Last of the Line
28 July 1998
"Good morning, Gran." Neville entered his grandmother's bedroom, carrying an old silver tea tray.
"Morning, Neville. But, but Annie normally brings my tea." The older woman wasn't used to changes of routine. Her fingers picked at the coverlet.
"Yes, I know. She let me know she would be a few minutes late this morning, so I brought it up. So, How…" He set the tray on a bedside table, knowing she had to calm a little before she would accept the tray.
"Boy! What did I say about asking me how I am?" She felt irritated.
"I'm sorry, Gran. I was about to say, how about I show you what came in the post today?" Neville brought out a thick envelope.
"Of course, so sorry. I don't know what gets into me lately. What did arrive in the post?" She answered, trying to calm herself.
"Shall I read it?" At his grandmother's nod, Neville opened the envelope and started reading a condensed version of the letter.
"Dear Neville Longbottom, We, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Auror Division, are honored to extend an invitation to attend the Auror Training Academy, class of 1998. With your exemplary and courageous actions in the past war, we feel you would be a great fit within our team. Please find enclosed further details." He looked excitedly at her. "What do you think, Gran?"
She paled, her blind eyes staring off to the distant wall. "Auror." A small tear left her eye and slipped down her wrinkled cheek. "Again."
Neville quickly shoved the letter in his pocket and rushed to her side. "Gran, Gran, what's wrong?" He took her lace edged handkerchief from her bedside table and dabbed her tears.
She flailed her arm about, trying to pat his face in comfort, "No, nothing dear. Just a foolish old lady's fears."
"Fear? What's there to fear?" Neville smiled at the woman he had always been intimidated by but loved with all his heart.
"That's just what your father said." She smiled weakly, "I don't want to lose you too"
"Nah. The war's over. You'll never get rid of me now." He tucked the coverlet tighter around her lap, "Now, Annie's here. She'll get you dressed. I'll be back up in an hour and we can talk more." On impulse, He kissed her on the forehead just before he walked out.
Right on time, a little bell sounded. Neville dabbed his mouth and thanked his house elf for breakfast. Upon entering the room, Neville felt his heart drop. Gran just finished with a long coughing bout.
Annie dabbed what looked suspiciously like foamy blood from the corners of her patient's mouth. "Mrs. Longbottom. You must keep up your strength. I can get you something else." The middle-aged woman sounded stern, the best way to deal with Augusta Longbottom, but the look she shot to Neville scared him. It wasn't panic, it was resignation. They had been warned about this. It was a sign of the end.
"How about some broth, Gran. And then I'll read to you some more. You still have one last chapter of your book."
"Yes. But only a little broth, and not too hot!" Augusta pushed her tray away with a flailing arm, and Annie caught it before it spilled all over the bed clothes.
The newly blinded woman didn't see her nurse mouth, "Gather the family."
Neville kissed his grandmother again and rushed out of the room, He gave the order for broth to the elf and stuck his head in the Floo, "Algie Longbottom"
In only a moment, his uncle came into view. "Neville, my boy. Don't tell me it's my day to watch the old girl again?"
"No, Uncle. But Nurse thinks you may want to be here. She thinks it may be time." Neville choked at the last word. He knew it would be a kindness. Ever since the curse struck her during the battle just over two months ago, she had been going from bad to worse. Her organs have been shutting down, her limbs have been quickly atrophying. She lost her vision two weeks ago and this last week, she stopped being able to hold a spoon. The healers just shake their head. It's been a wonder that she has lasted this long.
There was a long pause. "Enid and I will be there shortly. I'll send word to the others." Uncle Algie walked out of the view of the Floo and Neville sat back, fighting back a panic. He heard the tiny bell again and went up to spend the day with Gran. Praying they had at least the day.
In fact, they had a day and a half. It was the next day when Augusta Longbottom slowed her breathing until 5:35 pm, she took her last breath. As Annie, the nurse drew the sheet over her face, Uncle Algie poured a shot of fire whiskey for all present. Uncle, Aunt, and several distant cousins. They all looked to Neville, last in the long line of eldest sons, the new head of the family.
Swallowing back a sob, Neville raised his glass, "Gran, Rest easy." He gagged as it hit the back of his throat. He was never much a drinker.
The others followed, "Augusta."
Over the next hour, the others drifted off to other parts of the house. Per family tradition, they would all take turns sitting vigil until morning. Nurse Annie left to record the death with the Ministry. She would return in the morning to prepare her former charge. Uncle Algie, to spread the word to even more distant relatives. Aunt Enid to notify the papers. Everyone knew what to do. The cousins were from Gran's family and not Longbottom. There were no more Longbottoms. Everyone had a part to play. Everyone but Neville.
Now, the day before his 18th birthday, he was alone. The head of a nearly extinct family. Owner of a large manor that was crumbling from within. Heir to a fortune that had dwindled to nearly nothing due to generations of mismanagement.
"Neville! Neville, my boy!" The voice of his Uncle startled him to the present.
"Yes? Oh, Sorry. Lost in thought I guess." Neville sat up and saw the sky outside the window had turned black. "What time is it?"
"Time for you to get to bed. It's after midnight. I'll take over." The eighty-year-old man settled in an easy chair near the low fire. He saw that Neville didn't move, "Bed, young man. It's a busy day tomorrow. Need your wits about you."
"I guess you're right. Goodnight." He took one last look at the covered figure in the bed then turned to the hallway.
More than sorrow hung over the young man. Taxes, bills, maintenance on the big house. It was beyond him. Gran had worked hard all her married life to fix the problems of those previous generations. But she ran out of time. Out of the several options she was working on, there was only one that he could see working. He tossed and turned until the sun finally shone through the curtains. He rose and dressed. It wasn't until shaving that he made the final decision.
His first stop was the family lawyers. It took an hour, but his plan was accepted, and put into action.
His second stop for the morning was St. Mungo's. He went straight up to see his parents. As usual, they didn't seem surprised that he had visited only a few days since his last time. Time had no connection to their days.
"Mum, Dad. I…I don't know how much gets through to you, but I do have some bad news. Last night, Gran passed away." He paused, not sure if he should wait for any reaction. "It was that curse, you see. From the battle." Dad smiled serenely at his nails while Mum searched her pockets for another sweet. His eyes drifted to a framed photograph that he had hung over his father's bed many years before. It was a scene of the front of the house. He was waving his father's wand and holding his Hogwarts letter. "I need to tell you what is going to happen." And he laid it out. Whether they listened or understood was beside the point. He told them anyway.
"Uncle Algie and Aunt Enid would be alright. They have their own home. He has income of his own. The cousins would get a few pieces of Gran's jewelry. The land had been sold off and it's only the house left. If I sold it off, I could have enough to pay the debts, and still have enough for some investments." Neville paused, hoping to get some advice, knowing he would not.
"Longbottom house will be no more, but we would have dignity and no obligations. It's the only way I can think of." He finished. There was nothing more to say. He stood and leaned down to hug his father and kissed his mother on the cheek, then said what he has said every week. "I love you Dad, Mum. I'll be back Sunday." He turned and was halfway to the door to the ward when he was stopped by a touch on his arm. He turned back, expecting to see his mother with a new candy wrapper, but was surprised by his father.
Frank patted his arm and smiled childishly. "G'night, Mum." The older man said jovially then wandered back to his chair.
Neville hurried through all the obligatory errands and appointments that a death in the family required. But home was where he wanted to be. Late afternoon, He greeted his relatives and then moved quickly to his study. He sat at the large oak desk, pulled out parchment then re-read the letter he had opened two days before.
He was sure. The quill dipped into the ink. Now to follow in the steps of his father. Now to be who his father was never allowed to be.
Director, Auror Training Division,
Thank you for the invitation. I am honored by your consideration and proudly accept this appointment. I look forward to attending the Academy starting 2 September. Please find the enclosed required forms.
Sincerely, Neville Longbottom