Chapter II - The Green Lady


For many Wednesday nights they worked together to decipher the mysterious writing. Snape asked Harry to read texts in Parseltongue, and then transcribed those segments of speech, such as "sssesssii haaassh iss", which meant "my name is Ceci" in the typical inverted order of the language (literally, "Ceci name mine"). Snape tried to translate this in phonemes (in this case, something like "sesi hazh is") and kept tabs on all the phonemes in order to establish which were the most frequent ones. Then, he tried to associate the phonemes to the symbols scrawled in the Manuscript. He started checking which was the most used phoneme and linked it to the symbol that appeared more often. They proceeded this way, always testing to see if they could find combinations of sounds that made sense. Ceci watched all this with interest, sometimes offering some commentary and exchanging ideas with Harry under Snape's envious eyes.

The work progressed slowly. They talked about nothing but the task and, even when discussing it, they kept themselves to the essentials.

At first, they would often lose their patience with each other and end up in disputes, but with time those became rarer, and a distant but almost respectful co-existence was established between them.

One of those nights, Harry descended to the dungeons and found Snape in the Potions room, stirring a cauldron. "What's that potion?"

"This is... the Green Lady."

"Er... What's it for?"

"You still haven't opened your books, hmm?" Snape shot him a look of sheer disdain.

"Muggles would call it 'absinthe'. But what I do is different. It's not only a concoction of elements."

"But absinthe is the same as wormwood. Isn't it too bitter?"

"Obviously, it must be aromatised and mellowed with other herbs. Chief among these is the gracious Melissa, of which the great Paracelsus thought so highly that he incorporated it as the main ingredient in the preparation of his Ens Melissa Vitae. Paracelsus expected the Ens Melissa Vitae to be an elixir of life and a cure for all diseases but, at least in his hands, it never came to perfection."

Harry observed him, intrigued. Snape spoke and acted differently from his characteristic manner.

"What other herbs?"

"Mint, anise, fennel, and hyssop, all holy herbs according to the Treasury of Hebrew Scripture... We can't disdain Muggle culture completely, Potter," Snape commented. "And also the sacred marjoram which renders man both chaste and passionate."

"Chaste and passionate? Isn't that an oxymoron?"

Snape faced him with surprise. 'Oxymoron' was not a word he had expected to hear from Harry's mouth. "A contradiction, you mean. An oxymoron would have two terms yoked together, as in 'cunning Gryffindor'."

Harry rolled his eyes.

"Back to your question, it's not a contradiction. Absolutely. Think of the Catholic saints, for example." Snape turned to pick another ingredient and added it to the potion. "These tender green stalks are the mystic angelica. Like the Artemisia absinthium itself, it's a plant of Diana, and gives the purity and lucidity, with a touch of the madness, of the Moon."

"This Diana is a Greek goddess, isn't she?"

"It's the Roman name of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. But for us, she's the Moon itself, and the forces of nature." Snape turned again to get another ingredient. "And, this is the Dittany of Crete, which the eastern Sages claim to be the one flower that has more puissance in high magic than all the other flowers of all the gardens of the world. It's as if the creator of the Green Lady had intended to combine the most sacred herbs to cleanse, fortify, and perfume the human soul."

More intrigued by the minute, Harry stared at him as if hypnotised.

"Can't you recognise me? This is really me, not someone using Polyjuice Potion to impersonate your *repulsive* teacher. It's probably the influence of the potion fumes. I've lost track of time, I've been here for quite a while already... The Green Lady is delicate, subtle, but I feel it rushing through my veins, ensnaring my senses."

"When you made your speech in my first Potions class, you were talking like this too."

"Sometimes, on special occasions, the Green Lady helps me to overcome the tension, to feel more... confident. Did you think it was easy for me to face having the son of James Potter in my class? The Boy Who Lived, our new celebrity?"

Snape really wasn't himself, Harry thought. In his normal state, he would never have confessed that to him.

"The Green Lady renders the breathing freer, the spirit lighter, the heart more ardent, soul and mind alike more capable of executing the great tasks. Everything surrounding us acquires a sacred character, as does every gesture we make."

Snape seemed to float, dance in the air... Or was Harry already being affected by the fumes as well?

Snape picked up a bottle of translucent crystal with some green liquid inside and showed it to Harry. "Would you like to taste it?" he asked.

Harry's eyes widened. No, he couldn't accept, it was too dangerous. He didn't trust the slimy git. But for some reason, he couldn't make himself open his mouth to refuse it. He saw Snape getting two cocktail glasses, conjuring an ice cube inside each one and pouring the Green Lady. As it touched the ice, the beverage bubbled and turned milky. Snape offered Harry a glass. "Drink slowly. *Slowly*, I said."

Harry sipped it. The Green Lady seared his throat and went down burning his innards, already trying to ignite his veins. "Wow."

"It'll only be completely effective in half an hour. Don't worry. The Green Lady will take us wherever she wants us to go, but I know her roads too well. And I won't let you go too far."

He took the glass to his lips, savouring the drink and feeling its texture.

More and more the Green Lady made herself present, making them at the same time more lucid and incoherent... It was as if their senses reached out far beyond visible reality. The Green Lady attuned their perception to the essence of time, entering the serpentine mazes of conscious madness. The conversation drifted to something like a cadavre exquis -- a surrealist game of automatic writing.

"Every day we find ourselves in sombre hallways that reflect our figures, statues of ancient gods, icons of the jailers we ignore. Enslaved humanity, watchmaker automatons, puppets in the hands of archons, poor victims of a conspiracy that spreads to the dawn of Time, we obey as if created for that very purpose. Our faces smashed by the ruthless mace of the tyrants, mere shadows in the platonic cave, simulacrum of living beings, ghosts. Nonetheless, in you shines the spark of freedom." Snape gazed at Harry with glassy eyes. "We need you, unpredictable boy that walks the hallways of these inhospitable catacombs."

"The temptation of vertigo, the appeal of the abyss..."

"No. A knowledge that will come to you in due time."

"'And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.' Who are they to hide that knowledge from me?" Harry remembered all the times Dumbledore had told him 'it wasn't the time to know yet'.

"They might be you tomorrow."

"You really think I'd turn wizards into puppets, deciding destinies?"

"Destiny is green," murmured Snape, who saw walls, table, bookshelves filled with ancient tomes, everything acquire a greenish aura.

"And spins," Harry added. "It's a clock of a thousand wild arms, spinning, spinning, spinning. And you're an alien ghost, in a dimension that isn't yours."

"Sometimes you want to tear me apart, I know. You want to kick the walls, punch them until you scrape your fingers. But another world, will there be another world? Perhaps after the great universal conflagration, or perhaps in a time that is not a time, when time unfolds in space. When you are in all times, no time is your time. Nothing exists for real, except for the continuous flow that drives each probability of each event in each era and place. Dumbledore was you once, and you will be Dumbledore. And I will be here to serve you, as I serve him now."

"No! We'll find the Grail and get out of time."

"Ah! But isn't this what the Dark Lord is saying at this very moment too?"

"The temptation of vertigo, the appeal of the abyss?"

"The Grail is lonely and ruined."

"The Green Lady promised me lucidity, but I'm more lost than ever," said Harry, as if returning from the severest stage of the trance.

Snape gave him an ironic grin. "But for a moment you could see her, couldn't you? With absolute clarity?"

"Yes, I did. I could see how this is all pointless. I could see how isolated I can be from everything and everyone. Delusionally above everything and everyone. I could see there is no difference between Voldemort, Dumbledore and myself."

In that moment, Severus held Harry's hand. The shock of the magical energy flowing in that simple touch was vertiginous. Harry's eyes widened. He wasn't isolated anymore, nor above anything or anyone. The illusion of being special revealed itself in all its stupidity. As if, before a Boggart, he had suddenly yelled, 'Riddikulus!' Ah, it was so simple. As if everything had fallen into place. The Lion and the Serpent merged, and destroyed the destroyer. This was sacred. More than everything else.

That was so different from Legilimency. It was another sort of mind fusion; a soul merging, perhaps.

"If we destroy the destroyer, the mechanism, the torture machine, we won't need to exert all that power and control. But to achieve that, we'll have to be very, very strong. We'll have to control our own power," said Harry, his eyes beaming insanely.

"Careful with the Green Lady. Sometimes she can be like the Mirror of Erised and show our deepest desires."

"Desires aren't *just* desires. They move the world around."

Bit by bit, however, they left the Green Lady's arms.

"But they can also deceive us and, consequently, imprison us. First you saw yourself as a special being. Then you noticed how much this is illusory. Now you see the Lion and the Serpent, the union of two beings, as something special."

"You mean we'll need the strength of other wizards? Of other beings? Maybe the Order of the Phoenix, but..."

"Oh, no doubt about it. The Order of the Phoenix is the best we have so far. Nevertheless, just as it is insane to leave the destiny of the world in the hands of one individual, or of a sacred couple, it is also insane to unswervingly trust one group's mystique."

"How can you live like this? Is there something you believe in? Is there someone you trust?"

"Never the same way you do, silly Gryffindor. Never." Snape stared at him oddly. What was he doing? Disclosing his most secret thoughts to Harry Potter? Oh, Merlin. "Potter, go to your room. It's late. We lost an entire night of work."

"That's not my fault!"

"Get out of here!"


(Story Index)