The End of the Beginning

By Andrew Crawford

Drama / Romance

Chapter 30

Saturday morning dawned cold and windy, but surprisingly sunny for the first quidditch match of the season. Ron's Gryffindor squad was perhaps the best that Harry had been on in years and both boys felt confident that Slytherin didn't stand a chance.

The new Slytherin captain, Simon Daugherty, had had to accept nearly everyone who tried out, as Slytherin house was noticeably smaller in its number of upperclassmen and McGonagall had refused to allow any exceptions to the rule about first years. Gryffindor meanwhile, was almost entirely veterans from Harry's team, plus Jay who had made the team and replaced Katie's vacant spot.

"This will be the most lopsided Slytherin loss in their history." Coote was proclaiming to raucous applause at breakfast.

"Will you keep it down? No sense in giving them reason to play harder." Ron scolded him. He was looking a bit pale, but wasn't the delicate shade of green he normally turned before a game.

"You look good mate. Confident?"

"I'm feeling pretty good yeah." Ron managed between mouthfuls of porridge.

"Do keep your mouth closed when it's full Ron." Hermione elbowed him.

"Oi!"

Aubrey laughed as she joined them on Ron's other side. "She's right you know Ron."

"Don't you start on me too!"

"Relax. If we didn't love you we wouldn't bother trying to polish your Stone Age eating methods."

"Alright. Geez."

"Oh so she tells you and it's all aboard!" Hermione spun in her seat.

"She's just a bit more persuasive is all luv." Ron gave her a wicked grin. Hermione feigned gagging onto her toast.

"Spare me the details."

"Hey Hermione, ready to go?" Luke sauntered up behind her.

"Yes. Good luck Ron." She bent down and gave Ron a kiss on the cheek, "Good luck Harry." Hermione barely made eye contact and was already walking away when she said it. Ron gave Harry a look and shrugged his shoulders. Harry lost interest in his breakfast.

The pitch roared as Harry and Ron lead the team onto the pitch. Gryffindor were the clear favorites in the stands.

"Opponents shake hands." Madame Hooch commanded. Malfoy put out his hand for Ron and Harry noticed he didn't have his typical scowl. They shook hands briefly and Harry put out his own hand.

"Good luck Potter."

Harry simply stared at Malfoy as he mounted his broom.

"Players..." Madame Hooch gave a shrill blast of her whistle and both teams streaked into the air.

Harry flew one lap close to the pitch grass before looping high above the action, searching for the snitch. Malfoy circled on the other side.

Ron's team was proving its mettle. The chasers were flying in a perfect amalgamation of set formations and improvisation, passing from one to another with such speed that the Slytherin defense was getting shredded. Barely twenty minutes in and the score was one hundred and sixty to thirty. Harry kept his vigilance; the score wouldn't matter if Malfoy caught the snitch.

Just when Ginny had scored another goal and Harry had dipped down to the level of the upper stands, he spotted Hermione sitting with Luke and idly chatting away, barely paying attention to the game.

It floored him. She had always been there to cheer him on, despite disliking the game itself. To see her so non-chalantly ignoring it sent a bitter taste into his mouth and stones in his gut.

"Oi! Harry!" Ron's voice came bellowing from the goalpost. Harry turned to see a streak of green diving towards the far end of the pitch. He pushed his broom as fast as it could towards the tiny snitch that was hovering towards the bottom of the Slytherin goalpost.

Unfortunately, Malfoy had a huge head start, and before Harry had closed two-thirds of the distance a triumphant Malfoy hovered in front of a screaming knot of green clad Slytherins in victory: one hundred and eighty to one hundred and seventy.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" Ron flew up behind him. "What could possibly have been that interesting in the stands that you let Malfoy get the better of you like that?"

"Nothing." Harry snapped back, reaching the ground and stomping his way towards the locker room. The pitch was quiet but for the raucous cheers from the Slytherins.

Ron gave a short speech to the effect of having only lost by ten points and still controlling their destiny in the cup race, but Harry was barely listening. He was berating himself for having let Hermione get to him and for letting the Slytherins escape. He trudged his way back to his dorm, ignoring the gloomy Gryffindors who tried to cheer him up.

He was freshly showered and was pouting in the common room when Hermione walked in, saying her goodbyes to Luke.

"Oh, hello Harry. You'll do better next time I'm sure."

"How would you know? Not like you'll be paying much attention." He grumbled back.

"Excuse me?" Hermione's voice rose.

"You weren't even watching today. Too wrapped up in Luke to know what was going on. Do you even know what the score was?" Harry's temper was flaring.

"One hundred eighty to one hundred seventy." She responded coldly. "Since when have I not supported you at a game?"

"Since you met Luke."

"What's your problem with Luke? You don't even know him!"

"I don't have a problem with him, it's just…"

"It's what Harry? Please tell me!" but Harry either couldn't or wouldn't tell her what it was. "When you decide to stop being a child and act like the adult you are, I will be in my room studying."

Hermione huffed passed him and slammed her door shut. Harry's wand emitted sparks as his temper flared again.

Who is she to call me a child? Maybe if she wasn't so gooey eyed over Luke none of this happens!

He stomped back into his room, slamming the door. Why does Luke bother me so much? A much calmer voice in his head spoke up.

Hermione is my best friend; I just want what's best for her. That's all. He reasoned. If he was honest with himself, it didn't help that she was paying attention to Luke and not him. That wasn't necessarily Luke's fault though.

Harry took a deep breath. This was crazy. He didn't know a thing about this guy, for all he knew, Luke was going to be the best thing that ever happened to Hermione and here he was being a baby because she didn't see every second of his game.

He walked across the common room and knocked softly at Hermione's door.

"Hermione?"

There was silence for a few long seconds, before there was some scuffling on the other side of the door and it opened just enough for half of Hermione's face to appear.

"Are you done being a prat?"

"Look, I'm sorry Hermione. I was just mad about the game."

"Yeah, well that's not my fault is it?"

"No, no its not." Another short silence before Hermione sighed and opened the door completely.

"Harry, are you going to tell me what about Luke bothers you?"

"Hermione I….you're my best friend. I just want what's best for you."

"You don't even know him…."

"You're exactly right, which is why I have a proposition for you." Hermione's eyebrows peaked. "Why don't we make it a double date next weekend? You and Luke, me and Ginny?"

"Harry…"

"I'll be on my best behavior, I swear." He crossed his hand over his heart. "I just want to know the guy who's gotten the attention of my Hermione."

Hermione's eyes went wide. "I….O-Okay."

"Is that a yes?"

"Yes." She ran her hands through her hair. "Yes, it sounds lovely. Besides, it'll make things less awkward."

"Brilliant, I'll let Ginny know." Harry smiled and Hermione returned it with a shaky smile of her own.

"See you at dinner."

"See you around Harry."

Harry walked back to his room, a mixed feeling settling into his gut. It was going to be weird being on a double date period, but to be on it with Hermione was going to make it even stranger. At least he would get a close up look at this guy and decide for himself if he was worthy of his best friends affections. She deserved the best and if Luke didn't pass muster, then Harry was going to have something to say about it.

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