Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Part I: Chapter 1
A lizard, unnaturally still, observed the proceedings from its inconspicuous position on the front fence of the muggle house. It was attentive, yet inwardly sneered as it watched as the tabby cat transformed into a severe-looking woman dressed in green robes, her black hair drawn into a tight, strict bun.
Lucius Malfoy didn't move a muscle of his animagus form, while Minerva McGonagall wasted no time in making her opinions known as soon as the old fool reached her after having put out the lights from the lamps of the muggle street.
Her conversation with Albus Dumbledore, in that most ominous of days for dark wizarding kind, flickered in and out of his awareness as he awaited for what was to happen.
"You'd be stiff too if you'd been sitting on a brick wall all day," said the witch, looking distinctly ruffled.
"All day? When you could have been celebrating?" said the old goat, his blue eyes twinkling, which provoked a small spasm of fury in the tail of the unseen and undetected lizard. "I must have passed a dozen feasts and parties on my way here."
"Oh yes, everyone's celebrating, all right," she said impatiently. "You'd think they'd be a bit more careful, but no - even the Muggles have noticed something's going on. It was on their news." She jerked her head back at the dark living-room window of house number four of Privet Drive. "I heard it. Flocks of owls... shooting stars... Well, they're not completely stupid. They were bound to notice something. Shooting stars down in Kent - I'll bet that was Dedalus Diggle. He never had much sense."
"You can't blame them," said Dumbledore gently. "We've had precious little to celebrate for eleven years."
"I know that," said McGonagall irritably. "But that's no reason to lose our heads. People are being downright careless, out on the streets in broad daylight, not even dressed in Muggle clothes, swapping rumors."
She threw a sharp, sideways glance at Dumbledore here, as though hoping he was going to tell her something, but he didn't, so she went on. "A fine thing it would be if, on the very day You-Know-Who seems to have disappeared at last, the Muggles found out about us all. I suppose he really has gone, Dumbledore?"
Lucius didn't bother paying attention to the doddering old fool's reply. With icy calculation, he was wondering the same thing. He pondered about the sequence of events of the last months which had brought him to be there, in a filthy muggle street, in his animagus form on the fence of a house which belonged to the relatives of the mudblood Lily Evans. The mudblood who had been killed, along with her husband, last night – murdered by his Lord. And if rumors were to be believed, it was her one-year-old son who had brought upon the death of his Master.
He knew very well that part of it had began over a year ago, when Severus Snape had barged in a Death Eater meeting, gasping about something he had overheard, something about a prophecy. Neither Lucius nor the other Death Eaters had been allowed to hear anything about the matter, since their Lord had instantly commanded them to leave him alone with Severus.
But it had started then, with the Longbottoms and Potters going into hiding, with the useless rat, Peter Pettigrew, somehow gaining favor with his Lord, with a strange wizard in hooded grey cloak visiting the Dark Lord behind closed doors, and with the news that Alice Longbottom and Lily Potter were pregnant, with his Lord becoming uncommonly interested in such a mundane and irrelevant matter.
Lucius hadn't quite known what to think regarding his Lord's change in attitude - the Dark Lord's obsession with the spawn growing in the mudblood's womb.
Yes, for many Death Eaters, it had all began over a year ago, but for him, it started exactly thirteen years ago – the day he had seen his father for the last time. The day his father, the wizard he revered and admired above all others, had told him things he didn't quite understand, when he had been given his father's grimoire, with instructions about the ritual he had to use on his family and those he considered worthy.
And he had done so many years later -precisely last night- even when he didn't understand the reason or importance of subjecting his wife and one-year-old son to the strange ritual. Even after he had bestowed the same favor on his sister-in-law, the Lestrange brothers, and others attached to his family, there were many things he still didn't comprehend, despite following his father's orders without any hesitation.
Indeed, what had happened last night only served to perplex him further, since in the precise moment he had felt his Dark Mark flaring painfully on his left arm, knowing that something terrible must have happened to his Lord, the pensieve his father had left him so many years ago had suddenly been unlocked.
Restraining his unhinged sister-in-law from going out and taking vengeance for their Lord's demise, knowing that it would pain Narcissa if something happened to Bellatrix, Lucius had commandeered the Death Eaters and ordered them to wait, to bid for the appropriate time in which to take any measures and actions.
Despite taking the mantle of leadership with icy determination and cool calmness, Lucius admitted to himself that he was none the wiser about the events which had transpired. The moment he realized the wards on his father's pensieve had dropped, he had wasted no time in plunging into the memories which had been left for him so many years ago, but they had only served to confuse and flummox him further.
Nevertheless, there he was, awaiting to witness something his father had foretold so that he could, at last, understand his father's motives and course of action, and indeed, the very reasons for many of his own actions which he had taken following the orders his father had so long ago given him.
Lucius pulled out of his musings when a low rumbling sound echoed in the night. Scrambling in his animagus form, the lizard quickly dashed along the fence to have a better angle from which to observe the proceedings, at the precise moment in which a huge motorcycle fell out of the air and landed on the road in front of McGonagall and Dumbledore.
He recognized the oaf immediately. It was the Groundskeeper of Hogwarts, whom he had tried, as one of the Governors of the school, to sack repeatedly and which Dumbledore had always prevented. Lucius repressed an inward sneer of disgust and merely kept absolutely still as his small lizard eyes fixed on what the half-giant was holding in a bundle of blankets with depicted snitches flying across the cloth.
"Hagrid," said Dumbledore, sounding relieved. "At last. And where did you get that motorcycle?"
"Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore," said the giant, climbing carefully off the motorcycle as he spoke. "Young Sirius Black lent it to me. I've got him, sir."
"No problems, were there?"
"No, sir - house was almost destroyed, but I got him out all right before the Muggles started swarmin' around. He fell asleep as we was flyin' over Bristol."
The lizard watched how the old fool and McGonagall reached the half-giant, catching sight of Dumbledore carefully plucking out a letter from his robes' pocket, undoubtedly addressed to the filthy muggles living in the house behind them.
For a moment, Lucius felt a twinge of disgust and pity for the baby – a baby who none, other than the Potters' closest friends, could have seen, having been born, as it was, when the Potters had been in hiding. Dumbledore, given the old fool's expression of gentle expectation, had certainly never laid eyes upon the baby.
If the baby wasn't the spawn of a mudblood and a Potter, and hadn't been the reason for the Dark Lord's downfall, Lucius thought he would have seriously considered snatching it away to bring up the whelp like a magical child should properly be raised, instead of being left with despicable muggles.
However, he remained still in his animagus form as he observed how Dumbledore and McGonagall bent forward over the bundle of blankets. Inside, just visible, was a baby boy, fast asleep. Under a tuft of jet-black hair over his forehead, a curiously shaped cut, like a bolt of lightning, could be seen. Even from his position, Lucius could feel that it thrummed with Dark Magic, and his lizard body twitched as confusion settled in his mind and as yearning to feel that intoxicating magic trickled on his skin.
Suddenly, it happened the very moment, the very instant that Dumbledore's eyes widened when his gaze zeroed in on the cut on the baby's forehead, one of the wizard's fingers shakily coming forth to touch it.
Lucius felt it acutely, a constriction of air as magic abruptly seemed to snap and thunder around them in rolling, blistering waves. He felt it in his very being, in his soul, mind and body, and he haphazardly fell to the ground, twitching while he suddenly found he could no longer maintain his animagus form.
"Harry Potter," gasped out Dumbledore, swaying on his feet, an expression of deep pain etching on his face as his pupils dilated behind his spectacles, looking as if his mind was being torn and split apart. A shaking finger still poised on the cut on the baby's forehead, just as shocked realization seemed to sweep across his aged features. "Harry Riddle."
'Harry Riddle', the words reverberated in Lucius' mind, but not in the old fool's voice. No, it was in the cultivated tenor of his father's voice, echoing in his mind like in the day they had been spoken, thirteen years ago, when his father had told him about the boy he had known. It was the same name which had been imprinted in his mind last night, as were the images of the green eyes and beautiful face, when he had seen the memories his father had left for him.
A chilly fear of being discovered and undoubtedly captured as a Death Eater swept over him, but none of those present seemed to even notice that a wizard had just appeared on the grass, transforming from a lizard.
McGonagall, the half-giant, and clearly Dumbledore, seemed to be experiencing the same as he was. They swayed and teetered where they stood, their eyes became clouded, their expressions one of deep pain, looking as if their minds were being ravaged, as his own was. Yet his experience wasn't a painful one. And he started to slowly realize what it all meant; the memories he had seen, the instructions his father had left for him, the ritual he had underwent and made others go through as well.
"No – can't be 'Arry Riddle!" the oaf cried out, stumbling on his large feet as he protectively pressed the baby against the coarse material of his coat.
But whatever the half-giant was frantically blabbering about with anguish and disbelief, it was ignored the moment they were all blinded by a flash of light.
Lucius, crouching on the muggles' lawn, in a position he would had never found himself in, being on hands and knees, froze and simply stared at the wizard who had materialized before them, instincts of one having been raised in Slytherin House coming forth to ensure his own survival.
He recognized him immediately as the eerie man who had previously been visiting the Dark Lord – dressed in a grey cloak, with a hood which cast his face in shadows and, in one finger, with a strange ring flashing under the moonlight, a symbol in the black gem he couldn't quite discern.
Lucius might be certain that the wizard was the same one he had seen entering his Lord's study, some months ago, but he surely didn't know the man's identity. Dumbledore, on the other hand, seemed to recognize exactly who the man was and what his intentions were.
Not a word was spoken, but Dumbledore's expression turned thunderous and the old wizard immediately whipped out his wand. It soon proved to be useless - no matter what spells the old fool cast, the cloaked wizard was evidently protected by layers of shimmering magical shields.
In the bat of an eyelash, as Dumbledore swept forward to drive the unknown wizard away, a loud wail pierced the night as the bundle of blankets in the half-giant's arms flew from the oaf's grasp, the baby rushing across the air towards the cloaked wizard.
The silent man brought up something in his hands, his ring flashing under the moonlight, as clouds of wispy air wrapped around him. In the next second, as the wailing baby was about to clash against the wizard's chest, the man threw up something in the air and specks of golden dust showered down on the baby.
An incantation in a strange language Lucius knew not, was spoken, and in that instant, the baby who now floated amidst blankets in mid air, was encompassed by a globe of golden light. With a bright flash of whiteness, Harry Potter disappeared into thin air, silently, only a puff of golden specks remaining. Along with the baby, just as quietly but much more inconspicuously, the strange wizard had vanished.
It was in that very same second, as soon as the baby had been taken away, that everything seemed to ripple around Lucius, an avalanche of images and memories raging in his mind – that which should be painful, the very shifting of a timeline, the adjustment of his own previous memories, came to him as nothing more than gentle additions in his recollections.
He finally understood the reason for the ritual his father had written in the Malfoy grimoire. He felt it in his very being – the winds of change, the twisting of fate that was rippling across all the wizarding world, leaving him and those who had underwent the ritual, to adjust to such shattering modifications in lives and pasts with gentle ease, keeping their memories and their very existence intact, only adding more recollections to their minds, of things that hadn't happened but now, had.
Lucius didn't spare a glance at Dumbledore or the other two remaining, not caring what would become of them, yet having the inkling that one as powerful as Dumbledore would survive and cling to his own memories and what was now his past reality – never to be true again.
With an inaudible 'crack', he instantly apparated to his manor, to the side of his wife and one-year-old son, Draco. Later that night, those who had undergone the ritual and others who had been similarly protected, gathered in Malfoy Manor to celebrate the Dark's soon-to-be reign over Europe, for their Lord had been all-knowing and all-powerful. Their Master had planned everything with utter perfection.
And Lucius would receive a wizard who many had previously believed to be long dead, struck down by dragon pox at an old age. He would hear the story of how Harry Potter came to be Harry Riddle, named as such by a muggle girl, of all twists of fate – a girl who was, unbeknownst to her, the daughter of a squib, a girl who would die in anonymity and whose only impact in the Wizarding World would be the bestowing of a surname to a baby who captured her gentle and tender heart, the repercussions of it stretching out and rippling through time and throughout the lives of all.
That very same night, as the winds of change swept over the Wizarding World, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy would conceive their second son.
Alice Jones inwardly sighed as she did her best to present a chastised and contrite expression on her face while Mrs. Sharpe continued yelling at her and Kathy. She reminded herself that she couldn't afford to hurl her apron at the nasty woman and quit her job there. It had been a miracle, by itself, that she had found the position in such precarious times, even if the wages were dismal.
She needed all the pennies she could scrap together to put food on the table, for her sister and brother. Furthermore, it was her duty -she felt in the bottom of her heart- to make the lives of the children there as happy and merry as possible.
It had taken her a year to find a job and by the end of such period of time she had been so desperate that she had taken whatever was offered. She was literate, thanks to her mother who had been a school teacher and who always insisted that she would go nowhere without an education, and therefore had hoped to find a post as a bookkeeper in some shop. But no one wanted to employ a young girl, no matter if she knew her letters and numbers.
Alice covertly glanced around the room she was standing in, her cheerful optimism not being daunted by what she saw. The home was a ghastly place, with wallpapers torn and peeling from the walls, the walls themselves moldy and stained with black spots of humidity, the many bedrooms in the house tiny and grim, with meager, shabby furniture. But at least everything was spotlessly clean – thanks to her and Kathy's efforts, that was, because Mrs. Sharpe certainly didn't care if the children in the home rolled around in grime and fell ill from unsanitary conditions.
She had been employed a month ago and her heart already swelled with compassion for the children who lived there. What chances did any of them have to be adopted? Slim to none, she thought. Yet her naturally cheerful disposition brightened when she reminded herself that she had persuaded Mrs. Sharpe to allow her to teach the children their alphabet and how to read and write. She didn't think Mrs. Sharpe had agreed out of the kindness of her heart, but because the Matron was gaining a teacher for free – Alice's wages certainly hadn't been increased.
Abruptly, she locked gazes with Kathy and her lips momentarily quirked upwards in a covert grin as Mrs. Sharpe kept railing at them. In Kathy's eyes, she saw the same abhorrence she felt for the Matron of St. Jerome's Orphanage. Kathy had been working there for over a year and they had instantly become friends, being the youngest of the caregivers.
Kathy and she had often speculated what Mrs. Sharpe did with the money the British government granted to the orphanage. Why was there never meat for the children to eat, why was there nothing to drink but water from the tab, and why the only clothes that were bought were second-hand frayed ones which looked about to shed to pieces?
Well, they knew why. Mrs. Sharpe liked her gin and liked to have a proper bed in her room and other comforts, while the children slept in ratty cots. But, Alice also had to admit, it was very possible that the funds for the orphanage had been cut short, as many things had in London during the past few years. She didn't like to badmouth or think the worst about her employer.
Suddenly, Alice's head jerked upwards when she thought she heard the wailing of a child coming from the outside. A strange tingling sensation prickled on her skin – the kind of thing she had long ago learned to pay attention to.
Some time ago, when her little sister had been crossing a street, playing with her friends, she had felt the same thing, just in time to see a motorcar about to run over her sister. She had saved her in time. From them onwards, no matter why her skin tingled, she always became alert and took seriously that eerie perception.
"Did you hear that, ma'am?" said Alice politely, interrupting Mrs. Sharpe's drunken and bellowed rants about their lax and forgiving hand with the children under their care.
"Hear what, girl?" spat out Mrs. Sharpe, her beady black eyes narrowing with distaste and anger.
"I think-" Alice stopped and then gasped when the wail sounded clearly through the window of Mrs. Sharpe's office. "There's a baby outside!"
"Well, go get it, lass," snapped Mrs. Sharpe, briskly waving a hand at her and Kathy. "I'm not paying you to stand there gaping."
Alice didn't have to be told twice, and Kathy soon followed after her heels, undoubtedly relieved of being spared from the presence of their employer.
"Nasty old crow," grumbled Kathy under her breath as they quickly made their way along the narrow corridor, the hem of their worn, grey dresses swishing as the floorboards creaked under their feet.
"She does her best, I'm sure," murmured Alice with an apprehensive frown on her round face. "None of us has it easy nowadays, with poverty, unemployment and hunger all around."
Kathy's expression turned grim. "The Americans are doing worse from what the radio says – flinging themselves from the windows of their tall buildings, I've heard…"
"The newspapers are calling what we're living the Great Depression," muttered Alice under her breath as they dashed around a corner. "I never thought that after the Great War things could be bad again. I was just a little girl then, but I remember clearly how my dad-"
She clamped her mouth shut when Kathy shot her a pitying glance. She wouldn't say more. She had already confided in her friend about how her father had come back from the Great War, perturbed and violent. Disfigured, having lost an eye and an arm in the war, her father couldn't find a job when he returned to England and things just spiraled downwards from there on.
She still thought that it was a blessing that her dad had left their shabby, small house in Cheapside, five years ago - to make fortune in America, he had said. But neither she, her siblings nor their mother had ever seen or heard from him again. And she thought it was for the best – the man who had been so gentle and loving once, had turned into a nightmare to live with, and her mother had sustained the full brunt of his unbalanced temper.
Her mother… it still pained her to think about her. She had been a caring, smart woman, a teacher in a school for children of well-to-do families. But after her dad had left and the school had gone bankrupt, her mother's mind had snapped when they had been plunged into poverty after her mother had been dismissed from her job.
It was the only plausible explanation Alice could find regarding her mother's behavior. 'Crazed', their neighbors had started calling her mother, when her mother began going around saying that her parents would soon come for her and her children and take them away to their mansion, to a world of wealth, where there was no hunger or desperation, no people groveling and begging in the streets, but palaces and castles where food appeared on tables, where little green creatures cleaned with a snap of their fingers, where portraits spoke and horses had wings.
A year ago, when her mother had been dying from pneumonia, still in her deathbed did she feverishly speak about it, reassuring Alice and her two younger siblings that their grandparents, whom they had never met or known about, would come for them and take care of them. That they would forgive their mother for not being like them and take her children to live with them in wealth, like princes. Of course, that had never happened; Alice had never seen hide nor hair of these estranged grandparents or received any letters.
"Oh my, you were right!"
Alice snapped her head up when she found that they had reached the front door and that Kathy had opened it and was now staring at a squirming bundle of blankets on the steps – and strange blankets they were.
Without another hitch of breath, Alice bent downwards and gently took hold of the baby that had been abandoned at the orphanage's doorstep, first marveling at the soft texture of the blanket the baby was wrapped in with, then curiously eyeing the small golden balls with wings that were depicted in the fabric.
A gurgle issued from small pouty lips and Alice gasped, astounded and mesmerized, when the squirming baby opened his eyes – luminous emerald orbs peering at her.
"Kathy – look!" breathed out Alice, her blue eyes widening as she kept staring into the baby's eyes, utterly enthralled. "Such beautiful eyes! Have you ever seen the like?" The baby in her arms flailed tinny chubby hands towards her and she chuckled, tenderly bringing a finger to tickle the baby's cute little button nose, as she cooed softly, feeling that her heart had just been stolen away, "Aren't you a charmer, baby boy… so beautiful, so handsome… you'll be a heartbreaker, you will…"
Kathy snorted, glancing at her friend, dryly amused, though she had to admit that the baby was uncommonly handsome. "How do you know it's a boy? We haven't checked yet-"
"Because of this," said Alice, grinning widely as she parted the blanket to reveal what she had caught sight of – on the chest of the baby's one-piece, bright red letters spelling 'Harry' were woven, with a picture of a lion cub sitting on top, with a small golden crown between the cub's ears.
"So Harry is his name…" trailed off Kathy, eyeing the baby's clothes and then the blanket. "And his surname? Is there any letter?"
"No," replied Alice once she had carefully searched the blanket as she tenderly rocked the baby against her chest, her expression becoming crestfallen. "What family name will we give him? Oh, why would anyone abandon such a beautiful baby? And leaving no information behind! Poor sweet thing…"
"His parents must be wealthy folk," said Kathy with utter conviction, while she closed the door shut against the cold London night and followed Alice as they made their way to the nursery. "You can tell by the quality of the blanket and his clothes." She frowned musingly, as she added, "And by his delicate features. He must be gentry. No common folk would have such a good-looking baby, and looking so healthy and well-fed – his cheeks are plump and rosy!"
"Yes, he's a little prince, isn't he?" cooed Alice enchanted, as the baby peered at her with almond-shaped, bright green eyes while his tiny chubby hand grasped her finger, a giggle gurgling from his pouty lips. "Harry… It means home ruler – king, did you know, Kathy?" She smiled down at the baby. "Your parents named you well, didn't they?"
"What do you think happened to him, with that cut he has on his forehead?"
Alice shot Kathy a glance, and then smiled as she gazed back at the baby in her arms. "Some sort of accident, I suppose. It looks fresh, but I'll clean it in a jiffy and it will heal and fade in no time."
The moment they stepped into the nursery, Alice made a straight line towards the only cradle in the tiny room, ignoring Kathy's appalled gasp behind her.
"Surely you don't mean to keep them together-"
Alice halted when she reached the cradle and shot her friend a stern glance. "And why not, Kathy Shear?"
Kathy puffed like an affronted pigeon, briefly glancing at the silent baby in the cradle before she peeled her gaze away, a shiver running down her spine. "You know why not, Alice Jones. That baby gives me the creeps – never crying, always so still and fixedly looking with those dark eyes of his. He's not normal – there's something strange about him, something bad."
"Upon my word, saying such things about a mere baby, Kathy!"
Kathy took a step forward, her jaw setting with curt stubbornness as she looked at her friend with a grave expression on her young face. "I told you about his mother, didn't I? I was there when she gave birth to him – and she was so strange, with eyes looking in different directions, so ugly and dressed so weirdly-"
"Yes, you did," interrupted Alice, lifting her chin up. "It was the first thing you gossiped about the day I came to work here. But I don't see why you dislike baby Tom so much."
Her expression softened as she rocked the baby she had in her arms and gazed at the other in the cradle, being instantly pierced by unfathomable dark blue eyes that stared at her as if they could look into her very soul. She repressed a shudder, not wanting to give Kathy more reasons to say such cruel things about an innocent baby.
All the caregivers in the orphanage seemed to dislike little baby Tom and at first she hadn't understood why – such a well behaved baby who never cried and made no fuss. But she did admit to herself that Tom didn't act like any normal baby she had ever known. Nevertheless, he was just a baby, deserving love, tenderness and affection like all the other children in the orphanage. She wasn't going to discriminate just because the child was spooky.
Without any hesitation, with resolved determination and a plan unraveling in her mind, she carefully placed baby Harry in the cradle, next to Tom.
She gazed at them with a soft smile on her face, as she whispered quietly, "Harry is smaller, but he can't be older than a year, just like Tom. It will do them good to be together - I doubt anyone will adopt them straight away, not with so many wealthy folk having lost their fortunes. In a few years, they'll be taken in by some well-to-do family when this Great Depression is over…"
"What are you rambling about?" interjected Kathy, soon reaching one side of the cradle to stare at her friend with a suspicious gaze. "What mischief are you plotting now, Alice?"
"They are the youngest in the orphanage, Kathy," murmured Alice softly, feeling as if her heart was painfully clenching in her chest, "and you know how cruel children can be to those younger than themselves. They should have each other as long as they are here - they should be like siblings. I don't know what I would do without my younger sister and brother. I would be so lonely. I don't want that for these two babies."
Her blue eyes sparkled as she gazed up at Kathy, and she added with steely determination, "We don't have a surname for Harry, so let them be brothers to each other. Let's give them a common past in which the abandonment from their parents will not matter as long as they know that they are together-"
"You want to say that they are brothers?" gasped out Kathy appalled. "To lie to them when they grow up and ask-"
"Of course not!" interrupted Alice, her expression turning dismayed. "If they ask we will tell them the truth - that we don't know about Harry's origins and that we only know Tom's full name. But it will matter little to them when they ask, if we bring them up to be as close as siblings. They have no one else but themselves, Kathy! And they look alike, don't they? Both uncommonly beautiful babies – gentry, as you said…"
She trailed off and blinked as she gazed at the two babies. "Oh, look at them!"
Baby Harry, who had been peering with immense curiosity at the baby at his side, suddenly gurgled happily and then snatched in his chubby hands a silky black strand of hair from Tom's head. Alice, having expected a wail or some sort of protest from Tom, could only gape as the strangely solemn baby locked his dark-eyed gaze with the green one of Harry, one of his small thin hands, with unusual dexterity in a baby, slapping on Harry's tuft of messy hair – as if dishing out as much as he got.
But when Alice was certain that Tom would yank on Harry's hair in retribution, as the baby often did to her when displeased, the baby strangely stilled, his short thin fingers having brushed against the open cut on Harry's forehead.
Alice didn't dare intervene, too perplexed with the interaction, especially when a gurgle, sounding like a puzzled question, issued from Tom's lips, the baby tilting his head to a side as he fixedly stared at Harry. The new baby in the orphanage, for his part, merely let out a soft giggle, his green eyes fluttering close as he placidly snuggled in his blanket, as if Tom's touch felt soothingly familiar.
In a few seconds, after a mighty yawn, Harry had curled up against Tom, fast asleep, while little Tom remained unblinkingly gazing at the slumbering baby, his expression one as if he didn't quite know what to make of the creature that had invaded his cradle and as if he was gravely pondering about his uninvited guest who had no qualms in drooling and draping himself all over him.
Alice chuckled happily, her eyes gleaming as she gazed up at Kathy. "If that's not a sign, what is? That's the first time Tom has done something like this - he cannot stand the presence of other children around him."
"Signs, indeed," scoffed Kathy, rolling her eyes, not looking at all impressed. "Well, as you like, but it will be your task to convince Mrs. Sharpe."
"I don't think it will be hard. She won't care what surname we give Harry, one way or the other," said Alice cheerfully, her voice lowering to a soft whisper as he gazed down at the babies again. "Tom and Harry Riddle."
The tickling sensation prickled over her skin, for a second time in that night, and Alice simply knew that she had done a good thing. As she went around the cradle, to tug on Kathy's apron and leave the nursery for the babies to peacefully sleep in quietness, she caught sight of something from the corner of her eyes that made her pause.
But in the next second, she inwardly chided herself in her mind, 'You will not be prone to flights of the imagination like your mother, Alice Jones.'
Indeed, it was clearly her imagination doing tricks on her when she had thought that she had seen the lion cub, depicted on the chest of Harry's one-piece, letting out a silent roar. And such a beautiful one-piece it was. Pity. As soft to the touch and as of good quality as they were, Harry's blanket and one-piece would have to go and be replaced by frayed grey clothes like other babies before him in the orphanage had worn. Mrs. Sharpe would certainly be selling the rich clothes at the first chance she had.
"Now, Kathy Shear," said Alice quietly as they left the nursery together, "I believe you mentioned this morning that you had something very important to tell me."
Kathy shot her a large smile, with airs of good-natured smugness. "I won't be Miss Shear for long. I'll be Mrs. Cole to you, soon."
"You agreed to marry Mr. Cole?" Alice gawked at her. "But he's so old! He's forty and you're just two years older than myself – you're just nineteen, Kathy."
And as the two friends discussed the advantages and disadvantages of marrying before turning into old maids, and most importantly, marrying someone like Mr. Cole, the owner of a shop and thus able to provide to his bride the certainty of knowing where her next meal would be coming from –an unusual luxury in such times of financial turmoil- two one-year-old babies were left behind, their lives already irrevocably changed further by a soft-hearted caregiver who believed that imaginary bonds of brotherhood were better than none at all.
Alice would never know what her actions had provoked and the profound consequences of it. And in years to come, when Tom and Harry Riddle stepped into the Wizarding World, many would have much to say about the ties that bounded the 'brothers' together, one Transfiguration professor in particular – the very same wizard who would be awaiting in the future, remembering and knowing how the timeline had changed and the Wizarding World with it. That which should never have occurred, happening. But he would be there, to make it right again, for the greater good of wizarding kind. However, so would the Malfoys, raising their second son.