“Race you to the tree!” cried Harry, shooting off like an arrow in the direction of the aforementioned tree.
It was a beautiful, sunny, mid-January Saturday, and Harry and Neville had finally convinced Hermione to try out one of their brooms.
Unfortunately, while she’d have been content to hover a few feet above the ground, and proceed at a leisurely pace, the boys were having none of that. They’d both had plenty of practice time since Christmas, knew just what their new brooms were capable of, and were intent on getting her to put the broom through its paces…
And, Hermione’s pride wouldn’t let her just throw the race.
So, despite her apprehension, she found herself speeding after Harry.
Still, her fear of crashing held her back just enough that she couldn’t bring herself to match Harry’s speed –the broom’s maximum– and he reached the tree with a significant lead, turned abruptly and brought himself to a neat stop just to the right of it.
Behind him, and despite her slightly lesser speed, Hermione struggled to pull to a stop, panicking as the thought crossed her mind that she was barrelling toward the tree with enough force to knock herself out.
But the training broom was designed with preventing such accidents in mind.
Sensing a possible collision with a large inanimate object, its safety charms engaged, bringing her to a magically cushioned stop several feet short of the tree.
Shaking with leftover adrenaline, Hermione slowly descended, her knees nearly buckling as she touched down and dismounted.
“I thought you said that these brooms didn’t go very fast!” she complained.
“Nope, we never said that,” laughed Harry, still hovering a few feet above her. “What we said was that they didn’t go as fast, or high as regular brooms, and that they had all kinds of safety charms built in that regular brooms don’t.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Regular brooms go faster than that!?” she shrieked.
“Of course they do!” answered Neville, slightly breathless from sprinting across the garden to join them. “You should come over sometime when James and his friends play a game of pickup Quidditch –and those are just regular brooms. We’ve never been to a real Quidditch game or broom race, but James says professional brooms are even faster, and they don’t have all the safety charms these ones do.”
“Why not?” Hermione frowned, shaking her head in disbelief; that didn’t make any sense. “Adults must fall off their brooms too, sometimes. Why wouldn’t they put safety charms on their own brooms?”
“I don’t know!” Neville exclaimed, his voice dripping with irritation at the unanswerable question. He was just a kid. How was he supposed to know?
Hermione turned a hopeful gaze up at Harry, who was still hovering a few feet above her.
“Don’t look at me,” he answered. “I don’t know either, but I’m sure there’s a good reason. Maybe there’s too many other spells on the broom so that they go faster, and higher, and react better, and there’s no room left for the safety charms...?”
Hermione stared back at him, unimpressed. “One would think that safety would be a priority over those other things.
“Aww come on! Does it really matter!?” Harry threw up his hands in frustration, and Hermione allowed herself to be distracted from the subject of safety charms, marvelling at his ability to keep his balance, hands-free. “These brooms have so many safety charms on them that even fraidy-cat Mum is willing to let us fly unsupervised... So let’s fly!”
Shaking her head, Hermione handed Neville’s broom back to its rightful owner. “No, that’s all right. You two can fly; I think I rather just watch.”
“You sure?” asked Neville, taking it back hesitantly. “I don’t mind sharing.”
“Yes,” she nodded, “I think I prefer my two feet firmly on the ground. You have fun, and try not to crash.”
Neville gave her a lopsided grin. “Thanks, but there’s really nothing to worry about.”
Ten minutes later, Hermione still wasn’t convinced. There was most definitely something to worry about.
She’d watched, heart in her throat, as the boys showed off increasingly difficult dives, climbs, and sharp turns. Then they’d switched to racing each other –at breakneck speeds–from one end of the garden to the other.
How could Lily allow them to do such things, unsupervised? Did she even know?
Harry pulled himself to an abrupt stop. “I have an idea!”
“Oh?” asked Neville, his tone hopeful. He was bored with practicing stunts, and even racing was losing its thrill.
“We should have a snowball fight!” suggested Harry. “Hermione, you can make the balls for us and put them in a pile. Then, me and Neville can dive down to grab them, and throw them at each other.”
Hermione frowned; flying was hazardous enough, now they wanted to add snowballs to the mix…?
“That sounds really dangerous.”
“Nah, it’ll be fun!” Neville sided with Harry, making it two against one. “Come on!”
“But I really don’t think –”
“Aww, come on! Don’t be such a party-pooper,” Neville cut her off.
“Fine!” answered Hermione, but her crossed arms, and tone left no doubt to her disapproval, nor did the boot she stomped into the snow to punctuate her statement, “But if you crash, I am not to blame.”
“Now you’re being a worry-wort,” taunted Neville, hovering an arm’s length above her head.
Harry, taking a more gentle approach, pulled up beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry Hermione, we’ll be careful. Neither of us is going to crash,” he promised.
Partially reassured by Harry’s solemn-sounding promise, Hermione allowed her arms to drop to her side, relaxing her tense shoulders.
Encouraged by her change in demeanor, Harry asked, “Can you please make us some snowballs?”
It was the ‘please’ that did it.
Hermione nodded and, albeit reluctantly, bent down to start making snowballs, as the boys hovered impatiently on either side of her.
Finally, when she’d made about a dozen, as if by unspoken agreement, they dived almost simultaneously towards the growing pile, grabbed one each and darted off in opposite directions. Hermione, concentrating instead on the task at hand, paid them no mind, until–
“Hey!” Hermione jumped to her feet, as Harry’s first snowball missed its target, hitting her instead. She threw down the snowball she’d been compacting, “I’m not going to make you snowballs, if you’re planning to throw them at me.”
“Sorry,” said Harry, raising both his hands in apology. “I didn’t mean to, I swear.”
“Humph!” Hermione muttered, glaring as she reached up to ineffectually wipe at the encrusted snow in her frizzy hair. But, short of magic or a blow-dryer, there was no separating the sticky snow from her wild curls, and she was forced to concede defeat.
Shooting Harry one more glare, she bent down to grab another handful of snow. Resisting the temptation to throw it at Harry, she returned to the task of making snowballs for the boys.
They were cautious after that initial misstep, taking their time to aim between ducking their opponent’s ammunition, and throwing their own. But they were quickly gaining confidence and assurance, speeding up to the point that Hermione could hardly produce snowballs fast enough to keep up with demand.
Soon she was caught up in the thrill, of trying to outpace the boys, of making snowballs faster than they could throw them. Still, mindful of the possibility of stray projectiles, she kept track of the aerial acrobatics occurring above her head.
Harry was in the corner of the garden nearest the elm they’d used as base earlier, snowball in one hand and gearing up for his next throw. Neville was just above her, a few yards from his opponent, having just picked up his latest payload.
Neville threw first.
Harry swerved right –straight at the elm.
The training broom’s safety charms engaged.
The broom tried to swerve left, buckling under the force of the two conflicting commands.
Hermione watched horror-struck, her task forgotten, as Harry overbalanced, losing his remaining grip on his broom, tumbling towards the ground, as if in slow motion.
Time started up again.
Hermione sprinted towards the house, her legs seeming to act without conscious control.
“Lily, Lily, come quick! Harry fell off his broom and hit his head!”
But Lily, alerted by the wards on the back garden, was already in motion, rushing out the back door in her slippers.
That was the last time either boy was allowed unsupervised flying time –training broom or not.
A/N: I realize Neville wasn't much of a flyer in canon, but his upbringing in this story has resulted in a far more confident young wizard. I'd like to think that that makes all the difference.
A special thanks to my recent reviewers; reviews are my greatest source of motivation. Lastly, but definitely not least, I would like to thank my beta Arnel for her help on this chapter.