NOTE: This is a translation of a Chinese HP Fanfiction by Ink Emerald
May 31, 1927
Harry didn't know how he made his way to the Orphanage.
The stern, grey building looked exactly like the one in the Pensieve.
He passed through a set of iron gates into a bare courtyard that fronted a rather grim, square building surrounded by high railings. Due to age and negligence, white paints were peeling from its walls, revealing the greying matter beneath, in uneven chunks all over, like cavities that sprung from within this dying place.
The gates were high and oppressive, like prison bars.
Harry stood by the door, a strong stench of detergent drifted toward him. Something turned in his stomach, he felt sick.
He remembered the Pensieve.
Mrs. Cole, half a bottle of gin in hand, stared at Dumbledore with surprise.
"TOM?! All these years Tom's been with us, he never got no visitors—"
Harry remembered Tom.
The eleven-old, thin, pale boy, stubborn and proud, eyes dark with ambition far beyond his age. His childish voice ringing with anger.
"'Professors?' Is that like 'doctor? — I'M NOT MAD!"
What kind of childhood did the Dark Lord lead?...
Harry couldn't think right now, even the theory of it made his insides tie into knots. Harry knocked, his knuckles tight and pale.
"Are you... here to adopt someone?" Mr. Cole hiccupped loudly, swirling a glass of gin in her hand.
Harry frowned at her untidy manners. He stood by the door of her office and refused her offer for a drink.
"No. I'm just here to visit a boy. Tom. Tom Riddle."
Mrs. Cole leaned back on the chair. Her eyes slide out of focus. She poured herself another drink.
"Tom Riddle?... Who?"
"Tom is at the nur—" interrupted a scruffy, young girl who stood behind Mrs. Cole.
Mrs. Cole waved her hand at the girl impatiently, before turning her attention back to the gin. "Well, then, take him there."
"I'm sorry for the delay, sir," the girl wiped her hands on her apron, as they headed down a long corridor. "There are a lot of children with us... you understand... and Mrs. Cole—"
Then, she thought better of it and changed the subject.
"—Tom is a funny baby. He doesn't like people, ye' know. He cries when anyone tries to pick him up. Even when feeding, he likes to do it by himself. Holding the bottle in his arms. A good little one. He doesn't cry much either. Easy to take care of, really—"
"Is that so," Harry nodded politely. He knew that Tom's always guarded... the boy treasured his personal space. And Harry can sympathize with that.
As they walked, suddenly, the objective of Harry's original mission jumped into his head.
"Sorry—" Harry interrupted her excited babbles. "What's today's date?"
The girl gave him a strange look. "May 31."
"And... the year?" Harry asked, and smiled apologetically as the girl grew more wary.
"...1927," she answered, but carefully slowed her steps to put some distance between herself and the stranger-who-does-not-know-time.
Harry shrugged. May 31, 1927. Five months had passed since he last been here. And in 2000, only a day had gone by.
One day in the present. Five months in the past.
She brought him to a door with painted sunflowers.
"Here we are," announced the girl. "Tom's in the first bed to the right. I'll be next door. If you need anything, call me."
Harry nodded his thanks, and went inside.
The room was spacious, clean, with large windows that allowed plenty of sunshine. Some faded flowers were painted on the walls, lest to inject some life into this graying place. Six crumbling cribs lined the walls. They were barely standing, held up by broken plywood tied around their bottoms. The babies napped peacefully. They looked thin; the flush of pink (sign of health on normal babies) were missing from their cheeks.
Orphans were not attractive to funding, especially in post-war times when there are so many of them. The Orphanage couldn't afford proper baby formulas. Most times, the babies were given a mixture of rice porridge and mashed carrots.
Harry saw little Tom right away. He wasn't asleep.
Tom looked at the stranger curiously. He nipped his fist, slobbering all over the place. Tom had begun teething and he did not like it.
Five months were enough to alter a child's appearance drastically. Now the baby's skin smoothed out and soft, black hair framed his face, Tom was almost unrecognizable from the little monkey that clung to Harry so short while ago.
The boy's black, round eyes were clear and shiny, a pure sort of ebony like the night sky. No trace of the scarlet that had, yet, to taint them.
The baby stared into Harry's emerald eyes.
He remembered them.
Just as Harry remembered the strong, inky eyes of the pale boy in the Pensieve.
The boy was handsome and rather thin for his age. His hair parted neatly and, dressed in grey slacks, he looked just like all the other boys at the Orphanage. He looked calm, but an insidious power boiled beneath the facade. Momentarily, his black, depthless eyes betrayed his power; anger ripped through him, torrent, like an unseen storm brewing in the dead of midnight.
"You are a doctor, aren't you? From the asylum—"
"No...I am a teacher. And I'm here to tell you about Hogwarts," replied Dumbledore.
He was eleven then. An age of playing, shouting, jumping, laughing; an age of wonder and adventure and belief in a bright future.
Instead, he was solemn, angry. He said, "I DON'T believe you."
Harry watched in silence. As the boy coldly refused the one thing in the world that will make him happy. He seemed to retreat into himself, prickly to the world, curling up like a hedgehog in self-preservation mood.
"It's...it's magic? What I can do?"
"What is it that you can do?"
"All sorts... I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to."
A flush of excitement rose up into the boy's hollow cheeks. Harry watched, unsure what to make of the child.
"You are a wizard, as am I," said Dumbledore.
"PROVE IT!" The boy demanded.
The shabby wardrobe burst into flames. The boy jumped to his feet, the orange fire reflected in his ebony eyes, giving them a curious glow.
Harry saw his face transfigured: there was a wild happiness upon it. The grin lit up his finely-carved features. At last, the boy found people who are just like him.
He has been alone... for a long time.
"Thieving is not tolerated at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said calmly, pointing at the objects scattered on Tom's bed. "At Hogwarts, we teach you not only to use magic, but to control it."
The boy stood still, looking up at Dumbledore, challenging, unabashedly refusing to apologize.
Dumbledore stood up, grabbed his scarf. Then, the boy rushed out.
"I can speak to snakes too. I found out when we've been to the country on trips—they find me, they whisper to me. Is... is that normal for wizard?"
A flurry of uncertainty flushed across those dark eyes. His arrogance fell away and for a moment, he looked every bit the stubborn eleven-year-old that he was. He looked at Dumbledore expectantly.
Hopeful... for what?
Tom Riddle was a prideful child. Prideful to a fault... and thus, he didn't care about what other people thought of him. But there was one question that bugged his childish mind. One question that shadowed his whole life. One question that his pride won't allow him to voice—
"Am I normal?"
"Sir?... SIR?" the scruffy girl called out, snapping Harry from his memories. She carried a basket of bottles in her arms.
Tom was still staring at him with large, round eyes. He didn't seem to mind the presence of the stranger, who loomed over him. He saw the bottles and waves his chubby arms excitedly.
"Alright, alright. Lunch," she handed the baby a half-filled bottle.
Tom must've inherited Salazar Slytherin's overbearing and possessive tendencies. As soon as those small arms wrapped around the bottle, he refused to let go, guarding it with the zealousness of a jealous lover. Tom sucked on the teat, biting it with a tenacity that's very indicative of his combative nature.
It took the girl a while to wrestle the bottle away from Tom. Saliva covered the thing and the teat was chewed up beyond repair.
The baby babbled angrily. He screeched in rage when the girl refilled the bottle and replaced the teat, then handed it to another baby.
"Miss... Tom, he—"Harry asked with concern. The baby looked very distressed at the sight of sharing his bottle.
She shrugged. "Nuthin' I can do. Tom is a jealous one. Possessive. But we are short on supply, so—"
Harry looked down at Tom as the boy nipped on his fist again. He rolled over in his crib, creamy skin and round body, very adorable indeed. Then he remembered the uncertainty flashed in those ebony eyes.
The boy asked, "Am I normal?"
Suddenly, Harry was overcome with a desire to hold him.
Tenderly, he picked up the baby, one hand supporting his soft head. His small body was supple, warm and doughy, and smelled like sweet cream.
"SIR! He doesn't like to be touched—" the girl yelped.
But, to her surprise, Tom did not cry. Instead he yapped, made some puppy-like noises.
The baby looked uncomfortable in Harry's arm, so Harry quickly set him down again. But as soon as he let go, Tom started to wail, with that impossibly loud cry which tags at the heart-string of everyone within earshot.
Harry panicked. What does a baby want?
"Hmm..." the girl regarded them curiously. "I think... you were holding him wrong. Try something else... Lay his head on your shoulder."
So Harry did as she instructed. And it worked.
Little Tom lay meekly in Harry's arms, small head lopped against the crook of his neck. The baby's skin was so smooth and warm... and frail. The crying dissipated. Tom buried his head in Harry's shirt, trying to get closer to the source of the familiar scent, a scent that had imprinted on his newly-formed mind.
Harry thought it was unlikely that Tom remembers him.
But there they were... Tom tagged playfully on Harry's hair and Harry held him like it was the most natural thing in the world. The baby made some content 'Goo Goo Gaa Gaa' noise and tickled Harry's nose.
In his arms, Tom's weight was feathery, light and unnoticeable. But it felt real. Real, much more than a fragment of the past.
They stood there for a while. Harry treasured the warmth of Tom's skin, and rubbed the baby's back contently.
Yet it was time for him to go.
Time waits for no one.
He patted Tom's chubby cheeks, like he did five month ago, and handed the baby to his care-taker.
"Okay, sweetie, say good-bye to Mr. Potter, now," the girl rocked the child carefully.
Tom's doe-like eyes followed Harry, desperately clung to the young man's every move. The smart little boy blinked, then anxiety filled his dark eyes and tears wetted his long eyelashes. He yapped and squirmed, trying to grab onto Harry's shirt.
"Miss, please... Please take care of him—" Harry whispered. Perhaps his words meant nothing, but this was all he can do.
"Sir—" She tried hard to hold onto the squirming baby. "I think he really likes you. Have you considered adoption?"
Harry saw himself reflected in Tom's clear, ebony eyes.
"One day... One day I'll come back for him."
He was determined to keep his words. Fate or not.
The wheel of fate will not veer off course, thank you very much. Its complex system churns about, spinning out threads of time and narratives of life — time and life; past, present and future; and everything in between.