“LONGBOTTOM (Oakenclough, Lancashire). Peacefully at home on January 15th, aged 96 years, Augusta (nee Malkin), beloved wife of Norman (died 1988) and mother of Francis. A much loved, grandmother and great-grandmother. Augusta will be sadly missed by her grandson, Neville, by Hannah, and by her great grandchildren Florence and Norman Longbottom.” (cutting from The Daily Prophet, Obituaries).
Professor Neville Longbottom (Order of Merlin, first class), Head of Gryffindor House, reread the obituary notice. Neville sat at the desk in his private study in the attic of the Leaky Cauldron. The room, like his office at Hogwarts, was an untidy clutter of photographs, awards, and plant pots. He opened the plain wooden box which currently had pride of place on his desk. The box was labelled simply “Gran” and he carefully placed the notice within it. He then turned his attention to the two other letters in front of him.
He reread the most recent letter first. It was dated only two weeks before his grandmother’s death and was written not with her usual spidery scrawl but with the bold strokes of an AutoQuill Dictation Deluxe; the quill he had bought her for Christmas. She had been complaining for months that she could no longer hold a quill steadily enough to write legibly.
You have grown into a fine young (Neville smiled at the word “young” – he was now forty-seven years old, and though he did not consider that to be old, he knew that his children did.) man with a good wife and two wonderful children.
Now that your father, my dear Frank, has followed his beloved Alice beyond the Veil, I find myself weary. I have a grandson and two great-grandchildren, but you do not need me the way my poor Frank and Alice did.
Your parents are finally gone, and in a way, I am glad. Despite our visits over all those years, they recognised neither you, nor your family, nor me. Perhaps now is the time for you to throw out all of the sweet-wrappers Alice gave you. I suspect that you won’t; you have inherited that sentimental streak from your mother, I am certain.
I have never given you the credit you deserve, and I apologise for that. My great-grandchildren Florence (I do wish that you wouldn’t call her Flossie) and Norman (your grandfather would thank you for using his name) are wonderful children, a gift to me and to you. You, and they, have made me proud. I am especially pleased that Florence has decided to follow your parents (and even you, for those few years) into the Auror Office. I do hope that the Weasley boy she is seeing does not distract her from her chosen career.
I rewrite this letter every year, and every year I wonder if it will be the last time. Over the years, the contents have changed. The great-granddaughter I first praised you for eighteen years ago is now a young adult with her life ahead of her, and next year, if I survive to rewrite this letter, her brother, too, will have passed into adulthood.
I am proud of you all. You are more than I hoped, more than I expected, and more than I deserved. Your career as an Auror was shorter than I would have liked, true, but as I think back, you achieved so much in those few short years, and I am certain that your parents would be proud of the fact that their son is now Head of Gryffindor House.
This makes my final task all the more difficult. I must apologise for the contents of the attached letter. You have always been a good and dutiful grandson and now, I fear, I must let you down. Please forgive me.
Neville pulled out his wand and very carefully erased the final, short paragraph from his grandmother’s letter. Refolding it, he then returned it to the envelope from which it had come, the envelope marked: “Neville: to be opened only in the event of my death.”
Having edited the letter, he turned his attention to the other piece of correspondence, the faded yellow parchment which had been attached to the letter he had just altered. It was dated 5 May, 1998, almost thirty years ago.
“My Dear Neville,
If you are reading this letter, then I am dead. Whether this is days, or years, after I write it, I cannot know, but please do not cry for me.
I have never been more proud of you than I am today. Your parents, too, would be proud if only they could understand what has happened. You are a hero, and you deserve a medal. I, on the other hand, am nothing more than a foolish and vengeful old woman. I saw little of you during the first part of that battle. I shall, however, always treasure the memory of your brave defiance of Voldemort.
My pride in your achievements makes it so much harder for me to write this. I did a terrible thing during the battle, and I shall carry the guilt of it with me for the rest of my days.
When I arrived at the castle, your friend Harry Potter told me that you were fighting. I assumed that you would be outside with the other defenders. As I discovered much later, you were helping Pomona Sprout collect plants from the greenhouse. I must say that your use of plants to defend the castle was very clever.
I looked for you in the grounds. It was chaotic, with trolls, giants and Death Eaters everywhere. I was near the Forbidden Forest when I saw a green flash off to one side. I saw someone fall (it was, I discovered later, an Auror named Cuthbert Cleverley. He was a good friend of your father’s). His companion, an oddly dressed young woman, cast Reductor and Blasting curses towards the person who had killed Cleverley, though obviously she could not see him.
Her blasts drove Cleverley’s killer from his hiding place, and I saw him run into the forest. I recognised him immediately. It was Rodolphus Lestrange, so, of course, I set off after him.
I am not as young as I was, and I thought it very unlikely that I would be able to catch him, but the chance for revenge spurred me onwards. I followed him deeper and deeper into the forest, simply trying to keep him within sight.
I almost lost him. He was getting further and further ahead of me, but he suddenly turned and began running back, almost towards me. I soon saw why. Someone was blasting trees deep in the forest and was herding dozens of Acromantula towards the school. Rodolphus was in their way.
I waited until he got closer to me and I Stunned him.
It was a cowardly attack; he had no idea that I was there and he had no chance to defend himself. But the man was such a tempting target, and my dander was up. Having Stunned him, I cast the Incarcerous spell on him.
Then, however, I did something I am ashamed of.
I did nothing.
I had the opportunity to remove Rodolphus Lestrange from the path of the Acromantula, but I did not. Instead, I hid myself and watched as one of the creatures picked him up and sucked the life from him. I watched him die without remorse, and I even (to my shame) considered removing my Stunning Spell so that I could hear him scream.
I did not, however, stoop that low.
Nevertheless, I brought you up to do the right thing, Neville. I am certain that you would have been stronger than me, that you would have saved Rodolphus Lestrange from the horrible fate I allowed to befall him.
His body was found and identified after the battle, and now only his brother Rabastan remains at large. I have no doubt that you will capture him.
(‘We did, Gran, but as you know, he died too,’ Neville whispered.)
I am sorry to pass the burden of my guilt on to you. I cannot confess my crime as it will bring shame to the proud name of Noble and Most Ancient House of Longbottom. Now you must decide what to do with this knowledge.
Please forgive me.
Neville wiped the tears from his eyes and, with shaking hands picked up his wand again. Conjuring a silver bowl he placed the letter in it.
‘Incendio,’ he said. He watched the letter burn to ash. Finally, when nothing remained but curls of grey powder Neville carefully Vanished even that unreadable residue, leaving no trace of his grandmother’s confession.
Closing the box marked Gran he put it in the bottom drawer of his desk and picked up the envelope containing the other letter. He walked out of his study to greet his waiting family.
‘Well?’ Hannah asked. Neville handed the remaining letter, the one he had so carefully edited, to his wife.
‘Gran just wanted us to know that she was proud of us all, especially Trainee Auror Florence Longbottom,’ said Neville. He could see from the concerned expression on his wife’s round face that Hannah knew that there was more. He would have to tell her, but not now, not in front of the kids. He changed the subject.
‘What time is that ginger lad you’re going out with coming to collect you, Floss-pot?’ Neville asked his daughter.
‘Never, ever call me Floss-pot, Dad,’ she said, ‘I’m not three anymore. It’s Flossie, or Florence, if you must. If you ever use that name in front of Hugo, I’ll … I’ll … I’ll…’
‘Stammer a lot?’ her younger brother asked. Flossie glared at him. Neville looked at his daughter’s annoyed expression and hid a smile. Florence was remarkably like her late great-grandmother in many ways, but he knew that was a truth she would not want to hear.
‘Hugo will be here in half an hour, Dad; we need to get back to Auror training. Did I tell you that they’ve made Al Potter our supervisor?
‘It’ll be twenty years since there was a team consisting of Aurors Potter, Weasley and Longbottom,’ Neville observed, smiling. ‘Gran was proud of you, and I’m proud of you … and I’m proud of her.’