Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor material profit is intended.

Authors' note: Sixth in the Stepbrothers AU series, takes place during and after Tom's sixth year and Rubeus's fourth.

Called to Account
by Andrea13 and Persephone
Epilogue

*****

It was August, a bright, hot day, and Tom Riddle was not studying for his NEWTS.

He had been earlier, but he had stopped looking at his books a few minutes ago.

There was a sunbeam trying to lure him outside.

He went over to open the window wider, and a breeze joined in the urging. Tom glanced back at the books for a moment, then grinned and went to put them away in favor of his broomstick.

On his way out, he stopped by his mother's workroom. Tom had spent much of the summer with his broomstick confiscated and Rubeus's normal chores instead of his own, as after some thought, neither his mother nor Uncle Tavish was blind to the ramifications of the acromantula discussion the previous summer and would have found it unlikely he didn't know a thing anyway.

By now, he had his broom back, and if his mother had Rubeus making notes for her one more time, her voice was still half teasing when Tom heard her say, "Your handwriting really has improved remarkably, Rubeus."

A reasonably good-natured sigh. "Yes, Aunt Mary."

Tom put his head through the door, looking around carefully to make sure nothing was in range to make a grab for it. "Mum? Is it all right if I go flying?"

"Go ahead. Be back before dark, please." She glanced up, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she added, "And yes, Rubeus, you can go on and visit Gus. But don't go flying."

As Tom left, he was laughing at Rubeus's indignant, "Of course not! He'll be another year growin' at least before I'd ask him to carry me."

He wondered what Gus would think about it in a year or two if Rubeus did ask. And then he forgot about that for a while and soared.

As much as he loved the Slytherin dormitories deep in the castle dungeons and spending time with Sharessa deep in the Chamber of Secrets, there was nothing to compare with the sheer joy and freedom of zipping through the air with nothing between you and the open air but a slim piece of wood. The wind blew his air wildly.

Tom laughed in sheer exhilaration as he performed a series of daring dives and spins. In the air alone, he was almost Gryffindor-like. Not that he'd admit this to anyone else. It still won Slytherin the Quidditch Cup in the end, so that was all that mattered.

With the Preserve nearby, there were sufficient anti-Muggle precautions for Tom to enjoy his flight without keeping a weather eye out for observers. But he realized almost too late he should have kept some eye out as a fast-moving blur of brown feathers nearly crashed into him.

He swerved and pulled up hastily, hovering; with an angry hoot, the owl veered back toward him and settled on the end of his broom-handle, glaring balefully and getting a good grip with its talons before holding out a leg with great dignity.

"Oh for--" Tom grumbled and reached out to unwrap the letter quickly, trying to stay balanced. "You couldn't have just gone home? Who had the bright idea of owls finding you anywhere?"

The address read, "Mr. T. Riddle, Cleansweep 2, Middle of the Sky, Yorkshire." Tom snorted at this and got the envelope open just as the owl took off, jostling him -- and something small and shiny slipped out. He snatched at it just in time.

Good for Quidditch reflexes. Smaller than a Snitch, but not moving as fast. Tom turned his hand over and opened it to look at the small object nestled in his palm. A badge.

With a great big shiny "HB" embossed on the front.

Hearing he was a "shoo-in" for Head Boy was one thing. Having the proof in front of him was another. The broom dipped alarmingly in mid-air as Tom grinned hugely and shouted, "Uncle Tavish! Mum! Guess WHAT!"

...Of course, they couldn't very well hear him up here, could they?

Hearing he was a "shoo-in" for Head Boy was one thing. Having the proof in front of him was another. The broom dipped alarmingly in mid-air as Tom grinned hugely and shouted, "Uncle Tavish! Mum! Guess WHAT!"

He carefully slipped everything back into the envelope and stuck it securely inside his robes, then started to swivel his broomstick back toward home, but slowed and found himself aiming in a different direction.

He'd surreptitiously looked it up early in the summer, feeling foolish both for wanting to know and for pretending not to; now he took a long look back toward home and then laid his wand across his palm and whispered, "Point me."

This angle, that distance, and the fastest broom on the market in practice if not in theory. He could make it there and back before dark, or not too much after, if he didn't dawdle.

Tom leaned low over the handle of his broomstick and shot off toward Little Hangleton.

The whole way wasn't protected, of course, so he had to fly high to be careful against being spotted. He was grateful for having just passed his 17th birthday, so he could cast a small heating charm without having Ministry officials down on him. Why was he even GOING? What was he going to do when he GOT there?

This was a completely ridiculous idea. He should turn back. He WOULD turn back. Any second now.

But his wand was circling on itself now and there was a village below him...

He circled down slowly, keeping sharp eyes out for Muggles. The largest house, that was theirs. Standing apart from itself, just like they held themselves off from everyone else. Or maybe they didn't now. Maybe they were involved in the village and...and he wasn't sure which way he preferred. He wanted to hate them -- his grandparents, the father who'd never even wanted them. But would his stomach be clenching like this if it were just hate?

Tom landed on the opposite side from the town in a last quick dive, thinking halfway down that he'd best land outside the grounds to avoid tripping any protective charms and then remembering that there wouldn't be any. He landed carefully on a garden path and put his broomstick down behind a bush, casting a quick Disillusionment Charm to prevent anyone noticing it.

Of course, he ought to go right back home. He was hardly dressed for going among Muggles; if anyone saw him, he'd have a dreadful time explaining. But then, nobody was likely to see him who didn't live here, and they ought to know there were wizards.

He'd still have a dreadful time explaining.

He WOULD go home. But the house stood on a hill overlooking the village, not IN the village itself, and the grounds were quite extensive. He shouldn't run into anyone if he just took a quick look and then left.

That was it. A quick look, then he'd go home like he should. Tom strode quickly through the edges of the grounds until he could see the house itself. It was stately and elegant, if a little new to eyes more accustomed to seeing a thousand year old castle. Tom came to a sudden stop just in front of the low fence that surrounded the house itself, one hand resting on a fence post. He couldn't go any further.

And yet he had a nearly irresistable image of striding up to those imposing doors, opening them with a quick flick of his wand, and coming across his so-called family sitting down to dinner without a care for him or what had ever become of him. And then he'd--

...He wished he knew.

He looked down for a moment, fishing the envelope back out and then just the badge, putting the letters away again -- he knew nearly all they'd say, after all -- and turning the badge over twice in his fingers.

He'd brought it here. He'd come to look at a house where people lived of whom he knew nothing except that half his blood was theirs, and that they hadn't wanted him or his mother. If they even knew he existed, would they care how he was doing in school?

Tom was about to turn and go back for his broom when an angry shout made him look up. "You there! Lad! What are you doing here and who --"

As he raised his head, the dark-haired man approaching him -- well dressed in the Muggle way, Tom noted absently, and then sucked in his breath at the eyebrows and jawline he always saw in the mirror -- stopped speaking abruptly and looked him up and down, taking in his face and the robes and going a little pale. "--Who are you?" he finished in a more normal tone, the irritation from before replaced by wariness.

Tom didn't say anything for a handful of heartbeats, just stared at the man who looked...so unnervingly like him. He looked down at the badge he still clutched in his hand, then said slowly, "I just made Head Boy at my school and...for some reason, you're the first person I wanted to know."

The man stared at him for a long moment, then reached out a hand toward his chin and let it fall: Tom was already looking at him as directly as could be. "My face and -- Mary's eyes. ...Don't tell me she was --" He broke off with a sharp curse and took a step back. "I shouldn't have thought to see you even if I'd known. What's your name?"

He was expecting it -- should've been expecting it -- and yet the curse at seeing him still hurt. Not as much as a magical curse would've, of course, but...he could've deflected that. "My name is Tom Marvolo Riddle."

Utter disbelief, on the face too much like his own. "She gave you mine?"

"I always thought it was rather strange myself," Tom replied coolly.

"I'd have thought --" The elder broke off, tried several abortive sentences that never made it past the throat, and finally settled on, "...How is she?"

Tom fought back from snapping, "Why do you care?" and instead thought for a moment before replying, "She's happy. She married again, raises plants."

"But we never --" Another sudden stop. "I suppose it doesn't matter." A swallow. "Plants. Not much surprise, that."

"No. She needed something restful for a while after I was born. Nearly killed her. Would you have cared?" No, that wasn't how he meant to say it--!

Had his...father...actually blanched? "Of course I --" The elder Riddle stopped and closed his eyes. "Of course I would. But of course you wouldn't think so."

"I don't know why I'm even here," Tom muttered, taking a half-step back and folding his arms in front of his chest. "She...told me a little about you. Not much. Enough to find you."

A harsh laugh. "More than I knew of her."

"I can't imagine why she wouldn't want to tell you everything, considering when she DID try to tell you anything important about her you went running back to your parents' house." Tom's words were dry.

"What, that hers thought she'd have done as well to marry a beast?" The words were bitten off and left with a cutting edge.

"Some wizards feel that. Not all. I wouldn't know about them; I never met them."

"Don't tell me she's not talking to them either."

"They died. Just before I was born." Tom's expression could have been etched in stone. "She was all alone."

He saw his father swallow. "I see."

Tom shrugged. He meant the gesture to seem casual, but he could still feel the tension in his face. "If it makes you feel any better, there are people who think having a Muggle parent makes you the next thing to a beast as well." He smiled thinly. "So you're not alone."

The other's lips thinned slightly in response. "I didn't do it to you knowingly."

"No, you just didn't care one way or the other." Another shrug, just one shoulder jerking up in a hard, fast movement. "It's all right, I'm used to it."

"As you must have been on your way by the time Mary thought to tell me anything, what difference would it have made to that if I cared or not?" A long sigh, and before Tom could speak, his namesake did more quietly. "I did care, and do, though it looks as though I'm given no right to any longer."

"Don't try to turn it around on her!" Tom said tightly, bitterly. "You're the one who abandoned your own pregnant wife just because of what she told you. You're the one who left her. You're the one who wanted nothing to do with us. Don't try telling me you cared. If you cared, you wouldn't have LEFT!"

"If you want to know this -- yes. I left. We quarreled, when she finally said she was a witch and started to explain just how much of her life she'd deceived me about without a word of lies. I asked -- and maybe I shouldn't -- what other secrets she might be keeping." A long breath. "I asked if she'd enchanted me into loving her, and when she wouldn't deny it I thought I'd lay hands on her if I didn't do something else -- so I packed up and walked away, said I couldn't live with her now. And I shouldn't have left." The elder Tom Riddle's face was as tight as his son's as he looked down for a moment. "It was still a surprise that when I looked for her again she was gone."

Tom was rigid with shock. "You--you looked for her?"

"Yes. And discovered I didn't have any idea where to find her. She'd barely told me anything about this 'wizarding world'. I didn't know where to find it, or how to get in touch with her. I...can't say I know what I would've done if I had found her, but I looked."

His mother hadn't said -- anything to suggest -- but how could she? If he never found her, she wouldn't have known, would she? "I thought you'd hated her. For having magic."

"I didn't know what to think about magic. I thought she was crazy at first," the elder Riddle admitted, not looking at his son. "Magic was just out of stories. But then she showed me and I knew it was real and...all I could think was of how much she'd lied to me."

"Maybe she was afraid you'd react the way you did."

"I could hardly have accused her of lying if she hadn't."

Tom turned abruptly and walked a few feet, stopping and leaning his hands against the short fence that surrounded the Riddle home. He struggled to control his breathing. This--He didn't know what he'd been expecting to happen, coming down here, but...this wasn't it. "If it hadn't been for the lying," he said at last, "if she'd just told you about being a witch, about what her parents thought, would you -- would it have mattered?"

"Would her telling have mattered, or her being a witch?"

"Either. Both."

"Yes." Quiet for a few moments. "I don't know what would have happened, exactly. I didn't know what to think of magic, as I said.... I might have been suspicious still. Maybe we'd have quarreled as badly... but I don't think so. I don't." A wry smile, a half-lift of one shoulder. "I suppose I'd have known sooner her parents disapproved, but if she didn't care for their opinion that was her lookout. Mine were none too fond of her either, though not half so vehement about it."

Tom was staring at the ground. He couldn't quite manage to turn around and look his...father in the eye. There was one question preying on his mind, begging to be asked, but he wasn't sure if he could...

"...Would it have made any difference if you'd known she was pregnant? Would you have...wanted a baby?"

He thought he heard a sigh, and the words came slowly, as if dragged out. "I couldn't have left then. Even if it had only been a spell."

Tom closed his eyes. "Just so you know," he said, very softly, "the use of love spells and potions has been illegal for years. It wasn't a spell."

"I thought not, later. It would have had to be a very good one," his father replied, "as long as it lasted."

Tom's grip tightened, the stone of the fence biting into his palms. Take one stupid misunderstanding, add in two healthy doses of pride, mix in a dash of cosmic irony, and you had his life. "She was happy. She is happy. She loves Uncle Tavish. He -- he's been there since I was three; he's the only father I ever knew. The only one I needed."

"...Good."

"Good?!"

"Wouldn't you say? Do you think I'd want her miserable, and you fatherless, because I was too much the fool to be there?"

"I don't KNOW what you'd want!" Tom burst out, finally turning back around. "I don't know, because I don't know YOU! I look just like you, I have your blood, and I don't KNOW you!"

They stared at each other for perhaps a minute, pulse ticking off some obscure fractions of seconds behind Tom's eyes. Finally, "No. We don't know each other." Very quietly. "Come inside?"

Tom swallowed hard. "I don't need a father," he whispered.

"...I'd still like to get to know you."

Another long pause, then Tom jerked his head in a quick nod. "All right. For a little while."

And he followed his father inside.

*****