Tom Marvolo Riddle had her sit on his bed with him as he talked to her, about anything he could say. The boy talked faster than a horse race, but it seemed he was eating up her company.
“My room is the smallest one,” he informed her.
She could see it was true. The whole space couldn’t have been more than seven feet in either direction.
“I don’t like it much, but Mrs. Cole tells me there aren’t any I can switch to. Do you live in a large room? They’re almost always cold, but my room is just so small.”
At a loss, she nodded in agreement.
“We don’t have a school here,” he blabbed, “and I’m old enough now to go to primary class, older even, so I should be entitled to a larger room, but none of the other boys are my age, so Mrs. Cole sent me with the younger boys, so that must be why my room is so small, but I should be in first grade now and attending the co-education elementary, but because I’m just in Primary school even though I’m older the students all laugh at me. They think I’m stupid. So, I asked Mrs. Cole why she made me go with the younger boys instead of going to first grade, and she told me it was because I would be lonely attending first grade by myself, and that I’d have much more fun if I went to school with the boys I knew from here, rather than make new friends that aren’t orphans. I asked why I couldn’t just attend class with the girls my age from the orphanage, and she said it wasn’t seemly for a young boy and girl to be friends and spend much time in each other’s company.”
She was aware of how serious a matter this was for Tom, and nodded.
He continued. “But, just last week, I was sneaking a biscuit from the pantry in the kitchens and I heard Mrs. Cole talking to Barry – he’s her uncle, or cousin, I think. She was telling him that because of my behavior and the way I act out, she wanted to send me to a sort of military school, I think, for children, and that she couldn’t afford the transportation fee yet, so she’d lied about being worried that I would get lonely to keep me in primary class a year longer.”
There was something unnerving about the way Tom’s eyes shone in the light from his dirty window, but she mentally slapped herself at the thought. This was such a young child. What wrong could a six-year old possibly do?
Tom took, quite possibly, his first breath. “I was mad. I wanted to go to my rightful place in school, and Peter – one of the boys here that’s a year younger – Peter wouldn’t stop teasing me about it. He’d gotten the whole class in on it, and Mrs. Cole never noticed that I hadn’t made any friends at all. Peter wouldn’t stop bothering me about being out of place, and I was still angry because of Mrs. Cole’s lie, so I set a snake on them.”
That caught her attention, and she blinked, a light frown on her face.
“A snake lived in our kitchen for a month before Mrs. Cole made Barry chase it out,” he explained, “but it just moved into the walls. I knew seeing it upset Mrs. Cole, because she was always screaming whenever it slithered around our feet at mealtimes, and Peter gets very white when he sees it. I thought I’d ask the snake for help, and she scared them for me.”
She tried to hide her smile. Of course, Tom made it sound like this snake was a friend, and that they’d spoken. She wondered, briefly, if she’d ever had an imaginary companion as a child.
At this point, Tom’s face flushed and he looked down at his hands, resting stiffly in his lap. She thought he looked very nearly ashamed. “I really didn’t ask her to bite Peter,” he whispered.
“I just told her to scare him. Now Peter’s somewhere else – I think a hospital. Mrs. Cole thinks I was keeping the snake in my room and made it attack him, but I didn’t. I only wanted Peter to stop teasing me.”
He sniffed, and she realized quite suddenly that he was crying. She didn’t remember having to comfort a distressed child, and even if she’d comforted thousands before, her mind whirled because she did not know what to do. Tom must be lying about the snake, she reasoned. He had kept it in his room and set it loose on Mrs. Cole and the boy for revenge, and felt guilty that things had gotten out of control and Peter was hurt. So, she concluded, he lied because he was ashamed, and was crying because no one believed him and he felt responsible.
What he wanted now, she realized, was not another adult that didn’t trust him, or even someone that did. He wanted someone to listen.
She reached out and gently enveloped the crying boy in her arms, who seemed surprised at first, but clutched her dress in his hands and buried his face into her shoulder after just a moment.
“Do you have a name?” he whispered as she stroked his hair. “Even I have a name.”
He seemed to recall that she was mute, and pulled back a little to look her in the eyes.
“Can you write it out? I learned to write last year, but I still have trouble reading. But it should be fine…” He hopped up and scurried over to his wardrobe, grasping the handles and yanking it open in feverish anticipation. When Tom returned to his post next to her, he carried an old, yellow notepad and an orange pencil that looked like it’d been chewed on. The led wasn’t very sharp, she noted. “Here,” he said, handing them to her. “Write your name.”
The only problem; Hermione Granger had absolutely no idea who she was. She stared down at the notepad and thought. Tom started wriggling in impatience. After a short while, Hermione slowly began to write.
Edith, Phyllis, Victoria
Tom read the names aloud, struggling to pronounce the vowels correctly. “Eee-die-th… Pie-llis… Victor-ia…” He frowned and glanced at her seriously. “This is your name?”
She wrote on the paper. I have to pick one.
“Why?” he asked.
I don’t have a name, yet.
“I like Edith best,” he announced.
She smiled and wrote, Why?
“You look like an Ed,” he confided. Determination flared in his eyes. “Yes. You look most like an Ed. Anyway, Ed, why can’t you speak?”
She had just finished writing out, I can’t remember, when the door clicked open and Mrs. Cole and the officer trudged back inside, grim expressions on their faces. Tom immediately reverted to his quiet, suspicious self, grabbing Hermione’s arm and peeking out from behind her. The two adults stopped and took in the sight. The officer sighed.
“Tom,” said Mrs. Cole firmly. “Please come here.”
Grudgingly, the young boy scooted off the edge of the bed and walked closer to the older woman, tugging Hermione along by the fingers. With all three adults and the child standing in the middle of the tiny room, Hermione found they barely fit. The room really was too small, even for a boy of six.
Mrs. Cole and the officer exchanged a glance. “I need you to promise me, Tom,” Mrs. Cole began anew, “that you won’t keep any more animals in the asylum. You have to ask either me or Barry for permission to bring anything outside inside, understood?”
His face burned in shame and from the unfairness of being wrongly accused. Mutely, he nodded. “Yes.”
“Yes what?” she prodded.
The officer stepped up. “Peter is well,” he informed the boy, who looked up sharply. “We received a telegram from the hospital, and they say with a little bed rest he should be fine. We’re very lucky that your pet snake wasn’t poisonous, you know,” he said. “Isn’t that right, Tom?”
Tom grit his teeth. “Yes, sir.”
“We know this isn’t your fault,” the officer continued, “so Mrs. Cole has agreed not to punish you today. But Tom, Peter isn’t the first boy or girl to be hurt because of you.”
Hermione looked back and forth between Tom and the officer. The young boy stared daggers at the floor, his tiny hand tightening around hers. “I didn’t do those,” he spat through his teeth.
Mrs. Cole sighed. “Tom…Even with the snake incident-”
“I didn’t!” he insisted. “Ed, tell them I didn’t do it!”
Everyone turned to look at Hermione, who stepped back under the pressure of their gazes. The officer scratched his head, puzzled expression on his face. “Ed?” he asked.
Tom pointed an accusing, chubby finger at her. “It’s her nickname,” he explained. “For Edith,”
Silence. No one moved. Hermione held her breath.
The officer threw back his head and laughed. “Ed!” he wheezed. “Such a pretty thing’s name? Oh, ha ha ha! Mrs. Cole, it seems these two have become fast friends!”
The drunk woman giggled nervously and looked at her strangely. “Yes,” she agreed, and hiccoughed slightly. “It would seem so…”
“Well, ‘Ed’ and I need to get to the customs office,” he gasped, wiping a tear from his cheek. “How about I let young Tom off with a warning and we get on our way?”
“I said I didn’t-!” Tom cut off.
Hermione had squeezed his hand. He looked up at her, his dark eyes piercing and cold. She shook her head.
“Come along, Ed,” the officer chortled. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!”
She let go of the boy’s tiny hand. Mrs. Cole exited the room with a worried glance at the child, followed by a tickled officer. She waved at the six year old and followed suit.
She froze at the doorframe. Tom Riddle had tears in his eyes. His pale face had flushed an angry pink, and he furiously wiped his face. “Don’t go, yet,” he said. “I hate it here. Mrs. Cole is awful to me, and now the other children won’t want to play, especially Peter. You’re the only one who’s listened to me.” He sniffed in determination. “Don’t go, Ed.”
Hermione looked at the young boy with pity. After a few silent moments, she crossed the small space to his bed where the yellow paper pad lay forgotten on the thin duvet, and scribbled on it before smiling at him and leaving after the officer.
Tom leapt to the bed and seized the note once she was gone. It took him a full forty seconds to read the short note, and once he did, his tiny face lit up. A smile barely tickled the edges of his mouth.
I’ll see you soon, Tom.
It was there that he decided he had to perfect his reading. How else would he listen to his new friend?
“Seatbelt,” the officer reminded Hermione once they were in the car.
She started, and clicked the belt into place.
“Mighty strange boy, that Tom Riddle,” he murmured as they backed out of the orphanage’s driveway and onto the street. The radio crackled back to life as a woman sang,
I’m nobody’s baby!
“Something off about one so young having so many accidents,” he said quietly to himself. He caught Hermione’s eye and grinned. “Still, the asylum will do that to children. I never had children myself, but my Missus knows all about them from talking to the other ladies. She says all asylum girls and boys grow up to be a bit…off. Something about not being properly taught. Something about not learning about the world from parents. But! Ed, huh?”
“Did you pick Edith or did he?”
The young woman shrugged.
“I knew my name was the best one!” he cried. “Even little Tom thought so!”
“Do me a favor, Edith,” asked the officer. “Make your middle name ‘Virginia’. My wife was so proud of it, she’ll be heartbroken if it isn’t used.”
Hermione blinked at the earnest request, and then beamed, nodding to the man who had become her first friend.
He smiled. “Thanks, Ed.”
The office visit didn’t take more than two hours. They went in, filled out forms, signed forms, and then the final part of her application for her new life arrived.
“You haven’t filled in a last name,” the woman wearing a dotted pink scarf behind the counter told them.
She shivered. The office was cold and large, a huge change from Tom’s small room. Hermione blinked and looked at the blank spot on her application. Desperate, she turned to the officer.
He scratched his beard. “Well, now, I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “You could pick anything. If nothing comes to mind, you could always use my last name. Ha ha, I can tell my family that you’re my secret daughter! Naw, my wife would kill me…That’s a rubbish idea. Any clue what you’ll pick?”
She wasn’t sure. The only name that came to mind was a simple, common one. But, when she looked at it as the woman with the dotted scarf folded her application and sealed it in an envelope, she couldn’t help but feel she remembered it.
Edith Virginia Black
Previous Chapter: Naming
Next Chapter: Ed