Harry was so nervous the night before the Skybolt that he couldn't sleep.He went to bed early, but tossed and turned, a bundle of nerves, and not even centering and meditation calmed him.At last he rose and padded back into the den, where Severus was reading a novel and relaxing with a cup of tea and a shortbread.He lifted his eyes from his book and looked at his son.
"Can't sleep, Harry?"
"No.Everytime I try, I just . . .I don't know . . .can't seem to relax.I keep thinking about tomorrow and what could happen.What if something goes wrong?"
Severus beckoned him to a seat on the couch."Harry, there's no sense in torturing yourself with what if's.Do you trust your bond with Boreal?"
"And do you trust your pegasus?"
"Sure I do."
"Then that's all you need.Believe in yourself and Boreal and you can do anything.Even winning the Skybolt.You have the skill, the nerve, and the best pegasus ever to fly in a race, Harry Snape.Believe it.I do."
Harry gazed into Severus' eyes, and saw the utter unshakable conviction in them, and realized for the first time how Severus had made that deal without a moment's hesitation.He had faith in his son and in Boreal, and it was that which sustained him.Harry drank in the other's conviction, allowing it to fill him, until he banished the tension and worry by its immutable presence.He relaxed bit by bit.Then he broke eye contact and looked away, towards the embers of the dying fire.
"If you'd like, I could give you a mild Sleeping Draft, son."
Harry thought about it.Severus's faith in him had restored his confidence, but a few doubts still lingered."Yeah, okay.Maybe I should."
The Potions Master summoned a vial of smoky gray potion and handed it to Harry."Drink it just before you get in bed, it works quickly.It should grant you a peaceful sleep."
"Thanks.Dad? How will we keep O'Shea's men from remembering the way you really look? You're going to use a Glamour, right?"
"Yes.I will be Tobias Knight in public, and I'll alter your features slightly as well, hide your scar.As for those two, leave them to me." Severus said, he had already planned on finding them and Obliviating the memory of himself and Harry's true appearance and replacing it with their Glamoured selves."I'll make sure we're not compromised.Now, off to bed with you, you need a good night's sleep, son."
Yawning, Harry rose, the bottle of potion clutched in one fist, gave Severus another brief hug and then departed for his bedroom.
He gulped the potion while sitting on his bed, it tasted like lavender and smoke, and then lay down and allowed himself to be stolen away in sleep's embrace.
* * * * * *
The next morning, thanks to the Sleeping Draft, Harry awoke feeling refreshed and eager to fly.He threw on some old clothes and slipped out to the stable where he groomed and polished Boreal until he gleamed, using the Shimmer Polish on his hooves and braiding his mane.He shined up the tack as well before placing it upon Boreal.
The pegasus whickered and thrust his nose into Harry's shoulder.Nervous, Chosen?
A bit.But we can do this.I trust you.
As I do you, Harry Snape.My sire won this race twice with his bonded, I think I can manage to do it as well.I had a better record than my half-sib Quicksilver before that last race.He breathed lightly into Harry's hair. Go, get dressed and eat something.I shall be ready when you call.
Boreal then turned back to his breakfast of high protein alfalfa and a scoop of honeyed oats, though he did not eat as much as he was wont, since this was race day and he needed to be able to fly fast and he couldn't do that if he was heavy with food.
Rellah had made buckwheat pancakes and ham today, as well as a special nutrient fruit shake that she assured Harry would give him energy.She tisked a bit when she saw how Harry had left half of the food on his plate though."It was delicious, but I just can't eat any more, Rellah."
"Nerves," remarked Eileen from the hallway."When all of this is over, you'll eat like a horse, I'm betting."
"Most likely," her son agreed.
Harry then went to get dressed in his new silks, which felt like gossamyr wisps on him, yet were warm enough to keep out the icy winds of the upper regions of the air, sewn by a woodkin skilled with plant fibers and weaving magical charms into fabric.The breeches of the outfit had reinforced cloth on the thighs and seat, to prevent Harry from getting any saddle sores, and was a uniform black color.The shirt was black with white sleeves and the winged golden lily on the right sleeve as per Harry's request.He also had his hat, mirror-finished knee length boots and a small crop, which Severus insisted he carry, plus his wand, tucked into his belt.
"Best of luck, Harry," Eileen said as he went by, hat tucked under his arm."Show that pompous windbag O'Shea who really is Master of the Skies."
"I will, Gran." Harry promised, sketching her a bow as he went past.
"Insolent brat," he heard the portrait mutter, chuckling.
"All set?" Severus asked, his wand out as Harry came back into the kitchen.
"Yes, sir.What do you think?"
Severus examined his son for a brief moment, then said quietly, "I think I'm looking at the next Skybolt champion."
Harry smiled at that, then shut his eyes as Snape cast a glamour over him to hide his scar and alter his features somewhat, so he no longer resembled the Boy Who Lived.Severus gave a satisfied nod, then cast a Glamour over himself as well. The familiar saturnine features were dissolved, replaced by the open rugged good looks of Tobias Knight, American pegasus owner and wizard.
"One last thing, then we can head over to the track," Severus said, going inside his study to retrieve the silver horseshoe Portkey the track administrator had mailed him three days before.The Skybolt was hosted by a different country almost every year, which was why you needed special tickets and a Portkey to get to the event.Severus affixed a special badge to his collar that told officials he had permission to be about the stables and close to the track, as an owner he was granted certain privileges.He also drank a Calming Draught, figuring his nerves would thank him later, when it was all over.
Then they were off, going out to the stable and calling Boreal.He stepped lightly from the stable, and the sun striking his coat made it shimmer like molten silver.On his black blanket was a large white number 5.A good position, not too bunched in the middle, nor too far outside.The post position had been sent along with badges and Portkey.Severus attached the last badge to Harry's collar, it was a crossed lightning bolt badge, before telling Harry to put one hand on Boreal and the other on the horseshoe and he did the same."Portus," Snape whipered, and just before the magic whirled them away, they saw all the woodkin of clan Woodberry and Oakleaf and many others waving and wishing Harry good luck from the meadow's edge.
Harry felt a tremendous pull from his navel before he was spun away into blackness and all he knew was hold tight to Boreal's bridle and the horseshoe.Then they emerged upon a large grass and packed dirt area, and Harry was grateful to lean against Boreal's shoulder until the world quit spinning.
He blinked then said to Severus, "Dad, I didn't know the woodkin followed pegasus racing."
"They don't.But they were there to show support for a son of the glen," Severus explained.He glanced about, then began walking down a paved path towards several long whitewashed buildings with blue trim, presumably the track stables.A uniformed official, wearing the Skybolt logo of a gold lightning bolt bisected by a flying pegasus, approached them and waved a wand over them to detect for any harmful magic and substances or weapons, then nodded at them to go towards the stables.
The stables were a hive of activity, with grooms and such rushing to and fro carrying water buckets and hay and buckets of oats and some with bandages and linament or currycombs and polish.Last minute adjustments were being made to tack and boots and so forth.A slew of reporters from the Prophet and Silver Wings and Racing Digest were taking interviews and questioning people about who they thought would win and snapping photographs of a handsome Silver Arrow with green and silver colored stable blanket.
Boreal lifted his head and snorted.My brother the peacock.Always has to be the center of attention.
Harry lifted his eyes from all the other sights to peer at Quicksilver.He was handsome and there was an arrogant attitude about him that made Harry think of his arch rival , Draco Malfoy.Huh.He doesn't look any better than you and he's got a narrower chest.
Boreal whinnied in amusement. My brother would not thank you for that, Harry.He has always considered himself the pinnacle of beauty and speed.He's always thought too much of himself.
Well, today we're going to take him down a peg, all right.Uh, Boreal, where are we?
We are at the Skybolt, of course.
No, I meant what country is it being hosted in?
I do not know.Does it matter? The pegasus asked, supremely unconcerned with the location of the classic.
No, but . . .Harry trailed off as they passed a large banner with the words The Skybolt's 200th Anniversary running, returns to Kentucky, the birthplace of winged legends!
"Kentucky.Hey, we're in Kentucky, Dad," Harry murmured to Severus."That's where Boreal was born."
Severus nodded, leading the way to a large loose box marked 5.Further down, there were more reporters clustered about a fine white mare. This was Bolt of Glory, one of the few Royal Whites to ever race.Harry examined her critically, noting that she was quite pretty and well put together, though smaller and more delicate looking than her Silver Arrow brethren.
"There's one to keep an eye on, Harry," said his father in a whisper."She likes to pull surprising maneuvers and her rider, Anthony Ramirez is experienced and knows every trick in the book.Be careful."
"I will, sir.How about Quicksilver's rider?"
"Arthur Ashe.He's another one who skirts the edge of the rulebook.Watch him."
Besides the two favorites, there was also a field of fifteen others to contend with, two having been scratched due to last-minute injuries, for a field of eighteen.
No sooner had Boreal been placed in his stall, then some reporters made their way over and began idly asking questions."Mr. Knight, what made you try and attempt the Skybolt with a green entry?" drawled one.
Severus leaned against the stall door and replied, "Boreal is hardly green, he has raced before and won."
"True, but this is the Skybolt and your son is his bonded and only a kid.Aren't you afraid that it might be too dangerous?"
"A bonded pair has won this race twice.In fact, Firefox is the sire of my stallion.My son knows what he's doing, even if he is only twelve."
The reporter looked faintly amused."So, you think you've got a shot at beating the favorite, Quicksilver, then? He was looking mighty good.And so was the mare, Bolt of Glory."
Severus looked bored."At the risk of sounding cliched, gentlemen, anything can happen in the Skybolt.Expect the unexpected."
The reporter chuckled."Expect the unexpected.I like your attitude, Knight.It's been a long time since a dark horse has won.Perhaps this will be your year.Good luck to you."
A few other reporters drifted over to snap pictures and ask questions, all of which Severus fielded expertly, giving Harry time to settle his nerves and relax before the call went out for post time.
Abruptly, Severus stiffened, as he caught sight of two familiar faces.Patrick and Sean had just appeared beside Quicksilver's stall, looking mighty pleased with themselves.
"Harry, stay here and don't answer any questions and don't let anyone touch Boreal." Severus said shortly."I see some acquaintances over there I need to speak with."
Before Harry could figure out who he was speaking about, Severus had turned invisible and stalked as silently as Wraith upon the two henchmen, tapping their heads with the tip of his wand and whispering "Obliviate!" and then "Restoro Memoriam." Erasing the memory of Severus and Harry's appearance from their minds and replacing it with the Glamoured one.
It took three minutes all told and then Severus was gone, returning to Harry's side to watch over his son and his pegasus.Rival stables had been known to try and hex a rider or a pegasus before this, and so Severus was careful to put up protections about Boreal's stall.
Harry sat on a hay bale inside, chewing occasionally on a fingernail and studying the course layout again.The track would not have the obstacles in the same pattern, they shifted them so the element of surprise was not lost, but Harry could familiarize himself with the way the track meandered and the types of obstacles.There was one very tough section just before the final stretch called Heartbreak Ridge, so named because many riders and pegasi had faltered and failed to complete the course, since one of the toughest set of obstacles was there.He crossed his fingers and murmured swift prayers to God and Epona, the Mother of Mares to see him safely through there.
"Scared, Knight?" jeered a familiar voice.
Harry looked up from the course map to see Patrick looking over the stall door."No.Why, are you?"
"You will be, boyo.Mark me." The other grinned nastily."There's still time to call it quits."
"Never.Worry about yourself, Mulligan.Boreal is going to blow your so-called champion away." Harry said softly, his green eyes flashing.
"You've got a smart mouth, kid.I look forward to training it outta you," growled the other menacingly.
Suddenly, a lean hard hand closed over his shoulder and spun him around."Are you threatening my son, Mulligan?" Severus demanded silkily."Perhaps my last lesson didn't take and you'd like another one?"
Patrick went fishbelly white."N-No, sir, Mr. Knight."
"Didn't think so.Now get!"
Severus hauled the other man about and sent him on his way with a quick boot to the rump, much to the amusement of the reporters watching.Boreal stuck his head over the partition and whistled angrily, and Patrick took to his heels and fled.
Harry laid a hand on his bonded neck."Easy, fellow.Save it for the race, huh?"
Boreal whuffed in his ear. Fear not, Harry.I will not spend myself before it's time.
"Harry.It's almost time for you to weigh in," came Severus's voice, and Harry gave Boreal one last scratch before slipping from the stall.
* * * * * *
After weighing in, Harry stood in line with all the other jockeys to get inspected for illegal jinxes and hexes.He endured some ribbing from the other riders due to his age and size.
Harry didn't respond, but he could feel his ears turn red at the mockery.
"You sure you got your daddy's permission to ride, kid?" jeered one, a tall lanky fellow.
"Shouldn't you be in school, kid?" laughed another, looking only three years older than Harry.
"Leave off, Victor," spoke up a dark-haired girl with a soft Southern accent."He's a bonded and can probably ride y'all into the ground."
The one called Victor snorted and snarled something about "all you bondeds think who the hell y'are."
"I know where the hell I'll be come Heartbreak Ridge, that's for sure," she smiled sweetly at him."Question is, will you?"
The rider glared at her and muttered something highly unpleasant she and her mount could go and do to herself.
She laughed."Maybe you lean that way, Samson, but not me." She turned to Harry."Hi.Name's Daria Mercutio, Wind Dancer's bonded."She held out a hand.
"Harry Knight," he shook her hand cautiously.She appeared to be a few years older, around eighteen.
"Pay them no nevermind, kid.They're just jealous no pegasus ever chose them to bond with.They've got better sense, see?" she grinned at him."Well, good luck and maybe you'll come in second after me, huh?"Then she stepped up to the official to be scanned.
"Clean.Knight, you're next."
Harry stepped up to the red coated official and the wizard waved his wand and muttered several counterspells.It was over in a minute."You're clean.Go back and wait till you hear the bugle, kid.That's post time."
"Yes, sir," was all he said, before turning and walking out of the room, clutching his saddle.
The brassy notes of the bugle sounded over the race course, and an announcer cried, "Ladies and gentlemen, wizards of all ages, it's post time for the running of the 200th annual Skybolt International Championship!"
Severus gave Harry a leg up into the saddle, then said softly, "Run your own race, son, like you and Boreal practiced.Try and get out in front and stay there, but if you can't wait and make your move later.Trust yourself and trust Boreal.You can do it, Harry.I'll see you in the winner's circle.Fly safe, fledgling."He patted the boy on the back before stepping back to allow Boreal to follow the number 4 pegasus in the parade to the barrier.
The pegasi walked proudly to where the starter, in an official gold coat and white breeches, stood, wand raised to release the barrier.There were screams as Quicksilver, the number 1 pegasus and the favorite, appeared.
The Silver Arrow tossed his head and pranced over to the starter, looking incredibly haughty.
Show off! Boreal's lip curled at his brother's disdainful air.Thou are but mortal, brother, like the rest of us.
Finally it was Harry's turn."And Number Five, Windseeker's Boreal, bonded to Harry Knight."
Boreal stepped out smartly, moving in a graceful glide across the ground, head high.Harry sat up tall, glancing across the sea of faces in the stands which were high as Quidditch stands, trying to spot Severus, but it was impossible.As an owner, he knew Severus had prime seating, but he could not see him in the undulating screaming crowd.
Harry did not expect anyone to be cheering for him, for he was the "dark horse", but to his utter shock he could hear people chanting, "Knock ‘em dead, Knight!" and "Fly the wind home, Boreal!"
He scanned the crowd and saw the track manager and the officials from the Kelpie of Skye track there in the stands, waving scarves and holding up a sign that read HARRY AND BOREAL-THE WIND GOD'S OWN!
Harry felt himself flush, for that sentiment was only used to denote the best flyers of the sport, but plainly the employees of the Skye track felt he deserved it.
Then he heard another familiar voice ring out, using a voice amplifier to be heard over the rest of the crowd."Go, Harry! Go Gryffindor! Bring it on home!"
Could that be Hermione?
But before he could search for her, they were lining up and hovering in front of the barrier.
Down in the stands, Severus was making his way to the private box where the owners and their guests sat when he heard Hermione's voice.He checked sharply and spotted the slender girl, wearing a bright magenta shirt and shorts, standing at the front of the crowd of Harry supporters waving a banner and yelling in a most undignified fashion.
"Miss Granger? How on earth did you come to be here?" he queried, coming up behind her."I was not aware you followed racing."
She spun around."Hullo, Professor!" she cried, beaming."Ever since I met Boreal, I became interested in pegasus racing and started reading and when I saw Harry's name in the paper as one of the Skybolt entries, well, I just had to come and see it.I used the rest of my birthday money and begged my parents and here I am."
Severus raised an eyebrow."Indeed." He was not surprised she recognized him beneath the glamour, she had always been one of the brightest witches of her year, and he knew Harry had told her of the alias."Would you like to watch the race from somewhere with a better eyeview?"
"Oh, yes, sir, Professor . . .um . . .Knight."
"Come along then." he beckoned her to the private box, using Harry's badge, since he didn't need it as a rider, to get Hermione seated beside him."You are here by yourself, Miss Granger?"
"Oh no, I came with the Kelpie manager, Mr.Bowen.He's quite nice, you know."
"Hush, child.They're about to start," Severus shushed her as he saw the starter raise his wand, preparing to bring down the barrier.
All eighteen pegasi were lined up behind the barrier, waiting tensely for the glowing screen to vanish, signaling the start of the great race.
Then the glittering barrier vanished and there came a roar of displaced air as all eighteen winged steeds flew forward.
"A-a-and . . .THEY'RE OFF!"
All eyes were trained on the surging mass of wings and gleaming silver bodies, trying to see who had broken first.
It looked like Quicksilver was flying free of the pack, but then a silvery dappled blur surged past him and on his back crouched a slight boy wearing black and white silks.
Hermione let out a yell that Severus was sure could be heard back in England."GO BOREAL!"She waved her flag enthusiastically while her professor stared at her, wondering when this screeching banshee had replaced the normally sedate and calm Hermione Granger.
He rubbed his eyes, debating if this were some kind of strange walking nightmare.But no, he could plainly hear the girl yelling at the top of her lungs, and winced and considered conjuring a pair of earmuffs.Then he focused his binoculars on his son and his mount, who were maintaining their half-a-head lead over the favorite going into the first turn, which contained a fiery triple oxer as the first obstacle.
* * * * * *
Harry had not known whether he was first or not when Boreal had exploded from the start, though he had hoped he was.It was only when he spotted Quicksilver's head at his knee that he realized he was ahead of the other pegasus and when he cast a quick glance behind him, he saw that the rest of the pack was still trying to outfly each other.
Then he faced forward and concentrated on the task at hand, which was the enormous fiery oxer that he had to fly Boreal through.He could practically feel the heat of the flames as they neared it.He crouched low over Boreal's neck, allowing his mind to blur into his mount's.
Illusion. The fire isn't real.
Huh? How d'you know?
There is no smell of burning wood, the Silver Arrow replied.Then he gathered himself and half-flew half-jumped over the first flaming gate.
He landed inbetween the flaming bars with mere inches to spare and then repeated the precise maneuver again and again until they had made it safely past and Boreal flew hard towards the next one, which was a series of bent poles that snapped upwards at brief intervals, leaving a space barely big enough for a pegasus to fly through.
Boreal judged the poles speed in a hairsbreadth and flew towards it, only to be jostled unexpected by his brother, whose rider Ashe had decided to fly closer than allowed.
"Hey! Get off, you rotten bugger!" Harry snarled, furious.The shove could have resulted in serious injury.
"Suck up and deal with it, kiddie!" laughed Ashe.
"Eat this!" Harry drew his crop and cracked it in front of Quicksilver's nose, startling the big pegasus and making him shy.
Boreal bugled approval then dove towards the poles, reaching them as they snapped erect and blasting through them just as they began to fold over.
He escaped the trap with inches to spare, and Harry grinned and cried, "That's the way, Boreal!"
The Silver Arrow extended his wings and raced towards the third obstacle, but now some of the others had caught up to him and it was a duel to see who would reach the third obstacle, a brush wall that sprouted strange tendrils, first.
Boreal slowed, allowing a more eager pegasus named Rocket to go ahead of him.It was then that Harry saw just how dangerous the race course was, as Rocket misjudged his leap and the tendrils of vine shot out and snatched Rocket's rider off the winged steed's back and threw the man into the air.
Luckily, the wizard managed to cast a Featherlight Charm before falling to the earth, all his hopes destroyed in the fraction of a second.
Boreal, did you see that? Harry sent, feeling his stomach tighten in dread.
Bad luck, that.Boreal sent.We must be more careful.He didn't get enough height.
Harry could feel the stallion gathering himself, then he beat his wings downward hard, once, twice, three times.
On the third thrust, they were even with the top of the wall and the hissing vines, and Boreal gave one last beat and soared over it and down the other side.
They were joined then by Quicksilver, Bolt of Glory, Wind Dancer and three others, and together they flew towards the next set of obstacles, water spouts, walls that appeared and disappeared, and zigzagging horizontal poles.
Severus watched with his hands clenched upon the rail, his eyes locked upon the figures of Harry and Boreal.Seeing the first accident nearly caused his heart to come up out of his chest, but when the pair cleared the obstacle he breathed again.
Thank you, Lord.Now please, keep him safe.
"And . . .it's still anybody's race at this point, though Rocket, Star Mist, and Evanescence have been disqualified.Still out in front are Quicksilver, Boreal, Wind Dancer, and Bolt of Glory.They are in fine form, flying well, and have twenty-four more hazards to complete . . ." said the announcer.
Hermione too, watched and gasped and covered her face each time a new obstacle was faced.More of the field fell at the spitting water spout jump, as they failed to slow down enough to weave their way past the spitting water cage.
Now there were seven left, it was midway through the course , and the obstacles were becoming more and more difficult, plus the pace and length were telling on the winged horses.
Harry could feel Boreal laboring a bit more now, each beat of his magnificent wings took more energy, but he never faltered.He was second behind Quicksilver at this point, husbanding his strength.
They were coming to the Corkscrew Canyon, the part of the race wherethe pegasi and riders would have to demonstrate their accuracy and daring by flying through a series of corkscrew wooden fences, one after another, without missing one.
Suddenly, Bolt of Glory's rider surged up alongside Boreal, and Ramirez leaned over and slashed Harry with his crop.
Harry yelled as a line of fire seared its way down his arm, but he didn't release his hold on the reins.
Boreal screamed and turned upon Glory, teeth bared.Foul! Wicked cheater!
Glory neighed and kicked out with a hoof, making Boreal swerve, nearly sending them off course.
Then she was past, flying into second place, her rider sitting smugly on her back, having taken care of the upstart and his bonded, as per O'Shea's instructions.Unbeknownst to anyone, Ramirez had cut a secret deal with O'Shea, getting a portion of the winnings if Quicksilver claimed the title, and all he had to do was make sure Boreal never reached the finish line.
"Harry! What d'you call that?" Hermione shrilled, shaking her fist at the white Pegasus."Disqualify them, you stupid imbecile!"
Severus's eyes blazed."Miserable bastard!" he growled, his stomach lurching as he saw Boreal twist hard to avoid hitting the edge of the track and then turn and fly back on course.But now they were severely behind the field and Severus prayed they could make up the ground.
Boreal, you all right? Harry panted, having felt the strain on the big stallion as he twisted about.
Yes, but how are you, Harry? That crop struck you.
I've had worse.It stings like hell, but I'll live.Let's get the nasty cheating buggers and pay them back, huh?
Indeed.Boreal put on a burst of speed and they flew into Corkscrew Canyon.
It was here that Boreal's precision and speed coupled with Harry's boldness and sense of direction proved invaluable.The pair streaked into the canyon and into the first twisty corkscrew like a bolt of lightning.Then they followed the pattern up, down, sideways, spiraling across the sky at a speed that made Harry's hair stand on end.
There were times when Harry was certain that his stomach had fallen out of him, and other times when he was sure his head was spinning off into outer space somewhere, he was so dizzy by the way they spun, twirled and doubled around the wooden frames.
Each of the gates was attached to the other, and one wrong move spelled defeat.
But Boreal nailed them precisely and came out of the canyon at a startling speed, making up half the ground they had lost due to Ramirez's nasty trick.
They could see five pegasi ahead of them, two had fallen victim to the canyon's unforgiving spiral threat.
* * * * * *
"Look, professor!" Hermione pounded a hand down on the rail, and pointed."There he is, I see him! Come on, Harry! Get them! Go! Go! Go!"
"Miss Granger, restrain yourself, before you fall over the rail," Severus ordered, grabbing the young witch's arm.
"Merlin, professor, but how can you be so calm?"
"I assure you, I am anything but calm," Snape replied dryly."I am likely having a heart attack without being aware of it.Or developing an ulcer, I'm not sure which."Then he leaned upon the rail and put the binoculars back to his face just in time to see Boreal overtake one of the faltering silver and white pegasi."Excellent, son! Demolish them!" he cried, unaware that he was yelling now as well.
* * * * * *
Boreal flew harder than he had ever flown in his life, except when he was trying to flee the wyvern.Quicksilver was seven lengths ahead, Bolt was five, and the others were three and four.He zigzagged through Flicker Peak, where illusionary trees appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye, requiring split-second reactions to navigate it.
Harry sat still upon Boreal's back, giving the stallion room to maneuver.Blink. Blink. Trees flickered past his eyelids and he half shut them, trusting the Silver Arrow to navigate without his help. Trust the bond.And trust Boreal.
Harry sucked in a breath, then opened his eyes and they were through Flicker Peak and ascending to Granite Pass, where they had to slingshot around a large granite peak and through a mine field of Booming Boulders.
The others are only a length or two ahead now, Boreal called.His breath was coming in shorter intervals and sweat streaked his coat.Ready for the slingshot?
You bet.Let's do it!
Boreal poured on the speed then, wondering even as he did so just how much he would have left in reserve, but a burst of speed was necessary to slingshot around the peak and into the field without getting caught by the first pair of boulders.
The boulders smacked together with an almighty CRASH! They could crush a pegasus's leg or tail or wing if the horse misjudged the boulders' speed.
Boreal was a silver blur as he slingshot around the granite peak, Harry clinging for dear life and yelling in sheer delight, for the adrenaline rush of this race was unlike any he had ever known.
They slipped past the first pair of boulders, and Harry winced at the awful boom behind them.Ahead, they could see Bolt and her rider struggling and Harry prayed they would falter, serve them right.
But somehow they managed to squeak through, and Harry cursed and sent Boreal encouragement down the link, lending the tired stallion some of his own strength and magic, as only a bonded pair could do.
Thank you, Harry, the Silver Arrow sent gratefully, then began his run.
* * * * * *
"Oh my God! I can't look, sir!" Hermione wailed, covering her eyes as she saw Boreal and Harry enter the field of boulders.They could see and hear the loud CRACK made by the rocks smashing even from the stands and every time a boulder boomed, Hermione jumped like a startled hare.
Severus placed an arm about her, not for comfort, but to keep her from toppling over the edge, he told himself.The girl huddled against him, whimpering, "Tell me when it's over, sir!"
"Shhh.They're doing brilliantly," Severus said, a proud note in his voice."Much better than that white disgrace and her rider did."
He swore under his breath, for it was plain that Boreal was the better pegasus, but Ramirez's trick might have cost Harry the race.
Unless Boreal could make up those lost lengths, Quicksilver would win the day.
"Come on, Harry! Come on!" he called, willing his son and his fiery steed to catch the favorite.
* * * * * *
Then it was upon them.Heartbreak Ridge.Three obstacles designed to test pegasus and rider to the ultimate.The first one was the infamous wind tunnel, where winds of up to fifty miles an hour swirled in a funnel reminiscent of a tornado.The rider and his mount had to fly directly into the teeth of it and hopefully out the other side.
Many pegasi refused outright, for instinct urged the winged steeds to fly away from such a danger.Indeed, Merry Widow, the fifth contender for the lead, jerked away and refused to enter the swirling death trap.Her rider circled and came at the tunnel again, and again the pegasi reared and turned aside, terrified and not minded to obey her insane rider's commands.A third refusal and she was disqualified.
Now it was down to Quicksilver, Bolt of Glory, Wind Dancer, and Boreal.
Quicksilver, Dancer, and Boreal all entered the tunnel.Bolt refused once, but Ramirez forced his will upon her and she entered the tunnel too, though she was the slowest out of it and was now last behind Boreal.
The Rotating Rings of Fire are next, my rider. Boreal sent to Harry, who was nearly frozen to death from the wind tunnel.
Good because I could really use a fire right about now, Harry sent, his teeth chattering uncontrollably.He blessed Rellah's skill in making his silks layered and warm, otherwise he would have fallen, since his hands were frozen.
Up ahead loomed twenty foot rings of fire, real fire this time, not an illusion.The roar and crackle of the flames was enough to make any horse shudder and indeed, Harry could feel Boreal trembling beneath him.The rings of fire spun around, making it difficult for the pegasus to fly through without singing a wing tip.
I hate fire, Harry.Fire is the worst.
It's okay, Boreal.The fire won't burn you unless you let it, Harry soothed the agitated steed, sending Boreal calming thoughts.All we have to do is fly through three rings and we're done.Not too bad, right?
The stallion shuddered.But it's fire.The enemy of all pegasi and horses.Can't you smell the smoke? The Silver Arrow tossed his head and flecks of foam stood out on his mouth.
I know.I know.But you can do this.It's no different than the fire ring we flew through on the practice track, remember?
Yes, but THAT one was not spinning and huge, Boreal squealed.
Harry sent reassuring and calming thoughts over and over as they approached the rings.I love you, Boreal.Together we can do anything.Even this.Now go!
He gave the faltering stallion's courage a brisk mental smack and Boreal straightened and focused, his fear subsumed by his bonded's faith.
He sideslipped through the first ring as it twirled upon its axis, narrowly escaping a singed tail.
Then it was on to the next one, shooting through it just before it began spinning.
Yes!! One more, Boreal! And then we have just one last challenge before the homestretch.
Boreal climbed, for the final ring was set up above the others and spinning like a dervish.
It spun slightly slower as they flew up and then the stallion plunged through it, twisting hard to avoid the flames as the ring turned.
Harry could feel the heat of the flames licking at his thighs and bottom and he winced and prayed Boreal didn't come too close to the flames.Sweat was pouring off both of them now, but with one last magnificent lunge, they . . .were . . .out.
Before them, Bolt wobbled, clearly shaken by that ordeal, her sides heaving and mouth dripping with foam.Ramirez looked pale and sick.
Boreal saw and the sight put the heart back into the gallant stallion.
He surged forward without needing Harry's encouragement, and caught the faltering white mare.
"Eat my dust, Ramirez!" Harry yelled, striking the other rider hard on the shoulder as he flew by."Second-rate and second-best, you cheating prat!"
He had the satisfaction of hearing the other yelp and then they were before the final obstacle, the Lightning Gate.
Sheets of lightning crashed down inbetween two metal poles and only the bravest would ever fly through such a thing.
God and Merlin help me! We're insane! Harry whimpered.
Yes, as are all who fly the Skybolt.Boreal agreed.Come, there's not much time to catch my brother and the other mare.
Harry peered at the gate, not seeing how they were to get past it.Lightning danced between the poles without letting up.
No.There is a window, a moment's grace of ten seconds when the lightning ceases, Boreal pointed out.
Harry squinted, still unable to see it, but he trusted his stallion."Go for it!"
Then Boreal was diving, wings closed, like a bolt from the heavens.
Harry was sure they were going to crash, that the lightning would fry them, and he shut his eyes, waiting to feel the ugly excruciating sensation of being electrocuted.
He felt a quiver . . .a shock . . .then nothing.
Open your eyes, Harry! We're through! Boreal trumpeted.Now to catch my brother!
Severus was sure his eardrums were going to burst by the time this race was over.Hermione had alternately screamed and pounded his arm during the last obstacle, and the Potions Master was torn between joining her and shaking her senseless.
He controlled himself by the slimmest of margins and vowed to never again let Harry ride in any race.His hands clenched to white knuckled fists, he watched spellbound as the last three pegasi thundered down towards the finish line, in the final grueling flight for victory.
* * * * * * *
Arthur Ashe was confident he had the race won.He was out in front by almost four lengths and his nearest competitor was a smallish mare with a shorter wingspan, plucky, but not in the same class as Quicksilver.And Bolt was out of it, he hadn't seen Ramirez emerge from the last gate, and he doubted if Boreal had anything left within him to challenge his brother for the lead, not after flying like a maniac to make up lost ground.
Ashe sat back, sniggering a little and imagining the nice fat bonus he would receive for winning the coveted title.Until he felt Quicksilver falter.
Boreal was giving everything he had in the final flight of a champion.He had edged up beside Wind Dancer and remained at themare's left wing, then slowly inched past her.
His reserves of strength were nearly gone, he was flying on heart and determination alone, bolstered by the strength of the small boy sitting in his saddle.
Ahead, he could see his brother, flying erratically, his speed was gone too, and he jerked and trembled like a puppet on a string.
Harry saw and his heart soared.Boreal! Let's catch him! You can do it!
Yes, replied the stallion wearily, and beat his exhausted burning wings harder.
Two beats and he had at last caught up with his staggering half-brother.
Ashe was cursing and howling, pounding on Quicksilver with his hand, trying to make the exhausted mount fly faster, but Quicksilver was spent, and his wing beats faltered even further, his head drooping in defeat.
"Move your ass, you miserable nag! You can't quit now, damn you!"
But Quicksilver already had, and the Skybolt claimed another wounded pegasus.
Boreal flew past him, head outstretched, and now he was in the lead!
Quicksilver was no longer a threat, and all he had to do was hang on for a few more grueling lengths.
Almost there, Boreal! Almost there! Harry chanted, his chest about to burst along with the stallion's, or so it seemed.
He could hear the roar of the crowd now, they were chanting his name and . . .Wind Dancer's?
"Harry! Watch the mare, Harry! Watch her!" Severus bellowed, using Sonorus in a desperate attempt to warn his son of the mare and her bonded, who were flying towards them in a last ditch attempt to overtake them.
Harry could feel Wind Dancer's breath hot on the back of his neck and suddenly he leaned forward and cried, "Boreal! Fly! Come on!" Then he gave the gasping pegasus the last of his magical strength."NOW!"
And Boreal took his rider's strength and channeled it into his weary wings and suddenly found himself able to fly just a bit further and a bit faster.
Wind Dancer challenged, but her strength was not quite equal to surpassing the bigger horse, and she fell back, inch by weary inch.
The crowd was on its feet screaming and howling, for there had never been a Skybolt such as this.
Boreal flew on, one beat and then another, drawing away from his rival by sheer determination.
Boreal soared into the finish line, a half a length in front of the talented mare Wind Dancer, and as his hoof crossed the glowing green barrier a great cry went up from over ten thousand throats as the fans celebrated the unexpected victory of the come from behind dark entry and the youngest bonded ever to ride in the Skybolt.
"Unbelievable! I have never seen a race like this in all my days! Windseeker's Boreal wins!" shouted the announcer."The dark horse entry from nowhere beats all the odds and wins the Skybolt International Championship!"
* * * * * * *
Harry stood in the winner's circle, the wreath of shimmering roses draped about Boreal's neck, grinning so widely his jaw hurt.But he couldn't stop smiling.Flash bulbs were going off right and left as reporters snapped his picture and his hand was shook by various rich sponsors. But he was smiling not only because he had now won the most coveted title in pegasus racing history, or because he also was the recipient of a two thousand Galleon purse, but because the contract between him and O'Shea was fulfilled and now Boreal belonged to him, for now and forever, and the racing mogul could lay no claim to him ever again.He leaned over and hugged the silver stallion, tears pricking his eyes.
We did it, Boreal! We won and now . . .now you can stay with me forever and O'Shea can go hang himself!
Yes, Harry James Snape.Together we have conquered the Skybolt and O'Shea.Now, I would like some hot mash and a long drink and a long nap as well.
Harry laughed and hugged his magnificent stallion harder, until his father and Hermione pushed past the crowd of people and crushed Harry into their embrace.
"Dad, I can't believe it! We won!" he cried, hugging Severus.
"I know.I saw.You've made me very proud, Harry.But I'd better be dead and buried before you race in anything again, Harry James Snape." Severus whispered in his son's ear.
Harry burst out laughing, and then found himself hugged in turn by Hermione, who was also laughing and crying, and all he could think of to say to her was, "Hermione? What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, of course," she answered, kissing him lightly on the cheek.
The winner of the Skybolt blushed, and straightened, smiling into the myriad cameras, his father's arm around him, and had never felt more happy in all of his life.
"Mr. Knight!" yelled a reporter."What do you think about your son winning this great race?"
Severus paused, then answered, "I'm very proud of my son, but Harry won't be racing in any more meets until he's of age.Watching this one was enough to age me ten years."
"Understandable," chuckled the reporter, then snapped their picture.
"Harry, when did you first know you had the race won?" asked another reporter.
Harry answered honestly, "I didn't.Until Boreal crossed the finish line."
"Would you have said you expected to win?"
"No, sir.I wanted to, but I wasn't sure if I could."
"How do you feel, being known as Master of the Skies, at age twelve?"
"What will you do with your winnings?"
"Uh, put it away, I guess, since my dad says I have to finish school first."
"If you could sum up your experiences in the race in one sentence, what would it be?"
"Uh . . .trust yourself, trust your pegasus, and remember that anything can happen in the Skybolt."
And that was what the headline read in the paper the next morning.Looking at the picture of himself, Boreal, and Severus in the winner's circle, Harry realized with a sudden gasp that the promise of the Mirror of Dreams had, in its own way, been fulfilled at long last.His dark angel had claimed him as his son and he had a real family and a home, just as he had always wanted.
Chapter End Notes:
Well, how was that for a finale to the summer?
Did you like it? How did you like Hermione showing up? And Severus's reaction?
Sadly, this fic is almost at an end. I have one more chapter to post and that's all folks.
Did you like it? How did you like Hermione showing up? And Severus's reaction?
Sadly, this fic is almost at an end. I have one more chapter to post and that's all folks.
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