“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.”
“Harry.” Fear flashed across Ginny’s face at the sight of him, there and gone in an instant as she wrestled it under control. His heart ached at how good she had got at hiding it – no one was that good without practice. “I mean, Viscount—” she started to correct herself to his title.
“His name is Tom Marvolo Riddle.”
She froze, staring at him with wide uncertain eyes.
He smiled at her, faintly, as much as he could manage and shut the door to the storage room behind him. She’d been avoiding him since the first performance a few nights ago but he knew this opera house better than most. He knew most of the hiding spaces – though not as many as he might have done once. Still. He’d had the place rebuilt as faithfully to the original as he could with only a child’s memories and some old blueprints to go by.
Clearly, he hadn’t built it well enough. He’d tried finding Tom’s lair on his own since their conversation, but the twisting labyrinths beneath the opera house were nothing like he remembered them being. He couldn’t find his way.
Harry continued, even if it wasn’t exactly proper to be alone with her in such a small space.
“I knew him, back from when I was here the first time around.”
“I know,” Ginny said. She swallowed, somewhere between nervous to admit even that much, and defiantly doing it anyway. Her gaze darted around the dark corners of the room, as if to seek out any way that Tom might be listening to them. “He has your picture. In his…home.”
Harry’s heart raced at that. He hoped it didn’t show on his face.
“You’ve been there.”
She hesitated, before nodding.
“Can you remember the way?”
He needed to see Tom away from people, where they would be on even ground. To finish it the way they started it. Together, and alone.
This time, she hesitated for longer; either unsure or unwilling to answer him. In the end she said nothing.
Harry sighed. He ran his fingers over the dusty old props and masks and cardboard boxes that were piled up against the walls. The place looked otherwise pristine, like it had never been a smouldering wreckage. History, wiped out, still lurking beneath the surface.
He’d tried thinking of the best way forward, but every time he was struck with the inevitable catch: Tom wasn’t concerned about collateral, and Harry was. Harry could have sat himself in the phantom’s box again, he could have ordered a search (though he doubted even a manhunt would do much good), but any overt act of attack before he was ready would lead to brutal retaliation. Tom had more than proven himself capable of that.
And, whatever Tom was wrong about, he was right that Harry had never wanted anyone to get hurt. He didn’t want Ginny hurt. Even without his own fondness, he could only imagine the horror of having to tell Mrs Weasley that her only daughter was dead in what was, technically, his opera house. He could imagine the look on Tom’s face, older now than the boy he had known, as he murmured to Harry that it was all his fault for not surrendering early.
“You know he’s dangerous,” he said. “I can see it in your face. In the way you won’t talk to me.”
“You know him,” she replied, “you’ll know why that is. You know what he can do to you. Harry, just—" she took a step towards him, before catching herself. She looked down instead. “Just do as he asks.” She tried for a smile. “I’ll be a star, it’s not so bad. He’s very talented.”
The Ginny Weasley who Harry remembered had been shy, but the woman in front of him now was a ghost. She looked thin and strained, somehow hunted, like she wanted to shrink herself not because she didn’t dare speak up but because she wanted to make herself as small a target as possible. It was nothing like the radiant, feisty, clever Ginny Weasley’s of Ron’s letters who he’d so looked forward to meeting, nor the shining star he saw perform on the stage each evening.
Leave her to him? Absolutely not.
“Ginny.” He resisted the urge to take a step closer in turn, not wanting to crowd her when she was already spooked, nor wanting to give Tom reason to be angry with her. “I don’t know how the opera burnt the first time, the only thing anyone was sure of was that it wasn’t an accident. He is not someone you can control by doing what he asks. Part of it is for the music, part of it will always be for the music, but part of it is simply because he enjoys cruelty. He enjoys power. You have to let me help you, you have to get far away from here, or he is going to drain the life out of you for himself. Please.”
She looked back at him, at that. Her fingers curled at her sides. He could imagine too well the terrors whirling through her head – the possibility of everything Tom could do and would do if he was in the mind to wound. He could imagine, too, the desperate longing for freedom. It was all there on her face. A maelstrom.
That time, he couldn’t keep himself back.
He took her hands in his and squeezed. He wished he could wrap his arms around her, shelter her as he had never sheltered herself.
“You believe he started the fire? He was so…” she sounded lost. “So kind, when I met him. I trusted him. I didn’t know…”
God, he knew. The Tom who Harry had known hadn’t always been kind, but he’d been charming and funny and so full of life that Harry couldn’t keep his eyes off him.
They’d both given their minds, their hearts, so blindly.
Their gazes met, and this time Harry was the one who found himself staring. He knew, and she knew, and he’d never met anyone who could understand before.
“I can’t leave in the middle of the season,” she said, after a moment, a little raspy. “We can’t just stop the show. After everything that happened the first time, the opera house won’t survive. People already talk that this place is haunted.”
There was a hint of the fire he had heard so much about when she squeezed his hand back.
“I don’t know the way to his home,” she said. “It was so – dark, when he took me there. But I can find out.”
“We both know you need me to do this. It is the only way we can fight him on even ground.”
That shut his mouth. However reluctant he was to accept it, it was true. Tom knew him too well to be so easily baited out when he didn’t want to be, and he could still strike at any moment if the two of them decided to play a long game. He didn’t like it though, not at all.
“You have no guarantee that he will let you go. If he gets even a hint that you are trying to play him—”
“He won’t expect it from me.” She let go of his hands. “He thinks I’m a dumb, silly girl who only exists to be his voice instead of my own.”
She sucked in a breath, like she’d surprised herself saying it, but she didn’t take it back.
It was true that Tom was arrogant. Brilliant, without a question, but only more arrogant because of that. He considered Ginny a tool and so he would never consider her a threat.
He considered Harry a threat. If Harry asked questions, Tom would notice. They were already pushing it on how much time they could reliably get away with stealing together.
Harry still wanted to protest, but she already knew it was dangerous, so what could he say? That, no, she shouldn’t fight for her own freedom? That he didn’t need her? That there wasn’t a risk people would die if he simply spirited her away? He wanted to. So badly. She was a chess piece to Tom – an important one, perhaps, for now, but not one he was incapable of sacrificing.
No doubt, she knew that too.
Tom would command her to simply do as she was told. He would insist that he knew best. That her opinion on the matter was irrelevant.
“Okay,” Harry said. “Learn what you can, for now.” Tom was planning something with all of this, but Harry still didn’t know his specific plans and not knowing Tom’s specific plans felt like asking for trouble. “But be…be careful.” He couldn’t stress it enough. The warning still seemed too small.
“What are you going to do?” she asked, watching his expression.
“Me?” Harry skimmed his gaze over all of the old props again, before picking up one of the masks. The idea flickered through his head. “I’m going to make sure that his attention isn’t on you.”
“Harry. When you see him again, properly, what are you going to do?”
“Something I should have done a long time ago.”
That night, as he did most nights, Harry dreamed of music and fire.
The memories blurred like melted candlewax – fragments of the boy he’d known, dashed through with blood and the more recent feeling of a blade against his throat. Of Tom, much older, grown into a terrible handsomeness. They’d been children when they last met. They were not children now.
In dreaming, Tom hummed a haunting tune, moving ever closer to Harry as the flames danced around them. He curled a hand around Harry’s neck. His voice wrapped around Harry like smoke, even when his lips didn’t move.
Harry wanted to speak but he couldn’t. His throat burned and hurt ravaged like those first days in the hospital. He was struck mute.
“When music is done right,” Tom murmured. “It, like love, lives forever. It never lets you go.”
His grip tightened.
Harry couldn’t breathe. He reached a hand up to rip Tom’s hand away but there was nothing to hold, his fingers passed right through like Tom was only smoke too. An old ghost, rippling in front of him.
Tom leaned in closer still, his lips like ice against Harry’s ear.
Harry awoke, gasping, drenched in cold sweat. His hand flew to his throat but there was nothing there except the old locket tucked beneath his clothes like always.
The old words, the question, lingered in the air.
Don’t you want to be immortal?
The next few weeks of performances were much like the life that Ginny had come to expect. She would perform in the evenings and in the nights the phantom would appear and lead her down into the darkness below the opera house.
His chamber of secrets was enormous, lined with grand statues and surrounded by a pool of water that flickered like molten gold in the light of his lantern. She doubted she’d seen even a small fraction of the rooms and tunnels it led to, winding all the way around the roots of the building.
He seemed – Ginny would have assumed he should be content, given surely everything was going the way that he wanted, but he seemed on edge. The music he played was fast and full of a violent passion, fingers flying upon the bone white keys of a piano.
She did her best to keep up.
“No.” The music cut. His hands slammed the lid down.
He never got close, always staying in the shadows so she couldn’t get a proper look at him. She got impressions. Dark hair, neater than Harry’s, and pale skin almost as white as the mask which covered half of his face. Delicate hands. The sharp curve of a high cheekbone.
“No.” It came out as a hiss, almost serpentine, as he glowered at her across the instrument. “Your voice isn’t right.”
She stopped. Her throat ached, dully.
The words, despite everything, despite her plans to lead Harry to him so that he could be taken down for good as they had planned, didn’t feel good. She trained, and she trained, and she trained. He’d been encouraging at first, when they first met, but in the last few weeks he was –
“I’m trying.” It came out barely audible, and she hated herself for how pathetic she sounded. “If we did a different song—"
“No.” The words cracked over her like a whip. He swiped a hand and notes upon notes of music scattered into the air.
He exhaled a breath, his head swivelling as he rolled it back over his shoulders.
Whether he knew she was trying to learn the route enough to tell his secrets or not, she was hit by the sudden nagging sensation that it was a terrible idea to allow herself to be alone with him night after night. He’d never hurt her so far, but…
But the opera had a long and bloody history. Celestina Warbeck nearly being squashed by that chandelier, the death of Myrtle Warren found in the stone bathroom walls after the opera burnt, where she’d clearly been trapped while she was still alive. People whispered that her pained moans had echoed in the pipes for weeks before she finally died, and they only realised what the sounds had been after they discovered the body.
“Why is this so important?” she asked. “This song…”
It wasn’t a song for anything the opera was currently showing, nor any that she had ever heard before. She’d grown up hearing a lot of songs, and she’d never heard…
It felt like she was singing half of a duet, without knowing what the other part was supposed to be. She was to sing of love, and longing, and hope. She was sure she’d been hitting the right notes.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he said.
She gritted her teeth and didn’t snap that she didn’t understand because he wasn’t explaining. She tracked his movements instead, the way he stalked along his space like it wasn’t anywhere near enough for him.
She didn’t ask him if she could go home.
She took a deep breath, and summoned her courage.
“Is it because of him? Viscount Potter?”
His head snapped towards her. It still felt odd to think of him as ‘Tom’, he had never introduced himself as such to her. He had always been ‘Lord Voldemort’; more of a myth than a man. He appeared torn, no doubt not expecting her to understand that either, but possibly wanting to talk and prove his superiority in all things regardless.
After a moment, he moved closer then with slow deliberate steps. He barely made a sound, and in the thick silence Ginny could almost hear the lingering echo of that haunting song.
His icy hand rose to grip her throat, closing against it with an almost mocking gentleness. Her hand twitched with the urge to seize hold of his wrist, to yank him back. She felt certain that to do that would provoke a response. A bad one. She’d done it once, in the beginning, and…
“Music is a soul,” he murmured. “When it is done right, it, like love, lives forever. It has power beyond imagining.” His nails dug in. “But it must be done right. Otherwise it dies forgotten in memory, if not in the opening night. I thought you might have the potential to see this, to understand, to do what I need you to, but…perhaps I was wrong.” It seemed a threat, but he didn’t say it like one. He spoke quietly and with an inward sort of disappointment, as if considering the realisation that she might fail him. That, of course, she would fail him. As if he’d wanted, so very much, to not be wrong about her. “Perhaps, you will die upon the stage as so many of the mediocre voices before you, crying out for your moment of stardom when I could give you the sun.”
He let go of her abruptly. He smiled, like no danger had ever been there.
She swallowed. She looked down again, at the notes and lyrics in her hands, as dark as the night and as full of its seductive promises. She looked at the pieces of paper scattered across the floor, filled with the same writing – scribbled over and refined and perfected in this lonely place.
But he hadn’t written this part for her, had he? That was why she couldn’t get it right to his vision even when she knew she’d hit the notes. She would never be able to get it right. Not for him. Because she wasn’t Harry, and Harry didn’t sing anymore.
“How will you get it performed?” she asked.
He turned away; dismissing the question, dismissing her.
“Again,” he said. “From the start.”
It took a month or so to organise. A few weeks in which, outwardly at least, the dust seemed to have settled. There were no more accidents. Harry left Voldemort’s box untouched. He saw Ginny only to check in, to make sure that she wasn’t hurt, because surely Tom couldn’t expect him not to do that.
He dreamed. Over and over, he dreamed.
Then, finally, he left a letter where he knew Tom would find it.
The opera is hosting a masquerade to raise funds for the very expensive chandelier you broke in a temper tantrum.
I may not sing anymore but I do still decide what performances we will host.
Save me a dance.
Thanks for all of the encouraging comments! It is good to be back. I have missed these two. I'm feeling a little rusty, but I'm also trying to approach these two in a different way because I think there are so many ways to explore their dynamic, especially in an AU context where it's more the idea/concept/vibe than anything remotely JKR.
And, for reals, there actually will be 5 chapters this time because for once I have come up with a vague plot before I write rather than just winging it completely.
I guess we'll see how it goes. Fingers crossed! More Tom and Harry actually talking in the next one...
Rich music danced through the grand halls of the opera house, waltzing around the fine suits and extravagant dresses. Harry watched from a distance.
He had never attended the lavish parties that the Dursley’s used to throw – his job had been to pretend that he didn’t exist – and so he and Tom would lurk in the shadowed corners with only each other for company. They would listen to the sounds of people belonging, or trying so very hard to. They would pretend at adulthood and try out the steps, only for Harry to end up laughing. The memory ached like a rotten tooth.
Maybe that made Harry all the more foolish for finding one of those shadowy corners now, away from the brilliant twinkle of lights and all of the guests he was supposed to be attending to. With everyone in the foyer, and the bar, it was empty behind the stage.
He’d planned to have Tom come and find him in the ballroom, surrounded by people, where perhaps there was a chance collateral, but Tom would also be in some way less himself. Maybe that would still happen. Maybe-
Tom’s voice remained perfectly audible even above the swelling strains of the first string-quartet.
Harry had definitely been foolish.
Opera houses were generally set up so that everyone could see who else was in attendance. The audience, the society, were the show as much as the performance was. The box, therefore, while offering some illusion of privacy hadn’t truly been the two of them alone. This was…Harry swallowed. He turned.
Tom’s black suit blended him with the darkness enough that it took Harry a few seconds to spot him. He leaned against the back of the stage as if he had been there for some time without Harry’s knowledge, observing him. Harry could have believed it, but he didn’t think it was true.
“It’s Voldemort these days, isn’t it?” he replied.
Neither of them moved.
Then, Tom held out a pale hand and Harry stepped closer in the same heartbeat. Tom’s fingers were cold as they clasped his own and reeled him close with one graceful pull. Dancing. Of course. He fell into step, no more fumbling bashful childish steps now. Harry’s throat locked tight. How could he possibly feel more exposed, here, with no one but Tom to see than he would dancing with Tom in the centre of the dazzling ballroom surrounded by curious observers?
For the entirety of the song neither of them said anything. Harry knew he’d planned words…he just couldn’t seem to remember any of them. He took the opportunity instead to examine the white mask which curved alongside one side of Tom’s face and felt Tom’s attention ravage him turn.
Harry cleared his throat as the second song began. A tango.
“So. You’re still taller than me, you bastard.”
Tom’s eyes widened, because apparently whatever he had expected Harry to say, it wasn’t that. He actually missed a step and Harry nearly trod on his foot. Tom recovered with something almost like a smile. He turned, dipped Harry low and their lips brushed.
“And you,” Tom murmured against his mouth, “are beautiful.”
They were up again, and Harry didn’t falter. He didn’t stumble.
Tom continued. “I always said that being Viscount Potter would suit you. Although, I am certain you should be wearing a mask. That is rather the point of these affairs.”
This wasn’t what Harry had expected. He wasn’t entirely certain what he had expected, but – the fury of what Tom was doing burned in the pit of his stomach, but so many other emotions did too. Old memories, which he’d known would lure Tom, but had hoped himself long since immune to.
“Mm, I thought you’d enjoy the suit,” Harry said. “I did wear it for you.”
Tom’s grip tightened, like he couldn’t help himself. Harry ached to press closer, wanting to snatch up every sound and every clue, decipher the way Tom’s breath stuttered like it was a morse code to tell him all of the secrets of the past and future. Instead. He danced.
The suit was tailored, and so deep a green that it was almost black, but not quite. The green shone through when the material caught the light.
“Did you now?” Whatever advantage Harry had momentarily had, swung, at the way Tom asked that question in so silky a tone. In so ‘so you’re trying to impress me’ a tone. Heat rushed to Harry’s face.
“I mean –“
Harry glared at him, though he wasn’t sure it had quite the intended effect in the gloom. “As for masks,” he said. “Perhaps we have always worn too many. You certainly don’t need another.”
“Oh, Harry.” Tom shoved him back without warning, pinning Harry’s wrists to the wall. “Is that what you had planned for tonight? Unmasking me?”
Harry’s head spun. The tune of the tango continued to drift from the ballroom, its dance cut off and incomplete. He yanked his hands against Tom’s hold to test the strength of the grip – tight enough, it seemed, that if he wanted to free himself he would have to commit himself to a proper fight.
Tom’s voice, too, had shifted vicious again. As if it had never been a velvety, teasing purr.
“Really?” Harry raised his brows. “I thought we’d get through at least the tango. Seemed like your type of thing. Or is it only murder and threatening young women that you like these days?”
Tom, back when Harry had known him, had always been prone to a volatile temper, but the mood swings hadn’t been like this.
Tom laughed, and it was decidedly cooler a sound this time.
“You expect me to believe you invited me for the sole purpose of dancing? I’m not a fool.”
“I invited you,” Harry’s said, “because you want me to run this opera house like a professional. Which means we act like professionals. Which means you don’t pin me up against the wall, or threaten people, or burn the place down like a complete psychopath. Or is that not you what you wanted?”
The music continued to play, but it felt abruptly distant. Silence fell over them both. Tom Riddle was speechless. Harry might have been proud of that on another occasion. As it was, his heart slammed in his ears, his blood roaring. And Tom…
Tom kissed him.
“What do you mean,” Tom said. “You can’t leave.”
“There’s a school,” Harry said. “For singing. You could come too. Once Dumbledore hears you, he’ll have to let you. You’re incredible. It’s our chance to get out of here.”
Tom was already shaking his head, and it was the first time Harry had ever seen something like horror on his face.
“But…the performance…you don’t need to go to some old man’s school. They don’t have anyone here who can sing after Moaning Myrtle vanished, they could give the part to you. The Dursley’s will have to. There’s no one else.”
“I don’t want to stay here.” It came out too loud. “Tom, I…” Harry closed his eyes. “We could go anywhere, do anything. I don’t even like the opera that much! It’s not what I want to do. I mean, its not like the songs here reach who they need to anyway. Anyone who comes here is the Dursley’s friends, or people like the Malfoys’ who can afford tickets. It’s not…I want real music. Living music. Music that ordinary people love.” He opened his eyes, meeting Tom’s gaze, willing him to see how bright and amazing the world could be. The world they could have, together. “There’s more to life than the opera.”
Tom looked utterly appalled.
“This is your home. This is our home.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
“I said you’re not leaving.” Tom’s voice had risen now too, his shoulders tensed. “I have not done everything I’ve done for you, just for some old coot to steal you away from me.”
Harry stopped. Something uneasy prickled in his gut, at the look on Tom’s face, at…
“What do you mean everything you’ve done? Tom, what did you do?”
The opera burnt that night.
Harry had never thought about kissing Tom when they first knew each other. He hadn’t really thought about kissing anyone when he was a kid. Tom’s kiss was a possessive thing, far removed from the chaste and courteous pecks on the cheek that Harry had received in his life so far.
Tom’s lips seared through him, and Harry…
Harry kissed back. He kissed Tom like he was oxygen, not so much wanted as necessary. Something that was as much a part of him as his own heart, bloodied and broken though it might have been. He kissed Tom breathless, like he could rewrite the past and fix everything, like maybe he and Tom could have the kind of story that would end with a kiss and not with a kill. He kissed him and kissed him and kissed him.
Tom’s fingers moved from his wrists to steal greedily beneath the fabric of Harry’s shirt, chilly against warm skin. Harry seized hold of a fistful of Tom’s dark hair, pressing closer with a gasp. Tom’s mask cut stinging against his lip. He wasn’t sure he cared, except for the fact that it meant he couldn’t get closer still.
“Sing,” Tom breathed, against his mouth.
Tom pulled away, breathless, eyes dark and wild and fixed on him. “Sing something for me. Anything.” He moved in once more, and this time his lips found the soft lines of Harry’s throat, kissing down and –
There was no room to rear back nor recoil.
Tom's face flashed anger at the refusal, that intoxicating heat disappearing, replaced by something cold and steely. “You will.”
Harry pushed Tom, hard. The anger, temporarily drowned, rushed back with enough force that it felt it could knock him right off his feet. It licked up his bones like sparks to gasoline.
Tom looked ready to lunge, poised in the darkness; Harry’s own personal nightmare all grown up.
“Is that what this is about?” Harry demanded. “You kissing me? You-”
“You,” Tom said, and his voice was raw. “Have haunted me across the years. They call me the ghost, but you…”
“I said you could have me, if you let her go. You didn’t want me then. You-“
“I don’t want you now!” Tom made an unexpected grab for Harry’s jaw, viper quick, tipping his head up. “You have all but admitted that your voice is of no use to me, and yet…” Tom’s grip softened and his hand smoothed down Harry’s throat. They caught the locket chain disappearing beneath Harry’s shirt and stopped.
Ah. No. That wasn’t quite it, was it? Harry’s eyes narrowed as Tom’s voice trailed off, as the man stared at him like he couldn’t quite rip his attention away. No doubt, Tom didn’t want to want him. But that wasn’t entirely the same thing as not wanting him, though he suspected Tom wasn’t exactly aware of the difference. Did Tom even know how to name what he was feeling now?
“And yet,” Tom said again, and as the music of the tango faded to silence his voice was so soft. “I need to hear it. So sing for me.”
Harry seized Tom’s wrists in turn, digging his nails in, because he wasn’t sure he could bear the way Tom was looking at him. It wasn’t the way that Tom used to look at him. But then, Tom likely hadn’t thought about kissing him the last time they met either. They had been children. He’d never been more aware that neither of them were now.
A dozen possible responses weighed on Harry tongue, before:
“Are you going to let Ginny go?”
Tom sneered, the curl of his lip nearly a snarl. His fingers tightened on Harry’s throat, almost reflexively, and Harry couldn’t have said if it was the thought of losing he to him, or because he was the one asking for her.
“Well, then.” Harry flashed an overly bright smile back. “I’m afraid I cannot help you.”
“I could hurt her.”
“Oh, please. Do you believe that would give you what you want? Or are you simply lashing out in desperation?”
Tom looked ready to murder him, letting go as if scalded, which meant Harry was winning. Tom wouldn’t do anything that admitted to his own desperation – to his own need, or weakness as he no doubt considered it.
“Why?” Harry asked, gentler, because whatever else they had been they had been friends once. Or something like it. “Why do you need this?”
“I need to know.”
Know what? That wasn’t an answer. The next song started up and Harry let go too, stepping away. The silence stretched and Harry gave a small shake of his head, turning.
“I have a ball to attend. Excuse me.”
“I need to know,” Tom bit out. “Or I will never be free of you. Whatever spell you have on me, you will sing, and you will break it this instant.”
Harry kept walking and he didn’t look back.
“Fine,” Tom called after him. Then, louder. “Fine. I’ll leave the girl be. Just sing.”
Harry nearly froze again. Of course, he’d hoped leverage would give him what he wanted, but he’d never actually thought Tom would want so badly as to make that negotiation. He hadn’t actually thought it would work. It admitted…did Tom even know how much it confessed to? Even Harry wasn’t sure, but he could feel the weight of it crushing the air between them, and bloody hell. Now he was going to have to sing – or, well, try to.
Tom followed after him, taking Harry’s hand. Harry realised then, as Tom pulled it away, that his own had risen unconsciously to his throat. His fingers flexed.
He eyed Tom, warily, muscles tensed. Wasn’t this the sort of deal he’d hoped for when they first met again? Something that would fix the problem. Except, what could it fix, because he couldn’t be what Tom wanted any more. He couldn’t sing. But he couldn’t not do it, not when it might save Ginny.
Tom raised a brow.
Harry drew in a shaky breath, and closed his eyes. He tried to find some sense of calm. Singing always used to bring him that, but not…not for a long time. It used to be easy.
He sang and…well, it sounded like burnt down ruins did, raspy and abandoned. Like he’d swallowed a mouthful of gravel. And…it hurt. God, it hurt. He did okay on the range of his speaking voice, when he kept it quiet, but the second he tried to belt like he’d once done it was like trying to breathe through shattered glass. His free hand went to his throat. He was back in the opera house, all those years again, surrounded by rubble and flame. The singing turned to hacking coughs, nearly doubling him over as they ripped through him.
He stopped singing.
Tom had let go of his hand.
As he recovered and once his eyes stopped watering, Harry forced himself to look at him, because anything else was like baring his soft underbelly and asking to be gutted. He’d told Tom, after all, that he couldn’t sing anymore. What did he have to be ashamed of?
There was absolutely nothing on Tom’s face.
“It’s painful for you,” Tom said. “You look ready to cry.” His head tilted, like it did when he was a boy and curious. “I’ve never seen you cry.”
Harry wished he’d done this somewhere where he had a glass of water.
“I kept my end of the deal-“
Harry stopped, staring at Tom. Tom stared back.
“Keep singing,” Tom ordered again. His stare bore coldly, cruelly into Harry’s. “I didn’t tell you to stop.”
Harry huffed, shaking his head, because Tom must be mad. He’d heard that, right? He’d heard that Harry’s voice was completely wrecked.
“That wasn’t the deal,” he managed. “The deal was that I sing. I sang. We did not specify how long.” It didn't matter. Maybe Tom just wanted to see him in pain. "I do not understand you," Harry said, instead, carefully. "You don’t need me to sing, or Ginny, you never have. I’ve heard you. You could be out there on that stage, blowing people away with your voice, and yet…”
And yet, here they were. Tom hadn’t only been wearing that mask at a masquerade. Tom was still hidden in the shadows of the opera house, not out on the dance floor, not upon the stage. Harry had never once seen him on the stage where he so clearly belonged. Tom loved the opera, more than anything, and yet.
Tom folded his arms.
“Fine, I’ll sing,” Harry said, jutting his chin up. “If you take that mask off.”
Tom’s lip curled, a bitter and mocking thing, and that entire stupid kiss felt a lifetime away.
"Why not?" Harry demanded. "I already know who you are, what you are."
It was the last thing Harry had ever said to Tom, in anger, before the fire swallowed them whole. He faltered.
Tom looked at him with something like triumph, as if to wound was victory.
Harry didn't know what to say. He'd had years to think of what to say and in front of Tom...
“I will be sending you a script shortly,” Voldemort said. “For my opera. You will ensure that it is performed.”
“And will you be performing in this opera yourself?”
It was Tom's turn to turn away.
“You should get back to your ball, Viscount Potter. Your guests will be missing their golden boy.”
When Tom walked away, he didn’t stop or look back.