"You disgusting little Squib, you filthy little blood traitor!" roared Gaunt, losing control, and his hands closed around his daughter’s throat.
Merope caught her father’s wrists and gave a few weak pulls, hearing the protesting shouts of the man who had come for Morfin. She was thrown backwards and greedily gasped for breath, watching as Morfin leapt out of his chair and ran at the man, brandishing his bloody knife and firing hexes indiscriminately from his wand. She turned and tried to escape into a corner, but a familiar laugh stopped her. "Tom?"
Gaunt roared with fury. "So it’s true!" His wand came out of his pocket and he considered his daughter with cold, calculating hatred on his face.
She cowered in the corner, hiding behind a broken chair that was piled high with rubbish. "Father please…"
"Do not speak that Muggle language to me child!" He yelled and brought his wand down hard.
The girl screamed as a ragged, bloody slash appeared down her cheek and neck. The chair that had been blocking her from view fell apart as if an ax had been brought down on it. "Have you been watching that foul Muggle out of windows? Tell the truth!"
Fear alone seemed to leave her incapable of lying to the man. "Yes." Came her quiet response under the cover of her lank hair. Blood was spreading across the dirty cloth of her shirt from the slash she had received. She looked up at her father, tears sliding down her cheeks. "Forgive me, please. Father, please. Mercy."
He laughed harshly. "Mercy? Mercy!"
Morfin walked inside and cackled at the sight of his sister being tortured. Crouching in a chair, he picked up the snake he’d been singing to and let it slither across his hands.
Merope was certain that this would be her end. Her father’s rage was endless, increased, she didn’t doubt, by the visit from the man from the Ministry. And he was gone, leaving her to suffer the brunt of his rage.
”I will show you no mercy you blood-traitor!” Morfin bellowed and raised his wand. ”Crucio!”
There was pain, all consuming, pulling her from her own body. And then it was gone and she was certain that she had died.
But there were shouts, angry bellows and spells being cast. The flashes penetrated her closed eyes, blinding her with bursts of red, green, blue, and yellow light. She could think of nothing better to do than cower in the corner, clutching at her head and praying that none of the spells would hit her.
The battle raged on for some time before the house fell silent, save for a great deal of ragged breathing. She slowly lifted her head and peered through the curtains of her filthy hair, trembling hard.
There were concerned and worried faces hovering in front of her, which was nearly as alarming as it would have been to open her eyes and find her father’s raging face there.
The man who had come to punish Morfin held out a hand to her. "It’s all right child, you’re safe now. Merlin’s beard, what did he do to you?" And as he began to mutter spells she could feel the various cuts and bruises that her father had given her melt away. "There now, that’s better, isn’t it?"
Merope nodded slightly, still keeping herself huddled away from the men who were standing around her. "Where… where is my father?"
The man sighed softly. "He has attacked Ministry officials. He’ll be taken to the Wizengamot and face trail. Your brother as well. Do you need us to summon someone for you? Do you have any other family you could stay with?" He seemed reluctant to leave her alone in the filthy little house.
She shook her head. "No, I’ll be fine." It took more convincing to make the men leave her be, they all seemed insistent that she should leave the house. As they left she rose to her feet, for she had remained huddled against the wall the entire time, and moved slowly through the house that had so long been her prison.
A faint, familiar sound of hooves caught her attention and she moved to the doorway, peering out hopefully.
Tom Riddle rode past on his majestic horse, sending a dismissive and disgusted glance over at the house. His friend, the woman, was gone and he was alone.
For a few minutes she allowed herself the luxury of a day dream. One where her handsome love dismounted his horse instead of riding past. One where he swept her up into those strong arms of his and kissed her warmly before taking her away from the dank little cottage where she’d lived for all her life.
The dream dissolved as she shut the door and returned inside. It was odd, to be there without the fear of her brother or father hovering around her. To have time for herself. She slowly looked around the little house, biting her lip uncertainly. Freedom, after so long.
By the next day Merope looked entirely different than she had ever before. Her clothes were clean and neatly mended, her skin had been scrubbed until the past had been washed away with the filth. Her hair, so long neglected in favor of preparing meals and slaving for her father, now was neatly brushed out and pulled away from her face with a precious scrap of ribbon she’d hidden away for so very long.
She sat outside, waiting anxiously for the appearance of her darling. It was a swelteringly hot day and the sun beat down on her pale face, quickly turning it from palest white to pink, and then to red.
The sound of hooves made her heart leap up into her chest and she rose to her feet, picking up the goblet and conjuring up crisp, cold water from the tip of her wand.
Tom Riddle appeared on the road, his expression haughty and cold, as always. He spared only a glance for Merope, slowing his horse to a stop when she approached.
He was so handsome, far more handsome close up that he ever had been from the glimpses she’d gotten leaning out of windows. "The… the day is hot sir." She said in a whisper. "Would you like some water?"
He considered the goblet for a moment before looking at her. Her body seemed to burn under his gaze. Finally he reached out and took the goblet from her, taking a long drink.
There was no word of thanks. The remaining water sloshed down her front as he passed the goblet roughly back to her and rode off. But she beamed as if he’d sworn his heart to her, kissing the goblet where his lips had touched. One day, one day he would love her in return.
Each day she would go out with the goblet. Water changed to lemonade over the course of a month, and now and then he would demand wine instead. She immediately obeyed his commands and lived for those short encounters with the man. He seemed to be mostly amused by her obvious devotion to him, often telling her to prepare a fine dinner for them to share, knowing that she would do as he obeyed and sit up until late in the night, the table spread with delicacies that no one would come to eat.
It was perhaps these long nights spent in lonely despair that drove her to brew the potion. And even after she’d spent so many long hours stirring and perfecting it, ensuring that it would do its job perfectly, she left it sitting, neatly jarred and tucked away, on a shelf. No, he would love her for herself, not because of any potion.
She caught the goblet as he carelessly threw it at her, the bottom catching her lip. As she walked back inside the house she could taste her own blood inside her mouth from where her lower lip had cut on one of her teeth. She drew her wand and watched as water poured from its tip, her eyes flicking to the bottle on the shelf.
Taking the goblet from the woman, Tom looked down at the contents. "What’s this? This isn’t water." And then his eyes went a little out of focus and he looked back into the goblet again. "Water, yes…" He said in a distant voice and drained the liquid in one long drink.
Shame burning in her chest, Merope slipped her wand back into her pocket and reached up to take the goblet that Tom was holding out. But as her hand drew nearer to his the goblet fell to the ground with a clatter and he caught her hand with his own.
His eyes were wide and full of adoration. Without releasing her hand he dismounted his horse and moved closer to her. "Your name… I must know your name."
Her cheeks burned as she looked at their clasped hands. "Merope."
Shutting his eyes, he whispered her name quietly to himself. "Merope… I have never seen beauty the likes of yours before. I feel as though… as though… if we should part I would die in that very moment. Say you’ll never leave my side Merope, say you’ll stay close to me."
It was as if she’d slipped into a wonderful dream. "Yes, I’ll stay close to you Tom."
"Oh she speaks my name…" He said wildly, clutching at both of her hands. "Speak it again, say anything, give me any order and I will give my life to obey. You need only speak and I will obey." Pulling her close, he wrapped his strong arms around her.
Merope felt hot tears sliding down her cheeks as she was held so close. Clinging to his shirt, she hid her face against his broad chest. "Take me away Tom. Take me away from the past."
Merope was sitting at the kitchen table, slowly rolling a cut crystal glass between her hands. Inside the liquid, which had a peculiar mother-of-pearl sheen, was giving off a smell of Tom’s hair and lilies, like the ones she’d held on their wedding day. Distantly she could hear Tom, calling anxiously for her from the other room. "In here dear." She said quietly.
He strode into the room, his worried expression relaxing immediately. "I’d thought you’d left me."
She smiled at him. "How could I leave you? We’re married. And I love you."
Kneeling next to her chair, he clasped one of her hands in both of his. "And I love you, always." Digging in his pocket, he produced a small velvet covered box. "This is for you. It’s three months today since we were married. And only seven months until our child joins our family." He opened the box to reveal a beautiful golden heart on a delicate chain.
"Oh Tom, it’s beautiful." She said breathlessly, touching the box lightly before allowing him to put it on, holding her hair up so he could see what he was doing. "Tom… do you really love me?"
He looked at her as if she’d asked a remarkably foolish question. "You are my whole world Merope. I live for you. I would die for you." He kissed her temple gently. "It’s late, we should get some sleep."
She nodded and, as she had every night for the past three months, held out the glass to the man.
He took the glass and inhaled the scent of it before lifting it to his lips.
Lowering the glass, he looked at her quizzically. "What is it?"
Taking the glass gently from his hands, she looked at him with sad eyes. "I believe that you love me." She said quietly and threw the glass into the sink, where its contents splashed everywhere and the crystal shattered.
Though he seemed puzzled he didn’t question her action, he had never questioned anything she’d done. Taking her hand he smiled at her and led her to the small bedroom where they had spent many blissful nights slumbering in each other’s arms.
Merope was sitting in a chair close to the bed, chewing anxiously on her lower lip. When his eyes fell on her she smiled softly. "Good morning."
He stared at her as if he’d never seen her before. "What… where… how?"
She pressed her lips together tightly. "Tom don’t you remember?" And when horror and realization dawned on his face, she knew that he did. "Please, let’s talk about this."
"What did you do to me?" He shouted, throwing off the covers and rising from the bed. The expression of adoring worship that had so long been on his face was gone and he looked angry and, under that, scared. "What did you do to me?"
Tears sprang to her eyes. "Tom please, I love you. You must understand that. I… I had to." She said weakly.
He was pulling on clothes as she begged him, keeping his back to the wall as if he expected her to attack him. "I’ll have you arrested for this. It’s… it’s kidnapping is what it is. I’ll have you thrown in jail!" He darted past her towards the door, but it slammed shut as he approached. He grabbed it and jerked hard on the handle before turning to face her. "What the hell are you?"
She was standing in front of her chair, her wand in her hand. "Tom please, sit down and listen." She said quietly and a chair nudged gently at the man’s legs. When he didn’t obey the chair knocked him into itself and settled neatly in front of her.
He pressed himself hard back into the chair, trying to get away from her. "What are you?"
"I’m a witch." She said simply, looking at the man. "And I’m your wife. And this…" She set a hand lightly on her stomach. "This is your child growing. We are a family. You must feel something for me…"
His expression contorted with disgust. "You put a spell on me… you tricked me!"
She sobbed weakly. "I had to show you. I had to show you that you could love me. Please Tom, please say you love me." She begged, reaching out for him.
He slapped her hands away from him. "Get away from me." He snapped, rising to his feet. "I don’t love you. You’re a freak."
"Please!" She screamed, grabbing his shirt and clinging to him. "Please Tom don’t leave me! I stopped. I stopped and I let you see for real. Please try to love me! For our child." She held out the necklace he’d given her the night before. "You gave me this. You gave it to me." She flinched as he tore it off of her neck and threw it aside. "Please Tom, I love you!" She wailed, grabbing his shirt again.
Grabbing her arms, he tore her hands off of her and threw her backwards, watching coldly as she stumbled over the chair and fell in a heap on the floor.
Merope slowly untangled herself on the floor, her shoulder and head throbbing where she’d fallen. When she finally rose to her feet she saw Tom disappearing down the hall. "Tom no!" She screamed and ran after him, grabbing his shirt and falling to her knees. "Please don’t go! Stay with me! I’ll die the moment we’re apart. I know I will! Please, please stay with me. I will be your slave." She sobbed as he jerked himself free and walked to the door. "Tom please!" She screamed. "Our child!"
He paused in the doorway, his shoulders tensing. After a moment he turned around to face Merope, hatred etched over his face. "You and that… creature growing inside of you can be damned." He said in an icy voice before turning and striding out of the door, slamming it shut.
For several long minutes she sat very still, staring at the door, praying that he would appear again, that he would open the door and smile at her, wrap her up in his arms. "Tom?" She whispered softly. "Tom?" But he didn’t return. For several hours she remained where she’d fallen in despair, staring at the door, waiting for him to return. The unthinkable slowly settled itself in her mind. He had left. There was no love for her in his heart. It had always only been the potion. Only magic. If she’d been patient, if she’d waited patiently, perhaps it could have been real.
Magic, that was to blame. There had been love there, but magic had destroyed it. Her impatience had destroyed it. She sobbed miserably and crawled from the hallway into the bedroom.
Her wand was sitting on the floor where she’d fallen. She seized it and, with a cry of despair, snapped it in half. She would never do magic again, never.
The last hundred yards were the hardest of the journey. The pains grew more and more intense. She collapsed on the stairs and pounded with one fist. "Please!"
The door opened and a woman looked down at the crumpled form lying on the stairs. "Oh dear…" She whispered and then shouted for help over her shoulder.
The next few hours were hell for Merope. She knew that the birth was punishment, for dear Tom’s long months of entrapment, for her impatience for true love to blossom. The young woman, Cole or something else, was at her side, trying to help her through the swells of pain.
"It’s a boy!" The woman exclaimed loudly and a loud cry filled the room.
Sobbing, Merope looked over at the red, wrinkled child in the woman’s arms. That first cry was the only one, for he fell silent immediately, lying still while Mrs. Cole cleaned him off and wrapped him up in a blanket.
"Oh he’s a dear little thing, isn’t he? What will you call him?"
The child was far too young, but his eyes opened and they peered up at his mother. She was trapped in his gaze for a few moments before looking up at Mrs. Cole. "Tom, for his father. Marvolo, for mine." She traced the boy’s cheek gently. "Tom Marvolo Riddle."
But mention of her beloved’s name opened the wound in her heart, where it seemed to be bleeding anew. "You will be a good man." She told the boy quietly. "You will be a good, gracious man. Kindness, love, all the things I never knew. I’ll give them to you. I’ll teach you. And we’ll live a simple life, with no magic." The words were barely out of her mouth when pain gripped her and she screamed, her child slipping from her arms and to the ground as her back arched.
For one wild minute she was certain that her father had found her and that he’d put her under the Cruciatus curse as punishment. But the pain was both not as bad as the curse and a hundred times worse. She grabbed at her stomach and writhed on the bed where she was laid out.
The pain didn’t leave, as the birth pains had, but stayed, sometimes lessening to just a throb, other times growing so bad that the entire world was drown out by it. But finally, after an eternity of agony, the pains began to fade. It was as if her body was falling asleep, becoming numb from the legs up. Her eyes were clearing and the world was coming into focus. She could see everything more plainly than she ever had.
"There we go…" Mrs. Cole said in a voice that was far away, stroking Merope’s hair away from her forehead. "All’s better again. You’ve a lovely son waiting for-"
Merope screamed again, but this time it had nothing to do with pain. There was a figure standing in the corner of the small room. A huge figure in a hooded robe, with red eyes and two narrow slits for nostrils, staring at her. She stared at the creature with horror before realizing that it was her son. The hatred in the eyes was so like her father’s, so like how Tom had looked at her when she’d released him from the potion’s spell. In that moment she knew what he had become, what he had done and the lives he had destroyed. The clarity of vision she’d had only moments before was gone, the world was fading into black. The last thing she saw before the darkness consumed her was the burning hatred of those cold, red eyes.