Mrs. Cole doesn’t have many things going for her. This is mostly due to the fact that being an unmarried woman in the 1930s leaves much to be desired. For an unmarried woman, she sure has a lot of squealing children to take care of. A look of pain crosses itself across her features whenever she remembers where she works. To self-medicate, Mrs. Cole goes to find whisky to drink. It’s some fine whisky, too.
Billy Stubbs is the newest arrival. His mother is a resident of Soho and she can’t be bothered to be a mother anymore. Good for her, Mrs. Cole thinks, at least the woman has a little more agency about her life.
The bad thing about Billy Stubbs being a resident of Woolwich's orphange (Wool's for short) is that he is a bully. Mrs. Cole knows that lots of these kids have issues, but really now, they ought to man up and stop being such whimps about their world crashing around them. Mrs. Cole doesn’t have fits every afternoon. Well, she substitutes fits for glasses of whisky. It is more effective that way.
Blearily she looks at Billy Stubbs attempting to pick on Tom Riddle. She sits in her most comfortable chair (the one reserved only for adults), and watches in anticipation. Because anybody that picks on Tom Riddle does so once and never again. Mrs. Cole crosses her legs, leans back, and smiles. This ought to sustain her for the afteroon as far as entertainment goes.
But then Billy Stubbs shoves Tom Riddle down and the kid doesn’t get back up.
And Mrs. Cole feels a little bad. Because all of the new arrivals stop their incessant crying after Tom Riddle gives them the rundown of the place. Mrs. Cole rather likes the scamp making her job easier. Is he mentally deranged in some shape or form? Yes. To be fair, who isn’t?
She shouts: ''Oi, Stubbs!''
And Billy looks at Mrs. Cole, realises that she isn't going to get up, but that that doesn't mean she can't make his life hell from her seat, and runs in the opposite direction. Tom Riddle stands back up after Billy leaves. He angrily hisses something under his breath and walks out of the room.
Mrs. Cole takes a swig of whisky, straight from the bottle, and thinks that if she has to have a satanic presence in her life, she can handle it being a child that hates crying children just as much as she does.
She decides to give Tom kitchen duty. The boy, having grown up in the orphanage, knows where everything is located. Usually she gives this chore to the older children, but she feels like the boy needs a win. Besides, Mrs. Cole likes pissing off everyone.
''He's going to poison us! Mrs. Cole, Tom Riddle is going to spit in all of our food!''
Mrs. Cole vaguely realises she's staring through these children who have it all out for the only damn child that's never caused her anguish personally. His inter personal communication is shite, but that's because there's not a single adult in this place that can teach it to him. Mrs. Cole takes a sip of water, because she's saving the whisky, and tells little Suzie to shut the fuck up.
She doesn't see Tom Riddle smiling.
Her food is always the best, because she's at the top of the hierarchy.
This time it's somehow even better than usual.
''Thank you, Riddle.''
This time she does see him smiling.
Billy Stubbs continues to push the children around. Mrs. Cole continues to do nothing. Let them handle this. It's going to be practise for adulthood.
A new girl comes along. Her father died of alcohol poisoning and her mother killed herself. Mrs. Cole thinks that both of those are very good ways of going to the other world. Hell, Mrs. Cole thinks, is a better alternative to this piece of shite world she's inhabiting.
The girl's name is Melissa Jones. Melly for short. She's friends with Stubbs. Until he tells her that she's going to go to hell by proxy. Melly cries a lot harder than any of the children in the orphanage. Mrs. Cole takes a swig of whisky. Expectantly she looks at Tom Riddle. He feels her eyes on him and sighs. When he stands up, Mrs. Cole thinks that he's a good lad.
''My name's Melly.''
''Don't care. Stop being a whiny baby. You're 'ere now and if you cry again I'm going to make sure you 'ave something real to cry about.''
Mrs. Cole thinks about raising a glass to Tom Riddle. But she hasn't got one on her person at the moment and the mere idea of getting up to get one is enough to give her seasonal depression. The season is whenever a new kid comes along.
Billy retaliates by pushing Tom again.
Mrs. Cole really needs Tom to pull his act together and get Stubbs to behave. She can't take a second out of her day to tell the boy to behave. Who does Tom Riddle think she is?
''Mrs. Cole, Riddle's at it again. 'E's being a menace, 'e is!''
From the ground, Tom Riddle locks eyes with Mrs. Cole and tries to gesticulate that Stubbs is twice his size and that he doens't know what to do about it. Mrs. Cole thinks that that is a Tom Riddle problem.
Another thing that Mrs. Cole hates more than crying children is animals. Rabbits are ugly and weird creatures that have no place near an orphanage.
Billy Stubbs’ mother, that Soho resident who’s given up her child out of perfectly reasonable reasons that are harshly judged by society because of her sex, has given her son a bunny to pet and take care of. Mrs. Cole would rather the woman have given him money. Doesn’t she understand how expensive these children are? The priorities of some people!
Tom Riddle isn’t allowed anywhere near the bunny and he looks very angry to be singled out. As if the boy will hurt the damned thing. He’s outgrown hurting animals and has his eyes set on people. Can a snake eat a rabbit? Though, that would be a waste of perfectly cookable meat. Mrs. Cole’s got a plan in store for Stubbs. That boy is beginning to undermine her authority and she refuses to have that.
Very briefly, Mrs. Cole looks at Tom, and then glances to the rabbit. He glances over to the rabbit himself and a thoughtful expression crosses over his face.
If Tom Riddle gets Stubbs knocked down a few pegs finally, she’s going to owe the boy and do so willingly.
Mrs. Cole thinks that hanging the rabbit off of the rafters is just a tad too much, but she won’t complain about the boy’s effective methods.
Billy is absolutely traumatized. Good. He falls in line finally.
Mrs. Cole waits for Tom to come to her for a favour. He doesn’t. Even better.
‘’Mrs. Cole, what are we having for lunch tomorrow?’’
Billy Stubbs’ lip trembles. Tom Riddle is back on the top of the hierarchy. It’s about damn time.
Some of the children want to drown Tom Riddle. She catches them scheming, in preparation for the beach excursion.
Mrs. Cole’s really looking forward to seeing how this will play out. Less children for her to take care of is imminent, either way. Though, deep down inside, she bets on Tom Riddle to pull through. She takes another swig of whisky and finds that her monthly bottle has been finished. Guess she’s going to have to seduce one of the benefactors. Not like it’s hard.
Tom Riddle drowns children. Plural. Mrs. Cole is both disgusted with herself for allowing this, and for being pleased that it’s not the boy to die. She needs a helping hand.
He looks at her, waiting for a reaction. Mrs. Cole doesn’t say anything to him. She just calls this a very terrible accident and that they all ought to pray for their lost friends. Not that she even believes in God. If God were real he would have placed her in another work position. Maybe he’s testing her? She scoffs. ‘’Oh right, bloody wanker.’’
Tom scurries out of her path.
Mrs. Cole looks at what is obviously not a proper human being. No man willingly wears the coloured clothes this man has put on.
‘’Yer a professor?’’
‘’I am, yes.’’
Mrs. Cole reeks of whisky.
The man pretends not to notice. They all pretend not to notice until they want to get between her legs. This one isn’t that type. Mrs. Cole has fucking eyes.
‘’Did he just burn down your wardrobe?’’ Mrs. Cole’s seen it, but she isn’t quite sure her eyes are working properly anymore.
‘’I, uh – yes.’’ Tom is very scared. He can’t fathom what has happened. His shoulders are tense as he stares at the perfectly untouched wardrobe. But Mrs. Cole remembers what she’s seen from the corner of her eyes. She can’t easily forget such a thing.
How dare this so-called professor scare her best kid? If her enforcer’s scared who’s going to keep these little shits in line?
Maybe she’s growing soft on him, but Mrs. Cole places a hand on Tom’s shoulder and squeezes it. He looks flabbergasted. They don’t really touch the kids, do they? They just let them go into the world, touch starved and unadjusted.
‘’That’s fucked.’’ Her words are slurring.
Tom nods. ‘’I’m magic, apparently.’’
‘’There’s more of ya?’’
Mrs. Cole sits down next to him on the bed and looks at him for what isn’t a long time, but because they’re both unaccustomed to paying attention to each other it is too much. Tom looks away from her first and whispers: ‘’There’s a school. Doesn’t cost nothing for me. They’ll teach me how to get better at it there. I asked – I’ll only be coming back for summer holiday.’’
‘’Right.’’ That sounds reasonable and not at all a fiction of what she hopes really is just a crazy man in colourful clothing. But she knows she’s wrong in thinking that. These are Tom Riddle’s people. ‘’Give ‘em hell.’’ She slaps him on the back and he bloody staggers forward. Are they feeding these kids enough?
‘’Thank you, Mrs. Cole.’’
Mrs. Cole doesn’t expect to get a letter from Tom Riddle other than for him to tell her that the school is actually real and he hasn’t been kidnapped.
But he sends her a chocolate bloody frog that moves.
She bites its head off and has to say that this is very nice of the boy to send.
Magic is real.
In her letter back to him she skips the dear Toms just as he’s skipped the Dear Mrs. Coles. They aren’t dear to each other. What they are can be summed up as reluctant cohabiters of the same orphanage.
Can you make whisky out of water?
A few days later another owl comes by.
There is a spell for that, yes.
She fucking loves this kid.
When Tom comes back to the orphanage he looks a lot healthier than Mrs. Cole’s ever seen him. The difference is giant.
‘’You want a sip?’’ Mrs. Cole offers him whisky.
‘’No, thank you.’’
Mrs. Cole drinks her own whisky. She prefers the one Tom makes her to the one she gets from the benefactors.
‘’Is your mother a witch, then?’’ Mrs. Cole asks Tom.
Tom looks at her like she’s just asked him something obscene. ‘’I’ve always thought my father to be a wizard.’’
‘’Riddle’s not a wizard name. Merope sounds a hell of a lot like a witch’s name.’’ Mrs. Cole offers Tom a sip. He keeps declining.
‘’My mother’s a witch. And it’s a family trait to talk to snakes.’’
‘’Ahaa.’’ So it isn’t Satanic. Mrs. Cole is wrong on so many accounts. She slurs out a small apology to the kid. Stubbs and the rest of the children don’t dare touch him anymore. Not since the drowning incident. Every time he comes by he wandlessly casts spell on her bottles full of water and turns it into whisky. Mrs. Cole really thinks one of these days she’s going to hug the child.
She offers him the whisky and he takes it.
‘’What’s wrong kid?’’
‘’I met my father and he wanted nothing to do with me.’’
‘’Motherfucker. Did you tell him you can make free alcohol?’’
‘’I didn’t get a chance to do that.’’
‘’That’s a shame. He rich or anything?’’
‘’Yes. I think so.’’
‘’Go back and extort that rich family for every penny they’ve got.’’
Tom looks like he wishes he’d thought of that before doing something very, very bad. ‘’Fuck.’’
Mrs. Cole doesn’t ask.
They clink their glasses together.
His eyes look just a tiny bit red.
‘’What are you going to do? There any trade for you to go into?’’
‘’I like antiques.’’
‘’It could be a good stepping stone for me.’’ Self-consciously he tells her these things. Even he isn’t sure that antiques are where his time ought to go into.
Mrs. Cole asks him if he needs to stay the summer after his seventh year. ‘’Just the summer until you get settled.’’
‘’No.’’ The way he spits that word out means that as much as he enjoys being friendly with Mrs. Cole, he detests the children and the orphanage tenfold more.
‘’You don’t like antiques.’’
‘’I want to be great.’’ She has never seen him this intense.
‘’You will be.’’ Mrs. Cole says and gives him her empty glass to fill with whisky.
A child runs to her room and knocks furiously. When she opens the door and spots Tom Riddle, she squeaks like a mouse and flees.
Mrs. Cole laughs.
Tom smiles. It feels good to be feared.
When it’s time for Tom Riddle to leave Wool’s orphanage he shakes Mrs. Cole’s hand and tells her that it’s been as swell as it could have been. ‘’You taught me that there are always worse circumstances to live under, so thank you for that.’’
‘’You strange, strange boy. I will miss you.’’ Mrs. Cole bemoans. ‘’You scared the children like no one!’’
‘’I suppose you will have to do your job now that I am gone.’’ He gives her a grin.
She half laughs half cries. Because oh God, that’s true.
‘’Write me, won’t you?’’
Tom looks taken aback. ‘’I,’’ he whispers, unaccustomed to this, ‘’I thought we were done now?’’
‘’Oh,’’ Mrs. Cole is much too sober for this conversation, ‘’well, if you prefer it that way, Tom.’’
‘’I can write you.’’ Tom doesn’t say if he will. That’s fine.
‘’You know the address.’’
‘’I do, yes.’’ Tom nods. It is awkward. Mrs. Cole, against her better judgement, pulls him into a hug. She’s seen this boy grow up from babe to man. Tears prickle in the corner of her eyes. Damn it all, she deserves to be emotional for once in her sad and miserable life.
Tentatively his hands wraps around her and he returns the hug.
The children are staring and murmuring weirdly amongst each other.
‘’I have never given anyone a send off like this, now.’’ Mrs. Cole says.
Tom nods. She can feel his smile. It burns. ‘’I know.’’
A few times a year he writes her.
Like a good, well mannered lad she has no idea how he’s become – he sends her whisky.
Mrs. Cole really wonders if she’s ever going to sober up.
She opens the bottle and tastes this sweet, beautiful ambrosia.
There is no rush towards sobriety.
Once, she boldly asks him if he’ll ever settle down. He stops writing her then.
Mrs. Cole thinks about writing a letter of apology, but decides not to. It isn’t worth it and it may anger Tom more.
The next letter that comes is well into the end of the sixties. Apparently he’s queer and has no intention of settling down with anyone ever. His standards are very high.
Well, that’s a bloody loaded answer. Mrs. Cole writes that she doesn’t give a damn as long as he keeps sending the whisky. His letter of reply reeks of amusement and in the box that comes along with it has two whisky bottles.
Something happens in the seventies and he doesn’t write her for years.
Mrs. Cole worries.
It isn’t like before when she’s made a faux pas. This is something dangerous.
Mrs. Cole runs into a man whose hair will blind her. He looks like a German spy. She blinks blearily and clutches onto her whisky bottle tightly. The only reason why they haven’t fired her is because she’s quite adept at terrifying the children and she has seniority.
‘’Hello!’’ He greets her pleasantly.
‘’My name’s Abraxas Malfoy. Tom’s told me about you.’’
‘’Are you his fancy boy then?’’
‘’That is quite an adorable way of putting it. Do not tell him I came to see you, he pretends his muggle life doesn’t exist.’’
Mrs. Cole outstretches her hand for the man to shake and he does so.
‘’He isn’t writing me.’’
‘’Well, we are in a war. I came to see if the Order had come for you. Tom does care about your existence.’’
‘’I care about his existence, too.’’
This is the closest thing either will admit to caring about each other. It’s fine.
Abraxas sighs. ‘’I see now where he gets his emotional stagnancy from.’’
‘’Oi, fuck you, you blond prick.’’
It doesn’t offend the blond. It delights him. ‘’You are such a fun distraction!’’
‘’There is not a war.’’ Mrs. Cole thinks of the bombing, thinks of Tom as a child, thinks of the whisky, thinks of how her life means nothing to her anymore. ‘’You are lying, you are.’’
‘’There is, muggle. And it is a great war that will determine your place in our wizarding world. Lord Voldemort will be victorious!’’
‘’I know about your magic.’’ Mrs. Cole isn’t quite well enough to pay attention to fucking politics.
‘’Then we will call you a squib.’’ Abraxas bids her adieu and leaves her. ‘’Goodbye for now. We shall speak more later.’’
Mrs. Cole contemplates what she’s learned. When someone asks her about magic it is easier to say she is a Malfoy squib. It will earn her pity, but it will keep her alive. It is a rather nice gift to have. Mrs. Cole drinks. Abraxas’ whisky tastes like utter shite.
Mrs. Cole hears a great commotion outside her room’s window. Uneasily she goes to it and watches rapid lights flying at each cloaked figure. She leans out because her life truly means nothing to her anymore. If one of those lights hits her it will be relieving.
Two remain. One is very familiar to her. God. Mrs. Cole rubs the sleep from her eyes and she looks at the cloaked figure and the other figure whose cloak has fallen off. The latter is old and with a long beard. Grey now instead of red.
Hurriedly, Mrs. Cole grabs a hold of a full whisky bottle. The bottle itself is very finely made. She contemplates drinking it, but it’s best if it’s full when she does this.
Both of them are lost in the heat of battle. They are silent, but their movements are practised, yet she can see that the cloaked figure is scared, just how he has been scared the first time this man has come by. From his side a great fiery snake emerges.
Mrs. Cole doesn’t understand any of this and really, it isn’t her place to. She is a second class citizen to these people, but she’s taken care of one and made sure he didn’t starve. Now she won’t have him die so close to the orphanage. It won’t end here for him, where it all began. This she promises.
It is scorching hot outside because of the fire. The old man, that professor, minds it not. All of his concentration is focused on Tom.
Mrs. Cole aims.
It is her unimportance to these giants that makes this next part even possible. To them she is an insect.
She’s slept off a good portion of what she’s drunk.
In one swift and neurotic movement, Mrs. Cole throws the bottle of whisky down and it hits the professor’s head with a loud, painful thud.
The fiery snake eats him.
Tom pulls his cloak off and looks at Mrs. Cole.
The smile on his face cannot be explained in mere words. It’s the happiest Mrs. Cole has ever seen him.
‘’YOU BLOODY MADWOMAN!’’
‘’Tom, I shall need some more whisky now! That was my last bottle.’’
‘’I SHALL GET YOU ALL OF THE WHISKY IN THE WORLD, MRS. COLE!’’
It’s honestly the most gleeful she’s ever see him. Like a child he jumps in the air and goes up and up and up. Well, he can fly. Mrs. Cole doesn’t find anything surprising anymore.
‘’Tom, you woke up the entire bloody neighbourhood.’’ Mrs. Cole doesn’t mind. She just thinks reprimanding him will get him to do something about the nosiness. Like hell she knows how to answer people’s questions.
‘’I shall take care of it.’’ He climbs through her window and hugs her properly. He is much taller than her now.
‘’Makes you think what else I could do if I stopped drinking, doesn’t it?’’ Mrs. Cole laughs. Tom hisses his laughter.
‘’You incorrigible woman!’’
‘’How impolite of you, Tom Riddle!’’
They break the hug and he laughs, yet again swept up in the elation of this evening. ‘’I’ve won a war thanks to you, Mrs. Cole.’’
Another laugh. It really isn’t a laugh. The sounds that keep coming out of Tom Riddle cannot be human. ‘’I can’t BELIEVE it! A fucking whisky bottle, Mrs. Cole! The great Albus Dumbledore –‘’ Tom Riddle screams. Mrs. Cole has never seen him this … lively. He bites his own fist to stop himself from screaming again. His eyes are redder than the last time she’s seen them.
She doesn’t know what that means. But she does nod and say this: ‘’To hell with him, then. I never liked that fucker. Looked weird and full of himself.’’
Tom Riddle laughs anew. ‘’Rot in hell you piece of shite!’’
Mrs. Cole supposes that her life would be very boring without Tom Riddle to cause havoc.