FLIGHT OF DEATH
by Susie Q
One year later
The Levine house was decked out in all its splendor for the graduation of Alexis Levine, the sole heir to the Levine fortune. On that day, Alexis moved among the crowd with all the poise and elegance of a well-brought-up young woman, smiling and making idle conversation with the guests. And it was quite a grand guest list, comprised of only the old and notable wizarding families, particularly, she knew, those who had sons of a suitable age. Perhaps she would once have felt angry at being offered up so tactlessly, but she found it rather amusing now, playing with each of the various prospects, like a game which she would win any way she moved. She held the trump card, after allshe was rich, young, and beautiful; her father was well-known and well-respected among the best circles of old wizarding societies, so who wouldn't want her for a wife? She could have her pick, and anyone who wasn't rich enough or important enough she could throw away as he had thrown her away so long ago.
She found she enjoyed herself, all things considered. Flirting had never been a part of her nature at Hogwartsshe'd never had to work to attract any man, discounting Tom, but now, although that had not changed, she had begun to like perfecting the art.
She knew her parents liked Magnus Lestrange in particular for her, but he was dull...and ugly...and truth be told a bit too old for her tastes. She did have her eye on a handsome young man by the name of Jonathan Harper, however. He'd already saved her from Magnus twice throughout the evening, which constituted as heroism for her, and as she was chatting with two of her friends from Hogwarts, he approached her and tapped her on the shoulder.
"You've hired an exceptional orchestra, Miss Levine," he commented, and she bowed her head in assent.
"Father looked for quite a long time, I understand."
"Then would you like to take advantage of their fine work and dance with me?" He held out his hand, and Alexis heard her friends giggle behind her.
She smiled at himnot too broadly, but with a touch more than the usual friendliness. "I'd be honored, Mr. Harper."
He swept her off around the room, and she whirled in giddy, dizzying circles with him. Although she liked to think of herself as being coquettish and worldly, she was really still hopelessly naïve in many ways, and while she was busy enjoying the heady sensation of dancing with a handsome and charming partner, he was equally preoccupied with the flush that had risen to her cheeks and the sparkle that had appeared in her eyes. She'd make a very proper wife. He might even enjoy married life, at this rate.
"You two looked so nice together," Gabriella Rhyse sighed, only looking slightly envious. "He's perfect, Alexis. You should catch him while you can. While he's still available!"
The others laughed in agreement.
Alexis raised her glass of champagne to them all. "For your advice," she said, "and may you all be as lucky as I've been."
"Never!" Elena Duval exclaimed. "First Riddle, now Harperyou seem to be a magnet for the gems, Alexis. We'll all have to watch our husbands around you." She smiled teasingly, but Alexis didn't return her smile.
"Come with me and get something to eat," Gabriella declared firmly. "These little cakes your mother ordered have been taunting me all evening." As she dragged Alexis away from the group, she lowered her voice and said, "Are you okay?"
Alexis blinked and looked at her coolly. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I know you don't like to talk about"
Alexis looked at her friend imperiously. "Why would I mind?" she asked, her voice cold and detached. "Really, Gabriella, I don't know where you'd get such an idea."
"But I know that you"
"Oh, look, Mother got your favorite little pastries." Alexis swished away to the refreshment table, and Gabriella had no choice but to trail reluctantly along behind her, though she was by no means satisfied.
They were munching on pastries and making idle banter when Jonathan Harper reappeared.
"Miss Levine." He smiled at her.
"Mr. Harper. How nice to see you again." She laughed.
"I was just thinking that this was one of my favorite songs and what a shame it would be to waste it." He offered her his arm.
Alexis opened her mouth uncertainly and glanced at Gabriella, who lifted her eyes skyward as if to say, Don't be stupid, and nodded significantly toward the dance floor.
"If you keep this up, Mr. Harper, people are going to get the wrong idea about us." She smiled at him.
She expected him to say something like And what idea is that? keeping up the light conversation, but instead he put his arm around her and only answered with a mysterious grin, "You never know. Maybe I'd prefer they did."
Elena walked over to Gabriella, who was still standing by the table but seemed to have forgotten about her pastry altogether.
"They look so nice, don't they?" she said, but she didn't sound overly happy. "Really just makes you want to go and blast her whole precious hat collection so she won't have everything, doesn't it?"
Gabriella smiled distantly and threw the pastry in the garbage.
Alexis was lounging in the sitting room several days later, one arm resting casually on the back of the sofa, her lithe form draped across it as she read a book. Just as Mr. Darcy was about to propose, there was a commotion in the front hall, and, with an annoyed groan, she dropped her book onto the table and went out to see what was happening.
"...someone of consequence, I should think," her father's voice was saying in its annoyed tone. "Good enough for Mr. Burke to come and see me in person, I should think."
"Mr. Burke rarely makes calls personally, sir. It's nothing against you."
Alexis had been about to go back into the sitting room to get her book so she could search out a quieter nook of the housenothing interesting to listen to there, just dull business talkbut she stopped in her tracks when she heard the second voice. She would know that voice anywhere.
Against her better judgment, her hand trembling slightly, she went to the parlor and peered in.
Her father was sitting, leaning back in his chair with his hands in his lap in his characteristic annoyed posture. Alexis might have giggled at how pompous he looked, but the sight of the young man sitting across from him melted her grin at once and swept away any remnants of amusement she might have been feeling.
He was slightly thinner than when she'd last seen him, she noted with a frown. His hair was longer, and he was wearing this shabby suit that only suited awell, whatever he was. But he still looked as handsome as ever, maybe even more so, as if her memory had failed her, and she wanted to flee right then, but her feet suddenly seemed to be made of lead.
"We seem to have an eavesdropper," Tom said suddenly, rising to his feet.
Damn. She had never been able to fool him.
Surprised, her father turned as well, and frowned for the briefest of instances when he found her listening in on his business conversations, before he smiled warmly and rose as well. "Alexis, there you are. I was wondering where you'd disappeared to. Riddle, this is my daughter, Alexis; Alexis, this is Tom Riddle from Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley."
"Miss Levine." There wasn't a trace of recognition in Tom's voice or her father's face. Had her mother been here, Alexis knew, she would have recognized the name. But her father had never rememberednever cared. As long as her marks were good in school, he had his own plans for her afterwards. Her mother had been the one who had listened to her talk about her new friends, who had guided her in making friends, told her which families were the best and which friends she would be better off not having. She had not been extremely pleased to hear about Tom, Alexis remembered, but that had been one of the rare times when Alexis had gone against her mother's advice and continued seeing him anyway. She had hoped that once he graduated they would be able to see what sort of a family he came frombut that was when she had assumed he would go on to do something meaningful and important. From the state of his robes at the moment, his Award for Special Services was probably worth more than his yearly salary. Assuming they paid him a salary, of course. Good Merlin, what if he got paid commission only?
No wonder he was here at her father's.
"Alexis, perhaps you'll be able to convince Mr. Riddle that Great-aunt Rosamunde's necklace is worth at least a thousand Galleons. It's the finest quality, and you know there's that old curse the woman put on it."
"I'll have to discuss negotiations with Mr. Burke," Tom replied.
"Well, then, you tell Mr. Burke I'm asking for a thousand."
Tom nodded politely. "Yes, sir." He turned to Alexis. "Miss Levine." It was the only thing he'd said to her the entire time.
"I'll see you out," she volunteered instantly.
It was only a few feet from the parlor to the front door, but it was long enough for the silence to become awkward. At the entrance, Alexis stopped and forced a bright smile. "Well, then! I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
"I doubt it," he answered, still giving no sign he remembered her. "These negotiations with Mr. Burke will probably take at least two days, but I really don't expect to be back till Friday." Before she quite knew what he was doing, he scooped up her hand and lightly brushed his lips across the backs of her knuckles. "Until we meet again...Alexis."
And then he was gone.
She stood in stunned silence for several minutes or hours; it could have been either. When she finally realized what had just happened, she wanted to snatch the door open and run out after him, just so she could shake him and demand to know what the hell he thought he was doing. She was furious, but not necessarily at him. She was angry she'd let him get to her again so easily.
She threw herself back onto the couch in the sitting room, but not even Jane Austen could provide any diversion after that, and at last she gave up, got her hat and her bag, and went to the fireplace. Glancing furtively into the hall to be sure no one was there, she prodded a small fire to life, grabbed some of the green powder from its place on the mantel, and tossed it on.
There was a rush and she was swept away, and a moment later she was standing in the fireplace of a small, dingy-looking shop that was nothing like the lavish, immaculately-kept ones she was used to visiting on Elmar Alley. Bracing herself, Alexis stepped out, brushed off her robes, and looked around for some sign of life.
"Can I help you?" A wizened old man came out and looked her over with some interest.
"Ohno, thanks. I meanwellI'm looking for Borgin and Burkes."
"This is the place." He moved a step closer, eyeing her ring. "I'm Mr. Burke. Something I can do for you, Miss...?"
"Levine," she supplied almost automatically, before she could think better about the wisdom of handing her name out to a total stranger, especially one who owned a shop in Knockturn Alley. "I was just, I just was looking for someone who worked here...but I see he's out at the moment, so I'll be going, then. Sorry to have bothered you."
She wasn't even going to try to go the way she'd come. She didn't want to spend a minute longer in that horrid place, she just wanted out. Grabbing the handle, she fled from the shop and very quickly found that she was completely lost in one of the worst places in wizarding London.
Not wanting Mr. Burke to seefor she knew he was still watching her keenly through the windowshe took off confidently in no particular direction, hoping she would eventually be led to some exit, or some familiar landmark. Oh, she was going to be in so much trouble when she got home!
She had walked and walked, but it felt like the damn alley had no end. Finally, resigned, she started to slowly make her way back, looking at all the faces and shops in hopes of finding someone who looked approachable enough to ask for directions.
The sound of anyone in this blasted alley calling her name caused her to gasp and whirl around, stumbling rather ungracefully.
Tom was eyeing her with genuine surprise, a few boxes tucked under his arm. "What are you doing down here?" he demanded.
"I" Oh, bloody hell. Now it all sounded so stupid. I came to find you, sweetie pie! Ugh. "I was just...um...looking."
"You know...all the Dark magic they have down here...it's really, um...it's really quite...fascinating," she babbled on, feeling more stupid by the second. Just shut up. You know he doesn't believe you anyway. "I thought maybe while I was here I could talk Mr. Burke into giving my father some more for that necklace," she added, her voice gaining some confidence now. "But it didn't go"
"I told you Mr. Burke and I would have to discuss it." His voice had gone cold. "So you can save yourself the trouble of inventing any more stories, although I must say they are fascinating. I have to drop these off, and then I'll take you home."
"I can take myself, thank you," she snapped, hurt.
He laughed, really laughed at that. She enjoyed it for just a secondthe sound of his genuine laughter was so rarebut then the realization that it was directed at her turned the beginnings of her smile into an annoyed grimace. "What's so funny?"
"You are." He was still chuckling a bit. "You couldn't get out of here if someone gave you a map with the way marked in red, Alexis Levine. Just be glad you'll always have someone else there to escort you around. You don't need to go trying to prove anything to anyone by going off on these rebellious I-can-do-it-alone bits."
She sulked all the way back to the shop and flatly refused to go in. Instead, she stood outside and watched through the window as Tom dropped off the packages and he and Mr. Burke apparently had a good laugh over how stupid little Miss Levine was, couldn't even get around their horrible alley without
What exactly had Tom meant by "you'll always have someone to escort you around"?
He couldn't possibly...
She was standing in thoughtful contemplation when he returned, a small grin still evident, and said, "Shall we go?"
"Of course," she answered distractedly, her thoughts still whirling like mad.
Tom had never felt the same way for her as she did for him at Hogwarts, she had known that all along...her friends had thought she was mad to continue the whole affair, that it was only going to end badly for her...and hadn't they been right, she thought. He hadn't loved her as much as she had loved him, perhaps, but there was always something in her that had hoped beyond hope that he did at least love her, although he never said it.
Now, a year later, was it possible that he could miss her? Regret what he'd done? Evenmaybewant her back?
But if that was so...did she want him now?
Of course you do, you daft idiot! some voice in the back of her mind shouted. But a stronger, more rational one was reminding her of Jonathan, and financial security, and the home and family she could have with him. As it stood, Tom had practically nothing...And it wasn't as if Jonathan was so bad...She grinned. The other night at her graduation party hadn't exactly been unpleasant.
"What are you smiling about?" Tom's voice cut into her reverie, sending the soft music and the ballroom and Jonathan Harper spinning away.
He eyed her. She knew that look wellit was when he knew she was lying to him and he was trying to figure out just what the truth was. But she kept her face blank. Then again, why should she hide the truth? After everything he'd done, maybe it was time for a little retribution.
"I was thinking about my party the other night."
"There were tons of flowers. All of my friends."
"Of course." His voice was almost sincere, but there was just a touch of acidic sarcasm in it which she chose to ignore.
"And there was this really delightful young man named Jonathan Harper; he works in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"A Ministry drone." Tom shrugged him off. "Very nice work, Miss Levine. I expect he'll bore you fantastically."
"He's not boring," Alexis snapped, almost more hurt by the ease with which Tom had dismissed Jonathan than by the insult to him. "He's actually very nice to talk to."
"Good. I hope so. I'd ask for an invitation to the wedding, but"he smirked mysteriously"I don't think I'm going to be here that far from now."
"Where are you going?" she couldn't help asking.
"Oh, I don't know, all over," he replied vaguely.
"Why?" For some reason she had begun to feel a little panicked.
Another shrug. "Just study a bit more. Other things, not quite-so-scholarly things," he added as she opened her mouth again. "Not Hogwarts-approved material." Those words were cynical. "But maybe you'll still see me in the news here and there," he added mysteriously as they arrived at her door.
"When are you leaving?" She felt a little desperate, knowing this might be the last time she ever got to speak to him like this.
"Whenever I feel like it." His tone was indifferent. "I'll wait for my next payday, probably, and then go. Don't worry about it," he added. "You have far too many friends and parties and Jonathan Harpers to occupy your time."
Then without another word, without even a goodbye, he turned and left her there on her doorstep.
Alexis waited in the sitting room eery morning for the next few days with her book, half an ear on the sounds in the hall outside.
What do you think you're going to do when he does come? she thought, a little disgusted with herself, even as she craned her neck to make sure her father was alone. If you try to spy again it's just going to be a repeat of the last time.
He had said he'd be back on Friday, but Friday came and went without bringing any sign of Tom Riddle. Monday likewise. By Tuesday, Alexis was starting to feel incredibly stupid and also incredibly bored. Sitting around all morning and waiting for someone who didn't know or care whether she existed was not only depressing, it was also killing her social life. Gabriella, Elena, and Suzie Black had been over to see if she was sick. She had sent them all away with smiles and false excuses of headaches or any other excuse that seemed appropriate at the time, with thanks for their concern.
But at last, on Tuesday afternoon, she heard the familiar sound of Tom's voice in the entryway. It took all her willpower to keep from leaping up and going out there, but she managed to keep her seat until she heard the voices fade and was sure they were safely in the parlor. Then, not really sure what she was going to do, she went out into the hall and stopped just short of where anyone could see her in the parlor.
What am I doing? she wondered. This is ridiculous. He's not here to see you. She started back to the sitting room and stopped in the doorway. For several minutes she paced betwen the two rooms in miserable indecision, and this was how Olivia Levine found her daughter when she came downstairs.
"Alexis? What on earth are you doing?"
Alexis started guiltily and looked at her feet. "II was justnothing."
"I was just going to go out for a bit. I saw this absolutely gorgeous new set of robes that I thought I could wear to the Maddoxes' party this year. Why don't you come and look with me, they had this new little thing in there that I think would look nice on you..."
Helplessly, with one last furtive glance into the parlor, where she could still see Tom and her father, Alexis followed her mother into the fireplace and was swept off into Elmar Alley again. As always, shopping with her mother was a wearying thing; Alexis never understood how something she normally enjoyed so much could be turned into such a chore by one woman, but Olivia seemed very adept at it. She twittered and fluttered here and there, always flying off to look at the silliest things. She was always taken in by the smiling salesmen, who instantly pinpointed her as a fountain of wealth. Now, Alexis admitted that she may not be able to get herself out of Knockturn Alley, but she knew, after seventeen years of practice, how to shop well.
"Mother, it can't even be worth half that much; don't you dare listen to that man"
"Oh, psh. Hand me my purse, darling, this outfit is well worth it; I'd pay twice as much to get this exact shade, and look at the cut here on the neckline. It's all the rage now, you know."
"Don't you 'Mother' me, young lady. Now come on, let's get home."
They headed out of the shop with just six packages that day, four for her mother and two for Alexis.
"This one will look so nice on you at the party," Olivia had insisted. "And blue is Ormand Maddox's favorite color."
"Oh, Mother, don't go off on that one again. Ormand and I are not"
"Although I must say," Olivia continued, with a knowing smile, "you and Mr. Harper looked extremely nice dancing together the other night at your party. Every time."
Alexis rolled her eyes, but she couldn't repress a small smile. "Thank you. I like him."
"I spoke with his mother. They're a nice family." "Nice" meaning "good," Alexis translated. "She told me he works at the Ministry."
"Yes, but we didn't really talk about his work that much."
"Well, I can't say I blame you on that one, dear," Olivia smiled as they returned. "Trixie! Trixie! Where is that house-elf; she's never around when you need her..."
"Here, Mistress." The house-elf appeared at once with a bow. "Mistress called?"
"Yes, Trixie, take these four boxes to my room and these two to Miss Levine's." It didn't seem possible that the little creature could balance so many packages, but she made it somehow, and while Olivia instantly made for the staircase, Alexis hesitated and tried to peek into the parlor.
"What are you doing?" Olivia asked sharply.
"Nothing." Alexis hurried to catch up with her mother.
They were walking down the hallway when her father came out of his study, and Alexis felt her heart sink.
"One thousand Galleons," he said, smiling broadly. "The old relic's necklace is finally gone, Olivia. We don't have to worry about any more of those blasted curses she put on it, and old Burke paid up tolerably, I'd say."
"So Tom's gone, then?" Alexis blurted before she could think better of it. Immediately she wished she could recall her words as she felt her mother's gaze bore into the back of her head, but Olivia was silent as her husband answered.
"Riddle? Oh, yes, he's long gone. Cleared everything up right quick. Fine young man. He'll go far in this world, you mark my words. Great pity he's not from any decent family...fine young man indeed..."
"Yes, well." Olivia pushed her daughter forward a few feet. "We were just going to go and try on a few new dresses for the Maddoxes' party."
They continued to Alexis's room, where Trixie had left the two boxes on the bed. Olivia shut the door and instantly pounced on her daughter with, "You didn't tell me you were seeing Tom Riddle again."
"I'm not," Alexis answered shortly, unwrapping the first set of robes. They were lighter summer robes, pale blue and slightly shorter than her school ones had been and more stylishly cut. All the Hogwarts robes had been tailored to a specific, regulated pattern; these were much freer and definitely not so drab.
"I thought all that was over last year," Olivia persisted.
"It is over," Alexis answered, trying to sound confident. "He was just here seeing Father about some business. He's a shoddy salesman, as far as I can tell."
But Olivia still didn't seem consoled. "Alexis, you know I didn't like you seeing him in school."
"I know, Mother. But I'm not in school now, and I'm not seeing him. So there's no problem."
"Alexis, you aren't going to throw away all of these opportunities your father and I have worked so hard to give you on some irresponsible fling. I won't let you."
Alexis felt a retort rise on hearing thatby "opportunities" her mother naturally meant all those young men gathered around the house a few days agobut then stopped and thought, Why bother? Getting into an argument with her mother was not going to solve anything. And Tom had made it pretty clear that he wasn't back at her house for herhe was taking off just as soon as he collected his next paycheck.
"It's nothing, really, Mother," she tried to console. "I saw him downstairs and thought I should be polite and say hello to him because of our past at Hogwarts." She held her breath, and after a few moments of suspicious looks, Olivia relented.
"Well, that was nice of you, of course, but don't think that you need to extend any particular courtesies to him now. Besides, you'd only be interrupting your father. I'm sure," she added with a little laugh, "that Mr. Riddle will get over you soon enough."
Yes, I'm sure he will, she thought cynically.
Author’s Notes: I do not own Pride and Prejudice in any of its forms, to which I refer here.
This is a repost of an earlier version of chapter one, which I changed when I realized how terrible my transition to chapter two was. Setting out to improve it, I conceived this scene (apres prologue/ch. 1 posting), stuck it on to the beginning of chapter two, and then said to myself, Why am I putting this here? It really belonged here, at the end of chapter one, so I moved it, but that required a repost of a chapter I had just posted and a big note (I hate reposting things, I've decided). So I'm sorry for any confusion this has caused.
This was ONCE one of the shortest chapters I'd ever written...then suddenly I had to write another scene and boom, it was up to standard-length. It's also the FOURTH major rewrite of this chapter I did, so maybe by now I'm just burnt out, but I was determined it be good, and I am finally satisfied with this one. ;P
As of the time these author's notes are being written, I also have chapter two done, but I'm holding off on posting because a) I gotta save a little for when I have those aforementioned dry spells, and b) I'd like to see how the prologue and chapter one are received. If I need to change things I will do so (that includes chapters already posted, in which case I will note that on my bio and in the next chapter).
As always, review constructively. ThanksSusie Q.