Title: Memory is a Complicated Thing 1/2
Pairing: Neville/Ginny, Frank/Alice
Summary: You have to know the past, to understand the present.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter in any way shape or form. The characters are not my intellectual property. And since the plot comes from the universe Rowling created, it's technically not mine either.
Author's Notes: mosaic, writing these pairings forced me outside of my normal 'comfort zone', but I tried to oblige in everything you wanted. And, hopefully, you like more than porn, because you got horcruxes…and an explanation for the bubble gum wrappers…and lots of writing. Hope I fulfilled your request satisfactorily, enjoy the fic!
Ginny didn't even give a start of surprise when a little boy came out of his room sporting giant ears that grazed the ground. She had been inured to that sort of thing one week into her rotation on the spell damage ward, especially after her first patient had been an old man who had incorrectly cast a spell to trim his beard, and had somehow ended up with pixies continually flying out his nose. He hadn't been too pleased that he'd had to wait for her to call in her supervisor – but really, that wasn't a topic they'd covered in the classroom portion of her healer training.
"Mrs. Phillips is going to need around the clock monitoring," Healer Pye was running through the roundup of the patients they had seen that day – of course before he took off for the night and she was left to deal with everything. "Like you, I'm worried that the jinx is still in her system, and we don't want her choking on the frogs that may sprout. I've put a mediwitch on it."
He handed over that chart, moving onto the next one. "Jordan Barquat will likely be able to be released in the morning. The amnesia that resulted from the crucio seems to have passed, unfortunately enough for him, and we've weaned him successfully off the painkilling potions. I'll sign off on the chart now, but of course retain him if there are any complications overnight." His quill did the dictating as he spoke, her own doing the same for her notes.
Not that she needed them. She' been dealing with these patients since the beginning, and they were hers. Only two months until she finished her training, and could officially call herself a healer. But those two measly months made enough of a difference that she still had to sit here, tapping her foot impatiently while self-important healers preached sanctimoniously.
Although, she had to admit, Augustus Pye was better than most. But she had a feeling that had more to do with the fact he'd only become certified himself only a few years before. And, he had a bit of a fascination with muggle methods. Most of the healers at St.Mungo's, it seemed, had been around since the time of Merlin. To be fair they didn't really care about her female status, but with her age they talked to her like she didn't know the difference between a broken bone and a jelly-jinx curse, or that she didn't have enough life experience to realize that yes, life wasn't all fluffy bunnies and happy things. That part annoyed her to no end.
She would have been out there, fighting for the Order alongside the rest of her family – save Ron of course, and his path was much more dangerous – if her parents hadn't, well, her mother really – put up enough of a fuss to make it so she wasn't allowed within a kilometre of anything that might be considered dangerous. And, apparently, her strong-arm tactics to try and get around that didn't work as well as it had for the twins. Entering healer training out of Hogwarts hadn't exactly been a bad consolation, as that had been her career of choice before the war broke out, but once in awhile she'd like to be out there effecting change instead of just dealing with the casualties.
But at least she was darn good at dealing with the casualties.
Healer Pye finished off with the same chart he did every night. "The Longbottoms," he said quietly, "no changes in orders, as always. That moment of lucidity Frank seemed have last week hasn't recurred. It may have just been a misconception on the part of his son. But, we've been monitoring carefully. Check in on them a few times, but nothing more is necessary."
Nothing more than that ever was. You couldn't treat two people who had retreated into their own minds, after facing the worst horrors known to man. Ginny's heart broke for Neville as she took the chart. This wasn't the first time he had reported thinking that his parents talked properly to him, speaking logically and recognizing him as their son, rather than their usual nonsense. It didn't happen often, he was fairly accepting of their condition, but he still hadn't given up all hope. Last year it had been his mother instead.
Pye hesitated before turning to go, "I'm assuming Moody talked to you? You'll talk to the junior Longbottom tonight?"
Ginny nodded silently. Mad-Eye had visited the hospital early that morning, explaining to her what the Order wanted. She hated being the one who had to talk to Neville about it, but she understood their request, that they be allowed to attempt legilmency. She was the only one who had a personal connection with him, and it was imperative that they get him to agree. Well, at least they thought it was, but they would never know if they didn't try. And, time was becoming of the essence. The war effort was deteriorating. She had seen enough of that at St.Mungo's – people coming in every day, although more depressing as there were even more avada's now than anything else. But at least those poor souls didn't have to suffer pain.
And all of it became for nothing too, if Voldemort won in the end.
"I'm sure he'll be here," she told Pye, levitating the stack of charts over to the makeshift desk she had set up for herself by the mediwitch lounge. It was rather like stating the obvious. Most of time Neville's visits were as regular as clockwork. He didn't come every night, but it was close. "I'll talk to him, I promise."
He nodded, "See that you do. You know why it's important we get his consent right away, we can't afford to waste time…." Pye had worked for the Order the past year, and was well versed in their plans. More certainly than she, but what they wanted was blatantly obvious in it's necessity.
"I know," she cut him off firmly, tempering it with a smile. "Don't worry, I'll broach the subject with him."
It didn't take long after that for him to leave. He was a good healer, and a good man, and a loyal fighter for the Light – but he also liked to be home by eight to catch the latest Quidditch game on the wireless. Ginny was always surprised the league was still going, but she supposed people did need entertainment. But if she was Voldemort, that was where she would attack – a Quidditch stadium filled not only with high profile players, but a large crowd of civilians. But, she supposed his attacks were more strategic than that now.
She checked on her patients quickly – fortunately it was a slow night, and everybody was either on the mend, or at least maintaining the status quo. Sighing, she checked her watch, knowing it would be a long night none the less. She was never fond of the necessity of being here overnight, since that was always when the wacky cases seemed to come in. The odd things happened after midnight, and that was always ten times worse when it was the night of a full moon. Which, thank Merlin, wasn't coming for another week until she was on the day shift.
Loosening her hair from it's efficient ponytail, Ginny slid into the chair behind her desk after exchanging pleasantries with Lori, a mediwitch who was nearly as overprotective as her mother. Really, she was fond of the older woman, but she already had an overbearing female trying to run her life. She didn't need another.
Doing the annoying paperwork that seemed to become more and more a part of being a healer as one went along, Ginny glanced up occasionally, her position affording her the ability to see when Neville walked in. She did that usually anyway – if she were honest, talking with him was the bright part of her day most of the time. They'd developed a tentative friendship since she had started her rotations at St.Mungo's, having only been casual acquaintances before.
His shoes signaled his arrival before he appeared, and Ginny smiled as Neville came around the corner. He gave a smile and a wave, but headed into his parent's room instead of coming to chat with her first. She sighed, glancing down at her paperwork. Neville tended to avoid her when he thought she was busy. It never mattered how many times she explained that unless she was in the middle of reviving a patient, she was never too busy to at least say a proper hello.
By the time she had made her way to the room, Neville had already removed his coat, and was sitting in the chair beside his parent's wheelchairs, talking about the same meaningless nothings that always made up the one-sided conversation he had with them - and Ginny paused, hesitating in the doorway. This she rarely intruded on except out of necessity, as his moments with Frank and Alice were private, but tonight was going to prove the exception.
"Hey Neville," she said quietly, entering the room, walking over to where the three of them sat. She gave a small smile, "Long time no see."
He looked up in surprise, but smiled in return, acknowledging their long running joke. "Hello Ginny, how are you?"
"Fine, as always. I don't even notice the fact I'm dreamwalking through life anymore – I don't think I've slept a full night in about a month," Again, she hesitated, but walked over to Alice's bed, sitting on the edge.
He chuckled softly, even as he turned to his parents. She'd seen him with other medical professionals, his gran, and anyone else who was ever in the room with him - Neville never let his parents be left out of the conversation. "Not quite the hours Gran has told me you two kept as aurors," he told them, "but I think Ginny might be giving you a run for your money."
She was feeling guilty, and she hadn't even brought up what the Order wanted yet. It was heart breaking enough, Neville's parent's situations, but she hurt for him every time he came to visit, ever the dutiful son, with nothing to go home with but gum wrappers and painful memories. As usual, they never responded to him directly, Frank looking nowhere but at his feet, but Alice smiled blankly at Neville like she often did, saying only, "It is lovely outside today."
They hadn't left the hospital in a week - last Sunday when Neville had taken them for a walk around the grounds in their wheelchairs.
"We need to talk, Neville," Ginny began, not sure how to begin, "Mad-Eye Moody came by the hospital this morning."
His head snapped up at that. "For me?" He asked, his voice full of confusion. "I gave them my last supply of Abyssinian shrivelfig last week, I won't be able to grow anymore until next month, and the aurors have placed first claim on that."
She shook her head, continuing quietly, "No, not for that, although it was essentially for you." Looking over at Frank and Alice, she shook her head, motioning towards the door, "Let's talk out there for a minute, yeah?" Nobody was every quite sure how cognizant they were of their surroundings, or how much they understood what was said. And, since she knew Neville hated it, she wasn't going to try and talk around them anyway. He looked still confused, but nodded, following her out.
Nodding at a mediwitch wandering by, she began, crossing her arms. "It's about your parents," she said quietly, leaning against the wall. "The Order thinks they might be able to provide some information that can help them locate Voldemort, or at the very least some of his followers. Nobody's quite figured out why they were taken and tortured specifically to try and locate Voldemort, but at the very least there is a chance they heard something that night." Despite how it sounded, it wasn't just a desperate attempt to try anything in a so far losing cause. It did have merit, as she'd made Moody explain everything carefully for her. She knew in the end it wasn't her call, or even really his, but she at least wasn't going to subject Neville and his parents to any pain without there being a good likelihood it would achieve anything.
She could see Neville wince at her words, but he gave a bitter smile as he glanced back in the room, "Whether or not that's true, they are rather incapable of talking about it."
"They won't have to," Ginny explained, "many Healers are trained in legilmency, to get into the minds of mentally ill and cursed patients. That's what will be tried with your parents." It had, of course, been attempted before – but the Longbottoms minds were a messy and confused maze of jumbled thoughts that nobody could quite decipher. But attempts before had been for treatment purposes only, not trying to glean information. It had been over twenty years since they had been captured, most people had written then off in many respects.
"We'll attempt to focus their thoughts," she continued, "we're not sure we can of course, but we think at the very least we should be able to bring up strong memories of the past. Important missions, significant conversations," she hesitated, but continued firmly, "the night they were tortured. It seems crude, but it will be tried with pictures and items that should stimulate the memories."
Neville had stayed silent through all this, his face impassive, and Ginny reached out hesitantly, placing a hand on his arm. "They wouldn't be asking for us to try this, unless it was important. Very important. They honestly believe your parents will know something, otherwise they wouldn't ask. And that's why I'm approaching you. It's not a medically necessary procedure, so we'll need your consent." She didn't mention the fact that Moody had implied this would be done with or without the hospital's assistance, or Neville's agreement, if need be. It would be easier for all of them, and Frank and Alice, if St.Mungo's staff were the ones who handled it. "Healer Pye and I really believe it can be done. Your parents have some level of recognition." While she never know who he was, Alice at least always recognized Neville as someone she was close to.
She was shocked by Neville's blunt answer, and knew she was staring at him, mouth agape before responding. "You're saying no."
His face took on an almost petulant expression, as he looked in towards his parents. "Of course I am. I know you all thought I'd just agree to anything that you wanted, but I'm not going to…."
Ginny interjected, "It wasn't that…" but he cut her off.
"I'm not going to subject them to that," Neville's gaze snapped back to hers, "do you know what the night was like for them? Are you thinking about that at all in this? That night was so terrible it broke their minds, it was something so horrific that death would have been preferable. And, you want me to make them relive it – I can't do that. I won't."
Normally, she would have taken the time to placate him, but they didn't have enough time for him to adjust to the idea, to wrap his head around it's importance, and then agree. "You have to," she said bluntly, "and not just because the more militant members of the Order will do this with our without your consent. You're going to do it because this is our best chance. Do you know how many patients I've had today alone, who came in hurt or injured by Death Eaters? Do you know how many other people have been hurt worse than your parents, even if they escaped with death? This is our lives on the line, all of us. You, me, your gran, Ron…"
She broke off, breathing heavily, not wanting to browbeat him, but needing him to see how important it was. Despite the fact he was older, and she cared for Neville more than she wanted to admit, she always felt like the more mature one in the friendship. And this went far beyond the normal petty situations in which that typically applied.
"Your parents would do this if they had the choice," she told him firmly, letting her gaze drift into the room. "They were aurors and risked everything for the protection of others. Do you think they would say no to this?"
Neville's voice was quiet when he continued, "No, I don't think they would. And that's why I want to do it for them. Because they've given up so much already." He looked towards Frank and Alice, his tone infinitely sad. "Did you know they have to wear diapers? Of course you do, you're their healer. They don't get to leave this room, except when I come to visit. They don't get touched, except by the mediwitches, who move them from bed to chair, or take their vitals. They are barely aware of each other. This is their life Ginny, this sad existence. And they've chosen it, even if unconsciously, rather than deal with the rest. "
She felt tears well in her eyes, even if he just looked resigned by that point. "If there's the slightest chance they can help, we…you have to take it." Hesitantly, she reached out, resting a hand on his arm.
He didn't brush her off, which was a miracle in itself.
"I suppose on some level I know that," he said finally, fiddling with the strings of his cloak. Neville didn't say anything for a moment, and Ginny had to fight the urge to try and strengthen her case, but he looked back up at her, meeting her eyes with a sigh.
"Let me talk to my Gran," he said quietly. "I know I have the power to just say yes, but she's my dad's mum. I have to at least talk to her first. Prepare her. She won't be….happy." His mouth curved up, but it was a ghost of a real smile, "We might have to ward the hospital against her."
His voice was firm as he finished, "That's a yes Ginny, in case it wasn't clear. Even if Gran isn't….I'll deal with her."
She knew what a concession that was from Neville. He might be a man grown, but she knew he hated to go against Augusta Longbottom. He'd told her once, that his job with the Ministry in their research department was his biggest rebellion, as apparently that wasn't quite high end and 'smart' enough for her. She had wanted him to go to work for the herbological division of a major potions company her friend Joseph Grant owned, but he had wanted to do something more than that, something meaningful.
It was rather like her situation, it wasn't saving the world like both of them wanted, but at least the plants he grew and developed were going towards the war effort.
"They wouldn't do this if it wasn't necessary," She reassured Neville quietly again, wrapping an arm around him in comfort now that he'd mellowed. "Most of the Order, they worked with your mum and dad. They wouldn't cause them any kind of pain they didn't have to."
He hesitated, still uncomfortable with physical displays of affection, even as minor as this one, from friends. At least she assumed that was the problem, since he typically seemed to tense, even when she touched him in the most casual of fashions. This time he waited only a beat before tilting his head down, pressing a kiss to her cheek, and his lips were warm and soft against her skin. Ginny closed her eyes for a moment, enjoying the sensation. They were friends, close friends, but sometimes she entertained the idea of more. Part of her believed it was the convenience of it all, his proximity to her when the others were gone. But the larger part of her knew it was more that he was the kindest man she knew.
It was part of what had made it so hard to be the one to ask him to do this, but the reason she knew she had to.
"You'll be here the entire time?" he asked, pulling his head back even as he patted her arm in an awkward fashion. "Mum, dad, I know they trusted Moody and the rest. But I. . . .I trust you."
Her heart warmed at his words, but her reply were regretful, "They don't usually let trainee healers deal with this sort of thing Neville. And it's not like it's going to be a horde of people in with them at the same time. They need to keep the room free of as many distractions as possible, so that this works. You know what a challenge it's going to be, to make their minds willing to focus on the unpleasant topics." She bit her lip, not wanting to rock the boat and make him change his mind.
"Are you planning on being here the entire time, even if they don't let you in the room?" Ginny continued.
He nodded, his words simple as he shrugged. "I have to be. I have to do what I can to protect them, even if I can't shield them from this as much as I want to. I have to be there for them."
"I'll be here then, with you," she promised, squeezing his hand, "even if I have to take time off work to do it. I don't know how much you're going to be able to see, or know, but. . . .I'll be here. For you. I promise."
"Thank you," Neville said, smiling gently at her, returning her squeeze. "That means a lot."
He made a motion towards the room, and she glanced towards the clock, noting the time. It was a large wizarding clock designed so that beyond showing the time, it also showed the locations of all the on duty hospital staff. She gave a start of surprise, realizing the hour. Neville always came close to the end of the day, after working long hours, and she'd taken up a good portion of his time talking about this.
"Visiting hours are almost over," she said regretfully, "I'm sorry for wasting your time. . . ."
He hesitated, but nodded, squeezing his parent's hands and kissing them each on the cheek. Alice smiled, cupping Neville's face in her hands, and handing him a gum wrapper like the usually did – Drooble's Best Blowing Gum. She never chewed the stuff in the hospital, the staff wouldn't allow it as she didn't have the presence of mind not to choke on it, but she grew upset without the gum, so they brought in packets to her – letting her play with it more than anything, and keep the wrappers to give to Neville when he came.
"I'll be back in the morning," he told Ginny, smiling all the while at his mum.
"Don't you have work?" She asked, and he turned towards her, tightening his cloak.
"Yes," Neville said with a shrug, "but I can't imagine once you tell them I'm. . . .amenable, they're going to wait very long. I'd like to spend whatever time with my parents I can before they. . . .just in case."
She wasn't sure what could be worse for them than their current state, but she supposed that at least they were in a more docile catatonic state now. They didn't need constrigo spells, or calming potions – they had some degree of freedom. But she supposed for him death would be worst, at least this way he had some small part of his parents around. But that was an unlikely inevitability – their bodies were healthy now, it was just their minds that were the issue.
"You can stay now," she offered awkwardly, "I'm not going to tell, and I have at least some authority with the mediwitches. . . ."
He shook his head at her offer, smiling faintly, "Thanks for the offer Ginny, but I can't. I've got to go tackle the dragon lady, before she goes to bed for the evening." She didn't think she'd heard him call his grandmother that since an overheard conversation with Harry when they were much younger. He still lived in his family house that he shared with his Gran. She knew he'd wanted to move out many times since, but with headlines every day proclaiming the number of people killed, captured, or tortured, he didn't want to leave Augusta there alone, even if he claimed she could probably to more damage with her cane than he with his wand.
"Wish me luck," Neville told her, giving her arm a pat as he walked past her into the hallway.
Ginny didn't move until he was well out the door, before calling for some of the mediwitches to prepare his parents for bed.
When she showed up at the hospital the next day – after a scant four hours of sleep, Neville was already there, along with a few members of the Order. Remus nodded at her as they stood around, talking with Pye, but Moody didn't do more than cast her a sideways glance as she walked up, squeezing Neville's arm in support but not interrupting their conversation. Shrugging inconspicuously out of her cloak, she tossed it and her bag on the counter near the mediwitches, listening.
"Neville apparrated home for the personal items we asked for," Pye explained, "and a few other things as well he thought would help. You have things I requested I'm sure, but I won't be needing them yet. Today I'll start with the easier things. Personal mementos that were important to them to start the process, working up to their Orders of Merlin – considering the missions those were awarded for, and other things that will prompt memories of assignments as aurors. We'll glean as much information as we can today from that, before trying to stimulate memories of that night."
"How are we going to get the information from you?" Moody asked gruffly, "writing down what you learn on a parchment is all well and good, but hardly ideal. The subtleties we can pick up. . . ."
Pye cut him off, "Penseive. I'll pull out the memories as we go and place them in one. You can peruse them after at your convenience. Ginny, you can assist me, holding up the items and attempting to direct their thoughts as I instruct. You others would be too much of a distraction, considering they would focus on you out of recognition."
She nodded after a quick glance at Neville, easily agreeing. Remus grasped him by the shoulder, as Moody nodded at Pye's plan, indicating the chairs in the waiting area not far away. Helpful or not, they'd be staying the entire time. She was glad Remus was there – considering years past or not, Neville was still skittish around Moody after Crouch Jr. had polyjuiced as him.
"I have one condition in all this," Neville spoke even as Remus tried to guide him towards the chair, and the group hesitated, turning towards him. He flushed, not used to being the center of attention, but didn't back down, "I mean, besides all the other concessions. I want to see the memories first. I won't take them home, I won't make you wait long. . . .but they're my mum and dad. I'm never going to get to talk to them, or learn about their lives except through stories. I want to see first. That's all I ask."
Moody looked like he was about to shoot that request down in a single word, but Remus nodded, shooting the other man a glance. "That's a reasonable request. When Pye is done, you can have a look in the penseive for as long as you like before we take it back to Grimmauld Place." Neville looked relieved at not having to put up a fight, and Moody glowered, but said nothing.
Taking the sack of items handed to her, Ginny followed Pye into the room. The mediwitch who had dressed the Longbottoms for the day was just finishing feeding them their breakfast, and at a nod from the healer she cleaned up, leaving and taking the tray with her.
"Find the picture of the day Alice graduated from the auror academy, of her posing with her parents," he instructed her, settling himself in a chair facing her off to the side, "we'll start with her." He was close enough to be near her and look into her eyes, but not to block her view of Ginny. He placed a hand on the woman's leg reassuringly, but didn't hesitate, nodding at Ginny to begin. Waving his hand, he lowered the light in the room and closed the blinds on the window, cutting off distractions.
Ginny pulled out the picture of Alice standing proudly in her new auror robes, her parents flanking her on either side – her mother pestering her by brushing off imaginary specs of dust for the picture – as Pye took an audible breath before looking into the woman's eyes as she looked directly at the picture Ginny had produced.
But her expression never changed, and after a flicker of a glance at the picture, her eyes drifted up to Ginny's face. She looked questioningly at the healer, and he sighed, "Nothing, not even a stirring of recognition. Try either her wedding robes next, or her parchment stack of notes from her first mission as an auror. We'll try her once more, than move onto Frank. I'd like to stagger them, not wear them out. But as much as possible, I'd like to leave it chronological, not let certain strong memories taint the earlier ones. I'm not sure if they're capable of complicated thought like that, but best not to take the chance."
She nodded, reaching into the sack, hoping against hope this wasn't going to be a wasted effort.
Eight hours later and exhausted, Ginny made her way from the Longbottom's room, hands resting heavily on her hips. She waited a moment, leaning against the doorway, before going out to face the three men waiting outside. It hadn't been a physically demanding process for her, considering Pye had done the hard work. He'd had to be the one to not only put the effort into reaching into their minds, but had also had to be the one to live those memories along with them.
It had been emotionally exhausting enough for her, only having to listen to garbled gibberish's of delight, or watch the spray of emotions across their faces, depending on the memory stimulated. By the end, she was sure she could read the two without any aid of mind reading or potions. She could tell the difference between the dreamy look on Alice's face when she was blank to the world, and when she was looking at her wedding dress. And she could tell when Frank was smiling randomly, and the difference when he looked at a picture of his youngest son. But, in the end, it had been Alice whom they had read the easiest, perhaps more capable of recognition and thought than her husband.
She knew Pye was curious if that was related to whatever had happened that night, the difference between what had been done to each of them and in what order, a curiosity nobody had been able to settle. But now was hardly the time to be thinking about it.
Not having seen the memories herself yet, she had little idea what they'd really discovered, but Pye had looked vaguely satisfied – of course that was before he had put the memories into a penseive before promptly going to the loo off the side of the room and vomiting into the toilet. Eight hours of legilmency had taken a physical and emotional toll on him.
That left her to go inform the others, and she walked out to the waiting room where they sat, all three on their feet in an instant.
"It worked," she said quietly, "most of the time. I don't know what we've learned, but it worked. The penseive is ready. Healer Pye is. . . .recovering. He can give you more details."
"Mum and dad, they're all right?" Neville asked, expectantly, almost disregarding the rest of what she had said.
Ginny nodded. She would have said more, but Moody cut her off, inclining his head to Neville, "Go on then lad, have a look at the penseive. Time's a wastin'."
She would have blasted him verbally for his impatience, she had nothing to lose really, but Neville shook his head when he saw her temper start to boil, placing a hand on her arm. "Show me where it is," he said, adding under his breath as they walked away, "not like I can't wait to see once we get there."
On their way into the room they passed Pye coming out, looking like death warmed over. His skin was pale as Sir Nick's had been at Hogwarts, and nearly as translucent, and his eyes couldn't seem to focus properly as he walked, using the wall for support. He ignored them entirely, but Ginny motioned to a mediwitch to get him a restoring draught before he keeled over.
Neville immediately walked over to his parents, reassuring himself nothing had changed in terms of their situation, before really taking note of the penseive in the corner. It would be moved carefully after, but they had left it there for convenience sake.
"They're all in there," she said, as he looked at it almost fearfully, as if it was a living entity, "whatever Pye could get. Some of it is full memories, some of it is momentary glimpses, and not every item provoked a memory. But whatever we saw, it's in there."
He continued to look at it like it was Snape during potions class, and she added gently, "You don't have to look Neville. But these memories, none of them were painful, or particularly unhappy. I saw their expressions and heard them babble, I know. But I'd understand, anyone would, if it was too painful to look."
She watched as he seemed to fortify himself, drawing up to his full height before looking over at her. "I want to look," he said resolutely, but weakened slightly, holding out a hand to her, "but, will you look with me?"
There was no hesitation as she nodded, walking over to him and squeezing his hand as they made their way up to the penseive. The silvery light that seemed to emanate from the liquidy substance inside never stopped moving, cloudlike as it hovered above. Ginny had never used one of these personally, but she understood their advantages, especially in situations like this. One of her textbooks had even quoted that it was easier to spot patterns and links in memories when they were taken out. The substance inside was liquidy. . . .but not quite. Airy. . . .but not quite. She couldn't describe it, and she found herself fascinated even as Neville reached their joined hands forward, touching the substance gently.
It felt unpleasantly like being sucked in a vacuum in space as they were drawn into the memories.
"Go on a date with me," Frank's words were closer to authoritarian than a request, as he leaned back in the chair at his desk, tapping his quill on the surface rather than doing any actually work.
Alice didn't even bother to look up from where she was compiling her notes from their visit to Goderick Lestrange's estate that morning. A wand had been detected casting a crucio on his property the night before, but he'd had a whole song and dance routine to cover his arse, not even paying them much attention during questioning, writing to some friend named Janice instead. And their search of the premises had turned up nothing – not that she had expected it to, but she was sure there was some poor soul out there still writing in pain.
"Sod off Frank," was all she said, distractedly, used to his attempts to get her to go out with him. She was more interested in her notes than his pathetic attempts to get her to sleep with him – as she knew that was what he was really after. "I don't have time for this shite. Go try and seduce Carol – Crouch's secretary. She'll spread her legs for anyone, and then you can leave me alone."
He leaned forward on his desk, parchment blank in front of him. He didn't bother to record everything while her notes were her favourite companion. Written on a page, able to be analyzed, they made solving any actual mysteries easier. "I don't get why you keep saying no," he told her, sending sparks out of his wand to get her attention, "I'm a decent bloke. Good-looking, wealthy, nice, hygienic. . . ."
". . . .an arse," she finished for him dryly, but set down her quill, deciding to actually have the conversation, "You know bloody well why I won't date or sleep with you. Beyond your arrogant personality – and trust me, that is hard to get past - beyond the meddlesome mother, beyond the way you've slept with everything that moves, I still wouldn't date you. You're my partner Frank. Although you're arrogant, there's still nobody I'd rather have watching my back on a mission, and I don't want to fuck that up. And, I don't date anyway – it was hard enough to become an auror as a little helpless female, I swear, if they knew I was a sexual being they'd kick me out on my arse."
"But we're so good together," he pointed out, "we laugh, we get along, we're single. Merlin, I have a better time with you on a mission than out with my mates, and we're tempting death at the time. So, all the more. . . ."
Alice cut him off again. She knew he hated when she did that. "All the more reason not to fuck it up with sex. We'll still laugh, we'll still get along, and I'll still go out for a pint with you after a particularly long day – I just won't sleep with you, or date you. And you can continue to have your fun with the auror groupies. It's the ideal situation."
He rolled his eyes at her, "Your logic, as always Alice, is flawed." Pausing, a grin lit up his face, "You're ignoring our overwhelming attraction for one another. If you don't start letting it out of your system, one of these days you're going to just jump me when we're in the middle of a firefight. . . ."
"I'll say it one more time, sod off," she threw the procedural manual from her shelf at him, "you and your pretty arse are not going to entice me to risk my job."
"You like me, admit it," Frank's words were amused despite the fact there were twelve dead dark wizards around them. Flat on his back, he looked up at her with a smile, and she backed away instantaneously, fully aware of all the other aurors apparrating in around them. She had been leaning over him, worried that he wouldn't be able to recover.
He smiled, but it resembled more of a wince, as he pushed himself into a sitting position. She had to resist the urge to help him, even as logically she knew he was just fine, her gut was having a heard time believing otherwise. Bellatrix had placed him under cruciatus for only a few moments before Alice had managed to kill the last of her cronies and turn towards her – and the spell had been broken when she apparrated away. She would never forget the look of insane hatred on the other woman's face before she disappeared.
"Of course I like you," Alice kept her voice calm, although she was still shaking inside from the sight of him lying on the ground, writhing in pain, "you're my partner and best mate you dolt. I'd be quite upset if your negligent arse managed to get itself avada'd."
This was why becoming to close to the people you worked with was a mistake. For all that she'd never so much as snogged Frank, she knew she'd feel hollow inside if he was ever killed. And, considering their jobs, that was a high likelihood these days.
"It's more than that," he said, and this time it was full out grimace as he tried to get to his feet, and she was at his side in an instant, pulling his arm around her shoulders and propping him up, and he smiled down at her in gratitude, before continuing, "Alice, for Merlin's sake, what's it going to take to make you admit that you care about me beyond simple friendship - me getting myself killed? Really, that's no fun, since I won't be around to enjoy the rewards that would result."
She smiled, holding him up as they made there way over to her bag. She'd use her emergency portkey to get him to St.Mungo's, and then head back to auror headquarters to be debriefed, as she didn't think she could apparrate them easily enough while supporting nearly all his weight. "You're full of yourself aren't you?" she quipped, although felt instantaneously bad when she saw him biting his lip to keep from groaning at the exertion of moving.
When he paused, she assumed it was because of the pain, but he only turned towards her, while keeping a hand braced on her shoulder for support. He raised his other hand towards her face, cupping it gently before letting his hand fall. "Don't wait forever," he said quietly, "we never have as much time as we think we do."
Moments like this were coming all too frequently now. Frank, serious and sure – and, more often than not – sweet. It tested her resolve every day. She loved his friendship, loved their time together, loved working with him – but sometimes it just wasn't enough. But then she got distracted by how it would effect work, and her career, and she couldn't get past that. She had no doubts about 'him', but had her doubts about 'them', and how they would work.
It wouldn't just be him that would have problems watching her on the job, it was becoming harder and harder for her to see him risk life and limb when battling dark wizards.
"I don't want to give up my job," it burst out of her before she could stop it, rather than a joke, but she continued resolutely, "I like my job. I like being an auror, I'm good at being an auror."
Frank looked incredulous, "Who would ever ask you to? And, Merlin yes, you are. Have I said thank you yet for saving my arse back there?"
"If things get fucked up between us," she continued ignoring him, "I lose my partner. And, admit it, you'll end up wanting me to quit. You'll want me to go home and raise little Longbottom babies, and give up what makes me me."
He laughed gently, and made a move to touch her, but she quirked her shoulder towards Moody standing not too far away, and he stopped. "I'm not proposing marriage Alice, I'm asking you to give us a chance. And, for the record, while I have no objection to little Longbottom babies, if they do become an issue, there are these things called nannies for when we have to work. I'd never ask you to give up your job, love. Besides, I'm rather fond of self-preservation, and I'd like to have the witch with the self-proclaimed best wand work watching my back."
"Ok, fine, I'll snog you sometime," Alice said with a defeatist sigh, although she was smiling, "on one condition though – and this is non-negotiable. We catch any flack at work, any, and there's a single word about transfer – you're the one to go. Now you decide if I'm worth that risk."
"Now who's full of themselves?" He asked dryly, "But, fine, I agree to your condition. I think you're making this department out to be more autocratic and, well, chauvinistic than it actually is, but fine, I agree."
Frank was leaning down towards her then, pain forgotten, but she gently pushed his head aside. "And we are not flaunting this," she told him, waving her goodbye to Shacklebolt and Moody as she reached down to rummage in her bag for the old clock charmed to act as a portkey.
The wall was hard against her back as Frank pulled her into the hotel room, pushing her against the closest flat surface as he attached his mouth to her neck.
"Wanker," she hissed, shoving him off, and handing a few galleons to the bellboy who had levitated their bags up to the room for them. Frank had insisted on carrying her, drunk off elation and champagne, an impressive feat considering she was no lightweight, and the wedding robes she wore had to weigh at least ten kilograms on their own.
He stood a few feet away from here, dutifully, until the door shut behind the younger man and then he was on her again, hands both on her breasts as he pressed his mouth to hers.
"You don't waste any time," she gasped in surprise, but didn't resist when he deepened the kiss, tongue tangling with hers.
Frank gave a strangled laugh, resting his forehead against hers as he moved his hands from her breasts to the buttons of her robes – the things almost as small as pinheads, "Not waste any time? Merlin Alice, we've been together nearly a year, and we've still never slept together, except in the nearly platonic sense. If I told the blokes you worked with, whom you exchange ribald jokes with, that you were celibate, saving yourself for marriage, they'd find it hilarious. And not only because of the thought of me with blue balls for about a year."
"It's not like we never experimented," she pointed out reasonably, pushing his hands away to tackle the buttons herself. He looked disappointed, but she didn't want the dress robes damaged. She had this idealistic vision – as much as it shamed her – of keeping them as a memento, in case her daughter, assuming they ever had one, wanted to wear them one day.
He didn't move to help her, but watched appreciatively from a few feet away as she removed her dress robes slowly and carefully – uncovering bare skin inch by inch, until she was left only in her white bra and knickers – and garter belt. "Alice, darling," he tacked on the endearment though it annoyed her, "if you think experimentation is just as fun, I've a lot to teach you."
Alice shot him a look, careful with the dress as she strode from the entranceway to the suite, heading into the bedroom of the suite to hang it up. She'd have been just as content back at her flat, where'd they'd be living for at least the first while of married life, but like so many things she'd insisted on in the past few weeks – Augusta Longbottom had said that it simply wouldn't do not to have a night in the wizarding hotel of central London where the wedding reception had been held.
"Stop with the practicalities," he told her, in equal parts exasperation and amusement, tugging at the knotted tie of his dress robes, "we've got a lifetime for that. We have tonight for me happily deflowering you."
The dress robes were hung carefully before she turned around, rolling her eyes at him, "Where on earth did you pick up that term? You make me sound like some innocent little virgin. . . ."
"Which you are," he interjected reasonably, only earning himself a glare.
"Which I'm not," she emphasized, "terms like that are for people like Janice Hornswallow – Hufflepuff ninny whom we questioned last week. I swear that woman, if one could call her that, has never so much as thought about a cock. She lives with her mum, always has for Merlin's sake. She'd probably run screaming at the idea of actual sex. How a woman like that could be possibly associated with the Lestranges. . . . anyways, my point being, I'm only a virgin in the most literal sense."
The grin on his face was almost malicious as he reached for her, "A technicality which I'd like to take care of. . . ."
Alice ducked under his arms, heading for the sitting room of the suite, unashamed strolling around in her undergarments. "As soon as I send off an owl. Seeing Moody at the reception, odd though that was, and talking about Janice made me remember I was going to get my impressions and recollections down from the other day since someone swiped my parchment. Remember that picture that was hanging in her. . . ."
"It's our wedding night," he said exasperatedly, reaching for her determinedly and pulling her to him before she could wander off. His tone was teasing, but he was obviously slightly perturbed, "one would think that you had no interest in. . . .what does one call it with an innocent like you? Making love? Celebrating our union?"
It was hard to leave the thoughts of work entirely behind, considering she'd almost forgot it once, but he had a point – she was being ridiculous. "I have every interest," she told him, wrapping her arms around his neck, "it wasn't exactly easy resisting your advances all these months you know. You know I want to fuck you." She used the crude word purposefully. "I'll remember in the morning, I'm sure, about the owl."
"Not when I'm done with you," Frank grinned, before causing her to squeal in surprise when he swept her up in his arms, turning around and tossing her on the bed. He vanished his clothes easily, not caring about their preservation, even if he'd looked quite dashing in his robes.
She lay there, waiting for him to join her, giving a mock sigh, "Promises, promises. If you can get me off tonight I'll be impressed enough."
He tried to affect indignation, "Are you implying something about my sexual prowess?"
"Of course not," her grin was wide as he settled his body over hers, kissing her lazily, their lips sliding over one another. "Simply that you've not managed it yet. . . ."
"That was experimentation we were doing," he informed her firmly, "doesn't count."
"It's practically the same thing as foreplay," she said cheekily, "obviously you're not very good at it."
Frank paused in the way he had moved down to kissing her neck. "Alice?" he said exasperatedly, "Bloody hell, shut it!"
She laughed as she dragged his mouth back to hers, "You love me, you know it, you dolt."
"Of course I do," he told her, "but I love a silent you even. . . ." his voice trailed off, looking like the proverbial lumos spell would have appeared above his head at that very moment. "I have an idea." He raised his hand as she opened her mouth, "And no, before you make some smart arse remark, this is not the first time. I'll bet you twenty galleons I can get you off without so much as a touch of my cock."
She raised her eyebrows, "In terms of money – what's mine is yours, and what's yours is mine now. . . .but irregardless, I fail to see the downside to this for me. And, just so you know, I wasn't really implying. . . ."
"All it's going to take," Frank interjected, "is for you to trust me. Do you think you can do that?"
Alice pretended to consider for a moment, but smiled softly, her words sincere, "Of course I do." Although it was slightly disconcerting to see the smirk that spread across his face at her words.
"Excellent." At Frank's statement she didn't have time to respond before he was muttering constrigo, binding her to the bed. She would have objected to that, but he was waving his wand again, and a blindfold slid across her eyes, effectively cutting off her sight. She struggled, worried – as an auror one didn't give up control easily, and one certainly didn't like being powerless should anyone attack – but was soothed by his hand on her stomach and his breath soft against her ear. "Trust me," he said softly, rubbing his hand back and forth over the skin there reassuringly. "Let me take care of you."
He kissed the side of her neck, and she could feel the smile against her skin, "Just relax, just try and feel." The tacked on for once was implied in his words. The and shut it part was just assumed.
When he pulled away entirely she had to force herself not to whimper. Husband or not, she still hated to show weakness. And having her visual sense cut off was one of her biggest fears. She could face a wizard whose favourite offensive spell to cast was a crucio with little problem, but when she knew they favoured the conjunctivitis curse, she got more nervous inside. Without sight, there was the unknown, and she hated that.
But this time the unknown was almost as hard to take still, if slightly less nefarious. She nearly jumped off the bed when his hand came back, resting on her hip, and Frank made soothing sounds in the back of his throat as he slid it up to her breast, adding his other hand to the other, palming them gently – before encircling the areola with his finger, then pinching lightly on the nipple. It sent shockwaves of arousal through her, but wasn't enough to cause pain.
She twitched against him when he pressed his lips to her neck, then pulled away, before feeling his tongue next on her breasts. He encircled the tips gently again, keeping them in hard little nubs. This time he didn't pull away, trailing down her front, his lips finally coming to rest just above her belly button. She would have assumed she knew where he was going next, but when his mouth lifted and touched her next it was the tops of her feet, then her ankles, and she sighed in disappointment – causing Frank to chuckle.
"Anticipation. . . ." he began, trailing a hand up her thigh.
". . . .is overrated," she interjected, "get to it then."
His hand stalled, and he sighed, "What a romantic order. You really know how to set the mood, don't you?"
She shrugged, feeling odd doing it not knowing if he could see her action. "I'm sorry," she said hesitantly, "it doesn't come naturally."
Frank pulled away, and it was only moments before he was back up beside her, pressing his lips to hers. "Don't apologize," he muttered, using his hand to urge her to open her mouth wider, "it's just. . . .it can be an acquired skill. It's not like most people go around talking about cocks and tits and fucking on a regular basis."
She shot a pointed look in the direction she thought his face was, and he laughed, conceding, "Okay, perhaps the other male aurors do on occasion bring the topics up." She nudged him with her knee and he added, "Okay, okay – I'm hardly exempt."
"My point being," he continued, "is that it doesn't fall naturally from one's lips. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you start talking about throbbing members or mounds of love, but. . . ."
"Have you been getting into my Wicked Witch novels again?" Alice exclaimed. He'd had no mercy when he found the first one tucked into her nightstand, teasing her mercilessly. Dating or not, he probably would have shared that tidbit with the department if she'd not threatened to tell everyone about the odd and irrational fear he had of Moody in retaliation.
"Just. . . .try and say something complimentary at the very least once in awhile," Frank finished, his voice a disembodied thing floating around her, giving her one last open mouthed kiss before shifting again. She wanted to touch him, but her spelled bonds held her back.
His hands slid over her hips, her thighs, sliding around to the inside, moving gently along the skin there, causing her to tense in anticipation. But, he never touched her there only dragging a finger along the crease where thigh met torso, repeating the action on the other side. Alice tried to shift, to move closer, to makehim touch her properly, but at her attempt his hand backed away entirely.
Well, perhaps not quite entirely. She could swear she felt it there – a miniscule distance from her clit, but not touching. And every time she tried to move her body towards it, he backed it away a little more. She lifted her head, trying to see, but the blindfold made that impossible.
"Relax," his voice was far from soothing, more full of amusement than anything as she jerked when she swore she felt a light touch between her legs – not sure after if it was real or imagined.
She would have cursed him then, but his hand had slid forward, fingers inside her and stroking slowly. At least she was quite sure it was his fingers. Letting out a keening sound, she moved against his fingers, not caring if she looked a slag. In a way it was a benefit of the blindfold, making her worry less about the outside world that existed outside of the feeling of his fingers in her. Another finger – thumb? Pinky? Who cared? – brushed her clit as the others stroked within her.
The words came out with a half sob as she told him, tension building at the base of her spine, "I'll give you the twenty galleons. Merlin, I'll give you forty. I admit it. You can get me off without a touch of your cock. It's. . . .I don't want you to! Fuck me properly, please, it's about bloody time."
When he began to speak, she was sure it would be some smart arse remark about 'dirty talk', but it was only him muttering 'nox', ending the spells that bound and blinded her. Able to see and move, she didn't waste time, launching herself forward and kissing him, pressing him back into the bed, even as his one hand still stayed within her, caressing slowly and lazily. His head landed nearly on the edge of the bed, barely supported.
"Impatient?" Alice would have hexed him for his amusement, but her wand was too far away.
"Yes," she said bluntly, moving astride him – taking him in her hand and stroking slowly. He could hardly pretend disinterest, but needed that last physical stimulation to make his erection grow. She had 'experimented' with this before, but still smiled in satisfaction as she felt him swell beneath her hand. She placed her hand on his wrist, moving his hand from her, and adjusted herself – wanting to take him into her. She might be a virgin, but she was hardly passive – and besides, she'd heard that it was easier the first time that way.
At least if one could get it right. It took her three attempts to do it properly, the angle never quite right. The third time she slid down on him all the way, despite her intent to torture them both doing it inch by inch. She only sat there a moment, adjusting to the feel, muttering as if in awe, "Bloody hell." There'd been no pain, and there wasn't now, but only a sight discomfort that was diminishing with every passing second.
She moved then at his urging, trying hard to find the right rhythm, and decided what to do with her hands. But as he slid a hand between then, adding clitoral stimulation, she finally stopped thinking about what she was doing, and it became a hell of a lot easier.
It shocked her, but she came before Frank after a spell of rocking, and grinding against him, trying to practice what didn't come instinctively – her orgasm hitting her suddenly, although hardly violently this first time, her only outward reaction a hoarse cry. Alice had to credit his self control, considering it was almost as if he had been waiting for that, rolling her onto her back then and thrusting into her to find his own end.
"Fuck me," she swore as he rolled away, and she wiped sweaty hair from her brow.
"I just did," Frank smirked, lying on his side beside her, "rather effectively too."
"Shut it," she told him, although she leaned over to kiss him lazily, still rather in awe of the whole experience, not that she'd admit that to him. "What are you doing with enough stamina to get a virgin off anyway? Shouldn't about a year without sex make you as randy as anything, and last about a minute or so?"
He laughed at her question, "Just because you put me off Alice, and I didn't cheat on you. . . .it doesn't mean me and my hand didn't get well acquainted – while in my mind a fantasy you and me did any number of dirty things."