"Why can't you have fur?"

Missy hissed in displeasure and slithered off the bed, weaving her way to the carpet in front of the fireplace.

"It was just a question," Marian muttered as she stretched. It was beyond strange, waking up next to a scaly, nine foot long python on cold mornings. Or even worse, having said python crawl under the covers to slither around her toes.

"I bet that snarky butthead would love it though," she said. At dinner, she and Professor Snape had tried to be civil. Tried, and succeeded only because of constant, cheery glances from the Headmaster that promised all kinds of retribution if they weren't.

The man had even made them sit next to each other, to show the students they were still on 'speaking terms'. They were, if you counted asking someone to pass the peas. "I bet he's the kind of man who'll outlive everyone, just to get a one up on them," she complained, tying her shoes. "Wouldn't even have the decency to die when he should."

Marian shook her head clear of that last thought. Master Hideo always said that starting the day with an unsettled mind would get you nowhere, and that last sentence was needlessly cruel. If her old sensei knew about it, he'd work her until her eyes popped out. She could hear the man now. Sweat removes impurities from the mind as well as the body. Now, give me two hundred more situps for calling Luden-sensei a wrinkled- up old toad.

It was the morning after Halloween, and she was preparing for a run. She'd been slacking since coming to Hogwarts, and it was starting to show. The definition in her arms was starting to soften, her legs would burn just the slightest bit after running up and down the huge staircases.

I'll have to find someplace to practice, Marian thought as she bounded through the school. It was early morning, the sun hadn't even peeked over the horizon. A good run would be the start of her new routine. Her next step was finding a place to set up a few mats. There had to be a room somewhere in the castle that wasn't being used that she could turn into a makeshift dojo.

The redhead took a deep breath as she stepped through a side door and onto the grounds. The morning air was crisp, cold, already heavy with the bite of winter; everything the peculiar blue of pre-dawn. She wondered if it would snow before Thanksgiving, and if she could talk the house elves into some turkey and stuffing for the occasion. Even though she hadn't been in the States for four years, she liked to mark the day.

And how many times a year can you justify cooking a twenty pound bird?

Her plan had been to run around the perimeter of Hogwarts, but after looking at a map in Hogwarts: A History, she'd revised her plan. The grounds were larger than she'd first thought, and the school owned much of the forest as well. The craggy hills on the west side, though, were perfect. Marian started at a fairly leisurely pace, drinking in the quiet. If it weren't for the large castle looming over her, she could have been in the middle of completely wild lands. When she was in the hollows, nothing but the tallest of the castle's spires visible, it almost seemed she was the only person on earth.

She rounded Hagrid's hut and picked up the pace. The windows were all dark, but the chimney was still giving off its perpetual streamer of smoke. The Pegasi were standing in small groups, heads down. Lazy bones, she teased. The horse she'd taken a liking to, a tan stallion with a splash of white down his forehead, snorted when she passed.

The back of the cage edged the Forbidden Forest, and she continued to run along the border. It didn't look nearly as menacing in the early morning light. In fact, with the tall trees keeping undergrowth to a minimum, she wondered what could possibly hide in the open space. Nothing too large, she imagined. A part of Harry's story came back to her: the part about talking to a nine foot aramantula, which sounded just like a tarantula, only much, much larger, and the hundreds of dog sized spiders he had to fight through to escape.

On second thought, I'll wait until Hagrid's around to go exploring. She imagined the groundskeeper was big enough to scare most things off, and knowledgeable enough to keep her from getting into something she couldn't get out of.

She was still running along the forest edge when she spotted something black ahead of her in the bowl of a narrow valley, almost invisible in the morning mist. She slowed down, wondering if it was someone's cloak. "Poor kid's probably sweating bullets wondering where it went," she huffed as she got closer. "I wonder if…they…could…" she trailed off.

A hand was sticking out from beneath the cloak, the fingers buried in the soft soil.

"Jesus," she whispered, kneeling down. She rolled the person over, conscious of the pained groan, and stared. "Snape?"

The man was whiter than usual, paper white, his eyes half open and glazed. Despite the cold air he was sweating, hair plastered to his clammy forehead. "Professor, can you hear me?" she asked, forcing one eye open. She knew some first aid, but she feared this was far out of her league. As it was, without a light, she couldn't tell if his pupils were dilated or not. "Professor?" His pulse was thready and weak, breathing shallow. Poison? "It's me, Marian. Can you say anything?" Hell, at the moment she'd settle for all the snark he could muster.

Suddenly, his hand shot out, wrapping around her wrist with surprising strength. "I'll take that as a yes, then." She pried his hand free and knelt behind him, hands going to his armpits. "I'm gonna move you from the bushes, okay?" she said, trying to sound calm. You were supposed to be calm with someone who was injured, weren't you?

The task was easier said than done. The man was dead weight, and it took considerable effort to clear his shoes of the undergrowth. Every little movement seemed to pain him. The man actually whimpered when she set him down. "Still with me?" she asked, taking off her jacket and covering him with it after wrapping the edges of his cloak around him. His eyes were tracking her, at least. He needed medical attention, fast, and she didn't want to risk attracting any animals with a yell. She couldn't carry him, and Hagrid's place was only a quarter mile away from the top of the hill. "I'm gonna run to Hagrid's, all right," she said as she smoothed his hair away from his face. "I'll be right back."

She started up the hill at a dead run, glad for the rough paving stones set into the hillside. Please don't die, you greasy bastard, she thought over and over. You better not die. Marian crested the hill panting, muscles burning. She was halfway to the small building when she started yelling.

"Hagrid! Wake up!" she covered the rest of the ground in long strides, banging on his door with all her strength. "Hagrid!"

The door flew open, and the groundskeeper stepped outside, clothed only in a gray nightshirt. "Marian?" He looked around, confused. "What'er you-"

She squeezed past him and ripped a large blanket off the back of a chair. She grabbed his arm on the way out. "It's Snape," she wheezed, glad that the big man was letting himself be led out into the cold. "He's hurt."

The woman squeaked when Hagrid's hands clamped on her shoulders and whirled her around, his large face leaning down to hers. "Where is he?" he asked.

She pointed to the spot, and squeaked again when Hagrid picked her up and headed that way. She never would have imagined someone so big could move so fast. He didn't even bother with the hill's carved steps, instead sliding down the slick grass next to them and making it to the professor with one large bound.

"Off with ye, then!" he roared as he set her down, snatching the blanket out of her hands. She started, afraid the bellow was directed at her, until her eyes caught movement. Something with large feelers was moving back into the underbrush, and she could tell that it'd tried to drag the potion's master into the trees.

Jumpin' Jesus, I'm never going in there.

When she turned back Hagrid had the smaller man wrapped in the blanket like a child. "You'll have ta climb on ta get back up tha' hill," he said. When she didn't move he half turned. "I can't carry the both a ya the same way."

It was years since Marian had had a piggy back ride, and never one that fast. The minute her hands locked around his neck the groundskeeper was off, taking the steps three at a time. Once they were at his hut, he let her down. "There's a jar o' green ashes next ta the fireplace," he explained. "Throw some in and say Poppy. Keep callin' her until she answers, and tell her I'm commin' with Snape."

The woman did as ordered. It took a long minute for the medical witch to answer, and as soon as she delivered the message Marian was running towards the infirmary. He's alive, she repeated to herself as she ran through the school. He didn't die. Hagrid wouldn't have run like that for a corpse.

Marian burst into the infirmary. Hagrid was still there, speaking in low tones to the Headmaster while Madam Pomfrey hovered over the still form on one of the infirmary beds.

"Marian, my dear," Dumbledore said. " I'm glad you're finally here."

She walked over to a bed and sat down. Her lungs felt scorched, her legs watery, and at the moment throwing up sounded like a definite possibility. "Headmaster?" she panted.

"Hagrid was just telling me that you're the one who found Severus on the grounds and alerted him."

She glanced at the occupied bed. "What happened?"

"Spider bite, it appears," the Headmaster explained. "Aramantula venom. Not lethal, but rather nasty." He smiled consolingly. "Severus is perfectly all right. Poppy has already introduced the anti-venom. A day's bed-rest, and Severus will be right as rain."

The redhead looked to the potion's master. His heavy cloak was gone, a large, white bandage wrapped around his left arm. His color did look a little better, pasty without being deathly pale. She flopped onto a bed, fists resting against her forehead as she waited for her heartbeat to slow down. She hadn't been too late then. He would be all right.


Severus woke up slowly. Sounds came to him first, muffled voices, the rustle of bedclothes. He groaned, sitting up even as his muscles tried to clench against the movement. His vision was still fuzzed around the edges, but he would recognize the stone room anywhere. He was in a private room in the Hogwarts infirmary.

The potion's master lifted his arm, frowning at the heavy bandages. He could still feel the Dark Mark beneath them, pulsing like a black boil beneath his skin. He had a vivid memory of trying to rip the offending skin away just a few hours ago.

"Glad to see you're up and about."

Severus turned towards the door. Madam Pomfrey walked into the room, a steaming cup in hand. "The changes you made to the potion appear to be working."

The potion's master grunted as he took the mug. "It still doesn't deal with the fuzziness." For years, he'd been working on a potion to counteract the affects of the Cruciatus curse. His most recent attempt was the only reason he was able to sit up at all. "How did I get here?" His last memory was of stumbling at the edge of the Forbidden Forest and being unable to stand up.

Pomfrey cast a diagnostic net around the man, nodding in approval. "Ms. Elvbow found you on her morning run. Nearly ran herself to death making sure you were all right." She manipulated the net with her wand. "Most of the nerve damage is repaired. Your fingers might give you trouble for a few more hours, and your eyes should repair themselves by Monday."

Which meant he'd have to schedule a study period instead of the brewing he'd planned for. He frowned. "Elvbow found me?"

"Took a morning run. Nearly tripped over you, the way I hear it." She poked his hand with her wand. "She saved your life."

That was the last thing he wanted to hear. "I need to speak with the Headmaster," he told her, collecting his thoughts. The Dark Lord and Lucius were up to something, and they needed to figure out what.


Marian was jumping rope in her room. It was nearly lunch time, which meant she should be hopping in the shower to rinse off the worst of the sweat, but she wasn't. She kept jumping: twice on one foot, then the other, then three jumps together, like she had for the last hour and a half.

She'd tried studying, but her mind kept drifting back to the potion's master, deathly pale, looking like he'd been dropped there and left to die. Dumbledore told her at breakfast that, judging from the herbs he was carrying, that he ran afoul of an aramantula while doing some early morning gathering. See, it wasn't you this time. He also asked her not to worry the students by telling them of the professor's mishap.

The redhead dropped the twisted bit of multicolored rope (amazing what house elves could find when you asked) and stood rubbing sweat-slicked arms against the sudden chill. Her hair hung in a wet tangle around her face, and the dark, spaghetti-strapped shirt she wore was drenched front and back.

"Thhhaaat'sssss not hhhelping, you know."

The redhead ignored the syllabic hiss. Missy was curled in the center of her bed, head resting on her coils.

"And you're the authority on the human psyche?" Marian panted, thinking of what to do next. Pushups. Pushups were just what she needed.

"Thhhhaaat won't eithhher." Missy watched the human with a reptilian sigh as she started working herself more. Marian had returned from breakfast and tried to study. After looking at the same page for half an hour she'd tried meditating. After that, it was exercise, which was what she'd been doing for hours now. She'd seen the human like this a few times before, usually in the middle of the night, never in full daylight. The python flicked out her tongue. Sweat was rank on the air despite the open windows, and it took two flicks to decipher the smells. Anger, old hurt, and barely contained fear. Silly child, the animal thought, blinking lazily.

"Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five-"

Marian paused when someone knocked on the door. Maybe she could pretend she wasn't there. "Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight," she continued, quieter.

The person knocked again, this time more insistently, and she jumped up. She wiped at the sweat on her forehead before opening the door, and stared.

Professor Snape was standing there, still pale, eyes tight with strain. "Shouldn't you be in the infirmary?"

"Madam Pomfrey released me a few minutes ago." He held out her jacket. "I believe this is yours."

"Thanks," she took the coat, frowning when she saw the slight tremble in his fingers. "Are you sure she let you out, or did you escape?" It was meant as a light hearted jab, but had the opposite affect.

Severus drew himself up to his full height. "I assure you I need not escape from anywhere." He turned on his heel.

"You should take someone with you next time," she called after him. "That way an aramantula won't sneak up on you."

"What?"

"Aramantula," she repeated. "You know, ruddy big spider, paralyzing venom. What bit you this morning."

For a moment, she had the uncomfortable sensation that the man was staring through the back of her head. Then, "I'll remember that, Ms. Elvbow." He left without another word.

"Okay. Strange much," she said to herself as she closed the door.


Blood.

It pooled around the small body, turned bits of shattered glass into jagged rubies. A thin veil of steam wafted from it, curled around the pale girl staring up at the sky.

Two orderlies and a nurse dashed past her. One of the men used a shoe to clear the remains of glass and twisted metal so the nurse could climb over.

"What did you do!"

Hands whirled her around, and she stared up into the face of orderly Burke. "I don't… I didn't…" she stammered, trying to turn to get a look at Lucy. She told her to leave her alone. She'd told her…

"Come on, Marian." Nurse McKenzie said gently, leading her away from the window. "That's right. We'll get this figured out."

She looked back again, and stopped. Lucy's blonde hair was black.

When she turned around they were in a long, narrow hallway, the doors lining either side numbered.

"No!"

The twelve year old tried to run, but Burke was faster. In one move her arms were trapped at her sides and she was lifted. She kicked and flailed, but couldn't free herself. Dumbledore turned the lock in one of the doors, and before she could do anything the girl was shoved into the room, the door slammed behind her.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to!" she yelled at the door, but she knew the padding didn't let anything but the slightest whisper out. She backed into a corner, legs drawn up to her chest, and waited. They would be coming soon. They always bothered her more when she was alone.

Marian woke up curled around a pillow. The sun was down and her windows were open, letting in the frigid night air. Missy had wedged herself tight in the curve of her body, dark eyes glittering.

"Sorry," the redhead said before the snake could say anything. She sat up and her eyes widened. She was sore. She limped over to the windows and closed them. Almost immediately the heat from the fire filled the room, making it toasty warm.

"Better, runt?"

Missy didn't reply, and she went to the bathroom. The clock was edging on dinnertime, and she still needed a shower.


Thanks for reading! Special gingerbread men thanks goes out to LadyCrow1313, SithelfJen, Delphine Pryde, rankokun alpha, Popples, Almadynis, speacalphred, Keirin, and missy 42 for their great reviews! I love you guys :mental hugs:

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