FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Four
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…
Albus was carried to the infirmary. Brother Remus came at once to his bedside, and asked Harry to leave. Wringing his hands, the young man left reluctantly. He joined the other novices who'd already heard the news. Severus said nothing about Harry's tardiness.
Albus' illness postponed the Prior's plan. Lucius had to keep the abbey running while its head was unable to function. He was no longer in a position to waste precious hours interrogating each and every monk. But at the end of the Office of Nones, he made it clear that the matter had only been delayed…then directed that prayers be said for the Abbot.
"He must be hoping the Abbot doesn't get better," muttered on of the more cynical monks. "He'd finally be in charge, just as he wants."
"God help us," replied another.
Despite his brave words, Ron was afraid. He'd been almost beside himself since that morning. "If Albus dies, what'll happen?" he asked, his face ashen.
"Count Cornelius will name someone else, and they say the Prior's his favorite by far," Filius answered.
Filius had been at the abbey longer than anyone, and spoke from experience.
Ron continued, still uneasy. "What if the Abbot doesn't die, but, say…loses his mind?"
"Then the Prior will take over until Albus is replaced. No way out, my brother."
Laughing softly, Filius walked away. Ron swore softly under his breath. Harry was pale—he could sense the growing threat. The world would be very different under the Prior's control.
By the end of the day, no one had had any further news of Albus' condition. Harry decided to stop by the infirmary in the hopes that Remus would reassure him.
There was no one in the dispensary where Remus stored his remedies. Distillery equipment, glass and earthenware containers lined the long shelf that ran the length of the wall. Harry was much impressed by the room with its vases and ewers filled with many-colored substances.
The door leading to Remus' private room was ajar. Harry tiptoed a bit closer to take a look inside. To his great surprise, he saw Severus sitting beside the bed; the voice speaking to him was the Abbot's. So, Remus had given his own room to the Abbot, instead of putting him in the infirmary dormitory.
Harry tried to take comfort in this, telling himself this wasn't because his condition was serious, but only because the Abbot had privileges.
Even so, Albus' voice was very weak and almost unrecognizable. Harry's heart constricted.
"I'm afraid the decision is no longer in my hands, Severus."
"You're going to be fine, Remus says. Even though we rarely get along on a personal level, I trust his abilities as a healer."
"He can do nothing about the ravages of age nor the decay of the body. My heart is tired and no one can give me a new one."
"I'm astonished that with your insane optimism, you've not proclaimed that one day medicine will know how to do exactly that."
"Surely one day," Albus retorted.
Harry could just imagine the Abbot's eyes gleaming with mischief. He began to hope that this episode had only been a false alarm. But why did the Novice Master seem so devastated?
"You know what will happen to the abbey with Lucius in charge?"
"Don't judge him on mere intentions alone. Perhaps he will surprise you."
"Certainly, he'll astound me with his perversity, his cruelty and his injustice. Life here will be hell, not to mention the debauchery he'll encourage by his own example."
"Our brothers will not let him do such a thing."
"Our brothers will be overjoyed by a relaxation of discipline. Contrary to yourself, I have no faith in human nature, which is naturally predisposed to vice. I'm in a position to know this very well."
His voice was very bitter; through the half-open door, Harry watched as Severus lowered his head. He didn't understand; what could the Novice Master possibly have done that was so wrong? He was strictness personified, demanding of others and even more so of himself.
Albus coughed a bit in an effort to strengthen his voice. "You are too hard on yourself. I've told you this over and over. You know your weaknesses and you master them. You never allow them to stain your character."
"So far as my actions are concerned, that is true. But if you knew what goes on in my soul. It's tormented and struggles with itself, and gets the better of me. The moment I open my eyes or speak, I sin." Then he added, "I'm cursed, Albus."
"Of course, you're not. You know how much I value you, the respect I have for your courage. Continue to fight and you will be victorious."
Albus could now hardly be heard. Severus squeezed his hand as he stood.
"I beg your forgiveness; I'm wearing you out needlessly."
Harry beat a hasty retreat, almost colliding with Neville, who'd just come into the dispensary. It was Neville, though, who mumbled an apology.
He was a novice too; his talent for caring for plants had logically led to his being Remus' apprentice. He was very kind, quite shy, and profoundly clumsy. Remus often was to the point of pulling out his hair over ruined potions and broken phials.
"I came to see if there was any news about Father Abbot," Harry said, blushing at having been caught eavesdropping.
"I've nothing to tell you," Neville replied, just as embarrassed as Harry. "You should wait for Remus."
The Novice Master appeared suddenly, and frowned when he saw Neville and Harry. "What are the two of you doing here?"
"We wanted to know how Father Abbot is," Harry replied, having regained his composure.
Severus hesitated, as if he were having a hard time biting back an unpleasant reply, then finished by muttering, "He's awake and resting. Both of you, on the other hand, have tasks to attend to. Back to work, gentlemen."
They left without looking back. Neville shot Harry a sympathetic smile. Harry returned it, then went on his way as well. He thought to himself that he'd overheard an important conversation, but he wasn't entirely sure what it meant.
That evening in the dining hall, Lucius announced that Albus had sustained serious damage to his heart, and that he was in need of considerable rest. Remus was caring for him, so he was in excellent hands. With a half-smile, the Prior took his seat and clapped his hands to signal the start of the meal, just as was Albus' habit.
"The king is dead, long live the king," Dean murmured. "That's it—he's already acting like the lord of the manor."
Ron growled angrily, "We're all going to suffer, I say! And it'd be in a novice's best interest not to end up alone with him."
"Silence!" Lucius thundered. "Must I remind you of the Rule?"
Harry secretly watched the Prior throughout the meal. The man had a smug air about him that betrayed his true character. Even if he'd left Albus' seat empty, he had every intention of occupying it in the near future.
Lucius suddenly looked up and met Harry's eyes. When he smiled unpleasantly, Harry froze in fear, then lowered his eyes.
As the monks left the refectory, the sound of horses' hoofbeats could be heard from the paved courtyard. Harry recognized the rider, Count Cornelius, who was the lay ruler of the abbey. News traveled quickly.
The man with the power to appoint the Abbot was in his sixties. Rumor had it that he'd reached this venerable age by steering clear of battle. He was reputedly a better diplomat than a soldier, and had known how to get himself in the good graces of a Duke, who'd then made his career for him. Society was a pyramid, from the most powerful at the top to the lowliest at the very bottom.
Lucius came out to meet the Count; they greeted each other, then the Prior took his guest to the room that served as the Abbot's study. The monks recognized the truth at once: the Count had not come to wish Albus a speedy recovery. He'd come to discuss the future of the abbey.
Harry went to bed that night with a heavy foreboding that his life was about to radically change.
The next day, the rumor spread amongst the monks at the speed of a galloping horse: Count Cornelius didn't even want to wait and see if Father Albus would recover, and had relieved him of his duties. The Prior was to run the abbey until a new appointment was made.
Many found this decision hasty and unfair, and were angered at the lack of consideration for Albus, who'd been an exemplary Abbot for over twenty years. There were many, too, who'd given up all hope for him and were worried only about who'd replace him. Lucius had not been appointed, which was a good sign, wasn't it?
"I'd be very surprised," Filius said with the hint of a smile. "The Count will officially appoint him after a respectable delay, that's all, in order to keep up appearances. But the die has been cast, believe me."
A second rumor overtook the first: the Count had been infuriated to learn that a monk was slipping out of the cloister at nightfall; he'd invoked the prestige of the abbey, the reputation of the regular clergy. He'd encouraged Lucius—who had no need of it—to severely punish the culprit and make an example of him.
Lucius had begun his enquiry by calling the brothers, one by one, to his study.
Ron became positively green. "I'm lost," he groaned, and his crestfallen face would've been funny if the situation hadn't been so grave.
"You have to get a hold of yourself!" Harry pressed him. "If you fall apart like that in front of the Prior, he'll know right away that it's you."
"My god, what am I going to do?"
"You're going to put on your most innocent face and tell him you have no idea who the irresponsible person leaving the cloister is. You sleep soundly, you snore like anything, and your dormitory mates will vouch for that."
In spite of himself, Ron made as if to smile. "You're coaching me to lie; that's very bad."
"You'll make your confession to Severus."
Just then, they crossed paths with Brother Argus, who carried out the duties of caretaker. He was coming from the Prior's study, and shot them a shifty look as he brushed past them. Then he suddenly turned back.
"Ah, Brother Harry. The Prior is waiting for you."
Harry started with surprise. So, the moment had finally come for him to put on his act for the Prior. It would be easier for him than for Ron, since Harry was innocent. He'd never denounce Ron. He headed unhurriedly to the main building, giving himself time to plaster a neutral expression on his face and to slow his nervous breathing. He took the corridor beneath the archway and knocked at the door; Lucius' voice called out for him to enter.
The Prior was standing at the open window overlooking the cloister garden. It was deserted at this time of morning, which was set aside for intellectual work. The view of herbs and flowers was particularly soothing for Albus, who spent long hours in this room. Lucius smiled widely as he went to sit in the Abbot's chair.
"Do you know why you are here, Harry?"
"You're looking for who among us went over the wall. But it's not me."
"That I know," Lucius said nonchalantly.
"As it turns out, Bailiff Kingsley led his own investigation in the village. He learnt from a shopkeeper couple—livid with rage, by the way—that the runaway monk had a tryst with their daughter. Do you know the story of Eloise and Abelard?"
"The cleric Abelard fell in love with the beautiful Eloise. He was castrated as punishment for his sin."
"A simplistic summary that does no justice to the beauty of their relationship, both intellectual and passionate at once. But let's move on. Young, handsome monks give in to their nature to run after females. That is not the case with your nature, is it, Harry?"
The novice jumped up, indignant. "What right do you--?"
"I know I'm not mistaken. I can always sense those who share my tastes. There's nothing of which to be ashamed. You know the Scripture: the allusion to David and Jonathan couldn't have escaped your notice."
"I'm not ashamed of anything," Harry replied cockily. "The Rule demands that we be celibate; so what does it matter who attracts us?"
Lucius began to laugh. "Now that's a charmingly refreshing remark, well worthy of a novice! Years from now, I can assure you with confidence that you will find the Rule unfair, mind-numbing and contrary to human nature. You will convince yourself that to give in to your desires will not offend God."
"You've managed to convince yourself, I've no doubt."
"I will convince you as well."
Harry, almost beside himself, did an about face and went for the door. He had his hand on the latch when Lucius' voice stopped him.
"Your friend Ron."
Frozen, unable to believe his ears, Harry turned around.
"It's your friend Ron who's leaving the cloister to see this young woman," Lucius calmly stated. "Come in, and close the door."
Harry obeyed, but didn't want to lay down his arms so easily. "Ron? What a ridiculous idea!"
"Ah. He didn't tell you anything? That surprises me. Our proficient caretaker, Argus of the eagle eye, was adamant: it was your friend with the flaming red hair whom he spotted sneaking out through the small door that leads to the river. And he certainly wasn't going there to do his laundry."
Harry would've liked to have had an explanation, an excuse, a reason, anything to clear Ron. But his mind came up empty. Lucius was obviously enjoying himself, reading what he saw on Harry's flushed face.
He went on, "You must ask yourself what will become of your friend. I've not yet decided, frankly. I'll not expel him from the Order: he would be too happy, this young idiot who dreams of what he can never have. He deserves a punishment proportionate to the gravity of his offense, a punishment that will equally make an impression on the entire community. Even the whip and the dungeon seem too conventional. Perhaps if I turn him over for civil justice, as the parents of the seduced girl have demanded. To avenge their honor, they'll clamor for the same sentence as poor Abelard perhaps."
"You wouldn't let them do that!" Harry exclaimed, his eyes as big as saucers.
"You don't think so? Well, you're right to have faith in me. I have every intention of handling this unhappy affair with discretion, and of telling the Count that I'm in charge of punishing the culprit. On one condition."
Harry knew what was coming before Lucius said another word.