It was exactly one o'clock when Ned learned of the news. Chuck was on vacation, stalking her weird aunts as usual. Emerson was knitting his niece a sweater that would never be finished in a booth by the window of the Pie Hole. Olive was in the kitchen, the smell of apricot and kiwi wafting through the silver double doors.
Papen County was a cookie cutter town with brightly colored houses. The morgue was a major landmark (as it seemed perfectly normal for any small town), and Ned was exactly twenty nine years, seven months, five days, two hours, seven minutes and ten seconds old when he received an unmarked letter.
On it in thin green curling ink was the following:
Ned The Piemaker
The Kitchen Of The Pie Hole Restaurant
The Town Of Coeurs D' Coeurs
Papen County, Lakeshore
Ned glanced around, the thin yellowed envelope gently pressed between his palms. Emerson was knitting a sweater for his niece in a booth by the window. Olive was in the kitchen baking pies. Chuck was on vacation with her crazy aunts.
So no one paid him any mind when he slipped a flour caked nail under the lip of the envelope, the rip of paper echoing in the empty diner.
"Dear Mr. Ned," Ned began to read aloud, "We regret to inform you of your loss…"
Loss? Last the piemaker checked, he didn't lose anything or anyone. Even if he did, they'd most likely come back. He scanned the rest of the page, not entirely sure he understood what it said.
An address was written at the bottom of the note, asking him to arrive there at precisely three in the afternoon.
"Twelve Grimmauld Place…?" Ned read aloud, squinting at the words inscribed just underneath.
The Order of the Phoenix. The piemaker scrunched his nose at the words; he figured it was most likely some sort of new gang (not that the little town of Coeurs D' Coeurs had those. At least he hoped not.)
Apparently the pie maker was a slow reader, for exactly at one thirty, a family waltzed into the Pie Hole. There was a loud ruckus as the family seated themselves in a booth by the window, adjacent to one Emerson Cod's table. All were redheads, and rather rambunctious, Ned noticed.
Except for two. A boy and a girl, both chuckling at the family's antics. The girl had bushy brown hair and was wearing a faded pink tee with blue jeans. Her smile reminded Ned of Chuck's own, and in that instant, his mind was wandering, his hands creeping along the counter. A box of clear plastic wrap sat just to his left.
And suddenly he imagined kissing Chuck through the sheet, as they always did. He imagined that he was on vacation with her (wherever she was.) He imagined that wherever Chuck was he was, and they were kissing, and they were passionately kissing through the sheet of plastic wrap, and…
And suddenly Olive was there. Olive Snook, aged twenty-something, five days, ten hours, nineteen minutes and one second old, was in his fantasy, trying to get his attention.
The plastic wrap was suddenly wrenched from his face, a pop sounding as it came unstuck from his lips.
"I need to go make a delivery," the petite blonde woman stated, "so I'm just gonna let you do your little thing…"
And before he knew it, Olive was gone. Apparently Emerson had left as well, the only patrons in the shop being the family and the two kids. Oh, and Digby, his dog.
He really hated talking to people, save Chuck. And coincidentally Olive and Emerson; granted he felt they were more obligation than enjoyment. So now Ned was forced to speak with these people of undetermined origin. In fact, he was mumbling introductions to himself, tapping his pencil against a small legal pad.
"Are you alright, love?" a woman's voice pulled him out of his trance, and the words seemed to pour from his mouth.
"Hi I'm the Pie Hole, welcome to Ned-"
Laughter erupted from a pair of twin boys, and Ned shuddered as they mocked him. Mocking always made Ned shudder, and he nearly dropped his pencil at their poor imitation.
"Bloke can't even speak right, George!"
"Granted, he was sucking face with a piece of plastic, Fred," the one called George pointed out. A burn sieged through the chef's skin as he realized the horrid truth.
"So you saw that…"
"You were out in the open," said Fred.
"Kinky stuff, mate," George commented, and at that moment, Ned slumped his shoulders, the desire to disappear bubbling inside his gut.
"Welcome to the Pie Hole, I'm Ned, and since Olive decided to go traipsing about twon with my dog Digby, who si definitely not dead, I'll be your server today." Ned rambled as only he would, adding "Actually, Olive is traipsing about town by herself, Digby is in the kitchen taking a nap." Talking to people was really Olive's job.
"You allow dogs in this establishment?" spoke up a little redheaded girl. Well, she was more young adult than little, but being so tall, Ned towered over everyone.
"Normally, animals are not allowed in restaurants, but seeing as I own the Pie Hole, Digby comes and goes as he pleases. I have yet to receive a complaint." This was true. Until a certain Emerson Cod, aged forty-something, five days, five minutes and ten seconds old, waltzed in one morning. Digby had chewed up his knitting, and that was before he found out about Ned's gift. "What would you like to order?"
"Hey, why were you doing that? That thing with the plastic wrap?" chimed in the oldest man determined to be the father, "Or is that just a Mu-"
"If you're curious of my activities outside of the Pie Hole, I can assure you that there's nothing out of the ordinary," Ned found the words tumbling forth, "I definitely don't go to creepy morgues, and I most definitely don't bring people back to life, as that is simply preposterous. My girlfriend, Chuck, who's on vacation with her aunts who might not really be her aunts but her mothers, is definitely not dead, and I definitely didn't reanimate her; she's very alive and human, more human than you and I, even, and I'm going to go back into the kitchen and slam my head in the oven along with the pies." Heaving a sigh, Ned placed the notepad and pencil down on the table, well aware of the stares boring into his back.
Oh, how he sometimes wished he could use his magic finger on himself. Of course, it'd be redundant, an endless cycle of life and not life. Ned took his place at the counter, watching the family squabble over what pie they should order, the clock ticking down the minutes to closing time. And he couldn't wait until Olive returned and Digby woke up from hi snap, for the colores painted on the wall were giving him an obnoxiously strong headache, the letter sitting on the counter unnerving him.
For one thing, he never really gave out his address much. That, and he didn't really have many friends to give it out to. Sure, there was the occasional woman who found him attractive and tried flirting, but Ned was not good with flirting. The one time it had been a man, and Ned found himself shaking in the corner of his kitchen that he neglected his pies, allowing them to get burnt. Olive closed the Pie Hole early that day, forcing a cup of rum and vodka down his throat to wake him up.
Did he have a stalker? It was possible- Olive expressed her interest in him quite vocally, but he highly doubted the tiny woman was capable of anything so…. enthralling. He stared at the letter again, able to see his fingerprints through the paper, it was so thin. The family had stopped quarreling, which was good- Ned hated fighting, even if it was friendly banter. It made him uncomfortable.
Slipping the note into his pocket, he approached the table once more, focusing on the brown haired girl who was not Chuck. He knew that it wasn't Chuck, but since she looked like Chuck it might have calmed him down, so that was what he was gonna do.
"Have you all, uh, decided…?" Ned cleared his throat into his fist, picking up the notepad he had left. Thankfully, they had all written what they wanted, but for some reason, the writing was...
The woman (whom Ned assumed was the mother) raised an eyebrow at him as he narrowed his eyes at the page. "Odd? How so, dear?" Ned tapped the writing with his pencil.
"None of these are on the menu," he said, his voice coming out as barely a squeak. The clock ticked ominously in the background. The small numbers teased that it was exactly two fifty-five in the afternoon.
"Oh, I have that thing at three…" Ned wondered aloud, withdrawing his letter to stare at it again. It wasn't Chuck, but it would have to do. The woman eyed it carefully, her eyes widening with recognition. He shook it, "You guys got one too?"
"Boys, take the girls and Harry back to the car," the woman ordered calmly.
"Now! I need to discuss something with Ned here!" she quipped, and the entire family seemed to just… disappear, leaving the woman smiling sweetly at him and his letter. The woman jutted her chin at the letter, "A party invite?"
Ned shrugged, quickly showing her the green handwriting, "I have no idea. There's no return address and quite frankly when there's no return address I tend to get a little nervous, y' see, because there's always the possibility of me having a stalker- although I know Olive would never do such a thing, she's too loud and would get caught first thing and what exactly are you doing?!
Ned held his hands up in defense as the woman withdrew a rather long, brown wooden stick, holding it as if she were in a fencing class and not a quaint little pie shop. The wood was splintered towards the end, with a plain spiraling design around the hilt. The hilt? It was a stick!
And with the way she was waving around said stick and mumbling nonsense under her breath, Ned was pretty sure he should call Emerson Cod. Well, the cops too, but the pie maker hated large groups, and quite frankly, Emerson was familiar to him. Like when you're a child and your blankets have that certain smell only the soap your mother used detergent with in the laundry and years later when you've been cavorting around with an angry large man and a woman who is dead yet not dead and you suddenly smell it-
Yes, Emerson Cod was a comforting, familiar person in Ned's life, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
"What are you doing with that…..?" Ned raised an eyebrow at her and she groaned. Witha flick of her wrist, she shouted one word (Ned was unable to recognize it as any true for of language):
And that was how Ned (aged twenty nine years, seven months, five days, two hours, seven minutes and ten seconds old- make that fifteen seconds, as time seemed to fly by) found himself ushered to a rather beat up blue cr crammed with kids, flour staining his apron and his wrists bound in front of him with a pristinely knotted white rope.
"Is this a kidnapping?" Ned dared to ask as he was politely squeezed into the vehicle, holding his hands to his chest as he found himself pushed up against the window, next to the redhaired twins. They eyed him curiously, trying (and failing) to stifle their laughter.
"What's the address say on your letter, dear?" the woman leaned over her shoulder in the passenger seat, and before Ned could protest the two boys were patting him down, sticking their hands in pockets and whatever else.
"I thi-Ah! Okay, you're touching me! You're touching me, stop touching me!" Ned wrenched himself away as best he could- he couldn't really risk touching strangers unless he knew for a fact they were really living, not just the dead brought back to life. But they had survived, and were handing the letter to their mother.
"Twelve Grimmauld Place, Arthur," the woman said to the driver, a gasp following as she read the rest of the note.
"What? What is it?" the twins cried in unison, followed by an eye roll from their sister- not the one who wasn't Chuck, but the one with long red hair and freckles dotting her face.
"What would the Order want with him?" Arthur asked, eyeing him in the mirror.
"I dunno," the woman said, "but we'll definitely have Sirius explain when we get there-"
The Order. There was that name again. And Sirius- who was he? Their leader?
If this Order's leader wanted to kidnap him so much, he should have waited until either Ned's shift was over or it was closing time for the Pie Hole. His pies had been left unguarded and who knew what shenanigans Olive and Digby would get up to without him around?
"Mum, I'm hungry!"
"Ron, you're always hungry!"
Ned watched as the girl who was not Chuck argued with a redhaired boy considerably younger than the twins sitting next to him. Maybe….? Ned's thoughts trailed, and he found himself piping up, his cheek pressed against the tiny glass window of the car.
"I-I could bake you a pie…." Ned mumbled, averting his eyes only to flinch as one of the twins grabbed his chin, forcing the pie maker to look them square in the face.
"You bake?" they asked. Ned nodded.
"Yes, now please let go of me." Ned's voice was a whisper, and with smug grins they released his chin, leaving faint red marks from their fingers.
"Perfect!" Arthur cried from the front, "We're almost there!"
Ned felt his stomach drop at the prospect of being 'almost there.' It was an ominous sentence, one that was not truly needed yet there for obvious reasons alone. It was almost like announcing that one of his pies were almost done in the oven, when in fact they would have exactly five minutes left to bake and stew in their own juices. Not a minute more nor a minute less.
It took him a while to realize that they were no longer in Papen County, with its freakishly brightly colored houses, but a rather ramshackle town, brownstones and dingy shops lining the streets. And that was when Ned's acid reflux kicked in.
Later he had found out it was not because of the state of the town, simply heartburn, as the car turned onto a flat dirt road leading up to a rather macabre building, a sign on the front announcing that they had indeed arrived at Twelve Grimmauld Place.