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Chapter 1 : Eyes of Glass
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Alice Longbottom, nee Rivers, shifted awkwardly between her feet as she stared nervously up at the church. The assembled audience stared back at her: most likely many of them were wondering how Frank Longbottom, great Auror, the man who worked a room simply by entering, the pride and joy of the old pureblood houses of London could have fallen in love with an apple-cheeked, quickly embarrassed, unknown witch from an eccentric wizarding family who had grown up around Muggles and preferred silence to polite conversation.
In their defence, Alice was hardly looking her best. The childhood pudge she had never quite shed was accentuated by the baby weight she suspected she would never work off, for who had time for exercising when there was a war to be fought and a baby to be loved? Her light brown hair sagged slightly about her face, fine and plain, through which Frank had absently run his fingers this morning like weaving through butter as he fetched a brighter tie to match the day.
Raised in a family of self-proclaimed hippies and adamant atheists, Alice had been forced to let Frank explain to her what the exact purpose of a christening was, and to explain why it was necessary that they leave their careful state of secrecy and refuge in order to perform this archaic ceremony. It was Alice's mother in law who had insisted, of course.
Sometimes dealing with Augusta was enough to drive Alice mad. The woman was brilliant, certainly: she had all of wizarding society tucked safely into the front pocket of her luxurious mink furs, and one glance from her would send servers scuttling, ranging from Tom at the Leaky Cauldron to the posh workers at Merlin's Toes, a high-end restaurant close to Hyde Park catering solely to the most elite of wizards.
The ageing Mrs. Longbottom doted on Frank, who she considered her greatest accomplishment to date, and even her stern, lined face would soften when Neville reached for her with one of his chubby fists. But for Alice, a girl she considered a dumpy and dull match for her prized progeny, Augusta Longbottom had little love to ration.
It was strange, Alice thought to herself, glancing across the altar at her husband of two years. Frank had eyes that either seemed to know everything and see nothing, or see everything and know nothing. When her old friends from Hogwarts, who had been too young to notice Frank while they were at Hogwarts and before she had met him in the Auror department, had asked about her new boyfriend, she could think of no way but that to explain the essence of Frank. Sure, he was tall, sandy-haired, brown eyed, with a pleasant smile and a kind demeanor, and capable hands that wielded a wand or a hammer and nails with similar skill. But when she thought of her husband she thought of those eyes, seeing everything about her and wondering who she was.
Nobody thought that a man like Frank Longbottom: Head Boy, top of his class in the Auror training program, creative and open-minded and popular, would fall in love with little Alice Rivers, a girl who rhymed when she was nervous and who kept an assembly of wounded woodland creatures in her dormitory, caring for them til they could run freely again. The Bowtruckles were particularly grateful.
Alice's odd collection, as well as her habituation to Muggle technologies and history and her fondness for gathering mundane objects like soda cans and making art out of them had earned her a particular nickname and reputation at Hogwarts, especially among the older students who struck at any sign of weakness: Mad Alice, eventually shortened to M'alice. She didn't mind, not really. People were weak and if it made them feel better to be mean about others, then so be it. Frank had never participated in the teasing: in fact, she remembered him breaking up a circle once, face irritated at the younger and crueller members of his own house. But Alice had vowed when she left to never let Frank know that she had been the shy, quiet girl cradling a dying butterfly in the Charms hallway that day. When she graduated Hogwarts she would leave M'alice behind, and be someone worthy of being Sorted into Gryffindor all those years ago, not a girl who hid behind her fingers and cried about not being liked.
Now, looking at her round-faced baby staring over at her, Alice thought that her infant son had inherited his father's strange expressions. The baby was perched in a less familiar pair of arms that cradled him tenderly, as if he were a tiny, white-robed ornament that could crack and shatter at any moment. Marlene Mckinnon's sharp blue eyes stared back over Neville's head, and she gifted Alice with a tense, toothless smile. Marlene was one of Frank's oldest friends, and the woman who everyone had always predicted would end up with the Longbottom heir. Instead, Marlene had married a man called Stephan and Frank had found the love of his life in the mousy little girl who nobody knew what she was doing in the Auror training program.
Then something tragic had happened to Marlene, and Alice's motherly pity and pain for her husband's friend was strangely mixed with apprehension. Now that Marlene had lost everything, there was nothing stopping her from trying to gain even more.
It had been a bright, sunny day and Marlene and her husband had given in to their children's pleading to go play at the park next door. She was pushing her small son gently on a swing when they had arrived, killing several innocents in the struggle. Marlene had finally succeeded in Apparating away with her wounded child, but he had died as she ran into St. Mungo's, blood and tears mixing on her face. Nobody knew exactly what the McKinnons had done to be hunted by the Dark Lord's team of highly skilled assassins, but as a result she was all that was left, and she frightened Alice. She had known her as Mad Alice, she privately suspected, and she saw something hard in Marlene's face when nobody knew she was watching. Making Marlene godmother had been another concession of Alice to please Frank.
"She has nothing left, love," he had pleaded, smiling softly at her. "Marlene adores Nev. Who else could we choose?"
And so Alice had reluctantly agreed, reminding herself that in the grand scheme of the war, it was more important to carry on with Auror duties and taking care of Neville than stress about Marlene Mckinnon's dark eyes and blatant dislike.
These were dark years, and more than once Alice had fiercely wished she could seize her son and run from all the danger that was all to harshly real, raise her smiling baby away from You-Know-Who and the fact that he was hunting them, had singled out Neville and their family for a reason that Dumbledore politely declined to reveal. Alice wanted to run, so bad sometimes that she had packed a small bag once with toothbrushes and Neville's diapers, then, shamefaced, unpacked it. She felt like a sitting duck, but their house had been given every protection after all, and where could she run in the world that You-Know-Who would not eventually find her?
But Frank would have never run with her, he was too noble, and cared too much about his mother and Marlene and all his other friends and family. He was not selfish like Alice was. Her love for Neville nearly justified that selfishness.
Now that the Longbottoms had been targeted, Alice would have preferred to stay safely in their own home for the christening, protected by a Secret keeper chosen by the Order: her old friend from the Auror training program, Lily Potter, who was a few years below Alice and had a small son Neville's age. Lily and her husband were in hiding, as well, and Alice knew that Lily would never betray them. But Augusta had insisted, and Frank had agreed, that they have the christening at the church from Ottery St. Catchpole village.
The church had of course been given the upmost protection and was patrolled by Aurors, both by ground and circling in the air. Not to mention that half the Auror department was in the audience. Alice knew that they would be safe here, that in moments she could seize Neville and Apparate them back to their safe house, but seeing him a few feet away, separated by Marlene's protective arms, made her very nervous indeed.
The restored saints seemed to fret with her, sunlight glowing through their colourful glass eyes. One glass man's eyes seemed to shine green from where Alice could meet his gleaming gaze beneath a halo of stars: perhaps he was the Saviour himself.
Frank was strong. Alice was frightened. But Neville was worth being frightened for.
For his sake, Alice hoped that Neville would be all Frank, all Longbottom: confident and brave and eloquent and self-assured. But a part of her hoped there would be some Ma'lice in him: some oddness, and she would love him all the more for it. For Alice knew tht Neville would grow up surrounded by love and attentive care, that he would have the best of everything, a wonderful life with the most adoring and idealistic of parents. She already knew that he would be a powerful wizard: the surges of raw magical power that flowed from her pregnant belly had been proof enough of that.
Alice had graduated Hogwarts determined to leave M'alice behind and become someone that she could be proud of. By a desperate twist of fate (and the good-luck routines Alice performed each morning, like dusting off each shoulder and counting to four before she Apparated out of the home), Frank had been assigned as Alice's student mentor in the Auror training program. She had been a mere Exceeds Expectations away from being rejected from the program, and was nervous about starting with peers who she believed to be much cleverer. This was not strictly true, as Alice's unique way of looking at the world made her a strong problem solver, and her methodological mind and organizational skills made her a calm dueller and a valid addition to the force.
It was in a study session over pints at the Leaky Cauldron a blistering November night that Alice's hand had dared to inch towards Frank's across his messily inked notes on the Cruciatus Curse. By some miracle, he lifted her round fingers to his lips in a quiet kiss.
Frank had passed his exams, and two years later Alice had followed, and their love affair of black coffee in bed, duelling practice followed by tickle wars and Frank listening intently to Alice's explanation on the proper way to attend to a broken Niffler leg had blossomed and spread. They were married in the Auror office before a raid on a Death Eater nest that was sure to be very dangerous, which resulted in the lost lives of two Aurors and deposited several men and women in Azkaban. Marlene Mckinnon and Mad-Eye Moody himself had been the gruff and impatient witness as Alice and Frank said quick vows and kissed to the sound of a whirring Sneakoscope.
When the raid was finished, Frank had grinned to see Alice's ring sparkling from her left hand as she waved her wand, wrapping dancing chains around a black-bearded, wild-eyed foreigner. Frank loved Alice's quirkiness, and Alice loved Frank's goodness, and most of all they both loved Neville.
"Mrs. Longbottom?" The priest, a white-capped wizard, caught her eye and disrupted the memories that had led her to this place, to her son's christening. She glanced up quickly. "We are ready to begin."
"Yes, of course, sorry," she blushed, unused voice grating at her throat, and stepped forward to hand the strange object to the man. Frank smiled reassuringly at her.
The christening guests jumped up in alarm, wands drawn. Frank's face tightened, and somewhere someone screamed. And then they were upon them: black-robed figures storming through the church doorway where the great wooden doors had been blasted from their hinges, dress robes tangling as the crowd became a frightened throng, a green curse flying through the air, and a figure with a silver mask like a Plague doctor pointing straight to the altar, where Alice, Frank and Marlene McKinnon stood, the latter's arms holding a crying Neville in her arms.
Time seemed to slow, and Alice turned to see Marlene's wand drawn in her free hand, her hand tucked under Neville's legs as she held him tight to her chest, and Alice in a surge of realization and rage charged the few steps and seized Neville from Marlene's startled arms, hugging her son to her and giving Marlene a look she imagined could destroy. Her arm knocked Marlene's wand from her hand and it clattered to the floor, and whether Marlene had been about to vanish with Neville or not Alice would never know, because in an instant she was spinning through space and clutching her baby to her chest and reappearing in her own living room, an eerie quiet sticking to the plush sofa and giggling pictures of Neville. They were safe. Alice bit back the tears and kissed the top of Neville's forehead.
Alice did not know that the day of her son's christening would be remembered as the Battle of the Church, that three Death Eaters, two civilians and three Aurors would die that day, the light from the stained glass windows glowing on their fallen faces. One of the dead would be Marlene Mckinnon, the woman who had lost everything: another, the priest who had hummed impatiently. Perhaps had she not run, another life would have been saved. Perhaps both she and Neville would have died.
Alice did not yet know that one of the carefully selected christening guests was a traitor, and that this would not be his last betrayal. She had saved herself and her son, but within half a year the Death Eaters would find them, and she would be brutally cut from him forever. Frank had refused to run.
Neville Longbottom would not grow up the confident and self-assured son of Frank Longbottom, but a painful reminder to his grandmother of the son who had suffered a fate more humiliating than death, a boy with half-parents and half-hopes, who would be dubbed a Squib until his sixth birthday when his uncle dangled him out the window and shouted deafly "well, make it happen, boy!" When he remembered the woman who had loved him he knew only a gaunt, hollow-faced woman, who remembered love but could not quite fathom it. Neville Longbottom had some M'alice in him, but no mother to adore that part of him.
"Hullo, Mum," the boy would say quietly, eyes flickering back and forth and a tentative smile itching at his round face. She would occasionally remember a moment which dwelt in that place between truth and madness, of holding the boy tight to her chest and the warm smell of his soft hair, a tiny being she would have died to protect. He had been very small then, but now he was quite large, bigger than Alice, even. Alice found 'time' confusing. Perhaps the boy had eaten a magical fruit which made him grow very large very fast. Or perhaps Alice herself had eaten a fruit from the dream which made her very small, and the boy was the same size he'd always been. She couldn't take him in her arms and hold him now. Indeed, Alice felt very small.
"I wish you weren't mad, Mum," the boy whispered to her once. "I wish you could love me. I need someone to love me." Then he had blushed pink, ashamed of himself.
Alice had listened intently, not understanding, not quite disagreeing. But we're all mad here, she wanted to whisper back. Words turned to stony garble when they hit her tongue.
After the boy left, she stared at herself in the crisp, mechanical looking glass. A shadow appeared behind her: the man, Frank, picked up a piece of her limp brown hair and placed it behind her ear, wonderingly, as though repeating a dance he had practiced in a dream. His eyes both saw and knew nothing.
This story was fathomed in England, outlined in Spain and written in the Czech Republic, so it's a little all over the place! Let me know what you think, and if there's any confusion or holes in the plot. Anything you recognize belongs to JK Rowling, and the allusions to "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" belong to Lewis Carroll.
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