Severus knew from studying the racing forms that there was a medium-sized racing track just outside of Edinburgh. He was uncertain of the protocol a racer needed to follow, but supposed it couldn't hurt to visit and speak to someone about getting some track time to train. Harry desperately needed the experience, and that meant they had to find a track to practice on. So the next morning, Severus donned his alter ego of Tobias Knight, and went to visit the Kelpie of Skye track.
The track manager, a rather large man called Tristan Bowen, was quite eager to help train a Skybolt entry, and told Severus that they could choose a slot to practice for a hour and a half either in the morning or at night. Severus didn't want too much attention being drawn to them, and figured the less people who saw them practice, the better. "I think the night spot will suit us, Mr. Bowen. How much will it cost?"
"Well, seein' as your pegasus is racing in the classic, Mr. Knight, I'm going to let you use the track for a pittance, 25 Galleons, and hope your stallion wins. Most of them that race in the Skybolt have their own tracks to train on. But I'm flattered you chose my humble track to practice on, sir."
Of course you are, Bowen. Now you've got something to tell your friends down at the pub. And if my pegasus wins, you'll be famous as the man who had Boreal race on his track. Severus was not surprised at the other's attitude. Everyone in this sport was searching for their own little piece of glory, their ten minutes of fame. "Thank you, Mr. Bowen. I shall be requiring the use of your track every night until the Skybolt. And I shall pay you by the week, if that is agreeable."
"Very, Mr. Knight. I look forward to seeing you race. It's a rare pegasus who's a dark horse, so to speak, in the Skybolt."
Severus gave him a small smile. "My pegasus may not have raced much, but he's one to watch, Mr. Bowen. Remember, anything can happen in the Skybolt." Then Severus bid the man good day, after handing him a bank note for the week's track time. "Oh, one other thing. I'd prefer it if my rider and I were left to train in private. Wouldn't want to give any of our secrets away, now would we?"
"No, sir." Bowen replied, sounding a bit disappointed. He had hoped to catch a glimpse of this pegasus, who was a late entry to the classic and despite an excellent pedigree was not as well known as his older brother Quicksilver. "I'll tell my boys that they're not to linger after they've set up the track for you. Good luck, sir." He gave the other wizard a nod before departing.
* * * * * * *
That night, Harry, Boreal, and Severus flew out to the track, Harry on Boreal's back and Severus on his broom. Harry had wrapped Boreal's legs with a length of soft cotton strips, to prevent a serious injury if he happened to bang into one of the gates, poles, or other obstacles that were arrayed in the air upon the track. The track was not a track like that a regular horse ran on, but it was a large oval with glowing yellow lines on both sides to denote the boundaries, if a pegasus crossed over them, he was disqualified.
The level of difficulty of the obstacles upon the track and the length was what defined a race as easy or hard. The Skybolt was the most difficult due to the amount and kinds of obstacles, there were twenty-seven and the length, it was the longest pegasus race. The track at the Kelpie didn't have the same number of obstacles as the Skybolt, but they were varied enough and difficult enough to present a challenge for Boreal.
Severus was the starter, meaning he would release Boreal from the barrier at a set time, and he also timed the race with a magical stopwatch. Boreal had said that anything under seven minutes was great. Firefox held the record for the fastest time, 5 minutes and 30 seconds. The barrier was a glowing grate of light that stretched across the track, and when it was banished by the starter, the race began.
Boreal hovered eagerly behind the glowing yellow barrier, Harry crouched lightly on his back. Harry was a bit nervous, but also excited. Boreal had told him how much fun it was flying on a real track, and said he would go slowly the first time so Harry could get used to the obstacles. Harry was wearing the hazrd strap, as per race regulations. The rider was also allowed to carry a wand, so in case of an accident, he could cast Cushioning and Featherlight Charms. Since Harry was a registered rider in the Skybolt, if he did need to cast a charm, he would not be cited by the Ministry for the use of Underage Magic.
"Ready?" Severus called, after first making sure no spying eyes were watching. The track officials had left after activating the obstacles, some of which were magical.
"Yes, sir." Harry called, and Boreal neighed an affirmative.
"On three. One. Two. Three. GO!"
The barrier vanished and Boreal surged forward, his wings propelling him down the track with an unbelievable burst of speed. Severus was nearly blown aside as the stallion took off.
Harry, being bonded to the stallion, was expecting the take off, but even so he was a little surprised by the sheer power in Boreal's wings. He crouched in the saddle, comfortable astride the silver pegasus, and as they rounded the first turn, he caught sight of the first obstacle--a tall three railed jump, similar to the ones in a Muggle horse show. Boreal flew straight at it, tucking his hooves beneath him as he sailed over it.
That was easy, Boreal! he sent to the stallion.
Of course. That was only the first one, the Silver Arrow replied, amused. He flew towards the next obstacle, this one a moving net that spun around.
The stallion slowed a little, getting the measure of the net's speed before he flew at it, timing his approach just right,so he could slip by just as the net started its descent. Harry wasn't sure if they were going to make it, but Boreal slipped away without the slightest touch of hemp upon him.
Some ten feet over was a section of poles that glowed, and here Boreal had to weave in and out of them without toucing them. That was harder than it sounded, but Boreal managed it. Harry patted his shoulder. Nice one!
Boreal snorted in amusement, then started to beat his wings hard, for the next obstacle was a wall that towered over fourteen feet in the air and shot harmless glowing balls at you. The Fire Wall, was what that obstacle was nicknamed, and Harry gasped as Boreal dodged one, two, and three balls of fire. Then the stallion was shooting up at a fantastic rate to clear the top of the wall, his silver hooves just missing it.
The next obstacle was a bunch of rings large enough for a pegasus to fly through, the Silver Arrow navigated it and was barely breathing hard. Harry simply clung to his back, content to allow Boreal to lead.
Harry felt the wind tangle in his hair, though he was wearing his hard hat. The sky was a brilliant deep midnight, sprinkled with dozens upon dozens of stars, they were so bright it almost seemed he could touch them.
There were fifteen obstacles on the course, twelve less than the Skybolt, but that was all right. They did not need to simulate the exact conditions in order to get a good work out.
The next thing that awaited them was one that every rider and pegasus dreaded, the spinning wind tunnel. Harry froze. Boreal, how can we fly through that? It looks impossible!
But it isn't. Simply a matter of keeping your head, he reassured his rider. Hold tight and keep your head down.
Harry did not bother to question, he simply did as he was told. His nose nearly buried in Boreal's mane, he tried to ignore the wailing of the wind and wondered how they were going to get past this one.
An instant later, he felt his stomach lurch as Boreal tucked his wings tight against his sides and sailed into the wind tunnel. Then all Harry knew was the terrific pressure and screech of the wind as Boreal used his earlier momentum to shoot through the tunnel, traveling at an insane speed.
Harry thought he yelled, but if he did, it was lost in the roar of the wind. Then they were through and Boreal wasbanking right to avoid a whirling golden ball placed just outside the wind tunnel.Next they flew through a canopy of low hanging branches, all of which tried to grab or swat at them as they went along. Then there was a combination jump, two gates plus a moving stream of water inbetween them. The pegasus had to fly over each gate and avoid the water too.
It required precise timing, one small mistake and the rider or pegasus could be badly injured. Boreal took a deep breath, then counted four quick breaths and flew up and sideways and over like a silver snake with wings, flowing like quicksilver.
Harry would not have believed it unless he had experienced it. Merlin, Boreal, but that was amazing!
The last few obstacles were things like rings of flickering fire that had to be flown through, knives with charmed wings, and then a long length of pole that had fog conjured around it. Then too the last turns of the track twisted and meandered, requiring the pegasus to turn and fly in a corkscrew pattern. By the time they had reached the end of the course, Boreal was sweating lightly and Harry was panting, his fingers aching from holding on too tightly, and a big smile on his face. He had loved everyarenaline rushed moment, and couldn't wait to do it again.
Neither could Boreal.
Severus, on the other hand, was tempted to yank his son off Boreal's back and forbid him to fly, he had been so alarmed at the way the pegasus took the obstacles. And this was just the beginning. He had known that the course would be tough, but knowing it and seeing his son ride in it were two different things. And this was mild compared to the grueling Skybolt. He checked his watch. "Six minutes, forty seconds," he called to the pair.
Not bad for a first try. But now we do it at speed.
Harry grinned. All right. Let's do it.
They began all over again, only this time Boreal allowed himself to fly almost at his top speed. Harry felt as if he rode the back of the wind, he allowed himself to merge with Boreal until he and the pegasus became one.
Severus had to admit that the Silver Arrow and his son were breathtaking and terrifying at the same time. He found he was torn between wanting to applaud and bury his face in his hands. But his son was loving it, the insolent little daredevil! That time they completed the course in nearly five minutes. They flew another time and another before Severus made them take a breather. Then they focused only on certain areas of the track, trying to get Boreal to shave some seconds off his time, until the hour and a half was up and they could return to the glen.
Once they had reached it, Harry gave Boreal a hot mash and rubbed him down and put a warm blanket upon him. Then and only then did he go inside to drink something hot and take a shower himself.
* * * * * *
During the day, Boreal stretched his wings by going on several long distance flights, improving his endurance tenfold. Sometimes he flew with Harry and other times it was solo, but gradually the pegasus's muscle tone returned and he was able to fly longer and faster.
Night after night they returned to the track and found the obstacles changed or in a different order, to challenge them further. But no matter how the obstacles were arranged, Harry and Boreal always completed the course. Each time they did so, they improved slightly, until by the middle of the third week, Boreal was in peak condition again, as he had been before he had left Shining Stars stable. Harry was often sore after completing a training flight, but he never complained. A little soreness was worth it.
The last few training sessions, Severus had conjured a fake rider and pegasus to match them, so Harry would know what it felt like to be flown against. The fake opponent crowded them when it could and tried to smack Harry with his fake crop. Harry's solution to this opponent was to urge Boreal to fly faster, until he outflew the shadowy rider and pegasus.
All too soon, it was three days before the Skybolt, and Harry was brought to St. Mungos, supposedly for a back-to-school physical and Severus asked Mr. Bowen to have the track Magical Creatures vet examine Boreal, thus fulfilling the last of the pre-race requirements.
By then, the Prophet and Silver Wings, the racing newspaper, was running an ad discussing what they thought would be the outcome of the big race. Quicksilver was the heavy favorite, and so was the lone mare, Bolt of Glory, who had won her last three matches. There was some speculation about Boreal, however, for some of the die hard racing fans recalled the way Boreal had won almost every race he had been entered in, and how he was also a son of Firefox. There was no mention of the deal O'Shea had made with Severus, however, though some of the sports columnists speculated on why Boreal had been sold to a virtual unknown before the Skybolt.
Some said that it had been a mistake on O'Shea's part, that perhaps he had owed this Knight money. Others said it was an attempt to rid himself of a pegasus that wouldn't race for him, and still others wondered if history would repeat itself, since Boreal was bonded to his rider, as Firefox had been when he had w on the Skybolt twice. Like father, like son, perhaps? One thing both the detractors and the supporters of Boreal agreed on, however, was that in the Skybolt, anything could--and most often would--happen. Three days time would tell the tale and reveal which son of Firefox would stand in the winner's circle, earning himself the coveted title, Master of the Skies.
Chapter End Notes:
Well, what did you think of that one?
Next: The Skybolt. Can Harry & Boreal win, or will they end up working for the tyrannical O'Shea?
Next: The Skybolt. Can Harry & Boreal win, or will they end up working for the tyrannical O'Shea?
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