Title: Five Times Rodney Made John Cry (The Hogwarts AU version)
Disclaimer: Neither of these universes are mine, I just play there.
Author's Notes: sian1359 was keen on McShep (among other pairings) and on "AUs or Fusions where the Atlantis folk are cast in other roles." The other fandoms she suggested weren't ones that I knew so well, so I've gone with what I know and hope that it amuses. I had fun writing it, anyway so I hope you like it. Don't be put off by the title, there's not endless angst. The story got way more detailed than I'd expected, so this gift fic is only the first of the "five times". More will follow, to complete the full "five times" fic. I used that trope to contain it, with a view to preventing the story from ballooning out and taking over my life. Yeah, right. Thanks to psychicvanity for suggesting the "Five Times Rodney Made John Cry" idea over at mcsheplets. And huge thanks to padfootthegrim, for a last-minute beta.
Summary: John gets a very special letter - but will his father let him go to Hogwarts?
John Sheppard turned eleven in the middle of August 1978 during a stifling London heatwave.
His birthday party was disastrous. Isobel, his nanny, and Milton, their chauffeur tried their best to make it festive with balloons and silly hats and a cake. His father was late, as always, even though John’s mother had died only a year before. Even at the end, when she’d been confined to bed, she’d still fussed over him. Her absence made John ache.
They were staying in a London hotel suite – a palatial suite, to be sure, but maid service and gold brocade drapes were poor substitutes for a home. Company business, however, required John’s father to live in England while brokering a merger. They had moved to the Sheraton immediately after enduring a stilted Christmas at his grandparents’ estate where the only warm thing was the roast goose. His younger brother, Dave, was back at the estate in Virginia, but John had been deemed old enough for the horizon-broadening benefits of a trip abroad.
Patrick Sheppard eventually turned up at John’s eleventh birthday celebration and gave John an expensive chess set, patting him perfunctorily on the shoulder. John would have preferred a model plane or helicopter, but he said thank you politely, and was turning away toward his bedroom when a porter knocked at the door with a letter.
To: Mr. John Sheppard
The Sheraton Park Tower Hotel
101 Knightsbridge, London
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Mr. Sheppard,
We are pleased to inform you that you have a place
at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please
find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no
later than 21 August.
His father, of course, confiscated the letter then tore it up and shouted at the hotel manager for allowing the staff to play stupid practical jokes. The next letter slid in under the door later that day, and the next, and then there were owls lining the penthouse suite’s balcony railings, all with identical cream vellum envelopes in their beaks, tapping at the glass doors and hooting irritably. Neither money nor threats from John’s father had availed.
John managed to grab one of the letters after twenty or so shot in under the hallway door and zoomed around the room, lodging under armchairs and between sofa cushions. Witchcraft and Wizardry! His heart thumped wildly and he felt alive for the first time since his mother’s funeral. Was this why things sometimes lit up when he touched them, thrumming with power in his hands? His father refused to talk about it, and had snatched away his great-grandfather’s watch when it glowed a soft blue under John’s touch, telling him to “Stop that nonsense immediately!” Even in those few brief seconds the watch had filled his mind with intricate webs of knowledge about time and space. It was always old things that responded to him, ancient relics that no one else wanted. He had taken to searching antique and junk shops in his spare time. He had a lot of spare time.
John’s father ignored the letters and hired two security guards who slouched about on the elegant sofas in the elevator hallway, flirting with the maids.
Three days later when they were finishing a silent breakfast – Patrick Sheppard buried in the pink pages of the Financial Times while John picked listlessly at scrambled eggs – there was a sudden commotion outside the door to the suite.
“Let me pass, you moronic muggles, or I’ll–”
John stared at the hallway door, from which loud scuffling noises emanated.
“–can’t go in there missus, and how’d you get up here anyway? That elevator’s locked off!”
“Please, your security’s a joke, no wards at all! Let me by, you silly little men. Oh, for the love of Jupiter, Stupefy!”
Silence fell, then the door clicked open and a tall, elderly woman with short, silver hair strode into the suite. She seemed to be wearing a purple bathrobe. Behind her, John could see the guards lying in puddled heaps of blue serge on the thickly carpeted floor. His heart pounded. Milton was out with the car and it was Isobel’s day off: John and his father were alone. But surely she couldn’t be a kidnapper, or, or a terrorist? She was pretty scary, though. He edged around behind the table, clutching a fork in his hand under the tablecloth.
Patrick Sheppard laid the newspaper down on the breakfast table and stood, facing the intruder, his cold eyes narrowed. “Murgatroyd. What an unpleasant surprise.”
“Yes, I’m sure that after that travesty of a funeral for poor Elnora, you’d hoped never to see me again.”
Elnora? Did she mean his mother, Nora? He’d never heard of a relative called Murgatroyd and he didn’t recall seeing her at his mother’s wake, but the whole day was a blur so it was possible. After his father had found him crying that morning and told him “Stop snivelling, John. You’re a man now, and men don’t cry,” he’d just shut down, dry-eyed and distant. He hadn’t cried since.
The tall old woman was talking again, pacing to and fro, the odd purple gown swirling around her legs. John noticed that she was wearing shiny black patent leather lace-up boots underneath it. Weird. “You may choose to act like an ostrich, Patrick, but John is my grandson as well as your son, and you knew full well this would happen when he turned eleven.”
John’s father made a curt gesture and went to speak.
“No! Don’t contradict me. I know he’s received the Letter. Nora may have been a squib but John most certainly is not. He’s a wizard, Patrick, and he’s going to Hogwarts whether you like it or not!”
She turned on her heel and fixed John with a steely gaze. John quailed a little, but he tried to stand up straight and not let his lip quiver. The fork slid out of his hand, landing silently in the soft carpeting at his feet. “Dad said you were dead.” Well, he had. He’d said that both of John’s mother’s parents had died years ago, from some sort of illness while travelling overseas. John wished his voice didn’t sound quite so high-pitched and accusatory, though.
Murgatroyd snorted. “He wishes! No, just in Canada. Your father and I don’t…get on…as you will have guessed. We had an agreement – I wouldn’t try to see you until you were eleven, and then, if you turned out to be a wizard, you would go to a wizarding school. It would have been Maple Towers Magical Academy if you’d stayed in North America, but here you are in England, and Hogwarts is the more prestigious institution, so that was fortuitous. Besides, Meredith won a scholarship to Hogwarts so we had to come over to purchase all the supplies.”
“Meredith?” John shot a sidelong look at his father, who was barking orders into a hotel phone across the room, ignoring them both. Another weird name. Even his mother’s name had been strange. He felt a stab of pain that he hadn’t even known her proper name, or anything about her family.
“Yes, he’ll be a first year at Hogwarts like you, John. He’s in my charge. His grandmother was a dear friend so after she died from the vanishing sickness last year, I took him in. His parents were killed in the War.”
The War? What, World War II? But that was, like, thirty years ago, it didn’t add up. And, vanishing sickness? She had to be pulling his leg. And, he?
“Meredith’s a girl’s name,” John said, sounding lame even to his own ears.
“Nonsense, it’s a perfectly good wizarding name for boys. You’re as bad as he is, always on at me to call him Rodney. Ridiculous. I bet you don’t even know your own middle name, if Patrick’s been as dense as he usually is – hmmm?”
John frowned. Of course he knew his name, he wasn’t an idiot. “It’s Patrick,” he said, glaring at her.
Murgatroyd sniffed. “Stuff and nonsense, of course it isn’t. Your name is John Parsifal Sheppard, and although your father’s side of the family are all muggles–” John screwed up his face, that word again “– by which I mean they’re non-magical – your mother comes from a long line of witches and wizards. Parsifal was your maternal great-grandfather.”
“I have his watch, it lights up,” John blurted. Well he used to until his father took it away.
Murgatroyd – no, his grandmother – raised her eyebrows. “Does it indeed? Very interesting. It’s goblin-ware and it’s rare that a wizard can activate their artefacts. No one I know of since old Parsifal your great-grandfather in fact. Let me see your ears.” She stepped forward and grabbed his jaw in an iron grip, turning his head until he pulled away from her, furious and baffled. “Oh yes, you’re definitely a Goodfellow.”
“I’m a what?” John’s head began to hurt. Across the room, his father wrenched the phone out of its socket and flung it against the wall. It smashed, raining plastic fragments into a potted plant.
“A Goodfellow – your mother’s maiden name. The ears run in the family.” She turned her own head sideways and pushed back her short silver hair, and John saw that her earlobes were sharply slanted, just like his own. He wondered if the kids at her school had called her fairy-ears and pointy-head. “But enough idle chatter.” She straightened and turned to his father. “I gather from that childish display you’ve discovered that our agreement is binding in both worlds, Patrick. Witches can buy lawyers too, you know. John and I will be leaving now, we have rather a lot of shopping to accomplish. I think it’s best that he stays with me until he boards the Express for school, don’t you? It’s only two weeks and thanks to your foolish denial we have rather a lot of catching up to do. I’ll have him owl you once a week.
“No more damn owls,” grated his father.
“You’d only have had one delivery if you’d dealt with the Letter in a sensible fashion. Hmmm, well I suppose he can use one of those muggle calling-cabinets. They seem to be everywhere.”
A what? Did she mean a phone box?
“I’ll send round for the rest of his things, Patrick. Have his nanny pack them up. And include Parsifal’s watch – you know full well that Nora left it to him.”
She swept to the door, leaving John and his father staring at each other. John felt slightly dizzy. He opened and closed his mouth. “Dad?”
His father looked away, his jaw clenched. “Go with your grandmother. I have far too much work to do here to baby-sit you, anyway.”
“You were always difficult; I might have known you’d take after her side of the family. Thank God Dave’s normal. Just go.”
Stunned, John went. As he stood in the silent, marble-lined elevator beside the stranger who was apparently his grandmother, his eyes were entirely dry.
1) In Which John Discovers Quidditch
John huddled under his bedcovers, wishing that the room was less dark and forbidding. He hugged himself, shivering a little in his new pajamas. The room was chilly – had English people not heard about central heating? John curled into a ball under the blankets and thought about his day.
His grandmother had thankfully seen that he was in no state for the shopping trip she had mentioned, and had called a perfectly ordinary taxi to take them to her London house. A Goodfellow family house, she had explained, kept for any of the family passing through the city.
It looked normal enough from the outside, but inside it was unlike any place John had ever been. Everything was old and slightly battered-looking, totally different to the hotel’s impersonal luxury or their modern apartment in New York which his father had purchased after his mother’s death, muttering something about a “fresh start”. Here, the pictures on the walls moved, the people in them peering at him interestedly and clustering together to point and gossip as he passed.
“Looks the spitting image of old Parsifal” an elderly man with a long beard said to a stout middle-aged woman wearing burgundy robes, in the next portrait.
“Indeed, Merritt, he has the Hair,” she replied.
His grandmother led him on, through oddly twisting passageways to a pleasant enough kitchen, if you liked the 1950s. It was painted in shades of yellow and green, with a large wooden table in the center where she deposited him, calling out “Pinkie? We’re back, can we have some tea please?”
There was a soft “pop” and John yelped and fell out of his chair as a strange little big-eyed person only three feet tall materialised beside him. She cried out and rushed to fuss over him, pulling him to his feet with surprising strength, and righting the chair. He thought she was female, although it was hard to tell, as most of her was covered by a hot water bottle cover with extra holes cut into it for her arms and legs.
Her small, wizened face creased with worry as she dusted him off, muttering a litany of apology all the while. “Oh Master John, up you come, Pinkie’s sorry, so sorry, she never meant to startle you, no, no, never meant to hurt the young master and him left alone with the muggles all these years in America of all places, poor thing, no wonder he’s so thin and pale–”
His grandmother gently extricated John. “Thank you, Pinkie, I’ll look after him. Can you make us a pot of tea, please? And is there cake?”
“Is there cake, indeed,” muttered Pinkie, clearly affronted at aspersions being cast on her readiness to feed the family. “Is there cake, whatever next! As though Pinkie wouldn’t have a cake or two ready, not to mention scones and jam, and chocolate biscuits. Is there cake, Pinkie never heard the like…” She bustled about, grumbling under her breath.
“Pinkie’s a house elf,” Murgatroyd explained, settling him at the table again. “She looks after us all. She’s served the family for many years.”
John leaned in close to his grandmother. “Why’s she wearing a hot water bottle cover?” he whispered. “Why don’t you give her some clothes?”
Pinkie dropped a handful of teaspoons on the lino with a clatter. “Pinkie doesn’t want clothes! Never, no never, the very thought!” She recovered herself, and flicked a hand at the scattered spoons which rose through the air and deposited themselves in the sink. The taps turned themselves on and rinsed them.
“If we gave Pinkie clothes she’d be free and could leave, but she doesn’t want to,” his grandmother explained.
John nodded dubiously. His head was hurting again. Pinkie gave him a mug of tea with milk and two sugars, which was just how he liked it. His father only drank coffee, but Isobel had been Scottish and she’d introduced him to tea. Isobel, he thought with a pang. She’d been really nice, his tutor as well as his nanny, and now she’d be out of a job and he’d never see her again. He drank his tea, feeling hollowed out. Pinkie cut him a slice of fruit cake and he munched it slowly, not wanting to hurt her feelings.
“It’s been a big day, I suppose.” Murgatroyd was gazing at him pensively. “Do you feel up to some more explanations today and then an early night?”
John nodded. What else could he do? He had to find out about all of this stuff as soon as he could if he was going to school in two weeks. “Um, this place Hogwarts. You said it’s a school, I’ll be going there? Is it here in London, then?”
“No, John, it’s a boarding school in Scotland. You’ll travel up with Meredith, on the Hogwarts Express. A train.”
“Won’t you be coming too?”
“No, parents and guardians don’t go on the Express. Meredith will look after you. You’ll be fine, John.”
John was less sure about that, but he knew his father had planned to send him off to boarding school in the States when they returned, and at least this would be interesting.
“Where is…he. Meredith. I thought he lived with you?”
“Yes, but he’s out with his cousin Bascom today. He insisted on visiting the Science Museum. Some muggle nonsense about physics and space travel. He does get some odd notions, all his parents’ fault, they were fascinated by muggle science and look where it got them? Targeted by Death Eaters as blood traitors.” She humphed irritably. “Meredith will be back for tea – you’ll meet him then.”
John spent the rest of the day immersed in a crash course to the wizarding world, interspersed with breaks for lunch and afternoon tea. Murgatroyd showed him photo albums of the family, where the people – no, the witches and wizards – waved and smiled up at him from the pages. By dinner time he was flagging badly, almost nodding off into his bowl of pumpkin soup. He was briefly startled into full wakefulness by a silvery, ghostlike weasel which suddenly dashed in and sat up on its hind legs, announcing “Bascom and Meredith are attending the open-air Mozart concert in Hyde Park and will be home by eight pm”.
John’s grandmother made an annoyed noise, then nodded, and the weasel dissolved as though it had never existed. “Well,” said Murgatroyd “You can meet Meredith tomorrow.” She noticed his drooping eyelids. “Right now, though, I think it’s bedtime, John. You’ve had an exhausting day.”
Sleep eluded him however once he was curled under the covers in the cold, unfamiliar bedroom at the top of the house. The day’s events kept replaying – all the things Murgatroyd had told him, the pictures she had shown him, cycling endlessly behind his eyelids as he lay there, shivering. He wasn’t afraid of the dark – he wasn’t a baby – but it was very dark in the musty old room, and the shadows seemed to writhe with unknown and fearsome potential. Magic existed, after all, and dark magic at that. His grandmother had told him about the War. Not World War II as he had mistakenly assumed, but a war with some bad guy, Lord…something or other. Another weird name, which he wasn’t allowed to say. He was the one with the Death Eaters, who sounded like nasty pieces of work, kind of like a biker gang. They had killed Meredith’s parents. John curled in on himself and hunkered down in the blankets.
He was already wound pretty tight when the door creaked open, and he found himself paralysed, mouth dry, staring into the blackness of the hallway. The door shut, there were padding footsteps, then someone said “Hey, you awake?”
Probably not a Death Eater, then, John told himself, trying to slow his pounding heart. It was a kid’s voice, and the shadowy figure by his bed was about his own height. “Um…yeah?” John whispered, voice hardly quavering at all.
“Oh, cool, I was hoping to see you earlier but there was an ensemble playing Mozart sonatas in the park and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Not that Bascomb wanted to stay, he has no musical sensibility whatsoever, despite being my, ah…second cousin, I think? Yes, second cousin. But clearly where music’s concerned he’s a complete and utter philistine.”
The soft patter of rapid-fire speech washed over John, who sat up slowly, blinking. This had to be… “Meredith?”
“Oh for–Aunt Murgatroyd’s as stubborn as a mountain troll. Um, look, don’t tell her I called her a troll, OK?” He shuffled his feet nervously then plumped himself down on the side of the bed, forcing John to scoot over to make room. “Look, call me Rodney. It’s my middle name, but I prefer it. And it…works better…in the muggle world. Aunt Murgatroyd doesn’t think that matters, but I firmly believe in keeping all your options open.”
John blinked, straining against the darkness to try and see Rodney’s face. He sure did talk a lot, but it was better than freaking out all by himself. “I’m John.”
“Yes, yes, I know. Oh, I should say hello properly.” A hand was suddenly thrust out toward him, and he grasped it, surprised. Rodney’s hand was dry and cold, and John was shivering again, having emerged from his nest of bedclothes. “You’re nice and warm.” Rodney seemed reluctant to let him go. “It’s really cold in here. The house isn’t spelled properly any more, no one’s maintained the thermostat charms so it’s overdoing the air-conditioning. It’s actually quite hot outside. Here, I know–” and he was scrambling across John’s legs, pulling the heavy curtain aside and pushing up the old sash window. Warm night air flowed in, carrying the scents of exhaust fumes and exotic spices from the curry house next door. A little more light from the Raj Bombay’s fluorescent sign also spilled into the room, and in it he could see Rodney. He was slender, in pajamas and an old woolen dressing gown, feet covered in lumpy, hand-knitted socks. He had big, heavily lashed eyes whose colour John couldn’t make out – maybe blue, or grey? His hair looked to be dark blonde, sticking up messily and giving him a startled, just-stuck-my-finger-in-the-light-socket look. His mouth was wide and a little crooked and his tongue was sticking out slightly as he rearranged himself cross-legged in front of the window, settling in and pulling the bedcover up around his back.
John raised an eyebrow: “Make yourself at home there, won’t you.” Rodney snorted and ignored him. John pulled a blanket around his own shoulders and gestured toward the hallway. “So…they use…spells? I thought maybe the English didn’t have central heating.”
“Well, you’re not far wrong, it’s not like America. Muggle homes here are dreadfully draughty, I hear. Of course, we’d freeze in Toronto without heating, but Aunt Murgatroyd’s pretty good with household charms, so that saves on fuel costs.”
“Why d’you call her Aunt Murgatroyd? I thought she said–” John broke off uncomfortably. That she’d taken Rodney in, when Rodney’s grandmother…vanished. Freaky.
“Well, we’re not actually related, but she’s like my aunt; I’ve always known her. And there wasn’t anyone else after gramma…and my parents...” He screwed up his face unhappily and flailed one hand; he had really long fingers. “…You know.”
John didn’t, really, but he figured it wasn’t the sort of thing you could ask when you’d only just met someone. He could relate, though. “Yeah. My Mom……um. A year ago. There’s just been me and my younger brother Dave and my Dad, since then.”
Rodney nodded. “I’ve got a little sister, Jeannie. She’s only five and she’s really annoying. Aunt M left her back in Canada with one of her school friends, thank Merlin. Haven’t you got any other grandparents?”
“There’s my grandparents on Dad’s side, but they’re…difficult. They don’t like kids, really. I’m not sure they like anyone. Dad runs a company. I think he was ashamed of Mom and–” he waved a hand vaguely at the darkened room “–all this. I only found out I was a…wizard…today. It’s kind of a lot to take in.” He looked down at his hands. “I don’t think Dad’s too thrilled about it. Dave isn’t...like this. Dad said Dave’s…normal.”
Rodney made a rude noise. “Really? That’s what your father said? That you’re not normal? In this world – the wizarding world I mean – you’re entirely ‘normal’. Muggles have no idea. Well, deliberately so, as Aunt M probably told you – the Ministry here, and in Canada, and the FBM, work pretty hard to keep it that way.”
“The FBM?” John could see that he was going to be playing endless catch-up, but at least Rodney seemed to like talking. He really really seemed to like talking, but John didn’t mind. It was kind of comforting.
“Yes, the Federal Bureau of Magic, in the States. They keep the wizarding world under wraps, like a huge official cover-up. We’re like Area 51, or, or Roswell, or something.” Rodney grinned, and John felt himself smirking in return. It was kind of cool, when you thought about it. Like they were actually in a comic book, Amazing Stories come to life. Or maybe it was more Lord of the Rings. Maybe there were elves?
“Are there elves?” John realised that was a bit out of left field. “Sorry, I was just thinking – it’s like we’re in The Hobbit, or something.”
“Oh, Tolkien, yes, I read all his books when I was eight.” John raised his eyebrows disbelievingly. He’d only read The Hobbit and the first book of the trilogy. They were good, but pretty heavy going.
“What!” Rodney protested. “I’m precocious. Actually, I’m a genius, but sheer intelligence isn’t properly appreciated in the magical world. It’s why I’m also interested in muggle science – physics, and math.”
“I like math,” John offered. Math made sense, it was cool and balanced and manageable. Not many things in his life were, these days. He hoped there would be math at Hogwarts.
“Yes, well, I’m glad you’re not a moron.” John rolled his eyes and Rodney smirked. “And yes, there are elves: you already met Pinkie. And there are goblins, and fairies.”
“I forgot Pinkie’s an elf. I thought elves were tall and blond, and, you know, with the swords, and fighting orcs and all that.” John frowned. It was going to really suck if they were all like Pinkie. Not that she wasn’t cute, though, and she was a great cook.
Rodney snorted. “Yeah, not so much with the swords. There’s a lot of nonsense out there in the muggle world about magical creatures. And about us – wizards, and witches. It’s why we have to keep it secret. You know we’re not supposed to do magic once we go to Hogwarts? I mean, we can do magic there, of course, just not when we’re on holiday back home. They can tell if you do. I think they come and arrest you, or something. It’s pretty serious.”
“Yeah, grandmother said. So, what, you can’t show me any magic here or you’ll get into trouble?”
“No, it’s OK, I haven’t turned eleven yet, not until November. They’re letting me start school a bit early, because, hello, genius, like I said. You’ll be all right too, you’ve been raised by muggles so they can’t expect you to know all the rules yet. But once we get to Hogwarts…”
John frowned. “I don’t know that I can. Do magic. I can make great-grandfather’s watch light up though. Grandmother said it was made by goblins.”
“Really? You can activate goblin-ware? Wow. That’s extremely rare. Do you have it here, can you show me?” Rodney was positively bouncing with anticipation.
“No, sorry, it’s still at the hotel with my Dad. I think my stuff’ll arrive soon though, I’ll show you tomorrow. It is pretty cool.” John smiled shyly, and rubbed the back of his neck. “So what about you – can you do any magic?”
“I can blow things up!” Rodney grinned. “Just small things, like bits of lego. Used to drive my parents crazy.” He looked down and sighed, then shook it off. “Oh, and I can fly, a bit. I’m not much good but I had a training broom. Can’t seem to fly very straight, though.”
“Fly?” John sat up, excited. “You can fly? On a broom, like a witch?”
“Yeah, or a wizard. Well, not very straight, like I said. Wizarding kids all get junior-sized brooms, it’s like muggle kids getting a bike.” He shook his head, mouth quirking. “Oh Merlin, look at you; your hair’s just about standing up on end. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Quidditch?”
“What? What’s Quidditch? Is it flying?”
“Is it flying? Hang on, just wait there.”
Rodney wriggled off the bed and slipped out down the hallway, returning a minute later with a rolled up magazine that he threw on the bed. John held it up in the fitful light of the Raj Bombay’s giant illuminated chili pepper. It looked like a sports magazine, but the athletic-looking guy on the cover was leaning on, oh wow, a broomstick! He opened it, squinting at the pages in the dim light.
“Here, this’ll help.” Rodney held up his index finger. “Lumos!” A golden glow emanated from the tip, like a candle. Rodney shrugged. “Like I said, I’m precocious. I seem to have an affinity for energy magic – light, heat, electricity. Not that most wizards work with electricity, but it’s always been something that came naturally to me. My folks were into physics, too. Aunt M doesn’t like me mixing magic with muggle science, though. She worries that Vo–You Know Who–will target me. Like he did with Mum and Dad.” He shrugged. “I don’t think he’d care about a kid, although I’d blow him up if I could, and those Death Eater bastards…” His mouth slanted down, his face pinched and unhappy. John swallowed. He hoped Rodney wasn’t going to cry, he was crap at dealing with that sort of stuff. Rodney sniffed, then stuck out his chin defiantly. “We’ll be safe at Hogwarts, don’t worry.”
John felt a rush of protectiveness. Rodney would be safe: he’d see to that. Even though he was new to all this, he’d learn fast. Maybe wizards had swords? Or lightsabers? Milton had taken him to see Star Wars earlier in the year, and John had been longing for a space ship like Han Solo’s ever since, and his own lightsaber.
Rodney leaned in and held his glowing finger – his seriously cool glowing finger – over the magazine. Quidditch News was splashed across the cover. John flicked through the heavily illustrated pages. Players on brooms zoomed to and fro, replaying the moves that had wowed the crowds at their latest matches. John was riveted: they were flying! On brooms! He had to get a broom. Maybe his grandmother would buy him one? He looked up at Rodney, brow furrowed. “They have this at Hogwarts? This Quidditch? Can I learn it there?”
“Oh hell, you’re a jock, aren’t you?” Rodney pulled a rueful face. “Yes, yes, don’t worry, they have Quidditch there. The houses compete against each other every year for the Quidditch Cup.” John made a questioning face. “Like College football,” explained Rodney, loftily.
“So I can fly, there, at Hogwarts?” John could hear the excitement in his voice. He sounded like a little kid at the fair, but he so didn’t care. Because, flying!
“Yes, yes, lots of flying. Jeez, just look at you, all lit up like my finger.” Rodney grinned.
John reached out and touched Rodney’s glowing fingertip with his own. It sent a tingle down his arm. Nice. They grinned at each other, and John felt a hollow tightness inside him begin to ease. Maybe this would be all right after all, this wizarding thing, and going off to school. With Rodney.
Rodney felt about in his dressing gown, the light glowing oddly through the cloth of his pocket. He pulled out a paper bag: “Here, try one of these.” John raised his eyebrows. “Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans,” Rodney explained. He held his glowing finger over the bag. “Go on, try that green one. I can’t have those, some of them are lime and I’m allergic.” John took the pale green jelly-bean out and peered at it dubiously. Rodney extracted a purplish-red one and popped it into his mouth. “Oh great, boysenberry. I was hoping it wasn’t beetroot.”
John stuck the bean in his mouth and chewed. A second later he was choking and wheezing, tears streaming from his eyes as he spat the horrible thing out into his hand and flung it out the window. “Gaah! Burns!” He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, screwing up his face as the fiery taste reamed out his sinuses. “What was that, anyway, some sort of chili?”
Rodney was looking shifty. “Ah, yes. Sorry about that. I think you got a wasabi one. Japanese horseradish. It’ll wear off. Here, try another. That brown one’s probably chocolate.”
“Yeah, right, not falling for that again. There’s a few other things that color I can think of.” John squinted crossly at Rodney. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
“Who, me?” Rodney’s attempt at innocence was totally bogus, his face gave it all away.
John launched himself across the bed, scattering the damn beans and pinning Rodney down. “Yeah, you, Mr. Butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth. That was mean.”
Rodney struggled; his shoulders were stronger than John had realised, but John was wiry and really, he’d wanted to fight someone pretty much the whole day. He got his thigh across Rodney’s legs and pinned his arms, holding him down and panting, his hair falling into his eyes. Rodney wriggled and heaved underneath him, grunting with effort as he tried to throw John off, then he just went limp and gave up. He was warm under John, his eyes wide and dark. John stared at his mouth for a while and then pulled back, feeling oddly flustered.
“Don’t do that again,” John said, his voice hoarse.
“I won’t,” Rodney promised, quietly. “I’m sorry. It was dumb.”
“I know I don’t know much about all this magic and stuff, about anything, really. It’s not my fault that my Dad was weird about it.”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry.” Rodney pulled the Quidditch magazine out from under the rucked-up covers and straightened the pages. “You want to read it in bed? I can do the glowy finger thing under the covers, then Aunt M won’t see us.”
“Yeah, OK.” John wanted another look at the players in their cool leather gear, and to check out makes of brooms. He knew what he wanted on the shopping trip tomorrow.
They settled themselves into the bed, which was easily wide enough to accommodate them both. Rodney pulled the covers up over their heads and they lay on their stomachs, Quidditch News spread out before them and Rodney’s finger glowing gently, lighting up the Chudley Cannons’ new seeker and the Puddlemere United captain brandishing a big silver cup.
John sighed pleasurably, dreaming of holding up the Quidditch Cup at Hogwarts. Rodney moved a little so their legs pressed together from knee to ankle. His leg felt toasty warm and solid through their flannel pajamas. John didn’t move away.
The End (for now)