After dinner that night, Ginny curled up on her favorite couch by the fire in the Gryffindor common room, ready to read the article that Professor McGonagall had given her earlier. Dean and Seamus were playing Exploding Snap just a few feet away.
Her eyes darted automatically to Harry, who was playing Wizard’s Chess in his usual corner with Ron. Hermione was nowhere to be seen. Ginny suspected she was reading in the girls’ dormitories to avoid Ron. It seemed clear that the two of them still hadn’t made up.
She jumped, startled, as a loud crack wrenched her attention away from Harry and Ron. Dean had just won a round of Exploding Snap and was ribbing Seamus good-naturedly.
Ginny shot them a smile and quickly returned to her article. She skimmed the beginning, which included a short recap of Viktor’s success in the last Quidditch World Cup. Finally, she reached the Q&A portion of the article:
Quidditch Today: You are the only player to compete in the English Premier league who didn’t attend a Quidditch development school–
Viktor Krum: This is not true. I attended summer sessions at the Balkan Academy.
QT: Of course. I meant that you didn’t attend a development school as a full-time student.
VK: Yes. This is true.
Ginny raised her eyebrows, her heart sinking a bit. She hadn’t realized how important it was to attend a Quidditch development school to make it to the English Premier league. If Viktor is truly an anomaly for only attending summer sessions, then it seemed her chances of joining him in the Premier league had gone to zero.
QT: Why did you only attend summer sessions at the Balkan Academy?
VK: My father insisted that I attend Durmstrang.
QT: Could you elaborate a bit more on why that is?
VK: Every man in the Krum family has attended Durmstrang since its founding 500 years ago. I would not be the one to break the tradition.
Ginny couldn’t help cringing at how difficult it was for this reporter to get anything useful from Viktor. Hermione had described him as quiet and reserved, and he was famous for hating attention from the press. He was certainly keeping with his taciturn demeanor now.
QT: I’m sure playing Quidditch professionally was a dream of yours from an early age–
VK: This is true.
QT: How did you persuade your father to allow you to attend summer sessions at the Balkan Academy?
VK: I made a deal with my father. If I was accepted to a development school in Bulgaria and I had good marks, he would let me attend summer sessions.
QT: The Balkan Academy is Bulgaria’s most competitive development school. What did it take for you to get accepted?
VK: I applied every spring until I was accepted.
QT: And you didn’t apply anywhere else?
VK: My father wanted me to stay in Bulgaria, and I needed to play at the best school if I was going to play professionally.
QT: How did you train to prepare for the scouting visits from the Balkan Academy?
VK: I played on Durmstrang’s Quidditch team, and I practiced whenever I had any free time. I played Seeker because it was the only position that I could practice alone. None of the other students had the drive to play as much as I did.
Ginny felt a pang of sadness, automatically thinking of Harry. While Harry’s natural abilities had drawn him to Seeker, it wasn’t lost on her that he too was alone and isolated in many ways. She sighed, pushing him from her mind and continued reading:
QT: But you weren’t a shoo in at the Balkan Academy, were you?
VK: No, I was not. Every year, the Balkan Academy sent a scout to watch my matches, but he was not impressed. So I worked harder every year. It wasn’t until my fourth year that I was finally accepted.
Ginny was getting more pessimistic as she read on. She was already a fifth year, and it was unlikely she would be able to get into a summer session at any development school at this point. And that was assuming she even had the gold to pay for it...
QT: So you spent two summers at the Balkan Academy? I believe it was the summer after your sixth year that you played in the Quidditch World Cup.
VK: This is true. I left the Balkan Academy to join the Bulgarian National team.
QT: And you were the youngest player to ever compete on the Bulgarian National team! What was it like trying out for the team?
VK: This is false. Sofia Vladinsky was a month younger than I was when she competed in 1865.
QT: We’ll have to check our facts on that, but I’m sure you’re right–
VK: Yes, I am right.
Ginny rolled her eyes. Quidditch Today was always sloppy with their fact-checking. If she weren’t so busy playing Quidditch, she’d write her own articles and submit them to the editor for publication. She was certain it would better than the drivel they often published.
She was willing to bet she would have been able to make this interview more interesting by asking more substantive questions. This reporter was asking questions that could be found in a Quidditch match program as part of Viktor’s player biography.
QT: Right. Tell me about how you came to be on the Bulgarian National team.
VK: They send scouts to all of the Bulgarian development schools. The scout was impressed and invited me to try out for the team. I made the team after a few try outs.
QT: And how did you make the transition from the National team to professional Quidditch?
VK: I received invitations to try out for many professional teams in the eastern European leagues because our team was in the World Cup final.
QT: And that’s how you ended up on the Vratsa Vultures–
VK: Yes. Are we done?
Ginny cringed again, surprised that Quidditch Today printed that last part. They should have cut Viktor’s impatient question and printed a disclaimer at the beginning, such as, “This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.”
Sure, Viktor hadn’t given them much to condense and there was no issue with clarity, but this was just lazy writing. She read on, even though she’d largely lost interest in the article.
QT: Almost. Why don’t you tell our readers about your move to the Premier league? How did the opportunity come up? Was it a tough decision to leave the Bulgarian Elite league?
VK: I regularly receive invitations to try out for other teams, but I often decline. The Vultures are a well-managed and fair organization that treats its players very well. However, when the Wasps invited me to try out, I decided that it was not wise to pass up an opportunity to play in the English Premier league.
QT: Do you have any advice for young aspiring Quidditch players who dream of playing professionally?
VK: Attend a development school or join a growth league team. Practice hard and keep trying out until you make it.
QT: Thank you for your time today, Viktor. Congratulations and good luck on your first season with the Wasps!
VK: Thank you.
Ginny tossed the magazine aside, feeling deflated. It seemed that professional Quidditch teams only recruited from other teams, development schools, and growth league teams. Growth league teams were lower-level regional professional teams that often were not very competitive. Her father used to take her and her brothers to watch their local growth league team, the Ottery St. Catchpole Kneazles, when she was young.
She sighed. This would be difficult, but not impossible. She would start applications for development schools immediately. Tonight she would send owls to every school in Britain requesting applications. And if that didn’t pan out, she would attend tryouts for as many growth league teams as possible.
She would also have to work her personal connections. Viktor didn’t seem like a good avenue. Hermione would have to make the introduction, and Ginny was not sure if she kept in touch with him after their breakup. Besides, if Ron got wind that Hermione and Krum were writing to each other again, he might think they were back together. Perhaps she could write to Fred and George for an introduction to Oliver Wood...
Ginny started. Oliver Wood didn’t attend a development school!
Her heart leapt as she reminded herself that Quidditch Today almost never got their facts right. They were wrong about Viktor being the only professional player who didn’t attend a development school full-time. It was very likely they were also wrong about Viktor being the only professional player who attended only summer sessions. It was entirely possible that Oliver didn’t attend development school at all.
All she knew was that Oliver had made the Puddlemere United Reserve team shortly after he left Hogwarts. He’d completely skipped the growth league. Maybe Fred and George could persuade him to give her some advice for how to do the same.
For the first time, Ginny’s dream of playing professional Quidditch felt less like a dream and more like a goal. With dedicated practice and perseverance, she might be able to make this a reality.
At that moment, Dean collapsed on the couch next to her, slinging his arm over the back of the couch. She saw Seamus storming off toward the boys’ dormitory. He was always a sore loser, and Ginny knew he’d need some time alone to cool off.
“I beat him six times in a row!” chuckled Dean, watching Seamus disappear up the stairs.
“That’s great,” Ginny said absently, her thoughts still on Quidditch as she gazed across the common room. Her eyes drifted back to Harry’s usual corner, as if of their own accord, and she stiffened when she saw him heading straight for her.
Ginny craned her head to look behind the couch. Perhaps Harry was looking at someone else?
“Hi.” Ginny jerked her head back around. Harry was now standing right in front of them.
“Hiya, Harry,” said Dean genially.
Ginny opened her mouth to respond, but closed it when Harry handed her a copy of Which Broomstick magazine.
“In case you haven’t ordered a new broom yet,” he said casually.
“What’s wrong with the broom you’ve got?” asked Dean, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“It broke over the holidays,” said Ginny simply. How did they always come back to the lake incident?
“How–” started Dean.
“I circled a few that you might like,” said Harry quickly, presumably wanting to avoid the Dean’s questions as much as she did. “You can use Hedwig to send in the order if you need an owl.”
“Thanks, Harry,” she said, suddenly feeling lighter. “I’ll order it tonight.”
“Good. Practice starts tomorrow,” he replied. He walked away before either of them could respond.
Dean took the magazine from her and started to flip through it.
He snorted derisively. “There’s no way you have the gold for any of these. Why don’t you just take my old Comet 260?”
Ginny felt a surge of annoyance. Dean didn’t know that she had her own vault full of gold from the years she’d spent sneaking out of Hogwarts to gamble at the Hog’s Head. Regardless, it was none of his business how she paid for her broom.
“I don’t want your old broom,” she said defiantly. Everything she’d ever owned was secondhand, and Dean knew she hated it. She couldn’t understand why he thought this was a good idea.
“How are you going to get one then? Is Harry buying it for you?” he asked in a harsh voice.
Ginny looked at him, scandalized. “I would never let Harry buy me a broom!”
“Oh, really?” retorted Dean, clearly not believing her. “Then I’m sure I won’t find his Gringotts vault number on the order form.”
He flipped to the back of the magazine. Ginny tensed, hoping Harry had not done that in a misguided attempt to atone for his part in destroying her broom. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw Dean reveal a blank order form.
“He’s just trying to help, Dean,” she said gently, rubbing his arm affectionately in an effort to calm him. Perhaps Dean was feeling left out because she hadn’t told him about her broom or her detentions.
He continued to rifle through the magazine as if he hadn’t heard her.
“Well, he doesn’t have a very good sense of what’s right for you,” he spat.
“What do you mean?” she asked. What was Dean on about now?
“Look at this!” he said, jabbing the magazine with his finger. “An Oakshaft! That’s a long-distance broom.”
Ginny leaned over, confused. She saw that Harry had circled the listing for the Oakshaft 79. She read the description: Heavy, reliable broom specifically for long-distance flights, where any high or volatile wind conditions could make it dangerous for a rider on a lighter, less stable broomstick.
Next to the listing, Harry had written: For adventures. Ginny’s stomach lurched. Nothing could be more clear…
Quidditch, chocolate, and adventures.
“He isn’t suggesting I use that for Quidditch,” she said hastily.
“Then what is he suggesting? What does he mean by ‘adventures?’” Dean demanded.
“It’s just a joke I have with my brothers. It’s nothing,” she said flippantly, hoping Dean would drop it.
Dean narrowed his eyes. “He’s not your brother, so why would he be in on the joke?”
Ginny ignored him, not wanting to lie to him more. She took the magazine from him and flipped to the racing broom section. She knew she should be practical and get the Cleansweep 11 (like Ron), but she’d prefer a racing broom if she could afford it…
Dean leaned over and jabbed his finger on the page again as she paged through the racing broom section. “He circled a Nimbus 2000! That’s way too fast for you!”
His words cut her like a knife to the chest. “Do you really think I can’t handle that?”
“Your old broom topped out at 70 miles per hour. The Nimbus can hit 100!” he said.
“Harry’s Firebolt goes up to 150,” she said quietly.
Dean laughed. “But you’re not as good as Harry!”
This hurt even more. She didn’t need to be the best player, but she’d hoped her boyfriend would show some more confidence in her.
“Am I as good as you?” she asked, trying to keep her tone calm. She wanted to know where she stood in his mind.
Dean rolled his eyes. “Ginny, you know you’re great–”
“But what? You’re a better flier? You think you could handle Harry’s Firebolt?” she interrupted, unable to keep the anger out of her voice.
“Of course, I can– “
“Because you’re better than me?” she offered, raising her eyebrows.
Dean snorted. “Look, Ginny, I’m a bloke. We’re just better suited for handling high speeds–”
“I was able to fly Harry’s Firebolt without any problems,” she protested.
“He took you out on his broom?” he said disbelievingly.
“No!” she said, feeling her face heat up and trying to banish the sudden image in her mind of her sharing a broom with Harry, his arms around her waist. “He let me ride it by myself!”
“No, he didn’t,” scoffed Dean. “Harry never lets anyone ride his broom.”
“He insisted I try it,” she snapped.
This was not exactly true, but Dean had hurt her feelings and she wanted to get back at him. She’d wanted to point out that Harry was actually quite generous with his broom; Ron had flown it loads of times, and from what she’d heard, he’d given everyone on the Gryffindor Quidditch team a go on it when he’d first got it three years ago.
But at that moment, she preferred to let Dean think that Harry had chosen her alone to ride his beloved broomstick.
Dean still looked skeptical, but Ginny didn’t care. She slammed the magazine shut and headed for the portrait hole.
“Where are you going?” he called, annoyed.
“To the Owlery!” she shouted without turning back.
She would buy a racing broom, no matter how much it cost, just to show him that she could fly it.
Ginny slept badly that night. After tossing and turning all night, she finally fell asleep at dawn, only to have a nightmare. She dreamt that she had showed up for Gryffindor’s Quidditch match against Hufflepuff without a broom. Harry gave her his Firebolt, but when she’d tried to kick off from the ground, it wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get it to fly. The entire team laughed at her, except Harry, who looked at her with disgust and said, “I guess Dean was right–girls can’t fly.”
She woke abruptly in a cold sweat, feeling like she hadn’t slept at all. Grudgingly, she rolled out of bed and dressed in her school robes, dreading the first day of the term. At least her detentions wouldn’t start until next week.
It was still early, so the common room was nearly empty when she came downstairs. She moved quickly, hoping she wouldn’t run into Dean. She was still upset with him for what he’d said about her flying skills. She wondered if all boys thought like that. What if Harry thought that, too?
Ginny pushed that thought aside. It didn’t matter what Harry thought about anything because Harry wasn’t her boyfriend.
Ginny’s mood didn’t improve as the day went on. Snape could sense her foul temper during Defense Against the Dark Arts, so he had deliberately put her on the spot in front of the whole class. Standing opposite her in a mock duel, he’d asked her to perform the counter-curse to an obscure curse that she’d never heard of. When he raised his wand to cast the curse, she fired a Bat-Bogey Curse at him instead of attempting to defend herself.
He’d taken 50 points from Gryffindor, which she thought was quite unfair since he’d blocked her curse easily. Besides, Ginny believed that offense was the best defense in this case.
After class, Dean tried to stop her in the corridors on her way to Potions, but she’d waved him off in a huff.
She was still fuming at him by lunchtime, so she grabbed a place next to Luna at the Ravenclaw table. Ginny knew Dean wouldn’t try to join her when there was a risk of hearing about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.
It wasn’t until Ginny was getting ready to head to Quidditch practice that Dean finally cornered her in the common room.
“Ginny, wait!” he called, rushing over to her.
Ginny had one foot in the portrait hole when he’d spotted her. She had hoped she could have slipped off to Quidditch practice early to avoid walking down with him. He must have expected this because he was already carrying his broom and dressed for practice.
He frowned at her. “You’ve been avoiding me all day.”
“Can’t imagine why,” she mumbled darkly. She pushed through the portrait hole. Dean followed her.
“I’m sorry, Ginny,” he sighed, sounding exasperated.
“For what?” she asked, hopeful. Perhaps he hadn’t meant what he said. Maybe he was just hurt that she hadn’t asked for his advice on a new broom.
“I’m sorry we argued,” he replied.
Ginny turned to look at him, confused. “What does that mean?”
“We disagreed, and it offended you. I’m sorry for that,” he said calmly.
“But you don’t take back what you said?” she asked slowly. She was beginning to wonder if Dean even understood why she was hurt.
Dean shrugged. “I don’t know what there is to take back.”
Ginny sighed, feeling like he was driving the knife deeper into her heart. It really hurt that he truly didn’t believe that she could be a great flier because she was a girl. Normally, she would have passionately rowed with him to make him see why he was wrong, but she didn’t feel the fire today.
She was tired from a restless night, a long day of classes, and the deep disappointment of learning what he really thought of her. All she wanted to do was get on a broomstick to clear her head.
“I don’t want to row anymore,” she said hollowly. “We can talk about it later.”
Dean must have taken this as forgiveness. He threw his arm around her and gave her a one-armed squeeze.
“Thanks, Ginny. I’m excited to get back out on the pitch with you!” he said, grinning.
“There’s nothing better than flying,” she replied weakly.
Harry and Ron were already at the pitch when Ginny and Dean arrived. It was a bright and clear day, but a bitter January chill hung in the air, making Ginny wish she’d brought a warmer scarf.
“You’re early,” said Ron as they approached. He and Harry were carrying the trunk with all of the Quidditch balls.
“So are you,” Ginny replied.
“Harry wanted to make sure the Slytherins didn’t try to take the pitch,” explained Ron. They dropped the trunk on the grass with a loud thud.
“Didn’t you reserve it?” asked Dean.
“They don’t always honor it,” said Harry darkly, his eyes on the skies. Ginny smiled to herself as she realized that Harry was wearing one of the sweaters her mother had knitted for him. Her mother always chose emerald green.
It matches his eyes, she’d said. Ginny had wondered aloud about whether she should have a brown sweater then, since her eyes were brown. But her mother had dismissed it as nonsense and insisted that she will get the same purple sweater that she gets every year.
Ginny spotted a pile of brooms on the ground next to the trunk. “Are those the school brooms?”
Harry turned abruptly and walked over to her, holding out his Firebolt. “Yes, but you can use my broom until your new one comes.”
Ginny shot Dean a glance, knowing he would be annoyed that Harry was offering her the Firebolt. Dean crossed his arms, but said nothing.
She sighed, not wanting another row. “No, thanks. I’ll be fine on the Shooting Star.”
But Harry shook his head. “I used that one after my Nimbus was destroyed. It’s awful. Please, just use mine so you can get in a good practice.”
“I think it would easier if she just used my broom,” said Dean. He stepped closer to her and gave her a small squeeze on the shoulder. Ginny wondered if Dean thought he was being supportive by suggesting she ride a slower broom.
“Then what would you fly?” smirked Ron. “Ginny, just take Harry’s broom.”
Ginny looked down, trying to hide a grin. Perhaps Dean thought he would fly Harry’s broom in her place…
She looked up when she heard Harry move closer to her.
“Just take it,” he muttered, shoving shoved the broom in her hands, his fingers getting tangled up with hers. She felt goosebumps run up her arm at his touch.
“Harry, are you sure it’s safe to let her use that broom?” protested Dean, an edge in his voice. “I don’t want any of the players getting hurt if she can’t handle it.”
Harry furrowed his brow, looking confused. “Ginny’s the best flier on the team.”
Ginny’s heart leapt at his words. Harry rarely gave compliments, especially about her. She felt a cautious hope blooming inside her, radiating warmth throughout her body.
Dean laughed derisively. “Better than you?”
“Being Captain doesn’t make me the best at everything,” said Harry shortly. His face was unreadable.
He turned his back on Dean and raised a hand to shade his face as he resumed his search for Slytherins in the sky. It seemed like he was done discussing who would fly his broom.
“What are you on about, Dean? Of course, Ginny’s a great flier!” said Ron hotly. For a moment, Ginny was touched by her brother’s confidence in her. But then she remembered that he hated Dean for dating her and wondered if he was only defending her for the sake of opposing Dean.
“It’s one of the fastest brooms on the market–” started Dean.
Ron cut him off. “One Galleon says she can fly it across this pitch faster than Harry.”
“Ron, I’m not racing Harry!” said Ginny, feeling her heart rate increase. She didn’t need Ron to turn this into a competition.
At the same time, she couldn’t help feeling a little emboldened. Ron never put his money where his mouth was unless he really believed he was right.
“You’re on,” retorted Dean without missing a beat. Ginny was stung at how quickly he’d taken the bet.
Harry, who had seemed to be ignoring them, suddenly spun around, looking surprised. “You’re betting against her?” he asked incredulously as Ron chuckled, shaking his head in what looked like disbelief. She was glad they hadn’t missed Dean’s rudeness.
“Ron, get the racing watch from the broomshed and set up a course,” Ginny demanded.
Without waiting for his response, she turned on her heel and stomped onto the pitch with the Firebolt still in her hand. She’d had enough of Dean’s digs at her flying skills. They would settle this now.
“Come on, Dean,” she heard Ron say, “We’ll have to agree on a course, so it’s a fair race.”
Ginny heard footsteps approaching from behind her, but did not look back.
“Ginny, we don’t have to do this,” said Harry, coming up even with her and matching her pace.
“Scared you’ll lose?” she spat, a little more bitterly than she had intended.
Harry sighed. “You’re a great flier. You don’t have to prove anything.”
His words, which had buoyed her just minutes ago, made her feel worse now. Why couldn’t Dean see this? She felt a lump forming in her throat as she choked, “Dean doesn’t think so.”
If Dean didn’t think she was a good flier, maybe she wasn’t good enough for the Quidditch development schools. She would have to be a standout player to make it, and she clearly wasn’t standing out to Dean.
She stopped and looked back at Ron and Dean, avoiding Harry’s eyes. Harry stepped in front of her to block them from her view.
“Why do you say that?” Harry’s voice was low and full of concern.
“He’s betting against me!” she said angrily, motioning toward Dean. “And he told me last night that a Nimbus is too fast for me!”
Harry’s eyes flashed. She heard his knuckles crack as he clenched his fists.
“Then Dean’s a git,” he growled, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
Ginny’s breath caught in her chest. She had never heard Harry speak ill of Dean...
“Oye!” Ron called from the edge of the pitch. “I’ve got the watch!”
Harry grabbed the Firebolt while it was still in her hand, his hand closing around her fist. Ginny gasped, but was unable to let go under his firm grip.
“I’ll tell them that I don’t want to race,” he said quietly.
“Why don’t you want to race me?” she asked uncertainly. Did Harry think she wasn’t good enough to compete with him? Was she fooling herself to think she could ever play professionally?
He tugged on the broom, pulling her closer. His face was just inches from hers. “Because it’s a lose-lose for you,” he whispered.
“How’s that?” she breathed, not sure if she should be offended. Her heart was pounding, and she could feel warm sunshine spreading through her body again.
“Beating me isn’t going to change Dean’s mind,” said Harry in a low voice. “He’s just going to say I let you win, or–”
“I don’t care. I want to race, Harry,” she hissed fiercely. She needed to prove to Dean that she could fly the Firebolt. Even if she lost, he’d see that she could handle the broom. And more importantly, she needed to prove to herself that she was good enough for a development school.
“Ginny, it’s not worth it!” he protested, giving her fist a rough squeeze. His palm felt hot against her icy knuckles.
“Do this for me?” she pleaded, her voice unnaturally high. The words had tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop herself.
Ginny felt her cheeks turn pink, but didn’t look away. The request felt too intimate; she’d made it about her instead of about the race. If he said no, it would be hard not to feel like he was rejecting her. But it was too late now to take it back.
Harry pursed his lips. He looked like he was struggling with himself.
“Are you two ready?” she heard Ron call from the edge of the pitch.
“For you, then,” said Harry finally. Ginny’s heart leapt and she exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
He started to turn away, but Ginny pulled on the broom to tug him back. She put her other hand over his closed fist and squeezed.
“Don’t go easy on me,” she said forcefully.
Harry met her eyes with an intensity that sent a shock through her body. “I promise I won’t.”
Letting go of the broom and her fist, he turned and walked back to Ron and Dean. Ginny didn’t move for a moment, shaken.
She hated promises. Making a promise meant there was a chance it could be broken. She wondered if she could trust Harry to give her a fair race.
Ginny mounted the Firebolt and kicked off. She needed to clear her head if she was going to be able to win this race.
The rest of the team had arrived and were huddled on the sidelines. Harry clenched his fists as he headed their way, his anger building.
What did Ginny see in Dean? He didn’t even believe in her. Maybe she liked the challenge?
Regardless of Ginny’s dating choices, Harry didn’t want to use practice to settle a lover’s quarrel. But he couldn’t say so without Ginny thinking he was just as bad as Dean.
Even worse, it was now a lose-lose situation for Harry as well. If he beat Ginny, she’d be humiliated in front of the team. If he lost to her, she’d think he’d broken his promise and let her win.
“You’re not sore that I bet against you, are you?” asked Ron in a low voice as Harry reached the sidelines.
Harry scoffed. “Of course not. I just don’t want to use our practice as a way for Dean to deal with his insecurity.”
“Maybe this is what Ginny needs to realize he’s not good enough for her,” replied Ron darkly.
Harry shot Ron a look to communicate his agreement as they joined the rest of the team. Ginny landed next to them a moment later, dismounting from the Firebolt with ease.
“No pressure, Ginny, but we’ve just taken more bets,” said Dean, smiling. It took all of Harry’s willpower not to roll his eyes.
She laughed, her face flushed and wisps of bright red hair falling out of her ponytail and lightly framing her face. “Who’s betting on me?’
Demelza Robbins and Jimmy Peakes gave her a small wave.
“You got this, Ginny!” said Demelza.
“I’ve only got Muggle money on me, so you better pull this off,” smirked Jimmy.
“Don’t worry, Peakes, I also accept British pounds,” said Dean with a chuckle.
Ginny turned to Ritchie Coote, who seemed to be betting on Harry. “I’ve got a long memory, Coote,” she teased.
“But Harry decides if I play,” he said, shooting Harry a grin. “Besides, with more people betting on you, there’s a bigger upside for me if Harry wins.”
Harry did not grin back. “That’s enough,” he barked. “We’re starting practice immediately after the race, no matter who wins. No exceptions.”
Ron cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Alright, here’s how it’s going to work…”
Harry saw that Ron had set up magical markers around the pitch that looked like wisps of colored smoke. There was a floating green line of smoke at one end of the pitch and an identical red line of smoke at the other end. Between them, there was a series of yellow puffs of smoke shaped like small archways. They were arranged in a zigzagged pattern across the pitch.
If the situation were different, Harry would have been thrilled to race on this course. Ron had added a couple of hairpin turns that looked exciting. But instead, he felt his stomach clench with dread as he debated letting Ginny win.
He knew Ginny was a great flier, but even the best fliers needed some time to get to know their broom. She’d only flown the Firebolt twice, which wasn’t enough to get to know how it would react to a small touch here or there. Harry had been flying it for years and knew every inch of it. He couldn’t see how this could be a fair race.
“The clock starts when you cross the green line,” Ron explained. “You must pass through all of the yellow gates in order, or you’re disqualified. The clock stops when you cross the red line.”
Harry nodded, scowling. He reached a hand out to Ginny without looking at her, and she handed him his Firebolt wordlessly.
Mounting his broom, he kicked off and sped over to the starting line as the team flew into the stands to get a better view. Even the rush of the cold wind in his face didn’t make him feel better.
He reached the starting line and paused, still debating whether he should let Ginny win.
“Whenever you’re ready, Harry!” shouted Ron.
In that moment, Harry decided to give it his all. He’d made Ginny a promise, and he was going to keep it–no matter the consequence.
The words were barely out of Ron’s mouth when Harry shot forward like a ball from a cannon. Ginny couldn’t help but watch in amazement from the stands as he effortlessly weaved through the yellow gates, hitting each one dead center. She blinked and almost missed him cross the finish line.
“10.1 seconds!” shouted Ron with glee. The team clapped and whooped. Ginny clapped nervously. Harry had certainly honored his promise...
“Wow, that’ll be tough to beat,” said Jimmy.
“Ginny can do it!” said Demelza, thumping Ginny on the back.
“You’ve got this, Ginny,” said Ron, putting his arm around her. He leaned in and added in a low voice, “You’re going to need to spot me some Galleons if you don’t beat him.”
She rolled her eyes. “As long as I get a cut of your gold if I win.”
Ron snorted derisively as Harry landed next to them in the stands, still scowling. Ginny had thought the flight would have cheered him up, but Harry remained in a sour mood.
“Here,” he said roughly, shoving his broom in front of her. She grabbed the end of the handle, carefully avoiding contact with his hand. There was no room for distractions…
She kicked off and flew at a brisk pace to the starting line, feeling her palms start to sweat and her heart rate increase despite the cold.
Pausing at the starting line, she took a deep breath and cleared her mind, blocking out all distractions. She surveyed the course, visualizing her path to the finish line. There were some tight turns, but she could make it if she stayed focused. Harry had gone through the center of each yellow gate, but she might be able to shave off up to a foot of distance if she just brushed the innermost sides.
Ginny lurched forward as soon as she found her path. The wind roared in her ears as she laid flat out again the broom. The Firebolt was so sensitive that it felt as though it responded more to her thoughts than her movements. Keeping her head down, she concentrated on touching the closest part of each yellow gate, not wanting to waste even an inch of distance if she could avoid it.
When she saw the red finish line ahead, she threw all of her weight forward, crying out as she felt herself cross the line. She came to an abrupt halt, nearly pitching herself off the broom, and looked over toward the stands.
Ginny nearly fell of the broom again as Demelza collided with her, screaming with joy. She felt more people pile on and shouts of congratulations.
“9.7 SECONDS! 9.7 SECONDS!” shouted Ron, hugging Ginny and shaking her.
They flew as one tangled mess toward the ground. Ginny was grinning so widely that her face hurt. She couldn’t believe she’d beat Harry! Her heart soared with renewed confidence.
Harry met them on the ground. As the group broke apart, he walked up to Ginny and extended his hand with a lopsided smile on his face.
She took his hand and shook it, feeling the familiar sunshine erupt inside her.
“Good game, Ginny,” he said with laughter in his eyes.
“Thanks, Harry,” she said, exhilarated.
Releasing his hand, her eyes sought Dean. Would he finally understand?
She felt Dean’s strong arms encircle her from behind. He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
“Great job, Ginny,” he whispered.
For a moment, she felt vindicated. Beating Harry really had changed Dean’s mind. But even as he held her, laughing and dropping kisses on her, she realized the hurt was still there. Dean hadn’t believed in her. He’d said that it would be unsafe for others if she’d flown the Firebolt. He’d bet that she would lose. What kind of person bets against his own girlfriend?
Someone who can’t handle her success.
She broke away from Dean as the team headed back to the edge of the pitch. Harry was already at the trunk, releasing the Bludgers. Ginny wondered if he’d hadn’t wanted to see Dean’s affectionate congratulations.
Putting all thoughts of boys out of her mind, she kicked off again, ready to lift her spirits by making Ron look like a fool at the goal.