Boxception

Trapped between reality and dreams, suspended between agony and bliss… Welcome to the surreal world of Alice Longbottom, stuck in a St. Mungo's ward and losing her damned mind.

THC gift fic for Theoretical-Optimist.

Headcanon: The patients in the Janus Thickey ward (where the Longbottoms are kept) are trapped in their own minds, with no ability to express that they understand what is going on around them. You hear stories about people who are in a persistent vegetative state remembering things that happened, so why not victims of Cruciatus torture?

Please also do take a look at the other fanfic based on the above headcanon, "Sleep Now, Sweet Child of Mine" by whitetiger91, another fellow Gryffindor and a great writer. You can find the story link Gryffindor Common Room thread in the THC forum.

Before you start reading, do note that this is an extremely experimental style I'm attempting here. This story is written with a surrealistic approach—think "Inception". Each segment alternates between two different mindsets that Alice is going through, acutely aware of both the outer world around her and the inner world within herself. I strongly suggest that you read this with an open mind—break yourself out of the boundaries of realism, and step into the infinite possibilities of surrealism.

Enjoy.


Alice Longbottom, trapped in a box
Is she dead? Is she alive?
The handle unwinds with every tick
Tick-tock, tick-tock
A jack-in-the-box sitting on her palm
The box is her mind
And the jester is herself…

Or is it the other way round?


I'm vaguely aware of my surroundings. Blinding white lights, whispering voices, the smell of sterilizers… They have all been a major part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember. Or I think I can remember. I don't know. Every time I try to dive into my past memory, everything merely feels like a blur to me—like a cyclone of colors.

Except that there is only two.

Black.
Red.
Black.
More red.
Black.
And it stayed black.

My head hurts. I feel like it's going to burst into flames whenever I try to look into my past.

I always wonder if I'm constantly trapped in a limbo, neither dead nor alive, with disembodied chatters floating around me that I cannot connect to. Most of them call me 'Mrs. Longbottom', except for two faces—the only two I can distinguish from the sea of blanks around me.

One with a wrinkled face with sagging facial features and a soft jawline. Every part of her seems like they are rotting away with age; only the sharp glint in her eyes have stood up to the test of time. Mother, my mind says, but that word simply refuses to form on my lips.

The other is much younger, rounder, gentler. A stark contrast with the first. He is always looking at me with those sad, puppy eyes. Did Frank and I ever have a puppy before?

Frank?
Frank…
Frank.

Who is Frank?

My head hurts again.
And the pain won't go away.


Tick-tock, tick-tock
A jack-in-the-box
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Sitting on my palm
Tick-tock, tick-tock
In a flash of red
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Exploding with delight
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Grinning with agony
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Writhing with pleasure
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Dark eyes boring into mine
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Everything went black


The next day, I see the same old lady with her grandson again. The lady seems to have more feathers attached around her neck this time; her stuffed hat appears to be taller and more intimidating than before. The young boy, however, still has the same depressed look on his face.

I turn my head slowly and stare at the boy in the eye.

He smiles at me. A smile that is drenched in tears.

Is he smiling? Or is he crying?
I don't understand.

He picks up my hand and presses something into my palm. Something that makes a crunching noise when I squeeze it harder. He brings my hand closer to my eyes. It's a candy.

Round, like his face.
Red, like—

Crucio!


Tick-tock, tick-tock
Vision turning scarlet
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Skin burning like wildfire
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Scents of blood filling the air…
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The devil is back!
Tick-tock, tick-tock
In a flash of red
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Everything burns


Neville.

A week has passed, and the same pair has come to visit me at the same time, with the same look. Oh, I'm not talking about their clothes. That'd be disgusting.

Same facial expression. Same smile.
The same smile that didn't reach the sorrow in their eyes.

Neville.

A name keeps repeating itself at the back of my mind, growing louder and closer with each call. My chest tightens as the syllables hammered against my ears.

Neville.

I remember now.

My son. My precious baby. The proof of my love with Frank Longbottom.

I remember now.

Frank is my husband. We met at Hogwarts, where we fell in love and pledged our loyalty to Dumbledore. It was the place we both called our true home. A home we'd sworn to protect so that one day our boy could go there too, a sanctuary where he could grow up splendidly and make us proud.

I remember now.

A small box. Frank gave me a box. There was a ruby ring inside. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I remember…

The boy presses something into my hand again. This time, it's not round. I can feel the edges cutting into my palm. Something squarish. He raises my hand to my eyes.

Chocolate, he mouths, and I watch a tear trickling down his downcast eyes before it disappears into the corner of his lips.

The crimson box wrapper expands and fills my vision.
All I see is red. Everything around me is red.

I remember now!

A jet of scarlet light. A black shadow that looms over my terrified self. I can hear the cries of someone—the newborn in my arms. The silhouette becomes bigger, clearer…

I remember now.

Bellatrix Lestrange.


Tick-tock, tick-tock
The shadow departs
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The wind continues to howl
Tick-tock, tick-tock
I am losing my senses
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The glass breaks
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The world collapses
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Falling into darkness
Tick-tock, tick-tock
A child's cry piercing through the night


I recall that it was a stormy night. I don't know how long I had been running. Screams of terror mixed with the roaring thunder ripple across the land as figures in black cloak marched down the streets. Jets of emerald light arced towards the fleeing backs of the townspeople. One by one, they tripped over as Avada Kedavra curses sucked out the last breath of life from them, leaving them fallen on the ground, with only the horror of realization firmly carved onto their gaunt faces.

Dead.
Broken.
Gone.

I peered over my shoulder. That wretched woman was still following us, her wand waving wildly as streams of deadly spells danced around us, engulfing us in a whirlwind of colors.

Colors of death.

My eyes were blinded by the flashes of red and green, exploding with such intensity that the sleeping newborn in my arms was woken up from the shock, and he began to cry.

"Neville," I cooed, rocking the baby to and fro as gently as I could in my trembling arms. Frank was dueling with the dark witch, his counters colliding with her curses and exploding in mid-air. Neville stopped crying, seemingly awed at the display of colorful lights, not knowing the truth behind the blinding glamor.

These weren't the lights of hope. They were the lights to the family's downfall.
To our grim end.

I held Neville closer to my chest.

"What do you want from us?" Even in the midst of the hair-raising crackles, I could still hear Frank's voice loud and clear.

"You know what I want," the dark witch drawled, giggling. Her high-pitched laughter sent chills down my spine. "That child—my Lord has been searching for him. Give that boy to me."

"No." Without another word, Frank swished his wand and sent another barrage of spells at the dark witch. "I will not allow you to touch my family, Bellatrix Lestrange!"

Bellatrix merely threw her head back and cackled. "We shall see about that!"

"Go," Frank urged. "Take him to my mother—to Augusta. Go."

I wanted to shake my head. No, I want to stay with you! But I knew that he was right. For the sake of our future, the future I was holding in my arms, I had to go.

His lips twitched a little into a soft smile. "I love you."

That was the last time I had ever seen him—seen him normal.
Because the next time we met, we could never go back to the life we yearned for.

Frank!


What's in the box?
An engagement ring
What's in the box?
The kiss of oath
What's in the box?
A pinky promise
What's in the box?
The treasure of our days

Treasure?
What treasure?

I stretch out a hand
Reaching for the light
Growing brighter, warmer
Searing pain ripping through my heart

Ah…

Do you remember now?


I am always looking forward to seeing Neville whenever there is someone coming to visit me. I am always excited to see what kind of new things he's going to put into my hands.

Candy.
Chocolate.
Gum.
Sugar quill.

What is he going to surprise me with today?

I feel my heart skipping when I hear approaching footsteps, tapping to the rhythm I can easily tell who it belongs to without tilting my head to see Neville walking towards my bed. I want to smile, but all I can manage is to make my lips tremble. That's not good.

I hear Mother's—Augusta's—usual complaints about the hospital, about the world outside of the protective shell I've been staying at since that stormy night, about every single person who has walked past the ward. Blah, blah, blah. I can't seem to register her rants in my head, and all I'm wishing is for her to stop talking.

Neville is smiling again, but this time he seems genuinely happy. I can't help thinking that he really looks like an excited puppy to me. One that I'd love to cuddle with… to ease the heavy regret bubbling up inside me.

I'm a failure as a mother. How I wish I could've watched him grow up with my own eyes! How I wish I could've sent him off to Hogwarts as a family!

I feel something hard being pushed into my hand, harder and colder than anything I have felt. Here it comes. I feel like my heart is pounding in my ears. Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. Loud enough to drown out Augusta's rambles.

He raises my hand to my eyes.
My heart stops.

"Surprise!" Neville says, and the box springs open, a little jester bouncing out of the red box. "Do you like it?"

No! I try to scream, then I can hear a high-pitched laughter mocking me. My throat feels so dry, almost like it's on fire. Streams of scarlet light are coming towards me, and agony is all that I can remember. I want to scream.

No! The little jester merely smiles at me, bouncing to the merry tune of 'Pop Goes the Weasel'. It's her—I can feel Bellatrix's soul torturing me from within, the dark witch's smirking face becoming bigger as the jester comes closer to my eyes.

No!

"Gram." Neville's chirpy voice sounds further and further away from me. "She likes it. Look, she's smiling! Just like the clown inside this box!"

NO!


What's in the box?
The Inner Eye has spoken
What's in the box?
The prophecy will be fulfilled
What's in the box?
The Dark Lord has come
What's in the box?
A fragment of thy soul
What's in the box?
Pandora's Curse
What's in the box?
Stay away from me
What's in the box?
Kill me now!

Kill me now
That face
Kill me now
That merry song
Kill me now
That smile
Kill me now
That box…

Tch, tch, tch

It's a jack-in-the-box!


Forum: The Houses Competition
Year/Round: Year 2, Round 4
House: Gryffindor
Category: Bonus - HoH Headcanon
Prompts: [Object] A small box
Word Count: 1807
Rating: T for mental breakdown, horror and darker themes
Beta: Tigger