Disclaimer: the wonderful, talented J. K. Rowling owns everything. Suing is bad.
Dedicated to my wonderful beta-readers, without whom this story would be very much unreadable.
The Saint Paul's Orphanage for boys was a bare, dismal place. Its walls were of crumbling stone, and its windows were dark and oily. There was no grass, nor any semblance of plant life on the grounds; it was all of cement. A heavy wall marked the perimeter of the property, broken by only one set of wrought iron, barred gates. A circular drive led up to the doors on the inside.
In the mornings, there would be no sign of life in that quarter, save for the periodic groan of machinery from within the depths of the building, and a lone light in the lower right window. In the afternoons, always, the children would be let out to roam the grounds.
The first time that I had dared to look into the gates, I was appalled. The children had been as ghosts, floating about on thin, twig-like limbs and shifts of rags; very rarely would there be play or laughter.
It is a place for spectres, I had thought, not children. For that was what they seemed: haunted, barely alive in this world. These could have been normal children, were they not so subverted and changed beyond recognition.
Evidentially, I had not received the worst end of the deal at Saint Helena.
One boy - actually among the livelier of them - sat always near the gate, gazing at the outside world and in at his fellows with equal careful scrutiny. He was thin and bony beneath his rags, I could tell, and his face was gaunt. His hair was black and wavy, dull in the sunlight, its comparative bulk serving to exaggerate his lack of weight, ridiculing him. But it was his eyes that were most surprising - so vivid a blue that they were depthless, wells of sapphire and darkness, and at such a contrast with the rest of him that it was difficult to ignore them, peering out from within the shadows of his face.
Every afternoon, when I walked past the orphanage, he would stare at me with those eyes, those blue eyes that somehow captured in them the light of stars and the fathomless deeps of the Seven Seas, until one day, against my better judgement, I approached him.
"What is your name?" I asked him.
He did not blink, did not react in any way, just continued to watch me with those depthless eyes, until, disgusted, I drew away and left.
I did not look at him the next day, or the day after- just ignored him on my way from school.
A fortnight after I first asked him that simple, simple question, as I was hurrying past St. Patrick's Orphanage, he spoke.
"My name," he said, "is Tom Marvolo Riddle."
I stopped in my tracks and turned. He was still staring at me, expressionless, so that I might have mistaken him for one mentally deficient had it not been for the thought that I heard behind those words, a fortnight of profound ponderance.
I sat down beside him on the cement, the barred gates between us. "Why are you here?" I asked him.
He stirred slightly, the first real movement that I had ever seen him make, and cocked his head. "My mother died giving birth to me," he said. "My father left her before I was born." He sneered a little at the mention of his father.
"How old are you?" I asked.
I blinked at this. He had looked no older than six, though his eyes and movements thus far belied an experience far beyond his years. "I thought you were..." I trailed off uncomfortably.
He seemed amused, though his expression did not change. "And you?" he asked.
"What is your name?" he asked, almost mockingly. There was a hint of challenge in his voice, as if I should deign to prove myself to him. I rose; he stood with me.
"I am Claire Katrine Gabrielle de la Valence, daughter of Alessandre and Katrine."
My voice came out strong then, the words harsh and unmistakable. Several boys turned in the courtyard to look at us.
He seemed surprised for an instant, but quickly hid it. An eyebrow rose slightly. He laughed, his voice surprisingly clear.
I bristled at this. "It's French," I said defensively.
"I know that," he said, traces of amusement lingering in his voice.
There was a pregnant silence between us then, and several of the other boys crept closer in curiosity. From within the building a gong rang, its deep, brassy note reverberating through the air. Tom Riddle turned away, moving with a sluggishness contrasting his earlier, fluid grace. "Till next time, then," he said, and turned to look at me one last time. The challenge in those blue eyes was clear: you will come back.
I stood there at the gate long after all of the children had retreated back into the building, remembering my own confinement in the years previous. At last, when the sun drew low and the late-autumn wind blew over me, I shivered, and turned away.
Michael and Doreen fussed over me when I arrived back at the house, worried that I was injured or had taken chill from the weather. I said nothing to them of Saint Patrick's Orphanage or of Tom Riddle.
For the next few months, I spent much of the money allotted to me on food and sweets, which I shared with Tom. We would sit and talk while we ate, ever with the closed gate of the orphanage between us, and I would take away the wrappings lest he is caught by the head of the orphanage, a certain Mr. Lass, who - from Tom's description - walked like a penguin and breathed like an asthmatic hippopotamus, with no more intelligence than either. He was a very shrewd boy.
We talked about many things, past, present, and future. I told him of my real parents, of my old life, and of my own time in an orphanage. He listened patiently, offered condolences where I needed, and jests where appropriate. I found myself considering him, this strange boy with a stranger past, to be my friend.
For his part, Tom told me very little of his history and his parentage beyond that first day. When he did speak of it, it would only be of his experiences in the orphanage - and even those, he did not tell all, but spoke lightly of the idiocy of the occupants. None of this, of course, explained why he and all the other boys of the orphanage bore the marks of starvation, or of long neglect and abuse. It did not explain why none of the boys showed vivacity or energy to even run, as children so often did. I was by no means a doctor, but it did not take one to know that the boy sitting across from me was not healthy.
None of this did I voice to Tom, but left him to his own devices, that he should tell me of them if he chose. Nonetheless, I sensed that he knew of my concerns, and chose purposefully not to broach the subject.
Then came a day when I ran from the store to the thick iron gates of the orphanage with a new tale to tell him of my day at the Academy, only to find the stretch of cement near the gate, where he always waited, empty. I hurried to the gate to peer inside, but found him not. I saw no boy of nine with hair as dark as the night and the blue eyes like pieces of the twilight sky stolen to rest, flashing with humour and a wisdom far beyond a boy of his age.
I called to a nearby boy and asked him of Tom's whereabouts. He looked at me in surprise, his eyes widening in fear.
"No, miss," he said, backing away slowly, "no."
He turned and fled, leaving me very bewildered. I searched the dark, depthless windows as if they would yield clues, but found none. The other boys were now regarding me with wariness and barely guarded hostility. I turned and left the place. My hope was that Tom had found new parents, but wouldn't he have told me? Wouldn't the boy have known?
It was only later that night, as I was preparing for sleep, that it occurred to me that perhaps the boy I had asked was not denying knowledge of Tom's whereabouts, but refusing to answer.
He was gone for three days. Each day, I continued to look for him, bringing him our customary fruits and sweets. Each day, he was not there, and the boys of his orphanage refused to reveal his whereabouts, but instead stayed far away from the gate, where I stood in waiting.
On the fourth day, he came at last, sitting at the gate, his forehead pressed against his knees. I came up to him, food held in front of me almost as a shield.
"Tom?" I called to him, questioning.
He looked up, and I gasped aloud in horror, for I had forgotten how thin and emaciated he was before. In the months that I had known him, he had grown and gained weight, nourished by what I brought him everyday. But in the three days, he had once again been reduced to a spectre haunting the grounds of Saint Patrick's. He looked bruised, battered, his body broken. Gone was the fluid grace of his movements. Even his previously bright eyes were dimmed, a little.
He took the food without speaking - out of hunger, I realised; he was starved - finishing the apples and the candyfloss quickly and wordlessly. When he was finished, he stood up and looked me in the eye.
"Do not come again, Claire," he said, and turned away stiffly. He always said my name in the manner - in a French accent, as I had first said it to him, but with a distinct Sussex undertone, the roots of which I would never know.
I watched him, studied his profile from the back. He was standing only 20cm away from me - so close that I could easily have reached out and touched him, should I have chosen to do so. But the tension in those thin shoulders forbade it.
I said then the only thing that I could think to say, "why?"
He laughed mirthlessly, and turned to face me. In the dimness of the late-afternoon sun, his face took on a harsher cast to it, the bones of his skull jutting out sharply from beneath his skin. His eyes flashed with reflected light. If I didn't know better, I would have thought him sinister. There was a strange expression on his face.
He regarded me carefully for a long moment.
"Tom," I began, "--"
His voice was firm and clear ringing. I blinked in surprise, and opened my mouth to speak. But he had already turned away.
I did not return after that. Every afternoon, I passed Saint Patrick's Orphanage, and every afternoon, he would sit there in front of the gate, gazing out at me with careful scrutiny. Not once did I pause and speak to him, nor did he once call out to me.
Summer came, and with it, blessed warmth and time. I spent many hours at the market by myself, sitting before the fiddler with the music of angels. I gave him every spare coin I could muster, and he smiled and played for me in turn.
Once, as the sunset drew near and vendors were preparing to close their stalls for the day, the fiddler came forward, his instrument secured under his arm.
"The days grow shorter," he said. His voice was soft and low, and his tone light. His face was turned to the setting sun.
"what is your name?"
I told him.
He seemed surprised, his eye turned sharply to my face. A finger twitched slightly on the wooden bow handle. His face, normally pleasant, became shrewd. I found myself wondering nervously whether he found me acceptable.
Then he smiled, and in that smile I found comfort and belonging. His teeth gleamed white in the light. "Ah," he said, "the Lady Katherine's daughter."
I started. "You knew my mother?"
"We were acquainted, yes." He waved his hand dismissively.
I waited, but he offered no word of explanation. "How did you know her?"
"I knew her when I was in Paris as a travelling performer. But I notice, mademoiselle, that you refer to her in the past tense. Why? I would hate to believe that some misfortune might have befallen her."
I tensed. "She's dead."
"That is sad news. How long?"
He bowed his head. "And what of Monseigneur de la Valence?"
"I am sorry," he said, and turned away, lost in his past. The red of the sun silhouetted him against the barren streets of London south. I lowered my gaze and began the trek back home.
That night, for the first time in many months, I dreamt of my parents and of my childhood in the manse. But there were two new figures in my dreams: the mysterious fiddler of my mother's past, and Tom Marvolo Riddle.
I woke to the taste of salty tears upon my lips.
I continued to return to the fiddler during the rest of the summer, and gave him coins. He played, much as he had before, but I thought that there may have been a note of dejection in his stance that was not there before, and the notes of his songs became slower and lost some of their original joy. I did not speak to him when I listened, or even after, and he did not look at me.
At last, when the early autumn wind blew over us, and the air lost its languid warmth, when the chirp of crickets at night lessened to a low, indiscernible croak, and I knew that I would be returning to Lawrence, the fiddler came up to me one day at sunset, after all others had left. From a corner he withdrew a case, its once rich red leather now worn, frayed and smoothed with the passage of time. In this, he reverently placed his violin, trailing a loving finger along its polished sides, tracing the curved "S" of the spirit holes. The strings hummed lightly under his hand. The bow, too, he placed in its slot, secure against the black velvet lining. He closed the case and stood, looking down at it.
"A Stravinsky," the fiddler whispered. "Finest intrument every made." He looked up, his voice gaining strength. "It is time for me to part ways, and move on." He held out the case, and its precious contents, to me. "May it serve you as well as it served your mother, and me."
I shook my head, understanding taking over, and opened my mouth to reject the gift, but he interrupted me.
"No." He pressed the handle into my hands. "Your mother would want you to have this. It was hers, once." He smiled at me through his tears - and such tears he had! It was heart wrenching; I do not think that I could ever forget that sight, the sight of a grown man torn apart with grief and woe.
"You do look so much like Katrine."
Before I could move, or say another word, he was gone.
Two days later, the body of an unidentified male, aged in his late twenties, was discovered at the bottom of a ravine in south-western London.
Michael and Doreen were quite surprised when I arrived at home with a full-sized violin in tow, for they recognised quality when they saw it, and such an instrument could not have come at a low price.
At first, they were adamant that I return it, but it would be of no use. I knew, beyond a doubt, that the fiddler would not be back. Later, after much questioning and repetition, they accepted. It was a gift from one who used to know my mother, they reasoned, of course I would wish to keep it.
I began to experiment with it, running back at once from the Academy to my violin. My studies suffered - but only slightly; bringing honour to my benefactors was still my foremost goal.
A new figure had come to dominate my dreams. Rarely did I see my parents. Instead, a young man with the music of angels haunted me, his face ever a mask of despair, his very being an embodiment of secrets lost forever.
October came and went, and with it, my birthday. The Collingsworths gave me a book of music scores. I did not understand the symbols, nor did I know the words - animato, maestoso, lacrimoso - but I would sit for hours with it, flipping through the pages. Then, I would set the book aside - gently, oh so gently - and pick up the violin, and practise. I had watched the fiddler enough times to know basic bowing, fingering, and pizzicato technique, but always, my music lacked the vitality that his music had had, before it was destroyed.
Doreen would listen sometimes, and applaud me on my prowess. She was always proud of me, no matter what I did - they both were. But I coveted true music, music that I could not have. I began seeking out other violinists, but none of them had the skill or the joy for music that the fiddler had.
I began listening to the radio in the kitchen. It would be on when I played, when I studied - at all times when I was in the house, save when Mike needed it. The music was my haven.
Then came a day in mid-summer of my tenth year, only months from my eleventh birthday. I was practising in the sitting room when Doreen bustled in, her face red with the heat of working for hours before the furnace. In her hand she held several letters, one of which she handed to me.
"To: Miss C. de la Valence," it proclaimed in bold, green letters. I stared at it in confusion, at the unfamiliar crest in one corner.
I opened the envelope to read the two sheets of paper inside.
Dear Miss de la Valence,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
The term begins on 1 September. We expect your owl no later than 31 July.
I dropped the letter and stood up.
Criticism is quite appreciated. Next chapter: the mandatory shopping trips, the loffly narrator is integrated into the Wizarding World, and finds it... interesting. Unexpected encounters abound.
A pretty, shiny blue ribbon goes out to the person(s) with the most critical review.