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Harry decided to sleep in a little later than usual, since he and Ron had spent half the night playing chess and discussing the stats of Quidditch teams, it had been a long time since Harry had another Quidditch fanatic around to talk with and he was determined to make the most of it now. When he woke at nine-thirty, Ron was still snoozing, so he went to shower and dress and then headed down to the kitchen, where he heard Rellah and Hermione talking animatedly.

" . . .so you put in a handful of parsley and chives and stir it, like this?" Hermione was asking.

"Good. Now you add a small amount of oil to the pan, like so, and heat it just until it sizzles, and then you put the eggs on it," Rellah instructed.

Harry grinned. It looked like Hermione was receiving a cooking lesson. He poked his head into the kitchen, finding the woodkin perched near the stove, observing her newest student chef scrambling eggs spiced with parsley and chives. There was a platter of sausages already upon the table, next to a pitcher of apple juice. Thickly buttered toast and jam was also upon the table along with cream and sugar for Severus's coffee.

His father was already seated at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and perusing the local Highland Plants and Curious Fauna magazine. That wasn't surprising, Severus was usually up with the sun, he never slept late, unless he was utterly exhausted or injured.

Harry waved good morning to everyone before heading out the back door. He sat on the porch to tug on his boots, then he went out to the stable to take care of Boreal. After mucking out, he carefully measured a scoop of oats into the oat trough and a large amount of hay with sweet clover. How are you today, my friend? He asked silently, since the bonding he found he could speak to his mount without words if he chose.

Very well, thank you. I am going to fly farther than usual today, I want to stretch my wings and test them a bit. They are healed nicely, now I simply need to get my muscles back into racing form. And for that I need to fly long distances.

Harry reached up to touch Boreal's cheek. Will you be gone long?

No, I should be back before darkness falls, Boreal whickered, nuzzling Harry's hair.

Okay. Fly safe. 

Of course. And you be safe as well, rider of mine. The stallion's concern and love flowed over him and he basked in it. He buried his face in Boreal's silky mane for a moment, breathing in the sweet alfalfa and honey scent that always seemed linger in Boreal's presence.

He picked up the grooming brush and attended to the pegasus while he munched breakfast. After that was done, he went back inside to eat breakfast.

"What are you three planning today?" Severus asked after they were all seated.

"We were going to take the canoe down the Silmareen, Dad," Harry answered, picking up a piece of toast.

"Through the White Rage?"

"Yes, sir. But we'll use the gillyweed and I'll be careful," Harry promised.

"Very well, but I'll tell Rellah's cousins Merrow and Ripple to be on alert just in case. I shall be here, brewing Wolfsbane in my lab, if you need me."

Harry nodded. He wished he could introduce his friends to Ebony and the onyx fox kits, but he knew that the elusive foxes would never come out by humans. It was too bad, for they would have loved seeing them. There was a whole other world that Harry knew in his Animagus form that he couldn't share with Ron and Hermione, but then such was life.

"We might explore the woods a little too." Harry added after a moment.

"Yes, but you know the rules. You only go as far as the second ring of oaks and no further."

"Why is that, professor?" Hermione asked.

"Because there are many dangerous things in these woods. We have a truce with some of the more volatile magical creatures, such as the wyverns and manticores, so long as we remain out of their territories, they will stay away from the meadow and the cottage and leave us be. There are places in this glen where it is forbidden for us to enter, so don't be foolish and think to disobey me, a wyvern cares not if you are a child, to them you are food, if they catch you in their territory. Spidren bears are also very irritable in this season, they are fighting for mates, so go nowhere past the second ring of white oaks. Harry knows the woods and the area where you can wander safely, which is patrolled by the woodkin, dryads, and onyx foxes."

"But I thought this was supposed to be a place of peace," Ron commented.

"And so it is, Mr. Weasley, in that no dark wizard can enter here. However, that does not mean you should treat the glen like a playpen, it has its own rules and you disregard them at your own peril." The Potions Master warned, frowning. Warning duly given, he turned back to his breakfast, hoping it had not been a mistake to bring these two here.

* * * * * *



Harry had lowered the canoe with Ron's help, and given each of them some of the mossy green lichen called gillyweed before boarding the canoe. "Don't eat it though, unless you think you might be going overboard, it'll give you gills and flippers for at least an hour," he warned, settling himself in the prow of the canoe, with the paddle across his knees. Ron was on the bench just behind him and Hermione was in the stern, looking a tad nervous.

The current was gentle now, drawing the canoe down the silver river easily. Harry barely stroked, letting the water do much of the work. "See, the Silmareen's quiet here, you can fish and hunt crayfish at this point." Harry pointed out the shadowy shapes of trout and small salmon and a few bass. "We could do that tomorrow or this afternoon if you want."

"Sounds good," Ron shrugged. "I haven't gone fishing in awhile. Looks like you've been learning more than just harvesting potion ingredients this summer."

"Yeah. Rellah's been teaching me a woodkin version of Herbology, she knows as much about plants as Professor Sprout, all kinds of plants, not just magical ones. She makes me memorize them, what they look like, what they're good for, she's a tough teacher, but I learned a lot from her. And from the water sprites, Merrow and Ripple, they taught me about fishing and tides and currents."

"Sounds like you had school all over again, Harry," Ron said with some dismay.

His friend laughed. "If you want to look at it like that, I guess I did. But the sprites make it fun, so it's not like a classroom. And I need to know this stuff if I'm gonna live here, it's important."

Harry paddled the canoe harder and they could hear the current moving faster up ahead. "Hold on tight, we're coming to the beginning of the White Rage, you can hear the difference in the water."

Hermione gripped the sides of the canoe, her face white. Ron, on the other hand, looked like he'd been invited to a Cannon's game.

Harry paddled harder, centering the canoe in the middle of the river, which was the safest point to shoot the white water. The current was rippling and churning and they could see the foamy froth of the rapids approaching.

Suddenly, a blue-skinned pointy-eared man emerged from the water, and Hermione squeaked. "Beware the left side, Master Harry, the current is stronger there."

"Thanks for the tip, Merrow." Harry grinned at the water sprite. "Anything else I ought to know."

Merrow shook his head, his wet black hair flying. "No, the Rage is still the same as it was last time you went down her. Steer a straight course, captain, and may the River Lady hold you in her hand." Then he flipped and dived beneath the rushing foam, vanishing as swiftly as he had appeared.

"That's Merrow. Dad probably told them we'd be here, so that's why he's swimming in this part of the river today." Harry explained. He leaned forward, as the current dragged the green canoe right into the surging white water. "Ready? Here we go!"

Ron whooped as the white water lifted the canoe up and sent her sliding down the waves, but Hermione barely managed a weak smile, her fingers were clenched in a death grip on the sides of the canoe. Harry glanced back and gave her an encouraging smile.

"Trust me, Mione. I've done this loads of times."

Then he turned all of his attention to the rapids, for the White Rage was unforgiving of mistakes, and concentration was a must.

Hermione felt both terrified and excited, she trusted Harry, but the water was so rough and the canoe was so small. There were large rocks in the water as well, and she could only imagine what one would do to the craft if they hit one. She began to pray that they came out of this safely.

Ron was loving every minute of the wild ride, he had never been on a canoe before this, and had thought nothing could compare to riding a broom, but this was amazing. Harry guided the canoe in and out of the rocks, using the paddle mostly as a guard, keeping the canoe centered in the middle of the rapids, away from the more dangerous submerged rocks. He admired his friend's expertise, wondering if Harry might teach him how to run the rapids sometime.

Harry was panting by the time the White Rage had spit them out into the shallow stretch of water just before the falls, but he paddled the canoe over to the bank swiftly, then hopped out and looped the guide rope about a nearby tree trunk, tying it fast.

"Well? How was that? Like it? Wicked, huh?"

"And then some, mate!" Ron grinned.

"How about you, Mione?"

Hermione smiled. "It was . . .interesting. But I'd, uh, prefer a walk in the woods."

"Okay, but first I've got to put the canoe back, else Dad'll have my arse." He dragged the canoe onto the bank and untied it, then spoke a Returning Charm, which would return the canoe to the oak tree. They walked back upstream and Harry hung the canoe back in the tree.

"We can go back across the meadow, and take a trail into the forest from there," he said.

"Where's your pegasus, Harry?" Ron asked.

"Boreal's off flying around the glen. He's not like a tame horse, Ron. He comes and goes as he pleases."

"Is he gonna come with you to school then?"

"Yes. A pegasus stays with his rider, if they're bonded." Harry explained.

"I wonder how Dumbledore will take that?" Hermione mused. "I've never heard of a student bringing a winged horse to school before."

"That won't matter," Ron said dismissively. "Harry's Dumbledore's pet, he won't mind so long as Harry asks him nicely."

They had just crossed into the meadow and Harry halted, startled by the bitterness in his friend's tone. "What's that supposed to mean, Ron? I don't ask Dumbledore for any special treatment."

Ron had halted and was looking at Harry resentfully. "You don't need to. You're the Boy-Who-Lived."

"What of it? I never asked to be famous," Harry said, beginning to get angry now himself. "I wish I wasn't. You know that. What's with you, mate?"

Ron glared at him, the envy stirring like acid in his stomach. "What's with me? What's the deal with you, Harry Potter?"

"Snape. I'm a Snape now." Harry corrected automatically.

"Potter isn't good enough for you any more?"

"Ron, you dimwit! I told you, Snape adopted me, and that means I have his name now. He's my father, for God sake."

"Right. You're just one big happy family, aren't you?"

"Ron, what's the matter with you?" Hermione cried. "What's wrong with Harry having a family that cares about him?"

The redhead whirled on her. "You stay out of this, Granger! You don't understand either. Ever since he set foot in Hogwarts, he's been given stuff, things that no other student ever has. McGonagall made him Seeker, a first year, and Snape buys him a bloody Nimbus, and even gets his eyes fixed. Now we come here and he's acquired a damn pegasus besides. Doesn't it ever bother you, Hermione, that he gets all this stuff without half-trying?"

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Harry cried, hurt that his best friend seemed to resent his good fortune.

"It means that you've got a charmed life, Harry Snape! You go and challenge You-Know-Who and come up a hero again, hell, even Snape likes you now, and he hates Gryffindors. But now you're his son. You've got the Potter fortune and Snape's too. I wish I had half the luck you do, my father can barely make ends meet and buy us school supplies, that's why I'm stuck all the time with secondhand junk. The Ministry thinks his department is a joke, he gets pay cuts left and right and we can never catch a break. Unlike you."

Harry was dumbfounded. He had never known that Ron resented him this way. Anger and hurt surged up in him and he cried, "Shows how much you know, Weasley! You think I lead a charmed life, that all I have to do is whistle and gold falls from the sky? You don't know a bloody damn thing about my life! Yeah, I'm the Boy-Who-Lived, and everybody knows my name and this scar," he jabbed a finger at his forehead. "But you forget the price I paid for that. Voldemort killed my parents, and then Dumbledore dumped me with my arsehole relatives, left me on the doorstep like the proverbial orphan. And you know what, they treated me like trash for over half my life. I wasn't their nephew, I was their servant! I told you once before the kinds of chores I used to do at Privet Drive. I worked like a dog and I was lucky if got a meal out of it. You complain you have secondhand stuff? I got to wear Dudley's old clothes, and nothing new ever. My room was the cupboard under the stairs. How's that for a charmed life, huh? Still want to be me?"

"What about Snape?"

"He's the one thing that made my life bearable, so you keep your damn mouth off him, got me?" Harry snarled, temper blazing in his green eyes. "If it weren't for him, I'd have died a dozen times over. You talk about my so-called fortune, the money I inherited from my parents? I'd give you all of it if they could come back here. But they can't and I'm stuck fighting a maniac and Severus is the only one who can help me defeat him. I never asked to be a Seeker, that was McGonagall's doing, I never asked Dumbledore to give me any special treatment, the old man's prejudiced because I'm a Gryffindor. You want to know the only thing I ever wanted, Weasley? What you've got! A family, people who care for you and who will back you up, even if you're the biggest arsehole, and a home where I'm wanted, not treated like a damn freak. Severus gave me that, but even that isn't without a price." Harry continued. "And the price is that no one else can know he's adopted me. Only you and McGonagall, Hagrid, and Dumbledore. He can't claim me officially as his son because he has to maintain his bloody cover as Dumbledore's spy! When we go back to school, we have to pretend we hate each other. How's that for a wonderful relationship? He couldn't even take me to live with him at the beginning of the summer because the adoption papers hadn't gone through, so guess what that meant? It meant I had to go back to the stinking Dursleys, who went on holiday and left me with Aunt Marge, who tried to kill Hedwig and when I tried to stop her she beat me to within an inch of my life with her bloody cane!"

Ron's mouth hung open. But Harry wasn't finished yet. "You think your arse hurt after your mum walloped you a few times with her spoon? Ha! Try getting twenty with a damn cane, Weasley, and tell me if you can walk afterwards! And all because I tried to protect my owl from her and stop her damn dog from eating my Nimbus. Still want to switch places with me? Severus brought me here to heal from that and because I'm still the target of a crazy psycho and his friends who want to kill me. Everything you claim I have has been bought with blood and sacrifice, mine and others. I've never had anything for free. Except one thing. Severus loves me. That's all. You envy me my fame, my fortune, my position as Seeker? You want my charmed life, Weasley? Go ahead and take it, damn you! I hope you choke on it!"

And with that Harry spun around and tore off into the woods, his vision blurred with tears. As soon as he had reached the screening protection of the trees, he blurred into his snow leopard form. The cub offered solace from Ron's betrayal, in that form he could not weep, and he could forget, for a time, the horrible memories the quarrel had called up, and just hunt and play like a normal leopard cub.

Whisper padded deeper into the forest, his paws making no sound over the ground, seeking the unwary rabbit or squirrel, hoping that food would ease the gnawing ache in his chest, leaving two shocked wizards staring after him at the meadow's edge.


Chapter End Notes:

Hope that wasn't too much angst!

Next: Ron & Hermione search for Harry and end up in trouble. Will Ron realize that his envy is destroying the friendship he had with Harry? Find out next chapter!

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