Chapter 5 - Back to Hogwarts
"Say what you will about Argus Filch," Minerva said to Filius, "but the man is no stranger to hard work."
The diminutive charms professor nodded in agreement as he watched the caretaker take on the role of gravedigger. Many of the casualties were without family and Filch took it upon himself to see to it that the dead were properly buried. The man had no magic save that of a powerful work ethic that kept him busy from dawn to well past dusk day after day, year in and year out.
"Isn't he due to retire soon?"Flitwick asked.
"Don't mention the "R" word around Mr. Filch unless you want an earful, Filius." McGonagall said with achuckle. I think he wants to die on the job and then stay on as a castle ghost."
"Perhaps we can at least offer him an assistant, someone who can take over some of his duties?"
The old caretaker finished stitching a shroud, a black shroud - indicating the remains needed to be cremated before burial. Fenrir Greyback was in a black shroud, as was Professor Lupin. Nobody gave a damn about Greyback, but Lupin was loved and respected - his ashes would be given to the widow Tonks to be interred with her beloved husband and daughter.
"Damn shame about the Professor,"Filch said to no one in particular, "decent enough sort."
He made a spur of the moment decision; he'd cremate the other werewolf first and then take care of the professor, lest his foul ashes taint those of a good man. He grunted in satisfaction then ordered the house elves to place the "Good Professor" in an empty classroom for the time being.
So it was that Remus Lupin woke in an empty classroom stitched inside a heavy canvas bag. He tore through the sailcloth easily enough owing to his werewolf enhanced strength and looked around the empty room. Ground floor, the windows swung easily outward. Ashort drop and he was on the ground headed for the forest. The forest offered protection, a hiding place. For you see, the mind of Remus Lupin was all wolf now.
As a human, Remus had known mostly pain and suffering, persecution and loss. The one bright spot in his life, his wife, fell to a barrage of killing curses and the werewolf's mind snapped. All manner of deadly spells as well as edged weapons, arrows and crossbow bolts rained down upon him and he didn't care, all that mattered was to kill as many wizards as possible - to keep killing until he could move no more. When he finally fell he was surrounded by the bodies of the dark wizards he had mangled with his bare hands. His last memory before darkness claimed him was of two dark violet eyes and a voice like a caress saying "I grant you release, my love."
A man would have died from any one of his dozen mortal wounds, but he wasn't a man. He was a wolf. And he would stay a wolf from now on - humanity meant pain, and he could choose to shuffle off his human form and stay a wolf forever.
He transformed, first into his anthropomorphic wolf-man appearance, then to the large grey wolf that was his preferred form. It didn't matter that the moon wasn't full; the wolf was always close to the surface. That was the reason he'd tried to push his beautiful Dora away, she never understood how close the wolf was at all times, how dangerous. Now she was dead. Dora was dead. He had placed himself in the path of a score of deadly spells but she still died. He was her alpha, he had failed to protect her, and for that reason she was dead.
He sat back and howled a mournful wail into the night.
Back in the castle Argus Filch gave careful instructions to the squad of house-elves at his command. "Go to the room where we put the good professor. Carry his shroud to the burning place and make sure nothing but ash is left."
The elves didn't know why the man wanted the shroud burned but they never questioned orders.
"You must be fucking joking!"Bella shouted shrilly.
Eliza smiled as she helped her grand-niece affix the suffibulum, the broach that held the pallum together at Bella's left shoulder.
"Language darling, what other reason would a stranger have for going to Hogwarts this week?"
"But a Vestal Virgin?" she asked, horrified, "who is going to believe that?"
"Have you not noticed, darling Bella? People see what they want to see, and right now a vestal virgin in her service decade will be a most welcome sight. You will be able to search out your friend's friend and do what you can for him. The infula will hide most of your features especially if you keep your eyes downcast. Just remember, dear, feed sparingly and in secret and for Hecate's sake keep your legs together while you're there."
Bella glared as her ancestress fit the infula (the headdress and shawl) that draped over her shoulders.
"Not coming with me Ancestress?"
"Not this time, Grand-niece. We can find each other again when you come back to London."
Eliza smoothed a non-existent wrinkle from Bella's ensemble then stepped back to admire her handiwork.
Bella's costume was perfect from her tied sandals to the violet trim of her simple gown, topped off with mantle and broach, headdress and shawl. The shawl kept her face in shadow and so neatly concealed her lack of pigmentation.
"Remember darling, the most convincing element of any disguise is attitude, yours needs to be servile and demure."
Bella suppressed a very un-vestal virgin like response and instead stuck a Madonna-like pose (that would be the Iconic figure, not the rock slut celebrity).
"Very nice darling, tell me all about it when you get back."
Bella determined her destination, the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade, and deliberated on the feeling of apparating such a long distance dressed like a second century daughter of Vesta. In less than a second she arrived in front of the seedy bar feeling both stretched and squeezed as if through a very long hosepipe.
She walked the oft trod path to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and remembered the sense of awe she felt as an eleven-year-old girl seeing the castle for the first time. For Bella it was very much like coming home after a very long absence. It didn't matter that she had been there three days before - she had been there as someone else's puppet. Now she was back on her own and she burned with adesire to set things right.
The grey wolf that was Remus caught her scent; it was the heady fragrance of a powerful alpha bitch. She would be his, and no one, human or not, would stand between him and this bitch.
He kept to the tree line and would have been hard to see in the daylight; in the dark he was invisible. He caught her scent again and moved swiftly and silently to keep her upwind as he walked the edge of the forest. Peering down the road he saw a lone figure walking purposefully toward the castle. A lone human figure.
That made no sense; the human had the scent of one of his own kind.
His own kind.
The moon would be full in a very few nights, she would still be here. She would have to run in the woods and he would be there.
The lone figure stopped, then turned to face him. His dark amber eyes met hers, glowing violet.
"She sees me!"
His animal brain wanted to flee back into the forest or to fling himself at her throat, but the human consciousness that remained made him curious enough to remain, transfixed.
Woman and wolf stared at each other for what felt like a very long time, as if time were made up of elongated ticks of the tower clock. Neither creature moved, or blinked. The spell was broken by the sound of a rat scurrying into the deep underbrush. The woman looked away for half a moment and when she looked back the wolf was gone.
Bella looked up at the moon, just past first quarter, waxing full in another four nights. It could have just been a grey wolf - then again, there hadn't been any true wolves in the British Isles for centuries. Some werewolves could transform regardless of the phase of the moon, so it could have been Lupin. Or it could have been another vampire. She shrugged and continued on to the castle.
Time would tell.
She passed through the gates, up the stairs to the main entrance and entered the great hall. Great hospital would have been a more apt description. Four dozen hospital beds, some curtained, were attended by groups of caregivers. Here and there were druid healers working side by side with brown-robed friars. Thankfully she could see no other Vestal Virgins attending the wounded.
Madame Pomfrey was having a spot of bother with a struggling patient.
"My eyes! My eyes! I can't see! Why can't I see?"
The good matron was about to stupefy the patient, a young townswoman by her dress when Bella placed her pale hand on the girl's forehead.
"Peace sister," she intoned, "be at peace."
The woman calmed, her ruined eyes trying to find the source of the soothing voice.
"I am Bellanca, a Daughter of Vesta, I'm here to help you."
"Can you help me see, Sister?"
Bella looked to Mme Pomfrey, who smiled and nodded.
"Yes my sister, but you must promise to cooperate with the healers; they are the ones with the skills to make you see again."
The woman nodded and settled back on her bed. Bella stayed and held her hand talking about Hogsmeade and her father's florist shop and the butcher's son and town life in general as the healers did their magic.
"Miss Potts, Margaret?" Poppy Pomfrey interrupted gently, "we need to bind your eyes now, it's very important that you do not remove the bandages for three days and three nights."
"Is it day or night now?" the young woman asked.
"Its two hours past sunset, sister." Bella said soothingly. "You'll be right as rain by the week's end.
"Would you like to drink something now?"
Margaret nodded and the healer handed Bella a small flask. Poppy watched in awe as the Vestal Virgin pressed the flask into Miss Potts' hand to guide it to the girl's lips.
"Hmmm, good," the patient said,"strawberries, Sister?"
"Yes, little sister," Bella confirmed, "Strawberries.
"Lay back and rest now, you've had a busy day, sleep."
Margaret's head touched the pillow and just as Bella said "sleep" the young girl sighed and lay still.
Poppy led Bella away from the sleeping girl.
"That was amazing, Sister. I've never seen a patient calm so quickly, you are a godsend, or in your case agoddess send. I can't thank you enough for coming."
"I had to Madame; I was compelled to journey here to help where I could."
Poppy nodded her understanding. Clerics, magic and otherwise had to follow their callings.
"I can give you a room for the night, Sister."
"I will not need to put anyone out Madame Healer; I would beg a small space to rest in the morning."
"Will you not rest after your long journey?"
"I will be here through the evening, Madame. I can rest during the day and tend our patients at night. My needs are simple and few. I need a responsibility as befitting a Daughter of Vesta." She seemed to think for a moment and then said "I will tend the fires in this hall until it is time for me to go. Further I must draw water from aspring for my early morning ritual."
"Of course," Poppy knew the traditional duties of Vestal Virgins included tending fires, as Vesta was Goddess of the Hearth. There are small rooms very convenient to the great hall. I will assign you one. Do you have any special needs?"
"As I will sleep mostly during daylight hours, may I beg a single candle and heavy curtains for the windows?"she asked.
"I will see to it, Sister."
Bella bowed in thanks and said "Now I will circulate and tend to those that I can, Madame Healer."
Poppy bowed in return.
Some of the injuries were grievous; she recognized a few of her own trademark cutting and burning curses. Those curses would leave horrible scars unless un-cursed by the witch or wizard who cast them. She walked up and down the rows of beds comforting where she could, calming where it was needed and feeding those who could eat.
Well past midnight the healers on call were showing signs of exhaustion. One by one Bella assumed their duties, sending them off to get some rest. By three AM she was the only healer working, but everyone was asleep, healing nicely. Bella took a sip of blood here and there, just a small mouthful where she could to keep her own strength up as she actively healed the curses she herself had inflicted on many of the patients.
As the first rays of the sun broke over the mountains to the east she sagged in exhaustion, the sunlight draining her of what energy reserves she had.
"Come along Sister," Poppy Pomfrey said, holding the vampiress up by her shoulders, "time for bed."
The Matron guided Bella into awindowless room with a small, comfortable looking cot. The only other furniture in the room was a wooden chair, a desk and a nightstand upon which was a washbasin, cloth and solitary ever-lit candle.
As the healer guided Bella into the room the vampiress thanked her, said good morning and closed the door. She lay down on top of the bedclothes arranging her clothing so that it wouldn't wrinkle or crease as she slept, then let oblivion take her.
"Poor thing," Poppy said as she left Bella's small room, "she worked so hard all night. I wouldn't be surprised if she slept the whole day."
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