Still calling out random farewells to their host and fellow party-goers the young couple stumbled slightly as they made their way, arm in arm, down the front steps of the little flat. The man was tall and lean. He had thick dark hair, even darker eyes, and the amount of stubble running the length of the jaw and chin indicated that he was in need of a shave. His companion was a small and rather curvaceous woman. She had a sweet, rounded face and shiny blond hair that was styled in dozens of tiny pin curls. Making their way to the deserted sidewalk their laughter died as they took a moment to catch their breath and inhale the chilly November air. The night was dark and eerily quiet; apart from the two of them, the only living creature in sight was a mal nourished alley cat sitting atop one of the larger trash bins on the other side of the road.
Wrapping his arm securely around her shoulders the man pressed a kiss into the side of the woman's head before he spoke, his words muffled somewhat. "There's an alley just up there, want to Apparate?" Alice Longbottom grinned lazily glancing at her husband. "Not really," she slurred. "See I'm…mmmostly sure that that one bloke...Dawlish?- I think it was Dawlish- put some firewhisky in the butterbeer and I do not feel like getting splinched tonight."
"Ahh," said Frank nodding vaguely. "Well s'not that far to mum's, we'll just grab Neville and Floo home from there." In response Alice just smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder. They walked in silence down a few more streets. They were taking a short cut through a dodgier part of town to get to their destination, and most the street lamps here were broken or sputtering feebly.
As they rounded a corner onto one of the high streets, the quiet was broken by what sounded like a miniature explosion. Pulled from the pleasant dream-like stupor they had been walking in, the pair wheeled on the spot, two wands were pulled from coat pockets as instinct took over and the two Aurors assessed their surroundings, alert for the sounds of approaching Death Eaters. They spotted the disturbance at once and immediately saw what the "danger" really was. Judging from the position in the inky sky, someone from several blocks over had let off what appeared to be an entire crate of Filibuster's Fireworks. The small rockets of light were now dancing and twirling in an entirely non-muggle fashion.
"Well," said Frank mildly, now that threat of attack had been lifted. "If that's not illegal, then I am squib." Stowing their wands back into their coats, the Longbottoms watched as one of the rockets, transformed into a sparkling lion and another into a large ugly serpent. They watched as the faux constellations circled each other before the lion pounced and swallowed the serpent whole. In the distance the faintest sounds of applause could be heard on the light wind.
"Want to arrest them?" said Alice.
"Nah, we're off duty. Leave it to the Obliviators" said Frank
"It could be fun..." she wheedled
"Let's just go home, love." he said.
Alice sighed. "Everybody's celebrating," she said sadly, once they had continued on their way. Frank looked around. "Why shouldn't they be?" he asked "Voldemort," -she didn't flinch- "is dead. Apocalypse averted. They all get to live happily ever after." his voice had suddenly grown bitter.
"At what price?" she asked rhetorically. "Everyone is so caught up in the euphoria, of the fact that 'we won!' I doubt they even care that some poor little boy has to grow up without his parents, or that two the strongest and bravest people I've ever known are dead." Tears were glinting in her eyes as memories of Potters' funeral unwillingly resurfaced.
"I know," said Frank.
"Do you?" she challenged. "Frank that could have been us, maybe it should have been us!" A lone tear slipped from one of her sapphire eyes. Gently, Frank took one of her gloved hands in his own.
"I know," he murmured softly.
Twenty minutes later, an aged house elf, dressed in a frayed table cloth, bowed Frank and Alice into the foyer of the grand Victorian house. Augusta Longbottom had lived in the city manor house for nearly fifty-seven years and every since her late husband, Albert, had died from Dragon Pox, her son and daughter-in-law had been begging her to permanently retire to her country estate in Galway, if only to put an end to her constant critique of the city life.
Their attempts were fruitless. Augusta had no intention of ever moving from the city. Ever. There was also no doubt that her resolve on the matter had been decidedly strengthened when she realized just how much closer she was to her beloved grandson in London than in Ireland. Since then she had quite cheerfully informed the couple that if either dared to suggest her relocation ever again they would be disowned.
"He was a very good boy!" Augusta announced proudly, not bothering with any type of salutation, as she swept down the grand staircase to join Frank and Alice, their eighteen-month-old son Neville in her arms. "He ate his dinner, Clocks gave him his bath," she said gesturing at the house elf who had shown them in and was now trying to usher all of them into the parlor, "and he went right to sleep! He woke up about ten minutes ago, though. He wasn't crying, just awake. " she finished following the elf into the next room.
"Oh, you were good for your Grandmummy, were you?" said Alice in a surprised voice to Neville. "I was worried, he's been a bit fussy lately, thank you again for watching him." She told Augusta earnestly. The elder woman shook her head dismissively, "Nonsense, dear, I don't see enough for him as it is! How was your party?" As she spoke the house elf, Clocks, finished igniting the fire before disappearing with a loud CRACK.
"Very party-ish," said Frank jovially, sitting down in one of the winged back chairs by the fire.
"I take that to mean there was plenty of incompressible music, and insufferable conversation with intolerable people?" said Augusta peering hawk-like at her son.
"Precisely," said Frank as with another CRACK Clocks reappeared with small tote bag, full of Neville's toys. "Master Neville's things, Madame" said the elf, handing the bag to Alice, before shuffling out of the room.
"Well, I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves," said Augusta stiffly, but her eyes were sparkling. "I assume you'll be using the Floo network from here?" she asked moving over to a small cabinet and retrieving a large draw string pouch. "Please," said Alice taking the pouch from Augusta.
"Yes, but I don't understand why you can't have the network set up directly into your house. Seems rather impractical to me," Augusta commented dryly.
"Mum, we're Aurors, it's for security." said Frank standing up again and heading towards the fire.
"Alright, my darling," said Alice moving forwards to take her son back. Immediately, Neville, who been sitting quite docilely in Augusta's arms began to fuss and cry.
"Oh, baby, I know you love your Grandmummy, but it's time go home." said Alice consolingly. The two women had to wrestle slightly with the baby as he was transferred from one to the other. "He knows," said Alice glancing darkly over at the crackling fireplace. "I don't know how, but he knows!" Augusta smiled indulgently at her grandson, now squirming in his mother's arms. "I had forgotten, Neville dislikes Floo travel," she said.
"'Dislikes?'" asked Frank incredulously. "More like abhors. Honestly, you'd think we were taking him to a Chudly Cannon's match."
Taking a pinch of the Floo powder from the bag she was still holding, Alice threw a bit in the fireplace and stepped back as it turned emerald green. "Thanks again," she said to Augusta, giving the woman a hug and kiss on the check.
Augusta smiled, "So long as I get my Sunday brunches you are always welcome!" Approaching the fire once more, after handing the bag of Floo power to Frank, Alice stepped into the flame, she cried "the Hopping Pot!", then vanished.
The Hopping Pot was one the lesser known magical pubs in London. On the opposite side of the city in comparison to the Leaky Cauldron, many witches and wizards found it less desirable because it was so far from Diagon Alley. These days, business was in full swing. People were booking private parties every night, seeing as the Leaky Cauldron now had a two month waiting list, (and the bartender was now delightedly telling any who would listen that he and his wife had had to take out a second account at Gringotts).
Even as Alice and Neville came through the fire place, a party, very much like the one Alice herself had been at earlier, seemed to be starting. A very good looking wizard in aqua blue robes was standing on small stage, apparently introducing one the local bands who had been hired to play. "-put your wands in the air for London's very own…THE WEIRD SISTERS!" Suddenly there was a heavy weight on Alice's shoulder, and she turned, Frank had arrived. Quickly, not wanting to intrude and because the noise of the party had done nothing for Neville's mood, they made to leave, but a voice in the crowed made them pause.
They turned. A short little wizard in stylish black dress robes was moving through the mass of people to get to them. "Benjy? Benjy Fenwick?" said Alice, shocked to see another member of the Order. Since the downfall of Lord Voldemort and the tragedy that had come with it (less than three week ago), the Order had, in effect, disbanded. Two of its strongest members were dead, one was in Azkaban, one had been reduced to nothing more than a stray finger, and another had literally disappeared in the dead of night. Frank, Alice, and Alastor Moody were still Aurors, but the Prewetts' had died the week preceding the Potters' death. Alice often wondered whether or not James and Lily had even received the news before they died. Others, members of the order such as Benjy, Sturgis Podmore, and Emmeline Vance, had returned to their daily lives.
She had to admit it was very odd, meeting Benjy here, in a crowed pub, rather than in the gloomy confines of the Order's Headquarters. He was short man, barley taller than Alice herself, but as a former Ravenclaw, she knew him to be sharp of mind and an exceptional dueler. "Ah, so she remembers me!" said Benjy in mocking tone.
"Oh, don't give me that rubbish!" Said Alice indigently, trying and failing to sooth Neville, who was taking great issue to the bag pipe solo being performed by the leader of THE WEIRD SISTERS. "Well, what brings you to these parts? I though you lived up in Kent, 'round where Diggles lives?" Said Frank curiously.
"Oh I do," said Benjy cheerfully, "but, to tell you the truth," he said lowering his voice conspiratorially, "I've made it my new mission to crash as many of these parties as I can in one night! I've already been to about seven and the night is still young!" Both Frank and Alice laughed.
"Actually" Benjy continued, more seriously now, "I've wanting a word with the two of you as it is. I heard about the attack on Moody a week ago. How's he doing? I'd go see Alastor myself, but I think he's still a bit bitter over the whole...leg...catastrophe."
At this, neither Longbottom could help but throw Fenwick the smallest of glares; after all he hadn't been the one to work for Moody after half of his leg had been blown off while on a mission for the Order. Benjy had been Moody's backup, but he'd been hit with the Imperious Curse from behind and turned on Moody halfway through a duel with three Death Eaters. And while Benjy himself had not cast the spell that had cost Moody half a limb, Moody never trusted him after that and was constantly muttering his famous credo "constant vigilance!" whenever Benjy was within earshot.
"Ah, don't look at me like that," Benjy pouted. "It was an accident! Anyways, I don't see why he holds a grudge; I think the new leg looks fabulous!"
"Oh course you do," said Frank sardonically. "He's doing alright though," Frank continued. "You know Alastor, he's tough, been out of St. Mungo's two days and already back in the office."
"Naturally," said Benjy grinning. "All right, well send him my regards." He said turning to go.
"Will do, you take care Benjy." Said Alice cheerfully.
Benjy waved jauntily, and disappeared back into the crowd.
Once Benjy had gone, the three Longbottom's quickly made their exit from the pub. The Hopping Pot was barley three blocks from their little flat, a perfect place for them whenever they used the Floo Network. The moon shone brightly down on the family as the crossed the empty road.
The walk outside had blessedly lulled Neville into a doze, so when they climbed to the muggle elevator, he didn't stir. Aurors were encouraged to live in muggle establishments: they provided better security because they were the last place Dark wizards would look. Frank and Alice's apartment, though small from the outside, had been magically enlarged so it had three bedrooms instead of two and as many invisibility charms as they knew, so they could practice magic in private. Although that was many for Neville's benefit, in case his powers started manifesting earlier then was normal as Frank's had. "Here, I'll go put him down, 'fore he wakes up again." said Frank, carefully taking Neville from Alice once they'd stepped inside the apartment.
Shuffling tiredly over to the worn sofa Alice flopped down onto it ungracefully, her eye lids becoming too heavy to keep open. She heard the click of Neville's bedroom door and the sound of Frank coming back into the main room. "You asleep?" he asked quietly in case she actually was. "Yep," said Alice without moving. Frank chuckled.
"Well I hope you can find it in yourself to wake up for moment, because I have news," said Frank, in a curious tone of voice. Alice opened her eyes.
"Does this have anything to do with that meeting Moody and Crouch pulled you into this morning?" One of the most unfortunate things about being Aurors, especially in these times, was that the pair of them were always moving, yet rarely in sync. Often times, they had no idea what the other had been up to all day, until they reached the sanctuary of their home. Tonight, they had had the party, a celebration in honor of successful capture of Antonin Dolohov, the man convicted of leading the attack on Gideon and Fabian Prewett.
While festivities had been a perfect way to honor their friends' memories, Alice had to admit that it had been wrenching to come face to face with Molly Prewett – or Molly Weasley, as she was called now- and her husband Arthur. Alice could remember only too well the countless times Gideon and Fabian had shoved pictures of their nephews under every single Order member's noise, beaming with pride. At any rate, it had been neither the time nor place for the Longbottoms to debrief each other on their respective days. Alice, for her part had spent her time bringing down yet another known Death Eater- Mulciber. But, she'd seen Moody pull Frank away from his interrogation of Travers and march him into a meeting with none other than Bartemius Crouch.
"As a matter of fact it does," said Frank. "Crouch and Moody want-"
But he was cut off by a soft tap tap on the window. A tawny owl was flapping in mid air outside the window, a letter attached to one of its spindly legs. The Longbottoms looked curiously at each other for a moment before Frank crossed to the window and pulled in open. The owl hopped inside, but the moment Frank had removed the letter, he shot back out again.
"Who's it from?" asked Alice interestedly.
Frank flipped the envelope over. "Dumbledore!" He exclaimed.
Wha-what's wrong? Who's dead?" said Alice jumping to her feet. Under normal circumstances Alice's immediate conclusions might have seemed paranoid, but after living with the threat of Voldemort for eleven years, Frank wasn't surprised.
"Nobody," said Frank slowly, scanning the letter. She relaxed.
"He just wanted to... let us know that Lucius Malfoy was cleared of all charges –Damn!-... Apparently he claimed it was ...the Imperious Curse -lying bastard- Also, Harry's location is safe... only select members of the Order and...the Minister know where to find him." He finished look up.
"Good, I'm glad he's safe," said Alice with a relieved sigh. She stretched out a hand and Frank joined her on the sofa, pulling her close to his side.
"Speaking of Harry Potter," he said cautiously. "Remember that thing we talked about the other night? About us and Harry?"
Alice took a deep breath. She did remember, and she had thought about it. For hours. "That prophecy Dumbledore heard," she began slowly "that could have been either of us...us or Lily and James. I-if Voldemort had gone after us instead...James and Lily would have taken care of Neville, no doubt." Her eyes flickered to the silver wedding band on her left hand, thinking, for the umpteenth time about what could have happened.
"You mum loves Neville, but she's getting on in years, she couldn't just start over with a baby all by herself." She continued, "James and Lily would have taken him, I know it. We owe them this. Lily told me all about her sister, Petunia hates magic, she and Lily had been estranged for years. The only reason Harry is with Petunia and her husband is because they are the only living blood relations he has left. There is no way I'm leaving my best friend's child to be raised by people she hated. I couldn't live with myself." said Alice, her voice rising passionately.
"So we talk to Dumbledore? Ask him if we can adopt?" said Frank seriously.
"I think so," said Alice shakily.
"We can give him a good home, Ally," he said earnestly. "Once the celebrating dies down and we start rebuilding, he'll be okay. Unbelievably famous, but we can shield him from most of that."
Alice nodded, standing and walking over to the still open window.
"Besides," said Frank. "Neville could use a baby brother."
Alice looked down, a bitter sweet smile playing across her round face. "Brother? More like twin, you know they are barely twenty six hours apart?"
Frank laughed. "Seeing as there was a four hour period when both you and Lily were in labor at the same time. Yeah, I'd say I'm aware."
"God, they were so close to making it to August." said Alice. "You know that night when Neville was born, July 30th, I was so sure that meant our fate was sealed. That the prophecy was talking about Neville. I was praying that Harry wouldn't be born till August 1st."
"So was I," said Frank quietly. "Thought it'd be better. Just so we'd know one of our families were safe."
"Seven minutes." said Alice bitterly. "Harry was born seven minutes to midnight."
"It was fate, Alice. Prophesized destiny, nothing could have stopped that." Frank joined her by the window, wrapping an arm around her tiny frame. They lapsed into silence. There was nothing more to be said. They stayed that way for a long time, not talking, just taking comfort from the other's simple presence.
"What were you going to tell me earlier?" said Alice suddenly, breaking the endless silence.
"When?" said Frank blankly.
"Before the letter came. You were saying something about Moody."
"Ah, right. I had a meeting with Moody this afternoon." He said, remembering. "His arm healed quite nice by the way. But just so you know, the Healers apparently... they couldn't really fix his, er, you know, his nose," said Frank awkwardly gesturing to his own. "And, well, it's rather...er...you'll just have to see for yourself," he said as Alice stared uncomprehendingly. "The point," he said firmly. "Is that he and Crouch want me to head up a new team," he finished proudly.
"A new team," Alice repeated suspiciously.
"He didn't exactly call it a hunting party, but in effect… Just because Voldemort is gone, that doesn't mean we get complacent. More than half the Death Eaters are still out there, we need to find them. Fast."
"And Mad-Eye has decided that you are the only man for the job," said Alice, her face unreadable.
"Well, me and a few others. It'll be me, McCarthy, Knowles, Carmichael, O'Connor, and apparently we have some new talent. Mad-Eye said his name was Shacklebolt. Apparently he shows 'real promise', and if Mad-Eye can be that complementary about anyone only two days out of St. Mungo's, kid must be one hell of a fighter."
"Hmm...and what exactly are you going to be 'hunting'," asked Alice, for there was an oddly triumphant glint in her husband's eye.
"The Lestranges." He said. His voice was positively quivering with anticipation.
"The Lestranges?" she asked wide eyed. "As in-," but Frank cut her off.
"As in Bellatrix and Rodolphus?" he finished. Alice nodded mouth slightly open.
"Mad-Eye wants them brought in. Alive. All of them –he's betting Rabastan is with them too. They were Voldemort's favorite, his most loyal; if anyone can confirm his death it'll be Bellatrix Lestrange!"
"So," said Alice slowly evidently thinking, "Essentially, what you're telling me is that you and five other blundering fools are leaving home to go on some God-forsaken quest, in order to try to find and capture the most sadistic and evil woman who has ever walked this earth?"
"Essentially? Yes." said Frank eyeing his wife warily.
Alice grinned, "Can I come?"
Frank opened his mouth to answer, also grinning, but before he could another voice spoke; a cold, merciless voice that was laced with malice and insanity.
"I'm afraid that won't be necessary," it said.
On a cold November night, 1981, the wizarding world continued on. The years of fear, mistrust, betrayal and grief were over, they had survived. For most, it was another night of jubilation and joy. A new era was on the rise and miles away from the streets of London, Molly Weasley held her youngest son expertly on her hip as her four year old twins went tearing through her home, leaving chaos and destruction in their wake. In the safety of her crib, Hermione Granger watched uncomprehendingly as her favorite teddy bear managed to levitate its self off her bedroom floor and float down beside her. In the underground Ministry of Magic, Bartemius Crouch Sr. sat imperially behind his desk, not knowing or caring where his son might be at that very moment.
Somewhere in the Scottish mountains, Albus Dumbledore was observing the world from his study window, long fingers pressed together, lost in thought. Sitting on the filthy floor of his cell, Sirius Black sat motionless, letting his own pain and guilt ridden despair wash over him in waves. In a dark, deserted forest in the French countryside, a werewolf howled with unrestrained agony. And nestled awkwardly in his Aunt Petunia's unwilling arms, Harry Potter slept soundly. Not one of these people could hear the single word, whispered like a pray to the night, fall from the lips of the merciless voice.