“My mother died just after I was born, sir. They told me at the orphanage she lived just long enough to name me…” ~Tom Riddle, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I should not be here.
The thought pummels my tired mind again and again, but I know I have no choice other than to drag my feet across the pavement, my body protesting each step. Though I am certainly doing no favours to the soles of my shoes, I lack the energy and will to lift them any higher. The thought of the long way to go until the Leaky Cauldron makes me want to sink to the ground and weep, but with a sternness befitting my own father, I forbid myself to waver. I will not give these Muggles reason to pity me, even though I see it in so many of their faces already. My pathetic pride is one of the few possessions I have left.
I round a corner and stop to lean against the rough brick of a shop, my breath laboured. The setting sun is ridding itself of the last of its warmth, causing more trickles of perspiration to seep into the chafing seams of my blouse. How I long to be free of these ill-fitting clothes, clad instead in the comfort of robes. I shift against the wall, attempting to ease my strained joints. The thought of the coming evening brings little respite, knowing I will only be kept awake by the discomforts of my body and the greater ache in my heart. How I long for some reassurance that I will make it through the fearful, inescapable event so imminent in my future.
A man jostles me as he passes, and my hand reaches out instinctively to brace my abdomen. He turns to apologize when he hears my pained gasp, and though his concern seems genuine, I do not miss the widening of his eyes as he takes in first my figure, and then my youthful face. No doubt he wonders why a girl like myself is trudging along the street, her condition so very visible. I wish I could explain to him that under any other circumstance, I would flit from here to the other side of London in less time than it would take him to blink, but I could not expect him to understand that Floo travel is precarious in my state, and Apparition even more so. A Muggle would not have the slightest comprehension of such things.
Determined not to wilt under the man’s gaze, I raise my chin and give a genteel nod of pardon, allowing him to continue on his way. Once he is gone, I let out a deep sigh, too fatigued for anything else. His is not the first such reaction I have encountered, but had he looked more closely, he would have seen the gold band on my left hand. Even though I no longer know how much of a union it represents, it might have lent me more respectability in his eyes. And had he looked even more closely, he might have seen the shadows and lines of worry that I know exist on my face. This was no result of adolescent carelessness, and although still young, I am no longer a child. Still, despite the grain of irritation his assumptions create, I find that in the end I can only agree with him:
I should not be here.
The day had held a glimmer of hope when I had first set out into the crisp morning air for the offices of Fickle, Johnstone & Bodesworthy. I had been determined to make a final appeal to my husband’s compassion – surely he could not look upon me, carrying his child, and not regret his previous decisions! But upon my arrival, the only compassion I gained came from the eyes of the firm’s secretary. Though her face was impassive and polite as she informed me that “Mr. Riddle is unavailable, ma’am”
, her eyes gave me a different communication altogether, one no woman could misunderstand. I left without scene or protest. No, I would not have Thomas hear of that.
I shut my eyes for a moment, attempting to block out the rattles of motorcars and lorries, the shouts of newsboys. I am almost able to tolerate the smells of these busy London streets now, although my stomach still gives a small twist of displeasure. Warm with exertion, I remove my jumper with as much discretion as I can manage. Like my once persistent hope that Thomas would take me back, it has become all too unnecessary.
A dull yellow corner peeks out from a pocket as I lay the garment across my arm. I ought to have owled this letter much earlier, I now know. I run my finger along the edge of the folded parchment, finding its knobby texture an unexpected comfort in this world of unfamiliarity. Hesitant to sign “Lavinia Riddle
” to it, I had ended the missive simply, “Your Daughter.” No, father would not care to see that name supplanting our own, even though he had planned to barter me off soon enough himself. Strange, how the prospect of marriage caused me to flee the only world I had ever known, and yet now marriage has brought me to this current quandary. Perhaps Father would never have come to that if Marcus had lived. Marcus, of course, had would have always borne the Marvolo name. Surely there would have been pureblood parents willing to overlook our family’s other deficiencies in exchange for the lineage he could have provided.
Born barely a year after my brother, I had been only another demand on my mother’s time, and certainly of little consideration to my father. But Marcus had never seen me in that light, and we had played together as the best of pals. The small footbridge on our overgrown property has long since been chopped down, but I remember clearly the hours we spent running back and forth across it, spinning our tops off the edge, daring each other to walk along the railing.
On one unforgettable day we had sat on opposite sides, tossing a small ball between us. Marcus was pretending the object was a spitting Gobstone, and he juggled it from one hand to another with ridiculous exaggeration. But as his arms flailed, his balance faltered, and he tumbled backwards with a fantastic splash. I remember rushing to the railing as quickly as my short legs would take me, peering over cautiously, certain he was waiting beneath the arch to frighten me. He was not. I had seen Marcus lie in the stream on other hot summer days, but never so completely still.
Mother left soon after. Our house-elf, Dilly, could not tell me where she had gone, and Father would not. Most of his days were spent in his study, mourning fortune and family that were no longer there. The house and any thoughts of his daughter’s upbringing fell into further neglect, but through Dilly’s care and the covert attentions of a few kind neighbours, I managed to get by until the time came to leave for Hogwarts.
For years the school had seemed like a far-off haven, and in many respects it was, although I always felt miserably unsuited for the cunning and rivalries of Slytherin. Having spent most of my life with a house-elf as my primary partner in conversation, I knew little about how to join my housemates’ discussions or share in their jokes. They and I had both known exactly what I was: a shabby girl from a shabby family, with only a name to her credit. And while that name might have impressed the parents of my fellow Slytherins, it did little to endear me to their children.
A sudden tightness across my belly stirs me from my memories, causing my breath to catch sharply. I have felt these pains several times recently, usually while I rest at the day’s end in my little room at the back of The Leaky Cauldron. I run my hand over the taut skin on those nights, feeling the knobs of feet and elbows, both marveling at and dreading my child’s eagerness to enter this world. Despite my circumstances, I often feel a reluctant thrill when I think of what this birth signifies, for this child comes from wizarding legend, a descendant of none other than Salazar Slytherin.
I was never allowed to forget my connection to that man. I was barely fourteen the first time my father stopped me outside his creaking study door, commanding me to bring tea for him and his friend. Heady with the independence of a few years away at school, I saucily inquired why he did not ask Dilly. “Fetch the tea, Lavinia,”
he repeated with little emotion and less love, his hand tightening like a Devil’s Snare around my arm. I seethed inside, but I eventually yielded, seeing little choice in the matter.
The ritual gained more significance when it was repeated the next summer, and then the next. Though my father’s guest continued to say little to me, I had grown enough to note the emerging glint in the man’s eye – the gaze of a buyer viewing a pedigreed Abraxan. In this way I learned, as no girl ever should, the precise value I held in my father’s world. Looking back, I know that he could not have forced me to it, but I also know that he certainly did not bother to provide any other alternative for me. His friend had the money that he lacked, as well as a shared respect for pureblood ancestry. By the time my seventh year at Hogwarts neared an end, I could barely sleep from the thought of what awaited me.
I never would have believed then that my salvation would come in the form that it did. The other seventh-years had milled around the grounds at the completion of our N.E.W.T.s, their voices light and carefree, but I could not share in their jubilation. Sensing tears rise in me, I had run like a hunted fox to the edge of Og’s garden, where the overwhelming feelings of desperation and misery trampled me into the ground. That was where Libby Munroe came across me, choking on my sobs.
I had never thought much of Libby – her coarse accent, raised in boisterous laughter at each and every magical novelty, must have been heard throughout the entire Hogwarts Express on our first journey to the school. I remember watching with a frown as she jauntily took the Sorting stool after me, giving a wide, toothy grin to the entire Hall when the hat assigned her to Ravenclaw. I glared at her now with all the strength I could muster, resentful that a Muggle-born girl had always been so at ease in a world that scarcely allowed me air to breathe. I told her to leave me be, but Libby sat down like a ridiculously obstinate Crup and inquired again what was wrong. Feeling incapable of defying even her, I finally shared those parts of my story I was not too humiliated to tell.
“Come with me,” she said after listening with surprising patience, sounding as though the matter had already been decided. “Come to London. That’d show your old man, eh?”
Come with her? To London
? I rattled off a dozen excuses between my sniffles, not wanting her to know of my pathetic inability to affect any aspect of my own fate. I had no money; I could not possibly importune on her family. Libby brushed them all aside.
“They’ll scarce know you’re there,” she had laughed. And she was right – I had been completely unprepared for the cheerful chaos of her cramped household, even more so for the candid affection of her younger siblings, whom I could delight with even the simplest of spells. My father would have spontaneously Splinched, had he known that I began working in Joe Munroe’s bakery, but I was happy to be of use. I even discovered a genuine respect for Libby, who developed a series of series of charms and spells for her father’s ovens. I helped her to cast them, the bakery’s production doubled, and as Libby’s family considered me part of that good fortune, I could do no wrong in their eyes. My only misgivings would come late at night, when I would lie on my bed and remember the sight of Dilly’s brokenhearted face on Platform 9 ¾, and hear a voice strangely like my own telling her that Mistress Lavinia would not be coming home.
I might have lived happily with the Munroe family for some time, but fate was as capricious as the wind that blew my hat away one autumn afternoon. Laughing, I chased it down the path in Hyde Park until I saw it land at the polished feet of two young men. One stooped with affected gallantry to pick it up, and I took it without meeting his eyes. They were worlds apart from the young men that patronized Joe Munroe’s bakery, sent by their mums to fetch a loaf of bread. With blushing thanks, I quickly set off down the path again. I do not know why I turned back for another glance, but when I did, I saw the dark eyes of his companion on me. I gave him a shy smile, something I would never have dared in the wizarding world, and he came after me to ask my name. “Lavinia…Marvin
,” I had mumbled, looking up at his handsome face. So many things changed from that moment.
“You don’t know his sort,” Libby had insisted the first time I went to meet Thomas Riddle. “I’m telling you, it’ll come to no good.” She was right
, the more pragmatic portion of my mind tells me at times, before I force myself to remember my child. He may be the only good to come of this, but for his sake, I am willing to chance my father’s anger and return to my wizarding home.
Thomas spoke that first night of the frustration of working in employment of his father’s choosing, and of endless introductions to “suitable” debutantes. Though he asked little of my own story, I felt a connection to him so strong that I ached as I listened. As our meetings grew in number, I found that he cared as little for my family’s social standing as I did for his, being perfectly content with my vague story of parents who had died years ago. I always knew that my charade would eventually play out, that I could not always keep my magic from him, but this seemed an impossible consideration when his hands were around my waist or his lips were on mine. Libby called me a bloody fool each time I left the flat, but Thomas’s caresses had awakened a terrifying need within me, and so I continued to meet him, heedless of any consequences.
“Marry me,” he had said one afternoon as we sat in a secluded corner of the park. “Come away with me. We could leave tomorrow.”
“What would your family think?”
“I don’t think it should be their choice,” he said softly, running the backs of his fingers down my cheek.
“No,” I replied, my voice an entranced whisper. “No, it shouldn’t be.”
And so, despite every warning in my head, I consented, willing myself to believe that his assurance was sufficient for the both of us.
If my first entrance into the Muggle world had been a shock, my exposure to Thomas’ circle was an even greater jolt. He had shown me little of it prior to our marriage, no doubt because of my lack of appropriate clothes, but I like to think that I comported myself with enough meekness and decorum so as not to shame him. I never felt entirely comfortable in the company of his friends’ well-bred wives, but seven years in Slytherin proved to be an apt training ground for such gatherings. Still, these were our happiest days together, while they lasted.
Thomas’ parents had been traveling at the time of our marriage, and as my own father had rarely wanted anything to do with me, I had not fully considered how they might regard their son’s new wife. I should have. We saw them only briefly in London upon their return, but they invited us with brittle politeness to visit their home near Little Hangleton soon. I dreaded the thought of the scrutiny I would undergo in such close proximity, but I resolved not to be cowed by them.
A pensive sigh escapes me, and I move away from the brick wall. I feel ready to start off again, but my stomach tightens as before. The sensation is sharper this time, an acute reminder of how much I have taxed my body today. I force my eyes to the shop’s window – a stationer’s, by all appearances – and press a hand into my side as I wait for the tenseness to subside. My anxious gaze runs over stacks of ledgers, composition books, leather-bound diaries, and as the pain ebbs, I even manage to give a faint smile. The sight of them reminds me of the library in my childhood home, where the mouldy tomes I devoured as a child later helped me to fabricate a history for the Riddles.
That history had satisfied Thomas, but it was not long after our arrival in Little Hangleton that his mother began to raise questions that Thomas had never thought to ask. I soon discovered there were lapses of knowledge that a polite smile would not cover, pointed inquiries that a mumbled answer would not appease. Under a veneer of civility, Mrs. Riddle watched my every move, my every blunder. It was only when I could see an accusation ready to fall off her lips that I made my disclosure: I was expecting her grandchild.
The news seemed to pacify the Riddles, although Thomas did not appear to receive it well. Perhaps he had not bargained on fatherhood at such a young age, so soon after our marriage. For all Thomas spoke ill of his parents and their ways, I began to detect many resemblances to them. Here in Little Hangleton, there was a coldness in his eye that I had never seen before in London, a greater impatience with me and my failings. When the Riddles urged me to stay longer in the country with them, Thomas returned to the city alone, with no outward reservation.
Left by myself with these virtual strangers, I began to discover a resemblance to my own father, whose wretched pride in the Marvolo name I had always despised before. My dalliance in the Muggle world was never meant to be anything other than temporary, and suddenly, I could not imagine raising my son in ignorance of his heritage, or living the remainder of my life without magic. Neither could I imagine submitting myself to the Muggles’ strange forms of medicine when I brought this child into the world. I knew I had no choice but to tell Thomas the truth, if I wanted Dilly and a Healer by my side for the ordeal.
Despite my attempts to rekindle the feelings Thomas had once had, he had little to say to me when I came back to London. As my figure widened, so did the rift between us. Unbeknownst to him, I dared to visit St. Mungo’s to consult with a Healer. After casting a few spells, she happily informed me that I was carrying a son. I wanted to stay there all day, soaking in the magic that hummed in the air, but I left with a smile and a lie that I would return again soon.
Anxiety never once left my mind in the weeks and months that followed. I had conjured up dozens of scenarios in which I would tell a dazed and then accepting Thomas of my true history, but none of these fantasies could take the place of an actual disclosure. One Saturday afternoon as we sat over tea, I knew with sudden clarity that the moment had come. We were eating with little conversation between us, as was so often the case, but the baby seemed subject to the Tarantallegra Jinx in my womb. His repetitive kicks seemed to mirror the pounding of my heart, goading me to open my mouth. Despite my preparations, I felt ill at the thought of what I was about to say. The birth was only a month away, however, and I knew I could put it off no longer.
“Your son is being troublesome today,” I said, my hand across my belly.
“My son?” he replied with a short laugh, glancing up from tea. “And just how might you know that?”
I have thought of that moment many times since, of what might have happened had I just given a silly little laugh and explained that I spoke only in jest. But in those fleeting seconds, I saw a brief glimpse of my father in days long ago, his proud hand on the shoulder of my brother. I had so little to give to Thomas, but I could give him that
, and I desperately wanted to.
And so I told him who and what I truly was, my voice faltering more than once. I told him of the significance of my lineage, hoping that, at least, might make an impression on him. I told him of the Healer who had discovered through magic that I was carrying a son. Thomas sat dreadfully still during my recitation, his mouth drawing into a tighter and tighter line.
In increasing desperation, I begged him to wait as I hurried to fetch my wand, which had been sitting in the bottom of a hatbox. Upon my return, I performed spell after spell for him – levitating the lamp, transfiguring the sugar bowl into a bouquet of flowers – as though I were searching for the elusive trick that would make Libby’s siblings laugh on a day when they were particularly difficult to entertain. The stakes had never been this high, however, and I had never seen such an ugly look on the faces of Sally and Tim. I finally ceased in my efforts, leaving my heavy breathing as the only sound in the room. Then Thomas’ words tore through the silence like a knife through cloth.
I hesitated for a moment, disbelieving my ears, but then Tom rose from his chair, slamming his hands on the table. Stumbling backwards, I fled the flat, gripping my wand with paralyzed fingers. I walked the streets for over an hour, my eyes clouded by tears, my mind in a stupor. He could not have meant what he said, I told myself repeatedly. He loved me. It was too sudden a surprise for him. He only needed time to sort it all out.
But when I returned to our flat and knocked on its locked front door, I found Tom had taken all the time he ever intended to. The door opened to show not my husband, but the grim-lipped figure of Mrs. Hedgethorpe, the housekeeper Mrs. Riddle had sent to us. She handed me an envelope with a few pound notes, as though I were one of the maids under her direction, and icily repeated the message that I was never to approach the Riddle family again. I stood rooted there as the door shut in my face, flinching as the lock clicked into place with a sound of cold finality. I made my way later to the Leaky Cauldron, where I have been ever since.
Sitting in my dismally small room at the pub that night, I knew I could not return to the Munroes, not after having tossed their trust and kindness aside with such ease. No, I could not bear to have Libby know of my folly, even though she had predicted it all along. I needed to return home, I realized as I ran my palms over the swell of my stomach, seeking some comfort from the child inside. For his sake, I would not fear my father again.
With renewed resolution, I tear my eyes away from the stationer’s window, knowing that I have dawdled long enough. I have a letter to owl, and a stomach troubled by the beginnings of hunger. But before I have traveled more than a few paces, a pain more intense than anything I have felt before stops me in my place. There is a predatory swiftness in its onset, and my teeth dig into my lower lip as I try to keep from crying out. My previous aches seem to have been no more than mere annoyances. Now, a mountain troll has seized me by the hips and is crushing me between his hands with malicious pleasure. Desperate to conceal my distress from these Muggle pedestrians, it is all I can to do to lower my head and try to keep my body from violently shaking. I will not – will not!
– have their pity.
The moment the troll seems to loose me, I stumble to the shop door. My quivering hand can barely manage to turn the knob, but I must
get inside. I fumble across the doorstep, only to knock over a bin of typewriter ribbons that my stomach has obscured from view. Shoppers in the queue turn at the sound, and my cheeks burn under their gaze. I want nothing more than to return a look of withering scorn, but the pain is mounting again, bringing with it a horrifying realization.
No. No. Not here! Not now!
The words form a pleading refrain in my head as I edge away from conspicuous view. My hands run along the edge of a shelf for support, and before long I am gripping it until my knuckles are white, twisting my face into contorted silence. I continue my hold as the feeling ebbs, panting with the futility of a woman drowning in the ocean, who knows it is only a short matter of time before another brutal wave crashes down overhead.
“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you unwell?”
My son should not be born in this Muggle shop.
“Ma’am? Should I fetch a doctor?”
He should be born in my world, his world.
A shop assistant has come to my side, her face a blur before my eyes. I try to force a placid smile to my lips, but I cannot. She continues to speak to me, hovering over me as I begin to tremble, but I bat at her impatiently. Her words offer no comfort, only another assault on my overburdened senses. I try to repulse her again, but then white-hot knives sink into the small of my back, and I can do no more then let out an anguished sob as I crumple to the floor.
At once a flurry of voices and bodies gathers around me, but I cannot differentiate between their faces, or track the passage of time. Each minute might be an hour, for no sooner am I able to catch my breath then another spasm wracks my body. I feel my son moving within me, speaking to my body in a language more ancient and primal than magic itself, but I am caught up helpless, almost a bystander, and yet so intimately, excruciatingly connected.
At the moment when I feel utterly spent, as though I can endure not one second more, I feel the child shift forward as though he will not be stopped at any cost. Mustering my last shreds of energy, I give a final cry of exertion, and then at once I am aware of a strange emptiness in my womb. Gasping for air, I fall back on my makeshift pillow, a blanket someone must have wadded under my head. My head swims as I look about, feeling oddly disconnected from the bustle surrounding me. An overwhelming sensation of faintness almost succeeds in pulling my eyelids shut, but then I hear a baby’s slight wail.
I try to sit up, but a hand, red and wet, stops my ascent. A bespectacled man kneels at my feet, his face a stern mask. A frown forms on my face, but I am too drained to challenge his command. Unable yet to form words, I look around in a mute plea. I see a woman share a hesitant glance with the man, but then she stoops to place a small bundle in my arms. Gazing on my child for the first time, I almost succumb to a nonsensical urge to laugh. I had somehow expected a plump child with rounded cheeks, a handsome Thomas like his father. Instead, I hold a collection of wiry, red arms and miniscule fingers. No, there is not enough of a man here to make a proper Thomas just yet. He is only Tom for now. My darling little Tom.
I try to catch the attention of the woman who gave him to me, but her eyes are again on the man and his busied movements. Perplexed when she does not return my gaze, a sense of annoyance begins to taint my joy. These Muggles have no idea of the magnitude of this event! An heir of Salazar Slytherin has been born! His eyes screwed shut, he looks like a wizened old sage. But then he lets out a weak mew, and I feel my heart break into a thousand pieces. Clad only in my discarded jumper, his dark hair matted to his small head, he descends from greatness.
I try again to gain the woman’s attention. “Tom Marvolo Riddle,” I rasp through parched lips. She continues to watch the man work at my feet. “My son, his name,” I repeat with more persistence. “Tom Marvolo Riddle.”
Finally, she turns, and for a fleeting moment I seem to be staring into the eyes of the secretary at Fickle, Johnstone & Bodesworthy again. She tries to smile, but her eyes share no elation in my miracle. A tear wobbles and then falls. I regard her with confusion for an instant, but I have no thought to spare for her now – my entire being is caught up in this precious child.
I lean my head back again, cradling little Tom against my body. A tiny, splayed hand reaches out of the bundle and grasps my offered finger. My breath catches at the purity of his instinctive gesture, the sweet trust in his grip. Vague concerns for our future flit through my mind, but the faintness is increasing, and so I close my eyes, allowing the haze of euphoric exhaustion to cover me like a blanket.
“Has Mrs. Blunt been contacted yet?” the nurse asked as she smoothed down the sheet-draped figure on the bed. Her hands worked with unruffled efficiently, despite the frown at the corners of her mouth.
The doctor, sitting at a small table on the other side of the room, looked up from the papers before him. “Yes,” he said tersely, “she’ll be by tomorrow to take the child to the orphanage.”
The nurse quietly watched him write for a moment, before shaking her head in dismay. “To die there on Vauxhall Road in such a way, the poor thing. A hemorrhage, was it? Mixed up with a god-forsaken lot, no doubt. Did you read the letter she had on her? Talk of witches, wizards…a horrible business. Well, she’s with the good Lord now.”
The doctor cleared his throat, an unmistakable request for silence. The nurse obeyed, but she crossed the room to stand behind his shoulder. There was that strange-looking paper on the table, arresting her attention again. She could not help but feel that it might be better for all if the thing were burned directly. Much better, indeed.
“Would you like me to destroy that, then?” she ventured, moving her fingers toward the parchment.
His eyes still focused downward, the doctor stretched out his hand. “No, ” he said, removing the letter from under her grasp and placing it with the other papers. He shut the file with a weary sigh and stood up. “No, it may have meaning for the boy someday.”
A/N: I realize this is much gloomier than my usual fare, but it is something I’ve been wanting to attempt for almost two years now. As my plot bunnies tend to pester and plague me until I do finally write them, I thought it best to comply.
Many thanks to soupytwist, Yolanda, kelleypen, enjae and Lilac for their beta assistance! To read more about Tom's life in the orphanage with Mrs. Blunt, check out Kate Lynn's "The Broken Victory".