No one had ever accused Augusta Denbright Longbottom of being a free thinker, and she would in fact have taken great offense to such a characterization, at least as she had any understanding of it.
Had she been under the misperception that the phrase meant what its literal meaning implied, she might have taken less umbrage. She was not, after all, bound to believe or behave as she did. She was, in fact, free to go out and dance at a Muggle disco, if she so chose. She did not so choose.
She was not, however, laboring under any such misperception. The way the young people used the phrase, it meant nothing more than "scofflaw," as far as she could tell. It was just an excuse for young people to dress in horrid Muggle clothes, dance at discos, and complain about how their elders didn't understand how much the world had changed.
Augusta was sixty years old. She had seen many makeovers in the course of her life, but she had never seen anything change. The ones who tended to bleat most loudly on the subject were inevitably the ones most obviously repeating one old theme or another that they'd decided was newfangled and smart. They were often dangerous, because they quite enjoyed their makeovers, and didn't care about what damage was left in their wakes, once they got bored with what they perceived as a novelty.
No, life went on, as life had always gone on. There were improvements, certainly, and changes in whatever was faddish at the moment. Right now, two fads were in deadly competition with one another, of course, as passionate fads often were. The old families had decided to fancy themselves under attack, their culture in imminent danger of collapse. This wasn't helped by the young "free thinkers" whose antics throughout the past decade had included spray-painting war memorials, accusing their great-grandparents of being obsolete, and, of course, amplified flatulence during open meetings of the Wizengamot, to the point where they'd been kicked out… and now complained about being denied their rights.
This annoyed her, of course, but she saved her rage for the others. As a pure-blood witch of an old family, she was offended by the young radicals on the other side, the ones who called themselves Death Eaters. They had taken the old culture, the upbringing she loved and honored, and turned it into an excuse for torture and murder. Augusta had been raised to believe -- and still believed -- that the magical world should be open to anyone who could do magic, oddly enough, and that anyone could become a part of it. The fact that someone was Muggle-born didn't mean that he or she couldn't appreciate and contribute to the culture. The presence of a Muggle-born spouse didn't mean that an old family would suddenly lose their way. It was a ridiculous belief, and their behavior in support of it had now sullied everything she had always loved. That they claimed this would somehow rescue the culture they were destroying with their own behavior infuriated her.
She had spoken out on the subject.
Vehemently and frequently.
So they had killed her husband. Clarence had done very little about the great fights. He preferred puttering around in the garden to lecturing the Wizengamot. He'd had more than enough of fighting after Grindelwald's wars. He was a Hufflepuff, and wanted to be about the business of living life. But Augusta had not been a Hufflepuff. She had been a Gryffindor, and fighting was in her nature. So she had lectured. She had written for the Prophet. She had helped Minerva McGonagall set up a spy network, though she doubted this was well known even now. She had defended Muggle-born Hogwarts students in Diagon Alley (how it burned in her blood that these cowards attacked children).
And one day eleven years ago, she'd come home to find the Dark Mark hovering over Clarence's garden. Frank had been away at Hogwarts. It was his seventh year. She'd had to go collect him, and she supposed, though he had not discussed the subject with her, that that was when he'd joined Dumbledore's Order. They had both been operating in it for a good long time before either discovered the other's involvement.
It had been at the wedding, of course. The day Frank married Alice Hyslop, who'd been an apprentice Auror with him, the Death Eaters had tried to disrupt the ceremony. Augusta had been prepared to act. She didn't realize that the entire wedding party was also prepared until the wands came out. She hadn't entirely approved of Alice until she saw that, but she supposed any girl who would come to her own wedding prepared to go to war was worthy of Frank.
Augusta had advised them to wait before starting their family. The fight would be over soon. They waited almost eight years after the wedding, but Frank had enough of Clarence in him, apparently, that he wanted to get their lives started. And so, they had brought baby Neville into the world.
And promptly put themselves in the sightline of the maniac who led the Death Eaters.
Augusta had no idea what had prompted this rage about the baby, but it had caused Frank and Alice to leave. They were somewhere safe. There was a Fidelius spell, kept by her foolish brother, Algie. No one suspected him, because most people forgot he existed. He just stayed in his little house and played with his Muggle train set. He might have actually forgotten where they were by now.
She looked out the window at the dark fields. It was a chilly Halloween night. She'd decorated earlier, and now, the candles reflected in the windows, making her own reflection seem to twinkle. The magical gardens close to the house -- Clarence's pride and joy -- were still in bloom, but the Muggle plants that formed something of a screen for them were already going to seed. An old elm tree was nearly denuded by the front gate.
She smiled to herself. Frank had always loved this time of year, looking at the way the two gardens contrasted. Clarence would carry him around on his shoulders and --
A shape had just materialized under the elm tree.
Augusta blinked and shook her head. The woman was running full tilt toward the Apparition border, which would certainly keep her out if she hit it at full speed. It might even hurt her, which was fine if she were a Death Eater, but… but…
Something cold wrapped around Augusta's heart, and she waved her wand. Lights came up -- Muggle style lights that seemed like anything one might find on a local estate, though they weren't connected to any electrical grid. The light was entirely magical, just masquerading.
It flooded the garden, and caught on something red.
An Auror's robe.
And a flow of long red hair above it.
"Mrs. Longbottom!" the woman screamed. "Mrs. Longbottom! Let me in!"
Augusta wasn't a fool, and she knew about Polyjuice Potion. She Apparated down to the barrier, where the young woman was waving wildly, stopping on the inside of it.
"It's me!" the woman said, agitated. "Lily, Frank's apprentice!" She must have seen something suspicious in Augusta's eyes because she made a surrendering motion with her hand. "It's… Frank told me that, if I ever needed to convince you, I should say that his father once told him that he liked dancing the jitterbug with you."
Augusta frowned. She hadn't cared for the jitterbug, but Clarence had enjoyed it and she had indulged him. No one else knew it.
She did the charm to open the barrier.
The woman ran in. "Where are they? Where are Frank and Alice?"
"I'm not their secret keeper. I can't say. I don't know. What did you say your name was?"
"Lily Potter. I was Frank's apprentice before I left the department. I'm with the Order now. It's very important that we find them. We… the news…"
"What news? What's happening, girl?"
"My son was born at the same time as Frank's boy. Well, a day later. But--"
"What are you talking about?"
"There was a prophecy. That's why we all went into hiding. We were sure it was about Harry. We had a spy inside, and the Death Eaters were on and on about a half-blood. But our spy came back tonight. There was a sudden change in plan. Voldemort is going after Neville."
"Their secret keeper… he won't…" Augusta pushed Lily back over the barrier and closed it up. "Come with me," she said, and took the woman's arm.
A moment later, they Apparated into Tebworth, on a small lane that ran between farms. A small farmhouse lit by lanterns sat nestled in a hollow.
From an upper window, Augusta could hear the running of the little Muggle train set.
"Algie!" she called. "Algie!"
She pulled Lily Potter along, raising her wand to do the unlocking spells before she realized that they'd all been broken. There was magical wreckage along the path.
She looked at Lily, and they both broke into a run.
Inside the house, everything Algie owned was strewn around. Pictures had fallen from the walls. Cloaks were torn from the closets. Augusta registered it in an instant, and ran upstairs. She would pay for this action in the coming days. Her legs would be so stiff that she could barely move. But she didn't care.
Something had happened to her foolish, careless brother. They had remembered that he existed.
She turned at the top of the stairs, feeling Lily a few paces behind her. At the end of the hall, the door to his train room was open.
She ran in, wand raised.
It was too late.
Algie was spread out on his train table, the tracks going around him. The train was spitting up green smoke, and a miniature Dark Mark hovered above the scene.
"Algie," Augusta said, her voice shaking.
Lily Potter put a hand on her arm. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Longbottom."
"He's my little brother…" She put a hand to her mouth. "Oh, my… Oh, dear. We made him secret keeper because he never was out much. No one knew about him. No one… Oh, Algie."
"I'm sorry," Lily said again. "But… if the secret keeper is dead, the secret can be discovered. Where are they, Mrs. Longbottom? Where are Frank and Alice? Would Algie have told?"
"He didn't need to," Augusta said, pointing at the train set. It wove through the countryside, past a signpost that pointed to different wizarding stations. It left a trail of green smoke through the Yorkshire moors he had created, leading to…
"Oh!" Lily put her hand to her head. "Yes. The safe house outside Ilkley. The garden house. We had a choice. Frank wanted the garden. After the secrets were sealed, I… forgot about it. The garden." She took Augusta's hand, and this time, she was the one who Apparated, pulling Augusta along beside her.
They didn't need to look for it.
There was no miniature Dark Mark, no fooling with trains and toys.
On the moors, a walled garden rose up, part of a long-abandoned wizard estate, the Dark Mark above it was huge, swallowing the world. Part of the garden wall had collapsed, and Augusta could see the workman's cottage inside already. It was a pile of rubble.
"Frank!" Augusta yelled. "Frank, where are you? Frank…"
But it was a pointless question.
She saw him as soon as she cleared the wall.
He was lying spread-eagled along the path, beside a huge patch of heather, bloodied from the fall onto the gravel, but otherwise unmarked. Unbreathing.
Alice was lying further into the garden. Her wand was raised, and she looked like she'd gone down fighting.
Augusta sat down on a rock, staring at Frank, trying to remember how to breathe.
Lily Potter was dashing through the ruins, searching for whoever had done this, but they were gone, the place was empty except for a dark shadow under the green light of the Dark Mark and --
There was a low, whimpering sound from the heather beside Frank, then a hearty, bellowing cry.
Augusta got to her feet like she was floating through a crystal ball vision.
She looked down.
The baby was in the heather. He was wearing a sleeper and grasping at the flowers. His forehead was covered with blood that had poured from an ugly cut.
"Oh, my God," Lily said, appearing from the shadows. "The baby. He's alive." She raised her wand. Something flew off into the darkness.
A moment later, there were four soft pops.
A young, thin man with dark circles under his eyes -- the Lupin boy, Augusta was fairly certain -- knelt beside the baby and put a hand on his face. He raised a wand and cleared away the blood. "Oh, Neville," he said. "Oh, poor Neville." He reached down to scoop the baby up, then noticed Augusta. "Mrs. Longbottom. I'm so sorry. I… we didn't know… Until we found Peter…" He picked the baby up and handed him to her. "We can check him over in the morning. I don't think it can be…" He looked up, and Augusta followed his gaze. She saw Albus Dumbledore and two other men. One was the elder Black boy. The other was Mad-Eye Moody. Moody immediately set about scouring the garden for clues.
Lupin was looking at Dumbledore. "It wasn't Greyback, was it?" he asked.
"No." Dumbledore came over to Augusta and looked at Neville. "I don't think he brought anyone else with him. Voldemort. He came alone. This was meant to seal his victory. The boy was prophesied to destroy him. And I think he did. I think…" He looked around the garden. "I don't think Voldemort left this place. I think whatever he tried to do to Neville… it bounced back on him."
"How could that happen?"
"I don't know," Dumbledore said. "And tonight isn't a time to speculate on magical theory. Take your grandson home, Augusta." He touched Neville's head. "There will be time to look into it. But take him home now."
Augusta might have protested. She wanted to see to Frank and Alice, and to chase down anyone who had a hand in this.
But she was tired.
And she had a duty. She was not a hothead, and if there was one thing she had learned from Clarence, it was that life had to go on. Even in the face of this. Life was more important than death, and always would be.
She held the baby close to her, then turned his face to see Frank, then Alice. "This was your father," she said, "and that was your mother. Remember, Neville. But I will be both to you now."
She nodded to Dumbledore, and Disapparated, the baby in her arms.
Whatever else would come, his life would go on.