James is fifteen and enjoying his summer immensely. He'll have to plow through his homework eventually, he knows, but for now he'd rather continue spending the days outdoors, playing an endless game of pick-up Quidditch or telling his little brother and sister scary stories as they all huddle together in the tree-house. Today, however, it's raining steadily, and so James' parents pack the kids off to his Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron's house so that they don't go completely stir crazy.
The activity of choice in the Weasley household turns out to be watching the new, magically-enhanced television, which is experimental enough to be exciting though his Uncle Ron insists it's "not illegal, honest, 'Mione! George has a research permit from the Ministry and a Muggle television license and everything!" Of course, "watching" television with the extended Weasley-Potter-Lupin family mostly involves a lot of eating popcorn, hitting each other with pillows, and hollering at Teddy (the oldest, and therefore the holder of the much-coveted "Owner of the Remote" title) to change the channel or stop when they see something interesting.
Click. A man feeding vegetables into the mouth of a liquidizing machine. James makes a face of distaste. Click. A woman pulling a tray of scones out of an oven and setting them on the countertop. Click. Two men playing darts. Click. A game show involving numbers. Click. A cartoon of a talking dog. Click. A man on a motorcycle sails through the air. Click.
"Wait, go back," says James. Teddy clicks the channel backwards just in time to watch the man on the motorcycle crash land, the front wheel of his bike twisting off to one side as it drags to a halt. There's a moment of silence.
"Wicked!" says James. He can see Hugo nodding in agreement out of the corner of his eye.
Rose sniffs. "Why would anyone do something that stupid? Surely he didn't think it would end well."
James rolls his eyes. "That's not the point. Muggle motorcycles aren't designed to do that kind of thing. It's amazing that he even got it to fly at all, even if he did crash land. Imagine…" He stops, but finishes the sentence in his head. Imagine what a daredevil like that could have done if he'd had a broom. And magic.
From this point on, James Potter is a man on a mission.
James leaves Hogwarts with enough passing NEWTs to get what he wants: an apprenticeship with the Comet Trading Company. The fact that his Outstandings in Charms and Arithmancy make his father's chest puff out with pride is just a bonus.
His boss, Nigel Keitch, is the son of the founder of the company, and James knows that he's up against a host of competitors to be the old man's successor. The fact that he doesn't actually care at all is liberating. He's not there to inherit the company, just to learn everything there is to know about broomsmithing and then move on. The other apprentices fall in almost immediately with the Comet traditions and habits, following the patterns of the seasoned broom-makers as they work the wood into the finished product. James follows along, too, but stays long after the others have gone, kneeling under a broom to examine the spells from every angle or testing more and more minimal bundles of twigs in the spelled wind chamber.
After two years on the job he has a breakthrough one night and looks up from the workbench in dismay.
"Bloody hell," he says, "I'm going to have to grow my own trees, aren't I?"
The Wizarding world has been a relatively peaceful place all his life, and James is ready for some excitement. Not his father's kind, though; while some might think of vanquishing dark wizards as a grand adventure, James has heard enough stories growing up to know better. He decided early on that he'd rather not spend a year of his life eating berries and running for his life every three days.
Now, on the eve of his first adventure, his first race, James is truly nervous for the first time. He's built this broom from the ground up – planted the sapling and watered it with his own hands, visiting every week to make sure it grew straight and true; chopped it down on his twenty-first birthday and shaped its ends into the perfect aerodynamic point; spent weeks sifting through straw for just the right lengths and thicknesses and weights. He put it all together a month ago, using only what magic was absolutely necessary to hold the thing together. This broom can do things a broom was never meant to do, just like the motorcycle of the man who inspired him all those years ago.
Now it's a matter of detail and James doesn't know what to do. He has the spells for flight, for speed and motion and turns, each streamlined to offer the most action with the least resistance. He's discarded the cushioning charm and the wind buffer charm as unnecessary; tomorrow is about speed and control, not comfort.
All that's left is the braking charm. He's done dry runs both with and without the charm, his practice areas covered with seven layers of protection should he crash or fall. With the charm, the broom is just a fraction of a second slower to accelerate and almost a whole second slower to turn, enough that James can feel the difference. Without the charm, though, he's fallen twice on practice runs, misjudging the timing needed to bring the broom to a stop using only reverse speed and inertia. Both times the charms caught him safely, but in tomorrow's race he knows there will be no such protection.
An Teallach is a hard mountain, James knows, and the prediction is fog for the following day, the mist and clouds making sharp twists and turns essential. He wants to beat Scorpius Malfoy, his closest competitor, wants to stand on the first place tier on the stage at the end of the race and look down at Malfoy one step below. But he wants to come home alive, too, wants his mother and sister not to cry when the race is done.
He remembers learning his first braking charm from old man Keitch himself a year into his apprenticeship. That charm is patented by Comet so James is using his own modification, replacing the flick with a twist of the fingers which provides more streamlined coverage. He considers it superior to the original. But the Horton-Keitch braking charm holds a special place in his heart. It was the first charm he'd learned where he really had to rely on it to keep himself from getting killed, the first charm he could perform and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it had worked, even before he picked up the broom from the workbench. It was the charm that made him know that he could trust himself.
I can trust myself here, too, James thinks. He's worked hard, practiced long hours. Just do it. He leaves the broom in the workshop without the braking charm and goes to bed.
The morning dawns rainy and cold. When they get to the site, James' father rests a hand on his shoulder.
"I know you can do this. I'm proud of you." The words warm James all the way through. Swallowing, he smiles weakly and steps away.
At the starting line, James and Malfoy give each other nods of pointed acknowledgment. The other competitors gather, but he ignores them. James swings a leg over his broom, feels the power humming through it. The whistle sounds, and he kicks off from the ground. Go!