by Mad Maudlin
(Happy Birthday, Callie!)
Ron doesn't understand why Hermione is obsessed with quills.
"I have a desk job," she tells him. "I have to sit on my bum eight hours a day, writing things. I might as well have a nice quill to do it with."
He will grant her that. "But don't you think you take it a little far?"
She just flicks her hair at him. "Leave off about my quills and I'll leave off about your broom."
"What about my broom?"
Ron will allow that he might be a bit overboard with his broom, but that's completely different. It's a Thunderbolt 660, special-ordered by the team—the most beautiful thing he's ever seen after Hermione. It deserves a little special attention. Besides, he needs to keep it in top form for games, and he tells her so.
"Yes, you need to take care of your broom. And I need to take care of my hands. Poorly-designed writing instruments can lead to arthritis, you know."
"But I don't see what's to get so worked up over about a quill."
She exhales through her teeth just so, and he suspects he's being thick. "Look. Come to the shop with me sometime and see."
He goes to the shop with her. It's small, cramped and dark, and the smell of parchment is makes his nose itch fiercely. He only likes that smell when it's coming off her skin. The proprietor smiles at Hermione but gives Ron a one-eyed once-over that makes him self-conscious about putting his hands near his pockets. "Don't worry," Hermione whispers. "She's always like that."
The quills are in the back of the shop, of course: about a thousand different sorts stuffed into small tubes on a wall, with strips of self-erasing parchment between them. Ron doesn't understand what that's about until Hermione picks up a quill (the label says turkey, tail, eighth inch pearled nib, long) and signs her name a few times with it. She weighs it in her hand and then puts it back in the tube.
"The eagle ones look nice," Ron suggests, and gets the Evil Eye in return—blimey, he usually had to stain something to earn a look like that.
"Eagle quills are overrated," she says with a brutally level tone.
"Besides, I've already got four."
Ron keeps his tips to himself after that; it's hard, though, after the first hour. There's a packet of twenty perfectly good goose quills near the till for two sickles off the regular price and he doesn't see the point of all this testing. Hermione obviously does, though, and once again she just sort of expects him to watch her and get it.
Ron never gets it and she should know that by now.
Finally she comes away with a quill—a, one, singular. It's cormorant according to the label and she seems to think it signs her name the prettiest. Or something. He doesn't want to get another Evil Eye for asking. She also dithers over bottles of ink (squid ink, blackberry ink, powdered ink you have to mix yourself—what's the point of that?) and spends another twenty minutes on different sorts of parchment while Ron mentally catalogues sins that must require atonement. Finally, finally she pays, except she has to gossip with the hag at the desk, too, apparently, and Ron doesn't want to draw more attention to himself by leaving without her. He does try to point out the discount goose quills and nearly gets another Eye for his effort.
He grumps home and grumps his way through dinner; that's what she calls it, at least, although he prefers to think of it as sharing the foul mood around. It's no fun to be hacked off alone. After dinner he informs her that he's going to see to his broom and stomps out to the shed (because she won't let him store it in the house).
Broom maintence always helps him settle down. Filing, clipping, checking, adjusting—he's got it down to ritual, with special forms for pre-game, post-game, mid-game, off-week and off-season check-ups. You don't just leave a Thunderbolt to chance. He cleans and straightens a few twigs, tests the bindings (no need to replace then, not yet) and checks the balance and alignment with a few low laps around the garden. That turns into more than a few when it feels like there might be a list, but he can't nail down the degree and the tail looks good, so he makes a mental note to feel for it at the next practice. The handle is smooth—no splinters, no ridges—and the varnish is uncracked. He can nearly see his reflection in the shine.
He always leaves the waxing and polish to last, because of the mess—not that he minds it, but Hermione twitches. He knows he's wearing a shirt she likes, so the takes it off and hangs it on a cloak peg before hunkering down with the tin of polish and the rag. Easier to pop in the shower than mess around with any stain-removing potions, he reckons, and besides, the shed is bloody stuffy this time of year well into the night. He had to weather-seal it good and tight to protect the Thunderbolt from wet weather, after all.
He puts the polish on the rag (no fancy two-Galleon pads from the supply shop, no sir—well, only for post-game emergencies) and does a few experimental strokes on the handle. Nope, no good; the polish has dried a bit and gone sticky and stiff. He adds a dribble of whiskey to the tin to thin it, a trick the twins had confided in him on pain of death: that makes it better. The rag moves smoothly up and down the handle, even strokes, no too—
"What are you doing?"
He jumps; Hermione doesn't usually venture near the shed if she doesn't absolutely have to. She leaves it be and he stays out of her office in the attic: they made this pact a long time ago. "Maintenence," he tells her, probably a little harsher than he intended but not nearly as harshly as he could. He tries to pick up the rhythm again, but she leans her arms on his shoulders and her hair tickles his ear. "What are you doing?"
He scowls (even though she's behind him) and keeps working the handle.
"You look like you're molesting it."
She caresses the wrist that's holding the rag. "You hold the cloth the same way you touch yourself."
"I do not."
He growls and dabs up more polish. He does not wank the bloody broomstick.
He's nearly done when Hermione takes her weight off his shoulders, and he reckons she's gotten bored stiff, just like he got so bored in the quill shop. She just doesn't appreciate maintence. He circles the butt of the handle with the rag for a second and then stops short when he feels something on his back. "Hermione?"
It's a cool something, a damp something, but also a hard pointed something that presses without really being painful. "What are you doing?"
He can feel her hand rest briefly on his skin. "Taking notes."
Ron licks his lips. "On my back?"
"I forgot the parchment."
He's not polishing with real conviction now. It's more interesting to feel the press and pattern of Hermione's writing—neat loops and slashes as familiar as his own, now from a whole new perspective. It tickles a bit but not in a bad way, and there's something sort of sexy about it, the intimacy of it all. It feels different on his flanks than his shoulders, near his neck that the middle of his spine... "That the new quill?"
He could get to liking this...
He lets her write for a few minutes, lets the rag hit the floor (though he'll berate himself for that later) and cradles the Thunderbolt in his hands. Then she pauses for a beat, and the next stroke on his skin feels like a bitten-off fingernail, only worse. "Ow! What was that?"
"One of your quills."
Ron turns around; she's holding one of the discount goose ones and has the cormorant tucked safely in her pocket. She's also got that infuriating little smirk that lets him know he's just learned something even if he hasn't figured it out yet. "Fine," he says. "Fancy quills are good for you."
"Thank you." She kissed him on the cheek and tucks the goose quill behind his ear. "Now, want to show me what's so enthralling about that smelly polish?"
"I thought you liked the smell of broom polish," Ron says.
"Only on you."
Later he peeks at himself in the mirror, half-expecting the words to have sweated off or smeared. They haven't.
I, Hermione Jane Granger Weasley, do solemnly swear not to tease my beloved husband about his relationship with his broomstick. I promise not to complain about the time or money spent on said broomstick. I promise not to be jealous of said broomstick. I acknowledge and agree that said broomstick is deserving of special treatment due to its role in my husband's professional life.
But only if he shuts up about the quills.