FLIGHT OF DEATH
by Susie Q
Business and Pleasure
"We were thinking maybe a December wedding," Gabriella said. "Edward got Emyl Park for the ceremony."
"That's a lovely one," Alexis said, but she wasn't really paying attention. Her mind was still on the visit Jonathan had paid yesterday.
"Do you think I should go with dark red bridesmaids, or is that too cliché? I mean, a little too much holiday spirit?"
"Mm." Alexis waved her hand vaguely. "Whatever you like."
Gabriella frowned. "Good morning, Alexis. Are you here today?"
"Hm? What?" Alexis blinked and smiled at her friend. "I'm here. The park. I'm sure it'll be fine."
Gabriella rolled her eyes. "I can see how much good it'll be talking to you today. That's okay, I know how it is."
"How what is?"
"You know." She raised an eyebrow suggestively. "Being in love."
"I'm not" Alexis started to protest. But then she had to stop and consider.
"Ah, well, maybe it's just the money, then," Gabriella said, shrugging. "Lord knows Edward's no great dish to look at. But the pay's right. And I don't think Jonathan's so bad, you know. If I weren't getting married, I'd be happy to take him off your hands."
Alexis smiled. "Thanks for the offer, but I don't think Jonathan's going anywhere anytime soon."
Gabriella perked up. "What does that mean?" She looked suspiciously at Alexis's left hand. "We're not going to be planning a double wedding, are we?"
Alexis laughed. "No, nothing like that."
"Well, maybe soon." She sighed and checked her watch. "Ooh, I'm late! I told Mother I'd meet her for a fitting this afternoon at one o'clock in Twillfit and Tatting's"
"Do you want to use our fireplace?" Alexis volunteered instantly, rising.
"Thank you. I'm not quite sure I'm up for a walk like that in these shoes..." She giggled.
When the flames had swallowed Gabriella up, Alexis began to wander slowly through the house, lost.
"How d'you like that?" Her father's voice floated out of his study. "Americans. Never did have any grasp of security."
Alexis poked her head around the door.
"Look at this," her father called, holding out the paper. "Some little country town in America's been caught with a branch of their Unnamed Department. They were conducting all these experiments with some new spells, I guessthe Muggles are in a right state, I'll tell you; they're crying 'aliens' all over the place."
"Aliens?" Alexis was shocked.
"Yes, well, I guess that department hovers and travels every so often so it's harder to locate and so that it can transport products more easily. But it crashed for some reasonweak enchantments, that'll beand then the Muggles found it and all their samples and decided there were aliens in there."
"No wizards were captured, were they?" Alexs gasped.
"No, of course not, stupid girl. But the Americans have been working full-time on memory modification, I'll bet you that." He shook his head. "What a fiasco. President Breneman's got his hands full. I don't envy that man."
"That's too bad," Alexis commented vaguely. But she had never had a head for news or politics, so with another small sympathetic noise, she had headed for her room and promptly forgotten the entire affair.
Until several days later, when another young man appeared at their door on behalf of Borgin and Burkes. They had not had such a visit in quite some time, but it seemed Mr. Burke had sent the man out in search of the rest of the matching set that went with the cursed necklace. Great-aunt Rosamunde hadn't cursed any of it, but he was probably hoping he could sell the whole set for a higher price because of its one cursed piece.
When Alexis saw him walk into the house, her heart sank, because she knew at once that Tom was gone. The new salesman did have one benefit, however: without Tom there to sense her every move, she could hover just outside the door and listen in on the conversation.
"Mr. Levine. I'm Timothy Covington."
"Nice to meet you. Where's young Riddle, then?"
"Who? The man before me? Oh, he's been gone for months now...almost a year. It must have been a long time since anyone's been out to see you, sir. All I know is that he left unexpectedly...this was quite a lucky break for me, actually..."
Alexis withdrew from the doorway, shaking her head sadly. After the successful sale of Great-aunt Rosamunde's necklace, she had expected Tom to come to be sent back frequentlyafter all, one sale should inevitably lead to others in the minds of businessmenand she wasn't sure whether she was more hoping or dreading his visits.
But it turned out that she had worried for nothing. Tom never came to their house again after that day, and then she got a chance to find out how she would have felt when her disappointment outweighed her relief.
What would have made Tom leave so suddenly? He said he had things in mind...places he was going...but where? Tom was not an aimless wanderer; he would never have taken off without a destination. Perhaps Mr. Burke would knowbut she was never going to set foot in that alley again, let alone in that shop, if she could help it.
"Alexis, sweetheart, where are you going?" Olivia Levine was just descending the grand staircase dressed to go out. "Are you going into the Alley, dear, because if you are there are a few things I'd like to pick up..."
Alexis groaned mentally. She had really been hoping for a quiet afternoon of shopping to take her mind off things, but her mother would not allow for that.
"Actually," she said on a whim, "I was going to Diagon Alley...I need a new quill."
"Oh, well, all right then, dear, but maybe you'd like to meet me in the Wandlight for a cup after you're done? I'll probably still be in Twillfit and Tatting's, but we could pop in for a bit after I get finished..."
Alexis wanted to just say, No, I'd rather just go home, thanks, but she knew that it would be impolite to turn her mother's invitation down, so she smiled and accepted as graciously as she could.
Flourish and Blotts looked empty now over the summer, but the last time she had visited had been the summer before her seventh year, to buy her school supplies. She rarely ever came to Diagon Alley anymore, now that she was out of school; she spent her time in the fashionable, upper-class districts and had no reason to visit the scholarly ones anymore.
Seventh year had been a lonely year, she remembered as she examined a handsome eagle-feather quill, picking it up and holding it as if she were about to write with it, testing it. She had insisted at the beginning of the year that she didn't care, that she was fine, but all of her friends knew that Tom's departure had affected her at least in some way. Not one of them, though, knew about their final meeting by the lake. She hadn't even confided that to Gabriella, for fear of what they would say or think. She knew they were all already worried she was becoming the sad, clinging ex-girlfriend, and she was absolutely determined that was not going to happen to her.
So she had pulled herself out of it, slowly but surely, until she was laughing and having fun again by graduation.
He would just have to show back up again at her house and...
She stopped, twirling another quill between her fingers as his words came back to her.
"Maybe you'll still see me in the news here and there...Just study things...Not Hogwarts-approved material."
He couldn't possibly have meant the crash in America. That would be madness, trying to go out there at this time with security swarming the place.
But he would certainly have been attracted to something like that, she knew, with all the secrets it held, even more so because it was still hidden from the public. Tom always liked to be one-up on everyone else. It seemed he still craved that extra knowledge, whether or not it was approved by the authorities. And this would certainly not have been approved by their former school, she knew, let alone the American magical government. Experimental magicthat was risky business. And exactly the sort of thing that would have caught Tom's attention.
You're grasping, she chided herself. You're seeing things that definitely aren't there.
Tom travel all the way to America for a chance at seeing something their government would certainly have under the tightest security as they swept it all up as quickly as possible?
No. Definitely not.
"Where have you been?" her mother called from the sitting room as Alexis hurried up the stairs.
"I told you, Mother," Alexis called wearily, "I was in Diagon Alley, buying a new quill."
"For three hours? Buying a quill? I know you're picky, darling, but really"
"Father." Alexis stopped at the door to the study. "Where did you find all that stuff about the Americans and the experimental magic?"
Her father looked up from his desk, slightly annoyed at her abrupt interruption. "It was in the Prophet. Why?"
"Do you still have the article?"
"No." His tone was dismissive.
"Do you remember anything else it said? Anything elseinteresting? Where was it, exactly? Can you remember?"
He looked up at her suspiciously. "What's got you so interested?"
She should have known better. Her father may have been slightly oblivious when it came to his daughter, but he was not a simpleton. "Iwas just telling Elena about it this afternoonI met her coming out of the apothecary today," she invented lamely. "I was wondering."
"Well...you could always go to The Owl Post. They'll have back issues of the Prophet for about a week."
"Alexis?" her mother called as she darted into the sitting room. "Where are you going now?"
Alexis ignored her for the moment, but Olivia's question was answered soon enough as her daughter threw the powder on the fire and disappeared in a whirl back to Elmar Alley.
The Owl Post was a shop that sold newspapers and magazines from all over the world. Their bestseller was the Prophet, and, as her father had said, they kept about a week's worth of back issues for people like her who were a little behind on the times. As far as she could tell, only the most current issues of the other papers were available.
She felt more than a little embarrassed asking for the old issue, but the man behind the counter made no comment and merely handed her the paper with an offer for a subscription, which she declined.
She had been afraid of not being able to find the article, but she didn't have to look far. There, on the bottom of the first page, in big black letters, was her first clue.
DEPARTMENT CRASHES IN AMERICA, it read.
Roswell, New Mexico (AP)Last Tuesday, a branch of the Unnamed Department of the American Administration of Magic (AAM) suffered an enchantment failure at around 12:03 in the morning and went down near Roswell. The Unnamed Department has long been an object of speculation among the American wizarding public, this particular branch a site for testing any new forms of magic for approval by the AAM. At the time of the crash, it is rumored that no less than 54 new spells, enchantments, and potions were still in the testing stages. Although all staff was evacuated, it is believed that several non-magical people ("Muggles") sighted the crash, and...
"Miss? Miss, are you all right?"
The paper slid from her hands and landed with a soft hissing noise on the floor. Alexis looked up at the innocent, frightened young face behind the counter.
"Miss? Your paper, miss." He didn't quite seem to know what to do with himself, flailing ineffectually. Alexis was glad this was no emergency. She picked up her paper wordlessly.
"Are you all right, miss?" he asked tentatively, as she carefully folded the newspaper back up.
"Yes," she answered, and poor Stuart Gephart thought he'd never heard anything quite like it before. "Yes, thank you, I'm fine."
Roswell, New Mexico, USA
She was going to be in so much trouble.
"You've got to be nuts," she muttered to herself, pulling out the article and going over it for the hundredth time. There was little more there than she had been able to glean after the first dozen or so read-throughs, but she felt really restless just sitting there, and she had no idea where to begin. Surely not hereTom could never afford this hotel. There was a more modest hotel in the wizarding section of Roswell, but if she knew Tom at all, he'd want to be out in the Muggle section, closer to all he commotion.
And it was a commotion. You'd think the thing was a tourist site, for all the people that had filled this little town. Alexis looked down on all of them, annoyed that they could be so gullible for one, annoyed at being surrounded by Muggles for another. But then, she had chosen to come and suround herself by this riffraff, so she supposed it served her right.
Roswell, New Mexico, she soon found out, was a very long way from London as far as its shopping went. She found a good share of "alien" memorabilia, but there were no centers for shopping. She had truly dropped herself in Nowhere, America.
"Good Lord, don't these people even know how to bathe?" she exclaimed in horror when she saw what she was expected to use for shampoo. She prodded it experimentally with her wand, trying to see if she could improve it at all, but the only thing that happened was that it exploded in her face. Cursing, she stripped off her robes (those had been some of her favorites, too), threw them carelessly in a pile on the floor, and turned on the shower. "I don't know why I'm bothering with this stupid, irresponsible"
But she had to know. Was this what Tom had left Borgin and Burkes for, what he would see added to the curriculum at Hogwarts? Experimental magic...that was never an easy subject.
She had found one modest Muggle hotel that could be a possibility, so she took the article and asked after him at the desk.
"Room 318," the woman said, eyeing her suspiciously. "But I believe he's out at the moment; you'll have to come back later."
"I just wanted to leave this for him." Alexis waved a small envelope addressed to him. "Can I leave it here?"
"Yes, miss. I'll see that he gets it." Alexis handed over the envelope and headed back to her own hotel to rest for the afternoon. If the evening went as she hoped, she'd need it.
Alexis Levine prided herself on coming herself from a long line of purebloods. And, fortunately for her, her family was not among those whose blood had outlived their wealth. And being a young woman of fashion and society meant that her wardrobe took up a good deal more room in her trunk than anything else did. Thank heavens her father had finally given in, accepted that she wouldn't stop bringing more clothes just because he wouldn't allow her the magical trunk she'd been after him for, and bought it for her.
Being a Levine also meant that appearances were extremely important. So she spent no less than an hour in front of her mirror that afternoon, throwing outfits around and trying on various hats and shoes and jewelry to go with them. If she was going to make a fool of herself tonight, she was going to look stunning doing it.
And that was how she ended up in Margaret's, the nicest restaurant she could find in a town of dust and desert, sipping water (she was even too young in this godforsaken country to have a little drink to calm her nerves) and trying to look as if she were as at home there as the glamorous couple across the room.
She had purposely sat with her back to the door. For one, she knew she'd be craning her neck every few seconds in a very unattractive manner until he got there if she didn't, and for another, she liked the thought of being the mysterious one for a change. Make him wonder, she thought, trying to guess what he would think when the host directed him to her table and he found a woman sitting there. She knew that "a business deal" to him meant a man, and anything to do with this AAM fiasco meant male involvement. What would he say when he found out Alexis Levine, who couldn't even find her way back home, had followed him all the way to Roswell, New Mexico? She couldn't help but feel incredibly smug.
For several long minutes Alexis sat in horrible suspense, her heartbeat increasing every time footsteps approached from behind, but it would only be a waiter passing by, or other guests, and she had begun to wonder if perhaps the message had gotten lost and she was going to look like even more of a fool that she'd anticipated when, without any warning, they appeared beside her.
She hadn't had any time to prepare as she'd expected to, so she was far from presenting the cool, collected face she'd hoped to, but it didn't much seem to matter since Tom looked at least twice as astonished as she felt. But, like all his facial expressions, this one was masked quickly, leaving only his usual calm, public face.
He should be a politician, she thought with grudging admiration for his abilities, even if she disliked them. But it was time to put some of her own abilities to work now. Rising to her feet and putting on an easy, unaffected smile, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Instantly, she felt him stiffen, but she was back in her seat in the next moment, and if she looked at his expression there was nothing there to show that he had reacted at all...except a slight change in his eyes.
Those always gave him away.
"Tom," she smiled. "What a pleasure to see you here."
His gaze bored into her. "What do you think you're doing here, Alexis?"
"I told you." She took a sip of water. Slowly. "I have a business proposition for you concerning the crash."
"Now don't get in such a hurry," she chided lightly. "We haven't even ordered yet."
For a moment she thought he was going to walk out of the restaurant, but then his mood seemed to shift and he sat down and leaned back in his chair.
"Of course," he murmured, all sincere apologies. "Forgive me; where are my manners?"
"Back in England, I imagine," she bantered back, already starting to forget that they weren't sitting in the Three Broomsticks again, sipping butterbeer while the sky outside swirled snow. "These people really are unbelievable, Tom; I don't know how you've managed to stay out here a month. I assume you've been here since it happened?"
"Now, now." He wagged his finger at her. "You were the one who didn't want to mix business with pleasure."
She could have taken that one a little further, and might have, if it had been Jonathan, who enjoyed their flirtatious teasing, but she had never dared anything like that with Tom, not in all the years she'd known him, and she had no idea how he'd take a comment like that, so she merely raised her glass in silent acknowledgment and took a drink.
She didn't speak after that, and when they had lapsed into an awkward silence she decided he wasn't going to make this easy on her.
"So," she tried, "have you been doing anything here besides looking at the AAM's gigantic mess?"
He shrugged. "Not really. This isn't exactly a thriving metropolis, Muggle or wizarding, in case you haven't noticed."
She had to smile at that one. "So I've noticed."
"Not a place for someone like you, then," he answered with a significant look.
"I'm not here for the city, or lack thereof," Alexis said.
He looked at her for a long moment, and she was considering what to say next when the watier arrived to take their order. They spent the rest of the dinner reminiscing about their school dayssome of the better ones, anyway. The darker days were never mentioned, and certainly not the last day when she'd stalked off, expecting never to see him again.
And look where I am now, she thought.
"So," he finally said when they had finally finished, "can we finally end the suspense? What is this wonderful deal I've come out here to hear?"
She dabbed her mouth and set her napkin aside, trying to prepare herself. "Tom, I want you to give this up and come home."
He stared at her for so long she finally dropped her gaze.
"Is this why you brought me here?" he finally asked quietly.
"Tom, this is madness." She lifted her eyes to meet his, her voice becoming earnest, all its former light and easy tones gone. "The AAM is going to have it under lock and key. That place is going to be guarded better than the Department of Mysteries. What do you expect to find, anyway?"
"What do I expect to find?" he repeated slowly. "I don't expect to find anything. I have found quite a few interesting things. None of which would be very interesting to you. Suffice it to say I've seen enough to convince me that this is worth my timeand I'm not going back to England."
Despite Tom's assertion that there would be nothing there to interest her, Alexis couldn't control her curiosity. "What's in there?" she blurted out. "What have these people been working on that the Muggles think are aliens?"
He considered her for a moment and finally said, "Go home, Alexis. This has nothing to do with you."
"I'm not going home. I just traveled to some desert in the middle of the United States to find out what's going on, and I'm not leaving until I do."
"What's going on here is none of your business," he replied coldly.
"Oh, but it's yours?" She found herself more than a little infuritated by his arrogance, but it was part of the reason she had been so attracted to him in the first place. I should just leave. What do I care if the stupid idiot wants to go and land himself in prison?
"You don't know anything about this. It doesn't matter to you. So I think on that basis, yes, it's my business."
That stupid, arrogant"Maybe I don't care about any of this, but I care what happens to you," she blurted out angrily. At the expression on his face, she threw her napkin on the table and started to leave.
I screwed it all up. You see what you did? She should have known better. Despite the terms "boyfriend," "girlfriend," and "going out," she had been more like a footnote in his school life, after schoolwork and the Slug Club and all his little so-called friends...and she was like another one of his trophies, or another accomplishment. Maybe an exceptionally-annoying Head Boy badge, she thought dismally as she walked off. A symbol of status. This is what I've done, this is what I've gotten. But go away now, Alexis; I've got things to do.
She should have gone...just gone and left him to his stupid books and his stupid clubs. Maybe then she wouldn't be in some restaurant in New Mexico, all alone, without her parents' knowledge, chasing after him like the naïve, lovestruck little girl she was.
Her parents would both kill her for this one. But at the moment, she didn't care what they did. She just wanted out.
"Let go of me!" She pulled her arm away and turned to face him before she realized what had happened.
Of all the times she had ever walked out on their arguments...and there had been plenty...Tom had never once come after her.
Tom never came after anyone.
She felt like someone had frozen time as she stared at him, her mouth slightly open, almost aghast. What was he doing? What was she doing?
"Come sit back down," he finally said, his voice quiet and unreadable.
She hesitated, but there was a hard glint in his eyes that told her she would be unwise to walk out on him now. Reluctantly, she followed him back to the table and took her seat again.
The silence dragged on with her staring at her napkin and plucking nervously at the fringe. Tom had been the one who had taught her that silence could be just as effective as shouting sometimes, but she had never been able to wield it as well as he could. Miserably, she waited for whatever he had to say next.
"You want to know about what's going on out there?" he asked at last. When she didn't respond, he persisted, more sharply, "Well? Do you, or did you come all the way out here for the scenery?"
"I want to know," she answered softly.
He let the silence hang in the air, as if waiting to see if she'd retract her answer. Then, slowly, he began, "You know the Unnamed Department is like the Department of Mysteries. The general public isn't supposed to know what goes on in there. This department actually has several branches, from what I've been able to gather; this is just one of them. It works on experimental magic, testing new spells." He leaned forward, and his voice took on a tone that suddenly aroused a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Alexis," he continued, his voice low and intense, "in that department...in that building...they've been working on a new potion to stop the body's aging process."
"But" She paused. "Don't they have other things for that now? Rejuvenating Potions? Philosophers' Stones?"
"It's not the same thing," he said impatiently. "Rejuvenating Potions make you younger. The Elixir of Life is a dependant. You have to keep taking it. This potion should allow you to remain the same age you took it after one dose."
"But who would want that?" she asked, lowering her voice. "I mean, it sounds nice in theory, but it's one of those things that might not be so cheery when you actually put it into use. Being the same age? Forever?"
"Not forever. You'd still have the same lifespan. You're not immortal. But if you take it while you're young and healthy, then you're young and healthy for the rest of your life, however long that may be."
Jealousy. That was that squirming feeling in her stomach. It sounded so stupid: She, Alexis Levine, pureblood heiress, was jealous of some potion. But how could she help but be jealous, when she had spent nearly three years at Hogwarts wishing he would use that tone of voice with her? It was obvious how deeply invested he was in this, how much he wanted some of that potion.
If only it had been her.
"And this potion has been making these...aliens?"
"So far all the test subjects have had their features erased...it's given them sort of a gray, featureless skin. There were other side effects, too, but the department is confident they can fix those with time." He hesitated. "They're a little less certain about the skin deformity."
"How do you know all this?" she had to know. "I can't imagine anyone's just let you waltz in there and pick up all your answers just like that."
"Of course not. I spent a long time learning everything I know now." But Tom finally seemed to have told her all he was going to, and he stood up. "If that's all you have for me, I think I should get back to my hotel now." He dropped a few coins on the table for his half of the bill and left her sitting there.
The next morning, Alexis was up and dressed early with nowhere to go. She stood by her window for a long time, staring at the people passing by below without really seeing them.
When she finally turned around to go out, she noticed a piece of paper slid under her door. It was folded in the standard inter-building memo format, like a smal birdwell, now a flattened small birdand she opened it up curiously. Who would be sending her notes here?
As soon as she saw the writing she went cold. Of course there was only one person who would be writing to her here in Americabut why was he writing to her? After last night, what did he have to say to her?
She unfolded the paper and read the single line it contained.
Never mix business with pleasure.
In other words, what he'd told her last night was supposed to be between the two of them. More than likely he was regretting he'd told her any of it now; it was a rare time that he'd ever be so open and candid with anyone, even her...particularly her.
She was still staring at the note, reading that one note over and over again, when there was an unexpected knock on the door. Her heart instantly leapt into her throat.
Stuffing the note under her pillow, she took a minute to calm her nerves, one hand on the knob, and with a last breath for courage, she opened the door to reveal
"Father!" She gasped. "Whatwhat are you"
Bordon pushed past his daughter without looking at her. "Trixie, pack Miss Levine's things at once. We're leaving now, Alexis," he snapped coldly.
"No buts. You're coming home now, Alexis. No, not another word, young lady," he added, forestalling any further protests. "You're in enough trouble as it is. I suggest you keep your mouth shut and do as I say. Trixie!"
"Yes, Master, the bags are all packed, sir," Trixie squeaked, appearing at once with Alexis's trunk in tow.
"Come on." Bordon grabbed Alexis by the arm and yanked her none too gently down the hallway. "Come on, hurry up, girl." He only stopped at the front desk to check them out, and then they were back out into the sunshine.
"Trixie, you take the trunk on ahead," he commanded, and with a crack, both the house-elf and Alexis's trunk were gone. "You and I next," he said, looking at Alexis, "and don't you dare try any funny business."
Alexis didn't dare respond.
They appeared again just outside their own house, and her father grabbed her by her arm again and pulled her inside.
"In here," he commanded, all but throwing her into his study. "Wait there while I get your mother."
He slammed the door and, she noted, clicked the lock.
A prisoner in my own house, she thought bleakly. I suppose I should have known not to expect anything else.
It wasn't until then that she remembered she had left Tom's note under her pillow at the hotel.
Tentatively, she pushed up her sleeve, gently prodding her forearm, and started to cry silently.
Author’s Notes: Concerning the Roswell incident...please allow me to butcher it as I choose. I actually did do some research into it (almost none of which I ended up using here, sadly), but let's just say Roswell itself is not the main focus of the chapter. Any residents of Roswell...I'm sorry, but I am also taking license to butcher your city's geography.
Concerning the Philospher's Stone/Socerer's Stone bit...although I am probably fairly obviously American and have read all the SS editions, as this is set in Britain and that is the "official" British term from the UK editions (even if all the gang say "Sorcerer's Stone" in my books), I thought it would be more appropriate.
I was and still am very iffy on posting this chapter. I wanted to hold it a little longer, but I'm not sure what else I'll do to it without feedback, and I hope posting it will elicit some. Do NOT feel bad to give me some CC (please no flames); I will be reposting chapters as neededas comments come (for updates hereafter, see my bio).
Now to my one reviewer so far...Wren, thank you so much...you really don't know how much those two reviews brightened my day. I hope this doesn't disappoint. I've worked long and hard on it.
Please read and review constructively!Susie Q