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An unexpected visitor arrived the afternoon Harry learned to gallop on Moon Fire. The stallion had finally, after several days of practice, given in to Harry's begging and agreed to a short gallop across the pasture. But the big horse warned the eager boy that he wouldn't be responsible if Harry parted company with the saddle pad during the accelerated ride.

If you fall off, don't blame me, Moon Fire warned.

"I won't," Harry promised. "I remember everything you taught me about a good seat and steady hands."

The stallion eyed him expectantly. We'll see. Make sure your hat is on tight.

Harry sighed, for he disliked the hardhat Severus insisted he wear every lesson, it made his head sweat and his hair stand up like porcupine quills once he removed it. "Do I really have to wear it?"

Moon Fire bared his teeth in irritation. I cannot believe you actually asked me that question. Why don't you ask yourself if you'd like to end up a paraplegic and drink all your meals through a straw and live the rest of your life in bed?

Harry gulped. "Never mind. I'll wear the hat." He put the hat on and tightened the strap. No way did he want to end up like Christopher Reeve.

Smart boy. Mount up.

Harry mounted, barely needing the mounting block now. Once he was seated comfortably upon the stallion's back, Moon Fire began to canter, allowing Harry to settle into that pace before shifting into a full gallop. His black mane whipped back and slapped Harry across the face, but he hardly felt the stinging, he was so consumed with the exhilaration of his first real gallop on a horse that could rival a unicorn for sheer speed.

Moon Fire extended his stride, though he was not running full out as he had done that night in the forest, he was nevertheless running pretty fast. He kept his head up and his tail flagged behind him like a thick black train. The boy on his back clung like a burr, his thighs clamped tight around the stallion's barrel, hands light and firm upon the reins, just the way Moon Fire liked them.

Harry drank the wind, his eyes shining. The stallion's hooves beat out a regimented tattoo across the paddock, like thunder, and the sheer speed of Moon Fire's stride nearly stole the breath from his body. He knew he had ridden a broom faster than this, but somehow even the Firebolt couldn't compare with the feeling of delight and power and awe that riding Moon Fire conjured within him.

Beneath him, he could feel the stallion's muscles rippling and flexing like a well-oiled machine, sending them hurtling across the paddock like a rocket. Harry heard the wind whistle in his ears and he leaned close to the stallion's neck and whispered, "That's the way, Moon Fire. Fly, great one, fly!"

He recalled reading an excerpt from a horse racing magazine, the author had written that watching a race horse run was like watching wildfire in the grass—unstoppable and unforgettable. Harry thought that no truer statement had ever been spoken. Riding Moon Fire at a gallop was like being in the heart of a bonfire, a black firestorm that swept out of nowhere and streaked across the earth, devouring everything in his path.

The great stallion flicked an ear back, he could feel Harry balancing upon his back, moving easily and rhythmically, as if he had been riding since he was a small child. It was strange, but something had clicked with the boy in the past few days, and he had discovered his center. He no longer sat like a sack of meal upon Moon Fire's back, but had finally figured out how to sit with most of his weight forward, and use his thighs and knees to grip, moving with the stallion.

Moon Fire accelerated, whipping about the paddock, his flying hooves hardly touching the earth before leaping forward again. Harry was laughing in delight, he was addicted to speed and the stallion fulfilled his every wish, he felt as if he were riding a lightning bolt, and it both thrilled and frightened him.

He did not even try and guide the stallion the way he would have with an ordinary horse, he realized long ago that Moon Fire called the shots, and any hint of control was an illusion. The stallion was the instructor and Harry did not fool himself for an instant debating who was really in charge. It should have bothered him, on some level. It did not because he trusted the professor, whatever form he wore, to have his best interests at heart.

Well, Harry? Had enough yet?

Harry blinked back tears from the wind and shouted, "No way! Is this the fastest you can go?"

Hardly. But I can't get up to top speed here.

"Then why don't we get out of here?"

Moon Fire snorted. All in good time, youngling. He slowed down from his blistering gallop to a smooth canter and from there to a walk and finally halted beside the barn. He was barely lathered.

Harry sat back in the saddle with a sigh. "Did you have to stop? I wanted to keep going."

Moon Fire swung his head about and lipped the boy's boot playfully. Later we'll have another gallop. I have a Memory Enhancer simmering for Madam Pomfrey that I need to decant. However, if you haven't had your fill of riding just yet, why don't you take Jasmine out for a bit? She could use the exercise, and she is well-mannered and smooth gaited for an ordinary horse.

Harry considered. "All right." He slid down from Moon Fire's back and patted the stallion on the shoulder. "Just give me a minute to rub you down, okay?"

The stallion tossed his head affirmatively and Harry called the soft cloth and a bucket of warm water to him and sponged the black horse off, rubbed him dry, and brushed the tangles from his silken mane. The work left him pleasantly weary and pleased with himself, and Moon Fire's coat became glossy and sleek.

Moon Fire enjoyed the grooming session as well, he was rather vain about his appearance in this form, and he loved the feeling of the brush and cloth upon his hide. Harry seemed to know all the itchy spots upon his back and sides that he couldn't reach himself and rubbed them all away.

"There, Moon Fire. All done!" Harry declared, stepping away from the horse.

Moon Fire tossed his forelock away from his eyes and snorted a thanks, then he blurred into Professor Snape once more.

"You have an hour and a half to ride before you'll need to come in and start on your room and bathroom."

"Aww, Merlin!" groaned the teen, he had forgotten that today was Wednesday, which was cleaning day at the Snape residence.

Severus chose to ignore the boy's griping and headed inside to finish his potion.

Harry sent the grooming kit back inside the barn with a flick of his wrist, which was another little trick Severus had taught him. Then he went to get Jasmine from her stall. The Arab mare had been patiently awaiting his arrival, and he stroked her nose. "Hey, girl. Sorry I haven't been riding you too much lately."

He scratched her ears and then slipped the bridle on her. He still preferred riding with his modified saddle pad, and he quickly had her tacked up. "Come on, Jazzy. Let's go for a bit of a run."

The Arab pricked up her ears and trotted after him happily. Though she was not in the same class as Moon Fire, she could work up a respectable gallop and she cantered beautifully, her paces were smooth as silk.

Harry mounted her easily, after Moon Fire, getting aboard Jasmine was easy as pie, since she was much smaller and more compact. He clicked his tongue at her and nudged her into a walk and from there to a trot and then a canter. Trotting was not his best gait, in fact he disliked it intensely, since he tended to bounce more than post, and ended up with a bruised rear end half the time. So he usually skipped over that when he rode Jasmine, and went directly to a canter.

Jasmine was delighted to be ridden, at the riding school where she lived, she was normally ridden several times a day, so being at the Snape residence was sort of like a mini holiday for her. It was nice to rest, but she missed being ridden at least once a day, and Harry was not as bad as some beginning riders, who tended to kick her ribs too hard and saw on her delicate mouth.

She switched from a trot to a canter easily, obviously happy to be asked to travel faster than a tame lope. Harry soon grew bored with riding her about the paddock and decided to take her across the field for a little bit.

He had done that before, and Jasmine seemed to enjoy it, though Severus didn't know his student had left the safety of the paddock for the rolling green meadow beyond. Harry never went far, and saw no need to inform his teacher of his little indiscretion.

He dismounted, unlatched the gate and clucked to the Arab once he had swung aboard her again.

Jasmine eagerly walked through the gate and then Harry turned her head towards the rolling pastureland and gave the mare her head for a few minutes.

Jasmine cantered about halfway down to the border of Sherwood, circled and started to head back towards the house, Harry guiding her with subtle twists of his wrists. Mindful of Moon Fire's acid comments about riders who thought a horse was a pull toy, and yanked their mouth to pieces, Harry was careful to exert only enough pressure to tell Jasmine where he wished her to go.

They had just passed the tree at the far end of the pasture when Harry spotted a girl sitting upon the fence. He immediately drew Jasmine up and halted. "Hey! How'd you get here?" he called to the child, who looked to be no more than eight or nine.

The girl was dressed in a violet colored tunic that came to her knees and could probably double as a dress. She had skin pale as milk and hair that was the color of dandelion fluff and her eyes were huge saucers of violet with hints of midnight blue. She was also barefoot. Harry stared, unable to look away. He had very little experience with small children, but this child was without a doubt the oddest and most adorable one he had ever seen.

She looked up at him solemnly, eyeing both him and his horse, then she flashed him a secretive smile.

He couldn't help but respond to it. It was infectious. "Hi. Would you mind answering my question?"

She shrugged.

"Are you lost? Did you come here by mistake?"

That earned him a brisk head shake. She extended her little hand and suddenly Jasmine walked forward and nuzzled her palm. The child stroked the horse and giggled.

"No, huh? I guess you like horses. Her name's Jasmine, by the way. Mine's Harry. What's yours?"

The child seemed enraptured with the mare and ignored his question.

Harry frowned. "How come you're not answering me? Can you speak at all?" Too late he realized that might be a rude question.

She looked up at him, her little head cocked and her purple eyes vivid smudges of color in her pale face. Their eyes met and suddenly Harry felt a tingling sensation crawl over him.

Then he heard a little voice say, This way of speaking is easier for me. I've been watching you ride. You're pretty good for a novice.

Harry blinked. He hadn't seen her mouth move, but he had heard quite clearly a voice in his head. "You're a telepath? Wow! You're the first one I've met. Do you live around here?"

Yes. She pointed back towards the forest.

"You come from Sherwood Forest? What are you, some kind of wood sprite—like a dryad?"

The girl gave another shrug. It's not important.

Harry's brow crinkled. "Why not? Don't you have a home and a family? You're too little to be on your own."

For some reason that made the child laugh. Her laughter was sweet and pure, like music.

My family knows where I am.

"They let you just wander all over by yourself? Isn't that kind of . . .irresponsible?"

Another shrug. There is no danger here. Is there?

"No. Not like the bad kind. But Professor Snape might not like you trespassing."

He is your instructor, isn't he?

"Yeah, and also my guardian."

That's good. He seems like a good teacher.

Harry wondered if all dryads were this talkative. "He is. And if my friend Ron ever heard what I just said, he'd fall down in a faint."

Why?

"Because he . . .err . . .doesn't really like the professor much."

I see. Jasmine is such a pretty mare. How long have you had her?

"A few weeks. We borrowed her from a riding academy nearby. The owner is friends with my guardian. She's a nice mare. Perfect for a kid like you."

Are you saying I don't know how to ride? The violet eyes flashed, clearly she was insulted.

"No, but Jasmine's not all jumpy like some horses, she's got patience and heart. Professor Snape says she's a good horse for a beginner like me to start out with. I just thought . . .you're so little . . ."

Shall I show you how well I ride, Harry? She hopped off the fence.

He unlatched the gate and went inside the paddock. Then he dismounted. "Fine. As long as you ride her inside the paddock. Do you need some help—?"

He never finished his sentence because she took one jump and was on top of the mare's back, sitting there as if she owned the mare. Her heels just brushed Jasmine's flanks and Jasmine began to trot obediently about the paddock.

Harry watched in astonishment as the child rode calmly and competently, sitting up straight, hands light on the reins, as if she had spent her whole life on horseback.

She gave invisible cues that he couldn't spot and Jasmine changed leads. Small or not, she rode with such grace that Harry could not help but envy her. "You are good. Where did you learn?"

She gave him another of those inscrutable looks, before sending, Here and there. I pick things up quickly. She patted the mare and Jasmine whickered and began to canter. The child barely moved, clearly whoever had taught her had been a master.

"You're really good. Think you can give me some pointers?"

If you like.

"You must live near the riding school Jasmine came from, right?"

The violet eyes twinkled. Close by there. I haven't seen you before around here.

"That's 'cause I only recently moved here. It was kind of sudden."

She cocked her head.

"My relatives died and the professor offered to be my guardian since I had no one else. If he hadn't, I don't know where I'd be now. Probably in some wizard foster home or something." He covered his mouth with a hand. "Uh . . .you do know that we're wizards, right?"

She gave another chuckle. Of course, silly! Your power shines like a beacon. And only a wizard child would accept that I can speak into your head and not flip out and run away.

"Yeah, I guess that's true. My aunt and uncle hated anything to do with magic and I think they'd have preferred it if I ran away."

The girl made one more circuit and then brought the mare to a halt just before him. Muggles are strange. They live an odd life without magic.

Harry shrugged, figuring she must come from an all magical family in order to make a statement like that. "Sometimes it seems that way. That's why I'm glad I live with the professor now. He's strict but fair and we understand each other. He's actually the first adult I've ever known who just cares about me as Harry and not because of what happened when I was a baby."

She raised an eyebrow.

"I killed a dark wizard when I was a baby. Ever since, they've called me the Boy Who Lived. The Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, thinks it makes me special, but I don't even know how I did it. Professor Snape thinks Selene Marked me."

The girl nodded. I can feel protection all over you. Are you Her initiate then?

"Not yet, but I'm starting to consider it. I've read quite a bit about Her and She seems to be a goddess I can respect. Do you worship Her?"

The girl smiled enigmatically. Do you trust the professor?

"Yes. More than I do just about anyone else. He's the only one to treat me like . . .well . . .something other than a celebrity or a means to an end. Dumbledore means well, but he thinks I'm some kind of hero, and sometimes . . .sometimes he tends to treat me like a . . .wind-up toy, that's a Muggle toy that you wind up and then let go and it does stuff like fight your enemies. That's how I feel sometimes. I mean, first year I nearly died fighting Quirrell, he was possessed, and then next year it was the basilisk, then a werewolf, and then the tournament. I don't want to spend my life fighting off all these bloody monsters. The school is supposed to be safe, and shouldn't it be the teachers' jobs to deal with all these bad guys? Yet every time I face one, the damn teachers and the Headmaster are like conveniently absent."

The little girl gave him a sympathetic look.

He sighed. "I don't know why I'm telling you this, it's not like you can do anything about it now. It's done and over with. Headmaster's already patted me on the head like a good dog, right? Then he was going to send me back home to my scum relatives and the only one who cared at all was Professor Snape."

He is a good man then.

"He is, only don't tell him I said that. He thinks it'll ruin his reputation as a strict hardarse teacher. Maybe it would. But I owe him."

Do you? There are no debts between family. And with them, and with Selene, you're never alone. She handed Jasmine's reins to him, and gave him a quiet smile.

"Sorry, I don't usually blab on and on like this to anybody. I don't know why I told you this, you don't even know me."

Because you needed to. I'm a good listener.

"Uh huh. Like Hermione."

Just then, he heard Snape calling him from the porch. "Gotta run. I have chores to do. Maybe you can come back tomorrow?"

The child nodded, smiling.

"You could meet the professor—"

Abruptly she shook her head and put a finger to her lips.

"No? But he won't bite, honest."

She frowned and shook her head again, repeating the gesture.

"All right. Maybe some other time." He turned to lead Jasmine back into the barn and when he glanced back, the child was gone. "Where'd she go?" he wondered.

Once he had finished with Jasmine, he came inside to wash up.

"How was your ride with Jasmine, Harry?"

"Good. Professor, do you know of any wizarding families that live around here?"

"No, the closest wizarding institution is Andromeda's academy and that is five miles from here on a fast horse. Why?"

"Because today I—" he opened his mouth to tell his guardian about his unexpected visitor and found he was unable to speak of it. Every time he tried, his throat closed up and his tongue refused to form the words.

"Yes?"

"I . . .was just wondering, that's all," he finished. Some kind of enchantment. Must be. But I never saw her cast a spell. He poured himself a glass of milk and drank it on the way up to the loft, still pondering the mystery child. If she really was a child, and not one of the folk of the forest.

Only then did he realize that she had left and he had never learned her name.

Hope you're not getting bored with this story, because things are about to heat up next chapter!

Thanks for all the reviews, please keep them coming!

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