The rest of the rehearsal was decidedly more difficult. Harry, emboldened by his initial success, found that any overconfidence on his part usually resulted in his bass erupting in a loud “BWAAAA” and quitting right in the middle of the second verse. The other instruments, enchanted to play together with Harry’s, would then emit similar noises and the song would shriek to a halt like a hippogriff in mating season.
Ron then attempted to teach Harry, Neville, and Ginny how to harmonize with him on the chorus of Sgt.Pepper. This was a resounding disaster. Ginny could sing rather well, and Neville’s voice was quiet and pleasant enough, but Harry felt hopeless. His own voice wasn’t too offensive, but as soon as he opened his mouth, any memory of the part he was supposed to sing flew right out of his head, usually to the great amusement of his bass. Ron had them try singing without the added distraction of playing their instruments, but the best Harry could manage was a low mumble, his face burning pink as Hermione looked on, biting her lip and trying not to giggle at their efforts.
“Alright, no singing for now then,” said Ron at last, as Harry breathed a massive sigh of relief and ran a hand through his hair, which was now sticking up mutinously in all directions. He tried to ignore his bass, which he had shouldered again, as it was now chuckling softly in his head. “Once more from the top, and we’ll break for lunch.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One rosy morning a few days after rehearsal, Harry woke early and stumbled blearily out of bed on his way to Quidditch training. The sun was just rising, and the forest outside the dormitory window was awash in misty hues of pink and purple as Harry fumbled for his toothbrush and set off for the boys’ bathroom down the hall. What he saw when he opened the dormitory door was something of a shock.
Hermione was already on her way downstairs, wearing not her usual uniform, but sweatpants, a longsleeved t-shirt, and tennis shoes, her long curls gathered into a messy ponytail. Harry blinked stupidly and pushed his glasses up his nose, making sure he hadn’t hallucinated the scene in a fog of early morning grogginess. Hermione turned quickly at the sound of the door opening, and seemed both relieved and nervous to see that it was Harry.
“Oh, good morning!” she said briskly. “I was hoping you’d be up. Are you going to practice Quidditch?”
“Well, yeah,” Harry said.
Hermione hesitated. “I was just — going to ask, I mean, if it would be okay — ”
Harry blinked at her again, and suddenly it dawned on him. Hermione was really going to take him up on his offer to give her flying lessons.
“You want to come along today?” he asked incredulously.
Hermione looked down. “If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” said Harry, grinning.
“Oh, thank you!” Hermione said, her face breaking into a grateful smile. Her eyes flicked over Harry as if she had only just noticed what he was wearing; her cheeks turned faintly pink. “Are you getting ready then?”
Harry was suddenly aware that he was clad only in his striped boxers.
“Uh, yeah,” he said, feeling his ears burn.
“Okay. Could you — hurry up a bit?”
“Er,” began Harry, reddening.
“I just don’t want to lose my nerve,” Hermione said quickly.
Harry grinned again. “Right,” he said, shuffling into the bathroom, where he promptly dunked his head under a faucet and tried not to think about why his heart was beating so fast.
The two of them set off across the dewy grass outside the castle just as the sun was beginning to creep over the treetops of the Forbidden Forest. Harry, in his dark crimson practice robes, had his Firebolt slung over one shoulder; Hermione kept glancing at it nervously as they walked to the field together, leaving twin sets of footprints in the dew. Harry was trying to review the parts of the week’s practice that he could show Hermione, but his glance kept wandering to her as she walked by his side, shivering slightly in the morning chill, her eyes alight with excitement.
Harry led them to the Gryffindor locker room, where he rummaged in a storage locker to find a set of Angelina Johnson’s old grey practice robes, a spare Nimbus 2000, and a case of Quidditch balls. He had initially thought of letting Hermione use his Firebolt, as it was very intuitive to fly; it was also frighteningly fast, however, and he decided a Nimbus might be less of a scare. Harry emerged from the messy locker and draped the practice robes around Hermione’s shoulders; she blushed and murmured her thanks, hugging them tightly against the cold. He handed her the Nimbus, which she shouldered awkwardly, and then strode to the other end of the locker room, taking his wand from his pocket. “Alohomora,” Harry muttered, and the double doors flew open to reveal the Quidditch pitch, completely deserted except for a few birds searching for their breakfast of worms among the short grass.
“Oooh,” said Hermione.
Harry grinned. He shouldered his Firebolt again, picked up the case of balls, and led Hermione out onto the field, secretly thrilled at the look of awe on her face. She’d been on the Quidditch pitch many times, but always as a spectator, and she’d never walked out of the locker room. The view of the pitch and the bleachers from the locker room doors never failed to give Harry a surge of excitement, even though he’d seen it countless times by now; clearly Hermione was feeling something similar.
“Okay,” Harry said as they reached the center of the field, his heart beating a bit faster than usual. “Now, you remember the basics from Madam Hooch’s first class?”
Hermione nodded, her eyes wide. Harry set his own broom down on the grass. He’d have to show her proper form. His heart skipped once at the idea. He gestured at her to set down her broom.
Hermione lay her broom on the grass, put one hand over it, and said firmly, “Up.” The broom flew into her hand. She gave Harry a proud smile.
“That’s great,” Harry smiled back. “Now climb on.”
“This is the part I was never very good at,” Hermione muttered, slinging one leg awkwardly over the hovering broomstick and fumbling with Angelina’s long robes.
“Okay, I can help you here.” Taking a deep breath, Harry walked behind Hermione, straddled the broom behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and pushed them down gently. He reached around her, showing her how to hold her hands on the broom’s handle, smelling her sweet gingery Hermione smell mingled with the scent of unfamiliar musty practice robes. He moved his hands down to her waist, making sure she was sitting straight on the broom, and felt her flinch slightly beneath the thick robes. Merlin’s beard. Focus, Harry, focus. Harry felt like he’d swallowed twenty fluttering Snitches. He scrambled from Hermione’s broom, where she was now seated in a perfect pose, looking as frozen as a suit of armor in the entrance hall, and six times more nervous. Where was his broom? He’d be able to think straight again if he was on his broom.
In half a minute Harry was straddling his Firebolt, his head clearing as he gripped the shiny handle. “Now watch me,” he said, and kicked off slowly, soaring once around Hermione before landing gently on the field beside her.
After a few shaky starts, Hermione was airborne. Gripping the handle of her Nimbus so tightly that her knuckles were white, she was gliding slowly through the air six feet above the pitch, her forehead furrowed with concentration. She’s got to do everything perfectly, Harry thought, grinning to himself as he flew alongside her, watching as she carefully turned her broom to circle the field. How totally Hermione.
“Good,” he told her, matching her pace, then leading her in a series of slow turns. “You’re doing really well.”
“Am I?” Hermione said breathlessly. Her face was glowing, her cheeks rosy from the cold, and she beamed at him as if he’d told her she had just been named Head Girl. Harry’s heart surged.
“Yeah, you’re doing great.”
“Do you know,” breathed Hermione, guiding her broom in a figure eight, “this is fun!”
“I do know,” Harry grinned.
Three laps later, Hermione was a dramatically transformed flyer. With each successive circle around the pitch, and with Harry’s coaching, she had gained in confidence. She had gradually loosened her white-knuckled grip on the Nimbus and was beaming with pride as she urged the broom to a slightly faster speed each time around.
“I was too scared to do this before!” she told him excitedly as they flew higher to circle one of the goalposts.
“You’re in Gryffindor for a reason,” Harry said, leading them both towards the ground again. “You’re braver than you think. Ready to try this with a few of the balls out?”
“Bludgers?” said Hermione anxiously.
“No, not yet. Quaffle and Snitch.”
“All right then!”
Harry dropped to the ground and opened the case of Quidditch balls, releasing the tiny golden Snitch first, which flew once around his head like an affectionate pet bird before flashing off into the sky. He took out the Quaffle and kicked off again, matching Hermione’s pace as she flew slowly above the field. Soon, they were gliding back and forth across the pitch, tossing the Quaffle back and forth; Hermione picked this up so aptly that Harry was able to show her some of the moves he had planned for the team’s next practice, and some he’d learned in Quidditch camp, which she slowly and doggedly attempted. Both of them were grinning broadly as Hermione successfully demonstrated the the last of the practice moves after a third wobbly try.
Suddenly, Hermione gave a cry. She dropped the Quaffle as if it was on fire and pointed wordlessly to a spot somewhere behind Harry’s left shoulder. He whirled around on his broom. The Snitch was hovering right above the goalpost closest to them, a tiny gold sparkle in the morning light. Hermione was staring at it fixedly, her eyes wide.
“Should we get it?” she said tentatively.
“You can try for it,” Harry smiled. “Go on.”
Hermione looked back at him, her face a mask of determination. “All right,” she said gravely. Without warning she bent low over her broom, and in a burst of speed that almost knocked Harry sideways, she shot towards the Snitch like a bullet.
Harry goggled. This was the absolute last thing he’d expected; he’d thought she would go after the Snitch slowly so she could aim and have a chance at catching it. But it was so like Hermione to immerse herself in something completely, with a single-minded focus — though he’d never imagined Quidditch would fall into that category. He watched in disbelief as she hurtled towards the Snitch like a rocket, weaving slightly as if unused to the great speed.
Harry shook himself. She’d never catch it at that pace; this was her first time flying so fast. He gunned his Firebolt forward, pelting towards the goalpost and the Snitch. What if she veered off course and crashed into the stands? He’d have to be there if she faltered.
The world sped into a blur as Harry flattened himself to the broom handle and urged the Firebolt towards Hermione, who was still zooming towards the Snitch. Suddenly, in a flutter of wings, the golden glint at the goalpost was gone. Harry blinked. Hermione must have seen it too, because she quickly changed course.
The bottom fell out of Harry’s stomach. Hermione was going into a dive.
Harry could barely think. He shot towards the ground, his Firebolt gaining speed as he strained to see what Hermione could possibly be doing. And then he saw it. The Snitch was zipping quickly towards the grass, and Hermione was barely a foot away from it, her eyes focused on the tiny golden ball.
She’s going to crash, Harry thought. His insides gave a sickening lurch. She can’t see where she’s going, she’s just watching the Snitch, she doesn’t know how to orient herself —
In a heartbeat he was alongside her, the ground hurtling towards them faster and faster, Hermione’s eyes still fixed on the golden Snitch flitting tantalizingly out of reach.
“Hermione!” Harry yelled, the wind whipping the words out of his mouth. “STOP!”
Harry’s yell shook Hermione like a bolt of lightning. She blinked and seemed to realize for the first time that she was rocketing earthward. She gasped and clung to the Nimbus. “Harry!”
“Pull up!” Harry shouted, mentally counting the seconds before they hit the ground. He had to act fast. He drew closer to her, their brooms dangerously close to colliding.
“I can’t!” Hermione gasped. She was now straining hard at the handle of her Nimbus, but the force of the fall was too great, and the Nimbus seemed locked into its path.
Harry lunged forward and grabbed Hermione with one arm. Gripping his Firebolt between his knees, he let go of his broom handle with his other hand and wrenched the Nimbus upward with all his strength. Hermione shrieked as the broom flew from her grasp and pitched her sideways into Harry; it shot away, riderless, tumbling end-over-end. Harry gripped Hermione tightly, swaying as her broom fell away, and grabbed his Firebolt again with his free hand. The ground was only feet away. Harry strained against the Firebolt’s handle and pulled with everything he could muster. The grassy field suddenly gave a great lurch as the world righted itself. Harry had wrenched the Firebolt out of its nosedive half a breath before they would have slammed into the ground. They tumbled harmlessly onto the field in a tangle of limbs and Quidditch robes as Harry’s arms suddenly gave out from the effort.
Harry opened his eyes. His vision was blurry; his glasses must have fallen off. He was still gripping Hermione tightly around her waist. He shifted his arms and legs gingerly; nothing seemed broken. Hermione’s face was buried in his chest, her robes muddy with grass stains. Harry tried to speak but got a mouthful of brown curls; he brushed them aside and stroked her head gently.
“Hermione?” he said softly. Answer, please answer.
To his great relief Hermione moved, tilting her head up to his and blinking. One of her cheeks was red and streaked with dirt from the pitch, but the scrape wasn’t bleeding. She was breathing in ragged gasps.
“You alright?” Harry said, not daring to move in case she was hurt.
Hermione wriggled her legs, then nodded. Harry’s eyes stung; his entire body felt weak with relief. “Good,” he said huskily.
“Oh Harry — ” Hermione began, her eyes filling with tears.
And then it happened.
Harry never knew what forces possessed him at that moment. All he knew was that his entire universe had become that Quidditch pitch, and his whole world had become the girl in his arms, his best friend, who was stubborn, and brave, and smart, and loyal, and unlike anyone else he’d ever known. And miraculously, she was not hurt, or dead, as Harry had anticipated with terror for the ten horrible seconds of their dive, and he had to show her how he felt somehow, he had to tell her everything, everything he’d been feeling since that first moment he saw her on Platform Nine and Three Quarters and his entire life had turned upside down.
Harry ran a hand gently through Hermione’s tangled curls, tipped her face to his, and kissed her.
It was like nothing Harry had ever experienced in his life.
Hermione froze, shocked, and then, to his great astonishment, sank into the kiss, and his entire body was swept with waves that felt like fire and lightning, Floo powder and fireworks, butterbeer and pink bubble bath. Harry was barely aware that they had rolled over and his Firebolt was now jammed into his knee and the grass was soaking through their tangle of robes and he heard a crunch that sounded suspiciously like his glasses, because he was somewhere else, he was home at last, he was kissing Hermione —
He was kissing Hermione.
His eyes flew open. Hermione had apparently heard the crunch of his glasses, because she was struggling upright, her hair pulled halfway out of her ponytail in a wild tangle, and fumbling through their practice robes. A few seconds later she pulled Harry’s glasses from the grass near his left elbow. Harry’s vision was blurred, but he could tell that both lenses were shattered. Hermione pulled her wand out of a pocket under her robes and touched it to the glasses.
“Oculus Repairo,” she said softly.
There was a quiet “fwip” as Harry’s glasses magically reassembled themselves. Harry was suddenly a frightened first-year on the Hogwarts Express, staring openmouthed at Hermione as she pointed a wand right between his eyes and fixed his broken frames. That was the first time he’d ever met her.
Hermione handed Harry his glasses and he put them back on. Hermione was flushed and muddy, her eyes unnaturally bright as she then handed him his Firebolt, which looked unscathed but was plastered with wet grass.
There was a very long silence.
“You’re — you’re okay then,” said Harry. He felt numb, but his entire body was tingling. His brain kept repeating the same three little words. I kissed Hermione. I kissed Hermione. I kissed —
“I — think so,” said Hermione blankly.
There was another long silence.
“I’m s-sorry about the Snitch,” Hermione said quietly.
“Oh no, no, it’s okay,” said Harry vaguely. Thoughts were creeping back into his head now, flashes of what had just happened, of Hermione darting after the Snitch, plummeting towards the ground — “I just didn’t expect you to really go after it, is all.”
Hermione flushed scarlet. “I guess I just thought — I mean, I’ve watched you so many times — ”
Harry was struck by a sudden realization that was funny and touching at the same time. Hermione had gone to all his games, and watched him fly, and she thought —
“You thought that’s the only way to go for a Snitch?” he said slowly, his face breaking into a smile. “Take off like a rocket?”
Hermione started to laugh in spite of herself. She shifted again, as if to stand, and suddenly gasped, forcing one hand down her sleeve and pulling it out again quickly, something tiny and golden clutched in her fingers.
Harry caught his breath; Hermione opened her hand. The Snitch was balanced lightly on her palm, fluttering its wings.
“Well, it worked,” Hermione said with a crooked smile.
The tension dissipated with a rush like air shooting from a punctured balloon. Both of them dissolved into laughter. Harry, still unable to think straight, climbed unsteadily to his feet and dusted off his robes, then offered a hand to Hermione, who took it and allowed him to help her up. I kissed Hermione, he thought again stupidly. Harry noticed with a start that his hand was shaking. Hermione’s hand was shaking too.
“I suppose we’d better get cleaned up,” Hermione said, a tremor still in her voice. “Where’s my broom?”
“Oh, right,” said Harry distractedly, taking his wand from his pocket. It had thankfully not been crushed. Harry often wondered whether wands were especially resilient to their owners’ collisons and accidents; his own had certainly survived more violence than most. “Accio Nimbus!” he said firmly. They squinted across the field as a tiny object flew towards them, growing larger as it zoomed into view. It was the Nimbus, none the worse for wear except for a few bent twigs.
The two of them walked slowly back across the field with their broomsticks over their shoulders. Harry felt dizzy and bruised and elated and terrified, his arms beginning to ache sharply from his efforts, his lips still tingling with the afterglow of Hermione’s, his heart pounding like a jackhammer. They talked on the way back to the castle, but when he thought about it later Harry couldn’t say what they had talked about. He just knew neither of them spoke about what had happened. I was just relieved she was alive, Harry thought, it was instinct, it was a spontaneous reaction, she probably knows that’s what happened —
But it wasn’t true. Kissing Hermione felt more right than anything he’d done all year, almost anything he’d done in his life. Maybe only flying came close to the sensation.
Harry barely knew how he made it into the shower in the boys’ dormitory. He stood for a long time under the steaming blast of water, face upturned to the spout, eyes closed, remembering.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A figure in dark green robes was staring out across the Quidditch pitch. In the cold dawn he’d walked across the grounds, silent as usual, noting with surprise the twin set of footprints leading the way to the Gryffindor locker room. At this hour, there was usually only one set.
He’d cracked open his own locker room door soundlessly. If he was quiet, he’d be able to watch his rival team’s captain practicing new moves. He liked to pride himself in knowing every detail about his enemy.
But the scene that had met his eyes when he slid the door open was nothing he’d ever expected.
Potter was with Granger. Granger, that bushy-haired, bucktoothed, insufferable know-it-all. She’d returned this year as a lovely insufferable know-it-all, truth be told, but she was still… Granger.
And they were both flying. Draco stared as the Gryffindor captain, the best damn seeker in the school, probably one of the best seekers ever to hold a broom — no use pretending — glided alongside his friend patiently as if his broom had training wheels. This was not normal. Harry was usually flying hard at this time in the morning, gunning that Firebolt around the field as if attempting to break the sound barrier. Draco rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t hallucinating.
And the look on their faces — good lord, it was disgusting, but it was also — Draco shuddered. It was sweet. Potter and Granger were beaming as if their lives depended on following each other around the blasted pitch. And knowing them, Draco thought wryly, they’re too bloody clueless to realize anything. Draco noted with satisfaction that this would be excellent ammunition the next time he encountered the Terrible Trio in the halls. He knew what that look meant, that puppy-dog smile. He’d seen other people look at each other that way, but it was usually after a late night in a club, after ingesting certain pills, and those people most often ended up in a mess of sheets with clothing thrown all over the room, and — well, he wouldn’t know anything about that. Draco grinned.
But what — Draco started. What in nine hells —
Granger had sped off towards one end of the field, clearly shaky on her broomstick, heading for one of the goalposts. And Potter had shot after her a few seconds later.
Draco watched in disbelief as the two robed figures neared the goalposts and then suddenly dove for the ground at a breakneck speed, one after the other. His heart stopped.
I mean, Draco thought absently as he gripped his own broom handle in terror, Potter’s a complete ass, but it’s not like I want him to die or anything. Life would be so much less fun.
Though it looked like Potter and Granger were giving death their best shot at the moment. Draco threw open the door of the Slytherin locker room as Harry and Hermione dove perilously towards the field, but it was too late. He’d never reach them in time. The two Gryffindors were half a breath from hitting the ground, but Harry —
Draco stared. Harry was grabbing Hermione, he had both hands off his Firebolt, he was flinging her broom away at an impossible angle, he had pulled her onto his broom —
Draco felt his knees go weak as the the two figures, so close to the ground, veered sickeningly upright on Harry’s broom and then tumbled onto the field. Impossible. Only Potter, Draco thought, realizing he had broken into a cold sweat. Only Potter could have —
What happened next was even more shocking.
Draco stepped back into the dark locker room and closed the door, leaving it open a few inches. He ran a hand through his blonde spikes, grinning to himself.