FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Three
Title: Cloistered Author: sioban_parker Translation: from the original French by joanwilder Beta reader: jadzialove and amand_r 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…
The first bell, which announced the Office of Lauds, was always the most sorrowful. It tore the monks from their beds, still drowsy and shivering with cold, and pushed them toward the church while the sun was still not up. One had to fast to partake of Communion, so the first meal wasn't for a long while—no comfort there.
It was in the novices' dormitory where the sound of the bell was least welcomed. The boys arose, grumbling, and the Rule of St. Benedict was sometimes maligned.
"What an odd bloke he must've been! Why's it so important for us to be up so early!" Seamus opined, always grumpy in the morning.
"No time to spare when you're serving God," Dean interjected, his falsely angelic mien making his friends snigger.
Benedict of Nursia had written the rules that ordered the monks' lives, rules according to which all Benedictines in Europe lived. These rules were sometimes gentle and consoling, as when Benedict dictated how they must study and work: occupations that served to chase away evil thoughts that sometimes plagued the monks, even as religious as they were. But other aspects of the Rule were difficult to live: the Office of Matins fell between the hours of two and three in the morning. Still half-asleep, monks were called from their beds by the brother on watch to recite the psalms. Then they were permitted to go back to bed until time for Lauds. The novices, judged to be too young, were excused from Matins.
"Enjoy your last full nights of sleep, my brothers," Seamus advised darkly. "At the end of the novitiate, we'll have to get up like all the others. I'm already tired in advance."
"How about we vote on a new timetable?" Neville asked jovially.
Standing next to him, Blaise appeared genuinely outraged. "It's forbidden to criticize the Rule. I could denounce all of you at the next assembly!"
Half of the dormitory booed him; the other half was still too sleepy to react, including Harry, still sitting on his bed as he rubbed his eyes, even though there was nothing about a monastery bed that would make one want to linger: wooden slats, rough material filled with straw, and a very thin coverlet for over top. St. Benedict had intended this to combat the natural laziness of man, but Harry still found it hard to endure.
He turned to Ron, who still hadn't sat up. "Did I make noise during the night?"
Harry was prone to nightmares and sometimes cried out in his sleep, which earned him a bit of animosity from some of the novices. There was nothing he could do about it, though. When he was a child, he'd witnessed the murder of his parents by a highwayman called Tom Riddle. Harry'd never fully recovered from the trauma. He couldn't talk about it with anyone, and there was not one to listen, in any case. Times were hard for everyone, and he wasn't the first to have suffered a tragedy.
"Mmmm…" Ron mumbled. Only his red hair stuck up from the bed.
Harry repeated his question.
"I don't know," Ron finally grumbled. "I slept like a log." Still in a semi-stupor, he rubbed his face with his hands
Harry's eyes widened with incredulity as he leant toward him. "You went out again last night?"
"No lecture, for pity's sake. I've had my fill of it."
He pulled himself from his pallet and staggered to his feet. Harry gave up trying to reason with him. It was clear that Ron was in love: he wasn't doing what he was doing for the thrill of taking a chance; therefore, appealing to his common sense wouldn't work.
Severus' voice called out, telling them to hurry. They risked being late for the Office and disturbing the prayers of thanks to God for the never-ending miracle of a new day. Harry shot a sideways glance at the Novice Master. His slender and austere form moved elegantly among the pallets. But the black, Benedictine robe made him look gaunt, and lent him a forbidding manner that made many of the novices cringe in fear.
For Harry, though, the man's face was laden with melancholy, lined with a tragic sadness. His eyes were so intense that they seemed to read one's mind, and pierce the most rebellious of spirits, but sometimes they were pools of suppressed misery, as if they were wells of passion barely controlled by self-discipline and sacrifice. To the young man so furtively watching him, Severus seemed exhausted and distracted.
Harry wondered why: it wasn't like Severus to reveal the state of his soul. Harry would've given just about anything to know what tormented the man and how to help him.
The church was freezing. It was bearable during the hottest days of summer—which came down to about three days per year, but was very uncomfortable the rest of the time. Ron shifted from foot to foot, blowing on his hands. Harry was shaking uncontrollably. He was amazed that he could even stay on his feet. He now suspected that bad dreams had once again troubled his sleep. He hadn't really rested, and already the fatigue was weighing him down. It was going to be a long day…
Albus soon captured his attention. The abbot was presiding over the Mass, standing by the altar, but the Prior himself did the reading of the Gospel. For several weeks, Albus had been unable to carry out all the daily Masses on his own: his advanced age was making this more and more difficult. At this exact moment, the abbot had his hand clenched across his chest.
Agony washed over Harry. Albus was so old, so exhausted. His bright eyes, which had sparkled with mischief not so long ago, now seemed lifeless most of the time. After his death, what would happen? Surely nothing good, neither for the abbey nor its inhabitants.
Harry prayed for Albus that morning.
"My brothers. I ask for your attention."
All movement in the church ceased. Harry, who'd been about to step out from his pew, was struck immobile by a sudden fear and a horrible sense of foreboding. Lucius surveyed the assembly with a haughty look, then continued.
"Just a few minutes ago, Bailiff Kingsley came to me with some very serious information. A man who was not recognized has been seen at night in the village streets. A man wearing a Benedictine habit! One of our own!" He paused for emphasis, then began again, his voice heavy with menace. "I have no need to reinforce that the Rule forbids venturing beyond the walls, unless special permission has been granted. This means that one of us left the grounds to engage in illicit activities, believing that darkness would hide his misdeeds. He has committed a most grievous sin!"
No one in the assembly made a sound. Everyone seemed stunned, as much by the audacity of the one among them as by Lucius' uncompromising words. Harry didn't look at Ron. Just a simple glance right now could give him away.
"And it's probably not the first time, which only adds to the outrage. I am going to ask a question, and I expect a prompt response: who left the cloister last night?"
The monks dared not even look at one another, knowing that the Prior was watching them.
"Who?!" Lucius thundered.
An even more profound silence—almost suffocating—was his only answer.
"Very well," he calmly said, as if he'd expected and even looked for this response. "I will make inquiries; I will also hear each of your private confessions. If the culprit is not found, everyone will bear the consequences. We are a community; the dishonor of one reflects on us all. Go."
This time, that was the end of it. The pews emptied, and Harry waited as the monks dispersed to face another busy day. He grabbed Ron by the arm.
"What're you going to do?"
"What do you think? For sure, I'm not going to turn myself in. I know all too well what the Prior has in store for me."
Harry nodded. Once in Lucius' hands, the little lost lamb would have the rest of his life to regret that he'd strayed.
Ron met his eyes. "You're not going to tell on me, are you?"
"Don't be an idiot on top of being stupid! But I hope you've learnt your lesson. Your going out at night is too dangerous."
Ron clenched his jaw. "I won't stop. I'll wait until things calm down, and then I'm going to see Hermione again."
"You're mad!" Harry cried, appalled. "You're only going to get yourself in deeper trouble."
"I love her. Nothing can keep me away."
"You've read too many books on chivalry! You're not a knight in shining armor, riding in on your mighty steed to save her from the dragon."
Ron only smiled, seeming defiant. "Maybe I took a wrong turn in my life, and now I'm thinking to fix it."
Those words left Harry speechless. Ron was thinking of leaving the monastic life! It didn't happen often, according to the abbey's history books. Despite the rigors of their life, few monks renounced the privileges of the habit. The abbey ensured a roof over their heads, a bed, and enough food, in addition to the respect of others and protections of the authorities.
And lastly, there was the hope of making one's salvation and gaining eternal life—a better life—and of escaping the everlasting torments of Hell.
Either Ron wasn't thinking, or he was extraordinarily brave.
Harry pushed these thoughts aside, deciding not to follow the other novices. He wanted to see Albus; he needed to make sure that the man was all right.
He hurried toward the library, taking the steps up to the second story. The copyists and illuminators hadn't arrived yet, but he knew that Albus didn't like to be away from his precious books for long. Indeed, he found him seated by the window, leafing lovingly through a manuscript, the pages of which were magnificently illustrated. The old man looked up and smiled at him. That alone was almost enough to reassure the novice.
Albus had always shown a great fondness for Harry, treating him like a son. He allowed to him spend hours with the books they both loved so much, and encouraged him to draw on old parchments (ones that had been scribbled on and erased so much they were useless), to perfect his skill in anticipation of the day when it'd be his turn to bend over the precious manuscripts to enhance and add to their beauty and value.
"You look tired, Father," Harry commented.
"Only natural, given my age and responsibilities."
"I know. But earlier, in church, you looked like you were having trouble breathing."
Albus' eyes sparkled. "I see that you were not intent on your prayers, Harry."
Harry looked sheepish.
"I’m fine, so don't worry. Would you like to look at some books?"
Harry knew well that the abbot was trying to change the subject, but the books were very tempting. He nodded energetically. The abbey library contained veritable treasure: rare books not to be found elsewhere, books so superbly illuminated that they'd tripled in value, books that housed all the knowledge of the age.
In this day and age, it was possible to contain all of human knowledge in a single library, but humanity was making such leaps and bounds that this would soon be impossible. Or so Albus said. He staunchly believed that the progress of knowledge would lead to the greater happiness and wisdom of all men. Not everyone shared in his optimism, however. Harry, for his part, believed in Albus, and had made the man's theories on knowledge and happiness his own.
"Father, do you truly believe that man still has great discoveries to make?"
"Oh yes! Man is still but a child at the beginning of his history. He's already learnt a great deal from the Dark Ages, but he is going to grow, and mature, and conquer his fears. His way of life will change, his thinking will evolve. "
"But how?" Harry interrupted impatiently; he liked discussion rooted in the concrete, not purely philosophical musings. What could he learn that he didn't already know?
"My dear child, if I could predict the future, I wouldn't be here."
"You would be pope?" the young man joked with a smile.
"I'd be in an Inquisitor's prison, if you want my opinion. If you wish to lift the veil to the future, you should read the works of the Muslim scholars; they possess astonishing knowledge that Christians are wrong to dismiss."
Harry felt his curiosity quicken. He wanted to learn new things from others; he was bursting with the desire to be someone, to gather knowledge that superseded the ordinary. But he remembered the recommendations of the Novice Master, whom he respected so much.
"But Brother Severus told us never to touch the books of the infidels, that they contain a magic that's dangerous to our spirits."
Albus laughed heartily. "Words well put, but ones that will only encourage young monks to seek out the forbidden books, I'll wager. Dear Severus is very stubborn; what he doesn't know makes him afraid. Even worse, what entices and attracts him makes him afraid. He'd rather bridle his intelligence and his reason than open the door to new horizons, out of fear that they'll give him too much pleasure."
Harry stared at him, distracted. Albus tapped him on the cheek and clarified, "What I mean is that there's a magic that is clearly evil, the end of which is the destruction of man. There's also a good magic, a divine work that serves to prolong human life, to compensate for its weaknesses. I am now too old, but you—you will live to see these things of which I speak, if humankind decides to grow towards the light."
Albus' voice shook, lowered by intensity. Harry tore his gaze from a book with dazzling colors. He should leave Albus to his hours of rest. Then he remembered the crisis brewing in the abbey.
"Father, did you hear that the Prior wants to hear all of our confessions?"
"He's doing his duty. He must ensure the discipline and respect of the Rule."
"He's overly strict! He'll punish the guilty person harshly."
"Do you know who our little lost lamb is, Harry?"
"Yes, I know. But I don't want to denounce him. Is that so wrong?"
"That depends. What is one of our brothers doing outside the walls in the middle of the night?"
"He's not doing anything bad."
The words were barely out of his mouth when Harry stopped, then hesitated. Ron certainly wasn't out preaching the gospel…
"He's not breaking any civil laws," Harry said, carefully choosing his words. "He's not stealing, not dealing in the black market, but… Well, he's doing something that's not…recommended for a monk."
"He's seeing a woman," Albus said calmly. "I suspected as much." He smiled at the stupefied look on Harry's face. "This happens more often that you'd think. I won't belabor the proverb, "The flesh is weak, and celibacy is hard," as you've already heard it. I'll speak to Lucius, so he doesn't start a witch hunt."
Albus stood, staggered on his feet, then sat down again in his chair. Worried, Harry held out his hand to steady him. He watched Albus slowly fall forward, his face twisted in pain.
Harry slowed his fall, and helped him to lie down on the floor, taking care so he didn't hit his head. Albus' eyes were closed, and he was breathing noisily.