Arya Stark hated Gendry Waters. From the bottom of her heart, she truly hated him.
She had always known him to be arrogant, one of those boys who was too handsome for his own good. Girls were constantly batting their eyelashes at him, giggling when he passed, and Waters carried on as if he was above even looking at them.
He was miserable on top of this, constantly scowling. During his first practice with the Gryffindor quidditch team, Arya had attempted to compliment him on a well-hit bludger and he had only stared at her, as if affronted that she had even dared to speak to him.
They had been teammates for three years now, and Gendry had hardly said ten words to Arya, and almost none of had been particularly warm or friendly. This was, of course, perfectly fine in her eyes, as she had always had her brothers and her friends and did not need a surly prick hanging around her.
For Arya, there was ample evidence that Gendry Waters was a self-important jerk. In the fall of Arya’s fourth year, Margaery Tyrell, Sansa’s good friend and one of the prettiest girls Arya knew, had asked Gendry if he might want to join her for a butterbeer during the Hogsmeade visit the following weekend. He had blinked at her before offering a rather blunt “No” and turning to walk away. Any boy who thought himself too good for Margaery Tyrell obviously had a deluded sense of self-importance, and Waters didn’t even have the good grace to be polite about it.
During his very first match with the Gryffindor quidditch team, Gendry had swooped in and told Arya to get over it and focus on the game when she had been justly arguing a blatant missed call by Coach Tarth. It had, in the end, been good advice, as she had gone on to catch the snitch within minutes, but his words had rubbed her the wrong way regardless. Robb, the captain at the time, was the only one who should have been bossing her around. Where did this surly rookie fifth year get off telling her how to play the game?
Then, around Christmastime last year, a few weeks before the Ramsay incident, the Gryffindor common room had been celebrating a particularly impressive win and Arya’s list of reasons to dislike Gendry Waters grew further. Arya had won the game before half of her team had even warmed their broomsticks, snatching the snitch from right under Ned Dayne’s nose within minutes of the opening whistle. She had tied the record for the shortest game in Hogwarts’ history, and the brevity of the match had given them ample time to prepare for a party. This allowed for Sansa to force Arya into a feminine blouse and for Meera to casually magic a few delicate wildflowers into her messy braid. Arya thought the flowers rather pretty.
Arya had felt alright about these modifications until she found herself behind Gendry and his friends, the excessively flirtatious Anguy and the endlessly obnoxious Tom. They were seated on a couch, Anguy and Tom passing a bottle of firewhisky across Gendry, who was nursing a butterbeer.
“See little Arya Stark’s got tits?” Anguy had asked with a wide grin.
“Don’t let her brother hear you say that,” Gendry had said dully, glancing around.
“Lucky you, getting to share a changing room with her every week,” Tom had said. He had nudged Gendry, who had scowled at the very thought.
“I don’t look at her,” Gendry had grunted as Anguy laughed.
“Well, you should look at her tonight,” the freckled git insisted, “Maybe try to find out if she’d be interested in some one-on-one practice sessions.” He had wiggled his eyebrows suggestively as he said this.
“As if,” Gendry had snorted, as though the prospect offended him. Having heard enough, Arya had swept away to go and find Alys. What did she care what he thought of her? She hadn’t left her dorm like this for him or his repugnant friends anyway.
Her list of reasons to dislike Gendry Waters grew longer still a few weeks later, when her quidditch season had been ended by a brutal, violent blindside swing of a beater’s bat to the back of her head from Ramsay Bolton. She had been toying the Slytherin seeker, Joffrey Baratheon, all match. Arya knew she could outfly him, so she spent much of the game feinting, diving after nothing, drawing Joffrey along on dangerous freefalls that almost caused him to lose control. Her hope was that eventually, when she did see the snitch, he would be so pissed off that he would hesitate to even follow her chase. Arya was playing with fire, but she also knew that throwing Joffrey Baratheon off of his game gave Gryffindor their best chance at winning. Ramsay Bolton and his beater’s bat proved her wrong.
When she had blinked her eyes open as she lay on the grass, she was met with the horrified faces of Coach Tarth, her teammates, and even a few of her friends from the Slytherin team - Asha Greyjoy had offered her a hand up, but Coach Tarth had told Arya to stay down. Jon had looked so concerned that Arya was sure he was about to vomit - he would not let go of her hand all the way to the hospital wing, even when Nurse Mordane had insisted she needed space.
The one exception to the general air of concern after her injury was Gendry Waters, who, on the contrary, looked completely furious. He had stalked away as soon as Arya had opened her eyes, not even bothering to look relieved. Gendry was the only member of the team that didn’t bother to come see her in the hospital wing, and he seemed to be in a worse mood than usual for the rest of the school year.
Gendry blamed her, she knew, for playing a risky game with Joffrey, costing the Gryffindor team their season. Jon had filled in as seeker in her absence, but he had never been quick the way Arya was. Gryffindor had lost the next two matches and Arya was positive that Gendry held her responsible. His scowls made that clear enough. The rest of the team had been sure to check in on her, asking about her recovery, reassuring her that Bolton’s stunt was unforgivably dirty, and that he was to blame for her absence.Gendry had barely even looked at her for the rest of the school year.
She hated him for that - as if her months of recovery were not punishment enough. As if her summer spent attempting to trust her turns on a broom, forcing her siblings to fling bludgers at her, was not frustrating enough enough. And now, on the first day of her sixth year at Hogwarts, Gendry Waters had gone a step too far.
The fact that Gendry had been named captain of the Gryffindor quidditch team was ridiculous in itself. Sure, he was in seventh year and she in sixth, but Arya had been on the team since her third year, and Gendry only since his fifth. Arya was the longest serving member of the squad, and she would have succeeded Jon as captain, who had succeeded Robb. It should have been hers. How was Gendry going to lead when he barely even spoke? Yes, he was easily the best beater she had ever played with, but he was also a selfish, arrogant, miserable jerk. And now he had gone and posted this downright insulting piece of parchment on the notice board. She pulled it off of the wall and stormed over to where he was standing with his little gang.
“Tryouts, Waters?” She spat, “For every position?” He straightened his shoulders and looked at her defiantly, an eyebrow raised. Anguy and Tom seemed to melt away under her gaze.
“Is there a problem, Stark?” Gendry asked haughtily, as if daring her to protest further. Lucky for him, Arya had much more to say.
“I’m the best seeker in this house and you know it,” she said through gritted teeth, “What’s the point in holding tryouts for any position other than the beater we’re missing?” He shrugged, as if he had expected this.
“Who’s to say there’s not someone better out there?” he asked, “I’m the captain and I don’t want any complacency on my squad. Players should earn their spots based on how they perform, not based on previous seasons or who their friends are or what their last name is.” He folded his arms and straightened his shoulders, as if wanting to appear more intimidating. Her mouth dropped open and she let out a hollow laugh.
“You think I’ve been Gryffindor’s most successful seeker since Arthur Dayne because my last name is Stark?” Arya couldn’t believe him. She had always thought he seemed stupid, but this was frankly outrageous.
“I’m saying I want you to prove that you belong on my team,” he said, his eyes hard and his brow still raised, “Will I see you at tryouts on Wednesday?” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“I’ll be there.”
The truth was, Arya Stark was scared. Nurse Mordane was capable of healing almost any injury in seconds, but the effects of Ramsay Bolton’s beater’s bat had lingered far longer than any physical pain. She had tried last spring to get back on her broom in time to salvage Gryffindor’s season, but every attempt her and Jon had made had ended with her nearly falling to the pitch every time Jon flew too close.
Arya hated it, hated feeling weak, hated being a liability. All summer she had tried her hardest to fix it. She had made progress, she was proud to say, though Bran and Rickon and, for one short-lived occasion, Sansa were not exactly the tier of beater she would face at school (Rickon did show quite impressive potential, she had to admit). And now she would put her training to the test in front of half of Gryffindor house, in front of a captain who clearly wanted her to fail, who was no doubt looking for an excuse to drop her from the team.
Gendry thought her a spoiled brat who hadn’t earned her place and he was surely holding on to some bitterness from last year. Arya wanted to show him, to prove to him that she could fly circles every other member of Gryffindor house. She just prayed that she could pull it off without flinching or faltering or falling to the pitch.
“Chasers,” Gendry called. The third and final day of tryouts had ended and dusk was arriving. Gendry was reading out the final roster. “Alys Karstark, Quentyn Martell, and Wylla Manderly.” Quentyn and Alys had both been on the team last year, but Wylla, a fellow sixth year girl that Arya was casually friendly with, had taken the place of Pyp, a good friend of Jon’s. Pyp scowled at Gendry and turned to leave, a handful of other hopefuls following suit. Wylla was good, and had outflown Pyp and the others during all three nights of tryouts. Arya couldn’t disagree with Gendry’s selections, though her stomach twisted nervously as her long-time teammate Pyp stalked away from them.
Arya had been the best seeker, she knew that. She had, as she had known she could, outclassed all of the competition by a large margin. No one was as quick as her, as deft, and no one had vision so sharp. Her one misstep had come earlier tonight, when a beater hopeful had accidentally sent a bludger in her direction as she was perched on her broom, watching the keepers warm up. Arya had dodged it, but only just, barely managing to hold on to her broom. She had spun gracelessly, grasping the handle with the tips of her fingers and hooking her leg back on. She glanced around, hoping that no one had noticed her near-fall. To her dismay, she saw Gendry watching her from the pitch, his head cocked slightly to the side. She grimaced remembering this blunder as the captain allowed Wylla a moment of excitement before he carried on with his roster.
“Beaters - myself and Lyanna Mormont.” Another new face, another one that Arya found that she approved of, having watched in surprise as the third year girl fiercely took on the large group of older, all-male hopefuls, who were all now slumping away. Some of them were muttering rather loudly about how Gendry’s tryouts were horseshit. His face hardened but otherwise showed no sign that he cared what they thought.
“Podrick, you’re our keeper.” Pod had been on the team for the past two years and though he was no Theon Greyjoy, he was a capable, reliable keeper and the most encouraging teammate Arya had ever flown with. Arya slapped him on the back and grinned at him, doing her best to ignore the knot in her stomach.
“And our seeker,” Gendry said, looking thoughtful, as if he wasn’t sure about his selection. Prick. “Arya Stark.”
“Told you,” she snapped, securing the snitch into the ball box. Gendry, who was holding a bludger down and sticking his tongue out stupidly as he did up the latch, looked up at her.
“I knew you were the best, Stark.”
The biting response she had ready got stuck in her throat. “What?”
“You’re the best seeker I’ve ever played with, probably the best I’ve seen play at Hogwarts.” He stood up and shrugged, “Still glad I made you prove it.” She glared at him, suspicious of his compliments. He had never talked to her so much without scowling, and she didn’t trust it.
“Well, you didn’t have to be such a jerk about it,” she said, rolling her eyes and starting her walk across the field towards the changing room. He followed, his long stride allowing him to catch up to her swiftly.
“And you didn’t have to throw a tantrum over the suggestion that someone else might deserve a chance,” he retorted. Ignoring the affronted face she made, he carried on, “I knew I was a better beater than both Gerris Drinkwater and Dickon Tarly when I was in fourth year, but no one gave me a chance to prove it.” Arya bit her lip.
He was right, she knew. Gendry’s addition to the team two years ago had made an enormous difference - his expert marking of the Ravenclaw chasers in his first cup final has been a performance for the ages, helping Gryffindor take home the championship in a blow-out victory. He should have been on the team long before his fifth year. But she wasn’t about to admit that he was right, so she said nothing.
“Thanks for helping with the equipment,” he said as they entered the changing room. She shrugged.
Arya stripped off her jersey and threw it in her bag and Gendry made a noise. She grabbed her towel and looked over at him. He was determinedly looking away from her and her bra. “What?” she demanded, “Thought you weren’t interested in looking at me.”
“Huh?” he asked, looking up at her now, confused, his cheeks still a little red from the tryouts. Arya rolled her eyes.
“Nevermind, Waters,” she said, stepping in to the girls’ shower room. “I’ll see you at practice.”
Arya practiced with Alys and Wylla, passing the quaffle around, catching practice snitches with ease, imitating Pod’s more unorthodox keeping tactics. Wylla was a lot of fun, and she and Alys were both happy to oblige Arya’s request for them to fling practice bludgers at her.
Unfortunately, the practice bludgers were nothing like the real thing, and Arya found it far too easy to avoid them. She needed someone who knew what they were doing, someone who wouldn’t go easy on her, who would work with her until this stupid, weak, irrational fear was chased from her. She grimaced as she lay in bed that night, knowing what she had to do, and hating the thought of it more than anything.
“I need your help,” Arya said, bringing Gendry to a sharp halt in the hallway. He was carrying a herbology book that was falling apart at the spine and his black hair was messy in a way that was clearly intentional. Arya found herself groaning internally at the prospect of spending more time than necessary with a boy who put effort into mussing up his hair.
“Pardon me?” he asked, as if he couldn’t believe his ears. She rolled her eyes.
“You heard me. Meet me at the quidditch pitch tonight. 7 o’clock sharp.”
“Is that a command, Stark?” Gendry challenged, and she ignored him, starting to walk away. She would be late for Defense Against the Dark Arts if she hung around any longer. Spinning back to face him, Arya saw him staring after her. He looked both confused and annoyed.
“Just… Be there.” Arya said, and she carried on to class, hoping he was willing to do what she needed him to do.