He scares the other children

Chapter 3: Tom Riddle

When Mrs Cole opened the door, he'd hastily put the book away – he didn't want anyone to see what he was reading because ordinary eleven year old boys aren't interested in politics, ordinary eleven year old boys read the adventures of Biggles in the Modern Boy magazine - but he wasn't an ordinary eleven year old boy, was he? And he wanted to know more about that man he'd seen on the newsreels, he couldn't understand a word the man was saying, but he understood that the man wielded power – the power to make millions of people listen to every word he said, and to obey.

He'd known straightaway that there was something odd about the man with Mrs Cole, there was something different about him, and it wasn't just the clothes and the long hair, and he'd been wary. The man had shook hands with him and introduced himself, but all he'd heard was the word "professor", and he'd been alarmed, because that old cat of a matron might have sent for the doctors - the kind of doctors who can get you put in a lunatic asylum.

The man had denied it, but he hadn't believed it, and he'd told the man, "Tell the truth! " - because he can tell when people are lying, and not just kids, adults, too. But it didn't work on this man, he couldn't read the truth in those blue eyes. So he'd asked, "Who are you?"

The man had said, "My name is Professor Dumbledore and I work at a school called Hogwarts, and I have come to offer you a place at my school - your new school, if you would like to come."

He'd leapt up from the bed and backed away from Dumbledore, the orphanage was foul but one day he was going to get out of it, and he'd never get out of the asylum if they locked him up in there - but surely they didn't have any proof, Amy Benson and her soppy little friend Dennis would never blab about what happened in the cave, he'd made sure of that - and then Dumbledore had said something more about the school, said that nobody would force him to go if he didn't want to ... and he'd sneered, because nasty things happen to people who try to force him to do things.

But then Dumbledore had said something that he'll never forget, never - Dumbledore had said, "Hogwarts is not a school for mad people. It is a school of magic."

Magic! The word he'd whispered to himself sometimes, the only word that seemed able to explain what he could do. And he had to know, he had to ask, "It's ... it's magic, what I can do?"

Dumbledore had asked him what he could do, so he'd explained, he can make things move without touching them, make animals do what he wants them to do - but he hadn't mentioned the really special thing he can do, the thing with snakes - and he can make people do what he wants, too, even the strong ones ... he can hurt people, and that's the way to get people to do what you want, hurt them, because the people he's hurt don't annoy him any more, they do what he tells them to do.

It had been so exciting to know that he'd been right all along, so thrilling to know that it was magic, that he'd started to tremble, he'd had to sit down on the bed, and he'd said it aloud, "I knew I was different. I knew I was special. Always, I knew there was something."

Dumbledore had told him that there was a word for what he was, and it wasn't freak, it was wizard - and he'd been wildly happy, happier than he'd ever been in his life before. And he'd realised that Dumbledore must be a wizard, too, but he'd wanted proof, he'd wanted to see what Dumbledore could do ... so he'd said, "Prove it", in the voice that makes the little kids and the more dense of the bigger ones do what he wants.

But Dumbledore had merely raised his eyebrows, and asking him if he was accepting his place at Hogwarts, what a stupid question, of course he was accepting! And then Dumbledore had told him to address him as "Professor" or "sir", and he'd resented that, but the man was a wizard, the man knew about magic - and he'd realised that Dumbledore is one of the people he needs to be polite to, one of the people he needs to charm, so he'd asked again, "please, Professor, could you show me - ?"

And Dumbledore had shown him, he'd pulled a stick out of the inside pocket of his suit jacket and pointed it at the wardrobe - and the wardrobe had burst into flames. He'd yelled in shock and rage because everything he cared about was in that wardrobe, but even as he'd rounded on Dumbledore, the flames had vanished. He'd stared at the stick in Dumbledore's hand, and he hadn't needed to be told that it was a wand and that the power had come from the wand. Well, not from the wand, the power came from the wizard, but the wand channelled, controlled the power, and making a piece of furniture burst into flames was a party trick, it was nothing to what you could do with a wand - if you had the will to use it.

So he'd asked, "Where can I get one of them?", but Dumbledore had said, "I think there is something trying to get out of your wardrobe", and the wardrobe had started to rattle - and he'd been afraid, because how did Dumbledore know about the things he kept in that wardrobe? Things that could get him into trouble, if Dumbledore showed them to Mrs Cole ...

He'd been frightened, and he hadn't wanted to lift the cardboard box down from the topmost shelf, but Dumbledore had a wand, and he didn't, so he'd done as he was told. Dumbledore had asked him if there was anything in the box that he ought not to have - and he'd thought about lying, he'd given Dumbledore a long, clear, calculating look, but that wasn't going to work, he'd known that Dumbledore was looking into his mind, there must be a way to stop that, and he would certainly be finding out about that - but for the moment telling the truth was his best option. He'd tipped his trophies out onto the bed without even looking at them, looking at them wasn't a good idea, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from thinking about what each of them meant to him, and that was something he didn't want Dumbledore to know.

Dumbledore had told him to return the things to their owners, with an apology, and then Dumbledore had told him that thieving was not tolerated at Hogwarts - and he'd stared at Dumbledore, did Dumbledore really think he was just some petty thief? As if he wanted a yo-yo, a thimble, a mouth-organ ... worthless little trinkets, unless you knew what they meant. But he'd said, "Yes, sir," because after what Dumbledore had shown him, he didn't doubt that Dumbledore would know whether it had been done.

Then Dumbledore had threatened him, threatened him with expulsion from Hogwarts and with the Ministry of Magic, and he'd struggled to keep his face blank and his thoughts under control, because he'd realised that the wizarding world is just the same as the ordinary world, it's all about power – who has it, and who doesn't - and while Dumbledore had the power, he was going to have to watch his step around Dumbledore ... and he was dying to find out more about the Ministry, too, it must be some kind of wizarding government. If there was a wizard school and a wizard government, maybe there was wizard money, too, and that was a problem, because he didn't have any money, either the wizarding or the ordinary kind.

Dumbledore had produced a leather money-pouch, told him that there was a fund to pay for spellbooks and robes - wizard clothes, obviously - and he'd asked where you buy spellbooks and pulled one of the fat gold coins out of the bag, he'd been right, wizards do have their own money, because the coin was no ordinary sovereign stamped with the head of the King ...

He'd been worried for a minute, Dumbledore had offered to accompany him to Diagon Alley, and that was the last thing he wanted, having an adult - any adult - interfering while he explored the world of magic, but Dumbledore hadn't insisted, Dumbledore had told him how to find the Leaky Cauldron, and Dumbledore had told him that the Muggles wouldn't be able to see it. Muggles, that was a good word for non-magical people, and he'd wondered for a moment why wizards had to hide from the Muggles, what could Muggles do against magic?

He'd twitched when Dumbledore told him to ask for Tom the barman, he hated his name, there are a lot of Toms - and it was his father's name, too, or so they said ... and now the question comes bursting out, "Was my father a wizard?", because one of his parents had to be magic, it had to come from somewhere, and it couldn't be his mother, she'd died - and no-one even knew her name. And wizards aren't easy to kill, when they'd climbed down to the cave, he'd slipped – but he hadn't fallen, he'd flown. So it couldn't have been his mother, and now he's saying, more to himself than to Dumbledore, "My mother can't have been magic, or she wouldn't have died. It must've been him", but he's thinking, why would a wizard want to be with a stupid, useless Muggle, anyway?

Dumbledore is telling him there's a train ticket in his envelope - he leaves from King's Cross on the first of September - and for a moment he feels a twinge of apprehension, he's going to Hogwarts with hundred of other students who can all do magic, and perhaps he won't be special and different after all, so he asks, "I can speak to snakes ... Is that normal for a wizard?"

Dumbledore hesitates ... Dumbledore's tone is casual when he replies, "It is unusual but not unheard of," but Dumbledore is looking at him more closely, and it gives him a warm, powerful feeling to know that Professor Dumbledore of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is impressed with his abilities, and maybe even a tiny little bit afraid ...