FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Ten
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…
As Severus entered the cell, Harry swallowed with difficulty. "They're expecting me for the exorcism?"
"Not yet," Severus replied brusquely. "We're still waiting for the diocesan exorcist."
Harry shuddered. He'd been locked away for several days, and he'd practically lost all sense of time. It seemed as if he'd been there a long time, in the filth and the darkness, turning his desperate thoughts over in his mind.
"It's time for confession," Severus stated.
Harry was surprised, then realized: the condemned's confession before the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. The Prior was putting his life in danger, but was watching over the salvation of his soul. The boy started to laugh and was unable to stop, a nervous, strident sound that hurt his own ears.
"You're truly the only one enjoying the situation," Severus grumbled.
With a disgusted look at the dirty floor, slimy and wet, Severus knelt in front of Harry, who lay prostrate on the ground, and made the sign of the cross over him. Harry gathered all his strength to proudly lift his head.
"I don't want any part of that, not now. What's the use of pretending?"
"Do not blaspheme. It won't change a thing and dishonors your intelligence."
"You always said I didn't have any intelligence."
"To speak so foolishly in front of the chapter did not demonstrate the subtlest of wits."
"I said what I thought was right, from the bottom of my heart. I was sincere."
"I know. So, the words you spoke there will take the place of your confession, then."
Harry was startled by this reaction. If he didn't require his confession, then what was the Novice Master doing there? Come to gloat over him and his misfortune? Or to laugh at him? But Harry couldn't, nor did he want, to be angry, or burden the man with his reproaches. This is probably the last time I'll see him, he thought, and then he suddenly felt so distressed that he believed his torture had already begun.
"How's Albus?" he asked, trying to think of the fate of others instead of his own.
"It's odd to see you thinking of him at such a time."
"He was always so good to me. I want to remember that while I still can. I know that soon I won't be able to think coherently. In not too long, I'll hurt so badly…. I won't be thinking about good men anymore; I’ll curse my mother for having brought me into the world, and I'll curse the Prior, the Count, the whole world and everyone in it."
The young man lowered his head. He expected Severus to scathingly reproach him: cursing was an action unworthy of a Christian. As death drew nearer, he had to repent of his sins and commend his soul to God.
But the Novice Master kept his tongue. He seemed to be looking at Harry as if he were seeing him for the very first time.
"I owe you my thanks," Harry continued, his throat constricted, determined to keep nothing hidden in his heart before he left this world. "You tried to help me that day in the chapter."
"But you were determined to make a scene instead of proceeding cautiously. You're simply not capable of keeping your head."
His words echoed of resignation, sadness, and almost intimacy. Harry was deeply moved. He wanted to believe that Severus—this stern, inflexible man who'd captured his soul in spite of himself—would miss him. He was certainly deluding himself with illusions; however, the time to talk was now or never, to admit it all for the first and last time.
"I wanted to tell you too…"
He was interrupted by a loud banging at the door.
"Time for confession is over, Brother Severus. Don't be late."
Brother Argus, the caretaker, had been watching vigilantly over his prisoner. Harry jumped, startled. His real confession hadn't even begun yet. Despairing, he watched as Severus slowly got up.
"One might say that dear Argus has indeed missed his true calling as a jailer," sneered the Novice Master.
How could he be ironic at a time like this? Cruelly hurt, Harry didn't take his eyes off him as he headed for the cell door.
So, the man was going to leave him, so coldly, without even a word of comfort. He'd only just passed by to see the careless novice, just as he'd passed him by all his life.
Severus, however, glancing after the traitorous jailer who'd moved away, returned to Harry and crouched down at eye-level. "We have very little time. Listen to me, Harry…."
"I know. Now you listen to me. I love you."
Severus quickly placed his finger against the boy's lips. His eyes, though, widened in shock at the admission. Harry pulled away from the contact.
"I had to say it, at least once. I know I'm a criminal, and an impure being. At least now there are some bad things to exorcise…."
Severus still seemed to be recovering from surprise. Finally, he shook his head. "Filthy brat," he murmured, and an amused, almost incredulous smile split his face.
The expression warmed Harry's heat; his youthful face seemed to glow, his green eyes sparkling once again. But Severus' gentle reaction lasted but a moment. The man frowned and bent over him, gripping him by the shoulders.
"In an hour, you will open your cell door. In an hour, not before. You will cross the courtyard. You will not attempt to raise the portcullis—it's padlocked. You'll go out through the trapdoor where the dirty water empties. You'll flee into the countryside without looking back. Do you understand?" He shook him as if to drive home his fervent instructions.
Harry stammered, "But how can I open the cell door?"
Severus closed Harry's fingers around cold, rough metal: a key. "A gift from your novitiate friends."
"But it's broad daylight," Harry objected again. "Argus will see me! Everyone will see me!"
"No, no one will see you," Severus replied mysteriously. "Another thing. I know that your natural foolhardiness will propel you to make some sort of spectacle out of your departure. So I beg you to restrain yourself. Discretion is the better part of valor for men like us."
This time Argus opened the door with a bang and barked, "Brother Severus! You've stayed long enough!"
Ostentatiously, the Novice Master traced a cross on the dumbfounded boy's forehead. "Ego te absolve."
Harry should've lowered his eyes while receiving the Sacrament, but he couldn't help but stare at Severus intently, as hope was reborn within in him. The man got up, dusting off his robes; Harry did the same—he who'd believed to never stand on two legs again—and walked to the door with him. Argus gave him a spiteful look before doing an about-face; his shuffling steps could be heard in the corridor.
Harry became bold, and quickly took Severus' hand and brought it up to his lips. "Thank you."
The black eyes narrowed, then sparked suddenly with passion. Severus leant down towards Harry and captured his mouth in a possessive kiss. Harry barely had time to be filled with wonder before Severus pulled away and disappeared with an elegant pivot in black.
The young monk remained frozen to the spot, his heart about to beat out of his chest, almost unable to breathe. Severus had kissed him. Not like a brother, not like a father, not like a confessor, but like a lover. That contact, as brief as it'd been, had made him feel a thousand times more than the Prior's sordid fondling had. Harry was sure and certain, from the depths of his soul, that he was in love. It wasn't a folly of his imagination.
And this kiss was not the end of it. Severus had opened the way out for him, in a literal sense. He was saving him, body and soul.
Discretion is the better part of valor for men like us.
Harry had first thought that Severus was referring to their monastic situation. Now he realized his mistake. Men like them, attracted to an unnatural sin of the flesh, and yet much less sinners, compared to so many others.
In an hour, he'd be outside of the cloister. If it was God's will, all would go well. Just the thought delighted Harry, almost dazed him. He was escaping an almost certain death, but also the dull existence to which he was so poorly suited. At the same time, a vague anxiety swept over him: he knew nothing of the outside world. From behind these walls, England was as much terra incognito as the far borders of Persia. He'd have to survive in that world, alone. For the first time in his life.
In an hour….
Harry turned the key. He'd been holding it in his damp palm for an hour, as he counted off each second; he was ready.
The grating of the lock and creaking of the hinges terrified him, but he was the only one who heard them. There wasn't a living soul besides him in the place.
At the moment when he stepped out onto the courtyard, the church bell could be heard. Even though familiar, he was so jittery that the sound made him jump. He automatically counted the strokes as he waited, in order to know which Office was about to be said. The strokes went on endlessly, and Harry blanched as he recognized the knell: the tolling for the dead.
As his blood ran cold, he looked at the deserted esplanade, the silent buildings, and understood why Severus had been so certain that no one would see him. All the brothers would be gathered in the church for the funeral ceremony.
All that remained was to know who….
And there was only one painfully obvious answer.
The cloister buildings and square courtyard seemed to be waiting for him, as if Harry were the only occupant. It was a miraculous opportunity, but Harry's heart hurt to know that his mentor's death had supplied it for him. Reason bade him flee, without asking for particulars. He ran for the way out, trying to be as quiet as he could.
However, as he passed close to the church, he heard murmuring that quickly became loud voices, shouting that wasn't a recitation of psalms.
What was happening in the church? What could disrupt them in the middle of their meditation of the deceased?
Curiosity won out. Harry pulled his hood over his head and slipped close to the sacristy door, then pushed it slightly open.
All the monks were indeed there, their exclamations blending into a menacing buzz. Harry heard Lucius repeatedly calling for silence, his voice becoming sharper and sharper. He could hardly be heard, but the uproar quieted enough for Harry to hear him rage.
"Brother Severus, how dare you disrupt our farewell ceremony for Albus, for whom we all grieve!"
Severus' sarcastic laugh rang out like a sacrilege. "Enough of your song and dance, Lucius! While everyone regrets Albus' passing, so good and pious he was, we know perfectly well that you rejoice at his demise, which makes you the master here!"
The hum of voices began again, clearly in approval. Stunned, Harry couldn't bear not to see this extraordinary event: someone was standing up to Lucius, and it was none other than the person for whom Harry cared so very much. He crept forward on tiptoes.
Lucius, thrown off balance but by no means knocked from his feet, raised his voice once again. "You've lost your mind! I cannot otherwise explain your unspeakable accusation! The devil speaks through your mouth!"
"Is that your explanation for everything, Brother Prior?" Severus asked ironically, his confidence growing.
From where he stood, Harry couldn't see him. He resisted the dangerous temptation to move even closer, and contented himself with just imagining how Severus must look: righteous, stern and imperious.
"Believe me, I am fully aware and responsible for my words, as also was that poor boy whom you condemned to the worst of tortures, as your revenge for his honesty. Harry is a victim of your sordid scheming, as others before him have been for years, but none of them had his courage. Any man endowed with half the intelligence that God bestows on an ass believes what I've just said to you, as well as what I'm about to say with great pleasure: you are as far from the gospel message as is humanly possible. You think only of the power you have over others. You respect none of the gentle values of Christianity: brotherly love, humility, forgiveness, and kindness toward strangers, in both word and deed. You dishonor the Benedictine habit you wear."
Once again, there was a great uproar amongst the brothers. Harry pressed his fist against his mouth to hold back his cry of surprise and joy. He was overflowing with happiness, to hear what he himself had dreamt of throwing in Lucius' face. And it seemed to him that most of the monks were of the same opinion: the shouting wasn't hostile, as it had been when they'd attacked Harry several days ago. He was sorry he couldn’t see the Prior's face just then. He enjoyed picturing Lucius flushed with fury, incapable of answering, having lost his confidence.
He was probably not far off the mark, because Severus began to speak again after having been interrupted.
"The religious faith you claim to embody disgusts me. It rests on the appearance of virtue, not the reality of it. You are corrupt, rotten to the core. You dare claim to be a shepherd for the brothers here! You dare claim to be able to judge your peers, to decree who is a heretic or who is not, who is possessed or who is not. Your cunning maneuvers, your unscrupulous and devious schemes, your appetite for power, it discredits you in everyone's eyes!'
"Enough! Enough!" Lucius shrieked. "You go too far…you are…you dare! You dare to defy me, Severus! That will not go unpunished!"
His voice was drowned out by an incredible uproar. It seemed that a veritable spirit of rebellion was sweeping through the assembly of monks. Harry couldn't hold back a smile. Severus had told Harry not to make a scene, but hadn't followed his own advice.
Lucius was certainly itching to condemn the Novice Master to the whip, not to mention a more lasting punishment. But as the moments passed, he didn't dare. His position as Prior of the abbey was hanging by a thread in this mutinous atmosphere. He knew it and he wasn't stupid. He waited for a few minutes, for the cacophony of voices to subside, then addressed Severus in a gentler tone.
"Severus, dear brother, you are troubled. I understand completely. We've all been in shock since Albus' death. The abbey's been shaken by the serious events of the past several days, which inclines me to be indulgent. I will consider how to bring all our lost sheep back to us."
Harry heard Severus' mocking laugh, then the astonished murmuring of the monks, and understood that the rebellion would end there. If Lucius had condemned Severus, immediately and harshly, he would've lost all authority, but his apparent indulgence had calmed the opposition, at least for the moment. Another masterful stroke.
Harry would've liked to have heard more, to know what was to become of Severus, but the risk was too great. He'd already lingered too long. He had to leave.
The open trap door was off to his left; the thick walls no longer held him in; he was finally outside. It was so easy it was laughable, a nose-thumb at his suffering. He found himself outside for the first time since his eleventh birthday. He walked as quickly as he could, away from the abbey and the village. Liberty, freedom to choose—and life, at that moment, took the form of a dusty dirt road, the wind in his hair, and the forest looming closer.
Still, he didn't feel happy. The thought of Severus in Lucius' hands because of him made him sick with worry. He knew that Severus had wanted to create a diversion to make certain no one would witness his escape. So to this end, he'd deliberately provoked the scandal at Albus' funeral, challenging the Prior in front of the entire community. Harry wondered what Albus would've thought of the flagrant mark of disrespect, and ended by deciding that he wouldn't think it important. Albus had been his friend and had he been able, he would've helped him flee the exorcism. Harry hoped that Albus' soul, wherever it was, would forgive him and the Novice Master.
He walked quickly, often turning around, fearing the slightest noise. He was terrified that Lucius would send the Count's soldiers after him. Perhaps he was wrong; maybe Lucius wouldn't give a fig about his departure. But he didn't want to take unnecessary risks, so he quickly left the footpath and headed into the woods. He'd read that one could find his way by the position of the sun, moss and leaves.
He then learned that knowledge and experience were indeed two different things: not long after, he'd become lost, unable to even say from which direction he'd come. He angrily clenched his fists: what a fine free man he made.
The outside world of which he'd so dreamed was losing its pretty gold and green colors, becoming dark and frightening. Night was falling, the temperature as well. Harry was alone, lost, and afraid. Given the circumstances of his escape, he would never be returning to the abbey. He thought to himself that if he'd left impulsively for no good reason, he'd probably turn around and retrace his steps, beat on the door and beg to be let back in…on the condition that he could find the road again, obviously. He understood how strange the world could seem when one had left it so long ago.
Lost in his thoughts, he didn't hear the sound of galloping, and jumped when he suddenly heard the whinnying behind him. Panicked, he glanced around, then slipped behind a tree. He half-buried himself in dead leaves, pulling up his hood and prayed that the horseman couldn't see him.
He was aware that the horse had stopped, snorting.
Not a sound. Then….
"I knew I would find you, Brother Harry!" said a man's voice.