“You sang beautifully.”
Ginny whipped around at the sound of that familiar voice and felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of him.
“Harry.” It came out breathless. “I mean, Viscount Potter.”
“Harry,” he interrupted her, firm but warm. “Just Harry. Please.”
“Harry,” she said again, softer. A small irrepressible smile sprang to her lips.
Viscount Harry James Potter.
How long had it been since they had last seen each other? Years. They had both been children. Her, so shy and flustered in his presence that she’d put her elbow in the butter and could barely speak at first. He – well, the messy hair was the same, and those vibrant green eyes were unmistakeable. His smile was as kind as it had always been back then, even after everything that he had lost.
Now, the opera house had been rebuilt, over ten years had passed, and she’d had her chance to be its star. The feeling of standing up on the stage, singing, with a full audience, had been the single best thing that Ginny had ever done despite everything. Ever since the performance everyone she knew had been telling her how they didn’t how she could sing like that, how wonderful she was, how she’d been holding out on them.
It was an intoxicating feeling. Growing up with six brothers she had never been the centre of attention, never been more than another one of the set. She knew her family loved her, it wasn’t that, but sometimes she had wanted more. She had wanted to be more. She had wanted someone who understood that.
The exhilarated triumph of the night still buzzed inside her, and now he was looking at her like she was something incredible. She felt like, maybe, she might just be incredible. It was something she had only ever let herself dream about before.
“I got you – uh,” Harry cleared his throat and stepped closer, thrusting out a golden bouquet of sunflowers in her direction. “Well. I don’t know if they’re still your favourite. You really were amazing. Not that I doubted you!” Colour rushed to his face and he stopped speaking. Flustered.
It seemed impossible that he could be dazzled by her, her, but her cheeks flushed with pleasure because that was definitely what it looked like. The sunflowers, so cheery and wild, were indeed still her favourite. She liked them even more, though, for the fact that he of all people had remembered.
“Thanks,” she managed. “I didn’t – I didn’t think you’d come - you know. I know it must be hard for you to come back here.”
The brightness of his eyes faltered for a moment, before he seemed to smile only more broadly because of it. “As if I would have missed your first performance for anything.”
“Thank you,” she said again.
An awkward silence stretched between them, fond, but filled with too many years and words left unsaid. The old memories and the new all swelled inside her.
“Let me take you for dinner,” he said, and her euphoria rose and crashed cold just as quickly. “I’ll go and get the carriage while you get ready. It’s been much too long.”
“Harry, wait—” She didn’t know how to finish. There was no good way to finish. Nobody in their right mind would turn down an invitation to dine with the Viscount Potter, and more to the point she wanted to. She’d missed him. They weren't children anymore and life had become busy for them both.
He paused, his brow furrowing a little as he stared at her, waiting for her to finish the sentence.
She looked down at the sunflowers in her hand and shoved aside her nervousness.
“I’d love to.”
His whole face lit up. He hesitated, before moving to press a chaste kiss to her cheek.
“You really were great, Gin. I’m so proud of you. I always knew you could do it.”
Ginny exhaled a shaky breath as the door closed, leaning back against the dressing room table as the sound of his footsteps faded away. She set down the sunflowers and squared her shoulders, her heart pounding for an entirely different reason now.
The opera house bustled with all of the typical post show cacophony; the clattering of dressers and chattering voices, congratulating each other on a job well done. On a normal night, a year ago, Ginny would have been in one of the other rooms, crowded with all of the other dancers, helping undo hairpins and wipe away the last of their stage-make up. Someone might pass around some whiskey because it was opening night. They would be laughing.
Ginny had always dreamed of being a singer, of being something special, but now that it was finally happening it didn’t seem real.
Now that it was finally happening…
She squeezed her eyes shut.
“You did very well.” His voice, like it always did, sounded from the shadows of the room beyond her line of sight. “You have come a long way from when I first met you.”
It was quiet praise in the grand scheme of such things, but coming from the dizzying heights of his expected standard, the words meant she really must have been perfect. The tension eased out of her shoulders that she hadn’t disappointed him.
“Tom.” She turned to follow the sound of him. “It’s all because of your teaching – thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Tom hummed, and she couldn’t tell if it was a pleased hum or not. It was beautiful, as his voice always was, rich and melodic even when he wasn’t singing. He had come to her a little over a year ago; her teacher, her guide, her angel of music in the dark hours of the night.
Under his tutelage it felt like everything was possible for her.
Under his tutelage there was no chance of ever escaping his tightening grip.
“You did very well,” he said again. “Which makes it more the pity that this brave young suitor of yours seems so content to infringe upon our glory. He is proud? He did nothing. He has no claim to you.”
There it was. Ginny swallowed, her mouth abruptly dry, though she did her best to compose her expression.
“The Viscount Potter is very generous,” she murmured, her mind racing. “He means no harm. He would invite any of us to dinner-”
“My dear Ginny,” he sighed, like she was a dumb and silly girl. “You have come a long way, and your talent is beyond doubt, but do you really wish to squander your potential on this boy?”
“Of course not, but-”
“Of course not,” he said. “So I will see no distractions from your lessons.” That beautiful voice sharpened – warning, dangerous.
Normally, it was the point in the last few months when she would have crumbled and caved. No, she didn’t need to waste time going out with the chorus girls, it was true that she had to practice if she was going to reach her full potential. No, she didn’t think she knew better than him.
Eventually everyone had stopped asking her to go anywhere with them, they stopped asking if she was okay. An opera house was always busy and she had just been another body, easily replaced, quiet.
She couldn’t have said if it was the memory of the audience’s applause or Harry’s smile which so buoyed her in that moment.
“He won’t be a distraction,” she tried, squaring her shoulders. “It’s only dinner. One night. It will be odd if I won’t go, it’s technically his opera house-”
She knew it was a mistake as soon as the words escaped her lips.
“His opera house?”
Her stomach dropped.
“I didn’t mean—”
“It is my opera house, Ginevra. You are my star. As you said yourself, you could not have possibly achieved any of this without me.” His voice had shifted to something terribly cold in a way that made her stomach hurt. “Unless,” he said silkily, “your one night in the spotlight has left you so confident that you seek to discontinue our lessons…?”
“No,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
All geniuses had their sticking points, and her acquaintance with him had proven him that. Sometimes, if she’d done particularly well on a class, she had been able to persuade him to play or sing for her - from wherever he resided, because she’d never seen his face. She only ever heard him, never seen him, but with a voice like that hearing was enough.
He could paint whole worlds with his singing, put sirens to shame, move a statue to tears. There was nothing like it. It was magic.
But when she disappointed him...well. The opera had suffered its fair share of accidents within its long and illustrious history. That didn’t mean she didn’t know when they were her fault. The chandelier which had nearly killed the previous lead, Celestina Warbeck, was the only reason she had ever got her chance at all.
Any of Ginny’s lingering happiness turned clammy.
“No,” she said again, a little louder. She didn’t know what he would do if she tried to get rid of him but she doubted it would be good.
Funny, how she would have yearned to hear those words not so long ago, before she learned what he was truly like. The sound of his voice used to fill her with excitement. All she felt then was dread.
She toyed with the sunflowers on the table for a moment longer, with hopes and dreams and love, before sweeping them aside and letting them fall. A thick lump lodged in her throat. The silence slowly sunk into the room, before he spoke again. He sounded closer this time, closer than he ever had before and - she gasped as she felt a cool hand touch hers.
“It’s alright.” He squeezed her fingertips. “I’m not angry with you, Ginny. You were quite perfect. In fact, I think it’s time that we met properly, don’t you?”
She turned to face him, to see him, and all thoughts of Harry and distractions were gone.
I congratulate you on the stunning debut of your new opera.
I thank you for leaving my box open as requested, and now ask that you do not attempt to make contact with Miss Weasley again. I am sure you can agree that her performance was heavenly, and we would not wish to see that jeopardised. Do not worry, she is under the tutelage of her Angel of Music and will not be harmed.
Everything will go perfectly if you simply continue doing as I have instructed. As I told your predecessor Mr Fudge, Miss Brown also requires replacement. Her footwork is disastrous, and she sets the whole stage off. See to it.
Harry’s fist clenched around the note, crumpling the paper into a ball.
He’d thought, once, that the fire which destroyed his home may also have destroyed the phantom which stalked the depths of the opera house. It seemed he was wrong. As the opera house was rebuilt LV had returned too – demanding his ideas for the good of the opera be followed, with dire consequences to follow for any perceived disobedience.
It had all been for nothing.
Would the creature take Ginny too? No. Harry wouldn’t allow it. Maybe he’d already allowed too much, been blind for too long.
Ginny had been missing when he returned to see what was keeping her, and the sunflowers he had given her had their petals scattered across the dressing room floor. After that, there had been no sign of her again until mere hours before the next performance, and the only thing she would say then was that she had been with her singing instructor.
Harry could just imagine who that singing instructor was, and it made his chest ache. There was a bad taste in his mouth.
Once upon a time, when he was a young orphan growing up in the wings of the opera house that had once belonged to his parents, he’d met a young boy with the most exceptional voice. He’d appeared one day when Harry had been singing to himself, doing the chores that his Uncle Vernon had set him. Harry had just assumed Tom was the child of one of the many stagehands.
For years, Tom had been his best friend when he had no one.
It was only, later, when he met the Weasleys and learned what real friends were supposed to be like that he realised that Tom had never been his friend at all.
That night, Harry took great vindictive pleasure in settling himself in the phantom’s requested box to watch the show.
He wasn’t going to stand by and let this happen anymore.
The phantom’s box held undoubtedly the best seats in the house. There was an unrestricted view of the stage, but it was private too, a secluded nook of lush red (once green) velvet curtains and seats.
Harry had been watching for some fifteen minutes when he felt the sharp tip of a weapon press up against the undefended softness of his throat from behind. He hadn’t heard the door open, nor anyone enter. Tom always had been light on his feet.
“You bait me, Viscount.”
Harry sucked in a breath, more at the voice than the blade. He had expected both, of course, but the sound of that voice still seized his insides like a vice. He resisted the urge to turn around – to see how that handsome young face had changed with the years.
His fingers flexed on his chair, nonetheless.
Ginny’s singing rang lovely and clear, stringing along every nerve ending in his body. Harry resisted the urge to rub his throat.
“Do I?” Harry was proud his voice remained steady. “And what was your letter, if not a demand for response? Maybe I simply wanted to catch up with an old friend.”
Tom had no immediate response to that, so Harry was going to take it as a victory. He could practically feel Tom’s eyes resting on him, examining him, dissecting him.
“Sublime, isn’t she?” Tom said, finally.
“You’ve taught her well,” Harry replied. “I’ll give you that. Why have you taught her well?”
It was not, if Harry recalled and he recalled far too vividly, in Tom’s nature to simply act out of altruism.
The knife at his throat pressed in tighter.
“Why do you no longer sing, Harry? You used to have a rather sublime voice yourself, if I do remember correctly...and I never forget a voice.”
The whole atmosphere seemed to tighten at that, and Harry caught a glimpse of a pale hand in his periphery vision before slender fingers caressed down his jaw.
“You were one of the first that they got out. I highly doubt the damage was so severe.”
“No,” Harry kept his tone light. “It wasn’t. Until I ran back in.” The fingers stopped stroking abruptly. Harry took a sip of his complimentary wine to ensure he kept his composure. When he set the glass down again he tilted his head to try and see Tom, despite the blade, and caught the edges of a bone-white mask. “I thought my best friend was still in there. I wasn’t about to leave him, was I?”
“You’re lying.” Nails dug into his skin, drawing blood. “We were hardly friends by the end. You thought I was a monster.”
Harry didn’t even flinch, he laughed a little actually.
“You are a monster,” he replied. “A murderer. That didn’t mean I was going to leave you to burn.” He shook his head, just a fraction. “I didn’t get very far anyway; it doesn’t take very many breaths of smoke to knock a ten-year-old unconscious. So, I’ll ask again, Tom. Why are you teaching her? It’s not like you to not want the attention for yourself.”
“Sweet Ginny Weasley.” Tom’s hand began to stroke again, hypnotic, and Harry’s mind flashed to all of the times he’d seen Tom pluck the strings of an instrument with the same care and control. “Imagine my surprise when one day I heard her singing a piece of my music. A song that I had only ever shown one other person before.”
Realisation clicked, and Harry closed his eyes. Pained. He hadn’t spoken about his life at the opera much after the fire, but in the few memories he had shared, that song had been one of them. He’d forgotten he’d ever mentioned it to her. She had been Ron’s younger sister after all, he hadn’t meant to ignore her but…well. She’d never said anything.
“She had so many stories of you.” Tom’s voice had filled with something like hunger. “She was quite smitten with you, you know, back in the day. Tell me. If you no longer sing, why does she know that song?”
“I don’t sing,” Harry insisted. At least, not like he used to. It hurt. "Answer my question. You owe me that much."
Tom stayed silent again for a long moment, absorbing that.
“There has only ever been one voice I truly have wished to write music for, but she is talented.” His touch dipped over Harry’s throat. “I suspected you might come, if she performed. Would you ever have come back here if she didn’t?”
Harry’s fingers flexed on the arms of the chair again. He itched to whip around, to look Tom properly in the face, to do any number of things. He released a shaky breath and could almost taste the smoke again. Smoke and blood and ruin. He kept his eyes on Ginny - alive, whole, saveable.
“Will you let her go, if you can have me?”
He had vague memories of an underground hall, of candles and a grand piano. Of music. Such haunting, other-worldly music.
The knife moved, tipping Harry’s head up, finally letting him look at that face. One side was as handsome as Harry remembered, with dark wavy hair and elegant features. The other side was covered by the mask Harry didn’t recall – white, skull-like, with a blazing scarlet eye like hellfire behind it.
Their gazes locked.
Tom laughed, so softly. Harry felt him lean down, felt the brush of lips against the scar he’d received in the battle before the opera house burned.
“But you already told me,” Tom said. “That you can no longer sing. What use, then, could I possibly have for you now?”
Despite everything, it stung, even when he knew that was all that Tom had ever truly cared about. Harry’s jaw clenched.
“You didn’t want to be mine.” Tom’s voice turned vicious. “You’re lucky that I do not kill you now. I could. But…I can be generous. If you do as you are told, and run this opera house as I command it, we will not have any problems. No more accidents. That’s what you always wanted, wasn’t it? To stop the accidents. You wouldn’t stop looking.”
Harry felt a bead of blood form on his throat as the knife broke skin.
Tom’s twisted expression composed itself, his grip gentled, and he offered Harry a one-sided smirk.
"Just say yes, Harry. Be a good boy. She is mine, leave her to me. And leave the opera to me - it is in good hands.”
Tom was gifted. No doubt, technically, the opera would shine like it had never done before. It would be dark and innovative and change the world.
And everyone within its walls would be trapped beneath the exacting thumb of a monster. Nothing would ever be good enough.
He imagined how frightened Ginny must feel, how powerless, as the creeping realisation of Tom’s possessiveness washed over her. His need for control. His demand for perfection. His need to punish anyone who swayed from the vision he had set out for them.
That had been Harry once.
Tom’s expression hardened too, at whatever resolve he saw on Harry’s face.
“You have one chance, Viscount Potter. I suggest you take it. Next time you bait me, I will not be so forgiving.”
Then, he was gone.
“You,” Harry said into the darkness, because the darkness was always listening. “Have never once been forgiving.”