can you enjoy eating so much? I liked it too, but I don't act like you do."
"That's 'cause you're so repressed," he said with a jaunty smile.
"I am not repressed!" she said. "I just prefer to act civilized."
"What, it's not civilized in liking to eat?"
"It's certainly not to moan all the way through it, like some kind of... well, like you were doing."
Ron just looked at her.
"I mean, it's just food."
"Food is life, Hermione. Without it we die."
"I am aware of that."
"It's more than that. My mum loves to cook for us. I don't mean she just enjoys it, I mean for my mum, food is love. She puts so much effort, so much of herself into making these meals for us. Even beyond it being so bloody tasty – "
Ron ignored her. " – you can feel the love she puts into it. I just like to show I appreciate it."
"Well, you could do it more quietly."
"Anyway, I hope you saved room for pie," Hermione said.
"Oh, there's always room for pie. It's like you put an Undetectable Extension Charm on my stomach just by mentioning it."
Hermione couldn't help but laugh at that.
"I didn't know mum made pie."
"She didn't. I brought it from home. My mum sent along some pecan pies."
"What, like the nut? Nut pie?"
"It's technically not a nut. It's really a fruit, the same what a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable."
"Anyway, it's not just pecans, Ron. It's very good. You should try it."
"Oh, I will. I've just never had nut pie before. Is it some kind of Muggle thing?"
"It's more of an American thing. My parents spent a summer there once and grew to really like it," she said as she cut them each a large piece of pie.
"Looks great," Ron said. He took a large bite... and out came another moan. "This is fantastic!" he said.
"It's usually pretty good," Hermione said.
"Good? It's better than good. It's... it's tremendous. You can really taste the love your mum put into it."
Hermione smiled. "My mum bought it at the pastry shop."
"Well, you can taste the love someone put into it." He had another bite and moaned again.
"Honestly, Ron," she said, taking a bite of her own. "It's just pie."
"'It's just pie?' You really don't get it at all, Hermione."
"Not like you do, apparently. It tastes good, but..."
"It more than tastes good, Hermione. It's a feast for all the senses."
Hermione was sceptical.
Ron put his fork down, and moved around the table to sit next to her rather than across from her.
"Right, you're never going to get this unless I show you. Look at it. What do you see?"
"I see pie."
Ron shook his head. "Yes, but really look at it. It's got a golden crust of pastry. It's got those nuts on top, covering the whole thing like... like a layer of brown cobblestones, I guess, each one similar, but each one with its own look, all ridged and such. And at the side, the filling... like a light brown paste, or something, slightly bulging out the sides. It looks bloody marvellous it does.
"Now close your eyes."
"Close your eyes. Just for a minute or two. Concentrate on your other senses," he said, as he cut a small piece with her fork and held it up to her nose. "Smell it."
"It smells sweet, doesn't it? You can practically taste the sugar in it right through your nose, can't you?"
"I think it's corn syrup."
"Whatever. You can smell the sweetness, right? And the pecans?"
"Now keep your eyes closed. Open your mouth."
She did, and he gently placed the pie into her mouth.
"Now, don't think of the taste with this bite. Concentrate on what it feels like."
She chewed and swallowed.
"Did you feel all that? The flakiness of the crust? The hardness of the nuts? The gooey feel of the stuff in the middle? Feels great, doesn't it, all those textures?"
She had never really thought of how the pie felt as she ate it before, or the texture of her food much at all. She didn't like mushrooms, mainly due to how they felt in her mouth, so soft and spongy, but otherwise she had never thought of the texture of her food. Until Ron, of all people, pointed it out.
"Yes, it does."
"Good. This bite, concentrate on the sound. It doesn't make much sound as you chew it – you're a quiet one, you are – but you can hear the crunch of the pecans, can't you? And if you concentrate, that faint sound the crust makes as our teeth bite through it. This isn't the best food for sound – I think the best was a bag of crisps Dad brought back from the village a while back – but it's part of the experience.
"Now, last bite, and I'll get back to my own pie. This bite is all about taste. This time, tell me what you taste."
She tried to concentrate solely on the taste of the pie in her mouth, but it was hard with Ron leaning close to her, right beside her, the heat radiating off his body, his soft breathing as he looked at her. But she tried.
"Okay, well, it's sweet, but it's not quite sugar. It's a different kind of sweet. And there's almost a buttery flavour – I think that's the pecans. And the crust, of course. There's a hint of something else in there, too... although I can't place it."
"Vanilla, I think."
"Yes! That's it."
"Okay. Now open your eyes."
She did, and saw Ron looking at her quite intensely.
"You get it now? This is a marvellous pie. I've never had anything quite like it. Thank you for bringing it," he said sincerely, and went back to his own chair and had another bite. "Itsh delishush."
Hermione looked at her pie, and looked at Ron, who had closed his eyes and moaned again.
"Do you do this every time you eat?" she asked, incredulously.
"Not quite like that. But yeah, a bit. I love food. I love everything about it – not just how it tastes, or how I get full. It's great." He finished the rest of his piece quickly. "Ginny'll love this. I'll have to ask mum if she can make these sometimes – they're really good." He took his plate over to the sink. "Game of chess when you're done?"
Hermione muttered her assent, but she was lost in thought. She had never seen Ron so passionate about anything. She knew he liked to eat, but she never thought of it as such a sensual experience. But there it was. She closed her eyes and had another bite, trying to concentrate on each of her senses in turn. It truly was marvellous.
She opened her eyes to see Ron grinning at her.
"You're starting to get it, aren't you?" he asked.
"See?" he said. "Ron knows what he's talking about. I'll go wash up and set up the board in the living room."
She watched him leave. She'd always thought him a fun young man, and he was growing up to be quite tall and handsome, and he'd been such a good friend... but years later, looking back, she knew it was when Ron Weasley taught her about how to eat pecan pie that things finally clicked for her.