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Severus stalked out of the cottage, his temper simmering. He longed to shift into Wraith and tear the invaders to pieces for daring to threaten his son and Boreal, who were under his protection, but he held the impulse at bay. Shifting forms when he was this angry was an invitation to commit murder. The two men had their backs to him, their wands pointed at Harry, who had the sense to conjure up a Shield Charm as he'd been taught. Severus noted that he had also shielded Boreal, who was furious and looked like he wanted to kick the strangers right across the North Sea. Severus couldn't blame him, he would be happy to assist the stallion.

"Might I ask just what the bloody hell you're doing, gentlemen, drawing a wand on my son?" Snape demanded, his voice all steel and shadow. "Or is this a common practice, to trespass on another's property and assault a child?"

The two men whirled around, and came face to face with the furious Potions Master. Now they had intimidated many a rider and owner in their time, O'Shea had chosen them for just such a purpose, they were his strong arms. But nothing had ever prepared them for the tall wizard before them, whose eyes promised hell if his questions were not answered promptly, power radiating from him like a furnace, though he stood there calmly enough.

"Uh . . .sir, this pegasus here is stolen," began Sean, with an ingratiating smile. "We've been sent by his real owner to bring him back home."

I will return with you over my dead body! Boreal bugled, stamping his hooves on the ground and tossing his head.

"Is that so?" Severus queried, and he gave the men a cold smile. "I would say, gentlemen, that the pegasus does not agree with you."

"We don't give a damn what the horse wants, he's coming with us and that's all there is to it," snapped Patrick, leveling his wand at Snape threateningly.

"No!" Harry cried. "You can't separate a bonded rider and his pegasus. Boreal stays."

"Shut up, brat!" snarled Sean. "Who asked you?"

"My son is quite correct. IFA law states that nothing may separate pegasus and rider once they are bonded."

"Oh, we weren't gonna to separate ‘em. We were gonna take the kid and the pegasus together. Y'see, Mr. O'Shea wants Boreal back, he don't like it when things of his go missing, see, and this is a valuable animal." Sean argued.

"You were going to kidnap my son and my pegasus and drag them off to where ever you came from, is that it?" Severus growled. "Kidnapping is a life sentence in Azkaban, especially against children. But you wouldn't have to worry about going to prison, since I would rip you apart before you managed to lay a finger on them."

Patrick eyed him uneasily, then blustered, "Suren I'll believe that when hell freezes solid. There's only two of us and one o'you."

"And me," Harry put in, still holding his Shield Charm in place.

Severus shot him a warning look and made a motion to be quiet. Harry subsided, still seething, but recalling that Severus could fight his own battles. He backed away slightly, one hand resting on Boreal's shoulder. The pegasus quivered with rage and Harry could feel Boreal's anger and fear as if it were his own. Memories assaulted him, of being tied up in a stall, and a large man with a shock of reddish hair striking him again and again with a whip like the one in the blond man's hand. Harry could practically feel the burning sting of the whip on his own rear and sides and the helpless rage that the wizard before him dared to treat him thus-who had given all he could in that last race, despite being cut off at the turn and fouled by another pegasus.

I will not go back to that! Never again will I be a slave to such!

"You won't have to," Harry whispered.

"Your son has quite the mouth on him," sneered Patrick. "Y'might think about beating some manners into him when we've gone."

Snape glared at the other man. "My son is none of your concern. What is your concern is why you are here at all. You are uninvited and unwelcome, and in no position to threaten me or mine."

"Think so, matey?" Sean laughed softly, his wand coming up menacingly. "No one crosses Michael O'Shea and gets away with it, especially not snot-nosed brats and their toff fathers. Give us the bloody horse and the boy, he'll be paid a good wage, and let's be done with it."

Severus smiled grimly. "You truly are stupid, if you think I will allow that to happen. The pegasus bears a reasonable complaint against your master, who breached his contract by taking a whip to the Silver Arrow. He does not wish to return with you and neither does my son."

"Too damn bad," Patrick hissed, his face ugly. "Because we ain't asking." He whirled about and shouted, "Incarcerus!"

A large net flew out trying to encase Boreal and Harry in its hold, but Harry's Shield Charm prevented it from wrapping around them.

At the same instant, Sean chanted a Stunning Hex at Severus. "Stupify!"

Severus blocked the red bolt with a lazy flick of his wand. "Don't start what you can't finish," he drawled mockingly.

Sean's eyes blazed. "I'll finish you, all right, you bloody overgrown bat! We tried to make nice with you, but you refuse to cooperate, so now you pay the price. Let's see how you like your little house burnt to a cinder. Incendio!"

A spray of sparks leaped from Sean's wand, but Severus was quicker, chanting the counterspell, "Aguamenti!" A jet of water shot out of his wand and put out the fire before it could ignite the thatch on the roof. His fury increased tenfold as he realized that the other wizard could have easily set the cottage on fire and killed Ron and Hermione and Rellah.

Snape's attention shifted suddenly to his son, who was fighting off the second wizard as best he could. Severus rapped out an Entanglement Curse, which caused vines to burst from the earth and wrap about the ankles of the smaller wizard, who was casting hex after hex upon Harry. The vines twined up the short wizard, growing at an accelerated rate.

Patrick squealed, a sound that resembled a pig getting slaughtered, and struggled against the vines, only to discover that not only were they thick as a man's arm, but they had nasty thorns upon them too, which stuck the wizard unmercifully the more he thrashed about.

"Sean! Help, for the love of St. Matthew!" Patrick bellowed, as the vines continued winding about him. "Get them off me, PLEASE!"

His partner, however, ignored him and shot another curse at Snape, this one a Blistering Boil Hex.

But Severus twirled his wand counterclockwise and deflected it, making Sean duck pretty quickly to avoid being nailed by his own spell.

The blond wizard swore roundly, calling Severus every name in the book.

Severus sneered at him and cast a Meteor Curse. Tiny fireballs exploded from his wand and streaked after the other wizard, some were repelled by his hastily cast Shield Charm, but others found their way past and Sean yelped and jumped as the meteors singed his thighs, buttocks and back, for he had been running away from the curse when it hit and trying to cast the Shield Charm at the same time.

"Yeoow! You miserable bugger, how dare you?" he spat, beating frantically at his clothes, trying to douse the flames. "I'll have the law on you, so I will!"

"The law, would be on my side, I think, since you are trespassing, mister!" taunted Snape.

"The name's Fitzpatrick, Sean Fitzpatrick, ye miserable shite!" the other gasped.

Snape bowed mockingly. "How appropriate, I now have a name to put with the arse I'm thrashing." He snapped out another hex, the Freezing Curse.

A hail of ice and freezing water exploded from the ebony wand. Fitzpatrick went white as a specter and tried to dodge, but he was too slow. The ice and water slammed into the other wizard, sending him flying across the meadow.

Severus shook his head. "Whoever taught you how to duel ought to be horsewhipped, Fitzpatrick."

Meanwhile, Patrick had managed to free himself of the Entanglement Curse, and was now trying to lasso Boreal with a glowing coil of rope. "C'mere, you rotten nag! O'Shea's gonna make a new rug from your hide, you bloody bastard!"

Harry sprang up on Boreal's back and shouted, "Fly, Boreal!"

The pegasus did so, avoiding the thrown coil of rope neatly. A Lasso of Passivity, that's what that magical rope is, Harry. If it gets round my neck, I'll lose all will to fight them and just go along docilely, like an old broken-down nag. That's how they capture the wild pegasi to improve their breeding stock, or so my mother told me.

Below, Patrick was twirling the rope expertly, and as he did so, the rope grew ever longer, until he cast it towards the flying pegasus.

The rope fell short, just missing the stallion's crest, and Boreal shuddered as the glowing hemp caressed part of his nose.

Equus save me, but that was too close.

Harry patted him on the shoulder. We need to take him out, Boreal. Can you get me close enough to cast a Disarming Charm?

Yes, but your father does not want you fighting, Harry. I think it safer if you stay out of it.

They attacked us first. And I can take this idiot, just get me close enough, Boreal. Dad's busy with the other one, he doesn't have time to deal with Lasso-Head there.

Patrick was pointing his wand and uttering a spell that Harry was familiar with, it was a Binding Curse and it was aimed at his bonded.

Boreal, dive, now! Harry ordered, and clung to the stallion as the pegasus plunged from the sky like a thunderbolt, heading straight for their nemesis like a falling comet.

The curse flew past them and as Boreal neared the other wizard, Harry yelled, "Expelliarmus!"

Patrick's wand was blown out of his hand and then Boreal smashed into him, knocking him out cold.

That'll teach you! Boreal whistled triumphantly, rearing and bringing his front hooves down perilously close to the unconscious wizard's head. Nobody takes me against my will.

Sean had picked himself up and was advancing cautiously across the meadow. His wand was lowered, however, and he snarled, "Always knew that blasted stallion was mad. Comes from that wild strain in his blood. Makes him unpredictable."

"And you still want him back?" Snape snorted. "If I were you, I'd stay far away from him." He had his wand trained on the other man. "Had enough, or shall I teach you a few more moves?"

"Go bugger yourself!" Sean spat, his face flaming. It had been a long time since anyone had bested him in a duel, and he was in no hurry to start another round with this tall and dangerous opponent, who must have been a master duelist at one point in his life. He limped towards where his partner lay collapsed upon the grass, giving the silver pegasus and his young rider a glare that would have done a basilisk proud. "If it were up to me, I'd say to hell with all of you, but O'Shea wants the bloody winged menace back or else."

Severus moved to stand in front of his son and Boreal. "Then it appears we are at a stalemate. For you will never get Boreal without killing either myself or my son, and I don't think you are desperate enough to commit murder, are you, Fitzpatrick?"

Sean shook his head. "I'm no fool, what's your name?"

"Knight," Snape lied smoothly. "Tobias Knight."

"Humph! Bloody knight in shining armor. Or more like the black knight. You know that you can't win, don't you? O'Shea doesn't give up, and he's got more money and muscle for hire than just me n' Patrick there. He'll keep sending people for his property-"

"Boreal isn't his property! He belongs to himself!" Harry cried, furious that the other wizard kept referring to the pegasus in such a degrading fashion, as if he were a piece of furniture.

"Watch your tone, kid! Mr. O'Shea paid good money for that stallion and he means to get a return on his investment, one way or another. And if you won't come willingly, he'll send his lawyers next time, to bring a suit against you. Think you can afford to battle it out in the courts, Knight?"

Severus's expression was thunderous. He knew that he couldn't match the rich stableowner Galleon for Galleon, the man made more in three months than he did in one year's salary as Potions Master, even with the bonus he received for his spying duties from Dumbledore. But neither could he afford to let the unscrupulous thug get his hands on his son or Boreal. His crafty brain searched for a solution, and for once he blessed his ability to think fast on his feet, a skill he'd honed as a spy that stood him in good stead now. "What if I were to cut a deal with you, Fitzpatrick?" he suggested silkily.

The other glared at him suspiciously. "What d'you have in mind, Knight?"

"Between you and I, Fitzpatrick, I think your master just wants the pegasus back to save face. I mean, he was thrashed into ribbons by an animal, that has to sting his pride like the devil, no? It's bad for his image, now that everyone knows he got his arse walloped by a mere winged horse."

"What of it?"

"Well, what if you were to spread the rumor that the pegasus was hopelessly wild, and untamable? Then your boss's reputation would be repaired a little, yes?"

"Maybe. But the boss is going to want something more. His rep can take a little mud on it. But see, he was hoping to win the big one with Boreal, y'know what I'm talking about?"

"The Skybolt International."

"Aye, that's right. He was betting on that crazy horse to pull it off, but now that's shot to hell. He's got another son of Firefox in his string though, Quicksilver, and he's thinking that one will do it. But he still wants Boreal back."

"That'll never happen."

"Maybe not, but how about I offer you a deal, Knight? You enter that silver menace in the Skybolt and run him, if he wins, we'll call it quits and let you alone, but if he loses, he's O'Shea's again, and your son as his bonded rider will sign a contract to ride for Soaring Stars and race Boreal."

"My son would never agree, he has school, he can't afford to waste time racing for you."

"After he's done then. You and I both know a bonded pegasus accepts no one else upon his back. Master O'Shea pays well, so long as his employees perform to his satisfaction." Sean bargained. "He'll make a good deal of money, jockeys always do."

"Money is not an object."

"Right. But see, you'll only have to worry about that if your kid and the menace loses." Fitzpatrick chuckled loudly. "That's quite likely, the Skybolt ain't for beginners. But still, there's always a chance he could get lucky." The expression on his face made it clear how likely that was to occur. "Strange things have been known to happen in that race. That's why it's the Skybolt. Anything can happen. So, you game, Knight?"

"Do it, Dad!" Harry chimed in, unable to keep still. "Boreal and I will mop the floor with them!"

"Harry, hush!" Severus ordered irritably, considering the other man's offer carefully. "If we win, you will release all claims to Boreal forever and leave us in peace?" he countered.

"Yeah, sure."

"I want it in writing. And then you have to swear a Wizard's Oath that you will abide by the guidelines before I'll agree to it. Then I'll keep a copy and you can give the other to your master."

"Don't trust me, Knight?"

"Not as far as I can throw you." Severus sneered, wishing there were another way out of this situation. But he could think of no other solution, short of murder. He knew that the Skybolt was the pinnacle of the racing circuit, the race that every owner dreamed of winning and every pegasus and rider of testing himself against the toughest course in the world and still being able to fly away unscathed. He had never intended for Harry to run in a race so soon, despite his incredible skill on the pegasus. In fact, he had never intended for Harry to race at all, for he knew how dangerous the sport was, some of the riders could be vicious when they chose and Harry was only a boy, no matter his skill. But he had no other choice. He knew Harry would die rather than see Boreal in the hands of the cruel owner, and a bonded pegasus went nowhere without his chosen rider. He set his jaw. "I'll draw up the contract, and you'll sign it in front of me with my son as witness, and I'll do the same, with your partner as your witness. It'll be a legally and magically binding document. Is this satisfactory?"

Fitzpatrick grinned and spat into his palm, then held it out to Snape. "Shake on it, boyo. I do love a good wager." Especially when the odds are in my favor. There's no way on earth they can be prepared for the race in just three weeks, the boy has no experience, even if he is a bonded, and the stallion has no course to practice on. It'll be no contest.

Severus grimaced in distaste and shook the proffered hand. "Done then." He summoned a quill and parchment with a snap of his fingers. "Wake up your . . .friend there while I write up the contract," he ordered, wiping his palm on his robe before beginning to write, whispering another charm to make the air stiff so he could lean the parchment against it.

In fifteen minutes, Snape had spelled out all the legalities and terms, making sure there were no loopholes for O'Shea to wriggle through. All that was left was to sign names to the document, upon which the spells in the parchment would activate, since this was legal parchment, made for such contracts, it would glow green once the terms had been read and agreed to.

By that time Patrick had awakened and was holding his head and groaning. "Bloody crazy horse! Why'd I ever take this job? I HATE bloody horses, with wings or without ‘em."

"Quit your complaining, lad," ordered his partner. "I need you t'stand as witness to a document and a wager."

Patrick perked up at that. "Oh? How much did you wager then, man? A goodly sum?"

Sean told him and Patrick chortled wickedly. "Ha! A fine wager there, my friend! Boreal's as good as ours."

"Sign, if you would." Severus held out the quill to Sean.

The other signed with a flourish. "Your turn, Knight."

Severus scribbled his signature, making sure it was nearly illegible, since he didn't want Sean knowing he was really Severus Snape. He had to put his real name to the document, otherwise the magic would be null and void. Then he gave the parchment to Harry, who signed it quickly, and gave it to Patrick, and once that signature was added, the parchment turned green and the contract was magically binding.

Then he made a copy and handed it to Fitzpatrick. "Done. Now get the blazes off my land, the pair of you. I'll see you at the championship."

"We'll be waiting." Sean laughed mockingly. "C'mon, Mulligan, time to go home and tell the boss what we found."

Two minutes later, the two had Apparated away, vanishing as quickly as they had come.

Harry's eyes were glowing and he turned to his father and said, "We'll have to hurry and get an entry form, there's probably a deadline to enter, and a fee too, least that's how the Muggles do it. And I'll need lots more practice flying and stuff. . ."

His musings were cut short by Severus saying abruptly, "Harry, get down off that pegasus and tell me what the flaming hell d'you think you were doing, risking your neck again? If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, do not interfere while I am dueling!"

Harry slid off Boreal and came to stand before his father, his head lowered. "Sorry, Dad, but we had to defend ourselves. That fat one had a magic lasso. . ."

"Never mind the excuses. You're grounded for two days, use the time to do research on the Skybolt International. Yes, that means no flying, brooms or otherwise, young man." Severus said sternly, then he turned his son around, leaned him over his arm and gave him two hard smacks. "One for risking your fool neck again, and one for scaring me to death."

"Oww! Dad, please! Not in front of my friends," Harry yelped, turning scarlet. He was certain Ron and Hermione were watching somewhere.

Severus ignored him, swatting him again. "And that's for remembrance."

"Oww! Okay, I'll remember," his son sniffled.

"Good." Then Severus drew him into his arms and hugged him for a long moment. "Oh, Harry! You drive me insane. Though God knows I ought to be used to it by now. Come, I'm sure your friends are dying to know details, and Rellah is probably going to feed us dry toast and water for missing breakfast." He put an arm about Harry.

"How'd you know I needed you, sir?" Harry asked, rubbing the sting from his rear as they walked.

"Weasley came and fetched me. You ought to thank him," Severus said dryly.

Harry smiled. "I will. Good old Ron!"

"Humph! For once he did the sensible thing."

"I'll tell him you said that," Harry promised, then ducked the cuff his father aimed at his ear. "And also that I forgive him for being such a bloody imbecile."

"You have such a way with words," said his father sarcastically.

"Uh, yeah. Wonder where I got that from?" Harry smirked, then jumped as Severus swatted him on the back of the head. "It was a joke, okay? Merlin, Dad!"

"Incorrigible brat!" said Severus, and ruffled his son's hair and smiled resignedly. Now they had one more thing to look forward to at the end of the summer besides school. 

Wow, this is the longest fanfic I've ever written.

A huge thank you to all my reviewers for reading and encouragement.

Next: Harry takes a peek at Severus's birthday gift--the Pensieve

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