AN: No, I'm not being pretentious. For the life of me, I just could not think of a title for this one. I can't force the title issue. As you probably all know, when you do come up with one and use it, you're pretty much stuck with it. A medal will be sent to anyone who can come up with a good one.
As the summary will have told you, this is another attempt at a Riddle-centric one-shot. I'm trying to beat Summoning for the discomfort factor, but I'm starting to think that one was a one-off (or that I was possessed myself when I wrote it). That said, don't think this one's all sugar, spice and all things nice. It aint. There's no foul language whatsoever and no nudity - only general, unpleasant creepiness. So if you don't like a bit of horror, then I'd advise you steer clear. Then again, if you're made of sterner stuff, then by all means go ahead.
Once again, this fic in its current condition is brought to you by the wonderfully witty and astute Birgit. You should be grateful to her, as she stops me confusing all you readers with weirdly worded, corkscrew sentences. She points out the squares, too, which is nice. :) And I made her "eurgh" with this one. I was so pleased with myself. :P
Enough blabbering! On with the fic!
There was a creak, the sound of two stiff and age-worn doors being shoved open with unceremonious haste. Then a pair of tiny feet began their muffled, scuffling patter across an opulent carpet, their steps faltering only to swerve and dodge the many obstacles impeding their progress with instinctive ease. The Summer Room was where Hepzibah Smith kept most of what she called her “treasures” - and this would have been immediately obvious to any soul privileged enough to be permitted to visit.
The room was like a magpie’s nest: every available space taken over by some sort of shimmering item of value. Little side tables laden with trinkets and lace doilies teetered on gold-filigree legs. Cupboards with glass-fronts displayed a myriad of golden orbs and celestial globes, some at first sight appearing to be very ancient indeed. Shelves upon shelves housed stacks of finely lacquered boxes of all shapes and colours - some special rows devoted to series of heavy, leather-bound books embossed with gold.
No wall-space was left uncovered, as tapestries and paintings and mirrors and etchings hung from every available space on nails of solid silver. And over at the other end of the room, Hepzibah’s favourite display piece stood proudly beside the windows that were, at the moment, closed over by a pair of thick, velvet curtains. It was a grandfather clock sculpted entirely from glass. The pendulum, the face, the inner-workings, all the cogs and wheels, were meticulously fashioned in 1670 by the famed wizard inventor and clockmaker, William Clement.
It was a unique item, being both the first and last piece of its type he ever made, for the man was found dead, hanging in his shop, upon its completion. No one knew why Clement had killed himself, but rumour had it that he’d done the deed in despair because he knew that he would never be able to replicate such a masterpiece of engineering and craftsmanship.
It was a unique item, and, as such, was highly prized by all discerning collectors. Hepzibah Smith had it in her Summer Room.
There came a clatter from somewhere in the midst of the carefully organised clutter as space was cleared for a large tray laden with silverware. The tray was placed upon a sturdy table. Two fine glasses were set down, along with a three-tiered cake tower upon which many heavily-iced, multi-coloured fondant fancies were arranged. There was a bottle of vintage elf-made wine, uncorked, at one side, and a noticeably empty crystal vase filled with water at the other. Rose petals were scattered by an unsteady hand over the surface of the table. The scatterer then paused for a moment, as though to admire his or her work, before meticulously rearranging a few rogue petals.
Everything must be perfect, Hokey… Everything must be perfect for Tom!
Hokey knew it had to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect, her Mistress had said. Everything had to be perfect because Master Riddle was to visit again this afternoon. He was coming at three o’clock. Hokey glanced over at the grandfather clock and started fluffing up the cushions on the squashy, velvet couches that encircled the laden table. As she did so, she started moaning quietly to herself, rocking back and forth on her heels. The truth was, was that she wasn’t looking forward to Master Riddle’s visit. She wasn’t looking forward to it at all.
There weren’t very many people whom Hokey disliked. In fact, there had never been a guest at Hepzibah’s house of whom Hokey had wholly disapproved. Until now, that was.
There was something about Master Riddle that Hokey didn’t like. Yes, he was a pretty boy, a handsome boy - and that was probably what made her Mistress go all funny and giggly whenever he came to visit - but there was something in his eyes. There was something in his eyes that was wrong.
Hokey knew that her Mistress cared for Master Riddle, she knew because she spoke of him continually. She was always getting Hokey to fetch old treasures that she could show to Master Riddle, and every time he had left, she had wanted bigger and better ones to show him for the next time he came.
It was when Hokey had been ordered to fetch the Cup and the Locket, that she had really started to worry. Only two days ago she had been standing in the Summer Room, watching her Mistress, watching Master Riddle, and she was sure she had seen Master Riddle looking at her Mistress in a strange way. In a way that she hadn’t liked at all…
Since then, Hokey had decided that she would try her best to stop her Mistress from seeing Master Riddle. So when Master Riddle’s letters arrived, Hokey had taken them out into the garden and had buried them. Hokey had thought that that would have been the end of Master Riddle but she had been woefully, woefully wrong. Instead, the letters had started coming more and more frequently, appearing in very strange places - popping up in the oven, in the toaster, inside boiled eggs, under plant pots in the garden - until it had gotten so bad that Hokey, in tears, had finally given in and had delivered Master Riddle’s letter to her Mistress.
Master Riddle, in his letters, seemed angry that Hokey’s Mistress had not replied and had threatened never to visit again, and Hokey’s Mistress then knew that she had been Bad. Hokey had endured a bitter lashing that night.
Tears welling up in her large eyes at the memory, she glanced, once again, at the grandfather clock. It was only a few moments to three. Hanging her head, her long ears almost drooping to the floor, she sighed deeply. Master Riddle would be here soon. If he said he would come, he would come. He always came. And he was never, ever late. Hokey looked up again at the clock-face.
She took a deep breath and steeled herself for Master Riddle’s arrival, squaring up her fragile shoulders with determination. Even though her Mistress could not see it, Hokey could see. Hokey would make sure Master Riddle did no harm to her Mistress. Resolute, Hokey watched the doors with narrowed eyes as Clement’s masterpiece struck three.
As the clock’s delicate, musical chimes rang out, filling the Summer Room from floor to ceiling with their sweet sound, the curtains flew open and light streamed in, setting all the sparkling, magpie trinkets aglitter. The heavy doors opened with a bang and Hepzibah Smith entered first, her heavy footsteps making the boards underneath her feet groan in protest.
She was an aged woman, short, squat and almost completely round; appearing rather like an old orange, her skin saggy and rough, but for the fact that it was a mottled sanguine colour. Sporting a curly, auburn wig, she had evidently attempted to disguise her ruddy complexion by lathering on layer upon layer of white powder. That, together with the false eyelashes, the baby blue eye shadow, the scarlet-red lips and the extra rouge streaked across her drooping cheeks, all contributed towards a look that veered sharply away from seductress and more unfortunately towards elderly clown.
Earlier on in the morning, Hokey herself had forced Hepzibah’s fleshy feet into a pair of pink, satin slippers and her equally fleshy frame into an ancient, creaking corset. Atop that, she had chosen a flimsy pink satin robe with a white, feathery collar that matched her slippers. On her fingers, she wore her most expensive jewels and around her ample neck was strung a chunky necklace of solid silver and diamonds. When the strong smell of her lavender scent wafted towards Hokey as she walked through the door, it immediately made the house-elf wrinkle her nose.
Hokey pursed her lips angrily as she looked at her Mistress. This was a bad thing! A bad, bad thing! What was Mistress Hepzibah wearing? It is leaving nothing to the imagination. Nothing whatsoever! And her make-up! It is making her look silly! Hokey twisted the hem of her sheet in despair. And look how Mistress Hepzibah is acting, she thought, outraged, as she heard her Mistress titter coquettishly at something the young man on her arm had whispered into her ear. She is not behaving herself! It is making her look silly! But she is doing this for Master Riddle. Master Riddle is making Mistress Hepzibah look silly!
Hokey watched, her small fists clenched, as her Mistress settled her large frame onto a sofa, the cushions sagging deeply under her weight. Master Riddle, as always, remained standing, awaiting an invitation to sit.
“Tom, Tom, come now dear boy!” Hepzibah implored, patting the cushion next to her recumbent form invitingly. “You still insist on standing upon ceremony here? I thought we would have known one another a little more intimately by now!”
Tom Riddle inclined his handsome head, his features perfectly composed. “Madame does me too much honour,” he replied quietly, his eyes fixed on the floor.
Hepzibah tittered and held out a podgy hand, which Tom took up and lightly brushed with his pale lips.
“Madame,” he began, whispering into her hand, “your flowers…”
Riddle straightened up, and, with a flourish, produced a bouquet of lilies from nowhere.
“Again? Oh, Tom, Tom, you naughty boy!” Hepzibah squealed delightedly, scooping up the flowers in her arms. “You shouldn’t! What would Mr Burke say?”
“I daresay he would disapprove, Madame,” Riddle replied simply. Then he allowed himself a short, perfectly-timed pause, before lifting his gaze from the floor to meet Hepzibah’s, adding, “But none of us can help our feelings, Madame Hepzibah.” He cast a small but enchanting smile at the old woman.
This gesture seemed to be one that Hepzibah Smith had been waiting impatiently for for a long time. It also seemed to cause her some excitement. At the young man’s words, heat rose in her pouchy face, and a fan was extracted from the folds of her satin robes which she wafted agitatedly about her ample bosom. As her breathing became steadily more erratic, her corsets creaked under the strain.
“How right you are, my dear Tom. How right you are…” she whispered throatily, shifting her corpulent form a little closer towards the object of her affection.
Despite the overpowering gusts of lavender that issued forth in effluent clouds as she moved, Riddle did not pull away. On the contrary, he remained steadfast, gazing calmly into the depths of Hepzibah Smith’s wrinkled, black eyes. A small smile was playing at the corners of his thin lips. Ever so slowly, he moved a pale hand up as though to caress her face - but lowered it just before he touched her bare skin. Hepzibah, who had closed her eyes in trembling anticipation opened them again, her expression a mixture of puzzlement and hope.
“Oh Tom—”she breathed, batting her overlarge eyelashes and laying a bejewelled hand upon his shoulder, “—my dear boy, please don’t stop.” She smiled up at him, utterly besotted.
Riddle’s handsome features remained perfectly composed as they drew gradually, tantalisingly close to the old woman. He stopped when their faces were only inches away from touching. With a long, thin finger, he tucked back a stray red curl behind her ear and whispered into it, “Stop what, Madame?”
Hepzibah opened her mouth to reply but instead she gasped giddily as Tom’s hand brushed ever-so-lightly down the length of her satin robe. She caught his hand that had reached over the table for the bottle of elf-made wine, grasping it greedily.
“No more games, Tom,” she breathed, licking her lips. “We must be honest with one another. No point in skirting around the issue when we both know it cannot be avoided.”
Riddle looked down at her, his strong, young frame clothed in an elegant, dark suit that contrasted glaringly with occupant of the folds of frosted, sugary pink and white squirming restlessly beside him. Her wrinkled hand was still wrapped around his, which in turn, clutched the bottle of wine. Not taking his eyes from her, he moved his free right hand across and gently began to prise her fingers from his imprisoned left one by one.
“If you wish to end the games, Madame, then we will need the wine,” Riddle said softly.
At once, as though ordered, Hepzibah moved forward to pour the wine into the two waiting glasses, but Riddle deftly extricated the bottle from her hand and settled her back down into the cushions with a series of fluid and well-timed movements. Again, she opened her mouth to protest, but Riddle placed a finger over her lips.
“I am, as always, Madame Hepzibah, your devoted servant,” he said, with a slight incline of his head as he began, slowly, to pour two full glasses of the rich, red, elf-made wine.
Hepzibah giggled. “You’re such a good boy, Tom,” she said, and with a wicked look in her beady little eyes, leaned over to pinch Riddle’s hollowed cheeks.
However, before she could get her fat little fingers around them, Riddle stood up absently, wine glass in hand, leaving Hepzibah to fall face first into the cushions. While Hepzibah straightened up with an embarrassed little titter, smoothing out her robes and flicking her hair, Riddle walked over towards the window and turned round, leaning casually upon Clement’s prized clock. Normally, such a transgression would have been unforgivable - but this time, Hepzibah didn’t seem to mind at all.
“I thought you said there would be no more games, Tom, you little tease!” she called out, pouting.
“And there will be no more games,” Riddle answered quietly, regarding her coolly from a distance. “Not any more. Now drink your wine.”
For a brief moment, the simpering smile on Hepzibah Smith’s face faltered. The tone of Riddle’s last utterance was no longer that to which she had grown accustomed - that of a quiet obeisance, typical of a young lover in the presence of his object, of his lady love. Rather it was a command, a command with a thinly veiled edge of impatience. In spite of herself, however, it was as though Hepzibah at once felt moved to obey. She raised the glass to her lips and took a drink before gingerly setting the glass back down upon the table. Smiling, she looked to Riddle for his approval.
The corners of Riddle’s mouth twitched briefly. He ran a hand down the cool, smooth length of the clock case and then began to pick his way back through the clutter, sitting down once more beside Hepzibah, who began to fidget nervously. There was a moment’s pause in which both sat still and in silence, Riddle regarding Hepzibah all the while with a most curious expression. Then Riddle smiled a cold, cruel, sickle-like smile and slowly, deliberately, he threaded his long fingers through Hepzibah’s auburn wig and gave it an almighty tug.
Hepzibah shrieked and instinctively clapped her hands to her bald head. Riddle, on the other hand, showed no reaction whatsoever. He remained sitting there calmly, even when the older woman began screaming venomously at him, her dark eyes burning ferociously, awakening a fire that burned through the fair semblance and pierced the cloak of Riddle's fanciful illusion, leaving her to see the man before her for what he truly was. And Hokey, who had been watching events unfold with barely disguised outrage, finally exploded, leaping up onto the couch and shaking her tiny fist in his face.
“YOU VERMIN! YOU VENEMOUS, VILE, VICIOUS—”
“You, Master Riddle! You is a bad, bad man! You is treating my Mistress with such disrespect!”
“BASE SHOP-BOY! HOW I COULD HAVE— HOW I COULD EVER HAVE LOWERED MYSELF—”
“You is nothing to my Mistress now, nothing! Nothing, nothing, nothing! My Mistress should throw you out, Master Riddle, yes she should! She should throw you out right now!”
“HOKEY! HOKEY! FETCH MY WIG! FETCH MY WIG NOW!”
“You isn’t fit to be seeing my Mistress! Mistress Hepzibah is too good for nasty Master Riddle! Master Riddle is lower than worms in the ground, oh yes he is—!”
“HOKEY!” Hepzibah bawled, her face purple with rage. “MY WIG!”
As though she had been doused with a bucket of cold water, Hokey’s eyes widened and she instantly leapt from the couch and scampered over to aid her Mistress. Scooping up the wig that had been casually tossed to the floor by Riddle, she clambered up onto her Mistress’s ample shoulders and forced the curly, tousled, auburn mass back into place.
Hepzibah, then turned directly to face Riddle, looking at him as if seeing him plainly for the very first time. She drew herself up to her full height, and, with her voluminous, pink robes billowing about her knees, rather resembled an ancient battle-ship in full sail.
“How dare you…” she began haughtily. “How dare you, you impudent— insolent— Caractacus! Caractacus will hear of this, you mark my words!”
“Mr Burke will hear nothing of this,” Riddle said evenly, regarding Hepzibah Smith with an expression poised almost upon the cusp of amusement.
“WHAT?” she spluttered, her face red with mortification and fury. “WHAT THE DEVIL DO YOU MEAN, YOU LOATHSOME LITTLE COCKROACH? I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW—”
It was as if the words had caught in her throat. She trailed off, her imperious tone degenerating abruptly into a series of hoarse, strangled croaks.
“Mistress Hepzibah? Mistress Hepzibah! What is wrong, Mistress Hepzibah? Tell Hokey what is wrong!”
The house-elf began tugging agitatedly at the hem of the old woman’s robes, her already high-pitched voice becoming higher still. Hepzibah Smith’s pouchy face, when moments ago it shone red with wounded pride, now burned scarlet with a strangled, feverish intensity. Within moments, her little, gleaming, gimlet eyes began to bulge grotesquely from their sockets - and her fat hands, fixed into a claw-like rictus, scrabbled desperately for support. They found nothing. She let out a low, gurgling moan as she stumbled blindly into the coffee-table, sending its contents sliding to the floor with a prolonged crash before joining them herself with a heavy thud, battering her head upon an unyielding wooden edge on her descent.
Blood seeped from a livid gash upon her temple. A few moments later, it also began to weep from the corners of her wrinkled, black eyes.
Hokey ran over to her Mistress’s side, taking up a bejewelled hand in hers; patting it tenderly. Large, fat tears began to trickle down her cheeks.
“Please, Mistress Hepzibah! Say something to Hokey! Say something—”
But the house-elf never got to voice her pleas. Hokey suddenly felt an arm wrapping itself around her neck and lifting her from the ground violently, choking her into compliance. The next instant, she felt herself forced down onto the sofa, a pale hand gripping her lower jaw with the other still coiled tightly around her neck. Her head was wrenched sideways so that she was staring, in abject terror, at her Mistress, who no longer seemed to be moving. On her back, lying unsettlingly still, Hepzibah Smith’s blood-rimmed eyes stared, unfocused, at the ceiling. She no longer moaned but instead a vile, gargling froth foamed up from her gaping mouth, issuing forth thick streamers of clotted drool that spilled out over her lips and down onto the carpet, where it pooled about her head and neck in a bloody, viscous puddle.
Then she saw Master Riddle point his wand at her and say something, and nothing really seemed to matter any more.
“You will stay here, and you will sit,” Master Riddle commanded her, hissing venomously into her large ear.
Hokey wasn’t quite sure why, but she nodded, and Master Riddle rose to his feet.
It was as if Hokey had strayed into a dream. Her vision swam before her and she watched, all now beyond her control, as Tom Riddle drew nearer to her Mistress' recumbent form. Images of him seemed to flicker and dance as he moved with a strength, grace and fluidity she had not noticed he possessed. Then he stopped just before Hepzibah Smith, standing at her head with his eyes closed and an expression of serene contentment gracing his flawless features. He sighed deeply and opened his eyes. Lowering himself to his knees, he placed an icy hand upon Hepzibah Smith's scarlet cheek and caressed it, almost lovingly. Then he bent his head and planted a full and lingering kiss upon her lifeless mouth.
"Your reward, Madame," he whispered, almost inaudibly, before he straightened up and turned his cold eyes upon Hokey.
"Get me the cup and the locket," Riddle snapped. "I have work to do."
A part of Hokey knew that this was wrong, all wrong, but she did not have the strength to fight anymore. Master Riddle's presence consumed her. With all the swiftness she could muster, she sped to the place where Hepzibah Smith's greatest treasures were kept, undid the charms, and brought them, on her knees, to Tom Riddle. For several minutes, he inspected them with an air of ardent longing fulfilled, and with a greedy gleam in his eye worthy of a true collector. Then he looked up at Hokey.
"Thank you, elf," he said quietly. "That will be all... for now. As I said," he added, the corners of his mouth sharpened into a cruel smile, "I have much work to do."
Hokey's vision went dark and she remembered nothing from that moment on.