"Glad we could meet up," the woman chirped, taking his hand and shaking it fervently. "How's your day? Mine's been good, very good."
Harry glanced at her. His jaws dropped. He had the oddest sense of déjà vu. Her blond curls ran as far as her chin before stopping. There was red lipstick smeared across her lips, bringing out her sharp chin and gleaming eyes.
If he closed his eyes, it was all too easy to imagine Rita Skeeter sitting opposite him.
"How should I address you, Mister …?"
His past experiences taught him to be wary around journalists, but this time round, he was primed and ready to go.
They were like sharks in the water with an eye out for blood. This was going to be so simple. All Harry had to do was nick Riddle in the side and spill some blood. And the sharks would swarm and feed.
The journalists wanted dirt on Riddle, so he would give them plenty of it.
"Harry Riddle – but I'd prefer it if you just called me Harry."
The woman inhaled dramatically. "Ooh, Riddle, is it? Is that a coincidence? Or is there something more than meets the eye?"
Harry took a sip of his tea.
"Is there a secret shifting beneath your skin? What mysteries lurk in your mind?" She leaned across the table and took his wrist.
He grinned. "Actually, that's what I was hoping to tell you."
From the corner of his eye, Harry spotted a Quick Quotes Quill poised to write. He was suddenly hit by an urge to laugh. Oh, this was brilliant. Tom was about to find all the tables turning.
"Tom Riddle is my father."
There was a sudden flurry of action as the quill moved so fast across the parchment that it became a blur. Harry pretended to be oblivious.
As it moved down the page, he glimpsed the word 'scandalous' and 'devastated'.
It took him no small amount of effort to school his face into a somewhat neutral expression.
"He … hasn't claimed you yet?"
Lips twitching, Harry treated her to his best 'devastated' face. "I guess he isn't so taken with his bastard son. I'm a mistake."
"You poor, poor thing."
Despite her sympathetic words, Harry could pick out the sheer delight in her voice. Like a cat greeted with a plate of canaries. He couldn't help but be amused.
"I never asked to be his son."
"I know, dear."
"He asked his secretary to throw me out of his office."
The woman practically choked on her own excitement.
Much to Harry's glee, he could now make out the quill writing down 'brutal', 'denial' and 'cold-hearted, cutthroat, bastard of a father'. What a nice pun. He never realised how useful Quick Quotes Quills could be.
Perhaps he should get one of his own.
Riddle was about to be hailed with a nasty surprise when the Daily Prophet came out.
"What exactly did he say to you when you confessed?"
"I believe it was 'I have more important things to worry about'."
"How … cruel."
Harry looked down at his hands. "He's probably a very busy man."
The quill had started a new paragraph: 'The poor child divides his time between choking out the words, avoiding my eyes, and trying to find an explanation for his father ruthlessly abandoning him. It is hard to decide which is worse: our beloved politician heartthrob becoming a baby daddy at sixteen or still refusing to look after his son fourteen years later.'
Seeing Voldemort and 'baby daddy' in the same sentence was the last straw. It was impossible to control his laughter this time.
Harry spluttered helplessly into his cup of tea.
Yes, Riddle was about to get a very, very nasty surprise. He didn't envy Riddle's publicist one bit.
The journalist kept throwing questions at him, determined to get all the juicy details – and Harry was more than willing to answer.
Two hours later, he stood 'shakily' to take her hand. "Thank you so much for listening."
"Aw, you know I'm here for you, don't you?" the woman said. "Once we get this out there, I can guarantee you that he'll be begging to take you in by the end of the week. Or he risks the public turning against him."
Harry hid a smirk.
"My name is Ruth Skeeter, by the way."
He should have known.
Tom was nursing a cup of coffee as he settled into his chair when he was graced with his secretary's inopportune timing.
The moment he caught sight of the Daily Prophet's headline – Tom Riddle: Pretty Politician or Problem Papa? – he was coughing up coffee and frantically dabbing at his lips with a handkerchief. He looked down and saw that the cup was smashed to china shards on the floor.
"I'll clean it up, sir," Charles muttered.
It took him longer than usual to regain his composure.
Tom reached across and seized his secretary by the wrist. "What is the meaning of this?"
It was thanks to his immense self-control that he managed to keep the fury out of his voice, at least enough so that Charles didn't immediately drop to the floor in a dead faint.
"Uh, yes, I, um, I think you should give it a read, sir," the man fumbled. "I-I'll owl your publicist straightaway to see if we can somehow … limit the damage."
Tom felt anger coursing through his veins.
That brat from yesterday had certainly acted fast.
His wand practically throbbed with heat in his sleeve. He didn't know if he could restrain himself from cursing the boy if he dared to show his face again – which, Tom suspected, he would do soon enough.
Cursing him wouldn't help matters.
Perhaps he could get one of his Death Eaters to do something …
But no, that would be too obvious.
'Our beloved politician, who has earned the title 'heartthrob' and hundreds of young witches' devotion, has been revealed to have engaged in a drunken affair with an unnamed lady at sixteen. His illegitimate son, Harry Riddle, is fourteen this year.'
Tom hissed under his breath.
He skimmed down the page as words jumped out at him: 'in deep denial', 'rich but rash', 'playboy'?! 'irresponsible', 'turning a cold shoulder to the son he seems an unworthy mistake'.
With a flick of his wand, the newspaper was on fire.
His reputation was at stake here. A son could ruin everything. Alarm bells were ringing in his head. If he got his hands on Harry Riddle, he was going to make that dratted child regret everything. This was abysmal.
His secretary stood in the corner, shaking like a leaf.
"It's going to take an army to tidy up this mess," Tom said. "Where are my lawyers?"
"A-are you going to sue the Daily Prophet, sir?"
"No, I'm going to kiss them," he snarled.
"I could owl them too, sir … if you are adamant."
Tom pinned him with a glare. "Are you questioning me?"
"No, of course not!" the man squeaked. "It's just that your son –"
"He is not my son."
"My apologies, sir. The boy has already been taken to have his blood tested. The results have come back positive. He is, at least on paper, proven to be – er – your … you know."
Those tests could be fooled. It would take an impressive amount of magic and skill, but there were plenty of wizards he knew who could pull it off. The child was not his. It was simply not possible.
"The Daily Prophet has thousands of readers. It's a big company, sir. Perhaps it's not the best idea to engage them at court."
Tom was no fool.
They would lose the case.
It wasn't worth it.
He had, in short, been cornered by a mere child with wild claims.
There were a thousand ways in which he planned to make Harry pay.
This was unbelievable.
There was going to be a voting in a few months' time for the new Minister of Magic. Tom had had high hopes. It was ridiculous how easily said hopes were dashed. He felt like murdering someone right on the spot.
Regrettably only his secretary was in the room, and he needed him.
"Sir?" his secretary ventured.
"There are a crowd of paparazzi outside this building, waiting for you to make an appearance," Charles said. "I didn't want to bother you with it, but they are getting impatient. Would you like me to have a word with them?"
He could feel a headache coming on.
Tom stood up, smoothed down his suit and turned on his heels. "No need," he said. "I'll deal with them myself. Clean up the coffee. And clear my schedule for the week."
"But sir –"
He disappeared through the door.
Harry's day was going great. Ruth Skeeter had approached him that morning with buttered buns and an expensive suit and a suggestion that they visit Tom Riddle's work building.
When they got there, Harry had been greeted with the delicious sight of no less than a hundred reporters, journalists, paparazzi and curious civilians, all anticipating the moment their favourite politician stepped outside to bombard him with questions.
By the looks of it, they had been waiting for ages in the heat.
So Harry had assumed that it was only polite for him to declare himself and quench their thirst for information. And if it happened to reduce Riddle's well-protected reputation to a pitiful ball of shrivelled oxygen, well, that couldn't possibly be his fault.
"Harry – may I call you Harry? – is it true that your father denied your existence even after you confronted him about it?" were only one of the few politer ones barked out at him.
Some of the ruder ones – rude for Riddle and entertaining for him – consisted of 'Don't you think that Tom Riddle's mistreatment of you shows, at best, his lack of responsibility and at worst, a complete animalistic disregard for the wellbeing of other fellow humans?'
Harry was willing to bet that particular reporter had been sent by Riddle's rival politicians.
"I don't think I'm the best judge of my father, since I don't know him all that well," was his answer. Let them take it how they will.
Yes, it was perfectly fair to say that his day was starting out great.
That was, until Riddle decided to make an appearance.
That git had brushed open the doors with a calmness no one else could have possessed and a pretty smile for those who screamed his name. He stepped out into the sun in a three-piece suit and glistening shoes.
Harry was a bit irritated.
It was as if none of this unnerved him in the least.
Riddle held out a hand, as if he could physically stop the interrogation. And, damn it, it actually worked. The crowd quietened down, as if they all collectively fell under his spell, and listened.
"Sir, is it true that this boy is your son?" someone cried.
And suddenly, Harry was being shoved to the front, where Riddle's smouldering glare threatened to melt him into a puddle.
The next thing he knew, Riddle was by his side and ruffling his hair. Harry wondered if he was about to be slaughtered.
"Mr Riddle, do you know where this child's mother is?" another demanded.
Riddle chuckled. Only Harry, whose ear happened to be mere centimetres from Riddle's mouth, heard the forcefulness and the strain.
Fake. Everything charming about this young Voldemort was fake.
"My mum –"
Harry winced, cutting himself off in midsentence, as Riddle's nails plunged into his shoulder. He half thought it would draw blood, but it did not even pierce the fabric of the suit Ruth had made him dress in. Harry writhed, and the hand tightened.
No one saw.
Huh. So Riddle could be extremely discreet when he wanted.
"I have no idea," Riddle said lightly. "To be honest, I'm not even sure it happened."
Cries of outrage.
"Because you were drunk?" a daring individual asked.
"No," Riddle said. Irritation laced his voice. "Because I would have remembered."
"But you didn't because you were drunk."
Harry felt Riddle tense beside him as he struggled to keep the crowd under control. "I don't like being accused."
About twenty journalists hurried to note down the exchange, afraid to miss out on a single syllable.
"Do you think that he is your son?"
Cameras flashed and blinded Harry.
"Perhaps," Riddle said diplomatically. "I can't be certain, but rest assured that I will find out."
Harry could hear the veiled threat directed at him.
Then, Riddle tipped his head and hissed into his ear, making Harry stiffen, "You caused a scandal. You are not my son, and I want you to know that I will not let you tarnish my reputation. I'm only thirty, for Merlin's sake, and you claim to be fourteen. It is disgusting."
Harry could not help himself. "You mean you are disgusting."
Riddle's eyes blazed. "I will deal with you when we get home."
He couldn't help the shudder that ran through him. All the same, he smirked. "So I am going to live with you."