Learning to Uncurl
Headmistress McGonagall looked around the table and frowned. She could hardly start a meeting of the Heads of House if only three of the Heads were in attendance. Professor Flitwick, representing Ravenclaw, was sitting to her right, as befitted her Deputy, and had the rough drafts of the Quidditch schedules spread in front of him. Across the table was Pomona Sprout from Hufflepuff. She had a stack of scrolls in front of her that the Headmistress knew were the applications from the finalists for the Cedric Diggory Memorial Scholarship. Severus Snape, formerly the most reviled wizard in all Great Britain and now an acknowledged--albeit rather reluctantly on the part of some people--hero in the Riddle War, sat next to an empty chair.
"Where," sighed the Headmistress, "is Professor Potter?"
"The last I saw Potter," drawled Snape, "he was galumphing his way up the stairs towards the fifth floor corridor."
"Right." The Headmistress' mouth thinned to a tight line. "Would you go, Severus, and remind him of the time?"
As Snape glided out of the room, Professor Sprout turned to the Headmistress, puzzled. "Why would Harry be up in fifth floor corridor?"
"Oh," squeaked Professor Flitwick, "Hadn't you heard? Harry finally succeeded in his Animagus transformation."
"Really?" Sprout looked over at the Headmistress, smiling. "You must be very proud."
"Well, yes," replied the Headmistress, "but it didn't turn out quite the way we were hoping. Harry was trying to transform into a stag, like his father. He got most of the way there, but then his final form took a slightly different turn."
While the Headmistress explained to Professor Sprout what had happened over the summer, Severus Snape was heading for a bit of swamp that took up the end of the fifth floor corridor. It was the result of what Professor Flitwick considered a very nice bit of Charm work, cast by a couple of Snape's least favorite and --he admitted reluctantly to himself-- most talented former students. The Weasley twins had created the swamp in their aborted sixth year, as part of a campaign to annoy a person that was so horrid, she managed to be on the top ten list of Snape's most disliked people and, considering the length and breadth of that list, reaching the top was quite an accomplishment. Because Flitwick admired the spell, a small section of the swamp was allowed to remain and it was to that swamp that Professor Harry Potter had taken to retreating.
"Potter," said Snape as he came around the corner and saw the large ruminant, with its long, knobby legs, hairy coat, enormous nose and broad, fan-shaped antlers, "you're missing the staff meeting."
Harry raised his head from where he was browsing a succulent bit of weeds. He had come to appreciate how really talented Fred and George were, now that he spent part of his day as a moose. Moose were wetland creatures and this little bit of swamp was splendidly designed for a lone moose. The reeds were delicious and the climate--since it was inside--perfect year round, never too windy or too cold. Harry had found that the stress of his life melted away as he stood belly deep in the little swamp, munching on reeds and grasses. He could let his mind go blank and just enjoy the feel of the water swirling around his legs and the soft, rich taste of his browse. He blinked at the man who was snarling at him and resisted the urge to stick his head underwater and ignore him.
Harry looked surprisingly graceful, as his gangly figure waded out of the swamp, raising feet the size of dinner plates to step over the rope that separated the wetland from the rest of the corridor. The moose swallowed the last bit of reed dangling from his mouth, then dwindled down to reveal a slight, dark-haired man whose robes were wet from the waist down.
"Hello, Severus," said Harry placidly. He could never feel anything but placid after a pleasant afternoon as a moose. "I am sorry I lost track of the time."
Snape flicked his wand at Harry and the latter's robes steamed briefly and were dry. "Going to have to get you an alarm clock and hang it off those ridiculous antlers of yours."
"Hmmm," said Harry, who appeared to be chewing a bit of cud as he walked along side Snape. "I wonder if I'll shed them later in the season."
"If you go into rut, Potter, I shall apply to the Ministry to have you neutered."
Harry chuckled, picking a bit of reed out of his teeth. Being a moose had made him so calm, even Snape couldn't upset him. "You should work on becoming an Animagus, Severus. It's very relaxing, to assume an animal form."
Snape's response was a mumbled sniff. Harry turned a bit sideways to look at Snape and was surprised to see him looking . . .could Snape be embarrassed?
"I am an Animagus, thank you, and I don't find it relaxing at all."
Harry came to a dead halt halfway down the stairs. As he did, the stairs started to move, taking them away from the staff room. "Really? I didn't know that."
"I'm unregistered." snarled Snape, "And I'd prefer you keep it to yourself. The Ministry still isn't sure if it should trust me and finding that out won't help."
"So. . .what is your form? Let me guess. Raven? Snake? Vulture?"
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. He shouldn't have said anything because he knew Potter would never give up.
"edug." He muttered, tapping his fingers impatiently on the bannister.
"Excuse me, what?"
"Hedgehog, Potter, if you must know. My Animagus form is a hedgehog and I've always found it to be even more useless than a moose."
"Why? It's small and unobtrusive. I'd think you could sneak around and never be noticed."
"Maybe." Snape bounded forward as the stairs came to rest, heading for a way back to the staff room. "If I could v. . .rl."
"I say, Severus. You've never been one to mumble. Maybe I'm going deaf but I missed that."
Snape stopped and turned towards Harry, his glare murderous. "I said I could never uncurl."
"Once I'm a hedgehog, I seem to think too much like a hedgehog. The world is too threatening and I can't bring myself to uncurl. So I stopped transforming years ago because there was no point in curling up in corner."
Harry stared, open mouthed, unsure as to what to say but certain that if he laughed, Snape would either hex him or disembowel him or possibly disembowel him with a hex.
"Times have changed," said Harry, running a little to catch up. "There aren't so many threats now. Maybe you should try it again."
Snape rolled his eyes. "And be trampled by some careless child or gobbled up by Hagrid's dog. No, thank you."
Snape as a hedgehog. The idea remained with Harry throughout the staff meeting and into tea. It seemed appropriate. Hedgehogs were prickly and liked earthworms and other creepy things. Still, for Snape not to enjoy his Animagus form was tragic. Harry and the Headmistress had discussed several times how relaxing taking an animal form was. The more he thought about it, the more Harry knew he had to help Snape enjoy being a hedgehog.
"How about," Harry finally said to Snape as they lingered over their tea, Flitwick, McGonagall and Sprout having gone off to listen to a Celestina Warbeck concert on the wireless. "You transform with me."
"How would that help? You'd just stamp on me with those enormous feet."
"I would be very careful. There's a large rock in the corner, right under the window, with a bit of ground around it. You could transform back there. You'd be perfectly safe and maybe you'd manage to enjoy it a bit."
Snape peered suspiciously at Harry over his tea cup. "Why should you care, anyway?"
"Because it's been ten years since I hated you, Severus, and I've learned a lot about life in that decade. I know you are an honorable man and deserve to enjoy life a little, now that everything is settled."
"And you think I would enjoy life more. . .as a hedgehog."
"As an animal. It really puts your problems in perspective. I find it incredibly relaxing."
Snape sneered. "I've noticed. Came across you snoring in your swamp last week."
Harry chuckled. "True. I don't snore as a person, you know, only as a moose."
Snape rolled his eyes as he started to stand.
"I want you to transform with me." Harry held up his hand to stop whatever Snape was going to say. "We can argue about this until the end of time, but just remember, I will nag and bother and pester you endlessly until you do it at least once. Why not just get it over with before term starts?"
Snape stared down at Harry, who stared right back. After several seconds, Snape sighed and shook his head. "Fine. I'll do it tomorrow afternoon, after lunch. And after I enjoy a delightful afternoon curled up on a rock. . ." Snape's voice made it very clear he didn't expect the afternoon to be delightful. "You will NEVER mention this again."
Harry nodded solemnly, managing to suppress his smile until Snape had left the room. Hedgehog!
Snape tried to put Potter's annoying offer out of his mind. He didn't like being a hedgehog. Hedgehogs were tiny and ridiculous and powerless and just silly. Of all the creatures in the world to transform into, why was Severus Snape cursed with being a hedgehog? Damn, Potter! Snape knew he'd have to go along with Potter's idiotic request, or Potter would bring McGonagall into it. Snape shuddered. He had spent years trying to forget that awful evening he had spent with Minerva McGonagall, more than twenty years before, when he had turned into a hedgehog for the first time and McGonagall, in her cat form, had batted at him with her paws. He still flinched whenever a cat caught him unawares.
The dread of the afternoon made breakfast taste like wet parchment. Snape frowned into his porridge as Potter, late as usual, wandered up to the High Table and said, "Remember our appointment, Severus?" Snape had only grunted in reply, finished his tea and left. The morning had, of course, flown by, the way time passes when something you are dreading approaches. At lunch, he barely picked at what was normally one of his favorite foods, a nice bit of cheese toast, browned just the way he liked it, the cheese still soft and warm. He might have managed a second piece had not the Headmistress said something to him about his afternoon plans.
"What did Potter tell you?" Snape asked suspiciously. McGonagall had only shaken her head and replied only that Harry said they were "working on a project" that afternoon.
"Ready," came Potter's cheery voice just as Severus decided his lunch was too cold to enjoy anyway.
Snape gave McGonagall a last, assessing glance but, unlike her predecessor, she rarely manipulated Snape and, to Snape's lasting relief, never twinkled at him.
"Lovely day for it," Potter was saying as Snape followed him up the stairs to the swamp. "It's too windy outside for a real swamp. I don't mind wind myself but find it very annoying when I'm transformed. Catches in my antlers."
"Wind," said Snape, "affects hedgehogs very little."
"I suppose not, with them being burrowing creatures and all. And nocturnal, right? So you'll probably just nod off."
"Technically, hedgehogs are crepuscular. Like cats. Active during the cusps of the day. Mid afternoon is not normally an active time for hedgehogs. However," Snape glared at Potter, "I am NOT an actual hedgehog."
"No." They had reached the Weasley Swamp. Potter gave Snape one of those damned placid smiles the idiot had acquired lately and melted into a moose.
As moose went, Harry was actually a relatively small one, but he still seemed large compared to Snape. After a moment, Potter returned to his form.
"Um, would you prefer to transform first? I could put you over on the rock that way." Potter pointed towards the large rock that sat at the back of the swamp, under the window.
"I would prefer," answered Snape, through tightly gritted teeth, "to be back in my office, making preparations for start of term."
"Well, you're not. Come on, Severus. Just get it over with. If you really hate it so much, I'll never ask you again."
Snape folded his arms over his chest and glared. Potter stared back. Seconds passed. Finally, with a resigned roll of his eyes, Snape concentrated on his transformation. He didn't do it very often, hadn't done it in years, and it always took him longer than most other Animagi. He suspected it was because he was resisting turning into an animal as useless as a hedgehog. He shivered and felt his perspective on the world suddenly change. He glanced up once at Harry Potter, looming over him, and dropped to the floor, rolling into a tight curl.
Showing great restraint, Potter did not exclaim "How adorable!" or "Gracious, aren't you darling" or "Why, you are so cute" or any other such platitude but merely bent over, murmuring, "Amazing, isn't it?" and picked up the tightly curled hedgehog in his hands.
Snape, who was cursing his form with every breath, couldn't see anything, only hear and feel. Potter's hands were warm, wrapping around Snape's transformed body in a way Snape might have thought of as comforting. . .if comforting had been a word Severus Snape ever used. As it was, Snape only thought, oh, his hands are very warm and he smells like fish. Snape gave another tentative sniff, catching mostly his own smoky smell, and then fish overlaid on something that reminded Snape of grass. Perhaps Potter had been outside earlier or perhaps, that was just the way Potter's hands smelt when Potter hadn't had the fish for lunch.
Harry stepped over the rope separating the swamp from the rest of the corridor, having a bit of difficulty on his short, human legs, and then sank ankle deep in the muck. He frowned down at his shoes for a moment before deciding that he might as well get on with it. The swamp wasn't very large, but it was more difficult to cross as a human than as a moose. Harry managed it, setting his burden down on the rock by the window. Harry chose a place to set the hedgehog that wasn't in direct sunlight, but had been only moments before, so it was still warm.
"There," said Harry. He took off his wristwatch and set it on the window sill. "To remind us, if you don't turn back for a while."
And then there was a moose standing in the swamp, looking out the window.
Snape remained tightly curled up on the rock for several minutes: cursing Minerva McGonagall, who first tutored him in this form of magic; and Albus Dumbledore, who had encouraged Snape to learn to transform; and Sirius "Back from the Dead" Black for having the gall to manage to transform into something useful, like a dog; and Peter "Still Dead" Pettigrew, who was vile and nasty and still managed to make a very respectable rat; and every wizard or witch who ever lived because if there were no magic in the world, there would be no Animagi and Severus Snape would not be curled up on a warm rock at the end of a corridor in Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Then, Snape realized something odd had occurred. He had been concentrating so fiercely on the mental curses he would apply to various and sundry persons that he had, without being aware of it, uncurled. And then, even more amazingly, he put his pointy little nose close to the rock and sniffed.
And that sniff was. . .utterly glorious. He smelt the bit of dirt on the rock, all warm and musty, and the hard sharp scent of the actual boulder under it and the green smell of moss and the softer, not quite so green but a bit more pale yellowish smell of lichen and then, the lovely, appetizing smell of the track of a black beetle that was crawling its way innocently towards Snape.
Without thinking, Snape snapped his jaws and found himself crunching down on a beetle.
It was delicious! It was like a fresh peach, with hard shell that tasted of melted butter spread on warm toast, with a finish that reminded Snape of the raspberry wine Sprout brewed in the back of one of the old greenhouses. Oh, so luscious and juicy was that black beetle, that Snape immediately began nosing about the rock for another.
Good heavens, Severus, Snape said firmly to himself even as he inhaled another delightful whiff of mossylichenymoldybeetly boulder, you just ate a bug.
Yes, you did, replied the part of himself that was whiffling and sniffling its way down the boulder, and it was very tasty and I 'd like another.
As an expert brewer of potions, Snape had always prided himself on his excellent sense of smell, but compared to what he smelt as a human, what he smelt as a hedgehog was richer and riper and much more meaningful. The damp smell meant he was closer to the side of the boulder that slid down into the water, so he sniffed his way back to the side that smelt more of dust and sunshine. Oh, yes, sunshine had a distinctive tang to it that the new nose of Severus Snape recognized. Sunshine smelled like crisply ironed linen with a hint of citrus and just a dash of candied ginger underneath.
Cautiously, he raised his head and sniffed the air.
Oh. . .goodness. . .there were SO many scents, it was nearly overpowering. He could smell plants and insects and water and worms and even the musky scent of the moose that was Potter, who was currently munching with its back side towards the boulder. Severus sat back on his haunches, vaguely aware that he was cleaning his tiny paws, and sniffed. Then he sniffed some more. Then he waddled after an earthworm, which smelled so juicy and delicious he simply had to catch and eat it and. . .OH! It was the most wonderful thing he had ever eaten, like a box of Honeydukes chocolates and really good Spanish marmalade and freshly baked scones all rolled into one mouthful that was smooth as velvet.
When his stomach was full, he was suddenly overwhelmed with how tired he was. When your legs were only an inch long, scurrying across an enormous boulder in order to chase down a luscious earthworm was exhausting. Curling up under the edge of the boulder, the hedgehog fell fast asleep. The hedgehog didn't have any nasty nightmares about evil overlords or false friends but instead dreamt about beetles and moss and earthworms and the soft smell of clean earth.
The voice boomed annoyingly over head. Snape uncurled enough to open one eye and look up. Hedgehogs didn't have very good vision, but he could make out a blur overhead that he suspected was Harry Potter. POTTER!
The hedgehog stood up so quickly, he nearly wedged himself under the rock where he was sleeping. Grumbling, he waddled out into the open.
"There you are," said Potter, lowering his voice. He leaned close and Snape could see the glint of his spectacles. "I'm sorry. I nodded off and lost track of the time. It's nearly time for tea. Here."
Potter's hand, which smelt of water and mud and reeds more than grass now, settled next to the hedgehog. The tiny creature gave one last, deep sniff of the air, then crawled up into Potter's hand and allowed himself to be moved back into the corridor.
"Well?" asked Potter anxiously as Snape rose up into his full, human shape. "Did you manage to uncurl at all?"
"Yes," Snape said formally, tugging at his robes. Why did they suddenly feel so uncomfortable? "I did. A bit."
Potter smiled brightly. "Excellent. Did you enjoy it? What was it like? I know Sirius always comments on the smells being so much more intense as a dog."
"The smells?" Snape stared back at the boulder where he had spent the afternoon, remembering how lovely all those smells were. In fact, he found himself wishing he could smell that earthworm again, give it a good sniff, and then eat it down. "Ah, yes. Very. . .intense."
"Would you like to. . ." Potter was staring down at his hands, apparently noticing how dirty his nails were.
"Well, perhaps." Snape took a deep breath. He could still smell the marshland and the mud, but not the sunshine. "I could. . ." He thought desperately. "I mean, further study of scents would be very useful. I might be able to improve my abilities, which, as you know, are very important in my line."
"Brilliant," said Potter. "Maybe we can even go outside sometime."
"Doubtful ...but we could transform again... some time." Snape found his eyes drawn back to the boulder again and noticed there was another black beetle on it. His mouth began to water. "When convenient."
Students got used to finding a moose in the marsh in the fifth floor corridor. They knew it was Harry Potter, but all Harry Potter was to these students was another school master and school masters were inherently boring creatures, so once they had seen him transform in Transfiguration class the first time, they quickly lost interest. Once in a while, the Headmistress could be seen prowling the school in her Animagus form, but that was no more interesting than Professor Potter, less so, even, since she was Headmistress, after all, and by definition duller than dust. There was a rumor that another of the teachers was an Animagus, but no one really gave it much credence. There were so few Animagi in the world, surely three of them couldn't be at Hogwarts.
The students also didn't notice that Professor Snape put on a bit of weight and became much more placid. They only said, to their parents or older siblings or relatives, you exaggerated. He's not that bad, not really. Hardly ever takes points and almost never gives detention.
And a hedgehog? Who would notice a little spiny hedgehog sniffing along the edge of a boulder under the window at the end of the fifth floor corridor?
June 13, 2006