FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Six
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…
Early in the morning, Harry was worn out: nightmares, insomnia, the violent emotions he'd experienced over the past two days—the sum total of it all drained him of his strength. What he wanted was to curl up in a ball, hidden away from everyone so he could forget and sleep. But he wasn't supposed to give in to depression; he was supposed to be strong and ask God to soothe his tortured spirit.
He hurried across the courtyard, staying close to the walls, which had become his habit since his disastrous night with the Prior. To make himself totally forget became his obsession, and he shivered with shame: his innate courage rebelled at having to hide itself when he was guilty of nothing.
At this precise moment, the Prior appeared at the abbey door. Harry jumped and pressed himself against the wall, pulling the cowl up over his head. If only he had an invisibility cloak! Out of the corner of his eye—because his curiosity was greater than his fear—he verified that Lucius was accompanied by Count Cornelius Fudge, which wasn't a good thing. When civil authority meddled in the religious realm, only intrigue and deception came of it.
Harry went along quietly to hide beneath the archway. Lucius and the Count passed close by him. Fortunately, the dark Benedictine robes, along with the blackness of the night, conspired to help him. He saw then that the Count was with his wife, her imposing stature dwarfing him by half a head. Even without seeing her face, one would imagine her to be strict and intolerant. Harry bent over, hearing a single word: scandal. His heart clenched as he wondered about this scandal: was it him, or was it Ron? Who was about to suffer the wrath of the law? Harry couldn't stand the uncertainty, so he did an about-face, staying hunched over in the darkened cloister so he could hear their conversation.
The Count seemed extremely displeased, his face worried. "I'm counting on you to maintain order, Prior. I will not stand idly by and tolerate an abbey on my lands having its reputation sullied by questionable morals."
Each syllable breathed contempt. It wasn't clear whether he was more horrified by the fact that clerics shared the same common desires as the laity, or by the idea that his own name might in some way be linked to a scandal. Lucius replied animatedly, his voice earnest and especially self-righteous.
"I assure you that no one will have cause to say a word about the morals here. Albus' indulgence is to blame, and has allowed debauchery that I will not tolerate."
Harry choked with indignation. He already knew the Prior was a liar, a hypocrite, and corrupt. That, along with the fact that he'd go so far as to slander Albus, was beyond the pale! Harry had a wild urge to throw himself on Lucius and wipe that supercilious smirk off his face with a fist.
Burning with hatred, he started for the church again, and once there, he knelt at the foot of the altar. "Credo in unum deum…" But what good was it to pray to a God who allowed men like Lucius to come to power? What power did God have then? And what good was it to serve a God who wasn't all-powerful?
The chapel filled as the other novices and monks arrived. To his great surprise, Harry saw Brother Severus clothed in alb and chasuble, ready to celebrate the Mass in place of the Prior.
"What's going on?" Ron breathed.
"The Prior is wearing ceremonial robes. They're saying the Count's about to announce Lucius' appointment as Abbot."
The Novice Master looked daggers at Ron, who was thus reduced to silence. During the liturgy, most of the monks seemed distracted: their responses came a beat too slowly, and their chants just didn't ring true. Severus looked exasperated; his furious eyes expressed all the reproach he didn't dare voice. His closing words of the Office resembled a muttered curse.
He then raised his voice to announce, "The monks are called to gather in the chapter room. The novices will work alone until I return."
He turned to the side to take off the chasuble while the chapel emptied. The novices knew their mentor well enough to decipher his dry tone and brusque gestures: the man was deeply displeased.
Despite the circumstances, the novices were happy to be left on their own.
"Do we really have to go to the fields?" sighed Dean, who seemed a bit lethargic.
"Seeing that no one's around to watch us," Seamus added mischievously.
"There you have it. Everyone can do whatever he wants this morning," Blaise said firmly. "We'll meet up again at Tierce, and we'll all say we were working, agreed?"
Complicit smiles spread across their faces. Young men, whose families had consigned them to religious orders, like those destined to be soldiers, sometimes behaved like happy and carefree schoolboys. They scattered in every direction, like birds in flight.
Harry immediately thought of going to Albus's bedside. The Abbot—at least he still had the title for a few more hours—would listen to him, calm his doubts and his anger.
The door to the infirmary was blocked. No one answered when he knocked insistently. Cruelly disappointed, Harry walked away, his head down. He felt more alone than ever. In these times of distress, he liked to seek refuge in the library and admire the miniatures in the books on the psalms. And the librarian wouldn't be there to scold him for his clumsiness.
His decision made, Harry hurried along to the building. Albus always said there was no sorrow that a book couldn't cure….
How sad that Albus would no longer guide the abbey. Harry thought that he was losing his only chance to be happy within these walls; he was losing his substitute father.
He took a long look at the shelves filled with books, wondering which one would be able to lift the weight from his soul. Then his eyes settled on the copyists' desks. The parchments and coloring powders called to him almost irresistibly. He looked around to make sure he was alone, and then ran to sit at a table. His hands trembled with joy as he picked up a quill. He lost himself in his drawing.
As a result, he didn't see the figure walking toward him.
"Good day, my brother," said a confident voice.
Harry, aware that he'd been caught red-handed, jumped up, making his chair fall over. He recognized the Count's wife; she was standing in front of him, watching him without malice, but without indulgence either.
"Shouldn't you be at the meeting with your brothers?" she asked, an eyebrow lifted.
"No, Milady, I'm still just a novice."
The Countess had such a haughty and rigid physiognomy that Harry had to lower his eyes. Unperturbed, she continued, "I was thinking that you were too young to be making decisions on how to run the abbey."
Was it her condescension, or was it the anger that'd been simmering inside him for the past two days? He looked up again to say, "I'm supposed to take my vows in four months. I'll be old enough then to definitively commit my life, and yet, I'll be no different then from how I am today."
In retrospect, his own audacity frightened him; what a tone of voice he'd taken with the Countess! She must be infuriated! But on the contrary, the severe face relaxed into a half-smile.
"Your objection shows your maturity. You've just strongly proved that I was wrong to judge you for your youthfulness."
"I didn't mean to…."
"Don't apologize for having character. What is your name?"
"My name is Minerva. I'm the wife of the Count who oversees the abbey."
Harry nodded to signal that he knew this. She scrutinized him with an amiable curiosity now, as if his proud response had rather pleased her. Perhaps she wasn't used to a commoner standing up to her. She seemed to appreciate his courage. She walked to bend over the desk that Harry had so quickly abandoned.
"You have talent. Your drawing is very well done."
"Thank you, Milady."
"Are you going to become an illuminator?"
"That's what I want, if they allow me."
She seemed surprised. "Who, then, could hold you back?"
"The Abbot decides which activity would be most suitable for each monk. He could assign me to chop wood, if he likes."
"That would be a poor choice," Minerva smiled, as her eyes took in his frail stature.
"That's what I think too," Harry replied serenely.
"Lucius is an intelligent man; he would know how to judge each man's abilities."
Harry winced, his look of disgust not escaping Minerva's notice.
"You don't share my opinion?"
Harry was hesitant to speak. He didn't know a thing about this woman, and he didn't trust easily. His words might be turned against him. Noticing his reluctance, Minerva's face softened even more.
"I understand. Why would you bare your heart to me when I could be laying a trap? I could use your confidences unwisely. Perhaps someone's already betrayed your trust. Perhaps you've learnt, to your detriment, that in life, it's better to be distrustful."
Harry didn't answer, but his expressive green eyes spoke for him. Minerva nodded sadly. "Monastic life isn't what you hoped it would be, my child?"
She'd substituted 'my child' for 'my brother,' which seemed natural to the young monk. There was something motherly about the Countess, despite her sternness.
"I don't know what I was hoping, Milady. I came here when I was very young, not knowing what to expect. I only know…that all of the monks aren't what they seem to be."
"It's sad to see a boy of your age so disenchanted."
She paced up and down in the scriptorium, her eyes far off while she spoke. "Harry, you're probably not aware, but the lands of your abbey belong to me. The entire earldom is mine, since it came to me through my father. Still, I don't have the right to make the least decision here, nor to concern myself with my subjects. Do you know why? Because I'm a woman. I have neither the right to determine the course of my life, nor to use my own holdings, nor to choose my spouse. The only way for me to live in my father's house was to marry a man who then became its master.
"I know very well how it feels to be a puppet, having someone else pull the strings, to not be in control of your own life."
She turned to the young monk. Her severe manner was suddenly mixed with pride and mischief, leading one to suspect that she wasn't always the victim in her life. She came back to Harry, and her serious words were in direct contrast to the complicit gleam in her eyes.
"There's only one way to regain control. Always be honest with yourself, and with others. Don't be docile and don't allow yourself to be manipulated."
She straightened, and became cool again, almost distant. "I must get on with my visit. I wish you a good day, my brother. May God watch over you."
"You as well, Milady."
She left, radiating an intimidating majesty.
Harry sat still, thinking. This encounter had much affected him. Minerva had exhorted him to be honest, and her message had struck a chord in him.
He had to tell the truth, and no longer allow Lucius to have control. By telling all, he could even save the abbey from Lucius. He shouldn't hesitate, even if the telling of it would mean humiliation for himself.
He dusted off his robes, combed through his black hair the best he could, and ran to stand at the front of the chapter room. Just as the gathering was about to end, Harry went resolutely to Count Cornelius.
"I ask your Excellence for an urgent meeting."
Faithful to their promises, the novices had regrouped near the chapel and were talking in lowered voices amongst themselves. They saw Severus heading in their direction, and cowered in fear.
"So, have you finished your daily tasks?" the man interrupted dryly with a withering look.
The novices nudged Blaise to the front; he stepped forward, with less of a swagger than that morning. "We…we worked outside, as is our duty."
Severus looked so skeptical that Blaise flushed beet-red.
"You actually think I'd believe that? I know very well that when the cat's away, the mice will play. You will all recite a Confiteor in penance for your lie. And tomorrow you will work twice as hard to atone for your laziness."
The novices, defeated, lowered their heads without protesting.
Blaise shot a furtive glance at Severus. He knew better than the other novices how to decipher the thoughts and moods of their fearsome Master.
"Master, is something bothering you?"
Severus broke out in a humorless smile that would've frightened a dragon. "The Prior is ready to announce his appointment. Our community has a new Abbot."
A heavy silence fell over the group.
"You will not forget to applaud his announcement," Severus finished dryly, running his eyes over his chagrined flock. "Where is Harry?"
Silently, Ron pointed toward the cloister. Under the archway, the distinct, somber silhouette of the Count could be seen. Severus frowned in alarm.
"What idiotic stunt is he up to now?"
The Count used an arm to brusquely push the novice out of his way. He took off at full stride for the chapel. His annoyance, his frustration even, was evident in every single one of his movements. At that moment, the bell rang, and still, no one moved.
"Don't just stand there," Severus growled. "Get in line."
Lucius, garbed in his ceremonial robes, was the last to arrive from the chapter house. He clapped his hands as he directed, visibly triumphant, "To the Office, my brothers, I have great news to share with you all."
"Not so quickly," interrupted the Count. "We still have a matter to discuss. May your community excuse the poor sinner that I am, but the next Office will have to go on without you."
He pulled Lucius to the side, and the Prior's crestfallen expression caused the novices to hope. Perhaps all was not lost.
Severus, on the other hand, pursed his lips in vexation. "My God, no…" he murmured to himself.
In the refectory, conversation was prohibited. The monks were supposed to only have ears for the holy readings, carried out by the brothers. They found a way, of course, to communicate by using an alphabet spelled out by hand. The exchanges generally were limited to 'pass me the jug,' but the novices were often more talkative.
"What happened?" Ron asked with a few rapid gestures.
"I told the Count that Lucius had made advances toward me, and that I wasn't the only one," Harry explained with his fingers. "The Count was very upset, and I got the impression he was as angry with me because I got in his way…."
Severus was suddenly in front of him, somber and stern. Harry stopped his hand guiltily. He expected to be reprimanded for his lack of discipline, albeit silent. But Severus, seeming more bothered than usual, said simply, "Follow me. We have to talk."
"But it's time to eat," Harry said in a hushed voice.
"And you're so hungry that you've yet to pick up your spoon! Get up!"
Harry obeyed, torn between fear and his happiness over this private conversation. He was no longer the shy young man of the night before, nor the pathetic victim of the Prior. He was taking control of his life. So it was with head held high that he fell in step behind with Severus. He'd no longer hug the walls in fear; from here on out, he wasn't going to hide himself anymore.
When they were out of earshot, Severus seemed to lose his self-restraint and grabbed Harry roughly by the shoulder. "What have you done? What did you say to that imbecile?"
Stunned, Harry pulled away abruptly. He hadn't expected this reaction from the one who'd saved him from the Prior. It was almost as if Severus were worried about Lucius. Suddenly, Harry felt himself cut to the quick by jealousy.
He looked at Severus with a fresh eye; he no longer trusted him, he no longer admired him, he was too disappointed. When Harry looked at him now, his eyes flashed with indignation.
"I don't think that's any of your business. You're the Novice Master, but there are certain things that you never seem to grasp. So go take care of your abbey affairs, or the Prior's, since you're so attached to him!"
Harry did and about-face to walk away. Severus seized his arm to hold him back. This movement ended with the novice pressed up against him.
For a moment, Harry felt a thrill. Never had he been so close to him, almost able to hear the beating of his heart, to feel the creased material of his black robe. He had to push away the overwhelming desire to stay there against his chest, to seek comfort and affection there.
"Tell me," Severus murmured at his ear, sounding less sure of himself than usual.
Harry's pride took the upper hand. He pulled away. "You wanted to talk to me. Isn't that what you told me last night? So go on. Maybe I'll have something to say to you as well."
Severus stared at him, his eyes glittering, making Harry fear an angry outburst. But the man took a deep breath and began, "What's happening within these walls is over your head. There are too many secrets. I'm referring more to Lucius' appetite for power than to his depraved behavior. The man is dangerous. I convinced him to leave you alone, as well as your friend Ron. I know much about Lucius: we were novices together, years ago. But in exchange, I promised him your silence. You must promise me—I can't stress this enough—you must promise me not to complain to anyone about Lucius. Otherwise, the price to be paid will be very high. Reassure me—tell me you've not made this mistake."