Tom Riddle first met Death on the train to Hogwarts, although he did not know it at the time.
He had been looking for an empty compartment not quite willing to seek out these other wizards yet, not until he could get his footing at the very least. To go so suddenly from being special, to be so different from ordinary humans, to being one of a group was disconcerting. He had mentors now, others of his kind, he was no longer isolated in mediocrity but there were other times he felt loss because he had been something so beyond compression and now he was one of many. Perhaps brilliant, perhaps very talented, but certainly nothing that could not be imagined.
He had taken one of the last rooms sliding the door closed with a sense of finality, it was only once he had sat in his seat and begun to dig through materials that he noticed he was not as alone as he thought. There was a boy, someone around his age no doubt, sitting next to the window in the place where the light couldn't reach. He wore dark layered clothing whose origin Tom could not place except to say that it was not English. His face was a pale immobile mask save for a single red scar, a crude lightning bolt, carved into his forehead and his eyes burned like sunlight filtering through green leaves beneath black feathered hair. On a whole he looked odd but it was even more than these individual features that Tom found disturbing it was the way they were put together, as if a very gifted artist had been told to craft a human and had ended with something almost but not quite, all the parts and pieces were there but they did not fit.
Tom stiffened as he caught sight of those bizarre eyes but in spite of the fact that the other boy was looking straight at him it was as if he hadn't seen Tom at all. Almost as if he were blind his eyes stared forward, looking past Tom and the compartment, until it seemed as he was viewing everything and nothing at once. He seemed perfectly content to stare ahead with that strangely solemn blank expression on his face, Tom almost let him, but then gave into that nagging voice in his mind that told him that no one should be able to simply ignore Tom Riddle even if he was just another wizard.
"My name is Tom Riddle, yours?" He asked, the other boy blinked suddenly and seemed to focus on Tom an expression of surprise gracing his features. For a moment he said nothing but his eyes seemed to glow for a moment boring through Tom until they had seen all he had been and ever could be.
"This is unexpected." The boy said in a soft tone that somehow pervaded through the entire apartment.
Tom wasn't sure quite what to say to that, he felt the sudden overwhelming need to prove his existence to this complete stranger. He frowned and commented, "It's rude not to introduce yourself when they've already told you their name."
The boy turned from him to stare out the window taking in the rushing green of Scotland with those bizarre eyes. Finally he turned back with an almost haunted expression and whispered, "I am eternity."
The boy looked at him and asked suddenly in a more present voice, "What year is it?"
"1938." Tom responded without pause, "May I ask how it is this has escaped your attention?"
The boy tipped his head back and began to laugh suddenly spewing out words in an unknown language that rolled and lilted off his tongue, a jagged harsh laughter that seemed terrible and broken all at once. The question suddenly sounded absurd, even to Tom's ears, until it was more ridiculous than not knowing the date at all.
Finally the boy calmed down with a strange half-attempted smile that spoke more of pain than any actual happiness, "Forgive me Tom Riddle, I seem to have misplaced myself."
It was at that moment that Tom Riddle made the great error of disregarding everything this strange boy said for a case of insanity. (Although, once again, he would not realize this mistake at the time.)
"Does that happen often?" Tom asked in a dry tone that suggested that it did in the worst of ways.
The boy's smile grew became more wry, shifted slightly, and his eyes seemed to sparkle, "Occasionally." He sighed and became somewhat grim again, "The next great adventure, strange how I always think back to that particular phrasing, isn't it? Yet, in this case, it does seem to fit. Or is it a prelude to the old adventure, who knows, I certainly never imagined that taking the train would involve this."
He sighed before focusing back in on Tom Riddle, "I suppose you may call me whatever you like, I have no real preference and you do have a thing for names."
Tom felt himself gritting his teeth at that last comment despite the fact that all that drivel beforehand had made no sense whatsoever, he knew that somehow it was a very specific dig at him, not just for his insistence on the boy introducing himself but something deeper. It was true, he had always hated his own name, but this boy couldn't possibly know that. He managed to force his displeasure into a grin.
"Is that so, anything I want? That's rather dangerous isn't it? You could end up with something highly embarrassing with that kind of attitude." Tom pointed out slyly, the other boy's smile did not dim however, much to Tom's disappointment.
"I find that I am that I am, Tom Riddle, a name will not change that no matter how hard it may try." He said before waving a hand, "Besides, I've probably had far worse than whatever you can come up with."
Right then and there Tom vowed to surpass that challenge and make this green eyed lunatic regret the day he had ever said those words so nonchalantly. He was so very possessed, more so even than Tom himself, a confidence that radiated outwards and caused everything around him to seem less definite in comparison. He seemed untouchable, the expression in his eyes at once distant and profound, as if he was staring down at humanity from thousands of miles above them. It wasn't condescending either, merely distant and alien, but even so Tom hated the expression and this boy along with it.
"Well, for you I'll have to make something truly special then, won't I?"
The boy smiled back at him, "I'm sure you will."
Tom decided to control the conversation once again, "Now that introductions are out of the way I suppose we can get to the real information. What year are you?"
The boy peered down at himself in a confused if somewhat bemused manner, inspected his pale hands with alarming interest before looking back up at Tom, "I guess this would be my first."
"You guess?" Tom asked, "I didn't think it was a debatable fact."
"All facts are debatable when the nature of reality itself is in debate." The boy supplied with a speed that was uncanny, "Still, that's not really what I meant; I've just been deciding whether I want to go at all."
"If you didn't want to come why did you get on the train in the first place?" Tom snapped.
The boy's face changed became older, his eyes grew dimmer as if clouds had passed over, and the cabin itself seemed to shift and grow jagged. In a soft voice that was far too empty he said, "I had spent too much time not taking the train that I no longer had a choice. In the end it was a train to Somewhere."
"Really?" Tom asked in a dry manner, "Well now that you are on the train do you plan to go to Hogwarts, it'd be rather inconvenient to jump ship now so to speak."
The boy considered the question, "I suppose, I have no reason not to go really, well perhaps a few but nothing truly pertinent."
Tom sneered but the boy didn't seem to mind, in fact seemed more comfortable with Tom's increasing displeasure, it was as if he looked at him and knew the universe was in balance simply because he was unhappy.
"Any ideas what house you'll be in?" Tom asked, still with disdain but genuinely curious. Given the descriptions he couldn't picture this boy in any house. He wanted to very badly as well, so that he could dissect him and stereotype him on given models, but nothing seemed to fit.
Again there appeared to be a lot of thought put into his answer it was as if he turned his gaze inward and had to search through himself to find any semblance of answer, "Not a clue." He said finally with a strangely puzzled expression as if he should have known but didn't, "You?"
For a moment Tom paused, he'd been about to answer Slytherin, and then amend that Ravenclaw was also a possibility but that had been just it, there had been no thought put into it. He'd seen the descriptions and he'd known instantly, and yet this unnamed boy had had to truly think about it before declaring simply that he didn't know, was Tom somehow more shallow to have found the answer so quickly? Or, he thought snidely, perhaps the boy was merely an idiot incapable of the tiniest bit of self-reflection.
The boy seemed to catch on to his train of thought and waved his hand absentmindedly as if to brush away Tom's concerns, "I think most people have at least some idea going in, I'm just a little bit weird that way, don't mind me."
Was it just Tom or was the boy trying harder; changing his speech patterns little by little so that he sounded more natural? Before, when Tom had first arrived, he had been nearly unintelligible and yet there had been a sense of poetry to his words, not with an accent but still in a way that almost seemed foreign, whereas now he still sounded odd but at the same time more casual. He was relaxing into something resembling a Hogwarts student, changing himself to fit some preconceived idea of what Hogwarts student was. Had Tom walked in on this student he may have found him just as obnoxious and perhaps odd but he wouldn't have had that initial moment of doubt.
"How self-deprecating." Tom commented drily, without any real inflection, and the boy shrugged with that same damned smile.
After that Tom let the conversation drift no longer interested in this bizarre future classmate of his, surely other wizards were more sane than this one, and pulled out some of his textbooks to glance at while he passed the time. The boy lost presence and slowly but surely faded from his mind until he was little more than the dark shadow he presented as he walked swiftly past Tom and off the train.
Author's Note: Originally this was going to be a one-shot but then I was not even half way through and it was already approaching 10,000 words so instead I'll have many chapters on the shorter end. Explanations on what exactly is going on here will be a long time coming, as in many chapters away, but there will be explanations eventually so... sit tight? Thanks for reading, reviews are most welcome.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.