Disclaimer: I own nothing of Harry Potter – it's all JKR's. I just like to take the characters out for walks.
Zoothapsis: [zōo'thə'psĭs] noun; premature burial.
"Hell is other people."
- Jean-Paul Sartre -
There are many reasons why a person may choose to shut themselves off from the world: inability to trust, fear of rejection, or perhaps just a dislike of other people. All are valid, in their own way. But eventually, a problem arises. As human beings, we are social creatures. From our early days as just-barely-staggering-about-upright apes on the African savannah, we relied on each other; for protection, for help, for affection. So it's unsurprising that after a while, even the most rigid xenophobe feels the need to emerge from their self induced isolation, and claw their way out of the lonely hole they've buried themselves in.
Professor Severus Snape, anti-social personality extraordinaire, sat in his dungeon suite and counted the number of inter-twined snakes embroidered around the border of the rug in front of the fireplace for the second time that evening.
It was time to admit it – he was bored. Completely, utterly and unforgivably bored. Yes, there were papers which needed grading. Yes, there were experiments which wanted attending to. Yes, there were texts waiting to be read. But he had no desire to do any of these things. It puzzled and angered him that he should find, after all these years of Doing What Needs To Be Done, something as frivolous and sentimental as desire should creep into his mind.
What did desire have to do with anything? It must be because Voldemort was finally gone, and all that remained of his legacy were a few straggling Death Eaters who were quickly being rounded up by Aurors. Still, no excuse. It was as bad as that niggling little voice in his head which kept claiming that he simply wasn't in the mood to work. Mood? Snape had never liked this line of reasoning, and had never had to deal with it coming from his own subconscious. Not to say that he didn't experience moods – irritation, unhappiness, rage, disgust, and malicious glee were some very good examples.
It had to be the time of year – spring. Contrary to popular belief, Snape was in fact human, and was prone to the effects of the seasons. He hated winter – long, cold nights of shivery blackness did nothing to improve his already bleak outlook on life. In spite of his chilly classroom (if it weren't, the heat from all the cauldron fires would have students swooning left and right), in spite of his dungeon quarters (far, far from the rest of the staff. Particularly Hooch, who had a fondness for practical jokes), and in spite of his frigid demeanour, Snape preferred heat. Long, deliciously hot summer days; days when he could relax outside with a cool pint and a novel had always been one of the few luxuries he'd allowed himself since he began teaching at Hogwarts. Perhaps that was another reason he liked the summer so much – there were no children around.
Reasons aside, Snape liked warmth. And from the way March had gone, the summer was shaping up to be a good one. April 1st, and it was close to 20° Celsius. A temperature almost unheard of in northern Scotland at this time of year.
And here he was, sitting in the damp dungeons, in front of a cold hearth, staring at a rug. He felt buried alive. Snape sighed and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. He wanted to be outside, to feel the sun. But he couldn't – what would the students think? He couldn't throw away his carefully cultivated image of nastiness because of a foolish desire to be outside. It would be ludicrous, ridiculous, and wonderful.
He gritted his teeth and thought. How to get outside, without being seen, or suspected of having some shred of humanity?
Snape sat up suddenly. Of course! He could make a foray out to the greenhouses. Sprout had allowed him a corner of one of the ones furthest from the school, in which he could cultivate some of the rarer potions' ingredients. And if he were to simply sit out behind it, with a book and a few bottles of Albus' home-brewed stout, no one would see him. The only person to ever venture out that way was Sprout, and Snape rather liked the older woman. Besides, she would know better than to pester him. With a renewed spirit, Snape went to find his ingredients satchel.
It was truly a beautiful evening. Snape was glad dinner was served so early at Hogwarts – he had a good hour of daylight still left. The greenhouses were north of the castle, with the Quidditch pitch to the southwest and the Forbidden Forest to the east. He had made certain there were no students on the pitch before he transfigured one of his spades into a free-floating hammock. As he rocked gently in the breeze, robes and frock coat tossed over his satchel on the ground, book in one hand, bottle of stout in the other, he wondered what Muggles did when they couldn't find any conveniently placed trees.
Time, unsurprisingly, passed quickly. Soon, the exorbitant sunset to his left was telling him it was time to go inside, but he was enjoying Calvino's 'Invisible Cities' too much. He was glad he had listened to Albus' recommendation. He finished a chapter and rested the open book on his chest.
That was when he heard it. A soft, wet snuffling noise, and approaching feet. For a moment, he wondered if Hagrid had let that slobbering beast of a dog out to wander around, but that was quickly dashed by a distinctly human sniffle. Snape tried to leap out his hammock, but hammocks aren't very conducive to leaping. So when Hermione Granger, puffy-faced and red-eyed, came around the corner, she had the distinct honour of seeing Snape yelping as he was first tangled in, then dumped out of a rather disgruntled magic hammock. He was cursing soundly as he picked himself up and rubbed at the fresh grass stains in his trousers. The hammock was quickly returned to its proper, inoffensive shape as a spade. Then he turned on Hermione.
Meanwhile, she was torn between laughter and terror, her tears entirely forgotten. When Snape finally gave her his attention, the strange combination of his intimidating glare, ordinary white shirt and black trousers and messy hair with bits of grass in was just too much. She started giggling.
"What, may I ask, is so funny, Miss Granger?" he asked, his voice coated in ice. This didn't seem to impress Hermione though; she just laughed harder.
"You have grass in your hair, sir," she got out between giggles. Snape quickly shook the offending blades free before resuming his glare. By this time, Hermione had calmed down somewhat, and was looking at his book (now on the ground) with interest.
"I've read that," she said, pointing. "It's very good."
"What are you doing out here?" Snape asked, ignoring her. Her face dropped and she looked away, and for a moment he was afraid she'd begin crying again.
"I didn't want to be in the castle. And it's still light out, and before curfew, so I thought it would be alright if I took a walk."
"Well it's not," Snape snapped, "and you still haven't fully answered my question. Why don't you want to be in the castle?"
Hermione looked at him, angrily. "I don't see why it's any of your business. Sir."
Snape raised an eyebrow and
crossed his arms. "5 points from Gryffindor for impertinence. No answer my
Hermione scowled, and looked out across the moors. "Your charming Slytherin prince, Malfoy, played an April Fools joke on me. I just got out of the Hospital Wing, and couldn't bear to be around Ron and Harry, who'd no doubt treat me like a porcelain doll and attempt to make me feel better by telling me what a pra…by telling me how much they dislike Malfoy."
Snape, despite his best efforts, felt an itch of concern. What had Lucius' spawn done to the girl to send her to Poppy? He also began to remember some of the April Fools 'pranks' Black, Lupin, Potter & Pettigrew had played upon him. Unwittingly, the icy exterior melted slightly.
"What did Mister Malfoy do that it warranted a trip to the Hospital Wing?"
Hermione flushed and he could see a muscle jumping in her cheek as she ground her teeth together.
"He transfigured my front teeth." She looked up at him, and he could see she was furious. "Made them like they were in fourth year. And as none of the professors were around, he got away with it. And because I still clearly remember how you responded when it happened the first time round, I didn't want to involve Professor McGonagall, because then you would be involved as well, and I didn't want to deal with that. So, because I wasn't going to report Malfoy's prank, I didn't want to see Harry or Ron, who would undoubtedly harass me about it all night!
"Oh, and Malfoy also said, in that nasal, ferrety tone of his, that I was a know-it-all, ugly Mudblood beaver whore whom no wizard in his right mind would ever want to touch."
Snape was dumbstruck. He cleared his throat, and looked at the girl in front of him, who was starting to cry harsh, angry tears. At the end of his rope, he grabbed her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. She hiccoughed, and looked at him in surprise.
"Listen to me. Malfoy does not matter to you. In a few months, you will leave Hogwarts, and I am certain you will excel at whatever you choose to do. You are one of the most brilliant students I've ever come across, and despite all evidence to the contrary, it has, mostly, been a pleasure to teach you. Mainly when you weren't waving your arm about and your mouth was shut. And regarding the comment I made in your 4th year…" Snape paused, and took a deep breath, "Iapologiseasitwascompletelyuncalledfor. And if you ever tell anyone about this, I will not hesitate to poison your pumpkin juice."
Hermione giggled nervously, unsure of whether the Potions master was kidding or not. Both alternatives were scary.
He stepped back and rubbed the bridge of his nose, wondering how he could recover some sense of decorum. "Miss Granger, do not allow anyone else to tell you what you are and what you are not. Though you are still something of a know-it-all at times."
Hermione smiled, hearing the unspoken compliments. "Thank you, sir. And…" she paused.
"What now?" he asked tiredly.
"Well…I'm just relieved that you're outside, out here," she said, waving an arm vaguely at the quickly darkening moors. It's just that…well it just always seemed, to me at least, that you'd sort of…buried yourself. Given up on any sort of…well…indulgence, or pleasure I suppose..."
Snape stared at the rambling girl till she dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry, sir," she said quietly.
"No, don't apologize, Miss Granger, but don't run off to fetch a shovel just yet. I'm still quite alive," he said dryly.
Hermione nodded rapidly. "Good. Thank you again, sir." She ran off, back towards the castle, and Snape looked after her, wondering what had possessed him to say what he had. With a mental shrug, he began to gather his belongings, and as he did he made a promise to himself – he'd start doing this every week, as long as the weather held.
"You know Veda will be leaving us at the end of this year." Dumbledore looked at the younger man across the chess board. Snape eyed his black knight.
"Yes, she mentioned it a few days ago. What of it?"
"Well, I think I may have a candidate to take over the Arithmancy position." Dumbledore carelessly waved a bishop across the board, where Snape's queen pounced.
"As long as they're better than your most recent Defence Against the Dark Arts dunderhead," he said darkly, still staring at the board.
"I assure you, she is. Lemon drop?" the Headmaster held out a slightly crumpled brown paper bag.
"No, thank you."
Dumbledore popped a sweet into his mouth and sucked at it pensively, before motioning his rook to take a pawn. Snape began drumming his fingers impatiently, and gave the older wizard a pointed look.
"Ah, yes, the new professor. You of course remember Hermione Granger?"
Snape paused. "…Indeed." He pointed his bishop towards Dumbledore's remaining rook, and glared when the piece refused. The bishop glared back, but moved, grumbling all the while.
"She's done very well in her apprenticeship, and was most eager to take Veda's position for next year," he said, while surveying the board. "Oh, and she gave me the most curious message for you."
"Yes, Severus. She asked me to tell you to have a happy April Fool's day."
Snape sat back and looked down, unseeing, at the chessboard.
"Any idea what she meant?" Dumbledore asked mildly.
"Some. Check." Snape's knight moved into position. The Headmaster squinted at the board over his glasses.
"Oh dear. Let me see…checkmate."
Snape stared. "You simply play chess with me to perfect your senile old bugger act, don't you Albus?" Dumbledore smiled beatifically.
"I assure you, I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about my boy. Besides, as I recall you were the one who initiated these games a few years ago." Dumbledore's voice took on a mildly cajoling tone. "Around the same time you became more...social."
The old wizard sighed. "Severus, you can be a very trying person at times."
Snape grinned and began to set the pieces up again.
It was late August, and still quite warm. On top of that, classes weren't due to start for a week. So Severus did the most logical thing he could convince himself of – he retreated to his hammock.
There had been some changes made to his spot (as he thought of it) since Hermione first found him in her final year. Sprout had generously grown him two small iron-wood trees. They were young yet, but strong enough to hold up his hammock. During the warmer months of the school year, Snape was careful to cast a strong concealing charm around the entire area, to make sure students didn't stumble across him. He still had his reputation to think of, after all.
He was rocking gently in the breeze, eyes closed and one leg dangling over the side of the hammock when Hermione found him. He heard her coming, but it wasn't till she was closer that he opened his eyes a fraction and stared her down.
She wasn't all that different, really, but it had only been four years since she left Hogwarts. The only thing that struck him was her hair – she had apparently discovered the secret to managing it, and the natural frizz had been tamed into tight ringlets.
"Professor Granger," he said mildly. She smiled nervously, and took a step closer.
"It's good to see you again," she said, ignoring his raised eyebrow. "And please, call me Hermione."
He nodded. She shifted uncomfortably, and Snape waited till it became obvious she wasn't going to speak without encouragement.
"Was there something I could do
Surprisingly, she smiled, fully this time. "No. I'm just glad to see you…living."
"Yes, living. Enjoying life. Not acting as though you were already dead."
Snape's face betrayed no emotion.
"And, I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with me this evening."
Snape blinked. "Miss Granger, are you asking me on a date?"
"It's Hermione. And yes, I am."
He sat up in his hammock and scrutinized the woman in front of him. "Did Albus put you up to this?"
"Nope," she said cheerfully.
Snape laid back and closed his eyes. "In that case, I accept. I'll meet you in front of the school at 8pm. We can go to Hogsmeade." He ignored Hermione's laughing assent, and waited till she walked away before allowing himself a smile.
"No man is an island,"
- John Donne -
A/N: Not my usual fodder (wow, a happy ending!), but fun nevertheless – I love the idea of Snape in a hammock. Mostly inspired by my own desperate love of spring, and the fact that after 6 months of oodles of snow, -40°C temperatures and darkness, the simplest thing as a later sunset makes me giddy.
Just a little one-shot for the WIKTT April Fool's Challenge. And because I'm really not a big fan of student!Hermione & teacher!Snape getting it on (statutory rape, anyone?), this piece is nice and PG. And yes, zoothapsis is a real word. How do I know? I found it on the internet. Hah!