Snow was falling over London as the Hogwarts Express arrived at King’s Cross Station and Tom looked glumly out through the window that he was sitting next to as Platform Nine and three-quarters appeared. The scene that he was viewing meant weeks in the company of Muggles and no chance at all of being able to look for the ring that held him captivated. Even his dreams had abandoned him for he had not had a vision of the girl and the man who he knew had to be her father.
The train rolled to a stop and the other children hurried to leave the cars that had transported them back to London. It was an almost totally joyous crowd that swarmed off of the Hogwarts Express, but Tom was feeling none of that joy. He slowly reached up to grab his bag and then followed the others off of the Slytherin car. He glanced around knowing that he, unlike the other children who crowded the platform, would have no one to gather him into a hug. Far away he could see Molly and her parents as they hustled away from any potential contact with him. He watched as Molly glanced back over her shoulder at him before turning her head back to face forward. The family vanished into the crowd quickly and he had no further chance to see the girl before she was lost to his sight.
He walked slowly through across the platform and soon was waiting his turn to go through the portal. On the other side of the barrier, he knew, there was little if any magic except for that performed by the street charlatans who preyed in those who knew no better. If the Ministry of Magic wasn’t so intent on keeping underage wizards and witches under control, tracking their every movement, he would show the street magicians a thing or two.
When his turn to go through the portal occurred he wasn’t surprised to see the rather uninterested Muggles going about their business. None of them even noticed the small dark-haired boy that had appeared abruptly and he made his way towards the exit where he knew that either Martha or Mrs. Cole would be waiting for him. He hoped that it would be Martha, at least then he might have at least a chance at a cordial conversation. A short time later he stepped around the corner and his heart fell as he spotted the matron while she waited, rather impatiently, for her charge. She spotted him immediately and waved for him to hurry. Tom was soon at her side and they stepped out of the station to hurry to the waiting automobile. He climbed into the passenger side and then watched as the woman guided the vehicle down the increasingly treacherous streets.
He stole a glance at the Muggle woman and realized that there would be no happy greeting from her. At the moment she was concentrating on the road ahead of her and cursing under her breath at having to drive in the weather that was occurring.
The trip took longer than normal but they finally arrived at the stark building and he was forced to endure her presence until the vehicle was parked and they had made their way into the structure. After the bitter cold outside the building and the coolness of Mrs. Cole’s attitude toward him, Tom was pleasantly surprised at the warmth inside the building. He walked up the stairs to the room that had been his home for many years. He paused outside it for a moment and then reached forward to turn the knob and open the door.
His room appeared before him and his heart sank. Why he had dreamed that it would be anywhere near as inviting as the dorm that he occupied at Hogwarts was beyond him. The room had not changed at all and he felt nothing of the warmth that Slytherin House exuded. In fact, the warmth that he felt was the mechanical and unfeeling heat that came from the radiator. He tossed his bag, filled as it was with the objects of a mundane life, onto the bed before turning to close the door behind him.
Knowing that Mrs. Cole would give him no respite, he hurried to unpack his bag and hang the clothing in his cupboard. The folded clothing went into the drawer meant for it and he finally closed the cupboard door after stuffing the bag under his bed. The knock on the door came a moment later and he stepped to it to admit the matron.
“Tom, I assume that you have your things unpacked and put away.”
“Yes, Ma`am, Mrs. Cole.”
“And they have all been washed?”
“Yes, Ma`am, they have.”
“And that you intend to obey the rules of this orphanage while you are here on your holiday break?”
“Yes, Ma`am, I do.”
“Very well, as it appears that I have no choice otherwise, you shall be allowed to stay. You will, of course, have your chores while you are here. The other children that have been doing them in your absence will be quite pleased to get a break from them. You shall perform them to my satisfaction, am I understood?”
“Yes, Ma`am, you are understood.”
The woman looked down at him while she looked at him carefully as though trying to determine if he was being truthful or merely sarcastic. Finally she sighed and then turned away, but stopped and turned back to him before his door could close.
“See to it that you are not late in coming down to dinner. I am not certain what the school that you attend allows, but my rules have not changed and remember where you are to be seated at the table.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I understand.”
He watched as she descended the stairs and then closed his door while he trembled with rage. The woman was going to make his life unbearable while he was here that much was certain and he had no doubt that she was going to enjoy doing it.
“Well, Mrs. Cole, I can make your life horrible as well,” he whispered as he stood with his back to the door. “You just will not see it coming.”
The matron glanced back up at the door that she had just left and thought about the boy behind it. She had tried everything that she could think of to send him to another orphanage and had failed in her efforts. It was apparent that she was stuck with him until he went back to his “special” school in a few weeks. This meant that the orphanage would have to present him with the normal Christmas presents given to the orphans and that meant that she had to dig into the meager budget of the facility to do so. She walked into her office and closed the door behind her while Martha and her helper saw to dinner for the residents of the building. The chair behind the desk welcomed her and she settled down to relax while she wondered what higher power had decided to complicate her life.
Martha had looked up from what she was doing to watch as the boy walked through the front door and then up the stairs. Shortly after that, as if on cue, Mrs. Cole had ascended the stairs to speak to Tom. She had known that the matron would do it and she felt sorry for the boy. Tom had his problems, everyone knew that, but very few of the children that came to Wool’s Orphanage didn’t. There was very little chance that the matron would be replaced and even less that she would leave willingly. She had far too easy a job to do that.
She turned to the stew pot to examine the thick soup that was bubbling. It looked right and smelled better and she knew that the children would welcome it on such a cold day. The homemade bread that had been baking in the oven now sat waiting to be cut and cookies waited for consumption. If it had not been for the children, Martha knew that she would have sought other employment long before. Mrs. Cole was far too volatile to leave the children, especially those like Tom, to the mercy of because there was precious little of it to be found. The whiskey that Mrs. Cole was fond of saw to that, and Martha needed the employment that she had too much to risk it by speaking to someone about the problem. Another woman had made the mistake of threatening to bring it to the attention of the Ministry that funded the orphanage and had paid for it with her job. Her claim of wrongdoing had fallen on deaf ears and she had had a hard time finding work after that. To accuse someone who had administrated one of the few “successful” orphanages in the city of wrongdoing had been an exercise in futility.
The first of the children appeared and scurried to the lavatories to clean up before eating and she hurried to prepare to transport the food to the table while the other woman cut the bread into thick, even slices. She was a wonderful help and Martha questioned how she could have done without her for so long.
Tom, hearing the other children hurrying down the stairs towards the dining room, rose from his chair and made his way downstairs as well. Billy watched the other boy with narrowed eyes as he considered a sneaky attack while none of the adults were watching. The problem with the setup was the fact that Martha was keeping a close eye on him, remembering the trouble between the boys that had taken place in the past. Tom entered the lavatory to clean up and left just as Billy was preparing to make his move. As he brushed by the other boy, Tom was silent but Billy couldn’t resist the chance to make a comment in passing.
“Martha will not always be around to make certain that I do not give you a pounding, Tom.”
Tom ignored the boy and slowly made his way to the spot that he always occupied, right next to Mrs. Cole. She had decided on that seating arrangement for those that she wanted to keep an eye on and at the moment, as well as far back as he could remember, it had been assigned to him. None of the other orphans would argue about it, because they all dreaded having to sit next to the matron.
As he settled down onto the chair that he would occupy, Amy took her place at a spot further down on the opposite side. The girl did her best to ignore him and that was fine with Tom, perhaps she had learned the value in keeping silent. He noted with satisfaction the visible scars on her hands and remembered how they had come to be there. The extremely hot steam radiator had done its job well and he knew that he would always remember the night that the girl, thinking that she was clutching the rails of one of the great steamships had gripped the scalding hot metal. The fact that he had helped her to believe what she had been had been entertaining to him and he wondered what else he could make her believe.
The children, all present now, waited patiently until they were told to line up and then rose to walk to the place where they would claim their bowl full of soup. Only the smaller children were assisted in this endeavor and woe unto the child that dropped a bowl or spilled the soup onto the floor or table surface. Mrs. Cole’s wrath would seem to have no end at that point.
When his turn came, Tom accepted the bowl that had been placed on a plate and two pieces of bread that held the bowl in place until he reached his seat. Arriving successfully, the boy placed his bowl onto the table and then sat down to wait for the others to be seated. While he waited, he took the opportunity to look over children that had arrived during his absence.
Two of them were boys that were smaller than he and seemed to already be intimidated by his presence. They were too small to be of much practical use, although the thought of scaring them out of their minds was entertaining. The third was a girl that looked a lot like Molly, as she sat down across from him with her bowl their eyes had met and she had smiled at him shyly.
Tom was torn by this development, the girl was a Muggle, she had to be and she had nothing to offer him that a girl of magical blood did not. But, at the same time, she was not unattractive and she knew nothing about him and that made her potentially useful. As they ate, the pair often glanced at each other, their eyes sometimes meeting. This did not go unnoticed by Mrs. Cole or the other adults, the reactions of each woman being very different.
As dinner progressed in silence, Tom glanced at the cabinet where the elephant had been. It was present in the cabinet once again and the key to the display now on a chain around Mrs. Cole’s neck. He was so close to the elephant and wanted it so badly, but he knew that he would never have a chance to attain it. The adults were watching him too closely.
Movement across the table caught his attention and he watched as the girl rose to take her dishes to the sink where they would be washed.
‘She is so like Molly,’ he thought, ‘even her hair and eyes are the same.’
He rose from his place and walked to the place where he too would deposit his dishes and there they came face to face.
“Hello, my name is Tom.”
“Hello, I am Sarah. It is nice to meet you.”
“Have you been here long?”
The girl shook her head and lowered her eyes before speaking.
“No, my parents died in a fire and only my brothers and I escaped.”
“I have been here my entire life, except while I am gone to school.”
The eyes of the girl lit up at the mention of school and she smiled once again before abruptly frowning..
“I miss going to school,” she responded sadly, “they sent us here to this orphanage and I cannot go where I used to.”
“Sorry,” he apologized.
“It is not your fault, Tom. If our house had not burned I would be helping my Mum clean up after dinner right now.”
Martha watched as the children talked quietly and then walked towards the classroom where they could continue their conversation. She was glad that the boy had found someone to talk to and hoped that nothing would happen to put a damper on the development. A quick look at Mrs. Cole told Martha that the matron did not feel the same way however.
The displeasure that the matron was showing meant that the woman would double her efforts to find a home for the siblings and thus break a connection that Tom had been able to make. Martha knew that the boys would be fairly easy to find homes for but Sarah would be another story. She was approaching her teen years and therefore not as many families would be willing to take her in, regardless of the obvious care that had been taken in her upbringing. Her future was bleak at best and Martha knew that the girl would likely live in an institution until she became an adult and had to find a way to make her living. This worried Martha, for the girl was attractive and attractive girls with no skills often ended up in a less than savory life style.
Sarah sat in one of the chairs in the classroom while she and Tom talked. The boy was charming, but elusive, she noted as he avoided talking about the school that he attended. She was interested in him, but also saddened that he had told her that he was only here on holiday break from his school and would be returning there to resume classes in a few weeks.
‘If only I could get you to stay, Tom.’
Tom was enjoying the conversation and company that Sarah represented and had learned that she was his age. She was so like Molly and yet so different. Sarah was a Muggle, she could not possibly understand his world and his quest for greatness would suffer if he became involved with her. At the same time he was feeling the same things about her that he had once felt for Molly, and this time there was no Carol to get in the way. The girl could offer him nothing except for her company and he realized that quite possibly it was the one thing that he needed the most.
Something within him was tossing the ideas back and forth in his mind when suddenly something soft and warm touched his lips. He came back to the present and realized that the girl, who had abandoned caution, had kissed him gently. For a moment, he saw Molly as she had been before she had betrayed him, but then Sarah came into view and he leaned forward to return the kiss that he had received.
“I think that I love you, Tom,” the girl whispered as she took his hand and accepted the kiss.
“I feel the same way, Sarah. I love you.”
The children were in the process of a shared kiss when the door suddenly flew open and Mrs. Cole stepped into the room, her expression fixed with disapproval at what she was seeing.
“I should have known!” she announced as she strode forward to grab the girl’s arm, jerk her out of the chair that she was sitting in and then forcefully propel her towards the door. “I will deal with you shortly young lady! Go up to your room and wait for me, now!”
Tom watched as Sarah, her face shiny with tears, fled the scene before he turned his attentions to the matron who now stood over him.
“I shall have none of those goings-on in this orphanage! The last thing that I need is for her to end up with child and for that child to have a worthless person such as you as its father! You are to stay away from that girl, whom I intend to place in a home as soon as possible or ship off to another orphanage as soon as I can to keep her away from the likes of you, Tom Riddle!”
“We were not doing anything like that…”
“Not at the moment,” she interrupted, “but I have seen your kind, Tom Riddle, it would not belong before you were. She is still an innocent and I intend for her to stay that way. Now, do as you are told and stay away from her or I shall take you back to King’s Cross and put you back on the train that takes you to wherever you go!”
“But, I cannot go back right now, the school is closed and students are not permitted to stay there over break.”
“Then I should imagine it would be a bit of an inconvenience to both you and the school if I should do so.”
“Please Mrs. Cole, do not send…”
“Enough! Go to your room, Tom Riddle, and be sure to be there when I check on you. If I find you anywhere else, other than the boy’s lavatory, or in the company of the girl you will be back on the train in the morning! Now go!”
Tom rose and walked out of the room, followed closely by the woman, before ascending the stairs and entering his room. He watched as, before his door closed, she proceeded on down the corridor towards the area where the rooms for the girls were. No doubt Sarah would be receiving a visit from the matron and it would not be a pleasant one.
Sarah looked up from the bed that she was sitting on as the door to her room opened and the matron stepped into the space.
“You are to stay away from the young man, Sarah. He will do nothing but to bring ruin for you and you have far too much potential to allow that to happen. You have a good head on your shoulders and are not unattractive and someday will make a man very happy when you become his bride, do not ruin your chances for that by taking up with the likes of him.”
“We were not doing anything, Mrs. Cole…”
“At the moment that I stepped into the room no, you were not, but it would have progressed to other things. I have seen far too many young mothers who leave their children here after the father leaves them to find someone else or cannot afford to pay for the child that he sired. Tom Riddle will be one of those, I promise you that. He will never be a loving mate, for he cares only about himself and what he can gain from others.”
“Enough, Sarah, enough, your parents would not want the daughter that they obviously cared for to end up in an unfortunate situation and with a child that had no father to care for it, let alone support it and you.”
“Good, because if I learn that you have been sneaking to see him I will send him back to his school and you to another orphanage so that there is no way that you can find each other.”
“But my brothers…”
“Would have to learn to get along without their sister, but that is what will happen should I find out that you two have disobeyed me.”
The matron ignored the fresh tears that were coursing down the face of the girl and the heartbroken sobs that shook the shoulders of the child. She stepped out of the room and closed the door, satisfied that her point had been made and that she had halted a problem before it became a large situation. Mrs. Cole walked down the corridor towards the stairs unaware that she had created something much larger than what she had prevented.
Tom changed into his night clothes and then slipped under the thin blanket while he stared up at the ceiling that was hidden by the darkness. They hadn’t been doing anything except talk and kiss and now he was forbidden to see Sarah. Twice in less than very few weeks he had been told to stay away from someone that he cared about. Molly’s parents were more than capable of enforcing their will upon him and he respected that. But the matron had no idea what she was up against and that made her vulnerable.
“I will stay away from her for now, Mrs. Cole, but the time is going to come when there will be nothing that you can do about anything.”
He rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes while ideas began to form within his mind as he slept.
Sarah had also changed into her bed clothing and lay on the thin mattress while she thought about what had happened. Her treatment by the matron angered her and the girl stewed as she thought about it all. Nothing had been happening, but something was going to and no one in the orphanage had any idea at all about it.
The girl had her own secrets.
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