As usual, credit to JKR creating for the universe in which I can rearrange the odd dust particle!
Authors Note: Thanks to Birgit for her excellent beta help and to Jill, for her insights and encouragement. Also to Severus Snape, for being so delightfully dastardly.
by J Forias
Dear Mrs Longbottom,
It is with regret that I inform you that your grandson was injured during the recent Death Eater attack on Hogwarts. Neville fought bravely against several intruders and his efforts no doubt contributed to the fact that only one fatality resulted from the attack. Neville’s condition is currently stable and we expect him to make a full recovery. If you should wish to visit, I will make arrangements for you to be escorted to Hogwarts.
As I’m sure you are aware, Headmaster Dumbledore was murdered by Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, Severus Snape. The wards have been modified to deny him further access to Hogwarts, and information provided by Harry Potter has allowed us to block the route through which the Death Eaters originally entered our grounds. It is my firm belief that your grandson is as safe at Hogwarts as he possibly can be.
Information on students’ safe departure from Hogwarts will be sent to parents shortly.
P.S. Augusta, if you wish to discuss this with me further, I will be available. I still consider you a valued friend.
It must have been the hundredth time she had read the letter. She really didn’t know why she was having such trouble processing it. Dumbledore had been murdered. And Neville had thrown himself in danger’s path once more, and had been badly injured. Yes, it was all very simple stuff.
Augusta placed the letter back on the table and walked slowly back to her armchair. Neville would be the death of her. Indeed, it was entirely his fault. If only the boy was stronger, like his father. Frank had protected his wand for eight years of Auror service. He had taken down more Dark Wizards with it than Augusta could remember after all these years. And Neville… well, Neville had got it broken in the first fight of his young life. No doubt it had taken Harry Potter and Dumbledore to bail him out.
The look of meek fear as he had showed her the pieces had saddened her. Perhaps if he had stood proudly, the way Frank had used to do, she would have believed better of him. But his weakness was clear in his shaking hands and in his wavering eyes.
It bothered her slightly that he was so afraid of her. But she knew that she had to be stern with the boy. It was a dangerous world out there and the weak would sadly perish. Neville, poor fool, needed to be stronger. And strength didn’t come from playing with exotic weeds or bumbling about the place like a reticent Hippogriff. No, Augusta knew what strength was and Neville wasn’t it. No matter what Minerva McGonagall said.
And now, injured again. She wondered vaguely whether Neville was responsible for Dumbledore’s death. It would be just the kind of thing Dumbledore would do, sacrificing himself for some nobody. Augusta just couldn’t understand how Dumbledore could have been killed by a lowly teacher, all things being equal. No, far more likely Neville had blundered into trouble with this Snape character, and Albus Dumbledore had had to intervene.
It was her fault, really. Damned if she knew what she’d done wrong, but clearly the boy’s weakness was her doing. The boy had good genes. She knew that. But he could be so cowardly sometimes. She didn’t think she’d heard him raise his voice in the seventeen years she’d known him. He was so blastedly… gentle. Longbottoms were not supposed to be gentle. It was a wonder to her that Neville had got into Gryffindor at all, and she had told Neville as much many times. The boy was weak. There was no getting around it.
Augusta sighed and leant back in her chair, closing her eyes. She would have to pick Neville up from the station in a few hours. She wasn’t looking forward to it. She hoped he hadn’t managed to break another wand.
Augusta’s eyes opened. It was dark outside. She must have fallen asleep. And something had woken her. A cold voice… and an incantation, coming from outside. She reached for her wand and held it firmly. She was just in the process of getting to her feet, when the front door was blown open.
A sleek haired figure stepped through. He turned to face her, the dark curtains draping his face and half-hiding unfathomably bleak eyes. Augusta felt automatic terror well up in her. She recognised him.
“You’re Severus Snape.”
“Indeed. I am.”
Behind him followed two Death Eaters, there faces hidden by white masks. One was male and one was female. Augusta could see no more than that.
“How dare you? This is my home!”
“Ma’am, let me assure you that we dare because we can.”
“Do you know who I am?”
Snape stared at her with half-hearted interest. Then he turned behind him to make a show of checking something with the male Death Eater, who nodded.
“You are Augusta Longbottom, guardian of Neville Longbottom.”
“What does Neville have to do with any of this?”
“Neville has everything to do with this.”
Augusta drew herself up to her full height. “I won’t let you hurt him.”
Snape laughed, his voice cold and cruel and then drew his wand with clockwork precision.
“Stupify!” he snarled, advancing. “Crucio! Reducto! Exureum!”
Augusta fought back, batting the first spell back at him, ducking the second and just managing to block the final two, stumbling several steps backwards at the effort. But Snape only intensified his efforts, flinging curse after her curse at her, until she was overwhelmed. Finally, a silent hex slammed her back against the wall and drove her wand from her grasp.
Her attacker stopped the attack, picked up her wand, and snapped it under her nose.
“Do you know, I think you do let me hurt him,” said Snape conversationally, as if the past sixty seconds hadn’t occurred. “Has he never told you how I bully him? It’s a wonder the boy has a shred of confidence left after what I’ve put him through.”
“So,” Augusta choked, “you did duel with him. Were you the one that injured him?”
“Oh no,” Snape chided. “You really shouldn’t think so ill of me. I never laid a hand on the boy. Words were my only weapons, I assure you.”
“Is that so? I know what you did, Mr Snape. You’re a murderer!”
“Dumbledore was weak.”
“What difference would that make?” spat Augusta.
Snape stayed silent, and then slowly, a maniacal grin pulled across his face. “Let’s find out, shall we?”
Augusta found herself lost in his black eyes, the room swimming in front of her…
“Neville, dear, you have to do better. Harry Potter won’t think well of you if you get yourself disabled at every chance you get. He nearly had to give that prophecy to He Who Must Not Be Named, and it was entirely your fault. You think with your heart, Neville, and yet where’s your brain…”
Snape’s eyes came back into focus for a moment.
“You are a woman after my own heart.”
Then they drifted away again.
“Minerva, I think I know a thing or two more than you do about my own grandson! How dare you speak to me this way? Neville should have been allowed to continue Transfiguration. Why, I can’t count how many times a handy bit of transfiguring got Frank out of a tight spot…”
“Mr Longbottom is not his father.”
“I know Neville’s not Frank!”
“Of course, I do,” Augusta muttered, before she was lost in memories once again.
“Neville Longbottom is a tribute to my house!”
“Ha! You don’t fool me, Minerva. You know better than anyone the boy’s grades and how he copes with pressure. By all accounts he was running around the Department of Mysteries like a headless chicken. He’s not behaving as a Gryffindor! He’s weak! He needs to do better!”
“You fool, Augusta! You stubborn, pig-headed, stuck-in-your-ways fool! Can’t you see what you’re doing? Are you so blind that you don’t see the good in your own grandson?”
“Minerva McGonagall, I believe this conversation is over.”
“Augusta… look… I know you are scared for him…”
“Leave, woman, leave!”
More and more memories began to flood through her mind, faster and faster until Augusta realised that tears were flowing down her cheeks. She opened her eyes to see that Snape was still leaning over her.
“That Minerva McGonagall, eh? She’s quite the polecat when she’s angry.”
Augusta said nothing. Her gaze had fallen on the two Death Eaters behind Snape. The man had one arm around the woman, as if they were supporting each other.
“Look at me!” Snape snarled, right in her ear. “We are one and the same, you and I! We both fear weakness. And we stamp on it, don’t we? We don’t want it clinging to our robes, like some foul stench. We want nothing to do with it. Am I right?”
“I would never hurt Neville,” she replied stoically.
“Then why was he trembling when he handed you his father’s wand? Why was he afraid of how you’d react to his failure, to his weakness?” A slim smile twisted Snape’s features. “Maybe because he knew how you’d react?”
“I only want what’s best for him.”
“Where’s your wand right now, Mrs Longbottom?”
“You broke it.”
“And why do you think I did that?”
Augusta found herself staring, once again, at the two figures behind Snape.
“To show that I’m weak, too…” she answered, without really thinking.
Snape nodded. “And you are scared of that, aren’t you? You can’t handle your own weakness and so you hate the weakness in others.”
“No. That’s not true.” Augusta took a deep breath. “You haven’t lived through what I’ve lived through. You don’t understand!”
Then, completely unexpectedly, the female Death Eater spoke. “She’s scared for him.” The woman pulled off her mask, revealing curly brown hair and a face that Augusta recognised well.
“She’s scared for herself,” Snape sneered. “She can’t possibly bear to lose him.”
“He’s my grandson,” Augusta replied sharply. “Of course I can’t bear to lose him!”
“And yet you hurt him. How, pray tell, does telling him how much of a failure he is, help him at all?”
“He needs to do better!” Augusta bellowed. “He can’t be weak! I won’t tolerate him being weak!”
Everything was silent for a moment. The power of Augusta’s outburst seemed to have shocked the whole room.
“Who are you really angry at?” Snape asked silkily.
Another voice rang out, its masculine tone masking none of its sadness. “Me, of course.”
Augusta steadied herself and then turned deliberately to stare at the tall figure, as he removed his mask.
“She’s mad at me for being weak. She sees me every other day, wasting away, a product of my own inability to defend myself or even to hold to my own sanity.”
“That… that isn’t true.” But inside, she knew it was.
The woman pushed Snape out of the way and knelt in front of Augusta, holding the old woman’s hands in her own.
“It’s OK. It really is. We know you love him.”
The man moved to crouch beside his wife, one hand on her shoulder, the other on Augusta’s arm.
“You have to forgive me. None of us are perfect. We just aren’t made that way.”
Augusta knew that he was speaking the truth. She wondered for a moment how she had been able to hold so much anger inside, for so long. She knew that it was time to let it go.
“I’m so sorry. Minerva was right.”
Snape snorted off to the side. “She usually is.” Nobody paid him any attention.
“Do you know, dear,” said Augusta thoughtfully, “I’m glad your wand got broken. Neville needed one of his own.”
“Yes, he did,” said the tall man softly. Augusta thought she saw a spark of pride in his eyes.
“I do forgive you, Frank. I’m sorry it took me so long.”
Frank nodded. Then turned questioningly to Alice.
“Neville’s calling you back,” Alice said to Augusta. “Take care of him.”
Augusta nodded, her eyes filling with tears as everything faded.
“Grandma, are you OK? Wake up!”
Someone was shaking her. She opened her eyes to see Neville standing over her, his face screwed up in concern.
“I’m all right, Neville. Calm down. Where am I?”
“You’re at home, Gran.”
Augusta leapt out of her armchair instantly, a flash of memory coming back. Neville was only just barely able to get out of her way. “The Dark Mark? Is it over the house?”
“No, Gran,” Neville answered uncertainly.
“What about Death Eaters? What about Snape?”
“There’s no one here. I checked. Professor Flitwick taught us a handy little surveillance charm.” Neville’s look of concern seemed to have worsened. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, yes… I must have been dreaming. Wasn’t I supposed to pick you up at the station?”
“Er… yes. When you weren’t there, I got worried. I Apparated home.”
“But Neville, you haven’t passed your test. You’re underage!”
Neville nodded towards the window, where a tawny owl was waiting impatiently, carrying an official looking letter. “I know. I didn’t think about it. I was worried about you.”
Augusta looked grave as she picked up the letter.
Dear Mr Longbottom,
You were witnessed Apparating without a licence from King’s Cross Station approximately ten minutes ago, by vigilant members of the Magical Law Enforcement Service – who, as an aside, are working continuously to provide intelligence and security to the populace in these troubled times – and therefore we are issuing you with an official warning.
Apparating without a licence creates nine incidents of splinching every month, and this administration is determined to crack down on it, especially in these troubled, trying and turbulent (but entirely non-panic-worthy) times. Your behaviour was also a breach of Paragraph C of the Decree for Reasonable Restriction of Underage sorcery, 1875.
We understand that you may feel threatened by Dark Wizards and be scared to use normal transport systems, but I would like to repeat the message of this administration by saying that everything is in hand. The Ministry has your back.
Best wishes on a safe and secure summer,
Timothy T. Weltien
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic
“I’m surprised they didn’t scrawl ‘DON’T PANIC!’ in giant letters as the signature,” Augusta commented dismissively.
“I’m sorry, Gran.”
“What are you sorry for, boy? Apparating at your age is very impressive. And as for this piece of paper –” She scrunched it up into a ball. “– it’s something of a badge of honour among the Longbottoms.”
“Really?” Neville looked relieved.
“Oh yes, why, your Father nearly got himself expelled when he was thirteen. Did I ever tell you that story?”
Neville shook his head.
“Oh, well, he was a kind-hearted kid. Rather like yourself, I might add. A strong sense of fair play on him. Your mother, too. But anyway, young Frank was wandering off exploring the area round here when he ran into a bunch of Muggles. A gang of them were picking on this small, scrawny kid.”
“What happened next?” Neville asked eagerly.
Augusta laughed. “Have a seat and I’ll tell you. But let’s just say that your Father had a few bruises on him before the whole thing was finished. I was absolutely furious.”
And Neville sat down and listened, looking an awfully lot happier than he had in rather a long time.