FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Eight
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 slept for several hours. When he awakened, his eyelids were heavy and his tongue furry, and he didn't feel well-rested. His limbs as well as his thoughts seemed sluggish.
He blinked a few times, and as he became accustomed to his surroundings, he was greatly surprised to find Ron at his bedside. The redhead seemed more flabbergasted and disoriented than usual. "How are you, Harry?"
"Good. Really, I am."
"See, he's fine," Ron repeated as he turned quickly to Remus. "You can untie him now."
Remus did so this time. The ropes fell away, neatly cut. They left purple marks on Harry's skin.
Ron seemed horrified. "My poor friend! Do they hurt much?"
"Mostly, I’m just numb."
Ron rubbed Harry's legs energetically. "I'm truly sorry, Harry. They had to tie you down to keep you from hurting yourself."
"I don't remember a thing," Harry admitted, more perplexed than ever. "What happened? Tell me, Ron."
His friend seemed paralyzed with embarrassment, and ended by answering, but kept his eyes lowered, as if he dreaded Harry's reaction. "You woke us up with your cries, but it wasn't one of your usual bad dreams. You were screaming as if someone were attacking you. We tried to wake you up, but you fought when anyone touched you. Severus shook you hard, and you hit him, trying to get away. Nothing helped. You pushed Severus away and then you doubled up on the floor."
Harry was ashen. What Ron was describing was a horrifying scene. And he'd struck Severus! He'd have to beg his forgiveness very soon, and pray that the Novice Master wasn't too furious with him. It was truly going to be difficult when he next met up with him.
"We had to call for reinforcements to carry you to the infirmary," Ron concluded, his voice miserable. "We were all so worried about you. You don't remember anything?"
"No. All I know is I fell asleep in the dormitory, then when I woke up here, the Prior wouldn't let Remus untie me."
The infirmary brother nodded to verify the truth of his recollection. "Lucius seemed afraid. More for the peace of his dear abbey than for Harry, though."
"What happened to me?" Harry wondered aloud, seeming lost. "What you're telling me…that's never happened to me before."
"It seemed to be an episode of what is known as the 'falling sickness'," Remus said slowly, trying to be diplomatic.
"Epilepsy?" Harry reacted immediately; he hadn't spent all that time in the library for nothing. "But I'm not an epileptic."
Faced with Remus' astonishment, Harry explained himself. "Father Albus authorized me to read the medical books. I mostly wanted to see the illustrations, but I also read the commentaries. That's how I know that epilepsy doesn't just appear from out of nowhere in someone my age."
"You're right," Remus conceded. "It's true that this attack could've been caused by something…. Did you eat or drink anything out of the ordinary yesterday?"
"Nothing more ordinary than what the refectory brothers serve us," Ron grumbled. "To think the abbey chooses the least gifted among us to work in the kitchens!"
Harry smiled slightly, then suddenly exclaimed, "The calming draught!"
"Oh, come now. You've taken it many times before. The only things in it are harmless plants—" Remus stopped himself, and Harry's eyes widened. The same thing had occurred to both of them at the same time.
Remus went to the herbarium and returned with the bottle of passion flower. He unstoppered it and sniffed its contents, then poured it in a glass to examine it. "Difficult to say…." He put the glass to his lips.
"No!" Harry cried. "What if it was poisoned?"
"I'm only taking a sip," Remus replied calmly. He frowned. "The taste is different. It's faint, but there's a change."
"It had a burning taste to it, but I thought…."
"…that Neville had done it again, as usual. That's possible. I'll question him. The taste is familiar to me. I'll have to do an inventory of my herbs and see what my palate tells me. Perhaps someone added something to this potion. You know of any enemies, Harry?"
Harry hesitated, but Ron didn't.
"The Prior, of course!"
"Why the Prior?"
"He's everyone's enemy," Harry stammered evasively.
"Don't be an idiot," Ron shot at him, cheeks on fire. "Lucius made advances toward you, and you told Count Cornelius about it so he wouldn't be named Abbott. Now Lucius is getting his revenge!"
"Is this true, Harry?"
The young man nodded. Remus seemed both irritated and worried at once. "Lucius was standing near this bottle when we came in and surprised him," he recalled.
"It's him! It's him!" Ron said excitedly.
"Slow down. Even if it's true, it will be difficult to prove. Practically impossible."
Remus took up a book lying flat on the shelf and began to slowly leaf through the pages, thinking furiously. "This book lists many plants whose properties are not well-known in our country, because they come from afar. This is The Great Herbarium of Shen Nong. It's said it was written by a Chinese emperor more than a thousand years before the birth of our Lord. So, would you believe that this book was given as a gift to the abbey by Lucius when he entered as a novice? I know he is well-versed on the subject of plants. What could he've added to my potion to bring on a fit of madness? Or perhaps if we were to search in Dioscorides' De Materia Medica…."
Remus got to his feet, grabbed another book and frantically searched through it. Ron and Harry were hanging on his every word, but then Remus set the book aside with a sigh.
"Actually, there are too many possible answers. Salvia and hyssop can produce violent reactions when they're administrated in large amounts to a person prone to nervousness, which would be Harry's case. Cedar as well. Camphorated rosemary also causes seizures."
"Rosemary? But it's a harmless cooking herb," Ron said, astonished.
"The cooking expert has spoken," Remus mocked kindly. "You probably don't know that what's good for a man can also be harmful at the wrong dose or when mixed improperly. A remedy can easily become a poison. The Greeks used the same word for these two extremes: pharmacology."
Harry continued to be frightened. "Could it happen again?"
"No! I'm going to make sure that you take nothing that I haven't controlled from start to finish." Remus gave him a reassuring smile.
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Percy, the young assistant to the administrative brother. Ron turned away to hide a grimace. Percy, besides being strict of character, just happened to be Ron's blood brother. The Weasley family had been blessed (or cursed, depending on the point of view) by bringing seven children into the world. As was the custom with country squires who'd fallen on hard times, the eldest son, Charles, dedicated himself to the business of soldiering; the youngest, William, had a position as a secretary for trade. The other boys had entered Orders. It was the only honorable way for them to escape a life of penury. As for their only sister, she was still at home in the manor, awaiting a wealthy marriage.
While Frederick and George had chosen the preaching Order of the Franciscans, which allowed them to travel the world, both Percy and Ron had both entered the same Benedictine monastery. Ron didn't consider this an advantage, as he and his older brother did not get along. He shot Percy a look.
"What are you doing here?"
"My duty, as usual. Mind your tongue or I'll report you to the Prior."
"What do you want, Percy?" Remus interjected.
Percy stiffened, drawing himself up importantly. "If Brother Harry is feeling better, he's expected at the chapter. Brother Prior requests his presence in order to discuss what happened last night."
Remus gestured ill-humoredly. "Lucius is in a hurry! Harry is resting. Besides, I don't see how a novice's nightmares concern the chapter."
"I'll forget what I've just heard," Percy retorted with a piercing look. "This time. Harry, unless you're at death's door, you will get up and come. That would be best for you. Brother Remus, your presence is required as well."
Percy turned on heel and quickly departed.
"My robe, please, Remus," Harry said as he held out a steady hand.
Ron seemed stunned. "I'm sure it's a trap. He's going to use your fit as an excuse to punish you or send you far away, something like that."
"I know how to defend myself," Harry stated firmly, "now that I suspect that Lucius is responsible for everything."
Remus was more hesitant. "I told you, I don't have an ounce of proof, just a suspicion."
"Doesn't matter. I know now what happened to me."
Still, deep down inside, Harry was on the verge of panic. He didn't want to be banished from the abbey. He didn't like his life here, but he'd be lost, alone, outside of the cloister. Without references, with no money or friends, what would become of him? He didn't know the rules of the frightening world outside the walls.
He got dressed, his legs barely supporting him, as he was still very weak. It was so typically like Lucius to want to kick him while he was down, but he wasn’t about to give up without a fight.
He'd present himself to the assembly of monks with his head held high.
The monks gathered together at the chapter to handle current affairs. The business of the day was generally so dull and uninteresting that many took advantage of the time to take a little nap, or used the slightest excuse to beg off.
Harry, like the other novices, didn't yet have the right to attend. But he knew perfectly well that a monk put in the hot seat during a meeting was in for a very bad time of it.
When Harry entered the chapter house, the voices fell silent as every head turned toward him. Very ill at ease, he walked toward the Abbott's chair, now occupied by Prior Lucius. When he met the malevolent eyes, he realized that he was dealing with the most relentless of enemies.
Lucius gestured for Harry to stand before him, right in the center of the benches where the monks were sitting. The silence lengthened. Harry thought to himself that his case had already been debated, well before he arrived, and his heart clenched in anguish.
"Have you returned to your senses?" the Prior began smoothly.
"Have you any memory of the events of last night?"
"No," Harry admitted, "but Ron told me about it."
"So, you realize the gravity of the facts?"
Harry's eyes widened in shock. The gravity of the facts? Disturbing the blessed sleep of respectable monks had certainly been annoying, but nothing more. That still didn't warrant a papal bull and a general council…unless Ron hadn't told him everything.
His surprise must've shown on his face. Lucius' lips thinned, then he thundered, "The situation is very grave, do not doubt it!"
The other monks seemed just as solemn, even horrified, as they stared at the novice. Harry was utterly amazed. "Because I had a bad dream?"
"No, Brother Harry, you did not have a bad dream. You suffered a fit of insanity, because you are possessed."
If Harry had had less self-control, he would've burst into hysterical laughter, a reaction that would've done him great harm. Fortunately, he was able to restrain himself.
He took a deep breath before he replied, "I had a nightmare. My friends will vouch that this happens to me often. I'm sorry if I frightened everyone."
"During your nightmares, do you usually scream like the damned?" Lucius asked. "Do you harm yourself, struggling with superhuman strength? You wounded Brother Severus, who surpasses you in height and weight!"
He gestured to his right. Harry turned his head and saw the Novice Master, seated a bit to the back, and thought he looked very gloomy. Indeed, a purplish bruise stood out on his cheekbone. Harry put a hand to his mouth in chagrin.
"I'm truly sorry, Master."
Severus made a dismissive gesture.
"Sorry!" Lucius repeated as he raised an eyebrow. "In all honesty, no one is accusing you of having a violent temper, Brother Harry. You weren't yourself last night. That much is clear to everyone. You were in the grip of a power stronger than yourself."
Shaken, Harry didn't know what to reply. If he denied having been possessed by an outside force, he would still be accused of committing violent acts against the brothers of his community. Which outcome would be worse for him? He couldn't bring himself to decide.
"I don't know what to say to you, Prior. I have only confused memories of last night. Was I possessed by an outside force…" As he hesitated, his voice trailing away, his eyes drifted to Severus, who imperceptibly shook his head. "I'm sure I wasn't," Harry finished. "Even if I don't remember everything, I was still conscious…" Severus shook his head again, without moving his lips. "What I mean," Harry added hastily, "is that I would've known if an evil spirit had tried to possess me. That didn't happen."
Severus nodded discreetly. Harry swallowed nervously.
"Were you conscious during your fit of insanity?" Lucius scoffed. "Did you knowingly attack your brothers?"
"In my dream, I was being attacked by…by I don't know who. I was defending myself. I was fighting with those I took to be the aggressors."
"You no longer knew the difference between your dreams and reality?"
Harry didn't understand where Lucius wanted to go with this. What was the point of this interrogation? He truly sensed a trap waiting for him, without knowing where.
"In a sense," he conceded carefully, as if he were walking on hot coals.
Lucius turned to Brother Walden, the self-proclaimed specialist on black magic rites and diabolical spells. "Isn't that one of the known symptoms?"
"One of the symptoms of what?" Harry shot back aggressively.
"A symptom of possession."
"Possession by what?" the novice insisted. "I don't understand what you mean."
Lucius was watching him calmly, but his eyes had a triumphant gleam to them that Harry recognized. He suddenly felt as if he were on the edge of a chasm. A drop of sweat trickled down his cheek.
"The Prior is clearly thinking of a demonic possession," Brother Walden intervened. "This would not be the first time in our blessed community's history, alas. The devil will stop at nothing, and will even strike within the House of God!"
The assembled monks shuddered in fear. Their belief in God had a twin: a belief in the devil. In their eyes, the two forces were inextricably linked; they did battle with each other every day, taking turns to reveal themselves.
Even at this moment, by reason of the Prior's words, they thought they felt the presence of evil all around them; they were terrified. Certain of them buried their faces in their hands, praying fervently for God to protect them. Others were casting horror-filled looks at Harry, as if they no longer saw a boy of eighteen, but an incarnation of Lucifer.
Harry became frightened as well. No, he didn't fear the devil. He was too young and too sure of his heart for that. He was firmly convinced that no demonic power of the otherworld had directed his actions at any time. But he understood that there very well was an evil force here, within these walls: it bore the face of Lucius.
Under the nervous strain and the absurdity of the situation, Harry almost broke into laughter again. This didn't escape the Prior's notice.
Lucius stood suddenly. "You're possessed by the devil, young man! This laughter you barely managed to restrain attests to the fact; only the devil dares to laugh at his own name."
Walden's face contorted, which made him show his teeth like a maddened dog. "There is but one solution to preserve the abbey from this curse, and save the soul of our poor Brother Harry: perform an expiatory exorcism!"
Harry didn't grasp the consequences of this proclamation. He turned toward Severus, looking so questioning and lost that he could've melted a heart of ice. The Novice Master, pale, and as if he were ashamed, didn't dare look him in the face.