This was written for the spin-off challenge hosted by Lady Eleanor Boleyn on The Dark Lord's Most Faithful Forum. I chose to rewrite The Age of the Serpent by Vivien Lestrange, a fascinating multi-chapter AU in which Voldemort wins the war and a cured but traumatized Alice Longbottom is left to find her place in the new society that has built itself in the aftermath. I specifically chose to focus on Alice's memories of her life at Saint Mungo's and the trauma that caused, evoked in chapter 7. Any specific concepts about Alice's experience (regarding her memory, her unability to communicate, the effects of the potions on her) are drawn from the original fic. Enjoy!
The screams continue to echo in her head.
They might have started a few seconds ago, or it could have been months, or it could have been years. She has no sense of time. Time is only confusion; there are only the cycles, of pain, of fear, of floating. Her reality is distorted and she has no way to escape it. The helplessness reigns, her sole conqueror.
She doesn't know who is screaming—and she wants to tell them to stop, but she has no voice. She reaches, yet she has no hands; the blackness is a greedy living thing all around her, pressing close, sucking the faltering strength from the marrow of her bones and the feeble fluttering heart still sending blood through her body. But has she a body, or has she a cage? Is she cursed? What does "cursed" even mean?
There are times when even words fall away from her consciousness like overripe fruit, heavy and rotten, corrupted from the core out. They become hazy concepts, crowded by colours and blurred shapes and associations she can make no sense of, from lives unlived or perhaps lived and long lost. Even words become too big and exhausting for her to keep any semblance of control on, and she just lets them roll over her for hours, low mantras, almost unheard. There is baby—whose baby, she wonders in the intervals when she can still wonder—and Crucio and never and help. This one is recurring, circling around her like a troublesome fly. Helphelphelphelp. It could almost be her name.
When she remembers what it means, she scratches blood from her own skin and writes it all over the bubble-gum wrappers she finds in her pockets. This is important. The wrappers are part of something, most of the time she isn't quite sure what, that can carry her message. She hands them to that boy she sees often, the one with the sad, gentle face. She can never quite catch his name, but she knows him. He seems to care. And unlike many others who also appear gentle and kind, he doesn't just want to give her the potions.
People are always here to give her the potions—all day long, it feels like to her. She has no words and no voice and no strength to tell them no, and when she struggles, they only do with their wands things she might once have known about, until the fear recedes and leaves light-headedness in its place, and she scarcely knows she meant to resist at all; then they make her drink, and nothing much else matters anymore. The potions eat her strength, scarce as it already is. They leave her small and helpless and cut off from the world, or from her own mind. Her memory is at its worst after she drinks them. The few feeble ideas she could manage to get a grasp on before scatter like ashes in the wind; she doesn't know why she's here, or who she is, or what might become of her. She is only lost in a heavy haze, and there is no one left to help.
Help—oh yes, that word she remembers. She is not sure if she really is surrounded by no one but enemies—all but the boy, the innocent boy with his sad and loving and confused face—yet she struggles, all the same, to make herself reach out. She tries to find words, even a few and loosely connected, but when she does—when she has them, and holds on to them tight, she finds that she forgot the simple steps to turn those ideas into articulated speech. Her brain won't find the right commands, and each breath remains a painful passive flow, in and out of her lungs—never a tool to bring the hope of salvation.
It makes her so desperate and so frightened and so angry and so tired that the words scatter again, lost like water between her fingers, and she lies limp and defeated until it is time for the potions again.
She is alone. Truly alone, for nobody knows, nobody realizes. Nobody sees that she's there.
There is another, a man they put beside her, who drinks the potions too. She doesn't know who he is, or if he really is there, either.
She doesn't give him much thought. He is merely a stranger.