A Harry Potter Fanfic by Didodikali
Rowling's characters do not belong to me!
However these pictures are mine.
Rated PG-13.

Chapter Two
Cross I'd Bear
Minerva Speaks

Read this story with illustrations!
http://lizardlounge.com/Natasha/Didodikali/snake/snake2.html

I knocked on Severus's door with, I must admit, a certain unholy glee. When he opened it, despite the lateness of the afternoon, he was still wearing the shirt that Miss Granger had told me about under a dressing gown. "Merry Christmas, Severus," I said.

"Minerva," he said, tight-lipped. The red-marked potions essays he held crumpled in his grip.

"Love the shirt. Where'd-"

"Oh, for Merlin's sake! Malfoy! Ask the little Malfoy swot! Now begone!" He went to slam the door, but my foot had already prevented that.

"Poppy's on holiday, so I was wondering if you had any Hair-of-the-Dog Potion. And don't yell. Please."

He sighed. "And I was so hoping to avoid you until next year. All right; I'll go check." He jerked his head in invitation and I stepped into his quarters. I stood waiting in his sitting room while he opened the door that led directly to the potions storeroom from his flat. I watched him discreetly as he opened cubboards and drawers and slammed them shut.

He returned looking quite disgusted. "I don't stock that potion, and it seems my stores have been raided of mistletoe -no doubt for twee usages- so I can not brew you any. My supplies for next term won't arrive for another few days," he said and then with great reluctance added, "We could check Poppy's stores up at the infirmary. The students have less access to her inventory."

I'd planned to delay Severus from his usual routine of tromping around the school looking for trouble-makers so that Hermione could get on with her delightful Christmas idea without him noticing her suspicious lateness to the Feast. An hours delay in the dungeon would have been perfect, but an hour in the infirmary was a close second. I nodded my agreement and immediately wished I'd just voiced it. Ow. My head really did want that hangover cure. When will I learn that no one can outparty Albus?

Severus threw his hands up in defeat, which made him look even more like a big flappy bat than usual. "Let me just go get dressed," he said and disappeared into his rooms. He returned in short order looking like a much tidier flappy bat, showed me out, warded his door and preceded me out of the dungeons.

"Miss Granger informed me of her adventure last night," I said.

"I assumed as much." Severus put his hands into his sleeves and favored me with an icy glare.

"She seemed quite taken with you," I said and bit my lip over an unladylike guffaw.

Severus registered faint surprise and then rolled his eyes. "Tell her to queue up behind all the Slytherin girls. And Voldemort."

"Voldemort!?"

"Rather. Last time I was at a meeting he was all over me."

"He was not."

There was a glint of something that looked suspiciously like humour in his eye. "He was. Hey, I'll take Veritaserum and tell you the same story."

I raised my eyebrow at him. "Didn't I hear that you'd worked up a tolerance to Veritaserum by taking it every day? Tell me a story, indeed."

Severus shot me a swift piercing look. "Albus told you? Just brilliant. Hmmm. You don't trust me as far as you can throw me, do you?"

This is not true. I do trust him. Albus told me that when endangered Severus can lie under Veritaserum well enough to fool both Voldemort and Fudge, but when he's not in danger the words that spill out of his mouth are mostly the unvarnished truth, unlovely and unappetizing. Well, mostly. If he really wants to, he can lie about anything.

I tucked my arm into his. "Oh, I don't know. If I turned you into a toad, I bet I could throw you pretty far."

"Ooooh. Threaten me again. You know I love that." And he does. Severus is usually reserved to the point of shyness, he deals badly with both compliments and criticism, talking about his past makes him angry, talking about his future makes him depressed and he has no interest in small talk. Which pretty much just leaves teasing him mercilessly, which done carefully, he really does seem to like.

And of course Severus can give as good as he can get. We entered the castle only to see Draco grinning as Hermione shrugged into a very familiar-looking shirt. Severus almost laughed aloud. "Why look, Minerva, young Malfoy has transfigured your brightest little star into a Slytherin cheerleader. What a wizard!"

Annoying as that was, Hagrid, who can't keep a secret even if he promises, was coming around the corner. I'd promised Hermione to help her with her surprise and it wasn't going to be a surprise if we waited around. I seized Severus by the arm and dragged him away from the group and towards the infirmary.

Once we were out of sight I looked up to see him still smiling slightly. "Having a nice Christmas?" I asked him.

"Adequate," he said.

"What would make it perfect? Tell me, what do you REALLY want for Christmas?"

"Voldemort's head on a plate," he said and looked at me hopefully as if I might pull just such a vile object out from under my robes and hand it to him.

I laughed and fished in my pocket. "How about a chocolate frog, instead?"

"Hmm," he said noncommitally, but he took the frog.

We entered the infirmary and Severus went directly to Poppy's stores. He sorted through her supplies, said "Ha!" when he found the mistletoe and started preparing the potion.

He's the youngest teacher here, and except for our eternally renewing DADA teachers, the newest. I still remember him as a student. And I forget sometimes that time has gone by and he's been here for years, but he has and it shows. I watched him put the potion together with the ease of the master that I am sometimes still surprised he is. I risked small talk again. "Do you like teaching?" I asked him.

"Yes." He looked up at me, startled. Ha! Caught you off guard.

"Why?" I asked. Merlin, how much did I drink last night? I think I'm still drunk.

"I like being in the lab every day and I like terrorizing children. Teaching combines my two favorite hobbies."

I giggled at that, which made him sneer with derision. "Why do you think I'm joking? Albus told you I am on Veritaserum all the time, you wretched woman. Stop asking me daft questions!"

He pulled the simmering potion off the flame, ladled some into a teacup, garnished it with something labelled essence of slug and handed it to me.
I took a sip and gagged. It was like drinking cheap perfume that had fermented badly. "Is it supposed to have this disgusting flavor?"

"Yes. Poppy's ambergris is particularly fresh. Drink up; I'm getting hungry for dinner."

It has been so long since I've worked with potions that I remember very little. "Ambergris?" I said, dreading the faint memory.

"Whale vomit," he confirmed with some gusto.

I frowned into the teacup. "This can't be right. It's just too awful."

"Wuss," he said. He grabbed the teacup from me and drank. "See," he said. He ladled more into the teacup, pressed it into my hand and then suddenly turned white and grabbed the countertop.

I looked at him. "There is something wrong with it."

"No, just me. Reaction with the Veritaserum. I didn't know." He was gasping and his voice sounded more and more strangled. "Poppy's not got ordinary mistletoe. Hers cut with silver sickle during new moon. Unlabeled though, the incompetent bitch. Oh, bug-" And then Severus was gone and in his place was a ten foot tall polar bear.

"Well, if you're sure the potion is fine for me," I said. I pinched my nose and drank the rest of the potion and felt my headache instantly disappear. And I'm now sober, too! Excellent!

The polar bear sat on the floor and stared at me with glittery round black eyes. Severus's Animagus form is among the most useless I have ever seen for spying, or even just walking around in a temperate climate, which has always grated on him. "Aren't you going to change back?" I asked.

"Raaaaaargh!" he said.

"Reaction with the Veritaserum, you said? You mean you're stuck like that?" I started cleaning up Poppy's counter. "For how long?"

Severus the polar bear shrugged hugely and voiced a sepulchral whine. I scrubbed Poppy's cauldron and put it away. Then I opened the infirmary door and let Severus out. He chuffed at me and ambled away towards the dungeons. "Severus, can you open your wards with your wand incorporated into your Animagus form?"

The polar bear stopped.

"I thought you'd said you were hungry," I said.

Severus howled in frustration. Then he turned around and accompanied me to the Hall for the Christmas Feast. I grinned at him and he growled at me. Well, this will be fun.



~8~
And lead us not into temptation...
~8~

Our trip to the infirmary had quite successfully made us a tiny bit late to the Christmas Feast. We had missed the speech and Hagrid, Draco and Hermione were back from whatever back of the beyond they'd been visiting and the small table was laid and waiting.

They all stared at us when Severus and I walked in. Harry looked impressed. "Did someone give you a new pet for Christmas?" he asked me.

"No. This is Professor Snape. He's... We were... uh..." Hmm. How would Severus like me to explain this? I looked at him hoping for a hint, but Severus just stared at me blankly. "Yes, well, he's a polar bear today. My, that turkey looks good!" I said and sat down next to Albus.

Albus squeezed my knee under the tablecloth in greeting and grinned at the white bear that bellied up to the table. "You look like you've been having an entertaining holiday, Severus."

"Aaaahrurh," said the polar bear nonchalantly.

Harry stared and sniggered. "What happened to you? You can't take points off us like that, can you! Haha!"

"Mister Potter!" I said, but Severus took the situation into his own...er.. paws. He rose rampant, slammed a paw onto the tablecloth and reached over a good three feet of table to enclose Harry's head in his jaws. He roared and gabbled his four inch fangs gently around Harry's ears and then let him go.

Harry blinked through the drool. "I see your point, sir," he said and began to wipe his face off with his napkin.

Severus sat back down grumpily, and then noticed Hermione sitting next to him, quivering and grinning. He looked at the blob of drool he'd dropped on her plate and reached out to sop it up with the back of his paw. "Ruuowrh," he said.

Albus stood up with his wand in hand. "Allow me to assist, Severus," he said and waved some yellow sparks towards the bear.

Severus growled and tried to duck. "Grrowrooorarrrraaaaroooroomay as well just pack me off to Voldemort right now and put me out of my misery, you manipulative, saccharine old codger. ...Oh. Well, what do you know, now I'm a talking bear. Thanks awfully, Headmaster."

Albus twinkled in his general direction. "Anytime, Severus."

"Pass the ham, please," said Severus. Hagrid and Draco passed the ham down to the other end of the table. Severus picked up the whole ham in his jaws and put it on his plate. There was a collective silence and then we all decided that we'd really wanted just roast beef and turkey anyway.

We all started passing plates around and in the bustle, the strangeness of an ursine professor at the end of the table delicately gnawing on a ham without the use of silverware was forgotten.

Over the hubbub of conversation and chewing, Albus asked me, "Are you wearing my present?"

"Maaaaaaybe," I said.

Albus's hand touched my knee again, travelled up my thigh and felt around until he was quite sure that I was indeed wearing the stripey thigh-high stockings he had given me. With garter belt. If possible, Albus's grin got even wider. Perhaps it would meet round the back and the top of his head would fall off.

I slapped his hand gently. "Later, tiger."

"Aw."

I ate my veggies and eavesdropped on Severus and Hermione having a quiet conversation about my techniques for teaching Animagus forms. It was rather difficult to hear them over Harry and Draco who were talking about- no surprise- Quidditch. Perhaps it could be better described as arguing about Quidditch; they were getting quite hot under the collar.

"Merlin, it's hot in here. Somebody open a window," said Severus.

"It's not hot in here; you're a polar bear. Go roll in the snow," said Hagrid. "That's a nice holiday outfit though. Very... festive."

Four inch fangs make for a very impressive sneer. "Festive," said Severus. "Do I look like a red-nosed reindeer to you?"

Hagrid shoved a glass of cider at him. "Aahg. Have a cold drink, ya overbearing.... er."

Severus dipped a long black tongue into the glass. "Yuck. Bears don't like cider. It's still too hot in here. I think I'll step outside, get some fresh air."

Hagrid stood up, too. "I'll go with you. Going to roll in the snow?"

".......No."

"I dare you to make a snow angel."

"Absolutely not," said Severus.

"I bet I can make a better snow angel than you," said Hagrid.

The bear looked up at him. "...How much money do you have?"

Hagrid opened the door. "I'll wager whatever I've got in my pockets."

"Eeew. What have you got in your pockets? Besides lint, skrewt droppings and dog food crumbs. We are talking money here, right?" said Severus and he stepped out into the dark with Hagrid.

The rest of us sat around the remains of the banquet in silent, contented torpor for several minutes. Finally Albus waved the dinner dishes away. The tablecloth shook itself and the crumbs and spills vanished. New place settings for the last course, the pudding, appeared on the table.

Hermione peered around Harry to ask Draco nervously, "When do you think it'll get here?" Harry made a face.

Suddenly cinders spilled out of the fireplace onto the floor. "Now," said Draco.

Hermione and Draco jumped up from the table and together they snatched up a little cardboard box that popped out of the fire. I ran over, too, to inspect what they'd been sent. "Let me see it," I said.

"No time! Here they come!" Draco hit the box with his wand which charmed it green and we all ran back to the table as Hagrid and Severus came back inside.

"Thanks for nothing, you impecunious slob," said Severus, shaking snow out of his sleeves. Oh, look, he's back to being human. Mistletoe must have worn off.

Hagrid slapped the now much smaller man on the back.

"Ow!" said Severus. "Hands off, meatloaf. And if you don't shut up about your stupid secret, I'll obliviate you myself."

"Oh, no!" I said. "Hagrid didn't tell you, did he?"

Severus looked at me. "No, but watching him clamp his jaws shut with his own hands is pathetic. Truly, Hagrid, it's no trouble. You wouldn't remember a thing."

"Naw, I think I can manage to hold my tongue just long enough," said Hagrid.

"Hmmm." Severus pulled over the chair he had not used while in bear form and sat down.

"Surprise," said Hagrid.

"Waagh!" Severus noticed the box on his plate, flinched and then looked up at Hagrid. "Looking forward to your imminent poisoning, are you, dead man?"

Hagrid waved his hand. "Oh, it's not from me."

Hermione said, "Yes, it is! It's from Hagrid, me and Draco!"

"It was the gel's idea," said Hagrid, pointing at Hermione.

Hermione pointed back at Hagrid. "You found it," she said. "And Draco helped us get around the-- well, never mind. It's legal now. The red tape is green."

I'd thought Hermione's idea a good one and given permission. Hagrid's connections had found the snake and Draco, who had been invited to join in on the premise that a present from a Malfoy would be more difficult for Severus to refuse, had been of far more use than they'd initially imagined. It had seemed a good idea at the time, but Severus was more obstinate than we thought.

"Legal? Oh, no. I don't give or accept Christmas presents and certainly not from students," he said. Severus looked angry and embarrassed. Except for when he's teaching, Severus is always uncomfortable being the center of attention.

"Just this once, Severus. Be a sport." Only Albus could coerce Severus when he looked like this.

Severus studied the box doubtfully. "It better not be expensive."

Hagrid gestured joyously at the children again. "The little ones and I split the cost and it wasn't."

The box wiggled slightly. Severus noticed the little holes punched in its sides and looked horrified. "Oh, no! It is a skrewt."

"It's not! Open it!" Draco and Hermione were practically jumping up and down. Harry just looked bored.

Severus tried, but he would have looked far more grim and forbidding if he hadn't also been blushing a bit. He lifted the lid. A tiny green head peeped out of the box and pulled its tongue at him.

Hagrid said, "It's only just hatched. It's a-"

"-A keeled green snake. I know. Opheodrys vernalis. Where did you find this?" And then he seemed to realize how covetous that had sounded and was suddenly chagrined.

Hagrid was oblivious. "Heh heh. Do you like it?"

"Well. .......erm......I....." Severus seemed unhappy. He opened his mouth--

"-Severus," said Albus and when the younger man looked up at him, Albus caught and held his eye.

"You don't have a familiar at the moment," Hermione said. "And you said you liked green snakes." Her gaze flickered between Albus and Severus, following the silent conversation between the professor and the headmaster.

"....That's true," Severus was finally compelled to say.

"So, you'll take it?" Hermione asked anxiously.

"I...er....yes. Thank you."

"Time for pudding!" said Albus with sudden unexpected mercy, and as the puddings magically appeared, everyone went back to their seats. Draco returned to his argument about Quidditch with Harry and Hagrid took two servings of pudding.

Severus declined pudding and let his new pet crawl around on his desert plate. Hermione grinned provokingly at him. "Is she going to sleep in your bed, Professor?"

Severus narrowed his eyes at the girl. "No, she's much too young. I'll borrow Hagrid's aquarium."

"That cold glass box? Oh, that's mean."

Severus contemplated the little snake. "Yes. Yes, it is."

Spying from the other end of the table, I could only wonder whether Severus thought he was telling the truth this time. Oh, dear. I can't tell anymore.


~8~
No better love than love with no object,
no more satisfying work than work with no purpose.
~8~

Read this story with illustrations!
http://lizardlounge.com/Natasha/Didodikali/snake/snake2.html

The end. =)
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The second chapter of this (very silly) story is an attempt
at the 2002 Christmas challenge from the WIKTT group.
Thanks for the inspiration, you fabulous people, you!