"Bizarrely," Rodney said, his hands busy as he measured and trimmed broom straws, "I have better things to do with my time than build racing brooms. Search and rescue brooms, yes. High-altitude exploration and research equipment? In a heartbeat. Bludger-battered toys for a ridiculous game whose only purpose is to distract the ignorant masses from the shambles of your government?" He shook his head in theatrical disgust.
John Sheppard straightened from where he'd been leaning against the wall. He'd apparently resigned himself to the knowledge that while he might be a household name across the nation, Rodney didn't care who he was. He and his bizarre ideas had just dropped in, and Rodney was eager to get rid of the intrusion. "I get it. I just -- " He waved his hand around the workshop. "I heard that McKay's was open again."
Rodney's mouth thinned. "I am not my grandfather." Thank goodness. His parents had raised him in Canada, far away from the poisonous notions of blood purity that had led his grandfather to close shop and follow Voldemort. That had ended, predictably, in disaster, and so here was Rodney, trying to recover the shop's formerly-excellent reputation, conduct his own research, and winnow the former Death Eaters and the like out of his customer pool. It made him short-tempered, most days.
John nodded, twice, slowly. "Yeah," he said. "Okay. It was just. . . . Thanks anyway." And he Disapparated with such simple elegance that Rodney blinked.
Rodney managed to stave off his curiosity long enough to get his latest broom charmed into shape and hung on the Hovering rack to settle. Brooms were temperamental; a thousand and one things could go wrong between the combination of the wooden handle, the straws, and the potent flying charms. Rodney knew he was the best broom-maker around, and he knew that his power of concentration was as much part of his genius as the skill of his fingers.
But when he didn't have to worry about the broom. . . . He picked up the calling card John had left on his work table. John Sheppard was written in the centre in black, with Puddlemere United beneath. The dot over the i was a tiny Golden Snitch that zoomed randomly to bounce off the edges of the card, not returning until Rodney shook the card hard.
Rodney whistled for his owl and penned a quick note to his sister, who tended to pay attention to things Rodney didn't.
Her reply came just as Rodney had finished polishing the last handle of the day. The wood needed to relax exactly fourteen hours before a cushioning charm could be applied, so he took Jeannie's scroll with him to The Pointy Hat and read it over dinner.
Once Jeannie reminded him, in her condescending way, of course he figured out who John Sheppard was – or who he had been. John had been a hit wizard, and had been sent to Azkaban after revealing he was an unregistered Animagus while trying and failing to save his team from dark wizards. Rodney recalled seeing the headlines. It had been one of the first trials under the newfangled post-war Wizarding law reforms, which supposedly made the system more just. John had played for Ravenclaw while studying at Hogwarts, and Teyla Emmagan, his former team captain, invited him to join Puddlemere a few years ago, when he was released from prison. He never gave interviews, Jeannie wrote, and always shuffled sideways out of his playing cards.
Rodney noted that Jeannie made a point of not mentioning John's blood status. Rodney supposed he could look it up; there were registers that provided that kind of information for a nominal fee. He didn't really have it in him to care.
He's cute, Jeannie wrote. Not exactly Harry Potter, but who is?
Rodney snorted, ordered more butterbeer, and ripped off the blank bottom part of the parchment to scribble John a note. He folded it into a broomstick shape, charmed it, and sent it winging off into the sky.
John showed up the next morning at eight on the dot, just when Rodney was getting ready to cushion-charm his handles.
"Can you handle charm overflow and levitate these -- " he gestured at the handles – "over there -- " pointing at the settlement stand -- " keeping them perfectly level to the ground?" John opened his mouth, with a mild look of amusement. "Don't pretend to be stupid, I know you were in Ravenclaw."
"Yes," John snapped, sounding annoyed. "Asked someone about me, did you?"
"The thing about the cushioning charm," Rodney said, handing John a pair of work-gloves, "is that most hack-handed idiot broom makers haven't the faintest sense of precision, balance, or symmetry. I, on the other hand, spent ten years perfecting equations that guarantee not only comfort, but handling excellence." He pulled his wand out and snapped his fingers impatiently until his hat jumped off the shelf and settled on his head. "Watch and learn."
Rodney didn't need an assistant, and if John had been incompetent the day's work would have been ruined. But Rodney assumed that someone clever enough to become an Animagus in secret right under Dumbledore's nose had to be a fairly good wizard. He was right, of course; all the handles were perfectly cushioned in under two hours, which was a record.
"Not bad," he told John, and crossed over to the fireplace. "Tea?"
"Sure," John said, taking the gloves off, tucking his wand casually in the front pocket of his robes, and shaking his hands out. "I didn't think you'd be so. . . busy."
"What, you thought I grew the brooms on trees?" Rodney snapped. He rapped the kettle with his wand until it boiled.
John grinned. "I bet you could if you tried."
"So what kind of broom did you want?" Rodney asked, throwing tea in the pot, spilling in the water, and swirling it around with vigour. "Don't professional sports celebrities already have top-of-the-line brooms?"
John winced, either at the word celebrities or the way Rodney pronounced it with derision. "I have a great broom," he said, and shot Rodney a suspicious look. "Did you find out everything about me?"
Rodney held up fingers. "Hit wizard, Animagus, Azkaban --" he nearly faltered at the look on John's face, but went on –"Seeker. Did I miss anything?"
"When I was an Animagus," John said carefully, as if the words were volatile and needed delicate handling, "I could fly. Really fly. As a kid, I had a McKay Puddlejumper with inertial dampening charms, which was brilliant." He shrugged. "I heard your shop was back in business, and I wondered if you could make a broom that felt like. . . like real flying."
Rodney nearly said, Duh, that's what flying brooms do, but he restrained himself. "Wouldn't it just be easier to apply for the Animagus license?"
John shook his head. "Dementors. They. . . take things. Happiness."
"I heard that," Rodney said, repressing a shudder at the thought of having the skills he loved best being sucked out of his brain. "If I tried to make a racing broom, it would be the best. How well that compares to flying flying, I don't know."
"So, we're on?" John asked, arching an eyebrow. "Cool."
Rodney glared. "Obviously the Sorting Hat made a mistake with you."
John raised his teacup in a sarcastic toast.
Rodney could have thrown together a passable racing broom in a week or two, but something in him felt challenged by John. Nothing motivated him like a challenge. He studied advances in racing broom technology, and persuaded John to let him take his regular broom apart and strip it down. John paced nervously the whole time, and Rodney felt obliged to make several small improvements, just because. He got used to having John drop by once or twice a week, always willing to be put to work in the shop and ready with sly anecdotes about famous Quidditch players.
One weekend well into autumn, Rodney even shut the shop and Apparated down to Dorset to watch John play in a match against the Falmouth Falcons. John knew very well that Rodney despised sports, but had presented him with a ticket for an excellent seat nonetheless.
The Falmouth Beaters had no compunctions about fouling John, and Rodney found himself bouncing to his feet every few minutes to shake his fist at the sky or to hold his wand at the ready, certain that John was about to plummet to a ghastly death. When his heart wasn't in his throat, he made notes about John's flying style and the alarming way his broom pulled to the left at speeds approaching a hundred.
Five hours into play, John twisted mid-air to keep a Bludger from taking his head off as per the Falmouth motto (damn them), and instead caught the full force of the blow with his shoulder. His broom plummeted in a barely-controlled spiral to within a few yards of the ground before John jerked it up one-handed. Rodney could see that he was in pain, holding his left arm against his stomach. John, being an idiot, just kept on playing, as if shattered bones weren't the sort of thing he paid attention to.
The afternoon light was already low when John dropped again, robes whipping as he twisted, arched, and dangled off his broom by his knees to grab the Golden Snitch out of the air. The crowd went wild, but Rodney was propelled by nervous fury down the stairs and straight to the team's entryway. Security stopped him, but Rodney could see the Puddlemere Beater slowly guiding John's broom down, one hand steady at John's waist. Rodney shouted and waved both his arms, and John's head came up. He gave Rodney a smile just as his feet hit the ground and he tumbled forward.
Rodney's Cushioning Charm hit the broom handle a split second before John's nose did, but he hadn't been able to completely keep John's arm from jostling. John shouted, and Rodney felt horrible. The Beater swung off his broom to collect John and set him on his feet, turning as he did so to say something to the shorter Chaser. She looked over at Rodney as if he might be a threat, but then waved him through security.
"Teyla Emmagan," she said, shaking Rodney's hand briskly. "Nice charm work."
"Is he all right?" Rodney asked, watching as John was carried off the field. "He looks. . . broken."
Teyla smiled and motioned for Rodney to walk with her down through the corridor under the stands. "Nothing Ronon can't fix. And John will be glad to have you at his side."
Rodney blinked. "He will?"
"We have heard so much from John about you," Teyla said, her voice light and warm and reassuring. "John has always been very. . . private. But he's very proud of you."
"Oh," Rodney said, at a loss of how to respond.
They reached the end of the corridor, a stuffy room where the smells of sweat and broom polish overpowered faint floral deodorizing charms. There was a cot against the far wall, and John was sitting on the edge, his robes undone and dropped to his waist so the towering Beater – Ronon, Rodney assumed – could re-assemble his bones.
Ronon held John's elbow and raised his arm, and John swore and bit his lip. Ronon flicked his wand casually, like he was swatting an insect away. John shouted, and then looked around the room in distracted embarrassment.
"Stop wiggling," Ronon said. "There's more bones broken." He pulled John's arm out straight and cast a few deft left-handed spells. "Make a fist."
"Ow," John said. He looked down at the horrible purple bruising along his shoulder, and closed his hand experimentally. "Ow."
"Stop being a baby," Ronon said. "Can I tell your friend about the time you vanished your cranium?"
"No," John said, sounding sulky.
"Is that why your hair does that?" Rodney asked. John gave him an exasperated look, and then yelped as Ronon wrapped his shoulder up and strapped his arm across his chest. "I always thought you were a fan of the Potter style."
"See if I let you walk me home now," John muttered, but he didn't look that insulted. Maybe.
John changed into Muggle clothes and had Ronon conjure up some for Rodney, because he lived in a Muggle flat and didn't want to shock the neighbours. Rodney thought Ronon was trying to insinuate something with the blue striped shirt and baggy trousers; John's clothes were almost exactly the same, just in black, his shirt buttoned awkwardly and his loose sleeve tucked into his pocket.
The path out from the stadium went wobbly at the Unplottable spell's edge, and John was a bit wobbly on his feet. Possibly the potion Ronon had made him drink was having an effect. Rodney was not about to let John go face-down in the dirt, however, so he lent a steadying arm. After a moment, John leaned on him.
They seemed to pass through fields, or possibly a valley, though it might have been a housing estate. Rodney suspected he'd have got lost on his own – he had a humiliating sensitivity to Muggle-Repelling Charms – but John wasn't bothered by all the magical interference around them. He kept on, in his unsteady way, until they turned left suddenly, went clockwise halfway around a roundabout, and turned into a road pressed between brick buildings. After a minute of ambling downwards, the road let them out along the riverside. John pointed at a house three doors down, and fished a key out of his trouser pocket.
Rodney walked John up the stairs and opened the door for him, and then stood in the doorway looking at John. He held out the key, offering it with a tip of his head, and wished that he'd thought to ask John months ago about his sexual preferences. Not knowing was frustrating and awkward.
John reached out and took the key, his fingers brushing over Rodney's. Rodney wondered fleetingly if John had ever studied divination, if he knew how to read the future in the palm of a hand. Rodney's hand was sweaty; that was probably pretty blatant.
"I was going to invite you in to see my etchings," John said, with a rueful smile. "If you like that sort of thing."
Rodney sagged with relief. "Etchings I can live without," he said without thinking. John flinched, just barely, so Rodney hastened to say the right thing. "I like you."
Rodney really liked the way John's eyes lit when he smiled. John reached out, pulled him in, and locked the door.
Rodney eyed him. "You have designs on my virtue, don't you?"
"You have virtue?" John said, eyes wide with fake surprise. Rodney tugged John close, fisting one hand in the front of John's shirt, and kissed him hard. John said Rodney's name and kissed back, opening his mouth to Rodney's tongue and pressing as close as he could to Rodney with his uninjured side.
Rodney wondered how he hadn't even known he was lonely, as he got light-headed and dizzy from kissing John like that was the solution to a problem he'd been working on.
"There's a great view of the river from the bedroom," John said, mouth wet and hot as he kissed down along Rodney's jaw, down his neck.
"You're ridiculous trying to be seductive," Rodney said. "Just seduce me already."
"Patience is a virtue," John murmured from just below Rodney's ear, sounding smug as if he'd been just waiting for a chance to use that line. Rodney shook him by his shirtfront a little, trying to be gentle and not aggravate John's injuries.
"You know what they say about broom-makers in bed," Rodney said, and John went still. Rodney'd just now made that bit up, and he hoped that people didn't actually say bad things about broom-makers' sexual prowess – how could they? Think of the puns.
"I haven't been with anyone," John said. "Not since before Azkaban. I want to be with you. I kind of love how ridiculous this is."
"You haven't seen ridiculous yet," Rodney said, and nudged John until he led the way to the bedroom, grinning and stealing kisses the whole way.
The room had big bright windows overlooking sunset-stained water, and the shadows of birds winging home danced on the walls as they fell into bed. Rodney made John laugh, and come, and laugh some more, and felt ridiculously proud of his prowess as he graciously accepted the just reward he'd been patiently, virtuously waiting for.
John asked him to stay, after, and Rodney said of course, but amended that immediately to, But only if you have food.
"Sure," John said, and it was getting dark but Rodney could still see John's brilliant grin. "I'll make dinner if you make breakfast."
"So when you say stay," Rodney asked, giving John and push and a pull to get him upright. He fussed a bit over the bandages, which had slipped undone. Most of the bruises were faded already.
"For as long as possible," John said. "For as long as you want."
"The Stubby Boardman poster on your wardrobe has to go," Rodney said. "I'd get performance anxiety being looked at all the time."
"Can't have that," John agreed, and leaned in to kiss Rodney slow and gentle. The evening was still and cool, the darkness clear like deep water. Through the window Rodney could see stars, and inside John held onto him and closed his eyes as they kissed, and everything was perfect.
Years later, even after arguments and misadventures and burnt toast and matching tattoos, that was the kiss Rodney remembered as their first real kiss, a contention that always made John roll his eyes. Rodney refused to explain, but it felt to him like he'd gone through a doorway that night and come out the other side in a place that resonated like home, and John's kiss was his welcome.
Rodney was in no hurry to dethrone John as the sappy romantic in their relationship, however, so he always grumbled and changed the subject. He was still here, and that was all that mattered.