Harry found his father eating lunch in the kitchen, Rellah had made him some beef barley soup and a ham sandwich as well. "I'll hunt you up another rabbit as soon as I'm done with this latest batch of Deflating Drafts, Rellah," Severus promised the woodkin. "We'd had a nice fat one, but I'm afraid it got left behind in the meadow once the wyvern attacked and it's probably been eaten now by a fox or a wolf or whatever."
"That's okay, Master Sev. I have plenty other things to cook besides my rabbit legs in claret wine and basil sauce." Rellah said.
"Nevertheless, I shall get you one," the Potions Master insisted, for he never went back on a bargain if he could help it.
Harry wished he could help Wraith hunt a rabbit, but knew that would not be possible, grounded as he was from his Animagus form for a week. Since Boreal had come, he had not felt the urging to change quite as fiercely, though just thinking about stalking a fat rabbit made his blood burn with the need to shift. He gritted his teeth, trying to ignore the voice in the back of his head, urging him to sneak out and change when Severus wasn't looking. That would be dishonest and betraying Severus's trust and Harry knew that once he did that, it would be a cold day in hell before his father would trust him again. Besides, he had done wrong and now would simply have to take his punishment like a man.
He glanced down at the letters in his hand and then recalled why he had come into the kitchen in the first place. "Dad? Can I ask you something?"
Severus lifted his head. "Yes, son? Have a seat."
Harry sat down next to him, shuffling the letters a bit, as he tried to come up with a reason to break the tranquil peace they had been enjoying this summer. At last he decided to simply ask straight out. "Dad, would you mind if I, uh, invited Hermione and Ron here? Like for a few days, maybe? For my birthday?"
Severus blinked, though he did not look as shocked as Harry thought he might. "You want me to allow two rambunctious Gryffindors with a known penchant for mischief to stay here for a few days? Are you trying to drive me utterly insane?"
Harry tried hard not to look disappointed, but he failed miserably. "N-no, but I thought . . .forget it. You come here to get away from students, I understand that." He started to get to his feet, the disappointment a hard knot in the middle of his stomach.
Severus caught his wrist in a gentle yet firm grip. "Sit down. I never said they couldn't come, now did I?"
The green eyes refocused on the professor, hope glimmering in their depths. "Does that mean yes?"
Severus pretended to look kind of put upon, saying with a long drawn-out sigh, "I suppose I can sacrifice my sanity for a few days, seeing as it's for my only son's birthday."
"Really? You don't mind? Because I don't want you to feel like you have to invite them, I mean I really would like to see them and show them the glen and all, but I don't want a drooling imbecile for a dad either."
Severus's brows drew down. "A drooling imbecile, am I?" His hand flicked out, swatting Harry on the back of the head playfully.
"I was kidding! Can't you take a joke?" his son demanded, laughing.
"Perhaps I'll remain in my snow leopard form for the entire time they're here," Severus mused, a dark humor sparkling in his eyes. "You could tell them I've gone to visit my sick aunt or something."
"Come on, Dad! They're not that bad. You and Hermione probably have a lot in common, you're both bookworms and she's read the entire library."
"Oh yes, stick me with Miss Know-It-All, who'll plague me to death with a million questions about everything in creation while you and Weasley go looking for trouble. You're too kind, Mr. Potter."
"Potter, when you torment me this way."
"Snape, and how is having my friends here tormenting you?"
"Do I really have to answer that?"
Harry nodded, a half-smirk on his face.
"Putting you three together is asking for trouble squared. After all, you were all foolish enough to confront a mass murderer on your own, without a smidgen's thought to the consequences. I shudder to think what you'll come up with next-challenging the wyverns in their lair, perhaps? Fighting a spidren bear? Or perhaps-"
"A spidren bear? What's that?"
"Don't interrupt. Or perhaps joining the sylphs and satyrs on one of their moonlight revels?" Severus continued, warming up to his subject. "The possibilities are endless where you three are concerned. And of course I'll need to be on hand to save you foolish Gryffindors from yourselves again."
"So? That's what you do best. You protect kids, even the hopelessly stupid and annoying ones, like Crabbe, Goyle, and Malfoy. And the disobedient courageous idiotic ones, like me, Ron, and Hermione. Nobody else does it better, Dad."
"Humph! Flattery will get you nowhere, young man."
Harry went for the big guns then, giving his father his most imploring green-eyed poor waif stare and saying, in a tone that could have made the devil himself melt, "But Dad, I've never had friends over for my birthday. I never even had a party, Uncle Vernon said I was a waste of breath and I should've never been born, so what was there to celebrate?"
Severus clenched his jaw so hard he nearly snapped a molar in two. "That beast dared to say such things to your face?" he snarled, all teasing evaporated from his demeanor. "He's lucky he's out of the bloody country, otherwise I would go and make him rue the day his mother ever mated with a pig, the sodding ignoramus. If he died today, we could feed all the starving families in half of Britain." Harry inched away on his chair, for Severus's eyes were blazing black fury. "Tell Weasley and Granger they may come for your birthday and for three days afterwards. Never had a birthday party!" Snape muttered several other colorful explicatives, shredding Vernon into tiny minuscule pieces. "What would you like for dinner? And for a cake?"
"Um . . .I dunno. Whatever Rellah feels like making, I guess."
"Harry, this is your birthday dinner, that means it's special and you get to choose the menu," Severus explained patiently. "Take some time and think about what you like to eat best and then tell Rellah. You have another two weeks to decide, you needn't rush."
Harry was happy to hear that, for he hadn't the foggiest idea what he wanted to eat for his birthday. He smiled shyly at his father. "Okay. And . . .thanks, Dad. I promise we'll behave."
Severus snorted, trying to keep from laughing. "Harry, word to the wise, don't make promises you can't keep. You're trouble's shadow, boy, and saying that the Troublemakers Three won't get into mischief is like saying the sun won't rise tomorrow. Why don't you promise me instead that you won't get yourself killed and leave it at that?"
"Sure, Dad. If you'll promise me you won't shake me to pieces and whack me when I do get in trouble," Harry bargained.
"Oh no, mister. That's the only way you know you're in real trouble, besides my disciplinary chores. I don't negotiate punishments, brat."
Harry made a face. "Unfair, sir!"
"So's being a parent to an impulsive child with a hero-complex as big as the United States."
"I'm not . . .I never asked to be a hero!" Harry protested.
"But you're predisposed towards it, just like your father, which is why I need to keep such a close watch on you. But I knew that when I agreed to adopt you." He reached out and tousled his son's hair. "You'll make my hair white as a ghost's by the time you graduate, but that's all right. You wouldn't be my Harry if you didn't conspire to give me a stroke every few months."
Severus smirked. "Go and write your friends, brat. I promise I won't beat you too hard if you do scare up trouble."
"Uh huh. Like you ever did anyhow."
"Be careful, or I might start," threatened the Potions Master lightly.
Harry pretended to shudder and reach a hand back to cover his bottom. "No, please! You'll knock all the sense out of my head."
"You love me anyway, right?"
"Always," Severus said. "Now go answer your letters and let me eat in peace."
This time Harry did not argue, but picked up the letters and departed, delighted with how his clever scheme had worked. Maybe the Hat was right, and I do belong in Slytherin.
* * * * * *
Harry scribbled quick replies to both his friends, mentioning to Ron that he could get him another Quidditch book or some products from that joke shop the twins had mentioned in Hogsmeade-Zonkos he thought it was called. That should be affordable for his friend, though it felt awkward to actually suggest a present for himself, he had gone for so many years without it was hard to feel like he deserved anything, even if it was his birthday. Then he recalled some of the more colorful things his father had threatened to do to Vernon for all the years of hellish neglect and he couldn't help but smile. One of the best things about Snape adopting him was knowing that he had someone else he could turn to with problems and someone who would support him come flood, fire, or famine. Or, as Ron had once put it, When you mess with one Weasley, you mess with all of us. Anyone who hurt Snape's son would have the wrath of one very powerful and angry master wizard to deal with, and Severus made a very dangerous enemy.
Harry whistled for Hedwig, spent several minutes stroking and scratching his familiar, and then sent her off with the two letters. He watched the owl until she soared out of sight, then decided to go for a walk in the meadow. Since discovering his Animagus form he found he enjoyed being outside more than ever, he was attuned to the natural world in a way he had never been before. Just being out in the late summer sunshine refreshed him, and he returned to the cottage relaxed and calm, able to assist Severus with harvesting several roots and shoots for potions ingredients.
Severus had gone hunting earlier in the afternoon and brought Rellah a nice plump rabbit, and that night they feasted on a braised rabbit leg in a claret and garlic sauce that was better than anything you could find in a pricey restaurant. It was served with a bed of wild greens and rice. Harry, though he had never tasted rabbit before this, enjoyed it so much that he asked the woodkin to make it for his birthday, and Rellah agreed.
"And what sort of cake would you like, young master?"
"Uh . . .let me get back to you on that," Harry said.
"Why don't you make a different cake every other night and let us try them out?" Severus suggested. "That way you can decide easier."
"That's a very good idea, Master Sev," Rellah said, for she loved baking cakes, and whatever the Snapes didn't finish she took to her woodkin relatives. "I shall begin tomorrow, with my famous chocolate nut cake."
"Cool, Rellah," Harry said, grinning. Then he rose to wash up the dishes, for he was still on punishment chores until the end of the week.
* * * * * *
During the rest of the week, Harry found that the more time he spent with Boreal the less time he spent longing to shift into Whisper. The pegasus was allowed to walk about after the first three days, Severus checked his wings daily to ensure they were healing correctly and did not become infected, and Harry fed, watered, and groomed the pegasus and cleaned the stable every morning and evening.
Boreal soon taught the young wizard the correct way to groom him, using a medium-strength brush first to release all of the loose itching hair and then a softer brush to smooth the coat and a soft cloth to buff it to a shine. On race days, my jockey used to plait my mane and shine my hooves with Shimmer Oil, so they sparkled in the sun, Boreal explained. But I have no need for such here, though the plaits make my mane less likely to tangle.
Harry learned how to pick out the pegasus's hooves with a curved metal hoofpick. Don't be afraid to scrape a bit, I can't feel it. Unless you go near the frog, but otherwise it's similar to cleaning a human fingernail. The frog was the soft inner part of a horse's hoof, and it was what occasionally got bruised if a horse stepped on a stone. But pegasi didn't normally have to worry about that, since they flew practically everywhere and only set their hooves to the earth to rest or nurse their young or if they were injured or part of a racing stable as Boreal had been.
The pegasus found his enforced confinement upon the ground trying, but endured it stoically. Harry enjoyed talking to the stallion, who regaled him with races he had run in and how the riders competed for the privilege of being upon the back of a racing pegasus. Because we don't permit just anyone to ride us. A rider has to have a good seat, light hands, and be able to tolerate cold, wind, and heights, as well as being a certain weight. Ninety-five to a hundred and twenty-five pounds is the most a rider can weigh, the lighter the rider, the swifter we can fly. Most of our riders are young, fifteen to perhaps twenty-two years of age, and many are girls, for they not only weigh less, they have lighter hands.
"Do they ever allow riders younger than fifteen to race?"
Yes, if they can obtain a parental or guardian consent form. Racing is dangerous, however. The obstacles you face are no joke, and riders have been injured or burned before, by an opponent crashing into them. That's why all riders carry a crop, to fend off other jockeys trying to knock them into a fence or a fire circle or whatever, not to be used upon their steed.
"Has that ever happened?"
Once or twice, yes. But the rider is usually fined for striking his mount, unless the pegasus bucks him off first. But any rider given to whipping his mount will soon find himself out of work, for no stable will hire him, since we choose the riders. Boreal snorted, arching his neck. We are not minded to endure such abuse, like our landbound horse cousins. Oh, there have been a few cases where the owner of a stable has been found abusing the pegasi in his care, but the IFA deals harshly with them, and it's a rare owner who gets away with such practices.
"What's the IFA?"
International Flying Association. Breeders, stable owners, and riders form it, and they make the laws for themselves and the penalties.
"So that old owner of yours could be charged with assault or whatever?"
Yes, though I would have to lodge a formal complaint, with witnesses, and unfortunately, O'Shea is a very powerful man, half the IFA owes him favors and such, for racing is an expensive business, and any charges I brought against him in a formal setting would most likely be either ‘ignored' or ‘lost' and come to naught. Which was why I chose to disappear, before he and his pet wizards had a chance to compel my silence with spells.
"Isn't that illegal?"
Yes, indeed, spells of compulsion are borderline dark magic, but if one cannot speak to lodge a complaint, then no one can bring charges, and that is how some owners get away with the abuse in the long run. They cast glamours and seemings to cover their tails and it is only when an outsider penetrates them that charges can be issued. O'Shea will not like it that I have escaped him, but I doubt he will be able to find me here.
Harry looked alarmed. "You mean, he might be looking for you?"
Possibly. He is a proud man and I snapped his pride in two and stamped him into the dirt. He will not want to advertise that fact, and so he will search, but he will expect me to go somewhere settled, not here in the wilderness. Most pegasi bred by wizards would never venture into the wild, they would not know how to survive there. But he forgets who my dam was, she taught me how to fend for myself before I was a weanling.
"Your mother is still alive?"
As far as I know. She flies where she wills, and no man's hand has ever tamed her, though many have tried to capture her, for she is a fine specimen of a Silver Arrow. But Freedom lives up to her name and she will never permit a wizard to bind her. Boreal declared proudly. Once I thought my destiny was that of my father, a great flyer and winner of the Skybolt, but now I think it might be best to follow my mother's example, and fly free upon the wind. He gazed at his wings and sighed. Once I am healed, that is.
"Would you leave as soon as you were able to fly?" Harry asked, feeling a sudden pang of loss, for he had come to enjoy the stallion's company very much.
No, perhaps not. I like it here, and I owe you a ride at the very least, Boreal neighed, and nuzzled the young wizard affectionately.
* * * * * *
Nearly two weeks later:
Severus cast one last diagnostic before he waved his wand and the straps that had bound Boreal's wings for two weeks vanished. "There, your wings are healed, wind rider. They might feel a bit stiff and sore, but you should be able to fly." He stepped back as Boreal whistled triumphantly and extended the snowy white wings to their full length.
The stallion moved first one and then the other wing up and down slowly, testing the muscle. The wings were healed, though some muscle tone had been lost in the process, still that could be regained. The important thing was if they could bear the stallion's weight. Boreal snorted eagerly, then trotted once around the meadow, circling Severus and Harry, before launching himself upwards.
He caught an updraft and soared into the heavens, bugling his delight.
"You did it! He's flying, Dad!" cried Harry, blinking back sudden tears, for the great pegasus flying was a magnificent sight, all grace and power, the wind personified.
Boreal dived and glided, testing the strength of his newly healed wings gently, and the two wizards watched with joy as their friend regained the mastery over wind and sky that was his birthright.
Some fifteen minutes later, Boreal touched down lightly and bowed deeply to both Severus and Harry. I am in your debt, Masters Severus and Harry. You have saved my life and if there is anything I may do for you, you have but to ask.
Severus bowed back, saying gravely, "It was my pleasure to help you, and there are no debts between friends, Boreal."
Well spoken, Potions Master. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to offer you a like service. Perhaps I may teach your son to ride like a racing jockey? suggested the pegasus softly.
Severus thought for a moment, then said, "So long as you promise to keep him safe, Boreal."
The stallion agreed, and then asked Severus to conjure him a light racing saddle and bridle so that he could begin tutoring his student. I will give myself a day or so to rest and strengthen my wings and then we can begin, Boreal promised. He turned to regard the smiling youngster with affection.
"Great. I can't wait."
You might think differently after a few hours on my back, Harry. Boreal warned. Most new riders get sore at first.
Harry shrugged. "That's okay. It's worth it."
"You say that now," his father smirked, then resolved to conjure up some leather breeches and have a batch of quick-healing salve on hand for when Harry came home after his ride.
Harry flashed him a sharp glare. "I'm not a wimp, Dad."
"I never said you were, brat. Come, let us leave Boreal to fly and practice some stalking."
Then he blurred into Wraith and a moment later Harry became Whisper.
The two bounded off into the trees, leaving the pegasus to watch after them in bemusement. Epona, Mother of Mares, your hooves guided me the day I chose to come here, all hail thy wisdom, Sky Mare. For I think I have found not only two friends, but a rider as well.
* * * * * *
It was two days before Harry's birthday, but on that particular morning Harry was thinking less about the fact that he would be a year older, miracle though that was considering all the attempts on his life in the past year, and more about the ride Boreal had promised him. He rose, showered, and dressed in the new leather breeches, long sleeved Mystic shirt and leather jacket Severus had laid out for him. The leather jacket had a Warmth Charm upon it that would ensure he not catch his death flying in the upper reaches of the air, there were also thin leather riding gloves, boots, and a hard hat. All were spelled to fit the wearer as soon as the person put them on, so there was no need for size alteration.
Harry tried everything on before going to breakfast, where he ate a quick meal of oatmeal, fruit, and bacon before rushing outside where Boreal was waiting like a silver statue in the meadow. The stallion was already tacked, having requested Severus do that first thing. The tack was made of spelled supple leather designed to endure extreme cold and very flexible, so it would not crack or tear while a pegasus performed flight maneuvers.
The bridle was little more than a glorified hackamore, meaning it had barely any bit, and was more for show than any attempt to control the pegasus. A rider directed a pegasus with voice and legs, not by jerking on a bridle. It was of pure white leather, as was the saddle, which was a padded little bit of a thing, situated just after the broad shoulders, atop a small circular blue blanket, with stirrups that enabled a rider to crouch forward over the pegasus' back when necessary. There was also a long strap that went about a rider's waist, called the hazard strap, used when a rider first learned to fly or was performing some dangerous maneuver.
Severus accompanied his son and gave him a leg up into the saddle, making sure Harry was strapped down and comfortable before giving the stallion a nod and wishing his son good luck.
Harry sat tall in the saddle, rocking gently as Boreal walked about the meadow, his hooves gliding over the earth. Grip my sides with your thighs, Harry. Don't be afraid to put pressure on me, I won't break. Boreal instructed. Relax and sit deeply in the saddle, I'm not a broom, you'll need to move a little as I walk.
Harry tried to do as Boreal said, relaxing and sitting somewhat less rigidly in the saddle, and gripping with his knees and thighs. He soon realized that riding the pegasus, even on the ground was nothing like riding a broom at all. On a broom you sat still and directed it mostly by mental commands. But on the back of a pegasus, you were never still, you were always moving slightly, as the winged horse did. Here again, Harry's natural balance and instinctive grace compensated for his utter lack of skill, and after five or six times of circling the meadow, Boreal shifted into a canter and called to his rider, Grip hard, Harry, for here comes the take off.
Harry leaned forward slightly, gripping the saddle hard and also the reins, which he had wrapped about his hands as Boreal accelerated and then launched himself upwards with a mighty leap.
The great wings thrust hard and Harry heard the wind whistle in his ears as they climbed upwards. He was leaning half over Boreal's neck as they climbed, clinging to the pegasus with everything he had. The wind screeched in his ears and whipped Boreal's mane into his face, but Harry didn't even notice.
At last Boreal leveled out and Harry could sit back in the saddle and relax somewhat. How are you feeling, child? Not getting airsick, are you?
Harry shook his head. "No way! I love flying!"
Good. Then let us fly, Mr. Snape.
And Boreal stretched out his head and began to pump his wings even faster, streaking across the sky at an unbelievable speed, one that Harry could swear outmatched his Nimbus 2000.
He laughed in sheer joy, crouching slightly in the saddle, his bottom hovering just above the saddle, his face pressed against Boreal's satiny neck, his emerald eyes bright. "This is awesome!" he cried, and Boreal flicked an ear back in acknowledgment.
The wind caressed him with its icy fingers, but the warming charm kept him from freezing, and he felt even more of an exhilarated rush upon the Silver Arrow than he did upon his broom, for riding the living breathing stallion was unlike anything he had ever known. Boreal looped and dived, warning Harry beforehand when he performed such maneuvers, so the boy could adjust his seat and grip. At first Boreal was casual, flying in short gentle spirals and loops, until he realized that Harry was a natural flyer and quite unafraid. Then he began doing some of the more daring twist double backs and snap twirls and other aerials required of a racing pegasus, who had to be able to corner and spin and weave in the blink of an instant.
He was careful not to tax his new rider too much, though Harry amazed him with his ability to anticipate his moves and after an hour of flying, the young wizard was no longer awkward on the stallion's back at all, but sitting neatly in the saddle as if he'd been riding since before he could walk.
Equus bless, but I've discovered a trueborn rider at last, Boreal thought, elated, for one in perhaps fifty thousand rider candidates possessed a natural seat and instinctive flying ability, and out of those, most were bonded with their pegasus. If he's this good now, what would he become if I were to link with him? The stallion wondered, performing a Flying Flare Switchback, which was a quick stop, abrupt right turn and a loop that held the rider upsidedown for a minute.
Most riders were a bit wary of that maneuver, but not Harry. He was laughing, excitement sparkling through his blood, more potent than the finest firewhiskey, sweeter than the best chocolate from Honeydukes. Somewhere in the last hour he had released all of his nerves and relaxed completely, trusting the pegasus utterly to keep him safe, allowing his natural instincts to take over. Now he understood better the old saying in the book he had read on pegasi in the library, where a rider had declared that "riding a pegasus was like riding the back of the wind itself."
They flew over the glen several times, skimming the tree canopy of the forest and around the peaks of the mountains, a glorious view that Harry admired profoundly even as they zipped and danced upon the air currents.
He would have been content to fly forever, despite the faint pain of his windburned cheeks and the ache in his thighs and buttocks from sitting for three hours, but Boreal was wiser than he and decided to land before he caused Harry too much discomfort or put too much stress upon his newly healed wing muscles.
The stallion began to circle, flying lower and lower with every revolution.
"Boreal, what are you doing ?" the boy protested. "You're not gonna land yet, are you?"
Yes, for I have been flying for three hours and my wings grow weary, replied the pegasus. That is more than enough for a first lesson, young one. You will thank me for this tomorrow.
"But . . .I feel fine," Harry argued, though he was in fact slightly sore from the unaccustomed friction. He simply didn't want the ride to end.
We shall fly again tomorrow, Harry, Boreal told him firmly, and then he spiraled down to a neat-footed landing. You did very well for your first flight. In fact, you are one of the best instinctive flyers I have ever had upon my back.
Boreal turned his head to gaze at the boy and their eyes met.
Indigo merged with emerald.
Harry nearly fell off Boreal's back, for the pegasus' gaze was suddenly filled with a terrible longing, one that he shared completely, the wish for a companion who shared both heart and mind, and understood the deepest regions of his psyche. Boreal? What . . .is this?
This . . .is amoralta, the heartbond. The stallion managed after an instant of utter shock. Usually, the pegasus chooses the rider to bond to, but sometimes . . .sometimes the heart chooses for us. . . Thus it was for Pegasus and Bellerophon, and it is the same for us. You are my rider, Harry James Snape, for now until the Pale Horseman comes for me. I accept you and no other. Will you not do the same for me?
Harry gasped, for in that instant he could feel what Boreal was feeling and it was at once the most thrilling and frightening experience. Yet at the same time it was wonderful and he felt a joy that he had never known before, a sense of belonging and rightness so great that he found himself weeping from the sheer emotional impact. Yes. Yes. You are mine and I am yours. . . . God bear witness, until death.
And with that the bond was formed, strong as steel and fire, light as air and wind, silver threads that bound pegasus and wizard, mind and heart, forever.
We are one, Boreal whispered into his rider's mind.
Forever. I love you, Boreal. Then he threw his arms about the pegasus and wept, for that missing piece in his heart had been found, and he had not even known it was lost until now.
Boreal nuzzled his rider, breathing softly into Harry's hair, comforting him the way he would have a scared foal, though he knew the boy was not so much frightened as overwhelmed by the emotions the bond called forth.
Harry could feel the pegasus' breath tickling his cheek and Boreal's slightly worried reaction in his mind, and he sent reassurance back to the stallion. Then he wiped his eyes and sat up, terribly happy and terribly tired at the same time. He slipped off Boreal's back and took two steps forward, staggering slightly, as his legs had to accustom themselves to being on the earth again.
Boreal came up and ordered Harry to lean on him for a few minutes, and the boy did so, until the earth stopped feeling so odd and he could walk again.
Then the Silver Arrow and his bonded rider walked slowly back to the stable, where Harry removed the tack and rubbed down the stallion before returning to the cottage to inform Severus of this unexpected development.
Sorry I kept you all waiting, but I've been sick with a nasty cold plus a sore throat. I wish I had some of Sev's magic potions, believe me! But I'm starting to feel better now. Reviews are the best medicine, so please leave some!
Next: Harry's birthday and the arrival of Ron & Hermione.
Next: Harry's birthday and the arrival of Ron & Hermione.
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