Alice Longbottom Apparated to a point 100 meters outside her home and untransfigured her face. Now returned to her natural appearance, she approached a column placed to mark the boundary of the protective spells surrounding the house and pressed her palm against it while pronouncing the incantations which allowed her to pass through unmolested. If she had not been alone, entry would have been far more difficult.
She ran through the rain to a second column and again pressed her palm to it; she announced another set of incantations ending with the pronouncements: falsa revelo, nudo fides, and templa serena, the last charms allowing her to approach the house safely.
Finally, she pressed her palm to the front door and preformed a final set of spells which allowed her entry into the house. Once in the house, she could hear the voice from the walls -- calm, female and resolute. "Alice Longbottom is entering through the front door," it warned.
She was greeted by Frank's mother, Augusta, her wand ready, Alice's Kneazle rubbing against her legs. The Kneazle looked up and appeared to study Alice. Then he trotted calmly over and sat in front of her waiting to be greeted. Alice scooped him up as she waited for Augusta's security questions.
"What is my Patronus?" Augusta asked.
"A she-bear", Alice answered working hard not to laugh. That Patronus was too perfect for Augusta, she thought.
Augusta followed with a second question quickly. "Where did we first meet?"she asked.
This time Alice laughed out loud. "The absolute first time? Platform nine and three quarters, I was twelve and hit you with my luggage cart. I cried."
Augusta smiled and lowered her wand. "Welcome, Alice dear", she said.
She approached Augusta and looked into her eyes to examine her mind. Ever since Neville's birth she searched the minds of all who entered their home; you paid your toll to visit the Longbottom household by allowing her a quick look into your mind. It was the most effective test of the identity of visitors. No one could fake the thought processes of the loved and familiar, and no one could manufacture random memories.
Out of respect for their dignity, she always scanned her visitors as lightly as possible and in an obvious way, allowing them time to prepare. Confirming their identity, not interrogating them, was the point after all. Few could hide much from her anyway.
Her mother-in-law's mind revealed a long wait with her son for word of Alice's search for Travers and, oddly, a twenty year old memory of Frank riding a broomstick as a boy. The last made Alice smile. She leaned forward and gave her mother-in-law a kiss on her cheek; after ten years of marriage to Frank, she and Augusta rubbed along very well.
Alice respected her mother-in-law's courage in allowing her access to her mind; not many would allow such intimacy with a daughter-in-law. She'd learned to love Augusta more, by looking into her thoughts and seeing the things she never openly shared. She learned for instance how hard it had been for Augusta to have Frank and how much she had wanted another baby. How long and fruitlessly she waited for another one.
Of course, she also learned much that she would rather not know. The first thought Augusta's mind ever revealed to Alice was a memory of learning of her and Frank's engagement, and Augusta thinking that Frank could do better. Alice thought it was funny now. As they told her in training, Legilimens are like those who listen at keyholes: they never hear anything good about themselves.
"You look done up dear. I'll make us some tea. Neville's asleep upstairs. You go check on him." Augusta said. With a quick flick of her wand she performed a drying spell on Alice's clothes and turned to walk into the kitchen.
Alice ran upstairs and stopped to look at Neville. He lay asleep on his back with his arms thrown over his head and his little hands curled into fists. Four months old, he had reached the fat and happy stage of infancy and was a cuddly bear. He had her round face, and blond hair and Frank's grey eyes, when they were open, or at least that was how it looked now. Both her mother and Augusta insisted that a baby's hair and eyes were unreliable and guaranteed to change.
Poor thing, with that round face he has ten years of cheek pinches ahead of him, she thought. She gave him only a soft pat and left the room for her office, not liking to be too close to him with her mind full of Death Eater memories. She felt contaminated by them.
A small alcove off the stairs served as her office and contained a chair, a desk and a small cage containing two spotted, lop-eared rabbits. She stopped to rub one of the rabbits with her finger through the bars of the cage, before turning to her desk and untransfiguring her tissue box, quill holder and vase into a pile of papers; a wave of her wand sent the papers flying up against the wall above the desk where they stuck themselves in place. All were blank. She touched each with her wand and muttered the words, "I see and understand." Photos, and wanted posters of various Death Eaters, time lines, maps, charts and diagrams appeared on the wall.
The study of these were the real source of her power as a Legilimens, for study gave names to the faces, meaning to the words, and significance to the actions uncovered in the minds she scanned; without it she would see but would understand nothing.
She sat at the desk and began to write an account of all she had gleaned from Traver's mind, writing quickly to get as pure an impression of the images as possible. When she finished, she began a second report containing an account of her discovery of Travers, her methods of gaining access to Traver's mind, and descriptions of the girl who had led her to Travers and the other girl who worked the pub when she found him.
While Alice worked, Augusta silently placed a cup of tea on her desk and then left quickly. Augusta had a natural tact and reserve about her work that Alice appreciated. She drank the tea, and let it warm and relax her as she considered her next step. Every detail would be dissected from the whole and collated, placed in its own compartment, perhaps in her time lines, or her Death Eater profiles, perhaps her maps, or her catalog of curses.
Like pieces in a mosaic, each small detail was a single tile sorted and stored according to color and texture, which, when seen alone was meaningless but when mixed and placed with its brother tiles, formed a clear and unmistakable picture. Sometimes she thought of herself as an artist building a mosaic, and at other times she thought she was a spider spinning a web of facts, details, and clues to catch a Death Eater.
She drew a diagram of the V formation the Death Eaters had taken when they killed
Marlene and her family. Noting how they had Apparated to their station in the V, thus instantly boxing Marlene and trapping her in the attack.
The Stragmos curse bothered her. Harrowing to watch, the curse was obviously designed to intimidate witnesses, yet Travers performed it in an empty park devoid of any onlookers save his own accomplices. Was the curse used simply to kill Tom McKinnon in a cruel way out of hatred, because he was a Muggle-born, or was Travers testing it or perfecting it? Did he burn the body to hide the existence of his unique curse?
Many of the Death Eaters from You-Know-Who's inner circle employed signature spells of their own design. Was this Travers attempt to enter that exalted circle by proving he could invent his own hex?
Frank had not yet sent word. The thought had loitered at the edge of her mind since she arrived home, and now enough time had passed that the thought had matured into a full fledged fear. She was beating air. She wasn't going to do anymore work tonight.
She tapped her report three times with her wand and whispered Geminio: three additional copies appeared on her desk, one each for Frank, Moody and Dumbledore. They would need to know all the details that she had of how Travers had killed the Mckinnon family.
"Finally finished," she said as she waved her wand over the reports, wiping them clean so each resembled bare sheets of paper and then transfiguring each of them into small items. For Dumbledore she transfigured the paper into a chocolate frog card depicting the witch Circe, and affixed the note, "for your collection." Moody's report was transfigured into a quill with the note, "a gift for you.". Frank's was turned into a list of chores she knew he was never going to do. For years she'd always sent him the same list.
At last she removed, wiped and transfigured the collection of papers affixed to the wall above her desk. The security measures impressed upon her early in her career by Alastor had become as natural to her as washing up dishes after dinner.
She went to the bedroom in search of her owl, Wol, carrying Dumbledore's chocolate frog card; she tied it to Wol's leg and sent him out to Dumbledore. She would send the quill to Alastor when she knew he'd returned from the fight. Of course Frank could pick up his own off her desk.
Neville cried softly in the next room, but calmed himself before she could reach him. She almost felt disappointed when he fell back to sleep. Cuddling him would have comforted her during the wait for Frank's return; she considered taking him downstairs, but could imagine Augusta's reaction to anyone waking a sleeping baby.
Poor Augusta had been left alone downstairs for long enough; Alice was becoming rude. Reluctantly, she left the baby behind and returned to her mother-in-law. Augusta sat imperturbable on the couch, a cup of tea in her hand, unfazed by either her solitary wait or Frank's delayed return.
Alice joined her and said "I'm sorry, Augusta, I've been rude leaving you alone like this. I had some Death Eater muck in my head. I needed to clear it out and write the report while it was fresh in my mind."
"Of course, Alice dear, you must do what your work requires," Augusta said a touch of pride in her voice. Augusta had called her 'Alice dear ' for so long Alice thought of it as one name. The habit had irritated her at first, but she was fond of it now as she was fond of the pride in Augusta's voice whenever she spoke of Alice's work. Augusta took almost as much pleasure in Alice being an Auror, as she did in her son's achievements, which was saying a lot.
"How was Frank able to join me at the pub so quickly? He arrived at almost the same time as Alastor." Alice asked Augusta. There'd been no time to ask Frank. She had even had to assume he had left Neville with someone.
"Frank sent me an owl this evening -- he thought it wise I come and stay, so he could join you as soon as he had news. He was worried about you, Alice dear," Augusta answered. "I came and made him a good dinner while we waited. "
"Thank, you" Alice answered dryly. "But how did he..." Alice stopped in mid-sentence. She was becoming very worried; too much time had passed without word. She recited in her mind all the reasons that a fight would last this long, but none seemed adequate. If she didn't hear from him soon, she'd Apparate back to the pub and see if she could help him, whatever Frank thought of it.
"Alastor Moody sent Frank a message as soon as he heard from you. Frank left right after it came," Augusta said.
Frank must have made arrangements with Moody ahead of time. She and Frank were both getting anxious for each other. Whether the source of this anxiety was the accumulated tension of years of fighting Dark Wizards or the birth of Neville, she couldn't tell. The deaths of so many of their friends was the most prominent reason but she was wary of even skirting the edge of that thought.
She could feel more and more time passing without word from Frank. Alice felt the tick-tock of a clock beating inside her head measuring the time which passed from when Frank should have sent word.
"New Foeglass, I see," said Augusta, pointing to a rather large and ornate mirror on the wall which was clouded over with an indistinct mist indicating real but distant enemies. She narrowed her eyes and gave one of her indecipherable grunts. Her look made Alice wonder whether Augusta thought she and Frank were giving way to nerves.
"Present from Alastor when Neville was born," Alice answered.
"Moody thinks the child needs a Foeglass?" Augusta asked.
"No, Alastor gave us a Foeglass so we could protect Neville," Alice said.
Her own mother had caught on to that immediately. At the sight of the Foeglass, she had protested, "What kind of life do you lead if your friends need to give you a Foeglass to protect your child?"
Alice had considered it a very hard question at the time. She still did.
"You seem anxious Alice dear, you needn't be. Frank could fight a Manticore and a Chimera and still return the winner. My son has nothing to fear from anyone," Augusta declared staunchly.
Alice wished it was that easy. She had more faith in Frank than anyone, but she knew that Frank could be beaten. Anyone could be if enough planning and effort were put into it; for evidence she need only think of the deaths of Edgar and the Prewetts. Fabian and Gideon were attacked by five men; there was hardly a defense against that. Sometimes Augusta's insouciance was as much a burden as Alice's mother's fears.
Frank's Patronus, a silver border collie bounded into the room.
"We took them alive. Moody and I are safe. I'll be late." The dog said, with Frank's voice.
Giddy and sick with relief, Alice hugged Augusta spilling her tea all over them both.
"Well, I said worry was unnecessary, Alice dear," Augusta said, as she cleaned up the mess with her wand. "I'll be going home. I am a bit tired," Augusta said, rising and walking to the fireplace.
Alice followed and gave Augusta a peck on her cheek. She helped her step into the fireplace and waved goodbye as her mother-in-law disappeared into the green flames. Alice stretched and walked into the now immaculate kitchen. Relief had made her hungry. She had not eaten since noon. She could not eat while she was worried about Frank. A plate of the dinner Augusta had made Frank lay on the table, put aside for her.
Augusta knew she would be hungry, but she also knew that she couldn't eat when she was fearful for Frank. So she hadn't offered the food, but left it for her to have when she wanted it. Alice smiled as she ate her food, her mother-in-law was often a considerate woman.
After eating she returned to Neville's room and stood by his cot, watching him sleep. With all her fears for Frank, and the tensions of her day, it was good to look at his small form and watch him breathe.
After a time, she washed up her dish and returned to the living room. "Nux", she said. She sat in the dark with no light but that of the fireplace stroking her Kneazle, Spots. Knowing her love of spotted animals, Frank had given him to her when they were first married.
The voice in the walls announced, "Frank Longbottom has reached the Apparition point alone." Lux she said and returned light to the room. She stood at the door while the voice announced his progress to the house. When he reached the door, she had her wand ready, prepared to check if it was really him, ready to show him her identity. He entered the house and stood at the door, he did not ask her a security question, he looked into her eyes and allowed her to see what was there.
She gasped and grabbed his arm and pulled him to the couch.
"Tell me with words," she said.
"Benjy Fenwick is dead. They found him under the Dark Mark this evening," Frank said. "They told me when Moody and I brought in Dolohov and Travers. They asked me to help identify his body. What there was of it."
For a brief moment she felt relief, relief that it was him and not Frank; then she recoiled from the thought with horror. She was glad Frank was not the Legilimens; he would have hated that thought. Benjy was Frank's best friend since the days she, Frank and Benjy had arrived at Hogwarts and been sorted into Gryffindor together.
Alice rubbed Frank's back as she waited for him to tell her what he knew. Another Order member dead, she thought. They'd killed the Prewett brothers, Marlene and Dorcas, even Edgar, and now Benjy.
There was a special cruelty to Benjy dying the night they arrested Dolohov. Benjy, a Muggle-born, joined the Order because Death Eater crimes against Muggles so outraged him and Dolohov was vicious to Muggles. Much of the evidence they had of Dolohov's crimes was unearthed by Benjy at the Muggle Relations Office and passed on to the Order. She was sure Frank had been looking forward to telling Benjy they'd finally gotten the man he'd investigated for so long.
"They didn't find much of his body. I identified some locks."
Benjy had worn dreadlocks from the time they were children.
"We found an ear, I recognized it by the earing. There wasn't much else left." Frank's voice was tired.
"Are they sure it was him?" Alice asked. "Maybe it's a mistake. That's not much to..."
"They confirmed his identity with Polyjuice potion," Frank's said, resigned. "I waited for the results – it was him."
She felt dry and empty. She had no tears and felt no pain, only emptiness. She hoped the pain would come soon; she feared the emptiness. Benjy had been her friend before she had ever been close to Frank. She'd even dated Benjy for a short time in sixth year, mostly to make Frank jealous. It hadn't worked.
Another friend was dead, one more loss. They'd lost so many friends she felt she was playing a game of last man standing. She looked past Frank to their wedding picture on the table behind him. Benjy was there next to Frank, mugging for the camera. Dorcas, standing next to her with tears in her eyes, grabbing first Frank and then Alice to kiss. Edgar and Emma behind them waving. All of them gone. She and Frank were the only ones left; they were the last men standing, all alone.
Frank looked at her with tears in his eyes. She found a handkerchief in her pocket and handed it to him. "We were going to meet for drinks tomorrow. Well, that'll never happen again," Frank said. "He met someone. He was very happy. We'll have to make sure they send her word. It'd be terrible if she were overlooked."
"We'll write to her too, ourselves," Alice said to comfort him.
"Yes," he answered. She cuddled up against his chest. Frank curled a lock of her hair around his finger.
"The Dolohov and Travers thing was rougher than I expected. Took longer too; We made a mess of the pub. We got the boy along with the main two. From the look of him, I think he is a Crabbe, a younger brother or cousin I reckon," Frank said.
"God, that feels so long ago. I'd almost forgotten about Dolohov and Travers. That's odd, when I was so worried," Alice said.
"The pub owner came in, after we got the thing wrapped up, thank God," Frank said. "He was a bit angry. Kept asking about some kid who worked there. Seemed to think it was her fault we'd wrecked the place. As if she could have stopped us. He should have been glad she wasn't hurt."
He lifted her away from him to look into her face. "I assumed you chased her off," he said. Alice nodded. He kissed her and settled her back against his chest.
"I told him the Aurors ordered her off and that satisfied him. Magical Law Enforcement finally arrived and they took over placating him. It took forever to get the prisoners booked too," Frank said. "When they find the girl to question her, they'll figure out it was you who tracked the Death Eaters. The whole thing has your style written all over it.
They'll guess that you're working for someone. Scrimgeour is going to eventually link us to the Order -- we'll have to be prepared," Frank said
Alice shrugged. "He'll figure it out eventually, if he hasn't already," she said. She didn't care what Scrimgeour and the Ministry thought. She knew they were going to learn she was working for Frank and Moody during her maternity leave and she reckoned they could do what they wanted with the information. Frank was always more the law-abiding Head Boy than she was.
She knew that Frank had qualms, worries that their membership in the Order betrayed the vows they had made to the Ministry. She suspected Scrimgeour would feel so. When they'd joined the Order, they did so because they had no choice. Voldemort had infiltrated the Ministry. He was delving deeper, growing more powerful; their only choice to stop him was to align with others independent of the Ministry.
She could feel his heart beating against her cheek and the rise and fall of his chest with every breath he took. "I love you," she said.
He lifted her face and kissed her on the mouth. "I love you too," he said.