FIC: Cloistered, Chapter Eleven
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…
Chilled to the bone, Harry slowly stood up. His eyes drifted down to the horse's feet as it pawed at the ground just a few inches away, then looked up to the horseman's shoes and his blue tunic. He stared at his face; he didn't know him.
He was very surprised that this man whom he'd never seen before had called him by his given name. Then he noticed that the horseman bore the crest of Count Cornelius. Harry backed away in fear.
Certainly, the last time he'd seen the Count, the man had seemed to want to remove Lucius from his position in charge of the abbey. But since then, Harry'd been accused of demonic possession, condemned to an exorcism, and to top it all off, he was now a fugitive. If the Count considered him a dangerous madman, it would be more than understandable.
However, the horseman was looking at Harry with a kind smile. "Brother Harry, I've been sent by the Countess. Dame Minerva wishes to meet with you immediately. Would you be so kind as to come with me?"
"The Countess?" Harry repeated, still distrustful.
"Yes, my brother. She heard that you were fleeing, and wanted to find you at all costs. She asked me to reassure you that she is not your enemy. In remembrance of your conversation in the library, she begs you to trust her."
The words were comforting, but perhaps deceitful. Harry pierced the man with a sharp look, as if hoping to read his mind. How could he be certain that this wasn't a trap?
There was no way to know for sure. The horseman was tall, big and impressive, but had a pleasing demeanor. Harry decided to give the man his trust without any further reassurances.
The horseman held out his hand to the young monk and hoisted him up to ride behind him. Awkward in his robes, not acquainted with horses, Harry held on to him.
"What's your name?" he asked, thinking he couldn't embrace practically a total stranger.
Harry jumped in surprise: the Bailiff Shacklebolt? How could he trust the one who dispensed justice in the name of the Count? But the bailiff had just claimed to serve the Countess more than her husband. So Harry decided to stay put.
The horse took off at a gallop, Harry holding on for dear life, so as not to be unseated.
He was very aware that he was playing a dangerous game. If Shacklebolt had lied to him, and turned him over to the Count…or worse, took him back to the abbey, he was lost. He wouldn't have a second chance. Severus would've put himself in danger for nothing.
On the other hand, what choice did he have? He wouldn't have been able to flee through the woods, chased by a horse. It was just as ridiculous as it was unrealistic. He'd have to trust him. If he wanted to start a new life outside of the cloister, he had to learn how to form relationships with others.
The closer the horse got to the village, the more Harry's anxiety grew. The horseman wasn't really thinking of riding him straight down the middle of the street, was he? Or taking him to the Count's castle? This was madness, he had to save himself, jump down from the mount and run as fast as his legs could carry him.
The horse took a turn as they came upon some houses, and trotted along a wooded lane that led to an old building with faded paint. Kingsley stopped his mount and signaled for Harry to get down. After he slid carefully to the ground, Kingsley pointed to the house.
"There it is. Go in, Brother Harry."
Only his honest face convinced Harry to do as he said. But he hesitated before walking to the door and pushing it open.
Kingsley Shacklebolt hadn't lied. Minerva was truly there. Wrapped in her dark robes, wearing an unadorned hennin that covered her head to the very last hair, she was nervously pacing up and down along the bare walls of the room. Her face brightened at the sight of Harry. She held out her hand to him.
Her voice was so kind, her gesture so affectionate, that Harry felt tears well up in his eyes. She noticed, and pulled the boy toward her for a more motherly contact, albeit brief. Then she became her reserved self again, but from that time forward, Harry knew she was capable of warmth, and that made him feel good.
"I was at the abbey this morning to attend your Abbot's funeral," she declared, "and I was witness to your brother's audacious speech…the Novice Master."
On hearing that single sentence, Harry wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. He contented himself with a nod, thinking that she too had heard Severus' hard words, and wondered what she thought of them.
"And I was also there when they announced your disappearance."
"The brothers were all gathered in the church, even the one guarding me. I took advantage of the funeral to get away. I'm not proud of it. I would've liked to see Albus one last time. I would've even liked to remain at the abbey. But Lucius made that impossible."
"I know of what he accuses you. It's absolutely ludicrous. I repeatedly told my husband as much, but he has an almost heathen fear of the devil and his works. He refused to help you."
"Everyone refused to help me," Harry retorted bitterly. "Except my closest friends. The community that was supposed to be my family condemned me. I no longer have a future here. I don't know why you were looking for me, Madam, but I beg you: let me go. If I'm ever recognized in the village, they'll take me to Lucius!"
As Minerva listened, she seemed serious, but also a bit surprised. "Running away was the worst of solutions, Harry. You told me you'd spent most of your life at the abbey. What hope do you have of surviving outside of it, all alone? This world is not as easy as the one you're used to."
"Don’t think that life in the abbey is a paradise; I assure you that's not true."
"I believe you. But you must keep in mind that the abbey keeps you safe and fed. That's already much more than most of the laity possess. You know this in the abstract. But you don't know how to provide for your daily existence. I'm very worried about you, and that's why I asked my faithful Kingsley to find you."
"You're not taking me back to the abbey?"
"No, I understand that you have a formidable enemy in the new Abbott. What a waste. Albus was so very different. He was one of my dearest friends, did you know?"
The Countess and Harry exchanged a look full of nostalgia. Albus was leaving a great void. Feeling understood in his grief, the young monk felt serene again.
"But I don't think you should take off with your tail between your legs," Minerva continued. "Here's what I suggest: I have cordial relations with the Abbott of a monastery in Cornwall. On my recommendation, he'll accept you into his community, without asking any questions. This monastery is very active in manuscript copying and in spreading knowledge to other lands. You could use your talents there. Think carefully, Harry. You have everything to gain by simply changing cloisters."
Harry was silent for several moments, thinking furiously. It was true that the proposition was tempting; he'd keep the advantages of the cloister, his artistic projects, and he'd have the comfort of a world with which he was familiar. Part of him was immensely relieved and wanted to gratefully accept.
But another part of him protested. The cloister had had enough of him, thank you. He had this unbelievable chance to discover something different, to see it with his own eyes, this outside world that was said to be monstrous, but where the great scholars and artists he admired had lived. That world couldn't be as monstrous as all that….
He shook his head slowly, but resolutely. "No, Madam, I'm very touched, and I thank you very much, but I don't want to reenter a monastery. I want to live on the outside; I want to be free, I want to know what that means."
Minerva smiled, not seeming the slightest bit disappointed. "That's the answer I feared, and yet, I'm not surprised. Right away, I sensed an energy, an optimism, that wouldn't tolerate being deprived of freedom very well. I understand you perfectly, Brother Harry. Just Harry, now. May you be happy in the life you've chosen."
"That I will!"
His bravado made both of them laugh, then Harry remembered those he was leaving behind. So, Lucius would be Abbott, there was nothing to be done about it. The Countess had made Harry understand that her husband still placed his trust in the man; he'd be disappointed, one day or another, Harry'd wager on it. What would become of the abbey under Lucius' direction? How would he treat the men confided to his care?
"Madam, do you know what's become of the Novice Master? He took a great risk in defending me."
"He's to be sentenced to a severe penance, according to what I've heard. Banishment and isolation. But I don't know exactly where."
"Hmmm, I think I know," Harry said slowly. He took the Countess' hand and bowed. "Thank you for everything. You've been very kind to me."
"Don’t go just yet. First, something must be done about that…."
She gestured toward Harry, who frowned, disconcerted.
It was a grouping of mud-thatched houses, so decrepit that the roofs were more gray than yellow. They were a few leagues from the abbey, isolated from the rest of the world by the sweltering heat of the forest and the absence of a road. No one went there gladly. Not the monks forced to provide medical care—generally in penance and not by choice—nor the lepers condemned to be ostracized by the disease.
The leprosarium did not have a live-in doctor. Only Remus went there regularly, and he did what he could for the unfortunates who were passing through. It was such a miserable place that no one stayed to live there. Remus, and the monks who occasionally came to help him, mostly just fed them, powerless as they were to treat the disease.
As Harry drew nearer to the leprosarium, he felt his heart beat faster. Such a dreaded place, and he was going there willingly. He didn't even fear the contagion; he was terrified by a much more dreadful prospect…
Two silhouettes were seated in front of a thatched cottage, warming themselves around a campfire. They looked up when they heard Harry approach, verifying that the newly arrived had a young, unmarred face, then hid themselves again under their hoods. However, Harry had time enough to catch a glimpse of their leprosy-ravaged features. Compassion knotted in his chest.
Before he could say a word, a Benedictine monk appeared at the door to the cottage. "I'm bringing the cooking pot!" Despite the noticeable suffering in this place, he'd managed to keep his voice joyful and energetic.
Stunned, Harry recognized Ron's red hair. "But what're you doing here?" he asked.
Stricken, Ron almost dropped the cooking pot on his feet. "You gave me such a fright! You were the last person I expected. But what are you doing here? I thought you'd be far away by now."
Harry smiled happily at Ron's familiar face, his big astonished eyes, and his talkativeness. He'd thought he'd never see him again. Their unexpected meeting gave him great pleasure. Ron also seemed very happy, but slightly worried. He kept looking around him.
"Harry! The monks are looking for you again. You have to hide. How idiotic to stay in the area! You must get as far away as possible, to another lord's domain."
"I know, I know," Harry calmed him. "Don't worry, I'm careful. I only travel at night, and I got rid of my Benedictine habit, as you see." He motioned to his peasant rags. "But you," he continued, "what are your doing at the leprosarium?"
"Lucius' punishment for having defended you."
"The Prior again…."
"Abbott Lucius. Poor us."
Ron seemed deeply disturbed, more at the prospect of having Lucius as a superior than by his penance in this place. Nevertheless, he smiled faintly. "To add to my misfortune, you'll never guess who he sent with me to do penance."
"I think I can," his friend replied calmly.
It was at that moment that another monk's silhouette appeared in the doorway to the cottage, as if it had waited for the right moment to intervene. And this was surely the case, Harry thought as his hear skipped a beat. Brother Severus' furious expression didn't soften at the sight of Harry, who bravely lifted his chin.
"Indeed. I thought you'd have the common sense to flee as far as possible."
"I couldn't go far, knowing you were here."
It was purely a euphemism. Harry had waited several days, lying low and being discreet, afraid of being found by the monks, dreading even more not being able to approach Severus.
Wide-eyed, Ron looked from one to the other, trying to understand. Severus turned to him.
"Do you feel capable of handling the cooking without ruining the soup? Get to work!" Ron rushed to put the pot over the fire. Severus gestured imperiously for Harry to enter. "At least don't let yourself been seen here! The Count's soldiers are looking for you."
"They won't be looking for me so close to the abbey," Harry told him with more confidence than he felt. "They must believe that nothing would keep me here."
"If you're beginning to use your head and think, I wonder what the world's coming to."
Harry smiled slightly, reassured by the arrogant tone he was used to. He entered the tiny hut and looked around with curiosity. No furniture, a few cooking utensils, some straw on the dirt floor. Two sacks lay crumpled up in a corner, surely belonging to the two monks doing penance. Through the door which didn't close, Harry saw two more lepers limping toward the fire where Ron was preparing a meal for them all. Harry knew that the charitable work assigned to the monks was essential to these wretched outcasts of society, who shouldn't be shunned, but welcomed with a joyful heart. The leprosarium was more pitiable than frightening; it was destined to reveal the humility of those bound to pass through it.
And Albus had always taken care that the monks never stayed there long enough to become infected by this horror. It remained to be seen if Lucius would have the same scruples.
"I'm sorry you have to submit to this because of me," Harry murmured contritely.
"Because of you?" Severus mocked, lifting an eyebrow so that Harry blushed.
"Yes, because you wanted to make a diversion."
"Think again, presumptuous boy! What I said to Lucius had been on the tip of my tongue for a long time. It has nothing to do with you."
"Your speech was very powerful!"
"You heard me?"
"I couldn't leave that way, like a coward, without knowing what you were going to do, or what risks you were taking. I took off when I heard Lucius say he was going to think things over and that he'd make allowances for you. I really thought the monks were going to rebel against him, yet…."
Severus' eyes clouded over. He shrugged fatalistically. "I felt a moment of hope, but the risk was too great, the unknown too frightening. The monks are rebels to the laity, but not to the church dignitaries. They'll always prefer Lucius to an abbey without a leader. I can count myself fortunate that my penance is the leprosarium; it's still better than your own fate!"
Harry knew he was joking, and dared to make a face at him. "Evidently," he replied ironically, "the lepers are more pleasant than the exorcist of the Inquisitor. So, Lucius is the new Abbott? He wins, after all he has on his conscience?"
"What conscience? Harry, if you wish to live in the world, you must face the fact that you will meet other men like him. They don't always get what they want, but they spend their lives trying. Tell me, how did you know that Ron and I would be here?" Severus finally asked, his curiosity aroused.
"I didn't know about Ron. Countess Minerva told me what Lucius had sentenced you to. She was the one who gave me different clothes, food, and also a bit of money."
"Harry, you've been incredibly lucky." Severus' voice was curiously solemn. He was scrutinizing Harry seriously, perhaps a bit worried. "Do you know what you're going to do?"
"Oh…I was thinking about walking far away from here, to the south. I'll easily find work, here and there."
"It's true, you're so gifted at agricultural work!"
"…I'd like to see the sea. I've never seen it. I want to see the sea and the sun."
"Outside of that desire, certainly a legitimate one, you don't envision your future more concretely?"
"Thanks to the abbey, I know how to read and write. Not everyone can say as much. I'll find work."
"That's not so badly thought out," Severus conceded.
Harry beamed. His fear of the outside world and his future melted like snow under the sun when he talked to Severus. He felt strong, smart, capable of surviving on his own. He had much more confidence in his abilities than when he'd been living behind the abbey walls. The exquisite knowledge that his life now depended on himself alone, overcame all his anxiety.
Apparently, these new feelings showed in his expression.
His voice changed, Severus said to him, "You seem happier than I've ever known you to be."
"I'd be ungrateful to destiny if I were to complain now!"
These words seemed to soften Severus. His mouth twitched and his face twisted as if he were in the grip of a painful emotion. "I wish for you to always be at peace with yourself. You should be on your way now."
Severus turned his back to him.
Harry shook his head stubbornly, even though the man couldn't see him. "I won't leave without thanking you. You saved my life. And then…there's a question I want to ask you."