There is not enough time, Tom thinks, not enough time in the world; because right now, right this very second, he needs to be at St. Monog's.
"Can no one drive in London?" he growls to himself, pressing harder on the gas, bending the distance between his front bumper and the gray Lexus ahead to dangerous a proximity. Traffic always slows down when he is in a hurry, without fail.
Tom Riddle, local Millionaire, and he still has to endure everyday trifles. Lunch shift traffic, stop lights that don't work properly, idiots chatting away on their cell phones about their miserable, insignificant lives when they should be focused on staying in between the road lines. When they should be thinking about Merope Riddle having another relapse.
Tom cuts the flow of cars off, races through yellow lights, urges his car along on two wheels when the turns get too sharp. He ignores the horns blaring at him- rather used to it. After all, he has a place to be.
I'm just feeling a bit under the weather again, darling, his Mother had said over the phone, Dr. Pomfrey said we mustn't jump to any conclusions.
But another migraine, another bout of nausea, and another check-up was bound to result in another dose of chemo.
Tom swerves dangerously close to a cluster of pedestrians making their way to the hospital visiting quarters. He hardly remembers putting the car in park or locking the doors behind him. He could have left his keys in the ignition and locked them inside, and he hardly would have noticed. His employees would never recognize him in these moments, his forehead shining with the sweat of stress- they would see a stranger in his face. His sucks on the inside of his cheek as he power walks meters into dust. He feels the florescent lights of St. Mongo's flush over his body, dry out his eyes.
The tiles shriek under his shoes, and he fancies the idea of his rubber soles burning from his speed like his tires (he frequently has to have them replaced,and if it wasn't for his influence, he'd be facing thousands of dollars in speeding tickets).
He's tried to convince his mother to let him build a hospital in their home, hire staff for their personal use. What's the use of being rich if not for making their lives convenient?
There is a woman at the reception desk giggling softly into the desk phone, and he approaches it immediately to request the key card required for the elevator to get to the important patients' ward. Tom smiles at the chit coldly before reaching across the counter and grabbing both phone and cord, ripping the cable out of the receiver in a single tug.
"I apologize; am I hindering you from not doing your job?"
His icy tone cuts her into a trembling anger that quickly melts to an easy intimidation; honestly, if you're going to be doing something you're not supposed to be doing, have the gall to fight back when you're caught.
"Key card. Now,"
"S-sorry, sir," she whispers tearfully, hands shaking as she presents him with the thin card.
Tom just growls to himself, spins on his heel with a flourish of his nice work jacket and, with all the intent of making it to his mother's room at full speed, topples right into someone. But he's in a hurry- he has his mother's health to examine, to confirm, has doctors to snap orders at- so he doesn't give the red headed man sprawled out on the ground a second look, doesn't pause to scathingly reply to the comment shouted after him; "Oh, no. I'm fine; thanks for asking, wanker!"
The elevator couldn't have been slower. The world is against me, Tom hears his inner voice moan as he agonizes over the lethargic little dial moving across the floor numbers like a windshield wiper caught in a slow motion action shot. Completely against me.
He's tried to get his mother to realize St. Monogs is not up to par, not good enough for them. It'd be so much easier if she could be cared for at home, where it is only a ten minute drive from his building, out of the ego and danger of the inner city.
The elevator chimes low as it reaches the next building- for it doesn't just go up and down, but across so that it can reach the secluded area Tom had built especially for his mother and any other patients willing to pay the outrageous bill. He quickly slides the key card through the receiver- so quickly the scanner almost misses it, almost can't process the information. The doors begin to slide open, and Tom rushes through sideways, not about to bother with letting them open fully.
Merope has a reserved room, the very first door on the right, bought out with the best services for the next fifty years (a little unnecessary considering Tom owns the entire building and practically the hospital with it). He rounds the corner and sling shots into the door.
Merope is by the large window, looking down at the cultivated pastures and garden before her. A reminder of their garden at home- and really, she should just let him build a team for her for private use within their own property. She smiles warmly at him, and his breath catches at the sight. Yes, he looks a lot like his father he is told, but he is convinced the most beautiful parts of himself come from her. Despite her illness, her aging, she is an exotic, painful prettiness.
She beckons to him with a hand, and he doesn't hesitate. She kisses Tom's knuckles when they meet; "You rushed to get here. And probably killed a few by-standers,"
Tom doesn't deny it. He takes her in greedily, like it could be the first he's ever seen of her- or the last. Her other hand is caressing soft flower petals, a bouquet resting in the window sill, completing the picturesque scene of his mother in the noon sunlight. He takes in the bundle of flowers carefully, the small card attached to the soft green vase.
"They're not going to bite you, Tom,"
He thins his lips and picks the card of gingerly, wondering who he'll have to thank or hunt. There is only one word in handwriting that can almost be considered neat but plain.
Merope is still smiling; "Calla Lilies and their meaning. Aren't they beautiful?"
"Were they delivered anonymously?" Tom asks, setting the card down and thinking about how to track someone down via handwriting analysis.
"They're from a friend. He hand delivers them to me every time I'm admitted. He's much too young to be an admirer, so you can relax, dear," her voice washes over him, perhaps the only human voice that can calm his racing mind that often thinks way too far ahead of himself.
They sit, Merope bathing in the warmth coming off the glass in the window, Tom shifting his legs until he's comfortable in the chair he's so often taken residence. He can tell his mother is itching to fix him up again, comb through his most likely tousled hair, straighten his collar, but she knows he doesn't like to be hovered over.
"What did Pomfrey have to say?"
"She's in the lab with a blood test. We'll see, Tom. I'm sure it's just an allergy head ache. It is barely spring, after all,"
His mother doesn't have pollen allergies, but he decides not to argue. It isn't worth ruining the optimism in the air.
"Do you need an extra blanket?" he asks, carefully examining her arms for chill bumps.
There is a draft in the room, coming from the air conditioning vent. Maybe he should have the AC ducts redone? What if his mother freezes at night because the nurse doesn't set the thermostat on the exact degree?
"A glass of water?"
The cold is making the air rather dry.
"I've got one by the bed,"
"Something to eat? A yogurt?"
That's light on her stomach, something she can always get down easy enough no matter how many chemicals war in her bloodstream; "I can run to the cafeteria and get the peach flavor,"
"Maybe in a little while. I ate lunch before coming. You should be worried about your own appetite, darling. I know you; you didn't eat before abandoning your work to come here, did you?" she smiles knowingly at him, gesturing towards a silver tray, covered in a glass lid. Lunch from home.
"I brought it for you," she says lightly, glancing at her flowers again before reaching for the book that's lying open on her sheets.
Before she can get settled again, there is a gentle knock at the door, a small, hard looking woman with a kind face slipping into the room.
"Mrs. Riddle, Mr. Riddle," she greets, chart in hand.
"Please Poppy, you'll make us sound like a married couple. I've told you a hundred times that Merope-"
"Is unprofessional," the doctor insists, clicking her pen meaningfully, "And I am a professional,"
Tom isn't complaining. No one but his mother has called him by his first name since he was in school over ten years ago.
Pomfrey looks back at the clip board in her hand, and the carefree aura that comes with Merope's affections and freindship glowing about her dissipates into dying sparks.
"Well, I've got your results right here. We've rerun them all of seven times and..."
Tom stops listening, her voice falling short of reaching him, so he watches her mouth move and taps his fingers in time with the hidden rhythm of her speech, finding lyrics of iambic pentameter. He knows the news she is delivering is the worst. He knows it.
Tom misses the moment of Merope understanding, that no, she isn't getting any better, that yes, the cancer is back. He misses Dr. Pomfrey leaving the room in defeated mourning; so zoned out, all he can think is his work, the work he abandoned to see his poor, ill mother. Poor, ill Merope, because her beauty might tell of healthy lineage, but her blood does not.
His mother's eyes, her beautiful eyes that told no stories of her blood family's incestuous deformities (most of the Gaunts, her family before she found Tom Riddle, were cross eyed or lacking a toe or two), were closed and her hands were running over the pages of the book in her lap- Anna Karenina or something of that sort- as if blindly looking for a secret in the words, but the letters aren't braille so he knows she'll find no metaphors or philosophical secrets in there.
"I'll read to you if your head ache is too bad,"
Merope makes a delicate snorting noise in the back of her throat, smoothing out the book's pages and resting it against her knees. Her eyes open, a strong midnight blue. She stares at the window panes.
"Tom, I'm begging you. Shut up and eat," it's meant to be humorous, a jab at Tom's babying.
Calla Lilies: Regal
Tom's employees always become suspiciously scarce when ever he has been to St. Monogs. He doesn't know how they find out about his mother (and resulting bad mood), but by nine o'clock, morning time, they're all scuttling along with their tails tucked securely between their legs- along with their work ethic. Conferences take half the time as usual, reports are in before lunch, and they're practically giving him a standing ovation out the door when he leaves early.
"Hello?" he hears his mother's voice answer softly.
Tom connects his ear piece to the call so that he can drive; "Mother; what would you like for lunch? I'm on my way,"
"Oh, I've already got lunch for the both of us-"
There is a bout of laughter in the background, and his mother is soon following suit. Tom tries to decipher what is being said, but it all sounds like static, useless gargle about the nurses or something. His mother is always gossiping.
He hangs up after that, not wanting to prolong his agony- and believe him, listening to his mother cluck all day about matters that should be kept secret is agony.
"Did you know one of the nurses caught her fiance with the radiologist a city over?" is the first thing she spouts out when he arrives, "Oh Tom, the nerve of that man! Why, I was just talking about how much I was looking forward to seeing their wedding; and of course I'll be invited; I'm friends with all of the staff here except that male nurse from the main office,"
She'd go on and on about who did what in the supply closet or who was sneaking drugs through the pharmacy- it never did anything but make Tom do a mass fire and re-hire every year. And still, the gossip streams in.
"Maybe you should stop firing these ladies and start dating them," she would try, "You need to find someone who makes you happy,"
"Only you make me happy, Mother," he'd reply, and she'd laugh and make fun of him, but he knows she secretly prefers it that way.
"That's a lot of pressure on me," she's admitted before, and then she'd tell him to lighten up, that he was depressing her. He'd just remind her of the fiasco with Bellatrix, a woman she introduced him to three years ago, and was still receiving post cards from. He's no idea how she keeps getting his address or how many times he's had her enlisted in police records as 'highly unstable and dangerous'.
His mother has an unidentifiable high protein soup waiting for him, and by the time he finishes it, she is asleep, an IV drip hooked in her arm. He pulls her blankets up to her neck, and once he's satisfied with her comfort, checks the clipboard on the foot of her bed. Pomfrey's scribbled notes read that another dosage every two days will be required, but that she'll be discharged the next morning- Tom will be missing a lot of work. He pulls out his laptop to email his secretary, Granger, about the next wave of medication, looks at the pile of unread mails in his inbox and sighs, resigned. Rushed employees or not, there is always more to be done.
Tom composes a new email for Lucius, to tell him to restock the scientists with acid durable gloves and gas masks that aren't as bulky as the last set. One day, he'll create equipment that doesn't have to be replaced every three months. He leans back in his chair, thinking it might be time to expand his business into another field. Medical Appliances are just dying for him to take over.
He glances up, expecting to see a nurse, but finds a young man leaning in the door with a bundle of small flowers in his hand; he smiles uncertainly and gives a small wave, "Hullo,"
Tom glances at the flowers, tempted to tell the man to bugger off. But his mother would be mad when she discovers his behavior, and he really doesn't want to have to deal with that.
"Do you do this for the entire hospital?" he asks snidely instead.
The young man- he can't be older than twenty, almost pathetically small in his loose clothing that hangs off his collar bones but still attractive in a ruffian sort of way- smiles wider this time; "No- Merope and I are friends. We talk a lot in the mornings before anyone is awake, and take walks in the afternoons usually,"
"Well, she's sleeping right now," Tome knows he's bypassed aloof and entered rude, but a man ought to know better than interrupting Tom's work.
He just nods, coming into the room without being invited; "I know- I try to deliver these whenever she won't notice. So it's a surprise,"
Tom watches him lay the purple bundle down on the bed-side table; "I'm forced to be here quite a lot, you see. It can get pretty lonely, and when I saw your mother- she is your mother right? You look just like her," he talks all the way back to the door and stands there for a second, "When I saw her sitting alone, I thought I might should go talk to her. We've been friends ever since," he pauses like he expects Tom to praise him or something, and when he just gives him a blank stare, he shrugs, "See you,"
He gives one last smile and thankfully is gone.
When Merope wakes up thirty minutes later, she sees the gift waiting for her and gives a melodious chuckles; "I think his family owns a flower shop. Did you meet him?"
"Briefly," Tom answers distractedly, balancing three different virtual conversations at once, and hoping that by dinner, he'll have a new combination ready for human testing.
They sit the remainder of the night in familiar silence, Tom working, Merope reading, and finally, after the dinner that the nurses brought in gets cold, Tom falls asleep to his mother examining the note attached to the violet colored flowers.
He dreams about green eyes and wakes up with a coarse blanket thrown over him.
Tom offers all of his help in getting Merope dressed and ready to leave St. Mongos- arranging her shoes at her beside so she can step right into them and not have to feel the cold tile, trying to get her to sit down so he can brush her hair, calling a nurse for an extra shot of pain killers just in case- to the point where his mother orders him to wait out in the hall.
"Really," he hears her muttering as she slips on her coat, "So fussy,"
She leads him through the main building, and he follows rather dejectedly, watching her wave to each nurse and doctor like she's known them all their lives. Where a Riddle goes, a Riddle shines, she used to tell him before kissing him goodnight. When they reach the front, he tries to rush to open the door for her, but she forces her foot in front of his ankle and he almost falls flat on his arse before he can come to a stop, and were it not for his natural grace, he would have looked like a buffoon. She's a proud woman, but Tom wishes she'd let him take care of her.
It's therapeutic for him, he supposes.
He pauses at the call of his name, irritated that he can hardly have a moment of peace, until he sees Hermione Granger coming through the front entrance smiling politely and expectantly at him. A stout woman, middle aged with a shock of red hair follows behind her. They meet up inevitably, walking in each other's directions.
"Granger," he states plainly before turning to his mother, "Mother, this is Hermione Granger. My secretary. Granger, this is my mother-"
"Merope Riddle," Hermione butts in, taking the woman's hand in a firm shake, and speaking in her characteristically crisp and speedy way, "I've heard so much about you. You must be getting to go home- on the weekend, too. Just in time. I'm here for a friend of the family. Oh- Mr. Riddle, Mrs. Riddle, this is my Mother-In-Law, Molly Weasley,"
The red headed woman smiles, the creases in her face disappearing; "I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Riddle. Hermione never stops talking about work,"
The young woman becomes a little flustered, understandably. And not to sound conceited (and not saying that Tom isn't conceited; he's quite aware of how self-absorbed he is), if he were first secretary to Tom Marvolo Riddle, he'd talk about work an awful lot as well.
"I was unaware you were married," he addresses her, and she just becomes even more bashful than before. Granger isn't the type of girl to become a blushing, inarticulate mess, but she does have feelings, he imagines.
"Yes. Well. I kept my maiden name, see. I'm the last Granger, and I want the name to carry on,"
Tom nods his understanding out of politeness despite the conversation being so dry and uninteresting, and perhaps the two women pick up on it, for they bid them a good Saturday before disappearing through the Important Patients Ward.
At home: a spacious, obviously rich dwelling, designed for his mothers tastes, they reside in a large house, but not one so over-kill for only two. Anything they could possibly need is a part of the furnishings, but Tom bypasses all of these inside luxuries for the back porch. The yard is huge- because his mother loves to be outside. The majority of the space is a constant work in progress, an ever-evolving garden, as the two of them plant different seeds where others die, and allow certain places to be over-grown with weeds. Mother insists their wild beauty out-does the planted flowers. There is a nice pond in the very center, filled with exotic freshwater coral and various other creatures that seem to fascinate only Merope, her personal aquarium.
It doesn't take long for Tom to fall asleep out there, lying flat on his back against the weather treated wood- the shade keeps him from burning, and the Spring air is cool. Hospital visits always leave him so drained.
He wakes, sticky with the humidity and sweep sap in the air, the sun in high noon position, and after a rushed shower and check-up with his inbox, he finds his mother reading in the living room. He watches her while she is unaware of his presence, looks at her comfortably folded form in the emerald velvet chair that she insists they never throw out. It's an heirloom of what was once the great Gaunt family, Slytherin, and perhaps the sentiment is sincere, but the things that have happened around that chair are better left behind.
Tom remembers how he'd sit at Mother's feet while she sing to him, how he'd hide behind it while she sat there and cried when his father left them, and how he had sat there and cried himself when he'd discovered as a teen that his mother was fatally ill.
She's been fighting for so long, now.
The cancer goes into remission, and returns fiercer. They poison her some more, and it goes into remission again. And then, it returns again.
"Are you hungry mother?" he asks.
And now, Pomfrey has explained that if it were to come back again, she likely won't be able to handle the chemo anymore. She isn't as young as she once was, after all.
So Tom, when he found out, when he had finished school, he made a team for searching for the cure. When that wasn't good enough, when the results weren't what he wanted- or nonexistent-, he made business in making trial medicines. Once they passed a few FDA tests, the medicine could be transferred to St. Mongos on volunteers who got to stay in the IPW. And finally, once the pills passed with a seventy-five percent success rate with the first run on humans, the treatment was extended to other patients- Merope. But the process is slow, painful. It takes hundreds of test subjects each wave, and because it's required that they be voluntarily taken considering the unknown risks, it isn't easy getting them. And once, and if any, pills pass, Merope's body usually rejects them. Almost a year later, he's made millions of different pills, millions in revenue. End of story.
Except for the part where he finds the cure.
"I'm afraid the chemo isn't sticking this time, Merope,"
Tom runs away- and he should feel so bad for abandoning his mother like that right after she's heard her death, but he just can't look at her right now. He retreats to the sun room, a warm, comfortable area for patients to sit together or alone, to listen to the radio or watch the television. A place where there is no medical equipment or machine noise. There is someone already sitting in the room on the spot by the windows on the tiles, and he hears Tom's labored breathing and heavy footfalls.
It's the young man- from before. The flower guy. They stare at each other, and Tom can see something calculating behind those green eyes.
"Call me Harry," he finally says, motioning with his hand for Tom to come over. Tom moves to leave, but this man- Harry- shakes his head.
"I won't be a bother,"
I will regret this, Tom thinks, reluctantly hovering in and out of the door indecisively, frustrated that he's even tempted to converse with this... this Casanova who's trying to worm into his mother's heart.
"Come on; I insist,"
So Tom walks over to him, taking in his rumpled hand-made looking sweater, and wondering what he himself must look like to this stranger. Probably like a rich ponce. He sits next to him on the floor gingerly, something that seems to amuse the young man, and Tom is concerned with the cleanliness until he remembers that he enforces a strict janitorial schedule and staff for the IPW. There isn't a speck of dust to be found.
Harry doesn't appear to be doing anything- just sitting, and looking content with just that, and Tom rather likes the pleasure in simplicity. But for now, the silence is grating on him.
Reluctantly, but desperately, Tom initiates the conversation "Shouldn't you be visiting? Why are you here alone?"
Harry laughs quietly, running a finger over the large H sitting in the middle of the sweater, and Tom follows the movement suspiciously.
"Oh, friends can't hang around constantly. They need time to themselves. And the nurses are unbearable- but they're used to my avoiding them... You know— the paperwork and all,"
Tom does know about the paperwork and all, in fact. His entire career practically revolves around paperwork.
Harry shifts, leaning his weight towards Tom before sitting against the wall straight again, and pulls out a little paperback book.
"Want to race Sudoku? I bet I can finish one before you,"
Tom has never played Sudoku, never heard of it before, but when Harry explains it to him, that there is one answer to all of those blanks, and the answer can be reached through simple deduction, he finds himself eager to play. He loses the first puzzle, but not the second. As they fill out the numbers, they talk about St. Mongos, and mainly, its scenery.
"There's no doubt the design is like nothing I've ever seen- I mean, who puts Koi ponds at a hospital? And of course it's all breathtaking-"
Tom feels smug that it was him who set it all up.
"But even the most beautiful places will lose their luster unless there's sentimental value in it. Nothing sentimental here, unfortunately,"
Tom pauses, glancing away from the grid of one-through-nine, one-through-nine to look at Harry. Of course he feels that way, he thinks, we all feel that way, because we have dying and ailing and moaning relatives here. He thinks back to his mother, alone in her room because he isn't there, and he's got her friend here with him. They sit in silence a little longer before the guilt gets to be too much. He sets the completed Sudoku down.
"Already? Geez, you're fast,"
Tom dusts his pants and offers Harry a semi-grateful half-smile.
On his way out, he pauses at the door, and asks over his shoulder; "You are friends with my mother?"
He nods once, his bottom lip caught in between his teeth from concentrating on his puzzle, and the look he's giving om finally makes him accept that he can't be anything but completely harmless. Tom stalls a little longer so he can keep looking at the white of Harry's top incisor digging into his pinkish mouth.
"The treatment isn't working. She has a month,"
Tom immerses himself in his work, unable to do anything else, obsessed with the possibility of finding a fix before time is out, even if the probability is against him. He forces production increase- squeezes out every pill he can create and drives his work force into the ground. He ignores when Granger advises him against it- that the speed might decrease the effectiveness of the drug, but she finds he just works harder.
He is constantly in and out of St. Mongos, and apparently, so is Harry.
He finds him in Merope's room a lot, talking about some Ron fellow and his six siblings.
"They all have red hair. All of them! Their parents too,"
It isn't until Merope breaks out with embarrassing baby Tom stories that he pays them any mind.
"He used to steal things from other kids in preschool, and hide them. We thought for the longest time that he was going to turn out a delinquent until we discovered the children he stole from had been bullying him! He was quite small as a child. Waiters kept bringing him the crayons and coloring books when we went out until he was thirteen!"
Harry laughs and Tom glares at him; what is his mother thinking, trusting this boy with their intimate history?
"Some of us are lucky to have grown out of it," he gripes moodily, pointedly glancing to where their feet rest side by side on the clean tiles, and Harry notices just how small his look next to Tom's. He looks a little sheepish when he glances back up at Tom's angry face.
"Have you ever wondered what I might look like blonde?" Harry asks, and Tom studies him, not knowing where this is going, and indifferent either way.
"No. It wouldn't look good," he replies stonily.
After all, Harry has jet black hair- wayward, messy, rolling around in the bed hair. He tries to picture him like Lucius' son Draco, and can't stop the amused smirk. Harry, a spoiled young man with his well-mannered nose stuck in the air.
"Well, you would have gotten the chance had you known me when I was younger. I accidentally poured a whole bottle of peroxide over my head- as you can see, I'm short and as a child, I promise you I was shorter. I couldn't reach the bottle on the shelf it was on and someone didn't screw the top on right the last time it was used. When it tipped over, it completely burst all over the place. But because my hair is so dark, it created patchy orange and yellow spots! I looked like a clown for weeks,"
Tom smiles as Merope laughs gaily, and he guesses this is a peace offering for Merope's ruthless anecdotes about Tom's rough spots through his preadolescence. Maybe this ruffian Harry can be trusted with some things.
"I'm sure there's a picture of it somewhere in-"
The young man nearly jumps out of his skin as he looks around to where a tall red headed young man is rushing into the room, "Christ, where have you been?"
"Ron- hey," Harry looks flustered as the man scowls, "Sorry; lost track of time,"
Harry's friend huffs in annoyance, but mostly concern- Tom recognizes the stressed worry lines around the man's mouth because he gets them when his mother sleeps for too long or is slow to answer him. The red head turns to him, and his face turns to alarm before it morphs into real anger.
"You're that arse who mowed me down in the hallway a couple of weeks ago!"
Harry actually laughs, and Tom blinks.
"I don't recall,"
"Of course you bloody don't recall! You didn't even stop to apologize!"
Harry stands, and he is dwarfed; "Ron- come on, don't be like that. It was an accident-"
"Don't test me, Harry James Potter!"
Harry bites his lips to try and mask his smile with a cowed look, and the name triggers something in Tom, like he knows it already. Like hearing an old street address for the first time in years and not being able to remember where it will take him. Harry allows Ron to grip his arm and drag him out, and he looks over his shoulder apologetically, then mock-fearfully when Ron starts grumbling under his breath. Just like that, Harry is stolen away. Tom scowls.
Merope smiles knowingly at him from across the room, and she doesn't even have to speak for him to know the wheels are turning behind her lovely face.
Harry returns after dinner is delivered to them, and Tom thinks he might develop cancer if he eats any more of the hospital food. It was high quality, but in the end, hospital food is hospital food. As they eat, Harry apologizes for his friend's behavior; "He's a bit of a git soemtimes," and Merope starts her usual stories about the nurses, and he's just about to try and change to subject to rescue them all from her ridiculous assumptions when Harry jumps in when an indulgent grin in his direction-
"I heard from Daphne who heard from Hannah, who overheard Cho telling Bulstrode that Pansy got caught with that male nurse in the supply closet,"
"No!" Merope gasps with a saucy smile.
"Yes!" Harry asserts dramatically in a gasping voice.
"I knew it!"
"And then, when it got around to the rest of the staff, Pansy took leave and she still hasn't come back. Everyone thinks she's gotten pregnant. Of course, Michael, the nurse you know, denies everything,"
Tom catches himself staring at Harry as he laughs at Merope's bedside, his narrow shoulders hunched slightly so that his back is arched outward, his chin at an up angle- and even then, he can't get himself to stop looking. Something about seeing him totally charming his mother, going along with her whims, endears him to Tom- now that he's fairly certain Harry isn't trying to seduce her. His mother is on a time limit now, but she doesn't seem concerned at all when Harry is in the room. With the younger man here, Tom isn't able to hover over his mother like a phantom or skulk about depressively- it's good for them both.
When Merope falls asleep, Harry and Tom move away from her bed and sit together at the tv. Harry grabs the remote so he can change it from the news channel to a crime show featuring a man from the States and an interracial couple. It's mindless drivel, not entertainment at all to Tom, so he decides to discreetly study Harry while his attention is on the gun down in an alleyway. Tom has noticed Harry's various scars before- in case he had to be able to identify him in a line up if he turned out to be a criminal- the most obvious one on his forehead and another on the back of his hand that looks like they might have been words at one point (a tattoo gone wrong?)- but he notices when Harry lifts his quarter length jumper up to scratch his arm that there on the inside of his arm- there lies a series of circles, each about the size of a pencil eraser, lined up in the pattern of a triangle. By the time another commercial break interrupts the show, Tom decides he'll let the curiosity get the better of him.
"Oh," Harry says, his hand automatically going up to his temple to feel the jagged, lightning bolt scar. Tom might be worried he's offended him, a little.
"A car crash. My parents died, and I was left with this, along with very bad eyesight from stray glass damage,"
Tom nods, reaching over by instinct to push Harry's round glasses back up his nose; he doesn't pull away, and Tom thinks of a way he can give something personal to Harry for his sacrifice. By the next commercial, he is ready, and wastes no time in pulling Harry away from the Wychwood Beer ad.
"When my mother told my father she was sick, he left her. I don't know why he suddenly couldn't love her because her health took a plunge, but she kept the reason a secret from me for two years. I had no idea she was receiving treatment for cancer until I found the hospital bill in the mail,"
"She's a strong woman,"
Tom looks at him and gives s slow nod, before they are engrossed in the Swifer Jet clean up bundle ad.
Tom doesn't remember the exact moment it happens or what they were watching beforehand, but they fall asleep in front of the television together, leaning against each other and sharing air.
He releases a new medication early that will hit St. Mongos by early afternoon.
Tom feels positive that it will have effect, that it will pass through quickly enough to be safe to use on his mother, and will inspire a miracle that will save his life. Positive.
He tells Granger to call it Horcrux 07 and send it in.
He imagines the production- the pharmaceuticals sorting out and distributing the pills for the 116 volunteers that will last each of them a month as he makes his way to St. Mongos. It isn't a busy time of day so he reaches Merope earlier than usual, and he's still picturing the little pills dissolving in water, totally tasteless, odorless.
Merope smiles as he enters, and he wonders when the last time she left the bed had been, but when he can't remember, he decides it wasn't a very good thought anyway. Tom doesn't tell her about his possible progress. Their latest coping mechanism is to not address the issue at all. They don't talk about the hospital, the meds; she doesn't even talk about the nurses anymore.
"Where is Harry?" Tom finally asks when dinner rolls around and they still haven't seen a single hair of him. His mother looks around, as if she's just realized Harry is absent, but it's been too quiet to not have.
"I haven't seen him all day,"
Tom hmm's, low in his throat, and Merope smiles.
"He'll turn up eventually,"
The Wisteria is dried up and withered brown by the third day, and seeing them shriveling up in the window sill is almost as unbearable as watching his mother do the same. But it's worse than that, because the decaying flowers mean that Harry has been missing for three days. A little soon to be getting tensed up, but considering he's been around almost every day since Tom told him Merope wasn't going to make it, it's a bit shocking to his system for Harry to just not be here.
"...Do you think his relative was released from the hospital?"
But Merope is asleep- her usual past-time as of late, and no one is there to answer whether or not Harry will ever have a reason to come to St. Mongos again.
Tom tells himself he's thinking too hard- that Harry is the type who'd write a letter or call.
"He would say something if he were to leave, no?" Tom asks, this time when the bed ridden woman is awake, and she picks up on his distress instantly.
"Darling, stop looking so cross. Next time he visits, ask for his number, for heaven's sake. Had I known you were open to men, I would have introduced you when I met him a year ago,"
Tom refuses to speak to her for the rest of the day in embarrassed, sulky silence, busy imagining a Harry one year younger than the Harry he knows now. Would his hair have been shorter or longer? Did he go through an awkward grunge phase or have a strange fascination with something he doesn't have now? One year quickly grows to three which quickly grows to seven, until he is imaging a teenage Harry and a child Harry. How old is he anyway?
On the fifth day of Harry's absence, he finally pops in just as the nurses are dimming the hallway lights for the comfort of the soon-to-be sleeping patients and visitors. He's got an arm full of long stemmed pink flowers that he sets on the chair nearest to the door. Tom devours Harry from head to toe, takes in the shiny quality of his hair, like's it's just recently been washed, the paleness creeping in the edges of his lips despite their irritated, scabbed appearance. He bites them too often, Tom thinks, I'll have to start getting on to him for that. His skin tone is washy, sickly.
"Come to a hospital this often, and I'm bound to pick something up," Harry laughs, taking a place next to him on the small couch in front of the television. Tom doesn't even think on it as he scoots a little over- but not too much, because their arms won't touch if he goes until their isn't any space between him and the armrest.
"Do you live a long ways from St. Mongos?" Merope asks from the bathroom- doing her hair. It's the first time she's felt energized enough to do it, despite it already being eight in the evening.
"Oh, no; practically on top of it, actually," Harry answers loudly enough for her to hear, "I just get all out of sorts when I get sick. It hits hard when it happens. I've never been very good with colds,"
Harry looks around, having finished his explanation, and catches Tom staring at him.
"Do I look so ill you have to stare?" he asks with a wink before moving on to look at other parts of the room, perhaps checking for changes or new additions.
There's nothing here, Tom wants to tell him, Nothing new. Just me and Mother.
"Were you playing chess?"
Tom looks at the unfinished game he and his mother had started before she decided to get up and move.
"Would you like to play?"
"I don't know how," Harry admits, and looks pained to , "Ron has tried to teach me dozens of times, but it never sticks,"
Merope emerges from the bathroom looking like she's never stepped a single foot in a cancer treatment facility. Her hair is done up in a sleek, twisting bun, her cheeks glowing with her smile- an expression that lifts ten years off of her.
"We'll just have to guide you through it," she says, and sweeps over to the where the board is sitting on the small coffee table.
Harry whistles and gives her a silly grin. Merope gives a slow, full-turn and Harry claps.
"Are you sure you're a mother? Because you look more like a sister,"
Tom's lips thin, but he lets this one go for now because his mother looks like she enjoys it.
"Hush," she scolds, as he looks despondently at the chess board and then at Tom.
"The only thing I've got a hand over Ron is dancing," he whines.
"Do you know ball room?" Tom asks, trying to imagine Harry in a passionate salsa or waltz and finding it a very laughable picture.
"I am ball room!" Harry shouts, mocking offense, "Lady Riddle, forget your chess. I demand a dance,"
He stands, and reaches out for her expectantly. They come together and step without music. Merope is taller than Harry, something he obviously hadn't calculated because he looks embarrassed when he has to look up at her.
"Did you lead?" Tom asks, "I can't imagine there being an instructor short enough to be your follow,"
"Very funny," Harry snaps as he proves that yes, he can lead. Quite well, too. They shift through the steps more slowly than would usually be normal for a Viennese Waltz, in order to avoid running into furniture and bruising shins. Tom can't complain though, is it gives him an opportunity to watch Harry's body in motion which does things to him that he hasn't felt in a long while.
Merope smirks at him over Harry's shoulder before they turn again.
"I had Tom take etiquette classes when he was a teenager, and he had to learn all of this. I used to learn it with him so he'd have someone to practice with," Merope says conversationally, and Tom worries for his pride as she once again begins another story of his childhood. Is it a mother's job to ruin her child's carefully laid impressions and reputations? What if Harry goes off and spouts this to a journalist or reporter?
"No girls lining up to offer?" Harry teases, not passing the opportunity up when Tom had so willingly made fun of him earlier.
"None he'd accept,"
Harry laughs and he meets Tom's gaze over his mother's shoulder.
"None his type, then,"
His tone is playful, his gaze burning. Tom swallows.
They pull away from each other mutually, and Tom glares off at the corner of the room, refusing to show anything improper he might be feeling. When he looks back at Harry again, the boy is grinning, like he knows all he's thinking, but the smug glint is soon replaced by fear as Merope's weight appears to fall in to the floor. Harry tries to catch her with a shout, but he tumbles with her, only pillowing the collision of her head and the ground. Tom bolts out of his chair to where Harry is already crying over Merope's still form.
"Merope! Oh god, Merope; is she breathing? Is she concussed? What do we do? What if-" Harry's words spill out, one after another, stringing together in a way that makes Tom's muscles bunch and tense.
Tom looks at her face for signs of a stroke, a heart attack, a seizure, and something instantly relaxes; she's only fainted. Her face is very pale and closed in a tight expression that isn't likely to relax any time soon, but he knows a fainting spell well.
"Harry, be quiet," perhaps not the nicest way, but he needs to be able to check her breathing. If it sounds normal, everything will be okay.
He calls a nurse, and they help her back into the bed. No one bothers picking up the chess pieces that got knocked over, and as Harry refuses to leave Tom's mother's side again and again as nurses try to convince him that visiting hours are over and clings to her hand the entire night, Tom thinks he might really like him.
"Calm down, Harry. It's not your fault,"
The young man moans miserably, collapsing against the edge of Merope's bed; "It is my fault- I made you over exert yourself,"
"I needed the exorcise," Merope insists, smiling as she runs a hand over Harry's hair. She look's at Tom who is standing awkwardly in the doorway- he doesn't know if he should try to console Harry or if his mother alone is enough. He isn't very good at making people feel better anyway.
"I'm sorry," Harry sniffles against the bed covers,
"Nonsense. Tom open a window- it's stuffy in here,"
Harry hastily jerks up to sit in his own seat, quickly drying up, probably not wanting to embarrass himself perhaps. Tom takes in his red nose and eyes once he's done as his mother said, and something affectionate and nasty twists in his stomach.
They easily slip into the lull of familiar conversation and anecdotes after that, Harry talking about how he didn't see a bee's nest in the peach tree he was trying to get blossoms from and ended up pissing off the entire hive.
"I didn't get stung once though," Harry says proudly, "Ron came out with this industrial bucket of poison, hooked it up to a garden hose and sprayed them all straight out of the air. It was like a scene out of an action movie. Or maybe a parody...,"
Tom lets him carry on as his mother begins to doze, watching him move his hands along as he speaks like they're an extension of his tongue- which gets Tom thinking about Harry's hands and tongue and extensions in ways that are not constructive to conversation. Finally he cuts in just as Harry is describing the battlefield of honey bee carcasses twiching in the grass.
"Harry, do you have a cell phone?"
He seems a little alarmed at the abruptness, before his face flushes in a curious blotchy red, "I- yes. I do,"
Tom smirks a tiny bit, thinking how easy this is going to be, and not taking that for granted. He's got a hunch that Harry likes him almost as much.
"I'd like to have your number. So I can call you out for lunch," Harry's eyes are as large as saucers, "I'd like to meet outside of the visits to my mother,"
Because Tom might love his mother more than anyone, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need his privacy. And privacy will be needed if he wants to go where he wants to go with Harry.
Harry hands over his cell a little too easily and Tom puts his number in, calls his own phone with the younger's so he'll have the number in his phone's memory.
"How does Wednseday sound?"
Harry nods with a grin, and that suspicious color in his cheeks doesn't leave until he does.
Red Carnation: Flashy
Honeydukes; a place Tom has never step foot. A small bakery and restaurant in downtown Hogsmeade, he's never had reason to stop by. But it is the place Harry chooses, and when his lunch break finally begins, he meets the young man there. They're seated next to the windows facing away from the busy streets, and toward a cliff side, and where Tom had thought Harry looked so animated before, here in the outside world where there is so much movement, the life reflects in his eyes and skin and makes all the more real.
"Twenty-six?" Tom asks, having caught a glimpse of Harry's ID when they order wine.
"Do you think it's fake or something?" Harry asks, tucking it away and not very discreetly trying to peek at Tom's.
"No- I just thought you were younger,"
"There is no way you're thirty two!" Harry exclaims, snatching Tom's ID from his hand as the waiter walks off with their drink orders, "That means... I absolutely do not believe Merope is pushing fifty,"
Tom smiles at his own good fortune for getting a nice pool of genes. He isn't the only one who should be thankful though, as Harry is quite the good looking young man. His skin is more golden that Tom's, his face more expressive- not to take away from his own appearance. Harry has the glow of a youth, and somehow, the undertones of an aged man coursing just beneath his grin.
They talk about things conventional and completely safe for a first date- how Harry and Ron met, the name of his first pet; things Tom doesn't have any care or interest for, but just watching Harry speak in itself is something he finds himself completely absorbed in. It's by chance and an ingrained attention span that he actually listens, and Harry seems totally oblivious to Tom's boredom and arousal. But somehow, they talk way past Tom's lunch schedule, and way past conventionality as Harry ends a tale of how he accidentally went to Fetish Night at a bar.
"The theme was Magical Creatures. I've never seen so many people dressed as sexy unicorns in my life, I didn't even know unicorns could be sexualized!"
"Would you like to take a walk through town?" Tom asks, phone ready to call his secretary to inform her he'll be taking the rest of the day off.
"Yes," Harry answers instantly, forgetting his unicorns, then looks away, embarrassed and red.
Tom watches him, watches him fidget and pretend he isn't flustered and really wants to make him exclusively his. It's been a long time since he's felt the need to be with someone, and it's just as uncomfortable as it is energizing.
"How would you like to see a museum?"
"The one on folk lore?"
Tom gives a gesture of affirmation that's more like a shrug.
"How posh. I knew it; you're definitely rich,"
Harry doesn't seem to know the extent of that, and Tom chooses not to enlighten him.
"Are you suggesting only the wealthy go to museums?" Tom counters as they leave Honeydukes and venture out into the populated town center. Tom sticks close to Harry, his hand pressed lightly to the small of his back, so they won't be separated- if anyone asks.
"Only the wealthy with too much time on their hands,"
Tom snorts; "If it weren't for rich people with too much time, museums wouldn't exist,"
The Hallows Museum of Hogsmeade is fairly small and was built by the founder of the town to preserve the old lore of the farming community. Tom and Harry decide to go through unguided, taking their time to examine and comment on every strange carving and tidbit, taking their time dancing around each other like teenagers.
They hold hands through the second half of the tour, Tom's thumb brushing over Harry's hand and feeling the bumps of the scar- because yes, it's a scar, not a tattoo. He listens to the audio tour with only half an ear, so hyper-focused on the way Harry's bright eyes swivel over the preserved texts on Ancient Runes and Astronomy.
"It's really very interesting, isn't it?" he repeats again, and again when they get to the next display, and he's not just saying it to be polite; Tom notes that perhaps he should take Harry to another museum if he's going to be this genuinely, cutely fascinated, "So very interesting,"
They kiss for the first time hours later, outside the museum, and Harry tastes like Listerine strips, and his hair is so fine, a little tangled (and Harry seems to especially like it to be pulled).
If this were one of Tom's usual hook-ups he'd already have him in a hotel room.
"I really like you," Harry whispers into Tom's mouth, blowing minty air against his tongue.
Tom feels his gut twist with a smug possessiveness. He smirks a little, and kisses Harry again.
"Do you need a drive home?" he asks, not liking the idea of Harry walking the streets alone right as it's getting dark.
"I'm not a woman, Tom-" his name sounds so good coming out of Harry's mouth, "I can walk just like the rest of Hogsmeade,"
Tom glares- on accident because his eyes are so dark with desire, but for some reason he wants to hold back until it's Harry asking for more than evening alley kisses.
"I'll call you tomorrow,"
Tom wipes his face, burying it in his towel and taking in the scent of his body wash mixing with the lingering laundry detergent. He looks at the fogged mirror, watches steam lazily billow about the bathroom before getting sucked up in the fan above his head. He pushes his damp hair off of his forehead on last time before exiting the stuffy room to get the paper. Mornings like these, calm Saturdays before going to see his mother, help place some peace back in his mind.
He unrolls the pages, unfolds them and feels their smoothness- the small details keep him grounded. Take note of the font, the pigments in the paper. He turns the page to find the day's Sudoku, something he's done since meeting Harry, and is just reaching for a pen when the doorbell rings.
Tom pauses, goes through a mental inventory of who the hell could be ringing before seven in the morning. A coworker? The hospital? No, they'd call if there were any complications. Lucius? A neighbor?
He glances down at himself- only sporting a thin, silver bathrobe. Ah, well. It isn't like he's got morning wood or anything.
Something that quickly changes when he opens to door to find Harry standing there, eyes wide and out of breath, and so alive.
"Morning," Harry chokes out, looking Tom up and down, "I... Merope told me the address. I know I should have waited for you to call because you said you would and even if you didn't, I'd probably see you at the hospital some time, but. But Wednesday, when I said I really like you, I meant that I really, really like you, and since we're both consenting adults, or at least I assume you're consenting since you opened the door in nothing but a bathrobe, I figured we could like each other the way humans have been liking each other for millions of year—mmmm,"
Tom snatches Harry into the house so he can cover his blathering mouth with his own and finally shut him up, because it's way too early in the morning for that many words.
Tom drags Harry bodily through the foyer and lounge and living room to his bedroom because he still remembers he lives with his mother, and he really doesn't want to soil the communal parts of their living quarters.
"You didn't tell my mother you wanted to come here to have sex with me right?"
"Of course not!" Harry snaps before it lingers off into a groan because Tom is undoing Harry's belt the same time he's untying his robe, "I told her I wanted to tell you I love you,"
Tom pauses briefly, before continuing to divest Harry of his shirt.
"Oh, by the way, I think I love you," he continues while tossing his shoes somewhere, and Tom really wonders why he isn't having a bigger reaction to Harry's confession until he figures he probably already knew.
When they collapse in Tom's bed that's already been made, there is no grace to their grunts and gropes. Tom simply forces Harry's legs apart once his jeans are off, reaches into his boxers to find his burning arousal, and pulls the length of his body against the smaller one above him.
Harry babbles expletives incoherently as they rub together, falling against Tom so that his moth can skim over the recently showered chest. Tom grips both of their cocks in his hand, gripping Harry's thigh with the other, thrusting in time with Harry. For now, the simple friction of running the lengths of their arousals along one another is more than enough for both of them, a single focus in the rhythms of their bodies and Harry's "Almostthere!". Tom feels Harry's hands grip at his neck and hair, feels his lips lightly vibrate against his sternum as he moans. Both of his hands move to grip at the back of Harry's upper thighs to press, to thrust harder, more quickly, their heated flesh becoming wet.
Next time, he decides as he hisses through his teeth when Harry bites his nipple, they'll worry about lasting longer. The tension in his lower half peeks, and Tom rolls Harry's hips languidly to prolong the eminence of their orgasm.
"Fuck!" Harry barks out, his legs shaking, and his jerkiness pushes Tom in all the right places. He feels his neck and calf muscles spasm with the effort not to double over in his height of pleasure.
Tom rolls over, tugging Harry's pliant body with him, so that they are fully lying across the bed. They situate themselves around each other, not too concerned with the thick wetness spreading between them and on the bedspread. Harry's scarred hand comes up to rest over Tom's heart in an intimate fashion that has Tom considering Harry's earlier confession. He covers the hand with his own, swiping his thumb over the scar tissue resting there.
"When my parents died, I was placed with my aunt and uncle," Harry whispers, his fingers coming to play with Tom's thumb, tapping up and down the skin of his breast, "They made me do chores and house things for my keep, and well, my uncle had a temper. I was ironing, and he started yelling at me for something- I can't even remember what it was about now- and grabbed the iron and pressed it right into my arm. The little circles you see are from the steam holes on the bottom of the iron. Well, I was placed in foster care after that- a neighbor, Mrs. Figg, reported my burns when she saw them- and got stuck with this nasty woman that looked like a toad in grandma's doilies. She lost a brooch, a family heirloom or something, and blamed it on me, went on about it for days and when I couldn't tell her where it was, she held me down and tried to carve I must not tell lies in my hand with a push pin,"
The story is met with silence. Tom takes it in, not able to be angry or feel pity because of the gentle lull, the calm acceptance in Harry's voice.
"Isn't that romantic pillow talk?" he laughs with a sigh.
Tom just shakes his head. Maybe next time, he'll tell Harry about how he planned to kill his father. How he spent years plotting out the perfect crime, even stalked him down to where he lived, and how there was no one home but Tom Riddle Sr. when he finally made his move. Maybe, after they've shared more secrets, more body he'll tell Harry about how, for some reason, he didn't do it, and his father is still living happily alone in Albania.
Granger bursts into his office, her usually tamed hair frizzed out and flying about her head like a disorganized Medusa, a telephone in her hand, the cord stretching tightly back to wherever it's origin is.
"...Yes?" Tom asks, sliding his own phone shut, having just about called his mother (and Harry, he thinks to himself with an internal smile).
"I'm sorry sir, but an emergency has come up. I have to get to St. Mongos as soon as possible. Will you mind terribly if I take leave?"
"I was actually just about to head that way myself. You don't drive to work, correct? It is not too much trouble for us to ridee together," he answers, standing from his desk to straighten his tie and wrap things up for his absence.
"Not at all, sir! Thank you very much," she gushes, and his normally collected, professional secretary is practically in tears, her face red from the effort of trying to hold herself together.
She sits gingerly in his car, like she's never seen such finery in her life- and probably hasn't. Her position is well paid, but she's a very frugal spender from he knows of her. Tom doesn't bother turning on the radio or adjusting the air conditioning, because he doesn't care too much for her comfort that will only be a ten minute drive anyway.
"Visiting your mother?" she asks in the silence while seeming to gather herself. She fusses with her hair and eyemakeup for a few minutes, and Tom recognizes the urge to move, the need to have something to do while time slips by.
"Yes. And you?" he is polite enough to know when someone needs to talk to distract oneself, and he wonders what that phone call could have been about.
"An old friend. He's been doing so well lately, too. Molly- you remember her, don't you?- she said that he just collapsed out of the blue and isn't doing well at all. He's on your trial medication, you know? He's always the first to sign up for a new batch,"
Is it bravery or desperation that makes someone volunteer for untested medicine, he wonders? If he wasn't so careful, so worried that his mother might have a negative reaction, he'd have her on the trials as well. But it is for her that he even makes the drugs anyway, so he can only do so much. Besides, there are natural medicines that have nothing to do with his labs and scientists. He thinks of Harry and how his presence has done so much good for his mother.
For me, he adds.
In the quiet of after visiting hours, Merope had said that Harry's laughter could be the cure. Tom doesn't believe her, of course, but part of him can't help hoping.
They spend the rest of the drive in tense silence, worrying over their respective loved ones, and as they pull into the hospital special parking, they become visibly more tense, ready to spring- they've both done this so often now, they know the exact moment it is just safe enough to open the doors and run. They streamline together to the doors, and Tom is only slightly diverted when Granger runs to red head that appears to have been waiting for her.
"How is he?" she asks as Tom is almost passing the front desk, almost snatching the key card from around the desk nurse's neck.
"You know how Harry is, Hermione," says a gruff voice that most certainly isn't Granger's mother-in-law's.
Tom falters. He glances back to see his secretary and a red headed man- Harry's ill-tempered friend, Ron- and oh, you idiot, Tom. Molly Weasley, and her ginger family-
"The name-" he scratches out at the them, and it's been a while since his throat has caught like that, gains the attention of both Ron Weasley who has just placed a kiss to Granger's temple, "The name of your old friend, Ms. Granger?"
Hermione smiles softly, sadly; "Harry, Mr. Riddle. Harry Potter,"
His face must have been terrible, because the Weasley boy looks interested, squints at him before something dawns.
"You didn't know," he murmurs, "That Harry was...,"
"What is wrong with him?" he asks tightly, "What does he have?"
It's a stupid question- he's taking your medicine, Riddle; you know very well what's wrong with him. Why hadn't he realized?
"AML," Granger replies instantly, still not fully understanding.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
"It's been in remission these past few months, though. We're all hoping for the best," Hermione looks puzzled as she speaks, "Do you know Harry?"
He ignores the question, mind running in every direction.
"May I see him?"
Ron answers; "Yeah, sure,"
They get the key card to the important persons' ward, and Tom follows behind Granger and her husband feeling lost and empty- Harry has cancer. Harry, who he'd been relying on to keep company with his mother, has cancer- probably just as sick as she. He feels his palms sweat.
The entire Weasley family is crushed into Harry's room, a room just down the hall and around the corner from his mother's, and Tom stands just outside the doorway, waiting to catch a glimpse of Harry in the sea of freckles and flowers. His family owns a flower shop, his mother had said, and again, he feels so stupid- Weasley's Wild Grove, the small shoppe he passes every day on his way to work. Harry James Potter, the very first name on the list of volunteers for the last year- of course the name sounded familiar to Tom.
Their voices mesh together and make Harry's sleeping form all the more washed out. He looks- uncomfortable, restless in his sleep. Why do the ill sleep so much, Tom wants to ask? It's all his mother does now; they sleep until they don't wake up.
"Ginny, open the blinds, dear. It'll warm the room up,"
"Mum, can you call a nurse for more towels? They haven't restocked them and...,"
"Lower your voices!" someone finally snaps.
"You said he's in remission?" Tom asks quietly.
"Well," Hermione sighs, "I'm sure you understand that some days are better than others. But he does very well for the most part. How did you and Harry meet, again?"
Tom's fists clench.
"He is friends with my mother,"
"Hermione," her husband whispers softly, eying her in a way that says she is obviously missing something, "That's... you know who- you know, the one Harry's been trying to keep secret? It's all over his face,"
Tom doesn't appreciate that- but, Harry's been keeping him a secret?
Ron looks at him; "Harry knows the family would only meddle. When we found out he's been leaving the hospital to go on lunch dates, he refused to tell us who it was and started calling him He Who Must Not Be Named as a joke. I can't believe he didn't tell you he was sick,"
"But-" Hermione's face looks flushed, shocked, "But this is- Mr. Riddle! I had no idea-" she looks from where Harry is passed out and back to Tom, "And you had no idea! This must be such a terrible shock,"
It is, in fact, a terrible, awful, horrible shock. He should have known- should have seen the signs and symptoms just looking at Harry.
"Oh, I think he's waking up!" someone whispers, "Everybody quiet!"
It's then that Tom realizes he can't see Harry like this, can't let Harry see him like this.
He walks away; it's simply too- much. He walks in a pacing circle first, to the fire exit doors at the end of the hall, then back to Harry's room, feeling- lost. Harry has cancer. Harry, who is indirectly his patient. Harry, who lied this whole time! Tom growls to himself and abandons the corridor, cutting back towards the elevator to reach his mother's room. Had she known? Had she been in on it, keeping it from Tom so surly? He's desperately agnry now, the lights too bright to his senses that keep blinking in and out, like he's breaking from reality, and he starts asking questions that he hasn't asked since he was a boy-
Why? Why Harry? His mother? Why cancer?
He's bombarded with nurses, sees them darting in and out of his mother's room like it's caught fire, but the only smoke there is coming from his over working imagination. They pull him into her room, and Merope's eyelashes are drooping, drooping- lower and something within him sparks briefly to life. Tom lurches to her side, grabs her hand but he misses it by milliseconds- she's died by the time his fingers thread with hers.
He lets go.
Tom steps back until he's out in the hall again, slumps against the wall until he sitting on the floor.
"Mr. Riddle!" Granger calls from down the hall, jogging towards him, "Please- I know it's dreadful for you find out this way, but I think that with the way he's been talking, Harry really needs y-"
She freezes, her words caught in her throat as a nurse walks silently into Merope's room, white sheet in hand. Tom's secretary takes three steps until she can look into the room- in time to see the sheet floating gently over Merope's still face. Tom half expects to see it drift up again with her breathing, and of course, it doesn't.
"I'm sorry for your loss," she whispers thickly.
Yellow Tulips: Helplessly in...
Tom watches the funeral- listens to the man he doesn't know speak on behalf of his mother, talk about her in a way that makes her a stranger to everyone. It's easier to get over her passing this way, he supposes. He's grateful, really.
The Malfoy family is there- Lucius and his wife and son standing at his side, stoic and distant. Granger is on his other side, and Harry is standing beside her. Tom can see a portion of him from the corner of his eye- his face tucked into his sleeve because he's crying so hard, and he'll make too much noise if he doesn't smother himself. He saw him before the procession began, wearing a suit, and it looks good. It makes him look his age. He'd looked his age while sleeping in the hospital as well, albeit weakened and feverish. It seems like sick people all look the same- miserably exhausted, shiny with tremor sweat. Tom catches Granger watching him watching Harry but he's too tired, to angry to care for it too much.
The head doctor had told him a few hours after his mother was wheeled away to the morgue that often times, when someone is attuned with another, they'll experience dips in their health at the same time, so it was actually not a surprise Harry would get sick around the time Merope passed. Tom looks down, where he knows his mother is lying so quietly inside her eco-friendly coffin. So still.
He thinks back on his home that reflects his mother: empty, silent. He remembers the small indentations in the living room rug lying naked in the overhead light from the legs of that emerald chair because the very first thing he did when he got home the night she died was throw it out.
The service ends, people disperse, Tom the first among them. He has work to do, and the thought is crippling, because the woman he'd worked for in the first place isn't here. Perhaps he should take a vacation. A retreat. Perhaps he should retire- he certainly can afford it.
Not today, he wants to snap, I can't handle you today.
Harry is more energetic than Tom thinks he should be able. When the man reaches his side, his cheeks are pink from the heat and running, his perpetually messy hair wind-swept. Gorgeous. He should have known Harry would chase after him, and he curses himself for not flat out sprinting to his car, because as refined as he likes to pretend to be, even he has his limits.
"Tom, I'm sorry- I wanted to be there. For you, for Merope. When the time came, I wanted to be there, but I was-"
"Another cold?" Tom inquires tightly, trying to assert his brisk pace back into existence, but Harry is titanium- his hands hesitantly but harshly jerking up to press into Tom's aching chest.
"I never lied to you. I didn't- not really!"
"You don't catch cancer-"
"I've been the poor sick boy, before, Tom. I've been that role- the boy who gets pitied and gets told he's loved, then dumped when his hair starts thinning from the chemo and his ribs start showing. I never lied to you," his voice is soft, lost in the car motors starting up and the sounds of shoes marching on gravel.
"You knew who we were," Tom hisses, "You wanted to use your friendship with my mother for your own-"
"Use it for what?" Harry shouts, "I had no idea who she was until I met you. Of course I wanted to meet the man who made it possible for me to be alive,"
He pauses like he expects Tom to say something, and when he doesn't Harrry loses the intensity, but the words keep coming; "Do you know what I said when I came to St. Mongos for the first time? I don't care what you give me but please let me keep my hair. And do you know what they did? They told me to sign my name for a trial pill, handed me the bottle right that second, and said 'There you go'. Of course I'd want to meet you. Everything after that was..."
"Manipulation," Tom states bitingly. The sun is searing to him, and all he can think about is how badly he wants to be asleep at home, unaware of the amount of times Harry has spoken his name in last thirty seconds.
"Going with the flow," he retaliates, "I was so nervous you'd taste the medicine, I kept a Listerine strip at the top of my mouth for hours and had an ulcer the size of a golf ball by the time I got back,"
"I tasted it. The Listerine," Tom says without thinking, and remembers finding it strong.
"Are you better now? Are my meds working?"
Harry looks at him a long time, his brows furrowed. Tom watches him in suspended impatience, waiting for his answer-
Tom feels his bones loosen, but can only manage a stiff nod.
"I'm sorry- about Merope. I missed her going,"
Tom just nods again. He can't think of anything more to say, can only remember everything Harry's ever said to him. He looks at Harry, who is looking at him, thinks back on what Harry said to him before they made it to his bedroom (By the way, I think I love you) and nods, again, to himself. He can't think of anything more to say, so he takes comfort in using Harry's own words.
I think I love you.
He looks up at the expanse of blue sky, unpolluted by clouds or birds and looks back at Harry who looks like he knows already why Tom wants to say.
"I think I-"