Alice liked the rain.
The other people in her ward didn't like it as much as her, especially not if there was thunder with it. They liked the snow better. Alice didn't like the snow. It fell in strange patterns which made her head hurt as she tried to keep track of them. She liked the rain better. Rain fell straight from the sky like it was supposed to. It hit the pavement just like it was supposed to, and collected into puddles just like it was supposed to.
More importantly, it beat against the windows and the roof, and reassured her that there really was a life outside that room. That horrible, horrible room which she was sure she didn't belong in anyway. She was important you know. She remembered being important. She thought… she knew she'd been important once…
"Mister Malfoy I don't especially care how valuable you think your time is. I am an Auror and can therefore guarantee you that the Ministry thinks my time is infinitely more valuable. Now sit down, stop your whining and answer the bloody question before I lock you away just for annoying me. Got it?"
Yes she'd been important once. She'd known lots of important people and she'd done lots of important things. Someone important like that shouldn't be in a ward filled with lots of strange people who were scared of the rain, now should they?
Sometimes though, she thought she did belong here. Not very often, but sometimes. When people from outside came in and spoke in their loud, fast voices and they got frustrated with her as though they expected her to do better. Even though she was really doing the best she could to answer them as helpfully as possible. Those times she thought she almost belonged in here with the strange people who were afraid of the rain., because if the world outside was filled with loud people who spoke too fast then she'd never be able to fit in there either.
It would be horrifying. It would be too noisy, too fast moving, too confusing and she wouldn't have anything to hold onto. It was a scary thought. What was scarier was that the people outside would almost certainly think she belonged in the room. With the healers and the patients and the beds. She didn't though. She didn't care what anyone else thought. She didn't belong in there. She didn't know where she belonged though…
"Well you're a tricky one aren't you?" a voice hissed in her ear.
"Nice and loyal, certainly hard-working but… my, my you are the little firecracker aren't you? Yes I think I know where you belong now dearie."
That reminded her of something, but she couldn't think what. Laughter, and yelling, and scarves of red and gold everywhere… She had a sense of people, hundreds of people, all surrounding her and all yelling at the top of their lungs. She was yelling along with them but she couldn't remember why.
It was raining, she was soaked, and her neck was starting to ache because she'd been staring upwards for hours now. She was so cold she couldn't feel her hands at all and still she kept right on yelling, and waving a little red and gold flag. She glanced over to another stand and saw a sea of green and silver. For some reason, the noise coming out of them caused her to redouble her efforts and yell louder. Even louder than she thought it possible for a human being to yell, until her throat was hoarse and her voice was cracked.
"From Rosier, to Bulstrode, back to Rosier. They are pelting up that pitch! Rosier aims, he shoots - LONGBOTTOM SAVES! AND WHAT A SAVE! He sends the Quaffle up the other end, passes to Potter and- POTTER SCORES! TEN POINTS TO GRYFFINDOR!"
In her mind, the roar of those around her became deafening. Everyone around her was screaming, drowning out the green and silver people easily, and even drowning out the thunder overhead.
The noise seemed to infuse her very being, making her blood roar in her veins; warming her from the very core. Just the way a loud noise should, in her opinion.
The healers said that loud noises scared Alice, but Alice herself had yet to feel particularly afraid of a loud noise. Rather, it was the quiet ones that terrified her. The hushed whispers of the Healers when they spoke to her were worse than the too-loud, too-fast ramblings of the people from outside.
The indiscernible noises from inside the room, like the pipes settling at night or the swish of an outsider's cloak, those were the noises that made her panic. Because she felt she should know what to do. She should know how to respond. She should be in charge of the situation. But she wasn't. Not anymore. She wasn't important anymore. She was helpless, impotent, useless. All she could do was cower in the corner and wait for the noise to go away. Which they usually did. Sometimes she wished they'd come closer instead, because she sometimes suspected that she could deal with whatever problem presented itself to her, if only a tactile, substantial problem would actually present itself to her.
But the Healers never did let anything put her under strain. Alice wanted to scream, wanted to tell them, wanted them to understand that she liked being under strain. That having nothing to do, nothing to test her, was killing her. She wanted to tell them that every time they gave her a Calming Draught it destroyed a little piece of her spirit. She wanted to tell them these things, to communicate it so they could understand, but she couldn't.
She couldn't say anything.
Because it was impossible to articulate anything. Between her mind and her mouth, something always went wrong and what she said always sounded like gibberish. Then they'd give her another calming draught, send her to bed, and force her to start sorting her thoughts all from scratch again. She knew it would happen again, because it happened every day. Like clockwork.
Alice knew that if they would just leave her alone for long enough she could build herself up again. She could begin to make it all work correctly again. And maybe one day she could talk to the loud people without wanting to run for her life. Maybe one day she could watch the rain without some Holier-than-thou Healer coming after her and informing her that the rain scared her.
The rain did not scare her.
It might scare others in the ward but it did not scare her. She was fearless, after all…
"Alice! You're crazy girl! You don't mouth off to Slughorn like that! What's wrong with you!"
"I'm not afraid of him! The worst he can do to me is stop inviting me to those ridiculous parties of his."
"Hey some of us would kill to go to those parties of his."
"You're welcome to go in my place, I'm going to Hogsmeade with Frank tonight."
"What are you nuts? McGonagall will have your head on a platter!"
"What can I say Marlene, I'm fearless, so I am."
Alice frowned. Slughorn. Frank. McGonagall. Marlene.
These names should mean something to her, but they didn't. She just remember brown eyes. Warm brown eyes, twinkling with laughter and adoration. She remembered seeing herself reflected in them and feeling like she was at home. Like she was untouchable. Like she belonged… Frank.
Of course! Frank. Frank Longbottom. She'd been crazy about him for so long, they'd always been close, they'd always been friends. But he hadn't liked her, not like that, not Frank. Or at least she thought he hadn't, but then it turned out he did and he'd thought that she hadn't liked him like that and they were both so happy and they'd laughed and kissed and danced and…
Her thoughts jumbled as about a thousand thoughts and feelings she'd previously forgotten suddenly hit her, without warning.
Alice shook her head a bit and went back to looking out the window.
Proud, brave, loyal Frank. She'd loved him, she remembered that. And he'd loved her, she remembered that as well. But more than anything she remembered that there was someone, or something, that both of them loved more. Someone that both of them would have willingly killed the other to protect. But she couldn't quite recall what it was.
It ate away at her, because she should remember. She couldn't help but think that if there was any justice in the world then she would remember. Her entire reason for being was…
She gripped the window frame as a memory flashed before her.
Heavy lidded eyes and a cruel high-pitched laugh. "I'm impressed with your stamina Longbottom, most people would've given up by now. A few more hours perhaps? We'll see if that breaks you." And why hadn't she given up? What was her reason for fighting? She remembered now.
"Neville." she murmured. Her son. Her bright, beautiful son. Neville. Who was out there. He was out there somewhere in the rain, in the cold, without her. Without Frank. Without anyone. She'd been ripped away from him and now she didn't think she could ever find him again…
Despite herself, Alice felt a tear trickle down her face.
She was all alone. She was trapped. She was helpless. She wasn't herself anymore. She was no longer fearless or important, she was no longer Alice Longbottom. She was one of the strange people who were afraid of rain. And there was nothing she could do about it.
Another tear ran down her cheek, but she swiped it away.
Crying wouldn't help her. What she needed to do was compose herself so that she seemed just like one of those loud people who spoke too quickly. Then they might listen to her. Then they might understand. Then she might escape.
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He watched her as she sat by the window, crying quietly to herself. He couldn't quite remember who she was, but he felt the need to comfort her all the same. But he didn't. He couldn't. He couldn't communicate with anyone or anything, because every time he did it was like a thousand voices were screaming at him not to.
He was broken, he was fractured, and he had no right talking to people that weren't broken or fractured. And she wasn't. Not as bad as him. She had glimpses, glimmers of normalcy. Something he knew fine and well he'd never get because he didn't deserve it. Nope.
He was meant to be the husband, the father, the protector. He couldn't quite remember how he'd failed in this duty but the certainty that he'd failed had crept into his very being. He was a cracked and useless shell. Nothing more than he deserved.
So he couldn't comfort her. Because then he might in turn be comforted and that wasn't allowed. People like him didn't deserve comfort, they deserved suffering.
He could listen to her though. And he did. All the time.
She was brave and loud and pretty. Her hair was mousy brown but she had bright blue eyes. A little over-bright on occasions too, but beautiful nonetheless. He didn't like her hair like that though. He didn't like it short. It should flow down to her shoulders, so it should. And she should swipe at it impatiently while pacing the room and talking to a grizzly old man with a peg leg and ranting about Death Eaters.
Yes. That was exactly how it should be in his opinion.
Except he knew that was crazy. No grizzly old man with a peg leg had ever come to visit her or him. He didn't remember seeing any such man before in his life and so the Healer told him that he must've made it up as a coping mechanism. After the Healer told him that he didn't even bother mentioning the Death Eater part. If there were no men with peg legs in his life, he sort of doubted there was an overabundance of cannibals.
But she, she was real. There was no making her up. Sometimes he thought that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn't mind if he went and wrapped his arms around her like he so wanted to do. And maybe it would give him the comfort he desperately wanted and the peace she clearly needed. But then he remembered that he didn't deserve comfort and he quickly stopped thinking that.
He could watch her though.
Every time it rained she sat by the window and got a faraway look in her eyes. Then slowly, very slowly, she would start to come into focus. Then she would start to cry. And he would watch her as though each tear was a work of art. The Healers said that this meant she didn't like the rain and that she shouldn't watch it. They gave her a potion and sent her to bed and congratulate themselves on a job well done. But he wasn't so sure.
He might not know who he was, he might not know how he got there and he might not know why he loved her, but there were some things he did know that the Healers apparently didn't. He knew that some pain was meant to be felt and that every time they stopped her feeling it, she lost a little part of herself.
He tried to tell the Healers from time to time, but they didn't listen. They smiled sadly at him, patted his arm and said that he was very brave to keep looking out for her even after all he'd been through. Then they ignored him. He didn't remember looking out for her before and he didn't remember what he'd been through, but he remembered being angry that they would dare ignore him on a matter of such extreme importance.
But they did. Time after time. They even ignored her at times like this where she tried to communicate with them.
The Healer, the young one with the dark hair, had gone to try and prise her away from the window. She'd grabbed the Healer's arm and quite calmly told her that she didn't want anymore potions, she didn't want them giving her anything. She wanted to speak with someone called Albus Dumbledore because he was the only one who could help her.
The Healer appeared to consider it for a moment before standing up and signalling to her partner. The kind-looking old woman came over, listened closely and proceeded to pull out her wand. What they did to her, he couldn't say. But she started screaming when they did it. A lot.
"No! No you don't understand! I must speak with Albus Dumbledore! Right away! Don't see he's the only one who can- DON'T YOU DARE GIVE ME THAT! I NEED TO SPEAK WITH ALBUS DUMBLEDORE! NO! Don't… please, no, don't… I don't want any more potions! I won't… I can't go back to that… No, no, no, no, no…. please nooooooo."
They didn't listen. A watery lavender coloured liquid was forcibly poured down her throat. She spluttered for a moment, her expression the very picture of righteous indignation, and then she went limp. The dark haired Healer caught her with a spell and left her floating in mid-air, a look of regret on her face.
"Put her away Jenny." the old witch (who no-longer looked remotely kind) said stiffly. "And tie her restrains please. She's always like this when it rains. Unpredictable."
"But Agnitia don't you think…" the dark haired girl said nervously. She was pinned with a look from the old woman. "Shouldn't we maybe contact Dumbledore? Just to see what he thinks of the situation? I mean she seemed pretty… lucid, almost."
The old woman laughed derisively. "You want me to risk my career, contacting the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and tell him that some nutcase in our care was asking for him? Don't be daft Liam. Now do as I say."
"But I just mean… well she seemed fairly certain."
The woman took a step towards him, her face hard as stone. "I don't know what they teach you lot in Greece these days, but let me tell you something Miss: Healers heal patients. Patients DO NOT heal themselves. Do you hear me? I said do you hear me!"
"Yes Ma'am." the girl man said stiffly, as though resisting the urge to smack the woman upside of the head. Though from his bed, he sort of wished she would give into temptation, since it was what he felt like doing.
"Good. Because I have spent over thirteen years with these two and I know, for an absolute fact, that they are beyond help. Now hurry up. Lockhart's needing some more shock spells."
"Yes Agnitia." the Healer agreed bitterly. Once the old woman had gone, she glanced down at the pretty woman. "Sorry hun," she murmured. "I tried."
She proceeded to put her away in her bed, tying her down so firmly that he wondered if she would ever be let out again. Then the Healer left and it was just the two of them once more. Well, the two of them and the rest of the ward. But the rest of the ward had never really mattered.
He watched her for a while. She didn't move.
Slowly and cautiously he rose from his bed and crept over to the window where she'd been sitting before. He looked outside and cringed. It was raining. He didn't like the rain. It always sparked off strange thoughts in his head. Like the echoes of a whisper, reverberating around in his skull. Trying and failing to be heard over the din that was everywhere else in his mind. But he knew it was a happy whisper. A comforting whisper. A whisper he didn't deserve.
Angry with himself, angry with the Old-Woman-Who-Was-Pretending-To-Be-Kind-But-Wasn't, and angry with the world in general, he pulled the curtains firmly shut.
He turned back to his bed and spared a glance at hers. Her mousy-brown hair was spread about her pale face like a halo. She was limp and lifeless, and barely even there anymore. The effects of the lavender substance he presumed. But now that he looked he could see a single tear trickling down the side of her face. He wondered if Liam or Albus Dumbledore could have made the tear go away.
He wondered if one day Albus Dumbledore would come. He wondered if one day he would wrap her in his arms. He wondered if one day he would stop being afraid of happy whispers.
With all these wonderings flitting through his mind, he returned to his bed and stared out at the ward, trying to silence the voice that rain had awakened.
He hated the rain.
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The rain was still beating down as heavily as ever but he hardly noticed. He landed his broom in the muddy lake that was now the Quidditch pitch and looked over as over a hundred Gryffindor fans flooded the pitch just as thoroughly. There was only one fan he was looking for though, and he spotted her almost instantly.
She was soaked to the bone, her shoulder-length hair sopping wet and a supremely unaffected grin on her face as she ran towards him. He caught her in his arms and spun her around, as the people around him laughed and called their congratulations.
"YOU WON!" she screamed delightedly. "YOU WON FRANK!"
He dropped her and pulled her close, both of them ignoring the pounding rain and the melee of celebrating Quidditch fans around them. "We won." he corrected her, grinning himself.
She beamed at him and he pulled her in for a kiss. It was wet, awkward, and rather freezing (given the temperatures outside) but it was a kiss nonetheless. And it communicated both participants feelings quite nicely. He broke off and looked at her glowing face, everything quite perfectly clear all of a sudden.
"I love you." he stated in a matter-of-fact tone, as though he were answering a question for McGonagall rather than making a romantic pronouncement.
The smile immediately vanished from her face to be replaced with a look of blank horror. The only sign of movement on her face was a single raindrop that had been clinging to her eyelash, which broke off and ran down her face. "You… you what?" she asked him, sounding frightened for the first time in living memory.
"I love you, Alice." he repeated, slower and more clearly than before.
The blank look was slowly replaced with one of incredulous joy as a smile tugged at her lips. "I… I love you too Frank." she whispered. Frank pulled her in for another kiss.
As they made their way slowly up to the castle in a state of pure contentment, Frank decided that rain wasn't really so bad…