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The next morning, Harry woke up early and took a long shower, though he suspected he would need another one after Severus was done with his riding lesson. The professor had left him a set of riding breeches, a shirt, boots, and a hardhat at the foot of his bed, he discovered after he had emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel. There was a note on top of them.

For you, Harry.

You'll get plenty of use out of them.

Professor Snape

The shirt was an elegantly tailored Irish-made linen in a cream color, and the breeches were butter-soft tan leather. The boots were shiny black and so was the hat. Harry stroked the soft fabric and thought that he had never worn anything so fine. What was even more astonishing was the fact that this outfit was for riding lessons, to practice in, not to wear in some competition. He lifted the shirt in his hands. It looked like it had been tailored to fit him perfectly. He had never owned such things before and he felt a warm glow of appreciation towards his guardian. Severus had spared no expense to buy him this outfit and he promised himself he would try his best to learn how to ride to show Severus how much he appreciated the man's generosity.

He quickly shed his robe and dressed, marveling at the feel of the quality leather and linen against his skin. Even the boots were a perfect fit. He took the hat in his hand and descended the stairs, ready for breakfast and then his first lesson.

He found Snape cooking breakfast, today it was cinnamon banana pancakes and a side of ham. The professor had a pot of strong coffee on the stove and orange juice in a pitcher. "Morning, Professor Snape."

Severus looked up from flipping over a pancake and saw Harry dressed in his brand new outfit and gave him an approving nod. "You look well in that, Mr. Potter. Sit down and have some breakfast. You'll need something in you once we start lessons."

"Yes, sir. Thank you for the clothes, sir." Harry said, giving him a tentative smile.

The professor was wearing casual clothes as well, relaxed black cargo pants and a green polo shirt. He looked faintly embarrassed. "No need to thank me, Harry, you need proper clothes in order to ride, so best to start you off right."

After they had eaten the delicious breakfast and Harry had drank his Nutrient potion and washed the dishes wandlessly, Severus led him out to the back pasture. Harry figured he would change forms once he was there, but instead Severus unlatched the paddock gate and went into the barn.

Harry watched in puzzlement, wondering what Snape could be doing in there, then he recalled there was a tack room and figured he had gone to get a saddle and bridle. Some seven minutes later, the professor emerged from the barn leading a pretty Arabian mare of dazzling white. She was wearing the saddle and bridle Harry had seen in the tack room. She stepped gracefully and lively behind the tall man, her large liquid eyes taking in everything.

"Professor, you bought a horse?"

Severus shook his head, coming to a stop in the middle of the paddock. "Hardly. She's on loan to me for four weeks, courtesy of Andromeda Tonks, an old friend of mine who runs a dueling academy and riding stable down the road. Harry, meet Jasmine. She's a ten year old mare and Andromeda has used her as a schooling horse before." He gently stroked the Arabian's nose.

Harry slipped into the paddock and approached Severus and the horse. He gently extended a hand to her, and she dipped her head and smelled him curiously. "Hello, Jasmine. I'm Harry." He stroked her neck, she had a high crest and a thick flowing mane like spun silk. She was a beautiful horse, but Harry was confused. "Professor, I though . . .I mean, I thought I would be . . err . . .riding Moon Fire for my lessons."

Severus shot him a sly glance. "Did you now? Not until later, Harry. Before you mount a horse, it's necessary to learn how to care for one, and how to take the saddle and bridle off and on. That is what Jasmine here can teach you. She can also serve as an exercise horse when I am busy elsewhere."

"Right." He continued stroking the mare, who stood calmly, unperturbed by the strangers beside her. "When do we start?"

"Now." Snape replied. "Take a look at what she has upon her head. This kind of bridle is called a headstall, and is the gentlest of all bridles a horse can wear. It has a snaffle bit, which means an inept rider cannot injure a horse's mouth by pulling too hard, and allows the horse more control and comfort when a rider is on her back. Normally, Andromeda would not allow a first-time rider to use a snaffle bit, but I insisted upon it. The less stress upon the horse's mouth, the better."

Harry understood perfectly where Snape was coming from. As Moon Fire, he would know what it felt like with a bit in his mouth by speaking to other horses, and would therefore be sympathetic to the equine's point of view.

Severus went on to demonstrate how to remove the bridle, after first commanding Jasmine to stay. The mare obeyed, remaining stock still like a statue. She had been well trained. He then handed the contraption to Harry and told him to put it back on the mare.

At first, Harry was all thumbs, tangling up the headstall and the reins, and having to get sorted out by the Potions Master. Severus made him practice straightening out the bridle before he put it on Jasmine and buckled it into place. Then the professor had him undo it and do it all over again. They did that several times, until Harry had memorized how to fit the bridle on with a minimum of fuss. As a reward, Severus fed Jasmine a carrot.

"Jasmine is trained to stay ground tied when you remove a bridle, meaning she won't wander off, but a normal horse needs to be tied when you remove tack, or remove it inside a stall so the horse cannot walk off." Severus explained. "Now, we'll concentrate on the saddle."

Harry had even more problems buckling the girth straps and heaving the saddle off and on the patient Arabian. He would have never thought that such a thing could become so heavy, and Severus had told him this was a lightweight hunting saddle! After ten times, Severus called a halt, and fed Jasmine a piece of salted bread.

"Not bad, but you'll need to practice that over tomorrow." Severus instructed. Then he showed Harry how to walk a horse on a lead, explaining that one should always walk to a horse's side, since that was how they saw you best. Horses had great peripheral vision and preferred a person to walk close to them and make no sudden movements.

"A horse is a prey animal, and will startle at quick movements and loud noises, it's a survival instinct. And the closer you stay to a horse's head or side, the less chance she will have to kick you, and the more control you will have over her. Jasmine is a good tempered lady, she knows better than to buck or kick you, but should you ever encounter a horse that is not so well-behaved, remember what I just told you."

Next Severus told Harry to Summon a currycomb and brush from the stable. "Tomorrow I'll have you practice the charm wandlessly, but today you can do it with a wand."

Harry concentrated, waved his wand, then called, "Accio currycomb and brush!"

The items he had summoned flew out and into his arms. He looked at his mentor. "Now what? You're going to teach me how to brush her?"

"Exactly. Come here. Grooming is an essential part of taking care of a horse. Whenever you are done with a ride, you should always groom your mount. At the very least, you need to check her hooves for stones and pick them out and rub her down with a soft cloth." Severus pulled a strange hooked metal implement from his pocket. "This is a hoofpick. Watch me."

He touched Jasmine's leg below the knee and the horse obligingly picked up a hoof and Severus took it in his hand. "Good girl." Then he took the hoofpick and demonstrated how to clean the dirt out of her hoof.

"Doesn't that sharp part hurt her?"

"No. A horse's hoof is like our fingernails, only much harder. The only sensitive part of a horse's hoof is the frog, deep in the middle, here."

He cleaned out three of Jasmine's hooves and turned the last over to Harry.

Then he showed Harry how to rub down a horse and clean away dust with a rubber scraper and lastly to comb and brush the coat. "Some horses are very thin-skinned and ticklish, so mind you be gentle when you comb and brush them. Think of how you comb your hair. Hopefully you don't just yank out the tangles."

By the time Harry had finished brushing Jasmine he was hot and sweaty. He had never known there was so much to learn about taking care of a horse before. But Snape was a thorough and surprisingly patient instructor, speaking in a soft tone, and willing to repeat a step if Harry requested it. "You'll be taking care of Jasmine while she is here, I'll show you how to measure out feed and muck out a stall next."

Harry groaned. "When do I get to ride Moon Fire?"

"When you've shown me you're responsible enough to take care of a horse without me hovering over you." Severus answered. "This isn't like a broom, Potter, that you can just stick in a corner when you're done flying. This is a living creature with feelings and you had better respect that."

"Yes, sir," was all Harry said.

After Severus had shown him how to measure out scoops of oats and put some hay in the manger for Jasmine to munch on, and fill her trough with fresh water, but not too cold or too warm, his teacher bade him to fetch a large pitchfork and start shoveling out the dirty straw in the stall. Luckily there wasn't that much, since Jasmine hadn't been inside very long before being let out. But Harry's shoulders still ached when he was done.

But when he looked down at his clothes, expecting them to be full of horsehair and sweat, they looked as neat as they had when he had first put them on. When he asked Severus why, the professor said, "I've put an enchantment on them that repels dirt, hair, and water."

"You think of everything, don't you, professor?" Harry said with an admiring tone.

"I try," was all his teacher replied.

"Do you have some books about horses I could, uh, read?"

"I do. I'll give them to you after supper. Right now, I'd say it's time for lunch. Then you can come back here and get to know Jasmine while I'm brewing. I think you'll get along. She's easygoing for an Arabian."

He scratched the mare in the back of her ears and she leaned into his shoulder, sighing in bliss. After a moment she put her head down and began to graze. They left her alone and headed back to the house.

Later, Harry returned to the paddock and petted and talked to the mare. Jasmine was no Moon Fire, but she was a very good horse for beginners and he liked her. He apologized for being so clumsy around her and fed her a small apple and some sugar. Severus had warned him, though, to not feed her too many apples, else she might colic. Too much grain and fruit was not good for a horse's digestive tract.

That set the tone for the next four days. Severus awoke Harry at six-thirty every morning to go out and give Jasmine her morning feed. When Harry complained the first morning, the professor told him unsympathetically that he was lucky he wasn't getting up at five-thirty, the way the children of most farmers did. Once Jasmine had been fed and groomed, Harry turned her out in the paddock and mucked out her stall and spread fresh straw down. He then trundled the whellbarrow of manure to the side of the barn, where Severus had told him was once a manure pile, and dumped the soiled straw there.

Then and only then was he allowed to come inside, shower and eat breakfast. After that he studied for two hours before going back out to the paddock with Severus and practicing tacking up the Arab and one afternoon Severus showed him how to polish and clean the tack as well with the leather polish and soft soap.

It was hard work, but Harry found he didn't mind it. Jasmine was a sweet horse, she took to him readily, and soon came to look for him when he departed, and nicker a greeting when she saw him each morning. At the end of five days, Severus returned and watched him perform his duties.

At the end of the morning round of chores, Severus declared him a pretty competent stablehand and said he could start learning how to mount a horse.

Harry's eyes lit up. "Really?"

"Yes. Tack up Jasmine and come over to the center of the paddock."

Harry did so, then he led the Arabian over to where Severus waited. Severus showed him how to adjust the stirrups and then he demonstrated how to mount a horse, from the left side, swinging the right leg over the horse's back.

Severus did it easily, mounting in a few seconds. He clicked softly to the mare, and she began to walk about in a circle, Snape sitting easily on her back.

Harry watched enviously as the professor had Jasmine trot, canter, and then walk, barely moving his hands and feet. He rode expertly, as if he had been doing so all of his life. Then he slowed the mare and they stopped in front of Harry.

Severus dismounted and handed the reins to Harry. "Your turn. Remember, mount on the left side."

Harry put his foot in the shortened stirrup and grasped the pommel of the saddle and tried to jump up and swing his leg over the back of the mare as he had seen Severus do. But he had misjudged the height he would need to get in the saddle, and ended up crashing into Jasmine's side instead. He scrambled frantically for a minute before slipping back down again.

"Again. Push off the ground with your other foot," Severus ordered.

Harry tried. The second time he managed to get his upper half over the saddle before wriggling the rest of the way onto the horse's back. Jasmine heaved a sigh and gave him a reproachful look. "Sorry, girl. I'll do better next time."

He started to dismount.

"Hold it, boy! You dismount with the right leg first. Swing your leg over and down."

Harry managed somehow to get off the horse without falling, though it was a near thing. Everything looked so much further away once he was actually astride. "You make it look so easy," he told Snape, somewhat accusingly.

"It is easy. Once you get used to it. Practice makes perfect. Do it again."

Harry groaned and obeyed. By the time Severus called a halt, he was aching in every muscle in both arms and shoulders, sweaty, hot, and very tired. He was certain both his teacher and Jasmine were disgusted with him. He doubted if he would ever make a decent rider.

But to his surprise, Severus clapped him on the shoulder. "Not bad for your first time, Harry. Tomorrow will be better. Walk her about for five minutes and cool her out. Then you can give her water at what temperature?"

"Room temperature, sir. Never cold."

"Good. Get going."

The next morning, Harry was so sore that he could barely move his arms. He feared he was crippled for life. He lay there in bed and wondered if he would be able to move some time in the next century. Severus came and shook him awake, and Harry whimpered, "Go 'way! I can't move. Lemme alone."

"Rise and shine, boy." Severus ordered, yanking the covers off him. "You're burning daylight."

Harry yelped as the cold air hit him and curled up into a ball.

Severus turned and left the room.

Fifteen minutes later he returned when Harry did not come downstairs. He found the boy right where he had left him in bed. "Mr. Potter. That was not an invitation, now get up!" he snapped.

"Can't. My arms . . .they hurt to move . . ."

"Oh for the love of Selene!" Severus frowned. He snapped his fingers and a bottle appeared in his hands. "Are you certain you can't move?"

"You think I'd still be lying here if I could, sir?" the boy asked pathetically.

Severus sighed. Harry had proved a diligent worker and did not usually shirk his assigned chores. "One minute." He spoke a word and Harry's pajama top vanished. "I'm going to give you a quick massage, that'll loosen up those stiff muscles enough for you to go take a hot shower."

He poured the strong smelling eucalyptus oil onto his hands, rubbed them together and then bent over Harry.

"Ah!" Harry gasped as the professor began to massage, because his muscles were so stiff it hurt at first.

But gradually, they loosened as Snape worked, and after ten minutes Harry felt much better. "There! Now get in the shower."

Harry didn't need to be told twice. He rolled over and sat up, wincing.

"Next time, tell me if you're sore and I'll give you some Muscle Relieving Salve to rub on before bed."

Harry grimaced, but now he could lift his arms above his head. "Thought you said riding wouldn't hurt."

"I said, it wouldn't hurt much," corrected the professor, smirking. "And you have no idea about soreness yet, trust me. Hurry up, Potter! Shower and go down to the barn."

"Okay, okay. I'm going," he muttered irritably.

The shower made him feel much better, and so did the feeding and grooming of the gentle mare. Wielding the rake and shovel hurt, but it was a good feeling, and he could endure it.

By the time midmorning rolled around, his arms and shoulders weren't throbbing agonizingly, the pain had subsided to a dull ache. Until he went to mount Jasmine again. Then his muscles started screaming at him and he groaned. "I can't do this!"

"Quitting already? I wouldn't have thought you would give up so soon." There was a faint mocking tone to Snape's voice.

Harry glared at the other man. "It hurts, damn it!"

"Of course it does. Anything worth doing hurts, Potter! You ought to know that by now."

Harry wanted to snap at Severus that it was easy for him to talk, since he wasn't being tortured. But he held his tongue for once, because it seemed important to Snape that he learn this, and he really did want to ride Moon Fire. Which he wouldn't be able to do unless he learned how to mount a horse properly. He gritted his teeth, grabbed hold of the pommel and levered himself upwards again.

After about fifteen more repetitions, Severus called a halt, and allowed Harry to take a breather. Harry leaned against the fence gratefully. "Was it like this for you too at first?"

Severus nodded. "Believe it or not, yes. Riding is not a sport for the faint of heart. It takes dedication and patience and stubbornness. But once you master the basics, it's also the most rewarding thing you can do. The more you practice, the easier it will get."

"It sure doesn't feel like it now."

"Give it a day or two," the Potions Master chuckled.

"My arms feel like limp spaghetti."

"Just imagine how poor Jasmine feels, having to stand there and let you hang and climb all over her."

"I think you feel sorrier for the horse than me." Harry grumbled.

"I do," Severus admitted shamelessly. "How many times have you kicked her in the ribs?"

"I didn't mean to." Harry protested.

"Nevertheless . . ."

Harry promptly wandlessly Summoned a piece of bread and some carrots and gave them to Jasmine, who devoured them and then slobbered all over him in thanks.

"Great, Jasmine! I really needed that," the boy scowled, than he patted her sleek coat. She nuzzled him affectionately. He stroked her cheek and whispered, "You're a good girl for putting up with me, you know that?"

She whickered and blew out softly.

But after a few days, Harry's body grew accustomed to the routine exercise and was no longer sore. He had also learned how to jump up and into the stirrup before swinging his leg over, making it much easier to mount.

After five consecutive decent mounts, Severus declared he had graduated from the patient Arabian mare. "Tomorrow, Harry, you work with me. And then you shall learn how to ride like no other wizard has ever learned before."

"Not even you?"

Severus shook his head. "I learned to ride upon ordinary horses. You will have the privilege of learning on an intelligent magical stallion. Your experience will be much different and better than mine."

"You think?"

"Yes. Now cool out Jasmine. You did well today."

Harry's heart thrilled to hear those words and he felt extremely proud of himself, as proud as the day he had caught the Snitch during his first game. Snape was not an easy man to please and winning his approval was like winning an award. He could hardly wait till tomorrow.

He was up with the sun the next morning, without needing to be called, and he hurried down to the barn while it was barely light and flew through his grooming and feeding with Jasmine. Once he had cleaned her stall, he put her back in it, as per Severus' instructions. Then he went back inside to wash up and change into his riding clothes before going downstairs to start breakfast.

Severus was momentarily shocked upon seeing Harry awake before him and already making breakfast, which today was omelets, fried potatoes, bacon, and toast. He raised an eyebrow and said laconically, "You're awake early."

Harry merely smiled quietly and finished scraping the potatoes onto their plates. As he levitated the plates to their places with a brief flick of his wand, he asked, "Professor, will I be able to understand you when you're Moon Fire?"

"Not unless I cast a spell on you that will allow you to speak and listen as a horse does. Would you want that?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. It would make learning a whole lot easier."

Snape gave him a wolfish grin. "Very well. Though you might regret it after I am done with you. Finish up, the spell only lasts two hours, so I will cast it after breakfast."

Harry nearly choked on his food, until his mentor ordered him to slow down and eat like a human being instead of a starving dog. Flushing, he obeyed.

Finally breakfast was over, the dishes washing, and then Snape pulled his wand and cast a short incantation. Silvery sparks shot out from his wand and encased Harry's head, he felt the magic seep into his ears and head, and there was a tingling in his ears. Then it was gone. Harry rubbed his eyes. He didn't feel any different. "Did it work?"

"Go out to the barn and see," Severus urged.

Harry did, and Severus Summoned the tack and left it on the fence for Harry before blurring into the midnight stallion. He cropped grass idly, waiting for the boy to reappear.

Harry did in about six minutes. "It worked, sir! I spoke to Jasmine and she answered me. It was absolutely amazing! Where did you learn that one? Oh . . ." he trailed off as he caught sight of Moon Fire, standing near the fence, looking at him alertly.

This was the first time he had ever seen the stallion by day, and his obsidian coat shone like black satin, the crescent standing out in sharp contrast to the dark coat. Once again, Harry's breath caught. Jasmine was a fine horse, a thoroughbred in every sense of the word, but Moon Fire . . .he was like a fairy tale come to life. For a long moment Harry just stood there, drinking in the sight of the stallion.

Then Moon Fire tossed his head impatiently and whistled, Well, are you going to stand here all day, Potter, or shall we get started?

Due to the spell, Harry "heard" the stallion's whistle in his head translated into human thoughts and speech, and Moon Fire sounded exactly like Severus. "All right. Come over here, please, and let me put on the bridle."

Moon Fire walked over and halted, lowering his head so Harry could slip the headstall over his ears and buckle the straps. He was very careful to not catch the stallion's ears and only tighten the strap enough to keep the bridle in place. He offered the bit to the stallion and Moon Fire accepted it. "Is that okay, Moon Fire?"

The stallion snorted an affirmative and Harry moved on to the saddle.

Not so tight, boy. Moon Fire warned as Harry tugged the girth closed. He stamped a foot on the ground.

"Sorry," Harry loosened the girth a notch.

Moon Fire shuddered at the feel of the saddle upon his back. It felt alien and strange, he did not like it at all. All of his instincts urged him to scrape and tear it off and he drew away from the boy, trotting in a circle about him, fighting the terrible urge with all of his human intellect.

"Moon Fire, what's going on?" Harry called, puzzled.

The stallion tossed his head and whinnied. Give me a minute.

Harry watched as the stallion continued walking, tail flagged, plainly something was irritating him. Harry wondered if it were being treated like a beast of burden, because he recalled that Moon Fire was still half-wild.

Finally the stallion seemed to settle and then he trotted back over to Harry and squared up. Mount! He whistled.

Harry went to put his foot in the stirrup, only to discover that Moon Fire was much larger than Jasmine. "Uh . . .how am I gonna mount you?"

Moon Fire turned his head, saw the difficulty, and snorted. There's a mounting block near the entrance to the barn. He followed the boy to where the concrete block was.

Harry discovered the mounting block was ten times easier to use, and soon he had his foot in the stirrup, swung his leg over, and was astride the big stallion. He wriggled about a little, trying to adjust to the fact that Moon Fire's back was much larger than Jasmine's.

Moon Fire laid his ears back. Settle down and quit bouncing all over me!

"Sorry. But I'm having a little bit of trouble adjusting. Your back is so broad."

The stallion turned his head and looked at his rider. Sit up straight, Harry, don't slouch. I'm not a piece of furniture. Take the reins in your right hand, look forward, and grip the saddle with your thighs.

Harry obeyed as best he could. "Like this?"

Lean forward a little more. Good. You want to balance on my back, don't sit all stiff like a lump, the way you do on a broom. Now, tap your heels against my sides, and we'll start with a walk.

Harry tentatively thumped his heels against Moon Fire's flanks.

The stallion made a sort of exasperated sound. For the love of Selene, Potter, that was barely a poke. I'm not glass.

Harry tapped him again, this time with a bit more force.

Moon Fire began to walk, slowly, about the paddock, his hooves gliding over the grass.

Harry swayed and gripped both reins and pommel.

Relax, boy. You're stiff as a board. Relax your hips and bottom, don't sit still. Try and move with me.

Harry tried, concentrating on how the stallion moved beneath him. He started to sway back and forth.

Moon Fire halted. Harry, not like that! I'm not a bloody rocking horse! Grip hard with your thighs and sit deep in the saddle and let yourself relax and just follow the way I move.

Harry shifted, he disliked the feel of the leather saddle, but knew he had to just get used to it. "Okay. Let's try it again."

Moon Fire began to move effortlessly about the paddock, Harry trying to relax and move with the stallion. It was not as easy as it looked, he slipped and slid on the saddle, and then he kicked Moon Fire harder than he meant to by accident.

Annoyed, the black horse gave a sharp squeal and kicked out slightly with his back hoof.

Harry yelped and found himself sliding off. He grasped the black mane and Moon Fire whinnied and stopped dead.

"Ow!"

The boy found himself on the ground, still clutching a few coarse black hairs in his hand, he had landed hard on his right hip and backside. Wincing, he sat up. "You . . you did that on purpose!" he cried angrily. "You made me fall."

Moon Fire swung his head around, his black eyes gleaming. Of course I did! You ripped my mane out by the roots, damn it!

"I did?" Crestfallen, he glanced down at the black hairs and quickly put his hands behind his back like a guilty schoolboy. "I didn't . . .I was falling and I just . . . grabbed onto whatever was there."

Next time grab the saddle horn, Mr. Potter, not my mane! Or else I might just be tempted to buck you off hard into a thorn bush.

"Sorry." Harry stood up and brushed himself off. "I'll remember."

The stallion tossed his head, blowing out sharply. Forgiven. Back to the mounting block, boy.

Harry rubbed his backside ruefully and thought he was surely going to feel this tomorrow. Then he picked up the reins and walked—make that limped—back to the mounting block. "That really hurt."

Moon Fire whickered and bumped him with his nose. You have to expect falls when you learn to ride. You'll live. It's not as bad as what your uncle used to dish out, right?

Harry shook his head. No, nothing had been that bad. He quit complaining.

Moon Fire squared up at the block, waiting for Harry to remount.

But the boy remained standing there, looking up at him, his forehead creased.

Moon Fire stamped a hoof and swished his tail. Well? What are you waiting for? Get back in the saddle.

"Moon Fire, what if . . .what if I learned to ride without the saddle? Like I did before?"

The stallion's ears shot forward. Bareback? Harry, that's a lot tougher than learning with a saddle. You need to learn how to sit properly on a horse before you can try that.

"I did it before," he argued.

With Selene's help, I don't doubt.

"At least let me try. It feels more . . .natural like that. I can feel your body better that way."

Moon Fire considered. Very well. It's your backside. But you will fall more that way. Might I suggest leaving a blanket on and the saddle pad? It will cushion you and my skin.

"Okay." Harry bent and unbuckled the saddle, heaving it off Moon Fire and setting it on the ground. He left the checked blue, green, and gold blanket on the black horse as well as the sheepskin pad which went inbetween saddle and blanket. He chanted a quick Sticking Charm so the blanket and saddle pad would stay on the stallion's back. Then he put one hand upon Moon Fire's withers and hopped upon his back.

He winced, because he was sore, but the fleece pad was much more comfortable than the leather saddle had been. He sat up and took the reins, wrapped his legs about the stallion and kicked him lightly with his heels. "Walk, please."

Moon Fire did so, with his head up high, his hooves dancing over the grass.

Harry soon discovered that it was easier for him to feel the horse beneath him without the saddle, but harder for him to stay in one spot, since he had to grip hard with his legs to avoid sliding. Moon Fire made two complete circles of the paddock, occasionally tossing his head.

Hands, Potter! Relax your grip on the reins and don't drag at my mouth. Easy, you don't need to tug that way, I'm not a pull toy. Simply give the reins a gentle tug in the direction you wish me to go.

"Sorry, sir." He cautiously reached down a hand and stroked Moon Fire's neck. He loosened his hold on the reins. "Can we go a bit faster?"

Moon Fire whinnied, then stretched out into a smooth gait halfway between a walk and a trot. Harry clung gamely to the horse's back, and gradually began to feel more comfortable atop Moon Fire. He started to be able to move with the horse, the rocking motion was almost soothing. Until he tugged on the reins and sat back to try and make the horse stop.

He tugged too hard and Moon Fire stopped so suddenly he flew off and landed on the ground again.

He picked himself up. "What did I do now?"

You keep yanking the reins. Until you cease doing it, I shall keep knocking you off my back.

"Touchy, aren't you?" Harry grumbled.

You would be as well if you had a teenager hanging on your mouth, the horse snapped, laying his ears back.

"Sorry."

You were doing much better until then. The stallion conceded.

"Told you this way worked better for me," Harry said, a bit smugly.

Moon Fire snorted and trotted back to the mounting block.

Finally the two hours were up and Moon Fire let Harry untack him and rub him down as he had done Jasmine. Mindful of how thin-skinned the stallion was, Harry was careful not to tug out any knots and brush his coat gently. Then he went and carried the saddle inside along with the rest of the riding gear.

When he came out again, Severus was standing there. "Not bad for your first time. Tomorrow will be easier."

"Sure it will. For you," Harry shot back. "I'll be lucky if I can sit down."

Severus chuckled. "You ought to be glad you're a wizard, Harry. Otherwise you'd be suffering with a sore behind for much longer, with only hot baths and cushions to help you. Come, we both need a shower. You'll find a container of salve in the cabinet, put it on after your shower."

"Then can we eat? I'm starving."

"I'm not surprised. Riding always gives me an appetite."

Together they went back to the house, tired yet more relaxed than they had ever been around each other.

Harry was more tired than he thought, for he fell asleep on the couch reading a book about riding techniques. When he woke, sometime in the middle of the night, he found himself in his own bed and didn't remember how he had gotten there. He turned over and snuggled into the sheets, his last thought was that perhaps Severus had put him there.

Then he fell asleep and dreamed of riding Moon Fire across the sky at a speed faster than any Firebolt.

The next morning, Harry was so sore he staggered to breakfast, walking almost like an old man. Severus raised an eyebrow but thankfully did not comment, and when Harry sat down, took pity on him and placed a Cushion charm upon his seat. He ate his oatmeal and fruit without saying anything, drank his potion, then went to wash the dishes.

Severus gave him points for fortitude, and asked Harry if he would mind brewing some Pain Reliever with him that morning.

"But I thought we were going riding?" Harry said, surprised.

"Are you feeling up to it? You seemed a bit stiff from what I observed."

Harry colored. "My backside is a little sore." Severus gave him a sharp look. "Okay, more than a little," he amended. "But I'll live."

"So I would assume that you enjoy your riding lessons, despite your sore backside and your sharp-tempered mount?" Severus drawled.

"You assume right, sir."

"Ah. Still, I do have to get this brewed, and so perhaps you would assist me, that way I shall be done quicker?"

"All right." Harry agreed, not as adverse as he used to be to brewing since he had begun to spend time with his professor. And though he had been rather casual about it, his bottom really was hurting. Not sitting down for awhile would feel quite good. As would a second application of salve.

That second lesson, Harry only fell off twice, both times because he wasn't paying attention when Moon Fire switched directions abruptly. But he took the falls and the scolding he received for not paying attention with good grace, for he found he couldn't get enough of riding the sleek stallion.

He felt an unexplainable connection between himself and Moon Fire when he rode, and he improved rapidly once he allowed himself to become immersed in it. By the end of three days, his bruises had faded to yellow and green and he only needed to apply the salve once a day.

Moon Fire was pleased with his rider's progress and had moved on to teaching Harry how to post at the trot. That gait was one of the hardest to learn for a rider, and Harry soon discovered a whole new world of balance and conditioning existed, as did a new realm of bruises.

The first time the stallion broke into a trot, Harry jounced and bounced all over before falling right off Moon Fire's back. The stallion whinnied and shook his head. Up, youngling. And try not to bounce so hard.

"Okay, Moon Fire," Harry said through gritted teeth, wondering if he were going to have vertebrae-sized bruises on his bum that night.

This gait is always difficult for riders. You may want to use the saddle, since the stirrups help tremendously. He nuzzled the boy affectionately.

"No. I'll learn it this way."

Despite the soreness, Harry was loving every minute of his riding lessons. Moon Fire had not yet raced with him, but just being on the great horse's back was exhilarating. Moon Fire was as graceful as any unicorn, and Harry's natural agility and balance enabled him to pick up the silent cues the stallion sent him. He learned to sit lightly atop his fleece pad, and hold the reins with the lightest of touches. He learned to ask rather than demand, and to trust Moon Fire to know what he was doing.

He loved stroking the silken hide and putting his face against Moon Fire's neck, listening to the great heart beating solidly in his chest and reveling in the warmth radiating from the stallion. Being with the horse fulfilled some unknown need within him and when he rode Moon Fire he felt some odd mystical connection deep inside.

The riding was also, he noted in satisfaction, putting muscle upon his lanky frame. He hoped that by the end of the summer he would be as tall and muscular as Ron.

By the end of the week, Harry was only falling once per lesson and receiving more praise than criticism from his stallion.

He was also mastering wandless magic at a good rate, since he was practicing it every day, using Cleaning Charms and Summoning Charms and now Severus had him studying Sticking Charms as well.

But he spent most of his free time reading The Path of Mysteries, and learning that the Selenians who pledged themselves to the Moon Lady's Bright Aspect were sworn to fight their dark brethren wherever and however they could, and to protect the innocents and Muggles who inhabited the world with them. Selene had told Her followers that they were all Her children, Muggle and wizard, and She loved them both.

It made him happy to read that such tolerance existed in the wizarding world, for he had often seen the dark side of prejudice and intolerance in the magical community, from house elves to Muggleborns. He wondered too, just how many wizards and witches followed Selene, and if they were enough to make a difference. He had to admit that the tenets of the religion that he had read about so far appealed to him. Selene seemed like a goddess that he could respect and even love, considering that She had been watching over him since he was a baby.

Severus had certainly benefited from worshipping Her, and not just in the magical and material sense, but Harry had seen how the other's faith seemed to sustain him during troubled times. Harry wished he had something like that to fall back on.

Perhaps someday he would, he thought, as he opened the book to the chapter where an initiate described the ceremony where he had been dedicated to the goddess and given a special test to fulfill by Selene.

I wonder what Professor Snape's test was? Or my mother's? And if I were to become an initiate, what would mine be?

Hope you all enjoyed this one!

Next: More riding lessons and an unexpected visitor shows up.

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