'Stay for him, if not for me Tom. You have a son.'
He hadn't believed the witch, Merope Gaunt, when she'd tried to feed him that line all those years ago yet Tom Riddle Senior had never quite been able to shake the feeling that maybe he'd been wrong. That maybe he really did have a son. That maybe he was being raised to be a freak just like his freak mother. He'd dwelled on the matter for years, shut away from the world in Riddle Manor suffering through the trauma that whatever the bloody hell she had done to him had left behind, fuming and ruminating and doing all that he possibly could to craft in his mind an image of the child as a Demon crawled up from hell, the type of monster that you'd expect a witch to be accompanied by in the folklore of the middle ages, in an effort to make the thought repugnant. A nightmare to be driven from his mind forever. Yet lingering on the matter for so very long had ultimately had the opposite effect.
A son. He had a son. A little boy with dark curls and blue eyes-Merope's only remotely flattering feature-and the trademark Riddle smile. A Wizard, no doubt, but that was a flaw which could be over looked. Gotten around if he was raised right. Taught better than to go around casting spells and dosing people with potions and what not.
The reality of the fact that he would not receive anything near the proper moral groundwork under Merope's tutelage was what had finally led him to push aside and overcome his fears, making a recovery which had left both his parents and professionals amazed. Even knowing that he'd have to face the woman again, to somehow steal away his child and make off with him, Tom had set out to reunite with the boy. That had been three years ago and now, after countless leads had terminated in dead ends, he may finally have found him.
What he'd imagined had been bad, but it turned out that the reality was so much worse. The sun beat down from the crown of the sky, compounding the already stifling mid-June heat tenfold. Cicadas droned in the over grown and wilting garden. The wreckage of a building upon which a German bomb had fallen was visible at the far end of the street as he stood on the bowing rickety wooden porch, nose to nose with the peeling blue paint of the front door.
He'd wanted his son to be real. Wanted, desperately, to find him soon. But he suddenly found himself hoping that this lead, like all the others, would again amount to nothing.
He'd rather have more disappointment than know that his son had lived here of all places, even if only for a moment. Still, if he was here he couldn't leave him. He had to check.
Appalled by his surroundings and beginning to wilt in the heat like the under-watered plants beside him Tom Riddle Senior raised his fist and knocked sharply on the door.
Twenty minutes of knocking later the door was finally opened and the now very much annoyed aristocrat peered down the sharp slant of his nose at the teenaged boy who'd answered; one of the Wards, by the look of the uniform he wore-ratty wool dyed a dour grey-and not the Matron. Clearly the building wasn't the only thing about Wool's Orphanage that was sub-par.
The boy was blonde with watery brown eyes; they plainly had no relation and he paled instantly at the sight of him, tripping over the question of his purpose there. Tom's tone might have been a good deal more clipped than necessary but he wasn't exactly raised to care for how he treated those below him on the social ladder. "I would speak with your Matron, provided they can be bothered to beggar a damn of course."
Given the fact that the door wasn't answered in person, nor even in a timely fashion, he expected to find a washed up old maid. What he can across instead was a slovenly bint who teetered on her feet, hair escaping from its pined up position as if inviting a strike of lightning, who was more drunk than a gold fish dropped into a bottle of fifty proof despite it being barely noon.
"You're the one who they've put in charge of the children?" he drawled, horrified.
The woman hiccupped, attempted to focus on him, and ended up speaking to the wall over his left shoulder instead. "That I am. Mrs. Cole." He shuddered when her bloodshot eyes ran over him; Tom had never quite managed to return to a place of comfort while in the presence of any woman other than his mother, but even back when he'd been a play boy having Matron Martini eye him up like a butcher's cut would have left him feeling like he needed an immediate and very thorough wash. It was made all the worse when she attempted to lean coyly to the side and toppled over. "What can I do for you, handsome? Don't get much of your kind around here."
I can imagine not. He thought. What an absolute embarrassment. If it were up to him this woman wouldn't have been trusted to run the seediest brothel on the face of the earth! "I've been looking for my long lost son for a handful of years and the most recent lead led me here." Unfortunately. "You wouldn't happen to have a child here, a boy, by the name of Riddle would you? He'd be twelve, now, or around it."
The woman sobered up so quickly that someone just walking in on the matter might have thought he'd given her the back hand. "R-Riddle?" her lower lip quivered. "As in…as in Tom R-Riddle?"
"Tom Edward Riddle, yes. I am." A sinking feeling had congealed in the pit of his stomach. Why, damn it? Why hadn't he come for him sooner? His son would have been less damaged had his mother raised him! What had Merope been thinking leaving the boy here to begin with! "I take it that you do have my son here, then?"
"Yes." Her voice had taken on the high, breathy quality of someone who had just witnessed something terrible and sank down into the chair behind the desk. Bullets of cold sweat had broken out across her brown. "Yes. We've had him here for nearly twelve years now. Ever since that poor girl had him in our entry way. Named him just before she died: Tom for his father and Marvolo for hers. Had I known that the Devil himself had been birthed that night I'd have thrown the baby out with the bathwater to die in the cold. Saved us all."
"Need I remind you that I am his father!"
Even a non-magical child would have acted out stuck in a place like this for all his life! Throwing him into such a hostile environment, never having known anything even close to normal, and then expecting him to function was like throwing a lion into a circus ring and expecting it not to kill someone. How dare she call his son, his blood, a monster! And to his face no less.
She stared at him with eyes that he'd formerly believed only soldiers returned from war could have. "You don't understand. He didn't even have teeth yet he bit a wet nurse until she bled. He was adopted twice and taken back within a week after strange things began happening around their homes. We tried to have him exorcised when he was six; he boiled the holy water and broke every bone in the arm of the priest without even touching him. He hung a rabbit from the rafters at eight. Terrorized two of the other children into catatonia. Steals compulsively. Lies. Speaks to snakes. I don't care if you're his father you won't be safe from him either! You don't want him!"
"What I don't want is for him to stay here." His son. His boy. Tom was still young. Had been made to act out by the cruelty of circumstance. He could save him. One he realized that he was safe, no longer needed to constantly be ready to attack, his son would calm on his own. "Show me his room."
The woman jumped and quickly scrambled up, babbling about unimportant things he didn't care to listen to as she led him up to the top floor. The room at which they stopped was small and unadorned with a bare desk, a scratched wardrobe and a rough cut which looked months unslept in as the only furniture. The single tiny window set into the wall provided a depressing view of a brick wall.
His heart constricted. This was where his son had lived for over a decade?
"Where is he? I'd like to take him now; Little Hangleton is almost a full day's drive from here."
"He won't return from Boarding School until tomorrow afternoon; the train will arrive at King's Cross at four."
Boarding School? Wool's was clearly unable to afford tuition for any of its wards. The only explanation that Tom could come up with was that it must have been a school of magic of some sort, that his own people had found him before he had through some arcane means, and that perhaps some form of scholarship had been set up. "What is the name of this 'school'?"
"Hogwarts, I believe. I didn't really catch it; any reprieve from his constant presence was more than welcome."
Getting his son away from this hellhole as soon as possible was the first thing on his mind, but showing up at the train station to collect him likely wouldn't be the best course of action. They'd never seen each other before. Would be meeting for the first time. Better it be done in an otherwise familiar territory, no matter how poor of a state it was in.
"I'll be here to collect him before dinner." He said. "And I'd like to fill out whatever paperwork is necessary now, if possible. Better it not be a bother when we're leaving."
The Matron looked as if she still couldn't believe that Tom would be leaving, torn between resuming her dire warnings of misfortune and paying him whatever money might be left in Wool's coffers to take the boy and never return. She ended up nodding and walking out. "Of course. We'll go back down into my office and do that now."
He spared the bleak room a final glance before following her out.