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"You have something to say to me?" Harry demanded, struggling to keep from marching up and punching the penitent Gryffindor in the nose. He walked into the den, his green eyes glittering, reminding Ron oddly of Severus in a temper.

Ron licked his lips, shifting slightly on the leather couch, then he drew in a deep breath and said, "I . . .I was out of line when I said those things before, and . . .and I'm sorry."

Harry didn't reply for a moment, just continued to scorch the other with his glare. "That's it? You're sorry and I'm supposed to forgive you?"

"Well . . .yeah." Ron said. "You will, won't you, Harry? That's how it's supposed to work, right?"

"Is it? I don't know any more, Weasley. I thought you were my friend, but then you go and stab me in the back. Is that how it's supposed to be?" There was hurt beneath the anger now, and Ron winced.

"No. Look, mate, I was wrong, I should have never felt that way, but it's easy to look at what other blokes have and you don't and wonder why not me? Maybe that's selfish, but hey, I'm only human. Can't you understand that?"

Harry nodded slowly. "Yes, I can understand, because I used to look at other families sometimes when they walked down the street and wonder why the hell I didn't have a normal family like everyone else. And why Dudley was treated like a king and I was treated like I didn't exist, except when there was work to be done. Oh, yes, I know what it's like to want what you never had. But I would never turn on my best friend and act like a prat and accuse him of trading on his reputation to get money and favors, damn you!" Harry felt his hands clench into fists. "I never gave a bloody damn that I was famous, and I grew up as poor as you ever were, Weasley, worse, because at least you had a family that loved you. All I ever had was an uncle who told me I was a freak and worthless and an aunt who lied and said my parents died in a car crash and it was too bad she was my only living relative! And Dudley, the little prince, who beat me up and got me in trouble left and right. That's what I got stuck with, besides being half-starved and stuck in a cupboard. I never had a mother to hug me when I was hurt or tuck me in at night, or a father to tell me how proud he was of me, the only person who was ever kind to me was Severus, and I didn't even know who he was for the first seven years of my life. But you don't see me saying, Weasley, you've got a charmed life because you've got a mother and father and somewhere to go where they actually want you, and I hate you because of it."

"I never said I hated you-"

"You might not have said it, but it was implied." Harry shot back. "Doesn't it bother you, that he gets everything without half-trying, you said to Hermione. What's everything, Weasley? Decent clothes to wear, so I'm not dressed in Dudley's hand-me-downs? My eyes fixed, because for years I was wearing glasses that made them worse instead of better and didn't even know it? My position as Seeker? McGonagall only let me on the team because her old Seeker transferred and she was desperate, I never asked to be singled out like that. You think she did me a favor, think again! I had the other players on the other House teams out for my blood, thinking I was a teacher's pet, and that's why Severus bought me a Nimbus, to keep me from getting my arse walloped during my first game. Not because I was the Boy Who Lived. You think it's so great being famous? I can't walk into a store without people acting like I came from Buckingham palace, they're following me around and asking me for autographs and bowing like I did something wonderful when all I did was survive an attack that killed my parents! And they think I'm some kind of hero because of it! But they don't see me, they just see the scar and the name, not the real me. Only my friends and Severus ever saw the true Harry. Least I thought they did, until you said what you did today. Then I realized you're just like everyone else, Ronald Weasley, you're only interested in me because I'm rich and famous. Why don't you start carrying a camera and a notebook around and snap my picture and take a sample of my handwriting, huh? Then you could sell it to the Prophet and make a few Galleons."

"Harry, it's not like that, I swear!"

"Isn't it? If you were really my friend, you'd be happy I finally have a normal life, or as normal as it'll ever get for me, instead of acting all resentful and crap ."

"FINE!" Ron shouted, coming to his feet. "Okay, I screwed up, and I'm sorry, what else d'you want me to do, Harry?"

"I want you to take a long look at your life and think about how much worse you could have it and then think about what I told you and don't expect me to forgive you right away."

Ron looked stricken. "But . . .will you ever forgive me?"

"Honestly? I don't know. It depends on what you want me for-The Boy Who Lived or just Harry Snape. Take your time and decide because I don't want a friend who is jealous over a few clothes, a broom, a scar, and a vaultful of gold two people died for. Then come find me and ask me if I forgive you. Until then, don't expect me to treat you any differently than I would a stranger."

"What? After all we've been though, you'd really act like I was nothing to you?"

"Yes. Because that's what you did to me," Harry declared coldly. Then he walked out of the room, leaving a remorseful Ron staring after him.

"Rellah, tell my dad I'm feeding Boreal, if he asks," Harry informed her. "Call me when it's time for dinner, okay?"

"Certainly, young master. I'm making chicken with rosemary and mashed potatoes and gravy tonight."

"Sounds great. Thanks, Rellah." Then he was gone out the door, to find solace with his bonded, who would never resent him for anything.

He found the stallion waiting for him in the meadow, he had felt Boreal's presence even from inside the cottage, such was the strength of their bond. He ran towards the silver horse and threw his arms about Boreal's neck, burying his face in the long silky mane. Boreal nuzzled him and breathed softly into his hair. You are troubled, little wizard. What has happened?

Harry told him, and it was only then that he felt his anger at Ron's words shift into hurt and allowed tears to flow unchecked down his face and into the stallion's mane. I never expected anything like this, and I guess that's why it hurts so much, Boreal.

It is a poor friend, Harry, who judges you for material possessions. I believe it is a common failing among humans, my former owner seemed to suffer from it. Boreal soothed. But Ron is young, perhaps he will realize the error of his ways in time and grow out of it.

"You think so?" Harry asked, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

Well, I have seen quite a lot in my twenty years, though I am young for a pegasus. Sometimes, when we are young we behave foolishly, and only later do we ask ourselves why and what we can do to change. Perhaps he is asking himself those questions right now.

"Who knows? Do you think I should forgive him, then?"

That is something I cannot answer. If you think you can look past his transgression and continue your friendship, then you should forgive and go on. But if you believe such will occur again, then you should let it go. We have a saying among our kind-envy breeds discontent, and it means that one who envies another will always cause trouble for those he or she encounters, for they are never satisfied and live to make other's lives miserable. We avoid those who have that flaw as much as possible. I wish I had better advice for you, my rider. But I am only a racing pegasus, I know wind currents and obstacle courses, not the human heart. Save perhaps for yours.

Harry smiled, for Boreal's love was like a warm blanket, covering the scrapes in his wounded spirit. "Come on, windrider. You're probably starving, right?"

Actually, I grazed a bit before coming home, but I wouldn't mind a warm mash and some alfalfa.

"How was your flight?"

It went well, considering I am so out of shape. Still, nothing rebuilds muscle like a long distance flight. In a week or two I should be almost my old self again. Were I back in O'Shea's stable, I would be preparing for the season's races now, including the Skybolt International.

Harry had an arm about the stallion's neck as they walked into the stable. "D'you miss it, then? Racing, I mean?"

Boreal's indigo eyes met his emerald ones. Yes, I do sometimes. I enjoyed testing myself against the other flyers. He sent a mental image of himself in a race, showing Harry what it looked and felt like. I wanted once to win the great race, as my sire did before me. He has many offspring, but none of us have managed to equal his record. I would have liked to be the first.

Harry looked thoughtful. "Boreal, is there any way you could still race with me as your rider?"

Yes, it is possible, but you would have to get permission from your father and register yourself as an official rider with the IFA. But racing is a dangerous sport, Harry, and somehow I doubt if your father would allow it.

Harry sighed. "You're probably right. But it would have been neat to try. What if we entered the Skybolt?"

Boreal snorted in amusement. You dream big, young one. The Skybolt has brought ruin to more than one pegasus and rider, ones with years of racing experience behind them. It is the toughest race ever designed for the sport, the most famous, and the one with the biggest purse. You do not start a colt off running in that one, Harry, nor a green rider either. In a year or two you might be ready to attempt it, but not now. You should not try to fly before you learn how to walk.

"Guess not," his rider laughed, then left to get a bucket of oats and heat up some water and mix it with some molasses for a hot mash. He also forked some alfalfa into Boreal's hay net and refilled the water bucket with some tepid water, for one should never give a horse cold water.

Harry groomed the Silver Arrow while Boreal ate his supper, brushing the dust and loose hair from the silver coat and rubbing the wings gently with a soft cloth as well. It made him feel good to groom the pegasus, calming him down enough so his stomach was no longer in knots, and he was able to go back inside and sit down at dinner without starting anything with Ron.

He avoided the other boy's gaze and refused to speak with him, directing his comments either to Hermione or Severus. He had said all he was going to say and he just hoped Ron got the message. Harry ate his dinner quickly, though it was the first time since he came to the glen that he didn't really enjoy his meal.

Next to him, Ron was picking at his food, even though it was delicious, there was a lump in his throat so big he had trouble swallowing. He kept seeing Harry's face in his mind as he had issued that ultimatum, tight and stubborn and determined, it reminded him of someone. An instant later he had his answer, as Severus turned to answer a question Hermione had asked about a potion ingredient. Harry had looked very much like Severus, apparently he had picked up on more than a few mannerisms from the stern professor. Two or three times he opened his mouth to say something, then shut it abruptly. It was plain Harry didn't want to talk to him. He wondered glumly if the Seeker ever would.

Severus did not fail to note the tension between the two and decided that after dessert it was probably best if they all went to bed early, after the emotional and physical, in Ron's case, day they had all had, sleep was probably the best medicine. None of the children protested when he announced that decision, apparently they too would rather sleep than endure the chilling silence of each other's company.

 

* * * * * *

 

 

The next morning, Harry dressed and ate breakfast all without saying anything to Ron. The two boys now sat at opposite ends of the table and avoided each other. Even Hermione was a little subdued, only asking five or six questions about cooking ingredients to Rellah and seven about the properties of a Euphoria Draft to Severus.

After breakfast, Harry offered to take Hermione on a nature walk. "I promise not to let anything attack you," he whispered softly.

Hermione smiled. "I trust you, Harry." Then she looked at Ron, whom she knew probably wanted to come as well, but was too proud to ask, and said, "Can Ron come too?"

Harry shrugged noncommitally.

"No," interrupted Severus. "Mr. Weasley has some chores to complete for me."

"Oh, that's right," Hermione murmured. "I forgot about your detention, Ron."

Ron hadn't, though he had hoped that Snape had. He looked up uneasily at his professor.

Severus eyed him sternly. "How are you feeling today, Mr. Weasley? Not too sore, are you?"

Ron shook his head. "No, sir. That stuff you gave me really works."

"Did you doubt it wouldn't?"

"No, sir. Your potions usually do."

The Potions Master raised an eyebrow. "Thank you for the sterling recognition of my abilities, Ronald," he said dryly. "That being so, you will come with me. I will be making more of that particular salve today, since both you and Harry seem to go through it at an alarming rate."

"That's what I'm going to be doing, sir? Making potions?"

"No, Mr. Weasley. The quick-healing salve is beyond your current level of expertise. You will be cleaning for me. I have six cauldrons, ten jars, and twenty-five beakers waiting for you to scrub, as well as crayfish shells to grind and willow branches to strip and then steep the bark. By the time you are finished, I would hope you would have learned to think before you speak. And to value a person for the friendship they can give and not the material possessions they hold. For it is not how much you have that matters, young man, but what you do with what you have. Come along, Mr. Weasley, I don't have all day to waste standing here while you dawdle."

"We'll be back for lunch, Dad," Harry called over his shoulder as he and Hermione departed through the back door.

Ron cast them one longing glance before following Severus obediently to his lab to begin his round of punishment chores, absently rubbing his bottom as he did so. He would never forget the very pointed object lesson given by the needlethorn or the fact that his jealousy might yet cost him his best friend.

As he began scrubbing the first encrusted cauldron with a large stiff brush and some strong soap, he realized that he had taken Harry's friendship very much for granted, assuming that no matter what he did or said, Harry would always be willing to bury the hatchet. Only now he knew he had gone too far and he prayed that Harry would find it in his heart to be merciful and forgive him his terrible mistakes. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. His mother had taught him that lesson long ago, but somewhere along the line he had forgotten it and had only been concerned about himself and his own selfish desires.

He scrubbed harder, wincing as the soap stung his eyes and made them tear up. Or so he told himself, as the tears mixed with the soap inside the cauldron as he knelt and crawled halfway inside it to remove the sticky goop encrusted there.

* * * * * *

 

 

Lunch was the same pattern as breakfast, except now Hermione was chattering on and on about the beautiful onyx fox she had seen and some kind of rare shelf fungi. Ron had nothing to contribute, since all he'd been seeing for the last three hours was the iron inside of a cauldron or the soapy interior of a beaker. Severus had allowed him to take a break for lunch, then told him as soon as he was done he was to come straight back down to the lab and start grinding the crayfish shells.

"It's so beautiful here, Harry. I wish I could stay longer, I'm seeing so many rare and exotic animals and Rellah taught me how to make eggs and biscuits."

"Maybe you could come again over the next holiday?" Harry suggested. He did not even look at Ron.

Hermione grinned happily. "I'd have to ask my parents, of course, but I would love to." Her eyes darted to Ron, who quickly looked away.

He knew he was persona non grata right now and would be lucky to ever be invited back to Malachite Cottage. And the worst part of it was he had brought this on himself.

Abruptly, he shoved back his chair and stood up, no longer hungry. "I gotta go back and finish up with Professor Snape, before he comes up here and drags me back to work by my ear," he told Hermione.

"Better hurry then," she urged.

As he was leaving, he heard her ask Harry, "Are you ever going to forgive him?"

And Harry replied, "Maybe."

* * * * * *

 

Ron went to bed early that night as well, for he was exhausted from completing Severus's punishment chores. Now he understood what Harry had been talking about when he said that after a session of those chores he could fall asleep standing up. Merlin, but I'd take a spanking from Mum than doing all those chores all bloody day. At least once a spanking's over, it's over, but those chores go on for like forever! Although he had to admit that while doing said chores he had plenty of time to dwell on why he was doing them and to reflect on how he could avoid being in that position again. Which was no doubt the whole purpose of them.

Hermione also retired early, for she wanted to study a book she had borrowed from Severus's library called Efficacious Magical Herbs and Fungi by Amortentia Blackthorne. She retreated to her room with the book, a cup of tea and some tasty shortbreads, and was soon devouring the material avidly.

But Harry was restless for some reason tonight, and the anger he still felt towards Ron was like a hot burning lump in his stomach. Yet, even though he was angry, he hadn't liked ignoring the other boy at all, for he remembered all too well what it was like when people pretended you didn't exist. It was worse, in its way, than if someone screamed at you and shook you. He wondered how long it would take the stubborn redhead to come to him and tell him that he realized his mistake and would never repeat it. And then Harry could forgive him and their friendship would continue, patched at the seams, but whole once more.

Unless of course Ron did not value their friendship and decided it was not worth letting go of his jealousy and humbling himself.

Tomorrow would be Ron's last full day and night at the cottage, on the morning after that, he would be Flooing home. Perhaps by tomorrow . . .

He leaned against the window that looked out on to the garden in the kitchen, wondering if he had done the right thing. After all, Ron had been punished in a way by the needlethorn and Severus as well. Still, those punishments would mean nothing unless Ron acknowledged that his envy nearly destroyed a good thing and realized that his attitude towards Harry had been awful and he would try to never repeat it.

He jumped when he felt a warm hand close over his shoulder. "You're restless tonight, Harry."

Harry turned to look up at Severus, his expression pensive. "I've been thinking a lot, I guess. About what happened between me and Ron."

"Ah. The prospect of losing his friendship bothers you a lot, I take it?"

"Yeah." Harry glanced around uneasily. "Can we talk about this somewhere else?"

Severus nodded. "Why don't we take a walk outside? The moon is brilliant tonight."

"Okay." Harry agreed rapidly. Then he followed Severus out into the garden.

For several minutes, they walked along in silence, then Severus paused beside a wrought iron bench situated beneath one of the apple trees and sat down. Harry followed suit, and then just sat there for a minute, marshaling his thoughts. His father remained silent, waiting patiently for Harry to speak, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his robe.

Harry heaved a soft sigh, his trainer tracing a circle in the dirt before saying at last, "I'm having a hard time forgiving Ron for what he said to me, Dad. I know I ought to, but I'm so mad I don't know if I can. He told me he was sorry and I told him I wouldn't forgive him right away, that he had to prove to me that he was really sorry, and when he was ready to be my friend again, he should come and find me. But his last day is tomorrow and he still hasn't come to me yet. Does that mean he doesn't want to be my friend any more? Do you think I did the wrong thing by telling him what I did? I want to make it up with him, Dad, but I don't want to be a doormat either."

Severus hesitated for a long moment before answering, for he had only had one true friend his own age and that had been Lily. He hardly considered himself the right person to be asking advice from on this subject. But he was the boy's father, he should be able to reassure him a little, he told himself. "I think that was a wise decision, Harry. People who allow themselves to become doormats only get stepped on. There is no significance in such a relationship. I am glad you stood up for yourself, that is perhaps the hardest thing for someone raised as you were, you were taught you did not matter, that your thoughts and feelings did not mean anything. Yet you managed to realize that you deserved the same consideration as everyone else, that you did not need to always put others desires first, and allow them to walk all over you."

"I learned that from you, Dad," Harry told him quietly. "You were the first person who ever cared about me and made me feel like I was special."

"Good. Because you are, and not just because you're the Boy Who Lived. You're special because you're Harry."

Harry smiled at him, a warm glow spreading through him at his father's words. Severus was one of the few people who had ever cared about him as an ordinary boy, just Harry, and not for being famous. That was one of the best things about Severus Snape and one of the many reasons why Harry loved him. "Thanks, Dad. I like being ‘just Harry', you know."

"Oh? Then you sure don't take after your father much. James loved being in the limelight, the more people he had cheering his name at the Quidditch matches the better. He loved the attention."

"So I'm more like my mum?"

"Yes. Lily never liked to be the center of attention. She was content to be an ordinary student, except her intelligence was too formidable for that. She graduated as Head Girl. But she was never arrogant. She went out of her way to be kind to people, even to those who were outcasts." Like me, he added silently. "There is much of her in you, child."

"Do you . . .do you think she would forgive Ron, if it were her instead of me?"

Severus nodded. "She would. Because she forgave me for doing something very similar when we were fifteen. It is not something I am proud of, in fact, to this day it makes me cringe in shame, yet she found it within her to forgive me."

"What did you do to her?"

Severus grimaced, for even now, sixteen years later, he did not like discussing that incident. "I called her a nasty name-Mudblood."

"Huh?"

"It . . .is an insulting reference to being a Muggleborn, a pureblood racist slur, similar to calling a black man a nigger. I . . .called her that in a fit of humiliation and temper. At the time, I was being tormented by your father and a group of his friends-a gang is more like it-they called themselves the Marauders . . ." To his eternal shock, Severus found himself relating that long ago day when James and Sirius Black had cornered him and hung him upside down and took turns casting hexes while he was defenseless, making him the laughingstock of most of the student body, save for one furious auburn-haired witch, who had always been his friend. "I did not mean to call her that, but I was utterly humiliated and furious that I needed a girl to defend me. My adolescent pride was very wounded and I lashed out at the only person who didn't deserve it. My mother would have been ashamed to call me her son if she had known."

"Bet she'd have made you swallow a whole bottle of that disgusting "mouthwash", huh?"

"That too." Snape admitted, wincing. "Afterwards, I was horrified and I went to apologize to her, but at first she refused to see me. I spent the night outside Gryffindor Tower, until finally she consented to see me and allow me to apologize. And wonder of wonders, she forgave me my temper and said she was still my friend. It was that day that I realized that forgiveness was for everyone. Oh, I knew the sentiment, my mother and I attended church sometimes when I was a child, and we could slip away from my drunken bully of a father. It was one of the few places we could go where he would not follow. But forgiveness was a foreign concept to me, for my father had never forgiven me for not being a normal son and I had never forgiven myself for allowing him to have power over me. It took Lily to show me true forgiveness and friendship."

They were silent for a time, until Harry said, "Then you think I should follow her example and forgive Ron?"

"You must do what you see fit, Harry. If you value Ron's friendship and believe it is worth preserving, then you ought to forgive him his ill-considered words. I will tell you this, he seemed to me to be genuinely remorseful when he confessed what he had done to me yesterday and also this afternoon."

"But if he really was sorry, then why hasn't he come and told me so?"

"Perhaps because you haven't given him the chance?" Severus said simply.

Harry flushed, for his father's observation was dead on target. He had not given Ron any opportunity to speak with him, had in fact avoided him as much as possible. "You're right. I'll . . .I'll make sure he gets a chance tomorrow morning. And then, we'll see." He felt much better now than he had a few hours ago.

"Well, that wasn't quite what I expected to discuss with you when we came out here, but I suppose you needed to hear it," Severus remarked. "Did it help any?"

"Yes, a lot. Thanks, Dad." Harry stood up, looking longingly out across the walled garden to the moonlit meadow beyond. He could feel the old longing stir in his blood, the urge to run and play and stalk in the moonlight. "Dad, let's go hunting."

He expected his father to refuse, for he knew Severus had spent a long day brewing and supervising Ron, but to his surprise the older wizard agreed. "Very well, fledgling. I could use a good session of stalk and hide."

He rose and blurred into Wraith.

Harry grinned and became Whisper between one breath and the next.

Then the snow leopard cub sprang upon his father, nipping him in delight. Tag, you're it, Dad!

The cub hissed playfully at the elder leopard and scampered away, launching himself at the top of the garden wall and just managing to scramble over the top and jump down the other side.

Wraith huffed at his offspring's antics, then loped casually after the cub, clearing the garden wall in one easy leap.

He padded into the meadow, sniffing the air, trying to locate the cub by scent. He could smell the cub's eagerness, and knew the smaller cat was somewhere nearby. Wraith crouched, and began to glide forward, silent as his namesake. Though the meadow was open, there were some rocks and bushes there that provided cover for a sneaky cub to hide behind and attempt an ambush.

Sure enough, Whisper darted out from behind a tangle of gorse and attacked Wraith's tail, screeching a cub's version of a full throated leopard yowl. Got you! Got you! I win!


Think so, do you?
Wraith rumbled, spinning about like lightning and swatting the smaller leopard very gently, hard enough to sting slightly but nothing more. Tag, you're It, I believe.
Whisper released his father's tail in surprise, then growled, Aww, no fair! An instant later he was racing after the big cat, who was running playfully about the meadow, teasing his offspring by allowing Whisper to draw near enough to pounce, and then putting on a burst of speed that the little one could not match and "escaping" him.

Whisper was stubborn, however, and pursued Wraith doggedly, until the older leopard tired of the game and allowed the cub to catch him. Whisper jumped up on top of Wraith's back, mewing in triumph. Got you again, Dad! I'm the bestest at this game, yeah!

Wraith purred in amusement. Maybe so, but you're also dusty and your fur's matted.

So? Who cares?

Me.
And before Whisper could bolt, Wraith had seized him in his powerful jaws and placed him between his massive forepaws. I think it's bath time for a certain cub. 

Aww . . .please, Dad! I hate baths! I like being scruffy.

Too bad. No cub of mine is ever going to be . . .scruffy. Like a stray mutt. Wraith wrinkled his nose at the insolent cub, pinning the little scamp down with a paw and beginning to lick the top of the cub's head gently, smoothing and cleaning the spotted coat. Eventually, within a few weeks, Whisper would grow out of his aversion to baths and start grooming himself, but for now it was Wraith's job to keep the cub clean.

Dad, c'mon! I want to play! Rrrowwrr! Whisper whimpered, struggling a bit.

Wraith simply adjusted his paw and then began grooming the fuzzy coat thoroughly, purring as he did so to calm the cub down. Gradually, Whisper relaxed, for the big tongue running up and down was very like a massage, and he drowsed, allowing Wraith to finish the bath without complaint. There. That wasn't so bad, was it?

Nope. Whisper yawned. ‘Cept now I'm sleepy . . .he gave his father an indignant look from his greenish-blue eyes. You did that on purpose, you sneaky old- 

Whisper! Mind your manners!

Yes, sir, the cub sighed, flattening his ears at the rebuke. But his penitent pose was spoiled by another yawn and he curled up against the older leopard's chest and snuggled into the thick fur. Mmm. . .You make the best pillow, Dad. G'night. Then he fell asleep, completely worn out.

Wraith drowsed as well, for about twenty minutes, before waking and deciding to transform back into his human form.

As Severus, he ended up with Whisper in his lap, and scratched the sleeping cub gently before rising to his feet and carrying the snoozing cub into the house. He didn't want to wake his son up, nor could he put the cub in Harry's room, so he took Whisper into his bedroom instead. Then he transferred the cub to his four poster, and quickly got ready for bed as well.

He started the night sleeping on one side of the bed, but sometime during the night, Whisper crawled over and snuggled next to him in a furry heap, and Severus ended up falling asleep with the cub's fur tickling his nose in a most undignified fashion.

* * * * * *

 

Harry woke the next morning to discover he was not in his bed. He sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes, and looking about, only to discover that he was in a king sized bed and sleeping peacefully next to him was Severus. Huh? How'd I end up in Dad's bed? His brow furrowed as he tried to recall just what had went on last night. He remembered going out to have a talk with Severus, deciding to give Ron a chance to speak with him and admit he was wrong, and then changing into Whisper and playing with Wraith in the meadow. He could recall Wraith licking him and then dozing off inbetween the leopard's paws. Then Dad must have changed and brought me back here, ‘cause he didn't want anyone else to see me in my Animagus form.

He smiled and then departed, leaving Severus asleep, God knew the man deserved to be allowed to sleep late at least once during the summer. He headed into the bathroom, summoning a set of clothes from his room, then quickly took a shower and dressed. He could hear Rellah humming in the kitchen, the woodkin was usually the first of the household to wake, she explained that her kind did not need much sleep compared to humans, they rested in a sort of trance state called the Dreaming.

He padded barefoot outside to the porch and pulled on his boots, since he wished to go flying with Boreal and the stubborn Silver Arrow would insist on Harry wearing boots to fly with. Boreal, let's go flying!

The pegasus awoke and trotted out of the stable, stretching his shimmering white wings and tossing his head eagerly. Good morning, Harry! Where shall we fly today? 

Anywhere. It doesn't matter. Harry came up and hugged the sleek winged horse, and the pegasus nibbled playfully on Harry's hair. "Stop that! Do I look like a haystack?" he scolded, swatting the stallion's nose.

Sometimes, Boreal whinnied, then nibbled a bit more before drawing away.

Harry rolled his eyes, then vaulted onto the pegasus's back, sans saddle or bridle. "I want to fly bareback today," he announced.

The stallion curved his head around. Bareback? You've only been riding a couple of weeks. 

So? I'm a natural, and besides, you'd never let me fall.

You're crazy. If Severus ever saw this . . .he'd tan your hide and mine too!

He's asleep. C'mon, Boreal. Just this once. Please?

You're impossible! The stallion sighed. Then he trotted around, allowing his rider to get used to gripping him with only his knees and thighs, before taking off.

They soared into the endless vault of the sky, Harry clinging to Boreal easily, his hands wound into the silver mane, laughing in sheer delight. He had no fear of falling, he could feel the pegasus's emotions as if they were his own, and could sense when the big horse was changing direction or seeking an updraft, and that allowed Harry to shift his seat and move with the pegasus. It was a totally different sensation riding Boreal bareback, Harry thought in elation. With a saddle, he felt as if he was riding the wind, but bareback he became the wind, and transcended gravity to spin and soar among the stars.

Boreal did not fly for very long, though he quite enjoyed his rider's delight, for he did not want to risk Harry starting to grow tired, and only flew for an hour before banking and heading back home. He touched down in the meadow with regret, for he loved these early morning flights as much as Harry.

"That was awesome, Boreal!" Harry cried, patting the pegasus before sliding down and touching the ground.

"You can fly without a saddle?"

Harry looked up, startled, to see Ron standing there. "Yes. But I don't do it very often, Dad would flip if he ever knew."

"Mmm . . .I'll bet." Ron murmured. He cleared his throat, for he had woken up early and come out here so he could say a few things to his friend in private.

But before he could speak a word of them, a strange voice from behind them said, "Well, looky here, Patrick. There's His Highness, the boss was right, he did find a place to hole up in."

Boreal laid back his ears and bared his teeth, shrilling angrily, How did you get here, you boot-licking, spavined, cowardly rattlesnakes! He half-reared, striking out with his front hooves in warning, his wings half spread.

Harry and Ron whirled around, for they had not heard anyone approach. Harry had his wand out, for Boreal's fury was making his own temper bubble. "Hey! This is private property, now what are you doing here?"

"Reclaiming our property, boyo," sneered the first speaker, a tall man dressed in white breeches and wearing a kind of red jacket with a winged horseshoe insignia embroidered upon it and underneath it in script letters O'Shea's . He carried a long riding crop in one hand and coil of rope clipped to his belt. He was broad shouldered and might have been handsome, save for a scar bisecting one golden eyebrow and a crooked nose. His golden hair was pulled back in a tail and in his other hand was a white wand. "That runaway pegasus belongs to Michael O'Shea, Lord of Killcarney and Stablemaster of Soaring Stars Stables."

"Aye, he's led us a merry chase, the wicked boy," agreed his companion, who was dressed similarly, only he was short and stocky with a shock of reddish hair and a small beard. "Kicked Mr. O'Shea and knocked down the wall, he did. Cost the boss a pretty penny t'mend it again, but we've orders to bring him home. Though the master is none too happy and will punish him good and proper, so he will."

Harry moved, standing in front of his enraged stallion, his wand out, giving them a medium version of a Snape death glare. "He's not going anywhere with you. Boreal stays here, where he belongs."

The tall blond man's eyes narrowed. "Now, you listen here, boy. That pegasus is my master's by right-"

"No, you listen here, mister! Your master forfeited that right when he whipped Boreal for losing a race. Mistreating a pegasus is a breach of contract, and Boreal left. Now you get your sorry arse off my property!" Harry snarled, too filled with anger to be frightened of confronting two older and more experienced wizards.

"Mistreating a pegasus? Why, Mr. O'Shea'd never do a thing like that. ‘Tis a filthy lie, boy! That stallion is bad tempered, comes from inferior stock."

 

Inferior stock! Why you-!

Boreal, please! Let me handle it. Harry ordered, and the angry stallion subsided.

"There are whip cuts all over him," Harry pointed out angrily. "How do you explain that?"

"We can't. But mebbe you can, lad," said Patrick. "Mebbe you used a whip on him and are tryin' t'blame Mr. O'Shea." He nodded once. "Aye, that's the way of it."

"Me?" Harry repeated incredulously. "Me, whip my bonded? I'd sooner use a whip on myself, you twisted bugger!"

"Why, you snot-nosed brat!" growled the shorter one. "He could use a lesson in manners, eh, Sean?"

"That he could, Patrick," agreed the blond man, fingering the whip meaningfully. "Best you step aside, boy, and let us get what we've come for, or else I'll give you a taste of Old Molly here. There might be laws against us whipping pegasi, but not insolent little brats like you."

"Go ahead and try!" cried Harry. "You can't take Boreal away from me, I'm his rider, and his bonded. And if you want to hurt him, you'll have to go through me first."

Patrick gaped. "He's bonded to you? Aww, Merlin's bloody arse! Sean we can't take him without the rider. The boss ain't going to be too happy about this."

"So we kill two Snitches with one Bludger and take both of them together." Sean answered, advancing upon Harry, his wand out.

"Like hell you will!" Harry growled. "Go bugger yourself." Then he quickly cast a Shield Charm about himself and a partial one around Boreal.

Meanwhile, Ron had been slowly backing away towards the cottage, praying the two men didn't notice him. But they were too focused on Harry to pay him any mind. He slipped behind the stable and set off for the cottage at a dead sprint, hoping that Severus was awake.

He thundered into the kitchen, sounding like a herd of unicorns at full gallop. "Professor Snape! You have to-"

"Mr. Weasley, didn't your mother ever teach you how to enter a room properly?" Severus asked testily, looking up from his coffee and scowling at the rude youngster.

"Yes, sorry, sir, but you gotta come outside! These two men just showed up and they said they're gonna take Boreal away, that he belongs to them, and Harry won't let ‘em, and now they're gonna hex him!"

"Oh great Merlin!" Hermione exclaimed. "How'd they get in here, past the wards?"

"If they're not dark wizards, the wards will permit them," Severus answered, rising to his feet. His wand was out and a hard expression on his face. "I'll deal with this. You two stay inside, understand?"

"Yes, sir," Hermione replied.

But Ron groaned, "Aww, Merlin!" Then he gulped and nodded when Snape glared at him.

Severus whirled and strode out the back door, looking very much as though he were going to do some major arse-kicking.

Ron raced over to the kitchen window and peered through it.

"Ron! What are you doing?" Hermione hissed. "He told us to stay put."

"I am. But he never said we couldn't watch through the window. Snape's gonna kick some major arse, all right, and I can't wait to see it!"




 





Chapter End Notes:




Can you? The showdown between the Snapes and the O'Shea men is coming up next!!

Yes, I already know, I'm horrible for leaving you waiting like this.

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