Zia had gone to sleep with books in her bed before, somehow it never bothered her when they were under her pillow, or tucked down the sides of the bed by the wall. If they poked her during the night she never knew. Tonight her bed was strewn with all seven Harry Potter books, except the sixth, which was spread open, slightly over her face, but mostly over her neck. It was four in the morning. She was sound asleep. Dreams of horcruxes, of Tom Riddle's past, and the question of what Tom may have been like if his mother had been alive to raise him invaded her dreams, and when she woke up, it felt like she was still in the dream.
The air was thick with the sounds of old car horns, and as she opened her eyes she saw that she was surrounded by a crowd of people. Men in suits and what appeared to be newsboy hats, women in dresses with nylons, kitten heels, and light coats, all peered curiously down as she blinked up into the sunlight. It was a moment before she was sufficiently alert to hear what they were saying.
"She's okay!" "Must have just passed out." "How did she get here?" "Is she from the circus?" "Look at those clothes!" "And that hair…"
Zia sat up. "Where am I?" Some of the crowd laughed nervously, others walked away, seemingly satisfied that she was at least alive, if not completely present of mind. An older man walked up, holding out a hand to help her up. She took it.
"London," He said simply, pulling her to her feet.
"London?" She looked around, now taking in the carefully combed and parted hair of the men, and the expertly coiffed women, the pearls and handbags. "What year exactly?" she questioned uneasily, looking beyond the crowd to the old fashioned cars and buses flooding the street beyond.
"1927!" the man replied with a chuckle. Zia blinked, her mind scanning through her knowledge of history.
"After World War…the Great War?"
"Yes," he said with a nod. She nearly sank back down to the ground, but instead looked around at the other women, although the crowd was rapidly dissipating, and studied their outfits and hair more thoroughly. Then she looked down at herself, wearing flannel pajama bottoms and an over sized t-shirt. She was sure she was dreaming, but decided to pinch herself anyways, surreptitiously squeezing a fold of skin on the back of her arm. It hurt. Impossible. The man looked down at her. He was also wearing a suit, but no cap, and he looked more like a kindly grandfather than anything else.
"Are you alright?" the old gentleman asked gently.
"I'm not…quite sure."
"Well, why don't I take you home to my wife? I'm sure she'll fix you up with a good meal. You don't look like you're from here. My name is Charlie Dawkins." The old man looked at her expectantly, apparently waiting for an acceptance of the invitation, his hand held out in a friendly manner.
"I'm Zia, nice to meet you Mr. Dawkins. I would love to meet your wife, thank you for the offer." She shook his hand. He nodded, and led her through the streets, him winding through the crowds and her following, making sure to avoid things on the ground with her bare feet. It must have been an odd sight, an old man being followed by a girl who looked so very bizarre, and she tried to ignore the stares from others passing by.
"I rather enjoy walking, although I do take the bus to get home. Home isn't too far, but it's far enough that walking that far wouldn't be advisable. Especially with your bare feet there," he explained, not looking back at her, intent on weaving his way through the crowds. She turned a little red, embarrassed, but unsure how she could have done anything differently decided that it was what it was and let it go. Mr. Dawkins didn't seem to mind, so neither would she. "And my wife's name is Mary; she will be so excited to have a young person in the house. Plus she loves an excuse to cook more food than we need." Zia nodded, although he probably couldn't see it, and continued to follow him. "She will fuss over you a lot I'm sure, so you'd best be prepared for that." They walked past an imposing building, and as she read the name on the plaque, she stopped dead in front of it. She knew what orphanage this was. This was the place where Tom Riddle had been born. Suddenly, she was seized by a sudden impulse and started for the gate. Mr. Dawkins looked at her.
"Where are you going, Zia?" he asked.
"There is a child here that I need to see," she replied. He looked at her in surprise.
"Yours?" he asked.
"Not mine, but I'm sure this is what she said. I'm sure this is the place." Mr. Dawkins, who appeared to be surprisingly flexible in his plans, as well as kindly, if the events of the past few minutes were any reflection of his character, followed her in. She moved to the front desk.
"Excuse me, but do you have a child here by the name of Tom Riddle?" she asked the woman at the front desk. As in the book description, the place was very clean, and the children she could see playing looked well fed and well taken care of, but the place was a little austere. The woman looked at her curiously.
"Yes, we have a child with just that name. Would you like to see him?" she asked.
"Please." The woman disappeared for a moment, then brought out an adorable, but somehow serious looking one year old.
"This is Tom." Zia gazed at the child, who just stared at her, unsmiling. And she knew.
"I would like to adopt him." Both the woman and Mr. Dawkins looked to her, faces clearly registering their shock, but Mr. Dawkins seemed more adept at dealing with unexpected situations, and quickly recovered. The woman looked at her.
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Are you married?"
"I am not." The woman nodded as if this settled the matter.
"We do not adopt out children to women who are unmarried, much less a woman so young." The woman stared at her, apparently taking in her outfit for the first time, and Zia saw the resolve deepen in the lady's eyes. "The only exceptions would be for family." Zia looked evenly into the woman's eyes, and told the biggest lie she had ever spoken in her entire life.
"I am his aunt. My sister was his mother." The woman stared at her, dumbfounded. "My sister, Merope, mentioned the name of a street near here in her last letter to me, and that she was going to have a baby soon. Our father Marvolo is gone. This is my nephew." The woman blinked, apparently unable to counter this information. Zia was prepared with more information if the situation became difficult, but Mr. Dawkins stepped forward now, tears apparent in his eyes.
"Any fees that need to be paid, I will take care of," he said. Zia looked at him. "The reuniting of a family is worth any cost. My wife and I lost a son in the war. What we wouldn't have given to have him come home," he explained, his eyes still teary. Zia put her hand on his shoulder, patting it a little awkwardly.
"Mr. Dawkins, I can't let you do that," she said. "You don't even know me."
"You will let me do this, I want to. And call me Papa Charlie."