blue shadow

Fic: D-Day Minus Zero

Author: huldrejenta
Title: D-Day Minus Zero
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters & Pairings: Alice, Frank and Neville Longbottom, Alice/Frank
Rating & Warnings: PG
Word Count: ~ 1500
Summary: Soon the shadows are going to claim her. Soon her world is going to disappear. Soon. But not yet.
Notes: This was written for the 2014 hp_silencio, and it was a very interesting challenge to write a story with no dialogue, reported speech or inner monologue. I'm not a particularly dialogue-driven writer, but not using it at all proved to be challenging, though very enjoyable.
What I'm least happy about with this fic, is actually the title - I changed it literally minutes before I submitted the fic because I started worrying that my original title could be interpreted as offensive in a way I really didn't want it to be. So the title is what it is :)
Thank you so much to gilpin25 for the great beta work!

Eight hours and twenty-four minutes before the darkness opens up, swallowing her at last, Alice wakes up. Yawning, she lifts pale arms over brown curls and stretches before opening her eyes. Night time has given way to dawn, letting in a stream of early morning light. Just enough to cast a golden beam all the way from her chest of drawers, across the crumpled bed sheets, before disappearing into the opening between heavy curtains.

Frank lies curled up on his side, still asleep. One hand rests on his pillow, the other lies open on the mattress, close to hers. How many mornings has she woken up with this man beside her? Their first night together she lay perched on the edge of the bed, hardly sleeping, terrified she'd wake him. Sharing this part of her life with him was frightening in its quiet potency. By their fifth night together she slept better in his presence than alone. Now he's like an extension of herself, as impossible to live without as air or water or magic.

His breath is calm, and his naked feet peek out from the duvet. They make him look small, fragile.

His feet are deceptive.

Alice leans closer. There's a red scar on his shoulder she'll never tire of kissing. Her lips are careful not to wake him before she slides out of bed, heading for the bathroom. Bright light assaults every corner of the room, making her blink and rub her eyes. They've been meaning to modify the lighting since they moved in. But here it is, still as harsh as ever.

When she opens her eyes again, they fall upon her reflection in the mirror. She looks content. A smile spreads across her face as she's getting ready for the shower. This small, rundown Ministry flat was supposed to be short-term. A practical way not to draw attention to themselves while keeping close to it all. Along the way, something's changed. It's become a shelter, a safe haven. Their own little cocoon where love is untarnished, trust is beyond doubt and strength gets rebuilt. It's home.

*** ***

Four hours and fifty-two minutes before the world disappears, leaving nothing but never ending pain, Frank walks into the kitchen. His feet are still bare, there are pillow creases on his left cheek, his hair is messy and tousled. The smell of bacon and eggs always lures him out of bed. Food might be the one thing Frank values even more than a good night's sleep. He grabs a plate and sits down, helping himself to a decent-sized portion, and pours some coffee. Still half asleep, he eats happily before Levitating his plate back to the worktop. It's his turn to clean up and make dinner later, and even though his enthusiasm might be more impressive than his skills, the meals he prepares are always full of interesting tastes, new spices and a lot of joy.

He crosses the linoleum floor and walks over to Alice, pulling her into an embrace. Strong hands glide through her hair and find their way to the nape of her neck. She leans towards him, inhaling the familiar scent of coffee and citrus and soap. The feeling of his skin against hers never fails to calm and intoxicate her, all at once. His arms around her never fail to induce warmth and invincibility.

Life has shown them enough horrors to last for generations. The worse it's been, the more fiercely they've protected moments like these.

In the midst of all the confusion, sorrow and tentative joy life has given them this autumn, there will be room for so much more. Alice's heart makes a hopeful, little jump, and she holds tight.

*** ***

Three hours and eleven minutes before Alice's eyes will lock with a pair of manic, dark ones, unrelenting and full of hate, she lifts Neville up from his bed. He's warm from sleep, and his pyjama-clad little legs kick into the air as she tickles him on his belly. He looks at her with the total trust only a very young child can have. Alice swallows and lets her hand glide through the fine hair on his head. Every tiny part of her boy is full of life. Every movement and every gesture is born out of seeing the world as good. Knowing only safety. Meeting only love.

The day may come when she's able to let him out of her sight without worry. It's not today. Today she holds him even tighter, keeping him in her arms. Protecting him from all evil that might be out there.

If it's true that love can conquer all, her family has nothing to fear.

A shudder falls over her and crawls its way down her back. Not all little boys are as lucky as her son, no matter how much their parents loved them.

Neville is squirming, demanding to be put down. With no hesitation he walks over to his pile of toys, picks up his stuffed owl and starts dancing around with it, slowly chasing the shadows away.

She picks up the red sock Neville uses as a tie for his owl. He stops dancing for a moment, takes the sock from her and ties it around the owl as best he can. With some effort he pulls off one of his own socks , and proudly hands it to her. He's nothing if not polite.

She blows him a kiss and watches her dancing son. No evil madness is going to reach him. Not as long as she's still breathing.

*** ***

Two hours and thirty-six minutes before four wands point at her and Frank, making it clear there will be no happy ending to this, Alice bends down to pick up the pamphlet. It lies crumpled up on the floor beneath a few Daily Prophets, covered with small, tell-tale greasy finger marks. Alice eases out the wrinkles and stops to admire the photos. Endless fields. Inviting villages. Calm lakes.

Frank had been even more bouncy than usual when he brought this home. Every ounce of him exuded hope and life and endless opportunities for the future. Their future. It's never been within closer reach than now. Perfect surroundings for Neville to grow up in. A friendly wizarding community away from the Ministry, yet with easy access when they go in for work. The dream is so close, it's so vivid, she can feel it. By stretching out her hand it's as if she can touch it.

She folds the pamphlet carefully and puts it down. Once the dust has settled and they can allow themselves to exhale for the first time in years, they'll go up there and have a look. Something strange spreads inside her, bringing with it the unfamiliar urge to grin and start running around. It takes some time to recognize, it's been so long since she's felt it - it's excitement for the future.

*** ***

One hour and seventeen minutes before they're ambushed and disarmed, snatched away from anything resembling sanity, Alice crouches in front of the fireplace. She grabs the jar from the mantelpiece, her hand checking for Floo powder before she leans in and makes certain the connection is as it should be. Frank's mother is one fire-call away, ready to look after Neville at a moment's notice.

Too many times they've had to pull their son out of his sleep. Too many times they've picked up the trunk with his things, leaving a little boy wrapped in his favourite blanket behind at Augusta's. Barely having the time to kiss him goodbye.

The habit will probably be a part of her for yet some time to come. Making certain the retreat route is clear, reminding herself that someone is at the other side. Someone who, despite whatever else Alice may feel about her, could always be trusted to come running with surprising speed when the youngest Longbottom needed her.

Now Augusta can start being a grandmother to Neville the way she's supposed to be. Someone to eat Sunday dinner with. Someone to learn all the embarrassing details in Frank's childhood from. Someone to make up stories about vultures with. It's a role that will fit her like a tailor-made leather glove, in a way the role of stand-in mother never has.

Alice gets up and walks away from the fireplace. Maybe they'll invite Augusta over for dinner on Sunday.

*** ***

When Dumbledore's Patronus comes, Alice isn't surprised. Seconds after learning that Death Eater activity has been observed, she becomes Alice the Auror, Alice the Order member. One look at Frank confirms he's done the same.

They act with no hesitation. They've done this before, and if they have to, they will do it again.

Get Neville. Find his blanket. Fire-call Augusta. Hold their son close. Hug him hard. Kiss him goodbye.

Before they Disapparate, Frank reaches out for her hand. Their eyes meet. For an endless moment they hold still.

Seventeen minutes before they catch sight of four hooded figures, bringing with them the first sense of dread, Alice and Frank are ready for all scenarios they have ever been able to imagine.
Thank you so much, you're so sweet ♥
I was very happy when I saw your lovely rec earlier in Rectober, and I really wanted to comment on it ;)
Aaah this was heartbreaking! So terribly sad.
You did a wonderful job with this. Somehow the terror of what's to come is even worse when you show us their last day before everything went wrong, all the details and future plans. And Neville, OMG, now I love him even more!!
Oh yes, what happened to the Longbottoms is heartbreaking. I'm glad you liked the fic even though it's sad. And writing this made me feel even more for Neville <3
This is beautiful -- such quiet intimacy in these scenes. It probably would have taken me a while to notice that there's no dialogue if you hadn't mentioned it, because even without dialogue, the story flows so naturally.

Her lips are careful not to wake him -- that's such a wonderful line.

Of course it's terribly sad to see how happy they are, how much love there is in this little family, and how, now that Voldemort is gone, Alice is starting to feel a tentative sense of hope for the future -- while the relentless countdown that starts each section keeps reminding us that the end is coming. But that contrast that you set up is really powerful, and makes this piece really striking.

Little Neville is so sweet, too, and it's sad that (just like Harry) he missed growing up with parents who would have loved him this much.
Thank you :)
I'm really glad you feel this has a natural flow without any dialogue! It became very obvious to me while writing this that I often use dialogue as a way of building tension, of changing the atmosphere or explaining things without having to tell everything. And I suppose it's rather common to use dialogue like this. Finding ways of doing this without dialogue was a fun challenge.

What happened to the Longbottoms is so tragic - I know I've said it before, but oh my, is JKR cruel to that whole generation!

Thank you for your lovely comment!

Edited at 2014-10-30 09:43 am (UTC)
Lovely and reflective – especially Alice's thoughts about sharing a bed with Frank, about their home as their safe haven, and about Neville's innocent happiness in that way of small children, "Every movement and every gesture is born out of seeing the world as good. Knowing only safety. Meeting only love." And oh, her cautious but joyous hope despite the horrors they've been through!

I like how you used the repeated "[X number] hours before..." structure not only to show how the day is passing now, but also to slip in the story of what happens directly after this; in a sense, we get two stories being told at once.

And I love that you gave them that moment to say goodbye to Neville at the end. I'd always assumed the Death Eaters attacked them with no warning, so it's wonderful to see them get at least that bit of agency: kissing Neville goodbye, sending him to safety with his grandmother.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment <3

I really like that you find the scene near the end, where they get to say goodbye to Neville, to be comforting. To me, I almost found it even sadder when I imagined it this way, I'm not sure why, and it's so interesting and great when people read something different into a scene!
You know, I think it's because I always read canon as saying that Bellatrix and the other Death Eaters ambushed Alice and Frank, attacked them completed unexpectedly, just when the war was over and everyone thought everything was fine now (much like Lily and James, who thought they were safe in their own house and thus weren't prepared to defend themselves).

Here, though, you've given them agency: They're needed in their capacity as Aurors, so they make the choice to go, and at least they get to choose how and in what form they say goodbye to Neville and send him to safety. I'm not sure if I'm quite able to believe it's how it *did* happen, but I like it!

(It's entirely possible my view is influenced by having in my head stereolightning's headcanon of how it went down – which also has a great version of how Alice takes action to protect Neville!)
That was meant to be a response to your previous comment, but clearly it didn't work, ugh! I hate technology...
You know, it's funny you should mention that, because in an earlier draft of this story, I had the ending pointing towards the two of them getting attacked even more suddenly and unprepared. The main reason why I changed it is more that I felt it worked better the way it is now within this story and with his way of telling the story. The important thing with story for me was showing their last day before it went wrong more than how it happened afterwards. I believe I've read somewhere that Frank was kidnapped first, and then Alice a little later. I think it's plausible that Dumbledore could think that the danger wasn't over. But of course the kidnapping might very well have happened inside the Longbottoms' home with no reason to suspect any danger. Either way they probably had no way of expecting the number of attackers or their plans. The level of evil - Hermione didn't seem to have any late effects of the Crutiatus she received, so for two Aurors to lose it like Frank and Alice, would need some pretty twisted minds and persistence.
It's always so interesting to talk about these things :)

Goodness, so sorry about the edits! Now I'm done :)

Edited at 2014-11-06 02:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, I like how you've done this – building up references (to the things they've done before, to the way things have been, the habits they've developed) over the course of the day, so that the choices Alice makes at the end make perfect sense.

I too could talk about Harry Potter characters' motivations all day long. :-)