The house was the same one they had visited the night before last, frozen in a perfect silence as if nothing had ever happened. The furnishings were the same: the same chintz sofa and wicker armchair, the same lamp stand with the iridescent glow coming from beneath the oversized lampshade. And the identical ornate wall lights shone just as when they had come across them as they entered the building that fateful Thursday night before. The smell was unchanged too: the unmistakeable smell of trepidation and fear. His heart beat a little faster as he could feel the atmosphere chill around him. He tentatively stepped towards the kitchen where a faint light emanated from underneath the closed door ominously: something wasn’t right. There was someone missing from this scene, but he couldn’t look back. He knew he must open the door, and find the light behind it. A lump began to form at the back of his throat; he knew what he would find here just as he had before. She would be there, scarred and torn, wracked with pain, and he would be made to watch her suffering. Still he placed his hand upon the brass door handle, and slowly turned it to the right as time repeated itself on a never-ending loop. He was there again, but then he knew he would be as soon as he had taken his first steps towards Dorcas Meadows cottage on this crisp winter night.
The feeling of déjà vu washed over him once more as he saw the vision played again like an old movie in slow motion. Except it wasn’t Dorcas this time being slowly tortured by Voldemort while they fought the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord himself. He glimpsed down at the crumpled figure, almost too frightened to look again. Voldemort goaded him as the masked men held him back; the high-pitched voice piercing his ears like fingernails down a blackboard.
“You will watch me do this. You will watch me and learn that you will pay for all your impertinence. She will die, and you will be next. Look at me, girl. I like to see the eyes as my victims die. There is a fragility of life that is extinguished as I summon the curse you all fear. Look at me. You will fear me. Look at me, Alice.”
Frank Longbottom shot up out of his nightmare, and looked at the empty space next to him in the tangled and crumpled bed. The pillow was dented from where she once lay. He always had nightmares, but last night they had been the worst he had ever known since he became a member of the Order. Last night had been different. Thursday night was only the second time he had truly feared for his life, and the second time he had come face to face with the one they all despised. Voldemort had been there. Of course he was there. She had meant that much, and he wanted to set an example to the Order. The visions, lights and sounds of the raid all mingled into one as the early morning light began to filter through the curtains and disturb his light slumber. But though he knew it was only an inaccurate dream, he pushed back the heavy winter blankets, and grabbed his robe for warmth as he walked down the hallway to find Alice. He knew where she would be, and he had to find her. He heard the sounds of her coughing in the bathroom and for the first time that morning his face broke into a soft knowing smile. He inwardly breathed a sigh of relief: she was safe.
Morning sickness! From the minute Alice had found out she was carrying his child she had been suffering from the dreaded side effect, and this morning was no exception. Pausing before he knocked, Frank stood in front of the bathroom door and leaned his ear against it to listen for her.
“Alice. Alice it’s me, love. You alright?”
“Yeah. No. Sort of.”
He grinned at her indecision because it was one of the oddities about Alice that he adored. He placed his hand flat against the cold wood of the door, pressing his palm against it, and though she was on the other side he wished he could reach out and take her suffering away. He always tried to help her as best he could. If the other night had taught him anything it was that he always wanted to protect her from all the evil in the world. Her and their unborn child.
“Is there anything I can get you? You must be exhausted, my love. Let me make you a nice cup of tea, and you come back to bed for a while. Come on. I’ll rub your back for you and make you all better.”
The latch of the door clicked, and her round and attractive face peered out from behind it. He smiled as he saw in front of him the only girl he had ever loved. Alice was his, and he was hers, and everyone said they were made for one another. He could never imagine his life without her by his side. Alice made an effort to return the compliment of his smile, though Frank could see in her hazel eyes that she struggled to do so.
“Not tea, darling, it makes me worse. Could you get me a glass of pumpkin juice and just a ginger biscuit? I think I’ll feel better after I’ve had a little something to eat.”
“Of course I will. Now, if you’ve stopped the sickness for a while then go back to bed, and I’ll bring you the breakfast in there.”
Alice did as he suggested, and Frank made his way through to the kitchen, filling the muggle kettle with water (as for some reason his Mother had always done it that way and now he found he liked his tea that way too.) and pouring the Pumpkin juice into a tall glass tumbler. He looked around him, and glanced out of the window as a robin flew towards the bird table. It pecked at the seeds Alice had left out for the hungry creatures the day before, boosting his stores ready for nesting season. The snow had settled finally that night, and Frank looked out at the white blanket with a heavy heart. It reminded him of that frosty night. She had been in the kitchen of her house too. He hurriedly opened the biscuit tin, trying to lay the visions to rest, and found the ginger biscuits his mother had made for Alice on hearing of her suffering. But, as he slowly laid them out on a plate, his mind wandered back, and the dark visions of his night time slumber returned to haunt his day. But this time it was the truthful version of events.
“Quick Frank, we don’t have much time to organise a search party. Dorcas has sent up the warning sign, and you and Alice are the nearest. Can you make it over there? Others are on their way as a back up, and Moody should be there soon too, if we can find him, but you two get there quick. It might be him. If he’s found out she was double crossing him he’ll deal with her himself. We could get Voldemort!”
The message from Marlene was brief, but to the point, and the Longbottoms wasted no time in grabbing their winter attire and apparating down the road to find the cottage. They knew the place well. Dorcas had trained both Frank and Alice when they first joined to be Aurors, and this had developed into a firm and trusting friendship. It was a truly beautiful place in the daytime sunshine, with roses at the front and a climbing wisteria snaking its way across the timbers of the old porch. It mingled with a jasmine to scent the air as you brushed past. The thatched roof, and wooden picket fence, made it look like a sweet chocolate box image, but tonight it was far removed from such an idyllic scene. Tonight there was a fearful air about the place, and the gate swung off its hinges in the swirling winter wind as if it wanted to warn them of the scene they were to find inside. The next thing that struck both of them was that there was no bark from the friendly Jack Russell that Dorcas kept as a companion.
Alice looked across at Frank tentatively, and he squeezed her hand firmly for reassurance. Looking into her questioning eyes he nodded his confirmation as he cautiously pushed at the wooden slatted door. It opened all too easily, loosened at the hinges as if someone had entered in a hurry. Wands at the ready, clutched in the palms of their sweat ridden hands with their arms outstretched, Frank and Alice slowly crept around the cottage, ducking down low to avoid the low beams that adorned the place. Alice swallowed hard as they heard piercing screams coming from the kitchen area, and the chill and presence made her realise who was there. They had come up against him once before and the feelings from that time hung in the air this night too. She whispered to her husband, “He’s here”, and Frank nodded slowly. But he had sensed his presence too. The icy air and foreboding feeling as they crept forwards encompassed the whole cottage now, and they reached out to hold one another’s hands as they viewed a glow coming from underneath the kitchen door. This could be the chance they had waited for. To kill or capture Voldemort was the ultimate prize. But Frank was not an ambitious man though his thoughts were drawn to just that. Still Dorcas was the main priority. Releasing Alice’s hand, he reached towards the brass handle and drew breath as he swung the door open, both their arms aloft in unison shouting “Stupefy!” and “Expelliarmus!”
“Frank. Are you ok in there?”
Alice’s dulcet tones dragged him back from replaying the previous events, and he grabbed the Pumpkin juice and plate of biscuits and walked back to find her. There she was, looking weary but still beautifully radiant to his biased eyes. As he placed the glass and plate next to her on the bedside cabinet, Frank bent down to kiss her forehead gently. Tracing a solitary finger around the outline of her dark brown wispy hair, he worked his way down to her jaw line, and lifted her chin gently to place a soft exquisite kiss on her rosy lips that were warm and soft. He smiled at her as he tasted toothpaste on her lips and remembered how he had found her that morning in the bathroom. Making his way to the other side of the bed, he pulled back the covers and snuggled in beside her, leaning on one elbow to gaze at her as she devoured the biscuit with relish. Frank grinning as the crumbs fell on the delicate ivory skin of her bosom, just like the freckles that fell across the bridge of her pretty turned up nose. He felt so protective of her at times like this that he just wanted to wrap her all up in cotton wool and whisk her away to a far away land. A land with no Order and no Voldemort, where they could live forever in peace. She deserved it. As she sipped at the Pumpkin juice she turned to see him staring and frowned. Placing the glass carefully down on the cabinet top she questioned him.
“What is it?”
He shook his head and grinned. “Nothing, love. I was just merely thinking how incredibly lucky I am to have a beautiful woman like you in my bed.”
She reached over and touched his face, smoothing the soft skin of his cheek, and reaching the stubble formed across his chin. Alice jumped back slightly as she did so as it tickled her fingers. She peeped through the curtain of her fringe with her large doe-like eyes and grinned. “Smooth talker. You’d charm the birds out of the trees you would, Frank Longbottom. My Mother told me about men like you.”
Frank chuckled and raised his eyebrows on mock surprise. “Did she? You didn’t take much notice then, did you, young lady? Look at the state of you now!”
Slipping further into the warmth of the bed, Alice moved across and laid her head on Frank’s muscular bare chest, listening to the rhythm of his heartbeat. In return, Frank automatically reached for the soft mound of flesh around her slightly swollen belly, covered by a swathe of silk and gently rubbed it in a soft circular motion, connecting with his unborn child. Alice relaxed back into his sheltering arms. She always felt safe and secure in his arms, and as the pregnancy progressed she felt more and more uncertain of the world around her, and more in need of her beloved Frank. What sort of a world was she bringing this child into? Were they so responsible having a child now when so much was undecided? What would become of it if anything were to happen? Just as it had with Dorcas. She closed her eyes to try and relax in Frank’s arms, but all she saw was that night.
As the door opened, and they shot the stunning spells through the path, an awful high pitched cackle of laughter filled the air. They knew he was in the room, though the flashes of light emitted from the wands of the Death Eaters blocked Frank and Alice’s vision. As Frank took the left hand side of the room, and Alice the right, both taking on two Death Eaters at a time, Voldemort screamed instructions to his loyal servants.
“Come on! There is only two of them, and four of you! Am I always to be cursed with incompetent fools?”
Alice struggled against the cries of “Accio wand” and “Impedimenta” as she dodged flash after flash of spells, her agile body managing to fight them off as she snaked her way around to meet her husband, punching out with her fists if the spells didn‘t hold. Frank had summoned a Shield charm to protect him, and so far the spell had worked. He kicked out with his feet, and used his bare hands to struggle with one of the male Death Eaters, successfully pulling off his mask to expose him. Struggling to cover his face, Rosier wished to remain anonymous that night. Time stood still for all but a second, and Frank remembered the happier times they had spent here in this room, with pleasanter company, warm coffee and fruitcake and fun conversations as they told Dorcas their happy news, but all was lost of those heady days now. A crash of falling saucepans brought them all back to reality with a jolt. Having worked their way around the room, they were slowly cornered; trapped from all angles and faced with four Death Eaters bearing down on them. A wave of nausea rose in Frank’s dry throat, and the hairs on the backs of Alice’s arms began to prickle and rise up under the stress of the situation. How they hoped the others would arrive soon.
Both of them now captured, the Death Eaters parted, wands still pointed at their prisoners so that they could give a clear view of what was about to occur. The figure, partially cloaked by the shadows of the night sky, moved towards the centre of the room and the cowering body of Dorcas Meadows, already in obvious distress from before her friends’ arrival. The hooded beast was unrecognisable that night, but the Longbottoms did not need introductions; just his mere presence and authority made them aware they now faced the one they all feared. A long, pointed finger came out from the dark, heavy cloak he wore and his shrill voice, slow and detached, hit them like no spell could.
“Well, I hardly expected an audience tonight, but now you are here you may enjoy our entertainment.”
The collected Death Eaters muttered sniggers and whispered agreements.
“Dorcas here has been a thorn in my side for quite some time now, with her lies and deceptions, and I have had enough of her meddlesome ways. She will learn that to trouble Lord Voldemort means certain death. You will all learn in time that none will outwit Lord Voldemort.”
Frank craned his neck to see what was happening; he knew their time would be soon, and he had to distract Voldemort just a little longer until the Order came to save them. They must all come soon.
“You’re weak, Voldemort!”
The Death Eaters hissed at the mention of their Master’s name, and Voldemort smiled across his thin lips at the audacity of the man standing proudly in front of him.
“Ah, I see now it is Mr and Mrs Longbottom. Another thorn in my side, aren’t you? Weak, am I Longbottom? You will see just how weak I am!”
Silence filled the room until Frank Longbottom felt the power of the Cruciatus Curse, and he fell to his knees in agony. Alice made to comfort him but the strong, restraining arms of the Death Eater to her left held her back.
“Leave me alone!”
“Your wife does not know when to hold her tongue, Longbottom. Perhaps she would like to join Dorcas here.”
“NO!” Frank forced his words out as he winced at yet another wave of pain. Life without Alice would mean nothing. If she were to die he must take them both.
“Very well. I am in a generous mood. I will deal with you later. For now I feel Dorcas needs my undivided attention.”
He pulled the fragile woman’s hair up to force her head upwards, blood trickling down her tear-stained cheeks as she tried to turn away from those hypnotic eyes. Voldemort crouched down, his face staring into hers menacingly. His mouth twitched as he drank the fear emitted from her now, for she knew her fate was already sealed in his unforgiving heart. If indeed he had a heart at all anymore. He was playing with her like a hunter plays with its prey before finally devouring it in one swift strike. Alice closed her eyes as, on his command, the Death Eaters performed the Cruciatus Curse on Dorcas simultaneously again and again. But though her eyes were closed tight, her ears still revealed the horror surrounding her, and she could not escape the blood curdling screams. She muttered under her breath “ Please let it be over soon, please have mercy on her soul.” over and over again, hoping some higher power would listen. But no one was to listen to her pleas that night. Voldemort waited until he had tasted enough torture, and as he looked at the sight before his eyes he muttered “Pathetic”, laughing as he focused on Dorcas for one last time. With a flash of green light she felt pain no longer, and Alice wept silently.
Frank felt the warm droplets of her tears trickle down the skin of his bare chest like a river, and he pulled Alice closer to him protectively. He was always loathed to see her cry: his Alice was happy go lucky Alice and kind, gentle and loving. He adored the Alice that laughed out loud at his feeble attempts at telling jokes; that lit up his mornings and shared his nights. The Alice that listened to his atrocious singing that failed to hit one true note. And now his love had found a new level as she carried his first born; the first of many he hoped, and it pained him like a knife to the heart to see her so sad and fearful.
He kissed the crown of her head, and raised her chin gently with his fingers, but she did not smile as she looked into his eyes.
“Hey you! You’ll upset that baby of ours if you carry on this nonsense.”
As he gently stroked the skin around her jaw line with the flesh of his thumb she broke into a gentle smile as she looked deeply into his eyes. But tears soon replaced the smile again.
“I’m so frightened Frank. If help hadn’t come when it did, if we hadn’t fought them all off, then…” She turned her face away a little. “And what of our future? What if anything happens to us, like it did with Dorcas? I really want this baby, and I so want us to all be together and be happy without fighting the Death Eaters or Voldemort. I want to be happy.”
“And we will be happy, my love, I promise. I’ll always be by your side to protect you both you know that. I’ll never, ever leave you.”
Alice sighed aloud. “I know, I’m just worried for our little ones future.”
“That’s one of the many reasons why I adore you, Alice Longbottom. Now, who do you think he’ll take after?”
Alice chuckled. “ He? You’re sure it’s a boy then?”
Frank grinned and shrugged his shoulders, wrapping his arms around her so she leaned back against him. “No, I don’t know, but I’d like a son. I missed out so much on not having my Dad around when I was growing up, and I want to be there at every step with this little one. Mind you, if he is a Longbottom male then he’ll be useless at magic until he comes of age. It’s always the way with us blokes in my family. That, and being a ladies man, of course!” He winked at Alice suggestively.
Alice laughed out loud and snuggled deeper into their embrace, sighing as she felt the warmth of his arms against her skin. Closing her eyes, and succumbing to her sleep she felt safe and secure again. She imagined a small, dark-haired boy with a round cherubic face running free in a beautiful, green meadow on a warm summers afternoon. He was being chased by his ever-loving father while she watched them from under the shade of an old oak tree, looking out at her beloved boys. It was such an idyllic scene she could almost reach out and taste her hopes and dreams as they unfolded all around her. The sunshine beat down upon them all, ceaseless and inviting, not a single cloud littering the perfect blue sky, and she wished with all her heart that her thoughts and dreams would become her reality.
But, in the times that they lived in, she could only live from day to day. Dreams were for sweet slumber, and the reality of their time was far harsher, and filled with the living, ominous presence of the Dark Lord Voldemort.
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