Chapter 5 : Truth and Consequence
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I'd like to acknowledge Misty_Rey and Oksanna88, who have been encouraging and supportive since Chapter 1. Thank you ladies!
"We dance round in a ring and suppose,
while the secret sits in the middle and knows."
- Robert Frost
"Coming!" Bethe set down the teapot she had been carrying and answered the door. "Merope! Come in dear, I'll have the tea ready in a minute."
Merope stepped inside the modest little cottage, draping her shawl over a chair and admiring the neat interior. Colorful woven rugs warmed the spotless floorboards, and pretty green and gold candles were lit throughout the room. It was an unseasonably chilly night in early September and a fire blazed in the hearth. A calico cat napped in one of two armchairs covered with cushions and heavy quilts. Merope took one of the chairs and smiled. "Your home is lovely."
"Thank you, it isn't much," said Bethe, setting a tray down on the little mahogany stand. She shooed the cat and took its armchair, pouring Merope a cup of tea.
"It's more than I have," Merope said truthfully, sipping the delicious tea and feeling it warm her belly. "Thank you for inviting me tonight."
Bethe smiled at her affectionately. "Thank you for the company. It gets lonely sometimes." She blew on her tea and looked sideways at her friend. "But there's another reason I asked you to come, actually. I have something to tell you."
Merope lowered her cup expectantly. She'd had a feeling that there was something on Bethe's mind.
"It's about what happened in my shop two weeks ago," the young woman began hesitantly, looking into the fire. "When I couldn't remember what had happened, or what I had said - do you remember?"
The girl simply nodded, her dark eyes fixed on Bethe. It had been on her mind constantly ever since.
Bethe took a deep breath and turned to face her. It seemed to take a great deal of effort to say what she had to say. "That wasn't the first time it happened to me," she admitted quietly. "I - I've never told a living soul, but I have these spells from time to time. The first one came when I was five years old." She looked back into the fire. "Afterward, I couldn't recall what I had said, but Mother told me it was something to do with our neighbor."
"She didn't tell you specifically?" asked Merope.
"No. She thought I was delirious, but I had no fever," Bethe responded. "But when Mr. Gibson died of heart failure the following evening, I knew I had something to do with it." She shivered and drew the quilt tightly around herself. "I used to think that I caused these things to happen. It frightened Mother out of her wits and she ordered me never to speak of it again."
They sat in a thoughtful silence. "Bethe," Merope said slowly, setting her cup down, "you told me once that you were adopted. Don't you know anything about your true parents?"
Bethe shook her head. "Only that they died in a boating accident when I was barely a year old," she explained. "I lived in an orphanage in Haymouth until I was three, when Clarice Graham came to adopt me. She was a lonely widow and I was a lonely orphan."
"Graham? Then Lawney was your true parents' name?" Merope inquired, looking at her friend searchingly. "You have no clues as to where you were born? No idea what your father's profession was?"
"No, I know nothing about it and neither does Mother. She only cared about getting me, not about where I came from," answered Bethe, watching Merope closely. "What's on your mind?"
"I don't know how to tell you this, Bethe. But I think - from what you've told me -" Merope frowned, and decided to say it very quickly. "I think that you are a witch like - like me." She held her breath, expecting shock or anger.
Instead, Bethe remained silent for a long time. "Tell me," she said finally, in a calm voice.
Merope explained all she knew of the Wizarding world, of people whose unique talents appeared in childhood and were polished in school. She spoke of spells, of flying broomsticks, of a government whose task it was to prevent the discovery of the magical world. And finally, she spoke of Seers, revered among wizards for their clairvoyant ability. "Don't you see, Bethe?" Merope asked urgently. "You haven't been causing these things to happen. You've just been predicting them. You've been making prophecies."
Bethe shook her head. "It's too much to believe," she said quietly. "But what other explanation could there be?" She rose and began pacing back and forth. "I need to know for certain," she said aloud. "I need to find out who my parents were. I have to go back to that orphanage in Haymouth. It's the only way." She took her seat again and looked at Merope, her dark eyes wide. "But that ... prophecy I made in my shop. Has it come true?"
The younger woman shook her head slowly. "No. But I sense that things are changing," she replied softly. "I somehow feel - that your words will come to pass." She sighed and smiled wryly. "I have a confession too, Bethe. Do you know who lives in the manor on the hill?"
"Yes of course. The Riddle family," answered Bethe, "but what does that -" Realization struck her. "It's that young man, isn't it? You love Tom Riddle?" She looked despairingly at the girl. "Oh, Merope!"
"I know," Merope said hastily, "I know what you're thinking. I know he's not right for me. We are literally from two different worlds. But Bethe," she continued earnestly, "I've loved him for so long. And now that he is finally beginning to see me, now that I know his future and mine are one..."
"Oh Merope, be careful!" begged Bethe, distressed. "I wish I'd never met you. I feel as though I've ... condemned you to your fate."
"Condemned me?" Merope repeated, and leaned forward to hug her friend. "You have ensured me a future of love and happiness."
"Tom Riddle is spoiled and arrogant," insisted Bethe. "I know his kind, Merope. I've seen his parents and the way they treat anyone beneath themselves. I won't have you near them, not for anything in the world."
Merope shook her head. "Perhaps his parents are that way, but you're wrong about him," she stated breathlessly. "I've looked into his eyes. I know him, though we've hardly spoken three words to one another. He and I are the same." She gazed thoughtfully into the dancing flames. "Finally I know my purpose, Bethe. I know I have a future." She looked reassuringly at the other woman's frightened face. "All will be well. You'll see."
Bethe squeezed the girl's hand. "For your sake, dear," she returned, "let's hope so."
The following evening, Merope busied herself with clearing away the supper dishes. She had roasted a small chicken in sage and rosemary and the whole shack still smelled of its delicious fragrance.
Marvolo was sitting at his usual place in the armchair, picking at his teeth. "Where'd you find a chicken with such tough skin, girl?" he complained, though he had eagerly eaten half of it. "My jaw is half numb from chewing." There was a pause. And then suddenly: "Your mother never cooked like that."
Merope turned from the pot she had been scrubbing and waited for more.
"She was useless in the kitchen, with or without magic," he continued, almost as though talking to himself. "In those days I cooked. I would have done anything just to see her smile." He seemed to realize that his daughter had been listening and threw her a hateful look. "Get back to work, girl!" he barked. "Don't just stand there with your mouth hanging open." He popped open his whiskey bottle, hands trembling, and downed half of it in one gulp.
Merope turned quickly and continued cleaning, though she ached with longing to ask about her mother. It wasn't often that she had an opportunity like this, but she wisely kept quiet, unwilling to earn a bruise for her trouble. When all the pots and pans were finally clean, she turned around to find Marvolo dozing comfortably. She wiped her hands on her apron and prepared to retreat into the attic.
A knock on the door made her pause in climbing the ladder. Who could that be? she thought.
Morfin, who had left to find a new snake, wouldn't knock on his own door. Cautiously she peered through the kitchen window. Tied to the little fence around her garden plot was an elegant chestnut stallion, his coat gleaming in the dusky light. Her heart jumped into her throat. She would know that horse anywhere. No ... it can't be... The knock came again, slightly more impatient. Merope reached for the doorknob slowly, feeling as though she were in a dream. And there he was, standing on the front step looking right at her.
She had only ever seen him on horseback, so it surprised her to see how tall he really was. A tall girl herself, Merope had to tilt her head back slightly to meet his eyes. He held his broad shoulders confidently and though he was very slender, Merope didn't doubt that he had the strength to crush her with his bare arms. He radiated youth and good health, and the eyes that looked at her - they were a deep greenish hazel, and not brown after all - were steady and certain.
"Good evening," he said, the timbre of his voice surprisingly solemn for such a young man. It was a pleasant voice, certainly nothing like Marvolo's scratching tone or Morfin's growls. Yes, she could easily imagine listening to that low voice and falling asleep in those arms...
"Good evening," she answered, nearly forgetting herself. "May I help you?"
"My horse has thrown a shoe," he explained, gesturing to the magnificent stallion behind him. "Have you a hammer of some sort that I could borrow?"
"Yes, we do." Merope stepped onto the porch to look for Morfin's hammer. It lay to the side of the steps, where her brother kept it for nailing fresh snakes to the door. She straightened and turned to face Tom. "Will this do?"
He took the hammer from her, their hands brushing for a fleeting moment. He had a masculine smell, a pleasant musky scent of mahogany and cinnamon bark. "Yes," he replied. "Hold his head, would you?"
Merope went with him willingly and reached out timidly to the horse. She had never been so close to such a huge animal, but his muzzle was silk to the touch and he docilely allowed her to hold him. "He's beautiful," she ventured, looking at the large, intelligent eyes. "What kind is he?"
Tom had lifted the horse's right leg and was expertly examining the hoof. "He's a Thoroughbred. His name is Apollo."
"Apollo," Merope repeated softly, stroking the coarse brown mane.
Tom was using the curved end of the hammer to pry sharp nails from the horse's hoof. His hands were quick and clever, but he worked with tender care. He glanced up at her and there was a hint of a smile on his face. "It's a Greek name, like yours."
Her heart gave an irregular jump, as though it would leap right out of her chest and into his hands. "You know my name?" she asked in almost a whisper.
"Merope, isn't it?" he asked casually, continuing to work.
She had never thought her name could sound so beautiful. It was like music rolling off his tongue, the three syllables like a flowing triplet in the middle of a half-forgotten song. "Yes," she answered. And then, quite bravely, "And you're Tom."
He looked up at her abruptly and she almost thought he would be angry. Just the surprised expression in his eyes told her that only loved ones used that endearing little nickname. But he didn't seem to be offended. "Yes, I'm Tom." He finished with the hammer and handed it back to her. They stood in the dim light of evening, the air fragrant with lemon and rosemary, and just looked at each other. She thought she could never grow tired of looking at him, and Tom's eyes searched her whole face with open curiosity.
He looked away first, his eyes roaming over the cottage behind her. "It's so quiet here," he commented, "so peaceful." He looked at her again, as though bursting with curiosity. "Are you all alone?"
"My father's asleep," she explained, "and my brother is - not at home." She smiled faintly. "It's not always this quiet."
The corners of his mouth twitched. "Yes, that's what I suspected." He straightened and dusted off his jacket. "Well I must be going. I have to find the farrier before he retires for the night; Apollo can't go on without a shoe." He turned to adjust the stirrups and to check a saddlebag that contained a long, wooden object.
"Is that a bow?" Merope questioned, gesturing towards it.
"Yes, for my violin. I rode to Great Hangleton today to have it rehaired," he responded, looking down at her. "Do you play?"
She had to smile at that. "No, but we have a very old violin. It was my mother's, but I haven't got much use for it." She paused, noticing the interest in his eyes. "Would you like to see it?"
"Yes, I rather would," he admitted. "I've a passion for antique violins." But then he looked up at the steadily darkening sky and began to untie Apollo from the fence. "Perhaps tomorrow afternoon? I really must see the farrier tonight." With one smooth motion he swung himself up into the saddle.
Merope nodded in assent, her heart as light as a feather. Once again she would see him ride away from her, but this time he promised to return.
Tom urged his horse into a walk and turned to look back over his shoulder. "Thank you for your assistance ... Merope."
It was then that it happened, so quickly that neither of them had time to register what was going on. Morfin had apparently been spying on the whole conversation, crouched on the cottage roof beside the chimney. He jumped to the ground with a heavy thud and pointed his wand at Tom. "Furnunculus!" he shouted.
"No!" screamed Merope, rushing to knock over her brother's wand, but he pushed her out of the way.
Morfin's insane little eyes were fixed on Tom, whose handsome face had exploded into a mess of ugly red boils. "Engorgio!" he yelled, laughing maniacally as the boils got bigger. Tom clutched his own neck and fell from the horse, landing heavily on his side. He was coughing desperately, the boils erupting in his throat and blocking his windpipe. The huge open sores were so disfiguring that his face was almost unrecognizable.
Merope rushed to his side and he looked up at her helplessly. "Please ..." he croaked. "Merope..." His skin turned red, and then a translucent blue from lack of air.
"The counter-spell! What is it?" she shouted at Morfin. The only response she got was more maniacal cackling. Of course, she thought, angry with herself, Father taught him to perform hexes, not to remove them! She turned to her only hope. She lifted the heavy locket from her chest and locked eyes with the carved serpent. "Please," she whispered, "help me. Help me save him." The answer came almost immediately.
First Anapneo; then Castoricum. Gratefully, she dropped the locket and rose to her feet. Pointing her own wand at Tom, she cried, "Anapneo!" This seemed to clear Tom's throat and he breathed heavily, welcoming air back into his lungs. He balanced himself on his hands and knees, coughing. "Castoricum!" shouted Merope, and the boils began to pop and to ooze a thick white liquid. Slowly, his face began to clear up.
"Tom," she said gently. "Are you all right?" She was answered with another fit of coughing, and hurried to the pump by the garden. Filling a shallow dish with cool water, she hurried back and gave it to him. "Drink this."
He drank as though his throat were on fire. "I - I couldn't breathe," he told her, gasping. "My throat -"
"I know, but it's all right now," she answered comfortingly. "It's all -"
Tom's eyes widened. "Look out!" he shouted, pulling Merope to one side. Morfin's Body-Bind Curse landed exactly where they had been, missing Merope by inches.
With a couple of loud popping sounds, two wizards appeared from out of nowhere and rushed onto the scene. The younger wizard hurried to suppress Morfin while the elder rushed over to Tom and Merope. He flashed a shiny golden badge at them. "Theodore Mueller," he announced briskly, his white mustache twitching, "Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic. We have reason to believe that two hexes and an enlargement spell were performed in front of a Muggle, the latest precisely seventeen seconds ago." He looked at the wand in Merope's hand, and then turned his attention to Tom. "You are the Muggle, then?"
Tom looked up at him blankly. "I beg your pardon?" he said haughtily.
"Excellent." Mueller pointed his wand at Tom and murmured something under his breath. The young man's eyes unfocused and refocused again, until he was staring up at Mueller with a confused expression. "Who are you?" he demanded, alarmed at being on the ground. He stared at the girl beside him. "Merope, what happened? We were talking about your violin, and then ... your brother! He jumped off the roof and - and then...." His voice trailed off uncertainly.
"And then you fell off your horse, and this young lady helped you," Mueller finished for him, patting his arm soothingly. He helped him up and led him over to Apollo. "All is well. Thank the young lady and go on home." Tom obediently swung himself into the saddle, still looking confused.
He looked at Merope in surprise, but politely inclined his head. "I'm much obliged to you," he said. "Until tomorrow, then."
"Until tomorrow," she echoed.
"Good man," Mueller said encouragingly. "Now off you go." He watched as Tom rode down the path and out of sight before turning to Merope. "We also got word that healing charms were performed on the Muggle. That was you, Miss?" Merope nodded and explained what had happened, while he examined her wand and verified the last spells performed. Satisfied, he handed it back. "Very good. You've done a useful thing, my dear."
The other Ministry official had Stupefied a hysterical Morfin, who was now lying in the dirt. He dragged him into the house and came back out to whisper a few words to his superior. Merope caught the phrase "drunk as a lord" and realized that her father had slept through the entire incident.
Mueller nodded sagely. "Right then. Expect a visit from the Head of our department tomorrow, as is the usual in breaches of Muggle Protection laws such as this. He will announce a formal date and time for your brother's trial." He gave an abbreviated bow, and both he and the other official disappeared again with a brief popping noise.
Merope was left standing alone in the moonlit yard. The silence enveloped her like a warm blanket, like an embrace.
The train began to slow down as it entered the station in the little city of Haymouth-on-Rye. The passengers shuffled about, gathering their belongings and preparing to depart.
Bethe rose from her seat by the window and joined the small crowd filing off the train. On the platform, she looked over a map and saw that her destination lay a few blocks into the city. It was a beautiful day for a stroll, an early September afternoon halfway between lush summer and crisp autumn, and Bethe walked confidently in the direction of the Haymouth Orphanage.
She passed a dress shop from which a woman and her adult daughter emerged, arguing over the price of linen. Maybe I should have stopped to see Mother, she thought guiltily, watching the pair bicker with that peculiar affection unique to mother-daughter relationships. Bethe's hometown was only a few train stops away, but she had decided against visiting and gone directly to the city. She had a feeling that Clarice Graham would disapprove if she knew Bethe was visiting the old orphanage.
"Digging up the past never did anyone a bit of good," she would say.
She wouldn't understand, Bethe thought, pausing to read a street sign. I'm not just looking for information on my parents, but information on myself. Thirty-two years of life, and she hardly even knew who she was. Somehow she sensed that this visit to the orphanage would turn up more stones than she had ever dreamed.
The building was an old, sprawling brick structure that looked careworn, and she ran lightly up the steps and lifted the door knocker.
The door was answered by an old housekeeper who showed her into the vestibule. Momentarily she was escorted into the office of Matilda Lyons, owner of the Haymouth Orphanage.
"What can I do for you today, Miss Lawney?" she inquired politely, straightening her round spectacles. Bethe had always thought she looked rather like a kind owl.
"Mrs. Lyons, I once lived here until the age of three," explained Bethe. "I came back to find out more about my deceased parents and perhaps any other living relatives I might have."
The woman gazed at her shrewdly. "You aren't the first orphan to do so," she answered. "Let me see what I can do." From the enormous bookshelf behind her, she pulled down a few dusty volumes. "Each of these books contains names, Miss Lawney, organized by the year that the child was brought here. Sometimes," she continued, flipping through one volume, "we also include any letters, messages, or personal documentation that arrived with the child." She located the section with names beginning with L. "Landing, Lapidow, Larson, Lassney ... Lawney. Here we are." She pushed the volume across the desk at Bethe, who took it eagerly.
Her name had been spelt out in neat cursive at the top of the page. "Isabethe Lawney," she read aloud, "yes, that's me." The information showed that she had been brought to Haymouth at the age of ten months, in the winter of 1893, by a woman called Orla Jones. This woman resided outside Great Hangleton, in a town called Silvermist Woods. "That's just an hour from where I live now!" remarked Bethe, her eyes poring over the page.
"A letter came with you," pointed out Mrs. Lyons, gesturing to the small scrap of yellowed paper attached to the bottom of the page.
With the greatest care, Bethe lifted the weathered document and unfolded it gently. The handwriting was neat but in several places, the ink had been blurred by rain - or was it tears?
To the Haymouth Orphanage,
I bring to you an infant girl whose parents have suffered a most untimely death. Five days prior to this letter, the late Alfred and Wilhemina lawney lost their lives in a tragic boating accident. The young man was sadly estranged from his elder brother, whose whereabouts are unknown, and his wife was an orphan herself.
I humbly entreat you to take in their child, who has been given the name of Isabethe. I am, unfortunately, a very old woman, and lack the capability to give a baby the care it requires.
I am very gratefully yours,
13 Oculovis Lane
"Alfred and Wilhemina," Bethe repeated lovingly, touching her parents' names as though she were touching their faces. She looked up at Mrs. Lyons, who was smiling understandingly at her. "May I keep this?"
"Yes, of course."
Bethe smiled back gratefully and looked down at the letter again, her eyes wet. The page looked even blurrier through a film of tears, and it seemed to her that a huge blurry stain had almost completely erased their last name.
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