Fandoms: Harry Potter/Sandman
Timeline: 1963 (Extensive conjectural math went into deciding that. I felt I'd share.)
Summary: Tom Riddle seeks to cage Death -- Roderick Burgess almost did.
Thanks: musesfool, self styled crack dealer extraordinaire for feeding me this pairing/crack. svmadelyn for audiencing it, and lyra_sena for magical cigarette breaks.
“I’d have this house razed to the ground if I could,” Alex says, one arm behind his head and the other draped, heavy, over Tom’s back. “Right down to the earth, and I’d sow that with salt. He’d like that, he would.” Ash sprinkles off the tip of his cigarette onto the sheets, and the yellowing carpet. “There’s nothing good that’s come out of this place.”
Tom shifts, says nothing, moves Alex’s hand off of his body irritably. Alex drones on, but it’s easy to ignore – Tom’s become used to his particular brand of self-indulgent righteousness, the whine and the pity that Alex seems to crave after sex as much as he does his fashionable cigarettes.
The house and everything in it, Tom knows, is all that Alex lives for. It’s all he has. Though he makes a show of resenting it as much as he does his father, he keeps it exactly as his father did. The velvet on the chairs in the study has begun to mildew, and the wallpaper is coming off in curls, but everything stays as it is – as Roderick wanted it. After all, Alex Burgess’ whole life is defined by pleasing and hating Roderick Burgess, which is just as well because the only thing of worth about Alex is his blood line.
Alex is weak, boring and hopelessly useless – so unlike his father. There was brilliance, there was *daring*, there was a man to admire, and Tom *knows* that he’s been cheated by time, or chance, or what have you, because the Burgess he should have known is the one who’s died. That – well. Tom can still feel the crackle of Roderick’s energy when he reads the man’s journals, the spidery black notes in the sides of his books, all pompous and Victorian.
There was a mind – there was a mind not unlike Tom’s. He can see it even in the portrait; the eyes, so predictable, but shrewd and dark, smirking down at the room as though he still held court there, which is what makes Alex so damned jumpy and apologetic, the idiot. Roderick was a bastard, certainly, but Tom’s always rather preferred bastards, being one himself.
“If I could, if I only could,” Alex moans, pressing a hand to his eyes like an old woman having vapors. “I’d leave this place behind, leave everything behind. Go somewhere *warm* instead of this wretched place. And you – you’d come with me, wouldn’t you my lovely?” he asks, opening his eyes just enough to stare at Tom like the besotted fool he is.
He forces a smile and Alex’s fingertip feels out his dimples. “Yes,” he says, “of course.”
“Of course,” Alex echoes, with a grey smile on his thin face. “Of course you would.”
He kisses Tom with clumsy, clammy lips, and grips Tom too tightly in his bony hands. “Oh, I love you so,” Alex whispers against Tom’s neck, and Tom stares out the window. He wonders when Alex will leave.
It’s not a tidy library; the stacks of books list drunkenly to one side or the other, and a layer of grime lies thick on the old wood. The spines of many of the bigger volumes are cracked – thin grey fault lines that run through the leather binding, and when Tom opens them, they cough dust up at him.
The desk is as old as the house itself– there are yellowed papers stuffed in each of the drawers, detritus of a century of Burgesses, maybe more. In the corner there’s an old-fashioned ink pot with a quill stuck in it. When he examines it, ink splatters indiscriminately across the green blotter and the clean white notebook that Tom’s laid out.
Tom’s not overly given to sentimentalism, but there’s something mildly thrilling that this is where it happened – this is where Roderick dared to first think it possible, where Roderick planned it out. To capture *Death* -- ferret her away in the basement, like some unwanted rations. More than that, to bend his brain to the question, to find the *how* of it…yes, there’s a thrill in that.
Alex, of course, refuses to speak of it beyond the maudlin ramblings he’s given to when drunk, or after sex. He’s hidden the Magdelene Grimoire – down in the basement, naturally. The only place Tom wouldn’t be able to lay his hands on it. Alex won’t let Tom go down to the basement, won’t let Tom go *examine* the confinement below.
Alex doesn’t quite trust him -- whenever Tom asks, Alex’s usually earnest face takes on a furtive quality. His eyes dart around the room, he licks his lips, and he mumbles some ridiculous excuse. His last lover, Paul, was allowed down, Tom knows that much.
Not showing Tom the basement is the first bit of good sense that Alex has displayed, which would have been funny if it wasn’t so frustrating. But Tom can be patient, and he’s clever enough that he’s sure he won’t need to be patient for long.
He’s found Roderick’s journals – not too difficult, as Alex reads them obsessively, pathetically searching for approval he certainly has done nothing to earn -- Tom’s begun to piece together the books Roderick consulted when creating the spell. Tom piles them beside himself on the desk, and pours over them, one by one.
“It is bold,” Roderick writes in the margins, “but perhaps boldness is the only course, if I am to make my mark, if I am to redeem the Order, as I must, as only I can do. To still the creeping shadow? To hold the reaper in the palm of my hand? It would be beyond even Aleister. It would be beyond God – and why not? Yes, it must be done, and *can* be.”
Tom snickers, shakes his head. Yes, it can be done – and it will be. But not by Roderick, no, the old man did it wrong. Brilliant, but not quite brilliant enough. Tom won’t make the same mistake – he won’t have to. He’ll have the old Lord Magus’ errors there to guide him to a safer path. Almost as good as having the old man there beside him, Tom thinks.
He looks up at the portrait above; old already, and bitter with it, but satisfied, too. As if Burgess knew his work would not be for naught, as if he knew that someone like Tom would come and pick up the threads he’d left behind.
“I will do it,” he tells the small dark eyes, the curling lips. “I *will*.”
Alex insists they walk after dinner at night, and he holds Tom’s hand. He talks nonsense – says things about their future, promises to look after Tom, tells Tom how special he is.
The grounds are as ill kept as the house – the grass is long and brown, and all around the outside of the fence are dribbles of wax on the ground and creased pictures of Roderick, tucked into the iron. There have been nights when Tom could hear the giggling of the ridiculous Muggles who call themselves witches and wizards outside.
Alex likes the attention – he preens for them, trying desperately hard to be stately and mysterious as they pass by the woods they favor. He looks absurd.
“You’re so beautiful,” he tells Tom, turning Tom’s head to face him. “And you’re here, here with *me*,” he whispers. “Your eyes – they’re such a bright, such a deep…emerald.”
Tom shows him a tight-lipped smile, pats his hand, keep walking. His eyes are green, and nothing like emerald. Alex has been practicing that phrase for days, in the bathroom when he didn’t think Tom could hear him.
“I love you, you know.” Alex is forever saying that, so Tom just presses a kiss to his cheek. It usually satisfies him, but tonight, Alex tugs Tom’s hand, pulls him back, his eyes wide and worried. “You do love me, don’t you? You never say it.”
“I love you, Alex, you know that,” Tom says by rote, looking down at the grass to hide the exasperation. “It’s not – it’s not easy for me to say –,” he feigns a stammer, feigns nerves.
Alex heaves a sigh of relief. “It isn’t, I know, it isn’t, after all you’re – you’re so *young*. I should have thought of that. I…yes, I do know you love me. I do know that.”
“Good.” Tom pulls on their joined hands, tries to keep walking, but Alex pulls him back again.
“It’s just that – sometimes, I think…I think I bore you, Tom,” he confesses shyly, and Tom bites back a sigh.
He comes forward and puts his hands on Alex’s waist, brings him close and murmurs against his lips, “Never, Alex. Come inside, and I’ll show you what you mean to me.” Alex comes eagerly, and an hour later, when he’s sleeping in the big stale bed, Tom slips back down to the library. Roderick’s journals are there, waiting.
At seven in the morning, noon, and eight at night the guards shift. There’s so little noise in the house that Tom can hear it from the library, and the bedroom. There are six men, and Tom knows for a fact that Alex keeps them high when they watch the captive. The stairs to the basement are off the kitchen, behind a crooked door that’s locked from the inside, and Tom can’t magic the lock off. He’s sure that if he wants to slip down the stairs, he’ll have to do when the guards are changing.
It’s gone beyond curiosity – Tom needs to see how they’re holding him, this King of Dreams. He can picture it, almost, but when he sees it…when he sees it he’ll understand what he needs to do. Most of the groundwork for the spell was puzzled out easily enough, but there are some specifics – some things he has to see with his own eyes before he can go forward. He’s sure he’ll figure it out, because he’s found, while reading the journals, that Roderick’s mind and his own work eerily similarly. They have the same twists and turns and as Tom reads he thinks, “Yes, yes, that’s it *exactly!*”
Even dead, Roderick Burgess is a more charismatic presence than Alex, and the more Tom gets to know Roderick, the more he *understands* the man, the more Alex tires him. And the more he resents Death, the more he wishes to capture her and keep her chained, because if it hadn’t been for her – if it hadn’t been for her, then he’d be here with Roderick. In his bed, his study, wherever; the details don’t matter particularly to Tom, only that he would have had that mind, that incredible *mind* to converse with.
Together – together the pair of them would have been unstoppable. The things he could have *learned*, Tom thinks angrily, the things they could have *accomplished*. Roderick had no peers in his time, not that petty trickster Aleister Crowley and certainly none of the idiot hacks in his Order. No, he wasn’t challenged, he didn’t have anyone to push him, but Tom could have done it.
And Tom understands, too well, what it is to be without an equal. He knows the boredom and frustration of trying desperately to find someone who understands, truly understands his goals, his plans. He certainly won’t find it anywhere but here, in the pages of the self styled Lord Magus’ journal.
Tom finds himself wishing the journal would come alive – he finds himself wishing that he could speak with it, and have it speak back to him. If Roderick had only thought to enchant his writings, to create some piece of himself and leave it behind here, beyond the flat, dead presence of the script. Surely, that would have been worth it – that would have been an idea worth pursuing…
He waves away the idea, goes back to his notes. He’s managed a partial list of the things he’ll need for the confinement spell – a song stolen from dirt, a knife from under the hills, a name that is lost, and his own blood, unsurprisingly. Blood magic is to be expected in an undertaking such as this. Which is fortunate; it’s a discipline in which Tom’s always excelled.
It’s a fascination for him, really, the way blood can call forth power, and how power can flow through a body so naturally. His own blood, well – it’s powerful, more than powerful enough for a spell of this caliber, even if not precisely pure.
Tom clenches his jaw, looks out the window. A minute passes, and he opens a new book, turns the pages until he finds the portrait he’s looking for – and there she is. Death, shaped like a woman with dark hair and a knowing smile. Her hand reaches out toward Tom, and he wonders what she looked like when she came for Roderick. Did she smile then?
He thinks she truly is beautiful. He thinks she’ll look lovelier still when he’s caught her; when he’s made her powerless, and himself a god..
“Alex,” Tom says, cajoling as he presses a persuasive kiss to the pale knobby neck bent before him, “Alex, tell me what he looks like.”
“Who, lovely?” Alex asks, rolling over. Mousy hair flops onto his forehead and he pushes his glasses back onto his face, blinking owlishly behind the round lenses.
“Your downstairs visitor,” Tom answers, propping his chin in his hand, and letting Alex trail fingertips over his back. “You’ve seen him, I know. You go down there daily.”
“Tom, I can’t – ” Alex begins, and Tom cuts him off with a slow kiss.
“It’s only that I’m curious, darling,” Tom whispers, kissing him again. Alex tastes sour, and old, but Tom moans into his mouth before pulling away. “You’ve seen so much, and I’ve seen practically nothing. Please tell me, please do.”
Alex wavers visibly, pressing his thin lips together. He pushes himself up against the headboard, crosses his arms, hunching a little, and blows out a heavy sigh. “I…the first time I saw him, you understand, I was – your age, actually. Well, a bit younger, but just about. It was a long time ago.”
Alex twitches apologetically, and Tom doesn’t sigh. He waits for Alex to speak again, and watches the movement of Alex’s fingers as he polishes his lenses on the bedsheet.
“He… he was beautiful. We didn’t know who he was, at first. And he had this helmet, strangely shaped. It covered his whole face, but when we took it off – his skin…I remember being surprised, because I’d never in my life seen skin that white. Like, milk, really and his eyes --,” Alex broke off again, and smoke from his cigarette lay flat in the air. “His eyes sucked up all the light in the room. Like holes, black holes. It – I was afraid.”
Tom says nothing, keeps his face impassive, and thinks that Alex’s usual state of mind is afraid. Alex moves closer, pressing his face against Tom’s shoulder.
“I’m still afraid, sometimes,” he says, “when I go down there. He – he hates me, you know.”
“Then you can’t let him go, can you?” Tom muses, and Alex wraps an arm over his chest.
“I – I think you’re right,” he agrees in a pained whisper. “Dream doesn’t forgive, not like Death.”
Tom nods, thinking and staring at the wilted pattern on the wall across from him. The invocation was where the spell went wrong – or, more precisely, was where the mistake was made.
“Do you know what went wrong?” he asks Alex, rubbing a hand over Alex’s back to soothe him, lull him into speech. “How you got *him* instead?”
“I’ve tried to figure it out! I’ve thought about it every day for years – and I can’t – it wasn’t anything in the spell. It doesn’t make *sense*!” he whines, looking up at Tom.
“It can’t be a fault of the spell, or of the ingredients we used. There’s no reason I can think of why – unless it was father. That’s all I can think of; the old man did it wrong, he was so wrapped up in himself, in his own glory that he bollocksed up the whole thing. He didn’t even know it was Dream, ‘til I told him, the old fool –”
“He was a genius,” Tom interrupts without thinking, voice flat and hard. Alex stiffens against him at the sound, looks up disbelievingly.
“What?” Alex asks, hunching in on himself as he does whenever Tom disagrees with him – a hurt, small man, trying to make himself smaller, invisible.
“You said he was a genius,” Tom says, with a blinding smile, hands creeping up to bracket either side of Alex’s hips. “Didn’t you?” He blows his hot breath across Alex’s ear, lowers his voice to a rumble. “I get confused, is all, my darling.”
And Alex believes him – tells Tom he’s beautiful.
Tom takes a little more time than usual touching Alex, and after, Tom says carefully, “I’d love to see him.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Alex responds, yawning. “Looking at him will make your skin go cold, all over.”
“I doubt it,” Tom murmurs as Alex closes his eyes. He pries his hand out of Alex’s grip, stands and walks over to the window, casting a glance over his shoulder at the bed where Alex’s eyes are open now, watching him.
Suspicion flickers across Alex’s face, and Tom clenches his jaw with irritation. Neither of them speaks.
A long moment passes, and then Tom makes himself smile again.
“I’m all right,” he says, “just restless.”
“Of course,” Alex agrees quickly. “Of course.”
Tom doesn’t ask Alex again about the basement, or the spell, or Dream, and Alex starts making furtive phone calls in the kitchen when he thinks Tom can’t hear him.
“But, Paul…” Tom hears Alex saying one night, “Paul, please.”
Tom knows that he could make Alex trust him again. He knows that he could make it so Alex didn’t *care* whether or not he thought Tom was trust-worthy. Seducing Alex was easy before he knew Alex at all – it would be doubly so now.
Tom’s been patient, though, and now he has little to show for that patience beyond a growing…affection for the late elder Burgess. He’s not the first dead magician with whom Tom has felt an affinity, no, certainly not. Rasputin, Salazar Slytherin, Roderick Burgess – these are all men who, even beyond their own deaths, have guided Tom Riddle. These are the men he considers his fathers, his mentors – though not his idols, for Tom’s quite comfortable being himself. Or, rather, being who he will become.
Tom has great plans for that, already.
The fact remains that he’s not as close to realizing any of those plans as he should be – not after so many weeks spent enduring Alexander Burgess. The Grimoire and the captive are locked far below him, and he hasn’t the time to piece together the invocation from Roderick’s journals – not if the ridiculously obvious sly expression that Alex has taken to sporting means anything.
It’s clear that Alex will never show Tom what he needs to see – and it’s equally clear that the magical wards on the door to the basement were none of Alex’s doing, for they’re too strong for Tom to break them quietly, and too cunning for Tom to slip past them.
It’s Roderick’s power that holds Dream, and Roderick’s power that protects him – Tom can feel it. The snap, the crackle and, yes, yes, Roderick Burgess was a master at his craft. His magic is subtle and strong, and exciting – more exciting than the living touch of his only heir. Tom pictures the smirk from the painting, the knowledge in those small dark eyes – Tom brushes a hand through the boundary of the wards again. It tingles, he shivers.
“I’m going to go for a walk,” he tells Alex cheerily. He takes no small amount of enjoyment in the guilty start Alex gives at the sound of his voice.
“Go on, go on,” Alex says with a false smile, one hand covering the telephone receiver. “I’ll be along shortly.”
“Take your time,” he tells Alex as he walks out the kitchen door.
It’s thick with fog outside. Tom walks to the edge of the forest and listens closely until he hears it – the hiss, the winding sound of a snake working its way through the damp underbrush.
He calls out a greeting, hunkers down close to the ground, and grins to himself that even Roderick Burgess never would have been able to do this. The snake is small and black, and it curls around the toe of his boot, propping its small blunt head on the leather there.
“Tell me how to get into the basement of this house,” he says.
“There are horrors there,” the snake tells him, “though it’s cool and dark and there are mice to be eaten.”
“I don’t care,” Tom replies. “Tell me how to get in.”
The snake’s head waves from side to side and the tip of its tail flicks, nervously. “There is a window,” it hisses. “The glass has broken, and grass covers it nearly completely. You will need to dig, but you can slip into the room that way. There are men there, and they notice everything that can be seen.”
Tom smiles, and thinks that it must look a bit like Roderick’s smirk. “There are ways to be invisible,” he tells the snake, and it bobs its head in agreement.
“You may go,” he says, and the snake disappears into the dark – scales blending perfectly with the rich, wet soil.
He waits until full dark, when Alex has begun to snore in his sleep. The invisibility cloak is folded in the bottom corner of one of his duffle bags, and it falls over him comfortably – it reminds him of school, and he smiles to himself as he creeps out of the room, and down the old creaking wood of the stairs.
It’s easy enough to find a shovel, and he closes the door behind him softly – silently. The window is right where the snake said it would be. He clears away the debris, digs until the ground in front of it is even enough for him to slither through on his stomach, and lands on his feet inside the basement.
And he can feel it – the raw *power* of this place. It beats, like a heart. It makes him nearly dizzy, and giddy, as he pulls his wand out of his trouser pocket and stuns the guards into unconsciousness. Not sleep, he’s careful of that.
There, in the middle of the basement, is what Tom’s been after for all this time. Glass the color of midnight -- smooth, round and gleaming, on a small shining pedestal. It’s like a great dark egg, and there, curled inside, is the chick.
The man inside is naked and pale like bone. His eyes burn – clear and cold. Alex, Tom thinks, was right. This creature is beautiful and terrifying.
“At last,” Dream of the Endless says, standing, “you have come to free me, then.”
“I think not,” Tom retorts, and Dream rears back, his thin face registering surprise. His eyes narrow, slights of dark and light.
“You are not who I thought you were,” Dream says finally.
Tom presses his hand to the glass. “Who did you think I was?” he asks, unable to stop himself.
“A nightmare I created, long ago,” Dream tells him. “Come to rescue me from this imprisonment. I would not have broken my silence else.”
“A nightmare?” Tom echoes, watching the slow stretch of white, white arms.
Dream slants him a sideways look, and Tom can hear his own ragged breathing in the silence. “You’ve come to gawk, mortal? To see me powerless?”
“No,” he responds, reckless on the other side of the confinement, and exhilarated, “I’ve come to see how it was done. Do you think your sister Death will find it restful? After all, she’s done so much all ready.”
The basement gets colder, and Dream draws himself up to his full height – stares down at Tom with his strange star-eyes. He’s regal, and forbidding, and his voice when he speaks next is dreadful. “You would cage Death would you? You fool.”
Tom grins. “Fool? Hardly. Rather the opposite, in fact. I know what I’m doing, and I plan to succeed.”
Dream moves across his cage quickly, the skin on his face drawing tight with anger. In the dark, it looks like he has no skin, only bones – as though his face is a naked skull topped with tufts of black hair. “Try it, and your flesh will rot on your bones. You will live forever as dust and chalk. You will putrefy in your own skin, and misery will become your name. Your enemies will never be vanquished, never conquered – and still. Still you seek this?”
Dream laughs, and the sound – hollow and frightening – bounces off the stone walls, until Tom feels himself trapped in that laughter.
“I can do it,” he persists, reaching toward the familiar pull of Roderick’s magic. “I *can*.”
“Can you?” Dream raises a skeptical eyebrow. “And what if instead of Death you call Despair? She’s strong, you know. Stronger than I was when I was summoned – and you would be weakened by the spell. Would you invite Despair to carve you apart for sport?”
Tom ignores this, begins trying to trace the web that Roderick wove around this glass bubble and its powerful occupant, and feels the tendrils of magic tickle at his skin – the same sly seduction as the wards above. It’s comforting –
until Dream slaps his long white hand against the other side of the glass and exerts what little force he has left to him. “See what you ask for, child, and then see if you still want it,” he spits out.
And Tom sees, and feels, and hears, and smells his body as it decays. He feels his organs begin to fail, and his bones crumble into nothing. His blood dries in his veins, and pain arcs through each little archipelago of nerves. He screams, he howls, and he doesn’t notice the tears that wet his cheeks.
“That will be your eternity,” Dream tells Tom when it recedes. Tom shakes, frightened.
Horrors here – horrors indeed.
“Go now and do not to seek to meddle with the Endless,” Dream orders, and Tom goes.
He leaves behind his clothes, his notes, his things. He leaves behind the stale old house, and the pathetic shadow that lives there. He leaves behind Wych Cross and the tantalizing ghosts of Roderick Burgess.
He does not seek to cage Death, after that. He seeks to out run her, out wit her.
The basement, though, comes with him – and everything in it. Tucked away in a corner of his mind, with the few things that Tom lets himself fear, he keeps Dream of the Endless and his terrible truth.
Years pass, and Tom Riddle becomes a nightmare. He cowers before the white Dream Lord, just as he did before the dark one.
He never dies. Nightmares never do.