It was a terrible whiteness.
It was the hideous unrealized potential of things, of all things, pulsing within itself like an erratic beating heart.
In the end he wasn't sure that Dudley Dursley was even aware of him when he stole the boy's soul.
It was not an Opera. As Mephistopheles Tom had made no clear bargain to despairing Doctor Faustus, had promised nothing in return for his fee and the good doctor, for his own part, had only signed the contract because he had mistook it for some more innocent form. It was a superficial relationship based upon misinterpreted implications and unsaid wishes that held no real weight.
They lacked the catharsis of true tragedy.
It was only a few days after Christmas when the first crack appeared in the stitching.
Tom had been with Harry that day in the cupboard, willing to suspend himself to keep the boy company on a day that meant nothing and everything, only a few stray hooks remained in Dudley Dursley's mind there only for necessity. Harry hated Christmas because it reminded him of the parents he didn't have. More so even than his birthday which was never really acknowledged by Harry or the Dursleys themselves, Christmas was about family, about love, and about hope for the future none of which Harry actually possessed.
With a small, sad sort of smile, Harry had made gifts for himself. Strings of make shift Christmas lights, formed from small drops of magic, hung from the cupboard's bare ceiling all shades of light caught within each. They danced, shifting in heavenly spheres like the stars themselves, burning as if they could forever.
Harry being in one of his more solemn and introspective moods Tom had taken it upon himself to start up a conversation.
He had never been chatty, most of his conversations were forced, falsified, and a testament to his acting abilities rather than any desire to speak his mind. Looking back he wondered if he had ever told anyone his true thoughts while remaining human, perhaps a glimmer to Dumbledore, in that first disastrous meeting before his wardrobe had been set on fire but beyond that he had never seen the need.
His isolation in the notebook had loosened his tongue slightly, or at least, it had in regards to Harry. Tom had nothing to say to Dudley and with him those cheery strained conversations that the charade of Tom Riddle perpetuated continued once again. He had found that he did want to speak, to share his view on deeper things, like magic and the universe at large. He enjoyed teaching, to see a spark of understanding in another's eyes, to know that his knowledge would not be trapped with him forever in this shell he had created for himself. Perhaps it was simply that beyond Harry Potter he had never found a being capable of understanding.
He began by talking about time.
"I never realized how intricate time was until I took it from myself." In the notebook he closed his eyes and allowed the illusion of time to pause, to become still life, a replica of his body painted in the wilderness.
In the cupboard Harry said nothing, merely listened, his chin on his knees as he turned his attention away from the Christmas morning he was missing.
"As a human things like weeks, days, years, holidays I took for granted because they seemed so obvious. Christmas seemed somehow more significant than any other day of the year, highlighted, and while I knew mentally that this was a contrived thing it is only now that I see it. Time is like light, comprised of particles and waves all in the same moment, where one can find a single instant, a photon if you will, but at the same time be forced to acknowledge as it moves past you with no real form to it at all. In this way time both exists and doesn't exist in the same moment."
Harry did respond then, through his thoughts words came dripping through to Tom, "So then, are you saying that Christmas, that this doesn't really matter?"
Later, perhaps when he could see Harry face to face, he might tell him about a cat in a box that was alive and dead at the same time. That in life and in magic there is no true single form, everything is dualism, the one face and another in both instants. There is no such thing as duplicity because we are all infinite things at once.
"I'm saying that it means what you let it mean, Harry. Not only because Christmas is an arbitrary Christian tradition that celebrates the life of a carpenter who died two thousand years ago but because it is only a moment caught in the fourth dimension."
Harry laughed, laughed in his cupboard as well, and tried to muffle it with his hands. He'd probably never heard anyone speak so frankly about faith before. Tom Riddle certainly hadn't, not in the orphanage, Mrs. Cole had taken her protestant roots very seriously and demanded her children did the same. Harry, in his miserable and fairly atrocious childhood, had been spared that at least.
"Thanks Tom, for everything." Harry didn't say that it was the best Christmas he'd ever had, that in spite of the fact that he was locked in a cupboard with only his own magic and a voice in his head for company he had never received anything more.
In their own world of light of pressing walls and floating self-made stars Tom could only distantly feel the hurricane that was Dudley's soul as his disappointment of receiving exactly what he had asked for overwhelmed the tenuous chords holding his existence together. The hooks Tom planted began to pull in earnest.
Harry disliked aunt Marge quite a bit, more so even than he disliked Dudley or uncle Vernon. He'd always felt like that, even when he hadn't questioned what family meant in the end, aunt Marge had remained constant. She was a lot like uncle Vernon, her brother, only for her it wasn't Grunnings but her dogs that commanded her attention. Her great jowls would move and brag about her dogs latest winnings as the dark creatures growled and stared at Harry as if looking at their next meal. Even aunt Petunia and to some extent Dudley, Harry felt, didn't like aunt Marge.
Aunt Petunia would always get this look on her face before aunt Marge's visits, a cold grimace usually only given when staring at Harry, and she would take a deep breath to prepare herself for the soon to be empty bottles of gin and the scratched hardwood floors from the dogs nails.
The end of Christmas meant the arrival of Marge Dursley and Harry was set to cleaning without further ado as aunt Petunia fretted over restocking the supply of alcohol and uncle Vernon prepared himself with cheer. Only Dudley seemed indifferent to the whole thing, sitting listlessly on the couch watching television. He'd been like that recently though, more often than usual, it was like Dudley wasn't even really there anymore but was a shell of himself instead. He hadn't even yelled at Harry when he came into vacuum the living room, drowning out the sounds of the television, just stared ahead to the grainy picture on the television.
For a horrifying moment Harry wondered if Dudley was dead. However just then Dudley had shifted, making himself more comfortable, still not saying a word to Harry.
Harry had left without saying a word taking the vacuum with him. He couldn't say he expected better, not after the other day, but somehow that blank oblivious stare hurt more than Dudley's fists ever could.
Now he was here, stowed safely out of the way in the kitchen helping aunt Petunia with the cooking, listening with half an ear to boisterous aunt Marge, uncle Vernon, and the new silent version of Dudley.
Tom was curiously absent in Harry's mind, Harry could still feel him in his own mind, but his eyes and incredible focus were elsewhere leaving a distracted feeling in its place. Not that Harry blamed him, this all was fairly boring, on the best of days Tom tolerated the Dursleys and that was without Marge Dursley in their midst.
They talked a bit about Grunnings, dogs, and finally the conversation turned to something more relevant, the boys. Aunt Marge had made her opinion of both Harry and Dudley very clear since the very beginning, Harry was a no good son of a drunkard while Dudley was a sweet little boy, not much different than the Dursleys view of him just a little cruder in its presentation.
Dudley didn't say a word.
With his head down, focusing on chopping vegetables and not making the mistake of looking one of aunt Marge's dogs in the eye, he couldn't see to the kitchen table where the large trio was sitting picking at hors d'oeurvres and so he wondered if Dudley was as pale as he had been that morning, if he was as blank looking.
The Dursleys had noticed something was a little off about Dudley too, however with the rush of the holidays they had passed it off as a slight illness, they weren't really looking. Once things settled down, they said, they'd take Dudley to the doctor and see if anything was really the matter. Harry wasn't sure why but he had the ominous feeling that it would be too late by then.
Maybe he was wrong though, maybe it was some weird fever, people did get sick sometimes. It wasn't like Harry was an expert or anything, he was pretty sure he had been that pale before, maybe even that blank looking in bad moments.
Tom wasn't paying enough attention to comment on Harry's observations, his presence only a ghost on the walls of his head, and Harry felt the weight of his silence more than he would any words he could have said.
"Honestly Vernon, I don't know why you took that little brat in in the first place." Aunt Marge said in between mouthfuls of food, Harry's knife did not stall in the cutting but his eyes did flick upwards so beyond the lenses of his glasses he could make out their faces.
Uncle Vernon grunted slightly and waved his hand, dismissing Harry's existence and presence in the household, "A damn nuisance he is. He knows he has to earn his keep though, the minute he steps out of line and it's off to the orphanage for him."
"Hm," Aunt Marge agreed without any real commitment, "You'd better watch that boy Vernon, he may be young and whipped into shape now but wait till he gets older and catches his eye on the booze and the girls, like his father."
Harry had seen this play before but he hadn't recognized it for what it was.
Harry used to just stand there, uselessly in a corner, a sharp pain in his chest and tears in his eyes at the thought of his dead parents who must have been more than the Dursleys said they were. He'd changed though, and now he looked past all the pain and instead listened to the quiet buzz of anger that was building in his skull. Tom would have something poetic to say about it, like how they were all reading off of some script they had written in their heads. It sounded good the first time but when you keep looping it over and over and over again it loses any real meaning.
James Potter the alcoholic, Lily Evans the stupid whore, and Harry Potter the delinquent no good son doomed before he could even read.
His heart used to stutter in his chest whenever they talked like this, his eyes would sting, and he'd want to scream blindly that it wasn't and couldn't be true. Now though he just stood and let the anger simmer in his skull and think that they may never learn that you shouldn't disrespect the dead but that because they were incapable of learning it then it didn't matter anyway. It just made them not really people, because people didn't say the same things over and over again, people didn't read scripts in their head. Tom was right, they were caricatures.
Suddenly Dudley stood away from the table, a small pale shadow of a child, his head twisted towards Harry slowly until he was looking at him with glassy dull eyes. For a moment he just stood there, like a puppet whose strings had been jerked and who was poised for action and then his strings were cut.
In the kitchen aunt Petunia dropped a plate, it the glass shattered against cold tiles, and she screamed at the sight of Dudley's lifeless body sprawled on the floor.
In the moment before entering the notebook there had been two Tom Riddles, each staring back at the other, staring into twin blue eyes burning so terribly pale. For a moment he had been duality at the very base of the word, his father's darkened house spinning away from him as reality dripped at the seams, for a moment he was two and then he was one.
It had been a flip of a coin, a single even chance between two equally likely outcomes, and yet it had been him who had descended into the notebook and the other who remained human. The divergence was nothing more than that, a toss of a coin, and it had given them such different destinies in the end.
For a moment Tom was both in the notebook and outside it all at once. He could feel Dudley Dursley being dragged in inch by screaming inch still unaware of the specifics of his situation but beginning to understand the peril of it. Amid the beepings of heart monitors, the dripping of the I.V., and his parents own terror stricken faces he was fading from them inch by inch while Tom stood a transparent shade unnoticed against the wall.
He looked as if he was merely dreaming and perhaps he was in a way, what else was the notebook but a dream, a memory of life. Petunia Dursley had taken his hand and was squeezing it, tears running down her face, muttering words of prayer to a God of her own imagining who might listen to her suffering over that of others. Behind her Vernon and Marge Dursley stood with grave faces, attempting to be pillars of strength, and yet the unnamable fear in their eyes. Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen.
In the Dursley home the Christmas decorations were still up.
Tom was staring at his hands instead, fascinated by their not-quite texture, the way they appeared like dim light on the walls of the room casting off a pale soft glow. In the glass door leading to the room he caught his reflection. It was barely visible at this point, as if trying to catch another reflection within a reflection, and yet there stood Tom Riddle. He stepped closer to the glass and placed his fingers against it, almost feeling the cool touch, the nerves still forming themselves beneath his fingertips.
He was still wearing his Hogwarts uniform; the dark robes, the green and silver tie, and even the prefect's badge were all in place. The day he entered the notebook, the night he killed his father, he had been wearing black and yet here he was so resplendent. Somewhere, beyond his own conscious thought, he looked at himself and still saw the schoolboy.
In the glass his reflection's lips twitched slightly, as if they found something slightly amusing, but could not quite bring themselves to laugh. It looked odd on this face that half commitment to an expression, he had always been so composed, especially in the uniform as if he was in a very demanding costume and that certain expectations rode with it.
The light was fading from his skin as his form took a more solid tone, with a wave of his hand he cast a notice me not ward around him, not that the Dursleys or the doctors would pay him mind anyway but it would do no good to appear suddenly in the room.
He looked back at his reflection taking it in full and realized that he was right it didn't fit anymore. There was no reason for him to remain Tom Riddle in this world; he had known that from the beginning, his other had certainly known that from the beginning. That's what the whole Voldemort thing had been about in the end, not being Tom Riddle. He had always hated his name, it had always sounded so common to him, so demeaning as if with just a name he could be cast aside as just another Tom.
There was no reason to cling to the things that once were.
He let the Hogwarts uniform drift away until it was replaced by a dark blazer and dress pants, the reflection gained a more somber quality, lost that youthful gaiety that had been laid on so thick for all the professors and students. There was no need for those charades anymore.
He looked lost, a perpetual stranger in a strange land, dressed in black for his own funeral.
Where would he go now? Now that he was no longer Tom Riddle, human, or even wizard. As Dudley's soul drifted closer and closer past the event horizon of the notebook Tom considered his future and found himself drawing blanks.
He was a terrible whiteness, the infinite potential of things, forever unrealized as all doors remained open.
Dudley's heart slowed, his the intervals between beeps growing larger as his heart struggled to produce noise, with the fading drumbeat Tom closed his eyes and beneath them Harry stared back.
There was one last attachment to the mortal plane, one Tom had not considered, and while it was fragile and limited it was one that was stronger than any others had ever been.
With a final thought Tom's hair turned the color of straw and he left the room without looking back.
He didn't remember anything from his parent's death. He'd only been one at the time but sometimes he felt like he should remember. It was the last time he'd ever see them again and he hadn't even bothered to remember it.
He didn't know if they'd gone to a hospital, if his mum or even his dad had clung to life for a few moments in an operating room, he didn't know if the silence in the place had been deafening like someone was screaming.
Uncle Vernon and aunt Petunia had said for him to wait in the waiting room, the doctor had said family was allowed to stay, so when the doctor left uncle Vernon had looked at him with quiet eyes and said to get out. It was an unsaid but nonetheless true fact that Harry Potter wasn't family.
He sat in a chair in the waiting room, his fingers laced together, staring at a clock ticking on the wall wondering if they had found anything wrong with him yet.
Dudley hadn't woken up, had stopped moving completely, his heart was still beating and he was still breathing but there was no one there in his head anymore. Now, left in the hospital bed with an I.V. in his arm he looked like nothing more than a bloated doll.
Harry felt empty like all the feeling had just been drained out of him until he couldn't think anymore. He just sat there, void, and looked at the clock counting tick marks in his head as each one documented the fact that the Dursleys hadn't come back yet.
For a horrified moment, in that kitchen, before the panic had ensued and the ambulance had been called he'd wondered if they were somehow going to blame him. Say that freakishness caused it to happen and that he was the source of all the funny business. He'd wanted to run, even though he hadn't done it, run far away where they'd never catch him because he didn't do it. They'd all looked at him for a single moment, eyes glaring, but then they'd seemed to decide that somehow it wasn't him and called the ambulance instead pushing him into the corner and telling him to get out of the way.
He'd known something was wrong with Dudley and he'd done nothing about it.
They wouldn't have believed him anyway though, even if he tried to tell anybody, they wouldn't have even listened. They would have locked him away for even suggesting something might be wrong, so it was better that he'd said nothing, since it wouldn't have made a difference.
Now all he could do was sit and wait and watch the clock.
Tom was gone. The furthest he'd ever been from Harry, he could still feel him but it was like peering into a haze, his shadow was only just visible.
So Harry waited, alone, and empty.
The magic seemed to be adding to the stillness of the room, it left his fingertips and travelled, a thick invisible fog until it coated every chair and magazine leaving each to feel heavy and hollow all in the same moment. It created silence for everything except for the sharp tick of the clock which echoed throughout the room as if it was a gunshot.
He didn't want Dudley to die. He didn't want to sit here while Dudley was dying. He didn't want Dudley to be sick. He didn't want anything like this all he had wanted was to leave. He just wished he could float away from this place, to move his essence through the magic until there was nothing left of Harry Potter and only his soul remained. He wanted to move past this gray surface exterior to that world he knew must exist, that place he had seen beneath the surface, where the butterflies were. He wanted to see Diagon Alley.
The clock kept ticking.
Even though he wasn't there, wasn't listening to what the doctors were saying, somehow he knew Dudley wouldn't come back to this. Remembering the moment, that feeling of there being a thousand strings above Dudley's head, had been like the magic. Only for the first time it wasn't his magic, but someone else's, some alien thing he could only just glimpse before it executed. Like being outside of himself and staring out at that thing that lurked there almost unseen.
Sometimes you didn't have to be told the answer to a question, you just knew.
Dudley wasn't coming back.
Footsteps broke the silence and the magic dissipated leaving Harry to look up and see a man standing in front of him. He was tall and thin, dressed in formal dark clothing, and looking down at Harry with an expression that was at once distant and tender in the same moment. Blonde hair glowed beneath the fluorescent lighting of the waiting room, sparks of red caught in curls as the light touched it. His eyes though were a pale and dangerous blue that almost wasn't blue at all but rather the color of light.
He offered no explanation of what had happened to Dudley, of what was still happening to Dudley, but he didn't need to in the end because somehow Harry already knew. Oh, he thought, oh I see. Shaking as tears ran down his face and sobs shook his frame all Harry could do was look up into those pale elegant features.
Author's Note: And there you have it, the end of the Dursley Arc, say goodbye everyone. That was pretty heavy, the next arc will be a little bit lighter, at times but hey that's what counts. Thanks to readers and reviewers you guys are great reviews are appreciated so feel free to leave them with the push of a button. Next up, time skip, and a somewhat explanation of why Tom is now blonde...
Disclaimer: Harry Potter isn't mine. If it had been Voldemort would have been Doctor Hannibal Lector, "Are the lambs still screaming, Mr. Potter?"