My first Tom Riddle story - with no intended pairing. Well, maybe later. Much, much later.

Disclaimer: If I owned Harry Potter, I would not be writing an AU.

Explanation: I am trying to stick with canon as much as possible with this - except for the major things I know I have to change (um, AU, anyone?). But the dates will all stay the same, except that Riddle's birthday (for reasons of better fitting with history) is now in 1925, not 1926.

Prompt: Tom Riddle stays with Merope.


One mistake it had said.

Those piercing eyes stared straight into her soul and it had poured conditions down on her like the rain, cleansing and burning and washing away both hope and despair alike, leaving nothing but a vague aching numbness where her heart used to be.

She never should have listened.

He is barely nine months old when he speaks his first words. His father is unimpressed.

Tom Riddle Sr. does not acknowledge the utterings of his infant son for another four months, when his first English word is "never."

(Merope claims his first word was 'papa,' but he refuses to indulge her silly delusions about that hissing)

At three, the boy is caught in the closet with a candle and his father's dictionary.

It is the first time he feels the sting of the birch on his flesh.

The next morning, he feels it again, because his father does not like how the welts all disappeared overnight.

When he is three and a half, he asks his mother what 'socialism' means.

He wonders how people could believe in something so idealistic.

His father smacks him with the very newspaper the boy had been reading, but there is almost a smile in his handsome eyes so the pain is not as bad as it could have been.

He asks what 'necromancy' means, a few days later, and the pain of the beating makes him forget his curiosity.

The book, however, stays hidden beneathe his mattress.

On his fourth birthday, little Tom blows out the candles on his small cake, along with every light in a hundred yard radius.

His father is so furious when he gets home that his son ends up not being able to sit for a week.

It is the bruise on his mother's jaw that makes his young heart ache, though.

His tutor does not like how the little boy stares at him like he can see into his soul.

But he dare not complain to the boy's father, because the scholar is well aware of his own silliness in worrying about such a small thing. His charge is quite brilliant, too, and no teacher would ever pass up the opportunity to instruct such a talented pupil.

It is simply strange, that is all, that his old wound should hurt so much whenever the child is in a particularly bad mood.

Tom Riddle Sr., Esq. returns home after a particularly trying day advising an elderly widow to a house practically teeming with anxiety.

It seems that his son had been found with a snake in his bed, not unlike a certain Hellenistic hero, though this time the boy was happily playing, not strangling them.

He should probably feel remorse as he cleans his rod of blood, but all he can feel is a vague sort of irritation that the servants will have to be replaced, again, and his wife will be unable to accompany him to the dinner tomorrow night.

He is five when he runs away for the first time.

His father locks the door.

A few days later, young Tom sits silently in the parlor, staring at the front door for his father to return home.

His mother nearly faints when she sees the stains on his clothing, but she has the presence of mind to burn the rags before her husband returns.

The boy goes without dinner for two days, and his rear hurts for a week after that, but there is a darkness to his eyes that never really goes away.

(Merope wonders what it is he saw there, when he scampered off to stain his clothes with filth and blood)

The boy has just passed his fifth summer when he asks his mother about his grandparents.

Not Father's parents, he clarifies, dark eyes piercing her to the bone, we visit them every Christmas.

He watches as his mother's face blanches and her hands begin to shake, and he does not bring the topic up again.

She keeps it from his father, he knows, because he is not on the receiving end of a birching that evening.

He is six, and the springtime is his favorite season.

It means that the days are longer, and the nights are warmer, and his mother's social engagements will be multiplying again so he can slip away from his tutor for hours at a time.

He tells no one where he goes, not even his pillow. He knows that Father would beat him senseless if he knew that his son were sneaking off to frighten the park birds with his snakes.

Tom Riddle Sr. teaches his son to swim by throwing him into the river on his parents' property.

He is rather pleased that the boy does not catch on too quickly.

It is 1932, and the boy has just turned seven.

He sits at his windowsill and watches the flickering streetlamps illuminate the frost on the glass pane. A girl on the street looks up at his window, ragged cloak wrapped tight against the chill.

Her face is warped by the glass.

He watches, fascinated, as she drops to the side of his fenced property and shivers.

She does not stop shaking until the sunrise.

His father does not notice the urchin's body when he leaves for work.

(Merope notices)

He is seven years and four months old when he decides he wishes to be a dragon.

Father immediately punishes him for entertaining such an impractical thought.

Mother cradles her own bruised arm and watches her baby through the cracked door as he stares silently, intently, at a writhing shadow on his bedroom floor.

His mother asks him the next day, after her husband has left for work, what he meant by his comment the night before.

He watches her with unnerving eyes and says once, you said Father was your knight in shining armor.

He is eight when the birch rod bursts into flames in Tom Riddle Sr.'s hands.

It takes a few days to find a replacement.

(Merope thinks she might have imagined the cold look in her son's eyes)

The replacement crumbles to ashes a week later.

His father decides Tom Jr. is old enough for a proper cane.

(Merope is almost afraid for her son. She knows she did not imagine it)

The boy is eight when he runs away for the second time.

His mother is distraught, and his father is highly irritated.

He does not return for more than a month, after the summer has turned to autumn.

It is the first time Tom Riddle Sr. does not beat him for disobedience.

(Merope forbade him to touch her baby, and there must have been something reminiscent of her father and her brother in her bearing, because he did not protest)

His eighth Christmas finds Tom Riddle Jr. sitting in the graveyard of Little Hangleton.

It is so different from London – cleaner, quieter, simpler. The dead there do not have gravestones, he thinks.

His mother discovers him there, by his great-grandfather's sarcophagus, and she does not drag him back into the manor house. Instead, she sits beside him and they watch the stars come out together.

Neither say anything about the sudden unnatural, comfortable warmth in the December air.

When he is nine, he asks his mother about the rioting because he knows his father would never approve of the curiosity.

In a rare moment of conspiracy, she says that conflict will never concern him, but she refuses to tell him why.

Father removes them from their vacation early anyway.

Merope Riddle gives her son a violin for his tenth birthday.

He is so happy with his gift that even his father smiles at the boy.

She does not know when he learned to play, but that night her son supplies such lively music that she dances with her husband in their parlor for the first time in forever.

The next morning, her ten-year-old embraces her so tightly she does not think she can breathe.

Once he has gone off to his lessons, she is startled to realize it is the first time her son has hugged her in years, since before he knew how to make the shadows writhe like agony.

It is 1936, and the boy knows something is wrong with his mother.

He has never lived through a war before, but she has, and they can both smell it coming. He does not quite remember when it began, but her dresses have stopped coming so frequently in packages from Paris. She says nothing to him, but he knows that she is worried.

It is funny, he thinks. He has never met a German, yet they are all he can think about now.

Tom Riddle Sr. is not a cruel man, just a cold one. He never meant to hurt his son, but when he sees him with that snake in his bedroom, again, his self-control simply snaps.

He does not stop to think about the date – December 31st of 1936 – nor about the neatly-wrapped present waiting on the parlor chair. He does not even, in his rage, stop to get the rattan cane, but simply uses his heavy cherry wood walking stick with the ivory grip – the nice one, carved like a horse head.

He only stops once his arm grows tired, and by then he is not only feeling sick at the boy but also at himself.

His son's penetrating eyes only make the disgust worse.

He would never admit it, but sometimes he thinks Tom Riddle Jr. knows him better than he knows himself.

It is four months after the incident with his father, and the cane has not made a reappearance since.

He sits with his mother in the parlor, reading a book of French poetry as she surveys her own penny-novel – which is a testament to the fact that she knows her husband will not be home until late tonight – when he decides to ask the question.

Mother, why is my middle name Marvolo? She looks up at him, startled, face flushed and ashen at once, and he understands that it is part of the past his father has beaten him for asking about.

But his father is not here, just his mother, and he wishes to know where he comes from.

It was my father's name, and he knows by the way her eyes dart to her hands, clenched on the book in her lap, that she feels about her father the way he does about his.

I will remember, Mother. There is a glint in his eye.

(Merope wonders sometimes if her boy is not more of a Gaunt than a Riddle)

Thank you for reading! Please, tell me what you think. I have plans for this one, so hopefully something will get done eventually.

But I swear on the blood of the unicorn Quirrel snacked on in Philosopher's Stone, reviews help me write!

~ TheAlabasterPhoenyx