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Chapter Eleven: Holding the Castle

Remus Lupin paced the Entrance Hall of Hogwarts, keeping one eye on the fire place waiting for contact from someone, anyone, of the Order. He kept the other eye on the doors. It was nearing three o'clock, and he'd been wearing a path in the stone floor since before 10. Albus, Minerva, Filius and Poppy had been summoned to 12 Grimmauld Place hours ago. Sprout had left the castle at lunch the day before to get some plant cuttings from Cyprus or Greece or somewhere like that.

Tonks had taken Malfoy to stay at her parents' just outside London. Albus thought a week for the boy to gather himself, take care of the necessary legal matters, and go to his parents burial would be for the best, though it had been an accident of timing that had brought that about. Severus had been summoned, or he would have done that job.

The elder Tonkses--William and Andromeda--were good people, an outgoing likeable pair, well respected in their muggle neighborhood. The Tonks' elder daughter, Ambrosia, and her husband, Cam MacDougal, would be staying with them as well; Cam was an auror for the Ministry. The oldest of the MacDougal boys was going to be starting Hogwarts in September for all that he wasn't going to be 10 until November and a year or closer to two younger than his classmates. It seemed that accidental magic was an almost daily occurrence with the MacDougal son and the sooner he was taught with a wand the better. (Why Albus had decided to distract Remus with that information baffled the werewolf. Why Harry hadn't been brought to Hogwarts early was another question rolling through Remus' mind. After all, from what Remus knew Harry had managed to apparate to the roof of the school at the age of 8, amongst how many other incidents? It was rare that a witch or wizard had a talent that required starting their training early, or simply needed to start their training early for safety's sake due to uncontrolled and powerful "accidental magic". Harry certainly fell into the latter category as far as Remus knew.)

Hagrid was somewhere in the forbidden forest. He'd said something about taking Aragog a steak since he'd been feeling poorly and checking ... Grawp? Remus hadn't dared asked what Aragog and Grawp might be. Knowing Hagrid, he probably wouldn't want to know if he did find out who or what they were. The rest of the staff (save for Filch, who was somewhere about patrolling with Mrs. Norris) were still off on summer Holiday.

Remus had been left behind to keep an eye on Hogwarts and the five Apprentices. Usually it was Sprout who stayed with the school; for the wards of Hogwarts to stay up someone had to "hold the castle". The castle could not be left unoccupied, and while the wards were still anchored to Albus and Minerva as Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress, someone had to physically be present for the wardings to "attach to" and keep them intact. Tonight, that was Remus.

Albus had spouted off a list of pretty reasons, but the short hard truth of it was that the moon was only two nights away, and Remus had been "unpredictable" since Sirius' death, whatever that lovely description was supposed to mean. The Ministry was trying to push through restrictions and registries and laws by the dozen. Best all the way around for Remus to work in the background now, even within the Order, as prejudice against and distrust of werewolves was beginning to reach new heights, primarily fueled by the Ministry and the Daily Prophet. At least he was able to do something--even if it was pacing the entrance hall and nominally keeping watch on the school and the five students occupying it presently. It wasn't much, but better than the attic of 12 Grimmauld Place, avoiding the damned painting and the identical Weasley menaces and staying out of the way.

The ghosts were pacing about the entrance hall with him. Albus had ordered the painting of Phineas Nigellus to spread the word through the castle that the paintings and ghosts were to assist Remus as needed. With what Remus wasn't exactly sure, and the fact that they'd been told to assist Remus and the apprentices was worrisome, as it seemed to imply that Albus wasn't intending to return to the castle for more than just this one night. Sir Nicholas had tried starting conversation more than once, only to be silenced by glares from the Slytherin House ghost--the Bloody Baron. Hufflepuff's Fat Friar was also there, as were Ravenclaw's Gray Lady, Professor Binns, and a few others. Remus had no idea who they were and had no inclination to find out. Peeves was even there. A ghost of a girl of about 16 had come through a bit earlier. She'd wailed and carried on that they were having a party and no one had invited her, no one liked her. Binns had told her to go to her toilet and be quiet. Remus had restrained himself from asking, his mind cluttered enough at the moment without sorting out why Binns would send a teenage ghost to a toilet.

Phineas Nigellus Black suddenly came barreling into the frame of the sole portrait in the hall. It was a massive painting with one occupant, a veiled witch brewing something or other, incessantly stirring a cauldron. Headmaster Black ran straight into her. She promptly clubbed him with the long wooden almost-paddle utensil she was using to stir her potion, splattering him with steaming purple liquid.

"Pardon me Madam! Young Lupin, the alarm for the Apparition clearing has gone off!" Headmaster Black called down from the painting. He ducked away from the enraged witch who tried to club him again and found himself splattered with more potion. "Madam, truly, I'm sorry. I would not have disturbed your frame if this was not important. OW!"

"I can go and see who has come," the Bloody Baron spoke. His voice almost defied description--hoarse, raw and rusty with an eerie resonance unlike any other ghost that Remus had ever encountered before.

Remus blinked, never having heard the Baron speak before. Then he quickly nodded his agreement.

"I can go--" Peeves began, sounding altogether too gleeful to be up to anything less than no good.

"You can go to the Astronomy tower and stay out of trouble," Remus barked at the annoying poltergeist. Peeves threw a water balloon and floated out in a huff.

The Baron was back only a few moments later. "It was Severus. Rubeus was nearby and is bringing him up. Severus is in dire condition."

Remus cursed softly. Pomfrey was still out on Order business.

Seamus Finnegan knew at least a bit about healing, Remus was sure of that from the conversation Harry and the Irish boy had had that afternoon going over their research for course-study proposals. Harry knew at least a small amount as well. A charm to stop bleeding for certain, he'd said he'd cast on himself ... Even if neither boy knew anymore than the little Remus had heard them talking about, they still knew more than Remus. And Neville was one that could be counted on when pressed, despite his lack of confidence and bumbling.

Severus couldn't be taken to the Hospital wing. Too many questions if anyone outside the order showed up at the castle. Even some of the Order. He'd have to be taken to his rooms. Harry knew Severus spied ... Neville probably had more than a clue, Seamus ... Blaise and Milicent were not considered for the simple fact the fewer who knew Severus was a spy, the better.

"Go get Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnegan and Harry Potter, please."

The bloody Baron nodded and was quickly gone.

THWACK! "OW!" Former Headmaster Black had gotten thumped again by the witch in the painting. The former Headmaster scurried around the portrait frame trying to avoid the incensed witch, and failing. It would have been quite hilarious under other circumstances. At the moment it didn't even bring the least twitch of a smile to Remus' lips, though the fact that even under rather uncertain circumstances there was a consistency to the oddness of the portraits of Hogwarts was strangely comforting.

"Headmaster Black, I need you to go back to your portrait and keep an eye on the Apparition alarm, please."

"Certainly," Phineas Nigellus agreed. "OW! I'm going! Really Madam, if I'd had the choice of another frame I'd have gladly gone to it." He shouted at the witch in the portrait and made a hasty retreat.

Remus had little time to dwell on anything. "Dear Merlin," he gasped when, panicked and near hysterical, Hagrid burst into the entrance hall carrying a barely recognizable battered man.

"Hagrid, go back and keep watch at the apparition point," Remus said, finding his voice. By some miraculous stroke of luck he managed to levitate Severus out of Hagrid's arms without jostling the injured man too badly.

Hagrid agreed. He babbled something, shaken to the point of being barely coherent, and Remus himself was too worried and panicked to have registered a word of it anyway.

"I'm taking Severus to his rooms. Tell Neville to keep watch on the floo here and send Harry and Seamus down to the dungeons."

The ghosts readily agreed. The Fat Friar took off to intercept the apprentices. Nearly Headless Nick made some proclamations of how they would keep watch or some such. The wild thought that Nick must be well acquainted with that mad painting of Sir Cadogan popped into Remus' head.

"Severus has been hurt, the werewolf requires your assistance," the Bloody Baron announced, startling Harry. He was sitting on the sofa in his main room, one hand habitually rubbing the burning scar on his forehead, a book on Magical Mirrors perched on his slightly drawn up legs. He hadn't slept, didn't dare to, with his scar burning as it was.

"What about Madam Pomfrey?" Harry managed to ask a few moments later, overcoming the shock of the Baron's appearance and eerie voice.

"Left. Rubeus is on watch at the apparition point. The only other living person is the werewolf, besides you lot," the Baron answered.

"I'm coming." Harry swallowed, reaching for his shoes which were on the floor next to the sofa where he sat.

"Finnegan and Longbottom--"

"I'll get Seamus," Harry interrupted.

The Baron nodded and sank down through the floor.

Harry scurried out of his rooms and banged on the door across the hall.

"Bloody Hell, Harry," a bleary eyed Seamus answered the door. "What?"

"Snape's a spy for Dumbledore. He's been hurt. No one's around but us, Remus and Hagrid; Remus sent the Bloody Baron up for us," Harry blurted out. Seamus disappeared back into his rooms to quickly dress.

"Potter, Finnegan, you are to go directly to Snape's quarters," the Fat Friar announced a few minutes later in the common room.

"Would help if we knew where they were," a rattled Seamus snapped at him. He didn't need the sight to know something was seriously wrong with this whole situation.

"I'll show you," the Baron said, entering the apprentices' common room while prodding Neville along.

"Harry?" Neville automatically looked to the other boy for an answer to this.

"You are to go to the Entrance Hall," the Friar said.

"Snape was injured; he's a spy for Dumbledore. We don't have time right now, Neville."

Neville swallowed, wide-eyed.

"I'll tell you what you need to know," the Friar said, a little more gently. The Baron glared at the other two boys. "We must hurry."

"I DON'T KNOW THE BLOODY PASSWORD BUT WE NEED IN!!" Remus bellowed at the portrait.

~Ssssssssalazar! We hassss not time for thisss! Sssssnape will be upsssset with ussss, not you,~ Harry said.

The portrait glared in Harry's direction a long moment. ~You will come sssspeak with me ssssssssoon Young Ssssnakessspeaker.~

"Yes, fine, as soon as I can, now bloody open up already!"

Remus blinked at Harry, confused, and hoped he would have a chance to ask later.

"What the bloody hell were you doing, Snape?" Seamus shook his head at the mess in the Potions master's sitting room. Books and papers covered every available surface--table chairs, desk couch, even sections of the floor.

Remus lowered Severus onto the bed, and a split second later Harry cast a spell that conjured the bloodied rags that remained of Severus' clothing off and into a pile in the corner. "Where in Merlin's name did you learn THAT spell, Harry!" Remus yelped.

"Fred," Harry answered absently, staring in horror at Snape.

"WHAT!!" Remus gasped.

"Later," Seamus snapped.

Remus watched fairly helplessly as the two boys somehow managed a crude diagnostic (Seamus) and even more crudely done series of Coagulation spells (Harry).

"BLOODY HELL!" Seamus gaped at the list of injuries and hexes. Then he began rattling them off.

"I know the counter to that one," Harry said, and quickly cast it between awkward coagulation spells. It was a bloody good thing Snape had made him make the Lineage Potion. The Coagulation spell Harry had cursorily studied for the potion the day before (no, technically two days, it just seemed like one since he hadn't really slept)--that spell was likely what saved Snape's life, at the moment. At the very least, he wasn't going to bleed to death before they figured out what to do with him.

Remus guiltily watched the boys do what they could, casting a handful of counter-curses himself. They were working with instinct, raw power, and desperation more than any real skill or knowledge. They were just boys. Seamus was just past 16, Harry still just shy of his birthday. Just boys. CHILDREN. They shouldn't have to deal with such. Voldemort was ripping childhood away from another generation.

Their knowledge of potions was a bit shocking. Seamus left to the potions classroom for a little while to brew up a potion that only took about 10 minutes, if one knew how to do it correctly. It was a mild calming draught, one that Remus distinctly remembered learning his seventh year (he'd nearly killed himself making it--literally) and he said as much when Seamus returned and dosed Severus with it. That had Seamus frowning. "The git taught us it second year," he said, before taking off at a dead run to break into the Hospital Wing's supplies. He wanted to get some salves and a few potions they'd decided shouldn't interact with each other to use on Severus.

"Someone's apparated into the clearing!" Phineas Nigellus barreled into the Potion-brewing witch's frame once more.

"I shall go see," the Baron said, in his eerily chilling voice. Even for a ghost--the Baron's voice gave Neville the shivers.

"I could go--" Peeves began.

"Do NOT give him permission to leave the castle," the Gray Lady ordered sharply. "You and the others are apprentices now, you carry almost as much authority as the staff."

"Peeves you stay put," Neville managed. That seemed to please the Gray Lady, and Peeves seemed to listen. At the very least, the poltergeist stayed put and pouted.

He had spent nearly two hours walking in circles in the Entrance Hall in the company of the ghosts. What he knew was not reassuring ... he wasn't at all certain he wanted to know more. There was more than a little truth to the words ignorance is bliss. What he did know, however, was just enough for his imagination to run wild with.

There was a secret society that was fighting against Voldemort. That was good. Dumbledore was in charge of it. That was really good. Certainly much more reassuring than Minister Fudge. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick and Pomfrey had left because Voldemort had obviously attacked somewhere--though where, no one knew. That was bad. Snape was a spy for Dumbledore. That ... well ... that was actually slightly good. But that also meant that Snape was at least a quasi-Death Eater, which was terrifying. Snape was maybe dying in the dungeon right now with only Harry, Seamus and Professor Lupin to put him back together. He couldn't be put in the Hospital wing where it might be easier to tend him--because no one knew who would show up to the school. He couldn't be taken to St Mungo's because well ... as an injured man with the Dark Mark on his arm the night that Voldemort attacked, he'd be killed instantly by Aurors just so they could say they'd bagged a Death Eater. Even if, as strange as it was to think, Snape was one of the good guys--just a very, very scary good guy. A half-dead maybe dying Death Eater spy, Professor Lupin, and Hagrid. And the five of the apprentices.

"REMUS!" Hagrid burst in, dragging someone in black robes behind him.

"Haggr run fast!"

Neville stared weaving slightly on his feet. Hagrid. A giant. And Durmstrang's Headmaster, who looked to be in sorry shape.

"Don't faint, boy!" The Baron bellowed.

Neville weaved slightly. There was a giant. A real live giant. With Hagrid.

"Peeves! Use one of your miserable water balloons," the Gray Lady ordered.

Splat! The water balloon missed but the noise seemed to shake the Gryffindor back to himself.

"Oh, Merlin," Neville took a deep breath. "Hagrid, that's a giant."

"Grawp good." the giant said.

"Oh 'E's m' baby brother. Don' worry none 'bout him. He's a sweet lad."

Neville kept a wary eye on the giant. Hagrid thought wyverns were cuddly and cute. Hagrid's brother or not, he wasn't trusting "a sweet lad" of a giant.

"Go back to the clearing and keep watch, Hagrid." Neville said, keeping his wand trained on Karkaroff. The first spell he cast had Hagrid blushing, scarlet and horrified. Actually, it had shocked Neville a bit too, but at least the spell's slight misfire was only embarrassing and not dangerous, leaving Karkaroff naked instead of just in his underwear. The desired result of disarming the man had been achieved, and as far as Neville was concerned that was all that mattered at the moment. The Headmaster of Durmstrang visiting on a night where Voldemort was on the move?

Voldemort hadn't moved outside of Britain, at least not since his return, as far as Neville knew. Neville wasn't taking chances. His grandmother had given him his parents' books and private files when he had been accepted to the Apprenticeship program. He hadn't read much of them yet, but he had read enough to know that the Death Eaters had sent someone posing as a refugee in more than once, and that person had let the wards down to safe houses in the past. He wasn't going to take any chances with Karkaroff.


Neville's eyes were trained on the naked man's clearly exposed Dark Mark, ignoring Hagrid for the moment. He pointed his wand to where Karkaroff's clothing was, along with whatever had been in the pockets, and banished them to Dumbledore's office. "Fred and George have a spell book. Very bizarre night of SexSpells 101, Weasley Style."

"Kendalwood, 30 points from Gryffindor!" Binns bellowed, finding his voice.

"Longbottom, Fraiser, his name is Longbottom." Nick corrected Professor Binns.

"Look at him, he's a Kendalwood if I ever saw one," Binns argued. "And Longbottoms generally end up in Ravenclaw with the odd Slytherin. I don't know of a Kendalwood that didn't land in Gryffindor in the 105 years I've taught here."

"I am the Gryffindor Ghost. He's a Gryffindor, and a Longbottom." Nick puffed himself up. "I have been the Gryffindor Ghost for almost 504 years! I know quite well who is in that tower--and he is a Longbottom!"

Neville ignored the bickering ghosts. "Hagrid, go keep watch. Please go back and watch the apparition clearing. Er, Grawp can help."

Hagrid looked uncertain.

"GO! The clearing needs to be watched. Go, Hagrid. I'm fine. He doesn't have his wand."

"Allrigh'," Hagrid reluctantly agreed. "Th' ghosts can help keep him in line."

Neville nodded agreeably, wondering how Hagrid had come to that conclusion. Then he cast a spell that had Karkaroff magically trussed up in conjured ropes. That clinched it for Hagrid, who headed back to the clearing (Neville had no clue where that was) with his brother.

"I came for asylum," Karkaroff said shakily.

"Oh this is an asylum all right," Phineas Nigellus snorted, dodging the potion-brewing witch's stirring paddle again. "BLOODY HELL WOMAN! THIS HAPPENS TO BE AN EMERGENCY SITUATION TONIGHT!" he bellowed. "I'm returning to my frame to watch the alarm system," Phineas Nigellus called out, and raced from the portrait over the fireplace in the entrance hall.

Binns and Nearly Headless Nick were getting progressively louder in their bickering over whether Neville was a Longbottom or a Kendalwood.

"Oh shut it!" Neville glared. "M' mum was a Kendalwood, m' Dad a Longbottom. Happy, you both have it half right! Lady, could you go see if Remus can be spared up here? I don't have a clue what to do with him and Millie and Blaise will be getting up before too much longer." Neville looked pleadingly at the Gray Lady, who thankfully agreed without argument, or reminiscing what she did in 1530. (Nearly Headless Nick and Binns had been going on about that since he'd come down to the Entrance Hall).

"Neville has need of you in the hall--NO! I beg you listen, don't break that curse, not yet!" The gray lady broke off what she was saying and redirected her words to Harry.

"Were you a mediwitch, when you were alive, I mean?"

"A healer," the Gray Lady said quietly.

"Go on, Remus, she'll be more help than you down here."

"Thanks," Remus snorted wryly. He nodded and left, too tired to waste energy on goodbyes. Harry had already shifted his attention to grilling the Ravenclaw ghost while he waited on Seamus to get back with salves from the Hospital wing.


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