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Harry had convinced Andromeda to allow him to borrow Jasmine for the day when Ron arrived at the farmhouse. He knew the mild-mannered Arabian was a perfect choice for a lesson horse, and she would never buck Ron off. Harry could have let Ron ride him, but somehow it felt too odd to have his best mate upon his back, and Ron was not too keen on it either. "You're not a broom, Harry. You're my friend and even I know that only the most privileged get to even touch a sacred unicorn, let alone mount one!"

So, before Ron could change his mind about riding lessons, Harry went to Andromeda, who had no objection to letting Jazzy school another reluctant rider. So he had the Arabian tacked up and hitched to the paddock fence before Ron Flooed over in the middle of the morning. Hermione waited beside her for Harry to bring Ron outside.

Severus was brewing a few batches of counterdrafts for his next term's classes, but said he would be finished in time for tea or lunch depending on how his schedule coincided. "You can look out for yourselves until then, I'm assuming, since you stayed alone for a month without supervision and didn't starve to death."

"We'll be fine, Severus," Harry assured him, pleased that Snape was now giving him credit for being responsible and having a brain, a far cry from how he used to think Harry was nothing but an irresponsible troublemaker just like James. As a matter of fact, Severus had commented on how surprised he was to find the house clean and not looking like a rubbish heap after two teens had been living in it alone for weeks. Harry and Hermione felt good to get praised like that, and as a result, Severus began to trust them more and treat them like responsible adults.

Harry especially appreciated Severus' positive attitude, because he knew how rare it was for the perfectionist professor to give such praise to anyone. Draco had told him that Snape's Slytherins were expected to get top marks in their classes and woe betide those who slacked off. "He can be a tyrant over marks, especially when he thinks you're not working up to your full potential. He always pushes you to do better. Sometimes it can be horribly annoying, but in the end I guess we'll be better for it."

Harry had to admit that was so, already he was a much better potion maker from the one on one instruction Severus had given him at the beginning of the summer. He was nowhere as good as Snape or Hermione, but he had improved. Severus had said that was what was expected, Harry didn't need to ace every subject, but he did expect improvement over last term's grades. "Or I'll know the reason why."

Harry knew better than to protest or argue, Severus was being fair and he couldn't expect a teacher to not be somewhat insane over marks. So he decided that next term he would really apply himself and see what kind of marks he could get. He did so want to please his guardian.

Harry had to bite his lip to stop from exploding with laughter at Ron's expression when he stepped from the Floo into the den and looked around. Ron's eyes were about as big as plates. "Something wrong?"

"I . . .err . . .you live here? In this house?"

"Yes, why?"

"Because . . .this is like a normal house. In fact, it's a nice normal house. Where are the gloomy wall hangings, the whips and chains?"

"We left them at the Dursleys. Severus isn't bent that way, Ron. That was my Uncle Vernon." Harry returned, only half-joking.

Ron's eyes boggled. "Your uncle was a nasty bugger, Harry. Did he really use stuff like that on you?"

"He did a lot of things to me. I-I don't want to talk about it." Harry said feelingly, and repressed a shiver. "That's done now. This is my new home, not Privet Drive. Matter of fact Privet Dive was never a home, just a place I stayed at during the summer."

Ron recalled how in his second year, they had gone to privet Drive to rescue Harry and saw the bars on the windows and how Harry was starving, while his uncle and cousin were as large as barges. And that wasn't all Harry had to worry about, apparently. "Right. I was just joking, sorry. I didn't mean to make you remember that bloody place."

Harry waved away Ron's apology. "It's okay. I don't really think about it too much anymore, not since I became Selene's acolyte and started living here with Severus, where I'm safe."

Ron glanced about noting that the furniture was good quality and he especially was awed by the unicorn painting above the mantle. Who ever would have thought Snape lived in a house like this? It could be an advertisement for Country Homes of Nottingham or something similar. "Where's Snape now?"

"Down in his lab, brewing. He'll be up later. Come on, Ron. Hermione's out by the paddock with Jasmine, all ready for you." Harry told his friend, leading the way through the kitchen and out the back.

Ron followed reluctantly, still rubbernecking as he went by. It almost seemed as if Snape lived like a Muggle part of the time. Strange. Though he was a half-blood, he had never seemed to care for Muggles or their world. Or at least Ron thought so. It seemed that he had been mistaken about his potions professor. About a lot of things.

"Hi, Ron!" Hermione greeted as soon as the boys came up to her. "Are you all ready for your first lesson?" She beamed at him.

"I guess so." He looked at the patient Jasmine warily. "I never knew horses were so big."

Harry laughed. "Ron, Jasmine's a little horse. She's good for schooling beginning riders. If you think she's big, you ought to see Moon Fire. Now he's big!"

Ron came up to Hermione and Jasmine turned her delicate head and lipped Ron's hair playfully. "Hey! Does it bite?"

"No. And Jasmine is her name. She's a pureblood Arabian. That's a horse breed." Hermione told him. "Okay, the first thing you need to do is learn how to mount and dismount . . ."

Harry watched drowsily as Hermione competently instructed Ron on basic horsemanship. She led Jasmine about on a lead rein while telling Ron to grip with his knees and keep his heels down and straighten up and relax.

"Straighten up and relax? They're two totally different things! I can't do both at the same time!"

"Yes, you can!" Hermione sighed. "Straighten your back, don't slouch, and relax your hips. Move with the horse, she's not a broom!"

After about an hour, Hermione decided that was enough for one day, and let Ron off and showed him how to remove the saddle and bridle and groom Jasmine and put her in the barn. "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Ron shook his head and fed Jasmine a carrot. "No, but I still like flying better."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, Ron! You really are hopeless!"

"Hermione, can you . . .transform again into a unicorn?" Ron requested diffidently.

"Certainly." She quickly removed her silver necklace and became Imara, the dazzling golden filly.

Ron looked over at Harry and said, "She's magnificent! But why is she gold?"

"Because she's not a fully grown unicorn," Harry explained. "A white unicorn is gold until they're an adult, then their coat changes to pure white."

"How about you? You're a black unicorn."

"Well, that's because Selene gifted me with the form. If I had been born a unicorn, like Imara, I would still be silver, and only black when I was of age."

"Oh. I get it now. Harry, does it hurt to change forms?"

"No. It feels . . .sort of weird at first, but the shift is almost instantaneous, and doesn't hurt at all. Though the first time I felt kind of disorientated."

"Do you understand words and stuff the same way you do as a human?"

"Yes. But I can only communicate in the language of horses or mind to mind."

To prove his point, Harry changed into his Animagus form and sent to Ron, See? I'm still me, only with a different body. Pretty neat, eh?

Ron nodded, trying not to be envious. Harry's new form was strong, graceful, and had an air of wildness and freedom about it that made Ron long to be able to change forms as well. Nobody in his family was an Animagus.

Imara trotted up and nudged Nightblaze playfully, and then the two spun and began racing across the paddock. They jumped the fence, leaping over it like two deer, and continued racing all the way to the border of Sherwood and then back again to the barn.

Ron watched the gold and black magical equines run and the sight was so beautiful and so inspiring it took his breath away. He recalled Arthur saying once how the unicorn was Selene's most wondrous creation, made from Her breath and tears, and to harm one was to be cursed forever. Watching Imara and Nightblaze flying over the earth, Ron found he couldn't imagine hurting such a creature. All he could do was admire them and wish that he too could be an Animagus.

"It's quite a sight, is it not?"

Ron jumped about a foot as Professor Snape's voice suddenly sounded behind him. "Oh! Professor Snape! I-I didn't know you were there."

Severus' mouth twitched into a wry smile. "And where else would I be, Mr. Weasley?"

"I-Harry said you were in your lab."

"I was. But I do occasionally emerge from my cave to take brief walks in the sunshine." Severus drawled.

Ron turned and his jaw dropped. Snape was not wearing his black dungeon crawler robes. Instead he was dressed in ordinary clothing—a set of black trousers and a light green shirt and casual shoes of black leather, not boots. He rubbed his eyes. Harry had told him Snape was not the same person at home as he was at school, but Ron couldn't believe the professor actually wore something other than his black robes and his hair was pulled back, not hanging down in his eyes.

"Why are you looking at me like that, Ronald? Has my nose become enormous?"

"N-No . . .it's just . . .you're . . .wearing real clothes . . .err . . .I mean different clothes not your . . .robes . . ."

"Ah. Yes. Believe it or not, I do own other clothing besides my teaching robes."

"Yes, sir." Ron felt his ears heat and he quickly turned back to watch as Imara beat Nightblaze to the treeline. "Ha! She got him! I've never seen anything like that! They're so fast, it's like watching streaks of light."

"Yes, unicorns are among the swiftest magical equines." Severus said, coming to lean upon the fence. "And they are young and full of energy."

"I wish I could . . .be like that," Ron said wistfully. "It must be wicked to become an Animagus."

Severus was quiet for a moment, sensing the other's longing and envy as clearly as if Ron had spoken of it aloud. "Being an Animagus is not all running about and playing. It's a serious responsibility."

"But . . .you and Harry were given the form as gift from the Moon Lady," Ron began, struggling to keep from sounding resentful and not succeeding.

"And you think Her Gift came without cost?" Severus queried softly. "Think again. In exchange for my form, I was required to become Her eyes and ears in the darkest places, to become Voldemort's trusted advisor. Harry was given a task as well, to fight against him and also to right a great wrong. He still hasn't fulfilled it all. Mr. Weasley, there is always a price to any magic, you would do well to remember that. It may not be paid at once, but the debt will come due eventually."

Ron mulled that over while the two unicorns galloped around and kicked up their heels. He had never considered that angle before. But now that he actually thought about it, it made sense. "All right, sir. I can see what you mean, but . . .I still wish I were an Animagus. Could you . . .teach me how it's done?" He couldn't believe those words had come out of his mouth!

"I?" Severus looked equally startled. "I am not a good candidate to teach Transfiguration at such an advanced level. You would be better off speaking to Professor McGonagall and seeing whether she shall let you take her Animagus course next term. Though most students aren't permitted into it until sixth year. I hear it is a very difficult course, not one for mediocre students or slackers."

"I'm not a slacker!" Ron snapped, stung.

Severus pinned him with his obsidian eyes. "Based on your performance in my class, Weasley, I would be hard pressed not to pin that label on you."

"It's because of Malfoy that I nearly flunked your labs!" Ron said.

"It's a sorry student who blames his poor performance upon others and not himself."

Ron flushed, feeling as if he were getting scolded by his father for his bad marks all over again. "Figures you would take Malfoy's side—"

"I am not taking anyone's side. Why are you blaming Malfoy for your poor marks?"

"Because he always makes some comment about how my potion is wrong and once he sabotaged Harry and my potion."

"When was this?"

"Uh . . .second year."

"Then it was not recently?"

"No, but . . ."

"You still continue to blame Malfoy for your current grades for something that occurred two years ago?" Severus frowned.

"Well . . .I just . . ."

"Mr. Weasley, let me give some advice. Worry about your own participation in my class, not Malfoy's. If you read the material and pay attention in class, instead of daydreaming or talking with your friends, if you put as much effort into making potions as you do playing Quidditch, then you shall get adequate grades. I do not give E's or even A's for slipshod work and minimal effort. And if you wish to become an Animagus, you will have to work harder than you have ever worked before, because Professor McGonagall permits no one to remain in that class unless they are willing to work up to exacting standards. The Animagus spell is dangerous and can kill an unprepared and unfocused student."

Ron gaped at him. "Kill? But Harry told me the spell was easy!"

"Harry does not transform through use of a spell, so he does not know how difficult it is to learn that way." Severus informed him. "Trust me, Mr. Weasley, the difficulty of that spell is why there are so few Animagi today. Why do you wish to become one? Because of your friends?"

"I . . .yes . . .I guess so."

"Hmm . . .simply because Harry has an Animagus form is no reason for you to also have one," Severus began.

"Why? Because you think I don't deserve one?"

"Mind your tone!" Snape growled, out of patience with the young wizard's insolence. "It is not a question of what you deserve, Weasley, though your tone merits a detention, it's a question of individuality. You do not need to be a mirror image of Harry in order to be his friend, or Hermione's friend. They will like you whether or not you can assume another shape."

"But I want to be an Animagus!"

"Then I suggest you modify your attitude and start studying more," Severus told him bluntly. "Or else you could end up stuck in between forms and maimed for life should you attempt to try the spell without proper instruction or preparation."

Ron gaped at him. How had Snape known he was planning to try the spell on his own if he didn't think McGonagall would accept him into her class? Merlin, he reads minds! He really does! "But . . .Harry told me that Sirius and his dad all taught themselves how to change shape when they were in fifth year . . ." He looked at the ground suddenly. Maybe not meeting Snape's eyes would prevent the wizard from reading his mind.

"Look at me." Severus ordered, and reached out and pulled the boy's chin up. "What Black, Potter, and Pettigrew did was extremely dangerous, foolish, and just this side of insanity. They were damn lucky that neither of them ended up a horrific monster, caught in the middle of one shape and their human one forever. And yes, such has happened before, and not centuries ago, either. That is why Animagi have to be registered and why McGonagall does not teach the spell to just anyone who asks. Do not follow in their footsteps, Mr. Weasley. Some god or goddess was watching over them that day." Severus took a deep breath. "I have seen what remains of a poorly attempted Animagus transformation and it is something that will haunt me to my dying day. Do not make me share the memory with you, boy. You will not like the results."

"How did you know?" Ron asked, his voice a squeak. The look in Snape's eyes scared him to pieces.

"How did I know what? That you were going to disregard my advice and try on your own? Please! I have been a teacher for over fourteen years, and I know the lure of the forbidden. I also know that you have a penchant for rushing into danger and trouble. So it was no great stretch of logic to assume you would attempt the spell on your own."

"Oh." Ron's breath whooshed out. "Then you didn't . . .read my mind?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Weasley. You wear your emotions all over your face, I have only to look closely and I knew you were planning some kind of mischief." Severus snorted. "Read your mind! Selene save me! Then I really would go insane!"

Ron smothered a giggle, oddly enough, Snape's comment struck him as funny. And that was a reaction he never would have thought the snarky dour teacher would have coaxed from him. Then again, this Snape was not the same intimidating bastard he had been at school. Oh, Ron was still somewhat scared of him, especially when Snape glowered at him, but slowly he was starting to see that the stern wizard did care for his students. Snape's warning was not arbitrary, but an attempt to keep Ron from making a horrific blunder that could cost him his life.

Severus' brows drew down in a V. "You find something funny, Ronald?"

Ron tried manfully to contain his unexpected mirth. "No, sir. It's just . . .never mind. Thank you for the advice."

"Think seriously about it. Your mother would be inconsolable if you happened to fall prey to such a mishap. If you truly wish to become an Animagus, do it the right way, with the guidance of a professional. The Marauders were fools and should not be used as an example of anything except what not to do."

Ron bit his lip before blurting out something that was sure to earn him Snape's wrath. He had always admired the Marauders for their courage and willingness to break rules, but somehow Snape's slant upon things made him see them in a whole new light. He could not deny that the four had been reckless and careless of their safety and others, releasing a werewolf from confinement and roaming about at night with him was not the brightest thing to do. So he swallowed the impudent retort that sprang to his lips, recalling that if he wished to be invited back here he had best mind his manners with Harry's guardian. He still didn't feel entirely comfortable about the other wizard, but considering what Snape had done for Harry, he was willing to tolerate the potions professor.

Imara flicked an ear back and neighed to the black unicorn, I think their discussion is finished, and both of them look all right. Should we change back?

Yes. I'm getting tired and I don't want it to look like I'm leaving Ron out of things. And I'm hungry.

Moving in tandem, the two unicorns turned and trotted towards the fence. Between one breath and the next, Nightblaze became Harry, and a few moments later Imara blurred into Hermione.

"Hello, Severus!" Hermione said happily. "Why didn't you join us?"

"Ron and I were having an important discussion about the perils of becoming an unregistered Animagus," Severus replied.

"Oh. Shall we have some lunch then?" the unicorn girl asked.

"Yes! I'm starving!" the two teenage boys said with practically the same breath.

After a very satisfactory meal of turkey, bacon, tomato and mayonnaise club sandwiches and a green salad and crisps, the three friends went outside again to show Ron about the farm and Harry lent Ron his Firebolt and let the redhead fly it about for awhile. Hermione suggested they see who was faster, broom or unicorn, and the boys raced each other numerous times across the pasture. Sometimes Nightblaze triumphed and other times Ron did, but they were having too much fun to care who really won. Hermione joined them once or twice, but mostly she preferred to keep score. All in all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon, and Ron was sorry he had to leave, but he knew Molly was expecting him home for supper. He thanked his professor for having him and Flooed back to the Burrow a much wiser boy than he had been before.

"Well, that went better than I expected," Hermione remarked to Harry while she mucked out Jasmine's stall after supper.

"It did. I'm glad. Maybe Ron's starting to grow up a bit." Harry leaned upon the edge of the stall and watched Hermione work, an appreciative smile playing about his face.

"About time," his girlfriend said, spreading fresh straw down. They would return Jasmine to Andromeda in the morning. "I wasn't really looking forward to him coming over, you know. I thought he was going to behave badly and instead he surprised me. But I'm glad I was wrong, for once."

"So am I. Sometimes Ron can be thick, but once he starts to see reason, or is made to see reason, he'll adjust." Harry said. "I don't think he'll ever really be happy that Severus is our guardian, but at least he's not going to be a prat over it."

Ron's attempt to be civil and mature to Severus really took a load off Harry's shoulders. He couldn't stand it when Ron went off on one of his rants and became locked into his own narrow-minded viewpoint. It was one of the red-head's biggest flaws, and after the fiasco with the Goblet, Harry found that particular flaw of Ron's harder to deal with now. All Harry wanted was a peaceful normal life now that his great enemy was dead.

"What about Ron's attitude towards Draco?"

Harry sighed. "I think it'd be best if they weren't around each other. That way we won't have to worry about one of them killing the other, or making both of us miserable by quarreling all the time. Why is nothing in my life ever simple?"

She finished the stall and came out, leaning the rake against the wall. "I know one thing that is," she murmured, hugging him. "I love you. And nothing will ever change that."

He buried his face in her hair. She smelled of primroses, sweet and pure and intoxicating. "I love you too. With all that I am and will be. And that will never change either."

She tilted her face up to his and their mouths met. A kiss to seal their pledge, one glorious wild kiss to affirm what was in their hearts, a passion that would not be denied and could never be forgotten.

Harry wanted it never to end, he wanted to do more than just kiss his beautiful witch, but some small niggling voice in the back of his mind warned him to stop, before he went too far, and he reluctantly mastered himself. He pulled away. "Sorry. I just . . .you make me feel . . ." he fumbled for words to describe the rapture he felt when he was with her and failed.

She put a finger to his lips. "I know. You make me feel as if I'm special, the only woman in the world for you."

"You are. I've never felt this way about any other girl and I never will." He glanced longingly at the pile of fresh straw in the empty stall next to Jasmine. "Too bad we couldn't . . .umm . . ."

"Harry, I really don't want my first time to be in a barn." Hermione giggled. "Let's at least be sensible about this. I'm not really ready for us to have sex anyhow."

"All right. We'll wait till we're of age."

"And married. Besides, Severus would skin us both if he ever caught us . . ." Her fair skin flushed a rosy pink.

"Selene have mercy, but could you just see his face?" Imagining it made Harry start laughing uncontrollably. He wrapped his arms about his middle and howled.

Hermione tried to maintain her dignity, but found Harry's laughter too infectious and she soon was gasping and giggling uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face.

Jasmine stuck her head over the stall door and eyed them, wrinkling her lips back in a silent horse laugh before turning back to her feed.

When the two finally stopped imagining the look of outrage and shock upon their guardian's face, and bursting into hysterical laughter over it, they bid good night to Jasmine and returned to the house. Harry stole another kiss "for remembrance" upon the back porch, then slipped inside.

Severus was sitting in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and perusing the crossword in the local paper. He glanced up when Harry and Hermione came in, and if he noted their flushed faces and slightly giddy air, he made no comment about it.

"There's fruit and raisin bread if you want dessert," he told them calmly.

Hermione took an apple and bit into it, while Harry buttered a slice of raisin bread and ate it along with a cup of tea.

"Severus, have you had any word on who the new Headmaster or Headmistress will be?" asked Hermione.

Severus looked up and set his quill down. "The Board is still ratifying their decision, but I believe eventually Professor McGonagall intends to hand the reins over to Professor Flitwick. He was her pick for the position, she does not enjoy running the entire school and says it's time for a House other than Gryffindor to hold the reins. Filius is a competent teacher and Head of Ravenclaw and is trustworthy. She has agreed to temporarily be Headmistress for the first term, with Flitwick as her second, so she can help him learn the duties of a Headmaster. After that period, the Board of Governors will evaluate him, and if they find him satisfactory, will give him the position."

"That's great!" Hermione said. "I'm glad for Professor Flitwick. I hope he gets the position."

"He ought to. Especially since there are several new board members who aren't prejudiced against those with mixed blood now having a vote. Filius would have been Deputy many years ago had not Lucius and others of his ilk not refused him because he has goblin ancestry."

"Who's going to be his Deputy?"

"I do not know. He hasn't said. But that is something he can decide later. For now, that is how things stand. Oh, and Lupin will be returning to teach Defense as well."

Both of his wards looked pleased at that. Severus was ambivalent. He did not particularly care for Lupin, but he would tolerate the werewolf as a colleague. Lupin was too easy on his students, in Severus' opinion, but at least he was not deranged, and with the Wolfsbane his lycanthropy could be controlled. Oh, there would be the usual protests, but since Lupin had also participated in the Battle of Riddle House, proving that a werewolf was not necessarily an evil brute, most of the protests would be taken with a grain of salt.

There would be many changes now, both at Hogwarts and the Ministry, now that Voldemort was dead and gone and so were his Death Eaters. Severus hoped they would be beneficial ones for all. But if not, he would deal with them as best he could.

Little did he know that another momentous thing was about to occur, one that would forever change his life as he knew it.

I decided to have one more chapter plus an epilogue, after this one, since I didn't want to cram too much into this one.

I ended up choosing Flitwick as Headmaster because he was an established teacher and I felt Ravenclaw deserved a moment of glory, plus having two gryffindors in charge of Hogwarts sort of looks like favoritism. Minerva's a good woman, but I don't think she really enjoys being in charge and while Remus would have been interesting, the fact that he is a werewolf would hinder him from the position at the current time. But perhaps after he has been teaching without incident for a few months, he might be reconsidered as Deputy if Flitwick wants him. Or perhaps Flitwick might choose Severus or leave Minerva in that position.

What do you think the momentous thing is that will change Sev's life?

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