The orphanage was cold. Chillingly so. There seemed more warmth to be found outside in the drizzling rain.
“We’re not open to the public right now,” droned the short, middle aged woman who’d let him inside as she bustled back behind her counter. Harry kept a hand to his wand, but was hopeful that this could be a quiet exchange done without the use of any unnecessary persuasions. Though it was a risk he’d been willing to take. “I’m looking for a nephew of mine,” he informed her in a practiced tone, “Tom. Tom Riddle? He… I was told there might be a boy here by that name.”
Harry watched her lift her head, expression shifting from bored to something that looked frighteningly hopeful, both eyebrows rising. “Tom? You mean,” she said carefully, “if you found your nephew, you’d take him away from here?”
Harry looked in around himself, eyeing first the steps of a dark staircase, then the stark cracks in black marble squares of wall.
He could have grown up in a place like this, if he hadn’t been given to the Dursley’s that was. The thought had nagged at him for hours. He still couldn’t decide if that had been better or worse than what this might have been. “I would. Do you believe he’s here? Black hair, brown eyes, he’d be around ten now.”
“Yes yes,” said the woman, growing more excited by the second. “They’ve all just finished supper, I’ll send for him right away."
Harry did his best to keep from revealing his emotions. This was the fourth orphanage he’d tried, so he had enough practice, but he knew the clock was always ticking. It seemed, however, that he’d finally found the right boy. At the very least, none of the other adults he’d spoken to had been so accommodating, so excited at the prospect of ridding themselves of an occupant. They’d been more concerned with the monetary cost of losing a child in their care. It had been a trial for Harry, who’d been disgusted with the lot of them but unable to do a thing about it. It was far, far too late for all of those boys.
“Please do,” Harry replied. She needed no more encouragement, promptly disappearing up the wide steps and leaving him to wait.
As he stood, he eyed the worn down tile floors, scuffed with years of use. There was an engraving high on the wall—simple words, a cross to accompany them. I will not leave you as orphans, it read. I will come to you. John 14:18. Harry’s jaw flexed, but he dropped his eyes to his nails until he again heard the click of footsteps on the stairs—two sets this time.
The woman had returned, and trailing behind her was a small boy. He had hair nearly as black as Harry’s, though not as unruly. And his skin was so white it could only be from almost never stepping outdoors. His eyes were a light shade of brown, but there was nothing to be found in them except scorn and distrust. Harry had attempted to prepare, but he’d never thought he’d have much success with that anyway. It took a good long moment to get hold of himself.
“Is this him?” asked the woman eagerly, seemingly unable to mask it. Harry knew for fact that the boy had brought her a lot of trouble, but standing here before him, he looked so young. Not innocent, not even now, but certainly not the destroyer of lives and families he was to be. This unassuming boy, who would become evil incarnate.
“Tom Marvolo Riddle,” said Harry.
The boy lifted his chin defiantly, scowling. “That would be me.” His voice was cold as ice. He looked over Harry with a carefully blank, yet still expectant expression.
Of course Harry’s mind brought him back to the last time he had seen Tom. He could still see Hogwarts in ruins, recall the smell of death that had hung in the air, picture the bodies of people he’d cared for. It was as though it’d happened yesterday. He knew then that Hermione had been right. He couldn’t let that happen now he had this chance to stop it. The price, in the end, didn’t matter as much as he’d thought.
Slowly, never taking his eyes off the boy, Harry removed the wand from his pocket. Tom’s eyes went straight to it and hardened, as though he somehow understood. Perhaps he did. The woman beside him appeared too bewildered to react.
“You took so much from so many,” said Harry quietly. “I know exactly who and what you are, all the hurt you cause. And still, somehow, I find that I’m almost sorry.”
And then he cast.