A/N This story is based on the premise that a) Tom Riddle suffers from a severe attachment disorder and b) Albus Dumbledore is a sane human being who actually learned from working with children for decades. While I firmly believe in point a), of course point b) makes the story completely AU.
The summer of 1938 was one of anxiety and fear for the Muggles. No less so for the Wizarding World. The rise of Grindelwald coinciding with the success of the German dictator Adolf Hitler kept both worlds preoccupied. War, it was hoped generally, could perhaps still be avoided. Only a few men, Muggle and Wizards alike, knew that it was too late, decades too late for that.
Albus Dumbledore was one of these men. He had his own issues with Grindelwald and kept up with events in the Muggle world. However, first of all, he was an educator. Children kept coming to Hogwarts, the school where he held the Transfiguration position, and in the eyes of the very young he saw hope for the future, and possibilities to prevent wars yet to come. Potential – yes, much of that. One of his most talented protégés was about to finish her second year with yet another perfect O in his subject. She combined hard work with a good dose of natural ability. Young Minerva would undoubtedly go far. In five years, he would actually fear for his own position if she kept up her current pace.
Today he was on his way to a future student of Hogwarts. Apparently Muggleborn, this boy had grown up in a Muggle orphanage – not a good place to be in these troubled times. The Wizarding world, thanks to the economic expertise of the goblins, escaped most of the depression that had hit almost ten years ago, but he visited the Muggle world often enough to see the poverty and misery many poor souls were reduced to. Orphanages, was Albus Dumbledore's experience, depending much on charity, were hit the hardest. Especially those in the big cities, such as London.
It wasn't as bad as he had feared when Headmaster Dippet asked him to go visit this child. The orphanage was at the very least, clean. Granted, there was nothing there that would generate any joy, and undoubtedly the matron – a Mrs Cole – had great trouble making ends meet.
He was after knocking, duly escorted to her by a girl barely older than his own pupils.
"Do you enjoy work here, my dear? The children not too much trouble?" he enquired on their way up.
"'Tis pleasant enough, sir," she replied, "better than many another position. A bit of a struggle with so many chicken pox patients at the moment."
"And the children?"
The girl lowered her eyes briefly. "Good enough children, but running wild too often for want of staff. There is not enough food to go around many a night. Children died as well as staff. I started work here not seven months ago – the girl before me was let go after four months, the girl before her worked her a year. That's a record. Mrs Cole is the only constant, but she does not have the daily care of them, though she has an amazing memory and can tell you about any child in an instant."
"Martha?" Mrs Cole appeared in the door opening.
"Yes, Mrs Cole. A Mr Dumbledore is here to see you."
"Show him in, please."
Mrs Cole clearly also suffered from the lack of provisions that plagues so many these days. She was thin, skinny even, and she had a constant air of worry about her. Her face was sharp, but Dumbledore did not suspect that she was ill-natured as much as she was tired of the struggle to keep the orphanage running.
"Mr Dumbledore. How may I help you?"
An expert Legilimens, he could practically hear the silent plea that this rich looking gentlemen before her was a donator instead of yet another person trying to foist off an unwanted child or even worse, demand payment for some sort of mischief the children had gotten up to.
"Mrs Cole. I am here to inquire about one of your charges, a Tom Marvolo Riddle."
"Oh dear," the woman flustered, "what has he done now?"
"Nothing, I assure you," Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, "Young Tom is the recipient of a trust that will pay for his education at a boarding school in Scotland come this September. I am here to speak to the lad and provide information. Seek it, as well, since we know little about the boy but his name."
"Oh. Oh dear. I'm afraid I am not much help there. His mother arrived here eleven years ago, on the verge of giving birth. She was weakened, and did not last long – merely long enough to name the child. Marvolo…such an odd name, don't you think? But she insisted. She passed away shortly after that, and we had to raise Tom by hand. He was a strange baby – very quiet and rarely cried. It unnerved many of the girls who took care of the infants, though he was not difficult, not then."
"And later on?" Dumbledore prodded.
"As he grew up, strange things happened around him. Other children would get hurt. Animals that lurk around the orphanage – we keep cats to control the rat and mice population, and we were very kindly given a goat by one of our patrons for milk – sometimes end up singed, or with broken bones."
"You ascribe these events to Tom?"
"The ones that get hurt are always those who got into fights with Tom," Mrs Cole sighed, "we know nothing for certain…and in many cases I don't see how it is possible for a child to cause…well."
She paused suddenly, aware that she was not painting Tom in a very favourable light and this gentleman was the one interested in taking the boy off her hands. Not that she was eager to throw out her charges, but every child was an extra mouth to feed.
"How is your orphanage getting by in these difficult times?" Dumbledore asked.
"We are not, really," the harassed-looking Matron admitted, "we cannot feed the children as adequately as we would like, not to mention provide them with new clothes and blankets. Some children have a few possessions from their former homes – toys mostly. I know it is a practice in many other places to take those items to pawn, but I couldn't bring myself…"
"Of course not," Dumbledore nodded. He fished through his pocket and took out a hundred pound note – he always carried Muggle money when venturing into that world. One could never know.
"Please accept this donation on behalf of your other charges. I will, if Tom agrees to come to our institute, take care of all his monetary affairs."
The woman gasped – a hundred pounds would go a long way in providing her charges with the necessities. It was a staggering amount of money for a single donation.
"If I could see Tom now..?" Dumbledore prompted.
"Yes, yes of course. I will take you to him – he is likely in his room."
The small room – from what Mrs Cole told him, 'problem' children were given their own rooms while the other children slept in dormitories for boys and girls, was furnished with a simple bed, a wardrobe and a hard wooden chair. This too, was impeccably clean and the children he had seen on his way over looked reasonably well-cared for. They were a little more thin than one would like, but not terribly so. Their clothes, while threadbare, were clean and repaired with a skilled hand. Mrs Cole clearly was a good woman who did her best to fulfil her duty towards the children as well as she could.
A handsome boy of eleven looked up as they entered.
"You have a visitor, Tommy," Mrs Cole said, her eyes glittering, "do come in, Mr Dumbledore."
"A visitor?" the boy said, "no one visits me." He did not sound whiny or complaining – merely stating a fact.
"I am visiting you," Dumbledore pointed out, "may I sit?"
The boy swung his legs down to sit on the side of his bed and nodded.
"I'll leave you to it, then," Mrs Cole closed the door.
"Let me introduce myself. I am Albus Dumbledore, Professor of Transfiguration at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," Dumbledore began.
Decades of teaching children had taught him a thing or two, and Mrs Cole was correct – something WAS wrong with this boy. Very wrong indeed. His behaviour was cold and disinterested, but a strange light showed in his eyes at the mention of Hogwarts. Not surprise as he often saw in Muggleborns, or disbelief.
"It is magic then, what I can do?" the boy again merely stated a face.
"What CAN you do?" Dumbledore carefully inquired.
"I can make bad things happen to people who hurt me," Tom said matter-of-factly, and without any sort of guilt, "I can talk to snakes. The others think I am crazy. I don't belong here. The other children are afraid of me," he added with something akin to satisfaction.
Dumbledore studied him carefully, considering his options. It was not the first time he had encountered a child like this. Indeed, he thought ruefully, he had BEEN a child like this.
Overpowering the boy by a display of magic would yield no results whatsoever. It would only serve to frighten Tom, and frightening the boy would give him a reason to search more power – more than he apparently already had. To control accidental magic at this age was astounding. There had been other children, over the years, from orphanages, broken homes, impoverished families. Some of them adapted well to life at Hogwarts, others remained distant, or volatile. Punishments, powerstruggles and the like never worked with these children. It might subdue them for a while, but in the end they would find more creative ways to gain the upper hand.
There was one thing they had in common. These children had stopped trusting adults at a very young age – indeed, had likely never trusted an adult at all. Children like Tom, who had had different caretakers almost weekly from the time he was a newborn.
"And you steal, too," Dumbledore nodded towards the wardrobe. Tom flushed.
"They stole from me first," he defended.
Ah. So there was something of a conscience left in the child.
Dumbledore smiled gently. "I understand. Survival of the fittest, hm?"
The boy seemed to dig through his memory. "Darwin," he finally pronounced.
"Clever boy. Now let me tell you why I am here." Dumbledore pulled a parchment from his robes and handed it over.
Tom read it intently. "I get to go to this school?"
"Indeed. And once you are trained up, you will be a fine wizard," Dumbledore assured him.
"I can't pay. Mrs Cole sure can't pay," Tom folded the parchment and handed it back.
"That has all been arranged," Dumbledore said, "If you wish to come, I will take you to Diagon Alley tomorrow to buy school supplies."
"There's no need. Mrs Cole doesn't mind us going out on our own. Just give me directions and I'll do it myself," Tom said.
Dumbledore frowned. "Even if I agreed with an eleven year old – however capable," he raised his hand to ward off the inevitable protest, "roaming London on his own, I would object to the idea of sending a Muggleborn like yourself, who does not know what to expect from the Wizarding World, into Diagon Alley without escort. I will pick you up at ten tomorrow morning."
Tom looked rebellious for a moment, about to protest. When he caught the Professor's stern look, however, he knew there was nothing to be done about it and nodded obediently.
"I will be ready, sir."