FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Two
Title: Cloistered Author: sioban_parker Translation: from the original French by joanwilder Beta reader: jadzialove Pairing: Harry/Snape Rating: R Genre: AU/AR, Romance, Angst, Drama Warnings: some religious (Christian) content Summary: During fifth year, Harry is stunned to discover that in a previous life he was a novice in a monastery. And that Snape was there with him…
Harry had a painful cramp in his hand from pressing on the parchment. He set down the quill to rub at his palm. He liked to read and work with the manuscripts, but to have to do lines to improve his handwriting exasperated him. He wondered how the copyists kept from becoming discouraged with the repetitive aspect of their work, and how they handled cramps in their hands and deteriorating eyesight over the years.
"It's time. Novices, follow me," said a melodious yet stern voice.
Harry repressed a shudder as he stood. The voice of Brother Severus, the Novice Master, had had a strange effect on him for several months now. It wasn't fear, as it'd been at the beginning; no, it was a much gentler sensation. And yet, he'd known the man since he'd entered the monastery when he'd been only eleven, and had soon after come to dislike him. The Novice Master was curt, unpleasant and sarcastic. But since Harry'd reached his eighteenth birthday, he saw the man differently. He found him more fascinating than frightening; he was intrigued by his complex personality, and appreciated his quick wit. Few men here possessed such charisma.
Brother Severus seemed to enjoy the time he spent in the library, where he monitored the novices under his supervision. He leafed through the manuscripts on nature, seeming to devour them as he rapidly read, turning pages with nimble fingers. There was a superb golden chalice on a pedestal in the library, a priceless gift from a king, which everyone admired; Severus never even spared it a glance.
With apparent regret, he led the novices into the courtyard. In front of them, a path bordered by trees led to the monastery chapel. The bathhouse and hospital stood off to the left, backed against the outer wall. The cloister garden separated the church from the library and the conventional building where the monks slept. On the right, beyond a large esplanade, there were buildings used for agriculture, cowsheds, stables and granaries. The layout of St. Gal Monastery, so perfect (it was said) that only a saint could've designed it, had been precisely imitated here: the monastery doors opened to the west, and the church's altar was turned to the east, allowing the Christians to pray towards Jerusalem. The most famous abbeys in Europe were no better laid out than this one.
The Novice Master took the young monks outside the outer wall to cultivate the fields surrounding the abbey. The novices, who'd not yet taken their permanent vows, didn't work at the 'nobler' tasks of spreading the gospel. Outside of a few hours each morning, they didn't have access to the scriptorium. Harry burned with desire to spend much more time with the books. He had a certain talent for drawing, and he wanted to illuminate the manuscripts. For now, he had to content himself with manual labor.
Harry picked up his spade with a sigh. He was supposed to turn over a good portion of the kitchen garden, which didn't agree with him at all. His body was slight and fragile, poorly suited to this type of activity. Some of his peers made fun of him because of this, just as they teased him about the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Fortunately, he had a few friends, mostly among the novices who, like himself, had been left at the abbey years ago by their families.
Severus had wandered away to take a look at the plants in his private garden. He was an expert in herbology, and even though he didn't serve as the abbey healer, he often helped the herbology brother with his formulations. Ron took advantage of Severus' absence to talk to Harry.
"I went over the wall again last night," he murmured.
"Ron!" Harry said reproachfully. "If you get caught, you'll get a heavy penance."
At stake—and at the discretion of the Prior—were the dungeons, the whip, public humiliation, not to mention temporary banishment to the county leper's hospital (a possibility that made all the monks shudder in horror). And knowing Prior Lucius, it might be all four punishments, one right after the other. He was notoriously sadistic….
Ron shrugged with bravado. "I'll take the risk. Seeing Hermione is worth the trouble."
"All that to talk to the girl about the village shopkeepers…."
The abbey conducted a children's school under the kind-hearted direction of Brother Filius. Ron had just happened to make Hermione's acquaintance when she brought her younger brother to reading lessons. Since then, he'd not been able to get the young woman out of his head.
"She's very intelligent," Ron enthused. "She's educated, she knows how to read and write, and she's beautiful! Besides, we do other things than just talk...."
He's bragging, Harry thought. He himself was sensitive to masculine beauty and didn't find his friend attractive at all. He preferred them tall, dark, mysterious and reserved. Sure, Ron had a pleasant, unguarded face, but…
Ron pulled him from his thoughts as he continued to chatter about Hermione. Eyes bright, he waxed eloquent about her attributes, real and imagined. He seemed seriously smitten, and nothing good would come of it. To constantly dream of a feminine creature spelled trouble when one was devoted to monastic life, but to slip over the walls on the sly to meet her came close to sheer madness.
"Ron, it's too much of a risk for a pastime."
"It's much more than a pastime for me! I'm in love. Don't look at me like that. After all… they talk to us about love all day long here.
"The love of God, and for one another, Ron! The love of a woman is completely different, don't tell me you haven't noticed that."
Ron snorted scornfully. "Evidently. It'd be less of a problem if I were looking for the love of a man. I'd have the attention and approval of almost everyone."
He was entirely correct on that account. There were those who profited from their cloistered existence in the midst of their peers by indulging their illicit appetites. Novices were often harassed by older monks; Harry knew this well. Most of the abbots turned a blind eye to it. This was not, however, the case with Father Albus. He provided Harry with a benevolent protection. Naturally, he couldn’t prevent the presence of corruption; he was not the one who chose his monks.
Ron and Harry continued to talk, their voices lowered. Severus still had not returned, so the novices relaxed. Harry, who handled his tool awkwardly, felt a sudden pain in his shoulder. He set down his spade and walked a ways to sit off to the side. Slipping his robe halfway down his arm, he began to massage the strained muscle.
"So, this is how you work?"
Harry turned as he hid a scowl. As usual, Severus had turned up at the worst possible moment.
"I hurt myself, Master."
As Novice Master, Severus had earned this reverential title. It'd take more than this to appease him, though, especially from Harry whom he seemed to particularly dislike.
"You mean to say, rather, that the slightest excuse is reason enough for you to abandon your work, and leave it all to your brothers."
"That's not true!" Harry protested indignantly.
"Well, then. As always, you think the rules do not apply to you. You think that manual labor is beneath you."
"Not at all! Only that I'm not suited to it."
"Your pride knows no bounds. You need to learn humility, and I swear you will learn it. You will come to confession tonight, and I will assign you your penance."
Harry tamped down his inner rebellion at such an injustice. The Novice Master was always difficut with him. He was certainly strict with everyone, but he seemed to take especial pleasure in tormenting Harry, as if he held something specific against him. And it was this observation that put a lump in Harry's throat.
Severus' eyes came to rest on his bared shoulder. "Put your robes in order!"
Then he turned on heel and left. Harry reluctantly picked up his spade and began to work again.
Fortunately, there was a great deal of praying. The Offices ordered the day and interrupted the work, to the great relief of those relegated to manual labor.
Harry cast an envious glance at the monks who were copyists and illuminators. They represented the elite of the monastery, a vehicle of the Savior, and as such, they had special privileges. Their lives were worth more—and in this turbulent century, few lives had any worth at all.
Harry was in a position to know this very well: his parents had been murdered. It was a great misfortune, but these things happened. No one could do anything about it; it was the will of God, which no one could question. When Harry brought it up, he always received the same advice: to draw strength from his faith.
From his pew, he looked up to the sculptured stones of the nave. The figures there were terrifying, grimacing and ugly. As he lifted his eyes toward heaven and He who reigned there, he was caught by the stern yet comforting view of paradise. For Harry, though, this was just as terrifying in its own way. He knew himself too imperfect for the cold perfection of the Kingdom.
After the Office, Harry headed for the back of the church and stood in front of Severus, who watched him coldly as he approached. It was time for confession. Without waiting for an order, Harry knelt and assumed a prayerful position. Severus remained seated on his bench.
"Your attitude betrays your lack of sincerity," Severus observed.
He never called him by name; he never said, "Brother Harry," as if it would be an impossible thing for him to utter.
"Bless me, my brother, for I have sinned," Harry began mechanically.
"Confession consists not only of soothing your conscience. It's a matter of determining to not make the same mistakes again."
"As if that's possible," Harry replied bitterly. "So, you—you don’t make mistakes?"
"Spare me your insolence. I've already told you that pride is a great sin. If you fail to control it, it will one day lead to some foolishness that will be your ruin."
Father Albus sometimes said such things in his sermons, when he stressed that humility was essential to all men, but he had never looked so scornful.
Harry stiffened. "I don't have any more pride than anyone else! I'd like to be able to use my abilities, instead of wasting my time and strength on work that doesn't suit me."
"By cultivating the land, you are useful to your entire community. Your drawings only serve to flatter your ego."
"My drawings will illustrate books that will pass knowledge on through the ages! Nothing is more useful than that!" Harry said with fervor.
"You truly believe that knowledge is so important?" Severus asked neutrally, but his lips were slightly twisted in an amused smile.
"Knowledge is the only thing that raises man above the beasts. Without it, we only breathe, and eat, and sleep, like all the lower creatures. There's nothing more important than preserving and passing along the truth of the Savior; it's He who makes humanity able to progress."
"You spend too much time with Albus. He's infecting you with his illusions."
Severus now seemed full of bitterness, Harry noted, as if he, too, had had illusions that had ended up lost. Harry studied him curiously, wondering what his life had been like. He didn't know anything about him. How old could he be—thirty-five or forty?
"Father Albus gives us so much hope," Harry said passionately. "He's certain that we can be happy by fulfilling our destiny and serving God."
"If you're searching for happiness in your life, you're going to be unhappy, I guarantee it," Severus replied intensely. "You'd do better to seek to be useful, to devote yourself, and make your salvation!"
Make your salvation.
In other words, to make sure of heaven by his faith and good works; that was a bit abstract when one was just eighteen. It was surely a more urgent matter for Severus.
"I've been unhappy all my life!" Harry cried, his eyes flashing. "My parents were killed! I was raised by an uncle and aunt who hated me. Since they didn't want me, they gave me to the monastery. And yet, I've not the least desire to make a life here."
Severus looked at him impassively. "It's an opportunity you've been handed! You're spared misery, you've found a community that welcomes you as a brother, and here you can exercise this gift of drawing that God has given you. You know this all very well, evidenced by the fact that you've not run off. So stop crying over your fate, and make the best of your life."
He made the sign of the cross in front of the boy's face as he murmured, "Ego te absolve a peccatis tuis."
Harry lowered his eyes, holding back the turbulent feelings that simmered inside of him, remembering to say, "Amen," at the end of the traditional pronouncement of absolution. Severus stood and made his way slowly up the aisle. He turned back to the still-kneeling novice.
"You're not the only one who did not choose a monastic habit. Nor the only one to have suffered from it. Quiet your rebellion and be happy, nevertheless."
He disappeared, and Harry blinked, a bit surprised. It was the very first time that Severus had let slip a personal remark, and had granted a novice absolution so easily, not even requiring him to recite prayers until nightfall.
Harry shifted his weight to one knee, then stood up awkwardly. He was stiff and aching all over, like every evening. His body couldn't accustom itself to hard physical labor. He thought for a moment of going to see Remus, the herbologist brother in charge of the infirmary, but decided against it. Remus worried about him, questioned him about his nightmares, and wouldn't let him leave without a calming draught, which Harry preferred to do without because it left him dazed all the next day.
Suddenly, a hand took hold of his arm and pulled him up. Harry lifted his head, but his 'thank-you' died on his lips. Prior Lucius stood before him.
The man possessed an incredible presence: tall and built like a statue of antiquity. He was also quite beautiful. But the inevitable admiration that he evoked, in both sexes, transformed quickly into fear. He was ambitious, manipulative, and tyrannical, and one could read all of this in his eyes, if one was just the least bit observant.
The title of Prior made him the second most powerful monk in the abbey, and everyone knew that he hoped to take charge one day. The monks joked amongst themselves, saying that during the Office, Lucius no doubt prayed for Albus' death. He carried on a privileged relationship with Count Cornelius, who appointed the Father Abbot on his lands. There was something worse than his blind ambition, Harry thought as he met the light eyes intently watching his. Lucius was corrupt to the core and allowed his basest instincts to rule him, instead of controlling them as his position required.
"Why are you still here in the church, Harry?"
The voice was smooth, without a hint of reproach. Harry, though, still felt self-conscious.
"I've just made my confession, Prior."
"I hope that Severus wasn't too harsh with you. He lacks the leniency needed for the younger brothers."
Lucius stroked Harry's cheek, making him pull away, which made the man smile. He was like an animal with its prey.
"Severus is indeed the Novice Master, but you are not obligated to choose him as confessor. The Rule is clear: you could confess to me without Severus having any say in it at all. Believe me, I'm much more accommodating, no matter the sin."
"I'll take you at your word," Harry replied, unable to rid his voice of sarcasm. "Your…leniency is well-known among the young monks. Thank you for your offer, but I 'm not interested."
Lucius' hand closed on his arm again like a vise. "Be careful, my young friend. The fate of all men is tied to those more powerful than themselves, whether inside or outside the cloister. You might regret having chosen the wrong side in the near future."
Harry cheekily raised his chin. "There are choices one never regrets, Prior."
He pulled away from the loathsome contact and hurried toward the door. He ran to find his friends, feeling safer in their midst. Despite his courage, he had to admit that Lucius frightened him. He was perhaps only a novice, but he was smart enough to know that in Lucius, he had a formidable enemy.