He doesn't like thinking of her, of the woman who bewitched him and forced him into a marriage he had never wanted, who touched him without his consent and looked at him with something deeply sick in her eyes. He doesn't like thinking of her. But, lately, he can't get her out of his mind. He can't stop thinking about what she'd screamed after him as he left her. How she'd begged and cried for him to stay. Not for her, but for their son.
He might have a son.
He might have a son somewhere out there and he hasn't been there for him. He's been too caught up in his trauma and fear to do anything but sit in his room and explore his house. It's been five years since he's returned home and he's only just getting better now and he can't stop thinking of a little boy with his dark hair and Merope's blue eyes, alone and seemingly unwanted.
The very thought - of his son thinking that, crying because his father left him - makes him sick.
Who cares if the child has the same power as his mother? Who cares if he's a wizard? It doesn't matter. Tom would love him all the same. He's his son. He could kill Tom and he'd still love him. Nothing matters more than him.
What if she lied? an annoyingly persistent voice whispers to him sometimes, spitting in disgust and disdain. She lied about everything else, didn't she?
He ignores this voice as best as he can and focuses on finding his son. He can't leave the boy with her. She isn't fit to raise a child - no one like her is fit to raise a child much less be around them. So - to the shock of his mother and father - he gets better in leaps and bounds, obsessed with finding the child he cruelly left with Merope Gaunt. A child they're convinced doesn't exist, but he knows does. He knows the boy is out there and that he needs Tom.
He pursued lead after lead in the hopes of finding his long-lost son, but they all amounted to nothing. He was never there and neither was Merope. He dug deeper, desperately searching and wanting and hoping. He dug and dug until there was nothing left for him to dig. The well of leads run dry and arid. And all he had to show for it was one last possible lead.
And it was an orphanage.
And suddenly, faced with the dreary building that seems to loom over all of the others, sucking all of the happiness out of the surrounding area, he hopes that he's found another dead end, that his child isn't trapped within these stone walls with peeling paint and rusted railings. It looks like more of a prison than an orphanage and Tom's sure that his son considers it as such. No place as cold as this could ever be a home. It could only be a poor substitute that falls apart at every turn, ruining the illusion and sending its occupants further into despair.
He straightens his back and strides forward to knock on the peeling paint of the door, disgusted at the state of it and the building. He pulls his hand back and smiles politely when a young woman with blonde hair falling out of a braid answers the door - fear spikes through him when he sees her blue eyes and feminine lips and he almost flinches, struggling to keep the smile on his face.
Merope still haunts him, it seems.
"Is the Matron available?” he asks pleasantly, sweat beading on his brow as fear wracks through his body. He clenches his hands behind his back and breathes. “I need to speak with her.”
The girl blushes and smiles at him, charmed. “Yes, yes, of course. I’ll get her right away. Come in and make yourself at home.”
He gives her a close-lipped smile and steps through the door, suppressing another wince when she moves by him to close the door. She smiles at him again, her eyes roving over his form, making him feel as if he’s covered head to toe in grease, disgusting, filthy, unworthy----
“Mrs. Cole!” the girl yells into a doorway, leaning against the wall as she does. “You’ve got a visitor!”
There’s an answering yell from further down the hall and the girl’s lips thin in displeasure. She nods to herself, eyes pinched, and turns to give him a strained smile.
“She’ll be with you in a moment,” she says. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Then she hurries off through the doorway and down the hall, scolding a few children on the way. Tom sighs in relief when she disappears from his sight and he waits, eyes roving over the bare room in displeasure, certain he’s going to see a cockroach climb up the yellowing walls at any moment.
“Sir?” a woman calls with a string, stern voice with an expression to match. “I’m Mrs. Cole, the Matron of this orphanage. What can I do for you? Are you looking to adopt?”
“It’s recently come to my attention that I might have a son here,” he tells her a half-truth easily, ignoring the way her eyes travel over his body like she’s looking at a particularly fine cut of meat. “His last name would be Riddle. I believe he’d be five now.”
She pales and her eyes dilate. “Y...you don’t mean Tom Riddle, do you?”
“Is that his name?” he frowns before nodding. “Yes, I believe that’s him. You do have my son here then?”
Of course, she would name him after you, the voice hisses in displeasure. She was so obsessed with you; she couldn’t even muster up the will to live for her son. What a despicable woman.
“Yes,” she manages, swallowing heavily. She brings her hands up to her throat, rubbing it reflexively, eyes wide and almost unseeing. “We’ve had him for five years now, ever since that poor girl died in our foyer giving birth to him.”
He interrupts, something strange and unwelcome lurching in his chest, giving in with a painful ache he doesn’t want to address. “Merope is dead?”
“Was that her name?” she blinks before nodding. “Yes, yes, she’s dead. It was a difficult birth, you see. We had to perform an emergency C-section and the poor girl bled out. At least, she got to hold the dreadful boy before she passed. I wonder if he’d’ve turned out better if she were still here. Even the Antichrist loves his mother, doesn’t he?”
“Excuse me?” he asks, pitch raising slightly as anger builds. “What did you just call my son?”
“You don’t understand! You don’t want him!” she insists, eyes wild with fear and something else - hate. He bristles further and waves a hand to dismiss her, but she continues fervently. “He was adopted twice and returned within a week after strange, unnatural, freakish things started happening in their homes - around him. He hung another boy’s rabbit from the rafters just a week ago! He steals from the other children, lies compulsively, speaks to snakes. He isn’t your son! He's the Antichrist!”
“If he’s the Antichrist,” he seethes, something dark and heavy invading the room, something that used to happen often when he was a child, “then I am the Devil and you should watch your tongue.”
She whimpers and clamps a hand over her mouth, eyes wide when she can’t move it. Tom rises to his full height and smiles meanly. Her eyes swell with tears and she squeezes them shut tightly, sobbing into her hand. He feels no pity nor sympathy for her; there’s only disgust.
“Take me to him,” he says sweetly before sneering. “ Now.”
She jolts and nods hurriedly. She turns sharply and he follows her up a set of stairs and to the last room in the hall, set far away from the rest. Room 28. She knocks on the door with her free hand and doesn’t wait for an answer, opening the door rudely before backing away, glancing between the room and himself nervously.
“You can go now,” he dismisses with evident disgust and she nods, her hand finally falling from her mouth. She flees, blabbering to herself hysterically and he turns slightly. “Bring me whatever paperwork I have to sign, please. I want to leave this place as soon as I can.”
“Yes, Mr. Riddle,” she agrees quickly before disappearing down the stairs, a sharp inhale coming from the room, the door trembling in its hinges before it stops.
Tom enters the room, his lips curling in disgust at what he sees. The room is small and unadorned with much except a are desk, a scratched wardrobe, and a simple rusted cot with threadbare sheets. There is only a single tiny window to offer a depressing view of the orphanage’s swampy backyard.
Settled on the bed is a small boy, a thick book clutched in his small, chubby hands, dark brown eyes narrowed in suspicion, lips pressed together tightly, thin body curled in on itself - as if preparing for a blow. The boy’s dark curls are combed neatly, all of them tamed except one persistent curl that hangs over the middle of his forehead stubbornly. His clothes are neat and pressed and look almost new if it weren’t for the newly sewed parts here and there.
There’s hardly anything of his mother in him, Tom realizes with a start, relief and that strange ache warring within him. He’s almost a carbon copy of himself if it weren’t for the gentle curve of his cupid’s bow and the sharp angle of his nose. And there’s no sign or mark of inbreeding that he’d subconsciously been expecting, not even so much as a Habsburg Jaw. The only sign that could be interpreted as wrong but couldn’t be in his circumstances was the glint of paranoia in his too-young eyes, like a man who’s seen far too much betrayal in his life.
“Who’re you?” the boy demands forcefully, something echoing in his voice, compelling and familiar. Tom smiles as gently as he can, well-aware that it looks a bit sad and defeated.
“My name is Tom Riddle,” he says softly, watching the boy’s eyes widen in surprise and something else that he quickly hides - hope. “I’m your father, Junior, and I’m here to take you home.”
The boy seems to fight with himself, his body language wavering, bordering on relaxing when he tenses again. “You won’t take me back?” he finally asks, voice hushed and barely audible.
Something Tom’s chest softens painfully and he crosses across the room to kneel by the boy’s bed, opening his arms slightly, attempting to look as non-threatening as possible. The boy lowers his book, letting it fall on the bed, turning in his spot to face him, eyes shining wetly.
“No, Junior, I won’t,” he whispers, brows furrowing as he chokes back his own fair share of tears, lips twitching as he tries to compose himself. “I won’t take you back.”
Junior hesitates and bites his lips, blinking hard to dismiss the wetness in his eyes. “You promise?”
“I promise,” Tom says easily, raising his pinky, looping it around Junior’s, shaking it once before letting it go. “There. Now I can’t go back on it. We pinky promised and those are unbreakable.”
Junior stares at his pinkly before his hand curls into a fist. He sits on his cot for a few more moments before hesitantly reaching for Tom, curling into him when he immediately takes the boy into his arms, clumsily petting at his hair when he begins to cry, his tears wetting his shirt collar.
“You’re alright, Junior,” he soothes softly, voice a croon. “You’re alright. I’m here.”
He waits patiently for his son’s tears to cease, rising to his feet so he can sway them back and forth gently, lulling the boy to a state of ease as best as he can. Slowly but surely, it works and his son relaxes against him, arms loosely wrapped around his neck as his cheek squashes against his shoulder, face wet and smeared with tears that he wipes away with Tom’s shirt, rubbing his face clean of them with a yawn.
“Where are your things, baby?” Tom asks him softly, shifting his hold on the boy as he does, resting his weight on his hip. Junior pulls away slightly and rubs at his swollen eyes sleepily, pointing at his wardrobe in answer. Tom turns to his butler who’d patiently gone on all of his searches with him, vindictively pleased at the shocked look in his eyes. “Benson, if you would.”
“Yes, sir,” the man says, bowing quickly before moving to the wardrobe, searching through it efficiently, finding the rucksack in one of the drawers quickly, packing only the things Junior points at, which amounts to only the small box hidden under his trousers once Tom tells him he’ll buy him a new wardrobe once they get home.
“Is that all yours?” he asks, voice gentle and comforting. Junior nods and he carefully restrains his anger. “Is there anything else you want to take with you?”
Junior considers this for a moment before he shakes his head. Tom nods and strokes his hair once more, cupping his head when he leans against his shoulder again. Tom motions for Philip to go ahead with his head and the man nods, bowing before exiting the room, taking the rucksack to the waiting car.
“Now,” Tom murmurs to his son, smiling slightly as he leaves the room, “let’s go take care of that pesky paperwork, hmm?”
Junior nods against his neck and he strokes the boy’s back, making his way down the stairs carefully, humming to himself as he goes in an effort to fill the silence and soothe Junior further. Once he’s on the ground floor, he halts and peers down the hall, searching for the Matron’s office. Thankfully, there’s a sign above her office door, so he won’t have to look into each room individually or, heaven forbid, ask for help.
“Mr. Riddle,” Mrs. Cole greets politely, looking down at the papers as she gathers them, composed and calm when he enters her office, taking his seat across from her, shifting a little so Junior will be comfortable. “I’ve already filled out most of it for you. All you have to do is sign.”
“Excellent,” he says, smiling when she finally looks up, her eyes widening when she takes in the boy clinging to him - the child she had christened as the Devil’s spawn. Tom simply uses his free hand - the one that’s no supporting Junior’s weight - and takes the required papers and a pen. He signs them quickly after scanning over them with a critical eye. Then he slides them back to the Matron and smiles blandly. “I expect these to be filed as soon as I leave. If they aren’t, I’ll be very cross.”
She nods hurriedly, fearful eyes stuck on Junior before they slide to him. “Of course. Mr. Riddle. It’ll be done.”
“Good,” he says as he rises carefully, opening the door to leave. He sends her one last smile. “It was a pleasure.”
Then he turns and quickly exits the dingy orphanage, more than eager to leave this horrid place and return home. Benson already has the car ready, so all Tom has to do is climb into the back and set Junior in a seat. However, Junior resists, clinging to him even tighter, so he simply holds the boy in his lap and nods to Benson, arms tightening around his son reflexively when the car jolts into movement.
Tom settles in to wait. The car rocks gently back and forth as the grey lights of London pass by the windows, occasionally casting a glow into the car. The only sound is the thrum of the engine. Junior shifts in his hold after ten minutes or so and he obliges by loosening his hold, letting the small - he really is too thin - shift so he’s facing the window, eyes wide as they take in the moving city.
“Have you eaten, baby? Are you hungry?” Tom asks after a moment, rubbing a hand down the boy’s back, stomach-churning when he feels the ridges of his spine all too clearly. “Do you want to stop and get a bite to eat?”
Junior stiffen and his cherubic - too thin, much too thin - face flushes when his stomach growls, He fidgets and ducks his head. Tom’s chest pangs at the sight and he rubs soothing circles into the boys back, trying to be encouraging and supportive while not overwhelming him.
“Yeah,” Junior finally says, soft voice barely above a whisper. Tom nods and pulls down the partition separating them from Benson, speaking as soon as it’s down.
“Take us to the nearest open eatery,” he orders and Benson nods obediently, eyes focused on the road and the buildings they’re approaching.
Tom settles back into his seat and fixes Junior’s hair from where he messed it up, smiling softly at the stubborn curl that refuses to be tamed. Junior endures the attention without complaint though his face is dusted pink and screwed up into a pout - he probably thinks he looks stoic.
Soon enough, the car slows to a stop at a high-class open diner. Benson exits the car quickly and pulls open the door for them. Tom climbs out and briefly considers setting Tom down so that they can walk in together. He decides against it and simply shifts his hold so that he’s resting most of the boy’s weight - which is worryingly light - on his hip once again. He nods to Benson and enters the diner, smiling charmingly at the woman who will be seating them.
“Table for two?” she asks, smiling gently at Junior, eyes sparkling in amusement when he turns away and buries his face in Tom’s shoulder. Tom chuckles and nods. “If you’ll follow me.”
“Ah,” Tom says before she can move away from her station. She halts in her steps and looks at him questioningly. He smiles, slightly sheepish. “Is it too much to ask for a table set away from the others? I’m afraid Junior here doesn’t like crowds very much.”
Her smile returns and she nods easily. “Not at all, sir. Come this way then.”
His smile turns grateful and he dips his head in thanks, following her as she leads them to a table in the corner of the diner, set away from the others and pressed against a window. Tom sets Junior down in the seat across from his own before taking his. The woman - thankfully too focused on Junior to leer at Tom - sets their cutlery down and sets menus down in front of them.
“What would you like to drink?” she asks, pulling out a notebook, hand raised expectantly, wielding a pen. Tom briefly looks at Junior, noticing his eyes lingering on one of the hot drinks. He smiles at the lady and nods his head.
“Two hot chocolates, please,” he says pleasantly and the woman nods, jotting it down quickly. She smiles and ducks away to go retrieve their drinks and give them ample time to decide on what to order.
“You can get whatever you want,” Tom assures his son when his eyes bulge at the price tacked on to the options. “Don’t worry about the price.”
Junior’s eyes flicker to him before he points to a picture of pancakes. Tom smiles and Junior closes the menu, kicking his legs in his seat. The woman comes back with their drinks and sets them at the table, taking their menus with another gentle smile aimed at Tom.
“Are you ready to order?” she asks. Tom nods and quietly tells her what they want and she writes it down quickly. “We’ll have that right out for you.”
“Thank you,” he says as she walks away to go take their orders in. When she’s out of earshot, he turns to his son and sighs quietly.
“I’m sorry,” he finds himself saying. Junior looks up at him with wide eyes, surprise evident in them. He smiles sadly. “I’m sorry that it took me so long, that I didn’t come for you sooner. I should’ve been there.”
“Why weren’t you?” he demands, tone surprisingly biting for a five-year-old. Tom blinks and shakes his head, eyes dark and tormented. Junior’s eyes narrow and he backs off. “What about my mother? Why did you leave her?”
“It’s complicated, Junior,” he tells him gently, repressing a shudder of fear and revulsion at the thought of her. “I promise I’ll tell you when you’re older, but for now just know that if I had been in my right mind I would never have left you there. And that I will spend the rest of my life making up for it if need be.”
While the boy mulls this over, the waitress comes back and sets their orders before them on the table. Tom thanks her quietly and watches as Junior stares at the stack of pancakes with wide eyes. He gestures for the boy to dig in and picks his fork up to further encourage him. That’s apparently all the encouragement the boy needs to pick his own fork up and begin eating.
“You’re going to take me back,” Junior says after a few moments of them eating in silence. He licks the syrup off his lips and sets his fork down. Tom does the same and diverts his attention to his son, steepling his fingers together to rest his chin. “The other families promised too, y’know, but they still took me back. You’re going to do it too.”
Tom shakes his head. “I won’t.”
“Yes,” Junior insists, eyes dark and threatening, the window next to their table shaking in its place, “you will.”
“I won’t,” Tom says again, smiling at the show of power from his son. “I know what you can do, Junior. I know you can make things happen and I know why you can do those things. Your mother was a witch and you are a wizard.”
The boy’s eyes go wide in shock and his lips part. “I’m a wizard?” he asks breathlessly, cheeks flushing when Tom nods. “It’s….it’s magic, what I can do?”
“You are,” Tom says patiently. “Your mother’s side of the family was magical. As far as I know, my side is not.”
But I’m beginning to doubt that, he thinks to himself, dazing slightly before jolting back to attention when Junior begins speaking again. He leans forward a little bit and keeps his expression open.
“Do you know her name?” the boy whispers and that strange grief from before hits him again. He smiles - slightly strained - and sighs.
“Her name was Merope Gaunt,” he says thickly, the name like oil in his mouth, slick and cloying. He forces the words through it. “And she would have loved you.”
Junior blinks hard and fidgets in his seat before he smiles - soft and hesitant and beautiful. A surge of protective love surges through Tom so hard he’s surprised he’s still in his seat. He returns Junior’s smile with one of his own.
And suddenly he knows they’ll be okay.