The Sugar Quill
Author: Icarus (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Metronome  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Thank you to <lj user="underlucius"> for the beta review

The Metronome

By Icarus

 

 

Afternoon sun pooled on the plush oriental rug, warming burgundies and greens to a soft glow. The open window beside Lucius let in barely a breath of wind, playing with the curtains in an unkind tease of freedom. Behind him books lined mahogany shelves, interspersed with artfully arranged family trinkets, most of which were cursed, the work of centuries of dark wizards. The deadly displays were interrupted here and there with low tables and the occasional heavily framed mirror. A candelabra on the harpsichord was unlit, given the lovely summer's day, while a metronome beside it clicked an insistent, steady beat.

 

Lucius sat straight-backed, his fingers poised over the keys as his tutor paced the room, nose in the air, hands folded thoughtfully behind his back.

 

"That was better, Mr. Malfoy, much better," he crooned, buttons stretched over his potbelly. "Let's have it once again."

 

The subtle slump of Lucius' broad shoulders was barely detectable, an unheard sigh, though his eyes remained fixed on the music in front of him.

 

He was a tall young man, all elbows and angles, with the uncomfortable apologetic manner of one who'd grown very suddenly over the summer and was still surprised. With a tap of Lucius' wand the notes crawled like insects across the page, tumbling over each other until they reformed into the beginning of the piece. His eyes narrowed as a final quarter note, tardy, scrambled into place.

 

<I>Click, click, click….</I> The metronome set the pace.

 

With cold, crisp precision, Lucius' hands floated over the keys, his body unmoving, mouth a firm disciplined line. His teacher's head bobbed; one finger circled, mapping the notes in the air.

 

Lucius completed the crescendo and the final chord, finally seeming to breathe as he glanced up, steady gaze wary, but hopeful. Sometimes he was released a few minutes early. He'd had ten years of this weekly torment.

 

The man nodded. "Good, good." He reached over and tapped the sheet music with his wand and the notes scrambled in circles again. "Now let's try an <I>adagio</I>, something with a little more, hmm, feeling for a young man like you, eh? A little more evocative?"

 

He gave Lucius a tight-lipped smile completely at odds with the praise. He always asked for more <I>feeling</I>. The metronome continued its steady beat.

 

Jaw set, Lucius' glance flicked only briefly at the window, as the curtains stirred once again.

 

~*~*~

 

His tutor had been effusive and insincere in his compliments of Lucius' artistry before Lucius could escape.

 

His second-best broom in hand, Lucius ran down a long hall of scowling chiaroscuro portraits, heavy footsteps echoing. He deftly stunned the Aleovuncular fern outside his father's library as it grabbed after him, turned the corner to the front door…

 

…just in time to find his mother in front of the hall mirror, her gloved hands removing a hatpin as she shook her head, fluffing a fall of silver-blonde hair. She arranged it delicately around bird-like features and stuck the pin into a house-elf, which yelped, "Thank you, mistress!" She ignored it as her eyes caught sight of Lucius in the mirror, paused behind her.

 

"Ah, Lucius, there you are…."

 

He wiped all expression from his face as he stepped forward, bent to kiss her cheek, and carefully edged around her towards the door, murmuring smoothly, "Hello mummy, I'm going outside to — "

 

"No you're not," she cut him off and gestured for him to follow as she strode into the manor without a backward glance. "I can't have you disappearing now, dear. Your aunt Elise and the Blacks are visiting this evening."

 

Lucius' face fell as he stopped in his tracks. "No mummy, Avery is…."

 

"You can practice your Quidditch later. I'm sure you'll make Chaser <I>this</I> year at least. You're a such a talented boy." Lucius' eyes shifted away. No one made the Quidditch team in their sixth year, and he'd grown too big to be Seeker now so what was the point?

 

With an irritated sigh he trailed in her wake, resigned, adjusting his grip on his broom. They made their way through a maze of hallways towards the kitchens.

 

Stepping into the kitchens there was a sudden scramble of house-elfs quickly punishing themselves as they caught sight of her. His mother ran a tight ship. She extracted her wand from her handbag with a flourish, and lists of work scrolled down from the air, along with her specifications for the evening's hors d'oeuvres. Lucius peered around at a house-elf's series of mixing bowls and scooped up a fingerful of cake batter. His mother slapped his hand away. "Don't spoil your dinner."

 

"I won't," he said, ignoring her as he licked his finger. He snapped up an apple and polished it on his sleeve then took a large bite.

 

"Are you certain you're not a centaur?" She smiled fondly at him, fingernails straightening his long blond hair. She tucked a strand behind his ear. "You do nothing but eat these days."

 

He grinned at her, mouth still full. He quickly swallowed his bite. "So… the Blacks are coming over?" he prompted, eyebrows raised. "Including…?"

 

"<I>Mrs</I> Black," his mother said slyly.

 

"And Bella?" he offered.

 

"We have Narcissa in mind for you actually."

 

"Ugh," Lucius groaned, looking away.

 

"No whinging."

 

"She's so…" Skinny. And flat-chested. "… boring. They're <I>both</I> Blacks."

 

"Yes, well unfortunately Bellatrix has saddled herself with a bit of a reputation," his mother sniffed.

 

Not to mention a body that wouldn't quit. Lucius folded his arms and leaned back against the countertop. He'd be the envy of Hogwarts if he scored Bellatrix Black. The sultry Bellatrix… tied to him for life. It was an appealing thought.

 

"… the Blacks are going to have a terrible time finding a match for her," his mother was saying.

 

"People just don't like it that she's attractive." Lucius examined his nails. Gorgeous was the word. "Not to mention… mmm… vivacious and fun-loving." He phrased it very, very carefully.

 

His mother wasn't fooled. "She's far too much 'fun' I am told."

 

She seized Lucius' chin in a vice-like grip and looked fiercely up into his face, her cold blue eyes sparking as they met his, pencilled brows raised. A prickle went down the back of his neck. "Promise me that you're not sleeping with her, my darling. Are you?"

 

Lucius yanked his chin free, affronted. "<I>No!</I>"

 

Though not for lack of trying.

 

"Good." She seemed satisfied, and nodded once. "At least with Narcissa you will know that your children — " The corner of Lucius' eyes flinched. " — will actually be yours."

 

<I>That's because nobody wants to fuck that twig</I>, Lucius thought, but didn't dare say. He shifted from one foot to the other. He was compared to centaur, told he was growing like a horse, and now his family discussed him like a prized stud being sent out to breed.

 

"Lucius." His mother brought him up short, her expression far too knowing, and he glowered at her. "You'll thank me later." Then she swatted his bottom like he was still a nine-year-old and shoved him in the direction of his rooms.

 

"Now get dressed. Mr Clavier has had wonderful things to say about your playing. You have your father's talent." Lucius rolled his eyes. She patted his shoulder. "We look forward to hearing you play this evening."

 

<I>What?</I> His mouth fell open in dismay, but he decided not to argue. Instead he pointed out, "Avery's coming over tonight."

 

He managed to keep the smile off his face. It was a subtle revenge, but effective.

 

She frowned. "Lucius. He's really not the sort that you should be…."

 

"I cannot cancel," he insisted, pressing his advantage. "Father is still negotiating with his family and if we…."

 

"Fine, fine! Yes I know," she interrupted irritably. She put a hand to her temples. "What this world is coming to that we associate with the Averys of all people. He can come," she held up a finger, "but he must wait in the kitchens."

 

It was a gross insult but Avery wouldn't know any better. He'd just eat. Lucius nodded and slung his broom over his shoulder, grateful for the coming reprieve.

 

~*~*~

 

Firelight sparkled on wineglasses and silver trays floated through the air as Lucius played for a rapt audience. The formal over-layer of his robes had a stiff collar, which chafed a little as his mother's friends clapped. He bobbed his head in a small, mocking bow, and attempted a smile – though it probably came out as more of a sneer. Of course they didn't notice.

 

"Wonderful, simply wonderful!" his aunt Elise enthused, clapping tiny hands in front of her large belly, earrings bouncing.

 

"He has his father's talent. I always told you," another said sagely, nodding her large beak of a nose.

 

"The spitting image of his father at that age too," his mother agreed, smiling. The other women concurred, and Lucius waited patiently for them to stop discussing him as if he weren't present.

 

Two of their other guests were lost in conversation, ignoring him as they clapped somewhat absently. "I'm telling you, all the signs point to it: there's another Dark Wizard in the offing. My ravens are very disturbed, very much so, as they haven't been since Grindelwald."

 

"My cards are never wrong," the other added, bobbing her head. "I'm getting the Tower almost every day. Change. Destruction, I say."

 

Lucius scowled at the inattentive witches in irritation, offended.

 

"Yes, that was quite lovely, my boy," Mrs Black said. She captured his attention as she leaned forward to accept another hors d'oeuvre. Her long nails scraped the silver tray and she sized him up with dark, acquisitive eyes. He dismissed the other two witches as irrelevant.

 

She had long black hair like her daughter Bellatrix, and wore red robes with a deep, plunging neckline that revealed a bit too much of a pair of sagging breasts. Lucius politely kissed her hand, keeping his gaze on her face, noting dark brown circles under deep-set eyes, heavily rouged lips and a sad lingering trace of wilted beauty. As his mother nattered on about his accomplishments, his top marks in his Owls, his skill at Transfiguration, he cringed inwardly and wondered if maybe Narcissa might be the better option after all.

 

He asked to be excused, allowed his aunt Elise to comment (yet again) on how handsome he'd grown – "such shoulders on the boy! Why I remember when he was just a little thing on his first broom…" – and then finally escaped, striding through the back halls. He tore off the uncomfortable over-robe on the way to the kitchens and tossed it to a house-elf, leaving a struggling lump on the floor.

 

Avery was already there, a spoonful of custard halfway to his mouth, frozen in tableau as if surprised to see Lucius in his own home. Lucius briefly marvelled at the stupidity of his friends.

 

"Ready?"

 

The sun was setting as the two of them escaped to the Malfoy lawns, back-lit black against an orange sky. As their brooms rose, the large dot of the Quaffle flew back and forth between them.

 

The shadow that was Lucius suddenly seized the ball and tore off for the forest, leaning low, ponytail streaming behind him. A laughing Avery, stockier but more agile, spun about and quickly gained ground.

 

~*~*~

 

From the edge of the forest Lucius' home seemed a dark collection of buildings in the distance, like a small city. The two boys caught their breath, panting and laughing. They hovered on their brooms in midair, both relaxed and energized. Lucius had managed to hold onto the Quaffle for once and tossed it from one hand to another.

 

"It went rather well," he said smugly. He spun the Quaffle between his fingertips. "The recital, I mean. They all say I have my father's talent."

 

Avery laughed, narrow black eyes squinting at him. "A lot of bollocks that is. You've got a tin ear, Lucius. My uncle owns a <I>cow</I> with more musical sense than you."

 

Lucius paused briefly. Then continued tossing the Quaffle from hand to hand. He never knew if he was more offended or amused by Avery. Although in this case he was right.

 

Lucius decided he was mostly amused today.

 

He tossed Avery the Quaffle, though he added, "By the way, my family is negotiating a possible marriage contract. It's still in the works of course…." Lucius paused to let this sink in.

 

"With who?"

 

"The Blacks."

 

"<I>Bellatrix</I> Black?!" Avery's jaw fell gratifyingly.

 

"They're still cobbling together the details." And Lucius was sure he could talk his mother into the prettier sister. Malfoys didn't accept second best.

 

Avery rolled his eyes in envy. "Now it's official: Lucius Malfoy has got everything."

 

"Well. Maybe I should try her out first; make sure she's everything she's meant to be," Lucius drawled.

 

Avery threw the Quaffle at him, hard. "Fuck you!" But Lucius caught it easily, chuckling.

 

Avery hovered lower on his broom, casting a quick glance over his shoulders. "You don't, er, think your dad has a way to watch you all the way out here do you?" he asked in a hushed tone.

 

Lucius was mildly amused at the thought of his father having that much imagination. The man was interested in nothing but Arithmancy. His mother on the other hand…. "No," he wrinkled his nose. "I doubt it."

 

Avery lowered his voice still further, moving his broom a little closer. "I have a connection you might want to meet." He wiped his upper lip nervously. He was sweating. "A wizard."

 

"Unlike us," Lucius snorted, though his curiosity was piqued. He took in Avery's uncharacteristic nervousness with a sharp glance.

 

"Like none you've ever met," Avery exhaled.

 

"Oh?"

 

"The name's Tom Riddle." Avery paused, his eager eyes searching Lucius' face as if seeking some response. "Though that's supposed to be hush-hush."

 

Lucius frowned. The name did sound familiar. "Tom Riddle… Tom… wait. Didn't he work for that junk shop – Borgin and Burkes?" It had been years.

 

"That's no junk shop." Avery's eyes widened. "It's the best dark artefact store in Knockturn Alley!"

 

But Lucius was already shaking his head sadly. "My father says it's rubbish. And nothing compared to what my family alone owns." Not to mention the Black family heirlooms….

 

Avery waved this thought away as if it were no matter. "Anyhow, he's not called Tom Riddle any more. He's going by Lord Voldemort these days."

 

"Lord <I>what?</I>" Lucius started laughing at the upstart. The junk dealer that would be king.

 

"He's a hell of a wizard, Lucius," Avery urged him. "He knows stuff no one else has even heard of." He glanced around again. "I can bring you to see him."

 

"I'll have the honour of meeting Lord Voldemort, the junk collector?" Lucius said doubtfully, smirking.

 

"Yeah."

 

Avery was still serious.

 

Lucius licked his lips. This was going to be amusing. "All right then." He spun the Quaffle between his fingers. "Set up a time."

 

~*~*~

 

A buffeting wind cut through Lucius' cloak. He and Avery flew through the night, high enough in the cloud cover to be completely invisible from the ground. Both of them had been Apparating illegally for the last year, trusting to family influence to keep them out of trouble, but Avery refused to risk attracting the MLE to his friend. Or to tell Lucius where they were going. Which was wise, since Lucius would have simply Apparated there leaving his spluttering friend behind.

 

Avery's broom dipped to the left, wisps of water vapour passing over his shoulder. He glanced back at Lucius. They emerged from the fog-like clouds and Lucius found himself skimming above the spindly arms of a half-dead forest, wan leaves barely clinging to the branches below.

 

Lucius' smile spread as they dove towards the sagging wrought-iron gate of a cemetery. "Lord" Voldemort had a sense of drama. This was going to be not only amusing but possibly quite entertaining, like a sort of show. Leave it to Avery to be impressed by a few unfamiliar spells.

 

Lucius only wished he'd worn his black cloak. Just for effect.

 

On the cold ground, Lucius stepped off his broom, broad shoulders flexing. He flashed a grin back at Avery. But his friend looked around nervously at Riddle's "Hallowe'en decorations," and hesitated at the entrance.

 

The gate was partially buried, and with one hand on the fence Lucius vaulted it easily. Ignoring Avery, he turned and threaded his way through Muggle grave markers and tall headstones. It wasn't hard to tell where they were meant to go. Ahead, a cold blue light poured out of a mausoleum in the centre of the graveyard, illuminating four cracked white marble steps and a swath of brown grass.

 

With a snort, Lucius left his boot prints on the weeds of overgrown graves and decided that once they were done tonight, he would never let Avery live this down. They were purebloods and shouldn't fear the bogeyman, or the dead. Fear their <I>parents</I>, maybe. He mentally picked out sarcastic gifts for the holidays. Perhaps one of these tombstones? The occupants couldn't complain.

 

The moss on the steps of the mausoleum was slippery and the doors were thrown wide. Lucius shook his head, unimpressed with the secrecy of this so-called "secret" society. He held up a palm to block the brilliant blue light and squinted to see past it into the crypt as he strode forward.

 

He reached the top step. He heard Avery's padding footsteps behind him, his panting voice, "Oi! Lucius — wait! Where are you going?"

 

All lights went out.

 

~*~*~

 

Lucius spun around in the dark, hands slapped against the doors. He hadn't heard them shut but the wall under his palms was solid, rough, and coldly damp, like the inside of a cave. Lucius' mind imagined a variety of transportation and displacement spells — this wasn't anything he'd ever heard of — but it didn't change the fact that somehow, he wasn't in the mausoleum any more.

 

"Avery?" Lucius breathed, in vain hope. There was no answer.

 

It wasn't a prank. Avery was a mouth-breather, yet there was no sound of him.

 

Heart pounding, Lucius turned around to face the blackness, stepping back against the wall. He finally remembered to draw his wand.

 

"You will not need that here, Mr. Malfoy."

 

The voice was cool and confident and seemed to come from everywhere.

 

"<I>Lumos</I>," Lucius whispered. The spell died in the air, its faint wisp of light snuffed like an ember briefly touched by wind. Lucius straightened. He kept his wand out but let his hand fall an inch or two. "I suppose not."

 

He was proud of how that sounded: controlled. Calm. Adult. No doubt Riddle couldn't help but be impressed.

 

Because of course, this was Riddle. Lucius didn't recognise the voice but clearly he was expected. A trickle of sweat went down the back of Lucius' neck. He was going to <I>kill</I> Avery once he got out of here.

 

"No need to blame young Avery."  There was a smile in Riddle's voice. "He is not of a rank to know my intentions."

 

<I>Legilimency</I>. Lucius swore inwardly and colourfully.

 

Now Riddle actually chuckled. There was a rustle of cloth, signalling a physical presence, a fact that was strangely reassuring. Lucius cast about and tried to catch a glimpse of movement in the shadows, but couldn't find the source of that whispering, echoing sound.

 

"I am surprised you're not an Occlumens." There was a note of curiosity the voice.

 

Lucius stiffened. "Pureblood families don't teach Occlumency until one is of age. For obvious reasons." He let sarcasm seep into his voice, emphasizing his breeding just a little, just enough to cut.

 

But Riddle ignored Lucius' feelings casually. "And yet you do not seek the knowledge on your own?" That note of curiosity again.

 

What was this Riddle's interest in him? "No. Why would I?" Lucius couldn't hide his surprise.

 

"Ah. Such a sad lack of initiative."

 

He could hear Riddle turn away, the whisk of a robe sweeping the ground. Lucius felt compelled to defend himself. "They would know. The moment I attempted it the fact would be noticed, even assuming I could deflect their Legilimens, which is unlikely on a first try, don't you think?"

 

There was a long unconvinced silence.

 

"I am going to be taught anyway," Lucius said to the air, irritated. "I only need wait."

 

Tom seemed to consider it, weighing Lucius afresh.

 

"You have foresight and patience. That is worthwhile... rare in a boy so young."

 

"I'm not 'so young'!" Nor was he a boy. Why didn't adults understand the difference between a first-year and someone who was <I>sixteen</I>? To them there was a magical line you crossed the moment you turned seventeen, but he was almost of age. He was even going to be married in a year.

 

There was a slow scuff of footsteps, maddeningly difficult to pinpoint. Lucius looked around, aware of a damp chill. There was a gentle current of cold wind across his face. The cavern had to be huge.

 

Riddle said at last, "Follow me."

 

"Follow you, where?" Lucius stood his ground, eyes narrowed. The exit was directly behind him and he didn't intend to leave it. He'd be completely at Tom Riddle's uncertain mercy otherwise.

 

"Follow me or stay where you are. The choice is yours."

 

The casual tone of Tom's voice was sly and amused. He sounded like Lucius' mother with the rare recalcitrant house-elf; Lucius' quick mind calculated that Tom wasn't the sort to give options: the choice to stay was probably deadly.

 

He stepped forward into the dark. And felt the exhalation of time and space like a pounding in his eardrums directly behind him, a magical implosion that rattled and scattered pebbles as if they were blown by a wind.

 

Lucius shook his head: the ringing sound took a long moment to clear, though the needle-like pain in his ears remained. Lucius touched his ear and rubbed his fingertips together, unconsciously feeling for the wetness of blood. Whatever that was, it had been very close. A chill went down his back. Lucius went perfectly still.

 

"A very wise decision," Riddle noted. The voice seemed to radiate from a more solid presence. Off to the right, several paces ahead. "Come."

 

He could hear the steady sound of footsteps leading away. Riddle walked without hesitation.

 

Lucius set his jaw and followed the soft fall of footsteps, resolute. He was <I>definitely</I> going to kill Avery. No, no, he was going to splinch him first, then he was going to kill each and every individual piece.

 

There was a musical drip of water off to his left and soft gravel slid underfoot. The darkness was unrelieved, though the ground seemed relatively smooth, like a well-worn path. He walked with one hand outstretched hesitantly. They travelled in wordless silence, moving farther and farther from the door. Lucius tried to keep a mental note of its general direction, his own breathing loud, until it dawned on him that a spell or password from Riddle was probably the only way out. He stumbled over a rough edge in the floor.

 

"You cannot see in the dark?" Riddle asked him, mildly.

 

The light mocking tone was starting to get on Lucius' nerves. He scowled but couldn't see the point of lying to a Legilimens. "No."

 

"Ah. Well then, you shall."

 

After a time, Lucius' arm grew tired and sagged; he'd lost all sense of the way to the door and he wondered with some irritation if maybe that wasn't the point. Maybe they were just walking in circles. But slowly, a spark of light resolved itself in Lucius' range of vision, small but painfully bright. He blinked at it, squinting. At first it seemed near, a tiny pinprick hovering like a fly; Lucius felt he could almost swat it. Then, as they walked, it gradually grew until he decided it must be a fair distance away.

 

As they drew closer he tried to have a look at this Tom Riddle, but the light illuminated nothing.

 

It grew larger and more distinctly golden as they approached, until it was the size of the massive fireplace in the main hall of Malfoy Manor. If fire could be tamed to an even, unflickering glow and spread like paint, this is what it would look like. But it was shadowless. Lucius held up his hand, silhouetted against the light, then pulled it away, with the strangely blank feeling of confronting the utterly alien. His hand vanished in darkness. At Hogwarts usually one could at least classify spells one didn't know.

 

He heard the rustle of fabric once more, this time to his left as it seemed Tom Riddle settled in a chair. There was the sound of robes being arranged comfortably. He felt the weight of Riddle's gaze and shifted from one foot to the other. He had an image of himself brought like an animal to a menagerie, then watched to see what he'd do in his new den.

 

Lucius approached the source of the light, as the only object he could see. It was a large multi-tiered organ. Pipes stretched up into the ceiling and it seemed to rest in midair several feet beyond him. Lucius couldn't tear his eyes away.

 

Riddle suddenly broke the silence.

 

"I can teach you to Occlude." His voice was soft, carried by the echo. "If you like."

 

Lucius stared up at the organ again. "And what of my family?"

 

"I know your father. He hasn't my skill," Riddle said.

 

Lucius smothered a little snort of amusement. That he could believe. His mother on the other hand… but then, Riddle was probably more than a match for his mother too, which troubled Lucius more than it probably should have. A world where his mother was helpless was one where the rule of law was turned on its head.

 

He stared up at the organ, arms folded, thinking very fast. He decided he should get what he could out of this encounter, be a <I>Malfoy</I>, as mother would say.

 

"And what else would you teach me? Since clearly you'd want me to Occlude to hide all knowledge of — " He made a wide gesture. " — this." He gambled that Riddle didn't want to kill him. Not if they'd come this far.

 

Tom Riddle actually laughed, a sharp sound that resonated in the cavern.

 

"Bold." Riddle added warmly, "I'm beginning to like you, Malfoy. I believe we are going to become fast friends."

 

Lucius doubted it. The prospect left him cold.

 

"Since we are bargaining," Riddle drawled almost playfully, "what is it you want to know? There is nothing beyond my reach."

 

Lucius' shoulders drooped as he drew a complete and utter blank. He had come to meet Riddle, not to bargain with him. He already had all he wanted. Anything out of reach was simply delayed at his father's pleasure.

 

"Do you want to kill your father?" Riddle offered.

 

"What? No!" Lucius turned toward that voice, appalled.

 

"A pity. It would simplify matters considerably."

 

Lucius' mouth hung open a moment. He shook his head quickly and searched his mind, not doubting that this Riddle could give him a great deal but clearly he had better be specific. This was like bargaining with a Genie, he suspected. Rapid-fire, he sifted through his family history, details from History of Magic classes, his O.W.L. studies still fresh in mind… stories of binds and double-binds, wizards who had defeated Sphinxes, Genies, or escaped close brushes with death in lands controlled by the Faerie, through wit alone. If he was sharp, he could win this.

 

Then he hit upon it, what he wanted more than anything else. But he needed to phrase it very carefully. It needed to broad enough that he didn't cheat himself. Yet clearly defined so that Riddle couldn't twist it to his own ends.

 

"I want freedom," Lucius said at last, drawing the words out as he looked in the presumed direction of Tom Riddle. "I want the power to have complete control of my own life and destiny."

 

At that moment, he realised… he truly did want it.

 

That was what he could never have, as a Malfoy. It was the one thing his father could never give him. His life was bound on all sides by the expectations of the Malfoy family, his duty to hearth and home, like his father. Most of his life he would be just his father's heir. The rest he would spend grooming his own heir, chained to his lineage, unable to make a single decision without weighing the consequences to the Malfoy line.

 

But by saying that <I>he</I> wanted the power, then the control would be in his own hands. Not Riddle's.

 

Riddle seemed to weigh his request. Testing it for loopholes, Lucius imagined.

 

"You ask a great deal."

 

"I have a great deal." And it was true. Riddle wanted him for something.

 

"And you won't kill your father." A statement of fact. Riddle didn't seem to understand. "Because the entire power and your inheritance would be in your hands once he's gone."

 

"It wouldn't make any difference," Lucius said simply, not expecting him to comprehend. Whatever his magical abilities, Riddle had just proved himself to be from a lesser class of wizards. They never understood, not even Avery with all the new wealth of his ambitious parents. "But…" Lucius asked cautiously, aware that he was treading on extremely dangerous ground. "What is it you want from me?"

 

Best to get it out of the way, he thought.

 

Baseborn Riddle may be, but he was clearly a very Dark Wizard, of the sort one didn't see in England these days. Though Lucius' ancestors had dealt a great deal with his kind, to their profit. He'd heard the stories all through his childhood.

 

There was a long pause as Riddle considered. Lucius quietly struggled to cast a variety of illumination charms, to no avail. This would be a lot easier if he could see the wizard's face.

 

"You can have it... for a song." There was laughter in Riddle's voice.

 

A song?

 

"Play for me."

 

Lucius recalled the source of light behind him and turned towards the organ, eyes squinting at the brightness. It seemed to fill the entire range of his vision, a wall of light outlined brilliantly against the empty darkness. Hesitantly, he edged towards it, and stubbed a toe on a ridge of rock. He had the bad feeling that Tom had agreed too readily.

 

His heart pounded, thinking that a wizard like Riddle was capable of having it suspended over a bottomless pit, to watch in amusement as Lucius walked tamely to his own death. Scraping the toe of his boot over rock, Lucius found a step, and then another, and he slowly ascended the rise of a dais till he faced a stretch of golden glowing keys.

 

Up close, they were tinged with orange and red, while an oily green flickered over the surface and pooled around their edges. A bench, looking as hard as stone and glowing gold, was attached.

 

It was utterly unnatural, like nothing and no spell Lucius had ever seen. And his father had shown him quite a few very dark, very illegal magicks. Lucius carefully controlled his breathing.

 

He glanced about surreptitiously for exits, escape tunnels to the right and left of the organ — perhaps this was just a sort of test — but there were none. There was no escape until their deal was made.

 

"Would you like something else?" Lucius offered, casting a quick glance over his shoulder.

 

"No. A song should be enough."

 

"I don't… I've never played an organ. Just the harpsichord." Lucius' voice sounded embarrassingly high.

 

He was met with silence.

 

Lucius sank to the bench. He felt as though he were floating in an island of light. There was a frisson of heat and a prickle on the back of his neck where he could feel Tom Riddle watching avidly.

 

Lucius touched a key and yelled at a jolt of fire up his right arm, yanking it away. He cradled his hand, leaning on one knee. He clenched his teeth and breathed through it… in, out… waiting for the pain to subside. He could hear his heavy breaths echo in the cavern.

 

"Try a different key," Riddle suggested from across the chasm of darkness.

 

Seething, Lucius touched another with his left. A sweet languor filled his hand and trailed up his arm... until he slumped and almost fell forward, asleep. Lucius shook himself and broke away.

 

"Interesting," Riddle said, as if Lucius were an experiment.

 

Lucius simply stared over his shoulder in the direction of that voice.

 

Riddle's voice hardened. "Play for me."

 

Lucius shook his stinging right hand, sensation returning with a pins-and-needles prickle. Then he took a deep breath and shut his eyes. He decided to play the "evocative" piece, simply because it was <I>shorter</I>.

 

With the first chord, a flood of dizzying pleasure surged through Lucius, lanced with a burning arc of pain like acid on his fingertips. Haltingly, he played, jaw set. The warmth of a summer day on his face warred with the searing heat of a slice down his back, the blood leaking, sticking to his shirt.

 

The agonizing stinging burn of a too-hot stove welted his face as sweat dripped into eyes — he couldn't see — mingled with the cool sensation of snow down his chest, his lips… then the leaden crush of the bones of his ankle made him gasp, followed by a stroke along private areas,and an ice-cold sensation so intense that all feeling left his arms.

 

It spread to other parts of his body as Lucius tried to float above it, heart pounding in fear. The sickening sensation of poison burned in his belly, the sharp jolt as he kicked away from where he was tickled — he forced himself back, clinging to the keys. Claws dug, ripping into his cheek, along with the soft tender touch of fur, and he played on, fingers moving mechanically with the memory of the metronome driving him on.

 

Lucius felt himself draining away, his heart growing louder and louder in his ears. He was no longer sure if he was still playing because he couldn't hear the notes and had lost his place in the song. He steeled himself, guessed, and continued, fearful that he'd repeated a measure, but he didn't dare stop.

 

His hands were gone, he couldn't feel them as he played, the wash of sensation drowning out all else... the suffocating sense of no air... a hot brand in his eye... the fierce stolen kiss....

 

He felt a hand on his shoulder, drawing him back. One sensation, anchoring him, as he slid away into darkness.

 

Dizzyingly, Lucius returned to his body. He was flat on the ground. Staring up at a series of stalactites, which were aimed down at him like spears. They seemed to swim and waver in his vision. He became aware that he must have passed out.

 

Did he finish? Oh god, he hoped that he did, he prayed it wasn't all for nothing.

 

With a curled fist he cast blindly about in the air as he struggled to rise, then fell back to the stone floor, winded. He looked down at his hands. They were covered in blood, burns, welts, mangled and twisted.

 

Lucius blinked up and let out a breath, bewildered, and found Tom standing over him, blocking the view of stalactites. He was dark-haired, with a high forehead and intense, intelligent eyes. He looked quite normal. Not like a demon, which is what Lucius had begun to suspect. A demon wouldn't honour a deal.

 

"Drink this," Tom said in his cool voice, as calm as if he were suggesting a new flavour of tea.

 

The fluid was sickly sweet and lumpy and Lucius gagged, drooling some of it down his face, but he drank it anyway. The pain in his hands gradually eased in stages. Slowly the lesser pains that had been drowned in the throbbing of his hands became more apparent, stinging scratches and tight burns. As Lucius sat up, his clothes stuck and pulled at long scabs along his back. If he'd had any doubt, that would have convinced him what had happened was real.

 

Had he finished the song?

 

A stabbing headache also remained, but Lucius didn't complain as he squeezed his eyes shut then opened them again, blinking rapidly. He glanced down and was unsurprised to find his hands completely healed.

 

"You did well," Tom said. "Someday I'd like to hear the latter half."

 

A jolt of fear stabbed through Lucius. He hadn't finished….

 

"But not today," Tom said soothingly, seeming to misread Lucius' dismay. He capped the phial and straightened, regarding Lucius as if he were a specimen.

 

Lucius realised for the first time that he could see the entire cavern, and that he could see Riddle clearly, though there was no source of light, no shadows. It was as if everything were lit from all directions. He could see in the dark. Wincing and almost afraid to look, Lucius glanced up at that organ. It no longer glowed. It looked normal now, even a bit dirty and covered with cobwebs, with splotches of what he feared was bat shit.

 

"It seems you have no particular talents, magical or otherwise," Tom said as if continuing a train of thought aloud. He calmly stated it as a fact, as though it were a Medi-witch's diagnosis.

 

The truth hit Lucius like a blow. Yet there was no judgment on Tom's face, nor even a trace of disappointment. It was almost a relief to hear it in that calm, assessing voice. Tom neither praised nor condemned him, the Malfoy heir who was not permitted to be average.

 

No, Lucius hadn't made the Quidditch team after years of trying, he wasn't good at music no matter how many lessons, wasn't the best at anything he'd ever attempted no matter what anyone said. He'd known. Legs sprawled out like a child's, Lucius looked up at Riddle in gratitude, feeling strangely clean.

 

"But… you have an iron will which will serve you better. And serve me as well."

 

Lucius drew in his chin, taken aback. He hadn't considered the mere fact of enduring a talent.

 

Tom continued as if unaware he had just turned Lucius' world upside down. "Interesting that you have almost no tolerance for pain, but yet cannot be swayed by pleasure. Generally it is the reverse." Tom paced along the broad base of the dais and turned his gaze toward Lucius.

 

"There will be other tests: more difficult and more dangerous." Tom smirked and Lucius heard the dare, the subtle implication that he might run. Lucius knew then that he wouldn't. "We must somehow move you beyond your low threshold for pain." Tom nodded, as if arriving at a private decision. "When you are rested, I will teach you Occlumency," he said smoothly. "You are aware that it will take many visits for me to teach you what you'll need to know for your... gift?"

 

Lucius rasped out, "And all you want is that song?"

 

An unfinished one at that. He blinked at the sound of his voice. It was a hoarse croak.

 

"All I <I>asked</I> was a song," Tom clarified, one finger raised in caution. "For now."

 

Lucius was immediately alarmed. "You said you just wanted the song." He was unable to keep the panic out of his voice.

 

Tom tipped his head at Lucius, a slight cynical smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "I will only teach you as much as you ask."

 

"And I won't have to marry Narcissa?"

 

Tom fixed him with a blank stare, the line of a frown creasing his forehead.

 

Lucius realised that although Tom understood him uncannily, he apparently didn't know everything. "I'm supposed to marry Narcissa Black. Not Bellatrix," he explained.

 

Suddenly it sounded so… petulant to his ears. Childish. He wanted to impress this wizard. Lucius stood and dusted himself off.

 

"What does it matter which one?" Tom said, irritation creeping into his voice as he wrinkled his nose at Lucius, who cringed in embarrassment. "They're both Blacks."

 

~*~*~

 

Lucius estimated it was roughly two days before he staggered down the stairs of the mausoleum, though day and night were only marked by the quiet polite mealtimes he'd taken with his new mentor. Outside, the grey-blue dawn striped the horizon and a bitter cold wind found the forgotten burn holes in Lucius' robes. He shivered.

 

Avery leapt up from where he slumped at the base of the mausoleum steps.

 

"Where did you go?!" he said in panicked voice. He launched himself at Lucius and shoved him back a step, then started pacing in front of the graves. Lucius watched him, feeling oddly disconnected after his time in the caves.

 

"You can't step out on a meeting with him!" Avery shouted. "There's no joking around with someone like that, he'll kill you for sure."

 

Then he seemed to look at Lucius, and stopped short. "What the hell happened to you?"

 

It took Lucius a long moment to recognize Avery's words. "How long have I been gone?"

 

"<I>Two fucking days!</I>" Avery squawked. Lucius was relieved that at least time had been normal. "I had orders to wait for you. I thought I was gonna have to kill you or something."

 

"Would you have?" Lucius asked.

 

"No," Avery said quickly.

 

The lie troubled Lucius more than anything else. They'd been friends since second year. Normally Avery would boast just <I>how</I> he'd kill you, and then you knew he wasn't serious. But Avery was still talking, tugging at his hair. "How the hell am I going to explain to my dad where I've been?"

 

Lucius said, "I met him."

 

Avery stopped, frozen in mid-stride. He scanned Lucius' face, obviously reading the truth there. His relief was evident.

 

"Impressive, isn't he?" Avery said, enthused.

 

Lucius had no words for his idiot friend. Avery took him to see a Dark Wizard with no preparation, no warnings, no special magicks, talismans, or prepared spells! His fists closed.

 

"This was… a bad idea," Lucius finally managed. He could have <I>died</I>.

 

Avery's face was blank. "But he's very reasonable."

 

"Reasonable?" Lucius spluttered.

 

"Well, yes. He didn't hold my family against me, and asked about my father...." Avery brightened. "He even knew my father, as a matter of fact."

 

Slowly Lucius drew out a story of a meeting that was nothing like his own. A question and answer session. Avery got a <I>question and answer session</I>. Yet also, Avery had learned no magic. Lord Voldemort had not taken Avery into his confidences. Lucius hid that knowledge jealously like a new-found prize.

 

"So… how did your meeting go?" Avery asked with a trace of suspicion.

 

"Oh, um. We talked about my father. The inheritance," Lucius said vaguely and shrugged, looking away. He wondered why Lord Voldemort had chosen to let him into his secrets. "Nothing much."

 

"Oh," Avery said as he picked up his broom where it was leaned against the mausoleum wall, then straddled it. He sounded faintly disappointed and gave Lucius a sidelong look like he didn't believe him.

 

Lucius scuffed at the ground, avoiding Avery's eyes. "But he asked me to see him again." He felt a little smug when he let that little titbit drop.

 

He was starting to feel almost normal. The horror of it had already begun to fade in the fresh open air. And he had a secret all his own. He thought about his life before this night and shuddered. He'd been like a caged songbird, doing what everyone told him to do.

 

Avery was pleasingly shocked. "He asked you to come back?" He edged closer. "For a second meeting?"

 

Lucius found his own broom and swung a leg over it, feeling suddenly limp and exhausted, though he forced himself to hold his shoulders straight as he rose into the air. "I think he liked me," he lied. He thought nothing of the kind.

 

"Oh wow," Avery said, kicking off the ground behind him. He hovered close to Lucius, a broom-length over the graves. "Tsk, Malfoy, you get all the luck."

 

 

//
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