Chapter 5: Anathema Sit
The next day, Harry arrived at the shack toting a small wagon behind him filled with a pile of old books with fraying colored bindings and gold embossed lettering.
“Alright, what…is all that?” Snape demanded. Then he got a closer look at the books, and recognized them as having come from his own collection. “Where did you get those?”
“School sale,” Harry blurted. “It enabled us to spring for the survival food.”
“They’re selling my books?!”
“Snape, to them, you’re dead. Your infamous reputation has earned you a rather devoted posthumous following among the students. They seem to view your stuff like mementos from Jack the Ripper. No harm done.”
“No harm…” The professor licked his lips, trying to wrap his mind around his newfound “fame”, and whether he was pleased about it or not. Then he rolled his eyes at Harry. “And what induced you to lay claim to them, may I ask? Don’t you have enough fame to last you at the moment, Chosen One?”
“Curiosity, mostly,” Harry admitted. “You never struck me as a literature buff. Well…not this kind of literature anyway.” He pulled out a volume of old Arthurian poetry. “These things look as if you read them through a hundred or more times.”
He had. More than a hundred times, both regularly and magically. They were his solace in the darkest hours, the things that kept him company in his dungeon, the stories that made him feel a little more alive than dead…
“Perhaps my personal interests are for my own private recreation,” he snapped. “Not meant for public analysis, much less by the enlightened student body.”
“Okay, okay, no need to get touchy,” Harry assured. “I’m turning them over to your custody at any rate.”
Snape tilted his head, admittedly pleased that his books had been saved from the grubby mitts of the other buyers, but still suspicious of Potter’s intent. “Why would you bother going to that length?”
“Because, in case you’re interested, you’re not quite dead,” the young man replied.
“Yet,” Snape finished.
“Always looking on the bright side of life,” Harry quipped, pulling a thin rectangular box out of the wagon. “I also brought this, courtesy of the school that doesn’t know I brought it, and would probably hang me if they knew I did.”
Snape squinted at the label on the box. It read: “Mama Rosita’s Pizzeria, Aberdeen.”
“Seriously? We’ve been brought to this point?!” He exhaled, and fell back against his pillow in despair.
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Harry chided him. “It took a huge junk sale to get enough for everyone to have some. And it’s better than Ron’s fairy floss, you have to admit that.”
Snape groaned. “Your sense of perspective is shot by worst case scenarios.”
“That sounds more like you than me!” Harry retorted, pulling apart the remaining pizza slices so they could share. “Umm…do you mind if there’s pineapple on yours? I really prefer the pepperoni…”
“Who the hell ordered that?”
“He’s trying to kill me.”
“He doesn’t even know you’re still alive!”
“It’s a subconscious sort of thing.”
“Okay, you’re really getting paranoid now.” Harry slid the pizza onto one of the paper plates in the box and shoved it at him.
Snape touched the edge of the crust reluctantly. “Its ice cold,” he lamented.
Harry sighed in frustrated and whipped out his wand. “Put the pizza back in the box.”
“What…what are you trying to do?”
So he did, in a mix between fascination and horror, as Harry heated both the slices with his wand. “Is this what the world of magic has come to? Is this what we sacrificed to preserve all these years? The fine art of using wands as pizza-heaters?”
“Hey, you’re the one who was complaining about the temperature!” The task completed, he slipped the slice back onto the plate and extended it back to Snape, who reluctantly accepted it.
“I figured something else out about you, Snape,” Harry declared, taking a large bite out of his wand-heated pizza slice.
“Pray tell,” the professor droned, tentatively lifting his own slice towards his mouth.
“It’s your personality type. You’re an INTJ.”
“How stimulating. My life is now complete.”
“Would you quit with the sarcasm for just a second and let me get the rest out?”
Snape sighed, folding the rather drippy (thanks to the wand) pizza up so he could eat it more like a sandwich. “I seem to be at your mercy in this position, do I not?”
“You do at that,” Harry concurred, pulling up the stool to continue his hypothesis. “You see, it’s the personality thing that makes you view the world the way you do. Introverted-Intuition-Thinking-Judging. People who are like that come off as arrogant and elitist because they have a lot of ambition without the need to express emotion.”
“You should go for psychology,” Snape suggested slyly.
“Well, I wouldn’t say I was that good…”
“I meant psychological help.”
“Thanks, Snape. Always inspiring me onward and upward.”
When they had finished the pizza, Harry started looking through the books again. Snape observed him silently, then muttered under his breath, “Make them your friends, Potter. They’ll pass to you soon enough.”
“Who says I want them?” Harry scoffed, in a tone that reminded Snape so much of Harry’s father it set his teeth on edge. “What worth are they to me?”
Something inside Snape sank. “You don’t understand, do you? You don’t understand…no, you’ll never understand. Of course, you won’t. Your father never understood either. You’re so caught up in your own precious little worlds, you don’t…you can’t manage it, can you? You can’t understand what was said…that the poets leave hell and again behold the stars.”
“Oh, God, don’t tell me you committed this stuff to memory?”
Snape gazed hard at the book open in Harry’s hand and caught the page number. “And a great racket was made by the arms of those who came,” he started to recite, and there was a certain dark pride in that deep voice of his, “and often against the arms struck the branches of oaks and hornbeams. The woods resounded, resounded the iron of the shields and the hauberks.”
Harry looked down at the book, and then up at him, impressed. “So…you have memorized it.”
He smirked slightly and continued, “He marveled and said, ‘By my soul, my lady mother spoke true when she told me that devils are more frightening than anything in the world.” His smirk faded, his mind traveling somewhere horrible. “She instructed me to make the sign of the cross to ward them off, but I never cross myself. This teaching I disdain.” Snape turned to Harry. “Are you familiar at all with Dante’s Inferno?”
“Er…no.” Harry shrugged.
“Then you would not know much of the Excommunicant, the one cut off from the living body like a dead stump, cast out into the darkness and accursed.” He stared out blankly at the far side of the room and quoted, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” He bit his lower lip. “The Latin pronouncement was ‘Anathema Sit’. Do you know what it means, Potter?”
“I might have heard it…somewhere. It’s a curse, right?”
“It means, ‘To us, thou art as hellfire’,” he translated ominously. “In the past it was considered a punishment worse then death, for it did not merely sever the body from the soul, but rather it was thought to sever the will from conscience. So that person would be…cast out, beyond the reach of…remedy, communion, or succor. It was a declaration of a guilt that could not be removed in a soul that could never know peace while the curse hung upon him, for time and all eternity.”
Harry looked genuinely disturbed. “What sort of crime could merit such a punishment?”
“Oh, there have been many terms for it in writings of old…the sin against the spirit, the sin that can never be forgiven. The nature of the act is not so damning as the state of a soul that turns in on itself. You can throw back the silver, but the rope is still around your neck. It shrouds you, like a cloak, until it becomes a part of you, and it has teeth, like ice, and they tear and numb.” He shivered a little, clearly doing more now than simply expounding on literary themes. “Trapped betwixt and between, fallen down a hole from which you cannot emerge, unable to see through the dark. But still, everyday, you fight it, because it is beside you always, whispering in your ear. And you say, you cannot have…all of me. No, not all. And you fight for any little bit you can salvage…to say no, no, no…you don’t…have all of me…yet…but the laugh is on you, because…the door is already locked, and you cannot find the key.”
“But there must be a key…somewhere.” Harry’s voice carried a note of emotional investment he hadn’t intended. Perhaps he felt the dread of darkness too close within his own breast to believe that it could ever be so final if he were to stumble into its embrace.
Snape chuckled cynically. “That is the theme of all life and literature, is it not? The search for the component of salvation. The horn one should have blown, the grail one should have found, the cross one should have made…moments you cannot replay, events you cannot recast, choices you cannot undo. The last vain hope you cling to is that somehow you could retrace your steps…back to the first cause, the origin of the descent…and then crush it into dust. But even so, you find…there is no freedom in the act, and the first blood is still on your head.”
Snape grimaced as he was onslaughted with memories. He recalled how after Lily’s death he had confronted the cruel mirror of desire, and seen the Dark Lord in front of him. Snape’s eyes had hardened at the sight. “You won’t get her boy. I won’t let you…get to her boy. And someday, he will bring you down.” He had clenched his fist so hard, his fingernails bit into his palm. “You taught me to hate and to kill,” he had hissed. “And now you’ve created your own worst monster. My soul may be sold to you, but it has been purchased at a far dearer price than you ever bargained for.”
Then he had seen Lily in the glass, still as a braided girl, when she’d got him over to the abandoned playground, and coaxed him onto the merry-go-ground at age 9. He of course had objected; it was too childish, to be sure. But she had insisted it was fun. So they had clung onto the bars, and round and round, round and round they went…until she fell off and scraped her elbow. He had jumped down, making a regular fuss over it.
“Lily! Oh, oh…you’re hurt! Don’t worry; I’ll take care of you…”
“Leave me!” the older Snape had shouted at the glass, banishing the memories, but the tears were already in his eyes. Then the image of Voldemort had returned, and he had seen the sheer hollowness of his quest for power that he had been blind to till this moment. He had believed being a part of the Dark Lord’s new regime would make him strong; but now he saw that he had been strongest when caring about the scraped elbow of a little girl.
“You have no greatness, but your ability to cheat,” he had rasped. “As such, I will cheat you, every day, and you will not know it. You will think you have a death-eater, but I bring death to eat you instead! You did thirst for blood, and with blood I fill you!” His frame was shaking from the lethal combination of grief and rage. “I am made of different stuff than you thought; I can play my own game, on my own terms, in the bowels of your hell. The unicorn’s blood is not the purest you have drawn, and you have drunk your own poison. She will be avenged.”
And then to his utmost horror, all the magic of the mirror had faded, and he was left facing his own reflection, stark and bitter, like the burn of ice on one’s tongue, and it mocked him, for he was all alone. He had recoiled from it, a lifetime worth of wizarding spells whispering sweet nothings in his ears, and sending static through his mind, for they too, in this moment, were empty to him.
“What…what are you?!” he had spat, gazing into the darkness of his own eyes swallowing him up from the bitter glass.
And so it had answered, so that shadow of himself had answered: “Thou art only a man.”
And all the strings of his heart had been torn asunder, and he had leaned against the mirror, wishing to melt it away with the burning heat of sorrow…and sobbed.
Back at the shack, back in front of this green-eyed visage of his love and hate, Snape shook himself hard and returned to the present. He was overcome with a desire to change the mood and the subject, and inquired, in an uncharacteristically soft tone, “Would you…like me to teach you something?”
“Depends what the something is,” Harry replied carefully.
“It’s simple,” he assured. “Just…take your wand, hover it over the book, and say, ‘Libro vivere’.” There was something in Snape’s eyes that almost resembled innocent eagerness, a yearning to evoke a different response than fear or revulsion after his morose reflections on his own inevitable damnation.
Harry did as he was told and to his amazement, in the twinkling of a an eye, he saw the whole sweep of the Arthurian saga come to life in a whirl of color and clamor, and he heard the steel clashing and the songs of the troubadours, and felt the exhilaration of battle and the melancholy of lost love and lost chances. And he turned back to Snape, and saw that his former teacher, observing Harry’s awe, had an ever-so-slight smile inching its way across the usually hard-set line of his mouth. And in that instant, Harry had never sorrowed for him more.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.