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Femgenficathon: Sorrows and Regrets


Title: Sorrows and Regrets

Author: Vegablack62

Characters: Augusta, Alice, others

Rating: G

Word Count: 4,080

Prompt: 1) The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. – Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American novelist and abolitionist.

Summary: Augusta Longbottom waits outside the Casualty ward at St. Mungo’s and thinks about her relationship with her daughter-in-law.

Author’s Note: Written for the [info]femgenficathon under a deadline gun. There was only time for a light going over by the beta.  The concept of graveside is used rather broadly here.

 

Alice’s mother glared at Augusta from her seat outside the casualty ward at St. Mungo’s hospital. When the Healers had sent Augusta from Frank and ordered her to wait outside, Augusta had felt the woman’s eyes on her during the entire walk to her chair. Alice’s father had asked after Frank – sincerely concerned, Augusta thought -- Helen had just stared with resentment. Augusta didn’t mind; let Helen direct her anger at her, if it comforted. 

 

Augusta knew the real anger was for Alice, who she had never forgiven for becoming an Auror. She’d wanted a nice safe position for her daughter in the Department of Mysteries where she could study the passage of time, or the power of love. She’d even blamed Frank for luring Alice into the job. Nonsense, all of it; Frank hadn’t led Alice anywhere. No one could. Alice, and only Alice, led herself.

 

Augusta had been disappointed when her son brought Alice home to meet her. The first time really, he had ever disappointed her.  Augusta glanced over at Helen and snorted quietly under her breath. Helen held that against her too. She’d never forgiven Augusta for not appreciating her precious daughter.  Augusta made no apologies; she had found Alice insipid and ordinary – blond, but barely pretty; not plump, but likely to become so in Augusta’s estimation; bright enough to get into the Aurors, but unimpressive otherwise. Augusta had seen no reason for her son to be interested in this cherub faced girl. She had been sure that Frank could have done better.

 

Augusta remembered watching the challenge come into Alice’s eyes, as if she had known Augusta’s opinion.  Had Alice merely surmised it, or had she begun to use her Legilimency skills on Augusta even then? She knew the girl had sometimes used them early in her marriage. (Alice had done it frequently with Augusta’s permission as the war progressed. Legilimency was a far stronger protection against Polyjuice Potion than a mere safe-question.) Augusta hadn’t begrudged her those early, defensive, unapproved peeks into her mind. She’d been flattered that that her son’s wife had felt the need.

 

“You don’t look like an Auror,” she’d told Alice at that first dinner. It had been true; the girl had not resembled any Auror she’d imagined, witch or wizard.

 

Alice had seemed amused. (How dared she?)  “Really, what do you think I look like?”

 

“Like a welcome witch or a girl who likes working with children.” Not a far-fetched assessment, the girl had reminded Augusta strongly of the woman who’d taught Frank to read when he was six.  Augusta had been sure Alice should have been running a crèche.

 

 The both of them, Frank and Alice had laughed.

 

“You’re pleased with the remark?”

 

“Oh yes,” Alice had replied. “I make my career by looking like the girl who makes the tea.”

 

“Mum, most Aurors walk into a room and everyone thinks ‘these blokes are here to arrest someone,’ no matter how they’re disguised. Alice can go anywhere and talk to anyone and never put them on their guard. It’s quite a skill. I wish I had it.”

 

“People are very open with the girl who makes the tea,” Alice added with a grin.

 

How that conversation, that entire dinner had irritated Augusta, as others had over the years with Alice. That feeling that she was playing out of her league with Alice had never left her. In the early days, Augusta had resented it, but not now. She stared at the door that led into the ward where Alice and Frank lay half out of their heads and almost laughed at herself. Well, others resented Alice too with cause. Frank had told her years ago that the Death Eaters hated Alice more than they hated him. He had fought them, captured them, even killed a few, in tough fights, but in addition to all of that Alice had tricked them, lied to their faces, and made them look like fools.

 

Well then, good for her. Augusta smiled a satisfied smile, catching Helen’s bitter eye. Your daughter wasn’t who you wanted her to be Augusta thought back at her.  She never wanted the safe route. Accept that. Augusta had sat in this very room before with Frank waiting for the Healers to finish with Alice. A Death Eater had grabbed her in a fight, thinking she was a Muggle bystander he could take hostage. Alice had gotten a nasty wound from that incident of course, but she’d captured the idiot.  

 

Augusta rubbed her face. This was different. She could feel it; see it in the mediwitches faces as they fielded their questions. They told her there had been a lot of damage. What did that mean, anyway? Think about Alice, she commanded herself. Do not think about the Healer’s cryptic remarks about Frank. We’ll see. We’ve tried some things. Only time will show if they work and how much damage has been done. Time? Who had time?  

 

They still hadn’t found Neville. No one said so, but no one would give a straight answer. He’d not been admitted to St. Mungo’s with his parents. None of the medical people had him, and the law enforcement wouldn’t say anything except to tell her to wait for more information. Everyone told her to wait. What easy advice for them to give.

 

Yes, Alice could make her angry. Her memories of Alice and Frank’s rushed wedding still irked, practically an elopement really. Alice knew it too. Alice could see a barn by daylight; she knew what people thought about her. She was a Legilimens, for Merlin’s sake.

 

Alice had set out to charm Augusta. She could be very charming, most of the time. Augusta had resented it; that this uninteresting girl could throw her a bone, could feel sorry for her enough to be kind, irked to no end. Besides, Augusta distrusted charm.

 

In the end she’d softened. Alice would give her a smile, a look that said, “I know I’m not cozening you, because I know that would be foolish, and really, we’re both sensible people, too wise to fight over nothing,” and Augusta would feel that intransigence was silly. Augusta had given in to Alice, as everyone did. 

 

None of Augusta’s negative comments went anywhere anyway. Alice didn’t care what Augusta thought about how the house looked, or whether she and Frank ate at pubs, and neither did Frank. Augusta would speak her piece and Alice would just smile, and say that she knew things would be different if Augusta ran their lives. Frank would grin and Augusta would know that she was wasting her time. 

 

Really, Augusta was proud of Alice; as proud of her as she was of Frank. It was no small thing to have an Auror for a daughter-in-law. Sometimes she even envied Alice. Augusta cast a guilty look at Helen; the woman had often accused Augusta of encouraging her daughter in work that risked her life, which was silly. When had Alice ever needed or wanted Augusta’s encouragement?

 

When Neville was born, Alice had needed someone to look after him. She had chosen Augusta to do it even over her own mother and father. She and Frank would leave him with Augusta while they went off doing work too dangerous to talk about. They trusted her, and no one else, with the baby. 

 

You have the will, Alice had told her. If someone attacked the house my father and mother wouldn’t know what to do. They would freeze, but you would act.

 

At that moment she’d felt as close to Alice as she had to anyone. Helen resented her for that too, which Augusta could understand and pity.

 

A mediwitch stepped into the room asking for Alice’s parents, but not her. They weren’t done with Frank yet and only the closest relatives were allowed in the room now. What did that mean: “Frank wasn’t ready yet?” 

 

Augusta stared at her hands, getting control when the door opened again. She looked up hoping it was a mediwitch with news, good news about her son, or Alice or both.  An Auror, Robards, stood watching her. She was too tired, and the world was too far upside down to waste time on pleasantries or courtesy. “Where’s Neville?” she asked. “I’ve asked everyone and no one will tell me anything.  I expect more from you.” Firmly believing that control of conversations belonged to the one who took the upper hand, she went further.  “When are you bringing him to me?  I’m his grandmother, and his mother entrusted him to me.” 

 

“That’s why Moody sent me to get you,” Robards answered with the quiet voice one used with those who needed to be kept calm.

 

She didn’t need to be kept calm.

 

“We can’t find him, and Moody’s convinced he’s alive. He’s sure that Alice and Frank would have had a plan to protect their son. He believes that if anyone knew what that was, you would. He said you were the last person still alive the pair would have trusted with the information. He says that Alice told him that.”

 

At any other time Augusta would have felt satisfaction, but now she felt sick. She had no idea where the baby was; if she did, she would have gone searching long ago. “Take me to the house,” Augusta told him, largely because she had no other idea of what to do or who to ask. Alice’s parents knew nothing, if they did they would have told an Auror long ago; they were the least devious set of people she’d ever met. Alice and Frank’s closest friends were dead—including Neville’s godparents. 

 

Robards sent an assistant to alert the mediwitches as to her whereabouts. If St. Mungo’s needed to bring her to Frank, the assistant would fetch her. He led her to the Apparition point, babbling about how the ministry had lost a buttock over the attack. Frank always complained that the man had too big a mouth. She only half listened. She was searching her mind for conversations with Alice and Frank that would reveal anything about how they planned to protect Neville.

 

Alice had told her once that a Legilimens could find conversations easily in the memory, but conclusions figured out, discovered by logical deduction were a good deal harder to find. That information would have to be retraced down winding paths of links, memories, guesses, and surmises, which was almost impossible. Alice had given her a firm look then, and Augusta had realized that whatever she learned about her and Frank’s work would have to be surmised. Her daughter-in-law and son would never speak clearly to her about anything important.  

 

Augusta knew that she would have to guess where Neville was. She turned to Robards cutting him off in mid-babble. “Tell me everything you know about the attack.”

 

“That’s what I was doing,” he muttered. “They used some connection at the ministry to bust open the protective spells on the house. They captured Frank separately and brought him there. Disapparition from the house was blocked, probably by the same connection at the ministry. The fireplace was disconnected from the network. We don’t think Alice had time to take a broom away, hide the baby, and come back after Frank. If the baby is alive, then we think he’s been hidden in the house. I’ll be honest, some fear that whoever attacked Alice and Frank took the kid with them and left him in a ditch somewhere.”

 

Augusta and Robards Apparated with two large bangs and arrived right in the center of the house entry. Apparently all blocks had now been removed. The place was a wreck. Piles of smashed pottery, glass debris, and random objects blocked the door. It looked as if the ceiling had fallen in; further adding to the mess. Neville’s rocking chair lay upside down, half buried in the rubble. Alice’s Kneazle, Spots, engorged to the size of a human, lay dead in front of the stairs. Augusta looked away.  

 

“We think Alice enlarged the creature to use it to help defend the house,” Robards said. 

 

The Kneazle would have fought for Alice; it had been a devoted beast.

 

“The attackers fired the house,” Robards added, “but one last defensive charm put the fire out.” Both Alice and Frank had arrived sopping wet to the hospital.

 

“You shouldn’t have brought her,” said a female Auror with an eye-patch who stepped out of the kitchen avoiding a pile of rubbish. She met Augusta’s look of outrage calmly.  “The child isn’t here,” she explained.  “After we sent Alice and Frank to St. Mungo’s, the only thing alive in this house was us and a cage of rabbits on the first floor. Believe me, we checked thoroughly and repeatedly.”  

 

Augusta knew about the rabbits. They were Alice’s pets, black and white spotted lop eared creatures, flashy and ridiculous. Alice would pet them, cuddle them and hold them on her lap. She even kept their cage in her office at home. Such pointless Muggle pets had irritated Augusta, who thought them useless for anything. She’d told Alice as much but she had only laughed and claimed they had the most important job in the house. 

 

“Entertaining you?” Augusta had asked.

 

“Everything in this house is here to entertain,” Alice had replied. She had been pregnant with Neville then and the creatures had barely fit on her lap. “They’re really the baby’s. He’ll enjoy them when he’s big enough.”

 

That had irritated Augusta even more. What would those rabbits do for a baby except scratch it? 

 

Alice had smiled her amused smile, while she petted the creature. “Now Augusta, why so upset? You know I at least keep my animals clean,” she’d said, obviously aware of Augusta’s feelings. They had probably sung to her from across the room.

 

Augusta had squashed the topic. She hated it when her disapproval amused Alice. Frank had laughed at the whole conversation. The two of them had been happy then.  Tears stung her eyes at the memory; she shook her head to get rid of them. She turned to the female Auror who thought her search fruitless and gave the woman a defiant look. Alice would have had a plan to protect her son, a clever one. One this woman couldn't fathom.

 

Witches were sifting through the piles of rubble that blocked the door, shoveling what they found into bins. It looked like every item in the kitchen had been smashed into little pieces and left in that pile. Knives were stuck up to the hilt into the walls.

 

“There was quite a fight here,” Robards said. He nodded toward the stairs that led to the upstairs bedrooms and Alice’s office. “We think that’s where Alice made her stand.”

 

Several curse marks scorched the walls and steps. Rubble trailed up the stairs.

 

“That’s where we found her wand, smashed. We’re testing it, but it will take time, broken as it is.”

 

The witches searching through the mess glanced at her nervously and then turned their backs to her as they performed a summoning charm. They were searching for the baby’s body, Augusta guessed. She made a quick move to go up the stairs and away from their work. Robards stopped her grabbing her arm.

 

“No walking through the evidence,” he said as he summoned two brooms from across the room and handed her one. “Besides, so much of the supports have been cursed, I’m not sure this can support human weight any more. Half the walls are gone too. All that’s holding up the top floor are spells, powerful spells. I think the bedrooms and the office would stay a float even if the entire ground floor was gone.”

 

Compared to the ground floor, the first seemed barely touched. Frank’s office had completely collapsed onto the ground floor, but the other rooms remained intact. Two wizards and a witch stood in Alice’s tiny office, crammed between her rabbit cage and desk, searching drawers, the walls, everything for hidden files and notes transfigured into everyday objects. In the cage at their feet two black and white rabbits snuffled at the wire door, noses twitching, hoping for treats and attention. They were ignored.   

 

A towel lay on the hall floor, while baby toys floated in a bath still half-full of water. Alice must have been bathing Neville when they’d come to the house with Frank. Augusta backed into Frank and Alice’s bedroom and sat down on the bed. She couldn’t bear the sight of the tub full of water and toys.

 

Augusta closed her eyes, drew a deep breath and slowly let it out. She was here to find Neville; to read clues, not to mourn. She stared at a picture hanging on the wall across from the bed, a Muggle picture of a tongue hanging out of a big red pair of lips, the words The Rolling Stones written beneath that outrageous, obscene mouth. Augusta let its bizarre absurdity steady her. Thank Merlin this Muggle picture lacked the gift of movement.  

 

From Alice’s office she could hear the frustrated conversation of the witches as they searched. She feared that she would come up as short as that pair, that the house would reveal nothing to her. She looked through the doorway toward Neville’s bedroom commanding herself to think.  The face of a bearded black man with long stringy hair peered out of a picture hanging beside the door to the child’s room. She studied the man’s intense gaze. She recognized him. He was a Muggle singer, a favorite of Alice’s. She and Frank had even named Neville for him. Well that wasn’t exactly true. Alice’s grandfather had been a Neville, but they liked to claim this obscure singer as the inspiration for the name. 

 

The singer had a fake stage name -- something Wailer. His real name had been Neville something or another, but he’d used another name, one that Augusta couldn’t remember, but which had been inappropriate for a grown man. She concentrated on the name, instead of the towel on the floor, the tub full of toys, and what they both might mean. She’d hated the man’s name, and its connection with her grandson, hatred which had amused Alice. Did she do nothing but entertain her daughter-in-law?

 

“I don’t know why we have to search this office,” complained one of the witches working in the room next door. “She would have destroyed all her contact lists and notes as soon as she knew she was under attack.  This is a waste of time.”

 

The rabbits in the next room rattled their cage.

 

“Do you have any idea what we’re to do with these things?” asked her friend. She lowered her voice. “Will she take them? The poor things need someone to take care of them.”

 

“She can’t,” Robbards answered quietly. “She has to be at St. Mungo’s practically all the time.” 

 

“We should bring them to the office; someone there will take a bunny. I’ll take one myself. Hey, hi there little bunny,” The girl repeated over again in a high pitched singsong. 

 

Bunny… Bunny Wailer … the singer’s name was Neville but he called himself Bunny Wailer… Oh Merlin.

 

“Stop!” Augusta yelled.   She ran over to Alice’s office. She knew why Alice’s was protected and Frank’s wasn’t. The bunnies were in her office. The witches and Robards were staring at her like they’d decided that all that had happened had finally driven her mad. Augusta knelt in front of the rabbit cage and opened the door. She pulled out a black and white lop-eared rabbit and handed it to the girl who cooed over it. Its companion jumped out as well, but Augusta didn’t care. She knew neither were Neville. Alice had owned two black and white lop-eared bunnies before he was born. They were just a distraction. He was hidden deeper within. She felt around the cage with her hands, and found it, a soft form. 

 

A small rabbit, the color of straw, half the size of the others was pulled sleeping from the cage. At her touch the rabbit shook itself and awoke out of what she was sure was spelled sleep. She pulled out her wand, closed her eyes and concentrated, because reversing such a complex transfiguration was difficult. She spoke the words loudly and clearly, giving the force of her will and voice to the spell. The watching witches cried out as her hands became heavy. The tiny bunny became Neville. She would have dropped the child if Robards hadn’t reached over and grabbed him at the moment of Transfiguration. 

 

The baby was naked fresh from the bath, with bits of straw stuck in his hair, but he was smiling and happy. “Gra,” he said reaching over to touch her face, her nose, and mouth. He was laughing; turning his head to look at the other strangers in his house; unaware of all that had happened. He grinned at them and then rested his head against her shoulder and gently began to pat her on the back, imitating the hugs he’d had from his parents. She held him close against her.

 

One of the young witches went flying down the stairs on her broom, calling to the other Aurors, telling them that the baby had been found alive and well, hidden in the house.

 

“Will you look at that, he was next to us the whole time and no one knew,” said the other young witch holding the two decoy rabbits in her arms.  “Well that’s why Homenum revelio didn’t work. None of our searching spells did and none of theirs did either.  No one thought to look for a rabbit.” She grinned down at the two in her hands and laughed.

 

“I knew Alice would have come up with a plan. I knew he was safe. I could feel that baby in the house,” said Robards. He laughed. “I knew it,” he repeated, smiling and shaking his head. The Aurors from below flew up the stairs and crowded into the landing. For one golden moment people were happy in this terrible place.

 

“No one can say Alice isn’t a clever girl,” Augusta said tears pricking her eyes again but smiling.  “Get me some clothes to put on this child,” she told Robards. She could hear the girl who’d flown to get the others discuss with her friend taking the beasts home. Augusta hoped she would. She wished those rabbits well. They had served their purpose admirably, but she certainly didn’t want them.

 

Later at St. Mungo’s Augusta watched the Child-Healer examine Neville, and thought about the honor Alice had given her, trusting her to find her child. The Healer declared Neville a healthy toddler who’d suffered no ill-effects from his time as a bunny. He was a little hungry, a little thirsty, but unaware of all that had happened to his parents. The child believed he’d played with his mum, taken a bath, and then gone to sleep, only to be wakened by Augusta.  After the exam, Augusta took him to visit his parents, who were lying in bed in a charmed sleep designed to give their minds a rest. Augusta felt that she and Alice had been colleagues for a time, working together.  She hugged the boy.

 

The day they moved a spelled and sedated Alice and Frank to the closed ward, Augusta was alone. Alice’s father was home with his wife, who was too drunk to help. She’d been broken by her anger at her suffering daughter, cracked apart by the weight of it. The woman couldn’t bear the sight of the consequences of Alice and Frank’s work; work she hated and resented but should have been proud of. 

 

The woman lashed out at Augusta when she saw her now. That was alright. Let her hide her bitterness from herself by flinging it at Augusta, as long as she didn’t fling it at Frank. None of this was Frank’s fault.

 

Augusta had been proud of her son and of her daughter-in-law, and was still proud of them. Sitting between their beds, holding her son’s hand, Augusta watched Alice’s sleeping form and whispered, “I will miss you, Alice. You were my friend, and I will miss you very much.”

 

Often in the weeks since the attack, Augusta asked herself what would have happened if she had visited Alice that day. Sometimes she liked to fantasize about being there. She’s on the stairs fighting alongside Alice. Two instead of one, they rescue Frank and defeat his attackers. Everything is different.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
author_by_night
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
I really liked this fic... I think my favorite part was Alice turning Neville into a bunny. There's just something very sweet, yet heartbreaking, about that - and oddly enough, it fits exactly with how I see Alice.
vegablack62
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
I did think it was a very in character way of hiding Neville. It had humor and was clever and even a little humble. I think we must have similar views of Alice.
clionona
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
“No one can say Alice isn’t a clever girl,” Augusta said tears pricking her eyes again but smiling.

Oh man, nail on the head.

*sniffles*

Another brilliant view into the world of heroes cut down before their time. As usual, you've given me so much food for thought. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing talent. ♥!
vegablack62
Oct. 20th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you, you are very sweet to say that. Thanks for your support of my writing.
kelleypen
Oct. 20th, 2009 04:17 am (UTC)
This was lovely . . . touching . . . and very sadly sweet. Well done.
vegablack62
Oct. 20th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your words and for reading and comenting.
wotcher_wombat
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
Wow. That was terrific! I loved all the clues that lead to the discovery of Neville, and that Alice trusted Augusta to figure it all out. More and more, I find myself falling in love with your versions of the Longbottoms. Also, the slow build to your climax felt just right--and I loved this: "For one golden moment, people were happy in this terrible place." Great fic!
vegablack62
Oct. 21st, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for your wonderful words. I'm glad the pacing of the story worked for you. I love the Longbottoms and love writing them. I hope to create a whole picture of their world. Thank you for reading.
l3petitemort
Oct. 23rd, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
this was absolutely wonderful.

i could picture everything perfectly in my head, and just imagining what frank and alice went through in those moments before everything happened... it killed me. it broke my heart. the bathwater with the toys, baby!Neville... ugh.

i love your alice... self-confident, secure, intelligent, fiercely protective of her son... and i love the relationship she has with augusta. they're equals, and they know it. they may not always agree, but their mutual respect is evident.

i love everything about this. it's fantastic.
vegablack62
Oct. 23rd, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this encouraging set of comments. I wanted the reader to see Alice and Augusta exactly as you described, so your words were very gratifying. Thank you for taking the time for reading and leaving a comment.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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