47 Days to Change (a translation) @snow_owl01
One Day, One Day

Chapter 8

NOTE: This is a translation of a Chinese HP Fanfiction by 墨玉绿

November 19, 1932

As Harry entered the Orphanage's lobby, a sudden case of lightheadedness overcame him, almost knocking him off his feet. He stumbled forward; his legs felt like wet noodles. Harry grimaced as sharp pain and dizziness attacked his brain; even his version blurred, blotchy with black spots flashing in front of his eyeballs. It took all his strength to not fall over in front of the children.

Guess Hermione is right, his condition is worse than he thought. Harry forced a smile onto his face.

If it wasn't for his body's condition, Harry should've been here two-years ago. That one time —when he attempted to time-jump prematurely— caused him to pass out in front of the laboratory. That unfortunate incident delayed him for three whole days, then... afterwards Hermione's wrath delayed him for two more. But, eventually, Harry made his way back to Tom.

Overall, he spent eleven days in 2000, which, according to Harry's calculations, meant Tom is about to turn five.

After a while, the terrible feeling had passed. Harry shuddered. The episode was the worst he ever felt; it almost felt like his soul is being ripped from his body. Suddenly, he became aware that the Slytherin's locket —which Harry always kept close by his side — was burning in his pocket. Without planning to, he pulled it out and it sprung open.

NO! Not in front of the Muggles!

Harry's pupils contracted in shock. The locket opened, yet... nothing was happening. No Tom Riddle's whispering temptations, no alluring mind-controlling charms, even... no trance of any magic left in the thing. The jewellery was normal again, save for the bit of angry heat that still clung to its golden surfaces.

And that meant — the Horcrux was destroyed!

But how? How could it be destroyed when nothing has damaged it? How could it be gone when it never left Harry's side?

"Everyone, this is Mr. Potter."

Mrs. Cole's words pulled him back to reality. Harry stuffed the locket back into his inner-breast pocket. He'll have to save the investigations for later.

Harry lifted his head to smile at the children lining up in front of him. He didn't mean to make a fuss. He was just there for Tom, and, before he could get a word in, Mrs. Cole enthusiastically summoned all the children. They stood stiffly in front of him, in a neat line, sorted by age, as if Harry was a visiting general inspecting his troops.

"Ma'am, I'm just here for—" Harry raised his voice to protest, but Mrs. Cole wasn't listening.

"I know... I know. Hard to choose... They're all good kids. Goodies—" The drunken Head-Matron slurred, waving her hands and spilling some gin on the floor. "Say 'hello' to Mr. Potter, everyone."

"HELLO! MR. POTTER!" The children shouted, their unified voice clear and booming inside the large lobby.

Harry scanned their faces.

The oldests were but ten and the youngests were no more than babies. Dressed in identical silk suits, they stared at him with frightened eyes of newborn fawns. Their faces were pale and thin, hollow cheeks clearly demonstrated malnutrition, but most of them smiled shyly at him, large eyes shiny with tears and wistfulness.

Harry's heart melted at the sight of them. He had a difficult childhood once, living under the mercy of unkind caregivers. He was one of them once, and so, their helpless, silent pleads resonated with him deeply.

Of course, what Harry didn't know was that these kids were acting. They had been through this process before, many times over, and they were used to be picked like cattle. Therefore, they learned how to fake presentation— how to look sad and helpless; how to cry at the appropriate moments to gain sympathy. Innocence was a privilege of childhood, but it was a privilege for the rich kids, the ones with parents, and not for them, who must survive on their own.

But Harry didn't know that. The world was always simpler in the minds of golden Gryffindors, they — foolishly — liked to assume the best of people.

The thought of disappointing most of these kids troubled Harry greatly. He looked away.

"I just want to adopt—" Harry's words choked in his throat.

"DADDY! DADDY! PLEASE DON'T GO!"

Suddenly, in the front row, a boy started to cry. He wailed on top of his lungs, a heartbreaking thrill voice that echoed in the lobby.

The boy trembled uncontrollably, as if it took all his strength to remain standing. "I WANNA GO HOME! PLEASE, I'LL BE GOOD. DADDY. I WON'T ASK FOR A RABBIT NO MORE—"

"BILLY! BE QUIET!" Mrs. Cole snapped at the boy angrily. His piercing wail was giving her a migraine.

The boy looked frightened. He hid his face in his sleeves, but couldn't quite stop himself from sobbing. His muffed cries sounded even more depressing as Mrs. Cole glared at him.

"Mrs. Cole... Is he alright?" Harry asked.

The drunken woman waved her arm dismissively.

"Yeah, yeah... the boy misses his daddy. Happens now and then... Maybe...maybe, Mr. Potter, you remind him of his father— the man dropped him off one day, right here, with nuthin' but a newly-purchased pet bunny... Said he'll come back for him later. Ye'know— "She hiccupped "— they never come back."

Harry felt the revelation weighting on him like stone. No more than a boy, yet he had to watch his father abandon him... he had to watch families after families pass him by, because of his age. How can such a small body handle so much suffering?

A thought formed in Harry's head— Perhaps Tom would like the company of a friend, a brother... A Muggle to grow up with Tom would be good for his developments, for changing his prejudices.

Harry pursed his lips. After some careful deliberation, Harry knelt in front of the sobbing boy, and asked gently.

"Dear child, would you like to come home with me?"

The little viper had never seen Tom lose control like this.

Even when the others called him names, hit him, spitted on him, Tom only sneered coldly, keeping all his emotions locked within, and plotted his revenge from the shadows. Now, a sudden, harrowing madness descended on this too-mature boy, twisting his childish features into something fiendish... Something, which Tom has managed to keep hidden all these years, exploded.

His small fingers twisted around the black scarf, pressing it into his palm, as if trying to absorb its wool into his bloodstream. Purple veins popped with the effort.

The viper snuck a look at the boy's face.

Tom was staring at the young man in front of him. Hatred masked his ebony eyes like dark clouds blotting out the sun. Tom grew paler, as his only hope — his one good childhood memory— shattered around him.

His expression— for there was no mistaking it — was pure, unadulterated loathing and anger.

Directed at whom though, it wasn't clear.

The viper flicked her tongue, confused.

Tom was good at keeping his emotions hidden; at most, he wore a cold sneer that warned off all challengers. He was a snake, controlling the world from the shadows, always prepared to strike mercilessly. Tom was a snake; he did not lose control.

So why is he losing his mind over some man adopting Billy?

Tom stared at the young man's smiling face, green-eyes warmer than sunlight. Tom stared as he knelt in front of Billy, comforting the moron with arms that should've been wrapped around Tom.

He gritted his teeth, pulling at the scarf, wishing he could tear it to pieces.

"Mr. Potter said he will come back for you, Tom. I know it. He asked me to look after you."

The young caretaker always told Tom.

Now her words were no more than the cruellest of mockeries, like sharp knives stabbing at his heart, over and over again.

The black scarf, that he loved so much, felt choking around his neck. Its existence was a mockery too, a mockery of his unattainable goals, a mockery of his naive hopes... a mockery of all his waiting.

He used to fall asleep every night with the cloak carefully wrapped around him. He used to fly into a deadly rage to protect the scarf. He used to be—so naive— so stupid for all the things he had done to preserve his last connection to this Mr. Potter.

No more.

Tom wasn't the skinny boy who got beaten up in the courtyard. No more. Now, he controlled a power that they could only dream of — he was better than all of them. And so... he didn't need them.

He didn't need the charity of this-so-called Mr. Potter!

However— regarding Billy Stubbs—

One day! One day soon!

"Billy?! Bill..ly is a good boy," Mrs. Cole waved her bottle. "Let's get it settled, then—"

"WAIT—" Harry stood up, still holding Billy's hand. "I'm looking for a boy. Tom Riddle."

Tom, who hid behind everyone, adjusted the scarf, and stepped forward through the parted crowds.

The little snake wrapped her body tightly around his arm. She felt his muscles relaxing, veins and tendons no longer straining against her scales. He looked calmer too, but, she could tell that his mood is only growing darker, bone-chilling with unseen wrath.

"I'm here," Tom said calmly. Jet-black hair and starry-night eyes, his face was as calm as the deep sea, so impenetrable that Harry couldn't detect a moment of happiness or surprise... or anything at all.

Harry recognized the scarf around Tom's neck. He smiled, remembering his adventure just eleven days ago.

"So... you've kept my scarf?"

"It's my scarf now—" a greedy smirk appeared on the child's face.

Harry took a step back. That smirk looked familiar, exactly like Tom Riddle's face from the diary, the same handsome smile as Harry lay dying.

He had almost forgotten... That this little boy, in front of him, will become Voldemort!... His swore enemy.

The cute little baby, whom he cradled in his arms once, was gone. Before Harry realized, the boy's features grew more and more alike Voldemort's, as inevitable as time progressing forward.

Harry took a deep breath, green-eyes assessing Tom Riddle's face, familiar yet so different.

He asked, tone stiff and unnatural.

"Do... do you want to come with me?"

The boy's lips twisted into a robotic smile, as if he knew it was expected of him, and replied politely.

"Yes, Mr. Potter. Thank you for your kindness."

That unfamiliar "Mr. Potter" gave Harry pause. He looked at the old yet well-preserved scarf around the boy's thin neck, and, suddenly, his heart tightened.

"TOM— you knew this Mr. Potter, don't 'ye? He gave you that scarf?"

Billy stroked the rabbit fur slowly, watching as Tom gathered his few belongings into a suitcase. If Billy could see the devious glints in Tom's eyes, the boy would shut up so fast that he might bite off his own tongue... But, alas, the boy saw nothing, so he continued to boast.

"I thought fast— smart —and got Mr. Potter to notice me."

He stuck his nose up, very proud of his little tricks. He glanced over Tom's stiff body and looked down on the smaller boy with disdain, as if Tom was something stuck on the bottom of his shoes.

"Tom, you are the extra."

Tom clutched his fists. An extra, is he?

When the young man faced Billy, he was so gentle, so intoxicatingly lovely, he said,

"Dear child, would you like to come home with me?"

But, when faced with Tom, the young man's expression turned stiff, green-eyes looking to the floor, as if the same words were more difficult to say.

"Do... do you want to come with me?"

Everyone could see the difference. Everyone could see who Mr. Potter preferred.

Yes, Tom was the extra. The unwanted one, yet again.

"Riddle, save yourself some trouble and don't pack a thing. You'll be back soon enough—"

Billy snickered, tickling his rabbit. A cruel glee bloomed on his face, and he almost looked sweet, innocent, like the good little boy he was.

"Are you two ready? We should go—" Harry's warm voice, as soothing as the spring's rain, came from the doorway.

Billy cheered, and ran to his side. He pointed to a backpack by his feet. The brunette boy smiled eagerly, eyes turning into crescent moons.

"Yes, I'm ready. Harry."

"Good boy," Harry smiled and rewarded him with a pat on the head.

Tom pinched himself to calm his anger. He allowed himself a moment, until the darkness receded from his eyes. He grabbed his suitcase and turned toward Harry.

"I'm ready too... Mr. Potter."

Harry probably should've patted Tom on the head too, or to reach out for his hands. But the more Harry looked upon Tom's childish face, the more he remembered the diary Riddle's cruel sneers. And he couldn't find the right words. Instead, he grabbed Billy's hand and led them out of the room.

"Aye? Tom? You've forgot your cloak—"

Billy pointed to the black cloak left behind on Tom's bed, tagging on Harry's hand triumphantly, the rabbit by his side as always. His smugness was clearly designed to provoke Tom.

Tom followed them docilely. He paused upon hearing Billy's challenge, fingernails cutting into his fisted palms.

"I don't want it anymore...It's torn."

TN: Billy, dude, you deserves an Oscar...

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