ISLAND OF CHASTITY
Remus’s stint as a nun didn’t quite go as planned.
It was late May, and the apple blossoms were opening on the black, wet boughs outside of his window at the convent. Usually nuns like Remus were kept in the dungeons, but Mother Margaret had taken immediate liking to Remus and had kept him up high, where he could see over the grounds.
“I have no children,” Mother Margaret said to Remus, as if that is something that a nun must always explain. Remus nodded solemnly, wondering if any of the other nuns did
have children. “Someday, all of this will be yours.”
Curiously, there were no gates surrounding this nunnery, and monks were free to come and go as they pleased, which really, Remus thought, considered them friars, but there was hardly any use arguing semantics in a nunnery. Remus had found out this unavoidable and unfortunate fact of life once when he had pointed out, rather kindly, to Mother Margaret, who often referred to St Agatha's as his inheritance
, that he did
already have a real mother--but that Mother Margaret was still a mother to him--and Mother Margaret had gone off and locked herself in the kitchens, where the cooks had stumbled around her till late afternoon. By then she’d stained her habit with something red and had had to retreat to the open air. Whenever Remus so much as drew breath in a sentence where the word “real” could belong, Mother Margaret's eyes would sharpen to spears and she'd stare into Remus's soul with all the fury of a woman scorned.
Remus had come to the nunnery because he's outgrown his real mother's stockings, and this real mother, of a weak, pallid complexion and prone to severe bouts of consumption at times of stress, had decided that they simply couldn't afford to replace all of Remus's things as he outgrew them.
“What,” drawled the real mother, regally tragic in a damask gown and the back of her hand pressed between her brows fervently, “am I to buy you another pair of stockings with?”
Remus had been four at the time, and had responded, not quite having mastered the art of context, “get thee to a nunnery!”
It cannot be said of the late Mrs Lupin that she was a woman without a sense of humor, and this sense of humor is what sent Remus, at a very impressionable age, to a convent instead of a monastery. Remus didn't mind--he had never had a father and was comfortable around women.
It was a jarring experience, then, for him when he found himself in dire need of a wash and nobody there offered to take him up, to run the water. He had not been spoiled as a child if one took account of his mother’s wealth and forgave him for it, but even the other nuns, most of whom had come from rich families themselves, thought Remus slightly pathetic for his lack of knowledge concerning the art of bathing.
It was then that Mother Margaret discovered the boy, wet and cold from the afternoon’s showers, cowering on his straw mattress in the dungeons, because there had been a place for him at the communal supper and he had not shown.
“My dear boy,” Mother Margaret said, regarding the tragic sight of the sopping young boy before her, “won’t you wash up and come to supper?”
“I haven’t any idea where the bath is, nor how to run it,” Remus confessed. Mother Margaret had, for a moment, appeared to be quite taken aback but on second glance seemed to realise that she should not have been. It was clear that this boy was quite young, had come from a wealthy family, probably complete with a neglectful mother and a fully equipped staff. He had probably never even been in the room when one of the maids ran the bath. She could not fully reproach him, but rather take him under her wing.
“Come upstairs, and bring your bag,” Mother Margaret said softly, patting Remus’s thicket of wet blond curls fondly. Remus quietly and miserably did what she asked.
There was no running water at the convent and, on top of this, it had to be boiled for a bath. This would not have been a problem at home, Remus soon realised, because it would have been easy enough to use a simple heating spell, but Mother Margaret was very strict about the use of magic and demanded that it only be used in so far as it could be used for the good; mainly, Remus later learned, healing.
As much as a hassle as it was, Remus grew to learn that boiling water was the least of his worries here in the convent. It was not unusual for young boys to be dropped off as babies and raised through their adolescence in a convent, but they usually did not partake in--well, all the nun
business. They weren’t nuns. There were two others, however, who shared his fate, plagued by unfortunate mothers with twisted senses of humor, who likewise, with equal shame and horror, donned the habit each morning, rose to say prayers.
Unfortunately for Remus, though in many ways a blessing, he alone was Mother Margaret’s favorite. By the time he was ten, she had already promised him the convent as his inheritance, explaining that it would be a revolutionary example to the rest of the world. “So you see, I’m doing you a favor in more ways than one,” she nodded as they stood knee-deep in soil, collecting asphodel. “You’ll be a wealthy man, and
your name will be one for the histories!”
“Mother Margaret,” Remus said, “what if I don’t--want--the convent?”
“Well, don’t be silly! It won’t be yours
, boy, possessions are the evilest form of prisons! No, heavens, no, all belongs to our Good Father in Heaven.” She made a steeple with her hands and touched her fingertips to her forehead in reverence.
It was in later years that Remus discovered just how cruel his mother had truly been. A convent was not necessarily a place exclusively for nuns, or women. Monks could also reside in a convent. But his mother had made sure that Remus had joined the ranks of women as a nun, in punishment, he supposed, for his misguided remark as a child. He wondered idly what had happened to the other boys, what reasons had sent them into the roles of women.
It was a great surprise to him, then, when one evening he was out enjoying the last minutes of sunlight and he saw a young girl come walking down the path wearing what he knew to be one of the boy-nun’s robes; they were a different colour, a deep brown rather than the traditional black of the women’s habits, and on top of this had a large orange patch near the bottom hem. He hid down amongst the low-slung branches of a lemon tree in the garden and watched her walk without hesitation to the doorway that led to the boys chambers in the dungeon. She lifted up the headpiece in her arms, put it on her head, where it barely covered up her wavy blond hair, and stepped inside easily, as if it were habit.
Looking down at the neat bundle of herbs in his arms, Remus decided to follow the girl into the dungeons. He nestled the herbs in the lemon tree’s branches and pulled the fabric of his headpiece closer to his face before opening the door and following this mysterious girl into the dungeons.
She walked with ease and grace, not the hurried and purposeful gait of the practicing nun. Remus felt an unease take over his stomach, his lungs, and he thought about turning back, about warning someone, anyone of the intrusion, but his curiosity made this loyalty to tradition impossible.
The girl stopped abruptly, turning down her habit to stare back over her shoulder. For a moment Remus felt a great, gripping fear, and made to leap into a cubby hole, but with none in sight he was quite determinedly trapped in the torch-lit corridor. He stood very still, not daring to, as he dearly wished, squeeze closed his eyes so that he might imagine himself frolicking out amongst the cherry blossoms of the grounds or staring out of his bedroom window on the upper floors, watching the friars come and go from the kitchens, long grainy nut-filled loaves of bread clasped under their arms. Instead he stood stock still hoping that if he were very quiet and ceased to move he should somehow become invisible; the girl should not see him and should continue on her way down the corridor to whatever nefarious end she no doubt had planned.
But alas! As still as Remus stood she still could see him and indeed began to head backwards, from whence she came, down the corridor to stand in front of Remus speculatively. It was an intelligent brown eye that regarded him, a retracting gold band around the pupil which contracted her gaze as she said, in greeting, though not without a hint of doubt, “Sister
“Sister,” Remus squawked in equal measure. He realised at this moment, while she was in such close proximity, that she was not so old as he had taken her to be from outside, in the grip of the moment. He gathered his strength about him and pulled back his habit from his face. “I must confess I have not seen you around these parts, before,” he said, and felt immediately daft. She lifted an eyebrow, amused, and replied with grace he was surprised to receive:
“No, I would imagine not. You see, I have come to collect the last of the things of my second-cousin.”
“Oh?” Remus asked, his courage mended by the girl’s kindness of manner. “And who, if I may ask, is your second-cousin?” He could not imagine that any of the women who had left would have had anything here, in the dungeons.
She looked as though she wished to impart to him some detail which she, in the end, did not, but said instead, “his name, you may know, is Sirius Black.”
Before meeting Marlene, which was her name, Remus had always considered himself slightly unfortunate for knowing Sirius Black, who was a trouble-maker and creator of havoc in the kitchens where it was his regular habit to steal potatoes for the purposes of supplying his slingshot with proper ammunition. Remus was blessed, in a manner of speaking, by inhabiting Mother Margaret’s good graces and thereby securing a room up high, far away from the dungeons, where it was rumored Sirius stalked the corridors like a dog, scavenging for scraps of anything buoyant enough to catch air from the second-floor windows, and perhaps, if he was exceptionally lucky, take down a bird or two for a proper meal.
Remus admitted to himself and himself only that he was rather taken with Marlene, that he was slightly miffed when she admitted to him hours after he’d followed her into the dungeons that Sirius Black was not really her cousin at all but a very dear family friend. He had been estranged from his noble family and sent to the convent as punishment. Marlene and her family had spent ages
, she said, devising the proper plan to get him out of the convent and back to the relative safety of the McKinnon home.
Remus confessed that he did not quite understand. Some even said that a convent was the safest place to be in times of unrest, in times of, even, war and fighting. Marlene had laughed and brushed back her hair from her shoulder and said “If only it was so innocent as that.”
Remus then learned that Sirius had, at last, gotten on the wrong side of Mother Margaret. He knew in his heart that he would never like Sirius, that probably, they would never be good friends or anything more than fellow sufferers at the hands of mothers and nuns, but he did understand the urgency of Sirius’s situation; did want, so badly, to be friends with Marlene, that he agreed to help in what ways he could, and agreed to hear Sirius’ story.
Marlene sent Remus out into the dungeons as reconnoiter; he reported to her when there were no nuns in sight and most importantly, no Mother Margaret. He then smuggled her into the dorms, where slept on a straw-filled cot a slightly pudgy boy called Peter. Marlene worried about his involvement in their plan so they agreed to let him sleep, his small snores a not wholly unpleasant background score to the story of Sirius’s plight.
My dear Marlene,
You must understand that I write to you out of only the most sincere desperation. I have been willing until now to bide my time here at the convent in relative quietness, in a state of gentle compliance with the punishment of my dear old mother, if only to irk her. It is a reaction she wants from me, Marlene, you know this well as I.
But you understand, from my last letter, Marlene, that here Mother Margaret has eyes for one boy and one boy only, one we are instructed to call Sister Remus and nothing so familiar as Remus only. I have not interacted with him much after he refused to help me gather poison berries in the garden. I don’t say I blame him; in fact I sometimes congratulate him on his good sense after I remember the rash they gave me and how hesitant Mother Margaret was to draw it out, averse as she is to “frivolous application of magic.”
I have managed to get on her bad side at last, dear girl. She recited at communal supper one night a bout of lines she claimed were Milton and I chanced to advise her differently. She was gracious enough at the table but I can tell by the way she looks at me in passing now that she has murderous intent towards me, Marlene, and I cannot help but assume more…discreet…form until you are able to arrive to rescue me from this island of chastity!
As promised I write for your rescue only in an hour of severe need.
For a boy who spent most of his time flinging potatoes from his slingshot at innocent animals in his spare time, Remus thought Sirius Black reasonably and surprisingly articulate.
“I’m sorry I have to ask this, as it may be rather clear to anyone but me,” Remus said, handing the letter back to Marlene who folded it tenderly and placed it inside her robes, “but have you already
gotten Sirius out of the place?”
“Oh!” Marlene said, placing a hand over her heart. “But of course!” She looked around her, specifically to the snoring boy Peter, to ascertain that she was not in danger of waking him. Though he slept soundly and did not stir from sleep she leaned towards Remus anyway and said, in a whisper, “I’ve come to recover Sirius’s slingshot.”
Remus was quite surprised. He pushed the excess fabric of his habit back from his face and neck. “All this way, all this fear of--of discovery
--for a slingshot?” He did not wish to appear rude, but he was really, he feared, in danger of not understanding.
“It must seem silly to you,” Marlene said, for the first time appearing a little less than composed. Remus thought he must have imagined the light pink tinge colouring her cheekbones. “But the slingshot is the first proper thing Sirius earned with money that didn’t come from his family inheritance, and it’s rather dear to him. I didn’t think there was too much danger in coming back, not when we’d already gotten Sirius out, which seemed the hard part.”
“No, I suppose you’re right,” Remus said, reconsidering. He knew nothing of family inheritance, of earning anything. “And, if I may ask, how did
you manage to get Sirius out of here?”
“Oh, it’s quite a story,” Marlene said, settling back so as to be comfortable in retelling the tale.
“It’s much simpler than I think you’ll imagine at first, not having escaped from the place yourself,” Marlene began. Remus was not sure how to receive this comment and decided not to have an opinion at all. “But what I am to tell you now may be a slight shock, so I must ask you to steel yourself for it before I shall tell you.”
Remus made a slight performance out of readying himself for a shock and nodded resolutely.
“Alright,” Marlene said. “You must swear on Merlin’s grave not to tell anyone.”
“I swear,” Remus said, biting back reluctance at such utterances in a convent, “on Merlin’s grave.” And our Blessed Lord’s love and mercy
, he added in his head.
“Well, alright, then,” Marlene said. She seemed to teeter on some sort of mental precipice before bursting forth with the information she protected so dearly: “Sirius is an Animagus!”
“That--that’s a fully respectable skill,” Remus said, a bit disappointed. He had, despite himself, been envisioning such treacherous things as mutiny, piracy, something truly sinful.
“Oh, but I haven’t made myself clear,” Marlene said, raising a hand to her mouth and chewing on the skin of her knuckles, nervously. “He’s unregistered, you understand.”
“Oh,” Remus said. This shed a rather different light on things. He could understand now her urgency for secret-keeping. “Oh. Now I think I understand.”
“Yes, yes, it’s rather worrying to us all, that someone will discover our--his, I mean--his secret. I’ve kept it so long it feels like my own, though, you know.”
Remus nodded only, unable, really, to understand. He was quite solitary at the convent, convening only with women older and more interested in healing than he. He did not make a habit of keeping secrets with people when he had none of his own to tell and nobody to take him into their confidences.
“Now that you know, I can tell you with plain language,” Marlene said. Remus could see clearly, even in the dimming light of the candle by Peter’s bedside, that Marlene was clearly more at ease, having the secret out. He decided that he liked bearing secrets. It was like being close to somebody.
“It was simple once we established that Sirius would remain in dog form--that’s his form, you know, the one he takes when he transforms. It was just a manner of transporting him back. Even as a dog, though he would be unrecognizable, there was bound to be somebody watching, and it would appear rather odd, a dog leaving the dungeons unaccompanied and walking out of the grounds all on its own. Sirius is admittedly rather practiced in the art of meandering, which is necessary as a dog and not always something that, admittedly, he can fully control, but he was afraid that he’d rather be overtaken by desperation once he’d had the idea that he was to leave, and then someone would be sure to notice his absense here.” Marlene stopped talking, and sighed deeply. Remus realised that he was, quite literally, sitting at the edge of his cot.
“Go on,” he urged, politely as he could manage.
“Well, we wrote a while in secrecy. I addressed my correspondence to a fictitious sister, newly admitted to the convent, and Sirius masqueraded as a selfless, more experienced nun willing to deliver Sister Florence’s letters to her. Of course it was just me, discussing with him the details of his departure. We never planned, of course, to leave behind his slingshot, but I found myself unable, for very long, to throw off the suspicions of the other sisters. You see, I had taken Polyjuice potion and had taken up Sirius’ form, but I was not very used to moving around in a way suited for a boy and the sisters were beginning to notice. We had to take off in haste, and there was also the matter of Sirius having a new dog, which I said he--or I, rather--had picked up in the surrounding hamlet, a harmless stray. They believed him. They also believed him--or me--Merlin, this is sounding more hopeless by the minute--when I
said I’d be back in an hour and I was just going over to visit a young boy at the priory I’d taken up a friendship with. It was easy, then. Once we were well out of the grounds we hopped in a carriage and rode away.” She paused and looked at Remus past her blond waves with a clear, inquisitive bright eye.
“I must confess,” she began, casting her eyes about the barren shelves in a search for, Remus guessed, the fateful slingshot, “that the security is not quite so strict as I, as an outsider, had anticipated. Sirius had said it was quite lax, but I never imagined that they would let us wander out without second-guessing our word.”
“It’s because Sirius is a boy,” Remus said, realizing a moment later that must have sounded rather rude. Marlene didn’t seem to mind. “What I mean,” he began, trying not to stutter, “is that only the sisters take up real work. The boys, well, Mother Margaret likes them out of the way.”
“I suppose this was especially true after Sirius insulted her knowledge of Milton,” Marlene mused, and then buried her face in her hands. “Oh, dear, we must be so daft to you!”
“No, not in the least!” Remus said. “I’d take leave if I could myself, only Mother Margaret would doubtless notice. She plans to give me the convent as inheritance,” he added, as an afterthought. Marlene uncovered her face and looked rather shocked.
“Does she, really?” she asked, her eyes wide. “That seems rather--well, I’m not sure what the word is--”
“Strange, wrong,” Remus said, supplying a few possibilities. Marlene smiled shyly. “I’ve tried to hint at my discontentment with this fate, but she won’t budge. I’m sure Brother Sirius’s letters tell you as much,” he said, gesturing in her general direction. She nodded. “She even reckons I’ll be famous as a great revolutionary. That she’s doing me some kind of favour.”
Marlene appeared to be biting back a laugh and Remus couldn’t say that he blamed her. It was a silly, horrid idea, a revolutionary in a convent. But not so silly as to seem impossible (unfortunately for Remus).
It was at this moment that Peter, who had been sleeping quite soundly despite the unregulated conversation occuring around him, turned over in his sleep. He appeared, still, to be snoring, but Marlene was not comfortable remaning in the room for much longer. Remus learned by her whispers that she’d come under Polyjuice, but it’d worn off before she’d even reached the convent’s gates. “It was just the hair of a girl from the hamlet,” she whispered, leaning down to look under what had previously been Sirius’s straw-filled cot.
“Ah!” she exclaimed, and Peter stirred next to them. “Here it is! I’ve got it!”
Remus helped her up and the two of them hurried from the room. Arm in arm they looked around them furtively in the corridor, Marlene tucking the slingshot under her arm as they neared the door that lead out to the gardens. “How ever can I thank you, Remus? Remus--”
“Lupin,” he whispered, opening the door for her and walking her out into the light of the garden, not before checking that they were alone in its vacinity. He saw the bundle of herbs he’d left in the lemon tree exactly where he’d left it, though it seemed days, weeks, years since he’d done so! “Do not worry about me,” he said bravely, more bravely than he felt.
“I will not forget you, and I will tell Sirius of how you helped me retrieve his most precious possesion!” Marlene said with earnest passion that stirred Remus’s heart. “Perhaps someday we shall come to extract you, and we shall all go far away, overseas, and be happily out of the grasp of mis-quoting Mother Margaret!”
Remus stood at the door as he watched Marlene hurry out of the gardens, down the lane, and out of his sight.
That night at the communal supper Mother Margaret appeared somewhat dull, but perked up, as always, at the thought of uttering the evening prayer, the blessing over their meager sustenance. Remus looked down at his bowl of wild turkey stew not with the usual dismay the meal usually brought him but with a faint tinge of hope, the heartfelt and open-ended promise of Marlene still ringing in his ears.
As Mother Margaret bowed her head and bid them do the same, Remus did so only with the hope of someday bowing before Marlene in gratitude. Remus hardly heard Mother Margaret as she spoke over the table:
“As our forefathers said, before us:
"‘Oh, let us sail from this place
of frail and wearied night
on strange correct wheelbarrows of unabridged prayer!
"Plow and sow the apple seed,
for it is useful in a drought;
sell the fruit a galleon a pound.
"Bless this food unto our souls,
so that we may grow strong toes,
lest winter bring us frostbite!’
a/n: unfortunately Mother Margaret’s concluding prayer is entirely my own. do not, i plead, let it change your opinion of me much :P
this quite bizarre one-shot is a treacherously late secret santa gift for missy, forsakenphoenix! you write Remus and Sirius so excellently that i actually quake in my boots at the thought of you reading this, but i had to try to honor your favorite characters :)
the title of this one-shot i actually owe to a professor of mine for suggesting it in complete jest. despite how horrible it is it is undeniably catchy and i had to use it!
the infamous line “get thee to a nunnery” is solely the property of William Shakespeare’s genius. you can see it on full display in Hamlet.
similarly, i can’t confess to know much about life in a convent, i apologise if this is a less-than-accurate portrayal.